One Step at a Time
February 7, 2018
By Mike Ivaska
"Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit." - Galatians 5:25 (NIV)
"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death." - Romans 8:1-2 (NIV)
Anyone familiar with addiction and recovery will tell you that most of our problems come from being stuck either in the past or in the future. The first Principle of Celebrate Recovery begins with the words, "Realize I am not God." The idea here is that, in trying to fix our past or control our future, we are attempting to do God's job. We are trying to be our own gods and goddesses. We are trying to save ourselves (or are busy hating ourselves for not being able to). Freedom, for those who find it, comes in learning to lean on Jesus and live in the moment. Alcoholics don't find freedom from their addiction by "never drinking again," but by not drinking today, or even (if necessary) by not drinking in this moment. And in the mean time, they do not focus on not drinking. They focus on God. They focus on creating new, good habits. They focus on self-care. They focus on the person in front of them. They leave God's job to God and re-learn how to do their own job of being a human being made in God's image.
So what does this have to do with the rest of us? For those whose sins are not so conspicuous or frowned-upon as having a chemical addiction? Well, for starters, "addiction" is just a modern term for the biblical concept of sin. "Whoever commits sin is a slave of sin," Jesus tells us. "O wretched man that I am! Who will save me from this body of death?" cries Paul. We are told in Romans 3:23 that all of us have sinned and fallen short. All of us are slaves in need of freedom. And the worst kind of slavery is the kind where you don't know, or don't wish to acknowledge, your slavery. That is why the prostitutes and tax-collectors found it easier to follow Jesus than the devoutly religious. The devoutly religious weren't sure they needed him, and found it embarrassing to admit they might. So, biblically, we are all in the same boat. And if a committed Christian can still be stuck in an addiction, then you can be sure the rest of us committed Christians can (and do) have things at work in us that would love to run the show given the opportunity. Woe to us if we don't recognize this!
Now, we need to make one thing clear: Jesus Christ has solved our sin problem once-and-for-all on the cross. "There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ." Amen! So when it comes to questions of God's judgment, that problem has been dealt with. Also, the Bible tells us that those who come to faith in Christ "live by the Spirit." So, beyond questions of judgment, if we begin to worry that the sinful tendencies of our old selves are the most powerful thing at work in us, on the contrary! God the Spirit lives in our hearts! And last I read the Bible, God always wins in the end. Ultimate victory is assured. Hallelujah!
So this brings us to the moment. The moment right in front of us. The moment we are faced with an attractive sin. The moment we are tempted to turn on the TV instead of having our quiet time with the Lord. The moment after we sin and don't know what to do or how to feel about ourselves. The cross of Christ is where the war was won. The moment in front of us is where our own little battles are fought. This leads us to the biblical metaphor of walking.
Anyone familiar with the Bible probably knows the story of the Exodus, where the people of God walk, a step at a time, behind the Presence of God as he leads them to the Promised Land. And in the gospel accounts of Jesus' life, Jesus is always walking somewhere. Anyone who wants to be his disciple has to get up from whatever they are doing and follow. Enter the apostle Paul, one of whose favorite metaphors for the Christian life is to "walk." Some translations will say "live" (or "keep in step") but many times the word behind "live" is "walk." Paul, looking back to the journeys of Israel and Jesus' original disciples, often liked to describe the Christian life as a journey on foot. And journeys are taken one step at a time.
Ever since Sunday of this week, I have found it difficult to get to and do my devotional practice. Monday especially derailed my normal pattern of Bible reading and prayer throughout certain fixed points in the day (called "praying the hours" of morning, midday, and evening). And after missing my practice for a couple of days, I found it very difficult today to get back to it. Just slipping from my devotional "walk" for two or three days made getting back to it so difficult. On one hand, I sort of felt "free" from the constraint of the discipline. On the other, I felt guilty for getting behind on my readings. My options were to go back to "winging it" and having a haphazard prayer life (which has never served me well and is in fact why I began this discipline in the first place), or to sit stuck in my guilt, maybe even trying to "make up for" falling behind by doubling up on my reading or making some kind of more demanding commitment. But there was a third option: Just get back to it. Just do the thing in front of me. Read the morning's psalm and Scripture portion. Do my prayers. Move on with the day. One-step-at-a-time.