In the big scheme of things, I’m really not that bad. I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination and I’ve made my share of mistakes in the past; the past being as recently as yesterday. But, when I think of how bad I could be, I’m really not that bad. I attend the gathering with fellow Christians every Sunday. I read my bible and pray on a daily basis. For the most part I’m nice to the waitress at the restaurant and the barista who makes my coffee in the morning. I’ve just recently moved to a new area but I’m getting to know my neighbors and trying to be friendly. Sure, I have my occasional grouchy day and I have my moments when I struggle with pride, or materialism, or envy, but I’m trying to live right, make good choices, and be a positive influence for God in the world. Like I said to begin with, I’m really not that bad.
The problem is, being not that bad will still send me straight to hell. Don’t misunderstand, I’m not trying to go “hellfire and brimstone” on everyone, but the truth of the matter is, being not too bad is not good enough. Being not too bad will send us to hell. Being not too bad lulls us into thinking that our sin is not as bad as another’s sin. Being not too bad tries to convince us that while we know we need forgiveness and we can never make it on our own, we really don’t need that much forgiveness. It’s as if forgiveness is just enough to get us over the hump. We know we need grace but it’s really just to give us that extra little boost we need. Similar to when my daughter is trying to peer over a wall that is just alittle too big for her. She’s only about an inch away from seeing so I just give her alittle boost, pick her up about an inch, and then she can see clearly. Being not too bad makes us think that grace is just helping us with that last inch or two that we need to see clearly. We know we need God and can’t make it on our own, but we get pretty close without him, he’s just that extra little boost.
And there’s the problem with the whole philosophy of being not too bad, it’s still not good enough. No matter how hard my daughter tries, she still can’t see over the wall without my help. And no matter how hard we try, we still can’t save ourselves. Whether we think we are good or not doesn’t matter, our sins will send us to hell. My sin will send me to hell. I am lost, I am condemned, I have no chance.
Ignatius of Loyola, a 16th century monk, developed a 28 day set of meditations focused on the life of Christ. In the first week of the exercises, he encourages participants to spend time focusing on the magnitude of one’s sins and the punishment that those sins deserve. Part of this time is spent meditating on the first sin of the Angels who although they were made by God, because of pride wanted to become greater and so were cast out of Heaven. Or on the sin of Adam and Eve who because they ate from the tree once were cast out of the garden. If these, who for one sin were punished and condemned, how much more do we deserve to be punished for all of the sins we have committed. Our sin, no matter how small we think it is, deserves punishment. Our sin is monumental, its magnitude is unmeasurable, we deserve to die. My sin condemns me to die. I have no hope.
And it is only when I begin to understand the severity of my own sin that I start to appreciate grace. It is only when I begin to realize just how little I deserve that I begin to appreciate what I have been given. It is only when I admit my own depravity that I experience the joy of my salvation. I was dead, but am now alive. I was lost, but am now found. And this is not because of my own work, it is a gift from God. Thank you God for grace and forgiveness; I am completely lost without them.