Today in church we began a discussion on the idea of Integrity. Integrity as defined by the dictionary is, “the state of being complete or whole.” Integrity is that idea that you are solid – consistent. If you were a bridge I’d feel safe about walking anywhere on you, because you are whole. Solid. The same at all times. You are a person of integrity.
The reality is that none of us are truly people of integrity. None of us are whole. The nature of sin and brokenness we live in is that I am, by nature, a “double minded man unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:8)
In me exists the same bio-polarity Paul writes about in Romans 7, “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.” The nature – the very DNA of the flesh is anti-God. It knee-jerk rebels against God’s law. “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.” (Romans 7:14) And the flesh is built to follow the “law” of sin, as Paul writes in verses 21 through 23, “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.”
There exists inside the redeemed Saint a conflict between the old law and the new. We are in the process of being sanctified and in that process we get to watch a spiritual land war take place daily inside our own beings. Our souls are the turf that these battles play out on, day after day. And we are conscious of both sides. We can taste and feel the desire of both the Spirit and the flesh. And in the midst of this tug of war, I, like Paul, sometimes want to scream “Wretched man that I am! Who will save me from this body of death?”
Re-enter integrity: for although inside all of us exists this war, we are still called and created to be whole. We hunger for wholeness, for consistency. We hate when we are inconsistent and we become experts are ignoring our own hypocrisy. But that is not the gospel.
A perfect analogy of this whole thing was given by our pastor. Adam and Eve were made perfect, whole, and pure. They walked naked with each other and with God – for they had nothing to hide. However, the moment they sinned – the war began. They were no longer whole, they were dis-integrated. It was at that moment they knew shame and for their first act as broken people they covered their nakedness. Shame.
No longer could they be transparent before their God and spouse…they had dark corners now. Evil thoughts. A recognition of something ugly in themselves…and they had to hide.
We, Christians, are the exact same. Shame is a cancer and a chain and it has me and you in ways we fail to see. Shame clamps on us as we try to hike the mountains of life and causes us to fall behind into isolation. When we are ashamed, we make like Adam and Eve and grab what we can to cover our flaws and we hide.
What causes shame? Identification with that which causes rejection. We claim, traits, desires, or thoughts as our own. We recognize that those things are either sinful or perceived as socially unacceptable and we try to hide them, we cover up. “Covering up” is a reflex result of shame. Out of shame we hide from people, out of shame we hide our thoughts, out of shame we don’t make eye contact with our friends. Isolation is often a result of shame. Imagine the hump-back of Notre Dame, he was hidden away because of his deformity (and his master’s cruelty). He was ashamed of his appearance, so he isolated himself.
When you consider this principle in the context of sin, Paul’s bipolarity starts to matter. We as Christ followers are not whole – yet (that is glorification). We are justified, whole, washed white, and pure in the sight of God – but we are in still in process (sanctification). There still exists inside of us the very real and present desire for heinous and evil things. And we don’t just think about them, there is a part of us that really wants them. Deep down in the dark closets of our beings, we recognize the parts of us that crave to put down, abuse, and harm others, while exalting self. The hole goes deep and the thoughts get worse. I know that if I were totally honest, there have been times I’ve desired things that would sentence me to life in prison.
There exists within us a flesh ruled by the sin nature. And that nature is not cute. It is not just a little greedy sometimes, cashing in on occasion when it can’t get caught. It is entirely depraved. Black. No light, no goodness. No excuse. Utter rejection of God to the point of wanting evil. That is the nature of the flesh that exists in us.
This is where shame comes in. As churched people we know morality, we know what we ought not do. We even know what we ought to do instead! And it gets worse! Jesus taught that even our thoughts can condemn us. Now we are not only called to be moral in action, but to be wholly moral. To be people of integrity morally even in our own private thoughts.
That’s all well and fine – until we fail. And fail we do. We fail in our thoughts and desires. We fail with our words, with our eyes, and with our bodies. We gratify and feed the flesh we know is evil, hoping that it will eventually just “go away.” And we go about our lives.
Until we come into contact with wholeness – then we hide. Then we feel shame. Because we know that we have identified with evil.
The truth is our flesh is not simply sitting still in this moralistic environment. Rather, it is capitalizing on every chance we give it to cut us down and feed itself. And so in our sanctification, as we learn to walk in holiness, we also learn that our habits matter. Our eating matters! Our leisure matters! Our work and even our sleeping habits matter! Because if we do not guard those things, our flesh floods into the smallest of breaches and leads us to sin. (This is why some people do not drink. And why others do not listen to certain music or go to certain places. Their flesh has a highway carved through that part of their wall – they know their flesh will feed there. So they, wisely, avoid giving themselves the chance.)
But why do we feel shame? Why do people duck eyes when they start talking with their Christian friends or their pastors? Because they are identifying with the sin. They are claiming as an integral part of themselves ideas and desires that they know the person they are with would not approve of. Shame.
Imagine if you had a square purple nose, you would likely cover it up. You can’t remove it, but you sure don’t want people to see it! Sin is like that. It is woven into our beings, we can’t remove it! No matter how positive we act, how good we get at self-discipline, how clever and minimalist we become. We cannot beat our flesh alone. Consider how many priests have been associated with molestation? We can not out run ourselves. We cannot kill sin, it’s in our blood.
But there is good news. Indeed this IS the good news that we are not doomed to be devoured by our sin. We are not slaves any longer to a flesh monster that lives in us like a parasite. We are washed. The disease of Sin was killed by the Great Physician who paid the necessary price for the antidote – Grace.
It is because of this that shame is so utterly backwards. Christian – know that you are no longer identified by your darkest thoughts and desires. The wonder of the Cross is it has made you a new creation. A creation able to say no to the flesh where you once had no voice.
Romans 8:1-2 “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.”
2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
Shame off you. No longer do you have to hide, do not cower from even your darkest thoughts – they are not yours! Do not identify yourself with them – they are not you. There is no condemnation. Take heart and know joy! You are free from that basement of death and fear. The darkness does not own you. The skeletons in your closet have been washed away with that whole old house. There is nothing to be ashamed of.
This then is what is meant by setting your mind on the Spirit or the flesh: “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” (Romans 8:5-6) If I set my mind on the thoughts and desires that my flesh tries to throw in my face – I despair. I taste again the desire for evil and it is familiar. It is pleasant and I choose sin again. And again I do what I hate, and again I know shame. I have set my mind on the flesh, I have identified with my flesh.
But – if instead I recognize those thoughts as foreign – as not a part of who I now am. I am free to reject them. I’m free to dismiss those things as the hell spawn that they are and respond in holiness. There is now a choice, where there once was no choice. There is now freedom.
So, dear Christian, do not be dismayed by the war in your heart. Rather take courage! Fight with the Sword you’ve been given – the very promises of God.
“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The war is over. And we are utterly victorious.