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Moral Earthquakes & Secret Faults: The call to restoration - Part 14

Moral Earthquakes & Secret Faults: The call to restoration - Part 14

Friday, May 7, 2021 2:38 PM
Friday, May 7, 2021 2:38 PM


Philippians 2:12

So then, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your salvation with fear and trembling. - Philippians 2:12, NASB

Philippians 2:12

In the aftermath of a great natural disaster such as an earthquake, a tremendous amount of labor must be exerted. Things cannot simply be left alone. The devastation and destruction cannot be ignored. The mess won’t go away if we simply ignore it long enough.

So, everyone has to pitch in, work together and labor side by side. The entire community must be mobilized. Otherwise, the work will never get done, and life will never get back to anything resembling normalcy.

Similarly, the cleanup effort following a moral earthquake can be an enormous undertaking. Yet however difficult, however unpleasant and however unnerving, it must be done. And it must be done in cooperation with others. It requires a group effort. The entire community of faith must be mobilized.

Like a severely ill patient, a fallen man cannot and will not be able to heal himself. Most fallen Christians hide from the healing, yet revealing, touch of God. Therefore, they must be sought out by their brethren. Once found, they must be helped up from their fallen, decaying state. Then, after this lifting up has been accomplished, they must be held up, much like a baby trying to walk or a patient trying to recover. The fallen brother needs support and encouragement from those around him. From this point on, there exists more responsibility on the part of the patient. Indeed, more active effort is required from them to bring them back to their former strength and role.

The process of restoration

As we discussed in the previous chapter, there are three things the apostle Paul admonishes us as believers in Christ to do with our fallen friends. Hunt them up. Help them up. And hold them up. He says: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:1–2).

It is always a good habit in Bible study to ask ourselves several questions: When? Who? What? How? and Why? When we do this, it is utterly amazing how beautifully and clearly Scripture unfolds for us.

So in this passage, we ask: When? The answer: When one is overtaken in a trespass. Who? You who are spiritual. What? Restore him. How? In a spirit of gentleness. Why? Considering yourself lest you also be tempted.

By asking those simple questions, a wealth of truth emerges from this passage of God’s Word. We are to hunt up those who have fallen, but we are to simultaneously help him up. And we are to do it all in a spirit of gentleness, meekness and humility — remembering from whence we have come ourselves.

The word translated “gentleness,” in the Greek text literally means “an animal that has been completely tamed — domesticated.” It describes a wild stallion that some cowboy has broken. It’s no longer wild. It no longer bucks. The cowboy can get on the back of that horse, flick the reigns a little bit to the left, and the horse will turn to the left, a little to the right and it’ll turn right. He can pull back slightly and it’ll stop. That wild stallion has come under the control of his master. That is the word picture that the apostle Paul uses to describe the kind of spirit we are to display in the process of restoration: it is a spirit of gentleness.

In other words, our obedience to restore our fallen brethren must be conducted in love. We must speak the truth in love, having come under the control of our Master.

The love connection

Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15, NASB). And again, He said: “He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him” (John 14:21, NASB).

Similarly, the apostle John wrote:

By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked. Beloved, I am not writing a new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning; the old commandment is the word which you have heard (1 John 2:3–7, NASB).

The unmistakable mark of a faithful people is obedience. Believers are proved as “doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22, NASB). They keep the commands of God’s Word.

Thus James could ask:

What use is it, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself. But someone may well say, “You have faith, and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:14–18, NASB).

Regardless of what anyone else does or says, we have a responsibility to obey God. Every believer has an irrevocable duty to demonstrate the authenticity of their faith. Each of us is called to keep Christ’s commandment to show compassion and care for the hurting and for the fallen.

There is simply no getting around it. We can make excuses all day long, but they won’t change the fact that we are obligated by our faith in the Lord Jesus to do right. Everyone else around us may be sidetracked by theological side issues or evangelical sideshows, but we still have no “outs.” We have a job to do. We must “keep His commandments.”

Yet our obedience must not be a dry, lifeless compliance to the letter of the law. Our righteousness must surpass that of the scribes and the Pharisees (see Matt. 5:20). Our righteousness must be marked by love. Our obedience is to be a joyous exercise of lovingkindness (Ps. 109:16).

Just as our obedience is evidence that our love for God is authentic, so our love for those around us is evidence that our obedience is authentic.

Once again, the apostle of obedience and love, John, asserts: “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren. He who does not love abides in death” (1 John 3:14, NASB).

Again he says: “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has the world’s goods, and beholds his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. We shall know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him” (1 John 3:16–19, NASB).

When asked by the scribes, “‘What commandment is the foremost of all?’ Jesus answered: ‘The foremost is, “Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these’” (Mark 12:28–31, NASB).

Our love of God is shown by obedience. Our obedience is shown by love of man.  It is an endless cycle. It is a marvelous cycle that makes faith in Christ not just right, and not just true, but abundantly satisfying as well (see John 10:7–18).

The path of love

Sadly, love is an overused, much abused word in our everyday vocabularies. When we say that we “love” Mom, hot dogs, apple pie and baseball, we reduce the word’s impact terribly. When “love” can mean one thing to a Hollywood starlet, another to a Madison Avenue ad man, another to a gay activist on Castro Street in San Francisco, another to an Arab terrorist for Gadhafi or Khomeini’s Jihad, and still another to the man on the street, “love” ceases to mean much at all. In fact, a word that can mean almost anything to anybody will soon come to mean almost nothing to everybody. But, even though our culture may be a bit muddy in its understanding of “love,” the Bible is absolutely clear:

Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away (1 Cor. 13:4–8, NASB).

Love involves “compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Col. 3:12–14). It involves single-mindedness (see Phil.  2:2). It involves purity of heart, a good conscience and “a faith unfeigned” (1 Tim. 1:5, KJV). It involves diligence (see 2 Cor. 8:7), knowledge (see Phil. 1:9), service (see Gal. 5:13), righteousness (see 2 Tim. 2:22), sound judgment (see Phil. 1:9) and courtesy (see 1 Pet. 3:8). Love is the royal law (see James 2:8). It is the capstone of godly character (see 1 Cor. 13:13). It is the message that we have heard from the beginning (see 1 John 3:11).

Interestingly, the word that the King James translators chose to use in each of these passages was “charity.” That word catches a special dynamic of meaning that “love” has lost in our day of muddy definitions. “Charity” accurately communicates the fact that love is not simply a feeling. Love is something you do. Love is an action. Love is a commitment, an obligation and a responsibility. Love is charity.

Thus, we are to prove the sincerity of love (see 2 Cor. 8:8, KJV), and we are to do it by following “after charity” (1 Cor. 14:1), by having “fervent charity” among ourselves (1 Pet. 4:8, KJV) and by being an example to others “in charity” (1 Tim. 4:12, KJV). For “charity shall cover the multitude of sins” (1 Pet. 4:8, KJV). “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And though I bestow all goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing” (1 Cor. 13:1–3, KJV).

There is simply no getting around it. It is a Christian necessity to do the work of charity among those who are hurting or fallen, to love not just “in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18).

Even if no one else cares. Even if no one else helps. Even if no one else tries, we must.

The love of Jesus

Restoration is thus to be undertaken in an environment of lovingkindness and gentleness. If someone has a broken bone, you don’t approach him with a sledgehammer. This is why those who are not spiritual have no place in the ministry of restoration. Those who are spiritual, have to handle broken people firmly, but gently. A broken man needs compassion. He needs someone in a spirit of love and gentleness.

What made Jesus Christ so winsome? There were times when people were convicted of their sin just by being around him, and yet the crowds flocked to Him and followed Him. What was it about Him that was so winsome?

He was a man of compassion. He never spoke a harsh or unkind word to a broken man or woman. He certainly pulled no punches with the hard-hearted — the vipers and snakes, the whitewashed tombs and hypocrites. But He met in compassion those who were broken, those who needed restoration and those who were fallen. Those who were overtaken in a trespass, He didn’t criticize. He didn’t condemn them. He didn’t castigate them. He was in the restoration business, and the more you become like Jesus Christ, the more you will take on that spirit of love and gentleness.


Most of us float to one of two extremes. Most churches, most Christians, go from pillar to post. On the one hand, we have the condemners — the extreme fundamentalists and legalists. On the other extreme are the condoners — the extreme liberals and libertines. One condemns just about anything and everything; the other condones just about anything and everything.

The condemners represent the pharisaical extreme. That is, they are morally upright, but they are stern, unkind and unforgiving. Their holier-than-thou attitudes drive those who have fallen even farther away, deeper into sin. This is a group who condemns trespasses.

The condoners represent the herodian extreme, like those Jews who compromised with Herod in Jesus’ day. They are permissive to the point of being promiscuous. The condoners have no real moral standards. They may talk about principles here or there, but they really don’t believe that there are any absolutes. Everyone does what they like. No one says anything. Everyone finds unconditional acceptance lest someone accuse the church of judgment or intolerance. They don’t condemn sin. They go to the opposite extreme. They condone it. Even by their silence, they condone it. And they put the Word of God and its standards for holiness, righteousness and morality aside.

But genuine biblical restoration can be found in neither one of these extremes. Instead, it is to be found in the admonition set forth by Paul: the wrongdoing is not to be condemned and it is not to be condoned. It is to be confronted. By whom? By those who are spiritual. How? In a spirit of gentleness. Why? That we might restore the fallen one to fellowship in the church and with the family of God.

There are a lot of hurting, broken people around us. Thus, it is vital that we avoid the extremes and simply do the important work of building bridges of reconciliation and restoration. But how do we go about doing this?

Bearing burdens

According to the apostle Paul, the fulfillment of our calling to obey Christ’s commands in a loving and gentle fashion may be accomplished when we simply bear one another’s burdens: “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).

We need to go above and beyond the ordinary in order to win back our fallen brother. It’s not enough just to hunt him up and to help him up. We must also hold him up, and sometimes that means bearing one another’s burdens, to fulfill the law of Christ.

The New Testament is replete with stories of men and women who were down but who got up, who found this principle of restoration to be true. For instance, there was the woman in Sychar at a well one day. What happened? Jesus put into practice the ministry of restoration. First, He hunted her up. He went way out of His way. Remember? He said He needed to go through Samaria. He went miles out of His way. Why? To hunt up that one woman. Then, He helped her up. He told her of living water. Next, He held her up — she went into Sychar, and she brought her whole village out to meet Him.

What about Simon Peter when he betrayed Christ? He blew it. He fell ignobly. He wept bitterly. What did Jesus do? He arose from the grave, and He hunted him up. He appeared first unto Simon, and then unto the disciples. Somewhere, after the Resurrection, Jesus found Simon Peter and allowed him to weep out those tears of repentance. He hunted him up, He helped him up and He held him up.

Think of Thomas: “Except I see those prints in his hands, I’ll not believe.” And what did Jesus do? He hunted him up. He came back to the Upper Room where Thomas was and came through the door. Hunted him up, and then helped him up. He said to Thomas, “Here they are, put your finger in here.” Then He held him up. Thomas eventually took the gospel of Christ all the way to India and later died a martyr’s death.

Yes, we’re to hold up the fallen brother. We are to bear his burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.

Personal responsibility

Again, we must remember the responsibility that each of us has concerning our salvation, whether we are recovering or walking strong: We must work out our salvation with fear and trembling. We are responsible to God for seeking to eliminate those faults, those cracks which cause us to crumble, which cause moral earthquakes. We must remember that any brother being restored must desire to be restored. He must be repentant.

Just because we hunt him up and help him up does not mean restoration takes place. I’ve had experiences in my own life with preacher friends and laymen friends that I’ve hunted up when they were taken in trespasses — people I’ve sought to help. There are times when we hunt up people, but they will not let us help them up nor hold them up. The broken one has to be willing to repent. The fallen one overtaken in a trespass must yield to the Holy Spirit, be willing to repent, and if need be, make reconciliation, restitution or whatever else may be involved. If he will not repent, there is no restoration.

Someone once asked, “When can a brother who has fallen into sin be used again?” It’s a good question. It’s a question that we’re confronted with often. When someone God has used before has fallen into sin, when can they be used again? When can they be restored again? What was Spurgeon’s reply? “When a man’s repentance is as notorious as his sin.” When a man’s repentance becomes as well known as his sin, when a man’s heart of true genuine repentance is as well known as his trespass — he is ready to be used again.

King David was a great sinner, but God used him again. Why? Because he was a great repenter, and his repentance became as notorious as his sin. Psalm 51 shows how his heart was opened, and he was filled with the spirit of repentance.

Some folks have a false concept of repentance. Repentance means a change of mind. That’s what the Greek word means literally, a “change of mind.” Some people think repentance is remorse, just being sorry that you committed an infraction of God’s standards. But that is wide of the mark. Remember the rich young ruler? He was sorrowful — but he did not repent.

Other people think repentance is regret — wishing we hadn’t done it. A lot of us live like that when we’ve fallen, but that’s not repentance either. Remember Pontius Pilate washing his hands in that basin of water, regretting his deed? But he did not repent.

Still others think repentance is reform — in other words, turning over a new leaf. “I’m just gonna try harder and try better and just reform.” But that is not repentance either. Judas Iscariot reformed. He took the 30 pieces of silver, went back and flung them down the corridors of the temple. He reformed, but he didn’t repent.

Repentance means a change of mind. It’s when our volition is transformed. It’s when our will is changed. If we’ve truly changed our mind, our volition — our will — is completely altered. And what will happen if our will is changed? Our actions will likewise be changed.

Now we can hunt up folks and help up folks and hold up folks all day long, but if they don’t have a genuine spirit of repentance, they’ll never be restored. We can help the invalids up, but until they put a foot on the ground, until they make an effort to change themselves, our efforts will be in vain.

We do have one consolation in this regard. As David attests in the Psalms, the pressure of the hand of God is a terrible thing. It will not let up; it continues to push those fallen brothers who anguish over their sin until they repent. But if no one is present, if no one hunts them up, then no one will be there to offer them the much-needed hand of fellowship, the much-needed hand of loving restoration. That would be the greatest tragedy of all.

Moral soundings

  • Have you ever taken seriously the call to seek and restore your fallen brethren?
  • Is your love for God expressed in obedience to His Word?
  • Is your obedience to His Word expressed in love for God?
  • Is your love and obedience expressed in tangible efforts to restore the fallen?
Moral Earthquakes & Secret Faults: Root, shoot and fruit - Part 4

Moral Earthquakes & Secret Faults: Root, shoot and fruit - Part 4

Friday, May 7, 2021 2:38 PM
Friday, May 7, 2021 2:38 PM


James 1

James 1

When desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. James 1:15-16

In the past quarter century, earthquakes have caused untold billions of dollars of damage. Insurance estimates from the 1989 California quake were originally in the $2- to $3-billion range, but by the time the massive reconstruction of roads, bridges, commercial properties and residences was completed, claims ranged upwards of $5 billion. The 1992 quake along the Belgian, Dutch and German borders was almost that costly. The 1995 quake along the Siberian coast down to Japan may turn out to be twice as expensive due to severe damage to Russia’s military and petro-chemical installations and Japan’s heavy industrial concentrations there.

Of course, the ultimate costs of an earthquake cannot be measured in dollars and cents. No price can be put on even a single human life lost in a natural disaster. And yet, widespread loss of life is the all-too-typical effect of quakes.

Sadly, the same is true of moral earthquakes. Death is the tragic consequence of a spiritual and ethical breakdown. “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).

The apostle James illustrates this principle using an analogy from the world of biology rather than geology, but the pattern he describes is precisely the same. He says that temptation is like a weed that grows in your garden. It has three parts to it: a root, a shoot and a fruit.

The root of temptation—as we have seen—is a “selfish desire.” When our desire has conceived, it grows and matures until it “gives birth to sin.” At that point, the shoot appears—a sinful action or decision. Finally, if we let that shoot remain untouched, it inevitably produces fruit—a seed pod that will reproduce the cycle again and again into perpetuity. The fruit is the most dastardly of all the consequences of sin because “when it’s full-grown, it brings forth death.”

The Thanatos syndrome

The Didache is a compilation of practical apostolic moral teachings that appeared sometime at the end of the first century; it is one of the earliest documents we have from the life and teaching of the early church apart from the Scriptures. It opens, “There are two ways: the way of life and the way of death and the difference between these two ways is great.”

Sadly, because all men without exception are sinners, one of the most fundamental factors in understanding anthropology is the thanatos factor—a phrase from the Greek that literally means “the death factor.” Quite simply, it means that because of their sin, all men have morbidly embraced death (see Rom. 5:12).

At the Fall, mankind was suddenly destined for death (see Jer. 15:2). We were all at that moment bound into a covenant with death (see Isa. 28:15). “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov. 14:12; 16:25).

Whether we know it or not, we have all chosen death (see Jer. 8:3). It has become our shepherd (see Ps. 49:14). Our minds are fixed on it (see Rom. 8:6), our hearts pursue it (see Prov. 21:6) and our flesh is ruled by it (see Rom. 8:2). We dance to its cadences (see Prov. 2:18) and descend to its chambers (see Prov. 7:27). “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). In fact:

There is none righteous, no, not even 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.

