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Biff talks on and on about his sin. He is not bragging about it, but he is self-loathing. He hates his sin. He is ashamed of what he did to his wife. Biff told me that he would do anything to change his past. An example of his self-absorbed reflections is how on his commute to work: the heinousness of his actions flood his mind.
His embarrassment and shame levels are off the charts. He even said that he thought about killing himself as a way to be free from what he did. It was only a passing thought; he had no real desire to pursue it, though it was a “mental moment” nonetheless.
The problem with Biff, though there are many, is that he is punishing the wrong guy. Somewhere in his Christian upbringing and theological training in seminary, he missed the gospel entirely.
Though he knows that Christ died for his sins, he does not practically apply that truth to his life. When the real rubber hits his road, something is amiss. The gospel does not transform his heart, thinking, or experience.
Christ took on Biff’s punishment, which was the whole point of His coming: to take away the sins of the world (Luke 19:10). If you placed a theological exam before Biff and asked him some of these “basic cross-centered questions,” that any Christian should be able to answer, he would ace the exam.
He understands the gospel, especially in a salvific way. Ask him. He will say, “Christ died for my sins.” But when it comes to his practical, functional, everyday life, he is a cross-centered failure. Why is this?
This problem is what I wanted to explore with my friend. Why can’t he live daily in the goodness and freedom that the gospel holds out to all of us? The gospel loudly proclaims that there is no more condemnation. Sadly, this is not true for Biff. He heaps condemnation on himself by the minute.
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us (Romans 8:31-34).
Notice how Paul’s answers to these Christians is always rooted in the gospel:
If Biff understood the gospel functionally, he would be free from the daily condemnation of past sins.
If you listen to Biff carefully and ask him specific questions, you will pick up on a pattern in his thinking. For example, there are certain people that he does not like. Biff is a modern-day bigot. God has blessed him in specific ways, but rather than giving glory to God and humbly receiving God’s blessing, Biff has forgotten what Paul said.
For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it (1 Corinthians 4:7)?
One of Biff’s gifts from God is a higher-than-average IQ. He’s a smart guy. God has given him a brain that works differently than most of us, like me. He’s smart. I’m not. But rather than praising God for this gift, he is condescending, arrogant, and entitled.
Biff does not like “dumb people,” as he calls them. Though it would be rare for him to say that out loud, he has slipped up a time or two and let his guard down. Biff did not say he did not like dumb people but talked about how he felt being around people who were not as smart as he was.
He also talked about when he was a kid; how he was not as athletic as some of his friends. He felt inferior to them. It was during that time when he learned that he was smart, and he began using his God-given intelligence as a manipulative weapon to elevate himself above others.
He could not outhit or outrun his friends, but he could outsmart them. Unfortunately, his parents never discerned this darkness in his heart. They were lousy parents, and in some ways, Biff was left to fend for himself. From his ungodly perspective, it made sense to weaponize his intellect and stand up for himself.
His craving to feel good about himself, or to feel better than others through his intellectual prowess, led him into the world of academia. While other kids did the same thing that Biff did, but through sports, Biff’s self-worship took an intellectual route. His “hidden idolatry” led him into $100k in school debt. As has been said too often,
Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay. – Anonymous
Biff’s craving to feel superior led him headlong into a trap (Galatians 6:1-2). This desire to feed his idol has also left a trail of broken relationships in his life. In addition to looking down on “dumb people,” he also looks down on other people groups. When he finally became honest, he said he did not like, and I quote:
His search for significance led him to many people groups with whom he could feel superior. Once he found what he deemed as inferior people, he proceeded to feel smug about his superiority. He would even reach out to some of these people groups, like a king letting the lowly person kiss his ring.
You can imagine the humiliation of the king when his wife found out about his habituated porn addiction that had been going on for more than two decades. The king was now living among the commoners. This kind of exposure was devastating to Biff.
His secret sin is also why he could not extricate himself from his transgression and the accompanying condemnation. When you’re the king of the world, at least in your mind, it is hard to accept the reality that you’re just like everyone else.
The word “Adam” means “man of the earth.” Adam was kicked up from the dust of the earth, and God breathed into him, and man became animated. You and I are highly sophisticated dirt clods that God is mercifully allowing us to live, breathe, and express ourselves on His earth. It is when we forget this that we are in trouble. Biff forgot that he is not somebody but a nobody.
I’m nobody! Who are you?
Are you nobody, too?
Then there’s a pair of us–don’t tell
They’d banish us, you know.
How dreary to be somebody!
How public, like a frog
To tell your name the livelong day
To an admiring bog.
