You are tasked with the responsibility of working with a man or woman in your church over a sin that dominates them. They have possibly come and acknowledged it to you or the leadership; or more than likely that person has been confronted with this sin and the need to put it away. The ugly stuff is over with. The confrontation is done, the angry looks and cutting language that the person used while being backed into a corner have passed away. Tears are dried, blame-shifting is abandoned and finally the truth, or at least most of it, is finally drawn out and now comes the good stuff. Repentance.
Do you think of repentance as the good stuff? To many the answer is no. But it is. The nasty, smelling, filthy stuff is sin tucked neatly away beneath a well-pressed shirt or a neatly maintained bank account. As that sin is hidden it invariably grows in power and its tendrils reach out into new areas of the life until one day it all comes crashing down around you. Someone had the audacity to peek beneath the surface, to ask questions that could not be easily evaded. And the next thing you know someone is sitting with you to deal with this sin and is very serious about the task.
Been there? I have. On both sides of the table I might add. I have rejoiced when I sit and see relief on the face of the one trapped in sin, as they realize they are not alone anymore and that there is someone who actually cares about them and their soul. They are fun for the confession of sin comes tumbling out , often in gasps coated in grief and shame. They want to know what to do. They desire the help.
Then there are those who are like a feral cat in a corner. Nothing is going to come easy. Questions are met with scorn, answers have to be dragged out and then carefully dissected to discern what was actually said versus what the person wanted you to assume. “I don’t remember” becomes the defense of the day. They listen with suspicious expressions as they try to discern how much you actually know. But finally, the truth comes out and lies writhing before all who witness it. They confess the sin and they appear to own it as well. Now, as I said earlier, comes the good stuff, repentance.
And so we are back to you. Pretend you are sitting in my office and you experienced the paragraph above as an interested bystander. I asked you to be there so that you could learn how sin acts and reacts when it is being confronted. I wanted you to see how ugly it can be, how destructive it truly is. You are wide-eyed and thinking that the next time I ask you to sit in with me that you will suddenly develop flu-like symptoms. But then you hear me say that you want that person to begin to meet with you for the next several weeks to begin to put this sin behind them. Do you know what to do? What to look for?
The task may seem daunting but usually it is not. It requires that you love Jesus, love the gospel, love the person and understand how repentance manifests itself. Like I just wrote, it is the good stuff. It is redemptive in its very nature. It is helping lift a beloved brother or sister out of a pit that has them trapped. It is embracing them as a fellow sinner who needs to grow in grace and truth of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Next post I will begin to lay out the essence of repentance. This is important because there are a lot of forgeries out there and if you are going to help that person turn and triumph in Christ over their sin then you better be ready.
The shooting is over, the dead are dead, the wounded are recovering and the nation is busy tweeting about things they really don’t understand. I am sure that there will be news coverage of the first few funerals and maybe when the last body is laid to rest. Then everyone will go back to the next pretty, or shocking, object that will pass before their eyes. Breathless posts, cries of denouncement, blustery replies of support and the ever present call for more legislation. So what?
Twelve people were killed in Aurora, but meanwhile in Chicago, just a short drive from where I live, twenty-seven humans were murdered in July and in July of 2011 fifty-five were murdered. How they were killed matters little. Some shot, some stabbed, some….whatever. The point is that they are dead, just as dead as those in Aurora. In fact all of them are as dead as the guy who died in the oncology ward of St. Luke’s last night.
Pretty harsh of me, right? Yep. Because death is harsh and real and happening in front of all of our lives every day. I keep waiting for that call that one of my parents has died. It hasn’t come yet, but that doesn’t change the harsh reality that it will, and when it comes it will be nasty punch to my gut.
We can wax on about whether this shooter was a criminal before he got the guns, or if the availability of guns made him a criminal. But who really cares. Our country sees the right to carry a gun as a basic right. We can mumble under our breath what we would have done if we were there, but that is only because we are sipping on our McCafe coffee checking for any new, unimportant updates on Facebook or pinning something to Pinterest or checking the latest baseball stats and not in a dark theater where people are dying.
