Please, Whatever You Do, Don’t Misunderstand This Post!

In these days of Gay rights and Trans-Gender equality what I am going to write in this post could be badly misunderstood; but I’m willing to take that risk because I think there is something that very much needs to be said, but which I have never heard anyone other than myself actually teach! So here goes!

In my travels over the years I have met a lot of Christian men who I really do think need to get in touch with their feminine! You see, we men suffer from a generic male problem which we all too often just pretend isn’t actually an issue. The simple fact of the matter, though, is that, by and large, men – Christian men included – are the most appalling and insensitive blockheads!

However, before I am summarily disfellowshipped by just about every male friend I have for saying this let me make it abundantly clear that I am not going to be implying anything that in any way transgresses the divinely created gender order, or blurs the distinction between them. Absolutely not! Men are men and women are women, and no-one is clearer on that than I am: but there are nevertheless some fascinating verses in the Bible that have a very clear bearing on this. The first example I will give concerns Jesus Himself, and the second Paul the apostle. We consider first the Lord Himself:

“Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.” (Matthew 23:37)

Notice how Jesus here describes His sensitivities and longings in the most blatant of female terms; that of a hen with her chicks! Not because He thinks He’s a woman, of course not, but because femininity is forever associated with the more tender emotions of human experience. He therefore uses a feminine picture in order to communicate that such was the nature of His desires regarding the rebellious Jews, and that what He was feeling towards them were emotions of tenderness, longing and maternity. Now to Paul:

“We were gentle among you, like a nurse taking care of her children.” (1 Thessalonians 2:7)

Wow! The Greek here suggests the nurture given by a nursing mother to her baby. Speaking of the time he, Silas and Timothy spent with the saints in Thessalonica, Paul says that they related to them like breast-feeding mothers. And guys, it just doesn’t get any more feminine than that. He then goes on to say, “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us.” (v8)

I am not for one moment suggesting that this means that Christian men should be over-emotional, sentimental, wishy-washy or irrationally illogical thinkers. Not at all! There obviously are ‘wimpy’ men, Christians among them, who need to seriously get in touch with their masculine side and who need to stop behaving like old women; but what I am saying here is that even though men ought to be strong, definite and bold leaders of their families and situations, they should also know what it is to be gentle, tender and sensitive to the feelings and situations of those around them…their wives and children especially!

So fear not, I haven’t converted to gender-confused liberalism. No way! I remain an avowed and committed believer in patriarchy! However much evangelical feminists wish it were not true, God is Himself (not Herself) unchangingly male, and patriarchy is His clear order for creation. He is the father of spirits, not their mother. Therefore, when such a God becomes a human being, there can only be one possible outcome; that is, He becomes a man and not a woman. Evangelical feminism falls and self-destructs at this very first post: Messiah was a man, and could not, by very definition, have been a woman! As scripture says, “There is one God and one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.” (Emphasis mine.) Salvation could never have been through faith in the Lord Jessica Christ!

What I do believe though is that manhood ought to be represented and thought of in terms of a somewhat more delicate and chivalrous bygone age. I am, after all, both English and male, and it thus behoves me to ensure that, at all times, and in all places, I behave like the English gentle-man that I am! And there you have it! Embedded in the very word ‘gentleman’ itself is the heart of true manliness: gentleness, sensitivity and tenderness! I put it to you that without being in touch with this ‘feminine side’, men who are strong, capable and able to lead – as well they ought to be – will inevitably become the complete blockheads I am here warning against,  instead of the gentlemen God created them to be. Only when you combine strength, authority, leadership and boldness with gentleness, sensitivity, tenderness and a heart of compassion, do you truly have the Lord’s idea of a real man! A man such as men were created to actually be, the ultimate example being the fact that never was there such a man more-so than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The shortest verse in the whole Bible is, “Jesus wept.” That Jesus had no qualms or inhibition about crying in public tells us something absolutely wonderful about Him.

