The Smallest Sin is Big Enough and the Biggest is Not Too Big
The twin truths of sin's cost and salvation's wonder need to be understood together. Without one the other is not complete. The apostle Paul presses both of these truths upon the people in the church at Corinth who had all sorts of distractions and divisions among them. Pleading that they stop taking each other to court and suing each other to put things right when they've been defrauded, Paul then strengthens his appeal:
Or know you not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived [or literally, stop fooling yourselves]: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with men, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God (I Corinthians 6:9-11).
No sin is so little that it will not, if unremoved by the blood of Jesus Christ, send its perpetrator to the pits of hell. Yet, no sin is so large that it cannot be washed away by the blood of Jesus Christ.
No Sin Is So Little that It Will Not Send
Its Perpetrator to the Flames of Hell
If It Is Unremoved by the Blood of Christ
The dictionary defines a venial sin as a sin easily excused or forgiven. It's a relatively unimportant, small sin not that big a deal. Everybody does it. You can't avoid doing it. It won't really destroy you. The Bible rejects that theory. There is no such thing as an easily excused or easily forgiven sin. There is no such thing as a little sin if we mean by that that its effects are little. There is no such thing as a small sin if we mean by that that it has no real danger connected with it and does no damage. No sin is so little that, by itself, it will not condemn the sinner forever unless the Lord Jesus Christ remove it.
Paul's appeal to the Corinthians introduces us to this idea. Remember the apostle's concern: in the church people are suing each other. Somebody owes somebody some money, and he's not paid. The brother that's been offended is very upset at the brother who didn't pay his debts. He ought to be. In the church of Christ, you ought not tolerate men not paying their debts. But in order to rectify the situation, he goes outside the church, takes his brother to a secular court, and sues him to get what's coming to him. The church is in chaos with this sort of nit-picking and anger and in-fighting. The apostle is upset because Christian brethren (or at least those who call themselves Christian brethren) are fighting each other among unbelievers and bringing the whole name of Christ into disrepute. Now that is a simple matter of a lawsuit. The apostle is saying it cannot be tolerated among you. If it takes it, the best thing is to suffer the defrauding. If you can't get it straight, first of all you ought to go to the church; and there ought to be some wise men in the church proven, honest men who can rectify this matter. You shouldn't go before the unbeliever. Go to the church. The church will settle the problem. But if that can't happen, why not just let it go? All you've lost is some dollars. What's the big deal?
But then to support his argument, Paul asks the Corinthians a question: "Know you not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?" What is the relation between that question and this little matter of church brethren not getting along real well? The apostle understands that kind of attitude and that kind of behavior is unrighteous, and people who continue in that kind of attitude and behavior will not inherit the kingdom of God. This is of utmost seriousness! This epistle does not come to Corinth as a mild suggestion that they could be a little better church if they rid themselves of some of these not-too-impressive characteristics. It's not an apostle inviting them to move on to another plateau of Christianity. The issue here is that these people, if they'll not repent of this kind of behavior, are not walking as Christians at all and are headed for disaster. These kinds of people do not inherit the kingdom of God. And then he goes on to list all manner of sins that accompany the characters of those who will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Remember what sin is. I John chapter 3 verse 4 tells us that sin is lawlessness or the transgression of the law of God not subject to the law, rebelling against the law. Sin is defined in the Bible as anything that does not conform to the law of God, any act or attitude against God, the Lawgiver. God has given a law by which His creatures must conduct themselves. If they do not, they are lawbreakers, hence, sinners.
What does the law say? Love the Lord thy God will all of thy heart, soul, mind and strength. Anything that comes short of that is sin. Now don't get distracted by that and say, "That's too high. That's an Old Testament law." No, that's a New Testament law. The Lord Jesus quoted that. The apostle Paul supports that. The goal is and the requirement is that you love God with all of yourself. If there's a bit of you that doesn't love God to the max, you've sinned. Is there anybody here who would have the temerity to stand up and say, "I'm innocent"? "I, from the time of my conception, have loved God with everything in me everything I've done, everything I've thought, everything I've said has been out of love for God. I've never fallen short of that. I love God's Word. I love God's people. I love God's church. I love God's worship. I love God's commandments. I love God." Anything short of that is sin. The law goes on to say: "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself," giving him the same due you give yourself. If you don't do that you've sinned.
