In the aftermath of Monday’s post on Rachael Denhollander, when my Twitter feed filled up with the customary vitriol, I thought that two things really had to be done. The first is that we need to explain and understand the depth of this animus, which can only be accounted for in terms of complicity, and secondly, as a preacher of the gospel, I needed to present, as plainly as I could, the only possible salvation from our universal complicity. Our condition is desperate; like the man that Jesus healed, we are “full of leprosy” (Luke 5:12).
“And they cried out again, Crucify him. Then Pilate said unto them, Why, what evil hath he done? And they cried out the more exceedingly, Crucify him” (Mark 15:13–14).
Ye who think of sin but lightly
Nor suppose the evil great
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.
Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted
If we want to understand the inexplicable wrath of man against anything that remotely smells like the gospel (2 Cor. 2:16), we must come to terms with the very present wrath of God.
Worse Than Lost:
It is unfortunately possible for Christians who possess the gospel to present it in a way that compounds our generation’s central error. We are tempted to dab around the edges of the wound, healing the wound of the people lightly (Jer. 6:14; 8:11). It is possible to primly say that we like sheep have gone astray—and yet somehow convey the impression that we should be going northwest, but have unfortunately gotten on to north by northwest. When we call for repentance, we come off like we are urging a slight course-correction. But our real situation is one of high rebellion and impudent insolence.
“Put ye in the sickle, for the harvest is ripe: Come, get you down; for the press is full, the fats overflow; For their wickedness is great” (Joel 3:13).
For any of this to be put right, we must be turned completely around, we must be converted. We are rushing pell mell for the Abyss, and God must raise up preachers like John the Baptist so that all of Judea might repent of her sins.
Sin is not a discrete little thing, causing us to make small errors here or there. No, sin, our sin, is piled up to the sky. We have slaughtered tens of millions of children, while continuing to feel quite superior to Nazis. Our elected representatives continue to lavishly fund those who sell the dismembered parts of these children. If Planned Parenthood had owned the Charleston Slave Market, it would still be operating. We marry men off to men, and invite them to kiss for the camera. We traffic in the souls of men and women. More professing Christians study pornography than read their Bibles. Having been dutifully catechized by our lusts, we are dealing with an epidemic of ungodly groping and grinding at family reunions. And when children are molested, they are not just being used for the predator’s gratification, they are being groomed and recruited. The point is not simply to use them and move on. The attempt being made is the corruption of the children—who often themselves recognize this, and who therefore, depending on their age and sex, struggle with the extent of their own complicity in it. Returning to the predator, when he is attempting the corruption of the child he needs to face the fact that what he was actually seeking was the damnation of the child. Then there is the complicity of those trying to help—counselors, pastors, social workers, family members—who bring anything other than unleashed gospel to the situation. And by “gospel,” I do not mean superficial reconciliations patched together with forced and superficial apologies, followed by forced and superficial extensions of forgiveness. I mean the kind of thing that happened on the banks of the Jordan.
Our sin can be broken out in three words beginning with d. Our sin is deceptive; our sin is demented; and our sin is diabolical. Sin lies to us in the first instance. Sin complicates itself into ever increasing complexities, until we find ourselves living in the middle of crazy. But because we were created to be righteous, we hate the guilt created by our craziness and complicity, which makes us lash out at others. We become devils; we become accusers. And when someone presents the gospel in the midst of all of it, we attack him as the reason millennials are leaving the church.
Now here is the worst of it, and the best of it. I am not trying to give an account of some people. Given the nature of the case, all of us are complicit. In various ways, all of us are complicit in all of it.
When all of Judea gathered to hear John the Baptist, repenting of sin, what kind of sins do you think were represented there? What had those people been doing? Did they come out to him in massive cultural grief because some of them had been cheating at cards?
No. There were prostitutes and tax-collectors, or to put it in language that doesn’t have the patina of long scriptural usage, there were whores and traitor-quisling-collaborators. There were no doubt men and women there who had done awful things. There were murderers and molesters; there were thieves and mountebanks; there were self-righteous prigs and self-loathing publicans. And we know that whatever they were, the cleansing they received was entirely undeserved. An accuser could come up to any one of them and say, “That’s it? You went down to the Jordan and let the preacher-man give you a bath?”
Whenever the unvarnished gospel is preached, different levels of complicity are assumed. There are the unbelievers, there are believers, and finally there is the preacher himself. If you believe in the doctrine of a definite atonement, as I do, this means that complicity in the murder of Jesus is far more profound with believers than with the unbelievers. The sins of reprobate men put Jesus on the cross by means of external force. They plied the whip, they spit on Him, and they pounded in the nails. All of that was wicked and unjust, and it was done by men representing the entire human race. But the sin that placed Jesus on the cross justly was the sin that He was expiating, the sin of those who identified with Him in faith (2 Cor. 5:21). And it is not possible to identify with Christ in His death without having Him identified with our sins, which means that the true believer in Christ is the most complicit in His death. And since the preacher is the one declaring all these things to be true, having studied them down to the root, he should feel the force of that complicity most of all.
Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee?
Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee!
‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee;
I crucified thee.
Ah, Holy Jesus, How Hast Thou Offended
Unless and until America experiences a massive reformation and revival, the kind that will put previous movements of the Spirit into the shade, we will continue to bite and devour one another. We are caught in the web of our own deceitful sinfulness, and the more we struggle, the thicker and stronger the web gets, not to mention stickier.
“Cast away from you all your transgressions, whereby ye have transgressed; and make you a new heart and a new spirit: for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” (Eze. 18:31).
We must cast away our transgressions, meaning that we must stop believing the deceitful lies, we must turn away from our moral dementia with loathing, and we must stop acting the part of devils, accusing those other sinners, the ones over there, the ones who are not members of our party. There is a conviction of the Spirit which is not the fruit of believing lies and compounding insanity. That is the conviction that is brought about by a presentation of Christ and Him crucified. But there is a spirit of condemnation that grows up out of the soil of complicity. It can be identified by how venomous and vitriolic it is.
The only antidote to any of it is the death of Christ on the cross for the sins of the world, sex abusers and sex accusers both. All who recognize their own complicity, and to who look to the cross with that twisted body and their own sin simultaneously in mind, are liberated forever. They receive the everlasting grace of God, and who is sufficient even to talk about it?
“But if from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul” (Deut. 4:29).