October 31, 2013

Starving Sin II: Burning The Thing That Burns

[Continued from Part I]

In this post I include three more things that the believer can actively do to thwart or stave off sin.

1 John 1:7 ~ “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”

Although John’s statements are sometimes generalized and ambiguous, they are rather simple to understand. He speaks of walking in the light. John is simply telling us to not walk in our own ways which are all paths that lead to darkness. To walk in darkness represents walking in the realm of the self. To walk in the light is to walk in the realm of God. God is holy and perfect, He is perfectly righteous. We are none of these things. God is the source of these things. The self or realm of people ruins even good things by throwing them into the shadow of darkness. Although they are not permeated by the darkness they are blocked and obscured by it like clouds or fog in twilight.

In John’s mind the darkness symbolizes evil and unrighteousness. If we look closely at the amoral or immoral cities that Paul or John visited, we get some indicator. They are ancient comparisons of the cities today.  We can literally see the depraved immoral life of certain sections of our great cities and megalopolis’. An even sharper contrast can be found when we look at the pagan Muslim cities of Middle-east where Christianity has not managed to enter and then look to more Christian areas and cities. The savagery becomes more apparent. Christians are by no means perfect but there is a clear contrast between Taliban and my local church or attendees at Westminster right down the road from my house.

All this opposed to true Christians that actually walk in the ways of Christ and are indwelt by the Spirit of God. They breathe the light, they live with God who is light. John urges that no other than such walking in the light can be suitable. There is nothing worse than men who say that they are good and then go on deceiving themselves with the idea that they could keep their relationship to the light (God) yet give themselves up to sinful excesses. We as Christians are only deceiving ourselves if we think we can. What is worse is when these people do behave poorly while simultaneously claiming Christian heritage. It defames the name of Christ.

We cannot live a life trying to see how close we can walk to that line of sin and still get away with things. This is not more than trying to tempt the Lord our God. We are to live a life for God as new creations and separated for God’s holy purposes. Just as a priesthood of believers should be.

1 John 1:9 ~ “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Another way we can help in our battles with sin is the confess them.

Confession as a solitary stand-alone act has little value. Going to a priest to confess them in a robotic manner to "clean the slate" is virtually worthless. The importance of confession lies squarely in the condition of the heart and mind of the one confessing, not the absolution or forgiveness from other men. It is an issue of what is our attitude(s) and behaviors towards sin, not what another can do for us upon confession. Everything that could be done for our sin has already been done by Christ on the Cross. No man has any  power over our sin except Christ. Confession on the other hand shows an open and reachable heart. A heart that is hardened and unwilling to confess is unreachable an therefore cannot be taught. A person willing to confess sin has a humble heart and mind and wishes to have wrongs taken away by the Lord. A hardened heart just doesn’t care.

There are essentially three conditions that are possible in man when it comes to confessing sin. 
(1) It is possible that a man might have nothing to confess at a particular moment but it is unlikely as a man’s heart is upon evil continually. There are none righteous, no, not one. 
(2) A man can be recalcitrant or not want to confess sin our acknowledge it. 
(3) Finally a man may want to confess. 

The question arises: What do these conditions say about the people they are found within?

What does it mean to confess our sins? What significance does it have? Why do we tell our most horrid hidden sins to God? God already knows our sin better than we do. He even knows of the ones we are not aware of. If He already knows, why does He have us confess? Simple. He may know them better than us…and that is the whole point. By searching ourselves deeply to find the hidden sins and recounting them to God we make them manifest and perfectly evident to ourselves. He has us confess them so that we know them better, not Him. There is a deepness of understanding and dare I say “appreciation” of the significance of the sin when we become intimately acquainted with it and its negative aspects and effects in our lives and other's lives too. So...to confess our sins is not merely telling them to God…it is a time and place to familiarize ourselves with it and see their damaged done. 

