Over the next few weeks, I want to address an issue that every Christian struggles with. How d we successfully kill sin in our lives? How does this happen through the power of the gospel and not through will power, moralism, legalism, or any other Spirit-void, gospel-less methods?
A TRICKY FOE
“I am convinced that the first step towards attaining a higher standard of holiness is to realize more fully the amazing sinfulness of sin” Bishop J.C. Ryle
In the summer of 2010, Lynn France received a shock to her system when she saw a number of wedding photos posted on Facebook. This scandalous discovery showed pictures of her husband, John France, marrying another woman at a ceremony at Disney World. This was a classic case of deception and bigamy. In 2005, John and Lynn exchanged vows in a storybook wedding on Italy’s luxurious Amalfi coast. What started out as wedding bliss quickly turned into a nightmare of unfaithfulness. Although Mr. France has denied the allegations and charged his first wife as being overly paranoid and mentally unstable, her pain is understandable. Her world came crashing down with a click of a mouse and a seemingly innocent visit to Facebook. We recoil in sickening confusion when we hear stories like this. We express disdain at the deception, manipulation, and secrecy of people whose entire lives are based upon one lie after another.
And yet when it comes to our battle with sin, we face a tricky foe whose deception, manipulation, and secrecy are far more insidious and destructive than the shenanigans of John France. In this enemy called “sin”, we find a tenacious opponent who promises us endless enjoyment and indulgent satisfaction, but in the end, leads us down a path of destruction. Through the one trespass of Adam, sin and death entered the world whereby all humans have inherited a nature bent on rebellion and hostility against the living God. In order to understand the true nature of sin, we must understand what the Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs called the “exceeding sinfulness of sin.”
Sin is a tricky foe. Sin is a manipulative enemy. Sin is a master of deception. As John Owen says, “Sin always aims at the utmost: every time it rises up to tempt or entice, might it have its own course, it would go out to the utmost sin of that kind.” Thomas Brooks describes the deceitfulness and “bewitching” nature of sin by saying, “So a man bewitched with sin had rather lose God, Christ, heaven, and his own soul than part with his sin. Oh, therefore, for ever take heed of playing with or nibbling at Satan’s golden baits”. In other words, we must not be mesmerized by the allurements of sin nor should we playfully dismiss sin as an impotent opponent. Sin is a powerful force that brutally thrives on deception.
In Hebrews 3:12-13, the writer gives some of the strongest warnings in the New Testament about the exceeding deceitfulness of sin. He writes, “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” This exhortation comes in the context of a longer discussion regarding that disobedient generation of Israelites who failed to enter the Promised Land due to their unbelief. As they wandered in the wilderness for forty years, the children of Israel hardened their hearts in rebellion, and as a result, were barred entrance into the “rest” that God offered.
Through the use of a powerful illustration from Israel’s history, the writer of Hebrews poignantly shows us what happens when people disobey the voice of God. Disobedience ultimately leads to experiencing the wrath of God. In verses 12 and 13, he sharply warns us to stand up and pay attention to that unbelieving generation of Israelites so that we will not succumb to the same fate. He urges us to “take care”—which literally means to watch carefully for any upcoming hazards or pitfalls that would lead us into dangerous territory. In other words, be alert! Stand your guard! Pay careful attention!
When I was in college, I was somewhat of a dangerous driver (or so I’m told). It was an icy morning in Colorado Springs and I was late for class. I impatiently decided not to scrape all of the ice off my windshield. Instead, I left a small circle right in front of me so at least I could see straight ahead, but chose not to scrape the passenger windows. In an act of impetuous stupidity, I drove to school and nearly got nailed by an oncoming car. In a fit of frustration, I sheepishly stopped the car, got out, and scraped all the windows this time. In my single-focused desire to get to school on time, I would have given my Driver’s Ed. teacher a stroke. I not only failed to look both ways, but failed to even create space to actually look! I was not watching intensely for upcoming hazards. I was flippant, impatient, and dangerous. And it could have cost me my life.
This attitude stands in direct contrast to what the writer of Hebrews warns us about the dangers of sin. He writes with intensity as a concerned pastor who deeply cares for his people by warning them of the impending dangers of apostasy. We are called to “take care” as we look intently with a passionate focus upon and alertness to the exceeding deceitfulness of sin. We are to watch carefully that we do not have an unbelieving and hardened heart which would lead us away from faith in the living God.
This imagery of an unbelieving heart comes directly from Psalm 95.
“For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, when your fathers put me to the test and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work. For forty years I loathed that generation and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart, and they have not known my ways.” Therefore I swore in my wrath, “They shall not enter my rest.” Psalm 95:7-11
From this Psalm, a stark warning rings out to us that we should not harden our hearts in rebellion against God. As helpless sheep that are totally dependent upon the Great Shepherd Jesus, we must listen to the voice of our Savior and follow Him. We must not harden our hearts in unbelief when we hear His voice. This unbelief is not just some passive lack of acknowledgement of God’s voice or a casual disinterest in the things of God. Instead, this type of unbelief violently digs its heels into the ground in arrogant defiance and stubbornly refuses to believe in God. This type of habitual and persistent unbelief eventually leads to the tragic sin of apostasy.
The LORD Himself describes to Moses this unbelieving and hardened generation in Numbers 14:11: “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?” Later in Numbers 14:27, God calls them a “wicked congregation”. There exists a ruthless threat to a people who fail to heed the warnings from Scripture regarding the deceitfulness of sin. If one is not passionately keeping his or her eyes fixed on Jesus, the potential of developing a hardened and unbelieving heart lurks wherever sin rears its ugly head. Where is the hope in this urgent warning? How do we come to terms with this tricky foe?
Find out in my next post….