A Guide to Finding the Joy in Confronting Your Sin

Report card time was always an odd one for me.

I was neither the academic so wrapped up in grades that my happiness depended on making straight As, nor was I the slacker who didn’t care a sliver about my marks. I was right in the middle, caring enough that I wanted to know where I could improve but having a C wouldn’t crush me too hard. Of course, I wanted to get better, wanted to grow academically, but I wasn’t going to die if they didn’t come back exactly how I wanted to.

At times I wish I was a better student. My brother and my wife were wonderful students who made the President’s List at Elon University several times. I’m surrounded by people in my life who were great students because they worked hard and put their studies at a high priority in their lives. It’s something I didn’t do. And I was confronted with it every time that I got those grades back.

Confronting bad grades can be stressful for some people. Doing so can usually lead to one of two things: you work harder to get better grades, or you don’t change anything and the grades get worse or stay the same. They rarely lead you to rejoicing.

But I’ve learned in the last couple years that examining my sinful behavior actually leads me to rejoicing in the great God who loves me.

So go through this process with me as you read this.

First: Think about the most recent sin you committed. Maybe it was lusting after a co-worker, yelling at your spouse, envying the latest tech toy your classmate brought to school. Got it? OK, cool.

Now, and this is the painful part, think about how much it goes against God’s law, what God has laid out for you to do. Either you did something He told you not to do, or you didn’t do something He did tell you to do. You’ve disobeyed God.

This sucks. This feeling right here, when you actually confront your sin, it’s the worst. And it can discourage you from continuing forward in this process when you actually need to. But yes, you need to. Your despair and dismay leaves you needing something more.

Second: Look for the answer to your problem. How do you fix this situation? How do you find relief? How do you find peace? Well, you could try harder, but the truth is, you can always do better. You can always perform better. You can always fight sin better. You can always pursue God better.

Our sinful state limits us in our growth because we’ll never be perfect. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying to you and to themselves. Yes, we can grow, we can become more obedient, but we will never be perfect. So we can’t find satisfaction and relief in our obedience efforts.

So where can we find peace? In Christ alone, in the Gospel alone, in the grace of God alone.

Third: Bask in the grace God has given you, leading you to rejoice. Trust me, it’s a joy that’s well-earned.

It’s a joy that’s come from seeing that God loves you in the depths, in the midst of your darkest time, in your deepest sin. It’s a joy that reads Romans 8:38-39 and shouts, “Yes! This love is God’s for me!” It’s a joy that reads James 1:2-4 and sees the grace and growth that comes from going through sin and temptation, even when you give in and disobey God.

It’s a joy that 1 Peter 1:3-7 explains and finds the joy discussed in v. 6:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Because of the great inheritance and hope that God has given us, we can rejoice in all trials, including facing temptation over and over again, even giving into them, because what we know what we have, we know what’s there at the end. We have hope to rejoice and be happy in spite of the negative that has gone on.

This post is not meant to make light of sin. In fact, it’s to redeem sin, to make it something that we don’t always have to be so upset about. I write to encourage you to confront the darkest part of yourself.

Surprisingly, it just might be the tunnel where, at the end, you’ll see the brightest light.

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Life Is Best Lived Non-Natural, Part II

Over two years ago, I wrote a blog post called “Life Is Best Lived Non-Natural.” I concluded the post like this:

Seek to live life non-naturally. Live it for the truths in the Word of God and for His glory. If you’re a believer, you’ve been changed by the gospel to live differently. Kill those natural desires, and seek after God’s way.

Out of all the posts I’ve written, this is one of the few that has stuck with me in a serious way.

As I approach getting married – a week from today – I’m learning that lesson more and more. We can’t just live by how we feel. We can’t just choose to do what might feel “natural,” mostly because what’s natural to us is often harmful. It’s called sin “nature,” a reflection of what is natural.

The Bible is chock full of stories of men and women who chose to do what came naturally to them and there were dire consequences. And it’s interesting because many of these stories start with something that is not bad, but because of natural inclinations of man, it goes bad:

  • David seeing a naked Bathsheba on her roof (not a bad thing) and calling for her and sleeping with her, impregnating her, then causing her husband to be killed (2 Samuel 11)
  • Peter eating with the Gentiles (not a bad thing), then eating with the Jews when they came around and shunning the Gentiles (Galatians 2)
  • Noah building a vineyard (not a bad thing) and then getting drunk (Genesis 9)
  • King Asa of Judah trying to defend his people (not a bad thing) but doesn’t trust God but man (2 Chronicles 16)

In each of those scenarios, a certain natural inclination of man led the character in question to pursue sinful behavior. For David, his lust over Bathsheba caused him to abandon his commitment to the Lord and eventually set Bathsheba’s husband up to be killed. For Peter, his fear of man’s opinion led to his hypocrisy, which led to many Jews being led astray, even a faithful servant such as Barnabas. For Noah, his apparent carnal desire for drink, plus the access to it, led to drunkenness and shame. For Asa, his lack of faith in God led to a separation between him and God.

