Lost sheep – a definition

Psalm 119:176 “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments.“

At first blush, as we read the verse above, it seems like such a strange way to end this largest chapter in all the Bible.  In Psalm 119, every single one of its 176 verses speaks about God’s Word.  In it we find that the psalmist expresses his love for the Word of God and his non-wavering commitment to it.  He looks at the Scriptures from many different angles. He meditates on the treasures of God’s Truth and views it like a diamond as he takes in its many facets.  He reminds us that the person is truly blessed who walks in the Law of the Lord (vs 1).  He tells us that a person can keep their way pure by guarding their life by what the Bible says (vs 9).  He longs for God to open his eyes so he can behold the many wondrous things that His Word contains (vs 18).  He says that he loves God’s law so much that it’s what he thinks about all the time (vs 97). And so, he continues, on and on, meditating on and extolling the Law of God and expressing his undying commitment to it. 

And yet, at the very end, he says that he has gone astray like a lost sheep.  It’s understandable to view an unbeliever as a lost sheep, in that they have little knowledge of the narrow way of eternal life, and little interest in it.  In fact, one of Jesus’ most well-known parables is about a lost sheep (Luke 15). He tells us that He had been sent to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 15:24).”  In Luke 19:10 Jesus proclaims that the very reason He was sent to earth was “to seek and to save the lost.”  By contrast, Jesus calls the rescued sheep in His parable, “the found.”  Likewise, at the conclusion of the parable of the prodigal son, the father rejoices in that “my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found (Luke 15:24).”  

So, how then, can the man who wrote Psalm 119, a man who was committed to God and committed to such an incredible extent to the Word of God, describe himself as nothing more than a “lost sheep.”  The answer to that question, like the theme of the rest of the psalm, lies in that very thing to which he was so committed to.  You see, no matter how committed to God we may be, no matter how fastidious in studying His Word, no matter how we might hunger and thirst after righteousness, the truth of the matter is that God’s Word, just like God Himself, is perfect, and we are not.  It is as we study God’s Word that we see the perfection of Christ, and in that reflection, we see our own imperfection.  

Notice how the great prophet Isaiah reacts when he sees the Lord in the temple “high and lifted up:” “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” (Isaiah 6:5).  And then there’s the case of Job, a man whom the Bible describes as “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil”(Job 1:1).   Yet, at the very end of the book we hear these words from Job, “I had heard of You (i.e., God) by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees You; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:5).  

So, if this is the effect that “seeing the Lord” has on us, if this is one of the effects of God’s Word on us, why on earth would someone want to read it?  Well, if you are an unbeliever, you don’t.  You see, unbelievers have typically deluded themselves into thinking that, in their heart of hearts, they are pretty good people. They don’t see themselves as sinners in need of God’s grace.  Jesus Himself told us that “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”  What He meant by this was that the self-righteous, i.e., the ones who measure themselves against the lives of other people, can always find someone a little less “righteous” than they are.  Because the Bible exposes their sin, they avoid it.  The light hurts their eyes, so to speak, and they don’t want anyone to rain on their parade. The believer, however, the one who has been born again and has a love for God and His Word, welcomes the inspection of God’s all-seeing eyes on his or her life, for he or she knows that however much God has changed their lives for the better, there’s still much more work to be done.  

Paul, a man who wrote a large portion of the New Testament, had this to say about himself: “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—  that I may know Him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like Him in his death,  that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:8-14).” 

You see, the true believer welcomes seeing himself or herself in the mirror of the Word of God. They welcome hearing the Word preached, as it exposes their shortcomings and hidden (even to themselves) sin.  The believer is one who then longs to confess that sin when it’s exposed, and live a life of repentance, drawing ever nearer to the image of Christ.  

So, how do you see yourself? Are you a lost sheep in the sense that the psalmist sees himself?  If not, maybe it’s time to look a little closer, for the pride of self-righteousness inevitably is followed by a fall.

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