The Cry of the Repentant Believer

When do you look at yourself in a mirror? Upon waking (albeit scary)? When shaving or fixing your hair? Applying makeup? Getting ready to go out? Are there times when you don’t want to look at yourself—when you’re sick or haven’t had enough sleep? Many of us turn away from unpleasant things, even our own faces, but others stare like those rubber-necking on a highway. Horror movies are a real turn-off for me, as are scary previews on streaming channels. I grieve that our world has turned from the love of the beautiful to an insatiable appetite for that which is ugly and frightening. God’s way is the way of beauty; sin’s way is that of foulness. When God created the perfect world, he called it all good, and he delighted to walk with Adam and Eve in the garden. But after the first couple sinned, they hid from God, not wanting him to see their guilt, nakedness, and shame. Because God is omniscient, he knew, even before them, that they would be repulsive in his sight, as is all sin. Adam and Eve were hiding from themselves, their shame, guilt, and from their punishment for disobeying God. They were hiding from the very knowledge of evil that they had sought from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Isn’t that what we do—as soon as we sin, we realize that our motivation and desires were opposed to God’s? But God knows us and calls for us to repent, the same way he called out to Adam and Eve, asking, “Where are you?” (Genesis 2:9)

God’s omniscience & patience

Much later in the history of God’s rebellious people, the prophet Jeremiah faithfully carried God’s word to his people in exile. The Lord assured him, “For my eyes are on all their ways. They are not hidden from me, nor is their iniquity concealed from my eyes.” (Jeremiah 16:17) We may think we have secrets, but not with God, who knows every inclination of our hearts. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? ‘I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.’” (Jeremiah 17:9-10) The truth and implication of God’s omniscience is especially relevant for believers. Jesus said, “No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light. Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away.” (Luke 8:16-18) As we reflect on God’s ability to know everything in our hearts and minds, we should also cringe, knowing the less-than-pretty real-life movies he tolerates. I’m sure that is why David prayed, “Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities.” (Psalm 51:9) David knew that God is delighted to look with favor upon those who fear him and that he can’t hide from the Lord. So, instead, he begs God not to look at him and, further, to completely erase all his sins. David wanted to live “Coram Deo,” in God’s holy presence. When we repent, we are also begging God to help us live Coram Deo, with his face turned toward us, not away.

Lord, My Sins!

Micah predicted that his people in exile would “…cry to the Lord, but he will not answer them; he will hide his face from them at that time, because they have made their deeds evil.” (Micah 3:4) God’s silence is an authentic aspect of his judgment. In Romans 1-3, Paul expounds on God’s refusal to intercede for those who reject him—which is the opposite of what David sought and what we would desire if we love Christ. Will we cry out in repentance, like David, “Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquities?” God is faithful to forget our sins and remember them no longer (Jeremiah 31:34). Watson writes, “Have you been penitentially humbled? The Lord will never upbraid you with your former sins. After Peter wept we never read that Christ upbraided him with his denial of him. God has cast your sins into the depths of the sea (Mic. 7:19). How? Not as cork, but as lead. The Lord will never in a judicial way account for them. When he pardons, God is as a creditor that blots the debt out of his book (Isa. 43:25). Some ask the question, whether the sins of the godly shall be mentioned at the last day. The Lord said he will not remember them, and he is blotting them out.” (1) When Peter first met Jesus, he was confronted by the Lord’s miraculous provision of fish after a night of catching nothing. “When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord’” (Luke 5:8). “We must all, like Peter, own ourselves to be sinful men, therefore Jesus Christ might justly depart from us. But we must beseech him that he would not depart; for woe unto us if the Savior depart from sinners! Rather let us entreat him to come and dwell in our hearts by faith, that he may transform and cleanse them.” (2) “These words were not spoken by a demon or an enemy of Jesus, but by Simon Peter, his own disciple; when he sees the identity of Jesus, he says, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man.’ Holiness is scary, but oh, that all of us would understand the grace, mercy and compassion that is borne by that same Man of holiness who says to people whom he makes uncomfortable, ‘Fear not! Peace be with you!’” (3) David’s request for God to expunge his sins after his confession is a model for us, rather than Peter’s impulsive, ‘leave me!’ Let us rather confess and repent living “Coram Deo,” in God’s holy presence because of the love, mercy, righteousness, and atonement of Jesus Christ.

Search me, Lord!

“All of us are in danger of stopping short of full repentance. One might suppose that, having already repented a great deal, they have repented enough. This is anything but true, however, for repentance must never cease. Another might look around at others they know and think that their own repentance is so far ahead of the repentance of those other people that they can rest for a while. Yet in doing so, they add grievously to the terrible sin of pride that already besets them. Many face the incredible danger of a lazy and sluggish disposition that fully intends to repent but never really does. All are in danger of living certain sins and their pleasures so greatly that genuine repentance cannot happen.” (4) In Psalm 139, David expounds on God’s complete, infinite knowledge of his mind, heart, and ways. He draws close to his Creator to examine and guide him. “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…Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:1-4, 8) David’s is the cry of a repentant believer who has looked into a mirror and seen his failures, a real “doer” of God’s Word, as James describes. “For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (James 1:23-25). Lord, help us to seek your face in our ongoing repentance. “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace” (Numbers 6:24-26).

Related Scripture: Deuteronomy 31:17-18; 32:20; Joshua 7:19; 2 Chronicles 16:9; Job 14:13; 34:21-22; Psalm 10:1; 13:1; 27:8-9; Proverbs 5:21; Isaiah 6:5; 8:17; Jeremiah 16:17; 32:18-19; Ezekiel 39:29; Micah 3:4.

Notes

  1. Watson, Thomas, The Doctrine of Repentance, p. 98, Banner of Truth Trust, 2016 (1668)
  2. Henry, Matthew, Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible, Luke 5:8, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhn/luke-5.html
  3. Sproul, R. C., A Walk with God: An Exposition of Luke’s Gospel, Luke 5:8-11, Electronic Book, 2016.
  4. R Roberts, Richard Owen, Repentance: The First Word of the Gospel, pp. 282-283, Crossway, 2002

July 8, 2021

Sinning Against God’s Good Character

Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Teacher’s Day, Secretary’s Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Pastor’s Day—what do these days have in common? They celebrate people because we apparently need a special day to remember those we appreciate and respect. I am sure you would agree that we should value the men and women who fill these roles, rather than neglect them except on one particular day. Why do we need to hear God’s Word every Sunday to remember his divine attributes of righteousness, purity, perfection, goodness, mercy, grace, love, and justice? If we are honest with ourselves, it is because it is easier to forget him and his holy, perfect character than be continually reminded that we have fallen short. However, God has given us the means and the Spirit to help us repent, to raise our view of God rather than lower it. We exhibit our attitudes, beliefs, and perspectives about God by how we interact with others, set our priorities, order our days, and in how we will spend our time and money. Every time we fail to demonstrate his good character, we sin against him. In Psalm 51:4, David acknowledged his sin against God’s good character, person, and law. “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.” (Psalms 51:4) David sinned against Bathsheba and Uriah, but he recognized that he sinned against God in particular. As we meditate on his confession, let’s pray that we realize that all sin is an offense and rebellion toward God and his righteous character in himself and others.

Sinning against others is sinning against God.

Repentance is necessary because we are sinners with an inherent, corrupt view of God, ourselves, and others. Although believers have the Holy Spirit indwelling us, the sin of the world, Satan, and our sinful nature still influence us. (See Romans 7.) To be holier, kinder, more loving, patient, joyful, self-controlled, peaceful, good, gentle, merciful, and gracious—we must turn to God for continual improvement—our sanctification. Only when we actively seek the Lord’s help to mature spiritually will our godliness be demonstrated toward others, and therefore toward God. We serve God by serving others. We also love God by loving others and sin against God when we sin against others. In a parable about the final judgment, Jesus says that believers and professors of faith will be separated by their treatment of others, which points to their treatment of him. “‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’” (Matthew 25:44-45) Paul applies this principle in his first letter to the Corinthians church: “Sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.” (1 Corinthians 8:12) “What greater cruelty than to strike or beat…a sick and infirm man? And greater still to strike and wound his conscience…for a wounded spirit is insupportable without divine aid and influence; and what serves most to enhance the crime and guilt is, ye sin against Christ, who has so loved this weak brother as to die for him; and between whom there is so close an union, as between head and members; and…what is done to or against such a person, Christ takes as done to himself. (1) David knew this and therefore acknowledged his sin against God’s good character, person, and law when he sinned against Bathsheba and Uriah. Shouldn’t we, like David, recognize all sin as being an offense and rebellion toward God and his righteous character in himself and others—and repent?

