Bread – Sin

February 6, 2017


Psalm 51

Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your steadfast love; according to Your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.  Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!”  Ps. 51:1-2

The context of this Psalm is that it is written by David after his adultery with Bathsheba, his murder of her husband, and his confrontation by Nathan the prophet.   His evil thoughts and acts revealed, David writes this Psalm, beginning with his plea to God for mercy.

The sins of adultery and murder in the Old Testament were what we might call today “mortal” sins.  The judgment for these sins was death.  Just so that we didn’t miss it, David doubled down on death by committing both sins together.  But for God’s mercy, David was doomed even though he was a king.  But for God’s mercy, David’s penalty imposed by Mosaic law for his actions was death.

 

What is sin?  In these two verses, we have three words for it – transgressions, iniquity, and sin.  We often talk about “sin” as missing the mark, as an arrow misses the bullseye.  And, indeed, sin can be described as our failure to obey God’s laws and regulations for good, righteous living.    We know we cannot meet God’s standards because they are so high and we are so weak, but using this concept of “sin” alone we are left with the idea that we are basically good people who, with a little bit of training and grace, can hit the bullseye.  Much of modern thinking is built upon this narrow and weak view of sin.

But this meaning, that of “missing the mark,” is not the meaning of either “transgressions” or “iniquity.”  When we transgress against someone, we cross the line and become enemies of that person.  The idea is that we transgress when we rebel against the law.  It is not enough that we “miss the mark” by trying, but in our transgressions we don’t even try.  God’s law apply to me?  You’ve got to be kidding!  That is rebellion; that is transgression.  In “sinning” we break the law essentially because of inability or by accident; in transgressing, we break the law on purpose because we are enemies of God.  In transgressing, we exalt ourselves to either ruling over God (we judge Him) or considering ourselves equal to God (we negotiate with Him).

In the word “iniquity,” we look at sin as a state of natural man, as a perversion of God’s plan.  Some might call “iniquity” as our original sin, born of disobedience in Adam and Eve.

So, “sin” in the complete way of thinking is (a) our state (born in iniquity), (b) our position vis a vis God (His enemy), and (c)  our actions or inactions when measured against perfection.

David sees clearly after his confrontation with Nathan that what he has done arises from iniquity, marks his position as an enemy of God, and falls seriously short of God’s moral law.

So David approaches God out of the box, in verse 1, relying solely on God’s mercy.  He is not good enough to merit God’s forgiveness.  He has not done enough good things to merit God’s forgiveness.  He cannot tell God what to do and he cannot negotiate with God as His equal.  He has one choice and one choice only, and that is to fall on his knees in front of God, confessing his sin, his transgressions, and his iniquity,  and plead for mercy.

From great degradation can come great deliverance.  From great depravity can come great transformation.  From great sorrow can come great healing.

And from a great God will come great mercy because of His “steadfast love.”

And for that, we confess our sin and are grateful.

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© 2017 GBF   All Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version (2001), unless otherwise indicated.

 

 

 

 

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Bread – Punishment

August 9, 2013


Readings for Friday, August 9, designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: 2 Sam. 12:1-14; Acts 19:21-41; Mark 9:14-29; Psalms 88,91,92

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In today’s reading from Samuel, we have the story of the aftermath of David and Bathsheba. Bathsheba was the wife of Uriah, but David saw her, thought she was very beautiful, and took her, killing Uriah by a trick in the process. Sort of like what we might do to get something we want.

God sends Nathan the prophet to confront David with his sin by telling David about a rich man who took a baby lamb from a poor man who had nothing so that the rich man could entertain his neighbor. In hearing this story, David of course rises up in righteous anger and says, essentially, “who could do such a thing?” Nathan then says, simply, “You are the man.”

How many stories could be told which, when we hear them, we would be angry about such an injustice, only to have God or our conscience tell us, in our quiet of reflection, that “you are the man.” “You are the evil doer.” “You are the one who has answered viciously, plotted for advantage, conducted murder in your heart, etc.

Yes, we are the people who are involved in these sordid stories of our lives. And we are responsible. And we are guilty. And we are sinful.

David hears Nathan and says “I have sinned against the Lord.” 2 Sam. 12:13. And in this he is right. Yes, his sin was against Uriah (who he killed), Bathsheba (who he turned into an adulteress), and even his own subjects (who he let down by his lack of integrity and honesty). But first and foremost it was against God. It was against His holy standard of behavior, of right and wrong, of His perfection.

Likewise, our sins are against others, but primarily they are against God’s will in our lives and His rules for living. They are violations of God’s holiness. They are insults hurled at God by us.

For which we deserve punishment. For those who do not believe in Jesus Christ, who have not repented and turned to Him in faith, it means punishment in this world and the next, for all time. For those who are saved by God’s mercy and in His sovereign will through faith in Jesus Christ, there is a different outcome.

Oh, there is punishment, but of a different sort.

Immediately after David has confessed his sin, Nathan has this to say – listen in very carefully: “And Nathan said to David, ‘The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die.’” 2 Sam. 12:13-14.

In Christ Jesus, we are like David. The Lord has put away our sin by His sovereign grace, His mercy extended to us who are utterly undeserving of it but receive it anyway. However, God does not take insults lightly and there are consequences. In David’s case, the loss of a child. In our case, punishment may be less or more, but it will be.

When we are saved in Christ, we will receive punishment for our sins in this life, with perhaps even the reduction of rewards in heaven, but “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.” Salvation is assured. And so is punishment for our sins. We do not avoid punishment for our sins by the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross; we avoid destruction in the lake of fire. We do not avoid the consequences of our sin, but we do not die either.

