We are so used to thinking about sin as individual acts of disobedience to God. This is only partly true; the Bible goes much further than that, though. (Foster, 1989 (First edition: 1980))
In Romans, Paul regularly describes sin as a condition that plagues the human race (an example of this is found in Romans 3:9-18). Sin as a condition works its way through the “bodily members” – the ingrained habits of the body (see Romans 7:5) (the NIV and some other translations talks about the “sinful nature” and the “sinful passions” that are at work in our bodies). There is no slavery that can compare to the slavery of ingrained habits of sin. (Foster, 1989 (First edition: 1980))
In Isaiah 57:20 (NIV) we read the following: “But the wicked are like the tossing sea, which cannot rest, whose waves cast up mire and mud.” The sea acts in a natural way if it produce mire and mud; it doesn’t need to do anything special to do it. This is also true of us when we are under the condition of sin. The natural motions of our lives produce mire and mud when we are under the condition of sin. Sin is then part of the internal structure of our lives. No special effort is needed to produce it. It is little wonder, then, that we feel trapped! (Foster, 1989 (First edition: 1980))
The “normal” way that we try and deal with ingrained sin, is to launch ‘n frontal attack. We rely on our willpower and determination. Whatever it is that we are experiencing as an issue – anger, fear, bitterness, gluttony, pride, lust, substance abuse – we determine never to do it again. We pray against it, fight against it and set our will against it. The struggle is all in vain, though. So, once again, we find ourselves morally bankrupt. Sometimes we find ourselves so pride of our external righteousness, that “whitened sepulchres” is a mild description for our condition. (Foster, 1989 (First edition: 1980))
Heini Arnold once wrote: “We … want to make it quite clear that we cannot free and purify our own heart by exerting our own ‘will’.” (Foster quoted this from the book “Freedom from Sinful Thoughts: Christ Alone Breaks the Curse”).
In Colossians 2:20-23 (NIV), Paul gives a list of some outward forms that people use to control sin: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”. He adds that these things “have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship,”. Foster states the last part, “will worship”. “Will worship” is a very descriptive phrase for much of our lives. The moment that we think or feel we can succeed and attain victory over sin, by the strength of our will alone, is the moment that we are worshipping the will. It’s quite ironic that Paul calls our most strenuous efforts in the spiritual walk “idolatry” and “will worship”. (Foster, 1989 (First edition: 1980))
We have to realize that will power will never succeed is dealing with the deeply ingrained habits of sin.
Emmet Fox once wrote: “As soon as you resist mentally any undesirable or unwanted circumstance, you thereby endow it with more power – power which it will use against you, and you will have depleted your own resources to that exact extent.” Heini Arnold also wrote the following: “As long as we think we can save ourselves by our own will power, we will only make the evil in us stronger than ever.” (Foster quoted these two quotes from the book “Freedom from Sinful Thoughts: Christ Alone Breaks the Curse”). Many of the great writers, including St. Augustine, St. Francis of Asissi, John Calvin and John Wesley experienced this same truth. (Foster, 1989 (First edition: 1980))
“Will worship” may look like a success for a time, at least in the outward appearance, but in the cracks of our lives our deep inner condition will eventually be revealed. In Matthew 12:34-36 Jesus describes this condition when He speaks of the external righteousness of the Pharisees. “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. … But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgement for every careless word they have spoken.”. By sheer will people can make a good showing for a while. But sooner or later there will come an unguarded moment, when the “careless word” will slip out to reveal the true condition of the heart. (Foster, 1989 (First edition: 1980))
In the next instalment, we will see how the Spiritual Disciplines opens us up to receiving the righteousness of God. There are to dangers that we have to guard against, and we will look at that in the next instalment.