What David Knew

“Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.” (Psalms 51:4)Have you interacted with the court system lately, or known someone who has? Then you know that lawyers usually argue to win cases by using the law to their best advantage, not necessarily seeking to have righteousness prevail. In both civil and criminal cases, the law is founded on the principles of a country’s constitution, not necessarily upon moral statutes (although we hope the constitution was created upon high moral standards). “‘Sin is ultimately a religious concept rather than an ethical one’ (Weiser).” (2) David broke the law of the time—but it was God’s law, not national law. I know that it is sin. In my judgment, this is the meaning of the much-discussed sentence ‘Against you, you only, have I sinned.’ I think J. J. Stewart Perowne is on the right track in his excellent treatment of this statement. He approaches it in two ways. First, sin by its very definition is against God, since it is only by God’s law that sin is defined as sin. A wrong done to our neighbor is an offense against humanity. In the eyes of the state, which measures wrongs by its own laws, that wrong may be a crime. Only before God is it a sin. Second, it is only because God is in the picture that even a wrong done to our neighbor is a wrong. It is because our neighbor is made in God’s image and is endowed with rights by God that it is wrong to harm him or her. Perowne writes, ‘All wrong done to our neighbor is wrong done to one created in the image of God; all tempting of our neighbor to evil is taking the part of Satan against God, and, so far as in us lies, defeating God’s good purpose of grace toward him. All wounding of another, whether in person or property, in body or soul, is a sin against the goodness of God.’” (3)

Remembering God’s Character for Repentance

In his book, “Repentance—The First Word of the Gospel,” Richard Roberts writes:

“Whenever you sin, whatever that sin may be, it is against God’s sovereign rights in creation. An act of murder is against God’s sovereignty. A lustful thought is equally against God’s sovereignty. No matter what the sin is, it is against God. No sin is considered so inconsequential by God that it is not an affront to him…No one can ever hope to live in genuine ongoing repentance who has never come to realize that the great evil of all sin consists in the fact that it is against God. You ought to focus upon God’s sovereign rights in creation. You ought to begin every day with sober, serious, scriptural thoughts about the God who made you and the reason for your existence. If you will return to these thoughts whenever possible throughout the day, you will find yourself powerfully motivated to repentance. But if you tolerate a degraded view of God’s sovereign rights, you will be robbed of this powerful and needed motivation…When motivation toward repentance is lessened, the tendency to justify self and excuse sin increases. It then becomes easy to live nine months or longer without repentance.

“A summation of David’s response to God in [Psalm 51:1-4] can be condensed into the following essential ingredients of all true repentance, the knowledge…

  1. that there is one true God who made him.
  2. that God made him for Himself, not himself.
  3. that it is God’s right to command, and to enforce all that He has commanded.
  4. of what God’s commands actually are.
  5. of which commands have been broken and the nature of the transgressions committed. 
  6. of the fate of the transgression.
  7. of what must happen for transgressions to be forgiven.” (4)

Revival Starts with Repentance

When I was serving as a missionary in Uganda, I heard references to the revival in 1999-2000. I most often heard the description of people meeting on the street and asking each other, “Have you repented today?” I later learned that the Uganda revival was part of a larger East African revival, including Rwanda, Kenya, and Tanzania. If we want to witness a revival, it must start with the repentance of unbelievers. And how will these, created in God’s image and given his general revelation, know what that means unless we model it? We who have God’s special revelation in Jesus Christ, who know God personally and scripturally, must recognize all sin as being an offense and rebellion toward God and his righteous character in himself and others—and repent of it. As we view and treat the people in our lives, we should be demonstrating Christ’s righteousness, unhindered by our low view of God and his creatures. “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” (Romans 3:21-22)

Related Scripture: 2 Samuel 12:13-14; 24:10; Ezra 10:10-14; Psalm 38:18; Matthew 18:5-6; Acts 9:5; Romans 15:5-7.

Notes

  1. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” 1 Corinthians 8:12, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/geb/1-corinthians-8.html
  2. Zondervan Bible Commentary, F. F. Bruce General Editor, Psalm 51:4, One-Volume Illustrated Digital Edition
  3. Boice, James, “Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Psalm 51:4” Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
  4. Roberts, Richard Owen, Repentance: The First Word of the Gospel, p. 155-159, Crossway, 2002.

July 1, 2021      

Repenting of Original Sin

When we meet someone new, often the first question that comes up is, “So what do you do (for work or ministry)?” We’ve heard the saying, “You are what you do.” Last year, Daniel Im published his book titled “You Are What You Do and Six Other Lies About Work, Life, & Love,” from a Christian viewpoint. He lists seven myths: you are what you do, what you experience, who you know, what you know, what you own, who you raise, and finally, you are your past. (1) “Daniel Im’s incisive cultural analysis is more than a big-picture overview of massive structural shifts. It’s an unflinching look at the way those shifts have changed our perception of ourselves, the world, and God. And his answer to these shifts is, thankfully, full of grace and truth. You Are What You Do is both a brutal excavation of our deepest assumptions and a healing balm for what ails us.” (2) As much as I appreciate our Christian authors, I wonder why we need a book to expose worldly lies when God has given us repentance for a “brutal excavation of our deepest assumptions and a healing balm for what ails us.” Christ, not a book, is our deliverance for original sin. Sin drives us to cultural solutions for soul problems, but Scripture compels us to our knees for transformation. Only Christ can provide the wisdom and freedom from preconceptions that deceive us.

David’s Confession of Original Sin

When King David sank to his knees, and God graciously preserved his confession for us in Psalm 51, a prayer of deep contrition over his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah. But David also confessed his sinful nature from birth and the need for God’s truth to reach his innermost heart. “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.” (Psalms 51:5-6) Perhaps you are wondering about why we should confess over something for which we are not responsible. The answer lies in the fact that David was remined of his sin-nature, not just his sinful acts. “David was in danger of confusing what he did with what he was; repenting of the acts of sin but failing to repent of the sin nature that had brought him down. Yes, David had a problem with what he did, but his greater problem was what he was. In the same way, our greatest problem is not what we do but what we are. When we come to repentance, it is never enough to repent of the things we have done; it is always mandatory that we repent of what we are. Our great problem is not merely that we have sinned but that we are sinners. And when we come to repentance it is never enough to turn away from what we have done—our sin. It is mandatory that we turn from what we are—sinners. We are not sinners because we sin; we sin because we are sinners.” (4) The more we meditate on and are broken by our sinfulness, the more we are freed from it to delight in God’s truth about who we are in Christ. Saint Augustine wrote, “Too narrow is the house of my soul for you to enter into it: let it be enlarged by you. It lies in ruins; build it up again. I confess and I know that it contains things that offend your eyes…Lord, all this you know. Have I not accused myself to you, my God, of my sins, and have you not forgiven the iniquity of my heart? I do not contend in judgment with you who are truth itself. I do not deceive myself, lest my iniquity lie to itself.” (3)  “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalms 51:17)

Jesus Christ—the Only Sinless Man

There is only one man who does not need to be broken by his sinfulness—Jesus Christ. We may never quite comprehend how Mary’s sinfulness didn’t transfer to him, but he, alone of all humans, was indeed utterly sinless. In comparison, every other one of us must declare, like David, that “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalms 51:5) We often confess our appreciation and worship Christ for his atoning sacrifice made on our behalf when our sins were laid on him. But do we remember that his perfect human obedience qualified him to be our substitute, taking our punishment for us? “Let us be deeply humbled and mourn before the Lord for original sin. We have lost that pure quintessential frame of soul that once we had. Our nature is vitiated with corruption. Original sin has diffused itself as a poison into the whole man, like the Jerusalem artichoke which, wherever it is planted, soon overruns the ground…This primitive corruption is bitterly to be bewailed because we are never free from it. It is like a spring underground, which though it is not seen, yet it still runs. We may as well stop the beating of the pulse as strop the motions to sin. This inbred depravity retards and hinders us to that which is spiritual: ‘the good that I would do I do not’ (Rom. 7:19)…Sin does not come as a lodger for a night, but as an indweller (Rom 7:17). Original sin is inexhaustible. This ocean cannot be emptied. Though the stock of sin spends, yet it is not all diminished…Original corruption is like the widow’s oil which increased by pouring out [2 Kings 4:1-7]. Another wedge to break our hearts is that original sin mixes with the very habits of grace. Hence it is that our actings toward heaven are so dull and languid…As bad lungs cause an asthma or shortness of breath, so original sin having infected our heart, our graces breathe now very faintly. Thus we see what in original sin may draw forth our tears. Let us lament the corruption of our will and senses. Let us grieve for the diversion of our affections. They are taken off the proper object. The affections, like arrows, shoot beside the mark. At the beginning our affections were wings to fly to God; now they are weights to pull us from him. Let us grieve for the inclinations of our affections.” (5) 

