by Steven Gledhill for FREEdom from MEdom Project
Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good;
Blessed is the man who trusts in Him! Psalm 34:8-10
Most of my life experiences include things that on their own are not good for me, and may even prove to be harmful over time or all at once. Life’s experiences include ingredients that tend to take me in one of two directions. There are experiences in life that contribute to more freedom in my life, and experiences that prove themselves to be harmful in some way, are burdensome, oppressive, and take me down a road into captivity.
It would behoove me to examine the ingredients of what I let into my world. What tastes good may not be good for me. This is that examination. This chapter takes a deeper look at what I consume into my life through behavioral choices and how I go about purging those ingredients from my life through repentance from sin. All sin… the obvious and the not so obvious.
I understand that we either repent or we don’t. However, there does seem to be stages of repentance that parallel what cognitive behaviorists refer to as stages of change: precontemplative, contemplative, preparation (readiness), and action. I am writing about how repentance for anyone deceived by sin advances from accepting the need for change to asking what it will take to change, to being willing to change, and then doing whatever it takes to change. Change is realized through behavior changed by a contrite, repentant heart.
Every day we consume food products that taste really good containing chemicals that on their own would never be allowed into our bodies. There are common food preservatives that are found in citrus soda drinks that are also common on flame retardants. Others that are contained in lunch meats that are also found in fertilizer and rocket propellant. Some of these chemicals are considered to be human carcinogens that are contained in potato, snack nuts, and chewing gum, but would also be found in embalming fluid. Yum, that sounds so good!
Thought I was done with these startling revelations? I didn’t know that the same chemicals used in pesticides are also ingredients in mayonnaise, chicken soup base, sausage, sport and energy drinks, and lipstick. How about chemical ingredients common to carbonated drinks, fruit juices, salad dressings and condiments that are also used for explosive fireworks? What? That’s right. The same sulfites identified in volcanoes can be identified on labels for wine, jarred pickles, and dried fruit.
These ingredients have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Even though such chemicals are used with just enough amounts to serve a purpose and likely will not kill you, they could prove to be harmful and even fatal over time. After saying all that, my attitude trends toward, “If it hasn’t killed me yet, why worry about it?” So I am really no different from most people in the civilized world when it comes to ingesting junk that it isn’t altogether good for me. Besides, the stuff really tastes good. It hits the spot… fills my belly… meets my need.
Life or Death: The Choice is Yours
I was facilitating a group discussion with the men at the prison. It is a medium security correctional facility so all of the men will be released within two or three years. Whether they are drug dealers, robbers, and gangsters, or they are incarcerated for driving drunk again, they all hold freedom at a premium when they are in jail. It’s what you might call a captive audience, which might be a not-so-clever pun but it isn’t at all cute or funny to someone locked up.
I began a group discussion about ingredients. There are ingredients that are critical for maintaining a lifestyle free from prison, and there are ingredients that, considering their current condition as convicted felons, will more than likely result in their captivity. Many of the ingredients common to freedom are also ingredients common to captivity.
My clients are prisoners who have become used to a lifestyle where temptation runs deep into deviant criminal thinking. They typically do not do what they do with the intention of landing in captivity for years at a time. What these men have in common is that they do what they do in their bid to experience freedom. They have developed values over time that have fostered a belief system about what is needed to be better off than they were. Warped values that promote corrupted beliefs have fed into a sense of entitlement that’s gone mad. The breakdown in moral structure justifies behavior that is deviant and will cause severe harm.
The hopes of better quality of life intended to most free their senses are exchanged for a life of bondage that makes little to no sense at all. The men are set free from prison, will commit to some semblance of right living for a season. The pain of suffering and loss (while imprisoned) subsides and the pattern of deviance and crime is repeated, followed by predictable consequences that may even prove fatal.
“The fool tries to adjust the truth so he does not have to adjust to it.” —Dr. Henry Cloud
Ambivalence is defined by Dictionary.com as
Have you heard the expression, “torn between two lovers”?
