Let Your Sins Be Strong

We all have a tendency to minimize our sinfulness. We look at the wrongs we have done, and we do everything we can to try and justify our actions. Doing this, however, fails to take full ownership of our sins. Many times, as Christians, we admit that we need forgiveness, but we still don’t like to admit the fact that our sins are utterly deplorable. We like to talk about sin and forgiveness, but we do not like to admit that we are truly sinners. Deep down we think, “surely we are not like many other people who are real sinners.” Thinking like this, however, makes us like the Pharisee, who scoffed at the tax collector–utterly in denial of the reality of his own sin.

Martin Luther once wrote a letter to Melanchthon entitled, Let Your Sins Be Strong where he addresses several different topics, including the tendency to downplay our sins. Luther says, “God does not save those who are only imaginary sinners. Be a sinner, and let your sins be strong, but let your trust in Christ be stronger, and rejoice in Christ who is the victor over sin, death, and the world.”

We must stop trying to diminish the sin we have committed in order to maintain dignity. We must let them be strong, and look at them in all their wretchedness. We must see our sins as they mock God and refuse to obey Him in all His Holiness. Taking ownership of our sins is the only way we can bring what is ours to Him and say, “I need you to bear my punishment for these. There is nothing anyone can do to atone for these sins. Jesus, you are the only one.” His response to this request is, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow.” Thanks to the cross, there is no sin that is able to separate us from His love, for His sacrifice is fully sufficient.

Today, let us consider the words of Martin Luther: “Do you think such an exalted Lamb paid merely a small price with a meager sacrifice for our sins? Pray hard for you are quite a sinner.” Let us not try to justify our sins, for self-justification warrants nothing but death, but against Christ’s justifying blood, no sin can prevail.

My sins are mine I know them well
They mock at God and damn to hell
But by His blood, I am set free,
He paid my debt at Calvary.

God, be merciful to me, the sinner! – Luke 18:13

D. Eaton

The Christian Civil War

An awful thing has happened. I was traveling, when, during the night, some of the wicked men of Benjamin arose and came after me with the intent to kill me. They raped and killed my concubine, so I divided up her body parts and sent them to the rest of the people of God so they would know what evil has taken place (Judges 20:3-6 Paraphrased).

In the child of God there is a civil war raging. There is flesh and there is spirit. There is the new nature and there is the remaining indwelling sin, and like Israel’s first civil war, drastic action must be taken. As John Owen once said, “Let no man think to kill sin with few, easy, or gentle strokes.”

The first thing we must do is recognize the evil for what it is. When the Levite learned of the sinfulness at work in Israel, he did not partition it off as something that could be tolerated if they would simply keep it quarantined. He saw it for what it was, and he knew it needed to be killed.

One of the most dangerous aspects of sin is its deceitfulness. It is always trying to convince us that it is not that bad, and we can simply section off our lives and still be happy and spiritually healthy. This is not the case. There is no quarantine that can keep our sinfulness from poisoning every other aspect of our spiritual life. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. We must put it to death.

Once we see the danger, we must take action to kill it. Just as the Levite took drastic action to notify all of Israel of the danger, we too must make sure to sound the alarms. Not only within ourselves, but also to our fellow believers. God has not called us to fight alone. You need to find a band of trustworthy brothers and sisters in Christ to whom you can confide and find help. The purpose of this alliance is to gather strength to kill the enemy. So all the Israelites got together and united as one against the city (Judges 20:11).

Our hope is that this will be an easy war, and our flesh will simply lay down its arms, but this is never the case. As we begin to take this action against our iniquity, our sinfulness will also fortify itself. At once the Benjamites mobilized twenty-six thousand swordsmen from their towns, in addition to seven hundred able young men (Judges 20:15). The strength of the emeny will gather, and there will be causalities in this battle.

The Israelites went out to fight the Benjamites and took up battle positions against them at Gibeah. The Benjamites came out of Gibeah and cut down twenty-two thousand Israelites on the battlefield that day (Judges 20:20-21).

