Saturday, December 20, 2014

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The Sin of Man
          Recently, I was encouraged to concentrate more on the love of Jesus rather than the sin of man in my writings.  As I contemplated upon this idea, I began to consider this question: Are the two subjects really mutually exclusive, or inclusive, of one another?  Can the two truly be separated from one another without causing a serious perversion of the word of God?  God is a loving God, but He is also a just God.  Even as I seek to gain a greater understanding of God’s love for us and our responsibility to seek God’s forgiveness, I question my ability to get to the root of this.  I know this one thing that prevails over all understanding, and that is that God’s ways are higher than ours.  Learning to truly follow the Lord in all our ways is not an immediate acquisition for any of us, for it is a lifelong process, a journey that can never be completed as long as we are in these mortal bodies.  And yet it is a journey that is worth the taking in order to draw nearer to the Lord, and learn what it means to love the Lord with all our mind, heart, and strength.  Do I think that I will come to a full understanding by the time I will have finished this paper?  I am sure that I will not, but I pray that in some small way, I may at least gain a partial understanding.

          This is my dilemma: What are the criterion for being judgmental, as opposed to using good judgment to discern and confront sin, to give or receive, rebuke, reproof, or correction as an individual believer, and within the body of Christ as a whole?  Where shall I begin?  Perhaps the best place is with the statement that we hear thrown around so frequently these days towards anyone that directs attention to, or makes an attempt to confront sin: “Judge not lest ye be judged…”  More often than not, that is meant to silence any further mention of sin, and end any further discussion of the possibility of its existence, or the need for godly discipline and restraint based upon God’s system of ethics and morality.  Just by chance, could man’s desire to be “unshackled” from God’s restraints, be the very cause of our increasing acceptance of mankind’s relativism and secular world standard of ethics and immorality?

          Our present decent into being conformed by the ways of the world is a tool of Satan that is rapidly turning us away from God.  I speak here of Christians, for unbelievers do not profess to believe in our God or His ways.  Through manipulation and intimidation, we are being taught and indoctrinated to believe that God’s ways are evil.  Sentimentality and a false sense of compassion are being used to cause us to discard and reject God’s standards of absolute right and wrong.  Proclaim that something is a sin based upon the word of God, and you will be accused of being judgmental, and labeled, even by some who profess to be Christians, as an intolerant hater, and a self righteous bigot.  Things have gone so far that some pastors, who still claim to be Christians, are teaching their congregation that there is no Hell, in other words, there are no consequences for practicing sin.  In fact, the new Catholic Pope is even teaching that atheists, as long as they are “men of goodwill,” will go to Heaven.  Don’t take my word for it; Google and verify it for yourself.  It may be that this conclusion is based on the unbiblical doctrine that Jesus died for the sins of the world, disregarding the biblical teaching that salvation requires that we believe in Jesus as the Son of God who paid for our sins on the cross.  We are all too ready to accept His love, but we don’t want to accept the fact that we are all sinners in need of a Savior.

            Can we be judgmental towards one another?  Without a doubt!  However, it can not be automatically assumed, when someone rebukes or criticizes us, that they can be rightly accused of being judgmental.  In my own experience, I have found that it isn’t “comfortable” to be on the receiving or the giving end of criticism, but I have learned one thing.  No matter who delivers the criticism, their intent, or whether it is true or not, it can be viewed as a kindness.  Criticism, especially if it is delivered in love, can be an instrument to deliver rebuke, reproof, or correction to direct our path away from sin and back to an acceptable path in the Lord, to produce His intended good in our lives.  I am not always successful at receiving criticism with this positive attitude, but it is my desire to endeavor to learn to do so.  The following is a precious scripture that can melt our hearts and turn our lives around.  “Let the righteous strike me; it shall be a kindness.  And let him rebuke me; it shall be as excellent oil; Let my head not refuse it.  For still my prayer is against the deeds of the wicked.” (Psalm 141: 5)  Maybe that scripture provides a key to understanding the difference between being judgmental, as opposed to receiving correction for confrontation of sin for our own good.  Perhaps it lies in the condition of the heart being changed, led, and disciplined by the power of the Holy Spirit, and having a willingness to die to yourself and submit to the will of God.