Or we could summarize the law under the Ten Commandments. The first four primarily refer to man's relationship to God, the last six to man's relationship to man. We're to worship only one God. We're told how to worship that one God in the second commandment. In the third commandment, we're told to revere His holy name which means everything by which He is known: His creation, His providence, His redemption, and all the names of God. We're to revere Him by the way we speak, in the way we worship, in the way we do business. We're to honor His holy name. The fourth commandment is about the worship of God and the labor of man. We're to work six days. The seventh belongs to the Lord; it's His day. The last six commandments begin with honoring father and mother. Then we're not to kill, not to commit adultery, not to steal, not to bear false witness, and not to covet. All that is a summary of God's law clearly given to every creature that He has made. Every one of God's creation is obligated to keep that law. The problem is no one does. No one has. Since Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden fell from their innocence and sinlessness, all the human race has been characterized by the transgression of the law of God.
In I Corinthians 6 the list goes like this: Fornicators violate the seventh commandment. Idolaters violate the first two commandments at least. Adulterers, the seventh. Effeminate, the seventh. (This word probably refers to the passive element in the homosexual community while "abusers of themselves with mankind" probably refers to the more active element in the homosexual community.) Thieves, the eighth commandment. Covetous, the tenth commandment. Drunkards could be categorized under several of the commandments, not the least of which is "Thou shalt not kill" because the drunkard is taking away from his own life span. He also endangers the lives of others if he drives a vehicle while he's under the influence. Revilers, the third and ninth commandments. Extortioners, the eighth commandment, the tenth, and others. They shall not inherit the kingdom of God. And all of these, especially the reviler, also violate the fifth commandment. A reviler spends his life rejecting all authority a characteristic of our generation. The apostle Paul doesn't need to go down the list and elaborate on each commandment, quoting it and then explaining how each of these things violates it. He goes through a sort of summary list, representative of the kinds of people who will not inherit the kingdom of God. Any one of these sins condemns men to God's wrath.
Another section of Scripture will help us as well. We're told in Galatians some characteristic works of the men who do not live in the Spirit, who do not worship and follow Christ:
fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties, envyings, drunkenness, revellings, and such like; of which I forewarn you, even as I did forewarn you, that they who practise such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21).
He begins the list with fornication. It's interesting how that word comes into the first of these two lists, isn't it? Don't be so offended, brethren, that sins in sexual matters are preached against a lot in our culture. The apostle Paul seemed to have it on the front of his mind when he started making a list. It hasn't passed away that this kind of thing characterizes the thought patterns of an entire generation. I wouldn't be surprised to find that this was part of what the Lord meant when He described the generation up to the time of Noah, when the imaginations of their thoughts and hearts were only evil continually (Genesis 6:5). I know something about a generation of men who literally cannot clean their brains of the filth by which they have characterized their lives. They can't get it out of the brain. Every imagination of the thoughts of the heart is continually evil.
The apostle then goes down deeper in expounding the law. Uncleanness covers a multitude of things. It covers all the thoughts and the activities that just aren't pure. It covers the unworthy motives and all the things our hands do and our feet trod upon which render us unclean.
Paul adds, lasciviousness (or our lusts), all the places where we've gone passionately after our desires.
Then he goes into idolatry and sorcery which is related to idolatry. What is as the sin of witchcraft and idolatry in the Old Testament? Rebellion. Samuel told Saul that not obeying the commandments of God is the same kind of sin as idolatry and witchcraft (I Samuel 15:23). Rebelling against your mom and dad or against authority is the same kind of sin as being a witch or being an idolater. And it's in the list here. Then he lists enmities, strife, jealousies, wraths, factions, divisions, parties, envyings, drunkenness, revellings living your life for the Friday night.
