Tag Archives: sin

Discovering God in the Psalms: The Silence of God

 

“These things you have done, and I kept silent; You thought that I was altogether like you; But I will rebuke you, And set them in order before your eyes.”  Psalm 50:21 (NKJ)

As I survey current events, my heart weeps. Crime against mankind continues to escalate. Abuse of the poor and defenseless, witness to the selfishness of the society we now live in.  Even the “heavens and the earth” suffer from the blatant disregard of man for God’s creation (Titus 3:3).

As social and religious groups unite in prayer to regain their community and their country, many ask the question, “Where is God?” They want to know if He hears…does He see. Why does God remain silent when there is so much injustice and wrongdoing? God does hear and see. He will not remain silent forever. He will set His house in order.

Of the many attributes of God, the one most misunderstood is His justice. Believers are quick to acknowledge God’s moral attributes–grace, mercy, and love, but His justice seems out of character with who they believe Him to be.

Perhaps these misinformed believers hope that His moral qualities will “ignore or overlook” their obvious disregard for His laws and commandments. God administers His kingdom in accordance with His law and expects His moral agents, believers, to adhere to the standards of justice which He has established. (Micah 6:8)

At times the rule of God does not appear to be “just.” Evil flourishes and everything continues as it always has (2 Pet. 3:4). Sin appears unpunished and righteousness seems to go unrewarded (Psalm 73:3-12). C. S. Lewis, acclaimed novelist and lay theologian, helps us keep God’s justice in perspective:

The justice of God must not be evaluated on a short-term basis. Within this life it will often appear incomplete or imperfect. Earthly life is not all there is, however. There is a life beyond and in the scope of all eternity; God’s justice will be complete.

The religious leaders of Jesus’ day suffered from both hypocrisy and rebellion. They refused the Living Word who lived among them. Today God has given us both His Word and His Holy Spirit to lead us into truth and righteousness. Do not turn Him away. “… the Lord’s hand is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear” (Isaiah 59:1).

In His silence, God is speaking loudly. God’s longsuffering and grace should never be looked upon as indifference (2 Peter 3:3-10).  He has already dealt with sin (2 Cor. 5:21) and He will deal with the last vestiges of rebellion and disobedience. God does hear (Psalm 55:19).

Perfecting Obedience

Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.  And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.  Hebrew 5:8-9 (NKJV)

We close this Lenten Season study on obedience with a quick review as to how to develop a “real time”, biblical view of this critical spiritual discipline.  So what have we learned about obedience?

What is obedience? 

“submission to authority”  Webster

“to hear, to understand, to persuade or convince”  The Bible

Where does obedience come from?

  • Obedience is evidence of a personal relationship with God.
  • Obedience is motivated by love for God.
  • Obedience is the outward response of a heart that hears God and turns to Him.
  • Obedience is the outcome of a faith walk resulting in greater spiritual maturity.

So what is perfected obedience?

Our text gives us a clue into how our obedience becomes “perfected”.  It begins and ends with a clear understanding of Jesus and His walk of perfected obedience.

Firstly, Jesus never sinned. Jesus had no need to become perfect for His work of salvation.  Jesus was perfect in His nature (1 Pet. 2:22; Heb. 4:15).  Imagine that! Even as a rambunctious child, a growing teenager, and a vibrant young man—Jesus never sinned.  No defiance, no “cutting of the eyes” no hiding behind excuses like “I’m only human” or “A person has to do what a person has to do”.  Yet to fulfill God’s requirement for a “blameless sacrifice for sin” (1 Pet. 1:19), Jesus suffered and was obedient unto death (Phil. 2:8).  Jesus suffered not for His sins but for our sin (2 Cor. 5:21).

Secondly, Jesus learned.  What did He learn?  Jesus learned what it meant to be human by experiencing all the emotions and sensations that we as frail humans feel.  Why?  So that He could identify with man’s depravity and brokenness.  Jesus willingly experienced the full range of emotions He had placed in man at Creation (Heb. 4:25).  We get glimpses of this in the Gospel accounts.

  • When Jesus saw the masses, He was moved with compassion. (Matt. 9:36; Mark 6:34)
  • When Jesus approached Jerusalem, He cried. (Luke 19:41)
  • When Jesus heard of John the Baptist’s arrest, He withdrew. (Matt14:13)
  • When Jesus saw the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees, He condemns them. (Matt. 23:1-12)
  • When Jesus heard of Lazarus’ death, He wept. (John 11:35)
  • When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, He sweated blood. (Luke 22:42; Mark 14:36)
  • When Jesus was hung on the Cross, He died! (Matt. 27:50)

Jesus learned about humanity and why His sacrificial death was the only solution for the sin problem.

