HOW TO OVERCOME A SELF-DESTRUCTIVE LIFESTYLE

Timothy Keller in his book The Reason for God shares this insight into our basic struggle in life. 

In Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Dr. Jekyll comes to realize that he is a mixture of good and evil. His bad nature is holding his good nature back, he believes. He can aspire to do things, but he cannot follow through on them. Therefore he comes up with a potion that can separate out his two natures. His hope is that his good self, which will come out during the day will be free from the influence of evil and will be able to realize its goals. However, when he takes the potion one night and his bad side comes out, he is far more evil than he expected. 

I knew myself, at the first breath of this new life, to be more wicked, tenfold more wicked, sold a slave to my original evil; and the thought in that moment, delighted me like wine. …Edward Hyde’s every act and thought centered on self.

Edward Hyde is so named not just because he is hideous but because he is hidden. He thinks solely of his own desires; he doesn’t care in the slightest who he hurts in order to gratify himself. Stevenson is saying that even the best of people hide from themselves what is within–an enormous capacity for egotism, self-absorption, and regard for their own interests over those of others. The focus on self is at the foundation of so much of the misery in our world. It’s the reason that the powerful and the rich are often indifferent to the plight of the poor. It’s the reason for most of the violence, crime and warfare in the world. It is at the heart of most cases of family disintegration. We hide from ourselves our self-centered capacity for acts of evil, but situations arise that act as a potion and out they come.  

Once Jekyll realizes that he had this capacity for evil acts, he decides to clamp down heavily on this terrible self-centeredness and pride at the core of his being. In a sense, he ‘gets religion.’ He solemnly resolves not to take the potion anymore. He devotes himself to charity and good works, partially as atonement for what Edward Hyde has done, and partially as an effort to simply smother his selfish nature with acts of unselfishness.

However, one day Dr. Jekyll is sitting on a bench in Regents Park, thinking of all the good he has been doing, and how much better a man he is, despite Edward Hyde, than the great majority of people. As Stevenson states in his novel: ‘I resolved in my future conduct to redeem the past, and I can say with honesty that my resolve was fruitful of some good. You know how earnestly, in the last months of the last year, I laboured to relieve suffering; you know that much was done for others… [But as] I smiled, comparing myself with other men, comparing active goodwill with the lazy cruelty of their neglect…at the very moment of that vain-glorious thought, a qualm came over me, a horrid nausea and the most dreadful shuddering…I looked down… I was once more Edward Hyde.

This is a deadly turn of events. For the first time Jekyll becomes Hyde involuntarily, without the potion, and this is the beginning of the end. Unable to control his transformations any longer, Jekyll kills himself. Stevenson’s insight here is, I think, profound. Why would Jekyll become Hyde without the potion? Like so many people, Jekyll knows he is a sinner, so he tries desperately to cover his sin with great piles of good works. Yet his efforts do not actually shrivel his pride and self-centeredness, they only aggravate it. They lead him to superiority, self-righteousness, pride and suddenly–look! Jekyll becomes Hyde, not in spite of his goodness, but because of his goodness.

Sin and evil are self-centeredness and pride that lead to oppression against others, but there are two forms of this. One form is being very bad and breaking all the rules, and the other form is being very good and keeping all the rules and becoming self-righteous. There are two ways to be your own Savior and Lord. The first is by saying, ‘I am going to live my life the way I want.’ The second is …avoiding Jesus by avoiding my sin.  Flannery O’Connor writes: If you are avoiding sin and living morally so that God will have to bless and save you, then ironically you may be looking to Jesus as a teacher, model and helper but you are avoiding him as Savior. You are trusting in your own goodness rather than in Jesus for your standing with God. 

That ironically is a rejection of the gospel of Jesus. It is a Christianized form of religion. It is possible to avoid Jesus as Savior as much by keeping all the Biblical rules as by breaking them. [remember that is what happened in the parable that Jesus told of the prodigal son: one son broke all the rules and was far from the father. The bible states that he was living in the far country. Meanwhile the older brother stayed home and kept all the rules, but his heart was just as far from the father though he lived a moral life. That was finally revealed to him when his brother comes home and the father throws a party for the lost son. The older brother is indignant. Wasn’t he there all that time, and the father had never thrown a party for him. He was angry, and wouldn’t join the celebration. He was just as lost to the father, keeping the rules, because he didn’t really know the father.]

