It’s very easy to sometimes become so overwhelmed by the darkness and brokenness in our world that we lose hope. And yet at other times, we can catch ourselves thinking that the antidote is to simply ignore the brokenness and instead choose to focus on an image of the world that is easier to swallow. If this is the case with the outside world, how much truer is this when we look closer to home? Do we solely see ourselves as broken, dark and depraved, beyond any help? Or do we convince ourselves of our supposed self-sufficiency and revel in our greatness? As individuals, we all have leanings to one side or the other but as Christians, the word of God calls us to recalibrate.
“This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” — and I am the worst of them”1 Timothy 1:15 (HCSB)
Formerly a law-abiding Jew, seated under the expert teaching of a top Hebrew scholar, Paul thought he was good, or righteous in relation to God. He didn’t need anyone or anything to trust in, apart from his own training and education. So what happened? What changed the man we see seeking the demise of Christians in at the beginning of Acts 9, to instructing his son in the faith that he was “the chief of all sinners”?
It was his encounter with perfection, only found in the person of Jesus, on the road to Damascus that led to his recognition of his brokenness and sin. All through biblical revelation, we see the holiness (in one general sense perfection) of God presented and as biblical revelation progresses, the response alters. Under the Old Covenant, God’s holiness was something to be feared and to draw away from. Countless times the Israelites, in awareness of their own inadequacy and inconsistency, would draw away from the Lord their God (Exodus 20:18,19). However as we see Jesus (the image of the Invisible God – Colossians 1:15) and even in the Psalms, we know that God’s holiness, whilst maintaining the utter power and majesty of God, not only exposes our depravity but also is a matter of worship and surrender. So after Paul encounters the glorified Jesus, instead of cowering and wallowing in his sin and shame, Paul declares his sin to be the reason why Jesus has saved him and leaves shame behind. Instead he is “unashamed of the Gospel” (Romans 1:16). Perhaps this is why Paul lives so fulfilled in Him.
Paul is a great example and yet he always points us to look at Christ. Upon investigating the life of Jesus, it is abundantly clear he accomplished many considerable feats whilst on earth: fulfilled the law, raised the dead, healed the sick, the list goes on. At the heart of his mission, nonetheless, was the salvation of sinners. The salvation of you and I who would, by His grace, go on to believe in Him. What’s really profound in this is Jesus’ attitude towards sinners. As the Son of God, Jesus came revealing the nature of God, who we already know is infinitely holy, and so when asked why he associated with sinners, Jesus replied: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Luke 5:31). This is striking. The attitude one might expect is one where, he tells them to get clean and then you can sit with me. That is not what we find here. What becomes clear is that God’s holiness was never going to remain a barricade but, in Christ, was looking to make the unwholesome, whole, and the unholy, holy. The Great Physician longs to make you well.
One then has to ask are you “too healthy” for Jesus? Are you “not that bad”? Are you quite sufficient in yourself? If that’s true, you might want to compare yourself to the holy, all-sustaining God revealed in the Bible, a test none of us pass. The word sin in the Greek, Hamartia literally means “to miss the mark”, something which since Adam all mankind has done. Not only have we missed the mark, but we have also transgressed (broken God’s laws) and pursued evil instead of good. Not only that but we have delighted in it.
When you realise all of this, you may well be overwhelmed by your brokenness and the weight of your sin. In fact, you might believe that you’re “too bad” for change. Beyond redemption. A lost cause. The Good News is that no one is too bad for God. In fact, you can count yourself in the same boat as Paul in the verse above. That verse is sandwiched between two verses which give context to his statement: God showed abundant love and grace to save Paul, the worst of sinners, to reveal His extraordinary patience. So, if the “worst of sinners” could be saved and changed to a man who was used by God to author so much of the New Testament and build the foundations of the church, imagine what God can do with you! Not only that but instead of identifying you by your sin, God invites you to be His blameless son, with Jesus as your elder brother. The Spirit of God in a believer testifies to this and seals you as a saint. You are a NEW creation.
12 “See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. “Hebrews 3: 12,13 (NIV)
Sin’s deceitfulness has two arms and they work in tandem to “turn [your heart] away from the living God.
If by God’s gracious providence you are reading this today, here are some final warnings and encouragements. Do NOT believe the lie that you’re “not that bad”. One arm of sin’s deceitfulness has an almost self-justifying influence. Rather than seeing our sin, repenting and trusting in the all-sufficient, wrath-satisfying, free work of Christ at the cross, sin subtly sedates us into thinking: “It’s not that deep”, “there are worse people out there”, “I’m not hurting anyone” amongst others. And we accept it as truth. When we look at Paul, as we did earlier, admitting he is the “chief of all sinners” and David in Psalm 51 acknowledging “[he] was sinful at birth” (Psalm 51:5), there is a sharp disparity between what these heroes of the faith saw in themselves and what we often think we see. Sin’s deceitfulness has a way of fading God and His holiness into the background and bringing us in our pride to the foreground. It excessively elevates the goodness of man and dangerously demotes the holiness of God and His subsequent demands for holiness from His people. So while today you may think you’re not that bad. The truth is, according to God’s holy standard, you’re probably even worse. Christianity is not for those who are good. Rather Jesus’ whole mission centred around saving those who recognised they weren’t good enough and that still remains the case today. You can’t accept the healing Christ offers until you confront and acknowledge the reality of your sickness.
However, sin’s deceitfulness has another arm. And this arm has a self-condemning function. Today I also want you to REJECT the lie that you’re “too bad” for God. The bible says there is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9) and God sees all. Romans 5:20 declares that “whilst sin abounds, grace abounds all the more”. These are not excuses for sin. Rather they are means of God’s grace to show you that God is not put off by your mess. Your mess is not bigger, smarter, or more powerful than the Almighty, Omniscient and Omnipotent Only-Wise God (1 Tim 1:17). There is more good in God than evil in you. Nothing surprises him and it has not stopped Him from passionately pursuing you from all eternity to show you His love and grace in Christ Jesus (2 Corinthians 13:14). When you believe, you are no longer identified by your sin but by His sacrifice. You are the righteousness of God in Christ and He has amazing plans to fulfil for you and through you.
Somewhere between being too bad and not bad enough, God is waiting to meet you. Today if you hear his voice do not harden your heart. Today if you know a friend who thinks they are too far gone, let them know about the grace of God. Today if you know someone who thinks they are fine in and of themselves let them see the holiness of God. Today if you are either of these people…Will you accept His invitation to forsake yourself, pick up your cross and follow Him?