This & That
I want this and I want that but they are opposite from each other. If I choose this then I am rejecting that. If I choose that then I am rejecting this. I must turn 180 degrees from this to pursue that because they are inherently opposed to each other. There lies the dilemma. I want both this and that enough that I must adjust my thinking on the matter until I come to believe that I can have and/or do this and that. That, my friend, is justification. I “need” that which is potentially harmful, wrong, and bad to be good and right and as satisfying as this. Then I can feel better (having justified it) about settling for that when this is out of reach.
This and that oppose one another since usually this and that represent right and wrong, good and bad, healthy and unhealthy, constructive (productive) and destructive. If I must I will attempt attempt to trick my mind, compromise my belief system (sabotaging my sensibilities of moral standard) to convert what I intellectually understand to be wrong and bad into right and necessary; adjusting truth to fit my life—what I believe emotionally to be a need that craves satisfaction; an emptiness or void that must be filled.
I have written before (DUI: Desire Under the Influence) that even the word desire has in its definition the matter of ambivalence when described as the battle between striving with endurance for something higher that is hoped for (like running a race for the prize, or digging for hidden treasure) and settling for what ought to be right now (gratified craving, lust). What we hope for tends to be about values guarded by a refined moral code, while what ought to be is about contaminated values weakening morality to justify settling for what feels better than it was.
The two minute video below is about a man and a woman that were once in a romantically intimate relationship, and when it ended they remained very close friends. But they have developed a growing sensation that perhaps they can return to a sexual relationship and continue to be best friends. Why not try to have this and that?
“It’s almost stupid if we didn’t!”
“This is very good… and that would be very good, too.”
“The idea is to combine this and that.”
“We just want to take this and add that.”
“Of course, we need to figure out a way to avoid the things that cause the little problems.”
If you watched the video segment, well, they gave it their best shot. As the story continues, we learn that their attempt to have this and that sabotages all that is good and real about who and what they are as friends. As friends, they shared common values that fed into beliefs about who they are as friends and how the needs they had in the friendship were met. As lovers, they didn’t want or need the same things at all. Their so-called “rules” necessary to be able to have this and that would prove to make no sense at all to at least one party or the other and ruined their friendship.
Joel Osteen had sold a whole lot of books writing about “your best life now”, but I need to tell you that to experience the best in life is to choose to surrender to life committed to living out the will of God His way. In order to commit to this, the issue of ambivalence needs to be understood, challenged, and settled.
The deceit within the nature of ambivalent intentions lies within the belief that this together WITH that is possible. The reality is that when both sides of the internal argument are sought in the simultaneous pursuit of this and that, more often than not both this AND that are lost.
So why, having experienced some of the best of this would anyone return to that having experienced some of the worst of that? For my clients at the prison, this is freedom and that is captivity. Having experienced some of the worst that comes with captivity, why would anyone of these men return to anything proven to be associated with being held captive? Why do any of us, having experienced the goodness of our loving, generous Lord return to rebelling against Him by rejecting what is good for us for the foolishness that has proven itself to be so harmful?
I asked my wife this question and she reminded of the dog that returns to its own vomit.
They prove the truth of this proverb: “A dog returns to its vomit.” And another says, “A washed pig returns to the mud.” 2 Peter 2:22 (NLT)
The pig seems so at peace stuck in the mud. The pig is so full of mud again that it appears to have blended right in with the mud. So it is with the one who, having been washed clean in the gracious favor of Him who has it all to give, rejects His gift of new life and blends back into the mess that leads to bondage in chains.
What then does it mean to once again become entangled with the yoke of bondage? A yoke is a device worn around the neck of an ox to carry the heavy load, which can become so burdensome that the ox breaks down and can no longer carry it. Once the yoke is applied, freedom is lost. It isn’t that God no longer wants to bless us with His favor, but rather the sinner turning his back on God, and the relationship He wants with His children. God craves relationship with us. He is invested in us. The problem is that I want this and I want that and in chasing that I am distracted from investing in the favor of my Savior. To invest in that which is in disagreement with the will and way of God, is to divest from the generous bounty He has so freely granted me. I cannot even begin to tell you how often I have chased that and lost this. What was I thinking?
