The Half-Trained Dog

A site I visit from time-to-time dedicated Christmas day to displaying nothing but videos of people receiving puppies for Christmas. They meant to spread Christmas cheer, I suppose. There were little boys and girls, grown men and women, and even seniors, all screaming and weeping with joy as they came face-to-face with their new pets. I have often heard it said that pets do not make a great Christmas gift, but here it was, video after video of people immediately falling in love with those new puppies.

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I found myself wondering what happened to those puppies. Over the years we have had a couple of dogs. Like most people, we planned to train our dogs until they were perfectly behaved, until they could go head-to-head with a police dog and perform just as well. For a little while we made good progress. We taught the dog to do its doggie business outdoors instead of indoors—that took only a week or two. We taught the dog to sit, which was simple enough because all we needed to do was use treats to bribe a hungry animal. Heeling went passably well, except for those times when another dog was anywhere in the vicinity. These initial things were simple enough and it was no great challenge to train the dog so she was halfway respectable. After that it got much more difficult. Lie down, beg, crawl, stay off the furniture, don’t stare at me when I’m eating, be calm—we gave up long before the dog could master any of these. In the end we, like most people, settled for a barely-trained but tolerable dog. We settled for good enough.

Sometimes I settle for a similar “good enough” in my own life. Time after time I am struck by the Bible’s calls for perseverance in the Christian life. Sure, we need to persevere in the face of trials, temptations, and persecution. But that is not all. We also need to persevere in the face of inner godlessness, in the face of that discouraging indwelling sin. Few battles are more discouraging than this one, and few battles are more likely to cause us to give up.

God calls us to train ourselves to be godly (1 Timothy 4:7). We do this by killing sin—by killing sin and coming alive to righteousness. We put aside old patterns and habits and come alive to new, better ones. God does not call us to bruise our sin, or injure it, or slap it around a little. God calls us to put our sin to death, and that is a hard business. God assures us that with the power and presence of the Holy Spirit we can do this, to beat it to death, to see its hold on us drastically, radically diminished. But so often we stop short. We train ourselves for a while, but then grow weary when those last vestiges of the sin refuse to die, or when we realize that sin has much deeper and stronger roots than we had expected, or when we realize that we actually kind of like our sin. We end up half-trained, good enough Christians.

Yet God calls us to persevere in the battle, to train ourselves thoroughly and completely, to fight for holiness and godliness from the moment of conversion to the moment of death. We answer this call only when we doggedly persevere.

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