Monday, January 13, 2020

The Depths of Sin


I can’t recall where I came across it, but it’s something I’ve found true in my life of faith. Someone once told me, or perhaps I read it somewhere, that the more you grow in faith the more you recognize the depth of your sin. As we grow in our understanding of the Word of God, as we grow in our understanding of the gospel, the greatness of our sin is better realized.



As we encounter the gospel for the very first time, the reality of our sin is acknowledged. After all, it’s our sin that has brought condemnation upon us. We are in need of a Savior because of our guilt.



However, and it seems this is largely the state of Christians in our nation today, we don’t think we are all that bad. Overall, we think of ourselves as pretty good people. We tend to think that, although we sin, our desires and intentions are basically good.



We look at our outward adherence to the Ten Commandments as the measure of our sin. If we haven’t stolen, if we haven’t killed anyone, and if we’ve remained faithful to our spouse, we think we’re doing pretty well. Even though we may acknowledge that fact that we’re a sinner, we don’t believe our sin is all that great.



We learn in time that, even if we haven’t outwardly broken God’s commands, we have done so internally. We've done so in our heart. We find that our heart desires not to obey the Lord, but to disobey.



Although we haven’t physically murdered anyone, we haven’t desired their well-being. In fact, we’ve often desired their harm. We may not have taken what doesn’t belong to us, but we haven’t sought to preserve our neighbor’s wealth and property. We may not have cheated on our spouse, but adulterous desires have filled both our heart and mind.



We then run across the words of Scripture that describe our true condition. For example, in Ephesians 2:1, Paul says that we were dead in the trespasses and sins in which we once walked. In Colossians 1:21, he says that we were alienated and hostile in mind.  And in Romans 5:10, Paul says that we were enemies of God.



We learn that we’re not a mostly innocent people who occasionally slip up. We're not a mostly good people who make the occasional mistake. Our natural state is one of hostility and enmity toward God. It not only resists the will of God, but actively opposes it.



Although this may seem discouraging, it makes the gospel that much sweeter. It reveals to us the greatness of God’s love. It shows the immensity of the grace he has lavished upon us.



Completing Paul’s thought in Colossians 1, he says: And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him…”



Our sin is greater than we can imagine.  However, despite our condition, God has reconciled us to himself by the death of his Son. In this way, and in this way alone, are we counted holy and blameless before him.

Saturday, January 04, 2020

Responding to the Season

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.”
 (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 ESV)

With the new year upon us, one of the things that we naturally consider is time. We often note how quickly the time passes. We note that, the older we get, the faster time seems to go. And, for this reason, we are bent on managing our time well. We’re consumed with controlling the time that we have.

The passage, above, is a familiar one for most of us. It’s familiar because we often hear it read at funerals. It’s often chosen because of its reference to death and a time to die. But, at the very least, we know this passage from the famous song by the Byrds, Turn, Turn, Turn.

The point of this passage, however, is something we need desperately to take to heart. It’s something we tend to miss.  But it’s something we see clearly as we stop and consider the individual phrases being used.

There is a time to be born and a time to die. Yet, both of these times are outside of our control. We have no choice in the time of our birth. We have no choice in birth itself. And, in the same way, we have no control over death.

There is a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted. But, again, both of these times are outside of our control. Farmers plant when the time is right, when the conditions are right. And they harvest when the proper time comes.

There is a time to kill and a time to heal. Now killing, of course, is not something we should desire. But there are times when it’s necessary. Perhaps it’s when we must engage in a just war. Perhaps it’s when government authorities are punishing a doer of evil. Or perhaps it’s when our home is violated and our loved ones are threatened. These circumstances are outside of our control, but they do come. And, in the same way, so do opportunities to heal.

We can go through these verses line by line and see the same truth. There are times and seasons of life that come upon us. And they are outside of our control. They are ordained, they are determined, by God alone.

We must recognize this fact. We must recognize that we can do nothing to alter the times and seasons. And, for this reason, we must stop fighting them.

We must recognize that the only thing we can do is act when it’s appropriate. The only thing we can do is respond to the season in the appropriate way. We can plant when it’s time to plant. We can mourn when it’s time to mourn. We can keep silence when it’s time to do so, and speak when it’s appropriate.

Many of us struggle with our desire to control. But when we receive this Word, when we take it to heart, it’s quite liberating. It’s liberating as we recognize our limits, as we recognize and submit to the will of God, and act in the appropriate way at the appropriate time.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Called by God's Grace

The desire of God’s heart is the salvation of the lost. We learn in Scripture that God desires for all to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:4). And this desire is most clearly seen in Jesus, who is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2).

This desire is reflected also in the call God has given us. And what a great call this is. After receiving his grace and mercy through faith in Jesus, he calls us to carry the message of the gospel to others. He calls us to make disciples of all nations. He calls us to preach the gospel to the whole creation.

