Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Death to fatalism

Most of my life I've struggled, usually unsucessfully, with the sin of overeating. That's not to say all overeating is sin, but in my case I often turn to food as a substitute for God's comfort and grace. That's not just bad nutrition; it's idolatry. One blessing from my struggle has been learning to appreciate how powerfully sin can pull upon the soul. That realization has helped me have compassion on anyone who struggles with a besetting sin--be it alcohol, drugs, sexual sin, or some other addiction.

This week at Mr. Standfast, Bob cautions against allowing a besetting sin to lead us into fatalism. Perhaps we, despite all our willpower and best efforts, have fallen again and again into the same sin, perhaps for years. After a while it's easy to say, as a man Bob recently spoke with said, "I just can't help it":

I know what he means, but I just can't accept that this sense of fatalism with regard to sin is really what God wants for us. And yet it's difficult to respond to this attitude. You come off sounding like a naïf; like someone who has not yet wised up to the power and persistence of the flesh. Surely it is good to be "realistic" about oneself. Good to face up at last to one's weakness.

And yet . . .

I just don't accept it. In effect, this makes confession and repentance an end instead of a beginning. As if Christ's exhortation, "Get up and walk," was not meant for us today. And this attitude seriously underestimates the power of the Gospel, it seems to me. As if it were only a future hope, but never a present reality. As if Romans 7 were the end of the story, and Paul had never followed his heartfelt confession of weakness with the great encouragement to spiritual victory that is Romans 8.

How beautifully expressed, and how true. It really is easy for the one with long-term sin to assume the role of the experienced one, more in the know than the naive Christian who thinks avoiding sin is easy. But, as Bob points out, living a righteous life is a major focus of Romans.

Romans 6-8 paints a picture of the Christian life that is, far from being static or fatalistic (as might be assumed by those who interpret Romans 7 as if it stood alone, apart from its context), a thoroughly new way to live. Paul is essentially an optimist about the Christian life. If I have any message to offer my friend, it must share in that optimism. "For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made [us] free from the law of sin and death."

Amen. As Mr. Standfast (and the Scriptures) proclaims: "Christian, there is an alternative to sin!" We who are in Christ are new creations, and we now have the power, whether we feel like it or not, to live a new life in Christ. If we're struggling with chronic sin, let our prayer be to walk with Christ in newness of life--today.


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