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A little confession of mine...

I desire in all things to be effortlessly superior

Of course between effortless and superior there’s a trade-off.

Usually I favour the effortless.

I only do what’s easy or what shows me off best.

I serve myself.  Always.  Even when I’m serving you.

I’m entitled – entitled to ease, respect, acclaim, admiration, understanding.

I'm outraged when this sovereign sphere is infringed.

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I try to appear better than I am

I need to be right

I enter each conversation with a persona and an agenda

I don’t enter the conversation with me and a servant heart

I rob people of a true heart-to-heart by trying to appear cool/knowledgeable/funny/attractive

If I can’t appear cool/knowledgeable/funny/attractive I’ll withdraw

I’ll give you my talents, knowledge, anecdotes, humour.  I won’t give you me.

The ‘me’ and the persona have become difficult to disentangle anyway.

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I’m not a bit player in your story, you’re a bit player in mine.

In my story I am a noble sufferer, a heroic knight, a whimsical comic and a wise sage.

I force myself into this role.  And I will force you to play along with my fantasy.

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Your mistakes are crude, mine are complicated

Your mistakes have no excuses, mine have many excuses.  Let me list them...

Your mistakes show your true colours, mine are out of character

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If your sins are different to mine, I dismiss you as freakish

If your sins are the same as mine, my inside knowledge makes me dismiss you all the more

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I’m devastated by my sins – but only for how bad they made me look (to others and to myself)

I hate myself – but only because I think I deserve better

I’m self-deprecating – but only because it plays well

I’m shy – but only as a cover for real engagement

I’m quiet – but not listening.  Just self-absorbed.

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By the way... I desperately don’t want you to know all these things.   So I’ve got to keep you close enough to buy the persona but not close enough to see through it.  In other words, I’ve got to manipulate you.  Constantly.

I have a plethora of warm, witty, charming falsehoods to draw you in.

I have an arsenal of cold, sharp, closed quips to keep you back.

This is my complicated splendour.

Enjoy.

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How should we respond to sin in our lives?

One response is to think 'Come on Glen, I'm better than that.'

Another is to think 'Come on Glen, Christ is better than that.'

The first may produce a very moral life.  But the devil is more than happy to concede to you a Christ-less morality.  Self-righteousness is a far muddier swamp than unrighteous living.  I am not better than my sin.  I am not even better than the foulest evil I've imagined.

Instead, when I sin I am revealed as the person I've always been.  Psalm 51:5 has often struck me.  Here is David with blood on his hands.  Yet his confession is that the man who committed adultery and murder is the man he had always been.

We think when we've sinned that it was just a blot on our otherwise acceptable record.  The word of God says our sins simply express the person we have always been (Matt 7:17f). My gross sins are not 'out of character' - they are me with the hand-brake off.

No sin can shock me.  Not my own, nor the sins of my brothers and sisters who confess to me.  If the blood of God was shed for my sin (Acts 20:28) - then my sin is infinitely heinous.  No, I'm not better than sin.  But Christ is.

This is true in two senses.

First it's true in the sense that Christ is more desirable than sin.  In the wilderness of temptations, Satan can only offer me a bucket of salt.  Christ always stands before me with living waters (John 4:10; 7:38; Rev 7:17).  The father of lies tells me life is found in this sin.  Jesus tells me it's a broken cistern that can hold no water.  Only His waters are truly life-giving. (Jer 2:12-13)  I forsake even my precious sins because I have learnt that Jesus is more desirable.

But Christ is better than sin in another, much more important, sense. For He is the good person that I fail to be.  He is the reality that stands before the holy Father - not my sin.

My sin, though it clings to my bones and sinks to the depths of my heart, does not define me, Christ does.  When the Father looks to find me, He does not look in the record that stands against me (Ps 130:3; Col 2:14).  He looks to His Beloved Son and finds me hidden there.

Which means even as the diseased tree of my flesh produces in me the very worst fruit, Christ is my Plea, my Status, my Righteousness.  Even as the chief of sinners, even in the act of my worst rebellion, Christ - the One who is infinitely better - defines me and not my sin.

