Contentions

October 11, 2020 in Bible - NT - Galatians, Church History, Covenantal Living, Depravity, Ecclesiology, Meditations, Principles and Methods

Galatians 5:19–21 (NKJV)

19Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

One of the perpetual dangers of sinners in society is contention – the work of the flesh that we focus upon today. “The works of the flesh are evident, which are… contentions.” Webster defines contention as “Strife; struggle; a violent effort to obtain something, or to resist a person, claim or injury; contest; quarrel.”

Such contentions are characteristic of sinners in society and so are always a temptation for the Church Militant which is a society of sinful men and women. The Corinthian church, you may recall, was rife with contentions. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 1:11, “For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you.” These contentions saw the rise of party spirit within the congregation. “I am of Paul,” said some. “I am of Apollos,” said others. But Paul rebukes both, “For where there are envy, contentions, and divisions among you, are you not carnal and behaving like mere men?” (1 Cor 3:3) To give way to contentions, Paul insists, is to revert to our fallen nature and ignore the Lord who has saved us and united us together as one people. There is, Paul writes, “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all” (Eph 4:5). Hence, we are to endeavor “to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Eph 4:3). By one Spirit we have all been baptized into one body not many. Contentions are of the flesh, our fallen nature.

So why do contentions arise? Contentions arise from pride. Paul informs Timothy that the contentious man “is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words…” (1 Tim 6:4). The contentious man does not weigh matters rightly. He prides himself on his wisdom and discernment but through pride destroys the unity of the Church. He makes every mole hill a mountain and insists that all must agree with him or the church is going to fall into irreparable apostasy. Now, of course, the threat of apostasy is real; there are genuine mountains. But the contentious man cannot distinguish them from his personal preferences.

So what of you? Are you able to distinguish major from minor issues? Are you endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace? Are you putting to death the temptation to party spirit? Homeschoolers versus dayschoolers; gluteners vs non-gluteners; maskers vs non-maskers; winebibbers vs teetotalers. Among a people who take Scripture seriously, who take theology seriously, and who want to do all things well, there is always the danger of holding our theology in such a way that we destroy the very Church which Christ gave His life to save. So beware your heart; beware the lure of pride; always be open to correction; and pray regularly that God would preserve us all from contentions.

Reminded that contentions arise from a proud and disagreeable spirit and that we are often tempted to pride and contention, let us kneel as we are able and confess our sin to the Lord. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Sinful Hatred

September 20, 2020 in Bible - NT - Galatians, Depravity, Human Condition, Meditations, Sin

Galatians 5:19–21 (NKJV)

19Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

One of my friends is fond of remarking that sins are like grapes – they grow in bunches. So we have seen that Paul groups together various sexual sins – adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness – and then sins of worship – idolatry, sorcery/superstition – and now he addresses interpersonal sins. The first of these interpersonal sins is hatred: “The works of the flesh are evident, which are… hatred.”

The Greek word is ekthra. Foundationally, this hatred refers to a hatred of God. The unbelieving heart from which works of the flesh proceed hates God: “the carnal mind is enmity [hatred] against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be” (Rom 8:7). The carnal mind is set against against God – it hates God and hates God’s law. And the world – not the planet but the collection of those driven by their sinful nature – also hates God. Consequently, friendship with the world is enmity with God (James 4:4) and the one who wants to be the friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

This hatred of God, this vertical hatred, manifests itself in other types of hatred, horizontal hatred, hatred of others. Cain hated Abel and killed him in cold blood. Esau hated Jacob and plotted to kill him. Joseph’s brothers hated him and sold him into slavery. After he had raped her, Amnon hated Tamar and brought shame and misery upon her. Absalom hated Amnon and orchestrated his murder some two years later.

Such hatred ensnares not only individuals but groups – families, factions, tribes, nations, ethnicities. Thus the Edomites hated Israel despite their common heritage as descendants of Abraham: “…you have had an ancient hatred, and have shed the blood of the children of Israel by the power of the sword…” (Ezek 35:5) King Saul hated the Gibeonites and endeavored to destroy them with a form of ethnic cleansing (2 Sam 21). And in our day, unscrupulous politicians regularly inflame such hatred, pitting rich against poor, black against white, male against female. No wonder Paul describes our fallen state as “hateful and hating one another” (Tit 3:3).

