“We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” – Tim Keller
What a paradox this is—and one, it seems, that very few people can comfortably embrace. I have witnessed many friends respond to the simultaneous realities of their sinful corruption and God’s great love in one of two erroneous ways. They either 1) minimize the extent of their sinfulness or 2) refuse to believe God could possibly love them. The former deny the depth of their wretchedness and embrace desires they should mortify; the latter compulsively obsess over the evil within them and retreat into self-hatred.
My friend Josh (not his real name) has been struggling for years to come to terms with what the Bible teaches concerning his same-sex attraction. He professed Christ as a teenager and since that time has never doubted the vastness of God’s love for him. However, Josh has always found it difficult to believe his sexuality has been ravaged and distorted by Original Sin. He recently began to run with a pack of professing Christians who see nothing wrong with monogamous homosexual relationships. They believe Josh’s desire to love and be loved by another man (in the romantic sense) can’t possibly rise from his sinful nature but rather is a good desire that God wired into him. After they walked him through their gay-affirming interpretation of specific biblical texts, Josh finally rejected the idea that his homosexual feelings are a manifestation of his sinful nature. He started dating guys a couple of years ago—convinced that embracing these desires would usher him into the contentment for which he has always longed. However, Josh recently confided in me that he continues to feel deeply dissatisfied. He still lacks peace and joy.
My friend Ashley (not her real name) falls on the other end of the spectrum. She has zero problems accepting that she is a thoroughly messed up human being—in fact, she can’t seem to think about anything else! Ashley lives in an almost constant state of spiritual and emotional paralysis. She doesn’t read the Bible anymore because every time she opens it her shame and self-hatred soar to unbearable levels. She stopped praying and going to church for the same reasons. Ashley believes God loves sinners; she just can’t believe he is able to love her. She believes Christ’s blood is sufficient to cover sin; she just can’t believe it is sufficient to cover hers.
Though their outward lives look wildly different, Josh and Ashley both possess hearts that refuse to believe the whole gospel. They lack the joy and peace God offers because they fail to embrace the totality of his message, accepting only fractions of it instead.
God says, “You’re right; I do love you! But your heart is desperately sick,” (Jeremiah 17:9) and Josh responds, “I can’t believe that!”
God says, “You’re right; you are a heinous sinner! But I vividly demonstrated my love for you when I sacrificed my Son for your sins,” (Romans 5:8) and Ashley responds, “I can’t believe that!”
Submitting to God’s assessment of reality is difficult because it requires tremendous humility. Only humility can embrace that we really are as corrupt, distorted, and sin-ravaged as God says we are. Only humility can embrace that God’s love toward us is not thwarted by our evil condition but so high and fierce that he, at great cost to himself, provided a means for us to be reconciled to him. The bloody Cross of Jesus demonstrates both the extensiveness of our corruption and the enormity of God’s affection for us—and the only proper way for us to respond is in humble belief. We are to look at Christ crucified and really believe that our sin is actually that bad. We are to look at Christ crucified and really believe that God’s love is actually that wonderful.
Submitting to the totality of the gospel message is the only road that leads to the lasting joy and impenetrable peace the Bible describes. When Josh finally accepts he is dearly loved by God yet severely damaged by sin, he won’t be a depressed self-loather; he will be a humble Christian who knows God’s peace. When Ashley accepts she is filled to the rim with sin yet treasured and cherished by God, she won’t be a cheapener of God’s love; she will be a humble Christian who knows God’s joy. Belief in the gospel—the whole gospel—is the only road to true, full, and everlasting life.