Friday, July 23, 2010

"But now I, like, really want to!"

This summer, my husband noticed that our 12-year-old daughter—like many of her peers—was misusing the word “like” a little too frequently in her speech—you know, like when someone can’t, like, stop staying the word “like” between, like, every other word. Anyway, my husband wanted her to be aware of her speech so he promised her one dollar if she could go two hours without saying the word (except in proper grammar usage)—but every time she used it improperly he’d take a penny off the total. She readily accepted the challenge, but after a few minutes she got a perplexed look on her face. “It’s weird,” she said, “before now, I never really wanted to say that word. But now I really, really want to!”

Of course, my husband and I burst out laughing—but then it dawned on me: her confession really gets at what Paul meant when he talks about the Law and its affect on us in his letter to Roman believers.

Paul is trying to help his brothers and sisters in Rome understand the freedom and new life Jesus brings. He’s freed us from being “enslaved to sin” (6:6)—or, as Eugene Peterson puts in the Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible, all those “multilayered accumulation of attitudes, actions, habits, emotional assumptions, and wrongheaded ideas that puts us at odds with God.” And because we are freed from that old way of life, we are also freed us from the Law code and “that entire rule-dominated way of life:”
For as long as we lived that old way of life, doing whatever we felt we could get away with, sin was calling most of the shots as the old law code hemmed us in. And this made us all the more rebellious. (from Romans 7:4-6, emphasis mine)
The NIV and NRSV says the Law “arouses” and “revives” sin.

In other words, the Law—which tells us what all those attitudes, actions, habits, emotions and wrongheaded ideas are that put us at odds with God—actually exposes and uncovers the bent within us to live the opposite of the way we were created to: loving God, others and the world. And knowing the Law not only makes us aware of the bent, but actually arouses or revives that rebelliousness within us. We awaken to the truth that we actually want to engage in all those attitudes, actions, habits, emotions and wrongheaded ideas that put us at odds with God and each other.

So, is the Law just as bad as sin? Heavens, no! says Paul. “The law code had a perfectly legitimate function. Without its clear guidelines for right and wrong, moral behavior would be mostly guesswork” (7:7). It is “God's good and common sense, each command sane and holy counsel” (7:12).

No, it is that bent within us—sin—that does the dirty work. Says, Paul, “Sin simply did what sin is so famous for doing: using the good as a cover to tempt me to do what would finally destroy me. By hiding within God's good commandment, sin did far more mischief than it could ever have accomplished on its own” (7:13). And the Law? It serves as our guiderails, tutor, and protector, keeping us from doing things that hurt ourselves, others and the world and revealing what it looks like to love others and God.

But now we get why the Law—and that entire rule-dominated way of life we develop around it—can’t fix us. It reveals that we are so bent that we can't live the way we were created to on our own will. In fact, the bent is so deep that the Law actually arouses our desire to engage in those attitudes, actions, habits, emotions and wrongheaded ideas are that put us at odds with God and each other. We eventually crash through those rails. We are broken.

But now Paul’s words a few paragraphs later make so much sense: “The law always ended up being used as a Band-Aid on sin instead of a deep healing of it” (8:4). It helps us to know how to live best—loving God and loving others, the way we were created to live—but we can’t do it by our own effort.

But, Paul tells us, God didn’t leave us there:
God went for the jugular when he sent his own Son. He didn't deal with the problem as something remote and unimportant. In his Son, Jesus, he personally took on the human condition, entered the disordered mess of struggling humanity in order to set it right once and for all. The law code, weakened as it always was by fractured human nature, could never have done that…. And now what the law code asked for but we couldn't deliver is accomplished as we, instead of redoubling our own efforts, simply embrace what the Spirit is doing in us” (from 8:3-4).
God sent Jesus, who cleared away it all “like a strong wind.” Jesus is “the deep healing” of our bent and brokenness.

So, we must trust that God’s spirit is in us—“the living and breathing God!”—and rethink our thinking, as Mark Scandrette puts it. “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think,” says Paul (12:1-2). With Jesus, we become new creatures—the ones we were created to be in the beginning—and we must learn how to live like the new creatures we are. We learn to live out of that new, resurrection life instead of our old life (a life the world continues to reflect in its behavior and customs). As Dan Stone puts it, we grow into God’s truth, allowing his truth to become our experience.

We talked about all this with our children that day, but it was just as good for me to hear it as it was for them. It gave me a better grasp on how to go about learning to live out of this new life. Too often I slip back into relying on my own efforts. I forget that it is by resting and trusting in the new Spirit and life within me that I learn to walk in those wide open spaces of God’s abundant life, grace, and glory—to let God's truth become my experience and live the way I am created to live.

(Image: mine)

2 comments:

Ken Brown said...

My daughter is four and so far all our attempts to break her of sucking her thumb have failed (thankfully her little brother never started!). A couple days ago I took them to the park, and on the way home I told her she couldn't suck her thumb because her hands were dirty and might make her sick.

So instead she spent the entire ride home grabbing different parts of her face--her hair, her ears, her nose, her cheeks, her chin, finally her lips. She'd hold on for a couple minutes, making a coy little face, then quickly pull her arms down to her lap when she saw me looking at her in the mirror. Then a minute later she'd grab another part of her face and do the same thing, each time getting a little closer to her mouth. I asked her what she was doing and she just said her mouth felt funny. I told her it was because she was addicted to sucking her thumb, but I don't think she knew what I meant.

The whole thing reminded me of a smoker trying to quit by chewing gum incessantly. Even when we want to break the habit we try to get as close as possible to the feeling we're addicted to, even if it means resorting to rather absurd behavior. It's funny when a kid does it, but we all do the same thing.

Carmen Andres said...

if there's one thing i've learned about breaking old habits is that i have to replace it with another, hopefully better, one. the point you just made makes me realize the importance of being aware what kind of habit i'm choosing--one to simply replace it (even if it isn't as bad) or a new one altogether. it makes me think in a new way about the old life versus the new life and how Paul seems to continually say that they have nothing in common . . . . good stuff, Ken--as always you make me think (and my brain start to hurt, heh).