The Good, the Bad, and the… Hey! What’s that Monkey on my Back?

by Steven Gledhill for FREEdom from MEdom Project

“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” —A.W. Tozer

lonely young womanWhat about the one whose walk with God is stalled by what feels ugly inside? It is so common to the Christian experience; one that can be deflating for believers who want so much more of what God has for them but battle that sense of unworthiness; that sense of failure and disappointment before the throne of grace rather than confidence in whose they are.

“What, after all, is your basis of approach to God? Do you come to Him on the uncertain ground of your feeling, the feeling that you may have achieved something for God today? Or is your approach based on something far more secure, namely, the fact that the Blood has been shed, and that God looks on that Blood and is satisfied?” —Watchman Nee

Relationship with God hinges on ones perception of God. God is love and God is just. I myself will at times feel ugly under the light of God’s justice and feel I continue to fall short of his glory when questioning if I am repentant enough. That’s a struggle for a lot of folks and it’s a conversation worth having to process that. This is that conversation.

“No matter how many sins I commit, it is always the one sin principle that leads to them. I need forgiveness for my sins, but I need also deliverance from the power of sin. The former touches my conscience, the latter my life. I may receive forgiveness for all my sins, but because of my sin I have, even then, no abiding peace of mind.” —Watchman Nee
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I have been redeemed through the sacrifice of Jesus, reconciled back into right relationship with God, having been justified by my faith that Jesus is my Savior, since he paid the debt of my sin, by the shedding of his blood. I understand that I did nothing to earn salvation, something undeserved but given to me, and that my righteousness is complete because the Word of God says so. Yet, I am still burdened by this thorn in my flesh that I am not good enough to bask in the favor of God, who I know is merciful and loving. Why is that?

“God’s way of deliverance is altogether different from man’s way. Man’s way is to try to suppress sin by seeking to overcome it; God’s way is to remove the sinner…” —Watchman Nee

Watchman Nee (whose real name was Nee Tao Shu) wrote the quote above in his book The Normal Christian Life (published in 1961); his insightful commentary concerning the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church in Rome. Like Paul, Watchman Nee would spend much of his later years in prison, deepening his understanding of what it is to experience the fullness of new life in relationship with Jesus Christ. So, what did he mean suggesting that God’s way to deliver us from sin is to remove the sinner? Look for more quotes from Watchman Nee throughout this chapter from The Normal Christian Life.

Continuing the conversation…

A Jewish man of substantial wealth and standing among his peers had an occasion to meet Jesus seeking clarity on where he stood in the bigger picture. He may have needed some assurance peace of mind that in death he might be as secure as he was in his life. Perhaps he had given some of his resources for some in need and wondered to himself if he had done enough… if it was good enough to “get in”. He had been blessed monetarily in his life but… what is the criteria for eternal life? He understood Jesus to be one who stood tall in that regard, having heard the liberating message he’d delivering in recent times.

As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good.” Mark 10:17-18 (NLT)

67-mustange-junk-yard (4)How does one measure goodness? What is the standard for it? How can I ever be good enough to be truly good, if only God is good?

What was Jesus saying about himself when he declared that only God is truly good? Some would say that Jesus meant that he is good since he is God in the flesh; and that the man addressing Jesus as a good teacher (Rabbi) was identifying Jesus as God; after all, he knelt down before Jesus. I don’t believe that to be the case. The custom in those days was to show respect to the one of importance whose attention you sought for your particular purpose.

Matthew Henry, a 16th century theologian and scholar, in his commentary on the subject, wrote, “He wanted advice from one whom he must have heard of as a celebrated Teacher; and he wanted this counsel as a matter of great interest to himself. Good Master. This would be the ordinary and courteous mode of accosting a person professing to be a teacher, so as to conciliate his attention and interest.”

Another theologian and scholar from the 16th century, John Gill, wrote, “… A young man, a ruler among the Jews, and very rich, a person of great dignity, and large substance; he hearing that Christ was going from those parts, ran in great haste to him, to have some conversation with him, before he was entirely gone; and kneeled to him; as a token of great respect and civility.” He goes on to write that even translations that suggest that the young man “worshipped” Jesus, did so, not in a religious sense, but in a civil way.

That being said, it appears right to conclude that when Jesus tells the young man of wealth and authority that, “Only God is truly good,” he is saying that as a human being, he himself, the son of God, falls short of the full measure of good. Jesus, of course, did not sin. But the fact that he could be tempted to sin means that there was desire in him that was flawed having been made flesh. Many will criticize my viewpoint on this, but if Jesus did not experience desire in the full scope of inherited human nature, with the capacity to sin, then to say that Jesus was truly tempted to sin is at best a ruse. Scholars point out that Jesus was just like us in his flesh but innocent of sin. I do not dare say that Jesus was not truly good. Jesus said that only God is truly good.