When we face a loss like this, we realize how daunting the enemy truly is, and we wonder if we should continue. The bloody nature of the fight rightfully leads us to the Lord to see if we should go up once again. The Israelites went up and wept before the Lord until evening, and they inquired of the Lord. They said, “Shall we go up again to fight against the Benjamites, our fellow Israelites?” The Lord answered, “Go up against them” (Judges 20:23).

This will always be the Lord’s response when it comes to fighting our indwelling sin. Yes, you are to fight. This command of God to go up against our sin can often lead us to assume the next battle will be easy and the victory painless because he told us to contend. This, however, should not be assumed. The Israelites drew near to Benjamin the second day.  This time, when the Benjamites came out from Gibeah to oppose them, they cut down another eighteen thousand Israelites, all of them armed with swords (Judges 20:24-25).

Why would the Lord do that? Why would he tell us to go fight and then let us lose the battle? I believe Israel’s response to the defeat gives us the answer. Then all the Israelites, the whole army, went up to Bethel, and there they sat weeping before the Lord. They fasted that day until evening and presented burnt offerings and fellowship offerings to the Lord (Judges 20:24-25).

As we contend with our sinfulness, we will be bloodied and bruised. Maybe you are there now. You have been fighting for some time with no success. The only proper response is to draw up under the wing of your God. As we lose battles, we begin to learn the most important lesson. This battle cannot be won in our own strength.

Much like when God wrestled with Jacob, the contest was not about Jacob getting something out of God, it was about God getting something out of Jacob. One of the most important aspects of that event is that Jacob, when he realized he could not win, went from contending against God at the beginning of the match, to clinging to Him at the end. This is exactly what our failures in our battle with sin should do to us. It should drive us closer to our Lord and cause us to cling more tightly to him.

Know this, this civil war of flesh and Spirit will rage until the day we die, but there will be victories as we lean more and more on God. We may be hesitant to continue the fight, but as you trust less and less in your own power and might and trust more and more in his Spirit, ask Him again if you should fight.

They asked, “Shall we go up again to fight against the Benjamites, our fellow Israelites, or not?” The Lord responded, “Go, for tomorrow I will give them into your hands” (Judges 20:28). The more we know that the battle belongs to the Lord, the more he will give the enemy into our hands. He will use our hand, but it will be his power that is at work.

So how do we begin to fight? How does the Lord direct us to march? “Who of us is to go up first to fight against the Benjamites?” The Lord replied, “Judah shall go first” (Judges 20:18). Jesus is the lion of the tribe of Judah. Though we will win some and lose some, there is only one way in which we should march. Advance with Jesus in the lead. He is our forgiveness and righteousness. If he is our head, then our ultimate victory is assured even if we lose some battles.

Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. – 1 Timothy 6:2

-D. Eaton

Where There is No Humility, There is No Christianity

“He humbled Himself.” – Philippians 2:8

Jesus is the great teacher of ‘humility of heart’. We need daily to learn of Him. See the Master taking a towel and washing His disciples feet! Follower of Christ–will you not humble yourself? See Him as the Servant of servants–and surely you cannot be proud!

Is not this sentence the compendium of His biography: “He humbled Himself.” Was He not on earth, always stripping off first one robe of honor and then another–until, naked, He was fastened to the cross. There He not emptied out His inmost self, pouring out His life-blood, giving up for all of us, until they laid Him penniless in a borrowed grave.

How low was our dear Redeemer brought! How then can we be proud?

Stand at the foot of the cross and count the scarlet drops by which you have been cleansed. See the thorny crown and His scourged shoulders still gushing with the crimson flow of blood. See His hands and feet given up to the rough iron, and His whole self mocked and scorned. See the bitterness, the pangs, and the throes of inward grief show themselves in His outward frame. Hear the chilling shriek, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me!”

If you do not lie prostrate on the ground before that cross–you have never seen it! If you are not humbled in the presence of the sin-atoning Savior–you do not know Him. You were so lost that nothing could save you, but the sacrifice of God’s only begotten Son. Think of that, and as Jesus stooped for you–bow yourself in humility at His feet.

