It Ain’t Easy, Being Clean
Vol: 21 Issue: 30 Saturday, April 30, 2016
Among some of my emails was one from an OL member asking me to comment on Matthew 12:43-45. It wasn’t any more specific than that, but the first words that came to mind as I was re-reading the verses became the title of today’s brief.
Because it ain’t easy, being clean.
“When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none. Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.”
I was amazed at how little commentary has been offered on these verses — not many of those in my library had anything to say — those few that did mostly focused on the meaning of the phrase “walking through the dry places” or applied it to the unsaved Jews of that time.
Barnes’ Notes on the Bible had such difficulty sorting out these verses that it complained,
“The general sentiment which our Saviour here teaches is much more easily understood than the illustration which He uses.”
Barnes’ ultimately decides that the Lord is teaching that it was about the Jews’ request for a sign from heaven that would prove Jesus was the Messiah, therefore:
“though He should give them such a sign–a proof conclusive and satisfactory; and though for a time they should profess to believe, and apparently reform–yet such was the obstinacy of their unbelief and wickedness, that they would soon return to them, and become worse and worse.”
It’s a reasonable interpretation, in the context of Matthew 12:38:
“Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from Thee.”
But if that is what the Lord intended, then I’d have to agree with Barnes — He picked a pretty obscure illustration.
There is a principle in philosophy known as “Occam’s Razor” for its originator, Sir William of Occam, expressed as “entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem” or, entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity.”
Summarized, “Occam’s Razor” concludes that that the simplest and most obvious explanation tends to be the best one. Had Barne’s applied Occam’s Razor to Matthew 12:43-45 he would have been less piqued at the Savior for His ‘obtuse’ reference.
Sometimes we miss what the Lord is saying because we’re too busy trying to figure out what He is trying to tell us.
It’s a sad commentary on the effect political correctness has had on the English language that it is necessary to clarify what I mean by ‘equal’ before going on. “Equal” means “the same” as in “two plus two equals (is the same as) four.”
In my intended meaning in this context, equal means ‘the same’ in the sense that things that are different are not the same.
That said, we all come to the Lord equally soiled and we are all washed equally clean by the Blood of Redemption. That is the one and only time in our existence in which all men and women are truly equal.
We were equally lost and we were equally saved. We all tremble equally under the shadow of the Cross.
But as individual saved Christians, we become as unique from one another as our fingerprints. Before we were saved, we were equal in that we had no relationship with God.
As Christians, we aren’t part of a religion, but instead, we enter into a unique personal relationship with Christ.
Think about what that means. You have a personal relationship with lots of different people — and no two relationships are the same — every one is different. Even among members of the same family, there are relationships that can bear a strain, and those that are as fragile as glass.
My relationship with my grandfather was warm, but formal and proper. My brother, on the other hand, could joke and kid around with him in ways that, had it been me, would have made both of us uncomfortable. Same grandfather, two different relationships.
At the point of salvation, the Bible says that we don’t simply change our relationship with God, but rather, that we are actually transformed into new creatures.
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” (2nd Corinthians 5:17)
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.” (Galatians 6:15)
So, once we were all equally lost. We came to Christ equally desperate for salvation. We came away equally clean, in that all our sins were washed away. Then we became brand-new creatures, no longer the same, in that each of us entered into a unique personal relationship with Christ.
Because we are unique individuals within an unique individual relationship, some Christians mature much faster than others. Some Christians can’t get enough of the Word of God — others think an hour a week at church is plenty. Others don’t go to church at all.
One can substitute one’s own judgement as to whether or not somebody is saved based on that kind of criteria — and lots of Christians do.
Personally however, I think that substituting my judgment for God’s is not only foolish, it is dangerous. I know that my own relationship with Jesus is different than it is with others because I’ve heard other Christians pray. They don’t all pray the way that I do.
I’ve seen the way other Christians live. They don’t all live the way that I do. I’ve seen the way other Christians worship. They don’t all worship the way that I do.
On the other hand, I’ve also spent a lifetime in this world surrounded by lost and dying sinners. The only thing different between them and me is that I know I’m forgiven.
I notice that we still all sin the same way.
