Let’s begin by taking a look at Paul’s words in Romans 7. By way of background, Paul has just spent the last several chapters outlining gospel truths, and then he begins to outline the battle between his flesh and his desire to live righteously in Jesus.
Is that like you? Do you sometimes look at your life and wonder how it is you can do the things you do and still call yourself a Christian? Do you wonder how you can speak to your wife or husband or children in the way you do and still have the spirit of God? Do you wonder where the “victorious Christian life” you’ve heard about really is? Do you look at your life and count the years since you set out on this spiritual journey and despair about how few steps you seem to have taken on the road? What is the point?
Paul, whom we recognize as one of the pinnacle followers of Jesus was in the exact same place – oh, he could point to successes on the outside. He could show you the churches he had planted, he could show you the hardships he had suffered for the sake of the Gospel in scars on his back. He could count up what he had sacrificed for Jesus. And yet…
Here in the seventh chapter of Romans, verse 24, you can read what Paul really thought of his situation in dealing with his own sin
“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death!?!”
In I Timothy 1:15, Paul described himself as the foremost, or chief of sinners. You want the worst sinner? Paul says he’s the guy. He’s not trying to convince you how good he is – he’s trying to get you to see how bad he is.
I would submit to you that we do not understand how bad we are.
There is a quote from CS Lewis in his book, Mere Christianity where he speaks of this: “When a man is getting better he understands more and more clearly the evil that is still left in him. When a man is getting worse, he understands his own badness less and less. A moderately bad man knows he is not very good: a thoroughly bad man thinks he is all right. “
This is the result of going deeper and deeper into the gospel – we begin to see ourselves as we truly are. We begin to comprehend the depth of our sinfulness. Think for a moment on the death of Jesus. Think for a moment on the brutality, the gruesomeness of that death, of the suffering that he experienced. The innocent man crying out to God, “why have you forsaken me?”
As Milton Vincent says in A Gospel Primer, “…The deeper I go into the gospel, the more I comprehend and confess aloud the depth of my sinfulness. A gruesome death like the one that Christ endured for me would only be required for one who is exceedingly sinful and unable to appease a holy God. Consequently, whenever I consider the necessity and manner of His death, along with the love and selflessness behind it, I am laid bare and utterly exposed for the sinner I am.”
When we consider the death of Jesus, we are forced to consider our state. If Jesus died in our place, then it would mean that our sins were worthy of such punishments. Not Hitler’s sins. Not Charles Manson’s sins. Your sins. My sins. It’s easy to look at some horrible person and use that person as an example of someone who really needs forgiveness, but so much harder to look at the nicest, most kind, most loving person you’ve ever met and say, “this person is worthy of death.”
The cross of Jesus exposes us for who we really are.
Now some would say, “I don’t think this type of teaching is healthy. People have had enough of being told how lousy they are, they need to hear about the love of God and how they are accepted by him.”
My reply is that the only way to have a healthy tree is to have good roots. The only way to have a good building is to have a good foundation.
It does no one any good to start with a fantasy. Where many would say that dwelling on our sinfulness drags us down, I would say that an awareness of our sinfulness actually lifts us up, by magnifying our appreciation of God’s forgiving grace in our lives. And when we have a clear view of the greatness of our sin and the even greater grace of God in forgiving those sins, the more we will delight in him, the more we will love him and the more we will worship him and desire others to share in this grace.
Luke 7:37-47 : “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then turning toward the woman he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not ceased to kiss my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”
We have spoken of Paul, “wretched man that I am! Who will save me from this body of sin?” What was Paul’s answer to that question
“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
When Paul acknowledged that he was the foremost of sinners, how did he follow up that statement?
“But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen!”
Paul’s great sin served to show God’s great patience, it showed the greatness of his mercy and wonder of his saving grace.
But that is only the first aspect of the exposure of the cross, this revealing of the greatness of our sin, which shows the greatness of the grace that God has shown to us. There is another side as well.
While the cross exposes our sins to ourselves, it also exposes our sins to others. A proper handling of the message of the cross reveals things publicly that we would rather have covered up, because we now understand that they are shameful things. At the foot of that cross, we are declaring to the world, “I am a sinner!”
