Have you invited a sister or two? Grabbed up your Bible, your journal and a pen? Because we’re ready to have a little chat about sin.
If you participated in the Sister Talk: Resuscitate Your Faith study, you might realize we are taking five weeks to dive deeper into the first week of the study. Today we are a little over half way through and I wanted to give you a bit of the vision we have for you in the first five weeks. Some of you may feel like this is very basic. Faith is built on a solid foundation of belief and it is important to explore what makes up our foundation.
Open your Bible to Matthew 7:24-27.
Diving deeper into God’s Word to establish our core beliefs is like building our house on solid rock.
I call these beliefs… rocks. In my late twenties I took a Bible class and the professor gave us an assignment: Create five belief statements that will serve as a foundation for your faith. It was the best assignment I have ever completed. Those five statements have been my rocks and I often return to them when I’m feeling overwhelmed or confused about an issue.
Christians today seem to argue about many things. The correct ways to baptize and how to celebrate the Lord’s Supper. I’ve heard many who think it is important for a preacher to wear a robe… others not so much. Having five belief statements helps me to navigate and determine what is foundational in my faith journey and what’s not.
The first five weeks of Going Deeper help us develop those belief statements and recognize what is essential to our faith. So far we covered three:
Believing God Exists
Believing God is God
We Are All Sinners
The next two weeks will complete the first part of our journey.
How did this week’s study go for you? When did you feel closest to God? Farthest from Him?
Let’s begin with looking again at the original sin.
Read: Genesis 3:1-24.
Adam and Eve lived in a perfect garden, in perfect relationship with God. And then came the Fall. A crafty serpent tricked Eve into eating from the forbidden tree and dragged Adam along with her. God had to act and so He dealt out consequences.
What do you think of the punishment? Was it too harsh? Not harsh enough?
During day two of your weekly work we explored another aspect of the punishment we might not have considered before.
Look again at Genesis 3:21-24.
You were asked about another tree in the garden. In the garden was the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, the one Adam and Eve were never supposed to eat from, then there was the Tree of Life. Adam and Eve were welcome to eat from this tree while they were living in the garden. Its fruit provided eternal life. God had no choice when it came to banishment. If Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Life in their broken condition, it would be a forever condition. An eternity of broken. God’s punishment was and is a beautiful picture of grace in the face of their mess up. He saved them from themselves.
I noticed something else as I explored the passage again. Not only did God’s punishment protect Adam, Eve, and us from eternal brokenness, He provided for them as well. Before He sent them out into the world, He created clothes for them. He literally covered their shame. Christ does the same for me, clothing my shame in His righteousness. Wow… just wow!
But also notice God clothed Adam and Eve with the skins of animals. This was the first death as a consequence of sin. Blood was shed to cover the shame of sinful man. With the first sacrifice of many to come, God killed something He created in order to cover those He loved.
The remainder of today’s session will focus on two tough statements. There may be a moment you are offended or become defensive, but let’s not give into those emotions in a way that prevents discussion. We are not asking you to believe these two statements because we say them. God will reveal His truth in His time and grow our faith in the process.
The first statement is this:
Apart from God there are no good people. In fact, there are no “goodhearted” people without Christ.
It is still a tough one to accept at times. I’ve heard it many times. “She has such a good heart.” “Now those are good people.” I’ve said it myself without any real proof of goodness. And the reality is the only good in us is because of Him. My pride gets in the way of saying it out loud. After all I would like to take some credit for my “goodness.”
I used to have trouble with this statement, too. And I know we are all created in the image of God, but what was good is now broken by sin. I’m currently studying a book with another group of ladies, Teach Us to Want, which reminded me of a story found in the last three chapters of the book of Judges.
It starts in chapter 19, during a time when there was no king in Israel. A certain Levite took a woman from the tribe of Judah as a concubine or wife. She was unfaithful and ran away from him to her father’s house. Eventually the Levite went after her, but every time the Levite tried to leave early in the day to return home with his wife, the father-in-law would entice him to stay and drink and eat the day away and then insist they stay another night because it was just too late to leave on a long journey. This went on for five days, and finally on the evening of the fifth day the Levite refused to stay and left to return home.
As the day drew to a close the Levite’s servant encouraged him to turn to go to a foreign city to find lodging for the night, but the Levite would not stay with foreigners. He insisted they travel on to Gibeah a city belonging to the tribe of Benjamin, a people of Israel.
They couldn’t find lodging when they got there until an old man coming in from the fields saw them sitting in the middle of town. The old man was a member of the tribe of Benjamin but had been living and working there for a time. He was from the same part of Israel as the Levite and he took them to his house and cared for them because he didn’t want them to spend the night in the square.
Read: Judges 19:22-26
In the morning the Levite found his wife lying on the doorstep of the house. Not only had she been abused all night by these men, doing with her what seemed good to them, she was dead.
The Levite gathered his things and the body of his wife and went home. When he got home he took her body and cut it into twelve pieces and sent her throughout all Israel, a piece to each tribe…
And all who saw it said, “Such a thing has never happened or been seen from the day that the people of Israel come up out of the land of Egypt until this day; consider it, take counsel, and speak.” —Judges 19:30
From there the story moves into a bloody revenge against the tribe of Benjamin by the other eleven tribes. Then even further atrocities over the sorrow of a tribe being lost to Israel, which their resolution to the problem included killing everyone in a community in Israel except the virgins and giving them to the Benjamites as brides. But to make sure there were enough to go around they further gave the men of Benjamin permission to kidnap virgins at an annual festival.
Yeah… that seemed good to them!
