Is Sin Really All That Bad?

One would expect any Christian to answer the question posed in the title with an affirmative and immediate, “Yes!” However, the daily decisions we make often tell another story.

We’re quick to recoil when we hear of horrific acts committed against children, marital infidelity, cold-blooded murder, or, you know, other really bad sins–especially, the sins of others. Yet, it’s our own day-to-day living, in both the major and the mundane, that we are often slow to consider. At times, we fail to measure the words we speak, the attitudes we choose, or the media we consume against the standard of God’s Word. It’s often in the name of cultural engagement that we capitulate to content that has no place in the life of a follower of Christ. After all, it’s much easier to row with the current of our culture than paddle upstream.

While preparing to teach at our church’s young adult community, I was reading through Ralph Venning’s The Sinfulness of Sin. Venning, a Puritan and English non-conformist, had a steadfast desire that Christ be exalted and that any measure of sin be–as it should–abhorred. Here are a few of his remarks that struck me as I read:

“One may suffer and not sin, but it is impossible to sin and not to suffer.”

“Sin can do, without the Devil, that which the Devil cannot do without sin, and that is, undo men [and women].”

“Sin is an evil beyond the skill and power of all creation to cure and to cleanse.”

It is clearly evident that Venning has considered carefully what divine Scripture reveals in no casual terms–that sin, in any measure, is utterly and totally evil.

Contemplate the words of Christ in Matthew 5:29-30

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”

Jesus makes it clear that sin is not be tolerated (see esp., Eph. 5:3, 11). Sin must be dealt with swiftly and severely. Think of it…if I were to deal with sin as seriously as Christ commands above, others would surely take notice and likely consider me both foolish and fanatical. The question is, are we willing to be obedient, or is our greater concern what others will think?

Friend, every decision you make either serves to edify or erode your heart, and must be made with the utmost care (see Prov. 4:23-27). There is no such thing as the “neutral” Christian life. You’re either, by grace, pursuing “the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Heb. 12:14). Or, because any measure of sin is being tolerated, grievously, you’re moving backward.

Believer, in all of this, remember that you stand securely before the throne of grace solely on the merits of Christ by faith. Indeed, it’s in recognizing the putrid nature of our sin that allows us to view Christ in all his glorious sweetness. Therefore, in view of God’s rich grace toward us in Christ Jesus, let us make it our daily practice to make choices that will stir our affection for Christ, making no room for sin. Or, as John Owen has said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

Venning’s The Sinfulness of Sin is available for free, in PDF format, here.

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Solid Ground Christian Books

Yesterday, I made a note of my appreciation for Westminster Theological Bookstore (WTSbooks.com), and keeping with the theme of online booksellers, I thought I’d pass along some info on another great publisher/seller…

Solid Ground Christian Books, based in Alabama, is a great little publisher and online bookseller with several offerings of which you’ll definitely want to be aware.

SOLID GROUND BOOKS TO NOTE…

Reading “Religious Affections” by Jonathan Edwards Scholar, Craig Biehl (not to be confused with Greg Beale), is a supplemental study guide to assist readers as they work through Edwards’s Religious Affections, one of the most important theological works ever written.  Joel Beeke offers glowing praise of the book stating:

“Have you ever put abook down and thought, ‘Wow, that’s deep. I wish I had a friend who could walk me through this book and explain it point by point’? Craig Biehl has done precisely that. Furthermore, he has done it for one of the most important books ever written: ‘Religious Affections’. No one since the apostles had more insight into authentic godliness than Jonathan Edwards. But his books can be difficult to read. Biehl’s study guide helps you to understand the historical situation of Edwards’s day. It walks you through Edwards’s teachings in easy-to-follow outlines mingled with choice quotes from Edwards. After each section he presents several questions for personal meditation or small group discussion. I regularly assign ‘Religious Affections’ to my students and heartily recommend Biehl’s book as a companion to all who would read,understand, and apply Edwards’s masterpiece.”

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Covenant Theology: A Reformed and Baptistic Perspective on God’s Covenants, by Greg Nichols, is a seminal study on the covenantal framework of Scripture from the perspective of one convinced of disciple’s baptism.  Below are just a couple of the endorsements of Nichols’s work:

“Baptists who embrace their historic Calvinistic and Covenantal roots have long since needed a robust and comprehensive treatment of Covenant Theology that includes the nuanced interpretations of the biblical covenants that a baptistic hermeneutic requires. This treatment by Greg Nichols does just that and more. As a devotee of the Westminster tradition (including its chapter, ‘On God’s Covenant with Man’), I differ here and there; sometimes significantly so. But there is so much to applaud in this volume and Baptists will do well to read this volume carefully and with much gratitude. A splendid achievement. I, for one, will insist that my Presbyterian students read it.” – Derek W. H. Thomas, Distinguished Visiting Professor of Systematic and Historical Theology, RTS, Minister of Preaching and Teaching, First Presbyterian Church, Columbia, SC, Editorial Director, Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals

“There has been an urgent need for Reformed Baptist to produce a work on the covenants. I am so thankful that Greg Nichols has engaged this very weighty work. It is a very timely addition on a vitally important topic and adds much to a growing Reformed Baptist literary body.” – James R. White, Alpha and Omega Ministry, author of numerous books, including ‘Pulpit Crimes’, published by Solid Ground

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Notes on Galatians, by J. Gresham Machen (ed. J.H. Skilton) features the exegesis of Machen upon the glorious gospel-saturated text of Galatians.  This is an oft-consulted source by scholars and pastors working their way through the text of Galatians, but remains accessible to any student of Scripture.

