The Confusing Faces of Sin

Our enemy, Satan, never shows us the truth. Do you know how he uses a deceptive tactic we see in sports? Learn how he persists in confusing those he traps.

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 43-45; Hebrews 3

Selected Verses

[The remnant of Judah said to Jeremiah]. “You are telling a lie. The Lord our God did not send you to say, ‘Do not go to Egypt to live there,’ but Baruch the son of Neriah has set you against us, to deliver us into the hand of the Chaldeans, that they may kill us or take us into exile in Babylon.” Jeremiah 43:2-3

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. Hebrews 3:12-14

Reflections

Defensive units in football excel by confusing their opponents with many different lineups, leaving the offense wondering what to expect. Satan is just as devious in hiding the true nature of sin, so that we confuse evil with good and good with evil. The deceitfulness of sin produces a hardened heart that is less, not more, sensitive to temptation.

When Jeremiah gave the remnant of Judah the message from God that they should not seek protection and security by going into Egypt, the leaders responded by accusing Jeremiah of lying. They even ascribed to him a motive for lying–that Baruch had pressured or bribed him into giving a false prophecy from God. Thus, those who were preparing to disobey God attacked the messenger, rejecting the message and impugning his motives. They deflected their own guilt by accusing the faithful prophet. Then they marched themselves down to Egypt filled with self-assurance and indignation towards Jeremiah.

The writer to the Hebrews warns his readers, whom he calls brothers, to “take care.” He is concerned that they are about to fall away from the living God as a result of evil, unbelieving hearts, hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. In today’s reading he describes various faces of sin: evil, unbelief, hardness of heart, rebellion, and disobedience. Our enemy does not want us to detect our own sin, but to see it is a good thing. God, however, calls sin by all those negative descriptors.

Think about it

Are you taking care to not be deceived by sin? Let us “exhort one another every day” but begin by exhorting ourselves through listening to God’s Word. Take care. Do not be hardened by the deceitful and confusing faces of sin.

Drifter, Be Warned

Few set out intentionally to disobey God, to defy His commands and ignore His truth, but many a drifter can be lost by carelessly neglecting His Word.

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 40-42; Hebrews 2

Selected Verses

For you sent me to the Lord your God, saying, “Pray for us to the Lord our God, and whatever the Lord our God says declare to us and we will do it.”  And I have this day declared it to you, but you have not obeyed the voice of the Lord your God in anything that he sent me to tell you.  Now therefore know for a certainty that you shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence in the place where you desire to go to live. Jeremiah 42:20-22

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it.  For since the message declared by angels proved to be reliable, and every transgression or disobedience received a just retribution, how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? Hebrews 2:1-2

Reflections

The remnant of Judah–poor people and some armed bands left after the fall of Jerusalem–had seen the land devastated by war. Nebuchadnezzar allowed them to stay in the land under the appointed governor, Gedaliah. They were allowed to enjoy reaping whatever harvest there was. Jeremiah also chose the option offered to him and remained in the land. At Gedaliah’s assassination the remnant got nervous. They went to Jeremiah for advice. “Should they go to Egypt?” They promised to do whatever Jeremiah said the Lord wanted them to do. They had good intentions. But when the answer came, it contradicted their preferences and they decided to go anyway. Jeremiah warned them of the grief they were bringing on themselves by their disobedience, but they would not listen.

The writer to the Hebrews warns his readers of the dangers of disregarding the gospel of salvation through the Son of God. There was a definite danger of drifting from it or neglecting it. We will learn that these readers were facing persecution and the author fears for their spiritual well-being.

It is easier to set out on a path of faith and obedience than it is to continue on that path when the trials and temptations arise. Jesus warned of this in His parable of the sower. The remnant had Jeremiah telling them to stay in the land according to God’s will. The Hebrews had the message of salvation “declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit” (vs. 3-4).

Think about it

Beware of drifting away, of neglecting God’s great salvation disclosed in His Word. Read it and heed it, every day. Fellow drifters, heed the warning.

Conscience: Good or Bad?

The one whose conscience no longer functions is not content to merely destroy himself, but he seeks to bring down others with him.

Today’s Reading

Jeremiah 5-6; First Timothy 1

Selected Verses

O Lord, do not your eyes look for truth?
You have struck them down, but they felt no anguish;
you have consumed them, but they refused to take correction.
They have made their faces harder than rock; they have refused to repent.

Jeremiah 5:3

The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions. First Timothy 1:5-7

Reflections

Jeremiah proclaims the Lord’s judgment on Judah. He declares to them that they have already received punishment and correction from God, but they have ignored it. They have blown it off as nothing. They have dug in their heels and determined not to repent. Punishment is not the final step in God’s discipline plan. He disciplines those He loves, but there comes a time when He no longer disciplines but “gives them up” to their evil (Hebrews 12:6; Romans 1:24-28). They mistakenly assume that God is too weak or too merciful to bother chastising them, but they are wrong. They then face only the wrath of God and eternal judgment.

