When I was growing up, I remember seeing a two book set sitting next to my dad’s chair in the living room. They were actually the first two volumes in a 12 volume set.
|The author of these books, Arnold Toynbee, was a British historian and author. He was the research professor of international history at the London School of Economics.
In these books, Toynbee suggested that as we review the rise and fall of great human civilizations throughout history, there is a discernable pattern that can be observed and charted.
He explored the rise and fall of 23 different empires and ultimately came to a very interesting conclusion. He said “All the great historic philosophies and religions have been concerned, first and foremost, with the overcoming of egocentricity. At first sight, Buddhism and Christianity and Islam and Judaism may appear to be very different from each other. But when you look beneath the surface, you will find that all of them are addressing themselves primarily to the individual human psyche or soul; they are trying to persuade it to overcome its own self-centeredness and they’re offering it the means for achieving this.”
I find that quote from Toynbee fascinating. He’s essentially saying that all world religions have diagnosed the same problem in our world – the problem of egocentricity. And all world religions are attempting to offer a solution to that universal problem.
As Christians, we would agree with the diagnosis. But we would disagree that the variety of solutions presented by different religions offer an effective cure for the problem.
So jump from Toynbee ahead to 1974, when a noted and respected American psychiatrist, Dr. Karl Menninger, who the New York Times called “the elder statesman and dean of American Psychiatry”, wrote a book where he offered his response to Toynbee’s conclusion about egocentrism.
He noted that his profession, psychiatry, dealt regularly with issues of the ego. Menninger said “Egocentricity is one name for it. Selfishness, narcissism, pride, and other terms have been used. But neither the clergy nor the behavioral scientists, including psychiatrists, have made it an issue.
The popular leaning is away from notions of guilt and morality…. Disease and treatment have been the watchwords of the day and little is said about selfishness or guilt or the “morality gap.”
And certainly no one talks about sin!”
Menninger, who was not a particularly religious person, wrote that in a book titled Whatever Became of Sin?
|Menninger’s thesis is interesting. Essentially, he says, when you remove ideas like guilt and morality and human responsibility – take them off the table – you do away with the need for or the possibility of redemption.
And if you do away with redemption, you do away with hope. And all human beings need hope.
One more quote here. Tim Keller sums up Menninger’s thesis with this conclusion:
Menninger is saying that “the best thing for you, if you want joy and if you want hope, if you want to get out of your depression, if you want a life of greatness, the most important thing for you to do today is to get a deeper grasp and understanding of the nature and depth of your sinfulness.”
I think Keller is spot on. For me, the turning point in my life came when someone sat me down and showed me what the Bible says about human sinfulness in general, and what it says about me as a sinner in particular.
I mark that as a turning point in my life because up until that time, I had a wrong view of salvation. I saw myself as being Team Jesus. And if I’m honest, I saw myself as a high draft pick.
My self-assessment was that I was a mostly good, mostly moral person, certainly better than average, with certain gifts and abilities that made me the kind of person God would want on His team.
The line between confidence and cockiness is a thin line. But it’s pretty clear which side of that line I was on.
Now compare that way of thinking with what the Bible says about our salvation.
The Apostle Paul gives us maybe the best picture of this in Philippians 3 when he writes “I was a hot shot Pharisee, well trained, smart, zealous, from the right family, morally upright…”
“But,” he says “I came to realize that whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith (Philippians 3:7-9).
What Paul is saying here is that we can’t understand God’s grace correctly until we first understand our sin correctly.
We can’t understand God’s glory rightly until we understand our sin rightly.
We can’t have fellowship with God and be in a right relationship with Him unless we first understand just how bad our sin condition is.
That’s why I look back on the moment when I first saw the reality of my sin as the Bible defines it as the turning point in my life. When I understood the depth of my sin, for the first time, I really understood the greatness of God. And I understood, I think for the first time, the gospel.
Here’s what makes it possible for me to acknowledge the depth and reality of my sinful condition. I can freely and willingly embrace God’s appraisal of my sinfulness because of grace. Because “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
What about you? When you read in scripture that the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9), do you say to yourself “yep, that’s me.” When you read that there is none righteous, no not one – all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:9, 23), do you nod your head and say “nailed it again!”
Minimizing your sin will always result in minimizing God’s grace. And embracing the depth and darkness of your sinful condition will also magnify the glory and grace of God in salvation.
Your biggest problem (mine too) is what Toynbee concluded. Our fundamental egocentricity. And in Christ, we have the cure. We die to self and find our life in Jesus. That’s the power the gospel brings to us. That’s our great hope.
Can you believe it’s almost June? And look at what we have happening in just a few weeks!
|The Friday morning men’s GunLap group begins on Friday, June 3. The group is open to all men who can make it, and if you’ve ordered a book from Jim McMurry, you may be able to pick them up this Sunday (if the package arrives on time!). If you didn’t order a book from Jim, you can purchase your copy here or here.
|Our Roots Student Ministry has a lot happening over the next few months.
And if you haven’t signed up to join the students on the Buffalo Float trip, it’s time. Cost, details and sign up are available here.
parking lot picnics are back!
|Fun. Food. Inflatables. Kid’s activities. Who doesn’t want to come out for our first of three Parking Lot Picnics on Wednesday night June 1!
Again, these picnics are great activities for inviting others – especially families with kids who will love the inflatables and the fun! Who could you send a text or an email to now to invite them to come with you?
BACKYARD BIBLE CLUB!
|Speaking of kids, if you have elementary aged kids (or younger), make sure you block out the last week in June for a week full of fun and learning. It’s our first summer Backyard Bible Club!
|The Bible tells us that we’re to be ready to share with others the reason for the hope we have. If someone asked you about why you have hope, after you said “because of what Jesus has done for me,” what would you say next?
That’s the topic we’ll explore together this Sunday.
See you in church.
Soli Deo Gloria!