Uncompromising Theology Outside the Ivory Tower

Posts by P. Andrew Sandlin

Bringing Up Christian Children

Posted on March 26, 2014

children_blog_350Read: Dt. 6:4–9; Eph. 6:4; Ps. 127:3

Introduction

Babies as providence

All five of our children were born in Lake County Hospital East in Painesville, Ohio. In the maternity wing, there was a large maxim displayed on the wall. Many of you have already heard it. It’s by Carl Sandburg: “A baby is God’s opinion that the world should go on.”

If you think about it, babies are graphic testimony of God’s sustaining providence. Recently I saw again the dystopian movie Children of Men. It’s set in the near future in which some global pathogen or environmental toxin prevents pregnancy. After a few years, there’re no children in the world.

It’s a scary scenario, but it’s not going to happen. God created man and woman to steward his glorious creation for his own glory (Gen. 1:28–30). Mankind is God’s deputy in the earth. Man’s job won’t be finished until Jesus returns to usher in the eternal state. So we needn’t worry about man’s being exterminated. Man is God’s deputy, and man will be around earth for a long time.

Babies are God’s means of keeping his deputies going on — and keeping the world going on. Babies aren’t a freak of chance evolution. Babies are God’s design. Babies are proof that God is continually sustaining his plan for the earth.

Child-rearing apostasy

But the earth has fallen into sin, and as Christians we must bring up our children in a sinful world. This is nothing new, of course (sin has been around a very long time); but in our own time, our culture is turning radically away from God’s truth. We call this apostasy: abandoning God’s path.

Apostasy doesn’t involve just actions. It starts with sinful thinking. In fact, it’s the sinful thinking that leads to sinful actions. The thinking about child training surrounding us — including sometimes by friends and relatives — is apostate thinking. A great danger confronts us Christian parents every day: are we adopting this apostate way of thinking about rearing our children? We must constantly be on our guard, because very few of the child-rearing ideas surrounding us are God’s ideas.

Today I want to address three biblical truths and exhort us to follow those truths rather than the apostate untruths in our surrounding culture.

Children Are a Blessing

Apostasy — The childfree life

I’m not sure how many of you saw the August 12, 2013 cover of Time magazine. [1] The lead article was “The Childfree Life: When Having It All Means Not Having Children.” As you can probably figure out, this article is not about marriages that are simply unable to produce children. Marital infertility is an aspect of God’s providence. And marriage that can’t produce children is not a second-class marriage. We know this, because God created Adam and Eve, before they bore children, and he said that his creation, all of it, was “very good” (Gen. 1:31). In other words, children are not required to have a very good marriage.

But that’s not what the Time article is talking about. Instead, it’s talking about spouses who intentionally refuse not to have children in order to enjoy their self-centered existence. This narcissism is not an example of providential childlessness; it’s an example of sin. How do we know this? Because the Bible commands spouses to have children if we are physically able (Gen. 1:28). One of the main reasons that God brings a man and a woman together in a marriage is to produce covenant children (Mal. 2:15). To have an intentional childless marriage, therefore, is rebellion against God. Increasingly, this is the world’s way, and it is the sinful, rebellious way. Don’t buy into it.

God’s way — The blessing of children

Psalm 127:3 tells us that children are an inheritance and reward from the Lord. Children are a blessing. You spouses and parents need to know this, and your children need to know this. They’re God’s gift to you parents and others surrounding them. Never call them a “little accident.” Never treat them as though they are a bother. Remember: they’re a big part of God’s providence to keep the world moving forward for his glory. Tell them this.

Bring them up in a church (like Cornerstone) that treats them as part of the church — because they are. Children don’t become a part of the church when they arrive at a certain age. By baptism they’re marked out as God’s covenant children. They partake of communion. Paul calls them holy — meaning, they’re set apart for God’s use (1 Cor. 7:14).

If you let your children know that they belong to God, and that Jesus’ blood was shed for them and God’s precious promises are their promises (Ac. 2:38–39), they can live in a great spiritual comfort and security. No, children aren’t “born Christians,” but children of Christian parents are born into the Christian church. They’re meant to be nourished in the Gospel and educated in salvation.

This isn’t the world’s way, but it is God’s way.

Children Require Nurture and Admonition

In Ephesians 6:4 Paul writes that fathers should bring up children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. Actually, the term translated “fathers” also means parents. It’s similar to our use of “forefathers”:  meaning, our ancestors, both male and female. Parents are called not to anger their children, but to instruct them and make them disciples of Jesus.

Apostasy — self-expression

The world’s way is antithetical to God’s way. The world’s way of child rearing is increasingly the way of freedom of self-expression: “Don’t stifle your child’s creative spirit. Don’t tell your child that he or she is wrong. Don’t do anything to dampen your child’s self-esteem.” This is the world’s way, and it is not God’s way.

Children are born into sin: “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5). Why wouldn’t they be sinners? We parents are sinners. No one needs to teach children to sin; parents need to teach children to obey.

We live in a time in which many people believe that our society and our environment corrupt us. We’re actually very pure and sincere in our hearts, but  their internal goodness is corrupted by our society. Therefore, if we can all just “follow our heart,” including, perhaps especially, our “innocent” children, we’ll end up right.

God’s way — discipling our children

According to God’s way, this has things just backwards. Because our heart is sinful, when we follow our hearts, we end up wrong. That’s why our culture is so evil:  because we all do follow our heart! We need a new heart. This is what the Holy Spirit gives us in the gospel of Jesus Christ.

This is why we must teach and admonish children. We can’t assume that they have pure hearts. Our job as parents is to train them in the Gospel and in the truth.

Paul says we are called to discipline our children. This means to make them disciples. It means the entire process of training. In other words, to use modern language, parents must be pro-active. Don’t allow your children simply to live and act, and then respond to them.

