Dedicated to the devotional, exegetical and philosophical study of theological paradox in Conservative, Thoroughly Biblical, Historically Orthodox, Essentially Reformed theology . . . to the glory of God alone!

Friday, October 31, 2008

Psalm 32:5 - Confession and Forgiveness

I acknowledged my sin to You,
And my iniquity I did not hide
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD.”
And you forgave the iniquity of my sin.

David reaches a turning point here. The work of conviction which God has accomplished in His soul has reached its culmination, and David takes action. He does not begin with an attempt to reform himself, trying to clean himself up or making promises to change. He begins instead with a simple, honest confession of sin. And God responds.

David uses the same words for sin found in verses 1-2.

SinHeb. CHATA’AH – The general word for sin, missing the mark, inability to reach God’s requirement. This shows sin as that which generally characterizes us.
IniquityHeb. AVON – deep depravity, intrinsic sinfulness, evil nature, perversity, twistedness. This shows sin as that which corrupts our nature.
TransgressionHeb. PESHA – an act of sin, a crossing of the line, a deliberate act against God’s command. This shows sin as that which motivates and defines our actions.

It is interesting to see the way David builds a triangle out of these words, and the order in which they are mentioned: SIN - INIQUITY - TRANSGRESSION - INIQUITY - SIN. Hebrew poets were fond of this type of construction. It serves as a literary device that lends emphasis and calls our attention to the subject. David is fully convinced of his sin and he is earnestly confessing it.

Notice the way David approached each facet of his sin.

First, he acknowledged - or knew - his sinfulness. As sinners, we are prone to avoid this. We would rather not KNOW our sinfulness. We tend to focus on whatever good we see in ourselves instead. Or we strive to grow in other areas of knowledge, taking pains not to know ourselves. But knowing our sinfulness is the first step toward godliness. The knowledge of one’s sinfulness is a great gift from God - a gift to be cherished and received with gratefulness. Why? Because apart from this knowledge we never overcome our sin – it overcomes us. And apart from this knowledge we remain deceived, never realizing what it is in us that makes the cross a necessity. The best way to discover one's sinfulness is to spend time in the Word of God and to stay close to Jesus Christ. Focusing on the sins of others does not help at all. Oddly enough, sinning more does not always show us our sinfulness, either. When we practice sin, we generally become blind to its presence. This is known as "the deceitfulness of sin," and it leads to a hardened heart that gradually grows insensitive to evil.
Second, David did not hide his iniquity. When we see our deep depravity and the fact that we are by nature bent utterly toward evil, the typical reaction is to cover up. This is exactly what Adam and Eve did after they fell into sin in the garden. They found some fig leaves. By covering their bodies outwardly, they were painting a picture of what was going on in their hearts. They did not want to be known intimately, to be seen for what they were. Outwardly and at the heart, their most sensitive and emotionally responsive parts were now hidden from view. Between one another, they could decide if and when the outward parts would be seen. And between their souls and God, they could decide when their inward parts would be exposed. God has allowed man this capacity to hide from his Creator. We can separate ourselves from Him, hold back our honesty, and remain hard-hearted. Of course He still knows everything about us, but He doesn't KNOW US. It is sobering to realize that many will hear those very words, "I never knew you." The alternative is to lay our hearts bare and let Him truly know us as we are. Unbelievers NEVER lay their hearts bare before God, and indeed they cannot do so. As believers, we have the choice. And God’s response to our self-disclosure is to know us, love us, share Himself with us, and cover our unpresentable parts through His own self-sacrifice.
Third, David confessed his transgressions. He named the specific ways he had acted according to his depraved nature. He brought it into the light by speaking it with his own mouth and hearing it with his own ears. Our sins strike us in a new way when we hear ourselves tell of them in complete honesty. We can never confess all of our sin – that would be impossible. But laying out before God all that we know of our wicked acts is both healthy and necessary. The Puritans encouraged this as a daily habit. But we must never do this with the cross out of focus, or we will drown in a toxic sea of self-knowledge.

Note God's quick response. Before David even finished confessing, his sins were forgiven. He had only "said" he would confess his transgressions, but God had already rushed to meet Him in his repentance. God always meets repenting hearts, just as the father RAN to meet the prodigal son.

