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The Contents Of This Chapter
What motivates us to sin? When we know the right thing to do, why do we do what is wrong? When we know how much we hate being taken advantage of, manipulated, intimidated, wrongly accused, verbally or physically abused, gossiped about, ridiculed, or rejected, why do we treat others in these ways? When history documents that sin unleashes deadly consequences which boomerang on the sinner and victimize all who are affected by it, why do we deliberately do what we know is wrong? When research continues to document the harmful effects of sin on the human body, relationships, the family, the community, the economy, the government, and the environment, why is it our preferred choice in so many situations? When common sense tells us that God is hurt by our sin just as we would be hurt if our spouse committed adultery, why are we so insensitive to Him in our eagerness to sin?
The most compelling motive for doing what we know is wrong comes from a self-centered concern for our interests or well-being merged with distrust of God.
In the Christian vernacular, distrust of God is more commonly called unbelief. To distrust means to have no confidence in, to be suspicious of, to doubt the trustworthiness of, to be skeptical. In relation to God, distrust evidences itself in willfully deliberate distrust of God’s goodness and the reliability of His Word.
When we speak of the goodness of God, we are referring to His ability and willingness to always act in a manner that promotes and/or protects our good. When we speak of the reliability of God’s Word, we are referring to the Bible’s ability to rationally and practically instruct us on how to live a happy and fulfilling life. Therefore, unbelief in God and His Word is based on the conviction that neither God nor His Word can be completely trusted to do us enough good or give us the right kind of instruction to make life as happy, safe, secure, and satisfying as we want it to be.
Self-centeredness is an excessive or exclusive concern with self that results in seeking our own good at the expense of others. It is doing what we believe is best for ourselves in spite of the unjust and harmful effects our self-serving actions have on others. Self-centeredness is built on the premise that personal health, happiness, prosperity, power, possessions, popularity, and security are more important than the rights and well-being of others. Therefore, the self-centered person pursues what he wants and protects himself from what he doesn’t want in ways that either intentionally or neglectfully inflict unnecessary pain or loss on everyone affected in any way by his selfishness.
Consider this line of reasoning. When we do not trust God and His Word to satisfactorily meet our needs, satisfy our desires, or solve our problems as we want them solved, we do the only thing that seems sensible — we take matters into our own hands, decide what is best for us, and then do for ourselves what we are convinced God either will not or cannot do for us.
Therefore, the underlying motive for sin is an excessive or exclusive concern for our own good coupled with distrust (the belief that God and His ways cannot be completely trusted to promote or protect our good). In other words, we sin when we think we must act in our own self-interest to do for ourselves what it seems God and His Word cannot be trusted to do for us.
The first sin provides a clear picture of this cycle. Eve, out of a concern for her own good began doubting that God was giving her all that was rightfully hers to have. Believing He was unfairly withholding knowledge which could make her life better than it was, she took matters into her own hands and acted in her own self-interest. But by taking what she wanted (eating the fruit) she was not only doing what she knew was wrong, she was ignoring the direct effect of her selfishness on her husband and any future generations. Her focus was solely self-centered and her action self-serving. Clearly, the direct result of her concern for her own good fueled by distrust of God was a selfish, and therefore sinful, act.
Now consider the sin of Jonah, a prophet of God. He was told by God to warn the people of Nineveh that judgment was coming. Because of their excessive sinfulness God was threatening to destroy them. But Jonah did not go to Nineveh. He went in the opposite direction. He didn’t go to Nineveh because he knew God leaned toward mercy, and if Nineveh heeded the warning and repented, God wouldn’t destroy them. Jonah wanted Nineveh destroyed. He believed they deserved annihilation. So he got on a boat for Tarshish. During the voyage God caused a great storm to arise. To lighten the ship and save the lives of everyone on board, the sailors threw the cargo overboard.