The next word for Paul is “instruction.” This word really focuses attention on language, what you say. If you’ve read the Bible, you know that God likes to talk to us, and he wants us parents to talk to our children. They need for us to tell them what is right and what is wrong, what is wise and what is unwise. Our attitude can never be, “Well, I’ll let them make up their own mind.” One of the cruelest things we can do to our children is to abandon them to their own life choices: “The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother” (Prov. 29:15).

Spanking children?

That last verse brings up another important truth. Our secular world is increasingly opposed to all spanking, corporal discipline. Because of the comparatively infrequent incidents of child abuse, many parents equate ordinary spanking with abuse. This is simply wrong, and it’s a godless approach. This biblical teaching will test our fidelity to God’s word. None of us enjoy spanking our children, but if we do not, we are not following the word of God.

We spank her children, when necessary (and it shouldn’t be necessary too often), because they need to learn at a young age that the consequences of sin are painful. If we constantly insulate children from the painful consequences of their sin, including painful physical consequences, we’re teaching them that God’s world is not governed by his law. We’re teaching them to be lawless. We’re teaching that sin doesn’t hurt them physically. This is cruelty. They must understand God’s moral universe, and a small but important part of understanding that universe is understanding that sin is painful, and sometimes physically painful. We must stand with God’s word against the world’s way in discipling our children.

Children Must be God-Drenched

Finally, Moses teaches in Deuteronomy 6 that were called to drench our children in God’s ways. Did you notice the language in verses 8 and 9? The Jews later took these verses quite literally. They attached little  leather containers to their heads and their arms containing scraps on which God’s word was written. They put little boxes containing these scraps on the doorframes of their homes. I don’t think this is what Moses was specifically talking about. He was speaking metaphorically. But at least the ancient Jews understood the gravity of this point. We should surround our children by God’s truth and God’s ways.

Now, before I tell you how to do that, let me remind you that this approach is totally different from the world’s approach.

Apostasy — sacred-secular distinction

We live in a dramatically secular world. We live in a world that wants to make a sharp sacred-secular distinction. We live in a world that says, “At best, you’re allowed to attend church on Sunday, but don’t stress all that religious stuff in your family and at work during the week. If you want a nice, pretty liturgy at church on Sunday, that’s fine. But don’t bring your religion out of church.”

This really is a practical outworking of a secular culture. And if we do this, we teach our children that following Jesus isn’t really important. At best, it’s a mildly important, tiny part of our lives on Sunday morning. We can be good Christians on Sunday morning, and good secularists the rest of the week.

But I must say: there is no such thing as a sacred-secular distinction. There’s only a sacred-profane distinction. Whatever it is, if it doesn’t honor God, it profanes God. In other words, there are no permissibility secular things. Everything either honors God, or it does not honor God.

God’s way — The God-drenched life

What are the applications of this in training our children? First, we need to understand that our secular society doesn’t reinforce our Christian truth. In most cases, what our children encounter in the world is going to be contrary to God’s ways. I mean magazines in the grocery store. I mean the way many unbelievers dress. I mean much of what they see on TV. I mean how most people talk.

Perhaps somebody asks, “Andrew, are you saying that most of what our children see and hear as he or she live in the world is contrary to God’s ways?”

Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. And that’s why we must constantly be teaching our children, all the time, about God’s ways.

When they encounter a self-centered boy or girl throwing a tantrum at the grocery store, use that as a teaching moment — we are not our own; we belong to Jesus Christ; we don’t always get our way. We want to please Jesus, not ourselves.

When your children see lascivious, fornicating dancing on TV, use that as an occasion to teach them about sexual purity, even at a young age.

When your son or daughter hears the neighbor or somebody on TV taking God’s name in vain or using scatological language, tell them what the word of God says about such sinful language, and about the language to God requires.

Most important, we must  nourish our lambs in the Gospel. It means that, again and again, we must tell our children that although we are sinners, Jesus died on the Cross for our sins, and he will save us and be our Shepherd as long as we trust in him. Teach them over and over that Jesus is our Shepherd, and that the Shepherd leads us by his word, and that we should know and love his word. It leads us into paths of righteousness. We should teach them that the Shepherd will take care of every need we have and that we should pray to him at all times, in all conditions.

Our world is so secular, that nothing short of immersing our children and God’s ways will suffice.

Let’s review: (1) the world’s way is that children are a bother; God’s way is that  children are a blessing; (2)  the world’s way is that children are to be left to themselves to express their inner goodness; God’s way is that parents should lovingly disciple them; (3) the world’s way is that society should be secular; God’s way is that children should be immersed in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and in his paths of righteousness.

The calling of Christian parents is to forsake the world’s way for God’s way.

[1] Lauren Sandler, “The Childfree Life: When Having It All Means Not Having Children,” Time, August 12, 2013, 38–45.

Salvation: God’s Wasteful Abundance

Posted on March 16, 2014

shepherd-sheep-10Read Jn. 10:1–11 and Ps. 23

Introduction

When I wrote “Sin Enslaves, But God Is in the Emancipation Business,” I quoted 1 John 3:8, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” Today we learn that Jesus came to earth for another reason: to give abundant life to his people. These two reasons Jesus came aren’t in conflict with each other; they compliment one another. Jesus didn’t come to earth for just one reason. He came to earth for several reasons, and we need to read the Bible to understand all of them, because all of them are important.

The Shepherd

In John 10, Jesus compares himself to a shepherd and his people, the church, to sheep. Our Lord leads all his sheep (Jn. 10:4), and they know his voice, and they follow him. He goes to the ultimate length to care for his sheep: he sacrifices his very life for them. All shepherds who preceded him were false shepherds. The sheep will never follow a false shepherd. They know the Shepherd’s voice, and he’s the only one they’ll follow.

