Posts Tagged ‘sin’
“…the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins…”
- Galatians 1:3-4
I love Paul’s pronouns. I could write a whole book on the personal pronouns of the Pauline epistles. The personal pronouns of this verse caught my attention a few weeks ago. Pastors tend to develop “blurbs” on different topics. It isn’t a bad thing. It is just the product of being asked similar questions over and over again. In the midst of those repetitive answers it is tempting for me to start thinking sin and sinners are ideas and not entities.
Jesus died to take away sin.
Jesus dies for sinners.
All very true. But what are these sins? Who are these sinners? Put simply, they are my sins and I am one of those sinners. Jesus took away Joe’s sins. Jesus died for Joe.
That is the power of the personal pronoun. Paul didn’t want the Galatians to cling to some empty ideology on mystico-sin and mystico-sinners. He wanted the doctrine of Christ’s penal substitutionary atonement to be imminently…well…personal. He loved to drop personal pronouns.
So I ask as bluntly as I can, “Do you love the peronsal pronouns of the Bible?” It is one thing to say Jesus died to atone for the sins of sinners. It is quite another to say that Jesus died to atone for your sins, for you as a person.
If you can’t claim these pronouns as your own. Run to the Cross. Run to Christ. His mercy is for everyone. He will gladly give you all the personal pronouns you could ever hope for.
The secret of rugged joy in the battle with sin is to fight to become what we are in Christ.
- John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy (Crossway: Wheaton, 2004), 85.
I’ve been reading When I Don’t Desire God–complements of T4G–to help wake me up in the morning. I ran across this particular quote this morning. It is a reminder to me of the identity I have in Christ. I am fighting to become what I already am–a justified son of God–rather than fighting to become what I might-possibly-could-be-one-day-with-enough-hard-work.
“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
- Apostle Paul, 2 Corinthians 5:21
“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” – 1 John 2:1
Jonathan Edwards said that the Christian sees sin like a burnt child sees fire. It is a relationship of abject terror founded upon past trauma. John here says the same thing. His longing for his readers is that they would not sin. He knows that no good comes from “dwelling in darkness.” Instead, the children of God run to the light of the gospel to find truth, purity, honesty, and a sincere desire for holiness.
But what is a Christian to do when he finds himself in sin? Somewhere along the way he slowly veered left into the shadows. Two steps, three steps, four steps into the shadows. Then he finds himself walking in the darkness of impenitent sin. The light glimmers in the distance, the light of repentance and grace. But how does the Christian get there? What is a Christian’s tool and hope when confronted with sin?
According to John, this is a question of advocacy. Advocacy is the authority to speak on another’s behalf. The “another” in question is the sinning Christian. The one to whom the advocate must address himself is God the Father. Sin-worn Christian, who will be an advocate for you? Who will plead your case before the Father? Who will say, “Forgive him, Father”? Who has the authority, the boldness to appear on your behalf at the divine tribunal? You have known the benefits of grace and yet you sin! Who will vouch for such a one as you?
Will your own works vouch for you? Can they say that they were done perfectly without a modicum of self-serving intent? Do they bear the authority to plead your case? Can your good works faithfully lead you back to the light? Surely they cannot! What are the works of fallen man before God? What relationship do they bear before their Creator? They may be put forward as an advocate but they have no right to speak on your behalf. They have come unbidden into the courts of the king and should expect only death.
Will your own good intentions vouch for you? Can they say that though their was an ill outcome yet they started out pure? Nonsense. What are good intentions worth to one dwelling in darkness? What will good intentions do for a man who stares at his blood stained hands? Is God so capricious as to set aside his standard of righteousness simply because one claims good intentions were at the start? Will heaven really be populated by well meaning but wretched men who have found divine righteousness on the basis of their good intentions alone? Preposterous.
Who will vouch for you in your misery? Who will be an advocate to the penitent Christian? Who has the authority, the willingness, the power to appear before the Father and utter those words, “Forgive him”? It is only Jesus Christ, who alone bears the name “Righteous”. He can appear before his Father. There is no problem with a Son appearing before the tribunal of his Father, the Judge. He may come boldly. He can appear with on our behalf. He is a man and is entitled to represent men. He is God and can converse with God. As the God-man he has provided potent atonement for the sins of all those for whom he is called “advocate”.
The hope of the Christian when he sins is none other than the advocate Jesus Christ. Dear Christian, when faced with your sin do not promise God your works, “God I will do better.” When faced with your sin do not offer God your good intentions, “God, I meant well.” When faced with your sin, turn to your advocate alone and hope in him alone, “God, have mercy on me, a wretched sinner, through the advocacy of Jesus Christ.” Does God forgive the sinning Christian? Yes, because “we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
Are you reading this and have not yet found eternal life in Jesus Christ? Have you never known the light of faith in Christ, must less the departure from it? Now is the time to turn to Christ. He will be an advocate for you. Repent of your sins. Trust in him as the only way sinners are made righteous before God. But do not think you will find peace with God any other way. Jesus is the only advocate with the Father, the only mediator between God and man. Trust him!
