I was in a local Wal-Mart store the other day, when I witnessed a brilliant idea in action. I personally believe that this idea is exceptional, primarily because I once came up with a similar brilliant idea—hat, unfortunately, worked just about as well.
Wal-Mart had a problem with unpleasant graffiti on the partitions in public restrooms. There seems to be a certain segment of our population that have a pathological need to wax poetic, and a certain subset of that group that sees those restroom partitions as canvases hungering for their creative expression. No matter what steps are taken to prevent them from expressing themselves in this medium and manner, it seems impossible to steer their creative efforts toward a more reasonable venue. In an attempt to minimize the damage caused by having this stuff scratched into the partitions, Wal-Mart installed blackboards in the stalls, thus allowing free expression that could be removed without waiting for the paint to dry.
It seemed like the perfect solution to a problem that has been with us ever since the first public facilities were built. There was just one little problem: The artists and poets who are drawn to these canvases failed to use the chalk that was provided with the blackboards. Instead, they stayed with their old favorite creative tools, using them to scratch their messages into the face of the chalkboard. So much for “brilliant ideas.”
At the bottom line, our creative thought can’t change the basic nature or behavior of mankind. There is a natural tendency toward sin within every one of us. We don’t have to try to sin, all we have to do is stop trying not to, and “sin happens.” We can put parental controls on the cable TV box, use a “filtered” Internet service, and put tracking devices around our children’s necks, but those technological tools won’t keep them from sinning. They just have to work a little harder at it. It’s not just our children that live with this struggle—we adults also have sin problems. In fact, our sin problems can be a lot worse, because we’ve learned to rationalize and convince ourselves that what we’re doing “isn’t really so bad.”
Now, when we add our faith to the mix, the water gets even more murky. On one extreme, there are those who believe that a true Christian ought to never sin at all, and that they need to work at overcoming sin. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s the “Jesus has forgiven my sins, so I can sin all I want to” camp. All along the line between these views are believers struggling with the battle between flesh and spirit, as Paul discusses in Romans 7. Even though we have accepted Christ as Savior and Lord, even though the Holy Spirit lives in us, we still battle that fleshly tendency toward sin, in a constant struggle to keep ourselves from sinning. Sometimes we win; often we lose.
You and I cannot overcome sin. We can fight, we can struggle, we can war mightily, but we cannot overcome that natural tendency towards sin. If we could, we would have no need for Jesus, no need for Gods salvation, no need for His Grace. But, try as we may, we will always fail when we try not to sin on our own power. We have one and only one hope for victory in this battle with sin: to allow the Spirit of God to fight that battle for us, driving out the sinful “old self” and replacing it with the Spirit-driven “new self,” as Paul directed the Ephesians:
“that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” (Ephesians 4:22-24, NNAS)
The only effective action that we can take against sin is surrender – making the decision to “put on the new self,” and let the Holy Spirit start fighting the sin battle for you, from the inside out.