Sin, Righteousness, and Judgment

Current opinion holds that we are good people who do bad things. But opinion isn’t fact; and fact isn’t opinion. Someone, Who knew the facts, spoke about the Third Person of God this way:

And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged. John 16:8-11 English Standard Version (ESV)

There’s a lot of truth packed in these verses of scripture. Although Matthew Henry, Charles Spurgeon, and John Calvin all commented or preached on this text, we turn to a heartfelt sermon by George Whitfield, Anglican minister, preacher of Calvinist Methodism, and revivalist preacher in the USA circa 1740s. Speaking of sin, righteousness, and judgment, Whitefield said:

…First, …The Comforter, when he comes effectually to work upon a sinner, not only convinces him of the sin of his nature, the sin of his life, [and] of the sin of his duties…

But there is a fourth sin, of which the Comforter, when he comes, convinces the soul, and which alone (it is very remarkable) our Lord mentions, as though it was the only sin worth mentioning; for indeed it is the root of all other sins whatsoever: it is the reigning as well as the damning sin of the world. And what now do you imagine that sin may be? It is that cursed sin, that root of all other evils, I mean the sin of unbelief. Says our Lord, verse 9. “Of sin, because they believe not on me.”

…Perhaps you may think you believe, because you repeat the Creed, or subscribe to a Confession of Faith; because you go to church or meeting, receive the sacrament, and are taken into full communion. These are blessed privileges; but all this may be done, without our being true believers.

…Ask yourselves, therefore, whether or not the Holy [Spirit] ever powerfully convinced you of the sin of unbelief? …Were you ever made to cry out, “Lord, give me faith; Lord, give me to believe on thee; O that I had faith! O that I could believe!” If you never were thus distressed, at least, if you never saw and felt that you had no faith, it is a certain sign that the Holy [Spirit], the Comforter, never came into and worked savingly upon your souls.

…We have seen how the Holy [Spirit] convinces the sinner of the sin of his nature, life, duties, and of the sin of unbelief; and what then must the poor creature do? He must, he must inevitably despair, if there be no hope but in himself…

Whitefield continues:

Secondly, what is the righteousness, of which the Comforter convinces the world?

…O the righteousness of Christ! It so comforts my soul, that I must be excused if I mention it in almost all my discourses. I would not, if I could help it, have one sermon without it. Whatever infidels may object, or Arminians sophistically argue against an imputed righteousness; yet whoever know themselves and God, must acknowledge, that “Jesus Christ is the end of the law for righteousness, (and perfect justification in the sight of God) to everyone that believes,” and that we are to be made the righteousness of God in him.

This, and this only, a poor sinner can lay hold of, as a sure anchor of his hope. Whatever other scheme of salvation men may lay, I acknowledge I can see no other foundation whereon to build my hopes of salvation, but on the rock of Christ’s personal righteousness, imputed to my soul.

…When therefore the Spirit has hunted the sinner out of all his false rests and hiding-places, taken off the pitiful fig-leaves of his own works, and driven him out of the trees of the garden (his outward reformations) and places him naked before the bar of a sovereign, holy, just, and sin-avenging God; then, then it is, when the soul, having the sentence of death within itself because of unbelief, has a sweet display of Christ’s righteousness made to it by the Holy Spirit of God. Here it is, that he begins more immediately to act in the quality of a Comforter, and convinces the soul so powerfully of the reality and all-sufficiency of Christ’s righteousness, that the soul is immediately set a hungering and thirsting after it.

Now the sinner begins to see, that though he has destroyed himself, yet in Christ is his help; that, though he has no righteousness of his own to recommend him, there is a fullness of grace, a fullness of truth, a fullness of righteousness in the dear Lord Jesus, which, if once imputed to him, will make him happy for ever and ever.

…If you were never thus convinced of Christ’s righteousness in your own souls, though you may believe it doctrinally, it will avail you nothing; if the Comforter never came savingly into your souls, then you are comfortless indeed…

Whitefield then proceeds:

Thirdly, …the Comforter, when he comes, convinces the soul of judgment.

