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sin

September 05, 2012

So many Christians live their lives racked with guilt and shame. They think back to the things they did, the sins they committed, whether two days ago or two decades, and they live under a cloud of shame. This shame hurts, it burns, it incapacitates. It raises this question: What is the place of guilt, what is the place of shame, in the life of the Christian? I want to take a shot at answering that question today.

We need to begin by distinguishing between guilt and shame. Here is how I differentiate between them: Guilt is the objective reality that I have committed an offense or a crime; shame is the subjective experience of feeling humiliation or distress because of what I have done. God has made us in such a way that sin incurs guilt and guilt generates shame. But there is a catch and a caution: Guilt and shame come in helpful forms and in paralyzingly unhelpful forms. Guilt and shame can be a good gift of God or a curse of Satan.

When I sin against God I may find that my conscience accuses me, that it convicts me that I have done wrong. My guilt, the realization that I have sinned, brings a feeling of shame. This guilt and shame is a good gift of God when it motivates me to repent of my sin, to look again to the cross of Christ.

When I repent of sin, I am assured by God that Christ himself has already dealt with the guilt of it. At the cross the guilt of that offense was transferred to Christ. He took that sin—the full, objective, legal guilt of it—upon himself to such an extent that my sin became his sin. Jesus Christ took every hateful thought and adulterous glance and spiteful word and every other sin upon himself. He took that sin to the cross and suffered God’s wrath against it to the point that justice was satisfied. This means that the offense has been truly and fully paid for. It is gone. I am no longer guilty before God!

But Christ did more than that. Not only did he take away my guilt, but he also gave me his righteousness. This is the great exchange of the gospel, that my sin was transferred to him and his righteousness was transferred to me. I am not only not sinful, but I am actually righteous. Because the guilt of the offense is gone, the shame is gone as well. Because that sin is no longer my own, the shame is no longer my own.

August 03, 2012

A friend of mine has been leading a class based on my book The Next Story. He emailed me a couple of days ago to say that he was preparing to teach on “Privacy and Visibility,” two areas where the digital world has brought a great transformation to our lives. Right before he went to teach the class, he came across a sad story of yet another pastor who has destroyed his ministry for the sake of following his lust. It was a pointed illustration of new realities in this new world. It was also an illustration of something that transcends the digital world.

Until Tuesday, Jack Schaap was pastor of First Baptist Church of Hammond, outside Chicago. First Baptist is the largest church in the state with something like 15,000 people attending each Sunday. Schapp’s pastorate came to an abrupt and shameful end on Tuesday.

Jack Schaap had left his cell phone on the pulpit and a deacon had seen it on the pulpit and had picked it up to bring it back to him,” Trisha Kee, who maintains a Facebook group for ex-congregants, told the station. “From what we understand, the deacon then saw a text come through from a teenage girl in the church, and it was a picture of Jack Schaap and this girl making out.

Church officials announced that he had been fired for “a sin that has caused him to forfeit his right to be our pastor.” Schapp has since confessed that he was involved in an affair with a girl of sixteen who had come to him for counseling. 

What stood out to me in this story was not so much that Schapp took advantage of a young girl, that he abused his position of authority, or that he has risked his marriage by committing adultery. All of these things are horrendous but, sadly, sickeningly, all too common. There is a long and growing history of men who use the pastorate as a means to fulfill their sinful, selfish desires. What stood out to me in this case was the manner in which the pastor’s sin found him out.

June 13, 2012

Mark Altrogge had the nerve to mess with “Come Thou Fount.” He lodges a complaint that I’ve heard from many others (including our Aussie intern): “There’s a line in the hymn that bothers me. In our church we sing an updated version that dropped ‘Here I raise mine Ebenezer.’ Basically nobody in our church knows what that means anyway (probably because of my poor instruction). We think it has something to do with Ebenezer Scrooge but we don’t know exactly what.”

But he has a more serious, theological beef with the song. One of the lines says, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” Altrogge responds, “Though I know believers are tempted to wander and tempted to be unfaithful to Christ at times, I don’t see that Scripture says we are still ‘prone’ to sin and wander.” Rather, “The Bible says believers are ‘prone’ to obey the God they love. Prone to follow Jesus.”

