Julian Freeman

Freed to live through the death of another.

Category: Sin (page 1 of 2)

When Not Doing Something Is Sin

sinSome time ago I posted an article listing all the ‘sins’ of the New Testament. There I argued that if committing an act is actually sin, then we ought to use New Testament words and categories to discuss it.

One major question that arose from that article, however, was this:

‘Those are all the sins of commission (things that you do when you shouldn’t), but what about sins of omission (good things that you know you should do, but don’t do)?’

How can we identify those? Are they the same for everyone?

How can I inform my conscience to know when I’m not doing what is good for the sake of actually doing what is best? How can I tell the difference?

How can I know when it’s okay to not do something good? How can I know when not doing something is actually sin?

1. Ensure you’re working in biblical categories.

Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and then love your neighbour as yourself. That is the law that must govern you. Nothing else. Recognizing that you’re bound by this law, and then freed to do as you please is remarkably liberating.

2. Realize that you have gifts and you are a gift.

You are a gift to the church, a part of the body, and you have gifts that must be used for the building up of the body. No one else can be you or use your gifts. So the specific ways that God has gifted you and the specific needs of the specific family, church, and community in which he has placed you need to be taken into account.

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Satan’s Tactics for Bringing Us Down

Satan doesn’t have new tactics. He doesn’t need them. The process of temptation and fall into sin and its consequences looks the same so much of the time.

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Good News / Bad News

The Numbers

Just recently someone linked to a news article in the Atlantic Wire reporting on a study of teen sexual activity (conducted by the US Department of Health and Human Services). Surprisingly, the report suggested that there has been a significant decline in the number of individual teens engaging in the act of sex in their teen years. That’s great news!

Declining Numbers

Here’s something remarkable: In 1988 it is reported that 60% of males in their teens had had sex at least once; as of 2010, that number had dropped to 42%. That’s quite a drop!

A Reflection

My first response was to be quite encouraged by this report. I was also encouraged by the fact that many of the teens who had not had sex cited ‘religion or morals’ as the reason. There is much to be happy about here.

But as I looked at the chart longer, something else jumped out at me. The significant drop in numbers of males having sex in their teen years is not matched by the girls. While there is decline, it’s not nearly keeping up. For the first time now, as of 2010, there are more teenage girls having sex than there are teenage boys. As a father of three girls, that absolutely crushed me to consider.

I suppose this is somewhat to be expected as feminism has become less of a movement and more mainstream culture. After all, movies like Black Swan and Sex and the City seem to be all the rage. As our culture continues to tell our girls that it’s good and helpful and healthy to pursue sexuality ‘without consequences,’ I guess it’s only natural that eventually girls will listen.

The sad truth, however, is that these numbers aren’t movies. They’re not characters who cease to exist after the 1.5 hour romp of fun and exploration. They are people who are being wounded & scarred by these inappropriate sexual experiences that will change their lives (and the lives of their future spouses) forever. It is simply tragic.

Where Are the Fathers?

As I think about the fact that more teenage girls than boys are having sex, one question comes to my mind that I cannot shake: Where are the fathers?

Where are the fathers of these girls who are willing to tell them the truth about the love and intimacy and the intertwining of souls that God intended sex to be for? Where are the fathers who are involved in their daugthers’ lives enough to know who they’re dating and where they are when they are out at night? Where are the fathers who are willing to tell their girls the truth about boys and hormones and selfishness and sin? Where are the men who will protect the daughters God has given them?

I pray that God would give me grace to be the kind of father that my girls need me to be so that they don’t fall prey to the seduction of the world and the lies of consequence-free living and meaning-in-relationships. All of this is a good reminder to me to pray for my girls, beginning now.

The Danger is in Here

The view from the path near our house

The other night I was out trying to get some exercise after a long day of sitting and studying. I was roller-blading down a path near our house, along Lake Ontario. I came to a place where there is a clearing and a couple of benches over-looking a cliff down to the beach and out to the lake.