Note also the extent of the forgiveness David experienced. God forgave the INIQUITY of his sin. David was not only forgiven for his sinful acts, but for his depraved nature. God accepted him AS HE WAS and removed his guilt right down to the roots. See this clearly: Our great high priest does not merely forgive sins - He JUSTIFIES SINNERS! Let this fact settle in on your guilty heart for just a moment, and your joy will be unquenchable. Go ahead, let the truth about grace saturate your mind and heart! The Gospel IS Good News, my friend! God lavishes grace upon us (Ephesians 1), gives us more grace (James 4), pours His love into our hearts (Romans 5), and stands at our side as the One Who is FOR US (Romans 8)!

Up to this point, Psalm 32 has placed a lot of emphasis on the bitter experience of sin. Now, as David speaks of his repentance, we begin to see the wondrous blessings of grace displayed with a fresh and captivating beauty. As we move ahead to examine the benefits and results of repentance, may God break our hearts and draw us to Himself with a renewed appreciation for Who He IS and what He does in the soul of every penitent sinner.

The bad news of our sin is tough to face, but it makes the good news REALLY GOOD! Before offering us a complete makeover in the image of His Son, God sets us in front of the mirror. It's a very ugly mirror indeed, because it's perfectly accurate. But this is only the launch pad for what lies ahead.

Friday, October 24, 2008

The Essence of the Gospel

Here's something I've been contemplating, and I'd like to make this a running discussion for the THEOparadox community. The following is a statement that captures the essence of the Gospel to the best of my understanding. This came from asking myself, "If I had to summarize the Gospel in a single statement, how would I do it?" Here's what I settled on:

God gave His Son,
Jesus Christ,
for sinners
to be saved from sin
and sanctified
and secured forever
to the glory of God

It starts and ends with God, His love for sinners and His eternal glory. It concerns Jesus Christ and His work in behalf of sinners.

Those are the strengths of this statement. Do you find any weaknesses in it? I'd like to incorporate something on grace, faith, repentance and other related concepts. Please use the comments section to respond with thoughts on this, to offer your own statement describing the essence of the Gospel, or to draw our attention to classic statements on the subject. I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Praise God for saving sinners! Soli Deo Gloria!

Derek Ashton

EDITOR'S NOTE: Based on the comments received, my improved Gospel summary currently looks like this:

God lovingly sacrificed Jesus Christ,
His only begotten Son, on the cross
for a depraved, law-breaking humanity's
only means of salvation from His just wrath -
and through His resurrection sanctified
and secured forever those who believe -
for their eternal good and His eternal glory.

Feel free to comment further.

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Note To My Readers

I'd like to take a moment to thank everyone who reads this blog. Considering the myriad of great blogs and websites available today, it's an honor to have your attention and interest here. I pray you will be blessed through these studies. I hope that the Word and wisdom of God come alive to you in new ways, or at least in ways that help to keep your thoughts focused on His greatness.

You won't typically find a new post everyday, mostly because my time is limited. Instead, I strive to offer one or two quality posts a week. More when I can manage.

It's almost impossible to say anything original. Yet each Christian's words uniquely express the gracious way that God has worked in a particular soul. I am only one of many whom He has poured mercy upon, and I gratefully acknowledge the Blessed One for Whom this blog exists. Its ultimate purpose is to bring glory to Him, but its temporal purpose is to edify YOU, the reader. And you, also, are for His glory.

Grace & peace,
Derek Ashton

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Psalm 32:4 - Dried Up

"My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer. Selah." (NASB)
"My strength was dried up (Heb. changed) as by the heat of summer. Selah." (ESV)
"My moisture was changed as with the drought of summer. Selah." (ASV)

