Where It Wafts

Sometimes Christians are able to take obedience and make it ugly; it’s one of our specialties.

In 1 Corinthians 16:5-8 Paul wrote about his plans to visit Corinth, but also acknowledged that the Lord must permit the visit or it wouldn’t happen. Paul wasn’t expecting an approved itinerary handed down to him by an angel from heaven, but he would recognize by providence if God allowed it.

Solomon wrote that “the heart of man plans his ways, but the LORD establishes his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). Only the LORD does “whatever” He pleases (Psalm 135:6); we are not the Lord.

Most Christians are probably familiar with James’ teaching about this perspective on providence.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit,” … instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13, 15)

With all that in mind, in order to obey, do you need to say “if the Lord wills” before every stated intention or plan? Or, do you need to correct your brother or sister if they use a future tense verb without including the “Lord willing” qualifier?

James says that boasting in our self-determination is arrogant (James 4:16). It can also be arrogant to boast over a fellow-believer’s sentence structure. If he isn’t living in light of God’s control, then it might be good to bring it up, which is what James is doing. But Pharisees pay more attention to the proper use of formulas; what we need most is to live by faith.

How can you know if you are living James 4:15? You hold your schedule loosely. You respond to interruptions and changes with patience and contentment (which is harder than tagging sentences with Deo volente). You remember that “we have not even a moment in our power” (John Calvin, commentary on 1 Corinthians 16:7). You remember that your life is a mist, and that the Lord wills where it wafts and for how long.

To Be Clear about Hell

A few things happened over the last year or so that have caused the elders to propose an addition to our What We Believe statement of faith. We have been in different conversations about the reality of eternal death and, specifically, the existence of hell. When reviewing the doctrinal statement as part of our annual elder affirmation process, Jonathan suggested that we add something more specific.

Currently we only have a couple references to what happens after physical death to those who reject Christ. In 4.3, which is actually about Satan and the fallen angels, we believe that they will be “eternally judged in the lake of fire”; and in 14.2, under eschatology, we have “those who suppressed the truth in unrighteousness will be consigned to everlasting conscious misery” with a number of proof texts.

Those don’t need to be changed. Also, we have not changed our minds about this; we have always believed the Bible’s teaching about hell, but we all agreed that we could be more clear.

So we propose adding a point 4 to section 5 under “Man’s Sin and Fall from Fellowship with God”:

“We believe that because of Adam’s sin God judged mankind with death, immediate spiritual death, eventual physical death, and ultimately eternal death in hell. Every man who does not believe in Christ for salvation will face God’s righteous wrath and be separated from His presence in darkness and fire with weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Romans 2:5; Ephesians 5:6; Matthew 5:29, 10:28, 13:40-43; 2 Peter 2:4-10)

Jesus said, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). The one to fear is God Himself. Jesus also said that at the end of the age the Son of Man will send angels to gather “all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:41-42).

We all deserve hell and the everlasting lake of fire apart from Christ. And as Christians we confess that we are saved in Jesus Christ because He bore the Father’s wrath on our behalf. This is the good news we believe.

A Small Snail Named Apollyon

In an initial draft of The Pilgrim’s Progress John Bunyan wrote about Christian’s encounter with a small snail named Apollyon. It was an epic battle, and Christian won, but some of Bunyan’s friends thought it didn’t really work. One of them named Mr. Plot-be-bold said, “The battle part fits in the story of struggle, but fighting a snail doesn’t seem like anything special.” So Bunyan changed Apollyon into the large dragon-bear-human-fish monster we know about.

The previous paragraph was typed with my tongue in my cheek; there’s no edition where Christian fights a snail. My point is to say, you are not a better Christian because your battles are small. Of course, you are not a better Christian when you lose to a bigger enemy either.

We are in a spiritual battle, with actual enemies, within and without. If it’s not an ad on a web page, or your neighbor, it’s your own heart that tempts you so disobey. The more spiritually mature you are, the more sensitive you become to the danger of the temptations, and the more spiritually mature you are, the bigger the temptations are likely to be. Resist the devil and he will flee, but he’s going to come at you hard before that.

What is tempting you? How severely are you being tempted? Is it not just irritation but a seething anger? Is it not just wishful thinking but consuming envy? Is it not just a passing glance, but slavery to lustful thoughts?

The point is not to beat yourself up when the temptation is big, the point is to beat big temptations when they come at you. You can really lose, but you also have a high priest who Himself “suffered when tempted” so that “He is able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). He did more than defeat a dust bunny.

Not As I Will

Jesus is risen from the dead just as He said. His resurrection is the first of its kind and all of us who believe in Him will be raised when He returns. While we sing in thanks and praise and hope, how else can we celebrate the significance of this great news? In other words, how can we make Easter great again?

