“…most Americans believe that their major problem is something that has happened
to them, and their solution is to be found within. In other words, they believe that they have an alien problem that is to be resolved with an inner solution. What the gospel says, however, is that we have an inner problem that demands and alien solution – a righteousness that is not our own. Once we begin to understand how that dichotomy comes together, we can see better how we can think we are talking about the gospel, yet people in this culture will hear it as merely a new form of therapy.” – R. Albert Mohler (“Preaching with the Culture in View,” in Preaching the Cross, Dever, Mark, et. al. p. 81)
Recent events in my personal life have brought me face to face with my biggest problem, and I stare at him in the mirror every morning when I shave. I am my own worst enemy. I can’t blame Satan, or the media, or the moviemakers, or the magazine publishers, or the boss, or my wife.
I am the one whose desires led him into sin. Even as a Christian, with a new heart and a changed life, I sin. Sometimes I sin in worse ways than I did before I became a Christian. Many of us are like that.
I am not alone in this. It is an historical problem.
Jesus addressed this issue in His day directly. He told people, “…it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” When the disciples spoke with Him privately, He said, “… whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.” (Matthew 15:10-20, ESV)
How badly our culture needs to hear this, especially the evangelical subculture that permeates our churches. Why do we often rant and rave against the enemies outside the church walls when the real enemies seem to be inside our own skins? Why do we try to look down our noses at others when our heads are all at the same height? You know, holding my head back that far hurts.
We must learn to look outside ourselves for the answer. We must find the “alien solution – a righteousness that is not our own” that Al Mohler refers to above. We must look outside ourselves to the finished work of Christ on the cross. We must see what He did for us as the completed work, and not a work we must contribute to in our own strength.
Christ earns us a right standing with God. He wins the war with our sin outright and gives us the gift of the righteousness He earned for us. He is our champion. He is our redeemer. I like the way R. C. Sproul puts it:
The first time I read the New Testament, I read the story Jesus told about the Pharisee and the tax collector. The Pharisee prayed, “God I thank you that I am not like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of
all that I get.” (Luke 18:11-12). The tax collector, on the other hand, couldn’t even lift his eyes to heaven. All he could do was cry out, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (18:13). Most of Jesus’ parables are difficult to understand, but this one ends clearly. Jesus concluded, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (v. 14). Which of the two men went
to his home justified? The one who, by faith, was covered by the righteousness of Christ.”
(“The Center of Christian Preaching” in
Preaching the Cross, Dever, Mark, et. al. p. 99)
But we do not want to hear this message. Our egos want to hold on to the idea that we can contribute, that we can earn something. We tell ourselves that we may not earn salvation, but we can earn God’s fellowship. We lie and say we cannot earn heaven, but we can earn God’s favor in this life.
Despite Paul’s clear explanation in Romans 3, we fail to internalize the depths of our sinfulness. We fail to understand that we do not “rouse [ourselves] to take hold of [God]”. We trust our own works to earn us something when “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” We trust ourselves when we are not trustworthy. We do not ask God to “rend the heavens and come down” on our behalf. (Isaiah 64, ESV)
The Christian life is lived based on faith, trust in Christ. We trust in Christ not only as the way to heaven, but also as the foundation for any positive change in us. We learn to be confident in the hope we have in Christ, and we learn to fight the war with our own sinful desires not to earn something, but out of gratitude and love for God. We do not despair, even in our greatest failures.
(LP Cruze’s blog posts are encouraging to me. His blog is named Extra Nos. He gets this part right.)