You would think that coming to the cross of Christ and making this declaration of our sinfulness would work to our good, but in the church, this is often not the case. Instead, we often arrive at church and feel the pressure to live up to the expectations of our holy calling: be perfect as I am perfect, be holy as I am holy…
We find in ourselves this same struggle with sin that Paul experienced. And this is when it gets dangerous. Because at this point, we become tempted to put on a mask to cover up our imperfections. We want to fit in, we want to be the “good Christian,” we’re embarrassed by our failures and shortcomings and the reality of what we see in ourselves. What’s more, we often find that our brothers and sisters in Christ seem to have it all together – as far as we can tell, they’re living the abundant Christian life that we seem to be missing. We don’t want to admit that we’re struggling and so we fake it. We put on a happy face and we smile and we never say what’s really going on in our hearts and in our minds, what we struggle with or how alone we feel. We hide our sins even as they kill us.
But this is not what God intends! Paul makes it abundantly clear that sin is alive and well in us, even in the most godly people we know. And these sins, past and present, can become tools in the hands of Satan to condemn us. William Gurnall’s classic book, “The Christian in Complete Armour,” points out – “Satan’s purpose in emphasizing your sin is to try to unsaint you and persuade you that you are only a hypocrite.”
Satan wants you to be like Adam and Eve in the garden, who hid themselves after they sinned. He wants you to shut your mouth, hide the truth and bury that sin deep, where no one will ever see it.
But what does God want? How would God have you handle your sin?
He wants it exposed.
Jesus, speaking in John 3:19-21: “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.”
The wicked hide from the light, the righteous man walks into the light, even though it exposes him.
See, standing out in the shadows, we look OK. From a distance, our flaws and failings can’t be discerned clearly. But when we come into the light, every failure, every blemish, every lousy thing you’ve done is there for everyone to see.
Milton Vincent puts it this way
“The Cross also exposes me before the eyes of other people, informing them
of the depth of my depravity. If I wanted others to think highly of me,
I would conceal the fact that a shameful slaughter of the perfect Son
of God was required that I might be saved. But when I stand at the foot
of the Cross and am seen by others under the light of that Cross, I am
left uncomfortably exposed before their eyes. Indeed, the most
humiliating gossip that could ever be whispered about me is blared from
Golgotha’s hill; and my self-righteous reputation is left in ruins in
the wake of its revelations. With the worst facts about me thus exposed
to the view of others, I find myself feeling that I truly have nothing
left to hide. Thankfully, the more exposed I see that I am by the Cross,
the more I find myself opening up to others about ongoing issues of sin
in my life. (Why would anyone be shocked to hear of my struggles with
past and present sin when the Cross already told them that I am a
desperately sinful person?) And the more open I am in confessing my sins
to fellow-Christians, the more I enjoy the healing of the Lord in
response to their grace-filled counsel and prayers.”
This is not a call to stand up every Sunday and Wednesday with a list of every sin you committed in the previous few days, or to, God forbid! – wallow in our sins like a pig in the mud, with the attitude of “I’m nothing but a dirty, awful, sinner…!”
I Corinthians 6:9-11: “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
Wow. I think I just got disqualified, there. For a few reasons. The kingdom of God is out of my reach. Thank God that that’s not the final word!
“And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
You came into the light. And let’s be honest here. There is nothing good in you, nothing to commend you. The best thing you have ever done in your life is worthless in regards to your position before God. You deserve rejection. You deserve exclusion. You deserve wrath.
But you got something else. You got freedom. You got FREEDOM. You got adoption. You received his love, you received his mercy, you received grace, you received forgiveness.
I must say that I have given some thought on how to end up this lesson and I have struggled with how to wrap this all up. Let’s do it this way:
Remember the Pharisees, whom Jesus described as “whitewashed tombs, beautiful on the outside, yet filled with dead men’s bones” or cups that were outwardly clean and yet on the inside were filthy?
And yet… When we’re really honest, aren’t we just like them? We talk about “authenticity,” and “keeping it real,” and we talk about how much we hate “phonies” and “hypocrites.” We look with disdain on those who “think they’re better than us,” or “put on airs.”
The world is desperate for reality. This entire world is filled with what is false and we are bombarded with it every day. We are immersed in it. Last Wednesday, I wrote a note in my notebook. I’m not sure if it was something Mike said, or someone else. It was this: “A knowledge of the gospel allows us to tell the truth about ourselves.” And that’s right. Even when the truth is uncomfortable, even when it’s ugly. We can tell the truth because there is a remedy for us. If we move from hiding ourselves, to allowing ourselves to be exposed by God, God is glorified.
We need to be honest with one another. We need to be open about our sins and our struggles. We need to support one another with encouragement and prayer. We need to be real. Life is hard enough without burdening ourselves with false expectations and the loneliness of our shame.
I’d like to close by reading from Ecclesiastes 4:9-12:
“Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work:
If one falls down, his friend can help him up.
But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!
Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone?
Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.”
We need each other. Quit hiding. Come into the light.