I remember flopping back and staring up at the impassive blankness of the ceiling, baffled.
Why is this so hard?
It had been a long while since I fell back into this particular habitual sin--so long, in fact, that I'd congratulated myself, felt that I'd successfully conquered it. And then, just when I was least expecting it, I fell.
Let he who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.
1 Corinthians 10:12.
Clenching my fists, an instinctive response, made me realize that I had done this too many times. This feeling--guilt, shame, self-reproach, and most of all a sense of confusion at my own foolishness--was too familiar. Every time I would knuckle my fingers under and tell myself, I'll try harder next time. I will be strong. I will be more prepared. I will--I will--
What completely baffled me was waking up to the realization that willpower was not the answer.
And that left me lost because, for so many things in life--so many challenges that I've faced, and overcome, in more or less messy ways--willpower and reason were the weapons I clung to.
We are so used to clenching our fists. Facing the chinup bar, cringing at the premonition of burning muscles, but willing myself to do it this time, I clench my fists. The moment before I walk into an exam, or on stage, I breathe deeper and knot my fingers over sweaty palms. Facing uncertainty in the future, hoping desperately for success, my fingers dig into my palms once again as I reason with myself.
I try. I try, hard.
In so many things in life, we push ourselves forward clutching reason and willpower tightly, propelling ourselves forward on our faith in our ability to try, try. And that is not a bad thing.
But when it comes to dealing with habitual sin we need something more than just reason and willpower.
We have to realize first of all that habitual sin is more than just one isolated act. It is a lifestyle. A state of being.
Which is why the Bible uses the metaphor of slavery to talk about our ongoing struggle with sin, the gory process of sanctification. You are born a slave, and identify yourself/are identified as a slave--not because of one or several acts of obedience, but because that is how you live your whole life, how you see yourself.
Sin is an enslaving power rather than an isolated action,
And that's why when dealing with habitual sin it's not enough to simply think I'll have more will-power next time, I'll try harder next time, the way that works with dieting or acing an exam. It is not enough.
Our lapses into sin, which are really our lapses in love, stem from our existing relationship with God, our current ongoing spiritual state. Each fall is more than one incident--it is another link in the existing chain of our slavery to sin. And when we look back, all those one-off decisions (oh, I lapsed this once; this will be the last time; I wasn't trying as hard as I could have) form a definite and damning pattern of repeated sin.
To confront habitual sin in our lives we have to re-examine our relationship with God. See the link between the state of our current spiritual life and our inability to keep away from that one besetting sin.
We need to relearn what grace means. To accept the harsh truth of our limitations, our inability to handle ourselves even with the help of reason and willpower--the two tools that enable us to accomplish so much elsewhere.
We need to pray for the Holy Spirit's help. Acknowledge our weakness, not just after we sin, but before--and ask for a strength that we can barely imagine right now, in our state of frailty.
Search me, O God, and know my heart
Try me, and know my anxieties;
And see if there is any wicked way in me,
And lead me in the path everlasting.
Psalm 139: 23-24
The first thing that came to my mind when I read this verse a few days ago was a shocked Wow how did David dare to say this??
I don't know about you, but there is something frightening in such complete honesty and humility. Search me and know my heart! Here are all my anxieties, all my insecurities, everything about my limits and fears and weaknesses!
Here are my failures.
Here are the things I don't want anyone to know about. That I wish I didn't know about myself.
Here are the things that are killing me.
Here are the darkest and most destructive things inside my soul.
(cue Imagine Dragon's Demons)
And by the way, you're not saying all this to a human you could possibly control. Of course, it's one thing to say that we couldn't hide any of this from Him anyway. But David is willingly accepting, even inviting this. Not being able to stop someone from reading your diary is one thing; telling them, "Here, read. Don't skip pages 356 and 127--they're especially enlightening" is something else.
I wondered--as in the past tense verb of the word wonder, and not the synonym for pondered. Such fearless honesty was something I shrinked from. How on earth could David declare this so confidently? Remember, this was the Old Testament, before the New Covenant, before grace as we know it in Jesus Christ. David saw Uzzah struck dead for touching the Ark, he had the guilt of Uriah's death on his past, and yet he could say this, knowing how holy God was, and how sinful he was.
David could say all this because he was willing to give up all the pet sins, all the bad habits or weaknesses, all the idols in his heart when he surrendered it to God. Because he knew and acknowledged honestly and humbly--ah, humbly!--his own unworthiness, and God's holiness. Because when he asked God to lead him in the way everlasting, he was going to follow--to actively, purposefully, and wholeheartedly follow.
