Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Respectable Sins Unthankfulness Respectable Sins: Sermon Seven by William Klock St. Luke tells us that as Jesus was making his final trip to Jerusalem – the trip that eventually led him to his crucifixion – he travelled along the road following the Samarian-Galilean border. He was on the fringe of Judea. And as he walked into one of the villages along that road he was stopped by a group of ten men. They stood at a distance from him, calling out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” The reason they didn’t just approach him directly on the road, but had to get his attention from a distance was because they were all lepers. Lepers were biblically mandated outcasts in Israelite society. We don’t necessarily know exactly what the Bible means when it talks about leprosy – it probably isn’t the same thing we know as leprosy today, but we do know it covered contagious skin diseases. The Law that God gave to Moses and that’s recorded in Leviticus says, “The leprous person who has the disease shall wear torn clothes and let the hair of his head hang loose, and he shall cover his upper lip and cry out, ‘Unclean, unclean.’” And so these men and women lived on the fringe of society. They lived outside the towns and cities – outside the town gate – in poor and makeshift conditions and they lived mostly off the charity others. If they were somehow healed or got better, they could only be let back into society by going and showing themselves to the priest. The Law explained to the priest what he was to look for, and once the leper met the qualifications for health, the priest would then pronounce him clean. And notice that these people weren’t just kept out of society, but outside the House of God as well. They weren’t just contagious. They were also ritually unclean, which meant they weren’t allowed to come into the presence of God. These people were cut off in every conceivable way. And so they cautiously approached Jesus, staying at a distance, and calling out “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” These people had heard that Jesus was able to heal the sick, and so they came to him in the hope that he might heal them too. Jesus simply tells them, “Go and show yourselves to the priest.” As they went off in faith they were healed. And yet only one of them made the choice to turn around, go back to Jesus, and thank him. Interestingly the one that did go back wasn’t a Jew, but a Samaritan – one who was not only an outcast because of his leprosy, but also because of his race and his religion. Assuming the others were Jews, they were being both physically healed and also made ritually clean again. This man was ceremonially unclean no matter how healthy he was – he was a Samaritan. I read that story and find myself thinking, “How is it that only one of those ten men came back to give thanks for their healing? And the one that did come back was the one with the least to be thankful for.” And yet I myself, and I think most of us as Christians, are guilty of doing exactly the same thing as those other nine men. As I said last Sunday morning, we’re prone to thinking of great need in terms of the starving people we see on TV or the terminally ill people we know – people with physical sickness like those lepers. And yet our spiritual condition leaves us in even greater need. Humanity isn’t just sick – it’s spiritually dead. We’re slaves to the world, to the flesh, and to the devil. By our very nature we’re objects of God’s wrath and of eternal damnation. But in his great mercy and love, God has reached out to give us spiritual life. Through Jesus Christ’s death he has forgiven us our sins. That Christ has given us spiritual life is a far greater miracle with infinitely greater benefits than the miracle those ten lepers received. And yet ask yourself, how often you give thanks to God for your salvation. Have you thanked God today that he has delivered you from the domain of darkness and transferred you into the kingdom of his Son? And if you did give thanks today, was it real and heartfelt thanks or just a nominal thing? This is yet another reason for which I’m so thankful for the Prayer Book as a devotional aide, in that it clearly directs our prayers away from ourselves to giving thanks to God for what he’s done for us. You see, the whole of our lives needs to be given over to thanks and praise. We need to heed God’s warning to the Israelites. In Deuteronomy 8 we read: “Take care lest you forget the LORD your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery…Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.” (Deuteronomy 8:11-14, 17-18) It’s not that we don’t know that we should be giving God thanks for all he does for us. Our problem is that this knowledge in our heads doesn’t quite make it to our hearts. How often do we really give him thanks for our redemption? How often do we really give him thanks for dying in our place? And how often do we give him thanks for the “little” things in life? St. Paul, in speaking to the Athenians, reminded them that the very air we breathe is God given. How often do we give thanks for the skills, intelligence, training, and experience that God has given us to feed, clothe and shelter our families? Too many of us take all these things for granted too much of the time. We gripe about the rust-bucket in the driveway, wishing we had a new car, and forget to give thanks to God for the rust-bucket that still get us to work on time. We gripe about the simple food we can afford on our budget, wishing for steak and ice cream every night, forgetting to give thanks for the bounty God has given, forgetting that there are many in the world who would be thankful for what we’ve got. We even take the redeeming death of Jesus Christ for granted much of the time. Hear me when I say, that failing to continually give God thanks has become one of our “acceptable sins.” We don’t even think of it as sin anymore. Yet St. Paul gives a description of the Spirit-filled life saying, we are to “[give] thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 5:20). Note the words always and everything. That means that our whole lives should be ones of continually giving thanks. It’s not just a nice thing to do – it’s the moral will of God. If we fail to give him the thanks we owe, we’re guilty of sin. It might not seem like a big deal to us. We might think that it doesn’t really do anyone any real harm, but it’s an affront and an insult to the one who created and sustains us every second of our lives. Every Sunday morning we hear Jesus’ summary of the Law. If loving God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength is the first and greatest commandment, then failure to give him thanks as a habit of life is a clear and direct violation of the greatest commandment we have been given. Think about that. We think it doesn’t really hurt anyone, but look at St. Paul’s description in Romans 1 of the downward moral spiral of pagan humanity. That downward spiral starts this way, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:21). Again, think about that. Paul goes on to describe some pretty sick behaviour, but it starts with this failure to recognise what God has given and to give thanks to him. Their moral degradation was the result of God’s judgement on them as he gradually gave them over to more and more perverse forms of immorality. Not giving thanks is serious business. Is it any wonder that so many kids raised in Christians homes fall away as they get older. I’m convinced that one of the reasons is that we fail in this area of giving thanks. If our kids see us giving thanks to God in all things and for all things, it instils in them the same habit. But if we fall down here, we fail to communicate to our kids that all we have comes from God. Now maybe your problem isn’t with giving thanks for all the good things God gives. But are you able to consistently give thanks in all circumstances? Thanking God for the good things is sometimes hard enough. But giving him thanks for what we see as the bad things sometimes seems impossible. Just a couple of days before we moved the alternator in my car died. It wasn’t what I needed right then. I was dealing with enough things at the time. But when it happened, two things occurred to me: First, it happened at a time when the funds to make the repair were plentiful, and, second, I was sure glad that it happened when it did and not on moving day as we were coordinating an all-day trip across an international border, with two cars and a semi-truck and trailer. I got in my car that morning and headed down the hill to work and suddenly the alternator light came on. My first thought was, “Oh great! This is the last thing I need right now!” But fairly quickly those other factors came to mind and by the time I was driving back up the hill and homeward, I was able to give thanks that it happened when it did. Now don’t use my own example. I don’t want this to be purely theoretical. Think of your own situation – a predicament you found yourself in. Now ask again, “Are we to give thanks to God when the circumstances of life don’t turn out the way we hoped?” Yes! But this time I’ll give you a different reason. Earlier we looked at Ephesians 5:20, where the command was to give thanks to God for everything. I think that based on the context there, St. Paul is talking about developing a habit of continual thanksgiving for all the blessings of God – that’s one aspect of a Spirit-filled life: a thankful heart. But let me give you a different verse here. When we’re told we should give thanks even when things don’t go the way we’d like them to, think of 1 Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” The context is different here. Paul is telling us to give thanks in all of our circumstances, even the ones we wouldn’t normally feel very thankful for. But even this needs some explanation. Having an alternator failure isn’t that big of a thing in the overall scheme of things. Think of some of the situations I described last week – big things in life: having a serious physical handicap or disease; being “stuck” in a low-paying or unfulfilling job; being in a difficult marriage; not being able to have the kids you want. Think of big things like that. And I think our response might be, “Okay, God, I’ll give you thanks, but only because I have to.” And so by sheer willpower we give thanks to God through gritted teeth – kind of the same way we sometimes drop our tithe cheque in the offering plate. But that’s not how it’s supposed to work. Look at what should by now be a familiar passage: Romans 8:28-29 and 38-39: And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers…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. Verse 28 says that all things work together for good, for those who love God. In other words, God causes all things to work together for good. St. Paul’s not saying that circumstances work themselves out for good, but that God directs their outcome for our good. But we also need to look at verse 29. We may think, “That’s great, but I don’t see things working out for what Ithink is good.” And that’s Paul’s point. It’s not that they’ll necessarily work out the way wewant them to. It’s that God will work them out the way he wants – and what he wants is for us to be conformed to the image of his Son. That’s the “good”: for us to be more and more like Jesus. Paul’s telling us that God intends for all of our circumstances, both the good ones and the bad ones (and especially he’s noting in this context the bad ones), to be instruments of sanctification, of growing us more and more into the likeness of Jesus. The best example I can give is one involving marriage. The marriage relationship itself has been designed by God to teach us about our relationship with the Father through the Son, Jesus Christ. The husband is to love his wife as Christ loves the Church, and the wife is to respect and obey her husband as the Church respects and obeys Christ. And not only that, but we’re called to be joined not for what we get out of it, but by what we give to another. If we see Christ as the ultimate example of love, we see that love isn’t about feelings – it’s about giving, even when we see no return. And I can’t think of any situation that teaches this better than married life. And an even better teach of this is a marriage to a difficult spouse. I’ve known many Christians over the years that have been through just such a “bad” situation with the end result that they came to appreciate what Christ had done for them and what true love is all about. So when things don’t go the way we want them to, we need to give thanks, not grudgingly, but truly thankfully. As I said last week, not resigning ourselves to the circumstance, but receiving it as God’s gift, confident in the knowledge that it really is a good thing meant to bring us closer to him. We don’t need to speculate about how God might use. Again, as I said last week, his ways are often mysterious and beyond our understanding. But by faith in the promise of God in Romans 8, we obey the command of 1 Thessalonians 5:18 to give thanks in all circumstances. After all, we have not only the command to give thanks, but we also have God’s promise in verses 38 and 39 that nothing, including the situation we might find ourselves in, can separate us from the love of God. And again, this is another promise we have to cling to by faith. So we have dual assurance to enable us to give thanks in all our circumstances. First, by faith, we believe God is using or will use the particular difficult situation to conform us more to the image of Christ. And second, we have the assurance that even in the midst of the worst of difficulties we are enveloped by God’s love. In summary: we need to develop the habit of continually giving thanks to God. Above all else, we ought to be giving continual thanks for our salvation and for the opportunities he gives for growth and ministry. We should thank him for all our abundance of spiritual and material blessings that have come from his hand, but we also need to give him thanks when things don’t go as we planned and when things get difficult. That’s especially when we need to thank him for what he’s doing through those circumstances to transform our character into the likeness of his Son. I urge you, if you don’t have them memorised already, to memorise these two important verses we’ve been looking at tonight: Ephesians 5:20 and 1 Thessalonians 5:18. When hard times come, they’ll remind you to give thanks by faith in the promise of God. It’s not a matter of willpower. If that’s what we do, we’re only giving thanks with our lips, but not with our hearts. If we cling to the promises of God, we can say, “Father, the circumstance I’m in now is hard and full of pain. It’s not what I would have chosen, but in your love and wisdom you chose it for me. You intend it for my good, and so in faith I thank you for the good you are going to do in my life through it. Help me to genuinely believe this and be able to thank you from my heart. Amen.”
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Respectable Sins Discontentment Respectable Sins: Sermon Six by William Klock Tonight I want to begin by reading what I think is probably a pretty familiar story to most of you: There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursedGod in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually. Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. The LORD said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the LORD and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Have youconsidered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand andtouch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD. Now there was a day when his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and there came a messenger to Job and said, “The oxen were plowing and the donkeys feeding beside them, and the Sabeans fell upon them and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The fire of God fell from heaven and burned up the sheep and the servants and consumed them, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “The Chaldeans formed three groups and made a raid on the camels and took them and struck down the servants with the edge of the sword, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” While he was yet speaking, there came another and said, “Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and behold, a great wind came across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young people, and they are dead, and I alone have escaped to tell you.” (Job 1:1-19) Job not only had his servants and livestock – his livelihood – taken away from him, but even his sons and daughters. But that wasn’t enough. The story goes on: Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the LORD. And the LORD said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the LORD and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy himwithout reason.” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Skin for skin! All that a man has he will give for his life. But stretch out your hand and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life.” So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD and struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And he took a piece of broken pottery with which to scrape himself while he sat in the ashes. (Job 2:1-7) Last week I talked about how we respond to life’s difficulties – how we become anxious or worried about the troubles that come our way, and even how we get angry and frustrated with them. And last week I explained how when we respond to life with anxiety we’re being ungodly – we’re living our lives and responding to life’s circumstances as if God isn’t involved. But there’s another sin that can very easily creep into our lives that has ungodliness as its root too. It’s another way that we often resond to life. It’s discontentment. Look at Job. Here’s a guy who has it all. He’s rich. He has a big family. God has blessed him abundantly and he knows it – and so he lives for God. And then one day Satan comes along and says to God, “Job only serves you because of the good life you’ve given him. If you let me take all that away, Job will drop you like a hot potato!” And to prove a point God gives Satan free reign over Job. And now Job’s got nothing. In fact, we’re left with this absolutely pathetic picture of Job in mourning. He tears his clothes and shaves his head, which was the thing to do in his culture to show mourning for his children. And he sits down on an ash heap – maybe the remains of his house – and picks up a broken piece of pottery to scratch and scrape at the open and leprous sores that cover his body. Job knew that God was sovereign – that he was in control of all things. Even his wife knew. She saw him sitting there covered in filth and disease and said to him, “How can you still be faithful to God?!? Be done with it! Curse God and die!” I think Job’s a good example, because life just can’t get much worse than what we’ve just read. We all have problems. I don’t think most of us have ever had problems as extreme as Job’s, but we’ve seen our children die. We’ve had the good things in life taken away. We’ve dealt with sickness and disease. There are all sorts of things in life that make us discontent with our situation: being stuck in a low-paying or unfulfilling job; being single into mid-life or beyond; not being able to have the kids we’d like; having an unhappy marriage or being married to an unbelieving spouse; being plagued with continual health problems; or being stuck with physical disabilities or handicaps. My list isn’t all-inclusive. I’d be willing to bet that everyone here can probably add something different to the list. I think the most discontent I’ve ever felt was in my teenage years – the typical teenage angst that comes from not being happy with who you. God have me terrible depth perception, so I was no good at sports that involved fast moving and flying balls – which ruled out just about everything other than track and swimming. God gave me a love of reading and study, and if you’ve always got your nose in a book you’re labeled a nerd. But in hindsight I know that God gave me those things not as a teenage curse, but to prepare me for his service. We can choose to be discontent because from our limited perspective we see situations in life as a curse, or we can remember that our view is limited – we can’t see the big picture, but that God can – and we can accept that he knows what’s best in the long run. Now there are some situations in which we should be discontent. Not all discontent is sinful. We should be discontent with our spiritual state. We should be discontent about sin in our lives. We should be discontent with evil and injustice in the world around us. It’s discontentment with these things that’s drives us to grow and mature as Christians and that drives us to take action and do good in the world. But being discontent with the circumstances of life that God had given us is a sin. And that might come as a surprising statement. The problem is that we’re too used to responding to difficult situations with anxiety, frustration, or discontentment that we’ve reached a point where we consider them normal reactions to life. And so if we do find ourselves thinking this way, it just underscores the subtleness of these sins and the fact that they’ve become “acceptable.” When we fail to recognize these responses to our circumstances as sin, we’re responding no differently from unbelievers who never factor God into their situations. We’re back to ungodliness as the root cause of our sins. Job new better. His wife may have told him to curse God and die, but look at Job’s response to what might be the worst situation any man could ever be in: And he said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21) Job’s attitude was one of trust in God – just like we talked about last week. I can’t think of a better Scripture to have stored away in your heart and mind that will help you to deal with difficulties in life – and because of this verse’s place in popular culture, chances are you already know it. “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” This was the verse that was running through my mind over and over last December as the doctor held the ultrasound wand and told us that our baby had died. It was the verse going over and over through my head as the baby was delivered and as I held her tiny body in my hands. “The Lord gave. The Lord chose to take away. I choose to trust in him whom I know is the perfect embodiment of goodness. Blessed be the name of the Lord!” The psalms weren’t written yet, but Job understood the same principle that we saw last week in Psalm 136:16: “Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” The truth that God has ordained all our days – and each and every hour, minute, and second – gave Job comfort and should give us comfort too. The world isn’t out of control. Our lives aren’t out of control. They may be out of our control. But they’re always under God’s divine control. He does nothing and he allows nothing without a purpose. And however mysterious or inscrutable his purposes may be to us, they are always for his glory and our good. St. Paul reminds us, “We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose…. If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:28, 31). David even says in that same psalm, “You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” Even on the genetic level, God is at work in our lives. Its easy to give God thanks the physical abilities he gives that seem like pluses to us, but how often do we thank him for what look to us to be minuses? I never thought to give thanks to God for poor depth perception, but the fact is that it was as much a gift as anything else he gave me – I just had to have the right perspective to understand that. And bad depth perception. Big deal. There’s a multitude of people out there with serious disabilities and handicaps that they’ve learned to give thanks for and that have given them ability and reason for ministry. Whether we see something as a plus or minus really depends on whether or not we see God taking care of us as he promised, whether we trust him to work for our good or not. I think it needs to be pointed out that there’s a difference between accepting what God has given and resigning ourselves to it. How often have you simply thrown up your hands – given up and resigned yourself to forever having to deal with the things that make you discontent. This is often what we grudgingly do when we’ve realised that we have no choice and that the circumstance we’re dealing with isn’t likely to ever change. But when we simply resign ourselves to something, we end up harbouring a smouldering discontentment deep down in our hearts. If we resign ourselves to our problems, the usual result is bitterness and resentment – two more sinful thought patterns that poison our spirits. Has anyone here ever been to a Family Life marriage conference? If you haven’t been, you really should go – you’ll come away greatly blessed and inspired. We’ve been to couple of these conferences and I they do a good job of setting your perspective straight. All sorts of couples go to these conferences – there’re always even a few couples on their honeymoon. You can tell the latter because they’re practically sitting in each other’s lap. But there are also couples who have been married for years are at the end up their rope with problems – who are barely able to even talk civilly to each other. And the first night the conference leaders ask everyone to turn to their husband or wife and say the simple words, “You are not my enemy. I receive you as a gift from God.” And God doesn’t give bad gifts. The key is what we see in Job: receiving life’s circumstances as God’s gift. Are we going to reject what God gives, or are we going to accept it as something good, even when it doesn’t look good to us? It’s only in accepting our circumstances – even giving thanks for them (which may take time) – that we find peace. Acceptance means that you accept your circumstances as being part of God’s plan, that you put your trust in him, knowing that he unerringly knows what’s best for you and that in his love, he purposes only that which is best. If you can get to that point – and I think we can only get there by God’s grace and with the Spirit’s help – then we’re ready to use our difficult circumstances to glorify him. If all you do is resign yourself to your circumstance, you make yourself a victim, but when you accept it as a gift from God, you set yourself up to be a steward of that gift. You begin to ask, “God, how can I use what the world sees as a problem to serve you and to glorify you?” An anonymous poem says: Lord, I am wiling to – Receive what you give, Lack what you withhold, Relinquish what you take. That really sums it up. Are we willing to accept the hard things God puts in our lives? Are we willing to live without the things we want, but that God chooses not to give us? Are we willing to let go of the things he takes away? As I emphasised last week: We’ll always be fighting our circumstances and dealing with them sinfully until we understand the importance of a firm belief in the sovereignty, wisdom, and goodness of God in all the circumstances of our lives. Whether our circumstances are short-term or long-term, our ability to respond to them in a God-honouring and God-pleasing manner depends on our ability and willingness to bring these truths to bear on them. It’s not easy, because these truths are contrary to the way the world sees things, but we can do it by faith. If you once had the faith to put your trust in God for the eternal destination of our soul, have faith now to put your trust in God for the things of this life and receive them all as good gifts from him – and give him thanks. Please pray with me: Our Father, you remind us in Holy Scripture that even an evil parent gives his child bread when he ask for it, not a stone. If we as sinful parents know how to give good things to our children, how much more do you, our holy, just, and righteous Creator know how to give good gifts to your children. Give us the grace, Father, to receive every circumstance as a gift from you, that we may set aside bitterness and resentment and put your gifts to use for your glory. We ask this through the name of Jesus Christ. Amen
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Respectable Sins Anxiety & Frustration Respectable Sins: Sermon Five by William Klock Life is full of difficulties. Cars and computers and refrigerators die. Water heaters explode. Planes and ferries run late. And life is often full of pain. Our bodies are frail. They get injured. They get sick. And when life gets hard, our natural tendency is to get anxious, worried, or frustrated – or all three at once. So tonight I want to talk to you about how the Bible tells us to deal with life. First, I want to share with you an interesting fact. We tend to get caught up in our own ideas about what the Bible says, or what the Bible emphasises. Maybe we know the Bible says something, but we don’t ever realise just how strongly it says it or just how often. Think about Christian character traits. Jerry Bridges says that he sat down, New Testament in hand, to look at all the examples of places where Christian character traits are taught by precept or example. It’s no surprise that love came up as number one, with fifty instances. But it might be surprising that humility was only barely behind with forty instances. But what may be even more surprising is that trusting in God in all of our circumstances came in third place. In a way it makes perfect sense that these three things would be so strongly emphasised in the New Testament, after all, the Gospel is rooted in God’s love for us and our reception of it is based on the Spirit moving us to humility as we recognise our sinfulness – and that leads us to put our trust in him for our salvation. Trust in God is important. And yet those of us who once put ourselves in God’s hands, trusting in him for redemption, so often fail to trust him with our daily lives. The opposite of trust in God is either anxiety or frustration. And sadly anxiety and frustration often describe our character better than the idea of trust in God. But Jesus had a lot to say about anxiety. His best known words on the subject are in the Sermon on the Mount, the words that made up our Second Lesson from Matthew 6:25-34. “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxiousabout tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Jesus uses the word anxious six times in those verses. We’re not to be anxious about anything; not what we have to eat, not what we have to drink, not what we have to wear, not even about all the unknowns that the next day might bring. In other places Jesus says, “Fear not.” This is one of the foundational principles of the Christian life. St. Paul got it, and it’s in his writings too. He wrote to the Philippians, “Do not be anxious about anything” (Philippians 4:6). The same goes for St. Peter. He wrote, “[Cast] all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7). When we talk to someone who’s struggling with pain or difficulties in their life we might say, “Don’t be anxious” or “Don’t be afraid,” but we’re just trying to give them some encouragement – just trying to be helpful. But when Jesus, or St. Paul, or St. Peter tell us in the pages of Holy Scripture, “Don’t be anxious,” it has the force of a moral command. That means that it’s the moral will of God that we not be anxious – and that means that when we are anxious, when we do worry, and when we get frustrated we are sinning. Anxiety is a sin for two reasons: First, as I already said, anxiety is really just another name for distrust of God. Think about the passage we read from St. Matthew’s Gospel. If our heavenly Father takes care of the birds and the flowers, how much more will he care for us. That’s exactly why St. Peter tells us to cast our anxieties on God: because he cares for us. So when you and I give way to anxiety, what we’re doing, in effect, is believing that God doesn’t really care for us and that he won’t take care of the circumstances that have triggered our anxiety. Imagine if your child came to you and said, “I don’t trust you. I don’t believe you love me and will care for me.” That’s exactly what we’re saying to God by being anxious. Second, anxiety is a sin because it shows a lack of acceptance of God’s sovereignty or providence in our lives. The idea of providence is just the idea that God is sovereign over all – that God orchestrates all circumstances and events in his creation for his glory and for the good of his people. Our problem is that we lose sight of this and end up focussing on the immediate causes of our anxiety instead of remembering that those circumstances are under the sovereign control of God. One of the reasons why I think anxiety has become one of our “respectable” sins is because it can be so subtle and can involve such seemingly insignificant things. Think about it in terms of your trying to make an appointment or trying to catch a ferry. Do you ever run late and get anxious? It happened just about every time we drove up here from Portland before the move. We’d deliberately get up early and leave by 6:00 so that we could catch the 12:45 ferry from Tsawwassen. But it never failed: either we’d get stuck in Seattle traffic or we’d get stuck in the line-up at the border. And so we’d turn on the radio and listen to the ferry report, and I’d find myself getting more and more anxious. And yet when it came down to it, on all but one occasion we made it in time and God even spared us from having to wait at the terminal – we just drove right onto the ferry. Each time I did have that knowledge in the back of my mind that God was in control. But what was in the front of my mind was my plan and my timing. (Remember our sermon on ungodliness last week – living with no thought for God.) Even after years of experiences have told me that God knows best, I was still thinking in each instance that traffic or border security was somehow conspiring against me. Even in the instance where we did miss the ferry (we got there in plenty of time, but it was already full), I wasn’t thinking in terms of God’s sovereign plan. God had a reason for my missing that ferry, and I know his reasons and plans are always good, but at the moment, all I could think about was how my plan wasn’t working out. Anxiety tends to be our response to smaller things in life. Worry is what we tend to about the bigger things – with long-term or even permanent problems where we don’t see a solution or an end. These are the problems that keep you awake at night. This is the kind of thing that can come up when you were hired by a church eight months ago, but still haven’t sold your house – and on top of it the market where you live is dropping while the market where you’re moving to is rising. I like J.B. Philips translation of 1 Peter 5:7, because it makes that verse even more applicable to the times when we’re prone to worry: “You can throw the whole weight of your anxieties upon him, for you are his personal concern. Again, Jesus said that God doesn’t forget a single sparrow. How much more, then, is it true that you, his child, are indeed his personal concern. When I think about this kind of thing I think of both my grandfather and Veronica’s dad. Both of them fought in World War II – just on different sides. My grandfather was in the Army Corp of Engineers and was scheduled to be in the first wave to storm Normandy on D-Day. But he ended up with a hand injury the week before the invasion and was kept behind in England. While most of the men in his unit died that day, God chose to spare my grandfather. Similarly, Veronica’s dad was in the German Artillery. His unit was entirely wiped out, but he was spared because not long before that, he was captured and placed in an American POW camp in Italy. Both men were unhappy, even worried, about the change in plans that happened in their lives, but in the end, in both cases, God used those unexpected and unwanted circumstances to spare them. Now it’s nice to know that God is in control. The problem we face is that when the problems come – when they’re looming large – they get in our way and we don’t see around them to remember the promises of God. (This is why I said that a deep knowledge of Scripture, and especially Scripture memory are important. If you’ve got it stored away in your heart and mind, it’s less likely to be pushed aside by life and more likely to become your life.) When our problems seem bigger than God’s promises, we should remember the words of the father of the demon-possessed son in St. Mark’s Gospel. He said to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). There’s a big difference between stubborn and real unbelief that refuses God and the struggling faith of that boy’s father. God honours struggles and promises the Holy Spirit to help us. We need to remember that even if our faith isn’t perfect, even while we struggle, what God wants to see is that we seek to honour him through our faith, even when it’s weak and faltering, instead of dishonouring him through deliberate unbelief. The more you practice your faith, the more it will grow and the more trust in God becomes second nature. I like the way John Newton puts it, “How happy are they who can resign all to him, see his hand in every dispensation, and believe that he chooses better for them than they possibly could for themselves!” But accepting God’s sovereign and providential will doesn’t mean that we’re not supposed to pray about the outcome of the things happening to us and around us. Notice that St. Paul not only says, “do not be anxious about