Wavering on the altar: Tired of being good

July 4, 2012 — 3 Comments

I’ve developed the unwanted habit of returning from every vacation with several new pounds. It’s like the freshman fifteen you gain at university. Only I’m no longer a student, and each pound seems to be heavier than it used to be.

Why playing with four small children results in weight gain rather than weight loss is proof that life is full of injustice

I don’t have a picture of my hot fudge sundae because it disappeared too quickly. We also celebrated a year’s worth of birthdays.

So for a month, I’ve been using an app to help me lose weight, appropriately called “Lose It”.**  Week after week, as we say in both religion and dieting, I’ve been ‘good’.

Shall I tally up my sacrifices, great and small? I’d be happy to. I’d like you to be impressed with what I have given up, with how good I have been. The result is I’ve lost the pounds I gained and it was pretty painless. I’m not done though because I’d like to reach a lower, more healthy weight than I was before.

Except I find myself wavering. I can just feel my resolve begin to weaken.

I’m wavering because

  • I’m tired of saying no
  • I feel I’ve resisted long enough
  • I’m tired of paying attention
  • I’ve sacrificed enough

I want to go back to my old thoughtless life.

Being good enough for God
The same is happening as I follow Jesus.

  • I reach out in love and I feel good, really good I’ve been able to help someone.
  • I’m patient with an irritated spouse, and I pat myself on the back.
  • I spend time reading God’s word, though too often I don’t talk to Him. But I tell myself that’s ok, because I’ve done enough.

I’m at a familiar point that each person knows whether they’re giving up food, or alcohol, or pornography, or self-righteous works. It feels good–good enough that I think I deserve to take it easy for a while.

How can it not be good enough?
In Galatians, Paul talks about nailing the desires of our sinful nature to the cross.** That sounds like such drastic language to me, until I remember something Warren Wiersbe said:

“The only problem with a living sacrifice is that it keeps crawling off the altar.”

Yes, here I am, the living sacrifice on the altar, and I can feel myself beginning to crawl off. Again.

Just like my eating plan, this is not the first time, or the tenth time, or the 100th time I’ve started to wriggle away.**

I want to give up the effort it takes to be good, and return to my old heartless, selfish way of living. No wonder Paul says in Romans 7, “Oh what a wretched man I am…who will save me?” The answer comes in the next chapter.

Listen up


[sometimes you have to shout when the living sacrifice is crawling off]

No condemnation. Let that sink in. It means: go ahead, crawl off the altar and return to the stinky, smelling swamp if you want. It doesn’t matter.

Whether I stay on the altar,
whether I sneak off,
whether like a truant teenager I put pillows under the blankets so it looks like I’m still on the altar,
there is no condemnation.

God will not change. My account will still be zero. Nothing can change that.**

Mind Control
Is there any way to keep myself from crawling off the altar? As a matter of fact, there is, and it’s called mind control.

I’m not making that up: The mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.**

I’ve been following Jesus long enough that I know that is true. That’s why I’m struggling with this. I’ve tasted the delights of the heavenly banquet. I would like to stay at the table [altar and table–isn’t that picture of communion wonderful?]

Stay on the altar and do a little killing
Paul says the first thing I have to do if I want the Spirit to control my mind is to “put to death the deeds of the flesh.” In the Greek, it actually says the “practices of the body”. In other words not just simple acts, but a mode of acting.

These habits include**:

  • doing whatever you feel like whenever you feel like it
  • and grabbing whatever attracts your fancy
  • bad temper
  • irritability
  • meanness

These habits, as The Message puts it, make “a life shaped by things and feelings instead of by God.” And they have to go.

Stay at the table
But it’s not just about dying. It’s also about living. The Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in me. ** By Him, I cry “Abba, Father, I am Your child, and not just a child, but also an heir.”

It is not my being good that has brought me into God’s family. And it is not my being good that keeps me there.

I stay because I am fed,
because there I receive life and peace,
and because my Father has promised that goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in His house forever.

One day at a time.

What about you?  What keeps you from crawling off the altar? What encourages you to stay at the table?

Notes and Links

** Lose It  [warning: you have be in the states to sign up]

** Galatians 5:24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to His cross and crucified them there.

** Although there have been many times I’ve asked God how many times I have to forgive someone else, I don’t think I’ve ever wondered how many times He has to forgive me.

**Take a look at Romans 8:38 for the details about what has no power to unstick God’s superglue love.

**Romans 8:6

** Colossians 3, The Message

3 responses to Wavering on the altar: Tired of being good


    Wonderful encapsulation (I think that’s the word I want) of what I experience as well. What keeps me from crawling off the altar?- the whole idea of not ‘abandoning the process that God has started in me’- but submitting to His rule…That phrase – Abandoning the process- helps me to stay on track a little. I’m taking baby steps but it all comes down to submitting, and, really, when I crawl off the altar, where am I headed? Nowhere as good as being on the altar…Thanks for writing. It’s stimulating and I love that


    It’s nice to know I’m not the only one–in fact I think being in community is something else that helps me stay on the altar. I really like your point too about ‘where am I headed’? When I crawl off the altar, it’s not so much that I want to go somewhere else, but that I’m tired of the effort. So it’s good to reminder that any direction I go takes me somewhere. The question is where do I want to go? .


    Your post puts into relief something I think about a lot, maybe the central contradiction I feel inherent in Christian faith–and what drove me away from my faith for many years. The contradiction between “your yoke is easy and your burden is light,” and “be perfect, therefore, as your Holy Father is perfect.” Quotes from Melissa’s Authorized Version. I want a life filled with celebration, and bottles of wine with family and friends, and chocolate cake and hot-fudge sundaes. I want a life of abundance, and isn’t our God a god of abundance? Then why do I feel like I have to deprive myself of so much? What happened to “delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart?” What if my heart desires chocolate cake and hot-fudge sundaes?

    I’ve written my own posts about my struggles with body image and weight, after much agonizing: http://www.casting-off.blogspot.com/2012/05/oh-lord-big-fat-woman.html

    But I don’t think I have an answer. I guess what I believe is that if I eat the things, and do the things, my heart truly desires–which for me is generally Thai noodles and yoga and literature–my body, my heart, my life responds. And maybe that’s what Jesus means.

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