18 steps in the progression of unbelief

14 10 2008



This blog comes from a sermon I preached awhile back on Numbers 13:1-14:4. If you haven’t read Numbers recently, I strongly recommend it. If you’re a pastor and you haven’t preached through Numbers, you really should. Numbers is the story of God’s people in the wilderness wanderings, when they were called to go up and take possession of the Land of Promise but failed because of their unbelief. The Apostle Paul tells us that the things that happened to them were recorded for our example, so that we might learn NOT to repeat their mistakes.


The big turning point comes when spies are sent into Canaan to bring back a report to Moses and the people. Only two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, encourage the people to trust in God and claim His promise. The others are intimidated by the size and number of the enemy, and they convince the people to abandon all hope of entering Canaan. Numbers 13:1-14:4 records these sad events, and shows us how unbelief is planted, takes root, and springs up in the midst of God’s people.


Here is a step-by-step progression of unbelief that every believer should avoid…


Step 1: Hesitating in the path of obedience (Deuteronomy 1:19-21)


God gave a command to the people to go up immediately and take the land that He had promised to give them. The first step toward the ultimate apostasy of the wilderness generation was a false step… they hesitated instead of instantly heeding the command of the Lord. Stopping to consider whether or not immediate obedience to a clear command of God is necessary inevitably gives doubt a foothold. Consider the good example of Peter and Andrew recorded in Matthew 4:18-20: “And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. Then He said to them, ‘Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.’ They immediately left their nets and followed Him.” In contrast are the hesitators, whose story is recorded in Luke 9:57-62:  “Now it happened as they journeyed on the road, that someone said to Him, ‘Lord, I will follow You wherever You go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.’ Then He said to another, ‘Follow Me.’ But he said, ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and preach the kingdom of God.’ And another also said, ‘Lord, I will follow You, but let me first go and bid them farewell who are at my house.’ But Jesus said to him, ‘No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.'”


Step 2: Rationalizing procrastination through “practical considerations” (Deuteronomy 19:22)


Of course, the people were ready to provide a reason for their lack of instant compliance with God’s command.  After all, God expects us to be realistic.  He doesn’t want us to take leaps of blind faith without carefully weighing all of the facts, right? Surely God would not have us go up to possess the land without doing a demographic survey first to determine what we are up against! The fact that God graciously and patiently condescended to their weakness does not make their hesitation any more defensible. The longsuffering of God is a testimony to His goodness – not a justification of man’s weakness. God also bore with the people in order to test them, and in the end their initial hesitation would prove to be the beginning of a steady slide toward hardened unbelief. We may try to rationalize procrastination in the course of obedience, but given the inclination of our hearts toward sin, it is invariably dangerous to allow “practical considerations” to exercise a controlling interest in our decisions. Besides, when did practical considerations ever dictate what God is capable of doing?  The testimony of the Scriptures is the triumph of God’s power in spite of “practical considerations.” We are able to devise all sorts of reasons to put off immediate obedience to God’s commands, but in the end they only amount to excuses for our lack of faith and trust.


Step 3: Prayerlessness


There is no proof text in the passage before us to establish that the lack of prayer was an integral part of the people’s slide into sheer unbelief. It is an argument from silence… but the silence is deafening. Nowhere in the whole course of the narrative is there the slightest indication that the spies sought the face of the Lord in prayer as they set about their mission. We may be sure that Caleb and Joshua approached their task prayerfully, but it is clear from the conclusions of the other ten that seeking the direction and wisdom of God never occurred to them. The weeds of doubt grow thickest in an atmosphere of prayerlessness.


Step 4: Elevating man’s judgment above God’s


With gracious forbearance, God agreed to the proposal of the people and commanded that twelve spies be appointed to go up into the land. In His wisdom, the Lord designed the mission in such a way that possible disputes over the results would be less likely. There was to be a representative from each tribe, in order to eliminate any charge of partiality or vested interest. Those chosen as spies were to be recognized leaders in their tribes, so that their judgment would be respected. The design of God in this arrangement was that spiritually mature and seasoned men from each tribe would act as His representatives, reporting on the circumstances and encouraging a response of faithful obedience. God did not design the spy party as a means for group deliberation over whether or not to obey His command. Sadly, fallen man has an unfortunate knack in distorting a God-centered design into a man-centered one. It is a subtle shift that transforms God-centered representation into decision by majority vote. But in the process of the shift, the judgment of man is substituted for the will of God.


