Saturday, March 8, 2008

Sin No More

John 5:1 “After this there was a feast of the Jews, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, in Aramaic called Bethesda, which has five roofed colonnades. In these lay a multitude of invalids--blind, lame, and paralyzed [waiting for the moving of the water; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred the water: whoever stepped in first after the stirring of the water was healed of whatever disease he had.] One man was there who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be healed?" The sick man answered him, "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me." Jesus said to him, "Get up, take up your bed, and walk." And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. Now that day was the Sabbath.

So the Jews said to the man who had been healed, "It is the Sabbath, and it is not lawful for you to take up your bed." But he answered them, "The man who healed me, that man said to me, 'Take up your bed, and walk.'" They asked him, "Who is the man who said to you, 'Take up your bed and walk'?" Now the man who had been healed did not know who it was, for Jesus had withdrawn, as there was a crowd in the place. Afterward Jesus found him in the temple and said to him, "See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you."

If Jesus had wanted to give the healed man a goal he could actually accomplish, He would have said- “Try to sin no more” or maybe “Sin less often”. But Jesus gave the man an impossible standard- sinlessness- & this was the same benchmark He gave the adulterous woman (John 8:11), & He demanded of all when He said in Matthew: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect”(Matt. 5:48).

Jesus never gave man a lower standard for righteousness than His own. The Father is perfect, & if His Spirit is to dwell in us & we are to abide in Heaven with Him one day, then we must have “no condemnation” (Rom 8:1). He never lowered His standard because a perfectly holy & righteous God can never condone sin in any measure or in any way. Man was created in His image & likeness & man must return to God’s image & likeness to dwell in the presence of His Glory. We should fully embrace statements like “sin no more” & the Sermon on the Mount, understanding that these are not primarily purposed as goal-oriented instructional paths unto righteousness. His instructions were never intended to bring us to the place of self-justification. Rather, we perceive their impossible magnitude & are convicted that we need help in a bad way. They are intended to bring the elect to the place of abject despair regarding their own abilities & prostrate themselves at Jesus’ feet. We must be perfectly clean in order to survive His presence. Fortunately for us, His Son was perfect as He hung from the cross, so we can in effect become clean when we become “in Christ Jesus.” Jesus’ personal standard of holiness was the same as the Father’s- perfect- & the Gospel is simply the elect entering into, & therein acquiring, Jesus’ righteousness by way of faith in Him & His work on the cross.

But some may rightly ask- “Then what of repentance?” Well, genuine repentance pours forth from an informed fervent faith the same way that rushing water follows a spring thaw. Repentance encompasses faith in Christ as a natural byproduct of a Word-founded & Spirit-led image of the perfect Christ mercifully saving a degenerate soul. Jesus didn’t need to command Zacchaeus to give up half his possessions & make right his wrongs (Luke 19) - Zacchaeus’ informed & fervent faith in his Savior drove him to do it. A few verses prior, in Luke 18, we see another rich man unable to part with his riches. Why was this man unable to do what Zacchaeus seemed to do naturally? Because his faith was not grounded in Christ’s justification, but a haughty self-justification. He proudly declared he had accomplished the works of the Law & (as yet) saw no need for a Savior to rescue him.

Repentance precedes an informed, fervent faith in Christ’s justification, but it will always follow such faith as well. James speaks of demonstrating his faith by his works. Hebrews 11 reveals the works of the patriarchs as the “evidence” of their prior faith. Remember I said that the primary purpose of Jesus demanding the highest standard of righteousness from us is to draw us into relationship with Him. A penitent spirit causes faith in Another. But there is a secondary purpose as well, for faith causes greater repentance, leading to sanctification. As we are firmly ensconced in Christ’s justification, we re-read the Sermon; & as Zacchaeus, we yearn to obey the direction given by the sole Source of our justification. Our love for Him, born from His preeminent love for us (1John 4:10), presses us onward towards the high calling of perfection. As Paul says: "Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the Law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith- that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me His own.” Philippians 3:8-12

Paul says our righteousness depends on faith & then tells us that a greater knowing of Him & the power of His resurrection comes in the process of striving to be like Him. Our comprehension of our justification in Christ leads us towards the goal of being sanctified like Christ. We work towards that goal but, like Paul, we never attain it, therein receiving greater understanding of the measure of perfect righteousness & further proving the need for His justification. As we re-read the Sermon, the Spirit convicts us of our continued trespass. Our right eye & right hand may sin less than they did before, but they still sin. Some persecutors & enemies still lack our passionate prayers. Those cheeks become quite painful & after awhile the (more) evil man gets a fist instead of another turn of the head. Being naked & cold while another is warmly dressed in your shirt & coat turns your heart to anger. Perfection is quite hard to achieve, isn’t it? Thank God He gave us the impossible standard, for the lower standard- the attainable goal- would not bring the Glory of Christ home to the soul.

But I digress, for the main theme of John 5 is to introduce us further to the Savior that we must know, & more to the point, must know us. Jesus closed the Sermon on the Mount with a lesson on the true source of our righteousness- Himself. All the good works in the world will not save us if He does not know us & cause us to build our house (our hope of salvation) upon the Rock of Jesus Christ & His good work of the cross. If such a relationship is necessary, then a certain depth of understanding concerning the Son’s persona as well as His place of authority would be very important. Like Zacchaeus, our faith needs to be informed as well as fervent & John 5 helps fill that need. Stay tuned.

1 comment:

Even So... said...

Goes well with our sermon tomorrow, Steve...