The Forgotten Secret of Inner Peace

Why Happiness & Contentment Elude So Many Christians


Grantley Morris

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Most of us could be enjoying more contentment than we currently know, but the Christian secret of peace and happiness eludes us because it hides where few of us – even Bible-believing Christians – would ever think of looking.

To write of how to find peace, contentment and fulfilment that is beyond the wildest dreams of even most Christians seems ludicrously audacious. I believe I can point you in the right direction, however, not by acting like a charlatan, but simply by pointing to foundational Bible truths that most of us Christians today have somehow lost sight of. That we could have missed it is staggering, and yet so many of us have.

I offer not some superficial, feel-good pep talk, nor theorizing that ends up of little practical benefit to average people. This is a passionate investigation of practical, soundly biblical, and yet rarely understood, solutions to the human condition. We have no hope of achieving this without an act of God, so would you mind adding your prayer to mine, right now?

    Lord, I look not to some human, but to you, the source of all truth. If there is something crucial in your Word that I have somehow missed, I pray with the Psalmist, “Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things out of your law” (Psalm 119:18). I fervently ask not only that you reveal it, but that you give me the courage to embrace it. And if the following can help my quest, may I not let anything stop me from reading it.

What drove me to write this webpage is witnessing first-hand the transformation over recent months that biblical truths have been making in my precious wife’s life. Since her earliest years, Vicki’s life has been relentlessly hounded by stress, strain and insecurity. It is no exaggeration to say that almost from the moment I met her, I have been awed by the courage and strength she has oozed as she has kept pushing forward. The effort she has exerted has been nothing short of heroic, but what a battle! Even though all her life it had seemed impossible, she has now leapt from striving to thriving; finding peace and contentment she had barely dared dream of. It has not been instant, but it has been dramatic.

At times even to the point of envy, I have admired Vicki’s relationship with God, but now it has taken on an entirely new dimension. There are sure to be other thrilling things ahead, but she has found a new haven in God; a cozy warmth beyond anything she had previously known, in what had seemed a cold, harsh world.

Astonishingly, the truths suddenly delivering such comfort and relief and empowerment are ones she has known almost all her life.

Revelation and life-changing spiritual transformation are most peculiar things. It’s like laying down hundreds of miles of electrical cabling. So much effort and care can be poured into the project, and yet just one loose connection anywhere along all that cabling will result in little or no current flowing through to the user. Frustratingly, everything can look perfect – indeed, close to everything can be perfect – and still the user can miss out on so much.

Since each of us is unique, I cannot act like some know-all, telling you where the loose connection is. Rechecking everything can seem a useless waste, but I urge you to persist because the staggering benefits of finding a tiny break can be mind-blowing.

I’m reminded of someone who used a rock for a doorstop. More times than he could keep track of, he walked past it, handled it, kicked it, used it. Finally, one day he looked yet again at that old rock he knew ridiculously well, and discovered it was almost solid opal.

Each of us can find new treasures and unexpected wonders in what seem tired, old truths to those who hurry by, but for the few who take the time to look more carefully, they gleam with supernatural glory.

With this in mind, I beg you to join me in a brief prayer, one final time before taking the plunge.

    Lord, I’m so grateful for all you have taught me. You are infinite, however. In you, there is always more. And it’s always possible to make an even deeper connection with each of your truths, taking it still further into every fiber of my being, and living each of your truths more completely. I need to remain hungry for more of you, and for more of your life-giving truth. May I keep seeking, so that I can keep finding, and never become a know-all who settles for less of your life-changing revelation that you have for me, even in things I seem to know so well.

Prayer is critical because we need to recognize our dependence upon God. This does not mean everything is entirely up to God, however. Our union with God is a partnership, and if there are any problems with it, they are sure to be from our end, not God’s.

There is much the Lord expects from us in the removal of blockages in our relationship. For example, Jesus told us to love God with all of our heart, all of our soul, all of our mind, and with all our strength; to deny ourselves and take up our cross daily and follow him; to seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness; to take the beam out of our own eyes; to have faith; to abide in him; to obey; and so on. In all such matters, we need divine assistance, and our Lord is eager to provide it, but that does not mean we can soar spiritually while lounging around, expecting him to do everything.

