Bragging or Praying? (Part Three)

Luke 18:9-14

But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted (18:13-14 CSB).

Since we cannot save or help save ourselves in any way, how can we be saved? How can we be rescued from the righteous consequences of our sin, of our rebellion against God and his word, of our refusal to love God with all our being, and our rejection of God as our God? I use this longer description of sin, because we all lack a proper understanding of sin. We use the word ‘sin’ but don’t comprehend what God is communicating. He speaks of an offense against him of large proportions. The tax collector realized his guilt before God.

The only hope for sinners is found in the free grace of God (18:13-14). Jesus asserts two important truths of salvation. Let us first think of two general remarks about them. Both are spoken of in the passive voice. God does something for us, and not we for God. Both of these are teachings of Christ, and not latter “fabrications” of Paul.

Christ taught the doctrine of propitiation; that is, God’s justice has to be satisfied before God can show mercy toward a sinner. The tax collector understood his problem, and he calls himself “the sinner”. He acknowledged that he deserved wrath. He knew that God had to solve the problem. He was in way over his head and only God could get him out!

Christ taught the doctrine of justification. Justification talks about our legal standing before God. The greatest need is to be right with God, or his justice will fall on you! People are justified freely (Romans 3:24): without any cause in their hearts, attitudes, decisions or actions.

Here are a couple lessons from the whole section (18:9-14). First, God knows exactly who and what we are. Hypocrisy is a position impossible to hold before God. Yet, here is comfort for a true believer. Listen to the words of John Newton:

True, I’ve been a foolish creature,
And have sinned against his grace;
But forgiveness is his nature,
Though he justly hides his face:
Ere he called me, well he knew
What a heart like mine would do.

Second, Jesus speaks very directly to people. He does not beat around the bush and or apologize. God deals clearly and openly with us. The Lord wants you to be right with him, but that righteousness only comes through faith in him and his saving work.

Third, we must have the proper attitude in prayer. God will not hear you on account of who you think you are or because of your self-righteousness. However, God does hear sinners who confess their need of him.  Which of these men are you most like? If you say, the Pharisee, then you need to get right with God. Do you focus on God when you pray, or are your prayers a litany of self-praise in which you tell God how much he owes you? If you pray like the Pharisee, you need to change immediately and instead pray like the tax collector.

Grace and peace, David

The Power of the Cross: Wrath Removed (Part One)

Romans 3:21-26

God presented him as an atoning sacrifice in his blood, received through faith, to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his restraint God passed over the sins previously committed. God presented him to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so that he would be righteous and declare righteous the one who has faith in Jesus (3:25-26 CSB).

I once attended a disaster preparedness meeting for churches. During the meeting, one of the speakers presented a number of possible disasters that could affect us all. What are some of these? The speaker put up a PowerPoint slide listing floods, hurricanes, food-borne diseases, chemical accidents, vector-borne diseases like the West Nile virus, pandemic influenza, bioterrorism, chemical terrorism, and agro-terrorism. Then he asked something like, “Are you worried yet?” At that moment I must confess that I felt underwhelmed. Perhaps I’ve heard too much hype about any number of possible disasters with the words “it could happen tomorrow!”

I can understand the situation that disaster preparedness presenters are in, because we who follow Jesus Christ have a very difficult time arousing interest in the subject of God’s wrath against sinners. Many times we get a “yeah, right, tell me later” response, because it seems some far out compared to the usual course of daily life. But our task, like the disaster presenters, is to tell people that they must be prepared to face God. Our text answers the question, “Why the cross?” And it shows the power of the cross of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The cross addresses two judicial situations.

The first is God’s wrath against sinners (Romans 1:18). When we speak about God’s wrath, we are not talking about some kind of whimsical or capricious anger or a hot-headed explosion of a self-centered tyrant. As we will see, the cross dismisses those ideas at once. Instead, the wrath of God is the settled opposition of his entire being against sin, which is rebellion against God and twistedness. God knows that his glory or worth is the most important reality in the universe. It is soul-satisfying and he wants to share it with his creatures. Our horrifying problem is that we actually imagine we can have glory, significance and pleasure forever apart from God and in opposition to his ways. God must set himself against that delusion.

