It wasn’t until those close to me came under this same scrutiny, that I realized how very dangerous this is not only to the individual who is under the microscope of spiritual observation, it is also harmful to the body.
“For we dare not class ourselves or compare ourselves with those who commend themselves. But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise.”
And when we measure the depth of another person’s spiritual life, isn’t that exactly what we are doing? “commending ourselves”? Imagining ourselves to be better spiritually than they? Because more often than not, we find them coming up short based on our own level of supposed spiritual maturity.
This is spiritual arrogance, and is a greater problem than the one whom we are criticizing. It is, in fact, judging. And Jesus warned that there will come a time when we will be judged by the same standards that we judged others.
Jesus went on to illustrate this in the story about the Pharisee and the Publican. The Pharisee commended himself for all his spiritual disciplines and then pointed out the lousy state of the publican. Oh sure, we’d never actually voice such things, yet if we are honest we have all thought such things – and God knows our thoughts.
And yet we fail to realize two things:
1. Even Jesus didn’t meet the standard religious requirements of His day. The religious leaders criticized Him soundly for His lack of piety and devotion to certain spiritual disciplines – while managing to completely miss the fact that underneath his lack of supposed (and publicly presented) piety was a spiritual depth they could never understand.
2. A person’s spiritual condition cannot ever be measured by outward displays of spiritual discipline and maturity. God looks at the heart of man – not at how often he raises his hands during one worship service or how many chapters a day he reads out of his Bible. To place expectations upon a person to outwardly display their level of spiritual maturity is placing upon them requirements that God has never asked of us. He never expects us to prove how spiritual we are.
The moment we feel the need to prove our spiritual devotion in the form of spiritual discipline, attendance, worship or any other display of spirituality is the moment we have lapsed into religiosity and have failed to see God as a loving, grace-filled Father who loves us and knows the intentions of our heart!
Will we fail?
Absolutely. We are human.
But that is what grace is all about. It looks beyond what man can see into the depths of his heart, realizing that despite all good intentions and the deep love we have for the Father we still fall.
If we are secure in knowing that God is pleased with us – not based upon what we do or don’t do, but based upon the fact that He is our Father and we are His child – then that is all that matters. He wont love us any more if we fast 2 days a week instead of once a month. Having personal devotions for 2 hours a day instead of 1 will not make Him accept us any more than He already has!
Yes, God has called us to “be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect”, but the perfection is not based upon performance – but the blood of Jesus!
When we set ourselves free from the burden of proving that we have met the “standard” for a mature Christian we will set those around us free as well.
And there is no greater freedom than the joy of knowing that if God is pleased with us, then that is all that matters!