My point is really basic. So basic that it can come across as unfeeling. But feeling one thing or another doesn’t change a dead body. It doesn’t make a person alive again. I think of Jesus weeping when Mary is so grieved about the death of her brother. But His feeling was not what she needed, not in the ultimate sense, she needed the One who alone possesses life and can conquer death. She needed the One who could casually command Lazarus to come forth from the grave. Fortunately, that is who stood with her weeping.
Listen, for I shall tell you all a dirty, little secret. You are going to die. You will die by a bullet, a heart attack, a nasty virus, a car wreck or perhaps because you had some young punks decide to play a “game” and punch you a bit until you fall and strike your head. Does it really matter? Really? For me, I try to keep the “after death” thought before me more than the “I hope I die in my sleep” thought.
If there is nothing beyond the now, then death of any type has no meaning, it is just part of our sad, pitiful existence in a machine that does not think and does not care. So we gnash our teeth at nothing and then descend into the grave to become dirt. All those swirling about above us with candles and crosses and notes of “I will never forget you” mean nothing, because you and they are nothing.
But, if this is not all, if you are truly an image bearer of the one true God. If you are truly an eternal being as the Bible says you are, then there is much more. And what matters after that bullet enters your brain is infinitely more important than anything else. We all shall die, and we all shall stand before our Creator. Without the One who conquered sin and death there is something far worse than merely a bullet or a virus. Instead you will have the eternal wrath of God upon you.
Luke 13:1-5 Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And He answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered this fate? “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. “Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
This event in Aurora will be like countless other ones that happen every day throughout this world. Will the brevity of life cause you to stop, consider eternal things, and seek after God? Shall you put away your vain efforts to prove yourself worthy of God’s favor and instead turn to the only one who conquered sin and death, Jesus Christ? Or, have you already begun to descend back into that fuzzy existence of the mundane? Let me recommend a simple book to read and real carefully.
I am preaching on the deity of the Holy Spirit this Sunday and thought this quote out of John Owen’s, Mortification of The Flesh, would be of value. The first paragraph is part of his lengthy discussion on how the Spirit is utterly indefensible in our battle to mortify the flesh. Then in the second paragraph he shows his pastoral heart as he considers those who are seeking to be holy and yet do not have the Spirit because they are not in Christ. Powerful stuff.
He doth not so work our mortification in us as not to keep it still an act of our obedience. The Holy Ghost works in us and upon us, as we are fit to be wrought in and upon; that is, so as to preserve our own liberty and free obedience. He works upon our understandings, wills, consciences, and affections, agreeably to their own natures; he works in us and with us, not against us or without us; so that his assistance is an encouragement as to the facilitating of the work, and no occasion of neglect as to the work itself. And, indeed, I might here bewail the endless, foolish labour of poor souls, who, being convinced of sin, and notable to stand against the power of their convictions, do set themselves, by innumerable perplexing ways and duties, to keep down sin, but, being strangers to the Spirit of God, all in vain. They combat without victory, have war without peace, and are in slavery all their days. They spend their strength for that which is not bread, and their labour for that which profiteth not.
This is the saddest warfare that any poor creature can be engaged in. A soul under the power of conviction from the law is pressed to fight against sin, but hath no strength for the combat. They cannot but fight, and they can never conquer; they are like men thrust on the sword of enemies on purpose to be slain. The law drives them on, and sin beats them back. Sometimes they think, indeed, that they have foiled sin, when they have only raised a dust that they see it not; that is, they distemper their natural affections of fear, sorrow, and anguish, which makes them believe that sin is conquered when it is not touched. By that time they are cold, they must to the battle again; and the lust which they thought to be slain appears to have had no wound.
This will be my final installment on a short series on church discipline.This is a task that is never enjoyable but nonetheless is good and right to do in the sight of God. We have seen already that it is not optional; rather it is necessary because Jesus commands it. To refuse to do it is simply sin. But it is also says that you do not care for the soul of he who sins nor the purity of the church. Both are serious issues that demand careful rethinking by those who reject discipline within the church.
Today I will give two final points regarding why we should practice church discipline: The first is that it protects doctrinal purity and the second is that it protects the office of elder.
