Yesterday, we talked about the problems our heart causes us. Our hearts are deceptive, often times wanting those things that are going to cause us the greatest amount of harm – leading us to make decisions for all the wrong reasons. I’ve done that. I’ve done and said things I regret to this day because my heart was being led by the wrong impulses. In fact, God is after our hearts. He wants us to want Him and His ways more than we want anything else in life. Thus, when one of the Teacher’s of the law asked Jesus “Of all the commands, which is the most important and Jesus answered with: ““The most important one, is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The teacher responded to Jesus by saying, “Well said, you are right.” What did Jesus say? “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.”
We said in the sermon on Sunday that Love empties itself, sacrifices itself, and gives of itself. The love of the world works entirely differently, that will be our topic for tomorrow’s devotional. In short, the love of the world is all about itself and getting its needs met.
God is not only after our hearts. The fact that God wanted us to want to love Him does not change after we choose Him. We aren’t autonomous beings prior to our conversion and then mindless drones after the fact. We still have the choice to want God or to want ourselves. God doesn’t seek to be the controlling boss of our hearts. He wants to rework our hearts, giving us a new heart with new desires. He wants us to want to want Him. God wants us to desire Him with all our heart, all our mind, all our soul and all our strength. Got wants us to want to want Him with all our desires, all our thoughts, every aspect of our identity and the entirety of our potential.
He wants us to want Him. That’s why He gave so much, poured out His love in such an extravagant way through creation and went to even greater lengths by giving His own son. He wants us to want Him. He wants us to be desperate for Him, to be hungry and thirsty for Him and His ways over ourselves and our ways.
His love is greater, higher, longer deeper, stronger, wider and better in every way compared to the love of the world. His love is present and there for us to see and experience if we choose. But, there is a problem. The worlds “love” is in our faces at all times in many different ways. The worlds “love” tugs at our hearts strings but in different ways. The world’s love tugs at the lusts, which is a another way of saying desires and wants.
The world, that system which is opposed to God and is under the rule of the devil, uses the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes and the pride of life to keep us from God. Where God’s love – true love – empties itself, sacrifices itself and gives of itself, the deep desires of the flesh, the deep desires of the eyes and the pride of life are after the opposite.
What are these things, the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes and the pride of life?
The desires of the flesh are those things our flesh wants. Not just limited to physical hunger, but that’s a key component. Which is why fasting is such a crucial component of this season of Lent we are in. Can we deny ourselves the lusts of the flesh? It’s not limited to food though. Other lusts of the flesh include all the sexual sins, gossip and slander, physical violence, drug use and more. (See Gal. 5:19-20 for one of the lists.)
The desires of the eyes aren’t entirely different than the desires of the flesh. In fact, many of the desires of the flesh are probably triggered by the desires of our eyes. The desires of the eyes, lusts of the eyes is that desire to look on things we shouldn’t see or to want the things we shouldn’t want. The sin of coveting is the primary example for the lusts of the eyes. Seeing something someone else has and then deeply desiring that thing. It may be a physical thing like a house or a car or a lifestyle. It may be a personality trait, success, relationships and beyond. It’s that deep desire to want what rightfully belongs to someone else. It’s wanting what God has given to someone else and in effect saying to God that you don’t trust Him to give you what you really need and what you can actually handle. This was the sin that led to King David’s sin of the flesh with Bathsheba. 2 Samuel 11:1-3a: “In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem. 2 One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, 3 and David sent someone to find out about her.”
David shouldn’t have even been on that roof, he should have been out commanding his troops in battle. He saw something he shouldn’t have seen and that stirred a desire in him to do whatever it took to get it. All this led him to eventually have Bathsheba’s husband murdered in battle.
The pride of life is the sin that caused lucifer to be cast out of heaven. The pride of life was the temptation that put Eve over the edge in the garden, to be able to decide for themselves what is good and what is evil. The pride of life is, in essence putting ourselves in the position of God and Lord of our own lives. It is a rejection of God’s authority over creation and the assumption of that authority in ourselves. It’s putting ourselves in the position of judge and jury, not only of ourselves but of others and ultimately of God. This is a big one in our day.
James deals with this so well in James 4:4-7 – “4 You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. 5 Or do you think Scripture says without reason that he jealously longs for the spirit he has caused to dwell in us? 6 But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’ 7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”
Friendship with the world makes us enemies of God. And anyone who opposes God is giving in to the pride of life. Opposing God puts God against us. Notice, the key verse “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” is the solution to this problem. Giving into he pride of life is giving in to the world which is giving in to the devil. Do we really want to be submissive to the devil? The only answer to the pride of life is humility and submission.
This ought to bring incredible clarity and perspective to Jesus’ call for us as His disciples: “24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wants to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and be following Me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it. But whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. 26 For what will a person be profited if he gains the whole world, but forfeits his life? Or what will a person give in-exchange-for his life?” (Matt 16:24-26)
Like we said on Sunday, “The beginning of becoming love is unbecoming ourselves.” If we are going to become love, if we are going to see the fruit of God’s love growing in abundance on the tree of our lives, we have to deny ourselves.
We want so badly to have it both ways. We want to have the best of both worlds. We reason with ourselves (which is one of the reasons we can’t trust our hearts as though they are some kind of omniscient, supreme being) that God would want us to be happy. And having this thing is what would make me the most happy. We try to have to goodness of God while embracing the destruction and rebellion of the world. It’s not even like trying to ride two horses with one saddle. When we’re giving into the world we may feel like we’re on the ride of our life, but we’re not riding anything. We’re being ridden. It’s like being a frog giving a scorpion a ride.
Have you heard the parable of the scorpion and the frog? “A scorpion, which cannot swim, asks a frog to carry it across a river on the frog’s back. The frog hesitates, afraid of being stung by the scorpion, but the scorpion argues that if it did that, they would both drown. The frog considers this argument sensible and agrees to transport the scorpion. Midway across the river, the scorpion stings the frog anyway, dooming them both. The dying frog asks the scorpion why it stung the frog despite knowing the consequence, to which the scorpion replies: ‘I couldn’t help it. It’s in my nature.’”
The only difference between that story and ours is that the scorpion does not die, we do. The scorpion is already experiencing the reality of eternal death and destruction. But the rest of the parable relates. The nature of the world is rebellion against God. That’s all the world can be. The world cannot, in fact, will not be a system that supports the work of God. Oh, it will look supportive, but only up to a point. The world will support religion and striving and anything you do in your own power that you can take the credit for. The world will support you as long as you’re not giving God the credit.
The beginning of becoming love is unbecoming ourselves. That’s the only way we can open ourselves up to God’s love. The only way to receive the love of God in our hearts is to deny ourselves everything we think we think we are entitled to. That’s the call of following Jesus. We can’t have it both ways because we can’t save ourselves. Thinking we can save ourselves is what got us into this mess to begin with. Trying to secure our own salvation by our own methods is the pride of life and seeking that life ends by forfeiting the life that is truly life.
So you see, one way or another we lose our lives. We either deny them now so we can follow Jesus. Or, after a lifetime of clinging to our lives we will have to forfeit them, because life is a gracious gift of God. He is the one who breathed life into our lungs. Our existence is because of Him in the first place. He gives us His life and watches to see what we do with it. What are you doing with the one and only life God gave you?