Archives For Sin

How do we bring about change?

There is no real debate about the presence of problems in society. One must simply open the newspaper to see the chronicles of brokenness. Each day we read of domestic violence, drug abuse, abortion, corporate greed, gang violence, and terrorism. There is no shortage of problems.

But how do we fix this? The common approach is to work on the symptoms. To do this people spend money, try to change the environment, work on education, and even provide technological advantages. In other words, the common approach to fixing problems is to work on the external. Presumably, we believe that if we can fix the environment around a person then people will thrive.

How does God fix the problems? As the Creator and omniscient One, he has a unique even a privileged perspective. We should hear it. Continue Reading…

It was Jesus who taught that “out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Lk. 6.45). It makes good sense then that we can get a good read on what is in our hearts by what comes out of our mouths. Particularly as Christians, we can learn a lot about what we believe about the gospel by listening to ourselves talk.

There is one phrase that is particularly indicting. It is a phrase that unwittingly slashes the gospel tires while making a personal excuse. In other words, this phrase deflates the gospel of its power while inflating us with an excuse. As a result, I think we should dump it from our vocabulary. The phrase is: “I can’t.”

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Everybody has one of those friends who is supremely skilled in deconstructing the plots of movies or books. This person adeptly peels back the layers of the story like one of those wooden Russian dolls; they just keep on going and going. My wife and I love going to movies with this guy. In some ways we get more out of the pre and post movie than the actual movie. He thinks deeply and comprehensively about the story  as a whole and the various individual parts.

I don’t think I can become this guy in the theater but I desire to be him in the prayer closet.

Let me explain: I have become more “skilled” in identifying the overt sin in my life (selfishness, frustration, envy, etc) but it is the underlying sin that I too often miss. In particular, I am talking about the tendency toward a sinful, self-bent even in the pursuit of good things! 

This is as troubling as it is difficult.

Let me give some examples:

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I was recently spending some time with a minister who is nearing retirement. He was going through his office and packing up boxes, books and other personal items. He directed me to a large box and told me to take a look. I saw dozens of manilla file folders with names on them.

“What are all these?” I asked.

“Funerals.” The pastor said.

“How many?” I inquired.

“Over two-hundred.” He soberly replied.

There in his office I was struck with so many emotions. Here stood a man who has buried over two hundred of his parishiners. And here I stand, a young-buck having buried a grand total of zero of our members.

The seasoned pastor went on to tell me that he cannot throw this box away because in every folder is a life.

“In every folder is a life, a soul. And in each one is a piece of my life.” He said, holding back obvious emotion. I almost lost it too.

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One of my first jobs was selling shoes. This was a good fit for me because I played a lot of basketball and bought a lot of sneakers. One of my early practices was evaluating people based upon their shoes. Some of this was a necessity as you would try to match them up with their current tastes and needs. However, the practice, which became a game, also became a habit. A habit that continues to this day.

I still find myself sizing up runners, ballers, hipsters, thugs, businessmen, etc by their kicks. I have to work to devalue my various subjective conclusions about people.

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What is Temptation?

Erik Raymond —  February 22, 2012

When diagnosing the heart there are few better than the Puritans. I have returned over and over again to John Owen for wisdom and help in this area. Today I was aided in his observations concerning temptation. This quote is found in a Puritan Paperback from Banner of Truth (You can also find it in Volume 6 of Owen’s Works). Notice Owen’s careful assimilation and articulation of the practical with what is biblical…

A temptation, then, in general is anything that, for any reason, exerts a force or influence to seduce and draw the mind and heart of man form the obedience which God requires of him to any kind of sin.
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Straight from the headlines, an Amish community in rural Ohio recently suffered a series of attacks in which members of the Amish community had their homes invaded. Men and women had their hair forcibly cut, men having their beards shorn, a great indignity for Amish men.

Startlingly, the criminals were fellow Amish. The attackers, led by a man named Sam Mullet, were a disenfranchised group, upset at a local bishop’s decision not to excommunicate several others who they felt had broken community laws. To commemorate their attacks, they are said to have taken pictures of those whom they assaulted. A great irony in these attacks is that The Amish way of life is intended to protect its members from the sinful influences of the outside world. (There is also something incredibly ironic about a movement to cut people’s hair being led by a man named “Mullet”.) Unfortunately, this way of living fails to account for the fact that sinful influence can never be escaped because we are all corrupt. No matter where we go, as long as we are there, sin will be there too.