Now, in case somebody says, "I've gone down that list, and I believe I'm clean," Paul says, "and such like." He spreads the net. He widens the gathering. He has not made an exhaustive list of all the identifiable sins of the age against which the wrath of God burns. He has made a suggestive, representative list. Anything like these things is included in the list. And he tells us up front that those "who practice such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God." They don't have to practice all of them. But anything like any of them renders a man liable to being shut out of the kingdom of God.
These are representative sins against any number of the Ten Commandments, the law of God. That's where they get their strength. They are violations of the law of God. The law is the strength of sin, we're told in I Corinthians 15. Sin gets its strength, its sting of death, from the law. If the law did not say, "Thou shalt not," sin couldn't kill you. You could do that thing; there would be no liability of guilt upon you because God hadn't said you couldn't do it. But once God says, "Thou shalt not," then there is strength given to that thing called sin when you disobey God. What does sin do to the man who commits it? It gets its strength, its venom, from the law so that when sin violates God's law any one of God's laws it kills you. That's what the Bible means when it says, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die" (Ezekiel 18:20). "The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). There are no exceptions; there cannot be any exceptions because God's law has been broken.
To give another example, remember Adam and Eve. What sin did Eve commit in the garden, and then Adam followed, that got them cast away from the favor and the presence, from the bliss and the blessing, of paradise? She took a bite of a very appealing, delectable, desirable fruit located somewhere in the middle of the garden. God disowned them for that? Threw them out of paradise for taking one bite of one fruit? It doesn't sound that serious. Surely that's a venial sin. Why would God get so upset over one little slip and especially by a woman who was beguiled by this serpent? All of Satan's wiles are engaged here. This vulnerable lady has been created in some way with a propensity to desire the looks of that fruit. She's only doing what came naturally. She's only doing what seemed right at the time. How could God be upset about that? She's being deceived. And for that they're getting thrown out? Absolutely. Everything in the unrepentant heart of the unbeliever hates that scene of God's wrath against what seems to be such a trifling matter. They can't bear the thought that God will not tolerate one deviation from His commandment. You see, what Eve and Adam did was that they disobeyed God. No matter what God says, if He says it, you've got to do it. If you don't do it, you've sinned, and His wrath must come upon you.
That's why it's so important that we train our children that they're not to obey us because it makes sense to them to obey us. They're not to obey us because they agree with our judgment. We're not to appeal to their reason as the primary basis for obedience. Most of our children aren't in a place yet where they can reason. They're not intended to understand what we understand. As my brother told me, "That's why God put them in parents' houses." They need moms and dads who know things they don't know. The basis for their obedience in the household is simply because dad said so. The basis for obedience in God's household is simply because God said so.
Now then, so that we may see further the Bible doctrine of the seriousness of sin in its smallest, most minute expression, as evoking the wrath of God justly, consider with me Romans chapter 3, verse 20: "By the works of the law shall no flesh be justified in his sight; for through the law comes the knowledge of sin." What's implied by that statement is that nobody meets up to the standard. If the works of the law is the standard by which God judges, nobody is going to measure up to the standard because nobody has kept the works of the law up to the required level. It's not an absolute statement that if Adam and Eve had continued to fulfill the works of the law they couldn't have been justified. It's a realistic statement based on the fact of man's sin-breaking. If the criterion is the works of the law, there's not a soul in the world that's going to be saved. It's impossible because nobody meets up to the works of the law's standards. It's not that there might not have been a way of justification by the works of the law had Adam and Eve continued in their integrity; it's just that it's not going to happen. No flesh will be justified by the works of the law.