“Consider how our Lord regards His own Sonship, surrendering His will wholly to the paternal will and not even allowing Himself to be called ‘good’ because Good is the name of the Father. Love between father and son, in this symbol, means essentially authoritative love on the one side, and obedient love on the other. The father uses his authority to make the son into the sort of human being he, rightly, and in his superior wisdom, wants him to be.” —C.S. Lewis

What Is Good?

“Why do you call me good? Only God is good.” Why would Jesus say that? How did Jesus define ‘good’? If Jesus, having lowered himself from divine standing, wasn’t all good, was he bad? Bad compared to what? What if we adjust the word, and instead of saying bad, we say flawed?

A newborn baby, fresh from his or her mother’s womb, is beautiful. There could not be a stitch of bad in him, right? We all can’t wait to pry him from his mother’s arms and hold him. Finally, she releases him and someone who is not his mother gets to hold him. Isn’t he precious? Then, he begins to fidget and squirm. Then he begins to cry with a kind of squeaky scream. Then his scream gets pretty desperate, almost angry, and what do we do? We give him back to his mother. He is not happy with her, either. He is really hungry. The little guy’s entitled to a meal.

“What’s taking so long? Feed me, already!”

So his mother pulls him in close to her breast and offers the little guy a feast. But after awhile, he fidgets and squirms again. He shouts with a squeaky shriek,

“What’s taking you so long? Burp me, already?”

“What… you’re having a hard time meeting my every need? Come on! Pronto! Move it! Let’s go!”

Now, of course, the little guy can’t say all that. He’s just a few hours old… a few weeks old… a few months old… but only if he could talk?

We come out of the womb selfish; entitled. At that point, it is about survival; but the more we learn and obtain knowledge about what we want and can possess, the more we want it all the more. Is that bad? No… and… yes.

It is selfish. Pursuing what we feel we deserve is self-centered. The problem with human beings feeling compelled to acquire what we believe we deserve is that we are not God, and therefore, our desires are tainted by that imperfection; rendering us less than truly good. How quickly selfishness can take something so beautiful and transform it into something monstrous.

What is the standard for good? Whatever the moral standard is for ‘good’, anything less than good is not good enough, or is in fact, ‘bad’. If ‘good’ is rated at one hundred percent and ‘evil’ is rated at zero percent, what are the scores in between? A score of 70 is less than good, as is a score of 30. The 70 would be on the positive side of the scale trending toward good, while 30 would be negative and trending toward evil. What if the same approach was applied to the standard of right and wrong? Thirty percent right might feel more wrong than seventy percent right. But anything less than one hundred percent right is, in fact, wrong… right? So then, is anything less than one hundred percent good, in fact, bad?

67-mustange-junk-yard (4)It is written in the New Testament that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Jesus declared that all who have sinned have become slaves to sin and selfishness (John 8:34). It is also written that we reap what we sow. There are logical consequences that follow bad (less than good) behavior. So long as we pour into the pot where evil brews, stirring it up from time to time, it follows that when evil is poured out, it doesn’t discriminate where it strikes or who gets dumped on. It finds its way through the cracks of humanity, permeating its depths, only to corrupt and contaminate it. Comprehension of this, I suggest, is not at issue. Acceptance is at issue, here.

In my therapy groups at the prison, I suggest to my clients that good cannot do bad, since good and bad are opposite from each other, just as right and wrong are opposite from each other, and it is not in the nature of good (right) to do bad (wrong). That’s not to say that bad cannot identify good, and have a conscience about it. Since I was created good, having gone bad, through recovery I can be restored back into good. I tell my clients that through transformation from my “Higher Power” I can be good again, then empowered to do good. But by nature, I am bad and will do bad unless I am transformed into something new and good, empowered each day to do good; to do better.

You may have heard it said that good is the enemy of great. Whoever wrote that does not fully appreciate the standard within the quality and character of good. We can talk of amazing feats of great strength, athletic prowess, wondrous acts of courage, stunning beauty, and whatever adjectives we can muster to describe good. Even the translation of scripture that I used from the New Living Translation at the top stated that only God is truly good; truly good as opposed to what… falsely good? Good is good.

Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. Genesis 1:31 (NKJV)

In all of the beautiful, amazing, wondrous, stunningly excellent greatness of his creation of the universe, God looked at it all, considering the plans he had for it, and saw that it was what? That’s right… good!

Having said that, there is a problem. I researched some bible commentaries on the use of the phrase “very good” in Genesis chapter 1 to describe what God saw of his creation. I read some things that suggested that “very good” is not more than good. What I read from these scholars of Hebrew suggested, in my opinion, that when “good” is quantified, using the word, “very”, or in other places in the Bible, “very very” in front of the word “good”, it might actually be characterized as mostly good, 90 out of 100 (70 out of 100 might be pretty good), but less than perfect; less than good.

