The Best We Can Do Is Sin

Young Lady 01Perhaps the biggest difficulty in evangelism is getting people past the belief that they are basically good. Most people will, of course, acknowledge that they’ve done a few things that they probably shouldn’t have done, but they quickly take refuge in the thought that their good outweighs their bad. So when we tell them that Jesus died for their sin, they give us quizzical looks as they shrug off the Gospel.

Evangelism that minimizes human sinfulness and presents Jesus as a Cosmic Personal Assistant exacerbate the problem by marketing a false salvation. Such evangelism ignores the holiness of God as well as Christ’s demand for repentance. As a result, the real issue gets obscured, and Christianity becomes just another way of satisfying selfish desires.

The Gospel, to be proclaimed accurately, depends on the understanding that we are absolute wretches who desperately need God’s grace. Without recognizing that nothing good dwells within us (Romans 7:18). we have no way to appreciate the wonder of Jesus taking God’s wrath on Himself in our place. Grace, therefore, loses its significance, and we  really don’t comprehend the Lord’s stunning holiness.

Teachings on human sinfulness never feels warm and fuzzy, admittedly. I struggle daily to see how depraved I am apart from Christ, and I suspect most Christians fight similar battles. If those of us who genuinely know the Lord have trouble accepting the truth regarding our sinful condition, imagine how hard it must be for non-Christians to face their sin!

But both Christians and non-Christians must come to terms with the gruesome reality that we are children of wrath unless we take refuge in the Lord Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:3). Unless we draw strength from the Holy Spirit, our perceived good works become filthy in His sight (Isaiah 64:6). Left to our own devices, we have no choice but to sin. It’s literally the best we can do.

Thankfully, once someone sees the inescapable prison of his or her sinful condition, Christ’s mercy and grace becomes precious and beautiful. At that point, the Gospel indeed proves to be very Good News, and we find ourselves unable to stop adoring the Lord for taking the punishment that properly belongs to us. What a wonderful Savior!

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Why Do I Prefer To Call Myself A Worm?

A few weeks ago, I had an interesting conversation with the gentleman who sometimes plays the piano at church. We had sung only traditional hymns that morning (we normally sing a mixture of hymns and contemporary praise songs), and I wanted to express my absolute delight at the experience.

The conversation meandered to the subject of updated hymns. There are one or two I like, but their lyrics haven’t been altered. I don’t really object to an updated tune. The pianist and I agreed, however, that some of the adapted lyrics that have cropped up over the past five or ten years tend to water down a hymn’s doctrinal content.

He  gave the example of substituting the phrase, “for sinners such as I,” in place of the original “for such a worm as I.” As he saw it, the image of a worm more strongly communicates who we are in comparison to the holy and righteousness Lord. It emphasizes the astonishing grace Jesus showered on undeserving sinners through His crucifixion.

I agreed with him! The lyric reveals His extravagant kindness by pointing to our total depravity. Praise God, YouTube still has a rendition of the hymn with the original phrase intact.

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Where Do We Find Assurance Of Salvation?

Broken Heart CrossIf you’re like me, you’ve probably experienced serious doubts about your salvation. Such doubts generally arise in response to falling back into familiar patterns of sin. As you see yourself committing the same ugly sin, even decades after your conversion, you have to ask yourself whether or not you were ever  really saved in the first place.

In one respect, you and I definitely should ask ourselves this question when we find ourselves committing the same sin habitually. Children of God at some point start to resemble the Father’s holiness (1 Peter 1:14-21, 1 John 3:4-10). Sadly, many people who claim to be Christians do persist in unrepentant sin, often rationalizing their rebellion and sometimes even believing that God approves of what they do. I know: I’ve done it.

Seeker-sensitive churches compound the problem by producing false converts who embrace an idealized concept of Jesus without submitting to the true Christ’s authority. These false converts see no need to repent and have no concern for personal holiness.

So yes, sometimes our sin should cause us to wonder if the Lord has truly done a work of regeneration in us. If we live without regard to His holy standards, some honest self-examination is most likely necessary.

But others of us, despite genuinely loving the Lord and wanting to obey Him, manage to get sucked back into sin on occasion. From our perspective, it seems like a habitual pattern because we repeat the same old sins time after time. We grieve every time we do it, fully aware that we’ve dishonored Him. Even if nobody else ever finds out what we’ve done, we know that we’ve violated His commands.

Like the apostle Paul in Romans 7:13-21, we hate our sin. We yearn to please the Lord, knowing that our sin put Him on the cross. How can we be so ungrateful? Why did we act like children of the devil, dragging our glorious Lord through the mud while we selfishly gratified our flesh?

As we fixate on the horrors of our sin, we accept Satan’s accusations that we’re nothing more than hypocrites. Because those accusations carry an element of truth, we believe his lie that we never really had salvation. We despair.

Sisters, we forget that assurance of salvation can never come from us. Paul wrote Romans 7 precisely to demonstrate that we don’t have any righteousness in and of ourselves. Looking at ourselves can never give us assurance!

