I was finishing changing Elanor’s diaper when she spat up, ruining the outfit I had just wrestled her back into. Seeds of impatience sprouted out of my mouth: “Your timing sucks,” I told my uncomprehending daughter. After switching out her clothes, I brought her out of the room, only to encounter Cliff Bar (our cat) in front of me, seemingly determined to get tangled up in my legs as I walked. Juggling a baby and dribbling a cat aren’t activities you want to combine.
“You’re really stupid, you know that?” I barked at the cat. (Huh. Pun not intended.) In response, my wife Shannon put out her arms and asked for Elanor, advising me to take my shower so I could be alone for a while.
Being alone didn’t do much for me. I knew my anger was unjustified. I knew I had sinned in my heart, not to mention my mouth. I knew I needed to repent. The thing was, I couldn’t quite get over the fact that I had gotten so terribly upset over so small an incident.
On the drive to our church meeting, Shannon asked me how I was doing. I answered with something akin to a shrug and a grunt. You see, I had been confronted with one aspect of Christianity that sometimes sticks in my craw: the enormously good news of the gospel reveals just how enormous my sin really is. It rips off the façade of righteousness I love to play dress-up in. It reminds me that God draws near, not to the self-sufficient and morally upright, but to the contrite and lowly in heart (Isa. 57:15). It reveals just how desperate I am for God’s redeeming and renewing grace to rescue me from myself.
I am very much unlike the Apostle Paul. In Philippians 3, he lists all the reasons why he has a right to consider himself an upstanding citizen of the world. He has a lot going for him. But instead of clinging to this list as a source of confidence, he says he would rather treat it like dung. He would rather trade in his greatest accomplishments and be left with nothing. Why? So he could be found in the righteousness of another—namely, Jesus.
I, on the other hand, often prefer dung cakes to humble pie. I don’t like admitting that I’m dust (Ps. 103:14). I don’t like admitting that all my efforts at self-salvation are as productive as a woman giving birth to wind (Isa. 26:18). I don’t like admitting that my cleanest and most righteous deeds are, in and of themselves, menstrual rags (Isa. 64:6).
But in asserting my own false sense of righteousness, I effectively cut myself off from the righteousness God offers to me in Christ. Sure, the gospel puts me in a bad light, but only to position me to receive the light of God’s gracious countenance. I can’t have the latter without the former.
So what happened in the car on the way to church? The Holy Spirit graciously prompted my wife to speak to me. Her encouragement went something like this: “You said Elanor’s timing sucked, but she doesn’t even have timing yet. So really, what you were saying was that God’s timing sucked. So it’s interesting that God perfectly timed our marriage and our daughter and perfectly timed Christ’s coming into the world so that He could forgive you for saying His timing sucked.”
Through my wife’s gracious words of law and gospel, God broke my heart and brought me once again to contrition and humility. I was able to experience godly sorrow and genuine repentance, which, as God has promised, leads to true, regret-free salvation (2 Cor. 7:10). I may be a stubborn sinner, and I may sometimes balk at the path to sweet forgiveness, but thanks be to God that His grace is greater than all my sin!