Your Problem is Internal not External

March 28, 2021 in Bible - OT - Jeremiah, Children, Confession, Depravity, Ecclesiology, Heart, Human Condition, Meditations, Regeneration, Responsibility, Sexuality

Jeremiah 17:9–10
9“The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it? 10I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, Even to give every man according to his ways, According to the fruit of his doings.

In our sermon this morning, we study Romans 3 and the universality of unrighteousness. As Paul will summarize, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). Or, as Jeremiah reminds us today, “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” So let us consider some implications of our sinful, fallen nature.

I am sure that many of you have heard of the man who shot and killed several people at a massage parlor in Atlanta recently. A professing Christian, he apparently told police that he had been struggling with sexual sin and so decided to attack the massage parlor. Apparently, he believed that if he were to get rid of these women then he would be eliminating that which he found so tempting. In other words, he believed that his primary problem was outside of him.

But what Jeremiah insists is that our fundamental problem is not outside us; the problem is inside us – in our hearts and minds. Your problem is not other people. Your problem is not your circumstances. Your problem is your heart. You are corrupt and do not fear God. This is your root problem.

So if you are a man dealing with sexual temptation – your problem is not women. If you are a woman dealing with envy or bitterness – your problem is not that others have wronged you or that others have the gifts you want. If you are tempted to drunkenness – your problem is not alcohol. Your problem is not outside but inside. Men are not the problem; women are not the problem; sex is not the problem; liquor is not the problem; money is not the problem; the problem is your sinful heart that twists and abuses these good gifts that God has given.

So notice what this means. This means that the chief threat to your home is not outside your home. The chief threat to your home is inside your home. It is inside every sinner who resides in your home. You are a sinner. If you are married, your spouse is a sinner. If you have children, your children are sinners. And the chief threat is there, in those sinful hearts.

So let’s say you’re relatively poor. You don’t own your own home, have as nice a car, have as many toys; you can’t travel like your neighbor does or afford those organically grown foods – truly you’re suffering for Jesus. So you make some impulsive and foolish financial decisions. You buy a car you can’t afford; you run up credit card debt; you get yourself in a bind and now you feel like you’re drowning. What do you do? Do you blame your circumstances for your impulsive decisions? If you do, then you will never grow, you will never change. In most situations, finances are more about our hearts than our circumstances. “The love of money,” Paul writes, “is the root of all kinds of evil…” If you’re willing to confront that heart issue, then you can truly grow.

Or, fathers, let’s say you’ve had a hard day at work. You come home. Your children disobey and, rather than get up and do the hard work of lovingly disciplining your child, you lash out at him with your voice or strike him in anger. Whose fault is that? When your conscience smites you, can you say to your conscience, “Hey, I was tired! He shouldn’t have disobeyed. It’s his fault. It was a hard day.” No! Your circumstances do not justify your sin. Now, they may help contextualize your sin. By observing them, you may be able to learn more about yourself, to understand when you are particularly tempted to sin so that you can fight that temptation in the future. That is the process of sanctification and it is a good and right process. But what you cannot do, if you really want to grow in Christ, is blame your sin on your circumstances.

Let’s say, teens, that you get frustrated with your parents. You don’t think they’re listening to you or understanding you or seeing things the right way. So you roll your eyes or you speak disrespectfully. Whose fault is that? When your parents confront your disrespect, can you excuse yourself? Can you say, “Well you made me angry! It’s your fault!”? Is your disrespect their fault? Will God excuse you? No!

There are times when we Christians act as though our problem is primarily external not internal. We say to ourselves, “We are raising our kids in just the right way, so we won’t have the problems that people out there in the world have. Our kids won’t look at porn. We won’t have unwed mothers. Our kids won’t be drunkards. We’ll never have a child tempted to commit suicide. Our method will work.” If you think that way, then you have not yet reckoned with the depth of your sin, your spouse’s sin, and your children’s sin. Methods will not save us. Laws will not save us. Only the grace and mercy of God in Christ can save us and our children from destruction.