That means that God will judge sinners. We should realize that sin cannot be separated from the sinners who commit sin. The arrogant cannot stand in your presence. You hate all who do wrong (5:5 NIV). And anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life. Anyone who doesn’t obey the Son will never experience eternal life but remains under God’s angry judgment (John 3:36 NLT; cf. Psalm 7:11; 11:5; Ephesians 5:6; Jude 1:14-15; Revelation 6:16-17; 20:11-12).

Next, the apostle says the surprising words that God let sin committed prior to the cross go unpunished. The idea Paul talks about is not forgiveness of sins, which is the way that some try to translate the Greek text, but as the NIV correctly translates, leaving sins unpunished. What is Paul talking about?

“Paul’s meaning is rather that God ‘postponed’ the full penalty due sins in the Old Covenant, allowing sinners to stand before him without their having provided an adequate ‘satisfaction’ of the demands of his holy justice (cf. Hebrews 10:4)”. [Moo, Commentary on Romans] It might have seemed that God, who is righteous (Deuteronomy 32:4), did not really care about sin. How could God accept Abraham as his friend, since Abraham was a liar? How could David stand before God after committing adultery and murder? How can we, because we have sinned? We’ve rejected God as God, refused to love him, and rebelled against his word? We need a Savior!

Grace and peace, David

How Sin Corrupts (Part Two)

Hosea 6:7-7:16

They do not cry to me from their hearts; rather, they wail on their beds. They slash themselves for grain and new wine; they turn away from me. I trained and strengthened their arms, but they plot evil against me. They turn, but not to what is above; they are like a faulty bow. Their leaders will fall by the sword because of their insolent tongue. They will be ridiculed for this in the land of Egypt (7:14-16 CSB).

Hosea has already mentioned two ways that sin affected Israel, God’s old covenant people: They were unfaithful to God and to each other, and they pursued intrigue on a national and international level. Next, Hosea states two other effects.

They lacked spiritual perception. They lost awareness of God’s ability. But they never consider that I remember all their evil. Now their actions are all around them; they are right in front of my face (7:2 CSB). They fell into a twisted view of reality. They assumed that God does not keep account of human sin, often questioning that there is any God who would judge human sin at all. This is silent mockery of the need to repent and to forsake sin. Someone might suggest, “God is irrelevant to our current problem. It does no good to repent and pray for mercy.” This must be corrected by a view of God’s omniscience and omnipresence (Psalm 139:1-12). God is near; he knows; he judges.

The also failed to accept their inability (7:8-9). Hosea used two illustrations. They were like a partially cooked pancake. One side looks good enough to eat, until you look at the other side. This shows the loss of distinctiveness caused by their half-hearted religion. Israel was supposed to be separated unto the Lord (Exodus 19:5-6), but she became like the pagan nations around her. They did not notice their gray hair. They had lost their vigor and strength without realizing it. Here is a picture of a pride-filled man, who will not realize his decline. We should seek to avoid this failing by “looking at ourselves” in the mirror of God’s word. We need a realistic picture of ourselves, which means seeing where we need to grow and where God is presently at work in us.

They were impenitent. They had a show of religion (7:14-15). They had tears without repentance. They might become concerned about their need, but what of their sin against the Lord. Did they want God involved in their lives? Not at all! Here is where much contemporary preaching goes astray. It is skilled in presenting human tragedies, like broken families, drugs and drunkenness, physical and sexual abuse. It can get people to cry out to God about these evils. But is there concern for God, for his rights, for his honor and worship? Where is a heart for God? We should not be surprised that our churches have become “little old covenant Israels.” They had ritual performance without love for God. They could gather for grain and new wine, like many attend church for “holy communion.” But you can do such things and still turn away from God.

The bottom line was their rejection of the Most High God (7:10, 16). The Lord desires that we live having him as our first and ultimate priority. We are to draw near to God. Consider James 4:8; Matthew 22:37-40; 1 Corinthians 10:31; Romans 11:36. This may require a diligent search for him (Isaiah 55:6), which Israel was unwilling to make.