I was employed by an orthodontist for several years and often had the privilege of putting braces on peoples' teeth. It was interesting work, to say the least. If one learns anything working in an orthodontic clinic, it's that bonding metal onto teeth requires extreme dryness. We went to great lengths to ensure that the teeth we were working on stayed dry, often resorting to elaborate setups that included cotton, bursts of air, suction, plastic lip retractors, and even chemical drying agents. All of this paraphernalia was deployed with the intent of keeping the teeth extremely dry. If a patient happened to move his tongue and swipe a tooth, the whole process had to be started over again. For me, this was a bit frustrating at times. But after a brace has been bonded to a properly dried tooth, a great deal of force is required to remove it. It typically requires a special pair of plyers to take the brace off, followed by high speed drilling at over 20,000 RPMs to clean up residual adhesive. In many cases, braces will remain in place for 2-3 years before being removed. However, if the slightest bit of moisture is allowed to remain, the brace will usually fall off within a few minutes. If you think about it, most bonding processes involve some type of drying. Paint, caulking, glue, paste and flooring adhesives are all good illustrations of this. Heat is also commonly used in bonding processes such as hot laminating, window sealing, automotive finishes, etc. And most bonding process involve the application of firm pressure at some stage.

What does all of this have to do with Psalm 32, you ask. It's a great question. To answer it, let's consider the elements of verse 4: A heavy hand. Heat. Moisture evaporating. Drying out. Sound familiar? Could it be a bonding process of sorts? Is it possible that God's work in David's life during the time of tormenting guilt was preparation for a stronger bond between the two of them? Was God perhaps transitioning David from a mere taped-on attachment to an orthodontic-style union? Was God pressing him, heating him, and drying him out in order to make his repentance stick? Perhaps I'm applying a modern concept to a primitive text, but the parallels are unmistakable.

David felt like he was dying. He sensed his life and strength draining away. His feelings reflected a sobering reality: every step away from God is a step in the direction of eternal death. God takes this seriously, and if He has lain His hand upon you it is with the purpose of uniting you to Himself and keeping you near Him forever. He will let you die a thousand humbling deaths in the knowledge of your iniquity if that will ultimately draw you closer to Him. We appreciate grace much more when once we have lived for a season without it. Even as believers, we may have these experiences where grace seems absent. In reality, we know we have not been abandoned, but we nevertheless feel the sting of what could be if we were lost eternally.

As one of the great Puritan authors noted, "Till sin be bitter, Christ will not be sweet." (Thomas Watson, The Doctrine of Repentance)

Dear friend, if God has allowed you to die under the weight of your guilt, believe and know that His intent is to draw you to Himself, to sanctify and transform you, to securely fasten you to Himself. What blessedness there is in this! Take hold of this truth and flee to Him now - with the resolve illustrated by David in the next verses of Psalm 32.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Psalm 32:4 - The Heavy Hand of God

For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me.

This post will deal only with the first half of verse 4. We'll take look at the second part of the verse in the next post.
Under the weight of his guilt, David felt the heavy hand of God upon him. Sin is always against God, and God is always against sin, so the responsibility for dealing with sin is God's. He is the Great Moral Judge Who writes the Law which charges us and He declares the judgment which condemns our sin. His heavy hand is a hand of stark justice, and because of our depravity we rightly feel condemned under the weight of it.
But was God's heavy hand on David ONLY exercising the justice of condemnation? Certainly not. Let us examine the ways in which it was a revelation of mercy.
First, note that it was a measured heaviness. David was not squashed under it, killed and immediately sent to hell as strict justice would have demanded. He was allowed to feel an uncomfortable pressure that was designed to lead him toward repentance. It was a display of God's patience in withholding the full judgment that was deserved.
Second, it represented the touch of God that remained on David's life. David was still in direct contact with God. God's hand was correcting, not condemning him. At this time in David's life, God's touch was heavy and severe, but it wasn't absent. God had not abandoned him to his sin.
Third, it was the beginning of God's saving work in David's behalf. What felt like a crushing weight to David was actually God's hand laying a secure hold on him in preparation for the rescue that was to follow. Those who save lives as part of their daily work understand this all too well. Rescue workers are trained to take a firm grasp of the person who is in jeopardy and hold on tenaciously. Our perseverance in faith is directly linked to God's perseverance in grace. If He ever let go of us, we would be lost. But the heavy hand is God's firm grip preparing to pull us from the clutches of sin.

Dear friend, thank God for all the conviction of sin you have ever felt. Praise Him for any sense you have ever had of the crushing weight of your iniquity. Be grateful for the humbling and humiliating knowledge of transgression that feels unbearable to you. These are indications of the glorious, heavy hand of God that refuses to leave you perishing and resists every step you take toward destruction. Do not mistake His severity for an intent to destroy. It is not for your destruction, but for your salvation that He lays a heavy hand upon you. If it was God's purpose to destroy you, He would never convict you of sin.