And so reminded that our hearts are desperately wicked and that we cannot save ourselves, let us confess our sin. Let us confess our need for the forgiving and transforming grace of God in Christ. And let us kneel as we are able. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

The Peril of Hypocrisy

March 21, 2021 in Bible - OT - Isaiah, Confession, Covenantal Living, Depravity, Human Condition, Liturgy, Meditations, Sacraments, Tradition, Worship

Isaiah 29:13–14 (NKJV)
13 Therefore the Lord said: “Inasmuch as these people draw near with their mouths And honor Me with their lips, But have removed their hearts far from Me, And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men, 14 Therefore, behold, I will again do a marvelous work Among this people, A marvelous work and a wonder; For the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, And the understanding of their prudent men shall be hidden.”

Whether they acknowledge it or not, every church is liturgical, has a liturgy that directs their public worship week by week. Liturgies are inescapable. For what is a liturgy? Webster defines “liturgy” as “a series of … procedures prescribed for public worship in the Christian church.” In other words, it is simply the order in which the activities of public worship are arranged. Sometimes these liturgies are simple and straightforward; other times they are intricate and complicated. But every church has a liturgy.

The question that must be asked, therefore, is not whether we should have a liturgy at all – that much is inescapable – but whether the liturgy we have reflects the principles given to us in the Word of God. And one of the first principles given us in worship is that it must come from the heart. As human beings we are always in danger of replacing genuine, heartfelt worship with hypocrisy – speaking “holy” words, doing “holy” actions, thinking “holy” thoughts all the while our hearts are far away from God.

Such hypocrisy is an internal problem that comes from the human heart and not an external problem that arises from our circumstances. Hence, hypocrisy infects all types of liturgy, whether a low church Pentecostal service with its planned spontaneity or a high church Anglican service with its elaborate script. Both types of liturgy are prone to hypocrisy because sinners plan and participate in both. And it is this sin of hypocrisy into which Israel had fallen in Isaiah’s day:

Therefore the Lord said: “… these people draw near with their mouths And honor Me with their lips, But have removed their hearts far from Me, And their fear toward Me is taught by the commandment of men…”

So what of you? Have you become distant from God? Are you attending the divine service out of mere habit, giving no attention to the words spoken, putting no heart into the service? Have you become a mere spectator thinking that worship is some sort of entertainment for your personal pleasure? Have you become dull of hearing? Or are you actively engaged? Confessing your sin? Learning your role in the service? Singing your part? Contributing your voice? Joining the one leading in prayer? Listening attentively to the sermon?

Brothers and sisters, Isaiah warns us to beware hypocrisy, to beware mere externalism, to beware drawing near to God with our lips when our hearts are far from him. God takes such hypocrisy seriously and threatens His people with His fatherly correction if we fall into such sin. So reminded that when we come to worship, we are to come with our hearts engaged, loving and cherishing the Lord and His law, let us confess that we often draw near with our lips while our hearts are far from him. And, as you are able, let us kneel together as we confess our sin to the Lord. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

The Delight of Discipline

February 7, 2021 in Authority, Bible - OT - Proverbs, Children, Covenantal Living, Human Condition, Judgment, Lord's Day, Meditations, Parents, Responsibility

Proverbs 29:17 (NKJV)

17 Correct your son, and he will give you rest; Yes, he will give delight to your soul.

Last week we insisted that a good father, an earthly father who imitates our Father in heaven, will discipline his children for their good. A loving father does not discipline out of frustration or anger or impatience. Outbursts of wrath are not the fruit of the Spirit but the works of the flesh. Such outbursts do not reflect the loving discipline of our Heavenly Father but the perverse self-interest of Satan and his minions. For, as James reminds us, the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.

While our discipline of our children is not to be self-centered, there is a blessing that comes to those parents who discipline their children. It is to this blessing that Solomon points us today, Correct your son, and he will give you rest; Yes, he will give delight to your soul.” A wise son gives delight to the soul, gives a deep and abiding sense of comfort or, as Solomon puts it, rest. Parents have no greater joy than to see their children joyfully serving the Lord and walking uprightly. “My son, if your heart is wise, My heart will rejoice—indeed, I myself; Yes, my inmost being will rejoice When your lips speak right things” (Prov 23:15-16).

