Have you ever tried to convince someone that he is a sinner, and thus he needs Jesus Christ to be saved and go to Heaven? …Yeah, it’s pretty hard. I remember street witnessing in High School and being able to get people to admit that they had broken the 10 Commandments. However, they just didn’t see why on earth they needed to commit their lives to a hippie with long hair who claimed to be God! Maybe you’ve encountered the same kind of response.
Meanwhile, I became fascinated by something: Benjamin Franklin’s self-correcting charts. He didn’t give these charts a specific name, so I called them “sinner’s charts”, and you’ll see why. From my research on the subject, I realized that a sinner’s chart is a daily to weekly record of exercising either virtues or committing sins. These charts reveal a person’s moral and spiritual nature accidentally. Next time you meet someone who says, “I’m going to Heaven because I’m a good person!”, whip out this information to prove them wrong. Are you skeptical of your own sinfulness? Try a chart yourself and see what happens.
Benjamin Franklin is arguably the inventor of this “sinner’s chart”. In his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin explained his plan for attaining moral perfection. Franklin created a list of thirteen virtues, with columns for each day of the week. Every week, he would mark how many times he exercised any one of those virtues. Additionally, he would choose one virtue that he wanted to perfect, so all his emphasis that particular week was exemplifying that one virtue. If he exercised any other virtue, though, then great. He said,
“I wished to live without committing any fault at any time, and to conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into. …But I soon found I had undertaken a task of more difficulty than I had imagined. While my care was employed in guarding against one fault, I was often surprised by another; habit took the advantage of inattention; inclination was sometimes too strong for reason. I concluded, at length, that the mere speculative conviction that it was our interest to be completely virtuous was not sufficient to prevent our slipping, and that the contrary habits must be broken, and good ones acquired and established, before we can have any dependence on a steady, uniform rectitude of conduct. For this purpose I therefore contrived the following method.” (Ch 6, Pg 83)
His selected 13 virtues were as follows:
Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself, i.e., waste nothing.
Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
Wrong none by doing injuries or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
Benjamin was surprised that he was “so much fuller of faults than [he] had imagined”, but eventually saw that some of his vices were “diminished” and that some of his conversations with others became more pleasant. However, there was one vice he could not, by any means, get rid of completely: pride.
“In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history; for, even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.”
It is interesting to me that Benjamin Franklin prided himself of his improvements, yet could not fully comprehend how truly imperfect he was, chart or not. Franklin could not humble himself enough to see that Jesus Christ is Lord, and only by His saving grace can we ever begin to call ourselves “good people.”
Someone else actually did a “sinner’s chart”, albeit this person wasn’t copying Franklin at all. Demetri Martin, a contemporary comedian, also created his own chart in an effort to improve himself. I’ve included the video of him talking about this below if you are interested (begin at 32:38). Martin differs from Franklin in that he wasn’t trying to perfect himself. Instead, he listed virtuous or healthy actions as a points system, “in an effort to get better” and make himself a puzzle.
His conclusion? In the video, Demetri says,
“I found that over twenty-seven weeks I averaged 11.2 points out of 35. That’s thirty-two percent. That sucks. I failed, I failed miserably. That’s half an “F”. That is horrible. My worst week was four points. Four points? What the h*ll was I doing? Help an old lady, eat a banana for Christ’s sake. I got one point for filling out the chart! Highest week: twenty-four points. Ok! You know what? I thought that would be my lowest week, like mid-twenties. I was figuring: “Yeah, you’ll be high functioning up the thirties. Maybe max out at thirty-five a few times. And then you know, just up all the goals. Self-actualize. Great, yeah, do it up.” What do I learn from all this? What can I conclude from all of this analysis? I have no f****** clue. I spent half a year of my life doing this every week. I don’t know, I honestly don’t know. You know, I look back on it and realize my intentions were good. I was trying to become a better person. I was trying to methodically record what a better person would be for someone like me and what I could do every day, capturing every moment, trying to move towards that, but I failed pretty miserably. Now I look back and with a little bit of distance, I wonder… What was I going for? Like, who did I think I was going to become? What would the thirty-five point week have been like? See? I lost sight. I was so busy trying to figure out who I wanted to be, I didn’t realize who I was actually becoming. I would walk around with the point system in my pocket all the time, just tallying whatever I could get, thinking I was figuring out my life. Yeah, I could ride a unicycle, I could do puzzles, whatever, blah blah blah, I tallied myself. But look, at the same time, I was a drop out from school, divorced already. My job? Proofreader at law firms from midnight to 8 A.M. in the morning. That was my…that was the career that I carved out for myself. I couldn’t just figure out my life, that became clear.“
So, in my Senior year of High School, I decided to complete my own “sinner’s charts”, too. I wasn’t trying to perfect myself, though, because I had been raised in a Christian home that taught the doctrine of sinful nature. Instead, I wanted to give a speech on the subject at forensics tournaments, to prove to my audience that we are all fallen people, and are not “good people”. We screw up a lot more than we think we do. Memory lane…
Socrates once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” While I can’t say that my life before was worthless, I will say that I learned more about myself in a month by doing the sinner’s charts than perhaps in an entire year without them. Here are all my charts:
During my first week, I did Benjamin Franklin’s chart. My first problem was trying to look up what all the virtues meant, like “temperance”.