Biff ran off the theological tracks way back in his childhood—assuming he was ever on them—and began to think that he was somebody as he “sought and fought” for superiority through the gifts that God gave him.
Biff is just like the rest of us. He’s a nobody, apart from the grace of God in his life. When his sin was found out, he was devastated. The higher up you are or think you are or wish you were, the harder the fall when exposed. Biff had been striving all his life to be somebody, and now he is having a difficult time accepting the fact that he is a sinner like the rest of us. He is a gospel-dysfunctional being.
In addition to Biff’s bigoted arrogance, he also has a skewed view of the gospel. He is fully aware that the gospel is capable of saving a person, but he has not heard clearly how the gospel is also the essential need for his sanctification.
He saw the gospel as the ticket to get into the kingdom, and rightly so. But after his entrance into the kingdom, he leaned into his strengths and attributes as his primary source to “stay right with God.” With that kind of twisted theology functioning at the core of his heart, it made sense that when he sinned hard and repeatedly, that he would be devastated.
“If my sanctification is mostly dependent on me, and I fall, my strength (self-reliance) and my weakness (fall) negate each other. I have no other choice: I’m stuck with the weight of my sin.”
When I initially brought this up to him, he denied it and did what any rational thinking Christian would do: he quoted Ephesians 2:8-9: “For by grace, you are saved, not of works.” While I had no doubts that he understood Paul’s text to the Ephesians, the truth about his practical theology was that he did not practice what he knew in his head. In essence, he was functioning as an “unbelieving believer.”
That is why he could not shake himself from his sin. He would not freely accept Christ’s forgiveness. It is tough for a self-sufficient, self-reliant, bigoted man, who has carved out his own life his way, to accept a “hand out.” Even if the “hand out” is from God Himself through the death of His Son on the cross.
Thus far, we have covered Biff’s high view of himself and his lack of understanding of the gospel as it pertains to his daily sanctification. The last culprit that feeds into his self-condemning and self-loathing is his insecurity. Biff is an insecure man.
Quite frankly, Biff wants to be more to others than what he is capable of being. And he wants his reputation to be more than what it is. As a kid, he built up his “bigness” by flaunting his intelligence. Though he could not succeed on the athletic field, he did find respite in academia.
This strength put him on the track of self-reliance, just like his athletic buddies. This self-reliant methodology fed right into his Christian experience. Because he was “smart,” it was easy for him to excel in Christian circles. And he did. He was well on his way to becoming somebody.
But if you look closely and carefully underneath his facade, you will see a wee little man, motivated by fear. He built his entire kingdom on the false foundation of self-reliance, which is always driven by fear.
God, in His extravagant mercy to Biff, allowed him to go so far, and then He said, “No more.” The devices of his own making caught Biff, and his world fell apart. But God is the one who is operating in Biff’s sin. Biff needs to understand this. He needs to be blessed by this truth.
If you’re going to sin, you need to know that God is there, working, devising, planning, and rescuing. He will not leave you, even in your sin. Only God can use sin sinlessly, as the cross implies, and He is working deep in Biff’s sinful heart.
For our sake, he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).
The sad truth is that Biff is not all that worried about his sin. Let me restate that: he is worried about his sinfulness, but mainly from the perspective of how it makes him look to his wife, kids, family, and friends. He is exhibiting false humility by talking about his sin, and it has all the sounds and smells of Christianity. But the clue is that he is not living in the freedom and the power that God holds out through the gospel.
While the gospel leads to freedom and forgiveness, self-focused insecurity leads to a fixation on condemnation. Biff is not concerned about his sin from a biblical perspective. If he were, he would be talking about God and His grace and mercy. But Biff communicates more about what he did and how embarrassed he is, and how the weight of it all is pressing down on him. And that is a big clue as to his functional understanding and application of the gospel
He is sin-centered rather than cross-centered. He is stuck. The self-reliant man who cannot extricate himself from his sin will soon become buried by his sin. What he is perturbed about is losing all that he has accomplished. He is afraid of becoming the very thing he despises, a loser.
What he will have to come to terms with, which the gospel teaches us, is that we’re all losers. Christ did not come for winners. What Biff believes to be a loss will be his most significant gain. If he will be dead honest with himself and come clean about the heinousness of his heart and allow the right people to speak into his life, he will be free from his sin.
I’m not talking so much about porn, which he must be free from, but I am talking about the greater sins of the heart that have led to porn: unbelief, fear, self-reliance, arrogance, control, boastfulness, and selfish ambition. Through the gospel, he can experience a freedom and power that his self-efforts could never attain.
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).