Dr. Doug Posey
Have you noticed that so much of life is dedicated to investing our time and effort into unlearning and undoing all the stuff we naturally know how to do and by nature do? We learn “the hard way” (which is really the easy way, but it makes life hard) that doing what comes easily and naturally is not always the way to do things. In fact, very often it is the exact opposite of the thing we should be doing!
Case in point: consuming foods high in calories, sugar, fat and generally tasty stuff, in mass quantities is the natural thing to do. It’s easy. We all know the consequences of a life of eating that way. So, we have to learn not to do that. It’s hard. It becomes a lifelong battle, eating sensibly, in many cases joining diet programs and submitting our wills (and money) to experts who have figured out how to help us undo the damage done by doing what we want to naturally do. For many, it becomes a rollercoaster-like pattern between defaulting to the natural and fighting back to the discipline of the unnatural. But, the natural desire is always crouching at the door.
The fact that we naturally want to do things that lead to our demise and we have to unlearn them is perhaps the best case for our sin nature. We are created in the image of God, yet we naturally sin against ourselves, making wrong choices and ultimately sin against God. And it’s not that we “get it” after one well-placed lesson. We have to be taught time-and-time-again, often the same things. As one great theologian put it,
We are not to be surprised if living as Christians brings us to the place where we find we are at the end of our own resources, and that we are called to rely on the God who raises the dead.
—N. T. Wright, writer, theologian, and Bishop of Durham in the Church of England (1948–) N. T. Wright, Following Jesus (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1997)
One would think that living with Jesus, as He walked the earth and had direct contact on a daily basis, would render the Disciples highly adroit at something like humility, for example. A quality He clearly demonstrated in their presence, constantly. But natural tendencies are hard to unlearn. Being humble was not their strong suit. It does not come naturally.
One example is found in Matthew 18. Earlier, in chapter 16, Jesus clearly stated, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me (vs. 24). Just six days later, in chapter 17, some of the Disciples had attempted to cast a demon out of a boy and were shamed by Jesus for their lack of faith for their utter failure. They should have been feeling pretty humble. Again, they are not prone to humility.
By chapter 18, in the very first verse, we see the topic of conversation turn to, “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” By Jesus’ response, He perceives their motivation for the question. It has nothing to do with humility. They are obviously jockeying for positions in what they still believe will be an earthly kingdom in which they will hopefully hold prominent positions. So, He reminds them that humility is a prerequisite for even entering the kingdom of heaven! Will they ever learn, or unlearn!
Don’t get discouraged if the same things keep rearing their heads in your life. They may be different issues than the Disciples encountered. But, don’t try to overcome them on your own. If the Disciples, who spent every day for three years with Jesus, kept demonstrating the same natural tendencies, you shouldn’t be surprised if you do. We have to rely on Him, His power, His Spirit. Following Pentecost, the Apostles were much better equipped to, “rely on the God who raises the dead.” Rely on Him to help you do the unnatural.
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” —GALATIANS 5:16 NASB