Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from a Syriac Orthodox, Jacobite and Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Quad Centum (Issue 400) Souvenir Edition

Volume 7 No. 400 March 1, 2017
 

Chapter 11: Sin

Messianic Approaches to Absolve Sin

Messiah, the word of God, incarnated to redeem the sinners from their sin. Sin is an inexorable hazard and an ingrained epidemic deep rooted in our everyday life. .. Confessing sin and communion of His Body and Blood are essential for the redemption of sins and to inherit an eternal life.  ...

Sin - How Sin Began

Jesus Himself is the bridge between the death of sin and the life of God. "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself." And Jesus offers us this life and reconciliation even when we play Cain to His Abel. The life and reconciliation which Jesus offers means that even Cain can be forgiven and find peace, and that is a word we all need to hear. ...

God - In Pursuit of Sinners

Lewis reminds us of the love of God that relentlessly pursues even the reluctant prodigal who would turn and run in the opposite direction in order to try and escape God's gracious embrace. The God revealed in Lewis's account is a God in pursuit. ...

Don't Blame God for Your Problems

A trial becomes a temptation when we respond wrongly. What God means for good, Satan means for evil. Satan twists that which God gives us and whispers in our ear, "Go ahead. It's okay. No one will ever know." ...

What Jesus Really Said About Sins of the Flesh

 He is calling us to a life of genuine, innocent, full-hearted, and dynamic love. He is calling us to have hearts of flesh. ...

The Hardening of Hearts Caused by the Deceit of Sin

Collectively speaking, we been hardened by the deceit of sin. Many of us who are older remember times when sins that are openly practiced (and even celebrated) today were considered shameful a mere fifty years ago. Pre-marital sex (fornication), living together before marriage (which many called "shacking up"), and divorce were considered scandalous. ...

The Sin and Cause of Prayerlessness

What is it, then, that makes prayerlessness such a great sin? At first it is looked upon merely as a weakness. There is so much talk about lack of time and all sorts of distractions that the deep guilt of the situation is not recognized. Let it be our honest desire that, for the future, the sin of prayerlessness may be to us truly sinful. ...

The Seriousness of Sin

"Sin must be dealt with drastically because of its deadly effects" Whatever it takes, all of us must do what is needed to flee sin and temptation....

Four Lies That Keep Us from Jesus

Though Jesus invites sinners (like you) to come to him for cleansing, relief, and renewal, I find that many of us are often slow to come to him on account of those very things that should speed us on our way to him.

Chapter 11: Sin

Messianic Approaches to Absolve Sin

Rev. Fr. Jose Daniel Paitel

By Rev. Fr. Jose Daniel Paitel
Malankara World Board Member

Messiah, the word of God, incarnated to redeem the sinners from their sin. Sin is an inexorable hazard and an ingrained epidemic deep rooted in our everyday life. Since the initial attempt of Adamic sin, it drastically interrupts the spiritual life of every human being. Then onwards an intense quest is obvious for its remission. Centuries past, it is proven that a successful withdrawal from sin is impossible itself by human effort. Every human ideology seems feeble building a barrier against sin. Even though Adamic sin left a chance, God Almighty showed His mercy and promised salvation from their sin through His only begotten Son Jesus Christ. By believing Him hitherto the entire humanity is privileged to be free from sin.

Jesus gave certain great commandments to the remission of sins. Most important and well-accepted one is, to believe in Him. It is a necessary fundamental principle to become a complete Christian. Another one is to be born again by water and spirit. Confessing sin and communion of His Body and Blood are also essential for the redemption of sins and to inherit an eternal life. Next one is to witness Him. These are some of the basic principles of a real Christian life.

How Jesus is redeeming our sins is well narrated in different instances of the gospel. Curiosity helps us to have an insight into the approaches Jesus has observed each and every occasion he met with His audience. One instance I am discussing in this article is His approach to the remission of sin of an adulterous woman. Messiah ascertained that He is God and one and only Son of God. He described that God the Father loved the world so much to give His only begotten son for the sake of the world (John 3: 16). So He imposed his authority to add an addendum to the law of Moses and saved an adulterous woman caught red-handed. Res- judicata is evident in this case. But Jesus applied His authority to hear the case again in his divine God-given authority. He put an addition to the legal capital punishment. Instead of letting her free from the reprehensible offense by any excuse or arising an argument invalidating the law of His Father, He added a possible and legally agreeable addendum to it. His requirement was that the first person who want to throw the stone at the sinned woman, must be free of sin. He stated this condition to the bloodthirsty Jewish gathering standing before Him.

Law of Moses was very specific as to the punishment of any woman caught on adultery. It stated that the woman, if proven of adultery, must be stoned to death. ( But the specific details of the execution was not specified.) The plight of that woman caught the attention of the Savior. Initially, Jesus kept His silence for a while. He stooped down the earth and kept writing something in the sand. Later, after hearing repeated cry for her blood, Jesus pronounced His verdict. It was an excellent addendum to the law of Moses regarding the stoning process of that particular woman. The action from the side of Jesus was unquestioned. His decision to pronounce such a procedure for stoning compelled the crowd to leave one by one from the scene.They could not be able to utter a single word or sound a murmur against His decision. The utterance of the decision was to the crowd, not to the woman. They looked into their own inner conscious. Their awareness of their past hurt them very very badly. Boasting of their self-justice shattered into pieces.

As a decision maker, the role played by Jesus was quite appropriate. It was easy to apply certain tactics to split the crowd apart, by a confusing, lengthy sermon. He was able to direct an inquiry into this incident. He can send them to a trial court of law. Depending on public interest Jesus was able to apply every possibility to skip from His responsibility or the stoning for the time being. That was not His mission of manifestation. His mission was to make the accusers aware of their own, hidden sins. He avoided every future torture to the felon and helped her survive a reformed life for the rest of her life.

The adulterous woman was standing before the crowd, frightened on her expected brutal death penalty. She might have witnessed similar incidents before or heard the narration of a real life occurrence described by her neighbors. It was as cruel and brutal punishment at the same time. Brutal side of such a death is the extended time span of suffering the severe pain of the wounds in between the punishment and death time. The verdict of Stoning death means no chance of escape is available.

There are many reasons for Jesus to pronounce a judgment to save that adulterous woman. Because He is the promised one and only Savior of the world. Jesus proved himself as a judge who keeps absolute and infallible justice in His deeds and actions according to His words. He already stated that he did not come to seek certain so-called perfects but in search of the abandoned sinners. This particular adulterous woman is one among the sinners He is seeking. She met her savior in Him. She intentionally repented and confessed all her sins whatever she committed until then. He promised the crowd who was listening to his sermons that He does not disregard who ever came near to him.

Jesus is experiencing a continuous and drastic encounter with Satan. If He left her for the capital punishment according to the Mosaic law, it would conflict with his promise as the savior of mankind.

He is God and Son of God. He knows the truth that the Mosaic law is for the man and man is not for the law. So He used his capacity as the son of God and authority as God to save her, so he included an addendum to the prescribed death penalty of Moses. As per the law, anybody can stone her, but the son of God decreed that the first one stoning that woman should be free of sin. Jesus invalidates the involvement of any sinner to be a pilot part of stoning the culprit according to the revised law of Jesus. Since then the law of Jesus came into existence, in her life.

Jesus saves us in such a way. St. John 5:23. He gave his life as a ransom for our salvation before God Almighty. As soon as we were guided to our eternal judgment, He will plead for our redemption through the baptism, and unction of the Holy Spirit we received, and confession, absolution, and communion of the holy body and blood. Since we believe, our redemption also is as well. 

Sin - How Sin Began

By J. Barry Vaughn

Scripture:

Genesis 4:1-16
Romans 6:1-11

My fellow sinners, I want to tell you a story.

In front of us there are two men. They seem so far away because layers and layers of time and tradition intervene. The only record we have of their existence comes from a group of stories that tell us about the birth of the universe. No archaeologist or historian will ever be able to supply us with more information about them.

