There’s something inherently suspicious in the phrase: “sure, all it needs is a lick of paint”. You’re looking at a second (or, perhaps, seventy-second) hand wardrobe. The walls are chipped; the handles are broken; and the doors are most definitely kaput. The salesman optimistically blurts out: “sure, all it needs is a lick of paint”. See? Inherently suspicious.
But, according to Thomas Brooks, we fall for that phrase all the time. Satan’s second device, in Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices, is painting virtue onto sin. Satan is the king shark among salesmen. He knows: if Christians see sin as it truly is, the full horror of soul-crushing rebellion against God, they’d fly miles to avoid it. So, “he presents it unto us, not in its own proper colours, but painted and gilded over with the name and show of virtue, that we may be more easily overcome by it, and take more pleasure in committing of it”. Gossip and slander, he paints with the cause of truth: “I’m not going to lie, but she told me…”. Pride, he covers with neatness and cleanliness: “I’m just ‘OCD’ about my appearance”. Covetousness, well, that’s just being economically sound! Satan takes sin, gives it a lick of virtue-paint, and sells it to us. How can we resist such salesmanship?
Remedy #1: seriously consider that painted sin is more vile and dangerous to your soul.
For some reason, the story of Little Red Riding Hood is etched in terror in my brain. I think it’s down to the particularly peculiar creepiness of the Big Bad Wolf. He breaks into Red Riding Hood’s grandmother’s house to eat this elderly lady, and then disguise himself in her clothes. He’s disguised, but his nature is unchanged. The grandmother’s clothes don’t lend him any maternal qualities. The Big Bad Wolf remains the Big Bad Wolf. And, all this makes him more dangerous than ever before. Because the disguised Wolf has a chance to fatally defeat his nemesis.
Sin remains sin, even when Satan disguises it as virtuous. Lust doesn’t become any less filthy because you believe you’re ‘appreciating the beauty of creation’. Greed isn’t less abominable because you’re ‘having great fellowship at dinner’. “Wantonness” can’t be excused because it’s “a trick of youth”. Painted virtue cannot improve sin any more than a lick of paint can restore a destroyed wardrobe. And, because we don’t notice it, it becomes more dangerous than ever. Until we have stumbled into painted sin, “Satan is a parasite; when we have sinned, he is a tyrant”. Thinking we’re pleasing God, we block-out the “sweet and glorious communion God offers”. Painted sin is still vile, and it’s more deadly.
Remedy #2: seriously consider the future consequences of painted sin.
One of the most neglected aspects of Christian life for the contemporary evangelical is the future. Our culture is largely hidden from death, and our church is embarrassed by the rampant end-times speculation of the Left Behind series and their ilk. But, the future is essential in our present fight against sin. Brooks urges us: look to the future.
When you shall lie upon a dying bed, and stand before the judgement-seat, sin shall be unmasked…then it shall appear more vile, filthy and terrible than hell itself…that which formerly appeared most sweet will appear most bitter, and that which appeared most beautiful will appear most ugly, and that which appeared most delightful will then appear most dreadful to the soul…sin will surely prove evil and bitter to the soul when its robes are taken off.
We might protest that this is hyperbole. How can our sin be worse than hell itself? Firstly, hyperbole is incredibly good at pricking our conscience. It reveals how seriously we really see sin. If we’re protesting that sin’s not as bad as Brooks makes out, then maybe we’ve bought virtue-painted sin. But secondly, Brooks might just be right. Sin, on that future day, will be proven to be evil and bitter to soul. If we’re Christians, we’ve been chosen by the Father in Christ from before the beginning of time. And in this life the Father has incredibly applied that gracious gift of union with Christ to us by the Holy Spirit. So, when our disobedience is fully revealed, can you imagine how deeply it’s going to shame us? When we prefer our painted sin, we’re attempting to overthrow God; we’re rejecting those incredible gifts. So, maybe we’ll share with Paul: “wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 7:24-25a).
“So therefore, look upon sin now as you must look upon it to all eternity, and as God…will present it to you on that day”.
Remedy #3: seriously consider the cost of painted sin on Christ.
Here, Brooks is at his strongest. Let me quote, at length, this remedy:
That Christ should come from the eternal bosom of His Father to a region of sorrow and death…that He that was clothed with glory should be wrapped with rags of flesh…that the God of the law should be subject to the law, the God of circumcision circumcised…that He that binds Satan in chains should be tempted…that the God of strength should be weary, the Judge of all flesh condemned, the God of life put to death…that that head, before which angels do cast down their crowns, should be crowned with thorns…those hands that freely swayed the sceptre of heaven, nailed to the cross for man’s sins…his soul, comfortless and forsaken; and all this for the very sins that Satan paints and puts fine colours upon! How the consideration of this should stir up the soul…to use all holy means whereby sin may be subdued and destroyed.
Christ died for our sin. So, even our virtue-painted sin “hath slain our Lord Jesus”. Never let the thought of our crucified Christ leave your mind. Instead, let such thoughts be “your sweetness and consolation…your reading and meditation, your life, death and resurrection”, because such thoughts tear through virtue-painted sin. Pray that the risen Christ opens our eyes to the true cost and reality of sin.