Mocking Guilt

How is the word sin used in modern vernacular? If you think about it, you seldom hear the word sin used in public these days. And, if by chance you hear a person using that word, it is used as a joke or as something sarcastic.

Proverbs 14:9

Fools mock at the guilt offering,
but the upright enjoy acceptance.

While it may seem new to us that people would laugh at the concept of being guilty of sin, this is apparently not new. Solomon knew that fools mock at the guilt offering. Fools laugh at the concept of being guilty. Fools convince themselves that they face no judgment, that they face no eternity, and that the concept of sin is irrelevant or outdated.

Perhaps one of our clear messages to our society needs to be the fact that we understand that sin still exists. Not the sort of sin where a person, with a grin, might ask, “Oooh, do you think I’m a sinner?” No, we need to, with all seriousness, help our culture grasp that there is a God who made us and who has himself set the standard of righteousness. The God who made us is not at all lenient toward rebellion against his standard. Sin destroys. Sin brings death. Sin earns hell. God requires payment for sin.

Only if we understand that sin exists and sin is serious will we be a people who do not mock the guilt offering. You see, only when you realize that you are guilty and in danger of judgment will you love what the Lord has done to cover your sin with the blood of Jesus.

Sovereignty and Responsibility in a Shipwreck

When discussions arise of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility, we often have a hard time. So much emotion is attached to the topic of free will and predestination, election and responsibility, that many cannot allow room for thinking past our feelings. So, perhaps it would be worthwhile to consider sovereign decree and human responsibility from a more temporal angle, one with less feeling included.

In acts 27, Paul and his companions are on a sea voyage to transport the apostle to Rome. Along the way, there will be a shipwreck. And that shipwreck has the potential to kill all on board.

What we need to notice for our look at the topic of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility are the two guarantees that Paul makes in the chapter. First, Paul will make it clear exactly whom God will keep alive in the upcoming ordeal. Then, just after that, Paul will set forth a condition that, if unmet, will prove his first guarantee false.

Acts 27:21-26 – 21 Since they had been without food for a long time, Paul stood up among them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me and not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. 22 Yet now I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, 24 and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold, God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ 25 So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. 26 But we must run aground on some island.”

God promised Paul that Paul would make it to Rome. And, more importantly for our purposes, God promised Paul that all on board the ship would survive. That was a guarantee. It will happen. God has sovereignly decreed it, and Paul knows it.

So, one might argue that Paul need take no action at all to see this happen. Paul need not speak to anybody about anything. Paul need not give warnings to any.

But watch what happens next.

Acts 27:30-32 – 30 And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, and had lowered the ship’s boat into the sea under pretense of laying out anchors from the bow, 31 Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” 32 Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship’s boat and let it go.

A group of the ship’s crew determined to use the boats to escape the doomed vessel. They were going to slip away unnoticed by the soldiers. But Paul gave the Roman soldiers a very significant warning. If those sailors leave the ship, the soldiers will not survive the wreck. If the sailors leave, the guarantee from earlier will not be true.

The sailors are not allowed to escape. That leaves the sailors on the ship to bring the ship in as close to the beach as possible. And, in the end, every life on board is spared.

Now, let’s talk sovereign decree and free will and possibility. Was Paul telling the truth when he said that God would spare every life on the ship? Of course he was. That was the ultimate decree of God. Nothing was going to change that.

Well then, was Paul speaking nonsense when he warned the Roman soldier that the people would die if the sailors left the ship? No, not at all. God intended to save the lives of all on board the ship through the means of the active work of the sailors.

Well, then was it possible that the people could die? It depends, of course, on what you mean by possible. The people genuinely would have died had the sailors left. But God used the means of Paul’s warning to prevent the sailors from leaving the ship. That allowed the sailors to remain and steer the ship. And through the means, God worked the physical salvation of all the lives on board. On the one hand, it was possible that the people could have died—hence Paul’s warning. But, from another perspective, there was no way this was going to happen. God decreed the end of the adventure as well as the means he would use to bring about that end. Was Paul free? Yes. Were the sailors and the Romans free? Absolutely. Did God work the outcome with absolute sovereignty? You bet. Were the people responsible for the choices they made? Of course. Were their decisions genuine? Yes. But, in the end, was God the ultimate cause of all that took place to save those lives? Absolutely.

