In part II of this series, we reviewed the dangers of looking to the law for our justification and for treating God’s law as something we are capable of keeping. In this installment, we will attempt to see ourselves through the lens of God’s law, giving us a glimpse of how God views our unrighteousness.
When asked the question “Are you a good person?,” most of us would answer “Yes.” Whether we are Christians, non-Christians, Adventists or non-Adventists, we believe that deep down, we are basically good, or at least better than many people we observe on a daily basis. Spending five minutes watching the evening news or reading the paper quickly reveals the difference between us and the murderers, rapists, thieves, and terrorists who are clearly “bad.”
Unlike these “bad” people, most of us are educated, well-behaved, polite individuals. If you are an Adventist, you also have the “advantage” of belonging to the “remnant church,” attending church on the proper day and eating the right foods (more on this in our next installment). When compared to the dregs of society who are lying, thieving, murderous adulterers, it’s easy to see why most of us believe we’re actually quite good! But when we see ourselves as God does, an entirely different picture emerges.
Consider these questions:
Have you ever lied? Most of us, if we’re not lying to ourselves, would readily answer “Yes” to this question. Even if you have only lied once in your life, you are guilty before God. The Bible says that those who lie will not be in God’s kindgom (Rev. 21:8).
Have you ever stolen anything? Again, if we are honest with ourselves, we will answer “Yes.” It doesn’t matter how small the item, whether it was some office supplies at work, an apple from a neighbor’s tree, or an mp3 download from the Internet.
Have you ever used God’s name as a curse word? Perhaps we are not all guilty of this, but if you even done it once in your life, you’re guilty! Think about what you have done. The God who gave you life and everything you value has been reduced in your mind to a curse word. Even the names of men who are widely hated such as Adolf Hitler, Saddam Hussein, or Osama bin Laden are not brought down to the level God’s name is when it is used as a curse word!
Have you ever looked at someone with lust? Again, if we are honest with ourselves, most of us would admit to this. Jesus said that whoever looks at someone with lust has committed adultery in his heart (Matt. 5:28) and the Bible says that the sexually immoral will not be in heaven (Rev. 21:8).
Have you ever been angry with someone? Jesus said “everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:22 ESV). The Bible also says “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15 ESV). Most of us don’t condone hatred, considering it a character flaw, however, God sees our hatred as equivalent to murder!
If you were honest with yourself and answered yes to the questions above, by your own admission you are a lying, theiving, blasphemous, adulterer and murderer. “But wait!” you may say. “I am generally a good person, I don’t do these things very often, and I haven’t done them in a very long time!” But what does Scripture say to this? “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” (James 2:10 ESV) You see, if you’ve lived a perfect life, keeping all of God’s laws perfectly but only stumbling once, it’s as though you’ve failed to keep all of the law. Even if by sheer force of will you were able to stop sinning from now until you die, you would still be guilty of your past transgressions.
“Hold on a minute,” you may say. “If I lie, I’m not sinning against God, I’m sinning against my fellow man. Isn’t my record still ‘clean’ if I go and ask forgiveness from that person?” Again, let’s see how God views this situation. You may think you are sinning only against your fellow man, but consider David, who committed adultery with Bathsheba. Here is what he said in a moment of desperate prayer to God:
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:1-5 ESV)
If we are honest with ourselves like David was in his prayer to God, we will acknowledge that the sins we commit against our brother, while horizontal in nature, also have a vertical component, which is against God. In fact, David goes so far as to say that he was born with a sinful nature, “brought forth in iniquity.”
Not convinced yet? How about these:
Have you always put God first in your life? God commanded the children of Israel to “serve the Lord your God With all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut. 10:12 ESV) and “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deut. 6:5 ESV). When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he spoke of this Old Testament command which was not found in the decalogue (ten commandments): “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30 ESV). If you are honest with yourself, you will come to the inescapable conclusion that you have not always put God first in your life. If you are like most people, you have put your career, family, friends and even your hobbies before God.
Have you always loved your neighbor as yourself? Again, Jesus quoted from outside the ten commandments when he was asked what is the greatest commandment: “You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:18 ESV, Mark 12:31). If you have kept this command, you have always put the interests of your friends and neighbors ahead of your own. This biblical command covers much more than just your close friends, next door neighbors or work relationships — it covers the poor, the sick and the hungry. Have you taken every opportunity to show mercy to the poor by providing clothes and shelter for them? Have you put the interests of the sick and hungry in front of your own? Jesus said “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me,” (Matt. 25:40 ESV) but how many of us have really done this?
In this short review of God’s law, it quickly becomes clear that none of us can ever measure up to its demands. Seeing ourselves through the lens of the law helps us to see our sin problem as God sees it, and we begin to realize that we are no different than the murderers, theives, terrorists and others who are obviously “bad.” We see now how the apostle Paul, under inspiration of the Holy Spirit, could quote from the Psalms:
“None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”
“Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
(Romans 3:10-18 ESV)
By way of summary, Charles Spurgeon profoundly commented on man’s relationship to God’s law this way:
“There is a war between you and God’s Law. The Ten Commandments are against you. The first comes forward and says, ‘Let him be cursed. For he denies Me. He has another god beside Me. His god is his belly and he yields his homage to his lust.’ All the Ten Commandments, like ten great cannons, are pointed at you today. For you have broken all of God’s statutes and lived in daily neglect of all His commands. Soul, thou wilt find it a hard thing to go at war with the Law. When the Law came in peace, Sinai was altogether on a smoke and even Moses said, ‘I exceeding fear and quake!’ What will you do when the Law of God comes in terror; when the trumpet of the archangel shall tear you from your grave; when the eyes of God shall burn their way into your guilty soul; when the great books shall be opened and your sin and shame shall be punished...Can you stand against an angry Law in that Day?”
Read more in part IV.