Have you ever been watching a 3D movie wearing 3D glasses, and done that thing with your eyes? You know, that thing where you close one eye and look at the screen, then open that eye and close the other eye and look at the screen again? If you have, then you will have noticed how the two views are subtly different. They’re sending you two different views of the same reality, one into each eye. The difference between the two views creates the 3D effect—the perception of depth. In fact, the greater the difference between the two views, the deeper and richer the 3D experience.
Here’s a thought experiment for you. Do the same thing, metaphorically, with your picture of the Christian life.
Metaphorically, close one eye. Look at your life without any reference to Jesus Christ. Consider the fact that you are a rebel who has sinned against your creator. You deserve only his judgement; you are helpless and powerless. Even if you know what God wants you to do, you can’t do it, because your sin is overpowering and your guilt is overwhelming. You can’t please God by yourself, and you constantly stand in need of his mercy.
Now (still metaphorically) open that eye and close the other one. Look at Jesus Christ outside of yourself. Look at his perfect life. Consider how he has died in your place, taking the judgement from God that you deserve. Look at his resurrection from the dead to everlasting life. Look at his righteousness, a righteousness that is his, not yours, and yet brings you full and complete forgiveness—a verdict of “not guilty” from God and the full and certain hope of glory.
Now open both your eyes. Look at Christ in you through his Spirit. Maybe it’s a little dizzying at first. But keep looking with both eyes. Do you see the depth? Do you see the wonder? Do you see the full 3D experience of the Christian life? Always completely helpless in our sin; always fully confident of God’s mercy. Always knowing that we cannot please God by ourselves; always secure in our status as God’s beloved children who can and should live for him.
So as you live your life, keep both your eyes open! If we only live our Christian lives in 2D, with one eye open, we will either despair and give up (because we aren’t looking at Christ), or we will be full of pride, arrogance and overconfidence (because we aren’t looking at ourselves).
This 3D experience of life is what the Reformers called simul iustus et peccator—“at the same time righteous and a sinner”. Of course, they didn’t get the idea from 3D movies. They got it from the Bible. Check out Romans 7-8 if you don’t believe me.