So Christ is better in both these senses.  But - and here's where this post has been heading - without being utterly convinced of this latter sense, the former sense could easily lead to a Pharasaism not unlike the 'I am better than sin' response.

How so?

Well if I respond to sin simply by saying 'Jesus is more desirable' it basically throws me back on myself.  I am left with my own heart and its ability to desire Jesus.  The work of annihilating sin becomes simply my work of destroying my heart idols.  The work of liberation is simply the work of my affections desiring Christ with sufficient ardour.  Where is the locus of this redemption?  Me.

Now do my heart-idols need crucifying?  Yes.  Do I need Christ uppermost in my affections?  Yes.  But by golly, if I found it hard to reform my outward behaviour - how hard is it going to be to reform my inner world??!  Impossible.

So, you say, that's why we need the gracious work of the Spirit and diligently to employ the means of grace, etc, etc.  Well... there's a time and a place for that.  But let's think.  If that's our bottom line, doesn't it sound exactly like the Catholic view of grace?  "It's all of grace" says the Catholic "... supernatural, infused grace worked in us, with which we cooperate, making us better and better over time."  Doesn't that sound very similar to "We fight sin by enflaming our affections for Christ - flames stoked by the Spirit via His means of grace"?

It's not that there's no place for the 'Christ is more desirable' approach.  It's that we must recognize it's true place - i.e. after we're assured of the extrinsic work of Christ.  "Grace" is not basically a supernatural empowerment to work at my salvation or to enflame my Christian affections.  "Grace" is the work of Christ alone on behalf of sinners who contribute nothing.  (This is similar to the points I made here - grace is not so much the bread David provides as the victory David wins).

Therefore my first reponse to sin is this - even in the very midst of sin, Jesus has been carrying me on His heart before the Father.  Even ensnared in the darkest selfishness, the Spirit has been calling 'Abba' from within me.  Even as my heart desired worthless idols, the Father loved me even as He loves Christ.

This is the truth that really changes us.  It reveals to us that not even our sin can separate us from the love of God in Christ.  We realize again that our darkness is not a locked basement to the Lord.  Even our self-willed rebellion cannot remove us from His embrace.  We sin in His face - this drives us down in contrition.  And at the same time He is lifting us up to the Father.

The truth that really changes us is that our lives are not our own.  Jesus has taken possession of us in spite of ourselves and wills to do us eternal good.  The Spirit of sonship is already praying 'Abba' in you.  The affections you are so keen to enflame are already ablaze - and that, even as you quench Him!

Now surrender. Now be conquered. Now receive what is entirely beyond you.  And see if you don't love Him with renewed and supernatural vigour!  But don't begin with your heart for Christ.  Begin with His heart for you.

We love because He first loved us. 1 John 4:19

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From the very first verse, Job is presented as a blameless and upright man.

The LORD is proud of Job's matchless virtue (1:8; 2:3).  Job fears God and shuns evil.  And even when calamity falls he does not sin by cursing God (1:22; 2:10).  Instead, through all his laments and complaints, the LORD is still able to conclude in chapter 42 and verse 7 that His servant Job has spoken what is right.

And yet, in the verse immediately preceeding this Job has just said:

I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42:6)

Uh-oh, we think.  Someone's got self-esteem issues!

But no.  In fact Job hasn't been esteeming himself at all.  He hasn't been contemplating himself.  This is not the fruit of meditating on his sins or even on his sufferings.  He hasn't been berating himself because he's a stupid, fat, ugly, unpopular, awkward, friendless failure.  He hasn't had a thought about himself for four solid chapters.

Because for four solid chapters he has borne the brunt of the LORD speaking out of the tornado.  Job's eyes have been dramatically lifted from himself and fixed on this Warrior Creator Commander called Yahweh.  He has experienced the LORD's unanswerable wisdom in surround sound.  And so in verse 5 Job summarizes exactly where his self-appraisal has come from:

5 My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. 6 Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes."  (Job 42:5)

“I despise myself” says Job.  By comparison with the LORD – upright Job falls flat on his face, confesses himself to be a sinner and says “I despise myself”. And that's a good and right and true and psychologically healthy thing to do.  Not that Job wondered to himself "What would be the correct response to meeting my Maker?" It just came out.  But as it came out it was extremely healthy.

