This last Sunday, we spent time with Jesus, in the wilderness, watching as he was tried by God and tempted by Satan. In Jesus, we were able to see the perfect and right response to being tempted and tried. And we faced the reality, together, that we can't live up to his standard. But finally, wonderfully, that we don't have to, because he did. That the only way forward is faith in him, and we've just started to talk through what that looks like. This coming Sunday, we'll keep talking about the kind of weapons we bring to bear against temptation, sin, and Satan. We'll discover that the only way to root out a wrong desire is to replace it with a greater desire, the expulsive power of a new affection. In other words, we'll keep exploring what it means to see Jesus "not merely as useful, but as beautiful."
Until then, I wanted to spend some time with you thinking about sin, and our response to it. More specifically, how do keep from despairing because of our sin, and the sins of those we see around us?
Let me stop beating around the bush. I've been a bit discouraged lately by the reality of sin and its effects in my own life, and the lives of those I love, care, and am responsible for. When you are a pastor, you have the opportunity to see alot of sin, and a great deal of its damage. It grieves the heart. It feels overwhelming. I see how much sin destroys the peace, the shalom, that God intends for us to enjoy. And at times, I don't know what to say.
"...even when sin is depressingly familiar, it is never normal. It is finally unknown, irrational, alien. Sin is always a departure from the norm and is assessed accordingly. Sin is deviant and perverse, an injustice or iniquity or ingratitude. Sin in the Exodus literature is disorder and disobedience. Sin is faithlessness, lawlessness, godlessness. Sin is both the overstepping of a line and the failure to reach it - both transgression and shortcoming. Sin is a missing of the mark, a spoiling of goods, a staining of garments, a hitch in one's gait, a wandering from the path, a fragmenting of the whole. Sin is what culpably disturbs shalom. Sinful human life is a caricature of proper human life."
(Not The Way It's Supposed To Be, Cornelius Plantiga Jr., p. 88)
What power is there in the face of such a force?
This is part of the answer. A friend reminded me of this last night (he knew what to say). He shared that in similar contemplations (of his own sin, of those around him who sin), all he knows to do is remind himself of grace. Now, it is not as if I am unaware of grace. Ah, but I needed to be reminded of it!
"We need to be reminded far more than we need to be instructed."
This morning, as I spent time listening to God through his Sacred Writings, the reminder came in again.
And a highway will be there - a way: the way of holiness it will be called. An unclean person will not traverse it - it is for them! Whoever walks the way - even simpletons could not go astray! Not even the most ferocious beast will go up on it. It will not be found there. And the redeemed will walk; and Yahweh's ransomed ones will return and they will come to Zion with loud shouting. And eternal rejoicing will be upon their heads: and they will overtake happiness and rejoicing, and sorrow and sighing will flee away. (Isaiah 35:8-10)
Commenting on this passage, Alec Motyer writes:
"The 'ransomed' (v. 10) are those for whome the price has been paid; the 'redeemed' (v. 9) are those with whom the Lord, the divine next-of-kin, has identified himself, saying to us: 'What is your problem? Give it to me. What is your need? I will meet it. What is your burden? Lay it on my shoulders.' That is the way with the Goel, the kinsman-redeemer.
He bears it all, pays it all, does it all. He the doer, we the recipients.
Grace. We've been given something freely that we don't deserve. Grace breaks the power of sin over me, because, no matter how horrible any one or multiple sins, the only thing that can condemn me is an unforgiven sin. Jesus:
“I tell you the truth, those who listen to my message and believe in God who sent me have eternal life. They will never be condemned for their sins, but they have already passed from death into life.” (John 5:24, NLT)
Is this not unmerited favor?! We have sinned, are sinning, will sin. But when we listen to the message of Jesus, when we believe in God, it means that we will never be condemned for our sin. Friends, that is grace, and it is meant to release power into our sin-weary lives.
One final thing (and then more this coming Sunday morning) - a way to soak in grace is to worship through song. Just released by Mars Hill Music is a song entitled "Grace Alone." Watch, listen, be refreshed. (words to the song can be found below)
See you Sunday.
I was an orphan lost at the fall
Running away when I’d hear you call
But Father, you worked your will
I had no righteousness of my own
I had no right to draw near your throne
But Father, you loved me still
And in love before you laid the world’s foundation
You predestined to adopt me as your own
You have raised me up so high above my station
I’m a child of God by grace and grace alone
You left your home to seek out the lost
You knew the great and terrible cost
But Jesus, your face was set
I worked my fingers down to the bone
Nothing I did could ever atone
But Jesus, you paid my debt
By your blood I have redemption and salvation
Lord, you died that I might reap what you have sown
And you rose that I might be a new creation
I am born again by grace and grace alone
I was in darkness all of my life
I never knew the day from the night
But Spirit, you made me see
I swore I knew the way on my own
Head full of rocks, a heart made of stone
But Spirit, you moved in me
At your touch my sleeping spirit was awakened
On my darkened heart, the light of Christ has shone
Called into a kingdom that cannot be shaken
Heaven’s citizen by grace and grace alone
So I stand in faith by grace and grace alone
I will run the race by grace and grace alone
I will slay my sin by grace and grace alone
I will reach the end by grace and grace alone