Sunday, September 25, 2011

Am I Any Better?

As we read the scriptures it is often easy for us to be frustrated with the foolishness, faithlessness, and general sinfulness of the people whose stories are told there. We are tempted to cry out “what the heck are you thinking!” at the Hebrews making a golden calf as Moses is up on the mountain after they had been miraculously delivered from Egypt. We can be frustrated as time and time again the kings of Judah and Israel fail to honor God and bring punishment to their land. We want to reach out to Peter as he is denying the Lord that fateful night. It is easy for us, from our historical distance, to pass judgment upon them for their lack of faith.

Where does the confidence to judge those who have come before us come from? I want to specifically speak to those who are believers. To those who know the Lord and who depend upon Him for their salvation. To those who have a desire to glorify Him in all that they do. We have to be very careful that we do not think ourselves better than we ought when looking at the weaknesses of those bible characters. After all, we are often too blind to our own faithlessness.

To highlight this I would like to focus on the very first example of a human sinful decision from the scripture and one that we are often tempted (incorrectly I think) to wonder if we might have handled better.

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”       (Genesis 3:1-6 ESV)

We might be tempted to wonder how two people who experienced the fellowship of God and walked with Him, who had been given everything and only had a single restriction could make such a poor choice. If, however, we look carefully at the thought process behind their choice we will notice something that is both interesting and unsettling.

Notice that the sinful choice was a reasoned choice. It was not simply some kind of emotional reaction. There was a progression of thought that led to this choice and that progression involved certain basic assumptions. First, there is the assumption that God does not (or has not) revealed the truth. Satan attacks the integrity of God’s word and attempts to create doubt about what God had said. Second, God is not the sole reliable source of information about reality. Satan is giving arguments that would indicate that there are other perspectives on what is actual or real. When Adam and Eve sin they are assuming that they are not dependent solely upon God to reveal what is ultimately real and what is the actual state of affairs. Finally, the sin involved the assumption that human reason was the final arbiter of truth and action. Once they accepted that God might not have a monopoly on the truth and that there were other perspectives, they then logically moved to the conclusion that they themselves would determine which perspective they would accept and act upon.

All of this involves a rejection of God’s sovereign authority and an usurpation of that authority thus placing them above God in their own minds. What should be disturbing to us about those premises is that they are the same ones that we have a propensity to accept as well. In reality they are the starting points of anyone who disregards God’s word and thereby also His authority.

Every time we choose to sin or disobey God we are revealing a lack or weakness of faith and are accepting those same foundational premises in our thought patterns. Whenever we sin we are showing that our desire to do serve ourselves is greater than our desire to serve God. In so doing, just like Adam and Eve, we are rejecting His word, accepting into our thoughts some other view of reality, and are elevating our own reason above His as our authority.

We have one example of Adam and Eve doing this… but how often can we think of times where we have done this? We should certainly know better and yet we continue to struggle with this. We therefore have no basis for thinking that we would have done better than they did. When we look at the repeated failures of faith in the bible and see the longsuffering of God in working through all of that weakness to bring about the salvation of His people we should praise Him. Not because we are better than those people but because we are just like them and yet by His grace He has saved us. The failures of faith in the bible are there to show us the weakness of humanity and the faithfulness of God.

Once we recognize that our salvation is only through the grace of God all pride should be stamped out. After all it took Satan himself to tempt Eve but we are often led away by our own failings. Perhaps it is the case that Adam and Eve held out much longer than we would have. We would do well to avoid any spiritual hubris whatsoever. If we are to be confident then it is only in our confidence in Christ. Our only victory over sin is Christ’s victory. Our only righteousness is Christ’s righteousness. From start to finish whatever blessings come to us are all of grace. Praise God that He has saved us despite ourselves! 

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