There are times when it helps us to have a list of "do" and "don't" actions and attitudes. Lists help us to organize thought and see things which "fit together" in a certain way. Yet if we just have "lists" of the "do this" and "don't do this" actions and attitudes in life, we sometimes miss the reason behind those things - they become nothing more than rote to us and we just act one way or refrain from acting another because it is "on the list". If we approach God's practical instructions about how we are to live our lives in this same manner, we will find the scriptures impractical, hard to understand, and even harder to "live out". One of the most practical things I find outlined in scripture is how much this "list making" and "rule keeping" can steer us wrong. You see, we love ourselves way too much to actually enjoy being told to deny ourselves. We honor ourselves way too much to put another's needs before our own. It isn't until Jesus takes over the control of our lives that we begin to see ourselves as a little less "lovely" and the needs of another as a little more "important" than our own! We need Jesus - not lists!
Sinners don’t respect God; sin is all they think about. They like themselves too much to hate their own sins or even to see them. They tell deceitful lies, and they don’t have the sense to live right. Those people stay awake, thinking up mischief, and they follow the wrong road, refusing to turn from sin. (Psalm 36:1-4 CEV)
The scripture is quite plain: Sin is all a sinner thinks about. Why? Sinners are protective of themselves - they think of themselves first, their needs as priority, and their sin as justifiable. So, no matter what the list might be, there will always be a rational reason to deny the validity of the list! Sinners (such as you and I) really don't live by the list - because if there is something on the list which we are to refrain from and we really, really want to do it, we usually find a way of justifying why we can do it just this one time. Problem is, this one time opens the door for the next time! Maybe this is why just living by the "list" is not the best way to live our lives!
Yes, the "list" is important - scripture can be thought of as a list of practical instruction to show us certain actions and attitudes which are to avoided or embraced. Living by the list is "good medicine", so to speak, but the list alone is nothing apart from something which changes the heart behind the actions and attitudes. The only means of a changed heart it to have it changed - our hardened and calloused heart made new by the touch of God. As long as we don't make a place for God in our lives, all we think about is the various ways we can protect ourselves - our needs, our wishes, our freedoms. We have the "me", "me", "me" syndrome. If it pleases "me" - it is on the good side of the list. If it doesn't bring "me" pleasure - it is on the bad side of the list.
The issue with living by the list is the simple truth - we cannot see our own sin! If you have ever tried to talk with someone else about their issues - you know, the ones you plainly see but they just don't - then you know the tables can turn on you in just a matter of minutes! When we point out the faults of others, not even aware these same faults (and worse) are part of our own lives, we kind of tick people off. Why? They see us as hypocritical. It is like saying we don't appreciate how much someone else gossips about this or that, all while we are gossiping to someone else about them!
There is much to be gleaned from our passage today. First, we cannot see our own sin as long as we focus on ourselves. We don't have an accurate image or standard to judge ourselves against. As long as the only comparison we make of ourselves is against ourselves or perhaps even another sinner, we don't make accurate comparisons! We need an image or standard "higher" or "better" than us. This is why we need Jesus in the middle! When we see ourselves in light of Jesus, we seldom look beyond Jesus to criticize another! If we get in the habit of running our actions and attitudes through the "filter" of what it is we see when we look upon Jesus, we just don't have much cause to look at another with any kind of critical spirit at all!
Second, we often cannot see our own sin because we are so "in tune" with our sin as the "norm" of our lives. We need an accurate reflection - something which will help us to recognize our sinfulness. To this end, God has provided several things to help us: Scripture, the Holy Spirit, Jesus resident within, and of course, our own conscience. Notice I placed our own conscience at the end. We need to allow all the other "filters" to guide us OVER and ABOVE our own conscience. If we are so inclined to sin, we will justify our sin even in our own conscience! So, relying upon this alone is not enough - we need the other "filters" to assist us to make life change.
Last, as long as we deny sin, we cannot move beyond it. When we deny anything, we say it doesn't exist - it doesn't give any problems, it does not impair us in any way. The truth is, our sin does give us problems, we just blame them on other factors or people. Our sin does impair us, we just don't see our impairment as significant. We justify our sin. So, we need help moving beyond justifying sin in our lives. To this end, we are encouraged to have a regular intake of the scriptures - for truth sets us free. We are admonished to turn from what gives us problems and turn toward a new way of living - for without an about-face, we remain steadily focused on what gives us the greatest issues in life! Just sayin!