There is a form of self-righteousness which leads many believers to doubt their acceptance with God because of the imperfections which they find in themselves. You may say, “But ought I not to have misgivings when I find my spirit and the state of my mind so contrary to that which befits a Christian?” That you ought to judge yourself, and be humbled before your Father about these things, is most true, but it is in no wise true that your righteousness and acceptance with God depend upon yourself, or are measured by your condition or conduct. To have such a thought in the mind is really to suppose that you could be in the favor of your Father by being worthy of that favor in yourself. It is simply self-righteousness.
Then there is the personal problem of self-improvement, which always results in self-disappointment. But disappointment is a very different thing from self-judgment. Indeed if there were true self-judgment there would never be self-disappointment. If in honesty and sobriety of soul I have judged “that in me, that is, in my flesh, dwelleth no good thing,” I shall certainly not expect anything from myself, and it has been well said that where there is no expectation there can be no disappointment.
But I feel sure that many young believers, and I dare say some older ones too, are very familiar with the wretched, depressing experience which I have spoken of as self-disappointment. They have made many fresh starts; they have often been stirred up, and have made up their minds to do more for Christ. They have thought, “I shall do better now; I am more earnest about it than I was before.” But it has all ended in disappointment. They have no idea that they are trying to improve themselves; they would repudiate such a thought. They suppose that they know better than to look for good in themselves; and yet their disappointment is the plain proof that, in spite of all their knowledge of Scripture, they have expected to make themselves better, for they are disappointed because they have not succeeded in doing so.
Probably the occupation most detrimental to growth is self-occupation. Some minds are always attracted by what is experiential. They do not know deliverance, and experiential truths seem to offer that which they are seeking. They are not looking for an increased knowledge of the grace of God, or deepened acquaintance with the Lord Jesus Christ; their object of desire is to have a more satisfactory experience. That is, the old man is still their center.
And such souls are constantly occupied either in bemoaning how little they have got or attained, or in complacently assuming that they have reached a certain stage of experience. It has often been observed that in the writings of those who advocate “holiness by faith,” the beauty and perfection of what the Lord Jesus is in Himself as an all-blessed object for the heart is very little presented. He is set forth as One who can bring about a new experience in the believer, and it is easy to see that the new experience has often a more prominent place in the mind than the Lord Jesus Christ.
You will find that when believers are engrossed with experience-whether it be in connection with holiness, power for service, or spiritual attainment-they always have something before them less than the purpose of God. They are either pursuing, or are satisfied with, something less than that which divine love purposes, and thus are losers to the incalculable extent.
It is when the purpose of God in its greatness is before our hearts, and we are attracted by it, that our experience becomes like that of the beloved servant who could say, “Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect; but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:12-14). This is Christian experience-the experience of a man who is not thinking of his experience, but of the exceeding greatness of the purpose of God.
Finally, self-occupation in service is a great hindering weight in the Christian life. It is a sad thing when service interferes with spiritual growth. Service may take possession of the heart until it becomes the theme of conversation, the subject-matter of correspondence, and the center round which the thoughts continually revolve. It is possible to be so engrossed with service that one’s meditations are colored by it, one’s prayers are full of it, and the Word of God becomes simply a quarry out of which material for sermons and addresses can be dug. This is a serious loss to the soul, and many are thereby hindered from making spiritual progress.
Very often young believers who have not even peace with God are encouraged to take up service, and they become so occupied with what they are doing that they are not at leisure to learn or to take their place in the favor of their Father. Hence, so long as the service prospers, and they get on well with it, they are happy. Their service is their life. But when there is no success, and the whole thing seems to be a failure, their joy collapses. Anything which occupies us so that we are diverted from our acceptance and growth is a positive hindrance, even if it be a thing apparently so excellent as service.
It is a wonderful moment for the believer when by faith he occupies his standing in the favor of his Father-when he knows that he is received by Him in all the acceptance of the Lord Jesus Christ. He does not then think of himself, or of his worthiness, at all. He thinks of the Lord Jesus-His perfections, His suitability to divine favor, His infinite acceptance with His Father-and by faith he has access into the favor of which He is so worthy.