“Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps it. Why are you trying to kill Me?” (John 7:19)
Today’s red-letter verse brings up something that’s very convicting to me. First of all, Jesus told the people that that none of them keep the law. That seems like an exaggeration. They all considered themselves practicing Jews.
It’s the connection of this sentence to the next that gives me a clue into what Jesus might have seen in the people. He accused them of trying to kill him. What was he talking about here? Certainly, he was referring to the fact that their leaders were angry at him for trying to heal on the Sabbath. In John 5:16 it says, “So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him.”
But I think there could be more that Jesus saw. I believe he saw the seeds of sin that would grow until all of these people were ready to call for his death and shout, “Crucify him” at his trial. (Matt 27:23) Ordinary people would become murderers. (Acts 3:15)
And it makes me wonder what seeds of sin Jesus sees in me today that could grow and motivate me to take a horrible action? We’ve been studying James 1 in our midweek, and learning the importance of dealing with sin at the temptation level, instead of allowing it to progress. “But each one is tempted when by his own evil desires he is lured away and enticed. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” (James 1:14-15)
It’s extremely important to look at our “small” attitudes and deal with them. Many times we don’t even realize that we have these attitudes. I’m doing a series on “Finding Hope” for life coaching, and one of the first pieces of advice I have for my audience is to pay attention to the stories they tell themselves. Because in every situation, we have a story about it that we believe. For instance, if something goes wrong, we tell ourselves that things never work out, or that life has it in for us, or that it’s someone’s fault, or that we always fail. Beliefs like that make it hard to have hope.
But what I want to focus on here is that what we believe about a situation becomes the seed from which sin grows. It can generate bitterness, resentment, faithlessness, hatred, jealousy, worry, and much more. So we have to pay attention to what we’re thinking. And then we have to make a conscious decision to not engage in our negative thoughts. Because if we do, they will become magnified. “We take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (II Cor 10:5)
So, what are some practical ways to deal with sin at the temptation level?
- Ask yourself frequently what you are thinking and feeling.
- Bring your attitudes into the light. Journal them or talk to someone about them. “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.” (Eph 5:11)
- Take God with you to look at your attitudes. Listen for his voice as you do. “Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Ps 139:23)
- Ask yourself, “Is it really true, what I believe about this person or situation? How could I believe the best about them? How could I have realistic faith?” “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (I Cor 13:7)
- Give every concern, worry and fear to God. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Phil 4:6, also I Peter 5:7) Remember to do this with thanksgiving, because you know he listens to you, and you’re waiting in expectation of his answer. (Ps 5:3)
- Forgive. “Forgive us our sins, as we have forgiven those who sin against us.” (Matt 6:14)
- Act in the opposite direction of your temptation. If you’re grumpy with a person, do something nice for them. If you’re feeling sad, make a gratitude list, or start singing. If you’re worried, take a step of faith. “If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” (Matt 5:41) “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21) “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” (Prov. 17:22)
In conclusion, let’s go back to today’s red letter verse. Jesus said, “Not one of you keeps the law.” Do you know what that brings to mind for me? The Sermon on the Mount. Because in it, Jesus tells the Jews how they should really keep the law. It’s not that they shouldn’t kill, it’s that they shouldn’t even be angry with someone, or put them down. (Matt 5:21-22) It’s not that they shouldn’t commit adultery, it’s that they shouldn’t even indulge in lust. (Matt 5:27-28)
The law is all about the heart, not about just keeping the letter. And if the Jews had fostered the right heart, they wouldn’t have become murderers. The lesson for us is that we must work on our hearts by stopping sin at the temptation level. As Jesus went on to say in the Sermon on the Mount, “If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” (Matt 5:29)
Lately, I’ve been grumpy with someone. I’ve told myself a story about them, and this has led to me being eaten up with frustration. Then, in the last few days, they’ve shown that what I believed about them wasn’t true. I went through days of frustration for nothing, and it affected my life, and the lives of those around me.
Here’s the thing I keep realizing. The things that go on inside of me are my responsibility. I want to blame them on the actions of others, or on circumstances. But it is totally my responsibility to deal with my grumpiness, resentment, worry, fear, and so on. If I don’t, there will be a price.
Tomorrow, I’ll tell the story of Cain and Abel to the kids for Sunday School. I’ll teach them how God said to Cain, “Sin is crouching at your door. It desires you, but you must master it.” (Genesis 4:7) Cain didn’t listen to God. He didn’t master his sin, and there were dire consequences.
May we all master our sins at the temptation level, before they affect our lives, and the lives of those around us.