Can I be honest?
Sometimes, when I read the Gospels I don’t feel comfort. I feel condemned. Sometimes, I read the words of Jesus and I see a finger pointed at me when he says “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside it is full of greed and self-indulgence! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.”
And those words fill me with dread because I have been doing this church thing for a very long time and know what it takes to keep the outside squeaky clean without having to worry about the inside of my soul being exposed. People think they know me and see what I do and they think I am brave, courageous or have it together. I don’t. The outside looks good but I have plumbed the depths of my soul and seen it lacking. I’m scared and frightened. I am prone to anxiety and rarely take bold steps of faith. Most of the time, I tap out of responsibility, duty, righteousness, failing to obey the words of God.
And then knowing the weight of my guilt and shame, I go to Scripture looking for a way out or a word of comfort, and I read those words of Jesus and shame overwhelms me. I don’t measure up to what Scripture says the Christian is supposed to be. I am more like the people that Jesus gives warning to than the people he loves. Jesus gives the words of life to me so why do I feel so far from the abundant life that Jesus talks about? Why am I not giving of my time and talents with joy to the kingdom of God? Why do I not consider it all joy when I suffer? Does the Spirit of God even reside in me? Do I even have a chance at abundant life or am I disqualified because of a weak will and a covetous spirit?
For most of my life I have viewed myself as a Pharisee. I don’t know if this is a product or not of growing up in the church but I believe that this view is felt by many Christians. I think deep down inside, we think that we love God most when we use or ask for as little of his grace as possible. So we spend most of the time relying on our own laurels. We feel the call toward Pharisaical living because we mistakenly believe that this is what God wants.
But Jesus does not want us to live this way. It is our Accuser who does.
Our Accuser comes near and whispers in our ear, just as he said to Eve, “Did God really say…?”. At this point, the character of God is being undermined and attacked. Our belief in his goodness and love is being challenged and we fall in despair. Desperate to pick up the broken pieces of our own security, we gather our pride and lies about our own adequacy and hold them close to our chest.
There are many things that can be challenged by examining Scripture. However, God’s character remains incredibly consistent. God loves people who recognize their need for Him. This is why it was so hard for the rich young ruler in Mark 10 to enter the kingdom of God–he does not feel his need for God. It is not just his wealth but his self-righteousness that Jesus exposes. The rich young ruler goes away disheartened because he put his hope in his own moral character, wealth and influence. Witnessing this occurrence, even the disciples ask in exasperated earnest, “Then who can be saved?”
John 4:10 says: “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water”. Jesus comes to the well thirsty and asks the woman for a drink. Instead, He offers her abundant life. In the same way, Jesus offers living water meanwhile drinking the cup of God’s wrath meant for us. All we must do is confess our thirst to Him and to our neighbors and be forgiven.
In the act of confession, there is freedom.
Confession defangs our sin and allows forgiveness to come full circle. It is a salve for the wounded heart and a means to practice the gospel, one to another. If we have nothing to forgive, then how can we be more like Christ who forgives us of all things? Yet if we do not seek forgiveness, our hearts fill with the leavening of the Pharisees–self-reliance.
The accuser comes to accuse unequivocally. He creates the belief that the Christian ought to graduate from being needy and sick to be a disciplined put together person, in need of less grace than the first. Once this seed is firmly planted into our minds, a Pharisee we become and condemnation sets in. The Pharisee is the person who claims that he does not need God because he views his sufficiency in himself. Jesus tells us that the Accuser comes to kill, steal and destroy. That is how he does it.
The heart must avoid this at all costs. The heart must cry to Jesus and yell out, CHANGE ME FOR I CANNOT CHANGE MYSELF! And then depend and trust in the cross that we need not worry or fret for anything because we serve and worship a God of love. Remember the Gospel. The Good News that says that to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.