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The extent of our need.
Perhaps the most astute commentary on 21st century culture came during the earthly ministry of Christ. What is a description of the fallacy of the Pharisaical teachers of the day, is actually profound insight into how most Americans live. “They are blind guides,” Jesus says. “And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” (Mt 15:14) Indeed, we are blind leading the blind. We’re just a bunch of sightless beggars stumbling and bumbling about as drunkards, falling into pit after pit, never once relinquishing control, still clinging to our irrational ideas of strength, despite all evidence to the contrary. We’re visionless and yet keep pressing forward as if we have it all together, continuing on in the same endeavors and expecting different results — the very definition of insanity.
The blindness that betrays us as insane sinners is the sort that I’m referring to. It’s the sort that’s illogical and absurd. How crazy would it be for a person without eyes to unreasonably insist that he’s fine, that he doesn’t need any outside assistance? No doubt he’d be classified as borderline psychotic, at least. And yet, you can say the same for all men and women who persist in their efforts to find some sort of life in and of themselves. All unbelievers who carry on in their unbelief are no better than blind person who claims he’s okay without any external aid. We’ve done the same with God. Read the following passage from Episcopalian minister Stephen Tyng:
The violated law holds us in bondage, — our lost condition under it demands a Redeemer who is mighty; — and it is only as we understand the extent of our need, that we can appreciate the indispensable necessity to us, of such a Saviour as God has revealed . . . in the same degree, in which we reduce our apprehensions of our necessity, and of the condemnation which our sin deserves, shall we also depreciate the worth, and destroy the character, of that gracious atonement which has been made and accepted in our behalf. A clear view of what unpardoned sinners would be compelled to do and bear, will alone accurately teach, what the Lord Jesus has mercifully done and borne, for them whom he has redeemed and pardoned . . . the degree in which we are ignorant of the demands of the law, we form false conceptions of the necessities of the sinner who has broken it; and reduce our estimate of the whole work of the Son of God, who undertook to redeem him from its curse, and to magnify it and make it honorable. And if we would form correct apprehensions of the Father’s love, who spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us, — and of the amazing mercy of the Son, who came to do his will in this redemption of the ungodly, we are to acquire them, in that divine teaching which shall open our eyes to behold wondrous things out of the law.
What the law does, as Tyng so notes, is shake the scales from our eyes and stir our souls to the fact that we’re helpless, lifeless sinners. And the minute we perceive ourselves as less needy than most, we’ve cheapened what the gospel is supposed to do. The law’s chief purpose is to expose you, to rattle your blindness with the light of God’s righteousness, making it glaringly obvious that whatever you think of yourself, you’re woefully inadequate. All the schemes of satisfaction and holy living will always fall short of God’s standard. Despite how hard you try, it’ll never be enough. And that’s the point.
Until you see yourself as absolutely needy, you’ll never adore the glorious atonement that has been secured by the blood of God. If your eyes are never opened to the categorically desperate and destitute state you’re in, you’ll never really revel and rejoice in God’s resurrection and redemption of you. I say resurrection because that’s, indeed, what God in Christ through the Spirit has done in every believing soul: he’s made them alive. You see, we’re not just sick, we’re dead. And we don’t just need medicine, we need a miracle — a miracle of grace! And such has Jesus established for you. Every saved sinner is a miracle and monument to wondrously extravagant and eternal grace of God.
Christ’s gospel is infinite enough to supply the need of every sinner who has ever lived, is living, or will ever live. Jesus’s pardon and resurrection of lost, lifeless souls is powerful and mighty to save. (Zep 3:17) Don’t belittle the saving work of Christ by downplaying your need. Don’t denigrate God’s deliverance by minimizing your wretchedness. As Tullian Tchividjian rightly says:
Only when we understand that God’s Law is absolutely inflexible will we see that God’s grace is absolutely indispensable.
Don’t dread the rule and rigidity of the law; rather, rejoice because you’ve been given sight, you’ve been healed of your blindness to see God’s blessed grace, which meets every need of every person, past, present, future. No strings attached.
Stephen Tyng, Lectures on the Law and the Gospel (New York: Robert Carter & Bros., 1849), 17–18, 20.
Tullian Tchividjian, One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World (Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2013), 98.