Monday, September 15, 2014

Jesus is My Motor

My intentions are good, and earnest, and true
But under my hood is internal combustion power
And Satan is my motor

Cake’s song “Satan is My Motor,” from the 1998 album Prolonging the Magic, is a wonderful description of the human predicament: we know what we want, but it doesn’t always work out that way. Cake’s Joel McCrea uses a car to illustrate his point; he’s got everything in place but he can’t control what’s under the hood. Here’s the first verse of the song:

I've got wheels of polished steel
I've got tires that grab the road
I've got seats that selflessly hold my friends
And a trunk that can carry the heaviest of loads
I've got a mind that can steer me to your house
And a heart that can bring you red flowers
My intentions are good, and earnest, and true
But under my hood is internal combustion power
And Satan is my motor

It’s an apt illustration: he can manage all the superficial details about his car…but the thing that actually makes the operation go—the motor—overwhelms him. It doesn’t matter that his wheels are shined and that he’s got new tires; it doesn’t even matter that his heart and his mind are in the right places. The motor is in charge, and when he looks at the results of his life, he can only come to one conclusion: Satan is his motor.

The parallels between this song and Romans 7 are obvious: Paul says,

“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” (Romans 7:15-19).

This disconnect between what we want to do and what we actually find ourselves doing points to a fundamental—and practical—truth about life and Christianity’s influence on it: A body shop can’t fix your problems.

On one occasion several years ago, my car died. I called up my insurance company because—as I am with most things—I’m completely hopeless when it comes to cars. The claims adjuster on the line called up a list of approved mechanics in my area and recommended one to which I could arrange to have the car towed. This I did. When I arrived at the recommended shop, I realized that this was going to be a fool’s errand: it was a body shop, not a full-service mechanic’s. In other words, if I had a dented quarter-panel (a term I learned from Days of Thunder), they could help me. If I wanted to install suicide doors, this was the place. I was having engine trouble, though, and they couldn’t help me.

In our Christian lives, we are quick to take ourselves to the body shop. We think we just need some of the dents smoothed out. We need to learn a little bit more about being a good father. We need some help with a Bible-reading plan. We need to stay more faithful in the face of adversity. We need instruction about managing our finances like a disciple of Christ.

We do everything we can to ignore the truth: we need a new motor.

Martin Luther suggested that everyone is a horse, ridden either by Christ, or by Satan. The horse doesn’t get to choose. Cake is on to this same idea. We choose our wheels, our seats, and the trunk. We can make everything on the outside look perfect. We can make sure that we’re set up to succeed. We don’t get to choose what’s under the hood. And unfortunately, it’s what’s under the hood that wields the most power.

This bad news—that all our superficial work is useless—is totally overcome by the good news that Christ has unseated Satan as the rider of our horse. He has removed Satan as the engine of our car and gotten under the hood himself: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). He did this by becoming sin, even though he knew no sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God (v. 21).

“Satan is My Motor” still describes our human experience, just like Romans 7 does. But it does not describe the truth of our situation. Satan is no longer our motor. Paul exults in Christ Jesus who has delivered him from “this body of death” that he has described in Romans 7. We are no longer driving in sin…though it sure feels that way. That feeling is merely the echo of an old truth, the stink of an old motor. Our sin went to the cross with Christ, who has now given us his goodness, earnestness, and truth. In him, we have become the righteousness of God.

Jesus is our motor.

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