Identity – Saint or Sinner?

Fascinated with the perplexity of good and evil, Robert Louis Stevenson finally published his novella, “Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” in 1886.

Identity – Saint or Sinner?

Doctor Henry Jekyll is a doctor who feels a struggle within himself between good and evil. He develops a serum in an attempt to mask this hidden evil. However, in doing so, He transforms himself into Mr. Hyde, who is effectively a sociopath – evil, self-indulgent, and utterly uncaring to anyone but himself. Dr. Jekyll is able to control the transformations, but as time moves on he becomes Mr. Hyde in his sleep.

Dr. Jekyll tried everything he could to stop becoming Mr. Hyde. However, his ability to change back from Hyde into Jekyll slowly vanished. Fearing that he would soon become Hyde permanently, he chose to end his life, leaving a letter which concluded with these words: "I bring the life of that unhappy Henry Jekyll to an end".

Stevenson’s characters have become familiar expressions of various psychotic conditions, the ordinary usage of their names indicating a two-sided personality of good and evil.

The recognisable underlying reality of this story is a familiar human condition, observed in historical and modern literature.

“The line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being” (Alexander Solzhenitsyn).

“I see and approve the better things, but I pursue the worse” (Ovid).

“You really want to do this creative work, you really want to write this book or write a piece of music or whatever it is; but instead, you go shopping. Instead, you sleep in. Instead, you binge-watch TV. You do all kinds of things that self-sabotage, that keep you from doing the things that you want to do in the deepest part of your heart” (Stephen Pressfield)

For the Christian, this struggle is very real. What Stephen Pressfield calls “resistance”, the Bible calls “sin”. For some Christians, the realisation that their struggles with sin are not over comes as a real shock. The gospel promise of freedom from the power and dominion of sin does not seem to work out as expected, with desires to sin, sometimes overwhelmingly strong desires, causing confusion and doubts about the reality of their salvation.

Perhaps you struggle with desires that, when fed or simply unchecked, lead to:

  • walking into temptation
  • failing with anger
  • failing with lust
  • failing with pride

Do not be dismayed.

You are not alone.

The Apostle Paul wrote about his experience in terms which may sound familiar, “For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practise; but what I hate, that I do” (Romans 7:15).  

Rather than look within and see conflict, it is important to realise that our desires in and of themselves do not define our identity. Our culture is telling us that we are whatever we desire most deeply. Whatever it is that we really want to be, that’s who we are. However, for the Christian some of our desires are good and some are not good. The presence of both does not make us a Jekyll and Hyde character.

It is worth following the teaching of Romans chapter 7, where Paul writes about this conflict in the Christian, showing clearly that it is not a cause for doubting our salvation. Rather than sow seeds of doubt about our identity in Christ, it ought to have the opposite effect and confirm that we are truly saved and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. A lack of any struggle would be evidence that we were wholly under the dominion of sin, without the presence and promptings of the Holy Spirit.

The Apostle Peter spoke about the same struggle, “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11). Both Paul and Peter, when they wrote, were mature Christians with long experience of the struggle.

The real litmus test for us is not whether there are desires to sin within us, even though we have been saved from sin. Rather, the question is, what is my attitude toward this struggle and the sinful desires which rear their ugly head from time to time? Paul expressed his frustration and grief at what was still present within his flesh, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24). There it is – the evidence of salvation. Paul hated his sin and wanted to be rid of it. He struggled with it and was dismayed when he yielded.

Sin may still be present in our flesh as Christians, but it does not have to dominate us. We are no longer under condemnation (Romans 8:1) and are free to feed and strengthen our flesh or choose to follow the Holy Spirit within. We willingly submit either to the Holy Spirit or to the desires of our flesh.

We may feel a bit of an identity crisis when sinful desires stir within. Are we truly saved? Why do we do what we know is wrong and then suffer regret and shame?

The presence of the conflict is good. It means we belong to God, are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and are battling with the flesh. This is, however, just the first step. Winning that conflict is the goal for us as Christians.

Which leads us to the next article in the series – Strategies for the Struggle.