Sunday, December 19, 2010

Are Sinful Thoughts Sinful?

Matthew 5:48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Repentance unto good works indicate the presence of God’s Spirit & should encourage the Christian that they have God’s promise for His elect (Rom. 8:16, 23, 26). Being thus radically transformed makes a most pressing case for faith in God’s election as it did for Paul in reference to his Thessalonian disciples:

1 Thessalonians 1:4-10 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, (5) because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction. You know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.(6) And you became imitators of us and of the Lord, for you received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit, (7) so that you became an example to all the believers in Macedonia and in Achaia. (8) For not only has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone forth everywhere, so that we need not say anything. (9) For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, (10) and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.

So confident hope comes as we see this outward ostensible change by God’s Spirit at work within us. But the war never seems to find conclusion with the utter vanquishment of the primordial thought of sin. While Paul & James inform us we are promised & given the mind of Christ in the course of our due diligence towards service in His name (the purpose of James 2), Paul also tells us there dwells, even within his fiery fervor, a shivering shortfalling that demands Christ to continually intercede for his ever present sinful nature:

Romans 7:21-24 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. (22) For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, (23) but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. (24) Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?

The student, of course, knows Paul gives the answer to this rhetorical in the next chapter, showing God, in Christ, as his confident (and only) hope in attaining the standard of true perfection.

In this vein lies the rub for me with so many Christians’ professions- when posed the question “Are sinful thoughts sinful?”, they frustratingly (to me, at least) respond no- because they think the thought to be so primordial in nature that it cannot be averted & therefore cannot be rightly judged by God. But what they do not comprehend is this is precisely the fundamental force behind “all have sinned & come short of the glory of God”. We can never save ourselves because perfection does not lie even within the base DNA, so to speak, of man’s nature. Sin runs deep to the very core of man & it would matter not if we could win even every battle of the mind & emerge to doing righteousness every time- because God, in Christ, has already set the bar higher than that.

Indeed, the one that desires to embrace this lowering of the concept of being faultless before God should ponder the words of Isaiah:

Isaiah 55:6-9 "Seek the LORD while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; (7) let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. (8) For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. (9) For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Clearly one should see the equivocation, in regards to man’s degeneracy, in this passage between the “ways” of man & “thoughts” of man. God seems ready to judge both equally, to the degree hey fall short of His standard. This passage is but another bar in Scripture's "imprisonment" that should send us all running to "the promise by faith in Jesus Christ" to be set free (Gal. 3:22). He alone has the keys to our prison door. Remember again Matt. 5:48 & accept the fact that it is the Father’s yardstick of perfection that will measure our perfection. Ignorance is bliss, but ot is equally treacherous. Outside of Christ, it'll be Hell's bells that will toll for thee:

"Perchance he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill as that he knows not it
tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as
that they who are about me and see my state, may have caused it to toll for me,
and I know not that." John Donne 17th century Anglican

I promise you, as John 14:6 tells us plainly, only those abiding in Christ will meet this standard, for it is the blessed Son alone that fills out the measure of the Father’s yardstick.

Thoughts of sin are an indication of the inborn sin that we cannot work out to utter extent. Yes, we can work out much sinfulness of thought, word, & deed by keeping our eyes on Christ alone as the “author & finisher” of our faith; but nevertheless, the ultimate “finish” of a perfect mind seems to elude us, at least in this life. But our response to such base ineptitude should not be to thereafter cause to regard it as inconsequential. No, instead those ungodly thoughts should send us continually to Christ as our only hope of the purity of ultimate perfection that is the standard that we must meet. Among the billions that have ever put on the flesh, Christ stands alone as having met that standard. Only in worshipful devotion to Him can we find true peace & rest. Instead of thinking “Well that’s just the way I am & God’s just gonna have to accept me” we must remember that no, God doesn’t have to accept any of us that fall short of His glory. It is only by His mercy & grace that we were, are, & will be saved, because of the fact that we were, are, & will continue to be “wretched” (Paul’s words) in some hopefully minimal measure right up to the moment we are taken up to Heaven. But minimal or not, all sin is worthy reason for God to judge.

Lamentations 3:21-24 (KJV) It is of the LORD'S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. (23) They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. (24) The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him.

As with so many problems, the first (& for many the biggest) hurdle to overcome is the admission that there is a problem, thus the above dissertation. Secondly, in response to perceiving this primordial portion of our sinfulness, we need to lament as Jeremiah did in Lamentations’ five spiritual dirges, in proverbial sackcloth & ashes, grieving in like elegy over the death that so clearly dwells within (Rom. 7). In total contrast to the flesh’s desire to quickly say “It’s under the blood” & move on to more pleasant thoughts, we should sense the anguish that God’s Spirit feels with our every sin (Ps. 78:40, Is. 63:10, Eph. 4:30). Thirdly, following the manner of Lamentation’s third acrostic dirge, we should dwell on the glory of God’s mercy, so splendidly shown to us in the Person of Jesus Christ. Fourthly, we need to abide in this glorious habitation, meaning not simply dwelling on Christ, but in Christ, to win the battle of the mind. This is key to the fight, the war of the worlds that wages within our soul- Christ’s blood not simply on us, but in us. The life is in the blood, & we are fully justified as He covers us, but the further sanctification that we long for eludes us to the degree that we refuse His desire for a transfusion into us. Christ’s fervent desire, spelled out by John 17:21-23, is for intimate habitation with us; His prayer was for us to join the type of oneness that He shares with the Father-

John 17:23a I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one…

To sum, the changes in thought & deed that we see in ourselves & others should give us encouragement that the Spirit of Christ is at work within changing us into His likeness. But instead of trying to trivialize thoughts (& deeds) that fail His standard, we should instead take the apostle Paul’s lead & allow the “wretched man that I am” drive us ever closer to the security of Christ’s comforting arms. It’s simple really- just worship Him to best of your ability & I promise you He will in no wise cast you out.

1 comment:

Zoarean said...

I know there are a range of opinions on this issue. Some say that it's not sin until we make the choice to allow the thought to fester & grow & give it a place within our mind. Others say no, it's not sin until we act upon it. I rather believe that both of these are greater sins that simply multiply the measure of the original seed of sin that is common to all.

Some may also consider this a hard line to take, but I simply cannot imagine, in my purely Biblical image of the Person of Christ, Him wrestling with inner sin. And His is the standard we would have to meet in order to have justification apart from His blood. There is no Biblical data (& this is the only true data source we have) to support the notion of Jesus fighting this kind of inner turmoil. Yes, there was clearly an anthropomorphic type of strife going on within Him in the desert, at Gethsemane, & on the cross; but I think this was purely the result of the intense physical & emotional distresses that He had to endure to utterly fill up the cup of a completely substitutionary atonement, for all mankind, of all ages.

I would defer to a prior piece (of June 2010) that explores in depth the nature of Christ’s anthropomorphism.