“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously lived according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit now working in the disobedient. We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also.” – Ephesians 2:1-3 (CSB)
Paul doesn’t mince words when describing our spiritual condition before Christ. You were dead. I was dead. We weren’t in need of a pick me up. We weren’t sick. We weren’t on life support. We were unable to do anything to change our condition. We couldn’t even want to be alive again because we didn’t know we were dead. We can push back and self-justify all we want. But the objective evidence from our lives was clear. We were spiritually dead and without hope apart from a supernatural intervention.
“For consider him who endured such hostility from sinners against himself, so that you won’t grow weary and give up. In struggling against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.” – Hebrews 12:3-4 (CSB)
It’s tempting to think that Jesus’ struggle against sin was somehow different than ours. That misses the fact that he was fully God and fully man. He was equally and 100 percent both at the same time without any confusion or superseding of one nature over the other. From the time of the incarnation, Jesus became the ultimate picture of what it means to be fully and truly human. So when we think we can’t resist sin’s pull any longer, we are just getting started. We have not shed blood unwillingly yet alone willingly. Our struggle has not come close to his – a struggle that he won because of the Spirit’s power at work within him. That same power is in us who believe. The Spirit guides us, enables us, and empowers us. How can we not keep fighting?
But Pharaoh responded, “Who is the Lord that I should obey him by letting Israel go? I don’t know the Lord, and besides, I will not let Israel go.” – Exodus 5:2 (CSB)
Pharaoh’s inquiry is not sincere. He is not genuinely asking, “who is this Yahweh and why should I listen to him?” He could care less. He considers himself to be God. He will do whatever he pleases. It’s a frightening attitude to have toward the all-powerful God of the universe. Yet Pharoah is not alone. We too take this approach.
Every time we ignore God’s commands, every time we take matters into our own hands, every time we think we know better, we effectively say, “Who is the Lord?” We act as if we are God and that we are the ones who know best. Thankfully God deals differently with us than he did with Pharaoh. He gives inexhaustible grace because of what Jesus did on our behalf.
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.