A realization of Christ’s amazing sacrificial love has a greater tendency to humble us than even a consciousness of our own guilt. May the Lord bring us in contemplation, to Calvary. Then our position will no longer be that of pompous pride–but we shall take the humble place of one who loves much, because much has been forgiven him.

Pride cannot live beneath the cross!
Let us sit there and learn our lesson.
Then let us rise and carry it into practice.

-Charles Spurgeon

After Hill Difficulty Comes the Arbor of Rest

“No chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterwards it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12:11

How happy are tried Christians, afterwards. There is no calm more deep than that which follows a storm. Who has not rejoiced in clear shinings after rain? Victorious banquets are for well-exercised soldiers.

After killing the lion–we eat the honey;
after climbing the Hill Difficulty–we sit down in the arbor to rest;
after traversing the Valley of Humiliation, after fighting with Apollyon, the shining one appears, with the healing branch from the tree of life.

Our sorrows, like the passing keels of the vessels upon the sea, leave a silver line of holy light behind them “afterwards.” It is peace, sweet, deep peace–which follows the horrible turmoil which once reigned in our tormented, guilty souls.

See, then, the happy estate of a Christian! He has his best things last, and he therefore in this world receives his worst things first. But even his worst things are “afterwards” good things–harsh ploughings–yielding joyful harvests. Even now . . .
he grows rich by his losses,
he rises by his falls,
he lives by dying, and
he becomes full by being emptied.

If, then, his grievous afflictions yield him so much peaceable fruit in this life–what shall be the full vintage of joy “afterwards” in Heaven? If his dark nights are as bright as the world’s days–what shall his days be? If even his starlight is more splendid than the sun–what must his sunlight be? If he can sing in a dungeon–how sweetly will he sing in Heaven! If he can praise the Lord in the fires–how will he extol Him before the eternal throne! If evil is good to him now–what will the overflowing goodness of God be to him then?

-Charles Spurgeon

What Does it Mean to Be Meek? [Beatitudes]

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. – Mat. 5:5

Meekness is one of those qualities we understand, but it can be difficult to articulate. So what does it mean to be meek? In general usage, we relate it to being humble, patient, gentle, and kind, but as with all of the beatitudes, there is a spiritual element that we must not miss or we could go astray. Even the natural man, apart from Christ, can display gentleness and kindness, and they will not inherit the earth. Jesus clearly meant more than that.

In Matthew chapter five, the first four beatitudes focus on our relationship to God and the last four, our relationship to man. We should not forget, however, when we live out the first four in relation to God, it will affect our relationship to man, but the relationship to God must be primary. With this in mind, meekness in the Sermon on the Mount should be understood in light of our relationship to the Lord.

The first beatitude, poor in spirit, means we understand our spiritual poverty apart from God, which leads to the second beatitude which mourns over our sinful condition. Following directly from this comes meekness. In this context, meekness involves a humility before God, a submission to His will, and an end of trying to justify ourselves before Him and submitting to His way of salvation.

As mentioned earlier, the primary focus of the first four beatitudes is our submission to God in our state of spiritual poverty, but if we are meek before God, we will also be meek before men. We see many examples of meekness in the pages of scripture. Abraham was meek in letting Lot have the first choice of land, even though he was the patriarch. Moses lived in Pharaoh’s palace but gave it all up to do the will of the Lord, and David, though he was anointed as king by God, humbled himself before Saul.

We also see meekness in Jesus. In fact, Jesus tells us the reason we should come to Him when we are heavy laden is that He is “gentle and lowly in heart.” It is here we will find our rest (Mat. 11:28-29). The God of all the universe takes on flesh and is meek. There is no greater example for us to follow. We should desire to be conformed to His image.

Are we meek?

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in his book on the Sermon on the Mount, gives us some great tests to examine ourselves to see if we are meek. Here are a few of his ideas reformatted to fit this context. Do these describe you?