We can, and should, give up our sins for which Christ died. We can, and should, give up trying to make our self-righteousness look acceptable to Him. We can, and should, give up our grudges toward those for whom Christ bore condemnation already. And, following Christ’s example, if we want to make Easter great again, we should give up our own wills.

In Gethsemane, sorrowful and troubled, falling on His face and praying, Jesus said, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). After returning to His sleeping disciples Jesus went away a second time and prayed, “Your will be done” (verse 42). And after that, “he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again” (verse 44).

It’s not a surprise for Him to pray this way. He told others, “I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me” (John 6:38). What is surprising is how we think we’re going to get fruit by saving our seed (John 12:24). But Jesus told His disciples, “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:25).

Give up your self-sufficiency. Give up your schedule to glory. Give up your arrogant plans (James 4:13-17). Give up looking to your own interests (Philippians 2:4). “He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:15). Have the mind of Christ, and give up your will for Easter.

The Dungeon of Chronic Grievances

We’ve been considering how to Make Easter Great Again. There are certainly things we can add into our preparation for and celebration of Christ’s resurrection, but there are also things we can give up. The most important things to give up, however, are things that Christ died for. He didn’t die so that we wouldn’t eat meat, He did die so that we wouldn’t self-righteously judge a brother who does (or doesn’t) eat meat. Give up sin, whether like gluttons, or like Pharisees.

Let me also urge you to give up grudges. We are in the spring season and all kinds of seeds are taking root and starting to grow. Don’t let bitterness be one of the seeds.

[See] that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled (Hebrews 12:15)

Jesus didn’t die so that you can hold on to wrongs done against you, or, for that matter, wrongs you have done against others (though we typically don’t focus on how we’ve caused trouble). Jesus rose again for our freedom from the dungeons of perpetual guilt and of chronic grievances.

This isn’t to say that you have not been sinned against. You most certainly have. But the gospel declares that in three days Jesus took care of the condemnation that was due to every believer who has sinned against us. Eagerly holding on to feelings of ill-will, resentment, envy, or suspicion is like saying that Christ needs to be punished more for that brother’s offense. If the one who sinned against you is not a believer, then Christ says He will deal with them later.

Grudges spelled backward is self-pity. But Christ has condemned sin in the flesh so that we cannot be condemned and so that we will not have regrets from condemning others.

You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD. (Leviticus 19:17–18)

Polluted Garments on the Easter Table

We pick up with our series of exhortations with a view to Make Easter Great Again. As I mentioned last week, the only concentrated preparation for Easter encouraged on a broad scale in church circles relates to Lent, a time to give up things like meat and sex and other “indulgences.” But being tough on the body doesn’t necessarily make anyone more holy (so says Colossians 2:20-23). Instead, if you really want to give up something in order to get ready to celebrate Christ’s resurrection, give up your sin.

I would also exhort you to give up your virtues. Of all the things that keep people out of heaven, self-righteousness is as deadly as unrighteousness. The extra trouble with the self-righteous is that they think they are not in trouble.

Jesus said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). When Jesus healed the man born blind, He said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” When some Pharisees asked if they were blind, “Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no guilt, but now that you say, “We see,” your guilt remains'” (John 9:39-41).

Christians should obey Jesus; we should learn to obey all that He commanded. The Spirit who indwells us is holy, and we are to be holy even as He is holy. But we are still completely dependent on Him to produce any good and holy works through us. He must work and will in us (Philippians 2:13). So if you are getting ready for Easter with spiritual pride in your virtues being better than your brother’s virtues, then you might as well put a polluted garment as the centerpiece on your Easter table (Isaiah 64:6).

Give up your sin, including your self-righteous sin, in order to #mega.

Make Easter Great Again

This probably should be a sermon not an exhortation, though I am at least going to roll it into another mini series with the theme: Make Easter Great Again.

We are gathered together to worship as Christians so I’m going to assume that you love Easter, as in, you boast in the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Why, though, does Christmas/the Incarnation tend to get all the good promotion? Even the colors are better, deeper, less pastel-y. As my wife and I recently lamented, how are you supposed to find manly Easter things for your boys?

Many of us have been lengthening our Christmas anticipation for the whole month of December, talking about advent and building anticipation for the big day.

When it comes to preparing for Easter, some parts of the church talk about Lent, a forty-plus day period of fasting, abstinence, self-examination, and feeling bad about your sin in order to remember Christ’s fasting in the wilderness along with His sacrifice. Without saying that Christians shouldn’t ever fast or give things up for sake of Christ, is that really how to make Easter great in our hearts?