Such ethnic hatred was in part reinforced by the ceremonial law of the old covenant which distinguished Jew and Gentile. Jews were circumcised; most Gentiles were not. Jews refused pork; most Gentiles did not. Jewish men could not shave certain portions of their beard; many Gentiles did. In Christ, these types of distinctions and the enmity they aroused have been broken down (Eph 2:14–16):

14For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, 15having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, 16and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.

In Christ neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; neither pork eaters nor non-pork eaters are anything; neither beard growers nor beard shavers are anything – what matters is keeping God’s moral law. Now that the Gospel is not limited to Israel but is being preached to all nations, such matters are adiaphora, things indifferent, areas where Christians are to extend grace to those who differ.

Thus, the Gospel teaches us to put away perverse hatred and to love our neighbor as ourselves – to treat our neighbor lawfully from the heart. To love one’s neighbor is to honor one’s own parents and to protect another’s life, marriage, property, and reputation knowing that this is the fear of the Lord. For though hatred often conceals and disguises itself, God will always bring it to judgment:

24He who hates, disguises it with his lips, And lays up deceit within himself; 25When he speaks kindly, do not believe him, For there are seven abominations in his heart; 26Though his hatred is covered by deceit, His wickedness will be revealed before the assembly. (Prov 26:24–26)

And so reminded that we are to put away hatred and to love our neighbor as ourselves, let us confess that we often are tempted to plot evil against our neighbor instead. And, as you are able, let us kneel as we confess our sin to the Lord. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Sorcery and Superstition

September 13, 2020 in Atheism, Bible - NT - Galatians, Bible - OT - Deuteronomy, Depravity, Human Condition, Meditations, Sin, Truth, Worship

Galatians 5:19–21 (NKJV)

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Whenever we as human beings throw off the worship of the Living God, we do not cease to worship, we do not cease religious practices. Rather, we replace the worship of the true God with idolatry, and we replace the practice of true religion with superstitions such as sorcery or witchcraft, the work of the flesh that we focus upon today. “The works of the flesh are evident, which are… sorcery.”

The Greek word is pharmakia – from whence we get our English words “pharmacy” and “pharmacist” – one who dispenses drugs. While we often associate “sorcery” with the casting of spells, more frequently sorcery was connected with the use of hallucinogenic drugs, alcohol, and poisons, along with an invocation of demonic forces, to do either harm or good. Sorcerers use their skills to frighten, enslave, and accumulate wealth. They make lavish promises of victory over foes, increased fertility, inevitable prosperity. Because sorcery uses drugs and appeals to dark forces, it is always accompanied by other types of wickedness and incurs the wrath and judgment of God. Thus Moses warned Israel:

“There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or one who practices witchcraft, or a soothsayer, or one who interprets omens, or a sorcerer, or one who conjures spells, or a medium, or a spiritist, or one who calls up the dead. For all who do these things are an abomination to the LORD, and because of these abominations the LORD your God drives [the nations] out from before you” (Dt 18:10–12).

Despite this warning, sorcery has reared its ugly head again and again whenever a people turn away from God toward idols. So King Saul, in his apostasy, consulted the witch of Endor (1 Sam 28); the wicked king Manasseh “caused his sons to pass through the fire… [and] practiced soothsaying, used witchcraft and sorcery, and consulted mediums and spiritists” (2 Chr 33:6). And in our day, too, the practice of witchraft and sorcery is becoming increasingly common. Thus we find Malachi and many other prophets warning that God would come in judgment on those who practiced sorcery (Mal 3:5). And John writes that “sorcerers… shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone…” (Rev 21:8).

When the Gospel arrives, the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection and His conquest of the powers of darkness, it drives out sorcery. Even as light drives out darkness, so the true worship of God drives out superstition. God had promised through the prophet Micah, “I will cut off sorceries from your hand, And you shall have no soothsayers” (Mic 5:12). So, after Paul had preached the Gospel in the city of Ephesus, “many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all” (Acts 19:19). The Gospel frees us from lies and superstitions.

So what of you? Have you been freed from superstition? The promise of such superstition is that one can control the future or protect oneself from harm. But the one who has come to love God no longer needs to manipulate the world but can rest in the good providence of God, trusting Him to protect and to prosper those who love Him and keep His commandments. So do you trust Him? Or are you trying to manipulate the world in some superstitious way? 

