For the past few years now, my wife Erica and I have taken a little winter vacation with Erica’s parent’s and her sister and brother in law. It’s actually a place that Erica’s family has been going to for years, and it’s become a favorite spot for the two of us as well.
Every year we have more fun and develop new favorite memories. One of the things that we have been laughing about in particular, as of late, is my father in laws navigation around town. There’s a bit of a theme developing. Over the course of the week we end up walking most places we go. There are taxi’s available, but when we’re on vacation, we have no schedule, there’s never any hurry, and it’s always incredibly beautiful, so most of the time we perfectly happy to walk. However, a few of our destinations resulted in a walk that was far longer than anyone was interested in… even with the beauty and care free schedule.
You see, my father in law was usually the one to pick a restaurant for the evening and would let us know that it’s only about a 15 or 20 minute walk. That always seemed doable. 15-20 minutes to walk for dinner, that’s perfect. The only problem was, it was never 15-20 minutes. After a few long walks and late nights getting back home, we soon discovered that when my father in law said 15-20 minutes, it really meant about 30-40.
It became clear, feet achingly clear at times, that my father in law was really having some issues measuring the distance we were from some of the restaurants where we wanted eat. We learned to double all walking times that my father in law passed along. Whether we were going to the tennis court or the pool, we double all the times he gave us. We always give him a hard time, but the truth was he was always mis-measuring our distance to the local hot spots.
This made me realize something.
Humans are Bad at Measuring Things
We are! Humans are bad at measuring things… that’s my opinion at least.
When we’re on our way to a meeting, we say, “Ya, I’ll be there in 5.” Well everyone knows that means 15 minutes, not 5. When we give directions, we say, “It’s only like a half a mile, when it’s actually about 1 and quarter. What about baking or cooking. I’m the worst at that. If I don’t have the measuring cups or spoons when Erica tells me to add a tablespoon of olive oil, I’m dumping in way more than is good for anyone.
So let me say it again… Humans are bad at measuring things!! DO you ever find that to be true for you? Maybe it’s just some small things, but maybe it’s some of the bigger more important things in life that you are bad at measuring. I think that can be true of us all. We’re always giving ourselves too much credit. And that is important recognize–that we do that–especially when it comes to spiritual growth, which is exactly what we’re talking about in this post.
It’s way too easy to miscalculate or mis-measure spiritual growth and health—to assume things are better, or just at least different than they really are. Now, I don’t say that to discourage you or make you doubt your spiritual relationship with God. Some of you have a very faithful and healthy relationship with God and my purpose is not to cast doubt on that. I simply want to caution us all to take a good hard look.
It’s too easy to assume we’re right where we need to be—too easy to assume that our spiritual fitness is spot on—when in actuality, we’ve fooled ourselves and mis-measured the state of our health and growth.
It’s so easy to mis-measure that even the religious elite in Jesus’ day mis-measured their own spiritual health. If there was a religious organizational chart or a religious hierarchy in Jesus’ day, the group known as the Pharisees would be at the top.
These guys were the leading dudes when it came to all things religion. They thought they were pretty special. But, as we will discover, when it came to their own spiritual fitness, they suffered from major mis-measurement problems and they are served a pretty severe warning because of it. We can’t afford to make the same mistakes and mis-calculations. So if you want to find out where the Pharisees went wrong…if you want to learn what NOT to do when measuring your own spiritual health, turn with me to Matthew 3:1-10.
In those days John the Baptist came to the Judean wilderness and began preaching. His message was, 2 “Repent of your sins (turn from your sins) and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.[a]” 3 The prophet Isaiah was speaking about John when he said,
“He is a voice shouting in the wilderness,
‘Prepare the way for the Lord’s coming!
Clear the road for him!’”[b]
Verse 4 gives a brief description of John’s hippie like appearance, and then we get to verse 5
5 People from Jerusalem and from all of Judea and all over the Jordan Valley went out to see and hear John. 6 And when they confessed their sins, he baptized them in the Jordan River. (You see at this time baptism done in preparation for the coming of Jesus, and it was public declaration and a marker of spiritual growth. It was one of the ways that you could measure someone’s spiritual fitness. And the Pharisees, who I mentioned before, see this, and they take notice. Verse 7 says this…
7 But when he (John) saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to watch him baptize,[c] he denounced them. “You brood of snakes!” he exclaimed. This seems to be a peculiar way to greet people coming to participate in this baptism. You’d think this is a good thing. But John doesn’t see it that. So he rips off this question at them, “Who warned you to flee God’s coming wrath?” He’s saying “Why are you really here?!! You just want do the right religious thing huh…whatever makes you look good? “Well he warns them…. “Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. 9 Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. 10 Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.”
It would appear to be a good thing that the Pharisees are coming to be baptized, but John seems to know better. He’s sees right through them. I said before that baptism became the marker of life change, but what John sees here is that the Pharisees were only interested in the public spectacle of the whole thing and not the actual life change.
Perhaps they just wanted to seal their spiritual fate with baptism. There was no evidence of life change, they just wanted to appear to have done what they think is right. These guys were the religious elite, so if there was some new marker of spiritual fitness, they figured, “Ya, we oughta have that baptism thing. We are children of Abraham. You know the song, “Father Abraham had many sons” ya that’s us!! We’re the religious elite around here so if there’s some new spiritual activity around here, we should be the first in line…or at least we should be the ones to come make this all legit for all of you.
They don’t get it!
And here lies the mistake they made, the mistake that we should promise ourselves never to duplicate. The mistake the Pharisees made was to convince themselves that religious activity and a religious family tree equaled real spiritual health and growth.
They thought, “hey we’re descendants of Abraham and we do all the religious stuff in the book…every last one of ‘em!! We’re good to go!” They were guilty of mis-measuring spiritual growth and fitness.
And the scary part is, the very same thing can happen to us.
Often times, religious activity or a religious family tree gives us false security for our own spiritual growth. We say, “I’m good…I come from a Christian family….and I do tons of Christians things.” But hear this: Religious activity and a religious family tree doesn’t equal spiritual health or spiritual growth.
In fact, religious activity and a religious family tree can blind us to the real deficiencies of our own spiritual life with God. They distract us so we think all is well, when it’s really not. So here’s what we need to know:
The only way to measure real spiritual growth on the inside is to measure the real spiritual fruit on the outside. Did you catch that?
This is they key to measuring our spiritual life and spiritual growth. The only way to measure real spiritual growth on the inside is to measure the real spiritual fruit on the outside—fruit that is evident in the we live our life.
If there’s no fruit on the outside…then there is no growth on the inside. It’s as simple as that! That’s how we know if we’re growing or if we’re healthy or not. And verse 10 of this passage warns us that not producing fruit is problematic. Look again at what it says. It says”
Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.
Yikes! We can’t take that kind of warning lightly. We gotta be careful. We need to take notice and ask: So what does this mean for us? We’ll find out in my next post as we take a look at the visual evidence of our growth.
Tonight, I challenge you to open your discussion/quiet time in prayer, asking to God to reveal the “blind spots” in your spiritual life.