Tag Archives: sin

The Vertical Nature of Sin

“How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” Genesis 39:9b

Think of a time recently when you have sinned.  What was your response to it?  Did  you view it in it’s proper perspective or did you view it as something external that you did or didn’t do; an action or word maybe?  Was it primarily an offense to your neighbor or an offense to God?  These questions matter and the order of primacy is important, in fact, critical.

In Genesis 39, we are nearly in the middle of the historic narrative of Joseph’s life.  Having been sold into slavery by his brothers (Gen. 37) because of their jealousy and hatred of him, Joseph was shipped to Egypt.  Yet through the providence of God he found himself exalted to the position of overseer for all the house of Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh’s and captain of the guard.  Soon Joseph, “handsome in form and appearance” (Gen. 39:6), caught the eye of Potiphar’s wife, who began to seduce him.  Upon refusing her advances, Joseph replies, “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” and herein lays our subject, The Vertical Nature of Sin.

What if Joseph, perhaps we would view him today as a political assistant or aide, had surrendered to the advancements of his boss’ wife?  There would normally be two responses to an adulterous scandal such as this.  The first is usually the loudest voice, judgment from the world.  In our day, the media would’ve been in a frenzy over a political scandal such as this.  We can call this the “casting stones” response.  The world loves to throw stones and pile on when someone commits an “error” because it makes them feel better about their own imperfections.  Far from recognizing how short of the glory of God they have fallen, the world loves to measure their own value and “goodness” in terms of others.  “As long as I’m not as bad as that guy” is the normal response.  Largely, from this perspective we would not see it called sin, but instead a mistake or lapse in judgment.  It should go without saying that this response is ignorant and contrary to the Gospel.

A second response proceeds largely from the Christian worldview and it’s focus is on the sin, even calling it as such, but the primary direction of the focus is horizontal.  What I mean by this is the emphasis is placed on the relationships involved.  “How could ‘Joseph’ do this and destroy a marriage?”  “How could ‘Potiphar’s wife’ treat her husband so disrespectfully and cheat on him?”  “How could she commit adultery?”  “What about the kids?”  “What they did is just so terrible.”  Think about this.  How often do you hear these responses within Christian circles?  Are these responses wrong?  Not necessarily, but they miss the primary point.  Sin is not first against other people or even oneself, it is first and foremost against God.

Note Joseph’s response, “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?”  His chief concern was not whether he ruined his career with an “indiscretion”.  It was not mainly about how he might destroy a family or even be a disappointment to his own friends and family.  His focus was not horizontal at all, but was rightly concerned with his sin being an offense against the all-holy God.  This is the proper response and attitude toward sin, whether in our own lives or as we seek to bring a sinner to repentance, and it is from this direction that the horizontal aspect of sin can be rightly addressed.  Sin must be viewed first in light of the holiness of God in order to understand the magnitude of its offense.

We can hardly cast blame or be surprised at the world when she judges sin with a Pharisaical eye as in response one from above.  She is after all unregenerate and under the influence of Satan (though God is certainly sovereign). Our surprise should be when our brothers and sisters in Christ (or even ourselves) are first focused on the external, horizontal effects of sin and fail to first recognize the internal (heart) and vertical nature of sin.  Failing to properly recognize sin is a distortion of the Gospel which will at best lead to moralism and at worst send the sinner down a different avenue of sin.  The level of offensiveness of our sin in relation to God is supremely higher than that between our fellow man.  In your recognition of sin, begin with God.

See also David’s response in 2 Samuel 12:13 and Psalm 51.

