Posts Tagged With: confession

 
 

Ascension and Pentecost III. The Gospel of Forgiveness

On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:19–23).

(This is Part 3 of a series. Part 2 appears here.)

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Jesus appears to the disciples after His resurrection. By William Hole (1846-1917), public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

On the night before Jesus died, He gave a final “pep talk” to His disciples, often referred to as “the upper room discourse” (John, chapters 13–17). During that discussion, He went into some depth about a few topics that He had touched on over the past three years: Serving one another; loving others; the promise of everlasting life; the coming, presence, and purpose of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life; and the believers’ responsibility to spread His Gospel.

 

Between His resurrection and ascension, Jesus would go into greater detail on some of these topics. A few subjects that received passing mention earlier in the Gospels take greater emphasis during the 40 days after His resurrection. At that time, He gave them final instructions for continuing His work after He ascended to heaven. On Pentecost, He gave them His Holy Spirit so that they could fulfill those instructions. A few key themes continually arise in His final instructions.

One of the most important, and in many churches least emphasized, elements of Jesus’ post-resurrection teaching is the message of forgiveness. Yet, it is central to Jesus’ final instructions to His disciples, and it should be central to our message. As He prepared them for their forthcoming ministry, He said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” (John 20:21–23).

Churches debate what this means. Some Roman Catholics will point to this passage to defend the practice of sacramental confession: according to them, this passage authorizes the priest to pronounce forgiveness of sins to those who confess their sins and request absolution. Some Protestants will say that this is little more than authorization to preach the Gospel so that people may receive forgiveness by believing in Jesus.

The Catholic view I described is definitely an exaggeration of that passage’s teaching; in fact, it is actually a caricature of Catholic teaching about forgiveness (from what I read in a few books and learned from a few devout Catholics). On the other hand, though, the Protestant view above (that Jesus was merely authorizing His disciples to preach the Gospel) seems a little inadequate. He did not say, “If you tell people they are forgiven, they might be forgiven”—but that really is the essence of much evangelical teaching on this subject. However, Jesus implies that the disciples had some kind of authority to extend OR withhold forgiveness in such a way that it is counted that way in heaven. God honors that forgiveness as if He extended it Himself. (I will add that this is an application of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 16:19, when He told Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” This had everything to do with preaching and teaching with divine authorization, and nothing to do with “naming and claiming” health and wealth for yourself. It also seems to be related to Matthew 9:8, where, after Jesus healed a paralytic by forgiving his sins, the crowd “glorified God, who had given such authority to men.”)

How do we, as ordinary twenty-first century Christians, exercise this authority to forgive? That is a complicated question, but here I offer at least three ways we can extend God’s forgiveness with His authority.

First, we need to actually live the message of forgiveness in our own lives. We need to live, think, and speak as people who know that we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, but who have been fully forgiven of our sins through faith in Jesus. We must live as forgiven people.

Then, we need to forgive others as He has forgiven us (Colossians 3:13). Instead of harboring bitterness and resentment, we should forgive. Instead of gossiping about the sins and indiscretions of others, we pray for them, with a heart of forgiveness, seeking God’s mercy in their lives. Instead of looking down on those who sin differently than we do, we should forgive and love them, looking on them with mercy and compassion.

We see this in the life of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. As he was being stoned to death, his last words were, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 7:60). On the basis of John 20:23, it is a safe bet that none of them would have found the sin of killing Stephen held against them when they stand before God’s judgment seat. Furthermore, one of those people whom Stephen forgave (Saul of Tarsus, better known as the apostle Paul) would experience the forgiveness of Christ and become one of its greatest spokesmen.

Finally,  we must proclaim a message of forgiveness:

Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:45-47).

The Gospel we are called to preach contains a few key points: Jesus died for our sins; He rose again; in response to that, we repent of our sins; on the foundation of all that, we receive His forgiveness. St. Paul would later describe it as a “free gift.” If Christ’s work on the cross is absent, it is not the Gospel. If repentance is absent, it is “cheap grace” that tramples the Son of God underfoot (Hebrews 10:29). If forgiveness is absent, we are without hope, for the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).

