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Entries in Sin (33)

Tuesday
Aug152017

Faith in the Time of Discipline

Hebrews 12:3-11.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on August 13, 2017.

There is always friction between generations.  Though generations today may disagree on how to teach and train children, you will not find very many people who would say that it shouldn’t be done at all.  The question is not about teaching kids, but about how and what we teach them.  Thomas Sowell, the American social theorist and political philosopher has said, “Each new generation born is in effect an invasion of civilization by little barbarians, who must be civilized before it is too late.”  He is not the first to recognize the importance of socialization.

Today it may seem like our culture is kicking back against this as they tell parents to teach their kids all religions so that they can choose for themselves, or even better, don’t teach them religion at all.  Similarly it is becoming vogue to avoid seeing the gender of your child as something that is biological.  The mark of a progressive parent is to help your child transition from a biological gender to the gender of your feelings.  Of course, the social discussions taking place around them and with them begs the question if these kids are being overly influenced in this area.  Regardless, my point is that these two examples are not really rejecting the idea of training kids.  The truth is that they object to training them in certain ways and with certain ideas.  Thus in the areas that they want to deconstruct they promote jettisoning it and in the areas they want to construct they promote very heavy training, if not outright propaganda.  In truth they indoctrinate children with their truth that gender is a state of mind, and that all religions are the same, if anything at all.

Our passage today focuses on one of the great difficulties of trusting God, and that is the fact that God treats us as His children.  Just as human parents teach and train their child, so He teaches and trains those who will trust Him in order for them to be like Him.  May we learn to embrace this fact with faith.

Consider Jesus and His example

In verse 2 we were told to turn our focus upon Jesus.  In verse 3 another word is used that takes this focus further into the mind and tells us to “consider” our Lord Jesus and what He went through.  Believers in God can not only look to Jesus to show us the way, but also we can make connections between what He went through and what we face in our life.

First, we are told that Jesus endured hostility from sinners.  Do you remember in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:11-12) where Jesus told His disciples, “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.  Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  Now Jesus said that knowing that great persecution lay ahead of Him.  He was not merely taking His place in a list of those who have trusted God through the ages.  He is the Lord Himself, perfect and without fault.  He is the Son who is to inherit all things, and yet sinners brazenly persecute Him too.  It is easy for wicked people to tell themselves that the righteous are not as righteous as they pretend.  This becomes the justification for why they can mistreat them.  But this idea is completely undercut with Jesus.  This hostility between those who want to follow God and those who despise them for doing so is a fact of life.  But the key is that Jesus endured it.  The word means He persevered and stayed the course of faith even when to keep faithful was like a heavy burden on His back.  Too easily, we reach the end of our patience and throw off faith like a heavy weight.  “I won’t carry it anymore!  This is too much, I quit!”  When we look at Jesus and see that He didn’t quit, knowing full well what was ahead of Him, we are to take courage from it.  The godly have always suffered at different times in their lives because of the fallen world in which we all live.  But, Jesus tells us to rejoice because God will reward us along with all who have endured such evil.  Don’t look at Moses, Elijah, et alia and say that you aren’t as good as them.  Don’t look at Jesus and say that it must have been easy for Him.  Instead, trust God and take your place (whatever you are called to face) among God’s faithful followers.

In verse 4, when the writer mentions bloodshed, he is literally talking about death.  Jesus didn’t just endure hostility from sinners.  He was also executed and killed by them.  Jesus endured with faith to the point of death.  But notice that the struggle is not with the sinners themselves.  The real battle is with sin itself.  We are reminded that we haven’t resisted against sin to the point of death yet (if we had we would be in heaven and not reading Hebrews).  The sin we resist is not the sin of those sinners who are being hostile.  The sin we resist is our own temptation to jettison faith and give in for the sake of comfort and ease, to make the pain stop.  We are to recognize that Christ shows us to trust the Father even if it costs us our life.  Many Christians throughout history have resisted sin to the point of bloodshed.  But they did it by thinking about what Jesus endured, and keeping their eyes on the goal of being with Jesus and like Jesus.

Now I did skip over a very important phrase.  We are told to consider Jesus in order to avoid becoming “weary and discouraged in our souls.”  Both words give voice to the reality that our inner person struggles with trusting God.  When we face hostility and even death, we can grow tired of trusting God.  We can be discouraged in the fight against our flesh.  Such a soul is on the verge of giving in to unbelief and sin.  Where does one get the strength and desire to keep going on?  For a time we may have it from our own sheer will power, but this is not put forth as an answer for the believer.  Your strength will always come to an end.  The only way we can avoid spiritual weariness and discouragement is to keep our eyes on Jesus and draw strength from Him.  Your soul needs spiritual nourishment that it cannot get from the things of this world that your flesh craves.  When you feel discouraged, ask the Lord Jesus to strengthen you by His Spirit and also talk with other believers.  Sometimes they can encourage you with their stories of how God helped them.