Test 2 – Recognition of Sin 1 John 1:8-10

8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” 1 John 1:8-10

We’ve been working our way through a study of 1 John on this blog as a way to make additional usage of the notes and expositions I’ve used in teaching this book of the Bible.  The previous 3 posts are available here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.  In this post, we come to the Apostle John’s 2nd test, again a moral or ethical test, though this time on the recognition of sin.  As we discussed in the intro to 1 John, the likely heresy of the age that John was confronting was a form of Gnosticism.  It has been suggested that those who seceded from the churches in Asia Minor were Gnostics and had come to believe that the “trivial” or everyday sins of the people no longer effected them, in essence they believed they were capable of being without these sins.  It’s to this erroneous notion that John directs his second test, a recognition of sin.

John begins this section by confronting the belief that a person can attain sinless perfection.  Gnostic beliefs, while varied and numerous, included a warped and unbiblical view of good and evil.  Fundamentally, they had a flawed view of believer’s sanctification, so some began to withdraw themselves from society in order to help promote a higher level of sanctification, perhaps living more of an ascetic lifestyle.  Others took the opposite approach believing it didn’t really matter how one lived, resulting in loose or lacking moral values.1 Still, others believed “to have reached such an advanced stage in spiritual experience that they were ‘beyond good and evil.’ They maintained that they had no sin, not in the sense that they had attained moral perfection but in the sense that what might be sin for people at a less mature stage of inner development was no longer sin for the completely ‘spiritual’ man. For him ethical distinctions had ceased to be relevant” 2  It’s likely this latter group are those that John is addressing as he states, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”  John again presents the negative aspect of his test and adds a stinging indictment that those who claim to have no sin are self-deceptive and lack the truth.  In verse 10, John reemphasizes his argument by adding “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”  As though saying those who deny their sinfulness practice self-deception and lack truth wasn’t harsh enough, he goes on to say that by doing so they actually are calling God a liar and they possess not His word.  Boiling that test down, those who say they have no sin lie not only to themselves, but call God a liar and are not His children.  God’s word clearly states the sinfulness of man (see Romans 3:10-18.  Not only that, but passages such as Genesis 8:21 and Jeremiah 17:9 explain that man’s sinfulness is beyond deeds, such as do’s and don’ts but actually extends to the nature of who man is.  At his heart he is sinful.   It therefore goes without saying that to argue a point contrary to God’s Word is calling God Himself a liar and that’s the very position that John stresses to his readers.

In addition to a failure to recognize sin, it’s remarkable how few professing believers understand the necessity of confession of sin to God on a regular basis.  If it’s even done at all, it seems all too often that repentance is believed to be a one-time event, whereas in this passage we see John emphasizing believer’s confession.  Just like it would be absurd to say that a believer in Christ could stop having faith in Him and still have salvation, the opposite side of the same coin is also true, it is an unbiblical, even absurd, idea that confession of sin to God should cease at any point.  We see this sandwiched between the two negative applications of John’s moral test as he adds an evidence of genuine salvation, i.e. confession of sin, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  This is an oft-quoted passage, but I fear it’s one that is rarely deeply considered or one that’s read in its context.  Notice the links in the statement John is making, believer’s confession of sin magnifies 2 aspects of God’s being: 1) The character of God, i.e. His faithfulness and justice and 2) The actions of God, i.e. His forgiveness of believer’s sins and cleansing from all unrighteousness.  It seems clear that in this verse John views the actions of God as an outworking of His character.  It would serve us well to explore this relationship a bit more deeply. 

How are we to understand God’s faithfulness and justice?  Well, through His forgiveness of sins and cleansing from unrighteousness for starters.  God’s faithfulness is inextricably linked to His promises made to those who repent of their sin and place their faith in His Son, Jesus, namely he offers them forgiveness and removal of sin.  As Matthew Henry points out, “God is faithful to his covenant and word, wherein he has promised forgiveness to penitent believing confessors.”3  Remember in the last post where we looked at the significance of Christ’s blood poured out in the New Covenant for the forgiveness of sins.  We see this again in a passage from Colossians, He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Col. 1:13-14 God is faithful to His promise for those who seek forgiveness through repentance and faith.  He has promised forgiveness of sins for those who repent and place their faith in Jesus.  If God were not faithful to that promise, He would not longer be God.  But indeed He is faithful and He is most certainly God, a forgiving and merciful God for those that seek Him.

