The Smell of Death Surrounds You

from Mar 13, 2011 Category: Articles

I found myself, when a recent graduate of Reformed Theological Seminary persuaded of two truths. First, I understood and believed the Reformed faith. Second, I wasn’t much different from my unbelieving neighbors. The problem wasn’t that my theology was wrong. The problem was that it was stuck. My head was crammed full of sound Reformed doctrine, but it wasn’t getting to my heart, and out my fingers. I suffered from theological constipation.

Because the Reformed faith is true, which is to say Biblical, the problem wasn’t, I determined, with my theology. The solution wasn’t to believe it less, but to believe it more.  Since then that has been my goal, and could arguably be said to be the focus of my public ministry. I would never want to change the Reformed faith. I’m not the best at explaining it. (But I know who is.) My calling is to hold it up and say to the world, “Hey, look at this. Can you believe it? We ought to believe this.”

We Reformed, folk, for instance, affirm that man is totally depraved. Our hearts, however, tend to believe that we are rather fine fellows, and therefore other folks must be pretty good as well. Thus hell is too hot of an idea for some of us. Others of us, however, have a more banal response. Our failure to grasp the scope of our sin creates a sense of entitlement. Because I’m basically good, I am due a basically good life.  Something is wrong when calamity strikes my world, whether it be an earthquake in New Zealand or Japan, the murder of unborn babies, illness, or even financial tensions. We are strangely surprised by suffering.

When, however, our hearts concede what our minds know, that we are desperately wicked, that none is righteous, no not one, when we truly face the hard truth that in ourselves we would kill God if we could, suddenly we see the world for what it is, a sea of grace. That people die, even that people suffer eternal torment no longer surprises us. That people are spared, that is astonishing.  We are all, in our natural state, not theologically, not figuratively, under a death sentence from God. The fiery cauldron isn’t the surprise. Our spider-liness isn’t the surprise. The gossamer texture of the web on which we hang isn’t the surprise. That God’s hand holds on, that is the surprise. Sinners in the Hands is a sermon on grace.

My wife is not my due. She is grace. My children are not my due. They are grace. My parents and my sister are not my due. They are grace. My friends are not my due. They are grace. They all deserve to die, and I not only deserve it as well, but I deserve to lose them all.

If we believed the Reformed faith we would not be sour and morose because it reminds us of what horrible sinners we are. We would instead of all people be the most joyous, because it reminds us of the grace of God. The smell of death surrounds us.  But our lives are hidden in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. And He smells like grace.