You see, God is warm. To understate it: he has feelings. There is nothing aloof, robotic or indifferent about him. He is the personification of infinite love, and love delights not in domination, but in cooperation. His heart aches for us to want him. That’s why he yearns for us to put in an effort.

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People today need inner peace more than ever, but for most of us it seems about as likely as me winning a beauty contest. No matter how desperately we chase the contentment we crave, it remains as tantalizingly out of reach as a carrot bobbing in front of an increasingly frustrated donkey.

My passion is for you to find divine peace in every area of life, but we have to start somewhere and I’ve decided to begin with the peace that Christians are certain they already enjoy, and yet so many have completely missed: peace with God. Many call it salvation and are convinced they have it. Their striving, however, suggests something is amiss.

You might feel sure you know where this is going and that there is no need for you to commence at such a basic point. Nevertheless, I beg you to stay with me for at least a little while, because this could end up somewhere quite different from what you are expecting.

Yes, we will move on to other types of peace, but unless we can get this one right, what hope do we have of finding other supernatural facets?

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Suppose everyone is in the middle of the ocean, in a sinking boat. Everyone is furiously bailing out water and managing to stay afloat, but it is inevitable that the boat will end up sinking and everyone will drown, even without the catastrophic storm that few see coming.

Amazingly, a ship arrives in time and offers to save everyone. Most people are like what we call non-Christians. They foolishly refuse the offer; proudly believing they can make it alone. Others are like what we often call Christians: someone comes along and tells them, “If you repeat these words after me, all sorts of good things will happen.” They are asked to say something like this: “I’m sorry for not bailing hard enough. Please save me.” Some cannot really see the point, but all shrug their shoulders, repeat the words, bail harder than ever, and remain in the sinking boat.

These dear people are trying their utmost, but they have utterly failed to grasp how dire their predicament is, and they are quickly running out of time to finally see the real situation before it is catastrophically too late. Tragically, they are as certain to drown as those who act like those we call non-Christians, but they think they must be saved because they have repeated the words. They now hang around with other people who also think of themselves as saved. In fact, they are sure they are better than others, because they bail harder than ever. Few of them ever stop to think that, to be saved, they must abandon both the leaking boat, and their frantic attempts to save themselves, and board the rescue ship.

They might like the thought of Jesus forgiving them for having slackened off in the past. They might even be encouraged to think of Jesus cheering them on as they bail furiously. They might have received genuine miracles as part of God’s attempt to coax them to leave the sinking ship. But no matter how often they call Jesus their Savior, they will not let him save them. Why should they? They have got the hang of bailing now, and believe they can save themselves.

I put it to you that worrying numbers of people are certain they have let Jesus save them, and yet haven’t done so at all.

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How could this happen?

Spiritual salvation is humanly impossible. It takes a supernatural act. So the critical question is how can we know whether we are still trying to save ourselves, or have actually let Jesus save us? The answer cannot be that we no longer care whether we sin. In the words of Paul, “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? May it never be!” (Romans 6:1-2).

In the quest to find indicators that we have truly left the boat that will end up drowning everyone in it, let’s ponder the implications of this Scripture:

    Ephesians 2:1, 12 You were made alive when you were dead in transgressions and sins . . . you were at that time separate from Christ . . . having no hope and without God in the world.

“Dead? No hope? Without God? Not us!” say those who stay in the boat. They could well be very familiar with the Scripture and so do lip service to it. In their heart of hearts, however, their thinking is more like this: “We’re grateful for Jesus patching us up, but we really had only superficial wounds, relative to most people. God knows how good we’ve been of late.”

If you were spiritually dead – and many Scriptures stress this – how could anyone possibly be worse? It would be ludicrous to boast that a stinking, maggot-infested corpse is less dead than a bleached skeleton, or that a nicely dressed rotting body is better off than one wearing dirty rags.

If God – who might know a thing or two – insists in this Scripture that you had no hope; your fate was sealed. No matter how gallantly you have tried to escape your doom, your every effort has been a useless waste.

If you’re dead, no one can get any deader. If you’re without hope, no one can be more hopeless. You didn’t save yourself. You didn’t raise yourself from the dead. You have done nothing to deserve salvation. You haven’t even lived a sinless life since receiving what you never deserved. In fact, even since salvation, you have disobeyed the Holy Lord countless more times than Adam and Eve did before being forever banished from Paradise. Only hypocrites could claim to believe that, and think themselves better than anyone else. Who could be more worthy of the wrath of God than people who so grossly underrate their Savior’s grace as to think themselves more deserving of his sacrifice than the vilest of sinners?

