It’s rush hour on a Monday morning.
We inch down the clogged street with a taxi driver who keeps picking his nose. Digging for gold in public.
It’s culturally acceptable here, but I have to look out the window to keep from heaving.
My thoughts become consumed with how I can come up with exact fare as to avoid receiving change back from the gold digger.
My daughter sits beside me. We’re headed to the doctor’s office to have her stitches removed and she chatters away about the story she read in her library book.
Of all things, it’s Pinocchio.
Talking of Pinocchio’s nose is preferable to thinking about our taxi driver’s though, so I gladly listen to her rendition of the tale.
“The blue fairy told Geppetto that because he had spent his life making everyone else happy, she would give him something that would finally make him very happy. So she gave life to Geppetto’s wooden boy, Pinocchio.
She told Pinocchio, “If you do not lie and do what is right, one day you will become a real boy.”
But Pinocchio couldn’t help but lie. And lie. And lie some more, until his nose grew into a tree! The blue fairy decided to forgive him but told him that if he didn’t do better, she wouldn’t help him anymore.
Pinocchio couldn’t do better, though. He kept making bad choices. He ran off to Pleasure Island where he began to grow donkey ears and a tail.
Finally, Pinocchio went to find Geppetto and he saved Geppetto from a whale. Because he did this, the blue fairy came to visit him and he finally became a real boy.”
My daughter’s eyes shine as she finishes the story. Redemption always does the heart good.
But I feel sick. It isn’t the taxi driver this time.
It’s the sordid tale of Pinocchio’s inability to do better and his try hard efforts that eventually succeeded.
It’s a lie. It’s all a big lie.
The story of Pinocchio never affected me that way until I heard it from the mouth of my six year old: the way to finally be good and be your best self is to just try hard enough.
It makes me sick to think my children might believe this is the way to redemption.
It makes me sick to think how long I did.
It makes me sick to think about my brother, struggling with addiction. I think about us sinners, us habitual sinners. What has “try hard” and “be a good little girl” admonishments ever done for us? Try hard is nothing but a whip across an already broken soul.
Yet try hard is what we are taught.
From the time we are very young, our stories teach that if we are good, we get good things. The more subtle and disturbing message mixed in is that we actually have the capability to be good.
If we just try hard enough and really put our mind to it, if we reach down deep into the well of ourselves, if we mentally convince ourselves of the need and the benefits, if we employ the secret and talk positive, we can be selfless, brave, and honest. We can say no to temptation. We can discover the real us we were meant to be, the good us, the great us, the worthy and admirable us.
But it’s a lie.
The simple truth is, we need a Savior.
“Sweetie,” I address my daughter. “Do you think someone can try hard and be a good person?”
She looks a little puzzled at my question and tries the answer she knows I want to hear. “Nooo???”
“Actually, you’re right. No one can be good. Do you know the Bible says that no one is good, even if we try and try and do our best?”
“Not even one person, momma?” She’s stunned and I get that. The truth is shocking.
“Not even one.” I stop and let that sink in.
Perhaps this is where freedom from sin begins, when we acknowledge that we are real sinners. Not just little white lie sinners, but deeply depraved, evil-and-loving-it kind of sinners. Because for this kind of sin-sick sinner, there is a Savior.
“I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Sinners do indeed have a Savior… but it isn’t ourselves. The good news of the gospel is that what we could not do—both in dealing with the consequences of our sin and in overcoming it—God did for us.
The good news is that every provision I need has already been purchased for me by Christ and all I need do is believe it! This message itself is the power of God for those who believe (Romans 1:16).
In other words, this simple message holds the power to transform our living, setting us free from sin’s grip. Yet it seems so basic and elementary that oftentimes we brush past it. We really don’t accept it as “the power of God.”
In his book The Discipline of Grace: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness, Jerry Bridges writes,
“The gospel is not only the most important message in all of history, it is the only essential message in all of history. Yet we allow thousands of professing Christians to live their entire lives without clearly understanding it and experiencing the joy of living by it. Christians are not instructed in the gospel. And because they do not fully understand the riches and glory of the gospel, they cannot preach it to themselves, not live by it in their daily lives.”
Puritan and theologian John Owen said, “holiness is nothing but the implanting, writing, and realizing of the gospel in our souls.”
It turns out that what poor Pinocchio needed most was a run in with Evangelist. While the blue fairy prodded him to do better through threats and bribes, Evangelist would have pointed him to the One who did what we all know was impossible for lying little Pinocchio to do on his own.
The same is true for us. We need fresh, frequent encounters with the gospel. We need others to point us back to Christ.
The good news is that we can believe this message of power for ourselves and apply it to our own lives, every day. When sin makes us a promise, we can believe the gospel makes an even greater promise. By recognizing the false promise of sin, we can search the Scripture to find how the gospel offers a better one.
We can hunt for the real gold.
The gospel promises our deepest desires are met in Christ, not ourselves. Whatever the need, the gospel purchased the provision for us.
This is the power of God, available to those who will only believe.
Highly recommended Related post: What to say when you preach the gospel to yourself.