catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 11, Num 4 :: 2012.02.17 — 2012.03.01


O come, all ye sinners

I love reading the Puritan prayers. One of my favorite collections is The Valley of Vision that sits next to my big, red chair. It awaits me, and is part of my daily routine before work when the sun is not quite up and neither am I. Quietly, I sit with the words of men and women who seemed to have a clear acumen of the sinfulness of man and the sheer holiness of God. As I have discerned their words and studied these concepts myself, it has become quite clear that the two are so tightly linked: our sin and God’s holiness. Their words often pierce me with strong conviction and reminders of the need for repentance of the vileness of the sin within me. Strangely, it starts to feel like true freedom.

Before the cross I kneel and see
the heinousness of my sin,
my iniquity that caused thee to be
   “made a curse,”
the evil that excites the severity
of divine wrath.
Show me the enormity of my guilt…
Eyes to see my sin; eyes to value my Savior.

I’ve heard this teaching called “a high view of God.” It reminds me of A.W. Tozer’s famous words in his book The Knowledge of the Holy where he introduces his book with these thoughts:

The low view of God entertained almost universally among Christians is the cause of a hundred lesser evils everywhere among us. A whole new philosophy of the Christian life has resulted from this one basic error in our religious thinking. With the loss of a sense of majesty has come the further loss of religious awe and consciousness of the divine presence…. What comes to our mind when we think about God is the most important thing about us. The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.

The Puritans had this high view of God. They wrote often of His power and glory. Too often today, the church does not speak of the holiness or wrath of God toward sin. We are small creatures. Our twisted desires and self-absorbed motivations are at the very core of our stuff. Romans 3 speaks so boldly to this point: we are sinners with no good in us, no purity, no wanting for God. To be honest, we don’t like to see ourselves through this biblical lens. Yet if we ignore our bawdiness, we likewise demonstrate no value for the cross and no humble thankfulness for the gift of God’s forgiveness. They must exist together.

More and more it seems the modern church, and our culture in general, want to protect us from ever feeling like we having anything vile inside of us. It is almost anathema to speak of sin, offense, and repentance in our contemporary church services. A friend of mine helped plant a church in the south. One of the goals was to be “different,” to think outside the box and to make church “comfortable” for those who have been “burned” or are just plain tired of traditional, boring services. On one hand, it is well worth it to contemplate such points; however, some aspects of our faith are both necessary and timeless. We should not fear to promote every facet of truth, for it is healing, even sometimes when it seems the opposite. One comment the pastor said to the worship leader was to refrain from using the word “repentance.” He continued, “People feel uncomfortable with the word ‘repentance.’” Jesus’ first words recorded in the Gospel of Mark contradicted this value: “The Kingdom of Heaven is near, repent and believe!” Repentance is the key to the Kingdom. In time, she left the church; though sad, she saw little spiritual growth taking place in the congregation and no challenge in her own development.

The gospel has become human-centered. In other words, the holiness of God and the seriousness of sin have been replaced by the consistent themes of God’s love, mercy and kindness. On the one hand, the greatest theologians of all time, those who loved their God to the point of martyrdom, spoke of God’s outlandish love. His merciful response to sin and His overwhelming kindness toward mankind was the joy that flowed through them. These qualities are evident and repeated all throughout the Scriptures. However, Paul warned Timothy in his second letter that a day would come when people would care more about not feeling uncomfortable than they would about hearing bold truth. Fearlessly he said to Timothy, “For a time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”

Self-absorption has become the backbone of our society. We are driven to comfort, to painlessness, to feel free of all stress and to avoid any suffering. The church has seemingly formulated their services around this basic need. The preaching of many churches today has put humanity in the center. In other words, “God is here for you; He is here to bless you.” No longer are we instructed to worship a holy God. Instead God is here to care for us. Recently I heard a sermon online from a church that highlights this human-centered gospel, summarized in the lesson, “You are better than you think you are.” The confusion lies in the fact that on a daily basis we would rather be selfish, than selfless; we would rather get our way, than surrender to the will of God and that all in all, but by His grace, we will always choose self. I am entangled in pride and misplaced desires. I am demanding, self-absorbed and impatient. All of this is true alongside of the raw message: “By His wounds we are healed.” A price had to be paid, the wrath of God was poured out. Jesus Himself says in Mark 8, “I must be rejected and I must die and rise again.” This is the heart of the gospel message! This is why we celebrate Easter and this is why we fall on our knees in gratitude. The more we dismiss our sin, the more we lose sight of His sacrificial love. We cannot value one without valuing the other.

The result of ignoring the topic of sin in our churches is that we never understand the holiness of God. Slowly we begin to view ourselves as not sinful and this causes a lack of repentance and no sense of awe over His forgiveness. The cross alone makes quite clear how destructive and detestable our sin actually is. In light of a holy God, we are not able to survive. If we fail to contemplate this or study this, if our churches fail to speak of this, we will miss out on what is essential to salvation. We are unworthy of His affection and furthermore, unable to even be in His presence; and yet, He made it possible for our sins to be forgiven so that we can connect with Him though the Spirit of God.

So with the Puritans, sing and proclaim that your sins have been removed, that though they are many, His grace has covered you and His holiness and not consumed you! His justice, instead of being poured out on us, was poured out on Jesus Christ. This fact must be our primary song. And on our knees before Him we will fall…

While I confess my guilt, help me to feel it deeply,
with self-abhorrence and self-despair, yet
to remember there is hope in thee.
and to see the Lamb that takes away sin!
(from The Valley of Vision)

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