“Of judgment (says our Lord) because the Prince of this world is judged;” the soul, being enabled to lay hold on Christ’s perfect righteousness by a lively faith, has a conviction wrought in it by the Holy Spirit, that the Prince of this world is judged. The soul being now justified by faith, has peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, and can triumphantly say, “It is Christ that justifies me, who is he that condemns me?”

The strong man armed is now cast out; my soul is in a true peace; the Prince of this world will come and accuse, but he has now no share in me: the blessed Spirit which I have received, and whereby I am enabled to apply Christ’s righteousness to my poor soul, powerfully convinces me of this: why should I fear? Or of what shall I be afraid, since God’s Spirit witnesses with my spirit, that I am a child of God…

But, if we do not find ourselves thus convinced, Whitefield appeals to us once more to be reconciled to Christ:

Though of myself I can do nothing, and you can no more by your own power come to and believe on Christ, than Lazarus could come forth from the grave; yet who knows but God may beget some of you again to a lively hope by this foolishness of preaching, and that you may be some of that world, which the Comforter is to convince of sin, or righteousness, and of judgment?

Poor Christless souls! Do you know what a condition you are in? Why, you are lying in the wicked one, the devil; he rules in you, he walks and dwells in you, unless you dwell in Christ, and the Comforter is come into your hearts. And will you contentedly lie in that wicked one that devil? What wages will he give you? Eternal death.

O that you would come to Christ! The free gift of God through him is eternal life. He will accept of you even now, if you will believe in him. The Comforter may yet come into your hearts, even yours…

***

In conclusion, we briefly quote Augustine on these same verses:

Let men, therefore, believe in Christ, that they be not convicted of the sin of their own unbelief, whereby all sins are retained;

let them make their way into the number of believers, that they be not convicted of the righteousness of those, whom, as justified, they fail to imitate;

let them beware of that future judgment, that they be not judged with the prince of the world, whom, judged as he is, they continue to imitate.

For the unbending pride of mortals can have no thought of being spared itself, as it is thus called to think with terror of the punishment that overtook the pride of angels.

Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God – Classic Sermon by Jonathan Edwards – Christian Praise and Worship in Songs, Sermons, and Audio Books, Sermon Text

God or Money?

Which will it be, God or money? The God spoken about in this context is the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit; one God in three persons. Money, or mammon, on the other hand, is any earthly means of exchange or gain (i.e., possessions).

While speaking with His disciples, the Lord Jesus Christ was overheard by the religious rulers of the day. They scoffed at what He said to His disciples:

“No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Luke 16:13 English Standard Version (ESV)

Christ then turned to these rulers and addressed how their heart attitudes kept them out of His Kingdom.

Christ spoke the same words to a different audience who listened intently to His Sermon on the Mount. He spoke about the heart attitude that His disciples and the crowds that followed Him should possess in the Kingdom of God. As part of that sermon, Christ said:

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.” Matthew 6:24 (ESV)

Although the disciples were common to both groups, many in the first audience sneered at what He said and in the second, they hung on His every word.

John Calvin commented on this two-thousand-year-old chronicle over five hundred years ago:

No man can serve two masters. …[Christ] had formerly said, that the heart of man is bound and fixed upon its treasure; and he now gives warning, that the hearts of those who are devoted to riches are alienated from the Lord.

For the greater part of men are [inclined] to flatter themselves with a deceitful pretense, when they imagine, that it is possible for them to be divided between God and their own lusts. Christ affirms that it is impossible for any man to obey God, and, at the same time, to obey his own flesh…

We commonly call this a ‘divided heart.’ Calvin goes on:

True, it is not impossible that those who are rich shall serve God; but whoever gives himself up as a slave to riches must abandon the service of God: for covetousness makes us the slaves of the devil…

So it isn’t the riches themselves, so much as setting our hearts on those riches to the partial (or total) exclusion of Him. Calvin then extends this principle to all our vices.

…As God pronounces everywhere such commendations of sincerity, and hates a double heart, (1 Chronicles 12:33; Psalm 12:2); all are deceived, who imagine that he will be satisfied with the half of their heart…

The covetous, the voluptuaries, the gluttons, the unchaste, the cruel, all in their turn offer the same apology for themselves: as if it were possible for those to be partly employed in serving God, who are openly carrying on war against him.