The Biblical doctrine of Total Depravity, one of the doctrines collectively known as the “Doctrines of Grace,” states that the basic nature of man is corrupt, that he is inclined toward evil, and that he is unable to do anything that merits God’s favor because he is unwilling. Total depravity is ultimately oriented toward God and sometimes expressed toward others.

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The scandal surrounding the football program at Penn State University is dominating the news. The allegations that former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky sexually assaulted several young boys on school property and with the apparent knowledge of other university officials is causing a range of emotions. People are spitting angry at the accused and their hearts are shredded for the victims. The details being reported are flat-out disturbing.

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Several years back I experienced one of those “ah-ha” moments. My wife and I were hanging out together and seemed to be quite enjoying some time of conversation.

Then she lovingly hit me with this forearm shiver: “Did you ever notice that you are always the hero of your stories?”

It knocked me off of my feet. My wife was saying that I routinely made myself out to be the hero in all of our talking about life, family, and even ministry. She mentioned how rare it was to hear of my own vices, instead, she said, she heard of others’.

As we talked about this in the days to come we realized a few things:

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I’ve got this habit that I am concerned is a problem. I have actually been working through it to decide if it is just a marginal matter of etiquette or if it is an important matter of gospel consequence. I’ve decided that it is both.

My issue is that I regularly finish other people’s sentences. If you pause…then I march in and finish your thoughts. It’s kind of like I am playing conversational Wheel-of-Fortune and I am trying to solve the puzzle. I shout out the answers, even when it’s not my turn. Somebody needs a buzzer.

This inclination towards sentence hijacking is exacerbated a bit by the fact that I live in the Mid-West. Here people talk a little slower than the Massachusetts cadence I was raised in. And when I say they talk slower I don’t mean that the words are slow in their pronunciation but rather in their articulation. It is not at all uncommon for some people to take a 20-second time out mid-sentence and then finish in a late-round flurry. This is not an excuse, it’s just a context.

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A lot of times people flatter themselves and think that they can contain sin, pride in particular. They think that rather than sin mastering them they can master it. This type of thinking demonstrates a disaster waiting to happen.

Pride is not something to be handled. It is not for you. It opposes and destroys.

There was a disturbing story last summer here in the Omaha area. A 34 year-old man used to walk up and down his neighborhood and show off his 6’ boa constrictor to neighbors. He often would let the snake wrap around the children and slide on their trampolines. He liked to show off his snake.

On one such occasion last June the snake constricted around his neck. Within minutes he was out of breath, on the floor, and soon after, dead. His ‘pet’ became his ‘killer’ in a matter of seconds. This man had overestimated his ability to master the snake while underestimating the snake’s desire to master him.

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To our regret and shame there seems to always be some sort of scandous besmudging on the movement of evangelicalism. Somewhere a pastor or professing Christian’s secret life of rampant sin gets revealed. And we all lose our collective breaths and our stomaches ache and turn.

The questions come. Why? How did this happen?

I remember hearing John MacArthur say,

“Nobody just falls out of a tree. They climb up in it, move around a bit, and then fall out.”

His point is obvious: this doesn’t happen overnight.

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Prior to full-time ministry I worked at an insurance company. One of the major aspects of my job involved analysis. In particular, my department was required to gather large amounts of data, break it down, look for trends and produce informed reports based upon the data.

In this environment there was one individual who excelled all of us in his ability to dissect the data. He was particularly skilled at observing and anticipating trends and patterns. His speed and precision was almost legendary.

As a young worker I was impressed regularly with his ability to plunge beneath the surface and see the underlying connectives. In one of our meetings together I recall asking him about his analytical tendencies and the obvious limitations to his legendary ability. He was as intrigued as he was puzzled.

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(Mar 7.21-22) For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.

Thomas Boston (1676-1732) ::

Never did any sin appear in the life of the vilest wretch who ever lived; but look into your own corrupt nature, and there you may see the seed and root that sin—and every other sin.

There is atheism, idolatry, blasphemy, murder, adultery, and whatever is vile—in your heart!

Possibly none of these are apparent to you; but there is more in that unfathomable depth of wickedness than you know.

Your corrupt heart is like an ant’s nest, which, while the stone lies on it, none of them appear. But take off the stone, and stir them up but with a straw—and you will see what a swarm is there—and how lively they are!

Just such a sight would your heart afford you—did the Lord but withdraw the restraint He has upon it—and allow Satan to stir it up by temptation! — from Human Nature in Its Fourfold State

“How marvelous it is that we do not hate sin more than we do! Sin is the cause of all the pain and disease in the world.