Calvin offers this insight: "[David] was kept down and fettered by perplexing griefs, and distracted with lingering torments, until he was well subdued and made meek, which is the first sign of seeking a remedy. And this again teaches us, that it is not without cause that the chastisements by which God seems to deal cruelly with us are repeated, and his hand made heavy against us, until our fierce pride, which we know to be un-tameable, unless subdued with the heaviest stripes, is humbled." (Comment on Psalm 32:4)

Great and merciful Lord, I thank You for the heavy hand which humbles my fierce and un-tameable pride - and draws me back to You again and again. Amen.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Psalm 32:3 - Wasted Bones

When I kept silent about my sin my body [lit. bones] wasted away through my groaning [lit. roaring] all day long.

David remembers his experience of unconfessed sin as a time of spiritual and physical deterioration, agonizing pain and intense suffering.

The concept of "bones" in Hebrew poetry can sometimes refer to the physical skeleton, but often it is used figuratively. In this sense, it is reserved for the most intense experiences of life. The Hebrews were keen on using words like "heart" and "soul" to describe their inner state, but when they said "bones" it was meant to deliberatly take things a step further. We use similar expressions in English, when we say something is "bad to the bone," or an insulting remark "cuts to the bone." It indicates something concentrated, forceful, incisive, deep-seated or severe. The word as used in the Hebrew also connects the soul to the body. To put it in modern terminology, it indicates a "psycho-somatic" experience that is so deep it affects the whole person, inside and out. Here are a few brief examples:

Job 4:14 Dread came upon me, and trembling, and made all my bones shake.
Job 30:17 My bones are pierced in me in the night season: and my sinews take no rest.
Job 33:9 At night it pierces my bones within me, and my gnawing pains take no rest.
Psalm 6:2 Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am pining away; heal me, O LORD, for my bones are dismayed.
Psalm 31:10 For my life is spent with sorrow and my years with sighing; my strength has failed because of my iniquity, and my body [lit. bones] has wasted away.
Psalm 102:3 For my days have been consumed in smoke, and my bones have been scorched like a hearth.
Proverbs 14:30 A tranquil heart is life to the body, but passion is rottenness to the bones.
Proverbs 15:30 Bright eyes gladden the heart; good news puts fat on the bones.
Proverbs 17:22 A joyful heart is good medicine, but a broken spirit dries up the bones.
Jeremiah 20:9 But if I say, "I will not remember Him or speak anymore in His name," then in my heart it becomes like a burning fire shut up in my bones; and I am weary of holding it in, and I cannot endure it.
Jeremiah 23:9 My heart is broken within me, all my bones tremble; I have become like a drunken man, even like a man overcome with wine, because of the LORD and because of His holy words.
Habakkuk 3:16 I heard and my inward parts trembled, at the sound my lips quivered. Decay enters my bones, and in my place I tremble.

For a child of God, moments spent outside of conscious fellowship with Him are like a time warp in which the body and soul seem to age at an accelerated pace. In such a state, the decay of thoughts and desires is sharp and quick. It's excruciating. We cannot bear the enmity we feel. Sins that began with promises of pleasure, status, self-fulfillment, riches and glory end up crushing us with deep spiritual pain as our guilt intensifies. Some people have literally dropped dead over the effects of guilt.
David feels this so strongly that he can only roar, or moan, in sorrow and shame. His conscience is killing him. This is the rotting fruit of unbelief. This is the result of failing to draw near to God - in the knowledge of His mercy and grace - just as we are.
Christ carried the cross and bore our sin upon it. But even for the sinless Son of God, the act of carrying sins was one which left Him pierced and crushed. In fact, He died. What will happen to you, if you try to carry your sins?
Dear friend, do not wallow in the shame of your depravity, awaiting a favorable time to repent. The favorable time is NOW. Do not hold back, but come to the risen Christ and be healed. For He is "good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon [Him]." (Psalm 86:5)

Monday, October 06, 2008

Making Confession: A Practical Note on Psalm 32:1-2

The two previous posts on Psalm 32 lead to some practical principles which we may apply in daily life. I pray these encouragements will give you aid in your struggle against indwelling sin and spur you on to love and good deeds.

