Trying to Paint Over Bad Paint: The Foolish Futility of Self-Sufficiency
When we moved into our current home five years ago, we moaned when we saw that the back deck had been painted rather than stained. We tried every known remedy to remove all the paint. The best we could do was remove about 50%.
Of course, that means that, if we’re lucky, we can go two years between having to scrape, prime, and re-paint our deck. We keep having to paint over bad paint. And no matter how good the new paint is, it won’t stick for long. What we really need is a totally fresh start.
Trying to Cover Over Our Sins
After scraping, priming, and painting my deck the past few days, I awoke this morning not only sore, but also reflecting. Ever since Adam and Eve, we have tried to paint over bad paint. We have tried to cover over our sins.
“Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves” (Genesis 3:7).
For Adam and Eve, it didn’t work for two years, or even two seconds. Immediately when faced with the pure holy love of God, they “hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden” (Genesis 3:8).
Though “covered,” Adam realized they were totally exposed. “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid” (Genesis 3:10).
Receiving God’s Coverings
What did Adam and Eve need instead? What do we need? They needed to receive God’s covering rather than trying to cover their sin on their own.
“The LORD God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21).
So why try to cover? It’s much more than ignorance; it’s foolishness. It’s much more than self-effort; it’s willful, arrogant self-sufficient, proud rebellion.
John R. Stott reveals the depraved nature of our self-sufficient souls.
“The proud human heart is there revealed. We insist on paying for what we have done. We cannot stand the humiliation of acknowledging our bankruptcy and allowing somebody else to pay for us. The notion that this somebody else should be God himself is just too much to take. We would rather perish than repent, rather lose ourselves than humble ourselves. . . . But we cannot escape the embarrassment of standing stark naked before God. It is no use our trying to cover up like Adam and Eve in the garden. Our attempts at self-justification are as ineffectual as their fig-leaves. We have to acknowledge our nakedness, see the divine substitute wearing our filthy rags instead of us, and allow him to clothe us with his own righteousness” (Stott, The Cross of Christ, pp. 162-163).
Our God-Dependent Response to Our Sin
In Soul Physicians, I imagine a God-dependent response to our sin looking something like a combination of Genesis 3 with the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15).
“Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they realized that they were naked. Standing exposed as sinfully failed and flawed male and female, naked before Him with whom they have to deal.
Then the naked man and the naked woman heard the song of the LORD God as He was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, as He always had for fellowship. And they stayed.
Adam cried out to God, ‘I am unworthy to be called Your son, for I have sinned against You in my self-sufficiency. I have failed to be the courageous man You designed and called me to be. I have been a coward rather than a protector. Make me like one of your animals, for I am soul-less.’
Eve cried out to God, ‘I am unworthy to be called Your daughter, for I have sinned against You in my self-sufficiency. I have failed to be the completing woman You designed and called me to be. I have poisoned rather than nourished. Make me like one of Your animals, for I am soul-less.”
Instead, the LORD God slew the precious animals He had handcrafted. He shed blood. Carefully, tenderly, with tears streaming down His face, He hand-crafted robes of righteousness for his son and daughter.
Then He ran to them, threw His arms around them, and kissed them repeatedly. Father said to His angelic servants, ‘Quick, bring the best robes that I have hand-crafted and put them on my son and my daughter. Put wedding rings on their fingers and sandals of peace on their feet. Bring the fatted calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine and this daughter of mine were dead and they are alive again.’ So they began to celebrate!” (Soul Physicians, p. 105).
Grace means never having to cover my sin. But Adam and Eve, having doubted God’s goodness, do not focus on His grace. Instead of depending upon God, they depend upon self.
Being naked and afraid, they hide. They turn their backs on and run from God. They work, sewing fig leaves together to make coverings for themselves. They attempt to make themselves acceptable by trying to beautify their ugliness.
In the flesh, we use every strategy at our disposal, every scheme we can imagine, to not need God’s grace. But our efforts are futile. Much more than trying to cover over old paint, we’re trying to cover over sin with the greatest sin of all—works-righteousness and self-sufficiency.
Join the Conversation
What fig leaves do we sew to cover our shame? What view of God does such shame and hiding suggest?