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The Silent Saboteur

June 22, 2020

“For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good.” (Romans 7: 11-12)

A lover of spy thrillers and mysteries, I am currently reading a 2017 novel called The Saboteur, by Andrew Gross. It is based on a true World War II operation sponsored by the British, who sent Norwegian commandos into a Nazi-occupied area of Norway in 1943 to destroy their nuclear weapons program. In the story, the protagonist, Kurt Nordstrum,[1] is a force for good.  In the story of our lives, however, a malevolent saboteur is at work, seeking to sabotage our efforts to obey God’s law.  That saboteur is sin—sent by the mastermind of sin– the Great Deceiver himself.

The silent saboteur is the one encouraging us to be arrogant and boastful, when God asks us to be humble and unassuming. It is the one whispering in our ear that we need more money, more things, more, more, more, when God asks us to live simply with less.  Sin is the silent saboteur that dislodges our effort to reply softly and inflames us to respond in anger or with an insult.  Sin is the saboteur that tempts us with food and drink as we try to reduce their influence over us.  Sin is the saboteur enticing us to thoughts unbefitting a follower of Christ.  Sin is the saboteur inviting us to play or sleep all day instead of investing our time and God-given talents into creative, productive, God-honoring work.[2]

Paul unmasks sin for what it is: not merely inadvertent error, but a willful rebellion against God.  Our sinful selves entice us to flaunt God’s law, not by mistake, but by intention.  Sin is the great deception: “For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good” (Romans 7: 11-12).[3]

We want to follow God’s law; we know that God wants only the best for us, yet we pull in the opposite direction. It is a paradox that Paul explains a few verses later: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.  And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good.  As it is, it is no longer I myself who does it, but it is sin living in me” (Romans 7:15-17).  Sin is the saboteur that lives within us.

Sunday’s gospel lesson follows up this theme: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. . .  a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’” (Matthew 10: 34, 36).  God is not divisive.  His message is not divisive.  It is the heart of the hearer of the message that causes discord, even in families.  The status of one’s heart is what determines whether God’s message will be accepted or rejected.  The sword is a metaphor for suffering.  God’s people suffer not because God’s message is evil—it is the enemy within, the saboteur, who calls us to turn us away from the things of God.  But we will never be satisfied by just pursuing our own selfish interests.  We must die daily to self, to put self aside, to die daily to sin, to find true fulfillment: “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39).

Easier said than done.  Jeremiah came to realize that people hear what they want to hear (Jeremiah 28).  They listened to false prophets because they said what they wanted to hear.  We listen to the saboteur because he makes sin so inviting, so attractive, so easy, so much fun.  But most of us know from experience that pursuing momentary pleasures, power, and money won’t fill the God-shaped vacuum in our hearts. While the world pulls us in that direction, and our sinful selves are happy to go along for the ride, we know that true fulfillment comes from following God’s plan for our lives. And the Holy Spirit is there to help us pull away from sin’s magnet.  In fact, we can’t do it on our own.  We must constantly look to the one who rescues us from the saboteur.  The psalmist’s words ring true: “See how I love your precepts; preserve my life, Lord, in accordance with your love. All your words are true; and all your righteous laws are eternal” (Psalm 119: 159-160).

The accolades, adulation, material rewards, and momentary pleasures that come with success, power, and indulgence are heady sirens that lure us from the things of God.  In the coming days, turn to the Holy Spirit to ask for help to become independent of the things that bring you down—self-centeredness, addictions, a death grip on material possessions, a desire to acquire more and bigger things–trophies, money, prestige.  Ask the Holy Spirit to help rid yourself of anxiety, addiction, pride, jealousy, anger, fear, and whatever else keeps you from God.  Ask the Holy Spirit to help free you from anything the silent saboteur places in front of you to separate you from God.

Prayer: “Today, O Lord, I yield myself to you. May your will be my delight today; May your way have perfect sway in me.  May your love be the pattern of my living.”  Richard Foster

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The character, Kurt Nordstrum, is based on the real-life hero, Knut Haukelid.

[2] “Hem and Haw were the sons of sin, created to shally and shirk; Hem lay ‘round and Haw looked on, While God did all the work. . . “ Excerpt from“Hem and Haw” by Bliss Carman (1861-1929).

[3] The Scripture texts for Sunday are Jeremiah 28:5-9; Psalm 119:153-160; Romans 7:1-13 (15-17); Matthew 10:34-42.

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