Christ’s Wisdom & the Spirit’s Witness 

David wisely recognized and dealt with his utter sinfulness as he humbled himself with the Lord. “He who was born of religious parents, was famous for his early piety, and from whose seed the Messiah sprung, it may well be concluded to be the case…he having been, from his conception and formation, nothing else but a mass of sin, a lump of iniquity and, in his evangelical repentance for them, he is led to take notice of and mourn over the corruption of his nature, from whence they arose.” (6) But David also knew that drawing close to God through his brokenness would result in more truth and wisdom as he continued to walk with the Lord. “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart” (Psalm 51:6). This reminds me of Paul’s prayer for his Colossian brothers and sisters–“that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:2-4) When we read of David confessing his sinful nature from birth and God’s provision of profound wisdom, should we not also be compelled to confess our sinful nature and delight in God’s insightful truth that results from it? “True repentance must always go beyond the specific acts of sin. It must include turning from what we are—sinners by nature and sinners by birth. Has this vital truth broken the unplowed ground of your heart? Has it registered in your life in such a way as to lead you to the most profound repentance possible? Or have you been living with the myth that it is enough to turn from the evil you have done? Face the facts: every one of us was born in sin. Sin has a vise-like grip on our lives. It has contaminated everything we are and do. You might have repented a thousand times of specific sins you have committed, but it is not until you repent of what you are that true repentance begins.” (8) “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” (Romans 8:14-17)

Related Scripture: Job 15:14; Psalm 58:1-3; Romans 5:12-15; 7:17-19; Ephesians 2:1-5;  

Notes:

  1. Im, Danial, “You Are What You Do and Six Other Lies About Work, Life, & Love, Kindle Edition, B&H Publishing Group Nashville, Tennessee, 2020. 
  2. Im, Ibid, Inside Cover, Review by Richard Clark, podcast producer, host, and manager with Christianity Today.
  3. St. Augustine, The Confessions of St. Augustine, trans. John K. Ryan, Image Books, New York, 1960. 
  4. Roberts, Richard Owen, Repentance: The First Word of the Gospel, pp. 114-115, Crossway, 2002
  5. Roberts, Ibid.
  6. Watson, Thomas, The Doctrine of Repentance, pp. 73-74, Banner of Truth Trust, 2016 (1668).
  7. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Psalm 51:5,  https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/psalms-51.html
  8. Roberts, Ibid.

June 24, 2021              

Repenting of Insensibility and Lukewarmness

Do you watch HGTV with the home renovator celebrities redo old houses or the Food Network? Maybe you watch the Travel Channel, Animal Planet, or other reality TV shows. When we are watching these shows we are passive. But when we engage in home renovation ourselves, cooking, traveling, or training our dogs, we become more invested and passionate about the project and hopefully about those who will benefit from it. Simply watching someone else will probably result in a casual interest that can easily be replaced by something else. Likewise, we can become casual, lukewarm, and even insensible toward God if we act like observers of his Word rather than doers. Walking with God isn’t for the faint-hearted if we do so biblically. But so often, we move through our days as if taking the Lord for granted and not showing him any particular attention. This can lead to replacing him with other ideals or values, causing us to move further away from him rather than growing closer. Israel, called by the Lord to glorify him among the nations, was guilty of this. Like Israel, the Body of Christ doesn’t exist to make us comfortable or free from troubles, although there is great peace in our covenant with God. He called us to be set apart so that others will be drawn to him, through our holiness and zeal for Christ.

A Warning and Advice for Insensible Christians

John’s letter to the church in Laodicea contains a warning to believers about their lukewarmness toward God. The Lord gave John a well-known illustration of the problem. “The waters of the nearby Lycus River were muddy and undrinkable, and water flowing by aqueduct from hot springs 5 miles (8 km) away were lukewarm when they reached Laodicea.  Likewise, Jesus found his church’s tepid indifference repugnant. Cold and hot water represent something positive, for cold water refreshes in the heat, and hot water is a tonic when one is chilly.” (1) “Because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” (Revelation 3:16-19) “Revelation 3:14 represents the members of this church as lukewarm, and very disagreeable to him and as having a vain opinion of themselves, being ignorant of their real state and case, wherefore he gives them some wholesome counsel and advice, suitable to their condition, and whereas there were some among them he loved, he lets them know that his rebukes and chastenings were from love, and with a view to stimulate them to zeal, and bring them to repentance, which became them..” (2) God calls on the Laodicean church to repent of their spiritual insensibility, nakedness, poverty—to be refined and receive God’s rich, holy covering for their shame. We, like the Laodiceans, need to zealously repent of our insensibility—feeling ashamed and desiring God’s riches and covering for our spiritual poverty.

The Good Shame of Repentance 

“The shame that accompanies repentance is not momentary but permanent. Every new sin produces new shame to such an extent that it is even possible to state, ‘All day long my dishonor is before me, and my humiliation has overwhelmed me.’ (Psalm 44:15). That is not to suggest that there is no joyous sense of forgiveness, but no matter how great the sense of freedom in having been delivered from sin becomes, the capacity to blush over sin is ever with the repentant. In the letter to the church of Laodicea we find an urgent word on shame…The truly repentant cannot say that they have need of nothing, for they know absolutely that they are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked. In true repentance and faith they have bought the refiner’s gold, they are made rich by the God of heaven, the shame of their nakedness is covered with the white robe of Christ’s righteousness, and their eyes are so anointed that they see and blush over every sin.” (3) In Psalm 44:1-8, God’s people remember and rehearse how God graciously delivered his people from destruction by their enemies. But this retelling isn’t their best engagement with him.  Starting in verse 9 the psalmist engages with the Lord about their current trial. God calls his people to engage with the Lord, seeking his righteousness in all our circumstances, repenting of any laziness or disinterest in testifying to his great unfailing loyalty through sincere confession and repentance.

Why We Don’t Repent

“Men do not apprehend that they need repentance. They thank God that all is well with them, and they know nothing that they should repent of: ‘thou sayest, I am rich and have need of nothing (Rev. 3:17). He who apprehends not any distemper in his body will not take the physic prescribed. This is the mischief sin has done, it has not only made us sick, but senseless. When the Lord bade the people return to him, they answered stubbornly, ‘Wherein shall we return?’ (Mal. 3:7). So when God bids men repent, they say, ‘Wherefore should we repent? They know nothing they have done amiss. There is surely no disease worse than that which is apoplectically.”’ (Apoplexy is a malady, sudden in its attack, which arrests the powers of sense and motion).” (4) John Gill writes that “true believers…stand in need of nothing indeed, they are complete in him, and have everything in him; but, as considered in themselves, they are daily in need of daily food for their souls, as for their bodies, of fresh light and life, strength and comfort, and of new supplies of grace…true believers account themselves wretched, as the Apostle Paul did, on account of indwelling sin, and the plague of their own hearts…and miserable…some persons neither know their misery, nor their need of mercy.” (5) Just as God calls on the Laodicean church to repent, he calls us to repent of our spiritual insensibility, desiring God’s covering for our shame.

The Blessing of a Father’s Reproof

“I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.” (Revelation 3:18-19) “[God’s] advice is always wholesome, good, and suitable, is hearty, sincere, and faithful, and is freely given, and is wise and prudent; and, being taken, infallibly succeeds…none are rich but those who have an interest in Christ and his grace…and such are rebuked by Christ, not in a way of wrath, but in a tender manner, in order to bring them under a conviction of their sin and of their duty, and of their folly in trusting in, or loving any creature more than himself, and of all their wrong ways; and they are chastened by him, not in a vindictive, but in a fatherly way, which is instructive and teaching to them, and for their good…zeal was what was wanting in this {Laodicean] church…Christ would have her be ‘zealous’ for God; for his cause and interest, for his Gospel, ordinances, and the discipline of his house, and against everything that is evil…and repent of her lukewarmness, remissness, and supineness; of her pride, arrogance, and vain boastings of herself; and of her self-sufficiency, self-dependence, and self-confidence.” (6) Aren’t we the same, if not constantly, but in particular situations, or with certain people?