Reminded that sorcery incurs the wrath and judgment of God and that it is the fruit of rebelling against God, let us acknowledge that it has become increasingly common in our society and that we too, as the people of God, are sometimes lured by its promises of control and prosperity. And as we confess our sin to the Lord, let us kneel as we are able and seek the Lord’s forgiveness. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Our Hearts as Idol Factories

September 6, 2020 in Bible - NT - Galatians, Church History, Depravity, Greek Gods, Image of God, Meditations, Sin, Ten Commandments, Trinity, Worship

Galatians 5:19–21 (NKJV)

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Human beings are intrinsically religious creatures. We all have a sensus divinitatis, a sense of the divine, which God Himself has planted within us. However, because of our rebellion against God, we all likewise have a bent away from the Living God. We are inclined toward idolatry; our hearts are, in the words of John Calvin, an idol factory. And it is this work of the flesh that we focus upon in Paul’s list today. “The works of the flesh are evident, which are… idolatry.”

Idolatry is the worship of false gods or the worship of the true god through physical images. Idolatry has a bewitching power, enslaving nations and regularly tempting the people of God. So the people of Israel constructed the golden calf in the wilderness. Gideon had to cut down the altar of Baal which Israel had erected in his hometown. Ahab married the Phoenician princess Jezebel and filled Israel with the worship of the Baals and Ashtoreths such that Elijah believed he alone remained faithful. Our fathers regularly turned to idols and so brought on themselves the wrath and judgment of God.

This tendency toward idolatry did not cease with Christ’s incarnation. Christians have regularly turned away from the Triune God to some lesser deity. In the 1st and 2nd centuries, the Ebionites taught that the Eternal Son of God was just a man while the Docetists taught that He was not man at all. In the great Trinitarian controversies of the 3rd and 4th centuries that resulted in the crafting of the Nicene Creed, the Arians taught that Jesus was not divine but some lesser being. In the 18th and 19th centuries, such idolatries multiplied. The Unitarians insisted that the Eternal Son was just a great moral teacher and example; the Jehovah’s Witnesses rescucitated the idolatry of Arius; the Mormons taught that the Eternal Son of God was some perverse offspring of a carnal union between deity and humanity.

Church history, in other words, illustrates that Paul’s warning against idolatry is necessary. The human heart bends toward idolatry. And so Paul warned the Corinthians, “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” (1 Cor 10:14). We must remain ever faithful to the Triune God as He has revealed Himself in His Word.

One of the chief traps that has ensnared God’s people in idolatry has been intermarriage with idolaters. God warned the people of Israel:

When the Lord your God brings you into the land which you go to possess, and has cast out many nations before you… You shall make no covenant with them nor… shall you make marriages with them. You shall not give your daughter to their son, nor take their daughter for your son. For they will turn your sons away from following Me, to serve other gods…” (Dt 7:1-4)

Despite this warning, the Israelites regularly intermarried with their pagan neighbors and fell into idolatry. Nehemiah reminded our fathers, “You shall not give your daughters as wives to their sons, nor take their daughters for your sons or yourselves. Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? Yet among many nations there was no king like him, who was beloved of his God… Nevertheless pagan women caused even him to sin” (Neh 13:25-26).

So if you are single and would like to be married – listen to the voice of the Lord – you may not marry a non-Christian! To do so is to court temptation and put yourself in danger of God’s wrath and judgment. As Paul reminded the Corinthians:

14Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? 15And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? 16And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God… (2 Cor 6:14–16) 

Reminded that God is jealous the affections of His people and would have us to avoid the worship of other gods, let us acknowledge that we and our father have often turned away from God to idols. And as we confess, let us kneel before the Lord as we are able. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Sexual Freedom vs Slavery

August 23, 2020 in Bible - NT - Galatians, Confession, Depravity, Homosexuality, Judgment, Meditations, Politics, Sanctification, Sexuality

Galatians 5:19–21 (NKJV)

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

The psalmist teaches us to sing in Psalm 119:45, “And I will walk at liberty, For I seek your precepts.” To walk in the law of the Lord, to obey the Lord, is to walk at liberty, it is to know true freedom. This is why James calls the law, “the perfect law of liberty” (1:25) – because everyone “who commits sin,” as our Lord Jesus reminds us, “is the slave of sin” (Jn 8:34). Sin corrupts and destroys us as human beings. God designed us to live in righteousness; to sin is to rebel against that design; it is to live in a way that we were not meant to live. The man who lives righteously is the most free. Consequently, the Man Jesus was the freest of men.

