16. Mystery

Short Meds in ‘Living the Life’: 16. Mystery

Rom 15:25 “the revelation of the MYSTERY hidden …. but now revealed and made known.” 

We spoke yesterday about wisdom and revelation imparted by the Holy Spirit, and it’s especially the word ‘revelation’ that seems to call so strongly now. Revelation as we said before is disclosed knowledge, knowledge that was previously hidden. The Revelation of John, for example, the last book in the Bible, is prophetic insight shared by Jesus to John (Rev 1:1) about how things will be in the last days. In 2 Sam 7 Nathan the prophet comes and gives David the big picture of the future of both the present and the future (v.4-16) and so we read, Nathan reported to David all the words of this entire revelation.” (v.17) In one sense the who Bible is God’s revelation to us.

Hindsight is both a blessing and a bane. Having the completed Bible as we do means we have the whole picture in our hands and that is a blessing, but that means we often miss the struggles that people in the Bible had. Paul spoke of the mystery of Christ (Eph 3:4, Col 4:3) or the mystery of the Gospel (Eph 6:19) or this mystery more generally, (e.g. Rom 16:25, Eph 1:9, 3:3,6,9, Col 1:26,27). Before Christ came there was this prophetic sense of a ‘coming one’, a messiah, but that was all it was, a shadow in history. The prophets longed to understand what they were sensing (1 Pet 1:10). We now know what it was. Let’s not miss out on the privilege we have of living in this time with this knowledge.

I wonder if that is how we see it – a privilege that we have of living in this present time with the complete Bible in our hands or on our bookshelves? But there we have it for so many, Bibles on bookshelves. They need to be in our hands for Paul wrote, that we are saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” (2 Thes 2:13b) i.e. we experience God’s salvation as the Spirit works in us and our faith builds up daily our ‘belief in the truth’.   When Paul spoke of a ‘mystery’ he was referring to the prophetic scriptures of the Old Testament that hinted at a coming one and yet it had come with different hues – he might be an abused servant, he might a mighty king (and of course he turned out to be both) that it was confusing for scholars. It needed the events to be rolled out in history and then spoken into the spirit of this out-of-time apostle before what had been a mystery became clear. The truth is that the word of God is a mystery to many, very simply because they don’t approach it in prayer and with a submissive heart, and so because it does seem a mystery, people fail to read it daily, fail to be fed by it daily, fail to be built up daily by it, fail to be transformed by it as the Spirit applies it. And so the enemy whispers, “It’s hard, you don’t need it, you can get by without it.” A lie, in fact three lies! It is the foundation of our faith and it is food for our faith and so without it we feel unstable and worry, we feel ‘thin’ and weak. I recently ran across a simple quote by a well-known Christian leader: “Anxiety comes from unbelief,” and I believe he is right and is why so many people are living in anxiety. They have not let God impart faith, confidence, and assurance through His word because they have kept the mystery book closed. Away with these lies, away with this folly. At times in history we have been known as ‘the people of the book’. May that be true again today as we cast off the negatives spoken in the world about it, and let God come again in both His Spirit and His Word and unshackle the Church.

31. Blindness – to Sin (1)

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 31. Guilt of Blindness – to the Sin of the World (1)

Rom 3:23 (JBP) For there is no distinction to be made anywhere: everyone has sinned, everyone falls short of the beauty of God’s plan.

Rom 3:23(TLB) Yes, all have sinned; all fall short of God’s glorious ideal

Rom 3:23 (ESV/NKJV/NIV) all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

Continuing: Starting out this second Part in study no.20, we started focusing of how wrong thinking can lead us into sin and how wrong looking can lead us into wrong desires to do wrong, but all the time, behind it all is the way we think. Indeed whenever we talk about belief or believing, we are talking about what we think. What goes on in our minds is critical to our lives. And so in the last four studies in particular we have been focusing on how we think about a variety of issues – the glory of God, the history involving God, and the wonder of the salvation revealed in that history, the basic beliefs that contribute to our faith.

Dangers: But if we think casually about these issues or even ignore them, that weakens our faith and as we said before, that anesthetizes us, puts us to sleep, it disarms us and stops us being a threat to the enemy, and it undermines us and makes us vulnerable to his deceptions and temptations. It is important then that we take hold of these things again and clarify them in our thinking. Indeed some of these things, if we have weak thinking about them, will actually undermine our very faith. No more is this true than in respect of what we think about Sin. Now I don’t want this study to appear a heavy treatise on how bad we all are, but I do want us to see it is at the heart of so much of what we experience in our live in the twenty first century.

Focusing Sin: Now I have used just one starter verse today but have provided three versions of it to clarify the most common one that we use that says we have all sinned and which explains that as falling “short of the glory of God”.  That is not an easy concept to grasp which is why I had added the others – falling short of the beauty of God’s plan (i.e. failing to enter into the wonderful will of God) and falling short of God’s glorious ideal. But each one has a commonality – falling short of something, failing to reach a possibility or goal. God designed mankind to be perfect but the fact that that included free will resulted in us using that free will to choose to go our own ways and not God’s. Thus we all live according to the ‘design’ we have in our own minds of how life should be lived, and that is always less than the way God has for us. No other philosophy or theology can explain our potential greatness and yet our potential awfulness. But this living less than God’s way has very practical outworkings.