What happens when God sees men not fulfilling the works of God's law? "The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men" (Romans 1:18). Every place that men do not conform to the way God is (ungodliness) and to the law God has given (unrighteousness), God's wrath is revealed against it. And they are without excuse: "Because that which is known [or knowable] of God is manifest in them; for God manifested it to them. For the invisible things of Him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even His everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse" (Romans 1:19-20). It's not that they didn't know. They knew, but in their disobedience they suppressed what they knew. Consciously, they don't know they know. They don't think they know there is a God. They don't think that there is truth that's easy to perceive. They don't see it clearly with their conscious minds, so they live in ignorance and in darkness. They feel very offended that anyone would say that a sinner who doesn't know God in his mind and his heart is condemned for that which he doesn't know. But God's Word says they do know. But they hold back or suppress the truth. The clear evidence of God's power and divinity, they suppress in their unrighteousness. The fact they don't think they know is just evidence of the darkness, not a denial of what God says.
The underlying problem, the essence of their sinfulness, is "that knowing God, they glorified him not as God, neither were they thankful" (verse 21). They didn't live their lives in such a way as to be properly and continually related to God as the source and as the end of everything they did. They weren't appreciative to God for what He had given. They took the credit for that themselves. And then what kind of God did they begin to worship? The works of their own hands. They couldn't worship anything that they hadn't made. They couldn't get beyond themselves in their glorification. They worshiped man themselves. "They became vain in their reasonings, and their senseless heart was darkened" (verse 21). That's how they got to where they are today, not even knowing there is a God. When they knew there was a God, they didn't want to know. They didn't like to keep Him in their minds because that God condemns their behavior. They are
filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malignity; whisperers, backbiters, hateful to God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant-breakers, without natural affection, unmerciful (verses 29-31).
Nonetheless, they know "the ordinance of God, that they that do such things are worthy of death" (verse 32).
They're insolent. That's why in your house, you're never to tolerate a child who is insolent, not for an ounce of time. Don't let him get by with it because you'll lead him into a life of insolence. They're inventors or evil things. Not content just to find evil where it is, they go invent more. And they're disobedient to parents. That's an interesting little phrase in the midst of this list, is it not? Disobedience to parents is listed alongside the most heinous and vile sins known to man. And it's the one I want to focus on for a minute to make you see that there is no sin small enough that it will not condemn a man to the pit of hell. "Do you mean a four-year-old who disobeys his mother and daddy is worthy of death?" No, God means that. "That's terrible!" It's Bible. Maybe you don't like God's law. Maybe you would like to change the words of the Book to suit what you think might sound reasonable and merciful. Maybe because you judge by the outward appearance and not the heart, you think God is hard and unjust. Or maybe you don't understand God's mercy enough to know that those four-year-olds themselves can be saved from such a thing, and so you can't bear to let the full weight of the guilt fall upon your conscience. But the Bible teaches that disobedience to parents is in the same category as the vilest kind of perversion. And they that do such things know that they are worthy of death. And continuing to do them, they are worthy of death. That means death is a fitting response from God to their behavior. The wrath of God is appropriate.
My Bible knows nothing about a little sin even what we would think is small. Disobeying Mamma when she says, "Empty the trash," that's quite small. What about biting a piece of fruit? The least thing I do wrong, God's wrath comes against me. Now that's a terrifying thought, is it not? Especially if you have any kind of conscience at all. If you know you've done wrong against God's law, and you know that God's wrath is revealed from heaven against all of that, it's a terrifying thought. If you have a high view of God and creation that He made the world with a word if you have a high view of God in judgment that He will call us to account, and you know that when you stand there you won't measure up to the requirement, it's a terrifying thought!
"If Thou O Lord should mark iniquities, [should keep a record of them on your blackboard] who could stand?" (Psalm 130:3). If God marks down one of my sins, keeps it in His book and brings it up on the day of judgment, I can't stand. That's the biblical doctrine that no sin is so little that it will not condemn its perpetrator to the flames of hell unless washed away by the blood of Christ.
But, you see, the other side is equally true.