Read the Label
If all of this rhetoric about this and that warrants a bit more explanation, it can be found in the realm of entitlement—misdirected desire about what I believe I deserve. What I want I perceive to be need, and, of course, do what I believe I must to satisfy my “need”. Even for those who fancy themselves to be men and women who loves Jesus, entitlement is the power at war with the mind that deceives even believers into doing what they really do not want to do.
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. Romans 7:23 (NLT)
There are key ingredients on the label listed in the category of captivity that are by nature linked with ingredients that feel quite satisfying and taste really good, but once the stuff that tastes good is consumed, the connected harmful ingredients take their toll, causing ill health, ill will, and left untreated have devastating effects. So we have to include these harmful ingredients with those which gratify, whether in ignorance or sheer foolishness.
There are those ingredients included in captivity that on there own taste incredibly good (some of them are identified in the Bible as fruitful and good), but when combined with other less desirable ingredients, become themselves less desirable, rendering them distasteful (they taste really bad), as if they don’t mix together well at all.
CAPTIVITY Ingredients include: Fear, anxiety, stress, pain, disease, oppression, entitlement, love, gratification, conceit, insecurity, discouragement, depression, hopelessness, helplessness, despair, jealousy, resentment, rivalry, bitterness, rage, revenge, violence, chaos, disaster, tragedy, regression, desire, passion, compassion, attraction, delusion, lust, ambition, motivation, greed, lying, deviance, manipulation, acceptance, belonging, approval (validation), disapproval, addiction, abuse, denial, pride, gluttony, sloth, folly, revelry, struggle, entertainment, success, sacrifice, surrender, tears, relationship, harm, wounds, bondage, resistance, inhibited, uninhibited, gossip, perversion, long-suffering, sabotage, humiliation, isolation, alienation, burden, guilt, shame, punishment, impatience, tolerance, rituals, unforgiveness, intolerance, stubborn, loss, injury, blindness, conform, loyalty, adoration, religion, worship, dysfunction, division, contention, dissension, rebellion, defiance, willing, preservation, intention, hostility, quarreling, pleasure, envy, investment, compelled, obsession, enmity, defeat, decay, decline, destruction, animus, malice, friendship, suspicion, betrayal, rejection, drunkenness, angry speech, immorality, unrighteous, impurity, promiscuity, hypocrisy, comfort, discomfort, deception… wrong, bad, hatred, evil… death. Utilizes natural and artificial flavors.
There are key ingredients on the label listed in the category of freedom (such as discomfort, sacrifice, surrender, discipline) that on their own do not taste good at all… might even taste a bit bitter… but in combination with other vital ingredients, work well together, taste fantastic, and are well worth the wait. There are a sorted list of freedom ingredients that on their surface don’t appear to be agreeable to being free, yet when used at the right and reasonable times, according to the recipe, are essential to the experience of transformation into freedom.
FREEDOM Ingredients include: Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, hope, happy, pleasure, celebration, belonging, relationship, acceptance, mercy, grace, validation (approval), helpful, hopeful, ease, comfort, reward, transformation, humility, sober, serenity, giving, sharing, desire, passion, compassion, generosity, patience, virtue, comfort, discomfort, work, endurance, perseverance, long-suffering, ambition, motivation, surrender, sacrifice, compromise, cooperation, coordination, adaptive, unwavering, unity, loyalty, rejection, resistance, denial, willing, tolerance, preservation, intolerance, laughter, admission, confession, repentance, punishment, healing, salvation, (recovery) redemption, restoration, discipline, purity, innocence, righteous, morality, together, humor, sincerity, genuine, authentic, integrity, attraction, compelled, construction, production, investment, honor, admiration, adoration, worship, friendship, goodness, purity, fulfillment, satisfaction… life. Utilizes all natural flavors.
