At times it is difficult to listen to what God has to say to us. And as with many a difficult and painful thing in life, we may intrinsically prefer to avoid hearing the truth rather than face it – sometimes the truth DOES hurt.
We do not, for example, generally enjoy admitting that we can be wrong. While this is not necessarily the result of our deluding ourselves into actually believing that we’re really perfect, it’s often the case that we’re quite aware of how messed up we are but are afraid that others might notice it, too. It is also often the case that we dread the tough choices and the sacrifices that must be made.
Of course the consequence of blind narcissism, denial, and avoidance is an inability to receive the grace of God. If one will not or cannot admit an ailment, one cannot appropriate the remedy for that ailment, no matter how readily available the remedy may be.
In alcohol and narcotic support groups this is recognized and is, in fact, the heart of the idea that “the first step to recovery is to admit that you have a problem.” While this is generally accepted to be true of persons suffering such blatant addictions, we seem to often struggle with this truism that is universally relevant to all humanity in the realm of the spiritual.
It is perhaps harder to see as obvious the fruits of our spiritual disconnect from God than it is to recognize that a car weaving all over the road may well be a sign of an alcoholic influence. It may never dawn on us that both our lack of peace in our hearts and the “character flaws” we write off as personality traits are symptoms of sin.
But we may know when we see it a compulsion or even crazed obsession to get another score of pills or bag of weed as an addiction that has seized control of someone’s life. But sin is like that. We tend to recognize it only as a problem when someone else’s struggle with it becomes inconvenient or injurious for us personally. But like an obvious alcoholic or drug junkie, those who are most clearly in bondage to sin struggled with it long before it came to that point.
This leaves us in an interesting dilemma. All humanity has been infected with the disease of corruption and, though we labor to control and contain our selfish impulses and pride, we see all around us the evidence of our sad condition. Even our government assumed this as fact in its formation in our country’s humble beginnings by arranging three branches that would each lend balance to the others and strive between themselves to maintain a manageable system of justice and social cooperation that would benefit our population. The reason we have an executive, a legislative, and a judicial branch is that each may avert the potential for tyrannical excesses of the others.
But recognizing a propensity for evil and the reality of a corrupted nature is a long cry from being healed of them if we cannot see them within ourselves individually. Nor can we begin to find healing and cleansing if we excuse them. And we certainly cannot experience a cure if we try applying the wrong medicine.
"There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one…. For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:10-12, 23 NIV).
We each need a cure for our sin. Our cure, however, is not a righteousness of our own, for our best deeds and works still are riddled with the insidious tendrils of sin and selfishness, falling short of the perfect holiness of God.
But Jesus, the Son of God, is the remedy. Sound too simple? The Bible also says, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:20-24 NIV).
Jesus, gazing upon a crowd who believed that they had their act together and that their own righteousness was enough to win God over, spoke a “tough truth” to them in John 8. Jesus said, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the One I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins” (John 8:23-24 NIV). But even as He spoke to them a “hard word to hear”, He was quick to remind them also of the hope that could be theirs if they would embrace it. “If you hold to My teaching, you are really My disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free" (John 8:31-32 NIV).
What more can He do than share with us the truth, though we might cringe and flee from it? What more can He offer us than the remedy for our secret spiritual sickness? “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 NIV).
Thanks for the feedback, Don. I have reread this piece repeatedly with your comments in mind and cannot agree with them. In regard to your last comment first, there is nothing in the piece that seems to me to imply that one must do anything to receive grace (and I wholeheartedly agree with your comment: if one were to somehow earn grace, then it is not grace).
Secondly, your concern that the piece was unclear is naturally of concern for any writer. Nonetheless, it seems to me that the essential point that denial of sin (whatever the reason) runs counter to God's admonition to confess it and was clear (the comparison of this to the pattern of denial common among those suffering chemical addictions seemed plain enough to me). And I'm sure you'd agree that if there is no confession of sin (no admitting that one has broken God's Law and "falls short of the glory of God", Rom. 3:23), than one cannot be set free from the burden and penalty of sin.
I regret that this article was unclear to you and appreciate what was, I'm sure, intended to be helpful criticism, but it would have been more helpful had you pointed out what it was exactly that you felt I overcomplicated and perhaps suggested strategies to remedy it. I suggest that when you do render critiques in the future that you consider these points.
My perspective? Well, it seemed as if the goal was not so much to communicate as it was to impress a reader with ones' ability to complicate the simple. Sort of like handing a friend a glass of cool refreshing water and as soon as they put it to their lips to quench their thirst there is tossed into the glass a handful of mud. "Once the mud settles to the bottom you can drink it."
Also, if we had to do anything to "receive grace" it would at that moment cease to be Grace. With respects.