In our own lives, we have to be careful about what we naturally desire. Because, as I’ve said on this blog many times, living by your feelings is a dangerous path. Feelings can be good and helpful things sometimes, but we cannot just take them at face value. We need to examine them, dig deep, do surgery on our feelings and inclinations. In the same way someone who is allergic to peanuts investigates foods before eating them, we need to investigate our feelings before we accept them as fact.

This applies to our lives on a regular basis. Just because we feel animosity towards our spouse doesn’t mean we abandon them. Just because we feel a desire for strong drink doesn’t mean we get wasted. Just because we lust after our co-worker doesn’t mean we follow up on that, potentially destroying marriages.

With my fiancée, soon-to-be wife, I can’t just let my feelings of fear or frustration lead to ditching the marriage, ditching the wedding, getting rid of what we’ve built so far. I can’t let a girl walking by distract me from my commitment to her. I can’t let my inkling towards laziness pull me away from serving her as I should.

Oh, so many times I want to, if I’m honest. So many times. But I need to remember my commitment to her. In a week, it’s a commitment before God and man. And that’s the real deal.

In the same way, my commitment to the Lord means I strive to reject the feelings and inclinations that lead me away from God, away from obedience, away from what might make me feel good in the moment but what will harm me for much longer. I am not perfect at this, and never will be. Thanks be to God that He did what is not natural for me, forgiving those who are His enemies and accepting those who reject Him.

It’s not easy. As I wrote in Part 1:

So we should just be able to do this, right? NOPE. It’s hard. It’s really hard. If fighting sin was easy, then it wouldn’t really be fighting; it would be more like walking through a bed of flowers, nothing, no real hindrance or obstacle. But killing the flesh, seeking righteousness, it’s hard.

Let’s walk through it. Let’s fight through it. Give it all we’ve got. Daily give ourselves over to the Lord and kill the flesh.

It’s worth every moment, every drop of sweat, every tear that falls, all the blood that’s shed.

Jesus Died Knowing Something About Us We Don’t Like to Think About

Traffic can be terrible. Especially when it’s raining. It’s so easy to get distracted by the rain, by the cars, by the lights, everything. According to the DOT, 17% of vehicle crashes are due to wet pavement and 11% are due to rain. It’s those kind of distractions that can make driving difficult.

In my life, in the traffic jam that my life can be, one of the most distracting things can be the fact that I sin.

I used to hate thinking that I’m a sinner. I couldn’t stand it. I don’t want to be a sinner. But I’ve grown more and more comfortable with it. I’m growing to understand that it’s just a part of who I am, part of my life, a result of the sin nature in me at conception. Like David, “in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5).

There are some days when, everywhere I look, I see sin. Not just in the world, but in me. And it can be really discouraging sometimes. It sucks thinking about it.

But my awesome girlfriend (must give credit where it’s due) told me something this weekend that blew my mind.

Jesus died knowing we would continue to sin. God chose to save us knowing we would continue to disobey Him. We were forgiven of all that sin while our Father in heaven knew we’d never fully be the reflection of Christ we’re called to be.

We’d be foolish to sit here and say we will ever be without sin. I doubt that 1 John 1:8 ever becomes false – “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” I dare you name someone on earth who ever been without sin other than Jesus. To ever think we will go a day on this earth without sinning in someone is a fool’s errand.

Not only did Jesus come to die while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8), He continues to love us while we are still sinners. He continues to give grace upon grace upon grace from an abundant overflow.

See, we don’t stop sinning when we accept Jesus. We try to sin less, yes. But we see our sin even greater, as even more of an offense, even more of an attack on God and His commands. It’s rebellion. But we don’t stop. It’s a fact. Brennan Manning, in his book The Ragamuffin Gospel:

Often I have been asked, “Brennan, how is it possible that you became an alcoholic after you got saved?” It is possible because I got battered and bruised by loneliness and failure, because I got discouraged, uncertain, guilt-ridden, and took my eyes off Jesus. Because the Christ-encounter did not transfigure me into an angel. Because justification through faith means I have been set in right relationship with God, not made the equivalent of a patient etherized on a table.

