Have you ever walked into the sanctuary on a Sunday morning feeling like a fraud, a fake? I have. If the congregation only knew the fight I just had with my wife on the drive to church; if they only knew how many times I became impatient with my children the past week; if they only knew the doubt I carried into the service regarding Christ’s love for me. If they only knew.
The good news is that shouldering such shame has become a thing of the past. It’s not because I’ve eradicated sin in my life, however; it’s because I’ve learned over the years that there is a central difference between feeling like a fraud and being one. Sinning doesn’t make me or anyone else a fake. It makes us human, broken people living in a broken world and in desperate need of God’s restorative grace. Believing (and acting like) one isn’t broken is what makes someone a fraud, for he or she is living a lie and walking in darkness.
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:5-10, ESV)
The concept of sinlessness, euphemistically known as self-reliance by most, is a worldview that allures a wide spectrum of individuals. On one end there are the antagonists, those who are openly hostile to Jesus and everything He represents. Religion—and the sin that drives its need—is a complete fabrication and nothing more than a crutch for the weak.
And on the other end of this spectrum are the relativists. They profess Christ, typically attend church, and generally look the part. However, while such individuals might acknowledge with their mouth that Jesus is Lord and Savior, they don’t actually believe it. He is a marvelous role model from which to tailor one’s behavior but nothing more. Their logic, however ill-considered, does make some sense given they see humanity as not only basically good but adequately motived and equipped to do good. As long as the good outweighs the bad and one’s transgressions are relatively minor when viewed within the larger scope of human existence, all is well. There is no reason to be provocative and talk about sin for eternity is a balance sheet. The good deeds will at the end of the day neutralize any stumbles.
While in some respects the two groups share little in common, on a larger theological scale they are close cousins given their shared view of Jesus’s irrelevancy. The antagonists don’t need a Savior because there is nothing from which to be saved. Hell doesn’t exist. The relativists don’t need a Savior because they are their own (a fact they would probably deny). And both groups in their own unique way make Jesus a liar. He isn’t the Lamb of God who came to save sinners as the Bible makes clear, but at best a moral teacher. Calvary is nothing more than a worn-out fable or an exercise in futility.
In some ways, I carry more respect for the antagonists than I do the relativists. While they both reject the true Christ, at least the former admit it. The antagonists carry a certain candidness and intellectual honesty. What they do is consistent with what they say and believe. This isn’t necessarily the case with the relativists. Many operate under a degree of subtlety and opaqueness. Whether this makes them frauds is open for debate. Clearly, some don’t know any better, for they have never been taught. Others have and still choose to hide behind their façade Sunday after Sunday.
Regardless, there are no excuses for Scripture makes clear that no one is without sin, and therefore everyone falls short of God’s standard. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, ESV). It takes only a single transgression, irrespective of impact, to become guilty. “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10, ESV). Guilt is a death sentence. There is nothing relative, conditional, or proportionate about it. The wrath that such culpability produces cannot be mitigated, reasoned away, or forever ignored. It’s an absolute reality regardless of any attempt to assuage.
If you fall somewhere on the self-reliant spectrum, 1 John 1:5-10 is a gracious warning to take heed. You are carrying a false sense of security, and the Lord wants to arrest your soul with the truth. Sin comes with a cost, and you must understand that there is no soul-saving mercy for those who think they don’t need it. Someone must pay for your transgressions. A just God demands it. Who will that be? There are only two options: Jesus, if you humble yourself before Him; or you, if you don’t.
I plead with you to step out of the darkness and into the light. Take your brokenness and surrender it to Jesus. If you do, He is faithful and just to cleanse you from all unrighteousness. In fact, He will not only redeem your soul but rejoice over it. “The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing” (Zephaniah 3:17, ESV). It’s a splendid picture, the Lord of the universe jubilantly singing over one of His redeemed children. May His next song be yours.