Burning Bulls and Broken Hearts

Burning Bulls and Broken Hearts

Psalm 51:16-19
by Bob Burridge ©2012

We often hear people say they have a heart condition. Though every heart is always in some condition, they usually mean they have some kind of unhealthy condition. Their heart may have its blood supply reduced. It may have suffered damage to its tissue, nerves or valves. There may be interruptions in the way neural impulses control the contractions of the heart muscles which pump blood through the lungs then throughout the body.

Physical heart conditions can make a person get out of breath or tire easily. Repairs might be needed so the person could resume normal activities. He may need by-pass surgery, angioplasty, or a stent to improve the blood supply. Sometimes damaged valves need to be repaired or replaced. He may need a pacemaker to ensure synchronization and full operation of the chambers.

There are also problems with the heart spiritually. Just as a physical heart must at the very least be alive before it can be repaired, so also a spiritual heart must be alive spiritually. It must be redeemed. As we know all too well, even the redeemed heart can still have problems. When we suffer with the spiritual kind of heart condition, our worship and prayer can seem laborsome. Our service to others and management of our time, possessions, and abilities can become limited.

When King David was confronted with his sin and guilt, he became concerned because his heart was not right as he approached God.

To understand this last part of Psalm 51
we need to go back in time to the sacrificial system.

David had captured Jerusalem from the Jebusites, and made it the capitol of Israel. When the ark was recovered he brought it there to establish Jerusalem as the center of worship.

At that time Israel lived under the form of God’s covenant given through Moses. Every day, crowds gathered at the tent of the Tabernacle to bring their sacrifices. There was the sound of bellowing animals, the sight of blood flowing over the altar, and the smell in the air of flesh being burned before the Lord.

It was a dramatic display of what our sins deserve. There must be a shedding of blood representing the penalty of death. The sacrifice held out God’s amazing promise that He will provide a substitute to die in the place of the sinner.

Those looking at this graphic scene of the sacrificial worship of the Tabernacle could only see the outward actions of the priests and the people. When God viewed it, he also looked upon the heart of those involved in the proceedings.

What we see in worship today is also just the outward part. We might see people calling upon the Lord in prayer, families gathered to read Scripture and pray together, churches assembled on the Sabbath with the singing of hymns, giving attention to sermons, and the distributing of the elements of the Lord’s Supper.

But in all these outward forms, we must remember that God looks upon the heart. When we worship, or come thankfully for cleansing from sin, we must remember that it is the heart, not just the knees, which must be humbly bowed before God. This was King David’s awareness in this next verse of Psalm 51.

Psalm 51:16, “For You do not desire sacrifice, or else I would give it; You do not delight in burnt offering.”

How could David say that God did not desire or take pleasure in the sacrifices? They were his sacrifices! He had commanded them! But David also knew that there was more to them than just the outward rituals. What God commanded was not just the death of animals by priests. He established that process so that repentant people could come admitting what their sins deserved, and showing their trust in the promise of God to redeem them.

The enemy of our faith is very cunning and subtle. He has gotten very few to openly worship the kingdom of Satan. In attacking the family of God he knows that not many will be fooled into blatant paganism. Instead, he twists things around. He gets us to blend the form of truth with the substance of a lie.

The synthetic religion that comes out of that process is a thing that may look good outwardly, but inwardly it makes everything point to the glory of the creature instead of honoring the Creator. What is left of the Creator is a watered down deity begging us not to spoil his plans.

The sacrifices of Israel had deteriorated into a works religion.

It was imagined that by killing animals God would be impressed, and would remit our sins. Many make the common error that before the time of Jesus Christ sins were atoned for by sacrifices. This was the error of the ancient Jews. The principle underlying that error continues to cloud the minds of many religious people today.

God never said that the killing of animals as sacrifices, the burnt offerings of the young bulls, were the actual grounds for salvation. The priestly sacrifices did not remove sin’s guilt by themselves. They represented God’s covenant promise to provide a salvation we are not qualified to earn.

Today we understand more about how our Savior restores his people to fellowship with God. We know how God took on the nature of a human, and in that nature died in place of his people. This promised Messiah became the Lamb of God to shed his blood for his people.

The Old Testament taught what every believer should have known about the sacrifices. Their real nature was revealed in the law and explained by the prophets. Even before Christ, the true worshipers knew that justice demands eternal death for sin, and that somehow God would pay that price for his people.

By grace alone God applied that future work of the Messiah to his people before Jesus was born. That work of grace regenerated their spiritually dead hearts, and implanted in them the faculty of true faith. That faith drove the believers to repentance and to trust in the covenant promises about forgiveness of sin. To show their gratitude, their regenerated hearts desired to obey God and to worship him as he said they should. That meant bringing sacrifices to him according to the law, which included an understanding of the promise that God would redeem his people by grace alone.

If a person brought a sacrifice without a redeemed heart, it did not remove his sin. That kind of sacrifice was a denial of the provision of God. It imagined that man could save himself by rituals. That kind of worship is condemned in the Bible, in the ancient law itself. God took no delight in such an abomination.

In the Book of Hebrews chapter 10, this is explained clearly.

Hebrews 10:4, “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins. ”

Hebrews 10:11, “And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins.”

Without a right heart a sacrifice cannot be acceptable to God. What makes the heart right is the work of God’s grace. It was God’s provision in the Promised Savior, not what the worshiper did, that made the ancient sacrifices beneficial. David was not demeaning the God-ordered sacrifice, only the superficial degradation of it.

In contrast to the mere outward forms we see,
God looks upon the heart.

Psalm 51:17, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A broken and a contrite heart — These, O God, You will not despise.”

A broken and contrite heart shows the inner work of God’s grace. It shows evidence of the atonement which was demonstrated outwardly in the physical sacrifices. Very few things are best when broken — but one of those things is the human heart.

One of the fun candies we used to enjoy when I was a kid was called Turkish Taffy. I’ve seen it around still, but more as a nostalgic novelty candy. It was a solid hard bar you could hardly bite into without damaging your teeth. Before you opened the package, you slammed it down hard on the table broking it apart into bite-sized pieces. When you put them in your mouth they would slowly melt and become chewy and tasty.

Most things cannot be used when they get broken. But the heart is not broken in that way. A spiritually dysfunctional heart is broken so that it can be renewed to work as God created it to work.

The Hebrew word translated “contrite” is “dikah” (דכה). In the form used here it means to be crushed. It is used in Numbers 11:8 of seed that is ground up in a mortar into a fine flower for baking. We must be brought low before God. We need to be crushed down by the recognition of our sin and personal unworthiness if our worship is to lift us up to see the glory of our most Holy Creator.

The world would think it strange that we find humble contrition over sin and joy in the same place together. The two are only incompatible when there is no atonement. The world’s false joy is the illusion of a heart deceiving itself about its guilt.

This is the worship which God will not despise. It is his own work done in our needy hearts. David would give all he could, if his own effort would help, but he knew it would not. So he came crushed, humbled, clinging to the promises of God which cannot fail.

David was not only concerned for himself.

Psalm 51:18, “Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion; Build the walls of Jerusalem.”

Zion was the hill in Jerusalem where David planned to one day build a permanent temple to God. Of course God chose Solomon after him to actually build the temple there.

The King wanted the place where God’s people gathered for worship to be specially blessed. Instead of being where abominable sacrifices were made by those who came in ignorance and self-trust, he wanted it to be divinely favored so that its worship would truly honor the Lord.

As we pray, we should remember to ask God’s blessing upon the church as it gathers in the place of worship on the Sabbath. We should pray that all who come together on that day would have a right attitude, trusting in the true sacrifice of Christ with broken hearts.

Pray during the week and specially on Saturday for families and individuals as they prepare for the Sabbath morning. As you get up on Sunday pray that each one who attends will be ready and looking forward to the worship time. We may have many motives that make us anticipate our gatherings for worship, but the prime motive should not be to see friends, to hear a stimulating lesson, or to sing uplifting music. It should be above all else our driving desire to come humble but thankfully to honor our Creator-Redeemer for his work of grace and unfailing promises.

Preparation for Sunday worship is more than laying out your clothes the night before. It also means getting your heart right so that your worship will not be superficial and only outward. Come remembering the grace that made you want to be there.

David also wanted to wall in the city of Jerusalem to make it safe from her enemies. The job had begun, but there was still much to do. Though it would not be completed until the time of Solomon, David prayed that the work of national defense would be blessed by God.

David’s concern for God’s blessings on Zion and protection of Jerusalem was not just outward. The whole theme of this Psalm is about David’s concern over his sin and its effects. Back in verse 11 David expressed his fear that God would withdraw the Holy Spirit’s enablement from him. He did not want to become an ineffective King as happened with Saul before him.

The Psalm now shows David’s concern that his sins might also bring trouble to his nation. He did not want the worship or safety of Jerusalem endangered because of what he did. David again shows the tender and devoted heart of a gifted King.

When believers make excuses for their sins, and show no interest in reforming, God lovingly chastises them as wayward children. This is evident back in verses 11 and 12. The Lord may withdraw their inner peace and sense of assurance and hope. Sometimes he may bring outward suffering. When one member of the body goes through hard times, the whole body can be effected. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:26, “And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.”

When we sin or drift away from the Lord, we need to be concerned for its effect on others. As David prayed, we should ask the Lord to bless his church and to keep her safe when we sin.

Our primary focus must always be
to please God in our worship and living.

Psalm 51:19, “Then You shall be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, With burnt offering and whole burnt offering; Then they shall offer bulls on Your altar.”

In this last verse of the Psalm, David envisions a restored church. With a restored King, and the blessing of God upon the people, their worship, and the city, the sacrifice would again become pleasing to the Lord.

The actual event that would take place in history making the true sacrifice, and making the restoration of sinners possible was yet to come in the course of time. However, even in those times before the birth of Jesus Christ, David knew God’s promises. He understood that his heart had to be to be right before God could be pleased with his worship. The blood and burning flesh of bulls could not change his heart. Only the work of grace based upon the one great promised substitute toward which the blood sacrifices pointed could do that.

In John 1:29, John the baptist saw Jesus coming and he said to his disciples, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!”

It was our Savior’s death on the cross that actually paid the price of the sins of God’s people. It applies to the past, present and future. No sin was ever, nor could ever be, removed upon any other grounds.

What the burning of bulls could not accomplish, the cross of Calvary did. Describing the finished work of Jesus, Hebrews 10:12 says, “But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God,”

How is your spiritual heart as you come to worship God?

Is it broken over sin so that it is ready to be repaired by God’s wonders and promises? Is it relying upon the work of grace through Christ as its only and infallible hope? Is it concerned for the well being of the whole church, and all its members? Is it focused upon the pleasure of God in all you do?

To develop a spiritually healthy heart, the needs of our physical heart can be good reminders. Your physical heart needs a good supply of blood to feed it and keep it strong. The redeemed heart needs to be fed too. The nutrients God provides and moves us to embrace will be used to strengthen us spiritually.

The Bible points to the nutrition we need. If we fail to feed upon God’s truth, we will trust in lies that starve our souls. If we neglect to commune with God in prayer, we show no confidence in his care and promises. We will then suffer for lack of this important nutrient our soul desperately needs.

The healthy heart also needs to engage in humble worship through Christ. It is there that we thankfully receive the word and sacraments as we lift up our hearts in praise expressing our gratitude for his mercies.

God has also established his church to be an encouraging family to provide fellowship, care, and admonition of one another. When we reach out in mutual care and admonition we show the love of God at work in our otherwise self-centered hearts. 1 John 3:17 warns, “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?”

A sound physical heart is fundamental to a person being healthy. A spiritually healthy heart is also necessary if our lives and times of worship are to please God. When we engage in the remedies God prescribes in his word, we will discover the evidence of the Holy Spirit at work to repair our heart condition.

How different David must have felt after he made things right with God again after his sin. Before then, every time he entered the Temple his conscience would have torn at his heart. Oh, the relief and peace of God’s merciful forgiveness bringing joy into the place where there was tension!

How different the Apostle Paul must have felt after he came to Christ. The Temple, all its furnishings and sacrifices which he had known all his life, which he had studied under Gamaliel, all took on a totally new dimension when he came to know the Savior toward which the rituals pointed. Oh, the forgiveness he personally felt, as one who felt he was the chief of sinners!

It was never burning bulls or bleeding lambs that made people right with God. It was the suffering Messiah which the sacrifices represented. We discover him to be our Savior and Lord by grace through faith in his word of promise, a gospel that heals broken hearts.

Psalm 51 is a treasure chest of blessings. It is a model of humble confession, and confidence in amazing grace.

(Note: The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Bible unless otherwise noted.)

The Fruit of Restoration

The Fruit of Restoration

Psalm 51:13-15
by Bob Burridge ©2012

There are times when we wish we could go back and do something differently. It might be a decision that put us in harm’s way, or choices where wisdom was set aside and the consequences of our bad judgment torment us for a long time. Bad investments or unwise purchases can plunge us into lingering debts. Poorly chosen words can ruin a friendship, and an inattentive moment can cause an accident where lives are changed forever.

Among those regrets are the times when we have done things contrary to God’s moral principles. As believers we struggle with that awful awareness that we have offended the God who redeemed us. Our conscience burns away inside when we imagine how we must appear to our Creator’s holy eyes.

When we are crushed by debts, or humbled by calamities, it is wonderful to be told that the problem has been taken care of and is finally behind us. We learn the joy of a debt that has been cleared, of a disease that has been cured, of a surgery that went well, or of the passing of some bad experience or threat. That kind of news makes us want to thank anyone who might have helped make it happen for us. It’s hard not to let our joy show.

Luke records a situation in the life of Jesus Christ that illustrates this principle.

Luke 7:36-50 tells about the time Simon the Pharisee invited Jesus to his home. While he was there a woman with a sinful reputation came to honor Jesus. She came thankfully because she knew that she was forgiven for her sins. Moved with gratitude and great emotion, she walked up behind Jesus and began to weep. Her tears dropped down onto Jesus feet. She loosened her hair and used it to wipe his feet. Then she started to kiss the feet of her Savior. Next she broke open a costly alabaster jar of very expensive perfume and started to anoint his feet. With no thought for social customs, she was overcome with gratitude and love.

Ignoring the rules of the Pharisees, Jesus did not rebuke her. He permitted her to continue. Simon said nothing out loud, but he thought to himself, “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.” (Luke 7:39)

Not only did Jesus know who this woman was, he knew her heart, and he knew Simon’s inner thoughts too. He answered the unspoken concerns of Simon’s heart with a parable in Luke 7:40-42.

Two men were in debt to the same lender. One owed 500 denarii, another owed 50 denarii. Neither was able to pay his debt. But to their relief, the lender canceled both debts. Then Jesus asked Simon which of the two will love him most?

