When the Bible calls us to holiness, which it does, it is not calling us to a fastidious primness that pretends to be holiness. Neither does it call us to a raw effort that refuses to touch the unclean thing externally, even though the heart does nothing but paw and fondle the unclean thing. And the Word does not call us to the kind of license that indulges in vice at levels less outrageous than what the pagans do, and calls it Christian liberty.
The kind of holiness we are called to is the kind that wants to be righteous, that wants to be like Jesus, that wants to be free from sin. Apart from Jesus, no man has even enjoyed this kind of holiness completely, but because of Jesus, many have enjoyed a genuine experience of this liberty.
The Bible teaches that the heart is deceitful above all things. But when the heart lies, who is it that is being lied to? Well, the answer is that the heart has ears as well as a mouth, and the heart tells lies because the heart loves to hear them.
Self-deception is a real mystery. How is it possible for the deceiver and the deceived to be the same person? How can you tell yourself a lie, intending to do so, and then, upon hearing it, believe it? It doesn’t make sense, but of course, if it made sense, it wouldn’t be sin.
When we gather for worship, one of the things we do every week is kneel together to confess our sins. But one of the problems with doing something regularly is that you can come to believe that you are doing it. The Word of God tells us that we are to rend our hearts, not our garments.
When we kneel to confess, we want to make sure that we are not standing up in our hearts. Our external posture is one of the things that God gives us to discipline our hearts—it is not to serve as a substitute replacement for our hearts. Body and soul are supposed to be going together, they are supposed to be doing the same thing.
One of the things we do routinely whenever we baptize a child is take a vow as a congregation. We vow to help these Christian parents in the covenant nurture of the child being baptized. This is generally a feel good moment because who doesn’t like to see parents committing themselves to bring up children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord?
But vows made during feel good moments are no less binding when nobody feels good about the situation at all. That is why we make the vows in the first place. We tie the knots in the light so that they will be secure when we are going through a dark and slippery time.
This is the outline of remarks I gave to the male students of NSA this afternoon.
Here are three things I want to set out with regard to the sins of words. I am not speaking here of the broad category of sins of the tongue — gossip, slander, quarrelsomeness, and so on. My concern here is vocabulary sins. Can Christians cuss?
The first point is that there is not an index of prohibited words in Heaven. A man can sin through vocabulary choices, but this is not because the word involved is found on Plato’s Roster of Naughtiness.
Consider these four categories — vulgarity, obscenity, cursing, and swearing. Pretty much every bad word you have ever heard can be filed under one of those headings. Think earthy words for bodily functions, earthy words for sexual functions, damning somebody or something to Hell, and invoking (in vain) the name of God. We can all think of ways to express each one of those sentiments, and the way to do it is usually through “bad words.”
“Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me” (John 5:39).
God has given us many gifts — indeed, there is nothing we have that is not a gift. But there is only one gift from Him that enables us to see through things.
When we see through a gift, with a gift, we are enabled to see the Giver on the other side of the gift. When we cannot see through a gift, we are stuck with looking at it. With the gift of faith, everything is a window. Without the gift of faith everything is a mural.
We can look at the Scriptures, like a mural, or through the Scriptures, like a window. The same thing is true of everything else God gives us — sacraments, sermons, families, stories, food, air, and sunshine. We can stare at it, thinking that the mere existence of the thing justifies its existence, or we can allow the great gift of faith to pose the question why for us, and then graciously answer the question for us with the who.
Look through. See through. Peer beyond. This too is the gift of God.
Scripture tells us that in our assemblies, when we come together, we should pray for “kings, and for all that are in authority; that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty” (1 Tim. 2:2). This is something we regularly do in our worship service. But when it comes down to it, we also need to vote in the same direction as our prayers, and this next Tuesday is a time when it does come down to it.
As you know, it is not my place, from this pulpit, to urge you to vote for candidate x or candidate y. Vote for Murphy, or vote for Schultz, have no place here. The pulpit must never become a place for factional politics, or partisanship. At the same time, the presence of the Church in the world is inescapably political, and this means that if we do not draw the charge of partisanship, we are not doing our job. If we are not drawing the charge of license, we are not really preaching grace. If we are not drawing the charge of fatalism, we are not really preaching God’s rule over all things. So then, in the same way, if the political presence of the Church in the world makes no political difference to those given over to partisanship, then we are not fulfilling our calling rightly.
Scripture declares that “evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it completely” (Prob. 28:5, ESV).
But even though they do not understand justice, evil men talk about it incessantly. Even though they do not comprehend what they are talking about, they appeal to it constantly. Because we are lost in our sins, we think that justice is our friend, when justice, biblically conceived, is our mortal enemy. Justice will deliver a poor man from his oppressor, but justice will deliver no man from his own wretched sinfulness.
This proverb says that those who seek the Lord understand it completely. This is the case because those who seek the Lord are only able to do so through the blood of Christ, which was shed under the justice of God. God was executing justice when Christ died, but He was doing so in a way that made it possible for justice and mercy to meet, and to kiss.