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Entries in Sin (35)

Wednesday
May292019

A Warning against Blasphemy

Mark 3:28-30.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on Memorial Day Weekend, Sunday, May 26.

Today we are going to talk about the Unpardonable Sin.  Many people who become Christians live under a fear of an inner accusation, which tells them that they can’t really be saved because they did something so bad that God won’t forgive it, no matter how repentant they are.

Our passage is short and follows on the heels of the response of Jesus to the Scribe’s accusation that he is in league with the Demon Lord, Beelzebub.

The general statement about forgiveness

After showing that it is illogical to think that Satan would cast out his own demonic minions, Jesus gives what can only be seen as a warning.  Is he saying that the Scribes had already gone too far and could no longer be saved, or is it simply a warning that they are flirting with a serious offense?  That would seem to be the question.  Before we get into the unpardonable sin, though, we should spend some time talking about the powerful statement Jesus first gives in verse 28.

It is an amazing statement about our sins and blasphemies, and the possibility of their forgiveness.  Let’s first notice that it opens with the word “Amen.”  This is usually translated as truly or assuredly (KJV = verily).  This is a Hebrew word that means something is firm and dependable, along with everything else this implies.  We are most used to its use at the end of a statement, or as an affirmation of the hearers to a statement that is truth.  So, to preface a statement with this word is to in a sense amen your own statement.  It functions as a form of emphasizing the importance of what one is going to say.

So, what about our sins and blasphemies?  Jesus states that God is ready and able to forgive them.  That is an important statement.  Sin is the many ways that we miss the mark or goal that God has for us in this life.  It is not just an inability to hit the target, but also our partiality to missing it on purpose. Interestingly, the word that is used in the Greek is a modified form of the word for sin and adds the sense of including even the results of our sins.  Thus, it points to our sinful actions (whether in thought, word, or deed) and the sinful results they produce in us and others. 

Blasphemy on the other hand is a particular kind of sin, or a subset of it.  It means to slander someone or speak in a way that intends to bring harm and injury to them.  It is not about hurting someone’s feelings, but about our intention to hurt their reputation, their place in society, and even their physical well-being.  This can be done against another person, but also against God Himself.  Though we don’t use this word in our society, we probably should, since much of our politics and social discourse consists of lots of slander, whether intentional or not.  At best our politicians throw mud against their opponent hoping it will stick to them in your mind and heart.  Beware of being drawn into the blasphemies of others for their selfish motivations and your own. 

Now, as horrible as sin and blasphemies can be, the statement is that they can be forgiven.  Each one, no matter how bad.  Yes, we are going to get an exception.  However, we should not jump past this statement.  God is ready and able to forgive us our sins, pause and meditate.

The second emphasis is that God alone is the remover of sins.  When we say that they will be forgiven, it is not a statement of universalism, which means every sin regardless of our heart condition will eventually be forgiven, i.e. no one will be judged eternally.  Rather, this is a statement of possibility and God’s disposition towards us as sinners.  He is willing to forgive us.  The word “forgive” is far more specific in the Greek.  It literally means to remove our sins, including their guilt, and cause them to be separated from us.  It does not mean to overlook something.  God will remove them so that no one, not even Satan himself can bring them up to be used against us before His judgment seat.  So, how does this work when we are told to forgive one another?  We cannot remove another person’s sin and guilt from them, only God can do this.  When we forgive another person, we choose to let go of the offense and not bring it up against them ever again.  If they are truly forgiven is between them and God.  I, however, need to forgive for at least two reasons.  One, I testify to the other person of the greater forgiveness of God that they should seek.  Two, I shut down the sins of hatred and bitterness in my own heart.

The phrase “shall be forgiven” in verse 28 is in the future tense and has a quality that means, “at whatever time it is needed or necessary.”  Though Jesus does not bring up the mechanism of getting God to forgive us, the Scriptures teach that those who humble themselves, repent of their sins, and believe in Jesus will receive forgiveness from God.  1 John 1:9 states, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  Confession is agreeing with God concerning just what sin is (i.e. not changing the definition to suit us).  Repentance is the idea of turning away from our ideas and emotions about our “sins” and turning towards God and His Word of Truth. 