Ah, but look at Paul’s  concluding paragraph in Romans 7:

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. 22 For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, 23 but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. 24 Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. ~~Romans 7:21-24 (ESV)

Paul doesn’t deny his wretched condition, but he ultimately clings to Jesus Christ as his deliverer. He remembers that Christ paid for all his sin (every ounce of it) by shedding His blood on the cross. Of course, Paul’s not excusing sin or implying that God’s grace gives Christians permission to indulge in sin. Rather, he’s encouraging us to rest in what the Lord has done for us.

Sin should trouble a Christian’s conscience. We should live lives of repentance, earnestly desiring to reflect our Heavenly Father’s holiness as we declare the Gospel to a dying world. But, when our sin breaks our hearts, let’s shift our gaze to Jesus, finding assurance in Him.

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We Stand Forgiven

The Gettys write such wonderful 21st Century hymns, don’t you think? The melodies encourage our voices to soar at just the right places to reigned Scriptural truths the the lyrics so eloquently express. As a descendant of Irish immigrants, I don’t exactly object to the hints of Celtic phraseology, either!

But I mostly love the solid theology woven throughout their songs. Within that sound theology, they convey amazing passion and adoration for the Lord and His grace towards us.

The Power of the Cross, arguably one of the Gettys’ most popular hymns, sets forth brilliant theology in depicting Christ’s atoning work at Calvary. It touches on several significant aspects of that event, culminating with its marvelous implications for believers. Most powerfully, the refrain continually circles back to the assuring words: “We stand forgiven at the cross.”

And I so cherish that forgiveness!

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The Reformation And Galatians

Whittenberg DoorThe Lord used the apostle Paul to bring the Gospel to the gentiles in Galatia. Sadly, after he left that region, representatives of a group known as the Judaizers descended on that fledgling church, teaching that they needed to augment their faith in Christ by following Jewish law. They especially insisted that gentile converts undergo the rite of circumcision.

Paul was infuriated that the church he had founded had so quickly abandoned the Gospel of faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross in favor of a counterfeit gospel that required human effort to assure salvation. He wrote a scathing letter, scolding them for adulterating the Gospel with doctrines of men. We see the reasons for his frustration most clearly articulated in Chapter 5 of his epistle to the Galatians.

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10 I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. 11 But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves! ~~Galatians 5:1-12 (ESV)

I imagine Martin Luther found this passage helpful as he broke free from the demands of the Roman Catholic Church. Luther rightly saw that  Rome’s elaborate system of sacraments, Purgatory, Indulgences and Papal authority produced a gospel quite different from the Good News that Jesus Christ fully paid for the sin of whoever believes in Him by His death on the cross. Like Paul, Luther sought to turn Christians back to focusing on Christ’s work instead of imagining that they could supplement it through their cooperation.

Notice specifically Paul’s firm assertion that a Christian who supplements his faith in the Lord by depending on legalistic rituals actually nullifies the effects of faith in salvation through Christ’s work on the cross. At that point, a person essentially declares that salvation ultimately lies in our power, not in what Christ accomplished on our behalf.

The sacramental system of the Roman Catholic Church, despite their denials, easily parallels the false teaching of the Judaizers. As a matter of fact, the Judaizers claimed to follow Christ, just as the Roman Catholic Church does. In many respects, the Judaizers presented themselves as genuine Christians, thereby convincing the Galatians to accept their doctrinal error. Not surprisingly, then, the Catholic Church managed to convince Christians of similar errors.

But Paul’s firm refutation against the system of righteousness by works enabled Luther and the other Reformers to stand against Rome’s numerous conditions for salvation. Just as Paul proclaimed that circumcision had no bearing on anyone’s standing before God, so the Reformers proclaimed that sacraments couldn’t add to what Christ had already done. The Reformers returned to the Biblical teaching that Christ Jesus fully satisfied the Law by dying as our substitute.

Roman Catholicism gets some doctrines right, such as the Trinity, but it adds conditions for salvation in much the same way that the Judaizers did. These conditions made humans responsible for sustaining their salvation.

Human centered salvation, however, takes the glory away from the Lord Jesus Christ. It demands that He share His glory with us. Paul recognized that danger among the Christians in Galatia, and he refused to tolerate such a corruption of the Gospel! He therefore set a pattern for the Reformers to follow once they could read God’s Word and understand that Rome had corrupted the Gospel. His passion for Jesus Christ to receive all the glory inspired the Reformers to also develop that passion.

 
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Pardon There Was Multiplied To Me

One of the saddest aspects of evangelicalism is that people make professions of faith without genuinely understanding why they need salvation. Evangelicals often present Jesus as an agent of life enhancement rather than the One Who bears the wrath of a holy Judge on our behalf.

But how thankful I am that the Holy Spirit confronted me with my sin 46 years ago! Knowing that I deserve eternity in hell has made me so appreciative of the Lord’s sacrificial death on the cross for my sin! Only those who see how terrible their sin is realize what a wonderful thing the Lord did for us on Calvary.

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