Two dim, shadowy figures are all they will ever be. Yet some things emerge vividly from this primitive tale and our imagination must supply the rest.

One man tills the ground; he thrusts his spade vigorously into the earth. Around him rise stalks of maize and wheat. He is tall and strong and bronzed from his outdoor work. There is something about his eyes that says he is not a man to be trifled with.

Have you seen farmers in little country towns, squatting in the courthouse square, a long slender weed held between their teeth? Often their eyes are nothing but narrow slits, which may be just a result of staying out in the hot sun all day, but such narrowed eyes also speak of a certain weariness with the world.

Or maybe cynicism. They have seen good seasons and they have seen bad, and they know they are more likely to see bad. Even if the season is good they may get cheated by a sharp-dealing trader from the big city. They know the score. By the way, we know the first man in our story as Cain.

Turn your attention to the other figure. He is no less strong or tanned than his brother, but how differently he uses his ability! One would say that he is graceful. Cain's brother, Abel, is a shepherd. Around his feet mill unruly sheep. Glancing up, Abel sees that a lamb has wandered off. How tenderly he gathers up the small creature and brings it back to the flock.

If Abel were not so unquestionably masculine, we might say that his actions were motherly. However, that's not the only contrast between Abel and his brother.

Once again the eyes tell us volumes. Abel's eyes are full of laughter. Abel's work, no less than Cain's, is subject to unpredictable factors, such as weather. Yet Abel has learned to take it in stride. And when one animal in his flock is hurt, Abel seems to hurt right along with it.

You know the next part of the story. Both men offered sacrifices to the Lord of the harvest. God accepted Abel's and rejected Cain's. I don't really think that Cain was insincere; I think that he offered the best that he had.

I guess what interests us most is the end of the story. Was Cain guilty of premeditated murder or not? Perhaps Cain's invitation to Abel, "Let us go out to the field," was like the school bully's invitation to a weaker kid to meet him behind the gym.

I think that Cain's passion just got the better of him when they got out to the field. Cain wasn't satisfied with punching Abel in the nose. Cain pulled out the knife he used for whittling and killed his brother.

Who knows? Maybe Abel had gloated just a little. Cain was sick of everybody, even God, who liked Abel better. Cain wasn't just killing Abel. He was killing all those folks who had liked Abel better, too. Cain was killing those sharp traders from the big city who had cheated him out of a fair profit. Maybe Cain was even trying to kill God who had sent the untimely snow or who had held the rain.

The murder of a brother is an unspeakable evil, but what Cain did was even worse: he tried to cover it up. "Where is Abel your brother?" asked God, and Cain replied, "I do not know."

Cain spent the rest of his days, as he said, as "a fugitive and a wanderer, trying to hide from God, from others, and from himself what he had done. Perhaps he hoped someone would kill him and free him from that exile but God closed that avenue of escape. How often Cain must have thought of taking his own life, but the fear that something worse might follow death stayed his hand.

The story of Cain and Abel is not really the story of how sin began, it's the story of sin's consequences. The first eleven chapters of Genesis are the story of sin's beginnings, spread, and results. It begins with the first couple in paradise, spreads to their children, and doesn't stop until the entire world is infected.

I want to call your attention to sin's two primary symptoms: death and alienation or separation. The Cain and Abel story illustrates both of them. Death is obvious; Cain slays Abel. Then Cain is separated from God, from his family, from all human contact-even from that which is most truly himself. Cain's inner turmoil indicated that he was at war with himself.

The story of Cain and Abel is not just a pious legend; it happens every day. We are always murdering the Abel is in our lives and paying the price in the currency of emotional distress and human conflict. Very few of us actually take up weapons and do in the people we don't like, but there are more subtle, insidious forms of murder.

Frederick Buechner has written that "of all the seven deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun." Sometimes I really enjoy chewing over old injuries and imagining what I'd like to do to the people who inflicted them.

And then there is alienation. Scottish author George MacDonald wrote that the "one principle of hell is 'I am my own'." Jean Paul Sartre said, "Hell is other people." He was dead wrong.

If we refuse help to others or turn away the offer of help, will God say to us in the end, "Very well, have it the way you like it"? Surely, the most unimaginable horror would be to be alone with oneself forever.

Paul sets up an interesting contrast. He bids his Roman readers to "consider themselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus." On one side we have sin; on the other God. Sin is the principle of death and alienation, but God is Life and Love. How easy it is for us to forget that sin yields death, but God offers life abundant and everlasting!

How often I have heard the old saw: "Everything that is fun is either sinful or fattening." It is said that William Gladstone, prime minister to England's Queen Victoria, was the most righteous man in all England - and the most boring. Martin Luther complained that the devil had all the best music -- and then Luther took a dance tune and turned it into Christendom's most popular hymn: A Mighty Fortress is Our God.

In C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, the children from earth learn that Narnia is ruled by an evil witch who has declared it will always be winter and never Christmas. Then they discover that Narnia will be saved when Asian reappears.

"Who is Asian?" asks one little girl. "Oh, he's the great lion," replies her Narnian friend.

"A lion!" the little girl exclaimed, "Is he tame?"

"Oh no, he's not tame, but he is good."

Sin is perpetual winter without Christmas, but being alive to God means being alive to adventure, being alive to Someone who is not tame or safe but who is good.

How we long for the winter in our hearts to yield to spring. How we long for the inner and outer turmoil in our lives to cease. Sometimes a green shoot does poke up through the snow, and sometimes we do find moments of peace. But the winter is long and the struggle is fierce. How do we put together the two parts of Paul's formula? How do we get from sin and death to being alive to God?

Let's go back a moment to the scene with which we began. Look again at the two figures in the mists. One of them bears a striking resemblance to a more illustrious relative. Look at how Abel seeks the wandering lamb, and how he cares for lame ones who hobble along behind.

It's in his eyes, though, that I see the resemblance most strongly. They are so full of laughter, joy, and compassion. I think that Abel must have resembled the One whom we call the Good Shepherd, whom the evangelist Luke called the Son of Adam -- Jesus of Nazareth.

Jesus Himself is the bridge between the death of sin and the life of God. "God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself." And Jesus offers us this life and reconciliation even when we play Cain to His Abel. The life and reconciliation which Jesus offers means that even Cain can be forgiven and find peace, and that is a word we all need to hear.

Do you have any Abels in your life? I do. Perhaps your Abel is a colleague or parent or child or spouse. I cannot assure you that coming to terms with someone else, or with yourself, or with God will be easy. It's a slow and arduous process, or so it has been in my life.

But it can be done -- not because I say that it can be done, but because God says it can be done.

You see, Jesus resembles Abel in one more important way. Abel went to his flock and offered the best that he had. Jesus offers His best, too. Jesus offers Himself to us.  

God - In Pursuit of Sinners

by Margaret Manning

When C.S. Lewis, the self-named most reluctant and dejected convert in all England, gave in and admitted that God was God, he knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. He did not see then, what is now seen as the most shining and obvious thing: the Divine humility that will accept a convert even on such terms.

"You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen, night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929 I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England. I did not then see what is now the most shining and obvious thing; the Divine humility which will accept a convert even on such terms. The Prodigal Son at least walked home on his own feet. But who can duly adore that Love which will open the high gates to a prodigal who is brought in kicking, struggling, resentful, and darting his eyes in every direction for a chance of escape?" 1

C.S. Lewis, the self-named most reluctant and dejected convert in all England, penned this now famous and oft-quoted account of his conversion. Unlike some who decided to follow Jesus with urgency and willingness of heart, Lewis came kicking and screaming! Some may resonate with Lewis's dogged reluctance, whereas others gladly pursue the path home.

Lewis's reluctant conversion fascinates me, but I am even more moved by the glimpse into God's character his story affords. Lewis reminds us of the love of God that relentlessly pursues even the reluctant prodigal who would turn and run in the opposite direction in order to try and escape God's gracious embrace. The God revealed in Lewis's account is a God in pursuit. Perhaps this God is even particularly enamored with the reluctant prodigal, leaving the ninety-nine sheep, as Jesus insists in Luke's Gospel, to pursue the one lost sheep.