What are you pursuing? Is it pleasure? Money? Entertainment? Relaxation? Or God? True conversion is a turning back to God. Is the center of your life turned toward the Lord? Is he your desire? Do you seek him daily? God welcomes you back to him through Jesus Christ, his one and only Son. In his name, I invite you back to him today.

Grace and peace, David

The Sinner Found Out (Part Two)

1 Kings 21:17-29

Still, there was no one like Ahab, who devoted himself to do what was evil in the Lord’s sight, because his wife Jezebel incited him. He committed the most detestable acts by following idols as the Amorites had, whom the Lord had dispossessed before the Israelites (1 Kings 21:25-26 CSB).

God indicted Ahab as guilty for Naboth’s death and the seizure of his inheritance. Why did the Lord proceed against Ahab, besides the murder and the greed, which were worthy of death under the law covenant? Let’s examine the Lord’s view of Ahab’s sins.

  • Ahab had provoked God to anger; this is the key (cf. Psalm 51:4). The most important part of life is one’s relationship with the living God. Have you wronged him? Have you offended him?
  • Ahab had caused Israel to sin. No person lives to himself. We all affect the lives of other people, whether by neglect or by inducing them to sin. One person’s sin can affect a whole church (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:6). We should ask, why is this important in our lives? Our lack of zeal can have a chilling, a dampening effect on the rest of the church. Do we have a warm love for the Lord?

The Holy Spirit, provides an assessment of Ahab’s character (21:25-26). First, he sold himself to do evil. Ahab put a price tag on himself. “Available for sin; make an offer.” He was glad to go wherever any sin led him to go. Second, he accepted encouragement to sin. He may still have had the crown on his head, but he had abdicated in his spiritual responsibility as Israel’s leader and as the head of his home. Third, he behaved in the most vile manner. Idolatry was usually accompanied by sexual immorality.

The Lord God pronounced judgment on Ahab. Think of its nature. It was complete (cf. 21:21-23). It would fall on Ahab himself and his children. Why the children? Read the second command of the law covenant (cf. Exodus 20:4-6). And it would also fall upon Jezebel. The judgment also was terrible (21:19b, 23-24). We should ask, “Why is this important in our lives? It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb 10:31 NIV).

The judgment was just. The Lord had exactly and completely observed all that Ahab had done. Nothing was hidden from the all-knowing God (21:19a; cf. Jeremiah 23:24.) Why is this important in our lives? God will judge the world with justice (cf. Acts 17:31). Ahab received justice from God, life for life, as God had commanded from the time of the Flood and in the law covenant (21:19b; cf. Leviticus 24:17-20; Deuteronomy 19:21).

Yet it was lessened in severity due to Ahab’s outward repentance. God is merciful, and mingles mercy with judgment so that we may know that if we do repent, we will receive mercy. But Ahab did not really change in the inward person of his heart. He had an outward show, but lacked an internal change of mind. He still hated God’s prophets (cf. 22:8). An outward show of repentance is no proof of a genuine change of mind. In order to be right with God, you must repent and believe the gospel.

What is your relationship with the living God? Have you turned from your sin to trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation? If God is merciful toward wicked Ahab, how much more so to a repentant believer.

Grace and peace, David

Seeking God Successfully (Part Six)

Psalm 27:8

You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek” (ESV).

What are some situations in which God calls us to seek his face?

  • We must seek him in the day of trouble. Call on me in a day of trouble; I will rescue you, and you will honor me (Psalm 50:15 CSB).
  • We must seek him when we can find no light. Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of his servant? Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God (Isaiah 50:10 NIV).
  • We must seek him when we lack contentment. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5 ESV).
  • We must seek him in the perplexity of life’s decisions. Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own understanding; in all your ways know him, and he will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:5-6 CSB).
  • We must seek him when our sins are like scarlet. “Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18 NIV).
  • We must seek him during suffering. So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good (1 Peter 4:19 NIV).
  • We must seek him when everyone deserts us. At my first defense, no one stood by me, but everyone deserted me. May it not be counted against them. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that I might fully preach the word and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth (2 Timothy 4:16-17 CSB).
  • We must seek him at the time of death. The Lord will rescue me from every evil work and will bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever! Amen (2 Timothy 4:18 CSB).