Step 5: Failing to discern God’s purpose in preparing His people (Num. 13:17-20)


God graciously agreed to permit the people to send out a spy party. His design, however, was not for them to evaluate whether or not they would obey. He allowed them to see the blessings of Canaan, along with the obstacles, in order to strengthen their courage. When God allows His people to anticipate the difficulties of their appointed tasks, it is not to discourage them, but to spur them on to greater resignation to Him and deeper trust in His ability to fulfill His promises. Failure to understand God’s purpose in revealing the obstacles ahead of us is the result of focusing on ourselves and our abilities rather than on the power of God to fulfill His promises. When God charged the spies to “be of good courage,” He was not calling on them to summon up their self-esteem, but to remember as they observed the challenges ahead of them that the Lord was with them. Rather than being overwhelmed with fear that they were not up to the task, they were to be moved to humble reliance on the Lord and filled with confidence that no challenge is too great for Him.


Step 6: Going through the motions of faith (Num. 13:21-25)


The twelve spies dutifully went about their mission, examining the lay of the land and its cities, and bringing back some of its produce as they had been instructed. But their minds were really made up before they left the camp. Once they caught a glimpse of the descendants of Anak, the rest of their mission was a mere formality.


Step 7: Dwelling on Circumstances (Num. 13:26-29)


It is not surprising that the report of the spies lists the positive and negative observations they  made with regard to the land.  This is what they were told to do. What is striking is that this is ALL they reported.   There is not a single mention of God, His power or His promises in the entire report!


Step 8: Magnifying the obstacles (Num. 13:28-29)


Also notable in the report of the spies is the decided “spin” they placed on their observations. Those given to doubt will always accentuate the negative. The blessings of the land are altogether lost in the emphasis placed on the down side. Worse yet, the power of God to conquer the mightiest of enemies, which the Israelites had certainly witessed in their deliverance from Egypt, is brushed aside.


Step 9: Dismissing the exhortations of the faithful (Num. 13:30-31)


The words of Caleb break through the gloom of the spies twisted report like a bright ray of sunshine piercing through the dark clouds of despair… But his words go unheeded by the gloom-and-doomers, casually dismissed as the unrealistic and impractical observations of a dreamer.


Step 10: Categorically denying the promises of God (Num. 13:31)


The strong statement of the unfaithful spies in verse 31 is nothing more than a bold-faced denial of the sure and certain promise of God. As doubters gain the support of the people, they become more and more bold in their unbelief.


Step 11: Stirring up discontent (Num. 13:32a)


Not wishing to lose their momentum in convincing the multitude to join them in their mutiny against God, the spies laid aside all pretense of “objectivity” and gave the people a bad report. The word used here is “dibba,” which means “whispering.”


Step 12: Distorting the truth (Num. 13:32b)


As the tension builds, a blatant contradiction becomes apparent in the words of the spies. In their initial report, they had said, “We went to the land where you sent us.  It truly flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit.” Now, as their personal stake in convincing the people to follow their wicked counsel escalates, they reverse their initial statement and assert: “The land through which we have gone as spies is a land that devours its inhabitants.” In retrospect, their lie is transparent, for they go on to emphasize the “great stature” of the men who dwell in the land – far from being “devoured” by the land, the inhabitants seem to have been quite healthy. Notice too how it is now asserted that ALL the people of the land were of great stature! But the people, now being in a mode of complete panic, seem to have been unable or unwilling to discern the obvious inconsistency of these statements. What mattered was convincing the people that disobedience was in their best interest, and whatever lies or exaggerations were necessary to accomplish that end were fair game.


Step 13: Exalting the power of the enemy (Num. 13:33)


The next step in the progression was to focus on the apparent power and strength of the enemy. Once the power of God is factored out, and the circumstances are reduced to the appearances of the flesh, it is quite easy to become paralyzed with intimidation at the supposed advantages of the opposition. History abounds with examples of the successful employment of this strategy by the devil and his minions. In reality, the biggest giant we face is our own wicked inclination to doubt the power and goodness of God. When we see ourselves as grasshoppers in the sight of God’s enemies, it is because God is seen as less than a grasshopper in our eyes. David was certainly a “grasshopper” in the eyes of the Philistine giant, yet he boldly predicted Goliath’s defeat, announcing, “I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty… whom you have defied!”