Simon answered very carefully, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.” Jesus told Simon that he was right. Then Jesus explained the lesson. He not only interprets it for us, he applies it in Luke 7:44-50.

First he pointed out Simon’s own lack of hospitality. Simon offered him no water to wash his feet, no towel, no kiss of welcome, no anointing oil. He had shown little concern for honoring his guest. In contrast, this woman washed his feet with her tears, dried them with her hair, had not stopped kissing his feet, and brought expensive perfume to anoint him.

Then Jesus came to his main point, he confirmed that the woman’s sins had been forgiven. He said in Luke 7:47, “Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”

By her service and love this woman evidenced that she had been forgiven. Luke’s account points to the source of love and devotion. It flows from a forgiven heart changed by the grace of God.

Simon showed no love, no sense of service, therefore had no evidence of forgiveness. The implication was devastating if understood.

Nathan also used a parable when he came to expose King David’s sin.

In 2 Samuel 12:1-4 Nathan told King David about a rich man with many flocks and herds. When a visitor came to him, instead of using one of his own lambs for the meal he killed one which was kept as a loved animal by a poor family which had nothing but that one lamb.

When David heard the story he was angry, and said that the rich man who did this deserved to die. He should restore the lamb fourfold. Then Nathan said to David, “Thou art the man.”

The prophet Nathan had not come to David alone, the Holy Spirit was there too. David felt the weight of his sin after his secret adultery with Bathsheba, after his attempts to cover it up and his conspiracy with a military commander to have Bathsheba’s husband killed. As Nathan spoke, the King was humbled repentantly before God.

It was upon this occasion that David wrote this wonderful Psalm we know as Psalm 51. In the first 12 verses he admitted his guilt and offense against God, and expresses his confidence in God’s promises of grace. Assured of restoration David continued in the next portion of the Psalm.

David hoped that others would be helped by his restoration.

Psalm 51:13, “Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, And sinners shall be converted to You.”

David’s concern was not limited to himself. He evidenced the heart of a true King. He saw his restoration as a way to help God’s people, those who were sinners like himself. He did not aspire to help only the great, the rich, or the famous who would build up his reputation or ego. The single characteristic that marked out the objects of his concern was their awareness of a need for spiritual restoration. He wanted to help offenders like himself, whoever they might be.

David also understood the importance of declaring what God has made known to us. The ways of God must be taught because they are the means God has ordained by which the Holy Spirit works in our hearts when we have done that which offends our Creator. The revealed word enlivened in us by grace exposes our need and drives us into the arms of the Savior.

David wanted God to make him an example of how grace restores us though we have proven our utter unworthiness and depravity. He wanted to be the teacher God would use to convert sinners. Being “converted” is not just changing religions as the world often uses that term. It is the change produced in someone’s life by God’s grace. God delivers his word through those he uses as teachers. The results and evidences of this work of grace are seen in the lives of God’s people. This is how David hoped to help others who were sinners as he was.

Often those who have overcome a problem can be used in a special way to help those struggling with the same issues. There are support groups made up of those who have recovered from diseases, or who have gone through other types of serious tragedies. As Charles Spurgeon said, “Reclaimed poachers make the best gamekeepers.” It was John Newton, the redeemed slave trader who helped end slavery in England, and wrote Amazing Grace, one of the greatest hymns of all time.

Those delivered from serious sins can have a special ministry of encouragement. Of course no one should ever glamorize sin or suffering, nor should anyone make it seem good to fall so that we can specially help others after we recover. But when we fall, as those forgiven and restored by grace, we can rejoice in being able to specially help others taken in by temptation.

The Bible provides many examples where God used penitent sinners as encouraging examples of the work of Grace.

The Apostle Paul was a fierce persecutor of Christians. He was a Pharisee who believed that he was righteous in himself and had no need for a Savior. When redeemed, God used him to bring many self-righteous people to faith in Christ, and to promote joy to those who had become aware of their sinful offenses.

King David is the example here in Psalm 51. Little did he know how his experience and this Psalm would effect so many struggling sinners for thousands of years after his death. There have been many thousands of encouraging sermons and commentaries written on this helpful Psalm.

The redeemed become an example of God’s deliverance to others who also need that salvation. Never let your sin be a discouragement that keeps you from seeking to be a witness to the gospel of grace. Instead, your deliverance should motivate you all the more to tell the good news. Bishop William Cowper wrote, “Every talent received from God should be put to profit, but specially the talent of mercy; as it is greatest, so the Lord requires greater fruit of it, for his own glory, and for the edification of our brethren.”

Those delivered from sin are the ones God often uses in helping others discover his work of restoration through the work of Christ. The only testimony properly admitted in a trial is that which comes from first-hand witnesses. Those who have merely heard someone else say something are not allowed to testify. This is why God’s word calls the redeemed to be his witnesses. They have seen his work first hand and can know the shame of guilt, and appreciate the triumphant message of grace.

We need to overcome our fallen nature that suggests that evil sinners cannot be redeemed, or that fallen believers are beyond hope. We should never forget that these are exactly the kinds of persons God promises to redeem and to restore. God is able, and his promises can never fail.

The elect are invisible until they show a credible trust in the work of the Savior. When the redeemed fall into sin, the truth of their deliverance may seem uncertain to others until they are restored repentantly to rediscover the joys of God’s grace. The momentary invisibility of grace at work should not be seen as evidence that it is not about to demonstrate itself in a struggling life.

The means of this salvation and restoration is the promise of God, declared and demonstrated by other believers in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is our privilege to be the tools in the hand of our Creator bringing the word of the gospel to those in need of its hope. This was David’s great encouragement.

David anticipated his offering great praise.

Psalm 51:14-15, “Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God, The God of my salvation, And my tongue shall sing aloud of Your righteousness. O Lord, open my lips, And my mouth shall show forth Your praise.”

David did not excuse his sin, or minimize what he had done. He asked to be delivered from nothing less than bloodguiltiness. Literally, it means he asked to be “delivered from bloods.” This is a plural of emphasis which often indicates crimes that carry the death penalty. David had committed adultery with another man’s wife, and he planned the death of her husband. Yet he never lost confidence in the power of God to save him from his guilt and deserved penalty.

It may seem like a strange qualification for a witness of God’s righteousness, that he would admit to bloodguiltiness. But humble repentance is a more important characteristic for the believer than an imagined sense of innocence or superiority.

One time our family doctor sent me to a specialist for some minor surgery. The surgeon was good in the operating room, but had a reputation for being short and cold toward his patients. Some months later I was in for a check up and our doctor asked if I remembered how harsh the surgeon had been. I remembered very well. Then he told me that he was not that way any more. He had since undergone surgery himself. Now he was noticeably more understanding and open with his patients.

When God humbles us by our sin and guilt, we appreciate the agony of others as they struggle with feelings of guilt before they understand how much they are forgiven by our gracious God.

David expected that his restored soul would not be able to contain his joy. It would break forth with singing about God’s righteousness. Songs about God’s goodness to us fill thousands of editions of hymnals.

Would we not rather expect David’s joyful song to be about his deliverance rather than about God’s righteousness? The King’s great joy was not simply that he was now off the hook for his guilt, but that God was no longer offended by it, yet without violation of the holy justice of his Creator. He was forgiven, but the eternal righteousness of God was preserved.

What he had done was so horrible that he deserved death and eternal infinite condemnation. He did not merely ask God to overlook his sin. He did not hope in a divine amnesia where somehow his sins were just ignored. That kind of mercy and forgiveness is an unfounded myth. It would be righteousness disregarded and justice violated.

David was a king. He knew that offenses must be satisfied justly. If he was promised forgiveness and restoration, that must mean that the debt was paid in full. Though he knew less of our Savior’s work than we do today, that promise given in Eden, foreshadowed in the law, and repeatedly announced by the Prophets was his hope.

God’s righteousness imparted to him by the work of a loving Savior was a wonderful theme for his songs of praise. David’s maturity before God came as he humbled himself in childlike submission to grace. It is amazing how much we grow up, when we humbly bow down.

When we sin, as we all do, our humble confession and praise is a good lesson to the world and to other struggling believers. Psalm 40:3 says, “He has put a new song in my mouth — Praise to our God; Many will see it and fear, And will trust in the LORD.”

Sadly, even as God’s redeemed children, instead of songs of joy as we look at God’s promises, our tongues and lips often complain when calamity comes. Or they whimper in depression when guilt weighs down upon us. Excuses are sought out, and blame is shifted to others we imagine are to blame for our improper behaviors and attitudes. As James 3:6 tells us, “And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.”

However, lips, tongues and mouths were designed to sing praises to God. The next time you use your mouth, lips and tongue, remember why you have them. God displaces a world of wickedness when he looses our tongues to sing his praises. How wonderful to have those parts converted back to their original function. That is the good fruit our restoration brings.

Like the woman who was driven to anoint the feet of Jesus with her tears, like the man who loved much because he was forgiven a great debt, like David whose sins of blood-guiltiness were paid for by a Savior who was yet to come, we need to own up to own debt, and appreciate its costly payment by grace upon a Roman Cross outside of Jerusalem.

In the one who is forgiven much, there is much love, and it cannot contain itself. It will stir in us an uncontainable desire to tell others, and to help them discover God’s grace too. It will make our hearts break forth in humble praise and thanksgiving.

Where is our love? our daily and Sabbath praise? our testimony to others? Where is our passion to help others find the joy of salvation? It ought to be the natural desire of the truly redeemed soul. May God stir our hearts to that kind of humble love and thankful service.

(Note: The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Spiritual Consequences

Spiritual Consequences

Psalm 51:11-12
by Bob Burridge ©2012

It’s dangerous business to live contrary to what pleases the one who blesses us. Even dogs know better than to bite the hand that feeds them. Yet people often deceive themselves into thinking that sin is only a minor problem.

Since people are not always stricken with diseases or sudden death when they sin, since God promises that he will not send truly redeemed believers to hell, some get the idea that doing what is right must not matter much.

In our imperfect understanding of things in this life, we may not be as keenly aware of our offensiveness toward God as we should be. To get our attention and to teach his children a better way, God may withhold blessings and enablements for a time. This is the Fatherly chastising or discipline which God will not neglect since he loves us.

This is clearly taught in Hebrews 12:5-6, “And you have forgotten the exhortation which speaks to you as to sons: ‘My son, do not despise the chastening of the LORD, Nor be discouraged when you are rebuked by Him; For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives.’ ”

In verses 10-11 in that same chapter speaking first of our earthly fathers it says, “For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

Offending God can disrupt our lives in many ways. In loving discipline our Lord may lessen our awareness of his comfort, and our confidence in his assurances of hope. He may even take away our ability to do our job well by withdrawing the help of the Holy Spirit for a time.

King David had learned the horrible consequences of his moment of sin. In Psalm 51 he lamented over the offenses he had committed against God. He prayed that God would cleanse away his guilt and restore him to divine fellowship. He was concerned that there may be further consequences of his sin.

Psalm 51:11, “Do not cast me away from Your presence, And do not take Your Holy Spirit from me.”

David was concerned that his sin would alienate him from God. He did not fear alienation from the physical presence of God. Since the Holy Spirit is God, he is Omnipresent. Even those who try to hide from God cannot. God is everywhere, always. He fills all space in the whole universe he created. This is clearly summarized in Psalm 139:7-10, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me.”

We can also be confident that David did not fear that God would take away his salvation. He had already shown his trust in a full atonement that turned away God’s wrath.

David did not fear that he would lose the Spirit’s indwelling. “Indwelling” is not a reference to the physical presence of the Lord in a believer. God, as we have seen, is always everywhere. Indwelling refers to the promised seal of the Holy Spirit upon us to enable us to spiritual life and to comfort us. Every redeemed person has this special presence of God and it cannot be taken away.

However, David evidently saw some threat to his relationship with God the Holy Spirit. To understand this, we need to remember where this Psalm fits in with biblical history. There had only been one King of Israel before David. That was King Saul. 1 Samuel 10 tells about the anointing of King Saul by Samuel.

1 Samuel 10:1, “Then Samuel took the flask of oil, poured it on his head, kissed him and said, ‘Has not the LORD anointed you a ruler over His inheritance?’ ”

Oil was used as a symbol of Holy Spirit to set aside prophets, priests, and kings. It represented their consecration to the calling of God as the Spirit enabled them.

The Spirit was promised to Saul to enable him with the skills he needed to rule Israel effectively on God’s behalf. He would even be able to act as God’s spokesman in special cases. Samuel said to him,

1 Samuel 10:6, “Then the Spirit of the LORD will come upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man.”

1 Samuel 10:9, “So it was, when he had turned his back to go from Samuel, that God gave him another heart; and all those signs came to pass that day.”

In that sense, Saul was enabled by the work of the Holy Spirit to be man of another kind, one chosen and equipped to be king over God’s people.

When Saul abandoned God’s ways and sinned grievously, he was left without God’s blessing. Chapter 13 of First Samuel records that tragic time when Saul was impatient and intruded upon the priest’s office. He made a burnt offering which he was forbidden to do. (13:9) Because of this horrible sin, the Kingdom was to be taken from him. His enemies would not be utterly destroyed (13:19), and the Holy Spirit’s enablement to rule well as king would be taken away from him.

1 Samuel 16:13-14, ” … the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward. So Samuel arose and went to Ramah. But the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and a distressing spirit from the LORD troubled him.

1 Samuel 18:12 “Now Saul was afraid of David, for the Lord was with him but had departed from Saul.”

After these events in Saul’s life he was never again a competent king.

It stands to reason that David would fear the same judgment as a result of his sins. He feared that God would choose another king to rule in his place, or that God would take away the gift of enablement for his vocation as had been done with Saul before him.

The Spirit’s presence enables us to accomplish our duties before the Lord. These enablements are often called the “fillings” of the Spirit.

Ephesians 5:18, “And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit”

In this verse the durative form of the verb means “be being filled with the Spirit.” Throughout the book of Acts there are repeated fillings of the Holy Spirit, often to the same person. These fillings are associated with specific tasks or assignments from God. In the Bible these fillings enable believers to teach, to rule, to preach God’s Word, and so on.

The church has many members, each with his own task and ability from God (1 Corinthians 12). Each area of service in the Christian community needs the Spirit’s enablement.

Any success that honors God with our talent at being sales representatives, managers, teachers, parents, spouses, programmers, Deacons, Elders, students, builders, fixers, or servants, is provided to us by the work of the Holy Spirit in us.

This is the loss which David feared. It should concern us when we do wrong. David knew he had sinned. He had seen God abandon King Saul before him. So David humbly offered this Psalm of confession and prayer.

Even among the heathen, their ability to keep order in society or in their homes is only possible by the restraining power of God to keep their depravity contained.

