Tired…SO tired…
Hungry…no food or water for hours…
Bleeding…smashed and beaten by so many people so many times for so many hours…
Shamed…spittle dripping from a beard with chunks missing…
Abandoned by my closest friends…
Betrayed by one…
Flesh torn in jagged hunks from my back…
Innocent of any wrong…
Condemned to die…
Rough, jagged timber scraping open wounds…
Labored breathing…
Spikes driven through wrists and feet…
No one to come to my aid…

Buried in Shame: Not Mine to Sing “Jesus Loves Me”

With permission of the author, I am posting a piece of homework shared with me during our counseling together.

People say that “intent” matters. Perhaps.

In my experience, “effect” matters more.

See, we are unable to fully judge our own motives and intent. Oh, we can mature in our understanding, but the effect of that is usually seeing how tainted by narcissistic self-interest even the most basic of our motives can be.

I sit here daunted by the task of writing this letter.

How does one carefully and genuinely unhook the barbs of shame embedded in one’s soul without damaging the underlying tissue, the heart?

I’m wounded.

It’s as if over the past year someone has swung a blacklight over my brain and the studs of shame stand out stark and glowing.  Signposts advertising that sin and abuse have lived there, grown and become comfortable. Developing deep root systems; small rumbles here and there belying their depth.

Time after time I’ve patted out the ripples, smoothed over the glinting barbs. Both consciously and not I’ve smothered them down in the dark out of habit, out of self-deception, self-preservation. Time and nature habitually worked their magic in the grooves of my grey matter. Thought pathways, synapses firing so second nature so deceptively normal, you would have thought I was born this broken way. Imprinted on my identity. Worthless.

The thing about shoving down pain and burying barbs is that they don’t dissolve and disappear. They fester. They build pressure and like a dormant volcano they bide their time to erupt through the fissures.

Swinging wildly between extremes, I found myself displaying daily, illogical anger to no purpose. A vague discontentment and unease colored even my happiest days. My patterns of thought and response continually turned darker. Whispers of worthlessness, stupidity, pointlessness.  Emptiness.

I prayed. Oh, how I prayed. I sobbed. I pleaded. I self-medicated. I ignored. Most of all I practically thought myself to death. Shame shapeshifted from guilt to helplessness to hopelessness and then to apathy and deadness.

I’m writing this letter to disavow the shame I’ve taken in and owned as my own. This toxic shame is not mine to carry and so I begin to give it back to you. I’m shoving it all in a box and dropping it at your front door. At your failure to sign for this package I’m nailing it to that old rugged cross.

My earliest memories are tainted with inadequacy. I always failed to move you. Like waves breaking themselves over the seaside cliffs, I’ve broken myself against the walls around you. I’ve shattered myself trying to please you, interest you, captivate you.

You set yourself up as supreme ruler. You exercised such power over my day to day life and yet cared so little for my nurturing. It takes more than caring for a child’s physical needs to really love them. To see them and respect them as an individual.

I give you back the shame that seeped into me for being a girl, a child, a convert, a sexual being. I give you back the hours spent in lectures, tears ending in worry and insecurity. The nights spent crying myself to sleep- I give them to you. I give you back the inappropriate conversations, the weird sexual obsessions with pristine purity, the pressure to believe absolutely without doubts. I give you back the crushing weight to obey in mind, body and soul, to submit myself to ignore my instincts. I give back to you the shame of continually feeling like I couldn’t and wouldn’t add up. The sickness. The aches and pains of continually trying to fit a skin I wasn’t made for. I give you back the sideways glances, the harsh words and rebukes and outright glares. I give you back the haphazard criticisms and the resulting awkwardness.

You take back the shame of your overactive, sexual drive and obsessions you grew around your own barbs of shame and they have twisted your soul. You take back your unhealthy views of women and men, and smothering views of authority. You take back the shame and embarrassment that colored years of my life. Most of all you take back the shame you brought on me and yourself for invoking God’s name and sullying His words and intent. That millstone is tightening.

I will not carry this shame anymore. I cannot. It isn’t in my true nature and it is not who I am.

You see, I have a great Physician God. Yes, His words are sharp, yet they are life giving. They have done surgery on my brain and heart. His words are like a double-edged sword, able to separate soul from spirit. They do wound; but only to ultimately heal. They disinfect. They bring the dead to life. His words have rescued me from the pit.

