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Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

Post hoc, ergo propter hoc. Latin for "after this, therefore because of this". It's a fallacy that assumes whatever event preceeded another, must have caused the succeeding event. We tend to live by this emphatically, as Christians. When we sin (fail), we incorrectly assume what must have caused this is the lack of effort, on our part, that preceeded it. It's an all too common misconception. As a result, the downward spiral of sin begins. Observe: 


The downward spiral goes something like this:

  1. We sin
  2. We feel guilt
  3. We vow to never do it again
  4. We try harder to never do it again
  5. We sin again
For many, each subsequent decent into the downward spiral results is more and more frustration, which ultimately culminates in one of two conclusions:
  1. Depression - If God is real, my failure tells me He is against me
  2. Desertion - If God is against me, my failure tells me He is not real
During the past Sunday's sermon, Paul echoed the same addictive cycle in his own life (we called it Groundhog Day):
For I know that nothing good dwells in me [the doctrine], that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right [the desire], but not the ability to carry it out [the deeds]. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing [the dilemma]. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! [the depression] Who will deliver me from this body of death? —Romans 7:18-24
Paul reminds us that the sin that has taken up residence in his behavior and reasoning, which even corrupts his good intentions. Seemingly unable to do what is right (sins of omission) and only that which is evil (sins of commission). Paul expends great effort to tell us that no matter what he "does", the downward spiral seems unavoidable. Notice in verse 24, Paul begins his own bout with guilt and self-condemnation resulting from his futile efforts. Verse 18 is the key to why he continually fails, "nothing good dwells in . . . my flesh." Paul is presenting us with some pretty important doctrine he reinforces elsewhere: 
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 
—Ephesians 2:1-3
Our efforts, our good intetions, all of it, is corrupted by sin. Is it any wonder we cannot break the cycle? Our corrupted "flesh" is literally making war with us (v22)! Now, if the passage ended here, we would be hopeless. But, thank God, it does not. Notice verse 25:
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. 
—Romans 7:25
The contradiction that exists between our deeds and desires is reconciled in the person of Jesus. The Gospel that Paul summarizes here goes beyond the consequences of sin. Yes, Jesus saves us from those consequences, but He wants so much more than fire insurance. Paul is telling us that the Gospel is meant to bring a fullness to our life (John 10:10) that is often absent in professing Christians. We were meant to be free from, yes the consequences of sin, but more fully the power of sin over our lives. This is the "law of God" Paul is referring to. Notice what he says in the verses that follow:
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
—Romans 8:1-4
Let's go back to what Paul said earlier. Everything he "does" is corrupted by sin. Therefore, he cannot "do" anything to losen sins power over his deeds. His deliverance from this dilemma is the "law of God" outlined in the verses we just covered. In order to get us to live from this reality, God is somehow going to have to get us from "doing" to "being". Addictive cycles (I'm not just talking about substance abuse, but all addctive cycles such as porn, anger, unforgiveness, deception, etc.) are created when we resist this movement and remain stuck in the loop of Romans 7:18-24:
  • Doctrine [v18] - My flesh is corrupt
  • Desire [v18, v22] - I love Jesus and want to do what He says is right
  • Deeds [v19-20] - But what I actually do are things I hate
  • Dilemma [v21, v23] - There is conflict between what I want and what I do
  • Depression [v24] - Guilt and self-condemnation are the result of this dilemma
These five-points make up the addictive cycle all people find themselves in. But, God being rich in mercy (Ephesians 2:4), wants better for us. So to move us from "doing" to "being", he has to take us through often painful circumstances to purge our "efforts". If we are able to trust him through this painful season (Peter Scazzero refers to this as "The Wall"), we emerge with a live-changing awareness not unlike our initial salvation. But very, very few people ever get there:
Data tells us that only about 7%-10% of all believers every make this painful movement from "do" to "be". Most Christians traffic on the right-side of the above chart their entire lives because it's the known...the familiar. In doing so, they struggle their whole lives with the paradox Paul is depressed by in verses 18-24. These stages of change include the following:
  • STAGE 1:  Salvation (Life Changing Awareness) - This is our first, and most important, experience with our inability to save ourselves. 
  • STAGE 2: Discipleship (Learning) - New Christians are now taugh they need to being "doing" again. 
  • STAGE 3: Active Live (Serving) - We are now participants in ministry, but our actions are still corrupted by sin. We "do" to be "ok". Rather than "do" because we're "ok".
  • THE WALL - God wants to deal with the inner-man and therefore allows us to experience intense seasons of suffering or hardship. We will either go back to the "known" and try and "do" more to gain security, approval and comfort (addictive cycle) or do the difficult internal work necessary and travel into the "unknown".
But remember, there is a verse 25 in our passage. Paul directs his depression towards the only remedy. For those of us who do likewise and navigate through the Wall:
  • STAGE 4 - Having emerged on the other side of "The Wall", the believer now begins the slow process of applying Gospel-truths to idols, past sin and hurts. They begin to learn Gospel-truths like God is not angry with them.
  • STAGE 5 - From the now healing inner-life, they journey outward and begin the life-long work of emotional health brought about by the Gospel.
Verse 7:24 is Paul's "Wall". It's his depression, his burnout, his moment of crisis. St. John of the Cross referred to "The Wall" as the "Dark Night of the Soul". He says this about God's work through this season:
"[God] is purging the soul, annihilating it, emptying it or consuming in it...all the affections and imperfect habits which it has contracted its whole life...These are deeply rooted in the substance of the soul...At the same time, it is God who is passively working here in the soul.”
"For most of us...", writes Peter Scazzero in Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, "...the wall appears through crisis that turns our world upside down...":
  1. Divorce 
  2. Job Loss 
  3. Death of someone close 
  4. A cancer diagnosis 
  5. A bad church experience 
  6. What we perceive as betrayal 
  7. A shattered dream
  8. Awayward child 
  9. An inability to get pregnant 
  10. A deep desire to be married that is unfulfilled 
  11. Dryness in our relationship with God
This list can go on. My particular "wall" started two years ago when I sustained a knife injury to my right-arm which left me with permanent nerve damage and pain. The resulting 11-week sabbatical was supposed to be about learning to live with pain. What I soon discovered was that God was using this horrible event to bring me through "the Wall", and hopefully, to a place of deeper transformation. The kind of transformation we all long for. The kind of transformation Paul is preaching about. This paradigm can be illustrated as follows:
The journey to experiencing freedom from sin's power and transformation is different for all of us. For some, "the Wall" lasts months, even years. This is due to sins we've committed and sins committed against us. This is due to the variations in family of origin issues experienced. Mostly, this is due to God's perfect sovereignty and timing in all things. We know this, because just one chapter later Paul says this:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. —Romans 8:28
For more information and a deeper look at this subject matter, pick up a copy of Peter Scazerro's Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.

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