Guys, we need to be in touch with our feminine side! As already stated, there are men – even Christian men – who haven’t even got in touch with their masculine side yet, and who need to just man-up, but it is not they whom I am here addressing. I am addressing those of us who do know what a man is supposed to be, and who do rise to that challenge, but who are still missing the importance of this other side of the equation. It is incredible indeed that needed male feelings, sensitivities, gentlenesses and sensibilities are referenced in God’s Word in blatantly feminine terms.

I sure hope I have taken you all with me on this, and that I haven’t overly put anyone off! Or even worse, caused anyone to actually want to object! But if you do want to object then all I can suggest is that we settle it like men:

Handbags at dawn it is, then!!!

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The Ezekiel Factor

“The Spirit then lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness and in the anger of my spirit, with the strong hand of the LORD on me. And I came to the exiles who lived at Tel-Abib near the Kebar River. And I sat where they sat overwhelmed among them for  seven days.” (Ezekiel 3:14-15)

The intent of the above verses follows on very much from the previous post concerning Jesus’ view of Nicodemus and the uniqueness of each individual. Two vitally important things are inter-twined in them! The first is that Ezekiel had already received the heart of the Lord concerning the situation into which he was being sent in order to speak the Word of the Lord; but the second is that he also then had to embrace, feel and share the hearts of the people in those situations before uttering a word!

The Hebrew of the text conveys the idea of the silence of deep mourning, anguish and distress. In other words, it wasn’t enough for him to feel what the Lord was feeling concerning the people he was being sent to, he had to also feel what they were feeling in the situation, thus sharing in their pain and distress, before delivering the burden of the Lord to them. Hence the need for him to sit silently with them for seven days so that he could become properly identified with them, share their hearts, and feel their pain. This is what compassion is: to enter into the distress and anguish of those you are seeking to share the Lord with. It is to feel their pain, to vibrate in sympathy with the distress they are going through, only then bringing to bear any truth or wisdom such as they need to hear. It is what Paul means in 1 Corinthians when he says that believers should “weep with those who weep.”

This is yet another facet of a theme that anyone who knows me will know that I return to again and again: the biblical relationship between grace and truth, stated elsewhere by Paul in terms of the need to “speak the truth in love.”

We should never just dole out truth and advice left, right and centre, irrespective of how true and scriptural that truth might be, or how biblical, inspired and wise the advise. No! Not in a million years! We are to rather bring the Lord’s heart to bear on the hearts of whoever His burden through us is for. This means that, like Ezekiel, we must first actually receive His heart and mind concerning whatever the burden might be, but then become one with, and feel the pain of, those for whom the burden has been given. This is what intercession is, and what compassion actually looks like. It is to become one, and to vibrate in sympathy with, the pain of those to whom we are called.

Truth is obviously always objective, but what we are highlighting here is that so often we lack this subjective emotional element of actually feeling for people, of resonating in identification with their hurts, joys and fears. It is not mere sentimentality because what we are speaking of issues from, and will always apply, the objective truth of God’s Word. No! It is rather to become more and more like the God Who feels the pain of every man, woman and child whom He has created.

At the heart of everything God is, and has done, is incarnation. In the Lord Jesus He has incarnated Himself into every aspect of human life. And this He has done because not only is He the God of Truth, He is also the God of all Grace. And what this issues in is a principle that underlines everything concerning the manner of His dealings with us, and it is simply this: God beats the problem by becoming the problem! Think about it! What was the problem? Human beings! A fallen human race! So what did God do? He became a human being called Jesus! He beats the problem by becoming the problem! But of course it’s so much more than just that because what was the underlying problem that had made men, women and children a problem in the first place? Sin! Human beings are a problem because of their problem with sin! So what did the Lord do about that?

“God made Him who knew no sin to become sin, that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21. Emphasis mine.)

In our relationships with both unbelievers and our fellow Christians with whom we fellowship, incarnation is at the very heart of how we should live, and the kind of people we should be. Seeking to identify with those around that we might feel what they feel. That we might vibrate in sympathy with them, and sit where they sit, overwhelmed among them, in order to discern, and then meet, their needs.

“And I came to the exiles who lived at Tel-Abib near the Kebar River. And I sat where they sat overwhelmed among them for seven days.”

