Making Excuses

I’ve recently realised that I’m an expert at making excuses. I hadn’t seen this as a problem until recently because I don’t usually make them out loud.

Most of us know that it’s bad form to reply with an excuse when we’re criticised or when we’ve failed someone, and I try to avoid this. But I’ve noticed that the excuse-making often continues in my heart.

Sometimes it’s in situations that don’t really matter. If I made fewer mental excuses when I’m at the gym, I’m sure that my workout would be more effective – ‘I’ve had a tiring day, I’ll go easy on myself’ – but it’s only my physical fitness that is going to suffer!

But where God has been working on my heart lately is in the area of making excuses to him about my sin.

No More Excuses

I’m currently reading a book called Openness Unhindered by Rosaria Butterfield, I’d recommend it if you want a challenging and stimulating read. It covers a range of topics to do with identity, sin, and ‘union with Christ’.

Something that the author says about our attitude to sin intersected with the ‘excuse issue’ for me. It made me realise that making excuses becomes a troubling spiritual problem, when our excuses are directed at God with the purpose of minimising or denying our sin. I saw that this is not part of repentance, it actually works against it!

Admission Alone Is Not Confession

Admission of sin says ‘Yes I sinned, but…’

It’s not my fault’, ‘You don’t understand the circumstances’, ‘It’s just who I am’, ‘I’m a victim here’ etc.Blame

I like Butterfield’s blunt summary: ‘Sin is treason, not sinus trouble’. She goes on to say that part of the problem is that we often ask God to see our sin from our point of view. Instead of allowing his word to bring our perspective in line with his sovereign and holy will, as true repentance is worked in our hearts.

Butterfield defines confession like this: ‘to own, acknowledge, or avow, as a crime, a fault, a charge, or a debt.’

‘When we confess a sin, we are not asking that God or others see it from our point of view. . .We consent that the Bible is true and that the law of God condemns us. And this either drives us into mad depression or into the open arms of our saviour Jesus Christ.’ 

Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, Openness Unhindered.

So, unlike admission alone, confession says to God ‘You are justified when you speak, and blameless when you judge . . .Create in me a clean heart O God’ (David’s prayer in Psalm 51)

There is simply no place for making excuses when it comes to sin!

Jesus Removes the Need for Excuses

However, one of the reasons that I find it so difficult to dislodge my excuse-making is that I use them to cover my nakedness! When I know I don’t measure up, when I identify areas of failure and shame in my life, I rush to find little scraps of defensiveness, self-pity, and mitigating circumstances, to clothe me before anyone notices! (We see this both literally and symbolically in Genesis 3:6-13 – remember the fig leaves?) But I can never cover myself sufficiently, and the Bible tells us that all our efforts at righteousness are shown to be ‘filthy rags’ when compared with the perfection of God! (Isaiah 64:6)

Yet the good news for the Christian is that God has a solution for any who are willing to surrender their useless rags to him, in exchange for the pure white clothing of Jesus’ righteousness. We can throw our excuses away and ask him to cover our nakedness!

A broken and contrite spirit you will not despise.’ Psalm 51:17

I can confess my sin and mourn it, recognising it for what it truly is in all its shame and ugliness, because doing so will actually bring me closer to Christ! He promises to forgive me, wash me clean, and help me to continue to turn from my sin in the power of his spirit!

‘There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’ Romans 8:1

Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt of my sin. Psalm 32:5

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9 

Wow, God is so good to us!

Let’s boldly exchange our excuses for his promises.

Nim

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Pick Your Battle

Every day is a battle for the Christian.

We’ve got two opposing natures inside us. One which says to God ‘your will be done’ and the second that snarls ‘MY will be done!’
Fighting sin is hard! It can be raw and ugly, and we feel weak and vulnerable. Sometimes we move from repentance to rebellion and back again in a moment.

It is tempting to tire of the fight; to stop striving for holiness and obedience to God, and to let our sinful nature lead us any way it chooses.Pick-Your-Fight

Perhaps there is one particular sin that you can never seem to conquer for long? It’s tempting to just give in once and for all. But it’s a dangerous illusion that giving up is the easy option, because surrendering to our sins leads to pain and hardships too:
Distance from Christ,
guilt and shame,
escalation of sin and increasing bondage to it,
loss of joy and peace,
painful consequences,
isolation,
and fear of judgement. . .

