I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. … For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. – Romans 7:15-25
Friday, January 2, 2015
And so, we start a new year with many making resolutions to live this year differently in some way from the manner in which they have lived in the past. For the most part, resolutions to eat healthier, exercise, refrain from this, adhere to that will be forgotten before the calendar rolls to February. Something seems to sabotage our good intentions.
Many times as a Christian I have sought to break some habit or create a habit. I have gone to the altar and confessed before God. I have prayed and asked for help. I have read the books and tried to follow the seven steps to success or the twelve sure-fire ways to get on the right track. However, I find, time and again, that what Bobbie Burns told a certain mousie is true for me: The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men, Gang aft a-gley, An’ lea’e us nought but grief and pain, For promis’d joy.
It is true enough the plow which us turns us out into December’s cold is not always of our own making and may indeed be beyond our control. Yet I think, more often than not, the cause of our disruptions and our failures to find that promised joy lies much closer to home. Who is it that urges you to eat that second helping, skip your workout, or put off an unpleasant task? Yep.
But there is something else I have noticed: when I do something that, as Paul says, is “the very thing I hate”, someone is quick to jump up and condemn me for it. It’s not for the sake of correction. Instead the voice I hear asks how I could do/think/say such a thing if I were really a Christian. It says because I fail to do or not do a particular thing that I am a failure in the sight of God. The voice tells me that I am rejected by God because I failed to live up to this standard.
Now a lot of people will tell us that it is the devil talking to us, the devil urging us to do something wrong or not do right, and the devil accusing and condemning us when we follow his advice. I am sure the devil does get involved sometimes. On the other hand, I have to give credit where credit is due. I know that my old fleshly nature is itself devilishly clever and not in need of a lot of outside help to pull off some of these shenanigans. Plus, it is my flesh, which does not want to cede control and authority to the spirit, who benefits. By making me feel shame and disgust, it drives a wedge between me and my Father.
Another ploy of the old nature is to deliberately make a mess of things, get me in a bind then blame God. The flesh asks why I would trust a God who would allow such a thing to happen.
What we are really doing is sabotaging ourselves because there is a part of us that simply wants to be sovereign, to usurp God’s rightful place in our inner being. It isn’t that we want to be serial killers or real deviants. We may even choose, most of the time, to do good – give to charity, provide for our families, help others, and live morally. But in doing so, we are further convincing ourselves that we do not really need God.
I’ll use myself as an example. First I will set unrealistic goals and expectations. Next, I will distract myself and procrastinate. I’ll get behind in a project. I’ll stay up late and work extra hours to catch up. I’ll get irritable and flaky. My wife will complain about me neglecting her or working too many hours. So now, I’m feeling unjustly condemned in one way. Yet I also know -- since I know that reading “Comic Sins” on Lileks or clicking stupid lists on Cracked.com is what got me behind in the first place, that my wife’s complaint is actually legitimate. At that point, any excuse to explode will do quite well. I lose my temper, scream, cuss, and smash things – differing from Hulk only in coloration.
Once all that is out of my system, I feel shame and guilt. I’m not a real Christian. No true Christian would do that kind of thing. How can God overlook all that? How can I ever go to God again? I was never anything but a damned hypocrite. And, of course, the flesh is quite ready to bring up all my past series of failures and ugly episodes to reinforce that point.
It’s all the work of the saboteur -- stealth, deception, and illusion. It was never in my power to live the life of Christ. If it had been, Jesus would never have needed to go to the Cross. God never needed to look for a way to condemn us. We condemned ourselves, from the first fall in the Garden to the guy who fell off the wagon this past New Year’s Eve. We know we are wrong, and we want an excuse to wallow in it, an excuse to give control over to the old fleshly nature, to do it “my way”. Take time to read Romans 7. I’m not the only one this has ever happened to. The Apostle knows the agony I feel because he has gone through the same conflict, the same dark, hopeless battle himself.
The good news is that I’ve got bad news for the old nature: There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do (Romans 8:1-3a).