Cultivating a Healthy Suspicion of Self

This past week has been a “spiritually invigorating” roller coaster ride for me. Not one, but two very prominent evangelical Christians were fired from their positions of leadership for willful and/or prolonged sinful conduct. In both cases, the sins of these men had been fairly and thoroughly investigated and gracious opportunities to repent had been offered. Neither chose to relent (at least not for very long) and the steady passage of weeks and months confirmed the sinful trajectory, leaving their trusted Christian colleagues no choice but to remove them. The sins of these men were “large” in the sense that they were both public figures, both of them well-known and highly respected as advocates for pursuing Christ-like holiness.

Next Exit: TruthThe names and details are less important other than to say that both of these men had a profound, positive impact in my personal life of repentance and conversion to Christ. The fact that they both crashed and burned within days of each other is something I would never have anticipated; processing all of it undoubtedly will take me some time.

Moving from the light and into darkness is nearly always a gradual process; the shifts in thought and attitudes of the heart are subtle and (most often) indiscernible, at least at first; this is especially true for those who live much of life “inside their own head,” regularly trusting ourselves to know right from wrong (John 3:20-21).

Whatever we do – and in whatever context – the fact is that we all tend to think, “Yes, this is the right thing for me to do under these circumstances.”

On a much “smaller” scale perhaps, the past week has brought temptation knocking on my door as well. Briefly, I had begun watching a new crime series on Netflix. Yes, I know, that sounds silly – “What’s the big deal?” – but it only took me two episodes to start asking myself, “Is this really helpful for my soul?”

Like most of us, I shook off the question by telling myself “Pssssh…I can handle this!” and asking “Gee, when did you turn into such a high-and-mighty Holy Roller?” Within 24 hours of my decision to go ahead and continue watching this particular series, news broke of the first man having been let go. I was deeply saddened as I had poured (literally) hundreds of hours into listening to this guy preach. His sermons really helped me during a time when I still had serious doubts about the Christian faith; his humility and earnestness in those early days had been a rock for me to cling to as I made the tough adjustment from atheist to believer. His ministry was, for me, the perfect complement to the preaching and teaching I was getting from the pastors at The Crossing.

The next evening, I ignored my doubts about what was good for my soul and decided to watch another episode while folding laundry. It was no accident, in retrospect, that I had begun watching this new series alone, something I almost never do. (My wife was tied up on a service project and I had to do something to keep myself amused during the sudden influx of household chores!) Right about the time that a mob boss finished killing a disloyal former crime partner by repeatedly smashing his head with the door of his car, it occurred to me that the scene had gone on a bit too long and that (perhaps) I was meant to enjoy the murderous mayhem more than be appalled by it. When the director chose to cut to a close-up of blood artfully trickling down from the door jamb onto the street below, I realized it was time to look elsewhere for my laundry-folding entertainment.

The very next day brought news of the second man’s fall from grace, and this one hit a lot closer to home. This was not someone I “knew” via audio sermons posted to the Internet. Here was a man that I had personally learned from, someone I had run into every now and then since 2009. Some of my closest friends even will join in with me by telling amusing anecdotes about this particular guy, but always these jokes were told in the context of deep respect, all while acknowledging the man’s faithfulness to the cause of Christ and his self-awareness of his unusual personality. Now, he is being stripped of the platform from which I (and many, many others) personally benefited so much.

I could sort-of “feel” that something not good was taking place last week within my soul as I made my poor Netflix choices, but I couldn’t name it accurately in the moment. I know that I am free in Christ to watch whatever I please (Galatians 5:1), and yet now I wonder if I have been abusing that freedom for no good purpose (1 Corinthians 8). I also wonder now, in light of the the consequences these two men are facing for their “wandering off,” if I too had in a small way begun the slow, quiet process of drifting away from what is actually best for me.

My spiritual confusion over Netflix programming is (obviously) not something I anticipate being fired for, yet I feel as though the time to hit the “Reset” button is at hand once again. The temptation was huge to brush off my doubts and continue to fold socks while a crime-fighting superhero tossed baddies off tall buildings. But, while I can’t shake the sorrow I feel over these two guys flaming out and shipwrecking their faith, I am thankful it illuminated this slow drift in my own life.

C.S. Lewis on HumilityWe are all so prone to allow our Christian freedom to morph into a steely grip on unhealthy habits and attitudes, and then quietly take us where we never thought we’d go.

So how exactly do we regularly hit the “Reset” button on our souls, keep a wary eye on our wandering hearts and allow biblical wisdom and Truth Himself to flood in? Here are a few simple, straightforward suggestions that I have found helpful over the years.

  • Commit three simple verses to memory:
    • Proverbs 3:5
      Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.
    • Jeremiah 17:9
      The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
    • First Corinthians 10:12
      Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
  • Walk regularly in the light of transparency with others. Nothing sharpens us like other believers, and the sharp knife of the Spirit is used most powerfully in the context of community. Give other trusted Christians permission to point out sin, and pay attention to how you respond to that feedback; if a trusted Christian friend attempts to speak truth to you and you get angry, or if you exhort others to live in way you do not, this is a huge red flag.
  • Pray. Specifically, pray Psalm 139:23-24 out loud: “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! Pray for those in ministry who have fallen to be restored to Christ. Pray for those who have not fallen to remain steadfast in their faith.
  • Cultivate humility. Pick up trash that you are not responsible for, as just one example. Serve others selflessly with no thought of reward or recognition. Be intentional about serving other people who “don’t deserve it.”
  • Regularly ask yourself this question: “When was the last time someone said, ‘I don’t think you are listening to me;’ what was the issue at hand?” Hint: If you are in a room with nine other mature believers and you appear to be “the lone voice of authentic Christian faith” in the room, you are probably wrong and need to undergo a serious gut-check.

We should never forget that we are Christ’s body and that we reflect him to the world. Many people first approach the faith when they recognize the excellence or intelligence of a Christian they encounter. But Christian humility should also be a means by which people are confronted with the genuineness of our message. When nonbelievers discern ongoing repentance and meekness in the lives of believers, they observe that which only the Spirit of God can effect.
Ravi Zacharias, The Apologetic of Humility

“Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one – the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.”
C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters



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