Every human ability is a gift of God and may be disrupted when God determines it best to do so. To the heathen, God brings down kings and kingdoms, and punishes all sorts of personal evil. The condemning tragedy of it all is that they fail to honor God with the abilities he gives them. To the Christian, God acts as a loving Father to withdraw his enablement at times to discipline them, sometimes strongly, so that they will wake up from their sin and turn to him in even greater humility and obedience.

A while ago, I was working on a notebook computer researching information for a sermon. I was searching the internet for some historical details behind a difficult text I was studying. Suddenly my internet program kept giving me errors when ever I tried to link to a web address. I became very frustrated and tried to connect again and again but with the same results. I was about to pick up the phone and call my internet provider to report that service to my area had been interrupted. Then I noticed that the lights on my VCR across the room were not on. Then I looked around my study and noticed that the numbers on my cable box were not lit. I looked down at my computer and noticed that it had switched over to battery power. The problem was not my internet provider. The electricity had gone off leaving my cable modem with no power. When the electricity came back on a few moments later, everything was fine again.

Then there was that time I was getting frustrated that the remote control for our cable box was not working as well at it should. It had given me trouble on and off for the past week so I figured there was a bad connection inside. I did the high tech thing, I started banging on it to get it to work. But nothing seemed to help. Before I got in the car to take it to the cable office for replacement, I thought to check the batteries. Sure enough, they were low on power. I changed them and the remote worked perfectly.

I’m sure that in our electronic age you have had similar experiences. You may seem to be doing everything right, but still things are not working quite right. I’ve even seen people believe something was broken only to discover they had failed to plug it into the wall socket. Without a source of power, even the most sophisticated piece of equipment will not work.

You may have great skills as a teacher, as a mechanic, as a father or mother, as a student, but if God withdraws the Spirit’s enablement, nothing seems to work right. Our failure often gets our attention back on the Lord, to ask humbly for his strength, and to remember to give him the glory in all that we aspire to think, say, and do.

How could we think that our loving Heavenly Father would let us sin as parents, children, students, teachers, doctors, mechanics, musicians, businessmen, or fishermen, and not remind us of our need to keep him first in all we do. He may withdraw our skill for a time, let us fail, to get our attention.

God calls us to every honorable job we have to do. He also enables us with every skill we need to complete the jobs he gives us. The original founders of Methodism were the Wesley brothers. Charles said, “If the Lord would give me wings, I’d fly.” John added, “If God bids me fly, I will trust him for the wings.”

David understood that very well. He feared what would happen if God took away his ability to rule Israel well. Would he become an ineffective leader as happened to Saul? Would he be replaced? This is why David begged that God would not abandon him and take away the Spirit’s filling.

Should we ever fear the loss of the Holy Spirit?

In one sense the answer is “No”. There should be no fear that we would lose the Spirit’s covenantal presence and ministry to us. We may not always be as aware of his presence and ministry, but it is always there for us as God’s covenant people. Yet that awareness and our enablement to our task or calling may be withdrawn to help us grow spiritually.

This happened even to the Apostle Peter late in his ministry when he should have known better. In Galatians 2:11-14 Paul tells us this sad story. “Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, “If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?”

The Jews were unsure of their new liberty in Christ. Peter was afraid of crossing them. He looked to his own wisdom instead of to the command of the Lord. He became an ineffective Apostle and encouraged hypocrisy among the Jews. Paul humbly had to rebuke him. When he did, God used that correction to turn the heart of Peter to see his foolishness.

Earlier, Peter had remembered to rest in God rather than in his own wisdom and skill. A man had been healed through him as God’s agent. Acts 3:12 explained, “So when Peter saw it, he responded to the people: ‘Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this? Or why look so intently at us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?’ ”

God had permitted the lapse later in Peter’s life, and had it recorded here in Scripture so that we might learn from his error. God does at times withdraw a believer’s skills and success when he falls into temptation.

We need to remember to pray for and to rest upon this enablement of the Holy Spirit in whatever the Lord has called us to do, and not to rest in our own abilities.

Proverbs 3:5-8, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the LORD and depart from evil. It will be health to your flesh, And strength to your bones.”

David was pleading for God to restore the joy of his salvation.

Psalm 51:12, “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, And uphold me by Your generous Spirit.”

He did not ask for his salvation to be restored. That cannot be taken away once it is truly ours. But he confessed that his sin had stirred God to remove the joy that salvation should bring. He begged to have his spirit maintained in its willingness to honor the Lord in all things.

What does God call upon us to do to preserve the enablement of the Spirit in our lives?

The answer is obvious and simple:
1. we are called upon to obey God’s principles which are lovingly revealed to us in his word.
2. we should never think we can obey on our own. We must always rest in God’s power to enable us.

It is entirely proper to pray as we begin our homework, cook a meal, teach a class, approach a customer, go to management meetings, discipline our children, work on our car, attend Sunday School class, or sit waiting to worship. In all these duties, and in all others, we must learn to rely upon God’s enablement.

But what should we do when we have dishonored God, as we all do quite regularly? There are four basic duties which we see in David’s example in Psalm 51. We must admit, repent, trust, and reform.

1. We need to admit our errors and sins quickly and humbly with no excuses.
2. We need to repent of our offense to our loving and holy Heavenly Father.
3. We must trust in God’s promises and enablement to whatever he calls us to do. This also means we trust in the work of Jesus Christ alone to cleanse us from the guilt of every sin.
4. We must sincerely reform our lives, reshaping them to conform to God’s ways, but relying upon our Savior’s enablement to do so.

The failure of King Saul shows how the unsaved deal with their sin and its horrible consequences. He rebelled against the ways God revealed as right and true. He persisted in his sin and refused to admit his corruption. He did not come to the Savior for cleansing.

He lost the Holy Spirit’s enablement to his divinely appointed task. His last days were days of agony, defeat, and horror. He died lost in the lonely darkness of the consequences of his sin.

What a contrast with King David’s way of dealing with his sin. At first, he too rebelled against what God said was right and good. But when confronted with his immoral behavior he confessed his corruption before God. He knew his guilt would be cleansed away by the work of a promised Savior. David suffered the agonizing outward consequences of his sin. He sought the Lord in diligent prayer and confession. He was restored to the blessings of God’s covenant forgiveness. David continued to serve as king. All his guilt was removed and his skills restored.

Our duty when we fear the removal of God’s enablement in what he calls us to do each day is clear. We must admit, repent, trust, and reform.

It is all done not based upon our own abilities, wisdom, or determination. It is accomplished with humble reliance upon God’s power, redemption, and his loving promises as our Heavenly Father who will not let us go.

As you begin each task, every day, remember that your success depends upon the Spirit’s enablement. Pray to be being filled with the skills that will enable you to do your best for Christ’s Kingdom and glory. When all is done, remember to give thanks to the one from whom all blessings flow.

(Note: The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Longing For a Good Cleansing

Longing For a Good Cleansing

Psalm 51:7-10
by Bob Burridge ©2012

To pay for my expenses while in college I worked at a large commercial laundry. We dealt with laundry from area hotels, motels, repair shops, and many other types of businesses. There were often challenging stains to remove. We had a supply of various solvents and treatments to handle each type of problem. Often the chemicals were very strong and had to be handled with great care. Our job was to remove the stains to the best of our ability while minimizing any damage to the fabrics.

Stain removal is a common issue we all face in our daily lives. With the proper chemicals and equipment, most of them can be dealt with quite easily. But what about the moral stains that mar our souls when we sin against God? What can we do to get rid of those?

When God makes us aware of our guilt, we want to have the offense removed so we can be morally clean again. King David was confronted with the stains that issued from that one night of sin with Bathsheba. He made repeated efforts to cover it up, including risking Israel’s national security by having Bathsheba’s husband killed in battle.

When God’s prophet confronted him, David admitted that what he did was horribly wrong. He grieved and humbly repented before God. His heart was broken. He repented, and wrote this moving Psalm. Our study so far covered the first six verses.

Psalm 51:1-6
To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.
1. Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions.
2. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin.
3. For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is always before me.
4. Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight — That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge.
5. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.
6. Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.

Being made aware of the stains from his sin,
David craved to have them removed.

Psalm 51:7, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”

The words David used here are very interesting. Hyssop was not used like a scrub brush. It was the branching plant used by the priests in the temple for the ritual purifications. It was dipped in water or in the blood of a sacrificed animal and used to sprinkle the liquid upon someone or upon the altar. It did not actually remove physical stains. It was a symbolic act representing the cleansing God works upon our hearts. God had promised to forgive and redeem his people through the life and work of a Savior. So, David was thinking of something from the Temple laws. He was not illustrating by reference to some kind of daily housecleaning method or bathing practice.

Another thing that stands out is the comparison is that the result of removing guilt would make his soul whiter than snow.

Here in Florida we do not see much snow. I was raised in Buffalo New York where we had plenty of it. As of this writing I have lived in Florida for almost 50 years and remember only three light dustings of snow during all that time. The climate in Israel is very much like our own as far as temperatures are concerned. Snow is rare except in high mountains in the winters. The imagery of towns covered in deep white snow is not what David had in mind.

The language here has to do with “whiteness of snow” as it relates to a particular purification rite described in Scripture. The terms used fit the ritual purification prescribed for those cured of Leprosy. The Jews originally reading this Psalm would naturally have had this imagery in mind. To appreciate what David’s heart was hoping in, we need to understand these laws as the original readers of this Psalm would have understood them.

Leprosy was used by God to represent sin and its corruption during the Levitical period of redemptive history. Leviticus 13 through 14 is filled with details about the diagnosis and handling of the disease. It deals with a particular kind of leprosy where snow white blotches appear on parts of the body, the hair on the flesh in that area changed color, and there were exposed patches of raw flesh. Leviticus 13:14 says, “But when raw flesh appears on him, he shall be unclean.” The leper was to be separated from the camp of God’s people. It represented the offensiveness of sin’s corruption which had to be removed.

A person who recovered from leprosy had to come to the priest for purification. Leviticus 14 explains the two step process to be followed by the priest.

Step One: The priest examined the person outside the camp of Israel.

Leviticus 13:13 “then the priest shall consider; and indeed if the leprosy has covered all his body, he shall pronounce him clean who has the sore. It has all turned white. He is clean.”

When leprosy runs its course the body becomes white with flakes of dry skin where the raw patches of flesh were. This means the disease is over. The person is considered cured. The crimson or scarlet spots of raw flesh representing corruption go away. The white flakes of dried skin then fall off exposing new healthy skin.

Two birds were to be brought for a purification ceremony. One bird was killed as a sacrifice. The living bird was to be dipped in the blood of the sacrificed bird, then was allowed to fly off representing the new life when sin is removed.

Then hyssop was dipped in the blood, and the priest sprinkled the former leper seven times. This is what David alluded to in verse seven when he wrote, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.”

This is probably what Isaiah meant when he wrote in Isaiah 1:18, ” ‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ Says the LORD, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.’ ”

How are our sins red like crimson? That was the color of the bloody ulcers of leprosy. The white like snow, or wool, is the color of the healed skin after recovery from leprosy. All the crimson outbreaks would have gone away, and the skin would have become completely covered with white flakes like snow.

Step Two: After seven days the leper had blood applied to him from a sacrificed lamb. It was to be put on the tip of his ear, his right thumb, and his right toe. This is generally understood as foreshadowing the blood of Jesus, the lamb of God. His blood purifies us from the effect of sin restoring our ears to hear the word of God, our hands to do what God says, and our feet to follow in his ways. Then the same parts were anointed with oil representing the work of the Holy Spirit. The purified leper was then received back into the camp of Israel as one redeemed by the Lord.

Just imagine the feeling of a leper who recovered, was purified by God’s priest, and was restored to full fellowship with God’s people again!

That’s pretty dramatic symbolism! God provided this process to show how sinners are cleansed from the pollution of sin. Today we have the advantage of knowing the completed work of Jesus Christ. The rituals are fulfilled. Today, leprosy is just a disease like all others.

The spiritual cleansing these purifications represented is ours by faith in the finished work of our Savior. 1 John 1:7 says, “… the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.”

This is the confidence we can have in Christ. We can know that we are truly washed clean when we come to our Lord with humble and sincere confession of sin, and trust in God’s promise of forgiveness.

This is the confidence we see in David’s words. He does not say that he hoped he would be made clean, or that he wished to be forgiven. He declares for sure that if God purifies him from the stains of his guilt, he shall be pure again. He will be truly clean in the eyes of his Holy Lord. What a wonderful assurance, to be declared innocent by God, and to be confident about it.

David longed to enjoy the benefits
of being restored to fellowship with God.

Psalm 51:8-10, “Make me hear joy and gladness, That the bones You have broken may rejoice. Hide Your face from my sins, And blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

David expected great blessing even though he had sinned horribly. He had once closed his ears to the voice of God’s word and his conscience. But now he expected to hear again the joyful and glad sounds of God’s assurances. His broken bones, smashed by God’s judgment, will again rejoice.

David cried in shame that God would “hide his face” from his sins. Of course David did not imagine that somehow God would turn his head and pretend he did not see what was really there. David understood a most profound and wonderful teaching of Scripture. It is possible to have the offense of our sins really removed from our souls!

He had learned through a hard lesson, how our sins are an offense to the eyes of God. The prophet Habakkuk said in Habakkuk 1:13, “You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, And cannot look on wickedness…..”

So if anyone is to have his fellowship with God restored, his sins must be dealt with. Only when the penalty we deserve is paid, can justice satisfied. God in his deepest of love, took upon himself a real human body and soul to die for his people. The blood of Jesus Christ covers our offenses by paying for them.

This is what we mean by atonement. The word literally means to cover something. Before Jesus came the blood of animals was sprinkled upon the covering over the Ark of God’s Covenant. That covering was called the mercy seat, but literally the Hebrew word means, the covering. In the ark was the copy of God’s law which exposed Israel’s sins and showed her corruption.

When the blood of the Savior is spiritually applied to our souls, our sins are covered, our condemnation is hidden, and the ugly stain is removed. God can again look upon us without offense.

Just as the leper was sprinkled to represent the removal of sin, so the altar was sprinkled in the Old Testament sacrifices, and our souls are sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ. The penalty is paid so that the condemnation can be removed.

David knew that either God would forever hide his face from him, or his sins would be hidden under the future Savior’s atonement, covering his guilt before the Heavenly Father.

David begged for God to blot out his iniquities. This brings back something he said at the beginning of the Psalm. In verse one he said, “Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions.”

The blotting out of iniquity was legal language. Indictments were drawn up against those accused of crimes. David knew he was guilty, so he pleaded that whatever solvent was needed to dissolve away the ink from the indictment, let it be applied to his record before God. Here he begs that these horrible yet just accusations might be washed away, that they would no longer appear on his record before the face of God.