Now there is a wrong despising of self.  There is someone who is not looking at the LORD at all.  Instead they look at themselves.  They are self-absorbed and with their gaze fixed firmly on their belly-button they are despising themselves.  We’ve all been there to some degree or another.  And it’s wrong.  But mainly it’s wrong for where the self-hater is looking.  The object of their gaze is the issue - they must get their eyes off themselves.  Then, when looking to Christ, a true appraisal of self will follow - they are (in Tim Keller's words) more wicked than they had ever realised but more loved than they had ever dreamed.

So there is a wrong despising of self - it's when you’re focussed on yourself.

But... there is a right despising of self – when you’re focussed on the LORD.

Isaiah has a similar experience.  In Isaiah 6, he sees Jesus in the temple seated on the throne (cf John 12:30f), high and lifted up, the angels are calling out ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’, the temple is shaking, smoke is everywhere and Isaiah cries out:

5 "Woe to me!  I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty."

Isaiah wasn’t feeling particularly sinful that morning.  He wasn't running through a list of his prior misdemeanors.  No-one was reminding him of past sins.  Isaiah felt no guilt at all that morning... until he saw the King.  Then he said “Woe to me, I’m ruined!”

Or think of Peter fishing with Jesus in Luke chapter 5.  He’s in the boat with the LORD of Isaiah chapter 6.  And they have a miraculous catch of fish. And Luke 5 verse 5 says:

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus' knees and said, "Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!"

Peter confesses to being a sinner when he sees the glory of Jesus.  Peter hasn’t just remembered some sins from his murky past.  He’s not even thinking about his sins, he is simply looking at Jesus and saying “I do not match up.”

Of course the ultimate place to look to find a true estimation of yourself is to Christ crucified.  That's the sinner's fate.  And that was your death - you died with Christ, the old man crucified.  You will never be able to feel your way towards this verdict.  Preachers, no matter how keenly they focus on individual sins you've committed, can't whip up this sentiment.  And turning to yourself in order to work it up is itself sinful.  Instead I look to the LORD high and lifted up (Isaiah 6:1 <=> 52:13).  I allow the cross to be God's verdict on me.  I am co-crucified with Christ and therefore reject the old self completely.  And yet

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal 2:20)

The true and right self-hatred is fundamentally to allow the cross to be God's verdict on the old you.  And your true and right self-appreciation is not gained by trusting in the new you.  No, the life you live in the flesh you live by faith in the Son of God.  Trust His love for you shown decisively right when you were most hateful.

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I was once in a preaching seminar with 15 other young guns.  We were being taught by someone you might call a living legend.  One session I remember was on how to preach Romans 3:21-30.  The point came when the living legend asked us what we thought the application should be.  Now aside from my various misgivings about application I reasoned to myself that if an application was there in the passage it was probably worth flagging up.  I looked down and sure enough I saw what I thought was a pretty clear ""application"" of Paul's teaching:

Where then is boasting?  It is excluded. (v27)

So I stuck up my hand and suggested that the application might be humility.  More particularly it seemed that, since Christ had taken the work of salvation entirely into His own hands (and out of ours), we ought gladly to shut up about ourselves, our morality, etc etc.

"Wrong!" said the legend.  "The application should be 'Repent!'"

"Oh", I said. "Why?"

I immediately regretted asking 'why.'  Dagnammit we're evangelicals, we're supposed to preach repentance, it's union rules.  Besides, I don't want to appear soft in front of the 15 other young guns and this living legend!  The legend was more than a little irked by my question and replied: "Because, dear boy, verse 23 says all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  Sin is the problem, therefore I would have thought that repentance would be a very good idea!!"

You might be surprised to learn that I didn't answer back to this one.  Oh I wanted to.  But judging by the alarm in the legend's voice and the mood of the room it felt wise not to imperil my standing any further among such sound folk.