Step 14: Wallowing in self-pity (Num. 14:1)


Having quite convinced themselves of the hopelessness of their situation, the people resorted to their tents and further solidified their doubts by weeping and wailing in complete self-pity. They did not cry out in prayer, asking the Lord for faith and strength and wisdom. Instead, they assured themselves that all was lost, and mourned their wretched predicament. The more they cried, the more sure they became of their plight. Self pity is like that.  It only serves to strengthen doubt. Weeping is good when it is the weeping of humble conviction and repentance. That kind of weeping proceeds from a heart that is deeply troubled by the offense it has caused to God. But the weeping of self-pity proceeds from a heart that is deeply troubled by the offense that God has caused to me!  It is the weeping of sheer rebellion and selfishness, and the more it is indulged, the tighter the stranglehold of rebellion becomes. Self-pity is like an intoxicating drug.  It is addictive and captivating.  It provides a deceptive sense of relief, but it is the illusion of a depressant that produces a temporary euphoria in those who take it in large enough quantities.  It merely feeds the selfish desire for affirmation, while ultimately plunging the soul into deeper despair.


Step 15: Discrediting God’s ordained authorities (Num. 14:2a)


Having fully indulged their foolish doubts in a night of weeping, the people had to face reality in the morning. When they awoke, Moses and Aaron would be waiting.  As God’s spokesmen, their task would be to proclaim the Word of God, calling the people to forsake their sinful disobedience and take hold of the Lord’s promise by faith. There is nothing the heart bent on rebellion hates more than a faithful preacher of the Word, especially when he is specifically appointed by God as a direct authority in his life! The best weapon of self-defense against such meddlesome preachers is to discredit them in the eyes of the people. So the people began to complain against Moses and Aaron.


Step 16: Giving in to irrational despair (Num. 14:2b)


The first part of the complaint of the people recorded in Numbers 14:2 is a glowing example of the irrational nature of unbelieving despair.  The people said, “If only we had died in the land of Egypt! Or if only we had died in the wilderness!” This is not exactly a rational line of argumentation.  There is no reason given as to precisely how the people would be better off to have been killed by their Egyptian taskmaster, or to have dropped dead in the desert from plague or starvation. It is really pointless to inquire why death in Egypt or in the wilderness would have been better. There was no sound reasoning behind their statement.  It was the irrational expression of fear which had gripped the hearts of the multitude. At this point, they would have said anything to convince themselves that they were justified in their unbelief.  But what they did say amounted to this:  “We would be better off dead than trusting God to fulfill His promise to us!”  Truly, the fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”  And the man who denies God in the face of opposition is a fool indeed.


Step 17: Seeking to justify disobedience (Num. 14:3a)


The next step in the progression of unbelief was to construct a rationale for the essentially irrational. Somehow, the people must convince themselves that the sinful course they desire to follow is really the way of prudence and responsibility. In his commentary on Numbers, Gordon Keddie aptly states:  “All unbelief comes down to this: a wicked and foolish decision is laundered by a show of rightness and wisdom.” And so the people come up with a justification for their cowardice. First, they imply that Moses and Aaron have obviously misinterpreted the will of God.  “Why has the Lord brought us to this land to fall by the sword?”  Surely God would not do such a thing Moses!  You have clearly led us astray! Notice that by this point the people have firmly concluded that their entrance into the land of Canaan necessarily means that they will be killed.  There is not even a remote possibility in their minds that maybe… just maybe… they would prevail. Next, they concoct a high-sounding justification for their fear:  The truly responsible thing is to look out for the interests of our wives and children.  Those bent on pursuing a course of disobedience rarely come right out and admit it.  The heart is desperately wicked, and very adept at finding some plausible-sounding pretext to make foolish unbelief seem like the height of wisdom, and sheer cowardice seem noble.


Step 18: Formally rejecting God’s command (Num. 14:3b-4)


The course of self-deception being complete, it remains only for the people to formally announce their conclusion.  Having concluded that it would actually be “better” to walk in the exact opposite direction from the will of God, they said to one another:  “Let us select a leader and return to Egypt.” The majority voted to impeach God and His servant Moses. It wasn’t the last time that a faithful minister of God would find himself on the losing side of a vote cast by a rebellious congregation. Fear triumphed over faith in their hearts… unbelief dressed up as “practical wisdom” resulted in a formal repudiation of God’s promised inheritance. The lot was cast, and the plague of apostasy had smitten an entire generation.