Whose cargo was it? Did people suffer as a result of its loss? Was it fair for those who owned the cargo to suffer such a loss? Was it not one man, Jonah, who in distrusting God’s goodness (thought God to be unwisely merciful), acted selfishly and caused others to suffer unjustly? Did Jonah show loving concern for the good of others when he chose to do what served his interests? Such is the way of sin. When a concern for one’s own interest is fueled by distrust of God, we turn to sinful solutions to solve our need or satisfy our desire — every time. (Note: Jonah 1-3)
Therefore, the Scriptures teach that without faith in God it is impossible to please Him. But what kind of faith must we have to please God? Faith in His existence? Yes, but that alone is not enough. Even Satan believes God exists. The faith we must have to please God is trust in His goodness and in the reliability of His Word to the degree that we forsake self-centeredness and place our lives and the lives of those dearest to us in God’s hands for His safe-keeping while devoting ourselves to the task of deliberately (thoughtfully so as to know what we are doing and why we are doing it), courageously (facing danger, fears, and the unforeseen with confidence that God will take care of us), dauntlessly (without giving in to intimidation or discouragement), and cheerfully (willingly and whole-heartedly), living as He says to live.
When we distrust God and His Word, whatever the area of life or the particular situation may be, we resort to our own self-serving ways to ensure our good. But we cannot selfishly promote or protect our own good without sacrificing the good of others. We cannot sacrifice the good of others without causing them to needlessly and unjustly suffer in some way. Causing others to needlessly and unjustly suffer for selfish purposes breaks God’s heart, because He loves them as much as He loves us. So, like any good parent, God is displeased with any child who selfishly and deliberately brings unnecessary pain and suffering into the lives of the other family members.
Therefore, to please God, we must believe that He exists. Then, we must trust in His ability and readiness to be our faithful provider and loving protector so that we willingly and cheerfully place our well-being in His hands. Finally, we must trust enough in what He says about how to live to be convinced it is not only intelligent, but rational and therefore perfectly safe to do the will and works of God (i.e., abandoning sin, evangelizing the lost, devoting ourselves to loving all who are affected in any way by our choices and behavior in the same manner and to the same degree that we want to be loved). (Note: Hebrews 11:6)
The Israelites saw the awesomeness of God’s power in the ten plagues He brought on Egypt to convince Pharaoh to free the Jews. They saw the depth of God’s compassion when He rescued them from slavery in Egypt. They saw the timeliness of God’s provision when He parted the Red Sea so they could cross it on foot to escape the Egyptian army. And they saw the faithfulness of God’s protection when He destroyed the Egyptian army in the waters of the Red Sea.
These experiences inspired the Israelites to trust in the goodness of God and the reliability of His word. Because of their trust, they believed His promise of a new homeland and agreed to obey His commands on how to live. Filled with confidence in God, they worshiped Him and sang songs of praise to His name.
Yet after a time they grew bored with what God had given them and dissatisfied with what He was doing for them. The promised homeland no longer excited them, and what He had done in the past no longer inspired them. They began thinking that the very things they didn’t have were the things they now needed to feel happy and satisfied. In their discontent they became self-centered, looking for happiness and fulfillment in ways and places they knew were wrong.
Now it is important to know that after rescuing the Israelites from the land of Egypt, God subsequently destroyed those who returned to unbelief. Why, after going through all the effort to rescue them, did He destroy those who quit trusting Him? Because unchecked unbelief turns every Promised Land into a waste land of selfishness where sin is glorified, righteousness vilified, relationships damaged or broken, and people victimized. Therefore, God’s love for each Israelite compelled Him to destroy those who did not believe. (For a short history read: Psalm 106; Jude 5)
When we believe our interests are at risk and at the same time believe God can’t be trusted to promote or protect those interests, we choose the way of selfishness. To whatever degree we selfishly promote or protect the good of self, to that degree we carry out our self-centeredness at the expense of others. To whatever degree we deliberately seek our good at the expense of others, to that degree we say and do things we know are wrong. When we do things we know are wrong, we have sinned.
Think about this. When we do not trust the most powerful being in the universe to do what is best for us, we trust in the only other person reliable enough to deserve our trust. And that person is self. When we don’t trust God, we take matters into our own hands and do what we think is best for ourselves. Our thinking follows this line of reasoning. When the most powerful being in the universe can’t be trusted to guarantee happiness and security, we must resort to other means and depend on other forces to ensure our happiness and well-being. Given the fickleness of human nature, there are not many people we can depend on and no one we can depend on all the time. Therefore, the only trustworthy substitute for an untrustworthy God is self.