  1. Meek people do not boast in themselves. They do not find glory in themselves and do not desire that others glory in them either.
  2. Meek people are not sensitive about themselves, and will not always need to defend themselves when people point out their flaws and weaknesses.
  3. Meek people have a teachable spirit. They are not gullible, but they are open to criticism and expect it because they know they have a lot to learn.
  4. Meek people love the word of God and submit to it. They do not chafe against it.
  5. Meek people tend to be satisfied because they do not always believe they are entitled to more.
  6. Meek people are not weak people. A meek person will stand immovable in God’s truth because they submit to God before they will submit to man.

The meek shall inherit the earth

The meek will inherit the earth even though they are not arrogant nor do they demand it. In one sense, they already have it because they are satisfied with what they have. They do not feel that they deserve more and find joy in the world that the Lord has already given them. Ultimately, however, it means, because they come to Christ on His terms for salvation, by faith alone, they will reign with Him as co-heirs.

May we all strive to grow in meekness.

-D. Eaton

Press On to Know the Lord

“Oh, that we might know the Lord! Let us press on to know Him!” Hosea 6:3

The expression, “press on,” implies that there are many difficulties, obstacles, and hindrances in a man’s way, which keep him back from “knowing the Lord.” Now the work of the Spirit in his soul is to carry him on in spite of all these obstacles—to lead him forward—to keep alive in him the fear of God—to strengthen him in his inner man—to drop in those hopes—to communicate that inward grace—so that he is compelled to press on.

Sometimes he seems driven, sometimes drawn, sometimes led, and sometimes carried, but in one way or another the Spirit of God so works upon him that, though he scarcely knows how—he still “presses on.”

His very burdens make him groan for deliverance—his very temptations cause him to cry for help—the very difficulty and ruggedness of the road make him want to be carried every step—the very intricacy of the path compels him to cry out for a guide—so that the Spirit working in the midst of, and under, and through every difficulty and discouragement, still bears him through, and carries him on—and thus brings him through every trial and trouble and temptation and obstacle, until He sets him in glory.

It is astonishing to me how our souls are kept alive. The Christian is a marvel to himself. Carried on, and yet so secretly—worked upon, and yet so mysteriously; and yet led on, guided, and supported through so many difficulties and obstacles—that he is a miracle of mercy as he is carried on amid all difficulties, obstacles, trials, and temptations.

-J.C. Philpot

Social Media Fools

Whoever utters slander is a fool. – Proverbs 10:12

If you want to see every one of God’s standards for communication violated, spend a few minutes on Twitter. All you have to do is read what people are posting about the trending topics. Sometimes the topics themselves are violations of God’s word.

The verse above is devastating to the way many people use social media, and this includes many professing Christians. Left and right, users fill social media with posts that try to damage another’s reputation, and I am not including all the times where the truth is properly spoken about a public figure, even if it is negative.

Think about it, every meme we share that is directed at a person, even if it contains 80% truth and 20% misleading characterization is an example of slander. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the temptation. I have had to delete tweets I have regretted, and there still may be some in my feed that shouldn’t be there.

It is so easy to succumb to the temptation. There is so much noise on social media that the only way to be heard is to be bombastic by spouting half-truths that raise controversy. We sometimes justify it by saying we are simply trying to get the conversation started, but, according to Proverbs, we are acting like fools.

Attempts at humor can also fall into the category of slander. It usually happens like this. Someone we have never heard of before literally says something ridiculous, and the funniest comeback comes to mind. You know it will make people laugh and probably get shares and likes. The only problem is that it communicates something derogatory about the person which may or may not be true. If we even stop to think about it long enough, it is here that the justifications start to kick in. “Everyone is already doing it,” or “they will know I am being funny,” but these do not exempt us from the guilt of damaging someone’s reputation, even if they have already begun to damage it themselves.

When we are not the ones to post the misrepresentation, we participate when we share it and like it. It shows up in the feeds of our followers because we have given it a thumbs up, after all, it made us laugh and pointed out just how stupid someone is, and the world needs to know.

Someone might say, “the opposition is always making up stories and smearing people who hold godly views; it is no big deal if we respond in like manner, this is how our culture communicates. It is a propaganda war and we need to participate in order to have a voice.” The biblical response to that is, if we have to make alliances with evil to promote the kingdom of God, we have already lost.

