I often forget that the entire Gospel message actually includes the worst news we will ever hear.
The Gospel starts by telling us that we are far worse in the eyes of God than we could possibly imagine.
When the Gospel falls flat on my heart, it is often because I spend little to no time thinking of the offensiveness of my sin in God’s eyes.
God’s view of me is the only one that matters. But for a vast majority of my day I concern myself with how my idols and other people view me. Then while I am still concerned about worldly opinions I expect to be moved by a message of God’s love and forgiveness. No wonder my heart doesn’t absorb it.
I have to admit that it has been a few weeks since the last time I was really moved by God’s grace toward me. And it has shown in my daily life. I have been impatient and quick to anger at home and work. As for fleeing temptation, I have been motivated to flee primarily in order to protect my reputation.
I have found that the best way to get out of times like these is to remember the bad news of the Gospel, but only so I can truly embrace the good news.
Here are some things to remember about our condition prior to the cross of Christ:
Remember who you betrayed
Ours is the God of whom all heros, superheros, and the man of the year are but mere distorted reflections.
Think of men you have the utmost respect for, fiction or real. Then think of how far the furthest star from the earth is. The distance to that star is only the beginning of how much greater God is from those men.
You know you love a great love story. Whether it is tucked amidst an action film or put center stage in a romantic comedy or drama, we love watching a man and woman overcome all odds to be with each other.
Now remember that God is the one who was completely content within himself, the Trinity, yet he graciously made us to share in that eternal joy with him. Almost instantly, we gave him the finger and decided to try our hand at finding our own joy apart from him. And we did it with the very things he made in order to point us back to him.
How did he respond? With more grace. With the sacrifice of his own Son. Think long and hard on the sort of God you have betrayed with your sin.
Remember the depth of your betrayal
Even the slightest deviation from what God made you to be is an assault against the eternal God, and thus deserving eternal punishment.
Because that deviation always comes from a belief that something other than God is more desirable, it enrages the loving God deeply.
Think of a time when you were betrayed
Sometimes it is hard to really feel the depth of our betrayal against God because of the fact that we do not love him with all our being. So put yourself in his shoes. Think of a time you were betrayed. Remember the gut wrenching anger that boiled up in you causing so much internal pressure you thought your chest would erupt. Then think of the distance to that star again.
Think of stories of betrayal that have moved you
Perhaps you haven’t really experienced betrayal from a loved one before. It may help then to call on stories fiction or real that have moved you before.
One of the greatest uses for movies and books is to make you feel a piece of someone’s pain so you can empathize with anyone in similar agony. It is the brilliantly told story of betrayal that can bring you to tears when the protagonist says, “It hurts… to love you.” Even if it has never hurt you to love someone before, you can feel it. Then think of the distance to that star again.
Remember the penalty you should have to pay
Because God is eternal, the slightest offense against him demands an eternal punishment—eternal in length and depth.
Every pain and hardship and every sickness you have ever faced is a mere splinter in the flesh compared to what you and I deserve. I’m sure you can recall seeing real or fictional footage of people in utter agony. Whether it’s soldiers wounded in battle, innocent people wounded from a disaster, or some suspense thriller torture scene. Even those are only small fractions of the agonies of hell.
Hell is the eternal de-creation of man. No matter how bad your life may be here there are always blessings mixed in. You always have something to be thankful for, even if you aren’t. This will not be so in hell. Absolutely all goodness, pleasure, joy, and peace will be completely and fully removed from your existence. That is what you and I rightfully deserve.
Stay there longer than is comfortable
As I think of these things I keep getting tugged to quickly move along and preach the good news of the Gospel to myself, but that would be a disservice to my joy.
These things ought to be meditated on, not merely thought about. These facts have to penetrate the heart. If you think you’ve given it enough thought, keep thinking about it anyway. Let your heart crumble and melt by your sin.
The more you own your guilt the more you will own your salvation. Jesus said whoever is forgiven much loves much and whoever is forgiven little loves little (Luke 7:47). The difference between the two is not actually the amount of sin, but rather how deeply they saw their own sin. If anything, the pride of the Pharisee was more abhorrent to God than the sins of the “woman of the city.” But she saw the offensiveness of her sin against the God of all beauty and life.
Don’t wait for a big fall to preach the bad news
Brothers, we tend to only seek this depth of remorse after a big fall into sin. Don’t wait for then.
If even the slightest deviation from God’s will demands eternal punishment, then it also warrants the highest pursuit of repentance. If the Son of God was called the man of sorrows and we are to be like him, then our life ought to be characterized by sorrow. His sorrow was not over his own sin but ours.
Where then does joy fit into the life of the Christ-follower? With a brokenness based not on self-pity but self-denial, joy will take root and sprout lasting fruit before you know it.
The end goal is not ultimately to feel bad about yourself but to see and know the depth of God’s love. The more you see of your sin, the more you can marvel at the love that held Jesus to the cross.
Dear reader, I pray that God grants you the clearest view of your sin and your salvation.
What other things can you think about or do to help you taste the seriousness of your sin?