One great success of Christians in our culture can be seen by considering one great criticism from the culture against Christians. One of the most frequent and vigorous judgments is that we don’t love each other.
This judgment is grounded in truth. Jesus said that Christians should love one another sacrificially just as He did and obviously so that the world can see.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34–35, ESV)
It is good that the world knows what we’re supposed to be doing. But how did they even grasp how to grade our assigned work? We gave them the answer key. Nature teaches them that God is powerful but nature doesn’t teach them about love. God’s Word teaches that God is love and that He commands us to love. Christians have translated and printed and preached the Word so that our society breathes that assumption.
When your kid asks from the back seat why you’re going so fast, remember that you’re the one who explained to them what speed limit signs are for. Unbelievers may point out our responsibilities even though they may not like the standard or plan to apply the standard to themselves. Fine, but at least least they know the law. That’s good.
It’s bad that it is so obvious that we aren’t obeying. They know we’re His disciples because we love to talk about all the Greek words for love. We’ve become like a team of 500 pound nutritionist bloggers and the irony is heavy.
The answer here isn’t for Christians to be secretive about Jesus’ commands. The answer isn’t to hide the truth from our kids about the requirements of speed limit signs. The cultural accountability is good; we want them to know the Bible and we want them to watch our lives. We’ve gotten what we’ve asked for, but we haven’t lived up to our press. Let’s continue to paint the target for our culture to criticize us but let’s also give them no ammo to shoot at us.
Our God is special. He does things hardly anyone expects though He expects everyone will notice. Paul told the Romans that all men know God but they won’t honor Him or give thanks to Him (Romans 1:21). It strikes me that gospel, the power of God to salvation, goes after the ungrateful. The good news that causes us to be most thankful addresses sinners who are the least thankful.
Salvation, analyzed in one way, is deliverance from ungratefulness. God justifies unthankful men, forgiving them and declaring them innocent of all their thanklessness. God sanctifies men by the gracious work of His Word and Spirit to make a man more thankful. Even the word itself expresses a great measure: thankFUL, or grateFUL. A saved man is full of it, in the right way.
So there are two parts to this exhortation. First, is your thank tank full? If not, you should confess it as sin.
Second, are you faithfully reflecting God to the unthankful around you? Jesus told His disciples,
love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. (Luke 6:35, ESV)
Using unthankfulness to fix an unthankful neighbor works as well as using a Brillo pad to fix a scratch on his eyeball. If we obey the command to “give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thesslalonians 5:18), we may find that thanks is potent to overcome complaints. We won’t overcome evil with grouchiness because God doesn’t.
Ambrose Bierce construed the verb “acknowledge” or “confess” in The Devil’s Dictionary as follows: “acknowledgment of one another’s faults is the highest duty imposed by our love of truth.” In other words, the more we are wound by truth the tighter we put the screws on our neighbors.
We love the truth; that’s good and necessary. We are learning to confess sin, to speak the truth about sin, not only for salvation but also for worship. Appropriate confession depends on accurate truth so that we know what should be confessed, so that we don’t chase the standard around like a ball of mercury.
Loving the truth is good, confessing sin is also good. But a great temptation for truth lovers is to see it as our duty to speak about everyone else’s need for confession first. I suppose this is better than seeing no sin at all; at least we acknowledge God’s law. But if we acknowledge the truth and exalt it as the rule of life (which it is) primarily for others (which it isn’t), we double our disobedience. Denial of sin is another sin.
We also make our work double. Approaching confession in this way requires us to regard the truth in one instance and then to disregard it in another, to be smart and then dumb. Many, it seems, listened to Jesus’ words but they did not do them. They both acknowledged His word and refused to acknowledge it. James referred to the hearer-no-doer as a self-deceiver. Self-deception causes self-destructive without self-awareness. The Word is a mirror so that we can see ourselves, not a microscope so that we can scrutinize someone else.
Our highest duty as truth lovers is to love the truth accurately, as it exists on its own, and applicably, as it exposes our hearts. We have plenty to acknowledge at home before we take our show on the road.
Solomon warned that “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe” (Proverbs 29:25). How does the fear of man trap us?
The fear of man catches us in the trap of comparison. Down in the pit we can’t see out of the pit to get any sort of perspective. The only ones we can see are the ones right next to us. Of course, the taste-makers themselves never disclose that they feel just as trapped, but we listen to them because we have no one else to listen to.
