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The Sin Problem

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

 

During my last sermon, we saw that God, even though He is infinitely higher and greater than we are, desires a relationship with us.  Anybody who believes in God, just about, will also believes this.  There are millions who don’t bother to go to church, yet hope to spend eternity with Him.

However, God’s love and yearning for us is not the sum total of His nature.  We also saw that God is a holy God.  He is perfectly good, and He is perfectly opposed to evil.  This notion, by contrast, is not nearly as popular.  Very few of those people who want to go to heaven also want to consider that because of their actions, they might not be headed there.

As a result, if we want to share the good news with others, we also have to be prepared to tell them the bad news.  Only if we confront the ugly truth about human evil can we appreciate the beauty of the sacrifice of Christ.  In our third half-hour study sermon, then, let’s consider what the Scriptures tell us about the sin problem.

Understanding this problem begins with understanding that GOD EXPECTS US TO OBEY HIM.  Here, consider Romans 2:6-8.  There’s a lot in this passage for us to consider.  First, it tells us that the day will come when God is going to judge every human being.  He’s going to sort mankind into two groups:  those who did well on the one hand, and those who did not obey the truth on the other.  God knows everything and is perfectly wise, so every one of His judgments will be perfect. 

However, there’s something more that this passage implies.  Notice that Paul describes evildoing as disobedience to the truth.  In other words, God isn’t going to punish anybody because they look funny.  Instead, He is going to pour out His wrath on people who have failed to live up to a true standard.  Scripturally speaking, we can call this standard “the law of God”.

There are two ways that we can learn God’s law.  The first is by reading it in His word, which is the perfect statement of that law.  The second, though, is that moral sense that every one of us has in our hearts, a moral sense that God put there.  The whole world over, everybody knows it’s wrong to murder.  Everybody knows it’s wrong to cheat on your spouse.  Everybody knows it’s wrong to lie.  People can drown out the voice of their conscience, they can disobey it, but it’s always there, and God expects even people who haven’t read the Bible to listen to it.

When we don’t do what we know is right, we sin, and SIN IS LAWLESSNESS.  John tells us so in just as many words in 1 John 3:4.  John here, of course, is not concerned with the laws of humankind, which may be righteous or unrighteous.  Instead, he is concerned with the law of God, and every sin we commit is a violation of that law.

This is important to recognize because people often don’t want to admit that their conduct is sinful.  Yeah, they slept around all the time before they got married; yeah, they just lied to their spouse because they didn’t want to get into an argument, but everybody does that, right?  That doesn’t make you a bad person, right?  That doesn’t make you a sinner!

Well, yeah it does.  This is the same standard that we apply to human law.  After all, if a man gets caught breaking into somebody else’s home, when he’s on trial, the fact that he didn’t kill anybody is irrelevant.  You don’t have to be a murderer to be a lawbreaker.  It’s enough to be a thief.

In the same way, none of us have to be Hitler to be a sinner.  We only have to have sinned.  Any sin, whether we think it’s significant or not, turns us into somebody who has broken the law of God. 

The result of this is that ALL OF US HAVE SINNED.  Here, let’s look, of course, at Romans 3:23.  God is perfect.  His standard for righteousness is perfection.  None of us have lived up to that standard because at some point, every one of us has sinned.  God is glorious in His perfection, but all of us fall short of that glory.

In my experience, people often don’t want to admit this about themselves because they want to hold on to the self-image that they are good people.  All of us read that passage in Romans 2 about how God deals with the righteous and the wicked, and there’s some part in all of us that says, “Yeah!  I’m in there with the righteous people!”

The problem is, though, that every one of us knows better in our hearts.  We proudly hold ourselves up as righteous while refusing to consider all the evidence that we are not—and there is a lot of evidence against all of us!  None of us are people who have sinned once or sinned twice. 