God doesn’t economize in salvation

The Shepherd came to bring the sheep abundant life (Jn. 10:10). I’m focusing on that fascinating word today. That term abundantly means “excessive, more than is necessary, superadded” — superfluous, or even wasteful, we might say. This is a striking idea. It means the life that Jesus came to bring us is not economical.

We wouldn’t consider it economical to pay $12 for a loaf of bread with a sticker price of $3. We must economize because we have finite resources. But God’s resources are infinite. Therefore, God doesn’t economize in salvation. He didn’t come to give us life merely to survive. Jesus is intentionally “wasteful” in the salvation life he drenches on his people. Salvation life is meant to be lavish. It’s not carefully parceled out.

Sometimes I’ve heard this verse applied to mean that Jesus came to grant lavish material possessions. There’s a whiff of the health and wealth gospel in this idea. Now, I agree that any material blessings that obedient Christians enjoy are God’s gifts. But I’m convinced that’s not what Jesus is talking about here. Why? Because it has nothing to do with the life of sheep, and that’s the figure of speech that Jesus specifically selected. Where, then, would we find the kind of life that God sent Jesus to bestow on his sheep? The chief answer is Psalm 23.[1] Please go there. I’m not going to offer an exposition of this chapter, but simply expound a few vital highlights in light of God’s wasteful salvation.

The Sheep

Right at the beginning we might get the idea that Jesus is only interested in giving us just enough life to get by: “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want [or lack anything].” That sounds like David is saying, “The Lord takes care of just when I need — and not a thing more.” But if we look more closely the chapter, we find that he saying much more than that.

The life of a sheep

Think of the life of a sheep. The sheep is a simple, defenseless animal. It has many predators. It’s easily startled. For a sheep, the abundant life is the life of provision and security and rest. And these are precisely what the Shepherd gives the sheep.

Peaceful rest

Now, let’s think about us human sheep. We’re weak and vulnerable in this world. We’re subject at any time to misfortune, illness, disease, heartache, and death. One morning we awake on top of the world, and by evening that entire world can have come crashing down. God knows the future, but we do not. The fact that we can’t anticipate the future leads us to unsettledness and anxiety. This is why one of our greatest needs is peace. And that is precisely what the Shepherd gives us. He makes us to lie down in green pastures and waters of rest[2] (Ps. 23:2). That’s a lovely metaphorical picture of peaceful rest.

Now, it’s interesting how often the Bible speaks about peace. It doesn’t just talk about peace with God, vital though it is (Eph. 2:14–17). It also talks about the peace in our own hearts that God alone can give (Rom. 15:13).

And as we read the rest of Psalm 23, we can understand how he does that. It’s quite simple, and equally powerful: the Shepherd is sovereign; he has everything under control. He does the leading (v. 2); he does the providing (v. 5a); he’s the one that protects us against all enemies (v. 5c).

Our present eternal life

Now here’s a striking fact we often don’t consider. When we trust Jesus, we don’t merely trust that he’ll take us to heaven in the future. We trust our present life to him. When we trust Jesus, we entrust our entire life to the Shepherd. It’s remarkable that we often can trust Jesus the Christ to take us to heaven when we die, but we have difficulty trusting him to protect us and comfort us and to minister to us in the difficulties of this life. But eternal life isn’t just something that we have in the future. It’s a gift we have now — in the present. And when Jesus promised his disciples abundant, superfluous, “wasteful” life, he means right now.

And that’s why, no matter what the circumstances, we can live a peaceful life. Not a peaceful external life. God never promises there will be no hardships or difficulties. In fact, he even promises right here in Psalm 23 that there will be hardships (read vv. 4–5). But he promises the life of lavish peace to those who simply trust in the Shepherd.

It’s when we overcomplicate and over-analyze matters that we begin to worry. We’re anxious about how we will respond, about what God is doing, about how other people will respond — when all we really need to do is simply to trust the Shepherd.

A rejuvenated life

When David (the assumed writer) says the Shepherd restores his soul, he means his life. That’s what the word “soul” in the Old Testament means.[3] Now to see how this makes our life abundant, let’s consider “soul” and “life,” even using those terms the way we often do.

When we say the musician put real soul into his music, what we mean is that he put his full force into it. When we attend a concert and we charge that the musician “mails it in,” we mean that he just goes through the motions; he doesn’t put his vital life into his music.

Think about this in another way. Sometimes when our relatives and friends endure tragedies, we say, “They lost some life.” A little of their internal vitality slipped away. Something about the joy and fullness of life was lost.

Please note, then, what David is saying. He saying that the Shepherd can restore that lost vitality, that lost life. We Christians sometimes hold the naturalist idea that life is like an hourglass. It slowly ebbs away. But that’s not true. Time ebbs away, but time is not life, or soul. Just as God reverses the effects of sin, God reverses the effects of the loss of our vitality. He “restore[s] … the years that the swarming locust has eaten” (Joel 2:25).

So, if you’ve lost the vitality of life, don’t despair. Don’t assume that it’s gone forever. Maybe it’s problems in your family or marriage. Maybe it’s a financial hardship. Maybe it’s an illness. Maybe it’s a long-time vexation or grief. Appeal to the Shepherd who restores our life. He gives us back our vitality.

The peaceful, righteous road

I can’t help but point out something in the last part of v. 3 that’s especially pertinent in our own culture — and today’s church. The Shepherd leads us down roads of righteousness, and the roads of righteousness are the roads of peace.[4] Did you get that? Rebellion and fornication and pride and gossip and pornography and laziness and covetousness do not give us peace. Mick Jagger is 100% right: you just can’t get “no satisfaction” in immorality. If you want peace, you can have it. But you must have it God’s way — by following the Shepherd on the road of righteousness.