In place of sin he wants a clean heart, a steadfast spirit. But this was not a dream or a fantasy. It was not the false hope or wishful thinking of a guilty heart. It was the true hope of a redeemed child of God.

Often, those redeemed by the Savior needlessly believe they still bear the weight of their sins even though they are paid for. The false accusations of the Father of Lies suggest that their evil hearts continue to condemn them before a holy God. Believers washed in the blood of Christ groundlessly anguish under a lifted burden. It is a deception of our darkened minds. We are so imperfect that, though forgiven, we may still grieve as if we are condemned. We listen to the lies whispered by the enemy of our souls, which lead us to question the promises of the Lord of all the universe.

How tragic that Christians sometimes fail to comprehend the wonderful promise of the Gospel, and ignore the declaration of innocence earned by the infinitely great price paid for them by the Savior.

We have the wonderful promise of a restored soul. What a good feeling it is to be clean. That’s the way it is after a long day working around the yard and garden. It feels so good to stand under the refreshing shower, wash away the sweat and dirt, then to get all dried off and put on fresh clothes.

In this same way we come to our Lord with a broken and humbled heart for cleansing. We confidently place our trust in God’s ancient promises, and their fulfillment in the cross. There is no moral detergent to remove our stains other than his atonement. No other is needed.

We show that God has cleansed our own hearts of guilt when we truly forgive others who have offended us.
We are moved by his work of grace in us to dismiss our own anger against those who trespass against us. We rejoice when our slate is washed clean by the blood of Christ, so also we should not keep track of marks against others who have wronged us and repented.

In Colossians 3:13 we are told in God’s word to be, “bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.”

Jesus told us right after the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6:14-15, “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.”

This does not mean that our forgiveness from God depends upon our forgiving others. It means that if we are not forgiving others, then there is no evidence that we have been forgiven. Forgiven hearts are changed hearts. They ought to learn to forgive as they are forgiven.

Many years ago the puritan pastor, Thomas Watson wrote, “We need not climb up into heaven to see whether our sins are forgiven. Let us look into our hearts and see if we can forgive others. If we can, we need not doubt that God has forgiven us.”

David prayed that God would hide his face from his sins. We should also not hold wrongs against another person who shows true remorse. We forgive them and consider the debt to be removed.

In 1 Corinthians 13:5, Paul said that love “thinks no evil.” or as it is better translated, love “does not take into account a wrong suffered.” The Apostle was using an accounting term that describes the recording of figures in a book. Love does the opposite. It does not keep a record of wrongs. Instead, love forgives and refuses to keep it on the books.

A popular devotional book says, “If you want to remember something, you go over it again and again. The child reviews his spelling words; the actress rehearses her lines; you review people’s names that you want to remember. But love deliberately and consciously lets go of past hurts and gives them to God.”

The basis upon which we can so unselfishly set aside our own hurts and forgive others, is that we ourselves have had the corruption of our sins paid for by our Lord, and our bondage to self-interest removed. Having been forgiven in this way, we can rest assured we are cleansed and set free.

Hebrews 10:22, “let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”

(Note: The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Where Did That Come From?

Where Did That Come From?

Psalm 51:5-6
by Bob Burridge ©2012

When we do stupid or sinful things, and we begin to feel the guilt or suffer the consequences, we often look back on it and wonder, “Where did that come from?” “Why did I do that?”

Our fallen nature does not like to admit the truth of it, so it comes up with some very creative attempts to explain it away more acceptably.

One very popular excuse is the “blame the teacher” approach. Perhaps we do wrong things because we were taught to behave that way by our parents, school teachers, friends, and those nasty movies and television shows to which we were subjected. So it’s not our fault. We blame it on those who have influenced us.

Then there is the “blame laziness” approach. We say, “I’ll just have to try harder next time.” There is a little more personal responsibility in this explanation for our transgressions, but it also minimizes the seriousness of the matter. It is as if we are saying, “I am better than it appears. I just slacked off a bit. I just needed a little more effort is all.”

A nice dodge of accountability can be found in the “blame the circumstances” approach. This is where we convince ourselves we had no other choice but to do something technically wrong. Since God is sovereign over all his creation, it amounts to a “blame God” approach.

Another very creative set of excuses is found in the “It’s not really wrong” approach. Blame is placed upon the church, overly strict parents, or a society with unrealistic standards. It is very common and acceptable to the fallen heart to say we only seem to sin because the standards are unfairly set too high.

These tragic misunderstandings of where sin comes from leave us locked in its grip and discouraged. They never deal with the cause. They only attempt to cover up the problem, and explain away the consequences.

Rather than acting surprised or victimized when we do wrong, a better question to ask is, “Where does God say our sin comes from?”

King David had sinned horribly in his lust and adultery with Bathsheba. He made repeated efforts to cover it up, including risking Israel’s national security by having his troops pull back in battle to leave Bathsheba’s faithful husband to be killed. David paid a heavy price for that one night of sin.

When God’s prophet confronted him with it, we see how a true believer responds to his sin. David admitted that what he did was wrong. He grieved and humbly repented before God. He did not make excuses or put on a display of sorrow to win the sympathy of the people. His heart was broken. He repented, and wrote this moving Psalm from which we all can learn.

We have already studied the first four verses.

Psalm 51:1-4
To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.
1 Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is always before me.
4 Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight — That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge.

Then David continued by owning up to the real source of his sin.

Psalm 51:5, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.”

When a verse begins with the word “behold” we know we are about to look at something important. He was not telling God to behold something his all-knowing Lord had not noticed. He was humbly saying to God that he was no longer going to try to hide the depth of his own depravity.

The poet Robert Burns around the end of the 18th century was in church when he noticed a bug crawling on the bonnet of a well dressed lady in front of him. He wrote his famous poem To a Louse. It was about how differently we might come across to others while thinking we look quite impressive. In old English he wrote: “Oh wad some power the giftie gie us; To see oursels as ithers see us!” Today we would approximately translate it, “Oh would some power the gift he give us; To see ourselves as others see us!”

Here David sees a greater gift, to see ourselves as God sees us. David had seen the awful corruption of his own human nature. He knew that it had infected his heart from the moment he was conceived in his mother’s womb.

David admitted where his sin came from. God assigned Adam to represent all the humans who would naturally descend from him. When he sinned, guilt and moral corruption spread to everyone who would be ever born. The only exception is the birth of Jesus who was specially conceived by the Holy Spirit. We call this inherited condition original sin.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism summarizes this biblical fact in Question 16, “The covenant being made with Adam, not only for himself, but for his posterity; all mankind, descending from him by ordinary generation, sinned in him, and fell with him, in his first transgression.”

More simply, the old New England primer said, “In Adam’s fall, we sinned all.”

The Bible is clear about this. Paul summarized how we got to be sinners in his letters to the early churches. In Romans 5:12 he wrote, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men …” Then in 1 Corinthians 15:22 he explained, “For as in Adam all die …”

Our guilt and the corruption that moves us to sin are inherited. Sin is a congenital disease of the soul, and a universal infection of all souls. Psalm 58:3 says, “The wicked are estranged from the womb; They go astray as soon as they are born, speaking lies.”

By saying that he was a sinner from his conception, David was not excusing his sin as if he could not help it. David was confessing that he had done wrong because he was responsibly corrupt from the beginning and in need of a Savior.

Original sin leaves our souls morally inclined to displease God. We are born in sin. We all know that the fruit of a tree reveals its true nature. Apples being produced proves we have an apple tree. Sin being produced, proves that we have a corrupted heart.

Some are quick to say, “But, I’m a Christian! Isn’t that corruption taken away now?” It’s true that believers are forgiven for their sin because Jesus paid the penalty for it in their place. He clothes them with his own perfect righteousness by crediting it to those who have not deserved or earned it. He also renders them able to have truly God-honoring motives, and to be able to honor God both outwardly and inwardly, but always imperfectly in this earthly life. The infection of sin is not yet fully removed. Even redeemed hearts still sin. Only in our glorification after death is sin’s power eradicated from us. Until then we struggle as did King David when he wrote this Psalm.

We have conflicting moral desires. On the one hand we want to do good because of God’s love at work in us. But there is that not yet eradicated evil present within us too. We sometimes do what displeases our Savior. This reminds us that we are only sinners saved by Grace. This was Paul’s experience as he explained in Romans 7:23, “But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.”

David realized that his recent flood of sins exposed what had been there all along. It was only God’s merciful restraint that had sometimes put chains upon his depravity. God never withdraws our salvation, but he does at times leave us to ourselves to see what we would be without his constant provision.

In this life, there remains some corruption in our hearts no matter what we do. No one can perfectly remove all selfish motives and purely do all for God’s glory alone, or always keep from wavering in times of stress or temptation. So sometimes God lets us see those remains of sin at work in us.

One of the hardest things for parents to do is to let their children make their own mistakes. Certainly they never let them do dangerous or fatal things. However, there are times when they lovingly step back to let them learn the limits of what they can do. God as our loving Father sometimes lets us see how much we need to rely upon his grace.

When we discover the depth of sin in us, it drives home the truth that all the good we do is purely a result of his merciful work in our hearts. We learn that since sin is in us from birth, we cannot blame our circumstances, our upbringing, or our human choices. This also means that our victory over it does not come by the efforts of men. For God’s children it is more sure than that.

No one has a natural advantage or disadvantage before God. Those brought up in a godly surrounding are greatly blessed, but no less corrupt from birth. Those deprived of good surroundings, are no more depraved in their souls. Refinements do not make a Christian. If you refine a depraved sinner with all the culture and manners imaginable, all you end up with is a very cunning and skillful sinner who believes he doesn’t need a Savior.

Our depravity is not overcome by our efforts or refinement. It is conquered only by grace through God’s application of the work of Christ.

In that inner place where we have in-born sin,
God desires to insert his truth and wisdom.

Psalm 51:6, “Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, And in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.”

Again, here is something David calls God to behold. This time it is not the fact of his original sin that David so humbly holds up before God. Here it is God’s own holy expectation which is satisfied in us only by grace.

What God desires is what ought to be found in man’s innermost being. The place he speaks of here is where our desires and motives lie. God is not impressed merely with our outward show, or our words.

To Israel, David looked like a godly king all the while this cover-up was going on. But the king knew that what he appeared to be was not what he really was. We can often fool those around us for awhile, maybe for a long while. We may even fool ourselves for a time. In 1 Samuel 16:7 God warned Samuel not to look at a man’s appearance or stature, “… For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

That’s where the corruption lies, deep under the appearances we put up to make us look good. It is the heart that is corrupt, and that continues to tempt us even as believers. While we remain imperfect in this life we are potential sinners even as David was. James 4:1 asks, “Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?” The desires deep inside us are what cause the moral conflicts that often snare us and hurts others.

David shows us an important contrast in these two verses. First he confesses the problem of his inherited iniquity and sin. Then he turns the spotlight to what ought to be there in its place, God’s desire for truth in our hearts. He does not want to find imaginings or false beliefs there.

We need to have in our hearts an awareness of our real inner nature. If we do not admit that we need a Savior, we are lost in hopelessness. Even as believers we need to admit our need to continually rely upon God’s grace. Otherwise we are living a lie.

Truth is that which agrees with what God knows. For us, it is that which conforms with what has been revealed to us by our Eternal Lord. We need to replace the lies with honesty. If we hope in fantasies about our moral nature, or rely upon mere wishes of what we would like to be true, we will never find real solutions. If we look to our own imagined abilities to overcome our problems, we will never discover God’s love, mercy, forgiveness, and deliverance in Christ.

Next David pleads with God that he would come to have wisdom. He does not mean that he wants his IQ to increase, or to improve his memory. He does not mean he wants a more analytical mind or a more creative genius. The wisdom he means here is of the heart, not of just the head. One ancient writer spoke of a “full head and an empty heart.”

David wanted God to improve his ability to accept the truth and to follow after the right path. On that night of temptation he thought that a moment of sin with the beautiful Bathsheba would give him a good moment of pleasure. Godly wisdom would have judged that there is no real pleasure in things that displease God.

Moses showed this wisdom when he sided with the calling of God in Hebrews 11:24-25, “By faith Moses, when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin,”

Wisdom is found in those desires which conform to what God says is true and good. God does not want outward show. He wants inward truth, holiness, and devotion to moral purity. So we must have our hearts united with Christ if our outward behavior is to be enabled to truly honor God. When obedience is externalized the most we can hope for is to put on a good act.

Because of the inner origin of sin, an inner cure is needed. God wants truth and wisdom in there where sin tries to dominate our lives from birth. Though in Adam we were created in holiness, ever since his fall humans are conceived as sinful beings. We must be redeemed to inward holiness if we are to enjoy God’s blessings in this life and forever.

Our fallen nature’s answer is like the plan of a cheap handy-man. When the wood of a wall or fence is rotten and brittle, it can sometimes be covered over with heavy coats of paint. Though that might make it look acceptable or even beautiful from the outside, the fence or wall is rotten at its very core and will not hold up when it is stressed.

In the same way we can often put on good outward behavior, even religious behavior, while inwardly the heart is deceptive and self-centered. There can be no hope or confidence before God until there is a changed heart. This transformation by grace will show itself in humble confession and repentance and by seeking God’s provision in Christ.

There is an important and encouraging message for us in this Psalm. Though the setting is one of tragic sin and its discovery, David points us to the wonderful cure.

Before we get to the remedy, we need to realize that there can never be real spiritual progress or confident inward assurance until we are brought to see the real problem. By understanding the source and nature of our inward corruption we can begin to deal with it at the source. A polluted stream cannot be cleaned up if the source of pollution is not stopped.

Our own behavior and that of those around us can be confusing and discouraging. We do things we know are neither wise nor moral, and when the fleeting moment of imagined pleasure is gone we ask ourselves, “Where did that come from?” “Why did I do such a stupid thing?” When our eyes are opened to see where sin originates in us we can finally understand the moral struggles we face daily without searching for foolish excuses.

When we understand the impossibility of moral progress on our own, we can begin to understand the amazing work of grace in our lives. We can also have hope for those around us who seem irretrievably lost. The most evil people on earth can be transformed by the work of our Redeemer. Believers who fall deeply into sin as did King David, can also discover a sense of complete forgiveness when the appreciate what our Savior accomplished on the Cross of Calvary.

We learn from this Psalm to own up to our sin, then to deal with it effectively by coming to the Lord, our only hope for restoration, forgiveness, and the promise of victory.

