The world says, “follow your heart.” But the Bible has something entirely different to say about the heart. Also read about God’s discipline of His children, godly friendship, and how Paul handled the need to offer constructive criticism.
In chapter 13 God used an object lesson to illustrate the filthy spiritual condition of the people. He had the prophet bury a dirty sash (probably an undergarment) in a hole instead of washing it. He was instructed to leave it there until it began to rot. Then in verse 10 God said:
“This evil people, who refuse to hear My words, who follow the dictates of their hearts, and walk after other gods to serve them and worship them, shall be just like this sash which is profitable for nothing.”
Their sin and rebellion had rendered them useless to God!
These people thought since they were God’s people, that they could live any way they wanted. They could “follow the dictates of their own hearts.”
Today, one message the world sends is “follow your heart,” but another passage in Jeremiah says:
“The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? (Jer. 17.9 NLT).
So our wicked hearts tell us we are OK with God because we had some experience, prayed a prayer, walked an aisle, got baptized, or became the member of a certain church. Our ticket to heaven has been punched. So we …
… act selfishly at home with our spouses and children.
… make work or friends or children or a hundred other things a higher priority than our personal relationship with God.
… drink to excess, feel justified in our anger, refuse to forgive, or dozens of other things that God says are sin.
When we do, we, too, become just like Jeremiah’s sash—“profitable for nothing”! We negate our testimonies, especially in the eyes of the people closest to us. “Following our hearts” is our own undoing!
“A lying tongue hates those who are crushed by it, and a flattering mouth works ruin.”
Lies hurt people! But an outright lie is not the only way to “lie.”
When we deceive or when we twist the truth to suit our purposes, justify our behavior, make ourselves look good or to gain sympathy, it’s lying just as surely as if we make up a tale out of whole cloth.
An even bigger problem with lying is that, like all sin, it leads to more lying and more sin of every kind. Paul said that lawlessness leads to further lawlessness (Rom. 6.19).
Look at Proverbs 26.28 again “a lying tongue hates those who are crushed by it.” Lying is a form of hatred. 1 John 2.11 says:
“But he who hates his brother is in darkness and walks in darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.”
Just as all sin leads us into darkness, that darkness affects our ability to think and reason and make clear decisions, “the darkness has blinded [our] eyes.”
Pre-marital and extra-marital sex, for example, often affects people’s ability to recognize a bad, even dangerous, relationship.
Drunkards and addicts are often blinded to their problems. Many will say, “I can quit any time I want,” while they destroy their careers, their families, and their reputations.
Angry people often feel completely justified in their anger and abuse. Everyone else is to blame.
And just as sin leads to more sin and blindness, when we turn to God and walk in obedience, it leads to growth in holiness. Romans 6.18-19:
18 And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. 19 I speak in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves of uncleanness, and of lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves of righteousness for holiness.
Spiritual grown which is a growth in holiness, doesn’t just happen. We must choose to walk in obedience. When we are saved by faith in the gospel, God gives us new desires and we’re set free from the power of sin. But if we push those desires aside, we can become dull of hearing and our spiritual growth will be stunted. Hebrews 5 says:
12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14 But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.
Growth in holiness happens “by reason of use.” The more we choose to obey, the more like Christ we become. The more we choose to submit to God’s providential work in our lives without grumbling, complaining or responding sinfully, the more we grow in holiness.
The deceitfulness of sin tells us that we can go ahead and sin even though we know it’s wrong, then we can ask God to forgive us and that’s all there is to it! But that’s rebellion against God and you can’t be both rebellious (determined to go your own way) and repentant (willing to go God’s way) at the same time. But there’s an even bigger problem with this kind of thinking.
Also read about chocolate covered dirt, foolish talk and dirty jokes.
In chapter 57 God, through the prophet, is rebuking his people for their continued turning to and reliance on false gods. God poses the question, “Is it not because I have held My peace from of old that you do not fear Me?” We might say it this way, “Do you keep sinning because I haven’t been hard enough on you?”
