God must sometimes cast us into a sick bed—into the absolute immobility of the fetal position—where we groan and writhe and pray and plot and plan and connive and capitulate, over and over again, until—at long last—the dreadful fever to justify ourselves finally breaks, and the compulsion to win God’s love through our own good works finally spends itself like a hurricane crashing into the mainland.
And the LORD said to Gideon,
“The people who are with you are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hands,
lest Israel claim glory for itself against Me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’”
Fantasy # 1
I have just died (hopefully it didn’t hurt too much). There is a small gathering at church, with friends and family in attendance.
The presiding pastor opens the meeting for comments. My dear friend Lawrence steps up to the podium, offers some gracious remarks, and closes with this:
“You know, whenever I would call Dean and ask how he was doing, he would say, ‘Pretty good for a guy who’s still trying to figure out what he’s going to be when he grows up.’
“Well, now he knows.”
Don’t laugh. I can’t begin to count the times I’ve found myself in the fetal position—spiritually AND physically—groaning before God, wishing, hoping, praying that I might see a straight path—a clear life course—spreading out before me. Alas, it’s going on 40 years since I first met the Lord; and yes, by his precious grace I’ve definitely had the pleasure of doing a few things in his name. Yet somehow I still don’t feel I’ve gotten the complete picture; that I have seen, or said, or accomplished . . . enough.
Do you ever experience this malaise? If so, our text from Judges—and a few others like it—may be of some help.
What exactly is its message? In essence, it’s this: There is something sinful in sinful man—something dark and deep—that inclines his entire fallen being to orbit around himself, and because of that to glory before God in his own accomplishments.
God clearly dislikes it.
But why? The text itself supplies the profound answer: He dislikes it because when we claim glory for ourselves, we are actually glorying against him! In other words, when we boast of our power to save ourselves, we are boasting against the truth: the truth that salvation never ever comes from man, but always and only from the Lord.
And so, to help Israel get the point—and to memorialize it forever for us, upon whom the ends of the ages have fallen—God used a mere 300 men to defeat an army whose numbers were like the sands of the seashore for multitude.
In these last days, when the great mystery of God has at last been unveiled, God has done something even greater: he has used one man to rescue us from every enemy we ever had—including his own wrath and retribution—and to bring us home safely to himself.
Listen to these rich New Testament passages which teach this very thing, warning the saints to boast, not in themselves, but in God’s very own Gideon:
But by his doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption—so that, as it is written, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.” –-1 Corinthians 1:30
By grace you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, and not of works, lest any one should boast. — Ephesians 2:8-9
Where then is boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? Of works? No, by a law of faith. — Romans 3:27
I could go on, but you get the picture. Just as in the days of the judges, so now: God takes no pleasure in the self that revolves around itself; in the self that is consumed with its own labors, its own accomplishments, its own merits; the self that subtly seeks—whether in pride, or fear, or some strange mixture of both—to commend itself to God on the ground of its own good works, even if they are works that God himself has enabled the self to do!
Why are the Scriptures so emphatic on this matter? Well, now that Jesus has come, we can finally understand: He is emphatic about it because to glory in one’s own works is to glory against the finished work of Christ. But He who loves the Son—and He who desires all to honor the Son even as they honor him—will have none of it.