“Therefore let us learn by the example of this blessed man, that when he had but a hint from God, ‘Seek ye my face,’ he answers, ‘Thy face, Lord, will I seek’” (Sibbes, p. 123). Just a hint from our Father in heaven equals a loving, royal welcome to his dearly loved children. Faith will see God’s light in the darkest room; it senses the feeblest light sneaking through some crack in the wall. It is like the servants of Ben-Hadad, who seized upon a hint of favor from Ahab (cf. 1 Kings 20:29-34). In a similar way, when we communicate with the Lord, we may remind him of his promises to us.

What did the psalmist do? Remember your word to your servant, in which you have made me hope (Psalm 119:49 ESV). How did Nehemiah use this principle when he was distressed about the condition of Jerusalem (Nehemiah 1:8-9)?

When we talk with the Lord in this way, we are communicating “on the same wavelength” with God. In whatever ways the Lord speaks to us through the Scriptures, we should allow the truth of his word work in our hearts and respond appropriately to him. By this I mean, if we read of his love for us, we should tell him of our love for him. When we hear of his joy in his people, we should rejoice in the Lord. As he tells us who he is, we ought to be willing to disclose who we are to him. If our hearts are moved with the way he commits himself, should not we express our commitment to him? When he tells us to find comfort in his strength, we ought to draw near to him and rest in his almighty power.

Grace and peace, David

Ahab: A Man of Wickedness

1 Kings 16:29-34

Ahab son of Omri did more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any of those before him. He not only considered it trivial to commit the sins of Jeroboam son of Nebat… (16:30-31a NIV).

God’s word is always relevant to the human situation, because God and mankind are the same as when the Bible was written. Yes, our technology has changed, but the hearts of people are the same. The human race rejects God as God, refuses to love God first of all, and rebels against God and his laws. The text before us answers the question that everyone seems to ask in their time, “It can’t get any worse, can it?” Yes, it can get worse in any nation and all nations. Consider the example of Israel. Jeroboam I, the son of Nebat, invented a new religion for Israel, and the next five kings gladly walked in his ways. The warnings of God through his prophets were unheeded, and Israel provoked the Lord to anger by their worthless idols. But as bad as that was, let us see what happened when Ahab became the new ruler.

The rest of the book of 1 Kings is a contrast between Ahab, a man of wickedness, and Elijah, a man of faith. From a human perspective, Ahab should have had all the advantages in this comparison. He was the absolute ruler of his country, and Elijah had nothing. Ahab lived for self-satisfaction, and Elijah lived to deny himself pleasure for the glory of God. In this brief opening section (16:29-34), the Holy Spirit provides us with God’s evaluation of Ahab. After setting Ahab in history, the Spirit tells us about Ahab’s character and preferences.

Ahab surpassed all his predecessors in wickedness. At least three factors combined to produce Ahab as he was.

  • The wickedness of his own heart. In every person there is a foul spring of what the Bible calls sin; that is, rebellion against God, the transgression of his laws, the “bentness” of the inner person of the heart. Listen to God’s word: For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander (Matthew 15:19 NIV). The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9 NIV). Never underestimate the radical corruption (total depravity) of mankind. Being dead in sins, people are capable of the worst crimes against each other and the most obstinate rebellion against the true and living God.
  • The plots of Satan. Listen to the word again: The apostle wrote about the human situation this way. People are caught in the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will (2 Timothy 2:26 NIV). Humanity has a tireless enemy that wants us all dead, and he is always alert for ways to bring this about. He had an “absolute ruler” under his thumb, and he found the perfect time to strike.
  • The religious decline in Israel. Where believers do not shine as lights, darkness increases (Matthew 5:14-16). If anyone doubts the power of true Christianity to transform a nation, consider England before and after the First Great Awakening. England was morally ruined, until the good news of justification by grace through faith in Christ was clearly proclaimed.

