This morning’s devotion–about that old “temptation of self-mastery”–comes from R-J Heijmen.

If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at your door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it (v 7).

If you’re anything like me, you often think to yourself, if only I could get myself under control, then I would happy. If only I started working out, if only I started going to bed earlier, if only I started eating less or more or “better”, if only I read more, if only I didn’t watch so much television or play so many video games, if only I stopped being so obsessed with how I look all the time…

There is a great temptation to think that self-mastery, self-rule, self-control is the answer, that if we could somehow manage the sin in our lives, whatever form it may take, then everything would be better.

Yet the truth is, the more we try to control our lives, the more out-of-control we become, and God’s Law, His instruction, His demand of perfection is no help in this endeavor. God commanded Cain to get himself together, to simply “do well”, and in the very next verse (Gen 4.8), enflamed with resentment and jealousy and anger, Cain killed his brother. The impulse to self-mastery leads, ironically, to ever less control when filtered through the rebellious, untamable human heart.

The Apostle Paul knew this same truth, this same experience, namely that his own “sinful passions” were “aroused by the law” (Rom 7.5), that the desire for control created rebellion, such that he was unable to do the thing he wanted to do and found himself doing the very things he loathed (Rom 7.15).

In our constant quest for happiness, for peace, the answer is to be found not in the quest for control, but in the release of it. True peace only comes about when we receive the good news that in spite of our petty powerlessnesses and intractable addictions, however big or small they may be, we are loved and accepted; that we do not, in fact, control our own destiny, but rather our fate has been bought and our future is secured by the Cross of Christ. He is in control, even though we are not.

As we walk through life, constantly frustrated by our inability to be and do what we want, the answer is not self-mastery, but rather the love of the Master. We are not, and will never be, what we ought to be, yet God, through Jesus, says to us, over and over again, “I love you, I love you, I love you.”