Fighting sin is weary work and we often fail, but it’s a worthwhile pain that, with God’s help leads to:
True repentance,
outpourings of grace,
peace,
humility,
joy,
redemption and renewal,
thanksgiving,
spiritual growth,
and intimacy with Christ.

Christian Hip Hop artist Andy Mineo describes this struggle perfectly in his song Tug of War:

“I’ve got two choices, both require pain
One’s the pain of change or the pain of staying the same
One of them leads to joy, other one leads to shame
One of them leads to freedom the other one keeps me in chains. . . ”
Tug of War, Andy Mineo, Heroes For Sale

So choose your pain. But don’t believe the lie that giving in is easier than fighting!

He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.
Psalm 103:10-14

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 1 Corinthians 10:13

Don’t give up.

Nim

Killing It

“Be killing sin or it will be killing you” – John Owen

Toxic

What lies do you tell yourself about your habitual sins?

Here are some of mine:

It’s not that bad

I can’t help it

Everybody does it

I can control it

If God provided what I need (want) I wouldn’t have to resort to this

I’ll deal with it another day

What gospel truths do you use to excuse your sin?

Jesus died to forgive my sins

I’m saved by grace, not works

I mustn’t be legalistic about holiness

But when I look in the mirror of God’s word – alongside the challenging words of John Owen –  I can’t help but see the ugly realities of my heart:

Holiness and obedience aren’t my top priorities

I’m too lazy to deal with sin

I don’t want to fast and battle in prayer

I’m reluctant to take a hard look at my heart because I know the Holy Spirit will reveal things I’d rather ignore

I prize my own comfort/ entertainment/individual sins too much to seriously deal with them

I don’t believe my sin is dangerous to me

Wow. Told you it’s ugly. How greatly we need Jesus!

King David saw things clearly in Psalm 51 after a period of grievous sin. His words hint at the discipline he faced as he resisted repentance:

Let the bones you have crushed rejoice.

Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation

Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed

He feels crushed, he has lost joy in salvation, and the vibrancy of God’s Spirit within.

“Be killing sin or it will be killing you”

As long as we leave our sin undealt with, it will grow, doing more and more damage to us, and to others. Our hearts will become hard and indifferent to it, and God’s Spirit will quieten.…do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.” Ephesians 40:30

Do we want to persist in grieving God’s Spirit? I know I can’t do without God’s presence and work in my life, and I want to please him. I don’t want to be defeated or kept bound by sin. But in letting my sins remain without some serious spiritual weeding, I threaten the growth of good spiritual fruit in my life.

More seriously, I insult Jesus my saviour, and cheapen his sacrifice at the cross, by continuing in the sins he died for. – he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:5) – That’s the terrible reality of what we do when we ignore sin! As Christians we are called to war against our sin, not to live comfortably with it.

One of the things I’ve been challenged to see, is that saying sorry regularly about sins I give in to, is not the same thing as true repentance which sets out to kill sin. The diagnosis is serious, and so the cure must be.

David’s Repentance

David now knows what he must do, and he returns to his God in repentance, for help:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.

Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Coming to God for help with sin is vital. We must fight, but we need God’s spirit to be at work or our efforts will be futile! “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Matthew 26:41

How does God respond when we stand to fight, to kill sin with his help?

 … a broken and contrite heart  you, God, will not despise. Psalm 51:17

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

The True Sin Killer

This is not a call for us to fight sin in our own strength, but an appeal to recognise the continual need to fight it with God’s enabling. Let’s be encouraged that it is God’s Spirit at work in us who empowers us to recognise, repent of, and kill sin. He causes us to know and love Christ, and empowers us with the knowledge of God. And there is much to be gained as we do so! But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. Galatians 5:16

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. Romans 8:13

Owen says that the person preparing to kill sin should cultivate a deep longing for freedom from it. I long to know all I can of God’s love, fellowship, and faithful work in me, and my prayer is that God will increase this longing. Along with King David I pray “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me”

Let us kill sin that we may know life in all its fullness!