Never in my life have I felt this way. My numbness is slowing receding and a tingling has started in my extremities. Until now I’ve never had the confidence to bask in my Father’s love; in the past, I’ve always looked for the catch, the trick, the reminder of my inferiority. I’m learning to bask and to feel at peace. Sometimes it feels like I’m learning an entirely new language. Exhilarating.

Let me tell you, coming back to life has not been easy; it doesn’t happen overnight. The work is long and slow. It takes time to rewire a brain and the embedded heart responses. It takes time to recognize and uncover shame in all its shapeshifting forms. I do have a soul helper and He is doing most of the heavy lifting. Mostly, my job is to rest in Him.

I’ve been created to be loved by God. I am worthy of His love despite my inadequacies; in spite of my sin and humanness. I know this because He has told me. He has created me anew in Christ Jesus and I am His masterpiece. He has good things planned for me and He has planted hope in my soul. Hope is tenacious. It clings and stretches and grows deep. It is almost frightening how I’ve wholly lashed myself to this Hope. It is the only path left to me. Now that I know my rightful place in this world, and I truly know it, down in my bones- I can now walk away from the lies. I can sing and praise without feeling like a fraud or like I don’t belong. Of course I belong: I’m a daughter of the King!

I can now sing with utter confidence the song forbidden as a child:

“Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so…”

Hopefully, this served to gently confront you with the truth in a way that will draw you closer and help reconcile you to Him – either as the harm-er or the harmed.

Soli Deo Gloria

Love – God’s Way (A St. Valentine’s Day Message)

Love is probably the most sought-after and least understood aspect of the human experience. We long for it, we hunger for it, we actually need it, and yet those things are at the very root of our inability to Love God’s Way.

The most famous passage in all of Scripture regarding love is 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a: “Love is patient, love is kind, and it is not envious. Love does not brag; it is not puffed up. It is not rude, it is not self-serving, and it is not easily angered or resentful. It is not glad about injustice, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

Nice thoughts; great words; lovely sentiments. You’ve seen them on greeting cards, plaques on the wall, even hundreds of times on Facebook. What do they mean, and who are they for?

The Greek word for “love” in this passage of Scripture is agapē. It does not refer to brotherly love, familial love, or even romantic love. Agapē is unique and quite distinctive from our usual understanding and use of the word “love.”

Agapē is rooted in the very nature and character of God (1 John 4:8, 16b). Agapē is self-sacrificial (see Philippians 2:5-8). The verb form of this word means to love, highly value, honor, greatly esteem, manifest lavish concern for, be faithful towards, to delight in, and to emphasize the importance and value of another.


To love God’s way is to give; there is no “take” in love (although there is a “receive” aspect to it which we will discuss in a moment).

  • John 3:16: “For this is the way God loved [agapaō, the verb form of agapē] the world: He gave [abandoned and delivered up for] His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.”
  • Galatians 2:20: “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved [agapaō], me and gave Himself for me.”
  • Ephesians 5:25: “Husbands, love [agapaō] your wives just as Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.”

To “love” someone with any expectation at all of anything coming back in return is NOT love – it is a business deal, not relationship. Quid pro quo (this for that) is not love because it is not sacrificial; it is self-serving and self-seeking. This is not how God has loved us and not how we are to love others.

Jesus emphatically establishes a brand new economy for relationships for all those who are His true disciples (more than just followers). Three times in John 13:34-35, He uses the same words to express His command to them (and to us): “I give you a new commandment – to love one another [agapaō]. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. Everyone will know by this that you are my disciples – if you have love for one another.”

As we have discussed in other lessons, repetition in Scripture is a device used to add emphasis to what is being said. Since they did not have exclamation marks, didn’t italicize or use all upper case for words, and didn’t have a way to bold the letters, they used repetition. Repeating something once meant it was highly significant; repeating twice (saying it three times) was like using all upper-case letters AND underlining-italicizing-bolding and adding several exclamation marks!!!

Loving God’s Way cannot be faked, pretended, or counterfeited for long because loving like God loves (even with our human limitations) is about much more than just behavior. To agapaō someone is to have a higher regard for them than you do for yourself (Philippians 2:3-4), to have a passionate desire for God’s best for them, even at great expense or sacrifice to yourself. This is something that happens on a heart level, not just with a bunch of words and some temporary actions.

His Word includes the commands to “love one another, just as I have loved you.” How has He loved us? “And hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us. For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly…But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us…For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, since we have been reconciled, will we be saved by his life” (From Romans 5:5-6, 8, 10).