Ahab broke through barriers in his pursuit of sin. He disregarded the examples of God’s anger against his predecessors (15:30; 16:7,13 , 19). Instead of considering God’s judgment on them, he attempted to succeed where they failed. The fear of God had no place in his heart. What resides in the hearts of all people (There is no fear of God before their eyes, Romans 3:18 ESV), was life-dominating for Ahab. He considered all the sins of Jeroboam to be trivial. “Why only break the second command of the covenant? Let’s go all the way, and break the first one, too.” Let’s call this “an Ahab attitude.”

When a ruler desires to surpass all their predecessors in evil and chooses to break through any barriers to do that, you know that trouble is sure to come! Ahab chose to lead his kingdom on the path to hell, and he quickly learned the bitterness of that choice. Let’s avoid his high-handed sins.

Grace and peace, David

Psalm Nineteen (Part Nine)

Psalm 19:12-14

But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression. May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer (NIV).

As we consider the subject of secret sins, we come to a fourth point. The person who knows the Lord has confidence in the grace and compassion of the Lord. This is the confidence in God that is part of the essence of faith. Here we see a believer that has sinned freely confessing hidden sins to his or her God. But why does the believer confess them? We do because we know that God is ready to receive us, to help us in our weaknesses, to blot out even the stain unseen. Make no mistake, people set apart for God take their sins seriously, because God is very serious in our lives. (In other words, we fear God.) But we also have a large view of the magnitude of redeeming love, and so we ask for forgiveness! However, there is more to our war against remaining sin.

Keep your servant also from willful sins…. The law covenant recognized two categories of sins: unintentional and defiant (Numbers 15:27-31). The law covenant made provision for a sacrificial covering for those who sinned unintentionally. However, there was no sacrifice provided for those who sinned defiantly or willfully. The law had only one word for any such sinner: death. Since David lived under the law covenant, he was concerned not to bring the force of God’s law upon his head. Compare 1 Corinthians 15:56: The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law (ESV). So, David prayed that God would keep him from such sins. It is good and wise that we pray for God’s help in spiritual warfare. In the new covenant, we have the Holy Spirit as our Helper against sin (cf. Galatians 5:16-26).

David continued with the plea may they not rule over me. Again, we must remember that David is praying as an old covenant believer. In many areas, our spiritual experience is similar to those who lived under the law. But in others, we must never underestimate the difference that Christ established in his new and better covenant. We must understand this phrase used by David carefully, because what David prayed for under the law, we now possess in the new covenant. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace (Romans 6:14). “What he [David] there [Psalm 19:13] so earnestly prays for, the apostle in the words of the text [Rm 6:14] promiseth unto all believers, by virtue of the grace of Christ Jesus administered in the gospel [the new covenant].” [Owen, Works, Vol. 7, p. 506.] Having said this, we must carefully consider the following facts:

  • Sin still continues in new covenant believers (Romans 13:14; Galatians 5:17; 1 Peter 2:11). Sin still continues to incite us to rebellion against God and to break his commands. In this way sin has lost none of its character as sin, whether one has been a Christian five minutes or fifty years. Sin is still deceptive and persistent.
  • Yet sin is a weakened force in believers. Though it is still sin, it is unable to rise to dominate the inner person of the heart of the believer. There is a new master in the heart, the reigning grace of Jesus Christ the Lord (Romans 5:21; 6:15-22).
  • Though sin is weakened in believers, it still strives for domination. We are still in a war against sin. Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls (1 Peter 2:11 NLT). And since we are in a war, we need to make use of every kind of privilege and spiritual armor that God has given us to fight sin (Ephesians 6:10-18).

