On the Wrong Side of the Line

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus…”
(Romans 3:23–24)

Here’s my confession for the day: I am a Stresser.

Maybe you already knew that.  Maybe you’ve seen me in one of my “moments,” when I’m harried, distracted, a little brusque in my greeting.  That’s me – stressing.

I’ve noticed lately that I’ve been “stressing out” a lot more than I used to.  My fuse is shorter, my temper hotter; I found myself nodding in agreement with Bruce Banner, “That’s my secret, Captain, I’m always angry.”

My wife, and even the children, have noticed this too.  “What’s the matter with daddy?” they will ask.

What is the matter?  I could try to come up with some rationale to explain this: poor balance between work and life; unhealthy stress management; taking on too many obligations; it’s just the normal way of things with a job, a wife, and four kids…

Instead, I think I’ll just cut straight to the chase.  I don’t have the time, don’t need the extra stress, to try to explain away my Stressed Out behavior.  I just tell you – It’s Sin!

I know what they say, some stress is healthy – but my sinful stressing is destructive and deadly.  My stress is sin.  It is gratifying the desires of the flesh, reveling in the delight of the moment at the cost of the eternal.  Look – I’m stressed because my egotistic personality insists that if something going to be done, it’s got to be done right (and I will determine what’s right), and I’m probably the only one able to do it.  I’m stressed because I’m unwilling to ask for help, and cannot understand why no one will step up to help me out.  I stress out because, secretly, momentarily, it feels real good to blow a gasket and erupt with a Vesuvius-esque fury all over those closest to me, even though the damage is lasting and hard to undo.

I was reminded the other day of something an elder said to me, long ago, in the first church I was serving. We were discussing marriage, ordination, sexual immorality – you know all those things that Presbyterians have been debating since time immemorial.  The church was discussing taking a Biblical stand on the matters at hand, when the elder said, “I don’t like drawing a line in the sand, because eventually I’ll find myself on the wrong side of the line.”

Friends can we just learn to accept this one fact: we are all on the wrong side of the line.  We are all sinners, everyone of us.  “For ALL have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God…” (Romans 3:23).  When you stand in the light of God’s righteous judgment, all of us are on the wrong side of the line.  We can try to dress up our sins, call them by a different name – to paraphrase the Bard – but a sin by any other name would smell just as bad.

We call it “an affair,” when the Bible calls it adultery.

We call it “anger issues” when the Bible calls it hating your brother – which is murder.

We call it “embezzlement” when the Bible calls it stealing.

We call it “misrepresenting the truth,” when the Bible says it is a lie.

We call it “keeping up with the Jones’” when the Bible says it is covetousness.

We say “there’s just not enough time in the week to get everything done,” when in reality we are breaking the Sabbath.

We compromise on Biblical truth, because we do not honor Scripture as the very word of God.

We are anxious because we do not believe God’s promises.

We are short tempered and angry because of our self-importance and cold, unmoving hearts.

We are slow to forgive one another because we downplay our own sinfulness and underestimate the magnitude of God’s grace towards us in Jesus Christ.

The call of Christ is the same for each of us.  Whether you are caught in immorality, or disobedient toward your parents – the call of Christ is “Repent, for the kingdom of Heaven is at hand.”  In His grace, trusting in that Gospel, turn from your sin – for sin is what it is – turn from your sin and know his gift of forgiveness, peace, and life.

Don’t hold on to your sin, thinking that it is a crutch that will support you, for it will only bring you down.  Instead, “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires,  and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,  and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22–24).

They say confession is good for the soul.  These deeply ingrained “fits of rage” in my life will take some time to conquer, and only by the strength of the Holy Spirit working in me will they be ultimately defeated.  And yet, they will never be defeated as long as I deny their sinfulness and hold on to them.  I confess.  I repent.  And I believe the Good News, that by the grace of God I am forgiven and delivered.

In the words of John Newton, I will hold to these two truths: “I am a great sinner, and Christ is a great Savior!”

Sola Deo Gloria!

The Danger of Praying for Holiness

“For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”
(Hebrews 12:6)

Have you ever felt that your prayers were going unanswered?  We come to the Lord, as he has taught us, praying that we might grow in holiness, that we might be more loving, that we might trust in Him, and yet everything in and around us seems to be working against this prayer.  Is God not listening?  Is God not answering?

Recently I’ve come across this hymn by John Newton (most noted for Amazing Grace):

I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek, more earnestly, His face.

’Twas He who taught me thus to pray,
And He, I trust, has answered prayer!
But it has been in such a way,
As almost drove me to despair.

This is the anguish of unanswered prayer, or so it would seem.  We read in the next stanza how we often look at prayer.  We come to God with right intentions, we want to overcome our sin, to find rest and peace – and we want God’s power to conquer and kill sin within us.  Give me holiness, give it now!

I hoped that in some favored hour,
At once He’d answer my request;
And by His love’s constraining pow’r,
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

What we find, what Newton teaches in the hymn, is that God often uses means and methods that we would never consider to answer our prayers and to bring us to holiness in Him.  When we would be free from sin, when we begin the journey to mortify sin in our lives, that’s when it seems that sin rears its ugly head even more.  Sin and its power in us assaults us, lays us low, until we cry out to God, “Will you pursue me to death?!”

Instead of this, He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart;
And let the angry pow’rs of hell
Assault my soul in every part.

Yea more with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Cast out my feelings, laid me low

Lord, why is this, I trembling cried,
Wilt thou pursue thy worm to death?
“’Tis in this way, the Lord replied,
I answer prayer for grace and faith.

Often this is the way that God answers our prayers for grace and faith, using our inward trials to break our dependence on the joys of this world, and to teach us to find our all in Him.

These inward trials I employ,
From self, and pride, to set thee free;
And break thy schemes of earthly joy,
That thou may’st find thy all in Me.”

When you engage in the war on sin, don’t give up when you find how deeply entrenched the enemy has become.  As you drive the enemy (whom Christ has defeated) from his stronghold – he will kick and scream.  He will accuse and curse.

But even this is from the hand of God.  Don’t kick against the goads, don’t chaff under the Father’s discipline.  As Hebrews 12 teaches, “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.  In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood… For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives… For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

These inward trials, this putting to death of the old life, weaning from the world, from self, from pride is painful – but it is necessary.  If you want to be more like Christ, you will, by necessity, become less like your old self.  The old orientation, the old desire – those things that came natural and easy – they are being replaced with the transforming power of God’s grace in Jesus Christ.

SDG

Here is a link to listen: