In this illustration, the person who experiences overwhelming desires of the flesh and who is without the hope of the Gospel, will find the law of God simply impossible! They may merely try by the power of self-will to straighten up and fly right, then only to find that the best they can muster is the aesthetic management of outward appearances and avoidance of blatant overt acts of commission by white-knuckling abstinence. But eventually, if the Holy Spirit is working in this person, the matters of the heart will surface and will need to be dealt with head on. Are we equipped?
Some believe that the pastoral implications of and the compassionate approach to dealing with such overwhelming guilt and shame and sense of moral bankruptcy is to backpedal on the law of God and the sinfulness of sin (as previously addressed in my posts quoting John Calvin on indwelling sin and Matthew Henry on Matthew 5:28-30). Rather than walking with our predecessors, Paul, David, Isaiah, and so many others given in the scriptures, many of our contemporaries are actually going the way of what the prophet Jeremiah warned against in Chapter 8:11, "They have healed the wound of my people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace".
Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden where all was very good and only one thing forbidden. But after the fall, this world is polluted, like a muddy field. We are surrounded by unclean things, not only in the world, but also in our flesh. So, every one of us struggles and fails to keep ourselves cleansed in the muck and mire of our fallen surroundings.
God bless the man or woman who comes to the end of his or herself and is able to cry out to the Lord as did Isaiah, David, Paul, and the tax collector:
"Woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I live among a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts.” (Isaiah 6:5)
"For I know my transgressions, And my sin is ever before me. 4 Against You, You only, I have sinned And done what is evil in Your sight, "My sin is ever before me." (Psalm 51:3-4)
"Wretched man that I am! Who will save me from this body of death?" (Romans 7:24)
"But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’" (Luke 18:13)
However, if the message we are giving is little more than moralistic therapeutic deism (as it often tends to be), then of course we are heaping nothing but shame and guilt and remorse onto the broken and needy sinner. Moralistic therapeutic deism teaches people to try to find life by digging their own cisterns in their fields of mud. But no life can be found in such places. Eventually, that puddle of mud will increasingly feel more like quicksand, leading the way straight down to Sheol and away from salvation in Christ alone.
Having experienced the result of living in the dark of moralistic therapeutic deism, that feeling of fighting against a quicksand that never seems to end, we can then find ourselves prone to swing to the other extreme.
In some Evangelical circles, this may be partially why various forms of antinomianism have cropped up. And if not full blown antinomianism, then perhaps a lower view of sin has been preferred, so as to attempt lighten the stain and guilt of sin (without the blood of Christ).
If we try to ameliorate the burden of sin by minimizing the deceitfulness of sin, then we risk losing the opportunity to share the full Gospel, the forgiveness and healing of Christ. For a Biblical example, consider the testimony of David in Psalm 32, verses 3-5:
"For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,'
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin."
So, when the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached and offered to those condemned souls who have come to feel the weight of their sin, then and only then, is freedom and newness of life possible for those who embrace Him as Lord and Savior. He assures us:
"Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Matt. 11:28-30Let's not forget the Lord's wondrous works toward Isaiah, David, Paul, and the tax collector who cried out to Him for deliverance. Each of these men were blessed by the gift of conviction and repentance unto the Lord and the Lord saved them out of the miry pit of their guilt and shame, and even more out of the very pit that leads to hell. This is what they say:
Isaiah: "Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. 7 He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is forgiven.” (Isaiah 6:6-7)
David: "Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; According to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity And cleanse me from my sin." (Psalm 51:1-2)
Paul: "Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!" (Romans 7:25) and "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. 3 For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin," (Romans 8:1-3)
The tax collector: "I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 18:14)
In his new book, "Hide or Seek", John Freeman writes in Chapter 6: Letting the Gospel Disrupt You and Dispel the Lie that You're Powerless:
"What enables us to progress from one stage to another, to boldly and radically be honest about the state of our hearts? It comes from knowing you've nothing to lose but everything to gain by trusting it all to Christ -- trusting your hardened or confused heart, your corrupt desires, and your love for your sin, to him. It also requires trusting in the finished work of Christ for the past, present, and future for you -- just where you may find yourself right now. It means trusting his record instead of yours. It means realizing that we all, at any given moment, are in desperate need of the grace that is found in Jesus. It's a grace that isn't manufactured or self-produced, but one that comes from above as a gift from God."It's an excellent book that is Gospel-centered and extremely helpful.
And finally, in the process of writing this post, I came across Carrie Sandom's plenary from The Gospel Coalition Women's Conference 2012, which speaks directly to this topic:
(Note: Carrie Sandom will be the featured plenary speaker at Women in the Word: A Workshop at Calvary Presbyterian Church in Willow Grove, PA (just north of Philadelphia) this October!