“You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. Yet you refuse to come to me to have life. I do not accept glory from human beings. But I know that you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me; if another comes in his own name, you will accept him. How can you believe when you accept glory from another and do not seek the glory from the one who alone is God?” (John 5:39-44 NRSV)
The words that Jesus speaks against the religious authorities of his time can be difficult in our own time. The temptation to use these words as ammunition against our theological enemies is all too real. There are Pharisees and Hypocrites around every corner if we go looking for them. It is frightening to think that if we shine the light back on ourselves we might find one. For all the efforts of the religious to build our own righteousness, it is quite disappointing for Jesus to inform us of our refusal to come to him and have life, as well as the lack of God’s love within us.
It is difficult to imagine ourselves as adversaries of Jesus. We usually reserve this role for those we disagree with. It is much easier that way, but in doing so we can easily become blind to our own need for repentance. While it may not be absolutely essential to be able to enter the Gospel narratives as the opponents of Jesus, it can be a deeply profound spiritual practice. Such a reading can help shed light on the ways in which we come up short as those who confess faith in Jesus, whatever our reasoning for this faith may be.
Jesus would not be a very good Savior if he did not challenge our faith and assumptions when they hold us back from his glory. We cannot simply assume that Jesus is always on our side by virtue of our confession of faith in him. We should expect to be challenged and resisted when our faith and our works do not bear fruit. To use another biblical metaphor, we should expect some pruning as we grow in the Lord. No matter how strong our faith may be, there are always ways in which we refuse to come to Jesus and have life, as well as ways in which the love of God does not fully permeate our being.
Words like these hit me the hardest during those times when I feel weak in my own faith and perhaps there are some cons to reading myself into the text in such a way. Maybe my own guilt can be crippling at times and to feel at odds with Jesus for whatever reason is holding me back as a disciple. At these times, I try to remind myself of God’s grace revealed through Jesus and that I do not have to be perfect in my walk. Yet, I cannot discount the convicting side of God’s Word in Scripture. I think the best that I can do is recognize that discomfort is a sign that the Holy Spirit is moving in my life in order to bring about repentance and regeneration.
Thanks be to God!