I was recently speaking with someone, whom I respect, concerning the Way of the Master style of evangelism. (Click the “Hells Best Kept Secret” link to the right) It brought up an interesting question on our subjective goodness, which this treatise will address.
As we were speaking, a disagreement arose on showing people their sinful situation so fully and so quickly via the WotM method. In our conversation, there was no doubt that against God’s standards we are vile, desperately wicked, only evil continually, enemies of God who prove so by doing wicked works, but the conversation swung to us considering how bad we are in the subjective sense against other people. The statement was made, “I’m not that bad compared to other people.” I agreed, but that assertion continued to reverberate in my brain and various verses kept coming to mind.
The two verses that I was meditating on are when Paul refers to himself as the foremost of sinners and the least of saints. (1 Timothy 1:15, Ephesians 3:8) Now, the Bible is not short on hyperbole, the practice of making obvious and intentional exaggerations in order to demonstrate a point, and that’s what I thought these two were. A simple example is, “I’d kill for an In-N-Out Burger,” which obviously I would not kill for an In-N-Out burger, but I’d like one so much that I’d go a long way to get one. I have always assumed that Paul’s two statements about his chief-of-sinners and least-of-saints roles were hyperbole, demonstrating his understanding of the human condition of sin and his personal responsibility of it. But now I am not so sure; actually, I think I was flat-out wrong.
Jesus Christ is going to judge the thoughts and intents of our hearts, as well as our actions. Deeds done in the darkness will be brought to the light. He will judge haters of men to be murderers at heart (aka revilers), and those that lust extramaritally as adulterers at heart. His standards are perfect and his judgment impeccable.
As any good law requires, a minimum of two witnesses are required to indict a criminal. We are the first witness against ourselves, there is no law against self-incrimination in Heaven; the second witness is the Holy Spirit, he convicts of sin, righteousness, and judgment. On the outside we often see people do bad things and it is easy and right to judge them. But on motives, on the inside, it is not so easy and right to judge, because we are not privy to the inner workings of their minds.
The only two people who are privy to our inner thought lives are ourselves and the Holy Spirit. If we judge ourselves rightly, we should realize that our hearts are desperately wicked and deceitful beyond all things, for our spirit searches our thoughts and intents (1 Corinthians 2:11a), and we are found lacking.
Are we genuinely good in comparison to other people? God looked down on mankind and saw that the thoughts and intents of their hearts were only evil continually. (Genesis 6:5, Jeremiah 17:9, Romans 3:10-12) He didn’t say, “Everybody except you,” or “the thoughts and intents of the non-God-lovers,” he said it of all of mankind, of which you and I are imputed with a fallen condition and a bonded nature to wickedness.
We can look at Adolf Hitler and say, “I am way better than him.” But do you know his thoughts? You do know your own thoughts. He was directly or indirectly responsible for 60 Million people entering into eternity, thoroughly evil in manifestation, but Paul Washer says so astutely that without God restraining our actions, we would make Hitler look like a choir boy. How many people have you been unjustly angry towards, how many have you put yourself in a judgmental role over, how many times have your eyes indicted your soul, how many times has your mouth declared war on Heaven? You may be better than Hitler in manifestation, but in soul-condition you are on par with him, or perhaps even worse.
Beloved, I don’t know the thoughts and intents of your heart, but I do know mine, and I know that if I were the standard against which righteousness were measured, every last person on the planet would be welcomed into Heaven with open arms. I am the chief of sinners and the least of saints. In comparison to others I fall so very short that my soul can be counted as nothing other than loss. In measurement against the glory of God no hyperbole can be conceived to demonstrate the distance of my fallenness.
So it is settled, I am the chief of sinners; but beloved, don’t be so quick to judge. I am quite certain, my dear reader, that we are tied for this title; it is not a race, it is not a competition, it is a sad testament to the destroying power of sin.
Who shall deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord, who for us took on and defeated death, bearing the full weight, condemnation, and shame of our sin. I am the chief of sinners, but I have been made the least of saints.
Can you say the same? Christ did not come to save the righteous, but to save sinners. He will cast the self-righteous to the ground, they will have no part nor lot in his kingdom. Repent at the feet of the Lamb, cast off of any hint of your perceived goodness, of which we are deprived utterly, then receive the goodness and grace of our Goodness Gracious Sovereign.
Beloved, in humility consider others better than yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)