Sheltered by God’s Voice

“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” (v. 20) “[God knocks]not as a homeless transient seeking shelter but as the master of the house, expecting alert servants to respond immediately to his signal and welcome his entrance. To the one who opens the door, Christ will come in and will eat with him, a picture of close personal fellowship. (7) Jesus wants us to engage with him, rather than merely think about him, and definitely not forget him as we attend to work, family, or other pursuits. “Let us examine ourselves by the rule of his word, and pray earnestly for the teaching of his Holy Spirit, to take away our pride, prejudices, and worldly lusts. Sinners ought to take the rebukes of God’s word and rod, as tokens of his love to their souls.” (8) “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” (Proverbs 3:11-12)

Related Scripture: Psalm 19:8; Proverbs 8:19; Isaiah 55:1-4; Hosea 12:7-9; Zechariah 11:4-6; Matthew 25:1-10; Luke 12:35-40; John 9:39-41; 1 Corinthians 4:8-9; Ephesians 1:17-21; Hebrews 12:6.

Notes:

  1. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Revelation 3:14-21, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  2. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Introduction to Revelation 3, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/revelation-3.html
  3. Roberts, Richard Owen, “Repentance: The First Word of the Gospel,” pp. 190-191, Crossway, 2002.
  4. Watson, Thomas, “The Doctrine of Repentance, The Removing of the Impediments to Repentance,” Banner of Truth Trust, 2016 (1668).
  5. Gill, Ibid, Rev. 3:16-17.
  6. Gill, Ibid, Rev. 3:18-19.
  7. ESV Study Bible Notes, Ibid, Rev.3:20
  8. Henry, Matthew, “Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible, Revelation 3:14-20, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhn/revelation-3.html

June 17, 2021

Deep Cleaning of Pride and Legalism

Do you wash your car, vacuum cleaner, or oven regularly? I try to keep my car clean, but from time to time, I notice how filthy it is where the car door hinges to the body. I think, “Oh, I should clean that soon,” and then completely forget about it until the next time I notice the filth. Ditto for my oven and vacuum. Some dirt is easy to spot. Most of us want to get rid of the obvious mud that gets tracked into our homes or the discarded packaging from delivered things. But small amounts of dirt and dust turn into grime when we neglect cleaning. It’s the same with our hearts and minds. We can fall into the bad habit of realizing we have ungodly or rebellious thoughts and desires and think, “Oh, I need to talk with God about that soon and confess,” and then forget about it. But God uses all our circumstances—together with His Word—to teach us how to walk with him. He often uses our relationships, advice from others, work issues, family projects, or significant life changes to sanctify us, teaching us to confess immediately for quick repentance. I wondered what would happen when I moved pieces of furniture that haven’t been moved for over four years? If I hadn’t done some spring cleaning in March, I would have found filthy baseboards and floors behind my heaviest pieces, but I only saw a buildup of a few months rather than years. We should keep  “short accounts” of our sins or offenses, Christian jargon for confessing our sins before they become filthy issues that require significant reconciliation with God and others. 

We Need What Israel Needed 

“There are those who are clean in their own eyes but are not washed of their filth.” (Proverbs 30:12) Although Proverbs 30:12 points to those who do not know God as we do, we are still vulnerable to those sins of our former unbelief or snares from Satan. They, “in their own eyes, in their own conceit and imagination, trusting in themselves that they are righteous…have not their eyes opened or enlightened to see [what we can see]—the plague of their own hearts, the spirituality of the law of God, the perfection righteousness requires; the righteousness and holiness of God himself; or the imperfection and insufficiency of their own. Did they, they would not seem pure and righteous to themselves.” (1) In the Book of Isaiah, the prophet presents everything and everyone by their relationship with God. A key theme in Isaiah is Israel’s offense toward God with outwardly impressive religious rituals that conceal empty hearts. Another theme is man’s duty to repent, trusting in the holy God who rules all things. See Isaiah 66:1-4; 28:16-17; 31:1. (2) Any time we move forward in life without any idea of God’s involvement, we are in danger of trusting in ourselves or others as if we are pure. Either we admit that we are weak, tempted, and unrighteous, in need of frequent cleaning, or we move away from the Lord as Israel did, leading to God’s dramatic discipline. We, like Israel, are prone to prideful self-confidence and legalism, which we must repent of if we want inner cleanliness and intimacy with Christ. 

Either Like the Pharisee or the Tax Collector

We should never take for granted the work of God’s Spirit in us, thinking that our salvation somehow precludes us from vanity and pretentiousness. Scripture is rich in its teaching about the dangers of these sins. “There are those—how lofty are their eyes, how high their eyelids lift!” (Proverbs 30:13) “Above others, on whom they look with scorn and contempt; as those who have more riches than others, and boast of them; they despise their poor neighbours, and disdain to look upon them: and such also who have more knowledge and wisdom than others, or at least think so; they are puffed up in their fleshly minds, and say of the illiterate or less knowing, as the proud Pharisees did, ‘this people, who knoweth not the law, are cursed:’ and likewise those who fancy themselves more holy and righteous than others; these, in a scornful manner, say, ‘stand by thyself, I am holier than thou;’ and thank God they are not as other men are, as publicans and sinners.” (Gill on Prov. 30:13) We should not exclude passages that compare believers with unbelievers since we usually don’t measure up to Jesus’s standard in his parables, miracles, and teaching. In Luke 18, Jesus told a parable to “some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: “God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.” But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.’” (Luke 18:9-14) “The Pharisee does not really pray at all. He asks God for nothing, and his thanksgiving is merely a form. He glances at God, but contemplates himself. He thanks God for what he is, not for what God is.” (3) The Pharisee was as close to the holy place in the temple as possible, but the Tax collector was far away. The holy place did not scare the Pharisee at all, unlike Peter who fell and asked Jesus to depart from him (Luke 5:8). “Sinful people don’t rush into the presence of the holy, they flee from the presence of the holy. The tax collector was in fear and trembling just in the outer court, not even able to lift his gaze to heaven, but only on the floor, beating his breast. He begged God to be merciful to him, who only had his sin, without any excuses for it. He knew that only God’s grace could help him.” (4) The Pharisee was one of the most respected religious leaders in Israel but trusted in his position and deeds for God’s approval, which hindered him from being washed from his spiritual filth. We can also fall into that trap, sometimes just for a day. That’s when we should cry out for mercy, like the tax collector, to be washed by Christ, confessing our prideful independence.

Deep Cleaning 

Those who think they are sinless and will not be washed by God become spiritually filthy, just like our floors under our furniture when untouched. But we have the privilege of confessing our pride and legalism, so it doesn’t build up into rubbish that separates us from the Lord. Most people don’t like to do deep cleaning—it isn’t easy or fun—although there are a few people who enjoy it. We do it because it helps our homes, garages, cars, appliances, tools, and furniture to last longer and look better. Doing the deep cleaning of our hearts isn’t fun or enjoyable like worship, fellowship, hospitality, or service. Repentance is hard work, and it should be continuous. Perhaps we ought to think of it like looking at the contents of our fridges. Cleaning out the refrigerator keeps it from reeking of spoiled food, with the stench spilling over into our kitchens. In the same way, the filth of unconfessed pride or self-justification dirties our relationships and witness. “It is not enough to admit that one is a sinner. One has to repent of that. In fact, to acknowledge that we are sinners and not repent of it, is to blaspheme God. This tax-collector here not only recognized that he was a sinner, he also confessed it before God and begged God for mercy…When we come into the presence of God, let us come not with an attitude of self-justification, but with an attitude of dependence upon his mercy. For the point at issue here was not the track-record of the Pharisee or tax-collector, but the present attitude of their minds towards God.” (5) “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.  Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.” (James 4:8-10)

Related Scripture: Job 9:30-31; Proverbs 16:2; 21:2; 30:32; Jeremiah 2:22-23; Daniel 9:19; Matthew 5:20; 6:5-13; Luke 11:42-44; Hebrews 10:19-22; 1 Peter 3:21; Revelation 3:17; 7:14.

