Return To The Lord And His Righteousness
By Rich Carmicheal
One of the tragedies in our day is the rejection of God’s standard of holiness and righteousness. What the Lord considers evil is being called good, and what He considers good is being called evil (Isa. 5:20). Many people have lost the fear of the Lord and are wise in their own eyes. Truth is being maligned and suppressed in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18; 2 Pet. 2:2), the grace of God is being turned into licentiousness (Jude v. 4), people are no longer acknowledging God and are given over to a depraved mind to do things which are not proper (Rom. 1:28), consciences are seared (1 Tim. 4:2), hearts are hard (Eph. 4:18) and authority is despised (2 Pet. 2:10).
What makes the situation especially tragic is that these conditions are prevalent in the church! While we can understand how those outside of Christ have a distorted view of sin and are given over to such sins as immorality, impurity, homosexuality, greed, deceit, covetousness, dissensions, drunkenness, evil speaking, and so forth, how sad it is that those who claim to know and follow Christ could think and act in ways so contrary to His revealed Person and Word. Apparently, there is either tremendous ignorance by many in the church regarding the Lord and His Word, or there is outright rebellion and rejection.
Grace, Truth and Righteousness
Part of the problem in the church today is the emphasis on the grace of the Lord apart from a corresponding emphasis on the truth of the Lord. Jesus came full of grace and truth (John 1:14), and His ministry reveals that both are essential. On one hand, He extends mercy and grace toward sinners, but on the other hand, He never waters down the truth regarding the significance of sin. He never treats sin lightly.
For example, consider the account of the woman caught in adultery. Jesus was very gracious toward the woman and did not condemn her. But as He told her to go on her way, He also told her, "From now on, sin no more" (John 8:11). Or think of the time He spent at Matthew’s house dining with "many tax-gatherers and sinners." Even though He showed such compassion toward them, He never lost sight of the fact that they were spiritually sick. He spent time with them not to comfort them in their sin, but to help them out of it (see Matthew 9:9-13).
No matter how man may try to redefine God’s truth about sin, Jesus always maintains the highest standards of truth and righteousness. He Himself is "holy, innocent, undefiled, separated from sinners and exalted above the heavens" (Heb. 7:26). In Him there is no sin (1 John 3:5). Just as He is full of holiness and righteousness, so He calls us to be full of holiness and righteousness. Just as He honored His Father’s will and kept all of His commandments (John 14:31; 15:10), so He instructs us to do His Father’s will (Matt. 12:50) and to seek first His kingdom and righteousness (Matt. 6:33).
People who truly know the Lord, know that He is holy, and out of love and reverence for Him, they turn from sin and pursue holiness. "And by this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments" (1 John 2:3). To know Him is to live in harmony with His Word, His will and His ways. When we have truly heard Him and been taught in Him, we lay aside the old self, and "put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth" (see Ephesians 4:20-24). We purify ourselves because He is pure (1 John 3:3). He calls us to holiness, and anyone who chooses to live in immorality and impurity is rejecting Him (see 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8).
God Still Judges Sin!
Many people mistakenly think that the Lord has become soft on sin and that He will not judge people for their sin. Again, part of the problem is that they think that grace somehow diminishes the significance of truth and righteousness. The reality, however, is that God’s grace is intricately connected with righteousness. "For the grace of God has appeared…instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age" (Titus 2:11-12). We must be careful to not distort grace as a license to sin. As the Apostle Paul argues, "…Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?" (Rom. 6:1-2).
There are profound dangers for believers who continue in sin. The writer of Hebrews gives this solemn warning: "For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain terrifying expectation of judgment, and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.’ And again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God" (Heb. 10:26-31).
What a tragedy it is for someone who claims to know and follow Christ to continue on in sin! What an insult to Him and to His blood, as well as to the Spirit of grace! Jesus paid a tremendous price to set us free from sin. He was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities (Isa. 53:5). "He Himself bore our sins in His body on the Cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness…" (1 Pet. 2:24). He "gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us out of this present evil age" (Gal. 1:4). Through His precious blood our sins are forgiven and cleansed (1 John 1:7-9) and we are set free to serve the living God (Heb. 9:14). Our understanding and acceptance of the sacrifice of Christ should lead us to greater repentance and righteousness, not to continued or increased sin.
All Sin Is Serious
The Lord obviously treats sin as a most serious matter, and so must we. He has not changed nor has His definition of sin. Unfortunately, a growing number of people in our culture are rejecting Him and His Word, and are working diligently to redefine sin.
One pressing example of this is the current dilemma going on in various denominations and churches regarding homosexuality and same-sex marriage. The Bible clearly and repeatedly emphasizes that the distinction between male and female is essential to our very existence, and that the gift of marriage is a sacred relationship between a man and a woman. Jesus, for example, teaches these truths in the form of a question: "…Have you not read, that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this cause a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh’?" (Matt. 19:4-5).
At the same time, God’s Word, in both the Old and New Testaments, defines homosexuality as sin in the clearest and strongest of terms. For example, Romans 1:25-27 declares, "For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator…. For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error" (see Romans 1:18-27; cf. Gen. 19:7; Lev. 18:22; 20:13).
Even though the Bible could not be any clearer regarding the truth that God views homosexuality as sin, there are people who claim to know God who are accepting and even celebrating this lifestyle. The Apostle John, however, reminds us that in the Lord is no sin, and that "No one who abides in Him sins; no one who sins has seen Him or knows Him" (1 John 3:5-6).
It is a serious matter when any sin begins to be tolerated and embraced in the church, and sadly the church is tolerating all sorts of sins. In many cases, the church seems to have just as much immorality, impurity, greed, deceit, hypocrisy, anger, dissension, divorce, abusive speech, and so forth, as the world. Many churches have fallen far from the sacred calling to hold forth the word of truth and life, and to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. How tragic when light no longer shines and salt loses its saltiness.
The Call to Repentance
But there is still hope. Even to a church as pathetic as the one in Laodicea, there was hope. Jesus’ words to them, may be just as needful today: "I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire, that you may become rich, and white garments, that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed, and eyesalve to anoint your eyes, that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; be zealous therefore, and repent" (Rev. 3:18-19). May we lead the way in turning away from sin and returning fully to the Lord and His ways!