It was a hot, still night. There were no people, no boats, no noise, just some birds out in the lake and some gnats clouding over my head.

As I sat and looked out, all was peaceful — even serene. I thought to myself, ‘You know, from here, right now, the world doesn’t look so fallen.’ The troubles of life and the strife of nations seemed very far away. ‘Maybe this old world isn’t so bad after all,’ I thought.

But then it happened; out of nowhere everything changed. My utopian vision of the world came crashing down in an instant. How? My mind drifted — just for a moment — and I had a covetous thought. Sin. Disorder. Every vile practice. All of a sudden, the world was evil again.

But where did that evil come from? Was it ‘the world?’ Was it Satan? It was me. It was in my heart. I went to that place, all by myself, not another soul around, and in a matter of moments I had corrupted it. Me: a Christian! A pastor, no less!

And that got me thinking. Sometimes we can think of the world in suspicious categories. We can assume that all is evil in the world; that we need to be protected from the world at all costs. We can treat our children like that, too. We think that if we just protect them, if we just protect ourselves, from what’s ‘out there’ then all will be okay. But that line of thinking is dangerous.

The more we focus (and teach our kids to focus) on the dangers ‘out there’ the less we see what I saw that night, that the danger is actually a much closer enemy — the enemy within. I simply cannot run away from my sin nature. No matter how much I hide from the world, no matter how ascetic I hope to become, whether I hide in sound churches, home-school conferences, or a cave in the wilderness, the ever-present sin nature in my heart is still my number one problem.

That’s important for me to consider, I think. Here’s one reason why: The more I think of the problem out there, the more I think of myself as being a victim of ‘the world.’ That leads to pride and self-righteousness which invite the opposition of God, and the wrath of God, which leads to more sin (which I subsequently blame on the world, and around and around we go). But the more I see that the problem is actually in here (in my heart), the more I see that ‘the world’ is the way it is because it is made up of people like me. That humbles me. It shows me that I need grace, wherever I go, however much I’m involved or not involved with the world. It shows me that ‘the big bad world’ is actually made up of real people, like me, in need of grace to be rescued from themselves.

It’s not that the world is out to get me, but rather, that the world is made up of people who are themselves enslaved to sin.

There is an evil to ‘the world’ and its systems, of which Christians are to be wary. We must be in the world but not of it. We must avoid worldliness, and the love of the world and the things of the world. The church as a whole, as the kingdom of God, must look entirely unlike the world.

But that doesn’t mean we hate the world or see all the problems as out there. It means I need to see that the reason I’m so drawn to the sins and the values out there is because of the danger in here, in my own heart.

Samuel and Confronting Sin

In the Lord’s providence, we finished up our morning series in James and our evening series in Galatians on this past Sunday. It was quite interesting to me that both sermons finished with exhortations to Christians to be confronting sin in the lives of their brothers and sisters.

As I sat and listened to my friend Paul preach on Sunday evening on a topic very similar to how my message had ended on Sunday morning, I thought to myself, ‘What is the Lord teaching us? What is he preparing us for as a church?’

This morning I was reading from 1 Samuel 12, and came across a very relevant passage. Here Samuel, the outgoing judge, has just appointed Saul as the king of Israel. Samuel then addresses the people and confronts their sin. While this is not the main intention of the passage, I think there are some great truths to be gleaned here when it comes to addressing sin in the lives of others.

