Sunday, December 14, 2008

I don't do what I want to do

I have had a lot of schoolwork to do this past semester, and a lot of extracurricular activities to accomplish as well. Some of these extracurricular activities are things like leading a Bible Study, and that involves Jesus, and I try and put Jesus-related-things at the top, never mind the confusion of what is Jesus-related, what isn't, and how everything really is and ought to be. This has, however, left me with even less time to do my schoolwork than I normally have. To make matters worse, I have frequently found myself lazing about, talking to people, playing computer games or doing other things, instead of doing my schoolwork, which really does need doing. My Biology TA and my Russian Professor can attest to this, as I have not turned in a whole lot of homework in those classes. One of my friends has been constantly talking about terrible this semester has been, and I am apt to agree, at least on this front.

I said that I try to put Jesus-things at the top. Yet at the same time, how often do I read the Bible? Let me explain, for those not in the know. Christians think that regularly reading the Scriptures is a good idea. We think that "all Scripture is God-breathed, and thus useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness." God says to Joshua, after Moses dies, that he should meditate on "The Book of the Law" day and night, and it should never depart from his mouth, and he should be careful to do what it says, so that he will be prosperous and successful. Jesus says we should build our lives on the foundations of his teachings, like a wise man builds his house on firm rock, not on shifting sands. We take things like this to mean that reading the Scriptures regularly is a good idea.

The thing is, I don't read the Scriptures regularly, but I say that I want to. The same goes for all kinds of things. I say that Jesus is right, I should pray, fast and give to the poor, but I only do one of those with any frequency, and that's because praying is easy. (If praying is easy, am I doing it wrong?) These are all very concrete things, almost a check-list. Let me go on, then. I'm supposed to love God above all things, then love everyone else, even my enemies. I agree that this is how I should live, yet my deeds do not match up with this. There are definitely people in this world that I dislike, there are even people I like to some extent that I don't treat the way I should. I look to other things for satisfaction; I don't find satisfaction in God. I don't live the way he wants me to live, I don't love the things he loves, and in general I find that I do not love God with all my heart, soul and might. But I say that I believe that I should.

Do I not believe, then? They say that actions speak louder than words, and I think it's true that your actions betray what you truly believe. If you ever find a church that says all the right things, then acts in a lot of wrong ways, you might want to think about leaving. They might say the right words, but that doesn't mean they believe the right things in their hearts. The problem here is that sometimes I do the right thing, so it is not as if I can claim to clearly be believing the opposite of what the Bible teaches. The very fact that I care what the Scriptures teach might be a good indication that my belief is not all a lie, a sham to trick Christian girls into dating me or something.

I used to only think about Romans 7 in the context of lust and, in particular, pornography. This is understandable, because that is a big issue to try and think about and deal with, and one that sometimes seems to have no hope. But if that is all I was applying it to, I was missing out on a lot. The Apostle Paul is wordy, as usual, but here he's talking about how Christ purifies our hearts, yet we still sin. In verses 15 through 23, he says the following.
I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.
Well now. That is pretty much a description of the problem I outlined above. As much as it seems a little thing, I really do think it is wrong of me to not get the work done that I'm supposed to get done. Sloth is one of the traditional seven capital sins, and for good reason; it's easy. Furthermore, it's easier in today's society, as I can attest. Paul, however, does not leave the issue here. He, and I read this as a cry of desperation, says:
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?
That is quite a statement, I think, calling himself "wretched", but I also think it's accurate. To find yourself doing the things you do not want to do and to find yourself not doing the things you want to do is pretty shocking, worrisome, gut-wrenching, etc. It feels awful.

One time, I talked with my friend Alex about this. I don't remember why, the context, or anything like that. I think we were in his car, maybe. Either way, we did talk about how long Paul goes on and on about his problem, the problem of sin, yet doesn't provide a very lengthy explanation of the solution. He says one sentence in answer to his cry for deliverance, then moves on. Alex said that Paul does this because the solution is very simple, at least in the basics, the part that you really need to know. So who will save me and you and Paul from this body of death?
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
That is a great comfort, and it's true too.


Matthew said...

I'm right there with you, brother.

Derek Webb's concert schpeal used to be about this; he mournfully noted that there are a ton of seven-step programs to having a richer devotional life or becoming a better husband or being a holier Christian getting hawked at Christian bookstores. The Bible isn't nearly this complicated; it has a one-step program for everything: Repent and believe in Jesus!

When you do that, all that's left, really, is practicing the spiritual disciplines of fasting, prayer, obedience, service, giving, and community. And those are things that you "practice," because we are naturally bad at just about all of them, and even the ones that we're good at we tend to do for selfish motives. And the reason I even have the list of those five is because it can be easy to forget something important in one of those categories.

All of the sin in my life can be pretty easily traced to me not trusting in Jesus. In fact, I'm in a pretty convenient place right now where I can see exactly why lust & laziness (my two biggest struggles, too) have to do with me not believing in Jesus. And the antidote is easy: I have to repent & believe.

Matthew said...

Also, Tim Keller is great at preaching sermons on this subject. I can give them to you if you'd like-- I have benefited greatly from his "Practical Grace" and "Faces of Sin" series in unpacking my sin and challenging myself with the Gospel.

Alex said...

1 Good stuff, Tim.
2 Thanks for mentioning me! This made my day.
3 I second everything Matthew said, especially about Tim Keller being boss.

Alex said...

Also, I believe the conversation you refer to took place on the way home from a Derek Webb concert.