This story reveals just how awful man can be when God and His ways are rejected. The last verse in the book of Judges reads:
In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
When we are left to our own devices things just go badly. We are not good. It always amazes me when people tell about the horrible circumstances someone they know finds themselves in because of all the foolish or bad choices they’ve made. Then they say: But he is a good person or he’s got a good heart. I want to shake them and say: You’ve just set up the case for how bad they are, how can you say they are good?! Someone’s missing the truth of the situation.
Do you want to know the biblical answer to why bad things happen to good people? There are no good people. And the one person who was good, was crucified by those who claimed to be good. Hmmmm…
What do you think or feel when we say this out loud? There are no good people.
The Luke passage describes two types of people: evil and good. Their actions overflow out of what they treasure in their hearts. The Amplified version phrases the final words of this verse like this:
“for his mouth speaks from the overflow of His heart”
What comes out of our mouths is a good predictor of what is going on in our hearts.
Think about the words you’ve spoken just this morning. What do they reveal about the treasure in your heart? Since you’ve been walking with Him has He changed what comes out of your mouth? over the last year? two years? five years? ten?
We’ll leave you to think on what you believe about good people in the world and move on to the second statement:
Being able to discipline yourself through willpower is a lie.
This revelation began for me in a Bible study called Metamorpha some years back… before I recognized self-discipline as fruit of the Spirit. Just like a tree can’t will its way to produce fruit… I can’t will myself to be self-disciplined. There is freedom for me in this teaching. Not freedom to do what I want, but freedom to trust as I dig deep roots into God’s Word and seek His will for my life, I become more disciplined. This freedom exists in Him alone… not me.
We cannot will ourselves to bear good fruit. I’ve had the experience many times in my relationship with my husband. He’s done something to stir up my heart, but I do not want to be stirred. My brain knows as a Believer I’m to be patient and kind, be a wife with a gentle and quiet spirit, but no matter how hard I try to keep my mouth shut or keep a pleasant look on my face, my husband will say: What’s wrong?
It never fails. He sees right through. I suppose it’s revelation of the truth in God’s Word that we are one. I cannot will myself to have a gentle and quiet spirit.
But more recently there have been times when I’ve been surprised by the quietness of my heart in a situation where my husband’s words or action should have stirred me up. The surprise is because it didn’t come from my will, my decision to be different. It came from the Holy Spirit doing a work in my heart, little by little, in response to my seeking His Way and because of His grace.
Willpower is about flesh. Living by the Spirit produces fruit.
How do we live by the Spirit? Think of it like a tree producing fruit. What things are required for a tree to produce fruit?
- Good soil
- Strong roots
- Days and seasons.
How do these translate to our spiritual lives?
- The Word says good soil equals a good heart, which comes from believing in Jesus.
- Water is a symbol of the Holy Spirit also a gift of believing. Seeking, listening, obeying Him through prayer and the Word waters our spirits.
- Strong roots are depicted as faith.
- God’s Word is the bread of life.
- Days and seasons are time needed to be consistent and persistent in faith.
For me walking with the Spirit, from the moment God captured my heart, has been to trust His Word as true and if I don’t understand or agree, I trust that I’m wrong and not Him. I also began prioritizing time with Him, praying and reading the Word daily.
I suppose the largest part of walking with the Spirit for me is actually doing what He says in His Word and in my spirit to the best of my understanding. It’s gotten me in trouble at times and I’ve looked foolish to others more than once, but I do believe He has blessed me with greater understanding because of my trust and obedience.
Before I recognized this truth my journey felt like one big failure! I would determine to change something about myself, and before the morning started I would mess-up. It was like every day was New Year’s Eve and I was busy making resolutions. I made them but I couldn’t keep them. I spent much of my prayer life repenting for my list of failures! At times I wanted to throw my hands up and scream, “Forget it! I’ll never be able to do this faith thing right!” There’s truth in that statement I will never get it right, but He can.
Walking the journey looks so different today. I am learning to trust God will never leave me alone in my sin. He sees it. He convicts it! He redeems it! Transforming me is God’s work… all I have to do is seek to love Him more.
Most of us gather at this place because we understand: in the midst of our sin, there is great hope. Jenn Pollock Michel in her book Teach Us to Want writes:
The hope of the gospel echoes. We can neither undo the wrong we have done, nor can we promise to do better. Our hearts are infirm and there is absolutely no chance that we can heal them. We will chronically want wrong things, and we will not be able to interrupt this cycle of self-destruction on our own. Instead, we have to reach out to the one who died to achieve what we could not.
Hope echoes from the cross even today. What Jesus accomplished in His death and resurrection we can never do through a good heart or willpower. And until we understand these truths we may miss the blessings, freedoms, and joys His Way has to offer. We may miss the good news altogether by insisting there is a natural goodness in us and if we work hard enough we can squeeze it out. Grace allows us to say with great confidence… I am a sinner and I am redeemed.
Once we come to the truth of our sinful hearts and receive our Redeemer the sin we hate in ourselves is the very point where we are empowered to offer His grace to others. Think about it for a moment.
Consider the places of sin Christ has redeemed in your life. Do you find yourself extending compassion to others dealing with the same issue? Is it possible God allowed it so that you might point others to His way?
Another important aspect of believing we are sinners is that we, given the right set of circumstances, are capable of any sin. Understanding this helps us to offer mercy to those who fall at different points, where we have not experienced temptation… at least not yet.
You can be assured of one thing… if God allows it, He will use it. This is the very hope of glory we find in Him.
Next week focuses on Jesus-God Incarnate. In the writing of this week’s lessons, He taught so much. It will be an exciting session next week for sure. Have a great week!
Here is the link for the study sheet for Jesus-God Incarnate: Week 4-Going Deeper