Monday, October 16, 2006

Job's Sin, God's grace, with additional thoughts...

This week we discussed Job’s response to God’s monologue in chapters 38-41. But first, we began the class with a hypothetical I read earlier this month.

What About Bob?

There’s a guy, let’s call him Bob. He’s a nice guy. He has a sweet family. He has a good job. He works very hard. He obeys the traffic laws. He pays his taxes. He goes to church. An offering plate never passes by that he doesn’t put something in it. Is he a good guy? Sure.

Oh, there’s one other thing: when he gets the urge, Bob likes to molest little children. Or, Bob likes to blow up Federal buildings and commit mass murder. Pick your one heinous crime. Is Bob still a good guy?

Of course not. With that one piece of information, all of the “good” things Bob does are nullified by that one horrible act. In fact, many of you are thinking, “There’s a lot of undeveloped land in East Texas where we could hide the body of a guy like that.”

But, what about all this other good stuff Bob does? Well, I think it is safe to assert that we value children more than traffic laws, don’t we? Or the lives of everyday people over Bob putting something in the offering plate.

The Greatest Commandment

So why do we, Christian or non-Christian, so regularly commit an even worse error in our evaluation of what is good and evil? What is the greatest moral responsibility? (Mark 12:28-31). We are appalled at the horrible crimes of Bob, but why don’t we realize that if we don’t love God with everything within us, we have committed the worst crime of all. We usually judge the rightness or wrongness of an act based on our opinion. It is an extremely rare occasion when we judge the rightness or wrongness of a matter by its offensiveness to God.

Sin Unplugged

How do we define sin? I’ve tended to define it as selfishness, but is that a proper definition? In his very readable and well-written Systematic Theology, Wayne Grudem points out that (1) the Bible does not define sin this way, (2) much self-interest is good and approved by Scripture (for example, when Jesus exhorts us to “lay up for yourself treasures in Heaven” or God’s appeal to the sinful, “Turn back, turn back from your evil ways; for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ez. 33:11) (3) What about selfless devotion to a false religion? (a Muslim suicide bomber is doing a selfless act, right?) (4) What about God, since God’s highest goal is to seek His own glory (Isa. 42:8; 43:7, 21; Eph 1:12) ?

Grudem defines sin as any failure to conform to the moral law of God in act, attitude or nature. I have also heard John Piper define sin as “Trading the glory of God for other things.”

Scripture certainly defines sin in relation to God and His moral law. (1 John 3:4; Rom 2:15, 17-29) All people sin due to their lack of conformity to the moral law of God.

Well, what is the moral law? Exodus 20 – the Ten Commandments. Have you examined your life in light of these ten simple commands? Where do you stand? Have you examined your life in light of Jesus’ illumination of the commandments in Matthew 5? He says the commandments go beyond the external actions, but also focus on the internal attitudes. We further see in James 2:8-11, that to violate one commandment is to violate all of the commandments. That’s a pretty hard pill to swallow. How can violation of just one commandment be the same as violation of all?

James tells us that it is because of Who we are offending by our breaking of the law. The law is not just a piece of divine legislation, it is a revelation of the very infinitely worthy character of God Himself. Any violation is an affront to Him, and He takes it personally, as well He should.

Job, Isaiah and the state of being “undone”

What in the world does all of this have to do with Job? We have seen that Job’s suffering had two purposes. At the beginning it was to demonstrate God’s value and glory. But later, God permitted the suffering of Job to continue in order to fulfill the ongoing purpose of refining Job’s righteousness.

A thunderstorm gathers at the end of Elihu’s speech. Somehow, out of the whirlwind, the voice of God speaks to Job. It’s a pretty ominous beginning.
“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?”
We know that God is talking about Job, because Job knows God is talking about Job…(42:3, Job quotes the question and answers it by stating that he is putting his hand over his mouth.) God interrogates Job with questions that show God’s infinite greatness compared to Job’s finite and flawed understanding of the reality of things. God focuses on things above the earth, on the earth and under the earth. The point is that Job is ignorant and helpless. He doesn’t know where these things come from, how to make them work, and is utterly surrounded by mysteries.

“Behold, I am Vile.”

At Chapter 40, God gives Job a breather to respond, and we see that Job is starting to get it. What is his response in the face of the infinite and holy God? “Behold, I am vile.”

This is one of the few times that I prefer the KJV rendition. The Hebrew word “Qalal” can mean “of small account” or “insignificant” or other similar expressions. However, I think “vile” captures the contrast between the previous attempts of Job to justify himself and his attitude when faced with the holiness of God. This is also consistent with other accounts of saints being in the presence of God. See Isaiah 6.

Faced with God’s majesty, Job is surprised at his own sin: “Behold!”

It’s the word, “behold” that tips us off to Job’s astonishment at his own sin and finitude. The discovery was unexpected. He’s spent the entire book extolling his own righteousness and the great case he was going to make to God about how he has been mistreated. But, in the presence of a holy and all-powerful God, the realities come crashing in on him. Consider this quote by Charles Spurgeon.

“I believe we generally find out most of our failings when we have the greatest access to God. Job never had such a discovery of God as he had at this time. God spoke to him in the whirlwind, and then Job said, ‘I am vile.’”

