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The popular TV show, Breaking Bad, is a fictional case study of a man who did not care any longer what others thought. What he was on the inside came out in full measure. Walter White, the primary character in the series, is a case study of human evil unleashed.
I do not recommend that you watch this TV show. I’m merely drawing a connection between how this character lived and our lives.
He received a diagnosis of terminal cancer. Afterward, he threw caution to the wind by becoming what he knew himself to be on the inside. No more self-control. No more self-restraint. Let your inner person rule with no concern for the consequences. That was Walter White. He broke bad.
The thing that intrigues me about Walter White is how I see myself in him (Matthew 7:3-5). I’m a walking dichotomy between right and wrong (Ephesians 4:22), that which is moral and that which is immoral. “Oh, wretched man! Who shall deliver me from this body of death?”
Sometimes I want to tell a few people off. Then my Spirit-illuminated mind and biblically informed conscience kick in, and I refrain. Other times, I don’t put the brakes on my mouth. I give in to my true self—the real me that is hidden from you but unmasked to my heart.
I expect how life should be, and it is hard to subject what I want, need, crave, or lust to the cross of Christ or the good of others. At times, what I want and what God calls me to are at odds. Walter White chose not to give honor to God or submit to His authority.
He chose to live on this terrestrial ball according to the dictates of his wicked heart. Though he’s a fictional character, his life is an appealing case study about me. And you. Walter White is the fictional mirror of our non-fictional lives.
When I become angry at my wife or children, I’m indulging my flesh. I’m refusing to submit whatever it is that I’m thinking at the moment to the death of Christ. I feel entitled to those moments of unleashed evil, and no amount of reason is going to persuade me from what I want.
After I come back to my biblical senses, I can simultaneously hate, pity, and fear myself while realizing there will probably be another turn of self-indulgence somewhere down the road because I’m easily tempted to cave to my flesh.
Haven’t you experienced these quadrilateral morality twists? Something does not go your way, or you don’t get what you expected, and you turn into your version of Walter White—you don’t care anymore? This “version” is your true self.
What would you be like if you no longer had the power to keep the real you hidden? About twenty years ago, I was ministering in a nursing home. All of the folks in the facility were near death. Their ability to control their physical selves was limited.
They wore diapers, and the support staff fed them. They were lifted out of their beds and rolled in their wheelchairs. They were at the mercy of the employees to do for them, even the simplest tasks they used to do without thought or effort. Their bodies were returning to the dust (Psalm 103:14).
Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16).
The most sobering thing that I observed about these people was their inability to control their spiritual selves. And how there was a proportional mirroring of their physical selves (outward) to their spiritual selves (inward).
What was so instructive about their physical and spiritual dichotomy was how they manifested their true selves to everyone in the nursing home, with no filter. What you can’t control will be revealed. This truth was profoundly and painfully obvious when I preached Jesus to them each Saturday morning.
I remembered one morning when I was extolling the goodness of Christ, and there was this elderly lady who radiated joy as she listened to the Words of life. Physically, she could not hold her hymnal in her hands. Spiritually, she could not hold back her tears as she thought about her Savior. Who she was on the inside made its way to the outside. Each tear journeyed down her deeply crevassed face and fell into her lap.
About seven wheelchairs over from her was another person in similar straits: he could not control his inner self. As I was extolling the Words of life, he was bellowing his replete storehouse of profanity.
While I marveled at what I saw and heard from these two people, the Spirit quietly reminded me there is coming a day when I will not be able to manage my hypocrisy (my dichotomy). The degree to which it resides in me will come out when the self-management of my reputation is no longer an option. I will be just like them, should I live as long.
