Nature abhors a vacuum. A plot of soil that is tilled will be overtaken with weeds if nothing is planted and nurtured in the turned-over soil. The pecking order of a brood of chickens cannot handle the death of the top hen without filling the position almost immediately. And, in the spiritual realm, the exorcising of a demon will not simply leave a person empty of evil – his life will be filled with something in its place.
The Gospel story that Jesus told about the man who is rid of an unclean spirit is a powerful and simple narrative on the necessity of true repentance. It is not enough to be rid of something bad and destructive; the evil must be replaced with something good and useful. That is, genuine repentance is both a turning away from ungodliness and an embrace of righteousness.
For example, the Apostle Paul exhorted the Ephesian believers to not only stop stealing, but also get a job and start sharing with others. They were not only to stop lying and using their tongues for gossip and slander, but they were to start using their words to speak truth that builds up others. The spiritual principle is the same as the principle from nature: a vacuum will always be filled. The man who did not fill his life with God ended up having a problem with evil seven times greater than when he started.
Whether dealing with addiction, bad habits, or any kind of evil influence we must have a two-pronged approach to its eradication. We expel the evil by replacing it with godliness. The man struggling with pornography or adultery must not only stop the behavior, but take up and champion women’s issues. The woman who gives herself to others to be used and abused must not only get away from the problem, but take on her true identity in Christ as a precious child of God. These are not meant to be simplistic answers to complex situations; they are meant to illustrate why so many people do not experience freedom and continue to have greater enslavement. Freedom can only be realized through replacing old practices with new disciplines that directly attack the old.
O God, I no longer want to live with saying I’m sorry and going right back to the old pig slop of sin. I cannot change on my own. I need Jesus to both take away the sin and give me a new life of living for him. Help me to make choices that put to death the old way of life, and the courage to live into my forgiveness from you. Amen.