I've just been proofreading commentary on John 5 for our new site BibleRef.com
, and it has me thinking. Each verse has its own page of commentary, so the writer ends up having to repeat himself over and over to provide context each time. What hit me about the end of John 5 was the emphasis on how the religious leaders refused to believe in Jesus. Their hearts were hard. It wasn't that they had legitimate reason to doubt Jesus and His claims, but that they simply would not believe Him. Luke 16:19-31 and Romans 1:18-22 make similar points. If you keep reading in Romans 1, it gets pretty scary. Not only do people refuse to believe in God, "...God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done" (Romans 1:28b). When people stubbornly refuse to acknowledge God's truth, God allows them to live in their delusions, reveling in sin. God does not do this because He is mean or unjust, but because their hearts are simply that hard.
It never hurts to remind ourselves that there is no fear for believers in Jesus regarding salvation. We are not in the category of those with debased minds or hearts hardened beyond repair (Romans 7-8; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 2 Corinthians 1:20-22; Ephesians 1:13-14; Philippians 1:6). God will not give us over to delusion. We will not be lost. We belong to Jesus and He is faithful to hold us and to complete us.
Yet, if I'm honest with myself, this warning still resonates. I do sometimes simply refuse to believe God. All evidence points to God's absolute love, goodness, and faithfulness. Yet I still worry about things in my life. I still find myself balking at God's commands and trying to do things my own way. I still try to hold on to my pet idols, anticipating they can provide me with something that God won't. Though I trust in Jesus for salvation, I'm still working on practical complete surrender in the daily things of life. Can anyone relate?
From a logical standpoint, this is just silliness. But my heart doesn't always listen to logic. My heart also still contends with sin. While we've been set free from sin in Jesus, we still wage war against it. We live in a fallen world and are prone to cling to our sins. The truths is, though, that enticing as it is, sin is deceitful; it can never deliver what it promises.
I recently wrote an article about Achan, the Israelite from Joshua 7 who stole plunder from Jericho, which ultimately resulted in the initial defeat of Israel at Ai, loss of thirty-six soldiers, and death and destruction of Achan, his family, and all he had. He took a robe, some silver, and some gold. This after direct instructions from God not to and after witnessing the miraculous overcoming of Jericho; the city's walls caved in after the Israelites simply marched around it for seven days. Achan's sin was totally not worth it! But what our editor added to the article got me thinking. Even without the punishment for the sin, what Achan had stolen did him no good. It was buried in his tent, completely useless. How often do I "bury" my sins? I don't trust God to be enough, so I take some measly plunder and hoard it away. All it does is breed death. Often times that death not only affects me, but those around me. There really is no such thing as a private sin that doesn't affect anyone but ourselves.
The sneaky thing about sin is that it isn't really about dos and don'ts. Living a life free from sin has much more to do with a heart posture than it does with behavioral conformity. My battle isn't against an action or a lack of action as much as it is with a heart that needs to learn to trust God fully. What we do demonstrates what we believe. When I come to something other than God for my worth or joy or peace, I demonstrate that I don't really believe Him when He tells me He is the Creator and lover of my soul, that He is a good Father, that He is enough. He's given me all the evidence I need, and yet my heart refuses to fully believe.
The good news for me is that in the midst of sin's deceptive tugging and my own sinful and weak nature, I have access to God's truth. He doesn't leave me ill-equipped. More than that, I have access to the power of the Holy Spirit — the same power that raised Jesus (Ephesians 3:14-21). I can submit to God, resist the Devil, and watch the enemy flee (James 4:7). I can also confess my sins to God and be cleansed (1 John 1:9). There is no need to hide from God. Rather, I can bare my heart before Him and ask Him to have His way, trusting that He is loving and gracious (Psalm 139:23-24). The voice of God does not condemn His children, but rather convicts and trains so that He might be glorified and we might experience more fullness of life (Romans 8; Hebrews 12:11; John 15:9-11).
James 1:13-18 is a helpful passage:
Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am being tempted by God," for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
Sin is alluring. But truly good gifts come from God. Though sin may promise benefit, it can never bring it. Though obeying God may look like a bad option, it will ultimately produce good. This good may not look like "good" in a material or worldly sense, but it is always good in our souls and spirits. It brings us closer to God, who is the source of true life.
I can tend to be ashamed of my unbelief and want to hide it from myself. I can also be stubborn in my own thinking and try to justify my wrongdoing in an attempt to avoid conviction. Looking at my own heart and admitting my weakness and sin can be scary. But hiding it from myself is even worse. If I peer into my heart with God, I can trust that I am safe. He already sees everything that is there. He alone is able to bear the load of what is there. It is His truth that will make sense of it. Relying on my own wisdom is futile, as Romans 1 demonstrates. But relying on God's wisdom, which He bestows on His children, leads to life (James 1:5). John 1 gives a beautiful depiction of Jesus as the light of the world. It's His light I need in my life, not only to expose sin so that He can cover it, but to expose goodness and truth, to lead me in the way I should go, to give me true wisdom in the midst of a lost world. As the father of the child in Mark 9 cried out, "I believe; help my unbelief!" (see Mark 9:14–29).
My church concludes every service with the doxology of Jude 1:24. Our pastor recently explained its importance. Jude spoke against false teachers and the licentiousness they were encouraging. He then exhorted his readers to persevere in the faith. Jude ends with a reminder that it doesn't all fall on their shoulders. It is Jesus "...who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen." Yes, amen! My heart might deceive, but it can never keep me from the love and faithfulness of God. I am secure in His hands, and can therefore trust Him for my future as well as for the details of today.