Paul sent Timothy to Ephesus to correct some problems in the church there. There were people affiliated with the congregation whose lives were off track, not characterized by love, a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith. It was not enough that these people should go astray by themselves. They had to bring the unsuspecting along with them.  They did this by attempting to teach things they did not really understand. Did their uncertainty make them humble and tentative in their preaching? No, not at all. They were making confident assertions about their lies and shipwreck of their faith (vs. 19).

Think about it

What are we to take away from this? Let God’s word rebuke and correct you as needed. Seek to be receptive to the Lord’s discipline. Keep your conscience tender. If it seems like God is tolerant of your unrepentant lifestyle, beware that He may have given you up to your evil ways. Call on Him for grace to awaken your conscience and to make you repentant. Watch out for those who confidently proclaim that God won’t judge sin. Flee to Christ from the wrath to come.

Sin–Why We Can’t See God

Sin is what blocks us from seeing and hearing God. He calls us to holiness, but we disobey especially in the area of sexual purity and love toward others.

Today’s Reading

Isaiah 59-61; 1 Thessalonians 4

Selected Verses

Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God,
and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.  Isaiah 59:1-2

For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.  Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

1 Thessalonians 4:7-8

Reflections

Sin has been the problem since our first parents listened to the serpent and ate of the forbidden fruit. What did they get? They got the knowledge of good and evil and with it death! We all find sin attractive, even irresistible. It may be as subtle as a snarky put-down or as grotesque as murderous rage, as imperceptible as a flirtatious glance or as devastating as serial adultery. Sin comes in many colors and shapes, all of them tempting and soul-killing but none of them truly satisfying. Worst of all, it results in our not seeing or hearing God. We tend to conclude He is not there.

Isaiah wrote to ancient Israel telling them that their sin was what was blocking their eyes and ears from seeing and hearing God. It was not God who was hiding from them. He is there in plain sight, seen and heard in His acts of Creation and Providence and in His revealed Word.

Paul admonished the church in Thessalonica with the words, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification” (vs. 3a). He then specifically mentions abstinence from sexual immorality for the next five verses, topped off with a paragraph about brotherly love.

In case they don’t see the urgency of this, he turns to the subject of the return of Christ, His descent from heaven, the cry of command, the sound of the trumpet, and the resurrection of the dead. When Christ returns, all eyes will see Him. There will be no vacillating. We will be exposed at last. The shouts of rejoicing will mix with the cries of remorse.

Think about it

Is there hope for sinners? Yes, indeed! For God has done what no human being could do. “His own arm brought him salvation” writes the prophet (Isaiah 59:16). In the end, “Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising” (Isaiah 60:3). The dead in Christ will rise first followed by those who are still alive and “so we will always be with the Lord.” But the time is now. Do not assume there is no God. Assume that it is your sin that blinds your eyes. But He may be found because “all who call upon the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:8-13). Call on Him, today.

Why Everything is Going Wrong

Why does it seem everything is going wrong? We will never find the solution to our problems, until we find the cause of them.

Today’s reading

Isaiah 39-40; Philippians 4

Selected Verses

To whom then will you liken God,
or what likeness compare with him?  Isaiah 40:18

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand.  Philippians 4:4-5

Reflections

Where did we go off track? Easy question, if you believe the Bible. God made man (male and female) in His likeness (Genesis 1:26-31), but sin entered into man’s experience when the woman succumbed to the temptation to be “like God, knowing good and evil.”  She then invited the man to join her, and he did.

Now Isaiah asks, “To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him?”   The correct answer, before the fall, would have been, “Man is like God”, but fallen man responds, “God is like me.  I am God. No one is over me.”   All sin stems from this attitude of autonomy and rebellion.  It results in every evil which we now experience on a daily basis throughout the world: mass murder on campuses, terrified refugees fleeing war by the thousands, hostile legal battles over personal rights, etc.  Solutions elude us as a society because we fail to recognize the real problem.  We have made ourselves gods, rather than to recognize Him, our eternal Creator as the One whom we must fear, love, and worship.

Paul, in writing to the Philippians, urges them to rejoice in the Lord.  Perhaps their circumstances did not contribute to a joyful atmosphere.  Never mind.  Rejoice in the Lord.  He tells them to be reasonable, and then follows that with “The Lord is at hand.”  The petty divisions and quarrels they were having revealed a lack of conscious awareness of God’s presence (Philippians 2:1-5; 4:2-3).  Ignorance of God, who He is, and how near He is, results in gloom at best and great acts of presumptuous evil at worst.