Outworkings of ‘Falling Short’: This is seen in both mundane but real ways, and deep, complex and evil ways. I happened to be reading a devotional book the other day that spoke about personal struggles and how we often feel a need of approval, how we try to impress others to win that approval. We worry about who we are, we struggle with identity, we fill our lives with activities that we hope will boost our self-esteem. We struggle to cope with other people, some who are clearly better off than we are, some who are clearly cleverer, more handsome or more beautiful than we are, fitter and healthier than we are, more successful than we are. All of these are expressions of ‘self’, the struggle that goes on inside me to make sense of who I am. They are struggles of people who ‘fall short’.

Big Sins: And this is not to mention the bigger sins of life that go on and which we hear of via the main media – killings, violence, abuses, rapes, thefts etc. etc. etc. and the list could go on and on and on – but most of those things don’t impact most of us most of the time. We are believers who have rejected lifestyles than involve this sort of company, these more violent expression of self.

Godless Self: Whether it was the first group we described, of daily ways we ‘fall short’, or the bigger sins committed by those who have abandoned all semblance of caring humanity, there is a further characteristic of all of us – the propensity to be godless. That simply means we live lives in the absence of God.  We don’t think about Him, we don’t speak to Him, we don’t focus our lives on Him, we don’t seek out His ways in every circumstance. We try to gain self-esteem by self-effort. We go to keep-fit; we take classes, we seek to rise up the social and business ladders – all without Him. None of these things in themselves is wrong but it is the godless approach to life that is the wrong. Some of us will try to feel spiritual by ‘going to church’, some by reading the Bible or devotional literature, but ultimately the question has to be asked, “do I seek first His kingdom, His rule, His way of doing things (righteousness), His will?” (Mt 6:33).

The Goal: These are the realities of life which, if we came to Christ, in some form or other brought us to our knees in repentance as we realized that we were helpless to change on our own, and thus hopeless as far as our future was concerned. Now we need to resurrect these simple truths in our understanding for they are the heart of any change we may hope to see in our desires for ourselves, our family, our friends, our community and our nation. Facing these truths is the start of change and if we have lost this realization we need to ask the Lord to open our eyes afresh to it. We’ll consider it in the wider community in the next study.

30. Blindness – to the wonder of Salvation

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 30. Guilt of Blindness – to the wonder of Salvation

Psa 40:5  Many, Lord my God, are the wonders you have done,  the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare.

Continuing: In the previous study I made a plea for those Christians who will grow in understanding of history – biblical and secular – in order to be better equipped to confront the world with its failure. Learning from the past, coming to understand the future, recognizing the evidence of the world getting it wrong, and balancing that against the design of God for mankind, all these things will better equip us to confront the world with the truth. These are all things about how we think and then what we do with what we think. Doing it without God and without prayer will, of course, be a hopeless task but put all that together then maybe, just maybe, there is hope. If we fail to do it, then all we are left with is a desperate hope that God comes in sovereign revival power. Indeed, if we do not rise to the occasion, then that is perhaps what He will do, but I have a feeling He would prefer to restore the Church to what His word speaks of it being, through renewal by His Spirit. But that should not mean we fail to learn, fail to think, fail to act.

Recharging our Salvation: In thinking about ways that we fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23) – for that is what these studies are really about – we find ourselves thinking on our state before God. The Message version puts that verse as, “we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us,” which is why we need God’s salvation and why it is so wonderful.  How long is it since you first came to Christ? The longer it is the more possible it is that we have come to take it for granted and if we do that, it has two effects: first it makes us less thankful and, second, it takes away from us the wonder of what could happen to our unsaved family, friends and neighbors. Taking it for granted anesthetizes us, puts us to sleep, it disarms us and stops us being a threat to the enemy, and it undermines us and makes us vulnerable to his deceptions and temptations. We need to recharge our salvation.

Steps for Change: If we are not living in the daily wonder of our salvation, not rejoicing daily in the wonder and thrill of it, we need to take steps to change that as follows:

  1. Confess it to the Lord and ask Him to open your eyes afresh to the wonder of it (Eph 1:17-19).
  2. Declare the basics of what God has done for you – drawn you to Himself by the working of His Holy Spirit, convicted you of your need by that same Spirit, sent Jesus to die on the Cross for you to redeem you, a forgiven, cleansed and adopted child of God, and given you His indwelling Holy Spirit to teach, guide and empower you, taking you day by day into all the good things He has for you (Eph 2:10)
  3. Daily rejoice in those things.
  4. Look for opportunities to share them.

Speaking it out: You know speaking out these truths – either declaring them in prayer as the basis for praise and worship, recounting and using them as a basis of a time of prayer and praise with other believers, or sharing them with those who don’t know these things – impacts not only others, but also your own life and wellbeing. The Message version of part of Rom 10 puts it so well: “It’s the word of faith that welcomes God to go to work and set things right for us. This is the core of our preaching. Say the welcoming word to God—“Jesus is my Master”—embracing, body and soul, God’s work of doing in us what he did in raising Jesus from the dead. That’s it. You’re not “doing” anything; you’re simply calling out to God, trusting him to do it for you. That’s salvation. With your whole being you embrace God setting things right, and then you say it, right out loud: “God has set everything right between him and me!”