Is that true of us? Do we abuse God’s patience and mercy by thinking we can live any way we want and believing He isn’t going to deal with sin and faithlessness? Hebrews 3.13 says:
“But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called ‘Today,’ so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”
The deceitfulness of sin tells us that we can sin now and ask forgiveness later, even though we know it’s wrong, as if asking for forgiveness involves some magic incantation or get out of jail free card. That’s rebellion against God and His Word. You can’t be both rebellious (determined to go your own way) and repentant (willing to go God’s way) at the same time.
Sometimes we understand the choice to sin will have consequences. Yet we can be like a stubborn, rebellious child, determined to do it anyway and just “take our licks.” The problem is that, while we can choose to sin, we don’t get to choose our consequences. Continue reading →
One person believes she is free to have a glass of wine with dinner. Another believes it is a sin. One believes it is OK to eat pork. Another believes the Old Testament dietary laws should still be adhered to. One believes a certain book, or movie, or TV show is allowable; another’s conscience is offended by it. One thinks “Christian contemporary music” is great, another believes worship has to be hymns.
Certainly, there are lifestyle choices which are clearly right and wrong, sinful and good, but there is also a great deal of freedom in Christ. Whatever we do, however, we need to be able to do it in faith:
But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin (v. 23).
Even if something is not sinful, in and of itself, if we believe it is and do it anyway, it reveals a heart that is willing to sin against God and is, therefore, sinful.
One of the key points in this chapter, though, is that we should be willing to forego things we believe we are free to do, if what we are doing could be offensive or a stumbling block to someone else (Rom 14.13). Love considers the welfare of others above his or her own (Phil. 2.3-4).
In chapter 21 Job tried to convince his friends that their conclusion about his suffering was wrong. He reasoned that because the wicked are not always punished in this life, they couldn’t say good is always rewarded and evil always punished. He pointed out that, at times, even people who shake their fist at God seem to do so with impunity. Continue reading →
The Bible shows us people, even those used greatly by God, with all their warts and shortcomings. But it, also, shows us the consequences they faced as a result.
As we look at our own lives, we should allow the consequences for our poor choices to make us wiser. But if we’ve accepted His gracious gift of forgiveness and cleansing, we should, also, remember God’s mercy and grace in forgiving us and changing us.
Those of us who are parents often pray our children will avoid some of the mistakes we’ve made so they won’t suffer the same consequences. We should share our testimonies with them in ways that are reasonably transparent, yet wise.
But could there be something we do without realizing it that might backfire as it plays out in the lives of our children?
God allows us to see the men and women He uses with all their warts and failings:
Verse 14.3, “Then David took more wives in Jerusalem, and David begot more sons and daughters.”
Remember kings had been specifically commanded not to take multiple wives (Deut. 17.17). Even though God allowed him to do so, He didn’t condone it. And the history of his life and family reveals the horrible consequences, including: infighting, jealousy, incest, and murder. So don’t be tempted to think the men and women in the Bible somehow got a pass on sin.
As a pastor friend of ours used to say, “You can choose to sin, but you don’t get to choose the consequences.”
Someone else has said:
“Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay”– unknown
The title of this psalm is “A Contemplation of Asaph.” A contemplation is “something to think about.”
Verse 4 reminds the people to tell their children the stories of their history and what God had done. Verses 6-7:
6 That the generation to come might know them, The children who would be born, That they may arise and declare them to their children, 7 That they may set their hope in God, And not forget the works of God, But keep His commandments.
We, too, should tell our stories to our children, being “reasonably” transparent about our own mistakes. I say “reasonably” transparent because they don’t need all the gory details. Make sure what you share is age appropriate.
We should remind them of God’s grace, mercy, and blessings in our lives, even though in many cases, He allowed us to suffer the consequences of our foolish or sinful behavior.
7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. 8 For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life (Gal. 6.7-8).
Share the grace and mercy of God in saving you and setting your feet on the right path.
We should be transparent, too, when we sin or have sinned against them in some way, either directly or indirectly by arguing or acting selfishly in front of them. We should be willing to admit our sins and seek their forgiveness.
A Word of Caution
I’d like to offer a word of caution about sharing your past with your children. First ask yourself about your own attitude toward Your sinful past. Kevin Johnson who co-wrote The Peacemaker Student Edition says: Continue reading →
What if God called you or I to suffer for our faith or to live under some kind of oppression? Would we trust Him and choose to live righteously and show His love to those around us?
