Campus Outreach Samford – 2.26.14
“Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save,
or his ear dull, that it cannot hear;
but your iniquities have made a separation
between you and your God,
and your sins have hidden his face from you
so that he does not hear” –Isaiah 59:1-2
This semester we’re working through a series on the gospel, spending the first few weeks at the basic good news of the gospel and the last several weeks on how the gospel affects us, our relationships to other Christians, and our relationship to the world. Last week we heard from Olan Stubbs about how God is a good, just ruler (listen to the podcast if you weren’t here) and how we, like Adam and Eve, choose sin in spite of His good blessings and better ways. For the next two weeks, we’ll be looking a little more at our rebellion against God. Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned (Romans 5:12).
This week we’re going to try to further diagnose our problem. We’re going to focus on answering three questions: (1) What’s the problem? (2) Why is it a problem? (3) What can be done about the problem?
What’s the Problem?
I doubt it would shock you if I told you that the world is broken. If you’ve watched the news recently, you’ve seen the enormous amount of civil unrest in Venezuela and Syria, or heard about Ukrainian police using sniper rifles on protestors in Kiev, or heard about a tape of Turkey’s prime minister instructing his family members to hide tens of millions of dollars, or heard about the insurgents that killed at least 29 in an attack on a school in Nigeria… and these are headlines I grabbed yesterday. We live in a broken world.
Most of us are okay admitting that the world is broken, but when the lens is instead turned inward on us instead of outward on them, we’re a little more resistant to the charge, right? We’re comfortable enough to admit that we’re not perfect, that we’re not quite as morally consistent as we’d like to be, but if we were pressed, I would imagine that if everyone in the room were personally asked to subconsciously rank the morality (or general good-guy-ness) of the people in the room, each of us almost without exception would rank ourselves in the top third. We tend to think, “There are a few people in here, who are better people or, (since we’re at Samford) more devout or giving than me, but I’m a generally good person. I’m better/more moral than most.” But somebody’s got to be in the bottom third, right? Just thinking logically…
Let’s think for just a minute about what sort of standards we’re judging ourselves by. Just imagine what would happen if you or I were followed around with a tape recorder all day that simply recorded just our thoughts about other people & the standards that we were holding them to. Imagine looking over the people in the caf and having your thoughts recorded…and then having that tape sent out to everyone on campus. Terrifying, right? Would any of us hold up even to our own standards? No! Most of us would never come back to school here! And yet, we continue to grade ourselves on a curve, but the Bible will have none of it.
“Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things” -Romans 2:1
The main problem, as Olan reminded us last week, is not the fallen world “out there,” but the fallen world inside each of us. There is something inside of each of us (just like there was in Adam and Eve) that doesn’t want to be ruled. There’s something in us that believes that God’s holding out on us, that there’s something out there that’s a little bit better than what He’s offering. We look at the 99 times He’s blessed us, and we whine because He hasn’t given the 100th. We look at the things that He’s given other people and our hearts bubble over with jealousy: “People should like me more than her! I should have been elected to that position! I should be dating that guy! Well, if I came from the kind of money that he comes from…” We look at our blessings, and we compare, and we inevitably feel pride in some respects (“Look what I’ve done”) and feel like we drew the short straw in some area (which, of course, renders us not responsible).
As humans, our minds keep us in constant competition with one another. C.S. Lewis said in Mere Christianity that we’re wrong when we say talk about people being proud that they’re rich, or smart or good-looking, or athletic. Instead, he says that all of us are only proud of being richer, or smarter or better-looking or more successful or more athletic or in more leadership than others that we’re comparing ourselves to. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking, there would be nothing for any of us to be proud about. It is the comparison that makes us proud: the pleasure we take in being above someone else. I mean, what day has not gone by where we did not judge ourselves superior to someone because of how they talked or dressed or who they hung out with or dated or how they performed in the classroom or athletically?
Conversely, it’s also this comparison that fuels self-pity in us. When we see that we’re not as good-looking or funny or smart or as popular as someone else (If I had a dollar for every conversation I’ve overheard where a girl asked a friend why another girl had more instagram followers than her…), our prides are wounded. We’re not what we thought we were or what we hoped to be. Maybe you were the smartest kid in your high school or the prettiest girl or even the “godliest,” but then you came to Samford and came face-to-face with people who seemed smarter or pretty or “better Christians” than you, and it broke you. For those of us like that, our identities are just as built upon these fragile things as the people we resentfully describe as proud. We too are fallen and profoundly broken.
