sin

In my morning reading, I just finished the pentateuch and am now rolling into Joshua. I noticed something awesome here and I wanted to share. God told Joshua, “Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses (Joshua 1:3) but they hadn’t stepped foot into it yet AND they still had to fight for it. But they already knew that they were secure in the land. The creator of the universe, who led them for 40 years in the wilderness in power and glory had promised it to them.

In the same way, we now walk in freedom from sin. The fight has been won, but we still have to endure the battle. Just as the Israelites had to endure many bloody battles – some where they won handily and others where they lost many men, they still fought secure in the knowledge that the land belonged to them because the One who owned the land had given it to them. We are now owned by Christ. In repenting of our sins and trusting in Jesus’ finished work on the cross, we reject our ability to run our lives and hand the keys to our minds, hearts, and actions over to Him. He now owns us and He declares us free from our bondage to sin. It is now our duty to shuffle off the old master and to reject our habits and desires that lead us in opposition to the faith that we now profess.

In Exodus 34 we find God describing Himself to Moses. He covers many of His great attributes; His righteousness, His faithfulness, and His great love. We also read that He “will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generations“, but what does that really mean?

When I was young, it was explained to me that certain sins are so powerful that God will punish the children for them as well. This text was used as an admonition to me to keep me from sinning as a whole so that, when I did have children, they would not be punished for the sins I committed. This taught me that God is cruel and heartless – punishing people for things they did not do because He is so angry at the first person who committed the sins. The problem here is that the original explanation was not true. In Ezekiel 18, God says exactly the opposite:

“If a man is righteous and does what is just and right— if he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife or approach a woman in her time of menstrual impurity, does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, does not lend at interest or take any profit, withholds his hand from injustice, executes true justice between man and man, walks in my statutes, and keeps my rules by acting faithfully—he is righteous; he shall surely live, declares the Lord God.

“If he fathers a son who is violent, a shedder of blood, who does any of these things (though he himself did none of these things), who even eats upon the mountains, defiles his neighbor’s wife, oppresses the poor and needy, commits robbery, does not restore the pledge, lifts up his eyes to the idols, commits abomination, lends at interest, and takes profit; shall he then live? He shall not live. He has done all these abominations; he shall surely die; his blood shall be upon himself.

“Now suppose this man fathers a son who sees all the sins that his father has done; he sees, and does not do likewise: he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife, does not oppress anyone, exacts no pledge, commits no robbery, but gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, withholds his hand from iniquity, takes no interest or profit, obeys my rules, and walks in my statutes; he shall not die for his father’s iniquity; he shall surely live. As for his father, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother, and did what is not good among his people, behold, he shall die for his iniquity.

“Yet you say, ‘Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?’ When the son has done what is just and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.

~ Ezekiel 18:5-20

In this text, God is taking Ezekiel to task over his use of a term “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”. That term basically means that beacuse of the sins of the father, his sons will suffer. Then God sets up for Ezekiel a scenario where he compares a grandfather, a father, and a son. The grandfather (vs5-9) is a man who never, through his whole life, ever breaks any of the laws of God. He is, as God is, perfect – keeping all of the Ten Commandments. Verse 6 relates to the first and second commandment – not having any other gods before the true Lord God, and to abstain from idolatry. It then goes on to talk about the seventh commandment by stating that he does not defile his neighbor’s wife. Then the eighth with him not stealing from the poor and needy, and the ninth in that he does not lie but executes true justice. Verse 9 wraps it all up by stating that the grandfather “walks in all God’s statutes, and keeps His rules by acting faithfully”. That man, God promises, will live.

The next man is the son of this grandfather. He sees the life of his father, how he always walked in the statues of the Lord, and he decides to go off in his own direction. Verses 10-13 chronicle a life of debauchery. He is a violent murderer, who honors false gods and idols, commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, steals from the poor and needy, refuses to be a man of his word, and disobeys God’s statutes. This man, God says in verse 13, will die for his sins.

