“Everyone will die for his own sin.” That is one of the most frightening things I have ever read in all of my life. Several years ago when I was serving in another church in another city, one of our finest families came to me and asked, “Pastor, will you come and talk to our son?”
“Happily,” I said.
When I got there, I found that it was not a happy situation. He was sitting in his bedroom where he stayed most all of the time. It was difficult talking to him because he could not put together a coherent sentence. He could not work. He had no future. He told me that his sister, who lived right down the hall, had a machine and when she wished, she could turn up the heat inside his mind. She, with this machine, could inflict pain upon him whenever she wished.
He was one of the most sad and tragic persons I have ever seen. In his early twenties, he was the victim of self-afflicted drug abuse. It wasn’t his sister, was it? It wasn’t his sister who was the blame. He was.
A young boy comes bouncing in to his father and says, “Dad, the fish are biting down at the river and they’re all going. Can I go?”
“Well, son, you know that this afternoon you are supposed to set out the butter beans.”
“Yeah, but the fish are biting!”
“You set out the butter beans and you can fish as long as you want.”
“Yeah, but ….”
“Set out the butter beans, son, two to a hill just like we always do.”
The first row went well; two to a hill, straight as it could be. Second row; the supply of seed beans was not decreasing as rapidly as he wished. So, when he reached the end of the second row, you know what he did. He just dug a hole, put all of the beans in the hole, covered them up and ran off to go fishing.
A few weeks later, you also know what happened. His father brought him to the garden and said, “Look son, little bean, little bean, lotta beans!” Then the father did a very strange thing. He said, “Son, bow down here.” They both got down on their knees and the father prayed, “Lord, I care not about a bucket of beans, but I thank you that you have taught my son that what he sows, he shall reap.”
“Everyone will die for his own sin.” We are accountable, we are responsible for what we do and what we say. We are responsible for our attitudes, every idle word, every deed, even the things that we leave undone, and that scares me to death! Is there a way out? Will any excuse stand up?
“Oh well, I’m the result of imperfect parents,” won’t cut it! “Well, I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.” No! No! “It was my environment that caused me to act this way,” won’t make it! “You know it’s an unfinished and imperfect universe and I just happened to be caught among all of these evil forces and I really….” No! “The Devil made me do it.”
“Bad gene pool…” No! It just won’t happen! I am responsible! You are responsible! No excuse will stand up. We hear those words and we feel their impact and we begin to think, “I’m just a failure.”
I played on a baseball team once that set records for failure (Record 0-20). We expected to lose. We were beaten before we ever went out on the field. We anticipated losing. We played like losers and sure enough, we lost. It’s just like some people who go through life having failed in so many things, rejected in so many ways that they behave in such a way that they fail or are rejected. Then the payoff comes in the end when they get to say, “Aha! I told you I’d fail. I told you I’d be rejected.” It becomes a vicious cycle, a life pattern, if you will. I’m a sinner and there’s no way out.
We sometimes feel like Paul. “The good that I want to do, I don’t do and the evil that I don’t want to do, I find myself doing. Who can deliver me from this state? Oh, wretched man that I am.” Doomed! Responsible for it all.
Then we try to escape by trying to do something that will make things better. “If I could only think better.” Now, I’m not talking against education. Anyone who has spent as many years in school as I have is not going to talk against education, but education alone will not do it. It’s just not enough to think better. God didn’t say, “I will give them a new law.” He said, “You already have the law. You already have the Scriptures.” We often think, “If someone knows to do right, they will do it.” I already know to do better than I’m doing. Possibly you’re that way.
Information is not the answer. It’s needed. But I’m not doing as well as I know to do. I want to do better. I just don’t do it. So we feel if we could only think better. Or we feel if we could do better. We try to do better; another chance, another opportunity, turn over a clean leaf. God is merciful. God is forgiving. God is kind. God’s grace is abundant and God will give us another chance and another chance and another chance. That’s true.
Someone has said that a Christian is one who repents on Sunday of what he did on Saturday and what he will do on Monday. That’s the way we sometimes look at it. It’s just not enough to think better. That’s good, but it won’t do it. It’s just not enough to do better. That’s good, but by itself that’s not enough. “Well, if I just look better… If I can just get the right kind of job or the right kind of mate or the right kind of clothes or drive the right kind of car… If I can just amass the right kind of possessions. I may be hurting on the inside but at least I’m looking good on the outside.” That’s good, but it’s not enough.
You can bring a pig inside the house, put it in the bathtub, scrub it, polish its nails, put a ribbon in its hair, brush its teeth and douse it down with Chanel No. 5. But what’s going to happen the first time you open that door and that pig sees a mud hole? He’s going to go right straight to the mud hole and wallow. Why? Because he likes it. Because it’s his nature. There has to be something more than just think better, do better, look better. It’s got to be something more.
A couple of weeks ago, Mary Jayne Allen and I went to Cleveland, Tennessee to hear Fred Craddock speak. He spoke to a group of ministers on what he would do differently if he had his ministry to do again. What he said was very insightful. He said, “I would have a governing metaphor, a view of life that characterizes my teaching and my preaching.”
