# Pure

Canada’s Bank of Nova Scotia must be one of the few banks in the world that allows you to order gold bullion online. Visit their web site, punch in your order along with your credit card information, and a couple days later FedEx will deliver your gold to the door, all sealed up in a plain and boring little envelope.

The gold comes in bars, though not those massive gold bars you see in the movies. For somewhere around \$1200 you could purchase a 1 ounce gold bar and have it delivered to your home. It would be 22mm wide, 38mm high and 2.3mm thick. You’d soon find that your dollar does not go far when you are using it to buy precious metals. What you would do with it once you buy it is a bit trickier—maybe you’d put it in a safe deposit box or maybe you’d just bury it out in the backyard. You probably wouldn’t want to carry it around in your pocket.

That 1 ounce gold bar is 24 karat gold, 99.99% pure. That is amazing when you stop to think about it. If it is 99.99% pure, it means that in order to divide out the impurities, you would need to divide it into equal 10,000 pieces before you found the one that was not gold. If the total surface area of that gold bar is 836mm, the impure part would come to less than one tenth of one millimeter. That would be smaller than the period at the end of this sentence. Do the calculation by weight and you’d find that it comes out to less than 3 milligrams.

This weekend my son was asking me about holiness, about what it means to be a sinner. He was having trouble distinguishing between what it means to do bad things to other people and what it means to be a sinner. He is only nine years old, not old enough to have experienced any significant trouble. He has never murdered, he has never stolen, he has never cursed the name of God. He may have done some bad things in his life, but honestly, he’s a pretty good kid. Isn’t that good enough? If we were to divide his life into 10,000 little thoughts and actions, might we find that only one in 10,000 was impure?

The problem, of course, is that God is not 99.99% pure and neither does he allow us to be “only” that pure. God is perfect—not mostly perfect, not almost entirely perfect, but absolutely, fully, purely perfect. And he made us to be like him, to be holy as he is holy. He gave us the ability to live in that holiness, to live so that 10,000 out of 10,000 thoughts and deeds were unblemished in any way. Though our first parents, acting on our behalf, saw fit to blemish that holiness, plunging us all into filth and defilement, the standard has removed unchanged. God demands and expects perfection. Any lack of perfection blemishes the entire person.

Ah, but here’s where we come to the heart of it. We cannot be perfect even though God demands perfection. And yet, out of his infinite grace, he has provided for us a substitute, one who was good on our behalf. He was good when he was born, free of the defilement of our parents; he was good as he walked the earth for three decades, free of the defilement of his own sin; he was good as he hung on the cross, even though there he became sin for us, taking on the full weight of our sin. And in the eyes of God, his sacrifice was good and sufficient. And now he offers to trade his holiness for our sin, if only we will trust in him.

It will be the answer to many, many prayers when my children look to this Savior, when they trade in their filth for his righteousness.

The gold bar is a good analogy. And even though we may try to perform as required by God, it’s that .01% of us (I’m sure much higher in most cases!) that is unable to uphold God’s standard perfectly either in deed or motive. Without Christ, we are imperfect creatures always performing imperfectly. In Christ, “he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Heb 10:14) Praise Jesus!

Great illustration!

I do struggle with this. I have this standard, this expectation that is totally impossible to meet. It can drive me crazy, or drive me to my knees in absolute submission to His Grace.

I take the latter.

David, Red Letter Believers, “Salt and Light”http://www.redletterbelievers.com

Just had this conversation with my five year old as we headed to school this morning.

Great thoughts. Thanks for sharing!

I appreciate the gold analogy on many levels. However, I don’t think the assertion that we are sinners because we are .01% impure accurately reflects a biblical understanding of self. Romans 3:10-18 describes in explicit terms how we are all under sin. It tells me that I do no good, I do not seek after God, I am not righteous, my mouth is full of poison, and my feet are swift to shed blood. Most of us would say that we are not murderers, but Jesus, according to Matthew 5, would disagree with us. We are murderers at heart. As John Owens puts it -“every angry thought would be murder if it could” (i.e. if God in his common grace did not restrain sin in us.) I do not wish to be argumentative or grapple over terms. I think it is important to understand that being a sinner is a matter of being infected by sin through and through, not just in 1/10,000 of our being. Thanks for the post Tim. I only have time to read one or two blogs per day and 4 out of 5 days I will choose yours. It is a real help and encouragement to me.

However, I don’t think the assertion that we are sinners because we are .01% impure accurately reflects a biblical understanding of self.

I quite agree. I wanted to take the application only so far as it was useful, to show that even if my son did only one thing wrong out of every 10,000 it would still prove that he is a sinner. All analogies or metaphors break down eventually, so it’s important to to push this one too far.

Great article!

Thanks for what you do.

@Jeff : I cannot speak for Tim, but what I took from this analogy was that even if it was possible (and it’s not) to be almost all pure and just a litle impure, it still wouldn’t be enough. You’re correct in saying that apart from Christ we are a 100% impure, unholy mess of a sinner, destined for hell. But what I saw Tim saying is that even if it were possible that we were 60% or 90% or 99.999% pure, it still wouldn’t be enough for a perfect and holy God. Hence our desparate need for a savior. I enjoyed the analogy and thought it a great way to help a child who - having probably commited no huge, OUTWARD sins - to understand that he still needs a savior.

I hope that makes sense!

Tim,

Thanks for this analogy. As a father of four (about to be five), my children especially my oldest can ask some tough questions. I appreciate your insights from Scripture and for discerning truth from error.

By His grace,

Steve

It is hard to describe the idea of holiness and perfection to children. They still have an innocence but at the same time they are corrupted by sin from conception as scripture clearly states. Your analogy was excellent to convey that concept to a child’s mind.We did the Holiness of God study by Sproul last year at our church ,and it was clear holiness and the concept is even foreign to the contemporary mind. Most people really think God grades on a curve or that they aren’t that bad . However if we just spend time really focusing on God’s holiness and our sinfulness , the grace of our Lord becomes even sweeter . To comprehend what Jesus did so that I , a worm , a wretch could be made holy through his imputed righteousness , leaves me speechless.

Glad to hear Nick is thinking these deep thoughts…and wanting answers. I pray for him and will continue doing so! Great post.

Hi Tim,

What a great analogy and a good exhortation to boot. Christ is the only source of true perfection - a perfection we couldn’t even be born with, let alone hold for any length.

I am reminded of 1 John 4:8, 16 when I read this post, where John tells us that “God is love” and then in verse 9, where he reveals that Christ is the embodiment of this very love.

It’s beautiful really!

Thanks for sharing!

Seanwww.oneheartoneflesh.comSeeking to strengthen your marriage in Him.

Thank you so much, Mr. Challies. I think this may be useful to share with some of my nonbelieving friends. It is so hard for them to accept that what seem to us to be paltry sins actually indicate the pervading sins within our hearts. I pray that they will understand and seek to stand on the riches of his merit, not their own.

Really good post Tim. It reminded me of a sermon on the family I heard Alistair Begg preaching, and he was pointing out how our theology must inform our parenting. That, in fact, you cannot begin to parent in a truly Christian fashion until you see your children as sinners; inheritors of our total depravity.

Phil

How I echo that last sentence of yours, Tim, for my own children.