You have heard me say over and over how important our thinking is. How we think affects how we live. The Bible has much to say about how we think, because our thought processes affect our actions.
Proverbs 23:7 (NKJV) For as he thinks in his heart, so is he....
You are a product of your thinking. Man is controlled from the inside by his desires, and his desires are predetermined by the influences on his thinking. The mind is the command center which determines our conduct based upon what influences our thinking. The Scriptures say much about our mind.
Jeremiah 17:9 (NKJV) "The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?
Romans 12:2 (NKJV) And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.
Ephesians 4:23 (NKJV) and be renewed in the spirit of your mind,
A believer contends with his wicked mind by allowing God to renew his mind; he also must guard his thinking against false teaching to maintain a biblical viewpoint.
Proverbs 4:23 (NKJV) Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life.
We could interpret it this way, "Guard your mind above everything else you do, because it will determine the life you live." If we think a certain way, we will act a certain way. One of the false teachings that we must guard our thinking from is that of the self-esteem movement.
The self-esteem movement of our day has poisoned the minds of more Christians than we may care to admit. Success and self-esteem have become so important in the church that they overshadow everything else. Self is the predominant theme of a large percentage of Christian books and sermons. Zig Ziglar, a success/motivation speaker who is widely read and accepted by many Christians and pastors, says this, "As you accept yourself, you will see yourself as a person who truly deserves 'the good things in life'.... Shakespeare said it, 'This above all, to thine own self be true'... Once you accept yourself for your true worth, then the symptoms of vulgarity, profanity, sloppiness, promiscuity, etc. disappear. There, my friend, goes your problem."
The Bible never urges self-acceptance, self-love, self-assertion, self-confidence, self-esteem, nor any of the other selfisms that are so popular today. The answer to our problems is not to accept "self", but to turn from self to Christ. To encourage selfism in creatures whose besetting sins are centered in "self" is like pouring gasoline on a fire that is already raging out of control.
The seventeenth-century Scottish preacher, Samuel Rutherford, wrote: "But alas! that idol, that whorish creature myself is the master-idol we all bow to. What hurried Eve headlong upon the forbidden fruit, but that wretched thing, herself? What drew that brother-murderer to kill Abel? That untamed himself..." Contrast this with Robert Schuller, who says, "A God-centered theology is now outdated and must be replaced by a man-centered theology that incorporates psychology." This sounds ridiculous, but much theology today is centered on man. This new self-centered gospel has much in common with humanism, which is totally man-centered. The Church has become man-centered and actually encourages pride. And many of us have been influenced by this teaching.
The Scriptures clearly state that God hates all that pertains to pride. In Deuteronomy God addresses the Israelites,
Deuteronomy 8:3 (NKJV) "So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD.
God was working on their pride, he wanted them to trust in him and not in themselves.
Deuteronomy 8:16-18 (NKJV) "who fed you in the wilderness with manna, which your fathers did not know, that He might humble you and that He might test you, to do you good in the end; 17 "then you say in your heart, 'My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth.' 18 "And you shall remember the LORD your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day.
Deuteronomy 9:5-6 (NKJV) "It is not because of your righteousness or the uprightness of your heart that you go in to possess their land, but because of the wickedness of these nations that the LORD your God drives them out from before you, and that He may fulfill the word which the LORD swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 6 "Therefore understand that the LORD your God is not giving you this good land to possess because of your righteousness, for you are a stiff-necked people.
Does that sound like God is trying to build their self-image? God tells them, "It is not because of your righteousness" and "You are a stiff necked people."Pride is the besetting sin of the human race, and God works to humble us. Paul urged the Philippians to:
Philippians 2:3 (NKJV) Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.
He warned the believers in Rome with these words:
Romans 12:3 (NKJV) For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.
The Bible never warns us not to think more lowly of ourselves than we ought to; there should be many such warnings in Scripture if our problem is low self-esteem. Clearly pride, not low self-esteem, is our main problem.
Jesus' disciples struggled with pride. On two separate occasions, we see the disciples arguing among themselves over who will be the greatest.
Mark 9:34 (NKJV) But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest.
Luke 22:24 (NKJV) Now there was also a dispute among them, as to which of them should be considered the greatest.
Certainly they were not plagued with low self-esteem!
Our problem is not that we think too little of ourselves, but that we think too much of ourselves. Someone will say, "But God loves us. Doesn't that prove our self-worth?" God loves us, not because we are worthy, but because of who He is; God is love. This is no basis for self-worth; rather it is an opportunity to recognize the grace of God. When we are tempted with thoughts of our worth, we may find help in the words of John the Baptist to the Jews. He wanted to show them that there is no self-esteem or self-worth in ancestry.
Matthew 3:9 (NKJV) "and do not think to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.
