“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.”John 5:39-40
John 5 is an important warning on the danger of religious blindness.
The chapter starts alongside the pool of Bethesda, where many sick, blind, and paralyzed individuals laid in hope of getting into the pool at the right time to find healing. As Jesus talks with a paralyzed man lying by the pool, he tells him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” (vs. 8) The man is healed and obeys.
The Jews, however, get upset that the now-healed man is breaking their “rules” by carrying his bed on the Sabbath. In their religious blindness, they miss the miracle, and in missing the miracle they miss the Savior.
Jesus’ message through the rest of chapter 5 seems to be, “Don’t miss this! I’m the Savior!” Jesus explains that the miracle, the testimony of John the Baptist, the Father himself, and the Scriptures all testify that he is who he says he is.
When we miss Jesus, we miss life itself.
Symptoms of Religious Blindness
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought intense focus on symptoms. What is your temperature? Does your throat hurt? Do you have body aches? Have you lost your sense of taste or smell? In the case of spiritual blindness, what symptoms help us diagnose it?
Doing Wrong Things With Wrong Motives
In John 5, one symptom of religious blindness is how the Jews treated the paralyzed man. No one had previously tried helping him get to the pool for healing. There was no joy or celebration at his healing. Just cold anger that he didn’t follow the rules and rejection of the One who told him to do so.
While they didn’t directly and purposefully harm the paralyzed man, the Jews treated him wrongly and with wrong motives. They neglected him. They sought the preservation of traditions above showing mercy to a hurting soul.
So one indicator of religious blindness is doing wrong things with wrong motives in our hearts.
Doing Right Things With Wrong Motives
In Matthew 7, Jesus points out another symptom – treating people right but with wrong motives. In verses 22-23, Jesus says, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
Prophesying. Casting out demons. Doing many mighty works.
These are each good and right things, but not when they’re done for the sake of self-righteousness and apart from a contrite heart surrendered to Jesus. Even trying to mask our self-righteous deeds with Jesus’ name doesn’t change the fact that they are done in religious blindness.
Exalting the Wrong Things
Another symptom of religious blindness, unfortunately prevalent among evangelicals today, is exalting the wrong things.
Revelation 7 talks about the great multitude from every nation, tribe, people and language together worshipping before the throne of God. All gathered to see God exalted above anything else. With a loud voice, they cry out together, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (7:10)
And with them, “all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshipped God, saying ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.’” (7:11-12)
This picture is the ultimate undoing of the Tower of Babel, where the peoples of earth were scattered for exalting themselves. (Genesis 11) In Revelation, the separated nations come together in the culmination of all redemptive history to exalt and worship God above all else.
The gospel results in believers from every people group across the earth coming together to rightly exalt the one true King. The gospel will not result in Christians exalting in worship our nation, our own people group, our favorite politicians, our celebrities, ourselves, and especially our pastors. When we see this happening, as I would say we do within the church today, it’s not the gospel we’re trusting in.
Blind eyes and itching ears (2 Tim 4:3), either in the pulpit or in the pew, don’t lead to a Christ-exalting church.
The Danger of Religious Blindness
While sin leads to all types of blindness, religious blindness can be especially dangerous because it can so easily be confused with serving God.
We can pursue the work of ministry, yet miss Jesus. We can read our Bibles diligently, and still miss the Savior. We can stand and sing in church, and still be hardened to the majesty of the One we’re singing to. We can preach a sermon, lead worship, host a small group, sit through a Bible study and forget Jesus through all of it.
We can focus on so many good things, and yet miss the Best thing if our hearts aren’t at rest in Jesus.
Eyes to See
Unfortunately, there’s no vaccine for religious blindness. But fortunately, we have a merciful God who helps us to see. As we depend on oxygen to breathe, even more so we need to depend on God to see. Psalm 119:18 says,
“Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.”
The Pharisees searched Scripture, yet missed the Savior. As we turn to Scripture, we need to ask God in prayer for the eyes to see the true beauty of his Word and his world.
Along with praying Psalm 119, one practical thing I’ve done to keep my heart fixed on Jesus has been incorporating two related questions into my morning Bible journaling time:
- How does this passage point me to Jesus?
- What from this passage makes me love Jesus more?
I don’t want to search the Scriptures and miss the Savior. I don’t want to “do” ministry and miss the One I’m serving.
Christian, let’s pray for eyes to see Jesus clearly and hearts that then rejoice at what we see.