“Do not think in your heart, after the LORD your God has cast them out before you, saying, “Because of my righteousness the LORD has brought me in to possess this land….. (Deuteronomy 9:4a)
I see a pre-publication copy of “salvation by faith” in this verse. Seventy souls went to Egypt during a famine, and many years later, God has brought out and redeemed a million or more from that small start, and is preparing them to cross the river. The Jordan serves as a point of demarcation between their rebellion and His Promise. He has saved them, kept them, fed them, tolerated their rebellious hearts, walked them until a generation passed and now is walking hand in hand with them to give them what they did not earn. As I look at them, God inserts me into His scripture picture. As I hear the call of God and He stokes the flames of faith in my trembling heart, a dangerous self deception crouches nearby hoping to distract me.
Why does the Lord think it’s important to remind me at this moment of initiation — “Do not think in your heart…..Because of my righteousness…? Before pride is revealed by my mouth or my actions, I have to think wrong thoughts in my heart. Thinking I am righteous precedes an attitude of self righteousness which reveals foundational rebellion against God and sets aside the work of Christ.
There have been many moments in my walk with Christ when I actually wanted to be glorified. It’s a continuing and dangerous theme in my ministry life. If I pray for someone and the Lord heals them, my prideful heart wants credit as if Because of my righteousness… they were healed. When I preach or write and someone compliments me, I want to bask in the glory that is God’s alone. Satan always stokes the applause trying to convince me as he did Eve, For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”(Genesis 3:5). Each time I am tempted back to the Tree in the center of the garden, he appeals to my desire to be worshiped. It is the sin that caused the Devil to be cast to earth like lightning.
Same snake. Same sin. Same story.
So a spiritual conundrum exists for me. When I want the glory, the power that reveals itself as authentic Glory is withdrawn from me. When I humble myself and have a right perspective on God’s greatness, it returns. For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. (Galatians 6:4) The great reformer, Martin Luther, focused sharply on this subject in his Commentary on Galatians – Again the Apostle takes the authors of sects to task for being hard-hearted tyrants. They despise the weak and demand that everything be just so. Nothing suits them except what they do. Unless you eulogize whatever they say or do, unless you adapt yourself to their slightest whim, they become angry with you. They are that way because, as St. Paul says, they “think themselves to be something,” they think they know all about the Scriptures.
Paul has their number when he calls them zeros. They deceive themselves with their self-suggested wisdom and holiness. They have no understanding of Christ or the law of Christ. By insisting that everything be perfect they not only fail to bear the burdens of the weak, they actually offend the weak by their severity. People begin to hate and shun them and refuse to accept counsel or comfort from them.
This defines my pride in its worst moments. It is the antithesis of what my heart wants to be in Christ. By Grace, Jesus is guiding me from this dangerous paradigm, forgiving my failures and returns trips to the tree, and making me nothing in His name.