August 3, 2010

To Live is Christ — continual war best fought on my knees

Modern English Bibles have been criticized for lack of scholarly accuracy. For that reason, I seldom use them for study or devotions, but occasionally they bring plain expression to a difficult passage. The New Testament has some of those. 2 Peter 3:15-16 explains that Paul writes with God-given wisdom yet in his epistles, some things are “hard to understand.” Peter adds that “untaught and unstable people twist (his writings) to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.” I want to understand the Bible, but do not want to twist its meaning.

Today’s devotional passage is about the conflict between my flesh and the Spirit of God that lives in me. Older versions make some readers just skip these verses. However, I am encouraged by reading it in a modern translation called The Message

It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge. I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different. (Romans 7:21–25)
I’m not alone. Paul also felt as if he was his own worst enemy. I have found out that mere desire to serve God with all my heart and mind is not enough. Sin is always there to mess up my best intentions, and sin is incredibly sneaky.

Sin can masquerade as righteousness. Jesus criticized a Pharisee who prayed, “Thank God that I am not like this publican. . . .” Thinking he was pious and dedicated to the Lord, this man seemed oblivious to his arrogant pride. His brand of “righteousness” was actually “lawlessness.”

Matthew 7 tells of others who fell into the same trap. They claimed their goodness was shown in all the service they had done in His name. Then Jesus said, “I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:23)

Sin can turn conviction into indignation. It does this when God uses the sin of others to show me my own rebellious heart. If I’m not paying attention, I can forget that for every time I point my finger at others, three are pointing back at me. Instead of seeing that I do the same or worse, I can get highly indignant over the way that someone else is disobeying God. Subtle stuff.

Sin offers great pleasures that seem okay at the time. This too is subtle. A child’s book depicted it as a small blue light that led children along a lovely path, then into an interesting cave, darker and darker on all sides. Then the light went out and the child was lost and terrified.

Sin is serious, but I can trivialize it. I might say, “Everyone else does it” or “It really isn’t so bad” as if those are excuses that will make God look the other way. This too is subtle and silly.

Besides that, as if sin’s subtleties were not enough, my own attempts to fight it are also folly. I make resolutions and commitments. I declare that, “I will never do that again.” Hah. This determination is actually a red flag waved in front of the charging beast of sin, and falls short of understanding the strength of sin and the weakness of my resolve.

Sometimes I determine to do good, as if serving God means the devil cannot move in to get me doing his work. The problem with that is that even in the doing of good, selfish motives and pride can upset my pious apple cart. God looks at my heart as well as my deeds. Putting off sinful ways does not beat sin if all I put back on is a cleaner looking version.

The only solution to the problem of sin is Jesus Christ. After I blow it, I confess my sin (agree with God that it is sin and that I cannot beat it), He faithfully forgives me and cleanses me from my unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). He does this over and over, forgiving and cleansing, sweeping and sweeping with the intent that the rooms of my life become spotless. I am not able to do that for myself.

Also, before sin catches me in its trap, I need to surrender entirely to God. That means never thinking that “I can handle this” without taking the day, the things of today, the plans, surprises, interruptions, everything to Him. I need to ask Him to cover me, protect me, guard my heart, mind, words and deeds. Give me whatever I need to be obedient no matter what the day brings.

One of the shortest verses in the Bible says, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). Besides the many needs in the world that I can bring to God in prayer, my propensity to sin teaches me the necessity of those three little words.

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