Why do I bring this up? It is simply to remind us that we need to guard our hearts in what we communicate. The scripture was not joking when it said: When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent (Proverbs 10:19).

We should take this to heart because we have all fallen short. We should carefully consider our words. However, it should not always cause us to remain silent, after all, this is an article full of words which were posted on social media, but it would not hurt us to be more mindful in what we post online. It may just help keep us from imitating the company of fools.

And when we miss the mark, the good news is that, in Jesus, there is forgiveness even for fools like me.

-D. Eaton

I Will Heal Your Backslidings

“I will heal your backslidings.”Hosea 14:4

Wandering again! And has He not left me to perish? Stumbling and straying on the dark mountains, away from the Shepherd’s eye and the Shepherd’s fold, shall He not leave the erring wanderer to the fruit of his own ways, and his truant heart to go hopelessly onward in its career of guilty estrangement? “My thoughts,” says God, “are not as your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways.” Man would say, “Go, perish! ungrateful apostate!” God says, “Return, O backsliding children!” The Shepherd will not, cannot allow those sheep to perish which He has purchased with His own blood! How wondrous His forbearance towards it!—tracking its guilty steps, and ceasing not the pursuit until He lays the wanderer on His shoulders, and returns with it to His fold rejoicing! My soul! why increase by farther departures your own distance from the fold?—why lengthen the dreary road your gracious Shepherd has to traverse in bringing you back? Do not delay your return! Do not provoke His patience any longer! Do not venture farther on forbidden ground! He waits with outstretched arms to welcome you once more to His bosom. Be humble for the past, trust Him for the future. Think of your former backslidings, and tremble—think of His patience, and be filled with holy gratitude; think of His promised grace, “and take courage.”

-John MacDuff – 1849

The Spiritual Pulse of the Renewed Soul

“Let us lift up our heart with our hands unto God in the heavens.” -Lamentations 3:41

Prayer is the spiritual pulse of the renewed soul; its beat indicates the healthy or unhealthy state of the believer. Just as the physician would decide upon the health of the body from the action of the pulse, so would we decide upon the spiritual health of the soul before God, by the estimation in which prayer is held by the believer. If the soul is in a spiritually healthy, growing state, prayer will be vigorous, lively, spiritual, and constant; if, on the contrary, the heart is wandering, and love waxes cold, and faith is decaying, the spirit and the habit of prayer will immediately betray it.

The spirit of prayer may decline in the believer, and he may not at once be sensible of it. The form and the habit of prayer may for a while continue—but the spirit of prayer has evaporated, and all is coldness and dullness—the very torpor and frigidity of death! But of what real worth is the habit of prayer, apart from the spirit of prayer? Just what this planet would be without the sun, or the body without the living, animating, breathing soul—what but a cold, lifeless form? Yes, and a believer may be beguiled into this lamentable state, and not a suspicion of its existence be awakened; he may observe his accustomed habit, and use his empty form, and not suspect that all is cold and breathless as death itself. Oh, it is not the rigidly-observed form that God looks at; nor is it great volubility, and eloquent fluency, and rich sentiment, and splendid imagery, and rounded periods, that God regards: far from this; a man may not be able to give expression to his deep emotion in prayer, his thoughts may find no vehicle of utterance, language may entirely fail him; and yet the spirit of prayer may glow in his breast—and this—the true language of prayer—finds its way to the ear and to the heart of God. Reader, look well to the state of your soul; examine your prayers; see that you have not substituted the cold form for the glowing spirit—the mere body for the soul. Real prayer is the breathing of God’s own Spirit in the heart: have you this? It is communion and fellowship with God: know you what this is? It is brokenness, contrition, confession, and that often springing from an overwhelming sense of His goodness and His love shed abroad in the heart: is this your experience? Again, we repeat it, look well to your prayers; test them, not by the natural or acquired gift which you may possess—this is nothing with God; but test them by the real communion you have with God—the returns they make to your soul.