A man will not stop putting his hand on a hot stove or into a fire until he has been painfully burned by it. Without self-examination, confession is nothing more than empty words or ritual. True self-examination and understanding of our sin should produce regret, repentance and godly sorrow. It should burn. It should humble us not elevate us to arrogance. It should turn us to penitence and prayer not haughtiness and further rebellion. Having understood the sin this well leaves an impression on us like scars from a burn. It creates an aversion to it. It brands us and sears us like meat. In this way the searing adds character and if its our dinner...it adds flavor. :)

Lastly, we see another passage from 1 John.

1 John 5:16 ~ “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that.

What we’re seeing here is a Christian interceding for others (v. 16-17). We also see love for a brother or sister that is sinning. A true Christian will not sit idly by while they see their brethren sinning wittingly or unwittingly. There is a nature intrinsic to the Christian that we intercede for those with the body of Christ that stumble. This is because in the true Christian body there will be desire for true unity in love. If the unity in the body is of the Spirit of God it will be working towards holiness…not against it in sin. Therefore, Christians should care that other Christians are obedient to the word of God. A loving Christian will not let his brother put his hand on a hot stove without warning. If the errant brother is insistent on putting their hand on a hot stove in error, we are justified in a rebuke since a loving brother will not knowingly let a brother purposely or involuntarily hurt themselves. This is why the whole: "We shouldn't tell them their in error because its unloving and critical!" makes absolutely no sense to me at all. A loving person will not think a burning is better than a rebuke!

What John is elaborating on here is that prayer should extend to the needs of others even when they do not know they are in need. He does this to show fully what it means to love the brethren. This should be a startling wake up call for the evangelicals that say we should not tell people they are wrong in their sin or error for fear of alienating them. To love them is to purposefully intercede for them. To hate them is to let them go their own ways in sin. We are to act as a shepherd when the sheep go astray.

When we hear the word intercession we think of the reality television shows where family members forcefully interject themselves into loved-one’s lives to save them from themselves. Many are junkies or addicts and their lives have gone off the rails and have become unmanageable. There is usually an open and caustic affront to the people whose lives are out of control to try and snap them back to reality. My question is this: How is this any different than Christians that have gone off the rails in apostasy, false belief, false teaching or pursuit of flagrant sin? Frankly, I see no difference. We are all sin junkies. Some still flagrantly and openly pursue their sin and some are recovering junkies. Either way, at one time or another....all can use prayer. Yet many within the church will take a hands-off politically correct approach. This is not what we see in 1 John (of the Gospels and the rest of the Bible for that matter).

Most Christians who try too hard to categorize and tidy up the words of John don’t realize that sinning always leads to dying. We are saved to eternal like but the wage of any sin is death. While the Bible is clear that no Christian will ever experience spiritual death and be subjected to God's wrath eternally in Hell we will suffer the physical consequences of our sinning in our inevitable physical death. Because most sin (because of God’s mercy and grace) will not die immediately for their sin, we need to pray for our brethren when they sin. This praying is concrete evidence of not only our love for them but also a clear reciprocation of the mercy and grace God shows. We therefore emulate God in this manner.

There are hidden benefits to being in the faith and having loving brethren in the faith and what we’ve seen in this passage is one of them. When we intimate ourselves to others and pray for them and their sin, we get to know them personally. It is hard to not care about a person once you really get to know them…and that is the whole point. The care and concern that goes into praying for a sinning brother shows a vested interest in the salvation….just like our own. Just like God did for us by sending His Son.

God is smart. God is Wisdom. God is Love. He has passed that wisdom on to us through people like David, Solomon, Paul, Peter, John and most of all Jesus. We are well-advised to take heed of the words long written down on the pages of the Bible when it comes to stonewalling sin and giving it a punch square in its jaw. When we work out our salvation it requires we take an active role in our sanctification or journey towards holiness. This means we must actively resist sin and starve it off, not feed it. There is no better way to do this than to put the principles of the Bible into actions. This requires that we internalize the word of God until it becomes us. By doing this we become like Christ...because the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us so that He would know all the temptations known to man and still overcome them in our stead because he loved us and interceded for us (John 1:14, Hebrews 2:14-18).

John 1:14 ~ "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth."

Hebrews 2:14-18 ~ "Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery [to sin]. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted."

[Completed in Part III]

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