Think about it

All our troubles stem from sin, and all our sin stems from failure to recognize that God is God. He is near, yet He is far above us, holy, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable.   Peace, joy, and reasonableness will characterize those who heed Paul’s admonition to be conscious that “the Lord is at hand.”  The gospel tells us that God came in human flesh to save us from our sin, to reverse what our first parents did. Make that gospel of Jesus Christ your focus today.  Believe in Him.  Live in Him.

Escape the Vain Life

Are you exhausted from trying to meet everyone’s expectations? There is freedom not to live our lives in vain controlled by the fear of man.

Today’s Reading

Ecclesiastes 10-12; Second Corinthians 11:16-32

Selected Verses

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.  Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

For you gladly bear with fools, being wise yourselves! For you bear it if someone makes slaves of you, or devours you, or takes advantage of you, or puts on airs, or strikes you in the face. To my shame, I must say, we were too weak for that!

Second Corinthians 11:19-21

Reflections

The book of Ecclesiastes closes with a final overarching statement about man’s duty.  Fear God and keep His commandments because you will face Him in judgment.  It seems to contradict the oft-repeated phrase, “All is vanity.”  All does seem to be vain, at times. Hard work may not be fully rewarded and crime may pay in the short run.   But all is not really vanity, because, God is going to judge every deed, not only those which are easily observable but the secret ones, too.  When we meet God, He will apply full justice.

Paul continues to admonish the Corinthians about their gullible trust in fools, those phony apostles who were doing Satan’s work.  He stoops to their level, in a sense, by defending himself and showing that his suffering demonstrates the authenticity of his calling by God.

The main reason people “gladly bear with fools” is that they desire to please them.  They fear rejection by others, even those whose opinion clearly is of no consequence.  They do not fear God, but fear man so they are easily manipulated, coerced, and led to foolishness.  Proverbs 29:25 shows that the way to freedom from this malady is by replacing it with the trust in God.

Think about it

Do you suffer fools gladly?  Turn away from this through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. He died for this sin and gives His forgiven, Spirit-empowered disciples a proper fear of God.  This is the duty we owe to Him, our Creator and Judge.  Those who fear God may suffer for it in this world. But in the end God will approve them. He is the only One whose opinion matters.  Escape the vain life.

Now or Never: the procrastinator’s dilemma

Procrastination is the lie we tell ourselves when we don’t want to take important action or make a difficult decision. Here we see a classic procrastinator.

Today’s Reading

Psalms 41-43; Acts 24

Selected Verses

By this I know that you delight in me:
my enemy will not shout in triumph over me.
But you have upheld me because of my integrity,
and set me in your presence forever.    Psalm 41:11-12

After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus.  And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.”   Acts 24:24-25

Reflections

Procrastination is not only the thief of time, but also the handiest and flimsiest excuse of those who have no desire or intention of taking some needed and radical course of action or making a difficult and important decision.  My father used to carry around in his pocket a small wooden disk with the inscription “TUIT.”  If I said to him, “I’ll do that when I get around to it,” he would smile, reach into his pocket, pull out the little disk and hand it to me saying, “Here, now you’ve got a round TUIT.”  He finally let me keep the round TUIT permanently as I always seemed to need it.

Felix, the governor, had power over Paul, his prisoner, but not over the God of judgment of whom Paul spoke.  That topic alarmed him, but, like so many others today and down through history, he deluded himself with the thought that he would think about it later, when he got around to it.

Believers in Jesus Christ are not alarmed by the thought of standing before the God of judgment.  Like the Psalmist, we know that the Lord delights in us and that, rather than be swept away in condemnation, we will stand accepted before Him forever.  The true believer has a desire for God not unlike the desperate need for air and water, so we say,

As a deer pants for flowing streams,
so pants my soul for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God,
for the living God.  (Psalm 42:1-2)

Think about it

Is that your mindset, that you must know more of God?  Do you crave His presence, His Word, His will in your life?  Beware of the Felix mentality of saying, “when I get around to it.”  Now is the time to seek the Lord, to study His word, to pray, to obey, to be in worship with His people, and to make diligent use of the means of grace.

 

None so Blind

The old saying, attributed to Matthew Henry, is true, “None so blind as those that will not see.”  So, what can we do if we discover we are blind?

Today’s Reading

First Chronicles 6-7; John 8:21-36

Selected Verses

But Aaron and his sons made offerings on the altar of burnt offering and on the altar of incense for all the work of the Most Holy Place, and to make atonement for Israel, according to all that Moses the servant of God had commanded.  1 Chronicles 6:49

He said to them, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.”  John 8:23-24

Reflections

Ever since the nation of Israel was constituted with the Law of Moses, the priesthood had been established with the system of sacrifices for atonement for sin as the central element.   It was such a significant part of the religious culture of the nation that one tribe, the Levites, were ordained to exclusively tend to the matters surrounding worship and sacrifices.  One family within the tribe of Levi, the descendants of Aaron, was eligible for the priesthood.