However, distrust of God goes hand-in-hand with distrust of His Word. When we distrust God, we replace reliance on how He says to live with reliance on what we think is best. Our thinking follows this line of reasoning. If the one who tells us how to live is untrustworthy, then certainly what he has to say about how to live is equally unreliable. Since no one else is perfectly selfless, no one else can be trusted to always tell us what is best for us. We are the only ones who can accurately see what is best for us. We are the only ones who can accurately decide how we must live to promote and protect what we believe is best for us. Therefore, the only trustworthy substitute for God’s untrustworthy directions on how to live is self-determination — deciding for ourselves what is right and wrong so our lives are as happy and satisfying as we think they ought to be.
But there is an inherent problem to self-reliance and self-rule. We cannot distrust God and seriously question the reliability of His Word without also rejecting love as the ruling principle over all we do and say.
God’s only way of dealing with us is the way of love (promoting and protecting the good of everyone affected in any way by whatever He says or does). God’s only demand of us is that we live by this same standard. To turn from trust in God and His Word is to turn from this way of loving which promotes and protects the good of everyone affected in any way by whatever we do or say. This leaves only one other ruling principle by which to live, and that principle is selfishness.
Therefore, to turn to self-reliance and self-rule is to turn to promoting and protecting the good of self without equal concern for the good of others. The only possible result of this is selfishness. Selfishness always leads to sin, and sin is heinous because of its inherent destructiveness to the sinner and everyone adversely affected by the sin the sinner has committed.
But God’s way of love doesn’t mean we cannot be interested in the good of self. It means that our interest in our own good is always restrained and balanced by our interest in the good of others. Love restrains self-interest by keeping it from thinking its interests are superior to the interests and needs of others. In this way we are able to see that the interests and needs of others are at least equal to our own if not more important than our own. Love balances self-interest by keeping it sensitive to seeking the good of self in a manner which simultaneously promotes and protects the good of anyone affected by what it does for self. (Note: Philippians 2:3-4)
Now we can go one step farther, for love is not confined to promoting and protecting the good of everyone — including self. We can sacrifice something precious (possessions, health, or life itself) to seek the good of others. Though this is not a requirement of love, it is a recognized gift of love. Jesus demonstrated this gift-giving when he voluntarily paid the penalty for our sins in dying on the cross. Soldiers do this when they sacrifice their bodies and even their lives to save fellow soldiers. Fathers and mothers have done this when trying to save their family from impending disaster (fire, flood, storms, roving gangs). Though most often done for those we hold dear, love has the capacity and freedom to sacrifice the good of self to ensure the good of others. (Note: Philippians 2:5-8)
However, our nature is such that we are easily tempted to choose the good of self over the good of others. Add to this our tendency to distrust God and to question the reasonableness of what He says about how to live, and self-centeredness becomes our priority. From there we eagerly and deliberately seek the good of self at the expense of others.
We like the selfish way because most often it is the only direct, expedient way to get what we want when we want it. It is for this very reason that Satan has crafted sin to have the appearance of being able to produce immediate gratification for our wants and fast-acting solutions for our needs. And, he has pasted an eye-catching label on every sin — a label which boldly proclaims that this sin will provide the shortest route to personal happiness (be it pleasure, popularity, prosperity, possessions, power, privacy, or protection). Being self-centered, we eagerly turn to sin to satisfy our self-interest.
Yet the promise of sin is really a lie. Sin promises true happiness on demand, but it gives cheap imitations which can at best gratify our self-interest for the moment. Sin’s benefits, even when accumulated, only produce a hollow, temporary shell of the good life. So to gain the happiness and satisfaction we seek, we must turn to sin again and again. This brings a form of happiness, but it also compounds our problems — creating more unhappiness. Satan won’t tell you this, but for all its fast acting, self-gratifying benefits, sin always makes more problems and therefore more unhappiness for us sinners. Whatever problems we are trying to solve by sinning, we will have more because we’ve sinned.
Truly, sin is like a miniature sugar-coated time bomb. We want the sugar coating because its sweetness gratifies some need in our life. So we swirl the time bomb in our mouth, savoring every last bit of sweetness until it’s gone. Then we swallow. Now we may get lucky, which means the bomb won’t explode for several months or even years. (But then, maybe we’re not so lucky if the bomb doesn’t explode right away because that allows us to think we can swirl more miniature sugar-coated time bombs without fear of the consequences.) Yet more often than not, the bomb explodes within minutes, hours, days, or weeks of swallowing — wreaking havoc in our lives and in the lives of everyone affected by its explosion.