So, when we read that we are to “love your neighbor as you love yourself,” (Mark 12:31a) these words take on a significantly powerful meaning. They are commanded by God in the Old Testament and retaught by Jesus in the New.

When we give to another with the expectation of receiving something in return, we have just dehumanized and objectified that individual. They have now gone from being regarded in our hearts as a fellow image-bearer of God to a resource for us to have our needs met by. Again, that is not relationship; that is using.

In a marriage, this can be an especially easy trap to fall in to. Most people get married because of what needs are being met or what emotions they experience being connected to that other person. That is not a Biblical or a Christian model. To “love another” is to passionately desire God’s best for them, not for you.

Another important idea to hold fast to is the idea that the “one another’s” are our brothers and sisters in Christ. We are to love them first and love them best. It is from a solid “one anothering” love that the Body of Christ is able to love the lost.

One more thing: We are also instructed to love our enemies with the same love we love our fellow believers. This is an even more difficult kind of love. If you read Luke 6:35, you will find that Jesus explains what that love looks like with these instructions: “But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.”

Matthew has a different quote from Jesus along these same lines (5:43-47): “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be like your Father in heaven, since he causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Even the tax collectors do the same, don’t they? And if you only greet your brothers, what more do you do? Even the Gentiles do the same, don’t they?”

Paul picks up this theme in Romans, Chapter 5 (verses 6, 8, and 10), and gives us the baseline for us to love others – even our enemies:

  • “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Verse 6)
  •  But God demonstrates his own love for us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Verse 8)
  • For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, how much more, since we have been reconciled, will we be saved by his life? (Verse 10)

So, let us not forget that, just as God has loved us in Christ, so we are to love others – also in Christ, just as God has loved us. His love is not conditional, and neither should ours be.


Happy St. Valentine’s Day


Not Your Usual Father’s Day Cheer


“Happy Father’s Day, I guess.”

There are many a meme on Facebook, many sermons from pulpits, innumerable blogs on the internet, and gazillions of cards stuffed into envelopes that will be sharing wonderfully affirming and loving words about fathers today.

And that is a wonderful thing…for many. Congratulations to all those with terrific dads – truy delighted for you, I am

But there are others among us who despise and detest Father’s Day. There are those among us whose memories of dear ol’ dad are a less than wonderful.

You see, for them, the word “dad” means “terrorist.” The memories of dad still cause deep feelings of shame, self-contempt, and of being “less than.”

Memories of words used as hatchets on a soul. Memories of hands (and feet) that were harsh and cruel instead of gentle and strong.

Memories of a mother or a sister treated more like an object most foul than a person to be cherished and loved.

There are memories so painful that the mental video causes the heart to cringe still today.

No apologies, no heart contrite over the evil inflicted, no repentance for the death of the relationship, no authentic remorse over abandoning the role of father as God intended it to be from the beginning.

Thank God, that isn’t the end of the story!

Praise God that He is a better father than even the best human father could possibly be!

Rejoice to the heavens that the Heavenly Father is personally invested in His beloved children, even when they are at their worst!

And place your deepest trust in the love of the One who intentionally and purposefully made you to fill a specific place in His plans and His Kingdom!

In God’s divine and infinite “beingness”, there is nothing unintentional, nothing insignificant, nothing unplanned for, and nothing unknown.

When I look back at the gross mistreatment my family and I suffered, I stand with Joseph in Egypt and proclaim, “You meant fully to do me evil; BUT GOD intended it for good!”

God has brought me out of that darkness, and He has poured deep healing and comfort into my life. As a result, He has used me almost daily to pour that same comfort and healing into the lives of multiple hundreds who have suffered as we did.

God did not cause what I suffered anymore than He caused you to lie the last time you did, or wronged the last person you wronged.

Instead, God knew what He had made me of, and He knew what He was going to need me for, and He knew that I had what it takes to get to the other side of the darkness and into the light.

And it is standing and reflecting the Light of the World that gives my life meaning.

So, for those who have cherished memories and learned important lessons and shared precious times with the fathers, I am delighted for you.

For those of us whose experience was otherwise, there is a Father in Heaven whose delight in each of us is as if we were each His favorite.

And that’s the kind of Father love that only God Himself is capable of.