 

“There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews…”(John 3:1)

This is one of my favourite verses in the whole Bible. Let me tell you why. Remember, these words, although penned by John, were actually penned by the Holy Spirit through him. Certainly John wrote them, but so did the Lord. And the wording tells us something very wonderful about how He thinks and sees things. Notice that it doesn’t merely read, “There was a Pharisee…” Or even, “There was a Pharisee called Nicodemus…” No! It reads, “There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus…”

Do you see the point? Do you get what’s happening here? Can you see the sheer individual personableness of it? Jesus doesn’t look on this guy as just someone else who wants to talk with Him. Nicodemus isn’t just another Pharisee with some questions. No! To Jesus Nicodemus is a unique individual human being. Not just another person, and certainly not just another Pharisee. He is Nicodemus! An individual! A specific, particular and completely unique, unrepeatable walking-talking, living-breathing man…called Nicodemus!

It’s so easy to just see folk as just a collective societal grouping, rather than the actual individual each of them are. There are no blurred faces in bustling crowds as far as the Lord is concerned. No anonymous faceless men, women and children – mere social security numbers in the modern day corporate culture of western impersonality. No! There are only individuals to Him, each created quite knowingly, particularly and specifically by Him, each face and name having been called individually to mind as He suffered on the cross for each and every one.

There are, of course, those Christians of a Reformed bent who don’t believe He died for everyone, and although I don’t share that view from scripture, I do at least understand why someone might. But the alternate view, that He died for all, can, if we are not very careful, equally mislead us. I most fully believe that Jesus died for each and every human being throughout history, but I don’t for one moment also think that this suggests that He died for everyone-in-general-and-nobody-in-particular! Do you see the point? It has then become completely impersonal; as if the Lord suffered and died for the corporate collective human conglomerate, as opposed to suffering and dying for you, for I, and for the little girl who lives next door, and the construction worker down the road, and that chap who fixed that leaking pipe in the kitchen last year…..

Let us make sure that we have this as clear in our minds as anything could possibly be: the Lord Jesus Christ did not die for everyone-in-general-and-nobody-in-particular! He suffered and died with your name on His lips, and – oh happy day – with my name on His lips, and Belinda’s name, and Bethany’s name, and that little girl’s name next door whom I just mentioned……and that construction worker…..and…..and……..!!!

We should never think of people as just being people. You can’t love a crowd, or have compassion on some corporate conglomeration of humanity, and just leave it at that. It must boil down to showing compassion in real terms, to giving actual and practical help to those individuals who comprise that crowd. Individuals who need to be loved one by one, each in turn, according to their particular and specific needs.

It is sad beyond words that Christians have, historically, embraced the completely unbiblical practise of having numerically large churches, as opposed to the numerically small house-based churches we see in the New Testament, thereby adding to this very impersonality which the Lord so dislikes in human experience. The impersonality of a crowd can, sadly, feel safer to people! You can hide in a crowd! You can keep your head down in a crowd when things are tough and when difficult stands need to be taken. Moreover, you can keep the sin in your life, but which the Lord wants to deal with, nicely hidden away, and keep living a hypocritical double standard without anyone really knowing that you are not at all, in day-to-day life, the person you present yourself as being to that impersonal crowd (they came them congregations) in church on Sundays.

But of course the price you then pay is the loss of being able to truly love, or to be truly loved by, those around you. In such a scenario of the church crowd (congregation) no-one really knows anyone else well enough to even make a significant start at loving them, let alone see that love through to the end with them. Little groups here and there will make attachments with each other, of course, but then what of those who get left out? What about the ones whose loneliness and pain cuts all the more deeply precisely because they are alone whilst surrounded by so many others?

Whenever you meet someone, whether for the first or thousandth time, whether a fellow Christian or convinced atheist, whether a Muslim or Buddhist, whether a Capitalist or Marxist…..whether gay, straight, bi-……perhaps even a Democrat or Republican, make sure you look them square and fully in the eye knowing that the one looking back at you is a unique, one-and-only, unrepeatable, one-off human being, created specifically and intentionally by the Lord to not be anybody else, the mould having been completely discarded the moment He was done creating them. Indeed, someone precisely whose name was on His lips as He suffered and died for them.