Or maybe you’re one of the few who’ve really grasped the notion that you shouldn’t care what other people think. Be careful though! Lewis said, “the real black, diabolical Pride, comes when you look down on others so much that you do not care what they think of you” –not because you care so much more what God thinks, which would be a sign of growing holiness, but because you think other people’s opinions are beneath you. Ouch.
I hope you’re starting to see a few cracks running through the image you have of yourself. Maybe a few words have entered your ears and caused a slight tremor in your heart, but, if you’re anything like me, most of you will subtly say to yourselves, “I hear what you’re saying, but, I don’t really think it’s all that bad; I’m mostly doing better than I was,” basically, “I can manage with this level of brokenness.”
Now listen to me: I’m no prophet, but I promise you there will come a point when, at least for an hour, a day, or even a fleeting moment, you’ll be forced to face your own overwhelming tendency to screw things up. The Bible calls this our depravity. Someday you’ll have to face a failure of your own making: when a relationship that your world was slowly being built around falls apart, when you’re taking microbiology for the 3rd time & you realize you’re not going to medical school or going to be a nurse, when the diet you’re on suddenly consumes your thoughts as it consumes your body, when your supposedly social drinking starts exercising veto powers over all of your hopes and dreams, when you wake up the morning after something you swore would never happen or, at least, would never happen again. You’ll see the cracks; you’ll taste depravity.
Or maybe that moment will come more subtly for you. Maybe it will come much later. Maybe you wake up one day, and you’re 29 years old, and sitting in bed, you can’t cope with the realization that the life you’re living doesn’t look anything like the way you imagined it when you were in college, anything like the life you thought you always wanted. Maybe you’re married and you look over at the person in your bed & think, honestly, that they are the one thing keeping you from real happiness. If you think I’m wrong, I think you’ve probably got a jacked up a view of your future self or an unrealistic view of the problems you think marriage is going to solve. Or maybe you wake up and realize that you’re still alone and start to grow afraid again that you’ll always be alone. You wonder how you got here.
And yet, you know you in the most basic sense that you got here by choice, by a long string of choices, which, at any given moment, temporarily outbid the things you said you most wanted. When that wave hits you, you can’t help but catch that hopelessly unflattering picture of yourself. You don’t make sense. You and I are not who we hoped we would be. We have royally screwed up. And there’s no going back to undo what’s been done. This is the reality in which we all live. We’re fallen, broken, depraved.
But we can’t bear to face our brokenness for long. In fact, we’re so hell-bent on avoiding this unflattering picture that we’ve created a culture that offers a nearly infinite number of ways to distract us from really facing the fact that we’re not who we should be, who we want to be, even, who we claim to be. Most of us, when this sensation starts to creep up our spine, pull out our phones, check instagram or twitter or facebook (subconsciously, of course) to remind ourselves that we’re significant, that we matter, that people like us, and that our lives are, in fact, enviable. Or maybe instead of checking your phone, you watch NetFlix or play a video game to absorb yourself into an alternative reality for awhile- at least long enough to make you forget the devastating questions before you. We’ve all done it. We’ve all thought, “I’ve got too much on my plate right now to deal with this. I’m too stressed out by school or work or friends or my family… Right now, all I want to do is chill out and watch Walking Dead.” We deflect our feelings, numbing them with simple amusements until we no longer feel the weight, “I’m fallen. I’m broken.”
Or maybe instead, when these creeping feelings come, we immediately dismiss them. There’s this lie has crept into our Christian culture, that when we’re faced with our own overwhelming brokenness, we’re supposed to tell ourselves, “Don’t beat yourself up about it too much. No one’s perfect. You’ve got to move on, better yourself, and try to do better next time.” But the problem is, if you’ve been human any length of time, you’ve probably tried this, and unless you’re completely delusional, you’ve learned that the fight to “get better” is impossible. We can’t buck up & try harder without exposing another deep-seated weakness (like playing whack-a-mole with our sin). Satan is happy to let us be “cured” from gluttony or gossip if we do it by buckling down, trying harder, and convincing ourselves that we’re not going to be the kind of people who do such things or live in such a way- and so we cure a particular sin with the toxic medicine of pride. So what’s the problem? We’re profoundly broken sinners.