The fear of man catches us in the trap of confusion. We’re stuck looking at others and we can never know how to please our protean neighbor or the motley preferences of the mob. Everyone wants to be paid but everyone has his own currency of glory. Some want euros, some want dollars, and all we have is a pocketful of pesos. No wonder we’re so broke.
The fear of man also catches us in the trap of competition. The only way to get out is by climbing on top of each other. No one actually wants all the way out, though, since we still want the approval of men. They might fight us for the top spot, but we need them to be on top like the tip of the iceberg needs a base.
The fear of man leads to servitude not free fellowship. The fear of man prohibits love, makes every sacrifice selfish, and turns us into reflections of reflections which have nothing of substance to reflect. The fear of man keeps us from believing God (John 5:44) and ruins us, now and forever.
We don’t know half of judgment half as well as we should like; and we like less than half of mercy half as well as it deserves. If that seems unexpected or difficult to understand, I’ll try to work it out for us. We don’t appreciate judgment or mercy very well.
We don’t know half of judgment half as well as we should like. It would benefit us to know more clearly and more fully the judgment due to sin, our sin and the sin around us. Sin is terrible. It mocks our Maker. It offends His goodness and righteousness and earns His wrath. We should like to know the law better to learn our condition better, to know God’s character better. If we only knew half of judgment half as well as we should, we would be quicker to confess. We would also be more urgent in call others to escape it.
We like less than half of mercy half as much as it deserves. Mercy is even greater than judgment. Actually, our gratitude for mercy will grow as our grasp of judgment grows. The more sin abounds, mercy abounds much more. Mercy should be magnified. How could any of us sinners get out of judgment? We all deserve all we have coming to us. Yes, but God is merciful! His mercy should be known and exalted! We should like it much more than we do, certainly it deserves the fullness of our affections.
The cross helps us know and like both better. The wickedness judged and the mercy offered as Jesus bore the punishment in His body teach us about both. We don’t need forgiveness because nothing is wrong in our hearts. He will judge us. But the fact that our hearts are so wrong doesn’t mean He won’t forgive. He offers us mercy.
I read three national news items last week that I wish were fictional. First, I read that Planned Parenthood aborts a baby every 94 seconds. Second, I read that the White House has prohibited anyone who has ever said anything against homosexuality (who hasn’t repented) from praying at the upcoming inauguration. Third, I read that former President Bill Clinton has been chosen by The National Father’s Day Council as the 2013 Father of the Year.
How should we respond to these true stories? In order of the stories, we should defend the rights of the unborn (in application of Proverbs 31:9). We should pray; they can’t stop us in our churches or in our homes, not yet. And we should laugh. But there’s more. How did we get here? It didn’t happen overnight and it didn’t happen against our national will.
We ought to repent from our sins. We can’t take responsibility for the sins of others in the same way. But abortion is murder and Jesus taught that the seed of murder is anger. When we blow up at our kids we plant the same seed that, when fully grown, brings the bitter fruit of killing the inconvenient. Homosexuality is lust gone wild. Jesus also taught that to look at some website URLs is to commit adultery in our hearts. To allow the weed to grow among us leads to the government choking our public prayers. And what of the plaques for absentee fathers? Do not many dads wish that they could be praised for their laziness? If we can give a guy like him an award, maybe our families will at least give us a break.
Our culture is an expression of our cultus, our worship. If we allow sin to go un-confessed, it will eventually grow up and be unhindered. Culture doesn’t only trickle down, it trickles up. May our culture trickle up from our knees as we confess our sins.
Imagine a close friend who one day sinned against you and broke fellowship. Imagine that you pursued him (or her) with no success. You communicated Your hurt, you expressed your desire to forgive and receive them back, and it all went south.
Now imagine that months pass. Perhaps the sting of the hurt has lifted a little but the pain still isn’t gone. Then your friend drops by. He (or she) has a different spirit. Without hesitation he asks for forgiveness, acknowledges his sin, knowing that there may be ongoing consequences but knowing that he was wrong. What you thought was impossible has come about.
How would you respond? More specifically, would you be irritated or glad? I’m not talking about glad gloating over the vindication of your right-ness. I mean, wouldn’t you rejoice that a lost friend returned, that a broken friendship was restored?
Then why do many Christians tend to believe that God looks on them with contempt? Our Father rejoices when we confess our sin against Him, when we seek His forgiveness. We may have wandered for years, or a week, or our account with Him may be measured by minutes. Jesus told the Pharisees and Scribes, “I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7). If He rejoices when sinners repent, how much more His sons?
