Recently I found myself in the middle of a very typical parenting situation that reminded me of how easily we are miss led on what the real problem is. There was a box. The box was a fun toy. And two children both wanted the fun toy. And so I stepped in to help figure out what was going on because things had taken a turn away from love and peace. I asked this question: “What is the problem?” And both children almost in unison said “the box.” So for the next 5 minutes or so we had a conversation about the box and the real problem. My children were convinced that the problem was the box, but I asked some questions that helped them see how strange of a statement that was: What did the box do? What does the box desire that is a problem for you? Did the box hurt you? Did the box tell you to stop playing with it? Exactly how is the box the problem? If the box it the problem do you think we should just get rid of the box? Somewhere in this conversion it dawned on my children that these questions were ridiculous. Boxes do not have desires or take actions! There was a good round of laughter and then I said this: “if the box is not the problem, what is the problem?” Both of them got it right away, “we are.”
I felt rather smug about teaching them this truth, but of course in moments of honest self-reflection I and all of us have to admit that we are often saying that “the box” is the problem. But in actuality we ourselves are the problem. No doubt, when the perceived problem is a person the waters get muddied, but God’s Word is clear that when we react to situations with stress, despondency, anger, worry, or any other number of sinful and ungodly responses, we are the problem the catalyst is not.
We often think that it is that other person, that sickness, that family background, that job, that whatever that is causing us to react in sinful ways, but Jesus will not allow us to think in these terms. Consider what He says in Matthew 15:18-20:
But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. 19 “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. 20 “These are the things which defile the man; but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile the man.
Have you ever been in a situation where there was disorder and rampant evil? Of course you have. The Bible identifies what is going on there:
For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing (James 3:16).
Where does jealousy and selfish ambition come from? They do not come from circumstances or things, but from our hearts. Have you ever been in an argument, a conflict, a quarrel? Of course you have. Why were you in that conflict, why was I in that argument? Listen to what James tells us:
What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? 2 You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel (James 4:1-2).
In other words, that conflict is really just the smoke from the gun. The smoke is the conflict, but it is the evidence of the gun, our hearts.
Why is it so important for us to honestly recognize we are the problem not everything and everyone else around us? It is important because until we diagnose the issue correctly we will not find God’s solution needed or attractive. If we identify the problem as something “out there” rather than “in here” then we cut ourselves off from the only true hope for change. Jesus is the great physician of the heart, but only for those who know they need Him:
But when Jesus heard this, He said, “It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. 13 “But go and learn what this means: ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners (Matthew 9:12-13).
Do you recognize how often you blame others or circumstances for your own sin?
- They made me made
- You are causing me stress
- You are driving me crazy
- If you would just listen to me I wouldn’t have this break down
- He deserved what I said, look what he did
- I had a hard day at work
- I am tired and hungry
And on and on we go. It is painful to admit that we are so self-deceived, but we are. Though outward circumstances and people certainly influence us and can and do make sinful choices easier, we are the ones that make the choice to live for ourselves rather than God and others in love.
Is there hope for people like us? Yes, as long as we understand that we are sin sick people in need of a Savior. Do you recognize this about your heart? “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9). If you recognize this about your heart and agree with God about the sinfulness of you heart then you are ready to turn to the provision of God for heart sick people like us. You can turn to Jesus the Son of God who came to live the life you have not lived externally or internally. He came to die on the cross for your sinful actions that spring from your sinful heart. And He rose again from the dead so that you might have His victory over your sinful heart and over death the penalty for sin.
This is the promise of the Scriptures if you will trust in Jesus alone for your acceptance before God:
Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. 26 “Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances (Ezekiel 36:25-27).
Maybe for the first time you need to recognize that you are the problem and you need a Savior. Jesus is that Savior. Maybe you already know Jesus as your Savior, but you have slipped into functionally eliminating your need of Him. How have you done this? By blaming everything outside of you rather than recognizing that you are the greatest sinner you know so thoroughly and your only hope is Jesus.
If you know you are the problem and Jesus is the answer then this promise is for you:
“If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; 7 but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; 2 and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world” (1 John 1:6 – 2:2).