  1. Samuel spelled out their sin for them.
    Samuel didn’t allude vaguely to some things that they had done which might be considered wrong, but he had specific sin in mind when he addressed the people, and he was direct in letting them know what it was they had done wrong. He called sin sin. Where they had rejected God and preferred other things, he showed them. They were not left guessing as to what he was really getting at, or whether or not it was actually sin.
  2. Samuel let them feel the weight of their sin.
    Granted, Samuel had a pretty cool trick up his sleeve when he was able to make a thunderstorm appear (I don’t know how many of us will be able to use that one), but one thing he was sure to do was show them how serious their sin was. He didn’t let them get away with a merely intellectual acknowledgement of their sin. He made sure they felt it. When Samuel had showed them their sin and how it had angered God, ‘all the people greatly feared the Lord …. all the people said to Samuel, “Pray for your servants to the Lord your God, that we may not die…”.’ His conviction about their sin had resulted in their own conviction, confession, and repentance.
  3. Samuel offered the grace of God.
    When they had experienced genuine conviction for their sin, Samuel said, ‘Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil. Yet do not turn aside from following the Lord, but serve the Lord with all your heart.’ In other words, ‘Yeah, you’ve blown it pretty bad. But trust in the Lord and he will forgive you. Remember, he wants your whole heart.’
  4. Samuel assures them with the best reason to hope.
    Why should they trust him? Why should we trust God that we’ll be forgiven when we’re confronted with the reality of our sin? We should hope because of who God is: he will never change. Samuel offers this to his people: ‘For the Lord will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake, because it has pleased the Lord to make you a people for himself.’ In other words, God won’t forsake you, because he’s put his own name on you. You’re his people, called by his name and it has been his good will to make you that way. To forsake you now would be to forsake the pursuit of his own glory and his own joy–something which could never, ever happen. God will be faithful to you, because he cannot and will not abandon his pursuit of his own glory and the display of his righteousness. What a comforting thought! Unless God changes, I can never be forsaken. We who are Christians–who live this side of the cross chronologically–can look back and see that faithfulness of God to his people and the committedness of God to his own people infinitely more than even Samuel could. What comfort in the face of conviction!

This all calls for balance and wisdom. I pray that God will give me grace to be able to pursue my brothers and sisters, to confront them on specific sins, to let them feel the weight of those sins which cost Christ his life, but then to offer the grace of God and the comfort of his promised faithfulness.

God’s Grace in Augustine’s Theology

The following excerpt is taken from the full article, available here.

In order to understand Augustine’s theology of God’s sovereign saving grace, one must first understand Augustine’s view of the will. According to Augustine (and all the ‘catholic’ church after him) the will was free, but only insofar as it would choose what it desired.13 ‘Without exception,’ he writes, ‘we all long for happiness. … All agree that they want to be happy, just as, if they were asked, they would all agree that they desired joy.’14 Augustine’s point is that although we all desire true happiness (which is found only in God), our wills alone are not strong enough to enable us to achieve it.

It is only in this context, when we understand man’s plight (he desires true happiness, but is not able to will himself to find it since it is found in God alone, in whom he cannot delight while he is in the flesh15), that we are now prepared to truly appreciate Augustine’s understanding of God’s grace: ‘Saving grace, converting grace, in Augustine’s view, is God’s giving us a sovereign joy in God that triumphs over all other joys and therefore sways the will.’16 Grace, then, is God’s active changing of our heart’s desires so that we can truly desire him above all else, freely choose him, and as we love him, find in him our true soul’s joy.17 Our wills are always free to choose to do those things which we delight in, but they are never free to choose what our wills will delight in.18 That is why we need God’s grace.

Since God’s grace is a free gift on which all of our heart’s desires and all of our salvation depends, God’s grace is necessary for more than just our conversion: it is necessary for true, ongoing, joyful obedience. Once converted, Augustine could pray, ‘Give me the grace to do as you command, and command me to do what you will! … All this makes clear, O holy God, that when your commands are obeyed, it is from you that we receive the power to obey them.’19 As Piper sums up this aspect of Augustine’s theology of God’s grace he says this: ‘Grace governs life by giving a supreme joy in the supremacy of God.’20 As it is grace which converts us and causes us to obey, it is God’s sovereign grace which will keep us secure in him until the final day. Augustine’s theology of God’s grace is the understanding that would persist through the era of the early church and which would rise triumphantly again through Luther and Calvin in the Reformation. It has been passed on through the Puritans to the Evangelicals, and endures to this day as the historic orthodox Christian doctrine of God’s sovereign saving grace.