Even as Moses wrote about creation in Genesis, he wrote about God separating light from the darkness. Jesus, speaking in the New Testament, talked about separating light from the darkness. While the context may be different, the similarity of the words within the message seems to be far more profound than ironic.

Jesus spoke of only God being good, or, truly good… perfect. While Moses wrote of God’s creation as very good, as if to say, “almost good.” There is no need to quantify, or even qualify something when it is unnecessary. Jesus, the Son of God, equal with God in nature, laid down his divine standing as God in order to live in a human body, with a human nature, with human desire, and while human in the flesh, was reduced from good, to very good, since as he said, only God is truly good. (Hopefully, that makes sense. It made sense to me when I wrote it and read it back.)

Created in Glory, Fallen from Glory

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23 (NKJV)

We were originally created by God in his image and for his glory. Man and woman were created to embody in human form the glory of God. God knew, though, that the plan for humanity would require redemption for his creation. Being that humankind was not God, like parents anticipating that their child will fall down at some point, or have their heart broken in an adolescent relationship, God anticipated that we would fall from glory. God did not create us to fail but to choose freely what we want in this thing called life. Once God afford us the favor of choice, we could not sustain godliness in what we do.

Once tempted, we fell. Adam and Eve did not even have a sin nature like you and I do, and they fell. They were created in the glory of God, and seemingly had it all living in the glory of creation, but were tempted to want more. They felt (even a little bit) discontent. From a place of dissatisfaction came a sense of entitlement. When they saw an opportunity for “more” they seized it. The rest is history.

I am not a physicist, but my guess is that the most dominant force in the human experience is gravity; the very thing that holds us down. Physically, gravity is at the center of everything stressful. We often refer to the weight of the stress; the gravity of the situation.

The most dominant force in the human experience of the inner self is entitlement. Now, having fallen into sin, entitlement is at the center of desire, intention, and motivation. Entitlement is what holds us down, hold us back, and ultimately, holds us captive. Entitlement is the force that justifies wrong, absorbs everything from lust and ambition, to jealousy and resentment, to guilt and shame. Entitlement will not allow you to let any of it go. You are entitled to feel good, feel bad, and everything in between.

For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Romans 3:23 (NLT)

If good is 100 percent good, and evil is zero percent good, it stands to say that God, who is truly 100 percent good, having created us in his image unto his glory, afforded us the choice to abandon the perfect picture of living in 100 percent glory with him. When we fell into the trap of deception that we are somehow dissatisfied about being less than God, we fell from glory. We fell from the glorious standard of what is good. To be in right relationship with God is to live in that glorious standard with him.

God will never lower his standard of what it is to live with him in sweet fellowship. To experience total communion with God is to do so on his level. That is the nature of what paradise in heaven is. When Jesus told the repentant thief on the cross that he would be joining him in paradise this very day, it is in glorious communion that their fellowship would be experienced.

God says, “Rebuild the road!
    Clear away the rocks and stones
    so my people can return from captivity.”
The high and lofty one who lives in eternity,
    the Holy One, says this:
“I live in the high and holy place
    with those whose spirits are contrite and humble.
I restore the crushed spirit of the humble
    and revive the courage of those with repentant hearts. Isaiah 57:14-15 (NLT)

The high and lofty place is where God lives. The place is not a geographical location. It is the standard of his glory—the pure best of his goodness. God is holy. He lays out a clear and profound distinction between captivity and freedom. To be holy is to be set apart. There it is again; separating the light from the darkness; free from captivity.

Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God said that he lives in the standard of his holiness with those who are contrite (poor in spirit, having hit bottom, bankrupt of self) and humble. For that possibility to be reality, there needed to be a way of reconciliation since we have fallen from that high and lofty place where God dwells. To hit bottom is to be without value. The only way to restore value to the worthless is through redemption.

Reconciled, Redeemed, Restored, and Then…

“Many Christians mourn over their weakness, thinking that if only they were stronger all would be well. The idea that, because failure to lead a holy life is due to our impotence, something more is therefore demanded of us, leads naturally to this false conception of the way of deliverance.” —Watchman Nee

God lives in a high and holy place with those of us who are broken, are contrite in our wounded state (wounded by the consequences of sin), and repentant, ready and willing to turn back to the Creator who heals and restores what is broke.

