It is a tongue twister.
“For I do not do the good I want to do, but 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.”1
Paul could have said this a little more succinctly, but the disorienting wordiness of it accurately captures the emotional essence of wrestling with who you are and what you do. No matter how determined he is, he often fails to do what he knows he should. In the context of the verses above, he is talking about his failure to follow the God-given law that ordered his life and that of an entire people. On this side of the cross, we claim grace and not law following, but if we are honest, we have really just traded one law for another. We have replaced an old law with a new one that is just as demanding and exacting. This is why you cannot change and the death-metal song of guilt keeps showing up on your playlist.2
There, seated next to law, you will never get off the roller-coaster of good intentions and horrible results. Long climbs, steep descents, sharp curves and headache inducing loops.
In grace (the experience of actually accepting that you are accepted) we can admit to who we are without excuses, or even trying to change. For in grace we accept that we are accepted as we are and don’t have to change anything. The power of grace really comes to light when we realize that it is only as we are able to find this acceptance and admit to our darkness that the darkness begins to dissipate and our basic operating code begins to change.
Here in this space of grace where we do not need to change, true change begins to sprout from the dry earth of our being.3
It sounds like it goes too far. We want to add a “but” in there somewhere. We feel the need to clarify it. Maybe that is where we strip it of its power. We advertise grace, but we end up treating it like it is one section of many along the car wash of change. Grace is not a step or a chapter in the process. It is the entire path or the whole book.
So, take a seat. Be still in it and accept that you are accepted without excuses and without making any effort to change. Grace is a not so dirty trick. It greets you with a smile. It assures you that you are included without needing to clean up first. It places no demands on you. As soon as you truly believe that, it is too late. At that moment, you have been changed. You are no longer living with a law of obligation, but now you are living with a deep spirituality.4
1 Romans 7:19-20
2 This is a short blog post and not meant to be an all-encompassing conclusion of how to change any psychological or physiological issue, addiction and the like. Please take what you can from it knowing that overcoming our challenges is much more complex than what it is treated as here.
3 Peter Rollins
4 Romans 8