Consider how the Lord disciplines His children

In verses 5-11 we are reminded of our calling and position in Christ.  We have become sons of God.  John 1:12-13 says, “But as many as received Him [Jesus], to them He gave the right to become the children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.”  The truth is that every child must be taught the way to live in this world.  Now some versions use the word “chastise” in this passage.  The problem with this is that “chastise” has come to be used of corporal punishment only.  Originally it meant to make chaste or pure.  The Greek and Hebrew words that lie behind this translation refer to everything that is done in order to train up a child.  Thus it involves instruction, training, correction, rebuke, and sometimes punishment.  That is why I have used the word “discipline.”  God does all of the above in our lives.  We belong to the Lord and as such He is going to work in our lives in many different ways in order to help us grow up and become like Him.  Every time you go through a difficult stretch, you need to be careful of thinking that God is mad at you or doesn’t love you anymore.  He loves you very much because you are His child.

Verse 5 tells us that we can forget God’s Word to us.  It is important to recognize how forgetting God’s Word can lead to losing faith in God.  The writer quotes from Proverbs 3:11-12, which is written in the form of a parent addressing a child with wise instruction.  The key is that God’s Word tells us that not only are we made to be the sons of God, but that God will actually treat us as His children by being faithful to do all that a good parent would do in order to prepare their child for adulthood.  The enemy of our soul wants us to forget who we are and to create a rift between us and our Heavenly Father.  Your flesh even wants to lash out in anger at God when He allows difficult times in our lives.  But God’s Word tells us that He loves us and that nothing in this world can separate us from the love of God, except our own choice (Romans 8).

Now the proverb in verse 5 brings up the issue of despising God’s discipline.  It tells us not to despise God’s discipline because it is proof that we are His children.  Now the word “despise” typically carries the sense of a strong, visceral reaction- which we would do well to avoid.  But the word it translates here actually has the sense of not caring at all about it.  It is the picture of a person who could careless that God is “disciplining them because they are His child.”  Instead of being encouraged by it, they see it as worthless or something not worth holding on to, as they toss the relationship away.  How great and amazing it is that the God of the universe has made us His children.  You are special and He is bringing you to His greatness.  But you must trust Him.  Just as the One and Only Son of God, Jesus, was allowed to face difficulties even to the point of death in this life, so we too must face things in our life that our flesh will despise.  We must resist the temptation to throw away the priceless love that God offers you.  Don’t let the difficulties of life cause you to treat God’s love for you as a thing of little worth.  Like Esau we can sell our faith for a pot of beans, or for an immoral, sexual liaison, or for a drug induced high, or for the praise of the world, or for any other work of our flesh.  God’s work of discipline is proof that He accepts you as His child, rather than the opposite.  Why doesn’t He spoil you and me rotten?  He doesn’t do it because it would ruin us.  He cares about what we become because we are not illegitimate children.

In verses 9-10, we are reminded that God’s discipline is superior to human discipline.  Whether parents or teachers or professionals, we often look up to humans who train us in ways that our flesh doesn’t appreciate, but our minds recognize as valuable.  How much more ought we to embrace the discipline of God.  He is not subject to the jealousies and selfishness of humanity.  He trains us for our benefit.  Only God can bring us to that which is good and profitable for us, both in body and in soul.  It is more than profitable.  We also are able to obtain a portion of the Holiness of God.  He is not just teaching us to look a certain way.  He is changing us from the inside out.  We are separated from those who reject His discipline and fashioned into His image, to His glory and for our good.  This is the essence of holiness.  God is completely other than fleshly humanity.  But in His grace, He gives Himself to us and makes us like Him.

Lastly, in verse 11, we are told to see the result of God’s discipline over the occurrence of it.  When we are in the moment of discipline it is not joyful.  The occurrence can obscure our vision of that to which it is leading us.  We have to learn to see beyond the instruction that our flesh doesn’t like, and the rebukes that our heart is hurt by.  We have to learn to see beyond the hardships that He allows us to encounter and see the joy that is on the other side.  We will not be children forever.  He will finish His work and we will be adult sons of God at the resurrection.  God’s work in us will yield the amazing fruit of righteousness that is characterized by peace.  In a world where we are being stirred up to anger, division, and self-seeking, is a God who tells us that we were not created to be so.  You will never find peace by tossing aside your faith and confidence in the Lord.  But with Him there will be peace in the time of trouble.  There will be peace in the midst of the storm.  There will be peace, though the world be raging, in the shelter of God’s arms.

