I’ve been slogging through the first three chapters of Romans with my fellow believers at Church of Monroe, and as we continue to work through the material, one thing keeps coming back to me. We have spent several weeks now discussing the sinfulness of man. As one person said during service “man, aren’t you a Debbie Downer!” It was funny, but I couldn’t escape the feeling of discomfort of feeling like we were focusing so much on mankind and sinfulness. Why did Paul take so much time dealing with this? Couldn’t he have made it really simple, like “well, we are all screw-ups, so let’s all thank God for saving us?”
The short answer is this: Sure, Paul could have made it a lot simpler, he could have given token ascent to the fact that we are all sinners and left us without all the guilt feeling. And after all, isn’t that really what we want? Don’t we want to experience the best God has to offer and still be left without all of the guilt that comes along with conviction? I still remember when Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ came out, many pastors spoke against the movie, saying “we already have too much guilt.”
You know, I can understand where they may be coming from if the evidence supports the conclusion. But really, let’s be honest. Look at Christendom today. If you take a long hard look, it doesn’t really seem like anyone feels all that guilty. I mean, we have debates within the church over whether or not abortion should be a right for women. We have churches that affirm the concept of gay marriage and practicing gay relationships. We have churches and pastors who teach universalism. I actually sat through a service at my parent’s Methodist church in their hometown where the pastor said she couldn’t really speak with any authority on the falsity of other religions. Ultimately, I would like for someone, anyone, to show me these auto-flagellating Christians who are already too guilty from the realization of the depths of their sin to be able to function in the Holy Spirit.
I think I could probably wait for quite a while for one of these poor “guilty Christians” to show up. Because the reality is that we, for the most part, are far too oblivious to the depths of our depravity to understand just how royally screwed-up we are! Most of us are too busy telling ourselves we are ok to notice how really not ok we are, and until we see just how deep of a spiritual grave we are in, we will never… ever… ever be able to fully appreciate God’s grace.
That’s the reason Paul spends three chapters on a universal indictment of mankind for our sinfulness. Any less than a full understanding of the depths of our guilt prevents us from experiencing the full measure of God’s grace. Any goodness we can (falsely) ascribe to ourselves diminishes the real goodness of our God. Paul is not trying to whip people to make himself feel better or to make himself seem morally superior. He’s trying to point out that we are so far from God’s standards of holiness that we absolutely must lean on God’s grace.
Where are you at? It’s a simple question, really. Are you a sinner? It’s ok to be honest, really. I’m a sinner too. I have to rely on God’s grace every day. And really, you have to as well. But, if you aren’t willing to be honest about it, you never really get to see just how deep God’s love runs. Don’t miss out on that.