On the other hand, even under the best of circumstances, sinful thoughts like discontent, envy, criticism and bitterness can cause us to justify all kinds of sinful behaviors. Those sins we think we harbor in our hearts and minds can send us into a downward slide into things we never could have imagined, as we’ll see in 2 Kings 6.
Chapter 5.2-3 really amazes me and has a great message for us.
“And the Syrians had gone out on raids, and had brought back captive a young girl from the land of Israel. She waited on Naaman’s wife. Then she said to her mistress, ‘If only my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria! For he would heal him of his leprosy.'”
Here’s a young girl who had been ripped away from her family and life as she knew it, forced to work as a slave, and yet, look at her heart attitude—one of loyalty and concern for the people under whose authority God had placed her.
Why would God allow that to happen to her in the first place?
For the same reason He allowed Joseph to be sold into slavery and carried off to a foreign land—to fulfill His plans and purposes AND to bless those He uses. We need to remember that our good and His glory are always connected.
13 And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.”15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; 16 having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. 17 For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil (1 Pet. 3.13-17).
Because of this little servant girl, who lived her life out of “the hope that [was] in [her],” Naaman would come to know the One True God.
Another passage that spoke to me was 2 Kings 5.25-26. After Naaman had gone to the Prophet and been healed, he offered Elisha gifts of silver and clothing, but Elisha had refused them. After he left, Elisha’s servant Gehazi followed him, told him that the Prophet had changed his mind, and had greedily taken the gifts.
“Now he went in and stood before his master. Elisha said to him, ‘Where did you go, Gehazi?’ And he said, ‘Your servant did not go anywhere.’ Then he said to him, ‘Did not my heart go with you when the man turned back from his chariot to meet you?’ …”
“Did not my heart go with you …” It’s such a blessing to see those you have led to the Lord or discipled grow and walk in the truth, but painful to see them walk away from the truth.
How Elisha’s heart must have been broken to see Gehazi, who had seen so many of God’s miracles, turn his back on God for monetary gain!
How easily we can get on a downward slide into sin. We first need to realize that we can’t play around with sinful thoughts. Thoughts of discontent, envy and criticism can easily cause us to justify taking what we think we deserve or some other sinful behavior or response.
If not repented of and forsaken one sin leads to another and to another (Rom. 6.19) as we see in 2 Kings 6.
Chapter 6 recounts a very disturbing story of how the Northern Kingdom’s descent into sin and idolatry had brought them to the depths of human depravity. Samaria was under siege and food had become so scarce that the people were starving. Verses 26-29:
“Then, as the king of Israel was passing by on the wall, a woman cried out to him, saying, ‘Help, my lord, O king!’ And he said, ‘If the LORD does not help you, where can I find help for you? From the threshing floor or from the winepress?’ Then the king said to her, ‘What is troubling you?’ And she answered, ‘This woman said to me, “Give your son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow.” So we boiled my son, and ate him. And I said to her on the next day, “Give your son, that we may eat him”; but she has hidden her son.'”
Can you imagine this, even under starvation conditions? The first thing that struck me was the woman’s lack of shame! She didn’t mind telling the king what they had done!
But as I thought about this passage and how shocking it is, is it that different from women today who allow their boyfriends to abuse or even kill their babies or children. And others who do so themselves.
Neither should we lose sight of the fact that there is a message in this for us, too. It’s so tempting to get self-righteous and think: Continue reading →
Are you playing around with some sinful thought or thinking about something from your past?
Sin is not something to be played with. In our pride we think we can handle it and it won’t get a hold on us. But sin has invisible hooks that can drag us down and take us places we never intended to go.
Sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay. – unknown
We see an example of this in today’s Old Testament reading. Eli’s two sons, both priests, were stealing the sacrifices and sleeping with women in the doorway of the tabernacle. How could that happen? And, more importantly, could it happen to us?
1 Samuel 1-3
Sin’s Invisible Hooks
1 Samuel 1-3:
Multiple Wives: Provocation & Ridicule
There’s so much in these 3 chapters! First once again, there’s the multiple wives issue. I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating, God never presents it as a good thing. He always shows the conflicts and problems that resulted.