Notes:

  1. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Proverbs 30:12, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/proverbs-32.html
  2. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Introduction to Isaiah—Key Themes, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  3. Zondervan Bible Commentary, F. F. Bruce General Editor, Luke 18:9-14, One-Volume Illustrated Digital Edition.
  4. Ligonier Ministries, The Pharisee and the Tax Collector devotion, https://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/pharisee-and-tax-collector/
  5. Sproul, R. C., “A Walk with God: An Exposition of Luke’s Gospel,” Luke 18:9-14, Electronic Book, 2016.

June 10, 2021   

Desiring Inner Cleanliness

I’ve been waiting to move for two months. But we didn’t know when the contractor would complete the renovation work on the other apartment. So I thought it best to pack up all my drawer and cabinet contents after hauling off useless things to the thrift store and Salvation Army. After that, I looked for non-essentials to pack. So now there are boxes in sight everywhere I look. However, to offset this, I have relieved myself of things I hadn’t used in four years, cleaned out closets, and furniture. Despite living in a messy environment, I have inner peace about moving only those things I want to keep. I don’t function well in a disorderly environment, but the boxes remind me that life is always messy, unpredictable, and in a state of change. We have and still are living through a chaotic pandemic that called for us to keep ourselves and our environments clean. I think it’s not a coincidence that my theme for June is desiring cleanliness within, with God, and in our relationships. It’s time to take a hard look at Psalm 51. King David had some pretty messy relationships and two in which he sinned gravely. His confession and desire for cleanliness in Psalm 51 is striking and should be a model for ours. David’s repentance is proved by his never-repeating (to our knowledge) the acts of adultery and murder. He desired and received God’s loving, abundant mercy to be washed thoroughly of his sin. My prayer is that we will turn to God for his loving mercy to be forgiven and cleansed, leading to sincere repentance.

David’s Desire For a Clean Heart

One of the things we often do that David didn’t do was justify our sins and lack of contrition when we know we have erred against God and others. But David gives us a model for accepting God’s righteous judgment on sin, even before consequences appear. (See v. 4.) David had a true friend in Nathan who confronted him, allowing David to confess and repent. As a result, he had the strength to bear God’s discipline of the death of his sin-child and his future as a man of war. (See 2 Samuel 12:1-23.) David’s desire for spiritual cleanliness is the desire of every true believer. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!…Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow…Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.” (Psalms 51:1-2, 7, 9) Matthew Henry writes, “Those that truly repent of their sins, will not be ashamed to own their repentance…The believer longs to have the whole debt of his sins blotted out, and every stain cleansed; he would be thoroughly washed from all his sins; but the hypocrite always has some secret reserve, and would have some favorite lust spared.” (1) Psalm 51 calls us to look into our hearts to know if we sincerely desire to be cleansed of our sin and confess any favorite ungodly passion that we might hold back because of its tight grip on us. 

Only By God’s Mercy

“Mercy is the sole basis of any approach to God by sinners . We cannot come to God on the basis of his justice; justice strikes us with fear and causes us to hide from him. We are not drawn to God by his wisdom; wisdom does not embolden us, though we stand in awe of it. No more does omniscience, omnipotence, or omnipresence. The only reason we dare come to God and dare hope for a solution to our sin problem is his mercy.” (2) “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.” (Psalm 51:1) “David, under a sense of sin, does not run away from God, but applies unto him, and casts himself at his feet, and upon his mercy; which shows the view he had of his miserable condition, and that he saw there was mercy in God, which gave him hope; and upon his bended knees, and in the exercise of faith, he asks for it; according to thy lovingkindness; not according to his merits, nor according to the general mercy of God, which carnal men rely upon; but according to his everlasting and unchangeable love in Christ.” (3) John Gill notes that David’s sin is complicated—it involves not only his specific sin against Uriah and Bathsheba but also his original sin (v. 5). But, “The mercy of God is plenteous and abundant; he is rich in it, and various are the instances of it; and it is exceeding tender, like that of a father to his children, or like that of a mother to the son of her womb; and from this abundant and tender mercy springs the forgiveness of sin. The psalmist makes mention of the multitude of the mercies of God, because of the multitude of his sins, which required a multitude of mercy to forgive, and to encourage his hope of it.” (4) If we think we are empty of sin, we should consider our culture’s pressure to meddle in the affairs of others, gossip, slander, and impugn others. “There is so much of this in the Christian world today, and it generates so little disapproval.” (5) Can we still say we are without sin, without the need to repent? Do we think God’s Spirit in us enjoys our “secret” sins or ungodly motives?

Purge, Wash, Blotted Out My Sins

“Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow…Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.” (Ps. 51:7, 9) ) “The terms wash and cleanse come from the ceremonial system, where they refer to rites that allow a person to come safely into God’s presence. Here the psalm focuses on the inner condition that the ceremony points to.” (6) “Cleanse means “purge.’ It is based on the word for sin and literally means ‘de-sin’ me. David wanted to have his sin completely purged away. He did not want to retain even a stain of it…Wash refers to the lustrations of the law. Centuries later Isaiah would write, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.’ (Isa. 1:18)…David wanted to be washed until he was as clean as that. ‘Blot out’ refers to removing writing from a book, perhaps removing an indictment. This is what David wanted and what we all desperately need. The books of our lives have been written upon with many sins, and these stand as a terrible indictment against us. Unless something is done, they are going to be read out against us at the last day. But God can and will do something, if we ask him. God will rub out the ancient writing, turn the pages sideways, and write over the newly prepared surface the message of his everlasting compassion through the work of Jesus Christ…When Moses had proclaimed every commandment of the law to all the people, he took the blood of calves, together with water, scarlet wool and branches of hyssop, and sprinkled the scroll and all the people.’” (7) David desired and received God’s loving, abundant mercy to be washed thoroughly of his sin, to remove his shame before God.

Clean and No Longer Ashamed

David, “being now ashamed of them himself, and ashamed that any should see them, and especially his God; and being filthy and nauseous, he knew they must be abominable to him, who is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity…they might be cast behind his back, and into the depths of the sea; and blot out all mine iniquities; as in Psalms 51:1; here repeated, to show his deep sense of them, and his great importunity for the forgiveness of them.” (8) We who are in Christ, who already know and have his loving, abundant mercy to be forgiven and cleansed—are we not seeking sincere repentance for our remaining sins? The messiness of life, afflictions, injuries, and relationships is no excuse for rebellion or stubbornness. “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:19-23)

Related Scripture: Exodus 12:22-23; 19:10; Leviticus 14:1-8a; Psalm 90:8; Isaiah 1:18; Ezekiel 36:25-27; Zechariah 13:1; Ephesians 2:4-7; Hebrews 9:198-22; 1 John 1:7; Revelation 14:14-17.

Notes:

  1. Henry, Matthew, “Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible, Psalm 51:1-6, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhn/psalms-51.html
  2. Boice, James, “Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Psalm 51, Part 1,” Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
  3. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Psalm 51:1, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/psalms -51.html
  4. Gill, Ibid.
  5. Challies, Tim, Respectable Sins of the Reformed World, July 15, 2020, https://www.challies.com/articles
  6. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Psalm 51:1-2, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  7. Boice, Ibid.
  8. Gill, Ibid, Psalm 51:9.

June 3, 2021   

Freed to Repent

We live in a world that endorses and produces “news,” which is opinions, political commentaries, and whatever is trending more than reporting on actual events. It’s no wonder that we feel manipulated so much of the time. We must discern these influences if we want to maintain a correct view of the world. Have you ever been personally manipulated? I don’t mean people forceful about their opinions, who outwardly disagree with you, or have even shunned you because you hold different values or beliefs. Manipulation is subtle. It is “the action of manipulating something in a skillful manner” or “influencing or controlling someone or something to your advantage, often without anyone knowing it.” (1) Someone once convinced me that I was a particular kind of person and I believed it for about five years. My lifestyle, conduct, values, and personal choices all reflected my wrong belief about myself. I have no doubt this was one way that the devil tried to keep me from coming to faith in Christ since it was someone who had had a kind of faith that I thought was real at the time. But I was liberated from the relationship and false view of myself. Years later, Christ brought me into his glorious family. Those five years were enslavement to a lie, with continuous sin at work. I value confession and repentance so much because I have been forgiven so much.

Sinners Don’t Make a Practice of Sinning.

