Jul 182012

Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in his heart; there is no fear of God in his eyes. For he flatters himself in his own eyes that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated.

Psalm 36:1-2 (ESV

All of us have blind spots respecting our sin. In a car, a blind spot in your mirror can be the cause of an accident. In your Christian life, blind spots can cause all kinds of problems, especially in our relationships. So very often, we blame our problems on everyone else first rather than dealing with the sin in our own hearts. Physical blindness is at least recognizable. Spiritual blindness is not. The spiritually blind person is convinced that they have excellent vision and that they see the situation rightly. But, do we always see everything rightly? Absolutely not. Spiritual blindness is deceptive because, as Paul David Tripp says, “It masquerades as other things.” What are those “other things”?

In Tripp’s book, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands [1], he lists ten masks that the spiritually blind put on. First is the mask of an accurate sense of self. We often do not have an accurate view of ourselves because, as John Calvin would say in his Institutes, we do not have an accurate view of God. We cannot know who we really are apart from seeing God in all His holiness, majesty and perfection. When trouble is in our life, we point the blame at others and we are offended when it is suggested that we might bear responsibility for what is going on. When the Word of God is preached, it sounds like it applies to others, but we do not care to apply it first to ourselves. The Psalmist writes, “He flatters himself in his own eyes.” We all have the tendency to imagine ourselves better than we really are.

The second mask is the mask of being sinned against. We give vivid details of hurtful situations, seeing the speck in our brother’s eye, when really there is a plank in our own eye. The spiritually blind person is the one who is gripped by a sense of being sinned against, not of being a sinner. So, to this person, the change that is needed is a change outside himself.

Third is the mask of trials and testing. If we do not have an accurate view of ourselves, we tend to call the natural consequences of our own sin “trials”. “Do not be deceived. God is not mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (Galatians 6:7). We need to obtain a harvest mentality. The spiritually blind tend to see the harvest not as a result of their own planting, but as painful trials they do not deserve.

Fourth is the mask of needs. The spiritually blind think their problems are due to some lack somewhere. Our neediness is really a result of the fall in Genesis 3, which transformed us from worshipers of God into gratifiers of our flesh. Neediness reveals more about who we are than what we are missing. Our sense of need reveals more about the lusts of our heart than it does the betrayal of others. If you want to know what is important to person, find out the focus of their neediness. Ultimately, what we need is God. No one or nothing else can satisfy like God.

Fifth is the mask of wise counsel. When trouble comes, we often go to others and get their take on it. The spiritually blind will usually go to those who will sympathize with them and tell them what they want to hear. They will always quote those who agree with the decisions they have made. If one says something different from what they believe, they shove it off, even if it is true. Many say they are on a quest for wise counsel, when what they are really after is someone to agree with them.

The sixth mask is the mask of personal insight. We all seek to make sense of our life and situations. We tend to use our own wisdom and intellect to sort out exactly what is going on. True wisdom begins with humility, the recognition that only God is wise and His Word shows the truth of who I am. Real insight does not come from analyzing the situation, but from being biblical.

Number seven is the mask of a sense of values. The spiritually blind will miss what is important. Most of what we treasure is in connection with human relationships. We want love, acceptance, respect, etc., so we do all we can to avoid rejection, loneliness and low self-worth. We put our identity in the hands of people rather than God. People are big and God is small, as Ed Welch would say. When we don’t get what we value we say, “It’s not right,” and simply put, we want people to tell us that we are justified in desiring this or that, when we should look to the eternally valuable things that God wants to do in us.

The eighth mask is that of theological knowledge. This can be dangerous for four reasons: 1) It can produce a high level of confidence in your interpretation of what is going on. 2) It can create the mistaken notion of spiritual maturity. 3) It can create an “I already knew that and did that” attitude. 4) It can build in us a sense that our problems really are not our fault. This kind of person is not teachable. True spiritual maturity results from practicing truth in every day life, not from only knowing abstract truth in the mind.

The ninth mask is that of personal holiness. We are quick to believe that we want the right things and do the right things. We want behavioral standards that make no demand on the heart. Spiritually blind people see the gospel only as a matter of heaven and hell, rather than the very truth that is daily necessary for our sanctification and growth in grace. We can fake out a lot of people here, because we can do those external things and receive applause. This very well might be the epicenter of spiritual blindness. To be spiritually blind is to think that we are righteous when we are not. If I am righteous, then I don’t need Christ and I don’t need to change. We can be clean on the outside, like the Pharisees, yet be full of dead men’s bones.

Last is the mask of repentance. Very often we are sorry for getting caught and not genuinely sorry for offending God. Sometimes, even going to counseling is like penance rather than repentance. We may view confession as penance. Penance is doing some unrelated deed to make up for doing something else. Repentance is not only saying you are sorry. It is a turning from sin and putting on Christ. When we continue to remain defensive, we have not truly repented. True repentance, however, is a radical change of heart. And when the heart changes, so does the life. True repentance cries, “Search me O God and know my heart. Test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).

