My record collection was partly destroyed a few years ago when my shop was flooded. They had been in storage for a couple decades because I no longer had a stereo system to play them on. On a couple occasions, I had connected a record player to my computer to make digital recordings, but I always seemed to encounter difficulties.
This Christmas, my daughters got me a new turntable with better software. However, I still had difficulties getting everything to work correctly. My main problem was that the software wouldn’t recognize the pauses between tracks and it was difficult to manually correct the error. After numerous attempts to record an album I noticed that with each try the recording got increasingly distorted.
The cause of the distortion was easy to see; the needle picking up dust and lint. The simple fix was to simply pick the lint off the needle. And while this would result in an immediate improvement of the sound, it would not address the main problem – a dirty record. Rather than treating the symptom, picking lint off the needle, I needed to treat the problem, clean the record.
We can face similar dilemmas in our lives. Sin, left alone, will cause distortion to our lives. This distortion obscures the beautiful sounds of the life that is in harmony with God. The dilemma we face is to either spend our energy picking off the lint, treating the symptoms of sin, or to choose to be made clean. No matter how small our sins may seem to be, they will cause distortion unless they are cleaned away.
Normally these sins are not the “big sins” but ones we accept as normal. It may be speeding, or exaggerating the facts or even telling white lies believing that it will hurt less. Rather than questioning why I do these things, I settle for picking at the lint rather than seeking to become clean. The need is easily seen with my records, why do we fail to realize that the peace I need will only come when I am cleansed from my sin?
In Matthew 23 Jesus gives us insight into the problem and the solution. First, he addresses the foolishness of removing lint rather than cleaning the record saying, “You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” (v. 24) Pharisees would carefully strain their drink through linen to avoid swallowing an unclean insect. The gnat and the camel stand at the extremities of the scale of comparative size. Jesus uses a proverbial expression to denote the hypocrisy of avoiding the smallest defilement while taking no account of the gravest moral pollution.
Jesus continues saying, “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too.” (Matthew 23:25-26)
If we haven’t yet understood Jesus’ point, he offers one final lesson, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” (Matthew 23:27-28) We are to address the problem of sin head on rather than trying to make ourselves look good to others. Such attempts are akin to putting “lipstick on a pig." Making superficial or cosmetic changes will not disguise the true nature of a product or person.
It is easy to recognize the Pharisee’s foolishness, but we may share in their guilty of picking off lint, excusing our sins, rather than desiring to be cleansed, made new. The promise of Ezekiel 36:26 is, “I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.” John tells us more saying, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)
Is sin causing distortion in your life? Rather that treating the symptoms, picking off the lint, why not follow John’s advice? Turn to Christ, confessing your sin and be cleansed.