No Sin Is So Large that It Cannot Be
by the Blood of Christ
Think back for a moment to I Corinthians chapter 6, verse 11, one of the most liberating and joyous and welcome verses in all the Bible to a convicted sinner: "Such were some of you." Paul has made the list, a representative list, and some of our consciences know that we're guilty of things not expressly defined in this text but related to these things. Addressing Corinthians who are called saints, the apostle says, "And such were some of you" that some of them were abusers of themselves with men. They were homosexuals. For some of us, that's hard to swallow. It's because we don't understand grace. We've got two kinds of theology. We've got a little list of things that are utterly unforgivable. We won't forgive them if people do them to us. And we don't think God ought to forgive them. Then we have another side of our theology that says, "But if you don't fit into that small list I've made up of the unforgivables, if you've just committed all sorts of other sins all your life, it would be terrible for God to condemn you." You see, the Pharisee makes the list. The condemned sins are the ones he doesn't commit. The list of things he's not interested in are the ones that God condemns, that are unforgivable. And the list that he's guilty of, those are the venial ones. He thinks God understands. There's an exception there.
We're not allowed to select the sins that are unforgivable and the sins which are forgivable and on that basis get to heaven. Nobody gets to heaven because his sins were small enough they didn't need to be forgiven. Nobody gets to heaven because he didn't total up to any of the real crass and terrible things. Therefore, he's a little cut above the old pervert, so God ought to let him in. We're not any of us allowed into the favor of the kingdom of God because we're better than the pervert, or the murderer, or Adolph Hitler. Nobody goes to heaven because he's better than Hitler. And Hitler doesn't go to hell because he's worse than you. If anybody goes to hell, it because he's a sinner and the sin hasn't been dealt with in the blood of Christ. If anybody goes to heaven, it's because the sin has been dealt with in the blood of Christ. "And such were some of you" (I Corinthians 6:11).
Romans chapter 3 sums it up in verses 23 and 24, the conclusion to which we have to come after Paul's argument is in verse 23: "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." That's an archery term that means you missed the center mark, and normally you fall short of it. You just don't quite measure up to the bull's eye. Those of us that have tried to serve the Lord and obey have been frustrated all our lives at this standard of perfection. One of the hardest things for Christians to deal with is their known imperfections and weaknesses. They've tried their best and can't make it. Then there's verse 24: "Being justified . . ." That's interesting, isn't it? All have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and they're justified. How can you justify a sinner? Justify means you declare him to be sinless. He's not a sinner. He's judged to be righteous. How can you do that? He's a sinner. All are sinners. All have come short of the glory of God, and all these people about whom we're talking are justified. But by what means? ". . . freely." Not only lavishly, but free of charge. They're justified on some other account than their own. They're given what they're given, free. They don't merit it. It has no reference to their merit. They don't look at the list of their sins and evaluate whether they are serious enough to condemn them or whether there are enough of them to condemn them. They don't look at that for their justification. They don't need to because they are justified freely!
Now in chapter 3 of Romans (the list that goes before this of the character of men, in verses 10-18) is a list that's extravagant. No fear of God before their eyes! Under their tongues is the poison of asps. These aren't light little things. But these kinds of people are justified freely. How can God, who is infinitely righteous and who is the judge of all the earth and never judges unrighteously, justify the ungodly? If God lets a sinner like me off the hook, He is not just. That's the problem, isn't it? You broke the law. And God said if you do, you'll die. But I don't die. Has God forgotten His vow? Has God changed His mind? Has God softened after getting acquainted with us tender, sweet little ones? Has He, after getting to know us, softened His heart toward us? Has He grown old and gotten a little grandfatherly, not paying much attention anymore? When Jesus came into the world, does that represent a lowering of the standard? Has God backed off from His early vow that the soul that sinneth, it shall surely die? No!
