At the very root of the modern liberal movement is the loss of the consciousness
of sin.” – J. Gresham Machen
I was listening to a sermon by Mark Driscoll and he was talking about one thing he struggled with before he became a Christian was that he really didn’t think he was that bad. Compared to everyone else, his life wasn’t that awful. He didn’t grasp or understand the depth of his wickedness. After hearing that segment and reading Machen’s chapter on God and Man (from Christianity & Liberalism), I realized that the first great obstacle to accepting Christ is pride, manifested in the belief that man is inherently good. Man is naturally unconscious to his sin. His every day life goes on, yet he is oblivious to the grievous sins mounting up against him. That unconsciousness leads to a great ignorance. Romans 10:3 states:
For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.
Man thinks he is righteous. He seeks to establish his own standard of righteousness and earn it. Man is so convinced of his inherent goodness that he rejects the only means by which he can be truly righteous; faith in Jesus, the Messiah. That is our world in a nutshell. Everyone thinks they are good people. If they are good, they have no need which cannot be fulfilled within themselves. Man is self-sufficient. God is irrelevant. Having a broken view of man leads to all sorts of intellectual leaps. Since it is believed that man is inherently good, man cannot sin. He is only acting out his nature and his nature is good; especially, since there is no objective truth. If there is no sin, then there is no need of a savior to redeem us from our sin. Machen spells out the logical result. He states:
Without the consciousness of sin, the whole of the gospel will seem to be an
Why would man need Jesus if sin is not an issue? He has no need of Him. In the mind of man, religion is nothing more than a crutch for the perceived weak.
I think Jesus was keenly aware of this mindset. In Matthew 9:11-13, an interesting scene takes place.
11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why
does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” 12 But when
[Jesus] heard it, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but
those who are sick. 13 Go and learn what this means,’I desire mercy, and
not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Did you catch that? Jesus came for the sick and dying. Those tax collectors and sinners knew they were such. They were social outcasts. There lives were not secrets. They understood their need. That is who Jesus came to save. The Pharisees had no need for Jesus. They were “Abraham’s children.” They had a righteousness all their own, not realizing it was nothing more than menstrual rags. In order for the gospel to have any hope of taking root in a person’s life, that person must grasp, at least in part, the depth of their own wickedness. Machen goes on to say that first step in becoming a Christian is becoming aware of one’s own sin. Without that awareness, we have no need of Jesus.
So what are the implications of this truth? First, I think the church has to be careful about being “seeker sensitive.” Too many churches are afraid to reveal to people their sinfulness. They talk in meaningless platitudes and do not preach in a way that convicts of sin. Machen writes:
The fundamental fault of the modern Church is that she is busily engaged in an
impossible task – she is busily engaged in calling the righteous to repentance.
He goes on to say:
Even our Lord did not call the righteous to repentance and probably we
shall be no more successful than He.
I love that! We waste our time telling people they are good. Perhaps we’d see far greater number come to faith in Jesus if we preached in a way that made them understand their need of it.
Second, I believe we ought to daily wrestle with our sinful nature. We should remind ourselves that we have a need. It is only by the daily allowance of God’s grace do we make it. We have a sin sickness and we need the Great Physician each and every day. Only then can we truly maintain the righteousness bestowed upon us. We get it daily from Jesus.
Finally, I think this should alter the way we approach sharing the gospel. I don’t think this means picking up the bullhorn and heading downtown. I think it means greater patience with our unbelieving friends as we spend time sharing Jesus with them. They will initially reject Him. They think they’re fine just the way they are. It is at this point I suggest praying like a Calvinist…that God in His great mercy might grant your friend a consciousness of their sin and thus turn to the only one who can solve their problem…Jesus. Only God the Holy Spirit can bring that awaking in a person’s life and it is our duty to pray for the light to switch on.