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13 Aurelius Augustine, Confessions (trans. R.S. Pine-Coffin; London, Eng: Penguin Books, 1961), 228-229. Augustine reasons that not all are able to willingly follow God, and there find the true happiness they seek, since ‘their will to do what they cannot do is not strong enough to enable them to do it’ (229).

14 Augustine, Confessions, 228.

15 Here Augustine cites Gal 5.17 (Confessions, 229).

16 Piper, Sovereign Joy, 59 (emphasis original).

17 The phraseology is intentionally chosen to be reminiscent of Augustine’s own conversion experience: ‘During all those years [of rebellion], where was my free will? What was the hidden, secret place from which it was summoned in a moment, so that I might bend my neck to your easy yoke? … How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose!You drove them from me, you who are the true, the sovereign joy. You drove them from me and took their place, you who are sweeter than all pleasure, though not to flesh and blood, you who outshine all light, yet are hidden deeper than any secret in our hearts, you who surpass all honour, though not in the eyes of men who see all honour in themselves…. O Lord my God, my Light, my Wealth, and my Salvation’ (Confessions, 181; emphasis my own).

18 Thus, in another place, he could write, ‘If those things delight us which serve our advancement towards God, that is due not to our own whim or industry or meritorious works, but to the inspiration of God and to the grace which he bestows.’ T. Kermit Scott, Augustine: His Thought in Context (New York: Paulist Press, 1995), 203; as cited in Piper, Sovereign Joy, 59.

19 Confessions, 236.

20 Sovereign Joy, 61.

The War Within

No one has understood sin and the sin nature like the Puritans, particularly when it comes to the ongoing necessity (and struggles) of putting that sin nature to death. Here are a few gems from the Soli Deo Gloria republication (Morgan, PA, 1995) of Obadiah Sedgwick‘s (1600-1658) The Anatomy of Secret Sins.

Let a man set up any sin in delightful contemplation and meditation, that same inward acting of his sin, either actually casts him upon the outward adventures, or invites them. This is the least that it does. It strangely ripens his natural inclination; and, besides that, it prepares him for a temptation that suits that way. Satan shall not need to tempt him much who has already tempted himself: and he who will work sin in his heart, a weak occasion will draw it out into his life. Thirty pieces of silver will prevail with a covetous Judas, who already had gold as his master in his heart. (15)

[God] gives singular charge against secret sins. Why? Because He cannot endure any to be hypocritical. The man is to God what his inside is; if you work wickedness in your heart, God will destroy you. Plaster your visible part with all sorts of pious expressions, if yet you can set up a form of sinning within, you are notable hypocrites. (18-19)

Beloved, the main battle of a Christian is not in the open field. His quarrels are mostly within and his enemies are in his own breast. When he has re-formed an ill life, yet it shall cost him infinitely much more to reform an ill heart. He may receive so much power from grace at the beginning, as in a short time, to draw off from most of the former gross acts of sinning, but it will be a work all of his days to get a thorough conquest of secret corruptions. (22)

Satan does not stir a naked eye, but a filthy heart to look through that sinful window. He does not come to the hand and say ‘Steal,’ but first to the heart, which will quickly command the hand. He does not say immediately to the tongue, ‘Swear and blaspheme,’ but the heart, which can easily command that hellish language into the tongue. If you should pluck out your eyes and never see any object to excite your unclean heart, yet you may still be as filthy a person as before. Your own corrupt heart and Satan would incline you so. And though you never had a foot to go, or a hand to stir, yet you might be as much a thief as Judas. (23-24)

If you could get another heart, you would look with another eye. The only way to make temptations lose their force is to decline occasions and to cleanse the inward parts. (24)

For some awesome excerpts from John Owen’s classic work on the mortificaiton of sin, click here.

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