The Old Self Wrestling with the New
If you want to know what the Christian life is about, read the church’s baptismal liturgy (from Romans 6): In Baptism, each of us is joined to Christ’s death and resurrection; from that time forward we live under God’s public promise of forgiveness, life, and salvation. God says, “You are a new person born in the waters of Baptim, sustained by my promises.” “Through these promises,” God says,”you are alright with me; you don’t have to do anything to fix our relationship. I’ve taken care of that already in Christ.” But there’s a hitch: The old self in us (see Romans 5-7) is determined to get a second hearing after God has spoken. So the old self lingers at the edges of our heart questioning whether faith in Christ is enough. The voice of that old self is distinct, saying things like, “Listen, I can handle this on my own.” Or, “Okay, so I don’t have to do anything to please you, God. But you don’t really mean ‘nothing,’ do you?” The old self doesn’t trust that God’s promises alone can effect the change in us that God desires. So the old self pokes and prods at God’s commandments and promises, saying things like, “Sure you are the Lord my God, but I still have to make sure I have no other gods. See, I told you I had something to do.” And the old self takes jabs at the new self–raised up in the waters of Baptism: “Don’t just sit there trusting that God has fixed the problem between you and him. Prove your faith to God by your actions.” The old self wants you to believe that God’s promises are good, but you’d better do your part too.
The new self, on the other hand, trusts that God will fulfill God’s promises. And, just as Christ told his disciples that he would rise from death–and he did, so we can trust Christ’s promises that we will also be raised from death. We don’t have to–in fact, we can’t–do anything to receive God’s salvation. It is pure gift. And what God wants us to do is simply trust that he’s taken care of things.
Over the weeks of Lent, as we listen to each of the Commandments, you are likely to find a wrestling match being fought in your conscience–between the old you and the new you. The old you will use words like “should,” “ought,” and “must” to motivate you to action. The old you will want you to believe that the Commandments are the To-Do list that you not only should, but must complete for a good relationship with God. But the new you–the you whom God is creating through Christ and his Spirit–will be offering a different, faithful approach to the Commandments. The new you will ask, “What can I do, now that I don’t have to do anything to have this relationship with God?” And, gradually, as you continue to hear Christ’s promises of forgiveness and new life with God, the voice of that new self will grow stronger, and the voice of that relentless old self will fade.