This is a powerful reminder of the grace of God that works tirelessly to give us what we desperately need and yet also give us what we undoubtedly do not deserve.  We stand completely guilty before Him of not just accidental and incidental sin, but also of willful and purposeful ones.  Yet, He does not want us to perish in our guilt.  He makes forgiveness possible through the death of Jesus, who takes our sins upon him and carries them away from us.  Praise God for His indescribable gift!  We must simply humble ourselves, ask his forgiveness, and put our faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ.

Blaspheming the Holy Spirit

Now, we turn to verse 29 and the qualification to the general statement that all our sins can be forgiven.  Blaspheming, or slandering, the Holy Spirit is put forth as a sin that will not be forgiven.  So, what does this actually mean? 

Many treat it as a simple one-time act that can remove us from any hope of salvation.  They can picture a person who is begging God to forgive them, but He will not because they did a sin that is unpardonable.  Is this actually what Jesus means?  And, do we ever see God telling a truly repentant person in Scripture that they cannot have forgiveness in the Scriptures?  The answer to that last question is an emphatic, “No!”  Yes, there are some verses that may seem on the surface to say such, but the truth is that on deeper inspection it is not.  This is often approached in one of two ways.  People either use it as a point of fear and warning, with no hope for those who may do it, or they try to water down the idea to the point that you don’t really need to worry about it because it is basically impossible.  I believe that either way is foolish.  Jesus would not have said this if it was impossible to blaspheme the Holy Spirit in such a way that you could not be forgiven.  It is a real warning of something that we can actually do, if we let ourselves do so.  Sin is damaging, even to the point of eternal damage.  Thus, it should not be taken lightly.  The passages that warn of judgment are as important as the passages that point us to grace.  So, whatever we do, we must understand that this is a true warning from Christ of a sin that can affect our eternal salvation.

Yet, does this mean it is something that we can unwittingly do in an unguarded moment of time?  To analyze this, we must think about the way the Holy Spirit is involved in forgiveness as revealed by Scripture.

The Bible tells us that it is the job of the Holy Spirit to convict or convince people of their sin, their coming judgment, and the righteousness of Christ.  This can be found in many places, but John 16:8 says it best.  Even as Jesus was doing what he was doing, the Holy Spirit was moving on the hearts of those watching him.  The Spirit was working to convince them of their sin, coming judgment, and need for God’s righteousness.  Thus, it is the Holy Spirit that helps us to humble ourselves, repent, and believe.  If it wasn’t for the grace of God through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, none of us would do so.  The Holy Spirit operates upon every heart and mind upon the earth, drawing them to Christ.  Jesus does the work of making forgiveness available to us, but it is the convincing work of the Spirit that encourages us to believe in Jesus and receive the benefits of what He has done.

This is a critical point because, if we need the Holy Spirit’s work in our heart and mind in order to be forgiven, then any resistance and slandering of that work pushes away the only thing that can bring us to it.  Essentially to resist the Holy Spirit is to build a wall between us and salvation.  To slander the Holy Spirit is an even greater wall between us and forgiveness of sins.  The point of verse 29 is not about an instant in time.  We have plenty of examples in Scripture of people who resisted the Holy Spirit, and even blasphemed His work, and yet who later repented and received forgiveness (Paul the apostle comes to mind).  In fact, all humans who ever get saved do so after a period of resisting the work of the Holy Spirit and what He was trying to do in our hearts and minds. 

Many people who have been hurt in this life will tell themselves that they want nothing to do with organized religion.  In so doing they protect themselves from the charlatans that abuse the words and authority of Christ.  Yet, in so doing, they also wall themselves off from a huge witness that the Holy Spirit could use to reach their hearts.  If we continue to block and resist the Holy Spirit in our heart regarding Jesus, then we have no hope.  There is no other answer; there is no other way.  Jesus is God’s solution to our problem of sin and the Holy Spirit is God’s worker to convince us of this, period.

