It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.
I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question? Romans 7:21-24 The Msg These words were penned by the apostle Paul.
It’s the daily battle with a relentless enemy that gets me down lately. I constantly have to deal with a shrewd pain in the spiritual rear who plays on my emotions, tries to draw me back to old habits once left behind, swaggers along behind tossing a heavy coat of insecurity and pride on me time and time again no matter how many times I throw it off. Whenever I get irritated enough to turn around I see that it’s me: my old nature, my sinful self following me around.
I want to get rid of self but it’s like a static cling. No matter what milestones I pass or lessons I learn, it’s a dormant disease that never fully goes away. I feel I could scream Paul’s words sometimes. What can I do, God? I know what’s right but so often don’t do it. I’m my own worst enemy! Help!
In the book “Voyage of the Dawn Treader” by C.S. Lewis, one of the main characters, Eustace, discovers the answer to this universal problem. Eustace is a spoiled, disagreeable, bratty boy who was reluctantly pulled into the magical world of Narnia and a royal quest at sea with his cousins Edmund and Lucy. His rude attitude and arrogant behavior annoyed everyone on the ship and so when they stopped at an island along their journey, Eustace wandered off alone away from the others. He wandered farther than he meant to and found himself on a steep slope looking down toward a beautiful pool with a cave nearby. While he was looking, a dragon came out of the cave, coughed and sputtered a bit and died right by the edge of the water. He ventured closer cautiously out of curiosity and when it began to downpour he sought shelter in the cave. The floor of the cave was covered with gold coins, crowns, bracelets, goblets, and other precious treasure. Without intending to tell the others of this wonderful discovery, he stuffed some gems in his pockets and slid a gem-encrusted gold bracelet onto his arm. He was tired and soon fell asleep. When he awoke he saw two thin columns of smoke rising right by his head and a dragon’s arm that started moving when he moved. He panicked thinking there was another dragon that had been farther back in the cave and had now snuck up behind him to devour him so he scrambled out toward the pool. When he got to the edge he looked down and in the reflection of the water saw that HE was the dragon. He had become on the outside what he was on the inside: a greedy, selfish monster. He wept big dragon tears as he began to realize how awful he had treated the others and suddenly wanted them as friends. He didn’t want to be alone and be a monster. (There is much more to this story and Eustace’s adventure – you really should read the book yourself – it’s fantastic.)
One night, the night before his friends would have to leave without him since they couldn’t take a dragon on board the ship, he was visited by a great Lion (Narnia fans know Him to be Aslan) and led to a wide, deep well. There Aslan asked him to undress, which Eustace figured out meant to shed his dragon skin. So he started scratching at his scaly body with his claws and peeling off layers, but no matter how much he scratched and pulled at the rough, wrinkly skin he couldn’t fully remove it all. Finally Aslan told him “You will have to let me undress you.” Eustace was afraid at first but laid down his back in front of the great lion, desperate to be rid of it all. He told his friends later, “The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart.” After the ugly hide was painfully removed, what was left of him was gently picked up by the lion and plunged into the deep well water which at first felt excruciating and then deliciously refreshing. As soon as Eustace started swimming up to the surface he realized with joy that he was a boy again. As he climbed out to thank the lion, Aslan dressed him in new clean clothes and he was sent to go find the others.
The rest of the verse I quoted at the beginning gives the answer to the question, “Is there no one who can do anything for me?” or “How do I conquer this selfish part of me? I’ve tried and tried.” Verse 25 says, “The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does.”
I can’t get rid of my “self” by myself. Only Jesus can help me take off the filthy clothes of greed, self-centeredness, pride, obstinance, jealousy and all those “dragonish” characteristics. Galatians 2:20 says, “My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Crucified? That sounds painful.
And in Luke 9:23, Jesus said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.”
I’m encouraged that he said daily. If I have a good day where I’m giving off a good reflection of him and then a not so great day where I’m more resembling that dragon, I can ask Him to remove the rough, scaly garment of self and clothe me instead in forgiveness and His grace. Jesus is the only One who can really and truly slay self.