“All my life I’ve been good, but now, oh oh oh I figure, ‘What the hell?’” –Avril Lavigne I had the radio on the other day when the new Avril Lavigne single came on. You’ll remember Avril as the 5 foot nothing punk/pop chick who dominated the early 2000’s with her single “Complicated”. It seems things have gotten decidedly less complicated for the girl recently, at least according to her latest song, “What the Hell”. In this very catchy number that had my attention right away, the chorus arrived as she sang, “All my life I’ve been good, but now, oh oh oh I figure ‘What the hell?’” Touching. However that line rubs you, one thing is true, it’s bigger than just a pop song. It’s a statement on freedom.
Do you hear what she’s really saying? Listen closely. Here’s the ethic of the song in a nutshell: Morality, law abiding, manner minding has its place, and I’ll obey for a while because it’s what I ought to do. But when it really comes down to it, what I ought to do is never what I want to do.
In other words, the good we do is done out of a sense of duty at best, and at worst, a fear of punishment. But never is it done out of desire.
The Lord of the Ring
This isn’t something new. We’ve known this about ourselves for millennia. There is an ancient Greek parable called “the ring of Gyges”. The story was told of a shepherd named Gyges who discovers a ring that makes its wearer invisible (sound familiar?). Gyges takes the ring and upon arriving at his king’s palace, slips on the ring, and, protected by invisibility seduces the queen, murders the king and takes control of the kingdom. The point of the tale was that even the most moral man, when given proper protection from consequences, will defy his ethic and act selfishly and wickedly.
Opera House Thieves
Perhaps this is too pessimistic for you. Maybe humans are better than that. Of course, you haven’t found any magic rings lately either, have you? However, that was precisely the case for a group of gift shop employees in the 1970’s. Chicago Public Radio’s podcast of “This American Life” just did a segment on a group of volunteer workers at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts in Washington D.C. It seemed there were some major financial discrepancies in the books for the little gift shop below the performance hall. More than 40% of the gross income was going missing every month. That’s over $100,000 a year. When they finally investigated the matter, they were shocked to find not just one criminal, but the entire volunteer staff as the guilty party. You see, there were no real records being kept of the comings and goings of money and merchandise. This meant there was no real way for a thief to be caught. One by one retirees, war veterans, patrons of the Center, would slip on their invisible rings and take cash and goods right out of the store. Maybe there’s more to this Gyges thing than we first thought.
But what if it didn’t have to be like that? I mean, are we destined to always be kicking against the goads of the Law? Must we always feel like muzzled animals, longing to cut loose from the restrictive bonds of ethics to live, well, like hell?
Open Heart Surgery
Thankfully there is hope, and as always, it’s found in the person and work of Jesus Christ. You see, Jesus didn’t come to earth to make mean people act nicer, or liars behave more honestly. Christianity is NOT just behavior modification. It is heart surgery.
“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ezekiel 36:26)
The Prophet Ezekiel foretold how God had decided to handle Israel’s sin issue. It wasn’t more laws or better disciplinary measures. He knew the human heart would ultimately resist anything telling it what to do. There was only one option left: Remove the source of the problem and replace it with something better. He gave his people a new heart.
The implications of this are massive. Don’t miss this glorious truth! It is one of the biggest distinctives of Christianity. Jesus didn’t just save us. He gave us His Spirit who now lives inside every believer. This Holy Spirit gives us a whole new set of desires. Seriously. I’ve experienced this. Before Christ I was a deeply committed pornography addict. Then Jesus saved me in high school. For the first time ever, and ever since, I distained my old habit. I didn’t want it anymore. I actually began to desire purity. Now I am not only free from that addiction, but it was my glad choice to do so.
John Piper puts it this way: “True freedom is doing what you want to do, when what you want to do is what you ought to do.” You want to know what real freedom is? It’s not the escape from morality, but the willing, joyful embrace of it. It’s obeying because it’s a joy to obey. But be advised, this kind of freedom is only possible through a heart transplant. The good news is the surgery is free, and I hear the Surgeon is a pro.
“Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me and keep all My commandments always…” Deuteronomy 5:29
“I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.” Ezekiel 36:27