The Bible tells us we should have an "accurate opinion about ourselves." That means we need to understand that we are born in sin Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceivedd me.(Psalm 51.5)
This is not something that man easily comes to accept or understand. In fact,
it normally only occurs when he is broken by God's loving but insistent conviction of sin in the heart of the individual.
No clearer illustration of the dawning of such awareness comes to my mind than that as recorded in this chapter of Chuck Colson's book, Who Speaks for God?
Charles Colson, Who Speaks for God, Chapter Thirty-Two
(pp.136-139 Crossway Books, Westchester, IL, 1985)
The Terrifying Truth:
In the course of research for [the book] Loving God, I discovered a dearth of contemporary writings on sin. After a long search, however, an unlikely sourceMike Wallace of "60 Minutes" furnished just what I was looking for.
Since Christians are not accustomed to gleaning theological insights from network TV, I'd better explain.
Introducing a recent story about Nazi Adolf Eichmann, a principal architect of the Holocaust, Wallace posed a central question at the program's outset: "How is it possible . . . for a man to act as Eichmann acted? . . . Was he a monster? A madman? Or was he perhaps something even more terrifying: was he normal?"
Normal? The executioner of millions of Jews normal? Most self-respecting viewers would be outraged at the very thought.
The most startling answer to Wallace's shocking question came in an interview with Yehiel Dinur, a concentration camp survivor who testified against Eichmann at the Nuremburg trials. A film clip from Eichmann's 1961 trial showed Dinur walking into the courtroom, stopping short, seeing Eichmann for the first time since the Nazi had sent him to Auschwitz eighteen years earlier. Dinur began to sob uncontrollably, then fainted, collapsing in a heap on the floor as the presiding judicial officer pounded his gavel for order in the crowded courtroom.
Was Dinur overcome by hatred? Fear? Horrid memories?
No; it was none of these. Rather, as Dinur explained to Wallace, all at once he realized Eichmann was not the godlike army officer who had sent so many to their deaths. This Eichmann was an ordinary man. "I was afraid about myself," said Dinur. ". . . I saw that I am capable to do this. I am . . . exactly like he."
Wallace's subsequent summation of Dinur's terrible discovery"Eichmann is in all of us"is a horrifying statement; but it indeed captures the central truth about man's nature. For as a result of the Fall, sin is in each of usnot just the susceptibility to sin, but sin itself.
The 3,500 years of recorded history confirm this truth. Science, evolution and educationwhich Socrates argued would eliminate sinhave done nothing to alter man's moral nature. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ can change our hearts. But we can't see that truth unless we first see our hearts as they really are.
That being so, why is sin so seldom written or preached about? Dinur's dramatic collapse in the Nuremburg courtroom gives us the clue. For to truly confront evilthe sin within us is a devastating experience.
If the reality of man's sin was forthrightly preached, it would have the same shattering effect on blissful churchgoers that it had on Dinur. Many would flee their pews never to return. And since church growth is today's supreme standard of spirituality, many pastors steer away from such confrontive subjects; so do authors who want their books bought and read. So do television preachers whose success depends on audience ratings; for viewers confronted with hard truth can simply flick the offending preacher out of their living rooms.
The result is that the message is often watered down to a palatable gospel of positive thinking which will "hold the audience." That's what Nazi victim Dietrich Bonhoeffer called "cheap grace"that in which "no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin."
But it's the very heart of a Christian conversion to confront one's own sin and thus to desperately desire deliverance from it. And once we've seen our sin, we can only live in gratitude for God's amazing grace. I know this most intimately from personal experience.
During the throes of Watergate, I went to talk with my friend Tom Phillips. I was curious, maybe even a little envious, about the changes in his life. His explanationthat he had "accepted Jesus Christ"baffled me. I was tired, empty inside, sick of scandal and accusations, but not once did I see myself as having really sinned. Politics was a dirty business, and I was good at it. And what I had done, I rationalized, was no different from the usual political maneuvering. What's more, right and wrong were relative, and my motives were for the good of the countryor so I believed.
But that night when I left Tom's home and sat alone at my car, my own sinnot just dirty politics, but the hatred and pride and evil so deep within mewas thrust before my eyes, forcefully and painfully. For the first time in my life, I felt unclean, and worst of all, I could not escape. In those moments of clarity I found myself driven irresistibly into the arms of the living God.
And in the years since that night, I've grown increasingly aware of my own sinful nature; what is good in me I know beyond all doubt comes only through the righteousness of Jesus Christ. And for that fact, my gratitude to God deepens with each passing day, a gratitude that can only be expressed in His service.
Dinur, the Auschwitz survivor, is rightEichmann is in us, each of us. But until we can face that truth, dreadful as it may be, cheap grace and lukewarm faiththe hallmarks of ungrateful heartswill continue to abound in a crippled church.