The phrase in verse 29 that is often translated “never has forgiveness,” literally says, “is not having forgiveness into the age, but is presently guilty of eternal judgment.”  The emphasis is on a current condition that will not be overturned in the age to come.  The emphasis is not on whether or not we can get out of that current condition as long as we are alive.  We are presently in the age of grace in which God is allowing whosoever will to believe and receive forgiveness of sins.  We are approaching the age of judgment and the restitution of all things.  Let no one think that the sins they refuse to deal with in this age will be overlooked in that age.  Now is the day of salvation.  Today, if you hear His Voice, do not harden your hearts, as they did in the rebellion.  Rather, repent and believe in the Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord.  Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is serious because you are fighting against the one person who can convince you of salvation.  I do not believe Jesus is saying that one instance of blasphemy can damn a person forever.  However, each time we do so we are damaging our ability to respond to the Holy Spirit.  We can so damage our ability to respond to the Holy Spirit that we are unrecoverable.  How can a person know if they have gone too far?  If you are worried that you may have gone too far, then it is a sign that you haven’t.  Only the Holy Spirit can convict us of sin and by definition those who have gone too far are beyond His work, or no longer sensitive to His stirrings. 

If you feel fearful and despondent today, don’t stay in that place.  The Holy Spirit is calling you to Christ, but the Devil wants to scare you away.  Repent of past disbelief and rationalizations of why you don’t need to pick up your cross and follow Jesus.  Then believe on Jesus and follow Him.  You can know today that your blasphemies can be forgiven, if you will yield to the conviction of the Holy Spirit right now.

Blasphemy audio

Tuesday
Mar192019

Obstacles to Reaching Jesus

Mark 2:1-12.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on March 17, 2019.

Although we will look at a story where Jesus heals somebody, this story is not so much about healing as it begs the question, What is our greatest need?  It positions a physical healing opposite the forgiveness of sins and questions if we would work so hard to be rid of our sins as we would to be rid of sickness or disease.

I could have entitled this as, “Obstacles to being Healed,” but that is not the true emphasis of the story.  Jesus is asking us to think about why we might come to Him and what really is our greatest need.  If we see Jesus only as a means to an end, then He simply becomes a gumball machine from which we get our gumball and then walk away.  However, Jesus has not left this option open to us.  Even being free of sins can become a means to an end if we are only seeking to assuage our guilt and avoid judgment.  We need more than physical healing and we need more than spiritual forgiveness of sins. 

Ultimately, we need a relationship with Jesus, who is the Lord of all those things and more.  Jesus is not a means to an end.  He is the end or goal for which we must desire and strive.

He had a physical obstacle

We do not know how long this man has been paralyzed nor how he came to be in that condition.  However, it would pose a problem to finding Jesus and asking for a healer.  At least the leper in the previous story could track down Jesus and catch Him on the road, but this man is debilitated to the point that he cannot do this. 

Yet, this man has friends who are willing to help him.  It is important in life that we have people who care about us enough that they will help us when we need them.  Of course, we too should be a friend back towards them, but friendship should not be about an equation of help. 

In this life it is easy to let differences and hurts lead us into isolation from the world, but we still need others.  We need others because we are not enough by ourselves and God desires others to help us.  He created us to be social creatures who work together for the good.  No one person has all the gifts, regardless of how talented they may be.  Eventually they will need others around them.  It is true that there are some people from whom we may be better off dissociating ourselves.  Yet, hurt can cause us to dissociate from people who don’t deserve it and to our own detriment. 

Still, no number of friends can replace Jesus in your life.  Thus, the best kind of friends are those who will help you to come to Jesus for all the needs in your life, not just healing.   Four friends determined to carry their paralyzed friend to Jesus so that he could be healed.

The crowds around Jesus were too large

When the paralyzed man and his friends get to Jesus, there is a problem.  There are too many people surrounding Jesus and they cannot get close enough to ask for help.  We are going to see later in the story that not all of these people are believers in Jesus.  These crowds are themselves a physical barrier, and yet they can also be psychological barrier to people who do not like crowds.  Some people are not interested in Churches and crowds of Christians.  Yet, they still need Jesus. 

In His humanity Jesus was often surrounded by crowds, but in His divinity, He is always accessible to those who will reach out to Him in faith, whether by themselves are with the help of a friend.  Don’t just limit yourself to inviting people to Church to hear the Gospel.  Learn to share Christ with people one on one, or in smaller groups of friends.

Notice that these friends are not easily daunted.  They don’t quit just because they run into an obstacle and it gets hard.  Instead, they devise a way around the obstacle, which involved tearing through the roof and lowering the man down in front of Jesus by ropes.  Their faith or belief that Jesus would heal the man stirred up a determination within them that wouldn’t quit.