Their throat is an open tomb;

With their tongues they have practiced deceit;

The poison of asps is under their lips;

Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness;

Their feet are swift to shed blood;

Destruction and misery are in their ways;

And the way of peace they have not known;

There is no fear of God before their eyes. (Rom. 3:10–18)

And, "All those who hate [God] love death" (Prov. 8:36).

It is no wonder then that such things as murder, terrorism, abortion, euthanasia and even infanticide have always been a normal and natural part of human relations. Since the dawning of time, men have contrived ingenious diversions to satisfy their fallen passions. Killing has always been chief among them.

Virtually every culture in antiquity was stained with the blood of innocent children. Unwanted infants in ancient Rome were abandoned outside the city walls to die from exposure to the elements or from the attacks of wild foraging beasts. Greeks often gave their pregnant women harsh doses of herbal or medicinal abortifacients. Persians developed highly sophisticated surgical curette procedures. Chinese women tied heavy ropes around their waists so excruciatingly tight that they either aborted or passed into unconsciousness. Ancient Hindus and Arabs concocted chemical pessaries—abortifacients that were pushed or pumped directly into the womb through the birth canal. Primitive Canaanites threw their children onto great flaming pyres as a sacrifice to their god Molech. Polynesians subjected their pregnant women to onerous tortures—their abdomens beaten with large stones or hot coals heaped upon their bodies. Japanese women straddled boiling cauldrons of parricidal brews. Egyptians disposed of their unwanted children by disemboweling and dismembering them shortly after birth—their collagen was then ritually harvested for the manufacture of cosmetic creams. We often think of such things as modern innovations in the affairs of men and nations. Nothing could be further from the truth.

None of the great minds of the ancient world—from Plato and Aristotle to Seneca and Quintilian, from Pythagoras and Aristophanes to Livy and Cicero, from Herodotus and Thucidides to Plutarch and Euripides—disparaged such brutalities in any way. In fact, most of them actually recommended it. They callously discussed various methods and procedures of eliminating the unwanted or undesired portions of the populace. They casually debated their sundry legal ramifications. They tossed lives like dice.

Actually, abortion and infanticide were so much a part of ancient human societies that they provided the primary literary liet motif in popular traditions, stories, myths, fables and legends.

The founding of Rome was, for instance, presumed to be the happy result of the abandonment of children. According to the story, a vestal virgin who had been raped bore twin sons, Romulus and Remus. The harsh Etruscan monarch Amulius ordered them exposed on the Tiber River. Left in a basket which floated ashore, they were found by a she-wolf and suckled by her. Later, a shepherd discovered them and took them home to his wife and the kindly couple brought them up as their own. Romulus and Remus would later establish the city of Rome on the seven hills near the place of their rescue.

Oedipus was presumed to be an abandoned child who was also found by a shepherd and later rose to greatness. Ion, the eponymous monarch in ancient Greece, miraculously lived through an abortion, according to tradition. Cyrus, the founder of the Persian empire, was supposedly a fortunate survivor of infanticide. According to Homer’s legend, Paris, whose amorous indiscretions started the Trojan War, was also a victim of abandonment. Telephus, the king of Mysia in Greece and Habius, ruler of the Cunetes in Spain, had both been exposed as children according to various folk tales. Jupiter, chief god of the Olympian pantheon, himself had been abandoned as a child. He in turn exposed his twin sons, Zethus and Amphion. Similarly, other myths related that Poseidon, Aesculapius, Hephaistos, Attis and Cybele had all been abandoned to die.

Because the men and women of antiquity had been mired by the minions of sin and death, it was as natural as the change of seasons for them to indulge in various forms of killing. They believed it was just and good and right, but they were wrong. Dreadfully wrong.

Life is God’s gift. It is His gracious endowment upon the created order. The earth is literally teeming with life (see Gen. 1:20; Lev. 11:10; 22:5; Deut. 14:9) and the crowning glory of this sacred teeming is man himself (see Gen. 1:26–30; Ps. 8:1–9). To violate the sanctity of this magnificent endowment is to fly in the face of all that is holy, just and true (see Jer. 8:1–17; Rom. 8:6).

To violate the sanctity of life is to invite judgment, retribution and anathema (see Deut. 30:19–20). It is to solicit devastation, imprecation and destruction (see Jer. 21:8–10).

Sadly, since death-dealing is so much a part of the character of fallen man, none of us can actually change our predilections or inclinations ourselves. We are hopelessly ensnared.

But the Lord God, who is the giver of life (see Acts 17:25), the fountain of life (see Ps. 36:9), the defender of life (see Ps. 27:1), the prince of life (see Acts 3:15) and the restorer of life (see Ruth 4:15), did not leave men to languish hopelessly in the clutches of sin and death. He not only sent us the message of life (see Acts 5:20) and the words of life (see John 6:68); He sent us the light of life as well (see John 8:12). He sent us His only begotten Son—the life of the world (see John 6:51)—to break the bonds of death (see 1 Cor. 15:54–56), to “taste death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9). Jesus actually “abolished death” for our sakes (2 Tim. 1:10) and offered us new life (see John 5:21). “For God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16, KJV).

In Christ, God has afforded us the opportunity to choose between the two ways the Didache posited: to choose between fruitful and teeming life on the one hand and barren and impoverished death on the other (see Deut. 30:19).

Apart from Christ it is not possible to escape the snares of sin and death (see Col. 2:13). On the other hand: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).

Though all those who hate Christ “love death” (Prov. 8:36); all those who receive Christ are made the “aroma of life” (2 Cor. 2:16).

The primary conflict in temporal history always has been and always will be the struggle for life and truth against the natural inclinations of all men everywhere. Thanks be to God, there is a way of escape from these bonds of destruction. In Christ, there is hope. In Him there is life—both temporal and eternal. In Him there is liberty and justice. In Him there is an antidote to the thanatos factor. In Him, and in Him alone, there is an answer to the ages long dilemma of the dominion of death.

Missing the mark

The Greeks had three very different ways of defining and describing the word we normally translate as “sin.” Physically, it was used of an archer who draws a bow and shoots at a target. Though he lets the arrow fly, he is woefully short. The arrow misses the target: it misses the mark.

The word was used not only in the physical realm, but in the mental realm as well. It portrayed a student who takes a test and then comes to a tough question. Though he gives it all he has, he misses it altogether. He doesn’t know the answer and the best he can muster is a wild guess.

Finally, the word is used in the spiritual realm to describe a man who knows and understands a high standard of spiritual attainment, but he is unable to personally experience it. He falls short of it.

Thus, in every dimension, to sin literally means to “miss the mark.” No matter how hard we try, no matter how proficient we become, there will always be a shortfall. We simply cannot hit the target; we can’t answer the test; we can’t live up to the standard; and “sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” There is simply no way around it.

Death—not just physical death, but the death of dreams, the death of relationships, the death of ambition, the death of reputation, the death of everything that’s good—is the result of sin.

People indulge in various sins because, ultimately, they think it will make them happy. People sin because of the pleasure that it brings, but the pleasure is furtive and passing—it lasts only a moment. It is a mist, a vapor, an insubstantial illusion that quickly passes into the permanence of pain, suffering and death.

Weeding the garden

So, how do we go about dealing with temptation and sin? How can we actually get rid of temptation? The answer is: the same way we get rid of weeds in the vegetable plot in the back yard.

Some gardeners cut off the fruit, thinking that once the reproductive ability of the weed has been diminished, the rest will go away eventually. Though that appears to be an effective strategy for a day or two, over time it fails to control the growth or the spread of the weed at all. Similarly, when we try to deal with sin tendencies by addressing only the most visible aspects of the problem, it is not likely that much headway will be made. No matter how many resolutions we make, no matter how many times we turn over a new leaf, or pledge to write a new chapter in our lives, before we know it we’re right back in our same old routine, slipping back into our comfortable patterns. Because we’re dealing with fruits—with externals rather than getting to the root of the problem—sin stubbornly persists.

Some gardeners, on the other hand, take out the lawn mower and mow down the weeds, cutting them off right at the ground. This strategy aims to get both the fruit and the shoot. Although this tactic can make the garden look wonderful for a while, once again we’ve merely dealt with externals.

Ultimately, the only way to deal with temptation is to dig up the root. To eradicate perpetual, habitual sin in our lives, we must deal with our innate selfish desires. The only way to do that is to let God uproot our entire confidence in the flesh. In short, God must change our desires and give us a new nature.

That is why the ultimate hope of America is not in legislation. It is in each of us individually finding Jesus Christ as our personal Savior. The hope for America is not a revival of “family values,” as wonderful as those may be. It is not a full restoration of constitutional law. It is not a renewed respect for women, children, the needy and the oppressed. It is not the upgrading of the educational system, the health care delivery system, or the global trading system of the World Trade Association. It is Jesus Christ.

When we come to trust Christ as our personal Savior, He gives us a brand new set of desires. Things we used to enjoy, we no longer like to do; things we thought we’d never like to do, we find our greatest joy in doing. In short, He changes our want-tos.

So, where are you today? Are you still mired in the snares of death and destruction? Are your desires still controlling your life and work, your faith and practice, your vision and calling?

Most of us desire to exercise control over our lives. We want to do whatever it is that we are going to do entirely ourselves. We want autonomy. We want liberty. We want absolute freedom. Thus, we demand our rights and press for still greater levels of individual control. The problem is, we cannot control our own sin nature. Rather, our sin nature controls us. We are under its dominion—and its dominion is the awful domain of death. In fact, as the great reformer Martin Luther put it, we are strapped with a “bondage of the will.”

Thus, if there is to be any hope that the root problems of our lives, the compulsive desires of our hearts and the poverty of our souls are to be in any substantive way answered, it will have to be Christ doing the answering. We can’t do it ourselves.

Moral soundings

  • How have you attempted to deal with temptation in the past?
  • Have you focused primarily on the fruit, the shoot, or the root of the problem?
  • Have you been so blinded by the passing pleasures of your sin that you've missed its real import?
  • Have you ever witnessed the progression of the thanatos syndrome in the lives of others?
  • Have you ever yielded the compelling desires of your heart entirely to Christ?
Moral Earthquakes & Secret Faults: Restoring Joy - Part 12

Moral Earthquakes & Secret Faults: Restoring Joy - Part 12

Friday, May 7, 2021 2:37 PM
Friday, May 7, 2021 2:37 PM


Psalm 51

Restore to me the joy of Your salvation. Psalm 51:12

Psalm 51

The red tape of bureaucracy drove the official in charge of rebuilding the earthquake-shattered city of Kobe to commit suicide. Government spokesmen reported that Deputy Mayor Takumi Ogawa — who was in charge of reconstructing the city after the worst natural disaster in Japan in the 20th century — set himself on fire after a frustrating year of rebuilding. Local officials had long criticized the central government for being too slow to respond to the disaster with money to help the city recover.

Apparently, Ogawa simply was unable to see how things would — or even could — get better.

Anyone who has ever suffered a moral earthquake might be tempted to sympathize. A kind of smothering grief attends such a disaster. Often the aftermath can be as bad or worse than the original event.

It is not surprising then to see David crying out to God — in the aftermath of his moral earthquake — to bring him relief from his unrelenting agony: “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, and uphold me by Your generous Spirit” (Ps. 51:12).

It is a prayer of the heart — one that any of us who have suffered a moral earthquake can readily identify with. The fact is while we can’t lose our salvation, we can certainly lose our joy. And in the face of a moral earthquake, we inevitably do. David did; therefore, he cries out to God for relief. In so doing, he provides a model for us to do likewise. We need not end our lives in despair. We can recover the great joy of our salvation and find our support in the gracious and generous trusses of the Spirit.

His joy

David does not ask for God to restore his salvation. Believers — those of us who live this side of Calvary, who put our faith in Jesus Christ — are eternally secure in Him. But even though we can’t lose our salvation, we certainly can lose the joy of our salvation.

David prays this great prayer of repentance and confession because he has gotten his life out of order. He has put himself first in his life. As a result, he has done something very selfish. So now he prays for the joy of God’s salvation to be restored to him.

King David takes his depression to God. He knows it was caused by sin, and he admits as much. Some people never have their joy restored, even though they spend a fortune going to counselors and reading every book they can read. We live in a world where it seems that our troubles are always someone else’s fault; someone else is always to blame. Very few people want to take personal responsibility for their foolish actions, for their deliberate transgressions, for their blatant sins or for their brazen iniquities. But David does not even hesitate. He knows the truth of his own heart. He knows that his troubles are all his fault. He understands the fact that his moral earthquake was set off by secret moral faults that lay hidden beneath the surface of his seemingly very successful life. Thus, he confesses to the Lord, “Against You, You only, have I sinned” (Ps. 51:4).

But now David asks God to let him know the peace and rest that he once enjoyed. Joy is one of the real characteristics of a Christian. However, when we indulge in sin, we jeopardize that joy. Sin and rebellion inevitably cost us the inheritance of joy that is ours in Christ. A Christian may lose the joy of his salvation without losing his salvation.

The joy had left King David because he had sinned, and because he had tried for a period of several months to cover over that sin.

The same thing happens to each of us when we fall into the clutches of temptation and sin. Those of us who know Christ as our personal Savior, who nevertheless live in sin, will most assuredly lose the joy of salvation. To try to cover up our transgressions, iniquities and sins — to minimize them, to excuse them or to justify them — will undoubtedly lead to heartsickness, sorrow and sadness. Perpetuating sin only leads to a loss of the joy of God’s gracious and glorious work of salvation.

So, how can the process be reversed? How does the restoration of joy take place? In a word — grace. This amazing notion is illustrated all throughout David’s great prayer of repentance and confession, as we have already seen. The new heart David needed to receive joy could only come from God. The cleansing, the purging, the blotting and the hearkening that needed to take place in his life could only be accomplished by the sovereign work of God’s gracious hand.

Notice precisely what it is for which David asks. He says, “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation.” It’s God’s joy, it’s God’s salvation that is at issue here, not David’s joy, not David’s salvation. All the attention is on God, not on the poor helpless sinner. The focus is shifted to the One who can make a difference, the One who can make all the difference. No one but God can give us the kind of joy David seeks.


In addition to the restoration of God’s great joy, David asks for the sustenance of His hand and His Spirit. He prays: “And uphold me by Your generous Spirit” (Ps. 51:12).

King David realizes that his only hope is for God to keep him, for God to uphold him. He cannot do it on his own. He wants to never again fall into that situation, so he tells God he will depend solely and completely on Him. He asks God to uphold him by His generous spirit.

The word translated “uphold” here is quite interesting. It is an architectural term for a pillar or column. For instance, it is used to describe the way Samson took hold of the two pillars upon which the great Philistine palace was borne up (see Judg. 16:29).

In a sense, David is asking God, “Uphold me, just like a father would uphold his child when teaching him to walk — not just letting him grab his fingers so he has to hold on, but reaching down and grabbing him by the wrist so that when he stumbles, he holds him up along the way.”

God is so generous in his gifts to us, so forgiving, so full of grace and so full of tender mercy. In this dispensation of His grace, we never have to pray, “Don’t cast me away from your presence, and do not take your Holy Spirit from me.” Why? Because we have been afforded the great privilege of praying, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me by your generous Spirit.”

Notorious repentance

When is a man usable? When his repentance is as notorious as his sin. The prophet Nathan boldly confronted David in the spirit of grace and truth. Almost immediately, David’s heart was broken. His eyes were opened. And, after a year of sinful rebellion, he suddenly turned in humble repentance. He fell on his knees and began to pray a prayer that was subsequently recorded for all posterity — the prayer of repentance and confession we find in Psalm 51.

His repentance was notorious, as notorious as his sin. As a result, God was able to use him again.

Some people try to make deals with God. They say, “God, create in me a clean heart and don’t cast me away. Restore the joy of your salvation to me. If you do all that, then I’ll teach transgressors; I’ll sing your praises and my tongue shall sing aloud of your business; my mouth shall show forth your praise.” David was not making a deal with God here. Instead, he simply said, “Not until I’m washed clean, not until I have a new heart and a steadfast spirit within me, not until I’ve been restored unto the joy of your salvation, not until then will I be able to do what I want to do: teach transgressors your ways, letting my mouth and my lips sing forth of your praises and your righteousness.” There is no deal here. There is simply an acknowledgment of what grace produces in a life fully yielded to God’s good providence.

The fruit of forgiveness

What happens when one finds the forgiveness of God? David’s great prayer portrays not only our dire need of grace and mercy, but the happy result of grace and mercy in our lives.

In the first half of the prayer, David pours out his heart: “Wash me,” he says. “Blot out my transgressions. Cleanse me. I acknowledge my wickedness. My sin is ever before me. I was brought forth in iniquity. Wash me and I’ll be whiter than snow. Hide your face from my sins. Create in me a clean heart.” Over and over and over David issues forth a constant cry for God to forgive him of his sin. He uncovers himself so that God can cover him. But the second half of the prayer portrays a threefold commitment to a new life of dedication, a fresh hunger to undertake three essential discipleship tasks: education, exaltation and exhortation.