How great is that! That ‘word of faith’ was you speaking out to God, “I believe, please forgive me, please save me.” That opened the door for Him to come and for you to be reborn (Jn 3). And it happened and then as it impacted you, you spoke it out. Perhaps to a friend, “I’ve become a Christian!” and then as they ask you about it, you explain what you did and, even more importantly what He had done. That ‘speaking it out’ confirmed it in you, released even more fresh impetus in you. Every time we share it – speak it out – it does that for us.

Recap: Look, what we’re doing in this whole series is confronting ‘guilt’; times, situations, circumstances where, to put it most simply, we get it wrong.  We’re doing that for three reasons. First, because we believe He has led us down this particular path. Second, because we believe He wants us to face these ways we may be falling short (and hindering Him moving through us). Third, and most importantly, that we can take steps to remedy these shortcomings in order to “prepare the way of the Lord” As the Message versions puts it, “Prepare for God’s arrival! Make the road straight and smooth, a highway fit for our God. Fill in the valleys, level off the hills, smooth out the ruts, clear out the rocks. Then God’s bright glory will shine and everyone will see it.” (Isa 40:3-5) ‘Make straight’ = declare again the truth so the Way is clear. ‘Fill in the valleys’ = make up what is deficient in your knowledge, put into your life what is missing as an experience promised by Him. ‘Level off the hills’ = clear away any obstacles to faith, wrong thinking, wrong behaviour.

And So: We’ve confronted in an earlier study our blindness to seeing the glory of the Lord. Perhaps these things above will help remedy that because when we have taken steps and prepared the way, “Then God’s glory will shine.” We similarly confronted our need to see the context of history, how we fit in to God’s big plan and now we’ve just confronted the possibility of the wonder of this salvation having grown stale and ordinary. Let’s take the ‘Steps to Change’ we suggested above as a way for preparing the way of the Lord.

27. Blindness – Introduction

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 27. Guilt of Blindness – Introduction

Eph 1:17-19  I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

Continuing: We are considering areas of life where we can get it wrong, areas of our thinking and doing that perhaps of which we’re not even aware and yet which leave us in an unresolved guilty state. I say unresolved, because they continue on and, probably without us realizing it, they blight or limit our relationship with the Lord. We have recently been considering guilt by sight, with the way we respond to what we see, but as I have meditated on this, I realize there is the other side to the coin, guilt from not seeing, guilt that essentially comes from blindness, and that is expressed in the way we think.

Childhood Blindness: The more I have pondered this, the more I realize there are numerous areas where the children of God are blind. It is a blindness to do with awareness. I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about this, but when you were a child, of how much were you aware of your parents problems and difficulties? Somethings are blatantly obvious such as when two adults row. But there may have been numerous trials and difficulties of which you were not aware, financial, to do with work, to do with relationships or health. My mother, when I was very small, suffered from a rare form of TB in her eyes which resulted in her having to have operations by the top eye surgeon in the country. I knew virtually nothing of this at the time.

Why was that? Well, one reason is that parents shield such things from their children but the bigger issue, I believe, is that as a child you are totally taken up with your own little world and just don’t think about things about which you just have never learnt yet. Are children guilty of blindness, therefore? No, they are just immature. We don’t expect them to have such knowledge or understanding, in fact we try to protect them from it. But they have to grow up and in the growing process they come to realize things about the world that they hadn’t known or realized before and it sometimes comes as a bit of a shock. If we think back, we can probably all think of stages of growth of knowledge and understanding that changed us.

The Growing Christian: The same thing is true of the spiritual life.  When we first came to Christ our knowledge was strictly limited. Hopefully we embarked on a life of learning and within that new school of learning came new knowledge and understanding and the way we started looking at life was radically changed.  The writer to the Hebrews declared to his readers of that day, “though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.” (Heb 5:12) Step into the average church on a Sunday morning and what do you usually find? So often it is teaching the elementary truths all over again … and again …. and again. It seems so often that both leaders and congregations are happy with a little homily, a little study, a little comforting and building up, but I wonder how often the children of God leave the building feeling better equipped to face the intellectual and moral challenges that face every one of us today in the Western world?  Are we actually aware of those intellectual and moral challenges? Do we understand them and have answers to them? If we cannot say a categorical ‘Yes!’, then we are confessing our blindness to things of which we need to be aware as the children of God.

A Spiritual Goal: Consider again our starter verses: “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Eph 1:17-19) Perhaps a paraphrase version will help it come alive if we’ve become too familiar with it. Paul prays that God will: “give you spiritual wisdom and the insight to know more of him: that you may receive that inner illumination of the spirit which will make you realize how great is the hope to which he is calling you—the magnificence and splendor of the inheritance promised to Christians—and how tremendous is the power available to us who believe in God.” (JBP version)

