There Is Only One Kind of Sinner
We tend to see people in categories: the successful and the unsuccessful, the intelligent and the dull, the beautiful and the ugly, the fit and the fat, the rich and the poor. Our natural impulse is to assess everyone around us, ranking ourselves against them. We scoff at those “beneath” us and resent those “above” us.
When we think some characteristic or personal accomplishment sets us apart or justifies us before others, we are committing what Charles Spurgeon called the “pride of face and place”—so called because this type of pride rests on the variables of how we look (face) and where we were born (place).
The Absurdity of the Pride of Face and Place
The pride of face (like pride in any form) shows that we do not fully understand the gospel.
Just think about it for a moment: How much of your physical talents can you actually take credit for? Your parents gave you your genes. God gave you your health and your opportunities. And yet, you may still say that your talents are the result of hard work:
You hit the gym on the reg so you can look good on the beach this summer.
You work overtime to make sure you’re living the kind of life you want.
You read all the best leadership books so you can be smarter than everyone else.
Your body, your money, your mind—you think you’ve made them what they are. But does that really hold up? Imagine you’d been born as an orphan refugee in Syria or Somalia. Do you think you’d have succeeded like you did with that start in life? (The only honest answer is “No,” by the way.)
All that you have is a gift. And taking pride in a gift is absurd.
Plus, do any of our talents matter, eternally speaking? We may think it’s nice to be pretty instead of ugly, rich instead of poor. But those metrics don’t do anything to justify us before God!
Before God, we are all sinners. And there is only one kind of sinner. There are not successful, high-capacity sinners with a lot of potential and unpromising, down-and-out sinners. Nope. Just hopeless, dead sinners.
Heaven is not a scholarship program where God rewards the best. The best résumé in God’s eyes, Paul says, is a big, steaming pile of scubala, or “garbage” (to put it mildly).
What we have now in Jesus is worth infinitely more than any of those things anyway.
It doesn’t matter if I’m not that intelligent now, because I am promised I will inherit the mind of Christ.
It doesn’t matter if I’m not beautiful now, because one day Jesus will clothe me in beauty as we “put on Christ” himself. I can be ugly for 70 years because I’ll be beautiful for eternity.
It doesn’t matter if I’m not successful now, because the weakest saints here have still been appointed by Jesus to reign with him as kings and queens eternally.
It doesn’t matter if someone doesn’t appreciate me now, because in Christ I have a Father who rejoices over me with love and dances over me with singing.
The Scandal of the Pride of Grace
Maybe even worse than the pride of face and place, Spurgeon said, is the ironic pride of grace—the pride that comes from having lived a moral or religious life and having avoided certain shameful sins or mistakes.
We feel a sense of pride because we’ve avoided the “really bad” things we see others fall into. The list changes from person to person, because our patterns of self-justification are uniquely tailored to us. So we pick and choose from whatever we haven’t struggled with:
At least I’ve never been to prison.
At least I didn’t have sex before I was married.
At least I don’t have rebellious children.
At least I’m not a bigot or a racist.
At least I don’t lie or cheat to make more money.
We create our little list of rules, and then we feel a sense of distinction for keeping them. We imagine that we’re set apart from others who have fallen, simply because we are picking and choosing which sins God cares about.
Do we not understand the gospel? In Christ, there are no “good people” or “bad people,” “people who have it together” or “dysfunctional people.”
There are only bad, dead, sin-sick rebels, without God and without hope in this world, who God saves freely by a sheer act of grace—real grace, not the parody and scandal of moralistic “grace” we so easily construct.
Just because God in his grace kept us from some of the worst fruitions of our sin doesn’t mean we are made of something different than others who have gone down that route.
As Scottish Pastor Robert Murray McCheyne once said, “The seed of every sin is in every heart.” There is none righteous, no one who instinctively seeks after God.
If God in his grace has kept you back from the fruition of your depraved heart, that’s not something to boast about. It’s something to be grateful for because God saved you from yourself.
J.D. Greear is the pastor of The Summit Church, in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina.
Pastor J.D. Greear has authored several books, including Not God Enough: Why Your Small God Leads to Big Problems, Gaining by Losing: Why the Future Belongs to Churches That Send (2015), Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary (2011), Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved (2013), and Jesus, Continued … Why the Spirit Inside You Is Better Than Jesus Beside You (2014).
Pastor J.D. completed his Ph.D. in Theology at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, writing on the correlations between early church presentations of the gospel and Islamic theology. Seeing Muslims come to faith in Christ has long been a burden of his, a burden that led him to serve in Southeast Asia with the International Mission Board.
Pastor J.D. is currently serving as the 62nd president of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Pastor J.D. and his wife Veronica live in Raleigh. Together they are raising four ridiculously cute kids: Kharis, Alethia, Ryah, and Adon.