1. Confess Sin Quickly. Our spiritual maturity can be gauged by the speed with which we flee to Christ in the face of temptation and sin. If we respond to temptation by sinning, and then wait awhile before taking our sin to the Lord, we hinder our progress in sanctification. With maturity and a better understanding of grace, we will confess quickly whenever we sin. But we must take it a step further.

Grace ensures both the forgiveness and the change we need. It teaches us to "deny [that is, say "no" to] ungodliness and worldly desires" and to "live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age." (Titus 2:11-12) As we grow in grace, we learn to overcome sin by going to God in confession as soon as we are tempted - and before we actually commit sin. By doing this we can avoid much of the bitterness of sin, and we can turn our temptations into opportunities to lay hold of grace. In essence, the closer the confession gets to the actual root of the sin, the less we sin. In this way, those who practice sin the least tend to confess their sinfulness the most. And those who sin the most tend to blame others, avoid responsibility and minimize their faults the most.

Let it be stated clearly: by grace, we fight sin in cooperation with God. The alternative is to legalistically fight a losing battle in our own strength. A legalistic approach says, "Win the battle against sin and you will be accepted by God." Grace says, "You have already been accepted by God, therefore you can win the battle against sin with His help."

2. Lay Hold of Grace Immediately. Do not stop at confession of sin. This is not enough. David tells us we are blessed not because we confess sin but because we experience the forgiveness God offers. We fall into a dangerous trap when we confess sin over and over without laying hold of the grace God is extending to us.

When you face temptation, do not merely say "God, I am a terrible sinner." You will probably give yourself into the hands of the temptation if you stop on that point. Instead, say "My Father, I am a terrible sinner, but You are giving me grace to overcome my sin. Thank you for this grace. I know that You forgive my tendency to sin, and my desire to commit this sin. You have forgiven all my past sins, and You have promised me the grace to fight sin now. I am tempted to [for example: steal something], but by Your grace I'm going to do the opposite. I'm going to [give something away] right now." And thus we overcome temptation, putting sin to death by the grace of God. In this way God turns the temptation into an opportunity to do His will.

It is mere unbelief that prevents us from confessing sin quickly and laying hold of grace immediately. The delay caused by this unbelief hinders our spiritual growth. Let it not be so in your case, dear friend. Pray this prayer of faith: "Lord, I believe. Help me overcome my unbelief!" And take the advice of Hebrews 4:16 ...

Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

If you have been going to a throne of law, you may be feeling defeated, condemned and unhelped. Turn from that throne, it is not the place where Christ sits. He is on the throne of grace - turn there without hesitation and receive His boundless mercy!

Friday, October 03, 2008

Psalm 32:2 - Honest to God

Psalm 32:2 - How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, And in whose spirit there is no deceit!

In verse one, David referred to human sinfulness in two ways:

~Transgressions - Heb. PESHA - deliberate acts of crossing the line and breaking the commandment of God, acts of rebellion. These are "forgiven," i.e. lifted from us and carried away.
~sins - Heb. CHATA'AH - the more general word for sins, often described as "missing the mark." We commit sins because we are unable to attain to God's standard. These are "covered," i.e. hidden by God.

Now David adds a third concept to the description of our sinfulness:

~Iniquity - Heb. AVON - perversity, depravity. It comes from a word that means "to twist, to distort, to bend, to pervert." Iniquity describes the depraved sinful nature of fallen man. This goes beyond what we do and reaches to the very core of what we are. We are not as God originally created us. We have become a twisted version of it. We no longer bear the image of God, but we can bear that image. We are still human, but we are not good. In the New Testament the word "iniquity" is often translated as "lawlessness." It implies that there is no principle of restraint in us. In our natural state, we can only sin.
How does God deal with our innate evil when he forgives us? He simply "does not impute" it. This means He does not think of it, does not charge us with it, does not take it into account. It is the blessed "unremembrance" of God, wherein He deliberately removes the thought of our sin from His mind. He replaces thoughts of our depravity with thoughts of Christ's righteousness.
Think of it! In Christ, God does not think of us in terms of sin anymore. Instead, He thinks of us in terms of righteousness. This is Paul's point in Romans 4, where he quotes Psalm 32:1-2 ...

