Lest you think that this is merely the cranky, judgmental Old Testament God—God in his middle school years—who morphs into a much nicer and more flexible deity in the New Testament—Jesus, the meek and mild—consider what happened to the New Testament couple Ananias and Sapphira when they lied one Sunday about a church offering. They exaggerated the amount they gave, and God struck them dead (Acts 5:1–11).
Thankfully, God hasn’t done that to every person who has lied in church. But in their story God gives us a glimpse of his attitude toward sin so that we consider what it will be like for all of us one day when we stand exposed before God. Are you ready for that moment when all your secrets and hidden thoughts are exposed?
We tend to think of sin as “not that bad” because we think of it only in terms of how it affects other humans. We think, “Well, I haven’t killed anybody, so how bad could my sin actually be?” Sin’s “wickedness,” however, comes from its offensiveness toward God. The wickedness of any deed is measured, at least in part, by the nature of the one it is directed against. If you get mad and kick a wall, you might have to pay for the wall, but that’s it. Do the same thing to a dog, however, and people will think you’ve done a genuinely bad thing and probably not let their kids play with your kids. Do it to the lady next to you in the grocery store, and you’ll go to jail. Walk into Buckingham Palace and attempt to roundhouse the queen of England, and you probably won’t see daylight for a long, long time.
What about sin against the infinitely glorious God? How can we even begin to describe the wickedness of rebelling against him? Sin against the infinite holiness of God is infinitely wicked and deserves infinite punishment.
Perhaps you say, “But don’t we do a lot of good things too? What about the guy who throws himself on a grenade to save his buddy, or the single mom who sacrifices everything to give her kids a chance at a better life?” Those are indeed genuinely good things, but they don’t remove the wickedness of our rebellion.
Imagine observing two terrorists planning the bombing of an elementary school. In the midst of their planning, they take a lunch break, and one realizes his companion doesn’t have any lunch so he shares his with him. That’s a genuinely good thing, right? But in light of the larger context—who they are and what they are about to do—it’s difficult to call that good thing “good.”
What if our rebellion to God was the same way in God’s sight, but infinitely worse? Goodness done in the context of cosmic treason still seems wicked.
Standing before God’s throne, Isaiah realized that he was charged with treason of the highest order. He had joined Satan in his rebellion against God’s authority. That sin now corrupted every single part of his life. It infected his mouth, defiling every word he spoke—even the religious ones.
The prophet Habakkuk says that God is of such purity that he cannot even look at evil (Hab 1:13). He is so perfectly good that injustice, impurity, or unkindness of any kind, even in the smallest amounts, cannot survive in his presence. Suppose you are getting a blood transfusion and you find out that 1 percent of it was contaminated with HIV. Would it help if the nurse said, “Don’t worry; it’s only 1 percent”? “No!” we’d shout back, “There is no such thing as only 1 percent! One speck contaminates the whole lot.” The revulsion we would feel at such a thought is just a fraction of what God feels in the presence of our sin. Our sin is more dangerous than HIV. It’s more harmful than the most aggressive cancer. It’s more offensive than the most heinous acts of wickedness we’ve seen on the news.
The majesty of God’s holiness means that there is no such thing as “just a little sin.” Coming into his presence with even a single sin is like a piece of wax paper touching the surface of the sun.
That’s why God struck Uzzah dead when he touched the ark. Uzzah thought he was doing a favor for God by keeping the ark from falling, but he thought too little of the holiness of God. His sin-stained hand was far filthier than the dirt the ark would have landed upon. The dirt had never rebelled against God. Uzzah had.
Sin makes us detestable to a holy God. And our lives are saturated with it.
AM I RUINED?
God gave us a way to evaluate the spiritual health of our hearts: the Ten Commandments. Have you ever considered how you measure up against them? I have, and when I read through them, I begin to feel the same despair Isaiah felt.
When I stand to teach God’s Word, I often catch myself wondering if people are impressed with me. That’s a violation of the first commandment, caring more about my glory than God’s.
I can think of countless times where I bent the truth to get out of an uncomfortable situation. Or exaggerated the truth to make myself look better. In both cases, my dishonesty is an attempt to bolster my reputation, which means I am not only breaking the ninth commandment to not bear falsehood, but also the first, by caring about other people’s opinions more than I do God’s.
Throughout my life, I have resisted the God-ordained authorities in my life—whether my parents, teachers, traffic cops, or the IRS. This is a violation of the fifth commandment. By flouting God-ordained authorities in my life, I am flouting his authority.
I may never have committed adultery, but Jesus said that if we look on someone who is not our spouse and indulge in lustful thoughts about them, we are guilty of adultery before God. I don’t know a single person alive who can claim they have never done that.
I fail at the rest of the Ten Commandments in similar ways. Now, I know what you might be saying: “Murder! Get to murder. I’m clear on that one.” Not so fast. Jesus said that hatred toward others is the essence of a murderous spirit. You may not act on it, but the spirit of murder is still in you. I think about how often I resent those who are better than me at something, even fantasizing about something bad happening to them: The best athlete on my basketball team air-balling a foul shot. The best-looking guy contracting an odorous fungal-acne outbreak. A more successful pastor having problems in his church. A more successful writer being raked over the coals by other bloggers. Those who delight in the misfortune of others are regarded as murderers before God (Matt 5:21–22).
When it’s all tallied up, I’m zero for ten on commandments. And yet it’s with this heart that I expect to enter the presence of God. If you get a zero on the final exam, you’re not going to pass the class.
After encountering the holiness of God, Isaiah said of his best deeds, “All our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isa 64:6). The word he uses for “filthy” literally means “defiled.” Jews in that day used the term to refer to things that were not just dirty, but contagious, diseased, or ceremonially unclean. A leper’s rags were “filthy.” Isaiah imagines himself coming into God’s presence and laying down his “good deeds” at God’s feet as a pile of contaminated, diseased rags, each one soaked through with the pus and gore of sin. I look into my own heart and know he is right. My hearth is filthy.
This doesn’t mean we have never done anything that pleases God. It just means that if we are depending on the purity of our deeds to buy our way into heaven, we are fools.
Even when I do obey the commandments, reflecting on my struggle to obey shows me how much trouble I’m in! If I truly loved God, I wouldn’t need to be commanded to do righteous things. It shouldn’t be a struggle. I don’t need to be commanded to do the things I really love. You never have to command me to eat a steak, take a nap, hug my kids, or kiss my wife. So why do I need to be commanded to love God, love people, and act righteously? What’s wrong with my heart that it needs to be commanded to do these things?
It’s my heart that is the problem.
I need more than instructions on how to be righteous. I need a heart change.
No wonder Isaiah, when he came face to face with the holiness of God, said, “Woe is me! I am lost.” His sense of his own “goodness” had been totally obliterated.
As Gregory Koukl says, “Absolute goodness makes God absolutely dangerous, for the only ones who are safe are the ones who are good like he is.”
Greear, J. D., and David Jeremiah. 2018. Not God Enough: Why Your Small God Leads to Big Problems. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
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