God did not create man to be an ailing and suffering creature. It was sin, and nothing but sin, which brought in all the ills that flesh is heir to. It was sin to which we owe every racking pain, and every loathsome infirmity, and every humbling weakness to which our poor bodies are liable.

Let us keep this ever in mind. Let us hate sin with a godly hatred.” –J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Mark, p. 99

I have heard faith described as “the blessed gift of self-forgetfulness”.

Indeed faith is the divine gift of the ability to look away from ourselves. Nowhere is this more needed or vivid than at near mid-point of the third chapter of The Epistle of Paul to the Romans.

In the first two and a half chapters the Apostle Paul has chronicled the divinely chaperoned tour and appraisal of the human heart.

The Divine Cardiograph
We learn that the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against us as humanity because we, in rebellion, “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (1.18), “do not honor Him as God or give thanks” (1.21), “exchange the glory of the incorruptible God” (1.23), “exchange the truth of God for a lie” (1.25), “are storing up wrath for the day of wrath” (2.5), are unrighteous (3.10), lacking understanding (3.11), not seeking God (3.11), not doing good (3.12), are useless (3.12), do not fear God (3.19) and are, with the rest of humanity, “under sin” (3.10).

The ultimate horror show is a person who is habitually engaged in the overt rebellion towards the King by stealing that which is most precious to him and then mocking, dishonoring, discrediting, undermining, and ignoring his righteous rule. This rebellion is characterized by a persistent attitude of fearless indifference. In natural human terms the type of person is a psychopath who seeks to satisfy his own twisted cravings. In a spiritual sense this type of person is every natural descendant of Adam.

We Have Got to Look Away
So when we are introduced to reality through the revealed word of God we should be horrified. There is nothing that Hollywood can manufacture to equal the gruesome reality of the human heart. So in our true seeing of ourselves, based upon God’s clear presentation, we are, like the person freaked out by a horror movie, quick to avert our eyes, turning and looking away from ourselves.

This is precisely the point (when we are horrified by our sin) that God proceeds with the gospel. Notice how Romans continues:

Romans 3:19 19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God;

The biblical presentation of the depravity of the human heart is intended to render humanity without excuse and in a posture of horrific condemnation.

This is a good model for evangelism. As long as folks are raising flags of self-righteousness through the assertion of “good” works, merit, religion, or relative goodness, then they are not ready to hear of how righteousness is revealed (cf. Romans 3.21ff.). As long as we are looking to ourselves to find righteousness we do not realize that we are deficient of righteousness and so obviously Christ Jesus who is sufficient righteousness will never be esteemed or treasured.

This is exactly what the Apostle Paul testified in Philippians three. He had all of his religious deeds divinely appraised and found that they amounted to rubbish. He quickly, upon the gracious realization that he was holding such a thing, dropped all manner of self-righteousness, and cried to God for a righteousness that comes not from himself but from God on the basis of faith (Phil 3.7-9).

The Blessing of Looking Away
If you are looking to yourself for righteousness than you are not a Christian. It is as simple as that. Christians glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh (Phil. 3.3). As Christians we are people who are overcome by our murderous hearts and delighted to avert our eyes from the filthy horror of our sin to fix our gaze solely upon Jesus Christ who is, “the Lord our Righteousness” (Jer. 23.6). It is here that horror is turned to delight.

We turn our eyes, our dependence, our value, our hopes from the horror show of our unrighteousness to the beauty of Christ’s righteousness. He is the one who alone has and ever will hear the Father’s eternal song of delight upon him, “You are my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased” (Mark 1.11). When we are united to Jesus Christ through faith in him we are credited with the perfect righteousness of Jesus (2 Cor. 5.21). And the Father then is forever pleased in and with us because we are in and with Jesus; ever united to him by faith.

Believers are ever horrified by their hearts and ever comforted by their Savior. This is Christianity. And to the extent that either of these two are muted or eclipsed so too will our delight in Jesus be.

When diagnosing the heart there are few better than the Puritans. I have returned over and over again to John Owen for wisdom and help in this area. Today I was aided in his observations concerning temptation. This quote is found in a Puritan Paperback from Banner of Truth (You can also find it in Volume 6 of Owen’s Works). Notice Owen’s careful assimilation and articulation of the practical with what is biblical…

A temptation, then, in general is anything that, for any reason, exerts a force or influence to seduce and draw the mind and heart of man form the obedience which God requires of him to any kind of sin.

In particular, it is a temptation if it causes a man to sin, gives him opportunity to do so, or causes him to neglect his duty. Temptation may suggest evil to the heart, or draw out the evil that is already there. It is also a temptation to a man if something is by any means able to distract him from his communion with God, or the consistent universal obedience that is required of him.