But note that this delight and rest are the fruits of godly discipline. “Correct your son, and he will give you rest…” A child left to himself when young rarely brings delight when old. So Solomon urges you, “Chasten your son while there is hope, And do not set your heart on his destruction” (Prov 19:18). Now, while your children are young and the concrete is still wet, discipline and train them so that, when the concrete sets, it doesn’t have to be destroyed. Use your lips, in love, to correct your son. Use the rod, in love, to correct your son. And if you want to know how to do that faithfully, then contact Bob or Jackie and join their upcoming parenting class; seek out older mentors who can give you wisdom.

The fact that we parents are to train our children to be a blessing, reminds us that untrained children are a curse. Children, considered in the abstract, are a blessing from God and the fruit of the womb is His reward (Psalm 127:3). However, parents who fail to train their children take that blessing and twist it into a curse. “A foolish son is a grief to his father, And bitterness to her who bore him” (Prov 17:25). Untrained children are a curse and a grief to mother and father as well as to others. So be diligent to train your children that they may be a delight. This is one way that you love your neighbor as yourself. Who enjoys being in the company of a child that lacks self-control, that refuses to listen to correction, or that is a regular disruption? No one. So if you don’t like it, then love your neighbor as yourself by training your own children so that they are not like that.

And, children, notice what your calling is. Your calling is to learn the lessons that your parents are teaching you. Give heed to their verbal corrections; welcome their discipline; and strive to bring joy to your parents and to others by growing in wisdom and maturity. Little children, pray that you may be like your Lord Jesus who “grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him” (Lk 2:40). Teens, be like your Lord Jesus who “increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Lk 2:52).

Reminded that discipline is to train us to bring joy to others, let us acknowledge that we often fail to bring the joy that we ought; we often fail to grow in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men. So let us confess our sin to the Lord, seeking His forgiveness through Jesus Christ. And, as you are able, let us kneel as we confess. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Resolutions for a New Year

December 27, 2020 in Bible - NT - Ephesians, Church Calendar, Covenantal Living, Discipline, Human Condition, King Jesus, Meditations, Sanctification, Thankfulness

Ephesians 3:20–21 (NKJV)

20 Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, 21 to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

This morning we find ourselves on the cusp of a new year. The old has passed away, behold the new has come! As we prepare to enter into this new year, I want to meditate on Paul’s words to the Ephesians. New years provide opportunities for renewed resolutions, hopes, and dreams. Paul’s words in Ephesians 3 contain profound wisdom for us as we consider these things.

So let us note that in our text Paul is giving glory to God in the process of which he gives instruction to us. First, Paul gives glory to God: to [God] be glory. So why is Paul ascribing glory to God? Because God is the One who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think. Whatever dreams or hopes you have for this upcoming year, Paul tells us, they are not too difficult for God to accomplish. God is able to do far more than we can articulate with our mouths or that we can even imagine with our heads.

And what Paul tells us is that the power of God comes to us by Christ Jesus. Jesus is the center of our faith. It is through His death and resurrection that we have forgiveness of sins and newness of life; through His death and resurrection that the power of God is at work in us. Paul ascribes glory to God by Christ Jesus our Lord.

So what does this mean for us? Well Paul tells us that this God who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think is the very God whose power works in us. Did you catch that? If you are in Christ, if you have turned from your love of sin and sought out the forgiving grace of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus, then the omnipotent God, He who rules and reigns among the affairs of men, is at work with His power in your life. God’s favor is toward you. Do you believe it? You see, Paul wants you to grow in wisdom and holiness and the way you grow is through a deep and personal knowledge of all that God has done, is doing, and promises yet to do for you in Christ.

