I have very fond memories of my third-grade year in elementary school. My teacher was a very sweet lady that had a genuine heart for the education of her students and it showed. If I remember correctly, she was the teacher that really got me into reading which has served me well throughout the majority of my life. Couple an enthusiasm for teaching with a generous and giving heart, and you will inevitably create a classroom setting where students thoroughly enjoy attending school.
While I may not remember much of my elementary school days, I do remember third-grade in particular. One might assume this is because of the warm and welcoming atmosphere I described above, however, there are memories of a different sort that stand out more than the ones I mentioned. One of the reasons my classmates and I liked our third grade teacher so much was largely because of how she rewarded good behavior. Whenever we received a good grade on an assignment, excelled on a project, or did some commendable deed in the classroom, we were given direct access to the bottom drawer of our teacher's desk. In that desk-drawer were all kinds of treats, candies, and goodies that would encourage any elementary student to take school seriously.
As I was performing at the prime of my educational-life during elementary school, I took quite a few trips to the bottom drawer during the third-grade. It was nice to be rewarded and recognized for all of the multiplication tables I was completing. As the stack of assignments in our teacher's hand slowly dwindled with each paper returned, each student, with bated breath, awaited their own educational offering, hoping to receive the coveted "Good Job!" scrawled neatly next to their letter grade. As soon as my eyes caught sight of those two words I knew exactly what I wanted from the drawer of rewards.
Two yellow Starburst.
To this day, my favorite Starburst is still the lemony-yellow, and whenever I come across a package of the fruity goodness, the yellow are the ones I save until all the others have disappeared. Despite my enjoyment of lemon Starburst, I am also reminded of the wrong I had committed back in the third-grade classroom of my elementary school.
I cannot exactly remember when I first did it, but I remember very well that upon becoming unsatisfied with just two Starburst every time I received a good grade, I soon began to clench three or even four in my greedy, little fist when I had earned my trip to the bottom-drawer. Why I remember this seemingly insignificant detail of my childhood I cannot be certain, but I do believe that God has brought it into my consciousness to teach me a lesson about grace.
One of the most complicated and difficult aspects of Christianity for me personally deals with the ever-present conflict of the Holy Spirit that dwells within me and the desires of my flesh. Paul talks about this conflict extensively in Romans 7:15-20 where he writes,
"For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me."
When we repent of our sins and enter into relationship with Christ, we are filled with the power and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, providing us with guidance and the strength to overcome our past sins and temptations. But as we are still cursed by the Fall with the inherent sin nature of humanity, we still have an inclination towards sin, as it is what our earthly flesh most desires.
Can you see the conflict here?
How do we as Christians possibly reconcile the truth that we are going to continue sinning until the moment we stand before God even though we are now filled with the Holy Spirit? The answer lies in the Scriptures:
"I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose."
2 Corinthians 5:21
"For our sake He [God] made Him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God."
"You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to Him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your moral bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you." Romans 8:9-11
In Christ, we are no longer bound to our unrighteousness, we are no longer recognized by the sins we have committed or the rebellion against God we have participated in. When we put on the righteousness of Christ, we are beheld in the eyes of God as His beloved. No longer does God see us as broken and wretched sinners but instead sees us as He sees His Son; with love and approval.
Your identity is not determined or defined by the sins you have accumulated. Jesus loves you and wants to make you His. Take a lesson from the third-grade version of myself.
Even when I was given something as great as two pieces of candy for simply doing my work, the desires of my flesh wanted more and it resulted in me stealing candy for the majority of my third-grade year. It is to an extent comical to attribute such high significance to this small event, but in all honesty how much can this apply to our lives today?
God promises to give us His love, His grace, and His presence and yet so quickly, with clenched fists, we demand more from Him. When will we understand that He is all we need? When will we come to realize that He is the only One who has proved Himself to be faithful time and time again?
"If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit." Galatians 5:25