Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Poor Choices or Evidence of Sin – 1 Tim 5:24-25

The sins of some men are quite evident, going before them to judgment; for others, their sins follow after. Likewise also, deeds that are good are quite evident, and those which are otherwise cannot be concealed. (NASB)
Some Men
I like the daily devotionals that my wife and I read every day at breakfast. They provide a lot of insight and encouragement. The Daily Bread for 4/11/2013 was centered on how God can make up for times in our lives that were unproductive for the kingdom of God because of our poor choices.[1] As we look at 1 Tim 5:24-25, these poor choices lead to ruined lives that are evident to all. These verses come on the heels of the verse that accommodates the use of wine, yet for most people, alcohol is only a poor choice and for many it is the worst choice they ever made in their lives.

What are poor choices? The previous weekend, Terri and I spent Friday evening and Saturday taking one of a series of Biblical counseling classes at our church. It is taught by Faith Biblical Counseling.[2] In the class, we were told that we should always use biblical terms instead of psychological labels when we counsel anyone. The use of the term poor choice or mistake is a good example of the way the world has redefined the word sin. The consequences of this seemingly innocent change of words are huge.
If I invest money in the stock market, is that a sin? I know some think that is gambling and it does have risks, however the concept isn’t the same as gambling which is based on luck. Instead of depending on luck, you are doing as Jesus suggested to the servant who buried his talent, you are investing your money with the hope of gain (Matt 25:27). However if the stock, bonds, or bank you invested in can be a very bad investment and you can lose your money with some grave consequences. That is a poor choice but it doesn’t have any moral implication that you have sinned.
A mistake is similar. I can add up my checkbook balance and make a mistake. I will suffer the consequence if the mistake causes me to be overdrawn. It usually cost a fee. Once, I made a ten-cent error on my credit card payment and they froze the account. I had to pay the consequences of a mistake, but was that a sin? No, as with making poor choices, there is no moral implication in a mistake and therefore is not the same as a sin.

When we use terms other than the biblical words to describe our sinful actions, we minimize God’s Word and its authority over us. When we say we have make mistakes or poor choices, the moral element of the decisions have been subtly removed so that we don’t need to repent, ask forgiveness, make restitution, or reconcile. We can shrug it off as if it doesn’t matter because it was in the past. While we may learn from mistakes and poor choices and even keep from repeating them, we haven’t seen that there are eternal consequences to sin and that we need to recognize our accountability to God.
What is sin?
The simplest definition of sin is found in Rom 3:23 where is says that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. This assessment comes after Paul summarized mankind’s attitudes and behavior from the Old Testament in Romans 3:9-13. God’s indictment against us includes many things but the bottom line (literally) is that that we don’t fear God. When we don’t fear God, then we don’t seek His way, His advice, His righteous direction, or his kingdom; we are not seeking His glory. At its core, is our own selfishness which turns everything we do into sin.

