Tag Archives: pride

Evil Suspicions

Context

1Timonthy 6:1-10 gives us incredible insight into the sinful motivations and hang-ups of false teachers and I welcome you to read it before continuing. We see first that they teach different or “new” doctrines, and do not agree with the words of Jesus. Jesus’ teaching leads to godliness, while their teaching and nature is conceited and puffed up, producing things opposing to godliness. Verses 4-5 says about the false teacher:

“He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.”

The false teacher has chosen a controversial and likely “special” revelation which he thinks he has had, and narrows in on it. Likely, he obsesses with one, or a few select topics, which do not point people to Jesus Christ for salvation. He chooses scriptural phrases which suit his message, and twists them, or gives them a whole new meaning, and if he is corrected he fights back. The products of his pride and error are envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction.

The false teacher is motivated by money, plain and simple. He is “imagining that godliness is a means of gain.” He is looking to Jesus for financial wealth, because money is his first love. He (or she in more recent times) will point their hearers to Jesus for the same thing.

The Christian, on the other hand knows that “there is great gain in godliness with contentment,” and should bear fruit consistent with sound doctrine and right motivations, primarily love for God. 1 Timothy goes on in fact, to tell us how the “man of God” must “Flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness (verse 11).” A Christian should not bear fruit similar to that of the arrogant false teacher. Continue reading

The Desolation of Smug

Trials have a way of killing smugness. I suppose some little wave crashes upon a boulder and he doesn’t feel it much. But there are waves that beat upon a stone without relent, and sometimes he thinks “I’m surely going to crash into this sea like so many tiny pebbles do.”

It’s the long relentless trials, often repeated, in which desperate men cry out for deliverance with parched throats and eyes that dim of scanning the horizon (Psalm 69:3)- these are the trials which put a knife to smugness.

To be smug is to “be contentedly confident of one’s ability, superiority, or correctness; complacent.” You can see it in the life of people who store up their treasures and say to themselves “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry (Luke 12:20).” We see it in those who simply live without acknowledging God or His ways, fill up their measure of sin, and tell themselves “He will do nothing; no disaster will come upon us (Jeremiah 5:12).”

It’s easy to identify smugness in unbelievers isn’t it? And we might have some patience for that, since after all, they don’t know God. But there are some sins, or struggles the smug believer thinks he or she would never be tried with. The things “good” and “real” Christians just don’t do, or even think of doing. Good Christians don’t get divorced. They don’t curse, or hit things, or hit others. They don’t hurt themselves or have “mental breakdowns.” Good Christians aren’t tempted to use alcohol or drugs to dampen the pain and difficulties of life. They don’t get bitter. They don’t experience large scale moral failures. The “true” Christian doesn’t question God’s purposes and never thinks- “perhaps a different path would have led to a happier, easier life.” That “real” Christian never has doubts about His God or His faith.

The smug believer thinks he doesn’t do those thing because he simply couldn’t do those things. He is too good a Christian in fact. It would be impossible for him because he has climbed too high for such a heinous, ignorant, and disgraceful stoop. He knows too much truth and has too pure of motives. His reasons for coming to Jesus were right; he follows Christ for Christ alone, and nothing else that might be gained. Take the world but give him Jesus, and he will be just fine. He is sure.

The problem is not that he despises the thought of ever sinning or struggling in such ways, but rather that his trust is in himself, and his attitude towards failing believers is one of quick readiness to judge and deem them cut off. But trials are not so easy and glamorous a tool of refining believers as sometimes they are made to sound. People talk about their victories but we often don’t hear how trials will prove you ugly before they start to make you pure. Consider this excerpt from a poem I have written reflecting on this topic:

“Did you think
To put you in a furnace
Would not scorch your skin?
To come out gold
With easy glee
And not the surfacing of sin?
Or that boiling water hot
Would like a warm bath
Scathe you not?
Like sinking in so comfortably
To fire should come easily?”

When a Christian goes into the boiling pot and stays in it for a long time, God will undoubtedly grow and refine that Christian. I look back on this long trial with chronic pain and I see a hundred idols slain. But it is not as if they crumbled down themselves. They’ve been slain through tears, constant battle, and much travail in prayer. The longer I go through the trials, the more I see that there is no temptation uncommon to men (1Corinthians 10:13), and there is no temptation or sinful thought too sinful for myself. I see those idols slain, but I know their root lies in my own heart and when my eyes go off my God how quickly they resurrect. I see that this battle isn’t won until I finally find myself safe in the arms of God. I will overcome and conquer one doubt or one sinful wish, but it will rear its head again. I’m not sure there’s such a thing as killing a sin (including smugness!) once and for all. When you’re living in a trial it is constant war and you must kill the flesh daily or quickly lurch towards destruction.

