Saturday, April 25, 2009

Heart Check: Prideful Comparisons and Cherished Sins

ticker checker

Image by waynemah via Flickr

What do you do when you realize you still love certain sins?

It’s a vital thing to realize, you know.  We often consider ourselves victims of the sins that we can’t seem to overcome.  And I suppose in some small ways that may be true.  But at the heart of the matter, we’re less victims than we are lovers.

This past Sunday, my pastor pointed my thoughts in a direction that they really needed to go.  He was talking about forgiveness, and how pride interferes with it.  And though many truths from that sermon convicted me, one in particular stood out.

I still hate other people’s sin more than I hate my own.

But surely there’s a good reason why I struggle so much with bitterness!  Other people’s sins against me are so much worse than my sins, aren’t they?

Of course they aren’t.

God’s Word never tells us to compare our sins with anyone else’s.  Did you know that?  In fact, the Bible contains some powerful warnings about making comparisons at all.

For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise. (2Co. 10:12)

And of course Jesus warned us about such comparisons in the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:10-14).  If we consider ourselves better than other sinners, we’re putting ourselves in deadly peril.

But our proud hearts can even twist Scriptures like these, if we’re not careful.  Have you ever caught yourself thinking, “It isn’t right to make such comparisons, because then I would be focusing on how much better I am than so-and-so, and that would be prideful.”

Focusing on how much better I am?  No, no, absolutely not!  Until we understand that our sins are truly, without question, every bit as evil as our neighbors’ sins, we cannot repent of them as we should.  And we cannot forgive or love our neighbor as we are commanded to do.

If you protest right now that I wouldn’t say these things if I knew your neighbor, then you still don’t get it.

You say that your neighbor commits adultery?  Jesus says that our lustful thoughts are also adultery (Matt. 5:28).  You say that your neighbor was convicted of murder and is now awaiting lethal injection?  Jesus says that the hatred in our hearts is equivalent to murder.  What is awaiting us (Matt. 5:22)?  You say that your neighbor bows and prays to idols every day, or is into witchcraft?  God says that our rebellion is like witchcraft, and our stubbornness is like idolatry (1 Sam. 15:23).

Do you see how easily we deceive ourselves?  How easily we despise the sins we see in others, while we coddle and excuse and even cherish those same sins in our own secret places?  It’s easy to judge outward sins, while ignoring the root of all sins, which reside in our hearts.

What do you do when you discover that you truly love your sinful thoughts and attitudes, and you’re beginning to realize that you’re loving your own destroyer?

I’ll be honest…I’ve been struggling this week.  But it’s a struggle that’s an answer to prayer.  You see, I requested a painful thing from God.

I asked Him to help me to love Him more, and to help me see how horrible my heart-sins really are, so I could hate them as I should.

I won’t participate in “spiritual voyeurism” by going into all of the gory details of my soul, but suffice it to say that God’s answer has been coming in a way that is less than pleasant.

It reminds me of a fascinating verse from the Old Testament.

God left [Hezekiah], to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart.  (2 Ch. 32:31b KJV)

Some translations make it seem that God wanted to know what was in Hezekiah’s heart, but since God knows everything, I’m more inclined to believe it the way the KJV has it.  I think God stepped back and left Hezekiah to his own devices, so that Hezekiah himself would see what was in his own heart.

Has God ever done that to you? 

Spurgeon comments on this verse:

If the grace of God should leave the best Christian, there is enough of sin in his heart to make him the worst of transgressors. If left to yourselves, you who are warmest for Christ would cool down like Laodicea into sickening lukewarmness: you who are sound in the faith would be white with the leprosy of false doctrine; you who now walk before the Lord in excellency and integrity would reel to and fro, and stagger with a drunkenness of evil passion. Like the moon, we borrow our light; bright as we are when grace shines on us, we are darkness itself when the Sun of Righteousness withdraws himself.

There are many times in our lives when we need encouragement more than we need conviction.  But the opposite is also true, and I’m in one of those times when conviction is what I need most.  Not a “guilt trip,” mind you, but a work of God’s Spirit which changes my loves and desires, re-orienting them away from sin and self and towards God.