Faith in Discipline audio

Monday
Aug072017

Faith is an Endurance Race

Hebrews 12:1-2.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty on August 06, 2017.

There have been many great runners throughout the history of the world.  In fact, many great runners may never have run in sporting events, or at the Olympics.  Today, through science and technology, we are able to squeeze out ever faster times.  And, yes, sometimes even through the use of drugs.  The latest line of technology is that of gene therapies.  Instead of trying to correct DNA errors to fight disease, they seek to enhance the performance of athletes.  There is no end to what people will be willing to do in order to win a race.  However, the question should never be, “Did you win?”  Rather, it should always be, “When the truth is known will you be disqualified?”  This brings to mind the American cycling legend Lance Armstrong.  He had amassed an amazing 7 Tour de France titles.  However, claims of doping dogged him throughout his career, all of which he emphatically denied.  Eventually enough evidence came forward to have the Cycling World strip Lance of his titles.  He had been doping and even using blood transfusions of highly oxygenated blood.  To the world looking on, it seemed like Lance Armstrong had won those events fair and square, but when the truth was known he had cheated and was disqualified. 

Life is an endurance race and all of us are going to live it one way or another.  No matter how well it looks like you did to others around you, the real question will be this, “Did you live it with faith in God as your foundation?”  Will we live our lives in such a way as to have the commendation of God, who alone knows the truth?  We want to hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant,” from Him.

I want to encourage you today that regardless of the questions and fears that you have today, you can trust God and take your place among the vast number of saints who have finished their race with commendation.  How?  By the help of God Himself, no less!

We are surrounded by witnesses

In Hebrews 12 verse 1, the writer points to a surrounding cloud of witnesses as a reason why Christians should lay aside the things that keep them from living by faith, in God and for God.  But before we break that down, let’s look at the context that has led to this statement.

Throughout the previous chapter we are reminded of the faithful saints who have gone before us and their stories of faith.  Of course this list is of the many people recorded in Scripture.  None of them were perfect and without sin.  However, they believed God in the face of trials, persecutions, personal failures, and questions.  Chapter 11 opens with the statement that each of these saints obtained a good testimony (vs. 2), and then closes the chapter by restating the same in verses 39-40.  “And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.”  Now the phrase is literally, “they were witnessed.”  It begs the question, “By whom?”  We see in 11:4 that it is God Himself who testified that Abel’s sacrifice was acceptable and Cain’s was not.  The point is that each of these people were received by God as commendable because they lived by trusting God rather than themselves or the world around them.  This is in contrast to individuals like Cain, Lamech, Nimrod, Esau, Saul, etc.

So this great cloud of witnesses that we are surrounded by is now 2,000 years of saints larger.  But what exactly is the writer trying to tell us?  Some see them as witnesses of us.  The picture would be that of a stadium in which all the saints, who are no longer running, are cheering us on from the stands.  Although this would fit the analogy and it would be an encouragement to know that our loved ones are cheering us on in heaven, it has been suggested that we should not see them as witnesses of our lives, but rather as witnesses to us.  Their lives are testimonies that God has testified are holy and acceptable.  We are surrounded by the millions of past and present stories of those who have lived out faith in commendable fashion.    I am sure that the saints in heaven are rooting for us, whether they can see us or not.  However, more than this, we can read their lives and draw encouragement from what they had to endure.  In some ways our stories are no different from theirs.  No, they are not exactly the same.  But, like them we have to overcome the trials, pitfalls, temptations, and fears that they did in order to have faith in God.  We have all lived in a world that is adverse to our faith, and in the midst of a spiritual enemy that seeks to work us woe.  So take time to glean the difficulties and trials of the faithful throughout the Bible.  Take time to read the biographies of modern believers who have had to overcome great difficulties in order to trust God.  And, don’t say, “I can’t do that,” or, “But, I’m not a Moses/David/Elijah.”  You have not been called to live their lives.  You have been called to live yours, by faith in Jesus.  You can do it because the same Spirit of God that enabled them is going to help and enable you as well.  Jesus said to his disciples, “I will never leave you nor forsake you even to the end of the age.”  This is your promise too, as one of his disciples.