The apostle Paul, who described himself as "the chief of sinners," often talked about this God in pursuit. In what is perhaps the apex of his letter to the Romans, Paul writes:

For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. (Romans 5:6-10)

Paul's progressive description of our condition before God reveals the depths of God's love. Paul initially notes that God's love pursues humanity "while we were still helpless." Then Paul states that God loves "while we were yet sinners," and finally, God loves and reconciles humanity even "while we were enemies." Indeed, Paul insists on God's great love towards even the vilest offender through the life and death of Jesus. He doesn't make this claim as one who stands removed from the vilest offender. He makes it as a part of his own testimony: "It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all" (1 Timothy 1:15).

But Paul's recognition of God's grace didn't end with himself. As Paul grasped the depths of God's reconciling love in his own life, it led him to proclaim that same reconciliation for others. To the Corinthian church he wrote, "Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation." (2 Corinthians 5:18-19).

In reflecting on the reconciling work of God in Christ, scholar Miroslav Volf draws a pointed application: "God does not abandon the godless to their evil but gives the divine self for them in order to receive them into divine communion through atonement, so also should we—whoever our enemies and whoever we may be."2 For the Christian who recognizes her own inclusion into God's gracious love, she cannot help but include others in the good news of God's reconciling love in Jesus—even with those she might deem her enemies.

We may struggle as reluctant converts, or we may not fully grasp the depths of God's great reconciliation. But perhaps as we are moved to see a common inheritance as those in need of saving, we might be drawn deeper into the embrace of this God in pursuit.

References:

1 C.S. Lewis in Surprised by Joy: The Early Shape of My Life (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984), 228-229.

2 Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996), 23.

About The Author:

Margaret Manning is a member of the speaking and writing team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Seattle, Washington.

Source: Just Thinking; © 2013 Ravi Zacharias International Ministries 

Don't Blame God for Your Problems

by Dr. Ray Pritchard

Scripture: James 1:13-15

Playwright Oscar Wilde once jokingly remarked, "I can resist everything except temptation." We smile when we read those words because they speak an important truth about the human condition. Temptation pays a visit to each of us every day and most of us struggle to say no.

"What do I do when those thoughts come to me?" the young man asked. He was in his late thirties, a rising young executive, by all outward appearances the very image of success. He has a good job, is well-respected by his peers, and seems to have no trouble mixing his faith and his work. What could be wrong? As a single man in a high-powered business environment, he faces numerous temptations, many coming from the sexual arena. "I've asked God to give me a Christian wife, but he hasn't answered that prayer yet. Sometimes my mind is filled with thoughts that embarrass me. And sometimes I give in to the temptation I feel."

I was not surprised. If you change the name or a few details, it was a story I had heard many times before. In fact, it is a story as old as the Bible itself. Temptation is not new in any sense. Temptation is the same for us as it was for Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. Satan tempts us today in the same way he tempted Jesus in the wilderness. From the very beginning a battle has raged for the souls of men and women, a battle that touches all of us sooner or later.

Most of the battles we face will not be enormous, life-changing decisions, or at least they won't seem that way at the time. Either we get angry or we don't. You stay up late to finish your homework or you make up a creative excuse. When you visit the department store you pay cash or you break your promise not to use your credit card. You repeat the unkind story you heard or you decide to keep it to yourself. You pass by the magazine rack in the airport terminal or you stop and begin to browse. You get up early to exercise or you roll over for another 30 minutes of sleep.

Either way no one else will know whether you exercised or not. No one will know (at least not till the end of the month) if you used your credit card or not. No one will know (unless you are audited) whether or not you lied on your tax return. God has ordained that our spiritual progress should be measured not by huge battles won or lost but by a thousand daily skirmishes no one else knows about.

How can we fight and win the battle against the temptations we face every day? James 1:13-15 gives us God's answer to that important question. From this passage we discover where temptation begins, how it grows, and where it ends.

I. Where It Begins

"No one undergoing a trial should say, 'I am being tempted by God.' For God is not tempted by evil, and he himself doesn't tempt anyone" (James 1:13).

It's always easy to blame God for our problems.

"Lord, you put me in this situation."
"Lord, you gave me these desires."
"Lord, you knew I was broke."
"Lord, you knew I was weak in that area."

God is never the source of your problems.
Never.
Don't even go there.

He doesn't tempt people.
He never puts you in a situation where you have to sin.
Never.

God will never lead you to a place where you are forced to do evil. You may find yourself in a tough spot and under pressure you may choose to do evil, and in your mind you feel "forced" by the circumstances to do wrong, but even in those cases the choice is yours, not God's. Said another way, God never sets us up to fail. To do that would contradict both his holiness and his love.

It helps to remember that the same Greek word in James 1 can be translated "trial" or "temptation." That fact teaches us that any event in your life can be both a trial and a temptation.

God sends the trial and Satan turns it into a temptation. For instance, a sickness comes to a child of God. A deathly illness. Could that sickness be a testing from God? Yes, it could. It almost always is a test from God to purify motives, to cause the child of God to look away from the things of earth to the things of heaven, to turn us back to the Lord. Many good things are accomplished through sickness in the life of the believer. Does Satan work through sickness? Yes, he does. Through that very same sickness Satan will be working to tempt you to despair, to anger, to bitterness and to depression. God has a good purpose in mind but Satan is working through that which God intends for your good in order to pull you down.

Or you lose your job. You say, "Could that be from God?" Yes, it could. If you lose your job, could God have a better purpose in mind for you? Yes, and he often does. He may have a better job for you. He certainly wants to build some spiritual character in your life. And yet, during that time of having lost your job, which is a trial from God, Satan will tempt you to anger, despair, and discouragement.

It also works the other way. One day you get a promotion and a nice raise in your salary. Can a promotion be a trial from God? Absolutely. Prosperity is a test from God to see how you will handle his blessings. It ought to make you more generous, move loving, and more sensitive to the needs of others because God has given you so much more. But it is a temptation at the same time in that it may make you greedy and selfish.

Here's a man on a trip. He checks into a motel. He's by himself and he's lonely. He flops down on the bed, turns on the TV and sees a channel called "Adult Entertainment." The man knows that he has no business watching that channel. But maybe when he's alone and spiritually disoriented, he feels a strong urge to watch one of those movies. Does God know that channel is there? Yes, he does. Did God allow his servant to go into that room? Yes, he did. Is it a test? Absolutely. If the man passes the test he will be stronger spiritually because he said no. Is it a temptation? Yes, it is. It's a temptation to give in to lust.

A trial becomes a temptation when we respond wrongly. What God means for good, Satan means for evil. Satan twists that which God gives us and whispers in our ear, "Go ahead. It's okay. No one will ever know."

II. How It Grows

"But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desires. Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin" (James 1:14-15a).

Notice four things from this verse. First, the certainty of temptation: "Each person is tempted." No one escapes temptation in this life. These familiar lines apply to all of us:

"Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it.
Prone to leave the God I love."

Second, the allure of temptation: "He is drawn away and enticed." James uses the image of a fisherman baiting a hook. Just as the fruit looked good to Eve, sin always looks good to us. Sin brings a certain degree of satisfaction. It must, or no one would ever sin. There is such a thing as the "pleasures of sin for a season." In the short run, we can always justify losing our temper, telling a lie, cheating a friend, taking a shortcut, or indulging our fantasies.

Third, the individuality of temptation: "His own evil desires." It's quite true that what tempts you might not bother me at all, and what troubles me might not seem alluring to you. I've often thought while looking out over the fresh-faced congregation on Sunday morning that we all clean up really well. We look better on the outside than we are on the inside. If we knew the naked truth about each other, we would run screaming from the sanctuary, never to return.