Romans 4:6-8 just as David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: "BLESSED ARE THOSE WHOSE LAWLESS DEEDS HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN, AND WHOSE SINS HAVE BEEN COVERED. "BLESSED IS THE MAN WHOSE SIN THE LORD WILL NOT TAKE INTO ACCOUNT."

So God no longer views us in terms of our depravity. Instead, He sees us as righteous. But the righteousness is not from us, it's all Christ's. It's revealed in the cross, proved in the resurrection, and it comes to us by grace alone, through faith alone.
David adds one final note to our blessedness, and this is the part that makes all the difference in our daily experience. He declares the person blessed "in whose spirit there is no deceit." The word translated "deceit" implies both negligence and deception. Because of our depraved nature, we typically don't take sin seriously. We ignore it, let it go, pretend it isn't there. We deceive ourselves and present a false image to others. Worst of all, we lie to God by failing to confess our sin to Him. After walking this hard and bitter road, David learned that this course is both dangerous and destructive - it's described in verses 3 and 4.
All the blessings of forgiveness and mercy are available to us, but without the faith that honestly confesses sin to God we cannot know them as present realities. David's earnest repentance calls us to rip the cover off of our hearts before God and make ourselves known to Him - exactly as we are. In the open confession of sin, you will discover a marvelous response from God. As you mourn over sin, God Himself will comfort you. As you declare your spiritual poverty, God Himself will enrich you. As you fall down broken before Him, He will heal and restore your soul. This is the blessedness known only to those who humbly remove all the deceit from their spirit by telling God the truth about themselves.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Psalm 32:1 - A Blessing for Sinners

When God calls a sinner to Himself, the initial response is often terror. The knowledge of sin. The feeling of guilt. The sense of responsibility. The grave realization of depravity. No man can reach the safety of salvation until he has passed through the dread wasteland of spiritual poverty.
Should it be otherwise? We have willfully and willingly rebelled against God's Words. We have hated the One Who is love. We have defied the Sovereign One. We have loved and served and devoted ourselves to evil, and filth, and destruction, and everything that is less than God and therefore unworthy of our devotion. We have made evil out of good. We have lied to ourselves and to others. We have selfishly taken whatever we have desired. And on top of all this, we are proud of ourselves. I don't know about you, but for me this is just scratching the surface of the sins I know I have committed. No wonder we are terrified by the call of a holy, perfect and pure God.

God's law, which is "holy, righteous and good," reveals our guiltiness and condemns us to the judgment we truly deserve: to be separated from the presence and glory of the living God forever. We have good reason to be afraid of the voice of God.
But God does not call sinners to Himself in order to deal out the justice they deserve. He calls us with the distinct intention of blessing us. You may be thinking, "What? How can God bless a sinner?" God blesses sinners by forgiving them when they come to Him. This is the profound realization of amazing grace which led David to cry out with these words:

Psalm 32:1 "How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, Whose sin is covered!"

Every repenting sinner is moved by the realization of two great needs. The need to be forgiven, and the need to change. This was David's cry in Psalm 51, as he expressed the need for forgiveness here . . .

Psalm 51:1 Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions.

and the need for change here . . .

Psalm 51:2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity And cleanse me from my sin.

The Hebrew word used here suggests that David is literally asking God to stomp the sin out of him. It pictures the ancient method of laundering clothing by trampling the dirt out in a field of lye. And the word "thoroughly" is added to this already rugged concept. David is desperate to change, and he's not praying rosy little prayers about it. I'd like very much to see this verse on a devotional poster, with a picture of people in a third world country doing their laundry the old-fashioned way.
In Psalm 32, we deal primarily with the need to be forgiven. However, this experience of forgiveness is a necessary step toward change. One who has not been forgiven cannot possibly change in the ways prescribed by Biblical repentance.
As we work through the verses of this psalm, I pray that we may come to the understanding that it is ALWAYS right and best to name every shortcoming we find in ourselves exactly as God does: as SIN. And it is always right and best to take every sin directly to Him in confession and repentance, without delay or hesitation.
The sight of one's own sinfulness can be daunting. "Am I really this bad?" we ask ourselves. It's best to admit the truth. No, I am not this bad. I am much worse. By grace, most of my sin remains inside. I am not even conscious of most of it. But if my heart were fully revealed, every kind of sin would be found there.

