I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. But in fact it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me. (Romans 7:15-20)
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true; but if we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:5-10)
Paul has put his finger on it here! How frail and contradictory we all are, and how much in need of forgiveness and mercy. Truly there is not one among us who is free from this.
It's not so much that we commit individual sins (though of course we do, all too often!) but that our hearts are inclined always away from God, unless we allow the Spirit continually to re-align us. It's this, rather than any silliness with hair shirts, that is meant by "The Way of Repentance" (see Irma Zaleski's wonderful book of the same title) It sounds fearful and slightly strange, especially to 21st century people, but actually it's gentle and clean, a way of freedom and grace.
I know I do keep on about the Jesus Prayer, but its quiet insistence, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner," is just exactly the healing balm the broken heart (Psalm 51:17) is crying for - Jesus is "gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." (Matthew 11:29)
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