There is, ultimately, and meaningfully, no such thing as corporate humanity; just innumerable unique particular and specific individual human beings, created in the image of God, all of whom being in almost indescribable need of love, compassion, friendship, repentance and salvation! And that need for love, the love of God lived out through the lives of His people, is why Christians should be the kindest, friendliest, most helpful, personable and easy-to-get-on-with people anyone could ever meet.

 

 

 

A Little Bit More on Aliens!

Many moons ago now, when I was a young man and dinosaurs ruled the world, I (of course) went to the cinema to see the (then) groundbreaking first Alien movie. It was, to my mind, both a masterpiece and complete revelation. However, what spoiled it somewhat was the fact that it was slightly out of focus, a fact I complained about at some volume at one point during the showing. (Yes, I know! But I was young!) How ridiculous, I mused, that a projectionist can’t focus his projector properly. But hey, no-one’s perfect all the time!

A few years later, whilst I was still young man but recently and gloriously married to Belinda, I quickly discovered that I had a little helper in the car. She helped me with all kinds of things…how fast I was going….when traffic lights were changing….when someone was crossing the road in front of me etc etc. And one of the things I couldn’t help but notice was that she would see what road signs said a few seconds before I did. This, I concluded, could only be down to one thing, so off I went to an opticians……only to find…..yes, you’ve guessed……that I needed glasses for distance viewing.

In the days that followed after getting my first pair I couldn’t believe how sharp, colourful and crystal clear everything was, and just how much fine detail I had been missing all that time. And then I remembered…..going to see Alien…..and complaining that the film wasn’t properly in focus. We have a word here in England that describes anyone functioning on significantly less than a full brain-load of grey matter….pillock! And yes, I felt a right pillock! It wasn’t that the film was out of focus and that the projectionist wasn’t doing his job properly, it was that my eyes were deficient and that I wasn’t seeing the screen properly.

You probably know where this is going now, and indeed it is! I have learned to be very careful to not jump to conclusions when I perceive something to be wrong, and not to make quick judgements until I am happy I have all the angles covered. I still get things wrong at times, of course, but the principle stands! But the main point I want to make here though is this:

I have spent a lifetime teaching things from God’s Word which no-one has ever actually been able to refute from that Word! I have been disagreed with and disavowed by lots of people on many occasions, but the things I teach that so upset folk have never been countered and shown to be error actually from scripture itself. Somebody once well said that it wasn’t the bits of the Bible they didn’t understand that troubled them, but precisely the bits they did. There are bits in the Bible that are obviously there, but which just don’t suit a great many Christians.

The next time you knee-jerk react against something you hear someone maintain to be biblical because it offends you, make sure you first establish whether it is actually biblical or not. Then still don’t react, but rather respond! There is every chance that it is not that something unbiblical is being said, but merely that you just don’t happen to like it and want to justify and excuse yourself! Or to put it another way, it’s not that the projector isn’t in focus, but rather that we need glasses!

 

Church of the Age-Old Christian Error!

One of the things I have strongly contended for a great many years is that evangelism is not the function of the church. But because I fully appreciate how easy it is for folk to completely misunderstand this, let me clarify. Evangelism is not the function of churches, and neither is the necessity of doing good works in the world! Evangelism, and doing good works in the world, are the functions of individual believers who comprise churches. Precisely because evangelism solely concerns unbelievers, and because doing good works in the world largely concerns them, such activities, virtually by definition, occur outside of church life! Given that all Christians together comprise the corporate church of Jesus throughout time (Church Universal being the term used by theologians) then it is obviously the case, in that sense, that everything to do with serving the Lord is the function of the Christian Church at large; but what lies at the heart of the confusion here is our age old misunderstanding of what individual churches actually are, what they are supposed to be like and how they are meant to function.