If there really is no hope, anyone who thinks he/she has the slightest chance, is deluded. And there is no shortage of deluded people:

    Proverbs 16:25 There is a way which seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.

    Proverbs 30:12  . . . pure in their own eyes, yet are not washed from their filthiness.

    Jeremiah 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt: who can know it?

    Proverbs 16:2 All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the Lord weighs the motives.

With those verses reverberating in our ears, it’s appropriate to emphasize what far too many people get wrong: being saved often has nothing to do with feeling saved. You could feel utterly forgiven, and not be. You could even feel quite unforgivable, and be divinely cleansed of all sin.

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Where is this Going?

I am stubbornly sticking to my goal of pointing the way to peace beyond anything you have known. I’m moving slowly, however, because you will never get there if you lose your way in the early part of the journey.

Consider this:

    Ephesians 2:8-9 for by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, that no one would boast.

    1 Corinthians 1:27-29  . . . God chose the foolish things of the world that he might put to shame those who are wise. God chose the weak things of the world that he might put to shame the things that are strong. God chose the lowly things of the world, and the things that are despised, and the things that don’t exist, that he might bring to nothing the things that exist, that no flesh should boast before God.

    Romans 3:19, 27 Now we know that whatever things the law says, it speaks to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be closed, and all the world may be brought under the judgment of God. . . . Where then is the boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, but by a law of faith.

    Romans 4:2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not toward God.

    1 Corinthians 4:7 For who makes you different? And what do you have that you didn’t receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?

    (Emphasis mine.)

Despite such Scriptures, we tend to think salvation is basically a self-help project and that therefore we have something to boast about. With this in mind, chew over these words of Jesus:

    Luke 18:10-14 Two men went up into the temple to pray; one was a Pharisee, and the other was a tax collector.
    The Pharisee stood and prayed to himself like this: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of men, extortionists, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. I give tithes of all that I get.’
    But the tax collector, standing far away, wouldn’t even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’
    I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.

Notice how ‘godly’ the Pharisee is. He not only lives an exemplary life, he thanks God for his every moral achievement; humbly acknowledging that his Savior, not him, deserves the credit for everything that makes him “not like the rest of men.”

Be it an act of God or not, however, he sees himself as a cut above those that some would call society’s scum. Jesus calls this exalting oneself, and says that anyone with that attitude will be brought low.

Here’s a related, equally grave, Scripture we need to take seriously:

    Matthew 5:22  . . . Whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of Gehenna [hell].

This, of course, is primarily a heart issue, not a matter of word usage.

James 3:9-11 says how wrong it is to have, flowing from the same source, words that sometimes honor God and sometimes speak ill of people, who (regardless of whether they are Christian) are human, and hence made in the image of God. “My brothers, these things ought not to be so,” declares James. He says it is as absurd as a spring sometimes producing life-giving water and sometimes useless salt water.

Interestingly, James introduces this by saying no one can control one’s tongue (James 3:8). That’s yet another humbling reason for not thinking ourselves better than others.

Jesus cited the Pharisee as an example of exalting oneself. To grasp how serious exalting oneself is, remember that this very attitude was apparently the reason for the devil’s downfall (Scriptures). Contrast this with Jesus “who, existing in the form of God, didn’t consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men. And . . . humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, yes, the death of the cross” (Philippians 2:6-8). And recall the satanic promise behind humanity’s first sin: “you will be like God” (Genesis 3:5, Comment).

Of course we don’t try to be like God – or do we? What is every sin, if not an act of disobedience in which we attempt to exalt ourselves to the status of being our own God; usurping our Maker’s right to rule over our lives? Even sincere Christians can slip into praying “Lord, do this. Lord, do that.” They can do this with such frequency, as to make observers wonder if the ones giving God all the commands are hoping to exalt themselves to the level of God – or even taking it to the ridiculous extreme of making themselves God’s God.

Disturbingly, we can sincerely believe we are honoring God and exercising our Christ-bought authority when we are actually trying God’s patience. I find myself forced to conclude that it is catastrophically possible for Christians who are as eager to please God as I am, to mistakenly confuse faith with insulting the holy Lord by having the impudence to order God around.