But sometimes I fantasize about what would have happened if I'd said what I really thought.  The fantasy goes something like this:

I stand slowly, deliberately, with all the solemnity of the lone prophet.  All eyes are upon me as I bellow with righteous ardour:

"Sin is not the problem!   S i n   i s   n o t   t h e   p r o b l e m !!!"

All hell breaks loose.  Outrage.  Pained howls.  Torn garments.  Hurled stones.  I stand immovable.

"... Sin is not the problem... God's wrath at sin is the problem!  No... better... God's wrath at us in our sin - that's the problem!"

At once they are felled by Truth as by lightning.  Cut to the heart, the stones drop to the floor first, then the men.  One by one they slump to the ground, the hand of the LORD heavy upon them.  In breathless awe they ask: "Brave herald, what is this teaching you bring us?  It resounds from the very heights of Zion against our presumption and folly."

Sporting a fresh cut across my chiselled jawline, I am otherwise unruffled.  Ever magnanimous I continue:

"Dear friends" (the dust in the air has now leant a husky tone to my rich, commanding voice). "Dear friends, let us not define our predicament so anthropocentrically."

I leave this dread word hanging in the air.  The mere mention of 'anthropocentric' elicits groans from the already contrite gathering.  Here was their shibboleth used against them.  It stung.

"I commend you friends..."  They look up nervously - could there yet be grace for them?  "...While many have merely scratched the itch of the modern age, you have refused to pander to felt needs. You have proclaimed the problem of sin and for this I commend you."

I pause.  "And yet... and yet... you have defined the problem so poorly, so slightly.  You have defined the problem from below.  If we define the problem as something lying in our hands then aren't we at least suggesting that the solution is in our hands?  But in fact the problem is above us - just as the solution is.  The problem is not fundamentally our sin, the problem is the Lord's wrath upon us."

"What's the difference?!" cries out one of the younger preachers, "Our sin, God's wrath, it's all the same..."  He is hushed by the legend who slowly shakes his head.  It is clear now how wrong he has been.

He stands, still shaking his head, unable to look at me or the others.  Eventually he speaks, "Glen's right. He's always been right!"  The great one looks like he's been hung from the ceiling on meat hooks.  He exclaims,

"You must understand...  We faced such terrible dangers in preaching.  We still face such dangers.  I wanted, we all wanted, to resist the me-centred pulpit.  I was so sick of hearing about 'filling the Jesus-shaped hole in your life'.  I couldn't stand the invitations to 'let Jesus into the passenger seat of your life'.  I wanted people to turn.  I still want people to turn."

I put a re-assuring hand on his shoulder. He meets my eye for the first time and continues.  "I just thought, if we can show them that 'fulfilment' isn't the issue - that sin is the issue, well then maybe they'd come to their senses.  Maybe they'd see their errors and turn from them."

I give a look to the legend, he nods, "I know, I know, that's the problem."

"What's the problem?" asks one of the young guns.

The legend sighs deeply and turns to the others.  "It puts the focus on us.  If we just preach sin and repentance the whole focus is on us."

"It's anthropocentric" mutters a young gun, latching onto his favourite word.  He looks around to see if anyone else has noticed his firm grasp of the issues.

"I don't get it" another pipes up, "I thought sin and repentance was God-centred preaching?  Isn't that what you taught us??"

The legend is speechless.  I break the silence.  Crouching down to their level, I ask, "If we simply preach sin and repentance how exactly is God at the centre?  He may well be over and above our conceptions of sin and repentance - but how is He in the middle?  In such a sermon isn't God actually on the periphery?  He's hardly the principal Actor!"

At this stage the one who muttered 'anthropocentric' is nodding in the way failed quiz-show contestants nod when they're told the right answer.

I go on, "It's like our passage from Romans 3.  Sin is certainly there!  Sin is certainly a problem.  I mean we've been told from verse 9 that all are under sin.  And we've been told in verse 20 that observing the law will never get us out from under this condition.  But given that this is the case, wouldn't it be strange if Paul then told us that 'repentance' was this new work - better than the old Mosaic works?  Actually Paul doesn't mention any of our works in this passage, not our obedience, not our repentance.  No, what does Paul point us to?  Verse 25, the blood of Jesus - a propitiation for our sins.  Now we all know what propitiation means right?"