No fear

If you’ve driven around Santa Cruz, you have seen lots of bumper stickers that say only, “No Fear.” For an unbeliever, that’s simply a lot of bravado. They fear all the time; they simply put on a good front. I’m sure that some of them put the “No Fear” bumper stick around their car just to get up enough courage to get through life.

But that’s not true of our Lord’s sheep.[5] At least, it shouldn’t be. Even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we won’t fear evil. This passage doesn’t necessarily mean that we needn’t fear death, though we shouldn’t. It means the valley of darkness, as dark as death.[6] ”Darkness” means gloom, no surrounding joy, no external light giving direction. This means a very dark, harsh valley. Some of us of have walked through that valley. For some it’s been the loss or waywardness of a child. For others, it’s a destructive disease. For others, it’s divorce. For still others, it’s complete financial loss.

Notice that David had just said the Shepherd leads him in “paths of righteousness.” And then he immediately says that he sometimes walks through a dark, gloomy valley. This can only mean that Jesus the Shepherd is the one who leads us into that gloomy valley. By the way, do you remember John 10:4? Jesus said that he leads the sheep by going before them. He leads us; he doesn’t drive us. Notice again in Psalm 23:4. David doesn’t fear the gloomy valleys of life because the Shepherd is right there with them: the Shepherd doesn’t send us into the valley; he leads us into the valley. In no tribulation of life that we endure is Jesus anywhere else. When we are thrown into the fiery furnace of affliction, the Son of God is there with us (Dan. 3:25).

In the first part of the Psalm, David rejoiced that the Shepherd led him into peaceful, calm circumstances. But now he says the Shepherd leads him into hard, gloomy circumstances. This point in both cases is comforting. In each case, the Shepherd is providing for us abundantly. When we’re grazing peacefully with all provision, the Shepherd’s goodness is abundant. When we’re enduring the great hardships of life, the Shepherd’s comfort is abundant. The reason we feel internally more secure during the externally calm, peaceful, bountiful times is because our security is misplaced. “[C]ertainly, the reason why we are so terrified,” writes Calvin, “when it pleases God to exercise us with the cross, is, because every man, that he may sleep soundly and undisturbed, wraps himself up in carnal security.” But our security isn’t in circumstances. Our security is in the ever-present Shepherd.

The Shepherd is not the variable

Here is a great key, in fact, to our assurance. We are not somehow less secure when we walk in a gloomy valley, or more secure when we rest on a peaceful riverbank. The Shepherd is guarding and protecting and governing and preserving and comforting us in both situations. Our life situations fluctuate; his care for us doesn’t fluctuate.

God’s retaliation against Satan

The picture in v. 5 is riveting. All of David’s enemies are surrounding him in a valley, but God is right there preparing for David a great feast. And because God is present protecting him, all that his enemies can do is watch in frustration and resentment. God’s is lavishing his blessings on David in the very sight of his enemies who want to do him great harm. It’s as though the Shepherd is preparing a great meal for the sheep as all the wolves are looking on hungrily — but there’s nothing they can do about it.

David, of course, is talking about his personal enemies, but behind all of then is Satan. In the Garden of Eden, Satan seduced man and woman in the attempt to overthrow God’s good earth. And now God’s grace retaliates against Satan, publicly humiliates him, graciously providing for his people — in Satan’s full view.

Conclusion: Our Wasteful God

I said that God doesn’t economize in saving us. Jesus taught that in John 10, and he teaches it here, in verses 5–6. Here David says, “My cup overflows.” When your cup overflows, you’re wasting liquid. Some of it won’t get used.

That’s precisely what David is saying about his and our salvation. God gives us too much. He wastes provision on us. Goodness and mercy will follow us all the days of our lives. God doesn’t just provide; he lavishes. His mercy isn’t stingy; he drenches us in it. Know that his goodness and mercy will follow us. We don’t simply ask for them; his goodness and mercy chase us down.

The false, stingy God

In reading Psalm 23, do you recognize that you might have a very false conception of God? Do you get the idea that God might be economical and stingy with his people? That’s not the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible loves to waste his salvation on his people. Just when we think that he’s given us all that he can or should, he gives more. God is constantly surprising his people with his goodness.


[1] See also Ezek. 34:11f.

[2] “[W]aters of rest” is a literal translation. See F. Delitzsch, “Psalms,” Commentary on the Old Testament in Ten Volumes, C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, eds. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1988), 5,1:330.

[3] Samuele Bacchiocchi, Immortality or Resurrection? (Berrien Springs, Michigan: Biblical Perspectives, 1977), 51–58.

[4] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible, Kindle edition (no loc.: Osnova, n. d.), commentary at Ps. 23:3.

[5] Actually, the writer drops the shepherd/sheep metaphor in v. 4, but of course the underlying truth abides.

[6] F. Delitzsch, “Psalms,” 5,1:330.

No Forgiveness Without Repentance

Posted on March 13, 2014

forgivenessA letter from a dear friend that I received today:

 

 

I read this today and wanted your thoughts on it please:

________________________________________________________

Some months ago I was listening to Issues, Etc.  This Lutheran pastor was telling us about a woman he counseled years ago.  She had been accosted by two men.  During her long emotional/spiritual recovery she told her pastor that she simply couldn’t forgive.  He told her this:

You are united to Christ.  All that He is and all that He does is yours by virtue of the fact that God has placed you in Christ.  You HAVE forgiven your assailants.  When God sees you, He sees all that Christ is and does.  Christ has forgiven your assailants, so you have forgiven them as well.  Now, all you have to do is rest in that fact.  Just rest….  Don’t try to “work up” forgiveness.  It doesn’t work.  Just rest in the fact that when God sees you, He sees a perfectly forgiving woman.  REST IN THAT.   So, she took his advice.  Some weeks later she told her pastor that she felt the debilitating, paralyzing anger begin to slip away as a direct result of his advice.