“This is one principal difference between the law [the old covenant] and the gospel [the new covenant], and was ever so esteemed in the church of God, until all communication of efficacious grace began to be called in question: The law guides, directs, commands, all things that are against the interest and rule of sin. It judgeth and condemneth both the things that promote it and the persons that do them; it frightens and terrifies the consciences of those who are under its dominion. But if you shall say unto it, ‘What then shall we do? this tyrant, this enemy, is too hard for us. What aid and assistance against it will you afford unto us? what power will you communicate unto its destruction?’ Here the law is utterly silent, or says that nothing of this nature is committed unto it of God; nay, the strength it hath it gives unto sin for the condemnation of the sinner: ‘The strength of sin is the law.’ But the gospel, or the grace of it, is the means and instrument of God for the communication of internal spiritual strength unto believers. By it do they receive supplies of the Spirit or aids of grace for the subduing of sin and the destruction of its dominion. By it they may say they can do all things, through Him that enables them” (Owen, Works, Vol. 7, pp. 546-547, my emphasis).

Grace and peace, David

Holy Desires (Part Eight)

2 Corinthians 5:18-19

Everything is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation. That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and he has committed the message of reconciliation to us (CSB).

Every day our hearts are drawn between many competing desires. Some of these are easy, totally up to our preference, and it really doesn’t matter what choice we make. But others concern the eternal destiny of other people, and God wants us to have a holy desire when we are faced with matters of this magnitude. The question before us is: “Do I share God’s holy desire about other people?” Let’s focus our attention on his desire and then evaluate ourselves about whether or not we share God’s holy desire. God desires that sinful people be reconciled to him. By nature, we are separated from God because of sin. Our first parents rebelled against God and we persist in rebelling against the Lord. But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear (Isaiah 59:2 ESV).

Consequently, a state of war exists between God and sinners. We were God’s enemies (Romans 5:10a NIV). God must uphold what is holy and good (loving God and loving others), and sinful people oppose God’s desire for what is holy and good (Romans 3:9-20). People by nature are separated or alienated from the living God. Suppose a husband gives his wife a necklace with a one-carat diamond hanging from it. Now suppose that another woman coveted that necklace and began to reject the woman with the necklace because of her jealousy. That coveting and jealousy would be evil and would cause evil. Now suppose that you find yourself thinking, “Why did God allow billionaires to have so much money? Why didn’t he give it to me?” Now that would also be evil. Rebellion against God and his precepts fills our world. The Holy God must act against rebels who would ruin what God has made.

God has made a way of reconciliation, the way to restore the relationship between him and people who are alienated from him. The basis of God’s plan is the saving work of Christ. God meets and matches human rebellion by his love to us in Jesus Christ. For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! (Romans 5:10 NIV)

  • Since we couldn’t do anything to remove the alienation and since we didn’t want to anyway, God provided the way for God and sinners to get back together. In order to bring two parties together, one must have a way to negotiate a settlement. Those who follow professional sports see this happen all the time. The management of the team and the athlete must bring offers and counteroffers to the table.
  • At the cross God counteracted the penalty that rebellious people had earned (Romans 3:24-26; 6:23). In the crucifixion of Christ, God demonstrates his justice and is able to declare us right with him because justice has been upheld.

The result is that God doesn’t have to count people’s sins against them, because Christ paid the penalty for sinners. Are you reconciled to God through the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you desire to see others reconciled to God?

Grace and peace, David

Holy Desires (Part Five)

2 Timothy 2:22

Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart (NIV).

This verse gives wise counsel. However, we must understand wise counsel wisely. Good and godly teaching can be misunderstood and misapplied. We see that every follower of Jesus Christ is to avoid the evil desires of youth. Here is the necessity of an ongoing repentance. If you think that you are going to make an “once for all turn” in this matter, you are deeply mistaken. Sin must be put to death continually. Occasionally, we hear testimonies of people who were involved in outward, socially unacceptable, life-dominating sins. After coming to Christ, they profess that they have never fallen into that sin again. All right, we know that such conversions happen. But we need to make a few clarifications.