The second attribute of God’s character that John mentions here is His justice and it is put on display through the cleansing of believer’s [who make confession, remember this is evidence of genuine faith] from all unrighteousness.  God is able to do this because the demands of His justice have been met in the cross of Jesus Christ.  Think about this believer, not only were the sins you committed prior to your salvation forgiven in Christ, but ALL of your sins, even your future ones.  Practically speaking all of our sins were future when Christ made His atoning sacrifice.  God’s holiness was vindicated through the penal substitutionary atonement of Christ, who took the punishment, namely the wrath of God, for all those who would ever believe on Him.  As Paul states, “It [God’s forbearance in passing over former sins] was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” Romans 3:26  In an amazing and humbling divine work, God is able to be just and the justifier of believer’s because of Christ’s atonement.

The Apostle John’s test here is twofold: 1) the recognition of sin and 2) the confession of sin.  Dear reader, do you recognize sin in your life?  Do you despise it and desperately want rid of it?  Do you cry out like the Apostle Paul, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Romans 7:24  Do you make quick confession of sin or do you let it linger and fester?  Is your chief concern the offense of a holy God?  These are signs of genuine believers.  Contrast that with the negative implications of the test.  Are you oblivious to sin in your life?  Do you fail to recognize it and fail to confess it?  A denial of sin is self-deception and ultimately the self-deceived are not only lying to themselves, but are calling God a liar as well.  A test of true assurance in the Christian faith is continual recognition and confession of sin.  Do you pass the test?

Before reading the next post in this series, consider the following for additional study (from 1 John 1:8-2:2):

1.       Why does John buttress his argument of believer’s confession of sin with Christ’s role as advocate? (vs. 2:1)

[Note: if you have not already done so from the last post determine the significance of Christ’s role as advocate (vs. 2:1)?]

2.      In verses 1:8-2:2, what aspects of Christ’s atonement does John emphasize?

3.      As revealed in our study passage (1:8-2:2), on what basis is Jesus “qualified” to serve as believer’s advocate?

 

References:

1 Hill, Jonathan, Zondervan Handbook to the History of Christianity [Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2006], p. 65

2 F. F. Bruce, The Epistles of John [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1978], p. 26

3 Henry, Matthew, Commentary on the Whole Bible

Conviction by the Spirit points to Christ

One thing that’s occurred to me recently, not only in observing the visible church, but also within my own life and ministry is that there is very little knowledge, active presence, or reliance upon the power of the Holy Spirit.  It would seem that this is the case from the largest efforts of man to build mega-churches to the most individual efforts of “convincing” sinners of their need for Jesus and calling on them to make decisions for Christ.  The Holy Spirit, the 3rd member of the Trinity, the “other Helper” that Jesus promises, is largely absent.  The Forgotten God as one author states.  Ask most people what He does and you’re likely to get blank stares.  In fact, ask if the Holy Spirit is a He at all, not an “it”, and watch panic set in.  Why?  I believe largely this is due to decisional evangelism and pragmatic, results based ministries that were so popularized by Charles Finney (1800’s) and has become to this day the model for mainstream evangelicalism.  It seems that today the Holy Spirit is either ignored all together in most denominations or largely overemphasized in charismatic and Pentecostal denominations.  Each extreme is a travesty, but unless we return to preaching Christ-centered messages in the power of the Holy Spirit and recover the lost doctrines of what the Bible teaches about the ministry of the Spirit, then no revival, no reformation will happen.  Only man-centered, flesh driven ministries that thrive on attendance and the tickling of ears will prosper, albeit for a season and then flame out because they’re powerless.  So why the lack of Holy Spirit teaching and understanding?  Because the Spirit convicts and most people do not want to feel convicted.  It’s uncomfortable.  It can be difficult, even painful at times.  But make no mistake about it, it’s necessary and without it there is no genuine salvation.