Finally, Jesus was perfected. The literal translation of perfected is “to bring to an end a proposed goal”.   Jesus accomplished the purpose crafted by God before the foundation of the world—to bring redemption, restoration, and reconciliation to mankind.  Jesus became the “all and everything” that was needed to bring salvation to fallen man.  Jesus became “the author of eternal salvation” (Heb. 5:9), the “firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29), and the “first-begotten from the dead” (Rev. 1:5).

Jesus’ perfecting was accomplished through His obedience.  Jesus’ submission to and love for God resulted in the greatest gift we as believers will ever receive—freedom from sin and eternal life.  To put into words the enormity of God’s plan of salvation is impossible.

Understanding perfecting obedience is captured in the life and love of Jesus the Christ.  Jesus is our model and the example we daily strive to emulate.  Let us endeavor, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to be conformed to His image and ultimately transformed into all that God has purposed us to be (Eph. 2:10).

I close with these words from F.B. Meyer on “The Perfecting of Christ”.  May his words move your spirit to new levels of obedience.

“For the long and steep ascent of life, our Father has given us a Companion, a Captain of the march, a Brother, even Jesus our Lord, who passed through the suffering of death, and is now crowned with glory and honor (Heb. 2:9-ll). He has passed along our pathway, and climbed our steep ascents, that He might become our merciful and faithful Friend and Helper.  In this sense He was perfected, and became unto all them that obey Him the Author of eternal salvation.  But if we are to walk with Him, and realize His eternal salvation, we must learn to obey.”

Slavery, Death, and Obedience

Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as  obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?  Romans 6:16 (NRS)

In the next few weeks we will enter into the Passion Week, which recounts the suffering and death of Jesus Christ as He journeyed to the Cross.  During that week, Jesus was very intentional and direct as He prepared his disciples for the gruesome ending of His physical life.  Jesus was to die for our sins and receive the penalty we deserved.  His substitutional death would fulfill God’s decree formulated before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4) yet revealed to man in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 3:15).  In the end, Jesus Christ would declare His obedience in a different garden—The Garden of Gethsemane—to die and release us from the bondage of sin.

Jesus announced His arrival as the promised Messiah in the synagogue at Nazareth—the one anointed to “release the captives and to let the oppressed free” (Luke 4:18). Jesus accomplished that purpose on Easter Sunday, when He rose from the dead, breaking the power and the penalty of sin in our lives—sins we committed in the past, in the present, and in the future.  When we reach heaven, we will finally be delivered from the presence of sin.  Because of Jesus’ victory over sin, we are free, able to grow in grace (2 Pet. 3:18), and obediently serve the Lord.

So why are we still acting like slaves?

Paul challenged the young church at Rome to follow in obedience the word of Christ which had been delivered to them.  I guess you could call them “hokey-pokey” Christians in that they had “one foot in the Church and one foot in the world.”  That is the same “obedience challenge” we face daily while still in our earthly flesh.  Until we are delivered from the presence of sin, we must doggedly declare “ourselves dead to sin and alive to God” (Rom. 6:11).  We must exercise our freedom in Christ to leave behind sinful patterns and influences which move us away from God.  We must not take God’s glorious gift of grace for granted and continue in sin through our disobedience.

Paul described the reversal of sin’s slavery in Romans 6:15-18:

“What then? Should we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!  Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slavesyou are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?  But thanks be to God that you, having once been slaves of sin,  have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted,  and that you, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”

During this season of Lent, many of us are practicing the discipline of fasting—that is, giving up for a period of time, some habit, practice, or “vice” and replacing it with new activities that draw us closer to Jesus.  This includes more time in prayer, studying the Word, or solitude.  It is a period of denying our “flesh” and of self-reflection, hopefully leading us to greater spiritual maturity and obedience.

But let’s be honest, aren’t there some things we should stop doing beyond Lenten season?  Some sin(s) that are keeping us enslaved to the world and Satan?  Are you choosing to remain “shackled” by sin when Christ has set you free from sin’s power and penalty?

“You are slaves of the one you obey.”  Who are you obedient to?

What do we do with Sin?

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.       1 John 1:8 (RSV)

What do we do with sin?  For too long this question has been asked only by theologians and scholars as they “pontificate” over spiritual things.  But the people who should be asking this question are those who are currently stewards of God’s grace, desiring that God’s “kingdom will come”—to our nation, to our churches, and more importantly, to our homes.

