Imagine banging on the door of a small cottage in the Appalachian mountains on September 2, 1945. “The war’s over, the war’s over” you cry. “The Japanese just signed the final surrender documents, and World War II is over!” An old man inside squeaks open his door: “What war?” he asks.
While the rest of the world is celebrating with marching bands and American flags, the news doesn’t mean anything to this recluse buried deep in the mountains. He never knew there was a war in the first place.
It’s the same way with the gospel. Unless we’re deeply aware of a problem, a solution doesn’t mean anything to us. Like turning down the radio when the ad asks, “do you stay awake at night with heartburn?” because I’ve never had heartburn. They have a solution, but it doesn’t fit my problems.
But in the case of the gospel, the problem is universal. In fact, it’s so universal, so deeply entrenched that everyone daily experiences it, but few people actually recognize it.
That problem is sin. Talk to the average person on the street, and they’ll instinctively tell you they’re pretty good. “Sure, no one is perfect, but I’m better than a lot of other people I know.” But who defines “good?” Ironically, we’re making this judgment on ourselves on a very biased scale: comparing ourselves to the worst people we know while only thinking about the best things we’ve done. It’s not a fair verdict. The Proverb is insightful: “Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness: but a faithful man who can find?” (Prov. 20:6, KJV).
Instead, the definition of “goodness” is based on our Creator’s standard of perfect compliance with his own nature: “You therefore must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48, ESV). As the most perfect being in the universe, indeed the epitome of perfection itself, every other being must square with his perfection, his law as the outflow of who he is. For how can a good God accept and delight in anything less than good? And tragically, that includes us. For him to let our imperfections slide would be a travesty to his own nature.
This conviction of our sin, our failure to meet God’s perfect standard, is absolutely necessary to apply the gospel to our hearts. We live in a day of “fast food evangelism,” when we’re in such a hurry to make converts that we skip the conviction part and hurry to slap a Band-Aid over a lethal wound: “just accept Jesus in your heart and life will be better.” True conversion is preceded by a period (whether it be a moment or years) of struggling with a deep sense of sin and inability to please God on our own. If “accepting Jesus” just becomes another way to morally clean ourselves up before God, it isn’t the gospel.
The gospel, by definition, is good news precisely because Christ meets us at the point we can’t do anything for ourselves.
How does this apply to me right now, this Christmas? It’s easy to skim over these truths because we’ve already heard it, already “gotten saved.” But as I’m going to say over and over this advent, the gospel applies to us every day. We can’t accept it once and go on to live the rest of our lives trying to be good on our own. No! We only experience joy and peace when we’re daily aware of our sin, our dependency on Christ to live in a way that pleases him.
This Christmas, fleeing to Christ — whether it’s for the first time or the thousandth. And then keep fleeing to him!