Sinful Creatures in Need of a Good God

By Natalie Hardt | 2019 

The greatest Christian on earth was the Apostle Paul, of whom saw and acknowledged his wretchedness, “For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing” (Romans 7: 19 NIV).

Human beings cannot know God without the Holy Spirit’s transformative work in and through their lives. Galatians 5:22 identifies the Spirit as “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (NIV); and goes against human nature that is “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissentions, factions, and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like” (Galatians 5:19-21 NIV). To better understand the war taking place within those that allow the Spirit to guide and grow them, it is important to understand the origin of why human beings are prone to sin. Let me go on a quick detour by saying how essential it is to acknowledge one’s true human nature and deceiving heart. The world likes nothing better than to convince people they are fine the way they are, and if not, well there are plenty of self-help books to make them ‘be their own guide’, so that they can have things ‘their way’ so that they are in ‘control of their destiny’. Advertisements alone bombard with how good and powerful we are without God; this is all part of the enemy’s (Satan/devil) plan. Devil means ‘deceiver’ and Jesus calls out the devil for what he is “the enemy” (Matt 13:39); “a liar” (John 8:44); “a murderer” (John 8:44); “evil one” (Matt 13:38); and “prince of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30). I have encountered non-believers that want to avoid using the word ‘sin’ as if it somehow does not apply to them. This is another subject that can be developed in another discussion; for now, the main point here is to address aspects of humanity’s redemptive story by discussing sin and how we can work in tandem with God’s Spirit to help combat it.

Part of the redemption story is about how the human race has been given the New Covenant, a renewal and final covenant, previous covenants are the Abrahamic, Noahic, Mosaic, and Davidic. Jesus Christ is this New Covenant that replaces the written (Letter) Law given to the Israelite community on Mt. Sinai in Exodus 31:18. The Law was never meant to save, but rather show humanity its sin and its need of a Savior, God Himself. Many Old Testament prophesies point forward to the day when God’s people will be justified through His sanctifying work that will restore His grace once lost because of obeying Satan and not God. This is what Thomas Aquinas refers to as “original justice”, “in eating from the tree of knowledge, the original humans rejected divine wisdom, instead relying upon reason they believed they could internalize, symbolized by the ingestion of fruit from the tree of knowledge, in an act of autonomy” (Stillwaggon, 2014, pp. 67). Where the Law instructs animal sacrifices, because the “wages of sin is death” (Roman 6:23 NIV), the New Covenant replaces and justifies through the Spirit. Faith and not the Law is what saves, “…small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:14 NIV). Once believers respond to the Spirit, natural desire is stirred up within the heart to serve God and others and always consists of sacrificing the flesh and picking up one’s cross to follow Jesus as Lord and Savior. This is how justification through sanctification fulfills God’s promises in the Old Testament and the New Testament.

Formation and Informational

There will be suffering and blessing, sadness and joy throughout a believer’s life as both natures, human and Spirit, live at odds. A changed life is a life that takes on the formative work of the Spirit through His imprinting of Godly attributes that then triggers believer response of performing spiritual disciplines (Strobel, 2013). For example, turning the other cheek in Matthew 5:38-40 which refers to not being offended and is evident in present day America, is a struggle when a Christian is not being led by the Spirit. Willard (1998) says regarding turning the other cheek minus love (God) that “If all you intend is to do that, you will find you can do it with a heart full of bitterness and vengefulness. If, on the other hand, you become a person who has interior character of Christ, remaining appropriately vulnerable will be done as a matter of course, and you will not think of it as a big deal.” (Willard, 1998, pp 107)

Posturing oneself through scripture study, meditation, prayer, and contemplation, the believer invites the Spirit to engage in changing one’s mind and heart. This causes self-reflection that leads to knowing God and oneself more resulting in relationship growth. It is important to state that the more believers see the nature of God’s beauty (the light), the more human nature is evidently seen as darkness and evil. This acknowledgment of sinful nature drives one to repentance; Foster (1988) speaks about the believer’s conscious effort of discipline working together with God’s grace and identifies three catalysts as repentance brings humility, prayer is power, and encouragement from others in Christ (Foster, 1988). The Spirit validates and motivates the believer to repentance, obedience, and self-reflection when the believer invites His glory through engaging in disciplines, not as a good works, but rather in truth and love (Chapell, 2001). Dallas Willard, as cited in Vos (2012) says “prayer has a ‘spiritually strengthening effect’ on every aspect of our personality. It builds our faith and confidence in God. To be done well, prayer will almost certainly be linked with other disciplines…” (Vos, 2012, pp. 104). For instance, prayer can lead to expressions of love that reflects other centeredness as one truly listens to others in need.