John Calvin began his Institutes of the Christian Religion with these words, ” … We are accordingly urged by our own evil things to consider the good things of God; and, indeed, we cannot aspire to Him in earnest until we have begun to be displeased with ourselves. For what man is not disposed to rest in himself? Who, in fact, does not thus rest, so long as he is unknown to himself; that is, so long as he is contented with his own endowments, and unconscious or unmindful of his misery? Every person, therefore, on coming to the knowledge of himself, is not only urged to seek God, but is also led as by the hand to find him. On the other hand, it is evident that man never attains to a true self-knowledge until he has previously contemplated the face of God, and come down after such contemplation to look into himself. For (such is our innate pride) we always seem to ourselves just, and upright, and wise, and holy, until we are convinced, by clear evidence, of our injustice, vileness, folly, and impurity. Convinced, however, we are not, if we look to ourselves only, and not to the Lord also —He being the only standard by the application of which this conviction can be produced. …” (Institutes 1:1:1-2)

Paul wrote in Romans 6:17-18, “But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”

(Note: The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Bible unless otherwise noted.)

The Target of Sin

The Target of Sin

Psalm 51:4
by Bob Burridge ©2012

When I was about 13 or 14 I took my first archery lessons. It took quite a few arrows before the first one got stuck in the target. The first few didn’t even make it all the way to the hay bale where the target was mounted. I put a lot of holes in the ground. The target was the safest place on the whole archery range.

In the Old Testament, the primary Hebrew word we translate as “sin” is khata’ (חטא). It literally means to miss the target. It is used in that original way in Judges 20:16, “Among all this people were seven hundred select men who were left-handed; every one could sling a stone at a hair’s breadth and not miss.” There the word “miss” is this same word used in other places for “sin”.

When we sin, we are missing the moral target God sets for us. This is exactly how sin is defined in the Bible. The King James Version of 1 John 3:4 says, “… sin is the transgression of the law.” The ESV has, “… sin is lawlessness.” It is when we fail to conform to the ways God has revealed as being right and good.

One way people often try to soften the ugliness of their sin, is to change the target. If sticking arrows in the grass was the goal of archery I would have been a gold-medalist right away! But if the target was that round dot surrounded by circles, I sinned a lot — I missed the mark.

If our moral target is to feel good about ourselves, or not to do great physical harm to others, we might convince ourselves we are pretty good. But if the standard is the high and perfect moral principles God tells us about in his word, then we discover, as did King David, that we all have sinned grievously.

In Psalm 51 David cried out for God’s grace. The sins he had committed in connection with his involvement with Bathsheba had just been exposed by the Prophet Nathan. The Psalm begins with these words in the first three verses.

Psalm 51:1-3, “Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, And cleanse me from my sin. For I acknowledge my transgressions, And my sin is always before me.”

In Romans 3:23 The Apostle Paul wrote, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We come short of the target, the target God sets. We do not get to pick the target. David, Paul, and the other writers of the Bible were well aware of the mark we are to hit, and of how impossible it is for any of us to even come close, aside from the amazing work of God’s grace that transforms our unworthy hearts.

As Psalm 51 continues David admits that at its root,
his sin is a crime against God.

Psalm 51:4, “Against You, You only, have I sinned, And done this evil in Your sight — That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge.”

In fallen man’s attempt to redefine the target, he has invented the “victimless crime”. Some sins are excused simply by asking, “What harm does it do?” What they mean is, if something does not cause direct harm to another person, then it is morally OK. They excuse it as a private matter that is not very important.

Several years ago I read the party platform for a political group that was promoting the repeal of all laws it classified as “victimless crimes”. It did not leave it to the imagination to guess what this group believed those crimes include. The platform specifically demanded the repeal of several existing laws.

They wanted to repeal all laws restricting the sale and use of drugs of any kind, all laws relating to sexual relations such as prostitution and solicitation, all laws that allow homosexual acts and unions not to be fully accepted by everyone, all laws limiting the sale, use and production of sexually explicit material, and all laws interfering with the right to commit suicide, which it said is our ultimate right.

David Euchner is a doctoral candidate and teacher at Rutgers School of Law. He lists examples of what he says are victimless crimes, “… prostitution, the use and distribution of illicit drugs, gambling, obscenity and pornography.” Then he says, “Every participant in these illegal activities is willing and consensual, and therefore no participant is a victim of a crime nor a perpetrator of a crime against another.”

He argues that these are victimless activities and cause no detriment to society. He insists that an individual’s wishes or rights are the only proper basis upon which we should determine what should be considered to be criminal. He goes on to reject any religious moral standards by saying that, “Faith amounts to nothing more than a renunciation of reason and logic. … Faith will allow an otherwise rational person to accept contradictions in the universe.”

He obviously has not considered the actual biblical definition of faith, or of its moral standards. We easily recognize the man of straw constructed by his presumptions, a target constructed out of imagined logical errors, but nothing resembling the real set of beliefs he says he is opposing. Biblical faith is neither an irrational act nor an escape from reason. Biblical faith will not accept contradictions in the universe. It seeks to know God’s creation as it really is, not as each individual would like it to be to relieve his awareness of responsibility and guilt.

Faith is an implanted firm confidence which God gives to those for whom Christ died. That implanted ability enables the persons to trust the direct teachings of God in Scripture.

The victimless crime is a modern myth. It implies that these things which are offensive to God ought not to be considered wrong. What King David learned, and what every sinner should understand, is that someone other than the perpetrator and a human victim is always involved. God is offended. He, the Creator, is the center and definition of morality. Every sin, private or public, is an offense against him. Though no one else is directly harmed, even when no one else knows about it, that which defies God’s moral principles is still wrong.

David understood the central target of his sin — it was against God only. As we just read in 1 John 3:4, sin is the violation of God’s law. According to the Creator Himself, anything that violates his eternal moral principles is wrong and offensive. It brings guilt upon the offender, whether it is known by others, or directly hurts others, or not.

God’s moral principles lie at the root of every good law in civilized society. The sin of murder is not fundamentally wrong just because it hurts another person. It is wrong because every human life bears the image of God, and is to be respected from conception. If murder is only wrong because of an accepted technical definition, or is justified because we imagine it is kept painless to the individual killed, or because it might actually minimize hardships in the long run, then abortion and suicide are removed from the list of wrongs. That is exactly what our secular society does once God’s moral standards are taken out of the picture.

Stealing is not a sin just because of its inconvenience to another person or society. It is wrong because it defies God’s distribution of ownership and stewardship. If stealing is justified when it does no serious outward harm to society or to others, then we allow many thieves to be set free with insignificant penalties if they are punished at all. An oppressive government taking what we earn in the form of unjustified and intrusive taxes to redistribute our wealth becomes acceptable.

Sexual sins are not wrong because of their harm to some culturally defined sense of decency. They are wrong because they defy the command of God concerning the sexes. Marriage is the only moral place for sex since it is ordained to represent Christ’s relationship with his church. If sex is simply for pleasure or for personal satisfaction, then extramarital sex, and divorce for personal reasons, become acceptable. Pornography becomes an acceptable business for consenting adults. Pornographers are then held only to cultural standards, such as not aiming at minors as part of their consumer target. It becomes a first amendment right to promote bestiality, child sex, and erotic pictures displayed publicly.

We could say similar things concerning all moral principles. It is not just civil crimes that land us in jail that are offensive to our Father in heaven. What offends him includes many more behaviors and attitudes. The list that follows is a very small set of examples of non-criminal offenses which miss the mark God sets for us morally.

  • lies said to promote ourselves, lies no one ever detects or suspects
  • apathy about our neighbors, and brothers and sisters in the Lord
  • inward anger when we are challenged
  • pride when we see others struggle with sin or fall from spiritual weakness
  • silence when we are brought into the lives of those in need of the gospel
  • covetousness in our heart when God’s plan is not what we think it ought to be

We could add many more things to that list. It would include all we do that is contrary to or neglectful of God’s revealed ways and principles. That is what makes it so wrong. Sin is defined as missing the moral target revealed to us by our Creator. It undermines and offends the glory of God, and it builds up a heavy weight in our conscience.

David adds that he had done what is evil in God’s sight.

There are two biblical truths that come to mind in this confession:

The first is that evil is what God sees it to be. It is not just what people or scholars think it should be. This parallels what David had just said in the first part of this verse.

There is another lesson in these word too. All our evil is done before the watching eyes of God himself. Nothing goes unnoticed.

Did David really think that his sin with Bathsheba, the deceit, and the plotting to murder, had all gone unseen? The fact of the ever-seeing eyes of God was something David had learned already in his life. When he sinned, had he forgotten this fundamental truth? or did he just put it out of his mind? or did he think God would “understand” his need to violate clearly revealed moral law?

When we consider the all-seeing eye of God, every sin is clearly irrational. There is no good explanation except to admit that every heart, redeemed ones too, are still imperfect in this life and tend toward excusing sin for a season. When we consider the evil we do, what an impudent affront it is, to break the law right in the face of the lawmaker who is also our loving Savior.

Children have been known to stretch the rules of their family a bit when they know their parents aren’t around or are not paying attention. They might eat more of the things on the limited eating list, watch TV shows that are a bit less wholesome than the usual family viewing, stay up a little later than they are supposed to, and maybe socialize over the phone a little more than is allowed.

Adults might also try to get away with some questionable behaviors. They might at times drive less lawfully when no one is around to see them. They might show less patience in line at the grocery store than when a fellow church member is waiting in line behind them, or when the cashier is a good family friend.

Do we stop to think when we sin, when we make excuses, when we neglect what we know what we ought to be doing, that we are as clearly seen by God at those times as when we assemble together for worship on the Lord’s Day?

God is always present and aware of our doings and thoughts. It is not the harm done to others, or the immediate damage to society that determines morality. It is the offense to God that makes something wrong. It is the violation of his eternal moral principles.

David then turns to the fact of God’s justice.

Psalm 51:4b, “… That You may be found just when You speak, And blameless when You judge.”

When God speaks to us in judgment, we of ourselves have no defense. God has every right as Creator to demand perfect, personal, and perpetual obedience. His creatures were made to be held to the moral principles he revealed. Judgment is more than a divine right. It is a divine necessity. To allow sin to go unpunished would contradict the nature of God. The fact of his justice, demands that the penalty of sin be paid in full.

What a wonderful gospel we have! It explains how God, as Savior, experienced death in place of his people satisfying the high demands of their infinite offense. Justice is met, while at the same time guilty sinners become the loved children of God, clothed in a righteousness that is not their own, but is the merit of their Redeemer, Jesus Christ. As loved children, their offenses bring them humbly to the throne of grace. As David discovered, God is not only ever present as judge, as one we must obey, he is also ever present with his children to forgive them and to deliver them from sin.

In Psalm 139:3 David wrote, “You comprehend my path and my lying down, And are acquainted with all my ways.” Then in verses 7-10 he asked, “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. If I take the wings of the morning, And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, Even there Your hand shall lead me, And Your right hand shall hold me.”

Psalm 51 was not written for those who believe they never sin. It was recorded for us who know we offend our marvelous Creator, and who need to deal with our guilt in the only right way; by humble and honest confession, and by a trusting appeal to the completed work of Jesus Christ who represented us on the cruel Cross of Calvary.

(Note: The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Bible unless otherwise noted.)

The Plea of a Humbled King

The Plea of a Humbled King

Psalm 51:1
by Bob Burridge ©2000, 2012

There is no one in all the natural descendents of Adam who can claim that he never does anything wrong. Only the irrationally self-deceived would argue against that fact. God’s word calls us to be humbly honest. We need to admit when we violate the moral principles our Creator built into the world when he made it. In the mid 17th century, Bible Scholars gathered at Westminster brought together the teachings of Scripture to define sin as, “any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God.” (Shorter Catechism Question 14)

God’s word also calls us to deal with our sins in the right way. One of the great helps in remembering our right response to our moral failures is Psalm 51. Commentator William Plumer called this psalm, The Sinner’s Guide.

The Psalm title gives us the setting.

The Psalm titles appear in the oldest manuscripts which removes any reason to doubt that they are part of the inspired text. In the original Hebrew of this Pslam the title takes up the first 2 verses. Our English verse 1 is verse 3 in the Hebrew text. This title gives us background information to provide historical context.

Psalm 51:title, “To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.”

This Psalm was not only written for the benefit of King David, nor was it only designed for private meditation. It was for use in the public gathering of God’s people for worship. It was to be delivered to the person in charge of the music for worship in the Tabernacle. It is a song to teach us by this king’s amazing example how we too should deal with our sins. But the lesson has a tragic beginning.

2 Samuel 11 tells of David’s fall into the depths of sin. One night in the Spring while his armies were off in battle, King David watched from his palace roof as Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, was bathing herself. His physical desires for her were strong so he had her summoned to his palace. There, the king was intimate with her. In the days following she came to him and told him that she was pregnant with his child.

David had sinned horribly. His first response made it worse. He shamefully used his power as king to cover up his sin by deception and violence. To make Uriah think it was his own child, he called him home from battle to be with his wife. If he slept at home a few nights, perhaps he would think that Bathsheba’s baby was his. But Uriah was a very noble man. He would not sleep with his wife while his men were still out on the battlefield away from home.

In frustration David entertained Uriah and got him drunk with wine, thinking that then, with his judgment impaired, he would go home and sleep with his wife. But still Uriah didn’t spend the night with Bathsheba.
Desperate hearts do foolish and cruel things. So David sent Uriah back to battle with sealed orders from the King for Joab his commander. Joab was to place Uriah in the fiercest part of the battle and withdraw the troops leaving him to be killed. Perhaps with the husband out of the way no one would know that he hadn’t been with his wife. Joab obeyed the king and after the next great battle, Uriah was dead.

When the report came back, Bathsheba mourned her husband for a respectable time, then was taken as the wife of the King. In time a son was born to Bathsheba.

David might have thought he had gotten away with his wickedness. But God sees all our sins, even those we suspect are committed in secret. God sent the prophet Nathan to confront David with his sin. 2 Samuel 12 tells us how the prophet skillfully brought David to realize his offense.

2 Samuel 12:13-14, “So David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the LORD.’ And Nathan said to David, ‘The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die. However, because by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the LORD to blaspheme, the child also who is born to you shall surely die.’ “

It was upon this occasion that David wrote Psalm 51.

We learn that David, the slayer of Goliath, the great King of Israel, the author of many Psalms, was just a sinner saved by grace. If the great King David could fall so horribly, so could any of us.

We fail to live up to God’s holy standards every day. We may not daily commit capital crimes like adultery, and plotting a man’s death, but all our sins are offensive to God. We can look at people in the Bible like Judas or Jezebel and label them as exceptions. However, they are like us — descendants of Adam.

Sin is the universal trait of all of us. As Paul wrote in Romans 5:12, “… just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men … ”

The Bible tells us how depraved that makes our heart. Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?”

In Romans 3:10-12, Paul quotes from the Psalms saying, “As it is written: ‘There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one.’ ”

Yes, as hard as it is to admit, people like us could do as wicked a thing as David did. If we don’t, it is because of God’s gracious work to restrain us from doing wrong. We give him all the glory for any good we may do or evil we pass up on doing. As Paul wrote in Philippians 2:13, “it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”

James 1:17 reminds us, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning.”

