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Dealing with Sin Beneath the Surface

Selected Scriptures August 17, 2003 80-277

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Well, as we come to the Lord's table, this morning, of course it is with a note of joy but also a seriousness as we understand what lies before us. The Apostle Paul says, "Don't come to the table unless you examine yourself. You don't want to partake in an unworthy way and bring upon yourself the chastening of God." This is a very serious occasion in the life of the church.

And while it is a time of celebration and remembrance of the death of Christ, it is also a time of confrontation as we look at the reality of sin. Here we remember the cross, but here we remember the cross where Jesus was executed by the purpose of God for our sins. If you've been with us in our study of Luke, you certainly are very much aware of the wonder and the glory and the holy perfection of Jesus as He's living out His life in this world. And you are also increasingly aware of the impact that sin had upon His life and ministry. As we saw at the very outset when Jesus was born, there was an effort made by Herod to exterminate all the babies and thus to kill and the Messiah, the Son of God, Himself. As He began His ministry there was from the very outset animosity and hated and it mounts and escalates as the years go by and now as there are only a few months left in our study of Luke's gospel, a few months before the cross, there will be a very perceivable increase in the rejection of the Son of God.


We have seen that already. We've seen the growing apathy among the people. We've seen the enlarging rejection of those who hate the diagnosis that Jesus brought when He cast them all as sinners, separated from God, in spite of their religious conduct. We are beginning now to experience the rising hatred of the Jewish leaders, resentment over Jesus' message, anger over His influence and the scene will become more ominous and more tragic as the chapters go by in the final months of His life. We will experience His arrest, His mocked trials, His betrayal by Judas, one of His own apostles. We will be there when Peter denies Him. We will be there when the Apostles abandon Him at the crucial moment. We will be there at the Last Supper when the Apostles proud, self-interest demonstrates itself again with utter indifference to His coming horror as they argue for the umpteenth time about their own prominence in His Kingdom. The story is accumulating sadness, it's accumulating pathos and sorrow and Jesus when He goes into the garden seems to have reached a pinnacle of sadness. If ever He was a man of sorrows, it was there when He was sweating great drops of blood under the immense pressure of temptation by Satan to avoid the cross. So severe was that satanic assault that the capillaries burst and blood began to pour out of His pours. And we remember as well that while He is suffering like that, He asks His own to come and pray with Him but they can't keep themselves awake and so they fall asleep and He is in this vigil by Himself, going through a struggle which He endured in holy perfection but to which those who were nearest and dearest to Him abandoned Him.

And then we're going to be there when He feels the worst pain of all, the pain of separation from His Father and cries out on the cross, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" Isaiah was right, He is a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief and the longer He lives the more acquainted He becomes with it and the sadder His life becomes. We feel His loneliness. We feel His loneliness as the people reject Him, the leaders reject Him. We feel the loneliness as His own apostles reject Him and that inexplicable, incomprehensible loneliness when the Father forsook Him.

I say all of that just to kind of take you to a point and the point is this, every bit of His sorrow was related to sin. The sin that was around Him, the sin that He had to bear on the cross, it all was related to sin, their sin, your sin, my sin. Sin brought all His pain, all of it. The sinless one living in the pristine purity of heaven enters this sinful world and feels the power of sin all around Him. And that is why you have the story of Christ. That is why He goes to the cross in order in the end to pay the penalty for all the sins of all who would ever believe.

So we come to this table and it is a table of remembrance and we remember the cross and we do with gratitude and joy. It is a table of celebration because we know that by His sacrifice we have been set free from the penalty of sin, the power of sin and some day even the presence of sin. But as we come to this table, we certainly need to direct our thoughts to sin itself. It was sin that caused all His sorrow, all His suffering, all His pain and even His death. One cannot come to the Lord's table as God would have you come and not take a look at sin. That's why Paul says, "Don't come in an unworthy manner. Examine yourself and deal with your sin."

I've been thinking lately as we've been watching the scandal of the Roman Catholic priesthood unfold, which is certainly nothing new. You can go back to the 1600's and the time of Martin Luther and find Popes and priests and others guilty of pedophilia. But I go back to the fact that the primary function of a Roman Catholic priest is to take his people to Christ in his death through the Mass. And while it is a perverted and aberrant remembrance of the cross, infused with all kinds of things that are not true, it is nonetheless in the mind of the priest his responsibility in the Mass to take people back to the cross and to engage them with Christ at His cross. It is inconceivable to me that a priest could do that who was a homosexual or a pedophile or who was engaged in any other kind of iniquity, to come to this table. It's serious enough without perverting the table and then yourself being perverted as you intend to bring others to it. Those who do that, I would say, are in danger of the hottest hell because this is the most sacred event in the life of the church. To pervert this is the highpoint of mockery.


