Gratitude is the difference between what we think we deserve and what we receive. The problem is many of us are entitled. We think we deserve a lot and experience disappointment when what we get doesn’t measure up to our expectations. On the other hand, someone who doesn’t think they deserve a lot is grateful for whatever they can obtain. Gratitude is a key habit of happy people. Just ask the experts at Harvard Health. And happiness is kind of a big deal.
Our self-assessment also affects our relationship with God. The Bible says there is a right way of looking at ourselves and a wrong way of looking at ourselves so truth as well as happiness are at stake. I’ve transcribed a clip in which Matt Chandler, senior pastor of the Village Church in Flower Mound, Texas, illustrates this point using the writings of Paul and a story from the life of Jesus. The popular belief that we are basically good and everything we do is basically alright–the “doctrine of awesome,” as Matt Chandler likes to call it–impairs our ability to appreciate God’s grace and robs us of joy.
When we see ourselves rightly in the mirror, we will complain less and thank God more for his grace–and that includes both forgiveness from sin and the power to overcome it.
And then if you can see it, here’s the second step and the one that few people want to make. The second step is now that we’ve seen, now to own it. To own it. And this is so counter-intuitive in our culture. Here’s what I mean by own it. Your sin is not something external to you. You don’t sometimes lie, you’re a liar. Do you hear the difference in those sentences? So what we like to do is distance ourselves from what we actually are. I’m not a liar, I just lie sometimes. I’m not a reviler. I’m not a sexual deviant, these are just things I struggle with. No, it’s something you are. And to own it is the gateway to joy.
Now let me try to explain that Biblically. One of the things the Apostle Paul does that can get on your nerves until you understand it is he always reminds you of what you used to be. In Ephesians 2, in 1 Corinthians 6, in Romans 1, in Titus 3–he’s like “You were revilers and drunkards and addicts and sexual perverts, and you were lustful”, and you’re just like, “Why do you keep bringing this up, man? I thought I was free.” Paul’s the guy you’re not inviting to your barbecue tomorrow. ’cause he’s going, “Remember what happened last year? Just exercised our freedom right into drunkenness when Bill over there . . . ” You just don’t want Paul to be there. He’s always bringing this stuff up. Like, “Let it go Paul. Second pillar, I am fully accepted. I’ve been forgiven freely, fully, and forever, Paul–let it go, bro.” Well, why won’t he? Why won’t he let it go?
Here’s why. Because if we’re not willing to own what we are, we will never be able to rejoice in all that he has done for us. So Jesus tells a beautiful story in Luke chapter 7 of a prostitute who comes in and falls at his feet. She’s weeping all over his feet. She’s wiping his feet with her hair, and Simon the Pharisee thought to himself, “If Jesus knew what kind of woman this was, he wouldn’t let her touch his feet?” And Jesus answered his thought, which is always freaky, and said “Simon, quick question. Two men owed a debt to a lender, one owed a whole bunch and one owed just a little. Both were forgiven of their debt. Who was more grateful?” And Simon the Pharisee, knowing he was busted, said “I guess, I suppose, the one who owed more.” And Jesus said, “You’ve answered correctly. When I came into your home, you did not give me a kiss, and you did not give me water for your feet.”
If “that didn’t give me a kiss” kind of weirds you out as a 2016 America, think Brazilians and Italians in the motherlands. Just affection and love, give you a kiss, so glad you’re here. Just over the top hospitality and friendliness. “You did not honor me. You did not show me true hospitality. You did not show me that I was really wanted or desired here. And then you gave me nothing for my feet, but this woman from the second she walked in the door has not stopped kissing me, and has washed my feet with her tears.” And so, although her sins are many, they are forgiven fully.
And so Jesus’s point to that room and to this room was that we own our sin as we should. We really pick up velocity as we move toward this idea that I’m a bigger sinner than I thought. Our culture is like, “Forget all about that. That might make you melancholy or sad, but you shouldn’t be because you’re awesome.” It’s the doctrine of awesomeness that steals and robs us from joy in Christ. The idea that God kind of picks the best athletes for his team. That’s now how this works. When we’re able to own our sin, to know I am a liar. I am a pervert. I am broken. I am rebellious. I worship approval, not God. I think I know better than God, which is why I try to control things and don’t trust him. I think I can dispense justice better than he can.
See, all of your idols, your accusations against God-unfair, undue, unfounded accusations against the creator of the universe. You accuse him of not being good. You accuse of not being for you. You accuse him of not blessing you. You accuse him all the while breathing his air in the body that he gave you. But to own our sin creates velocity that pushes us into our far idols. Now we’re down in the depths. We’re in our hearts. We’re not up in the surface, we’re under here, which the creates the velocity that by faith-after we’ve repented now we’re now shooting up unto this “I am fully acceptable.” What happens then is God is a bigger savior. Christ is a bigger savior than I ever imagined. But you’ll never be able to rejoice in that if you don’t think you’re guilty of anything.
Which is why Paul constantly brings this up in the New Testament. That’s why he’s telling to those in Crete, “You were perverts and liars and revilers and fools and sinful men.” That’s why he says the same thing to the church in Ephesus. That’s just what he does. But then there’s always in each of those texts I named–1 Corinthians 6, Titus 3, Ephesians 2–there’s a beautiful three-letter-word after that long list of reviler, drunkenness, sexual perverts, etc.–BUT God, who’s rich in mercy, abounding in steadfast love.