An Unpopular Paradox

illusion.jpg The level of my personal outrage at the suggestion that I may be capable of any given sin or atrocity, is directly proportionate to the level at which I continue to justify myself – and consider myself acceptable before God.

Matt. 27:32 As they went out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. They compelled this man to carry his cross.

Luke 9:23 And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me. 24 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: but whosoever will lose his life for my sake, the same shall save it.

There are two dangerous places where Christians can live. One, is peering only into the darkness of our own souls, and fixing upon the unsearchable wretchedness of our depravity. The other, is to look only to the Cross, to the mercy and goodness of God in Christ, and to lose touch with the reality of our sinful depravity. The one can drive a man to morose despair and the other to imagine there is no sin to be dealt with. One lives in constant fear, doubt, dread and hopelessness. The other lives vainly imagining that Christianity ought to be nothing but smiles, joy, ease and happiness. Both will fail to come to grips with the love of God. Only when both are lived in right tension, can the Believer both feel the immense weight of his or her true guilt – preventing any possibility of justifying oneself in the slightest way; and, live in the ecstatic joy of how how truly immense and all gracious God’s love truly is.

To whatever degree I am unwilling to assess my personal sin and guilt as sufficient reason for Christ’s death at Calvary – no, I am not really THAT bad – to that degree, I find some measure of God’s favor with me resting in MY righteousness and not Christ’s. To that degree, I am self-justifying. I want to feel good about myself before God, rather than trusting Christ alone as ALL my righteousness.

Many of us don’t want to go there. “Forgetting the things which are behind” is our motto. As though all our sin is in the past. And we want to forget about it as quickly as possible. We want no lingering guilt. We want to scrape the filth of our sins from off of our hands and perfume them with the thought of our own repentance – never to be addressed again. Perhaps we do it far too quickly. Comforting ourselves instantaneously, instead of waiting for the Spirit to comfort us by pressing the finished work of Christ into our hearts – rather than simply trying to wipe the memory or the implications from our minds.

But Jesus calls us to take up our cross daily. Not once, when we are saved – daily. In other words, there is something of the life within us that is to be brought to the place of crucifixion every day. We do not want to go to Calvary every day. Only when absolutely necessary. Only in emergencies. Normally, we’re OK. If anything really awful occurs, we’ll go for cleansing. But daily remind ourselves of the true weight of our sins? Get under that cross-beam EVERY day? Let its full weight rest upon us again? YES! Because the truth is, we only bear it as far as Calvary. There, He is the one nailed to it. We feel the burden of what we deserve, but He actually pays for it. We enter fully into the sorrow – the horror that our sin justly deserves all He suffers. And then melt in the joy of the fact that it is indeed HE who suffers, and not we ourselves.

Here then is where we begin to glimpse His love as it truly is. We begin to take our sense of human worth NOT from the pitiful righteousness we daily tend to soothe our consciences with, but from His valuation – that He loved us, and thus he died.

It has been said that anything is only as valuable as what someone is willing to pay for it. On the death bed, gold loses its value completely. It can bring you nothing. It is still gold. Still valuable to others. But not to you. This is the only place we are to come to true grips with human worth – what Christ is willing to pay that He might have us. THAT, is where we obtain a sense of worth. ” In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)

Once, someone accused me of being a thief. I was outraged. Blisteringly upset. In fact, after the altercation and MUCH discussion – probing the facts, the other person recanted and agreed that I had not in fact done what they thought I had. But there was still a problem. The problem was my indignation. Why? you might say – you were falsely accused! But there is where the rub is. Not that I wasn’t guilty of that particular sin at that particular time, but in that I was incredulous that anyone would suspect me of being so low. It was my opinion of myself which was injured. At that moment, I was not justified by THAT person. And it enraged me. But you see our justification NEVER rests in others, not even in ourselves. God alone is the justifier of the ungodly. And that, not based upon MY righteousness, but Christ’s! You see it in Jesus before the Council and then before Pilate. Never a word of self-justification. He was feeling our guilt. He seeks no justification from men. He bears the collective weight of our sin without any attempt to make it known even that He is doing it for us, and not for His own sin. Still, when in John 18, before the Council, an officer strikes Him for His answer to the High Priest Jesus can rightly inquire: ” “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?”

Now I might be able to respond to a false accuser that what they are accusing me of is patently false. Paul and others will do so in the Scriptures. As well I (and any) should, if we have any regard for truth. But if I am caught up with moral outrage at the suggestion I MIGHT have done thus or so, if my anger rises up within me at the thought that someone might accuse me of such vile things as (whatever) – I immediately reveal my opinion of myself, not as a man worthy of crucifixion – but deserving of better treatment. I am justifying myself, if even only to myself. I am usurping the role of God – who alone, can justify the ungodly. My being offended that anyone should think me capable of such a thing is a demonstration that I still know precious little about my own sinfulness. And by extension, I cheapen the Cross and God’s love for me – for in some capacity, irrespective of my “theological” knowledge – I’m not as bad as THAT.

Now some will immediately jump to their own defense on this. “But I truly HAVEN’T been as evil as some.” And in terms of action, and perhaps even thought, this may be true. But it is not true because you are less sinful, but only because grace has restrained the sin more. “There but for the grace of God go I”, is a statement many of us ordinarily apply to ourselves observing others undergoing great hardship. I would suggest it is better used when we think of the terrorists hi-jacking and flying their planes into the World Trade Center building. It fits more when I look at Saddam Hussein, or of John Wayne Gacy, Jeffrey Dahmer or Adolf Eichmann. There, THERE, but for the grace of God, go I. And there but for the grace of God, go you too. And the degree of uncomfortableness you feel with that statement, is the level at which you are still trying to justify yourself in your own eyes. The degree to which we fail to come to the true knowledge of His great love for us – because we’re still trying to be “lovable” – at least in some respect. And we’re not.

If you would know God’s love, you must know your own sin better. To daily face it unafraid because of the Cross. To embrace it fully each day, and bear it all the way to Calvary again. And there, to see Him in your place. He pays the penalty. You feel the weight, but not the lash. The heaviness, but not the spikes, or the thorns, or the spear. He takes all of that. He can ask us to take it up daily, because He’s the One who dies – not us. All we die to, is self. And then you go home. Awash in a love that is so great, that no one will ever be able to fathom its depths.

This then is the paradox: To know His love, I must come more and more to grips with my sin. At Calvary.

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