__________________________________________________________

Thank you Pastor.

 

 

Dear —-

Thank you so much for sharing this with me. I disagree vigorously with that statement about forgiveness, and I believe that it undermines the gospel of Jesus Christ. It’s a popular idea among some Christians, but it is clearly contrary to the Bible (Ac. 5:31; 26:18). The Bible says that God forgives only those who confess their sins and turn to Jesus Christ. If God forgives everybody’s sin apart from confession and repentance, this means that everyone is saved, and the Bible does not teach this. It’s certainly true that God loves the world, but the fact that he loves the world doesn’t mean that he has already forgiven the world. The world must repent.

1 John 1:8 is very clear: if we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive our sins. There’s no promise that God will forgive the sins of those who do not confess and repent of their sins.

Sometimes to counter this fact, Christians will cite Jesus’ prayer on the Cross for his Father to forgive those who crucified him because they did not know what they were doing. The fact is, the Father did forgive them when they repented at Pentecost.

One of the great errors of our time is to confuse a refusal to forgive unrepentant sinners with “holding a grudge.” But these two are not the same. Luke 17:3, 4 is very clear: We are called to forgive our repentant brother or sister 490 times in a row (and even more!). But we may not forgive those who refuse to repent. If we do offer forgiveness to those who refuse to repent, we are making a mockery of the Cross of Jesus Christ and, in effect, trampling his precious blood under foot. We are saying that Jesus’ blood was not necessary for forgiveness.

This is a common, but evil, practice. When we refuse to forgive unrepentant sinners, we are following the path of our holy God. We must sufficiently love unrepentant sinners to love them all the way to the Cross.

I hope this helps, my dear friend.

 

 

Much respect, in Him,

P. Andrew Sandlin

Sin Enslaves, But God Is in the Emancipation Business

Posted on March 9, 2014

emancipation-dayRead: Rom. 6:20–23

Introduction

Years ago there lived a devout Christian man who attended a sound, Bible believing church every Sunday of his life (as, by the way, every Christian should). His wife was an unbeliever. She didn’t attend. They had a verbal routine every Sunday afternoon when he arrived home. She asked him, “What did the preacher preach about today?”

“Sin,” he replied, every time she asked.

“What did the preacher say about it?” she responded.

“He was against it.”

Sin’s hard times

I’m preaching about sin today, and I am against it. You should be against it, too. Almost nobody talks about sin these days. The voice recognition software on my computer would barely recognize the word. It wanted to put any word — “Sam,” “sound,” “Santa,” “soon” – but not sin. Even voice recognition software doesn’t want to recognize sin.

The idea of sin has fallen on hard times. Sin itself hasn’t fallen on hard times. Blatant, flagrant sin surrounds us. But our culture has given up talking about the idea of sin. There’s a very simple, and very bad, reason for this. Sin is a religious and theological term. Sin implies the existence of a God who holds us accountable. We live in a time of nearly uninhibited autonomy — people want the freedom to do anything they want to do regardless of the circumstances. The Triune God of the Bible gets in the way.

Solomon writes, “For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Ec. 12:14). These aren’t comforting words to people who revel in their own sin.

Why people resist the Gospel

This is also why most people resist the Gospel these days: not because they have intellectual problems with God. Not because they can’t believe that God can forgive them. Not because they believe that God allows too much suffering in the world. Not because they think that God isn’t fair and kind. No. Most people resist the gospel because they love their sin. They know that if they trust Jesus the Christ, they must repent of their sin and turn away from it (Ac. 17:30). Frankly, most people don’t want to do that. They want their sin more than they want Jesus Christ. And know this: you can’t have your sin and Jesus too.

The Fruits of Sin

Most of Paul’s letter to the Roman church is about (1) how sin got here, (2) how it exposed man to God’s righteous judgment, (3) how it polluted everything, (4) how God meets the terms of his own justice with man in judging man’s sin, and (5) and how God is cleaning up sin’s pollution.[1]

What sin is — and isn’t

Before we get to that, we need to make sure we know what sin is — and isn’t. The word for sin used most of the time in the Old Testament is missing the mark. We find this idea in the New Testament also (Rom. 3:23). But what mark is sin missing? That’s the big question. The answer is: God’s glory, what he created us for. God created us for his glory, and anything that destroys that design is sin. And therefore sin always makes the design fail. Sin, we might say, is the “epic fail.”

We know that sin misses the mark of God’s law. “Sin is lawlessness” (1 Jn. 3:4). God’s holy law is a picture of his holy character. We humans were created in God’s image. To live in God’s image means to live according to his character, reflected in his law.  The people who want to get rid of God’s law really want to get rid of God (Ps. 2:1–3).

Only God gets to define sin

But always remember that only God gets to define sin. This is the problem of legalism. Cigars and movies and dancing and micro-brewed beer and amusement parks and professional baseball games are not sinful. Of course, like anything good, they can become sinful when they’re perverted. After all, what is sin, but a perversion of God’s good creation? So if anyone accuses you of sin, make sure that he proves his point by showing you that the Bible declares or it implies that that action is sin. Man doesn’t get to define sin; God alone defines sin. Sin is missing the mark of his written law.

 Destroying God’s design

But sin misses the mark in an even broader way. God made us to love and fellowship with the Father, Son, and Spirit. Jesus said that he came into the world so that people could share the communion of the Father and himself, the Son (Jn. 17:10–26). In eternity past, the Trinity enjoyed each other’s company so much that they said, “This is so wonderful, that we need to share it. Let’s create beings made in our image so that they can share this glorious communion too!”[2] That’s why God created us.