He goes to Ezekiel and these powerful words:

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.  And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.  (Ezekiel 36:25-27)

He explains that although indwelling sin remains, it no longer dominates. Rather, the Holy Spirit causes us to obey God’s statutes and motivates us to obey the Lord. “Yes we once were prone to wander. But Jesus’ death on the cross cured us of that tendency.”

The comments are interesting and Ricky Alcantar nails it in his defense of the hymn as he looks to the context of that verse, showing that the hymnwriter is pointing to a genuine tendency to wander. Within our lives are these opposing desires to honor God and to honor self, to flee from sin and to flee to it. This is the simul justus et peccator of Martin Luther (and the “wretched man that I am” of Romans 7), the fact that we are simultaneously righteous and sinful, sinful in our actions and yet righteous in our standing before God. In good conscience I can continue to sing that I am prone to wander.

Yet I don’t want to take away from Altrogge’s application. As a Calvinist, whose theology of the doctrine of God’s grace begins with Total Depravity, I know that I am prone to tacitly discount God’s grace in my life in favor of declarations of my own wretchedness. I can almost find a strange and ugly kind of delight in my sin, thinking that the more sinful I am, the more my life displays God’s grace. “If he can save a sinner even this awful, then he must be a great God.” And, of course, there is some truth to this. But God also displays his power, his sovereignty, in destroying the grip sin once had on me. God’s grace is shown not only in salvation but also in sanctification. My mother has often remarked that one of the most powerful evidences of God’s grace in a life is when holiness begins to be the natural response to adversity or to being sinned against. I am sure that every Christian can attest to seeing some of this in his own life.

May 02, 2012

Today I want to wrap up my short series on the sin of Envy. Yesterday I looked at How Envy Behaves and this morning I want to show what Envy wants from you and then to give some instruction on putting him to death. There are at least four things Envy wants from you.

Envy Wants to Destroy Your Joy

Envy is unique among the sins in that you never, ever enjoy it. Envy never brings any satisfaction. If you commit the sin of adultery, you enjoy the fleeting pleasures of the flesh; if you commit the sin of gluttony you get to enjoy the taste of food while it slides down your throat. These are very fleeting and fleshly pleasures, but they are pleasures still. Envy only, ever makes you more miserable than you were before.

Envy also bring misery by making you unwilling or even unable to confess the sin. He cuts so deep, he exposes so much of what you really want that confessing that he exists requires a true baring of the deepest, darkest recesses of the soul. You may not know just how ugly and dark your sin is until you look into your soul and see Envy and then go digging around to try to get him out of there, to find the source and to uproot it.

When I am walking with Envy and allowing him to influence me, I cannot enjoy anything in itself because I only see what I have and what I am in comparison to someone else. I am not popular, I am less popular than he is. I don’t sell books, I sell fewer books than he does. In every case, I can never be joyful, because everything the other person has calls me into question.

Proverbs says that Envy is rottenness to the bones (14:30). Envy makes you sick with grief and dissatisfaction, rotting you from the inside out.

Envy Wants to Destroy Your Love

Envy is anti-love. 1 Corinthians 13 says it plainly: “Love does not envy.” Why? Because love cannot envy. They cannot co-exist. You cannot be envious and loving at the same time toward the same person and this means that you have the choice before you: will I love this person or will I be envious toward him? To love is to rejoice in who he is and in what he has been given. To be envious is to hate who he is and to want to watch him lose what he has been given.

May 01, 2012

Yesterday I began to write about what I called The Lost Sin of Envy. I gave a short history of Envy and then shared some of what the Bible says about him. Today I want to show how he behaves and how you can expect him to work himself out in your life.

Envy Competes

Who is Envy? What does Envy do? How do we define Envy? Something like this: Envy makes you feel resentment or anger or sadness because another person has something or another person is something that you want for yourself. Envy makes you aware that another person has some advantage, some good thing, that you want for yourself and, while he’s at it, he makes you want that other person not to have it.

This means that there are at least three evil components to Envy: the deep discontent that comes when you see that another person has what you want; the desire to have it for yourself; and the desire for it to be taken from him.