And Us? Do you see something here, the words, “the eyes of your heart may be enlightened,” or as the paraphrase has it, “that inner illumination of the spirit”? The word ‘see’ isn’t here but isn’t this what Paul is saying, “I want you to see with spiritual understanding so that you see the wonder of it all? Let’s ask another ‘church question’. OK, let’s put aside for the moment thoughts of deeper and wider understanding that equips you for the world, let’s just accept the basic or simple truths of the Gospel, how often do you leave church almost dancing with the wonder of what you have just come to see? How often when you have your ‘quiet time’ do you put down your Bible with a heart leaping with praise and worship at the wonder of what you have just seen?  OK, be realistic, it may not happen every day, but does it happen quite often? If not we should be praying, Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law,” (Psa 119:18) and if you’re a bad sleeper, perhaps you might want to join that same psalmist who went on to say, “My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises.” (Psa 119:148) Let’s not be content with a daily routine that leaves us unmoved, let’s pray that our eyes may be opened in a new way to see the Lord, see His salvation, see the Gospel, see the world He’s given us, see the life He’s given us, see the future He’s promised us with such ‘wisdom and revelation’ that our hearts are lifted and we want to dance with joy, shout with praise and bow down in worship. May it be so.

23. Guilt by Emotions

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 23. Guilt by Emotions

Mt 5:22  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment.

Jas 4:2 You covet but you cannot get what you want, so you quarrel and fight. You do not have because you do not ask God.

Moving On: We have just considered the problem with ‘desires’ which may be good or bad, and desires involve emotions but there are some emotions that do not necessarily involve desire, such as anger. Now a simple dictionary definition of anger is ‘a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure, or hostility’, and some might add a motivational addition, ‘because of something wrong or bad’

Causes: Anger may be a spontaneous reaction to some action or event caused by others, or it may be a more long-term feeling that almost becomes an attitude. Anger may be legitimate (God gets angry over sin) or not legitimate.

Wrong Causes: If a child is slow to learn, your frustration or lack of patience with them may be seen in anger vented by you. That is wrong anger and, oh yes, needs repentance. Then there is another common cause of anger to do with children, that relatives experience.  It involves gift giving and their responses to it. Now that is mostly just a case of appreciation and in a day when many children (in the West at least) have many toys, appreciation is so often lacking. That is our loss by over-indulging our children (often because we feel guilty that we are not keeping up with what others do. It’s time Christians started leading the way to counter the consumerist mess). Essentially it is only polite to say thank-you for a gift but when someone, a child or adult, fails to give thanks (and we’ll deal with in respect of God in a later study) it is simply a sign of their poor socialization and lack of teaching by their parents, and that a matter more for pity than of anger.

Probably unjust anger between parents and children is one of the most common forms of anger today, but more often than not, it is a sign of lack of self-control in the parent, maybe because they have failed to learn to gently discipline and teach their child from their earliest years, so now the child is willful and disobedient. Anger in such situations becomes a tool to try and dominate the child’s willfulness, and that does little to remedy the bad situation. Discipline in this situation, please note, is not so much about punishment as about correction and guidance into right attitudes and behaviour which, as we said earlier, needs to be addressed from the very earliest years.

Right Causes Wrongly Expressed:  When there has been physical abuse (wife-beating say) or sexual abuse (of a parent or more commonly today, step-parent) the guilt, shame and fear that often build up in the abused can easily turn into long-term anger. God is angry over such behaviour. We might suggest that this is just one form of prevalent injustice and where injustice continues and is not addressed, it almost invariably results in anger by the oppressed.

In 2020 the classic case of this was in respect of a black American killed at the hands of the police (one by-standing policeman being colored). This resulted in a wave of ‘protests’ in both the USA and the UK and some other countries around the globe when anger was vented in a major way.  This killing was wrong on at least four counts: i) it was  the over-use of force that resulted in an unlawful death, ii) it appears to have been a clear case of racism (which is always wrong), iii) it was a follow-on from numerous other deaths of black men at the hands of white police, an ongoing thing that has thus far not been addressed, and iv) it happened in an environment that has been allowed to run for over three hundred years and where change has been incredibly slow to come.

But the anger that we saw being vented in this case, was more likely to be just a further instance of anger that is stacked up in modern society that has been stoked by ‘identity politics’, a form of politics that has come into being in the last decade in the West where political people have sought to create a mindset of oppression of minority groups where inequality is sometimes prevalent and the powerful are seen as self-serving and unjust, or indeed that they permit injustice to prevail. (I have previously referred to abuses in the financial sector of modern western nations in the past twenty years). These injustices fuel anger but when this ‘identity politics’ has grown in such measure it also sees a lash-back by those, often in the majority, who feel their concerns are lost in this political maneuvering.

We have thus seen in a number of Western nations, but predominantly the USA and the UK, a toxic divisiveness in society that is expressed as anger and outright hostility against those who are ‘not with us’, over perceived truths, untruths, fake news, and injustices (real and imaginary). In the Covid-19 environment it is seen as hostility against government strictures that have been issued in order to control the virus. Christians have thus been drawn into these culture wars and I have heard ungodly and unrighteous expressions of this anger which has been allowed to permeate even the Christian culture. IT IS WRONG.

Countering these things: How do we deal with these things? Some Christians should involve themselves in politics if they feel they are so called. Above all else we should be purveyors of truth, love and goodness and we need to apply these things to all we see going on around us. We need to reject the vast majority of horror stories that come out, reject the conspiracy theories, refuse to join in chat-room assassinations, control our fingers on our cell phones and only communicate goodness. Yes, we should write to authorities complaining, but also expressing thanks and goodness. And above all, we should reject the fears, the tension, the angst that the enemy is using to destroy our nations in the present day, and seek the Lord, learning to commit all these things to Him in prayer and move according to the wisdom that He brings us.

