Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Dealing with Sin ... What Fun!

Sin is not something that I like to talk about or much less think about a whole lot. As a follower of Jesus, I obviously believe that I am sinner because Jesus says that I am in His Word and that's ultimately the reason why God sent him to earth, bottled up his godliness into human form to live the life that I couldn't live, died on the cross to pay for the sin that I couldn't pay for and rose again to give my blemished self new and eternal life. I know that I am sinner. But somehow, I live my life as if it's not always a big deal. Society doesn't emphasize it, why should I? (Eww ... so wrong!)

Not that I would outwardly communicate that my goal in life is to sin and gratify my fleshly desires as oppose to glorify the Lord ... but when I look at my behavior and my words and my thought life, I can't believe how easily I fool myself. My own mind is numb to the sinfulness of my heart and many times I can't even identify the sin in my life, much less verbally confess it and repent of it and plead with the Lord to help me not do it again. How terrible! If I'm a believer and spend time in the Word, shouldn't this be a natural out pour of my life? Maybe it's not so natural ... maybe it's something I really have to learn, become disciplined at and grow in. But if my heart was originally created in the image of God, there is hope for me, but it's going to take a lot of sin whittling to get there!

Somehow, the Lord has broken through the numbness of my mind in the last few weeks and has begun to point out the areas of my brokenness and how desperately I need the Holy Spirit to intervene! It's amazing how He can use marriage to reveal this truth in our lives! How great and how frustrating at the same time!

As I was really trying to address some of this stuff this morning, I stumbled across a fantastic sermon transcript from a pastor by the name of John MacArthur, Jr. of Grace Community Church in Panorama City, California. The sermon focuses on dealing with habitual sin. Now I'm always a bit weary to utilize and refer to resources that I am not familiar with, but after reading through this sermon transcript and referencing the scripture behind it, I feel that it is totally legit and worth studying. Funny thing, I have been a believer for about 20 years and I have never come across a better explanation of how to deal with my sin than this. I want to share some of the highlights of the sermon below and then I'd encourage you to check it out for yourself. It's definitely worth your time!

MacArthur focuses his sermon around Hebrews 12:1 by saying, "... let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." He uses this to simply express that as a fallen people, who are separated from God, sin is a part of who we are (Jeremiah 13:23), that our hearts our deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9), and that sin does not remain separate but it mingles in all of our motives and actions (Romans 7), regardless of how hard we try to separate our goodness and our sin.

This thought is not new to me at all, in fact that's what brought me to this place, but the question that I have and that MacArthur answers so well is, "How do we 'lay aside the sin that so easily entangles us'?" We see in 2 Corinthians 7:1, Ephesians 4:22, Romans 6:12 and 1 Peter 2:1 & 11 that we're commanded to do this. Sadly, I find myself wrestling with the same sin over and over. It may present itself in different situations, but when I look at the root of it, it's all the same, and I can't seem to move past it.

Now, I'm not saying that I never confess my sin and seek forgiveness ... that's not true at all, but as MacArthur communicates so well, my confession tends to be more periodic, prior to communion or when I'm seriously convicted rather than ongoing. And when this is the case, MacArthur says that we tend to walk away from those events with very little change in the pattern of our sinning. He says that we want to confess our sins and that we have the confidence that He is faithful and just to forgive, which is true of me, but that we don't take the steps toward a decreased load of sin -- where our list of sins becomes shorter and shorter because we're dealing with it on an ongoing basis. (Not that we ever stop sinning completely, but we're moving toward healthy, progressive sanctification.)

Here are the 8 steps that MacArthur identifies as ways to begin "laying aside our sin" or in reality, leaving it at the foot of the cross and pleading with Jesus to help us not do it again!
  1. Don't underestimate the seriousness of sin. When I first read this, I thought to myself, "Oh, I know that my sin is a serious offense toward God," and began to read on. But darn it, if I really knew how serious the offense was, my life would look a lot different. I would try a lot harder NOT to sin! My heart would be so changed that the out pour of that change into my actions, words and thoughts would be very different. I think this is the same idea as knowing the Gospel. On the surface, we know it well, but when we look to see if it permeates every area of our life as a response to Christ's gift of grace to us, we quickly realize that we know a whole lot less about the Gospel than we think we do. It's time to hit the books (scripture, really) and get down on my knees.

  2. Strongly purpose and promise God not to sin. Now at first, I was a little suspicious of this call. "How am I suppose to promise God that I won't sin again if I know that I am a sinner and cannot live a perfect life?" But MacArthur uses strong commands from scripture to support his point. Not that we won't sin again, but if progressive sanctification is our goal, and scripture says it should be (Romans 6:1-23), we need to seek forgiveness from sin and move forward aiming not to do it again. Psalm 119:106 -- "I have sworn, and I will confirm it, that I will keep Thy righteous ordinances." Psalm 119:32 -- "I shall run the way of Thy commandments, for Thou will enlarge my heart." Hmm, looks like Psalm 119 is just bursting with support and directives!

