“as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God… Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:10-11, 19-20 ESV)
Children play it all over the world with as many variations as there are countries or ethnic groups, but it is still that age old game of hide and seek. When I was a kid, we had a version we called “kick the can.” In this version, everyone would hide and the seeker or the person who was “it” would begin seeking out the other players. When someone was found, they had to stand near base but if another player could sneak back without getting caught or “found” and “kick the can” then all of those who had been found could go “free” and hide again. We would play for hours with the kids in the neighborhood.
When I was several years younger, about the age of five or so, we lived next door to a used car lot on Southwest Boulevard, a part of Route 66 through Tulsa. The lot owner kept the keys to all of his cars in the car’s ignition, at least he did during business hours. For those wondering why he would do that, all I can say is that it was a different time and the world was a different place and he hadn’t met the Nickerson brothers, just yet. Two mischievous young boys with too much time on their hands and a car lot full of cars with keys in their ignition. A situation just waiting for adventure.
While my older brother, Jerry, may have been the primary instigator in this adventure, I may have been a bit naive but was certainly a willing and faithful partner in crime. We snuck around to each of the cars while the owner wasn’t watching and took the keys out of each ignition. To be honest, I don’t even remember what we did with the keys but I do remember that we hid under the front porch. It didn’t take long for the owner to discover the missing keys and it took even less time for him to figure out who did it. He immediately came next door, while we hid under the porch, seeking out those two young hoodlums. Of course, my mother was not amused by the prank and I believe we were threatened with our lives and a serious spanking if we ever went near the car lot again. Not your classic hide and seek, but it will help illustrate my point.
Hide and seek… it can be a fun game, and sometimes it can get you into trouble, like it did with me and my brother. But it can really get you into trouble when you play with God. The real issue is that when we play hide and seek with God, He’s the one seeking and we’re the ones hiding. As noted last week, Paul paraphrases Psalm 14 as he states that no one does good and no one seeks after God. I am certain there are some who will take issue with that strong condemnation, but it is still accurate. On our own, we do not really seek after God. Instead, we hide from Him. Why? Why would we hide from God? Because His holiness and selfless love and grace exposes our sinfulness, our selfish love and desires.
Do we seek God? We seek His blessings and the benefits of His forgiveness and grace but we really don’t seek Him. We seek a form of worship that turns God into a cosmic genie who grants wish fulfillment, material blessings and personal happiness. As Americans, we’ve even turned it into a national slogan – God Bless America. Why? Why should God bless America? We are certainly not more righteous or holy than other nations. Oh, we have freedom of religion, freedom of speech and the ability and opportunity to pursue our personal desires and dreams. Those are good things, when kept in their proper perspective and priority in relationship with God, but we rarely do that.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe those ideals of freedom granted through our Constitution and Bill of Rights are essentially good and right. But I also know that given our tendency towards selfishly motivated and sinful choices and actions we usually abuse those freedoms and ignore the privilege of worship and obedience they afford us. It isn’t wrong or bad to be patriotic until our patriotism becomes a substitute for God or an alternative for true worship and full obedience to Almighty God.
What does this have to do with today’s focal passage? Paul is using his paraphrase of Psalm 14 to establish not only the guilt of his Jewish brothers and Roman Gentiles, but also our guilt and tendencies to “hide” from our accountability before our Holy God. Unfortunately, we have become so divisive in our nation and our culture that we often see only the guilt and failures of others, never our own. So, this week I want us to take these few minutes to stop and seriously consider the cultural, the corporate and the personal ramifications of Paul’s claim that “every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.”
First, our culture and every culture was, is and will be broken by sin. While there are good aspects to almost any and every culture, they are still broken at their core because they are based on human ideas, understanding and actions. Even when a culture has a basis in the Judeo-Christian worldview and values, it will be subject to human mistakes, misunderstandings, missteps and failures because sin still impacts and influences us as we pursue God. As I mentioned above, there are good and positive values in our culture but there are also negative ones. We get some things right, and we get some things wrong.
For example, the Christian worldview believes in the intrinsic value of humans and human life because we are made in the image of God. We often see this on display when we clash with our culture over the issue of abortion. However, some (I want to say many, but I’m going to be hopeful and leave it as some) who would oppose abortion often fail to demonstrate the same passion and concern for human life when children are suffering from neglect, abuse or hunger and it gets even more bleak when those children belong to a minority or ethnic group. I have often said to the folks who sit in the pews on Sunday mornings, “I don’t believe there’s a single one of you who would turn away from a hungry, hurting child who walked through the doors of our church regardless of their ethnicity or social status.” However, we are often not as compassionate for those same children and their needs when we are more detached and see them on the news at a border crossing detention center or foreign refugee camp.
