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.

How Easily We Forget

It can be discouraging to realize that most new content is only old content. Very rarely does someone have a brand new idea, a completely new story idea, or a never-before-found life hack. Solomon wrote a long time ago that there is nothing new under the sun, things are just repackaged. Whether it’s investment strategies, or weight loss/exercise plans, or, even as Christians, how to live godly lives in the present age, most of the time what we get are reminders. There’s no new shortcut, there’s no hidden mystery, there is a lot of what we already knew.

I think one of the reason’s that’s discouraging is because that means I’m the one not doing what I already know. Most of the time I can’t blame how hard it is or how badly I failed on lack of information.

Yet what is maybe more discouraging is how easily I forget. That’s another way of saying that reading the same five principles or steps or encouragements is often good for me. I might have been looking for something other than reminders but what I actually needed was the reminders.

Peter wrote, “I intend always to remind you of these qualities, though you know them and are established in the truth that you have. I think it is right, as long as I am in this body, to stir you up by way of reminder” (2 Peter 1:12-13).

He was reminding them about pursuing growth in faith, virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love. We also need to be reminded about these qualities, reminded to confess our sin rather than blame our ignorance, and reminded that Christ died and rose again for our salvation. That’s old news, and very good news.

Remove the Rust

Yesterday our church held a seminar about fellowship. When we have fellowship it means we have a close association with those who share mutual interests. Christians share in Christ. He is our central and essential interest. All of the parts of the body get signal from the Head of the Body. Each living stone is built on and leans on the Cornerstone. Every spiritual planet revolves around the Son.

We will share a fellowship in heaven for eternity that realizes the unity of God in three Persons. Jesus prayed that we would be one even as He and His Father are one (John 17:11). In the meantime, those who are being sanctified in the truth (John 17:17) find that more sanctification is necessary if we’re going to get along. Jesus gave us His Word so that His joy would be fulfilled in us (John 17:13), but there’s quite a mess while we’re still in the world.

You will not be surprised to hear that the cause of distance between us is sin. Like a weed through concrete, sin can crack apart the thickest communion. Sin is like rust on the bolt; forget about getting the nut on tight until the rust is removed. Fellowship requires cleansing that keeps the heart threads clear.

As Christians we believe that blessed fellowship only comes by the blood of Christ. It requires us to be honest about our sin and to walk obediently before God.

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. (1 John 1:6-7)

Confessing our sin is where fellowship starts.

Not The Stages of Outrages

You’ve probably seen the comic of a man sitting at a desk in front of a computer and his wife asks him when he’s coming to bed. He says he can’t come to bed yet because “someone is wrong on the Internet.” 

More than someone is wrong on the Internet. And what’s even more problematic, everyone you know is wrong about something they think, let alone how they act. You might not be talking about their wrong thing, you might not even know what their wrong thing is, but you can be sure that if you talked long enough, their wrong would pop up like sponsored ads on Facebook. 

What should you do about this serious problem? After all, God is perfect, His way is perfect (Psalm 18:3), and demands that His creatures be perfect (Matthew 5:48). 

We are living in an increasingly outraged culture. Passionate outbursts of so-called righteousness abound around the clock, and believers must not be conformed to this world. So, Christian, when you encounter certain problems your duty to the Lord may be to relax

This is not ostrich orthodoxy, burying your head in the sands of your own pure thoughts. It is a call to be people of the Spirit. After describing the fruit of the Spirit, Paul wrote this:

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)

Things to note: others can actually be wrong, even sinning. If it’s not sin, then you should probably unbutton the top button on your righteousness collar. Take a deep breath, and take care of your own responsibilities. But if it is transgression and you see it, you should say something, if you 1) are spiritual about it, 2) want their restoration not their humiliation, 3) talk to them in a kind way, and 4) don’t act like you could never have the same problem. Those are not the stages of outrages. 

Because we see a bunch of people confronting wrongs wrongly does not mean that it shouldn’t be done. Confront those who are wrong rightly. And also, consider that you might be the one who is wrong. 

Blessing-ficiaries

I can’t remember if I’ve asked this question before during an exhortation to confession. We’re now over 400 times of corporate confession on the Lord’s Day, and while there are a lot of things that require repentance, some of them need more repetition.

Who do you confess your sin for? Who benefits when you “say the same thing” (homologeo) as God? You are certainly one who profits. Sin separates us from fellowship, forgiveness granted restores fellowship, so if you want fellowship you need forgiveness which comes through confession.