What did he mean? Well, you’ve heard one recently “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.” That is true. That is a governing metaphor for life. Others say, “Life is like a script. God opens up the heavens, drops down His will and it is unchangeable, it is eternal and you are not going to go until your time comes, no matter what.” Life is like a script. Some people live their lives that way.
Others might say, “Well, life is like a battle.” Dr. Fred mentioned one of his minister friends who was a recovering alcoholic. Every day was a battle to keep from taking another drink of alcohol. “Life is like a battle.” Or, “Life is like a journey.” This has probably been the most common Christian motif. Even our language reflects it. “We’ve come to the end of the line.” “We’ve come to the forks of the road.” “We’re sojourners in this life.” We read of Abraham and we read of Paul’s missionary journeys, and we talk of Jesus on the road to Jerusalem. “Life is like a journey.”
Riding back to the church after Dr. Craddock spoke, I said, “Dr. Fred, I was intrigued by your statements about the governing metaphor, a view of life. Do you have one?” He laughed and said, “Well, I’m still working on it.” Then he said, “Most of us know it in retrospect.” I also asked, “Dr. Fred, do you believe that Jesus had one?” He was quick to answer. He said, “I don’t know for sure, but I think it very well may be that when Jesus came to preach, He preached that the very presence of God could live within you.”
It will be a relationship that we can have with the living, eternal God. We can know God and God will know us. We can talk to God and listen to God. God will be our constant companion each and every moment for the rest of our lives.
Then he said this covenant, this agreement, this promise that he makes to us is characterized by the forgiveness of our sins — sins — for which we have no answer, that for which we have no remedy. He has remedied our sins with Jesus’ death on the cross. He forgives us of our sins. He cleanses us from all unrighteousness. He forgives us, remembers our sins no more and restores us as if we had never sinned.
The new covenant in Jesus Christ is one that happens on the inside that results in a personal relationship to God, characterized by the washing away of all our sins. It results in a transformed life. Not just do better, think better, look better. We are better because He has made us better with the transforming power of Jesus’ death on the cross and the power of the Holy Spirit within our lives, living at the very core of our being, giving us the will to obey Him. Not that we ever become perfect, but He gives us the will to obey Him and walk in the steps of Jesus.
My dad used to tell me about Grandpa Oden. Grandpa Oden was my grandmother’s father on my father’s side. He would walk in the small bank in the community where he lived and tell them how much money he needed. They would get the money, hand it to him in cash and he would then tell them when he was going to pay the money back. They would shake hands and then he would walk out the door.
There was no contract. There was nothing written down, signed, sealed and notarized. The integrity of that transaction was not based upon somebody’s promise, characterized by some ink stains, dried upon a piece of paper. The integrity of that transaction was based on a man’s life. The character and personality of who he was made that transaction valid.
God is not writing a new covenant on paper somewhere. He’s not printing it on something that we can put on our wall. He is putting the covenant within our character and within our personality, changing the very essence of who and what we are. We are His and we are forgiven.
You can have that today. That’s Christ’s promise to you if you will confess your sin. I don’t care who you are, there is only one way to come. It’s the way I came and it’s the way you must come. We all must come the same way. You confess your sin and say about your sin the same thing God does. No excuses, no rationalization, “God, I’m a sinner, I’m lost and I cannot do for myself what only you can do.” We confess our sin, then we turn from our sin and turn toward God. We turn from a life that is against God to a life that is toward God. We start walking in a new direction. Our life takes on new meaning and purpose as we repent, feel godly sorrow for our sins, confess those sins and ask Jesus Christ to come in as the Lord of our life. He comes in, He does what we cannot do, He forgives us our sin and because of His death and resurrection we become new in Him. He takes control of our lives. He is our life. He wants you to come today.
Bill Hinson tells the story of a man by the name of Mr. Sutherland. Mr. Sutherland’s only son, Wilfred, was a soldier in World War II, shot down over Holland. They did not know if he bailed out or if he was captured or if he died. The father never gave up hope. Within his heart was a hope that his son was still alive. On Easter Sunday, 1948, he thought he saw his son in a crowd around a train station, but before he could get there the individual was gone.
The father felt in his heart that his son was still alive. There was still hope that possibly he was suffering from some kind of amnesia. So the father withdrew all of his resources and began making posters with his son’s picture, putting his own name, address and phone number. He looked and looked for his son. Every Easter Sunday morning would find him at that train station with a heart of hope, watching and waiting for his son to come home.
I don’t know if Mr. Sutherland ever found his son nor do I know if God will find you here today. That’s a decision between you and God. But I do know He watches and He waits for you to come home.
“The people living in darkness have seen a great light and those standing in the land of the shadow of death, a light has dawned and from that time on Jesus began to preach, repent for the kingdom of heaven is now!” It’s now! He watches and He waits for you. Will you come?