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In “History of the World,” Moses drops one of the tablets, thereby losing five commandments and leaving us with 10. It seems like many Christians try to add new commandments. Jesus summarized them in two.

The Gospel is not a new set of rules, designed to make us act like we are better than others. The Bible has enough clear commandments: We do not need to add “Thou shalt not listen to this music” or “Thou shalt not dance” (or some of the other extra-canonical commandments that some Christians place on equal footing with the clear teaching of Scripture). In the Mel Brooks movie, “History of the World,” Moses initially comes down from the mountain with three stone tablets, containing 15 commandments, and accidentally drops one (leaving us with 10). Many Christians try to make up for this fumble by adding 666 new sins to the list. Jesus simplified it for us (and yet, in some ways, made it more intensive) by summarizing God’s will in the two commandments to love God and love your neighbor (Matthew 22:37–40).

 

The Gospel is not a self-improvement program either. We do not accept Jesus Christ, then try to fix our lives to make ourselves acceptable to God, out of fear that He will reject us when we fail. We do not improve ourselves to make ourselves acceptable to God. Instead, God accepts us as we are when we come to Him in faith, and then He changes our lives on His own schedule.

This is the Gospel we are called to preach. Jesus died to forgive us. We come to Him to receive that forgiveness. That is why He came, and that is our source of confidence that we will enjoy eternal life with Him. If forgiveness is not at the center of your message, it is the wrong message. And, if the person is responsible for improving himself, it is not the Gospel; Scripture tells us it is the work of the Holy Spirit to improve us.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment
 
 

The Truth Will Set You Free

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31–32).

“The truth will set you free” is one of the more familiar quotes from the Bible. Even non-believers know it, and sometimes quote it without realizing that it was originally spoken by Jesus. Yet, many of us saying it without thinking about the context. As a result, we come away with only half of the message, or perhaps a completely incorrect message.

Jesus was speaking to a group of “Jews who had believed him.” Yet, the conversation rapidly deteriorated. Whereas they initially believed Him (verse 31), by the end of the conversation they questioned and challenged Him, then apparently made accusations about His parents’ marital status when He was conceived (John 8:41), accused Him of being a demon-possessed Samaritan (verse 48), and eventually started preparing to stone Him to death (verse 59). Within maybe only five minutes, they went from being almost ready to become disciples to trying to kill Him.

Such is the situation when sin is mentioned. Jesus Christ and His true followers reveal sin so that it can be confessed, leading to repentance and freedom. Yet, many people respond with hostility and hatred.

When Jesus said, “The truth will set you free,” his listeners responded, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” (John 8:33). I can almost picture Jesus staring back at them incredulously, saying, “Um, WHAT? Do you even hear what you’re saying?” The Jewish people were under foreign oppression by the Romans at that time. Their history, recorded in their Old Testament scriptures, was filled with repeated episodes of oppression and exile. A core element of their cultural identity was their deliverance from slavery in Egypt through Moses. For a first-century Jew to say “We have never been enslaved” would be as preposterous as an African-American (particularly, one whose family has been in America since before 1860) making the same claim.

Such is the neurosis of denial. When confronted about sin, we pretend we do not have a problem. We may say that it is not really a sin. Many people today would say that Jesus and the writers of the Bible really did not know what they were talking about; we know better. Science and Oprah have opened our eyes. Or, some people will claim that their circumstances justify an exception to the rules: “I know the Bible says we should not have sex before marriage, but our situation is different because….”

We might admit that it is sin, but not admit that it involves bondage. The Son of God
disagrees: He said, “Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin” (John 8:34). The apostle Paul would later expand upon this thought by saying:

What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness (Romans 6:15–18).

Sin brings slavery. Many addicts have come to this awareness. They may have once thought they felt free by drinking alcohol, shooting up heroine, snorting cocaine, or getting whatever “fix” they desired. Eventually, though, as it became a life-controlling obsession, what once felt like freedom proved to be emotional and spiritual shackles, chaining them to a cycle of self-destruction. However, other kinds of sin bring similar bondage. Although many kinds of sin do not involve an obvious chemical dependency, they may become habitual, creating an emotional connection to the sin, and leading to destructive consequences. Even what we think are “little sins” involve some degree of bondage. The shackles may be looser, but they are still there.