And then we have been reading about the Anglican church, interested now and already committed to ordaining the bishop who is an open homosexual. And one of the people who was being interviewed by the media said, "He has as much right to lead his congregation in communion as anybody else." How you could even come to the table of the Lord, how you could lead other people to the table of the Lord while advocating openly the very iniquities that put Jesus Christ there and at the same time that you're celebrating His death you're celebrating those very sins is inconceivable to me.

And may I hasten to add, these are not ministers of Christ, these are ministers of Satan who do this. This is not the church of Jesus Christ, this is the church of Satan. And such who do this would be the most damned of all apostates. If ever one must calculate the reality of sin, it is when you come to the Lord's table. I think it would be impossible to imagine the horror of the sins of those who belong to Satan and come to the Lord's table. Eternity will define the heinousness of that crime. But those of us who are true Christians in the true church must take seriously our own coming to this table. Would we be content to take our pleasure in the very thing that brought our beloved Savior all His suffering and pain? Will we live to cherish what He died to conquer? If ever, I say to you, if ever in your spiritual experience as a Christian, if ever you have an obligation to deal with your sin, it is when you come to this table. It is right here. Lest we perpetrate a monstrous hypocrisy and turn this into a meaningless ritual and bring down God's chastening on our own heads. It's crucial we think about the matter of sin with regard to our own lives.

I've been reading a book, very, very interesting historical book on the people who translated the original King James Bible. They started under the authority of James I in England in 1603 and completed it and it was printed in 1611. During those eight years there were 54 men who were assigned the responsibility to produce the King James Bible, as it's called, the Authorized Version. They were divided down into groups and there were a number of groups, each of which had a leader over it, and about a dozen people in the group who worked on a certain section of the Bible.

One of the most fascinating individuals that probably is unknown to us, as most of them are, was a man named Lancelot Andrews. Lancelot Andrews had the responsibility to oversee one area and it was one of the really shining lights in the group of people that did that work. And it is said of Lancelot Andrews, not by his own confession but by all who knew him, it is the universal testimony that Lancelot Andrews spent five hours a day in prayer. He began his day with five hours of prayer and that the only subject of those five hours of prayer was his own sinfulness. He spent five hours a day before God dealing with his own sinfulness.

That is absolutely unimaginable to anybody today. Five minutes would seem to most people more than adequate. Five hours and I have read his prayers...pouring out the deepest sense of unworthiness before God. And he was the best of men. To get beyond being superficial is difficult in our superficial servited culture. But we need to take a good look, an honest look at where sin really functions, and that is on the inside.


Turn to James chapter 1...James chapter 1. We tend to think of sin on the outside, as conduct...what we say, what we do. We tend to think of it even as coming at us from outside of us. But I want you to get this simple understanding, James 1 verse 14, "Each one is tempted when he is carried away," that is to say he's lost control, he's swept away, "and enticed by his own lust." The problem is not outside of us, the problem is in us. The world certainly is a beachhead to temptation. Satan certainly an agent that by his machinations in the fallen world induces us to sin. But the real issue is not outside of us, it's not Satan and it's not the world, it's in us, it's our own lust. And here's how sin works. Lust conceives, verse 15, and it gives birth to sin. And when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.

Sin is planted in the heart. It grows there before it ever produces visible fruit on the outside. That's what he's saying. If you're going to deal with sin, it's not just as simple as running a real fast inventory over whether you've committed any major sins in the last few days, or the last few weeks, or whether you've failed to do a few things you should have done. It's coming to grips of what's on the inside. Hebrews 12:1 speaks of sin, this is a great phrase, "The sin that so easily entangles us." The sin that so easily entangles us. And what the writer of Hebrews is saying is it's like a tumor wrapped around everything inside of us, it's tangled up in everything. It's in our fallen nature. Everything about us that is human is tangled with sin.