So note that Paul writes that God’s glory is revealed in the Church: to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. In other words, God’s glory is revealed in and through you and me. God’s power is on display in His people – He has forgiven us and empowers us so that we might display the wonder of His work in a dark and hopeless world, that we might display the impotency of the world, the flesh, and the devil when confronted with the power of our Christ. In ourselves we are weak and powerless; but in our God we can run against a troop (Ps 18:29). If you are in Christ, God wants to display the wonder and power of His grace in your life; to glorify His Name through you.

So what this means is that those excuses you’ve been making for not addressing that sin pattern in your life are groundless; those despairing voices that have been telling you that there’s no hope for change are lying; those urges to complacency that have said it’s okay that you’re just coasting along spiritually, that you’re not really growing or being intentional about serving Christ; all those excuses, voices, and urges are of the devil. God gives His omnipotent strength to His people because He loves us and longs for us “to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height – to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Eph 3:18b-19).

So as we enter into the presence of our Lord on the cusp of a New Year, let us confess that we have often failed to believe Him, failed to trust Him, and let us seek His forgiveness through Jesus Christ that He might empower us as His humble people to bring glory and honor to His Name in this coming year. And as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sins. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Sinful Hatred

September 20, 2020 in Bible - NT - Galatians, Depravity, Human Condition, Meditations, Sin

Galatians 5:19–21 (NKJV)

19Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

One of my friends is fond of remarking that sins are like grapes – they grow in bunches. So we have seen that Paul groups together various sexual sins – adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness – and then sins of worship – idolatry, sorcery/superstition – and now he addresses interpersonal sins. The first of these interpersonal sins is hatred: “The works of the flesh are evident, which are… hatred.”

The Greek word is ekthra. Foundationally, this hatred refers to a hatred of God. The unbelieving heart from which works of the flesh proceed hates God: “the carnal mind is enmity [hatred] against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be” (Rom 8:7). The carnal mind is set against against God – it hates God and hates God’s law. And the world – not the planet but the collection of those driven by their sinful nature – also hates God. Consequently, friendship with the world is enmity with God (James 4:4) and the one who wants to be the friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

This hatred of God, this vertical hatred, manifests itself in other types of hatred, horizontal hatred, hatred of others. Cain hated Abel and killed him in cold blood. Esau hated Jacob and plotted to kill him. Joseph’s brothers hated him and sold him into slavery. After he had raped her, Amnon hated Tamar and brought shame and misery upon her. Absalom hated Amnon and orchestrated his murder some two years later.

Such hatred ensnares not only individuals but groups – families, factions, tribes, nations, ethnicities. Thus the Edomites hated Israel despite their common heritage as descendants of Abraham: “…you have had an ancient hatred, and have shed the blood of the children of Israel by the power of the sword…” (Ezek 35:5) King Saul hated the Gibeonites and endeavored to destroy them with a form of ethnic cleansing (2 Sam 21). And in our day, unscrupulous politicians regularly inflame such hatred, pitting rich against poor, black against white, male against female. No wonder Paul describes our fallen state as “hateful and hating one another” (Tit 3:3).

Such ethnic hatred was in part reinforced by the ceremonial law of the old covenant which distinguished Jew and Gentile. Jews were circumcised; most Gentiles were not. Jews refused pork; most Gentiles did not. Jewish men could not shave certain portions of their beard; many Gentiles did. In Christ, these types of distinctions and the enmity they aroused have been broken down (Eph 2:14–16):

14For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, 15having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, 16and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.

In Christ neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; neither pork eaters nor non-pork eaters are anything; neither beard growers nor beard shavers are anything – what matters is keeping God’s moral law. Now that the Gospel is not limited to Israel but is being preached to all nations, such matters are adiaphora, things indifferent, areas where Christians are to extend grace to those who differ.