19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division,21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.
22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!
24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. 26 Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another. Galatians 5:19-26 (NLT)
Freedom IN God or Freedom FROM God
“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” —C.S. Lewis, The Great Divorce
Really? That’s the dilemma? That’s the choice?
Choices in life are for the better or for the worse. We are either making progress having made healthy wise choices, or we are losing ground having made poor unhealthy choices. It’s life; like it or not. Or as Dr. Cloud suggested, our choices are shaped according to truth or misdirected as we attempt to manipulate truth to accommodate how we want to live. One is directed in wisdom while the other is utter foolishness. The choice is yours and it is mine, moment by moment, day after day.
“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 are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.” —C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity
The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. John 10:10 (NLT)
What drives your choices in life? Who and what are you living for… really? Think about it, before giving the “proper” response. Maybe you do choose to obey, serve and please God. Maybe. But really think about it. How does selfishness and entitlement obstruct doing the will of God in your day to day experience?
“I was so obsessed with me and the reasons that I might be dissatisfied that I couldn’t focus on other people… When I find myself taking the wrong step… it’s because I’m trying to protect myself instead of trying to do God’s work… What I trace this to is a certain selfishness on my part.” —Barack Obama
Jesus declared that we all have an entitlement problem since we all sin (John 8:34). Apostle Paul and others also wrote that we are slaves to selfishness (Romans 7), suggesting that entitlement is so powerful that it drives us away from well-intended intentions to do good and right in relationship with Christ. So even the “best” of us can forgo wise choices for poor ones. The question that will always require a response is, “At what cost?”
Taste good does it… What’s in it?
Today, I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings (favor) and curses (consequences). Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. OH, THAT YOU WOULD CHOOSE LIFE. Deuteronomy 30:19 (NLT)
God has afforded unto each one of us the reality of free will, able to choose wisely… able to choose poorly. We can choose to do good and we can choose to do evil. One choice ultimately leads to satisfaction into joy, the other inevitably leads into emptiness and pain. Joy is freeing and light, while pain is binding and oppressive. The burden can be so heavy, and the pain so severe, it’ll suck all the life right out of you.
Ultimately, freedom is experienced in relationship with God into marriage with the person, Jesus Christ. While calling it marriage may sound strange to some, it conveys that union with God is essential to optimizing the hope of freedom, peace, and joy that is experienced in the perfect love of what family was and is intended to be.
“If a thing is free to be good it’s also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having… The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight… Of course, God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently He thought it worth the risk.” —C.S. Lewis, The Case for Christianity
God is good that way. You might say this marriage thing was arranged long before you and I were even born. Like a marriage, there is a sanctity within its precepts. Marriage calls for purity, mutual submission, and faithfulness. Jesus submitted his very life so that we could be reconciled into right relationship with God. He sacrificed mightily for this marriage to be even possible. He laid down privilege and reputation. He sacrificed his body, his mind, his very soul, so that this marriage would work.
Stages of Repentance
Once again, God is so good. He is more than willing to start again. He loves us that much. He calls for us to leave what we love and worship in the flesh and faithfully return into right relationship with Him. God knows when we are sincere in our repentance. He is no fool… obviously. He will not be mocked—made a fool of. Instead, God wants to touch your life in a deeply meaningful way and help lead you toward repentance.
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.”
“I was angry,
so I punished these greedy people.
I withdrew from them,
but they kept going on their own stubborn way.
I have seen what they do,
but I will heal them anyway!
I will lead them.” Isaiah 57:14-15 (NLT)
God desires to heal the souls of the discontent who are willing to repent from their divided loyalty and return to being faithful to the Giver of life. Only God can change the desire of our hearts—my heart, your heart. For change in my life to be experienced, I must want to change, as cliche as that sounds.