Isn't that ego-building ? God could use rocks to take anyone's place. Believers, we must guard our thinking; we all struggle with the sin of pride. We are all being bombarded daily with the self-esteem and self-worth doctrines that feed our sin of pride. We have all been influenced to some extent by this self-elevating teaching. We have bought the lie that Zig Ziglar speaks that, "As you accept yourself, you will see yourself as a person who truly deserves the good things in life." I would dare say that most believers believe that; they think they deserve the good things in life. Most believers think they deserve certain things from God. The word "deserve" means: "to be worthy." I think that most of the church believes that they are worthy of God's grace and goodness. We think that God owes us. In this twisted view, God is the debtor and man is the creditor. We often think God owes us health; as a matter of fact, He owes us ninety years of healthy life. Or He owes us a certain level of wealth; we deserve to have enough money to meet out greeds, like a nice home and two cars. Or we deserve trouble free children, a loving spouse. The list of things that we think God owes us goes on and on. Be honest, do you feel that there are certain things that God owes you? Why do you feel God owes you?
The inevitable result of a high view of self is a low view of God. We no longer see Him as a Holy God who hates and punishes sin. We need to have our minds renewed. The absence of an understanding of God's holiness is the reason for our selfishness. Holiness is the primary attribute of God. He emphasized His holiness especially in the Old Testament times:
Leviticus 11:44 (NKJV) 'For I am the LORD your God. You shall therefore consecrate yourselves, and you shall be holy; for I am holy. Neither shall you defile yourselves with any creeping thing that creeps on the earth.
Psalms 22:3 (NKJV) But You are holy, Enthroned in the praises of Israel.
The Lord is called "the Holy One" some thirty times in Isaiah alone. The biblical concept of holiness has two primary meanings: The first meaning is simply "apartness or separateness", that which is holy is set apart from common things. It is different; it is other. To say that God is holy is to say He transcends the entire creation. The second meaning of God's holiness refers to His purity. There is no moral blemish, no defect, no stain of wickedness to mar His character. Habakkuk illustrates this aspect of God's holiness:
Habakkuk 1:12-13 (NKJV) Are You not from everlasting, O LORD my God, my Holy One? We shall not die. O LORD, You have appointed them for judgment; O Rock, You have marked them for correction. 13 You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, And cannot look on wickedness. Why do You look on those who deal treacherously, And hold Your tongue when the wicked devours A person more righteous than he?
God's holiness is linked to His righteousness and justice. The righteousness and justice of God is that aspect of God's holiness manifested in His treatment of His creatures.
Psalms 97:2 (NKJV) Clouds and darkness surround Him; Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne.
God is holy and just, and He must punish sin. Even the slightest sin defies the authority of God, insults His majesty, and challenges His justice. Because of our sin, we all deserve God's WRATH according to:
Romans 1:18 (NKJV) For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,
God's wrath in the Bible is never capricious, self-indulgent, or irritable. God's wrath is always judicial, the wrath of a judge administering justice. Each person gets exactly what he deserves. Wrath denotes God's resolute action in punishing sin, and it is the active manifestation of his hatred of sin. God is holy, and His holiness demands that He not tolerate unholiness. And men, all men, are unholy.
Genesis 6:5 (NKJV) Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.
You see, believer, the only thing we deserve is wrath; the only thing God owes us is wrath. If we really understood the depth of our sin and the holiness of God, we would thank God every day that He hasn't killed us. We would thank God for His mercy and grace. But if we see ourselves as deserving good things from God, then we do not see God as merciful and gracious. First we take mercy for granted, then we assume it, and finally we demand it, as if God owed it to us. Then whenever God acts in justice, we complain that He is unjust.
How often do we question God's motives and actions? In light of the fact that God is in control of everything, does it bother you when you read of or hear of destructive events? Things such as a child being molested or murdered. Do events like that make you question God? Isn't it pride when we question God? Isn't questioning Him saying, "I would have done it differently." It seems like we are constantly questioning God. When a loved one dies, we respond with, "God, that isn't fair! How could You do that? That person deserved to live, I need him." In bad situations, we think, "God, how could you let this happen to me? How could I be going through a divorce? How could I be so sick? How could You let my loved one be molested? How could I be without a job? Why me? It's not fair, I deserve better." We question God's justice, which is a heinous sin, because God is just.
Have you ever questioned God's justice as you've read the Bible? Many of God's judgments seem so cruel to us, and we often respond by questioning God. In 2 Kings, we see some of God's judgments that seem to confuse us:
2 Kings 1:1-3 (NKJV) Moab rebelled against Israel after the death of Ahab. 2 Now Ahaziah fell through the lattice of his upper room in Samaria, and was injured; so he sent messengers and said to them, "Go, inquire of Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron, whether I shall recover from this injury." 3 But the angel of the LORD said to Elijah the Tishbite, "Arise, go up to meet the messengers of the king of Samaria, and say to them, 'Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron?'
2 Kings 1:9-12 (NKJV) Then the king sent to him a captain of fifty with his fifty men. So he went up to him; and there he was, sitting on the top of a hill. And he spoke to him: "Man of God, the king has said, 'Come down!'" 10 So Elijah answered and said to the captain of fifty, "If I am a man of God, then let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men." And fire came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty. 11 Then he sent to him another captain of fifty with his fifty men. And he answered and said to him: "Man of God, thus has the king said, 'Come down quickly!'" 12 So Elijah answered and said to them, "If I am a man of God, let fire come down from heaven and consume you and your fifty men." And the fire of God came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty.