Soli Deo Gloria

Blessed Father’s Day

How Do You Know You’re Repentant? – Reblog

(Reblogged from Gospel Coalition Blog)

Jared C. Wilson

How do you know when someone is repentant? In his helpful little book Church Discipline, Jonathan Leeman offers some guidance:

“A few verses before Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 18 about church discipline, he provides us with help for determining whether an individual is characteristically repentant: would the person be willing to cut off a hand or tear out an eye rather than repeat the sin (Matt. 18:8-9)? That is to say, is he or she willing to do whatever it takes to fight against the sin? Repenting people, typically, are zealous about casting off their sin. That’s what God’s Spirit does inside of them. When this happens, one can expect to see a willingness to accept outside counsel. A willingness to inconvenience their schedules. A willingness to confess embarrassing things. A willingness to make financial sacrifices or lose friends or end relationships.” (p. 72)

These are good indicators, and I believe we can add a few more.

Here are 12 signs we have a genuinely repentant heart:

1. We name our sin as sin and do not spin it or excuse it, and further, we demonstrate “godly sorrow,” which is to say, a grief chiefly about the sin itself, not just a grief about being caught or having to deal with the consequences of sin.

2. We actually confessed before we were caught or the circumstantial consequences of our sin caught up with us.

3. If found out, we confess immediately or very soon after and “come clean,” rather than having to have the full truth coaxed out of us. Real repentance is typically accompanied by transparency.

4. We have a willingness and eagerness to make amends. We will do whatever it takes to make things right and to demonstrate we have changed.

5. We are patient with those we’ve hurt or victimized, spending as much time as is required listening to them without jumping to defend ourselves.

6. We are patient with those we’ve hurt or victimized as they process their hurt, and we don’t pressure them or “guilt” them into forgiving us.

7. We are willing to confess our sin even in the face of serious consequences (including undergoing church discipline, having to go to jail, or having a spouse leave us).

8. We may grieve the consequences of our sin but we do not bristle under them or resent them. We understand that sometimes our sin causes great damage to others that is not healed in the short term (or perhaps ever this side of heaven).

9. If our sin involves addiction or a pattern of behavior, we do not neglect to seek help with a counselor, a solid twelve-step program, or even a rehabilitation center.

10. We don’t resent gracious accountability, pastoral rebuke, or church discipline.

11. We seek our comfort in the grace of God in Jesus Christ, not simply in being free of the consequences of our sin.

12. We are humble and teachable.

As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.– 2 Corinthians 7:9-11

(I have put my signs in the first person plural not because it is always inappropriate to seek to gauge someone’s repentance, but because we should always be gauging our own first, and because the truly forgiving heart is interested in an offender’s repentance but isn’t inordinately set on holding up measuring sticks but holding out grace.)

Depression and the Christian


“I feel depressed, but believers aren’t SUPPOSED to be depressed, are they?”

Depression isn’t simply a matter of being a sin problem, or being a spiritual problem, or being an emotional problem, or being a physiological problem – it is a combination of many things working together that brings depression.

We are synergistic wholes – our minds, our emotions, our bodies, and everything that comprises us impacts every other aspect of us – all the time.

The physiological part is easy to address, so we will start there.

There are several studies that have been done around the world that show one of the most common physiological contributors to depression is “leaky gut.” (Normally the digestive system is surrounded by an impermeable wall of cells. Certain behaviors and medical conditions can compromise this wall, allowing toxic substances and bacteria to enter the bloodstream. Lots of things can cause leaky gut.)

Being tired and run down can contribute to depression. So can long-term anxiety. So can severe crisis (and this is subjective to the individual – there is no objective standard of what “should” or “shouldn’t” constitute a crisis).

The emotional/spiritual part are interwoven.

So, what is depression?

Simply put, depression is “silent rage”; it is bitterness turned inward. At base, bitterness is deep-seated, long-term unforgiveness.

The sow-and-reap principle of life expressed in Galatians 6:7 is ever-present and universal. And it has great significance when discussing depression.

Let’s look at bitterness first.

When we allow unforgiveness to take root in our heart, bitterness sprouts up and permeates every aspect of our lives. The person we are embittered toward gets to live rent-free in our head, and we suffer far more than they do. In fact, they often have little if any idea that we are holding a grudge against them or that we think they owe us something.

Often that person has gone their own way, never knowing or caring that we are bitter or, in other cases, fully aware of our bitterness and actually enjoying our misery. While the person we despise is often unaware of the fact, we are slowly but quite certainly destroying ourselves and everything good in our lives.

Let’s look at how we end up in a place of bitterness.