Next, I did Demetri Martin’s chart. I changed some of it, like “did something for Jen”, which was Demetri’s girlfriend, to: “did something for Mom.” I scored 23 points on it.
The next one was based on Colossians 3:12, which lists different virtues that Christians should put on.
My next chart was based on the typical sins that I commit – this would be my worst week, obviously.
The chart I did last was the 10 commandments. Notice how I have marked things like “Do not murder.” No, I did not commit murder that week! In Matthew 5:21-22, Jesus says that if you even name call or hate someone, you commit murder in your heart. This is very easy to do on the freeway.
After doing these charts, I decided to gather my information together, and configure the data:
What I learned is surprising! When adding all the times I did something wrong, versus something good, I learned that by 56%, I typically do the wrong thing. This is a 12% chance that I’m more likely to do the wrong thing than right. I then charted out all my decisions and found that my bad choices were either close in number to my good choices, or they far exceeded my good choices.
I learned so much about myself by doing this. I’ve always considered myself a nice person, and I do try to do the right thing. Yet, by calculating my results, I learned that I’m not as good as I thought.
Moreover, while I may be kind in my words, I’m usually mean in my thoughts. I’m more likely to lie to you than say, “I love you.” I’m responsible with my time, but not with my relationships. I had vaguely been aware of all this before, but was astounded when I saw the actual proof. Now, this is not to suggest that I’m actually a mean, rude person, and that you’re best off avoiding me! (Also, all of this data was configured in 2013, which was 4 years ago! I hope I’ve matured since then ) What I’m trying to say is that, yes, perfection is unattainable. I know this now for myself.
What then, can we conclude from the sinner’s chart? If I asked you right now, are you a good person, what would you answer? Probably, “I’m a good person! I mean, I don’t steal, I don’t murder! I mean, c’mon, I’m not as bad as Hitler!” (Why do we always bring him up?!) It’s easy to play the comparative game – using someone else’s crimes – like Hitler, Osama Bin Laden, etc. – to make our own sins sound insignificant in comparison.
This was at least my response to the sinner’s chart:
I am not a good person.
I realized this by making the charts. Some nights, I would fill out my chart, and be full of shame about how poorly I had done that day. The next day, I’d be like, “Ok, I’m going to do better today.” Yet, I still caught myself thinking mean things and barking at people. This brings me to:
Typically, when I am given the choice between right and wrong, I go for the latter of the two.
Think back to my data! I had a 12% more chance of doing the wrong thing than right! So,
Thus, I am definitely a sinner.
In the Garden of Eden, both Adam and Eve sinned. Their sin became the sinful nature, which we inherit. Now, we are separated from God, because He is holy, or perfect. Our sin has created a void between us. In the Bible, we are told in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.” Jesus Christ died on the cross for our sins – He who knew no sin took on our sin, so that we may be freed and forgiven. The void has been filled by Jesus’ sacrifice. Yes, we’ll continue to sin once we have acquired salvation – I realize that more than ever now. But we are no longer “slaves to sin”.
Let’s take a look at my worst week. On this chart, concerning my typical sins and struggles, I failed pretty miserably. Yet, while I see all these Xs and shame, God looks at my chart like this:
No longer does God see me as sinful, but as pure, being justified and sanctified by Jesus Christ (Galatians 2:20, 2 Corinthians 5:21).
The sinner’s chart makes us really look at ourselves, really see the bad, ugly parts. But hopefully, it makes us realize the need for a Savior. That Savior is Jesus.
If anyone reading this is still skeptical, still believes himself to be a “good person”, then I challenge you to try the sinner’s chart. Just try one for a week, and pick any topic – virtues, sins, anything. You, too, will realize how much you actually do the wrong thing, and will hopefully recognize the need for some sort of solution – that solution is Jesus. Now, if you’re a believer, then I also encourage you to try the sinner’s chart, because I promise you – as a believer myself, my faith deepened, because the sinner’s chart is a great reminder of what Jesus did on the cross for me. Romans 10:9 says, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
What about you? Will you take the plunge and try a chart for a week? Talk to me in the comments.