22 We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are. 23 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. 24 Yet God freely and graciously declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins. 25 For God presented Jesus as the sacrifice for sin. People are made right with God when they believe that Jesus sacrificed his life, shedding his blood. This sacrifice shows that God was being fair when he held back and did not punish those who sinned in times past, 26 for he was looking ahead and including them in what he would do in this present time. God did this to demonstrate his righteousness, for he himself is fair and just, and he declares sinners to be right in his sight when they believe in Jesus. Roman 3:22-26 (NLT)

Most Christ-followers know Romans 3:23 and Romans 6:23, but it is the context surrounding these iconic passages of scripture that has such redemptive and restorative power.

19 Because of the weakness of your human nature, I am using the illustration of slavery to help you understand all this. Previously, you let yourselves be slaves to impurity and lawlessness, which led ever deeper into sin. Now you must give yourselves to be slaves to righteous living so that you will become holy.

20 When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the obligation to do right.21 And what was the result? You are now ashamed of the things you used to do, things that end in eternal doom. 22 But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:19-23 (NLT)

The Apostle Paul is appealing to our deepest sensibilities concerning the matter of living a surrendered life unto obedience into the best of what it is to experience righteous living. He essentially writes that it is because of our struggle to admit our powerlessness to an inescapable and overwhelming sense of entitlement that he has to break out the slavery card to aid our understanding.

While a slave to impurity, we did not really have a conscience about right best living. We rationalized and justified wrong for so long that wrong—sin—is normal. Dysfunction is normal. Chaos is normal. Addiction is normal. Hatred and hostility… normal. Greed and jealousy… normal. Lust and lying… normal. It’s all just a way of life; without a second thought.

67-mustange-junk-yard (4)To repent is to turn all the way around. Addicts will tell you that commitment to sobriety is to go just as hard in whatever it takes to be sober as they did in their addiction. It is turning 180 degrees until their back is to their drug of choice and they are practically addicted to their recovery. To experience the best of recovery, they need to be righteous about it; holy about it; set apart to all that freedom sober is all about.

Paul writes that if we are to experience transformative change in relationship with Christ, we must abandon ourselves to whatever it takes to experience the real power in our relationship with Jesus that liberates us into the true goodness of freedom. Since we were slaves to unrighteous living under the power of old sin nature, it is imperative that we be slaves into the power of our new spiritual nature as new creatures. We have even been given the Spirit of the living God to inhabit our being; especially our minds.

“If we are preoccupied with the power of sin and with our inability to meet it, then we naturally conclude that to gain the victory over sin we must have more power…” —Watchman Nee

Hmm… Where is Watchman Nee going with this line of thinking?

Considering that there is still something in me tempting to do what is “normal” as a slave to sin, and being keenly aware that as long as I am living in a world in slavery to selfish desires, driven by entitlement to drive hard to get what it wants, regardless of cost, I must take that part of me that is weak to the cross and surrender. The cross continues to serve as the illustration of surrender since it is the moment when Jesus surrendered our sin into the hands of eternal damnation. In that sense, we were crucified with Christ and in doing so our old man dies with him. As Jesus was raised up from death, so were we raised with him. As Jesus was raised anew, having left behind our sin, so we were raised spotless into new life.

The question that must be posed here is this: Why would I cling to the part of me that is dead? When I seek to serve the man in me that is dead, I am worshiping a dead man. The former sinful flesh that owned me was executed at the cross. When I experienced salvation into new life it was through the surrender of everything dead in me. The opposite of surrender in a fight that cannot be won is defiance. It is the dead in me still fighting for what it believes it deserves in the flesh. It’s like the guy in the movie that continues to fire a round of ammo into the air as he is falling off a cliff to his death. His finger is just stuck on the trigger. But it couldn’t be more over.

The Monkey on My Back

Most of my clients where I work (I work at an Illinois prison) did their “business” on the streets of Chicago; their business being hustling drugs along their assumed territory. Over time, many of them discover that their business isn’t all that lucrative… as I stated, over time. A few of them were able to store cash reserves that are waiting for them upon their release but most will tell you that regardless of how much or little they earned there isn’t much, if anything, to show for it.

67-mustange-junk-yard (4)Well then, should we keep on sinning so that God can show us more and more of his wonderful grace? Of course not! Since we have died to sin, how can we continue to live in it? Romans 6:1-2 (NLT)

Many of these men will tell you that their life involving crime is over; that they understand life in the streets to be wrong and some may be even feel repulsed by it as they comprehend the damage done in their wake. Yet, in their disgust, are still drawn to it. A client declared in his therapy group that this matter of feeling repelled and compelled by a thing simultaneously is “the monkey on my back.” It is the ambivalence about apparent selfish sin that evokes resistance to surrendered obedience to the Christ-centered life, resulting in surrendered complicity to the renderings of the flesh, followed by logical consequences, whether or not there is repentance.