          I know that it has become very popular, even within the body of Christ, to concentrate on the love of Christ without mention of man’s responsibility to acknowledge and confess his sin.  By ignoring sin, do we not remove the reality that we are responsible for our choices and actions, and the consequences of both?  We are saved by the grace of God, but does that mean that we then have the ‘freedom’ to do as we will without regard to the will of God?  I’m certain that my search for truth and understanding, no matter what the topic, will not be complete here, for God is ever at work to reveal more and more of His truth as we go through this journey of life.  Somehow, I believe that this connection between the love of Jesus and justice, or confrontation of sin is very much related to the scripture that says: “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.”  (II Tim. 4: 3, 4)  In other words, mankind will only want to hear what makes him feel comfortable about his own choices whether they are acceptable to God or not.  More and more, we live with a limited and distorted view of life, as if this present earthly life is of greater importance than what God has planned for our far greater eternal life.  We have become satisfied with settling for fast food instant gratification, instead of waiting patiently for the greater dining experience gained through the meticulous preparations of the Master Chef.  We have forgotten the rewards for laying up our riches in Heaven, instead of living just for the present.  We have become like Esau who, for the instant gratification of obtaining one meal, relinquished his inheritance that would have been his.  Oh how limited our vision becomes.  “Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” (Prov. 9: 8) 

          Can we really say that we are living lives to give glory and honor to God, while we choose to fulfill our own desires rather than living in obedience to the Lord?   Yet, more often than not, those who would strive to remind us that we should turn away from the sin in our lives, are being labeled as self righteous haters and judgmental bigots.  It seems that we relish hearing all about Jesus’ love for us as unconditional, but we do not want to be told that if we truly love Him, we will seek to be obey Him, to be doers of His word and not just hearers. 

          It seems that each of us, as individuals, is less willing to ask the Lord to “Search me, O God, and know my heart: Try me and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139: 23, 24)  If we would start with self examination for the Lord’s correction for ourselves, perhaps their may be less of a need for it to be delivered through another source.  However, we can be sure that whether we acknowledge that sin in our lives or not, there will be consequences.  God’s judgment and chastisement is not meant for our harm, but for our good that we might be sorry for the wrong we’ve done and turn back to him.  Unless we “sorrow to repentance,” (II Cor. 7:9, 10) and turn away from sin, we will only continue to sink deeper, and suffer the consequences that brings great harm and damage to ourselves.  Our conscience will eventually become so seared that we no longer perceive our sin as wrong doing, but just accept it as the new “normal” in our life.

          If we will not discern the sin in our lives for ourselves, in His mercy and love, God will confront us of its existence.  The important thing is not how the criticism, or rebuke, is delivered, but rather how we choose to respond.  Yes, the reproof may sting all the way to our very core, but isn’t it good if it comes to shed light into our life that the darkness may be exposed?  No one wants a cancer to remain hidden until it’s too late and the terminal damage has been done.  If we allow it to remain and grow, sin is more deadly than a physical disease, for it can produce, not just physical death, but spiritual and eternal death.