Why is it a Problem?
First, sin is such a problem because your sin never just affects you. In the Spring of 2010, we were starting to plan for Beach Project, and I was pretty excited. It was my first summer as a “staff guy,” and I was eager to prove myself. One of the things I was put in charge of was helping all the students who came down to find jobs.
I knew it was a tall task to try to help over 100 college students find summer jobs, but this was going to be the 4th summer we’d been in Destin, so I knew a lot of the hard work had been done before me. I was praying & working hard, but I was pretty confident. That is, until April 22nd came & I heard the news about the BP Oil Spill. At first we didn’t know how bad it was going to be, but as I started to call all these places that had hired students in the past, over and over again I got the same answer: “We can’t promise you any jobs. We’re probably not hiring. We’re just not sure how badly this is going to affect us.”
Well, it affected us… I’m usually not prone to stress, but I probably aged 5 years during the first few weeks of SBP. It was nearly impossible for to find jobs, and we weren’t the only people affected. All told, the devastation from the BP Oil Spill is insane. 210 million gallons of gas were pumped into the ocean, spreading out to the size of Oklahoma (68,000 square miles), and polluting the coastline of five states. So far, BP has paid out $56 billion, but if you were a waitress who was let go because of slow business or a business owner along the Emerald Coast, your life was profoundly altered by BP.
And you can imagine their anger when they learned that way back in January of 2010, BP had ignored a warning that their blowout preventer may collapse under pressure… or when they ignored a report in April that the cement they’d used wasn’t up to grade… or that BP chose to do use a single liner instead of the recommended 4… An omission here & there, a few more “reinterpretations” of the rules & all of a sudden, they had given birth to a monster that they could not control. And it didn’t affect just them, but millions of people. All this from a crack the size of a quarter in the middle of the ocean.
Why am I telling you this? Because I think we think of our sin in a similar way. We know there’s this small crack in our character, but we think it isn’t that big of a deal; we’ve got it under control; it’s not going to hurt anyone; we can stop it if we really need to. But the problem is that our sin, no matter how insignificant it seems to us at first, no matter how hard we try to keep it below the surface, inevitably bubbles up from our hearts and poisons everything around, tainting everything it touches, and impacting the shores of all the other relationships we have. Our sin splatters. Your sin never just affects you- no matter whether or not you think you’re “hurting” anyone.
Remember Achan’s sin in Joshua 7? He had fought for the Lord in battle, but then he decided to keep a bit of the forbidden spoils for himself- a very small bit! Remember all the victories the Israelites had seen since leaving Egypt? They had never lost! Now, against a weak opponent, God kills 27 men over one man’s sin, soon to be followed by Achan’s entire family. That should make us tremble… Your sin doesn’t just hurt you.
Secondly, and more importantly, sin is such a big problem because it is primarily against God, the ruler of everything. That’s why David, after he’d committed adultery with Bathsheba and conspired to murder Uriah, could rightly say in Psalm 51, “against you and you alone have I sinned.” Everything ultimately belongs to God and has been created for his glory, and, therefore, every sin is ultimately against him. Consider this for a minute: God made the stars and they shine at his pleasure; He said to the animals, “this is where you will leave, what you will eat,” and they rejoiced; He said to the mountains, “this is how high you will climb,” to the ocean, “thus far you shall come, and no further,” and he says to us, “come and follow me that you may have life,” and we scream, “no!”
We’ve specks of dirt on a speck of a planet in our enormous solar system in our unfathomably large universe, and yet we have the audacity to look at the ruler of all of these things, the one who gives men breath and calls the stars out by name, “I don’t want to be ruled! I want to decide what is right for myself! I think you’re holding out on me!”
And I think, generally, we have a tendency to diminish the weightiness of our sinfulness, because we judge ourselves compared to others, but we’re not weighed on scales in comparison to them, we’re weighed against the perfect holiness of God, the one whose eyes are too pure to look upon evil. And it’s not that He’s an overly harsh judge, it’s just that his sense of holiness, goodness, and justice are so much higher than ours.
