How Can There Be Joy in Being a Sinner?

Even though Paul says “we have the mind of Christ” in 1 Corinthians 2:16, learning to think God’s way, “by faith,” instead of seeing everything as fallen man naturally does, through the lens of “good and evil,” is a lifelong process. God’s way of thinking by faith is totally different, and we are examining the five theological pillars that are essential to learn to think this way. 

The first four of these pillars are all anathema to today’s spreading postmodernism. This Marxist Critical Theory teaches that there is no absolute truth, and yet each pillar represents a biblical teaching that expresses an absolute truth. We have discussed two of these pillars in the last two postings: God is absolutely sovereign, and He is motivated by absolutely unconditional love for all of His children. who all just happen to be (pillar #3, today’s topic)—absolutely and completely sinful!

This third pillar reminds us again that God’s way of thinking is upside-down, wrong side-out, completely backwards, and makes no sense whatsoever, compared to our way of looking at the world. For example, God’s way teaches that one must die in order to live (Mark 8:34, 35), be last in order to be first (Mark 9:35), serve in order to lead (Matthew 23:8-12), and, most counterintuitively of all, one must actively embrace the fact of his ever-present sin in order to be righteous (Romans 9:30-10:4)! 

In many churches today, we are taught to try to be righteous in our conduct, so who would want to embrace being a sinner? Certainly not we church goers, since we already are addicted to the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, as are all sons and daughters of Adam. The church teaching that we should fight to push down those sins that are constantly trying to burst forth in our lives, simply reinforces that addiction. 

Our churches are filled with two categories of earnest, sincere believers—Pharisees and “Wannabe” Pharisees. Those of us who are Pharisees (including “Yours Truly”) proudly congratulate ourselves on how successful we are in keeping God’s law and being holy, just as the church is teaching us to be. “Wannabe” Pharisees, on the other hand, live in the slough of despond, defeated and guilty because of their repeated failures to do so. 

A third category of Christian is the rebel, but he is seldom in church. He is more insightful than the Pharisee, and therefore knows he is a failure at obeying the law of God, but, unlike the Wannabe Pharisee, has given up even trying. He doesn’t go to church, because the vibe he has received there is that church is certainly no place for established sinners lke himself, but only for those who are still working diligently to be good Christians. For the rebel, the church train left the station long ago!

All three of these Christians are, in their minds, subconsciously on a spiritual ladder, like “Jacob’s Ladder,” stretching from earth to God. They were placed on the ladder, at the bottom rung, when they became Christians, and they see their task in this life as climbing that ladder by becoming more and more holy, through obedience to the law of God, to get closer to Him. 

The Pharisee sees himself as diligent and vigilant in his obedience to God, successfully climbing up the ladder, so that when he is an old codger like I am, he will be ever-so-close to the top where God is, At least, according to his unbiased evaluation, he will be closer to the top of the ladder, thus holier, than his peers.

On the other hand, the Wannabe Pharisee sees himself as slothful and forgetful, still stuck at the bottom of the ladder, far away from God. He knows God will let him into Heaven, because he believed in Jesus as his Savior, so God has to, but regretfully, not joyfully. 1 Corinthians 3:15 is the verse he clings to: “He himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” 

While the Wannabe Pharisee is still trying to “do better,”  the rebel has given up on himself as hopeless, and has invented a way to cope: either by arrogance, disinterest or some other way to tell himself he doesn’t need an experiential relationship with God.

Paul speaks to all three of our Christians with one of the most powerful passages in the Bible, as he quotes several Old Testament passages that literally destroy the ladder: 

“For we have already accused everyone, both Jews (both religious Pharisees and Wannabe Pharisees) and Greeks (non-religious rebels), of being under the power of sin. As it is written, ‘Not even one person is righteous.  No one understands. No one searches for God.  All have turned away. They have become completely worthless. No one does good, not even one person! Their throats are open graves. With their tongues they deceive. The venom of poisonous snakes is under their lips…Ruin and misery characterize their lives. They have not learned the path to peace. They don’t fear God’ (Romans 3:8-13, 16-18)

 “Now we know that whatever the Law says applies to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore, God will not justify any human being by means of the actions prescribed by the Law, for through the Law comes the full knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:19, 20)

What an indictment! Ladder climbing is pointless. Even with all our external religious performance, meticulously righteous conduct and earnest desire to “build the kingdom of God,” Paul says we Pharisees still do not “search for God,” or “do good, not even one” of us. In the midst of all that religious activity, we are all imbued with a huge dose of self deception. 

All three of our categories of Christians are in exactly the same boat; we are all absolutely, completely sinful, with no salvage value whatsoever. Every thought we think is fraught with self-seeking and impure motives. “There is not a single righteous man on earth who practices good and (in the very process) does not sin” (Ecclesiastes 7:20). There is no ladder to climb to get closer to God!

So, Solomon tells us that even in endeavoring to keep the law of God, we are sinning! In God’s upside-down world, by embracing this difficult-to-understand truth, we open the door to a life of thinking God’s way—by faith. Next week we will explore pillar #4. How does this absolutely sovereign God, Who loves us absolutely unconditionally, relate to us, His absolutely sinful children?