We get our eyes removed from the cross, from Jesus, and when that happens we lose our foundation and then we fall, just like a house built on sand and not on stone. When we quit focusing on Jesus, we uproot the foundation we have on the Rock of Ages and put it on shaky sand. Our lives are filled with continual foundational uproots, trying to find something that will hold us for the moment.

And Jesus loves us through it all. God saves us knowing that will happen.

Being saved doesn’t make us perfect in our obedience. All it does is make us perfect in our standing before God. And that’s HUGE! That means everything. That means I don’t have to be continually regretful of my sinful decisions, of my sinful actions. It means God looks past it, and will continue to look past it. I, and all believers, can rejoice in that.

In the hectic traffic that is life as a Christian, trying to cope with that fact that most of the time we’re terrible at following Jesus, we can hold onto that truth and keep going straight. Eyes on the road, hands at 10 and 2, trusting those wheels to get us to the end.

I Don’t Respond Well to People Disagreeing with Me

One of my favorite episodes of How I Met Your Mother is “The Chain of Screaming,” when Barney Stinson proposes an idea called, you guessed it, “the chain of screaming.” The quality of the video below is not great, but you’ll get an idea of what it is.

The idea is that anytime someone gets frustrated with someone else, it’s based in someone getting frustrated in them. Whether or not it’s a real thing, your guess is as good as mine, but it’s pretty funny. I thought about it while reflecting on a life experience I had yesterday.

I wrote a pretty serious blog post yesterday about how I think the Christian culture is too OK with criticizing people in a very condescending way. An excerpt:

Dictionary.com defines “condescending” as “showing or implying a usually patronizing descent from dignity or superiority” and “criticism” as “the act of passing judgement as to the merits of anything.” When I refer to condescending criticism, I mean “passing judgement on something from a patronizing attitude, usually from some kind of dignity or superiority.” Basically just melding those two definitions together.

It’s my view that we as a body of Christ do this on a regular basis and that it is not helpful, that it is anti-God, anti-Jesus, anti-everything we say we stand for and everything we say we believe. We get upset when famous atheists like Richard Dawkins make derogatory and condescending statements about Jesus, but then turn right around and make them about each other, about political figures like President Barack Obama, about religious figures like Rob Bell, etc.

Through Facebook comments, however, I got some negative feedback.

When I write posts like the one I did yesterday, something that challenges the status quo of Christian culture, I always tell myself that I don’t care what people think, that negative feedback won’t bother me unless it’s well thought-out and reasonable. But as I gauged my emotional response to everything yesterday, I found something completely different.

I was pissed. How dare someone question my well-reasoned arguments! How dare someone think that I’ve said something that’s not completely right! And how dare they say such a thing on Facebook!

This told me that my “don’t-care” attitude was clearly a show I was putting on for an audience of one, and it wasn’t God. It was me. And this forced me to confront a question I wouldn’t rather confront: is it OK to be upset when people disagree with you?

I think there are a lot of times we can’t help how we feel, we can’t help what emotions cross our mind whenever we initially respond to something. And for me, when I was reading the negative comments, I was frustrated. I started getting angry at the people responding, saying that they didn’t know what they were talking about, that they were stuck in their ways and afraid of something different being said.

Yeah, I was pretty sinfully upset. And that’s where I discovered that my upset-ness had gotten to a sinful point. It had led to me being angry with the people that had disagreed with me. And that’s where it’s not OK. My mind had started making ad hominem-style attacks at the person in question. I was trying to find the sinful parts of the person who had questioned me. When they made comments, they weren’t attacking me directly, but I felt that they were, so I decided to do the same.

As much as I write about trying to be like Christ on this blog, and as much as I talk about it with people, I was doing a terrible job of it. I was letting my emotions guide my thinking down a dangerous road towards bitterness and anger. I wanted to mouth off at the people.

How hypocritical I am! How much I was doing the opposite of what I had just written about in the very blog that had provoked the negative response! I began to fear for my future as a writer. If I’m going to be a writer as part of my career – which is my desire – this response to negative feedback can’t do. This will not be helpful. This could be deadly. If I get upset every time someone disagrees with me, I’ll likely be upset all the time.

It was yet another reminder to me – reminders that seem to come almost daily at this stage of my life – of two things.

