For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23)
Last week I began this series on inner-healing prayer by writing about the crisis that occurs in the soul when the mind – the rational thinking and willing aspect of the soul — hears the good news of our salvation in Jesus Christ and believes, but the heart – to which we attribute feelings, intuition, imagination and the emotions – is not able to process this good news in a way that liberates it from a sense of shame, self-hatred or unforgiveness. What is needed is a way to deliver the truth of the gospel so that the heart can “hear” it and, through the grace of Jesus Christ, be released from the grievous effects of sin which hold it captive. Inner-healing prayer is an effective way to accomplish this.
In order to explain how inner-healing prayer works, I must first address how and why sin is so devastating to the human soul. As I’ve written before in my series, Losing Control, sin is not simply a series of things done or left undone. More importantly, it is a deadly condition that afflicts every human being. There is no escaping it. Apart from the saving grace of Jesus Christ, it is impossible not to sin. We will inevitably behave selfishly, peevishly, greedily, and lustfully even when we do not intend to. The apostle Paul puts it this way in his letter to the Romans:
I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature [my nature apart from Christ]. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. (7:15, 17-19, editorial emphasis mine)
Even the most saintly of people cannot escape the tyranny of sin. It shapes our thoughts and actions so that even our best intentions will be shot through with pride and selfishness. Try as we might, there is no way we can rid ourselves of this condition. Nor, can we dismiss it and declare that the consequences of our sins don’t really add up to much; they do as far as God is concerned. He is holy and just and sin is the very antithesis of his character. So God judges sin, not on the basis of quantity or severity, but on the fact that all sin is a grievous offence against his nature. Since he has no toleration for sin, separation from God is the natural consequence for every last one of us.
The only way back into God’s presence, and freedom from the tyranny of sin, is through his Son, Jesus Christ. The first step it to acknowledge that our sinfulness has eternal consequences and that we cannot save ourselves from them. Then, in humility, we turn to Jesus Christ, and accept him as our Savior and Lord. He will become our new Master, freeing us from the bondage of sin and forming his own nature within us. Through faith in Jesus we are reconciled to God our Father; our sins are forgiven and our access to God restored. Paul confirms this in his letter to the Romans: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand…(5:1-2a)
However, for some Christians, what they believe does not seem to influence greatly how they view themselves. For instance, they may have difficulty feeling like their sins are truly forgiven, even though they confess them and hear the words of absolution proclaimed every Sunday in church. Or, they may have a lingering sense of worthlessness and have difficulty feeling that they are loved unconditionally by God. These persistent “doubts” never seem to go away, no matter how many Bible studies they attend, sermons they hear, or uplifting verses of Scripture they memorize. Like a low grade fever, shame, guilt and a chronic sense of worthlessness drag them down and rob them of the joy and peace that come to us through faith in Jesus.
Still other Christians hear the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ, believe it wholeheartedly, but they continue to sin, even profoundly, just as they did before they accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior. They are faithful in worship and Bible study, but what they believe does not seem to effect how they behave. They have claimed Jesus as their Master, but Sin still seems to have the upper hand.
For both sets of Christians, the effects of sin, either their own sins or the sins of others against them, have lodged in their heart – and their heart has been unable to open up and receive grace. There are many reasons for this. Perhaps they were mistreated in childhood or they suffered a trauma from which they have not recovered emotionally. It is even possible their mind has no conscious recollection of previous suffering or abuse – but their heart has not forgotten. In the unconscious, the past is always present.
Regardless of the cause, in the instances mentioned above, experience in life has formed the heart in such a way that it either cannot accept or extend forgiveness. Despite what these Christians profess with their lips (Romans 10:9) their heart is still caught in the devastating effects of sin. But, there is a way for the heart to accept what the mind acknowledges as true already. Through inner-healing prayer they can experience the grace of Jesus Christ and be set free to forgive and be forgiven. In my next post, I will begin to describe how this works.
Next week: How the power of the cross is conveyed to the heart through inner-healing prayer.