The Lord gave me a gentle and kind warning as I preached to these two people. One lady, wasting away, was about 90% in heaven and joyfully picking up speed. One man, wasting away, was about 90% in hell and didn’t care who knew about it. He gave up on God and chose to live life on his terms and to hell with everyone else. As Walter White said,
I’ve been living with cancer for the better part of a year. Right from the start, it’s a death sentence. That’s what they keep telling me. Well, guess what? Every life comes with a death sentence, so every few months, I come in here for my regular scan, knowing full well that one of these times – hell, maybe even today – I’m gonna hear some bad news. But until then, who’s in charge? Me. That’s how I live my life. – From the Hermanos episode
He later said,
If you believe that there’s a hell—I don’t know if you’re into that—but we’re already pretty much going there. But I’m not gonna lie down until I get there. – From the Say My Name episode
We all have a compelling choice to make: who is going to be in charge? I learned a long time ago that I couldn’t trust myself. I must have someone else running my life. If I give way to the evil of my heart, there will be no telling what kind of death I will bring to my world.
Fortunately, as biblically-centered people, we don’t have to live in a shroud of mystery as to who we are, and we don’t have to grope for the walls like blind Walter Whites with no hope (Isaiah 59:10). The Bible is a mirror (James 1:23-24). We can look into its pages to find the mystery revealed and hope given.
The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks (Luke 6:45).
And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6).
If you want to know who you are, wait for those moments when you’re no longer in charge. In the case of my nursing home friends, the last stage of their lives was those moments that revealed their true selves.
In the case of Walter White, he decided to stop fooling his family and friends long before he lost his ability to take charge. He took control by giving his inner person full reign. The only hypocrisy left in his life was his frantic and feeble attempts to pull the wool over his family’s eyes.
But once the cat was entirely out of the bag, all hypocrisy was gone. Who Walter was (depraved) and what he did (depravity) were in perfect harmony. When you fully manifest your real heart by your behaviors, only then will the hypocrisy be gone. Doesn’t this give all of us something to ponder?
I’m not trying to manipulate you by fear tactics. My hope is for the Spirit of God to bring light into whatever darkness remains in your heart while motivating you to run to His light (Hebrews 4:13). This reality is what the story of Walter White does for me.
I don’t sit in any wrongheaded judgment of him any more than I sit in guilt-ridden, paralysis-giving condemnation of myself. If ever this Christian cliché were true, it is now: except for the grace of God, I would be just like Walter White.
The key for me is a simple one. Don’t do what Mr. White did. Each moment during my day allows me to choose the way of Walter White or the way of Jesus Christ (John 14:6). It’s that uncomplicated.
The choice you and I make for God’s glory will become easier and more natural if we’re willing to walk in the way of the Lord. We can put ourselves to death now (Romans 8:13), or we will move toward more significant and more profound iterations of death as we choose to walk away from the Lord.
When a lust has remained a long time in the heart, corrupting, festering, and poisoning, it brings the soul into a woeful condition. Such a lust will make a deep imprint on the soul. It will make its company a habit in your affections. It will grow so familiar in your mind and conscience that they are not disturbed at its presence as some strange thing. It will so take advantage in such a state that it will often exert itself without you even taking notice of it at all. Unless a serious course and extraordinary course is taken, a person in this state has no grounds to expect that his latter ends shall be peace. – John Owen, The Mortification of Sin
Breaking bad is a term from my era—the hippie generation. We used it all the time. To break bad is to go bad or to do wrong. Here’s my appeal to you: don’t break bad, but more than that, when you do break bad, take a severe and extraordinary course of action to change.
The following is my all-time favorite, number one prayer that I bring to the Lord throughout my day. The reason for this prayer is because of my acute awareness of how I can break bad. But it’s more than breaking bad: it’s “breaking bad” one time while refusing not to change and then breaking bad again.
Then it becomes a sequence of breaking bad moments, with each new event becoming more natural than the last. Simultaneous to this process of breaking bad is the layering of my conscience until I am no longer able to discern right from wrong (Hebrews 5:11-14, 4:7).
Help me to be sensitive to your Spirit. Help me to see what you see, to hear what you hear, to know what you know.
Please remove anything that hinders me from hearing from you, knowing you, discerning you. I want to keep in step with your Spirit, always being immediately aware of how you want me to respond and what you want me to do.
I don’t want to be dull of hearing. Illuminate my mind. Give me an ever-increasing sensitivity to you, while removing any sin which interrupts my ability to know exactly how you want me to think, speak, and do.
Dear Lord, stop me from breaking bad. – Rick
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).