Free to be Your Best Self

Free man stretching arms to sun

I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.

There are passages in the Bible that are hard to understand. We puzzle over them, read Bible commentaries, listen to Christian leaders we trust talk about them, and still we end up scratching our heads.

This is not one of those passages. What Paul is talking about, we all understand. You don’t have to be a Bible scholar to understand it, you don’t even have to be a Christian to understand it, we all get this.

We all get this, and Paul knows we get it, because it is not even the point of the passage. If Paul were saying, “Hey, you know what I’ve figured out? That the thing I know I should do, I don’t, and the things I know I shouldn’t do, I do anyway!” we’d all say, “Way to go, Paul. What’s next? Are you going to have a great insight about the sky being blue?”

In the passage Paul is arguing that the Old Testament Law is a good thing, and he’s using this universal human quandary to illustrate it and prove his point.

The universal quandary is that we often work against our best interests.

I’m not primarily talking about religious rules that are externally imposed. Everyone, religious or not, has something inside of them that guides what they do or don’t do, what is good for them to do and what is not.

And here is the thing: you don’t even do what you have decided is right or best.

You don’t even do what you want to do. I mean, forget God and the Bible and what your boss or wife or your mother-in-law says—you internally have a sense of “this is what I ought to do,” and sometimes, maybe a lot of times, you don’t do it.

So you go into the kitchen because you want something to eat. You’re not hungry, you just feel like eating something. There is a nice, ripe, juicy apple—and a bag of chips.

Apple or chips. How many times do you pick the apple?

Maybe chips aren’t your thing, it’s ice cream. Apple or ice cream. Apple or cookies. Still, how many times do you pick the apple.

But back up—why are the chips in the house in the first place? Or the cookies?

You know why. You were at the grocery store, and determined to buy only healthy food. You are going to shop the perimeter like they tell you, where all the fruit and vegetables are. The fat-free yogurt, fat free milk, lean cuts of meat like chicken and turkey.

Maybe you even repeat a little mantra: “I will not go down the chip aisle, I will not go down the chip aisle, I will not go down the chip aisle.”

And your cart just turns  down the chip aisle on it’s on. Or ice cream aisle. Or cookies.

So then you go buy some apples as a guilt offering or something.

You know what you should do, and you fully intend to do it, but you don’t.

You know what you shouldn’t do, but you end up doing it anyway.

It’s like there’s two of you. There’s the you that wants to be a better person, a better Christian, a better husband, a better wife, a healthier person.

Then there this other person, this nefarious character that wants the opposite of these things.

This is why the primary, most fundamental metaphor for salvation in the Bible is deliverance from slavery.

When the ancient Israelites talked about God’s saving activity they pointed to the Exodus, when God sent them someone (Moses) to deliver them from slavery to a land flowing with milk and honey, and the decisive act of that deliverance was the sacrifice of the Passover lamb.

It’s not for nothing, then, that Jesus chose the time of Passover to go to Jerusalem and challenge the religious leadership of the temple. He was Moses to their Pharaoh, come to set his people free through the blood of a lamb.

Of course, he was not only Moses, but also the Lamb. There’s a nice twist to the story.

So we are no longer slaves to our desires, or at least we don’t have to be. We can choose to be, and sometimes we do.

But we can choose to live free of those desires—not that we don’t have them. Instead of them controlling us, we can control them.

We are free to choose. Free to be human again. Free to be who God created us to be. Free to be everything he designed us to be.

Free as well to not have to be something we are not. Which is God.

When we fail to control ourselves, we become poorer version of ourselves. When we try to control others, we become a poorer version of God.

Christ frees us from that as well. If the original sin is wanting to be like God, then then being free from sin means we are free to finally let God be God.

And he is free to live his life in us.

Photo Credit: Zac Durant

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