When we’ve come clean before God and have received cleansing, one of the results is that we begin to live a life dedicated to education. David says, “Then I will teach transgressors Your ways” (Ps. 51:13).

The school of hard knocks

There is nothing more dynamic about someone who has just tasted the forgiveness of God than the desire to tell others. One of the reasons Simon Peter was such an effective preacher at Pentecost was that it was just a few days after he had tasted the forgiveness of God. It was fresh to him, so he spoke, preached and taught with a greater sense of urgency and unction, due to his  experience. He had just tasted the forgiveness of God. He knew what it was to be forgiven.

One of the problems in churches today, in Sunday school classes and in pulpits, is that it’s been too long since people who are teaching the Word of God have tasted the forgiveness of God themselves. If we are to be effective in our testimony, in our witness, in our education and in our proclamation, then we are going to have to regularly revisit the well of forgiveness. We are going to have to know the fresh touch of His grace and mercy.

The fact is only the forgiven man is fit to teach transgressors the way of the Lord. David knows about what he’s going to be teaching. A man cannot teach what he does not know. Someone who is computer illiterate cannot teach a class on computer skills. A man can’t lead somewhere he has never been. A tour guide can’t lead a group of people, for example, on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land if he has never been there before. If he has not seen it, not known about it and not studied about it, then he needs to be led. He certainly should not be leading, because he just may lead others astray. There is nothing more frightening than to see the blind leading the blind.

To the transgressors

King David had been taught in a school of experience. The best teachers are those who teach from personal experience, so David says, “Then I will teach.”

Who will he teach though? He answers, “Then I will teach transgressors.” Look at his audience. David’s heart is heavy for transgressors. That’s his target audience. That’s who he’s interested in teaching. If he couldn’t edify the saints, he could certainly teach the sinners. He would be speaking from personal experience to people who were caught in the death throes of sin, just as he once was.

In some churches people have gathered in their own groups for so long that they can hardly remember a time when someone came to grace afresh. In some churches, it has been so long since anyone has been newly converted and has been forgiven that the congregation has all but forgotten about the power of the gospel. For some believers, it has been so long since they have tasted the forgiveness of God themselves, that there’s little dynamic in their witness, their teaching or their preaching.

It is a great help when counseling a person to be able to say, “I know what you’re going through. I’ve been there.” There’s nothing like personal experience. David said, “Then I’ll teach transgressors.” He openly — even notoriously — acknowledged his transgressions. Who better to teach transgressors but a forgiven transgressor. There’s just something about someone who’s been there. There’s nothing like personal experience.

One way

But, what would David propose to teach these transgressors? He says, “Then I will teach transgressors Your ways.” The ways of God. That Hebrew word literally means “your road,” “your path” or “your journey.” David will offer the lost a map. He will provide them with emergency road service. And the result of this teaching? He says, “Sinners shall be converted to You.” Once they know the way, those transgressors will return to God.

What is the result of finding the forgiveness of God? It has been a long time since many of us have tasted it. We have harbored resentments and never asked God to forgive us for it. We have had broken fellowship with other believers in Christ and never asked God to forgive us for them. But once we do ask for forgiveness, what is the result? We’ll have a life dedicated to teaching transgressors, to using our own life experiences for good. We will have the providential opportunity to use our moral earthquakes as a part of our testimony for God’s glory. We will be able to take the tragic circumstances of our failures and foibles and use them to minister to others. To what end? So that folks might know God’s way. And, ultimately, so that sinners might be converted to Him.


The fruit of forgiveness includes a new dedication to education. But, it also includes a new dedication to exaltation. Thus, David prays: “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” (Ps. 51:14–15).

King David says, “If God forgave me — and He did — then I will surely sing and I will praise His name.” I will praise. That word literally means “a song” or “a hymn of praise.” Only the man or woman who knows the forgiveness of God has a song in his or her heart. Those who don’t know the forgiveness of God just go through the motions. They may come into corporate worship, mouth some words and make some noise, but they don’t sing from their hearts.

David’s lips had been sealed for a year. He was in a barren foreign land of the soul. He was wandering in the parched desert land of Nod. When down in Babylon, the children of Israel asked, “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” and they hung their harps on the willow trees.

There are a lot of folks like that. David couldn’t sing for all those months. He had no song. He refused to admit that he had done anything wrong. His lips had been sealed by shame. He knew that if he sang praises to the Lord, those in that inner circle who really knew would know what a hypocrite he actually was. But after his prayer of confession and repentance, a song began to well up in his heart. After wanting to teach others, his first reaction was to sing praises to God. This had once been his very life.

From the shepherd’s fields outside Bethlehem to the anguished royal courts of King Saul, he would take his harp and sing songs of praise. This was the heart of the legacy he ultimately left, exemplified in the Psalms. No one knew the songs of praise more than David.

Note that he says he will sing of the righteousness of God. One would expect him to sing of God’s mercy, but no, he says he will sing of God’s righteousness. He realized that God’s mercy was only possible through the righteous demands of the law being met.

So, what happens to a man when he finds the forgiveness of God? First, he wants to teach transgressors God’s ways.  Then his life becomes a testimony and sacrifice of praise. And where does that lead? It leads to a life dedicated to exhortation.


The final fruit of forgiveness takes the form of an exhortation. The sacrifice King David had to bring before the Lord was a broken and a crushed spirit. This is indeed an exhortation to us.

What does the Lord desire from us? Our sacrifices? Our service? No, he wants us — a broken heart and a broken and contrite spirit. He doesn’t want gifts. He wants the giver.

David closes his great prayer of confession and repentance, saying: “Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion. Build the walls of Jerusalem. 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” (Ps. 51:18–19).

One might say, “Hmmm, is that a contradiction? Didn’t he just say, God didn’t want sacrifices?”

Indeed, David asserts, “You do not delight in burnt offerings, or else I’d give it to you.” But there is no contradiction at all. What King David asked for Jerusalem, we should ask for the church. What God did for King David, God will do for any and all of us — forgive us, make us healthy spiritually, and make us happy and whole.

There’s a sense in which King David looks forward here to a millennial city. He anticipates the dawn of a new day, when repentant Israel will find safety in the Lord Jesus Himself. Thus, he says, “Then you shall be pleased with the sacrifices of righteousness, with burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings.” The restoration of the levitical sacrifices in the millennial reign of Christ — offered again on the temple mount — will not be intended to merit salvation. Calvary took care of that once and for all. They will be a memorial — like the Lord’s Supper is to us — so that His redeemed people will never forget that supreme sacrifice. They will be resurrected in that day to memorialize the great sacrifice of the Lamb of God. They will memorialize the great cost of Calvary.

Thus, we can indeed pray with fervor, “Do good in Your good pleasure to Zion.”

When we get right with God, our energy and our prayers move past our own selfish interests and are directed to the entire family of faith. And when we are cleansed and restored with the joy of salvation, that will be our prayer, “Do good to Zion, by your own good pleasure.” It will be our greatest pleasure to edify the body of Christ.

The fact is it is more important what you are when you pray than it is what you pray. And thus, the greatest of the fruits of forgiveness is the fact that God makes us anew. He makes us new creations. He enables us to be what we are supposed to be, so that we can, in turn, do what we are supposed to do.

Moral soundings

  • Is there evidence of the Spirit’s indwelling in your life?
  • Do you still experience the joy in your relationship with God?
  • Do you attempt to make deals with God?
  • Do you counsel others who have had similar trials and struggles as you?
Moral Earthquakes & Secret Faults: Rescue efforts - Part 13

Moral Earthquakes & Secret Faults: Rescue efforts - Part 13

Friday, May 7, 2021 2:37 PM
Friday, May 7, 2021 2:37 PM


Galatians 6:1-2

Two are better than one. If one falls down, his friend is there to pick him up. But pity the man that falls and has no one to help him up. Ecclesiastes 4:9–10

Galatians 6:1-2

If a person suffers a moral earthquake, if they crumble under the pressures of temptation, if their faults cause their downfall, what are we to do? Especially if this person is a Christian brother or sister, how are we to react? What is our role? Indeed, are we to do anything?

It is not a particularly comfortable subject for any of us to discuss, but we simply must talk about the subject of picking up the pieces of broken lives—the ministry of restoration. Certainly, it is not a subject the Bible avoids. For instance, the apostle Paul forthrightly asserts: “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:1–2).

This may well be one of the most important lessons of all in the realm of temptation for the church of Jesus Christ: What do we do when someone falls and falters? We, the members of the body of Christ, must restore that brother or sister.

Now what do you think would happen if a church began to be known as a place of true restoration? If it became a place where those who are down could get up, a place where those who are out could get back in, not a place of condemnation but of confirmation, a place of new beginnings? I will tell you what would happen: Men and women from all over—men and women with wounded hearts and hopes—would flock to such a church to find hope and to find healing. This is the church we find in the New Testament.

Sadly, many Christians are not active in the ministry of restoration. More sadly still, not many churches are involved in the ministry of restoration. In the Body of Christ we have a responsibility to one another. Paul tells us that the responsibility we have to one another is threefold. We should hunt him up, help him up, and hold him up.

Hunting, helping and holding

“Brethren, if any man is overcome in a trespass, you who are spiritual hunt him up.” Go to him, restore him, take the initiative. Most of us wait for our wounded, fallen friends to come crawling back, saying, “I’m sorry.” But so often, the guilt and the shame that comes in being overcome by temptation prevent one from doing that very thing. In fact, a lot of people are not in church today simply because they’re afraid of rejection. They’ve been overtaken in a trespass, and the fear is that if they should come back to church, they would be rejected!

The ministry of restoration, to the believer, involves hunting him up—seeking him out. We have to go to him; he won’t come to us.

Secondly, we are to help him up. Paul says, “Restore him.” Our responsibility does not end in seeking out our fallen friends, but in restoring them. And then that’s not enough. We’re not to stop there. We are to hold them up. Paul admonishes us, “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ.” And the law of Christ is the law of love.

Now what do we do when we find a fallen friend? When dealing with temptation, it’s not enough just to talk about everything that precedes the fall, yet sometimes that’s what we do in the church of Jesus Christ. We’re good about how to overcome temptation, how to spot it, how to stop it, but what do we do when someone falls? We are to hunt them up. By and large, in our generation, we have not been very good at this.

We’re better at writing him off and then saying to one another, “I told you so.” We like to wait for that fallen one to come back to us, but the Scripture is explicit. It says that our position is to hunt him up, to be the initiator, and to go to him. Don’t wait for him to hunt you up for help. It’s not going to happen. Many of us with good intentions have seen a friend, overtaken in a trespass, in a sin, and have just been waiting for them to come back, just been waiting for them to repent, to be restored, to come back—perhaps crawling—to us. It’s not going to happen.

Why? Many will not return because of guilt—the shame that sin brings; for others, it is the fear of rejection. We are to take the initiative.

Now the issue: this is a family matter. This isn’t talking about going to the lost. Paul issues this admonition to the brethren. The Greek word literally means “of the same womb.” Paul is directing us to take proactive measures to protect our fellow family of faith members, those who may have succumbed to temptation and to sin.

When are we to engage in this ministry of restoration? Paul says, “If a man is overtaken in any trespass.” That word “overtaken” is very interesting in the Greek. It literally means “caught in the act.” It conveys a certain element of surprise. If a man is overtaken—to his surprise—in a trespass, then we are to restore him.

So here is a person who is caught, and he falls. Those little secret faults have been running through his life. He didn’t think there was anything to them; he thought he was all right; he thought he’d get away with it. Now, all of a sudden, a moral earthquake has struck.

Paul says, if a brother has been overtaken in a trespass in this way, then there is something for us to do. We are to hunt him up and seek to restore him. He could get hurt if he stays out there, outside the boundary lines of God’s Word. All of us are susceptible to being overcome by trespasses, even the great men of faith in the Bible: Moses, Elijah, and David.

One day, David stepped over the line, trespassed outside the boundary lines of the Word of God. Yet he was fortunate enough to have a friend named Nathan who hunted him up, helped him up, held him up, confronted him in a spirit of gentleness, and said, “You’re that man.” We read Psalm 51 and see the repentant heart of David, how that friend of his helped him and held him up.

Paul wrote the Galatian epistle at the end of his first missionary journey. Remember what happened on that first missionary journey? There was a young man by the name of John Mark. He accompanied Paul and Barnabas and then went AWOL. He quit. He gave up. He left them in the lurch, and went back home.

How was John Mark restored? Barnabas was his friend, and what did Barnabas do? He hunted John Mark up. Being a spiritual man, he hunted Mark up and helped him up; he restored him. Then he held him up, he stood by him, and he encouraged him. John Mark went on to leave us that Gospel that bears his name—the Gospel of Mark.

Why? Because Mark had a friend who—when he got outside the boundary lines and was overtaken in a trespass—sought him out and restored him. Barnabas didn’t wait for John Mark to come crawling back, saying, “I’m sorry.” He went out and, in a spirit of gentleness, hunted him up, helped him up, held him up, and God gave him another opportunity.

The spiritual

Not everyone in the church of Jesus Christ is supposed to be involved in the ministry of restoration. Paul says the initiator in this ministry of restoration must be uniquely qualified: “You who are spiritual.” The reason is simple: carnal people, those who are not spiritual, will do more damage than they will help.

The call is issued to “you who are spiritual,” not you who are holier-than-thou. This is not open season for church people to think it’s their God-given call to go out to everybody overtaken in a trespass and confront them, seeking to be part of the ministry of restoration. It is only for those who are spiritual, not self-righteous, not holier-than-thou.

This Greek word for “spiritual” here literally means “one who is filled with and governed by the Holy Spirit.” The call to restoration is not to be heeded by everyone. Only those who are spiritual need apply for this job.

Earlier in his Galatian letter, Paul defined just who “the spiritual” were. They were those whose lives genuinely evidence the fruit of the Spirit. He says: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. Brethren, if a man is overtaken in a trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one” (Gal. 5:22–6:1).

The one who is spiritual reacts with genuine concern and genuine remorse. He is aware that if this is a true brother who is wounded, he’s wounded too. They’re members of the same family. They are parts of the same body, and if a part of his body is hurting, he’s hurting too. Those who are spiritual realize that. The church must get past the false assumption that the one who has fallen is the one who needs to be the initiator of restoration.

Taking the next step

Pursuit—even loving pursuit—of our fallen brother is not enough. We must take the process of restoration to the next step. What are we to do? We’re to hunt him up, yes, but we’re also to help him up.

The word for “restore” literally means “to mend something that is broken or that is torn.” It is used in the Gospels to describe nets that were in need of repair. It is also used to describe a broken bone, one in need of mending. The word-picture portrays the idea of putting a bone back in place so that it mends and is useful again, or fixing rends in a net so that it can be used to fish again.

In the ministry of reconciliation and restoration, God uses us to mend that which is torn and to heal that which is broken. He wants to use us, those of us who are spiritual. He wants to use us as His orthopedic physicians to set the broken bones of our time in place so that He can do His own work of healing. He wants to use us to do that, those of us whose lives are characterized by love, joy, peace, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. God wants us to be His fixer-uppers.

Here is a man, and the secret faults in his life have erupted into a moral earthquake. Instead of talking about him or lamenting the fact that it’s done, we are to go to him, restore him, help him to set those things in place in a spirit of gentleness, so that God can bring hope and healing. The sad commentary with a lot of believers today is that instead of going to a broken brother, they go to others and talk about him.

I spy

Some like to criticize, some like to condemn, some like to castigate, others like to critique, and some like to cancel—just forget the offending parties. Some say, “It’s none of my business. He made his bed, let him lie in it!” But the Bible says, “Brethren, if a man is overtaken in a trespass, you who are spiritual, put that bone in place, mend that torn net.”

George W. Truett once said, “I think nothing of that system of espionage which is forever spying out people to catch up with their weaknesses and their faults.”

Some churches are into spy activities. There is no place in the church of Jesus Christ for brothers and sisters lying in wait, spying on one another in a spirit of espionage to bring down instead of to build up, to tear down instead of holding up. Our business is to restore. Too many times the very place that God has ordained to be the center of restoration—the church of Jesus Christ—has become the center of condemnation. That’s why so many churches are empty today. Instead of being the very center of the place of restoration where wounded broken lives can come, be set together, and become whole, they become places of condemnation.

God uses us as agents of restoration. What are we to do? We’re to hunt them up, and we’re to help them up.

Imagine going out during the noon hour in a metropolitan area when the streets are filled with people—pedestrians walking everywhere—and seeing a lady step off of a curb. She trips and breaks her arm. Lying there in the street, she is writhing in pain.

One person walks by and says to his friend, “Look at her lying there. She’s broken her arm.” Another sees her lying there in pain and simply criticizes her, “You’re in the way of pedestrian traffic. We’re trying to get by here, and we have to step over you. Can’t you move?” Someone else stops, but only to counsel the woman. “You know, if you had watched where you were going you wouldn’t have tripped over that curb.” Now she really needs to hear that, doesn’t she? Someone else looks on from a distance and condemns the poor woman. “That’s stupid. That is so stupid. She shouldn’t have done that.”

