Thursday, January 24, 2013

Our Struggle With Sin

By Kristen Leigh Evensen
"Imagine if you suddenly learned that the people, the places, the moments most important to you were not gone, not dead, but worse, had never been. What kind of hell would that be?"
I watched A Beautiful Mind for the first time this past weekend. The screen went black, the credits rolled, and my jaw stayed dropped to the floor for a solid moment as I absorbed the complexity of the film. Most striking of all, though, was the spiritual metaphor that transpired out of the protagonist's struggle with schizophrenia.

It parallels our struggle with sin.

(Spoiler alert!) The story follows John Nash, an incredible genius of a man who, during grad school, develops severe schizophrenia. We, the viewers, figure this out halfway through the film. And we mourn for John. We mourn for his wife. We mourn for their darling child--as John attempts to battle the mental disease. He spends time in the mental ward getting shock therapy, and he takes medication that saps away his life. 

John and his wife eventually rethink the therapy and medication. She encourages him that he must look within the heart--the will--to get past his deep struggle. If he sets his mind--his strongest asset--to realizing who is real and who is imagined, then maybe--just maybe--John can begin living again in reality.

At the end of the film, we see John as a seventy-some year old man, teaching college courses and accepting the Nobel Peace Prize. 

But we also see his imagined friends lingering ominously in the background. So does he, even still. 

When asked if he continually saw imaginary people, John replies: "I still see things that are not here. I just choose not to acknowledge them. Like a diet of the mind, I just choose not to indulge certain appetites; like my appetite for patterns; perhaps my appetite to imagine and to dream."

Just as John set his mind to ignoring his "friends", so we set our minds against the power of sin over our lives. 

Our sin nature takes a backseat to our new nature in Christ. Like John, we all struggle with our respective sins--the very habits, thought patterns, and words that we cannot seem to kick to the curb.

So frustrating, isn't it? What is with this ever-present tension? We are a new creation in Christ Jesus, and yet our sins linger and tempt us and threaten us. 

The fact of the matter is that our sin is like John's imaginary friends: hanging out, waiting to be acknowledged and acted upon in a moment of weakness. This is the tension: That although we are a new creation, freed from the power of sin, we still live imperfect lives in a fallen world.

Paul writes of this ever-present struggle with our sin nature (Romans 7):

"21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?"
There is another power within us that is at war with our minds, making us slaves to sin. This is why such tension exists between what we want to do, and what we know God wants us to do! Our sin lingers on the sidelines, hoping we will grant it attention and give it some semblance of reign in our lives.  

If you feel this tension in your day to day, you are not alone! Even Paul was with you in this battle against the flesh ("What a miserable person I am!"). And every one of your brothers and sisters experiences the battle, too. 

Why does this tension exist? If we are a new creation in Christ Jesus, then why do our sins still creep on us and tempt us to act? Think of our heavenly nature this way: It is now, but not yet. When we accept Jesus as the only One who can reconcile us with God through His selfless death, we are gifted all the joys of heavenly inheritance! But, the fact of the matter is that we still live in a fallen world, with imperfect bodies and minds. Our victory--our true identity--is now, but not yet.

Paul has more to say, however, in answer to his question "Who will free me?":

25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin."

In Jesus Christ and His power to overcome death, you have been gifted complete victory over your sin nature! Although still present in this life, sin is not the end. It holds no triumph over you!

So then, what should we say to our sin, according to the Bible? How do we stand against the threat of sin, looming in the background of our days?

"12 Therefore, dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. 13 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. 14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God." (Romans 8)

Paul proclaims that we have no obligation to live in obedience to our sin! Just as John Nash decided never to acknowledge the effects of his mental battle, so we can choose not to allow sin any power over us. In Christ, we have the ability to say, "NO!"

To those sins that you continually struggle with, say:
"From you, I have been set free."
"I am no longer a slave to you because I am new in Jesus."
"My new identity in Christ leaves no room for your influence." 
"I have not received a fearful spirit, but the Spirit of Jesus living in me." 

Sin's power no longer has any hold on you! Tell it off in the power of Christ!

Now, will we all still battle sin? Will we still struggle to conquer our sin each and every day? Until the day arrives when Jesus calls us into the eternal Kingdom, we still live amidst our fallen world, sin and all. The point, though, is that you have an eternal hope to overcome sin, despite its looming presence. You have the choice to deny its power and ignore its teases. 

Christ has His hold on you. He rose from the dead and made a way for you. Through His power and authority, the weight of sin was broken.

Like John Nash, you can choose to live apart from your sin, to refuse to feed it, and to stay focused on Christ's power in you!

Father God Above, How incredibly thankful we are that your Son loved us enough to save us from sin's power. Because of Your love, we no longer acknowledge sin as victorious. Instead, we plead your power upon us to overcome its weight and pull. We ask for the strength to speak Your truth about our identities in Christ out loud when sin threatens us. We run to You, asking for your Word to settle in our hearts. We pray for help, as we do see certain earthly sins looming in our gaze, that we would choose the victorious way! We praise You for your power and authority to overcome sin and death!

Amen.

What can you say to your sin today? What verses can you hide away in your memory as weapons against sin?

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