There should be the searching out and the removal of that which hinders prayer. Many things weaken true prayer: unsubdued sin—unrepented sin—unpardoned sin (we mean the secret sense of it upon the conscience)—worldly-mindedness—light and trifling conversation, vain disputations—much and frequent communion either with unconverted individuals, or cold and formal professors—all these combined, or any single one, will, if suffered to prevail, unfit the mind for converse with God, and cause a decay of the spirit of prayer in the soul. Regard that as injurious which touches the devotional frame of your mind, which abridges the hour of prayer, and removes the fine edge of its holy enjoyment.

-Octavius Winslow (1808-1878)

A Tale of Two Preachers

Both men had a fire in their eyes with Jesus at the center, but their flames were different. Have you ever noticed that you can listen to someone talk about Jesus, but as they are saying all of the right things, there still seems to be a disconnect? While others you run into always seem to be able to focus you like a laser beam on what truly matters.

When I see it in churches, I sometimes call it the programmatic versus the spiritual, but I doubt that is the best way to describe it. It is hard to put a fine point on it because the programmatic is not wrong in itself. Even spiritual churches have programmatic elements. I think I use the word programmatic because it sometimes feels that way. The leaders appear to be doing what they know they should be doing, but they do not seem to be doing it in a way that tells me that they believe their very lives depend upon the Gospel they are preaching. So what makes the difference? I suppose it all comes down to the hearts of those involved.

The first man, a church leader, had a fire in his eyes and Christ was at the center, but Jesus seemed to be a means to an end. Everything surrounding the ministry where he labored was orthodox. People came, heard the word, and were often even blessed by his preaching, but in his heart, he was building his own kingdom. A place where the people would revere his name; a place where he could leave his legacy. His faith was real, but he still seemed to have one foot planted in the world, and it showed. Well, not to everyone. There were many in the congregation with hearts split between heaven and earth as well, and they did not seem to notice.

They did not notice, at least, until they got a chance to hear the second man begin to speak because the fire in his eyes was pure. Where the first man had the tendency to view knowing Jesus as a means to building his ministry, the second man saw knowing Jesus as the goal. He had found the Pearl of Great Price and was willing to sell all he had to have it (Matt. 13:45-46). Christ was beautiful to him so that is what he pursued. His ministry was something he did to show the world the beauty of Christ so others could know Him too. There was a love for his Lord in his eyes that made believers want to know their Savior the way he did.

Two things seemed to separate these men and their ministries. The first had to do with their reliance. The first one worked with a high degree of self-reliance, where the second one knew his weakness so well that he dared only to rely on Christ. The second aspect had to do with their focus. The first, to some degree, still had his mind set on the things of the world. Even when he preached on setting your mind on things above, he did it with a heart that hoped he was establishing his own glory. The second man had been broken. His heart had been set free from this world. He knew it could no longer satisfy, so he had given up pursuing its glory a long time ago. One seemed to be walking home and calling others to go with him while the other appeared to be fairly content in this strange land.

Here is what I noticed in their preaching, to take a thought from Jayber Crow, one of them was troubled enough to have something worthwhile to say. The first one was unable to show us the emptiness of even the glorious things of this life in comparison to Christ because he had yet to see their vanity. The second one felt a shuddering within him, that knew that the things of this world were trembling all around us. No matter what the topic, his words, and actions shone like a spotlight on our glorious Savior and our true homeland.

So what about you? Where is your heart? Is Jesus the end you seek, or a means to an end? Are you awake enough to feel the frailty of this world convulse beneath you to such a degree that you dare not place your hope in it? We aspire to be like what we find beautiful. May your love for Jesus compel you to grow into His likeness, because if we have no desire to be conformed to His image or make his name known, we may not truly find Him beautiful like we say we do. We may still have our hearts set on this world. May God show us its vanity compared to Himself and turn our eyes heavenward. May we be troubled enough by this world to have something worth saying, and if we are too comfortable, may the Lord shake us from our slumber. May we be able to acknowledge that we are strangers and exiles on the earth.

For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. – Hebrews 11:14

-Doug Eaton