Part Nine in a series of excerpts from With Christ in the Voting Booth: Casting Down Imaginations Before Casting Your Vote.
When we learn that a public official, celebrity, minister or other prominent citizen uses racist language, cheats on a spouse, steals huge sums of money or does things much worse, it’s called a scandal. Actor Mel Gibson, football player O.J. Simpson, Governor Mark Sanford, Senator John Edwards, golfer Tiger Woods, televangelist Jimmy Swaggart and even President Bill Clinton, all blighted their own reputations when their bad behaviors became publicly known.
Politicians, in particular, are subject to have their lives scrutinized to the point where some misdeed from their own past could come back to haunt them at any time. Even their family members will be closely examined for potential blemishes and warts. At times, we seem obsessed with scandal.
Scandal is not to be confused with sin, however. Scandal is the public face of sin. It is said that for every cockroach you see, 200 lurk behind the walls. In the same way, only a small portion of the sins of mankind ever reach the eyes of the public and become scandals. But if sin really is so rampant, why are we shocked when government officials are caught in a sin? Why do we talk so much about scandal and so little about sin? The answers involve some very bad news and the Good News.
The Bad News is That We Are All Morally Blind
We can’t properly see our own sins or fairly evaluate the sins of others because human pride tends to make our own sins appear small, while making the sins of others appear large. This is perhaps why God warns us against judging unfairly:
Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)
C.S. Lewis describes how God sees the people in our lives who trouble us with all of their glaring faults, people who are so hard to live with, who have fatal flaws that drive us crazy, who refuse to listen to us when we try to help them. But then Lewis adds this further observation:
“He [God] sees one more person of the same kind—the one you never do see. I mean, of course, yourself. That is the next great step in wisdom—to realize that you also are just that sort of person…. It is important to realize that there is some really fatal flaw in you: something which gives others the same feeling of despair which their flaws give you. And it is almost certainly something you don’t know about—like what the advertisements call “halitosis”, which everyone notices except the person who has it. But why, you ask, don’t the others tell me? Believe me; they have tried to tell you over and over and over again. And you just couldn’t “take it”. Perhaps a good deal of what you call their “nagging” or “bad temper” are just their attempts to make you see the truth. And even the faults you do know you don’t know fully. You say, “I admit I lost my temper last night”; but the others know that you’re always doing it, that you are a bad-tempered person. You say, “I admit I drank too much last Saturday”; but everyone else knows that you are a habitual drunkard.”
Not everybody agrees on this point, of course. Some people go so far as to deny the depravity of mankind altogether and instead assert that our basic nature is good. But who determines what good is? God or man? If sin has distorted our view, how can we know our opinions on these things are valid? The situation is similar to the problem of insanity. The insane man does not know he is insane; neither does the unconverted sinner begin to grasp the enormity of his sin.
The Good News is That God Has Not Left Us in the Dark
We do not have to rely upon our own biased opinions on these issues. Jesus routinely opens the eyes of those who acknowledge they are blind. “For thou art my lamp, O LORD: and the LORD will lighten my darkness.” (2Sa. 22:29)
Jesus Himself is the Light of the World. Furthermore, just as he led His people Israel by light in the wilderness (Neh. 9:12), so He will lead his people today by His Word (Ps. 43:3, Lk. 1:79)….
Lesson #1 We Have All Sinned
Lesson #2 We Are All Sinners
Sin isn’t just limited to politicians and public figures. You could certainly arrive at the idea that sin is prevalent in American culture just by reading advice or gossip columns or by browsing through crime reports in the local newspaper. Check-kiting, drunk driving, petty theft and child abuse all indicate something is wrong with the human heart. Moreover, our daily lives are filled with lies, gossip, fits of anger and perverse thoughts that never reach the level needed to call the police. Nevertheless, I don’t hold strongly to these ideas about sin because of what I find in the news or even from what I see with my own eyes. I am convinced from the Word of God that these lessons are true: As a Christian, this is where I begin.
If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (I John 1:8-10)
As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes…. For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:10-18, 23)
Lesson #1 indicates that all of us have committed acts that were forbidden by God, and failed to do everything He has commanded. Most people who believe in the existence of God will grant that they have sinned. They will say “I’m not perfect” or “I am only human.” This admission, however, does not mean they understand the import of the doctrine. To sin does not simply mean we occasionally make some mistakes. “Missing the mark” is a good definition for sin only if “missing a flight” is what Islamic terrorists did on 9/11. Our sins are not accidents. They are intentional acts of treason against a merciful and holy God.
At first glance it might appear that saying “I have sinned” and saying “I am a sinner” is saying the same thing, but it is not. I have taken a few hikes in my day, but that does not make me a hiker. Sometimes you may sing in the shower or while the car radio blares “I Write the Songs”, but crooning the tunes does not make you Barry Manilow.
Lesson #2 shows that it isn’t just that we sin. It’s that we are sinners. We do indeed choose to sin, but that sin comes out of the cesspool of our filthy hearts:
And he said, that which cometh out of the man, that defileth the man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All these evil things come from within, and defile the man. (emphasis mine) Matthew 7:20-23
Sin is embedded into who we are, into our fallen natures. By “fallen”, I mean that Adam’s sinful nature was passed on to all of his descendants, even though mankind was created upright and good (Ecc. 7:9). This is the meaning of the phrase “original sin” and was included as the first line in the New England Primer: “In Adams Fall, We Sinned All.”
Thinking the problem is just what we do and not what we are promotes the illusion that we could cure ourselves if we could just get treatment for our bad habits. Men in prison often delude themselves and think they have had a religious conversion. because they have repented of the particular sin that put them in the slammer or the contributing vices such as taking drugs, gambling, drinking or engaging in sexual immorality. But they have not met the physician who came to give them a new heart and redeem them from their individual sins and their condition.
When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. Mark 2:17
“Sinner” is a description of who we are. It is our identity apart from Christ. It is why the Romans passage above not only tells us we sin; it also says we are incapable of doing anything good in our unbelieving state. The latter doctrine is offensive to us because we are tempted to measure our goodness by the works we do that benefit other people, not by the standard of God’s Law which requires that every act be done to the Glory of God and with perfect motive.
 We are like the Captain Renault character in the movie Casablanca (above) who said he was “shocked, shocked” to find gambling going on in a casino (right before thanking a clerk for handing him his winnings).