Unmet Expectations: Expectations are like the ceiling; people can jump up and touch it, but they can’t live up there. So it is with the expectations we have of others. Often our expectations are rooted in a sense of entitlement (we believe we are entitled to have our wants and needs met when we want, the way we want). When our expectations go unmet, we experience

Disappointment: Our hopes are dashed on the rocks and we feel sad that things didn’t go as we expected. Holding on to that disappointment quickly leads us down lower and into

Disillusionment: Now we aren’t just disappointed about a situation or with a person, now the shiny picture we had of that person and the relationship is dark and dingy; we are losing hope. Remaining there long drops us even lower and we fall into

Despondency: This we call the “Eeyore Level.” This is where we are pessimistic not only about relationships, we are pessimistic about our own worth and value.

“I’m leaving (if anybody cares)”

“Of course this fell apart—I’m stuck with the same idiots I’m always stuck with?!”

“What did I expect? That things would magically be different than they always are?”

We don’t have to live here long before our unrelenting anger about how long we have been mistreated this way results in

Bitterness: Bitterness is rooted in deep-seated, long-term unforgiveness—usually, unforgiveness over someone (or multiple someone’s) not living up to our expectations.

The only difference between Bitterness and Depression is the direction the anger is turned. Bitterness has an outward focus; Depression has an inward focus.


Again, we need to remember that bitterness harms us far more than it harms the one we are embittered toward.

Let’s look at the devastating consequences of bitterness in our lives:

  1. It will harm us physically.
  2. We become enslaved to our bitterness.
  3. Bitterness flavors every relationship in our lives.
  4. It is a sin that will keep us from God’s forgiveness.

FIRST, bitterness harms us physically. The negative health effects of bitterness/unforgiveness have been well-documented, with research showing a link between prolonged anger or resentment and a host of heightened medical risks. Because of the ways in which resentment and unforgiveness interact with the brain, the body’s reactions can lead to chronic—and sometimes serious—physical ailments. In fact, prolonged bitterness can make people 500% more likely to die before the age of 50. And, over time, we even show the effects of this stress in our faces: We begin to look “hard.”

SECOND, we become slaves. We are enslaved by our bitterness. We are emotionally tied to the person we are bitter toward. Everything they do or don’t do affects us, whether we want it to or not. We spend so much time nursing our animosity that we hinder our ability to have a useful and productive life. Someone said that “unforgiveness is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”

THIRD, bitterness flavors every relationship in our lives. Read carefully Hebrews 12:15 (and its referent, Deuteronomy 29:18). In both places, it speaks about a “root of bitterness.” A bitter spirit toward one person will contaminate every other relationship in our lives. It is like the rotten apple that spoils the whole barrel; like a cancer that, unchecked, destroys us from within.

FOURTH, unforgiveness is sin and it keeps us from having God’s forgiveness. Read carefully Jesus’ instruction on prayer in Matthew 6:9-15. Especially note versus 14 and 15. An unforgiving spirit keeps us from God’s forgiveness. After all, why would God forgive us if we are unwilling to forgive someone else? It would also serve well here if you study Jesus’ parable in Matthew 18:21-35.

Several earlier posts discuss forgiveness in-depth (Forgiveness – Part 1, Forgiveness – Part 2, Forgiveness – Part 3, Forgiveness – Part 4).

Here is an overview on forgiveness from a Biblical perspective:

Forgiveness is poorly understood and even more poorly taught in much of Christian circles today. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which are poor hermeneutics (breaking the rules of proper Bible interpretation), bad logic, and weaving together ideas that don’t really go together. The following section is intended to help us understand forgiveness from God’s perspective. We trust it will be a help.

Three Kinds of Forgiveness

There are three kinds of forgiveness described in the Bible. One is completely up to God, one is up to us, and one cannot and should not happen without a certain amount of work on the part of the offending party.

  1. Judicial Forgiveness: This is the complete [pardon of all sin granted by God that only He can provide to a person when they confess their need for and receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, then repent of their sin. There are many instances in the Bible where, even though God forgave the sins of a person or of the people, He did not remove the consequences of their sin (David, 2 Samuel 12:7-13; Children of Israel, Numbers 14:20-23).
  2. Internal Forgiveness: This is where we extend mercy to the person who has wronged us to the degree that we completely forsake retaliation and revenge, leaving that person in the hands of God. Our best plans for revenge will fall far short of what God has planned. He does have a plan (See Genesis 50:20). This does not mean, however, that the person is not held accountable for their actions, nor does it mean that we stuff our emotions about what happened and ignore them. That set us on a downward spiral into the same destructive lies we have been working on becoming free of.
  3. Relational Forgiveness: God does not forgive without confession and repentance on our part, and he does not require or allow us to do so either (1 John 1:9; Luke 3:8). They not only are in full agreement on the exact nature and character of their wrong (the meaning of the Biblical word “confess”), but they also invest much energy and effort to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8; Ephesians 4:22, 24, 28).

