Tag Archives: Mortification of Sin

Finding God’s Will in the New Year

 

Welcome to 2018.  Typically the New Year is filled with resolutions like getting fit, saving more, eating better, being kinder, being more productive and other self-improvement plans.  Without settling for the same old resolutions, likely to fail by February anyway, why not allow one of the oft-asked questions, namely what is God’s Will for me, to guide your New Year.

Despite so many of us wondering long and hard about this question, the Scriptures are not silent on the matter, in fact on some occasions they answer this question explicitly.  One such example may be found in 1 Thessalonians, where the Apostle Paul, under divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, writes to the young church at Thessalonica.  In chapter 4 of his letter, he begins his conclusion with the following words

“Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus.

This plea, from the Apostle for the Thessalonians, is a plea toward holiness founded on the “instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus” with the goal of pleasing God (yes, you read that right!).  This statement in and of itself would’ve been enough of an exhortation, yet in the next six verses he unpacks this and unloads upon them a tremendous duty wrapped around a declaration of God’s will for their life.

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality;that each one of you know how to control his own body[c] in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

There it is.  God’s will for not only the lives of the Thessalonians, but for us as well, is sanctification or more simply put holiness.

The translation and punctuation from the ESV cited above aides our interpretation by unfolding what exactly is meant by the word sanctification.  Specifically, we read of the following modifying statements

  1. That you abstain from sexual immorality.
  2. That each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor
  3. That no one wrong his brother in this matter

Without any guesswork or longing to see signs for God to show us what His will is for our lives, here we have in straightforward, plain language that God’s will for the life of the believer is holiness. This begins with abstaining from sexual immorality (negative) and exercising bodily self control (positive), specifically as it pertains to lusts, and then moves outward from personal to community to avoid sinning against each other in this matter.  In other words, not committing sexual immorality with each other, nor lusting after each other.

Holiness is a serious duty of each believer, a life-long pursuit of being Christlike.  One of, if not the chief, hindrance to this is sexual immorality.  With this my  own exhortation, I begin with a self-examination, that my heart and hands would be clean.  But let me then also encourage you to desire holiness and sexual purity, particularly in this age of rapid, cultural descent into sexual immorality.  Let us begin this New Year seeking ways to be more obedient to God’s will in this matter.

“56. Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.” Jonathan Edwards – Resolution #56

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.