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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Obedience…Not “Victory”

Jerry Bridges, in his classic The Pursuit of Holiness, offers some convicting and clarifying words relating to the process of Christian growth:

“It is time for us Christians to face up to our responsibility for holiness. Too often we say we are “defeated” by this or that sin. No, we are not defeated; we are simply disobedient! It might be well if we stopped using the terms “victory” and “defeat” to describe our progress in holiness. Rather we should use the terms “obedience” and “disobedience.” When I say I am defeated by some sin, I am unconsciously slipping out from under my responsibility. I am saying something outside of me has defeated me. But when I say I am disobedient, that places the responsibility for my sin squarely on me. We may, in fact, be defeated, but the reason we are defeated is because we have chosen to disobey. We have chosen to entertain lustful thoughts, or to harbor resentment, or to shade the truth a little. We need to brace ourselves up, and to realize that we are responsible for our thoughts, attitudes, and actions. We need to reckon on the fact that we died to sin’s reign, that it no longer has any dominion over us, that God has united us with the risen Christ in all His power, and has given us the Holy Spirit to work in us. Only as we accept our responsibility and appropriate God’s provisions will we make any progress in our pursuit of holiness.”

(From The Pursuit of Holiness – Chapter 8)

Dangerous Calling: Tripp on Pastoral Ministry

Every time I read or listen to Paul Tripp, one liberating message consistently resounds in my head and heart:

As desperate sinners we can be ruthlessly honest about our need for grace, because the very grace we so desperately need is available to us–right now–in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

I was recently encouraged, as I opened my email inbox, to find some exciting news from Crossway in the form of an advanced-copy PDF.   In his forthcoming book, Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry, Tripp recounts some of the most trying experiences within his own life and ministry in order to provide a “diagnostic” that will help pastors honestly face and wisely navigate the challenges, temptations, and potential pitfalls frequently facing those in pastoral ministry.  I’ve only begun to flip through the pages, but it is clear that Tripp powerfully demonstrates how the liberating message of grace is needed as much by the pastor as it is by the parishioner.

Divided into 3 parts, Tripp begins by “Examining Pastoral Culture”.  In this section, Tripp uncovers the common dangers that pastors face when they lack community and personal accountability, refuse to listen to those around them, face relational difficulties within their own marriage and family, allow their identity to be defined by their ministry, only approach the Scriptures with an academic bent (or as only applying to the lives of others), form misconceptions about ministry “success”, and fail to consistently preach the truth of the gospel to themselves.

Tripp moves forward to examine the ramifications of forgetting who God is.  In a section entitled “The Danger of Losing Your Awe (Forgetting Who God Is)”, Tripp examines how, as Warfield stated, “constant contact with divine things” can result in complacent theological familiarity and a loss of awe for the power, presence, and person of God.  Forgetting who God is results in sinful fear, secrecy, complacency and frustration.

Part 3, “The Danger of Arrival: Forgetting Who You Are”, takes aim at the dangers of forming a magnified view of ourselves that is selfish, sinful, and altogether unbiblical.  Tripp notes that when we choose to become the objects of our worship we prideful, defensive, disconnected, overtly self-confident, and always desiring to make ourselves known in an unhealthy way.  Tripp notes how choosing to worship God personally and privately, will allow us to encounter the glory of God in such a way that it will then allow us to see ourselves for who we truly are, stripping us of our self-focus, self-righteousness, self-sufficiency, and more…in turn allowing us to truly experience life.

In each section, Tripp never leaves you guessing as to how God’s grace reaches into each situation with its healing power.  The strength of Tripp’s writing lies in his ability to surgically, and thus often uncomfortably, address the infections and wounds of sin within the life of the believer, and in this particular case, the pastor.  He then wisely notes how our sinful hearts often try to cover over these wounds, or out rightly ignore them, which leads to increased damage to our hearts and destruction in the lives of those around us.  Again, he never leaves the person with a sense of despair, no matter how deeply the sin has permeated one’s own heart and life.  God has given Paul Tripp the ability to speak the Good News of the gospel of God’s grace toward us in Christ with such clarity and effective soul application that even the most desperate person, who chooses to believe, will rejoice in the light of the availability and liberating power of God’s grace.

As a young minister who has served in various pastoral capacities over the last 5 years, even in my quick reading of this book, Tripp has already uncovered many of the sinful tendencies I see and struggle with in my own life.  Thus, I can confidently say, for the young pastor or the seasoned one, this book is a must read!  Pick up a copy, be personally and ministerially honest, and glorify God by applying and reveling in the now-available grace of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Dangerous Calling is expected for publication on October 31, 2012.  Until then, you can pre-order a hardback copy at Amazon for $11.86 (48% off the cover price of $22.99).  You can also check out the info page at Crossway for endorsements and additional details.

