You will almost certainly have come across the latest scandal involving the German car manufacturer Volkswagon. What broke as a story in the USA is now being followed into Europe and the rest of the world. The company fitted ‘defeat devices’ to their cars which cause the vehicles to cheat the diesel emissions tests. The company admit that around 11m vehicles worldwide have been fitted with such devices. Since allegations emerged, around 40% has fallen off the VW share price, the affected cars will have to be recalled and refitted at a cost of £4.2bn and the company is also facing further fines of £11.9bn.
The point of gaming the tests this way was so VW could offer cars with low emissions. The low emissions meant a low tax option for buyers. The problem with many low emission vehicles is what they lack in pollutants they also lack in performance. The defeat device recognised test conditions and ran the car engine at a below normal level of power and performance. When the test was over, the car returned to normal levels. This meant the company appeared to offer low emission diesel cars that lacked nothing in the power and performance department. In reality, it meant VW cars emitted nitrogen oxide pollutants up to 40 times above the legal US limit.
In Matthew 15:10-20 Jesus spoke about what pollutes people:
what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person.
If they are the things that defile us before God, hear what Jesus has to say about those who only appear great under test conditions:
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (Matthew 23:27f)
Things appear OK outwardly but inwardly they are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Claiming to be clean when, in reality, they are dirty and full of law-breaking levels of pollutants. Both hypocrisy and lawlessness in one. Sounds like VW. Sounds worryingly like many Christian people too. Sounds rather like me much of the time. Perhaps even sounds a little like you?
The human heart isn’t unlike a VW engine. Under test conditions, we seem to operate pretty well. We can sense when people are looking and precisely what they are looking for. Our performance under test – our attendance at church, our public Christian face, our evangelistic efforts – all seem to stack up pretty well. And yet, many of us, when we’re back under normal conditions may be emitting many more pollutants than tests seemed to show.
The apostle John puts it well when in 1 John 1:8-10 he says this:
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
A pretence that we have no sin means that we remain in sin itself. But, if we confess our sin – in other words, if we cease being hypocrites, own our sin and seek the forgiveness that is found in Christ alone – then he is faithful to forgive and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. As long as we keep trying to game the tests, our sin and the just punishment it deserves will remain our own. Only when we cease being hypocrites, admit our sin and turn to the only saviour able to deal with do we stand any chance of becoming low emission polluters.