We don’t get our sin

Doesn’t this show us how much we just don’t get the vileness of our own sin? Christian and unbeliever alike. Both the Christian and non-Christian have this in common: there is a nature that is in rebellion to God. The difference is that the true Christian realizes it because of the eye-opening power of the Holy Spirit and is compelled to make war against it out of a God-given desire to want to be pleasing to God by reflecting as much of His character in his life as he is able. (Of course, I use the masculine pronoun for the Christian in a non-gender specific way, ladies)

Sin, it’s so natural

It is important to realize that there are acts that people who have not trusted Christ do which we would consider good in relation to those around us. There are actually Muslims who do not murder. There are Buddhists who do acts of benevolence such as feed the poor. A group of atheists can pull together and repair houses after a hurricane. But, Scripture tells us that whatever is not from faith is sin. (Romans 14:23) The issue is - what moral and spiritual character does that act have in relation to God?

John Piper posits the analogy that if a king teaches his subjects to fight well and those subjects rebel against their king using the very skill he taught them to resist him, then even those skills are evil. Since all people are in total rebellion, everything they do is the product of the rebellion and cannot glorify God. It only further condemns them for their rebellion. With such darkened minds and corrupt hearts, how could we ever change? Consider the testimony of Scripture.

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Ro 8:7-8)

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. (Eph 4:17-19)
(God lets us freely do what we most love to do).

To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. (Tit 1:15)

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Co 2:14)
What kind of freedom of choice does Scripture say the unbelievers whom you know actually have? Apart from the work of the Holy Spirit, does Scripture say whether or not they will change their fundamental rebellion against God?

Self-mutilation for the Kingdom of God? (The call of Christ to gouge the eyes and cut off hands)

As believers, we know that through the power of the Holy Spirit we have been born again. The nature that once reigned over us has been stripped of its dominion. We are no longer slaves to sin. However, we still sin. As Christians, we are given some stern warnings about our own sin. 1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21. Consider the warnings of Jesus concerning how radical we are to deal with sin in our lives.
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. (Mt 5:29-30) (see also Mark 9:43)
Of course, He also says that sin comes from the heart, so it is clear that He does not mean literally cut off your hand or gouge your eye. But, who talks like this? Jesus talks like this. Those who see the vileness of sin talk like this. The vast majority of us do not talk like this. We don’t take our sin seriously. If this does not seem obvious to you – that sanctification is worth any pain on this earth – it is probably because you don’t abhor sin and prize holiness the way God does and the way we all should.

As believers, we are to make war against our sin nature. This sin that so easily besets us is a traitor to us. We are to be radical in our hate of the nature that rebels against the God Who has given us so much grace.

We will not be perfect as Christ is perfect this side of eternity. Romans 7:13-25. Sanctification is a life-long process. But, as you look back over the last few years of your Christian life, can you see a pattern of definite growth in the fruits of the Spirit? Are you more righteous today than you were a few years ago? If we are not, we should test ourselves to see if our faith is genuine.
Philippians 2:12-13; 3:12-16; 2 Cor. 13:5

God acted with purpose, not arbitrarily, in sanctifying Job. He acts with purpose in sanctifying us.

Job’s response should be ours

We see three acts of submission by Job on chapter 42:1-6

v. 1-2 – He submits to God’s absolute sovereignty: that He can do whatever He pleases, and is not constrained by anything outside of Himself.

v. 3 – He quotes God and then gives his response. He submits to God’s infinitely greater wisdom and knowledge: Job recognizes that he has spoken about things of which he is very ignorant.

v. 4-6 – He again quotes God and gives his response. He repents.

Getting a realistic picture of our sin and God’s holiness only serves to magnify His grace towards us. It also magnifies our great dependence upon Him for the very ability to not sin.

“Grant us the will to do as You command. Then command us to do as You will,” Saint Augustine prayed.

I can’t remember where this quote came from, but I remember it was from an old saint on his deathbed. I think he was asked what he had learned in the many years he had lived as a Christian. His response was classic, “I have learned that I am a great sinner, and that I have a Great Savior.”

Let us remember that the writer of Hebrews admonishes us, “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works…” (Heb. 10:24-25)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is a really heavy lesson, and I feel like you could spend several weeks on the topic without understanding it fully. It's actually very humbling and almost overwhelming when I think about the concepts here.

I have just a couple thoughts that may simplify it a bit. I think the closer we get to God, the more we realize our own sin. In the cases of Job and Isaiah, they came close to God Himself and literally couldn't bear it. Their only response was to recognize their own lack of glory and ultimate failure. As Paul grew more intimate in his walk with Christ, he claimed to be the "chiefest of sinners." I'm sure all of us would love to be as spiritually mature and close to God as Paul was, yet he perceived himself to be such a complete moron. (using my own terminology) I believe the same effect will happen to us, as well, when we get closer to God. As we grow in our faith, mature in the fruits of the Spirit, and learn to walk closer with Jesus, we will see our sin to be worse and worse. It won't be because we'll sin more, but because we'll be more digusted with the truth of our situation.

As we begin to see ourselves in a more truthful light and recognize just how horrendous our sin is, I think we'll realize how great our salvation is. Just like Job, Isaiah, Paul, John, and Moses, we will fall to our faces in shame and then immediately realize the incredible mercy of God. How can He let us come into His presence? How can He call us His own children? That grace becomes more and more special as we see the truth of who we really are. It seems that the greater our sin, the greater His mercy.

Is this why we often see two different types of Christians? Some of the people I've seen that have the worst backgrounds full of pain and open rebellion are the very ones who seem to love Christ the most and serve Him with sincere passion. Then there's the average, complacent Christian who grew up in church and never really went too far off the path. Those people who know what they're capable of and walked in evil seem to appreciate their salvation and actually live completely committed to Christ. Those of us who think we pretty good people aren't nearly as grateful or as passionate, and that group includes me.

How can we realize our sin and, therefore, love Christ more? The only thing I know is to spend more time looking at Him.