Most of us like to believe that we are congruent in most areas of our life. We want who we say we are on the inside to match what others see on the outside. We want our faith, values, and priorities to be evident in our choices and behaviors. That’s what pure integrity looks like.
Yet Paul clearly knows how easy it is to struggle with that in his letter to the Romans:
“I’m a mystery to myself, for I want to do what is right, but end up doing what my moral instincts condemn.”
Romans 7:15 (TPT)
The contradictions show up on little things and big things. We know we need to limit sugar intake and on good days we forego candy or ice cream, but ignore or give ourselves a pass about sweeteners in our coffee or tea. We know we need to keep moving (even if we don’t exercise), but our body stays stuck in a chair for more hours than not.
We know we should have a consistent daily time of devotion to keep our spiritual muscles toned, but too often we may only skim a verse or a short devotional and maybe a quick prayer without reflecting on the Lord or listening for his nudges. The Holy Spirit wants to encourage us and hold us accountable in all this, but in many cases we have the mute button depressed.
We know that nurturing and nourishing our relationships with spouse, parents, children, friends, and others is important and yet we go through many days without putting much conscious effort into the relationships that mean the most to us. It can be so easy to think we will do better tomorrow or that we will get around to that, but we miss the truth that we never know how much time we may have in this life with that person. We miss the joy we give by cultivating the relationship and forget that it comes right back to us when we love well.
Yes, Paul is right about the sin nature that seeks to overtake us. There is also the problem with how often we can be in denial about these very contradictions (or at the very least rationalize them away).
For most of us, defense mechanisms are pretty well developed by the time we are not far into adulthood. We act out, project onto others things that we are guilty of, operate in denial, and assorted other things. We use them to avoid or distance ourselves from things we don’t want to see, feel, or own.
“Perhaps denial is the mind’s way of protecting the heart from a sucker punch it can’t handle or maybe it’s simpler than that. Maybe denial in the face of overwhelming evidence is a mere byproduct of stubbornness,”
Lisa Wingate in The Sea Keepers Daughter
Some of us are old enough to remember the movie “A Few Good Men” that was released in 1992 and the memorable line spoken by Jack Nicholson (Col. Nathan Jessep) as a result of the questioning of Tom Cruise (Lt. Daniel Kaffee): “You can’t handle the truth.”
Can we really not handle the truth as a believer granted grace or is it that we would prefer to not look at it within ourselves?
Have we forgotten that we are not only saved by grace, but called to live by grace as well?
“Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.”
Jerry Bridges in The Discipline of Grace
Sometimes we also don’t know ourselves as well as we may think we do. It is only when we spend time with the Lord being honest before Him and also asking Him to search our hearts that we can begin to see more clearly. It is then as the prophet Joel says in Joel 2:13 that we will “rend” our hearts and repent of those contradictions we see as well as those He sees that we missed.
Spending time with the Lord … the key we must remember is said best by Jerry Bridges:
“Duty or guilt may motivate us for awhile, but only a sense of Christ’s love for us will motivate us for a lifetime.”
Sensing that love of the Lord is what moves us another step out of contradiction so that we can handle the truth, move in repentance, and feel the freedom of being wrapped in his grace and mercy.