Being honest about life requires that we admit we’re stuck somewhere between sinfulness and holiness, between being lost and being found, between indulging ourselves and serving our God.

After all, we’re both wretched and royal, sinners and saints, part of God’s divine solution and part of the overarching problem.

Paul discovered that when a person trusts in Jesus Christ, the core priorities of her life fundamentally change instantly. He wrote to his friends in Corinth about this: “He died for everyone so that those who receive his new life will no longer live for themselves. Instead, they will live for Christ, who died and was raised for them” (2 Cor. 5:15 NLT). When I read those words, honestly, I get a little uncomfortable. Jesus didn’t die just so that one day I could go to heaven, he died so that I might stop living for myself now.

Welcome to a paradigm shift. When I first stumbled across that verse, it was a wake-up call for me to realize that every moment I’m faced with a choice: will I offer this moment to God or try to keep it for myself ?

Over the years I’ve read lots of books about following Jesus. Typically, they tend to make me feel guilty because I’m either not rejoicing enough or witnessing enough or going to church enough or tithing enough or praying enough.

Or they make following Jesus sound like a piece of cake: that life will just keep getting easier and easier as I get holier and holier and put into practice the Five Time-Tested Tips and Seven Life-Changing Principles that the author has based his current book, seminar series, website, or DVD curriculum on.

But I find very few books that lay out the paradoxical truth of the matter—(1) following Jesus isn’t always easy, practical, fun, or popular because temptation hounds us every step of the way, every day of our lives, (2) through it all, God’s grace and forgiveness are powerfully available and instantly accessible to everyone, everywhere, all the time. We live in the middle of a deep and rich paradox. Grace and truth, pain and healing woven through our world, through time itself.

The greatest saints of the ages have discovered something most of us haven’t. Not only are they familiar with their own shortcomings and sins, they’re also aware of the outlandish grace of God. By being mindful of both their fallen nature and Jesus’s risen love, they’re able to live on the escarpment of evil without constantly toppling over the side.

***

When we’re tempted (either by our own desires or the nudgings of the devil) I don’t think the point is to make us do the unthinkable—at least not at first. The goal is to make the unthinkable more and more reasonable. And then, when it doesn’t seem so bad anymore, when it seems trite and harmless, when it seems like the next logical step, to have us go ahead and take a bite out of the forbidden fruit.

Ever since the tragic choice in the Garden of Eden, temptation has been the default setting for life on this planet. But most of us don’t just pluck the fruit and start eating. Instead, we first get curious about what it might taste like. We wonder about the other people who’ve eaten it. Did they like it? Are we missing out? Isn’t it unfair that they get to try some but we don’t? Why should we be the only ones left out? Huh?

God never said you couldn’t pick the fruit, did he? He just said you weren’t supposed to eat it, right? Well, go on. Pick it . . . Good . . . Now smell it. He never said you couldn’t smell it. There’s nothing wrong with smelling the fruit . . . There, now, lick it. It’s not the same as eating. He was clear you weren’t supposed to eat it, but he never said anything about licking it . . .

And so it goes.

Until we take a bite.