Have you ever felt like you only do what you do because somebody else did what they did? In four brief paragraphs author Paul Tripp brings insights that are at once clarifying and convicting. Read them first, then go read Romans 7:14-25, and then read them again. While he applies these thoughts to regret in the middle of your life the broader application is appropriate for each of us.
The reason regret tends to hit us so hard in midlife is for years we have been convincing ourselves that the problem isn’t really us. Perhaps the biggest and most tempting lie that all of us tend to embrace is that our greatest problems exist somewhere outside of us. This is an attractive distortion because we are surrounded, in this fallen world, by people and things that aren’t operating as they were designed – so there are plenty of available things to blame. I can always find someone in my life who hasn’t responded to me properly. I can always identify a difficult situation that I have had to go through. We all tend to take the unrealistically demanding boss, the consistently rebellious child, the all too impatient spouse, the rude neighbor, or the gossiping extended family member as proof that the seeds of what we are harvesting, in fact, belongs to someone else.
There is an important spiritual dynamic in operation here. Because we are believers, the heart of stone has been taken out of us and has been replaced by a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). This means that when we think, desire, say and do what is wrong, we experience a God-given unease of heart – conscience. When this happens we all seek heart relief. There are only two ways to find this relief. We can place ourselves once again under the justifying mercies of Christ and receive forgiveness, or we can erect some system of self-justification that makes what is wrong acceptable to our conscience. An angry father who has just ripped into his rebellious son will tell himself that it is vitally important for his son to respect authority. This justification re-colors his sin of anger against his son. Or a wife, who has developed regular patterns of gossiping about her husband’s sin to her friends, will tell herself she is seeking prayer and accountability. She now feels comfortable doing something the Bible calls sin. Or a teenager who lies to his father about what he is doing tells himself all the time that he has to because his father just “lives for control.”
It’s an old argument that goes something like this, “His sin makes my sin not sin.” We have all used it, and it does us harm. Our growth in grace, our relationships with others, and our harvest as God’s children have all been crippled by our strategies of pseudo-atonement. We have been given a Savior who is magnificent in love and grace, yet in the face of his mercy, we function as our own replacement saviors again and again.
Notice how radically different Paul’s perspective is in Romans 7. The whole logic of the passage is based on the fact that Paul is locating his struggle with sin inside of himself. For Paul, the foundational war is not a war with difficult situations (in many places Paul recognizes they exist) or sinful people (Paul tells stories elsewhere of having to deal with them), but a war with the gravitational pull of sin within. Romans 7 can be uncomfortable for us because it takes us to the very place of self-indictment that we have tended to work so hard to avoid. In our skill at avoiding this place, we have set ourselves up for the shock of regret that tends to hit so hard at midlife…
Paul David Tripp in Lost in the Middle, p. 113-114