The remedy is found in Psalm 27 and Romans 8:28-39









Why is God a stranger?

19 09 2008

O the Hope of Israel, his Savior in time of trouble, Why should You be like a stranger in the land, And like a traveler who turns aside to tarry for a night? Why should You be like a man astonished, Like a mighty one who cannot save? Yet You, O LORD, are in our midst, And we are called by Your name; Do not leave us!”  (Jeremiah 14:8-9)


This passage of Scripture was written during a very bad time in Israel. The people had strayed from the Lord, in spite of many repeated warnings, to the point that God had become like a STRANGER in the land. They had grieved away His presence, and the result was that they became vulnerable to their enemies.


If God’s presence was seen among them, it was only like that of a man who was passing through. The sense of God’s nearness and readiness to defend His people from their foes was no longer felt in the land.


How does this apply to us? Can it not be said that God is a stranger in our land as well? Once He was our Savior in times of trouble, our Hope, the imminent One who dwelt in our midst. Now, if He is noticed at all, it is as if He doesn’t belong… “like a traveler who turns aside to tarry for a night.”


Consider the evidence that God is a stranger in our land…


1.       Think of how FEW CONVERSIONS there are among us. I’m not talking about people walking down aisles, repeating a forumula “sinner’s prayer,” then continuing to live the same sin-drenched lives they always have. The lack of genuine conversions can be seen in the lack of a transformed culture. When Jesus changes lives, the whole dynamic of society is changed – from the individual, to the family, to the workplace, to the church, to the city, state and nation. When God is moving among a people, things CHANGE. The fact that our neighborhoods and our nation are not only NOT CHANGING, but actually digressing further and further into sin is a sign that God is a stranger in our land.


2.       Think of how much DEADNESS there is among professing Christians. While those who name the name of Jesus pursue their own advancement and claim financial blessings as a right of faith, the lost are ignored and the oppressed are passed by. Religion is not a license to sin, or a guarantee of a prosperous life. James gave us the most concise definition of religion: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27). Nothing about health, wealth and prosperity there! Not even a mention of doctrinal orthodoxy, as important as that is. God defines pure religion in terms of personal holiness and sacrificial service. The lack of these defining attributes in the vast majority of those who call themselves Christians is further evidence that God is a stranger in our land.


3.      Think of how BOLD sinners are to continue in sin. When God’s Spirit is present among a people, there is a restraint upon wickedness. In our land iniquity parades itself through the streets. Wicked leaders boast of their plans to silence God and overthrow His truth. Men and women in the streets pursue lust and practice deceit and ungodliness with the pride of people who are doing heroic deeds. This too is a sign that God is a stranger in our midst.


The withdrawal of God from our land is something greatly to be feared. One of the chief ways that God judges a people is simply by giving them over to their own sinful ways and desires. When He removes the restraints of His grace, a society crumbles under the weight of its own evil. We are far down that path, fam!


It’s not that God hasn’t been seeking to get our attention. Wars, calamities, and disasters have been His messengers. A few bold prophetic voices have been raised, but they are invariably ignored and marginalized. For the most part, preachers have been content to build their own empires, “choosing rather to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin than to suffer affliction with the people of God” – a virtual reversal of the faithful example of Moses in Hebrews 11:25. 


Among the people there is little interest in hearing the Word of God. Give us short sermons and lots of entertainment! Prayer has not only been banished from the public square, but also diminished in the home and family. And the vast majority of people aren’t even sensitive to the fact that something is wrong! Much less are they aware of the only source of hope and salvation, which is Jesus Christ.


It is time for the people of God to wake up! The prayer of Jeremiah needs to become the fervent prayer of our own hearts…


O the Hope of Israel, his Savior in time of trouble, Why should You be like a stranger in the land, And like a traveler who turns aside to tarry for a night? Why should You be like a man astonished, Like a mighty one who cannot save? Yet You, O LORD, are in our midst, And we are called by Your name; Do not leave us!”  (Jeremiah 14:8-9)

What’s so great about sin?

9 09 2008

And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret.” (Ephesians 5:11)

“Back off… I don’t need any of that religious stuff! I’ve got everything I need! I’ve got cars and toys and women and status. What do I need with church and all that Jesus stuff? I’m fine, thanks. I don’t need to change. Its all good. Really.”

