But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written: “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us shall give account of himself to God. — Romans 14:10-12
In my last post, I discussed the biblical commands to submit to earthly authorities and how that relates to the president of the United States. What I found is that although we are generally to submit to the president and congress, in certain circumstances we are to refuse all ordinances of men. When they ask us to do something unholy, something contrary to what God commands, the decision always goes in favor of God.
The important thing is that we keep our hearts right before God, whether the situation calls for submission or civil disobedience. It’s way too easy to do the right thing for the wrong reason. On the outside that can look like godly submission to the authorities God has put over us, while on the inside it’s really just a fear of man driving us to rationalize our decision not to stand up for the truth. Or it can look on the outside like a holy defiance against tyranny and a defense of biblical principles, while internally it’s really just our pride screaming, “You can’t tell us what to do!”
Too often our good motives aren’t as pure as we proclaim because they share space in our hearts with some impure motives. When I teach, for example, I always pray that God will help me do a great job. But some years ago I began to pray this way. “Lord, please help me do well and to say what You want me to. I ask for three reasons. First, because I love You and want to be obedient to You. Second, because I love the people and want to give them something that will help them. Third, because I love compliments more than criticisms and want people to think well of me. Please forgive me for the pride that motivates me and help me reduce it until only those first two motives remain.”
“A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things.” — Matthew 12:35
“Do you not yet understand that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and is eliminated? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies.” — Matthew 15:17-19
God looks at the heart and knows its deepest secrets. He knows full well our motives, even when we don’t. He knows when our words and actions are sincere and when they are deceitful, even if we are deceiving ourselves. Jesus wasn’t shy about the fact that one can say or do the right things for the wrong reasons. For example, when He taught the disciples to pray, He warned them not to be like the hypocrites. Those hypocrites were saying great things as they prayed, but their true motives were not to commune with God but to impress the people within earshot. Likewise, Jesus warned them not to be like the hypocrites who did things which seem good and noble but were done for ignoble purposes — for the praise of men. So in speech and action, we must always be very mindful of the motivations of our hearts.
“Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.” — Matthew 6:2, 5
“They have their reward.” If the thought of this doesn’t scare you, it probably should. They had their reward because the prize they really sought was a shot to their self-esteem, i.e. their pride. How many times does the Bible say that God is opposed to the proud? I haven’t counted, but it’s a repeated theme.
Pride is a horrific sin and deeply embedded in each of us. It is crafty, deceitful and ready to pose as humility when that suits it. How desperately we want people to compliment us! And even those of us who hate to be complimented are struggling with pride. It is hidden within our discomfort, making us feel awkward because we don’t know how to receive the compliment without looking dumb or arrogant. We fear that the way we respond may actually make the other person regret thinking well of us in the first place! We are trapped in this endless maze between a craving to be loved and respected and a fear of not knowing what to do when we are.
Pride is that way. It’s insidious. It’s persistent. And it’s ambidextrous — if it can’t take you down with arrogance then it will take you down with insecurity. Satan doesn’t care either way. Either way he wins and you lose.
Am I letting pride drive me in my defiance against the illogical, immoral and sometimes illegal mandates of politicians, bureaucrats and PC police? Or is my defiance not so much a thing of my own but rather a reflection of my devotion to God and the godliness He calls me to? Is my righteous anger really just human anger aimed at an unrighteous target? It may be that I am as guilty as those I am angry with, but my sin is the anger of my heart. (Insider Tip: If I’m more eager to see the wicked punished than I am to see them repent and be forgiven, my anger is not righteous.) Am I more outraged by the arrogance of those indoctrinating our children in perversion or am I more concerned with the safety of those children and the eternal destiny of those deceived deceivers? No doubt as Christians we are all concerned with the safety of the children, but do we fool ourselves into thinking that our only motivation is concern for the kids? A pure heart is a rare thing; funny how easy it is for each of us to think that we happen to have one.
Pride abounds in those who rise to power thinking that the world will be a better place because these superior individuals are taking the helm. “The adults are in charge now.” Remember that boast? How many months did it take for those adults to demonstrate childishness and immaturity in their attitudes, intelligence and actions? That would have been true regardless of which side made such a boast and took power. Pride crosses political aisles. And pride abounds in those who rise up in rebellion against them — they, too, believe that their superior intellect and moral fiber are going to save the day. Every generation seems to think they are smarter and more moral than their parents’ generation. I can’t help but think of Paul’s warnings to Timothy about what life would be like in the last days. “…having a form of godliness, but denying its power.” Today we have a country filled with morally superior people who have a form of godliness in their righteous defense of the environment, their defense of a woman’s autonomy over her own body (when it comes to abortion, not to vaccines, of course), their defense of children’s right to define their gender apart from biology, their defense of sexual immorality of every sort. We could go on and on with the list of what they defend in their belief that they are morally pure. But in their very defense of such things they deny that godliness has the power to set people free from these immoral behaviors, desires and confusing ideas.
Just as we may think it’s pride on their part to think of themselves as standing on the high moral ground, they think the same of us and accuse us of being arrogant and judgmental. That’s an understandable assumption on their part. But it actually is possible to be both humble and confident that our version of morality is correct. That’s because we don’t arrive at our moral conclusions based upon our feelings or even our intellectual analysis of the data. We don’t determine what is right and wrong at all; we merely report on what God has declared to be right and wrong. Our explanations and emotions come second. That’s why Paul was able to say to the Romans (2:1-2), “Therefore you are inexcusable, O man, whoever you are who judge, for in whatever you judge another you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things. But we know that the judgment of God is according to truth against those who practice such things.” We don’t condemn anyone. We just warn people that God has promised that He will judge all who practice ungodliness. We do not condemn, we plead with people to turn around and escape from the judgment that they are racing toward. We cry out with compassion, not with a lust for vengeance. Right? … We do warn them, don’t we? We don’t just talk about them with each other and never warn them, do we?
Paul said that we know God’s judgment is against everyone who practice such things as “sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; backbiting, hatred of God, violence, pride, boasting…” (This is part of the list of sins he just outlined at the end of Romans 1.) On the day of judgment — and there will be a day of judgment — every knee is going to bow before Jesus. Kings, presidents, emperors, janitors, the hard working, the lazy, the handicapped, the talented, the rock star, stay-at-home moms, CEOs, entrepreneurs, pastors. All of us. That means that the ones with the real power today aren’t the presidents and congressmen and senators and governors. It’s not the individuals who rule over nations but those who rule over their own flesh by bending their knees in submission to the King of kings, the President of presidents. (I wanted so badly to say “President of presidents” but almost didn’t because we didn’t elect Him, He elected us! But Peter said that Jesus was elected by the God Father! So President of presidents!)
“He has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind.” — 2 Timothy 1:7
That spirit of power comes from the Holy Spirit. Only by the power of the Holy Spirit can we love our enemies. Only by the Holy Spirit can we do what’s right whether it’s popular or unpopular, whether it’s rewarded or punished. By the Holy Spirit we see as obvious the nakedness of the emperor even as the world astoundingly praises his immaculate wardrobe.
Nothing is more powerful than a knee bending to Christ, to whom belongs all power, dominion and glory. Today that is our secret. When Christ returns, even the self-blinded will see it and bend the knee. But for them, that will be too late.