There’s something about us that just refuses to take correction from others. Whether they tell us our fault timidly or strongly, we just don’t get it. The Bible tells us why, though: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).
In that verse, the Lord tells us the enormity of our fall into sin. The heart is deceitful. The heart is desperately wicked.
When we hear correction and refuse to listen, that is our heart being deceitful; it has fooled us into thinking that we are better than we are. It keeps us in our cocoon of self-righteousness. Then we act inappropriately (that is, in any way other than with repentance) – that is the wickedness in us acting in rebellion against God’s truth.
Consider the different ways we verbally reject criticism:
- “Who do you think you are to say that!”
- “Oh yeah? Well, you’re no better.”
- “It’s not that bad.”
- “OK, buddy, come out in the alley here; we’re going to have a little ‘talk’.” [Rolls up sleeves.]
- “That is so mean. How could you hurt me by saying cruel things like that?”
Now compare these responses with the response the disciples gave when Jesus, during the time they were gathered for the Lord’s Supper, said that one of them would betray Him. They said, “Is it I, Lord?” This was an acknowledgment that there was still more to deal with. Jesus had shown them so much of themselves during their three years with Him that turned out to be true upon reflection, so they were not surprised that this betrayal could happen too. So why are we surprised when we are confronted with gently worded criticism? We are fallen. We need to change.
They had walked with Jesus. They had heard His teachings. They had seen His living example before the poor and outcast. They had been exposed to a higher plane of conduct than they were used to, and it humbled them. For the most part, they had been stripped of their delusions.
When our hearts fool us into thinking we are good people “at heart,” then we don’t make much progress in becoming more like Christ. We don’t change. Our relationship with God doesn’t deepen. The barriers that prevent a deeper walk with God (such as not accepting criticism) block all spiritual progress. We read our Bibles and Christian literature and don’t change. “If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless” (James 1:26).
We cannot on our own fathom the depths of the Fall in us. The gullies run wide; the crevasses run deep. God’s only cure was not to make the flesh better, but for the flesh to die. If we turn a deaf eye to our faults and sins, we miss out on an opportunity for real change. “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12). This passage was written to Christians.
Jesus told us how the change comes about: “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32). Jesus is talking about being free from slavery to sin, for He continued: “whoever commits sin is a slave of sin” (8:34b).
Through the cross, God broke the power of sin. But God does not forcibly stop us from sinning. Rather, He reveals the problem area (such as through verbal criticism), then helps us as we take steps against it. Where we refuse to deal with it, God waits patiently until we decide to listen, then He will speak again. For too many of us, we must first taste the bitter fruit of doing the wrong thing before we learn our lesson.
The Word reveals our sin. If we are attentive to Him, then we take the Word to heart, ponder it, observe our lives and see how it manifests itself. Then, convinced, we repent of it and are on the watch against it happening again. We watch and pray, and thus we can observe the buildup toward the transgression and cut it off before it explodes into sin.
When we are quick to defend ourselves, we cut off God’s means of making us holy. We are shutting our minds to the possibility of the truth that sets us free. Thus, the wicked heart wins again.
But there is a new heart to be had through surrender to God: “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Hebrews 8:10). When we respond to criticism as though from God, then He puts better things into our hearts.
Listen. Confess. Change.