Now, this wicked man has a son. This son sees the sins that his father commits and instead of following in his footsteps, he does as his granfather did and he is a perfect son – keeping all of the commands of the Law. God promises that the son of this wicked man will not suffer for the sins of his father but that the father will suffer for his own sins.

In verse 19, God asks the question again, “Why should not the son suffer for the iniquity of the father?”. He then lays out his heart toward those who follow His commands and who love Him and states the justice that He embodies.

When the son has done what is just and right, and has been careful to observe all my statutes, he shall surely live. The soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself.

God is not going to unrighteously punish those who keep His laws perfectly.

The first text, way back in Exodus 34, speaks of what are called “generational sins”. Those are things like alcoholism and physical or sexual abuse. They corrupt a family and stain the lives of the children – many follow in the sins of their fathers. This is not by the doing of God but by the corruption that comes from these sins and what they do to the hearts of the children who it impacts. These are horrid and wicked acts which should be sought out and stopped within the body of the church and in the world as a whole.

What this text does, however, is it shows that God is truly angry about sin. He promises that He will punish the sins of mankind. How many sins do you need to commit in order to be condemned before God? God lays it out for us in the book of James:

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.

~ James 2:10

Have you ever told a lie? Have you ever stolen anything? Have you ever lusted after someone or hated someone without just cause? Then you are guilty before God and you, just like the father mentioned above, will be rejected by God and cast into Hell. You will “die”. God is so kind as to give us a picture of what that will look like so we won’t be caught off guard when it comes:

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

~ Revelation 20:11-15

By God’s standard, everyone will be cast into the lake of fire. Everyone. You. Your parents. Your spouse. Your kids. Everyone goes to hell. Knowing this, that’s why God offered a path of escape. As we’ve read, He is not cruel and He won’t punish you unfairly. If you have sinned, then you deserve the right punishment, but He has provided for you a substitute. In the beginning of time, shortly after the creation, Adam and Eve, our first parents, sinned before God. That started the whole chain of events which have lead to this broken and fallen world we live in today. Immediately after it happened, however, God told Adam and Eve that He was sending a Savior. In Genesis 3, God promises that there would come someone who would end the cycle of sin and death. God then provided, over the next 4,400 years, types and shadows of that promised messiah. The most well known is the Passover lamb that He required the Israelites in Egypt to sacrifice so that they would not die. That perfect lamb was slaughtered and its blood was the sign that the household was covered and free from God’s judgment. 2,000 years ago, God fulfilled that promised messiah by providing His own Son, Jesus. The eternal creator God became physical human being, lived the life that you or I could never live by perfectly following the law of God. He faced a false trial, was beaten, mocked, had his flesh torn by flagellum, spat upon, cursed at, had his beard ripped from his face. All of this by the very hands that He created in love. Then He was nailed to a cross, hoisted up, and left to suffocate for three hours in the sun. Then God the Son died. In that act He took the punishment for your sins upon himself. Three days later, God resurrected Jesus from the dead, signifying that death was defeated and that mankind now had hope for life with Christ in Heaven after death. God provided for His creation a path out of hell.

How do you receive this gift? You need to follow Jesus’ command: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel”. You must repent (turn from – stop your life of sin) and trust in the finished work of Christ. In so doing, God has promised that He will transform your heart. You will no longer desire to sin but will have a new heart and new desires that will seek after God and righteousness. You can’t accept this gift because of a fear of retribution, but you have to turn to Him in response to the work that He’s already done for you on your behalf. That is how you are saved from your sins. Remember, as the ticker to the right states, there are 150,000 people dying every day. 150,000 died yesterday, and 150,000 will die tomorrow. At some point, and often sooner than you think, you will find yourself in that number and by then it will be too late to respond. I pray that for you, that day is today.