In the second and third chapters of 1 John, the apostle expounds on the theme of overcoming the antichrist by confession of the Son and no longer practicing sin regularly as we did when we were children of the devil. “Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive youWhoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him; and he cannot keep on sinning, because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother.” (1 John 3:4-10) Of course, we still sin, but hopefully only occasionally. Believers repent rather than allow sin to become a practice as we did before or as others do, who are under the devil’s control. “When all the basics of faith are in operation, we not only know joy but can live a holy life and be assured of salvation even though we are still far from perfect.” (2) 

Satan’s manipulation

In Lewis’s brilliant satirical book, “The Screwtape Letters,” the demon Screwtape mentors his nephew Wormwood to keep his “patients” (earthly folk) from God. “The only thing that matters is the extent to which you separate the man from the Enemy [God]. It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts.” (3) But we who have been freed from Satan’s domination and overwhelming influence may confess and repent regularly to break the cycle of sin from the devil, the world, and our flesh. Sometimes Satan does his work by making our sins seem overwhelming, so we can’t imagine that God will forgive us. Other times, the devil wants us to compare ourselves to others who are more sinful to manipulate us into thinking there’s nothing we have done so wrong. “The devil himself takes great delight in assisting you in thinking that you have never done anything worthy of God’s punishment (if indeed there is a God) and in helping you to suppose that repentance is a very radical matter needed only by sinners much worse than yourself.” (4) We repent because we have not been glorified yet and are continually being sanctified—to be more holy as we mature in our Christian walk. 

Christians Handle Sin Differently

“Not everyone that sins, or commits acts of sin…is of the devil, because no man lives without the commission of sin; but he who makes sin his constant business, and the employment of his life, whose life is a continued series of sinning, he is of the devil…by imitation, being like him, and so of him their father, doing his lusts, living continually in sin, as he does, and so resemble him, as children do their parents; and hereby also appear to be under his government and influence, to be led captive by him at his will, and so to belong to him.” (5) Would my family and neighbors agree that they are under the devil’s influence “just because” they don’t believe in Jesus Christ? Absolutely not—and that is partly because of the devil’s expert manipulation. However, we know that all those who don’t belong to Christ and are not in God’s family are under the power of Satan, who “disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness.” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15). We know that Christ will forgive our sins. “’I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.’ And [Jesus] said to her, ‘Your sins are forgiven. Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, ‘Who is this, who even forgives sins?’ And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’” (Luke 7:47-48)

Christian Faith: Repentance for Peace

Regular repentance for our tendencies to sin protects us when God cleanses our hearts and minds and helps us turn to Him. Coming closer to the Lord, we are influenced more by His grace, mercy, and love. “A person is saved by faith in Jesus Christ…In itself this act does not destroy the works of the devil, which are many. But it is the first step. Indeed, it is as Christians come to Christ and are united to him by faith that they receive the power to turn from sin and the devil’s works and thus begin to live a holy life before God. The devil’s works are not yet totally destroyed…[But] now the Christian can live in that knowledge and can escape from sin’s tyranny.” (6) “Renewing grace is an abiding principle…the regenerate person cannot sin as he did before he was born of God, and as others do who are not born again. There is that light in his mind, which shows him the evil and malignity of sin. There is that bias upon his heart, which disposes him to loathe and hate sin. There is the spiritual principle that opposes sinful acts. And there is repentance for sin, if committed. It goes against him to sin with forethought.” (7) We don’t practice sin as others do who are under the devil’s control. Instead, we are to pray for our attentiveness to sin, confess, and repent, to receive the peace that comes from our liberation through Christ. 

The Holy Spirit Opposes Satan’s Influence.

The Believer does not commit a sinful act “as to be the servant of it, a slave unto it, or to continue in it; and that for this reason: for [Christ’s] seed remains in him…the grace of the Spirit, the internal principle of grace in the soul, the new nature, or new man formed in the soul, is meant; which seminally contains all grace in it, and which, like seed, springs up and gradually increases, and always abides; and is pure and incorruptible, and neither sins itself, nor encourages sin, but opposes, checks, and prevents it…it is the workmanship of the Holy Spirit of God; it is a good work, and well pleasing: in the sight of God, who is of purer eyes than to behold sin with delight.” (8) “The hearts of genuine Christians (those who are truly children of God) have been so transformed that they cannot live in a pattern of continual sin.” (9) Christ has freed us to enjoy his holiness. “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 2:1-2a)

Related Scripture: Psalms 40:17; 55:22  Matthew 6:25-34; 24:42-45; Ephesians 4:26-27;  Timothy 2:24-26; James 4:7-10; 1 John 1:7; 2:18.

Notes:

  1. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/manipulate
  2. English Standard Version The Holy Bible, Introduction to 1 John, ESV Text Edition: 2016, Crossway Bibles.
  3. Lewis, C. S., “The Screwtape Letters,” pp. 60-61, HarperOne, Kindle Edition.
  4. Roberts, Richard Owen, “Repentance-The First Word of the Gospel,” Crossway, 2002.
  5. Henry, Matthew, “Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Bible, 1 John 3:1-10, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/mhn/1-john-3.html
  6. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” 1 John 3:8, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/geb/1-john-3.html
  7. Boice, James, “Boice Expositional Commentary Series,” 1 John 3:4-10, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
  8. Gill, Ibid, 1 John 3:9.
  9. Boice, Ibid. 

May 27, 2021  

Repenting of Self-Righteousness

Have you ever reached for something on your dresser in the darkness in the middle of the night? I sometimes do that in the bathroom, not wanting to turn on the light. If I am searching for a particular medicine among several, I am careful to find the right one. But I might take something that will keep me awake instead of helping me with my pain to get back to sleep. When we try to fix our problems or make decisions in the dark, we are in great danger of reaching wrong conclusions and sinning against God and others in the process without the light of God’s wisdom. Do you have strong opinions about politics, law enforcement, international relations, community development, the CDC, or a decision with your spouse or for your children? Self-righteousness and judgmentalness are two of the most challenging character faults to overcome because we are often blind to them. We move through our lives blind to our presumptions until we are confronted by others or shaken by natural consequences. But rather than be threatened by the truth, as if blindfolded, we ought to be thankful for opportunities to see our shortcomings.

Sightless to the Truth

Once there was a man blind from birth who met Jesus Christ but didn’t know who him. Christ healed his physical sight and later his spiritual eyes to know Christ, the merciful, compassionate God who forgives. But the proud, sanctimonious Jewish leaders who rejected Jesus remained blind to their self-righteousness and refused to believe that he is the Son of God and promised Messiah, who came to save sinners like them. “[The Pharisees] called the man who had been blind and said to him, ‘Give glory to God. We know that this man [Jesus] is a sinner.’ He answered, ‘Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.’…And they reviled him…We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.’ The man answered, ‘Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him…They answered him, ‘You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?’ And they cast him out. Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered, ‘And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.’ He said, ‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshiped him. Jesus said, ‘For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.’ Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, ‘Are we also blind?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, “We see,” your guilt remains.’” (John 9:24-41)  

Knowing What We Don’t Know

The unbelieving Pharisees wrongly accused Jesus of being a sinner and the formerly blind man of sinning before he was born. They were blind to the truth but thought they were exemplary and knowledgeable when they were as wrong as they could possibly be. The man in this story is impressive in his transparency and humility, admitting that he didn’t know how Jesus healed him or who Jesus even was. Then, with Jesus, he acknowledged that he didn’t know him to be the Son of Man, and therefore didn’t believe in him. He is a model for us even if we know Christ, in that he was an open book with nothing to hide. Let’s agree that we who are no longer blind to sin should ask the Lord to expose our judgmentalness and arrogance for confession and repentance. On the other hand, the Pharisees, whose eyes had probably been in Old Testament God’s Word for decades were blinded by their legalistic superiority and prejudice. They didn’t know what they didn’t know and therefore remained guilty of unbelief, the unforgivable sin. “Each of the parties in this report said both ‘we know’ and ‘we do not know.’ But both the parents and Pharisees said ‘we know’ first and, only after that, acknowledged that there was something they did not know…Both of these groups were most interested in what they did know, and as a result, were either cowardly or else knew nothing. The man born blind began with an admission of his ignorance…in Christianity, we begin with our ignorance, just as we begin with our sin. We acknowledge both our inability in spiritual things and our shortcomings. Thus, we acknowledge that unless God chooses to reveal himself—which he has done in his Word and in Jesus Christ—we can know nothing.” (1) 

Humbly Confessing Our Ignorance

The Pharisees concluded that Jesus was a sinner “from his breaking the sabbath, as they supposed; though they also aspersed his character, and accused him of other things, yet falsely nor could they prove one single instance of sin in him, though they express themselves here with so much assurance.” (2) The man argued that “you cannot reason me out of this; this I am sure of, that once I had no eyes to see with, and now I have, and that by the means of this man you reproach. And so it is with persons enlightened in a spiritual sense…they were once blind…but now they are comfortably assured, they see the exceeding sinfulness of sin, the plague of their own hearts, the insufficiency of their righteousness to justify them before God, and the beauty, fulness, suitableness, and ability of Christ as a Savior; and that their salvation is, and must be of free grace; and that they see the truths of the Gospel in another light than they did before, and have some glimpse of eternal glory and happiness, in the hope of which they rejoice.” (3) “I think of Martin Luther. Luther was not always the great victor in debates that we sometimes imagine him to be. He was sometimes pressed into making admissions that he did not intend to make when he first entered the discussion…At times Luther admitted his own lack of knowledge, for, as he said, he was ‘only a man and not God and was liable to make mistakes.’ Nevertheless, the more he was pressed, the more certain Luther became of that which he did know—namely, that salvation was by grace through faith and that the Word of God was powerful and would ultimately prevail.” (4) Our admissions of what we don’t know can also lead us to be more sure of our salvation, sanctification, and future glorification. 

