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Self-Examination Time

Lent reminds us that the main problem with us is not them.
2009This article is part of CT's digital archives. Subscribers have access to all current and past issues, dating back to 1956.

In his preface to The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis denies that his insights into the art of temptation were "the ripe fruit of many years' study in moral and ascetic theology." No, he said, quoting Coverdale's translation of Psalm 36, " 'My heart'—I need no other's—'showeth me the wickedness of the ungodly.' "

Acquiring accurate self-knowledge (impossible without the illumination of the Holy Spirit) is absolutely necessary if we are to recognize the perversity through which we stumble—without any help from the minions of "Our Father Below."

Former megachurch pastor Ted Haggard recently confessed this truth on Oprah as he discussed the sexual urges that brought him low. "I kept thinking my problem was demonic," he told America's confidante-in-chief. "[But] part of this process forced me to say, 'This is not demonic. This is me.' And when I said, 'This is me,' oh! All of a sudden everything started to change and… that's when I started to heal."

Haggard had been locating the source of his sins outside himself. But he came to realize that his childhood experiences—which included sexual abuse—had distorted his self. The problem was within him. Now the urges that had surfaced in periodic outbreaks of compulsive behavior no longer hold mastery over him. He can acknowledge those urges and resist them.

In the 1650s, the vice-chancellor of Oxford University wrote what may be the most important book on how Christians can resist temptation. John Owen's The Mortification of Sin in Believers emphasized the importance of knowing your own sin-prone, twisted self. The book's starting point was Romans 8:13: "For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death ...

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