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TEXT: Romans 1:16-17
SUBJECT: Respectable Sins #3: The Remedy for Sin
Today we come to part three in our study of Jerry Bridges' new book, Respectable Sins. Are some sins 'respectable'? Of course they're not-God hates every sin and all of them, both big and small, nailed our Lord to the cross, and grieves the Holy Spirit who lives within in.
If there's no such thing as a 'respectable' sin, then what is the book about? The subtitle tells us: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate. Underline the word, 'we'; there are sins, hateful to God, that aren't so bad to us. Maybe we don't exactly justify them, but we excuse them, and secretly think if 'If they're no big deal to me, they're no big deal to God'.
This is not a wise way to think, a good way to live, or a safe way to die. No sin is 'respectable'. First, because we are saints, that is, chosen by God and put into His service, and the service we're put into is not a Sunday morning affair: it's 24-7. We're to be saints at church, but also at home, in the neighborhood, at work, at school even behind the steering wheel! This is what Bridges first chapter was about: holiness as a way of life.
Chapters 2-3 explained the character of sin. In two words, sin is real and it is malignant. Today's culture has pretty much denied the existence of sin, preferring medical and psychiatric words to describe the bad things we do. While the Church has not gone as far as the world, she is moving in the same direction, calling sin by new names and making it less serious than it really is. If sin is real, it is also malignant, and that means dangerous, and if unchecked, it will spread all over the soul and kill us. The first tumor of sin is seldom a 'big one'; more often than not, it is a Respectable Sin-
Behold how great a matter
A little fire kindelth.
Drop a cigarette in the woods, stamp it out with your foot, and what happens? Nothing. There may be a little black mark on the ground, but that's it. But what if you don't stamp it out with your foot? And what if it lands on a pile of dry leaves? And what if it's hot and windy? What happens then? A forest fire, thousands of acres can be burned; with the loss of trees, the soil becomes loose and when it rains, you have mudslides, and when it dries out, you've got a dustbowl. The man who tossed the cigarette had no idea all this would happen. But he's not entirely innocent, is he? He knew big fires are often caused by little sparks, but he just couldn't believe it could happen to him.
When it comes to small sins, we all feel this way. We know little lusts and little envies and little grudges and little prides can hurt other people, but we're not other people. The rules apply to everyone but me. But, of course, that's what everyone else thinks too.
We have to nip our Respectable Sins in the bud. How do we do that? In the same way we fight off the big ones-with the Gospel.
Among Evangelical Christians no verse is less understood than Romans 1:16-
The Gospel is the power of salvation to everyone who believes.
We get the words, 'Gospel' and 'power', and 'believes', but we don't get the word, 'salvation'. We think of it as conversion only. The Gospel saves people who are unsaved, we say, and we're right, but we fail to say it also saves people who are saved!
How does the Gospel save the saved? In several ways:
THE GOSPEL FORCES US TO FACE OUR SINS
In the first place, the Gospel forces us to face our sins. Since it is only for sinners, everyone who believes the Gospel also admits he is a sinner. This is easy enough to do, so long as your sins are way off in the past and weren't that bad anyway.
But the Gospel not only 'saved' us, it also 'saves' us--and this means sin is a present problem and not something we got over years ago.
Facing our sins is not a pleasant thing to do. The Prophets compared it to breaking up fallow ground and a picture that makes every man wince, to a circumcision of the heart.
The Gospel strips away the false names I have put on my sins: it says the true name for what I call 'easy going' is lazy; what I call 'being careful with my money' is hoarding; what I call 'being hurt' is bitterness; what I call 'disciplining my kids' is, really provoking them to wrath.
Do you remember the serial killer, Son of Sam? For months he terrorized New York with his random murders. The man's name is David Berkowitz, who is now in prison serving a life's sentence. Behind bars, he found freedom in Christ; he has been forgiven and renewed.