In the New Testament churches were simply little extended families of God’s people, meeting in the homes of those families who comprised each individual and specific assembly. Virtually everything the New Testament teaches concerning them depicts that, just like biological nuclear families, they exist for the purpose of mutual nurture, shared love and support. The raison d’être of biblical church gatherings is therefore that of the edification, the spiritual building up, of those present both in the Lord and in their most holy faith. The purpose of gathering is to enable one another to grow in the Lord, thereby each fully becoming the person He would have each of His children to be. This spiritual growth, leading to each one present becoming progressively and fully who they are meant to be, results is them being equipped for the evangelism and good works awaiting them in the world amongst unbelievers during the week ahead.

It is not, therefore, the function of churches to be evangelising and doing good works in the world. It is rather the function of churches, just like nuclear families, to nurture the members of that family so as to enable each to become fully who they should be when outside of the family. This, for the believer who is growing in the Lord as a result of being part of such a church, issues in them performing the aforementioned functions outside of church life amongst the lost.

It’s so simple; but we miss it because the vast majority of churches are not only set up differently to the New Testament ones…they are set up pretty much the exact opposite! Rather than little extended families of the Lord’s people, they are ‘official’ religious institutions. How on earth, we might ask, did Paul and Peter, and the rest of the Apostles, get things so wrong? Or should we rather be asking: How on earth have we managed to?

Go on! Treat yourself! Be brave enough and just admit the obvious….that they were right and that the Christian Church, since the second and third centuries has, quite simply, been wrong!

 

The Problem of Ever Increasing Permissiveness! Personally, I blame Christians…

Here in England it is the 50th anniversary of the repeal of the law that criminalised homosexual acts, a law that I personally abhor was ever on the statute books. It is not for governments to be legislating regarding sexual immorality, whether homosexual or heterosexual. There is a vast difference between behaviours that are sinful in the Lord’s sight, and those which should also be criminalised. What consenting adults do behind closed doors, so long as no-one is being hurt, or no other laws are being broken, is not the business of governments.

But of course the mere fact that it is such an anniversary means that we are being bombarded with even more gay propaganda than usual, and anyone would think that nothing could be more virtuous, or of greater praise, than behaviour that my parent’s generation took for granted as being morally dubious. I deeply regret that there are those who want to treat gay folk badly, whose bigoted thinking is that they should be discriminated against, or thought of as being second class citizens. Such treatment should no more apply to gay people that to straight people who do things one might disapprove of morally. Tolerance is not the same thing as approval, but rather the acknowledgement of the right to behave in ways one disagrees with. As a Christian it seems to me that tolerance should undergird all our relationships, and especially our relationships with those who make no claim to be following the Lord Jesus. We should therefore no more despise the gay community than we would people who drink too much, use bad language, gamble or take drugs, or who do anything else we might disapprove of. The essence of our discipleship is that we are saved sinners, so to take an especially high and mighty attitude against those who are gay just because they are gay, as if this is more sinful than other sinful things, is not only ridiculous, but hypocritical and obnoxiously self-righteous. Indeed, I am always quick to say that some of the nicest and most engaging folk I have ever met are gay, and the idea that anyone should be treated badly, or honoured and respected as a human being any the less less merely on the basis of their sexual preferences is a truly horrible one.

But what I want to comment on in this post is that all the polls are showing that each new emerging generation of genuine Bible-believing evangelical Christians are more and more open to the idea that sexual immorality, whether homosexual or heterosexual in nature, is acceptable to the Lord, and ought not to be regarded as being sinful in the way the Christian Church has traditionally taught. In other words, even evangelical Bible-believing Christians are increasingly discounting biblical teaching concerning sexual morality and family life. Why is this? Well, I think the answer is pretty clear…and pretty damningly clear as well!

If you jump out of tree you will inevitably proceed downwards and not up. The force of gravity inexorably drags everything towards the lowest point; and so it is with sin. Left to ourselves, even as Christians, we instinctively veer towards sin as opposed to righteousness. So basically, any excuse we can grant ourselves to justify moral laxness becomes actual working permission to get away with sinful behaviour we would not otherwise allow ourselves to indulge in. So if the previous generation of Christians have long since stopped calling certain sinful things sin in order to excuse and indulge themselves, then why shouldn’t the following generation of Christians widen the parameters of what is allowable as far as they are concerned?