Nim

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. Philippians 1:6

P.S I recommend Overcoming Sin & Temptation – a modern edit of Owens’ classic works on this subject


Introspection can only take you so far…

in•tro•spec•tion

Nounrodin-thinker

The examination or observation of one’s own mental and emotional processes.

I’m a fairly introspective person, I like to think about things deeply, and I can over-think and overanalyse until I’m going round in circles, especially when my gaze is directed at myself!

Introspection has some value, especially for the Christian. We should be willing to regularly examine ourselves in God’s presence.

Are our attitudes right? Is our behaviour pleasing? Do our thoughts and plans glorify him?

As we read the Bible it should be as though we are holding up a mirror, so that with God’s help to see what he sees, we can wipe away the dirt and grime that obscure our likeness to Christ.

But introspection can only take us so far, and it can become unhelpful if we persist in it too long.

Recently I set aside a few days for study and prayer – it was great to take time to listen to God, to think, and too assess myself in the light of the things I read. But towards the end of the time I began to feel a bit overwhelmed.

Man, what a lot of work God still had to do with me! How many areas there were in need of radical change. What a hard heart I had when it came to this issue, or that one…

I was starting to get pretty discouraged when I came across a helpful quote that spoke right to the heart of the issue:

To really be gripped by your identity in God’s greatness you must wade out of the shallow waters of self-absorption into the deep waters of praising him at all times for all things. Remember, God formed you for that very purpose. Embrace your identity as a forgiven worshiper of this all-patient God.”

James Mac Donald Gripped by the Greatness of God

In a couple of lines it reminded me of some important things:

I am a forgiven sinner

I am a worshiper of God

My identity is rooted in God’s identity

It’s not helpful to remain splashing around in the shallows of self-absorption. It’s only of value if I continue by wading into the depths of God’s good character, gazing at his glory, his mercy, his steadfast love and faithfulness.

Introspection alone will lead me in a downward spiral, because I am a sinner, and hope for change is not found in me! It can also end up placing me at the centre of the universe instead of God.

Lifting my eyes to God will inspire me to trust, and to praise him. In his presence repentance can take place, forgiveness is found and sanctification continues, all the while accompanied by praise that lifts my eyes away from myself.

Earnestness about my spiritual growth before God pleases him, but I must not miss out on the joy of lifting my eyes from myself to him – a far more worthy and beautiful pursuit!

Nim

What do you do when the temperature drops?

How should Christians deal with spiritual coldness and discouragement?

In recent weeks, I’ve had several conversations with Christians who are struggling. They feel discouraged, dry, and far from God; and increasingly guilty the longer these feelings linger. I have to confess that although I can readily identify with such times, I have felt shallow in my initial responses, and this post is the fruit of the thinking I’ve done since.

Let me know what you think…

I’m sure there is no neat and tidy answer that will suffice for every situation. Spiritual discouragement can result from any number of causes – real and legitimate worries, depression, suffering, bad experiences within the church, and our ever sinful hearts.

What I’m certain of, is that this spiritual matter cannot be solved with human willpower alone, or with an easy formula. (Which is why this post is not titled “3 steps to relighting your spiritual fire”!)

One thing that we must be clear on, even as we seek to climb out of a rut we’ve gotten into, is that it is only by the work of the Holy Spirit, that a dead and unfeeling heart is exchanged for a new heart that loves and seeks after God. This is a transformation that began when we first heard and believed the gospel. A transformation that accompanied our once-for-all eternal salvation through Jesus Christ, and continues as we start to resemble him.

The discouraged Christian should first rest secure in the knowledge that their name is written in heaven!

Nevertheless, we cannot afford to be complacent or apathetic when we recognise that our hearts have become cold towards God.

We are called to love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our strength. (Deuteronomy 6:5) And it should grieve us and call us to repentance when we do not.

But don’t be surprised at the coldness of your heart. A friend of mine used to say that every morning she had to perform spiritual CPR on her heart. I can testify to this being true. I’m often shocked at my apathy and coldness toward God, and how quickly I forget or disbelieve the gospel!

We need to fight for a constant and growing love and closeness to Christ.