Ever heard anyone talk like that? Folks like to think that their life is good without the Lord. Their heart and lifestyle may be full of sin and ungodliness, but the devil has them deceived (and they deceive themselves) into thinking that they’re living the good life. Problem is, in their heart of hearts they know better. They just don’t like to admit it.

The fact is that every sinner, whatever he or she may boast, is ashamed of sin. How do I know this? Think about it…

1. Sinners cover their deeds by giving them new names. They call good evil, and they call evil good. If their sinful actions were really something to boast about, why do they need to disguise them with euphemisms? It’s not revenge… it’s defending my reputation. It’s not greed… it’s getting what’s mine. It’s not drunkenness… it’s getting loose with my crew. It’s not fornication… it’s social networking. Nobody’s going to say, “Hi there! I’m a vindictive, drunken, fornicator!” But you’ll hear them brag about their exploits under other names. Why is this, if sin is really not something to be ashamed about?

2. Sinners do what they do, as much as possible, in the dark. But why should they try to hide their actions if they are nothing to be ashamed about? Fact is that they know deep down that what they’re doing is not right. So they sneak around and keep on the low to avoid being discovered.

3. Sinners are tormented while they are living in sin. Truth told, they find their own acts and lifestyles painful. They stick their hand in the honeycomb, but they get stung in the process. Their conscience accuses them in the very act of sinning. So they put on a hard front, but it only hides a deep inner sense of emptiness and misery. They live in constant fear that the consequences will catch up to them in the end, and the pleasure they think they are gaining from sin only produces more unrest and dissatisfaction. Sin ain’t what it’s cracked up to be. Satan never delivers on his promises.

4. Sinners deny their actions when they are confronted. Now if sin was all good, and being a sinner was a great way to live, why would this be so? Yet every sinner, when his sin is set before his face, will lie and deny that he has done it.

5. Sinners can’t escape a strong sense of guilt for their actions. They try to shrug it off and dismiss it, but their conscience testifies against them in the quiet hours when no one is around to impress. They are restless and unsettled. They fear judgment and condemnation. In extreme cases, this sense of guilt drives them to insanity or even suicide. But why all this if a sinful lifestyle is the good life?

The answer is only found in Jesus Christ. One of my favorite Christian hip hop musicians, shai linne, said it best: “Stop frontin’ and give your life to the Lord Jesus!”

Come to Me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28)

Dead to sin, Alive to God

20 08 2008

For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” (Romans 8:13)

This verse puts before every one of us a matter of LIFE and DEATH. Don’t dismiss this if you value your soul! The Holy Spirit, through the Apostle Paul, says that if you DO THIS you will die; but if you DO THIS you will live. The path that leads to death is to live your life ACCORDING TO THE FLESH. The path that leads to life is to PUT TO DEATH THE DEEDS OF THE BODY BY THE SPIRIT. The text is talking about the Biblical doctrine of MORTIFICATION, which means “putting to death.” If you are a believer, you have been crucified with Christ. The OLD MAN is dead in principle, but you must also PUT TO DEATH the inclinations of the old sinful nature by faith in the pursuit of Christ’s righteousness. This is all part of the Spirit’s work of SANCTIFYING believers.

So, how do you know if you are mortifying the flesh? Here are a few things to check as you examine your heart before God…


1. Do you have a strong desire to sin, so that you carefully plot and plan how to pursue it? Psalm 36:4 says of the unmortified sinner that “He devises wickedness on his bed; He sets himself in a way that is not good; He does not abhor evil.” In other words, his energy and effort is spent in preparing to sin. This is a sign of an unmortified heart.

2. Are you more eager to commit a sin when you are tempted than you are to resist it? A stream is known by the natural course that it follows. So is the human heart. When faced with a temptation, which is stronger: your desire to give in, or your desire to resist? Your honest answer will reveal the extent to which your flesh is mortified.

3. Do you pray often and consistently against the sins that you most often fall into? James tells us that we do not have because we do not ask (in prayer). If you don’t have victory over prevailing sins, could it be because you are not asking for victory? Your practice of prayer (or lack thereof) will also show you the state of your heart.

4. Does your desire for sin occupy your mind even when you are in the presence of God? What do you think about when you go to church and sit before the Word? Are your thoughts inclined toward Christ or do they drift here and there in the contemplation of sin? When the preacher is praying, what are you thinking about?