What I am getting to is simply this: The last couple of generations of genuine evangelical Bible-believing Christians have, by and large, ignored what scripture teaches concerning two vitally important aspects of marriage and family life. Firstly, they have largely thrown out what God’s Word teaches regarding the sanctity of marriage by legitimising divorce and remarriage in situations where scripture does not. “Till death do us part…”, though still regarded in theory a solemn vow, has actually been considered optional for even genuine Christians for a very long time. Ask yourself: How many churches do you know of that would impose church discipline on any in their midst planning to illegitimately divorce with a view to remarriage. Secondly, Christians have virtually monolithically rejected what scripture teaches regarding gender differences and function. The clear biblical teaching of the headship of the husband coupled with the duty of wives to be submissive to them, plus that leadership in the church is for the menfolk, has not only been either explained away or just completely ignored, but those believers who do adhere to biblical practise regarding it all are often castigated by their fellow Christians for so doing.

What possible grounds, then, can Christians who reject what scripture teaches regarding the sanctity of marriage and gender differences, have for being surprised by a new generation of Christians who have decided to ignore what God’s Word teaches regarding sexuality. If it is legitimate for my generation of Christians to have rejected aspects of scripture’s teaching regarding family life (i.e. longevity of marriage and male headship), then why should it be considered it wrong for a newer generation of believers to reject others? What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander, and it is hypocritical to say otherwise.

A significant proportion of genuine evangelical Bible-believing Christians in the West who were born from the eighties onwards simply have no problem with either gay sex or gay marriage, whilst older believers are horrified by such an outlook and completely baffled how it could have come to this. But I simply ask, what did we expect! If an older generation of Christians consider themselves free to reject certain biblical teachings, then what shouldn’t a newer generation consider themselves free to ditch a few more?

So yes, I do indeed blame Christians! As Western society has become more and more lax regarding the sanctity of marriage and family life, so also did Christians in that society. We bowed down to culture and not the authority of scripture. But I don’t primarily blame the current Christian generation for rejecting the bits of the Bible they don’t like. I rather blame those believers born in the 40’s and 50’s onwards who started the process off as far as Christians were concerned, who wanted easy divorce and remarriage so they could have their sexual cake and eat it too if a marriage didn’t suit them, and who then caved into the emerging surrounding cultural feminism so as to secure an easier life.

My conclusion is simply this: any Christian who thinks sexual sin, of whatever kind, is acceptable, should repent and get right with the God, and start living in obedience to His Word. But I think too that those believers who are horrified by what is now happening, but who are feminists, and who condone easy divorce and remarriage, should repent also. It was, after all, those two compromises with the world that kicked this whole thing off! It is nothing short of the most blatant hypocrisy to want to draw a line at sin C, because you think it’s going too far, having previously declared sins A and B to be alright because they happened to suit you!

“Every word of God is flawless. He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him. Do not add to His words, or He will rebuke you and prove you a liar.” (Proverbs 30:5-6)

A Little Bit of Honest Introspection!

It was only when I reached my forties that I began to truly appreciate the sheer folly of my youth, including my early years as a believer. But now I’m in my sixties I look back on those same years with not merely shame, but abject horror at just how raw, spiritually immature and casual about unrepentant sin in my life I was. Such, I have to say, is my less than glowing assessment of my formative years as a follower of Jesus.

But I am not discouraged! Indeed, I am actually somewhat pleased by this! After all, Jesus came precisely to save helpless sinners such as I then was, and the mere fact that I looked back on myself with such honesty in the way I did 20 years ago, along with the way I now view those same years, tells me that I have grown and matured in the Lord at least in some measure over the intervening years. Not that I am no longer horrified by my sin though for the older I get the more aware I become of it’s deceptiveness, it’s sheer ability to parade itself as something other than the evil it is! But it is nevertheless a clear witness to the measure of God’s grace in me that, however spiritually dull and prone to self-blindness and deception I am, I have nonetheless grown increasingly aware of my constant need of repentance, humility before God and man, and forgiveness. Such is undoubtedly an indication of a growing maturity in the Lord.

