As long as I’ve been a follower of Jesus, there seems to have been a list of things we aren’t supposed to do. As I’ve written before, one of the main questions that people ask when coming to a church or becoming a new believer is about “the rules.” Christians have a reputation for keeping kind of a tally of the things of this nature. I’m not referring to civil law so much…as in the law of the land…but to a moral code of conduct. Then…when we fall short within that framework…when we break one of the rules…when we cross over into “worldliness,” we feel dirty… impure… guilty… ashamed…hypocritical. Eventually, we arrive at a mindset wherein we believe that if we could simply NOT do those things anymore, then we would be better off…and we could not be more wrong.
Time after time, I’ve been approached by individuals with moral struggles. Usually, I feel pretty much unqualified to have any kind of constructive discussion with them because I know how much of a mess I am. Out of all of the struggles people have…there are a few that many have in common. The most common areas in which people “break the rules,” are things like substance abuse, sexual purity, and very similarly, pornography. There are many other areas for sure, but this is just a sampling of common things I’ve encountered through conversations with Christians from every walk of life.
In the very beginning of my experiences with people, my initial response was to tell them that what they were doing was wrong and they needed to stop doing it. I know…I know…that’s like telling a drowning person that they need to stop drowning and just swim. In my own personal journey, I had the same thought process. I thought that if I could just stop doing one thing or another, then I would be in better shape…I thought that my problem was the thing I was doing. I believed that the thing causing my troubles or my struggles was my failure or my sinful activities.
Then…one day a reality hit me. A reality right out of Scripture. The disciples of Jesus were eating with unwashed hands and the Jewish leadership believed that this brought defilement or impurity upon them. The Jewish leadership was very fixated on the external and physical purity was of the highest calling in their estimation. Jesus responded by telling them that it was not that which goes into a person that makes them unclean, but that which comes out of a person. He said that the things which go in pass through, whereas the things which come out are a result of what’s in someone’s heart.
This is one of the most staggering realizations that ever hit me. In my Christian life, I had been taught that if I used drugs, drank alcohol, looked at things I shouldn’t look at, etc., then I would be “defiling” myself. So…I began the process of not doing those things (and I’m not advocating that anyone do any of them)…yet I still struggled. I struggled deeply inside. I hated what I knew of myself. I hated myself because I knew of things which I desired. I knew of how much I wanted to do the very things that would make me “unclean” and I became quite despondent because if my relationship with God were real…would I still be having those struggles? Would I still want to do those things? Would I still have such a strong tug for harmful things and not for a deeper relationship with Him?
As I said…a reality set in. The reality, which came right out of the Scripture is this: We tend to focus too much on the symptom of our problems and not the source. This is of vital importance the same way that an incorrect medical diagnosis would be. If we don’t correctly assess the issue, then we cannot correctly determine the “fix.” If I spend all of my time and energy trying to keep the rules, then I’m not putting any time and energy into assessing the thing that the rules can’t control: my heart.
My problem is not and never has been substance abuse. It’s not that I have a bad temper. It’s not that I look at bad things. My problem is that I have a desire toward those types of things. My problem is not in my hands, feet, eyes, or anything else physical. My problem is the monster…the devil…the blackness inside that wants to go deeper and deeper into the abysses of hell itself…where there is not light…no joy…no realized presence of God. My problem is that I’m a divided man. I spend my time trying to figure out how to behave…but what I really need is to have my heart healed…my soul brightened…and my spirit resurrected. I need to see that monster die.
There is no code of social conduct that will bring that to pass. If I am to heal, I must first see the real problem…then I must learn to love the one that loves me regardless of my problem. The deeper I peer into my soul…the darker the blackness of it is…and yet…the Bible tells me that where sin became a bigger problem, the Grace of God became a stronger force.
There it is. Rules don’t help. They don’t heal. Grace. Grace heals. Grace changes. Grace transforms.
It truly is amazing. And it is unshackled…unchained…and unstoppable.
*Image taken from: http://images4.fanpop.com/image/photos/23600000/The-Monster-Inside-Us-the-joker-23617459-1280-800.jpg