Saturday, October 22, 2016

How Do We Overcome Our Sinful Nature?

An incredibly generous friend, a trained massage therapist, offered me a free massage when she found out about my very limited arm range of motion. Since I was really struggling with the pain and arm limitation, I accepted.


I have never had a massage, and I admit I was nervous. First, I didn't want to get naked or even partially naked in front of my friend...or really anyone. Especially with the mastectomy, even though the breast is reconstructed. I have become more modest with age. The old grey mare just ain't what she used to be. Best to keep her covered.

Secondly, I was pretty sure it would hurt. The surgeries, the radiation, the broken rib, and now the scar tissue and loss of range of motion...they all conspired towards PAIN.

Nonetheless, I decided it might help, and I should take my friend up on her generous offer.

After having the 2-hour or so massage, I can tell you unequivocally: NEVER  pass up the opportunity for a therapeutic massage from a really good therapist. I am not sure I have ever felt so relaxed. It was like being drugged.

My friend has been doing massages for fifteen years. She has NEVER encountered someone with such tight muscles as mine. She said on a scale of 1-10 muscle tension, I was a 20. She also said I must have an enormously high pain tolerance level because she could not imagine how I could possibly kayak with such tight and painful neck, shoulder, and arm muscles.

I think I have lived in a continual low level of pain for so long so that I don't even really register how much it hurts. I do know that when she had finished the massage, I felt deep peace and gratitude for feeling momentarily freed of all that pain.

Because my friend loves God, she prayed at the beginning and intermittently throughout the massage. Heaven may very likely have angels that are trained massage therapists. Now that I have experienced it, I have a better picture of what Heaven must be like when tension and stress of our flawed bodies melt away. There were times when I was so relaxed that I could not have gotten off that table if a nuclear bomb had exploded next door.

We don't know why my muscles are wired so tightly. My friend is pretty sure that the muscle tension has been developing for many years. I have had TMJ (temporal-mandibular-joint pain) for decades and wear a mouth brace to prevent grinding my teeth right into my brain from jaw clenching. I have had chronic neck pain and joint pain throughout my body from muscle tension. I don't relax easily, and never have. I only nap when I am sick. I don't let myself off the hook easily. Pain and fatigue don't tend to sideline me unless I am flattened by something major like a severed Achilles, pneumonia, or cancer. Ignoring pain, and soldiering through it in the past has probably contributed to my sorry muscular state now.

I wish I wasn't the way I am...but that tendency to squeeze every last drop out of day is woven into my frame. I don't know how to be something I am not. Like relaxed.

The Bible says we are fearfully and wonderfully made, woven together in the inner parts, and known by God before one of our days was yet seen. He designed us to be uniquely who we are. My drive, persistence, and energy are often great assets, but often great curses as well.

So what do I do? How do any of us defy our own nature to keep from harming ourselves or others? I don't believe my energy level is a sin, but it certainly is at odds with what my muscles seem able to sustain.

Perhaps the message I am sensing from God is a stretch (which I can't do because of such muscular tightness) but the Bible has much to say about the tension between our natural self and our spiritual self. Our natural bodies have instincts that are there to preserve us as long as possible (hunger, thirst, rest, reproduce so the species survives), but all those needs can become distorted and lead to sin -- gluttony, drunkenness, laziness, fornication and sexual immorality. We will battle against the desires of the flesh and of the world till the day we die. The tension between our flesh and our spirit never leaves us till we are freed from our mortal life.

We are essentially at war with ourselves. I see that vividly right now in the pain of my upper body. How do we overcome our own sinful nature? One of the best passages that addresses this is below:
Romans 7:15-25
15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do-- this I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. 21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God's law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God-- through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
There are some key points in this passage that help.
1. Every one of us struggles with sin.
2. Every one of us knows what is good, and most of us even try to do that good.
3. All of us will fail, and then berate ourselves for our weakness in doing what we know we should do.
4. We will feel guilt, and despair, and fatigue from the battle that we cannot win on our own power.
5. We have a rescuer -- Jesus Christ our Lord is the only one who can free us.

I know this is true for me. I can do nothing for any length of time of any good apart from God. On the other hand, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.(Philippians 4:13)
How? The guilt from our sin drives us to Godly sorrow and repentance. Our repentance leads us to a humility that allows us to understand and see Jesus' atoning sacrifice which pays the penalty that must be levied against all sin. Our pride is squashed in our understanding of our own weakness, and we accept Jesus' incredible gift, and give Him sovereignty over our lives. The Holy Spirit indwells us the moment we accept Jesus as Lord, and will guide us and help us to battle more effectively against our sin nature. Finally, we can rest in the assurance that in Jesus we are victorious, and when our wretched bodies die, we will be eternally safe with God. The battle ends. The tension dissolves in the blink of an eye. We are healed and forever free.

And sometimes, He sends a really talented massage therapist to give us relief from the battle for a moment.
Romans 8:11
If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.

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