Just because I claim to believe in Jesus, just because I claim to be a Christian, just because I go to Church every Sunday, doesn’t mean I truly take His words to heart… always. Does that mean I may not be who I think I am? Or is it that I slip, that I momentarily forget? Is it possible that I don’t know my own heart? That was the prophet Jeremiah’s conclusion: The heart is deceitful above all things, and incurable; who can know it? But even if I don’t know it, there is One who does.
The fact that God is Omniscient means that He knows everything. It also means He sees everything. What does God see when He looks at me?
I would like to say that He sees one of His beloved children. But it is not an accident of the way the gospel was written that before we could have the Sermon on the Mount, we had to hear from both John the Baptizer and Jesus of Nazareth the proclamation: “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” And as I used to tell the guys in Jail, Jesus did not go around wasting saliva. He said what needed to be said. Therefore, there must be something I need to repent from.
Accepting the presence of sin in my life is the prerequisite for coming to Jesus. He said it Himself: (Mark 2:17) They that are strong have not need of a physician, but those who are ill. I have not come to call righteous [men], but sinners.
Believing in Him means accepting the reality of sin.
I think we all know the story of the paralytic who was brought to Jesus on a stretcher, by his four friends. When they found the house so crowded that they could not get in, they climbed up to the roof and took it apart so that they could lower him in front of Jesus.
Have you ever wondered whose idea it was to come to Jesus? Surely the paralytic had to have been in on it. But why? What was his motivation? For the friends it is obvious: They wanted their friend to be healed, to be made physically whole. But what about him? What did he want?
I think the story tells us, because the story reminds us that Jesus knew, all the time, what was in the hearts of the people around Him. And so, when the friends lowered the paralytic’s stretcher in front of Jesus, His immediate reaction was to answer the call of that man’s heart:
Mark 2:5 But Jesus, seeing their faith, says to the paralytic, Child, thy sins are forgiven [thee].
The most important healing came first, and then came the healing of his body.
But there is a story of another paralytic in the gospel: the one about the man at the pool of Bethesda, who had been there, years, paralyzed, and could never get into the pool in time to be healed by the miraculous stirring of the waters. Jesus comes up to him and asks him, do you want to be healed? And the man answered:
John 5:7 … Sir, I have not a man, in order, when the water has been troubled, to cast me into the pool; but while I am coming another descends before me.
His answer is only about physical healing. So, Jesus grants it to Him: (John 5:8) Jesus says to him, Arise, take up thy couch and walk.
And the man, healed, does exactly what he was told to do. But that day was a sabbath. And you are not supposed to do any work on the sabbath, like carrying your couch around with you.
John 5:10-13 The Jews therefore said to the healed [man], It is sabbath, it is not permitted thee to take up thy couch. He answered them, He that made me well, *he* said to me, Take up thy couch and walk. They asked him [therefore], Who is the man who said to thee, Take up thy couch and walk? But he that had been healed knew not who it was, for Jesus had slidden away, there being a crowd in the place.
But there is still one matter unsettled. Remember, Jesus came to save us from sin.
John 5:14 After these things Jesus finds him in the temple, and said to him, Behold, thou art become well: sin no more, that something worse do not happen to thee.
And so, Jesus makes the man face the ultimate truth that all of us have to face: Sin is the true sickness that plagues every human heart. The question is, what is he going to do about that Truth? Will he accept it, coming as it is from the One who proved He had the power to heal his body?
John 5:15 The man went away and told the Jews that it was Jesus who had made him well.
No… he didn’t like to be told he was a sinner. So, he went and told on Jesus, not to be a witness of His power and goodness, but to get Him in trouble with the authorities.
Which paralytic am I?
Believing in Him means accepting the reality of sin… in my life.
Which brings us back to “judge not lest thee be judged”
Stephen Covey once said: “We judge others by their actions but we judge ourselves by our intentions.” Therefore, when we slip up, we have a ready excuse: “It was the heat of the moment”. “I wasn’t thinking.” Or, “My heart was in the right place, I just didn’t think how what I said could be taken…” Or, maybe the problem is that that other person was too sensitive…
Whatever the excuse is, when it is “my bad”, I tend to minimize it. But there is something else more dangerous going on here. Faced with the reality of friction or even a break in a relationship, we immediately look about to see where the blame lies. I look at myself and I look at the other person. And, of course, more often than not, guess who I am going to decide is the problem?
I clearly see the splinter in my brother’s eye. Or do I?