First, I don’t have it all figured out. And I never will. A common stigma with Christians is that we think we have it all figured out and that we just tell the world that we do. This is not true! I will never have it all figured out. As much as I would love to have it all nailed down, I will never be wholly wise or completely smart how I want to be. I’ll never be sinless.

I think I’ll probably always struggle with this response. And I’m OK with that. I want to fight against it, and I hope it never happens ever again. But I’m OK with it because…

Second, God’s grace covers every time I get angry. And it’s growing me and sanctifying me. My walk with Christ didn’t end when I got angry at the people who disagreed with me. God still loves me and views me the same. I just became more aware of another area where I fall short of His perfection, which gives me yet another area to be thankful for His grace.

And that grace doesn’t end with my salvation. It ends when I’m perfected at the end of days, when I reach the end of my race and spend eternity with my Savior in heaven, when I will no longer be upset with people who criticize or disagree with me or what I do or what I say or what I write.

Where there will be – thank God – no chain of screaming.

Compassionate Authority: Jesus Turns ‘Big Brother’ on Its Head

One of the greatest fears of Americans today seems to be the increasing attention the government is supposedly paying to everything we’re doing on our computers, phones, etc., the increasing surveillance. It even got a lengthy treatment on HBO’s popular Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, which included an interview with the exiled Edward Snowden, a whistleblower on the topic.

It’s reminiscent of the world set up in the book 1984 by George Orwell. The Wikipedia description:

The novel is set in Airstrip One (formerly known as Great Britain), a province of the superstate Oceania in a world of perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance and public manipulation, dictated by a political system euphemistically named English Socialism (or Ingsoc in the government’s invented language, Newspeak) under the control of a privileged Inner Party elite, that persecutes individualism and independent thinking as “thoughtcrimes.”

The tyranny is epitomized by Big Brother, the quasi-divine Party leader who enjoys an intense cult of personality but who may not even exist. The Party “seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power.” The protagonist of the novel, Winston Smith, is a member of the Outer Party, who works for the Ministry of Truth (or Minitrue), which is responsible for propaganda and historical revisionism. His job is to rewrite past newspaper articles, so that the historical record always supports the party line. Smith is a diligent and skillful worker but he secretly hates the Party and dreams of rebellion against Big Brother.

Perhaps Orwell’s world is a big exaggerated, but a lot of people are afraid that this would actually happen (read this opinion column on CNN to see what some people think). The idea is a popular one in society. We enjoy reality shows like Big Brother and Survivor where we get to peek in on real people living out their lives. We fear the government having the same ability to look into our life. I could write about that contradiction, but I’ve got something more important.

Jesus has the same kind of “Big Brother” power in our lives, but unlike “Big Brother,” He exerts His authority with a grace and love unlike any other leader in history.

In Matthew 28:18-20, Jesus gives what is known in Christian circles as the “Great Commission,” the mission for all believers to live out. It goes like this:

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The first thing Jesus tells the disciples is that “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given” to Him. This is backed up by the idea presented by Paul in Philippians 2:8-11.

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Jesus has all power and all authority. I’m of the camp that believes that Jesus is God, therefore He is indwelled with all the power and authority that God has. He can do whatever He wants whenever He wants. God the Father and God the Son serve different purposes and different roles, but have similar power and authority. So Jesus rules and reigns, right?

But this is where it gets awesome: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

In 1984, Big Brother is this mysterious leader who comes up on screens and promises that he is taking care of and loving his people. But, as the Wikipedia description says, he may not even really exist. In the book, there’s no definitive answer as to whether or not he’s a real person. And there’s no questioning whether or not he’s real, or you get “re-educated.” He’s not “with” his people.

Jesus tells His disciples that He is with them always, to the end of time. He is with us. Emmanuel, another name for Jesus, means “God with us.” If you’re “with” someone, you’re on their side, you genuinely care for them, you genuinely love them, you’re genuinely interested in their best.

That’s the kind of authority we need in our lives, an authority that genuinely cares for us enough to be with us and to love us, to be on our side, to be for us. When Winston Smith rebelled against Big Brother in his thoughts, there was no forgiveness because there was no mercy. When we rebel against God in our thoughts and in our actions, He offers a forgiveness and a love that is greater than our sins and our shortcomings.

So when we sin, we don’t have to fear the authority Jesus has. He has the authority to forgive sins. So we should rejoice in His authority and the fact that He uses it to love us.