Jesus tells us that the truth will set us free. This begins with confession. Many people associate “confession” with a private booth, where you whisper your secrets to a priest, but that is only one aspect of the word. “Confess” merely translates a Greek word, “homologeo,” which could literally be translated as “say the same thing as” or “acknowledge.” It means to admit something is true. In the context of sin, confession involves admitting that something is a sin and that one is guilty of it. To find freedom, we must confess the truth.

We must confess the truth about ourselves. We must acknowledge our shortcomings, failings, weaknesses, and needs. We have to admit that there is some kind of chain holding us back. We must admit that we need something. In confession, we acknowledge that we have sinned and we stop looking for other people to blame. The Book of Common Prayer contains a prayer of confession that begins like this (as I recall, the Roman Catholic liturgy has a very similar prayer):

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.

We admit that we have sinned: not that it is someone else’s fault, or “the devil made me do it,” or I am a victim of other people’s plots. Even though all of us have fallen victim to others at some time, there are ways that we have sinned. We need forgiveness. We need freedom. We tighten our own chains when we keep pointing at others’ mistakes while ignoring our own.

But, we cannot stop by confessing our sins. That is a beginning, but if it is all we do, it will lead to despair. The Bible tells us that the wages of sin is death. However, it goes on to tell us that the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:23). We must confess the truth about Jesus. Jesus’ listeners in John 8 had a hard time accepting that one. They could not accept the notion that He could possibly be greater than their ancestor, Abraham. How could they take the leap to believe that He is the Son of God. Yet, this is essential. We must believe that Jesus is God incarnate. We must believe that through His death on the cross, we have received forgiveness of our sins. We must believe that He is holy, righteous, merciful, and gracious. We must believe that He is love. When we believe these truths, we are free to break free from our chains and run to Him for forgiveness, freedom, and life.

Likewise, we must believe the truth about God and His Word. We must believe that God’s Word is true and that it shows us the way to live in a way that pleases Him.

Finally, we must abide in that truth. We do not use the word “abide” very often nowadays, but it is the basis of our word “abode.” We must live in Jesus’ Word, staying there. To experience freedom and abide in that freedom, we should read and study Jesus’ teachings, meditate upon the Word of God, being doers of the word and not hearers only (James 1:22).

This is the foundation of freedom. We must admit that we are sinners, accepting the fact that it brings spiritual slavery. However, having admitted that truth, we should acknowledge the truth about Jesus, His Father, and His Word, trusting in Christ’s forgiveness and building our new lives on His Word. “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). If you are in bondage, seek freedom in Christ today. If you have found His forgiveness and freedom, continue to walk in it.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Examining Our Ways in Times of Suffering

“Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord!” (Lamentations 3:40).

“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world” (C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain).

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Jeremiah lamenting over Jerusalem, by Rembrandt [public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In the midst of Advent and the “joy of the season,” we cannot ignore the reality of human suffering. In fact, the holiday season often magnifies pain and suffering. The world and the church call us to celebrate Christmas: there are gifts to buy, cards to write, parties to attend, extra worship services at church, etc. Yet, ordinary life’s hardships do not recognize holidays. This season, people close to me have been affected by house fires, death, illness, financial strain, the threat of losing their homes, etc. These trials can happen at any time during the year, yet the Advent/Christmas season demands our extra attention and prohibits us from devoting ourselves to the challenges of everyday life; not only that, but we are expected to feel joyful and happy despite our circumstances.

Pain and suffering are a central part of our earthly existence. Sometimes, it seems unfair, as if God Himself is unjust. We try to make sense of suffering, but it does not always work: When the 9/11 attacks occurred in 2001, many Christians sought a biblical rationale. Perhaps God was using these events to judge American materialism and hubris. But, why did some godly people have to die? If God was judging America’s sins, was He also judging the first responders who raced into the building to rescue total strangers?

The answers are rarely obvious or simple. Jeremiah wrote the book Lamentations around the time of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians, in 586 BC. A godly prophet, from a priestly family, he had suffered for many years. He was persecuted by his countrymen for warning them that this day would come. Now, he suffered with them. It seemed as if his nation was destroyed, doomed to become a footnote on the pages of history. The covenant and promises of God seemed forgotten. Through it all, Jeremiah wept and mourned over the city he loved.