Two passages come to mind regarding doctrinal purity:
This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you may fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have delivered over to Satan, so that they may be taught not to blaspheme. (1 Timothy 1:18-20)
If anyone advocates a different doctrine, and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness,he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions,and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. (1 Timothy 6:3-5)
In the first passage Paul speaks of these two men whom he delivered over to Satan so that they learn not to blaspheme. What exactly is involved in this is not stated, but it is clear that it was not fun, safe, or minor. Speaking false things within the church is devastating. Young believers are easily led astray and non-Christians can be quickly confused. The church is to be a place where truth is expounded and loved. It is not to be a place where confusion and lies twist the hearts of those for whom Christ died. As the second passage makes clear, Paul has no time for a person advocating new doctrines that go counter to the Apostolic teaching. If he doesn’t nor should we.
The final reason for proper, biblical discipline is that it protects the office of elder. This protection works in two separate ways, both is keeping the office itself pure and in removing an elder who is holding on to sin and thus harming the church.
Do not receive an accusation against an elder except on the basis of two or three witnesses. Those who continue in sin, rebuke in the presence of all, so that the rest also may be fearful of sinning. (1 Timothy 5:19-20)
Elders are almost always on the front lines when problems arise. They are the shepherds of God’s flock. They are the ones who stick their neck on the line whenever a trouble-maker makes trouble. And this makes them very vulnerable to unfounded attacks. It is a grievous thing to readily accept accusations when there are no witnesses. This is why a church is to take great precautions to protect their elders. There must be witnesses and if there are not then the accusation is to be discarded.
However, when an elder is found to be in sin, if they do not repent then they are to be rebuked in the presence of the church. That is a painful reality that is seldom practiced. Too often they are quietly removed and no one ever really understands what happened. This leaves open the opportunity for gossip and slander. It is not an act of grace to be vague about an elder’s on-going sin. Notice that the purpose for rebuking him publicly is to have the rest of the church fearful of sinning as well.
If churches will take these words to heart they will find perhaps a smaller church, but one that is more serious about pursuing Christ in holiness and a place where purity is valued and one’s spiritual well-being is desirable.
This will be my fourth installment on a short series on church discipline. A key mark of a faithful church is the proper, biblical practice of discipline of those who identify with that church. Too often this is an ignored practice in the church except for the most egregious acts. For others, the process of discipline is not for purity in the church, but a means to manipulate the people into an unbiblical submission. Either way, it harms the church for whom Christ died. However, proper discipline honors Jesus and purifies the local Body.
A fourth reason for the practice of discipline is that it protects unity, rather than destroys it. It is interesting that often the reason given to not discipline is that they want to ‘love’ that person or they desire to not create problems where people will struggle with the decision and act and dissension might then occur.
Notice Titus 3:10, “Reject a factious man after a first and second warning.” For the one who stirs up strife and dissension in the church there is to be little tolerance. You don’t just move the guy to a different ministry or have him sit in a different section. Instead you give him two warnings and then he is sent out of the church. You reject him as a fellow believer, or as Paul says in the very next verse, “knowing that such a man is perverted and is sinning, being self-condemned.”
Paul gives a different instruction to the one who is simply disobedient to the Word in 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15, “If anyone does not obey our instruction in this letter, take special note of that person and do not associate with him, so that he will be put to shame. Yet do not regard him as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.” Note command—do not associate with him, meaning to mingle, mix or hang out.
This helps us see the idea of the fourth stage of discipline in Matthew 18. There is a genuine break in relationship and loss of fellowship. The purity of the Church is more important than a relationship that existed between the one who is unrepentant and the rest of the Church. It does not allow for a hateful attitude from the Church, we are to speak to him like a brother, but not in some casual, flippant manner, but one that involves warning. In our society today the goal Paul gives is somewhat shocking—to bring shame.
We don’t like shame today and see it as something that ought never to be done. And it is wrong when done for the wrong motives, to simply humiliate and dishonor a person. But it is proper for the church to expect obedience from its members. It is proper for us to hold one another accountable for the things taught. We cannot simply ignore and turn our backs upon those in sin—for then we are guilty of not loving them as a brother or sister. When you see an enemy moving toward something that is bad you simply shrug your shoulders, but not so with your brother.
And what Paul was envisioning here was that these undisciplined people would come over for a meal, expecting to get a meal and be refused. He would try to get in on the conversation, and they would ignore him or tell him to be quiet. They would not accept his advice (being a busybody). They would not bring him into a close fellowship and allow him to simply sit there and look foolish. There is an assumed goal, that when this occurred that the person would repent, come back into obedience and be restored.
Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.
This passage, along with its context, has captured my thoughts and efforts over the last few weeks at my church. The passage teaches us the horror of bad decisions and how they carry consequences that are not necessarily seen. There is no reason to believe that Adam understood the representative nature of his existence. Nothing was present in the warning of God, that when he ate that forbidden fruit, that all of humanity would be under the reign of sin and its attendant consequence, the condemnation of death. Yet this is exactly what happened, and because of this, you, me, those little embryos in the test tubes, and that sweet old man in the nursing home are sinners as a result.
As a pastor I would say that the vast majority of my efforts are in the lives of people who insist on making bad decisions. And what is common to most of them is that they did not foresee the fulness of the consequences related to that decision. Whether it is the to ignore the opportunity to learn basic grammar in school or refusing to floss their teeth (as if I do this regularly myself) bad decisions are part of the human existence. I have people ask me to teach them to study the bible, but they do not know what a verb is, much less a preposition. How do I teach them? I tell them to learn grammar. Decision-time for them. Will they? Or will they decide that grammar is still not of value and that there must be another way to study the bible without actually understanding how words work together to form a coherent thought?
If there was one place I would focus on first it would be with the husbands and fathers. As the head of the home they are capable of either protecting and destroying many others through their leadership. The decisions many fathers make with regard to their household, of which they are the heads, will carry consequences that can lead to the sins of multiple generations. What do I say to a father who comes to me in my office with that deeply pained look in his eyes as he describes the cold heart of his daughter? How do I explain to him that he trained that into his daughter in so many ways, by ignoring the gathering of the saints, by not showing a love of the Lord in his home, by taking the spiritual disciplines so lightly, etc. When his daughter saw his eyes flow over the body of the young lady who walked by, instruction as to the truthfulness of the gospel was given. When he treated his wife in a harsh manner, instruction occurred. Years of this has taken place, and now a father is facing the unseen consequences of his many decisions and has found them to be gravel in his mouth. It is with much sadness that we see ourselves follow so easily the footsteps of our father, Adam.
Then there are those people I watch who seem to grow and flourish as believers. I notice that they all have similar patterns in their lives. One is a refusal to rationalize their sins. They bear the curse of Adam with the knowledge that they are now in Christ. They walk in an awareness that they are children of the living God and therefore they are to walk as such. This mind set affects their decisions. They make bad ones, but they are repented of as they come to light. They set certain parameters in their lives that set into motion spiritual growth. These are the ones who faithful come to church—not merely to sit and observe, but to actively participate, willingly worship, and seek to minister to others. These are the ones who are not looking for a way around a sin that they love, rather, these are the ones who have entered the fray and are fighting against the sin. The results are not always seen immediately, but the results are always the same. In the end, they are more sober-minded, more wise, and more stable in their faith than when they started. And as I watch their children grow, I see the good consequences of their parents’ decisions in their lives. For these, I smile and I wonder what God might be doing in the years to comes through their lives.
I read a short post from Desiring God’s blog that caught my eye. It is part of a series of observational posts by a missionary in an Asian Muslim country. I have thoroughly enjoyed them all, but, as I said, this one caught my eye. I will post it fully here since it is short:
I was studying Psalm 43 with a friend in Urdu the other day. We came to where it says in English, “I will go to the altar of God.”
As I read along in Urdu, I did not know the word for “altar,” so I asked my friend what it was. He didn’t know how to translate the word into English, but he gave the following English description: “It is God’s bloody place, where the throats of the animals are slit for sacrifice.”
Of course. It’s an altar.
Sometimes I think of an altar as the carpeted stairs and dais at the front of the church meetinghouse. But it’s not. It is a bloody place—a place of sacrifice and death.
I need to remember that.
We need to remember that as well. The cross is God’s ultimate bloody place. It is where the Father exhausted His wrath against those Christ cam to redeem by pouring it upon His Son. It is a bloody place where we come for the forgiveness of sin, for the declaration of justification, for the adoption as sons, for the hope of eternal life, for the entrance into the joy of our Master, and most certainly for the delight is seeing our Lord! Not pretty and yet beautiful beyond all measure.