I read the Denison Forum this morning, and my first thought was deep dismay. Oh, how we have fallen, and turned away from God! My heart grieves.
Dr Denison presents some interesting headlines, and comments in an unbiased manner. He then outlines what we, as Christians, may do in response:
Read God’s Word
Speak God’s Word in truth
I would add another: Pray. Pray without ceasing. Lift all this up to our Heavenly Father. Lift Him up in praise. Ask for wisdom and discernment, for yourself and for those in authority. Fall on your face before Him, confessing our sins, and claiming His mercy and forgiveness.
As I was reading through Zechariah, and came across Chapter 8, I was reminded of a story I wrote years ago. The story included a character named Pastor John, and he gave a sermon. Here is that portion:
* * * * * *
Pastor came to the podium and arranged his things, then cleared his throat and began. “In continuing my series on sin, we are still in the Old Testament, rich in examples. We’re learning what sin is, how to recognize it, and what to do about it. When we sin, it is important to look at it, recognize it as sin, and confess it. Let the Holy Spirit work in you. I pray that is an effect of this message. My sermon this week is titled, ‘Sin, Confession, and Peace,’ and the main text is from Nehemiah Chapter 4 and Zechariah Chapter 8.” He stopped, listening to the rustle of tissue pages as the congregation turned in their Bibles to the passages.
“If you’ve read the book of Nehemiah, you know that he is a humble man of God. Reviewing his heartfelt prayers to God in chapter one, we see that he handles the Word of God rightly, and prays God’s own words back to Him. Nehemiah writes this in the first person: I heard these words, I sat down and wept, I prayed before the God of Heaven. This was a man who knew God’s Word, and knew how God’s people had broken His heart. In chapter one verses 6 and 7, he says that he prays and confesses, the sins of the children of Israel, which we have sinned against thee: both I and my father’s house have sinned. We have dealt very corruptly against thee, and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the judgments, which thou commandedst thy servant Moses. He knew God’s purposes for His people, His plans to prosper them and not to harm them. He also knew God’s people had utterly rejected their God, their Provider, and their Protector. The prophets, before the Jews were carted away to Babylon, had told the people to go ahead and let themselves be carted away, to not rebel or make war. We see then that Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and many of the priests who ended up in Babylon heeded the prophets. They listened to God, they heeded His Word, and they obeyed Him.
“So, there’s Nehemiah, serving the king of Babylon. Note first that God has grabbed Nehemiah’s heart. Nehemiah loves his God. In the first chapter, he pours out his heart to a very personal God. Secondly, God has put him in what may seem to be a menial position, that of a wine taster. This is not a menial position at all, and maybe that can be the topic of another sermon. Suffice it to say that Nehemiah has ongoing, face-to-face contact with the king of the civilized world. This is also a personal relationship: Nehemiah notes that he had not previously had a long face before the king. On this day, he is so sad that his face shows it, and the king notices! Not only that, but the king asks him what’s up. Not only that, but Nehemiah is on a comfort level with the king that he asks (albeit with knees knocking) a huge favor, and the king grants it – big time!
“Nehemiah gets to go back to Jerusalem and work at rebuilding the temple. He lets nothing distract him from his goal of making Jerusalem a center of refuge for the remnant of Israelites who lived in the region (Nehemiah 6.3). Here is a picture: The church needs to be a center of refuge. It is here for those who will avail themselves of it – to those who come. Notice, not all chose to return to Jerusalem; many chose to stay in Babylon. As today, not all choose to come to church; but we build this church, this body of Jesus Christ, for all who will come, and we invite His people to this place of refuge.
“In Nehemiah Chapter 4, while the people are building, the enemy is coming. Let’s pick up in verse 13.” He proceeded to read verses 13 through 21.