Anger may be unrighteous if handled wrongly or if it springs from untruth. Anger over injustices should be channeled into prayer and righteous, godly responses. I believe this is a major area where Christians have been led in wrong-standing before the Lord. May we wake up and stop siding with any righteous cause that it being handled unrighteously and seek the Lord for a righteous response before He comes to bring even more disciplinary judgment on our nations. It is a time for repentance in this area.

20. Unintentionality

PART TWO: Specific Failures that produce Guilt

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 20. Unintentionality

Lev 4:13 “If / the whole Israelite community sins unintentionally/  and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s commands, / even though the community is unaware of the matter,/ when they realize their guilt / and the sin they committed becomes known, /  the assembly must bring a young bull as a sin offering and present it before the tent of meeting.

Next: As we go to move on in this series on Guilt, to consider specific ways we get it wrong, perhaps as a bridge between the more general issues we have been considering and the specific ways we fall short in this next Part, we would do well in this study to note the fact of unintentional sin which nevertheless means a person is guilty. It is also worth noting that so often people write off the book of Leviticus as just Old Testament law that is no longer applicable, but in the verses we will be studying we will see specific examples of principles that apply generally.

Groups & Process: Our verse above is about the whole community of God’s people, that’s the starting place for this particular group of verses. This law is reiterated but covering different people – a leader (4:22), anyone in the community (4:27) i.e. it covered everyone. The issue is of doing wrong unintentionally, i.e. they were not aware that it was wrong. But then the Law assumes there will come a point when they will realize they are guilty of a sin. It is at this point that the Law is provided whereby the sinner can deal with their sin in an appropriate manner – offering a sin offering. So we have different stages of the process: the sin, awareness of it being a sin, it being atoned for by a sacrifice. The same is true of the other two instances we have just noted.

Sin Types & Process Again: The nature of different types of sin is made clear. For example, sin by not acting: If anyone sins because they do not speak up when they hear a public charge to testify regarding something they have seen or learned about, they will be held responsible.” (Lev 5:1) or of wrong things done (5:2-4). In both cases the order of events is then made clear: “when anyone becomes aware that they are guilty in any of these matters, / they must confess in what way they have sinned. / As a penalty for the sin they have committed, they must bring to the Lord …. a sin offering; / and the priest shall make atonement for them for their sin.” (5:5,6) There the process is expanded: sin & guilt, awareness, confession, offering, atonement.

Clarity: “If anyone sins and does what is forbidden in any of the Lord’s commands, even though they do not know it, they are guilty and will be held responsible.” (Lev 5:17) This rather drives the nail in the coffin of the person who excuses themselves by saying that they did not know what they had been doing was wrong.

Application: So let’s be quite clear. We may not be part of a community such as Israel and we may not have the various religious ceremonial laws to abide by, but the general principles are still valid:

i) Sin is wrongdoing before God, disobeying His design.

ii) Regardless of whether we are aware that it is sin or not, when we have disobeyed we are guilty and we will be held accountable by God.

iii) If we become aware that we have sinned, the path is specific: confession, repentance and atonement.

Of course for us the atonement comes not from having to make a sacrifice but simply believing in and relying upon the sacrifice of Jesus Christ of his own body on the cross for our sins.

The Problem: The problem that arises is that so often we just don’t understand that certain things we say or do or don’t do are wrong, and we thus assume we are all right. But God says we are not. We will still be held accountable for them, even if we are not aware of them at the present. What is also concerning is that so often these things hinder our relationship with the Lord.

A simple example of this is Peter’s teaching to Christian men: Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.” (1 Pet 3:7) i.e. men, if you don’t treat your wives properly don’t expect to get blessed; in fact expect your spiritual life to be limited. Sadly such men who mistreat their wives probably don’t care about the quality of their spiritual lives, but it nevertheless goes to show your religiosity can be annulled by wrong selfish behaviour.

And So: Your first reaction to this second Part may be negative in that you feel we don’t, as New Testament believers, need to focus on getting it right all the time, but the truth is that we can appear very spiritual and yet have big gaps in our righteousness which annuls the rest (read Isa 58:2,3). The truth of this is often witnessed at times of revival when God comes in sovereign power and it is the church that is first on their knees in tears of repentance for the things they had tolerated but which now appear before the gaze of the holy God. Let’s not wait until then. Let’s check these things out NOW and deal with them NOW.

18. Consequences through People

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 18. Consequences through People 

2 Sam 12:9,10   You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.  Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’

Recap: We are considering the consequences of our wrongs and have two more examples to consider, the first being that of King David in the Old Testament. In some ways David epitomizes the human race, capable of achieving such great things and yet also capable of falling so low.

David’s Guilt: The story of David and Bathsheba tends to be well known. Davis is in his palace and looks out and sees Bathsheba bathing in the sun on the roof of her nearby house. He sends for her, lies with her, and makes her pregnant. But she is married and so he arranges for her husband to be killed in battle and then she becomes one of his wives. That is the short potted version of what you can read in 2 Sam 11.

