We were looking at Psalm 15 at home group – who may abide in God’s tent? not me, was my immediate response. I definitely don’t fit that description. Nor does anyone I know. We may have some level of goodness and righteousness but we also… actually, no, I won’t talk about others, I’ll talk about me.
I have good intentions. I want to do what is good, right, loving, pleasing to God – and some of the time I manage to do that. Definitely more often than before I handed my life over to God and asked Jesus to take the driving seat, but definitely not all the time.
It’s not even just a question of being disobedient to God – it’s also a question of disobeying myself, in a way. It’s like there are two parts within me – one that wants to do what is good (and that includes not just being kind to others and obeying God, it’s also being good to myself, doing what I know will bring me greater health and happiness as opposed to, say, stuffing my face with chocolate for the immediate, temporary “fix”); and one that… well… goes in the opposite direction. A tug of war inside me.
Paul talks about that sort of struggle in Romans 7, and I’ve always found it encouraging that even such a great man experienced these struggles. But I think it’s easy, and dangerous, to take that as a licence to just not worry about it – hey, it’s okay, Paul was the same, it’s just the way we are. In the name of self-acceptance, it’s easy to stop struggling and just give in to temptation – after all, that’s so much easier, and we know that if we are in Christ then we are free of condemnation.
What I noticed in reading this bit again today was how Paul talks about it not in terms of a struggle between two parts of himself, but a struggle between himself and something else that is within him – at first it jarred me because it felt like a cop-out, as though he is dodging responsibility by saying “hey, it’s not me, it’s the sin within me”, but then I realised what he’s doing: he is distancing himself from that vile part within him, because that’s the part that as a follower of Jesus he really doesn’t want within him, he’d much rather it was gone. A bit like having some cancerous tumour growing within your body – it’s physically part of you, but you’re not going to take joy or pride in it, you know it’s unhealthy and harmful.
And this took me back to Psalm 15 – verse 4 talks about looking with scorn on the vile (CJB translation, which is the one I linked to earlier), or despising a vile person (NIV), and whilst it’s easy to think of that in terms of how we think of other people, what I’m seeing there in the light of Romans 7 is a call to despise/scorn the vile person within ourselves, to distance ourselves from that sinful nature within us and look at it not as just a part of ourselves that we should accept. As someone who has given her life over to Jesus, I have received God’s acceptance of me just as I am, warts and all, sins and all, and therefore I know I am not condemned; but on the other hand, loving God means wanting to obey him, and that means committing myself to struggling against my sinful nature, not embracing it as an acceptable part of me. And it’s not as though I have to struggle in my own strength – I have God’s Spirit within me to help me fight, it’s just that too often I choose to give in instead of taking up the weapons God has provided me with and fighting.
Here endeth today’s rambling.