It’s like this: I was in the food court today, and I saw that there was this manhunt on for a child rapist. I was transfixed. I couldn’t focus. I wanted them to get this guy more than I know how to say. I mean, the fact that child abuse like that exists anywhere in the world makes me simultaneously want to throw up, weep, and make those responsible pay for their crimes. I’d argue that if you don’t feel that way, something is seriously wrong with you. And here’s the thing: God feels all of those emotions about each sin I commit, even those that I ignore, dismiss, or overlook, more than I hate child abuse- because His holiness and justice are so much higher than mine. Jesus said the stain runs deeper than any of us would like to admit; our thoughts and motives are just as jacked up as our external actions (“You’ve heard it said, ‘do not murder,’ but I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother is subject to judgment”; it doesn’t just matter that we pray or give to the poor, but how we pray and give to the poor, etc.).
This leaves us in a rough place, because as Isaiah 59:2 says, “your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear,” and Romans 6:23 tells us that what we earn for our sin is death. In other words, sin has left us without hope. We are alienated from God as his self-declared enemies (Col 1:21), separated to such a degree that we could never hope to repair our relationship. Not that we necessarily would want to… John 3:19 reminds us that people living in darkness choose darkness. In other words, sinners love their sin. It’s like an addiction we all can’t shake (Like playing Flappy Bird or Candy Crush. You know it’s a waste. You know it’s not even that good. And yet you keep playing…). You know what sin is like? It’s like this delicious cookie… that’s got just a little too much rat poison in it. You know that the rat poison will kill you if you eat enough of it, but one more bite probably won’t hurt, right? Why is sin a problem? Because it ruins everything. Because we stand to face judgment before God, and we come up lacking.
What can be done about this problem?
Here’s the good news: The bad news you’ve heard- it’s really bad. But you have to first understand the bad news before you can receive the good news as good news. If I saw you in the food court and told you that I’d ran into a creditor who was looking for you, but I paid your debt for you, you wouldn’t totally know how to respond, right? Was it a $5 debt? $100? $5,000? You have to know the debt that’s been paid before you can know how to respond. You have to understand how broken & rebellious you really are before you can truly appreciate the outrageousness of what Jesus has done. As Charles Spurgeon said if you think lightly about your sin, you’ll think little about your savior, but if you see your sin is great then your Savior must also be great.
And we have a great Savior. I recently read this book called Unapologetic by Francis Spufford, and while I don’t necessarily recommend the whole book, his chapter about Jesus simply overwhelmed me. Bare with me, I’m going to read an extended passage about Jesus on the morning of his crucifixion. I want you to picture the scene- this God whom we have rejected, this Messiah who’d recently been declared the coming King, this man who has just been rejected by his closest friends, is now headed to the cross.
“Daylight finds him in procession again, but this time no one could mistake him for king. He’s stumbling along under the weight of his own instrument of execution, a great big wooden thing he can hardly lift, with an escort of the empire’s soldiers, and the bystanders who’ve come blinking out of the lodgings where they spent the festival night don’t see their hopes, or even the possibility of their hopes, parading by. They see their disappointment, they see their frustration. They see everything in themselves that is too weak or too afraid to confront the strapping paratroopers; and much though they hate the soldiers, they hate him more, for his pathetic slide into victimhood. Word of his loose living… his pleasure in bad company goes around in whispers. And just look at him. There’s something disgusting about him, don’t you think? Something that makes you squirm inside… He’s so pale and sickly-looking, with that dried blood round his mouth. He looks like a pedophile being led away by the police. He looks like something from under a rock; as if he doesn’t deserve the daylight. He’s a blot on the new day. Someone kicks [him] as he goes by, and whoops, down he goes, flat on his nose with the cross pinning him like a struggling insect, and let’s face it, it’s funny. [Jesus] is a joke. He’s less a messiah, more a patch of something nasty on the pavement. And as he struggles on he recognizes every roaring, jeering face. He knows our names. He knows our histories.
And since, as well as being a weak and frightened man, he’s also the love that makes the world, to whom all times and places are equally present, he isn’t just feeling the anger and spite and unbearable self-disgust of this one crowd on this one Friday morning in Palestine; he’s turning his bruised face toward the whole human crowd, past and present and to come, and accepting everything we have to throw at him, everything we fear we deserve ourselves. The doors of his heart are wedged open wide, and in rushes the whole pestilential flood, the vile and roiling tide of cruelties and failures and secrets. Let me take that from you, he is saying. Give that to me instead. Let me carry it. Let me be to blame instead. I am big enough. I am wide enough… I am the father who longs for every last one of his children. I am the friend who will never leave you… I am the door where you thought there was only wall… I am the earth that drinks up the bloodstain. I am gift without cost. I am. I am. I am. Before the foundations of the world, I am.
