The approach of the New Year is a good time to take stock of ourselves–to take a good, hard, serious look at who we are. Yet, when you look at yourself, do you see someone who is basically good–a person who isn’t perfect, but who does his best? Or, do you see what God sees when He looks at you?
“The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” (Psalms 14:2, 3 KJV)
The problem with many of us is that we don’t see what God sees. We know that we aren’t perfect and that we sometimes mess up, but when we look at others we see that some of them mess up even worse than we do and figure that this makes us okay. The problem with comparing ourselves to others, however, is that while it may, indeed, be true that we don’t do the wicked things some people do, if God took our human blinders off and let us see what He sees when He looks at us, we would be appalled.
While it matters very much that we avoid sin, what God sees when He looks at us has less to do with how bad we are in comparison with others and more to do with the sin nature we are born with–which we inherited from our parents, who inherited it from their parents, all the way back to Adam and Eve. Romans 3:23 tells us, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” It is that part of us down in our very soul, so to speak, that at its heart is capable of terrible things. And while most of us don’t do terrible things–and those of us who trust in Christ daily rely on Him to help us “put to death the old man”–our wicked sin nature is still in us as long as we live. This is why the Bible instructs us to, “…put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and…put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)
When I was younger, I used to look down on people who had clearly messed up their lives, because I knew that I could never be so foolish as to fall for something like that. Yet God warns us not to be arrogant, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” (I Corinthians 10:12) And it seems that the closer I get to God–as I consciously try to rid my life of things that I know are sinful–(or perhaps simply as I’m getting older), He has been bringing situations into my life to show me that under the right circumstances, I, too, could commit the very same sins, even the ones I know I couldn’t. I suspect that what He’s really doing is trying to get me to comprehend the true condition of my soul–the total depravity of my sin nature. But what does this mean, and why does it matter?
Depravity refers to the utter evil of our basic natures, the “old man” the Bible talks about. It does not mean that all people commit the same sins, because everyone has been subjected to different circumstances in life, and because it takes time for the full extent of wickedness to develop–children, for example, tend not to typically be as bad as people who have been practicing wrong all their lives. What it does mean is that given exactly the same exposure and conditions, and taking our innate personalities into account, we would all be capable of some very terrible things.
And this is the reason Jesus warned us not to judge people. When we judge others we look down on them–we subconsciously assume ourselves of a better caliber than they. It is a mental assessment that I could or would never do what he or she is doing. There is perhaps some psychologically profound explanation that accounts for this persistent need to feel better than others, but whatever that is, the result is that we end up slighting those whom God also loves and cares about.
When, on the other hand, I come to see that it is what God has done for me–the family He caused me to be born into, the opportunities He brought into my life–that accounts for most of the differences between others and me, it becomes easier to sympathize and even empathize with them, and not look at them as lesser than me. It also helps us forgive, because at the heart of unforgiveness is, again, judging–the assumption that there is no way that I could have done or ever would be able to do the same sin. Rather, we should obey Jesus:
“Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:36-38)
God warns us against arrogance, because even though we may not be doing the same sins some people do, we have that same ugly sin nature in our hearts and no reason to boast.
Help me see myself through Your eyes, to see the utter depravity that is deep in the heart of each of us. Help me to, “…[take] off…[my] old self with its practices and…put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” (Colossians 3:9, 10 NIV) Amen.