Saturday, April 1, 2006

Scrubbing the Outside of the Cup

"Woe to you, Pharisees, and you religious leaders - hypocrites! You are so careful to polish the outside of the cup, but the inside is foul with extortion and greed. Blind Pharisees! First cleanse the inside of the cup, and then the whole cup will be clean.” (Matt 23:25-26)

Jesus had some strong words for those who appeared to have it all together on the outside - those who looked clean and shiny - but yet remained filthy on the inside. He didn’t seem too happy with the unbelieving, self-righteous, sanctimonious religious zealots. “You blind guides!” he said. “You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” “You are like whitewashed tombs.” These people “appear beautiful outwardly.” They make a big deal out of minor issues that “bug” them. “Waiter, there’s a gnat in my soup!” But the huge fuss over small unclean insects keeps them oblivious to the huge chunks of unclean meat right under their noses, on the ends of their forks. Pious masquerades and blindness go hand in hand.

Unlike the unbelieving, unclean Pharisees, we believers have been washed clean by the blood of Jesus. But we tend to forget that! Because of this, I think it’s very possible for religious piety to blind us in ways that keep us scrubbing and polishing the outside of our cups rather than living out of the reality of the life of Jesus inside us. We forget that God has made us new creations (2 Cor. 5:17, Gal 6:15) and that old things have passed away and all things have become new. We forget that “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision (relying on outward religion) has any value” and that what really matters is that we truly are new creations! We end up trying to perform the deeds of the Christian life externally – thinking we’re kept clean by our outward attempts at righteousness - rather than living from the reality of the cleanness and power of the life of Jesus on the inside.

During the first few years after I began a serious walk with Jesus, I walked around with a huge smile on my face ALL the time. I wish I could say it was because I was so very happy and joyful. Oh, I had some joy and happiness, but yet I always struggled in my attempts at “Christian living.” I kept up the facade because I wanted my non-Christian friends to see what they could have and I wanted my Christian friends see me as a joyful, victorious Christian! But eventually the gnats began to swarm and I coughed up one too many camel fur balls. My pious plastic smile and outer shell cracked and broke into bits.

I’m thankful for that. I’m thankful that I came to the end of myself, so to speak. I ended up being faced with a decision. In my mind I pictured myself standing on the edge of a cliff. Behind me was a life of outward religion, based upon self-effort. It was basically a life of faking it so I could appear polished and shiny in front of God and man. I couldn’t see over the cliff. It was an unseen mystery. But the soft voice of my Father was telling me that grace resided in abundance just over the edge. He wanted me to take the plunge into a life in which I was dependent upon God and God alone. He wanted me to leave the difficult, self-reliant life of religion behind and step off into the wild world of trusting in the Unseen.

I was a bit scared and hesitant. I worried that giving myself over to grace would cause me to turn to a life of licentiousness or passivity. But the nudge of the Spirit overcame my fears. I took the plunge. Where would I land? Would I end up crashing into the ground? Here’s what happened: I jumped feet first but it turned into a dive - straight into the restful arms of a loving Father who promises to carry me, hold me, guide me and keep standing strong in His wild kingdom. A life of grace really is a wild, adventurous life! You never know what will happen next. And your righteousness – is not your own. Your sustenance – is not dependent upon YOU! Keeping myself shiny on the outside had been a daunting task! My life changed from “do my best and let God do the rest” to “in HIM we live and move and have our being” (Acts 10:27). No longer asking God to “bless my efforts,” I decided to take Paul at his word when he said, “I labored more abundantly… YET NOT I, but the grace of God which was with me!” (I Cor 15:10) Good works didn’t cease - only their source.

No comments:

Post a Comment