In near the middle of his lamentations, Jeremiah wrote the words at the top of this post: “Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord!” He had warned that the nation of Judah would suffer for its unfaithfulness to God. Even when all seemed lost, he believed there was still hope. God had not changed. No matter how bad things seemed, God still loved His people:

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22–23).

God’s love never ceases. Even when things look bleak, He loves us. At times, bad times come to draw us back to Him. God may be shouting to us, as C. S. Lewis wrote.

What is He trying to say? Often, bad things happen to us as a direct result of our sin. Unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases are the natural consequences of sex outside of marriage. If you run into financial problems, the answer may not be to “rebuke the devouring spirit”: you may be spending your money irresponsibly and selfishly.

Let me emphasize that this is frequently, but not always, the case. Sometimes, we suffer the fallout of other people’s mistakes or other circumstances affect us negatively. However, when we face such suffering, we would be wise to examine our ways. Spend some time in prayer, and ask God:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalms 139:23–24).

Ask honestly, “Is there anything I did to contribute to this situation? Is there anything I can learn from this?” It is true that you may be an innocent victim of circumstances. Or, perhaps, you contributed at least partially to it. Perhaps hardship is entirely the result of your mistakes or sins. Admit it to God (confession), ask for His forgiveness, and seek His wisdom and power to live a better life (repentance).

Many people today say that “All things happen for a reason.” However, God’s reasons are never unreasonable, irrational, or capricious. He has a redemptive purpose when bad things happen to us. He is not seeking to destroy us, but rather, to heal us.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

 

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Confession: Resisting the Lies of the Enemy

“If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us” (I John 1:8–10, ESV).

The Holy Bible

The Bible is the Christian’s guide for confession and for distinguishing between God’s truth and Satan’s lies

St. Paul wrote in Romans 12:1–2, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Much of our spiritual warfare takes place in the mind. The Christian’s bloodiest battlefield is usually the space between their ears. If we want to present our bodies as living sacrifices to God, to offer Him true spiritual worship, and to avoid being conformed to this sinful world, we must let our minds be renewed. This is crucial to transformation.

One reason our minds need renewal is because we often believe lies. Jesus said that Satan is the father of lies. He is, in some way, responsible for every idea, philosophy, or world view that contradicts the Bible; for example, we may say that Satan is the father of atheistic evolution, false religious cults, and postmodern sexual morals. However, his cleverest lies deceive us about who we are in relation to Him. Once Satan can trap us in a spiritual identity crisis, he can plant the seeds of greater deception.

1 John 1:8–10 hints at two closely related lies that many Christians fall for: “We have no sin” and “We have not sinned.” The first implies that one has achieved a state of moral perfection; the other claims that either we were always in that state of moral perfection or that some people really have not sinned. “We have not sinned” may have several other lies attached to it:

  • “There really is no such thing as sin. Morality and ethics are relative, so there is no such thing as objective right and wrong.” This is one of Satan’s most commonly believed lies in our time.
  • “Our actions are heavily directed by our biology (hormones, neurotransmitters, etc.), so defining something as ‘sin’ is really just trying to force a cultural norm on another person.”
  • “There are some sins out there, but only really horrible people (note: people who have done bad things that we have never tried) are actually sinners. Adolf Hitler is a sinner, because he murdered so many people. Since I’ve never killed anybody, I am not as bad as him, so I am not a sinner.”

“We have no sin” (the present tense lie) includes a few other possible deceptions:

  • “Well, I used to be a sinner, but since I became a Christian, my sins are all forgiven. Therefore, what I do does not matter anymore.”
  • “I have an excuse for any sin: My carnal nature (or flesh) committed the sin, but my spirit had nothing to do with it. Or, the devil made me do it. Or, it’s always someone else’s fault: I lost my temper because my father was an alcoholic, or the other person pushed my buttons, or other people hurt my feelings.”
  • These other two lies can combine into a false view of entire sanctification: The believer claims to have experienced a crisis moment of sanctification after salvation and is now totally free from sin. Therefore, if they do something that looks like sin, either (a) there is some exception to the normal rules about sin here or (b) it is the other person’s fault.