In our text today, Paul outlines some of the works of the flesh, sins that corrupt and destroy and enslave us as human beings. At the top of this list are sexual sins: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness… So let us relate this to our current cultural moment. Since the 1960s America has listened to prophets who have promised “sexual liberty.” But if the law is liberty, then what is true sexual freedom? Sexual freedom is the gift of God in which a man and woman who are covenanted together in marriage enjoy sexual intimacy. They are free: free to be naked and unashamed; free to learn the unity of body and soul that reflects the glory of their Creator; free to enjoy sex without the debilitating effects of guilt, regret, and sexually transmitted diseases. This is sexual liberty.

So what is sexual slavery? Sexual slavery is adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness. Sexual slavery is to be so driven by one’s sexual passions that one sleeps with a married man or woman, pursues sexual satisfaction outside the marriage bed, indulges varied sexual urges such as are represented by the LGBTQ agenda or the porn industry, or engages in coarse jesting and foul speech. Sexual slavery, in other words, is all the things our prophets have described as sexual freedom.

So why would they sell such slavery to us? Because tyrants love moral corruption and hate virtuous men. Men who are morally corrupt are men who are manipulable. So Balak, the king of Moab, hired Balaam to curse the people of Israel. But Balaam couldn’t curse them for God had blessed them. So what counsel did Balaam give Balak? Entice them with sexual corruption. So the men of Israel were enticed by the daughters of Moab. What Balak could not do with words he did with sexual slavery. Hence, it is no surprise that those who want to take away our political and economic liberties want to enslave us to sexual bondage. Why? Because morally corrupt men are manipulable.

So what of you? Are you sexually free or are you sexually enslaved? If you are enslaved to porn, then you are an advocate for everything the socialists and communists are trying to achieve in our culture no matter what you may say with your lips. So what is the solution? The solution is the forgiving and transforming grace of Jesus Christ. “If the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed” (Jn 8:36).

And the Son willingly sets free all those who turn from their sin, turn in faith to Him, and seek His forgiveness. So as we come into the presence of the Lord today, let us confess our sin and the sexual slavery of our broader society, and seek the Lord’s mercy. And let us kneel as we confess our sin to the Lord. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Justification and Sanctification

August 17, 2020 in Bible - NT - Galatians, Depravity, Faith, Justification, Law and Gospel, Meditations, Responsibility, Sanctification, Ten Commandments

Galatians 5:19–21 (NKJV)

19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

If you have turned away from your life of sin and rebellion and have sought God’s forgiveness through Christ, then your forgiveness will begin to manifest itself in a life of obedience to God. Justification, in other words, is always accompanied by sanctification. As Paul emphasized in the verses just prior to this catalogue of the works of the flesh, the Christ who forgives us also gives us His Spirit; and the Spirit imparts to us the resurrection life of Jesus, enabling us to uproot the works of the flesh and to produce the fruit of the Spirit.

Paul insists on this bond between justification and sanctification in his words today. After cataloguing some of the works of the flesh – works that we shall consider in future weeks – Paul writes, “of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (5:21). The one who lives a life characterized by these evil deeds, whose life is characterized by unrepentant sin, will not inherit the kingdom of God. Such a man or woman will face the wrath and judgment of God.

And note carefully that Paul insists that this has been his consistent message. He had told the Galatians these things in time past and he was now reminding them again beforehand, before they engage in such behavior or listen to the lie of those who say, “Hey! You’ve been forgiven! You can live any way you want!”

Paul will have nothing to do with antinomianism. So what is antinomianism? Antinomianism – literally “against law” – is the idea that those who have been forgiven by Christ are no longer under obligation to observe God’s moral law. But this is folly. Shall we who died to sin, who have been forgiven through the shed blood of Jesus Christ for our rebellion against God, live any longer in it? May it never be! When God saves us from our sin, He not only forgives us the guilt of our sin but empowers us to bring forth the fruit of the Spirit.

Thomas Chalmers, the great Scottish preacher of the 18th century, once preached a sermon entitled, “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” He insisted that when we see our sin in all its ugliness and then we see the forgiving grace of God in Christ in all its loveliness, God’s grace makes sin lose its lustre and appeal. Christ places in our hearts a new affection. So the believing heart wants more of Christ, more of holiness, more of truth, more of light, more of virtue and honor and humility.

So what of you? What do you love? What excites your soul? Enlivens your heart? Inspires your passions? If it is the secret thrill of adultery, contentions, outbursts of wrath, and the like, then you are still in bondage to your sin no matter what you may say about believing in Jesus. You need the forgiving and transforming grace of God. And how do you get it? By crying out to God for mercy. Consider the true heinousness of your sin and the true beauty of Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross and resurrection from the dead.