          What has happened to the responsibility of delivering reproof, rebuke, and correction within the body of Christ?  Does it even exist anymore?  Within I Cor. Chapter 5, an example is given of the procedure to follow to confront sin when it exists within the church.  As a last resort, it teaches that the unrepentant sinner should be expelled from the church in hopes that he/she eventually would realize what was lost, repent, and return, seeking forgiveness in order to be welcomed back into the fold.  Do we see this happening in our churches today?  Scripture tells us that God chastises His children because He loves us.  “But if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons.” (Hebrews 12: 8)  Unfortunately, many are not “sons,” for we have not loved Him enough to have ears to hear and yield to His chastisement when it is delivered.  It is not popular to even mention sin, much less administer any discipline for it.  Not wanting to be cast into the image of one who is judgmental, discipline within the body is often forsaken, and many are going down the “wide path” that leads to destruction.  In these new “enlightened” times, where the authority and absolutes of the Bible are questioned, we find it easier to either ignore or redefine that which is considered to be sin.  It seems we have become more interested in becoming so inclusive and tolerant, that we have decided to make the Bible agree with what we say is or is not sin, instead of emphatically standing in agreement with the Word, God’s infallible truth.

          Again I ask, what are the true criteria for recognizing when we are, as individuals or as the body of Christ, actually behaving in a judgmental way, or when we are just using good judgment to discern the difference between good and evil to confront the practice of sin?  I don’t mean to infer that it’s easy to give or receive discipline, rebuke, reproof, or correction.  It’s probably one of the hardest responsibilities to obey as Christians.  There are many churches today which are gung ho when it comes to being active in “doing good works” for the Lord, but don’t want to hear about removing sin from the body.  If doing good works is all that is important, then all we need do is join the nearest community social justice activist club.  We can all save ourselves by becoming the best community organizers, acting out our role of compassionate service to help our fellow man.  However, the results of that will be exactly what God has said it would create: “This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.  For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, Traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.”

“Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”

(II Tim. 3: 1-5, 7) 

          Doing good works is a good thing.  Wanting to serve and help our fellow man is a charitable thing to do, and should be an outward sign of the fruit of the indwelling Holy Spirit.  However, if our works are done as a service to mankind to bring glory to ourselves, instead of doing them as unto our Lord, that we may give glory and honor to Him, then we have not loved the Lord with all our heart, mind, and strength, putting Him first in thought, word, and deed. Many will declare that “true religion” is exhibited by doing good works.  But in doing so, they have ignored the last part of the scripture:

“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”  What a world of difference it makes when we consider the meaning of the scripture in context and in its entirety.  If we believe that the word of God is true, and meant for our instruction and correction, then we must admit that our choices and actions are important in demonstrating our love for God and His ways.  It’s important to understand: “And be not  conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God ” (Romans 12: 2)  Man’s ways are relative, ever changing.  Either we are going to adapt and live according to man’s ethical and moral (or immoral) system, or we are going to put our trust in God, and commit ourselves to Christ’s ethical and moral system, not that of the world.  True faith means nothing if we live no differently than the rest of the unbelieving world.  Remember, “If a house be divided against itself, that house can not stand.”(Mark 3:25)  “…For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed.”  “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” (James 1: 6, 8)  A believer is sanctified and changed more into the image of God as he/she studies and obeys the word of God.  “…Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for it;  That He might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That He might present it to Himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” (Eph. 5: 25b- 27)

          The Word of God is a two edged sword that will, as we apply its truth to our lives, cut away those things from our lives that are not pleasing to the Lord.  Jesus loved us so much that He gave His life for us that we might be forgiven and reconciled to a right relationship with God our Father through faith in the Son of God.  What greater love could we ever have poured out toward us?  If we truly love Him in return, would we not show it by dying to our selves?  What does that mean?  As I understand it, we choose to let go of anything that would come between the Lord and us; we yield our will to His will, that we may receive His best for us.  All of us are sinners, for all have fallen short of the mark.  All have been born with a sinful nature because we live in a fallen world.  None of us will ever become sinless until we see the Lord face to face, and He gives to us a glorified body.  But it is our purpose in life to yield our lives to Him that He may perfect us.  A great part of this love relationship between us and the Lord involves confession of our sins to Him that we may be forgiven through the blood of Jesus, for there is no remission of sin without the shedding of blood.  There is no sinless person in all of time, past, present or future, that can grant forgiveness of sin, except Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, crucified to pay for our sins, and resurrected, made alive, and sits at the right hand of God the Father, ever interceding on our behalf.

