An Airtight Case

The only thing required to be guilty before God is to do nothing. Men transgress God’s law on purpose more than the evening news has time to report. But they can and do sin before getting out of bed in the morning and when they crawl under the covers after a day of ignoring God.

One of the scariest paragraphs in the Bible covers a legal ramification of creation. While the author of Hebrews acknowledges that we only understand that God made the world by faith, Paul warns that every man who doesn’t praise God for making the world is guilty in his unbelief.

For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:19–21)

God can be and is known by everyone at some level. His invisible attributes, at least in His power and divine personhood, have been clearly perceived in the visible world. Every man who breathes has an airtight case against him. All he has to do to deserve wrath is nothing, to fail to honor God or give Him thanks. Many men talk a good game about their earthly knowledge and give one another honorary PhDs, but “claiming to be wise, they become fools.”

How much more ought Christians, a people of faith, a people alive to God, a people who serve righteousness, to live godly and righteous in the present age by honoring and thanking God? This is part of what it means for us to live by faith. We cannot be satisfied doing nothing, and our confidence in six day creation and our apologetics against evolution will not please God if we don’t worship Him.

Hunt You Down

If you have sinned against someone, you do not need to wait for them to hunt you down. If a brother comes to talk to you, tells you your fault, and if you have sinned, then you ought to acknowledge it, seek his forgiveness, and be restored to fellowship. But confession of sin is not only a reaction when caught or confronted.

Jesus preached in Matthew 5 that a man shouldn’t even give money if he remembers that he’s sinned against someone else.

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. (Matthew 5:23–24)

I read an article about winnowing the givers recently, and it’s certainly not the typical approach of many ministries, or of persons who think that they can deal with guilt by giving money. Neither cash or check can cover a sinful heart. God doesn’t want even an offering unless we’ve done what we can to make it right.

Our God is a God who deals with sin and enables reconciliation. He desires worship from those who deal with sin and pursue reconciliation.

What sorts of offenses might our brother have against us? The preceding verse talks about being angry, about insulting, and ridiculing (verse 22). The list isn’t exhaustive, but it does represent hateful heart attitudes that separate us. Sin separates, and we are to pursue reconciliation with other persons before we worship, including our offering.

Something Has to Be Done

In the third book of his space trilogy, That Hideous Strength, C.S. Lewis relates a turning point in one of the main character’s life. Taken into custody, Mark Studdock began to consider that he had been resolutely wrong about almost everything in and for his entire life. Even as he contemplated his possible death it seemed better not to think about all of the things he would need to change if he acknowledged the first crack in the wall.

Was there no beginning to his folly? Had he been utter fool all through from the very day of his birth?…The indistinct mass of problems which would have to be faced if he admitted such thoughts, the innumerable “something” about which “something” would have to be done, had deterred him from ever raising these questions. (243)

I share those sentences because it is easy for us to have similar feelings. We don’t want to open the door to the sin’s storage closet because we’re afraid of what we’ll find. We won’t know where to start or how long it might take to get through it all. If we pull off one board, the whole house might come down.

For an unbeliever, this is the wrong argument. If he won’t acknowledge his sin, even if he doesn’t know how deep the sin goes, which he almost certainly does not, he will still take it all with him to hell. Denial of the “something” is something, but not an effective something. If nothing is done, there will be an eternity of penalty from God. A lifetime of unraveling the consequences would at least be a lifetime.

For a believer, this is also the wrong approach. If you have been justified, then your sanctification is no more difficult, or at least no less promised or grace-enabled. If you were dead but are now alive, if you were guilty but now declared righteous, then there is no reason to give up hope that He will deal with all of the sin, through and through. We may have a lot of work to do, but it is the sort of work we do because peace has been made, not in order to make peace. That changes something. We shouldn’t try to fix anything in the flesh, but we could never fix our sin in the flesh anyway.

Is it overwhelming to think about dealing with your sin? Are there innumerable “somethings” about which “something” must be done? This is why we have a Savior. He has, is, and will do something with it for sake of our blessing.

What’s Your Problem?

Only the unrepentant are unwelcome at the Lord’s Table. Those who will not believe in and submit to Jesus do not have any part of Him. Those who profess faith but undo their profession by ongoing rebellion to His commands are disciplined away from the fellowship of this meal. But every other believer is invited. More than that, every believer is being changed by it. Take, for example, those believers that Paul categorizes in 1 Thessalonians 5:14.

Christian, are you idle? Consider the humble and exhausting service of Your Lord. He labored in life up to and through death for you, and even now prays for You. Think of the work that went into this meal and get off your rear.

Christian, are you faint-hearted? Consider the resurrection of Your Lord. He died and was buried, but He rose again on the third day just as He promised so that you would have life (1 Thessalonians 5:10). His will cannot be stopped, and no one can stop Him from loving You. Think of the faithfulness and courage that this meal represents and don’t shrink back.