Looking at sin from this perspective makes it seem stupid to swirl any more miniature sugar-coated time bombs. But we will. Even though we can see the lie in sin’s false advertising, our yearning for the sugar-coating prompts us to abandon common sense and sin anyway. In our selfishness we ignore reality. In our concern with getting what we want or with protecting ourselves from what we don’t want we ignore the fact that once they are swallowed the bombs will explode and there is nothing we can do to stop the explosion or stem the damage. Oh, we’ll try. In fact, swirling more miniature sugar-coated time bombs is our favorite method of trying to stop imminent explosions or repairing the damage of previous explosions — which is a testimony to our commitment to foolish, irrational thinking and self-deception.
So why are we so self-destructive? Why are we so willing to harm others, including those we claim to love and hold dear? Unbelief merged with self-centeredness! Concern for our own well-being coupled with distrust of God (afraid He won’t or can’t do what we think must be done) is the underlying motive for sin.
Truly, unbelief is the root of sin and all our foolish interest in it. To live according to the standard of love, to make love the ruling principle over our words and deeds, we must trust in the goodness of God and in the reliability of His Word. For this reason God says that those who are righteous are righteous because they live by faith. (Note: Titus 1:15-16; Hebrews 3:12-19, 10:35-39; Romans 1:16-17)
Does unbelief in the goodness of God and the reliability of His Word result in a completely godless life? Sometimes it does, but most often it doesn’t. Most people have some belief in a divine being and in a divine code of ethics and morality. Many people obey some of God’s commands because they believe it is best. Many turn to God in difficult, trying circumstances because they believe He is able to help. Their condition is not one of total distrust but partial unbelief. This is a common malady among those who consider themselves Christians. It was also a problem in Israel after the Israelites entered the Promised Land.
Before entering the Promised Land the Israelites promised to do all that God commanded. They made this promise because they trusted Him to be the only provider and protector they needed. However, after living in the Promised Land awhile, they grew dissatisfied with God’s provision and protection. As their dissatisfaction grew, their distrust grew. They became convinced God either could not or would not do for them what they believed needed doing to have a happy, satisfying life. To get the happiness and satisfaction they believed they deserved, they took matters into their own hands and began acting in their own self-interest. In other words, they chose to become self-centered and resort to sinful means to do for themselves what they believed God couldn’t be trusted to do for them.
Did the Israelites distrust God completely? No. Did they break all God’s laws? No. Were they selfish all the time? No. They continued to seek God’s help and ask for His direction in the life of the nation. They faithfully participated in the worship services held at the temple. In regard to their sin, they fulfilled God’s requirements for the sacrifice of animals and ceremonial cleansing. They kept God’s dietary requirements, refusing to eat blood or the meat of any animal He declared unclean. They paid their tithes and offerings to the Temple in Jerusalem. Yet at the same time they were deliberately, and of their own free will, acting selfishly to gratify their own self-interest. They were willfully doing things they knew were wrong to compensate for what they thought God wouldn’t or couldn’t do for them. Thus, their unbelief and resulting disobedience became a stench in God’s nostrils. (Note: Exodus 19:8, 24:3-8; Isaiah 1:2-20)
But that seems unfair. Why should their partial unbelief be a stench to God when they were doing so much good? They worshiped God with singing and musical instruments, with dancing and raised hands, with fervency and feeling. Doesn’t this prove their love for Him? They trusted in God alone for the forgiveness of sin. Isn’t this what God wants? They were devoted to prayer and to asking God for His leading in their lives. What more could God ask of them? They faithfully read the Scriptures and attended all religious meetings. Doesn’t this prove their sincerity? They never came before God without either being neatly dressed or wearing sackcloth and ashes. Isn’t this the kind of respect and humility God requires? How could distrusting God in a few areas be so bad when they seemed to trust and obeyed God in so many important areas? (Note: Isaiah 58:1-12)
There are three reasons why partial unbelief in the goodness of God and the reliability of His Word is a stench in God’s nostrils.
First, unbelief is distrust whether it is partial or complete. If unbelief is complete, we completely reject God and His ways. If unbelief is partial, we selectively reject God and His ways. The important truth to understand is that any amount of distrust in God and His Word results in the same action — taking matters into our own hands and acting on our own behalf without loving regard for the good of others. This means others will be unjustly hurt by our selfishness. And whether we hurt a few sometimes or many all the time, we are deliberately and unnecessarily hurting others to further our own self-interest. For this reason unbelief is not an issue of degrees, but results. Therefore, the stench of unbelief which offends the nostrils of God comes from the unloving, self-serving, destructive results of unbelief.
