Creation. Curse. Christ. These three have I had within my body. And they have made all the difference.
“I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate” (Romans 7:15, NLT). I find myself captivated by this verse. I identify with it, and I think that in some way, there has never been a more compelling piece of evidence for the skeptic than the experience of it. If we were able to peer into each other’s minds, we might discover, perhaps comfortingly, that we have all experienced this—often, on a seemingly incessant basis. In the absence of Truth, how could we even begin to explain this phenomenon—this thing that Christians call sin?
Even in knowing, there isn’t much comfort. More likely, there are only intensified feelings of frustration, self-loathing, and shame. And if we experience those things often enough, we might eventually come to the place where we start to rage, not against the destructive patterns that caused such feelings, but against the feelings, themselves. Sick and tired of trying to squeeze ourselves into a mold that we clearly aren’t meant for, we might ultimately choose to embrace the patterns in our lives that had previously caused so much stress. Unapologetically, we declare that this is who we are, and at once, the striving ceases. We might even be praised for our courage and determination to love ourselves, as waves of calm wash over us.
The problem is that in doing so, we sell ourselves short. We surrender to the distorted version of us that sin created, rather than continuing to reach for the hand of the beautiful God who can remake us all into what we were truly meant to be. This is exactly what Satan wants, and every time we choose it, we play right into his hands.
The verse I quoted was not the end of Paul’s musing on the subject. For, beginning in verse 21 of the same chapter, he writes:
I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord…” (Romans 7:21-25, NLT).
It’s never going to be easy. It’s war. But if the apostle, Paul, who devoutly led the early Church at the time of this writing, was not exempt from this conflict, then we won’t be, either. It’s normal. And the comforting part about it is that it’s not for us to end. We are absolved of that responsibility. All we have to do is keep reaching for Him, and He is sure to carry us the rest of the way. He loves us, and if there is one fundamental truth that we can never afford to let sin take from our awareness, surely it is this.
This will probably be one of my shorter posts. I have something to share, but for those who will receive it, I’ll spare the personal details and focus on the simple truth. I have often heard the testimonies of other people who speak profusely of the joy they feel in knowing that God guides their steps. God has given me joy throughout my life, but only in these recent days have I finally begun to understand this particular joy. I’ve come to recognize the difference between walking in my own will and walking in His. And this difference might seem pretty basic in a logical sense, but it’s not just about what we can perceive intellectually—it’s about what we can experience.
Regrettably, I’ve chosen to walk within my own will throughout the vast majority of the precious time I’ve been given on this earth. In consequence of that choice, I’ve experienced a lot of strife. I’ve been victimized by fear, I’ve stumbled in frustration and resentment, and I’ve grieved in terrible heartache. I’ve spent so much energy trying to break down the wrong doors and wondering why they won’t just open, when, all the while, He has been waiting for me to take His hand—wanting so much to lead me down the path He cleared for me long ago.
At a certain point, I hope we all become broken enough of our own stubbornness to finally take His hand, because when we do, we will all know what it is to experience miracles. We will see our fear give way to trust, our frustration yield to peace, and our heartache transform into the most wonderful joy—a joy born of love experienced both from and for our beautiful Creator.
We have a God who cares for us, I think, far more than we have the capacity to understand. The desire of His heart is to make us whole—to provide for us and keep us safe so that we’ll never have to know the pain of being without Him. “Look at the lilies and how they grow,” Jesus said. “They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are” (Matthew 6:28-29, NLT).
I have felt the hand of my God as He lovingly adorns me with all that I need for my warmth. In spite of every false security the world has ever seduced me with, that Hand is what I’m thankful for.
As the years passed, I felt the war in my heart continue to rage. There were moments when I sensed my love for God becoming lukewarm, and I was deeply grieved in those moments. I longed so much for the passion that had overwhelmed me in the beginning— for the rapture of falling in love. But, I’d known at the outset that I could never be worthy of the love that had been bestowed upon me, and every day was just a constant reminder of my sinful nature. Every time I failed to handle something the way I knew He would have me handle it— every time I allowed my selfishness to be stronger than my desire to worship Him— I could feel my connection to Him being severed. To make matters worse, there were these ominous scriptural verses that just kept ringing in my head. There was one in particular from the book of Hebrews that said: “It is impossible to restore to repentance those who were once enlightened—those who have experienced the good things of heaven and shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the power of the age to come—and who then turn away from God. It is impossible to bring such people to repentance again because they are nailing the Son of God to the cross again by rejecting him, holding him up to public shame” (6:4-6, NLT).
Those words, more than any others I had come to find, brought so much pain to my heart. I could picture them playing out before my eyes, and the image tortured me. How? I thought. How could I possibly do such a thing to my sweet, beautiful Savior? How could I hurt Him so much— Him, whom I claimed to love? Yet, I couldn’t deny that I had turned away. It had been so easy to be born again and feel the burden of the past lifted off of me, but now, having been baptized, how could I sin even once without knowing the betrayal I’d committed? I had so many terrorizing thoughts and emotions welling up inside me all the time, and eventually, they just became too much. Emotion gave way to apathy, and any trace of Christ in me was buried so deep that I doubt it could have possibly been recognizable to anyone.
Even so, somehow, He never completely left me. I honestly believed that I was parted from Him forever, along with everything that meant. But I could never bring myself to stop believing in Him. No matter how afraid I was of Him, and no matter how many other paths I could have taken to try to alleviate the pain I felt— atheism, agnosticism, or any other of the countless theories the world had to offer me— I just couldn’t bring myself to stop knowing the truth. I couldn’t separate my life from the source of my life. And every once in a while, in the midst of my thrashing, I would experience something so gentle and kind— as though it were a holy kiss calling me back into His arms. These experiences are engraved in my heart, and they have helped me to believe that He loves me still. In them, I find the will to be transformed. And even though I know it requires me to put myself to death, I’m not so afraid anymore to make the effort. I know that by myself, I’ll never be anything more than fallen, but maybe if I just try to be like Him, then He’ll raise me up and carry me the rest of the way. No matter how sinful I am, and no matter how hard it is for me to fight against my nature, I want to make the effort. I need to make the effort, if only to have that kiss again— that holy kiss from the One I love.