God listens to the Prayers of the Penitent.

When we freely and joyfully confess our wrong judgments and presumptions, the Lord leads us in our repentance. “The Pharisees had argued that Jesus was a sinner, and the blind man had declared himself unable to argue with that proposition. He only knew that Christ had healed him. As he thought about it, however, he found that he could say more…he knew that God does not hear sinners.” (5) “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened. But truly God has listened; he has attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, because he has not rejected my prayer or removed his steadfast love from me!” (Psalm 66:18-19) “To ‘cherish iniquity’ is to aim at it; in context, it refers to praying for God’s help in order to be able to commit some form of sin—a practice the truly pious reject…it reminds the faithful to pray for God’s help in order to give him thanks and to serve him better.” (6) “The Pharisees understand that Jesus is speaking of spiritual sight, and take their stand on their knowledge of the Scriptures. Jesus now shows them that their sin lies nevertheless in their possession of the truth without understanding it, whereas ignorance from blindness is teachable.” (7) At another time, when Jesus was teaching his disciples about the world’s hatred of him and his righteousness, he said, “If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin.” (John 15:22) We have no excuse for our sin. We prove our love for Jesus with our confessions of prideful self-righteousness for repentance–rather than struggle with our sin in the darkness. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

Related Scripture: Psalm 34:15-16; 145:19; Proverbs 28:9; Isaiah 42:18-20; Matthew 11:25; 13:13; Mark 4:11-12; John 5:45-47; 12:37; Romans 2:17-21; 1 Timothy 1:12-15; 1 John 1:8-10.

Notes:

  1. Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, John 9:18-33, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
  2. Gill, John, John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible, John 9:24, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/john-9.html
  3. Gill, Ibid, John 9:25.
  4. Boice John, Ibid.
  5. Boice John, Ibid.
  6. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Psalm 66:16–20, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  7. Zondervan Bible Commentary, F. F. Bruce General Editor, John 9, One-Volume Illustrated Digital Edition.

May 20, 2021            

Practicing Confession

Is there something you would like more understanding, maybe parenting, leadership, teaching, economics, or fishing? When we have been doing something consistently over a long time, we gain wisdom. Fathers and mothers who have raised their grown children have more knowledge than new parents. Someone who has been doing an extreme sport, like base jumping, understands how to open the parachute in time to land safely. But it’s a pretty dangerous sport, so those who know what it is might choose zorbing instead. Doing something without understanding can be catastrophic. Someone who has worked two jobs or worked while attending college classes understands the pressures that accompany it. A person who has never had to work or has worked only a 40-hour a week job won’t appreciate the weariness, physical exhaustion, mental fogginess, and risk of burnout. With practice, any activity or situation becomes more “normal,” resulting in mastery and appreciation for the process. People who have had numerous surgeries and know how to prepare themselves for each step of the process. If the surgeries have been successful, they have confidence in the hospital staff, their instructions, the surgeon, and the recovery process.

Confession is like surgery.

Confession and repentance are a bit like heart, mind, and soul surgery. Understanding God’s forgiveness and repentance—mastering them—is only developed by confessing consistently. Some Christians confess once of unbelief when they are brought to faith by the Holy Spirit. But after that, they become non-repenters, hardly ever doing it, and therefore have little understanding of God’s grace in forgiveness and its fruit of repentance. I have found a few people who repent when they seriously sin, but only then. Other believers are radical repenters, who confess frequently, and have a deep understanding and appreciation of God’s forgiveness. As a result, they also understand and experience God’s power to continue transforming them. Not only that, but drawing close to God in confession allows us the opportunity to wrestle with him as Job did. “I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:5-6) King David was an extreme repenter. Psalms 32 and 51 are good illustrations of his confessional humility. After David sinned, he wrote, “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” (Psalms 32:5) God may sharpen our understanding of biblical confession to appreciate repentance more as we study David’s admission about his confession. 

God’s Heavy Hand Leads to Confession and Blessing.

King David considered himself a blessed man. He begins his psalm, “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. 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.” (Psalms 32:1-4) “These verses support the theme that only the forgiven are truly happy. They recount a time…when the singer refused to confess his sins in order to have God forgive them. The lost vitality of verses 3–4 is really a mercy; it is God’s hand…heavy upon his faithful, to help them come to the point of confessing. Having come to that point, the singer acknowledged his sin, and God forgave the iniquity of his sin; this brings the psalm back to verse 1, with the implication that the singer has now learned more fully the blessedness of being forgiven.” (1) David would not have known the joy of God’s particular forgiveness had the Lord not convicted him with his “hand heavy upon him.” God, in His mercy, not wanting us to continue in our sinful ways, brings us to the end of our strength and ability to “fix” ourselves. “This was Saint Augustine’s favorite psalm. Augustine had it inscribed on the wall next to his bed before he died in order to meditate on it better. He liked it because, as he said: intelligentia prima est ut te noris peccatorem (the beginning of knowledge is to know oneself to be a sinner).” (2) Only sinners confess; if you don’t think you’ve sinned lately, then you will have no motivation to confess, no fruit of repentance, no deepening of your relationship with God, and no joy when he lightens your burden of guilt.

David Confessed Three Offences Toward God

David acknowledged his sin to God, putting it on display rather than hiding it. “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity…” After that, he intentionally and specifically confessed that he broke God’s Law, offending the Lord. “I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord…'” Finally, he tells us that the Lord forgave his guilt about his sin, “…and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” When he acknowledged his sin to God, David agreed with the Lord about it being sinful, admitting it to be rebellious and unacceptable to the Lord. “This is what makes sin so dreadful, of course—that it is transgression not only against other people, whom we hurt by our sin, but at its root also against God. Alexander Maclaren captures the force of this word when he writes, ‘You do not understand the gravity of the most trivial wrong act when you think of it as a sin against the order of Nature, or against the law written on your heart, or as the breach of the constitution of your own nature, or as a crime against your fellows. You have not got to the bottom of the blackness until you see that it is a flat rebellion against God himself.’…The second word for sin is ‘chattath’…[meaning] ‘coming short’ or ‘falling short’ of a mark. In the ancient world the term was used in archery to describe a person who shoots at a target but whose arrow falls short. The target is God’s law, and the sin described by this word is a failure to measure up to it…The third word for sin is ‘iniquity’…It means ‘corrupt,’ ‘twisted,’ or ‘crooked.’ It rounds out the other terms in this way: The first describes sin in view of our relationship to God. It pictures us as being in rebellion against him. The second word describes sin in relation to the divine law. We fall short of it and are condemned by it. The third word describes sin in relation to ourselves. It is a corruption or twisting of right standards as well as of our own beings. That is, to the degree that we indulge in sin we become both twisted and twisting creatures.” (3) Why spend so much time on understanding the need to confess all three? The more we meditate on them, and confess our different kinds of sin, the more understanding we will have of biblical confession, better appreciate God’s forgiveness, experience more freedom from enslavement to sin, and enjoy peace with God.

The Lord Forgives Fully and Quickly.