Young noddy blurts out "A sacrifice that turns away God's wrath!!"  I gesture with my hands to calm him.

"Ok, yes. Well done.  It turns away God's wrath.  Because that's the real problem.  The problem is, chapter 1 verse 18, the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against us.  It will culminate in, chapter 2 verse 5, a day of wrath.  And Paul is at pains to say we all deserve it, we are all unrighteous and there's nothing moral and nothing religious we can do to turn aside this wrath.  We are helpless.  BUT, a righteousness beyond us has come.  And He is the sacrifice who turns away God's wrath.  Through His redemption we are justified freely.  That's the gospel.  That's what we preach.  And who is at the centre of this story?  Not us.  Him."

"So we shouldn't preach sin and repentance?" asks another.

"Of course we should.  But those are comprehended within a much more profound perspective.  Wrath and redemption are the deeper truths.  You know I'll bet that all the sermons you hear are about committed sin and sanctification?  You know the kind.  'God says: Don't do X, we all do it, let's ask His help to stop.'  Where are the sermons that major on original sin and justification?  Why don't we plunge them to the depths and then take them to the heights?  Why all this middle of the road stuff that puts us at the centre?"

A couple of young guns knowingly mouth 'anthropocentric' to one another.

I continue "Take Islam.  It's a classic religion of repentance.  God remains far above, it's down to us to clean up our act.  In fact all human religion is man justifying man before a watching god.  But the Gospel is God justifying God before a watching humanity.  He takes centre-stage and we need to move off into the audience to watch Him work salvation for us.  Christianity is not a religion of repentance, it's a religion of redemption.  And that's quite a difference don't you see?"

As I speak, the young guns have been picking themselves off the floor one by one.  The room has been won to the side of Truth.  I look upon them with fatherly benevolence.

"So my friends - now that you know these things: What would be a good application of Romans 3?"

In unison they reply "Humility!"  And for a moment all is right with the world.

Until the harmony is shattered.  One of the young guns speaks up:

"Hey, if humility is so important, how come you're so proud?"

The mood of the room takes a decisive turn.  Another piles in "And how come you've been dreaming us up for the last 10 minutes to feed your ego."

Here's where the fantasy turns pretty nasty.

"What kind of egotist spends his time winning theological debates in his head??"

"Yeah, debates he never actually won in the real world!"

"I think I know 'Where then is boasting?' - he's standing in the middle of the room!!"

At this point the fantasy is basically unsalvagable.  So then, I hate to do it, but sometimes you just have to pull rank.

"Quiet all of you!  This is my fantasy.  Either you submit adoringly to my theological genius or get out now."

Faced with those options they instantly choose non-existence.  One by one they vanish, though somehow their looks of betrayal and disgust seem to linger on.

"You'll be back" I say to the departed phantasms.  "Pretty soon I'll need to feel right about something else and you'll be right back in my imagination, bowing to my unquestioned brilliance.

"Ha!" I say.  The laughter echoes around my empty head.

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Sermon audio here.

Text below.

...continue reading "Hebrews 3:7-19 – Don’t harden your hearts"

Sermon audio here.

Text below.

...continue reading "Hebrews 3:7-19 – Don't harden your hearts"

Here is a slightly revised post from two years ago.

I’ve been watching ‘Am I normal?’ – a TV programme about addiction. It asks whether there is such a thing as addiction. What about gambling addiction? Shopping? Sex? Food? Computer gaming? Are these addictions? Are they illnesses? Are you born with them? Do you ‘catch’ them? ‘Suffer’ them? Are you helpless before them?

One doctor, author of the book ‘Addiction is a choice’ was, predictably enough, against such an idea. He said things like ‘It’s simply a weak or bad person making a bad choice…. There’s no such thing as an involuntary behaviour. All behaviour is goal seeking behaviours… Our therapeutic culture, instead of making moral judgments is making pseudo-medical judgements.’