To clarify, I am considering temptation not just as the active force of seduction to sin, but also the thing itself by which we are tempted. Whatever it is, within us or without us, that hinders us from duty or provides an occasion for sin, this should be considered temptation. It could be business, employment, the course of one’s life, company affections, nature, corrupt, purposes, relations, delights, reputation, esteem, position, abilities, gifts, etc,, that provide the opportunity to sin or neglect duty. These are true temptations just as much as the most violent solicitations of Satan or allurements of the world. Whoever does not realize this is on the brink of ruin. –John Owen (Temptation, Banner of Truth), pp. 10-11

Man Rescued from a Cesspool

Erik Raymond —  December 10, 2009

I read this headline today and thought that it sounded like a story I know quite well.

A worker in New York was trapped in a cesspool yesterday. After 4 hours of dramatic attempts he was finally rescued. I am certain that he is quite thankful to be alive and freed from such captivity. No doubt after a couple of showers his family likewise was glad to have him safely home.

When I saw the title I couldn’t help but think of my own dramatic rescue from a cesspool. Of course my situation was a little different. It was not a literal sewer but a spiritual one. I was one who dwelt in the fermenting filth of my own wickedness. What’s more, I aimed to accumulate more wickedness to ‘dress’ things up a bit in my domain. I invited others to join me in my community of filth. My entire life; my deeds, thoughts, ambitions, and accomplishments were a stench before God. I know that whatever I did was aimed toward my own self-exaltation and God’s ultimate demotion. I opposed him at every turn and promoted myself. There is no amount of human waste that can out-stench my wasted life in the holy nostrils of the blessed God.

Thanks be to God that he did not leave me in this despicable position.

He sent his own Son, Jesus, to become a man. Jesus lived perfectly. He lived in my place. He obeyed, loved and served God perfectly (John 4.34, 8.29). This I never could nor would do. Furthermore, he gave his own life upon the cross for my sins. In this he gave himself as the payment for my sin. His obedience paid my debt and serves as my life (Rom. 6.23)

God treated Jesus as if he was every bit as filthy as me (Matt. 27.46). He poured out his wrath for the horrific insult that my sin deserved. He treated Jesus as if he was guilty of all of my sin (Is. 53.4-6). Jesus bore my penalty in my place (Is. 53.8). He came into the cesspool and was draped in it without himself becoming a sinner. “For God made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf that we might in him become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5.21).

The identification of Jesus with sinners like me is truly unfathomable, for we do not even have a framework for what his perfection entails. However, to think of the filth and stench of this man’s surroundings during this 4 hour period is helpful in painting the picture. The only big difference: we loved our cesspool and poor Mario in NY didn’t.  He wanted out and we wanted in. We loved our sin (John. 3.18-19). This makes it all the more amazing to think that ‘while we were yet sinners Christ died for us’ (Rom. 5.8). He chose to save the helpless, unlovely, ugly, filthy, wicked, rebels like me and you.

What a glorious Savior!

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1Co 2.14)

“Take notice that this is a moral ‘cannot,’ not a physical ‘cannot.’  When Paul says, ‘The natural person…is not able to understand them,’ he means that the heart is so resistant to receiving them that the mind justifies the rebellion of the heart by seeing them as foolish.  This rebellion is so complete that the heart really cannot receive the things of the Spirit.  This is real inability.  But it is not a coerced inability.  The unregenerate person cannot because he will not.  His preferences for sin are so strong that he cannot choose good.  It is a real and terrible bondage.  But it is not an innocent bondage.”  (John Piper, Finally Alive), p. 52

(I am really enjoying reading this new book by Piper.  He is so helpful in his careful, thoughtful, joyful and biblical articulation of the gospel and its implications.  It is thoroughly refreshing.)

We cannot too often remind our self of the priority to not take ourselves too seriously and to take Christ more seriously.  This priority gets the focus off of ourselves and our perceived rights to glory, fame, and idealistic happiness.  And as a result, the focus gets placed squarely upon Christ and his right to glory and fame.  This in turn brings true happiness to the Christian.

I see the deadly pagan inversion of this in my life far too often as I steal glory from Christ and prop myself up as the end for which God created the world.  And so I cry out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

But then I hear the Word of the Lord whisper:  “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom. 7.24-25)

This brings true encouragement, motivation, calibration and joy.  God is so good to speak words of truth and power to his children as he reminds them of his infinitely glorious Son.