anything,” but that the verse continues with him saying, “but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Philippians 4:6). Even Jesus prayed as he was dreading the suffering he saw coming on the cross. That was something with greater potential for anxiety and worry than any of us is likely ever to face. He cried out to God, “If it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39). God calls us to bring our worries to him in prayer, but when we do so, we need to come to him with an attitude of acceptance of whatever God’s providential will may be and a confidence that, whatever the outcome, God’s will is better than our plans or desires. I also want to look at the sin of frustration. I find myself badly convicted here. As I was doing this study I realised that I often replace the anger I might otherwise feel at a situation with frustration. I mean, anger is an obvious sin, but frustration? But you see, whereas anxiety and worry involve fear over a situation, frustration involves being upset over that situation – even angry. There are a lot of situation in which we have no reason to be anxious, but lots of reasons to get frustrated. You’re working on the car and that bolt just won’t come loose. You’re working on the computer, it crashes, and you lose the last hour of your work. You’re trying to put the kids to bed and they keep getting up. None of those situations is likely to make you anxious or to make you worry – we can still see the outcome and in the end we know that it’ll all work out, but in the meantime we get frustrated with that rusty bolt, the crashed computer, or the kids that won’t sleep. Like anxiety, frustration has its roots in ungodliness. When you get frustrated by a situation, at least for that time, you’re living as though God’s not involved in your circumstances. You’re failing to recognise the invisible hand of God behind whatever’s triggering your frustration. In the heat of the moment, it’s easy to forget about God and focus instead on how our plans aren’t working out. I like what David writes in Psalm 139:6: “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” When David writes “days ordained for me,” he’s not just talking about the length of his life, but also all the events and circumstances of each day of his life. This is a tremendous encouragement for us. No matter what happens, we can take comfort in the knowledge that God is in control – that what’s happening now has come from him. We can say to God, “This circumstance is part of your plan for my life today. Help me to respond in faith and in a God-honouring way to your providential will. And then please give me wisdom to know how to address the situation that causes the frustration.” Now you don’t have to pray those exact words, but look what we’ve done to address the sin and the circumstance causing the frustration: we’ve brought up specific applicable Scripture and dependence on the Holy Spirit expressed through prayer to enable us to respond in a godly way. And then we pray for practical wisdom to know how to deal with the situation. After all, the bold does need to come off the engine, the computer does need to be fixed and the document retyped, and sometime the kids really do need to go to bed. We also ought to have in mind the possibility that God’s wanting to teach us something through the frustration. Remember that when I talked about how to deal with sin, I said that often God orchestrates situations so that we can learn to deal with specific areas of life in godly ways. I used the old example of praying for patience, because if God wants you to learn patience, he’s more likely than not, going to start putting you in situations that teach it to you. We need to remember that there are no events in our lives that do not ultimately come to us from the invisible hand of God, even though they come through some visible cause. In closing let me stress again: anxiety, worry, and frustration are all sins, and because they’re sins, they aren’t something we can take lightly or brush off as common or acceptable reactions to difficult situation in a fallen world. Think about it, can you imagine Jesus ever getting anxious or frustrated – stressed out about where his next meal or rent payment was coming from or frustrated because he couldn’t find his car keys – or because his children were almost constantly disobedient. In a lot of ways we’ve actually come to see anxiety and frustration as part of our temperament – if not ours, then other peoples’. We call someone a worry-wart or a grouch, almost as if that’s just how they are. Maybe we even think of ourselves that way, as if that’s how God made us. But anxiety and frustration don’t have any more of a part in our temperament than other sins. Imagine someone saying, I’m an adulterer – it’s just how God made me, it’s my temperament. If we say that about anxiety or frustration in our lives, we’re doing exactly the same thing. It might not be as serious, but it’s still sin. And all sin is serious in the eyes of a holy God. Please pray with me: “Our Father, we give you thanks for taking care of us. We give you thanks that we can have confidence that you know what’s best for us and that you are sovereignly in control of all things, working them out in our best interests and to bring glory to yourself. Forgive us, Father, for the times we forget that you care for us and forgive us for the times when we insist on being in control and become anxious or frustrated over our circumstances. You have give us your grace and your Holy Spirit dwells in us. Help us to remember to rely on you and to look for you in all of our circumstances. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Respectable Sins Ungodliness Respectable Sins: Sermon Four by William Klock The Old Testament prophet Joel, looked at the fallen nation of Israel and asked, “Why should they say among the people, ‘Where is their God?” You see, God’s election to salvation is always for a purpose. As the Westminster Catechism says: the chief end of man is the glorification of God. When he chose and redeemed Israel it was so that his people would be a witness for him – they were called to be a divine light to the Gentile nations around them – a light that shone in the darkness. And yet God’s people stumbled and fell. They failed to be the witness they were called to be, and looking at them the nations asked, “Where is their God?” Israel was living for herself, as if she had no god. But ungodliness wasn’t just the problem of the Old Testament Church – it’s the problem of the New Testament Church too. We’re all guilty of ungodliness to some extent, and it’s this sin that’s at the root of all the other sins we struggle with. This is one of those sins that we’re often prone to overlook. After all, when you think of ungodliness, you probably think of atheists or the truly “wicked” people out there. We’re Christians. We can’t be ungodly! And yet we’re all guilty here. St. Paul writes in Romans 1:18: “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness.” Do you see how he makes a distinction between ungodliness and unrighteousness? Unrighteousness describes sinful actions in our thoughts, words, and deeds, but ungodliness describes an attitude toward God. An atheist is the epitome of ungodliness – he doesn’t even believe God exists – but that same atheist could very easily be an otherwise morally “decent” person – at least as the world sees it. As Christians we should be motivated to good works by love of God, but there are a lot of selfish and ungodly motives that can move us to do the right thing, like staying out of trouble with the law or the pride that comes from knowing others look to you as an upstanding person. Ungodliness is really living your everyday life with little or no thought for God, his will, his glory, or your own dependence on him. I think if you understand that, you can see how someone can lead a more or less respectable life and still be ungodly in the sense that God is pretty much irrelevant to them. Of course an atheist is going to live as if God is irrelevant to him – he doesn’t believe God exists – but think about the definition I just gave and think about how you live your own life. The sad fact of the matter is that we Christians often tend to live our daily lives with little more thought for God than our atheist friends. Maybe we read our Bibles and have some prayer time each morning, but when we put our Bibles away and head out to start the day we basically live out our lives as if God doesn’t care or doesn’t exist. We might go for hours without ever even thinking about him. What’s the difference between us and our atheist neighbour? God isn’t in his thoughts at all and is seldom in ours. The New Testament is really convicting when it comes to our ungodliness. I said that it’s often the case that we seldom think about just how dependent on God we are. Look at what St. James writes in his epistle: Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15) James’ issue with these people wasn’t in their making plans. What he condemns here is that they don’t acknowledge God in their planning. They don’t acknowledge their dependence on him. Think about your own life. How often do you make plans – plans for big things and plans for small mundane things – without included God or thinking about your dependence on him. When I met one of my good friends a number of years ago, one thing that struck me was that he was always finishing his sentences saying, “Lord willing.” I’d say, “See you next Sunday,” and he’d saying, “Yep! Lord willing.” I’d ask if he was still planning to take a trip that he’d told me about and he’d say, “Yep! Lord willing.” It was like that with everything: “Yep! Lord willing.” And then not long after that I discovered the English Puritans and started avidly reading the books written by those great saints. And suddenly I understood the whole “Lord willing” thing. You see, the Puritans understood Providence. They understood the sovereignty of God. They understood their utter and total dependence on God. (They understood that because they, perhaps better than anyone before or since, understood the concept of grace.) And so I started to understand just how much they saw God at work in their daily lives and just how much I didn’t. To live our lives with little or no thought for God’s sovereign activity in even the small things is to be guilty of the sin of ungodliness. I think that similarly we’re also often guilty of not thinking about our accountability to God and our responsibility to live according to his moral will as Scripture shows it to us. It’s not so much that we live blatantly sinful lives; it’s just that we seldom think about God’s will, and for the most part are content simply to avoid gross and obvious sins. But look at what St. Paul wrote to the Colossians: We have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. (Colossians 1:9-10) That’s a God-centred prayer if there ever was one. St. Paul wanted the Colossians to be full of the knowledge of God’s will for them. He wanted them to live lives worthy of God and that were pleasing to him. That’s what God-centre prayer is all about. Paul’s great desire was that they be a godly people. Now compare that prayer for the Colossians to your own prayers for yourself, for your family, and your friends. Do your prayers show that same concern for God’s will and for God’s glory? Do they show a desire that your life be pleasing to God? I think that sometimes we hit the mark, but an awful lot of the time the focus of our prayers is on a litany of temporal needs. God does tell us to bring even our smallest concerns before him, but we also need to be careful lest we start to pray as if he’s some kind of genie. Too often we come to God with the attitude of “my will be done,” when Jesus tells us to pray to the Father saying, “Thy will be done.” When it comes to our lives, St. Paul doesn’t cut us any slack. His clear exhortation is that we live our lives before the face of God. If there was anyone in an unjust and unfair position in the ancient world, it was the slaves. They made up a huge part of the population. And we know that a lot of the members of the Colossian church were slaves. Look at what Paul writes to them: Slaves obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving Christ. (Colossians 3:22-24). If anyone had a right to be unhappy and unfulfilled in their jobs, it was these folks. If any could be justified in doing their work in half-hearted way, it was them. And yet St. Paul tells them to faithfully serve their masters as unto the Lord. None of us is that bad off, but the same principle applies to us in the context of our vocations and professions. But how many of us approach our work with this principle in mind. To understand this, it took my getting fired from a good and well-paying job. I ended up having to take a $4.85 minimum wage job watering and dead-heading plants in a retail garden centre, and one day as I was grumbling about it I realised this was what Paul was talking about. God is sovereign. He puts us where we’re at, and if he puts us there, then we need to do the work he’s called us to do, no matter how unpleasant or menial it may seem and no matter what the earthly compensation is. The next day a coworker asked me why I was suddenly so happy. God gave an opportunity to say, “I just realised that no job stinks if you’re doing it for God!” But God wants more than just our jobs. St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Eating and drinking are about as mundane as it gets, but that’s Paul’s point: do all – everything – to the glory of God. That means that in everything we do, our desire should be first to please God, and second, that all our activities will give honour to God before other people. Just like Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). The mark of a godly man or woman is that they do everything, from the moment they wake up until the moment they fall asleep, to the glory of God. In contrast Paul blasted the self-righteous Jews in Rome when he wrote, “You who boast in the law dishonour God by breaking the law. For, as it is written, ‘The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you’” (Romans 2:23-24). Those are strong words. Paul’s saying that if we claim to follow God and yet fail to obey his law, we’re guilty of blasphemy. We’re supposed to live in such a way that we draw people to God, but our ungodliness ultimately drives people away from God. But so far I’ve been talking mostly about how we relate to the world. How about how we related to God? Our godliness or ungodliness can be measured, more than anything else, by our desire to develop an intimate relationship with God. David wrote in Psalm 42, “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?” (42:1-2). The Psalms are full of this sort of desire for closeness to God. In Psalm 63:1, David writes of his thirsting for God and earnest seeking of him. In Psalm 27:4 he expresses his desire to leave the world behind, only wanting more than anything else to dwell in the presence of the Lord and gaze on his beauty. These are the expressions of a godly man, and yet how many of us can honestly say that this is what we truly desire more than anything else? For the godly person, God is the very centre and focus of life. Every circumstance, no matter how big or small, whether it’s earthly or spiritual, is viewed through the lens of this God-centredness. But we can only develop that kind of God-centredness in the context of an ever-growing intimate relationship with him. There’s no way anyone can genuinely desire to please God or glorify him without that kind of relationship. Each of us falls somewhere on the spectrum between godliness and ungodliness. We need to ask ourselves where we are on that spectrum. Jesus was the only person ever to live a completely godly life. We’re not talking about righteous versus unrighteous living, we’re talking about living our life as if God is relevant or irrelevant. The sad thing is that survey after survey shows us that there’s not much difference between the way Christians and non-Christians live their lives. It’s a sad state and it exists because we give so little thought to God and how we can please and glorify him. I really do think that this is what lies at the root of so many of our other sins. Pride lies behind a lot of sins, but how much would it curb our pride to live each day with the awareness that all we are, all we accomplish, and all we have comes by the grace of God? How many other sins would we put an end to if we lived our lives with the constant understanding that we live them before the face of God? Look at the big oaks right outside our windows here. Sin, like those branches, is rooted in a big trunk that supports them. And that trunk might be the sin of pride, but the trunk can’t stand without a big root system. Ungodliness is the root system that feeds our pride and all our other sins. So how can we deal with ungodliness in our lives? St. Paul wrote to Timothy, telling him, “Train yourself for godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7). The word train comes from the athletic culture of the Greek world and refers to the rigours of the athletes in their contests. It carries with it the ideas of commitment, consistency, and disciplined training. You see, St. Paul wanted Timothy – and all of us – to be totally committed to godliness – to be committed to it the same way that a trained runner is committed to his temporal prize. He wrote to the Corinthians and to Timothy describing the Christian life in relation to a foot race. You don’t run in a competition without running for the prize. We need to run the course of the Christian life in the same way. But I don’t think that a lot of Christians really ever think about how they can grow in godliness. We’re committed to all sorts of things, but not often to this. When the new Ikea opened in Portland last year, there were people who camped out for a week in anticipation of the opening. I kid you not! A week. There were so many people waiting in line overnight on that last night before the store opened that the parking lot was actually full! Imagine that kind of zeal and devotion just for another big-box store. Now the question is, would any of us have anything close to that kind of zeal for godliness? The goal in our pursuit of godliness should be to grow more in the awareness that every moment of our lives is lived in the presence of God; that we’re responsible to him and dependent on him. If were striving for that goal we should be growing in our desire to please and glorify him, even in the most ordinary things we do. Each of us needs to ask, “What would I do differently if I were seeking to do all to the glory of God?” Ungodliness is all-encompassing, so we need to look at specific areas of our lives where we tend to live without regard to God. Is it your work, your hobbies, your playing or watching sports, your entertainment