Thus, the Gospel teaches us to put away perverse hatred and to love our neighbor as ourselves – to treat our neighbor lawfully from the heart. To love one’s neighbor is to honor one’s own parents and to protect another’s life, marriage, property, and reputation knowing that this is the fear of the Lord. For though hatred often conceals and disguises itself, God will always bring it to judgment:

24He who hates, disguises it with his lips, And lays up deceit within himself; 25When he speaks kindly, do not believe him, For there are seven abominations in his heart; 26Though his hatred is covered by deceit, His wickedness will be revealed before the assembly. (Prov 26:24–26)

And so reminded that we are to put away hatred and to love our neighbor as ourselves, let us confess that we often are tempted to plot evil against our neighbor instead. And, as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sin to the Lord. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Sorcery and Superstition

September 13, 2020 in Atheism, Bible - NT - Galatians, Bible - OT - Deuteronomy, Depravity, Human Condition, Meditations, Sin, Truth, Worship

Galatians 5:19–21 (NKJV)

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Whenever we as human beings throw off the worship of the Living God, we do not cease to worship, we do not cease religious practices. Rather, we replace the worship of the true God with idolatry, and we replace the practice of true religion with superstitions such as sorcery or witchcraft, the work of the flesh that we focus upon today. “The works of the flesh are evident, which are… sorcery.”

The Greek word is pharmakia – from whence we get our English words “pharmacy” and “pharmacist” – one who dispenses drugs. While we often associate “sorcery” with the casting of spells, more frequently sorcery was connected with the use of hallucinogenic drugs, alcohol, and poisons, along with an invocation of demonic forces, to do either harm or good. Sorcerers use their skills to frighten, enslave, and accumulate wealth. They make lavish promises of victory over foes, increased fertility, inevitable prosperity. Because sorcery uses drugs and appeals to dark forces, it is always accompanied by other types of wickedness and incurs the wrath and judgment of God. Thus Moses warned Israel:

“There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the LORD, and because of these abominations the LORD your God drives [the nations] out from before you” (Dt 18:10–12).

Despite this warning, sorcery has reared its ugly head again and again whenever a people turn away from God toward idols. So King Saul, in his apostasy, consulted the witch of Endor (1 Sam 28); the wicked king Manasseh “caused his sons to pass through the fire… [and] practiced soothsaying, used witchcraft and sorcery, and consulted mediums and spiritists” (2 Chr 33:6). And in our day, too, the practice of witchraft and sorcery is becoming increasingly common. Thus we find Malachi and many other prophets warning that God would come in judgment on those who practiced sorcery (Mal 3:5). And John writes that “sorcerers… shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone…” (Rev 21:8).

When the Gospel arrives, the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection and His conquest of the powers of darkness, it drives out sorcery. Even as light drives out darkness, so the true worship of God drives out superstition. God had promised through the prophet Micah, “I will cut off sorceries from your hand, And you shall have no soothsayers” (Mic 5:12). So, after Paul had preached the Gospel in the city of Ephesus, “many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all” (Acts 19:19). The Gospel frees us from lies and superstitions.

So what of you? Have you been freed from superstition? The promise of such superstition is that one can control the future or protect oneself from harm. But the one who has come to love God no longer needs to manipulate the world but can rest in the good providence of God, trusting Him to protect and to prosper those who love Him and keep His commandments. So do you trust Him? Or are you trying to manipulate the world in some superstitious way? 

Reminded that sorcery incurs the wrath and judgment of God and that it is the fruit of rebelling against God, let us acknowledge that it has become increasingly common in our society and that we too, as the people of God, are sometimes lured by its promises of control and prosperity. And as we confess our sin to the Lord, let us kneel as we are able and seek the Lord’s forgiveness. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Walk in the Spirit

August 9, 2020 in Bible - NT - Galatians, Depravity, Heart, Human Condition, Justification, Meditations, Sanctification, Thankfulness

Galatians 5:16–18 (NKJV)

16I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

As fallen human beings, our problem is twofold. Our first problem is that we have sinned against God and are guilty in His sight. We are, in Paul’s words, “under the law”, condemned by its precepts to God’s wrath and judgment. We need the forgiving grace of God. And the only way that God can extend that forgiving grace to us and remain just is if a substitute takes our place and bears the guilt of our sin, endures the just judgment that we deserve. Thanks be to God, Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. By trusting in Christ we can be forgiven of our sin and cleansed of our guilt and God Himself can remain just.