In studying the Holy Spirit recently, albeit very limited, I ran headfirst into a problem, namely a lack of information on the biblical role of the Holy Spirit, if not a complete lack of info, then at least incomplete information or inconsistent at best.  Keep in mind, I’m not referring to spiritual gifts, i.e. tongues, prophecy, healing, etc. I’m talking about the ministry of the Holy Spirit, what His purpose is and how He accomplishes that purpose.

Jesus defines this ministry in what has been called the greatest sermon ever preached, the Upper-Room Discourse, as it’s affectionately known, as found in John’s Gospel, chapters 14-16.  Here Jesus describes and promises the coming ministry of the Holy Spirit to His disciples.  In His last message to His disciples before His death, Jesus is telling them that He has to go, His earthly work will soon be finished at the cross, but He promises that He will send another Helper for them (and us).  This promise is made in John 14:16-17 “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him.  You know him for he dwells with you and will be in you.”  Now imagine just for a second what must be going through the minds of the disciples.  Jesus, whom they’ve been with for a few years now, walked with, talked with, touched, learned from, broken bread with, is leaving and He is going to send someone else that the world can’t see or know.  That had to blow their minds and bring up so many questions.  Nevertheless, this promised Helper is promised power for the disciples.  Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit will teach them and remind them of the things He’s taught them, surely an inference to the Spirit-guided inspiration of Scripture.

As He continues with His sermon, Jesus points out in John 15:26 the primary purpose for sending the Holy Spirit, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.”  It’s here that we see the Spirit will “bear witness” about Jesus.  But what exactly does this “bear witness” mean, by what method is it accomplished, and how?

To bear witness simply means to point towards or to testify of.  It’s the Greek word martyreo, which means to bear witness or affirm that one has seen or heard or experienced something (see Blue Letter Bible Lexicon for more).  So the Holy Spirit’s primary role is to point towards Christ.  Likewise, we see that His role is to glorify Christ, as read in John 16:14.  But by what means or avenue does He do this?  The first way that the Holy Spirit testifies of Christ is through the written Word of God, namely the Bible.  Remember that Jesus told us back in John 14:16-17 that the Spirit would bring to the disciples’ memory all the things that Jesus taught and told them.  Ever wonder how the written works of the disciples were written in such detail?  They likely didn’t walk around carrying notebooks; it was through the power and inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  All of God’s Word, from Genesis to Revelation bears witness to Christ.  Since it is inspired by the Spirit, we see the first of the methods used by the Spirit to point to Christ is through the Scriptures.

The second avenue through which the Holy Spirit works to bear witness to Christ is found in John 15:27, “And you also will bear witness, because you have been with me from the beginning.”  This verse followed right after Jesus’ declaration that the Spirit would bear witness.  Are we to deduce here that there are two separate parties pointing to Christ, namely believers (in context the disciples) and the Holy Spirit?  No, instead it’s best understood as in conjunction with, meaning believers through the power of the Holy Spirit bearing witness to Christ through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word. 

This leaves us with the question of how the Holy Spirit accomplishes His ministry through these two avenues that we identified.  In chapter 16 of John’s Gospel, we are told what He will do upon His arrival.  It’s this passage that I found lacking completeness in the study Bibles, commentaries, and sermons that I reviewed.  Here is the rather complex passage, “And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” John 16:8-11

It seems reasonable, if the Holy Spirit’s ministry is to point towards Christ, then we must conclude that His role as defined by Jesus above, must likewise point towards Christ.  In this passage, we see 3 functions of the Spirit’s ministry.  The first is conviction of sin, but not just any sin, that of unbelief in Christ.  In John 3, a chapter in which Jesus describes Spiritual rebirth no less, the chapter concludes with this bold statement (from John the Baptist), “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”  The fundamental human responsibility upon hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to respond to the Spirit’s conviction by repenting and then subsequently placing one’s Spirit provided faith in Christ.  (Note: The order of repentance first vs. faith first has often been one of debate; however there can be no debate over the necessity of each).  We read of an example of the Holy Spirit’s ministry of conviction in Peter’s Gospel sermon from Acts 2, where the hearer’s were “cut to the heart”, an obvious response to the work of the Spirit, which was followed up by repentance and an immediate declaration of their faith by baptism.