Let me see if I can't explain what that really involves. Sin has, to put it another way, great power in us. It is not weak, even though we are in Christ. It is very powerful, it is strong, it is resident. It influences our thoughts. It influences our attitudes. It influences our emotion. It influences our will. It influences our affection. And there is no human part of us that is not polluted by it. Jesus said, "It's not what goes into a person that defiles him, it's what comes out." Galatians 5, Paul says it's the flesh lusting and warring against the spirit. Romans 7 Paul says it's this warfare that goes on on the inside, that which God has created in us loves His law, but there's something else in us that fights against it and makes us do what we don't want to do and not do what we ought to do. Sin is not outside of us, it is very near, it is very close, it is so close it can't be any closer, it is woven into the very fabric of our humanness. It is not waiting to attack us on the outside. It is on the inside. It does not separate itself. Sin is not some category in your life. Sin is not something in there somewhere, it is tangled with everything else. It is tangled with our thoughts, and our motives, and our desires, and our actions. Everything we think, everything we feel, everything we do is tangled with sin. It should never be underestimated, never. It steals all that is right and holy and pure and good, precious. It tampers with joy and peace. It attacks love. It limits usefulness. It hinders fruitfulness. It interrupts prayer. It devastates fellowship. All our best thoughts and best motives, our best desires, our best actions have sin tangled with them.

And this might surprise you. We have come to believe in this world that there is evil. I think most people in the United States believe there's evil in the world. If nothing else, they believe there's evil in the world coming from Al Qaeda and other people like mass murderers and criminals, and terrorists and whatever. And some would believe there's some evil somewhere in the world because of natural disasters and calamities and disease and death. That's sort of the definition of evil in the world is when bad things happen. But we are good people so the evil in the world is the bad that happens to good people.


Let me just say something to you as simply as I can say it. We have defined calamity as the worst evil, disaster as the worst evil, catastrophe as the worst evil, illness as the worst evil, some level of human misery as the worst evil, and that is wrong. There is more evil in the least sin than there is in the worst calamity. There's more evil before God in the least sin that spiritually rebels against Him than the worst physical calamity, the worst natural disaster. Sin is the worst thing. We can't buy into the world's definition that you have a lot of good people running around who are suffering some external evil that hits them when they least expect it from the outside. Calamity is not necessarily evil. It is the result of sin but it may well be the act of a righteous God, right? And He doesn't do evil. But this we know, sin is always sin. Sin is always sin. There is more evil in the least sin than the worst calamity.

What happens to people physically isn't the issue, it's what happens to people spiritually. And I know you can get very exercised about a terrorist attack. Would to God that you could get more exercised about a sin in your own heart which is far worse. You may be affected because you're inconvenienced by a terrorist attack, you may affected some way economically, you may be affected in some way physically, but calamity is not nearly as evil as sin. And before we get too exercised about what's wrong in the world, we start getting exercised about what's wrong in us.

I hear so many Christians all upset about what's wrong in the world. "What are we going to do about the way the world is going?" Well, let's just stop for a minute and ask the question: what am I going to do about me and the way I'm going? The only way you'll ever be able to deal with sin, the only way, is to defeat it on the inside because that's where it conceives. You have to deal with it on the inside. You have to fight sin at the very point of its first call to disobey. And that's in the heart. At the very first impulses of evil pleasure, you have to deal with sin in your thought life, you have to be able to say with the apostle Paul as he did in 2 Corinthians 1:12, "I check my own heart and I will tell you this, my conscience is clear that I have conducted myself in holiness and godly sincerity in the world and before you." That's what you want to be able to say. My heart is clean.


That's hard because we become very skilled at hiding sin on the inside. We become so skilled at it that people might not see it at all and that we might think that it's not as bad as it is because it doesn't ever get exposed. We're like Adam and Eve, you know, who immediately upon their sin sewed coverings. They...they did what we do, we have this secret life of sin and we cover it. But this is deadly stuff because eventually it's going to show up. By energizing the inner faculties, by energizing your mind, your emotion, your will, your affection, your memory and your imagination, sin works directly, not indirectly, on your soul to corrupt it. And sin is inside laying the tracks for the train of iniquity that's going to eventually come out of the tunnel. You will not always be able to hide what's on the inside, be sure your sins will...what?...will find you out. Sometimes you hear somebody say, "Well, so-and-so pastor, or so-and-so person in the Lord's work, or so-and-so Christian fell into adultery." May I tell you something? People don't fall into sin. They plan it. There's a heart-shaping process that's been going on a long time before it ever gets to that. All sin is incubated. To sin in the mind, to excuse yourself for doing that is to cultivate the future course of your life cause you can't keep the lid on it.