This is an intimidating thought to most of us. We don’t feel worthy of such a calling.  We think that a call like this is better suited for those who surpass us.

What we fail to understand is that, just as we are saved by the grace of God, so too are we called by God.  We see this in the words of Paul, spoken to his young colleague Timothy: “…share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us an called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace…(2 Timothy 1:8-9 ESV).

Just as our goodness and efforts play no part in the salvation of God, neither does it play a role in the call of God. His call is not something that’s given to those who are deserving. It’s given to us because of his grace.

If it were given only to the deserving, if it were given only to the qualified, none of us would be worthy of God’s call. None of us would be worthy because, as Scripture tells us, none of us are good. We have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.

The call of God is an undeserved gift, an unmerited blessing, that he offers us. We bring absolutely nothing to the table. We neither deserve it, nor are we qualified for it. Yet, for his own purpose, he has chosen us to carry out this great task.

What, then, should our response be to the call that God has placed upon our life? Instead of rejecting it on the basis of our unworthiness, we should receive it as a gift and a blessing of God.  Instead of rejecting it because it seems to be a burden, we should receive it for the benevolence that it is.


Monday, December 23, 2019

Not Man’s Gospel

“For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man's gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord's brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only were hearing it said, "He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy." And they glorified God because of me.”
‭‭Galatians‬ ‭1:11-24‬ ‭ESV‬‬

Many, today, think of the gospel as the teaching of man. They think of the Bible as the teaching of man. They believe it was authored because of the desire and intention of man.

For this reason, they believe the Bible to be flawed. The men who wrote the Bible, after all, were sinners like the rest of us. And it stands to reason that, just as we can’t do anything perfectly, just as we can’t do anything without our sin becoming apparent, neither could they.

For this reason, it’s also believed that it was a sinful motivation that led to the preaching of the gospel. They believe that it was a desire for power and control that led to its proclamation. They believe that a desire to overturn the regime of the day led to its proclamation. They believe that a desire for personal gain led to its proclamation.

However, as Paul makes clear above, the gospel he proclaimed was not his own. It wasn’t his own message. Nor was it the message of any other man.

He tells us that he didn’t receive this message from any man. It wasn’t taught to him by man. And, as he set out to proclaim this message, he didn’t consult with anyone.

Paul had received this message by a revelation of Jesus Christ. In other words, this message was given to him by Christ himself. He proclaimed only the message that Christ himself had shared with him.

Knowing that this message was given by Christ, sin is removed from the equation.  As Christ is perfect, so too is his Word. There are no mistakes or flaws to be found within it.

Paul also makes it clear that he had no sinful motives in proclaiming this message. He had, in fact, opposed this message at the outset. He was very zealous for the Jewish faith and for the traditions of his people. And, for this reason, he’d rapidly advanced among them.

He also mentions how he’d violently persecuted the church of God. He’d sought to destroy it. But, then, Jesus graciously revealed himself to Paul.

This tells us, unequivocally, that he had nothing to gain by the proclamation of the gospel. In fact, he’d surrendered everything that could benefit him. He renounced everything that could lead to his personal advancement.

Paul’s point, in this passage, is that the gospel is trustworthy. It’s completely reliable. It’s detached in every way from the sin and wicked intentions of man.

For this reason, we can hear this message with confidence. And, for this reason, we can proclaim this message with confidence. We can hear and proclaim it for what it truly is: the Word and Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Warts and All?


Most of us recognize our sinfulness. We recognize our imperfection. We realize that, no matter how hard we try, no matter how hard we strive to do better, we always fall short. And this is good.



It’s important that we recognize our sinfulness. It’s important that we recognize our inability to change ourselves. Without this recognition, we would never understand our need for salvation or look to Jesus in faith.



We would, instead, continue to look to ourselves. We would continue to trust in ourselves. And, in this way, we would miss out on this great blessing of God.



The problem is that we often resign ourselves to the sin with which we struggle. We tell ourselves that this is just the way we are. We tell ourselves that there is no changing. And for this reason, we believe that we, as well as others, have to accept ourselves warts and all.



In addition to recognizing our sin and our weakness, we must also realize that, in Jesus, we have hope. We must realize that he’s able to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. We must realize that he can change us for the better.



In 1 Thessalonians 3, starting in verse 12, Paul says: “…and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.”



We have hope because the Lord can make us to increase and abound in love. He is able to establish our hearts blameless in holiness before God. Although we are naturally selfish and self-centered, the Lord is able to work within us.  He is able to transform us.



I’m not suggesting that we can be perfect on this side of eternity. Our sinful nature will remain a part of us until the end. However, we must not resign ourselves to the sins with which we struggle.



We must, of course, bring our sin to him in a spirit of confession. We must acknowledge to him our guilt, asking for his forgiveness. But we can also ask God to help us with our sinful desires and tendencies. We can ask him for strength that we might love one another as he’s called us.