But wait, we are beset with sins that, the scriptures say, so easily entangle us. Are we double minded and in danger of hell fire? To this, Calvin, the shepherd, says:

It is, no doubt, true, that believers themselves are never so perfectly devoted to obedience to God, as not to be withdrawn from it by the sinful desires of the flesh.

But as they groan under this wretched bondage, and are dissatisfied with themselves, and give nothing more than an unwilling and reluctant service to the flesh, they are not said to serve two masters: for their desires and exertions are approved by the Lord, as if they rendered to him a perfect obedience.

But this passage [Luke 16:13] reproves the hypocrisy of those who flatter themselves in their vices, as if they could reconcile light and darkness.

So there we have it. The question now becomes: “Do I serve the devil or do I serve the Lord.” For, we all have to serve somebody.

Serve Somebody, Johnny Q. Public, Lyrics by Bob Dylan

Faith Fail?

This was a critical time in the Lord Jesus Christ’s service to humankind. The ruling leadership was plotting his murder with one of His inner circle of disciples, Judas. Jesus had sent Peter and John ahead to prepare for a significant religious dinner celebration.

Then, at that dinner, while instructing His disciples of His impending death and resurrection, a controversy over who was the greatest disciple broke out. After Jesus taught them the meaning of humility and about their future roles as his disciples, He tells Peter how he will betray Him:

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” Luke 22:31–34 English Standard Version (ESV)

Calvin explains:

…When Christ formerly promised to his disciples the spirit of unshaken fortitude, he referred to a new state of things which followed the resurrection; and, therefore, as they were not yet [endowed] with heavenly power, Peter, forming confident expectations from himself, goes beyond the limits of faith.

…This claims our attention, that every man, remembering his own weakness, may earnestly resort to the assistance of the Holy Spirit [through prayer]; and next, that no man may venture to take more upon himself than what the Lord promises. [Thus,] Paul…enjoins us to:

…Work out our salvation with fear and trembling, because it is God that works in us to will and perform, (Philippians 2:12 – 13.)

…Therefore, whenever any temptation is presented to us, let us first remember our weakness, that, being entirely thrown down, we may learn to seek elsewhere [i.e., from God] what we need [i.e., His mercy and grace]; and, next, let us remember the grace which is promised, that it may free us from doubt.

So, we must rely on Christ and not on our own strength. However, this is not the end of the matter. Christ, through His servant Paul, challenges us:

Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? — unless indeed you fail to meet the test! 2 Corinthians 13:5 (ESV)

And Calvin says:

…But what does Paul say here? He declares, that all are reprobates, who doubt whether they profess Christ and are a part of His body. Let us, therefore, reckon…right faith [is that] which leads us to [rest] in safety in the favor of God, with no wavering opinion, but with a firm and steadfast assurance.

They admonish us because God supplies saving faith; it is not our own doing:

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV)

Yet, facing ourselves more deeply, let us not forget the parable of the soils. As Christ explains:

Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.

And the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear the word, receive it with joy. But these have no root; they believe for a while, and in time of testing fall away.

And as for what fell among the thorns, they are those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.

As for that in the good soil, they are those who, hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience.

Luke 8:11-15 (ESV)

Let us therefore exercise patience in our calling because He cannot fail; though we may:

My flesh and my heart may fail,

   but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Psalm 73:26 (ESV)

To this, Calvin reveals:

…There is here a contrast between the failing which David felt in himself and the strength with which he was divinely supplied; as if he had said, “Separated from God I am nothing, and all that I attempt to do ends in nothing; but when I come to him, I find an abundant supply of strength.”

It is highly necessary for us to consider what we are without God; for no man will cast himself wholly upon God, but he…who despairs of the sufficiency of his own powers. We will seek nothing from God but what we are conscious of [lacking] in ourselves.

Then, let us cast ourselves wholly upon Him that our faith may not fail.

The Denial of Saint Peter - Carravagio (1610)

The Denial of Saint Peter, circa 1610, by Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1571 – 1610), public domain in the United States