We know what Jesus said about that: That I would first have to remove the log from my eye to truly see clearly before trying to help my brother with the splinter in his. But what is that log in my eye? Is it that I have blinded myself to my own fault, my own contribution to the problem?
Kierkegaard says it is worse than that:
A pious man has piously interpreted these words as follows: The log in your own eye is neither more nor less than seeing and condemning the splinter in your brother’s eye.
If you bear in mind that from the point of view of Christianity and truth, God is always present in everything, that it is solely around him that everything revolves, then you will certainly be able to understand this rigorousness; you will understand that to see the splinter in your brother’s eye in the presence of God (and God is indeed always present) is high treason.
Why does Kierkegaard call it high treason? Because, as Jesus said, there is One Great commandment: to love God with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind, and all my strength. That would imply that, in the presence of God – the moment I realize I am in the presence of God – my immediate reaction ought to be to fall down in worship before Him.
But, if I see the splinter in my brother’s eye and condemn it, calling it out for what it is, a sin, you would think that I would realize immediately that I have brought God into the conversation. For, after all, sin, by definition, is a sin against God (Psalm 51:4), the God who sees everything. So, in calling out the sin, I have tacitly acknowledged that God is involved in this relationship. More than that, I admit that He was there, present during the whole incident.
And yet, I did not bow down in repentance and worship before Him?
Why am I so obsessed with this “splinter” that I couldn’t even see God standing there? Kierkegaard goes on:
If only you could avail yourself, in order to look at the splinter, of a place and a moment in which God is absent.
But, in the Christian sense, this is the very thing that you must learn to hold fast, that God is always present; and if he is present, he is also looking at you. At a moment when you really think God is present, it surely would not occur to you to see any splinter in your brother’s eye or occur to you to apply this dreadfully rigorous criterion—you who are guilty yourself.
If I really understand that God is here, present, seeing everything that is going on, there must be a whole lot of other things I can do, that are a lot better in His eyes, than complain about the splinter in my brother’s eye.
Which paralytic am I?
There is so much to be talked about in the Word of God, just ask the writer of Psalm 119. But often, when we are dealing with life and death, it is all reduced to a choice of either-or.
Love God above all things… or don’t.
Love my neighbor as I love myself… or love myself more.
See the splinter in his eye, or acknowledge the log in mine.
Where the “rubber meets the road” there are often only two choices. Why is that? Because there are only two kingdoms we can choose from. And Paul reminds us in the 7th chapter of Romans that we are all born into the kingdom of this world. Its ways come naturally to us, even when we know the difference between right and wrong..
Romans 7:15-17 (NIV) I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.
Is Paul telling us we have a valid excuse? Is he saying that I can’t help it, and that therefore it isn’t really me who is liable? Let’s go on…
Romans 7:18-20 (NIV) For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature (the flesh). For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
Paul is telling us that we have a serious problem that is humanly impossible to resolve. We live in a body (the flesh) that is drawn inexorably to sin. Notice that he is not denying the reality of sin, or its evil. He is just saying that our flesh is powerless to resist it.
Romans 7:21-24 (NIV) So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?
And here he gives us the explanation. There are two “parts” to me. There is my inner being, the spirit, the mind that was made in God’s image, and then there is my external being, the flesh, with which I live in this world. And there are also two “laws”. The law of the kingdom of the world is a law of sin. It has always been that from the very beginning, when the serpent tempted Adam and Eve to rebel against God. Then there is God’s law, which is by definition all good, since God is the author of all goodness and truth.
But notice what Paul just said there: The law of sin has the power to make me a prisoner. That is, it has the power to force me to obey it. Again, it has been that way from the beginning, the result of that rebellion in the Garden. Jesus said it this way:
John 8:34 (NIV) Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin.
And that is the root of the problem. The law of sin does not play fair. Once I give in to it, I am its slave. But then Paul says:
Romans 7:25a (NIV) Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Why does he say this? How does this deliverance come? It comes precisely from the fact that there are two “parts” to me:
Romans 7:25b (NIV) So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.
Yes, my flesh may be an unwilling slave to the law of sin. But my mind, my spirit can choose to become also a slave to God’s law.
Romans 8:1-2 (NIV) Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.
And that is the good news: That once we have chosen to become slaves to the law of God, it is infinitely more powerful than the law of sin and death. With my spirit, following His Spirit, I am no longer bound to sin.
Satan thought that by enslaving our bodies he had won. But God knew what was going to happen in that Garden way before it all began, and He knew the way out; and He put it in motion from the very beginning.