“And thus I clothe my naked villany
With odd old ends stol’n out of holy writ,
And seem a saint, when most I play the devil.”
King Richard III (I, iii)
Perhaps I should spend less time involved with Internet discussions. There’s something to be said and learned with respect to the stewardship of time. Nevertheless, I’ve invested the time lately, for good, ill, or both, in discussions with a variety of Christians and non-Christians. There’s a disquieting thread woven through the strands of most every discussion, especially when the topic at hand has religious or spiritual application or import. There’s a universal clothed villainy afoot. It’s systemic, foundational, inherent…
The villainy is the sin nature we inherit from Adam, for In Adam we sinned all.Before I sound too preachy, no non-pelagian Christian–which is simply longhand for all Christians–should struggle to acknowledge the universality of the sin nature. The Bible is overtly clear on this point, and a knowledge of sin is the entry point for Christianity. The Christian church is a unique institution: you’re required to be rotten as a prerequisite for membership. Original sin provides the Christian’s dual understanding of the brotherhood of man, it and creation in the image of God.
So far, so good. However, the problem arises when (read as when, not if) we clothe our villainy. Involve yourself in any Christian forum and see how long it takes to detect the presence of the sinful nature, both in yourself and in others. The insincerities, the taunts, the refusal to cross party lines and admit an opponent’s strengths, the know-it-all-ness, the veiled ridicule, or any other of a truckload of sins. Better yet, just take note of your own thoughts in connection with your Christian brethren. Am I the only one who has such thoughts? I doubt it…The heart is deceitful above all things. Who may trust it?
And yet our villainy is so easily clothed by the anonymity of the Internet. It’s easy enough to fool ourselves, deceiving ourselves that we have no sin. God forbid. May I ever enter church as the tax collector and not the Pharisee.
But I do it, and so do you. It’s foolish. I might as well put a blonde wig on my Great Dane and take her out on a date, daring anyone to tell me she’s a dog. Nonetheless, that’s what we do. We dress up our sin nature and pass it off to the world as inner beauty. O wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?
In speaking with non-Christians, my experience is that the sin nature represents one of the top two or three stumbling blocks to reasonable communication with the modern non-Christian. The presuppositions from both sides concerning the inner nature of humans are so vastly disparate that it presents an immediate roadblock to discussion about God. There was presumably a time when non-Christians recognized the sinful nature, but that time is by and large a thing of the past. Today’s non-Christian is a flasher; his villainy is clothed, but he’ll be happy to open his trench coat at any time, because, in his mind, there’s nothing to hide.
Most disturbingly, we as Christians, as King Richards, clothe our villainy with odd old ends stol’n out of holy writ.I tangled recently with some holiness folks preaching sinless perfection. While I appreciate the call and emphasis on living a good Christian life, to say that we are perfect in our sinlessness is the height of clothing our villainy. Unless, of course, we think we are Christ himself, or better than the Apostle Paul:
14For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin. 15For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. 16If then I do that which I would not, I consent unto the law that it is good. 17Now then it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. 18For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not. 19For the good that I would I do not: but the evil which I would not, that I do. 20Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. 21I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.22For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 23But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? 25I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin.
Naturally, the forum was overflowing with clothed villainy, and it pains me to think that Christ was watching his followers represent him so. Yes, we so often seem the saint, when most we play the devil. May God have mercy upon us all, giving thanks to Him for 1 John 1:9, and the fact that Romans 8 follows Romans 7.