Tuesday, January 25, 2011

THE PLAGUE OF MAN'S HEART

In the Gospel of Mark, chapter 7, the Pharisees questioned Jesus as to why his disciples did not wash their hands before eating. In response, Jesus spoke a parable to the crowd that followed him to explain that nothing from outside a man which entered into him could bring defilement. Shortly thereafter, speaking to his disciples in private, Jesus gave the meaning of the parable: true defilement comes from within. Its source is internal:

For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: All of these things come from within, and defile the man (Mark 7:21-23).

The universal problem of man is the corruption of his nature (Romans 5:12), rendering him a slave to sin (Romans 6:16) and separating him from God (Isaiah 59:2). Man is not a sinner because he sins; he sins because he is a sinner-- he cannot do otherwise. To put it succinctly, there is no such thing as relative human good. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). This is not to say that all men are equally sinful in their deeds, nor incapable of doing good things. It means that there is a dominant propensity in all of us to live in defiance of the law of our Creator, although some men will manifest that defiance in more heinous acts than will others. So, while all men are not equally bad, everyone is equally badly off and needs forgiveness for his sins through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, Who died so that we might have life. “And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life” (1 John 5:11,12).

Through His marvelous grace, God has made a way for every sinner to escape the condemnation of his sin. Jesus, God's beloved Son, came to this earth to die in our place (1 Peter 3:18) and take upon Himself the punishment that justice demands (Romans 5:8). The theological term for the satisfaction of God's wrath by the death of Christ is propitiation (1 John 4:10). The voluntary, substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus in place of sinners solves the problem of how an infinitely holy God can accept people who are so thoroughly evil. The plague of man's heart could only be cleansed by someone with a pure heart, someone completely without sin (2 Corinthians 5:21). This is the good news of the Gospel. However, God's remedy for man's spiritual condition is not readily received. Why is that? The reason is that the mind of man has been darkened by the deceitfulness of sin, and he cannot see his great need. In 2 Corinthians 4:3, 4 the Scripture says, " But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.”

In such an abject state of darkness, the sinner is without God, without Christ, and without hope in this world (Ephesians 2:12). Sadly, there is no answer in religion, no remedy in philosophy, no cure in psychology, no escape through self-actualization, and no relief in the pleasures of this world. Only God can reveal Christ to those who walk in the kingdom of darkness. This revelation comes about through the preaching of the Gospel and the convicting work of the Holy Spirit. In the words of Jesus, “It is expedient for you that I go away: for if I go not away, the Comforter will not come unto you; but if I depart, I will send him unto you. And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:7, 8). The Holy Spirit is presently fulfilling this Divine function in the world. To its own detriment, the modern church often relies on methods and gimmicks to try to effect genuine conversion rather than an absolute dependence upon the Spirit and the power of God's Word (Hebrews 4:12). The radical spiritual and moral change that man needs must come from above through the new birth, which is something that God does for man when man is willing to yield to God as he comes under the conviction of the Spirit. John tells us that he wrote his gospel so that people might understand who Jesus was and respond appropriately:

And many other signs truly did Jesus in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book: But these are written, that ye might believe [or put your trust in Him] that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God [acknowledging His Deity]; and that believing [or through faith] ye might have [spiritual] life through his name (John 20:30-31).

A good historical example of biblical salvation is found in the preaching of Peter on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2. Here we see that Peter boldly preached Jesus and proclaimed that the “house of Israel” was guilty of rejecting their Messiah (Acts 2:36). The Scripture then records, “Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Brethren, what shall we do?’” (Acts 2:37). The conviction of the Spirit (piercing of their heart) ultimately led to their conversion. When they asked what they should do, they were given the light necessary for salvation. The apostle told them that they must repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for (upon) the forgiveness of their sins (Acts 2:38). This is exactly what they did, and three thousand people were born again that day (verse 41). This new birth experience (John 3:3) is more than a temporary reformation; it is the transformation of the man from the inside out, making him capable of obeying God's law (Jeremiah 31:33). Here we have the only hope for the plague of man's heart: “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Sinner, if you are still wandering far from God, won't you come today to Jesus? I read that the early Methodist preachers were called the “now preachers” because they offered salvation on the spot. No one should put off such a vital decision: “Now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). Evangelist Dwight L. Moody once said, "If I can get a man to think for five minutes about his soul, he is almost certain to be converted.” Perhaps you have never thought seriously about your soul and what happens to you after death. God wants you to be certain about matters pertaining to salvation: “These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:13). If you cannot describe yourself as a follower of Jesus Christ, I pray that you take the time right now to carefully reflect on your spiritual condition. Think about your soul, acknowledge that you are a sinner, and look to Jesus and live (John 3:14-16).

“The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

Pastor Tom