There are those secret sins that if it was you who came to me for counseling and told me about them, I would help you to see for yourself the risk and potential harm associated with the choices and behavior. I would help you to reason for yourself the no sum gain that is the rational outcome for the behavior, and you would likely come to your own conclusions about its costs and that the benefit from such choices and actions pale compared to the consequences you would likely incur. You might then leave our conversation shaking your head, that while you know it to be senselessly non-productive and destructive to engage in the activity, somehow you are still drawn to it. I can effectively articulate this point because of what I myself wrestle with.

How is it that anyone can be drawn by the very thing by which with they are disgusted? It’s like being attracted to something that to you is clearly hideous. Why would you robustly inhale the aroma that to you is a dreadful stench? Why would you chew on something that tastes awful, and swallow the things that makes you sick? That does not seem to make much sense. But practically speaking, Christ followers are all to familiar with it.

The Apostle Paul described it like this:

13 But how can that be? Did the law, which is good, cause my death? Of course not! Sin used what was good to bring about my condemnation to death. So we can see how terrible sin really is. It uses God’s good commands for its own evil purposes.

14 So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. 15 I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. 16 But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. 17 So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

18 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. 20 But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Romans 7:13-24 (NLT)

The Apostle Paul, then Saul, had a scholarly background as a Pharisee and recognized as an intellectual in his day. He was a crusader against those who claimed to have been eye-witnesses of the risen Christ and against those who converted from Judaism to follow the teachings of Jesus. Saul was given license to do whatever it took to squash the movement to follow Jesus, and at times it included murder of innocent 67-mustange-junk-yard (4)civilians whose actions he found to be tantamount to treason.

Saul continued on to Damascus to kill the leader of those who were coming to faith and being baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. He was struck down by a glorious light and confronted by Jesus himself, the one he was persecuting every time he attacked, beat, arrested, and imprisoned Christ followers. It was a powerful experience for Saul as he was drawn away from what he was doing and drawn to Jesus. Saul was plucked out of the web of deception, dragged away from his prideful pious life as a Pharisee, and compelled to do whatever Jesus called him to do, as Paul, regardless of cost to himself.

(Author’s note: The New Testament uses a number of Greek words for the English word “draw” and “drawn”. I have italicized a few of them if you would like to do your own study and research.)

Once Paul embraced his new faith and way of life, he was changed; transformed into a new person entirely. Paul was rescued from horrific sin by, not merely some angel, which itself would rock my world, but the literal physical manifestation of Christ’s presence. (I realize that Saul’s companions did not see Jesus but what Saul saw was as real as the screen you are seeing and touching while you sit there.) I would say Paul’s experience was unimaginable, dramatic and intense, if not traumatic. He went blind until an intervention of healing restored his vision.

“We all want progress, but progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you’re on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.” —C.S. Lewis

Paul lived out the wonderment of God in relationship with Jesus with incredible insight and knowledge. Having been delivered from progressing the wrong direction that included murder—the persecution of believers of the resurrected Messiah, you would think that Paul would be so sorry, he would never again be so conflicted when it came to the temptation to give in to entitled thinking and behavior. Yet, Romans chapter 7 is Paul’s struggle with temptation and sin. He was flawed and far from perfect, even in ministry. Paul could be prideful, two-faced, and disloyal in his relationships. He spoke of it. You read the writings of Paul and you might say he battled the demons of his former life.

Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin. Romans 7:24-25 (NLT)

So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.  And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death…  Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace…  That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God. But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. Romans 8:1-2, 5-7, 8-9 (NLT)

It is really quite arduous this process of changing “normal.” As I read it again, I have two choices to consider moving forward. Because as I am reading the 8th chapter of Romans, on one hand I am disappointed in myself and feeling like a failure. If I am not pleasing God then I am failing him. I feel condemnation. While confessing sin and embracing mercy is not a license to continue sinning, the confession of my sin that leads to repenting of it is liberating. With freedom comes peace.

The monkey on my back is that, while I am a new creature, transformed, free from the ownership of sin that had once purchased me into slavery, bought back by the blood of Jesus, having killed the sin nature, and having been raised with Christ and controlled by the Spirit, I am still drawn at times by the lust of my flesh. The monkey on my back is the failure to sustain a consistently surrendered life under the governance of the Spirit of the Living God.

When caught up into my secrets that only God knows, I feel like such a disappointment before Christ first of all, but then before my wife, my pastor, my clients, and so on. I feel like such a hypocrite, unworthy of the calling on my life as a counselor, an ordained minister, a husband, and especially against the mercy of a loving Savior who sacrificed everything for me. It feels so isolating, like everyone has their act together but me.

I was originally going to title this chapter, “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”, because ugly is how I feel when I fail to resist temptation, even in the face of conviction of God’s Spirit dwelling within me. Then a client at the prison spoke of wanting to live for God on the outside (of prison), but then one thing leads to another and he fails in his sobriety; feeling like he has failed everyone in his life when he must deal drugs to obtain drugs and returns to prison. He called it the monkey on his back that will not let him go. It hit me; that is how I feel.

