Life is full of curious paradoxes. There occurred to me this morning an apparent paradox with regards to justification and our sin. The legalist will always see his own life in the best light because there would be no salvation for him otherwise. No one condemns themselves! But self-preservation can become a house of mirrors. The end result of constantly looking at our own obedience is that we become blind to our lack of obedience. Like the Pharisees we will learn to shoot at gnats and trip over camels. We will spend all our time looking out for serpents at our feet and miss the Bronze Serpent that has been raised above us. If you are wandering in the desert and need water to survive, your mind will eventually tell yourself that it indeed sees water and you will die with a mouthful of sand.
It is the man who looks away from himself to the perfect righteousness of Christ who becomes most aware of his true self. Only when we are resting secure on the firm foundation of justification by faith alone will we be able to face the harsh reality of our sinfulness before God. Only when our salvation is secure outside of ourselves will our eyes be free to look inward with honesty. We can see what is true because what is true about our hearts no longer condemns us. Once the condemning power of sin has been removed, we begin to see remaining sin much more clearly. The man who seeks to save his life will lose it. The man who loses his life for the sake of Christ will save it eternally. It is as we look upward to the Bronze Serpent above us that we are most able to crush the heads of the serpents beneath us.