They sat in my office distressed about the state of their marriage. “Here we are again. Same story. We got things back together 10 years ago. We thought we had it fixed. Then 7 years later same thing. Now, here we are again. Is there any hope for us. I just don’t know if I can pull it together again.” She was in tears. He stared off into space.
It might be the never-ending weight loss/gain/loss yoyo, sometimes call the battle of the bulge. It could be a struggle to get your finances in order. Some folks have a perennial struggle with losing their temper. Still others a chronic illness. Why don’t these things just go away? Shouldn’t we somehow be able to conquer our demons? Shouldn’t we be able to live a normal happy and productive life on an ongoing consistent basis?
Well, no. Not if we’re honest with ourselves and willing to be brutally honest about our failures. The expectation that all will be well this side of heaven is not only unrealistic, but sets us up for disappointment and more failure.
Certainly we make progress as we go through life. We gain better self-control, and are able to conquer certain proclivities. More often than not, however, it’s a whack-a-mole proposition. We fix one issue only to have another rear its ugly head. We battle sexual and substance temptations in our younger years. Then in our middle age years we discover that issues of insecurity or worry rule our hearts. In our later years we often throw away our filters, becoming willing to be angry and self-righteous all too quickly. The struggle continues. It only takes new forms.
The first of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses stated, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” This is not a one-time thing. If you ask me whether I’ve been born again, I would say, “Yes. Again, and again, and again. I repent daily, and am born again and anew daily in Christ.”
In short it should not surprise us if we must battle against sin again and again. I should be concerned if I feel no compulsion to repent. If I don’t feel the need to repent, I’m in trouble. If there is no more struggle, I might well fear that I’m like the lukewarm Christians in Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-16).
Some might consider this a defeatist attitude. They might rebel against the idea that we’ll always have to struggle with sin, and constantly need to repent. But the greater danger is that we lull ourselves into a false sense of security, and end up falling farther and harder because of our false hopes and unrealistic expectations.
Thankfully, however, that’s not the whole story. Jesus says that the poor in spirit are those who are blessed; theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3). Not only so, but we have the promise of God’s grace and forgiveness when we do fail. We also have the power of the Holy Spirit and the Resurrected Christ at work within us to will and do the good things that God has already lined up for us to do.
Galatians 5:17 says, “For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” It is a conundrum. We are not able to do the good things we want to do with consistency because of the sinful flesh. Nor are we “able” do do the sinful things we are tempted to do because of the presence of the Holy Spirit.
So how are we to live? We should not expect ever to outgrow our need for forgiveness. At the same time we must rejoice in and make use of the power of the Holy Spirit within to battle against sin. This is the battle of life as God’s sons and daughters.
I tried to offer some hope to the couple. I encouraged them to keep at it; to risk the disappointment of trying and slipping back into their old ways. They made the effort and managed to make things work. This is the call of God to all of us who recognize Jesus as their Lord. Frankly, however, not everyone makes the effort. Some marriages fail. That brings with it a tail of woe and pain that keeps on giving. Dealing with that is the subject for another day.
For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. 9 And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. – Galatians 6:8-9