So Much More Than We Know

What is sin?

We tend to talk more in terms of sins – things that we do that break God’s moral standards. And this is biblical and helpful.

Yet we also need to understand and feel that sin goes much deeper than our actions. Behind our behaviours there are attitudes of the mind and heart that are deeply insulting to God. Some of which we’re oblivious to.  It’s also not just about what we do, but about what we withhold.black-and-white-person-woman-girl

Yet I don’t say this to condemn myself, or you, because realising the seriousness of sin makes the forgiveness of Jesus Christ much more beautiful and precious to us!

And so I want to share some words by John Piper that powerfully capture why sin is so serious, by showing us how we rob God of what is rightly his:

What is sin?
The glory of God not honored.
The holiness of God not reverenced.
The greatness of God not admired.
The power of God not praised.
The truth of God not sought.
The wisdom of God not esteemed.
The beauty of God not treasured.
The goodness of God not savored.
The faithfulness of God not trusted.
The promises of God not relied upon.
The commandments of God not obeyed.
The justice of God not respected.
The wrath of God not feared.
The grace of God not cherished.
The presence of God not prized.
The person of God not loved.
That is sin!
John Piper , from “All Consuming Fire” by Shai Linne.

I hope that these words help you like they are helping me, to humble myself before God again, crying out for his forgiveness and joyfully embracing the grace and help that he freely offers us in Christ.

How merciful he is, when we wrong him so greatly!

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world . . . gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.

Ephesians 2:1-5

[WordPress informs me that this is my 100th post on the blog! Thank you to all my faithful readers and encouragers, and all glory to God for continuing to work in and through me via this blog. Please keep your comments coming if there are ways it could improve!]

Nim

Advertisements

Shipwrecked

A question that I’ve been asked a lot in recent weeks is this:

Why should Christians bother to resist sinning, if they are saved by God’s grace?

When Christians act as though Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross gives us a free pass to sin, we fail to recognise the cost of the sacrifice, the divine identity of the giver, and the depths of the love which motivated Him! Yet we also fail to understand the destructive nature of sin itself. So I love the vivid example that John Owen gives in answer to this question:

“Is it not a madness for a man willingly to suffer the ship wherein he is, to split itself on a rock – to the irrecoverable loss of his merchandise, because he supposes he shall in his own person swim safely to shore on a plank? Is this less in him who will hazard the shipwreck of all his comfort, peace, joy, and so much of the glory of God, and the honour of the gospel as he is entrusted with, merely on supposition that his soul shall yet escape?”

(Overcoming Sin & Temptation, John Owen, pg 184)

drowningIf Owen’s antiquated language is off putting – here is my humble paraphrase:

Continuing in deliberate sin once we are followers of Christ is as stupid as saying that we’d happily endure the pain, terror, and loss of being shipwrecked and losing every possession that we have, because we’re guaranteed not to die in the process!

Any sane person would take precautions not to be shipwrecked in the first place because, given the choice, who would willingly choose the loss of everything but life, when you could arrive safely ashore with great possessions, peace, and comfort, and to great glory and honour?

What a powerful picture to show us the bizarre and foolish risk we embrace when we use salvation as an excuse to sin without punishment, instead of resisting it with Christ’s help, avoiding destruction and enjoying all the blessings of his wisdom, help, and goodness towards us!

Nim

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

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


Esau’s Appetite

I was reading an article from Christian magazine ‘The Briefing’ yesterday, when I was stopped short by a particular sentence (that sent me thinking on a completely different subject, although it’s a helpful article which you can read more of by following the link below!):

Esau was the one who had sold his birthright and his part in God’s promise. He had been part of God’s covenant people, but he valued his own appetites more. 

http://matthiasmedia.com/briefing/2013/08/the-amalekite-genocide/

Do you know the story? It’s in Genesis 25.

Esau is one of two brothers, the sons of Isaac – himself the son of Abraham. This is the fortunate family to whom God has given some incredible, world-changing promises – He will bless them, and through their family all the nations of the earth shall be blessed! (Genesis 12:1-3)

This purpose and blessing is passed through the sons of the family, and Esau is the firstborn, the promise is part of his inheritance.

And yet in a single moment, after an exhausting hunting trip, Esau reveals his priorities and disregard for God by exchanging his birthright for a bowl of stew!

Rather than the fleeting mistake that it seems to be, this decision probably represented a subtle shift in Esau’s thinking and direction over time. If he had really valued the covenant promises and the God who upheld them, such an exchange could never have been made, no matter how hungry he was!

“He had been part of God’s covenant people, but he valued his own appetites more.”

Hebrews 12:16-17 comments on the episode like this: See that no one is … godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. Even though he sought the blessing with tears, he could not change what he had done.

A decision of appetite and desire over God that had lasting and tragic ramifications. Yet I do this all the time! I make the same exchange in small ways, in the things I choose:

Effort-less entertainment instead of time in God’s word

Sleep instead of prayer

Unhealthy eating instead of food choices that honour God

Compromises in the things I read and watch instead of purity of mind and heart

Time and time again I give in to my desires in hundreds of small ways that feel pretty harmless at the time.

We are all filled with desires and appetites –good and bad. The problem comes when we allow them to rule us, and to take precedence, affecting the way we love and serve God, and training us over time to prioritize our appetites over our obedience to God. This decision had tragic results for Esau. Perhaps I’m not a key player early in God’s salvation plan like him, but I should let this be a warning to me.

Do I daily practice controlling my various appetites, and identifying desires that conflict with obedience and trust in my God?

Because giving in to my appetite is a pattern that can lead to dangerous places.

If I am well practiced in giving in, one day I might forfeit something important.

Like Esau, I have been fortunate to have parents who have brought me up to know God and his promises. Could I get to a point where my desires (good or bad) sideline God and replace him in my affections and priorities because my appetite here and now must be satisfied at any cost?

What are your appetites? Which ones vie to take control?

If you’re anything like me, just thinking about all this makes you ready to give up! I’m full of raging desires and misplaced priorities!! Please keep reading…

An Answer to Our Appetites

The Bible doesn’t ignore or downplay our appetites. And God knows all the sinful tendencies of his people! So he signposts the way to the real feast! A feast that leads us to Jesus – take your time eating:

“Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare.
Give ear and come to me;
listen, that you may live.
Isaiah 55:1-3

…Man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Deuteronomy 8:3b

35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. John 6:35

And a few verses later – lest we think it’s all up to us:
63 
It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. Galatians 5:16

And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Galatians 5:24

 But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. Romans 13:14

Let’s not be like Esau, but save our appetites for the real feast!

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!