Last week here at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School we were privileged to have Dallas Willard come and teach at chapel throughout the week. Dr. Willard is a professor of philosophy at the University of Southern California so he has a tremendous mind for the philosophical elements of the Christian faith, but he also has a real passion for the spiritual disciplines. During his time with us, he focused primarily on the practice of immersing oneself in God’s Word.
One of his teaching points that I found especially challenging involved the question of whether or not Christians genuinely desire to be transformed into Christ’s likeness. Although we say we want to grow in holiness and we make a lot of efforts to achieve that end, there are some sins that we simply don’t want to give up because they are so intimately tied to our identities or lifestyles. As an example, Dr. Willard described many Christians’ unwillingness to surrender anger: “Some people don’t even know what to do without anger—anger is a fundamental instrument in the way they function and live.”
How true that is! And as luck would have it, I recently experienced this principle first-hand. It all began one afternoon when I was upset about something that had happened earlier that day. I was crying, I was really discouraged, and I moped around my apartment feeling horribly low. Yet in the midst of my moping I noticed a message of truth that kept intruding in on my thoughts, words I had long ago taught my heart for just for such a moment: “God is in control.”
As I sat there feeling sad, I was reminded that God knew about this whole situation, that He was not surprised by it, that He is still good, and that He will take care of me. I KNEW all of those things in my head and in my heart. I believed them.
But did I stop crying and feeling sorry for myself? Heck no! I liked throwing myself a pity party. In some weird way, I felt justified in being upset, like I had earned it. I wasn’t about to surrender my well-deserved sense of martyrdom in order to embrace the truths that my heart knew so well. No amount of spiritual maturity was going to stand in the way of me and my little girl tantrum.
I share this thoroughly unspiritual moment of mine as a reminder that we can know God’s Word, study it and believe it whole-heartedly, without being transformed by it. We may know exactly who to turn to when we feel nervous, insecure, scared or heart-broken, but we may simply choose not to. We would rather complain to spouses or friends, post dramatic facebook statuses and tweets to make people feel sorry for us, and languish in our own self-pity.
Of course, self-pity isn’t the only sin I like to indulge in the face of God’s clear truth. Bitterness, insecurity, and jealousy are just a few other sins that I gladly cling to, and many times I recognize my disobedience in the very process of it. That is not to say that my emotions, fears, and pain are not legitimate, but that even in those moments of vulnerability, sin is always there waiting to creep in. Even when we’re hurt and our hearts are aching, there is still a degree to which we bear responsibility for our personal growth. Although God does not hold us accountable for how people treat us or how our circumstances affect us, He does hold us accountable for how we respond.