I have heard faith described as “the blessed gift of self-forgetfulness”.
Indeed faith is the divine gift of the ability to look away from ourselves. Nowhere is this more needed or vivid than at near mid-point of the third chapter of The Epistle of Paul to the Romans.
In the first two and a half chapters the Apostle Paul has chronicled the divinely chaperoned tour and appraisal of the human heart.
The Divine Cardiograph
We learn that the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against us as humanity because we, in rebellion, “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (1.18), “do not honor Him as God or give thanks” (1.21), “exchange the glory of the incorruptible God” (1.23), “exchange the truth of God for a lie” (1.25), “are storing up wrath for the day of wrath” (2.5), are unrighteous (3.10), lacking understanding (3.11), not seeking God (3.11), not doing good (3.12), are useless (3.12), do not fear God (3.19) and are, with the rest of humanity, “under sin” (3.10).
The ultimate horror show is a person who is habitually engaged in the overt rebellion towards the King by stealing that which is most precious to him and then mocking, dishonoring, discrediting, undermining, and ignoring his righteous rule. This rebellion is characterized by a persistent attitude of fearless indifference. In natural human terms the type of person is a psychopath who seeks to satisfy his own twisted cravings. In a spiritual sense this type of person is every natural descendant of Adam.
We Have Got to Look Away
So when we are introduced to reality through the revealed word of God we should be horrified. There is nothing that Hollywood can manufacture to equal the gruesome reality of the human heart. So in our true seeing of ourselves, based upon God’s clear presentation, we are, like the person freaked out by a horror movie, quick to avert our eyes, turning and looking away from ourselves.
This is precisely the point (when we are horrified by our sin) that God proceeds with the gospel. Notice how Romans continues:
Romans 3:19 19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God;
The biblical presentation of the depravity of the human heart is intended to render humanity without excuse and in a posture of horrific condemnation.
This is a good model for evangelism. As long as folks are raising flags of self-righteousness through the assertion of “good” works, merit, religion, or relative goodness, then they are not ready to hear of how righteousness is revealed (cf. Romans 3.21ff.). As long as we are looking to ourselves to find righteousness we do not realize that we are deficient of righteousness and so obviously Christ Jesus who is sufficient righteousness will never be esteemed or treasured.
This is exactly what the Apostle Paul testified in Philippians three. He had all of his religious deeds divinely appraised and found that they amounted to rubbish. He quickly, upon the gracious realization that he was holding such a thing, dropped all manner of self-righteousness, and cried to God for a righteousness that comes not from himself but from God on the basis of faith (Phil 3.7-9).
The Blessing of Looking Away
If you are looking to yourself for righteousness than you are not a Christian. It is as simple as that. Christians glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh (Phil. 3.3). As Christians we are people who are overcome by our murderous hearts and delighted to avert our eyes from the filthy horror of our sin to fix our gaze solely upon Jesus Christ who is, “the Lord our Righteousness” (Jer. 23.6). It is here that horror is turned to delight.
We turn our eyes, our dependence, our value, our hopes from the horror show of our unrighteousness to the beauty of Christ’s righteousness. He is the one who alone has and ever will hear the Father’s eternal song of delight upon him, “You are my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased” (Mark 1.11). When we are united to Jesus Christ through faith in him we are credited with the perfect righteousness of Jesus (2 Cor. 5.21). And the Father then is forever pleased in and with us because we are in and with Jesus; ever united to him by faith.
Believers are ever horrified by their hearts and ever comforted by their Savior. This is Christianity. And to the extent that either of these two are muted or eclipsed so too will our delight in Jesus be.