“. . . but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
INSIDE ALL OF US IS A DEEP NEED TO SEE OURSELVES AS GOOD PEOPLE. We readily admit we’ve made mistakes, but we like to think that’s all they were: just mistakes. If others knew the extenuating circumstances, they would see how hard we’ve had it and how understandable the errors have been. Even in our confessions of wrongdoing, we often come out of the experience with people thinking more highly of us for being so humble and courageous.
The gospel, however, asks us to see ourselves not as nice folks but as sinners. It was not the inadvertent slip-ups of good people that put Christ on the cross, but the rebellious acts of creatures unwilling to accept the will of their Creator. And lest I think that “sinners” is just a reference to the human race in general, I need to understand this: if I were the only person God ever created, my sins alone would have been every bit serious enough to crucify Christ.
But do we see ourselves that way? Probably not. If I’m giving a talk at the Lord’s Table on Sunday, my eyes may fill with tears as I talk about how “sinful” and “unworthy” I am, but on Monday I may bristle with defensiveness if I find out that some of my peers actually do view me as a wicked person. I will probably feel that I’ve been judged unfairly and try to salvage as much of my reputation as I can. But if I cry, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” (Luke 18:13), I need to get comfortable wearing that suit of clothes honestly. If that’s the truth and I really believe what I said about myself, why should I object if others see me the same way?
The gospel is indeed “good news.” It’s the message of a love so great that it moved God to give the life of His Son for our sins. Rightly do we celebrate the goodness of God’s forgiveness. But those who appreciate it most are those who see the seriousness of their own sins most clearly (Luke 7:47). As long as we live in this world, godly sorrow and repentance will always be the springs from which our joy flows. We can’t have the latter without the former. So when we say Christ died for us “while we were still sinners,” let’s be sure we understand exactly what we’re saying.
“None of us feels the true love of God till we realize how wicked we are. But you can’t teach people that — they have to learn by experience” (Dorothy L. Sayers).