Tag Archives: Mortification of Sin

Before the Rooster Crows

 

In the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) there is a familiar account of Jesus’ prophecy that Peter would deny him three times before the rooster crows.  This statement from our Lord came on the heels of Peter’s rather bold assertion  that should everyone else leave our Lord in the midst of the upcoming arrest, trial, and eminent death, he alone would be at Christ’s side.  This fact makes the prophecy all the more striking, yet within this tragic denial from Peter there is a universal application and a warning to all the children of God.

In Mark 14:29-31 we read of the prophecy

29 Peter said to him, “Even though they all fall away, I will not.” 30 And Jesus said to him, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” 31 But he said emphatically, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And they all said the same.”

In Mark 14:66-72 we read of the fulfillment of our Lord’s prophecy and the tragic fall of Peter

66 And as Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came, 67 and seeing Peter warming himself, she looked at him and said, “You also were with the Nazarene, Jesus.” 68 But he denied it, saying, “I neither know nor understand what you mean.” And he went out into the gateway[h] and the rooster crowed. 69 And the servant girl saw him and began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” 70 But again he denied it. And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” 71 But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” 72 And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.”

To allow our application to percolate directly from the passage, let’s summarize the events surrounding Peter’s denial.  First, Peter’s pride-filled statement, albeit in an attempt to take a righteous, bold stand.  This was followed quickly and sharply by the reproof from Jesus in the form of the prophecy of denial.  Again we hear from Peter as he doubles-down his assertion of faithfulness.  As the events of the chapter unfold, we come to the fulfillment of the prophecy, cited above, wherein we find Peter’s first confrontation with his accuser, a servant girl, followed by his first denial, which was followed by the rooster’s first crow.  Then, the servant girl again confronts him and Peter again denies his relationship with Christ.  In Peter’s third denial, we again find him doubling-down, not in faithfulness, but in his denial of Christ, surely meant to draw attention to his earlier emphatic statement that he alone would never leave the Lord, even if all of the other disciples did.

Here is where we may springboard into our application for the Christian life.  Using Peter as an example, and most often he is a mirror for our own lives, we find that despite his good intentions to take a bold stand for Christ, his words were fueled by pride.  Peter’s confidence had little to nothing to do with the Spirit’s preserving grace that would keep him faithful to the end, but everything to do with his own ability and will-power to stand faithful in the moment of crisis.  How often is self-confidence and self-assurance the spring of undoing in our own lives?  Surely we may look to the wisdom of the Proverb that states,

Pride goes before destruction,
    and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Proverbs 16:18

This unspiritual condition of the heart should be warning enough, but unfortunately it wasn’t for Peter, and rarely is for us.  For us, and for Peter, the Word of God speaks clearly and warns us of the dangers of the prideful heart, however like Peter we too often ignore this rebuke and a subsequent opportunity to sin usually follows nearby.

Here is where the rooster crowed.

When the temptation to sin and deny the Lord was met with the opportunity of confrontation from the servant girl, the rooster crowed .  This was another warning, albeit now clear and present, that Peter was entering into troubled waters.  His mind was so clouded now that he was unable to recall the Word of the Lord and His prophecy against him.  Again, this is too often the case with us.  God may or may not use a “rooster” to call out our sin or the impending danger of it, but He certainly does use other means that are equally effective.  It may be the exhortation of a fellow brother or sister in Christ or it may be something more subtle to call our minds to the Word of God.  However, all too often one of the first warning signs that God gives us, the crowing rooster so to speak, is the absence of prayer.  Few things crow louder in the Christian life to either warn of the presence of sin in the heart or the pending arrival of sin than an absence of prayer.  If this be our condition, we may be assured that an opportunity to sin will soon follow.

For Peter, and as is often the case for us, this crow from the rooster, by whatever means God may use, may not alert us to our clear and present danger.  We too may be foggy minded in a cloud of Christian complacency and neglect of duty such that we are unable to recognize the warning and draw our minds to remember the Word of God. God may sometimes be pleased to alert us yet again to the danger of our condition, but in His wisdom He may see it more fit to allow us a complete fall into sin for the purpose of humbling us, as in the case of Peter.

Peter’s prideful fall stands as a sharp reminder than even those most closest to the Lord are capable of allowing their hearts to deceive them, leading to a fall into some scandalous sin.  We ought to be careful in judging him too strictly, and we ought also be careful not to speak too loudly or critically of those brothers and sisters who we may observe falling into sin, lest we appear like Peter again and declare ourselves above reproach, that even if all others fall away, we will stand firm.  May we weep for those who we see wrapped in the cords of sin, speak words of exhortation to them when necessary, but most of all may we be inclined to pray for them, that God may grant them repentance.

Before the rooster crows, let us be diligent in spiritual duties from a humble heart to seek the Lord daily for the grace that we need.  May we delight in a continual posture of prayer before the Lord, meditation on His word, and communion with fellow believers.  Should the absence of this spiritual mindedness be present in our lives, may we heed the first crow of the rooster before we find ourselves fallen into sin and the second crow of God’s chastising rod be upon us.

