“I am ashamed to say it… and yet it’s no worse to say it than to think it. You call me a lucky fellow. Of course, I am. I was a blacksmith’s boy but yesterday; I am – what shall I say I am – today?”
“Say, a good fellow, if you want a phrase,” returned Herbert, smiling, and clapping his hands on the back of mine; “a good fellow, with impetuosity and hesitation, boldness and diffidence, action and dreaming, curiously mixed in him.”
I stopped for a moment to consider whether there really was this mixture in my character. (“Great Expectations”, Charles Dickens)
I have never related so emphatically to a character in a book as I have Pip in Great Expectations.
From his despair of having a calling yet being unable to pinpoint its direction, to his reluctancy of expression due to fear of misunderstanding. Yet none of his attributes sits more uncomfortably with me than his uncontrollable desire for something that ruins him and his inability to reckon with it.
Further into the conversation above, Pip’s friend confronts him with the thought that his desire for his beloved Estella may very easily “lead to miserable things.”
“I know Herbert,” said I (Pip), with my head turned away, ‘but I can’t help it”
“You can detach yourself?”
“You can’t try it, Handel (Pip)?”
Pip is me and Pip is very much all when it comes to the confronting of one’s own heart and finding a deep darkness and wretched soul. That there is a great contradiction at the core of all Christians. Those who love the Lord yet still dwell in a flesh that loves sin.
Sin Residing in the Heart
In my time spent across different denominations of the church I have found there are key differences in their acceptance of the role of sin in one’s life. Specifically in one's life post-conversion.
For the majority of my childhood it was that sin was to no longer whatsoever be a part of a Christian’s life, that a true Christian, one who rightly loves the Lord is not swayed, nor tempted to the point of giving in to sin.
This is without a doubt an admirable form of Christian living and perspective. The threshold for sin after all is zero, even a sinful thought is enough to condemn us to an earned and justified eternity in hell.
“But I say to you that everyone who looks at a women with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” (Mathew chapter 5, verse 28)
And even as I write these paragraphs, I sense in myself the complete inadequacy to meet the expectations that my young Christian heart had set itself open and that same fear of failure and falling short induces me to shrink into myself and away from God.
Further, knowing that even Paul spoke in the book of Romans of the contradiction between his new life under the Law of righteousness and his current condition under the rule of the law of the flesh.
“For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” (Romans chapter 7, verses 14-15)
That not even he, could maintain the impossible standard of a sinless life whilst in the flesh.
John Owens speaking of the Enmity of the heart towards God sums this up. “Grace changeth the nature of man, but nothing can change the nature of sin. Whatever effect be wrought upon it, there is still no effect wrought in it, but that it is enmity still, sin still.”
Perfectionism in a Broken World
The danger of my views early on in my Christian walk was that it attempted to bring me to a place of complete perfection. An individual without blemish ans thus without need of redemption. Simply put, it attempted to do the impossible.
What it conveyed as ‘heartfelt’ desire to come closer into alignment with God’s law was simply an expression of my pride. This is as Karen Prior Swallow describes in her book On Reading Well as the paradox or moral irony of pride and humility. When pride is given reign it leads to our downfall, as seen in the Pharisees. But in our humility we are exalted before God.
“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Mathew chapter 23, verse 12)
In my walk with God, my resistance to sin and resolve against temptation has only ever grown in the realization of the depth of my repugnant desire for what is sinful, never in the thought that I in myself have become stronger than it.
Further still it is only then when such sin is viewed under the cover of grace will my heart ever also find repugnant that which is in me. Will it ever cry out for the continue grace of sanctification
“Thou makest me possess the sins of my youth,
And the dreadful sin of my nature,
So that I feel all sin,
I cannot think or act but every motion is sin.
Return again with showers of converting grace
Too a poor gospel-abusing sinner.”
(Valley of Vision)
Isaac Claasen is originally from Christchurch but grew up in Auckland on the North Shore. If not studying, spending time with friends or watching NBA he is most likely reading a book pretending to be an intellectual.