Reminded that justification and sanctification always go together, let us continue to seek the face of God, confessing our own sin and acknowledging the loveliness of Christ. And as you are able, let us kneel together as we confess our sin to the Lord. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

Walk in the Spirit

August 9, 2020 in Bible - NT - Galatians, Depravity, Heart, Human Condition, Justification, Meditations, Sanctification, Thankfulness

Galatians 5:16–18 (NKJV)

16I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

As fallen human beings, our problem is twofold. Our first problem is that we have sinned against God and are guilty in His sight. We are, in Paul’s words, “under the law”, condemned by its precepts to God’s wrath and judgment. We need the forgiving grace of God. And the only way that God can extend that forgiving grace to us and remain just is if a substitute takes our place and bears the guilt of our sin, endures the just judgment that we deserve. Thanks be to God, Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. By trusting in Christ we can be forgiven of our sin and cleansed of our guilt and God Himself can remain just.

Our second problem as fallen human beings is that our longings and desires are twisted. The very reason that we have sinned against God is because we are sinners. We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners. Paul calls this sinful nature “the flesh.” The longing of the flesh is to dishonor the Living God, to question His law, to doubt His goodness, and to flout His justice.

Now, hear the good news, Christ not only died to forgive the guilt of our sin, He also rose from the dead in order that through the power of His resurrected life, we may walk in newness of life. Jesus has risen from the dead and, as the Risen Christ, God’s Anointed Ruler, He has poured out His Spirit upon His people so that we may walk in newness of life. To believe in Christ, therefore, is not only to be forgiven of sin but to be empowered for obedience.

What, then, is our calling? If you have believed in Christ, have sought out the forgiving grace of God in Christ, then your task is to walk by the Spirit. Notice Paul’s summons in our text today:

16I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.

The desires of the flesh and the desires of the Spirit are contrary to one another. While the flesh would dishonor God, the Spirit would honor Him; while the flesh would pursue unrighteousness, the Spirit would pursue righteousness. So walk by the Spirit – for it is those who walk by the Spirit who have truly experienced the forgiving grace of God in Christ, who are not “under the law” as a condemnatory voice.

So what of you? The psalmist prays, “Teach me Your way, O Yahweh; I will walk in Your truth; Unite my heart to fear Your name.” (Ps 86:11). Is it your prayer to have a united heart? To have a heart that is not one moment going after the desires of the flesh and another after the desires of the Spirit? Then pray as the psalmist prays – that God of His grace and mercy would pour out an even greater measure of His Spirit upon you that you walk in the Spirit and so not fulfill the desires of the flesh.

Reminded that we need both the forgiving and transforming grace of God in our lives, and that this comes only through the death and resurrection of Jesus, let us confess our sin to the Lord and petition Him for grace and mercy through Christ. And, as you are able, let us kneel together as we confess. We will have a time of silent confession, followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

By Nature Sinful and Unclean

June 28, 2020 in Bible - NT - Mark, Confession, Depravity, Heart, Homosexuality, Human Condition, Liturgy, Meditations, Regeneration, Sexuality, Sin

Mark 7:20–23 (NKJV)

20And [Jesus] said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. 21For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, 22thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. 23All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”

Those of you who have been at Trinity Church for some time know that we regularly rotate our liturgical greetings, confessions, and creeds in the course of the year. These changes enable us to focus on a variety of Scriptural commands and promises throughout the year. And, occasionally, we will tweak these liturgical elements in order to grow in faithfulness or to emphasize some other Scriptural principle.

One of the things that you may or may not have recognized is that we made a slight change to the confession of sins that we use at this time of year. In just a moment we will confess as follows:

M: Most merciful God,

P: we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean. We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone…

You may have recognized that that first sentence is new, “we confess that we are by nature sinful and unclean.” In the past our confession began with the words, “We have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed…” So why the change?

The purpose of this change is to emphasize that we are not only guilty of those actual sins which we commit but also of the corruption of our nature, historically called original sin, with which we are born. Because we rebelled against God in the beginning of human history, we are sinful by nature. We are, as Paul writes in Ephesians 2:3, “by nature children of wrath.” By nature we are guilty in the sight of God and justly deserve to be condemned for our sin.

In other words, sin attaches itself not only to our actions but also to our nature. We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners. It is from within, out of the heart of men, that our evil actions proceed. Consequently, we need both to have our sins forgiven and also to have our nature renewed, to be born again by the grace of God.

