“I tried to tie good fruit
to a tree that had poison all the way through
it rotted and fell off
it was dead to the core
it even killed the ground, I was worse than before” – Poison Tree, Ghost Ship
A Heart Problem
These words are part of the second chorus of one of my favorite songs, Poison Tree, by the band Ghost Ship. What I love about this song is that it presents a very deep, if not challenging picture of how deeply sin has affected the human heart. Many years ago, God opened my eyes to what sin truly is. For so long I believed that sin was only outward actions.What God has shown me over the years is that sin is not just my outward actions. Sin is not just a problem with what I do. Sin is a problem with my heart.
I Can’t Get Rid Of Sin
God has led author and spoken word artist, David Bowden on a similar journey. In his latest book, Rewire Your Heart, Bowden tells a story of one of his many battles with sin. He was about to publish his first book, when he went into Target to see what Christian books were “at the top of the heap”. He found a book written by one of his peers. The forward of that book was written by someone Bowden had wanted to write the forward for his book. Immediately, Bowden was filled with jealousy and frustration.
When he got back out to his car, the conviction hit. And with that conviction came shame and guilt, which led him to tears. Bowden had thought he had beaten those sins. He had been fighting His own pride for a while. He recounts how he had taken every thinkable step in fighting this sin. He had tried to stop comparing himself to others. He even had a group of friends who he met with regularly to hold him accountable. But even despite all he had done, his heart was still proud. And in that moment, in the Target parking lot, Bowden says, “I sobbed and cried out to God because I understood something: I could not get rid of these sins” (xi).
In this moment, God helped Bowden to realize he had been focusing all his efforts on the wrong thing. He had focused only on “doing” better. He only focused on what he was doing, instead of looking deeper at who he was. And, so he was only changing his behavior,but his sin was still there.
We Only Do What We Want: How Sin Works
What he found that moment in the Target parking lot was that he was still sinning because he still wanted to. One of the main points he makes throughout the book is that “we sin because we want to sin” (XI). That may seem like a harsh way to say it. And honestly, the first few chapters of Rewire Your Heart are convicting and difficult to get through. But I think what makes these chapters difficult is that they are more true than we want them to be.
We might think the battle for sin starts at temptation. But, Bowden argues that the battle for sin starts long before you are tempted. Temptation can only exist where there is desire. He references James 1:14-15, “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” We are only tempted to sin because we have a desire. And we only desire because we lack something. We desire because we have a want, we see that something is lacking in our lives. Temptation offers us a solution to our want.
What Are You Not Believing About God?
Bowden takes all of this even deeper. He says that the root cause of “all our lacking, all our desires, all our temptation, and, therefore, all our sin” is unbelief (55). We feel a lack in our lives because we don’t believe God is enough. We don’t trust that God will provide what we need. We sin because unbelief twists the desires of our hearts.
This is an even harder truth to wrestle with. Some very close friends of mine address sin in a similar way. Whenever someone is confessing sin to them, they always ask, “What are you not believing about God?” They ask this question because they are trying to help people get to the root of their sin. And the root is that they aren’t trusting God with something. We sin because we don’t think God will do or be what we need, so we have to do it or be it ourselves. Every sin is a type of self-salvation.
Fight Sin With the Gospel
So, then how do we fight sin? How do we win the war against sin?
Through faith. Through the gospel.
It seems like such a simple, “Sunday-school” type of answer. But Bowden shows throughout the book how deep and beautiful that answer is. He constantly points back to the gospel as the answer to our sin problem.
Throughout Rewire Your Heart, Bowden dives deep into not only how sin works, but how the gospel is our only hope in the war against sin. We can’t fix ourselves by our own efforts. Our hearts don’t need behavior modification. They need transformation. And that’s what the gospel is all about.
Helpful and Timely
Rewire Your Heart is a very helpful, and for me a very timely book. I appreciate how thoughtfully Bowden wrote this book. There were many parts where he put words to ideas that God had already been working in my own heart but I didn’t have language for yet. And many parts made me think a bit deeper about how the gospel works and how deeply God’s grace runs.
In one specific spot, he talks about how our good deeds on their own can’t kill sin.Good deeds not rooted in love and a desire for God, don’t mean anything. He says, “What will help us understand our good deeds is if we see them as a free gift of grace, just as our salvation was” (207). He goes on to quote Ephesians 2:8-10, specifically highlighting where it says that were created in Christ for good works that God prepared for us beforehand. We can’t use our good deeds to earn our salvation or a reward because “any genuinely good deed was given to the Christian as a gift of free grace. This is so no one has the right to boast, either in their salvation or in their works” (207-208).
I don’t have to try to stack my good works up anymore, to make sure I qualify for Jesus. Instead, I am free to walk in the things He already prepared for me and enabled me to do. Our sanctification will require effort on our part, but it is still ultimately the result and proof of God’s grace in our hearts. Everything about the Christian life is wrapped up in God’s grace and the gospel.