This past Sunday Josh presented from Romans 1 a clear picture of human depravity. It really caused me to reflect not only on the depravity of mankind in general, but on my personal expressions of depravity. I’ll ask you, just ask Josh asked: What are your personal idols? Have you considered that question yet? If not, take a moment now to do so.
A clear understanding of the bad news–our depravity–is needed if the good news of the gospel makes any sense. That’s exactly what Paul will do later in Romans: show us all guilty of sin, but show Jesus as a sufficient Savior for all who will call on Him. So, as dark as it may seem to study man’s depravity, such a dark background is necessary to show the shining brilliance of the gospel.
That’s exactly why the gospel can seem so dull and small to us at times: we trivialize our sin. As RC Sproul once said, we have convinced ourselves that we are not really that bad, and that God is not really that mad. But we really are that bad, and God really is that mad!
Perhaps we trivialize sin by defining it as only those things which make us feel guilty. The problem with that definition, though, is that it is largely an internal and subjective view of sin. In other words, only my “gut feeling” about an action defines whether it’s sin or not. But sin isn’t always met with disapproval by our consciences. In fact, the Scriptures teach us that the conscience can be seared through self-deception (1 Tim 4:2, Titus 1:15). We need a Scripturally-informed view of sin, one that is objective rather than subjective, if we are to understand our sin rightly.
That’s why it’s helpful when someone comes along and describes sin in a way we had not before considered. The Resurgence blog recently posted an article by RC Sproul in which he argues that sin isn’t just a failure to do what one ought to do; rather, our active pursuit of sin is a form of cosmic treason. Tim Challies said, “Speaking personally, understanding sin as a form of treason (the greatest form of treason) has been very helpful in my understanding of human depravity.” You can read Sproul’s article here. Sproul says,
If we abandon the notion of the righteousness of Christ, we have no hope, because the Law is never negotiated by God. As long as the Law exists, we are exposed to its judgment unless our sin is covered by the righteousness of the Law. The only covering that we can possess of that righteousness is that which comes to us from the active obedience of Christ, who Himself fulfilled every jot and tittle of the Law. His fulfilling of the Law in Himself is a vicarious activity by which He achieves the reward that comes with such obedience. He does this not for Himself but for His people. It is the background of this imputed righteousness, this rescue from the condemnation of the Law, this salvation from the ravages of sin that is the backdrop for the Christian’s sanctification, in which we are to mortify that sin that remains in us, since Christ has died for our sin.
Nathan Bingham also has an article that deals with sin as idolatry. This is exactly what Josh was saying Sunday: Sin is when we see anything as being more valuable than Christ. By way of confession, technology and social media are quickly becoming functional idols for me, and “technology as idolatry” is the theme of Bingham’s article. But regardless of your idolatry, the first few paragraphs that deal with idolatry in general are extremely enlightening. For instance, He quotes Tim Keller, who says that an idol is
…anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.
Read Bingham’s blog post here. And don’t forget to ask the Holy Spirit to search your own hearts, asking Him, “What are my functional idols?” Then, by God’s grace,ruthlessly and utterly put those idols to death!
(UPDATE: I’ve been informed that Tim Keller has three excellent messages titled “Smashing Idols.” You can download them at Monergism.com on this page.)