My favorite old sin: Self-Suffiency

Every year in early August, I find myself reflecting on the anniversary of my conversion.  Here are some thoughts as my 8th year as a follower of Christ draws to a close.

(this pic is circa 2004 - my high school graduation - still 'having it all together' on the outside)

I used to tell Jesus, "I got this."  
Before I became a Christian 8 years ago, one of my favorite things to do was act like one.  I thought that the essence of being a Christian was behaving like one...which included doing things like reading the bible, praying, attending church, and doing good htings.  I thought it was especially important to not sin, because it seemed like Christians were supposed to 'have it all together'.

So I would try to have it all together; focusing on my appearance, my achievements, my relationships and my social status.  But, each time I tried to act like a Christian, I would eventually fail and find my life devastated by my sin and circumstances.  This made me feel awful, so I ran to Jesus in worldly sorrow.  I disliked the consequences of sin, but instead of repenting and leaning on God's grace, I just resolved to do better and try harder.  I told Jesus in essence, "I got this. I'm going to start living up to your expectations from now on.  I'm going to start behaving like a good Christian."

For days, weeks or even months (in some cases), I would read my bible, journal, attend church activities, say and do "good" things.  I would push the desires of my flesh deep down, as if I could stop them.  I thought, "If I could just stop acting so unholy, things would be better.  I just need to change."

And my falls got uglier and uglier.  Eventually, I would run out of strength to keep pretending and trying to lead a double life; acting like a complete hypocrite to the faith I supposedly held dear.  Like an un-trained athlete trying to run a marathon, I would crash after the first few miles.  This seemed to confirm in my heart, "I must not be a Christian because I can't act like one.  Why even try?"  Then I would give myself permission to just be "free" and stop trying to obey God's restrictive laws.

This cycle continued until the age of 20, when God miraculously intervened and allowed me to realize that I was incapable of changing myself or acting holy.  It was so freeing to finally admit to God in tears that I needed His mercy, because without it, I was doomed.  I was done trying to save myself...all I could rely on was his grace and pardon.

Let's face it, I still like to try to be perfected in the flesh
These days, it's tempting to slip back into a similar cycle.  I see an area of my life being threatened by sin, and my response is to try harder and make a plan to change.

The scary thing is, before I was a follower of Christ, I didn't have the framework or the knowledge to be able to "try hard" for very long.  But now, I can sometimes disguise good works apart from faith as Christian growth, and no one knows the difference.  But thankfully, God is good, and he won't let me go on in my own strength for long.

He continually weakens my muscles and causes my plans to fail.  He reminds me that the old me was self-centered and full of pride.  I was my own savior.  Sometimes I think I'm doing good if I don't let any "bad sins" back into my life, all the while ignoring the fact that I've given way to my favorite old sin:  self-sufficiency and living life apart from the grace of Jesus.

And this is the lie of the deceiver: that once we become a Christian, we can stop doing bad things and start doing good things.  It is false to believe that after we have saving faith, we move past our need for God's grace and on to working hard to be a better wife, mom, friend, and servant.  The goal isn't to 'get saved' and then 'be good'.  The goal is to love God and find our joyful identity in Jesus.  Out of this flow all heart transformations.

More gospel, less self-sufficency
I hear the Apostle Paul calling me out as he rebukes the Galatians, "Oh foolish, Emily!  Who has bewitched you?...  Did you receive the spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?  Are you so foolish?  Having begun by the spirit are you now being perfected by works of the flesh?"  (Galatians 3:1-3 my name inserted for emphasis)

As I embark on my 9th year, redeemed by Jesus, I'm tempted to resolve to try harder.  I want to tell Jesus, "Okay, in my 8th year I didn't do so good, but next year...next year I'm going to evangelize for you, I'm going to pay better attention to my kids, I'm going to serve my husband more, I'm going to stop complaining to my friends, and I'm going to control my love for cookies."  This sounds sooo good, and my law loving heart wants to fist pump and say, "Yes!  Go me!  You can do it!"

But the gospel and the bible bid me to do differently.  They call me to start out this 9th year by getting on my knees and saying, "In my 8th year, I didn't do so good.  But you died for my lack of evangelism, my selfish parenting, my disrespect of my husband, my grumbling, and my gluttony.  Only by your grace and mercy am I saved, and the goal isn't to get better, the goal is to love, know, and worship God.  I have your righteousness, and only by your power can I resist the temptation to sin."  This is more humbling, and it requires my law loving heart to repent and trust nothing but the true savior.

As I embark on my next year as a believer, I want more gospel and less self-sufficiency.
Can you relate?

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