As we do so, we can trust that God can and will produce growth in our lives. We can trust that he will produce in us the fruit of faith.  We can have hope that, by his grace, things can change for the better.

Monday, December 09, 2019

Struggling with Self

The Christian life can, at times, be discouraging.  It can be discouraging because, no matter how badly we long to live for the Lord, we continue to struggle with sin.  It can be discouraging because, no matter how greatly we detest our sin, we fall into it again and again.

Sometimes, by the grace of God, we are enabled to overcome a particular struggle.  Addicts, for example, are sometimes empowered by God to overcome their desire for alcohol or drugs.  And those who struggle with pornography or a tendency to swear are sometimes empowered by God to overcome those vices.

However, the struggle with sin continues for each and every one of us.  Not only do we fall short in the eyes of God.  We also fall far short of the expectations we’ve set for ourselves.  

We tend to think that, because of our faith in the Lord, and because of our love for him, it should be easy for us to live a godly life.  We think that, because of our faith and our love for the Lord, we should easily be able to resist any and every temptation.  We think that, because of our faith and our love for the Lord, we should be able to break free from our sinful habits.

We, then, become discouraged.  We beat ourselves up.  We sometimes even question if our repentance is genuine.

This is where the gospel offers to us a tremendous comfort.  This comfort comes to us in the words of Paul in 1 Timothy 1.  In verse 15, of that chapter, he writes: The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”

Christ did not come for a people who were able to obey the law of God.  He didn’t come for a people that were able to resist their sinful desires.  Nor did he come for people who had overcome their sinful tendencies.

Jesus came into the world to save sinners.  He came into the world to save someone like Paul, who described himself as the foremost of sinners.  He came into the world to save sinners like you and me.

This, of course, doesn’t justify our sin.  It doesn’t free us to indulge our ungodly desires.  And it doesn’t free us to thumb our nose at God when his Word challenges our lifestyle.

It does, however, give us peace in the face of our sin.  It reminds us that our struggle with sin doesn’t not exclude us from salvation.  It reassures us that our failures do not remove from us God’s forgiveness.

Jesus came into this world to save sinners.  He came because we are incapable of living up to the standards of God.  He came because there is nothing we can do to save ourselves.  He came because only he could free us from sin and its consequences, enabling us to live eternally in the kingdom of God.

Wednesday, December 04, 2019

People Pleasers


“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

(Galatians 1:10 ESV)



In modern times, the church has become a group of people pleasers. Our goal is to keep everyone happy all of the time. And, for this reason, we give in to every whim, to every emotion and response, of man.



We do so for multiple reasons. We do so because we dislike criticism. We’re afraid that, if we say or do the wrong thing, people will think badly of us. We’re afraid that, if we say or do the wrong thing, people will speak badly of us. We fear how it might affect our reputation or our standing in the community.

                                                                   

We do so because we fear persecution. We’re afraid that, if others disapprove of something we say or do, we’ll suffer as a result. Perhaps we’ll lose our job. Perhaps we’ll be shunned by the community. Or perhaps we’ll face physical attacks or threats.



We do so as a means of self-preservation. We’re afraid that, if we say or do something that others find offensive, they’ll stop coming to our church. We’re afraid that they might stop giving to our church. And we’re afraid that this might mean the end of our congregation.



When it comes to matters of personal preference, when there is no right and wrong of the matter, we can and should value the opinions of those around us. We can respect others and use deference when it comes to these matters. When it comes to things like music preference, worship style, carpet color, or church d├ęcor, the opinions of others can and should matter.



However, when it comes to the gospel, when it comes to matters of truth, we are not to be people pleasers. Our primary concern, as we engage in ministry, is not to be the negative response we may face. We see this as we look at the words of Paul, above.



As we’ve seen, Paul was bringing the gospel to the people of Galatia. And there were some who did not like it. There were some who were trying to impart a different teaching, a different gospel, within the church.



However, in the face of this, he recognized who it was that he should be trying to please. He recognized that, by pleasing the world, he’d be displeasing God. And he recognized that, by pleasing God, he would displease the world.



The same is true for us today.  So, the question we have to face is very simple: Which matters more, the will of man or that of God? And the answer to this question is obvious. No matter the response of the world, we should seek to please the Lord first and foremost.



Paul says that, if he were trying to please man, he would not be a servant of Christ. He would not be a servant of Christ because the desires of God and those of the world are at odds with one another. If his primary focus was the opinion of others, he would then be a servant of man rather than a servant of God.



The same remains true for us. We must seek to please God, first and foremost. We must seek to serve God, first and foremost. When it comes to the gospel, when it comes to matters of truth, the opinion of man must not enter into the equation.



Once again, this doesn’t give us permission to be a jerk. It doesn’t give us permission to be intentionally abrasive to those around us. We’re to always act in a spirit of love. However, we must recognize who is to be the focus of our devotion.