“Nehemiah lays it all out for us: When the enemy came, they 1) prayed to God, 2) set a watch, 3) continued to build and 4) kept their weapons and alarms in hand. God makes for us a wall of protection around us, not only as a church, but also individually. His Holy Spirit resides within each of us. We are His temple, as God tells us in 1 Corinthians 3.16. We don’t always walk in the Lord. We don’t always fully obey. Sometimes we allow the enemy to invade; sometimes it’s because we live in the flesh (and we like it); sometimes it’s through simply not knowing God’s Word and not bothering to find out (like David and Uzzah, when he tried bringing the ark back to Jerusalem and Uzzah died). When our walls are destroyed, we are desolate, and we lie in ruins (see Isaiah Ch. 64). Because God’s Spirit is within us, we can look up to Him and confess. He will quicken hearts, raise up people and resources to accomplish His work, and lead us. But we must be faithful to remain diligent in the work, else we return to desolation and ruin. This is exactly what happens later in Nehemiah, by the way, and what happens in each of us. Diligent in the work means staying in God’s Word and staying with the tasks to which He calls us. The book of Nehemiah outlines what they did back then, and we can use those same tools today. 1) Pray to God. Make sure you know to Whom you pray. 2) Set a watch. God’s Word tells us that Satan prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Watch out for Satan, for evil, for opportunities for the flesh. 3) Continue to build. Read God’s Word. Meditate in it. Pray. 4) Keep your weapons and alarms in hand. Peter tells us to be ready always to give an answer to every man that asks you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear. Memorize God’s Word, to keep it in your heart. Know the promptings of His Holy Spirit. Setting an alarm might mean being accountable to another person.
“While Nehemiah was building, there is no record that enemy armies are actually invading or attacking the builders, yet there were Sanballat and Tobiah with their armies, mocking. In verse 13, it says, I even set the people after their families with their swords, their spears, and their bows. Nehemiah arranged people in their families with their swords and their spears and their bows. Sometimes it just feels safer to carry a big stick, whether danger is imminent or not. He’s a wise man, that Nehemiah. The trust is in God. He makes his people ready, should the need arise, or should God call.
“Later in Nehemiah, as I said, the people again sin. Nehemiah calls them together and reads God’s Word. They are convicted, fall on their faces, and repent. Only God’s Word has the power to do that.
“In these passages, let’s look at how God’s Word is used. First, it’s their big stick. Paul calls it the sword of the Spirit. It’s how they defend themselves, and how they feel safe. Second, God’s Word brings recognition of sin, the power of conviction; and with it, the hope of forgiveness in repentance.
“Why do all this? It’s a lot of work for Nehemiah and the people, and they stand in danger. What’s the goal? What do they think they’ll get out of it?
“Seventy-five years before Nehemiah arrived in Jerusalem, God raised up a prophet in that city, Zechariah. Within seventy-five years, we can only guess whether Nehemiah had access to Zechariah’s writings. He may have. Whether he did or not, Nehemiah knew God, and trusted Him.
“Let’s look at what God promised through Zechariah, in Chapter 8. It’s a fairly short chapter, only 23 verses. Its wording is powerful, and worth reading aloud, so I’m going to go ahead and read the whole chapter.”
As he finished reading, Pastor John looked up at his flock and beamed. “What a song of hope for the despairing Jews returning to their wasteland! To see what lay around them, and then to see the vision Zechariah presented to them from their God would have been a great leap of faith for these people, and a great blessing. This is what I see:
“Safety: verses 4 and 5, Old men and women in the streets with children playing. This is a picture of security, showing that they will live long lives and will not be snatched away in their youth.
“Unity: verses 7 and 8, He will save His people from the east country and bring them to the west country to dwell in Jerusalem, and He will be their God in truth and in righteousness.
“Purpose: verses 10 through 12, Before, there was no hire, no jobs, no peace. Now they have promises that the vine shall give her fruit, the ground shall give her increase, and the heavens shall give their dew; the remnant will possess all these things. But 1) v 13: let your hands be strong, 2) v 16: speak the truth, 3) v 16: execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates, 4) v 17: don’t imagine evil in your hearts against your neighbor, and 5) v 17: love no false oath. These are things the Lord hates.
“Promise: verses 19 through 23, Fasting shall be turned to feasting. They shall have joy and gladness and cheerful feasts. There shall come people, and the inhabitants of many cities who will desire to go speedily, that they may pray before the Lord of hosts, and may seek Him. People will take hold of the skirt of him who is a Jew saying, We will go with you: for we have heard that God is with you.
“These are still the promises of God to His people, when we live in obedience to Him. Praise Him! In the words of Psalm 33.1, Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous! For praise from the upright is beautiful. I close with Psalm 100: Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, all ye lands. Serve the LORD with gladness: come before His presence with singing. Know ye that the LORD He is God: it is He that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are His people, and the sheep of His pasture. Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise: be thankful unto Him, and bless His name. For the LORD is good; His mercy is everlasting; and His truth endureth to all generations.”
God has given me a burden of confession. It started when He laid this on my heart:
Sometimes, when I want something that I know I shouldn’t, I don’t want to cry to God for deliverance from temptation. “I want it, I’ll have it,” is what goes through my mind (either subconsciously or right in the front of my brain). This mostly concerns food, but to what other areas of my life does this apply?