The Gospel is for him because he needs it and he needs it because he is a sinner. Is the Gospel for you too? If it is, it's for the same reason: you need it, because like the Son of Sam, you're also a sinner. You never killed anyone with a gun, but have you ever been angry? If you have, our Lord says, you, too, are a murderer. The Gospel is for sinners because it forces us to face our sins-to tell ourselves what we really are: sinners.
THE GOSPEL FREES US TO FACE OUR SINS
If the Gospel forces us to face our sins, it also frees us to face our sins. How? By telling us we're loved by God. If God loves us only when we're good, we'll try to be good, of course, but what happens when we're not? What do we do then?
If we forget the Gospel, we have to pretend to be good, and when our pretences fail, we have to blame others. What do you say to God the thousandth time you've done the same thing? 'I'll never do it again?' Instead, why not say, 'I've done it again, Lord, but for Christ's sake forgive me?' If I believe He won't, I'll have to find some excuse for what I did. But if I know He will, I'm free to quit lying, confess what I've really done, and receive the pardon He so freely gives me in the Gospel.
THE GOSPEL ENERGIZES US TO FACE OUR SINS
Nothing paralyzes a person like guilt. For one thing, it makes us afraid to move, and by just sitting there, we don't act in love. For another thing, guilt makes us resent the one piling it on us, even if we agree with him, and it makes us hate the good we're shamed into doing.
The Gospel says Jesus Christ has taken our guilt onto Himself and off us! This means we can act spontaneously without the nagging fear we might be messing up and if we do, we'll never hear the end of it! It means we love God and feel the good things He wants us to do are good, and not the burdensome things we thought they were when we were loaded down with guilt.
PREACH THE GOSPEL
The Gospel only 'works' when it is preached. Paul did not expect the Gospel to save the Gentiles as he sat there and admired it; it would only turn them from their idols to God if they heard it, and this means: if he preached it to them!
Nobody here is called to be the Apostle to the Gentiles, as Paul was, but all of us are called to preach the Gospel to the people who need it-including ourselves!
How do we do this?
Near the end of the chapter, Jerry Bridges says how he does; he doesn't say everyone has to do it in the same way, but it has worked for him for more than fifty years.
First, he says, since the Gospel is only for sinners, I begin each day with the realization that I sin in thought, word, deed, and motive. Even if my conscience is not indicting me for conscious sins, I still acknowledge to God that I have not loved Him with all my heart or my neighbor as myself.
This means: Spend time every day confessing your sins-not wallowing in them as though you're not forgiven, but confessing them as though you are.
Secondly, he says, I apply specific Scriptures that assure me of God's forgiveness. What Scriptures do I use to preach the Gospel to myself? Here are a few I choose from each day:
Psalm 103:12-'As far as the east is from the west, so far does He remove our transgressions from us'.
Romans 8:1-'There is, therefore, no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.
This is going to take some work on your part. You'll have to find the verses and either memorize them, write them down, or be able to find them in the Bible and read them when you need them most.
Thirdly, he says, I remember my only hope of a right standing with God that day is Jesus' blood shed for my sins, and His righteous life lived on my behalf.
Our power to resist sin, in other words, is not in our 'devotions', but in our Savior.
MY ILLUSTRATION AND CLOSE
Let me close with an illustration drawn from my own life and failures. The only way to lose weight is to burn more calories than you consume. This means: eat less, exercise more. Everyone in the world knows this is true, but because it's hard to do, millions of people every day turn to diet books that promise shortcuts, none of which ever work for long.
In the same way, Christians know very well the only way to resist sin and grow in grace is to live on and by the Gospel. But this, too, is hard, so we turn to accountability groups, we turn to Forty Days of Purpose, Promise Keepers, or some other man-made program (all of which have some good in them). These things always let us down. If even the Law of God won't make us holy, how in the world can a human idea do it?
We are totally dependent on the Gospel, and this is a good thing, for it is here that Jesus Christ meets us, and He is the Lord that sanctifies us.
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