The Church Culture of Shame

I was way too young to understand anything that went on in the Monica Lewinsky scandal that grabbed America’s attention in 1998. I can’t even remember when I first heard about it, to be honest with you. I would have been 5 years old back then, so even if I had known, I would have had no reference point for what adultery was or how crazy it was that the President of the United States was involved in it.

I still didn’t know all that much about it until today, when I was looking over a list of nominees for the 2015 National Magazine Awards on longform.org. Having graduated from college with a degree in journalism and still loving to write, I enjoy a good longform story. I perused the articles and found a link to Monica Lewinsky’s first-person essay in Vanity Fair that was published in May of last year. You can read it here.

She starts out her essay this way:

‘How does it feel to be America’s premier blow-job queen?”

It was early 2001. I was sitting on the stage of New York’s Cooper Union in the middle of taping a Q&A for an HBO documentary. I was the subject. And I was thunderstruck.

Hundreds of people in the audience, mostly students, were staring at me, many with their mouths agape, wondering if I would dare to answer this question.

The main reason I had agreed to participate in the program was not to rehash or revise the story line of Interngate but to try to shift the focus to meaningful issues. Many troubling political and judicial questions had been brought to light by the investigation and impeachment of President Bill Clinton. But the most egregious had been generally ignored. People seemed indifferent to the deeper matters at hand, such as the erosion of private life in the public sphere, the balance of power and gender inequality in politics and media, and the erosion of legal protections to ensure that neither a parent nor a child should ever have to testify against each other.

How naïve I was.

She ended up answering the question. I really encourage you to read the whole piece because 1) it’s incredible writing, 2) it’s historically significant and 3) it reveals something we may already know.

We are a culture who likes shame. We don’t like to feel shame ourselves, of course, but when it comes to others, shame sometimes seems to be our first reaction. Monica Lewinsky, the Washington Redskins refusing to change their name, Barack Obama’s failure to attend a march in France, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences”snubbing” the MLK-centered film Selma from some major awards categories. We love shaming people and places and organizations that have fallen short in our eyes.

And through Lewinsky’s essay, we get a really good glimpse into what that looks like. Another bit from her essay:

Yes, we’re all connected now. We can tweet a revolution in the streets or chronicle achievements large and small. But we’re also caught in a feedback loop of defame and shame, one in which we have become both perps and victims. We may not have become a crueler society—although it sure feels as if we have—but the Internet has seismically shifted the tone of our interactions. The ease, the speed, and the distance that our electronic devices afford us can also make us colder, more glib, and less concerned about the consequences of our pranks and prejudice. Having lived humiliation in the most intimate possible way, I marvel at how willingly we have all signed on to this new way of being.

Let me say this: I don’t excuse her choices or her actions. Monica Lewinsky messed up, and Bill Clinton messed up, and they definitely have no excuses. And in the essay, Lewinsky says she wishes she could go back and erase that scandal happening.

But the stigma of being “that woman” will stick with her for the rest of her life and then onwards because that’s the society we live in today. She may not be convinced that we “have become a crueler society,” but I think there’s lots of evidence that we have become just that. We are generally unforgiving and unaccepting of wrongs as a culture. We revel in other’s misfortune, whether they earned it or not. We gravitate towards wrongdoing. It’s like that old saying about a car crash. It’s ugly to see, but you just can’t help but look.

Some of this gravitation towards wrongdoing is necessary and right. Racism? Yes, we should be talking about it and working against it. We should be speaking out and saying that all of mankind is created equal in the image of God, and each one of us deserves respect no matter the color of our skin, the ethnicity of our parents or the size of our bank accounts. Sex trafficking and slavery? Yes, we should be talking about it and working against it. No one should be forced to be a slave to anyone for anything, particularly for the perverse pleasure and sexual fulfillment of mostly men.

But the culture of shame that perpetrates through celebrities’ marriage troubles and political decisions is a shame. We don’t give others the benefit of the doubt that we beg to be shown to us. And, unfortunately, I think this has creeped into the body of Christ.

A Guy I Admired, He Sinned. 

I wrote a blog post back in October about “selfish holiness,” and how often I fall into the trap of overly-criticizing Christians for being critical of Christians. I admit it: I do it. My self-righteousness is a constant weight on my back, eating away at my attempts to bring God glory in all I do. But I want to re-emphasize what I said while looking at Mark Driscoll.

For those of you who don’t know who Mark Driscoll is or what his story is, he was the pastor and founder of Mars Hill Church, which was a multi-campus church on the west coast that was based out of Seattle, Washington. He was known for his aggressive yet conservative style of preaching. An example:

 

He’s right, by the way.