This is a serious sin, Lord. Thank you for showing me. I confess. May I always run to You.
Since that day, this post has been bubbling and burning in me, to write about sin and confession and repentance.
In the Old Testament, God gives us a picture of living in sin, right from the time of Adam and Eve. He shows how sin leads us into bondage and darkness, when the Israelites were in Egypt. Also throughout the Old Testament, God gives us a promise of salvation. God saved His people from bondage, and brought them out of Egypt. But once in that Promised Land, they needed to fight and destroy the enemy so that they could live in peace. God didn’t just wipe out the enemy for them; they had to “work out their own salvation,” so to speak. They had to continually be on guard, keep up the defenses, and be ready to fight. Sometimes they gave up. Sometimes they didn’t care.
God chose David to be a victorious warrior, to take back the ground God meant for them to have. He and his son, Solomon, set the kingdom up to live in peace. Sadly, Solomon did not keep up the defenses, primarily the defense tool of honoring God and obeying Him.
Salvation gives us peace, a relationship with God. Our responsibility is to follow and obey Him. Sin puts up a wall, prevents us from receiving His blessings (we give ground to satan, Ephesians 4.27). When we confess sin, it’s not that we tear down that wall or take back that ground; it’s that we confess we can’t, and ask God to deliver us.
Our responsibility is to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2.12). We are to draw near to God, cleanse our hands, and purify our hearts (James 4.8). When we confess, purify our hearts, and walk in full obedience to God, we cannot even imagine the blessings He has in store for us.
1 Corinthians 2.9 But as it is written: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, Nor have entered into the heart of man The things which God has prepared for those who love Him.”
Fall on your face before God Almighty, and ask Him to reveal your sin to you, that you can confess to Him, and receive His forgiveness:
Psalms 139.23, 24 Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting
Did I fail God in any areas of personal conduct?
Did I miss an opportunity / did I avoid doing something I should have?
Was I honest in my dealings with others?
Did I depend on myself or on God?
Were my thoughts pleasing to God?
Was I wasteful with my time / money / home / people / food / family / friends / other relationships or resources?
Did I honor God with my actions?
Did I steal?
Name / reputation
Did I cause, condone, or promote bitterness or strife for those in my life?
Home, local, state, nation, world
Confessions: Digging Deeper
Do I deal with strongholds in my heart? Are they generational? Did I inherit them, or invite them of my own accord? Strongholds may include:
Do I call out to God when faced with temptation, or do I decide that I want to give in and do it / take it?
Psalms 107.13 Then they cried unto the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them out of their distresses. 14 He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death, and brake their bands in sunder. 15 Oh that men would praise the LORD for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!
When you confess your sin, when you receive the forgiveness God so freely gives, be sure to fill your heart with God and His Word.
Matthew 12.43 – 45 43 When an unclean spirit comes out of a man, it passes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. 44 Then it says, ‘I will return to the house I left.’ On its return, it finds the house vacant, swept clean, and put in order. 45 Then it goes and brings with it seven other spirits more wicked than itself, and they go in and dwell there; and the final plight of that man is worse than the first. So will it be with this wicked generation.”
Tearing Down Strongholds:
We have no power to take back the ground that satan has claimed in us. Cry out to God, confess, give it over to Him (humble yourself / surrender 1 Peter 5.6). If you or a family member are under the power of sin:
① In Jesus’ name, bind satan (Mark 3.27, Matthew 16.15-19)
② Pray a hedge of thorns around yourself/loved one (Hosea 2.6, 7)
③ Cast down false reasonings (2 Corinthians 10.3, 4)
④ Conquer every wrong thought (Romans 12.2, 1 Corinthians 2.14-16).
When you have confessed, repented, and received forgiveness, be sure you receive His forgiveness and don’t take up the guilt of your sin again. God has removed your sin. Let it be removed and remain removed.
Psalms 103.11 For as the heaven is high above the earth, so great is his mercy toward them that fear him. 12 As far as the east is from the west, so far hath he removed our transgressions from us. 13 Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him
Pull down false reasonings with God’s Truth.
Do not let sin entangle you:
Hebrews 12.1 Therefore we also, having such a great cloud of witnesses encompassing us, having laid aside every weight and the sin easily entangling, should run with endurance the race lying before us
Confess and be accountable to a reliable person. (James 5.16) Do you and / or your church need to have a communal time of open confession? God gives us the gift of relationships for so many reasons: one of which is to be accountable to each other, and support and edify one another, in the love that His Holy Spirit pours out upon / within / and through us.
