“Notice that the top line of the chart is labeled “Growing Awareness of God’s Holiness. ”As we stated last time, this does not mean that God’s holiness itself is increasing, for God is unchangeable in his character. He has always been infinitely holy. Rather, this line shows that when the gospel is functioning correctly in our lives, our awareness of God’s holy character is constantly growing. We realize in fuller and deeper ways the weight of God’s glorious perfections.
Likewise, the bottom line shows that when the gospel is functioning correctly in our lives, our awareness of our own sinfulness is consistently growing. This does not mean that we are becoming more sinful. (In fact, if we’re growing in Christ, we’ll be starting to see victory over sin.) But we are realizing more and more “how deep the rabbit hole goes” in our character and behavior. We are seeing that we are more profoundly sinful than we first imagined.
“As these two lines diverge, the cross becomes larger in our experience, producing a deeper love for Jesus and a fuller understanding of his goodness. At least that’s the ideal. But, in reality, because of indwelling sin, we are prone to forget the gospel—to drift away from it like a boat loosed from its moorings. That’s why the Bible urges us not to be “moved [away] from the hope held out in the gospel” (Col. 1:23) and to “let the word of Christ dwell in [us] richly” (Col. 3:16). When we are not anchored in the truth of the gospel, our love for Jesus and our experience of his goodness become very small. We end up “shrinking the cross” by either pretending or performing.
Look again at the bottom line of the chart. Growing in our awareness of our sinfulness is not fun! It means admitting—to ourselves and others—that we are not as good as we think we are. It means confronting what Richard Lovelace called the complex web of “compulsive attitudes, beliefs, and behavior”* that sin has created in us. If we are not resting in Jesus’ righteousness, this growing awareness of our sin becomes a crushing weight. We buckle under its load and compensate by pretending that we’re better than we really are. Pretending can take many forms: dishonesty (“I’m not that bad”), comparison (“I’m not as bad as those people”), excuse making (“I’m not really that way”), and false righteousness (“Here are all the good things I’ve done”). Because we don’t want to admit how sinful we really are, we spin the truth in our favor.
Growing in our awareness of God’s holiness is also challenging. It means coming face to face with God’s righteous commands and the glorious perfections of his character. It means realizing how dramatically we fall short of his standards. It means reflecting on his holy displeasure toward sin. If we are not rooted in God’s acceptance of us through Jesus, we compensate by trying to earn God’s approval through our performance. We live life on a treadmill, trying to gain God’s favor by living up to his expectations (or our mistaken view of them).“