Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Rejection of God: a Portrait of Pride

What is pride? Although the Bible doesn’t give us a dictionary definition, it does give us illuminating portraits of the proud.

According to the Book of Isaiah, the proud will be “humbled” (Isa. 5:15; 2:11-12) and the Lord alone will be exalted (Isa. 2:17). Pride is a form of self-exaltation and a corresponding rejection of God’s rightful place. Consequently, in their prideful self-exaltation, Israel rejected the One who should have been exalted (Isa. 1:2-3) but continued to offer Him mere lip-service (Isa. 1:10-15) for appearance sake.

In order to achieve self-exaltation - self-righteousness - we have to deny the ugly truth about ourselves and harden our conscience against our self-evident moral failures and God’s righteous claims over our lives (Isa. 5:12). And with this hardening of conscience comes an increasingly immoral life, as Isaiah illustrates:

  •   Woe to those who draw sin along with cords of deceit, and wickedness as with cart ropes… Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight. Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine and champions at mixing drinks, who acquit the guilty for a bribe, but deny justice to the innocent. Therefore, as tongues of fire lick up straw and as dry grass sinks down in the flames, so their roots will decay    and their flowers blow away like dust; for they have rejected the law of the Lord Almighty and spurned the word of the Holy One of Israel. (Isa. 5:18-24)

When we harden our hearts against the light within (Rom. 2:14-15), we achieve our goal and become “wise in [our] own eyes and clever in [our] own sight.” However, in order to sustain this “achievement,” we have to reject the convicting light (John 3:19-20). Consequently, we “have rejected the law of the Lord Almighty and spurned the word of the Holy One of Israel” along with anything or anyone who calls attention to our sin.

Sin is a “gateway drug.” As marijuana opens the door to stronger drugs, a little unrepented sin will open the door to yet more.

We also lose sensitivity to sin – our moral compass (Rom. 1:18-32). Eventually, we begin to “call evil good and good evil” and even revel in our sin and hypocrisy. We scorn the intolerance of others, refusing to see our own intolerance. However, after a while, we will even come to boast in this hypocrisy.

Isaiah described what Israel had become as a result of their pride, sin, and consequent rejection of their God:

  • Woe to the sinful nation, a people whose guilt is great, a brood of evildoers, children given to corruption! They have forsaken the Lord; they have spurned the Holy One of Israel and turned their backs on him. Why should you be beaten anymore? Why do you persist in rebellion? Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted. From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness—only wounds and welts and open sores, not cleansed or bandaged or soothed with olive oil. (Isa. 1:4-6)

Call it a “confirmation bias” or simply “self-justification” – in either case, we compulsively rationalize our sin and rebellion to a pathological extent. We reject the light and then can no longer see ourselves and the great price we have paid for our sin. The Sister Wives show demonstrates how compelling the “confirmation bias” can be:

  • While Kody and his ‘wives’ strive to put a positive spin on their polygamous lifestyle – their catchphrase is: “Love should be multiplied, not divided” – cracks sometimes appear in the shiny façade, revealing simmering resentment, jealousy and hurt feelings just below the surface.  Forced to compete for Kody’s time, money, and affection, the four women – Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn – have fought bitterly with him and each other over housing arrangements, pregnancies, child rearing, leisure time and just about everything else. 

Often, “being right” trumps being truthful! Are the women merely lying or have they truly deceived themselves? Either way, it seems that they have rejected the light in favor of a debilitating darkness. Nevertheless, there remains hope. God extended this hope to Israel:

  •  “Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good things of the land; but if you resist and rebel, you will be devoured by the sword.” For the mouth of the Lord has spoken. (Isa. 1:18-20)

Our Lord excludes no one. He doesn’t say, “I will not forgive you if your sins are really bad.” Instead, this hope is for all, but it requires our response – “If you are willing and obedient.” Elsewhere, Isaiah proclaims:

  • Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. (Isa 55:6-7)

Salvation is free, but we must turn to the Lord in order to receive it. However, turning to the Lord also entails an intention to turn away from our prior focus – our commitment to pride, self-righteousness, and sin. The two – from the old and to the new - are as inseparable as heads and tails.

How can we turn to God if we have been blinded by sin? Despite the hardness of our hearts, there are still times when we might detect His loving, yet indicting “voice” (Psalm 95, John 16).

What does His mercy entail? God declares:

  • “Zion will be redeemed with justice and her repentant ones with righteousness.” (Isa. 1:27; NASB)

God will pay an unspecified price to redeem the “repentant ones” to Himself. However, He does mention the mysterious price of “righteousness!”

Clearly, this isn’t the righteousness of the sinner. He has no righteousness to speak of! Therefore, it must be God who will pay the redemption price with His own righteousness. But how? He will judge and condemn Himself as payment for our sins:

  • But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed. All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him. (Isa. 53:4-5; NASB)

While our iniquity would “fall on Him,” His righteousness will fall on us – the repentant:

  • I will rejoice greatly in the Lord, my soul will exult in my God; for He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. (Isa. 61:10; NASB)

Covered with His righteousness, we will share in His glory – a glory free from the demands of pride and self-righteousness. As we begin to understand the price He has paid for us and the righteousness with which He has adorned us, our self-centered, loveless pride will be converted into relational, loving, and Other-centered rejoicing. Let Him be praised forever!

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