The Danger of Self-Defense
Maybe it's happen to you? A friend tells you he wants to talk to you, and when you get together, you realize that what he really wanted to do was confront you. You’re not really excited about being told bad things about yourself, but this is your friend, so you’re willing to listen. As he begins to lay out his concerns, you begin to feel pain inside. You can’t believe what you’re being told about yourself.
Silently and inwardly you quickly give yourself to well-developed self-defense tactics; marshaling arguments that you’re a better person than the one being described. You want to believe that what you’re hearing is a distortion, lacking in accuracy and love, but you know you can’t. You’re devastated because deep down you know it’s true. Deep down you know that God has brought this person your way. Deep down you know what you’re being required to consider is an accurate description of yourself. Such a description is found in Genesis 6:5, “The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” What a devastating description! It’s hard to swallow, isn’t it? You want to think that this biblical description is of the people who are more sinful sinners than you and I are. But this verse isn’t describing a super-sinner class. No, it’s a mirror into which every human being is meant to look and see himself. It’s capturing in a few powerful words what theologians call “total depravity.” Now, total depravity doesn’t mean that as sinners we are as bad as we could possibly be. What it actually means is that sin reaches to every aspect of our personhood. Its damage of us is total. Physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, motivationally, socially, we’ve been damaged by sin. Its ravages are inescapable and comprehensive. No one has dodged its scourge, and no one has been only partially affected. We’re all sinners. It reaches to every aspect of what makes us us. Sadly, when each of us looks into the mirror of Genesis 6:5, we see an accurate description of ourselves.
Now, you have to ask yourself: Why is Genesis 6:5 so hard to accept? Why do we spontaneously rise to our own defense? Why are you and I devastated when our weakness, sin, and failure are pointed out? Why do we find confrontation and rebuke painful even when they’re done in love? Why do we want to believe that we’re in the good class of sinners? Why do we want to believe that we’re deprived, but not depraved? Or that we are depraved, but not totally? Why do we find comfort in pointing to people who appear to be worse sinners than we are? Why do we make up self-atoning revisions of our own history? Why do we erect self-justifying arguments for what we’ve said or done? Why do we turn the tables when someone points out a wrong, making sure that they know that we know that we’re not the only sinner in the room? Why do we line up all the good things we’ve done as a counter-balance for the wrong that’s being highlighted? And why do we do all these things again and again?
Why do we find our sin so hard to accept?
There’s only one answer to all of these questions. There’s only one conclusion that fits. We all find this so hard to accept because we studiously hold onto the possibility that we’re more righteous than the Bible describes as being. When we look into the mirror of self-appraisal, the person we tend to see is a person who’s more righteous than any of us actually is!
We were at the end of a wonderful service at Tenth Presbyterian Church that had been punctuated by a powerful sermon from the Ten Commandments. I immediately turned to my wife at the end of the service and said, “I am so glad our children were here to hear that sermon!” She didn’t even have to say anything to me. She simply gave me that look. You know, the one that says, “I can’t believe you’re actually saying what you’re saying.” Immediately I felt embarrassed and grieved. It’d happened to me so subtly and quickly. I’d placed myself outside of the circle of the sermon’s diagnosis. I’d accepted the fact that whatever Exodus and Phil Ryken were describing didn’t include me. And I was glad that the people in my family who really needed the diagnosis had been in attendance.
“Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God” (Romans 5:1–2). If the Bible’s description is accurate, then God’s grace is our only hope. Thank God that he’s given us big grace! Each one of us needs grace that’s not only big enough to forgive our sin, but also powerful enough to free us from the self-atoning prison of our own righteousness. We’re not only held captive by our sin, but also by the delusion of our righteousness. Resting in God’s grace isn’t just about confessing your sin; it’s about forsaking your righteousness as well. So God, in grace, will hurt your feelings. He’ll expose your delusions of righteousness for what they are. You see, your Savior knows that it’s only when you abandon your righteousness that you’ll run after the righteousness that can only be found in him.