In order to help the church in her struggle against sin, believers throughout church history-the early church fathers, the Reformers, the Puritans-have been inspired by Scripture to reduce spiritual ethics to two lists known as "the seven deadly sins" and "the seven virtues" of saintliness. The former includes pride, envy, anger, sloth, avarice, gluttony, and lust. The latter includes wisdom, justice, courage, temperance, faith, love, and hope.
Mahatma Gandhi, though not a Christian, also had a list of "seven deadly sins, stated in the form of contrasts: wealth without work, pleasure without conscience, knowledge without character, commerce without morality, science without humanity, worship without sacrifice, politics without principle.
The truth of the matter is that all have fallen short of God's glory and all are responsible to him (Romans 3:23). All of us have committed-to one degree or another-some or all of the sins mentioned in the above "lists." "Each of us," as Isaiah said, "has turned to his/her own way" (Isaiah 53:6). And I think every person on earth, through the tug-o-war with their conscience, has some knowledge of this, even apart from scriptural testimony.
"During my hitch in the marines back in 1958," writes Chuck Swindoll, "I was stationed on Okinawa where there was a leprosarium. At that time I was playing in the third division band in the Marine Corps and we were to do a performance on that north part of the island of Okinawa.
I had read about leprosy, but I had never seen a leper and I wasn't really prepared for what I saw. We went over a bridge or two and got into the interior of this compound. I saw stumps instead of hands, I saw clumps instead of fingers. I saw half faces. I saw one ear instead of two. I saw the dregs of humanity unable even to applaud our performances. I saw in the faces of men, women, and some teenagers an anguish crying out. We could play music for them, but we could not cleanse them of their disease.
In scripture leprosy is a picture of sin. And we see that it is cleansed rather than healed. Only Jesus' blood has the power to cleanse us of our condition of sinful corruption. Now I understand when the Scripture says, `He was moved with compassion.'"1
Indeed, we are all spiritual lepers in God's sight (cf. Matt 5:3). And the realization of our wretched condition-while highly unpopular today-is prior to any real life-changing understanding of his love. Each of us knows what it is to hurt someone intentionally, to curse God, to gossip against our neighbor, to lift a brazen arm to the Almighty, to act out of malice toward someone created in God's image, to use God to our own selfish ends, to hate others, to tread underfoot the blood of Christ by willfully and consistently sinning against him presuming he'll simply grant forgiveness, to connive plans for your own advancement all the while ignoring the injury caused to colleagues, to demand God come through for you, to allow your wife to go to sleep with a heavy heart, to use grace as a fire escape, to curse the man in traffic, to hold God in contempt, to verbally dismantle your spouse in front of people-and on and on the list goes.
"The true problem lies in the hearts and thoughts of men," says Albert Einstein. "It is not a physical, but ethical one. What terrifies us is not the explosive force of the atomic bomb, but the power of the wickedness of the human heart." Einstein was right.
Who understands better the depth of God's unconditional love? The one who has been forgiven much? Or, the one forgiven little? Well, in truth-and I think Jesus would agree-the latter category does not really exist. We are all deeply offensive to God's holiness and an affront to his perfections. We all need unimaginable pardon. We understand his love when we understand that fact! Otherwise, we denigrate his love into some form of soft sentimentalism.
The love of God flows freely from Calvary's nail-pierced hands. As Jesus was in life, so he was in death: surrounded by sinners. Even in his most vulnerable hour, in his moment of greatest need, Jesus was surrounded by sinners, i.e., two thieves. During his ministry, the religious leaders criticized him for his teaching on the temple, the law, and the Sabbath, but the truth is they rejected what he had to say because they rejected him. And they rejected him in large measure because of the company he kept. He was a friend of publicans, tax-collectors, prostitutes and sinners (Mark 2:13-17)! He was their friend! Did you hear that? Jesus was more than just an acquaintance with the "down and dirty" sinners of his day...he was their friend!
Whatever you've done in life, there's no offense so great that he cannot forgive and release you from it. He's good at working with the likes of us. He knows how to love sinners, including politicians and prostitutes, drug addicts and dope dealers, the most vile and the most saintly. He knows how to value all of them, and all of them need his mercy, for all have sinned against him.
Not only does Jesus love us where we're at, he also desires to lead us out of those thoughts, acts, habits, and character traits that have shaken our marriages, ruined our businesses, destroyed out families, and left us with ulcers. He is the King of new beginnings and fresh starts! Won't you come to him now, humbly, and receive life from the One who spent his life with the likes of us and then gave himself for us?
1 Charles R. Swindoll, The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart and 1,501 Other Stories (Nashville, TN: Word, 1998), 524.