I just finished reading Robert Louis Stevenson’s “The story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” In this book, Dr. Jekyll, an upstanding citizen, is in a battle with his own dual nature. On the one hand, he is a good man. He sincerely cares about others, he serves his fellow man, and he tries to live a moral life. Yet, on the other hand, there is a part of him that longs to give in to the temptations of his flesh. At one point in the book, he decides it would be better to just completely separate his two natures, allowing one to be fully good and the other to be fully evil so there would no longer be a battle raging within himself. He would simply be two different people. He creates a potion that causes this to happen, and he immediately changes into Mr. Hyde, a small, deformed, and passionately evil man. Mr. Hyde is set free to roam the streets of London, and he ends up committing all sorts of evil. Dr. Jekyll is amazed at the depth of his own depravity, as seen in Mr. Hyde. He says that it is ten times worse than he could have imagined. Yet, he also learns that he cannot control Mr. Hyde like he thought he would be able to. By the end of the book, there is very little of Dr. Jekyll left, and Mr. Hyde has grown larger and has completely taken over Dr. Jekyll’s life.
As I read this book, I could not help but think of Oscar Wilde’s “Picture of Dorian Gray.” In that book, Dorian is given a self portrait that is absolute perfection. Dorian himself is the most perfect person that people around him have ever seen. But Dorian is not what he appears to be. Though he appears to be the very essence of good, he is far from it. Somehow, all of the consequences of his evil living are transferred to this mysterious painting. It becomes more like a portrait of his own soul, and as he becomes more and more evil, he refuses to look at the painting out of fear of what he may see. At the end of the story, Dorian has no choice but to look at the painting. He sees his own soul, and it is hideous beyond description. His physical appearance becomes like the form on the painting, and he dies, fully exposed for the evil creature that he was.
One thing these two books have in common is that these men are forced to clearly look at their own depravity. Dr. Jekyll saw his reflection as Mr. Hyde, and he was astonished at the evil he saw. Dorian saw his soul in the painting and it killed him.
Unlike these two characters, it is rare that we ourselves ever accurately see our own depravity. We look in the mirror every morning and we are rarely ever aware of the fact that we are looking at our own worst enemy. I am the biggest threat to my marriage. I have the power to inflict the most harm on my precious children. I have the potential to drag the grace and the holy name of Jesus through the mud in front of a watching world. Why? Because alongside the Holy Spirit of God living in me, there is my old flesh, unfortunately still alive for as long as I am still breathing. And that flesh is the enemy of my soul. That flesh has the potential to harm and break every person in my life, myself included. My flesh terrifies me. You could say that I have seen my own portrait. And there is no life there. There is no beauty. It is desperately selfish and dark. Like Mr. Hyde. Paul understood this. In Romans 7:21-23 he says, “So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.” So what is the answer? What do we do about this part of our nature that relentlessly calls our hearts to sin? We make war on our flesh. We do battle. Because we are God’s children, we have an arsenal of weapons at our disposal that can and will defeat this thing every time it rears it’s ugly head. We DO NOT have to obey the demands of our flesh. “Therefore dear brothers and sisters, you have no obligation to do what your sinful nature urges you to do. For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.” -Romans 8:12-14
What you feed will grow strong. If you feed your flesh, it will grow huge and strong to the point that you will not be able to control it. If you feed your spirit, your inner man will grow strong and mighty, and it will consistently defeat your flesh. Feed your spirit. Starve your flesh.
Go on the offensive. Being passive with our sin is like getting into a raft on a raging river and expecting to stay still or somehow effortlessly drift against the current. It will never happen.
John Owen, in his writing called “The Mortification of Sin” says that if someone is dispatched to kill an enemy, at what point does he stop striking his enemy? His answer is, “when that enemy ceases to be alive.” Our flesh is alive in us until the day we die and are at last completely free from every trace of sin. But until then, this is a battle we have to fight every day. So we are radical with our sin. We are violent with our sin. We never make peace with our sin. And when we become aware of something in our lives that feeds our flesh…we cut it out of our lives. Why? Because this is not a game. There is nothing more serious than the condition of our souls. This is not a popular approach to dealing with sin, but at the end of the day when we stand before the Holy One, our critics don’t get a vote. So, again I say to myself and to you, in the wise words of John Owen, “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you…”