Now, sin causes us to miss the mark of this design. Sin breaks that communion (Is. 59:2), the very communion for which we were created. Sin destroys the very purpose for humanity.

Perhaps now you can better understand why God destroyed almost the entire human population with the universal flood (Gen. 6–7). Humanity, God’s image, had become so utterly depraved that his entire design was being destroyed. “This wasn’t what I intended,” God was saying; “therefore, I need to start over with a righteous man and his family.”

Sin contradicts God’s design, and that’s why all sin, every time, is self-frustrating.

Imagine, if you will, a strange architectural student who thought he could use a word processing software program to create a highly technical architectural schematic. No matter how hard he tried, or how frustrated he became, he would fail. He would fail because the operating system of a word processing program was never designed to create architectural schematics. The software writer had nothing whatsoever like architectural design in mind when he devised the program. He didn’t even include the basic digital building blocks by which one could alter the word processing program in order to make it an architectural design program. People, even well-intentioned people, who try to use the word processing program for something other than processing words are doomed to failure. Always. The same is true with sin. It fails. Always.

The bitter fruits

All of us are sinners (Rom. 3:23). We were born into sin. But we’ve all seen the utterly tragic effects of unrepentant sin among our friends and coworkers and family — we’ve seen what happens when you break the design, when you keep sinning and don’t give it up. These effects have touched every one of us.

What about the addictiveness of sin? In our own era the obvious examples are drugs and alcohol. Young people in the prime of life selling their bodies and their purity for just one more drug hit. Think of the lies alcoholics tell the closest family members just for one more drink. I know a young man in prison today, reared in a devout Christian family, who became ensnared in drug addiction of that entire lifestyle. Oh, how different his life could have been!

And then there’s sexual debauchery. The adultery that destroys lovely marriages and scars little children for life. I had a friend, a very gifted man, a man with a faithful Christian wife who committed adultery with a much younger Christian married woman. His sin destroyed those two marriages.

Some of you’re aware of the leader of the homeschooling movement whose adultery destroyed two ministries. Oh, the tragedy and heartache for his own wife and family and hundreds and perhaps thousands of others!

Recently I was talking to a faithful pastor in our area. He’s a godly man. He loves the word of God. He has a godly family. Last year a deaconess in an evangelical church in Seattle who had known this man when he was much younger slandered him. This slander caused great damage in his congregation. “One sinner destroys much good” (Ec. 9:18).

And what about materialism? The man or woman who lives for nothing but material goods and services and drive away the people closest to them because they don’t have time for love and friendship. We all know people who have destroyed lives and marriages by this materialism.

And that’s why Paul says in Romans 5:21, “But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.” “[W]hat fruit were you getting?” Sin destroys. Sin kills. Sin perverts everything that is righteous. Sin pollutes and dirties and strangles everything that is beautiful in God’s good creation.

Why the sin?

Why, then, if sin is so obviously self-destructive, do people sin? First, because they we born with an appetite for it. Just as infants have a hunger for breast milk, so we have a hunger for sin. That’s why it’s not necessary to teach children to sin. It’s necessary to teach them not to sin.

But there’s another reason people sin. It’s the ultimate form of instant gratification. Sin is very pleasant at the beginning and very painful at the end. Sin is like the Venus flytrap. It lures insects by nectar. When consuming the nectar, they get caught, and then the plant closes the leaves, crushing the insect to death. That’s what sin does.

Sin’s “epic fail”

Now, actually, if you think about it, despite the tragedy, there’s also great relief in this. This means that in the end, there’re no successful sinners. Sin isn’t just destructive; it’s self-destructive, and self-frustrating.

We live in a God-rigged universe. It’s rigged against the success of sin. This means that all of the depravity surrounding us, the moral pollution that breaks our hearts — the pride, the hate, the abortion, the pornography, the crooked politicians, the drug and alcohol addiction, the broken friendships, the rebellious children, the broken marriages, and on and on — cannot last. If sin cannot go on, it will not go on. And according to God’s word, it cannot go on.

Because of what Jesus Christ did on the Cross and from the empty tomb, God is in the business of getting rid of sin. “Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil” (1 Jn. 3:8). Sin cannot go on, because Jesus is destroying it.

The Fruits of Righteousness

Breaking the slavery

Finally, we might ask: why then do Christians sin, if we’ve been freed from sin? Paul doesn’t leave us in doubt. He tells us in verse 19 to present ourselves to God as we once presented ourselves to Satan. We are the slaves of the one we obey (v. 16). We Christians still sin because we don’t constantly surrender ourselves to God. Paul’s point is as clear as it is powerful:  we enjoy liberation from sin when we determine to obey a new master. Let me put this another way. Paul teaches that God gives his people the power over sin when they surrender themselves entirely to him.

Let me make it even more concrete. When we rise in the morning, we need to pray, “Father, in Jesus’ name, I surrender myself entirely to you. I’ll do whatever you want, under all conditions, all the time. I must have the strength of your Spirit. I’ll pay any price to obey.”

Friends, this is the person that God empowers for consistent obedience. Because of indwelling sin, the Bible does not teach that we can live above all sin (1 Jn. 1:8). The Bible does teach, however, we can live consistently obedient lives. We can live above the power to sin. Sin no longer enslaves us. God enslaves us. This is to say, righteousness enslaves us (v. 18).

It’s fascinating that Paul uses the term “fruit” — the fruit of sin, and the fruit of righteousness (vv. 21–22). Fruit is what Satan used in the Garden of Eden to seduce Eve and Adam to sin. The fruit was seductive. The fruit fueled feelings of instant gratification.

When we surrender entirely to the Triune God, he starts drying up that sinful fruit. Then we start bearing the fruit of righteousness (Jn. 15). Understand this point: when we surrender to God, God just doesn’t get rid of our sin. He doesn’t leave us barren. He replaces our sin with righteousness. When we get a new master, we start bearing new fruit.

