The sermon begins with giving a brief overview of the previous sermon, which was about essentials and non-essentials of the faith. We are told that there are some beliefs that are critical to our faith while others are secondary or tertiary issues which are not vital. Pastor Edwin offers three category of beliefs, the first of which are the essential beliefs which are non negotiable. These are beliefs where if we did not have them, Christianity would have no power or significance or point. [Christ being God in human flesh and actually rising from the dead for our sins] The second are important beliefs which are beliefs that define our faith [ie. theological distinctive like water baptism by immersion or speaking in tongues] but in which the power of the Gospel is in no way hindered if these are not promoted or believed. The last category are peripheral beliefs. These are the tertiary issues like worship style, dress codes, etc, and are in no way critical or even important to the faith. In this, we need to start become knowledgeable and adept at being able to articulate the essentials when proselytizing and evangelizing while being able to lay down the ones that don’t matter for the sake of the Gospel.
One of the essential issues though is a right understanding of sin. He says that we are born in sin and we need a Saviour and that we need to understand the doctrine of sin so we can understand the gospel of Jesus. [Right!] And that’s one of the issues in the church today, that we talk a lot about love, grace, and worship but not a lot about sin. The main text he uses is Romans 6:15-18 “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, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” [Wonderful verses to exegete]
We are told that at the time, because Paul talked so much about grace, people thought that the more they sinned the more grace they would get, so they were sinning a whole lot. We may chuckle at the inane logic, but many of us live our lives the same way. Most of us have sin in our lives that we don’t deal with because we know that grace covers it, so we become indifferent and tolerant of it. But Paul doesn’t want us to be constantly engaging it in but rather free from it. If we let sin rule our lives, in a very real way we become slaves to sin, and this is a terrible thing to happen, especially because we have been delivered to a new doctrine of slavery to sin, which is a doctrine of liberty where we are no longer ruled or constrained by sin.
In an effort to define sin, he looks at several uses of it in the Old and New Testament. Genesis 38:7 Bad. Exodus 3:13 Wicked. Hosea 4:15 Guilt. 1 Samuel 3:13 Iniquity. Ezekiel 48:11 Wandered away. 1 Kings 8:15 Rebellious in nature. Romans 13:3 Sin is bad. Matthew 5:45 Evil. Romans 1:18 Godless. Matthew 5:24 Guilt and Shame. 1 Corinthians 6:18 Unrighteousness. 1 Timothy 2:9 Lawlessness. Romans 5:14 Transgression. Romans 1:13. Ignorance. Galatians 6:1 Falling away. 1 Timothy 4:2 Hypocrite. He tells us that these say something about sin, which is that sin is primarily to be understood as disobedience to God, both through sins of commission [things that we do] and sins of omission [things that we fail to do]. We are told that from this we learn there is a clear standard which sin violates.
Talking about that standard a bit, he quotes Romans 3:23, which says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. The thing is, because we are sinful and selfish, we don’t want to hold to God’s standard but rather make our own to which we may be accountable to. We can try this all we want though, and it won’t make it so, as God’s standard exists nonetheless. At one point Jesus knocked the Pharisees for misunderstanding the law. There were 10 Commandments, and they turned this into 613. But the point that needs to be made is that they are not all separate laws but rather are of one complete spirit- are one cohesive unit. The whole thing is a reflection of God, and the law is not merely outward actions but consists of what is inside the heart.
Pastor Edwin offers a quote by Martin Lloyd Jones: “A gospel which merely offers Jesus as a friend and offers a new life without repentance is not New Testament evangelism.” Pastor Edwin says, “The essence of evangelism is to start by preaching the law, and it is because the law has not been preached that we have so much superficial evangelism, and so many saints comfortable with sin. True evangelism must begin by teaching the law. In the Gospel, mankind is confronted with the holiness of God, by his demands, and also by the consequence of sins. It is the son of God Himself who speaks about being cast into hell if one allows sin to reign.”
So what is the Christian to do? We have to be immersed in holiness. The actions associated with sinning are not the issue but rather they are symptoms of the issue which is sin in their heart and mind. Sin is vicious, destroys, and is powerful, and what happens is that if we are not careful, we will get comfortable with it without realizing that we are in bondage and have become a prisoner to it.
We need to stop negotiating sin and tolerating it. Instead, we must master it. How do we do it? How do we wrestle and deal with it? The answer is that we must be determined and focused and deliberate. We cannot be comfortable with it but rather must fight and strain against it, which is not a battle for the weak. He says, “We are called to to love God with our whole minds, hearts, souls, minds. The word of God calls us to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart with all thy soul with all thy mind with all thy body. Every part of our being. All aspects of our faculties must be involved in this exercise- loving God.” We must be theocentric, which is a worldview that has God at the center, and not anthropocentric, in which man is the center of our universe. To battle sin our entire being must be committed to reflecting the image of God.
