The central problem that I am learning of my heart is not that I will fight against the sin of my heart, that is, fight against evil desires. The fundamental problem that I see myself encountering on a regular (weekly, daily, hourly and minute-by-minute) basis is the lack of desire that I have. I have desires for all sorts of things. I have desires for my own well-being, my own prosperity, my own pleasure, my own laughter, my own happiness. But I find myself so often fighting. Fighting against evil and sinful desires, trying to suppress them .
But for what? What am I fighting for? That i may simply stop? That I may one day stand alone and say, “Behold! world! I have arrived! I no longer do evil things!”
This is evil
It is not that I spend my money on myself and on my pleasures that needs to stop. It’s not that my words need to stop being crass, vulgar and evil. It’s not that my thoughts need to stop dwelling on evil things. It’s not that my actions towards others need to stop being hurtful, prideful, and destructive.
It’s not that I need to spend my money on others, its not that I need to encourage others, it’s not that i need to have good thoughts, it’s not that I need to start helping others, lifting others up and being constructive in my actions.
I can do all of the above and my heart may never change
The problem is that I find that the desire isn’t there. In fact, its deeper than this: i don’t have a longing. I am not carried away with doing good to others. I don’t love to do so. In fact, i find the opposite – I don’t want to do good to others. I don’t want to think about others. I don’t want to help others. I only want to think about myself, I only want to help myself.
What I need is new desires. I need not simply to give my money, but want to. I don’t simply need to speak well of others, but want to, I need not simply think well of others, but enjoy doing so, i need not simply to help others and be constructive, I need to want to.
And this is where the cross finds me in my soul and tears me straight out of every comfort I insulate myself in and thrusts itself before my eyes. The cross doesn’t tell me to stop spending money on myself and start giving money to the poor. The cross doesn’t tell me to stop slandering others and start speaking kind words. The cross doesn’t tell me to stop thinking wicked things and start thinking good things. The cross doesn’t tell me to stop being destructive and start being constructive. In fact, the cross doesn’t tell me to love God and to love my neighbor. The cross doesn’t tell me to be a good person.
The cross tells me that I’m not a good person. Even more, the cross tells me I am a very evil person. The cross says, “You are evil, you are wicked, you don’t do any good, you’re a liar, you’re deceitful, you steal, you covet, you lust, you murder, you hate. You’re despicable, deceived, rejected. You’re full of poison. You are worthless, vile, destructive.”
The cross is the only thing that shows me who I really am and what my heart really looks like. The cross is brutally honest.
But Jesus does not stop.
The cross comes and finds me and says, “You’re a sinner, and I died for you. You didn’t ask me to, you didn’t want me to, but i did.”
The cross tells me, “you are nothing what you could be and you will never become what you ought to be, so I will make you what you ought to be.”
The cross tells me, “where you have no desire, I desire. Where you do not want, I want. Where you have no love, I have love. Where you are weak, there I am strong. Where you fail, I succeed.”
Because of the cross I can look at my neighbor and with full honesty say to their face, “I will never love you as you need me to. I will never provide, never speak, never think of you as your needs demand and for what you are worth.” But at that same moment I can say to them, “Jesus loves you.”
I can say to them, “I can’t love you as you need. I am not able to. I have not the strength nor the perseverance, not the sustained desire nor the depth of desire to do so. But I can offer you the love of Jesus because only he will love you as you need.”
This is the place that we must come to in our lives. We must realize our utter inability to love as we ought to, to desire as we need to. We must realize that we cannot do what we are supposed to do as we are supposed to do it.
We must realize that we can’t love anyone. You must realize that you don’t really and truly love anyone. The reason that we must come to this place is because if we think that in our own strength that we can really love somebody then we are destined to a life of failure, depression, self-righteousness and sorrow. We will always fail to do what we strive to do. We will become depressed and full of sorrow because we will see that we continually fail to love as we ought to. And at the very same moment we will become self-righteous because when we succeed in loving people the way that we think we ought to, we will be happy with ourselves and what we did.
The fact that we don’t really and truly love others is evident in the fact that just one failure to do so makes clear that we don’t truly love them as we ought or think we do. And what is unconscionable is that we actually think we do. We actually think that we love others. We think we love our family, we think we love our spouses, we think we love our friends, we think we love our co-workers, we think we love our enemies. But we really don’t love them. We only love them until it gets in the way of what we want. And at that moment we show that we don’t really love.
This is why the cross is life and death, this is why the cross is so vital to our lives. Because although in every moment we fail to truly love as we ought, and in every moment we fail to desire another’s good as we ought, Jesus does. And unless we have the cross, then we can never truly love each other.
The cross shows me another who wants to help me because He has a good heart. Jesus wants to. It’s not that he needs to. Jesus is not obligated to help me. No one coerces him. He has pity on me. He has grace towards me. He looks and feels.
The cross shows me of one who actually does desire my good.
We must come to the cross and say to Jesus, “I have failed. I cannot love. I am unloving.” When we come to the cross we find the only one who will ever love us as we need. In fact, we find the only one who truly loves me even though I am sinner. It is at the cross that these words are exchanged
“I do not love”
“I love you”
We cannot manufacture a desire to love. No amount of self-convincing, no amount of self-deprication, no amount of self-conjured-up motivation will ever bring us to really love anyone. We must come to the cross of Jesus and there we must say,
“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives [with reference to] me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20)
It is from there that every act of love becomes an act of faith. Every time I move to love somebody I am living in the faith that Jesus alone can truly love this person and that he alone truly desires to do so. It is Jesus who lives in my place and the life I live is only lived because he lives in reference to everything I will ever do. No action will ever be good enough. I may grow and learn to love better but what we must always understand is that the love I have to offer will never be good enough. It is only Jesus’ love that is good enough and so if we are not loving others through faith in Jesus then we are not truly loving others.
You cannot say to your brother or your sister or your mother in your own strength that you truly love them. You can only say that in the strength that Christ supplies, that only in the love that Christ gives and poured out on the cross can you love them. And this and this alone is perfect love. It’s not that we must learn to love as Jesus loved, we must learn to love through Jesus’ love. We must not look at Jesus and simply see an example, we must look at Jesus and see that he is the source.
Yes, I do not love as I ought, yes i often live for myself in negligence of others. Yes, I fail to help others as I ought to. And of these I confess. But Christ is sufficient for me, and it is only through the strength that Christ supplies that I will ever be able to love any other person as they need to be.
“In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his one and only Son into the world, so that we might live through him“
1 John 4:9
“I can do all things through him who strengthens me“