NOTE: I was provided with a complimentary advanced-copy PDF of this title from the publisher for the purpose of review, and was under no obligation to offer a positive review.

GOOD NEWS: Calvin on Justification

“Justified by faith is he who, excluded from the righteousness of works, grasps the righteousness of Christ through faith, and clothed in it, appears in God’s sight not as a sinner but as a righteous man. Therefore, we explain justification simply as the acceptance with which God receives us into his favor as righteous men. And we say that it consists in the remission of sins and the imputation of Christ’s righteousness.”

-John Calvin, John T. McNeil, ed., Institutes of the Christian Religion (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960) III.xi.2, p. 726-7.

(HT: Brian Hedges)

The Most Affecting Manner of the Gospel

Jonathan Edwards, in his masterpiece, Religious Affections, writes of the manner in which the gospel holds out to us, “in the most affecting manner”, the things which are “declared most worthy to affect us”.

Edwards writes:

“[I]s there anything which Christians can find in heaven or earth, so worthy to be the objects of their admiration and love, their earnest and longing desires, their hope, and their rejoicing, and their fervent zeal, as those things that are held forth to us in the gospel of Jesus Christ? In which not only are things declared most worthy to affect us, but they are exhibited in the most affecting manner. The glory and beauty of the blessed Jehovah, which is most worthy in itself, to be the object of our admiration and love, is there exhibited in the most affecting manner that can he conceived of, as it appears, shining in all its luster, in the face of an incarnate, infinitely loving, meek, compassionate, dying Redeemer. All the virtues of the Lamb of God, his humility, patience, meekness, submission, obedience, love and compassion, are exhibited to our view, in a manner the most tending to move our affections, of any that can be imagined; as they all had their greatest trial, and their highest exercise, and so their brightest manifestation, when he was in the most affecting circumstances; even when he was under his last sufferings, those unutterable and unparalleled sufferings he endured, from his tender love and pity to us. There also the hateful nature of our sins is manifested in the most affecting manner possible: as we see the dreadful effects of them, in that our Redeemer, who undertook to answer for us, suffered for them. And there we have the most affecting manifestation of God’s hatred of sin, and his wrath and justice in punishing it; as we see his justice in the strictness and inflexibleness of it; and his wrath in its terribleness, in so dreadfully punishing our sins, in one who was infinitely dear to him, and loving to us. So has God disposed things, in the affair of our redemption, and in his glorious dispensations, revealed to us in the gospel, as though everything were purposely contrived in such a manner, as to have the greatest possible tendency to reach our hearts in the most tender part, and move our affections most sensibly and strongly. How great cause have we therefore to be humbled to the dust, that we are no more affected!”

If you’re unacquainted with North America’s greatest theologian (…and perhaps most brilliant mind, period), consider reading George Marsden’s brief biography, A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards.  

For more on Religious Affections, consider Craig Biehl’s newly released study guide, Reading “Religious Affections”, available from Solid Ground Books.

GOOD NEWS: Spurgeon on “The Greatest Doctrine”

 

The great doctrine, the greatest of all, is this, that God, seeing men to be lost by reason of their sin, hath taken that sin of theirs and laid it upon his only begotten Son, making him to be sin for us, even him [Christ] who knew no sin; and that in consequence of this transference of sin he that believeth in Christ Jesus is made just and righteous, yea, is made to be the righteousness of God in Christ. Christ was made sin that sinners might be made righteousness. That is the doctrine of the substitution of our Lord Jesus Christ on the behalf of guilty men.[1]

-C.H. Spurgeon

*For more of Charles Spurgeon, CLICK HERE for a sampling of resources.


[1] C.H. Spurgeon, “The Heart of the Gospel”, http://www.spurgeon.org/sermons/1910.htm

 

Forgiveness and the Fear of God

I’m grateful to be a part of Cornerstone Church of LincolnWay.  Our pastor, Arvid Svendsen, leads a Bible study on Friday mornings, at the McDonald’s on Maple St/Lincoln Hwy, in New Lenox, IL.  (If you’re in the area, join us at 6AM…it’s open to anyone!).  This morning we considered the relationship between “the fear of the Lord” and “progressive sanctification”.  In the course of our study, I began to think of a somewhat peculiar passage in Psalm 130

“If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities,

O Lord, who could stand?

But with you there is forgiveness,

that you may be feared.”

(Psalm 130:3-4, ESV, emphasis mine)

It seems rather counterintuitive that forgiveness would lead to fear.  My first thought would be that forgiveness would lead to comfort, joy, and relief…but fear?  Yes, fear.