If it were not for God you’d find my faith somewhere dashed upon a rock. I’m certain of it. Trials have had their way of desolating smugness in me, but there is (thank God!) a higher rock than I (Psalm 61:2). Smugness and security are not the same thing. Eternal security- the promise of God that He who began a work of salvation in me will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6)- is my hope and joy. It is my confidence in the day of trouble.

My confidence is a person. My trust is in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I’ll echo these words from hymnist John Berridge:

“Thou poor, afflicted, tempted soul,
With fears, and doubts, and tempests tossed…
What if the billows rise and roll,
And dash the ship-
It is not lost;
The winds and waves and fiends may roar,
But Christ will bring thee safe on shore.”

About the smug heart, I have written previously:

Did you think endurance
Meant to never fall?
So with steady steps
To conquer all?
So worthily you might
Win the crown?
And say at last
“Was me who won
By never falling down”?
The valiant and strong
Shall win the prize!
All Heaven will esteem me
With their eyes!

Do you see how that attitude differs from the Christian who has seen they are a ship who left to their own will drift off in the turbulent seas and be dashed? Oh, but even if he drift for a time, even if the winds, and waves, and fiends assail him, and he approaches his shore as one almost sunk- be it certain, Christ will bring him safe on shore. He is not lost.

That is the hope I’m clinging to, and am learning to embrace with godly fear- fear that takes seriously the warnings in scripture that urge us not to fall away, while clinging to the only Savior who can sustain our hope, our faith, and our strength. Eternal security is not a doctrine that leads to sin, unless we have careless hearts which cast ourselves on a doctrine rather than a person (Christ), with an attitude of smugness. That is dangerous, and a real threat. But when shattered hearts lean into the Everlasting Arms, resting safe and secure from all alarms, that indeed, is a beautiful thing. God who sees the heart knows the difference.

I end with a portion of scripture that seems fitting:

1Corinthians 10:12-14 “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.”

“A Meaningful Life”

There is an innate desire in human beings for our lives to be meaningful, a God given desire that has all too often gone astray from Him.

One of my best memories from childhood is laying on the grass in our backyard and staring at a baseball. I would hold it above my face, rolling it in my fingertips, and feeling the stitches. Baseball was to me a marvelous sport, one that I loved everything about. I loved the dust that would fly and hover in the air when I slid to home base, I loved the crack of the bat followed by instantaneous sprinting, I loved the comfort and smell of my well broken-in Wilson leather glove, and the ball rolling off my fingertips and striking people out. I just loved it.
And I loved to be good at it. I loved for my talent to be recognized and to be “the” pitcher and feel as if winning a tournament was an honor to be solely bestowed on my shoulders.

The child like delight of playing faded over the years and in grade 11 I found myself on a rep team that had already primed the “it” pitcher. It wasn’t me. I didn’t look forward to the game anymore; I was stuck in the outfield. That was my last year of baseball, one in which I felt unrecognized, unappreciated, and unimportant. My team won tournaments, and had success, but I couldn’t enjoy it. I skipped the end of the year celebration, because well- it wasn’t about me. When it was all said and done my coach phoned and asked why I hadn’t been there. I can’t remember what I said, but I’m sure I had a lame excuse. He told me that the girls had voted for the Most Valuable Player on the team, and they had chosen me. I wasn’t there to accept that award. I was shocked that they had chosen me, proud, but also ashamed. Ashamed because I’d been too proud to imagine I had any value unless I was the star pitcher. I’d let a good year pass by miserably and I had missed the celebration.

As a kid you do the things you do because you love to do it. When you grow up, reality strikes and in a big way life becomes about making money. It’s a natural progression I suppose. In Christian communities, for women, it’s not so much about the money, but about the home making and children raising. Whatever you find yourself doing you wonder, is it enough? Enough for me? Enough for God? Enough in the eyes of others? Important enough? Impressive enough? Worthy? Valuable? Memorable? Continue reading

And Such Were Some Of You

1Corinthians 6:9 “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?  Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you.  But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

Sometimes I feel quite done with this world.  I hear about the atrocities that men commit and must admit I’d rather stop my ears.  People’s hearts in this world are so cold, hard and impartial to others that it is shocking.  More and more often I hear news reports that verify what the Bible has taught us from the beginning: that mankind is radically evil.  We needn’t be nearly as afraid of bears and lions, tsunamis and earthquakes, as of the evil that is in people’s hearts.

Sometimes, if you’re like me you feel a sense of despair and you just want Jesus to come back now.  How can He be so patient?  As wrong as I know it is, there are times I feel like Jonah.  “Lord, they continue to do evil and why do you let it go on?  Come at last in your fury and let all vengeance belong to you.  Wipe the wicked from the face of the earth.”

It is not necessarily sinful to anticipate, long for, and even pray for the Lord to hasten His judgement.  David, after worshipping God in awe that God would so love and care for Him, suddenly turns from intimate and heartfelt praise to say “Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!  O men of blood depart from me (Psalm 139:19)!”  I confess I find it unfortunate that so few people talk about verses 19-24 of Psalm 139.