          I am sure this is not the last time that I will visit this topic to try to understand more fully.  One thing is always true about the word of God; every time we read it, the Lord always has another nugget of His truth to reveal to us that somehow we missed before.  Then too, He has blessed me with wonderful Spirit filled brothers and sisters.  Each of them has played a part in contributing to drawing me closer to the Lord over the years.  After reading my paper, upon a request for further insight, my older brother responded with some thoughts of his own.  As always, he had further wisdom from the word of the Lord.  With his permission, I share it with each of you. In just a few words, he has wrapped it all up with the most important element of all – the Holy Spirit:

          “The Lord sets the standards for judgments, and we have to seek the discernment of and how to apply them to ourselves and others.  There are variables in our discernments.  Sometimes it is a choice of a lesser sin to deal with before we confront the greater sins that the Holy Spirit must confront.  We are the ‘little helpers’ and HE-THE-SPIRIT is the effective, Big helper that makes discernment and transformation work in us.  Being in the Spirit” sums up all the criteria that Jesus teaches.”

          One of my greatest sins that I constantly find myself battling against is worry and being anxious.  You would think, after all this time, I would be able to recognize it when it pops its head up within me, for it always brings with it a spirit of heaviness and a false burden.  By my ‘old sinful nature,’ I tend to want to ‘fix’ people, wanting to rescue them from themselves or the consequences of their choices or actions.  Now isn’t that ironic?  I am in need of so much ‘fixing’ myself!  What did Jesus tell us?  “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God: and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Phlp. 4: 6 – 8)  It is God alone who sets the agenda and gives the right answer at the right time.  When we see friends or loved ones either in a ‘trap,’ or headed for one, it is a natural instinct to want to reach out and rescue them, not because we are so wise, but often because we ourselves were once ensnared by the very same thing.  But no matter how much we want to save ourselves or someone else from the harm to come, no one can do anything of any real significance unless the Lord has first prepared their heart.  Neither you nor I can afford to go out ahead of the Lord.  No matter how good our intentions, the results are always in His hands and not in our own.  When I think of all the many times that my own paths have been averted from sinking into the miry clay of sin, even though I may not have realized it until after the fact, the Lord had always first prepared my heart, and then given me ears to hear His truth, that it might be effective in my life.  Unless we ourselves have first come under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, to hunger and thirst to know the Lord and His Word, we will not see our need for Him.  Neither can any of us create that hungering within someone else.  We can but pray that the Holy Spirit will work in our own life and the life of others, and then, depend upon the Lord and His timing, as He chooses whose hands to use to be His ‘little helpers’ to lead another to Him.  At the right time, He will give us His words to speak that they may be effective.  Without His leading, we will only walk in the mindless circles of the confusion of this world.

          As we see the world crumbling down around us, and we cry out for the sake of ourselves and others, we must remember the first principle – take it to the Lord, and then remember not to turn around and try to pick up that burden again, for the battle is the Lord’s.  Trying to ‘fix’ people, even ourselves, is not a burden that God has given to us.  It is a false burden that Satan uses to try to wear down the army of God to make us weary and ineffective.  God’s timing, correcting, planting, and harvest are His.  Our ‘hands and hearts’ are only helpful when it is He who has led the way and directed our paths.  He must go before, and we must follow.  Then and only then will we become the “trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified.”(Isaiah 61: 3)

          Lord, teach me that I might know Thy ways.  Let me not be judgmental, but to have good judgment in discerning good and evil.  Teach each of us Lord to obey Thy will that we may follow the straight and narrow path to Thee through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Help each of us Lord to study Thy word that we may be transformed more and more into Thy image, by the washing of the water of your word, and the power of Your Holy Spirit.  To God be the glory, great things He has done.  In Jesus name I pray.  Amen  


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