Perhaps this will help you to think better about God’s sovereignty and our salvation. All we see here is parallel with our salvation with a few exceptions. Like the sailors, we are headed for doom if we stay on our natural course. Unlike the sailors, we are far more bent against God than they were bent against staying on the ship. Sin blinds us and our hearts are dead within us before God moves upon us. But, our choices, like the choices of the sailors and the Romans, are genuine choices. And God uses means, very real means, to move us. Yet, in all, we know that God has decreed the end from the beginning, and our salvation is based on his sovereign will and election.

Speaking the Gospel Before the Powerful

How would you speak the truth of the gospel if you knew you were in danger? What would you say if you stood before someone who could hurt you but who gave you an opportunity to share openly? Would you be careful not to offend?

The apostle Paul found himself in a very curious position in Acts 24. After being unfairly accused by the Jews, Paul stood before a Roman official, Felix, and his wife, Drusilla. Felix had the power to release Paul or to abuse him. Felix was a harsh ruler who was guilty of having a Jewish high priest put to death. And Felix was blamed by many for causing the Jewish war from AD 66-70.

Felix’s wife, Drusilla, was a woman who left her husband to marry Felix. She was ethnically Jewish, though she was now a part of the oppressive Roman community. Married to Felix, Drusilla was very dangerous.

One might think that Paul would want to be careful with such a couple. Let’s see what Paul chose to preach when they asked him to deliver a little sermon for them.

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

Paul delivered a sermon about faith in Christ. This is no surprise. It is never a surprise to see that a Christian might call on people around him to believe. That is common, and generally acceptable. People like to believe in believing in general. And had Paul stopped there, his message would have likely done him no harm. The Romans like believing in all sorts of deities. Adding one more, Jesus, to the mix should have been no problem.

But then note the three topics in Paul’s little message: righteousness, self-control, and the coming judgment. These were dangerous. Righteousness is living rightly, guiltlessly, before the Lord. Paul tells us in Romans 3:10 that there is no one righteous, not even one. Paul tells us in Romans 3:23 that all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. Did he look these two in the eye and tell them that they too needed a righteousness they personally lacked? That is a dangerous message.

Paul next talked about self-control. And Paul was standing before a murderous official with his adulteress wife. Righteousness would not have been a comfortable topic. Self-control would have been even worse. These two were guilty of great sin because they both lacked self-control.

Then Paul preached on the coming judgment. We know that Paul had a well-developed eschatology, even by this time in his ministry. In 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Paul writes clearly about Christ’s return, the blessing of God’s children, and the wrath of God on the wicked. Paul had to talk about the fact that Jesus would come back and judge. He had to talk about the fact that only those who are covered by Christ’s grace and righteousness will go to heaven. He must have talked about the fact that those who refuse Christ will stand before God and be found wanting for their lack of righteousness and self-control. This would lead back to the preaching of faith in Christ as the only way that any person can be forgiven for their wrong and granted by God the righteousness they need to enter his eternal kingdom.

So, when Paul stood before a dangerous ruler, what did he do? He preached the gospel. He held nothing back. He told an unrighteous man that he needed righteousness that he could never personally achieve. He told a woman without self-control that she was guilty before God. Paul told both that they faced a judgment to come that they could not survive without personal saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

May we be people who are bold enough to tell this kind of truth, in love, to all. May we never hold back just because we want to impress a government official. May we never hold back just because the person we preach to could do us harm. May we honor the Lord Jesus and let his gospel message do its work.

The Vexation of a Fool

The foolishness of modern society is something that we can see fairly easily. Our political system is a mess. Our system of higher education is corrupted. The morally unthinkable has now become the socially demanded. And civility has gone out the window.

Consider the words of wisdom that speak to something as simple as anger or annoyance.

Proverbs 12:16

The vexation of a fool is known at once,
but the prudent ignores an insult.

The Bible tells us that there are many differences between a fool and a wise person. One difference is that a wise person will have a different response to what bothers him. But a fool will show his annoyance at once when he is vexed, irritated, or annoyed.