Octavius Winslow, in a sermon on Psalm 130:4, entitled “Forgiveness and Fear”, brilliantly illustrates and explains this seemingly peculiar and paradoxical relationship.

Winslow states:

“But there remains a clause in this verse of the psalm pregnant with the deepest and holiest instruction: “There is forgiveness with You, that You may be FEARED.” “How can this be?”, exclaims the unreflecting mind. Fear, the fruit and effect of pardon! It is an incongruity—a paradox! And yet such is the word of God, and as such we believe and accept it. How, then, are we to interpret the clause? A holy, filial, loving fear of God is ever the effect of His full and free forgiveness of sin; it is the natural, spontaneous and blessed result. All fear, if apart from a sense of pardoned sin, is legal, servile, and slavish; it is not the fear of a forgiven sinner, of a pardoned child. The pardoned soul sees in the grace of the act, such a display of God’s holiness and hatred of sin, such an unfolding of His grace and love, as at once inspires a holy, reverential, and child-like fear of offending Him. Never did the believing soul see sin’s exceeding sinfulness, love’s amazing greatness, and grace’s fullness and freeness, as when first it saw and felt it in a sense of God’s pardon. Oh, there is no human act which has such a tendency to melt, subdue, and win the whole being as that of forgiveness, be it judicial or parental, human or Divine. A heart that has become hardened in crime and steeped in sin, whom no reasoning could convince and no discipline could subdue, has at length been melted by mercy, conquered by forgiveness, and enchained by love. I quote an illustration of this truth.

A soldier was brought before his commanding officer for a misdemeanor frequently committed and as frequently punished. He had been tried, flogged, and imprisoned; but, imperative and stern as military discipline is, all to no purpose. He was an old and incorrigible offender, whom no threats could dismay, and no infliction reform. As the officer was about to repeat his punishment, the sergeant stepped forward, and, apologizing for the liberty he took, said, “Sir, there is one thing which has never been done with him yet.” “What is that?” enquired the officer. “He has never been forgiven.” Surprised at the suggestion, and yet struck with its force, the officer meditated for a moment, then ordered the culprit before him. “What have you to say to the charge?” “Nothing, sir, only I am sorry for what I have done.” “Well, we have decided to inflict no punishment on this occasion, but to try what forgiveness will do.” The criminal, struck dumb with astonishment, burst into tears, and sobbed like a child. And what was the effect? From that moment he was another and a changed man. No longer the inveterate and hardened offender- a plague to his regiment and a dishonor to the service he became one of the most well-behaved and orderly men that ever wore the uniform or bore the standard of his sovereign. Forgiven, he became loyal and obedient: respect for military rule, and the fear of dishonoring the service and degrading himself, henceforth became to him a law and a shield.

A similar incident in the life of Dr. Doddridge illustrates the same truth. Believing that there were extenuating circumstances in the case of a condemned criminal awaiting execution in Northampton Jail, Dr. Doddridge waited upon George III, and petitioned for his life. It was granted. Hastening back to his cell, he read the king’s order of reprieve. The pardoned criminal rose, fell at his feet, and, clasping his person, exclaimed, “Oh, Sir! I am your servant, your slave for life! For you have purchased every drop of my blood.” And shall a human forgiveness thus conquer, thus win, and thus inspire the fear of offending? O Lord, “there is forgiveness with You; for You have cast all my sins behind Your back, that I may serve You with reverence and godly fear all the days of my life, and henceforth to be Your servant, Your child forever!” Oh what a corrective of sin, what a motive to fear, what an incentive to obedience is God’s forgiveness! “There is FORGIVENESS with You, that You may be FEARED.”

That which gives us the clearest, deepest, and most solemn view and conviction of God’s holiness and love, inspires the most effectually a holy, filial, loving fear to offend Him. And where shall we find such an awful display of His holiness, and such overpowering demonstration of His love, as in the cross of Christ? Men do not fear God because they have no view of His holiness, no sense of His mercy, and no experience of His love. But God’s forgiveness of sin furnishes the believer with the most convincing argument and with the most persuasive motive to live a pure, a holy, and a godly life. “The grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ”(Titus 2:11-13).” (emphases mine)

If you’re interested in reading more of Winslow’s work, consider Soul Depths and Soul Heights: Sermons on Psalm 130 and No Condemnation in Christ Jesus.

GOOD NEWS: Warfield on the Full Satisfaction of Christ’s Atoning Work

“God as a truthful, righteous judge cannot look upon a sinner as anything but a sinner. He cannot pretend that the sinner is not guilty. Nor can he accept a sinner into his fellowship. Nor can he forego punishment. Nor can the punishment be less than what is demanded by the offense. Thus to save sinners, God offered his Son as their substitute, imputing their sins to him and making expiation by his death. Christ did not pay fifty cents on the dollar but, suffering in our place, made full payment for our sins. God forgives, therefore, not out of hand but on the ground of justice, in keeping with a law whose demand has been fully satisfied by Christ the substitute, who out of infinite love provided himself as the substitute.”

