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We are so covered in mud that we can’t even do something righteous without soiling it.

When I was in college I participated in a mud volleyball tournament. My team arrived and waded into the calf-deep muck for our first game. By the end of the day we were covered head to toe from running, slipping, and diving through the mess that we called a volleyball court. Some of us found that our stomachs took on the most dirt, others their shoulders, and others their backs. While we were dirty in different places, not a single one of us could claim to be anything close to clean. As we walked out of our last game, an equally messy participant pointed us toward some hoses and a rather large bucket of soap.

God is very clear with us as to just how depraved we humans (Christians or not) really are. Romans 3:22-23 tells us, “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Ecclesiastes 7:20 states, “There is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins.” So perverse is our nature that “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6). We are so covered in mud that we can’t even do something righteous without soiling it. But God is also very clear with us that we have a Savior who can clean us. While Romans 3:22-23 remind us of our sin, the very next verse tells us that “all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” We as Christians know this and can live in that freedom. While we should be caked in mud from head to toe, never feeling clean again, we have a Savior whose blood can remove any spot, stain, or soil that lives within us.

Luke 18:9-14 perfectly illustrates how we should live in this knowledge as Christians. The parable starts by telling us who Jesus is actually addressing: “some who were confident of their own righteousness.” Does that sound like any comment sections you’ve seen recently? Jesus goes on to tell the story of a Pharisee who sees himself as good and righteous. He fasts, he prays, he gives, and he is nothing like those evildoers around him. Christ contrasts this Pharisee with a tax collector who stands at a distance, refuses to look to heaven, and says, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” He humbly sees himself as no greater than any other and leaves justified.

Imagine a nonbeliever looking upon the two of them. The supposed representative of God, the Pharisee, in his boastfulness and his pride stands in his ivory tower hurling judgment and hate on those he sees as beneath him without realizing he himself is just a “whitewashed tomb” (Matt. 23:27). Why would anyone observe him and think that the Pharisee’s God had room for someone who couldn’t live up to that standard? Meanwhile the tax collector—the sinner, stealer, and cheat—is able to recognize his own sin and walks away forgiven. The beauty of grace is revealed to someone who does not know God simply through a broken man in need of a savior.

We are all sinful and dirty people, each of us fallen in our own unique way and nature. Don’t be the person who claims to be cleaner than anyone else. Be the one who shows others to the bucket of soap. Be the one humble enough to recognize one’s own sin, and help point others to a Savior who wishes to wash us all clean.

Discussion Questions

  1. The Reformed confession the Canons of Dort teach the doctrine of total depravity. Describe in your own words what you understand “total depravity” to mean.
  2. What have you experienced, witnessed, or read that convinced you about the truth of humanity’s depravity?
  3. Who do you think are today’s equivalent of the self-righteous Pharisees? Why?
  4. How are some ways we can be humble about our own sin while pointing people to Christ, who can wash us clean?

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