However, this definition of sin is meant to wake up people who haven’t acknowledged that they are sinners. Its focus is to recognize our sinful hearts and turn to Jesus for forgiveness. When that happens our hearts are changed and we become a new creation in Christ (2 Cor 5:17). We now seek God and His glory, but we still sin occasionally. The basic problem is still the same in that we don’t fear God in some area of our lives and we put our desires ahead of His.
But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (James 1:14-15 ESV)
Why do we need to use the biblical definition of sin instead of poor choices or mistakes? The reason is that we must correctly assess what is going on in our lives to keep from making those poor choices over and over again. If we call them mistakes or poor choices, then we have not acknowledged that they are a result of desires that have dragged us away from a proper respect (fear) of God and that it is a sin that requires repentance. If we don’t acknowledge that we have sinned against God we don’t have any real hope of being able to change and worse, we are then out of fellowship with God and others.
If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ his Son cleanseth us from all sin. If we say that 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 that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:6-10 KJV)
That verse right in the middle (8) is what is prevalent in our society when we insist that we have only made mistakes or poor choices. We deny that we have sinned and therefore deceive ourselves. Unfortunately, that self-deceit has eternal consequences for those who don’t know Jesus and unproductive and ineffective lives (2 Peter 1:8-9) for those who have surrendered their lives to Jesus.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. (Ps 51:3-4 NIV)
While we most often sin against one another, we also need to realize that even the most grievous sin against our neighbor is ultimately a sin against God. David committed adultery and killed Bathsheba’s husband, yet He recognized that his sin was first against God. He violated the commandments against adultery and murder as well as the omission of loving his neighbor.
Being Found Out
 Sin has a way of being found out in a person’s life. Sometimes, God reveals it to others so that His name isn’t maligned. When David sinned with Bathsheba, God revealed it to Nathan the prophet. David was quite hard hearted at the time and it took a parable to soften his heart before Nathan leveled the charges (2 Sam 12:1-15). God was merciful to David and allowed him to remain as king even though he deserved death.
God wasn’t as merciful to Ananias and Sapphira. When they pretended to be more generous and spiritual than they really were, their sin was revealed to Peter. When Peter confronted them, the Lord took their lives (Acts 5:1-11). Great fear fell on the Church and others who heard of it.
I’ve heard stories about people who have the gift of knowledge. God gives them information about another person which they wouldn’t have ordinarily known, such as adultery in their life. Often it is a complete stranger. When confronted, they repent and God is glorified. This is how Nathan and Peter knew of the sins of the people they confronted. If the sins aren’t obvious, God can reveal them to others.
Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal 5:19-21 NASU)
More often, sins are evident in a person’s lifestyle without the need for God to whisper it to another person. Unfortunately, in today’s world you can go down this list or others in Scripture and cross off some of these sins. In fact, it is politically incorrect even to mention some of them as sin. Some have gained legal status as religions or minority status.
Sometimes, the evidence is found in the consequences that the sin has on the person’s own body. Some forms of cancer, sexually transmitted disease, liver damage, broken homes, poverty, and others are often a result of unrepentant sin. (Don’t take this out of context and say that these are evidence of sin. If you do you will be teaching false doctrine.) When these are a result of sin, they are a fulfillment of Scripture.
… receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. (Rom 1:27 NKJV)
The Bible doesn’t use the word error very often. This isn’t the same as a mistake. It is a purposeful straying from what is right. The error comes because God gives some people over to their sins (Rom 1:26) after they are without excuse having rejected God and His righteous decrees (Rom 1:20).
A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. (Matt 7:18-20 KJV)
The sins of other appear later. Some trees take many years to mature and bear fruit. In our lifetime, we may never see the bad fruit that is borne by a person who doesn’t know Jesus as Lord and Savior. There are many people who live outwardly gracious lives. They help the poor, advocate good moral causes, and even attend good Bible believing churches. However, inwardly, they are not trusting Jesus as their Savior. They are doing all this good in a futile effort to earn salvation and in fact God considers even these good deeds as sin (Isa 64:6) because they are not done out of faith (Rom 14:23). They may think they are Christians but they aren’t. They are weeds among the wheat (Matt 13:24-30).
They will be cut down and thrown into the fire. In other words, they will end up in hell. Their sins will not be evident until the final judgment. They will stand before the judgment seat and be shocked to learn that they have no part in the kingdom of God, heaven (Matt 25:41-46).

The same is true for believers. Their deeds can’t be hidden and they will also be found out. Most of the passages that deal with sin being found out also deal with good being revealed. Before Jesus judges those who thought they knew Him, He rewards those who really did know Him (Matt 25:34-40). The blessed truth of this lesson is that when we are simply living our lives as Christians, knowing and serving our Savior, we will be doing things that please Him without even realizing it.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering [patience], gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness [gentleness], temperance [self-control]: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections [passions] and lusts [desires]. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. (Gal 5:22-25 KJV)
The good that is evident for believers is summed up in the fruit of the Spirit. When we belong to Jesus, when we have surrendered and given ourselves to Him, His Holy Spirit living in us will bring about these character qualities. It takes surrender to live and walk in the Spirit. It isn’t something we naturally do, that’s why it says we have crucified the flesh, our sinful nature. We put to death our passions and desires to do what we want and by the power of the Holy Spirit living in us, we do what God wants. Then the fruit of the Spirit will be evident in our lives. It is the fruit that will follow us into eternity.

[1] Stowell, Joe. "Making Up For Lost Time" Our Daily Bread. RBC Ministries, 11 Apr. 2013. Web. 11 Apr. 2013. http://odb.org/2013/04/11/making-up-for-lost-time/
[2] An outreach of Faith Church, Lafayette, Indiana. http://www.faithlafayette.org/counseling/.

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