God was not happy with David, and He punished him for his sins against Him. But God was merciful and spared his life, just like He is merciful to those whom He brings to Christ.

Isn’t this the “good news,” actually the best news? Through Jesus Christ the permanent consequences of our sin, death, is overcome and we will live forever in the presence of the Lord. The permanent punishment of death for all eternity is held back because God has mercy and took out His wrath on His Son and our Savior. However, the temporal consequences of sin are real. God will not be scorned. And, for our sins against God, we will be like David, saved and punished – which beats punished and dead for eternity all day long.

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© 2013 GBF

Bread – Mistakes

July 2, 2012


Readings for Monday, July 2 designated by the 1979 Book of Common Prayer: Num. 22:1-21; Rom. 6:12-23; Matt. 21:12-22; Psalm 106

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There is a saying that goes something like this – “How do you avoid mistakes? From experience. How do you get experience? From mistakes.”

This seems to work from a casual perspective, but it does not work if our fundamental world view, how fundamental answers about how life works, about our purpose, about who we are, is mistaken. The reason is that from mistaken assumptions come mistaken conclusions, and often the assumptions are so intertwined with our fabric of living that we cannot see clearly the assumptions from which we operate. Mistakes made as to which worldview we adopt have catastrophic consequences. And we are warned that we may not see these consequences until we die, at which time it is too late.

Our readings today from God’s revelation to us in His Word speak volumes about the results of mistaken world view.

In Numbers, Israel has camped outside of Moab. The Moab king, Balak, has an answer – he will go get Balaam, a famous divine, to come and curse them. The problem is that Balak has a world view which is mistaken, and from that world view he makes erroneous conclusions. This mistake is seen in this quote: “And Moab was in great dread of the people [Israel], because they were many.” Num. 22:3. Notice the error. Moab never recognizes that Israel did not receive its strength from numbers, but from God. It was God which Moab and its king, Balak, should dread, not their numbers. Balak had what we might call a scientific world view. From his stance he could see lots of people. From his education and experience, he could understand being overwhelmed militarily by numbers. He had no basis from which to understand Israel’s source of true power, and he had no desire to figure it out either. Even when Balaam says the first time he is asked that he will not come to curse Israel because God has told him that Israel is blessed, Balak doubles down on his worldview and just figures that Balaam wants more money. Balak doubled down in error because his worldview was in error.

In Romans, Paul is still talking about obedience caused by the requirements of the Law as opposed to obedience which arises from appreciation of God’s free gift to us in Jesus Christ. Paul states quite clearly that we are always obedient to something or someone. We are obedient to external force (the Law), we are obedient to ourselves (selfishness or the lusts of the flesh), or we are obedient because Jesus Christ rules in our lives. To whomever or whatever we are obedient, we are slaves. If obedient to sin, we are slaves to sin. If obedient to socialism, we are slaves to socialism. If obedient to rules, we are slaves to law. If obedient to Jesus Christ, we are slaves to Him. The difference among these, of course, is that Jesus’ burden is light, whereas the burden of the others is heavy. In the others we are truly slaves; with Jesus Christ we are obedient by choice, out of love and gratitude for the person who has saved us and rescued us and sustains us. Paul’s point is that we are obedient unto something, and we can make some dreadful mistakes in who or what we are obedient to. You might say that Paul is distinguishing between a religious world view and a Christian world view. The religious world view assumes that we only get to heaven by obedience to the rules of the religion; a Christian world view knows that we only get to heaven by relationship with God established through Jesus Christ. A religious world view holds that you can make it to heaven on your own, through good works; a Christian world view holds that you can never get to heaven on your own, no matter what you do. From the religious world view, mistakes are made in the assumptions and dreadful mistakes are made in the conclusions.

In Matthew, Jesus has just taken on the money-changers in the Temple. One might think of the money-changers as representing the economic world view – wealth comes from hard work, investment over time, and shrewd dealing (buy low, sell high). The economic world view corrupts the Christian worldview by substituting money for wealth, by substituting activity for relationship, and by substituting possessions for love. The economic world view was polluting the Temple, and Jesus rightly casts it out, saying that the Temple was a place of prayer, a place of relationship, a place of love. The economic world view says “First, seek a good job.” The Christian worldview says, “First, seek the kingdom of God.” The assumption that the purpose of life is wealth acquisition is a mistake; and the conclusions from that fundamental error are themselves great errors.

Which worldview do you hold? A scientific world view, where nothing can be believed unless seen and the only wisdom is in the university? A religious world view, where obedience to the rules of the congregation are of utmost importance and the arbiter of life is the Church? An economic worldview where acquisition is what it is about, and the person who dies with the most toys wins?

If we were honest with ourselves, we probably reflect elements of all three worldviews – scientific, religious, and economic. And we make terrible mistakes in doing so.

What would life be like if we truly lived in the Christian worldview? Would we begin every day in relationship with our parents, our spouse, our family, our friends, our God? Would we work on those throughout the day? Would we end our day with them? Would we see miracles, every day, both in “circumstances,” and in people? Would we live a life of wonder and gratitude? Would we live a life of obedience, honor, and integrity, not because we can or because we have to but because we have the power of God to do so and want to glorify our Lord in what we do and say? Would we find rest?

If this last set of questions attracts you but you are not experiencing them, then maybe you can use your experiences to test whether you have made mistakes, and from the knowledge of those mistakes choose wisely. Because there is a choice.

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