Instead, every one of us has lives that are marred by a continual pattern of selfishness and pride.  Over and over again, we’ve proved that we care more about ourselves than about God and His law.  We knew the right thing to do, but repeatedly, we’ve chosen not to do it.  In other words, because of our actions, every one of us has become someone the holiness of God can’t tolerate.  That’s where we are without Jesus.  We are sinners, plain and simple.

That’s not a little problem.  That’s a great big problem because SIN LEADS TO DEATH.  Look at Romans 6:23.  As always, Paul’s language here is significant.  He tells us that the wages of sin is death.  A wage is something you earn.  When I worked at McDonald’s back in the mid-‘90s, every two weeks, I got a paycheck containing my wages for the past two weeks’ work.  If I hadn’t worked, there would have been no wages.

So too, all of us must admit that death is something we have earned with our sin.  God is not being arbitrary or unfair in condemning sinners.  We knew better, we could have done better, but we chose not to.  We don’t get our paycheck until the end of our lives, but if we continue on in our sinful ways, we will surely receive death as our just due.  Nor is this some mere physical death penalty.  Instead, it is spiritual death, an eternity spent far from the presence of God in the torments of hell.

However, as this verse points out, there is still hope for the human race.  The hope isn’t that we can earn eternal life.  Because all of us are sinners, we have already failed to do that!  Instead, our hope is that we can receive eternal life as a gift from a loving and merciful God. 

How can that be?  How can a God who cannot stand sin in His presence receive sinners into His presence for eternity?  The answer is that we can have eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord, and future sermons in this series will explain exactly how.

Summaries, Job 16-19, Psalm 26

Monday, March 25, 2019

 

Job 16 begins Job’s next retort to his increasingly snippy friends.  He sarcastically notes that if his position were reversed with his friends’ positions, he too could look down at their misfortune.  After this, Job returns to his primary theme.  His troubles have one source:  God.  God has attacked him directly and turned him over to his enemies, even though he has done nothing wrong.  Ultimately, only God can justify him and prove him right.

Job 17 continues Job’s complaint.  He begins by asking his friends, if they won’t believe him, at least to protect him from others who are making false accusations.  For this too, Job blames God.  It’s God’s fault that he has been afflicted so much that the righteous assume he has done something wrong.  Really, though, none of those people understand the truth.  Job concludes with a lament that nothing is left for him except to die.

Job 18 contains the next reply of Bildad.  Bildad doesn’t appreciate the tone that Job is taking with them, and he outright asks Job if he thinks his friends are stupid.  After this, he embarks on a by-now-familiar recitation of all the bad things that happen to wicked people.  Because they don’t know God, they are destroyed.  Bildad’s implication is that because Job has been brought so low, he must have done something to offend God, whether or not he will admit it.

Job 19 contains Job’s next speech in the exchange.  He asks how long his friends are going to falsely accuse him.  They don’t know Job’s actions.  If Job has indeed sinned, it’s a secret from them.  They’re just assuming because of Job’s disgrace. 

In this, though, they acknowledge something that is Job’s main theme.  God is responsible for his predicament.  God doesn’t answer when he cries for justice.  God attacks him like a hostile army.  God makes all of Job’s friends, relatives, and acquaintances hate him, even when Job pleads for mercy.  Job also wants his words to be preserved, so that at last when God appears, He will vindicate him.  In this, Job warns, there is danger for everybody who accuses him falsely.  God will condemn them.

Psalm 26 defines righteousness and its results.  The first three verses are a plea from David to God to vindicate him, a plea that David is not afraid to make because he knows he has been faithful to God.  Vs. 4-8 defines David’s righteousness.  Rather than associating with the wicked, he spends his time in God’s house worshiping him.  Vs. 9-12 contain David’s plea to God to rescue him from the wicked because even though the wicked are not righteous, he is.

