In my personal effort to gain the new insights I believe God wants to give all of us when we read His Word, I've been using Eugene Peterson's translation/paraphrase of the Bible, The Message. This is helping me to overcome the danger of familiarity, which is the failure to see things in the Bible exactly because I know the Scriptures fairly well.
Portions of two verses, spoken by Jesus to self-righteous people known as Pharisees especially struck me today. Jesus is speaking of how faith in Him is truly authenticated in our lives:
"...Obedience is thicker than blood. The person who obeys my heavenly Father's will is my brother and sister and mother." (Matthew 12:49-50)Jesus said this after being told that His family wanted to see Him.
What the Lord led me to see in this passage today wasn't a new truth to me, but one I needed to have underscored for me at two levels.
The first level on which I needed to have this truth underscored is this. I get on myself for the temptations to sin with which I consciously wrestle and the sins I perceive in myself for which I repent.
It's right that I invoke Christ's help in fighting off temptation and in repenting for my identified sins. But sometimes I unconsciously look at the fact that I have to fight temptation or have sins for which to repent as a blot on my character.
But the fact is that fighting my temptations and repenting for the sin I see in myself are both examples of obedience to God, the very thing that Jesus says demonstrates that believers are close to God.
Temptations will come to us. They came to Jesus (Matthew 4:1-11), though He never sinned (2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15). So, we can't be exempt from temptations. They're part of life for every person no matter how close they are to God.
And repentance for our sins is a sign of the Holy Spirit's work in me through God's Word. I wouldn't repent if I weren't close enough to the God I know in Christ to know when the Holy Spirit is pressing me to repent and so, to be changed and renewed by God's grace (Matthew 12:31-32).
This level of the passage's truth was and is reassuring to me, an instance of God's grace for my life.
The second level on which I needed this truth underscored is this. Earlier today, someone to whom I'm close confronted me for a way I had been acting toward them: defensive, snotty, unkind.
I hadn't even been fully aware that this was the case. While I was busy struggling with other issues--temptations and sins I had been open to letting the Spirit identify for me, I was being deaf to the Spirit's clear call to change how I was treating this person.
I need to be careful to not be so focused on evicting one demonic element from my life that, not really attending to Christ's call to obedience to God's commands in all of my life, I let other sins take root in my life.
This is exactly what Jesus warns the Pharisees, so focused on combating some evils in their lives while totally ignoring the ways in which they disobeyed God in other ways, against, also in Matthew 12:
“When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.” [Matthew 12:33-35]This is an instance of God's law and command for my life. I need it too as I pursue my relationship with God each day.
I realized again that I need to let Christ be Lord of and let the Holy Spirit speak to, my whole life, to never presume that I see all my sins (and, like the Pharisees, think that I've got it all together).
I also need to relish the knowledge that God gives grace to me to wrestle with my temptations and my sins. The wrestling doesn't show that I'm far from God. The wrestling shows that I'm walking with, listening to, and seeking to obey God.
Lord, help me to stay related to You through Christ and to obey You by seeking to do Your will. Help me also, to seek to do Your will in every facet of my life, heeding what the Spirit tells me through Your Word. Show me the unseen places where I let sin into my life and, as I repent, make me new. In Jesus' name. Amen