Some Christians believe this because they have accepted Satan’s shrewdest lie of all: The belief that “God is harsh and you need to earn His love.” His justice and righteousness demand that we get our acts together. If we believe that is true, we have only two options: Make excuses to convince ourselves that we have met God’s standards, or beat ourselves up for failure. Somehow, we can convince ourselves about this even when we know that Jesus died for our sins and we are forgiven. We may intellectually believe that God gracious and forgiving, while our emotions convince us that God is like the judgmental, harsh, or abusive people in our lives. It is hard to believe that our heavenly Father loves us unconditionally when we were never quite “good enough” for our earthly parents.

God’s justice, though, is intimately bound with His grace and mercy. He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins when we confess them. We have no need to make excuses. When we realize we have sinned (or, perhaps, we even think we might have sinned), we can go to Him, admit our wrongs, and ask for forgiveness and cleansing. Repentance means that we admit we were wrong and ask God to help us turn from the sin in the future. Sanctification means that He will give us the victory over that sin. It may not happen overnight. You might confess the same sins every day, and He will forgive you again and again. If you are sincere in your confession, the day will come when you cannot think of a reason to confess that same sin again. (“Wait a minute, God: Did I just go the entire day without committing XXX? Hallelujah!”)

Forget the devil’s lies. Have you sinned? Yes: The Word of God says that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Does that mean that God hates you? No; like a loving parent, He is there to pick us up no matter how often we fall, and to clean us up whenever we make a mess. Confess your sin; admit you need His help; and believe He will do it.

If you are a Christian, take some time daily to confess your sins and lay hold of a renewed awareness of forgiveness. I say the following prayer twice a day to keep my “sin account” short (feel free to replace “We” with “I”):

Most merciful God,
we confess that we have sinned against you
in thought, word, and deed,
by what we have done,
and by what we have left undone.
We have not loved you with our whole heart;
we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves.
We are truly sorry and we humbly repent.
For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ,
have mercy on us and forgive us;
that we may delight in your will,
and walk in your ways,
to the glory of your Name. Amen.

from The Book of Common Prayer

You can make up your own prayer of confession or find some online. A few good confession prayers are available at http://thirdmill.org/files/english/html/worship/pray.confess.html.

If you have never surrendered your life to Jesus and invited Him to be Lord of your life, you may prayer for forgiveness and new life in this way (from PeaceWithGod.net)

“Dear God, I know I’m a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe Jesus Christ is Your Son. I believe that He died for my sin and that you raised Him to life. I want to trust Him as my Savior and follow Him as Lord, from this day forward. Guide my life and help me to do your will. I pray this in the name of Jesus. Amen.”

Let us not allow fear to hold us back from approaching God to receive forgiveness. We may confidently approach the throne of grace to obtain mercy, whenever we need it!

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

 

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Honesty and Unity—Ephesians 4:25–27

“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil” (Ephesians 4:25–27).

ephesians-4-26-27.jpgIn December, I posted an article entitled “Renewed Mind and New Self—Ephesians 4:17–24.” This article follows up on that post, in part because the verses cited above immediately follow those. Furthermore, having your mind renewed by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God will not only empower you to live like the “new man” God says you are when you come to Christ: This leads to a transformation in your relationships with others.

Our relationships with other Christians should especially be affected. Jesus commands us to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31). This should especially occur in our relationships with other Christians. Paul says each of us should “speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” Whether we like it or not, we are united with other Christians, and this should affect how we live. Paul writes that we should be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3).

This spiritual unity should guide our entire Christian walk. We do not go to church: We are the church. We are members of the body of Christ and, as such, members of one another. If I attack or abuse my brother or sister in Christ, I attack or abuse Jesus and, in the process, I abuse myself.

Many evangelical Christians speak of having “a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” However, while the relationship is personal, it is not individualistic. It is a familial relationship. My relationship with Christ unites me with other people who are part of the family of God, the same way other family relationships unite us with others.

This relationship with Christ demands us to love our brothers and sisters in Christ as much as we love ourselves, because God is love. It also calls us to live honestly and truthfully with other Christians, because Jesus is the Truth.

