“For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.” - Romans 7:14-15
“I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God - through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.” - Romans 7:21-25
I hesitate to share this post today, because inevitably I fear it may be misunderstood. Due to the nature of blog posts I can’t really say everything I’ve been pondering on this topic or give it a full treatment. Have you ever noticed that you can say something, it’s clear in your mind what you mean to be saying, but if you don’t list out everything you are not saying, some people misunderstand the main point? But I’ve been pondering and pondering and I need to write and ponder some more. And I fear the blog just may languish and die a death of disuse if I don’t write something. So here goes.
I find that the longer I walk the Christian life, the more I find I am much more sinful than I had ever realized. Actually, I think it’s that I become more sensitive to the true nature of sin. It’s kind of like an onion. You no sooner have a layer peeled away when your eyes are opened to something else in your life that is ugly and un-Christlike and needs to be repented of. Actually, it reminds me a lot of that scene in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader from C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia where Aslan is delivering Eustace from his dragon skin. Aslan tells Eustace to use his claws to scrape away the skin, and several times Eustace does so, and it’s painful, but no sooner does he do it but he realizes he hasn’t gotten all of it yet. Finally Aslan takes his own claws and digs deeply, very painfully, and scrapes away the rest of the vile and ugly dragon skin. I’ve always liked that metaphor. Though it may not be a perfect picture, it is helpful.
Having our eyes opened to the things in our hearts and lives that need to be purged can be painful. More and more I find that I am just sickened at what I find when God opens my eyes to more of my heart and yet another prideful attitude is revealed or I gain a deeper understanding of some sinful thought pattern or habit that needs agreeing with God about the fact that it is, indeed, sin....not a mistake, not an error in judgment, not a “I probably shouldn’t have said, thought, done this,” but sin. It’s agreeing with God and repenting when He graciously opens my eyes in some area. It’s allowing my heart to be broken over the offenses that I now see to be offenses which in the past I didn’t recognize or even realize were there at all.
I’m not talking here about perfectionism. What I’m trying to get at is sanctification. From what I understand at this point, this is the lifelong growing in grace that should characterize a submitted follower of Jesus Christ.
I find it humbling to realize God’s tender mercy that He does gently open my eyes, painful though it often is, and grants me the faith to agree with Him and repent and continue to grow toward holiness, to be conformed to the image of Christ Jesus.
Another thing that kind of sickens me is when you see a fellow Christian honestly confessing that they are a wretch, you often see people coming back and, well-intentioned I’m sure, say, “Oh, you’re not that bad! You’re a good person!” I understand the intent, but really, I’m not sure that’s the right response. It is not a bad thing to recognize our poverty before a holy God. I know enough of my heart to know that, no, I’m really not a good person on my own. I am declared righteous in Christ, and in that declaration I have a future and a sure and solid hope, and I am becoming righteous by His grace. Because it is in His grace that we have hope, not in our pitiful ‘goodness.’ I once had someone I don’t know comment on a blog post I had written about something that I recognized in my own life and was dealing with, and the commenter asked if I was judging myself that harshly did I also judge others so harshly that I saw with the same fault?
This isn’t about judging other people or looking for their faults and holding them up to a microscope. This is about being honest before God and seeking to agree with Him as I grow in His grace. I think we need to be careful when we do find that we’ve wrestled through something big in our own lives that we extend grace to our brothers and sisters who may not have come to the point in their sanctification where they have the same conviction yet. Speak the truth, boldly, unashamedly, yes, plead with them to submit to the Scripture and to read it and know it, but speak it in love and humility, trusting God to work in our brothers and sisters in Christ just as He does in us. It’s a fine balance I’m still needing to practice, I admit. I struggle with the hypocrite in me who would be so quick to be harshly judgmental with others while overlooking or being soft on my own faults. And sometimes I can be quick to judge when I think I know the whole story about someone, but I don’t have all the facts. I recently had my eyes opened to how critical my spirit was toward someone who I should have had compassion for and it broke my heart that I had not even seen it for many years. Rather than looking down on a sinner for being a sinner, I should have had compassion for a soul who is lost and needs the gospel, needs the Savior.
The hope in all of this dragon-skin, onion-layer sickness over my wretchedness is to know that I can rest in knowing that, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:1)
The opening of my eyes to the things in my life which are weights that entangle me is not condemnation, but tender mercy and love and compassion and grace. Because it is only by His grace that my eyes can see and my ears hear and my heart repent and shed those things that hinder the race. And for this I thank God.