Soli Deo Gloria

12 Restraints Against Sin

 

In the book of Job, chapter 31, we find Job in the midst of a discourse in which he acquits himself of at least a dozen sins as he unfolds his closing argument prior to resting his case before the Judge.

While it can be argued that when Elihu arrives he charges Job with self-righteousness, perhaps using the monologue in this chapter as key fodder for those accusations,  we must nevertheless observe how Job was a model of a holy, godly life.  It may be true that he failed to exercise discretion before trumpeting his good deeds to others, there is still much profit to be had in thoroughly digesting this chapter.  Here we’ll use it to examine the reasons behind the motivation for Job’s integrity, or why Job was restrained against the numerous sins from which he exonerated himself.  These restraints against sin may be summarized as follows

  1. Loss of inheritance with God (vs. 2)
  2. Calamity or disaster by the hand of God’s wrath (vs. 3)
  3. Omniscience of God (vs. 4)
  4. Heinousness of Sin (vs. 11)
  5. Loss of estate & soul (vs. 12)
  6. Hierarchy with God over him (vs. 14)
  7. Equally Fashioned in the womb by God (vs. 15)
  8. Terror of Calamity from God (vs. 23a)
  9. The Majesty of God (vs. 23b)
  10. Punishment by the judges (vs. 28a)
  11. Hypocrisy (vs. 28b)
  12. Fear of God – is the general tenor of all that comprises this list and is the outflow of the overall condition of Job’s heart.

The first three restraints from this summary occur as Job acquits himself of the sin of fornication or lust.  In Job 31:1 he acquits himself of gazing lustfully at a woman with the memorable statement “I have made a covenant with my eyes.”  Job supports this covenant by pointing toward three restraints, namely the loss of inheritance with God, punishment in the form of calamity or disaster at the hand of God’s wrath, and the omniscience of God.  Essentially, Job is questioning what a man who indulges in lust can expect to receive from God.  The rhetorical question implies the answer is, nothing good, in fact only judgment.  Lust of the flesh can often be a hidden sin because once the eye captures, the heart fans the flames of desire largely resulting in the internalization of the sin, though it may have obvious outward manifestations.  Still, though it be a hidden sin, it is not hidden from the all-seeing omniscient eye of God as Job readily recognizes.

Similarly, Job next applies a set of restraints to adultery, or what we might say is the physical expression of the lusts that were denied previously.  Too often we fail to realize that allowing lust of the eyes unfettered access into our hearts can, and often does, result in a greater depth of sin, namely adultery.  Here Job acquits himself of this sin by stating two restraining factors that have held him back, the heinousness of sin and the everlasting fires of judgment that destroy a man’s estate and his soul.

The next two restraints from sin that Job mentions are applied to his business relationship with his employees, described for us as manservants and maidservants.  Here he is restrained by understanding the hierarchy of God to master and master to servant.  In essence, Job has described Ephesians 6:9, Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master (Lord) and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.”  The second restraint applied to this case is the equality between the classes, master and servant, because God has fashioned both in the womb.  This is certainly a lesson for us that all men and women are created equal because God is the Creator and Maker of all, in His own image we may add.

The next set of restraints are applied to the societal sins from which Job acquits himself found in verses 16-23.  These two are fear of calamity from God and the majesty of God.  James Durham remarks, “He adds [these] reasons to show, that it was neither his natural temper so inclining him, nor applause of men, nor baseness of spirit, that made him forbear such things, but the awe of God, which was the principle of his acting and forbearing.” (pg. 180)

Finally, we arrive at the sin of idolatry, from which Job says he was restrained by the consequence of punishment by judges and the hypocrisy of denying God.  The sin of idolatry was considered a violation of the law and therefore subject to punishment from the civil authorities.  Additionally, Job sees a higher constraint for idolatry, namely that it would mean he had denied God, which in his case would have been hypocrisy of the highest order.

Parsing through these, we find a godly fear operating within Job as the undercurrent that motivates him to refrain from committing open sins.  This is corroborated by the opening commendation of Job in chapters 1 & 2, There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.  While Job mentions at least these eleven restraints it is clear that the chief restraint is the fear of the Lord.  This calls to mind the very words of Job in chapter 28 describing the height of wisdom from God, “And he said to man, ‘Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding.’”

In addition to the restraints that Job mentions in this chapter, applied toward particular sins, he also calls down a series of curses upon himself applied in the case of other sins.  Job weaves between restraints and consequences both acting to guard him from delving into a life or pattern of various sins.  Oh that our hearts would be so quick to shun evil as was Job’s.  Oh that we would open our eyes to see the fear of the Lord clearly before us that we might be restrained from sin.

Killing Sin at the Desire Level

 

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.”  Galatians 5:16-17

One of the primary strategies for killing sin (Romans 8:13), perhaps the only real legitimate, successful way, is to attack it on the level of desire.  This puts engaging sin squarely on the battlefield of the heart, rather than a battlefield of the hands (see Matthew 5:29-30).  It becomes then much more a matter of properly setting the affections on things above rather than simply exercising will power over deeds.  The latter can only happen properly when the former is given priority.