This isn’t about legalism though. We are told that you don’t have to earn your salvation, and in fact that you can’t. You can’t do anything to make God love you more or less, as Christ has already procured our salvation. Through Adam sin entered the world, and through Christ life entered the world. He offers these verses: “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.” James 4:7-9. and shares some thoughts on them, how we are born in sin and need a Savior, how we must fight and battle sin, we need to mourn over it and not be content in our slavery to it, and lastly that we must pray for the power of the Holy Spirit to root out the sin in our lives.
This is a good sermon, though it has some problems. To start off, I liked the summary of the nature of essential and non-essential beliefs, and how we must really pick and choose which battles we’ll fight and which hill we’ll die on. As well the whole of the sermon, save for one part, is really doctrinally sound, and you get the distinct impression that he knows what he speaks of, and that confidence and that surety really shine. In a way the sermon in many respects is just so…”matter of fact.” That’s what struck me the whole time I was listening to it- that it was almost like listening to a Creed being recited. In any case, the doctrine of sin is such a huge and important part of our faith, and rightfully understanding it is crucial to rightfully understanding the Gospel. He spends some time waxing on the importance of the law, and I think he has it right. Salvation isn’t for good people who simply want to go to heaven but rather for people who know they have transgressed God’s law and need forgiveness. That’s so huge. How often do we hear altar calls and Gospel messages that don’t even contain one word about our sin?
I think the vast majority of people who believe in heaven believe they will go there if they are good people and haven’t murdered anyone. That’s pretty much the standard. Heaven is for people who believe in God and are “good people,” and everyone thinks that’s them and that they’re good people so of course they’re going to go there. But that idea is completely unBiblical, and billions of people are going to find themselves in hell when they die because they thought the standard was being a nicer person than their neighbour, when in reality the standard is the sinless life of Jesus. The standard is impossible to ever achieve, which is why we need the saving work of Christ, which is why I think Pastor Edwin has it right, and why preaching the law is a good starting point- because everyone buckles under it. Everyone. The law’s purpose is to condemn and to show us that we can’t keep it, and it does so perfectly. The law is a terror to the soul; it is both a blade and a light and it splays open the heart to expose every drop of wickedness. It shines upon every deep sin that we hold dear, to show that we can never claim, in any sense of the word, to be good but rather we’re still men and women in desperate and inestimable need of a Savior.
And so for the majority of the sermon I was on board for it. I was enjoying it immensely and enjoying have the Gospel expounded upon so confidently. I agree that we need to destroy sin. In fact, I think most people are way too lax with it, myself included. Pastor Edwin says, “We need to stop negotiating sin and tolerating it. Instead, we must master it. How do we do it? How do we wrestle and deal with it? The answer is that we must be determined and focused and deliberate. We cannot be comfortable with it but rather must fight and strain against it, which is not a battle for the weak.” and I completely agree. Very rarely are we encouraged to so ferociously seek to cut it out and excise it from our bodies and minds, and so this is great, timely advice. In John Owen’s “The Mortification of Sin in Believers” (1646) he writes:
“Do you mortify;
do you make it your daily work;
be always at it while you live;
cease not a day from this work;
be killing sin or it will be killing you.”
And so he correctly diagnosed the problem, which is sin, but the solution he offers is not good news at all but rather amounts to little more than more law. He says, “The word of God calls us to love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all thy mind, with all thy body. Every part of our being. All aspects of our faculties must be involved in this exercise.” That’s the solution- Just love God more. When you sin, just love God harder and faster and louder and with more sincerity and you’ll overcome sin. One question though- how is that good news?
As Christians we are simul iustes et peccator, that is, at the same time righteous and a sinner. Because of this, though we walk in progressive sanctification, and we slowly conform to the image of Jesus by putting to death sin, we will never be free of it. We are condemned by the law, and this pastor knows this, and that is why THE SOLUTION CANNOT BE MORE LAW! Because here is the dirty little secret that we rarely get told- the command to love God is the Law. The command to love God with your entire being and to love your neighbour as yourself is the quintessential summary of the entire Mosaic law. That is the law stripped down to it’s bare essence, and it is NOT achievable. Saying the solution to the sin problem is just to love God and love others is just like telling a man dying of thirst in the desert to just “Drink more water.” You can’t, and it’s just a recipe for despair and disillusionment.
That is why you need the Gospel to accompany the law. That is why grace is ever-present and ever-penetrating. When you tell people to love God with their WHOLE mind and WHOLE body and WHOLE soul and WHOLE heart, you might as well quote them Matthew 5:48. You must, therefore, be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” and expect them to be able to follow that. No! Love is the law, and instead of the law the Gospel must be the lifeblood and warm blanket that covers and soaks heat into that cold body of death that cannot stop sinning. People don’t need to hear and accept the Gospel once and then they are set and good for the rest of the life. Instead because we sin daily, we need the good news of the Gospel daily, and the good news is that our sins have been forgiven past, present, and future, and that though we sin God is exceedingly pleased with us.
So I suppose that begs the question: How then do I practically battle with sin? I’ll be answering that very thing in a post in a day or two. But for now, 90% of the sermon was really good, and for that kudos are in order.