Zaspel, Fred G. (2010-09-02). The Theology of B. B. Warfield: A Systematic Summary (p. 297). Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition.

The Fittest Tools for Fighting Sin

While we’re on the topic of killing sin in the life of the believer (see last post), I thought I’d pass along a deeply encouraging passage from one of the greatest sermons ever written on the expulsion of sin from the Christian’s heart.

“The Expulsive Power of a New Affection” by Scottish Presbyterian minister, Thomas Chalmers, is one of the most significant pieces ever written on the sanctifying power of the gospel.  Noting the futility of our efforts to kill sin simply by a moralistic, “try-harder” attempt to rid the heart of impurity, Chalmers offers a better way.

To summarize his message, he writes that in order to successfully put away a sinful affection, we must replace that affection with a new affection so great and glorious, it forces the sinful affection to be subordinated and obliterated.  Because the heart cannot move from a sinful affection to no affection at all, it will, by its very nature, move on to another.  We must choose then, by the power of the Spirit, to replace our old affections with the beauty and glory of the love of God demonstrated in the person and work of Christ.

Near the end of his sermon, Chalmers writes:

The object of the Gospel is both to pacify the sinner’s conscience, and to purify his heart; and it is of importance to observe, that what mars the one of these objects, mars the other also. The best way of casting out an impure affection is to admit a pure one; and by the love of what is good, to expel the love of what is evil. Thus it is, that the freer the Gospel, the more sanctifying is the Gospel; and the more it is received as a doctrine of grace, the more will it be felt as a doctrine according to godliness. This is one of the secrets of the Christian life, that the more a man holds of God as a pensioner, the greater is the payment of service that he renders back again. On the tenure of “Do this and live,” a spirit of fearfulness is sure to enter; and the jealousies of a legal bargain chase away all confidence from the intercourse between God and man; and the creature striving to be square and even with his Creator, is, in fact, pursuing all the while his own selfishness, instead of God’s glory; and with all the conformities which he labours to accomplish, the soul of obedience is not there, the mind is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed under such an economy ever can be. It is only when, as in the Gospel, acceptance is bestowed as a present, without money and without price, that the security which man feels in God is placed beyond the reach of disturbance—or, that he can repose in Him, as one friend reposes in another—or, that any liberal and generous understanding can be established betwixt them—the one party rejoicing over the other to do him good—the other finding that the truest gladness of his heart lies in the impulse of a gratitude, by which it is awakened to the charms of a new moral existence.

Salvation by grace—salvation by free grace—salvation not of works, but according to the mercy of God—salvation on such a footing is not more indispensable to the deliverance of our persons from the hand of justice, than it is to the deliverance of our hearts from the chill and the weight of ungodliness.Retain a single shred or fragment of legality with the Gospel, and we raise a topic of distrust between man and God. We take away from the power of the Gospel to melt and to conciliate. For this purpose, the freer it is, the better it is. That very peculiarity, which so many dread as the germ of antinomianism, is, in fact, the germ of a new spirit, and a new inclination against it. Along with the light of a free Gospel, does there enter the love of the Gospel, which, in proportion as we impair the freeness, we are sure to chase away. And never does the sinner find within himself so mighty a moral transformation, as when under the belief that he is saved by grace, he feels constrained thereby to offer his heart a devoted thing, and to deny ungodliness. To do any work in the best manner, we should make use of the fittest tools for it. (emphasis mine)

If you’re interested in reading more of Chalmers’ work, check out the Letters of Thomas Chalmers.

Packer on Personal Prayer (…and how it kills sin)

The 2012 Desiring God National Conference is entitled, “Act The Miracle: God’s Work and Ours in the Mystery of Sanctification”.  There are a handful of great videos previewing the topics and speakers for this year’s conference available HERE.

One video I found particularly interesting and helpful is that of J.I. Packer noting the sin-killing power of personal prayer in the life of the believer. In his book, A Quest for Godliness: The Puritan Vision of the Christian Life, Packer writes, “The activity by which the Christian directly secures the mortification of his sins is prayer.”  Packer expands on this in the brief video below…

(HT: Desiring God)

More Resources by J.I. Packer

Doctrine

Concise Theology: A Guide to Historic Christian Beliefs

Knowing God

Suffering

A Grief Sanctified: Through Sorrow to Eternal Hope

Christian Living

Keep In Step With the Spirit: Finding Fullness in Our Walk with God