So here are a few things that I suggest, and find personally helpful in these times:

Relearn the gospel, and let it revive you. Immerse yourself in the accounts of the crucifixion in the Gospels. Jesus is the friend of sinners; he came as a doctor for those who knew their need of healing. (Luke 5:31-33) He invites the thirsty to come for living water. (Isaiah 55:1-3, John 7:37-39) He ever lives to intercede for his people. (Hebrews 7:24-26) These are just a few of many such passages!

Consider God’s character. Remember that he is merciful, steadfastly loving, faithful, gracious, and kind. (See Exodus 34:6)

Remember that he knows it all – your sin, your bad experiences, how you have come to be where you are now – even when you don’t know! Don’t let anyone or anything make you believe that you have walked too far away to come home. Just read the parable of the Lost Son in Luke 15. God is far more gracious than any of us deserve!

Begin to talk to him again, as your Father, honestly and humbly. Ask his spirit to give you the words if it’s been a long time.

Make use of the Psalms. Especially Psalm 42Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.”

Don’t give up going through the motions. Seek with God’s help to be obedient. Honour, fear, and follow him, even when you’re not ‘feeling it’, attend a good church, and get some support. Ask him that the right feelings would follow.

Evaluate your diet. This is a particularly practical step. What is going on in your daily life? What are you reading, watching, and listening to? What are the messages that you are receiving? Are you giving yourself a chance for God’s word to sink in and change you, or is it snatched away immediately by the way you spend your time and energy?

Along with asking God’s spirit to renew your love and desire for him, do all that you can to prepare the soil!

Imagine a marriage where a husband and wife only ever talk in the presence of others, never spending time alone. It would be pretty hard to sustain a good level of love and communication! Are you giving God the time and opportunity to speak to you, by spending time reading scripture and talking with him?

2 Chronicles 16:9 tells us that the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.

Ask for him to do in you what you are unable to do. We need God’s spirit to continue to work in us, so that our hearts will be fully committed to him.

Let me end with a passage that I return to again and again in challenging times:

I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.20 I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.21 Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: 22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24 I say to myself, ‘The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.’

Lamentations 3:19-24

I’m sure there is much more to be said, but I’ve written enough! What do you think? What would you add?

Nim

Reflection Recoil

The Bible tells us to beware of looking into the mirror of God’s word, only to forget the reflection that we see. (James 1:23)

But what should we do when we recoil at the reflection that it shows us?

How do you respond when God puts his finger on specific sin in your life?

We have a choice of reactions…here are a few that we came up with in my small group last night: (sorry Dave, we were on a slight tangent!)

Ignore the ugliness of the reflection, rationalizing it away.

Walk away

Delay coming to our Father in confession and repentance because:

We decide that we’re in too deep and repenting won’t make a difference.

We cherish the sin too much to give it up.

We want to try and clean ourselves up a bit first…surely he won’t give us the time of day, looking like we do!

Or…Let God deal with it.

This means the humbling decision to share God’s assessment of the seriousness of our sin, believing that the reflection we see in the mirror is accurate instead of rationalizing it away.

This means putting our pride and self sufficiency to death.

It means admitting that our acts of righteousness are like filthy rags, and we need the help of a saviour.

Sometimes it will feel like he must wound us more deeply in order to transform us, like a surgeon cutting deep to remove a tumour from deep inside us.

But we need to give him access, and surrender to his diagnosis and course of action, even if it’s radical.

And as we let him have free rein, we must also resist the temptation to give in to despair and self-loathing.

Sometimes I’m staggered at how ugly my sin looks in the mirror of his word, and I wonder if there can be any redemption.

It’s right to be humbled and to weep at the depths of our sin, before our holy God.

But in doing so, we remember.

Remember and trust that if you are a Christian, then God has been covering your sins with the blood of his son long before you became aware of them.

Rejoice that God is at work in you by his Holy Spirit, making you ever more sensitive to the things that dishonour him.

And look to your future! Ephesians 5:25-27 reminds us that Jesus has given himself up for his church that he might cleanse her, and present her to himself holy and radiant. And Revelation 19 paints a powerful and precious picture of the wedding, where his beautiful bride is given white robes to wear “Fine linen, bright and pure – for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints”

Jesus himself will present us holy and without blemish one day, but until then don’t give up the fight against sin, there is too much at stake!

Stare intently into the reflection of God’s word, and submit to it, that your appearance would cause you to rejoice as you see just how much God is transforming you!