Lay aside the things that slow you down

Like any race, you only wear what is necessary to run.  I have seen people jogging on the side of the road and they may be carrying 5 pound barbells in their hands, and 10 to 20 pound weights on their ankles.  They do that in order to get into shape quicker.  That is fine for training, but when it comes to race day, no runner in their right mind would try to run with those things.  So Paul reminds us of all those who have gone on before us and tells us to remember them so that we will then turn and jettison anything that might slow us down in this race of faith.  Are there things that are spiritually slowing you down, tiring you out, and making you want to quit?  We have to learn to hear the Holy Spirit pointing out those things that are hurting our faith and boldly toss them aside. 

You will notice that though the writer mentions sin next, this first phrase is not necessarily about sinful things.  Can things that are not sinful be detrimental to our faith?  There may not be anything inherently wrong about it, but it gets in the way between Jesus and me.  It side tracks me away from Christ and stirs up my flesh towards selfishness.  Just like there is nothing illegal about running with weights, so there is nothing sinful about these things.  However, they slow us down and lead us away from faith in God.  Too many Christians are concerned about what they are permitted to do.  They state phrases like, “The Bible doesn’t say I can’t do such and such.”  The problem with this mentality is that we are always trying to justify ourselves instead of trying to win the race of faith.  The rules don’t say you can’t run with a 50 pound backpack on.  But, you would be stupid to try and run a long distance race wearing it.  Thus wisdom is more important than permission.  In fact if we honestly and openly prayed about some of these things, we might hear the Holy Spirit say, “It isn’t sinful, but it is holding you back.  Let it go.”  Paul dealt with this in 1 Corinthians 10:23.  Some of the Corinthians kept stating the mantra, “All things are lawful for me.”  They took the grace of God and their release from the Law of Moses to mean that nothing was unlawful for them anymore.  Paul retorts, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.  Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.”  When we live this life trying to maximize our own pleasure, we quit running the race of faith. We quit being helpful and edifying to ourselves and to those around us. But when we watch out for one another and live to please God, then we are running the race that God has for us.

However, the writer does mention that we need to also jettison the sin that so easily entangles us.  Now, there are many things listed in the Bible that we are told are wrong.  To do them would be sin.  Sin is not an act of faith but of rebellion against God’s judgment.  Every runner has an inner dialogue from their body that is constantly badgering them.  “O, not this race again.  I hope I finish and don’t die.  This is too hard.  Slow down.  You’ll never make it.  You better just drop out or at least walk.  If you quit now you can go get a Krispy Kreme donut.  Running is for losers!”  Okay, so maybe not everyone has the exact same dialogue, but you catch my drift.  Our flesh constantly fights us in the natural against goals that our minds and hearts have set.  So it is in the spiritual.  Our flesh doesn’t want to trust God, it wants to please itself.  We all have our own personal panoply of sins that we are drawn towards and must resist in order to follow Christ.  In Christ, we do not lose our salvation every time we sin.  But, we can be slowed down, and we can be tripped up.  In fact, we can even have our faith “ensnared,” as verse 1 states.  Don’t get stuck on the course like some large mouse trap.  Though sin can ensnare us, we can also be set free from it through repentance and faith.  If you know someone who has had their faith ensnared by sin, then pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit to help set them free from the sin and get them back on the path of faith in Jesus.

Whenever we talk about laying aside those things that side track us, sinful or not, we have to ask ourselves, “What am I pursuing and for what prize am I running?  If I am all about pursuing the pleasures of this life rather than pursuing God and His promises then I am not running the race of faith.  I have been trapped in sin.  If I am all about an inheritance in this life rather than the inheritance that God has reserved for me in Heaven, then I am not running the race of faith.  This is what we should get rid of, so that we can obtain the prize that God has for us.  Next the writer speaks of the positive thing that we should focus on.

Keep your eyes on Jesus

Of course we want to run the race of faith, but we successfully do so by keeping our eyes on Jesus.  In this sense He is our goal.  He is the one that the Spirit is working in our life to make us like.  Also, he is waiting in heaven and when we finish this life, we will go to Him.  He is the one we want to see.  Imagine stepping to the other side and being greeted by Jesus and the cloud of witnesses who have gone on before us.  Keeping your eye on the goal is the only way to avoid the temptations of this life to give up our faith in Him.  We want to be like Him and also be with Him.

Verse 2 says that Jesus is the author and the finisher of our faith.  The word “author” has the sense of a chief or leader.  He is the one who has blazed the trail ahead of us and made it possible for us to follow.  His work makes it possible for us to have faith and live by faith.  Without Him our faith, if we had any, would fail.  The word “finisher” is the sense of completing it.  When a house is being framed you don’t worry about how pretty the boards are.  But when you finish out the house, you are making sure the trim boards and everything are just as you want them.  Here we see that God is helping us all along the way.  When you feel like you are losing your faith, and you wonder where God is?  Remember that He is all around you.  He is in the person who led you to Christ in the first place.  He is in the Bible that you can pick up and read at any moment.  He is in the silence as you pray and aren’t sure what to do.  He is in the brothers and sisters at Church who have as much trouble as you.  Don’t let the enemy rob you of your prize.  Keep your eyes on Jesus and He will bring you through.  Have faith!  He will never leave you nor forsake you.

