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The One in the Mirror
by Tony Grant
I now invite you to turn in your Bibles to the letter to the Romans, chapter 5, and follow along as I read verses 6-11. Hear what the Spirit says to us.
6 For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly.
7 For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die.
8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.
11 And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
The story is told that a generation ago, in Waterbury Conn., the pastor announced that there would be a funeral during the Sunday morning service. The pallbearers rolled the casket down, placed it in front of the pulpit, and piled it high with flowers. The congregation sang several funeral hymns. Then everyone took a seat as the pastor came forward to deliver the eulogy.
The pastor looked at his congregation for a long moment, then he said in disgust, "I am just not going to do it. I am not going to try to preach this person into heaven. I am not going to tell you what a good person she was because she wasnt, and you and I know she wasnt. This one who lies in this coffin today morning was a sinner. She loved sin. She clutched it close to her bosom. She rose up with it in the morning, and she went to sleep with it at night. And now she has died, and she has gone to hell. That is the truth of the matter, and I am not going to tell you any different in an attempt to soothe your feelings. I am not going to try to make family and friends feel good. This person was wicked. She has now arrived at the destination of the wicked, and since she lived and died in sin, I do not see how she could have expected to go to any other place."
Having finished what he had to say, the pastor sat down--which is unusual, because many times preachers dont sit down until long after they have finished saying what they have to say.
As you might imagine, The congregation was stunned. This was not like any funeral sermon they had ever heard before. It was the custom in this particular church for the congregation to file by the casket at the close of the service for a last look at the one who had passed on. So, the people lined up for a look at this dead sinner. Each woman and each man peered into the casket, but there was no body there. There was only a large mirror, and the mirror showed them their own face.
We Are the Ungodly
That pastor had a vivid method for demonstrating a basic spiritual principle. Who is that dead sinner? The one in the mirror. I am. Who is that one who has fallen and are now utterly destitute of all power to pull himself out of the mire into which he has plunged himself? I am.
Betty Jackson King (1928-1994) wrote an gospel song that says:
It's me, it's me, it's me, O Lord,
standin' in the need of prayer.
Not my mother, not my father, but it's me O Lord
standin' in the need of prayer.
Not the deacon, not the elder, but it's me, O Lord,
standin' in the need of prayer.
I stand in the need of prayer because I am the one in the mirror. I am the lost sinner.
Rom. 5:6-11 is not addressed to a few hardened criminals down in CCI in Columbia, nor does it speak only to homosexuals and pornographers, nor only to those who are doing illegal drugs. It speaks to all of us. We are all ungodly, and we are all "without strength," as v6 says, to do anything about our ungodliness.
Perhaps we have sought after God a little. Perhaps we have even done a few good things and thought a few good thoughts. Yet, if we are honest, we remember also our bad deeds and our bad thoughts. The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks in question 14: "What is sin?" The answer it gives is "Sin is any want of conformity unto or transgression of the law of God." And we have tried to conform to the law of God. Any person who feels anything at all of the presence of God would surely try to keep Gods law. But scripture does not say that we will save ourselves by TRYING to keep the law. GL3:10, "Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." That verse should terrify us. We cannot be saved by trying to obey the law. We can be saved only by perfectly obeying the law.
Can you imagine what that means? What if God should call us to account for the least sinful day that we ever lived? Could we declare that even on that day, on our best day, that we perfectly obeyed God. If God looked into our motives, and saw our secret hates and desires, would he not condemn us--because even on our best days, we have not served God with absolute perfection. We may have obeyed somewhat, but we have not obeyed "in all things," and therefore the frightening words from Galatians come into effect. We are under Gods curse because we have not kept all the law.
Years ago, when Frank Howard was football coach at Clemson University, he had a team one year that was in contention for the conference championship. It came down to one final game. All the marbles were resting on this one game. And Clemson lost. They lost 14-13, by one point. After the game, a local reporter, who was also a close friend of Coach Howard, was interviewing the coach. The reporter said, "You have a lot to be proud of, Coach. Your squad played a good game, and you only lost by one point. You really came close." Frank Howard spit out a mouthful of tobacco juice, and shook his head, and said, "Close dont count cept in horseshoes, and we ain't playing horseshoes."
