Tranquility. Peace. Perfection. Lies. Blame. Chaos. Jealousy. Murder. Wickedness. Destruction. Drunkenness. Arrogance. More lies. Homosexuality. Supernatural destruction. Incest. More lies. Sibling rivalry. Deception. More deception. Rape. More sibling rivalry. False accusations. Unjust punishment. Famine. Migration.
It’s a plot line so twisted not even Hollywood could touch it. But it’s not the product of a director or screen writer. It’s the story that unfolds in the first book of the Bible. Yet even in the midst of this depravity, hope shines through. Redemption is needed. Redemption will be offered. God will intervene. And through his gracious election of one man, salvation will be available for all who believe.
“If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand.” (Psalm 130:3 ESV)
We naturally overestimate our own goodness. We minimize our sins and instinctively magnify the sins of others. We arrogantly claim in both word and deed that we know better than God. Worse, we scoff at the notion that a loving God would call us to live in ways that are at odds with what we want and how we feel. Were it not for the indescribable mercy of God, we would all be doomed. Yet there is hope.
“But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.” (Psalm 130:4 ESV emphasis mine)
When you owe a debt that can’t be paid and you receive forgiveness, the natural response is humility, reverence, and awe. You don’t look for loopholes. You don’t pretend you know better. You don’t take advantage of the situation. You seek to do the will of the one you have offended. You follow him even when it doesn’t make sense or it goes against what you feel. Forgiveness fuels a life of holiness. It leads us to say, “yes” when we want to say, “but.”
“Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven-for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little” Luke 7:47 (ESV).
We have a tendency to minimize our need for forgiveness. It’s human nature to assume that others are worse sinners than we are. I do it. You do it. Simon the Pharisee did it. And it caused him to miss out on a potentially life-changing truth. The depth to which we experience the transforming power of God’s forgiveness depends on our ability to see the depth of our sin. Only when we grasp what we are really like can we appreciate the richness of God’s mercy and grace.
It happened again the other night. Five deadly words came into my mind. I was reading the tragic story of a minister who fostered and participated in an extra-marital relationship. The story was filled with honesty regarding his brazen disregard for the warning of other believers and the Holy Spirit. As I read the story, my thoughts sub-consciously went to a place I never want them to go. Five words leisurely scrolled across the marquee of my mind: I would never do that.
Immediately, I caught myself. I try hard not to allow those five words to come to mind. It’s not that I think I might do what this man did. I’d like to think that I never would do something like that. But I’m convinced that the fastest path to destruction is to think we are immune to a given sin. As soon as that happens, we let our guard down. We stop being honest with ourselves. We start ignoring the warnings of others. We quench the Holy Spirit. And when that happens, we are vulnerable to anything. I need the grace of God every moment of every day. Not just to save me from sin, but to save me from myself.
Sin is a big deal. It cost Jesus his life. As Christians, we are called to set aside our sin. We need to recognize it and repent of it. But sometimes I find myself focusing more on my sin than my Savior. That’s a problem.
When I focus on my sin, I turn inward. Instead of turning to the cross, I turn to myself. I begin to think that my standing before God is based on what I do (and don’t do). The more I sin, the worse I feel. The less I sin, the better I feel. As if a thousand sins or a single sin makes me any more or any less in need of a Savior. See your sin for what it is. But always fix your eyes on the Savior.
In an effort to convince people that Christianity is worth embracing, there is a natural tendency to soften and diminish the culturally unpopular aspects of our faith. Many of the people who do this mean well. But the more palatable we make Christianity, the more powerless it becomes. If everyone and everything is morally acceptable, then who needs a Savior?
Two thousand years of church history show that when culture redefines Christianity, the church loses its leverage and influence. Instead of lowering the standard, let’s speak the truth in love. Let’s invite people to embrace and rejoice in the grace made available to them through Jesus Christ, a grace that is greater than all our sin.