choices, what you do on the internet or when you’re driving or shopping? Take some time to meditate on and pray over some of the Scripture passages that I’ve given here tonight. And above all, pray that God will make you more conscious of the fact that you live every moment of every day under his all-seeing gaze. You may not be mindful of him, but he’s certainly aware of you and sees every deed you do, hears every word you say, and knows every thought you think. Even beyond that, he even knows every motive. Let us then seek to be as mindful of him as his is of us. Please pray with me: Heavenly Father, you have created us for yourself and for your glory. Remind us of this each day, when we’re so tempted to live our lives for ourselves and for our own glory. Plant a desire for you deep in our hearts and make it our instinct to seek you in all we do and say and think. Give us a soul-thirst for you, our living God, we ask in the name of our blessed redeemer, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Respectable Sins Directions for Dealing with Sin Respectable Sins: Sermon Three by William Klock Last week Alexandra got a nice big whiteboard for her birthday, and with it she also got an easel for it to sit on. Veronica came into the room the next day as I was trying to get both of them setup. One of the problems was that this is no ordinary three-legged easel – it’s collapsible and adjustable. And so it’s got all sorts of clamps on it and legs and arms that extended up and down and out. I was having trouble making heads or tails out of it all. My dad had setup a similar one for my niece not long before and sort of told me how it worked, but once I had it in my hands his instructions just didn’t add up. And then Veronica came into the room as I was fighting with it and trying to figure it all out – and not having much success – and, just like a wife and sounding utterly perplexed, she just asked, “Did you read the instructions?” Well, in my defence, I didn’t know there were instructions – and at least initially, it seemed like something easy enough not to need instructions anyway! You know how kids are when they open a present – everything goes everywhere and everything but the actual toy gets shoved aside. So we managed to locate the instructions and setup the easel without much more ado. Now there is a point to my story. You’ll remember that in the first sermon in this series we looked at what Holy Scripture tells us about the fact that we are sinners, and last week we looked at the good news of the Gospel for us sinners. And last week we looked specifically at how the Gospel of Jesus Christ is, as Augustus Toplady put it, the “double cure.” The Gospel doesn’t just save us from the penalty of our sins, it also saves us from sin’s power. And I think that’s the really good news for those of us who have been redeemed by putting our faith in Christ: sin no longer has dominion over us. But last week we talked in general terms. And I know how frustrating it is to hear in general terms that sin no longer has dominion over me and that Jesus has conquered sin and death, because for a lot of years that’s all I ever heard. And as I continued to struggle in my fight with sin I just got frustrated – “If I’m no longer under sin’s power, why am I still struggling with it? Where’s the Gospel’s power?” I’d ask. I felt a little like I did with the easel. I could see the picture on the box showing me what it was supposed to look like, but I was having trouble getting there. When we hear generalities about overcoming sin, we see a picture of what we ought to be like. The problem lies in getting there. We need the instructions. Without them we’re left to struggle on our own. We may or may not figure it out. And, of course, there’s an awful lot of bad advice out there that muddles things up. So tonight I want to look at THE instruction manual that God’s given us, and in doing that I want to give you seven directions for dealing with sin as a Christian. First, we need always to address our sin in the context of the Gospel. What happens a lot of the time is that God shows us a sinful pattern in Directions for Dealing with Sin 1. Apply the Gospel 2. Depend on the Holy Spirit 3. Recognise your responsibility 4. Identify specific sins and sinful patterns 5. Memorise and apply appropriate Scriptures 6. Cultivate the practice of prayer 7. Involve one or a few other believers with you our life that we need to deal with, but as soon as we start working on overcoming it, we forget the Gospel message. We forget that God has already forgiven that sin through Jesus’ death. St. Paul wrote to the Colossians, “[God has] forgiven us all our trespasses, by cancelling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Col. 2:13b-14). God hasn’t just forgiven our sins – sort of balancing our righteousness account to zero – he’s also credited Christ’s perfect righteousness to our account. Remember that Jesus was perfect in everything when he was here on earth. Do you struggle with unrighteous anger? Jesus never sinned in his anger. Do you struggle with anxiety? Jesus always trusted perfectly in God’s provision. Do you struggle with gossip or unkind speech? Jesus never once sinned in opening his mouth. For his entire three decades here, Jesus was always perfectly obedient to his Father, even obedient to the point of death as he died for our sins. Because of that, his righteousness has been credited to us. So in our fight with sin, we need to remember first and foremost that God, through Jesus Christ, has already forgiven our sins and that he accepts us as already being righteous because of the sinless life and death of Jesus Christ. We need to remember this for two reason: first, keeping this in mind will keep us from turning our fight with sin into something through which we try to earn God’s favour – we already have his favour through Jesus. And second, knowing what God has done for us, and knowing we already have his favour, this should motivate us to serve God out of joy and gratitude instead of slavish duty. Second, we need to learn to rely on the enabling power of the Holy Spirit as we fight to overcome the sin in our lives. St. Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome, “If you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13). Just as we tend to forget the Gospel message, we also tend to fall back into our old “fleshly” ways in this respect too. We see sin in our lives and we try to overcome it by sheer willpower – but that’s only going to work for a limited amount of time. Trying to overcome sin without relying on the power of the Spirit is like trying to go someplace in your car with an empty gas tank. You might be able to push the car for a little while, but you’ll never make it to your destination. From the moment of our conversion, God pours his Spirit into us and gives us everything we need to be holy people. And this is where there’s been a lot of bad advice out there. The whole idea that started with the Methodist revivals in the 18th Century, that became the “Holiness” Movement in the 19th, and gave rise to the Pentecostal movement in the last century, is all based on the idea that God doesn’t fill you with his Spirit until you’ve earned it by overcoming sin – that because he is holy, the Spirit can’t fill you until you’ve emptied yourself of sin. There are two giant problems with that: First, we can never overcome sin without first having already been filled with the Spirit, and second, we can never be holy enough on our own to merit anything from God – our righteousness – our holiness – is not our own, it’s Christ’s! The New Testament assures us over and over and over that from the moment of our conversion, Christ has given each of us the fullest measure of his Spirit completely regardless of our merit and that he’s given us that Spirit to enable us to follow him. We need daily to cultivate an attitude of continual dependence on the Holy Spirit. Third. Even though we rely on the Holy Spirit’s power, we also need to realise that we have a responsibility to do everything we can to deal with the sin in our lives. Think of it this way: Going back to the car imagery. The car won’t get you to your destination if it doesn’t have any gas in it, but by the same token, if you don’t get in the car, turn on the ignition, put it in gear, and step on the accelerator, you’re still not going to get to your destination. Imagine someone sitting in their car, with the ignition off, going absolutely nowhere, but oh-so-proud of himself because, “Woohoo! Yeah! I’ve got a full tank of gas!” It sounds silly and stupid, but think about it. How often do we as Christian do the same thing spiritually. We’re full of joy because we have the Spirit. We thank God because we have the Spirit. We tell people we have the Spirit. But we live our lives as if we don’t have him at all. Number Three: You have the Spirit. Live accordingly! Fourth. We need to regularly examine ourselves and identify sin in our lives, big and small. The big ones are usually pretty easy to identify, although not always easy to overcome. But often we don’t even realise the “small” ones are there. As I said last week, as we live in the Spirit, God applies his divine microscope to our lives. He has us to look into the eyepiece and as we look he shows us our sins so that we can deal with them. The thing is that as we deal with sin and as we grow closer with him in our walk, he continually increases the power of the lens. Just as you think you’ve dealt with everything, he ups the power and focuses in on new sins you didn’t even know were there. My hope and prayer is that this series of sermons on our so-called “respectable” sins will help us all to identify some of the sins we need to deal with. Fifth. We need to apply Scripture to our sins. This really goes for every aspect of the Christian life. David wrote in Psalm 119:11, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” This is some of the best advice in the entire Bible, yet it seems to be the least followed. People tell me that they don’t feel like they know God. They tell me that they don’t know what his will is for their lives. They tell me that they’re not always sure how they should deal with situations that come up in life. And more often than not, these are the same people who tell me they don’t regularly read and study their Bible. The bottom line is that you can never know God if you haven’t read his Holy Word and read what he tells us about himself. You can’t know God’s will if you haven’t read and studied the very book in which he tells us his will. And you can’t very well live the Christian life if you haven’t read the divinely given instruction manual! People tell me they don’t have time to study the Bible. The fact is, you don’t have time not to! We need to read and study it on a regular and hopefully daily basis to get a general idea of what Holy Scripture tells us. But we also need to memorise it. It’s not always possible to get out your concordance and lookup a topic when life throws something at you or when temptation comes. You need to have as much Scripture as you can stored away. You all remember “Y2K.” People were afraid of what might happen when the clock rolled over to January 1, 2000, because too many computer systems weren’t properly programmed to deal with the date. Unless they were upgraded, all the computers, we were told (except Macintosh!) would suddenly think it was 1900 and the entire world would virtually come to an end. And in the end it was a hiccough that we barely noticed. But there were lots of people who were really panicked by it. I knew a guy that bought some remote property in northern Idaho, built a fence around it, cashed in his bank account in exchange for Gold Eagles and silver dimes, armed himself to the teeth and stored up a five year supply of food and ammunition. As crazy as that might sound – and at the time it really didn’t sound that crazy. That’s what it means to store up. We need to store up God’s word in our heart, so that when the hard spiritual times come, it’s there for us to draw on. But memorising a lot of Bible verses isn’t the end goal. There’s a reason for it. We need to then apply those verses to our lives. Part of what the Holy Spirit does is to bring that Scripture to mind so that you can apply it in specific situations. If you struggle with anger, store away Scriptures that deal with anger and how to deal with it righteously. If you struggle with lust, store away Scriptures that talk about how to overcome lust. You get the idea. Sixth. As important as Scripture is in overcoming sin, we also need to confront it prayerfully. It’s through prayer that we consciously acknowledge our need of the Holy Spirit, and it’s through prayer that we acknowledge the persistent presence of sin and sinful patterns in our lives. This is why I love the Prayer Book so much, because all this is right there. The invitation to confession reminds us saying, “Dearly beloved brethren, the Scripture moveth us, in sundry places, to acknowledge and confess our manifold sins and wickedness; and that we should not dissemble nor cloak them before the face of Almighty God our heavenly Father, but confess them with an humble, lowly, penitent, and obedient heart…” And in the absolution the priest declares, “Wherefore let us beseech him to grant us true repentance, and his Holy Spirit, that those things may please him which we do at this present; and that the rest of our life hereafter may be pure and holy…” We need to come before God daily, asking him to reveal our sins to us, and then asking him for the grace and power to overcome them. In Romans 12, St. Paul appeals us to offer ourselves to God has living sacrifices. That means offering our lives up to him. It means daily climbing onto his altar. The problem with a living sacrifice is that it tends to climb back off the altar. Consciously come to God every morning and prayerfully place yourself on his altar, and ask him to keep you there with his loving hands. But don’t leave it there – be prayerful throughout the day too. With the help of the Spirit, cultivate a life in which you respond to situations, especially the ones that tempt you to sin, with prayer. Seventh and last. We need to be accountable. There are a lot of reasons why God never calls us to be loner Christians and this is one of them. As we walk with God we need to do so holding the hands of our brothers and sisters. We need to establish relationships with each other in which we can not only exhort and encourage one another, but in which we can also be open and honest about our struggles with sin – even specific sins. One of the greatest barriers to true holiness often comes as a result of not having this openness. If we don’t know about each other’s struggles with sin, we can’t pray for each other and give the support we need. If we aren’t open about our sin, and I think this is maybe even more dangerous, we create a church culture in which everyone looks at everyone else and thinks, “Wow, I bet those other people don’t struggle with what I’m struggling with.” It’s an easy way to inadvertently cultivate a holier-than-thou group mentality in which those who do struggle with sin are afraid to bring it up for fear of being looked down up. It inadvertently establishes a culture in which some people are made out to be “super” Christians and others somehow feel like they’re lacking something, when in fact, we’re all in the same boat, all sruggling with sin. Solomon wrote in Ecclesiastes, “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to life him up!” (Eccles 4:9-10). This is part of why God had put us in fellowship with one another – so that we can provide mutual support as we follow Christ. And that’s what it’s all about: following Christ. He’s redeemed us by the shedding of his precious blood and that should move us to follow him, conforming to his image and doing those things that please him, out of gratitude for what he has done. We were his enemies, yet he loved us so much that he was willing to die the death that we deserved so that we could be reconciled with the Father. We just need to remember that we don’t do it on our own, he’s given us his Word, he’s opened up for a us a clear and direct channel to the Father as we pray, he’s given us his Spirit to empower us, and he’s placed us in fellowship with other believers, who are here to give us support and to pick us up when we fall. I want to close with St. Paul’s words to the Philippians: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me!” (Phil. 4:13). Please pray with me: Gracious Father, we acknowledge that it is through your Son, Jesus Christ, that we come to you. We thank you that you have applied his perfect righteousness to us. Give us the grace to offer ourselves to you each day, as living sacrifices, and remind us that you are there beside us with your loving hands to keep us from falling off your altar. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Respectable Sins The Good News Respectable Sins: Sermon Two by William Klock I’m wondering if any of you have seen the recent movie, Amazing Grace, about the life of William Wilberforce. If you’ve seen it, good for you. If you haven’t, you really should. The movie tells the story of Wilberforce’s efforts to pass legislation in Parliament to ban the slave trade. Wilberforce’s priest should be a familiar name: John Newton. Among other things, he’s famous for penning the words of the favourite hymn, Amazing Grace. And there’s a spectacular scene in the movie, where the aged Newton proclaims to Wilberforce, “My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things: that I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Saviour.” Those words come from a man who made his living in the slave trade as a ship captain, taking slaves captured in Africa to trading ports in the Americas. It was only after health problems took him out of that career, that he began to study theology and later became a priest. In a lot of ways Newton is not very different from St. Paul. We don’t know all the specific things Paul engaged in to persecute the Church, but we do know that he was a zealous persecutor of Christians. Acts 7 gives the account of his standing by to hold the coats of those who stoned Stephen, the first martyr, and in Chapter 9 we read some more about his hunting down Christians so they could be brought before the Jewish authorities. And looking back on his pre-conversion days, St. Paul wrote to Timothy describing himself as “a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent” of Jesus Christ (1 Tim. 1:13). But only two verses later he also says, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1:15). St. Paul and John Newton clearly saw the sin in their lives. In fact, the older they got, the more both of them came to see the seriousness and heinousness of their sins. I would think that most or not all of us here have been in church services where people shared their stories of coming to Christ. On two occasions, a long time ago, I had to give my testimony before the congregation in order to join a church. And in both cases, the people who stood up before me to share what had happened to them, told dramatic stories of redemption – how Christ had saved them from a life of drugs, crime, and violence. Those were the sorts of stories that make you realise that Jesus really does go after and save sinners. By comparison my story is pretty boring. And that’s the case for many of us. We’ve never committed what we think of as the “big” sins. We’ve never lived lives of crime. But the fact is that Jesus saved each of us just as much as he did the mafia hitman or the drug dealer. You don’t have to commit the “big” sins to be just as much a sinner. You’ll remember that last time I made the point that to transgress God’s Law in event the smallest part is to be guilty of the whole thing. Gossip, resentment, worldliness, anxiety, or even making an idol of your favourite sports team are all sins for which Christ is the only cure. The problem with our more subtle sins is that we don’t notice them. Sometimes they even become acceptable. It’s relatively easy for the murderer to give up murdering when he comes to Christ, but it’s not so easy to give up our “small” and “respectable” sins. Each of us should be saying with John Newton: “I am a great sinner, but I have a great Saviour.” You see, it’s easy to look at the troubled kid into drugs that drops into the Bridge, the person at the AIDS clinic, or one of our politicians and think, “Boy they sure need the Gospel.” But the fact is that each of us, you and I both, need the Gospel just as much as they do. Notice that both St. Paul and John Newton talked about themselves as sinners in the present tense. In fact, if you look at Paul’s epistles he saw himself in a worse light as time went on, first writing to the Corinthians and describing himself as “the very least of all the apostles,” then five years later writing to the Ephesians and saying that he was “the very least of all the saints,” and finally a few more years later to Timothy describing himself as “the foremost of sinners.” Both of these godly examples, as the years went by and as they grew more and more in their Christ-like character, also came more and more to see that they were still sinners. The more we mature in our faith, the more the Spirit will magnify the existing sins in our lives. The remedy is in the Gospel itself – in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Our Lord, Jesus Christ. Through him we are saved not only from the penalty of our sins, but also from the dominion that sin once had in our lives. We sang about this two-fold aspect of sin just a few minutes ago in the hymn Rock of Ages: Let the water and the blood, From the riven side which flowed, Be of sin the double cure, Cleanse me from its guilt and power. The Gospel is for sinners. We’ve got the first part of the cure down pretty well – Christ has paid the penalty for us and removed our guilt – but the second part – saving us from sin’s power – isn’t always as easy. But that’s exactly what the Gospel does for us. It reminds us first and foremost that we are sinners. It prepares our hearts for the bad news, but it also gives us the good news. It prepares us to face up to our sin, because the Gospel reminds us that God has dealt with our guilt. It assures us that our sins, past, present, and future, have been forgiven. St. Paul gives us assurance when he writes: Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sons are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin. (Romans 4:7-8) Last week we read Isaiah’s description of what was to him to be the future work of the Messiah: “the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Is. 53:6) The key is for us to understand, as we saw last time, just how much our sin offends against he holiness and justice of God. We need to understand just what it was that Christ did for us in dying in our place. And if we understand the magnitude of what God has done so that we can be reconciled to him, we can have confidence that God is for us. He’s no longer our enemy. And in fact, knowing that we were his enemies and that even though we despised him, he chose to redeem us, the Gospel message should motivate us to serve him out of gratitude. There’s a story of a young woman who was sent to assassinate Elizabeth I. She knew that her only chance of getting close to the queen was while she was asleep. And so she managed to get into the palace, into the queen’s quarters, and hid in a wardrobe with a knife. What she didn’t know was that the queen’s guards searched those quarters ever evening. When they found the assassin they dragged her before the queen, who had every right to have her put to death. The young woman pleaded with the queen for her life, and the queen chose to spare her. The story goes that out of gratitude, that young woman became one of the queen’s most loyal, devoted, and trusted servants. She deserved death, but because she had been spared she was motivated to faithful service out of gratitude. God has done the same for us, and we ought to respond the same way. We know our duty, but duty without desire only makes for drudgery. We need to daily preach the Gospel to ourselves, reminding ourselves of what God has done for us and motivating ourselves to serve him out of gratitude. Let me put it another way: I think everyone knows just how hard earning living can be. A lot of us have taken jobs we never intended to be in, that we didn’t like, and that were sheer drudgery. Many of us could work through our entire career and never earn a million dollars, no matter how hard we work and no matter how many hours we put in. But imagine that your boss, on your first day at a job you didn’t want to do, simply handed you a million dollars. I guarantee you’d jump into your work and you’d do it with a smile on your face. That’s what God’s service is like. We can never work hard enough to earn his favour. Imagine being given the job of cleaning all the bathrooms in Grand Central Station – alone – and with your tongue. Trying to earn God’s favour is even worse and more impossible than that! But the good news is that we don’t have to earn God’s favour. Jesus already did that for us. This is why we need to have an understanding of how bad our sin is and how much it offends God – if we understand that, our gratitude will be all the greater. And instead of the drudgery of trying to earn Gods favour, we’ll spend out lives serving him joyfully out of gratitude for what he’s done! In Romans 6 St. Paul tells us twice that we have died with Christ. Because of our union with our Saviour, not only has our guilt been forgiven, but sin’s rule in our lives has been broken. This is true for every believer and it’s accomplished in full from the moment of our redemption, when God delivered each of us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his Son (Col. 1:13). If we’re in Christ, we’re dead to sin. It’s done and it’s done forever. We can’t add to or subtract from it. But at the same time, St. Paul also urges us to “let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions” (Rom. 6:12). The reality we experience daily is that sin is still at work in us. So why is that if we’re dead to sin? The problem is that while Christ’s work has dethroned sin in our lives – we’ve put Jesus on the throne – sin still does everything it can to shove Jesus off and put itself back on. It’ll never happen, but that doesn’t stop sin from trying! Paul describes it as spiritual warfare: The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Gal. 5:17) We struggle daily, even sometimes so much that we wonder if the Gospel really does break sin’s dominion. I think this is especially true when we look at the more respectable sins in our lives. They can be so subtle and so tenacious that we have to battle them daily – maybe even hourly. We think we’ve turned the corner and are winning the tide, and then a few days later we stumble and fall back into that sin. I know there are times I’ve wanted to ask Paul, “Okay, so if sin no longer has dominion, why am I struggling to progress in this battle against sin? What’s your answer, Paul?” Well, St. Paul does have an answer in Galatians 5:16: “I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” The key is to “walk by the Spirit.” That means we need to do two things. First, we need to continually expose our minds to and seek to obey the Spirit’s moral will for us as he has revealed it in Holy Scripture. And second, we need to live totally dependent on him through prayer, continually crying out to him for his power to enable us to obey his will. What this leads us to is the understanding that we are both dependent on the Spirit and at the same time responsible to him. He have an obligation before God to obey his Word and to put to death the sins in our lives. But at the same time, we don’t have the ability within ourselves to fulfil that obligation. We’re totally dependent on the enabling power of the Holy Spirit. And that’s why God fills us with his Spirit at the moment that we receive the Gospel message and have faith in Jesus Christ. It’s this infilling of the Spirit that brings the Gospel’s power into our lives. Without it we’d be merely forgiven, but still under the dominion of sin. God promised his Spirit, his Helper, his Comforter, the One Who Comes Alongside to make us more than conquerors. That’s part of the Gospel promise and it’s comes immediately and freely when we make Jesus Christ our Lord and Master. That Spirit does three things for us as he fills us and helps us to conform to the image of Christ. First, he convicts us of sin. Our lives are full of it, but it takes the bright searchlight of the Spirit for us to see it sometimes, even when it’s obvious and right in front of us. Sometimes the Spirit works through his inspired written Word. Paul wrote to Timothy that the Scriptures are good for reproof and for correction. He also works through our conscience, but that means that first our conscience must be informed by that same inspired Word. This is why it’s so important that we be a people that study the Bible. If you feel like you don’t know God, the Bible is the first place to go. It’s his book and his chosen means to tell us about himself. But it’s also just as true that if you want to know right and wrong, you need to be daily in his Word. Your conscience is only as good as what you put into it. If you steep it in the philosophy of the world long enough, you’ll stifle the Spirit’s voice there, but steep it in Scripture and the Spirit will use it to speak God’s truth to you. Sometimes the Holy Spirit shows us our sins by putting us in circumstances that single them out for us and that sometimes show us the whole sinful pattern of behaviour that fosters them. The second thing the Spirit does is enable and empower us to deal with our sin. St. Paul exhorted the Romans: “by the Spirit put to death the deeds of the body.” And he wrote to the Philippians saying, “work out your own salvation…for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12-13). He’s not calling us to work on our own. He’s calling us to work, confident in the knowledge that God is already at work in us. Maybe most importantly, St. Paul gives us these reassuring words in Philippians: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (4:13). And finally, the Spirit works in us through our circumstances. I think this is especially apparent when we understand that God is sovereign over all things. Nothing happens by chance. And so the next time you’re in a difficult situation, consider that it may be the Spirit’s work, giving you the chance to exercise some spiritual muscle. Just like our physical muscles, our spiritual muscles atrophy if they aren’t used. And so the Spirit puts us in places that give us the chance to overcome evil by his power. You know the old saying, “Never ask God for patience.” It’s funny, because we know how in granting us patience, God usually teaches it to us rather than instantly bestowing it on us – he puts us in circumstances that teach us how to exercise this particular fruit of the Spirit. But the same is true with overcoming many sins. If we struggle with anger, the Spirit may just repeatedly put you in situations that test you and expose the sinful pattern that leads to that kind of anger. St. James reminds us that God never tempts us to sin, but it doesn’t mean he won’t work with us to overcome sin through that temptation. Romans 8:28 is a familiar passage that gives us comfort in difficult circumstances: We know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” But often we fail to read on. That “good” that St. Paul writes about is defined in the next verse: “For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son.” The good that God is working for in us is our own conformity to the image of Jesus Christ. So the next time you find yourself in a circumstance where you’re tempted to sin – especially when the same circumstance keeps coming up repeatedly and often – stop and think about how the Spirit may be helping you to deal with that specific sin. So, to sum up, the Spirit does three things for us: he works in us to convict us of sin, he works in us to enable us to put those sins to death, and he works through circumstances to exercise us in the activity of dealing with sin. The Spirit works in us giving us the power to overcome sin, but that’s just it – he works with us. We have an obligation to work with him. We’re not called to just sit back and let God sanctify us and make us holy. But lest we sin by becoming prideful in our Spirit-enabled victory over sin, we need to remember that the Spirit does more than just help us – he is the one directing our spiritual transformation. Remember the words of that hymn written by Augustus Toplady: Be of sin the double cure, Cleanse me from its guilt and power. God delivers us from both the guilt of our sin and its power. Please pray with me: Our Father in heaven, we thank you for the gift of your Son. We thank you that while we were deep in our sins – enemies of you and your Kingdom – you sent your Son to die in our place so that we could be reconciled to you. Help us to remember, Father, that Jesus is the double cure – that he not only cleanses us from sin’s guilt, but that he also removes its power that we may serve you in joyful gratitude. In his cleansing name we pray. Amen.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Respectable Sins The Bad News Respectable Sins: Sermon One by William Klock Once upon a time there was a church, and that church was made up, like all churches are, of a bunch of people. But these people had problems. The leaders in the church turned a blind eye on gross immorality on the part of the people. They tolerated all sorts of gross sin – even some pretty serious sexual immorality. The people in this church abused the freedom they had in Christ in order to justify their engaging in worldliness and other sorts of sin. They got into disputes amongst themselves and dragged each other before the civil courts. They were proud. They were factious. When they gathered to receive the Lord’s Supper they abused the Sacrament. They took the spiritual gifts that God had given them and abused them, using them to further their own pride and ambition. And to top it off, they were grossly confused when it came to theological issues. Anyone have any ideas what church I’m describing? We could probably rattle off a lot of churches that fit this description. But as much as we might be led to think that this is a modern church, its not. What I described was the Corinthian Church of St. Paul’s day. If you want to look at a picture of a messed up church, all you have to do is look at the Apostle Paul’s letters. And yet what’s so amazing about the whole situation is that Paul didn’t write his letters to Corinth and start out by addressing these people as if they were the worst of sinners. No. In fact he does just the opposite. In 2 Corinthians he starts his letter by addressing it to the Church of God in Corinth and all the saints in Achaea, and he addresses his first letter to them calling them “those who are called to be saints.” So at first look we might be taken aback. When we think of the word “saint,” we think of someone who wrote one of the Gospels, or a New Testament Epistle. We might think of some of the old folks we know that are mature in the faith. But when we think of every-day, ordinary, run-of-the-mill Christians who struggle with their faith, who sometimes fall into sin, we don’t often think of saints. And we hardly ever think of the sorts of people St. Paul addressed at Corinth as “saints.” These are the kinds of people in other churches that we point our fingers at and wonder if they’d know Jesus at all if he walked into the room. These are the people, who when they show up at our church and cause problems or tarnish our reputation, we hope will find the exit as quickly as they found the entrance. But the fact is that St. Paul addresses these messed up people as “saints.” In fact, throughout the New Testament, he addresses people just like these as “saints.” The key to understanding why not just “super” Christians, but even folks like the Corinthians, can be called saints is to understand what a saint really is. We tend to think of it as a title we earn by our good works. Think about it. When we refer to someone as being saintly, we’re describing their character. We see them as a mature Christian and as someone who is known for their good works. But the Greek word that the New Testament uses, hagios, doesn’t refer to someone’s character. It literally means “one who is separated unto God.” If you look at 1 Corinthians 1:2, St. Paul writes: “To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints.” We usually associate “sanctified” with holy and righteous living, but it comes from the same Greek root word as “saint.” Being hagios, being set apart to God isn’t something we do. It isn’t something we earn. It’s something we are. It’s a state of being. So we have to ask ourselves what it means to be set apart. Christ’s ministry tells us something about being set apart. In Titus 2:14 it says: “[He] gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” And St. Paul wrote to the Corinthians saying, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:19-20). A man or woman who is set apart, who is hagios, is a person whom Christ has purchased with his own blood and whom he has separated for himself – someone who is now Christ’s possession. Think of the story of Esther in the Bible. King Ahasuerus was looking for a new wife and gave a decree that his men would go out and bring all of the most beautiful women in the land to his harem. Before they even saw the King, those women spent an entire year being trained on everything there was to know about the court: how to act, how to