Paul had stuck his head through the door of our study to remind me that he was leaving for work when I joyfully blurted out this awkward announcement.
He gave me a very weird look, shook his head and blew me a kiss goodbye.
I’ll admit, it is a strange statement to make and even stranger to be so happy about it. But that morning I’d been tempted to sin and hadn’t. Shouldn’t that cause rejoicing? I’m sure you can think of moments when the promise of sin was strong and God gave you either the strength to resist or a way to escape the situation. Wasn’t that rather exhilarating?
You see, when Paul interrupted me I was in the homerun stretch of the final exam for my online counselling class. It was the last test of the last class that I had to take before “graduating” with my counselling certificate from CCEF. Altogether, these classes have reminded me that graduate work is challenging and that final exams are particularly unpleasant. I had spent six hours studying the previous day (because cramming the night before an exam is still my MO) and had gotten up early in order to finish the test before my kids woke up. The test, which I had to download and complete within 3 hours, was closed book and honor driven. By signing my name at the end, I was affirming that I had not cheated. Thankfully, I signed it with a clear conscience.
Ok, so you may be thinking, “Whoa, I never knew that you were such a sinner, Liz. Dude, I would NEVER cheat on a final exam. That’s crazy.”
Yes, it is. But don’t the promises of sin make us do crazy things? Crazy like taking one bite of a piece of fruit in the middle of a pristine garden FULL of other perfect fruit, right? The Bible (not to mention your own life) is full of examples of when sin sounded so RIGHT. So easy. So inconsequential. So justified. That’s what makes it devious.
As for me, I hate failing on tests. I hate staring at a question, knowing that I’d studied it, but being helpless to recall the information in that moment. So. Very. Frustrating. Fortunately, all my previous degrees had been completed at brick and mortar schools where final exams were handed to me in a classroom with a professor and a bunch of classmates. I still hated missing test questions, but the opportunity to cheat was nearly non-existent (or, more likely, I just wasn’t cunning enough to know how). My circumstances limited my ability to act on those feelings and that was a blessing. But in an online format? Shoot, the ability to cheat is like, super easy!! I’m by myself, in my house, with my computer, all my books and my class notes available. I couldn’t leave the house because, well, KIDS and I couldn’t have Paul sit in the room with me because, well, WORK. So when that ever-so-familiar desire to get each question right flared into life, there were few circumstantial fences to quell that feeling.
So, each occasion when I couldn’t quite recall the answer that I had so laboriously studied for, I would sit there and mutter, “Don’t cheat. It’s not worth it. Sin hurts. God doesn’t care about my grades. I don’t need to care about my grades… Don’t cheat. It’s not worth it. Sin hurts. God doesn’t care about my grades. I don’t need to care about my grades.” You may laugh, but it’s true—Liz has a mantra to keep her from cheating. And it made concentrating on those questions (about hermeneutical methods of biblical interpretation and the applying truth to everyday life…of all ironic things) very difficult. But in the end (and two imperfectly answered questions later) I finished that hermeneutics exam, signed the honesty statement, emailed it to my instructor, and passed the real test—my faith exam.
YAY FOR LIZ FOR NOT SINNING!!
Now, I relay this short story to you for two reasons. First, remember to praise God whenever you are tempted but choose to do what is right! Because that’s awesome. The Psalmist knew this when he wrote things like, “The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him!” When the Holy Spirit brings truth to your mind in a moment of temptation and you listen, it’s time to exult because that’s sanctification! That’s praise worthy! This is why I was so happy when I finished that test sin-free. I’m pretty sure that the Holy Spirit was rejoicing too because my happiness was that deep, heart-felt joy that comes from doing what pleases God. A soul-level high five, if you will. I fear that we focus so much of our attention on our failures to fight sin (and the subsequent guilt, shame, frustration etc.) that we forget to rejoice when righteousness triumphs. That moment right there, when you wanted to sin but didn’t because you loved God and trusted him, that was a win for the team! Not yelling at your children when they were fraying your last nerve? WIN! Not being sarcastic with your spouse? WIN! Speaking up when you wanted to stay quiet? WIN! Squashing that judgmental attitude before it took hold? WIN! Wanting to sink into despair but choosing to trust God? WIN! Having patience when you felt the opposite? WIN! God gave you strength! Truth prevailed and Satan (if he was watching) was disappointed. That’s not nothing folks—that’s a supernatural power to the same level as, well, with-the-same-power-that-raised-Christ-from-the-dead kind of not nothing!
Which brings me to the second reason for writing this blog post. Remember to rejoice with your spouse (or children, or friend or whoever) when they claim victory over sin. This can be difficult, especially when you don’t understand the struggle that they face. We all have our special brand of weakness. Mine trend towards the lose-my-temper or care-to-much-what-people-think-of-me or (in this case) cheat-on-a-test-because-you-hate-to-fail type of weaknesses. Paul’s are totally different. Not understanding these differences made the beginning of our married life very challenging. I used to mentally scoff whenever Paul would sin, taking the opportunity to judge him while simultaneously patting myself on the back. When he’d confess to failing, I’d be annoyed because the failing seemed so, well, dumb. When he’d mention a moment of not-failing, I’d be unimpressed because the victory seemed, well, lame. I had become the person that Paul Tripp was warning his readers about when he stated, “Because we all suffer from some degree of personal spiritual blindness—that is, we do not see ourselves with accuracy—and because we tend to see the weakness and failures of our spouse with greater accuracy, we begin to think of ourselves as more righteous than our husband or wife.”
The truth is, it’s hard to appreciate the magnitude of someone else’s struggle. It takes grace to say, “That would never tempt me, but I will believe you when you say that it tempts you.” It takes grace to listen to your spouse talk about their frustrations. It takes grace to offer forgiveness for a sin we wouldn’t commit. It takes grace not to say, “then for crying out loud, just don’t do it!!!!”
But if and when we start to believe our respective spouses (or our children, or friends, etc) we will begin to see the impact of grace in that relationship. Instead of being judgmental and proud, we will realize that we are just as weak and just as needy. Instead of being frustrated by their sin, we will want to help them. Tripp writes, “Grace decimates self-righteousness. Grace opens our eyes and softens our hearts. Grace deepens our sense of need. Grace faces us with our poverty and weakness. Grace causes us to run after help and welcomes us with open arms when we come.” By understanding a person’s weakness, we will be better equipped to help them fight for faith and better able to rejoice when they successfully thwart the fiery darts of temptation.
It’s not really surprising that Paul gave me a weird look that morning. I had never really told him about my struggle to remain honest in my test-taking. Still, when I got a reaction that basically communicated, “what kind of unspiritual weirdo did I marry,” I felt a little discouraged. The phrase, “Hey babe, I didn’t cheat!” might not have a poetic ring of a Psalm, it was my statement of praise. It was his chance to rejoice with me, which would have made the moment even more amazing.
Sin hurts. Always. So when we use the armor of God to stand firm against temptation, we have done a good thing. And when good things happen in life, it’s just fun to spread the news and rejoice with friends. As a spouse, be that friend. Be the cheerleader that goes a little nuts even when the game seems rather unimpressive. After filling Paul in on my weakness for right answers, he promises that should the situation ever arise again, he’ll be positively exuberant in his adulations : )
But that would mean going back to school, and I’m not sure that’s going to happen any time soon.