In the passage above, the divinely inspired pen of the Apostle is instructing us in the way that these sinful desires operate while also  providing for us the means by which to kill them, namely by walking in the Spirit.

What does it mean to walk in the Spirit?  How does one maintain that walk?  Paul does not offer an explanation here, and perhaps for good reason so that we simply won’t create a to-do list.  However, by combing through Scriptures, we may arrive at a helpful strategy to keeping in-step with the Spirit.

First, by engaging the heart and mind in the Word of God.  The Psalmist, who knew a thing or too about fighting sin, informs us that a young man may keep his way pure by guarding it according to the word of God.  He follows this thought with, “I have stored up your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Psalm 119:11  Additionally, in Psalm 37:31 we read, “The law of God is in his (the righteous’) heart; his steps do not slip.”

Secondly, by meditating on the Word of God.  We must note that it is insufficient to simply read the Word of God.  Rather Scripture must be contemplated, ruminated upon, churned over in the belly of the mind until it has been properly digested sending the spiritual nutrients throughout the soul.  In the previously mentioned Psalm 119, we find no less than 6 mentions of the word “meditate”.  This may be summarized in Psalm 119:48, “I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes.”  The classic passage for the example and consistency of meditation by the godly is the familiar Psalm 1:2, but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”

Third, by offering continual prayer.  The apostle gives us the simple directive for continual prayer in 1 Thess. 5:17 with three little words,pray without ceasing“.  How can one pray without ceasing?  This isn’t instructing us to spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in prayer to the neglect of life and duty.  Rather the implication is to have a heart prepared constantly for prayer and a tendency to turn to God in prayer on every occasion.  It may be easy to go through the motions in Scripture reading, doubtful for meditation, but fundamentally impossible to go through the motions in having an attitude of continual prayer.  Again, this is not simply 5-10 minutes in prayer, in which the mind may be easily derailed or where a rote prayer is offered.  We are talking about a spiritual frame in which the mind awakes to prayer, be it thankfulness or praise, goes throughout the day in prayer, and falls asleep at night on the pillow of prayer.  It simply cannot be faked, cannot be counterfeited, and it belongs only to the truly regenerate.  In fact, it may be the best gauge for determining whether one is maintaining a consistent walk in the Spirit and might well be the first to disappear should that walk slow or come to a stop.

Fourth, through the fellowship with other believers.  One of the detriments to the “structure” of the contemporary church is that we have come to treat it as a weekly obligation.  Even those who still hold to Sunday and Wednesday evening services neglect the fundamental meaning of ekklesia and the pattern that the early church provided, namely the daily or habitual interaction of “one-anothering” that occurred much like that within an immediate family as opposed to 3rd-cousins at a dreaded family reunion.  Hebrews 10:24-25 is instructive here, 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.  Habitual, routine, stirring up, meeting together, encouraging one another.

There could be additions to this, but the objective is clear, walk by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.  It is not “may”, nor is it “could be possible”, but “will not” gratify.

Yet the Apostle presses further to define the motive of these desires by stating their opposition, indeed that they war against the Spirit, that is the Holy Spirit that that has renewed the inner man through the power of regeneration.  The contrast is not between the Holy Spirit (as used in verse 16) strictly speaking, but between the new nature brought about by the Spirit and the old nature.  Sometimes called the new man and the old man, i.e. the spirit vs. the flesh.  The Spirit wars against the flesh and the flesh against the Spirit.  Literally they are hostile adversaries.

Finally, notice the purpose of this hostility, “to keep you from doing the things you want to do“.  I’ve understood this before to mean that the flesh keeps the spirit (see earlier) from doing what it wants, but that is not the natural flow of the passage and only half of the meaning.  It is actually stating that the flesh keeps the spirit from doing what it wants and the spirit keeps the flesh from doing what it wants.  There is a kind of spiritual schizophrenia taking place within believers.  A tension so to speak, however not one of neutrality.  If left unattended, the spirit will give way to the flesh.  Paul does not leave an option open to stand still in the Spirit, but to walk in the Spirit, an ongoing, lifelong action.

Let’s close with a word from Charles Spurgeon on this passage,

“The enemy is so securely entrenched within us that he can never be driven out while we are in this body: but although we are closely beset, and often in sore conflict, we have an Almighty helper, even Jesus, the Captain of our salvation, who is ever with us, and who assures us that we shall eventually come off more than conquerors through him.  With such assistance the newborn nature is more than a match for its foes.  Are you fighting with the adversary today?  Are Satan, the world, and the flesh, all against you?  Be not discouraged nor dismayed.  Fight on!  For God himself is with you; Jehovah Nissi is your banner, and Jehovah Rophi is the healer of your wounds.  Fear not, you shall overcome, for who can defeat Omnipotence?  Fight on, looking unto Jesus, and though long and stern be the conflict, sweet will be the victory, and glorious the promised reward.”