Weekly Reflection

The Enemy Within

Things crawl in the darkness. That imagination spins. Needles at your nerve ends crawl like spiders on your skin. Pounding in your temples, and a surge of adrenaline. Every muscle tense to fence the enemy within.

It’s safe to say that the only predictable thing about the future is unpredictability. Back in 1936 the New York Times predicted that “a rocket will never be able to leave earth’s atmosphere.” Per an 1876 Western Union internal memo, some device called a telephone had “too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication…it is inherently of no value to us.” And my personal favorite: “There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in his home.” That was uttered by Ken Olson, president of Digital Equipment Corporation, in 1977. It’s easy to mock these comments today, but I imagine they were considered to be sensible at the time. The point is that we simply don’t know. We don’t know what will happen tomorrow, or tonight, or later today, or by the time you finish reading this post.

Here’s one thing you can take to the bank: you will make a mistake today. Multiple ones. We will commit sins, some egregious and others innocuous. It’s comforting knowing you will not be the only person to commit an error today. Every time I teach Genesis or Exodus (or really any Book in the bible), I remind the class just how flawed these so-called “titans” were. Abraham, Rebekah, Jacob, Joseph, Lot, Moses, Aaron, Tamar, etc. (and lest we forget the rape committed by King David, “a man after God’s own heart,” later down the line). Not only will we do the wrong thing, we will do the wrong thing while knowing what the right thing is. Fortunately, the Apostle Paul is here to brighten our day with some lighthearted words. Well, not really…

I was reading Romans 7 the other day and became incredibly discouraged. Paul has a knack for bringing us down a peg, doesn’t he? If you’re feeling haughty, leave it to Paul to convince you otherwise. Ready to give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done? “Not so fast,” says Paul. “Your sinful nature will find you eventually, and you’ll be begging for God’s grace.”

Boy, I bet Paul was fun at parties! Imagine sitting on a couch, catching up with an old friend or two, and here comes Paul. And he needs to interrupt your conversation with these encouraging thoughts:

I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.  For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.” (Rom. 7:15-20)

Vibe completely ruined now, you walk away to grab some pizza and shake your head. Then you realize good old Paul was right. Perhaps the venue was questionable, but the concept was accurate. For the most part, we don’t wake up each morning with a burning desire to make mistakes. But despite our best intentions, they will occur. For instance, I know – on a cerebral/analytical level – that arguing with my daughter (and potentially saying things I will regret) is a pretty awful idea. It’s the wrong thing to do. Getting drawn into a screaming match is a no-win for all involved (including the neighborhood). I know not to do that. But sometimes it happens anyway. The right thing would be to disengage, walk away, and re-visit the conversation later. I know that. But I step in the proverbial excrement anyway.

You do this too.

God’s grace saves us. This is a good thing indeed! Furthermore, Paul is not equating our identity to an endless descent through quicksand, with seemingly no end to our sinful nature in sight. My interpretation of sin is this: When you break a rule, that’s a mistake, but not necessarily a sin. When you accidentally drive 50 in a 30 mph zone, that’s not a sin, rather a careless error. When you say a four-letter word you should probably avoid, it’s not the action that’s sinful as much as what happens from within (your intent).

From a theological standpoint, I believe sin distorts our relationship with our Creator. Does it separate us from God, as many Evangelicals believe? I don’t think so. I’m confident that God knows we’re human and that we are quite flawed. God sent His Son as an example of how to live our lives and love one another. We will never live and love the way Jesus did, since he is the Messiah. You’re not. And that’s okay.

From a practical standpoint, God gives us each a unique set of gifts. What sin does is act as an obstacle to our gifts, throwing us off track. And when this happens, our ability to help others becomes greatly compromised. Put differently, sin promotes self-centeredness, while Christ promotes self-sacrifice. What lives in our heart is so much more important than what is manifested by our words or actions. What you say and do will be misconstrued by some. But God knows your heart.

And you know what? God loves you anyway!

In His Name,

-Matt