Contrast our conceit with the humility the Bible says we should have:

    Jude 1:8-9  . . . these also in their dreaming defile the flesh, despise authority, and slander celestial beings. But Michael, the archangel, when contending with the devil and arguing about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him an abusive condemnation, but said, “May the Lord rebuke you!”

True faith begins with a terrifying awareness that God is infinitely superior to us.

How would you like the Lord of glory to say of you, “I tell you, I have not found such great faith [as yours] . . . in Israel [all of God’s people]”? (Luke 7:9). Wow! Whatever did he do to receive such exorbitant praise for his faith? Here it is in its entirety:

    Luke 7:6-8 When he was now not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying to him, “Lord, don’t trouble yourself, for I am not worthy for you to come under my roof. Therefore I didn’t even think myself worthy to come to you; but say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I also am a man placed under authority, having under myself soldiers. I tell this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come!’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.” (Emphasis mine.)

Did he become a faith giant by building himself up until he had the confidence to see himself as someone great in God? Hardly.

The Canaanite woman’s faith is remarkably similar:

    Matthew 15:26-28 But he answered, “It is not appropriate to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”
    But she said, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”
    Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! . . .”

She, too, was highly commended for her faith and she, too, humbled herself; regarding herself as unworthy, by fully accepting that she was one of the ‘dogs’.

This staggers us. It is so contrary to the entire world’s belief system that we are tempted to think it is universal law that whoever exalts himself wins. It has always been the way of the world, but never the way of God:

    Mark 10:42-45  . . . You know that they who are recognized as rulers over the nations lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you, but whoever wants to become great among you shall be your servant. Whoever of you wants to become first among you, shall be bondservant of all. For the Son of Man also came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.

This clashes so intensely with human thinking – and has fogged our view of life so alarmingly – that we need to ponder long and hard about the humility of these two people singled out for special praise. Here we have living proof that Scripture’s teaching about walking in humility before God is not warm, gooey, impractical waffle; it gets results. It truly moves the hand of God; even to the extreme of divine miracles.

Perhaps we need to take seriously Scriptures such as this:

    1 Corinthians 3:18-19 Let no one deceive himself. If anyone thinks that he is wise among you in this world, let him become a fool, that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. . . .

With the world, faith is about believing in yourself. With God, faith is about abandoning faith in self, and believing in God.

Yet another way in which we too often exalt ourselves is in our view of our moral achievements. If God’s righteousness were portrayed as soaring a million miles above us, on that scale, the moral difference between the greatest saint and the vilest sinner would be undetectable. God’s holiness is infinitely beyond the most impressive human attempts. As Jesus put it soberly, “No one is good except one – God” (Mark 10:18). Let’s not insult the holiness of God by supposing that, by the perfection of his standards, there is any such thing as a little sin.

Or think of it this way: Jesus said, “Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged” (Matthew 7:1). How often have we not only exalted ourselves by judging a fellow human (which is God’s right alone – Scriptures), but actually had the audacity to judge our Judge? Have we ever, for instance, accused the Lord of Glory of injustice for showing mercy by delaying judgment? What makes our judgment of God especially repulsive is that our astonishingly patient Lord does this in the hope that people would repent before it is too late (Scriptures) and he had to show us just as much mercy to keep us alive.

    1 Peter 5:5  . . . all of you clothe yourselves with humility, to subject yourselves to one another; for “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

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Despite the Pharisee’s impressive prayer and quite possibly long, arduous journey from wherever he lived to the only temple in the entire world acceptable to the true God, Jesus says he left without being justified. He went home still drowning in the deadly sin to which his reverent conceit had blinded him.

For as long as we think ourselves less worthy of hell than a sadistic pedophile, or a cold-blooded serial killer, or a demonized heretic who leads thousands astray, we’ve got something to boast about; we’ve got someone to look down on – just like that clean-living, self-righteous Pharisee who, despite all his devotion and meticulous Bible study was not forgiven.

Pharisees, and those like them, were so different from their ancestors who persecuted the prophets of old; so careful to avoid the sins of the riff-raff; and so passionate about God and his Word and doing what is right, that they proudly crucified their Messiah as their God-given duty.