Musical Chairs

Before getting into this next part of the chapter, I would like to impart to you this excerpt from the chapter, BRAINWASHED into Something Beautiful… New Life. It reads as follows:

The lie is that you need to come clean before God, even though His Word says that because of what Jesus did as the sacrifice for your sin, you can approach God with bold confidence as you are in the shape you are in. The shame of your past is on fire. Who you are in your mess is on fire. Your past failures are on fire. Your weaknesses are on fire. Your selfish pride is on fire. The jealousy and resentment you can’t seem to shake is on fire. What you covet is on fire. Your hypocrisy in trying so hard to do right and good in your own strength is on fire.

The lie is that while the fireman fully equipped has arrived to deliver you from being engulfed in the flames, you’ve been duped into believing that on your own you can somehow fight fires. Honestly, if you were trapped in a burning building and the fireman stormed in to rescue you, would you for one second attempt to send him away so that you could put out the flames with your bucket of water? Or, would you admit sensibly that you are powerless to save yourself; believing that the fireman is your only real chance to survive, would you by necessity commit to following the fireman, doing whatever he says to save your life?

Where do you and I go from here?

Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Galatians 6:7-9 (NKJV)

Have I mocked God when I yield to temptation and give in to passions that are, at best, less than godly? “Father God, have I disgraced myself before you having given in to the same temptation into sin yet again? I confess my sin, one more time. How many times will you show me mercy?”

The monkey on my back is the lingering burdensome weight that is sin. I feel controlled at times by my flesh, not by the Holy Spirit. It can be agonizing. At other times, that I would like to think is most of the time, I am submitted to the will and care of God, intent on living each day to serve him.

If there really is a throne, a kind of governance, that rules my heart, then I want my Savior, Jesus Christ, on the throne of my heart. But too often it is as though I am playing musical chairs with it. Life is good with Christ on the throne. But then there are those times when I stand beside the throne and make it quite obvious, by how I entertain thoughts and behave, that I want back on the throne. The thing about Jesus is that he defers to me. He leaves it up to me when it comes to doing “it” his way or my way. When I rule over my life is when things go awry. When I surrender to God’s way, really good things are possible and far more likely.

When I take the throne back is when what I do opposes God, and can even be hostile against God by the way I seem to turn my back on righteousness. I too often am not as repentant as my words of confession sounded as they left my prayerful thoughts and words. When I returns to the same sin that creates distance between myself and God, it’s results can be broken fellowship.

I recognize that I am talking about of both sides of my mouth. On one hand, I am saying that I need to be stronger-minded and stop sinning. On the other hand, I am saying that self-control is not in my human nature and altogether impossible. The reality in our experience is that both are true. So then, what do we do to refrain from sinning, as though leading a licentious lifestyle independent from the will of God?

If our own efforts to be better on our own… could have provided perfect cleansing, the sacrifices would have stopped, for the worshipers would have been purified once for all time, and their feelings of guilt would have disappeared. Hebrews 10:2 (NLT)

Instead, our emotional/psychological gymnastics reminded us of our sin again and again (Hebrews 10:3). We are pummeled by the burden of unworthiness, feeling dirty and ugly in the guilt and shame of sin that has been removed as far as the east if from the west (Psalm 103:12). If our sin has been removed, it is not the stench of death that we smell. Like Peter at the Last Supper, we feel we need a bath because we smell the stench of sin on us. Yet in relationship with Jesus, we have been cleansed for all time by the his shed blood into the age of new life. Jesus says that it’s only our feet that smell, being that we walk in this age of death in the world we inhabit. We need not a bath but only the washing of our feet (John 13:6-10). Thus, we confess sin before the throne of our Lord, confident in what he has purposed for us.

For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time… For by that one offering he forever made perfect those who are being made holy. Hebrews 10:10, 14 (NLT) 

In my human nature, temperance is impossible. That is why the essential ingredients are the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control—alive in me since the new nature is spiritual, under the control of the Holy Spirit living through me like rivers of living water providing the current for life beyond what I can imagine for myself.

Here’s the thing. Peter denied knowing Jesus and then was used to pioneer his Church. Paul brutally violated the people of God, even killing some, and he took the message of Jesus to those who’d been considered unreachable. David was by and large a serial sexual deviant who had very young sex slaves (concubines), seem to little have conflict about adultery and even conspired to his newlywed lover’s husband murdered upon discovering that he had impregnated her, and yet, he was called a man after God’s own heart.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up. After all, you have not yet given your lives in your struggle against sin. Hebrews 12:1-4 (NLT)

67-mustange-junk-yard (3)The key to unlock this door is sincere repentance. And central to sincere repentance is accepting logical consequences for sinful behavior. A client in group spoke of the principle of planting seed and reaping a harvest. This reminded me that there is a lot more to it than planting seed. Sowing seed also involves cultivating the garden and nurturing the soil. The objective is to bear fruit.