I wouldn’t have chosen to go through this the way that God is doing it.  I was hoping more for warm fuzzy loving feelings for God to increase, accompanied by a hotter hatred for my sin which would make me recoil from it.  Instead, God seems to be taking the Hezekiah approach, in which He seems to withdraw, and I get a rather nasty view of my spiritual guts.  (I say, “Seems to withdraw” because God never truly withdraws from His children.  Heb. 13:5 assures us of that.)

Why am I even sharing this with you?  If you’re someone who sees me at church on Sunday, you wouldn’t necessarily ever know about this.  It doesn’t “show,” at least not on casual inspection.

(Or maybe it does, and I’m just kidding myself.  I don’t know.)

Anyway, I’m sharing this because I’m certain I’m not the only one who ever goes through such things.  And I’m sharing it because sometimes love just has to be tenacious.  It has to hang on in the absence of feeling. 

I don’t feel warm and fuzzy towards God right now.  And my spiritual guts are ugly.  But God is still good.  He is still worthy.  He is still on His throne.  He is Holy, and righteous, and just and true.  He is the source of all joy, all peace, all hope, all that we need or could ever desire.  He faithfully walks with us through our valleys and brings us back to green pastures beside still waters.

And affirming God’s worth is what this blog is all about.

Can you help me with that goal?  I’d love to read some of your comments about how God has helped you in this area.


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karin said...

You've really hit the nail right on the head! My poems are really some of these very same issues that the Lord and I have worked on in my life, and this was one of them. "Other People's sins against me are (were in the past for me) so much worse than my sin." Because when you are the child who was sinned against, it is pretty hard to see that you had done any sin! Other people's sins are so much more glaring than ours, aren't they, (tongue in cheek!)

Oh what a patient and loving heavenly Father we have. He works on everything in our lives a little bit at a time, until we finally get it.

Thanks again for your excellent writing - it is God-breathed! Bless you!

LauraLee Shaw said...

"I don’t feel warm and fuzzy towards God right now. And my spiritual guts are ugly. But God is still good. He is still worthy. He is still on His throne. He is Holy, and righteous, and just and true." I've felt this way so many times. The Psalms are always what I go back to when I do...and my journal.

A great women's pastor that I really admire reminded me that the Bible speaks a lot of walking through the valley, or through the desert...I can't imagine anybody feelin' a whole lot of anything there. So we cling and we wait. And He will restore.

Psalm 40:1-3
I waited patiently for the LORD;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.

3 He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear
and put their trust in the LORD.

Love you, sweet sister. Walkin' right beside you.

Laurie M. said...

Such true words. I don't feel warm and fuzzy often, about anything. When I do feel that way I'm glad, but I try not to invest too much in that feeling, because I know it won't last forever. We've prayed a lot, and more so recently for God's direction in our lives, feeling a strong desire for direction, feeling that God was calling us to a different path, but having no idea what. And so, in answer to our prayers, Paul was laid off from his job. We have no idea what will come from all this, or what kind of change it will bring. Our prayer, however, is that God be glorified in it and that the Cross of Christ will be our all.

As for other peoples' sins and why they seem worse than our own...

Other people sin AGAINST us;
We sin FOR us.
Other people's sins cause us pain
Our sins give us pleasure.

As you said, we love our sins. They make us feel better, at least in the short term, and so we want to protect and defend them. If we hated our sins through and through, we certainly would not commit them.

Purpose Seeker said...

I have been having this very struggle and praying for God's loving hand to guide me as I feel so empty and lonely at times. I appreciate your words as it is always a comfort to know that you are not alone in your struggles. A person's exterior is often so much more attractive than their interior. The thoughts and beliefs that float through my head at times make me want to run and hide myself from Him as did Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden on that dreadful day of disobedience. Pointing out others' faults comes so simple, yet recognizing and admitting our own is a very difficult task. I will meditate on your words as I ask the Lord to show me myself and work on me.

enchaunted-doves said...

yea Jesus also said remember the 7 day to keep it holy . not the first ,just like what you mention about murder and adultery and idols worships. Jesus said if you break one your guilty of all.

Betsy Markman said...

Enchaunted doves,
Thank you for your comment.
If you are interested in what I believe Scripture teaches about the true meaning of the Sabbath, I hope you'll drop by the entry called: "Why a Sabbath?" at It may help shed some light on why Jesus never did reiterate the command to remember the Sabbath, and why He, in fact, challenged people's understanding of the Sabbath at every turn. He wants every day to be a Sabbath for His people, because He is our Sabbath, and He is with us always.

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