¹ Now there was a certain man of Ramathaim Zophim, of the mountains of Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah the son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. 2 And he had two wives: the name of one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.
4 And whenever the time came for Elkanah to make an offering, he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and to all her sons and daughters. 5 But to Hannah he would give a double portion, for he loved Hannah, although the Lord had closed her womb. 6 And her rival also provoked her severely, to make her miserable, because the Lord had closed her womb. 7 So it was, year by year, when she went up to the house of the Lord, that she provoked her; therefore she wept and did not eat.
It appears Hannah was Elhanah’s favorite. That may have provoked Peninnah to jealousy (not an excuse, by the way). In any case, she ridiculed Hannah because of her barrenness. Elhanah may have been a little provoked and frustrated himself. And he, certainly, doesn’t seem to understand Hannah’s longing for a son.
“Then Elkanah her husband said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep? Why do you not eat? And why is your heart grieved? Am I not better to you than ten sons?” (1.8).
This was never the way God intended marriage to be.
11 Then she made a vow and said, “O Lord of hosts, if You will indeed look on the affliction of Your maidservant and remember me, and not forget Your maidservant, but will give Your maidservant a male child, then I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life, and no razor shall come upon his head.”
In the midst of it all, God heard the prayer of His humble servant, Hannah, and gave her a son. Notice how this faithful woman kept her vow to the Lord:
“Now when she had weaned him, she took him up with her … and brought him to the house of the LORD in Shiloh.. And the child was young … For this child I prayed, and the LORD has granted me my petition which I asked of Him. Therefore I also have lent him to the LORD; as long as he lives he shall be lent to the LORD.” So they worshiped the LORD there” (vv.24-28).
Her son, by the way, was Samuel. He would become the first Prophet mentioned more than just in passing and would greatly influence the nation and God’s people. We will read more of his story as we continue through the Old Testament.
God’s Judgment on Willful, Unrepentant Sin
Next there’s the sad story of Eli and his two ungodly sons in chapters 2 & 3. All three were priests. Eli knew that his sons were stealing the part of the sacrifices that belonged to God and sleeping with women who came to the tabernacle, yet he failed to deal decisively with them. The boys themselves had so hardened their hearts through their sin and disobedience that “the Lord desired to kill them” (1 Sam 2.25) and God added His judicial hardening to their willful hardening by removing His restraining grace.
Romans 1 explains it this way:
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (emphasis added)
There is enough of God’s truth revealed through creation to make us all responsible for our actions. It’s not that we don’t know the truth, rather we choose to suppress it.
22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.
24 Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, 25 who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen.
This is sometimes called the downward spiral of sin. These two priests, not only had the truth revealed through general revelation (creation, including our consciences), but they knew God’s law. Yet their hearts were darkened by their own sin and then “God gave them up” (removed some of His restraining grace).
26 For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. 27 Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due.
If we continue down that path of disobedience, God will remove even more of His restraining grace.
28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; 29 being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, 30 backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; 32 who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them (emphasis added).
Finally, He will give us over to our own sinful cravings as He did with Eli’s sons.
Sin’s Invisible Hooks
How did these two priests end up where they did? How did it start? What compromises did they make in their thoughts and attitudes along the way? How did they end up sleeping with women in the tabernacle? And can that kind of thing happen to us? Continue reading →
Sin’s Bizarre End: Today we wind up one of the saddest periods is Israel’s history—to quote John MacArthur, “Judges 17-21 vividly demonstrates how bizarre and deep sin can become when people throw off the authority of God …”
The consequences of rejecting His authority are not pretty. As one sin leads to another, the results are sad, costly, and sometimes downright bizarre. The book of Judges ends with several examples, including how to get your relatives attention and how to get a wife.
Can you imagine telling some cousins, we’re sorry you don’t have any women to marry, but some of our other cousins are having a party and the girls will be out back dancing. So just grab some of them and we’ll look the other way!? Or how about offering your virgin daughter to a bunch of rapists or shaking up your complacent relatives by sending a part of your murdered wife’s body to each family. It makes you wonder why the human race has even survived this long … only because of the grace of God!
