The truth is, we all have no problem thinking highly of ourselves. The non-Christian does this continually. The justified are able to fight against thinking too highly of ourselves but if we are honest struggle to do so. We are prideful. Many people do seem to have low self-esteem. They think hard thoughts about themselves. They beat themselves up. But this is just another form of pride more often than not. What I mean is that often we want to feel bad about ourselves and wouldn’t mind one bit if everyone around us would like to join in on the fun. This is low pride (John Piper’s admitted besetting sin).
So we get it coming and going. The answer is not to work on our self-esteem. If you would like to feel better about yourself, don’t come to Christ. The gospel is the hardest on the reality of human depravity in the world. What we need is something better; to have the eyes of our hearts turned outwardly. We need to esteem Christ, to see that all we have is His blood and righteousness.
So, quickly, why study the doctrine of sin?
1). To Get the Gospel Right
If we miss sin, we miss the gospel. This is because of few different things. One is that we do not like to call sin what it is. Sin is not just doing bad stuff, although that is part of it. But the root of sin is hating the glory of God and coveting it for our own “kingdoms.” When sin is misnamed, the gospel will be misapplied. We will tell people to stop doing bad stuff when we should tell them to repent and turn to Christ. If we downplay the seriousness and penalty of sin (God’s wrath) we downplay God. Is God just angry for no reason? Or is God worthy of the praise we have all refused Him? God’s wrath will seem harsh, unreasonable. But oh how reasonable it is! Grace is unreasonable because judgement is not. Christ has taken the wrath of God on our behalf. Getting the bad news right helps insure that we get the good news right.
2). To Worship God Better
Reformed people worship God better. It may seem arrogant but I stand by it. Obviously it is not because we are more spiritual than others. It is because, however, we have seen the greatness and majesty of God. God as God is. God has lifted the veil that held us willingly captive. Only when we see the absolute freeness of God, the power and sovereignty of God, will we worship Him as He is. We all know that it is far too easy to get fired up about a “god” of our own fashioning. God’s grace fails to astound us whenever we think we had a hand in it. But we see that God single-handedly saved us, even giving the faith and repentance required of us, our affections skyrocket.
3). To Humble US
Romans 2 is in the Bible mainly to humble those “religious types” that somehow felt themselves excluded from the natural man’s idolatry. But we all, Jew and Greek, have gone astray. The Bible does anything but give us an ego boost. When we see just how dead we were, just how God-hating our hearts were, we are crushed under the weight of that sin. Then the Spirit moves us to the gospel, where we find all our worth and value. We are all equally sinful and those who are saved are saved by the same atonement and justification. Where then is boasting?
4). To Get the Gospel Out
Most really bad ministry ploys stem because we do not understand human sin. If me are just kind of bad then we can give them a bait and switch, “tricking” them into the Kingdom of God with our cool stuff. Our so-called relevance may be the death of us. The gospel will never be “cool.” Paul said it is foolishness to those who are perishing. It was foolishness to us. But God has made it power, life for us. When we see just how hopeless humans are, we began to rely on the power of the Word of God to accomplish God’s purposed. It never returns void. We go confidently into the world with this great gospel precisely because we know that no one will respond favorably apart from the sovereign initiative and closing of the Spirit. That is true freedom, dear brothers.
Know God, Know Yourself
Calvin said that true knowledge of ourselves only comes when we truly know God. God is holy. Friends, God is altogether lovely, worthy of eternities of praise. God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. He deserves all honor. That is why we have been commanded to give it to Him. That is why our refusal to give it to Him is an act of cosmic treason and grounds for eternal, just damnation. God is good and loving if He doesn’t save anyone. But He has! Why? Because He is God and it has pleased Him to do so.
A professor once told me that we needed to tone it down about sin. Don’t we want to give a more positive message? Not if it means we detract from the glory of God in salvation. God saves to show His worth and value. God’s glorious grace will be exalted all the more in our hearts when we see just how bad we were. We will pursue holiness more when our hearts are completely dependent on God to act a miracle in our sinful hearts. God is good. You and I, not so much. But God has sent Christ to be good on our behalf. He even lets us walk in holiness, by His Spirit. Amazing grace, indeed.