Not only that, to sin in your mind is to desecrate the holiest sanctuary of the Spirit. In the Old Testament God had a temple for His people. In the New Testament He has a people for His temple. You're His temple. This is the holiest sanctuary that exists. He doesn't live in a temple made with hands. You might come to church and you look good, you clean up nice and you get your Bible and you sing the hymns and it could be nothing but worship on the outside and you are like a Pharisee whom Jesus said, "They're white on the outside and they are full of dead-men's bones on the inside." They're literally whitewashed tombs. The purest and noblest worship should go on in your heart. Your heart is a solo sanctuary. It's a one-person temple where you go alone to worship God and Christ. To worship on the outside only is hypocrisy. And as I said in the prayer earlier, we come from our own personal private worship to the joy of this collective worship which is merely an extension and an expansion of what goes on in the heart, not a substitute for it. Luke 15:16 says, "You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men." You're really concerned to look righteous before people. "But God knows your hearts and that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God."

I remember a number of years ago I was at an event on the east coast and that song that Kory sung had been made popular by a singer. And in this event he sang that song, "In Christ alone do I glory," and it's a tremendous tribute to Christ. And it was...it was highly esteemed among men. It was the...it was the song of that day, of that time. And I sat there and heard it sung magnificently. And afterwards was told that this person who had sung that was living in an adulterous relationship, had forsaken his wife and the rest of the saga is one horrific tragedy. And while people were being moved by this verbal testimony, what was highly esteemed among men was detestable in the sight of God. That's because the heart wasn't pure. So when you come here to worship, this isn't...this isn't your worship time, this is simply the collective expression of a worshiping heart. You don't want to violate your own sanctuary. Don't get comfortable with private secret sins because God knows your hearts and He detests sin in the heart.

So Proverbs 4:23 says, "Guard your heart, with all diligence for from it flow the springs of life," right? Everything comes up from inside. Nothing damages your conscience more than sins of thought. And nothing is more able to attack than sins at anytime, anyplace, anyhow, sins of thought can be cultivated and the habit is easily established and it colors the soul black and damages character. If you lose the battle inside, you'll lose the battle on the outside, it's only a question of time. Sins on the inside not only work to the corruption of your soul, but they work to the silencing of your conscience so that your conscience can no longer function as a guardian because you've silenced it so successfully. Proverbs 23 says, "As he thinks within himself, so he is." Proverbs 27:19 says, "As in water, face reflects face so the heart reflects man."

And what I'm saying is, if you're going to come to the Lord's table and deal with sin, it's not a five-minute inventory, it's got to be a good look at your own heart. And while you don't necessarily have the time, nor is this the place for you to run the whole inventory on your heart, it's time for you to confess and repent and forsake the sins of your heart. You can do so in general as you come to the table today.


I want to just illustrate this. Turn back in to the Old Testament to Job. I'll leave the rest of what I was going to say for another time. But back in the book of Job, Job was hit with incalculable trouble. I mean, as much trouble as you could possible have, he had and more. All his children were killed. Everything he owned was gone. His health was taken away. He lived in sorrow and terrible physical miseries, scraping oozing boils off himself that broke in pieces of pottery, sitting in a pile of dirt, lost everything and he was the wealthiest of the wealthy, the most blessed. And when his friends came along, they looked at him and they jumped to the conclusion that he must be sinful. He must be sinful because all of this calamity from God must indicate how angry God is with him. They didn't see any sin in his life that they could identify, so they accused him of the secret sin. And in chapter 20 verse 12 there's an interesting way in which its described.

Verse 12 and 13 of chapter 20 of Job, listen to how Zophar describes Job's sin. Verse 12, "Evil is sweet in his mouth and he hides it under his tongue. He desires it and will not let it go but holds it in his mouth." This is very vivid language. It's like getting a really good piece of hard candy that's really sweet, flavorful and you just roll it around in your mouth. You don't let anybody see it like your kids, you know, when they get into the candy and they come in the room and they're like this....they don't want you to know it's there, but they are savoring every little bit of this. That's Job. He's got these secret sins. They're down there. They're hidden under his tongue and he's rolling them around in his mouth, he's enjoying and savoring all these things but he never lets them out so you never know it's there. He just holds it in his mouth.