People’s favorite sin varies enormously and, surprise, surprise, most of us regard our own variety as more acceptable than our neighbor’s. I’m sure, for example, that this Pharisee never betrayed his countrymen by collecting taxes for the Romans. But sin reduces down to this: doing what we want, rather than what our Creator wants. In fact, this very definition peeves so many of us. We’d prefer to run our own lives, thank you very much, not have God tell us what to do. Deep within, many of us feel this way, and it is nothing short of tragic. It might be different if the Lord of all were the slightest selfish, arrogant, stupid, unfeeling, erratic or evil. We’re the ones with those attributes. It is not as if we had something to offer him that is not already his, or he were somehow indebted to us, rather than the other way around.

The God we feel like rebelling against is incomparably good, generous, kind, and compassionate. He’s tender-hearted, and faithful. He’s not our accuser but our rescuer. He’s no killjoy. He’s fiercely and selflessly devoted to our well-being. He believes in us and has great plans for us. He wants to do what is humanly impossible by taking the shattered pieces of our lives and building them into magnificent masterpieces that bring both him and us great glory. He’s the best friend, confidante, companion and life coach anyone could ever have. He is stupendously intelligent, exciting, awe-inspiring and endlessly fascinating. He is in every way better than us and worthy of our never-ending love and devotion. Not only is he perfection personified, he is the warmest, most beautiful, most lovable person in the universe. He knows us better than we know ourselves, loves us more than we love ourselves, and is far more committed to what is ultimately in our own best interest than we are. Every good thing we have ever enjoyed – and even everything we should have never enjoyed, such as the pleasure received when breaking his heart – comes from his selfless generosity and creative genius.

No one comes anywhere near the Lord of all, not only in countless highly admirable measures, but in being so misunderstood, falsely accused, and hated without cause. No one has cause to feel sorry for himself like the One who aches to save all the billions who keep spurning him and blaming him for the inevitable consequences of their foolish ways. And yet still he keeps reaching out in love.

The cross was the highest conceivable proof, but in every way, the Lord is a giver, not a taker. It remains a logical necessity, however, that for us to enjoy all he longs to shower upon us, we must discard the inferior. How can we be adorned in magnificent clothes, if we insist on wearing rags? How can we live in a palace if we refuse to leave the slums we have always known? How can we be forever honored as a great achiever if we do nothing but lounge on our couch? How can we benefit from God’s super-intelligence, if we keep thinking our flawed, flimsy, frivolous ideas are better than his?

Whether the sin we want involves murdering children or something commonly seen as an honorable pastime, it does nothing to change the fact that whenever we do what we want, rather than what he wants, we are rebelling against the Perfect One.

How can the Savior drag us to safety, if we only let him rescue us from the sins we hate, and not from the sins we love?

“The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” says Isaiah 53:6. What was the iniquity that cost the life of the infinitely precious eternal Son? That same verse gives the answer: “Everyone has turned to his own way.” That’s what put the Lord of Glory on that torturous cross: you and me going our own way. For Adam and Eve, it wasn’t murder, violence, blasphemy or heresy; simply eating fruit. You are unlikely to see that listed in the Top One Hundred Deadliest Sins. People might consider your particular version of going your own way highly respectable, but in heaven’s eyes, it is always catastrophic.

We might rail against sins we hate, but our biggest concern should be the sins we love.

* * *

If we are not like that tax collector, we must be like the Pharisee – or perilously close.

Our only chance is to join that wretched tax collector; overwhelmed by the gravity of our sin and finally admitting to ourselves that we are utterly dependent upon God’s undeserved mercy. This will kill our pride, but free us to truly live. It is unbelievable, until we experience it, just how astonishingly liberating it is to cease trying to save ourselves, and let Jesus do what he sacrificed everything to do.

The tax collector, and almost everyone else on earth, would agree with the Pharisee’s assessment. Likewise, the Pharisee would agree with how the tax collector saw things. The Pharisee was a man of integrity; an upright, deeply spiritual person; a man of prayer who lived and breathed the Word of God. The Lord meant everything to him. The tax collector was a despicable sellout. Nearly everyone was in agreement with this assessment – except God.