5. When you remember your former sins, does it move you to deep humility or does it spark a new desire to return to them? The heart that truly hates sin and is mortified will hate even the memory of past transgressions. But the unmortified heart will be stirred up to fresh lusts when prior sins are brought to mind.

6. Are you easily swept away by even the slightest temptations? How hard does Satan have to work to trip you? The more that your flesh is mortified, the higher will be your resistance against the motions of the flesh. Dead men have no reflexes. If the smallest hint of temptation provokes you to sin, the reflexes of the OLD MAN are still very much alive.


1. Do you find more joy in the pleasure of sin than you find sorrow for having fallen into it?

2. Do you get angry and defensive when a brother or sister tries to point out your sin in love?

3. Are you more careful to hide your sins from the eyes of men than to repent and be humbled before God?

These are some tests of the heart that will help you to determine whether you are on the path that leads to DEATH or the way that leads to LIFE. Remember, the putting to death of the flesh is BY THE SPIRIT. It isn’t in your own strength. If you are convicted by these things, call out to God for grace and strength to DIE to SIN and LIVE to CHRIST.

John Bunyan, the poet

16 08 2008


By John Bunyan

The first eight lines one did commend to me,

The rest I thought good to commend to thee:

Reader, in reading this be ruled by me,

With rhymes nor lines, but truths, affected be.

Sin will, at first, just like a beggar, crave

One penny, or one half-penny to have;

But if you give that penny, sin aspires,

From dimes to dollars, and still mounting higher

To the whole soul: but if you hear its moan,

Then say, there’s none for you, now get you gone!

For if you give it entrance at the door,

It will come in, and may go out no more.

Sin will, rather than out of action be,

Ask leave to stay just a short time you see,

One night, one hour, one moment, it will cry,

Embrace me, hold me close, or I will die:

Time to repent, says sin, I will allow,

And help, if to repent you don’t know how.

But if you give it entrance at the door,

It will come in, and may go out no more.

If begging does not work, Sin promise will

Rewards to those that do its lusts fulfill:

Some coins in hand, cold cash, sin offers you,

If only what it asks of you you’ll do.

Will outbid heaven itself, and all to gain

Your love, and its temptations make you entertain.

But do not give it entrance at your door,

It will come in, and may go out no more.

If promising and begging will not do,

Sin, by its cunning tries to flatter you.

I’m harmless, trust me, please don’t be so shy,

So every soul-destroying motion cries.

Sin hides its sting, and changes colors too,

Not vile, but beautiful it seems to you.

But if you give it entrance at the door,

It will come in, and may go out no more.

Rather than fail, sin will itself divide,

Make you do this, and leave the rest aside.

Take little ones, sin says, throw big ones by,

(As if for little sins men should not die).

Sin with itself an argument maintains,

On purpose that by it you might be slain.

Beware the cheat, then, keep it out of doors;

It will come in, and may go out no more.

Sin, if you will believe it, will accuse

What is not hurtful, and itself excuse:

Will make a vice of virtue, and will say,

Good is destructive, good men’s souls betrays;

Will make a law, where God has made man free,

And break those laws by which men bounded be.

Look to yourself, then, keep it out of doors;

It will come in, and may go out no more.

Sin is that beastly thing that will defile

Soul, body, name and fame in little while:

Will make him, who one time God’s image was,

Look like the devil, love and plead his cause;

Like plague, or poison, or like leprosy

Sin will defile, infect contagiously.

And so beware, against it shut the door;

If not, it will defile you more and more.

Sin, once it has secured your heart, will play

The tyrant, force its servant to obey:

Will make you your own happiness oppose,

And offer open violence to those

That love you best; Sin makes you to defy

The law and counsel of the Deity.

Beware then, keep this tyrant out of doors;

Or you’ll be his, and so your own no more.

Sin hardens up your heart against your God,

Makes you abuse His grace, despise His rod;

Will make you run through rough and deadly ground

The threat of judgment will not slow you down

You will not stop, Sin makes you gamble all

For one base lust, your soul, and heaven and all.

Take heed, then, hold it, crush it at the door;

It comes to rob you, and to make you poor.

Sin is a prison, with its bolts and chains,

Brings into bondage those it entertains;

Hangs shackles on them, bends them to its will,

Holds them, like Samson, grinding at the mill,

Will bind them, make them deaf, their mouth will gag,

And ride them, as the devil rides his hag.