What I am discouraged about though is that so many believers, and I have known an awful lot through the years, decidedly don’t share a similar assessment of themselves. Maybe I’m just more sinful than they are, and a poorer-than-average example of what a follower of Jesus ought to be like; but I rather doubt it. No, the problem isn’t that I’m alarmingly mega-sinful in some way that others are not, but rather that so many believers are fundamentally dishonest in their assessment of themselves and just live in denial of how sinful they actually are!

In the years I’ve followed the Lord I’ve become aware of certain underlying principles which comprise the real evidence of whether or not someone is truly growing in the Lord, or merely going through the outward motions. Whether they have a genuine ongoing actual personal closeness to Him, or merely an outward form of godliness. And one of those principles is: What do they do with their sin? What do they do when sin in their lives is revealed? And in particular, what do they do with the third parties the Lord so often uses, in whatever way, as part of that process? Do they come clean and repent? Or do they just stage a cover up, deny everything and in their minds discredit – and, if possible, discredit in the minds of others – any who are party to that sin being revealed in their lives and brought to the light?

If we are not being honest about our sin and failure before the Lord then it is difficult to see how we are being honest and upright regarding anything else that particularly matters. It’s a bit like those politicians who get caught cheating on their wives but assure us that we can still trust them when it comes to stuff like policy, governing and spending our hard earned taxes! (Trust me! I’m a politician!)

So hey, if you live your Christian life hanging on to the Lord for dear life because you dare not trust yourself but for one minute to live in your own strength, then join the club! It’s called Christian fellowship! But if you don’t really think you’re overly sinful, and that you’re doing pretty well in your discipleship, and you aren’t having to struggle daily against stuff like pride, covetousness, selfishness – it’s what the Bible calls ‘crucifying the flesh’ – then please, keep your distance. Because all you will do is get in the way of those who are more honest in the Lord than you are, and be a hindrance to those who do want to grow in godliness on their way to Heaven, and not just get there having pursued a selfish worldly life down here. Those believers who are more honest than you will, of course, sweat blood and shed tears in their attempts to love you and to serve you, and to bring you to a better place, but if you just deny the extent of your sinfulness and resist laying your life down on the altar of selflessness all the time, then what more can they do?

Nothing brings greater joy to the Father than seeing repentance in the lives of those He has created. Therefore, knowing that we are so truly known of Him precisely in all our sinfulness and depravity, yet so truly and deeply loved nonetheless, then what greater joy can there be than a life lived not having to hide from Him any more, and in simple open and honest acknowledgement of how evil we are? And I know that many Christians would resist using the word ‘evil’ of themselves; indeed, would see it as being overly negative – damaging to their mental well-being even – yet Jesus clearly said, “If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children…” (Matthew 7:11)

There is nothing negative about being honest with a doctor about symptoms that suggest a disease he can provide a cure for. And the cure for our sinfulness, for the deceit and depravity of our hearts, is the Lord Jesus, who gave His life precisely that we might be forgiven and cleansed. But growing in that truth and knowing the power of the Holy Spirit bringing it progressively to fruition within us down the years begins, and continues, with us being honest about how sinful and needy we actually are.

When I was that young man who was, quite genuinely, seeking to follow the Lord, I came across a Christian book with the title ‘Repentance, the Joy-Filled Life’. It terrified me! But only because I hadn’t come to the place of being able to just be honest about sin. I was yet insecure in the Lord’s love for me and feared it to be contingent upon good performance and on me not sinning very much. Not much joy in that, believe me! But discovering, as I eventually did more and more, that the Lord wanted me to be honest because He loved me so greatly, and not because He didn’t love me very much because I was so bad, changed everything. But now repentance, though still painful to my pride and the lingering self-righteousness that characterises all of us, is sheer relief and my very life-line to the One who has saved me. Like the kissing and making up of lovers who have spoiled their love as the result of whatever came between them – though of course it is never the Lord who causes the wrong – it is the joy of relationship renewed and discipleship restored. I even enjoy Star Trek is all the more because of such repentance, to say nothing of having an even greater life with Belinda and Bethany. After all, what fun is there to be had living with the constant gnawing of a bad conscience in denial of whatever the Holy Spirit is convicting you of?

King David prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139:23-24)

Might such be true of ourselves also!