Who was Judas, Hitler, or Manson? Each was but a fallen sinner, not restrained in certain ways by God’s mercies. How immoral our lives would be if God did not hold back the flood of depravity in us. But he does!

If there is a moment of obedience in our lives, it should be a cause for humble thankfulness to God who holds back our sin. When we falter and sin we should be humbled to see the depravity that lurks within, and we should be quick to come in repentance, trusting in the Savior to forgive and to restore.

But what should we do when we fall into sin?

David’s example offers help for each one of us. He cried out to God for mercy.

Psalm 51:1, “Have mercy upon me, O God, According to Your lovingkindness; According to the multitude of Your tender mercies, Blot out my transgressions.”

There was no defense, no excuse. He made no attempt to come up with a list of special circumstances. He didn’t whine about hard it was being king. He didn’t try to minimize what he had done by reminding God that everybody sins.

David knew there was only one relief for what he had done — the grace of the God he had offended. So he pleaded that his Heavenly King would be gracious to him.

David knew better than to ask for fairness or justice. That would mean eternal torments and separation from God. Only the arrogant fool demands from God what he deserves. Instead, David called upon that Sovereign kindness that met the demands of justice for him. That was not something any man could earn. It was available only as an undeserved kindness. That grace accords with two things

1. It comes to us because of God’s lovingkindness.
Lovingkindness is a compound English word, a kindness moved by love. The form has fallen out of many of our modern dictionaries. It was used to translate the original Hebrew word khesed (חסד) which means “mercy” or “grace”. It is the unearned favor which God shows toward us when we are forgiven.

2. And that grace is founded upon God’s great compassion.
We may have compassion upon those who suffer from hunger, disease, and oppression. But the compassion David mentions here is so great that it reaches out to the unworthy, to those who break the law of the God himself.

It is not a compassion like we have toward hapless victims of tragedy. It extends to thieves who use God’s blessings for selfish purposes, who spend his tithe, who abuse their time and talents, who satisfy their desires by sexual sins and gluttony, who look with apathy toward learning his word, toward devotion in prayer, toward faithfulness in supporting worship, toward the needs of the saints. They treasure more their earthly security and luxury, than growing in spiritual maturity.

David disregarded God’s ordinance of marriage so he could have sex with a beautiful woman. He deceived and planned a massive cover-up to protect his reputation and popularity. He even plotted against a man’s life rather than confess his sin before God and man.

But God loved this David! He loved Peter, who denied him three times the night he was betrayed. This same unmerited grace is the only hope for each of us, though at times we are moral criminals against heaven itself.

Even our coming to him is an act of his own mercy toward the unworthy. Jesus made it clear that our first approach of faith is alien to our fallen hearts. Only when it is put there by God’s mercy will anyone turn to him.

Jesus said in John 6:44, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; …”

God loves no man because he repents. Man repents because he is loved by God. Paul’s words in Romans 2:4 make this very clear, “Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” As the Apostle John said, in 1 John 4:19, “We love Him because He first loved us.”

David made his purpose very clear. He asked for mercy so that his transgressions would be blotted out

The language David uses here is that of a judicial indictment of a court. In ancient times indictments were often written with ink on parchments. Commentator Adam Clarke points out that David was asking that whatever fluids were needed would be used by God to dissolve away the ink representing the words of the judgment against him.

He did not mean that somehow God would forget this part of real history. An immutable and omniscient God cannot have things removed from his memory. David meant that the charge of guilt would be removed by powers beyond what human justice could imagine.

We now know so much more than David did about how God would accomplish this redemption. Abraham, Moses, and David only knew that somehow God would satisfy justice in their place. They had a general idea that the sacrifices foreshadowed a coming Savior hinted at way back in Genesis 3:15, but they didn’t have the details to piece it all together. Today we are privileged to know that Jesus accomplished this work by being born as a human. He lived with perfect innocense among us, yet he suffered and died as if he was a criminal on the cross. He represented his people as he lived a perfect life in their place. He also represented those same loved ones as he died in their place for their sins.

David begged for mercy knowing that justice is only met for sinners by God’s grace. It was that grace that sent the Savior to take our guilt and punishment upon himself. When we sin, we call upon that same grace knowing the source from which this goodness flows in abundance.

Christians are not those who never do wrong. But they desire to handle their wrongs rightly. David knew his sin was not excusable. Neither is ours. But in God’s mercy we have this Psalm to remind us how we ought to deal with our transgressions as did this great ancient king. So, how great is that lovingkindness and compassion of God? As Moses wrote in Lamentations 3:21-24, “This I recall to my mind, Therefore I have hope. Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. ‘The LORD is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I hope in Him!’ ”

How do we know that he accepts our repentance and forgives us? He promised it in his word, and his word never fails. As Jesus said in John 6:37, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.”

John later wrote in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

When you sin later today, tomorrow, and throughout this week ahead (and if we are honest we admit that we each surely will) plead with God for his grace, for his lovingkindness and compassion. They will abound toward us when we do so because God has promise it. And remember as you cry out to him, that it is already his grace at work in your heart or you would not seek him at all.

Don’t let a moment pass where sin lingers without repentance. Come to the fount of every blessing.

(Note: The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Bible unless otherwise noted.)

No Hidden Secret

Lesson 63: Romans 16:21-27

No Hidden Secret

by Bob Burridge ©2012

It can be entertaining to watch a skilled illusionist amaze an audience. They can seem to make things and people float in mid-air, or appear to disappear. When I was very young my Uncle Dick taught me how to do a few simple parlor type tricks to entertain family and friends. Though it appeared that I was able to restore cut ropes and torn up pages to their original state, that’s not what was really happening.

The entertaining part for me in watching an illusionist is to try to figure out what he is really doing. There is always a secret that makes something appear to defy the laws of physics.

Several years ago a professional magician put on a series of television specials showing how the most amazing illusions were done. He showed how illusionists make airplanes seem to disappear, how they seem to pass through walls, how they put swords through assistants or cut them into pieces without harming them at all.

The impossible was not really being done. It just seemed that way to those who were not in on the secret that produced each illusion. It is impressive to see the secrets behind what appears to be impossible.

What God calls us to do in his word is neither impossible, nor are the means to do it a hidden secret.

We are called to progress toward Christ-likeness, and to show love toward others, even to those who fail to show it toward us. We are to find joy and peace in the midst of persecution and tragedy.

Without understanding the power of the unseen hand of God acting in us, we would not be able to do the things Paul tells us to do in the book of Romans.

The impossible struggle to honor and obey God by our own powers and devices has led some to spend their time and money blindly following cult leaders, skilled manipulators, and con-artists who claim to have some secret to inner-peace, guiltless living, financial prosperity, or supernatural powers.

The real secret is — there is no secret. God has fully revealed all we need to know. His written word is to be read, studied, and proclaimed openly for all to hear, and for God’s people to understand. It’s not magic. It’s not some guarded secret preserved by a mystical cult or author who wants you to buy his books.

There is an unseen mechanism behind our obedience and the peace we enjoy. It is the work of God in our hearts and lives through Jesus Christ just as he openly promised in his Covenant of Grace.

Paul identifies the mechanism unseen by those not redeemed, and often overlooked by the redeemed in their yet imperfect state this side of the glorious final resurrection. In Christ we can accomplish what otherwise would in fact be impossible.

Paul ends his magnificent letter by turning our thoughts to this important and central theme:

Behind every obedience and blessing is the grace of an infinite and sovereign God.

Like the Apostle Paul, we need not only to show the grace of God at work in us, we need to de-mystify the Christian life by telling others how it is done.

At the beginning of this chapter Paul sent his greetings to a list of particular believers in Rome. He had been encouraged by them, and wanted them to know how the Lord had blessed him and others through their faithfulness.

Now, after warnings about dissenters who come in to mislead believers, and after encouraging them who stand firm in the battle against the evil doers, Paul sends greetings to the Roman Christians from others who were with him.

Greetings are common in the Epistles. Not only were they encouraging to the original recipients of the letters, they also testify that God does change lives, that spiritual success is possible. They remind us of a greater fellowship in Christ, than what we see outwardly.

There are more in the Family of God than those in any particular church on Sundays. We have a union with believers all through the ages, and we have union with those in far off places who are of like faith. So this is not off topic to bring these greeting in at this point. It shows that God is working in a much wider scope than we often realize. We should be greatly encouraged.

Before the final wrap-up of his letter
several individuals are mentioned.

Romans 16:21, “Timothy, my fellow worker, and Lucius, Jason, and Sosipater, my countrymen, greet you.”

Timothy is mentioned in 12 of the New Testament books. We know of his grandmother, his mother, and of his learning that Jesus was the Messiah. _He had been a faithful fellow laborer in the gospel with Paul on the 2nd missionary journey. Now we see that he was there in Corinth with Paul on the 3rd journey as he wrote this letter to Rome.

The next three are called Paul’s “countrymen”, or “kinsmen” as some translate it. Some believe Paul just means that these were of Jewish descent as he was. Others believe that they were actual relatives of Paul. Lucius is possibly the Cyrene mentioned before in Acts 13:1. He had been called to be a teacher at Antioch along with Barnabas. Jason is possibly the Jason of Thessalonica (Acts 17:5-9). If so, he was the one who let Paul stay with him in his home and who was persecuted by the rioting Jews when they came looking for Paul. Sosipater is possibly the Berean mentioned in Acts 20:4. If so he was one of those who came with Paul to Jerusalem with relief for the Christians there.

Romans 16:22, “I, Tertius, who wrote this epistle, greet you in the Lord.”

Tertius was Paul’s amanuensis, a secretary who actually did the hand writing of the letter. Of course the letter to Rome was composed by the Apostle Paul under God’s direction and inerrant inspiration. But this letter shows evidence of careful planning and editing to get it just right. It’s possible that some type of an outline was laid out and developed into the letter preserved for us in Scripture. There were no word processors, or copy machines to do that kind of work then, so a good copyist would have been very helpful. It was a common practice then. By God’s superintendence of the content of this letter, Tertius added his own greetings to the brothers in the Lord at Rome.

Romans 16:23, “Gaius, my host and the host of the whole church, greets you. Erastus, the treasurer of the city, greets you, and Quartus, a brother.”

Gaius was possibly the one who was baptized by Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:14. There are three other mentions of a “Gaius”, but they are probably others with same name. This Gaius had been a host to Paul and to the whole church. His home was open for hospitality. That was his distinguishing mark. Perhaps he did this in the absence of Aquila and Priscilla who had hosted Paul on his first visit. They also had a church meeting in their house. Gaius may have taken up this duty too.

Erastus was a city treasurer. The Greek term used here for this office is oikonomos (οικονομος). It’s the root of our word economist. We are not sure of the exact nature of his office, but clearly it is proper for believers to hold political positions even in heathen governments. The “Erastus” mentioned in other passages is probably not this one. [Acts 19:22, 2 Timothy 4:20].

Quartus is simply known as “the brother”. He was probably exceptional in his behavior as a brother in Christ.

At the end of this list Paul adds a brief benediction.

Romans 16:24, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.”

The textual authority of this verse is questioned by some. However, it has sound support in some very ancient manuscripts. The truth of it is without question since Paul said the same thing in verse 20 which has strong manuscript support.

When we are reminded of our duties, or of our working together in Christ, it is helpful to remember that believers find their rest and ability to serve, worship, and obey in the promise of grace from our Lord Jesus. We are not left to live the Christian life on our own by some set of rules or instructions. We are enabled all along the way by a Living and Sovereign God.

To tie his message together, Paul shows
the power and wonder of God at work.

Romans 16:25-27, “Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began, but now made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith — to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen.”

This book does not end as any of the others Paul wrote. Romans is unique in many ways. It is a full and powerful exposition of Christianity. It is what an Apostle would have taught if he had the opportunity to be with his readers in person. It fittingly ends with a grand doxology of God’s majesty and grace. In this ending, Paul brings together the ideas in the introduction to the book, Romans 1:1-11.

Two things about God are the focus of the glory Paul ascribes to him here. He mentions God’s ability to establish us, and his unique wisdom.

First: God has the power and ability to establish us who are his children. (verses 25-26)

The word “establish” here translates the Greek word staerixai (στηριξαι) which is a form from the root word staerizo (στηριζω). It means “to set up, fix firmly, establish, support, confirm, or strengthen”. Jude said a similar thing in Jude 24: “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling …” God is powerful and enables believers to endure. We persevere because he preserves us by his grace and power.

One reason Paul wanted to visit Rome was to help “establish” them in their Christian faith. He said in Romans 1:11-12, “For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift, so that you may be established — that is, that I may be encouraged together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me.” Since he was unable to go to Rome in person, he encouraged them by this letter.

Paul began this epistle saying that he had been “separated to the gospel of God” (1:1). The gospel (good news) he delivered was that though we are not able to be established by our own efforts or by treasured traditions, yet our Covenant God is able to deliver us, and he has promised that he would do so by grace alone. Our Sovereign God enables us to live as we ought, but by his work in us, not by our own abilities separate from him who is our Creator and Redeemer. Because of the salvation Jesus accomplished, this promise cannot possible fail.

Paul tells us in this closing section that, “the mystery kept secret since the world began” has been revealed. The word “mystery” as used in Scripture, is not a reference to a problem to be solved as in a mystery novel or movie. It is something not humanly discoverable, but known only by God’s revelation. No one can know the eternal counsel of God until he makes it known. God tells us in his good time, when it is most helpful for his purposes to do so.

In past ages, there were things God had not explained or made known. Then, in the era after the victory of Jesus Christ in his death, resurrection, and ascension, these wonders of the Divine Mind were laid open in full for us to behold!

What is the mystery he is referring to here? What was hidden for long ages past and is now manifest?

It cannot be the fact that salvation is by grace through faith. That “mystery” had been revealed long before. Paul’s arguments for “salvation by grace through faith alone” were taken from the Old Testament. He showed that this was known to Abraham, Moses, David, and the Prophets who came after them. His key theme that “the just shall live by faith” in Romans 1:17 came from Habakkuk 2:4.

It cannot be the idea that salvation would be accomplished by a Redeemer dying in the place of the lawbreaker. That was clearly represented in the whole sacrificial system and in the words of the Prophets.

It cannot be the fact that salvation is for all the nations rather than for the Jews only. As far back as Genesis 12:3 Abraham was told that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” This fact is revealed in many Old Testament books.

The new part that had just been revealed is that God fulfilled his redemptive promises in the person of Jesus, a virgin born Jew who was God incarnate. He would be the suffering Messiah. He had come to redeem God’s people from among all the nations of the earth. It was that final fitting together of all the pieces in the person of Jesus Christ that had become known so recently to those alive in the days of Paul.