This does not mean we must admit every sin and struggle to every other person in the church. Unfortunately, none of us is perfect, and some believers can be terribly critical or judgmental, and may be horrible gossips. However, we should be honest with ourselves, with God, and with others: Particularly, we should not deceive anybody, and we should find those mature brothers and sisters with whom we can be completely honest. James 5:16 says, “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”

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In some churches, you may be able to go to a member of the clergy for sacramental confession. The priest or minister is required to hear your confession, remind you of Christ’s forgiveness, and never mention your sin again. They should model forgiveness, so that you may be empowered to live a holy life.

If your church does not have sacramental confession, find a mature believer whom you can trust: Someone who will listen to you without demeaning or judging you, who will remind you that you are forgiven, and who will guard your darkest secrets as if they are his own.

We should be honest about our emotions and our conflicts as well. “Be angry and do not sin” does not mean we should look for opportunities to get ticked off. Rather, it means we will get angry eventually. People will say or do things that hurt our feelings. However, that does not mean we should act out sinfully to resolve a situation. We should not bottle up our feelings. However, when we express our anger, we should do it in such a way that we work toward restoration of the relationship as quickly as we can. Do not give the devil an opportunity to inspired bitterness, grudges, hostility, or conflict within the church, the family, or the social circle. Speak up, speak honestly, speak the truth in love, and allow the God of truth to work in your life and heart.

Christian unity is not based on our feelings. It is a supernatural result of our unity with Christ. Because we are members of His body, we are united with other believers. Because of this, love and sincerity should characterize our relationships one with another.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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Confession and Freedom—Proverbs 28:13

“Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (Proverbs 28:13, ESV).

In my previous post, I shared about the importance of confessing our sins one to another (James 5:16). Confession should not be taken lightly. Unfortunately, it is de-emphasized in many churches. Many feel that it seems too legalistic or “Catholic.” Furthermore, when one’s faith is self-focussed, emphasizing how well one is living the Christian life, acknowledging one’s sins is akin to admitting defeat and failure.

However, confession is the first step to freedom. Before we can live the victorious Christian life, we have to admit that we are failing. More importantly, we need to admit to God where and how we are failing. Then, He can guide us out of our darkness into the full experience of His light.

When I surrendered my life to Jesus Christ in 1984, I was told that I had to admit or confess that I am a sinner. Many of you probably heard a similar idea. However, this is only a half-truth. The Bible usually speaks of people confessing their sins, not merely admitting that they are sinners.

alessandro_allori_-_the_preaching_of_st_john_the_baptist_-_wga0183John the Baptist told his hearers to confess their sins. He did not tell them to admit that they are sinners.

For example, Matthew 3:6 tells us that people were confessing their sins to John the Baptist. Luke 3 gives specific examples of this: John gave specific counsel to some groups of people. In each case, it was obvious that “everybody else is doing it” was not an acceptable excuse for their sins. Even when it was considered a necessary evil of their jobs, if it was sin, they were supposed to repent.

Thus, true confession is not simply saying, “I am a sinner.” That is like saying, “Well, nobody’s perfect!” True confession is, “I did … and it was wrong. I thought or said … and I should not have. I did something that was not really bad in and of itself, but I did it for the wrong reasons. And, I do not blame anybody else. I did something I should not have done, and it is nobody else’s fault.” True confession is sincere, specific, and honest, and it accepts responsibility.

Do not let this discourage you, though. It sounds daunting, but it is actually a crucial step to experiencing spiritual liberty. When we confess our sins, we know those areas of our lives that require repentance. Without confession and repentance, our sins will hold us captive. With confession and repentance, we can seek the power of the Holy Spirit to give us victory over our sins and to experience inner peace and freedom. We can truly experience the mercy and forgiveness of God.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

Confession and Deliverance—James 5:16

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:16, ESV)

james-5-16Over the next few weeks and months, I hope to reflect on a series of verses from the study guide of a Bible study my church’s men’s ministry is following [A Man and His Traps, Volume 3 of 33 The Series, published by Authentic Manhood/LifeWay Church Resources (2013), pp. 56–59 of the study guide]. The series focuses on the idols that lead men into temptation. The verses provide ammunition for renewal of the mind (Romans 12:1–2) to transform our perspective from a worldly attitude of defeat to Christ-centered victory. The study participants are urged to meditate on these Scriptures, memorize them, and gain a new perspective as a result.

