"So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal."
- 2 Corinthians 4:16-18
During my first year of seminary, I took a part-time job removing debris from construction sites. It wasn’t hard work, but it wasn’t particularly enjoyable either. Have you ever watched a show like Fixer Upper? You know that predictable segment wherein Chip Gaines gleefully destroys things with a sledge hammer on so-called “Demo Day,” making a silly face, calling his wife “babe” a few dozen times and then taking a room or an entire house down to its studs? Well, my job was to clean up after guys like Chip. They’d make a mess, and then I’d load it into a truck and haul it to the dump.
The hauling, that was actually the best part. I got to drive a big truck. I think it was a 1982 Ford Testosterone. Big, tall, and loud, it rumbled down the road like something out of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. It only had one major drawback: it was horribly out of alignment. I found myself in a second-by-second struggle to keep the thing on the road, off the shoulder and out of a ditch. If I let go of the wheel for a second, the truck would veer hard right immediately. Despite my best attempts to mask and manage the truck’s poor alignment, it was a fool’s errand. I probably looked like a drunk driver to more than a few. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have even been on the road, and should have had the courage to tell my boss as much.
Sometimes, I feel a lot like that truck: out of alignment. If my spiritual journey were ultimately up to me, I’d crash in a ditch seconds after departure and “total” myself. My life isn't naturally “in line” with God’s character and purposes. I’m not aligned with him. Rather, I’m turned in, upon myself.
It was probably Augustine of Hippo (354-430) who coined the Latin phrase, incurvatus in se (turned inward, upon oneself). Later, the Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, himself a former Augustinian monk, expounded upon this phrase in his Lectures on Romans:
Our nature, by the corruption of the first sin, [being] so deeply curved in on itself that it not only bends the best gifts of God towards itself and enjoys them (as is plain in the works-righteous and hypocrites), or rather even uses God himself in order to attain these gifts, but it also fails to realize that it so wickedly, curvedly, and viciously seeks all things, even God, for its own sake.
This lack of proper alignment, this curvature of our souls away from God and inward, upon ourselves, is the human condition due to sin. Left to ourselves, we do not seek God, his glory, or the good of his creation as we ought. Instead, we turn consistently inward, pursuing our own selfish ambitions, full of vain conceit (Philippians 2). Our own attempts to mask and manage our sinful bent always fall short, and eventually fail.
Thankfully, God’s Spirit is doing a great and gradual work of realignment within us. The Spirit is straightening our souls to walk increasingly upright lives before God and others. Of course, none of us can do this perfectly - yet. It's a process, and sometimes a seemingly frustrating one - full of apparent stops and starts, struggles and successes. However, we can see, even in the smallest growth, God's pledge of future fulfillment. As the Apostle Paul said, “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).
Child of God: Jesus forever removed sin's penalty. He paid it in full, for you. Now, the Spirit works to break sin's power in your life. He's moved in and is renewing you from the inside out, gradually bringing your life more and more “in line” with the the good news of Jesus Christ - the gospel (Galatians 2:14). One day, God will remove even the very presence of sin.
Until that day, be confident of this: God always finishes what he starts. Don't lose heart! You might not always see it outwardly, but the Spirit is in fact renewing you inwardly day by day. He's conforming you to the image and likeness of Jesus Christ, realigning you to reflect and rest in the glory of God.
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SOURCE: Johnston, Mark (6 July 2009), "6", Saving God, Princeton: Princeton University Press, p. 88, ISBN 978-0-691-14394-1, retrieved 2012-11-17. As cited in https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Incurvatus_in_se#cite_note-google2006-1, retrieved 2017-10-03.