God designed the sacrificial system to show the heinousness of sin and the need for atonement, an offering to God for offenses made against Him.  But when Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, came who would be the One to bear the sins of His people, many displayed caution, skepticism, rejection, and hostility toward Him.  As we see throughout the Gospel of John, His origin was debated.  His words were parsed and doubted. His explanations were questioned and re-questioned.  The evidence of His authenticity was dismissed.

Now He plainly tells them that they will die in their sins if they do not believe in Him.  His whole purpose in life is to save His people from their sins (Matthew 1: 21).  He is “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  Faith in Him is a matter of life and death.

Think about it

Yet many refused to see.  The problem of sin has existed since the Fall of Man. God has presented His Son to be the atonement.  Is it not plain?  Is it not clear?  Why persist in unbelief? Why remain blind?  The old saying, attributed to the Puritan Pastor and Commentator Matthew Henry, is true, “None so deaf as those that will not hear. None so blind as those that will not see.”  If your unbelief troubles you, call to Him for faith and the ability to repent.  If you see, give Him praise for His great mercy to you.

The Trap of Popular Opinion

Seeking glory from society is a sure stumbling block to believing the truth and to living wisely and godly.  Here’s a warning to flee the trap.

Today’s reading

Second Kings 12-14; John 5:25-47

Selected Verses

You have indeed struck down Edom, and your heart has lifted you up. Be content with your glory, and stay at home, for why should you provoke trouble so that you fall, you and Judah with you?”  2 Kings 14:10

How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God? John 5:44

Reflections

Amaziah, king of Judah, defeated Edom. Then he called on Jehoash, king of Israel, for a face off on the battlefield. Jehoash called his bluff and told him to “be content with [his] glory.”  Good advice, but Amaziah wasn’t buying it. They fought and Amaziah lost badly, not only the battle but all the gold and silver in the temple and the palace. He would die in a conspiracy. He foolishly started and lost a war that was about his own glory, not God’s.

Jesus confronted the Jews who were increasingly opposed to Him and His teaching. He unmasked their motives. They sought glory from one another and not from God. No wonder they could not see that God had sent Jesus, His Son, and that there was overwhelming support for His claims. John the Baptist, Jesus’ own works, the Father’s approval, and the Scriptures all pointed to Him as the Messiah. Those who sought public approval and acclaim were too blinded by their pursuit to see and accept the obvious truth.

Think about it

Amaziah, though a king, fell into the trap of popular opinion.  The Jews who rejected Jesus were also guilty of seeking glory from their peers.  Our sin nature has an insatiable desire for glory.  Nothing will suffice.

How much does popular opinion affect your decisions and your viewpoints? Jesus calls us to follow Him, the One who did not seek glory from people. We will never follow Christ until we rid ourselves of the desire to please others. Follow Him alone and be free from the tyranny of the fear and praise of men. You will be glad in that hour when the dead are called to the resurrection of life and judgment.

The Hidden Consequences of Sin

Sin presents itself as an appealing, beautiful fruit hiding its deadly consequences. Are you learning to detect those consequences?

Today’s Reading

II Samuel 10-12; Luke 19:29-48

Selected Verses

And the Lord afflicted the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and he became sick.  David therefore sought God on behalf of the child. And David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground.  II Samuel 12:15b-16

And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it.  Luke 19:41

Reflections

The biblical historian lays out David’s sin here in great detail.  We are able to trace his downfall and learn how one bad decision led to another until he had committed adultery, impregnated another man’s wife, and had the innocent party murdered in the cover up.  It is a repugnant series of events, but it shows how easily a man after God’s heart can go astray.

To his credit David is prompt to repent, but there will be ongoing consequences of his sin.  He is driven to fast and pray seeking God’s mercy on his dying baby.  The sin which brought him short term pleasure came with an enormous price tag that continued for the rest of his life.

Luke describes Jesus’ arrival at Jerusalem where He knows He will die, rejected by the leaders of His people.  But in the passage, Jesus weeps, not for His own suffering but, for the suffering of the people of Jerusalem.  He wept because they could have known peace, but instead they would experience destruction.  Even children would see the tearing down of their city.

Some, like David, see their sin and heed the call to repent.  Others, like the residents of Jerusalem, fail to repent of their sin and go on in it as if nothing were wrong.  Jesus, the sinless Son of God, wept over the sin of those who would not repent and find peace because their eyes were closed to it.  He wept for the suffering that was going to come.

Think about it

Do you repent promptly?  Do you weep over the consequences of sin like Jesus did?  We are never more Christlike than when we weep and pray for those whose eyes are closed to the coming pain of judgment for sin.  Let us take sin seriously, our own and that of others, and proclaim “the things that make for peace” to those who will hear.