A Hole in the Boldness Tank

Unbelief as sin justifies God’s judgment because it is an affront to Him. Unbelief goes about as if He weren’t trustworthy, as if His demonstrations were insufficient, and as if His commands were optional. Not only does unbelief deserve God’s wrath, unbelief also damages our witness and worship.

Unbelief torpedos our courage to witness. If I don’t believe that eating fruits and vegetables will help me be healthy, then I won’t eat them and I’m likely to be silent about their benefits in conversation. Worse, if I don’t believe that in Christ is life and that abiding in Him produces fruit, I will not be fruitful or faithful to call others to Christ. Unbelief blows a hole in the boldness tank and we will not acknowledge Him before men (Matthew 10:32-33) if our faith is empty.

Unbelief also bankrupts our convictions for worship. I will not praise what I do not prize, and I will not prize something I’m suspicious about. I will have no confidence to sing if I’m uncertain of His ability to come through or unsure that He is who He says He is. Doubt siphons off our confidence for worship until our faith is belly up.

“Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). We sin when we do not believe, we cannot please Him without faith, and our unbelief cuts off our courage and convictions. Disbelief isn’t something to play with, it’s something to confess as sin.

No Less Wrath Deserving

We usually think about (our) wrath-deserving sin as transgression, as leaping over the fence He forbids us from jumping. Our spiritual death certainly activates transgressions (see Ephesians 2:1), but our spiritual death also animates unbelief. Unbelief is no less a wrath-deserving sin.

Unbelief deserves wrath because, whether we would say it like this or not, unbelief questions God’s honesty, His trustworthiness. God never lies (Titus 1:2) and He never fails to fulfill His promises (Romans 11:29). I don’t appreciate when my kids don’t believe me, but how much more wrong is it to doubt God?

Unbelief also warrants judgment in light of the many evidences God has given. He graciously substantiates His claims, even to us doubting Thomases. “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe” (John 20:27). He provides many proofs of His believability and men will be judged according to the revelation they’ve disbelieved.

The sin of unbelief also earns wrath as direct disobedience to the commands to believe. Faith is important because it is necessary for salvation. But faith is also imperative, so it is necessary for obedience. Disbelief is disobedience.

We who call ourselves believers, who profess faith, cannot let our belief slump or slip or wane. God still is trustworthy, He still manifests sign upon sign, and He still commands us to believe.

Owning Our Offenses

A key word for Christians is the word offense. It scales from annoyance, to resentment, to anger brought about by perceived insult or disregard. Proverbs 18:19 states, “A brother offended is more unyielding (harder to be won – KJV) than a strong city.” That doesn’t mean that it is entirely impossible, but it means that we could have avoided a lot of work for ourselves by avoiding offense in the first place. Unlike construction, if we measure twice in our relationships we might not make a cut at all.

One of the worst offenses is claiming that one did not cause an offense when one in fact did. Not owning one’s offense is offensive. That sort of denial adds lying to the original offense and ups the offense by treating the other person as if they’re crazy for acting offended. It adds insult to injury.

The most offensive offense is claiming to God that one has no offenses to confess. Not only does that add lying to the list of sins requiring confession, it also adds blasphemy to the list because it’s equal to calling God a liar. “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar” (1 John 1:10). That sort of offensive insult injures the insult-maker most.

The good news is that there is forgiveness for all our offenses if we confess them. God even promises to work in our hearts and cleanse the offense making factory, but we must come to Christ.

A Certain Kind of Person

[O]ur time of confession ought not to be about a list of items, kept or broken. We are in the process of becoming a certain kind of person. Everything we confess is that which interfered with that process. If it did not interfere with it, then there is nothing to confess. But the rules are not floating above our heads, independently autonomous. No, God’s rules are simply a description of what He is like, and what we would like to become like.