Let me take it a step further and suggest that when many of these children begin to struggle with their sexuality or gender, regardless of what might be the reason or cause, we often fail to demonstrate the same passion or concern for their life. I’m not sure if it is fear or misunderstanding, but just because a child (or an adult, for that matter) is struggling in these areas doesn’t mean they are any less loved by God and they should not be any less loved by us, either. There are many other examples, but I hope you see that our condemnation of cultural sin tends to reveal our own failure to impact culture through our own consistent commitment to the transforming power of the Gospel of Christ.
Next, I want us to consider the corporate ramifications. By corporate, I mean those issues within the larger body of the Church, both on a local level and on a global level. What issues? First, instead of seeing ourselves as sinners saved by God’s grace with a mission to reach others like us, we tend to come across more like self-righteous Pharisees. Consider this parable of Christ: “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14 ESV)
When we view our relationship with God as deserved or earned, it becomes easy to look down on others or view the lost with contempt. The very terms “chosen” or “blessed” can make someone’s pride swell and their view or value of others to become more negative. Or, as the Pharisee in the passage above put it, “I thank you that I’m not like other men.” If the church was more transparent with its failures and ongoing struggle with sin and more humble and gracious, we might look more like disciples and less like Pharisees.
Lastly, I want us to consider the personal implications of Paul’s point. It is always easier to talk about issues or guilt in the lives of others but much more difficult to admit our own sin problems and personal guilt. In fact, when someone points out our personal failures we often become defensive and counter by pointing out theirs. Why? Because we think God’s love for us is based on our loveliness (personal value). However, the value of humanity is not based on our personal ability, worth, value or loveliness but on our intrinsic holiness. Wait, Paul has been saying (and I’ve been agreeing) that “we are all under sin.” So, how can our value as humans be based on holiness? The root meaning of holiness is not really about an items purity or sinlessness but about its purpose, ownership and core relationship to God. A holy vessel from the Temple was not holy because of the purity or quality of the metal it was formed from, it was holy because it was made for God’s use and purpose.
In essence, holiness means ‘belonging to God’ and that is the source of our value – we belong to Him and we are made in His image, for His purpose and His glory – we are holy. Salvation, at its core, is the process by which we are restored to that purpose and to our intrinsic holiness. Theologians often refer to the three stages of spiritual salvation: justification, sanctification and glorification. I know, big and confusing church words, but stay with me. Justification is a legal term that references the initial part of the salvation process where we are declared forgiven because Christ assumed our guilt and took our punishment. This happens by grace and through faith – see Ephesians chapters 1 – 2. As believers, we now stand justified in God’s court because of Christ’s actions on our behalf.
Next, sanctification is the stage in the salvation process. We often call this stage in the process discipleship. This is when we begin to learn, grow and become more Christ-like in our thoughts, desires, choices, words and actions and while we should be moving towards that goal of Christ-likeness, we are certainly not there, yet. Unfortunately, it seems that many Christians have never matured or developed very much. They seem to get stuck in an adolescent stage of Christian development, very much like a 12 year-old boy. I speak from personal experience, on that subject. At that stage, the focus of our spirituality is very self-centered, needy and entertainment driven. We tend to get bored quickly or upset when we don’t get our way and this can lead to “church shopping” or seeking a “better worship experience.” Side note: true worship has NOTHING to do with entertainment. For worship to be genuine, it must be focused on God and not on ourselves. We may experience a sense of ecstasy, euphoria, excitement, or even peace and calmness but that is never because of what we’ve “done” but because GOD was present. Never seek the experience, SEEK HIM!
Finally, glorification is the final stage and this occurs when a believer dies or Jesus returns. As Paul puts it in 1 Corinthians 13:9-12, “For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” We only see dimly, we don’t fully understand but when the perfect (One) comes, that which is partial will fade into nothingness and the Son will rise on a new day… a perfect day.
Let me end by using the hide and seek game analogy, one last time. Once we are “found” by God in this spiritual game of hide and seek, we become a part of His team whose purpose is to seek out those who still hide from Him. We shouldn’t be giving them reason to hide, but our lives should be bold evidence as to why they should want to be “found” by Him. Now, go find someone…