I could hear its seductive call from Aisle 2. Buy me. You know you want to. What could it hurt? The past couple of years have been brutal and emotionally draining, and I’ve put on nearly 20 pounds. Last week, I finally decided I’ve had enough of that, and I’m ready to take it off and get back into shape. Yet, there I was, standing in front of the salad section, contemplating.
Why do I always want what’s bad for me? Kettle-cooked potato chips, chocolate bars, pizza, cannolis (in Jesus’ name)…even, dare I say it, beer. (Don’t judge me.) Tell me I can’t have something and it’s exactly what I want. Now, I’m not someone who has historically struggled with food or overeating, but I have wrestled with other hangups that have been far more unhealthy than a little extra padding around my waist.
Temptation. Sin. Even the mention of those words makes me squirm. I certainly don’t think that I’m perfect, but at the same time, I don’t like to admit those things are part of me–part of who I am.
And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it. I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. (Romans 7:18-21 NLT)
#Truth. With a capital T. We all come up against this again and again. There are the everyday, small things, like sabotaging your honest desire to lose weight by eating what’s bad for you. Then there are the bigger issues, like sleeping with that girl when you know very well you shouldn’t. Lying. Hardening your heart against someone instead of choosing to forgive because it feels better (and justified!). Making excuses for your behavior. Or…you fill in the blank. And when the realization hits that you just did ‘that thing’ you did not want to do, what is the next thought that goes through your head?
Ugh! I hate myself!
I know. I get you. What’s more, Paul gets you. This is what I love about Romans 7. The Father (through Paul) is telling us something very important about ourselves that will help us walk in so much more freedom if we choose to grab hold of it:
Your sinful nature and your identity are not the same thing.
Sin is an inherited condition we all have, and unfortunately, it’s tailor-made for each of us. The ways we sin might be similar, but the ways in which we are enticed by it–the lies, the combination of specific ‘hooks’ that draw us into it–those things are pretty unique to us as individuals. So your sin ends up looking like you. But it isn’t you. The person you are (your identity) was given to you by God, and that is wholly good. Paul carefully differentiates between himself and his sin. He talks about sin controlling him, taking advantage of him, using inherently good things to ensnare him into even more sin. He calls it a power that wars with his mind. But he recognizes that, while it is in him, it is not him.
I’m sure Paul had his moments of struggling with the same kind of self-abasing thoughts we have. Look at verse 24:
Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?
Sound familiar? However, he immediately answers his own question. It’s Jesus. I know that you know this. I do too, but to be honest, just the knowledge of that doesn’t always help me.
You see, the big difference with Paul is that he doesn’t allow himself to do what most of us do when we get to that point: retreat into self-condemnation and shame.
Because our shame response usually leads us away from God.
It’s like Adam and Eve in the Garden. If you remember the story in Genesis 3, they sinned against God when Satan convinced them to eat the forbidden fruit. Their immediate response after they sinned was shame–not shame about their sin, but shame about their nakedness. (And what else says ‘all of me’ like nakedness?) So what did they do? They hid from God. The thing about shame is that it’s a liar and a deflector–it points its accusing finger at something (anything!) other than the real issue at hand. It’s one of Satan’s most effective tools. Why? Because the self-condemnation that accompanies shame isolates us from God and keeps us from dealing with the actual sin. If we don’t face our sin and allow God to forgive and heal, we stay stuck in a hopeless, powerless situation. We become slaves to the sin and shame.
Now back to Paul. I said earlier that he doesn’t allow himself to get stuck in self-condemnation and shame. How do I know this? Romans 8! He begins in verse 1:
“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.”
No condemnation! That’s not referring to your sin–that has been condemned, sent to the cross and paid for. But you…you are not condemned! Not to hell. Not by the Father. He loves you and who you are. You have not shamed him, and you must not shame or condemn yourself, either. Not anymore. Because,
You have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. (Rom. 8:12-14, italics mine)
This is beautiful, and Paul could have left it right there, but he didn’t. The Father really wanted us to get this, to make this connection, so he continues:
So you have not received a spirit that makes you fearful slaves. Instead, you received God’s Spirit when he adopted you as his own children. Now we call him, “Abba, Father.” (v.15)
What makes you a fearful slave? Embracing your sinful nature as your identity. And that is not God’s will for your life.
Instead, he has adopted you. As his own child.
That is your true identity.
You have been loved and chosen before you ever recognized it was true.
So close and so precious to him, that the King of all the Universe tells you to call him ‘Abba’. Papa.
Dear, chosen child of God, while you are still on this earth, you will continue to have a sinful nature. We all will. You will make mistakes. You will mess up, fail, and fall down. But the things you do–the ones you do not want to do–are not who you are. You are loved and chosen in spite of them. With the Father’s full knowledge.
Your sin is not you. It doesn’t own you anymore. It doesn’t define you. And it cannot control you unless you give it permission.
So the next time you find yourself wanting what you know is bad for you, don’t cave in and don’t retreat. Activate your true identity.
Now if you’ll please excuse me, I’m gonna go eat my salad.
*photo courtesy of Pete Wright and Unsplash.com