True repentance is a grieving over sins one has committed, an open acceptance of responsibility for the evil suffered by those we have wronged, a complete forsaking of those sins and anything that makes that sin easy to recommit, and a replacing the sinful attitude and behavior with the opposite righteous attitude and behavior for the sake of God and others (See Ephesians 4:28).


The Bible teaches us that knowing the truth will set us free. It is hard for us to practice good until we know what is good. Once we have recognized and accepted the truth, we are free to practice the truth. A person who does not know the truth is like someone blind in a strange place. That person stumbles around, never sure of himself and always lost.

For most of us, the first step to God has to be a willingness to internally forgive those who have wronged us. We must not continue in unforgiveness, knowing that this is a path to self-destruction.

The Nature of Sin – Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones

The Nature of Sin

Excerpt from the book, The Plight of Man and the Power of God by Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Romans 1: 18, 28 and 32

18. ‘For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;’28. ‘And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient;’32. ‘Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.’

I select these three particular verses from this section in order that we may consider the whole question of sin, at least as to its essential nature. We are driven to this in our study of this section by a kind of logical necessity. We have seen that man by nature is opposed to God and not a being who desires God. And we have seen that mere proposals and schemes for moral reform are not sufficient to deal with the problem of mankind. Why is this? What is it in human nature that accounts for this? These questions cannot be raised without our finding ourselves at once face to face with the doctrine of sin.

Of this doctrine we can safely say that it is one of the most hotly contested of all the doctrines. This is not at all surprising, for it is in many ways the very crux of the whole problem of man. There is certainly no subject which calls, and has called, forth so much scorn and sarcasm and derision. There has been no doctrine which has been so ridiculed. There is none which calls forth such passion and hatred. That, I say, is not at all surprising, for at any rate two very definite reasons. One is that if the Christian doctrine of sin is right and true, then the very basis of the modern doctrine of man is entirely destroyed. And in the same way this doctrine of sin is the essential postulate which leads to and demands the whole scheme of miraculous and supernatural salvation which is outlined in the Bible. It is not surprising, therefore, that the battle has been severest and hottest just at this point.

Here again, as we consider this matter, we find exactly, and precisely as we have done on former occasions, that the movement of thought has followed certain definite steps. And again as before, the main thing we notice is that the idea concerning sin which has been most popular during the past hundred years has been the exact opposite of that which obtained previously. Whatever else we may say about these modern ideas, we have to grant that they are consistent with each other. They all belong to a definite pattern and are parts of a general scheme.

The central idea is the profound change in the view of man as a being, his nature, his origin, his development, etc. A modern writer puts all this perfectly in one phrase when he said that the future historians of the past hundred years would probably not fail to observe that the decline, and the disappearance, of the doctrine of sin followed a parallel course to the doctrine of the evolution of man from the animal. That is the basic position. The new view of man at the centre had of necessity to lead to corresponding changes in the views held of man’s activities. Nowhere does that appear more clearly than in this question of sin.

The modern theory was not foolish enough to say that there was nothing wrong with man or that he was perfect. His actions alone proved that such was not the case. He still did things that he should not do, things that were opposed to his own interests and to the interests of society. He also failed to live the kind of life they believed he should live. All these facts in personal life, and further facts, such as war, in connection with communal life had to be faced and had to be accounted for somehow. Now it is just there that the change was introduced. The facts were not denied. But when it became a question of evaluating the facts and of explaining the origin of these facts, the new view was an entire departure from that which had obtained previously. The old view, as we shall see later in greater detail, had held that sin was deliberate, that it was something which had entered into human life, causing it to fall and creating a new problem. It stated that man had started in a state of perfection, and that sin was that which, entering in, had caused him to fall from that state. But the new view regarding man as a creature that has developed and evolved out of the animal, obviously could not subscribe to that old view and explanation of man’s faults and failures. And it has resolutely refused to do so. It provides, therefore, its own theory and supposed explanation.

