Imagine three scenarios:
Follow the Leader?
A Christian businessman makes room in his crowded schedule to meet with colleagues at a local restaurant. Waiting at a table set for six persons, the clock makes it plain that he will be eating alone. Text messages and emails trickle in from each of the business leaders excusing themselves because of “things” that have come up, none of them emergencies and all of them easily dealt with by advanced planning.
A mother of three corrals the kids to the doctor because the youngest has a bad sinus infection. She mechanically hands the receptionist her insurance card and takes a seat to begin the juggling act of comforting and entertaining her flock.
Minutes later she is called back to the window to find out to her embarrassment and horror that her policy is suspended due to a missed premium payment. In a flurry of phone calls and purse rummaging she discovers that she made the payment but her check bounced. Collecting the scattered pile of receipts and notes off the waiting room floor she just can’t understand how this happened even as her conscience whispers quietly, “Budgeting.”
A twenty-something Christian attends a discipleship conference with a well-known and respected speaker giving the keynote address. During the question and answer time this ardent believer makes his way to the microphone to ask his urgent question.
Addressing the speaker by his first name, he inquires about the teacher’s failures and how they might contradict what he just taught. Hungry to find victory in his own life, he assumes that others share his experience of defeat. Confusion and bewilderment wash over him as he senses hostility from the crowd around him and the look of offense on the speaker’s face.
Evil Is Present In Me
In all of these cases the characters have committed their lives to Christ and try very hard to be good Christians. They find themselves, however, often betrayed by their own habits and attitudes, leading to relationship conflicts, emotional upsets, and even sin. Their hearts are saved, but their bodies haven’t caught up. They want to do good, but end up doing the very thing they hate (Romans 7:19).
Having a transforming encounter with God should make us to be the virtuous people the bible speaks about. And indeed it does, but when we reduce that transforming encounter to a discrete inward experience we rob the gospel of its deep meaning. Our hearts must be infused with divine life, but so must our bodies.
Likewise, sin can’t be fully understood as simply bad choices. Sin is a much more comprehensive condition that alienates us from God and man. Richard Foster explains:
“We are accustomed to thinking of sin as individual acts of disobedience to God. This is true enough as far as it goes, but Scripture goes much further. In Romans the apostle Paul frequently refers to sin as a condition that plagues the human race (i.e., Rom. 3:9–18). Sin as a condition works its way out through the ‘bodily members,’ that is, the ingrained habits of the body (Rom. 7:5ff.). And there is no slavery that can compare to the slavery of ingrained habits of sin.”
Slavery and Grace
The slavery of the body to sin must be dealt with just as the slavery of the will to sin in order to be free. The grace of God enables us to change our ultimate intention from living for self to living for God, and that grace will enable us to tame the bodily habits of sin as well. In both cases, it’s by grace, but it requires our participation.
Our ultimate intention (heart) is changed when we allow the love of God to shine on our selfishness and expose the wretchedness of our lives. In repentance and faith we come to know His goodness and cleansing. Our sinful habits (bodies) are changed when we allow the love of God to order our patterns of living and shape our routines opening us up to experiencing God’s authority and blessing.
We need the grace of God for both our hearts and our bodies. But that grace must be cooperated with. For our inward transformation that means engaging in honesty. For our outward transformation that means engaging in the spiritual disciplines. Without both, we will not become the people of God the scriptures speak about.