He reminded me of reading Jay Adams – the pioneer of nouthetic (admonition) counseling. Adams taught pastoral counselling at Westminster Theological Seminary for many years. He says things like this in ‘Competent to Counsel’

‘The idea of sickness as the cause of personal problems vitiates all notions of human responsibility.’ (p5)

He doesn’t like this. He sees it as a straight choice between sickness and sin:

‘Is the fundamental problem of persons who come for personal counselling sickness or sin?’ (p17)

Adams therefore goes for ‘sin’.

There are advantages to this. If we are merely victims – sufferers of an illness called ‘addiction’ then the problem and also the solution is out of our hands. If the problem is ours – if we are sinners – then the solution is also within our grasp. Sin is the problem. Repentance is the solution.

What I find strange about Adams, and those who tend to follow him, is that he, and they, are staunch Calvinists. They believe in the bondage of the will (as do I). They believe, I’m sure, people like John Owen when he says:

“To suppose that whatever God requireth of us that we have power of ourselves to do, is to make the cross and grace of Jesus Christ of none effect.”

This is such a touchstone of Calvinist thought it’s even the strapline of the website ‘Monergism.’ It’s a wonderful quote. And it should be heeded in all sorts of theological debates.

But it’s not heeded when conservative Christians try to put our ability to be moral at the heart of things. Something dangerous occurs when Christians try to make ‘moral responsibility’ the centre of gravity in these kind of discussions. To do so is to push the Saviour to the periphery. Owen saw this. The doctrine of the bondage of the will, at its best, guards against this. But conservative Christians tend to have a knee-jerk reaction to the notion that sinful behaviours ever be classified as addictions or illnesses. They are bad behaviours, bad choices.

Let’s think very briefly about three Scriptures.

In Ephesians 2:1-3, Paul brilliantly portrays our freedom and our bondage:

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.”

What’s fascinating about these verses is that here we see our freedom to do what we want is described as the very way in which we followed the devil. Our so called freedom to gratify our lusts was precisely the bondage in which we found ourselves.

The second passage is John 8.

Everyone who sins is a slave to sin… if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Far from saying ‘talk of addiction vitiates talk of sin’ isn’t Jesus here saying that sin is addiction? Aren’t we enslaved to sin? Isn’t it a power over us? Do we not find ourselves under its domination? And isn’t the solution not for ourselves to gain mastery but for Christ make us His slaves?

Sin is a power over us. The gospel of grace depends on this fact. Sin is a power over us that is disarmed and replaced by Christ. We are beasts ridden by the devil or Christ – this is where Ephesians 2 and John 8 have brought us. Why would we want to put – why especially would Calvinists want to put – human responsibility at the centre of the discussion??

Finally, think of Luke 5:27-32 where Jesus meets and changes Levi. Jesus says:

"It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."

Jesus says our problem is BOTH. It’s not either sin or sickness – it’s BOTH. Jesus calls sinners sinner. He calls Levi to repent and follow Him. But in that diagnosis Jesus also reveals that He is the true Doctor of the sick. Our therapeutic culture is not wrong to see us as victims of sin (John 8:34). We mustn’t react against these trends and bellow out ‘we are responsible moral agents, we can choose etc etc’ If we do that, so quickly man comes right to the centre and the Gospel exits stage-left. We become our own saviours from sin. But no, only Christ saves us from sin. And He saves helpless, sick sinners.

We are victims of a sickness called sin. That is absolutely biblical and true. We are also culpable choosing agents – Ephesians 2 told us that the gratification of our lusts was the essence of our bondage!  Our slavery actually is our continual self-gratification.  Enslaved not against but by our desires.  The slavery and the desires are both true together. Jesus and Paul could handle bringing both sides of this truth to bear. Liberals and conservatives fall off one side or other.

Christians must maintain: “I am a sick, wretched, poor, helpless sinner. And I have no hope in myself - not in any inner goodness nor in any inner capacity to will the good.  My repentance is my confess of complete inability to gain mastery over alcohol/drugs/food/pornography/gambling/whatever.  I look only to Christ to see the Lover I have spurned, the blood that He has shed, the ransom that He paid even while I delighted in evil.  As the Spirit grants, I mourn that I ever gave myself to such wicked masters and I fill my vision with the Mighty Redeemer who strides out of the slave-market carrying me, His latest purchace - with the Heavenly Husband who sings over His unfaithful bride."

