Does there come a point in the spiritual development of an adult Christian when the struggle to avoid sin becomes, well, less of a struggle and more of a habit? I guess I'll have to persevere a little longer (ha) before the habit of virtue is mine, but I do notice that areas that were once unbearable temptations are less, shall we say, attractive now that I'm conscious of my conscience, so to speak.
I was pondering this idea of practiced, habitual virtue last night as my best friend and I struggled mightily to extract from my movie collection one decently entertaining and only mildly scandalizing full-length feature to enjoy for girl's night. After discarding most of the stack, (including nearly everything that was produced mid-90's or later) we settled on Far and Away, immersing ourselves in Tom and Nicole's early romance. To give you an idea of how far back we had to dig in the 'ol cinematic collection to reach some semblance of virtuous viewing, let it be stated that this flick was viewed on a VHS cassette. A VHS. I didn't even know she owned a VCR. (Incidentally, we also sent telegraphs to some of our other girlfriends, inviting them to join us, but perhaps the wind had knocked out the telegraph towers, because, alas, no response...)
So into the land of class struggle and oppression and fiery Irish romance we dove, headfirst, immersing our imaginations in the world of Joseph and Shannon's star-crossed love. And minus a few fleshy scenes here and there, the pic was remarkably clean. And let it be stated for any who are unfamiliar with the story, the two main characters share a single bedroom in a brothel for the better part of 6 months, so if chastity is possible there, well then... I challenge anyone who has ever experienced co-ed dorm life to a higher standard than the world would hold you to.
Note the word possible. From the Latin potis or pote (able) + esse (to be). So we are able to be chaste, we have the ability to pursue virtue... but we are not necessarily inclined to such. As a matter of fact, I would argue that we are inclined to the contrary, to disregard virtue and to pursue vice, such is the unhappy condition of concupiscence, or our fallen inclination towards sin.
So just as Joseph reluctantly turned his eyes from Shannon's naked beauty each evening as she undressed for bed, Elizabeth and I grudgingly vetoed the movie Closer as a viewing choice for the evening, recognizing from the description on the box that this was a movie, and I quote, "we would have loved in our old lives," but could no longer enjoy in good conscience. Why? Were we not transformed by Christ and the renewal of our minds? Weren't we big girls who could handle a little adult content? Hadn't we changed?
Well, yes. And that's kind of the point. Real conversion and formation of a conscience and willed adherence to the moral order does not instill Christians with superpowers. We are no more immune to vice than the most debauched, uncatechized pagan on the planet. The difference between "us" and "them" is, essentially, nothing. The grace to live a life of virtue and chastity is a gift. The only difference is that some receive while others refuse. But even once you have received, each single act of virtue is in itself a rejection of sin. We are not suddenly empowered by an immunity to temptation. Jesus Himself was tempted. What we are empowered with, and by, is freedom. Freedom to choose rightly, to choose wisely, to reject what is easy and to embrace what was previously impossible.
Freedom isn't simply the absence of rules. That's anarchy, chaos, a universe in destructive disarray. Think physics and mathematics here, people, and consider the ramifications of rejecting law... this is a false notion of freedom, a thinly-disguised endorsement of disobedience that leads to death, not to life.
So freedom, then, is what enabled us to choose not was preferable, but what was ultimately more beautiful. It's easy to be complacent. It's hard to be virtuous. And it doesn't necessarily get easier, though the will does get stronger will exercise. Still, just as there are days when the treadmill is my sworn enemy and no amount of positive self talk is going to get me motivated and it takes some additional outside persuasion (my gym buddy) to get me going, so there are times in one's pursuit of the moral life when motivation from members of the body of Christ is crucial.
I'm never going to not want to sin, at least not this side of heaven. But I'm getting used to recognizing that desire to sin and choosing otherwise. Because I do, ultimately, have that freedom of choice. And thanks be to God, so do we all.