The wisest man who ever lived and ever will live (Solomon) said, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the holy one is understanding.” - Proverbs 9:10.
Socrates famously said, “To be wise, one must know thyself.”
John Calvin said, “Nearly all wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists in two parts: the knowledge of God and ourselves” (Institutes, 1.1.1).
One of our struggles today is the notion that we must “feel good” above all else. This prevents us from experiencing any meaningful comparison to the perfect plumb line i.e., Jesus. In the words of Calvin, “As long as we do not look beyond the earth, being quite content with our own righteousness, wisdom, and virtue, we flatter ourselves most sweetly, and fancy ourselves all but demigods” (Institutes 1.1.1).
A word that doesn’t get much traction today is repentance. It means to feel regret for one’s rebellious actions and turn toward God’s way of life. Jesus and the New Testament writers emphasized repentance (Matt. 3:2, 4:17, Mark 1:15, 2:17, 6:12, Luke 5:32, 13:3, 13:5). Repentance focuses us on the reality of our condition, that we (and by we I mean everyone) are not righteous (see Romans 3:10). John the Baptist condemned the self-righteous Pharisees and Sadducees saying, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:7-8). This is not confined to the New Testament. Isaiah 64:6 says, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags...” Our efforts to save ourselves through good deeds are worthless. The whole of Scripture clearly points to the work of Jesus Christ, and Christ alone as that which saves us from eternity apart from God.
Solomon said, “And I saw that all toil and all achievement spring from one person’s envy of another” (Ecclesiastes 4:4). In other words, his wisdom written 3,000 years ago is just as relevant today as ever. God inspired Solomon to tell all humans, “Quit keeping up with the Joneses.” It’s not just a reference to competition for achievement, but it’s living in such a way that you compare yourself to the way others live. God calls us to compare our lives to the life of Christ, because Jesus is the only perfect one who can pay for our sin. As long as we compare ourselves to others, we deceive ourselves into a false sense of wholeness. Once again, Calvin is helpful on this point:
...we cannot seriously aspire to him before we begin to become displeased with ourselves. For what man in all the world would not gladly remain as he is-what man does not remain as he is -so long as he does not know himself, that is, while content with his own gifts, and either ignorant or unmindful of his own misery? (Institutes, 1.1.1)
The Psalmist offers us a plan to pursue wisdom, to become truly “displeased” with oneself-truly mindful of our own misery-so we can live and rest in the righteousness of Christ when he writes, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23-24)”
It’s analogous to the E.R. patient with a GSW (Thanks to my faithful viewing of E.R. in the 90s, I know that means Gunshot Wound) and the surgeon must plunge his knife deep into the muscle and past bone, probing to find and extract the offending object.
May we daily invite God, the great surgeon to probe the depths of our soul, revealing our true sin nature, hoping for deliverance from its effect. May we recognize that our Heavenly Father is good, and surrender ourselves into His loving hands, knowing when His work is complete, He’ll apply the salve of grace to heal our wound so we might flourish in life.