Thursday, November 27, 2014

Bad News First

    The good news doesn't usually seem amazing until you consider the alternative. The fact that you're alive doesn't strike you as amazing until you realize that the alternative is death. Suddenly, what a moment ago was normal and commonplace becomes amazing as you realize what would be anti-climatic is really good news. You could be dead, but you aren't.

     The same is true of the gospel. The good news of salvation is irrelevant until after the bad news of man's depravity. Until I realize I'm sick, I couldn't care less if you're offering me medicine. Unless I realize I'm drowning, I don't care about a lifeguard. What I fear we do in our presentation of the gospel, both to unsaved and to ourselves at times, is to soften the hard part of the gospel.

     The common practice in American churches today, and in many of our own personal lives, is to try to get to the gospel with no recognition of sin. With our new feel-good gospel, we don't need to tell people that they are sinners in desperate need of grace; we simply need to tell them to try harder. Maybe we'll even tell them that Jesus came to save them, but we don't say from what. Even when we describe sin, too often we describe it as little black marks on your paper, not as an entirely black paper in need of being wiped completely clean, both of my sin and my own effort, before it is white.

     Sure we like good news; everybody does. But the good news of God's saving grace is only relevant after the truth of man's own depravity. Today, my focus will be on the depravity of man. As I try to focus on the gospel, I think it's important to lay groundwork, and the very essence of explaining salvation is to explain man's own failure, his own shortcomings.

     I just found a Strong's concordance in my mom's study, so my work load has been lightened considerably. Thank you, James Strong! Rom. 3:19-20 states this, "Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may be accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the law comes the knowledge of sin."

     So, stepping back even one step further, in order to understand sin, a transgression of God's law, then you must see God's law. I'm not going to even bother to look at the 500+ Levitical laws that are enacted upon the children of Israel, because it would take too long, and Jesus sums them all up perfectly in Matt. 22:37-40, where He says, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." I don't have to get fancy to discuss sin. All it takes to break Christ's commandments is to not love your neighbor perfectly, or to not put Jesus in His rightful place as Lord of your heart.

     You don't have to have cursed, committed adultery, lied, murdered, or committed idolatry to break God's law. All it takes is one selfish action, one simple "mistake". What we see painfully evident in the Bible is that these "mistakes" as we like to call them are not mistakes; they are the way we are born, in Adam. Through our father Adam, we have received a taste for sin. Rom. 5:12 says, "Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned..."

     As much as we want to think of our sin as isolated mistakes, failed challenges, or unmet moral goals, God has another word for it. Sin. According to Strong's, the Greek word is "hamartia", meaning literally "from sin-offense, sin". It's not a mistake, or imbalance in our lives, or a slip up. It's an offense against your Creator, the sustainer of your life.

     We like to soften the bad news to make us better people than we really are on our own. Paul doesn't pull any punches in Rom. 3:9-12 where he states, "What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin: as it is written, 'There is none righteous, not even one; there is none who understands, there is none who seeks for God, All have turned aside, together they have become useless; there is none who does good, there is not even one."

     Not one of our actions is good. None of us can stand before God and call our lives mostly good. We instead stand guilty before God, naked and ashamed, completely at His mercy. No merit of ours pleads for us; instead even our own efforts stand in stark contrast to the sinless perfection that is required before God.

     But do you see the great service our own extreme depravity has rendered us? Instead of standing in a constant struggle to do more for salvation, instead we stand helpless and dependent on Jesus Christ. If we did not see our own helplessness, we would continue to strive and fail in the fruitless pursuit of "good enough".

     In our own effort to make the gospel less of a stumbling block, we have undermined its very core. In our attempts to alleviate the desperation of our own depravity, we have instead transition from man's utter sinfulness and the futility of his own moral efforts to moderate sinfulness. Many churches have succeeded in making a more politically correct gospel, where sin is no longer on offense against God but instead a mistake, a missed goal, a slip-up.

     But the problem now surfaces in all its ugliness. Instead of seeing the hopelessness of my own depravity when compared to the law, we now look at our sin with the law and all the clarity of our own sinfulness that it offers, and we think, "well, everyone messes up sometimes". Now, once again, the gospel is no longer communicating God's saving grace to man. Our new and "improved" gospel is now showing man that with more effort, more self-help, more self-confidence, he can correct his mistakes.

     When we remove the depth of our own sin, we remove the depth of God's grace. When sin loses its terrible price, then grace loses its awesome rewards. When nakedness loses its shame, clothed in God's righteousness is no longer necessary, no longer awe-inspiring.

     This is the result of a softened attitude toward sin. When we look at sin not as an offense against God, but as instead a grievance against my potential, or my goals, we no longer need God, we need a counselor. When using the law to provide contrast of perfect righteousness against the bleak background of my own sin, we see our sin in all its ugliness. When we remove the depth of sin, we remove the depth of grace from our appreciation.

     So, in this way we see the gospel is weakened all around. On both sides, man comes out on the losing end. Not sinful enough to lose all hope in ourselves, but not moral enough to get to heaven on our own, this comfortable, self-help gospel is more discouraging than the previous one. Not only have we abandoned what the Bible truly says about our sinfulness, but we have necessarily abandoned what the Bible says about the depth of God's love and grace, no longer extended to sinners, but to moderate saints.

     To put God's grace in all its perfection in glory into perspective, we must see our sin for what it is. Without the contrast of our own pointless effort, God's grace is simply a footnote on the page of human effort and achievement, and the result is hell.

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