    In addition, verse 32 brings up a great point about endurance. I typically think of my faith as a growing test of endurance, not necessary my heart's capacity to strive toward righteousness. MacArthur says that this verse communicates the endurance that we need for our heart to push forward, to exceed limitations, or to enlarge. And when I think about this, it makes perfect sense ... God created my heart in His image, therefore my heart has the capacity for perfect obedience, without the existence of sin. I'm not going to get there while I'm on earth, but that doesn't mean that I can't be in training for that day and continually strive to strengthen my heart and it's capacity grow and change for good.

  3. Be suspicious of your own spirituality. MacArthur references Job 31:1 and Proverbs 4:23 here. The verse from Proverbs particularly strikes a chord with me: "Watch over your heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life." Gracious, why am I not more careful of the things that I allow in my heart? MacArthur says that we need to "understand that except for the grace of God we would fall into any and every sin and we would be deceived so easily." Praise the Lord His gift of GRACE!

  4. Resist the first risings of the flesh and its pleasures. MacArthur's biggest point here is to stop sin at it's conception not at it's birth. This will root out a great deal of sin and it's ability to penetrate into all areas of our life. MacArthur then reminds us that if we find ourselves sacrificing for ourselves and seeking pleasures that we desire, instead of what the Lord desires for us, we've already given in. This is huge ... I've got to stop and think ... it's not about me and what I want, it's about Jesus and what pleases him!

  5. Meditate on the Word. MacArthur brings Psalm 37:31 to mind here: "The law of his God is in His heart; his steps do not slip." When a heart is controlled by the Word the steps don't slip. Hmm, I remember referencing this idea a few weeks ago in my post on Atheistic Enterprising. This again reminds me that if we're surrounded and immersed in God's Word, that's the stream that will out pour from our souls. If we're immersed in other things -- materialism, selfishness, fame, pride, etc. -- those things will take the place of godliness in our lives.

    MacArthur goes on to say that "It is the constant input of God's Word that begins to fill up the mind and control the thinking, and that alone becomes the strength and resource in us that can resist the initial impulses of the flesh." Psalm 119:9 & 10 and Colossians 3:16 are three great verses here.

  6. Be immediately repentant over your lapses. Here's a big one for me: MacArthur notes that repentance is not just saying, "I'm sorry, Lord, forgive me," but rather, "I'm sorry, Lord, forgive me, and I don't want to do it again." We can't fool God about the genuineness of our hearts. Yikes! This is a tough one for me ... I feel like I earnestly come to the Lord seeking repentance but many times, I sinfully want to hold on to my sin because I like doing it. How awful is that! All that shows is that I'm deeply rooted in my sin and that I'd prefer my way [the sin] than God's way. But in reality, my way only leads to death and there is no life or hope in that! I simply need to realize that my longing for my way, which is sin, is just a false reality. Again, I was made in the image of God, God is not sinful but completely righteous, and I am lying to myself if I say that my heart longs to sin. That's the sin in me that's distorting God's true reality for me.

    MacArthur recommends that we name the sin that we're confessing and the related behavior to help keep our heart and ears accountable. If we hold back from naming the sin, we're essentially saying that we want to do it again and that's hypocritical before God! Yikes!

  7. Continually pray for divine help. Colossians 4:2 is a beautiful reminder here: "Watch and pray for you know not when you are going to enter the hour of temptation." MacArthur recommends praying anticipatory prayer. "Lead me not into temptation today, and pray before the flesh begins to rise and entice."

  8. Establish relationships with other believers to hold you accountable. Now this point is a good plug for accountability. For married folks, we know that marriage is really a litmus test for our sin ... there's not much that can slip by our spouses, but for the stuff that does, it's a good reminder to bring it up and be open and honest. Single and married folks alike, it is equally important to have friends that surround us that are going to hold us accountable to living the life that God calls us to. A staff member at Vintage21 Church, Lachlan Payne, just gave a great talk on this topic, and if you're interested in learning more about healthy, biblical accountability, take some time to listen. The important point he makes here, which is contrary to a lot of teaching on accountability, is that confession and prayer are not the only components, but it's 4 thronged: Intentionality, Confession, Prayer and Healing. Healing being the big kicker ... if you have confession and prayer without healing, it's not really worth the time.
* ADDENDUM: After reading through this post again, let me clarify that dealing with sin is not about US rooting out the 'evil' in our life ... but taking steps to actively pursue Jesus, seeking only his righteousness. If the former was communicated, that was not my intention. Rooting out the sin in our life is part of the process, but not on our own strength. It's really about trusting in Jesus' GRACE as we move forward -- seeking forgiveness and embracing the grace that he's already bestowed on us and not relying on our own strength or will. It obviously takes action to move toward progressive sanctification, not just idleness, but we have to keep our eyes focused on Jesus and dependent on Jesus the whole time or we're just focusing on our own ability not the Lord's to redeem us. (My husband was reminded of a relevant quote from C.S. Lewis on this matter and when he finds it, I'll post it in the comment section.)

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