How healthy is your soul?

June 21, 2011 — 1 Comment

Have I mentioned recently that I have come to realize that I’m a natural Pharisee? It’s one of my signature sins. That phrase was originally coined by Michael Mangis in his epynomous book.** But I came across it while reading John Ortberg’s The Me I Want to Be: Becoming God’s Best Version of You.

“The Bible never actually uses the phrase “original sin,” but the writers of Scripture (and any moderately perceptive observers) know that we are remarkably prone to do things that we know are wrong. We have a staggering capacity for self-deception and self-justification. There is a kind of “original sin” in another sense. Your sin is intimately connected to the passions and wiring God gave you. Sin doesn’t look quite the same in anyone else as it does in you. Like your fingerprints, your signature, or your bowling style, your sin pattern is unique to you.”

Given my Pharisetical tendencies, another passage in Ortberg’s book really hit home:

“’How is your spiritual life going?’”
I used to answer this question by looking at the state of
my devotional activities: Did I pray and read the Bible
enough today? The problem is that by this measure the
Pharisees always win. People can be very disciplined,
but remain proud and spiteful. How do we measure spiritual
growth so that the Pharisees don’t win?

I asked a wise man, “How do you assess the well-being
of your soul?”
He immediately said, “I ask myself two questions”:
* Am I growing more easily discouraged these days?
* Am I growing more easily irritated these days?

At the core of a flourishing soul are the love of God and
the peace of God. If peace is growing in me, I am less
easily discouraged. If love is growing, I am less easily
irritated. It was a brilliantly helpful diagnostic to assess
the health of my soul.”

The wise man Ortberg talked to was Dallas Willard, and as it happens, I have also just finished reading Willard’s own book, The Renovation of the Heart. It’s so good, I’m going to feature it as a Bedtime Snack in the future. But for now, I’ll just highlight one point he makes which I think can also help diagnose the state of my life with God. In question form, this would be: How mean have I been lately?

Willard quotes the head of a denomination who said he wanted to write a book on the topic, ‘Why Are Christians So Mean?’ Then Willard gives his answer.

Christians are routinely taught by example and word that it is more important to be right (always in terms of their beloved tradition) than it is to be Christlike. In fact, being right licenses you to be mean, and, indeed, requires you to be mean—-righteously mean, of course. You must be hard on people who are wrong…

…A fundamental mistake of the conservative side of the American church today, and much of the Western church, is that it takes as its basic goal to get as many people as possible ready to die and go to heaven. It aims to get people into heaven rather than to get heaven into people. This of course requires that these people, who are going to be “in,” must be right on what is basic. You can’t really quarrel with that. But it turns out that to be right on “what is basic” is to be right in terms of the particular church vessel or tradition in question, not in terms of Christlikeness.

…it creates groups of people who may be ready to die, but clearly are not ready to live. They rarely can get along with one another, much less those “outside.” Often their most intimate relations are tangles of reciprocal harm, coldness, and resentment. They have found ways of being “Christian” without being Christlike.

There is a big difference between wearing the label ‘Christian’ and being Christlike, just as there’s a big difference between being a Pharisee and being a follower of Jesus. What matters is not whether I can check off a spiritual ‘to-do’ list: go to church every Sunday, read God’s word every day, pray, tithe my money. I can do all that and still have a warped diseased soul. A better indication of how well I am doing with God is how I answer these three simple questions:
* Am I growing more easily discouraged these days?
* Am I growing more easily irritated these days?
* How mean have I been lately?

**Links and notes
Epynomous I think this is the first time I have ever been able to use the word epynomous in a sentence. But I wasn’t sure how to pronounce it.

An interview with Michael Mangis about his book, Signature Sins

An excerpt of The Me I want to Be

A taste of The Renovation of the Heart

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. Watch out! « Annie Wald - May 21, 2014

    […] know I need to spend some time reflecting on my signature sins and see where I’ve gotten lax and where I need to post some […]

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