Believers through faith are under God’s protection as they experience the Spirit’s sanctification, grace, and mercy; however, as mentioned previously, they are subject to temptations to disobey God, similarly the way Jesus was subject to Satan’s attempts in Matthew 4:1-11. Apostle Paul identifies this duel between a believer’s sinful human nature and God’s holy nature as the process of transforming mind and heart from the “pattern of this world” that results in “test and approve what God’s will is -his good, pleasing and perfect will” (Romans 12:2 NIV). Believers are instructed to put “…on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:10 NIV). For example, the discipline of ‘prayer’ helps ward off the enemy, as Chapell (2001) puts it, “…we do not have sufficient desire to resist…” and seek to get rid of sin at the same time desire it; therefore, we “pray in the Spirit” so that He may “stir up within us a greater zeal for God” so that we may combat enemy attacks (Chapell, 2001, pp. 150).

Character Formation in Daily Life

Through faith and hope and as I continue to experience character formation, I realize the importance of diligently practicing the spiritual disciplines so that I may be part of what it means to “…go and make disciples of all nations…” (Matthew 28:19 NIV). Having true thanksgiving for the Spirit’s work in my life, as well as my response to Him, requires I develop and cultivate internally obedience through the disciplines. This internal purity will naturally manifest in the external world evident in how I live as I represent the Gospel appropriately. As ambassadors to Christ, the goal is to spread the Gospel and make more disciples; therefore, as I grow, I naturally find I want to do God’s work. I have encountered His blessing that then lends to a deeper intimate experience with Him. Much in the same way any human relationship depends on how much effort one puts in it, whether a husband and wife, friend to friend, or parent to child, my actions matter concerning praise and worship on an individual and community level. Spiritual formation basically requires going beyond recognition to actual experience as a believer feels disconnected to this world and connected to God’s world, His Kingdom on earth, also known as the church (Pettit, 2008). The church is a community of love representative of a family, in the same way the Trinity consists of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit. I am a living testament and have a story to tell about my conversion, who I was, and who I hope to become, that is reflective of my love for God and love for others. This is consistent with the Gospel individually and in community, as one hopes to reflect outwardly the Spirit’s work within the heart (Pettite, 2008).

Always remaining in the Word through study and application remains evident in my life when proper contextualization and interpretation is undertaken. Rather than live in isolation, or hide my faith, I find it freeing to live outwardly, as Matthew puts it, “Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house” (Matthew 5:15 NIV). Unafraid driven by true desire to live one’s faith in a forsaken world, leads to experiencing true joy. Also, the act of partaking in the Eucharist becomes an experience with raw emotion as I commune with Jesus and others in community.

I find mediation and solitude more fruitful when done in nature, away from worldly things and its noise; consequently, contemplation and evaluation concerning my true motives and desires calm me into a demeanor of humility. This results in being better able to listen and respond to God’s will so that my functional call is in line with the Spirit’s will for my life (Pettit, 2008). In those moments in which I am not sure if it is the Spirit’s voice speaking to me, I instantly turn to prayer and at the appropriate time, meditation. I find prayer on the spot and in the moment helpful to my spiritual formation, and when the Spirit convicts me of sin at any time during the day, I immediately respond in prayer and repentance.

References:

Chapell, B. (2011). Holiness by grace: Delighting in the joy that is our strength. Wheaton, IL: Crossway. ISBN-13: 978-1433524424

Foster, R. J.  (1988). Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth. San Francisco: Harper & Row

González, E. (2016). Jesus and the Temple in John and Hebrews: Towards a New Testament Perspective. Davarlogos, 15(2), 39-65. Retrieved from https://lopes.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=121475542&site=eds-live&scope=site

Pettit, P. (Ed.). (2008). Foundations of spiritual formation: A community approach to becoming like Christ. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications. ISBN-13: 978-0825434693

Stillwaggon, J. (2014). The Problem of Propagation: Original Sin as Inherited Discourse. Studies In Philosophy & Education, 33(1), 61-73. doi:10.1007/s11217-013-9362-7. Retrieved by: https://lopes.idm.oclc.org/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=93447361&site=eds-live&scope=site

Strobel, K. (2013). Formed for the glory of God: Learning from the spiritual practices of Jonathan Edwards. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books. ISBN-13: 978-0830856534

Vos, B. (2012). The Spiritual Disciplines and Christian Ministry. Evangelical Review of Theology, 36(2), 100–114. Retrieved from https://search-ebscohost-com.lopes.idm.oclc.org/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rlh&AN=75190759&site=eds-live&scope=site

Willard, D. (1998). Spiritual Disciplines, Spiritual Formation, and the Restoration of the Soul. Journal of Psychology & Theology, 26(1), 101–109. Retrieved from https://lopes.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=rfh&AN=ATLA0001001817&site=eds-live&scope=site