What Once I Relished, I Now Mourn
Matthew 23 is a terrifying passage. I used to read it with relish, delighting in Jesus’ dissection of the Pharisees in front of his disciples and the weighty masses. Now I read it with tears and trepidation, sorrowful over the deluded state of the blinded Pharisees and grave over the realization that self-deception is a terrible master.
Self-deception as a category is horrifying. It does not equate to blindness, for the blind know they lack something others possess, even if sight is an imaginary concept to them. They understand they’re missing something. It does not equate to slavery, for the slave understands that he is not free, that he is doing the bidding of another man. Rather it is blind slavery, as the hapless victim of self-deception is blind to the reality that he is not as free as he thinks. He is bound by heavy chains and thinks them wings.
Which means no man ever considers himself to be self-deceived. The second comprehension of his self-deception flashes across his mind, it transitions from self-deception to choice. Will he continue living in willful servitude, or will he cast off the cords that bind him?
The Pharisees were convinced of their rightness. They were convinced their rules and regulations pleased God, served God, worshipped God. They judged the liberal Sadducees as playing fast and loose with the Law, rightfully condemning them for their faithlessness. And so the seas watched the Pharisees skate across them, men on a mission to save their brothers. And they were saving them into deeper slavery, self-deluded men making others self-deluded as well.
This is haunting. What if I am self-deceived? What if I either do not trust the gospel or have misread the gospel and stand therefore condemned? What if what I call sincere devotion to the Lord is not that at all, but genuine affection for Him is something that I cannot even conceive of, for no one can picture life with God as Father without actually being in that relationship?
These questions could be paralyzing. But being paralyzed by them would not answer them. My answer to them is simple, and it is the cornerstone of the gospel. God did it. Dive deep into the soil of my faith in Jesus Christ, and there rests as absolute bedrock the belief that I am reconciled to God because God wants me to be reconciled to Him. And what God wants will happen. My hope is in God, not in myself. And anything other than that could never be considered to be good news, for I look at the train wreck that is my desires, my thoughts, my actions and realize that who I am could never please any deity.
Assumptions must exist for believing the gospel. I trust that the Bible is divine, that it is God’s communication to mankind for the purpose of making himself known. I trust that a straightforward reading of that book will yield an understandable message, which is the hope for humanity as a whole and myself as a person.
And so I believe that Jesus Christ is God become man for the purpose of buying back a people from enslavement to sin. I believe that he stands as an intercessor between the Father and me, absorbing all the wrath and providing a way for my adoption as a son of God. I believe that it is through the renouncing of any work I could do and placing my singular hope upon Christ’s intervention for me as sufficient that His work is applied to me. And I pray that if there be self-deception in this that God would be merciful to reveal it to me, that I might indeed know Him.