Fourth, the result of temptation. "After desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin." Since James uses the metaphor of birth, let me apply the truth this way. If we do not use some "spiritual birth control" in our thought life, our desires will impregnate our actions and the result will be a whole bunch of little "sin babies" running around. That's a bizarre image, but it's not stranger than the image James uses. We must not trifle with temptation. We can't mess with it, play with it, or dabble in it, because temptation leads to desire that leads inevitably to sin in our lives.

III. Where It Ends

"When sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death" (James 1:15b).

Twice in this passage James uses the image of birth:

Evil desire gives birth to sin.
Sin gives birth to death.

We prefer not to hear this. What could be happier than the birth of a baby? We decorate and plan and pray and save our money, we take pictures of the sonogram and post it on Facebook. We have baby showers and "gender reveal" parties and we send out elaborate birth announcements.

It's hard to find anything more wonderful than the birth of a baby.
But not all babies are beautiful.

James uses the happy image of childbirth to remind us of an awful reality. Our evil desires grow over time, they take on a life of their own, and one day those desires give birth to sin. And sin once conceived in the heart leads only to death.

Death to us.
Death in our relationships.

"The Woman You Gave Me"

It all goes back to the Garden of Eden. The serpent came to Eve and tricked her into eating the fruit. She offered some to Adam and he ate, knowing full well the consequences of his action. Suddenly the world became a very unfriendly place. Fear entered the human heart for the very first time. Suddenly Adam and Eve recognized their nakedness, and they were ashamed. When they heard God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, they hid. Sin had changed everything. Where once they talked with God freely, now they hid lest their sin be discovered.

At length God called out to Adam, "Where are you?" Adam answered and said, "I hid because I was naked." God said, "Who told you that you were naked?" Then the dreaded question: "Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?"

Adam is cornered, caught red-handed, stripped of all his excuses. God knows! What will he do? He does what any self-respecting man does. He passes the buck. His answer is a classic form of evasion: "The woman you gave to be with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate" (Genesis 3:12). Adam passes the buck twice. First it was the woman. Then it was the woman you put here. "Lord, it was her fault. She gave me the fruit and so I ate it. What was I supposed to do? She's my wife. You know how it is, Lord, when your wife wants you to do something. What was I supposed to do? Say no and watch her pout all night? And anyway, who put her in the garden? You did! She wasn't my idea. I'm not complaining, Lord, because she's beautiful and cute and all that, but I didn't have this problem when it was just me and the animals."

In the thousands of years since then, nothing has really changed. Human nature is the same. Passing the buck is in our spiritual bloodstream. We do it now because Adam did it back then. He established the pattern:

Disobedience leads to
Guilt which leads to
Shame which leads to
Fear which leads to
Hiding which leads to
Blaming others.

That takes us back to Genesis 2:17, "But you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die." That's not exactly restrictive, is it? Let's suppose there were 25,000 trees in the garden. If so, the command really means this: "Adam, I have given you 24,999 trees to enjoy. You can eat a pear, an apple, an orange or a grapefruit. If you want a fruit cocktail, you can have it. Would you like some peach cobbler? It's all yours. How about some fresh coconut milk? Just climb the tree, pick one, and drink till you are full. Maybe you'd like one of those fancy fruit pizzas. Go ahead. Indulge yourself. Eat from any of the trees or from all of the trees. Eat as much as you like whenever you like. It's all yours. But remember this. There is one tree you must avoid. If you eat the fruit of that tree, you will certainly die."

I imagine Adam listened carefully and perhaps even nodded gravely when he heard the warning. He probably even agreed with the Lord that it would be foolish to eat from the one forbidden tree when there were so many others available to him. And you know the rest of the story. The serpent entered, tempted Eve, she was deceived, she ate, she gave the fruit to Adam, he ate, and rebellion became a way of life for the human race.

It's almost as if he couldn't wait. After all, the very first time he is tempted, he gives in without even putting up a fight. Ever since then we've all been born with a hankering for that same forbidden fruit. We're born craving the fruit that leads to death. We eat it and eat it and can't seem to get enough of it. And that's why the world is so messed up. We demanded our freedom. When we got it, it killed us.

Sin Kills!

That's what James means when he says that sin gives birth to death.

Sin kills us.
Sin kills every human relationship.
Sin kills our relationship with God.

When sin is full-grown, it gives birth to the monster of death.
Nothing beautiful about that.

We would all be better off if we stopped to consider the impact of our evil desires. What starts as a passing fancy becomes a settled desire becomes an overpowering impulse that leads us to foolish action that results in personal tragedy, shattered lives, hurting children, ruined careers, and broken marriages.

Worst of all, we end up separated from the God who made us.
We are truly lost, and we have only ourselves to blame.

Here's one practical application for this message. Don't fondle sin! This obviously applies to sexual temptation, but it goes far beyond it. I mean, don't give your mind over to thoughts of bitterness, envy, anger, lust, greed, and violence.

A Big Muddy Jar

Let's suppose you have a big jar of muddy water that you want to change into a jar of clear water. What's the quickest way to make the transformation? Take a garden hose and hook it up to an artesian well filled with clear, cool, pure water. Now place the hose in the jar and turn on the water. As the clean water rushes in, it flushes out the muddy water. If you let the hose stay in the jar long enough, the muddy water will eventually be completely displaced by the clean water.

This is a parable of the Christian life. All of us are like that big jar of muddy water when we come to Christ. Some are muddier (and slimier) than others, but all of us are unclean when we find the Lord. It is the work of a lifetime to replace the muddy water of our sinful inclinations with the pure water of God's holy character. This is the answer to our entrenched bitterness, lust, greed, hate, envy, impatience, dishonesty, and unfaithfulness.

"Your love, O Lord, come into me and drive out my anger."
"Your holiness, Lord, enter and drive out my greed."
"Your purity enter and drive out my lust."
"Your mercy fill my soul and wash away my envy."
"Your patience come in and my impatience will vanish."
"Your grace fill me within and I can forgive."

"All that you are, Lord Christ, All your shining beauty, all of it, come in this moment and fill me now." Hebrews 12:2 tells us to "fix our eyes on Jesus." Take a long look at the Son of God who struggled in the wilderness and won the victory over the devil. If he won the battle, so can we because his divine power is available to us today.

In 1906 S. D. Gordon wrote a book called Quiet Talks on Service. In a chapter called "Yokefellows: The Rhythm of Service," he tells of a man from Rhode Island who was wonderfully converted after a life largely wasted because of sin. In Gordon's words, "He had been a rough, bad man." He said that when he became a Christian, even the cat knew he had changed. The very next day he was going from his farm along the road to town, singing a song of praise to the Lord as he traveled. Suddenly he began to smell fumes coming from a saloon. The odor gripped him and began to overwhelm him because alcohol had be the source of so many problems in his life. Here is how S. D. Gordon tells the story:

He said he was frightened and wondered how he would get by. He had never gone by before, he said; always gone in; but he couldn't go in now. But what to do, that was the rub. Then he smiled and said, "I remembered and I said, 'Jesus, you'll have to come along and help me get by, I never can by myself.'" And then in his simple, illiterate way he said, "And he came—and we went by, and we've been going by ever since" (p. 67).

Gordon calls this "yoked living" because when we are joined with Jesus, he goes with us wherever we go. Every temptation that comes our way, he has already felt and overcome. Every problem we face, every hard choice we must make, every sudden rush of temptation—Jesus is always with us, by our side, walking with us step by step. If we turn to him and ask for his help, he will deliver us in the moment of temptation and show us the "way of escape."

Temptation is the common experience of the people of God. We will never escape it as long as we live in a fallen world. But God has given us everything we need to win the battle every time.

Stand and fight, child of God. The Lord is on your side.

Copyright © 2015 Keep Believing Ministries, All rights reserved. 

What Jesus Really Said About Sins of the Flesh

by Anthony Esolen

I have often heard it said that our Lord did not care over much about sins of the flesh; for He was relentless in his attacks upon hypocrisy, pride, and avarice, but was so mild towards adulterers and fornicators that we might, extrapolating from that mildness, so far dispense Christians from the strictures of the sixth commandment as to ignore their sins, nay, even to make a virtue of them, so long as they commit them with sufficient sweetness and affection.