Next we are told that Jesus endured the shame of the cross for the joy that was on the other side.  Jesus also had trials, persecutions, and temptations that he had to face in order to live out His faith in the Father.  He didn’t love the cross.  Rather he despised its shame, and yet saw something good on the other side- like a runner who doesn’t like side aches and lack of oxygen, but they want the joy on the other side of the race.  Thus this example that Jesus sets for us is to be our torch in the dark times.  It reminds us that there is a day of joy ahead.  God gives us times of joy in this life, but our ultimate joy is the day of the Restoration of All things.  Then we will stand with Jesus and all the saints upon a new heaven and a new earth and there will be no more evil.  What a day that will be!  So keep the faith, brother, and don’t give up, sister.  God is on your side and no one can stand against Him!

Lastly it says that he has received a place at the Father's right hand.  Our place is secure because Jesus is holdin our place in reserve for us.  We belong to Him and He is already seated in the highest place in the universe.  My, how our faith should soar at the thought of such a thing.  All who belong to Jesus will be accepted by the Father.  Don't listen to the world as it tries to discourage your faith.  They will be found out in the end.  The truth will set you free, but it will disqualify them.  So don't let the enemy plunder you of all that God has for you in this life and especially the next.

Faith is an endurance race audio

Thursday
Jul272017

Slaves to Righteousness

Romans 6:15-23.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on July 23, 2017.

Last week we looked at the first half of this chapter and focused on how our water baptism symbolizes and highlights the new life that we are given in Jesus Christ.  This new life is not a life that is exactly the same as the world, yet covered by “Jesus Insurance.”  It really is a new life where we grow in our ability to walk away from the unrighteousness of the world and our own flesh. 

Now in this passage the Apostle Paul uses the imagery of slavery to make a point.  Now, I know that such imagery can be offensive to many, but please recognize that Paul is not advocating slavery here.  So, instead of letting this become a red herring, let us try to focus on the Paul’s argument that Christians should not continue in a life of willful sin.  Simply put, he reminds believers that they have been freed from sin so that they can follow Jesus.  May God help us to truly follow Jesus and experience the new life that God has for us in Christ.

Our change in status is put in terms of slavery

In verse 1 Paul contemplates a sort of “godly sinner.”  Clearly this is an oxymoron, but what I mean by it is a person who does not claim to reject Christ, but instead have come up with a religious argument why it is okay for them to continue in sin.  They see nothing wrong with sinning because it is covered by the grace of Jesus.  Paul answers the person who thinks their continued sinning somehow glorifies how great God’s grace really is with a very strong rejection of such a thought.  The phrase is literally, “may it never be!”  It is a categorical rejection of such an idea.  Thus in verse 15 he contemplates this same issue in relationship to our status as a slave under the law versus a free child of God under grace.  Paul does not give a fully explored and neatly outlined theology.  But, he does give us enough to understand what is right in this area.  The people to whom Paul is writing were well acquainted with slavery.  It was around them every day.  Paul uses this imagery to speak in a powerful way to both free and slave alike.  No free person desires to be a slave, and most slaves want to be free.  So what about the person who treats God’s grace as a license to be able to do anything?  Paul’s answer again is, “May it never be!” 

Now this is a very important concept because there are some in Christianity who are so afraid of legalism that they push grace to the point that Paul is talking about here.  I would call this a hyper-grace theology.  Christians have truly been set free, but not in order to keep on sinning.  Instead we have been set free to fight against sin without guilt and fear.  This is the proper understanding of grace.

In verse 16 Paul reminds us that we are a slave to that which we obey.  Notice that Paul uses an interesting turn of phrase.  Though he is saying they are becoming slaves, he expresses it in a way that emphasizes their freedom, “to whom you present yourselves.”  The picture is of a slave presenting themselves to their master for instructions.  A Christian is no longer a slave to sin, but they can still make the mistake of presenting themselves to sin.  Don’t be deceived.  If you do this you will become a slave to sin all over again.  To obey sin is to present yourself to it, receive its instructions, and then do it.  This always leads to death in the end.  Such “obedience” is actually disobedience to Christ.  We were not raised up to plunge into the same old life of sin.  How can a Christian be a slave to sin?  The answer is simply because they use their freedom to rebel against the command of God, and love themselves above all else.  Let me use the example of the Pharisees who confronted Jesus.  Their problem was not that they wanted to be righteous before God and their fellow man.  Their problem was that they refused to listen to God’s message through the Law- you fall short and need my grace.  Instead of seeking a righteousness from God by grace, they clung to the self-righteousness of their own making.

