Monday, February 18, 2013

Grace and condemnation

There is a liberal impulse to make God senile and indulgent, and to pat us on the back of our dirty little hands reassuringly, and to say that there is no condemnation because it wasn’t really that bad, or it was natural, or you were born that way, or God didn’t notice, or God doesn’t actually care about it. This flatters us in the most egregious way possible, and distorts everything. (Doug Wilson)
We shouldn't belittle the condemnation we should have had. It just ends up belittling the grace we did receive. Understanding the condemnation that we have avoided is crucial in understanding God's grace towards us. But we can't appreciate God's grace if we shrug off the subject of condemnation as though God were only kidding about sin. Minimizing the nastiness of sin (and thus its condemnation) belittles God's holiness and promotes self-justification. It is beneficial to avoid both.

The man who uses Romans 8:1 to whitewash his own sin ends up diluting the sacrifice of Christ in the process. Of what good is being set free from condemnation if it is not-so-condemning in the first place? Christ had to suffer the full wrath of God precisely because sin is so nasty. Thus we sing together, "it was my sin that held him there." If all sin isn't worthy of death, then why did Christ have to die for it?

Our attempts to coddle the sinfulness in ourselves are really veiled attempts at self-justification. If we can believe that our sin isn't really that bad, then we can also convince ourselves that our little good deeds are enough to warrant God's favor. This couldn't be further from the truth. As Doug Wilson said, it really does flatter us in the most egregious way. And it distorts the very nature of things.

The way it distorts everything is that we start creating our own "sliding scale" of sorts, with the "really bad" sins at the top, and the menial, "this-wont-send-you-to-hell sins" at the bottom. What happens then is that we form our own hierarchies and systems based on this sliding scale. The most white-washed people get their place at the top, and the real big sinners are left squabbling over the crumbs at the bottom of God's totem pole of grace.

Don't you see the distortion here? There are hierarchies in God's design, but not like this one. God's hierarchy is completely inverted. It's a system where the first are last, and the last are first. Where nobody deserves anything but those who humble themselves receive everything. And none of it is earned by man; all of it is given by the grace of God. So, when we start coddling our sin and sugar-coating the nature of true condemnation, we are laying the foundation for our pagan totem pole, where men rise to the top based on how much Febreeze they can spray on their filthy rags.

The grace of God, though, pierces through it all. It shows us what true condemnation looks like by giving us a clear picture of the heinousness of sin and its consequences, albeit applied to a substitute. But at the same time, God's grace gives meaning to the phrase "there is no condemnation." You cannot appreciate good for all of its goodness without seeing it juxtaposed to true evil. Thankfully, we have seen both on the cross of Christ. We saw unfettered evil and its consequences. And in so doing, we got a clear picture of God's great grace through the midst of all that sin. Covering up our own sin only distorts the true nature of grace.

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