They are justified freely by His grace, but not like a fiat from heaven where God just decides to change the rules and let them in anyway. They are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus whom God sent forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood. You see, what God has done when He had every right to leave all men in their deserved sinful condition, and to condemn every last one of us by His righteous wrath, and has displayed that wrath to us by showing its effects in the lives of multitudes around us, He nonetheless was gracious. And from eternity, according to the Scriptures, He set His loving heart on a whole multitude of undeserving sinners. He sent His Son into the world to die for them, in their place. God's wrath against those sinners for whom He sent His Son was poured out in all of its full fury on Jesus Christ in their place in a way we can never understand. It's foolishness to the intellectual. It's a stumbling block to the self-righteous man who wants to get in God's favor by his own merit and by his own background and his own good intentions. But it's the power and the wisdom of God to a poor sinner who believes on Jesus because he looks at Christ. Though he cannot explain it, the ways and the wisdom of God are past finding out, unsearchable. Yet he sees in his heart that it makes perfect sense. He can't even tell you how it makes sense, but he loves it. It's beautiful. It's orderly. It's symmetrical. It's perfect. He loves to preach it. He loves to think about it. He loves to sing about it. He welcomes it. He wants everybody to know about it because he sees that the wrath of God due him, fell on Another. And when it fell on Another, God was satisfied that it had been answered and the claims of His law had been satisfied. God has hushed the law's loud thunder. But He didn't do it by changing the law, by removing the requirement for obedience. He did it by replacing us with a Substitute who did fulfill it and who fully took the penalty of the law upon Himself so that when a man, a woman, or a child believes from the heart upon the Lord Jesus Christ, God is perfectly righteous when He says, "Thou art justified."
You can't accuse God of being unrighteous because He has already punished your sin in His Son. Somebody says, "That's not fair. That's too cheap. That's too simple." My dear friend, it's the only way you'll ever get there. What would you like to do go back and make up for the sins you've committed? How are you going to do that? Do you want to do live the rest of your life under the load of the law that says, "If you deviate one more time, it's over for you"? Do you want that burden? Thanks be to God, I don't live under that burden. I think maybe there was a time when I had a nebulous view that that was what I had to do. I don't think I was a very happy guy during all that time. But the gospel became clear. It doesn't say, "You're forgiven. Go on and sin." But neither does it say, "You're forgiven, but if you ever blow it again it's too late." You're forgiven on the ground of what Another has done for you. You are justified freely through Christ Jesus. You see, that's why the name of Jesus is so despised by the great majority of religions of our day. The name Jesus makes men humble themselves at the feet of a gracious God and lay no claim on anything in them or of them or about them. It's all up to God. It's all God's grace. There'll be no boasting of men whenever God saves them. There'll be no pride. There'll be no room for glorying in anything but God and His grace and His Son. Jesus wipes out our big-shotness. Jesus eliminates our pride. Men hate that name.
Conditions for the Forgiveness of Sin
No matter how big a sin you've committed, the blood of Christ is sufficient to wash it away. David murdered and committed adultery and tried to cover it up. God forgave him, justified him, changed him, and delivered him from the wrath that would have been due him. Peter denied the Lord. God saved him and forgave him. All throughout history men have fallen greatly. In this room, there is no small amount of us who have sinned in all sorts of ways that we would be ashamed to tell. That's why we don't glory in our sins. We don't parade the testimonies of wretched men across here and brag about the past and how bad they were. We're ashamed of what we were and what we've done and what we're still capable of doing. But we're not ashamed of the grace that gives us access to God and a standing in blessed acceptance. We're not ashamed of the blood of Christ which the Bible says has cleansed us and continues to cleanse us from all our unrighteousness.
My friend, your hope is in Christ. Only Christ. Give up your hopes in yourself. You have blown it. If justify to yourself, you will continue to blow it. You can never get on God's good side by making up for all that you've done or for stopping it. You're going to sin because you're a sinner. But the blood of Christ is sufficient to wash away whatever you've done. Was it an abortion? Or more than one or two or three? Did you live in prostitution? Has your life been dominated by pornography? Is your mind a veritable cesspool of hellish filth? Have you been a liar and a thief most of your life? Have you murdered if not with a gun, with your heart? Are you selfish, boastful, and proud? Disobedient to your parents? For some of you, it's too late to go back and do anything about that. I'll give you a good little picture here. What could all those who died under the Old Covenant do when Jesus came and died for their sins? What could Abraham do at that hour to go back and correct anything? It's not required for justification! I didn't say restitution is not required if possible. But if you're hoping that you can go back and make up for all you did and pay God back for it, you'll never make it. You'll never even begin. It's not required. You're justified freely. Freely! Justified! As far as the judgment and the wrath of God toward you are concerned, it's just as if you had not sinned. That's hard to believe, isn't it?
