Friday, November 6, 2009
The Sorrow of Moral Self-Improvement
"When the unclean spirit has gone out of a person, it passes through waterless places seeking rest, but finds none. Then it says, 'I will return to my house from which I came.' And when it comes, it finds the house empty, swept, and put in order. Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more evil than itself, and they enter and dwell there, and the last state of that person is worse than the first. So also will it be with this evil generation."
- Matthew 12:43-45
Jesus is here addressing the Pharisees. In Luke 11:39, Jesus acknowledged the external righteousness of the Pharisees. In fact, He even encouraged His disciples to follow their instructions (Matthew 23:3). Yet He also compares them to "whitewashed sepulchers" ("tombs," verse 27), because they exhibited an external righteousness, while remaining spiritually-dead inside.
Thus is the fate of the self-reformed man. And there are many such men, whether we are talking about the criminal that reforms his life, or the alcoholic who gives up drink, or the adulterer who returns to his wife. But the warning of Jesus is that reform doesn't save a man, but rather it leaves him yet a sinner in Satan's power. Satan is unafraid of self-reform, because it merely deepens the deception of the self-improved man. Rather, it is only sanctification by the Holy Spirit, arising from redemption in the blood of Christ, which breaks the power of sin and Satan over fallen man. As Paul testifies (Romans 8:29-30), "For those whom He foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom He predestined, He also called, and those whom He called He also justified, and those whom He justified He also glorified."