Have you ever played with one of those “What’s wrong with this?” puzzles as a child? One where everything looks normal until you realize the boy is bouncing a cat, or the girl is brushing her teeth with a hammer? When we see influential political and spiritual leaders throwing everything away because of lust, we can’t help but ask, “What’s wrong with this picture? Why do they do this?”
“Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts.” (Romans 6:12)
If you were to survey people who have thrown away promising careers and successful ministries, not to mention marriages, to find out if they knew that what they were doing was wrong, their answer would invariably be, “yes.” Why then, did they do it anyway? I believe that the answer to this is that they were deceived.
Scripture tells us that Satan deceives: “So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” (Revelation 12:9) We are told that Satan, who is also called the devil, is deceiving the entire world. He’s out there doing his thing, and the only way to avoid falling for it is to be firmly grounded in the truth, as God reveals it in His Word.
Not only does Satan deceive us, Romans 7:11 tells us that sin itself deceives: “For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it killed me.”
Left to our own devices apart from Christ, we typically try to act in our own self-interest–we do what we believe benefits us most. The truth of the matter is that no one would throw their entire future away if they did not think it was worth it. Thus, we are left with the conclusion that at a very basic gut level, people who choose the pleasure of the moment really do not believe anything God has to offer can surpass the feelings they derive from their sin. Yet because God tells us differently, we know that something is wrong with this picture. They are being deceived–played–by their emotions.
Jesus told two parables to show us how precious–how incredibly important–being part of God’s kingdom is:
“The kingdom of heaven is like what happens when someone finds a treasure hidden in a field and buries it again [he makes certain he can really get it–that it’s there when he comes back]. Such a person is happy and goes and sells everything [EVERYTHING] in order to buy that field. The kingdom of heaven is like what happens when a shop owner is looking for fine pearls. After finding a very valuable one [think diamonds these days] the owner goes and sells everything in order to buy that pearl.” (Matthew 13:44-46 CEV)
Furthermore, the utter frustration and despair of missing out on being part of God’s kingdom–the “weeping and gnashing of teeth”—-is a recurring theme in Jesus’ message:
(Matthew 22:12-14 NLT)
“‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how is it that you are here without wedding clothes [not properly attired]. But the man had no reply. Then the king said to his aides, ‘Bind his hands and feet and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”
(Matthew 24:48-51 NLT)
“But what if the servant is evil and thinks, ‘My master won’t be back for a while,’ and he begins beating the other servants, partying, and getting drunk? The master will return unannounced and unexpected, and he will cut the servant to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
(Matthew 25:28-30 NLT)
“So take the talent from him, and give it to him who has ten talents. ‘For to everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”
Jesus’ instruction to sacrifice whatever is necessary to get God’s kingdom, along with His consistently repeated reminder of the utter frustration and despair of those who will miss out, demonstrate its value. Yet, because the pleasure of sin can be felt intensely now and the rewards of salvation cannot, this requires “…walk[ing] by faith, not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7)
God’s Word tells us that as long as we are in these bodies in this life, “…we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12) Right now, there is no way we can fully experience what awaits Christ’s people on the other side.
Yet God understands this, and in His mercy, graciously gives us a taste of things to come: “But as it is written: ‘Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.’ But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit…”(1 Corinthians 2:9-10) When we faithfully walk with our Lord, He gives us a sneak preview, so to speak, to encourage us. Notwithstanding, we cannot experience the fullness of everything awaiting us in eternity now.
There is a struggle going on. It is between our feelings–what we can experience in a very real way in our own bodies through sin–and what God has said. A decision has to be made to believe one or the other–ourselves or God.
What is wrong with this picture is that our behavior reveals our belief. Those who doubt God–who have been hooked by the serpent’s question “…has God indeed said…?” (Genesis 3:1)–do not persevere. They choose the fleeing pleasure of sin that is within their grasp now because they do not genuinely believe there is anything better to come.
Those who refuse to indulge their passion, however, do so because in faith and obedience, they look for the eternal. They, like the Old Testament saints, “…[confess] that they…[are] strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country [this present sinful and deceitful age] from which they had come out they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them.” (Hebrews 11:13-16)
Dear Holy Lord,
Help us not doubt You, but believe. Bring us safely home. Amen!