So why emphasize this? Well, there are many who are attempting to sow confusion in the church regarding same-sex sin. Some of you may be familiar with the Revoice conference last year where various teachers claimed that while same-sex sexual acts are sinful, same-sex desires are not. But this is a gross distortion of Scripture. The Scriptures insist that the desires themselves are twisted and perverse and must be confessed as sin. They are part of that which must be put to death, must be mortified, if we are to serve Christ faithfully.

So what does this mean for us? It means that our sinful actions are the fruit of our sinful nature – and I am responsible both both and I must confess both. Further, my sinful nature distorts not only what I do but fundamentally what I desire, what I love. A man who commits adultery is a man who has long indulged adulterous desires in his heart; a woman who slanders another is a woman who has long indulged bitterness and resentment in her heart. If we would grow in grace, therefore, we must not simply modify our sinful behavior but mortify our sinful desires. The mere fact that I possess a certain inclination or desire is no proof that that desire is upright or pleasing to God. God’s law is the standard by which my desires must be measured. We must pray that God renew our nature and rid us of covetousness, destroy our sexual lust, uproot our bitterness, humble our pride – for it is not only our actions which are sinful but the nature from which those actions proceed.

And so, as we enter into the presence of the Lord today, let us confess both our sinful nature and our sinful actions – for He is the only one who can forgive us for both and who can renew us in His own image. And as you are able, let us kneel together before the Lord as we confess our sins. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.

They are Unmerciful

May 17, 2020 in Bible - NT - Romans, Bible - OT - Exodus, Depravity, Human Condition, Meditations, Responsibility, Sanctification

Romans 1:28–32 (NKJV)

28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; 32 who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.

This morning we conclude Paul’s catalogue of the bitter fruits produced by those of debased mind, those whom God in His justice has handed over to their sin for their rebellion. For several months we have marched steadily through this list. Today, we conclude with Paul’s assertion that people of debased mind “are unmerciful.”

Mercy is “the emotion roused by contact with an affliction which comes undeservedly on someone else” (TDNT). We know that God Himself is full of mercy. He announces His Name to Moses, “Yahweh, Yahweh God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children to the third and the fourth generation” (Ex 34:6-7). The Lord is a merciful God – He takes special care for those who are weak and vulnerable, for those who are suffering unjustly.

Because He is merciful, He expects us as His image bearers to be merciful as well. “Thus says the LORD of hosts: ‘Execute true justice, Show mercy and compassion Everyone to his brother. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, The alien or the poor. Let none of you plan evil in his heart Against his brother’” (Zech 7:8-10). Pay special attention, God commands, to those who are suffering unjustly. Be a merciful people.

One of the things that distinguishes the righteous and the wicked, therefore, is mercy. “The wicked borrows and does not repay, But the righteous shows mercy and gives” (Ps 37:21). The wicked man is grasping and takes from others unjustly while the righteous man is openhanded and generous. Consequently, the Lord will “cut off the memory of [the wicked] from the earth; Because he did not remember to show mercy, But persecuted the poor and needy man, That he might even slay the broken in heart” (Ps 109:15,16). The wicked man is unmerciful.

But mercy is not sentimentality; mercy is not a bleeding heart that neglects justice. God’s mercy is directed to those who are suffering unjustly; but the same God who keeps mercy also by no means clears the guilty. Those who are suffering justly, who have cruelly persecuted the helpless and been merciless to the righteous and whose wicked deeds are now coming back upon them, God treats justly. “With the merciful You will show Yourself merciful… [But] with the devious You will show Yourself shrewd” (Ps 18:25-26). So the psalmist teaches us to pray against the wicked, “Let there be none to extend mercy to him, Nor let there be any to favor his fatherless children” (Ps 109:12). And God forbids showing mercy to those who have committed certain crimes, “Your eye shall not pity…” (Dt 19:13, 21). Mercy and justice are friends.

So what of you? First, do you distinguish between those who are suffering justly and unjustly? With those suffering justly, do you pray that God would enable you to be shrewd in how you deal with them, not interrupting the Lord’s work of correction in their lives, nor overthrowing justice, but, at all times, showing grace? Second, do you delight to show mercy to those who are suffering unjustly? Do you feel compassion for them and long to alleviate their pain, praying for them, financially assisting them, and speaking up for them?

Reminded of our calling to be a merciful people even as the Lord our God is merciful, let us acknowledge that we have often closed our hearts to those in need of mercy and have often extended mercy to those who should receive justice instead. And as we confess, let us kneel. We will have a time of silent confession followed by the corporate confession found in your bulletin.