—Doug Wilson, Becoming a Certain Kind of Person

Better Together

In a recent sermon I preached Ephesians 3:10, that the church makes known the manifold wisdom of God in heavenly places. The church is Christ’s Body, an assorted mix of individual members joined together under His headship. We’re better together, not meant to be separated.

While not written to the church, Proverbs 18:1 certainly applies for us in the church.

Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire;
and he breaks out against all sound judgment.

The NKJV translates the second-line summary: “He rages against all wise judgment.” That seems extra dramatic until we remember a few things. We were made for relationship, not isolation, because we were made in the image of the Triune God. In addition, we remember that sin isolates and, where there is sin, there is sinful blindness to our sin and every man sees himself as right. Soon Mr. Right is off by himself and “seeks his own desire.”

But we’re better together. Iron sharpens iron in contact. Hiding in the sheath all day dulls the edges of our hearts.

We need each other, for protection against sinful blindness and for shared, intensified joy. We were made male and female–in particular, husband and wife–for two to be one. It’s not good for man to be alone. We were made as believers, individual members of one body. We wisely fight isolation in our corporate meetings, our smaller groups, and our family fellowship times as we value and depend on one another. Let us not be guilty of isolating ourselves, even in our minds, and raging against wisdom.

Not Forgiving Others

Not everyone knows the gospel. Even fewer actually live the gospel.

The gospel, the good news, is that we who rebelled against God–and that was every one of us–can be reconciled to God through Christ. We who disobeyed God’s law can be forgiven in Christ who bore our punishment on the cross. We who stand before Him in blatant guilt of unrighteousness, incapable of providing the righteousness He requires, can be declared righteous in Christ who imputes His own righteousness into our account. We who are dead can have life, eternal life, God-life, in Christ, by confessing our sins and trusting Christ as Savior and Lord. That’s the gospel.

A certain kind of life, a gospel life, a life of gospel fruit necessarily grows from this faith. We who have been forgiven for sinning much must now also forgive those who have sinned against us little by comparison. Jesus told a parable to this end (Matthew 18:23-34), and the merciful master said, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should you not have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?”

We gospel-knowers should take heed lest that’s all we are. We are to forgive “just as” Christ has forgiven us (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:13) and this is an unattainable standard apart from the Spirit’s work in our hearts. Sin in us makes any sin against us seem worse than any sin by us against God. We are usually unwilling to forgive when our perspective is so perverted.

But we must forgive like Christ if we’ve been forgiven by Christ. This is gospel life. By our slowness to enact the gospel we commit sin that makes us greater debtors to the gospel ourselves. Bitterness and grudge-holding and stand-offishness do not belong in a gospel life. We must confess our sins of not forgiving others their sin. We must seek the forgiveness of the gospel for not giving the forgiveness of the gospel.

Practical Foolishness

Professing atheists1 are fools. “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God'” (Psalm 14:1). There are also practical atheists, those who, whether God exists or not, live like He doesn’t. Our lives, more than our lips, reflect what we believe in our hearts.

Idolators are also fools. There’s no wisdom in saying that there is no god, there’s also no wisdom in making up a god. And this is key for professing believers: there are practical idolators, too, those who live like the true God is different than He really is. We are image-bearers, not merely image-describers, and, in particular, we are Christians, so that means our behavior should reflect what He looks like.

If I describe God as a personal God but I always keep others at a distance, I reflect an idol, a distant God. That makes me a fool. If I say God is a God of love but I default to criticism or am quick to anger, I reflect an idol, a demanding God. That is practical idolatry; that is foolishness.

It’s easy for us to cry “Fool!” at someone who believes in evolution or someone who bows before a carved block of wood. It is harder to see and confess our own practical foolishness. We believe in a personal and loving God, and we must repent when we do not reflect Him truly.


  1. I say “professing” atheists because, according to Romans 1:18-21 every man knows God, even if he claims not to.

Address the Issue

In Mark 7 the Pharisees and scribes came to interrogate Jesus about His disciples’ failure to follow the proper eating liturgy. They asked, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” (v.5) Jesus answered their question with a quotation.

Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
“This nation honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”

Jesus summarized the problem in verse 8: “You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” In other words, “You all are following the wrong liturgy, not My disciples.”

There are at least two Pharisaical failures. First, men don’t set the standard, God does. Second, men set low standards; God’s standards always aim high, at the heart. The standards of men fail to address the issue.

After the rebuke, Jesus called the people to Him again and said,

Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him. (vv.14-15)

Our problem isn’t simply that we want to replace God’s standard, it’s that we don’t like the conviction of dealing with what comes out of us, what is in our hearts. It’s easier to wash our hands or tell someone else to wash their hands. It’s easier to look good by donating money to missions than to be good by supporting our parents (vv.9-13).

Lust, coveting, deceit, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness come from within (vv.21-23). If we want to honor God, not only with our lips but also with our hearts, we must start by addressing the issue in our own hearts and confessing our sins.

A Closet Full of Clothes

Unthankful people dominate our culture. We are skilled at identifying all the existing or potential problems rather than identifying all the things that enabled us to see the problems. We are better at thinking about all the things that are missing or undone than about all the work already finished. It bothers us when a light bulb burns out; it does not bother us that many people don’t even have electricity. We don’t like many of the clothes in our closets, not putting the idea of having a closet full of clothes into perspective. We keep mental spreadsheets of how many people have not thanked us and let ourselves off the hook because we were busy dealing with the abundance of “problems” that we we’ve been blessed with.

Giving thanks is a command, an expectation found everywhere in God’s Word. Christians must “give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Is Paul saying that all circumstances are God’s will so give thanks? Or is it God’s will to give thanks no matter what’s happening? Yes. Both. All of the above. He’s in control so give thanks, and in every situation He’s given us something to be thankful for.

Unthankfulness characterizes those who deserve God’s judgment (Romans 1:21). Even though unbelievers know God and perceive His power and good nature, they don’t honor Him or give thanks. The consequences, in addition to judgment, include futility of mind. They claim that all their fault-finding is wisdom, and all they are is foolish.

Unthankfulness is unhelpful–as it rarely persuades others, unlawful–as it disobeys God’s command, and it is dangerous–as it traps men in foolishness. Thankfulness, on the other hand, is not only right, it is powerful. A thankful husband is like 220 volt electricity running energy into the home. A thankful momma is like a warm blanket that wraps her children in protection. A thankful church declares (the right sort of) war on pride–thinking I deserve better than that, and pettiness–thinking that person doesn’t deserve that. A thankful Christians is free from egotism and nitpicking, free from negativity and unfulfilled expectations; we are free to be thankful.

Dirt in the Carpet

We are not our own. We are God’s. God chose us, created us, died for us, called us, and keeps us. He made each human being in His image, and He is conforming every Christian into the image of His Son.

We are not our own. No part of our selves, from tongue to toes, with spouse or with children, among co-workers or community, in the voting booth or at the coffee shop, no part of our lives is ours to do with whatever we want.

We are not our own. John Calvin put it this way in his Institutes of the Christian Religion:

We are God’s: let us therefore live for him and die for him. We are God’s: let his wisdom and will therefore rule all our actions. We are God’s: let all the parts of our life accordingly strive toward him as our only lawful goal. (Calvin, Institutes, 3.7.1)

We are not our own. The apostle Paul put it this way in his first letter to the believers in Corinth:

You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19b-20)

In context, Paul explains that our sexual conduct and physical purity is a type of worship. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit so our conduct is more clear than a neon sign about what type of worship we offer.

Sin dims the light of truth in the worship center. Disobedience rubs dirt into and tears up the carpet of our hearts. But we are not our own. The owner of the building (that is, our bodies) calls us to come to the light, to confess rather than conceal sin, and to be cleansed by faith in Christ. Then the temple is open for business and filled with singing to Him who raises us up by His power.