Sound ridiculous? Certainly it does! And yet, that is precisely how we act when we find that a brother or a sister has been caught in a trespass.

Just because that lady has broken her arm does not mean it must be amputated. It can be mended. It can be put back in place. It can be restored, and it can become useful again.

Why is the church of Jesus Christ hobbling through this world, limping and struggling along in many places? Because there are a lot of broken bones in the body of Christ that have never been properly set. The thrust of the word restore is in getting the wrongdoer back to where he should be. It is in getting the bones back in place so that they can be mended and become useful again. It is in getting the nets mended so they can be useful again. It is in getting fallen Christians restored to usefulness, just as strong as ever.

I wonder how many broken bones there are in the body of Christ today? How many wounded lives are there? If a broken bone is not set properly, it may never heal the way it should, and the longer it waits to get set, the longer it gets set in its own way—deformed. If the believer is not restored, the strength of the church is weakened.

We are members of the same family. We are soldiers in the same army. We are bones, as it were, in the same body. We are all a part of the same net, and when there is a tear in the net, it ceases to be effective. When a part of that net is ripped and torn, fish get out.

We need to realize our world is hurting and broken, and, “brethren, if a man is overtaken in a trespass, you who are spiritual restore [him] in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself, lest you also be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:1–2).

Set those broken bones so they can walk again. Mend those torn nets so they can fish again. Restore those fallen lives so they can live again. That’s what we’re to do. We’re to hunt them up and help them up and hold them up. This vision of a place of restoration, with us acting as agents of restoration, should be the goal of our churches. Only through application of these principles can we hope to restore the aftereffects of a moral earthquake.

Moral soundings

  • Have you ever sought out the broken and fallen in your midst?
  • Have you ever followed the “hunt up, help up, and hold up” pattern?
  • Have you ever been pursued by a faithful friend who simply wouldn’t let go when you fell?
  • Have you ever been used by God to mend or heal or restore?
Moral Earthquakes & Secret Faults: Reaching a new generation for Christ - Part 18

Moral Earthquakes & Secret Faults: Reaching a new generation for Christ - Part 18

Friday, May 7, 2021 2:36 PM
Friday, May 7, 2021 2:36 PM


Ephesians 1:7

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace. Ephesians 1:7

Ephesians 1:7

Throughout Christ’s ministry we see Him continually offering the gospel, healing and love to the sinners around Him. Even when the religious leaders of the day made remarks about this practice, He replied that only a sick man needs a doctor. Ironically, those religious leaders were some of the most notorious sinners around. Christ’s delicate balance of love and boldness changed lives. His model of balance for ministry is an aspect desperately needed by many churches.

In our world today, beyond the walls of the church of Jesus Christ is an almost entire lost generation — lost to Christ and lost to His church. They have been raised in an unprecedented culture of moral ambiguity. They have been taught through their schools and in many of their homes that there are no ethical certainties, and, therefore, absolute truth doesn’t exist. Yet we, the church of Jesus Christ, have a glorious commission from our Commander in Chief — a command from headquarters, a mandate from the Lord Jesus Himself. We are to reach out to that lost generation. Our commission is to go, make disciples and teach them, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. We have a heaven-sent commitment to reach the lost world.

Many churches are scrambling to do so. Yet, some in their quest to make their message relevant compromise the good news and sacrifice the message of the gospel. Pastors tell funny stories on Sunday mornings, yet their sermons remain little more than fluff because they never open the Word of God. The message they offer, devoid of any spiritual meat, lacks impact. These churches forget that Christ preached boldly before all, accepting the fact that not everyone would be happy and accept His message of godly truth. Christ realized that the sin nature in man would desire to reject and suppress that truth.

Other churches don’t compromise, but they condemn. So while an entire generation is lost outside the walls of the church, they sit inside, beat their Bibles and scream in condemnation of the world. These churches are so indignant about the fact of unbelievers sinning that love seems to evaporate in an isolationist us-against-them mentality. Like the Pharisees, many seem to have a legalistic holier-than-thou attitude. These churches have forgotten that all have sinned and fallen short. Just because we’re saved doesn’t mean we’re not sinners anymore.

Then there are the churches that neither compromise nor condemn. They condone. In their quest to reach a lost world, they simply condone immoral lifestyles. They refer to them as “alternative” lifestyles. These churches put a great deal of emphasis on the accepting love of Christ. They say He always loved and never cared how a person acted. They preach a feel-good gospel: Jesus accepts you where you are, and we don’t need to change you a bit — ever. These churches forget that once we come to Christ, we are to conform to Him, not make Him conform to us.

This generation

We need to realize that this lost generation did not leave the church. In many ways, the church left them. So we need to go back and get them. Our commission is to reach this unchurched generation. How do we do that? First, we must know more about them. Studies and research name five common characteristics of this generation without Christ.

First: They are searching for meaningful relationships. Many in this lost generation have never really known a real relationship, and because of this, many of them are afraid of any kind of commitment.

Second: They don’t want to wait for anything. They want it all now. They want immediate gratification.

Third: They want it for nothing. By and large, many of them haven’t had to work for what they have, so they expect a free ride through the rest of life. The first thing that comes to many of their minds is this: What’s in it for me? Give it to me, but make sure you give it without cost and without condition.

Fourth: They want guilt-free living. They’ve been raised with no moral absolutes. In his demographic studies, George Barna says that 81 percent of them don’t believe that there is absolute truth. If it feels good, they want to do it.

Fifth: They’re searching for prosperity. They want it; they just don’t have much hope of obtaining it. Most will not live in as nice a home throughout the rest of their lives as the home in which they were brought up. Their parents were brought up in the free love atmosphere of the sixties. They are brought up in a world full of AIDS. Their parents were brought up in an economic boom, so they are brought up in a world of downsizing and low-entry level jobs. They get their college degrees, but then can’t find any place to use them. They will have heartaches, struggles and needs.

This lost generation struggles with problems most older adults know very little about. At a time when relativism is rampant in our country; at a time when churches are compromising, condemning or condoning; at a time when social ills abound: What do we have to offer them? What do we have that they desire?

The answer is simple: We offer truth. We offer them the infallible and steadfast truth — the Word of God. They may believe that material gains are worth searching for; however, that is not the true focus of their search. Although they may not realize it, the focus of their search is an understanding of their own human hearts. This understanding can only be achieved in the true Word of God. It can only be achieved at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ.

At the cross

What happened on the cross can only be understood in light of the Old Testament sacrificial system. All of the Old Testament sacrifices pointed toward the Lord Jesus Christ. He is pictured in the innocent little animal that was slain and whose skins were taken to cover the sins of the first man and woman. Adam and Eve watched that little animal breathe its last breath, shed its blood and die. They were the first to know the expensive toll that sin takes upon one’s life. They knew that there is no remission except through the shedding of blood. When Abel brought his sacrifice, his offering of the first of his flocks — it was a picture of Jesus.

During the first Passover, every one of the Israelite homes was instructed to get a lamb, one that was pure and spotless. They were told to kill it. With a hyssop branch, they then spread the blood of the Passover lamb over the doorpost and lintel of their home, so that during the night when the death angel visited Egypt, he would see the blood and pass over that house.

The blood of the Passover lamb meant deliverance from death and freedom from slavery. This was a picture of the blood of Jesus Christ. When Abraham was told to sacrifice on Mount Moriah, he offered his only son Isaac. Jesus was the substitutionary ram caught in the thicket to take Isaac’s place.

The Bible says, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Eph. 2:13). That is why Simon Peter said, “You were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pet. 1:18–19).

That is also why, when John the Baptist saw Him coming down to the Jordan, he pointed his finger in our Lord’s direction and said for all to hear, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). If there is one subject in the church that is ignored today, it is the blood of Jesus Christ. Many preachers speak platitudes and refer to the Sermon on the Mount, but few really preach about the sacrifice on the mount — the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, that cleanses us from all sin. Charles Spurgeon told the young preachers in his school that a true test of whether a man is preaching the gospel or not is the emphasis he makes on the blood of Jesus Christ.

What Christ has to offer us is freedom from guilt. “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Eph. 1:7). That is what Christ has to offer us — the forgiveness of sins. Without that covering, sin will hound and haunt us. David said, “O, my sin is ever before me.” When we come to Jesus Christ and let His blood cleanse us, Christ comes into our life and we receive the free gift of eternal life. Written across our lives are the words of true liberty: “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).

What is guilt-free living? We live in a world ridden with guilt. Some of it is authentic. Some of it is artificial. Some of it is heaped on us by someone else. Yet, at the same time we have a society that is becoming desensitized. When there is no acknowledgment of God in a culture, in a school or in a government, consequently there is no sense of sin.

That is why the anti-Christian forces want to remove the Ten Commandments everywhere. They don’t want anybody praying at public events. Prayer in the schools is an acknowledgment of God. What happens when there is no acknowledgment of God? There is no sense of sin. When there is no sense of sin, there is no need to be forgiven of anything, especially if there are no moral absolutes.

We need to remember that Christ offers us forgiveness. His forgiveness is not superficial. The word for forgiveness comes from a Greek word that literally means “to leave, to send away.” A form of the same word is found in Matthew 4. It says that when the disciples saw Jesus, He called them to follow Him and they left their boats. They didn’t look back. They never went back to their previous lives. They left. The same word is used in the Gospels in a story about a child with a fever. After Jesus’ touch, the fever left — the same form of the word translated “forgiveness.” Matthew 18 talks of a shepherd who left the ninety-nine sheep. The word means “to send away or to leave.” The word for sin is not the familiar word for sin which means missing the mark. It is a compound word in Greek from a preposition meaning “beside” and from a verb that means “to fall or to fall away from or to fall beside.” Thus, for those of you who have stepped over the line, who have fallen down, who have fallen alongside and fallen away, what does Jesus offer you? He offers to send away your sins.

The Old Testament sacrificial system speaks of a scapegoat. The priests would take the scapegoat out and send it away in the wilderness: “Send it away.” That is what He wants to do with our sin. It is like a fever that goes away, or like men who leave their ship. He will send it away. That is what He offers — the forgiveness of sin.

We often have the wrong idea of forgiveness, but then, Jesus knew we would. That’s why He gave us the story of the prodigal son. The wayward son went home in fear and trembling. He had prepared his speech to say, “I am no more worthy to be called your son.” What was the father’s response? “Bring a fatted calf!” The son received full reconciliation, as if it never happened. His sins were forgiven; his sins were forgotten.

Most people have a wrong concept of guilt. We often view it as our foe. Authentic guilt, if it is caused by something we have done, is not our foe. It is our friend. Guilt is sometimes God’s way of saying, “You have sinned.” Confession is our way of saying, “I agree.” Those authentic guilt pangs — not the ones heaped on you by someone else, but those that come upon you by God’s great providential power — are God’s way of pricking your heart. In fact, the word confession used in this text comes from a compound word that means “to say the same as God says.” We like to pretend that we are not responsible. For example, when somebody sitting at a table knocks over a glass of iced tea, everybody jumps up and takes their napkins — except the guilty one.

So often that is the way we are with our sins. We cheat in business and God says, “What happened?” We say, “Oh, Lord, it was the pressure of the economy.” We get in trouble on a Friday night, and God comes around and says, “What happened?” We say, “Oh, it was peer pressure. Everybody was doing it.” When someone runs off with somebody else and God says, “What happened?” They say, “Oh, it is just one of those things.” It should not be this way. Confession takes responsibility. There is no forgiveness without confession. Confession says, “I agree with God.” Guilt-free living comes only with confession.

What does Christ have to offer us? Christ offers us something purposeful, “In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Eph. 1:7). What Christ has to offer us is purpose. He is the only one who can fill the void of life. Some of us have been trying to fill the void with things or with money. All the money in the world can’t fill that void. We try to fill it with cars or homes or people. All those things will never compare to the riches of His grace. What makes it all possible? The last word in the verse and the last word of the gospel: grace.

How can we know the riches of His grace? We discover the worth of something by knowing the price that we pay for it. When we buy a new car, the price we pay is what we think it is worth. Consider a painting? What about a house? We should never forget that the precious blood of the Lord Jesus Christ is the price of redemption. God did not send His own Son into the world because we kept pleading with Him to do so. Our redemption is entirely by His grace. “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8–10). No wonder Paul said, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (2 Cor. 8:9).

Moral earthquakes don’t just happen! They are preceded by secret faults that run through one’s life leaving cracks in character, which ultimately bring damaging and often devastating results. When left unchecked, these secret faults begin to converge and build pressure below the surface until they finally erupt into a moral collapse. But this need not be the result. God knows our weaknesses. He is rich in mercy; that is, we don’t get what we do deserve. And He is full of grace; that is, we do get what we don’t deserve. When given freedom in our lives to do so, He can make a way when there seems to be no way. Is grace the last word for you?

Moral soundings

  • New conditions may demand new methods, but not a new message. Do you believe that?
  • The current generation is utterly lost. What will you do to reach it?
  • At a time when moral earthquakes are rampant, will you hold out the great hope of Jesus?
  • Do you see the connection between Old Testament sacrifices and Christ's ultimate fulfillment?
  • Is grace the last word for you — on every subject?
Moral Earthquakes & Secret Faults: Quake-proofing - Part 17

Moral Earthquakes & Secret Faults: Quake-proofing - Part 17

Friday, May 7, 2021 2:36 PM
Friday, May 7, 2021 2:36 PM


Psalm 119

Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine, and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock. Matthew 7:24, NASB

Psalm 119

Early in 1995 an earthquake measuring 7.5 on the Richter scale struck the oil town of Neftegorsk on the island of Sakhalin, off the Pacific coast of Russia. Blocks of five-story apartment buildings collapsed, crushing hundreds of people. Of the 3,000 people who lived in the town, about 2,000 were killed.

Shoddy Soviet engineering contributed to the destruction. Although earthquakes are common in the region, the buildings in Neftegorsk were not built to withstand earthquakes. Because budget cuts had closed five of the island’s six seismic stations, the city received no early warning. “We live from earthquake to earthquake,” said Aleksei Nikolayev, director of the Center for Seismology and Engineering in Moscow. “Until something happens, no one does anything about it.”

Today we can do a great deal to prepare for these geologic disruptions. We know how to build buildings that can withstand earthquakes. We have instruments that can detect signs of an approaching quake. But Neftegorsk did not use this knowledge. The city failed to prepare, and when the earthquake hit, the city was caught off guard.

In the same way that communities can prepare for the cataclysm of earthquakes, we can prepare for the catastrophe of moral earthquakes. We can build upon sturdy foundations — solid enough to withstand the worst disturbances imaginable. We can ensure the safety of those around us. We can quakeproof our lives simply by following the prescriptives of wise living outlined in the Scriptures.

X marks

The question is posed, “How can a young man keep his way pure?” (Psalm 119:9, NASB). At first blush, we might answer rather negatively. After all, we live in the midst of a culture that is literally wracked with seismic disturbances of monumental proportions.

More than one million teenagers will run away from home this year in America, many of them because of physical or sexual abuse in the home. This is America at the dawning of a new century: one out of every ten teenage girls will get pregnant this year; half of all marriages will end in divorce, leaving hundreds of thousands of teenagers fearful of making commitments themselves later in life; and before the year is through, half a million teenagers will attempt suicide.

The present generation faces an entirely different culture than the one in which their parents were raised. Our teenagers today are involved in a culture that is dragging them constantly down into a moral abyss. Young people beginning careers today are facing pressures they have never known before. It is a transition time for them. Others are leaving home for the first time, going off to college. They will be faced with increasing challenges: no one to check on them, living in coeducational dorms, no curfews, roommates — some with very different moral values — and all sorts of things taking place in the halls of their dormitories.

Other teenagers are entering high school or junior high for the first time. They will be faced with increasing pressures of wanting to be accepted, wanting to find their place and trying to fit in with a world that has gone mad.

So the question the psalmist poses is as startlingly relevant today as when it was first penned, “How can we keep pure?” And the answer to that question is certainly no less urgent today than it was then.

Nuts and bolts

The first word of the question how is typical of youth. It is a good question. How can I survive adolescence? How can I make it through these college years and stay pure in morals, pure in mind and pure in my motives? How can I make it through this transitional change into this career while surrounded by temptations I never really knew existed? How can I make it through these teenage years when my body keeps changing, and I feel so dumb and insecure and hurt? How?

In the midst of all, God’s Word speaks poignantly. The psalmist thus answers, “By taking heed according to your Word.” He continues:

With my whole heart I have sought You;

Oh, let me not wander from your commandments!

Your word have I hidden in my heart,

That I might not sin against You.

Blessed are you, O Lord!

Teach me Your statutes.

With my lips I have declared

All the judgments of Your mouth.

I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies,

As much as in all riches.

I will meditate on Your precepts,

And contemplate on Your ways.