Our perception, the filter through which we “see” everything has a tremendous effect on our lives. I often tell people in counseling that we are affected much more by what we “think about” what happens to us that what actually happens to us.
So how do you view the events of your life? What is your filter? Are you looking through the lens of Scripture or through the world’s lens? Are you seeing through the sovereignty of God or through a self-focused lens?
Verse 34, “The lamp of the body is the eye. Therefore, when your eye is good, your whole body also is full of light. But when your eye is bad, your body also is full of darkness.”
John MacArthur in his Daily Bible says, “The problem was their perception, not a lack of light.”
Our perception, the filter through which we “see” everything has a tremendous effect on our lives. I often tell people in counseling that we are affected much more by what we “think about” what happens to us that what actually happens to us.
As believers and children of the Sovereign God of the Universe, we should filter everything through the lens of Scripture beginning with verses like Romans 8.28-29:
“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.”
When we’re tempted to compare ourselves to someone else financially, socially or career wise, do we allow envy to get a foothold or do we trust our loving heavenly Father to know what’s best for us?
When we must forgive – again – do we remember how much we’ve been forgiven and forgive graciously, or do we hold a grudge, give the silent treatment, or hold out for proof the other person really means it? Continue reading →
The Israelites had just had a great victory at Jericho. Next on the battle plan was Ai, a small town that should have been easily defeated. Instead, they were routed and 36 men died because of one man’s sin. Could you or I be experiencing defeat because of sinful attitudes or actions? What did one pastor mean when he warned about where we park our carriages?
In chapter 7 the Nation of Israel had just had a great victory at Jericho. But something happened between there and the town of Ai. Ai was a small town that should have been easily defeated. Instead, they were routed and 36 men died, all because of one man’s greed.
¹ But the children of Israel committed a trespass regarding the accursed things, for Achan the son of Carmi, the son of Zabdi, the son of Zerah, of the tribe of Judah, took of the accursed things; so the anger of the Lord burned against the children of Israel.
4 So about three thousand men went up there from the people, but they fled before the men of Ai. 5 And the men of Ai struck down about thirty-six men, for they chased them from before the gate as far as Shebarim, and struck them down on the descent; therefore the hearts of the people melted and became like water.
6 Then Joshua tore his clothes, and fell to the earth on his face before the ark of the Lord until evening, he and the elders of Israel; and they put dust on their heads. 7 And Joshua said, “Alas, Lord God, why have You brought this people over the Jordan at all—to deliver us into the hand of the Amorites, to destroy us?
10 So the Lord said to Joshua: “Get up! Why do you lie thus on your face? 11 Israel has sinned, and they have also transgressed My covenant which I commanded them. For they have even taken some of the accursed things, and have both stolen and deceived; and they have also put it among their own stuff.
So often, we think our sins are no big deal. We minimize, justify, or explain them away. Perhaps Achan was no different. I wonder how he justified taking what God had forbidden. Because it was going to be destroyed anyway? Because he thought he deserved it? Because no one would know?
And, like Achan, we think our sins only affect us. But, just as then, they affect others, often those closest to us. His whole family died and the society as a whole suffered. Remember 36 men died in the battle.
Is there something you need to see, not just as a minor problem, but as sin in your own life? If so, take it to God, confess it as sin, humbly ask for His help and make a plan to change your thinking and behavior in the future. Make yourself accountable to someone.
Plan to Obey God
Start with a plan to change your thinking by renewing your mind. Make time to study and meditate on what God’s Word has to say about that area of your life. Take Him at His Word, believe He’s right and you’re wrong if your thinking is not in line with His Word (Is. 55.8-9; Rom. 12.1-2; Eph. 4.23).
Then make an action plan. How are you going to respond to that temptation in the future? When the thoughts come, what verse of Scripture will be your “sword of the Spirit” (Eph. 6.17)? What do you need to do to “make no provision for the flesh” (Rom. 13.14)? “Burn your bridges” where sin is concerned. Don’t hang on to things you shouldn’t. Don’t keep mementos and reminders.
If you are tempted by an inappropriate relationship, don’t deceive yourself by thinking you can “just be friends.” Stop having any contact with that person! Don’t keep that phone number—just in case! Again, make yourself accountable to someone. Continue reading →