We have already cited Scriptures indicating how easily we can be deluded and grossly misjudge our own spiritual condition – let alone someone else’s. The tax collector felt riddled with sin, and the Pharisee felt not only forgiven but a spiritual high-flier. In the eyes of humanity’s Judge – the only opinion that matters for all eternity – things were astonishingly different.

If only the stakes were not so humungous, and spiritual reality meant it were safe for a loving, all-knowing God to omit such warnings from his written revelation to us all!

God wants real peace for you, which must not be confused with a snooze behind the wheel of a speeding car. The enemy of our souls is such a deceiver and a killer (John 8:44), that Paul had to warn Christians:

    2 Corinthians 11:3 But I am afraid that somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve in his craftiness, so your minds might be corrupted . . .

And Peter had to write to those under his care:

    1 Peter 5:8  . . . Be watchful. Your adversary, the devil, walks around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.

I am acutely aware of how unpopular I am making myself by not watering down Scripture’s warnings, or completely eliminating them, or implying we can derive false comfort by tearing promises from the Bible and twisting them until they no longer mean what God means. It’s insidiously tempting. Nevertheless, I will have to stand before my Eternal Judge, like everyone else. Just discovering I have let down the divine love of my life would be devastating. And even without this, my own heart would condemn me, as much as if I had ripped warning labels off deadly chemicals used by millions of people. Others might have a legitimate excuse. All I know is that I don’t.

The most insignificant prophet in the Bible is so far ahead of me that I cannot pretend to see his dust, let alone Ezekiel. Nevertheless, the principle divinely expounded to him still applies.

    Ezekiel 33:8 When I tell the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you will surely die,’ and you don’t speak to warn the wicked from his way; that wicked man will die in his iniquity, but I will require his blood at your hand.

And it is not just those we pompously judge as wicked who need the following reminder, but all of us:

    Ezekiel 33:12  . . . The righteousness of the righteous will not deliver him in the day of his disobedience. . . . neither will he who is righteous be able to live by it in the day that he sins.

* * *

You might think the tax collector’s guilt feelings would have soon left upon going home forgiven, but quite possibly not. The enemy of our souls, whose modus operandi is deception, has a vested interest in making divinely forgiven people feel unforgivable. His hope is that they get so discouraged, and feel that their salvation is so impossible that they turn their backs on the God who has cleansed them. On the other hand, the deceiver is just as keen to make unforgiven people feel innocent, and even morally superior, in the hope they never look to Jesus to save them from the sins their smugness blinds them to.

Feelings are feelings; not spiritual reality.

What made the tax collector stand out was not that he was unusually sinful, but that he was unusually repentant. He could have easily prayed, “Lord, I thank you that I’m not some pagan or even a lapsed Jew. Since childhood I have regularly made the pilgrimage to your holy Temple, and here I am yet again worshipping and honoring you. I thank you that I’m a good, law-abiding citizen, unlike rapists or murders or muggers or any other type of criminal. I’m a respectable family man, not an adulterer or drunkard or wife-beater, but a hard-working, caring man, who provides well for his family. Jesus said we should render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and I faithfully facilitate this in the face of cruel, unwarranted persecution.”

What grabbed God’s attention was that this man refused to take the well-worn path of self-justification. Since he refused do-it-yourself justification, the Lord intervened with divine justification (Luke 18:14), which, of course, is infinitely superior.

We need to grasp that Jesus was not portraying a rare situation. Our Lord said that not just a few, but everyone exalting himself, thinking himself better than the immoral or ungodly, will end up humiliated on Judgment Day. If we are not unashamedly non-Christian, we either have the heart of the Pharisee or the tax collector.

We should also note that we are shown just a slice in time. Where will the tax man be in ten years’ time? Would he have retained the humility that had moved the heart of God? Or would, as happens all too often, he have become as smug and self-righteous and as far from God as the Pharisee? I’m not God, to see people’s hearts – and I admit to preferring ignorance –but is the tragedy of going full circle as common as I fear?

    1 Corinthians 10:1-6, 12 Now I would not have you ignorant, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and all ate the same spiritual food; and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of a spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. However with most of them, God was not well pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted.  . . . Therefore let him who thinks he stands be careful that he doesn’t fall.