Second, any amount of distrust of what we know to be true about God and His Word results in our deliberately doing what we know is wrong. Unbelief held in ignorance is not a worrisome issue to God. This doesn’t mean that He’s not grieved over people being needlessly hurt by the effects of unwitting distrust. But He knows that if we seriously strive to do what we know is right, we will search and re-search every area of our life for any distrust so we can confess it, repent of it, and get on with trusting Him in that area, too. Therefore, partial unbelief is not the extensive problem it is because of sins committed in ignorance by well-meaning people. Partial unbelief is the horrendous problem it is because we compensate for our distrust of God by deliberately doing what we know is wrong (and wouldn’t want others to do to us). This is diabolical, heinous, inhumane, and inexcusable. Willfully doing what we know is wrong at the expense of others because we don’t completely trust our completely trustworthy God is a stench which offends God’s nostrils.
Third, partial unbelief in what we know to be true about the goodness of God and the reliability of His Word too often hides behind the lies of self-deception. Self-deception is the worst form of deception because it is self-induced. We deceive ourselves for the purpose of substituting what we know to be true for the lies we want to believe as true. We lie to ourselves about our selfish choices and behavior so we can think of ourselves as good, well-meaning people, when in fact we are seeking our own good at the expense of others. But as long as we maintain the lie, we feel good about practicing our sin. As long as we tell ourselves we are good, well-meaning people who are doing the best with what we have, we feel no guilt when selfishly doing what makes life better for us. Truly, the worst part of partial unbelief is that we deny its existence and its effects on others through the trickery of self-deception. Thus, partial unbelief is a horribly offensive stench to God’s nostrils.
To make clearer the reason self-deception is so evil, consider its three primary forms. 1) Blocking selected information or experiences from our thinking, 2) Choosing to think and act in ways that cushion the blows of unwanted pain or loss, and 3) Creating elaborate, well defended justifications for doing what we know is wrong.
Some of us deceive ourselves by blocking selected information or experiences from our thinking. We convince ourselves that there are certain realities about God, His Word, ourselves, others, the past, and the future that are too difficult or painful to deal with. To protect ourselves from unwanted feelings, we block these things from our thinking and live as if they don't exist.
Mary grew up in a deeply religious home. It was happy and peaceful until she was twelve years old. Then, open and escalating conflict broke out between her parents. The conflict was cyclical — same issues over and over without resolution. Mary felt the pain of her parents’ verbal battles — battles which were saturated with put-downs and threats. She felt helpless as she watched the disintegration of her once peaceful, seemingly happy family. She felt betrayed by the two people she’d always depended on to love her more than anyone loved her. But her strongest feelings — feelings of resentment and anger — were directed at her father. His outbursts of anger seemed to keep the conflict boiling, repeatedly causing pain for everyone. She hated the bad feelings so much that she determined to keep her marriage free from conflict — and she did.
After getting married, she worked to build godly truths into her relationship with her husband and children. Those outside the home thought of her as the almost perfect wife. But her husband, though deeply in love with her and appreciative of most things she did, was frustrated and hurt. Why? Mary would not deal with the conflict that did exist between them. To fulfill her goal of a no-conflict-no-pain home she blocked the things she did that caused conflict between them. And she used this blocking method to deceive herself into believing her marriage was conflict-free. This made it possible for her to keep a safe distance between herself and the bad feelings she felt as a child.
For Mary, self-deception was a source of security and happiness. For her husband, it was a source of pain. He felt the pain of unresolved, recurring conflict and the resulting shallow relationship. He felt the sting of knowing his wife consistently chose what was good for her over what was best for them. Every unresolved conflict forced him to face the reality that she loved herself more than she loved him, at least in that area of their relationship.
Yet it wasn’t that Mary didn’t care at all. She dutifully listened to his complaints and his pleas for working out their differences in mutually satisfying ways. She would admit that the reason she wasn’t co-operating was because of her blocking. She understood that her blocking hurt her husband and their relationship. She understood enough about blocking to counsel others about how they were blocking and how destructive it was to their relationships. But she continued to use blocking as her preferred way of keeping the unwanted pain of her childhood home out of her current home.