Read your Bible. All the epistles teach us how to live in the Promised Land, how to fight and be ready. That Promised Land is the Kingdom of God, of which Jesus speaks so often. Read the gospels.
It is generally agreed that the essence of sin is to do that (or not do that) which displeases God – to disobey Him. And sin separates us from God. It’s not that God turns His back; it’s that we turn our backs on Him when we disobey and choose our own way instead of His.
The remedy for sin is repentance, to turn around from our own path and direct ourselves to God.
In the Old Testament, God laid out several different types of sin, and several types of sacrifice to symbolize repentance.
Now that Jesus Christ has become our Final Sacrifice, we no longer follow the Old Testament sacrifice covenant – it is no longer needed, since Jesus paid the price for sin in full when He died for us.
In 1John 1.9, God tells us, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
When we sin, it is important to recognize that we have sinned, acknowledge our sin, confess it to God, and repent. Why is this necessary, if God has already forgiven us through Jesus? Because when we sin, we distort our relationship with God; and we want a right relationship with Him so that we may live life abundantly. (John 15.10, 11 If ye keep my commandments, ye shall abide in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and abide in his love. These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full.)
Sin in ignorance
We don’t even know we sinned, but we did. Examples: Our words may offend when we say something without knowing the situation. We leave the store with something stuck in the cart that we forgot to show the cashier. We forget a loved one’s important date.
For these, we must ask the Spirit to convict us where needed, and confess that we sin in ignorance. Ask the Spirit to show you how to rectify, if needed.
Give in to temptation
Sometimes we sin because we are weak.
Ask the Spirit to strengthen you, that you will live in the strength of Him.
Sometimes we sin in rebellion. (I don’t care if this is wrong! I want it anyway!”)
Pray Psalm 51.10 Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
Sin from selfish ambition
We see something we want (or don’t want to happen), and we manipulate to achieve our goals.
Pray, “Not my will, but Thine be done, O Lord.”
Sin in our hearts
When we judge others, it is a sin in our hearts. Other examples: We have a dirty rotten attitude toward a friend or family member and think we’re not sinning because we’re still smiling and being “kind.” Looking with lust. Imagining illicit activities.
Memorize Scripture, let it fill your thoughts. Psalm 119.11 Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.
Sin in emotional struggle
Whether in anger or heat of passion, in turmoil or pain, we can say or do things that normally lie outside our personal makeup.
Proverbs 4.23 Guard your heart with all diligence, for from it flow springs of life.
If your heart is pure, then what comes out in a squeeze will be pure.
Bringing someone else into sin
We have no right to entice or drag anyone else into sin. Examples: luring someone into an affair; sharing your drugs or pornography or alcoholism; talking someone weaker into evil / having someone do our dirty work.
1 John 4.11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.
Sin from evil ambition
In our hearts, we wish destruction or evil on another.
Pray Matthew 6.13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.
Some people willingly, openly, and brazenly act to defy God. They blaspheme the Holy Spirit and set themselves up as gods.
Matthew 12.31 says, “Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men; but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men.”
1John 5.16 says, “If any man see his brother sin a sin which is not unto death, he shall ask, and he shall give him life for them that sin not unto death. There is a sin unto death: I do not say that he shall pray for it.”
Sin of omission
If we simply forget to do something, this falls under the first item in the list, Sin in ignorance.
However, if we know to do something right, and decide not to, that is sin of omission. (James 4.17 Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.) Examples: We feel directed to pray for a certain circumstance, and decide not to. God guides our attention to someone in need, and we ignore the need. We know our duty, and neglect it (i.e., reading our Bibles or attending church). Ingratitude falls in this category (1 Thessalonians 5.18 In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.)
Pray without ceasing (1Thessalonians 5.17).
Sin of deceit
Any one of the types of sin may involve deceit, whether we are attempting to deceive others or deceive ourselves. We may purposefully “forget” to do something we know we should. We may lie to ourselves that “giving in this once” won’t matter. We may lie to people in order to stir up dissension or get something we want.
Proverbs 12.20 Deceit is in the hearts of those who devise evil, but the counselors of peace have joy.
Fall on your face before our mighty and gracious God. Search your heart. Ask God to search your heart: Psalm 139.23, 24 Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
Look up Psalm 51. King David wrote it, and he knew sin in his heart. He also knew Who to give it to.