I will delight myself in Your statutes;

I will not forget Your word (Ps. 119:10–16).

Young people and young adults are engaged in the most promiscuous culture known to the Western world, right here in America. Several factors come into play. The first is an element of intimidation. We have raised a generation in a public education system which has intimidated them intellectually into a belief in relativism — into accepting the absurd notion that everything is relative, that there are no moral absolutes. This intellectually indefensible position has given rise to all sorts of things, such as coeducational dorms.

For example, a preacher and his wife were sending their daughter to a school in the East. When they took her there to check into the dorm, they discovered it was coeducational. However, there was one floor that was reserved for only girls. Relieved, they were going to place her there until the dorm mother said, “Unless she’s a lesbian, she doesn’t want to be on this floor, because this floor is made up of lesbians.” So she moved to a coeducational floor.

This is the way it is on many college campuses around America. There are few moral absolutes anymore. How can we keep pure in a culture that is telling our young people that no one can stay pure? It teaches them sex education from the time they are knee high, speaks very little — if any — about abstinence and hands out condoms in secondary schools. How can we keep pure in a culture that keeps telling us we can’t?

Well, it’s not true. Young people can stay pure, and many do. The greatest gift young persons can give to their future husbands or wives is their own moral purity.

Isolation is another problem in today’s culture. The urbanization of America, the move to the cities, has brought anonymity and loneliness. You’d think it would be just the opposite, but it is not. No one knows who you are, no one knows where you go, no one knows what you do, no one knows what you watch and no one cares. You are away from those who care. Many children come home to houses that are empty after school. They sit in front of the television set and watch talk shows that are filled with degradation and blatant sexual talk.

Third, there exists an element of the counterfeit. It is all over this culture. There exists a lot of imitation role models, especially of families in our culture. They are called “families,” but it is really a facade. One example is the “family” of a fourteen-year-old young man named Peter. His parents divorced when he was six years old. He lives with his mom, but spends weekends with his dad. He hates it because his dad’s new girlfriend doesn’t like him. Time with his mom is strained, too. She remarried when he was nine; she had another little boy who is now four, then divorced again. Peter and his little half-brother get along well, but his half-brother is gone a lot visiting his dad. Peter’s mom married a third time, and her new husband has two teenage kids who push Peter around and treat him badly. His mom and dad fight a lot on the phone — mostly over child support payments. His dad thinks they are too high; Peter says that makes him feel rotten and worthless. He notes that his daddy had money last year to buy a new sports car. He wonders if his dad really loves him, because he seems more interested in his new girlfriend. That’s Peter’s family. The name is the same — family — yet it is a hollow corrupted version of the word.

Fourth, there is the element of information — false information. The media has a negative influence on moral values. Recently, the front page of my hometown newspaper carried a big story on “a new kind of family,” about two gay men and two lesbians who wanted to have children through artificial insemination, and they did. Then in the “Metro” section there was another big article on the gay lifestyle and the acceptability of it. In the “Today” section of the same paper, another article advocated the acceptance of the gay lifestyle. It is overwhelming and morally wrong.

Lastly, there is the element of inculcation — impressing something upon the mind through repetitive, frequent repetition. Young people today are bombarded by advertising that tells them a hundred times a day that illicit sex is normal, that it ought to be the center of their lives. Consumerism teaches them to find satisfaction and hope in materialism and self-indulgence.

When many parents were teenagers, the moral climate was drastically different. They didn’t have to deal with intimidation and relativism — the Ten Commandments were on the wall of public school classrooms. There were moral absolutes. They didn’t have to deal with isolation. Everyone knew their neighbors. On my block we knew who lived next door to us. We knew almost everybody. In fact, if one kid did something wrong, the neighbors would take care of it, and his dad would thank them for it later.

It is a challenging world out there. So the question is, “How can a young man keep his way pure?”

According to the psalmist, in the midst of all these cultural challenges, we have but one chance: to center our lives in the Word of God. First of all, he says to keep the Word of God in your head. Know the Word. Second, he says to keep the Word of God in your heart. Stow the Word. Hide it there. Third, he says to keep the Word of God in your life. Show the Word by heeding the Word. Fourth, he says keep it on your lips and sow the Word with your mouth.

Know the Word

God’s Word is a stable rock which we must use to support us. It is our foundation. We can keep ourselves pure. In your head, know the Word. “Blessed are You, O Lord! Teach me Your statutes” (Ps. 119:12). It is difficult for the Bible to impact your life if you know little about it. In school, you are taught information and then comes a test. If you don’t know the material, you fail the test and eventually the course. The same is true of a football team. Each team member learns all the plays. If a player doesn’t know the playbook, he won’t know where he’s supposed to go when the ball is snapped. He will be out of step, affect the whole team and lose the game.

It is the same with the Word of God. The most important book in anyone’s educational experience is the Bible, but it will do you little good if you don’t study it. A lot of believers say they love the Word but never study or learn it. How can you keep yourself pure? By saying, “Lord, teach me your statutes.” In our head, we must know the Word. In the average church, if the preacher were to say, “Let’s turn to Hezekiah,” many people would start hunting, flipping through the pages. They wouldn’t find it; it’s not in there.

Every time we study the Bible we ought to pray with the psalmist, “Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law” (Ps. 119:18). To fully understand God’s Word, we need spiritual help. The Bible is a foreign language without the Holy Spirit’s interpretation. We need to ask, “Lord, open my eyes this morning, that I will see wondrous things from your Word.” Indeed, “Forever, O Lord, your Word is settled in heaven” (Ps. 119:89). 

Some young people go to college where professors scoff at what the individual learned in church since nursery days. They are told, even in many so-called Christian colleges, that the first 11 chapters of Genesis are not historical. They are told that, at best, Jonah is an allegory. Yet long after those skeptics are gone, the Word of God will still stand true. As Isaiah proclaimed, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God stands forever (Isa. 40:8).

There will be times when those going off to college may feel lonely, burdened and rejected. During such times they may be tempted to go out with the wrong crowd and do things they shouldn’t. Let those be times when, as the psalmist says, “When I was afflicted, it was good for me, for then I learned your statutes.” Make up your mind that not a day is going to go by in your life that you don’t expose your mind to the Word of God. How can a young person keep himself pure? In your head, know the Word of God.

By heart

Stow the Word of God in your heart. The psalmist said it well: “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You (Ps. 119:11).

And again, “I will meditate on Your precepts, and contemplate Your ways” (Ps. 119:15).

It’s not enough to keep the Word in your head. You need to store it in your heart — memorize it, then meditate on it. Do you remember the instruction God gave Joshua? “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Josh. 1:8).

Some of us are crossing over into a new land, like Joshua. And if that advice is good for those going into Canaan, it is certainly good for those going into college, those going into careers and for all of us who wish to quakeproof our lives.

Meditate on the Word of God. Going over and over the Word deepens its impression. It is like a tune that we can’t get out of our minds. Imagine what would happen if we couldn’t get Scripture out of our heads. What would be the effect if we memorized Scripture daily? What would our witness be like if we always carried a Scripture memory card in our pocket?

Why not try this? For one month, stow the Word of God in your life. How? Take the Book of Proverbs and read through one chapter each morning. Thirty-one days in the month, thirty-one chapters in Proverbs. Whatever the day is you start reading, you start on that chapter. Keep it correlated with the day of the month, then you’ll always know what chapter you’re in. It will take five to ten minutes each morning. As you read that chapter, ask God to give you one verse to memorize. Write it down on a card and keep it in your pocket. Then when you’re eating breakfast, take it out, read it and then put it back in your pocket. When you’re at a stoplight, take it out, read it again and put it in your pocket again. Do this as often as you can throughout the day. Meditate on it all day long. What will happen if you keep doing this all day with one verse? You will know it by heart. Then the next time temptation beckons, you will be prepared: “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You (Ps. 119:11).

Why should we memorize Scripture? “You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in Your word” (Ps. 119:114).

When you memorize God’s Word, it becomes a hiding place for you. And as we live each day in the fallen world, each one of us is going to need a hiding place in some way or another. The psalmist says, “I have chosen the way of truth; Your judgments I have laid before me (Ps. 119:30).

We must make a choice to know God’s Word. It doesn’t come easy; it takes discipline. Yet if we want to keep ourselves pure, we must know the Word in our heads and stow the Word in our hearts.

Of course, there will be distractions, reasons why we should put off our Scripture reading. Plan for those times. Make an appointment with God each morning and don’t break it — no matter what.

Remaining pure is a choice that we have to make. Daniel made that choice. It says that he purposed in his heart not to eat the king’s meat. The psalmist made that choice: With my whole heart I have sought you; oh, let me not wander from Your commandments (Ps. 119:10).

We must choose to build upon the solid rock of God’s word. Nothing else is truly stable.

Our solid foundation

If we base our lives on the ideas of our culture, we are like rock riddled with cracks, faults and fractures. The rock crumbles under new pressures. It will not stand the test of time or the beating of the waves. The house built on that rock will fall, as if it were on sand. Yet if we build upon the Word of God, our house will stand forever. It rests on that solid faultless rock. Nothing the world has to offer measures up to this precious, infallible and inerrant Word.

Moral soundings

  • How much time do you spend each day in the Word?
  • Do you spend more time absorbing the ways of this world than in the Bible?
  • Do you know the Word — do you aspire to thoroughly study it from cover to cover?
  • Do you regularly memorize the Word?
  • Are you building your house on the rock or on the shifting sand?
Moral Earthquakes & Secret Faults: Moral intersections - Part 6

Moral Earthquakes & Secret Faults: Moral intersections - Part 6

Friday, May 7, 2021 2:35 PM
Friday, May 7, 2021 2:35 PM


Genesis 39

Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path. — Psalm 119:105, KJV

Genesis 39

The earthquake that struck the San Francisco Bay area in 1989 collapsed a section of the freeway that connects the cities of Oakland and San Francisco — including a long span of double-decked viaduct. The results were horrifying. Not only were hundreds of motorists injured and stranded in the immediate aftermath of the quake, but precarious driving conditions continued in the region for weeks and months afterward. Even after the rubble had been removed, the weakened bridges demolished, and the damaged pavement barricaded, hazards abounded for drivers.

Just imagine: The entire roadway system was altered overnight. Streets ceased to be passable; traffic light operations, rush-hour flow patterns and contraflow schemes were all disrupted; one-way streets suddenly had to accommodate two-way traffic and residential streets became primary arteries. Detours became the norm rather than the exception. Wrong turns were common occurrences.

Most motorists, even given the best of driving conditions, have made the mistake of turning the wrong way down a one-way street. It is such an easy mistake to make. When confused by an unfamiliar setting, pressured by the flow of traffic, and panicked by indecision, anyone can take that wrong turn. We momentarily lack discernment and direction; therefore, we inevitably make mistakes.

Life has unexpected twists, turns and intersections as well. Though they come at different times for each of us, they are strikingly similar — each involves a moral decision we must make. At every intersection we must decide which way to go, and a wrong turn at a moral intersection of life can affect our journey for a lot of miles. Some people who make a wrong turn at a moral intersection spend years of their lives getting nowhere on side streets, cul-de-sacs and dead ends. Others end up having wrecks that cause hurt and damage to others. At these moral intersections of life, the question isn’t whether to turn right or left; the question is whether to turn right or wrong.

It’s frightening to think of turning loose a 15- or 16-year-old girl or boy to drive in a major metropolitan area, but it is something that most parents must face at one time or another. As a father, I was determined to teach my girls at least five basic lessons about driving.

The first was read your map and know the directions to your destination ahead of time. In other words, I didn’t want them to get to a major intersection and not know which way to turn. At one point, we lived 15 miles from the Christian school they attended. When it came time for them to drive, I didn’t want them to travel all the way across our tangled metropolitan area only to get to an intersection and not know which way to turn. I wanted them to read the map ahead of time, so that they would know which way to turn.

The second lesson I taught them was stop when you see a red light. Now, that sounds pretty simplistic, but simple rules are generally the best rules. Besides, it is absolutely amazing how many motorists ignore this commonsense dictum.

The third lesson I taught my girls was yield the right-of-way to others. There is no need to tempt fate. More importantly, there is no need to tempt harried commuters in the snarl of city streets either.

The fourth lesson was submit to the proper authorities. Obey all the traffic signs. Obey the police. When we remain under authority, we will inevitably be safer.

The fifth lesson I taught my girls was look both ways before you go. But when you go, really go. Don’t hesitate in the middle of an intersection. Look both ways, and when it’s clear, go on your way.

Clearly, these five lessons are basic to roadway protocol, but they are equally applicable to all our other everyday affairs — to our moral journeys through this life.

Turning point

Joseph came to a moral intersection of life as a relatively young man. He was forced to take the wheel and drive himself. Up until this time his dad had made many of his decisions for him. Yet when we read about this chapter in his life, we find him in a precarious situation — a moral intersection.

The road that brought him to this particular intersection was filled with all kinds of mountaintops and valleys. He drove on the mountaintop for a while as the favorite son of his father, receiving from him the fabled coat of many colors. Later, he had a dream in which God revealed to him His plan for his life. He knew what God wanted him to do. He was to be the leader of a great nation. So Joseph cruised along with the top down, enjoying the beautiful view as he drove over the mountaintop. Suddenly, his journey took him down into the valley.

Because of the jealousy and hatred of his brothers, Joseph was thrown into a pit and later sold. His slavery to the Ishmaelites took him down into Egypt. His journey descended even farther into the valley. He was sold on a block and purchased by a man named Potiphar who made him his personal slave — a servant in his home.

Eventually, Joseph’s character and integrity caused him to be made ruler over all of Potiphar’s home. He was young, bright, intelligent and powerful. He was riding high again, but it was not to last. Shortly thereafter, he arrived at a great moral intersection:

“It came to pass after these things that his master’s wife cast longing eyes on Joseph, and she said, ‘Lie with me.’ But he refused and said to his master’s wife, ‘Look, my master does not know what is with me in the house, and he has committed all that he has to my hand. There is no one greater in this house than I, nor has he kept back anything from me, but you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?’ So it was, as she spoke to Joseph day by day, that he did not heed her, to lie with her or to be with her” (Gen. 39:7–10).

Notice, Joseph not only resisted her seductions; he didn’t even want to be in the same vicinity as his mistress.

“But it happened about this time, when Joseph went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the house was inside, that she caught him by the garment, saying, ‘Lie with me.’ But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside” (Gen. 39:11–12). He got out of there as fast as he possibly could. She ripped the very shirt off his back. Then, to cover her own sin, she said he had tried to rape her. She falsely accused him. As a result of this accusation, Potiphar had him thrown into an Egyptian dungeon. Joseph came to another moral intersection. Amazingly, he put into practice those same five principles I taught my daughters when they were first learning to drive.

Read the map

Read the map and know your directions beforehand. When I taught my daughters to drive, I wanted them to think ahead, to know which way they were going to turn when they arrived at any given intersection. The reason is simple: If we are driving along in the far right lane and suddenly find ourselves at an intersection where we need to make an immediate left, we will need to maneuver through three or four lanes of onrushing traffic to make the correct turn. We thus get into all kinds of problems and confusion. We bring confusion to others. We may even have a wreck. Sometimes we make wrong turns and are then loathe to ask for help. What is it about us that when we get lost or we make a wrong turn, we just won’t ask anybody for directions? How many times has that kind of scenario been repeated in our lives?

Notice Joseph: He had already decided which way he was going to turn before he got to that moral intersection. Years before, God gave him a dream. God revealed to him that He was going to use him in a mighty way. Joseph made some decisions in his own heart and in his own life. As a result, the Bible tells us that “the Lord was with Joseph” (Gen. 39:2). That is why he became successful.

Joseph made the right turn at that intersection of life because he had already decided — he knew the route, and he had determined which way he was going to turn before he even got there. Like Daniel would years later, he purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself. Joseph didn’t stand in the intersection of Mrs. Potiphar’s passion, wring his hands and say, “Well, what should I do? Should I, or should I not?” He’d already made up his mind before he ever got to that intersection. Unfortunately, many of us make wrong turns in life because we wait until we get into the middle of the intersection before we decide what we’re going to do.

Remember Samson? He made some wrong turns early in life. The rest of his life was spent on side streets, cul-de-sacs and dead ends. Interestingly, Samson and Joseph had a lot in common. But what made the difference between these two young men was that when they came to moral intersections in life, one turned the right way and one turned the wrong way. But why? They both were blessed with striking personalities and good looks. In fact, the narrative says Joseph was handsome in form and appearance, and we know Samson was strapping, virile, athletic and comely. We read of both of them that “the Lord was with them.” They both found themselves away from home in the midst of ungodly people — Samson amidst the Philistines, Joseph with the Egyptians — living in hostile environments. They even faced similar temptations — immoral relations with powerful, persistent, tempestuously seductive women.

Yet in nearly identical circumstances, we find that one turned right at that intersection and one turned wrong. Why? What was the difference?