Typical Lenten attitude is not even consistent with what the death and resurrection of Christ do for believers. Paul told the Colossians, “if with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world,” then don’t commit yourself to “asceticism and severity to the body” that are “of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Colossians 2:20-23).

And “if…you have been raised with Christ,” then “seek the things that are above,” “set your minds on things above.” But these earthly things to avoid aren’t things that can be touched and tasted, they are “what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness” (Colossians 3:1-5).

My point is, in order to Make Easter Great Again, give up your sin, don’t just give up things that “have an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion” (Colossians 2:23). Don’t give up His gifts, give up your envy of other persons with different gifts. More to come in order to #mega.

More Than You Know

This will be the final lesson in Confession 201. First we learned that we should confess before being confronted. Second we learned that we should not just regret our sin, but repent from it. Don’t keep sitting in the puddle feeling bad.

For the third lesson we look to Luke 7. A Pharisee named Simon asked Jesus to eat with him, and while Jesus was at Simon’s house a prostitute came and wiped Jesus’ feet with her tears and hair. The Pharisee was not impressed.

Then Jesus told Simon a short parable:

A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more? (Luke 7:41)

The answers was obvious. Simon said the one who loved more would be the one who had the larger debt cancelled. Jesus agreed, and applied the comparison to the Pharisee and the woman. “Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven–for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little” (verse 47).

Why did Jesus tell this to Simon? What lesson did he want Simon to learn? The point was not to help Simon see that Jesus forgives big sinners, though that is true. The point was to help Simon see that he was also a big sinner. Jesus wasn’t saying that it was okay for Simon to love little because he only had a little debt of sin. Jesus was saying that Simon needed to see how large his debt was.

So when you confess you sin, go into it knowing that you probably need more forgiveness than you know.

Get Out of the Puddle

Last week I gave lesson one in Confession 201. It’s the next level up of confession, though you can get into this class without prerequisites. Some may be more ready to receive these lessons even if they couldn’t explain some of the basics.

Lesson one was: don’t wait for someone else to confront you before you confess. Be glad if a true brother does, but don’t depend on needing to be told. Your sin is yours to confess whether or not you’re confronted, and sin is not measured by someone else’s response.

Here is lesson two: don’t spend time regretting your sin, repent from it right away. There is follow up.

Jesus said, “blessed are those who mourn” (Matthew 5:4), and this sorrow is over sin. There is a type of good conviction, a “godly grief” that is appropriate. But grief feelings are not the goal.

Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief….For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:9-10)

In the previous exhortation I referred to a preacher—one that I appreciate in many ways—who said that if he were approached by someone regarding his failure to apply his sermon text, he would “regretfully agree that he probably had.” Not only is this wishy-washy, it’s also not confession. It is also not gospel. This is like hanging your head and waiting for someone to hang a millstone around your neck.

Regret and sorrow and humiliation isn’t where we’re trying to get to. We hope to get out of all that by confessing our sin, and then we must immediately turn away from it. Don’t just say that you regret something, resolve to stop doing it. You regret to be sitting in the mud puddle. No, brothers, get out of the puddle, or your britches will still be sopping and soiled. You who believe are forgiven because Jesus died, and you can obey because Jesus lives.

Confession 201

Almost six years ago I did a series of exhortations called Confession 101. There are multiple basic truths about confession that most Christians aren’t trained in. Confession and repentance are a crucial part of the believers’ life, not just at the beginning when one becomes a believer.

This exhortation is a 200 level lesson, and I’ve got another one for next week. These aren’t graduate level, but they do seem to require a little more maturity.

Here goes: don’t depend on someone else to tell you that you’ve sinned.

I was recently listening to a pastor, the sort of pastor who loves the Bible and the truth and the gospel, introduce his sermon text as one that he realized might be used against him. He admitted that the passage made him feel uncomfortable and acknowledged that his listeners might wonder about his application of it. That admission seemed to open the door of humility.

But the closest he got to saying he had disobeyed the passage was in his comment about being uncomfortable. He followed that with a comment similar to this: “If you were to approach me and point out my past failings I would regretfully have to agree with you.” I didn’t take him as saying that he would regret his agreement more than regretting his sin, but I did wonder, why make someone else ask at all?

Accountability is a good thing. Spiritual friends and fellow members of the body, mothers and fathers and siblings, should not fear asking you or confronting you about sin. There are times when we don’t see our sin; we can have blind spots. But there are plenty of other times when we know we were sinning before we see how the other person responds, even if they don’t respond negatively (because they aren’t sinning).

Confess your sins to one another (James 5:16), and when possible, do it before you need to be confronted.