In the clinical arena, the cognitive-behavioral approach to change considers what it calls stages of change. A precontemplative stage of change suggests that, while there are consequences to behavior, the dots have not been connected. “Why do these things keep happening to me?!” There may be a kind of victim syndrome going on. There is a great deal of denial going on fostering enough suppression of pain that change is barely a thought. When it comes to repentance, it is not likely at this stage. In fact, at this point it appears there may not be a need for God at all. Even in the midst of adversity, things feel like they are in control. “I can change whenever I want to.”
A contemplative stage of change suggests recognizing the association between behavior and its consequences. It is when the prodigal son came to his senses, realizing that the ways of wayward reckless living had given way to oppressive poverty and starvation. He understood his need for help at that point. Pain can still be ignored at times when it seems not to hurt enough to demand doing something different. Ambivalent feelings continue to fuel resistance to change since acting on desire may be gratified enough… for now. But there is significant stress because it is increasingly clear that problems are caused by and/or made worse because of selfish sinful behavior to meet a need but the need isn’t being met. The unmet need has left a void that is filled with entitled thinking and behavior that is not satisfying and too often leads to harm.
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. 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. 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. I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God… with all my heart. 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. Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Romans 7:18-24 (NLT)
The preparation stage of change considers the need for change. There is more determination and a sense commitment to the course that is necessary for change to occur. There could also be some reservation about how far one is willing to go to ensure authentic pursuit of change. It can take on a kind of “What will it take?” approach. (Notice the question mark.) At this point, sin is confessed to God and maybe others trusted for support and accountability. There is usually sincere desire for lifestyle change while the matter of surrender may remain suspect.
The action stage of change is the all-out effort, all-in commitment to a “Whatever it takes!” attitude that change into something better, right, and good is indeed going to happen. (Notice the exclamation point.) Sincere repentance occurs in this stage of change. Surrender is the action essential to genuine repentance; the turning away from the lover that is hostile in nature toward Christ. The contemplative and preparation stages of change can carry enough ambivalence to become a resistant distraction to follow through with actions of obedient repentance.
“I have no direct control over my temperament. If what we are matters even more than what we do… then it follows that the change which I most need to undergo is a change that my own direct, voluntary efforts cannot bring about.” —C.S. Lewis
Repentance is not something we do on our own. The passage above concludes by insisting that it is in relationship with the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ that there is the power to break the chains of selfish sinful entitlement. Instead of focusing on what we believe we deserve, Jesus empowers us way beyond our ability and intentions. He calls us to unite with our brothers and sisters struggling with the same kind of thing. Together, empowered in love in relationship with Christ, winning the battle is not only possible, it is a sure thing!
Where might you be concerning the stages of repentance? Are you ambivalent toward progress in your relationship with God? Is your discontent in the way of making sufficient change? Are you considering what it will take—question mark—to turn away from what you feel you deserve? Are you wrestling with what it might require to be reconciled into right relationship with God? Or, are you willing to do whatever it takes—exclamation point—to reengage into the kind of relationship with your Lord that leads to freedom to live and to love without fear?
When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, “At home even the hired servants have food enough to spare, and here I am dying of hunger!” Luke 15:17 (NLT)
I suppose when you hurt bad enough, the pain cuts through the ambivalence, and desperation is the signal to do what it takes to finally move and advance through the stages of repentance into change. When the flames are raging out of control and sin has claimed you, about to consume you, having been humbled by it until you have finally hit your bottom, you can call on the fireman and escape through the flames with him.
The fireman loves you. He knows your name. He is there to rescue you; to save you from yourself and from a world that is evil. The ingredients for a life that is truly free begin and end in relationship with Jesus. Invite the fireman to come in and live with you. Then, when you start fires again, he is already there to put them out. When you have been burned by sin, Jesus is the doctor to mend your wounds. When areas of your life are torn down by flames, Jesus is the builder (carpenter) to restore the damage.
What are you waiting for? Dial 9-1-1 and call on Him. He is right outside the door to your heart and soul wanting so much to be invited in.