In verses 17-18 we see that the Gospel has freed us from being sin’s slave so that we can become slaves of righteousness.  The Gospel comes to all of us when we are slaves to sin and our flesh.  The “form of doctrine,” or teaching that they received, was the teaching of true righteousness, which can only be found in Jesus.  Paul continues the slavery terminology by saying that they were delivered from sin to this new master of the Truth of Christ, and his true righteousness.  When they believed the Gospel, they then obeyed its instructions: they repented of their life of sin, and confessed Jesus as their Resurrected Lord.  Sin no longer had dominion over them, but that does not mean they are “free” from the Gospel that set them free.

Now in verse 19 Paul makes it clear that he is using terms from the human situation of slavery because of their weakness of understanding, and their weakness towards sin.  They needed to stop serving sin and start serving the righteousness of Christ.  It is clear that Paul is uncomfortable in couching this teaching in these terms.  Grace really is about freedom.  It is the freedom to actually be able to follow Jesus, and live out the true righteousness by faith.  Anyone who teaches that freedom means you can sin if you want to do so is lying.  Sin is bondage.  So even though Grace is truly freedom and not slavery, he uses those terms for the sake of understanding.  Ultimately he is reminding us all that we are not our own.  We have been bought with a price, the blood of Jesus.  Christians are those who refuse to serve sin anymore, and begin serving Jesus.  If we continue to serve sin it will just lead us to more sin, until eventually we are destroyed by it.  But serving the righteousness of Christ will lead to holiness; a person that is set apart by God and by their life for His purposes, not sin’s.

What does our slavery produce?

In verse 20 Paul points to the reality of what our slavery produces.  When Israel was in Egypt, their slavery produced bricks for Pharaoh’s glory.  But when they served God, He led them to the freedom of producing life for themselves, and to God’s glory.  Imagine being set free by God, but then turning around and going back to Egypt in order to make bricks.  Paul is challenging us to think about what our choice in this matter leads to.

If I obey sin, it will only lead me to shameful things and then death (vs. 20).  When we were sinners we weren’t worried about what Jesus thought.  We were too busy sinning and pleasing our master, sin.  This implies that Christians should be too busy serving the righteousness of Christ that we no longer give thought to pleasing sin.  Of course, that is easier said than done.  Why go back to shame and death?  There are some who believe that a Christian is somehow immune to the effects of sin.  Even if you repent and are forgiven, sin still produces death in our lives.  If you are unfaithful and your wife leaves you, she may not come back just because you repent.  However, Paul’s emphasis here is not on the singular consequences of a particular sin.  It is on the end product of living our life in service to sin.  It leads to physical and spiritual death.  Remember Paul’s words to the Galatian Christians in Galatians 6:7-8, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap.  For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.”  Grace does not make us immune to the effects of sin.  Rather, it provides a way out from under its tyranny and dominion.

In contrast to this, to serve God produces holiness and everlasting life.  God wants us to follow Jesus by the help of the Holy Spirit.  This is what produces everlasting life.  Think of all the grace that God has given us.  He has freed us from sin and its dominion.  He has shown us the True Righteousness that is found in Jesus.  Yes, His righteousness saves us and sets us free.  But then His grace enables us to live out his righteousness too.  Thus, serving God is like a tree of righteousness in our life producing the fruit of holiness and a new life that is eternal.

So what is the conclusion of the matter?  Verse 23 lays it all out in a succinct statement, but we should also notice the change in his terminology.  When speaking of sin, he keeps it in terms of Law and slavery.  If you work for sin you will be paid death, period.  But, if you are under grace Paul drops the slavery terms.  The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus.  Slavery terms are very appropriate for a person who is living for their flesh and sin because that is exactly what it is.  But they are not the most appropriate terms for our New Life in Christ.  We really have been set free in Christ to now produce the righteousness of God.  So the choice is before us.  Will we choose death or choose life?  Let’s choose life by voluntarily presenting ourselves to God, through Jesus.  He will set us free from sin and give us eternal life!

Slaves to Righteousness audio

Tuesday
Jun272017

Go and Sin No More

John 8:3-11.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on June 25, 2017.