“For this reason sin in its essence is rebellion against God, refusal to be subject to him (Rom 8:7), enmity against God (Rom 5:10, 8:7; Col 1:21), disobedience (Rom 11:32; cf Gal 3:22; Eph 2:2, 5:6; et al.). One can define it as man’s willing-to-have-command-of-himself, wanting-to-be-as-God.” – Herman Ridderbos, Paul: an outline of his Theology, 106.
While we were on vacation my three year old son asked a poignant question. Poignant questions from a three year old are few and far between so I figured I would chronicle it here.
After finishing up a bath, he turned to my wife and said with his questioning voice, “Mama, does bad plus funny equal good?” My wife and I looked at each other with puzzled expressions expecting to have to translate some silly version of toddler math until we realized what he was asking. Does bad plus funny equal good? That is a good question. We both answered “No” and proceeded to talk about how we sometimes use humor to mask right and wrong but that doesn’t make the bad into good.
I admit that I am part the culprit. There are times when one of my sons does something blatantly wrong yet outlandishly funny sending me into facial gesticulations trying to hold a firm brow without bursting out laughing. And I know you other parents have done the same thing. You walk into your bathroom only to find junior thoroughly covered in “mama’s libstish.” Or you find the art box scissors on the floor with swatches of toddler hair scattered about. Bad can be funny though not good. I certainly am not advocating a parenting model of a laughter no fly zone. But how would you answer my son, “Does funny plus bad equal good?”
The reason the question is so good is because it lays bare a common tendency to use humor to cover up sin. There is an unwritten code of social interaction that says, “if I can laugh at something it cannot be bad.” That statement taken a little bit further can come to be, “if I can laugh at something it must be good.” There is something about humor and laughter that makes us comfortable and more at ease. There are times when humor can be especially good for the soul. But there are also times that humor can be used inappropriately to make us more comfortable with topics that should be revolting.
This ability to use humor as a means of softening sin is most evident in film and television. I used to enjoy Saturday Night Live and a good slapstick movie. I can no longer find either without deviant sexuality or crude expletives wrapped in cheap laughs. Adultery apparently is funny. Homosexuality is apparently quite comedic. That iconic expletive covering bleep apparently is a side splitting riot. Gross disrespect to parents apparently is the modern equivalent of Who is on First. Funny plus bad may not be good but it does sell airtime and movie tickets.
I am reminded that any form of media can be used as a way to make us more comfortable with our sins. A moral philosopher can write a manifesto on libertine transcendentalism. Weeknight programming can portray inattentive and lazy fathers as objects of innocuous humor. Both are attempting to make people more comfortable with their sin. As the old adage goes, everyone is selling something. There is no such thing as meaningless humor. Comedic writers are not idiots. They know what they are doing. And we are buying.
But the appropriate reaction to the dangers of humor is not a call to empty moralism. Both are enemies to the cross. Anything that has the ability to make sin look good, whether it is the facade of good works or slide splitting laughter, should be held out as the arch weapon of Satan. Bad is not turned to good through humor. Sin covering humor is a false gospel. It is the empty promise of soul comfort to those enslaved by the brutality of sin. A man who laughs at mortal danger is not most brave but rather most foolish. Funny plus bad does not equal good. Jesus plus bad equals good. Jesus’s atoning death for sin makes sinners righteous. That is Christianity. Jesus didn’t come as a court jester. He came to take our filth and to offer his purity in return. He who knew no sin became sin that we might become the righteousness of God.
Jesus plus bad equals good.
Psalm 51:2-3 – Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
After receiving Nathan’s rebuke for his sin with Bathsheba, David pens this hymn of contrition and confession. Ever since it was written it has served the church as an example and pattern for godly repentance. There is a wealth of grace to be mined from Psalm 51 but for today, let us consider these two verses found at the beginning of the psalm. In reflecting on these verses we need to answer the question, “What is the motivation for godly repentance?”
David begins this psalm pleading for mercy, washing, and cleansing. He wants God to restore him to right fellowship. He longs for the favor of God to fall afresh upon him. This is the longing of every soul and that longing often leads to pleading with God for mercy.
Often, however, we plead to God for mercy like the child in the grocery store check out line pleading for a candy bar. A well taught Christian knows that their relationship with God is founded upon the mercy of God. All good things come to us not out of placing God in our debt and demanding payment but rather by placing ourselves at his mercy and receiving unmerited blessings. And so the Christian is one who knows that good things come through asking for God’s blessings. This is a foundational truth of the gospel but it does not exist by itself. Or to say it another way, Psalm 51:2 must go with Psalm 51:3.
Too often we want the forgiveness of God without the contemplation of our sins. We want to go to the cross but not as the guilty but as the tourist. We want to be moved by the scene of tremendous suffering but not as one who caused the suffering. And that is the opposite of what David is singing about here.
He knows his transgressions and his sin is ever before him. It plagues him. It breaks his bones and makes him feel sick. He cannot escape it. It replays in his mind like the trailer of a horror movie. It weighs him down. It takes away his desire for food and the company of his friends. His sin is killing his soul. And so he must turn to God he must plead for washing and cleansing. He visits the cross as a murderer of the Lord and not as a curious tourist. He knows his transgressions and his sin is ever before him.