That interpretation cannot be supported by any commonsense reading of His words.

When the Pharisees, "tempting Him," asked Him whether it was lawful for a man to put away his wife for any cause at all, Jesus astonished and dismayed them with his reply. They were not asking Him whether divorce was allowable. Of course it was. They were asking Him on what grounds divorce was allowable. They should have known better. This same Jesus, after all, is He who said that a man who but looks at a woman with lust in his heart has already committed adultery with her. It is insanity to try to turn that declaration inside out. We cannot say that a man who commits adultery - the Greek word, like the Latin, suggests not the breaking of a vow, but the soiling of something that ought to be clean - is as pardonable as a man who turns a wolf's eye towards the pretty lady; just as we cannot say that a man who kills his brother is as pardonable as a man who calls him a fool. That would be counsel from a satanic sermon under the mountains.

As only Jesus can, because only He has the authority, He returns to the arche, somewhat feebly translated in English as "the beginning," tempting us to suppose that He is talking about the early days: "Have ye not read, that He which made them at the beginning made them male and female?" But the Greek arche - we must think of the first words of Genesis, and of the trumpet blare that opens the Gospel of John - means much more than a start. It suggests a governing principle, an underlying reality. In the beginning, at the heart of human existence, we are made male and female, for one another. "For this cause," says Jesus, quoting Genesis again, "shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh." The man leaves one marriage, as the child of a father and mother, to enter another marriage, to become with his wife the new and glorious thing in the world, one flesh, in the unitive and procreative act of intercourse.

Now, the Greek is mia sarx, a single flesh; not one-in-flesh, or united-by-flesh, but a single fleshly being. No one who considers divorce a possibility can speak in such a way, no more than he could imagine a person walking and talking while cloven in two. In other words, the moral scandal that there shall be no divorce rests upon the ontological scandal, that man and woman are for one another and in a special way complete one another in marriage. Nor is this the only occasion in the gospels when the word sarx gives scandal. We should recall the words of John, that the logos or speaking-to that was in the beginning, that is, at the heart of all things, sarx egeneto, became flesh; and the scandalous words he reports of Jesus, that His flesh, sarx, is true meat. To say that Jesus is not our bread from heaven is to deny that He is the Word-made-Flesh, God with God from the beginning; it is the same, to deny that He has the authority to reveal to us why we are male and female, and to forbid us to sunder that one flesh by divorce or to mock it by fornication.

But the Pharisees persist. They ask the "reasonable" question. Why did Moses command - note the verb - that the man give his wife a bill of divorce? Jesus does not accept that verb. Moses permitted it pros ten sklerokardian hymon, "on account of your sclerocardia"! The word sounds as if it described an illness, and sure enough it does - the hardness of a heart that does not truly love God. Jesus did not say, "Moses allowed it because he felt sorry for you," or, "Moses permitted it because your hearts would only find true love after a divorce." Jesus evinces no sympathy for the man who wants to put away his woman; and again He brings us back before the fall: "From the beginning it was not so."

Can He possibly make the Pharisees, and His own disciples, more uncomfortable, more uncertain about the respectable, decent, broadminded, tolerant sclerocardia of their day? Yes, He can. "Whosoever shall put away his woman," Greek gynaika; whereupon Jesus must clarify that He is not speaking of the splitting up of fornicators, who are bad enough already, "and marry another, commits adultery" - has befouled himself; and so too the man who marries that woman.

The disciples are abashed. "If the case" - Greek aitia, the same word used by the Pharisees for cause, above - "of the man be so with his wife, it is not good to marry." Honest men, these disciples. They resist the teaching of Jesus, because they acknowledge that their own hearts are pretty hard. They feel that sclerocardia. Jesus' response, again, makes matters more difficult, not less. He does not say, "Try your best, and if you fail, the Father will wink and let you pass." No, the Lord follows His proscription of divorce with the mysterious implicit parable of those who make themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven. Some men are born eunuchs from the womb; it is a misfortune of nature. Some men are made eunuchs; it is a crime. But some men make themselves eunuchs for heaven - how are we to understand that?

A common interpretation is that Jesus is recommending celibacy, though not for everybody. I won't dispute that, but I should like to suggest an additional interpretation, and one that would bind in one coherent whole the beginning of the dispute with what happens right afterwards. For we are in the company of one kind of eunuch all the time. So was Jesus, when the conversation about marriage ended, or seemed to have ended. People brought little children to Him, that He might bless them and pray for them, and when the disciples rebuked the people - mothers, I'd guess - Jesus rebuked them in turn and told them to let the little children come to Him, "for of such is the kingdom of heaven."

We are to make ourselves like little children, if we wish to dwell in our Father's kingdom. We are to make ourselves eunuchs, for the sake of the kingdom. If we remember that Jesus never humiliates, but humbles us in order that we may be exalted, we may conclude that we are to be like children so that we may be more like Christ; and eunuchs, so to speak, that we may the more fully participate in the power of the Father. But when we suffer from sclerocardia, that adult disease, we say, "I simply must put this woman of mine away!" And we say, "I cannot possibly abstain from intercourse, and kindly do not expect me to confine my desires to one person!" And, "I must cleave this flesh in two!" And, "I must do what the body urges!" For that too underlies the chagrin of the disciples. If we cannot divorce, is it not dangerous to marry? But if we do not marry, how can we make it from day to day without provision for the flesh, and the lusts thereof?

Such are the thoughts that roil in the hearts of decent, respectable, reasonable people. But Jesus in this scene has two things in mind, and those two things belong together. He has in mind the innocent beginning - the arche, man and woman made for one another, for the one-flesh, before our fall into the idolatry of sin; and the (relatively) innocent creatures toddling about Him. Might a man put away his wife for any cause at all? Or a woman put away her husband? No; the created nature of man and woman forbids it. As evidence, behold the little children.

Now, if anybody can derive from this scene the conclusion that Jesus blesses semi-monogamy, fornication with semi-commitment, niceness in bed, serial seriousness, soft porneia, or any other honey-brushed swoggle of old hardhearted lust, I claim then that we might as easily say that He recommends paying homage to Satan, so long as it be done with finesse and consideration for the tender feelings of your neighbor. It cannot be.

Indeed, He is calling us to a life of genuine, innocent, full-hearted, and dynamic love. He is calling us to have hearts of flesh.

Source: Crisis Magazine

The Hardening of Hearts Caused by the Deceit of Sin

by Msgr. Charles Pope

Encourage yourselves daily while it is still today, so that none of you may grow hardened by the deceit of sin.
(Heb 3:12).

This is an important admonition, especially appropriate for our times.

Collectively speaking, we been hardened by the deceit of sin. Many of us who are older remember times when sins that are openly practiced (and even celebrated) today were considered shameful a mere fifty years ago. Pre-marital sex (fornication), living together before marriage (which many called "shacking up"), and divorce were considered scandalous. "Gay" was a word that meant happy or joyful, and condoning (let alone celebrating) homosexual acts would have been inconceivable to most Americans. The concept of same-sex marriage was foreign and not even imaginable to most. Up through the 1950s, even contraception was considered by most Americans to be a loathsome practice and was often associated with prostitution.

This is not to say that it was a sinless time; it was not. There were indeed some who transgressed. Young, unmarried girls who got pregnant were generally sent to live with relatives or taken into the care of religious sisters until they gave birth; children born under such circumstances were usually given for adoption. But those cases were relatively rare and handled discreetly. There certainly weren’t child care centers in public high schools! So while some did stray, there was general agreement that such behavior was wrong.

Many of these attitudes began to shift in the cultural revolution of the 1960s. Although the tumultuous change of that decade was already brewing in the 1950s it is rightly said that we entered the 1960s through one door and came out a very different one.