1. You must acknowledge the guilt of your sin.
Confession literally is to agree with God. God says it's wrong. That means it's wrong. You did it. You're wrong. God's right. You're guilty. God's law is righteous. God's punishment is just. And you're liable for that punishment. If you will not come clean with God in that regard, you cannot be justified. If you cannot acknowledge your sin and your guilt and the righteousness of God in attributing that guilt to you, you cannot be saved. You will go to hell. Don't try to impress God any more. You can't. He's not impressed. But He doesn't have to be impressed. He loves you. It's a gracious thing we're talking about. It's not merit in response to your impressiveness. Quit living your life in the hope that God will see something good in you and like you. He doesn't see anything good in you unless He put it there. Cast away your efforts to acknowledge yourself as something other than a deserving sinner who merits God's eternal wrath. Acknowledge the guilt of your sin.
2. Believe in the promise of God's pardon.
Some of the most scathing passages of Scripture and indictments against people in the Bible are found in the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah. Great list. In Isaiah chapter 1 the Lord gives a list of the sins of Judah that curl your hair and tingle your nerves. Like oxen who don't even know their crib and donkeys that don't know their master. From the top of the foot to the soul of the feet, no uncleanness in them. But putrefying sores they're described as having in their souls. But in chapter 55 of Isaiah, the Scriptures say, "Ho everyone that thirsts, let him come and drink of the waters of life freely. Let the unrighteous man forsake his thoughts and the wicked his ways, and I will abundantly pardon." This is the same crowd that in chapter 1 God said to them, "I won't even hear your prayers." Isaiah is the one that said, "All we like sheep have gone astray. We've turned every one to his own way. And the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." One of my favorite passages in music is that section in The Messiah, when they make that great contrast between "All we like sheep have gone astray" and, after that powerful interruption, "But the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all." That holy particle of speech, "but." But God. "But God, being rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us" (Ephesians 2:4).
Believe in God's promise to pardon you when you come to the feet of Christ with nothing in your hand, but need. When you hold out your hands to God and His Son, all you have is need. And that's all God wants you to bring. Don't attempt to bring anything else but your need and your desire and your begging God to have mercy. He promised to have mercy on such. Don't go away in your pride, as Naaman the Syrian leper almost did. Don't despise the simplicity of Christ. Take this kind of thing and run with it. Grab it. Call upon the Lord while He is near. And He's never nearer than in the preaching of the gospel where He holds out a welcome hand to the worst of us and says, "Come and I will abundantly pardon." He knows nothing about turning away a wretched sinner who comes like that.
A publican and a Pharisee stood in the temple. The Pharisee, an acceptable religious leader in the community, prayed, "I thank Thee God I'm not as other men. I fast twice a week. I tithe all that I possess. I'm glad I'm not like this publican. Look at that guy. He steals from people, from his own countrymen. Steals from his own family. Works for the Romans against the Jews and collects taxes and to send to Rome." The old publican tax collector could not even lift his eyes up to heaven. He beat upon his breast and cried, "Have mercy on me, a sinner." That was all he could get out. All he could see was his sinfulness and a God who might have mercy. He carried his need to that place and cried. The Lord Jesus said, "I tell you that man went home justified." Believe in the promise of pardon: "Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved."