dress, all the right manners and etiquette. In fact the Hebrew text literally says that they spent that time being made beautiful: six months with oil of myrrh and six months with perfumes and cosmetics. All that before they even went into the King’s presence so that he could choose one of them. That’s what it means to be set apart. Just as they were called out of their culture and transformed for their King, so God has set us apart so that we can be conformed to the image of his Son and leave behind our old sinful ways. I think that if we look at our calling in this sense, we can see that sainthood isn’t something we earn or attain to – it’s a state of being – it’s what we are by the merits of Christ’s death and passion and by the inner working of the Holy Spirit. Again, to quote St. Paul: we have been “delivered from the domain of darkness and transferred…to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Regardless of what the popular culture says, you can’t earn sainthood. We’re made saints immediately by the action of the Holy Spirit when we make Jesus Christ our Lord and Master. I like the way Ezekiel describes the work that the Spirit does: And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezekiel 36:26) I told you this morning, tonight’s sermon topic was “The Bad News” and so far this is all good news. This is the good news, but the problem is that we can’t just leave off here. Anyone who’s been a Christian for twenty-four hours knows that God had called us to one thing, but we still do another. He calls us to holiness, but we still desire unholiness. The ugly truth is that saints still sin. Paul puts the example of the Corinthian church right in front of us. They were saints by the work of Jesus Christ and his Spirit, but they were still sinners. And so we ask ourselves why does God promise one thing, while the reality we experience daily is something different. In Galatians 5:17 we read: For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. Even in the renewed heart there’s a daily battle that goes on. This is why St. Peter warns us to stay away from the things that give ammunition to the “flesh” – “I urge you…to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Peter 2:11). Sanctification – the actual business of being set apart – is an ongoing process. Esther was as much set apart her first day in the king’s harem as she was the day before he selected her as Queen, but that didn’t mean that she was as ready to be Queen when she first got there as she was after a year of training. God has called us into his Church where he has set us apart. It’s as part of his body that we learn what it means to be set apart, that we learn how to follow Christ, how we learn to be a holy people, all in preparation for our own wedding feast with Our Lord when we get to heaven. When we live in the Church as set-apart people, but don’t wage the battle against the old ways, we’re like some of those young women Esther may have been with. Country bumpkins maybe, who may have been very beautiful, but were diamonds in the rough, who might have been turned off by all the fuss, all the pomp, all the formality and didn’t really avail themselves of the year’s training. But if that’s what they did, they wouldn’t’ have been ready for the king. The same goes for us. We’re set apart for the King, but are we learning what that apartness means? That was the Corinthians’ problem. St. Paul starts his first letter addressing them as ones set apart by God, then he spends the remaining sixteen chapters telling them in no uncertain terms that they need to act like people who are set apart – that they need to act like saints. In the military there’s an expression: “conduct unbecoming an officer.” If your accused of such behaviour, it doesn’t mean that you’re not an officer, but it does mean that your conduct is not what’s consistent with and expected of an officer in the military. We might do well to have a similar expression in the Church: “conduct unbecoming a saint.” I’m sure there are military officers who think twice before doing something shady, knowing that a lot is expected of them, and I think as Christians we’d stop short before gossiping, getting unjustly angry, or becoming frustrated and impatient if we had the reminder always before us that such conduct is unbecoming a saint. But the fact is that we already have an expression for this. The Bible calls it sin. And sin is broad. It covers what we think of as the “small” stuff like gossip, impatience, and anxiety to the “big” stuff like adultery and murder. There are degrees of seriousness, but the bottom line is that sin is sin and no matter what the degree, it’s all unbecoming a saint. And this is why I think this subject is so important. One of our worst problems in the Church is that we can easily see the gross sins that are committed by non-Christians, but we’re totally blind to our own “little” sins. In fact, we become so blind to them that they’ve become acceptable – even sometimes respectable. It doesn’t help matters any when the Church starts taking its cues from the world around us. Our culture has largely forgotten about sin. In fact many have turned it all upside-down, and what was once known as sin is now proclaimed as virtue and vice versa. But even in many conservative and evangelical churches sin isn’t addressed as it should be. I try to read a couple of books on preaching each year, and I’m always shocked at the way some of them actually say that a preacher shouldn’t use the word – because its “churchy” and scares people away, because it makes them feel guilty. We’re also guilty of putting so much focus on things that are, for the most part, outside the church, like homosexuality, abortion, and other “big” sins, that we fail to focus on our own sins like gossip, pride, lust, bitterness, and even our frequent lack of the fruit of the Spirit. I’ve sat in a lot of prayer meetings where the people gathered there spent the whole time praying about the sins of the world around us and never thought to pray for the spiritual needs of the Church – we’re blind to all of our faults, when we should be coming to God like the tax collector in Luke’s Gospel, praying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” We have a growing tendency as Christians to take a very self-righteous attitude. We look at the world with a very prideful attitude and condemn it for its sins, while forgetting that “but for the grace of God there go we.” Think back to how outraged we all were when the Diocese of New Westminster and her bishop decided to approve blessings for same-sex unions. As Christians we were justified in our outrage. But why do we not become just as outraged over our own selfishness, our critical spirit, our impatience, and our anger? Why do we mourn the fall of another part of the Church into sin, but not mourn our own? We sort of let ourselves off the hook, because our sins aren’t as bad as the big ones we see elsewhere. But the fact is that God never gives us the authority to put different values on sins. In fact, St. James tells us, “Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10). You see, it doesn’t matter if you commit a murder or if you use your speech in an unloving way that cuts someone down – either way, you’ve broken God’s Law. There’s no curve when God grades the test. 99% is still a failing grade. Some sins are more serious than others. The earthly consequences of some sins are great than others. I’d rather be guilty of being angry with someone than of murdering them. I’d rather be guilty of lustfully looking at a woman than actually committing adultery with her. But Jesus said that whoever murders and whoever is angry with his brother both stand under God’s judgment. As I said, some sins may be less serious, but that doesn’t mean they’re not serious. All sin is serious business, because all sin breaks God’s law. God’s Law outlines his moral will for us – it’s how he expects us to live. It doesn’t matter what part of it we break, if we break any of it, we’ve gone outside what God’s will is for us. God’s Law is different from civil law. By the standards of the civil law, you can get an occasional speeding ticket and still be considered a law-abiding citizen, but God’s Law doesn’t work that way. Break one part of it, and you’re guilty of the whole thing. Temptation to sin may come from all sorts of different sources – which is why St. Peter tells us to do as much as we can to avoid those sources of temptation – but when it really comes down to it we’re the ones responsible for the decisions we make. The Devil might tempt you, but the Devil never “makes you do it.” Ultimately St. James is right when he tells us, “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. We get unrighteously angry because it satisfies our sinful desire for vengeance. We gossip because it satisfies our desire to build ourselves up by tearing someone else down. What’s really dangerous when we as the Church turn a blind eye on these “respectable” sins, is that they spread. Sin is spiritual cancer. If one part of the Body of Christ has it, it’ll spread to the rest if its not treated. St. Paul had to have had this in mind when he wrote to the Ephesians, “Let no corrupt talk come out of our mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29). What we say, no matter whom it’s about, will either tear people down or build them up. What we say will either corrupt the minds of those who hear it, or will show God’s grace. If I gossip I tear down another person and corrupt the mind of the person listening. If I complain about my circumstances, I impugn the sovereignty and goodness of God, and in modeling that sinful behaviour I tempt my listener to do the same. I have a friend who is struggling with cancer. It started out as Prostate Cancer, but he didn’t even know there was anything wrong until it had metastisised and got into the bones of his pelvis. Cancer tends to be like that. Sometimes it’s treated, you think it’s gone, and it pops up later somewhere else. I cant think of a better analogy to sin in the Body. I think this is especially true when we talk about these “respectable” or “subtle” sins. These sins are subtle in the sense that they deceive us. We start to think they’re not so bad – especially when compared to the sins of others. Sometimes they deceive us to the point that we don’t even think about them. Some of our subtle sins are so refined that we never even realise they’re in our lives. We live in the “feel good,” “I’m okay, you’re okay” world where “sin” has almost become a dirty word, because it might make someone feel bad. Put that into perspective by looking at the Puritans. They understood their own sinfulness and they understood just how serious their sin was. They really feared the reality of sin still in their lives. Think about the titles of the books they wrote. These are just a few in my own library: The Mischief of Sin, The Anatomy of Secret Sins, The Sinfulness of Sin (there are at least two different books by that title), and The Evil of Evils or The Exceeding Sinfulness of Sin. Ralph Venning, who wrote one of the Sinfulness of Sin books, describes sin in just a few pages as vile, ugly, odious, malignant, pestilent, pernicious, hideous, spiteful, poisonous, virulent, villainous, abominable, and deadly. Think about those words and then think about whether or not you think that way about your own sins. It’s easy to think that way about gross sin we see in the unbeliever’s life, but what about sins like impatience, pride, resentment, frustration, and self-pity? The fact is that to allow these “small” sins in our lives is the spiritual equivalent of letting that “small” tumour keep growing instead of removing it. Small sins tend to lead to big ones. Lustful looks lead to addictions to pornography, which often lead to adultery. Anger leads to bitterness, then to hatred, and sometimes goes as far as murder. Now I said earlier that this is the bad news. It gets worse. I think we’ve seen now how our sin affects others around us, but what’s even worse is how it affects God. I like R.C. Sproul’s definition of sin as “cosmic treason.” The Bible talks about sin as “transgression” and if you look at what that word really means, it refers to a rebellion against authority. In this case we’re talking about God’s authority. That means that when we gossip, we’re rebelling against God. It means that when we become resentful, we’re rebelling against God. In the sixth chapter of Isaiah, the prophet has a vision of God in his absolute majesty in the heavenly court. And Isaiah heard the angels there calling out, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!” Isaiah’s Jewish audience would have immediately understood that the repetition of that word was meant to convey the highest possible degree of holiness. God is infinitely and perfectly holy. But holiness also speaks of God’s infinite majesty and his sovereignty over all of his creation. And so when we transgress – when we sin – no matter how small the sin might be to us, it’s ultimately an act of cosmic treason against the majesty and sovereignty of God. Remember how David committed adultery with Bathsheba, then tried to cover it up. When it didn’t work he murdered her husband and then tried to cover that up too. God was righteously angry and sent the prophet Nathan to confront David. And what’s interesting is how God, through the inspired prophet, talked about David’s sin. He says, “Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do evil in his sight” (2 Samuel 12:9). In violating God’s Law, David was showing that he despised both God’s Law and God himself. Now think about that in terms of our own sin. Our “small” sins show just the same despising of God’s Law and of God himself. Think about that the next time you’re tempted to speak an unkind word. Now think about what it means to God when we, his redeemed and set-apart people, despise him by sinning. St. Paul describes it, warning the Ephesians, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption” (4:30). Our sin grieves the heart of our heavenly Father. And so not only do even our small sins show that we despise God, they also break his heart. Not only do we grieve God’s heart when we sin, but we also presume upon his grace. We can take great comfort that he has forgiven our trespasses according to the riches of his grace, but sin in its subtle deceitfulness, suggests to us sometimes that our sins really aren’t that big of a deal – that they don’t matter – because God has already forgiven them. What we forget is that forgiveness doesn’t mean overlooking or tolerating our sins. God never does that. In fact, God always – always – judges sin. It’s just that in our case, he has already judged our sins in the person of his Son, as Isaiah wrote, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (53:6). So should we then presume on God’s grace by tolerating in our lives the very sins for which Christ was nailed to the cross? Finally, I want to remind you that every sinful thought, word, and deed we are guilty of is done in the presence of God. Look at Psalm 139:1-4: O Lord, you have searched me and known me! You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar. You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways. Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether. God knows our every thought, let alone our every word and deed. Paul reminds us that he even knows all of our motives. When the world sees good works, God is able to see the selfish ambition behind them: “He will disclose the purposes of the heart” (1 Cor. 4:5). We might as well be committing every sinful deed right in front of his throne. Going back to Ralph Venning: in his book, The Sinfulness of Sin, he makes this point: “As God is holy, all holy, only holy, altogether holy, and always holy, so sin is sinful, all sinful, only sinful, altogether sinful, and always sinful.” In the end, it doesn’t really matter if our sin is big or small, gross or respectable, all of our sin is sinful, only sinful, and altogether sinful. It might be small in our eyes, but it’s all heinous in the sight of God. God forgives our sins by the blood of Christ, but he doesn’t tolerate them. And for that reason, every sin we commit, even the small and subtle sin that we don’t even know we’ve committed, was laid on Christ as he took God’s curse in our place. More than anything else, here’s the real malignancy of sin – that Jesus Christ, the Son of God suffered because of our sin. So this is the bad news. What you need to do now is think about how you respond to it. My prayer is that you will be prompted to examine your own life and drive you to your knees before God in repentance and contrition over the sins that you – that we’ve all – tolerated in our own lives. If you’re willing to do that, then you’re ready for the good news. Let’s pray: Heavenly Father, we came before you earlier tonight confessing that we have “followed to much the devices and desires of our own hearts,” “that we have offended against they holy laws.” We thank you that your desire is not for the “death of a sinner, but rather that he may turn from his wickedness and live.” Let us truly mean that when we pray those words, Father. Work in our hearts by your Holy Spirit, that we will be able to see the subtle sin in our lives and by your grace put an end to it, that we would no more presume on you grace. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ our Redeemer. Amen.