READ: Psalm 51, Jeremiah 46-48, Matthew 23, Romans 2
In contrast to humanity’s praise of external beauty, God’s pleasure arises from what is inwardly pure. God is gently ruthless about cleansing His people, kindly severe in His pursuit of making us holy. Some of God’s methods are so mercifully brutal that it seems as if His cleaning will be the end of us. Yet He assures: “I will not make a complete end of you. I will rightly correct you. For I will not leave you wholly unpunished” (Jer. 46:28). It is a bit of a shock to the believer how much of us has to end, how much of us needs to be corrected, how much of us we can actually live without.
A key aspect of our perspective that needs to be corrected is our fixation on externals. Jesus calls those fixated on external appearances “fools and blind” (Matt. 23:17), and goes to great lengths to reorient us towards internal beauty. The biblical theology of sin helps us with a proper orientation to internal holiness. In contrast to Islamic theology, which is shame-based, a biblical understanding of sin is guilt-based. In shame-based theology, sin is increasingly horrible according to the amount of people it affects. In guilt-based theology sin is first and foremost grievous because it is an offense against God, even if no one knows. There are shocking examples of this in Scripture. Joseph, when tempted by Potiphar’s wife to sexual sin (which would have been an offense against Potiphar as well as Joseph’s family) replies in Genesis 39:9: “How can I do this thing and sin against God?” David, in Psalm 51:4, after sinning against himself, Uriah, Bathsheba, and the honor of the throne confesses to the Lord: “Against Thee, and Thee only have I sinned!” It is staggering to consider that God is so insulted by our sin, that God considers lying, adultery, and murder–all of which affect other humans–primarily an offense against heaven.
Humanity is therefore according to Paul, everywhere inexcusable (Romans 2:1), for no matter how isolated from others we cannot escape our own sin nature. We were brought forth in iniquity, conceived in sin (Psalm 51:5), and our very essence is repugnant to God. When there is therefore any arrogance, even any confidence in the flesh before God, it is in effect an exaltation of what is wicked and directly invites destruction (Jer. 48:42). The only hope for men and women is to assume a posture that God accepts a broken spirit, a contrite heart (Psalm 51:17), and a circumcision of the heart (Rom. 2:29), for these He will not despise. Even the will to repent comes from Jesus; it is after all the goodness of God that leads us to this contrite and broken state (v. 4). When we choose to live broken and lowly, when we choose to confess the propensities of our nature are evil all the time, when we choose to submit to God’s beautification of our inside, then we are blessed by the praise of God (v. 29), which more than compensates for the scorn of men. It is the inward beauty of His children that God displays in the public halls of heaven.