We cannot consider this in detail, but we must note some of the commoner expressions of this view. Some of them are highly philosophical, while others are more practical. Belonging to the former category is the view that describes what has been called sin as a principle of necessary antagonism which seems to be a part of life. Sin is not so much evil as a kind of resistance which is provided by life in order that the positive faculties may be exercised and developed. Sin can be regarded as dumbbells which have to be lifted in order to develop the intellectual and moral muscles, or as a resistance which has to be removed in order that we may progress. It is something essential to growth and on the whole good rather than bad.

Another view regards sin as the opposition of the lower propensities to a gradually developing moral consciousness. Here again the view is not that sin is actually evil or wrong, but that it is the fight put up by our lingering animal instincts against the demands made by our dawning and ever increasing moral consciousness. It is the struggle, if you like, between the man in us and the animal in us. Not that the animal is bad per se, but that it only becomes bad if we allow it to preponderate in our lives when the strictly human should be in control.

Another view puts that in a slightly different way by saying that sin is a kind of negative state, a negation rather than something positive and actual. It is the lack of positive qualities, lack of their full development. It

not so much an activity on the part of the lower, as a failure of the higher to exert themselves as they should. Thus we should not say that a man is actually bad; we should say that he is not good. Sin is a negative condition, a negation.

And then there is the view that regards it as almost entirely a matter of knowledge and of education. If, it argues, the lower is overexerting itself and the higher is not playing its part as it should, it is clear that the reason for this is lack of knowledge, lack of training, lack of education. This may well be due to the environment in which the man has been brought up. This is the view, therefore, that regards sin as being primarily a matter of housing and of education and which advocates slum clearance schemes and educational systems as the one and only necessary cure for the problem.

There are other views that we need not mention, such as the view which refuses to grant anything wrong at all in what is called sin. But there we have the main views. And it is clear that they all belong to the same pattern and are all based on the same central idea. That central idea we can state in this form. According to this view sin is not really a serious problem at all. The fathers, we are told, hopelessly exaggerated it, and not only made themselves miserable and unhappy, but also all others who came under their influence. The old view, we are told, led to endless morbidity and introspection and often even to despair. By making too much of the problem, it increased and magnified it instead of regarding it quietly as but an inevitable stage in man’s evolution. What was really nothing but a kind of spiritual growing pains was exaggerated into a dread disease, and one of the natural adjustments in connection with the physiological process and development of life was regarded as a pathological condition. The whole of life thus became sombre and dull, and men lived in a state of bondage and slavery. But the modern idea is entirely different.

In the same way, the new view refuses to regard sin as an active force and power, as something which has an independent existence apart from man. It is rather the failure to learn as we should about goodness, beauty and truth. It is a mere relic, a mere negative phase. It is not something in and of itself. It is just that stage of immaturity where the child has not yet become the man, or where the animal has not yet become entirely human.

And the other characteristic of this view is that it does not regard man as really responsible himself – it is always the conditions and surroundings or the opportunities that the man has had. The responsibility is taken from man and is placed in his economic conditions, or his home life, or early upbringing, and indeed at times in his physical make-up. The failure is to be pitied only. He is not to be blamed, he is not to be punished. We must speak nicely to him and encourage him to be nice and decent, whether he is an individual or a nation, like modern Germany. (There, incidentally, is a perfect illustration of this whole attitude. It is seen in the case of those who regard Germany as innocent, and who blame the Treaty of Versailles for all our present troubles.) But, clearly, the most significant fact concerning the modern view is that it makes no mention at all of sin in the sight of God. It never uses the word guilt and is quite unaware of the fact that sin is primarily transgression.

Now, the biblical view of sin is the precise opposite of this at every point. Let us but summarize it. It starts by saying that sin is not to be explained merely as a part of the process in man’s development. For sin is something that is outside man, something which can exist and which does exist apart from man. It is something that has entered human nature from without. No view therefore which regards it in purely human terms can possibly be adequate or sufficient. This it explains further by showing how actual experience points that way. We are aware of a power other than ourselves acting upon us, and influencing us, a power with which we can struggle and fight, a power which we can overcome and dismiss. This is seen supremely, of course, in the temptation of our Lord. No temptation could or did arise within Him, or from His nature, because He was perfect. The temptation, the incitement to sin, was entirely external.