The cultural revolution had different aspects. There was a revolution against authority and tradition, including religious faith; a steep drop in church attendance began. There was the feminist revolution, proper in some of its concerns, but also beset by a growing radicalism that ridiculed motherhood and men. And there was the rampant use of hallucinogenic drugs, which devastated the intellect and judgment of many young people. The hardening of hearts by the deceit of sin was underway.

The most long-lasting and devastating aspect of the 1960s was the sexual revolution. The spread of revolutionary sexual attitudes was facilitated by the availability of "the pill." Thus there arose the evil and erroneous notion of "sex without consequences." This notion has ultimately led to widespread fornication, consumption of pornography, adultery, abortion, divorce, sexually transmitted diseases, and large numbers of children being raised by single mothers.

The resistance to divorce rooted in religious concerns and the common-sense notion that divorce was harmful to children, had been eroding through the decade as many celebrities began flying to foreign countries in order to be divorced. Slowly, the shock that divorce once caused, began to give way. Prior to 1969, obtaining a divorce was a difficult, lengthy, legal process. But due to growing pressure, states began to pass "no-fault" divorce laws, making marriage one of the easiest contracts to break. The hardening of hearts by the deceit of sin was growing worse. Jesus Himself attributed the desire to divorce to hard hearts (See Matt 19:8).

A nation increasingly hypnotized by fornication and the evil deception of sex without consequences began to show a decline in the rightful indignation at killing babies in the womb. Legal maneuverers to permit abortion had already been underway, but abortion remained illegal in most of the United States until 1973, when the dreadful, immoral Roe v. Wade decision of the Supreme Court made abortion the "law of the land." The hardening of hearts by the deceit of sin was by now full.

Things have generally worsened over the decades that followed. And the hardening of hearts has seen added to it the darkening of our intellects (see Romans 1:21). Rational conversations about moral topics are becoming nearly impossible.

Added to all of this the is the recent, bewildering rise in the outright celebration of homosexual acts and subsequent approval of same-sex "marriage," along with the latest cause célèbre, "transgenderism."

And thus the words of the Letter to the Hebrews ring true:

Encourage yourselves daily while it is still today, so that none of you may grow hardened by the deceit of sin (Heb 3:12).

Sin hardens the heart and darkens the intellect.

Many people today hold deeply and stubbornly to errors and are lost in moral confusion. Attempts to disabuse them of such deceptions often leads to venomous accusations of intolerance, bigotry, and hatred. The hardness is deep; the deception is dark. When one grows accustomed to the darkness, the light seems harsh and painful in comparison. The protests get louder as the years go by because as the darkness deepens, the light seems increasingly intolerable.

The text says that it is the deceit of sin which does this.

The Latin roots of the word "deceive" present a picture of being pick up and carried off (de (from) + capere (to take or carry away)). The image of one who has been deceived is that of a small animal hanging limply from the jaws of a predator. To be deceived is a very dangerous thing. It means that the devil has us in his grasp; the end will come soon unless we can unlock the jaws of the evil dragon through the grace of mercy that comes from repentance.

Our age, like few others, demonstrates just how bad things can get when we are individually and collectively hardened by the deceit of sin.

This has happened to us fairly quickly. It was not that long ago when we were still shocked by the things that many celebrate today with "pride" parades and divorce "parties." Fornication and shacking up were once considered scandalous. A sex scene in a movie was considered indecent. Many other sins today, such as greed and disrespect for elders and leaders, are also glamorized. That this no longer shocks or surprises us shows the hardening that the deceit of sin can bring.

Ask the Lord for a sensitive conscience.

It is a precious gift that is not to be confused with scrupulosity. A sensitive conscience is one that loves what God loves, that values what God values, and that shares His priorities. A sensitive conscience loves God’s law and His truth, and is saddened and productively mournful at the reality of sin, whether personal or collective.

Ask also for the gift to mourn.

Scripture says, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted" (Mat 5:4). Who are those who mourn? They are those who see the awful state of God’s people (that they do not know God or glorify Him in their lives and that they are locked in sin and its deceptions) and are motivated to pray and speak the truth. They will even endure suffering in order that some may be snatched away from the evil dragon and from the hardening that comes from the deceit of sin.

Lord, heal our land; for we are surely hardened by the deceit of sin. Help us to turn to you. May you use our holy tears to wash away our sins and give us new and tender hearts.

Video

Source: Archdiocese of Washington

The Sin and Cause of Prayerlessness

By Andrew Murray

If conscience is to do its work, and the contrite heart is to feel its misery, it is necessary that each individual should mention his sin by name. The confession must be severely personal. In a meeting of ministers there is probably no single sin which each one of us ought to acknowledge with deeper shame -'Guilty, verily guilty' - than the sin of prayerlessness.

What is it, then, that makes prayerlessness such a great sin? At first it is looked upon merely as a weakness. There is so much talk about lack of time and all sorts of distractions that the deep guilt of the situation is not recognized. Let it be our honest desire that, for the future, the sin of prayerlessness may be to us truly sinful. Consider

1. What a reproach it is to God

There is the holy and most glorious God who invites us to come to him, to hold converse with him, to ask from him such things as we need, and to experience what a blessing there is in fellowship with him. He has created him we might find our highest glory and salvation.

What use do we make of this heavenly privilege? How many there are who take only five minutes for prayer! They say that they have no time and that the heart desire for prayer is lacking; they do not know how to spend half an hour with God! It is not that they absolutely do not pray; they pray every day - but they have no joy in prayer, as a token of communion with God which shows that God is everything to them.

If a friend comes to visit them, they have time, they make time, even at the cost of sacrifice, for the sake of enjoying converse with him. Yes, they have time for everything that really interests them, but no time to practise fellowship with God and delight themselves in him! They find time for a creature who can be of service to them; but day after day, month after month passes, and there is no time to spend one hour with God.

Do not our hearts begin to acknowledge what a dishonour, what a despite of God this is, that I dare to say I cannot find time for fellowship with him? If this sin begins to appear plain to us, shall we not with deep shame cry out: 'Woe is me, for I am undone, 0 God; be merciful to me, and forgive this awful sin of prayerlessness.' Consider further

2. It is the cause of a deficient spiritual life

It is a proof that, for the most part, our life is still under the power of 'the flesh'. Prayer is the pulse of life; by it the doctor can tell what is the condition of the heart. The sin of prayerlessness is a proof for the ordinary Christian or minister that the life of God in the soul is in deadly sickness and weakness.

Much is said and many complaints are made about the feebleness of the Church to fulfill her calling, to exercise an influence over her members, to deliver them from the power of the world, and to bring them to a life of holy consecration to God. Much is also spoken about her indifference to the millions of heathen whom Christ entrusted to her that she might make known to them his love and salvation. What is the reason that many thousands of Christian workers in the world have not a greater influence? Nothing save this - the prayerlessness of their service. In the midst of all their zeal in the study and in the work of the Church, of all their faithfulness in preaching and conversation with the people, they lack that ceaseless prayer which has attached to it the sure promise of the Spirit and the power from on high. It is nothing but the sin of prayerlessness which is the cause of the lack of a powerful spiritual life! Consider further

3. The dreadful loss which the Church suffers as a result of the prayerlessness of the minister

It is the business of a minister to train believers up to a life of prayer; but how can a leader do this if he himself understands little the art of conversing with God and of receiving from the Holy Spirit, every day, out of heaven, abundant grace for himself and for his work? A minister cannot lead a congregation higher than he is himself. He cannot with enthusiasm point out a way, or explain a work, in which he is not himself walking or living.

How many thousands of Christians there are who know next to nothing of the blessedness of prayer fellowship with God! How many there are who know something of it and long for a further increase of this knowledge, but in the preaching of the Word they are not persistently urged to keep on till they obtain the blessing! The reason is simply and only that the minister understands so little about the secret of powerful prayer and does not give prayer the place in his service which, in the nature of the case and in the will of God, is indispensably necessary. Oh, what a difference we should notice in our congregations if ministers could be brought to see in its right light the sin of prayerlessness and were delivered from it! Once more consider

4. The impossibility of preaching the gospel to all men-as we are commanded by Christ to do -so long as this sin is not overcome and cast out.

