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TEXT: Psalm 10:4b
SUBJECT: Respectable Sins #6: Ungodliness
Today we come to part 6 in our study of Jerry Bridges' new book, Respectable Sins: Confronting the Sins We Tolerate. A 'respectable' sin is a sin, but unlike others, it is a sin that doesn't make us feel guilty very often and one we will almost never be called on. This means 'respectable' sins are the hardest ones to correct.
But correct them we must, because 'respectable' sins dishonor God, distort His image in us, hurt other people, and lead to sins that are not respectable and to damage far greater than we would expect. It was James who warned-
Behold, how great a matter,
A little fire kindles.
Let us commit ourselves, therefore, to an honest inventory before God. I can call my impatience 'efficiency'; you can call your discontentment 'ambition'; they can call their judgmentalism 'high standards', but instead of lying to God, why don't we tell Him the truth? Why don't we call the things what they are, instead of what they're not?
Confessing our sins is hard, but it is not only hard. It is also encouraging; for the Lord forgives the sins we confess and cleanses us from all their unrighteousness. Wouldn't you like to be clean? Wouldn't it be wonderful if you didn't have to pretend any more? Put on a show for people and hope it fools them-and the Lord as well?
Maybe Lincoln was wrong. Maybe you can fool all of the people all of the time. But you sure can't fool God any of the time! As the 'respectable' sins are named this afternoon and for the next few months, ask yourself, 'Am I guilty of this one?' If you are-you're no worse than the rest of us-come clean with the Lord. You'll be a better person for it; we'll be a better church; God will be better glorified.
If you drew up a list of 'respectable' sins, what would be at the top? Jerry Bridges has asked this many times, and has almost always gotten the same answer: pride. He agrees that's right up there, but he thinks Number One on the list is something else.
What do you think it is? Go back to the verse I just read, the last part of Psalm 10:4-
God is in none of their thoughts.
What would we call this? If it is a theoretical thing, we would call it atheism, a set of beliefs that exclude God from everything. A Christian might be tempted to atheism, but he would be ashamed of himself; the sin would be anything but 'respectable'.
The sin is ungodliness. What is it? It is living as though God does not matter.
What makes ungodliness so 'respectable' is that, for many people, it is consistent with living a good life. They were brought up well, they have high morals and beautiful manners. A woman might be a thoughtful wife, a loving mother, a good friend, a quiet neighbor, and the kind of church member every pastor wishes he had more of.
And still be ungodly.
She doesn't blaspheme God or willfully defy Him, but she also doesn't care about Him or what He wants her to do. She's far more refined than the bloodthirsty man of Psalm 10, but God is in none of her thoughts either.
Can a truly saved person live this way? In an absolute sense, he cannot. But let's face it: we all live this way at times; at times, we all live as though God doesn't matter.
Sins of omission are harder to spot than sins of commission. Beating my children is easier to identify than ignoring them. Ignoring God is like ignoring your children. It is a real and serious problem, and one we're likely to not notice. How do you know that ignoring God?
The author gives five examples of ungodliness.
The word, 'feel' is important here, because every believer says he depends on God and most of us, most of the time, know we do. But 'knowing' it and 'feeling' it are two different things. When we lose this feeling of dependence, we make plans without consulting Him, asking His blessing, or remembering that our success depends on Him.
James warns us against this kind of planning-
Come now, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit'-yet you do not know what tomorrow may bring. For what is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, 'If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that'.
James is not rebuking them for having dreams or making plans or hoping for a profit, but for forgetting their tomorrows (and their todays for that matter) belong to God and they only have them by His leave. They weren't formally denying God's Providence, but they were living as though it-and He-did not matter.
What does it mean, 'to please God'? Most of us think it means, 'Doing a few good things and nothing too bad'. In other words, living a decent life. We ought to live decent lives, of course, but is this all there is to it? If it is, why did Christ die and why was the Holy Spirit poured out, why was the Bible given and the Church formed? You can live a decent life apart from these things-many people do.
Paul has a very different take on pleasing the Lord. Colossians 1:9-10-
We have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.
Paul's prayer is breathtaking. Writing to ordinary Christians, like you and me, he says he wants them brimming over with knowledge and wisdom, and to live fruitful lives at home, in school, on the job, in the neighborhood, at church, and when nobody's looking. In a word, they're to imitate Christ and show Him to the world by how they live.
Ungodliness dumbs down the Christian life; it settles for 'nice' instead of 'holy'. Do we pray as Paul did? Do we feel responsible for living the kind of lives he wants us to live? Or are we satisfied with something less? And pleased if we once in a while do more than the bare minimum?
What does it mean to glorify God? It means two things: To please Him, and to make Him look good to other people. Glorifying God is the believer's highest calling, and-unlike some other duties-he can do it every minute of every day, and no matter what his circumstances. A man can glorify God at work, but he can also glorify God when he has no work; he can glorify God married to a princess or married to a witch; he can glorify God riding his bike, mowing his lawn, watching TV, and even playing X-Box!
But if glorifying God is possible 24/7, it isn't done if we rarely think of His will and seldom care what picture of Him we're sending to the world.
Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
In this world, we will not keep His glory front and center at all times, but godliness makes us want to; it is ungodliness that makes us not care.
An ungodly man may want to go to church, want to pray, want to read the Bible, want to give to the poor, and so on. But what he doesn't want is God. Oh, he may want Him the way he wouldn't mind running into an old neighbor at the hardware store. But hungering and thirsting after God are only words to him.
But since we are made for God and cannot be holy or happy away from Him, small desires for Him are proof positive of our ungodliness.
As the deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? (Psalm 42:1-2)
One thing I have desired of the Lord, and that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His holy temple (Psalm 27:4).
Do we crave the Lord? Do we want Him the way a person newly in love wants his or her beloved? In a word, have we lost our first love? If we have, it's because we are growing in ungodliness, instead of its opposite.
When a believer is thriving his conscience is tender. Little things like gossip and sarcasm hurt him because they hurt God and sent His Son to the cross. When he's not doing so well, little sins are not felt at all, or if they are, he justifies them or excuses them. Soon his hard becomes hard and only gets harder with time.
There's a story in the Bible to this effect, two in fact, involving the same Christian man at different times in his life. The man is David.
As a young man, he was chosen by God to be Israel's king. The problem was, there was already a king in Israel, and he had no interest in turning the reins over to David. While David was the most loyal man Saul had, the king feared him and hunted him as if he were a criminal or a rapid dog. One day, while David and his men were hiding from Saul in a cave, who should come up, but Saul himself? Leaving his guard outside, the king went to the bathroom, and there, David cut off the hem of his garment. Later, the Bible says, David's heart smote him. Who was he to touch the king? He was a tender-hearted man.
Years later, the same heart got a bit harder. He took a man's wife, then murdered her husband to cover up his crime, and then, for months, pretended everything was fine.
It was the same man, and in both cases, he was a believing man. When he was at his godliest, little sins bothered him. When he wasn't, they didn't.
If this is what ungodliness is, what practical steps do we take to correct it?
It starts with recognizing our ungodliness. Is the Lord satisfied with 'going through the motions'? He isn't, how can He be? Let us, therefore, admit to when we're doing just this. And admit that, for all our church-going, Bible-reading, praying, and good works, we're often living as though God doesn't matter.
After recognizing our ungodliness in general, try to find your particular kind. Maybe you're passionate for God's glory at church or at work, but it never crosses your mind on your days off. Or when you're watching TV or when you're working on the car or shopping.
Above all, pray for God to reveal Himself to you, for no one in His Presence, is ungodly.
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