Today, as I preach this sermon, the 43rd Annual Gay Pride Parade will begin in Seattle, WA.  Over the course of the last 43 years homosexuality has taken center stage as our society wrestles over how we should move forward.  What will be the laws that we will live by and by which individuals will be punished?  Of course churches and Christians are a part of this society and should speak the truth in love.  But even with this goal, we do not always agree.  Some have responded with acceptance to the degree that they have declared their approval for homosexuality, ordaining gay ministers and performing same-sex weddings.  Others have responded with rejection to the point of advocating the re-establishment of capital punishment for any such acts.

It is important to recognize that in the middle of this culture war individuals get chewed up and spit out, whether they are gay or a conservative Christian.  Christianity Today ran an article recently from a woman named Bekah Mason.  She is a Christian who has struggled with same-sex attraction throughout her life and tells her story.  She was raised in a very legalistic environment where even the idea that you would be attracted to the same sex was an “abomination” to God.  There was no room to talk about it and so she grew up holding it in and hiding it.  Later, when she entered college, she encountered a Christian group that was progressive.  This group told her that there was nothing wrong with homosexuality.  In fact, it was a gift from God.  She should completely embrace it and follow her “true self.”  This was too enticing not to embrace.  Thus she explored her true self and same sex relationships.  Over the course of time she realized that the progressive mentality was not the answer she had hoped.  She states, “Both legalistic condemnation and progressive license left me floundering.”  In one group she was rejected as an abomination before God and couldn’t even discuss it, and in the other she was encouraged to follow her “true self” rather than Jesus.  She could not resolve following self with the Gospel message.  Over time she came to embrace the gospel.  Though she was inclined to a sinful expression of sexuality, God loved her enough to help her lay it down and follow Jesus.  It didn’t matter whether her feelings ever changed.  If she needed to remain celibate then that was fine.  She was no longer under the tyranny of hiding her feelings, nor that of redefining sin.

Though the woman in this passage is not a homosexual, she too has a problem with sexual sin.  We find in it a reminder that it is not our job to sacrifice individuals in order to make a difference in society.  It is our job to be a redemptive influence in the lives of those whom we cross paths.

Love the Individual more than the Society

Do you love humans or humanity more?  I believe it was Dennis Prager who said that people who loved humanity more than humans scared him because they were capable of great evil towards the individual in the name of the group.  If we were to create an artificial intelligence (AI) how would it be different if we programmed it to work for the good of humanity rather than for the good of each person?  This mental exercise will help you to see that in order to save the system or the larger group, people are often sacrificed.  Individuals are crushed under the machinery of good for the many.  Now it is different if a person volunteers to lay down their life for the sake of others.  When our military men and women volunteer to put their lives in jeopardy in order to protect our society, it is a good thing.  But when people are forced into armies and sent to die for the sake of the empire or society of whatever size, then it is an evil. 

This is part of what we are seeing in this passage.  Only here it is not conscription into an army.  Rather a woman who has broken the law is used as an expendable tool in order to stop Jesus.  The religious leaders do not see an individual woman who has embraced sin and is lost.  They do not see someone in need of saving and help.  She doesn’t matter to them, but stopping Jesus does matter, at all costs.  He is going to mess up their society, and their position within it.  Thus the woman is merely a useful tool and this tactic is used to this day, whether in politics, business, or even in churches.  I’m reminded of Baronelle Stutzman, the florist from the Tri-Cities area of Washington State.  She would not do the floral arrangements for a same-sex wedding.  She had sold flowers to the gay individual for years.  But felt that going to the wedding venue and setting up the flowers would be too much of helping a person to sin.  Initially the man had no problem and went his way.  The two parted on friendly terms even though they disagreed.  It is when others get involved who could care less about keeping an amicable relationship that things turn to the bad.  All they see is a tool of leverage to reinterpret old laws and force social change upon others through new ones.  This was a golden opportunity to change society and send a message to all Christian business owners.  It is clear in the John 8 passage that Jesus refused to operate on that level.  If society was to be saved it would not be at the expense of a woman who was a sinner.  In fact, the heart of God displayed in Christ is very different from the heart of mankind.  Jesus would lay down his life for us rather than sacrificing any sinners.  The question for us as Christians is this, “Are we following the Pharisees' model or are we following the model of Jesus?”  We must learn to lay ourselves down in order to reach the lost and help them to reconcile to God the Father.

