Confrontation of Sin
I was rebuked, and it stung. As my colleague confronted me, I felt my chest tighten and my ears get warm. I wanted to rise to my defense, to tell him that he misunderstood what I had done. I wanted to let him know that I wasn’t the only sinner in the room; I’d known him long enough to see his weaknesses and failures too. I wanted to be self-righteously angry, but I couldn’t. I knew he was right. I knew he saw me in a particular situation with greater accuracy than I saw myself. It was an awkward and tense moment, but in the tension I felt the heart-piercing pain of the convicting grace of the Holy Spirit. My need to defend myself to my friend melted away and began to be replaced by humble grief and a desire to own the substance of his rebuke and confess my sin. As I responded to God, the tension was broken. Defensiveness gave way to gratitude for both God and my friend. I walked away with a burden lifted and a relationship reconciled.
I don’t know anyone who likes rebuke. None of us have ever thought, “I just wish I could be rebuked more.” Rebuke often carries connotations of condemnation in our thinking, as we imagine a pointed finger, raised volume, inflammatory language, and judgment. But God’s rebuke is not like that. It is not a precursor to judgment but rather an act of redeeming love. God’s rebuke is never about giving up on us; it’s about investing in us once again. God rebukes us because we need it. In the blindness of sin, we often think we are way more righteous than we actually are and way more faithful than we really have been. We all have the ability to name our sin as something less than sin or to compare ourselves to other sinners and conclude that we are not so bad after all. We are all good at rewriting our history in ways that shift blame away from us onto something or someone else. No matter how long we have followed our Savior, we all continue to need the grace of his loving rebuke. You could say it this way: whom the Lord loves, he rebukes. As Hebrews 3:12 tells us, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.”
We find one particularly stunning, world-changing moment of rebuke in Scripture. You could argue that this moment, in God’s sovereign and redeeming plan, is the rebuke of rebukes. You want to make sure you don’t miss it. The incarnation of Jesus, that is, the invasion by grace of the Son of God into the world he created, but which is now fallen, is the most pointed and significant moment of confrontation that has ever or will ever happen. The birth of Jesus confronts each of us with the fact that sin is real and inescapable, and it leads to death. In his coming we are forced to face the humbling fact that the greatest danger to all of us exists inside of us and not outside of us. The birth of Jesus requires us to confess that we are not okay and our world is not okay. The coming of Jesus yanks us out of our spiritual complacency to see that our spiritual condition really is a matter of life and death. It is in the birth of Jesus that pride in our own wisdom, strength, and righteousness is revealed for what it is: an eternally dangerous spiritual delusion. Only in the radical intervention of the incarnation can we see ourselves with accuracy. We cannot be what we are supposed to be and do what we have been created to do independent of divine rescue. Jesus came because there is no other way for what sin has broken to be restored. If we were enough, if our righteousness were enough, if we were powerful enough, if we knew enough, and if we were spiritually healthy enough, then there would have been no reason for Jesus to come.
This is why is it is important for us to gather with one another again and again, in worship service after service, to focus again and again on one thing: the person and work of Jesus. It is vital for us to be reminded again and again that his primary mission was not to be our teacher, our healer, or our example. Yes, by grace, he is all of these things to us, but it is important to understand that he came to be our Jesus, that is, the one who would save us from the thing we could not save ourselves from: sin. Sin is the biggest of all human problems, and it lies at the heart of all other human tragedies. Before sin entered the world, there was no sadness, no sickness, no suffering of any kind. Everything was where it was meant to be and doing exactly what God designed it to do. Everything. Sin broke the cosmos in the deepest and most fundamental way. It left a world that is groaning and in need of redemption. Sin is at the root of life’s hardships. Sin is the reason relationships can be so hurtful. Sin is the cause of personal, familial, and international war. Sin corrupts our motives, distorts our desires, and perverts our intentions.
Only in the radical intervention of the incarnation can we see ourselves with accuracy.
Every human being is disappointed in some way. Every human being longs for a better world. Every human being shops for some truth that will liberate them from the mess. Every human being follows some kind of messiah. Every human being carries a contradiction. We all, in some way, recognize that there is evil in our world, that people can be cruel, and that institutions are often corrupt. We complain about what others do, we point the finger of blame quite often, and we mourn the corrupted power of institutions around us, but we want to believe that we are different. We want to think that we are one of the good guys. We point to sin external while we deny sin internal. But if there were no individual internal state of sin, then there would be no cruel people, no misused power, and no corrupt institutions. Yet we mourn the condition of the world as we minimize our own sin and work to convince ourselves that we are righteous. This is why we need the loving confrontation of the radical intervention of the incarnation to remind us that we are not okay. There is no way to explain the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus if we are able to stand before God without a Messiah and be okay in his sight.
Jesus’s birth is the ultimate diagnostic of the human condition. It is the moment in history that we should never stop considering. We are weak, broken, and in need of redemption. That is why the Savior came. So we gather and remember, lest in our delusion we forget who we really are, what we so deeply need, and what God alone has given us in the birth of his Son.
This article is adapted from Sunday Matters: 52 Devotionals to Prepare Your Heart for Church by Paul David Tripp.
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