Have you ever found yourself desiring something that was so clearly worse than what you already have that you wonder what in the world could be driving you to want it?
One day I felt this very thing. It was a perfectly normal day, and I wasn’t unhappy, or tired, or sad. I didn’t notice myself being in any of the states I would typically expect to bring along temptation. I was simply brushing my teeth alone when I felt the weight of a desire that I knew I could never obtain press upon my mind. In that moment I had a thought which I hope I am not alone in: how could I think this?
As I pondered what might be going on in my head, I took note of the better things currently in my life which the object of my desire would have to displace. It is not always the case with temptation, but in this instance my desire was so clearly inferior to the great reality that was not only within my grasp, but actually mine, that I found myself struck by a thought about our sinful nature’s in general:
In a materialistic world striving to make you feel the inherent greatness, goodness, and independence of humanity and the obvious absence of a Creator who can make any claims upon your life, your own sinful nature is a clue to the reality that all is not as it seems. It is a clue; however, only if you are able to notice it hiding deep within you and recognize it for what it is. When everything around you says “Nothing to see here, everything is perfectly normal,” Sin is hiding like a hunter in camouflage, waiting for the moment to strike. But when you are able to recognize the flaws in its camouflage, you can begin to see reality as it truly is.
Then I found myself thankful—not for my sinful nature, per se, but that I even noticed it. In that moment I saw my sinful nature as though it was the Wizard of Oz, after having been revealed behind his curtains. Seeing my nature for what it is, I recognized that although our sinful natures separate us from God and lead us to death, God uses them despite their natural ends, alongside his Law and Grace, to show us the reality of the world we live in and our complete dependence upon Him.
Despite what our world tries to promulgate, God does exist, and we are accountable to him. You can feel it in those moments when life should be perfect but you still find yourself wanting that which makes no sense. You can feel it in those moments when you wonder why you still do that thing you do. You can feel it when you do that thing which looks so good, but deep down you know your motives are not pure. If you are honest with yourself, something isn’t quite right inside of you, and never has been (at least since you had any concept of what right was). Even for those of us who are trying to follow God and trust his word, our sinful natures lie deep within our flesh and war with our spirit for dominance in our lives.
Our sinful natures are revealed by the Law of God when we look into Scripture. It may be painful, but don’t turn away, because that pain is for our benefit. Recognize that it is what is inside of us that caused us to be separated from God and earns our condemnation before him. The Law reveals our sickness, and by itself leaves us in either fear of judgement or longing for deliverance.
I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!Romans 7:23-25 (ESV)
The Gospel, on the other hand, works powerfully when we finally recognize the deep-seated sin in our own lives. God has loved us all along. “God is Love” (1 John 4:8). From before we tainted ourselves with our rebellion til now God has not stopped loving us. He loves us so much that he sent his eternal Son to be incarnated as one of us, so that he could provide the remedy for our sickness, and he offers that remedy to us freely. Jesus lived the life we could not and died the death each of us has earned. In his death, he defeated sin, death, and the power of our spiritual enemies, and demonstrated his victory at his resurrection on the third day.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.John 3:16 (ESV)
We cannot defeat our own sinful nature. We can cover it up with varying degrees of success, but it is still there, lurking behind the scenes of our life. The only remedy is to give ourselves to Jesus Christ who has defeated sin, and to be renewed by his Spirit for the rest of our lives until he finally delivers us from our body of flesh and unites us to bodies of glory, untainted by sin. For those of us who trust in Christ, holding our confession firm until the end, though our bodies are weak, our God is strong. He will certainly deliver us.
For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation.Romans 5:10-11 (ESV)