Why would a Bible reading, church attending, praying Christian refuse to do what she knew she should do to improve her marriage? She was afraid. She was afraid that if she accepted the reality of conflict in her marriage she would have to live with constant tension and recurring pain. She was afraid that conflict would leave her just as vulnerable and powerless to make things right in her present home as she had been in her childhood home. She was afraid to trust God to show her how and help her resolve the differences with her husband because she didn’t believe God would protect her from the devastating pain of conflict. After all, when she was a child, she had trusted the most important people in her life — God and her parents — and they miserably failed her. So to insulate herself from what she feared, she blocked. She deceived herself. She acted as if what was, wasn’t, so she could believe that what wasn’t, was.
Her story is not unusual. Her fear is not uncommon. Everyone who selectively trusts God (partial unbelief) deceives themselves in some way.
Some of us use self-deception to convince ourselves that the best way to deal with emotional pain and mental anguish is to cushion their blows with some form of offsetting pleasure or diversion. Holding to the irrational belief that quick relief and momentary happiness are better than enduring relief and lasting happiness, we focus on the immediate and pursue fast-acting solutions — solutions which depend on self-centeredness for success. Indeed, we gain the pleasure or relief we seek, but it comes at the high price of mistreating others, damaging relationships, possibly abusing our body, and reinforcing our distrust of God. Yet for the sake of feeling good when life isn’t so good we convince ourselves that we’re simply doing something good for ourselves.
Charlie and Karen are husband and wife. They’ve attended Church and called themselves Christians for a number of years. They were happy at first, but now they live in constant pain. Both want a congenial, peaceful relationship, but they are about as far from it as the earth is from the sun. He is passive and believes the way to a good relationship is through pleasing and appeasing, leniency and soft words. She is aggressive and believes they need to tell it like it is, express how they feel, and work things out even if it means fighting it out. He feels crushed and unloved by her aggressiveness because it comes across as abusive and manipulative rather than endearing and relationship building. She feels ignored and unloved by his passiveness because it comes across as avoidance and withdrawal rather than facing the issues and resolving their differences.
They know what their problem is because they’ve been to marriage counseling. They just aren’t willing to solve their problem God’s way — through repentance and forgiveness, change and persistence, gentleness and patience — because they do not believe God’s way can work in their situation.
The truth is, each has been hurt by the other for so long that neither is willing to take steps to change until the other person changes. So they cushion the painful blows they inflict on each other by looking for happiness in other places. Charlie finds acceptance and feelings of pleasure by being involved in group sports. Karen soothes her pain by getting involved in projects where she can control the outcome. She felt especially euphoric during the building and decorating of their new home. Yet neither his sports nor her projects bring lasting solutions to their relationship problems. Though his sports and her projects provide momentary relief by diverting their attention from the real issues, they also prolong the suffering and increase the distance between them. In spite of this, they continue deceiving themselves by believing that cushioning the pain is the most sensible way to get the happiness they want from their unhappy relationship. Their self-deception is the result of their partial unbelief in God’s goodness and God’s Word.
Some of us use self-deception to create elaborate, well-defended justifications for doing what we know is wrong. Blame is a favorite way to defend and justify selfish and harmful choices and behavior. We blame God. We blame our parents. We blame our spouse. We blame brothers and sisters, friends and teachers, the boss, co-workers, neighbors, people we do business with, or anyone else who can be blamed as the cause of our behavior.
We blame people’s actions or lack of action as the reason for our counter-action. If our counter-action is selfish and harmful, we defend it as justifiable on the basis of being forced into such a response because of what they did or didn't do to us first. We deceive ourselves so well that we believe we aren’t really returning evil for evil when we mistreat someone who has done something evil to us, we’re just doing what is necessary to survive.