Consider what you see on modern news shows, college campuses, or political forums. What happens when a person feels insulted by something a speaker says? There is no longer civil discourse. Instead, there is shouting, accusation, name-calling. Rather than listening to logic and discussing points of difference, there is immediate, fiery, unfettered anger.

Friends, see that behavior as foolish. Fools show their annoyance at once with no consideration for what others may understand or believe. Fools cannot allow you to speak your mind. Fools cannot tolerate the airing of views different than their own. Fools scream, yell, insult, and fight without listening. Fools do not take their time to think well about how to respond to an insult. Instead, fools immediately go on the offensive.

Where are you tempted to act like a fool? Is it in public? Is it on social media? Is it in church when somebody sits in your spot or rubs up against your pet peeve? Is it in the world of politics?

Let us be a godly and wise people. Let us learn that, while we are not at all required to agree with every opinion out there, we also need not fly off the handle at the first sign of insult. God knows what he is talking about. God says it is foolish to show your vexation at once. God says it is prudent to ignore an insult.

A Trite Accusation

The strategies of the enemies of God against the church of the Lord Jesus Christ have not changed much. The devil and his minions have a fairly thin playbook. Sadly, humanity is often so blinded to history and logic that the old plays work time and time again.

Consider the way that the people of God have faced destruction and persecution in times past. In Exodus, the Pharaoh ordered the murder of Hebrew infants in order to keep his government from being threatened by the people of God. In Daniel, a faithful man was throne into a den of lions for praying, because some wicked men convinced an emperor that prayer was a threat to his governmental power. When the Jews clamored for Jesus’ crucifixion before Pilate, they argued that Jesus was a subversive even as they declared, “We have no king but Caesar.”

We see the same strategy used in the book of Acts as Paul has preached the gospel in the city of Thessalonica.

Acts 17:5-9 – 5 But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked men of the rabble, they formed a mob, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the crowd. 6 And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city authorities, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, 7 and Jason has received them, and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” 8 And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard these things. 9 And when they had taken money as security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.

See the same accusation. When the people of the city could not get hold of Paul, they dragged some of his friends before the authorities. And what words did they use as a weapon? They said of the Christians, “They are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.” The Jews claimed that the Christians were subversives because of the authority of Jesus.

It is worth recognizing that this move is the very same play in the enemy’s playbook that we have seen used time and time again for thousands of years. Why? Because he will use it again. Look at our present culture. Watch the way that political winds are blowing. Watch for an Orwellian move in our government to strip people of their rights, to persecute, to punish, to imprison, to shame people based on our thoughts. The secularizing forces in our government cannot abide a genuine freedom of religion. There will be, if the Lord does not move in a massive way, a stripping away of the freedom of Americans to live as genuine Christians. And the argument that will be used will look like the one in Thessalonica, Jerusalem, Persia, and Egypt. It will be an argument that says that a devotion to the Lord is dangerous for society, because followers of God value their relationship with God more than they value the political leadership of the day.

The funny thing is, in all of these cases, the argument, besides failing to actually work, is patently false. Daniel was a faithful servant of the king. Jesus did not intend to threaten Pilate or any Roman government. Paul even wrote to the church in Romans 13 to submit to government and in 1 Timothy 2 to pray for all our leaders. In general, followers of Jesus are faithful citizens of the countries where we live. There are, of course, certain commands we cannot obey, commands that violate the law of God. But unlike people without a clear moral compass, Christians recognize that we are under the authorities that the Lord has set over us and will follow their lead so long as their lead does not violate the higher authority of the word of God.

But, Christians, be aware of what the strategy is. You and I will be seen as dangerous, subversive, backward. And a large part of that argument will be that we are submitted, not to the atheistic worldview of our society, but to Jesus. The world hates the Savior. And the world will not tolerate his followers.

What then do we do? We remain faithful. We pray for the opportunity to live peaceful and quiet lives in Christ as Paul commanded: “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Tim. 2:1-2). We trust our God. And we continue to take the gospel to the nation. Jesus has all authority. He has commanded us to make disciples. And that is what we do, even in the face of a false and trite accusation that we are somehow subversive elements in society.

Not Seeker Sensitive

Our world is so different today than in years past. In previous decades, Christians were far less concerned about being considered likeable by the world around us. Of course Christians have always cared about the world and longed to take the gospel to the nations. But the church has not always bent over backwards to convince the world around us that we are loveable.