Matthew 7:21-23 "For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man."

When we call our faults by any name other than sin (or the other Biblical classifications like transgression, wickedness, evil, abomination, etc.), we separate them from the remedy offered in the cross. Jesus did not bear our "disorders" or "syndromes" or "slips" or "mistakes" or "things that aren't really my fault." He bore our sins. OUR sins. We chose them, we own them, we are responsible for them.
We have trained ourselves to blame others - our parents, society, friends, enemies, the devil, the dog, the door man. Anyone but ourselves. If we place the responsibility for our sins outside of ourselves, we won't apply the remedy where it is most need: in our hearts.
We tend to avoid facing our responsibility before God by busying ourselves with work, or play, or entertainment, or study, or reading, or sleeping, or talking. Anything but direct confrontation with ourselves and God. If we run and hide, as Adam and Eve did in the garden, we rob God of the opportunity to restore us; and we rob ourselves of the opportunity to grow in grace.

It doesn't have to be this way . . .
Look! There, for all to see, stands a blood-stained cross and an empty grave. Christ has tasted death and been raised to life. He has carried our sins away and covered them with His own blood! Dear friend, the cross means your sins are gone. Christ has bought us and reconciled us to God with NO WRATH REMAINING against us! He has called us friends, called us righteous, called us His very own! The just sentence of the Law has been fulfilled because He died in our place. All has been paid, and we now owe nothing for our sins. He has purchased our forgiveness, and we are affectionately loved by God, adopted into His family, accepted in Christ. We are placed next to the Son of God as the Father's beloved children.

Look again! Christ is seated in the center of heaven, and all who trustingly come to Him receive a forgiveness without bounds. He wants to bless us. He wants to reassure us. He wants to bring us out of the perilous swamp of sin and guilt. These are the blessings found by those who cast themselves - as sinners - at His feet.
In our text, sin is dealt with in two ways: it is forgiven and it is covered. The word "forgiven" means carried away, removed from sight and consideration. The word "covered" indicates that God hides our sin. It's the same word David uses in verse 5, where he says that by confessing he "did not hide" his sin from God. If we cover our sins, we remain unforgiven. But if we confess our sins to God, He covers them! God is much better at dealing with sin than we are, so we must trust Him. This is the message of the cross, and this is how God deals with sin when we bring it to Him.
Dear friend, do not run and hide from the God Whose desire is to bless you with grace, pardon, forgiveness and mercy. The shame that drives you away from Him will disappear when you look into His eyes. Those all-seeing eyes burn with a passionate will to show mercy to approaching sinners.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

My Goodness, What a Paradox! Part 4

In parts 1, 2 and 3, we have looked at and partially explained the paradox presented by Biblical affirmations that certain people are good, in light Jesus' thrice-repeated statement that only God is good. We have shown that this is not an actual contradiction at all. We have learned that all human goodness is nothing more than the reflection of God's goodness as it is manifested in those who trust Him and are filled with His Spirit. Now let's look at a few verses from Philemon that tell of the effect of God's goodness in us. This should help to drive it all home. May God open His Word to our hearts, and our hearts to His Word.


Philemon 1:4-6 “I thank my God always, making mention of you in my prayers, because I hear of your love and of the faith which you have toward the Lord Jesus and toward all the saints; and I pray that the fellowship of your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ’s sake."

Greek scholar Kenneth S. Wuest translates verse 6 this way: “praying that the contribution of your faith, which faith you share in common with other believers, may [through the resultant love which you have for all the saints] become effective in the sphere of a full and perfect experiential knowledge of every good thing in us with a view to [the glory of] Christ. (The New Testament, An Expanded Translation)

This is a difficult Pauline sentence which does not translate easily into English. I am not completely sure how some parts of it are best taken. However, I will pass on what I have learned, and especially what is obvious in it: our fellowship with other believers becomes active and effective when we know the good things God has put in us for the glory of Christ.