Accountability: Powerful people have a tendency to thinking they can get away with sin but God sees all and holds all to account, whether here in this lifetime or at the Final Judgement. David has been God’s man, a man after God’s own heart, and yet he gave way to a temptation that set off a train of sin: adultery, cover-up, murder. In the same way his judgment is going to follow along a train of events, but we are seeking to see how they work.

Step 1: God’s Activity: David is God’s representative and he needs to know that God will “by no means clear the guilty”. David is a very public person and what he has done is going to get out and the office of king of God’s people will be demeaned. God will not let that happen here. He sends Nathan who confronts him with his sin (2 Sam 12:1-7) but then declares God’s judgment on him: the sword will never depart from your house,” (v.10) and then, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’” (v.11,12) He isn’t going to kill David, He is going to discipline him so that the nation will see and learn.  But before all this, because David is a heart man, the Lord is going to cut him to the heart and so the child Bathsheba is carrying dies (v.14-23). Now what is yet remarkable is that afterwards they have another child named Solomon who becomes the richest man in the world and bears the greatest testimony to the Lord, before he too falls to sin. The Lord uses both of these men mightily even though they both fail him. When challenged, David repents (v.13) but still there are consequences to follow.

Step 2: Human Activity: Sometimes it seems the Lord steps back and lets the natural foolish inclinations of men and women just flow out in a chain of events. The Lord doesn’t need to make these things happen, He just steps back and lets the folly of mankind proceed. There is a chain of events here that really starts with David’s polygamy (see 1 Chron 3), not forbidden but unwise. Thus the chain appears:

– the son of one wife, Amnon, desires the daughter of another wife, Tamar, and contrives to rape her (2 Sam 13:1-6). David appears obtuse and sees nothing strange about what goes on and so Tamar is raped by Amnon. (v.14)

– Tamar’s brother, Absalom, protects her. David hears about it, is angry (v.21) but takes no further action.

– Absalom sets up a feast and although David is suspicious, he does nothing (v.23-27).

– at the feast he kills Amnon (v.27,28) and flees living in isolation for three years (v.37,38)

– Absalom uses Joab to get reinstated in Jerusalem (2 Sam 14:1-24)

– Absalom eventually contrives to become king (2 Sam 15) and David has to flee Jerusalem while Absalom takes over and this continues until Absalom is killed (2 Sam 18:14). David eventually returns to Jerusalem and to his concubines who he now puts in isolation (2 Sam 20:3)

– Meanwhile there is a rebellion, led by Sheba, and many turn from David (2 Sam 20:1,2)

– and so the violence continues and throughout all this David’s heart is wrecked by anguish again and again.

Terrible Consequences: David’s is possibly the classic instance of a family head who didn’t control his warring family and reaped the consequences of it, but we cannot help feeling that none of this would have happened if David had remained true and not fallen for Bathsheba. In some ways we might have wanted the Lord to bring David to the point of death by way of discipline but the Lord works on our hearts in His work of redemption of individuals and His nation. The lesson seems to be that letting go in one instance possibly reveals a heart that is vulnerable and which will also fail to pick up on various aspects of life, i.e. one sin reveals the potential for others. Avoid sin at all cost, but if we do succumb, repent and commit yourself to do a total cleanup of your heart and life, else other sins and other consequences will follow. The Lord allows the ongoing consequences, coming through other people to discipline and change us. That is what redemption is about, changing us. If we are willful – actively or passively – and that points us away from the Lord, expect His disciplinary activity to bring us back and so often, the discipline follows the nature of the fall. A serious lesson.

12. Inadequate Grace (1)

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 12. Inadequate Grace (1)

Judg 11:30 “And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord.”

Moving On: We now move on from considering how we view others’ guilt, to two instances that provide us with severe challenges in the way they are contrasts with the way Moses responded to guilt. We will consider one now and the other in the following study.

Jephthah: “Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior,” is how Jud 11 starts off. Great warrior he might have been but knowing about the grace of God he did not! If you want a contrast to Jephthah look at Naaman who appears in 2 Kings 5 and observe the way that initially he was a bumptious warrior, but once he was healed he appeared before Elisha with humility and grace. There is none of that about Jephthah. He is an idiot. Sorry to put it so strongly but read the story in Jud 11 and you’ll see why.

The Situation: In v.30 he makes a vow. It follows conflict with the Ammonites (v.4) where local leaders call on him to lead them (v.5-11) and then confronts the Ammonite with the truth of the situation (v.12-28)  but the Ammonite king will have nothing of it, so battle is the only way out. At this point something happened that we see happen again and again in Judges: Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Jephthah.” (v.29) Now for the naïve we need to say when God comes and gives gifting – courage in this case – that doesn’t mean the individual has got any more than that gifting. So Jephthah is motivated by the Spirit to go and defend Israel and, sadly, it is at this point he starts bargaining with God. He doesn’t realize that because he has this fresh impetus of courage, it is God’s provision and therefore God will give him the victory he needs. So he makes this vow.

The Vow: The vow is unnecessary and even more, it is stupid! Don’t call it anything else. What did he have in mind when he talked about sacrificing, “whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me”? (v.31) A stray goat??? He is, I suggest, guilty of the sin of godless unrighteousness. But it gets worse. When his daughter comes out he agrees to sacrifice her to the religious superstitious rubbish he has in his mind. I get angry when I read this. Today, you and I know Jesus died for all our sins and if I have to ‘sin’ by breaking a most stupid oath that will harm others, I will trust the Lord to judge me, discipline me or take my sin to the Cross.