Personally, I find that writing and study are a great way to assist myself in this process: A blog post challenges me to think thoroughly about a passage, and the feedback and other responses that follow (comments, readers clicking “like,” and so on) allow me to come back and think some more throughout the days that follow.

Although inspired by a men’s study, the reflections should help women as well. In Christ there is neither male nor female (Galatians 3:28), and although we may struggle with different temptations, we share access to the same spiritual blessings.

With that preface in mind, let us reflect on James 5:16.

Many Christians are uncomfortable with confession. Some will say that it sounds too “Catholic” and therefore should be avoided as a form of legalism. Others say it is unnecessary: Since we are forgiven, why should we even think about our sins? Isn’t this just heaping condemnation upon ourselves?

Perhaps these arguments are merely excuses. The verse above is clear. It is a command: “confess your sins” is not preceded or followed by “if you wish” or “you might want to try this sometime.” James also commands us to confess your sins to one another. Some people are not afraid to confess their sins to God, but they do not want another person to hear it. Those who claim to be Bible-believing Christians should not avoid a command of Scripture merely because another denomination emphasizes it more, or it is uncomfortable.

The root of this perspective is pride. We like to pretend that we are better than we really are, and we do not want others to think we are imperfect. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in his classic Life Together, proposed that when someone is uncomfortable confessing his sins to another person and only confesses privately to God, he is merely confessing to himself and granting himself absolution: “Who can give us the certainty that, in the confession and the forgiveness of our sins, we are not dealing with ourselves but with the living God? God gives us this certainty through our brother. Our brother breaks the circle of self-deception. A man who confesses his sins in the presence of a brother knows that he is no longer alone with himself; he experiences the presence of God in the reality of the other person.

It is important that we find someone through whom we can experience the presence of God. Twelve Step programs like Alcoholic Anonymous urge their members to take a personal moral inventory and then admit the exact nature of their wrongs to themselves, God, and another human being. That other person should just listen: They should not judge or condemn; they should quietly listen, without interrupting to interject advice or ask questions. Most importantly, they will not tell anybody what you have said: Your admitted failings should be a secret shared by the two of you and God alone. Through that time of listening, the person who is making confession can find healing by unloading their spiritual garbage.

So, if you are struggling, you may want to consider some kind of confession. Take some time first to reflect on your life and note the areas where you have failed: Twelve-Step programs frequently have excellent resources to help you with this. Then, find a trustworthy confidante. If you attend a church that offers formal sacramental confession, you may speak to the pastor; if not, find a trusted mature believer, one with whom you have a close relationship and who you know will never gossip about you.

If you are asked to hear such a confession: Sit back, listen, and do not say anything. Maybe, after the person has completed their confession, you may offer some guidance, if you feel the Holy Spirit has revealed anything to you or you have successfully overcome one of the person’s besetting sins. Most importantly, do not judge or belittle the person.

Finally, pray for one another. When one believer has admitted his sins to another, they should pray for deliverance and for the power to resist temptation. Confession is the first step to repentance, restoration, and deliverance. Your prayers are the greatest tool you have to bring this to fruition.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Christian Life, Renewing the Mind Reflections | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

Scripture Sabbath Challenge—Luke 18:9–14

And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt:Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: “God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.” But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.’” (Luke 18:9–14, NASB)

The prayer of the Pharisee is more common than most of us are willing to admit. I have said it a few times. That is not easy to admit. We Christians have learned over the years that, when you see the Pharisees in the Gospels, you know they are the “bad guys.” Therefore, whatever they are doing must be wrong.

However, there is a sense in which the Pharisee’s prayer makes a lot of sense. Everything that he says about himself is Scriptural. God does not want us to be swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or crooked. Fasting and tithing are noble activities, commended and commanded elsewhere in Scripture (even in the New Testament). In fact, if you can make the Pharisee’s bold claims, you should thank God (as he does).