Our second problem as fallen human beings is that our longings and desires are twisted. The very reason that we have sinned against God is because we are sinners. We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners. Paul calls this sinful nature “the flesh.” The longing of the flesh is to dishonor the Living God, to question His law, to doubt His goodness, and to flout His justice.

Now, hear the good news, Christ not only died to forgive the guilt of our sin, He also rose from the dead in order that through the power of His resurrected life, we may walk in newness of life. Jesus has risen from the dead and, as the Risen Christ, God’s Anointed Ruler, He has poured out His Spirit upon His people so that we may walk in newness of life. To believe in Christ, therefore, is not only to be forgiven of sin but to be empowered for obedience.

What, then, is our calling? If you have believed in Christ, have sought out the forgiving grace of God in Christ, then your task is to walk by the Spirit. Notice Paul’s summons in our text today:

16I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.

The desires of the flesh and the desires of the Spirit are contrary to one another. While the flesh would dishonor God, the Spirit would honor Him; while the flesh would pursue unrighteousness, the Spirit would pursue righteousness. So walk by the Spirit – for it is those who walk by the Spirit who have truly experienced the forgiving grace of God in Christ, who are not “under the law” as a condemnatory voice.

So what of you? The psalmist prays, “Teach me Your way, O Yahweh; I will walk in Your truth; Unite my heart to fear Your name.” (Ps 86:11). Is it your prayer to have a united heart? To have a heart that is not one moment going after the desires of the flesh and another after the desires of the Spirit? Then pray as the psalmist prays – that God of His grace and mercy would pour out an even greater measure of His Spirit upon you that you walk in the Spirit and so not fulfill the desires of the flesh.

Reminded that we need both the forgiving and transforming grace of God in our lives, and that this comes only through the death and resurrection of Jesus, let us confess our sin to the Lord and petition Him for grace and mercy through Christ. And, as you are able, let us kneel together as we confess. We will have a time of silent confession, followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

By Nature Sinful and Unclean

June 28, 2020 in Bible - NT - Mark, Confession, Depravity, Heart, Homosexuality, Human Condition, Liturgy, Meditations, Regeneration, Sexuality, Sin

Mark 7:20–23 (NKJV)

20And [Jesus] said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. 21For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. 23All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”

Those of you who have been at Trinity Church for some time know that we regularly rotate our liturgical greetings, confessions, and creeds in the course of the year. These changes enable us to focus on a variety of Scriptural commands and promises throughout the year. And, occasionally, we will tweak these liturgical elements in order to grow in faithfulness or to emphasize some other Scriptural principle.

One of the things that you may or may not have recognized is that we made a slight change to the confession of sins that we use at this time of year. In just a moment we will confess as follows:

M: Most merciful God,

P: we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone…

You may have recognized that that first sentence is new, “we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean.” In the past our confession began with the words, “We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed…” So why the change?

The purpose of this change is to emphasize that we are not only guilty of those actual sins which we commit but also of the corruption of our nature, historically called original sin, with which we are born. Because we rebelled against God in the beginning of human history, we are sinful by nature. We are, as Paul writes in Ephesians 2:3, “by nature children of wrath.” By nature we are guilty in the sight of God and justly deserve to be condemned for our sin.

In other words, sin attaches itself not only to our actions but also to our nature. We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners. It is from within, out of the heart of men, that our evil actions proceed. Consequently, we need both to have our sins forgiven and also to have our nature renewed, to be born again by the grace of God.

So why emphasize this? Well, there are many who are attempting to sow confusion in the church regarding same-sex sin. Some of you may be familiar with the Revoice conference last year where various teachers claimed that while same-sex sexual acts are sinful, same-sex desires are not. But this is a gross distortion of Scripture. The Scriptures insist that the desires themselves are twisted and perverse and must be confessed as sin. They are part of that which must be put to death, must be mortified, if we are to serve Christ faithfully.