Both religion (in which you build your identity on your moral achievements) and no religion (in which you build your identity on some other secular pursuit or relationship) are, ultimately, spiritually identical courses to take. Both are ‘sin.’ Self-salvation through good works may produce a great deal of moral behavior in your life, but inside you are filled with self-righteousness, cruelty, and bigotry, and you are miserable. You are always comparing yourself to other people, and you are never sure you are being good enough. You cannot, therefore, deal with your hideousness and self-absorption through the moral law by trying to be a good person through an act of the will. You need a complete transformation of the very motives of the heart.

The devil, if anything, prefers Pharisee–men and women who try to save themselves. They are more unhappy than either mature Christians or irreligious people, and they do a lot more spiritual damage.[i]

Later in the book, Keller, reminds us that the primary symbol of Christianity has always been the cross.

The death of Jesus for our sins is at the heart of the gospel, the good news. Increasingly, however, what the Christian church has considered good news is considered by the rest of our culture as bad news. … ‘Why would Jesus have to die?’ is a question that I heard from people… ‘Why couldn’t God just forgive us?’[ii]

Because someone has to pay the consequences for sin. Sin always produces hurt, sorrow, loss and suffering toward others. Someone has to absorb those consequences. The good news is that God has done what we could not do for ourselves. He has saved us from our sin. One of the great temptations that people with a religious background often fall into is trying harder to be good. Trying to do the right thing in order to be accepted by God and loved by others. We eventually come to the realization of what Robert Louis Stevenson revealed in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, that within each heart is the capacity for sin. But what to do about it is the issue. Religion is a human attempt to please God, to do His will, but is in our own strength. We try and obey God and therefore think that we are accepted by Him. Rather, the principle of the gospel is that we are accepted by God because of what Christ has done. When we accept Christ, we accept His sacrifice on our behalf and then out of that relationship comes obedience. The issue is where we are putting our trust. In the one case, we put our trust in ourselves to be good enough to be accepted by God; in the other, we know we are not good enough and therefore trust God to be accepted by God.

What helps us understand Christ’s sacrifice is to see it from people who understood the importance of the sacrificial system: the Jewish people. In writing to Christians from this background, we discover the superiority of Jesus and the New covenant over the Old covenant. Jesus actually came to fulfil the obligations of the law, because no one else could.

In the last part of Hebrews 9 and the first part of chapter 10, we discover something of the greatness of what Jesus came to do. Here the writer focuses our attention on the superiority of Jesus’ sacrifice. Let me point out three simple truths regarding Jesus’ death for us.

THE FIRST TRUTH IS SIMPLY THE SUPERIORITY OF CHRIST’S SACRIFICE

Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins was better than all the Old Testament sacrifices. In Jesus’ sacrifice, the need for those animal sacrifices was removed. It was a requirement of the law that cleansing came through the shedding of blood. Under the Old Testament, everything used in the ceremonies of the priests had to be cleansed by blood.

He said, ‘This is the blood of the covenant, which God has commanded you to keep.’

In the same way, he sprinkled with the blood both the tabernacle and everything used in its ceremonies.

In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.[iii]

A. The Old Testament sacrifices were a shadow of the true sacrifice.

Let me give you a brief overview of the history of the nation of Israel and what God was trying to do in and through them. God chose a people who were in slavery and led them out with a powerful deliverance through Moses and the mighty plagues to the nation of Egypt. Once in the wilderness, they needed to learn the nature and ways of God. He revealed Himself to them on Mt. Sinai, where the law was given, the tabernacle built, and the priesthood established. All of these things were to teach God’s people truths about Himself. But now as we read in the book of Hebrews, they were only a shadow, not the true substance.

The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.[iv]

Now the writer points out that even the animal sacrifices were only pointing to a greater and better sacrifice to come.

It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.

For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.

Nor did he enter heaven to offer himself again and again, the way the high priest enters the Most Holy Pace every year with blood that is not his own.

Otherwise Christ would have had to suffer many times since the creation of the world. But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself.[v]

For most of us this doesn’t seem powerful, or we just don’t get it. Let me explain it so that you hear it as a Jewish person was hearing it. The most important day on the Jewish calendar is the ‘Day of Atonement.’ It’s the day that the High Priest would actually go into the very Holy of Holies, where the sin offering for the people would be made. 

Everything about the Tabernacle, and later the Temple, spoke of the Holiness of God. How God was above us and beyond us. We were filled with sin, and no one could enter his presence. Only the tribe of Levi and then only those who were Aaron’s descendants, the priests, were allowed into the Holy Place. All others had to remain in the courtyard. They could see the great altar of sacrifice, but they could not go beyond that. As the High Priest entered, all were fasting and praying. That’s the only day they were required to fast by law. The High Priest would have a rope tied around his waist, and on the hem of his robe were bells that would jingle, so that when he went alone into the very presence of God, they would know if he was still alive. If he came unworthily, he would be struck dead. The rope around his waist was in order to pull him out if that should happen. 