King Saul was told by God to totally destroy the Amalekites: men, women, children, oxen, sheep, camels, and donkeys. But Saul and his army spared Agag, the king of Amalek, and the best of the sheep, the oxen, the lambs, and whatever else seemed valuable. When the prophet Samuel confronted Saul concerning his disobedience to God, Saul defended himself. First, he blamed the army. He essentially said, “I didn't take anything, they did, so don’t talk to me, talk to them.” Then Samuel reminded Saul that he was the King. He had the power to stop the army from taking the spoils of war. Again, Saul justified himself. He said he had done what God asked him to do. He went to war and destroyed the Amalekites except for Agag, the king. He didn’t take any spoils, but the army did, and they would sacrifice them to God on the altar at Gilgal. Now this is a classic example of self-deception. By shifting the blame, King Saul deceived himself into believing he had done nothing wrong. He compounded his self-deception by telling himself that if any wrong had been committed it was either too small to worry about (he had spared the life of only one man), or it could be made right by giving the proceeds from the wrong done to God as a gift. (Note: I Samuel 15:1-31)
John was convinced his boss was a jerk. In his own words he said, “I have no respect for a man who bullies people and puts them down.” Having been subjected to this abuse for some time, John now feels justified in showing open disrespect for his boss. When we discussed this new way of treating his boss, I said he was being as sinful as his boss. John got offended. He was convinced it was only logical to strike back when struck if you wanted to put an end to being struck. I agreed it was appropriate to take action in an effort to stop abuse. But I told him that when we try to stop being abused by returning evil for evil we are no better than the one abusing us. John didn’t see it that way. In his way of thinking he was doing what had to be done because his boss was so unreasonable. “After all,” John said, “it’s my boss who’s the jerk, not me. I’m only trying to stop him from mistreating me. If he were not so unreasonable I wouldn’t have to do what I’m doing. So talk to him, not me.”
Another way we often justify doing what we know is wrong is to give as many reasons as possible why doing what we know is right will not work in our situation. We deceive ourselves into believing that God’s way of handling certain people or situations is unrealistic and impractical — leaving us vulnerable to mistreatment. We want a fast-acting method that’s easy to use and guarantees results. Since God’s way of love rarely fits this description, we justify the use of selfish methods to get the results we want. This self-deception is based on the premise that if God’s way does not do what we think needs to be done, then it is permissible to do what we know will work even though we know it is wrong.
Mark is angry. Peggy has not been the wife he believes she should be. Mark is right, because Peg is a do-as-she-pleases, uncooperative, stubborn, critical, blame everything on Mark kind of wife. Having put up with this abuse for several years Mark decided that God’s way of speaking the truth in love and remaining kind in the face of unkindness was not working. He decided the only way to deal with Peggy was to return tit for tat. Now he is secretive, uncooperative, critical, and openly hostile. He knows his newly chosen methods are wrong, but he justifies himself on the basis of having no other choice because God’s “love” method has not worked.
Think about this. Charlie and Karen, King Saul, John, and Mark, are basically good people. With the exception of King Saul, they each would consider themselves to be Christians with strong religious beliefs. So why did they deliberately do what they knew was wrong? Unbelief. Complete unbelief? No, partial unbelief. But because any unbelief always results in selfishly sinful behavior, their partial unbelief resulted in selfishly sinful behavior.
Remember the Israelites? They worshiped God, read the Scriptures, prayed, feasted on feast days and fasted on fast days, gave their tithes and offerings, and faithfully offered the required sacrifice for sin. Without question, they were serious about their religion. But they were equally serious about distrusting God and His Word in some selected areas. And they remained in their state of partial unbelief through the use of self-deception. They blocked from their minds the fact that they were knowingly and willingly choosing self-centeredness over God’s way of love when dealing with certain people and certain situations.
Now don’t think the Israelites were completely bad. They were religious, and they did many admirable and virtuous things. They just did not think it was wise to love their neighbor as themselves in every situation. They unquestionably believed in the existence of God. They just were not willing to put complete trust in the goodness of God. They were confident God gave them the Scriptures. They just did not believe that everything God said about how to live was realistic, practical, or applicable given their circumstances. They believed, but their belief was partial belief, not complete, unequivocal trust. Because of unbelief they became self-focused, misusing and abusing people for selfish ends while deceiving themselves into believing they were God-fearing, God-pleasing, reasonably good people living out their religious convictions.
Among those of us who are involved in the Christian religion, many of us are no different than the Israelites of the Old Testament. We claim to believe in God, yet many do not trust Him to always do what is best for them. Neither do they trust His Word to prescribe the best way to behave in all situations. And the proof of their partial distrust is in their actions — in doing what they know is wrong to promote and protect their own interests.
