Sunday, September 16, 2012
Hope for Us Hypocrites
From the time I was very young, I spent every day of the week (literally) at the church. There I learned much about who God is, who I am, and what life is all about. When I was 5 years old, I made a decision where I talked to God in prayer and asked Him to take me to heaven when I died. That decision became my ticket to heaven. Not much changed from that point on. I lived life like every other kid, enjoying all the things kids do but in a sheltered church culture.
I tried to live that good-on-the-surface life. Why? I’m not really sure, but I think it’s mostly because I liked to please people. I wanted them to like me and living in my little bubble world surrounded by church people, I had to say the things they wanted to hear, do the things they wanted me to do, and not do what they said I should not do. And for the most part, I did that and was convinced that I was headed in the right direction. Yet, much of what that church taught me and I said I believed, I did not embrace with a full understanding.
Junior high and high school came and went and I was thought of as a pretty good kid. Throughout those years, I had learned about the world outside of the church through seasonal farm work and the Boy Scouts. There I learned that some of it was very different! During my senior year, I joined the National Guard and was exposed to more of a different world. Some of it bothered me—in a prideful way—I was too good to be like them. But some of it was enticing. For instance, in Louisiana the drinking age was only 18! And of course, when I got back to Illinois I continued to act like I was still in Louisiana—except only with certain friends.
Through my college years, I played an interesting game: live that church life but with my own definition. That is—try the things I was told are wrong and rationalize from the Bible how everyone had misinterpreted those particulars. And oh, I messed up. I messed up big time. How so? Well, I couldn’t even stick to my own definition of what was right and what was wrong! Somewhere along the way in college, a friend of mine named Kirby pointed me to a Book I had read many times but hadn’t really understood. Oh, I could talk about the Bible and quote much of it from memory. And of course, I had that ticket. But Kirby helped me see anew who God is, who I am, and what life is really all about. So I started reading the Bible again.
One of the first lessons I learned was that even with all of the evil in this world around me, there was just as much of it right inside of me. I read in the Bible that “the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked.” This wasn’t news to me in one sense: after all, I had been taught all along that all people are “sinners”—people who disobey God—and deserve to be punished in a place called Hell forever; but somehow, along the way, I had begun to think that, “Yes, I’m a sinner, but I’m a better sinner than those sinners.”
That’s when I began to understand my hypocrisy. That verse said that my inner being is more wicked than I ever imagined possible. I had defined my own laws about what was right and wrong according to the Bible, and I couldn’t even obey those! And then there was that one story in the Bible where a man asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was—in the hope that if he could keep that one, he’d be in right standing before God. Jesus’ reply was that you have to love God with all of your heart, all of your soul, and your entire mind. That kicked me in the pants pretty hard! I realized that I don’t love God entirely because if I truly did, I wouldn’t be living two different lives. I would be living a life sold out completely to him.
Then I began to look at one of those verses that I had memorized long ago and saw that there were many things in it I had never understood before. It was true that God had made me. It was true that I had sinned against that God who made me. That verse also affirmed that Jesus died for my sins, for the wicked things I had done. More than that, it said that He did it in order that He could bring me to God. Jesus’ whole purpose in dying on a cross 2000 years ago was so that HE could bring me to God. I was coming a lot closer to understanding that this life and beyond it was meant to be lived with God and that He had done what was necessary for me to be with Him—not something I myself had done. Since I couldn’t even keep my own rules (let alone His!), I saw there was no way I’d be able to prove myself as not-guilty before a Perfect Judge. Yet, I wondered, “So what should I do about the hypocrisy in my life in light of this?”
Then I found what my response should be and what God’s response to that would be and it blew me away: “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the Lord, that He may have compassion on him, and to our God for He will abundantly pardon.” I realized that my response to what God did for me in giving His only Son—Jesus—to die in my place was that I should turn away from my way of trying to make myself right with God and turn to Him alone. The Bible calls this repentance. This is what I was to do in response to believing what had already been done for me: turn away from my ways and turn to His ways. He had compassion on me and continues to abundantly forgive me of my sin!
I (and others) still continue to find elements of hypocrisy in my life today, but now I know that is why I need Jesus. I know that in response to His love, I must turn away from those areas of my life that displease God and turn to Him and thank Him for the fact that He still abundantly pardons. Do you know personally that He is willing to do the same for you? Have you looked at what the Bible says about who He is, who you are, and what He has done to bring you to Him? If you have not, please, please do, because one of those many things that I was taught as a child that I know is true according to the Bible is that sin must be punished and will be punished forever in hell if you do not repent and trust in Jesus as your only hope.