It is never fun to die. To rip through the dear and tender stuff of which life is made can never be anything but deeply painful. Yet that is what the cross did to Jesus and it is what the cross would do to every man to set him free.
A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God
It's never fun to die. Never fun to take our dear little sins, our precious little pleasures, our delightful little dark "things", drag them out of their closets and hiding places and out to the woodshed, and murder them. When they die, it feels like we are dying. Our flesh squeals, grovels, and begs not to go... its last stand is to persuade you with crooked semantics and lustful fantasies that you can't live without it... that you need it.
I generally like to write as though our battle against sin were a heroic one. It is not. It's not particularly a victory-march by still waters and pastures green. Most often it's a very undesirable crawl through the black and thorny corridors of my sinful little blood-pumper. When it comes to my sin, I am a real groveler. Like ROFG - rolling on the floor groveling... Like, GMFAO... ya. When I'm feeling particularly dirtied by my sin, I medicate with self-pity and netflix. God couldn't possibly love me, could He? I stuff another chocolate in my mouth and try to forget how pitifully sinful I am.
A year ago I was groveling about my sin with a friend. He sympathized and then went to the store. He came back with... well... a shark hook. Kyle, this is your sin... it's not just a little vice... you can't man-handle this... He hooked it around my neck and pulled my head towards his and gave me a talk that every man needs to hear. Sin is out to KILL you, Kyle. It wants to MURDER you. Barbed fangs and twisted talons... and in an instant it would pull you to the bottom of the ocean and break you to bits.
The battle is not heroic. Not if I'm the hero.
The war is set to kill you. Rip your soul to shreds. Destroy your family. Shame you. Defecate on everything you hold dear. Smear everything sacred and holy. Kill your reputation. Make your Savior look like a fool. Chew you up, spit you out, and bury you. Then on your epitaph it cuts the stone to read in gangly lettering: "Failure."
Your flesh will kill you. Unless by the grace of God you kill it.
Kill your sin or it will be killing you.
Jonathan Edwards, The Mortification of Sin.
But really, it's not as if this battle was yours in the first place. Christ started it, Christ will finish it. Even the desire to be free from sin can be riddled with self... "This is MY struggle." And then our prayers reflect our pithy little self-battle: Lord, help ME kill MY sin... So we relinquish every particle and tendril of responsibility into the hands of our Dad... with abandon and recklessness. And here still at the same time we give it our all... We fight like dying men, we give it our dogged all, we don't stop, don't let up, don't quit until we see our flesh breathe it's last. But all this we do by the power and for the pleasure of our Papa.
Grace is not opposed to effort. Grace is opposed to earning.
Yeah, it's a brutish war. Good thing Jesus Christ is a brutish warrior. Fighting a battle that's already been won... clothing you with His righteousness... filthiness for a king's regality. King's eye's hit sinner and His voice cries "My Child!"
I used to think that John 15:1 was a pretty verse. I am the True Vine and my Father is the Vinedresser. That's nice, isn't it? Poetic. Charming. God's got a little set of pruning shears and He's at work in the flowerbed of your heart... right? A couple years ago a friend told me a story of a real "Vinedresser":
Walking through the family vineyard and her Dad turns to her... "Do you understand that if I want these vines to bear any worthwhile fruit, I have to prune 90% of their growth?!" WHAT. THE. HECK.... Hold the phone... NINETY PERCENT? This isn't a game anymore. God isn't a kind, neighborly groundskeeper anymore... He is the proverbial Merchant of Venice out to take His pound of flesh...
A pound of flesh here, a pound of flesh there... pruning blades and blow torches well at work on your flesh, bleeding it of everything that starts with the word "self". Self-righteousness, self-pity, self-confidence, self-sufficiency, self-admiration, self-love. He is out to murder them ruthlessly. With blood, with broken bones, with fire, with affliction. That is why the Flesh is called "flesh" - because when God takes it from you, it hurts like Hell.
I think we often welcome God in to change us and then notice that life's junk hits the fan... suddenly we tap out before God can even start answering our prayers for heart-change. We start crying out for God's mercy to end the pain rather than crying out for Him to do what He must to take us deeper. A man has been taught wrong if he believes that the removal of flesh is anything short of excruciating.
The groveling must stop.
The pruning must go on.
So welcome Him with a gritted grin and clenched fists.
"Choose this day whom you will serve," says He.
"Oh Papa, give me grace to choose You each day," says I.