Matthew 12:43-45, NIV - “When an impure spirit comes out of a person, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ When it arrives, it finds the house unoccupied, swept clean and put in order. Then it goes and takes with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and live there. And the final condition of that person is worse than the first. That is how it will be with this wicked generation.”
It is possible for a man to be freed from the shackles of an evil spirit and still not have Jesus. Turning to conventional morality, however, “with no higher spiritual influence to protect and guard him” (Ellicott), will not be enough to maintain it and get him to heaven.
Now, I love DIYs – everything from recipes to arts & crafts to fashion. There’s just something about creating with my own hands that makes me feel good inside. And for a while, this also translated to my lifestyle and my “firmware” (morals and principles). I adored the self-help section of bookstores, enthusiastically seeking the same titles that my “heroes” would be tweeting about. I saw nothing wrong with it – they weren’t advocating wrong, in fact they teach hard work and discipline and positive thinking. I would take chunks of beautifully-stringed words, plaster it on my desk and I felt awesome! The effects were visible and they were good. And yet somehow, I still ended up coming around to a point of emptiness and a strong conviction that “no, this couldn’t be what life is all about”. Until I realized that no matter how good we make life, if God’s not part of it, our efforts are futile. (And that’s from somebody who was raised by Christian parents, studied in a Christian school, grew up in a Christian church, surrounded by Christian friends.)
But did you know that it is just as easy to mistake the Bible for another self-help book? I’ve never thought of it…until this popped out in my devotions:
John 5:39-40, MSG - “You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you’ll find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees. These Scriptures are all about Me! And here I am, standing right before you, and you aren’t willing to receive from me the life you say you want.”
It’s strange how I’ve gone through John (consequently, the entire Bible) numerous times and yet it felt like I was reading this verse for the first time. And it’s so true, isn’t it? It’s so easy to quote Proverbs, where we get practical bits of wisdom, and still miss the big picture.
Sad to say, I’m prone to this too. I can be quite unforgiving and impatient with myself, and I would be seeking (“strong”) scriptures that I may feel I need a refresher on. I would pray, asking Jesus to cleanse me; then go merrily on my way. I would keep it up for a while, until after a few days, I slip into making the same mistakes. This happens many, many more times – a cycle…until I woke up this morning (as in today) with this verse in my head (out of nowhere – this isn’t part of my Bible study plan) and it just makes so much sense.
It’s not that I had been reading the Bible out of duty (I really wanted to) or prayed for the sake of praying. But more often than not, I placed greater focus on how I could apply what I learn, only to be disappointed with myself later on, than receiving the grace that Jesus offers – DIY faith. I realized that even with this daily habit of chewing on the Word of God, in a way I was still highly dependent on morality, rather than Jesus. Not to say that Jesus isn’t moral or good – of course, He is – but as for us, who are born prone to sin and wickedness, apart from Him all our efforts to better ourselves are futile.
The Bible does tell us that it is by faith – not good works – that we come to true salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9), and such faith is only valid if we put it on Jesus (John 14:6).
A clean heart left unoccupied is just as easy (or maybe even easier) to mislead as one that never changed. We need to let Jesus in.