The spiritually blind do not want to look deep within, see their sin, hate it, and mortify it. Therefore, they will not adjust the mirror so that the blind spots are removed. It’s painful to see the depravity of our heart. That’s why we would rather flatter ourselves! We would rather convince ourselves that we are better than what we really are. We would rather hide the sin then deal with it. In essence then, according to Psalm 36, sin is not naturally hated, but loved.

O God, we bow in the name of Your Son, Jesus, pleading that You would grant the grace for the blinders to be removed, that we might see You in Your glory and that we might see who we truly are in Your Light. Let us walk in the hope that You have designed all things for our growth in grace. Help us take responsibility for our sin. The wicked do not fear You. But we fear You and desire Your sweet communion. Bless Your people for the sake of Your beloved Son, Amen.

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[1] I am so thankful for Paul David Tripp’s book, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands. All of the masks come directly from the first appendix of his book. It is a powerful, heart-exposing, truth-telling, Gospel-saturated book. Be prepared! It is a book that will “rain on your self-centered parade.” But Tripp will direct you to the Gospel and will help you find in Christ forgiveness, freedom, and joy.

Jul 062012

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things after the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.

Ephesians 1:11-12 (ESV)

Three weeks have gone by since my last post on this subject, and I am sure that many who will read this have had some circumstances in their lives made straight (and some made crooked) by the hand of God. It is my great prayer that the crooked lots in our lives would not break us, but that we would mature through them. As Michael, our minister of music, prayed recently: God has not designed the crooked lots to destroy us, but rather that we would hope and trust in Him. His grace is sufficient for each day and we can rest assured that God is working his plans for us. I pray that God would wean us from the world and that we would think biblically regarding the crooked lots in our lives.

Who can make straight what God has made crooked? (Ecc. 7:13) When one crooked lot gets straightened, be warned that another will be made in its place! In the Old Testament, Rachel’s crook was barrenness. God closed her womb for His redemptive purposes, yet this was a shameful crook for her to endure. Every day she was reminded of her crook. Her husband, Jacob, was producing offspring by others, and God granted her none. Her lot was finally straightened when she gave birth to Joseph. But when she was found to be pregnant for the second time, her crook was straightened until she found herself in hard labor, gave birth and named her son Ben-oni (the son of my sorrow), then departed from this life.

Let’s look at three things that Thomas Boston describes as the nature of that which is crooked.

First of all, the crooked lot is disagreeable to our nature. Crooked lots give no explanation of their presence and, to put it simply, we just don’t like them, particularly those of a more intense degree. But we must remember this: There is not, in anybody’s lot, any such thing as a crook in respect of the will and purposes of God. Boston writes, “Take the most harsh and dismal dispensation in one’s lot and lay it to the eternal decree, made in the depth of infinite wisdom before the world began, and it will answer it exactly, without the least deviation, “all things being worked after the counsel of his will.” The greatest crook of the lot on earth is straight in heaven. There is no disagreeableness to it there. Our natural inclination does not see the crook that way. This is where the fight of faith is. We must walk by faith and not by sight. We must quiet ourselves in the will and purposes of God and not insist that things should go according to the way we think it should go.

Secondly, crooked things are unpleasant to the eye and no crook in the lot seems to be joyous, but grievous, making an unsightly appearance. How often do we dwell upon that which is unsightly? It seems as if our minds keep the unsightly crook in view. I mentioned that Rachel named her son Ben-oni, which means “son of my sorrow.” Jacob, however, would not keep the crooked lot in view and so named his son Benjamin, which means, “son of my right hand.” Jacob did not want to be reminded of the crook in his lot every time he spoke the name of his son. Faith will discover a hidden sightliness in the crooks in our lot. We will see beyond the circumstance to our covenant-keeping God who is working His plans for us.

Thirdly, crooked things do not move easily. A case in point is the crook that came in my lot last week. My son pulled the tractor in the garage so that I could fix one thing. I fixed the problem, then I tried to back the tractor out of the garage and the steering mechanism broke! Now the tractor really could not move easily. Crooks in the lot make it more difficult to walk as a Christian, “walking” being a metaphor for living as a believer. Crooks in the lot give easy access for temptation to overtake a believer. They are like fish hooks that Satan will diligently use for his advantage. They can grab a hold of us and drag us to where we really do not want to go. The tempter can entangle the tempted as in a thicket, out of which he does not know how to escape. We can be tempted to doubt God’s love, power, goodness, and wisdom. We may be tempted to say, “Following Christ is just not worth it.” We might be tempted to self-pity. But let us not be too hard on those that are going through severe crooks. Let us have compassion on them and encourage them not to fall into Satan’s traps. Let us pray for them and seek ways to bring relief if possible. We are exhorted to “encourage one another daily as long as it is called ‘Today’.” (Hebrews 3:13)

“The Lord is the strength of His people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed. Oh save your people and bless your heritage! Be their shepherd and carry them forever” (Psalm 28:8-9). He is carrying us in His loving and strong arms and He will never let us go no matter how straight or crooked the lot!