by Jeff Hagan

The Trouble with Trying
Let me share the confession I mentioned at the beginning of this article: I'm about as good as I'm ever going to get. I know we have all been taught from the starting point of our conversion that we Christians are supposed to “get better and better every day and in every way.” Remember that sad cliché? But let me tell you, I've been trying for many years now and it just doesn't seem to be happening.

When I was finally honest with myself and came to the understanding that I wasn't going to get much better, at first I thought it was going to be followed up with some kind of depression. After all, everyone had been telling me for years I needed to get better. Some people out there even said if I kept trying I could reach a point where I could have no known sin in my life. That did seem a stretch though, as passages such as 1 John 1:8 would always jump to my mind immediately, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (ESV). But that's what some believe, and that's what some said.

Let me make a quick prediction. I predict that many of you who are reading this are right about now thinking to yourselves all of the things I need to be doing: studying and meditating on God's Word more frequently, pray more, and be in some kind of group where there is accountability.

Just so you are aware, I'm involved in all of those things. Not only do I read Scripture I teach it and write about it. I pray. I have those I am accountable to. I didn't just dive into this stuff yesterday. However, I'm still not going to get much better than I am now.

But I digress. As I was saying, I thought some kind of depression would hit when I came to the conclusion to let the cat out of the bag and tell people I wasn't going to get much better, but that depression over it never came. No one deserted me. My family didn't disown me. My friends didn't turn their backs on me. Churches didn't dismiss me or kick me out. But the best thing I learned was God loves me anyway.

Let me be clear, few things will crush you and steal your freedom in Christ more than your own attempt to get better – or perhaps I should say get better in the wrong way. C.S. Lewis wrote about this:

“Either we give up trying to be good, or else we become very unhappy indeed. For, make no mistake: If you are really going to try to meet all of the demands made on the natural self, it will not have enough left over to live on...your natural self, which is thus being starved and hampered and worried at every turn, will get angrier. In the end, you will either give up trying to be good, or else become one of those people who, as they say, 'live for others' but always in a discontented, grumbling way – always making a martyr of yourself.”(2)

It's true that admitting I'm not really going to get much better hasn't brought smiles to the faces of some, primarily the “holier than thou” types, but I am so much easier to get along with. I have even gained friends that I wouldn't have had before because I would have felt I couldn't associate with them if I'm trying to get better. After all they may have found out the truth I was trying so hard to hide.

All of this may sound like I don't care about God's law if you don't read it and interpret it correctly. It may seem to you like I don't care about His will for my life or about obedience and sanctification, but hold on for a moment I have more to say.

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