by Mike Ratliff
You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. (John 13:13-17 ESV)
The heart of Man is deceitful beyond our understanding. I find it incredible that God would desire to save any of us. Even after regeneration there is an element in each of our hearts that falls for the wicked appeal of our enemy to believe those things that have an affinity to our pride and flesh. One of the things that I must do in order to write these posts is to do research into the ministries of certain people who are suspected of some form of apostasy or heresy. I find it amazing how I can listen to one of these fellows preach or teach and find something within my heart having an affinity to what is being said. Of course this shows us the level of deception within these things. It is very interesting to then analyze what is being taught and compare it to Scripture. It is then that that part of me that liked what it heard runs for cover because I am seeking to kill it.
We must be honest with ourselves my brethren. We are far from the Righteousness of God. John Bunyan was a godly man. He was mightily used by God as a pastor, evangelist, poet, and writer. His masterpiece is, of course, The Pilgrim’s Progress. I have read it many times and have used sections of it in my ministry as well. However, his autobiography, Grace Abounding To the Chief of Sinners, is also well worth reading. In it, we find a man much like ourselves. God used Him mightily because He first took him through fiery trials which built an inner faith in the man that could not be shaken by anything on this Earth. However, even in this we find a disciple of our Lord who struggled with the same things that we do.
He wrote in the concluding chapter of his autobiography two lists each with 7 items. The first list was of 7 abominations continually discovered in his heart.
1) An inclining to unbelief.
2) Suddenly to forget the love and mercy that Christ manifests.
3) A leaning to the works of the law.
4) Wanderings and coldness in prayer.
5) To forget to watch for what I pray for.
6) Aptness to murmur because I have no more, and yet ready to abuse what I have.
7) I can do none of those things that God commands me without my corruptions thrusting themselves in.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. (Romans 7:21 ESV)
The second list are the seven results of discovering the things on the first list. These results caused affliction and oppression in him. However, he confessed that God, in His wisdom, ordered them for his own good.
1) They make me abhor myself.
2) They keep me from trusting my heart.
3) They convince me of the insufficiency of all inherent righteousness.
4) They show me the necessity of flying to Jesus.
5) They press me to pray unto God.
6) They show me the need to have to watch and be sober.
7) They provoke me to pray unto God, through Christ, to help me and carry me through the world.
He also confessed that there were times that the whole Bible “has been to me as a dry stick, or rather, my heart has been so dead and dry unto it that I could not conceive the least dram of refreshment, though I have looked it all over.”
I don’t know about you my brethren, but that is actually encouraging to me because it means that this great man of God struggled with the same things I do. These dry times are used by God to cleanse us of our self-focus and make us more reliant on Him, His grace, His mercy, His power, and His love for us. As we come through these spiritual droughts, we often will discover a deeper understanding of God’s Word and a far deeper appreciation for the necessity of His grace and our Lord’s joy in order to serve Him and walk before Him by the Spirit.
What causes us to struggle so? I fear that the blame rests entirely upon our own heads. There are times that we can see God’s truth with such clarity that it brings us to our knees in tears. However, there are other times that we can see nothing and it is as if we are spiritually blindfolded. Why does this happen? What is the cause of all spiritual blindness? Isn’t it idolatry? God gives people over to their idols and this blinds them so they cannot see the truth about their idolatry until and unless He breaks through the blindness. Yes, Christians can suffer from this. Our hearts are idol factories. The chief idol within us all is that devoted to self. We serve this idol with our pride. We can cast this idol down only by being humble. As long as we serve it, however, we will suffer from some level of spiritual blindness.
This idolatry causes us to sin in counterfeit obedience. We know we are commanded by God to obey Him. However, in our blind self-centeredness, we work up occasions to sacrifice ourselves in some way instead of obeying God. We substitute some other form of service or sacrifice rather than in humbling ourselves and washing the feet of our brethren. Instead of forgiving a brother, we devote ourselves to read our Bibles or give to the poor. It doesn’t matter, these are counterfeits of obedience which we perform with enthusiasm or ardor. However, we make the mistake of seeing this ardor as discernment. We see this sort of thing in those Christians who rebel against calls to grow and mature in Christ by replacing that with another form of self-sacrifice.
What is the command from God for us that we sidestep in our counterfeit obedience?
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2 ESV)
If we will become living sacrifices then we will not serve that idol to self will we? No these are mutually exclusive. What do living sacrifices do? They live their lives as acts of worship and obedience by not being conformed to this world by being transformed by the renewal of their minds. This conforms them unto the image of Christ. The obedience of these disciples is not counterfeit and they do not confuse enthusiasm with discernment.
Why do we sidestep this by substituting counterfeit obedience for humbling ourselves and being living sacrifices? As we said, it is easier, however, it is also blinding. This creates a vicious cycle where we do works rather than obey God as commanded. This creates a disciple that looks great in service, but his or her heart is far from God.
Christians in this snare mistake their ardor for discernment so they are much more open to deception than those who are being living sacrifices, working out their salvation with fear and trembling. Therefore, who has godly discernment? It is those who are not spiritually blind. It is this group of Christians who walk in repentance like Bunyan. They know that it is through the fires of suffering that God molds and makes them unto the image of Christ. We are all called to be more than what we were when God saved us. We take a wrong turn and leave the narrow path when we substitute sacrifice for obedience.
Soli Deo Gloria