Many feel that the great need of missions is the obtaining of men and women who will give themselves to the Lord to strive in prayer for the salvation of souls. It has also been said that God is eager and able to deliver and bless the world he has redeemed, if his people were but willing, if they were but ready, to cry to him day and night But how can congregations be brought to that unless there comes first an entire change in ministers and that they begin to see that the indispensable thing is not preaching, not pastoral visitation, not church work, but fellowship with God in prayer till they are clothed with power from on high?

Oh, that all thought and work and expectation concerning the kingdom might drive us to the acknowledgement of the sin of prayerlessness! God help us to root it out! God deliver us from it through the blood and power of Christ Jesus! God teach every minister of the Word to see what a glorious place he may occupy if he first of all is delivered from this root of evils; so that with courage and joy, in faith and perseverance, he can go on with his God!

The sin of prayerlessness! The Lord lay the burden of it so heavy on our hearts that we may not rest till it is taken far from us through the name and power of Jesus He will make this possible for us.

The cause of prayerlessness.

In an elder's prayer meeting, a brother put the question: 'What, then, is the cause of so much prayerlessness? Is it not unbelief?€™

The answer was: 'Certainly; but then comes the question what is the cause of that unbelief?' When the disciples asked the Lord Jesus: 'Why could not we cast the devil out?' His answer was: 'Because of your unbelief.' He went further and said: 'Howbeit this kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting' (Matt 17.19-21). If the life is not one of self-denial - of fasting - that is, letting the world go; of prayer - that is, laying hold of heaven, faith cannot be exercised. A life lived according to the flesh and not according to the Spirit - it is in this that we find the origin of the prayerlessness of which we complain. As we came out of the meeting a brother said to me: 'That is the whole difficulty; we wish to pray in the Spirit and at the same time walk after the flesh, and this is impossible.'

If one is sick and desires healing, it is of prime importance that the true cause of the sickness be discovered. This is always the first step toward recovery. If the particular cause is not recognised, and attention is directed to subordinate causes, or to supposed but not real causes, healing is out of the question. In like manner, it is of the utmost importance for us to obtain a correct insight into the cause of the sad condition of deadness and failure in prayer in the inner chamber, which should be such a blessed place for us. Let us seek to realise fully what is the root of this evil.

Scripture teaches us that there are but two conditions possible for the Christian. One is a walk according to the Spirit, the other a walk according to 'the flesh'. These two powers are in irreconcilable conflict with each other. So it comes to pass, in the case of the majority of Christians, that, while we thank God that they are born again through the Spirit and have received the life of God - yet their ordinary daily life is not lived according to the Spirit but according to 'the flesh'. Paul writes to the Galatians: 'Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh?' (Gal 3.3). Their service lay in fleshly outward performances. They did not understand that where 'the flesh' is permitted to influence their service of God, it soon results in open sin.

So he mentions not only grave sins as the work of 'the flesh', such as adultery, murder, drunkenness; but also the more ordinary sins of daily life - wrath, strife, variance; and he gives the exhortation: 'Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh... If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit' (Gal 5.16, 25). The Spirit must be honoured not only as the author of a new life but also as the leader and director of our entire walk. Otherwise we are what the apostle calls 'carnal'.

The majority of Christians have little understanding of this matter. They have no real knowledge of the deep sinfulness and godlessness of that carnal nature which belongs to them and to which unconsciously they yield. 'God... condemned sin in the flesh' (Rom 8.3) - in the cross of Christ. 'They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts' (Gal. 5.24). 'The flesh' cannot be improved or sanctified. 'The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be' (Rom 8.7). There is no means of dealing with 'the flesh' save as Christ dealt with it, bearing it to the cross. 'Our old man is crucified with him' (Rom. 6.6); so we by faith also crucify it, and regard and treat it daily as an accursed thing that finds its rightful place on the accursed cross.

It is saddening to consider how many Christians there are who seldom think or speak earnestly about the deep and immeasurable sinfulness of 'the flesh'-'In me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing' (Rom 7.18). The man who truly believes this may well cry out: 'I see another law in my members ... bringing me into captivity to the law of sin... 0 wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?' (Rom 7.23, 24). Happy is he who can go further and say: 'I thank God, through Jesus Christ our Lord... For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death' (Rom. 7.25; 8.2).

Would that we might understand God's counsels of grace for us! 'The flesh' on the cross - the Spirit in the heart and controlling the life.

This spiritual life is too little understood or sought after; yet it is literally what God has promised and will accomplish in those who unconditionally surrender themselves to him for this purpose.

Here then we have the deep root of evil as the cause of a prayerless life. 'The flesh' can say prayers well enough, calling itself religious for so doing and thus satisfying conscience. But 'the flesh' has no desire or strength for the prayer that strives after an intimate knowledge of God; that rejoices in fellowship with him; and that continues to lay hold of his strength. So, finally, it comes to this, 'the flesh' must be denied and crucified.

The Christian who is still carnal has neither disposition nor strength to follow after God. He rests satisfied with the prayer of habit or custom; but the glory, the blessedness of secret prayer is a hidden thing to him, till some day his eyes are opened, and he begins to see that 'the flesh', in its disposition to turn away from God, is the archenemy which makes powerful prayer impossible for him.

I had once, at a conference, spoken on the subject of prayer and made use of strong expressions about the enmity of 'the flesh' as a cause of prayerlessness. After the address, the minister's wife said that she thought 1 had spoken too strongly. She also had to mourn over too little desire for prayer, but she knew her heart was sincerely set on seeking God. 1 showed her what the word of God said about 'the flesh', and that everything which prevents the reception of the Spirit is nothing else than a secret work of 'the flesh'. Adam was created to have fellowship with God and enjoyed it before his fall. After the fall, however, there came immediately, a deep- seated aversion to God, and he fled from him. This incurable aversion is the characteristic of the unregenerate nature and the chief cause of our unwillingness to surrender ourselves to fellowship with God in prayer. The following day she told me that God had opened her eyes; she confessed that the enmity and unwillingness of 'the flesh' was the hidden hindrance in her defective prayer life.

0 my brethren, do not seek to find in circumstances the explanation of this prayerlessness over which we mourn; seek it where God's word declares it to be, in the hidden aversion of the heart to a holy God.

When a Christian does not yield entirely to the leading of the Spirit - and this is certainly the will of God and the work of his grace - he lives, without knowing it, under the power of 'the flesh'. This life of 'the flesh' manifests itself in many different ways. It appears in the hastiness of spirit, or the anger which so unexpectedly arises in you, in the lack of love for which you have so often blamed yourself; in the pleasure found in eating and drinking, about which at times your conscience has chidden you; in that seeking for your own will and honour, that confidence in your own wisdom and power, that pleasure in the world, of which you are sometimes ashamed before God. All this is life 'after the flesh'. 'Ye are yet carnal' (1 Con 3.3) that text, perhaps, disturbs you at times; you have not full peace and joy in God.

I pray you take time and give an answer to the question: Have 1 not found here the cause of my prayerlessness, of my powerlessness to effect any change in the matter? I live in the Spirit, 1 have been born again, but 1 do not walk after the Spirit -'the flesh' lords it over me. The carnal life cannot possibly pray in the spirit and power. God forgive me. The carnal life is evidently the cause of my sad and shameful prayerlessness.

The storm centre on the battlefieldMention was made in conference of the expression 'strategic position' used so often in reference to the great strife between the kingdom of heaven and the powers of darkness.

When a general chooses the place from which he intends to strike the enemy, he pays most attention to those points which he thinks most important in the fight. Thus there was on the battlefield of Waterloo a farmhouse which Wellington immediately saw was the key to the situation. He did not spare his troops in his endeavours to hold that point: the victory depended on it. So it actually happened. It is the same in the conflict between the believer and the powers of darkness. The inner chamber is the place where the decisive victory is obtained.