I asked my therapy group what happens if you plant good seed but do not nurture the soil. The response from one was, “You get weeds.” That’s right; you get weeds. If the soils is not treated to prevent weeds and the weeds are not removed, their roots grow thick and they strangle the fruit-bearing plants and trees. I see evidence of the fruit in my life, daily. God is using me to do some awesome work. But I have limited the impact of my ministry because of the weeds in my garden.

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. Galatians 5:16-17 (NLT)

‘If only I were stronger’, we say, ‘I could overcome my violent outbursts of temper’, and so we plead with the Lord to strengthen us that we may exercise more self-control. But this is altogether wrong; this is not Christianity. God’s means of delivering us from sin is not by making us stronger and stronger, but by making us weaker and weaker. That is surely rather a peculiar way of victory, you say; but it is the Divine way.” —Watchman Nee 

So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said,“My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 (NLT)

Paul referred to “it” as the thorn in his flesh. “It” is the monkey on my back. If I am going to live with this monkey on my back, I need to be confident that the Blood of Jesus shed for me, having established a covenant of new life in Christ, is satisfying to God. It is as though God accepts me by way of this covenant but I might be saying from time to time, “Thanks, but no thanks, since I am not worthy of you.” Who do I think I am to in effective forsake God, who is satisfied with me?

The important thing is that I do not give up on my life with God into new covenant with him because I have issues.. I give it up. I lay the burden down, surrendering my weakness into the perfect strength within that is from God, living in me by his Spirit. Surrender is an action word. To surrender my will into the will and care of God, I need to act. That fact that I am in the fight to live controlled by God’s Spirit is a good thing. If I am not God’s son by faith, there is no conflict; no fight. I can find comfort in whose I am in relationship with God knowing how conflicted I usually am about sin; especially when I sense strongly that in my sin I have compromised my integrity and weakened my character.

When I am feeling ugly and in need of God’s generous mercy and grace, no matter how disgusted I am with myself, needing some kind of assurance about who I am in Christ, I can lean on the following promise…

Live Free Above the Fray… Restored Completely

Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Mark 14:38 (NIV)

Evangelical Christians often talk about being in the world but not of it. The new man, alive in relationship with Jesus, no longer walks among the dead where thieves steal joy and kill peace. The new man is utterly transformed into newness of life. In the experience of new life is unfettered love no longer stunted by fear. In the experience of new life is mercy, no longer owned by jealousy and resentment. In the experience of new life is peace, no longer paralyzed by guilt and shame. In the experience of new life is assured confidence, deemed holy and righteous in the eyes of a gracious Father.

“God sets us free from the dominion of sin, not by strengthening our old man but by crucifying him; not by helping him to do anything but by removing him from the scene…” —Watchman Nee

The old, or former, man was ruled by entitlement in his innermost self. There was ongoing conflict, justifying wrong to massage ‘normal’ into feeling better. But the outcomes came with a steep price, involving injury, pain and loss. Something needed to change. It’s what made sense. Enter God, full of compassion, desiring to mend his broken heart, heal his wounded soul, and restore his tired spirit. Transformation is the experience of the inner man, in the deepest parts of his being. In the experience of new life is freedom, unashamed, full of mercy and love, experiencing joy in communion with God while moving among the saints, altogether confident, dancing before the throne of grace, unafraid of the glorious standard in the righteousness of the Savior. In relationship with Jesus, the new man is you; the woman is you. Amen to that!

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:1-2 (NIV)

Transformed by the renewing of my mind, it says. What all does that mean? How does that work? What does it look like? What should it feel like to be controlled by the Holy Spirit, having been transformed by the renewing of my mind?

Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. Ephesians 4:21-24 (NLT)

Living free above the fray is to be in the mess without getting so messy; like being in the fight without vulnerability to the knockout punch. Like swimming in the ocean you get wet, but you don’t drown. Living above the fray requires protection; armor and ammunition to prevail in the battle. Now there’s a word: prevail. Are you sure what it means? It does not mean to survive. To prevail is to thrive in the battle; to dominate and control your opponent.

Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places. Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. Ephesians 6:10-13 (NLT)

Temptation is the injurious attack of the enemy intended to wound the confidence of Christ-followers to engage in the fight. These attacks are meant to distract us from our united purpose. They are meant to divide us, beginning with division within our own spirit. Once the believer begins to doubt that he and she are unworthy of God’s favor, they can doubt who, and perhaps even whose, they are in relationship with God. Once this division takes root in the mind of believers, there is a tendency for us to split our attention.