Walking by the Spirit (i.e. the Christian life) is being conformed to the truth of Jesus as it inundates me through the bible and meditation and preaching and communion and community.  As He confronts me, I fall for a new Love, get addicted to a new Joy.  My new Master and Husband is constantly calling me away from the world, the flesh and the devil to enjoy Himself.

I hope you can feel how odd the categories of duty ethics and moral responsibility appear when you view pastoral problems in this light.  When behaviouralists keep banging on about putting the will back at the centre of counselling it's a bit like CS Lewis's example of a wife saying "Kiss me" and the husband responding, "Do I have to?"  Duty has a place.  But let's keep it far from the centre.

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Hebrews 10:26 can be a scary verse.  One woman I know has been crippled by the fear that she is damned because of ongoing sin.  Whenever I declared the gospel to her and held out the grace of Jesus she would always come back to these verses:

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.  (Heb 10:26-27)

Whatever happens we don't want to be found to be ones who "deliberately keep on sinning."  So what does it mean?

Different things can be said, but let me just take up one line of inquiry.  Verse 26 uses 'sin' in two senses - first as a verb, then as a noun.  It's interesting to note that Hebrews only uses 'sin' as a verb twice.  But 'sin' as a noun is everywhere.  Here are all its uses:

Sin as a noun:

is purified - 1:3

is atoned for - 2:17

is not remembered anymore - 8:12; 10:17

is put away once and for all - 9:26

is borne by Jesus once and for all - 9:28

Christ is sacrificed for it once for all time - 10:12

Christ is without it - 4:15

is dealt with in shadowy way by High Priest / old covenant - 5:1,3; 7:27; 10:2,3,4,6,8,11,18,26; 13:11

hardens and deceives - 3:13

gives fleeting pleasures - 11:25

easily entangles - 12:1

causes struggle - 12:4

Sin as a verb is only mentioned twice:

Israelites ‘sinned’ and their bodies fell in the wilderness - 3:17

Deliberately sinning – no sacrifice for sins remains - 10:26

Sin (noun) – has been purified, atoned for, put away and borne in the sacrifice of sinless Jesus once and for all.  It is therefore remembered no more.  This is precisely what the old covenant promised through its shadows but never effected itself.  Sin remains a reality for the Christian – it offers fleeting pleasures.  But it deceives and hardens, it easily entangles and causes painful struggle.

To sin (verb) – is a decisive and deadly rejection of the Lord.  The Israelites “sinned” in the wilderness and so they died (3:17).  This is the verdict upon 40 years of their constantly wayward hearts.  They did not want the Lord and His future and so He swore that they would not enter His rest.  People today ‘deliberately sin’ when they reject Jesus, their one Sacrifice for sins and Forerunner to glory.  If they forsake Him, no sacrifice for sins remains. (10:26)

I wonder therefore whether the slight overtranslation of 10:26 in most versions ("Deliberately keep on sinning ...") spotlights the wrong thing.  The unforgiveable nature of this kind of sinning is not really its ongoingness - though it is an ongoing attitude.  The unforgiveableness of this sin is that it is a rejection of the very One in Whom forgiveness is offered.  The author is not telling us: "a spot of occasional sinning is alright but ongoing sinning is damnable."  He's saying that sin is put away by Christ once and for all, but the person who rejects Christ deliberately has nowhere else to turn.

Hebrews is written to a people always tempted to trust the shadows and not the Substance.  They look to angels and Moses and temple and priests and goats and bulls and everything but Jesus.  But Jesus is the One we are to See and Fix our thoughts upon, etc, etc.  If we have seen HIM and then turn away again to worthless sin-bearers - no sacrifice for sins remains.  We've rejected the one Life-raft.

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This is how to preach evangelistically, huh?

Either sin is with you, lying on your shoulders, or it is lying on Christ, the Lamb of God. Now if it is lying on your back, you are lost; but if it is resting on Christ, you are free, and you will be saved. Now choose what you want. –Martin Luther

Go and read all the quotes.