Now they understood that. That's what sinners do, they hide it. They roll it around on their tongue but you never know it's there. By the way, Zophar was wrong. He was wrong. He understood that as anybody would, but he was wrong. Job 31, after more and more and more speeches that indict him, the whole book is full of them, they keep telling Job how bad he is. But finally he says this in chapter 31, "Look, I've made a covenant with my eyes, how then could I gaze at a virgin?" The assumption is, you know, he's got adultery in his heart, he's got lust in his heart and Job says, "No I don't, I made a covenant with my eyes not to look at the kind of thing that's going to bring that temptation." I haven't done that. And then in verse 5 he starts a series of questions. "If I've walked with falsehood and my foot has hastened after deceit, then let Him weigh me with accurate scales." I mean, if there's something in me that isn't right, let God do whatever He wants to do to me, let Him weight me and judge me. Boy, I mean, you've got to be pretty bold to say that, right? "Okay, God, if there's anything in my heart, anything hidden, anything secret, anything in my imagination, in my memory bank, anything in my mind, my thoughts, my feelings, my emotions, my affections that doesn't please You, then weigh me and let God know my integrity." He doesn't hesitate to stand before God and say, "Do a full examination and you'll know my heart."


Verse 9 he adds...well, verse 7, "If my step has turned from the way or my heart followed my eyes, if any spot has stuck to my hands," verse 9, "if my heart has been enticed by a woman," verse 13, "if I've despised the claim of a male or female servant," verse 16, "if I've kept the poor from their desire," verse 19, "if I've seen somebody perish because they had no clothing, if I've lifted up my hand against the orphan," verse 21, "if I've put my confidence in gold," verse 24, "if I've gloated over my wealth," verse 25...so it goes. Verse 33, "Have I covered my transgressions like Adam?" Did I cover myself like he did? Am I hiding my iniquity in my chest? Because, verse 34, "I fear the multitude of people and because I'm frightened by the contempt of families who will see it?" And so, am I keeping silent and never going outside because I don't want anybody to see my sin? No. Verse 35, he says, "O that I had one to hear me. Who? Here's my signature, I sign off, let the Almighty answer me, I'm sick of you guys. I'm so tired of your assessment, let God hear me."

Something wonderful about that, isn't there? I commit myself to God, You do the examination. That's a communion attitude, I'm coming to Your table. And if there's anything there, I don't know if I see anything, if I do I confess it and repent, forsake it, but if You see anything, weigh me because I'm not...I'm not open to those around me who are assuming something in me that they can never see." This is real integrity. This is how you deal with the sin in your heart, you expose yourself unhesitatingly to God.

You know, Job not only was that way in his own heart, but he felt that for his children. Go back to chapter 1 verse 5. He had a lot of sons and daughters and...seven of them, seven sons and three daughters, ten children, a lot of responsibility as a father. And what was he concerned about with his kids? Was he concerned about their overt sin? Well he was a very righteous man, he was blameless, upright, fearing God, verse 1, turning away from evil. This is a good...this is the best of men. Now what is a godly father concerned about with his children? A blameless, upright, God-fearing evil shunning man, as verse 1 of chapter 1 says, what is he concerned about with his children? Well probably...probably they're not going to be prone to sin in his presence cause they know the kind of man he is. So they going to hide things? And he's going to be concerned not so much about what they do, because he's going to send this sort of righteous veil over his whole family that they're all going to be shrouded in and there's a certain standard of conduct required but what concerns him is not what's going on on the outside, he knows they're going to control that. But what's going on on the inside. Go down to verse 5, this is most interesting. "When the days of feasting had completed their cycle, Job would send and consecrate them," his children. How did he consecrate his children? Set them apart to God? "He'd rise up early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all." For each child, he had a lot of animals and he's sacrifice an animal for each child. And what was he doing? He says, "I'm doing this because perhaps my sons have sinned and cursed God...where?...in their hearts."

Parents, you better look beyond what you see on the outside. You know how good you are at hiding sin and your children come by it naturally. And the end of verse 5 says he did it continually, he did it all the time. Coming before God with an offering for each of his children for the sins that nobody knew they committed except God. If you're going to deal with sin, the very sin that brought the sorrow to the heart of Jesus, the very sin that put Him on the cross, the very sin that separated Him from His Father, the very sin for which He died, if you're going to deal with that, you're going to have to deal with your heart. You're going to have to deal with your thought life. And when you come to this table, that's when you need to deal with it. Don't mock the table of the Lord. Don't cherish the very thing which took the life of Jesus, which brought Him so much pain, so much sorrow, so much suffering and separation even from His own Father for your sake.


Father, as we now come to this table, we have been prepared in mind and heart by Your truth and we ask that You would make us penitent and desirous to forsake all the desires of the mind, all the sins of memory and imagination, all the sins of emotion and lust and desire, whatever they might be, that You would wash us from all of that so that we partake in a worthy manner, which is another way of saying so that we open ourselves up for Your greatest blessing possible, perhaps in some cases blessings we've never experienced because we've never really dealt with the sin on the inside. O Lord, do that cleansing even now.