The Law: Years later Solomon would write about fulfilling vows (Eccles 5:1-6) but that was about promises of offerings you said you would bring to the Temple. The Law in Leviticus lays down the sacrifices that should be offered for stupid (sinful) acts. This man should have known about sacrifices for sin and relied on them for his stupidity. This is the sinfulness of mankind in the form of ‘religion’. Let’s not have any of it!

Beware Wrong Sacrifices: There is a wrong teaching that sometimes surfaces in Christian preaching that uses the illustration of Abraham called to sacrifice Isaac (Gen 22) ignoring the fact that God didn’t want Isaac dead, He just wanted to test Abraham’s willingness to be obedient. This teaching revels in the thought of us sacrificing those nearest to us in our call to follow God. As guardians of our children we are never to do anything in the name of religion that might harm them. As husbands or wives we are never to do anything in the name of religion that might harm our partner. If you want to see the contrast in apostolic teaching, read 1 Pet 3:1-6!

Foundational Verses: Almost my favourite verses in the Old Testament are found in Ezek 18: Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (v.23, repeated in v.32 and 33:11) Now I know that is taking verses out of context but the meaning is clear: i. God doesn’t desire the death of sinners. ii. He rather looks for repentance that will deal with the situation.  iii. In the Law sacrifices were to be a sign of repentance and would cover any and every sin confessed. The Law was there expressly to save people from themselves.

Application: The folly of Jephthah includes his absence of knowledge of the Law and understanding the heart of it. God doesn’t want him to fulfill a stupid vow that involves the death of another. That is superstitious religiosity at its worst. Could God not have struck Jephthah down? Obviously yes, but the truth is that He gives us immense freedom on this earth, exercising our free wills badly, hurting one another, causing wars, causing genocide etc. but He calls us collectively as mankind to resist such things, to stop them happening. The Israelite leaders with him should have stopped him. This is an example of collective lack of godliness. But no one did and so the stain of this memory hung over them.

And Us? Never let religion be a cause for you harming another; Jesus’ teaching is totally against letting that happen.  When we do something stupidly wrong, very badly wrong, God is still there seeking to redeem you and your circumstances. Nothing is too bad that is cannot be covered by the blood of Jesus. This is not to be casual about vowing to serve God, but a wrong promise is wrong full stop. Confess it and seek and receive forgiveness.  That is why Jesus died! never forget it.

11. Looking for the Best

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 11. Looking for the Best

Ex 32:10  Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”

Recap: In the previous study we moved on from considering some misconceptions to thinking about how we respond to finding sin, either in ourselves or in others, what sort of heart we should have towards others around us who fail to come up to the mark, who stray off God’s path, who blow it, lose contact with the truth, or whatever other way we may soften the word ‘sin’. Today we consider another aspect of being faced with sin, what could come out of it (in one specific way).

The Example of the Golden Calf: Israel have arrived at Mount Sinai, have had an amazing encounter with God, received the Law and committed themselves to following the Lord. And then Moses goes up the mountain again – and stays there. He stays there forty days! i.e. over a month passes and no sign or sound from Moses or God. Israel down on the plain below the mountain are getting bored. Their leader has gone, the memory of hearing God has gone and some of them at least start getting restless. They want some visible sign of leadership, they want some visible sign of God in their midst and so rashly, despite what they have heard from God, they demand that Aaron does something. He is at a loss. He doesn’t know when Moses will be coming back – IF he will ever come back. He doesn’t know how to handle the situation and so concedes to their demands and he makes a calf of gold for them to worship. In retrospect, from our viewpoint, it is crass stupidity, but mankind does this sort of thing in the face of a crisis. It is wrong, it is idolatry but they are grasping at straws, they are not mature in their faith and do something stupid.

God’s Initial Response: The next part demands maturity of response because when Moses hears the sound of revelry down below – and initial wrong so often leads on to further wrong, and they are now indulging in self-centred revelry – God tells him what has happened and declares our starter verse above, that He will destroy them and make a new nation from Moses. So often our response would be ‘cut and run’ give up and go home, call it a day, but not so with God. Don’t see this as God giving up on Israel. He is first of all testing His man, how will he respond to this?

The Heart of a Man of God: Moses argues with God and pleads, don’t waste what you’ve achieved (v.11), don’t let the Egyptians hear about this and laugh at your inability to deal with these people (v.12), remember your big plan that started out with Abraham (v.13), don’t destroy this people (v.12b). And so God ‘relents’ (v.14), He appears to agree with Moses. (There is an accounting for those who instigated this, the revelers, but the vast majority will be saved.)

The Big Lesson: When we come across a fellow believer who has blown it, etc., let’s remember these three things, and remind God of them in prayer – although they are more for our benefit as we slowly comprehend the heart of God:

i) Consider the testimony of this ‘sinner’, what has happened to them before this fall, all that they have achieved, all that God has done previously in and through them. Will this be wasted?

ii) Consider how this will appear to the watching world. Will they just laugh with scorn at Christians who are really, “just the same as me!” and deride God’s name?

iii) Consider the ‘big plan of God’, His desire to redeem the world, to redeem individual ‘sinners’. That plan wasn’t just to sort you out when you first turned to Him, but to continue to keep on sorting you out throughout your entire life. As long as your heart is inclined towards Him, He will continue to work with you when you occasionally stumble and fall. His desire is to pick you up and restore you. And if it is that for you – and it is – then it is also for your sinning friend!