It’s crucial to understand that Envy flows out of Pride. (A commenter said it well: “In my wretched experience pride has always been envy’s father…”) Pride says, “This is what I deserve” or “Let me boast about all I have” or “I am better than you in all of these ways.” Have you ever thought about the fact that pride always compares? C.S. Lewis says, “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others.” When you are proud you compare yourself with another person and there are only two possible outcomes: If you believe you come out on top, you feel even more pride; if you believe you come out on the bottom, you feel envy. Envy comes when Pride is wounded.

Envy does something very strange and ugly. When I look at your success or your money or your joy, that good thing makes me feel bad. It somehow calls me into question, it taunts me, it makes me doubt myself, it even makes me doubt God. When I see your success, it makes me think less of myself. It calls into question all that I am, all that I’ve done, all that I’ve accomplished, all that I’ve worked for. It becomes an issue of my own identity. Your success screams that I have failed.

April 30, 2012

A little while ago God did what he sometimes does and rather suddenly made it very clear to me that I had a sin in my life—a prominent sin—that had somehow been hidden to me. It surprised just how prevalent this sin was, how ugly, and how little I knew about it. Once I saw it and once I tried to understand it, I came to see that it may well be a sin you struggle with as well. It is one of those sins we talk about very little and one of those sins that has wormed its way into our culture and into the church. It may just be a lost sin, a sin we’ve forgotten about. Many of us don’t even have a clear category for it anymore. Ancient writers and theologians talked about it a lot, even suggesting that it was the second most serious and second most prevalent of all the sins, and yet today it has almost disappeared from our vocabulary or it has been confused with related sins like jealousy or covetousness. That sin is Envy.

Proverbs says that whoever walks with the wise will be wise, but a companion of fools will suffer harm (13:20). What I found out is that Envy has been a friend of mine for a long, long time. I just didn’t realize it until recently. He has infected me with his foolishness. Let me tell you how he’s worked in my life.

Nine years ago I slapped together a little web site so I could share a couple of articles with my parents. The Lord took that site and has done something amazing so that today tens of thousands of people read it every day. Not only that, but I have been able to write books and I have been able to travel all around to teach and preach and so much more. You might think that I would be just thrilled with all that has happened and certainly I should be. And yet I came to see that this really was not the case. Instead I was growing resentful, I was envious of what I didn’t have and of what God hadn’t given me. I came to see that I had made friends with Envy. 

For the next couple of days I want to write about Envy, sharing some of what I’ve learned about it, about him. I want you to be able to know Envy when you see him because maybe, just maybe, you’ve become friends with him as well.

Today I want to introduce to you Envy in two ways—first by giving you a look at his list of accomplishments and then by telling you what God says about him.

October 10, 2011

Once again, don’t run away from this blog post just because it’s got a bit of a Puritan flavor to it. I mentioned last week that I’ve been running through John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation and trying to distill each chapter to its essence—to a few choice quotes that capture the flavor of what Owen is trying to communicate. I recently summarized the first chapter, The Foundation of Mortification. Today I want to share what I learned from the second chapter, which has the rather long and clunky title of “Believers Ought to Make the Mortification of Indwelling Sin Their Daily Work.” I shortened it to “Daily Put Sin to Death.” In this chapter Owen seeks to show that Christians need to work every day to put sin to death (Owen’s word mortification simply means put to death).

Here is how he goes about building his argument. You can see from the headings how he progresses.


“The choicest believers, who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it their business all their days to mortify the indwelling power of sin.”

“Do you mortify?
Do you make it your daily work?
Be always at it while you live.
Cease not a day from this work.
Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

Indwelling Sin Always Lives On

“We have a ‘body of death’ (Rom. 7:24), from whence we are not delivered but by the death of our bodies (Phil. 3:20). Now, it being our duty to mortify, to be killing of sin while it is in us, we must be at work. He that is appointed to kill an enemy, if he leave striking before the other ceases living, does but half his work.”

