Thursday, July 5, 2012

In pursuit of life and peace

Romans 8:1-11 (NIV)

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.

You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.
I think the inclination when reading this passage — mine was, anyway — is to too narrowly cast the idea of “live according to the flesh.” The footnotes accompanying my reading indicate that in contexts like verse 3 (“For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh”), the Greek word Paul used for flesh (sarx) refers to the sinful state of human beings, often presented as a power in opposition to the Spirit. I take that to mean it encompasses all sin — including those of body, word and thought.

This is where I go back to my recurring theme of how easy it is to convince myself I’m doing well in life because I’m not out there mugging strangers drinking myself into oblivion and taking up with the neighbor’s wife. Heck, I barely know the neighbor’s name, let alone his wife’s. (Seriously, there is a family two houses over, husband, wife and a baby a few months younger than Charlie. The only one I can name is their dog, and I haven’t even seen him outside for months.)

But as it is put so succinctly in 1 John 1:8 (NIV), “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” For me, a big part of my chance to grow as a person and a father is being honest with myself about my shortcomings. Whether it’s finding a trap I fall into time and again and consciously avoiding a relapse or simply catching myself in the act (or the immediate aftermath) of letting my mind be governed by anything aside from the Spirit, I need to hold myself accountable in order to improve. Of course I’ll never be perfect, but I feel if I can chip away at my shortcomings, then bit by bit I’ll become more the person God wants me to be and less the person I’d become if left to my own devices.

Besides, I have always been rubbed the wrong way by the type of Christian who implies being “saved” is some sort of cure-all, the key to a perfect, happy life. To me, Christ’s redemptive sacrifice is about eternity, I don’t feel like I’ve been promised an easy ride while still on this planet. I’m faced with dozens of chances daily to be Christlike or be human, and I far too often opt for the latter. And just because I know I’ll never be perfect doesn’t mean I should stop striving for that goal — nor should I stop holding myself accountable when I fail. 1 John 1 continues:

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.”

So what does this mean for me as a parent? It means holding myself accountable to not just, well, myself, but also to my wife and kids. It means being honest with myself about my shortcomings, and really focusing on all aspects — not just what the world sees, not even just what Kristie and the boys see, but what I know to be true about myself. It means apologizing when I have screwed up. With the kids, it means demanding they do the same in an effort to teach them about the consequences of words and actions and the notion of accountability. (I don’t demand my wife apologize for anything — I’m committed to self-improvement but I am not a crazy person.)

I realize a lot of this is in general terms, which is intentional given the idea of sharing with a broad audience. I try, in my strictly personal thought, to be a bit more specific than, “I have sinned.” Although with the kids I think general is a good place to start. Obviously if we’re responding to a specific incident we can get very specific about what just happened, but as I try to impart the kind of lessons spelled out in this passage from Romans, I think it’s OK to zoom out and explain the general reality of our imperfections — and also, especially, the way we can be made whole.

A prayer for July 5:

Lord, help me live in the realm of the Spirit. Open my eyes to my sin and failures, and give me the strength to straighten my path. Please challenge me to be honest with myself and with you about my entire life, not just the parts I want to hold up in pride. Force me to see where I have been unworthy of you and help me correct myself so I may be an example to my children. Amen.

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