Peeling off snake skin

snake skin

Lewis is one of my favorite authors.  He had some quirks and issues, but his use of literature to paint pictures of Biblical truths is unparalleled.  In the Voyage of the Dawntreader, Lewis tackled one of the most difficult topics:  self righteousness.  He painted the picture of a young boy, Eustice, who had turned into a dragon.  He needed to bathe a hurt leg, but Aslan, the lion (the wise one), told him that he must first undress of the dragon skin before he could bathe and be healed.  Three times he peeled the top layer of skin off, only to see that there were more layers of scales and rough, wrinkly skin below.  He realized that he himself was incapable of digging deep enough to remove all of the dragon skin.

“Then the lion said — but I don’t know if it spoke — You will have to let me undress you.  I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty nearly desperate now.  So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it.

“The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart.  And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt.  The only thing that made me able to bear it was jut the pleasure of feeling the stuff peel off.  You know — if you’ve ever picked the scab of a sore place.  It hurts like billy-oh but it is such fun to see it coming away.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” said Edmund.

“Well, he peeled the beastly stuff right off – just as I thought I’d done it myself the other three times, only they hadn’t hurt – and there it was lying on the grass, only ever so much thicker, and darker, and more knobbly-looking than the others had been. And there was I smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been. Then he caught hold of me – I didn’t like that much for I was very tender underneath now that I’d no skin on — and threw me into the water. It smarted like anything but only for a moment. After that it became perfectly delicious and as soon as I started swimming and splashing I found that all the pain had gone from my arm. And then I saw why. I’d turned into a boy again. . . .”

The picture is clear.  If we are snakes, we can shed our skin but that only gives us room to grow and reveals a deeper level of snakeliness.  We cannot fundamentally change who we are.  It takes God changing who we are by the very nature of our being.

This is the picture of that change God outlines for us:

“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.”

– Ez 36.26-27

When Nicodemus, one of the priests, asked Jesus how to be saved, Jesus told him that we must be born again.  We must go from our old nature – our sinful nature – to our new nature.  That transformation, we are completely incapable of preforming on our own.  God has to take out our heart of stone which is rebellious towards Him, an enemy of Him, wicked in nature – and give us a new heart, a heart of flesh, one that is soft and pliable and on which His Law is written, and in which the Holy Spirit resides to give us the ability to obey the Law.

If we obey aspects of the Law in our own strength, we still remain a snake or dragon, and we are removing the first layer of our skin, only to reveal more scales.  The root of the scales cannot be removed because the motivation to obedience is sinful, in that it is not unto the glory and honor of God, but self-justification and self-righteousness.  We want to prove ourselves, rather than obeying and serving out of love and thankfulness – and letting God prove our new nature by working through us.

Are you still trying to peel off the layers of scales?  Are you looking for smooth, soft skin beneath your wickedness?  Or have you turned to the only one who can – albeit painfully – remove the scales completely and transform you by taking away your sinful heart and giving you a new one?  Have you been reborn?

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

– 2 Cor 5.17

I can’t change, even if I wanted to.

Yesterday I was driving home from the grocery and was scanning the radio when I hear the refrain of a song with these lyrics:

And I can’t change
Even if I tried
Even if I wanted to
And I can’t change
Even if I tried
Even if I wanted to

I did a little research and found out that it is a song entitled “Same Love” by Macklemore, advocating for homosexual marriage rights.  It is an extremely peculiar song, with the chorus repeating the mantra that change is impossible, people are genetically made up with sexual tendencies and desires that are immutable, but yet the rest of the song is advocating change:

We press play, don’t press pause
Progress, march on
With the veil over our eyes
We turn our back on the cause
‘Til the day that my uncles can be united by law
When kids are walking ’round the hallway plagued by pain in their heart
A world so hateful some would rather die than be who they are
And a certificate on paper isn’t gonna solve it all
But it’s a damn good place to start
No law is gonna change us
We have to change us
Whatever God you believe in
We come from the same one
Strip away the fear
Underneath it’s all the same love
About time that we raised up… sex

So, Macklemore would have us believe that homosexuality is a genetic disposition which is unalterable and thus everyone else has to change their feelings, beliefs and laws on the topic.  He argues in this verse that laws are the place to start, but he is ultimately trying to change the general public to accept and validate the homosexual lifestyle, and he says it is possible.

