Friday, March 19, 2010

Ridding Oneself of Sin Versus Restraining It

In an earlier post I mentioned I have been doing some research on the topic of sin. It was and still is my intention to systematically determine what the most concise, and root biblical definition of sin is. This topic has long been of great interest to me as I have perceived, I think accurately, that most people's definitions of sin are neither comprehensively biblical nor serious enough and therefore most people take their sin far too lightly. In doing some of that research I ran across this passage in one of C.H. Spurgeon's sermons that addresses ones attitude towards sin:

“In the next place, you will find it extremely useful if, in order to get rid of sin, you are not content with merely restraining it, but always seeking to have it taken clean away by the Holy Spirit. You know, mere moralists retrain their sins, like a river that has locks and dykes: the water is kept from flowing, but then it gradually swells upward, till by-and-bye it overflows with terrible fury. Now, don’t be content with mere restraining grace; that will never purge you, for the sin may be there though it break not out. Pray to God that your sin may be taken away, and that though the remnant and the root thereof remain, through the channel be there, yet the stream may be dried up like the stream of the Euphrates before the presence of the Lord your God.”

-C.H. Spurgeon; New Park Street Pulpit, Volume 4, Righteous Hatred, 347-348.

Perhaps you are now thinking "Joe, I have prayed that God would take a particular sin away and it is still there." To that I would respond by wondering what you would mean by the phrase "have prayed?" Perhaps that is the real problem, yes? Perhaps we do not pray enough and so find ourselves in reactive prayer versus proactive, perpetual prayer. But first we must believe that God does, in fact, respond to these sorts of prayers; we must believe that He desires to free us from particular sins, not just restrain it. It is true that temptation will never disappear this side of eternity, but that does not mean that God cannot rid us of a sinful desire that enslaves us day in and day out.

"He who did not spare his own, but gave him up for us all, how will not also with him graciously give us all good things?" (Romans 8:32)

What more "good" thing could we ask for then to be free from sin so that we would more glorify God? Let us pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17) that God would rid us of the sins that keep us from glorifying God, being full of inexplicable joy and from loving others.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Are We Advocates For or Witnesses Of Christ?

I have often been rather astonished by the casual manner in which many Christians talk about Jesus Christ, especially some preachers. I don't quite understand how one could be confronted with the disgusting wretchedness of their sin and then be shown the great grace and glory of God in the forgiveness of those sins and not be completely undone by a barrage of both sorrow and joy.

How could one possibly handle the weighty reality of unmerited favor shown to us through the crucifixion of the One in whom "the fullness of deity dwells in bodily form" (Col 2:9) in the same way one might handle the daily newspaper? In fact it seems that many people recount a story from the daily paper with more passion than some pastors or Christians declare the good news of Jesus.

I have long had a hunch that underlying this whole problem for many Christians, and perhaps many pastors, is that either they are not truly witnesses to the great grace of Jesus Christ in their lives, or they have forgotten that their call is to preach and not to act as a defense attorney on behalf of the living God who needs no defense. In his book "Preaching and Preachers," Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones very well explains the essential nature of zeal in preaching (which I think is necessary even in everyday conversation regarding Jesus, not just in the pulpit):

"A preacher must always convey the impression that he himself has been gripped by what he is saying. If he has not been gripped nobody else will be. So this is absolutely essential. He must impress the people by the fact that he is taken up and absorbed by what he is doing. He is full of matter, and he is anxious to impart this. He is so moved and thrilled by it himself that he wants everybody else to share in this. He is concerned about them; that is why he is preaching to them. He is anxious about them; anxious to help them, anxious to tell them the truth of God. So he does it with energy, with zeal, and with this obvious concern for people. In other words a preacher who seems to be detached from the Truth, and who is just saying a number of things which may be very good and true and excellent in themselves, is not a preacher at all.

Let me put it this way. I remember reading years ago an account by a well-known journalist in Scotland of a meeting which he had attended. He used a phrase which I have never forgotten; it has often upbraided me and often condemned me. He had been listening to two speakers speaking on the same subject. He went on to say that they were both very able and learned men. Then came the devastating phrase, 'The difference between the two speakers was this; the first spoke as an advocate, the second as a witness.' That crystallises this point perfectly. The preacher is never just an advocate. The task, the business of the advocate, the attorney, is to represent somebody in the Court of Law. He is not interested in this person, may not even know him, and has no personal interest in him; but he has been handed what we call a brief concerning this man's case. The brief has been prepared for him, all the facts and the details, the legal points and the salient matters in this particular case. He is handed his brief and what he does is to speak to his brief. He is not involved personally, he is not really concerned. He is in a position of detachment handling a matter right outside himself.

