“If I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it. It is sin living in me. I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. If I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.” ~ Romans 7:14-21
I am not my sin.
The Holy Spirit has been revealing this to me, illuminating these truths in stunning ways. I’ve been changing lately—or rather, God has been changing me. A life long struggle with anger has evaporated into thin air, leaving me dumbfounded at the difference.
A long time ago, Jesus took aim at my lust, and he won. Since that day (yes, I remember the day it happened) I’ve always wondered why my temper seemed harder to kill than my sexual immorality. Rage has been a monster lurking in my heart for so long that I can’t remember living without it. I generally don’t hold grudges, so smoldering anger isn’t my issue. Explosive anger is. Or was. Like I said, I’ve been changing.
A huge part of this transformation stems from the revelation that I am not my sin. And my sin isn’t even a genuine part of me—that is, part of my true, redeemed self. It’s woven hopelessly into every fibre of my flesh, true–but my flesh isn’t me either. My new self is “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). When I fly off the handle, that’s not me. It’s a violation of my identity. I see that now, praise God. Because for years and years, I thought it was me. That I was an angry person. That anger was in my DNA. But it isn’t. I’m a new creation, I’m like Jesus, and that’s truer about me than my struggles and weaknesses are.
You’ll never fully appreciate how amazing this is, but I haven’t lost my temper in weeks. I’ve felt my temper rise in tiny bubbles, sure—but it’s different. I know words are going to fail me here, but I can feel a keen difference in my experience of anger. It’s now like some foreign ick, a dark psychic jellyfish, is trying to take over. I can feel, for the first time, that something other than me, different than me, alien to me, and distinctly NOT me, is trying to hijack me.
Knowing that it’s the sin IN me, the evil right there WITH me that’s the problem—not the true me, per se—has been beyond huge. For one thing, it’s infinitely easier to comprehend defeating a parasitic THING than something written into my nature. Compare the notion of removing a big cyst vs. defeating your blood type, and you get the idea.
I can also feel the truth that to give in to this… THING… within me when it rears its ugly head would mean violating who I am. It would be out of character. Because I am not an angry person. “Let your gentleness be evident to all,” Paul writes (Philippians 4:5), and that’s good news. MY gentleness. The gentleness written into my DNA. The stuff that truly defines me.
I’m learning that resisting temptation on the basis of morality—right, wrong, do’s, don’ts—is a difficult road. It’s far easier to resist an evil when you see a moral lapse as a violation of your identity. Much of our proneness to sin, I’m finding, is due to a chronic identity crisis.
On the other hand, I’m becoming more and more like Jesus, so giving in to him and letting him express himself in my soul, leaving his mark…
Is so me.
So instead of rage, I feel calm. And I think, “Now THIS is who I am. I love this.” I can say without pride, “I love who I am,” because who I am is a child of God created in his image, one with Jesus Christ, redeemed by his blood, holy in his sight, loved, treasured, lavished on, transformed, renewed, and a chip off the old block.
I still sin regularly, true… but that’s not me.
It’s just not.
We often speak of establishing a moral compass in ourselves and others. Traditionally, we’ve tried to do this with a list of rights and wrongs, do’s and don’ts. But a compass isn’t a list of instructions. A compass is pulled in the right direction by forces stronger than our confusion. The most powerful moral compass in the universe is our identity in Christ.