Paul was not departing from what God had been saying all along, as some charged. His message was clearly prefigured in the Scriptures which were written by the ancient Prophets. God had commanded that these treasured Scriptures should be taught to even the Gentiles. As Paul wrote this letter, many from outside the Jewish nation were hearing and obediently believing the eternal promises. The Holy Spirit was clearly at work in the hearts of Gentiles and Jews alike.

The Second thing ascribed to God here is his unique wisdom. (verse 27)
All truth and wisdom reside originally in the eternal mind of God. When we learn truth or gain wisdom, we are (as Dr. VanTil used to say), “thinking God’s thoughts after him”. Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction.”

The grammar here in verse 27 is a little complex, but it is not obscure. Literally it reads: “to the only wise God through Jesus Christ to whom is glory unto the ages.” Some say Paul lost his train of thought and switched to doxologizing Jesus, instead of the whole Triune God. That is not really the correct understanding of the Greek grammar. This may not be simple first year Greek, but it is a well known structure beyond the elementary basics.

The “to whom” refers back to the previous subject which here becomes the object, the Triune God. It is what we call a “resumptive use” of the particle with a “suspended subject”. Dr. A. T. Robertson in his extensive grammar manual (pg. 436-437) gives examples of this form.

Glory is pronounced upon the God who is able to establish us (:25) and who is only wise (:27). The idea of glory has its root in an ancient word that means heavy, and immense. God’s greatness and power make him worthy of our worship and praise. When we glorify him, we are being what we were created to be, beacons showing his nature. It is our duty to seek to be holy even as the Lord our God is holy, and that we should exercise dominion here on earth to represent the majesty of the King over all things.

This glory we give to God is offered up only as we come through the righteousness and work of our Savior Jesus Christ. There is no other way by which any man can come face to face with God.

Paul closes with an “Amen”, an affirmation of truth. The whole epistle leads to these great closing facts about God himself, and what it means for us. God is what he tells us he is.

Romans is truly a magnificent summary of the whole Apostolic teaching. It exposes our lostness and offensiveness to the God who made us. It unveils the gracious work of Jesus our Savior, who satisfied God’s justice in the place of his people. It challenges us to continue to live by faith in his word, repentantly and obediently. It shows us what is required of us privately, in our homes, in our churches, and in our communities. It even gives us counsel about the discouragements that so often threaten us inwardly.

The great promise, the amazing mystery held out for viewing by the Apostle Paul, is the Redemptive Grace and Sovereign Glory of God our Creator. He is a spirit, infinite, eternal and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.

We are called to do what we are told we cannot do by our own abilities and powers. As a fallen race we will not want to do what is right once it is fully understood for what it is. Yet, we are not asked to do the impossible, and we do not need some secret code or ritual that unlocks hidden powers and abilities.

By grace alone, our undeserving souls are given life because our Messiah took upon himself the death we deserve. With the offense paid for, justice satisfied, and the perfect righteousness of our Savior laid to our account, we are brought back into eternal fellowship with our Maker. He works in us what we cannot do. Yet he moves us to do it willingly and with great joy. While what we do here is never perfect and always bears the stains of our imperfect nature, yet we are moved to do the work of the King as part of his advancing victory over evil.

It is no secret. God has fully and graciously revealed his eternal plan and gospel promise. We need no magical powers or rituals to find full and fulfilling restoration with our God. The Savior sent to represent his people accomplished it all in their place. Once restored, the infinite, eternal and unchangeable God upholds every one of his redeemed children eternally and without fail. God is supremely wise, nothing will take him by surprise.

We are called to trust in his promises and provisions. We rest in the arms of the Creator we have all offended, knowing that his love for us has restored that which was lost long ago among the trees of Eden. We face the daily challenges knowing that the all-wise God has greater purposes than we can understand. Our response to adversity is to meet it with assurance that our God will see us through and eventually bring us to our eternal home beyond all the effects of this world’s corruption.

In whatever we do, we do it all for the glory of our God, and out of gratitude for the immeasurable gift of eternal life purchased by Jesus Christ our Savior at a price beyond our comprehension.

We should make diligent use of all the means God gives us for our spiritual growth. We shall be used of God as his earthly Kingdom Army to trample upon the head of the serpent. We shall enjoy victory for ourselves and for those we love.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Back to the Index of Studies In Paul’s Letter to the Romans

Crushing the Serpent’s Head

Lesson 62: Romans 16:19-20

Crushing the Serpent’s Head

by Bob Burridge ©2012

Several years ago, my son was out doing some gardening when his hand brushed up against something that moved under one of the bushes. It was a fair size rattlesnake.

Here was a situation I did not think we should ignore. The snake had found a nice cool spot in front of our house not far from windows we often keep open, and just a few feet from our front door. I was concerned that he might decide that he’d find better shade inside our house than under the plant.

As we stood a respectable distance away weighing our options a sheriff’s patrol car drove by making his usual rounds. I hurried out to the street, flagged him down and explained the situation. The deputy got out of his cruiser and walked over to evaluate the situation. He looked grim and agreed that we had a dangerous situation there.

He mentioned what we already knew. If the rattler was left where it was he would pose a serious danger to our neighbors little children and pets. He also commented about the likelihood of his slithering into our house. Having had snakes get into another house before, this was very much on my mind. So I asked him what needed to be done? All he said was that he wasn’t authorized to do anything about it.

So I asked the next logical question, “Who is authorized?” He said that I could call a wildlife control help line. I was on the phone fast. When I finally got a human to talk to me they said they would have someone there within 48 hours. What was I supposed to do? Keep the snake comfortable and entertained until then?

I asked if there was someplace I could take him if I captured him. The deputy told me that he wasn’t sure but it would be illegal to let him loose anywhere. I was not about to keep him as a pet.

Then he told me that there was another option. I had the authority to kill it. Me?!!!

Reluctantly, I selected the shovel with the longest handle. I stood as close to the snake as I dared. It was one of those moments when time seemed to stand still. There he was, that dangerous but quite marvelous animal. He did not mean to hurt anybody at the moment, but had gotten into a place where he should not have been. I debated the moral issues, but came to the conclusion real fast. I knew of no other options.

I held the shovel at a carefully planned angle. In my mind I went through the motion a few times. I did not want to miss and get him angry with me. I looked at the deputy who was standing a safe distance away looking as if he was about to run. I asked him if he was authorized to use his gun if I missed and the snake went after me? He said that he was authorized to do that if my life was in immediate danger. I was not real comforted relying upon someone I did not know well shooting at a striking snake while I was standing close to his target. This was not something I wanted to count on as a good option.

There was no putting it off any longer. With one fast but carefully planned move the head of the snake was crushed. A cheer went up from the crowd of neighbors that had been watching at a very safe distance.

When Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden of Eden, God used a similar illustration to explain his promise to deliver his people from the power of Satan. In Genesis 3:15 God spoke to the serpent, the embodiment of Satan, and said, “And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel.”

A deadly blow will be administered to Satan by the seed of a woman. We live in a time when we can look back with greater understanding of that promise. Satan’s defeat was assured by the victory of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Paul had just urged the Roman believers to learn to recognize false teachers among them. They were causing dissent and offenses by teaching things contrary to God’s word. They were to be avoided. Their enticing and flattering lessons were appealing, but were also dangerously deceptive. In contrast, Paul now turns to commend the faithful believers for their obedience to God.

The Roman testimony for Christ was reason for joy.

Romans 16:19a, “For your obedience has become known to all. Therefore I am glad on your behalf; …”

Evidently the obedience of the Romans had become well known. Unlike those who caused dissensions and offenses in the church, these faithful ones were intent upon obeying the revealed word of God. They humbly submitted to what God said, rather than to follow the theories and words of those who thought they could reason better than their Creator. They did not let the opposition deter them from taking an obedient stand.

Paul rejoiced over what he had heard about them. It is wonderful to see people stand strong against adversity. It is encouraging to see obedience as an evidence of God at work.

Then he warned them to keep on with their good testimony.

Romans 16:19b, “… but I want you to be wise in what is good, and simple concerning evil.”

This is a sincere warning. Even true believers can be drawn in by enticing but deceptive ideas. Though the Romans had a reputation for standing firm, there was the danger of being led astray.

Regarding what is good, they must be wise. We should all know the truth of God’s word well enough that we will not be taken in by deceptions. Paul in warning the Christians in 1 Thessalonians 5:21 said, “Test all things; hold fast what is good.”

The best way to recognize the counterfeit is to know the genuine article well. By knowing the true doctrines and moral principles taught in Scripture, and by wisely seeking God’s grace to conform to them, a person is strengthened to resist attractive appeals to follow after heresies and moral compromise.

Regarding what is evil, they must be “simple,” or as some translate it “innocent.” The Greek word being translated is akeraios (ακεραιος). Literally it means “not-horned”. The root word keras (κερας) refers to a horn like on an ram, bull, or similar animal. One common use of it was used to refer to the little hooks on some letters in the alphabet. These horns or adornments were added to basic orthographic forms. When the “a” (α) is added to a Greek word, it negates it. The idea of being “not-horned” came to refer to something that is pure or not-mixed with additions, or harmless as in an animal without horns. Evil needs to be kept simple in our minds without adornments, exceptions, and carefully crafted excuses. A believer must be without man-made exceptions or additions to what God spoke. They should recognize and avoid the burrs that change the shape of the main issue. Believers should also not use evil an a harmful way. The concepts of being “simple” and “harmless” meld together in this interesting Greek word.

The word is found in only 2 other places in the New Testament. In Matthew 10:16, Jesus warned, “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” The same word is used there of being “harmless” as doves. It is also used by Paul in Philippians 2:15, “that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,” Then in the next verse, Philippians 2:16, he gives the same advice regarding the remedy, “holding fast the word of life, …”

Each time the word show a contrast. It describes standing firmly against the deceivers around us. Each time the same answer is given, follow after what God says in his word. As Dr. Haldane puts it, we must be “without cunning, dexterity, or skill” in the doing of evil.

God’s truth must be taken in its simple meaning, without spin or exceptions. God’s word and ways must be kept in simplicity, not colored with claimed innovative insights which turn what is good into a harmful tool of evil. We must learn to be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.

Calvin interpreted Paul as saying, “I would have you to be harmless and simple as to the doing of evil; but in doing good, to be most prudent, whenever it may be necessary, so that you may preserve your integrity.”

The Roman’s good testimony up to that point was being looked upon by many. Therefore they must stand strong as an example of what is right and true. They had learned well concerning Christ and the gospel of grace. They must not become good learners of bad things. False teachers love to target simple believers and snare them.

Paul then offers this firm promise.

Romans 16:20a, “And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly…”

He calls God, “The God of Peace”. The Lord is the author of all true peace. Regardless if it is freedom from calamity, or an inward calm in the midst of it, God is the source. His overruling power is all that restrains evil and provides whatever inward rest our bodies or souls enjoy.

God will crush Satan, that unseen enemy behind his evil empire. Satan is our “adversary”. As the “devil” he is the accuser. In the imagery of the serpent he is the tempter, a liar, the prince of this world, the destroyer.

So why did God create Satan? There is a central eternal plan underlying all that God made and does. Creation is for the purpose of disclosing the divine nature and glory. That nature includes the qualities of Justice, Mercy, and Sovereign Holiness.

God would not only redeem a family of undeserving humans from a lost race. He would also crush a spirit being which was made to become the ultimate enemy. That was the purpose behind the words of Genesis 3:15, that by the seed born of a woman God would crush the head of the serpent. Not just the snake Satan used in the temptation in Eden, but the Devil himself!

That part of the promise was to be fulfilled in stages: It was a plan that had no beginning. It always existed in the unchanging mind of God. It was set in motion by the creation and fall of Satan, then developed in the spiritual and moral battles through history which all lead to the final victory.

A quick preview of that plan was shown in Genesis 3:15 right after mankind fell into sin. Throughout the ages the prophets spoke of the ultimate victory over sin and death by a Redeemer.

Then Jesus came, God in human flesh, born as the seed of a woman. As he said of himself in Matthew 12:28-29, “But if I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, surely the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can one enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house.”

Jesus had just cast out demons (Matthew 12:26). The “strong man” he spoke of was Satan, the Lord of the demons. Jesus was about to plunder his house in the victory of the cross. The New Testament makes it clear that Jesus “spoiled” the principalities and powers of Satan. John 12:31, “Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be cast out.”

Hebrews 2:14-15 speaks about the death of Jesus, “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”

Revelation 20:2-3 tells how God’s angel, “laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while.”

Today, Satan no longer holds the nations, the Gentiles, in deception. That is the only bondage mentioned here in Revelation 20. The era of Jewish dominance ended at Calvary, and the church became a non-national family of God. All through this age the strong man is bound by the power of Christ and kept from the freedom he once had to deceive the Gentiles.

Jesus has taken the spoils from his kingdom. The Gentile believers in Christ’s true church testify that Satan is defeated already. Though in ways other than the deception of the nations spoken of in these verses we find Satan still quite active. The battle goes on. Though the Devil no longer keeps the vast world of non-Jews from believing, there is a daily struggle in which we all engage against the orchestrated evil around us.

The amazing message Paul refers to here in Romans 16:20 is that God is using us in that process. We are the army of the King of kings. Satan is being crushed under our feet!

As the seeds of women, as literal descendants of Eve, as spiritual descendants of the covenant people, as adopted children of God redeemed by the ultimate Seed of the Woman, Jesus Christ, we are instruments in the hand of God to continue to trample upon the seed of the serpent.

Though we are the army, it is God who does the conquering. We are the means he has ordained to use. So Paul says to the Roman believers that the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. We are the Creator’s tools. A saw without a craftsman cuts no wood. Yet we are more than an inanimate saw. God uses us as persons in his plan. Satan uses the disruptors of the church (Romans 16:17-18) as his instruments, but still they act only by the allowance of God.

So, how do we crush Satan under our feet? The method had just been explained in the previous verse: our obedience to God’s principles and promises as revealed in his word. Satan’s kingdom is diminished as Christians show the transforming power of their Holy King.

The obedience of the Roman believers and of all of God’s people is not done in secret. It is seen and observed like a shining light. Matthew 5:16, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

The greatest weapon that undermines the false kingship of Satan and proves his defeat is the evidence of the plundering of our lost souls by the conquering Savior. To advance God’s kingdom, to humble the great Devil, we do this by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, and by the use of all the means of Grace God tells us to use. We should each develop the fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives for others to see. Galatians 5:22-23, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. …”

No greater attack can be made upon the kingdom of Satan. No greater display can be made of the power of the gospel than to show its results. We proclaim that once we were blind, but now in Christ we see.