3. Forsake the sins pardoned.
Acknowledge the guilt of the sin. Believe in the promise of pardon. And forsake the pardoned sins. "He that covers his sins will not prosper. But he that confesses his sins and forsakes them, shall find mercy" (Proverbs 28:13). Do not come to Christ with your eye on those sins plotting how you're going to keep them while getting Him. You cannot have them both. You cannot come and bargain with God on that basis. Confess and forsake. As He said to the lame man in John 5, "Sin no more lest a worse thing come upon you." As He said to the adulterous woman, "Your sins are forgiven. I condemn you not. Go and sin no more" (John 8:11). "Let the unrighteous man forsake his thoughts" (Isaiah 55:7). Your pride is awfully strong, but God is awfully much stronger than you. And He resists the proud. Let God strip you tonight of all your self-sufficiency and your hopes in self. Let God strip you of your efforts to impress, even yourself. Let God make you look in the mirror and see you as you are. Ask God to forgive you of what you are and what you've done. Your pride is deceptive. It tells you that what I'm saying is my opinion. And even though the Scriptures seem to be clear, you've never particularly bound yourself by this Book. Well, that's your privilege. But I tell you, I know of nothing in the universe that can deliver a sinner from the plight in which you find yourself tonight except what we've read in this Book. I pray God will give you the grace to believe the gospel. To judge yourself as God judges you. To swallow and throw away your pride. And humble yourself, as James says, under the mighty hand of God. So the Lord can exalt you. I beg of you, don't take little sins lightly. They kill. And don't despise the mercy of God for big sins. He's able to save us to the uttermost who come to Him by Christ. Don't be resentful when God saves another guy and blesses him when he repents. That's God's specialty. Don't you despise the way that saved you. Don't look around and say, "Boy, that's not fair," as the older brother did with the prodigal. "I never justify home. I've been good the whole time. I never got a ring. I never got a robe. I never got a feast thrown for me." The prodigal went out and blew everything he had and lived in riotous, filthy living and that was where his father put his greatest emphasis when the kid returned home. He brought in all his friends and threw a big party and celebrated. Rejoice with God when a sinner repents! Don't be seen standing over on the side envious and resentful that God has had such mercy. It reflects the fact that you don't understand how merciful He's been to you. If you could only see your heart as He sees it, you would be appreciative of the greatness, of the infinite mercy of God.
Finally, by way of warning, there are some sins that by their nature harden you and drown you. You just can't ever get to the place of repentance. It's the way they are. It's not that God is unable. It's not that God is unwilling. But certain types of sinners just hardly ever come and repent. I've learned that the hard way. I've been in the pastorate long enough. I've known enough people who sit and listen, but they can't even feel what I've preached. They can't even hear. It's like the ancient fellow in the Old Testament who was so fat that when the sword went in the fat covered it over and enveloped it. When the word of God comes, they just can't feel it, and the fat of their sin just envelopes it. And they go their way still in their sin. God help you! God open your eyes. God break through the calloused heart that for years you've built. And God deliver your soul, not for your righteousness, but for His Son's sake. May the Lord help us to understand the simplicity of the truth that no sin is so small that it wouldn't condemn you straight to hell if unforgiven. And no sin is so great that God won't forgive when you come humbly, believing on His Son.
Let us pray. Our Father, we have delivered words that are true. You have chosen that they be delivered through a vessel of clay. It is your purpose that you save sinners through such means. So we pray that you would display your great power and glory and surprise some by saving sinners through the preaching of the gospel. Give to the hearts of us in this place a high appreciation and agreement with your view of sin and your righteous judgment against it. Break our pride. Free us from our foolish efforts at pleasing you, and grant unto us faith without which no man can please you. Lord, make the Lord Jesus precious to us, and may every sinner in this place plunge himself under the fountain that is open for sin and uncleanness. O God, have mercy upon us. O Lord, our God, don't let anyone escape the gospel that is under its hearing tonight. Lord, hear the prayers of your servants whom you've called to yourself, whom you've appointed to stand on the walls of Zion and watch. O Lord, hear our prayers, not for ourselves, but for the sake of your Son whose blood was shed to save sinners. Let us see it here, O Lord. Give it to us that we may rejoice with the angels in heaven and all of heaven when sinners repent. And grant to this church a heart that hates and fears and dreads the least show of the least sin knowing the results of sin and that loves the gospel and has a soul zealous for spreading it through the earth. Lord, takes these loaves and fish and multiply them to your own heavenly kingdom. We ask it in Jesus' name. Amen.
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