So I was having a train-wreck day, and as sometimes happens I turned on my soul with a grumpy interrogative: "can you not even be in this situation for a few hours without doing that?" (My query was more specific, but we can talk in generalisations here). But I was quite surprised on this occassion that my soul answered back: "no".
I was all, like, "what?", and my soul was all, like, "no, I cannot be in this situation and not sin". And I was, like, "no way", and my soul went, like, "talk properly you cretin". I would have argued the point, but arguing with one's own animating spirit is possibly unwise.
Anyway, the point of the exchange was that I realised I couldn't be in certain circumstances without often falling into sin. It struck me with huge clarity that I should not be surprised that this is so, given what I believe about myself. And it came through very clearly that the answer was simple: avoid the situation. Just get out of there.
It was so painfully simple that I had to stop and think about why this hadn't occurred to me before. I realise now that I'd been quite afraid of legalism. I thought that if I avoided the situation, rather than facing up to my temptation, I would only be dealing with the presenting issue and not with the problem in my heart. I would be using rules to curb my behaviour rather than using the gospel to change me at the deepest level. This would be bad.
I think what I've realised is that actually rules can work two ways. Yes, maybe I could be legalistic, creating an external righteousness when I was still not loving Jesus inside. But maybe if I loved Jesus more I would make rules to avoid the situations where I was most likely to betray him. The rule could flow from the relationship, rather than the (legalistic) model of the relationship flowing from the rule.
Deeper analysis: was I really afraid of legalism? Or was I just proud - "I can handle this; this time it will be okay"? Or lazy - just unwilling to get off my backside and leave the danger zone?
The simple things that get twisted up in that desperately sick heart of mine!