All of this begs the question, “Can a society be saved, and if so, in what way?”  When an individual is saved it can be in one of two ways.  Jesus saves this woman from dying that day.  However she would eventually die of old age.  The more important “saving” is that of her soul.  We don’t know what becomes of this woman’s life despite the speculation that has occurred throughout history.  But, Jesus is clearly concerned about her soul.  She is a sinner who is lost.  If she died that day then she would be without hope.  Salvation for her is the possibility of having eternal life.  Now when we look at a society, it can never be eternally saved.  Our founding fathers stated in many different ways that the constitution and laws they established would not be enough.  Each generation would have to engage the fight for freedom for themselves.  Societies can only be “saved” for a temporary time.  History bears this out.  Should people who can be saved eternally be sacrificed for the sake of a society, which can only be saved temporarily?  I think the answer is obvious.  No society will survive the Second Coming of Christ, or the White Throne Judgment.  So why would we sacrifice people to save them?  Society is important, but it is of secondary concern.  Individuals should always be our primary concern.  A Society that sacrifices individuals for its own sake is poor indeed.  If such a society is worthy then individuals will voluntarily lay down their lives in order to save it (whether they are judging rightly or wrongly).

Though the religious leaders are correct in their understanding of the Law of Moses and its punishment, they do not understand the heart of the God who gave it.  This woman was caught in the act of adultery.  There is no question about her guilt and the punishment.  But Jesus does not respond to them on that level.  He knows that they are correct in her guilt and the matter of the Law.  Yet, Jesus clarifies the problem by issuing the challenge for them to declare publically that they are without sin.  He who is without sin among you, should throw the first stone.  Of course, none of them are willing to make such a public statement.  Clearly only a sinless being can truly hold a sinner accountable for their sin.  One of the mistakes of modern thinking is that we think judging sin is bad.  No, sin itself is bad.  But it is bad form for a sinful person to carry out judgment on another sinful person.  Jesus takes time to remind them and us just who is the Judge of sinners and just when punishment should be given.  In Romans 2:16 Paul states, “God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my Gospel.”  You see the Pharisees had unwittingly brought the woman before the only one who could carry out punishment upon her.  Now, don’t be deceived, there is a day of judgment and the Lord Jesus will preside over that judgment.  However, it was not that day yet.  They have prematurely brought her before the heavenly court in order for punishment to be carried out.  Hebrews 9:27 says, “It is appointed unto men to die once, but after this the judgment.”  Notice judgment before God follows death.  Yes, we do have to have some laws within this society of sinners so that we can live our lives.  But the punishment of sin is to be left to God once a person has died. 

When our focus is on condemning people and punishing them, we elevate the law over the top of the Grace of God.  Yes, God gave the law.  But He is not willing that any should perish.  He would even go to the extent of becoming a man himself and dying in our place in order to save us.  Or, as John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son, that whosoever would believe on Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  This includes those who sin sexually.  As long as a person is a living breathing soul, they can still change.  It doesn’t matter how long this woman has been a slave to her sin of adultery.  She can change and Jesus knows that.  He is more concerned about her continuing to have a chance to change than he is about perfecting society by getting rid of her.  Notice his words to her at the end, “Go and sin no more.”  What she does with those words is an eternal decision that she will have a chance to make as long as she is alive.  For the rest of her life she would remember that strange man who saved her life physically and wonder if He could actually save her life spiritually.

Now this leads to my last point.  Jesus defends her physical life, without defending her morality.  He does not give some speech filled with moral pablum such as, “This woman has done nothing wrong.  Come into the First Century!”  He merely challenges their right to carry out such a punishment.  Christians should not advocate or give aid to the mentality that homosexuals should all be killed or jailed.  But we should neither give our aid to promote it.  Jesus is not promoting her adultery.  Rather, he is promoting her salvation.  He did it so that she would have a chance at redemption, whether that was immediately seized upon or later.  She would never be able to forget the man from Nazareth who saved her life and then told her to sin no more.  I would say that we clearly see Jesus defending her from her external attackers.  But, we may miss him coming to her defense against her internal attackers.  The inner life of our flesh and its sinful desires continually assail our mind and will.  This inner assault is even more insidious than that of the religious leaders.  When you tell someone that their sin is okay, you are refusing to help them against that inner onslaught.  You have actually left them to their worst enemy.  We cannot save people by protecting them to just keep on sinning.

So how can we maintain a faithful conviction regarding sin and also show love toward those who do not?  I guess my point is that we do so by keeping our focus on the soul of each individual we meet.  It is not my job to stop the Gay Pride Parade in Seattle next year.  But it is my job to care about the soul of each homosexual that I come in contact with, each and every day.  The gospel is that freedom which God gives to us, freedom from the self life and tyranny of our flesh.  We can embrace Jesus as Lord and Savior and know that regardless of our sins, He will accept us as we repent and follow Him.

Let’s love people more than we love America, or whatever society of which you are a part.

Go and Sin No More audio