But the yelling and the language and the confrontation got to some people in the wrong way. And then there were reports of plagiarism in some of his books. And then a lack of submission to confrontation from others. And overwhelming pride. And some comments on a forum under a different name a long time ago. And some other things. Read this story here for some more context.

All things that were sinful. Not questioning that. And I’m not questioning that those things should have been brought to the light. But the tenacity and the thoroughness with which Christians investigated and shamed him is upsetting to me. There’s a whole website dedicated to it, for goodness’ sake, filled with articles nitpicking and analyzing anything and everything that Driscoll has said or done in his ministry.

Just like we do with Barack Obama. Just like we did with Monica Lewinsky and Bill Clinton. The culture of shame has entered the church. We are best at shooting down our own. In this video of Driscoll at the Gateway Conference in California back in October, he says that his family had to move three times to avoid death threats:

 

Something that Robert Morris, the pastor at Gateway Church where the conference was held, says in the video struck me (emphasis mine): “We could crucify him (Driscoll), but since someone has already been crucified for him, the other choice is we could restore him with a spirit of gentleness considering ourselves lest we are tempted. It’s sad that in the church we are the only army that shoots at our wounded.”

It seems as if there’s no freedom to sin in the church. There’s no freedom to mess up and get an honest second chance because things get ruined for you when you mess up the first time. And it might seem like it’s just the leaders. But is it too unrealistic to think that this might be affecting the church as a whole? Our attitude towards people like Mark Driscoll can encourage a church-wide shaming of people who sin, so we might be afraid of being honest about our sin.

I really enjoyed listening to Mark Driscoll. Just about every time I listened to a sermon of his, I was challenged and encouraged with strong, bold biblical truth. I loved it. I loved his ministry to the Gospel-starved city of Seattle. And when he “fell,” my first response, honestly, was disappointment. When anyone lets you down, there is bound to be disappointment. But as the saga wore on and as I loosely followed it, I was disappointed by the reaction of the Christian community. Should he have been removed from his positions in different ministries, even his church? Perhaps. But the vitriol and the lack of forgiveness after repeated apologies made me wonder, “What in the world are we accomplishing by this reaction to a guy doing what he does every day, sinning?”

This Is Where The Gospel Makes Sense.

After capping off the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15).

I am incredibly guilty of not following through on this. I still hold things against people from years ago, and it’s life-sucking and joy-killing. I refuse to forgive, I refuse to move on, I refuse to let go. I ignore the fact that other people sin and fall short while expecting them to be perfect. Honestly, my unrealistic expectations of others might be more sinful than their actions.

The thing is: God loved and forgave those of us who are believers when we were defined by our sin – “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). As sinful people, we will fall short of echoing this kind of love perfectly. But it is the call on our lives, as Jesus said, to forgive others and love others how God forgives and loves us.

I’m afraid that we’ve missed this and instead are quick to shame and to criticize. I was talking with a girl in a small group a couple weeks ago who hadn’t been to church in a long time and I asked her why she hadn’t. She said that she felt judged and condemned and never really wanted to go back. Someone called her a really bad name. To her face. There had been no effort to reach out and love her and seek to show Jesus to her. Instead, there was only quick condemnation, shaming glances. No grace. No love. No acceptance of who she was as a human being, someone broken and in need of a Savior.

This is where the Gospel makes sense. This is where the love of God should be shown to Monica Lewinsky, to Mark Driscoll, to Barack Obama, to Dan Snyder. And I think only when the grace and love of God is made clear is proper confrontation of sin godly and biblical. I think of the story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8 (a story I’m loving right now and wrote about a few days ago), and Jesus’ words to the woman – “Neither will I condemn you; now, go and sin no more” (v. 11). He starts with a reminder of who she is in Him – saved, no longer condemned. It’s a perfect practical picture of Romans 8:1, in which Paul says there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. There is correction and discipline, but no condemnation. Then He tells her that she is to go and no longer sin.

Will she follow that 100 percent? No. But no matter what, she’s forgiven and loved because she submitted her life to Jesus, called him Lord (v. 11). We should be giving the same response to guys like Mark Driscoll, guys like the pastor in your church who might be a little prideful, guys like your friend who unintentionally insulted your wife, people like your college roommate who left dirty dishes in the sink way too often. (That was me, by the way.)

We should be saying: “I don’t condemn you or hold that against you. But try harder! Pray to God for the grace to grow, for the Holy Spirit to convict you of your sin, for the Bible to show you how to live properly, and for your heart to accept God’s forgiveness of your sin and to change in a way that’s glorifying to Him.”