The Sexual Revolution Makes Bad Men

Friday, March 22, 2019

 

Like many Christians, I’ve watched the flowering of the #MeToo movement with some bemusement.  On the one hand, I wholeheartedly agree that no man should ever use his power to take sexual advantage of a woman.  On the other, I cannot help but feel that those who have spent decades undermining the sexual ethics of the Bible are reaping what they have sown.

Let me explain.  As with (almost?) all men, I have a fleshly side when it comes to sexual sin.  The temptation to seek pleasure, whatever the cost to me or to others, is a strong one.  However, it is more important to me to please Jesus, and I know that Jesus expects me to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow Him. 

As a result, I strive daily to put the flesh to death.  What’s more, I’ve learned from experience that even though self-denial can be unpleasant in the short term, in the long term, it leads to a richer, more fulfilled life.

However, according to the Sexual Revolution, sexual autonomy and fulfillment is the highest good.  “Whatever turns you on,” is a value so fundamental to our society that it is rarely even stated anymore.  Men who practice self-denial for religious reasons are fools in the world’s eyes.

Sadly, once the door to pleasure-seeking has been opened, it is open.  The dark side of male sexuality that men of God imprison is allowed to run amok, and the consequences are predictably disastrous.  There are probably millions of men in this country who are more concerned with sexual fulfillment than with anything else.  Whatever they can get away with, that’s what they’ll do.

Even men who are less crass than that are still extremely vulnerable when it comes to self-deception.  The modern hookup scene is a murky, ambiguous place.  When a man is animated by his strong desire, and when he has been told that satisfying that desire is the most important thing in life, it is very easy for him to resolve every ambiguity in a way that allows him to do what he wants to do.  It’s very easy for him to close his eyes to the harm he is doing women, to turn his mind away from considering such things.  Such a man can do great evil while still convincing himself that he’s a “good person”.

Today, these harms are more obvious to secular America than they ever have been before.  They’re responsible for the rise of consent culture:  “Is it OK if I do this to you?”  “OK, how about this?”  Such rules of engagement, no matter how faithfully practiced (and I have my doubts about that), can never create more than a shadow of the trust and understanding that exist in a godly marriage.

A true solution to the problem must be much more fundamental than that.  Marriage is an institution older than the Bible, and it flourishes around the world.  It has survived because it works.  It restrains the darker impulses of men (because every husband with a shred of understanding soon learns the truth of “He who loves his wife, loves himself.”), and it offers women security and protection in their intimate relationships.  It is admirably adapted to the flawed, fallen human condition, and no better solution to the problems of unchecked sexuality exists.

Tragically, this truth has so far escaped the fools who have spent decades undermining the institution of marriage in America, who are so fixated on sexual freedom that they countenance even the slaughter of unborn children.  However, actions have consequences, even for those who refuse to see them.  The unbridled pursuit of sexual license has done immense harm to men and women alike.  We can only hope and pray that its advocates will see the error of their ways before the damage to our national fabric becomes irreversible.

Ordination in the Bible

Thursday, March 21, 2019

 

A few months ago, one of the members at Jackson Heights asked me if I would write a blog about ordination in the Bible.  Apparently, she had been talking about the subject with one of her friends and wanted to know what the Scriptures have to say about it.

First of all, it’s worth observing that the system of religious hierarchy that is present in so many denominations is absent from the Bible.  Jesus says it best in Matthew 23:8, where He instructs us, “But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.” 

In the New-Testament church, there is no distinction between clergy and laity.  Instead, all disciples share in a fundamental equality.  Neither the most venerable elder nor the most famous preacher are in any way superior to the single mother sitting in the pews.  We all serve in different ways, but we are all servants, and we are always to regard one another as more important than ourselves.

However, there are several places in Scripture where we do see men set apart for particular tasks, usually with a ceremony involving the laying on of hands.  In Acts 6:6, when the seven are presented to the apostles, the apostles pray for them and lay hands on them before they begin their ministry.  Similarly, in Acts 13:1-3, the prophets and teachers in Antioch dedicate Saul and Barnabas to the work of proclaiming the gospel through fasting, prayer, and the laying on of hands.

