In part three of this series, I find myself turning to the crux of the matter. Miracles and magic tricks only sustain a person’s faith until the impact of the event wears off. After that, a person can convince herself that what she saw or felt or heard was just her overactive imagination. The real test of religious conversion is the changed life that continues as a testimony for all to see for as long as that life persists. This is the evidence that means the world: this one and the next.
I want to start with the biggest challenge for anyone attempting to change their lives for the better, addiction. When a person becomes a Christian, they are promised some sort of gift of the Holy Spirit. It is not quite clear what that gift entails. There is a broad range of disagreement on that matter within the church community, and even within any given faith tradition. One of the more commonly held beliefs is that the Spirit provides some sort of power to overcome sin. It makes holy living more of a reality, or at least puts it within the grasp of all believers who really want it.
A person struggling with sin is supposed to be able to come to God with a genuine desire to change, and faith that God will deliver. Repentance, genuine desire to change, and faith that can move mountains is supposed to be enough to get the job done. Apparently, it isn’t. To paraphrase something I used to hear as a kid, dry devils come up wet devils. Baptism seems to convey no protective barrier between a person and their propensity to sin, no matter how much they wish it otherwise.
Addiction is the ultimate sin trap. Once snared, a person will find it more than challenging to break free. Experience tells us that extricating one’s self from sin is simply beyond the capabilities of the average person. Breaking free requires one to be a superhuman human, or a recipient of superhuman intervention. That is where the Spirit comes in. Unfortunately, he doesn’t. It seems to make no difference if one finds addiction after his conversion or before. Addiction proves victorious over the most sincere repentance, and the most direct indwelling of the Spirit.
There are two passages in the bible about the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that speak to this matter, yet seem to stand in direct oposition of each other. The first one seems to suggest that the Spirit can overcome the wiles of the devil. The second portrays the Holy Spirit as a powerless passenger in the saved, human body:
By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses Jesus as the Christ who has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God, and this is the spirit of the antichrist, which you have heard is coming, and now is already in the world. You are from God, little children, and have conquered them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 1Jn. 4:2-4
Don’t you realize that your bodies are actually parts of Christ? Should a man take his body, which is part of Christ, and join it to a prostitute? Never! And don’t you realize that if a man joins himself to a prostitute, he becomes one body with her? For the Scriptures say, “The two are united into one.” But the person who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him. 1Cor. 6:15-17
If temptation is the devil’s tool, then one having an indwelling of the Holy Spirit should have no problem fending it off because greater is he that is within. But that was from the one writing under the name of John. Paul took great exception to that notion. You are completely in control of the body; the Spirit has nothing to do with what you do or how you behave. It just seems to be along for the ride. Depending on your proclivities, it’s going to be a very wild ride for the Spirit of God.
What hope is there for the person who is addicted to drugs, or worse? John, at least, offers hope that the indwelling Spirit of God is greater than the addiction. Paul puts all the onus on the afflicted who is obviously incapable of freeing himself. If the addict has no hope, who does? Which sin problems stand a chance of being cured by the spirit? Seeing an addict at church trying to conquer he addiction is like seeing a person in a wheelchair faithfully attending a healing church. The amount of cognitive dissonance is too much to bear.
In my decades of faithful service to God, I never found even the most minor sin to be easily dispatched. I received no supernatural assistance with my struggles. My prayer to, “Create in me a clean heart, oh God” fell on deaf ears. My index of good, clean living is no less as a non-believer than it was as a believer. Had there been some observable difference in my own life, that would have meant a lot. The bible tells us that we will be known by our fruits. If that is truly the case, then there are no Christians. The only fruits I see from all the Christians I know are just the fruits of people trying to make it in this world using their best, purely human efforts. I also see plenty of good fruits coming from non-believers.
What also would have meant a lot would have been to see a measurably higher level of the clean living index in the lives of my fellow sojourners in The Lord. At no point did that happen. The pews were full of wet devils, as we used to say. The more I knew about the real lives of pious believers, the harder it was for me to ignore the fact that nobody was experience any kind of life-changing conversion that registered in overall behavior. Whatever power The Lord of the Flies had over people before they gave themselves to Jesus, was the same power he had afterwards. That alone, is reason enough to reconsider the entire faith proposition.