Each day during this year's Advent season, I will be sharing a devotional here to help aid our hearts in preparing for the coming of Christ. These come from a book entitled "Come, Let Us Adore Him" by Paul Tripp. I pray that these thoughts will aid your heart in worship.
Because sin has tragically infected all of us, the presence, work, and grace of that baby in the manger is what we all need.
You and I are very skilled and committed self-swindlers. Now I know that this is not how you would expect a Christmas devotional to begin. You would expect talk of angels, shepherds, a star in the sky, wise men, and a baby in the manger. But all of these story elements, which are so familiar to us, would not have been necessary without the single, dark reality we all work so hard to deny. From the moment of the very first sin in the garden of Eden, human beings have worked to deny what is true about them, that is, that we all desperately need what only God’s grace can give us. We all swindle ourselves into believing that we are wiser, stronger, and more righteous than we actually are. We all walk around with an inner law firm that mounts a defense whenever we are accused of a wrong. And when we do this, we are denying our need for what the baby in the manger came to do for us.
If you’re a parent, you see this truth played out among your children. Your son Danny has just hit his sister Suzy, so you go into the room and ask him why he would do such a thing. Danny doesn’t say to you, “Mom, I do violent things because I have sin in my heart. You should expect even worse from me.” In fact Danny doesn’t talk about himself at all. When you ask Danny why he hit Suzy, he immediately begins to lay the blame for his violence against Suzy on Suzy! Danny has swindled himself into believing that the wrong he has done is not his fault and tells him nothing about who he is and what he needs. It really is possible to live in a state of Advent schizophrenia, where you celebrate the birth of the Messiah while actively denying your need for his birth, life, death, and resurrection.
So what we all need to confess is that denying our need for grace is more natural for us than confessing our need for grace. You know how it is: when someone confronts you, don’t you find yourself immediately, silently in your mind, defending yourself? Have you ever had someone confront you, and your first thought was, “This is good, I need this, I wish they would do it more”? But there is something else we need to confess; if it is more natural for us to deny our need for grace than to confess it, then we need to humbly admit that it takes grace to confess our need for grace. If confession is owning personal responsibility for our words and our actions without excuse or shifting the blame, then it does take rescuing grace for us to come to the place where we admit our need for rescuing grace. Jesus came to provide that rescue.
Let me suggest four ways that we all tend to swindle ourselves into believing that we don’t need the rescue that Jesus was born to provide.
1. We all tend to minimize our sin. We all have ways of naming our sin as something less than sin. We say we’re not really mean—it’s just our personality. We blame our poor attitudes on the weather, sickness, or busyness. We deny that our lies are lies. We tell ourselves that our lust isn’t really lust, but enjoyment of the beauty of God’s creation. With endlessly creative skill, we all tend to work to minimize the sin that we commit every day.
2. We all tend to doubt the wisdom of God’s law. This is exactly what the Serpent worked to get Adam and Eve to do. We mount logical arguments for why it’s okay for us to step over God’s moral boundaries. Perhaps we say we’re only going to do it this one time. Or maybe we tell ourselves that what we’re doing really isn’t what God meant by stealing. Perhaps we’ll argue that it doesn’t seem fair in a particular situation that we have to _________. The more we become comfortable with questioning the wisdom of God’s law, the more likely it will be that we will feel okay with breaking those laws.
3. We all tend to be more concerned about the wrongs of others than our own sins. I know that on any given day I can be more engaged in, concerned with, and focused on the wrongs of the people I live and work with than I am my own. You will always deny your need for God’s grace when you are more irritated than convicted. It’s possible to be irritated with things in other people that you regularly excuse in yourself. It’s possible to confront people with things that you minimize in your assessment of yourself.
4. We all tend to deny what’s in our hearts. In some way, we all fail to accept the fact that sin is not just a behavior problem, but more fundamentally a matter of the heart. Sin is not just a matter of occasional wrong actions; it’s a condition of our natures. It’s not just that we sin; it’s that we are sinners. When we tell ourselves that we can handle it, that we’ll do better tomorrow, or that we don’t need help, we’re denying that sin is a matter of the heart, and because it is, we cannot escape it on our own.
So this Christmas, how about beginning your celebration with confession? I am convinced that when it comes to the redeeming work of Jesus, exuberant rejoicing begins with brokenhearted weeping. Only when sin breaks our hearts will the coming of the Messiah excite our hearts. And there’s grace for this!
For further study: James 1:22–24