We don’t like thinking about our awfulness because we resist the biblical declaration that we’re rotten to the core (Isaiah 64:6). A person with a high view of himself gets hung up on his fallenness. Ironically, it is the acceptance of your wickedness that releases the gospel in you.
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Recently, I was chatting with a young man who had gathered with a group of 20-somethings to worship God. I was encouraged that so many young adults had come together to adore the Lord. It was intriguing to hear their stories, especially in light of our world’s obsession with self-indulgence. These young people wanted to learn more about God.
I asked them if they had ever smoked weed, had sex, and a few other lifestyle sins. Some of them had never indulged in those things. Others had, but after seeing the foolishness of their choices, they decided that following Christ was a better option.
There was one man who told me that one of the primary reasons he never smoked weed, and the other “heinous sins” was because he saw what his peers were doing and he didn’t want to be like them. It wasn’t that temptations never tempted him, but he felt a sense of pride that he wasn’t like “those people.”
He was motivated by a smug subtle arrogance that had worked its way around his self-righteous heart. In a twist of irony, he was similar to them, like the Pharisee in the temple, who was looking down on a fellow sinner. My friend was blind to his blindness, which kept him from seeing the heinousness of sin.
Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get. But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, God, be merciful to me, a sinner! I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 18:10-14).
I took his problem and made it mine. I thought it was wise to examine myself by looking into the mirror. I began asking myself a few “secretly proud” questions that typically go unseen in self-righteous hearts.
- Do you see yourself as the foremost sinner?
- Do you quietly compare yourself with others?
- Do you become impatient with people who have not conquered sins that you have already overcome?
- Do you judge overweight people? What about thin people?
- What do you think about people groups that are different than you?
I also shared these ideas with my wife. She said that she understood the young man. His struggles were her struggles as a young Christian. She used to say that if she had killed someone, she would be able to enjoy Christ more.
Her remorse over her “lack of sinning” was a half-hearted statement that spoke more to her frustrating relationship with God than her desire to kill someone. Because I live with her and sin against her more than anyone else does, I was glad she was only semi-serious.
Her theology was weak. She used to say that “God got a good deal” when He saved her because she had not sinned a lot. Her “exhaustive sin list” was stealing a pack of Lifesavers when she was seven. From her perspective, she never committed enormous sins, and this incomplete view of her condition before the Lord hindered her relationship with God.
Good Children Are Wicked
I want to rear my children in an authentic Christian home. I want them to enjoy the benefits of growing up in a grace-filled, gospel-centered family environment.
And I do not want them to experience the sadness and emptiness of pre-marital sex, weed, drunkenness, or any other sin for that matter. They don’t have to, and I hope they don’t.
But I do want them to know how this “privilege of grace” does not give them a better standing before God. The worst sinner and the best sinner are the same sinners, apart from the grace of God. We’re all totally depraved.
If my children’s theology is correct, they will see themselves as the worst sinners that they know. This kind of biblical education will motivate them to be some of the most grateful children in the body of Christ.
I’m the Foremost Sinner
Think about it for a minute. Do you know a worse sinner than you are? I do not know anyone who is worse than I am. I don’t. I have been living with my frustratingly sinful self for more than a half-century.
I have more fear, anxiety, double-mindedness, carelessness, inappropriateness, harshness, insecurity, anger, deceit, the hardness of heart, judgementalism, angst, and self-righteousness than any person that I know.
And I’m not ignorant of the sins of other people. I’m in the “sin business!” I see sinfulness every day. I listen to the heartbreaking stories all the time. And I help fallen people walk through the wickedness of life.
Still, yet, I know more about me than I know any other person. I’ve received the Lord’s forgiveness more than any person I know. No matter how much sin I know about you, I know more about me.
Comparing Is Unwise
I don’t want my children to get duped into thinking that living in a Christian home gives them a free pass to heaven. I would hate for them to believe that there are other people in the world worse than they are.
That kind of perspective is the fertile ground upon which the seeds of self-righteousness grows. It is only by their unique confession of their sins that they can enjoy the full forgiveness that God offers through His gospel. Comparing themselves to others or not seeing the depth of their depravity would be death to their souls.
Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding (2 Corinthians 10:12).
To see themselves through the mirror of God’s Word leads to salvation and daily forgiveness (sanctification) that incrementally releases them into gospel-empowered freedom in Christ that only the authentically guilty can know.
My friend began to see himself in a way that the Pharisee in the temple should have seen himself. His new and improved “fallen perspective” positioned him to experience God’s grace in ways that only the publicans of this world can enjoy.
Call to Action
- Does your goodness keep you from God’s grace? How does your lack of experience with bad things hinder you from having profound affection for Christ?
- Do you measure your “relationship with God” by the sins that you commit or by the fact of your total depravity? The former leads to the evil comparing of sin lists while the latter leads to mutual brokenness before the Lord.
- What traces of self-righteousness remain in you? You may discern this by thinking about those you are angry with or those with whom you compare yourself.
- Do you compare yourself to others? Some people compare themselves by looking down on individuals while others compare by feeling inferior to others. Either perspective misses the gospel: there is none righteous, no not one (Romans 3:10-12).
- How do these gospel truths transform your parenting? How much does the self-esteem movement hinder you from gospel-centered parenting?