Mark Twain once said, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” As humorous as this anecdote is, it points to the fact that it is sometimes we ourselves who need to mature.
“Having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone.” (Ephesians 2:20)
When we submit to the authority of God and trust Christ for our salvation, we pass from being strangers and foreigners to being fellow citizens with the saints and members of God’s household. We get built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Jesus Christ as the cornerstone—the pivotal piece without which everything else falls apart. Yet just as Mark Twain’s appreciation of his father’s wisdom increased with his own maturity, our appreciation of “Christ in…[you] the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27b) increases exponentially with spiritual growth and maturity.
I was baptized as a younger adult, joined a local Bible preaching church, and began faithful Bible study within a relatively short period of time. While I understood that I was a sinful human being and needed Christ for forgiveness and salvation, if you have delved into the topic in any depth, you would have seen that I basically felt I wasn’t that sinful. Jesus once said, “To whom little is forgiven, loves little.” (Luke 7:47) My appreciation of what I had in Christ was shallow because I didn’t comprehend the depth of my need.
The problem is that our take on the entire issue of sinfulness—our understanding of its gravity—is so different from God’s. Even as Christians, we tend to look at sin from the very human perspective of comparing ourselves to others. If our lives look cleaner than someone else’s, we conclude that we’re not too bad. This is not how God sees us. Yes, there are terrible sins that people are guilty of, and certain sins cause more pain and misery than others, but God possesses utter and complete holiness and anything but the total absence of sin—a condition no human meets—falls short of His glory.
Most of us are naturally reluctant to see ourselves as we truly are. Because we want to feel good, we are frequently unwilling to mentally process any evidence that points to the contrary. Yet God is honest with us about our human nature—the sin germ we are all infected with. Psalm 14:2-3 says,“The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God…There is none who does good, no, not one.” Isaiah 64:6 tells us, “But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags…” Apart from the direct, active intervention of God, mankind has no desire for God or true righteousness. Even the good deeds we are so proud of amount to nothing. But what about those of us who have submitted to God’s authority? Are we any better? More specifically, what changes when we accept Christ?
In Romans 7:14-8:14 the apostle Paul goes into incredible detail about the interaction of our sin natures, the desire we have to do right, our inability to consistently do the good we want to do, and how Christ solves the problem when we live according to the guidance of His Spirit in us:
“…I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will [want] to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I my self serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin. There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh [we couldn’t keep the law no matter how much we wanted to because our human bodies are infected with the sin germ], God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, not indeed can be. So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His. And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the [sinful desires of the] flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the [evil] deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.”
The preciousness of Christ is that none of us—whether still lost and in rebellion to God’s authority, or forgiven through the precious blood of Christ—is acceptable to God on our own merits. Our only hope is that when the Father looks at us He sees the Spirit of Christ in us, because anything less is damning. Jesus sliced right through to the core of the issue when He told the crowd waiting to stone the adulterous women, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” It isn’t an issue of living in intentional sin, because God warns us not to purposefully sin when we know better: “For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sin, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment…” (Hebrews 10:26-27) The issue, rather, is that regardless of how hard we try, without the forgiveness that God gives because of Christ and only because of Christ, we are all under wrath, because sin is a violation of God’s creation and an assault on His holiness.
Just as the more mature Mark Twain came to see that he had not been quite as smart as he thought he had been, God transforms, through a consistent and obedient study of His Word, our understanding of sin and of the preciousness of the forgiveness we have through Christ so that we see how wicked sin—any kind of sin—is to Him, and how completely unacceptable we are apart from Jesus.
Thank You that You that just as our intellectual wisdom increases with age, You give us increasing spiritual maturity as we walk by Your Spirit. Increase my understanding of how precious You are, and thank You that You are, indeed, my only hope of glory! Amen.