Unfortunately, the people of God have allowed the “elephant in the room” (sin in disguise) to go unchallenged. We express concern over the national debt, growing unemployment, and the decline of the middle class.  But what do we do with sin?

As crime increases in our communities, we demand more police surveillance and create neighborhood watch groups.  In response to the rise in homelessness and poverty, we advocate for more social programs and outreach.  But what do we do with sin?

It is a subject that is glaringly absent in our discussions concerning the plight of our world especially in our church pulpits.

Many of the issues we face in society are as a result of sin. 

They originate from thoughts and feeling that focus on activities that satisfy personal (and usually) selfish desires (James 1:14-15).  These desires are then acted upon by the will (spirit and heart) which has the power to do what is good—or evil.  Social reform and political posturing cannot affect these human dime nsions. What then is the remedy for the heart that is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9)?

God has devised His plan of redemption to deal with the issue of sin. 

It is “grace-based”, no longer requiring His forbearance (Rom. 3:25), nor demanding redundant, ineffective sacrifices for the sins of men (Heb. 10:11).  He became, through His Son, the just and the justifier of him which believed in Jesus (Rom. 3:24).  Faith would be the starting point and the end would be a righteous soul (Rom. 5:21)—a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).  He would replace the stony heart of man with a new heart of flesh and place His Spirit within man that would cause him to “do right” (Ezek. 36:26-27).  Then man and God would once again be reconciled (Col. 1:21).

What do we do with sin?  We must first recognize it by comparing it with the will and counsel of God.   This requires reading His Word, being fervent in prayer, and seeking spiritual discernment. It is time to unmask sin for what it is.  If you personally, are in the midst of sin, first confess and repent quickly.  God is faithful to forgive and cleanse you (1 John 1: 19).  Then reckon yourself dead to sin (Rom. 6:11) and no longer let it have dominion over you (Rom. 6:14).  That’s what we do with sin!

Humble Ourselves: The Power of Confession

“Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin.   For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is always before me.”  Psalm 51:2-3 (NKJ)

Completing the first part of our Lenten Journey of the Cross, we will now leave our exploration of “Experiencing God” and move to the challenging area of learning to “Humble Ourselves”.  Paul tells us that we are to have a “mind like Christ”, our model for humility, who though He was God, humbled himself and became obedient even unto death (Phil. 2:5-8).  We will look at three (3) areas on this leg of the journey—confession, forgiveness, and obedience.  We begin today with the power of confession.

Confession, these days, is pretty “unusual” behavior. Even the guiltiest of criminals, caught with their proverbial hand in the cookie jar, will stand before the judge and declare themselves, “not guilty.” It has been said that, “confession is good for the soul” but you wouldn’t guess it by the world’s response. Just read the newspaper this week and you’ll find example after example of individuals and institutions, who in the wake of unfailing evidence claim innocence.  One of the opportunities of Lenten season is to examine our hearts and let the light of God’s truth shine into areas in need of His cleansing.  Therein lie the power of confession.

The 51st Psalm is God’s lesson on confession. It was authored by King David after he was confronted by Nathan the prophet for his adulterous affair with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah. The whole incident was not unlike the stories we read in the gossip tabloid or see in the latest “made for television” sequel.  King David, however, gives us a better approach to confession.

First, King David quickly accepted responsibility for his behavior and pleaded guilty to all charges. He immediately called upon God for forgiveness. He offers no excuses but appealed to God to “blot out, wash and cleanse him” from his “transgressions, iniquity, and sin.”

“For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. (vv. 3-4)

Next, King David recounted God’s expectation of him, as a man and as the leader of Israel. Though King David had perpetrated this crime against Uriah, he answered to a Higher Judge, the omniscient God, who see, hears, and knows all things. There are no “hidden sins” in His presence.

“Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.” (vv. 4-6)

Finally, King David was concerned about his broken relationship with God. He had the unique opportunity of walking closely with the Lord most of his life beginning as a young shepherd boy in the hills of Bethlehem. He longed to be restored to that relationship.

“Create in me a pure heart, 0 God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” (vv.10-12)

It is important that we learn to quickly confess our sins. Unconfessed sin results in guilt and shame, spiritual strongholds in our lives, and even worst, a broken relationship with God. There is power in confession. That power comes from the One who is “faithful to forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). 

RESPONSE:

This week you will have an opportunity to practice journaling as part of your Lenten Season, “Journey of THE CROSS”. 