The people now waited until the High priest returned, for when he did, they knew that their sin offering had been accepted. Easter is really the declaration that God, the Father accepted Christ as the perfect sin offering. He came back to his disciples alive! He was seen by up to 500 people at one time.

Now in light of that picture, listen to what the writer says about Christ acting as High Priest, and bringing himself as the sacrifice into heaven itself.

so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.[vi]

Biblical scholar, Donald Guthrie brings out the image for us: “The second coming is said to be for salvation. The second coming is in fact the divine seal on the complete acceptance of the sacrifice offered previously.”

Obviously, to the early disciples who were Jewish, the appearance of Christ to the disciples after the crucifixion also spoke of this truth. The resurrection speaks of the Father’s acceptance of Christ’s sacrifice.

B. Therefore the writer points out, the sacrifice of Christ is superior to the Old Testament animal sacrifices. 

For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship.

Otherwise, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once and for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins.

But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins.

It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take way sins.[vii]

What we can conclude from this is that Christ’s sacrifice makes us perfect or complete before God. We have been cleansed. We no longer need to live in guilt and shame, because there is no longer a reminder of our sins before God because Christ has taken away our sin.

But someone might say, but I still feel guilty or battle with shame. That is simply the voice of the accuser, the devil, trying to bring torment to our lives. We need to remind ourselves that Jesus suffered for us and took it all away. We are now free!

Christ’s sacrifice then is absolutely superior to the Old Testament sacrifices which were just a type or a foreshadowing of what Christ came to do.

THE SECOND TRUTH IS THE SURRENDER OF THE SACRIFICE

Here we find another incredible truth about the willingness of Jesus to be our sacrifice. 

Therefore, when Christ came into the world, he said: ‘Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; with burnt offerings and sin offerings you were not pleased.’

Then I said, ‘Here I am–it is written about me in the scroll-

I have come to do your will, O God.’[viii]

Unlike animals who were incapable to choose to be sacrifices, Jesus willing gave Himself for us.  Love is a choice. Love is expressed in action. God expressed his love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. His was an act of love. It was also an act of total surrender. 

The expression of that love meant to be forsaken by the Father. We hear the anguished cry of the Savior on the cross, becoming sin for us who knew no sin. At that moment, the unbroken fellowship throughout all eternity came to an end. That was the battle of Gethsemane. When Jesus prayed,

‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’

An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him.

And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.[ix]

Knowing the great price He was paying, Jesus surrendered to the will of the Father.

THE FINAL TRUTH IS THE SANCTIFYING IMPACT OF THE SACRIFICE

To be sanctified means that we are made holy. We are cleansed and set apart for God. This happens at the moment of our conversion, but it is also a lifelong process. This is the purpose of why Jesus came. 

And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once and for all.[x]

What makes us holy is the sacrifice of Jesus. We have all kinds of crazy ideas about what it means to be holy, but essentially it means that we belong to God, and we live our lives as set apart to do His will. To be holy means that God has made you whole. This speaks to the work of integrating and unifying our lives around a greater purpose than ourselves. God began this work in our lives and will complete it. To be made perfect means that God will finish or bring about His purpose in our lives.

For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.

The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about his. First he says:

This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord.  I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.[xi]

We can resist this work of the Holy Spirit in our lives, or we can submit and yield to Him. God not only directs us to what is good and right, but He also empowers us to do it. It is a supreme sacrifice, a surrender sacrifice for the purpose of a sanctified life for those that Christ sacrifices for. It’s only when we are free from serving self, that we really begin to enjoy life, others, and ultimately God Himself.

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[i]     Tim Keller, The Reason For God, (New York, New York; Dutton: Penguin Group, 2008),175-178 (Paraphrased).

[ii]     Ibid, 178.

[iii]    Hebrews 9:20-22, The New International Version of the Bible, Zondervan, 2011.

[iv]    Hebrews 10:1.

[v]     Hebrews 9:23-26.

[vi]    Hebrews 9:28.

[vii]   Hebrews 10:1b-4.

[viii]   Hebrews 10:5-7.

[ix]    Luke 22:42-44.

[x]     Hebrews 10:10.

[xi]    Hebrews 10:14-16.

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