That is why John Owen gives the curious advice of going first to the cross to consider your sin rather than to apply the promises of the gospel. Go to cross, he says, to see there what it took to atone for your failures and sins. Go to the cross and see there the Son of God, crucified for your sin, having taken the weight of the law upon him. Go to the cross and see there the wrath of God poured out to its full. Go to the cross and there know your transgressions and see your sin ever before you. Go to the cross and there alone rightly estimate the weight of your sin.
It is at that point, that deep knowledge of sin and guilt that you are ready to be washed and cleansed. It is there that the cleansing blood of Jesus is poured out upon the needy and penitent. Do not short circuit repentance by downplaying your sin. Do not make the the blood of Christ out to be a gaudy carnival toy by refusing to admit your fault. Go deep within the veil. Be confronted by the mirror of God’s terrible holiness. Be honest with what you see there. Then plead for mercy. Then plead for grace. Then plead for all the promises that Jesus freely offers to the wretched and sinful. Know your sin, but more than that, know the power of redemption found in the love of Christ for sinners. Know that the motivation for godly repentance is a clear view of your sin, seen clearest at the cross of Christ.
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
A visitor walks into your church. You walk up to him and extend a hearty welcome. He asks you to tell him about your church. He is particularly interested in knowing what kinds of people go to your church to see if he would fit in. If you went to First Presbyterian Church of Corinth, Achaia, your answer would go something like this. “The folks in our church come from all kinds of different backgrounds. I’m sure you’ll feel at home. That woman over there used to be a prostitute. That man in the front pew was a Muslim. That guy in the sound booth, he cheated on his wife. The tall guy in the choir was a homosexual. The lady playing the organ, yeah, she stole a bunch of money from her employer before she was converted. That college kid in the back…” The man breaks in and asks, “I thought this was a Christian church?”
How powerful is our gospel? What exactly is the Holy Spirit in the business of doing with the refuse of the earth? If we are honest with ourselves, all too often we think of the Holy Spirit as a heavenly beach comber. The Spirit wanders up and down the shore looking over the things that have washed up. We create a divine monologue that goes something like, “Here is a beautiful piece of sea glass. That will look great in my house. Oh, and look, an old coin. I bet it washed up here from some shipwreck. And here is a glob of melting jellyfish carcass, I certainly don’t need that.” And on we go replacing the true gospel with a gospel of “good enough to be cleaned up by Jesus.”
That is why texts like this one are so challenging. Paul is exhorting the Corinthian church to settle law suits among themselves. He pauses in verse 8 to rebuke them for defrauding one another in civil and social cases. That thought provides a window through which Paul looks at the church.
Paul first sets the high bar of heavenly access. “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?” It is a rhetorical question expecting the response, “Of course, Paul, I know that!” Of course we know that. Our God is righteous, those who dwell with him must be righteous as well. Compare unrighteous (adikos) in verse 9 to justified (dikaios) in verse 11. Only the righteous, the justified will dwell in heaven. It is the bar of perfection. And at the bar, no ordinary son or daughter of Adam may stand.
Paul then goes on to make sure that the Corinthians know what he is talking about. This is no Gnostic dream. Paul is not speaking of ethereal righteousness coexisting alongside of but not touching real life. He is talking about the daily interactions of people in community with one another. He provides a long list of some of the worst of socials sins to serve as a summary of man’s fallen condition. The shock of this list draws our attention but what should draw our attention most is what Paul says at the end of verse 10, “And such were some of you.”
Paul now turns his gaze from God’s righteous bar and looks down at the church. Such were some of you. The Corinthian church had in it men and woman from some of the most heinous and sinful walks of life. Such were some of you. Does he do this to shame them? As Paul’s letter was read in front of the church, would there be people getting up to leave? “I can’t believer he said that. I thought this was a place I could come and get away from my past! We’re all sinners after all. Why did he have to bring that up?!” I don’t think that would have been the response. Why? Because of the end of verse 11.
“But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” What makes the church a place where the former scum of the earth could dwell in community with another in the shadow of the holy bar of God? It is the power of the gospel. It is the justifying, washing, sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit of God applying the blood bought benefits of Jesus Christ to blobs of melting jellyfish carcasses. Such were some of you, but you were justified by in the name of Jesus by the Holy Spirit. Those worst of the worst in Corinth had been loved by God and changed by his sovereign grace. They had turned from their sin and idolatry to serve the living God. And this is the case for everyone who bears the name of Christ. Such were some of us. Such was I. There is what we once were but more than than there is what we have now become, inheritors of heaven, children of the living God.
Does that mark our fellowship? Or do we believe a sea glass gospel? How powerful is the gospel of Jesus Christ? It may be that you are reading this and you are not a follower of Jesus Christ. It may be that some of your life is described by the list that Paul rattles off in verses 9 and 10. If that is the case, come to Christ and into his Church. Put your faith in him to free you from the shackles of sin. His gospel is powerful. Don’t believe me. Just look at who makes up the church.