The word translated “effective” is ENERGES in Greek. Here are a few definitions and translations of this word:
“active” (Brown-Driver-Briggs)
“at work, active” (NASB Dictionary)
“active, operative” (Strong)
“at work” (A.T. Robertson)
“active, powerful in action ... Eng. 'energy;' the word 'work' is derived from the same root” (Vine)

“energetic” (Rotherham)
“working” (Young's Literal Translation)
“operative, active, effective" (Barnes)

Commenting on ENERGES, Vincent points out the following: “This adjective, and the kindred ENERGEO to work, be effectual, ENERGEMA working, operation, and ENERGEIA energy, power in exercise, are used in the New Testament only of superhuman power, good or evil.” (Word Studies in the New Testament, by Marvin R. Vincent)

Notice what is being said: faith expresses itself by supernatural love when we have this matter of goodness in proper focus. If we don't realize that good is in us through Christ and for the sake of Christ, our faith will remain inactive, inoperative, ineffective, not working. Apart from God's goodness in us, we have nothing to offer. Thinking of our goodness apart from Christ guts our faith, hinders our ability to demonstrate God's love and paralyzes our fellowship with other believers. Paul is praying that it may not be so in the case of Philemon.

John Gill notes, “the meaning is, that every good thing that is in the saints, or among them, should be acknowledged to come to them in and through Christ Jesus, in whom all fullness of grace dwells, and from whom all is imparted; and that every good thing that is communicated, or done in faith, which is effectual to any good purpose, should be owned as done by the grace and strength of Christ, and be done to his saints, as if done to himself, and be directed to his glory....”

To sum it up ...
The source of the goodness in us: God alone
The effect of the goodness in us: our faith actively working in fellowship with God's people
The purpose of the goodness in us: to bring glory to Christ

A few verses later, Paul adds a bit more to our understanding of divine and human goodness . . .


Philemon 1:14 “but without your consent I did not want to do anything, so that your goodness would not be, in effect, by compulsion but of your own free will.”

Without getting into all the issues and questions that might come to mind when reading this verse, let's acknowledge what it implies: believers' wills are freed to do good. Church leaders need to understand this fact as Paul did, and resist the temptation to employ coercive or manipulative tactics.

The way Paul deals with Philemon is an example of good leadership that takes full account of the possibilities of sin and righteousness in a believer, as well as the extent to which the particular believer has grown in grace. Paul is keenly aware of the indwelling sin in all believers. He has had to deal with it in himself and in the churches throughout his ministry. But in this case he only mentions evidences of grace that he has observed in Philemon. He does not berate Philemon, but encourages him. He physically sends Onesimus back to Philemon to deliver the letter, giving Philemon complete freedom and control over what happens next. Will Philemon exercise his rights under law to punish and retain Onesimus? Or will he mercifully set him free and help him get back to Paul? For his part, the apostle has great confidence in the power of grace and of God's goodness at work in Philemon:

Philemon 1:21 "Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, since I know that you will do even more than what I say."

Philemon is evidently a mature believer who has learned to practice grace and godliness. Through the miracle of grace, his will has become accustomed to obedience and generosity. There is great hope here for every one of us.

Every believer is filled with the goodness of God and therefore has both the desire and the capacity to do good. But to keep it balanced, let's remind ourselves that we have no good apart from God. We need to remember that we are still sinners who battle with the flesh and retain in our nature both the capacity and the tendency to do evil. Taking this balanced view will help us to approach fellow Christians with realistic expectations. As we acknowledge the remaining sinful nature, we won't be surprised when sin makes its presence known. And as we consider the abundance of good grace given to us by God, we will expect sin to be dealt with strongly and righteousness to be practiced increasingly. We will be looking for evidence of grace in fellow believers so that we can encourage them and give glory to God.

What follows is bonus material with very little comment from me . . .


Philippians 1:6 “For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.”


James 1:17 “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow."

At our best, we are full of variation and shifting shadow, terribly inconsistent and unreliable. But God is not. He is good, at all times and in every way, immutably and faithfully, eternally and efficaciously, sovereignly and deliberately. To Him alone be glory forever and ever. Amen.

This is a good place to end this study. Thanks for taking the time to read it. As always, comments are welcomed and invited.