First-century Christians took the laying on of hands quite seriously.  From the evidence available to us, we can infer that it was a symbol both of blessing and of fellowship.  Those who laid hands on the worker took a share in his work.  For this reason, Paul warns Timothy in 1 Timothy 5:22, “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others.”  Before you dedicated a man to a task, you needed to make sure he was the right man.

Today, we often think of the laying on of hands as the way in which miraculous spiritual gifts were transmitted, but in reality, its significance was much wider than that.  As a result, it is appropriate for us to continue the practice today. 

Most commonly, I’ve seen it during the appointment of elders and deacons.  It is often the case that when a man is called forward, he will be welcomed by the one doing the appointing with a handshake and a shoulder clap.  Though many onlookers don’t realize it, this is nothing other than the ancient practice of the laying on of hands, carried out in a way suitable for our culture.

The practice has value, though, even beyond the selection of shepherds and servants.  For instance, before brethren travel to preach the gospel in a foreign country, it would be fitting to send them on their way with prayer and the laying on of hands.  Does this make them “ordained”?  No.  However, it does do something much more meaningful.  It ensures God’s blessing on them and on their work, without which no servant of God can hope to succeed.

Israel's Immigration Laws

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

 

For several years, one of the hot-button issues in American politics has been the subject of immigration.  Such things aren’t really the concern of me or my blog.  However, through the years, I’ve seen a lot of Scriptures quoted out of context in memes from both sides, and that is my concern.  I don’t have any answers for what the United States should do in 2019, but I think it’s worthwhile to consider what God says on the subject and use it as a starting point for our own views.

First of all, immigration simply isn’t a New-Testament topic.  The law of Christ is concerned with the Christian’s relationship with the government, but it has nothing to say about how governments should conduct themselves.  Christ’s kingdom is not of this world.

However, the same is not true of the Old Testament.  The law of Moses is no longer in force, but unlike the law of Christ, it does have to do with the proper conduct of a government.  This legal code does not bind us today, but it does give us some insight into how God might look at a particular legal topic.  Indeed, there are many passages in the Pentateuch that discuss the treatment of what the ESV calls “sojourners”:

  • The law had no rules restricting the movement of sojourners into Israel.  Of course, this may be because a Bronze Age confederation/kingdom had no means of enforcing border security, but it’s worth noting.  Sojourners did not automatically become Israelites by entering the land, but they were free to enter.
     
  • Sojourners were to be treated lovingly (Deuteronomy 10:19) and justly (Deuteronomy 20:17).
     
  • They had the same rights and the same obligations under the law as native Israelites (Leviticus 24:22; Numbers 15:15-16).
     
  • They were expected to follow many of the religious requirements of the Law (Exodus 12:19, 20:10; Leviticus 17:15; Deuteronomy 5:14).  They were also free to participate in some other rituals if they chose (e.g. Leviticus 22:18).
     
  • They were to be provided for by the natives, but only to the extent that they were willing to work.  A wheatfield owner had to leave the corners of his field unreaped and the whole ungleaned (Leviticus 23:22), nor could he return to retrieve a sheaf he had forgotten (Deuteronomy 24:19).  Olive grove and vineyard owners couldn’t go back over the trees/vines after they had done so once (Deuteronomy 24:20-21). 
     
  • In all cases, this was for the benefit of the widow, the fatherless, and the sojourner.  None of the poor could expect their meals to be delivered to their doors if they sat at home, but they could get food for themselves if they were willing to go out and harvest it.
     
  • These provisions existed because God loved the sojourner, just as God loved the widow, the fatherless, and all other weak, vulnerable people (Deuteronomy 10:18). 

Again, none of these things determine for us how the United States should handle those who want to immigrate to it.  However, if we want to use the word of God to develop and defend our positions (whatever they might be), appreciating the whole counsel of God can only help.

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