I want to say something to you that I admit scares me. It scares me because I’m going to challenge you to choose whom you will serve. I understand that by doing this I may be also challenging you to turn your back on the only hope for eternal salvation that you have, and the thought of you doing that is enough to keep me awake at night. Yet I’d rather that you not be deceived. I’d rather that you turn your back on Jesus, and know it, than to live your life with your back to Him anyway, and not know it. I’d also rather not be deceived myself. I’d rather not have to constantly search for evidence in your life, having to twist the least sliver of it into some kind of comfort for myself that all is well with your soul, while knowing deep down that all is not well.
Once you leave my house, if you manage to show up for church on Sunday mornings I will be pleased because your presence there will give me hope that your external act of coming to church will be a true reflection of what is happening in your heart. But if the seed that was planted there becomes unfruitful, or simply dies, your presence in church will only serve to deceive. Worse, it may deceive you more than it does anyone else, and that would be a tragedy.
The Bible tells us that when we have idols, we become like them; though having eyes we are unseeing, and though having ears unhearing. (Ps 115, Mt 13) We humans are masters at self-deception you see. We deceive ourselves into thinking that we can live a life of neutrality, neither being for Jesus or against Him. Or we deceive ourselves into believing that we can serve Him and other masters too; that we can somehow straddle the fence between God’s kingdom and this world. But the scriptures explicitly deny this option. We see it when Joshua admonishes the Israelites to make up their minds, to choose whom they will serve, either the LORD, or other gods. We see it when Jesus warns us that we will either gather or scatter, that we will either be for Him, or against Him. Any middle ground you think you might hold is, all of it, set against Jesus. He admonishes us in Revelations to either be hot or cold, and that lukewarm repulses Him. It’s better for us to accept that reality and either embrace or reject Jesus than it is to live a life of delusion, thinking that we are co-heirs in one kingdom when in reality we are mere subjects in another.
So what does this mean? At issue here is your heart. There are the externals, yes. But then there is the heart, the part of us with which Jesus is concerned. We can live a lie and fool people by our externals. But Jesus called those who do that white-washed tombs, full of dead men’s bones. While man looks on the outside, you see, God looks at the heart. It’s not how we appear on the outside therefore that matters, it’s who we are on the inside. So the question that you need to keep asking yourself is, how is my heart? Does my sin bother me enough to repent? Do I really fear God? These are important questions that we need to ever be asking ourselves. I have found John’s first letter to be a great help in this matter. This passage is from chapter 1:
This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. 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. (1 John 1:5-10)
John teaches us what to do with the sin in our lives. He’s speaking to those who are “walking in the light”, and yet he acknowledges that those who do walk in the light still sin. We must discern between the externals and the heart, even in ourselves. The externals are the things we do to draw the praise of men and to make ourselves acceptable to our culture or community. But the heart concerns who we know we really are, and who God knows we really are. Sin must be dealt with in the heart. And we either do this through the blood of Jesus, or we attempt to rationalize it away somehow, or to shift blame or something else. But the sin remains. Later in John’s same letter we read:
Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness. You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:4-10)
The key word to understand in this passage is “practice”. To try to please your Father in heaven and fail is one thing, and it is a Christian thing. But to use God’s love, expressed through the death of His Son on the cross, as a licence to practice sin is another thing altogether. The difference is a heart difference. One heart will love the sin more than it loves Jesus. It will twist Jesus’ words to rationalize. It will blame shift. It will accuse those who call it to repentance of being mean-spirited and judgemental. But the other heart will be broken. It will beat its chest and cry out, Lord be merciful to me, a sinner! It will run the race with perseverance, and fight to cast off those sins that so easily entangle it, because its eyes will be fixed on Jesus.
In the end, it is better, I think, to reject Jesus than to live in deception, thinking that you are in Him when in reality you are not. But, if you choose to fight the good fight, and to run the race with perseverance, you will find yourself in the company of many fellows fighters, runners, and yes, forgivers and sinners too in the Body of Christ. That’s just how his body functions.
So I pray, that you seek the face of your God, that you repent, and that you live a life of repentance. I pray that you experience the joy of salvation, the taste of which will make the seemingly sweetest sweets of this world taste bitter. It is your father’s prayer, and so I pray it. Lord, please arrest the hearts of of the children you have entrusted to me.