Bound or free?
Why do I do what I do?
Over the short course of my career as a bi-vocational pastor, my eyes have been opened to the nature of sin. It is not that I am pre-occupied by it. The Lord made me in such a way to desire more than the simple answer. I always want to know the answer to “why?”
It might go something like this; I see someone gossiping. I understand that gossip is a sin, but if you simply address the surface-level sin, then you are treating the symptom, not the illness. Other pastors might say, “Well, the root is sinfulness!” That is true, too, but this statement doesn’t address the issue.
In my experience, it is helpful to consider the factors which lead someone to behave in this way. I want to understand human behavior. Buried under the human psyche, the surface sin might be emanating from something much deeper. Maybe some kind of pain or trauma that the person has had. Maybe a feeling of vulnerability that lies just beneath the surface.
So, whatever the case, I have come to realize that a person who spends their time gossiping is in bondage. Just as a person who rebels against God’s Law is not free, but in bondage. Just as another who judges their fellow man is in bondage.
A person can recognize that they are bound; they can clearly see their own issue(s). They can even feel guilty or convicted by their behavior. Yet, they are unable to change their behavior. They are slaves of sin. This understanding helps me to be compassionate towards the person.
Hiding from ourselves
It would be easy to separate and divide others outside the church from those inside the church. We could say, “Yeah, but look at what they do! They’re much worse than I am!” Religiosity blinds us from the fact that “YOU are the man!” We don’t want to admit that we Christians are the ones who need to be set free from the “law (read rule) of sin and death”.
In order to do this, we set up complex structures of excuses, justifications or claims of ignorance. Sometimes, we just don’t want to see our sin. To be honest with you, it’s because the old Adam (or Eve) in us doesn’t want to be seen for who he/she is.
We are so bound by desire to preserve the old Adam , that we will pretend to be faithful on the outside just so the old Adam never gets exposed from the inside. Let’s face it, the old Adam is good at hiding.
As sons and daughters of Adam, we hide behind piety which keep us in control. Instead of letting God have His way with us, we have strengthened ourselves against the God who would save us from sin. In reading the Gospels, you will find that it was the religious leaders, so invested in their own piety, who resisted the free Gospel of Jesus Christ.
It comes as no surprise, then, that the most Christian among us display these ‘cracks in their armor’. Why? Because they are not cracks at all. Gossipers, rebels, the judgmental all see themselves as righteous, not really needing God at all. All of these manifestations of sin are the evidence of bondage to sin.
This principle can be applied to nearly anyone who displays gross sin. Please understand, I am not saying that we are excused from sin because we are enslaved by it. All of these behaviors emanate from our own hearts, not someone else’s. The devil didn’t make me do it. It’s in my blood and in yours.
Our hope isn’t in our piety or religious observance, in fact, these are contributing to the problem. You and I are tempted to overcome sin by behaving in a “Christian” way. It won’t work. Our good behavior cannot end our bad behavior. It simply keeps the old Adam in control. Instead, we need to find outside help.
“Who will rescue me from this body of sin and death?”
Paul the apostle writes the above in Romans 7:24. In fact, He uses the present tense verb, am in the phrase, “wretched man that I am!” Paul is describing his present condition in relation to the law. What is this Holy Apostle to do?
He writes this, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord”. Paul has abandoned himself (and his impeccable reputation) in light of his awareness of depth of sin. He looks to the outside savior. He looks not to the old Adam for overcoming sin that he sees in himself. Instead, He looks to the New Adam, who overcame sin for him.
The experience Paul writes about is meant to help his readers identify with his plight and his salvation. We are inside the struggling heart and mind of Paul, the Apostle. And, he is not too proud to share his struggle with us.
His salvation came from the outside. His Savior came from the outside. Your Savior is completely outside of you, too. He is on the cross dying for all of your sin and mine. He is the only sacrifice for sin.
The church is where the outside work of Jesus makes a difference on our insides. Not because we are religious or faithful, but because He is faithful to come to us in the proclamation of His Gospel. He is faithful to be present in, with, and under the bread and wine (or, grape juice). He is both the author and perfecter of our faith. His forgiveness is a living forgiveness that is distributed by both word and sacrament.
Start new again. In fact, start new every week. Come wicked sinners. Because, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst” (1 Tim. 1:15). And, in the end, He will have His way with you anyhow (Forde).
Thanks be to God.