When the apostle Paul and his friends were sharing the gospel at Paphos in Acts 13, a man rose up to oppose them. Paul’s reaction to this man is what grabbed my attention. You see, Paul was not super concerned with being politically correct or seeker sensitive.

Take a look at this encounter.

Acts 13:8-12 – 8 But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. 9 But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him 10 and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? 11 And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand. 12 Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.

If you heard that a Christian said what Paul said in verse 10, how would you react? I believe that it is most likely that you would condemn the Christian for saying such a harsh thing. Paul said, ““You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?”

Do not misunderstand me. I do not love it when Christians are unnecessarily harsh. I especially despise it when groups call themselves Christians and then act sinfully cruel. But we also must not become so softened to the world, so eager to gain the world’s approval, that we will not call a sin a sin or a sinner a sinner.

Yes, be humble. Yes, offer grace. Yes, preach Christ. Yes, show love. But do not let those things keep you from telling the honest truth of God when that truth is painful for others to hear.

God Shows no Partiality

At the present moment in American Christianity, much is being said about ethnic differences and backgrounds. And, for certain, there are many people who have personally been the victims of ill-treatment from others based solely on their nationality, skin color, or accent.

How should the church deal with people who come to Christ from differing backgrounds? How does the church deal with people who come from groups who are at odds, groups who have oppressed one another or who are still oppressing one another? What extra requirements does the Lord have for those who come to faith from a privileged group?

In Acts 10, we have a situation that could certainly speak to our modern moment. Peter is a Jew, an oppressed people under the government of Rome. Peter is a Christian, following a risen Savior who was executed by a corrupt Roman official. Peter had lived his entire life knowing that his people were hated or at least looked down upon by the Romans. And Peter knew that the Romans who had some knowledge of Christianity were certainly not apt to treat him with kindness.

But then God sent a message to Peter. It came in the form of an initial vision involving unclean animals. The Lord told Peter, “What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 10:15). Though Peter did not know how to handle that vision at first, it became plain that this was going to be the Lord moving Peter to take the gospel to gentiles.

Later, as you probably know, the Lord brought Peter to the home of Cornelius, a Roman. But Cornelius was not just any Roman, he was a centurion, a Roman military leader. This man was one of the men living under Roman privilege, empowered to have success and unfair advantages over people like Peter.

What then would Peter conclude about the Lord sending him to Cornelius’ home? What would be the outcome of the meeting?

Acts 10:34-35 — 34 So Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, 35 but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.”

Peter is amazed by the working of God in this situation. He realizes that, as it comes to the gospel and the church, there is no such thing as allowable partiality. Neither the Romans nor the Jews have the right to treat the other group as somehow second-class. Peter speaks nothing of the Romans needing to take extra steps to make up to the Jewish Christians for their oppressive treatment. Instead, Peter simply points out that God shows no partiality.

Then, when Peter finishes talking about the gospel of the Lord Jesus, God does something glorious.

Acts 10:44-48 – 44 While Peter was still saying these things, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. 45 And the believers from among the circumcised who had come with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on the Gentiles. 46 For they were hearing them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, 47 “Can anyone withhold water for baptizing these people, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days.

Peter sees that God saved the Romans. And Peter immediately commands that the new believers in Christ be treated, not as Romans who have to make up for their Roman-ness, but as brothers and sisters in Christ who are saved by the grace of God and sealed by the Spirit of God.

Later, in Acts 15, at the Jerusalem counsel, the early church had to deal with the gentile problem. The determination among the leaders of the church was that no special obligation was to be placed upon the gentiles. They were simply to be treated as Christians. They were merely to act like all believers were to act. As James said, “Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God.”

Dear Christians, may we be a people who acknowledge that God shows no partiality regarding ethnicity. May we stand strongly opposed to all forms of racism. But that stand must include a stand against favoring oppressor or oppressed, strong or weak, formerly guilty or formerly innocent. In Christ, we are one body, one people, one holy race. God did not favor the Jew or the Roman in this story. God did not favor the put-upon or the one in power. God simply saved people and then showed that they are all one family. Let’s work hard to be that family.