However, I think that whenever we come face to face with a foul mouthed God hating sinner, a news report about the latest child pornography ring, or the headline about the latest thief who bludgeoned an elderly person- we need stop and think through these words: “And such were some of you.  But…”

I used to have this resolution of Jonathan Edward’s taped up beside my bed.  I find it mightily convicting, humbling, and effective:

“Resolved, to act, in all respects, both speaking and doing, as if nobody had been so vile as I, and as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same infirmities or failings as others; and that I will let the knowledge of their failings promote nothing but shame in myself, and prove only an occasion of my confessing my own sins and misery to God.”

Does my own heart contribute any pure goodness that would prevent me from committing the same crimes as others if I were given the same opportunity and circumstances?  No.  As Christians I think it is possible (but wrong!) to slip into an attitude of moral superiority, with disgust and disdain towards the people of the world, instead of recognizing that it is only because of God’s grace we have been kept from certain sins.  I see nothing wrong with feeling disgusted by sin and in fact we are probably not disturbed enough by it.  However, there is something wrong when we stop identifying ourselves as a part of the same fallen race, capable of the same level of depravity apart from the grace of God.  We should never look down our noses at other sinful people as if we had something on them.

I have heard people complain, also very much like Jonah, that God should not forgive certain kinds of people.  If we think this way, we have too high a view of self, and too low a view of the mercy of God poured through the cross of Christ.  Is there a point at which God will give people up to their debased mind with no further chance of hope?  Yes there is (Romans 1:21-32, Hebrews 6:1-6).  But can finite humans know when or whether God should do that?  No.

The potential for a person to come to Christ has nothing to do with how many good things they think they have done, nor how many unspeakable sins they might have committed.  Jesus simply said “No one comes to me unless the Father who sent me draws him (John 6:44),” and that “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is of no avail (John 6:63).”  God says “’I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’  So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy…He has mercy on whomever He wills, and He hardens whomever He wills (Romans 9:15-16,18).”

Without getting too deep into theology and to put it plainly, He can have mercy on whomever He wants to, whether it is little-goody-two-shoes or a mass murderer.  If we are Christians this should provoke gratitude towards God in our hearts for the gift of salvation, as well as a strong desire for all people everywhere to be given the gift of repentance and faith.  God is a great saviour; His arm is never too short to save!  Jesus Christ has paid the debt in full for whoever would cry out to Him.  If Jesus Christ was willing to bare the wrath of God that was headed for rapists and thieves, then why would I not desire that all people be saved?  Why should I lose hope for anyone?  And if I needed that same saviour to shed the same blood for my crimes, why should I sneer at other sinners who need the very same thing?

“There is a fountain filled with blood

That flows from Emmanuel’s veins

And sinners plunged beneath that flood

Lose all their guilty stains.

The dying thief rejoice to see

That fountain in his day

And there may I though

Vile as he

Wash all my sins away!”

I want to get personal for a moment as I close.  There is no certain “type of person” that Jesus saves, other than that He came for sinners who would confess that they were sinners.  I think sometimes our view of His love and ability to save people wherever they are at is too low.  I was a foul person with a crude mouth, a thief with a strong taste for rebellion, acting in pride and ignorance every day of my life.  Sometimes that’s all we see of a person on the outside.

I have no interest in excusing sin or making people the victim of their own sin.  No, we are willing participants in sin with no excuse.  But people would have never thought that I laid awake guilty at night, that I feared there was a God who would send me to Hell if I died, and that I hated myself more and more for my sin each day.  You might know people, or simply see them on the street making a scene, but you have no idea what God might be doing in their heart.  It’s not our place to judge unbelievers, but to tell them the gospel that can save their soul and change their life.  God can redeem anyone, and He is all the hope we need in this dark world.  He will either save the wretched sinner, or in the end He will rid the earth of all who remain in their wickedness- but either way, justice will have been dealt and He will receive all glory due to His name.  And we, the redeemed, will cover our mouths, bow the knee, and thank the God who loved and spared us.

So may our attitude be this:  Lord come and bring both your Justice and your Peace to this world.  But until you come, have mercy on sinners Lord, to whatever extent may glorify you as Most High, Gracious, Forgiving, and Merciful God.  Thank you Lord for forgiving me of many shameful acts, and sparing me from those I could have easily committed.  All credit goes to You.  May we be merciful, who have been shown so much mercy.  Put the gospel on our lips and let the light of Christ shine from our hearts.  Amen.

Part 5: His Call Is For All, But Not All Will Come

John 7:37 “On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink.”

Matthew 11:28-29 “Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Romans 10:13 “For whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Matthew 16:24 “If anyone would come after me…”

Continue reading