So do not give it entrance at your door;

It will come in and may go out no more.

Though sin at first will seek to hide its rage,

Soon it will spring like a lion from its cage;

It roars, it tears, is shreds, it kills outright,

Its living death will gnaw you day and night.

Your pleasures now, into its meal will turn,

In you, its tickling lusts, like brimstone, burns.

And so beware, and keep it out of doors;

Or sin will turn and like a lion roar.

Sin is the living worm, the lasting fire,

Hell would soon lose its heat, if sin expired;

Better sinless, in hell, than to be where

Heaven is, and to be found a sinner there.

One sinless with the demons might do well,

But sin would make a very heav’n a hell.

Look to yourself, and keep it out of doors;

It will come in, and may go out no more.

No match has sin but God in all the world,

Men, angels, it has from their places hurled;

Holds them in chains, as captives in despite,

Of all that here below is known as might.

Release, help, freedom from it none can give,

But only He by whom we breathe and live.

Watch then, and keep this giant out of doors;

If he comes in, he may go out no more.

Fools mock at sin and they will not believe

It carries such great danger up its sleeve;

How can it be, they say, that such a thing,

That seems so sweet could carry such a sting

They do not know that it’s the very spell

Of sin, to make men laugh themselves to hell.

Look to yourself, and deal with sin no more;

Lest He that saves, against you shut the door.

Lamentations 1:1 – Sin’s Consequences and Cure

12 08 2008

How lonely sits the city That was full of people! How like a widow is she, Who was great among the nations! The princess among the provinces Has become a slave!” (Lamentations 1:1)

Jeremiah has been called “the weeping prophet” because of the heartfelt sadness he expresses over the devastation of Jerusalem for her sins. Centuries later, the Lord Jesus Christ would weep over Jerusalem again, as He mourned her hardness of heart and anticipated yet another great judgment upon her. Sin promises fulfillment, happiness and contentment, and yet its promises are empty and hollow. In the end, the wages of sin is death, and the consequences of self-indulgence are a broken life and untold miseries. The people of Jerusalem learned this lesson the hard way.

Yet sorrow for sin is not an end in itself. Godly sorrow is designed to lead to repentance, which in turn leads to forgiveness and restoration. There is no shortcut to restoration that bypasses godly sorrow. Before a sinner can be brought to reconciliation, he must face the reality of his offenses against God and feel the sting of conviction.

The chastisements of God are calculated to accomplish this purpose. They are, in that sense, a means of grace. Make no mistake… God would be perfectly just to bring every sinner instantly to judgment and consign him or her to an eternity of punishment. But in His grace and mercy, He often brings only temporal sufferings into the life of the sinner, to show him the consequences of rebellion and call him to acknowledge his offenses and cry out for mercy.

Chastisements serve a double purpose. They are the just consequences of sinful actions, and they are the gracious instruments of God to humble the sinner that he might be restored. The first step toward restoration is to mourn over sin and its results.

Repentance begins with an acknowledgment of particular transgressions. If your child, while being punished for some act of disobedience, sought to have the punishment removed by making a vague and general apology (“I’m sorry for whatever I might have done to make you angry”) you would rightly question whether he truly understood his offense. So it is with repentance before God. The heart of the true penitent must come to grips with his particular sins, and be made to acknowledge precisely how he has given offense to the Holy God.

Often, the first step toward recognizing particular sin in our lives is the wake-up call of finding ourselves smarting under the sudden consequences those sins have brought down upon our heads. The Lamentations of Jeremiah therefore begin with a consideration of the misery of Jerusalem, that she might see how her sins have reduced her to the deplorable condition in which she now finds herself. The design of this contemplation of suffering is not to encourage self-pity, but to stimulate self-examination.

The lament begins with the acknowledgment that the former glory of the city has been stripped away: “How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow is she, who was great among the nations! The princess among the provinces has become a slave!”

The Hebrew titles of the books of the Old Testament are generally taken from the first word of the first verse of the book. The formal title of the book of Lamentations is the Hebrew word “Eekah,” which means “How!” It is a word denoting sudden alarm and amazement, and might also be translated “Alas!” or “Behold!” The force of the language used here is important. The idea conveyed is “Look at us! Look what has become of us!” Jerusalem was once a grand city, bustling with activity. Her marketplaces thrived and people filled her streets. All of this is now gone. She has become a ghost town, lonely and desolate. The throngs of people that once overflowed her streets have perished or been carried off as captives to a foreign land.