Man, I hope and pray that I can go that way, speak those words and really have that attitude of not holding sins against others and not seeking to shame someone into oblivion. I mean, that’s how God operates, right?

Let’s Be Careful with Our Message of Hate

Hate the sin, love the sinner. It’s an evangelical cliche as old as “grace through faith.”

Fun fact: that cliche is not in the Bible. The concepts are there and are true, but there’s no one verse we get that exact phrasing from. Apparently the phrasing was originated by Augustine and then modified a bit by Gandhi.

Whenever the sin of the day – currently homosexuality or choosing to have an abortion – comes up, we know we’ve got to show the love of Jesus, but we qualify, “You’ve got to hate the sin, love the sinner.” And it’s true. We can’t sit idly by while our sin tries to drag us away from God, but we can’t forget that God loves us and cares for us.

Wait, what? Don’t know if you saw what I did there, but I just turned that cliche on its head.

We love to spread the cliche, we love to make it a catchphrase because it removes the burden from us. It takes away our responsibility to really challenge ourselves to love others.

Two quick questions on this phrase:

1. Do we really hate our own sin, or do we spend more time hating others’ sins?

When we see the world express their love for sin, their love for doing things their own way, we come at the world with the cliche: hate that sin, love those sinners. It gets to be so much sometimes that we forget that we sin too.

A believer who has a healthy view of their own sinfulness will realize that they are just as worthy of that cliche as anyone else. “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us…If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (1 John 1:8,10).

There can be a tendency in all of us to look over our own sin and instead worry about the sins of others. It’s good to be concerned about the sins we see in others. If a brother or sister in Christ comes to us with a sin they want prayer or counsel for, we should jump at the opportunity to bear their burden, because in doing so we will fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).

But if we get too concerned about the sin of others and overlook our own, we just might miss out on the fact that we sin too, and are in desperate need of the reminder that we should hate our sin so much that we should fight it with every bone in our body, seeking the Holy Spirit for help all along the way.

2. Do we really love the sinner? 

I think sometimes we can use “hate the sin, love the sinner” as an excuse to not care too much about the sinner we’re speaking of. As long as it’s not hate, we’re good, right? As long as there’s no vitriol, no nasty words, etc., we’re straight.

From Brennan Manning’s wonderful book Abba’s Child (which I’m currently reading through for the second time, HIGHLY recommend):

“The command of Jesus to love one another is never circumscribed by the nationality, status, ethnic background, sexual preference, or inherent lovableness of the ‘other.’ The other, the one who has a claim on my love, is anyone to whom I am able to respond, as the parable of the good Samaritan clearly illustrates…This insistence on the absolutely indiscriminate nature of compassion within the Kingdom is the dominant perspective of almost all of Jesus’ teaching.”*

Our love for others should not be affected AT ALL by whatever sin they might be engaged in or anything else. You don’t see Jesus withholding his love from the tax collector or the prostitute. We should love without restraint.

“But that doesn’t mean we should accept what they do!” you might exclaim. And you’re right. We shouldn’t love what they do. We should not accept their choices. Part of loving them means speaking truth into their life, even if it directly contradicts their lifestyle.

But ask yourself: do you truly love them the way Jesus does? Not just speaking truth into their life, but also being a friend and loving them in spite of their sin. That’s what Jesus did for us.

I know I struggle with that. I know that I don’t love everyone around me the way I ought. I know I need to grow in that. I confess that I tend towards apathy much more often than love. I don’t care about people the way I should, and I should be seeking God, begging the Holy Spirit to grow me in that area.

If you struggle as I do in these areas, I would encourage you to ask for forgiveness, something God freely offers those who trust in Him, and ask for the strength and grace to grow to be more like our Savior, who could have very easily looked at us and taken the attitude we take towards sinners in our day.

I’m so thankful He didn’t.

——————————————————————-

* Brennan Manning, Abba’s Child: The Cry of the Heart for Intimate Belonging (Colorado Springs, Colo.: Navpress, 2002), 75.

 

Sometimes the Devil Sounds a Lot Like Jesus

“Sometimes the devil sounds a lot like Jesus, telling me I’m not enough. And I don’t believe it, no, no, but I can feel it. And I need you so, yes, I need you so.” – Ben Rector

A difficulty I face (among many, many things) is the devil. He’s perhaps the greatest difficulty. He is a tempter. He likes to tell lies to us, to tell us we’re not enough, to get us to doubt God’s love.

