When we focus on anything other than Christ, we lose. Our gaze is so easily pulled aside by our idols, by things that seem momentarily attractive, and by the flippant wants and desires of our own hearts. Sometimes, even in our attempt to be righteous and good, our gaze is drawn towards our own sin, even in this we can become trapped, staring headlong into a darkness that swiftly envelops us and consumes us as we try to rid our lives of it.
I love riding bikes. It feels strange to say that, because in my head I imagine that you are thinking of some silly bike with tassels, fat tires, and a springy seat that resembles the inside of your mattress. Although I’d say any bike is fun, the riding I like to do is a little different. Of all types of riding, I really enjoy cross country mountain biking. I’ve ridden for over ten years now, some of that time spent racing state circuits and collegiately, but most of it spent riding with friends and family. I love taking people out and letting them experience how fun it is and taking my family out and spending the day on trails we’ve never ridden before. When you ride, as with anything, there are certain tips and tricks to help you ride better. One of those tips is that you never stare at where you do not want to go. It’s a difficult thing to do sometimes. When you are riding down a narrow trail and on one side of you is a deep chasm, where the penalty for failure is massive, it’s difficult not to let your gaze wander too long over to that place. Yet, inevitably, when you do, you begin to steer your bike in that direction. It’s a simple fact of riding, unless you work extremely hard to discipline yourself not to, the place that you focus your gaze is where you will begin to steer the bike. It sounds like common sense, but it’s amazing how you can forget it when you need to remember it most; where you set your focus is where you will go.
This same idea isn’t just vital for riding bikes, it also transfers over to our everyday lives. Most of us know this, we know that where we set our heart’s affection and our mind’s attention will be the place where our lives will move towards. Everything we do will head in that direction, whether our focus is on something good or bad. Often we wrestle with our focus being on idols. We take things in our lives that we hold important, and we make them the most important thing, removing God from His throne and instead placing this object there. We orient everything around them; our finances, our family, our time, and our worship. This is the constant struggle that has raged in humanity since the beginning. These objects are our golden calves, these objects are the things that draw us away from God, it is upon these objects that we focus our worship.
As Christians we war against this. We fight against it at all costs, but sometimes, even when we think we aren’t doing it, our gaze is being drawn to a place that will lead us to destruction. When God graciously makes us aware of our own sin, we sometimes can be drawn in so deeply to focus on eliminating that sin that we aren’t focusing on God. In an effort to rid our lives of a specific sin that we may be struggling with, we may begin to re-orient our lives in such a way as to ensure that we don’t commit that sin. Some of us go to extreme measures, we may move, change jobs, setup safeguards and accountability partners, we may re-organize everything so that we can adequately war against that sin. We begin to put all of our focus on it because we don’t want to commit it again, we begin to think about it constantly and to war against it viciously. Fighting this sin begins to consume us, it begins to envelop us, and it begins to take more precedence in our lives than our focus on God. In an effort to do good, we’ve put ourselves again in a place of disadvantage. In an effort to battle our sin, our gaze has again wandered off of where we want it to go.
In John 9, amidst much talk of Jesus being the light of the world which shines through the darkness and causes men to see, we see Jesus actually, physically, heal a man from blindness. We see Christ, the light of the world, illuminate not only the truth, but also restore physical sight, “…So he went and washed and came back seeing.” (John 9:7) This enraged the religious elite who were already stirred up against Jesus and what He was doing. Their response to the man who was healed? Condemnation and a reminder of his sin, “They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out” (John 9:34) The pharisees were so focused on this mans previously sinful condition, that they neglected to see his miraculous new sight and healed condition. One commentary puts it this way; “They were more concerned to show contempt for his former condition than pleasure for his present restoration”. Their focus was not on Jesus and what he had done, but on sin. Their focus was not on the healing and restoring power of the God of the world, but on the dark drudge and wickedness of humanity; and they thought they were doing what was right.
They were more concerned to show contempt for his former condition than pleasure for his present restoration
We can often find ourselves in the same place as the religious elite. We can focus so intently on sin and folly that we neglect focusing on Christ. For us, setting up systems and preventatives in our lives to combat sin, especially sin that we struggle deeply with, is a good thing. In fact, it’s a very necessary thing, an exercise in spiritual discipline, and required of us biblically; but it cannot consume us. We cannot end up in a place where our focus on ridding our lives of sin draws our gaze away from God. As we struggle with sin and the feeling that it prevents God from loving us or accepting us, what we must remember is that God isn’t loving us or accepting us based on our merit or our behavior, God loves us and accepts us based on Jesus’ merit and behavior. Our sin does put us in a place where we are unacceptable to God, that is the entire reason He sent Christ to rescue, redeem, and provide a way for us to be righteous before Him; “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved…” (Ephesians 2:4-5)
If we stay intently focused on God, pouring our every affection into him and spending ourselves for His glory and His fame, He will be faithful to move in our lives to sanctify us and rid us of the sins we stay entrenched in. He has already sent Christ to be our light and to be a ransom for our sin, and if we trust and believe in that, we are His. We cannot let our gaze on our past and present failures and foolishness prevent us from focusing on God. As we walk towards being more faithful to Him in genuine repentance and as we daily combat the sinful tendencies of our hearts, our gaze cannot wander from Him. It’s our time reading His word, gathering with others who follow Christ, and seeking Him fervently in prayer that maintain our focus on the place we need to be headed; to a place that brings Him glory.
“…seek FIRST the kingdom of God and HIS righteousness…” (Matthew 6:33 emphasis mine)