So what is the big lesson here? It is not to see this as an opportunity to write off this other person but an opportunity to restore and redeem them. Jesus didn’t write off

  • the silly people who ran out of wine at their wedding in Jn 2, or
  • obtuse Nicodemus in Jn 3, or
  • the arguing Samaritan woman at the well in Jn 4, or
  • the paralytic who had given up at the Pool of Siloam in Jn 5, or
  • the five thousand who followed him without thought for provisions in Jn 6, or
  • the adulterous woman in Jn 8.

No, in every chapter he redeemed the situation and the people.

And Us?  Will we see failure in those around us, not as a time to exalt in their guilt, but an opportunity to seek the Lord for His wisdom and grace to bring correction, repentance, restoration, healing and redemption, maybe even bringing them into a better place than they had been before. That is the sort of Savior we follow. Let’s not disappoint him with heart responses that are less than his.

2. Understanding God

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 2. Understanding God

Ex 34:6,7  The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

Recap: In the first study we faced the words ‘guilt’ and ‘guilty’ and sought to show that although they are words we prefer to keep in the background of our lives, and hope preachers won’t talk about, nevertheless they are essential to help us face our shortcomings or our blind spots. In this study we are going to confront two verses from the Old Testament that are regularly mis-translated and which, therefore cause many people difficulties and in the midst of them is this subject of guilt.

Not Clearing the Guilty: Our starter two verses are key verses for understanding God. They start out by extolling God as the God who is, “merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,” words that are repeated in whole or part again and again throughout the Old Testament. That part we like but then it starts getting uncomfortable: “but who will by no means clear the guilty.”  This needs thinking about because most Christian teaching seems to suggest a God who, as we considered previously, forgives and cleanses us of our sin, our guilt. But that forgets the word ‘confess’ we’ve already considered. The work of the death of Christ on the cross is not applied to the unrepentant. The guilty remain the guilty and their guilt stands before justice which demands action. God isn’t going to ‘clear the guilty’, pretend the guilt isn’t there. The Cross is about forgiving and cleansing the guilty – those who acknowledge their guilt. The unrepentant are still in trouble.

Confusion over Ongoing Sin: But our verses get worse: “visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”  This again needs thinking about. “visiting the iniquity”? Now most translations impose on this passage a sense of guilt and blame but, I suggest, this is more the translators’ poor appreciation of God’s grace than of accurate conveying of the meaning. For example, the Message version (which I like and use a lot) very badly puts it, He holds sons and grandsons responsible for a father’s sins to the third and even fourth generation.”

Now the Israelites so misunderstood this that the Lord had to correct them through Ezekiel. Read Ezek 18 which challenges a proverb they used, “The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’” (18:2b) i.e. the kids suffer because of their parents’ wrongdoing. No, says the Lord, “The one who sins is the one who will die.” (v.4b) He then cites a righteous man (v.5-9) who then has an unrighteous son (v.10-13) and only that son will die. The other way round, suppose there is an unrighteous man (v.14) but the son refuses to follow his father’s path, the son will not die: “He will not die for his father’s sin; he will surely live.” (v.17b)

Resolution: Now I don’t believe the Bible is full of contradictions, so how do we resolve this? Back to “visiting the iniquity”. We need to distinguish between the meanings of practical expression, guilt or blame, and freedom of opportunity. I believe a better way to put part of these verses would be to speak of the ongoing expression of sin and their effects as seen in a father which the sons can (or may not!) follow. Because of the closeness of family life, and we see this so often we perhaps miss or forget it, it is almost usual for children to follow in the footsteps of their parents and that includes copying or continuing their iniquities. Visiting the iniquities of the father on the following generations simply means that father’s example is there confronting the children who may or may not follow it. IF they do follow that bad example, it is probable that they follow the description that comes up in a similar passage in the Ten Commandments: I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.” (see Ex 20:4-6 & Deut 5:9,10) Following a bad example indicates a wrong heart towards God. That son or grandson has a problem with God, they carry their own guilt. There is an interdependence of father and child which includes the moral or ethical dimension, and thus a bad father is simply leading his child down a similar bad path, if he is unwise enough to follow it and not go his own better way. Love of God restrains sinful behaviour and if that is seen in the father it will reflect into the life of the son.

And Us? There are very strong lessons about family life here. First that each individual, father or child, is accountable to God for their own life. Where there is guilt (i.e. wrongdoing) the individual is responsible for their own life. Second, the older generation can provide a good or bad example and subsequent generations, although vulnerable to bad examples, are responsible for the way they react to those examples, good or bad. Guilt is uniquely individual but behaviour can be transmitted down the generations if the younger ones do not recognize and reject bad. Don’t blame your parents. God will do that. Yet learn from them. If they provided good examples, follow them, if bad examples, reject them. These are vital words for the very mixed up and confused world of family life we have in the West today.