Now in putting everything in subjection to him, he left nothing outside his control. At present, we do not yet see everything in subjection to him. But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor, because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.
For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one source. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying,

“I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise.” Psalm 22:22

And again,

“I will put my trust in him.”Psalm 18:2; Isa 8:17, 12:2

And again,

“Behold, I and the children God has given me.” Isaiah 8:18

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely is it not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of god to make propitiation for the sins of the people. for because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
~ Hebrews 2: 8-18

The only thing that the devil has on us, as an adversary against us before God, where he makes his claims against us daily is our own sin. While being the father of lies, his claims have no merit without the facts of our own sins to back them up. When Jesus died on the cross in our place, a full payment was made for our sins. They existed no longer and therefore carry no more weight for the enemy to use against us. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. It no longer exists.

Imagine that you’re a criminal who stands before a judge. There is forensic, video, and eye witness testimony that places you at the scene of the crime, all the evidence points to your guilt. You did, indeed, commit the crime, and you know this. You also know that the judge, jury, and now everyone in the world, know that you committed the crime. There is no question as to your guilt. Verdict has been offered: Guilty. The judge now pronounces your punishment: Death.

Has justice been served? No. You merely have been tried and found to be at fault. Justice is not complete until the judgment has been fulfilled. The day of your execution comes and the crowd gathers to watch you die. This is the point that brings justice over your crimes. The acts you’ve committed cannot be repaid in full, in the same way that you can’t “un-murder” someone, “un-steal” an object, or “un-rape” someone, but the justice comes in the payment for the crimes. At the last minute, as they are about to strap you into the chair, someone who has been following your case from the very beginning comes in and asks to speak with the judge. After some careful deliberation between the members of the family, the governor, and the judge, the man comes into the execution chamber, takes off his clothes and puts on your clothes. He then is led into the chamber, is strapped into the chair, and is electrocuted, willingly, on your behalf. His death is agonizing to watch and obviously inflicts great pain before he dies, but justice has finally been served. You are instructed to put on the man’s clothes and, after you do so, the doors to the jail cell swing open. You are free to go. This man, whom you had never known, has transferred to you, the entirety of his estate, and now everything that he was part of, is now applied to you.

This is what Jesus has done for us. You are now crowned with glory and honor as, through His taking our sins upon himself and dying on our behalf, we have swapped positions. He, now the criminal, bears our guilt unto the firm execution that the law of God demands. He MUST be executed for God’s judgment to be fulfilled, and for justice to be served. His execution is agonizing to watch, even these 2,000 years later, and painful in its entirety – over 15 hours He is tried, beaten, mocked, insulted, whipped, had his beard ripped out, spat upon, punched, pierced, and eventually, without mercy, nailed to two rough pieces of wood where he eventually asphyxiates under his own weight. This, the spotless lamb of God, wholly unlike anything that this world has ever seen, has taken upon Himself the sins of the world.

Does that mean that He’s taken ALL the sins of the world? Can’t be. I mean, it’s POSSIBLE, but that’s not the case. If He had taken ALL the sins, then the universalists would be dead on the money: “You don’t need to know the name of Jesus to be saved, because He already paid for your sins before you were born.” If that were true, why then is there the constant claim that we must repent of our sins and trust in the work that Jesus has performed on our behalf. When Jesus first started His ministry, what were the words that He used?

“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel. ~ Mark 1:14-15

God is just and, as such, He cannot punish two people for the same crime. Either Jesus took all the sins away, and no one has any more guilt before God, or He took only the sins of those whom God the Father had given to Him John 17:6-19. Yet we see that people will be sent to the lake of fire in the final judgment before God for their crimes before Him:

“And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire ~ Revelation 20:9

and

“But as for the cowardly (those who walked away from the faith because of the fear of what others would say about them or fear for their lives), the faithless (who did not believe in the promises that God has given to them and distrusting God), the detestable (those who have committed abominations before God), as for murderers ( even idle words spoken in anger and not repented of – Mt 5:21-22), the sexually immoral (this is a given, but a quick reference can be found here, sorcerers (those who are involved in the occult and drugs), idolaters (anyone who places anything before their relationship with God), and all liars (This means everyone – because if you weren’t caught in any of the sins before here, then you are caught in this one. This is the net that catches all the stragglers. If you’ve never, EVER lied, then you’re free and clear here – I’ve never met someone who hadn’t lied in their life), their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death ~ Revelation 21:8“.