We might ask, "How could God incinerate 102 people?" That doesn't seem right to us. 2 Kings 2:23-24 seems even less fair:
2 Kings 2:23-24 (NKJV) Then he went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up the road, some youths came from the city and mocked him, and said to him, "Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!" 24 So he turned around and looked at them, and pronounced a curse on them in the name of the LORD. And two female bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths.
Many people would ask, "What kind of God sends a bear to kill children because they mocked God's prophet?" Do you remember what happened to Lot's wife when she looked back at Sodom? God turned her into salt! God also ordered a general slaughter when the children of Israel destroyed Jericho:
Joshua 6:21 (NKJV) And they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword.
In 2 Samuel 6, Uzziah steadied the ark to keep it from falling, and God struck him dead! We look at the Old Testament and even modern day disasters, and we wonder, "How can God allow those things?" But we are looking at life from a wrong perspective. We are looking at it from our humanistic view that thinks that God owes us certain things: health, happiness, life.
Let's go back to the beginning and see if we can't correct our thinking. God said to Adam and Eve at the beginning:
Genesis 2:17 (NKJV) "but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die."
In other words, God said, "You sin, you die!" God created man to glorify Himself, but man rebelled and disobeyed God. Did Adam die the day he sinned? Some commentators say that God decided to be merciful, and Adam didn't die. Did God mean what he said? Did Adam die? Yes, he died spiritually. If we say that the death God promised Adam for disobedience was physical, we are making God a liar and Satan the truthful one.
God said they would die the very day they ate. Satan said they would not die. Who told the truth? If God was talking about physical death, then Satan was the one telling the truth. Physically, Adam lived for another 900 plus years. It is very important that we understand this. Satan lied. Adam died that day, spiritually. Man's problem is spiritual. He is separated from God because of his sin. In this state of spiritual death, he is under God's wrath. If we approach all of life from the perspective of the standard set at creation (sin brings spiritual death which puts us under the wrath of God), we realize the Old Testament and all of life is full of God's mercy. But we are so accustomed to mercy and grace, we're so used to not being punished, that we abuse mercy and grace; whenever God does punish us, we think that He's unjust.
God's swift judgment on Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5 shouldn't amaze us. Have any of us ever lied? We should be amazed that we're still alive! We all sin, and we all deserve God's judgment, but we're so used to mercy that we're offended when God isn't merciful. He chooses times not to be merciful; if He was always merciful, think of how badly we'd abuse mercy and grace. We need to see examples of His justice to help us keep our perspective.
1 Corinthians 10:5-11 illustrates an instance where God gave an example of His justice:
1 Corinthians 10:5-11 (NKJV) But with most of them God was not well pleased, for their bodies were scattered in the wilderness. 6 Now these things became our examples, to the intent that we should not lust after evil things as they also lusted. 7 And do not become idolaters as were some of them. As it is written, "The people sat down to eat and drink, and rose up to play." 8 Nor let us commit sexual immorality, as some of them did, and in one day twenty-three thousand fell; 9 nor let us tempt Christ, as some of them also tempted, and were destroyed by serpents; 10 nor complain, as some of them also complained, and were destroyed by the destroyer. 11 Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.
Why did God kill 23,000 fornicators? Verse eleven says He did it for an example! We should be grateful simply because God allows us to live.
We all deserve spiritual death, according to Romans 6:23: "The wages of sin is death" Have you ever sinned? Are you spiritually dead? You're not if you have put your trust in the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ. God's redemption of man is pure mercy! Praise God for His mercy because you don't deserve it. We deserve spiritual death, we deserve wrath, we deserve hell. Anything short of that should cause us to be grateful. Whenever we see God act in justice, or when things aren't going according to our plans, we shouldn't question God's fairness. We should realize what we really deserve and be grateful that God is merciful.
Right thinking about God's holiness and our sinfulness will change how we respond to the circumstances of life. If we lose our job, we should be thankful that we ever had one. If a loved one dies, instead of feeling cheated because of our loss, we should be grateful for the time we had with them. We don't deserve one moment of happiness. We deserve wrath. So let's thank God for all of his mercies.
The greatest singular act of personal worship is a grateful heart. 2 Corinthians 4:15 bears this out:
2 Corinthians 4:15 (NKJV) For all things are for your sakes, that grace, having spread through the many, may cause thanksgiving to abound to the glory of God.
The proud person is not grateful because he always thinks he deserves better. But the humble person knows he doesn't deserve anything; therefore, he's always grateful for God's mercy and grace. We must allow the Holy Spirit to renew our minds with the Word of God so that we learn to live by the realization that whatever our situation in life might be, it is far better than we deserve.
As we begin to think from a biblical perspective, we will become grateful to God for everything. We will realize that whatever our situation might be, it is far better than we deserve.
Lamentations 3:22-23 should be the attitude of every believer:
Lamentations 3:22-23 (NKJV) Through the Lord's mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. 23 They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.