 Read Psalms 51:1-12.  Then ask the Holy Spirit to reveal any unconfessed sin you may hold in your spirit.  Then ask Him to give you the courage to confess that sin, knowing that God is “faithful and just to forgive you.”  Remembering David’s approach to confession, now create in your journal a “psalm of repentance”. 

 

Spiritual Failures

Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times.” And he broke down and wept. Mark 14:72 (NIV)

One of the most difficult things for believers to do is to recover from spiritual failure.  Instead of asking for forgiveness, repenting, and then moving forward, followers of Christ are tempted to simply give up and continue in their pattern of sin.    What believers need to do instead is to exercise more “personal compassion”.  Personal compassion is the practice of forgiving ourselves and acknowledging our “humanity.”   In a society where human error is deemed inexcusable, personal compassion moves beyond the actual mistake and begins to mitigate the negative emotions that follow them—this includes regret, shame, and guilt.    Once that occurs, the believer can be restored and continue their faith walk. Our text found in the Gospel of Mark, shares a familiar recounting of Peter’s spiritual failure prior to the crucifixion of Jesus (Mark 14:66-72).

Peter finds himself in a precarious position as he observes from a distance the trial of Jesus after being arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane.   Interestingly, none of the other disciples were mentioned in this denial account—only Peter.  Peter was part of Christ’s inner circle with James and John.  He had experienced special moments with Christ—the transfiguration and walking on water—and was privy to key revelations about Jesus Christ, the Son of God and the promised Messiah.  After the feeding of the 5,000, it was Peter who proclaimed that Jesus was the true source of eternal life (John 6:69).   It was because of Peter’s confession of faith that he would become the “foundational rock” (petra) on which the universal Church would be built (Matt. 16:18-19) versus a “piece of the building” (petros).  So what happened to Peter in the courtyard that caused him to disassociate himself from Jesus?

It is easy to be critical of Peter because of our “unsympathetic bentness” from decades of Bible classes, Sunday school lessons, and Good Friday sermons.  But instead of condemnation, try-on a more compassionate approach.  Imagine what Peter felt that night?  What emotions did he experience in that courtyard?  Anger, fear, and confusion were probably racing through his mind.  Jesus had been arrested and now people around him were questioning, “Weren’t you with that Nazarene Jesus?” The young girl challenged him, “This is one of them.” They gathered around Peter, “You’re one of them because you talk like a Galilean!”  (Mark 14:67-70)  Peter had never been in a situation like this so how did he respond?  “I know not…I am not…I don’t know what you’re talking about.”   As he made his final denial, the cock crowed and he remembered the words of Jesus, “You shall deny me.”  What was Peter’s reaction?  He collapsed in tears.  His emotions vacillated between regret, shame, and guilt.   Peter responded in the only way he knew how—in his humanity. How would you have responded?

If we are honest, we will admit that like Peter, we might experience “spiritual failure”.   While we may not be in a palace courtyard, we may experience spiritual failure in the corporate boardroom, when we “support” policies or practices that are outside Christian conduct.  We might deny Christ when we “quietly accept” ideas put forth that are contrary to God’s will and Jesus’ teachings, i.e., all religions lead to heaven.  We may even “curse” others when we fail to stand firm in our profession of faith and instead follow what’s “politically correct.”  God has warned us (much like the crowing cock) that we too may be tempted to “deny” our Lord.  Our identification with Christ’s comes with consequences.  We must remember who we are and whose we are.  Expect to be challenged! (John 15:18)

So what is the invitation God is offering us in this account of Peter’s denial?  First, this narrative invites us to understand our humanity with its frailties and weaknesses.  We should acknowledge the potential for spiritual failure (1 Cor. 10:12) knowing that God uses our failures to strengthen and shape us (James 1:2-4).  Second, it is critical that we recognize the source of our strength is the Lord—His Word (Ps. 19:11) and His indwelling Holy Spirit (Ep. 3:16).  Peter made the mistake of depending on his own personal commitment (Mark 14:29) rather than Jesus’ words to him (Luke 22:31-32; Mark 14:30).  Lastly, and most importantly, we must exercise personal compassion if and when we fail.  Peter’s denial of Jesus was the beginning not the end of his becoming the promised “Rock.”  Jesus restored Peter after the Resurrection (John 21:15-19) and greatly used Him at Pentecost (Acts 2) and beyond.   God alone is both able and willing to restore us after our spiritual failures.  Let the Lover of your soul restore it (Ps. 23:5).

 

SELAH:  Read the account of Peter’s denial in Luke 22:54-62.  Imagine yourself to be Peter and write down the emotions you might feel.  Then ask God to reveal the places where you might be spiritually vulnerable and how to avoid it.