When I read the Bible closely in some places, I start to feel a holy fear come upon me.
For example, I feel pretty uncomfortable when I read Jesus denouncing Pharisees with these types of words: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence” (Matt. 23:25). I’m not sure I’m robbing others, but I can attest to some self-indulgence. Jesus has higher standards than I do–would He say I am full of it? As an American, I have a feeling I’m more blind to my self-indulgent consumerism than Christians in a third world country would be. And I do know how to clean the outside of my cup so I look pretty good. Am I drinking murky water in God’s eyes?
I’ve been reading Isaiah 58. In this chapter, God has some pretty sobering words to say about His people, people who acted in all the right religious ways–humbling themselves through fasting, seeking God, following God’s rules, and delighting in the nearness of God. And yet, God is not happy with them. The people were fasting with the wrong motives, seeking their own pleasure, and ignoring the needs of the poor around them. I know I don’t do everything with the right motive, and I definitely seek my pleasure at times–is it too much? On top of that, I never feel I do enough for the poor with all the riches I’ve been given.
Another chapter in the Bible I recently read was John 15, which talks about how Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches. We are to abide in the Vine, to stay close to Him, and when we do, we will bear fruit (i.e. love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, etc.–Gal. 5:22). Whatever dead branches we have will be pruned off so we’ll bear more fruit.
When I read Scripture and see the holiness of God and thereby see the extent of my sin, I start to think, I need to prune off that mess! Where are the clippers? And when I don’t get it all off–when I can’t get it all off–then I feel rather despairing. This is when I turn to God to help me get clean, which is, of course, what I need to do as my first resort.
Yesterday, some sweet friends of mine pointed out a part of the metaphor in John 15 that I had passed over in my reading. I am not the vinedresser! I am not the one holding the pruning shears. God is. My job as a branch is to abide in the Vine. If I stay close to Jesus, I will bear the fruit I so long to produce, and God will take care of the ugly parts that need pruning.
Next time I see God’s holiness in Scripture and my utter failings in comparison, my response should be to draw closer to Him. When I keep my eyes on my sin, I despair. When I keep my eyes on Jesus, I come alive.