I don’t have much trouble grasping what the Lord was telling His disciples. It wasn’t delivered in a vacuum. The Lord was speaking to flesh-and-blood men about flesh-and blood-issues. I am flesh-and-blood. What are my issues?
The Lord is real and I am real. Our relationship is real. It’s me that He is talking to. I find that is the best place to begin when trying to understand Scripture. Not where it applies to others. Where it applies to me.
When I first got saved, I was instantly delivered — I suspect my story is not that unique. I was instantly delivered from my most besetting sins — for a time.
When I first got saved I was a young policeman in Texas. I was on fire for the Lord. I quit smoking. I quit drinking. I quit swearing. I was ready to stand before the Bema Seat and hear the words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”
One day a cigarette rolled out from under the car seat of my police patrol car as I braked at a stop light. That was when I discovered how good I was and what a faithful servant I was.
Before my shift was out, I had lighted that cigarette. Before the night was out, I was in a drunken contest with my friends down at the local cop bar to see who could tell the dirtiest joke.
I don’t know how it happened — it just did. One day I was Joe Christian and the next I was Joe Carnal.
The honeymoon was over. Those demons to whom I had ceded sovereignty over my lusts and addictions had been evicted — until I invited them back in.
I hadn’t had a cigarette in months — it would be many years before I could make that statement again. I suddenly found it almost impossible to form a sentence without swearing.
It went from bad to worse to worst. I would attempt to force myself into a mini-revival — it was almost like a drug addict trying in vain to recapture that first ‘high’ — but that which had been handed to me as a gift became a daily struggle.
“But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.” (2nd Peter 2:22)
Of course, that was thirty years ago. I’ve spent the last twenty years deeply immersed in Bible study, and have been in full-time Christian service almost that long. The Lord has blessed me well beyond what I deserve — He has allowed me to study with some of the greatest Bible teachers of this generation.
And since I have been blessed so richly and so undeservedly, out of sheer gratitude, I have conquered all my demons and no longer struggle with sin.
(And YOU can, too! Just send a stamped, self-addressed envelope and five dollars to . . . .)
Wouldn’t it be nice? Would that it were true! But it ain’t. I still suspect my struggle is more difficult than it is for most Christians. (I bet some of you think yours is tougher than mine.)
I know that I can think of a dozen Christians off the top of my head that I think are more spiritually-minded and have better self-control than I do.
But here’s the thing. I’d also bet they each have lists of their own — and I’ll even bet that some of those lists include me among their ideal Christian examples. Their lists are wrong. So is mylist.
You can’t judge a book by its cover, as the old saying goes. But that doesn’t stop us from trying.
Everybody has their own struggles and no two struggles are the same. What is simple for one person is a struggle for another. I know a fat guy who has no struggle not being gay. I know a congenitally skinny guy who has no struggle with the sin of gluttony, but he drinks like a fish.
The Apostle Paul also had his struggles with sin.
“This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” (1st Timothy 1:15)
Paul even took his struggles directly to the Lord Jesus Christ, as I am sure that you have, and I have. Paul was blessed above what he deserved with spiritual insights and revelations from God.
“And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.”
Pay close attention to Paul’s reasoning. He believed that the thorn in his flesh, (which he described as the messenger of Satan), was there to keep him humble. Paul evidently felt he was humble enough — so much so that he took it to Christ on three separate occasions.
Note the Lord’s reply to Paul’s prayer.
“And He said unto me, My grace is sufficent for thee, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.”
Returning to our original topic, the intended lesson of these three verses is to remain vigilant and guard the entrance to the heart. The man whose heart has been cleansed is not invulnerable.
And there is a penalty for returning, like the dog, to his own vomit. The Lord says that the state of that man is worst than the first. That doesn’t mean that person is lost — he is still the same new creature he was on the day he was saved and transformed.
But it was a lot easier when first he was delivered from that unclean spirit. Anybody who was delivered from smoking but then relapsed and tried to quit again knows exactly how much harder it is the next time.
But it doesn’t mean that you’re on your own. The Lord isn’t finished with you yet — but it can sometimes feel like it. We’re up against a lot more than just our own lusts and desires. Sometimes, just being delivered is too easy.
It ain’t easy being clean. But it isn’t supposed to be. If it wasn’t a struggle, then the victory wouldn’t be so sweet.