Christian, are you weak? Consider the nature of Your Lord. He does not break the bruised reed or quench the smoldering wick. He partook of the same things as you, He was tempted in all ways as you are, and so He sympathizes with your weaknesses (Hebrews 2:14; 4:15). Think of His tenderness, His gentleness, His kindness to you even in this meal. You are not solo in your need.

Whatever the problem, Jesus does not leave us where we are. He knows who needs to grow and what is lacking in their faith. He is patient, just as He calls us to be patient with one another. But He is always working toward His will that we all be completely sanctified even when we eat the bread and drink the cup of communion. No believer will be left behind.

Focus on Rejoicing

The shortest verse in the Bible is not John 11:35, “Jesus wept.” Counting letters in the original language, there are 16 characters in three words. But the Greek text of 1 Thessalonians 5:16 includes only 14 characters in two words, typically translated, “Rejoice always” (ESV, NAS, NKJV, NIV, NRSV). The variations are not really that diverse: “Rejoice evermore” (KJV) and “Always rejoice ye” (YLT). Though it’s the shortest, it may be the second most difficult command to obey in Scripture after loving Him with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.

This command comes in the final chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians and near the middle of 17 different exhortations. We ought not separate it from its context but we can focus on it. Rejoice. Always.

How have you done rejoicing in 2014? What percentage of proactive rejoicing have you done? Are you faithful to schedule (and practice) rejoicing with God’s people on the Lord’s Day? Do you make rejoicing the agenda at your meal times and holiday get-togethers? What percentage of reactive rejoicing have you done? Do you rejoice with others when they receive good news, or is envy a more likely response? Do you mix rejoicing in with your burdens or reports of bad news? Paul said he was “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Corinthians 6:10). Rejoicing does not eliminate heaviness (see 1 Peter 1:6), but it does flavor, lighten, and transpose that heaviness.

You may or may not use the changing of the year to take stock of your sanctification. But you absolutely must hear the will of God as revealed in His Word and measure your walk accordingly. Are you the grinch, the grouch, the grumbler? Or are you the glad, grateful, again and again rejoicer?

Christmas Counters

The apostle John wins for covering the Christmas story with the least amount of paper: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). What is there on earth or heaven that hasn’t been changed, or at least received orders to change, since the day our Savior took on a body?

The incarnation of the Son of God teaches us that God does not despise flesh, stuff, or material belongings. He made all things through the Word, the Logos (John 1:3). His ultimate revelation of Himself came when the Logos was born in the likeness of men (Hebrews 1:1-3; Philippians 2:7). In flesh Jesus served, making meals from loaves and fish and washing feet with a towel. In flesh Jesus suffered torture, died on the cross, and was buried in a grave. And in flesh He rose again on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.

As Christians we are still learning not to despise flesh but how to enjoy and to use more than words. We like our sentences but, while Christmas can be summarized with words, it is itself the glorious story of stuff and places and persons. The good news of Christmas come as “great syllables of words that sounded like castles” (as when Dimble spoke the Great Tongue in That Hideous Strength). The words represent more than words.

The communion table is also more than words. So should our Christmas celebrations be. Christmas counters dualism. We were born in flesh, our bodies are a gift from God. He redeemed us and saved us to work here on earth for now, in body. We should honor Him with bread and wine, and with plates of cookies and strands of lights and stuffed turkeys and Scotch tape and pine needles and sticky buns. He calls us to give, and give ourselves, to eat and drink and sing as men not just mouths.

Not Your Gift

After midnight one Christmas Eve, when all the family had been in bed for a couple hours, the youngest of two teenage brothers couldn’t sleep. He tiptoed out of his room, down the stairs, and pulled up an arm chair next to the star-topped tree. Instead of getting sleepy, he became more awake as he grew tired of waiting for everyone else to wake up. So he did what anyone in his situation might do; he decided to open some presents. But, instead of opening the ones with his name, he opened the ones tagged for his older brother.

The first package contained a video game. He fired up the console and played at the station for over an hour. The game was great fun and, when he was done, he re-taped the paper and put the present back under the tree. Still no sounds were heard from the bedrooms upstairs so he took a second. It was a Seahawks jersey, two years too big for him. But he put it on anyway and pantomimed as Russell, as Richard, even as the Beast. After routing every imaginary opponent he rewrapped the shirt with care in hopes that his brother would never be aware.

Finally he grabbed the only other present left for his brother. It was a model rocket kit that his older brother had been coveting for a while. Having by this point lost his conscience, the younger brother took it outside, lit the fuse, and watched the rocket launch right into the side of the house. The crash woke the family and they found him in his pajamas busily gathering up the broken pieces.

The younger brother had taken what was meant for someone else and used it for his temporary pleasure. At best he hoped to deceive his brother. With the last gift, he did irreparable damage.

According to 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 Christian brothers ought also to think about proprietary gifts when it comes to sexual purity and relationships. Too many young men transgress and defraud their brothers by taking what isn’t meant for them, not only in terms of private parts but also regarding intimate affections. God prepares gifts and He avenges those who disregard His warning not to mess with gifts meant for others. People are not property, but there are owners. God’s will is that sanctified men refuse to take what isn’t theirs or tread where their don’t belong.