Sometimes, whether individually or as a group, we can lose heart because we run into barriers.  If getting people to Jesus was easy then they would already be with Him.  No, this is a difficult job that is full of obstacles.  Am I determined to help my friends get to Jesus?  Of course, in our lives today the answer will not be tearing a whole in a roof.  However, may God help us to see the true barriers that keep our friends and family at a distance from Jesus.  Let’s continue reading at verse 5.

The man is a sinner

This story takes a turn with the response of Jesus.  Here is a man on his sick bed, lowered down by ropes in front of Him.  Yet, Jesus chooses to tell the man that his sins are forgiven.  This is important because it changes the story.  To the man and his friends, his greatest need was to have his paralysis healed.  To Jesus, the man’s greatest need was to be free from his sins.

Now, it is easy to let this story become cluttered with the intellectual trappings of healing.  We are not told if the paralysis was due to his sin.  So, we should be careful of making this about the need to have your sins forgiven before you are healed.  Jesus will go on to heal the man, but not because he now has his sins forgiven.  Jesus himself states that he healed the man to prove to them that He had power to forgive sins on earth.

There are many things that we need in life, some of which we only think we need.  However, they all pale next to the need to have our sins forgiven.  Our sins separate us from God and cause us to be guilty before Him.  We do not deserve His grace or His benefits.  We only deserve His wrath and judgment.

The statement of forgiveness in verse 5 is connected to the statement of Jesus in verse 10.  Jesus has the power (both authority and capability) to forgive sins.  As believers we can assist our Lord in helping people to be free from their sins.  This is their greatest need, whether they understand it or not.  What does it profit a man to be healed in this life, but not have their sins forgiven?  Yes, you would think that it would always be good to have both, but one is immensely more important than the other.

There was an unbelieving, religious community there

It is important to recognize that not all who surround Jesus, then and today, truly believe in Him.  You either believe or you don’t.  However, there is a tendency within us as humans to give up faith while attempting to keep remnants of religion.  It can be a security blanket, sentimentality, or even crass opportunism.  Without faith in Jesus, religion is dead and cannot help us, but with faith, religion can be pure and full of life. 

These religious unbelievers think that Jesus is blaspheming because only God can forgive sins.  However, they willfully forget that God had set up a whole system of priests whose job it was to perform rituals through which they could declare that people’s sin was now forgiven.  This delegation of forgiving was not blasphemy.  It was merely obeying what God had sent them to do.  They just weren’t used to seeing this outside of the temple compound and the priests.  Surely, Jesus must be blaspheming.  Yet, the priests over the centuries had been pointing people to the Lamb of God that would one day come in order to take away our sins, once and for all.  Jesus stood as the ultimate High Priest and declares that this man is forgiven.

This leads to a challenge from Jesus.  He asks them which is easier to say to the paralyzed man, Your sins are forgiven, or Arise, take up your bed and walk?  “Your sins are forgiven” is easier in the sense that it can’t be verified.  How can you know it actually happened?  It is not like you get a certificate in the mail stating that God has forgiven your sins.  Yet, “take up your bed and walk” is easier in the sense of actually doing it. 

Do we really understand that healing people is easier for God then forgiving their sins?  Healing is so easy that humans themselves are figuring out ways to get the cells and DNA to do what they are supposed to do in some situations.  I doubt we will ever get to a place where we have conquered all disease.  However, no man on earth has any power to forgive someone’s sin outside of Christ.  The obstacles to being set free from sin are legion: We can be paralyzed to even try and come to Jesus, We can fight with and reject those friends who try to bring us to Him, We can give up when we run into obstacles that make it hard, and We can even believe that our sins are too great to be forgiven.

I pray that today you will see the truth of this passage.  Sin is our biggest issue, and not just getting rid of it.  Sin itself is a barrier to the relationship that God intended for us to have with Him.  There is nothing more important in life than to have Christ declare over us that our sins are forgiven.  If you do not know Christ or you have friends that do not know Christ, I pray that you will not let any of the obstacles of this life and your own heart keep you from coming to Christ.  He will receive you with open arms if you will turn from your sins and run to Him.

Obstacles Audio

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