If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 1 John 1:8
A hundred years ago, when I was in college, I had a roommate, Terry, who was, with the exception of his determination to listen to Barry Manilow music when he went to sleep, one of the nicest people you’d ever hope to meet. Terry intended to become a doctor, and he would have been a very kind and caring doctor, I’m sure. We shared that room for a semester, during which he spent a good portion of his time typing papers. As a writing teacher, I approve of typing papers, but Terry had one problem: he was usually typing somebody else’s paper when he should have been working on his own. After receiving awful grades in his first semester, he created an equally dismal grade report in the spring. His departure from the college was rather quick and graceless.
A year or so later, Terry reappeared on the campus and announced that he had cleared his academic hurdles and stood ready to enter the fray once again. When I asked him what his major was now, he said, “Still pre-med.”
As nice a guy as Terry was, I just couldn’t laugh at him. However, having anchored his grade-point average with the ballast of D’s and F’s, he didn’t seem quite pre-med material. Perhaps Hollywood Upstairs Medical College (alma mater of The Simpson’s Dr. Nick Riviera) would accept such a student, but most schools wouldn’t. Terry was, I am fairly sure, fooling himself. If that got him through school, then I’m happy, but I’m pretty sure there’s no Dr. Terry roaming the halls of a local hospital.
Of course no Christian is going to practice Terry’s kind of self-delusion. We know better than to say that we never sin. “Of course nobody’s perfect,” we’re quick to admit. “I’m not trying to say I never sin.” We say these things, but do we really mean them?
What we really mean, I think is that while we know we sin in theory, our sins are pretty tame and understandable. It’s not like we’re axe-murderers, right?
Self-delusion takes many forms, especially when it gets into the sensitive territory of our own self perceptions. Do I really want to think of myself as the sack of garbage that I truly am minus the grace of God? Do I really want to face up to the freighters full of sin that I bring into port each and every day.
All too often, we categorize sin, lumping the really bad stuff that we don’t do in one corner while excusing the not-so-awful stuff that we do. In the end, we’re no more realistic than Terry when we see ourselves as better than what Paul calls himself in Romans 7:24: wretched.