Originally published Wednesday, 04 March 2015.
Have you ever cleaned your house from top to bottom in one day? Or maybe spent a weekend getting your garage or basement completely cleaned and organized? It's such a great feeling to have everything clean at once. Yet the feeling is fleeting because all it takes is one pair of muddy feet to come in and ruin all the hard work.
But the truth is, no matter how well everything is cleaned, it's not truly clean. Just look under the couch or behind the big television console and you'll find more dust and dirt than you can imagine. Once, we had to move the stove away from the wall because we had dropped a little knife in that small space between the counter and the stove. My husband and I both said, "Ew! Gross!" the moment we moved the stove. Ten years is a long time for dirt and grime to congregate together under a stove. And to be honest, I haven't wanted moved the stove again since.
This is true in our hearts as well. We can spend much time and energy cleaning ourselves up on the outside. We can focus on our outward behaviors, trying to get them squeaky clean. We can read our Bible every day. We can faithfully serve in ministry. We can eat the right foods, provide the best education for our children, spend our money wisely, and watch the right channels on tv. We can do all the right things and yet behind all those actions, deep in the dark recesses of our heart, sin remains.
That's because our greatest problem isn't so much what can be seen on the outside. Our greatest problem is not our circumstances or the environment we live in. It's not the fact that we haven't worked out for a month or that our kids misbehave in public. It's not that we need a better job or a bigger house. Our greatest problem is that we are sinners.
While we can make our lives look smooth and orderly on the outside, it only masks the truth of the ugliness on the inside. That's what Jesus said about the Pharisees who made a big deal about their external actions. "And the Lord said to him, 'Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness'" (Luke 11:39).
Also like the Pharisees, we can compare our sin to that of others and in doing so, think that we are doing okay. In our homeschool, we are studying ancient history. This school year, I've read out loud to my children account after account of one nation or people group savagely rampaging and attacking another. One of my kids shook his head in disdain after my reading one day. I stopped my reading and talked with my kids about the fact that we are all sinners, and apart from the grace of God, we too would be out to take over the world. We have the same sin in our heart as any raging conqueror from a bygone era and without Christ's atoning work on our behalf, we would be worthy of the same judgment as they.
As Paul Tripp notes in his book, New Morning Mercies: A Daily Gospel Devotional, "The fact is that sin is a bigger disaster than we think it is and grace is more amazing than we seem to be able to grasp that it is. No one who really understands what Scripture has to say about the comprehensive, every-aspect-of-your-personhood-altering nature of sin would ever think that anyone could muster enough motivation and strength to rise to God's standard of perfection. The thought that any fallen human being would be able to perform his or her way into acceptance with God has to be the most insane of all delusions. Yet we tend to think that we are more righteous than we are, and when we think this, we have taken the first step to embracing the delusion that maybe we're not so bad in God's eyes after all" (from the January 5th devotional).
With my stove and other large furniture pieces, I prefer to think that what I don't know is under there won't hurt me. If I don't move them, I won't know how gross it is and won't have to deal with cleaning it up. But that kind of thinking is dangerous when it comes to our hearts. We need to understand and face the reality of wherein lies our greatest problem. We need to have the light of God's word shine into the deep recesses of our heart and show us just how desperate our condition is. We can't live in denial anymore. We need to face the reality of our sin and not blame our actions and responses on others, on circumstances, on broken promises, or the world around us.
And then we need to run to the cross in repentance and receive the generous grace of Christ. Yes, our sin problem is grave and serious. But praise God, we have an even greater Savior! The same grace that saved us once and for all at the cross is the same grace that is poured out for us each and every day. It is also that same grace that sustains us and sanctifies us. And it is that same amazing grace at work in us even now that promises to rid our hearts of sin for forever on the Last Day.
Do you know how big of a disaster sin is? Do you know how glorious the grace of God is?