He could say that.
He could say that because of this.
Some time ago I finished a book on the fear of man, and how it's manifested in different ways in our modern today. I realized that I wasn't any different. My life, when I looked at it, was run through--like streaky bacon!--with many of these types of fears.
The greatest one--because it seemed the most legitimate one--was the fear that my imperfections would ruin my witness for Christ.
Basically how this worked out was: 'If people don't find me a nice person, they'll automatically criticize or think badly of my faith. Similarly, if they find me nice, I'm witnessing for Christ, because they should realize that Christ is why I'm trying to be a nice person.'
I was afraid of myself, of my imperfections. I was afraid people would see my down days and my selfish side and my unreasonable moods, that sometimes my concern for them was for all the wrong reasons. That I was superficial, or insincere, or just plain exhausted and tired--tired of trying to be a 'nice person'.
I was afraid that people would write me off as a hypocrite and immediately think Christianity was some sort of fake, shallow religion of affectation.
It was starting to burden me, this fear--that unless people find you a nice person all the time, you're not witnessing to them about Christ, you're not being a good Christian.
For once in my life I stepped back from this mindset and took a good hard look at it.
Being a Christian does not equal being a nice person.
I've heard this same realization in many testimonies of people, like myself, from Christian homes. It was a big stumbling block to many of them. I thought I had to become a good person to become a Christian, and so for the longest time I thought it was impossible to be saved...I thought being a Christian meant you were practically sinless, like the Christians around me seemed to be...
Similarly, I worried whether people would find me a nice person because I vaguely assumed that being a nice person was witnessing for Christ. That the more people liked me, the more they would see through me how much Christ was worth loving and living for.
This is true in a sense--Christ's love, and our subsequent love for Him, should transform our lives and relationships with selflessness. The people around us should sense a difference and a selfless sincerity in us that will be earthly reflections of the real thing: Christ.
'Being nice', something shallow that anyone could achieve with some self-control and empathy, would probably be better seen as a side-effect than the goal.
Christ calls us to something greater and deeper than just being a nice person.
Christ Himself did not live in continual favor of everyone around Him, though He certainly left impressions of His pure and selfless care all around Him, 'growing in favor with God and man'. Christ did not live His life dictated by whether the people around Him thought He was nice or not. Love was merely the result of the Truth He preached and it did not become an idol.
And then I realized that this was the opposite of what the Gospel was. The Gospel centers on the hard truth that despite all the nice 'redemptive' sides of us, the nice person we can make ourselves seem with a bit of effort, the nice notions that actually we're not that thoroughly bad, we are thoroughly and completely lost in our sin and helpless in our depravity.
Sin was that serious for God's solution to be so significant.
Gone is the pleasant but impossible notion that Christians = nice people.
By definition of the Gospel they believe, Christians of all people should be the most aware of their faults, of their imperfections--because only then can they be most in touch with grace, most alive to Christ and their need of Him.
By definition of the Gospel they believe, Christians of all people should be the most honest about their imperfections because not only do they acknowledge they are so far gone that there is no help for them, they also believe that, miraculously, there's still a happy ending...
It's like someone who knows he has cancer in the last stage. What does he care about trying to hide it, since he's so far gone? Then suppose the doctor tells him that a 100% reliable cure has been found, even for his hopeless case, and that he can confidently expect to be completely cured.
And then only, love.
When we are most humble, most honest about ourselves and others, we are liberated to love them to a degree of selflessness that we couldn't reach otherwise.
Our imperfections should be things we fight. But they should not be things we try to hide.
The way we respond and deal with our imperfections is the greatest witness--way more than a lifetime of shallow niceness.
A Christian who loses his temper, lashing out with furious stinging words or even actions that have nothing of Christ in them. Then, driven by his love for Christ, he finds he is unable to bear continuing in sin, though the struggle that it costs him with his flesh almost kills him.
He comes to ask for forgiveness, in broken, bleeding humility so raw that it humbles you in witnessing it.
This is a better witness than a lifetime of not losing your temper, in which people would simply assume you were born good-natured or had a high level of tolerance.
It is when you prove to be just as human as them that the power of Christ shines clearest through you. Just as light shines best, not through a massive concrete wall, but through a pane of glass--brittle, transparent, and all but nothing in itself. Its very weakness and insignificance makes it the best medium to see and appreciate the beauty of the light penetrating it.
'...For My strength is made perfect in weakness.'
2 Corinthians 12:9
a small voice
Ci thinks some of God's greatest blessings to mankind are
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