The itch of self

self-reliance and self-sufficiency have become the hallmark signifiers of maturity and success in American culture.  We use phrases like, “stand on your own two feet” and, “cut the apron strings” as idioms to express these concepts in a positive, cultural light.  Although I support the ideology of personal productivity in the framework of godly stewardship, I have seen this mentality ooze into our churches to an unhealthy extent.

In John 5, Jesus confronted something similar. The churchy people of the day had entrenched themselves so deeply into their tradition, that they both rejected the teachings they based this upon (the writings of Moses), and the God whom they claimed to worship.  The result was a ritual lifestyle that reflected a religious belief, but was void of passion, purpose, and God.  Essentially, the churchy were more concerned about impressing each other, approving one another, than in seeking the approval and glory of God.

John 5 records Jesus healing an invalid and the resulting backlash from the churchy.  The wave of criticism, hatred, and anger towards Jesus is obvious.  Why?  What spurred this sort of response?  Jesus placed His mission and God’s glory above all else, even tradition and approval of others.

Instead of ignoring the wave of dogmatic rhetoric and criticism, Jesus uses this as a teachable moment.  His instruction covers a broad area, but one of His assertions captured in John 5:44 regarding the motivation of self and the approval of others is particularly relevant:

How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?

Jesus does not challenge their tradition, He challenges their faith.  Jesus does not call into question if their rituals are biblical, He questions their allegiance to God.  I like the way John Piper describes this:

This empty craving for the praise of others signals the failure of pride and the absence of faith in God’s ongoing grace. Jesus saw the terrible effect of this itch for human glory. He named it in John 5:44, “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?” The answer is, you can’t. Itching for glory from other people makes faith impossible. Why?

Because faith is being satisfied with all that God is for you in Jesus. And if you are bent on getting the satisfaction of your itch from the scratch of others’ acclaim, you will turn away from Jesus.

It is impossible to seek the approval and glory of God and man at the same time.  The principle here is simple: seek first God’s glory… We have not been created to self-glorify.  We have been created to love the Lord your God with everything we are (heart, mind, soul, and strength), for His glory alone.  Piper puts it this way:

The self was never designed to satisfy itself or rely upon itself. It never can be sufficient. We are but in the image of God, not God himself. We are shadows and echoes. So there will always be an emptiness in the soul that struggles to be satisfied with the resources of self.

There is good news in all of this.  If we will turn away from self (repentance), and turn to Christ Jesus as the true source of love, joy, peace, and purpose in all things, then the itch will be satisfied and our soul made complete through faith in Him.

Turn.  Trust.  Seek.  Live.

Author: RGM

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