One of the most important moments in our Lord’s day liturgy, and probably my favorite part, is the declaration from differnet parts of Scripture that God gladly forgives. If He marked iniquities, none could stand. But He forgives that He might draw us closer in worship.
I recently heard someone say that there are two types of people in the world: those who divide the world into two types of people and those who get tired of the other group. I’m going to do it right now, but I’m also going to give a third option, so that will be different.
There are two types of people in the world: those who know that they sin and those who argue that they don’t. There are people who refuse to use the word sin or wannabe atheists who disagree in principle that sin is possible. Their blindness is more sad than ironic. Churchgoers, on the other hand, usually either confess their sin in humility or they confess the systematic truth that men are sinners, though that doesn’t apply to them at the moment. Religious blindness isn’t another sort of sight.
We should always keep in mind that Christ came to save men who sin. Whether you are considering resolutions for the New Year, whether you are in a spat with your spouse, or whether you’re waiting for a broken relationship to mend itself, the only savior is Jesus and He saves men who confess their sin. He doesn’t save those who confess the correct theology of sin. He doesn’t save those who make promises to do better. He doesn’t save those who shift the blame for their sin. He doesn’t save those who depend on time to pass. He saves those who depend on Him.
It is dangerous to argue that we do not sin. That argument is usually found in the mouths of blind men, deceived men, religious men. When we see the sin of those around us much clearer than our own, that may not be because their sin is so much more obvious, it may be because sin trains our eyes to look away. Christ came to do something about the log in our eyes first.
In the middle of many exhortations, Paul told the Romans to “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).
The beginning of the chapter swings on quite a hinge. The letter moves from the glorious gospel of righteousness by faith alone through the invincible love that won’t let us be separated from God in Christ Jesusto the powerful work of righteousness by grace. The orthodoxy–straight doctrine, leads to orthopraxy–straight practice. Generally, we are sacrifices that live worshipfully rather than those who are conformed to the world’s mold (Romans 12:1-2).
Part of that transformed life includes sympathy according to verse 15. We weep with those who weep. We do not blow off or mock the pain and hurt of others. We do not push away to protect our hearts from feeling the same sorrow in their suffering. Transformed Christians share a common cry.
In some ways, weeping with weepers may be easier because we do not have to go home with their problems. We can keep their troubles in an off-site compassion compartment. We can go home to our better situation and breath easier that we don’t have it like them.
But a good test of our transformation comes when we don’t have it like them and they have it better than us. Can we rejoice with those who rejoice? Can we share the joy of their win or their promotion or their profit? Can we enjoy the blessings that they’ve received, especially if they are the blessings we’ve been hoping or working for? Can we do it without being jealous or bitter?
It’s interesting that the next door neighbor exhortation in Romans 12:16 is to live in harmony with one another. We won’t if we are always being tightfisted with compassion and grabby for blessing.
The hardest part about Christmas is not shaking off the lingering effects of tryptophan at 2 AM while shopping on Black Friday. The hardest part is not squeezing SUVs into compact parking spaces at the mall or outjoying cranky checkout clerks. The hardest part is not choosing the perfect (and budget fitting) gift for the picky person in your life. The hardest part is not securing the tree straight in the stand. The hardest part is not troubleshooting strands of dead lights or even dealing with deadbeats around the dinner table. The hardest part is not paying off all the credit card bills by May. The hardest part about Christmas is caring.
No sentiment from a Hallmark holiday movie or lick from a thick peppermint stick can guarantee to get your heart in the mood. No matter how much the thirsty needles on your tree smell like they might burst into flame, no decorated indoor fir can catch your heart on fire. Celebrating the first coming of Christ and letting that party push us to wait even more eagerly for His next coming is hard heart work.
The liturgy of the season is an advantage to us if we repent and believe. As is true of our worship every Lord’s day, confessing and communing, offering and singing, praying and receiving the Word challenge us to be renewed in love for Christ. So setting up trees and giving gifts, baking ham and greeting family, all provide cover for cold hearts or provide discipline to melt them.
Is your preparation for the 25th increasing your anticipation of the great day? Are you pursuing holiness more these days, not only so that you’ll be ready for righteous rejoicing on Christmas, but also so that you’ll be ready for Christ’s return? If not, now is a great time to confess the sin that strangles sanctification and hope so that we can enjoy more of both on Tuesday.