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Pursuing Holiness Holiness is for You Pursuing Holiness – Sermon 1 by William Klock Does this sort of thing ever happen to you? Here’s an example. In December construction started on a house next door to us. And it’s one of those big square boxes designed to take up the maximum buildable space on the lot. When they dug the hole for the foundation, it was less than a foot from our property line. And they did this just weeks after we had our lawn seeded. The grass was just starting to pop up. And within days our entire side lawn was trashed thanks to workmen tromping through it all day long. And then on top of that, they brought their dogs to work, didn’t tie them up, and pretty soon the dogs are running all overthe yard, tearing up the grass and leaving big steaming piles everywhere. I called the builder to tell him know that his guys were destroying my lawn and would they please “keep off,” but he just didn’t care and made that clear to me. I went over and talked to the workmen. Things got better for about a week. Then one day as I was walking home down the path from the church after work one day, I saw that they’d been working with their excavator and had gone way over the property line and had really torn up the grass this time. I was royally ticked off. I was seething with anger, resentment, and hatred. The only thing that kept me from storming up to the construction site and giving the guys a piece of my mind was the fact that they’d already gone home for the day. But as I went in the house and started to cool off, all that anger turned into discouragement. It had only been half an hour before that I had finished writing a sermon about witnessing our faith through our actions. And yet when I saw the mess those guys had made, I was ready to do exactly the opposite. I’d just been writing about showing to others the grace that God has shown us. I’d just been writing about being victorious over sin, and there I was not an hour later struggling with a sinful attitude. I think that all of us experience times like that. Think of the times when you’ve just finished your morning devotions and minutes later fall into some kind of sinful activity or attitude. Maybe your problem isn’t anger. Maybe you struggle daily with some other sinful behaviour pattern. Whatever it is, it can be discouraging and that’s the reason for this series of sermons. Whatever your particular problems with sin are, the Bible gives us the answers. It is possible for you and I to live in obedience to God’s Word and live holy lives. In fact, that’s what God expects each of us to do. You see, holiness isn’t just expected; it’s the promised birthright of every Christian. Think about the words St. Paul wrote to the Romans, “Sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14). If you are a Christian, sin is no longer your master. Part of the reason we struggle so much with holiness is that we don’t understand it. Think about it. I say “holy” and for a lot of people that conjures up images of monks or nuns or puritans in tall hats and buckle-shoes. Or maybe “holy” immediately makes you cringe, because you think of a self-righteous, “holier than thou” attitude. So we’ve got to get past our wrong ideas and go back to Scripture – because holiness is a biblical idea. The word “holy” occurs more than 600 times in various forms in Scripture. In fact, one entire book, Leviticus, is totally devoted to the subject of holiness. Holiness is a theme the God has worked throughout the Bible and his command to us is, “Be holy, as I am holy” (Leviticus 11:44). Those false images we have of what it means to be holy come from our own misunderstanding. Holiness is about as basic it gets when it comes to doctrine, but a lot of Christians still seem to get it wrong. The Temperance Movement of a century ago practically equated temperance and abstinence with redemption and holiness and as a result many of our brothers and sister have come to equate holiness with a legalistic list of “thou shalt nots,” like drinking, smoking, dancing, and going to movies. The Anabaptists kind of did the same thing. Think of the Amish, who equate holiness to a great degree with a certain style of simple living. On the other hand the Higher Life Movement and classic Pentecostalism exhort us saying that perfect holiness is possible in this life if we only try hard enough and follow the right rules – and if you’re good enough and meet certain criteria along the way you can earnthe Holy Spirit. And so with messages like that, it’s no wonder Christians get discouraged in their pursuit of holiness. It’s sad, but we often miss the real meaning of “holy.” You see, in biblical terms, to be holy is to be morally blameless. It’s to be separated from sin and consecrated to God. The word itself signifies “separation to God” and describes the sort of conduct and living that should characterise a person who has been set apart for God. Look at how St. Paul describes holiness in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-7. He contrasts it with a life of immorality and impurity. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. ForGod has not called us forimpurity, but in holiness. St. Peter contrast holiness with living according to the evil desires we had when we lived outside of Christ: As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, butas he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:14-16) In Revelation St. John contrasted one who is holy with those who do wrong and are vile: Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy. (Revelation 22:11) The New Testament writers tell us that to live a holy life is to live a life in conformity to God’s moral precepts instead of the sinful ways of the world. It’s to live your life according to St. Paul’s “put off, put on” principle I talked about this morning: put off your old self, which is corrupted by its deceitful desires, and put on the new self created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:22, 24). So we need to ask: If holiness is so basic to what it means to be a Christian, why don’t we experience it in our daily living the way we should? Why do we so often feel defeated in our struggles with sin? Why does the church so often seem to be conformed more to the world than to Christ? I think we have three basic problems. The first is that our attitude to sin is more self-centred than God-centred. Let me explain what I mean. I’ve noticed that a lot of Christians are more concerned about their own “victory” over sin than they are about the fact that their sin grieves the heart of God. Do you see the difference? We struggle with sin, not because we know it’s offensive to God, but because we ourselves are success oriented. We know the right thing, but we’re trying to do it for the wrong reason. You see, we’ll never have a right view of sin until we see it as against God – until we see it as a breaking of God’s law and God’s holy standards – until we see it as our despising his authority and as our attempt to be in control. We need to see sin as the cosmic treason that it is. Think of Pharaoh or Balaam or Saul or Judas. They all admitted they had sinned. But then think of the prodigal son. He admitted, “I have sinned against heaven and before you.” Think of David. He admitted to God, “Against you and you alone have I sinned.” Dear friends, as much as God does want us to be victorious over sin, he wants us much more to simply walk in obedience. He wants our victory to be oriented toward himself. Victory is good, but victory needs to be the by-product, the result of our obedience to God. Instead of focusing on victory, we need to concentrate on living an obedient and holy life. If we do that we will then experience the joy of victory over sin. Our second problem is that we have misunderstood “living by faith” to mean that no effort at holiness is required on our part. In fact, sometimes we’ve even gone so far as to say that an effort on our part is “of the flesh.” Bishop Ryle made a good point when he wrote: “Is it wise to proclaim in so bald, naked, and unqualified a way as many do, that the holiness of converted people is by faith only, and not at all by personal exertion? Is it according to the proportion of God’s Word? I doubt it. That faith in Christ is the root of all holiness…no well-instructed Christian will ever think of denying. But surely the Scriptures teach us that in following holiness the true Christian needs personal exertion and work as well as faith.” You see, it’s good that we rightly acknowledge that we have no part in our justification – our redemption – knowing that it is God who elects us, calls us, and regenerates us in the first place according to his good pleasure. We have nothing to add to our justification. But our sanctification is different. Think of a farmer. When he plants his crops, he enters into a joint venture with God. He may do the tilling, planting, weeding, and fertilising, but unless God does his part, there can never be a harvest. And just so with us. God is the one who makes it possible by giving us his grace and placing his Spirit within us, but like the farmer, we have to cultivate those gifts to produce holy living. We have to take responsibility for doing a lot of hard work. Our third problem is that we don’t take some sin seriously. That was the point of last summer’s series on “respectable sins.” We become legalistic and put sins into categories. We grant that it’s wrong to do the big things, like rob a bank, murder an enemy, or have an adulterous affair. But we have no problem ducking out early at work or taking home office supplies; we have no problem hating our enemy’s guts and harbouring anger and resentment towards him; and we have no problem looking lustfully at women or men to whom we’re not married. But Jesus reminds us in the Sermon on the Mount that hatred is just as much a sin as murder, and that to lust after a woman is as much a sin as if we’d committed adultery with her. Sure we aren’t guilty of the “biggies,” but we’re guilty of all sorts of “little” sins we think we can get away with. And yet in Song of Songs, King Solomon wisely writes that it’s “the little foxes that spoil the vineyards” (Song of Songs 2:15). Those little sins often lead to bigger sins, but even when they don’t they’re still unholy and they still separate us from God. We become spiritual scoff-laws – the spiritual equivalent of the people who jay-walk, who don’t clean up after their dogs, who paint graffiti on walls, speed on the highway, and cheat “a little” on their taxes. In his commentary on Leviticus, Andrew Bonar makes a very wise point. In commenting on the minute and seemingly unimportant points of the Mosaic law, he reminds us that it’s not the importance of the rule, but the majesty of the Lawgiver that should be the standard of our obedience. He grants that some of God’s rules might seem like petty or arbitrary trifles, but he says that even when it’s little things like what we eat or wear, the principle involved in obedience or disobedience is the same principle that faced Adam and Eve as they stood under the tree of the knowledge of good and evil pondering whether or not to eat the forbidden fruit. He says, the principle “is really this: Is the Lord to be obeyed in all things whatsoever He commands? Is He a holy Lawgiver? Are his creatures bound to give implicit assent to His will?” Dear Friends, we need to willing to call sin “sin” not because it’s big or small, but because God forbids it. We can’t put different sins into categories and say some are okay and some aren’t. If we do that, we’ll never live holy lives. These are all ideas that I plan to develop more as we work through this series of sermons. But before we go further, each of us needs to settle these issues in our hearts. Each of us needs to ask, “Am I ready to start looking at sin as an offence against a holy God, instead of just a personal defeat? Am I ready to take responsibility for my sins? And finally, am I ready to make a conscious choice to obey God in all areas of my life, no matter how small or insignificant the issue might seem. Please pray with me: “Almighty God and Father, you call us to holiness and have imparted each of us with a great measure of grace and the indwelling of your Holy Spirit. Forgive us for ignoring and compromising your call. Give us an understanding of what it means to pursue holiness, and work in our hearts to turn us away from sin. Give us a desire to be holy as you are. We ask this through him who knew no sin and to whose image you us to conform, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Pursuing Holiness The Holiness of God Pursuing Holiness – Sermon 2 by William Klock Last week I made reference to Leviticus 11:44, where God commands us, “be holy for I am holy.” We need to understand that that’s his commandment to all believers. I think people take a verse like that and think, “Well, I’m not a priest or a pastor, I’m not a missionary or a monk, so it must not apply to me. After all, those are the professional holy people.” It amazes sometimes me that all I have to do is put on a clerical collar and suddenly I become a “holy man” to most people – even to a lot of people in the church – when the fact is that apart from the righteousness of Christ, I’m no more holy than any other person on the planet. I put on my spiritual pants one leg at a time, just like everyone else. God’s point in Leviticus is to call allof us to holiness, regardless of our earthly vocation. Our divine vocation is holiness. All of us are “holy men.” And notice the reason why God tells us to be holy: he says, “because I am holy.” That’s important, because it means he’s our standard. Our problem is that too often we’re satisfied with a sort of “cultural holiness.” We look to other Christians around us as our models and we conform ourselves to the standard of holiness that they set. The problem is that God didn’t call us to be holy as other Christians are holy. He called us to holy as he is holy. I don’t care whether you’re the Joe Pew-Sitter or Mother Theresa, as I said, we all put out spiritual pants on one leg at a time. None of us is perfect. None of us models the perfect holiness of God. True holiness is nothing less than conformity to the character of God. When the Bible talks about holiness, it describes both the majesty of God and the purity of the moral perfection of his nature. We need to understand that holiness is one of God’s attributes. In fact, I’d say that it’s his most important. Holiness is an essential part of Gods’ nature. His holiness is as necessary as his existence. God would not be God if holiness were not part of his character. Just like God’s wisdom and his being all-powerful are necessary to his existence, so is his holiness. Just as he cannot not know was is good and right, so he cannot but do what is good and right. Our problem is that it’s not always possible for us as human beings to know what is right or what’s just or what’s fair. Because of our limitations we can sometimes get stuck – lost in a moral quandary trying to decide what’s right and what’s wrong. But God doesn’t have that problem. He’s perfect, and so there is never any question for him about right or wrong. Sometimes we may know the right thing, but we hesitate to do it. We consider that doing the right thing might mean making a sacrifice or it might be a blow to our pride. God is the opposite. God never struggles to do the right thing. He does it and he does it without hesitation. It’s impossible in the very nature of God for him to do anything else. You see, God’s holiness is perfect freedom from all evil. We talk about a piece of clothing being clean when it’s free from any spot, or gold being pure when all the dross and other trace elements and minerals have been refined out of it. You can think of God’s holiness in the same way – as being absolutely free from all and every form of evil. St. John wrote in his first epistle, “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5). God is the essence of light – he’s the essence of moral purity. And it’s not just God’s character that’s perfectly holy. He’s also perfect in his conformity to his own divine character. He never thinks or acts in a way that would be contrary to his holy character. Now contrast that with ourselves. At the moment of our justification Christ’s righteousness is imputed to us. We’re still unholy, but in a legal sense, the perfect righteousness of Christ is given to us – it’s Jesus that the Father sees when he judges us. But it doesn’t end there. Through the gracious work of God’s Spirit within us, that holiness gradually becomes more and more of a reality. As we mature and cooperate with the Spirit we develop a more and more Christ-like character. We grow in areas like truthfulness, purity, and humility. But even as we become more like Christ, our actions aren’t always consistent with our new character. We still tell lies sometimes. We still allow ourselves to dwell on impure thoughts. And then we’re saddened when we consider that our actions aren’t consistent with our character. But that doesn’t happen to God. He always acts consistently with his holy character. And it’s his standard that he calls us to when he says, “Be holy, for I am holy.” One of the ways we’re called to give God praise is by acknowledging his holiness. Think of St. John’s vision in Revelation 4, where the four living creatures around God’s throne never stop singing, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come” (Revelation 4:8). Or think of the seraphim in Isaiah’s vision of God’s glory, also singing that three-fold ascription of God’s holiness. When Moses was praising God for delivering the Israelites from the Egyptian army through the Red Sea, he sang of God’s holiness. That’s really interesting, because I’m not sure that would be what I’d be thinking of at that point in time, but Moses knew: God is holy. He sang: Who is like you, O LORD, among the gods? Who is like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds, doing wonders? (Exodus 15:11) Through Scripture we see God described by names like the Holy One, or the Holy One of Israel. Stephen Charnock, one of the Puritans wrote a great book called The Being and Attributes of God, and in his book he notes that “holy” is used more often as a prefix to God’s name than anything else. Holiness is God’s crown. Imagine God being infinite in power, having perfect and infinite knowledge, and being everywhere present, but without perfect holiness. Without holiness he would be something other than God. Holiness is the perfection of all his other attributes: his power is holy power, his mercy his holy mercy, his wisdom is holy wisdom. It’s his holiness more than anything else that makes God worthy of our praise. So we need to acknowledge God’s holiness. But it doesn’t stop there. He tells us, “Be holy, for I am holy.” God rightfully demands holiness of all his moral creatures. It can’t be otherwise. God can’t possibly ignore or approve of or wink at any evil committed by anyone anywhere. He can’t relax his perfect standard or he would be something other than he is. Instead he tells us, “So be holy in all you do.” Habbakkuk prayed saying, “You who are of purer eyes than to see evil and cannot look at wrong” (Habbakuk 1:13). Because he is holy, God can never excuse or overlook our sin, no matter how small it might seem to us. And that’s just it. So often we sin, but we justify it; we say, “Well, but it just a little sin. We come up with all sorts of ways to justify our sin. But if we truly understand God’s holiness, both his holy character and what he demands of us, we’ll be able to see that we can neverjustify before him even the smallest deviation from his perfect will. God doesn’t accept the excuse, “Hey, that’s just the way I am,” or even, “Well, I’m still growing in that area of my life.” God’s holiness doesn’t and can’t make any allowances for “minor” flaws and shortcomings in our character. It would be good for those of us justified solely through the righteousness of Christ, to meditate and think on the words of the writer to the Hebrews: “Make every effort…to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14 NIV). Sometime we justify our sin by claiming that God tempted us. Maybe we don’t make that accusation blatantly, but we feel that God put us in a situation and gave us no choice. But St. James reminds