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Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

“We are not unaware of Satan’s schemes” says Paul (2 Cor 2:11).  That’s what the NIV calls them – schemes.  Other translations say “devices” or “designs”, you could call them his “methods” or “plots”.  In the latin Vulgate it’s the word “cogitationes”.  The devil is always thinking – always cogitating – scheming to outwit us.

So what are his schemes?  The context in 2 Corinthians 2 points to one of them – unforgiveness.   Paul wants the congregation to forgive and comfort an unnamed sinner lest he be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow (v7).  In this way they will resist the devil’s schemes.  Satan is ever the enemy of grace and the number one champion of conditionality.  He will seek to destroy my vertical relationship with Christ and my horizontal relationship with others through feelings of unforgiveness – first Christ’s for me, then mine for you.

It’s a devastating plot and it works a treat.  But I want to focus on a slightly different strategy  (though it’s very much linked).  What we see in Scripture from the very beginning is a plot to make us serve ourselves.

In the garden, Adam and Eve had everything except the forbidden fruit.  And all it took from Satan were a few words that denied the consequences, impugned God’s character and praised the fruit.  Then...

…the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.  (Gen 3:6-7)

They caved in to their appetites, served themselves and fell.  This is plan A for the devil and he rarely has need for any other.

Think of Job.  In chapter 1 Satan can only imagine that Job fears God because of the blessings (v9ff).

9 "Does Job fear God for nothing?" Satan replied. 10 "Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11 But stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face."

The way Satan thinks, people only love God because He pays them to do it – through blessings, wealth, health, family etc.  In Satan’s cogitations people only ever serve themselves.  And apart from Christ and those ransomed by Him, he’s right – people do only serve themselves.

In Ephesians 2 Paul speaks of our terrifying enslavement to the devil.  Every human being naturally follows the ruler of the kingdom of the air (Eph 2:2).  And verse 3 describes the essence of this bondage – we “gratify the cravings of our flesh and follow its desires and thoughts.”  Precisely when I say I am "free to do what I want any old time" right there I demonstrate my slavery.  Satan has us by the throat wherever we feed our own selfish desires.

With this in mind consider that famous verse from 1 Peter 5:8

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

If we don't consider the context in 1 Peter and if we don't consider Satan's fundamental 'scheme' we'll minsunderstand this.  We might imagine that people are 'devoured' when they fall prey to financial or sexual scandal or some public apostasy.  Those are certainly options for the devil - handy snacks along the way.  But that's not his staple diet .  His staple diet is self-serving comfort-seekers.  The main way Satan devours people is by giving them an easy life.

In 1 Peter the whole message is that Christians are aliens and strangers, scattered in this passing age as we wait for Christ's glorious appearing, so don't be surprised by suffering, hang on because you know your brothers and sisters around the world are suffering with you.  In that context, how will the devil swallow you up?  He'll give you an easy life.  Once you've taken that bait, he's swallowed you.

Anyway, just a thought.  Let me get back to the wilderness...

Think again about Matthew 4.  The wilderness temptations seem very puzzling on the surface.  After all there is a distinct lack of voodoo dolls, heavy metal music and ancient Indian burial grounds.  And – what a glaring oversight! – lust didn’t make it into Satan’s top 3!

We gravitate towards the Martin Scorcese school of temptation.  If he was in charge of 'The last temptation of Christ' then a final fling with Mary would have been the lure.  Surely that would have been a sterner test of Christ’s mettle?  Why on earth does Satan mess around with magical bakery and angelic bungee jumping??  Is this the best he can do?

Yes. Satan knows exactly what he's doing.

Every man's battle is selfishness before it's lust.  And it's selfishness long after it's lust.

When we watch the wilderness battle, we are watching the two masters of temptation.  Satan is the master tempter, Christ the Master resister.  We're all Padwan learners gaping in awe at their struggle.  We have much to learn.  But the learning begins with the realisation that these really are the most devilish temptations of them all - the temptations to serve, feed, protect and save self. In all his scheming, this is Satan's plan A.

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