Now that must never be true of a preacher [or of any of us when we speak about Jesus for that matter]. This is, again, one of the differences between the preacher and the lecturer. The preacher is involved all along, and that is why there must be this element of zeal. He is not just 'handling' a case. To do that is one of the greatest temptations of many preachers, and especially those of us who are combative by nature. We have an incomparable case, as we have seen; we have our systematic theology and this knowledge of the Truth. What a wonderful opportunity for arguing, reasoning, demonstrating and proving the case and refuting all objections and counterarguments. But if the preacher gives the impression that he is only an advocate presenting a case he has failed completely. The preacher is a witness. That is the very word used by our Lord Himself, 'Ye shall be witnesses unto me'; and this is what the preacher must always be at all times. Nothing is so fatal in a preacher as that he should fail to give the impression of personal involvement."

This truth is applicable to more than just the man who stands behind the pulpit on Sunday morning. To share the gospel is to talk about eternal life in Jesus Christ. In John 17:3 Jesus states that eternal life is to know the one true God and Jesus Christ whom this one true God sent. If you are preaching a good news about knowing God and you yourself are no firsthand witness to the saving and reconciling work of Jesus in your life, nor do you truly know God, then you will no doubt become a mere advocate defending a case.

Witnesses to the 9-11 tragedy no doubt speak about the incident with a tear that still pools up in the corner of their eye, whereas I (not a firsthand witness) may recount the story with eyes dryer than the Sahara. What's the difference? One has seen the horror, been covered by the ash, heard the screams and ran for their lives, the other has not.

Are you a mere advocate for Jesus Christ? Or have you seen the horror of your sin nailed to the bloody tree at calavary, seen the sky go dark and felt the earth and yourself shake as you hear your Savior cry out "It is finished." If you have seen the empty grave with your own two eyes (figuratively of course) then let it show in your voice and demeanor as you tell the world "He is risen!"

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Valor of Meekness

To anyone who actually reads my blog I first wanted to apologize for not having posted in quite some time. We all must make decisions in life that reflect our current, highest priorities. That said I have had other things that have taken up a great deal of my time and have thus rendered me incapable of keeping up with blogging. Hopefully I can get back on track here and find some new regularity in blogging.

So as my first blog entry in a long time I wanted to simply post a quote from a book I am currently reading entitled The Quest for Meekness and Quietness of Spirit by Matthew Henry. In the following quote Mr. Henry discusses the courageous nature of meekness. This book has more gold in it than the Lonely Mountain in the days of Smaug the Dragon. Here is just a little nugget of that gold:

"Meekness is commonly despised and run down by the grandess of the age as a piece of cowardice and mean-spiritedness, and the evidence of a little soul, and is posted accordingly, while most furious and angry revenges are celebrated and applauded under the pompous names of valor, honor and greatness. This error arises from a mistaken notion of courage; the true nature whereof is thus stated by the ingenious pen of Norris Miscell: "That it is a resolution never to decline any evil of pain, when the choosing of it, and the exposing of ourselves to it, is the only remedy against greater evil." And, therefore, he that accepts a challenge and so runs himself upon the evil of sin, which is the greater evil, only for fear of shame and reproach, which is the less evil, he is the coward; while he that refuses the challenge and so exposes himself to reproach, which is the less evil, he is the valiant man.

True courage is such a presence of mind as enables a man rather to suffer than to sin, to choose affliction rather than iniquity, to pass by an affront though he lose by it and be hissed at for a fool and a sneak rather than engage in a sinful quarrel. He that can deny the brutal lust of anger and revenge, rather than violate the royal law of love and charity, however contrary the sentiments of the world may be, is truly resolute and courageous; the Lord is with thee, thou mighty man of valor...

When our Lord Jesus is described in his majesty, riding prosperously, the glory he appears in is truth, and meakness, and righteousness (Psalm 45:4). The courage of those who overcome this great dragon of wrath and revenge by meek and patient suffering and by "not loving their lives unto death" (Rev. 12:11) will turn to the best and most honorable account on the other side of the grave, and will be crowned with glory, and honor, and immortality; when those that "caused their terror in the land of the living" fall ingloriously and "bear their shame with them that go down to the pit" (Ezek. 32:24).

Most people will choose to try to "defend their honor" while at the same time losing it by responding to situations and people with sinful emotions. The one who is truly courageous is the one who chooses harm to ones own reputation (and sometimes body) by choosing to entrust their honor to God while they do the right thing. In this meekness or humility there is true valor or courage because it is the proud, not the meek, who decide to sin in order to save themselves and their reputations.

I pray God will give us all the courage to be meek instead of the pride of the weak.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. (Heb 12:1-3)