But it is killing him… The soldiers lead him out of the city gate, and, laboriously, slipping and sliding, with crunching blows from spear butts to motivate him, they drive him up the small cone of Skull Hill, where death sentences are carried out. They tie him onto the cross and plant it upright. It’s the empire’s punishment for rebellious slaves, slow and nasty by design, devised to be a spectacle… On a cross you choke to death, when you’re finally too tired to heave your own weight up to take the next breath… And [Jesus] hangs there. He twists against the ropes to snatch the precious air…
The pain fills him up, displaces thought, as much for him as it has for everyone else who has ever been stuck to one of these horrible contrivances, or for anyone else who dies in pain from any of the world’s grim arsenal of possibilities. And yet he goes on taking in. It is not what he does, it is what he is. He is all open door: to sorrow, suffering, guilt, despair, horror, everything that cannot be escaped, and he does not even try to escape it, he turns to meet it, and claims it all as his own. This is mine now, he is saying; and he embraces it with all that is left in him, each dark act, each dripping memory, as if it were something precious… but there is so much of it. So many injured children; so many locked rooms; so much lonely anger; so many bombs in public places; so much vicious zeal; so many bored teenagers at roadblocks; so many drunk girls at parties someone thought they could have a little fun with; so many jokes that went too far; so much ruining greed… It burns and stings, it splinters and gouges, it locks him round and drags him down.
Because this is not a rich man’s offer of something he can easily spare. This is not some supernatural [person] being temporarily inconvenienced. This is love going where we go, all of us, when we end” –Francis Spufford, Unapolgetic, p. 140-144.
Do you hear? He’s saying that our sins have made a separation between us & our God, but Jesus’ arms are not too short to save. There’s no sin too great that He can’t overcome, no length He won’t go to save. He bore our griefs. He carried our sorrows. He was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, but by the shedding of his blood, we are healed. The wages of sin are death, but there is free life in Christ. God made him who knew no sin to become sin that we might become the righteousness of God. Our resumes were filthy rages, but now Christ’s resume stands in place of ours. He took our brokenness and rebellion and said, “God, judge me in their place! Take their sins as far as the east is from the west!” And when God made Jesus to be sin, it was for our sake, that we could receive his pure record, his deserved welcome into the heavenly places, his place as an enjoyed child of the Creator, his place as an heir, because now- if we are in Christ, God no longer judges us by our works, but by Christ’s- just as if we’d done all the things that Jesus Himself did. He loves us just as He loves Jesus.
Our instinct is to look within for a reason that God loves us- “I did this today; therefore, God must love me.” But the problem is, the more we get to know our hearts, the more we look within, the more reasons we’ll find to prove that we’re unworthy of God’s love. Why would God love you? This is the reason: He decided to- for His glory & for your sake. He has declared His love and that He will always be for us-that He will never leave us (Matthew 28:20; Hebrews 13:5-6), He will forgive us if we confess our sins (1 John 1:9), He will be faithful to meet our needs (Luke 12). The basis of our knowledge that we are God’s kids is not our feelings, but the fact that He declares we are. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
As hard as it is to look in the face of my brokenness & evil, I’ve found its more difficult to truly comprehend the fact that I am totally forgiven, forever accepted before God- apart from my past, present or future work. But it is true! Our relationships with Him are not tied to our failures or successes, our sins or our achievements. None of these hold weight anymore over us anymore! It is by grace that we have been saved & the same grace that has saved us will sanctify us and ultimately bring us to the place where we will meet our God face-to-face.
And part of the good news of the gospel is that you and I are finally free to admit that we’re worse that we think we are, so we no longer feel the need to put up a front. We can finally admit our selfish desires to look good, to be right, to be in control, to try to put God in our debt. Why? Because we know we’re loved & accepted by the only voice that matters in all the universe, so we can let go of these things so that He might heal us and make us more like Christ. And because we rest assured that His love never fails, gives up, or walks out on us. He will heal our brokenness, because He wore our brokenness- a crown of thorns, that we might receive the crown of life.