Breaking free of the chains—Part 2
by Glen Doss, Major –
“I did it my-y-y-y way!” echoed Frank Sinatra’s smooth sounds across the airwaves in the sixties. The boastful words of the song illustrate a stark characteristic of human nature: a deeply entrenched tendency to retain control over one’s own life. In Oswald Chambers’ words: “I will do anything and everything but the one thing [God] is asking me to do, viz., give up my right to myself to him.” (My Utmost for His Highest) Scripture, however, makes it clear that God demands control: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father…” emphasizes Christ. (Matt. 7:21)
In my previous column I explored the implication of turning one’s life and will over to the care of God. Does the accomplishment signify, as Christ implies, that I love him with all my heart and mind and soul? (Matt. 22:37-38) And what is my love for God, anyway? Is it a passion or is it simply a commitment that I make?
Working in the alcohol and drug recovery field for a number of years, mingling daily with addicts and alcoholics, I became pretty good at reading sincerity, at telling when someone was serious about recovery. If they still dearly loved the chemical high, you could usually read it in their eyes and their demeanor, no matter what their words said or how good a con they might be. The drug or alcohol was a lover whom they could not resist—and they were deeply passionate about this love. When just days away from relapsing, their eyes sparkled, their faces beamed—their whole personality changed! They were already vicariously living the high.
Let’s apply this illustration to our own lives; if following the introspection, we are willing to acknowledge the truth to ourselves and find what we were afraid we might find—that our most intense love is something other than Christ—what to do? Can we make ourselves love Christ more, or are we stuck with the person we have become?
This is precisely the problem with which Paul wrestled in his famous passage in Romans 7. He knew that he lusted after other things more than he craved Jesus Christ; his inability to effect a change was driving him mad. He finishes with “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Christ holds the solution in his hands and wants to apply it—that is, to move our very will. Elsewhere Paul advises, “Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” (Phil. 2:12-13)
In his insightful volume, Thoughts in Solitude, Thomas Merton, the prolific Trappist monk, notes:
A temperamentally angry man may be more inclined to anger than another. But as long as he remains sane he is still free not to be angry. His inclination to anger is simply a force in his character which can be turned to good or evil. If he desires what is evil, his temper will become a weapon of evil against other men and even against his own soul. If he desires what is good his temper can become the controlled instrument for fighting the evil that is in himself and helping other men to overcome the obstacles which they meet in the world. He remains free to desire either good or evil…
Paul writes: “Those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” (Rom. 8:5)
Living is the constant adjustment of thought to life and life to thought in such a way that we are always growing. But we push on with active reverence and a singleness of purpose in response to God’s grace. “Real self-conquest,” observes Merton, “is the conquest of ourselves…by the Holy Spirit. Yet before we can surrender ourselves we must become ourselves. For no one can give up what he does not possess….We do not really know how to forgive until we know what it is to be forgiven.”
No one who has realized something of the love of Christ who died for him can remain indifferent!