“David says that his very bones seemed to be wasting away and that his strength was drawn out of him as if he were exposed to the heat of the summer sun. The reason, of course, is that the Lord’s hand was upon him heavily in judgment, as it will be with anyone who tries to do as David did. When we sin we wish God would ignore our transgression. But God cannot ignore sin and will not. He brings pressure upon us, often very acute pressure, until we acknowledge the sin, confess it, and return to him…What is really striking…is verse 5, in which David explains how God forgave his sin once he had confessed it. God forgave it completely and immediately. It was not brought up again. If this psalm is David’s testimony, then this verse is the heart of that testimony…David confessed it all, and God forgave it all…David said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’ Then immediately: ‘and you forgave the guilt of my sin.’…I cannot read this without thinking of the nearly identical sequence in Jesus’ story of the prodigal son. The son had sinned against God and against his father, as he acknowledges in the story (Luke 15:18)…He starts his confession. But before he finishes it the father is already calling out to the servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate’…God is ready and even yearning to forgive and restore us fully—if only we will confess our sin… “ (4) 

Christians who are experienced at confession and repentance for sins understand the enormous relief and joy of reconciliation with God through his forgiveness. The more we practice it, the more benefit and skill we will achieve, leading to greater transformation. Let’s be radical, master repenters. God has blessed  us twice—through the repentance of unbelief and continuing to forgive us for our innumerable sins. “…blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.” (Romans 4:8)

Related Scripture: Psalm 38:18; 51:2; 53:1-3; 103:3, 12; 106:43; 119:133; Proverbs 16:17-20; Job 14:15-17; 36:21-23; Isaiah 43:25; Jeremiah 8:6; 31:19; Romans 4:8; 2 Corinthians 5:18-19; 1 John 1:9.

Notes:

  1. English Standard Version Study Bible Notes, Psalm 32:3–5, (digital edition), Crossway, 2008.
  2. Boice, James, Boice Expositional Commentary Series, Psalm 32, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
  3. Boice, Ibid.
  4. Boice, Ibid

May 13, 2021

Repentant Fools

Last Saturday, I chose to drive in torrential downpours all day because I unexpectedly had an opportunity to do some errands. The driving was intense, especially on the highway. When I considered my decision to drive in fog and heavy rain, with pockets of high standing water, I realized that most people would think I was nuts. When I had to wade through about six inches of water around my car after a last-minute lunch out with a friend, I knew it was crazy—but it was worth it. If I had not considered the weather or other factors, I would call myself a fool. However, God’s definition of a fool is not about taking calculated practical risks. Scripture defines a fool as those who reject God—who consider him a non-persona—who has no authority over them. This month, we will drive into the “storm” of scriptural foolishness to consider the seriousness of sin that requires confession and repentance. Even mature Christians struggle to overcome sinful folly. In his doctrinal letter to the Romans, Paul admits, “I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:22-24) Of course, there is good news for Paul and us when we draw close to God. “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, [as] I serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin…[but] there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 7:22-8:1) Biblically, we are all corrupt fools who don’t understand or seek God and do abominable deeds. However, being devoted believers, we confess our foolishness, our need for Christ’s righteousness, and repent.

Confessing the Pleasure of Sin

In the Puritan classic prayer volume, “The Valley of Vision,” one believer prays to God, “No trial is so hard to bear as a sense of sin. If thou should give me choice to live in pleasure and keep my sins, or to have them burnt away with trial, give me sanctified affliction.” (1). The Lord sometimes gives us a choice, the worst outcome being that he would leave us (give us up to) our sins without intervening (Romans 1-3:20). God sometimes lets fools have their way when he doesn’t run after them as the father runs after his prodigal son or corrects his obedient but hard-hearted one in the parable in Luke 15 (vs. 20, 31). Despite God’s intercession, through the Father’s providence, Christ’s atonement, and the Holy Spirit’s indwelling conviction, we still act like fools. The difference with us is that we can see our foolishness, want to confess it, and ask the Lord to help us repent as the fruit of our sanctification. The truth of Psalm 14:1-3 is vital to our self-examination. “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.” But, “There is a God, and he takes notice of the children of men, and of what is done by them; though his throne is in the heavens, and his dwelling there, yet he looks down from thence, and takes cognizance of all human affairs. This must be understood consistent with the omniscience and omnipresence of God.” (2) God’s watchful accountability should stir us to examine our motivations and desires rather than try to hide from him, like our ancestors Adam and Eve. All of Scripture after Genesis 3:15 teaches us to seek refuge in God’s mercy and grace. We do this especially through our spiritual humility and preparedness to recognize our sins, from which the Lord wants to cleanse us. 

All People Sinners

“The Bible is a big book, but not many things in the Bible are said, word for word, more than once. If the words are repeated, it is for emphasis…What if they are found three times?… Psalm 14 is repeated almost entirely in the Book of Psalms itself. Psalm 53 is a nearly exact duplication; only verses 5 and 6 are changed. Then the most important part of Psalm 14 is repeated in Romans 3:10–12. In fact, the great first chapter of Romans is actually an explanation of…These are words which, to use the often-quoted phrase of the collection from the Book of Common Prayer, we are to “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest…the folly of the opening verse of the psalm, which we might have imagined to be restricted to a single class of people (fools), is viewed as characteristic of all people in their natural or unrepentant state…The second thing to notice about the inclusive nature of God’s assessment of humanity in these verses is that it concerns not merely a single part of people’s makeup but rather everything about them. It involves their spiritual understanding, their seeking after (actually their failure to seek after) God, and their morality, the same items Paul mentions in his great summary of the race’s corruption in Romans 3. Apart from God’s special illuminating work in the human heart by means of the Holy Spirit, there is no one who understands spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:14). We do not even understand ourselves. We think we are seeking God when we are running away from him. We think we are righteous when we are most corrupt…We are practical materialists; that is, we are relentless in our efforts to use others for our advantage, profiting from them. We will not learn that “man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deut. 8:3; cf. Matt. 4:4; Luke 4:4). And we are prayerless. We ‘do not call on the Lord,’ because we believe that we can manage very well without him.” (3) We are all fools who often don’t understand or seek God and do unrighteous deeds, requiring repentance. But if we confess our foolishness, our need for Christ’s righteousness, the Lord will honor our desires to repent.

Temporary Fools

Being different from fools who reject God, we say in our hearts, God is here, and through Christ (our good Savior), we serve him. When the Lord looks down from heaven on us believers, he sees the Spirit at work in us to understand spiritual things and seek after God. We (should) want to turn toward the Lord, not aside from him, confessing and repenting of the corruption in our hearts, minds, and lives. “[Psalm 14] is more like a prophetic message than a psalmist’s lament, since God is not addressed…[the subject] (Hebrew) ‘nābāl’ does not connote a simpleton, but one whose moral thinking is perverse; he has deliberately closed his mind to the reality of God and to the implications of His moral rule, [without] understanding by submitting to God’s authority.” (4) “The Christian’s moral experience (for Paul would not be telling his own experience to make theological points, did he not think it typical) is that his reach persistently exceeds his grasp and that his desire for perfection is frustrated by the discomposing and distracting energies of indwelling sin. Stating this sad fact about himself renews Paul’s distress at it, and in the cry of verses 24, 25, he voices his grief at not being able to glorify God more: ‘Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?’ Then at once he answers his own question: ‘Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!’” (5) 

When I got home on Saturday, I was soaked to the bone from my ankles to my toes and pretty damp altogether and very grateful to change into dry clothing. I was relieved of my discomfort for a couple hours until it was time to walk the dog. When we confess and ask the Lord to help us repent, we have significant mind, heart, and soul relief. But we will sin again, so we should be prepared by humbling ourselves. We have God’s assurance for our readiness to confess and repent: “Thus says the One who is high and lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.’” (Isaiah 57:15) 

Related Scripture: Genesis 6:5; 11:5-9; 1 Kings 8:46; 2 Chronicles 6:36; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Psalm 10:4-6; 11:7; 143:2; Isaiah 3:14; 59:4; 64:3-7; Jeremiah 5:1; Hosea 4:1-2; Amos 2:6-7; Zephaniah 1:2; Romans 1:19-23

Notes:

  1. Bennett, Arthur, Ed., The Valley of Vision, “77—Confession and Petition,” Banner of Truth, 1975
  2. Gill, John, “John Gill’s Exposition on the Whole Bible,” Psalm 14:2, https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/geb/psalms-14.html
  3. Boice, James, “Boice Expositional Commentary Series,” Psalm 14, Baker Books, Software version, 1998.
  4. Zondervan Bible Commentary, F. F. Bruce General Editor, Psalm 14:1-3, One-Volume Illustrated Digital Edition
  5. Boice, Ibid, Romans 7.

May 6, 2021