Okay, so I have more than one problem.
But there is one that influences most all the others. If I could overcome it, I'd see so much progress in my life. So much change. So much good.
I wonder if you have this problem, too.
What is the problem?
Thinking that there is someone out there who is a bigger sinner than I am who needs the blood of Jesus more than I do.
Not just out there theoretically. We are talking about a kind of person. You have someone in mind.
Someone who is different. Different ethnically, educationally, socioeconomically, religiously/theologically, politically, etc.
Or it could be someone close to home - even in my home. A spouse. A child. An in-law.
The apostle Paul had this problem, too.
Over time (yeah, I think it took him time to mature into seeing himself with a more cross-centered self-awareness), he was able to overcome his Pharisee tendency of self-righteous pride, condescension to sinners, and thinking of himself "more highly than he ought."
Writing to his disciple-pastor Timothy, Paul says, "15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen."
Whoa, wait just a minute.
Paul claimed to be the WORST sinner? Like, in the world? But wasn't Nero alive. Would Nero eventually execute Paul?!
Yes, yes, and yes.
So how could Paul give himself the worst sinner in the world award?
Whether or not Paul had actually accumulated more "sins" than anyone else is not the issue. Being the most "outwardly" despicable reprobate isn't the standard (although Paul confesses to some pretty serious outward sins).
The real problem was with what is not seen. The heart. The motives. The sinful desires that fuel behavior.
Paul knew that his actual sinfulness was bad enough. Although as a religious moralist before his conversion, he had learned to keep his outward behavior looking pretty good so that people would give him praise, recognition, and glory for being such an upright, holy man.
Nevertheless, sometimes his inner rage would break through his fake religious facade, especially a deep hatred that manifested itself in violence. After all, he approved of the first execution of a Christian after Jesus.
His anger and violence stemmed from a sense of moral and theological superiority.
Without throwing a stone, Paul was a murderer. And he knew it.
He had thrown stones from his heart all his life.
And so have I. Stones of moral and theological superiority.
Their sins are the real sins. Mine are small in comparison. Right?
I minimize. Make excuses. I don't stare at my own sinfulness the way I gaze at them. At someone else who I convince myself is a bigger sinner who needs the blood of Jesus more than I do.
While they display their impure lives, I hide my impure heart. There is something insidious about the hiding of sin that makes it even more dangerous.
While hiding it, I can live as a fake, creating an illusion of holiness that doesn't need Jesus.
My righteousness exceeds theirs. My theology is more accurate than theirs. My sacrifice for the Kingdom is greater than theirs. Right?
What I need is to have the eyes God gave to Paul, where he was able to see not just the tip of the iceberg, but what was under the surface.
I need a proper perception of my real need. Not the "tip" of outward sin, but the under the surface ugliness of self-righteousness -- the most dangerous and damaging sin that was let out of the box when Adam and Eve decided to take the bait and pursue their own glory.
After all, their root sin was the pursuit of self-righteousness.
When Paul recognized that in himself, everything changed. To the Philippians, he would describe his self-righteous resume to be dung in comparison to the gift-righteousness that was his in Jesus.
He was no longer gazing upon the sins of others. His gaze had become fixed on the glory of the cross. That Jesus would give himself for the worst of sinners.
When I am given the grace to see myself as the biggest sinner who needs the blood of Jesus more than anyone else, then and only then will my life become a doxology of praise to the glory of God's unthinkable mercy.
I, like Paul, will become a gospel example for others, giving them hope that anyone can repent and receive mercy. That is why Jesus came into the world.
To save sinners!
Not the righteous. Not the morally superior. Not the theologically astute. But sinners. Those who need a substitute Savior to bear their sin and provide them with a righteousness that they could never achieve but only possess as a gift.
The key to overcoming the one problem that impacts all others is not to become more sinful but to recognize that you are the most sinful person you know, not because you have compared notes or run a criminal background check.
Because you have been given the grace of self-awareness.
And through self-awareness have come to a much greater gospel awareness, where the cross is not a small thing but the very defining reality of my life.
If you are a young(er) pastor/leader, you may be interested in learning more about how grace can shape your life and ministry. If so, visit The Timothy Fellowship for more information.