That is precisely what the Apostle Paul says about our attempts to save ourselves by the law. "Close don't count." "We ain't playing horseshoes." If we miss by one point, we still lose.
God is Not Fair
Now you may be thinking, "That is not fair. Obviously, no human being can perfectly obey the law without a single failure in his whole life. God has given us an impossible task. He has demanded that we keep a law that it is beyond our capacity to keep, and that is not fair." If that is what you say, you are absolutely right. God is not fair.
If God were fair, he would condemn us all to hell. That would be the fair thing to do since we are all lawbreakers. God did not make people into sinners. People did that all by themselves. God made a covenant with the first human being. The Westminster Confession of Faith puts it this way: "Life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience" (COF 7.2). Adam was a perfect man. Adam could have kept the covenant of obedience, but he did not.
And when we look into our own hearts, we see our first parent. We see disobedience and sin. We see the broken covenant of Adam. We realize that God has pronounced sentence upon us. We are guilty. We can only await the penalty, which is death and the lake of fire.
If we were believers in the usefulness of animal sacrifice, as in the OT, we might rush down to the temple and kill a goat or a cow for our sins. But we read in Prov. 21:27 "The sacrifice of the wicked is abomination," and we know that we are the wicked.
Does that sound hopeless and helpless to you? It should because that is our condition--hopeless and helpless. We are snared by sin, and all our twisting and turning only serves to tighten the noose tighter and tighter.
Hopeless to Save Ourselves
Now if you are a Christian you are probably thinking, "I know all that. I cannot keep the law perfectly, so I am not depending on the law for my salvation. I am depending on the gospel." But let us consider Rom. 5 closely. The Apostle Paul says that not only are we without strength to perfectly keep the law, we are also without strength to accept the gospel. Just as we do not have the power to obey God completely, so also we do not have the power to convert ourselves.
And this is not a doctrine that is found only in one verse of scripture. PS 51:5 tells us that we are born in sin. Job declares that we "drink iniquity like water" (15:16). Genesis holds that "Every imagination of the thoughts of [the human] heart was only evil continually" (6:5).
Perhaps you say, "Well, that is the Old Testament. We expect as much from that harsh old book. What about the New Testament? Surely in the New Testament, we will find a better estimate of humankind." Not so. The New Testament is in harmony with the Old. Ephesians describes all humankind as "by nature the children of wrath"[2:3] who are "dead in trespasses and sin" [2:1].
The Bible does not brush lightly over our hopeless and helpless predicament. Rather, it comes down upon it like a hammer, and that hammer strikes us right between the eyes. We cannot believe the gospel of our own accord. We cannot save ourselves. We have been too busy drinking in iniquity to hunger and thirst after righteousness. We were born in sin, and we liked it that way, and so instead of seeking God, we became the enemies of God.
Is there no hope then? Of course there is. A cure exists for our condition, but the cure is not something that we can do. It is something that God does. The grace of God is the cure for our condition. We receive that grace through the Son of God, Jesus Christ. We had hearts of stone so that we could not obey God, yet now he has given us a new heart, and we can begin to live for God.
But it is God who has done it. It is God who has saved us. This reminds me of a story about a poor woman who wanted to buy some flowers from the kings garden for her sick daughter. The gardener angrily repelled her saying, "The kings flowers are not for sale." But the king happened to overhear, and he gathered a bouquet of flowers and gave it to the woman, saying, "It is true that the king does not sell his flowers, he gives them away." So the king of kings does not sell salvation. He gives salvation.
God gives us enlightened minds and changed hearts so that we are a new creation. God works faith where there was no faith, and repentance where there was no repentance. God produced from the helpless, hopeless, old person something new and beautiful.