We all know of those who slip back into old habits, like dogs returning to their vomit (2 Peter 2:20-22), but what of those who turn to ‘respectable’ vomit? Yes, there are those who revert to their old ways and end up worse than ever, but aren’t they more likely to repent than those who congratulate themselves on becoming good like – maybe even better than – the Pharisee? How likely is it that those taking this treacherous track will ever see their desperate need to change?

Jesus’ parable of the Sower rams home that so many start off well, but fail to make it (Mark 4:14-20). Elsewhere, he said, “Every branch in me that doesn’t bear fruit, he takes away. . . . If a man doesn’t remain in me, he is thrown out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned,” (John 15:2, 6).

Given half a chance, we Christians would squabble with each other over almost anything. Let’s not. My only plea is that each of us takes seriously God’s warnings in the Scriptures I cite – not because I put them in my fallible writings but because God puts them in his infallible writings. If the Eternal Judge, who loves so much that he wants no one to perish (Scriptures) deems a warning to be so important that he embeds it in his Word, it is important. Rather than point at others, let’s see if God has something to tell us. Think of it this way: the parts of our Bible we haven’t underlined, are where our next big revelation is likely to come from.

There are those who worry too much about their salvation, and there are those who worry too little. It might never rate as our favorite verse, but there must be a good reason for the divine instruction, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12).

It’s said a good preacher should comfort the troubled and trouble the comfortable. As vitally important as this is, I readily confess that I am so inadequate that I have no idea how anyone can achieve it. Actually, not even the Bible can do it. Vast numbers of tormented people reach out to me who cannot open the Bible without it twisting in their minds into condemnation. On the other hand, how many suffer the opposite affliction? I might be so cautious not to misjudge anyone that I fail to identify them, but there must be those who take Scripture’s assurances to such extremes as to being in spiritual danger by closing their minds to other critically important Scriptures.

Most of us are either too worried or too complacent. Working one-on-one, a counselor at least has the opportunity to focus on what his audience needs. In a larger audience, there will inevitably be people who need opposite things, like someone who desperately needs insulin and someone for whom that same dose could be lethal. Some of us need to be soothed, and some need to be shocked from the stupor of presumptuous overconfidence.

I have a vast number of webpages for those who are needlessly worried about their salvation (for a list, see Feeling Condemned? There’s Hope!). I agonize over their plight. Nevertheless, it would be irresponsible of me to neglect the equally serious needs of those endangered by complacency.

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A surprising number of times, the Word of God compares the Christian life with an athletics competition (Nine Examples). Whether it be a race, a wrestling match, or whatever, the critical factor is not how one begins but how one finishes. This fits perfectly with God’s revelation to one of his prophets:

    Ezekiel 18:24-32 But when the righteous turns away from his righteousness, and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, should he live? None of his righteous deeds that he has done will be remembered. In his trespass that he has trespassed, and in his sin that he has sinned, in them he shall die.
     . . . When the righteous man turns away from his righteousness, and commits iniquity, and dies therein – in his iniquity that he has done he shall die. Again, when the wicked man turns away from his wickedness that he has committed, and does that which is lawful and right, he will save his soul alive. Because he considers, and turns away from all his transgressions that he has committed, he shall surely live. He shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not fair.’ House of Israel, aren’t my ways fair? Aren’t your ways unfair?
    “Therefore I will judge you, house of Israel, everyone according to his ways,” says the Lord God. “Return, and turn yourselves from all your transgressions; so iniquity will not be your ruin. Cast away from you all your transgressions, in which you have transgressed; and make yourself a new heart and a new spirit: for why will you die, house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of him who dies,” says the Lord God. “Therefore turn yourselves, and live!

Paul was under no illusion that his converts would automatically continue as they had begun. “I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter might have tempted you and our efforts might have been useless,” he wrote to one church (1 Thessalonians 3:5, NIV). “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel . . . I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you,” he told other believers (Galatians 1:6; 4:11, NIV). This was despite his certainty that they had “begun in the Spirit” (Galatians 3:3).

Hebrews 6:4-6 speaks of people “who were once enlightened and tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come,” and yet fall away.

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Not to be sold. © Copyright, 2019 Grantley Morris. May be freely copied in whole or in part provided: it is not altered; this entire paragraph is included; readers are not charged and it is not used in a webpage. Many more compassionate, inspiring, sometimes hilarious writings available free online at www.net-burst.net  Freely you have received, freely give. For use outside these limits, consult the author.

 

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