For me, while I don’t believe I ever really doubt who God is and what he is capable of on my behalf, I often struggle in my confidence about what God will do. Why? Because I have sinned. The more egregious the sin the less deserving I feel about God’s favor in my life. I am emotionally weakened by the effects of sin. Therefore, if I am unworthy of blessing, then why would God act on my behalf? If God is not for me, because I am bad in his sight, I am sapped of my will, without the mettle to engage in the fight.

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do. James 1:5-8 (NLT)

Once my loyalties are divided, why would I expect to receive favor from God? I have gone somewhere else for favor… to recapture what I’ve lost… to fill the void… to remedy what ails me… to have my “needs” met… to feel better. Once I have gone my own way, I have willfully pushed God aside to suite my own needs on my own.

It is Scripture like that in the book of James that fuels my sense of unworthiness. On its own, you can’t really blame me for feeling down after reading something like that. The thing about the Bible, however, is that it must be taken, not in part, but as a whole. It isn’t part truth, it’s whole truth.

26 And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. 27 And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will. 28 And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. 29 For God knew his people in advance, and he chose them to become like his Son, so that his Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And having chosen them, he called them to come to him. And having called them, he gave them right standing with himself. And having given them right standing, he gave them his glory. Romans 8:26-30 (NLT)

Even as I write, struggling my self at times with confidence concerning my walk with God, I must prayerfully internalize this truth, since it is about the whole truth of the Word of God, living fully in me. I’m messed up inside, so God knows that everything he leads me to write is what I need to hear. He is leading me now to include this:

31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? 33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.

37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. 38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:31-34, 37-39 (NLT)

What about that monkey on my back, accusing me right down to my soul that I am not good enough to find favor with God through relationship with his Son? The monkey, if it is anything more than something I created in my imagination, is a liar. Raised in relationship with Jesus, we must ask ourselves, “Raised from what, into what?” From death to life is what; dead to the flesh and alive in the Spirit, that is God.

“For years, maybe, you have tried fruitlessly to exercise control over yourself, and perhaps this is still your experience; but when once you see the truth you will recognize that you are indeed powerless to do anything, but that in setting you aside altogether God has done it all. Such a revelation brings human self-effort to an end.” —Watchman Nee

What needs to change in me is that I must take the attention away from what is good and bad in me and focus on the good that is in Jesus Christ and my relationship with him. What’s my relationship with God made of? God is my Father and I am his son every bit as much as he is Father to Jesus and Jesus is his son. He loves me that much. God loves you that much. Jesus is as much a friend to me and to you as he was to his disciples some two thousand years ago.

So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. Hebrews 4:14-16 (NLT)

Of course, we are unworthy of grace but that why it’s grace! Grace is unmerited favor… unmerited mercy… unmerited generosity. God has extended such grace, mercy, and generosity to each and every one of us who notice and receive what is given to us. It really is that simple.

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. James 1:6 (NLT)

I can get pretty messed up in my head, feeling ugly when getting torn up by the monkey on my back. So as I offer this truth to you about who we are in relationship with God, know that I am far from a finished product… in my own head. To God, though, I am a finished product; a new creation, made by the Creator of all life. You are a finished product, made righteous—holy (meaning set apart, or above, in this case)—by the finisher of your faith.

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:8-9 (NKJV)

Here lies the truth; the bottom line reality for you and for me. I am not on my own able enough, or strong enough. I am not on my own good enough. No matter what we may think of ourselves; no matter what lens we are seeing the world through, God looks upon us and sees his sons and daughters made good… made good…

MADE GOOD.

For a social revolution to be possible, there is usually a war in the land, and blood is shed. It is the price for freedom. God looks at the price that was paid for our freedom and is satisfied.

Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy. Ephesians 4:21-24 (NLT)

For those of us that really want better when we fail, our Heavenly Father understands us. (I didn’t say he excuses us.) He is in control, anyway, so why continue to engage in the folly that serves as distraction from what we’ve been called to. Instead, let’s immerse ourselves into the loving, nurturing fellowship to be enjoyed when we surrender to what is truth. As we do, we actually can experience freedom in this life now, no longer burdened by guilt and shame. When letting go is that hard when doubting yourself in relationship with God, tell him about it. Ask him about it. Receive wisdom generously afforded to you into the depths of your being. When God shows up in the presence of his Son, soak yourself in the generosity of his favor. Bask in his goodness.

Confess your sin, today. Then let it go. Confess it again, tomorrow. Then let it go. He did. He let it go. Why hold on to what he has let go? God knows your heart. He knows your soul is alive in relationship with him. He knows!

Be good in the goodness of all that is God. Enjoy the normal Christian life.

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