And I would add this: The creation of the world, the creation from nothing of the whole universe, is not more amazing than the work of God in the conversion of one sinner. When we consider that we were lost, and we could do nothing about our lostness, then it is not astonishing that most people are content to remain lost. The astonishing thing is that anyone is found.
Every Christian is a walking, living, breathing, miraculous testimony to the marvelous grace of God. For just when we were without hope, we found hope. RM 5:6 tells us that "in due time Christ died for the ungodly." We are the ungodly. Jesus Christ died for us while we were his enemies. As we read the words of Paul, we can sense the great apostles amazement at what God has done.
V7 says, "For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die." If a person died for a friend, that would be surprising. Not many people are willing to die even for the best of friends. Occasionally in war, we read of a soldier who deliberately covered a grenade with his body to save his comrades. We regard that as an act of supreme heroism, deserving of the Congressional Medal of Honor. And that is why Gods act in Christ is beyond our comprehension: because we were not Gods friends. V8: "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." We were Gods enemies. We were anti-Christ, and Christ died for us.
More than that. The Apostle Paul carries the grace of God one step further. If while we were in sin and misery Jesus Christ cared enough for us to give his life for us, will he ever cast us off now that we have been reconciled to him? If God went to all the trouble to save us, do you think that if we happen to sin again, God will throw up his hands and abandon us? Not a chance. God is more powerful than sin. God will not yield up his people to sin. Know this for a certainty. Jesus Christ is more able to save us than sin to destroy us. Jesus Christ is more able to save us than we are able to destroy ourselves.
Our Attitude Toward Jesus Christ
But if we realize this, how should it effect us? What should be our reaction to the Christ who has died for us? First of all, we must confess our inability to do anything about sin and seek the pardon of God and the grace of God. When we realize that Jesus died for us, we should be cut to the heart and throw ourselves on the mercy of God.
Secondly, once we have believed on Jesus, our attitude should be one of thankfulness and joy. We always remember that we were unbelievers until God saved us. God tore open the doors of the prison of our sins and broke down the bars and proclaimed deliverance to the captives. Therefore, we thank God every day with every ounce of our beingand we rejoice. V11: "We also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement."
Thirdly, we should be concerned about those who are not saved. We realize that we are not better than they are. Jesus saved us. We did not save ourselves. We have nothing to boast about. Rather, we should have more sympathy and understanding for those who are far from God. We need to remember that where they are, we once were also.
In EX22:21 the commandment was given to Israel, "Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt." Even so, we should be merciful, we should be patient, with those who are strangers to God, for we were once strangers to God. Moreover, we should use all our talents in the cause of Jesus Christ that through us Jesus might draw all people to God and to salvation.
The Jasmin Conclusion
Let us conclude. The amazing thing that Jesus has done for us should govern all our relationships with others. It should govern our whole life. When we were worthless to God and totally unable to do anything about our condition, Jesus did something about our condition.
In 1915, the British war hero, Colonel T.E. Lawrence, who is known to us as Lawrence of Arabia, was leading a camel troop of Arabs across the desert when someone suddenly noticed that one camel had no rider. Jasmin had gone to sleep and fallen off his camel during the night. The other Arabs said that it was too bad about Jasmin. On foot, in the open desert, where no shelter or water could be found, he would surely die when the sun came up. But nothing could be done. The troop had to seek shelter from the sun. To turn back for Jasmin was to perish. Besides, Jasmin was not of much value to anyone anyway. He was a worthless cutthroat. No one cared about him. No one would have given even a cup of water to save his useless hide. But Lawrence turned back. Alone, under the blazing desert sun, he risked his life to save a person of no value. He found Jasmin, half-delirious from the heat, lost and helpless. Lawrence put the man on his camel and brought him to safety.
The gospel convicts us that we are all worthless Jasmins. We are all lost in the desert, dying far from God. Yet Christ has come back for us, not just at the risk of his life, but at the cost of his life. He has found us and brought us to safety. Therefore, we rejoice in him forever. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 3/17/03