As we said before, Joseph had already decided which way he was going to turn before he got there. Samson hadn’t. He got in the middle of the intersection with Delilah, and she kept coming back. He didn’t know what he was going to do, so he didn’t do anything for a while. He was indecisive. He stood there for a time until finally he allowed his flesh to direct his way. He made a last-second turn — in the wrong direction.

Joseph’s decision, on the other hand, is the kind of commonsense resolve all of us need to exercise. Make a promise to God, to yourself, to your parents, to your future husband, to your future wife or to your future children. Draw a line, and set your mind to it. Draw a line in your heart and your mind, and don’t cross it. Then some Friday night when you get out into that moral intersection and see your friends turning the wrong way, you will know what you are going to do long before you even get there. You won’t need to panic or freeze in indecision. You will have already decided the right turn.

That was one of the secrets of Joseph’s life. Read the map, and know the directions beforehand.

Just say no

The second lesson Joseph applied was stop when you see a red light. “[Potiphar’s] wife cast longing eyes on Joseph, and she said, ‘Lie with me.’ But he refused” (Gen. 39:7–8).

Stop when you see a red light. What an important lesson. How many people have been hurt because somebody was in such a big hurry that they ran through a red light? They thought they wouldn’t get caught. They thought no police were around. They thought they could get by with it.

It is dangerous to run a red light, especially at moral intersections. Joseph was an overcomer because he said no from the start. The first time Potiphar’s wife came to him, he didn’t flirt with her, think it was cute or say, “Well, I’ll never get into this, but I’ll just play around with it awhile and see how far she takes it.” No, he said no from the very beginning. He refused. When he saw that red light flashing, he stopped.

One of the most important words in any language is no. Joseph knew that. As a result, he refused. He was able to stand firm because he was unwavering from the start. That little two-letter word is the secret to overcoming many of the temptations we face in this life.

Now don’t think Joseph wasn’t tempted here. He was away from home in a foreign country, lonely and with little to lose. He had no family there to embarrass or a reputation to maintain or defend; nobody knew him. He was also young and handsome. Potiphar’s wife was a woman of power and, undoubtedly, a woman of beauty. Her seductions certainly would have appealed to his pride and fed his ego. It seemed like everybody else in the culture around him was already turning at similar moral intersections. He should have been flattered, many of his peers would have told him. But he knew how to say an important word—no. Why? Because he had already decided which way he was going to turn before he got there, and he stopped when he saw a red light.

But Potiphar’s wife wouldn’t take no for an answer. She came back day after day. Still, Joseph did not heed her. He didn’t even want to be near her. He stayed out of her vicinity.

Some of us are foolish enough to think that we can flirt with sensual desires, that we can joke and kid about them, without actually being affected by them. For instance, think about what our kids are watching on television these days. We might say, “Oh, we don’t have cable. We don’t have HBO or MTV or anything like that.” But, what about ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox?

How would Joseph have responded at that moral intersection if every night for hours on end that’s what he’d been filling his mind with? Do we wonder at the explosion of teenage sexual sin today? Sadly, statistics indicate that Christian kids are about as involved in immorality as the other kids are.

Joseph was able to resist temptation because he took a strong stand from the very first. He knew which way he was going to turn. When he saw a red light, he stopped and said no.

Yield the right-of-way

There is a third lesson Joseph learned: yield the right-of-way to others. Certainly, that is an important lesson when we are learning to drive. Have respect for the other drivers. Be considerate to those around you. Give way to them. Yield to those who have the right-of-way.

At Joseph’s moral intersection, he showed respect for three people: first for Potiphar, second for himself and finally for Potiphar’s wife.

“Look,” he said, “My master does not know what is with me in the house, and he’s committed all that he has in my hands.” Joseph respected Potiphar. He respected his position as a husband. He considered how Potiphar would feel if he found out that his trusted servant had carried on an affair with his wife. He valued Potiphar’s friendship. As a result, he refused to steal the affection that was due Potiphar from his own wife. Joseph yielded to others.

He also respected himself. “There’s no one greater in this house,” he asserted, “nor has he kept back anything from me.” Joseph had too much respect for the integrity of his faith and commitment to the Lord to defile his body in an adulterous, illicit affair. He had too much self-respect to indulge in that kind of perversity. One of the things that we jettison when we make wrong turns at moral intersections is self-respect. Joseph simply had too much regard for what God had confirmed and established in his life to yield to temptation in that sordid fashion.

Finally, Joseph demonstrated respect for Potiphar’s wife. He respected her enough to say no to her advances. He said no because “you are his wife.” He was able to clearly distinguish the difference between lust and love. Lust often comes disguised as love, but it is just a disguise. Love has the other person’s highest ideal in mind. Joseph knew that, so he said no.

Submit to authority

The fourth lesson Joseph learned was submit to the proper authorities. That is what I tried to teach my daughters when they were first learning to drive. They were to obey the law. I told them that when they saw a traffic sign, they were to obey it. They were to submit to the proper authorities. If they were, by chance, stopped by a policeman, they were to show him respect and submit to him as an authority that God ordained and appointed over us.

Notice how Joseph followed this basic mandate: “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” he asked. He recognized that, ultimately, all sin is rebellion against God. All breaches of conduct are an affront to His authority in our lives. All moral lapses are slights against Him — and Him only.

In the final analysis, it is our love for God that keeps us from turning the wrong way at the moral intersections of life. When we find ourselves in a situation where we are unlikely to get caught, where no one will know, often it is only our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ that can keep us from turning the wrong way. This is the one thing that can keep us pure.

Does the fact that our involvement with sin is an affront against God ever come to our mind? Why not? Is it because we have persistently refused to nurture a conscious awareness that He is always with us? Joseph was certainly aware of this danger. Thus, throughout this text we find that “the Lord was with him.”

Why don’t some of us have a conscious awareness of God’s presence with us? Perhaps it is because we constantly fill our minds with sensuality from television, movies and music — and seldom with the Word of God. One of Joseph’s secrets was he lived a life conscious of the awareness of God.

Look both ways

Joseph’s final lesson was look both ways and then go. I taught my daughters: When you get to the intersection, look both ways; then, if the coast is clear, don’t hesitate out there — go on through the intersection. Notice that Joseph didn’t try to fight his temptation. He fled it. He got out of there. Potiphar’s wife ran up, grabbed him and said, “Lie with me.” But Joseph left his garment in her hand and ran out the door. He lost his coat, but he kept his character. He lost his vest, but he kept his virginity. He looked both ways, and he got out of there. Look both ways, and go.

The Bible says, “No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make an escape, that you may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:13). Moral intersections in life are inevitable. We all get there sooner or later. The only question is: Which way are we going to turn? If we learn from Joseph and apply these principles to our own lives, then what was said of him might be said of us, “The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a successful man” (Gen. 39:2).

Moral soundings

  • Have you decided which way you will turn?
  • What is the map you’ve consulted to chart your way?
  • Have you already fallen into the pattern of sin?
  • What can you do to break that pattern?
  • Are there any commonsense steps toward victory that you may have neglected?
Moral Earthquakes & Secret Faults: Living on the fault line - Part 1

Moral Earthquakes & Secret Faults: Living on the fault line - Part 1

Friday, May 7, 2021 2:35 PM
Friday, May 7, 2021 2:35 PM


Judges 13-14

Judges 13-14

Be sure, your sin will find you out. — Numbers 32:23

Earthquakes don’t just happen. Instead, they are caused by things beyond our sight, well beneath the surface of the ground.

Throughout most of human history, the largely hidden processes of geological activity have been complete mysteries. But now we know that the earth’s crust is composed of a number of separately mobile, ever-shifting plates. When and where these plates come together, there is bound to be a great deal of geological disruption. As they scrape against one another, long lines of disturbances—tremors, shifts, eruptions and cracks--are likely to occur. In fact, they are inevitable.

The seams between the earth’s various plates are called “faults.” Usually, pressure along the fault line remains fairly subtle and stable. But over time, stress builds between the plates. When the tension finally exceeds the breaking strength of rock, a jolting rupture ensues. The earth is literally sundered, and the result can be utterly devastating.

The San Andreas Fault, for example, is the seam between the Pacific and Northern American plates. It runs through California from north to south for 650 miles. Slowly, an inch or two every year, the west side of the fault creeps northward. As long as this creep occurs unimpeded, stresses in the rock do not build up and no earthquakes occur.

However, there are numerous places along the fault line where the facing blocks of rock above the plates become fused together. Pulled by the plates below but unable to move, they gradually twist out of shape and strain builds up in them—often over a period of years or even decades. Eventually though, the rocks break apart—sometimes jumping many feet—to make up for the years when they should have been moving slowly apart. This is exactly what happened in the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and again in the devastating Oakland earthquake in 1989.

Clearly then, earthquakes don’t just happen. They are preceded by a series of smaller seismic events along the fault line—events beyond our sight that may have been quietly occurring beneath the surface for many years.

Moral fault lines

Not surprisingly, moral earthquakes follow the same pattern. They don’t just happen.

We all know men and women whose actions have resulted in what we might call a moral earthquake: prominent pastors who fall into gross immorality, successful businessmen who are caught in illegal dealings, or happy families suddenly destroyed by unforeseen forces. We look at such people and wonder, How could this have possibly happened? Stunned and amazed, we say, “They looked like they were the all-American family.” Or, “He seemed as if he really had it all together.” Or, “She was so wonderful.” Bewildered, we ask, “How can this be? They appeared to have everything going for them. What could have caused this terrible catastrophe to happen?”

Despite all outward appearances, moral earthquakes don’t just happen. Like geological earthquakes, they are preceded by the pressures of long-hidden faults. They erupt when the ordinary pressures of life finally expose the secret cracks in the character of a man or a woman or a family.

For a long, long while, we might think that such fault lines are of no great consequence. We convince ourselves that they don’t really amount to anything, that they’re no big deal. So we let them go. We completely ignore their presence.

Inevitably though, the pressures of life expose the cracks in our characters. They reveal the secret faults that run beneath the surface of our lives. One day, they erupt into a moral earthquake that has devastating results upon all those around us.

From hero to zero

Samson is a striking biblical example of a man who suffered a horrendous moral earthquake. His all-too-familiar story is told in the Book of Judges. He was a man who had it all going for him. He was young, strong, attractive and influential—a natural leader. He came from a good family and enjoyed all the advantages of a solid moral upbringing. Yet in the end, his life was ruined by a moral earthquake.

Of course, it didn’t just happen. In fact, Samson’s moral earthquake was preceded by years of little faults—faults that began so insignificantly that we might be tempted to believe there was hardly anything to them. In fact, they ran their course over a period of two decades, cracking his character beneath the surface until a catastrophic earthquake became inevitable.

So what was it that really caused Samson’s failure? What was his secret fault? Many of us who have a cursory acquaintance with his story might be tempted to blurt out, “Delilah. Samson was undone by that conniving woman, Delilah. He told her his secret, she cut off his hair, he lost his strength, and he was delivered into the hands of his enemies.”

We tend to make a big deal about Delilah. Almost everything written and taught about Samson and his ultimate failure centers on her. We are all too prone to think that she was his greatest fault—the root of his downfall. But in reality, some 20 years before that, a few little secret faults began to run their course through the character of his life, cracking it here and there, finally resulting in a catastrophic moral collapse. Delilah just happened to be there at the end.

No big deal

Many of us are involved in things—sinful habits, moral compromises, ethical lapses, or spiritual accommodations—that we rationalize away as petty, trivial or unimportant. Though we know better, we dabble in these things because we think they are too insignificant to worry about. We think that they’re really no big deal—just small moral faults. Later we discover—often when it is too late—that living out our lives on such fault lines ultimately results in incomprehensible damage to ourselves and to those around us. For all too many of us, our character is cracked under the surface. Our secret faults undermine the foundations of our lives, and, sadly, we set ourselves up for a devastating earthquake sometime in the future.

We let down a few standards here, or a few scruples there, and we say, “Oh, it isn’t that big of a deal.” Yet, that is precisely the way Samson began. Moral earthquakes do not just happen. A man doesn’t just leave his family. A woman doesn’t just fall into immorality. A family doesn’t just disintegrate overnight. A businessman doesn’t just plunge into unethical behavior in a single moment of weakness.

A kind of unavoidable domino effect somehow magnifies and multiplies the import of even the most insignificant spiritual breaches. Sin has consequences, and those consequences simply cannot be swept under the rug. Cracks in our character—regardless of how imperceptible they may be at first—inevitably cause incalculable damage.

Moral earthquakes are always preceded by secret faults.

Predicting disaster

The sciences of plate tectonics and seismology have advanced to such an astonishing degree in recent years that earthquakes are now somewhat predictable. Although unable to pinpoint exact times or locations, scientists can accurately identify general at-risk periods and regions. In 1975 for instance, seismologists forecast a major earthquake in the Liaoning province of Manchuria. More than two million people were evacuated from their homes in the industrial city of Yingkou. A little over four hours later a massive earthquake struck. Instead of tens of thousands of deaths, there were less than 300. In California, scientists also watch key indicators very carefully. As a result, even the smallest tremors are rarely a complete surprise.

The same is true with moral earthquakes. If we allow secret faults to remain in our lives, cracking our character, we may not be able to precisely say when a moral earthquake will happen, but we can be certain that it will happen. Next week, next month, next year, or even—as it was for Samson—20 years hence, an earthquake is inevitable. Faults create innately unstable foundations.

The apostle Paul warned us, “Do not be deceived. God is not mocked: for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Gal. 6:7). When we violate God’s standards, we can be sure that we are not going to get away with it in the end. When we break God’s laws—whether they are physical laws or spiritual laws—we will eventually have to pay the consequences.

For instance, if we try to defy the law of gravity, we will get hurt. If we climb up on a building and jump off, we are certain to come crashing down. If we plunge our hand into a fire, we are most assuredly going to get burned. There are physical laws woven into the fabric of God’s creation. We can’t break them and expect to get away with it.

Similarly, God’s moral laws are not to be trifled with. Break them, and they will most assuredly break us. Thus, the Bible asserts, “Be sure your sin will find you out” (Num. 32:23). We can’t violate God’s spiritual laws and get away with it. We can’t live in fornication, adultery, greed, bitterness, anger or rebellion without ultimately suffering the consequences of those grave breaches.

Moral earthquakes are thus, all too predictable.

A terrible demise

Again, Samson is a case in point. His story is one of the saddest in the Bible—because he began so well, only to squander every advantage and every opportunity:

Again the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord delivered them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years. Now there was a certain man from Zorah, of the family of the Danites, whose name was Manoah; and his wife was barren and had no children. And the Angel of the Lord appeared to the woman and said, “Indeed now you are barren and have borne no children, but you shall conceive and bear a son. Now therefore, please be careful not to drink wine or similar drink, and not to eat anything unclean. For behold, you shall conceive and bear a son, and no razor shall come upon his head, for the child shall be a Nazarite to God from the womb, and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines. (Judg. 13:1–5)

There was a cyclical pattern in the history of Israel during the tumultuous days of the judges. The people would indulge in sin and rebellion for a period. As a result, they would fall into the hands of evil oppressors. Then in the midst of their servitude, they would cry out to the Lord in repentance. God would mercifully deliver them by raising up a champion—a judge. But alas, their newfound freedom would lull them into complacency once again, and the cycle would repeat itself.

The story of Samson is set against this backdrop. Once again the people of Israel find themselves under the fierce tyranny of the Philistines. Samson’s birth is an answer to the fervent prayers of his godly parents. In addition, an angel of the Lord announces that he will one day be a champion to deliver his people from their despicable bondage.

Notice the great advantages that Samson had. He was dedicated from birth. He was a true gift of God to a sweet, godly couple. He was given a special calling. Indeed, he proved to be strong, clever and winsome—the sort of young man destined for success in life. Nevertheless, though he started out on a godly track, he ended his life picking up the pieces of broken dreams—devastated by a catastrophic moral earthquake.

Have you known anyone like Samson? Someone who had a good beginning? Someone who was God-anointed, God-appointed, and had every possible advantage in life, yet succumbed to the shock of a moral earthquake?

Samson’s experience confirms the lamentable fact that even a godly home is no absolute guarantee of a godly life. Sometimes our best-intended spiritual influences are rejected by our children. Some of us are eerily like Samson: we have been brought up in godly homes by parents who prayed for us, dedicated us and sacrificed for us through the years; yet, we choose to live our lives along the dangerous fault lines of sin and rebellion.

Outward evidences

Samson was particularly advantaged spiritually. In fact, we are told that he was a “Nazarite” from his mother’s womb. A Nazarite was someone peculiarly set apart for the work of God. He was distinguished in holiness by three vows he was to keep forever. First, he vowed to never drink wine or even to go near a vineyard where grapes or raisins were grown. Second, he vowed to never touch a dead animal because he was to live a separated, holy life unsullied by the curse of death. Third, he vowed to never cut his hair (Num. 6:2–8).

Each of these vows outwardly represented an inward commitment to holiness and righteousness. They were intended to be the external symbols of an internal reality in his heart and life. When men and women saw a Nazarite walking down the street, they immediately recognized him as a man of commitment, a man of holy resolve. Sadly, Samson trivialized his status as a Nazarite early in his life:

Now Samson went down to Timnah as a young man and saw a woman of Timnah, of the daughters of the Philistines. (Judg. 14:1)

The Philistines were pagans. They were the very oppressors God had raised Samson up to defeat. Yet there he was. Samson knew better, but still he went. That was his first mistake. According to the story, he “saw” one of the daughters of the Philistines. Right then and there he was smitten. He made his decision to abandon his high calling and to reject his righteous upbringing—entirely on the basis of his senses. It seems that he was completely dominated by the desires of his flesh. Notice: He had never had a conversation with her. He had never even met her. Certainly, he had never gone into her home. He knew nothing about her except what she looked like.

This was not agape love—there was no common faith here. This was not even phileo love—there was no brotherly fondness or affection. Samson had never met the girl. This was sheer, stark eros love—it was base, fleshly, physical attraction.

One thing leads to another

Samson was where he should not have been—down there at Timnah, down there with the godless people, down there among the Philistines—and that led to his second big mistake:

So he went up and told his father and mother, saying, “I have seen a woman in Timnah of the daughters of the Philistines; now therefore, get her for me as a wife.” (Judg. 14:2)

He went back home and said, “Mom, I’ve found the one. Dad, go down there and get her for me.” He was ready for his parents to begin arranging for a wedding—and he had yet to even meet his prospective bride. He was obviously moved by nothing more than sheer physical attraction.

Thus began the small cracks in his character—the little secret faults—that would one day erupt into a full-force moral earthquake. Of course Samson knew better: he was a Nazarite, but he persisted in his obstinate commitment to fleshly desires:

Then his father and mother said to him, “Is there no woman among the daughters of your brethren, or among all my people, that you must go and get a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” And Samson said to his father, “Get her for me, for she pleases me well.” (Judg. 14:3)

His dad said, “Look, this isn’t how you’ve been brought up. This isn’t what we taught you. This isn’t the law we’ve lived by. Couldn’t you find a believer? Couldn’t you find someone who loves the Lord? Couldn’t you find someone of common faith that would be able to worship with you and help raise your children as you were raised?” He reminded his beloved son, “Don’t be unequally yoked.” But Samson would hear none of that. He was resolute in his worldly passion, “Get her for me. I know what I’m doing. I can handle this.”

Samson decided that he knew what was best for him—and thus, he rejected the clear mandates of God’s law and the wise inclinations of his parents’ counsel. Thus, the fault lines began to spread even further:

“So Samson went down to Timnah with his father and mother, and came to the vineyards of Timnah.” (Judg. 14:5)

Where did he go? The vineyards of Timnah! Almost without warning, the secret faults in Samson’s life lead him to violate one of the basic vows of his Nazarite commitment. He was not to go anywhere near a vineyard. He was not even allowed to touch as much as a single raisin. Yet there he was, walking through the vineyard, flagrantly doing the very thing he had vowed he would never do.

The fact is, when we say no to God in one area of our lives, when we let a little fault begin to spread, we are well on our way toward a moral earthquake. One thing leads to another, and we find ourselves irretrievably on the downgrade. Thus, complications began to mount almost immediately for Samson:

Now to his surprise, a young lion came roaring against him. (Judg. 14:5)

When we step out of God’s will for our lives, we shouldn’t be terribly surprised when we are confronted with obstacles. Samson thought he could avert disaster, but he actually only made things worse:

And the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him, and he tore the lion apart as one would have torn apart a young goat, though he had nothing in his hand. But he did not tell his father or his mother what he had done. Then he went down and talked with the woman, and she pleased Samson well. (Judg. 14:6–7)

Sin has consequences. We may be ingenious in our efforts to avoid those consequences—as Samson was when he faced the lion in the vineyard. But ultimately, even our best efforts at ingenuity are to no avail.

One sin leads to another. One compromise leads to the next. Samson very nearly met with disaster because he was where he never should have been, doing what he never should have been doing, with someone he never should have been with. Yet, lo and behold, at the very next opportunity he returned for more. It was almost as if he were winking at sin. He apparently thought he could get away with anything. Whenever we give in to sin, we pick up next time where we left off:

After some time, when he had returned to get her, he turned aside to see the carcass of the lion. And behold a swarm of bees and honey were in the carcass of the lion. He took some of it with his hands and went along, eating. (Judg. 14:8–9)

So, Samson returned to the vineyard. When he did, he turned aside to revisit his narrow escape; there he violated the second of his Nazarite vows—that he would not touch a dead body. Not only does Samson touch the carcass of the lion he had slain, he actually eats from it.

A prescription for disaster

As shocking as Samson’s blatant and flagrant indiscretions might seem, we really shouldn’t be surprised. After all, we’ve witnessed similar patterns in our own lives. According to Solomon, “When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of people are filled with schemes to do wrong” (Eccl. 8:11, NIV).

Now remember, all these events occurred some 20 years before Samson ever met Delilah. It appears that he thought he could get away with violating his Nazarite vows without diminishing his effectiveness. So, he went on his way eating his illicit and defiled honey.

Samson was exactly like so many of us today. Carried along by the passions of the moment, he somehow forgot that actions always have consequences. Those consequences may not be immediate, but they are sure and certain nonetheless. It would be 20 years before Samson was entirely undone, but the stage was set in those vineyards of Timnah. The cracks in his character made the foundations of his life less secure. His secret faults—well hidden beneath the surface—made what seemed to be unimaginable, all too inevitable.

Twenty years later, Samson met Delilah. Then came the earthquake—and thus, his life ended in ruin. Earthquakes don’t just happen. They are always preceded by secret faults.

So it is with all of us. A marriage doesn’t just fall apart. It is slowly and imperceptibly undermined over a long span of time by small infidelities, by little accommodations to dishonesty and by seemingly harmless flirtations. These tiny fissures eventually become gaping chasms. These little cracks in the integrity of the relationship finally erupt into a catastrophic quake—bringing with it monumental destruction.

Similarly, ethical violations in the workplace, the fierce bondage of habitual immorality, and the sad descent into addictive behaviors all begin with small indiscretions but end in great devastation. At the end of his sadly squandered life, Samson knew that only too well

Moral soundings

  • Can you detect some of the secret faults that may lie below the surface of your life?
  • Have you deliberately ignored wise counsel to venture time after time into the vicinity of sin?
  • Have you found yourself making decisions based entirely upon sensual pleasure?
  • Have you allowed seemingly innocent little cracks in your character to remain without arrest?
  • Have you ignored all the predictors of a moral earthquake in your life?
Moral Earthquakes & Secret Faults: Little is Much - Part 16

Moral Earthquakes & Secret Faults: Little is Much - Part 16

Friday, May 7, 2021 2:34 PM
Friday, May 7, 2021 2:34 PM


John 6:1-14

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup runs over.  Psalm 23:5

John 6:1-14

In the final analysis, almost every issue seems to be reduced to a question of dollars and cents these days. Whether it is a question of welfare programs or disaster relief, popular entertainment or foreign policy, environmental standards or teen pregnancy rates, educational outcomes or industrial effectiveness—success or failure is invariably measured in financial terms. We want to know what the bottom line is. We want to know how much it is going to cost us. We want to know what kind of return we can expect.

Following each of the earthquakes that have struck California over the past two decades, estimations of impact have invariably been couched in economic terms. It is almost as if the homes, businesses, and even lives lost in such catastrophes can be quantified chiefly as fiscal concerns.

Even moral earthquakes are often analyzed in material terms—revenues lost, alimonies paid, estates divided, and portfolios dissolved. It seems that in our culture today we have accepted as both truth and truism the infamous campaign slogan, “It’s the economy, stupid.”

The Bible confirms the fact that money matters are important, albeit in a manner entirely different than what our materialistic minds might naturally suppose. Money matters are important from a biblical perspective simply because, according to the Bible, everything in heaven and on earth—every discipline, every issue, and every calling—must come under the authority of the lordship of Jesus Christ.

Many a moral earthquake has been caused by a failure to recognize this fact, and many a recovery from moral disaster has been effected by a righteous appropriation of this fact.

Supply and demand

If ever there is a subject with wide-ranging dogmatic differences of opinion, it is the economy. Should we balance the budget? Should we stimulate the economy by lowering interest rates? Do we limit supply so prices can remain stable during times of excess?

My undergraduate degree was a Bachelor of Business Administration. During my studies I took a course in elementary economics. In that course, we learned the basic formula of economic function—the law of supply and demand. This law is the entire basis of a free market system. This is what should regulate the prices of all products in the market place. The question is: How does it work?

Very simply stated it is this: when demand exceeds supply, prices go up; when supply exceeds demand, prices go down. Let’s say I have a grocery store and I have a bunch of apples in the store. All of a sudden I see about a hundred people lined up outside wanting apples. So what do I do? Before I open the store for the day, I take down that sign that says, “Apples $1,” and I put one up that says, “Apples $2.” When the people come in, even though the price has been raised, they buy all of the apples anyway. When demand exceeds supply, prices go up.

On the other hand, when supply exceeds demand, prices go down. Here I am at my grocery store with one hundred apples. My store is filled with people, but no one is purchasing apples. In a day or two all the apples are going to rot, and they won’t be good for anything. So what do I do? The supply is greater than the demand. Knowing this theory of economics, I go over to the sign that says, “Apples $1,” and I replace it with a sign that says, “Apples 25¢.” When people pass by, they see it and they buy my apples. Then I can get rid of all my apples. This is the basic law of supply and demand.

How does this theory apply to us? Discussing basic economic principles in the midst of a study on moral earthquakes may not seem logically related; however, we need to understand how differently God provides for our needs, as opposed to our own ability to supply our needs. For the most part, we are limited to our own financial resources to provide for our needs and our desires. God is only limited by His holy nature. Another problem we have is that we have limited resources. God is not limited by earthly things; He is in control of all of nature. We also have to battle our sinful nature when deciding what our needs are and how to allocate our resources. God knows what we need, and He desires what is best for us.

While some Christians are apologetic about mentioning money—especially when it comes to tithing—I’m not a bit apologetic about it because Jesus spoke so often about it. Thirty-eight parables of our Lord are recorded, and one-third of them deal with our relationship to material possessions. Why? Christ says, “Where your treasure is, that’s where your heart will be also.” One out of every six verses in the three Synoptic Gospels—Matthew, Mark, and Luke—discuss the proper and righteous use of material goods. Consider for instance:

  • Mark 10:25: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God!"
  • Matthew 12:35: “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things.”
  • Luke 19:26: “For I say to you, that to everyone who has will be given; and from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.”

Money talks

Jesus says in effect, “Your money talks.” What does money say about our commitment to Christ? I’ve often said if I were commissioned to write someone’s biography and could have only one thing to use as a reference for that biography, I wouldn’t want his family tree nor his prayer journal. I would want his checkbook.

Let’s look at the checkbook. It will show us where our heart is. It will show us what things in our lives are most important to us. That’s why our wills are so important. A will is called a “last will and testament.” It’s a testimonial. After we’re gone from this earth, it’s a testimonial to everybody that’s left of what we thought was really important in life.

Our checkbooks may even be an early-warning system for moral earthquakes. Our sinful nature always struggles against wisely allocating our resources; it always clamors for more. We always desire beyond our financial means. We covet. What we desire is immaterial; the important factor is that our desire demonstrates our flawed nature, coveting whatever delights the eye. This problem is made worse by our lifestyles. Most Americans live lives of plenty—all our basic needs are met. Anything beyond those needs is a luxury. We may consider many items necessary that are really luxuries: a television, a microwave, a computer, and even a car. We don’t need these things to survive. Yet our sinful desires make us unsatisfied with what we have. The newer, bigger, and better, always exists. Therefore, we desire. Demand exceeds supply; but the Bible clearly states, “The lines have fallen to me in pleasant places; yes, I have a good inheritance”(Ps. 16:6). We will continue to desire until God intervenes.

Demand and supply

One day our Lord Jesus laid out His economic plan, not in the halls of Congress but on a grassy hillside of a mountain in Galilee. What we see in this remarkable plan ought to startle us all—materialistic as we are. The fact is, without Christ, demand always exceeds supply—and the perpetual cry is: “Not enough!” But with Christ, supply always exceeds demand—and the cry becomes, “More than enough!”

Thus, the prophet Isaiah says: “Come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me and eat what is good, and let your soul delight itself in abundance” (Isa. 55:1–3). When we go to Christ for our needs, we receive satisfying goods in abundance.

If Christ is not factored into the equation of our lives, we will inevitably face deprivation and want. Demand will always exceed supply. For those who try to fill the void of life with money, their cry is, “Not enough!” If we ask them, “How much is enough?” their answer will be, “Just a little more.” Why is this? Because when we try to fill the void where Christ belongs with money, we never have enough, and we always think just a little more is enough. Look at our American culture. Look at the number of people declaring bankruptcy because they always wanted more than they could afford. While we seek to feel fulfilled and chase after the America dream, we think that money and things are the means to that end.

That’s always the way it is with life. We try to fill the void where Christ belongs with pleasure or with sex, and someone asks us, “How much is enough?” The reply is, “Just a little more.”

Now what does this have to do with you and with me? More specifically, what does this have to do with moral earthquakes? Take a look at the story of the feeding of the five thousand, and the relevance becomes obvious.

The demand in that situation was a hungry crowd of five thousand. They came to hear Christ’s teachings, and paid no attention to their sustenance needs. The supply was five barley loaves and two small fish—hardly a meal for more than four people. There was definitely a problem with supply and demand.

Three things brought about this problem. First of all, there was no sense of planning. Second, there was no sense of purpose, and, third, there was no sense of potential.

Planning, purpose and potential

Literally thousands of people were out on the Galilean hillside and had not made any preparation for the day. They traveled to the hillside without making any arrangements for their dinner. They didn’t think ahead. They had a demand for something of which there was no apparent supply — food, a basic need. Yet, the problem turned into an opportunity for Jesus to work a miracle.

Secondly, there was no sense of purpose. Philip and Andrew, the disciples who brought the problem to the attention of Jesus, had no sense of purpose. They had no idea that they were about to be used that day to the glory of God. When Jesus asked Philip where he was going to buy bread for all these people, he was testing Philip to see what he had in mind as his purpose. The narrative account in the Gospel of John says that Jesus already knew what He was going to do. Christ was testing Philip, calling him to examine himself, saying, “Look at what you are, where you are, and what you are doing. Has it dawned on you that there might be a purpose in your predicament? Has it dawned on you that a demand in your life that’s exceeding supply might be there for a reason and a purpose?”

The reason why so many were hungry and without food can be found in the Old Testament principle that states, “The Lord your God led you all the way…in the wilderness, to humble you and to test you, to know what was in your heart” (Deut. 8:2). Christ was tempted in the wilderness, yet He knew the purpose of His needs. Jesus asked that question of Philip and that’s why He left this story for all posterity—that we might be confronted with the question, too. What is the purpose of our needs?

Philip had a cash register for a mind. When Jesus asked him what they were going to do, Philip’s first reply was that eight months’ salary—more than 200 denarii—would not buy enough bread for everyone to have a little piece. His first thought was not the glory of God or the power of Jesus Christ. His first thought was, “How much is it going to cost?” He was not thinking of the miracles of God. Rather, he thought of the situation in earthly terms.

What was Jesus hoping he’d say? “Lord, I don’t know, I don’t know what we’re going to do, but it’s no problem for You. We’ve seen You turn water into wine; we know You can do anything when we factor You into the equation of life.” Philip had been with Christ and seen the miracles He had performed. What was His purpose? Could it be that in the times of our greatest need, the Lord is saying to us, “Trust in Me. I will provide.”

Finally, there was no sense of potential. Look at the boy for a moment: “There is a lad here who has five barley loaves and two fishes.” That boy left home that morning with a little sack lunch of fish sandwiches. He left home that morning with the potential to feed thousands of people, and he didn’t even know it. It’s not the size of our lunch that matters, what really matters is who possesses it—whether Jesus has it or not—because little is much when God is in it.

The great provider

The above story demonstrates God’s law of supply and demand. Without Christ, demand always exceeds supply, and the cry is, “Not enough!” All those people on the Galilean hillside who had not prepared created great demand; they needed something to eat. They were hungry, but there was not enough supply. So, what happened? Christ took the loaves and fishes and multiplied them. When we factor Jesus Christ into the equation of our lives, supply always exceeds demand. The cry changes from “Not enough!” to “More than enough!” Certainly that was true in this case. Christ fed the five thousand and twelve baskets full remained.

The real bottom line

What would we do if we ever found ourselves in a situation similar to Philip’s? What if a young couple struggling to get out of school debts, and living off two incomes, suddenly discovers that the wife is pregnant? What if a natural disaster destroys your home, and it isn’t covered by insurance? What if the company you work for suddenly lays you off? Most of us would find ourselves tabulating costs and estimating expenses. Yet in each of those situations, we might end up still not having our basic needs met.