Ironically, in the very next phrase, he attempts to unify religions by discrediting them all, and establishing that he can speak authoritatively on the supreme being.  If we “all come from the same [god]” then no religion’s claim to absolute truth can be accurate, and thus all are fundamentally invalidated.  Unless, of course, he is saying that you can believe whatever you want, but only his belief system is the right one…

But that is another conversation for another day.  And though we could reflect on the statements made in this song for hours, I want to ask the simple question:  Can people change?  Macklemore would have us believe that we can change our attitudes and reactionary feelings, but not our core being or genetic makeup (which he believes is the foundation of homosexuality).

Our culture is based on the assumptions that change is both possible and impossible.  We are inundated with self help books, coping tools and counseling, ten easy steps to any goal and get thin fast options.  At the same time, we preach to ourselves that “people never change” and if someone has let us down one time, we write them off as untrustworthy and keep them at arm’s length forever.

I would argue that Macklemore is fundamentally right.  While we can change our actions, and while we can continually make our community, our lives or our personal situations more comfortable and appealing, we can never fundamentally change our DNA.  Our genetic disposition.  Our nature.

Our sinful nature.

And thus we have come to the core of the dilemma.  Is there a “gay gene”?  Are people born with an attraction to the same gender?  I do not know the answer to that question, and quite frankly it does not matter.  But I do know that until we have been saved by faith through grace for the forgiveness of our sins, all sexual desires – homosexual or heterosexual are sinful.  Every. Single. One.  Why?  Because it is not of faith, and everything that is not of faith is sin (Rom 14.23).  If we do not know and understand God’s beautiful plan for sex within the bond of marriage, to His glory, then our perception of sex is sinful.  If we do not make love to our spouse, thankful for the gift from God and unto His glory, then it is sin.

If we trust this claim of Scripture to be true, then we can also be assured that sobriety, giving to charity and feeding the hungry are also sinful – apart from faith.  These deeds are commands of Scripture, and will make society more comfortable if followed, but it will not merit one eternal salvation because apart from faith it is done for selfish and wrong motives.  If I feed the hungry out of pity, or if I feed to hungry so that people will notice how good of  a person I am, no glory is given to God.  And therefore it is not of God.

So yes, we can modify behavior, but we cannot change the core of our being.  Scripture says that apart from God we are dead in our trespasses and sins (Eph 2.1).  Dead people cannot make themselves come to life!  Scripture also says that we are naturally born enemies of God (Col 1.21, Rom 5.10).  And while we can observe some of His commandments as good, like feeding the poor, we are naturally (genetically) made up to live for ourselves and not for Him.

God has to breathe life into us.  We were dead bones walking around.  But God can change our makeup.

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

 – 2 Cor 5.17

Notice here that the verb tenses are passive.  We are made new, we do not make ourselves new.  But God changes us from the core.  God promises to completely remake our genetic makeup, our inner being, our natural tendencies:

“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.”

 – Ez 36.26-27

He is the one who changes us.  Sometimes the change is immediate and dynamic.  Sometimes the change is slow and steady.  There is no “ten easy steps” guideline to becoming a new creature, because it is God working out His perfect will and desires in us.  We are the clay and He is the potter.

So what do we do?  This could all sound quite fatalistic, if we just stop trying.  We first recognize that we are all genetically flawed.  Every desire we have apart from God is evil.  All of our actions are sinful and deserving of damnation.  And we cry out to God to save us.  He then takes over.  We read His Word, and when we see commandments about sexual purity, about financial stewardship, about caring for the poor and dying to ourselves, and we ask the Holy Spirit who has taken residence in our lives to help us obey those commandments with the right heart and motives.

Will we ever have completely pure and holy motives?  I cannot answer that, but I do know my own wicked heart, which is deceitful above all else and I highly doubt that my motives are ever perfect (Jer 17.9).  But I do trust that God has given me a new heart and a new Spirit which enables me to know Him, love Him and obey Him.  And those things that are done in faith are glorifying to Him.

No, Macklemore, you cannot change, even if you wanted to – at the core level.  But God can change you.  He can change me.  He can change anyone, and lead us to salvation through repentance.  And we all have to change every natural desire that we have, because apart from faith it is all sin.  Heterosexual and homosexual.  Non profit and for profit.  Good and evil.  Apart from God, it is all the broad path to Hell.

For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it.

 – Mat 7.14

narrow path