Spiritual family creates the environment for discipleship to Jesus to flourish. By yourself, you can choose to become a student of Jesus. You can learn his teaching, you can become filled with the Holy Spirit, you can read the Bible, pray, even serve others. But left alone, our tendency is always towards self-deception. We choose to believe whatever equilibrium we find ourselves, that is where we are, and it is likely impossible to become anything different.
Last week I read a disturbing story on the Huffington Post. It was about the rise of open marriages, and one couple in particular that has a "live-in" third partner. That was disturbing on it's own terms (the whole time I kept thinking…let me know how that works out for you.) But what was really interesting was a quote from Jenny Block, the author of "Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage."
"It’s becoming clear that heterosexual monogamous marriage simply doesn’t work for most people. And I think people are tired of being unhappy and dissatisfied...We cannot control our own desires and we certainly cannot control the desires of others...You cannot tell someone, ‘Don’t be attracted to anyone else. Don’t desire anyone else.’ You can say, ‘If we’re going to be together, I want it to be monogamous.’ But you cannot control the other person’s heart and mind. The heart wants what it wants.”
I completely agree with the last two sentences. The heart does want what it wants. Jesus said, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." - Luke 12:43 And you cannot control another person's heart and mind. It's the sentence in the middle that is most telling. "We cannot control our own desires…" Well, actually we can. We can choose to control our desires and give them healthy and positive outlets. But, this requires something called self-control, which (aghast) might actually lead to something called character. The ironic thing of course, is that there are countless secular examples of self-discipline and control over desires (marathon runners, research scientists, astronauts, the military). Try to do one of those things without controlling your desires.
But before I climb on my high horse, I will be the first to say that I allow my desires to control me all the time. Whether it's food, or drink, or lack of exercise, or entertainment - sometimes it is just easier to accept the equilibrium state. This, of course, has a direct connection to character. Without self-control, we are like a dam that has been breached. The force of our desires will eventually destroy us - in all actuality transform us - into something less than human beings that reflect the image of God.
Jesus said, "The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil." - Luke 6:45 There is something easy to miss there. There is both good "treasure" and evil "treasure". Treasure isn't something lying around on the street or stocked at the shelves at Wal-mart. You have to go dig for it! The good, Holy Spirit treasure is mined just the same as evil treasure. Neither appear by magic or by lack of effort on our part.
James 1:13-15 in the Message says, "Don’t let anyone under pressure to give in to evil say, “God is trying to trip me up.” God is impervious to evil, and puts evil in no one’s way. The temptation to give in to evil comes from us and only us. We have no one to blame but the leering, seducing flare-up of our own lust. Lust gets pregnant, and has a baby: sin! Sin grows up to adulthood, and becomes a real killer." This is a spot-on description of the human condition. If you really believe that "we cannot control our own desires," that leaves the door wide open for sin. Once sin reaches maturity - or "adulthood" as Peterson puts it - it leads to a really nasty condition called death.
The good news of the Gospel, of course, is that the old sin man or woman died on the cross with Jesus and rose to new life in the Holy Spirit. We don't have to muster self control out of our own resources - it is a fruit of the Spirit. As wonderful as that is, Jesus warns that if we choose to simply listen to the Gospel and not act on it, we are in danger of losing everything at the first hint of adversity (Luke 6:46-49). This is the unfortunate state of the Christianity in America. It is a house without a foundation. And it is easy to see what is happening to the house as the river of popular secular culture bashes it to smithereens.
So again, we come back to the life or death reality of what we are doing as spiritual families. We have very few allies in the task before us. Many Christians are hunkering down into a harsh legalism. Just as many are letting the gates swing open and agreeing with the notion that self-control is an illusion.
I believe our response is not fear or despair, but rather to get our hands dirty with the hard work of digging a foundation and finding the good treasure. My wife Amber likes to say, no one can do your push-ups for you. That's true, but it sure helps to have workout partners encouraging you to get off your butt. We should have the same heart and mind; to be cheering each other on and finding ways to stir up the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. Let's dig together to lay hold of the good treasure that produces good. That is how we will break the curse of self-deception.