I am a chief victim of his lies. So often I doubt the truth of God’s love in my life because all I see is my sin, all I see is the condemnation I deserve.

I pray, for myself and for you who feels the same way, that we not see God this way.

Check out 1 Peter 5:8,

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.

The command here is to be sober-minded. The Greek for sober-minded means “to be sober, to abstain from wine.” When someone is drunk or not in a sober state of mind, it’s likely that they don’t have their emotions in check, they’re not thinking straight. Peter challenges his audience (and God’s challenging us) to keep our emotions and our thoughts straight.

Why? Satan’s trying to devour us. Satan is trying to take us away from God, make us forget about all the grace and all the love that God offers us. Satan lies about God’s goodness (check out Genesis 3) and says the pleasures of the world are better.

When we sin, if we’re not focused on grace, we’re probably going to see the condemnation and the guilt that sin provides. Conviction of sin is good, it’s right, it’s biblical. But not seeing grace is missing the whole point of God’s love (I wrote about this recently).

I often implant my thoughts of myself on God’s lips, the devil’s guilt trip as my Father’s words. And what a sad state of affairs that is! I think God hates me, I think God can’t stand the sight of me, I think God has no business dealing with me. The feeling is horrible.

And what greater lie is there? Satan’s biggest goal is not to get people to follow him, it’s to get people to stop following God. I am fully confident of this. He pulls us away from truths in God’s Word, truths like these:

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” – Romans 8:1

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39

“But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” – Psalm 86:15

When we are oblivious to or can’t find truth, we find lies because we need to cling to something. When it seems you can’t find anything to hold onto, cling to Christ! Cling to spiritual truths that promise God’s love and forgiveness for your sins if you come to him with a broken and contrite heart!

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” – Psalm 51:17

Let that grace spur you on to obedience.

I find the final verse to Shane & Shane’s “Embracing Accusation” quite appropriate here to close:

Oh the devil’s singing over me
An age old song
That I am cursed and gone astray
Singing the first verse so conveniently
He’s forgotten the refrain
Jesus saves!

The Second (Or Third, Fourth, Fifth…) Time You Sin

One of the peskiest things I dealt with in middle and high school and college math was my penchant for making careless mistakes. I would always get tests or quizzes back with something circled wrong that was simply a mistake. I would add something wrong or divide instead of multiply, something like that. Granted, my math skills were and still are limited, but I remember one teacher in particular pulling me aside and saying, “Zach, you need to avoid careless errors. Take your time.”

Now that I’m older (and no longer taking math classes, thank goodness), I’m learning that certain sins in my life are like those careless errors in math; they just seem to come up again and again. Some people call them “besetting sins.”

Dictionary.com defines “besetting” as “constantly assailing or obsessing, as with temptation.” There are certain sins in my life that I could define as “besetting”: laziness, selfishness, lust, not trusting God and more.

So often, for me, it’s easy to get discouraged when those sins pop up again and again. I know there was grace the first time, but I struggle with receiving grace the second time. I think of verses like Romans 6:1-2,

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?

Yes, we should not take advantage of grace by sinning. We should be seeking obedience of our Father.

But we should not ignore grace.

I repeat, we should not ignore grace.

Grace is still as fresh to the repentant heart of a true believer the second, third, fourth and fifth time as it is after the first time. And if we forget that, we forget the foundation of our salvation. We first desired Christ, a desire drawn up by the Holy Spirit, because we knew we sinned again and again, and because of that, we found ourselves opposed to God and in need of a sacrifice, one that Jesus offered up on the cross.

If we sit in guilt of our sin and don’t let grace motivate us to seek repentance and obedience, we are claiming that we believe that our sin is greater than the grace that God gives freely to His children.

Think about the story of the Israelites. All throughout the Old Testament, you see the people of Israel obeying God, then doing what was evil in God’s sight, then seeing their need for forgiveness, then turning to God. Then they would repeat the cycle, over and over again. We’re the same way because, on earth, we will never be without sin.

But we must remember, that if we are in Christ, Romans 8:1 is true for us:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

If you are saved, you are not condemned. Ever again.

So today, tonight, this afternoon, whatever it is, if you are a Christian and your besetting sin has got you down again, I beg you, do not forget the grace of your Father God. He desires for you to live in grace. He desires for you to have a contrite heart, convicted of your sin (I wrote about this in one of the first posts on this blog over two years ago), and to seek His grace and obedience in light of that.