Conclusion

Let me review. We know that sin destroys everything that is beautiful and lovely in the world. That’s the very sin that once dominated our own hearts. The horrid pollution of sin “out there” starts “in here.”

But Jesus Christ came to liberate us from the shackles of sin. When we surrender ourselves entirely to God, sin no longer has any power over us. It’s as simple and profound as that.

In the mid-1860′s, the Emancipation Proclamation liberated all of the black slaves in all of the United States. They were legally liberated. But they didn’t experience their liberation until they acted on it. They had to leave their old master, and recognize that a new master, the federal Union, had liberated them.

The same is true with sin. The Father in Jesus Christ has liberated us, and we must surrender ourselves daily to our new, liberating master.


[1] Romans 1–5 deals mostly with God’s eternal judgment on sin. This happens at the Final Judgment. Sinners are guilty in God’s courtroom. God solves this problem by justification: he imputes, or credits Jesus’ righteousness to them when they trust in him. But Rom. 6:1f. isn’t about justification. It’s about sanctification: God’s cleaning his people from their sin and eventually cleaning up the entire world. Today, in the “Grace Movement,” there’s a lot of talk about justification and forgiveness of sins, but very little talk about sanctification and getting rid of sin. This approach conforms remarkably to our lawless age. People can have Jesus and salvation and still feel very comfortable in their sin. But there is no salvation without sanctification.

[2] Michael Reeves, The Good God (Milton Keynes, England: Paternoster, 2012). I’m grateful to my colleague Brian G. M Mattson for alerting me to this delightful book.

Daring Prayer

Posted on March 2, 2014

elijahRead: Jn. 4:46–54

Introduction

About five years ago, God revived prayer at Cornerstone. Over that time, I’ve been stunned at how many prayers he’s answered. I should not have been stunned, because answered prayer should be routine for God’s people, but I’ve been stunned nonetheless. We simply cannot lose this momentum. Every day of my life, I pray that God continues to make Cornerstone a praying church. He’s answering my prayer.

It’s genuinely remarkable how many prayers we find in the Bible and how many teachings about prayer we find in the Bible. The Bible is simply full of prayer.[1] If we took time actually to study the topic of prayer, we’d discover that it pervades the Word of God. It’s not a secondary topic; it’s a major topic.

This is why prayerlessness in the church is so counterintuitive — and, I believe, sinister and Satanic. Prayer is a basic but powerful part of Christian living. The Bible doesn’t envision that we can live as a Christian without living a life of prayer. The church that does not major on prayer is not acting as a Christian church. The church not routinely getting prayers answered is not a normal Christian church. If you don’t believe this, I simply ask you to read the book of Acts. The primitive church prayed, and that church routinely got answers to prayer. In short: if we’re not praying, and we’re not getting answers to prayer, there’s something terribly wrong.

This is a tender, compelling account of one of Jesus’ signs. It’s an example of daring prayer. I want us to draw important truths from this account and other biblical texts, and I want those truths to change how we pray.

Transformational Truths about Prayer

Big faith does not annoy God

First, our Lord is never miffed by daring prayers. E. M. Bounds, perhaps the greatest writer on the topic of prayer in the history of the church,[2] once pointed out an important fact that we often don’t recognize. Never in the Bible do we find an example of Jehovah in the Old Testament or Jesus in the New Testament complaining that people ask God to do too much for them. On the contrary: God continually chides his people because they lack faith. Big, bold, daring prayers do not upset God. Little, anorexic, unbelieving prayers upset God.

The political official’s son had a near-fatal fever. He’d heard that the rabbi from Nazareth was healing the sick. So he approached Jesus and begged him to heal his son. Now what’s perhaps most remarkable in this account is not that the official asked Jesus to heal his son, but that Jesus didn’t need to be present to do this. Imagine in a similar case our asking a physician to operate on a sick relative without being present. The politician had enough faith simply to trust the very word of Jesus.

Jesus said, “Go; your son will live.”

And then we read: “The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and went on his way.”

This is simple, daring faith. The politician’s faith was rewarded. As he was returning home, his servants met him and informed him that his son was recovering. ”When did his fever start dropping?” he asked. The answer: the exact hour that Jesus said “Go; your son will live.”

God loves to answer big, daring prayers. I’m not implying that he’s not interested in prayers for small, ordinary problems. Of course, he is. But he relishes great faith in his children. Earthly fathers delight when their children exercise great confidence in them. Can you imagine how the heavenly Father feels when his children have faith that he can do anything for them?

It’s remarkable how much faith we often lack. A couple of months ago I was talking to a dear friend on the East Coast. He had recently attended a church that was praying that one of its ladies wouldn’t suffer too much from her chemotherapy. They didn’t pray that God would heal her, mind you, but that he would give her relief from her treatment. Apparently God’s strong enough to relieve pain but not strong enough to heal disease. This is not a prayer of great faith, if I may say so.

We should pray according to God’s prescriptive will, not his decretive well

Second, daring prayers should not consider God’s secret, eternal counsels. By this I mean, God’s predestined will for human history. The Bible certainly teaches that God has a plan for human history, and that his plan will be accomplished (Is. 14:24–27; 46:8–10), but it is remarkable the Bible has almost nothing to say about considering that plan when we are making requests of God. In this way, our prayers today are remarkably different from the prayers of the saints in the Bible.

We pray, “God, if it’s your will, please give us a child.” Hannah prays, “Lord, please give me a child.” And God gives her Samuel (1 Sam. 1).

We pray, “Jesus, if it’s in your Father’s plan, please heal us of this sickness.” The disciples prayed, “Lord, please put your hand on this deaf and dumb man so that he can be healed” (Mk. 7:31–37). And Jesus healed him.