You are not the only blessing-ficiary, though. God receives glory when we repent. It’s not that we should sin that grace may abound, though grace does reign over sin. God’s patience and mercy and atonement are exalted when we depend on Him. He doesn’t need us to confess in order to get honor for Himself, but He is honored by our honesty and our humility and our hope in Him.

That still isn’t the end of it. The scope of benefits and blessings should be broadened. When we confess our sins we are restored to fellowship, and God’s holy standard and perfect sacrifice are praised, and also the entire church body is built up.

Your sin may be private in that only you and God know about it, for now, but your sin is never isolated as if only you are affected by it. We are one body, we are God’s building. We might not be able to see the disintegration of some studs in the wall, but when you deal with rot the right way it strengthens the whole structure.

Calvinist Knees

How does a Calvinist confess his sins? That’s not the start of a joke.

We are a Calvinistic church, meaning that we believe that God is God, God rules over all, and that includes His sovereignty in the salvation of men. We believe that He elects spiritually dead men to be brought to Him as worshippers for eternity. He has their names already written in a book. They are a love gift from the Father to the Son as a Bride.

Whether you like the nickname or not, it’s convenient theological shorthand. The least you could do is hope to be a Calvinist that isn’t weird.

So how does a Calvinist confess his sins? Some don’t. They confess that total depravity is a true doctrine, but they reason that God saves His chosen ones regardless of any specific repentance, so individual confession doesn’t matter. I’d call this a form of hyper-Calvinism, and more than that, I’d call it wrong.

There are some other Calvinists who don’t confess their sins because the truths of the doctrines of grace have caused them to see everyone else’s errors but their own. A certain kind of knowledge puffs up (1 Corinthians 8:1). I’d call this hypocritical-Calvinism, and it is worse than wrong.

Those who realize that they were corrupt and contemptible to God, rebels without a cause, dead in sin apart from God’s free choice and God’s perfect blood and God’s initiated heart-transplant, should not be proud. A Calvinist should confess his sins in humility. A Calvinist should confess his sins on his knees. We could call him a Calvikneest.

As part of our liturgy we’ve been inviting those who are able and willing to kneel in humble confession for many years. It’s not a convenient position for many, and a physical impossibility for a few. But for those who are able, wouldn’t it be a great testimony if others knew we were Calvinists by our knees?

Buried and Barricaded

If you were in the center of a redwood tree I imagine that you would not be affected by much. If you were standing beside a redwood tree I imagine that you would be affected very much by the glory of the tree.

Sin buries and barricades our affections. Sin blinds us to the ugliness of our sin, sin dulls us to the poison of our sin. Sin even tries to tell us that sin is satisfying, that righteousness is the sucker-outer of life.

When God saves us He gives us new hearts, hearts that are no longer hard but that are sensitive to the true, the good, and the glorious. He clears our minds so that we recognize the deceiving propaganda of sin. He calibrates the scales of goodness in our evaluating organs so that we hate what is wicked and love the heights of all that is good.

It’s why our time of confession each Sunday morning is a time for us to take sin seriously. We take forgiveness seriously, too, purchased by Christ on the cross, and secured by God Himself for all His elect. And while we come with faith that atonement has been paid in full, we still come to train our hearts that sin is gross, sin is rotten, sin will kill.

When we offer our worship in confessing sin we take David’s lyrics as a guide:

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
   A broken and contrite heart,
      O God, you will not despise.
(Psalm 51:17)

A broken and contrite heart is not without hope, but it is broken of hoping to produce something good out of our own hearts and it turns to God for His grace in forgiveness, acceptance, and renewed affections.

When We Have Problems

The Lord’s response to Paul’s request to have his thorn removed is archetypal.

He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9a)

That is a fantastic truth. We should share that on the Internet. Someone should print it in a sympathy card, probably using a gentle, italic font, and adorn it with a soft colored flower. It’s perfect, especially for Paul, and other people.

Paul continues:

Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9b-10)

How many of us don’t really want to be content, we want to be content in a Thomas Kinkade Christmas painting hanging on the wall of a set in a Hallmark Channel movie? It looks so calm, cozy, and probably chocolaty. The fire is delightful, and, if the kids are awake, they’re not stirring one another up to irritation.

But of course the first Christmas was God’s own experience of traveling away from home, of family being displaced, being uncomfortable. God was born in obscurity and weakness, to poor and tired parents.

Us, though, we’ve got big plans to be joyfully adoring Him, until you can’t find the wrapping paper where it was supposed to be, and the house is more messy than Walmart shelves two hours after Black Friday sales started. You wanted to host the extended family, but, not like this.

Christmas, and contentment, is harder than it looks. But God’s grace is sufficient, and He wants His power to be seen as the power of Christ rests upon us when we have problems.