So what does this mean for us? It means that our sinful actions are the fruit of our sinful nature – and I am responsible both both and I must confess both. Further, my sinful nature distorts not only what I do but fundamentally what I desire, what I love. A man who commits adultery is a man who has long indulged adulterous desires in his heart; a woman who slanders another is a woman who has long indulged bitterness and resentment in her heart. If we would grow in grace, therefore, we must not simply modify our sinful behavior but mortify our sinful desires. The mere fact that I possess a certain inclination or desire is no proof that that desire is upright or pleasing to God. God’s law is the standard by which my desires must be measured. We must pray that God renew our nature and rid us of covetousness, destroy our sexual lust, uproot our bitterness, humble our pride – for it is not only our actions which are sinful but the nature from which those actions proceed.

And so, as we enter into the presence of the Lord today, let us confess both our sinful nature and our sinful actions – for He is the only one who can forgive us for both and who can renew us in His own image. And as you are able, let us kneel together before the Lord as we confess our sins. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

They are Unmerciful

May 17, 2020 in Bible - NT - Romans, Bible - OT - Exodus, Depravity, Human Condition, Meditations, Responsibility, Sanctification

Romans 1:28–32 (NKJV)

28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; 32 who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.

This morning we conclude Paul’s catalogue of the bitter fruits produced by those of debased mind, those whom God in His justice has handed over to their sin for their rebellion. For several months we have marched steadily through this list. Today, we conclude with Paul’s assertion that people of debased mind “are unmerciful.”

Mercy is “the emotion roused by contact with an affliction which comes undeservedly on someone else” (TDNT). We know that God Himself is full of mercy. He announces His Name to Moses, “Yahweh, Yahweh God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation” (Ex 34:6-7). The Lord is a merciful God – He takes special care for those who are weak and vulnerable, for those who are suffering unjustly.

Because He is merciful, He expects us as His image bearers to be merciful as well. “Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘Execute true justice, Show mercy and compassion Everyone to his brother. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, The alien or the poor. Let none of you plan evil in his heart Against his brother’” (Zech 7:8-10). Pay special attention, God commands, to those who are suffering unjustly. Be a merciful people.

One of the things that distinguishes the righteous and the wicked, therefore, is mercy. “The wicked borrows and does not repay, But the righteous shows mercy and gives” (Ps 37:21). The wicked man is grasping and takes from others unjustly while the righteous man is openhanded and generous. Consequently, the Lord will “cut off the memory of [the wicked] from the earth; Because he did not remember to show mercy, But persecuted the poor and needy man, That he might even slay the broken in heart” (Ps 109:15,16). The wicked man is unmerciful.

But mercy is not sentimentality; mercy is not a bleeding heart that neglects justice. God’s mercy is directed to those who are suffering unjustly; but the same God who keeps mercy also by no means clears the guilty. Those who are suffering justly, who have cruelly persecuted the helpless and been merciless to the righteous and whose wicked deeds are now coming back upon them, God treats justly. “With the merciful You will show Yourself merciful… [But] with the devious You will show Yourself shrewd” (Ps 18:25-26). So the psalmist teaches us to pray against the wicked, “Let there be none to extend mercy to him, Nor let there be any to favor his fatherless children” (Ps 109:12). And God forbids showing mercy to those who have committed certain crimes, “Your eye shall not pity…” (Dt 19:13, 21). Mercy and justice are friends.

So what of you? First, do you distinguish between those who are suffering justly and unjustly? With those suffering justly, do you pray that God would enable you to be shrewd in how you deal with them, not interrupting the Lord’s work of correction in their lives, nor overthrowing justice, but, at all times, showing grace? Second, do you delight to show mercy to those who are suffering unjustly? Do you feel compassion for them and long to alleviate their pain, praying for them, financially assisting them, and speaking up for them?

Reminded of our calling to be a merciful people even as the Lord our God is merciful, let us acknowledge that we have often closed our hearts to those in need of mercy and have often extended mercy to those who should receive justice instead. And as we confess, let us kneel. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.