“Notes on Galatians is one of the hidden jewels of J Gresham Machen’s outstanding contributions to Christian literature. As Galatians has again become a battleground for theological controversy over the nature of the gospel, Dr Machen’s exegetical insight and theological sturdiness provide wise and careful guidance for a new generation of Bible students. Written for a previous generation it continues to speak to the contemporary one.” – Dr. Sinclair Ferguson

“J. Gresham Machen is perhaps best known for his defense of Christianity and especially for his articulate advocacy of confessional Reformed theology. By training, however, he was a New Testament scholar and by practice he was a biblical exegete of the first order. This little work on Galatians is still useful as a witness to Machen’s clear-headed insight into the nature and message of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. This witness seems particularly relevant in the midst of the current confusion surrounding Paul and the doctrine of justification.” – Dr. R. Scott Clark

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PRAY FOR YOUR PASTOR OFTEN…ESPECIALLY THIS MORNING.

I was reading through a section of Joanne J. Jung’s Godly Conversation: Rediscovering the Puritan practice of conference (Reformation Heritage Books, 2011).  As she was noting the primacy of the Word preached/proclaimed in the corporate worship service among the Puritans, she cited the words of Richard Baxter on the task the pastor must assume as he brings the Word of God before the congregation.

Jung writes:

Richard Baxter gave perhaps the finest definition of the purpose and position of preaching expressed by the Puritans:

It is no small matter to stand up in the face of a congregation, and deliver a message of salvation or damnation, as from the living God, in the name of our Redeemer.  It is no easy matter to speak so plain, that the ignorant may understand us; and so seriously that the deadest hearts may feel us; and so convincingly, that contradicting cavillers may be silenced.

The sermon carried the weight of being the God-ordained vehicle for salvation and sanctification, serving as the chief means for conversion and growth in godliness. (p. 72)

The responsibility your pastor has before himself today, and each Lord’s Day, is massive!  Pray hard for him.  Seek to encourage him.  Strive to support him as he labors to clearly preach the gospel.  For, “It is no small matter to stand up in the face of a congregation, and deliver a message of salvation or damnation, as from the living God, in the name of our Redeemer” (emphasis mine).

FRIDAY MORNINGS IN THE VALLEY: THE PRECIOUS BLOOD

On this Good Friday morning, I thought this prayer fitting…

BLESSED LORD JESUS,

Before thy cross I kneel and see

the heinousness of my sin,

my iniquity that caused thee to be ‘made a curse’,

the evil that excites the severity of divine wrath.

Show me the enormity of my guilt by

the crown of thorns,

the pierced hands and feet,

the bruised body,

the dying cries.

Thy blood is the blood of incarnate God,

its worth infinite, its value beyond all thought.

Infinite must be the evil and guilt that demands such a price.

Sin is my malady, my monster, my foe, my viper,

born in my birth,

alive in my life,

strong in my character,

dominating my faculties,

following me as a shadow,

intermingling my every thought,

my chain that holds me captive in the empire of my soul.

Sinner that I am, why should the sun give me light,

the air supply breath,

the earth bear my tread,

its fruits nourish me,

its creatures subserve my ends?

Yet thy compassions yearn over me,

thy heart hastens to my rescue,

thy love endured my curse,

thy mercy bore my deserved stripes.

Let me walk humbly in the lowest depths of humiliation,

bathed in thy blood,

tender of conscience,

triumphing gloriously as an heir of salvation.

[Taken from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotionsed. Arthur Bennett (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1975), 41.]

FRIDAY MORNINGS IN THE VALLEY: FREEDOM

As often as I’m able, on Friday mornings, I like to post a prayer from The Valley of Vision.  In this mid-morning installment, I’ve chosen the prayer entitled, “Freedom.”  I was particularly blessed by this prayer’s focus on God’s monergistic work in our salvation.  How underserving we are, and how marvelous his grace to us in revealing the truth of the gospel to us that we might enjoy him forever!

O HOLY FATHER, thou hast freely given thy Son,

O DIVINE SON, thou hast freely paid my debt,

O ETERNAL SPIRIT, thou hast freely bid me come,

O TRIUNE GOD, thou dost freely grace me with salvation.

Prayers and tears could not suffice to pardon my sins,

 nor anything less than atoning blood,

but my believing is my receiving,

for a thankful acceptance is no paying of debt.

What didst thou see in me?

that I a poor, diseased, despised sinner

should be clothed in thy bright glory?

that a creeping worm

should be advanced to this high state?

that one lately groaning, weeping, dying,

should be as full of joy as my heart can hold?

that a being of dust and darkness

should be taken like Mordecai from captivity,

and set next to the king?

should be lifted like Daniel from a den

and be made ruler of princes and provinces?

Who can fathom immesurable love?

As far as the rational soul exceeds the senses,

so does the spirit exceed the rational in its knowledge of thee.

Thou hast given me understanding to compass the earth,

measure the sun, moon, stars, universe,

but above all to know thee, the only true God.

I marvel that the finite can know the Infinite,

here a little, afterwards in full-orbed truth;

Now I know but a small portion of what I shall know,

here in part, there in perfection,

here a glimpse, there a glory.

To enjoy thee is life eternal,

and to enjoy is to know.

Keep me in the freedom of experiencing thy salvation continually.

[Taken from The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions, ed. Arthur Bennett (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 1975), 56.]