Of course, in this age the victory advances imperfectly and incompletely. The “soon” crushing of the serpent’s head under our feet has to do with the little victories we believers enjoy in this age. It was happening even as Paul wrote these words. Then, very soon, the gospel would spread through the Roman world like wildfire.

There is a greater dimension to this promise too. The victory will become complete in the return of Jesus Christ in glory and judgment. Revelation 20:7-10, “Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea. They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them. The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”

This last victory is not much of a battle. Satan assembles his attack but it doesn’t tell us that his armies ever get to start the battle. Fire falls from heaven, then the battle is over. Satan and his remaining forces are devoured and cast into eternal damnation.

So we fight valiantly against Satan with the full confidence that in Christ we are more than conquerors!

Paul closes with a benediction.

Romans 16:20b, “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.”

This is no mere wish, or formulary closing. It is a bold pronouncement. As we battle on we are not alone. As we battle evil we are not alone. The grace of our Lord is with us as our strength. His undeserved promise will inevitably be victorious through us. Central to God’s covenant is that Jesus is Immanuel — “God with us”.

As Satan, that old serpent, lays coiled up threatening to strike at us and our loved ones, we stand with the shovel in our hands confident in the promises of God and the inner power of the Holy Spirit.

We must make sure our aim at the evil one is taken carefully. He is a dangerous enemy. If our attack on him is presumptuous, careless, in any power but obedience to God’s ways, we will miss the mark and feel the fangs of the evil one as he strikes out at us. But when we obey and strike the target as a part of God’s plan, all of heaven will cheer as Christ’s church advances and the Devil’s head is being crushed by us.

What again is that weapon that is able to devastate the greatest enemy ever created? It is the shining light of the gospel announced in God’s word, secured on the Cross, applied to our hearts by grace, then seen in our changed hearts and lives.

If we live like the world, or are taken in by the enticing smooth words promised by our culture, if we live for wealth, hobbies, pastimes, leisure, reputation or lust we enter battle without the prescribed weapon. All alternative weapons will fail and leave us vulnerable. However, as we live for Jesus putting his glory, our duties to him and to our loved ones above all else, Satan’s head is crushed under our feet.

How simple really. In our homes, at school, at work, in the market places, and with our neighbors we must show that we are brought back into fellowship with our Creator by grace through the Savior. We openly admit to that saving grace. Then, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we show love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

Against this there is no defense for the evil one. No failure is possible for us. Victory is ours people of God! We cannot be defeated.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Back to the Index of Studies In Paul’s Letter to the Romans

Do Not Be Deceived

Lesson 61: Romans 16:17-18

Do Not Be Deceived

by Bob Burridge ©2012

In this last section of the Book of Romans, Paul had been explaining how God’s revealed word teaches us to love one another. Our love for God should make us desire to live obediently and kindly toward those around us. We are very specially to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, both those who are weak and those who are spiritually strong.

There should be caution in accepting others into a close trusting fellowship.

Romans 16:17, “Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them.”

Notice that this is not just a mild suggestion. It is an apostolic injunction, a mandated warning. There are dangerous people around!

Paul told the Roman Christians to take notice of them. The NASB says “keep your eye on those”, the KJV says “mark them”. In the original Greek text the word is skopein (σκοπειν) from which we get our word “scope”. It means to mark them out with your eyes, scope them out, learn to spot them. We need to learn their markings, their characteristics.

I am not a snake handler. They are fascinating animals to learn about, watch on TV nature shows, or to observe from a distance. Everything God made is awesome each in its own unique way. However, when a snake gets near me or into my house (and in one place we lived that happened a few times) is ceases to be considered a good snake.

One of the snakes we have here in Florida is the Scarlet snake. I’m told it is harmless to humans, and that it actually does some good. Its markings are red, black, and yellow bands. Each yellow band has black bands on each side of it. The black part keeps the yellow from directly touching the red bands. And if you notice its belly side, the bands do not go all around the body.

There is another common Florida snake, the Coral Snake. It is extremely poisonous. Its venom is related to the Cobra. Its markings are also red, black, and yellow bands. But on the Coral Snake, the bands encircle the whole body.

When you’re trying to tell which of the two kinds of snake it is, you might not be able to get it to roll over on its back to show its belly. So it’s good to know another distinctive of the coral snake, the yellow bands separate the red from the black bands. In short, if the yellow touches the red it is the kind of snake that can kill you. If you see a snake like this, but you are not able to remember which is which, avoid it just to be safe.

Similarly, we need to be able to recognize dangerous teachers. So Paul tells us how to recognize the markings of these dangerous people. They have are two main characteristics.

First: They cause divisions, dissensions in the church disrupting its unity. They introduce new ideas, but not new things found in Scripture. They promote dogmas devised by men. They confuse God’s revealed truth by blending it with untruth. This creates conflicts in the church.

They also confuse the principles God gave for settling our differences. Without an agreed upon standard for judging what is true and right, we end up with angry divisiveness. Those who have a greater influence tend to dominate over those who have the greater truth.

When true brothers in Christ disagree they take time to listen to one another, to understand what the other is saying. Then they humbly dig into their Bibles ready to test everything and let God’s truth have the final say.

Second: These dangerous people also cause offenses. The Greek word is skandala (σκανδαλα) from which we get our word scandal. False teachings hinder our spiritual maturity and fellowship. They create scandals among us by promoting beliefs that offend God, and that cause the weaker among us to stumble. They entrap us in wrong teachings that confuse and discourage.

Paul uses a present participle so literally the structure is, “the ones doing … divisions and offenses.” It is their characteristic way of living. They are always stirring up things that disrupt or confuse. Rather than encouraging one another by God’s promises as Paul had just recommended (12-15), they discourage, and turn certain promises into confused uncertainties.

They do this by teaching things contrary to the doctrine the believers had learned. Today there are those who say, “Doctrine Divides”. Meanwhile they are proclaiming their own dogmas and doctrines without admitting it. It is false doctrine that divides the church, not the true teachings of God’s word. The doctrines God has taught in Scripture unite and strengthen us.

The teachings drawn from God’s word are not only important, they are vital. They are important because God said so. God making himself known is the greatest activity in all the universe. Truth is the only way to make sense out of an otherwise confusing and discouraging world. It is the only way to find true happiness and satisfaction in this life and the next. What we believe controls our outlook on everything and everyone around us.

Wrong ideas about God, man, sin, redemption, responsibility, duty, justice, and holiness obscure God’s revealing of himself and are the root causes for our frustrations, discouragements, and immoral behavior. They ruin our marriages, our homes, our jobs, and our churches. They cause disruptive conduct, produce guilt, and the depressions so common today.

When we are enticed away from the truth we lose sight of the majesty and power of God, we forget the promises which God will not fail to fulfill, we forget our own unworthiness and the grace that adopted us as a family in Christ. It offers foolish excuses for living in ways contrary to God’s revealed principles

Bad theologies give us a false foundation, a false outlook, a false hope, and a false set of values. They burden us by requiring us to do what only God can do. They blame others for the wrongs they do. Since their view of God is confused they either blame him for not doing a better job in making the world a happy place, or they dream up a different kind of god than the one revealed to us in the Bible.

In the temptation of Eve in Eden, Satan began with false doctrine. He convinced Eve to doubt the truth of what God had said. He implied that her self-interests would be better served by violating what God said.

Paul was writing here to other believers in Christ, those having received the truth of God. Some had come along teaching things contrary to what they had received by God’s provision through the Apostles, the written word in Scripture, and the work of the Holy Spirit to open their eyes to understand that truth. Therefore, Paul’s readers need to recognize the error of what these dissenters taught.

Paul gives a second recommendation. Not only should we mark them, we must avoid them. Literally he writes, “and you, be turning away from them.”

We need to avoided their teachings like the plague. If we know someone has a highly contagious disease, we are very careful to stay away. We keep our children and loved ones away from them at all costs. Infected people are often isolated. The things they touch are sterilized. People wear masks around them in the hospitals. Exposure to one contagion can infect you and cause a lot of suffering, even death.

The disease of false doctrine is even more damaging. It plants seeds of error which seem small and insignificant by themselves, but subtly twist a person’s view of God and grace. They corrupt in stages like a progressing disease. Yet many are careless, exposing themselves to all sorts of questionable teachings. They listen to the cultish ideas that proliferate on religious television and radio. They attend so called “Bible studies” that entice with novel ideas, touching stories, and imagined insights. In reality they blend the doctrines of men with bits taken out of context from God’s word.

Believers should not expose themselves to novelties that bait them into such confusion. They should avoid them as they would a poisonous snake. The doctrines of men are many times more dangerous than the venom of the Coral Snake. Snakes can kill the body, but false teachings and novel twists of truth offend God and hurt his people.

These teachers may sound like they know the Bible, and claim all sorts of deep insights. But if it seems like a new idea, be very careful. With all the scholarly biblical research done in every generation for thousands of years, most really new ideas are probably wrong ideas.

There were times as a seminary student when my studies in Greek, Hebrew or Theology would turn up an idea that seemed original, fresh, and new. However, in the library I would discover that hundreds of years ago scores of articles or books had been written on the exact same idea. Sometimes those historic writings helped to confirm that my understanding was sound. At other times those scholars led me to a careful look at God’s word which exposed my beginner’s errors.

There are identifying marks that distinguish the dangerous teachers from the helpful ones. We need to recognize these markings just as clearly as we learn to spot poisonous snakes.

Paul then explained why men like this are so dangerous:

Romans 16:18, “For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.”

We are to avoid them because of the influence the false teachers can have upon others in the church.

They are not servants of Christ, but are servants of their own appetites. Paul later described the “enemies of the cross” saying in Philippians 3:19, “whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame — who set their mind on earthly things.”

He does not mean that their problem is over eating. The concern is that they are motivated by their desire to satisfy themselves. They want to do and believe what satisfies their fallen natures, rather than what pleases God as explained in his word.

This is seen today in the corrupted teachings of many churches, and in the way worship has become more a time of entertainment and personal gratification. Church leaders do all kinds of research to find out what will make the worshipers feel good, but many have little interest in studying the Bible to find out what God’s word says about it. Their master is not Christ. Their appetites are their Lord.

They use smooth words and flattering speech. As Paul later warned in 2 Timothy 4:3, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers;”

Satan spoke pleasing words to Eve, superficially positive words that appealed to her self-interest. So also, these troubling religious leaders appeal to the weaknesses of our imperfect nature. They make souls ignore their spiritual sickness when they need spiritual healing. They turn worship into a time for making worshipers feel good, instead of a time for humbly honoring God who then blesses with true inner reward.

They love the parts of the Bible with which they agree, but avoid the parts that correct their errors and condemn their beloved sins. They may even wave Bibles in the air and use its words, but their God is a beggar of souls, rather than a Sovereign regenerator of dead hearts. They stir emotions with atmosphere, theatrics, special music, and touching stories instead of using God’s promises to stir us from within by the power of the Holy Spirit. They speak of God’s law as if it was a divine mistake that God “fixed” in Jesus, instead of speaking of it as revealing God’s holiness, exposing our sin, and driving us to our Savior.

Their seductive and entertaining delivery becomes a deceptive costume. They “tickle our ears” that itch to hear what we want to believe. They confidently proclaim what appears to be insight, but they introduce false ideas which offend those who truly love God’s word. They make good doctrine seem foolish, and false doctrine seem noble, appealing, and reasonable.

As Calvin said, these “… impostors allure men by flattery, and spare and indulge their vices, that they may keep them attached to themselves.”

They deceive the simple, those who have not learned God’s word well enough on their own. They are the sheep who need good shepherds to lead them. They should be cautious and not gullible. God gives his word to us all to read, to study, and to use as our standard. Paul was not just warning church leaders in Rome. He addressed this to the brothers, the congregation members. To a certain degree, we must all be able to recognize these deceivers, to know their markings. Proverbs 14:15 “The simple believes every word, But the prudent considers well his steps.”

There will always be those who artfully appeal to the strongest desires of our fallen hearts. They speak of peace and unity, but at the expense of morality and justice. They comfort us in our sin, but fail to show us God’s way of finding victory to overcome it. We ought to turn away from people like that.

Though Paul had just urged us to love the brothers and to strengthen our unity, now he warns us that there are some from whom we must come apart. If we unite with them, we cause disunity from those who truly love the holy truths of God.

Calvin warned, “To separate such as agree in the truth of Christ is an impious and sacrilegious divorce; but to defend a conspiracy for promoting lies and impious doctrines, under the pretext of peace and unity, is a shameless slander.”

Union with unbelief is therefore contrary to God’s word. We must separate from error to keep unity within God’s true family. It is not biblical to seek unity at all costs. Paul tells us to avoid those who want to remain among us to sew seeds of error, immorality, and lies. They are the most insidious enemies of all.

Today, the forces of ecumenical compromise continue to create a unity that welcomes only those who are happy to surrender what God says and to embrace all that makes them feel good. Pleasing humans becomes more important than pleasing God. The result is a bland church that abhors all that God says the church should be.

To preserve the purity of the true church, and to promote the truth of God’s word, Paul shows us that it is God’s command that we should avoid uniting together with unbelief.

2 Corinthians 6:14-17, “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness? And what accord has Christ with Belial? Or what part has a believer with an unbeliever? And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will dwell in them And walk among them. I will be their God, And they shall be My people.’ Therefore ‘Come out from among them And be separate, says the Lord. Do not touch what is unclean, And I will receive you.’ ”

So watch out! Avoid them! Their markings are similar outwardly to what is right and good. Like Satan who clothes himself to appear as if he was an angel of light, false teachers may appear to be very reliable and well informed. Like the Coral Snake who may resemble the docile Scarlet Snake, these deceivers are not harmless. They invite us all to join with them in their less rigid religion. We would be well received by them as long as we abandon some of the things God has revealed in his word. The comfort they offer is itself a lie and deception. There can be no peace in the hearts of those who abandon the Prince of Peace and join with his enemy.

When I was working on this study I consulted a book about reptiles so I could be accurate about the markings on the snakes I mentioned. We must consult God’s word to know the markings that announce danger. With snakes in your garden, if you can’t remember which colors distinguish the coral snake avoid the one that you suspect. When it comes to Bible teachers, Ministers, or authors of Christian books, if you are not sure which ones are dangerous, be like the Berean church where the people would not accept anything as right and true that is not confirmed by God’s own word. Measured against God’s truth, the markings of the false teachers become a bold warning sign.

By holding fast to the truth which God has made known in the Bible and sealed upon our hearts by the Holy Spirit, we preserve the beauty and unity of the true churches of Jesus Christ our Lord.

(The Bible quotations in this lesson are from the New King James Version of the Bible unless otherwise noted.)

Back to the Index of Studies In Paul’s Letter to the Romans