Lawless Laws

In the ECS Omnibus class we’ve recently been reading the foundational documents of the United States. We spent a few weeks reading and rereading the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the Constitution with all her Amendments. We just read and discussed some of the Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers. And one of my take-aways so far, especially in light of our current regime, is that legislation becomes unruly when men will not take responsibility for themselves.

Take our economic regulations as an example. The law works when it penalizes men who won’t work. The law is in trouble when men who won’t work write laws to penalize those who are, or to cushion the lazy from their empty field come harvest time. Nothing good comes when the Have-nots write laws, or vote for lawmakers, to redistribute what the Haves have. The government arrives with the Sheriff of Nottingham’s gun but wearing Robin Hood’s hat, or, if you prefer, carrying Goliath’s shaft and cloaked in Joseph’s jacket, passing out benefits and breaks for everyone, except for those they took from in the first place. It is selfish men legislating their lawless greed.

There are a few ways to learn to take responsibility, but perhaps the most vital place where we learn not to blame others for our problems is when we come to confess our sin. We do not look to rewrite the Law. We submit and admit that we have disobeyed God. We also look for a Savior, “to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” We know we aren’t entitled to help, but we come for His grace.

The only way that men will be free under the law is when they are free from their lusts. Otherwise we will keep expecting others to fix our issues without bothering to acknowledge that they are our issues. A society of irresponsible blame-shifting citizens will self-destruct; we see the cookie crumbling today. Christian politics starts with worship and recognizing our responsibility to God and our responsibility for our sins. We will know that God is acting when, like He promised to Israel, His Spirit causes us to remember our evil ways, and our deeds that were not good, and we loathe ourselves for our iniquities and abominations (Ezekiel 36:31).

Reached the Quota

Consider the statement Paul made about the Jews in 1 Thessalonians 2:16. He said that they opposed “all mankind by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles that they might be saved–so as always to fill up the measure of their sins.” They did not think that they were heaping up a pile of predefined sin. It would be too bold for Paul to claim that he knew the quantity. So who had the measuring bucket? God.

Isn’t this true for everyone? When God covenanted with Abram He said that Abram’s descendants would return to the land in 400 years for the “iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete” (Genesis 15:16). Jesus told the scribes and Pharisees, “Fill up, then, the measure of your [murdering] fathers” (Matthew 23:32). God knows the amount of sin and He knows when we’ve reached the quota.

This also means, does it not, that God knows exactly how big the bucket of sins was that He poured on Christ. That bucket included all the sins of all those who would ever believe. Each and every person who is part of the redeemed can say that wrath has been taken for them at last! The measure of all our sins was filled up and taken by the Lamb.

We are great sinners. But we Christians have confessed our sins and He has forgiven us because His bucket of grace has no quota. It never runs out. Think about how many cups, no matter the size, have been filled for sake of celebrating the Lord’s Supper by Christians since the Last Supper. We have gone through approximately 5,000 cups at our church alone in less than four years. Imagine how many more have been used by our brothers and sisters throughout the world today. Multiply that by some 1975 years or so. Not one of those cups has represented partial payment. Not one of them has been a symbol of Christ’s incomplete taking of wrath. Christ took all the wrath for us and gives to us all the grace.

Our Pile of Sin

Sin is not sweet. We shouldn’t ever look at it, or look back at it, with nostalgia. Confession is not a time for warming ourselves by the fire with a cup of hot cocoa telling a wistful story about the time when we blew it, and doesn’t it just take us all back to a happier time? And, hey, look how transparent we were!

Sin is gross. We should be gentle with babies when they soil their pants. But we should be gentle as we clean off the mess. I realize that some Christians still can’t seem to explain why it stinks everywhere they go. They aren’t acknowledging their mess, they don’t ever confess their sin. But it is also possible to run around holding our pile of sin under everyone’s nose. “Isn’t this great?” No, it’s disgusting.

Sometimes I confess my own sin publicly, occasionally during our weekly time of exhortation, maybe as an application from something the in sermon, even at a Men to Men or Life to Life meeting. Isn’t that showboating? It could be. If I did it to attract attention to myself it would be wrong. If I did it without actual repentance that would also be wrong.

I try to do it so that it’s clear that persons need to repent. We can study what the Bible says about confession, but then we need to do what it says. Confession is a doctrine that we must practice. Even persons in positions of leadership and authority need to confess; men and husbands and fathers and pastors sin. I need to repent of my sins more than I need to be an expert at seeing the sin of the other guy. I never had an example, so it can be helpful to see what repentance might look like. But the sin is ugly. My sin stinks. Sometimes I confess in public so that you know I know it’s good to kill it.

We don’t need sympathy for our sin. We need a Savior from it. Don’t confess your struggles here, or in a small group setting, or on your blog, or over coffee because you think it’s a treasure to show it to everyone. That’s not necessarily more honest, it may just spread the stink around.