The eerie emptiness of the streets of Jerusalem testifies to the vanity of placing confidence in prosperity.None of the inhabitants of that great city ever imagined that it would have come to this. The prosperity of the city had lured them into a false assurance. Every great nation presumes itself to be invincible. Yet God is able to reduce the greatest and most prosperous nation to nothing. A nation that rejects God is not secure, regardless of the appearance of prosperity. All of the prosperity in which they trust can be stripped away in an instant when God brings judgment upon those who reject His laws and spurn the Son of His love.

Jerusalem had been a princess among the provinces, but she finds herself a widow. She had received tribute from kings, but now finds herself a slave. In reality, Jerusalem had been a slave long before her captivity.The people had sold themselves into bondage to sin. The captivity of the nation was only the result of God giving them over to the desire of their own wicked hearts.

The effect of sin in a nation or an individual is bondage. “Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?” (Romans 6:16). This is the great illusion of sin, which promises freedom from the demands of God’s law, only to clap chains of iron around the wrists and ankles of those who submit to its lusts. Those who are given over to sin may imagine themselves to be free for a time, but eventually their bondage will become evident.

The promises of sin are empty. In the end it leads to solitude, grief, and slavery. The façade of prosperity will be stripped away from all who imagine themselves secure in their ways apart from Christ. They will be left to mourn their pitiful condition as they look back at the vain confidence they once had.

What application are we to make from these opening lines of Jeremiah’s Lamentation? “Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap” (Galatians 6:7).

Here is a word of warning for the church, the nation, and the individual…

The Church

Judah was God’s covenant people, and Jerusalem was the place where He chose to dwell among them. They mistakenly presumed that they could boldly continue in sin and that God would never forsake His covenant people or His holy sanctuary in Jerusalem. Now they looked with horror upon the ruins of the temple, in which they once boasted – and the holy city, which they thought could never be overthrown. Judah learned the hard lesson that “Judgment begins at the house of God!”

Today, the Church already finds itself, to a great extent, in a posture of subjection and forsakenness, though she has not yet recognized her deplorable condition. She must awaken unto repentance and reformation while the voices of God’s prophets are still sounding the warnings of inevitable judgment if she continues to follow after worldliness and self-satisfaction while forsaking obedience to the revealed will of God as it is found in the Scriptures!

The Nation

Our nation needs desperately to learn the lesson of Lamentations. When the godly attempt to point out the inevitable consequences of moral decay and spiritual decline resulting from the rejection of Christ in our land, their warnings are casually or mockingly dismissed. We are assured that the economy is strong, as though a strong economy is a guarantee of future security no matter what the moral condition of the land and its people may be. The people are resting in a vain security. Our nation will find itself echoing the laments of Jeremiah if we continue to ignore the Lord’s warnings.

The Individual

Perhaps you find yourself in the place of mourning personally. Has your outward prosperity been stripped away? Is your life filled with grief and sighing? Do you see that sin’s empty promises of freedom have only led you into bondage to fear and lust? If so, then God is calling upon you to begin the process toward restoration. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ.” Don’t wait to receive your paycheck! The perks you have been promised are fraudulent! Look at where sin has brought you! How did it come to this? How empty and vain is your life! How pitiable the condition of your soul! How lonely and desolate you are! How enslaved to your lusts and wants and insatiable longings for the things of this world!

You must acknowledge your condition and recognize the mournful emptiness that your life has become. You must see the vanity of trusting in self-satisfaction or in the approval of others. True repentance begins with anguish of heart over sin and its consequences.

I call to remembrance my song in the night; I meditate within my heart, and my spirit makes diligent search.Will the Lord cast off forever? And will He be favorable no more? Has His mercy ceased forever? Has His promise failed forevermore? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has He in anger shut up His tender mercies? And I said, “This is my anguish;” But I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High. (Psalm 77:6-10)

That “right hand” is the place where Jesus now sits… having displayed the power of God’s justice and mercy. It is to Him – and to Him alone – that you must look when the Spirit of God opens your eyes to the bankruptcy of your own heart and the desperate lostness of your eternal soul.

Sin has led you into bondage, but the Son will set you free!