Have you ever desired something good, but you also desire conflicting things, so you never really attain it? Like wanting to stay thin and healthy, but also wanting to take a break from exercise, so in the end you actually gain weight even though you desire to lose weight?! Our thought processes work against us - like when you eat a salad instead of what you'd really love to eat a meal, so then you feel justified in giving yourself a rewarding dessert. You really do desire to lose weight, but your brain is sabotaging that desire because it has conflicting desires.
Conflicting desires are at the core of our struggle to conform to Christ. We truly want to follow Jesus – but at the same time we want to do some things other than following Jesus. In Romans 7:15 to 8:2, Paul’s not saying, "sin made me to it". He's saying that in my false-self (my old human nature in me that experiences life as though God doesn't exist) is where sin masters me, and all the good intentions in the world aren't going to overcome that.
This isn't about Paul's experience alone - he's speaking in the first person about all of us. If we live in the flesh, sin will reign over us. It's not that we’ll be all bad – it's that we're not all good, so we remain conflicted. CS Lewis said that two things true of all people in all cultures. One is that they have a moral code, and two is that they don't live up to it.
In the West, when people fall short, we say, "You've just got to try harder! Where's your willpower? You can achieve anything! The only variable is how hard you're willing to work for it…” Clearly that's not true, but it is deeply engrained in us. Hard work won't conform you to Christ-likeness. You can't “willpower” your way to overcoming your own desires because willpower is based on our desires. And we have conflicting desires, so we have conflicting wills! We can't will that to be different, we need to be rescued from that. Fortunately, God has a plan to rescue us!
Romans 8:1-2 says there is NO condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. This means we ARE loved and accepted, not condemned, in Christ Jesus. God's rescue mission is exactly the opposite of the "try harder solution", we ARE loved and accepted right now, we don't have to try harder to earn that! The key to this is the words "In Christ" – when you surrender your life to Christ, in a very real sense you are placed "in Christ", and all that is true for Christ in nature now becomes yours by grace. Christ gives himself totally to you. And since there's no condemnation in Christ, then there's no condemnation in you.
So God doesn't wait for us to clean up our act before he loves and accepts us. Rather, it's the opposite – God loves and accepts us right now, and that is the motivation that makes us “will” to overcome our conflicting desires and clean up our act. He gives us everything up front, as we are, and that changes us from the inside out.
So our view of God changes. As 2 Corinthians 5:14 says, "The love of Christ compels
me." In Christ is your true identity! The lies about you get blown apart, and you get to live in the truth. You become captivated by the beauty of a God who loves you perfectly, as opposed to trying to follow a God who is disappointed that you never seem to measure up. Then you realize that your conflicting desires don't express the true you – they only exist because you haven't yet fully embraced the true you! So that changes your view of yourself – you can now see yourself as being fully loved AS YOU ARE, a child of God living in no condemnation. Seeing the true God and your true self in Christ set the captives free because you no longer desire the things that compete with following God.
Then Romans 8:2 says that because we are in Christ, we have his Spirit living within us, and that Spirit always moves us towards putting off the false self and living out of the new self. This means the "try harder solution" is backwards - we don’t need to try harder, we need to surrender ourselves to the Spirit and let the Spirit help us to will and to do the things that God loves. In the "try harder solution", we're trying to become something we're not, whereas in God's rescue plan we're finally allowing ourselves to behave in ways that reflect who we truly are, as we shed the stuff that's not who we truly are!
You're already in Christ, already holy, already seated in the heavenly places, already a reflection of God - but you need to accept that fully so you can let go of the lies that keep you in bondage to sin.
So the 2 steps we need to follow if we want to overcome our conflicting desires mirror Romans 8:1 and 8:2:
- Believe that what God says about you is true as you grab hold of your true identity!
- Yield to the Spirit as he takes away the lies that conflict with who you truly are!
"The fuel that the Kingdom engine runs on is Christ loving us, which ignites in us a love for Christ."
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