So, what is wrong with his prayer? Why does Jesus say that the tax collector went home justified, but not the Pharisee? We could stop by simply saying “he exalted himself,” but what does that mean? The Pharisee’s prayer was flawed on several counts.

For one, he made other people his standard of righteousness. “I thank You that I am not like other people…or even this tax collector.” Romans 3:23 tell us that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, not the glory of another person. We can all find another person who is worse than us in some way. “I have killed less people than Hitler” is not exactly a reason to brag.

The Pharisee assumed the worst about the tax collector. Granted, first-century Jewish tax collectors often earned their bad reputation due to corruption and greed. However, the Pharisee could not see what went through the other man’s heart. For some reason, the tax collector was begging for God’s mercy. His life and conscience were troubling him. Why had he chosen this career? What temptations did he find irresistible once employed by Rome? How many corrupt things had he done, which he had initially promised himself he would avoid? Maybe other questions like these kept him awake at night. The tax collector knew his own heart, and so did God. Perhaps all of us bear some shame or regret known only to ourselves. Other people may know the rumors, and maybe they know the facts. They may not know why you have followed a certain path in life, or made some of your choices.

However, the Pharisee’s greatest mistake was that he did not search his own heart to find out where cleansing was necessary. We ought regularly pray, as the psalmist did, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxious thoughts; and see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:23–24). The Pharisee knew what he was doing right. What was he doing wrong, though? Maybe his sins were not as obvious as the tax collector’s. Sinful attitudes, including pride, greed, and hatred, can cause as much damage as sinful actions. It is easy for us to condemn the sins that do not ensnare us. Unfortunately, it is even easier to make excuses for our own mistakes, to make it sound like our sins are somehow acceptable. At the very least, we often pretend our sins are not as bad as those committed by the other guy.

May we always ask the Holy Spirit to reveal our own sin to us. He can work in our hearts as well as the hearts of others. However, we have to open our hearts to Him. May He do His perfect work in our hearts, as we trust Him to deal with other people’s hearts in His own time.

This post was written as part of the Scripture Sabbath Challenge.

This post copyright © 2016 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Character and Values, Scripture Sabbath | Tags: , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Set Free

“So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free’” (John 8:31-32, ESV).

Jesus never promised the sort of freedom that modern Americans demand. We demand the right to do whatever we want. We demand the right to have sex without commitment, to place personal convenience over obligation or the needs of others. But, this is not the freedom Jesus offered; in fact, Jesus would have considered it a form of slavery.

Jesus did not promise freedom from political oppression. His original disciples worshiped Him and evangelized within the Roman Empire. Today, millions of Christians serve Him in countries where their faith is illegal.

The freedom Jesus offered was freedom from sin. In John 8:34-36, He said, ““Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

Unfortunately, many people (even Christians) do not receive this freedom. Jesus was speaking to “Jews who had believed him” (verse 31). They were on the  brink of following Him, but they missed out because they could not accept the need for freedom. Their response to Jesus’ offer of freedom was, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?” (John 8:33).

Had they read their Bibles? Did they not realize that the “offspring of Abraham” had been slaves in Egypt for 400 years; that they had spent 70 years in exile in Babylon; that periods of slavery and oppression dominated much of their history? Did they not even realize that they were now under the dominion of a foreign empire? It was not unusual for Jews to consider themselves slaves to the Roman Empire.

Jesus’ hearers suffered from the malady of denial. When confronted with the fact that we are in spiritual bondage, we lie to ourselves, God, and other people. “We are not really sinning; we love each other and nobody is getting hurt.” “I can stop doing this any time I want.” “It’s not my fault; my spouse/children/boss/others drive me to drink. They need to change, not me.”

Jesus’ listeners rejected His offer of forgiveness. They assumed it was not for them. They convinced themselves that they had no need to be set free. When pressed on the matter, they decided Jesus had a problem, but they were OK. Unfortunately, many of us repeat that pattern.

To experience true freedom, we need to first admit that we are in bondage. We have to acknowledge that sin has gained control over our lives. Once we admit that we are bound by the chains of sin, we will be ready for release. When confronted by our sins, we do not need to make excuses; we need only make confession and ask Jesus to forgive and cleanse us.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

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