The second area of conviction mentioned in our passage is that of righteousness.  On the surface, this might seem a bit confusing, especially in regards to whose righteousness the passage referring to.  But clearly this is speaking of the righteousness of Christ, namely His active obedience (Romans 5:19, Hebrews 5:8) to the law of God in living the perfect, sinless life and reaching completeness in His passive obedience (Philippians 2:8) of death on the cross.  Philippians 3:9 gives a little insight into this righteousness, “and be found in him [Christ], not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”  The Holy Spirit conviction concerning this is because through no righteousness of our own can we either improve our standing with God or earn our own salvation, but instead it’s through Christ’s righteousness that reconciliation and salvation come.

From our study passage above, the third way that the Holy Spirit convicts is “concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.”  Critical to understanding this part is to find out who Jesus is referring to as “the ruler of this world.”  In John 12:31 Jesus makes a similar reference, “Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.”  Likewise, reference to the “ruler of this world” is made again in John 14:30.  Jesus says that this person is judged and cast out both of which are an obvious reference to Satan.  When He states that Satan is judged, this is a reference to the finished work of Christ on the cross in defeating the powers of Satan.  In Colossians 2:15 we read, “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.”  Also, “…that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.” Hebrews 2:14b  At Calvary Jesus defeated Satan, the ruler of this world, and although his final sentence is yet to be handed down, he is already judged, as we read in John 16:11. 

We need to ask ourselves, given the primary role of the Holy Spirit to point to Christ, how then does this conviction ministry point or bear witness to Christ?  I believe that the key to understanding this is found in understanding the work of Christ, which we have studied here over the past few months.  When doing so, we see that the Spirit’s conviction of the sin of unbelief points towards the need for Christ as Savior.  In 1 John 4:14 we read, “And we have seen and testify that the Father sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.”  Because of sin, we need a Savior, and that is only found in Jesus Christ who died on the cross for the sins of all those who would believe so that they might have eternal life.  Secondly, the conviction of righteousness points toward the need for Christ as Substitute.  We are all born sinful by nature, meaning at birth we are “unrighteous”. Eph. 2:1-4, Romans 5:12 No matter how much we try to do good or work our way into God’s favor it will never happen.  We can never be good enough.  Our good deeds will never outweigh our bad; in fact as Isaiah 64:6 states even our good deeds are as filthy rags.  Contrary to popular belief we are not “basically good people.” Romans 3:10-12 We need the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ credited or imputed to our account, just as we read in Philippians 3:9.  Finally, in the conviction of judgment the Holy Spirit points to the need for Christ as Advocate or Intercessor.  In 1 John 2:1b we read”…if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”  Likewise, “Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” Hebrews 7:25  The idea behind both of these passage is that Jesus, who now sits at the right hand of the Father, acts as a defense attorney on behalf of those who have faith in Him.  Without Him, sinners are condemned and remain under the wrath of God.

There is so much more to say about God the Holy Spirit, but to understand His ministry it’s important to begin where Christ did, namely that the Spirit was sent to glorify Him.  We are called to preach Christ from the Word of God through the power of the Holy Spirit and trust the Spirit to work in the hearts of men according to the will of God.  “Faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ” Romans 10:17

Dear reader ask yourself if you have ever been convicted by the Holy Spirit.  If you have, did you respond in repentance from your sin and faith in the finished work of Christ Jesus and His perfect righteousness?  If you didn’t respond that way, what are you waiting for?  You have need of a Savior, Substitute, and Advocate; otherwise you face judgment on your own.