Allen works for a large, international company. In just ten years he has gone from a ground level engineer to a fourth level management position. He has always been conscientious and responsible. He has always given his employer a full day’s work. As a manager, he does his best to make decisions and treat his co-workers according to his Christian beliefs. What he doesn’t do is treat his workplace as his mission field. Yet all around him, people are living in sin and headed for hell. He believes it is wrong to take work time and use it for evangelism time. So do I. It would be a dishonest use of his employer’s time and money. After all, he wasn’t hired to evangelize lost souls in his workplace. He was hired to make his company profitable. So what’s wrong with what he is doing?
Allen is a Christian. He has gladly accepted God’s free gift of forgiveness for the debt he owes on his own sin (eternal banishment in hell). He has served on the Mission Board at his church, doing his part to encourage others to see evangelism as a “must” and to get actively involved on a daily basis. He knows that his city and the surrounding suburbs are filled with lost souls destined for banishment in hell. He knows there are billions of people around the world in this same sin-sick condition. And he knows that the right thing is to do his part in making unbelievers aware of God’s gift and their need to repent so they can receive God’s gift.
But what is he doing? He is working to prosper a company where he cannot witness effectively and where he spends so much time (60+ hours per week) that he has no time after work to be active in regular, effective witnessing. But isn’t this the normal Christian life? No, it is not the normal Christian life. Sadly, however, it is the all too common one.
Allen is highly skilled. He could get a job someplace else or begin his own business so evangelism could be a significant activity on the job and/or off the job. Yet he chooses to stay on a job that severely limits his evangelistic efforts both in the workplace and out of the workplace. And why does he choose this? For God’s benefit? No. For the good of those around him who are going on in their sin? No. For the good of his family? Yes — in that he believes his job, and not God, is their source of financial security. For the good of himself? Absolutely — in that he gets his sense of self-worth from the praise he gets at work. And does he get up each morning honestly facing his unbelief and resulting self-centeredness? Absolutely not!
There is nothing good to be said for any amount of unbelief or distrust toward the goodness of God and the reliability of His Word. All unbelief, be it partial or complete, merges with self-centeredness and produces sin. And the reason this is so heinous is that sin is the cruel, heartless destroyer of all that is good.
To distrust God’s goodness is to decide that God is not good, or that He is good only some of the time. It is to doubt God’s intentions, His integrity, His justness, His dependability, and His love. When we distrust God, we no longer think of Him as wanting to do what is best for us in every situation. And we especially distrust God’s goodness when we are convinced He can prevent bad things from happening to us, but doesn’t.
When we distrust any part of God’s Word, we won’t allow it to be the final authority on how we should live. We take over that position of authority — deciding what we think is best for ourselves. And we justify our decisions by claiming that the parts of God’s Word we distrust are irrelevant or unrealistic in relation to the difficult people and circumstances we have to deal with.
Distrust requires prior knowledge about something that can be, and ought to be, trusted. We cannot distrust what we do not know about God or His Word. We can only distrust what we know to be true. Therefore, distrust concerning the goodness of God and the reliability of God’s Word means we have enough knowledge about God and His word to put complete trust in them. For this reason, unbelief is a voluntary choice. We deliberately choose not to trust in the character of God and the validity of His Word.
No one distrusts God and His Word without rejecting God’s love-based ways for selfish ways — without turning away from promoting and protecting the good of all to seeking the good of self at the expense of others.
Therefore, do not let anyone deceive you. The one who consistently does what he knows is right is righteous, just as God is righteous. The one who willingly, deliberately, and repeatedly does what he knows is wrong is of the devil. Jesus came to earth for this purpose: to destroy the practice of sin (willingly, deliberately, repeatedly doing what we know is wrong). No one who is born of God practices sin, because the life of God dwells in him. (Note: I John 3:7-9)
Is there known, defended, and protected unbelief in your life? Do you trust in God completely to provide your needs, satisfy your desires, protect you from harm, and be your security? Or are there areas where you believe you must take matters into your own hands and act in your own self-interest? Do you rely on God’s Word as the best source for solutions to life’s problems and for direction on how to live? Or do you feel the need to part ways with God’s Word and decide for yourself what is right and wrong in certain situations?
Do you see how this matter of distrust promotes selfishness and sin? Do you understand why we will not, indeed cannot, live a godly life ruled by love without faith in God? For the sake of everyone affected by anything you do, including God, trust in God and rely on His Word.
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