During such stressful times, secret faults can become agitated. Satan zeros in on us. The pressure to withstand sin increases dramatically. Satan tempts us with sinful ways to recoup our losses. We are tempted during a time of weakness, much like Christ in the desert, and our solution to this time of tempting is the same as Christ’s in the wilderness—God’s power.

Instead of giving into temptation, we must remember the incredible power of God. We should not be like the disciples, doubting the possibilities even after Christ clearly demonstrated His power before them. We must have faith in the promises of God to meet our needs and to do what is best for us. Paul tells us that since God’s love did not even withhold His Son from us, He will not withhold anything else good from us, especially in our time of need. We must move closer to God, depending on Him more. Such faith and dedication will serve us regardless of our future, and we must realize the need to be prepared. We have responsibilities to God and our families which should prompt us to think about the future and not be left as startled as Philip.

We must be ready to answer questions similar to those asked of Philip. We need to ask ourselves about a plan, a purpose, and a potential for our own lives. Many times these essential questions are left unanswered, virtually ignored. We are so busy keeping up with all the other drivers on the highway, we don’t realize we should be planning where we are going. Not just a specific plan for a specific event, like Philip needed, we need an overall plan, a vision. This vision is necessary for serving Christ through our ministry. We have a responsibility as good stewards of all that he has given us to give some thought to plans, purposes, and potentials as we serve the Lord with our lives.

However, as much as we may plan, at some point we must depend upon the power and the will of God. Just as there was a reason that Philip could not handle the situation he was in, we may find ourselves in a situation beyond our control. During such moments, God’s ever-present power becomes explicitly known to us. Just as with the fish and the bread, no other resource but God using His power could produce the needed results.

We must remember that we are limited by our resources and corrupted by our sin nature, even if we are good stewards. God’s infinite power is not limited by supply and demand. Although we must attend to our responsibilities, ultimately all rests in Him. We must place our hope and faith in His unrivaled power, mercy, and love.

When all seems hopeless, He is our hope. When there seems to be no way out, He is our way of escape. When we have little, He is our abundance. When we are devastated by a moral earthquake, He is our rescuer and restorer.

He is our All in All. That is not just good theology—it is also good economics.

Moral soundings

  • Are you a bottom-line person—to the point that you’ve worked God out of the equation?
  • What does your checkbook reflect about what is important in your life?
  • How much do you trust and seek the Lord to meet the needs in your life?
  • Do you have a purpose or a plan about how to allocate your resources?
  • What are your weak areas that Satan attacks during times of pressure?
Moral Earthquakes & Secret Faults: Internal Source and External Force - Part 3

Moral Earthquakes & Secret Faults: Internal Source and External Force - Part 3

Friday, May 7, 2021 2:33 PM
Friday, May 7, 2021 2:33 PM


James 1

James 1

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God.” - James 1:13

The earth’s crust is made up of at least fifteen geological plates. Most earthquakes occur along the seams where the plates meet. Interestingly, most of the earth’s volcanoes are located along those seams as well. The wide arc of fault lines that runs along the West Coast, across the ocean and upward along the Pacific Rim is thus popularly called the “ring of fire.”

We know that the great destructive geological disturbances around the “ring of fire” don’t just happen. They are caused by shifting tensions along the hidden faults there.

We know that moral earthquakes likewise are caused by secret faults. The question is: What actually causes those faults? From whence does temptation come?

Celebrated for his sharp wit and flamboyant manner, Oscar Wilde was a notable member of Victorian England’s artistic and social elite. He summed up the attitudes of millions of people in his famous line, “I can resist everything except temptation.”

Most of us can readily identify with that sentiment. It is easy to walk the straight and narrow when the opportunities to diverge are few and far between. But in this if-it-feels-good-do-it day of self-indulgence, resisting temptation is no mean feat. In this anything-goes day of ethical relativism, resisting temptation seems to require a kind of moral fortitude that is not only practically unheard of, it is certainly not aspired to. We can excuse almost anything and everything.

To an extraordinary degree, our times mirror those of Samson—when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 21:25). Perhaps that is why so many have followed in the lamentable footsteps of that vanquished champion—footsteps that lead directly to the devastation and destruction of moral earthquakes.

In our culture there are no moral absolutes. The Ten Commandments are little more than a distant memory. There are no sure and secure restraints on human behavior. Why, even in the church, the idea of moral certainty—of right and wrong, of good and bad, of righteousness and wickedness—has all but disappeared.

In his remarkable book, The Closing of the American Mind, Alan Bloom of the University of Chicago, described the frightening effect that this kind of relativism has had on an entire generation of American students. He relates that he once asked an undergraduate class to identify an evil person. No one could. Not a single student could name someone they thought was evil. In fact, Bloom said, evil did not even exist as a category in their minds. They were even unclear about what he meant by the term. Thus he concluded that our inability to recognize evil and identify evil is a sign of grave danger to our society. Indeed it is.

Even those of us who reject the relativism of our day are too often unconsciously infected by its thinking in one way or another. When temptation comes along, for instance, our first inclination is to rationalize, justify, excuse, and accommodate. We inevitably attempt to blame someone or something else besides ourselves—in fact, we are prone to blame anyone or anything else besides ourselves. Yet in the end, we suffer the consequences of such moral malfeasance.

The blame game

The blame game is not a modern phenomenon. It has been going on since the time of the Fall. Have you ever noticed the excuses that Adam and Eve gave for their sin?

Adam said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate” (Gen. 3:12). “Not me, Lord. It was her!”

Eve said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Gen. 3:13). “Not me, Lord. It was him!”

In a round-about sort of way, of course, both of their excuses contained a kernel of truth. But they were just excuses, nonetheless. Both Adam and Eve refused to face up to the fact: They disobeyed God Almighty. They disobeyed of their own volition. They made the choice to reject the commands of God themselves. They fell into sin. In the end, they had no one to blame but themselves.

But blame they did. Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent. Neither one was willing to own up to what they had done. So they looked around for a scapegoat. They pointed their fingers and said, “Not me. Not me, Lord.”

Yet even that was not the worst of it. Both of them also blamed God. It was the woman God had given to him who was at fault, Adam complained. In other words, “God, You messed up. You placed me in a faulty environment. I was only responding to the situation You placed me in. I certainly can’t be expected to overcome those kind of circumstances, can I? Look, it’s not my fault, God. You picked her, not me. We were doing just fine around here until You decided to have her move in. It’s Your fault, Lord.”

Eve said about the same thing. “Look God, I was deceived. It wasn’t my fault. I couldn’t help myself. This serpent here is very shrewd. Devilish, even. He really tricked me. He seemed to know just how to get to the likes of me. So why did You have to let him into the garden? You should have known better than to let me be taken advantage of like that. Face it, Lord. It’s all Your fault.”

Sound familiar? It should. Every one of us falls into that same kind of erroneous thinking on a regular basis. In fact, that sort of argument reveals the essence of our sinful rebellion against God. We simply refuse to accept responsibility for our own foolish decisions and our own perverse insubordinations. We are loathe to admit that we ever did anything wrong. We go on the defensive. We look for someone or something else to pin the blame on. We’re quick to point our finger at anyone and everyone but ourselves. We become masters at blame shifting.

From the inside out

In fact, when we succumb to temptation, we have no one to blame but ourselves. What is the cause of temptation? Is it the devil? Is it our environment? Is it our biological or genetic makeup? Is it God Himself? No, according to the apostle James, none of these things cause temptation. Instead, he says, temptation has an internal source: “Blessed is the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’” (James 1:12–13).

Have you ever heard anyone say, “Well, God created me to be just the way I am. Since He gave me these feelings and urges, there is no sense resisting them,” or “I can’t help it. What you see is what you get,” or “Don’t blame me. God made me this way”? To that kind of blame shifting, James says, “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone” (James 1:13).

So then, where does temptation come from? What is its true origin? According to James we need look no further than ourselves. The devil doesn’t make us do it. Our situations and circumstances don’t make us do it. Certainly, God doesn’t make us do it. We fall into the clutches of temptation all on our own: “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death. Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren” (James 1:14–16).

Some of us desperately seek to prove that the things we do cannot be helped. We go to great lengths in an effort to convince ourselves and others that some temptations are just so great that no one can really be expected to resist them. We madly search for some kind of excuse or justification for our sinful inclinations.

All of us face temptations. Every one of us knows something of the temptation to get outside the plan and purpose of God for our lives. Some of us are tempted to sins of commission. Others of us are tempted to sins of omission. Some of us are especially prone to temptations of the flesh. Others may be more vulnerable to temptations of doubt, worry, or despair. Yet we all have one thing in common: We’re all subject to temptations of one kind or another.

When James tells us that “God cannot be tempted” (1:13), he makes it clear that this universal malady is entirely alien to the character and nature of God. In the original Greek text, there is an unusual grammatical construction—something called an alpha privative—that emphatically asserts: God is not temptable. Essentially this means that since He is not experienced in evil, He cannot tempt us toward it. Therefore, according to the Scriptures, “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us” (2 Cor. 5:21), “Yet [He] was without sin” (Heb. 4:15), and again, “In him is no sin” (1 John 3:5, KJV).

James not only absolves God of any involvement in our temptation, he also puts to rest the evasive notion that it is the doing of the devil. It is interesting to note that in James’s entire discourse on the subject, Satan is never mentioned a single time. Why? Because he is not the cause of temptation. In the Garden, for instance, all he did was encourage the desires Adam and Eve already entertained in their own hearts. He simply reinforced the doubt that already existed in their minds concerning the certainty of God’s Word, and then slithered off to leave the resolution of the matter to them. Notice: After he had his say, Satan vanished from the scene. At the moment of the Fall, Adam and Eve were alone—acting on their own volition.

Each of our minds is like a hotel. We can’t really keep someone from coming into the lobby, but we can keep them from getting a room. Just because we are tempted does not necessarily mean that we have actually sinned. Just because something pops into our minds doesn’t mean that we have to let it lodge there. We sin when we allow those temptations to take root. When our selfish desires harbor temptation—that is when we fall into the grips of sin.

Of course, our desires are not necessarily evil. The word James uses literally means “a craving” or “a passion” for something. That something may be something good. For instance, Jesus used this same word to describe some of His own desires. In the Gospel of Luke He said that He had a “fervent desire” to eat the Passover with His disciples (22:15). So desires can be good. God gives us these desires. The problem comes when we try to satisfy these good desires in an inappropriate fashion—in a manner outside His perfect purpose and plan for us.

An appetite is commendable. It is good to desire to eat, but gluttony is sinful; it is a desire that has strayed from its appropriate boundaries. It is a perversion of God’s best intention for us. Likewise, sleep is essential, but laziness and slothfulness are perversions of that innately good desire. Enthusiastic ambition in the area of our calling is a good desire. God commands us to work hard and to strive for excellence and success in all that we put our hands to do, but greed, materialism and compulsive overwork are sinful perversions of that good desire. Even the desire for sex is a beautiful, holy and wholesome desire when it is placed inside the holy bounds of the marriage relationship. God gives us this pure and delightful desire, but when we attempt to satisfy the desire He has given us in any other manner or fashion, we pollute its sanctity.

There are many in our day—committed secularists, like the former Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders—who point their fingers at us when we talk about moral absolutes and berate conservative Christians for some imagined offense of oppressive bigotry or narrow Victorianism. They charge that we don’t like sex enough for their taste. They accuse us of clutching at sundry arcane phobias and taboos. The fact is, we are simply realistic enough to admit that we are all too prone to twist and pervert the very good and natural desires God gives us.

According to James, when this internal source—this very good and natural desire—attaches itself to an evil object, then, and only then, is our temptation consummated. We are “drawn away” (James 1:14). In the original Greek text, this is a single compound word from the preposition meaning “out of” and the verb meaning “to be pulled away by some power.” Sin occurs when we are drawn out of our place of security by natural desires fixed upon some unnatural end.

Notice that James asserts that this is an entirely personal matter. He says “each one” is tempted when this sequence begins to unfold. We all know something of this internal source, these desires within us. Each of us is responsible. We cannot blame God. We cannot blame the devil. We cannot blame situations or circumstances. What draws us away are our own desires attempting to operate outside the boundaries God established for us in His Word. We are tempted when each of us allows our desires to draw us away.

Knowing this, David prayed: “Search me, oh God, and know my heart…and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23–24).

David was not so concerned about worldly entanglements or demonic deceptions. Instead, he knew that it was his own wickedness that would inevitably cause him the most difficulty. “In me,” that is where he looked for the root and cause of his temptation.

Knowing the internal source of our temptations, may we all pray with him, “Know my heart, examine me. See if there is anything in my desires that are outside Your perfect plan and purpose for my life.”

From the outside in

Temptation emanates from an internal source—from the desires that are within us. It must then connect with something outside us—an external force—for sin to be consummated.

There is an internal source—desire. “Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires.” But there is more. James says after we are drawn away, we are “enticed.” So there is both an internal source and an external force. When this internal force connects with the external force, “Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (1:15).

The word translated “enticed” here literally means “bait.” Have you ever heard the expression, “He is hooked on sex” or “She is hooked on drugs”? This is actually where it comes from. When we allow ourselves to be drawn away and enticed—when we take the bait—we inevitably get hooked.

At home in my study, I have a big-mouthed black bass mounted and hanging on the wall. Years ago when I went out on the lake with all of my fishing gear, I knew I wanted to hook a big bass; yet, I was shrewd enough to know that a bass would not be the least bit interested in a bare metal hook dropped into the water. Therefore, I disguised the hook. I put a lure on the end of my line—it looked just like a worm—and I deceived that bass. I fooled him. I let my line down in the lake right where I thought that the fish would be—in a hole near a bunch of brush. Then I just jiggled my lure there in front of the hole. All of a sudden that bass saw what appeared to be a beautiful, fat, delicious worm—right in front of him. He had an inward desire that drew him out of his place of security. Then, when this external force—my alluring deception—came along, it was more than the fish could handle.

He took the bait and was hooked. No one took the worm and the hook and put it in the fish’s mouth. Instead, he came out of the hole because of his own desire. When he saw that deception, he bit it.

Now realize, moral failure—the catastrophe of a moral earthquake—doesn’t start with the bait. It doesn’t start with the deception. It starts with desire. Before the external force can exert any potency, it must connect with an internal source.

There were an awful lot of bass in the lake the day I caught mine. I’d been fishing all day and had dropped that lure in front of scores, maybe even hundreds, of other fish. But only one took the bait. Only one was enticed and hooked.

That is always the way temptation works: in the Garden of Eden, during the time of Samson, throughout ancient Israel, during the time of Christ, and today in modern America. When we grab the hidden bait, the hook grabs us. The hook is not sin; it is sin’s penalty. Sin takes place when my desire and some deception connect. That is why the psalmist exhorted, “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4). We are to make sure that the desires in our lives are lined up with the Word of God.

All of this has a very practical import. The fact is, we could shut down every den of iniquity in this land—the gambling casinos, the houses of prostitution, the lurid night clubs, the crack houses, the chop shops—and we still would not be able to eliminate temptation and sin. After all, Adam and Eve fell while living in a perfect environment—Eden. There were no porn shops, no corner bars, no bookie operations and no abortion clinics. They didn’t have cable television, rock music, or teen peer pressure to contend with. They lived in a perfect environment, yet they succumbed to temptation—they suffered a moral earthquake of monumental proportions. Why? Because temptation has an internal source. It comes from within. The external forces are only secondary enticements to sin. The problem begins in the human heart.

As important as reforming our neighborhoods, communities, and cities may be, such efforts only offer us temporary relief from the ravages of sin. Permanent solutions are found only as people have their hearts transformed by the power of Jesus Christ—as they are transformed from within.

The real problem is that man needs a new nature. We can close down everything that’s immoral, illicit and perverse, yet immorality, illicitness and perversity will still exist. The problem with man is still his heart.

It is not a sin to see the baited hook. It is not a sin to be tempted. In fact, even Jesus was tempted: He was “in all points tempted, as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). Sin is born only when the internal source of desire and the external force of enticement draw us away from that which is good and right and true. Sin is conceived only when our hungers and appetites drive us to take the bait.

Two men were walking down the street, side by side. One of those men had risen that morning and fed on the Word of God. As a result, he lined up his day within the parameters of God’s will. The man walking next to him fed his mind over the previous weekend on pornography, filthy videos and perverse magazines. When the men passed a certain corner in the city, they both came face-to-face with an enticement, a baited hook—a hooker. She smiled at both men and gave them an unmistakable look. Both men saw the bait. One took it. The other walked by on the other side of the street. One suffered a horrific moral earthquake. The other escaped altogether.

What made the difference? It came from within. One man had the grace-provoked desire to stay within the purpose and plan of God for his life. The other had allowed his good desires to be perverted over time.

Which one are you?

Moral soundings

  • Have you been playing the blame game when it comes to sin and temptation in your life?
  • Have you allowed good and natural desires to be twisted out of their God-ordained boundaries?
  • Are your desires drawing you away from the will and way of God?
  • Have you made yourself vulnerable to the enticements of the world around you?
  • Are you, even now, laying the groundwork for a terrible moral earthquake?