us, “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone” (James 1:13). King Saul felt that way in his first major campaign with the Philistines. Before going into battle, Saul was told to wait seven days. On the seventh day the priest Samuel was to come and make a sacrifice. Well, Saul waited seven days and when Samuel didn’t show up, he decided that he had no alternative but to make the burnt offering himself. He looked around him. After waiting for a week, the people were starting to become afraid and were scattering. The Philistines had had time to muster their army and were better prepared for a fight as each day went by. Samuel wasn’t there yet. Saul felt that he had to do something. It seemed to him like God had put him in a place where he had no choice but to disobey his explicit instructions. But because Saul disobeyed God’s express will, he lost his kingdom. Now what about us? Do we sometimes feel the same way and do the same thing? Maybe we shade the truth a little bit or commit a “slightly” dishonest act? When we feel that way, we’re in effect saying that God is tempting us to sin, that he’s put us in a position in which we have no alternative. One of the times we’re most vulnerable is when someone with authority turns up the pressure. When I worked as a computer tech I used to see our company do all sorts of dishonest things. We might have treated our customers well, but we weren’t above “sticking it” to our suppliers – after all they were just big faceless corporations that raked in millions in profits. What we stole from them was a drop in the bucket – and not to mention that because of their big bureaucracies they usually unfairly cost us a lot of money from time to time, so it was only payback – it all “came out in the wash.” I saw it happening over my head all the time, but when it finally came down to my level and I was told that as part of my job I was to be dishonest and defraud our supplier I had to make a choice. I was pretty sure that if I stood up for what was right, they’d show me the door. I could have gone along with it, arguing that God put me in a situation where I had no choice, but I knew that God calls his children to model his own perfect holiness and I knew that God calls us to trust him – no matter what. You see, because God is holy, he hates sin. That’s a strong word that we don’t like to use. It’s not P.C. these days. But when it comes to God’s attitude toward sin, we have to use the strongest word we have to convey just how much God hates it. God reproached Israel for her sins saying, “I hate all this” (Zechariah 8:17). Hatred is okay when it comes to sin, and in fact, the more we grow in holiness, the more we will hate sin. David said, “Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way” (Psalm 119:104). If that’s true for us, think about what it means for God. As we grow in holiness we grow in hatred of sin; and God, being infinitely holy, has an infinite hatred of sin. How about this? How often do we say, “God hates the sin, but loves the sinner.” It’s true, but I think that a lot of the time we rush over the first half of that statement in order to get to the second. But we can’t escape the fact that God hates sin. We can trifle with our sins or excuse them, but God hates them. And so every time we sin, we need to understand that we’re doing something that God hates. He hates our lustful thoughts. He hates our rationalisations that the end justifies the means. We need to be gripped by the fact that God hates all these things. Our problem is that we become so accustomed to our sins that we tend to lapse into peaceful coexistence with them. We may do that, but God continues to hate them. We need to cultivate in our hearts the same hatred for sin that God has. Hatred of sin as sin, not just as something disquieting or defeating to ourselves, but as displeasing to God, lies at the root of all true holiness. We need to be like Joseph. When he was tempted he said, “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9). Notice he wasn’t worried about personal defeat – he was worried about offending God! God hates sin wherever he finds it. He hates sin in the saint just as much as he hates it in the sinner. He doesn’t hate it in one person and overlook it in another. St. Peter tells us that God judges each person impartially. In fact, if you look at the biblical record, God seems to judge the sins of his saints more severely than those of unbelievers. Take David. Scripture calls him a man after God’s own heart, yet after he murdered Uriah, Nathan prophesied saying “Now therefore, the sword will never depart from your house” (2 Samuel 12:10). Or think of Moses. For one act of unbelief, he was barred from crossing the Jordan and entering the promised land despite years of faithful service. Jonah, for his disobedience, was cast into a horrible prison in the stomach of a giant fish for three days and nights, so that he might learn not to run from God. In the deceitfulness of our hearts, we sometimes play with temptation by entertaining the thought that we can always go to God after we’ve sinned to confess and ask for forgiveness. I remember doing that once when I was about ten. My mom had explicitly pointed out some cookies in the pantry and told me not to eat them. Not long later I was left home alone and I made a beeline for the panty. I stood looking at the cookies, thinking I could eat one and ask God to forgive me later. And that’s exactly what I did. I ate one. And I asked forgiveness as I started happily munching on a second. I was anything but sorry for my sin. Playing with sin that way is dangerous. God’s judgement is without partiality. He never overlooks our sin. He never decides not to bother or that it’s not worth his time because the sin was small. No, God hates sin intensely whenever and wherever he finds it. These are things we need to think about. We need to contemplate the holiness of God and his hatred of sin. Doing so is a strong deterrent against trifling with sin. St. Peter tells us that we should live our lives on earth as strangers in reverence and fear (1 Peter 1:17). The love of God to us through Jesus Christ really should be our biggest motivation to holiness, but a motivation prompted by God’s hatred of sin and his judgement on it is really no less biblical. So in the end we need to remember that God’s holiness is an exceedingly high standard – a perfect standard. But its perfection doesn’t exempt us from keeping it. Because of who he is God isn’t capable of anything less. And while it’s true that he accepts us based only on the merit of Jesus Christ, God’s standard for our character, our attitudes, affections, and actions is always, “Be holy, for I am holy.” If we are to grow in holiness, we have to take that command seriously. Please pray with me: Holy Father, we ask you to keep your holiness always before our eyes. Remind us of the high standard to which we are called and remind us that without your grace, we can never achieve it. Remind us to rely on you and give us a passion to by holy as you are holy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Preacher: The Rev'd William Klock | Series: Pursuing Holiness Holiness is Not Optional Pursuing Holiness – Sermon 3 by William Klock Last week we looked at those words from Hebrews: “without holiness on one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). But what do those words mean? If we left things hanging there, we might be inclined to think that in the end our salvation depends to some extent on our attaining some level of personal holiness. Lest we mistakenly think that, Scripture makes the following two points very clear: First, even the “best” Christian can never merit his own salvation through his personal holiness. Isaiah reminds us that even our righteous deeds are like filthy rags in the light of God’s holy law (Isaiah 64:6). Our best works are still stained and spotted with imperfections and sin. And second, Holy Scripture so often refers to the obedience and righteousness of Christ on our behalf. St. Paul wrote to the Romans: “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). And St. Peter tells us, “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). Christ is the righteousness we don’t have, but he does that in two ways. We are disobedient to God, but he was obedient, both actively and passively. Christ was actively obedient in the sense that while he was here on earth he lived in a way that was completely sinless. His obedience to God was perfect. And his perfect life is credited to all those who trust in him for salvation. He was passively obedient when he died on the cross and fully paid the penalty for our sins and satisfied God’s wrath toward us. Hebrews 10:5-9 tells us that Christ came to do the will of the Father. And the writer says, “And by that will we have been sanctified [that means “made holy”] through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10). So it’s important that we understand that our holiness before God depends entirely on the work of Jesus Christ for us, by God’s will. So we might then think that the holiness we have to have to see God is this holiness that we have in Christ. But that’s not it either. The same writer of Hebrews goes on to write about a holiness that we are to strive after; we are to “make every effort…to be holy.” And he says that without this holiness, no one will see the Lord. You see, the Bible talks about both a holiness that we have in Christ before God, and a holiness that we’re called to strive after. And these two aspects of holiness compliment each other, because our salvation is a salvation to holiness. St. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians saying, “God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness” (1 Thessalonians 4:7). He wrote to the Corinthians, “To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy” (1 Corinthians 1:2 NIV). To be sanctified is to be made holy. So we’re both made holy in our standing before God through Christ, and at the same time called to be holy in our daily living. So the writer of Hebrews is telling us to take seriously the necessity of personal and practical holiness. When the Holy Spirit came into our lives at the moment of our salvation, he came to make us holy in practice. And so if there’s not at least a yearning in our hearts to live a holy life that’s pleasing to God, we really need to seriously consider whether or not our faith in Christ is real. When we first start out, that desire for holiness may only be a spark, but as we walk with God that spark should grow and become a flame. True salvation brings with it a desire to be made holy. We forget that God not only saves us from the penalty of our sin, but he also saves us from its dominion over us. Bishop Ryle wrote this: “I doubt, indeed, whether we have any warrant for saying that a man can possibly be converted without being consecrated to God. More consecrated he doubtless can be, and will be as his grace increases; but if he was not consecrated to God in the very day that he was converted and born again, I do not know what conversion means.” We get stuck in a narrow view that tells us salvation is just fire insurance – a get out of hell free card. And yet the whole purpose of our salvation is that we be, according to Paul, “holy and blameless in his sight” (Ephesians 1:4). If we continue in our sin, we’re living contrary to God’s very purpose for our salvation. The Puritan, Walter Marshall, wrote: “What a strange kind of salvation do they desire that care not for holiness…. They would be saved by Christ and yet be out of Christ in a fleshly state…. They would have their sins forgiven, not that they may walk with God in love, in time to come, but that they may practice their enmity against him without any fear of punishment.” So holiness then isn’t a necessary condition of our salvation. That would be salvation by works. But it is a part of salvation that is received by faith in Christ. Think back to the angel’s announcement to St. Joseph: “you are to give him the name Jesus [which means ‘Yahweh is Salvation’], because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21). Because of this we can say that no one can trust in Jesus Christ for true salvation unless he trusts in him for holiness. It doesn’t have to mean that the desire for holiness is necessarily a conscious desire at the time a person comes to Christ, but it does mean that the Holy Spirit who creates within us saving faith also creates in us the desire for holiness. He just plain doesn’t create one without the other. St. Paul wrote to Titus saying, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age” (Titus 2:11-12). The same grace that brings salvation teaches us to renounce ungodly living. You can’t somehow receive half of God’s grace. If you experience it at all, you’re going to experience not only forgiveness of your sins, but also freedom from sin’s dominion. This is the point that St. James drives home when he talks about the relationship between faith and works. He tells us that a “faith” that doesn’t produce any works – and by works he means a holy life – isn’t a living faith; it’s a dead one. You might believe that Jesus saves, but if you haven’t put your trust in him and made him your Lord, your faith – really just “belief” – in Jesus is no different than that which the demons have. They know Jesus saves too! God’s holy nature demands holiness in the life of a Christian. When he calls us to salvation, he calls us to fellowship with himself and with his Son, Jesus Christ (1 John 1:3). But, as St. John says, God is light; in him is no darkness at all. So how can we have fellowship with him if we continue to walk in darkness? Holiness is required for fellowship with God. David asked in Psalm 15, “O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?” He was asking, “Lord, who may live in fellowship with you? And the answer that he gives in the next four verses can be summarised: “he who leads a holy life.” Think about this. Prayer is a vital part of our fellowship with God (and maybe the first aspect of that fellowship that we think of), and yet David wrote, “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18). Even that most basic element of fellowship – prayer – is cut off if we aren’t pursuing holiness! We need to be careful though, because God doesn’t require a perfect, sinless life in order to have fellowship with him. If that were the case, we’d never have any fellowship at all. But he does require that we be serious about holiness – that we grieve our sins and that we earnestly pursue holiness as a way of life. Holiness is also for our own well-being. Again, going back to Hebrews, Scripture tells us, “The Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Hebrews 12:6). God isn’t capricious. He disciplines us because we need it and to help draw us back in line. As long as we continue to be disobedient we increase our need for discipline. In the church of Corinth there were some who were so persistently disobedient that God had to take their lives. Sin isn’t something to mess around with. It’s serious business. David describes God’s discipline this way: “For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer” (Psalm 32:3-4). When God starts talking to us about sin in our lives, we need to wake up, pay attention, and do something about it. If we ignore God, we risk experiencing his discipline. We need to listen to that still, small voice. If we don’t, we may end up listening to a divine two-by-four between the eyes. But it goes beyond fellowship and our well-being. Holiness is also necessary for effective service to God. Paul wrote to Timothy saying, “If anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work” (2 Timothy 2:21). Holiness and usefulness in God’s kingdom go hand in hand. You can’t bring your service to God in an unclean vessel. Remember that the one who makes our service effective and who empowers us for service is the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit isn’t called the Holy Spirit for no reason. When we indulge our sinful natures and live in unholiness, we grieve the Spirit of God – and he will not prosper our service. Now I’m not talking about the times when we fall to temptation and immediately go to God for forgiveness and cleansing. But if our lives are characterised by unholy living, God is not going to use us for holy things. Do you ever doubt your salvation? Well, holiness is also necessary for our assurance of salvation. True faith, as I said earlier, shows itself by its fruit. St. Paul says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). “Easy Believism” doesn’t do anybody any favours. There’s a world of people out there who sadly think that because they said a prayer at some point and asked Jesus into their heart, that they’re all set for heaven. They bear no fruit. They have no desire for holiness. Why? Because they never put their trust in Christ and never made him their Lord. In many ways they’re worse off than those who have never heard the Gospel, because they’ve been given a false security. (In case you’re wondering, this is why I’m not fond of altar calls, commitment cards, or “sinner’s prayers.” Jesus and the apostles (and the rest of the Church for 1900 years) never used any of those things.) You don’t become a Christian by walking the aisle, signing a card, or even saying a prayer – and yet too many people are led to believe that they’re “safe” because they did. The only way you become a Christian is by making Jesus your Lord. And the only safe evidence that we are in Christ is a holy life and a desire for personal holiness. St. John said that everyone who has within him the hope of eternal life purifies himself just as Christ is pure (1 John 3:3). St. Paul said, “All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Romans 8:14). If we know nothing of holiness, we may flatter ourselves that we are Christians, but we don’t have the Holy Spirit dwelling in us. If you profess to be a Christian, you need to ask yourself: “Is there evidence of a practical holiness in my life? Do I desire and strive for holiness? Do I grieve over my lack of it and earnestly seek the help of God to be holy?” Because, you see, it’s not those who profess to know Christ who will enter heaven, but those whose lives are holy. Even those who do “great Christian works” will not enter heaven unless they also do the will of God. Jesus said: Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matthew 7:21-23). Heavenly Father, you sent your Son to die that he might give us the holiness that we can never have on our own. We give you thanks for your grace. But help us to remember that you have also given us your Spirit to work in our lives and make us holy in reality. Give us a passion for holiness, we ask Father, a passion for your holiness, a passion for the holiness that Christ gives us as a covering, and finally a passion for that holiness of life empowered by your indwelling Spirit. Amen.