The enemy uses all his power to lead the Christian and above all the minister, to neglect prayer. He knows that however admirable the sermon may be, however attractive the service, however faithful the pastoral visitation, none of these things can damage him or his kingdom if prayer is neglected. When the Church shuts herself up to the power of the inner chamber, and the soldiers of the Lord have received on their knees 'power from on high', then the powers of darkness will be shaken and souls will be delivered. In the Church, on the mission field, with the minister and his congregation, everything depends on the faithful exercise of the power of prayer.

In the week of conference I found the following in The Christian:

Two persons quarrel over a certain point. We call them Christian and Apollyon. Apollyon notices that Christian has a certain weapon which would give him a sure victory. They meet in deadly strife, and Apollyon resolves to take away the weapon from his opponent and destroy it. For the moment the main cause of the strife has become subordinate; the great point now is who shall get possession of the weapon on which everything depends? It is of vital importance to get hold of that.

So it is in the conflict between Satan and the believer. God's child can conquer everything by prayer. Is it any wonder that Satan does his utmost to snatch that weapon from the Christian, or to hinder him in the use of it?

How now does Satan hinder prayer? By temptation to postpone or curtail it, by bringing in wandering thoughts and all sorts of distractions; through unbelief and hopelessness. Happy is the prayer hero who, through it all, takes care to hold fast and use his weapon. Like our Lord in Gethsemane, the more violently the enemy attacked the more earnestly he prayed and ceased not till he had obtained the victory. After all the other parts of the armour had been named, Paul adds: 'with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit' (Eph 6.18). Without prayer, the helmet of salvation, and the shield of faith, and the sword of the Spirit which is God's word, have no power. All depends on prayer. God teach us to believe and hold this fast!

Source: Third Millennium Ministries

The Seriousness of Sin

by Dr. RC Sproul

Gospel: Matthew 18:7–9

"Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!" (Matt 18:7).

Jesus was largely a traveling preacher of the kingdom during His earthly ministry. Thus, He taught many of the same lessons again and again to different crowds. As such, we ought not be surprised to find that He used similar, though slightly different, analogies to convey the same truths, tailoring the metaphors to each specific audience and situation. For example, His warning about leading others into sin in Matthew 18:6 is remarkably akin to 5:19–20, wherein our Lord warns those who might teach others to relax God's commandments.

Even more striking is the similarity between Matt. 18:7–9 and Matt. 5:27–30. What was earlier said about lust in the Sermon on the Mount is now applied more broadly to all manner of sins. Graphically, Jesus tells us it is better to enter the kingdom of heaven without a hand or foot than to keep what inclines us towards wickedness and find our whole bodies in hell (18:8–9). Again, as we said in our study of Matthew 5, Jesus does not commend self-mutilation here. It is possible to cut off a limb and still lose the battle with transgression. Instead, Christ is using a powerful analogy to encourage us to cut off sin before it overcomes us. Depending on our situation, this may mean moving to another town, taking another job, or making some other righteous, but difficult, life change, if that is what it takes to escape the wickedness in our lives. Matthew Henry comments, "We must think nothing too dear to part with, for the keeping of a good conscience."

Leading others into sin is particularly grievous, as John Calvin exclaims in his commentary on 18:5–6: "What dreadful vengeance then awaits those who by offenses shall bring ruin on their brethren!" Yet it also horrible to lead one's own self into evil by refusing to put to death the sin in one's life (vv. 8–9). Whether we cause others, or ourselves, to stumble, Jesus pronounces a great woe upon us (v. 7). It is necessary that trials come - they are a consequence of this fallen world that God, as part of His plan, uses to produce in us endurance and wholeness. But His sovereign permission does not absolve us of the guilt of our actions. We must never assume that our sin is the Lord's fault because He allows it; sinners alone are culpable for their evil decisions (Acts 2:23).

Coram deo: Living before the face of God

Dr. John MacArthur echoes Jesus' somber warning in Matthew 5:29: "Sin must be dealt with drastically because of its deadly effects" (The MacArthur Bible Commentary, p. 1,131). Refraining from speaking privately with a certain person might be what keeps you from gossiping; throwing away your computer may be the right course of action if you struggle with looking at pornography. Whatever it takes, all of us must do what is needed to flee sin and temptation.

For further study: Proverbs 5

Source: INTO the WORD daily Bible studies from TableTalk Magazine
Copyright © 2008 by Ligonier Ministries.

tFour Lies That Keep Us from Jesus

by Joe Thorn

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
(Matthew 11:28 ESV)

Though Jesus invites sinners (like you) to come to him for cleansing, relief, and renewal, I find that many of us are often slow to come to him on account of those very things that should speed us on our way to him. There are many lies we are tempted to believe that can short-circuit our communion with Christ. Here are four to watch out for.

This sin isn't serious enough to take to Jesus

Some of you consider your sins, at least some of your sins, as too small to take to Jesus. No one got hurt, your faith is intact, so why both Jesus with it? The problem is the perceived smallness of your sins has created an excuse for you to stay away from the Savior, rather than reminding you of your need to stay close. Your sins, no matter their degree of heinousness, always demand that you to return--run! to the Lord. Jesus died on account of such sins, for they alone are enough to condemn you forever. Those lustful glances, brief but harsh words, and dismissive attitude toward others may seem small, but they are not only worthy of damnation, but they are dangerous and have the potential to harden your heart. Do not gloss over them, thinking they are insignificant, but see them for what they really are--an offense to God and a danger to your soul--and flee to Jesus for grace.

This sin is so bad I can't face Jesus

Some of you feel the severity of your transgressions so acutely that you have fallen into a kind of spiritual paralysis. Some are so guilted by their sin they feel they simply cannot even face the Savior. But our shame, which is very real, isn't supposed to end in us. Our guilt should cause to us to turn to the only One who can handle it; to the only One who has handled it. It is a lie that we too quickly believe, "This is too big." The blasphemous implications are that Jesus is too small, unloving, and unforgiving to deal with our transgressions. But, the deeper the sin, the greater the need. And the offer from Jesus remains free and unending grace to all who will come!

I am not sorry enough for my sin

I have believed this one myself. Some of us sense our sin, but aren't sufficiently grieved for it. We know that we lack true godly sorrow for our law-breaking, and we then conclude that any "return" to Jesus at this point would be hypocritical. I'm not sorry enough, so why would Jesus receive me? There are at least two problems here. One is those who are in Christ are already received by him. There is nothing blocking our access to Jesus! The second problem has to do with where your conviction and sorrow comes from. Why would you think you can conjure up sufficient remorse over your sins without drawing near to the one who bore your shame on the cross? Do you really believe that you can see and feel the gravity of your sin apart from drawing close to the One who felt the darkness of your sins on your behalf? No, you can only find deep and appropriate sorrow for your sins when you see them in light of the Savior!

I haven't cleaned myself up enough yet

Another lie I see many Christians buy that we need to get cleaned up to meet with Jesus. It often works itself out like this. We "blow it" again, or fall into whatever sin we seem to feebly fight. Conviction hits us hard, but instead of turning to Jesus we think, "Before I can look him in the face I must first clean myself up. Just a good day of consistent prayer free of that one sin, and then I'll be right." But this is a kind of works-righteousness. This is religion based on how clean we can make ourselves. It establishes our confidence before God on our own personal reformation rather than on Jesus' perfect redemption. This is a dangerous lie that will lead you farther from Jesus. You think you are drawing near to him when you are finally ready, but in reality you are pulling back from him by trusting in your own performance.

Here is the truth: Jesus said, "whoever comes to me I will never cast out." (John 6:34) Do not delay in looking to Jesus. Do not allow any whisper from your heart or the devil himself to lead you to "tarry." Your slowness to come to Jesus daily, hourly, in the face of your sin, will only result in broken communion with him. He is ready for you now. Run!

Joe Thorn's book, 'Note to Self: The Discipline of Preaching to Yourself,' was released through Crossway/ReLit. ...

Source: Christianity.com Daily Update

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