Jan8MonThe Imperfect Disciple, Chapter 1 Reflection January 8, 2018
I hope that many of you have joined us for our Corporis Preparatory Reading (or CPR as we like to call it). If not, there is still time if you are interested. The reading schedule for The Imperfect Disciple has a very reasonable pace, with breaks built in in case you fall behind. For example, even though we started on Sunday and the introduction and chapter one are to be read by the 14, there is a break next week to allow you to get a book if you haven’t got one yet and still be able to read with us. So there is plenty of time and opportunity if you are interested. If you’re not, I still think these reflections will be edifying.
The title for the first chapter of The Imperfect Disciple really couldn’t be any more appropriate, at least in light of our communal reading project. Corporis Preparatory Reading has two purposes: first, to help us prepare for Corporis Conference 2018; and second; to help us guard and keep our hearts (through reading theologically rich and gospel centered books). Thus, the title for chapter 1—Sin and the Art of Soul Maintenance—is appropriate. “Soul maintenance” is another way of articulating the guarding and keeping of your heart. So it seems we are on the same page (pun intended) with author Jared Wilson.
In chapter 1, Wilson shares the daily experience of struggle in his life as a disciple of Christ. The struggle he refers to is the one we all share; our struggle with sin. Wilson identifies thoroughly with the apostle Paul as Paul writes in the seventh chapters of Romans. Wilson draws our attention to verses 18-23:
For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.
Wilson writes, “Every day, I wake up into Romans 7. Every dadgum day. My alarm goes off and I sit up in bed, my uncoffeed consciousness groggily gearing up for sins—both of omission and commission. I’m engaged in the flesh before I even get my feet on the carpet.”
I think we can all relate. Desiring to do what is right, doing what is wrong. It would make for a fairly glum start to a book if this was all Wilson gave us. But he doesn’t just give us Romans 7, he also serves up Romans 8: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do” (v1-3). It is from these verses that he builds his approach to soul maintenance.
Wilson instructs, “Every day you drift naturally into Romans 7. You don't need any help with that. It's just that your wheels are naturally out of alignment. You're just wobbly, okay? You're going to get where you want to go eventually. So here's what you do…You introduce the truth of Romans 8 to every corner of the room, every dark place in your heart, as often as you can, as much as you can, as fiercely as you can.”
This is solid advice. When the truth of your own sinfulness threatens your soul—the undeniable fact of our continuing sinfulness can bury us alive if we allow it to—you don’t deny it, rather, you introduce a greater truth, a gospel truth, as a burden-lifting, soul-strengthening remedy.
I have a personal anecdote of how I do this that I think will be helpful.
In my morning times of prayer and Bible reading, I spend several minutes in confession. I reflect on the previous day, and even on the time since I woke up, and confess to God any sins that I am aware of. I pray that he will illuminate my sins to me by His Spirit. I try to be honest and forthright in calling my sin what it is and asking God to forgive me. In this way, I repent of my sin. For added measure, I journal these times. The act of putting my sins on paper helps me face the reality of my Romans 7 life. But, when I finish this, I introduce Romans 8 to the process.
Being honest about my sins and the reality of my ongoing battle with sinfulness can be disheartening, even depressing. So, my confessing doesn’t end with sins. I also confess their forgiveness in Jesus Christ. I bring Romans 8 into the picture by declaring the forgiveness of sins that comes to me through the blood-bought salvation wrought by Christ on the cross. I confess that “Christ died for [my] sins” (1 Corinthians 15:3). That is a soul-enriching, gospel balm to apply when my Romans 7-ishness has burned my heart.
As an imperfect disciple, the confessing of the sufficiency of Christ’s work on my behalf alongside the confessing of my sins is one means of soul maintenance that I have found helpful. What about you? How do you apply Romans 8 truths when Romans 7 realities burden your mind and weigh on your heart? How do you approach sin and soul maintenance?