Dealing with the Sinful Self

I made the official “walk” down the aisle of my church when I was 8 years old. I went through the motions of the “good church boy” conversion experience, getting baptized and all that goes with it.  I did everything I had seen other people do when they were “saved.”  But nothing about my life really changed after that.  I was the same old Jeremy – not a bad person, raised in a good home, and overall, a pretty good kid. But as I got older, temptations became a little more dangerous – my worst temptation wasn’t just stealing a pack of gum from the convenience store any more.  It was sexual temptation, selfish ambition, hatred, and greed. And I can remember, as I look back over those years from about the age of 10 on up, that I gave in to these temptation more and more. Then, when I was 18, I went to my first Christian summer camp. There, I believe I had a real conversion experience – I recognized and mourned over my sinfulness, I prayed for forgiveness and salvation, and I made a lot of promises to God. Unfortunately, I broke all of them after that, and sadly, after my “Jesus-high” wore off, I went on living pretty much the same way I always had. In fact, I’d say that some of my most regretted actions occured in those years. During that time, I lived in what today’s lesson called the “forgivness loop.”** I sinned as much as I always had, I asked for forgiveness, and I went on sinning and asking forgiveness over and over again. And I’ve been doing this for the last 12 years or so…

Up to now in our study of the Gospel, we have looked at only the first quarter of the entire message. In the first quarter of the Gospel, we see that God has provided a means of forgiveness for our sins, has offered us eternal life, and has changed the orientation of our life from self-effort to rest.  The lesson contends that if you understand and embrace only this quarter of the Gospel, you are saved.** But even if you understand the first quarter, it is still possible that you will struggle with sin. That is exactly what I have done for the past 12 years, living inside the “forgiveness loop” and hating every minute of it. I believe that once you are saved, the Holy Spirit takes residence in you and you cannot go on sinning without an extreme draining of your conscience. This has been my experience for a long time, but as we’ll see in today’s lesson, this is not how God intended us to live. This isn’t the normal Christian life – it’s the life of a Christian who doesn’t understand the whole Gospel.

The Bible paints a pretty vivid image of people, likening them to trees. Jesus said “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit” (Matthew 12:33). The fruit He is speaking of here is our actions.  In Galatians 5:19-21, it describes two kinds of fruit. Most of us have heard of, and many of us have memorized the good kind of fruit, the fruit of the Spirit – “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (v. 22-23).  Right before that, it lists the bad kind, the fruit of the flesh – “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like…” (v. 19-21).  As Jesus said, though – these actions are not the cause of the problem, they are the outward signs of the problem.  The “goodness” of a tree’s fruit is nothing more than an indicator of the “goodness” of the tree’s roots.  Jeremiah 17:5-8 describes the “root” of the problem:

This is what the LORD says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD. He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.

But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.

The lesson points out that when the Bible uses the word “flesh” it is referring to one of two things – “act of the flesh,” a.k.a., self-gratification, or the “way of the flesh,” a.k.a. self-effort. When a person’s roots are planted in self-effort and/or self-gratification, his fruit shows it. The aim of the Gospel is to plant our roots in the Spirit.

The upcoming lessons in this series will talk more about how this happens. But just like in the first quarter of the Gospel, where you have to have a revelation of the truth, that Jesus died for you, before you can embrace it and make it a reality in your life (your conversion), you must have a revelation of the truth in the second quarter of the Gospel before you can embrace it and allow it to plant your roots in the Spirit.  The truth portrayed in the second quarter of the Gospel is this:

For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin— because anyone who has died has been freed from sin. (Romans 6:6-7)

This is the good news of the second quarter of the Gospel. You were crucified with Christ. As weird as it might sound, once you become a Christian, you died 2000 years ago. Your “old self” is dead and gone – you may still lug it around with you, allowing it to drag you down, but it’s dead. 

If you are like me, you’ve spent a lot of time trying to crucify yourself. You feel like sin still has a hold of you, and you still see bad fruit growing in your life. You try to pick off the bad fruit yourself, by living a “self-controlled” life, but your so-called self-control is really nothing more than self-effort. It’s a list of rules you set up, so that you can be righteous and please God. But it doesn’t please God – it actually offends Him! You’re trying to do what God has already done! Instead, we should follow the advice of Ephesians 4:22-24: “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” We can’t kill off the old self – it’s already dead. We’re taught to put off the old self.  And why not!  For the sake of making a point, I’ll say it again – the old self is already dead…

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**Taken from Lesson 5: A Radical Gospel, from the course The Power of the Gospel, OBC

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