As we can see, God still punishes plenty of people. Not for their lack of faith in Jesus, but for their sins they have committed. Had they forsaken their sinful lives and abandoned all of their lusts and desires at the cross of Christ, then trusted in Him alone to save them from the wrath of God to come, they would be in the book of life and would be spared from the just punishment of God’s wrath on them for their sins.

How can you tell if you’re one of those whom He has chosen to save? You want to be saved, so much so that you are willing to abandon everything you have and everything you are to be near to Him. You are wholly convicted and you understand that there is nothing that you can do on your own to save yourself and you rely on God alone to save you from your sins. That’s how you can know that you’ve been chosen for salvation. It may not come today, or tomorrow, or even a year from now – but when it does come. Know that this was orchestrated by God since before He began the work of creation which brought this universe into existence.

May you carefully consider these things today and, if you feel convicted over it, talk to God. He alone is the only one who can save you from the wrath to come. Jesus, His Son, has paid for your sins on your behalf. Stripping your guilt from you, and along with it, the only thing the enemy could use to bring accusation against you before God the Father.

Most readers of Themelios will be aware that the word “perfectionism” is commonly attached in theological circles to one subset of the Wesleyan tradition. As far as I can tell, the numbers who defend such perfectionism today are rather depleted.

So begins an editorial by D.A. Carson on Perfectionism. The perfectionism that he is referencing in these, his opening sentences, is also called “entire sanctification” whereby a person who is saved by God can attain true, sinless perfection in their lives by their own will and God’s enabling grace. This is simply false – there is no perfection this side of the veil of death. We get glimpses of true perfection in the work of Christ revealed to us in scripture. Similarly, we see the shadows of it in our own lives while the Holy Spirit does His work in us by progressively striping off the layers of our sinful passions and idols like a huge rotting onion to enable us to do the work that God has placed before us. Perfection in this life? No way. Perfection in the glory with Christ? Guaranteed!

But how do we deal with the knowledge of our sins that our conversion produced within us and the acknowledgement that we’ll never be wholly sanctified until we reach Heaven? As I’ve often told others, each willful sin that we commit is another layer of flesh torn from our beloved Savior or another stripe added to His sensitive and hanging flesh as the Roman Soldier releases all of his energy on the bone and glass embedded leather straps of the flagellum. Each sin that we knowingly run toward, despite our conscience screaming at us to turn away wrath or lustful desires, is another agonizing breath that Jesus must struggle toward, bearing His weight on bare bone and torn flesh to lift Himself – opening recently closed wounds and exposing them to the air again, before finally breathing His last. How can we, as Christians, not seek perfectionism in our daily lives, and how can we not be flattened in horrid understanding as we realize that our fleeting moment of pleasures in our sins have now brought Jesus more agony and torture in our stead? It’s with this understanding that Carson’s quote ties me directly to his editorial:

Precisely because their consciences are sensitive, they are often ashamed by their own failures—the secret resentment that slips in, the unguarded word, the wandering eye, the pride of life, the self-focus that really does preclude loving one’s neighbor as oneself. To other believers who watch them, they are among the most intense, disciplined, and holy believers we know; to themselves, they are virulent failures, inconsistent followers, mere Peters who regularly betray their Master and weep bitterly.

D.A. Carson then, as usual, unpacks the thought process beautifully that leads to this understanding, then provides information that, while not entirely comforting to those who understand this mentality so dearly, at least reminds us that it was for this that the cross bore God on that Friday afternoon. The article, while not bringing total comfort, reminds me that God’s grace has already covered my sins and that, while horrid and disgusting to myself and God, it is in light of these things that God chose to save me. That He stepped into time and placed Himself in the breach to take the full punishment for my sins so that God would be glorified in His righteous judgment and so that all eyes would turn to Him and acknowledge His kindness and mercy.

May I seek perfection in this light, and may God continue to lift me out of my despair over my personal sins so that I may glorify Him while I still draw breath.

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