  • They are not delivered from all sins. Listen to the apostle John. If we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say, “We have not sinned,” we make him a liar, and his word is not in us (1 John 1:8-10 CSB). Being freed from one or a couple life-dominating sins is not the same as escaping from the influence of every sin. Spiritual warfare is not against one sin but all sins.
  • Failure to realize how extensive are the effects of sin in us can produce pride that can devastate a person spiritually. Supposing themselves free from a few sins can blind them to the seductions of many others. Free people in Christ must offer themselves to God as servants to righteousness (cf. Romans 6:14-22).
  • Part of the problem is that many have a “short check list” view of sins. This develops through an overemphasis and misunderstanding of the Ten Commandments, which are exalted over many other parts of the Bible. They are not the ethical summary of the Bible, but the covenant God made with Israel at Sinai (Exodus 31:18; Deuteronomy 4:13; etc.) This wrong view also develops the consequent wrong assumption that sin is mainly a breaking of a few prohibitions.
  • There is no “instant godliness”, though we all wish that it was that easy. We must seek help from the Lord on a daily basis (Matthew 26:41). The life of faith involves a daily reception of grace from the Lord (John 15:1-8).

Part of the growth process involves self-control. By the Spirit, we must shun youthful desires. For example, there are countless internet sites and phone apps, but there are many that we should never go to. Taking the apps off the phone and unsubscribing from certain YouTube channels is part of self-control. Some places simply fuel wrong desires, and I do mean only wrong sexual desires. Shopping apps can fuel greed in anyone’s heart.

Another important matter is how we view ourselves. While we realize how easily sin can entangle any follower of Jesus Christ, God’s people should not view themselves as “sinners”. We are in Christ, and we ought to find our identity in him. (Read Ephesians about ten times!) We flee the evil desires of youth, not as “sinners” but as “saints”, as those already set apart for the enjoyment of God and his glory. We are new in Christ. How can we get involved in the evil desires of youth?

Grace and peace, David

Psalm Nineteen (Part Seven)

Psalm 19:12-14

But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression. May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer (NIV).

The last three verses of Psalm Nineteen show David’s response to God’s revelation. We should always remember that Biblical knowledge has been given to affect the way we live. It is one thing to know the truth about the God who speaks through his creation and in the Holy Scriptures and even to sing about this in worship. It is another to humble oneself before God and his message and let it teach, correct and rebuke us. David closes this psalm with the practical application of the knowledge of the Scriptures.

“Who can discern his errors?” To ask the question is to answer it. Those who know God and his message best will have some understanding of their errors, but none of us can truly discern all our errors in the complexity of all that we are: heart, soul, spirit, mind, conscience, etc. As we view ourselves Biblically, which means in Christ and his grace, we make progress in self-discernment, but still much escapes us. Perhaps this is a reason that the saints who have walked with God the closest have the most tender conscience of their sinfulness. Repeated living in the light produces a richer fellowship with God and the forgiveness of sins (1 John 1:7). “Many books have a few lines of errata at the end, but our errata might well be as large as the volume if we could but have sense enough to see them. Augustine wrote in his older days a series of Retractions; ours might make a library if we had enough grace to be convinced of our mistakes and to confess them” (Spurgeon).

“Forgive my hidden faults.” This one phrase speaks volumes about the spirituality of the believer’s experience and our absolute need to be saved by free grace alone. First, let us consider the meaning of hidden or secret faults.

  • Some sins are hidden because of our ignorance of God’s will (whether through spiritual inexperience, sitting under inadequate or false teaching, laziness, distraction, etc.) or of an unwillingness to acknowledge an attitude or action as sinful. Too often we try to paint our sins as virtues. “I’m not stingy, but prudent and thrifty!” This hides them to ourselves and to the less spiritually discerning. “Many have unknown sins, as a man may have a mole on his back and himself never know it” (Thomas Adams, quoted by Spurgeon).
  • Some sins are hidden because others do not see them. They are sins “behind closed doors” that others might see if they were present.
  • Some sins are hidden from any physical observation because they are spiritual sins, such as lust or greed. A rules-centered spirituality never touches these, because there is no need to change inwardly and still maintain an outward religious or spiritual testimony. However, consider Matthew 5:27-28; 23:25-28; Ezekiel 14:3-4,7.

Grace and peace, David