September 12, 2011

Read an outside view on Calvinists or Calvinism, and you are sure to read something about God’s wrath. Every time. The God of Calvinism is a wrathful, vengeful God, boiling over in anger against any part of creation that has turned against him. He is no God of love, this. Sure, he may have some love for his elect, but to the rest of the world he is this angry, brooding presence eagerly awaiting the day of judgment in which he will cast the rest of humanity into the flames of hell.

I suppose Calvinists have sometimes given others reason to think that this is what we believe to be true of God. Perhaps Calvinists have at times erred by over-emphasizing God’s wrath and have done so at the expense of his love. But this angry, vengeful God is not the true God of the Calvinist.

It is good and useful to consider the relationship of God’s love to his wrath. Are they equal characteristics or is one greater than the other? How can God both love and hate? Michael Wittmer’s book Don’t Stop Believing is a very good, popular-level look at some of the hard questions facing Christians today and it offers a powerful response. One of those questions concerns the cross and whether, as some have suggested, a traditional Christian understanding of the cross is tantamount to cosmic child abuse.

In this chapter Wittmer explains how we can (and must) reconcile God’s wrath with his love. “Scripture says that God is love and that he has wrath. This means that love lies deeper than wrath in the character of God. Love is his essential perfection, without which he would not be who he is. Wrath is love’s response to sin. It is God’s voluntary gag reflex at anything that destroys his good creation. God is against sin because he is for us, and he will vent his fury on everything that damages us.”

May 24, 2011

Rain
On Wednesday night I headed home from our mid-week service, just like I always do. Around halfway home, while cruising down the highway at, well, highway speeds, I suddenly hit a powerful rain storm—one of those storms that hits like a wall of wind and water. Rain was dishing down and already the roads were beginning to flood a little bit. Passing cars were throwing up great sheets of water in their wake. I immediately flicked on my windshield wipers. They went up and back; up and back. And then they just stopped.

I didn’t panic, but I knew I was in some trouble. With the wipers out of commission, I couldn’t see anything ahead of me but the distant glow of another car’s lights. I turned the wipers off and on but all I saw was a weak little attempt to rise. Then they fell again and that was that. They were dead.

So there I was, traveling at 100 kilometers per hour, in the passing lane of a 6-lane highway, and I couldn’t see a thing. I had my 2 daughters with me, so I told them to pray while I tried to get over to the shoulder (the left shoulder was too narrow to pull over onto). I put on the 4-way flashers and gingerly started moving into the middle lane. One car had to swerve around me, but we made it. Then I eased myself into the slow lane. And from there I was able to get onto the shoulder and stop. To do this I had to drive with my head out the driver’s side window, but that was okay by me. I stopped the car and breathed a sigh of relief. Of course now we were on the shoulder in the lashing rain—not exactly a safe place to be. But we were okay. The wipers were well and truly shot, but I found that by driving slowly I could see enough to inch forward. I got off the highway at the next exit and carefully made my way home by side streets, occasionally stopping to cycle the wipers manually.

April 18, 2011

There was a time when God walked and talked with the people he created. This must have been an amazing experience for Adam and Eve. But alas, it was a short-lived experience. One evening God came to the garden for his evening stroll and Adam and the woman were nowhere to be found. They had heard the sound of him and they had been terrified. They heard that sound and instead of rushing to him they ran away from him. Clutching fig leaves to themselves, they got among the thickest trees and hid away, trying to get away from God. Their joy had turned to terror, their anticipation to dread.

Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.  And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.

As a child there were days when I looked forward to my father coming home. He would have been away on a business trip and I knew he would have something for me—a new toy or something good to eat. “Dad’s home!” And I’d rush out and hug him and get whisker burn as he rubbed my cheeks with his stubbly face. Then he’d pull something out of his pocket and give it to me. That is a great memory of days long past.

And then there were days when I was terrified when dad came home. Those were the days I had sinned against my mother and she had sent me to my room; she had banished me. “You go to your room and wait until your father gets home!” I remember lying in bed and trying desperately to fall asleep, hoping dad would have pity on his poor, sweet sleeping child. I remember hiding in the closet one time, shrinking to the back of the closet and hiding, knowing that I deserved to be punished for lying to my mother yet again. This is what we do when we sin, when we are afraid of the consequence of our sin. This is what Adam did.

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