We pray, “Lord, if it’s part of your eternal will, please send revival to your people and to our nation.” Jehovah says,

When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land. (2 Chr. 7:13–14)

My point is very simple: we have almost no examples in the Bible of God’s people who limit their prayers by pondering his secret councils. God’s people believe in his eternal will. They take great comfort in his will. But when we pray, we pray according to his revealed will in the Bible. We don’t know the specifics of God’s secret will. That’s why it’s secret. But God’s will in the Bible is not secret. It’s revealed. We know what God’s revealed will is. And so we pray according to his revealed will.

This does not mean that God answers every prayer. No father gives his children everything they want; he would not be a faithful father if he did. God didn’t answer Paul’s prayer to remove the thorn of his flesh (2 Cor. 12:7–9). But he wants to do good things for his children, and most of the time he answers our prayers offered in faith. Is our heavenly father less caring about our needs and desires than our earthly father (Mt. 7:7–11)?

This is why Grant Osborne is right: “God is sovereign and can say ‘no [to our prayer],’ but we should not expect God to reject our requests.”[3] Of course, God can say no, because God knows what’s best. But just as we love to please our children whom we love, so God loves to please his children whom he loves. If we don’t understand this tender fact, we have missed something very crucial about prayer.

And this is why is when we read the Bible, we can come up with some amazing statistics. Even apart from the Psalms, which are full of prayers, “[T]he Bible records no fewer than 650 definite prayers, of which no less than 450 have recorded answers.”[4] That’s a fascinating proportion. Probably more than 450 of the prayers in the Bible were answered. Still, that’s almost 70% of answered prayers that we know of. God doesn’t always answer our prayers, but he answers many more prayers than if we did not pray.

And we must face that fact squarely: Had this politician not come to Jesus and begged for the healing of his son, we have no reason to believe his son would have been healed. It’s futile for us to ask, “But what is the predestined will of God? Wouldn’t God have healed him anyway if he had been predestined to be healed?” That answer is for God to decide, not us. We know that all of human history is in his hands. We needn’t worry about that. We simply need to trust God to be as good as his Word — to do good things for his children.

God loves to exhibit his glory by answering prayers

Speaking of human history leads to the third and final truth: God answers our prayers in order to demonstrate his might in the world and to vindicate his honor. You may recall that old covenant Israel lost a strategic battle at a city called Ai. Joshua, the leader, reminded God that if the Jews turned their backs on their enemies, what would their enemies think of God (Josh. 7:9)? That he was some puny little God! In Judges 6:13, Gideon appealed to God in much the same way: “If you really are Israel’s God, what happened to all the promises you gave to us?”

God is vulnerable to our appeals to demonstrate his great power and vindicate his great honor in the earth because he desires to be praised and is worthy to be praised.

So when we pray, we should ask God to exhibit his greatness in the earth. More than anything, God desires and deserves worship and adoration. This is what he desires, and this is what he deserves. When we ask him to do great things, and he does them, he shows not just us, but the world, including the unbelieving world, how great he truly is. God did this with Pharaoh, he did it with Nebuchadnezzar, he did it with Ninevah, and he will do it today.

My mother is a godly, praying woman. Sh’s a writer. Recently she submitted an anecdote from our family history that I didn’t know or else had forgotten for her church’s devotional manual :

Remember

Salle Sandlin

“I will remember the works of the Lord: surely I will remember thy wonders of old” (Psalm 77:11).

There is something about recounting the mercies of God in the past that seems to fan again the flames of faith that have become embers of smoldering doubt in our prayer lives. Are there any among us, saved any amount of time, who have not seen the hand of God in our lives? I think this is why God tells us over and over in His Word to remember, to “forget not all his benefits” (Psl. 103:2).

By God’s grace, I will never forget the morning nearly fifty years ago when our first born, Andrew, looked at my husband and me, questioningly, when we told him he couldn’t have any more cereal and milk, because there was no more—in fact, no more anything. Oh, and then the blessed memory of the knock that came at the back door just as the three of us were on our knees in the kitchen, praying for God to supply our need! A woman from church was standing there with bags of groceries in her hand that she said God had, for some reason, laid it upon her heart to bring to us. “Could you by any chance use them?” she asked, hesitantly. And, yes, there was cereal and milk in those bags!

Today, that little boy is a pastor, author, and much in demand preacher and conference speaker. And one of his favorite themes is—you guessed it—prayer.

We will remember, we will remember;

We will remember the works of your hand.

We will shout and give you praise;

For great is Thy faithfulness!

So, when we pray, let us pray bold, daring prayers, because those prayers honor God. Paltry, unbelieving prayers do not honor God. Let’s not forget the warning of Hebrews 3:12, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.” An unbelieving heart is an evil heart. An unbelieving heart leads us away from God. When we lack faith in God, including faith to answer our prayers, we begin to depart from the living God.

Conclusion

Let’s review: (1) God isn’t upset by big, daring prayers; he’s upset by an evil heart of unbelief. (2) Don’t worry about God’s secret, eternal will when you pray; just act on what he’s promised in his holy writing that’s not-at-all-secret. (3) Always keep in mind that God loves to show his might and to vindicate his people in the world — so pray big prayers that will cause him to do that!

Let us pray bold, big, daring prayers, and expect God to act as he said he promised — and as he has so many times in the past.


[1] Herbert Lockyer, All the Prayers of the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1959).

[2] E. M. Bounds, The Complete Works of E. M. Bounds on Prayer (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004).

[3] Grant R. Osborne, “Moving Forward on our Knees: Corporate Prayer in the New Testament,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 53, 2 (June 2010): 255, emphasis supplied.

[4] Herbert Lockyer, All the Prayers of the Bible, 5.

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