But it is not enough just to say that sin is a power that has independent existence. It is a mighty power, a terrible power. It has a fiendish quality, a malignity which is truly terrifying. It is a definite spirit, a positive attitude, active and powerful. Furthermore, it is a power that man has allowed to enter his life and which affects him profoundly and vitally. It is not something light and comparatively trivial. It does not belong to the order of vestigial remains. It does not merely affect one part of man and his nature. It is so deep-seated and so much a part of us that the entire man is affected – the intellect, the desires and therefore the will. Indeed, it constitutes such a terrible problem that God alone in Christ can deal with it.

Now, it is scarcely necessary to indicate that it is vitally important that we should be clear as to which of these two views is correct, before we begin to plan for the future. Can we regard this problem lightly, and can we be optimistic in our view of man and of life? Is what we call ‘sin’ something which mankind as it continues to progress will gradually slough off and leave behind it? Will the lower and the animal of necessity deteriorate and decay, and the higher and the human inevitably continue to develop and to increase? The answers to these questions are all important. We could in a sense answer them by just making an analysis of the history of the past century, when the optimistic view came into vogue, and during which its principles have been put into practice educationally, socially, and in almost every department of life. That analysis would reveal the utter fallacy of that light view of sin. Indeed, the condition of the world at this hour is a sufficient answer in and of itself. But we refrain from stating our answer in that way for two reasons. One is that the optimistic temperament and outlook are rarely influenced by facts. Like Mr Micawber, when all its schemes go wrong, and all its optimistic prophecies and predictions are falsified by events, it still retains its serenity, it still waits for what it has envisaged to ‘turn up’. Were this not the case, the last war and its consequences would have been sufficient. But in spite of the glaring facts to the contrary the exponents of that view clung tenaciously to it. My second reason for not adopting that method is that it is always better to deal with the principles that underlie conduct and actions. If it can be shown that the principles are wrong, then clearly what emanates from them must be wrong. And in any case the trouble with the life of sin, according to the Bible, is not merely that it leads to disastrous results, but that it is wrong in and of itself and in its very nature and essence.

We propose therefore to consider positively what the Apostle has to say on this subject in the verses we are considering. Never, perhaps, has there been a more thorough and terrifying analysis of sin and all its ways. And yet how masterly it is. The Apostle shrinks from nothing. He states the truth baldly and yet with such economy of style and language that he never becomes sensational. He feels he must reveal the whole horrible business in all its fullness and entirety, lest any illusions concerning it might remain; but not for a moment does he pander to the depraved taste of those who would like to wallow in the mire of the unsavoury details. What a contrast to the type of novel and of literature that has been so popular during the past years. God grant that as we try to unfold His teaching we also may be enabled to observe the same carefulness.

What Paul has to say about sin can be considered most conveniently under three main headings.

(i) His first great principle is that sin is deliberate. In the eighteenth verse he turns from the glorious proclamation of the gospel to the other side of the picture. He reminds them that as the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith, so also ‘the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men.’ And at once he begins to attack sin at the very centre. ‘The wrath is revealed,’ he says, ‘against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold down the truth in unrighteousness.’ At once he levels against sin the charge of deliberateness. But he repeats it in verse 28, where he says, ‘And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge,’ or, as the rv has it, ‘and even as they refused to have God in their knowledge,’ or, as the margin has it, ‘even as they did not approve of God,’ God ‘gave them over to a reprobate mind.’ Still the same charge. And once more in the last verse (32): ‘Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.’

These three statements show us the essential nature of sin and especially the element of deliberateness. How far removed they are from that other picture of men which represents them as more sinned against than sinning owing to their circumstances and surroundings, or as creatures who are in a negative stage of their existence! How far removed from the idea that says that sin is not positive, but rather a failure to attain to the true level! Or that sin is due merely to lack of knowledge and of training! For the fact is that it is altogether and entirely positive. It is something active and militant. St Paul suggests, if we take the verses in the following order, 28, 32 and 18, that there are at least three stages in the manifestation of the activity.

The first is that men do not like to retain God in their knowledge, or refuse to have God in their knowledge. Having started with that knowledge, they decide that they are not going to continue in it. They do not approve of the knowledge. It is not simply that they fail to attain to its standard; they deliberately reject it as a standard. It is not only that they miss the mark; they cease to aim at the mark at all, and refuse to recognize it as a standard and objective in life. God is deliberately dethroned and His entire way of life is jettisoned. As that was true in the early days of the story of mankind, it has been true of recent times. There was in this country a religious background and a religious tradition. There was a view of life and a way of life based upon belief in God. It is a view which is still known to most people, a view with which all have come in contact at some time or other. It is a view, therefore, which has to be deliberately rejected before men can live the kind of life which so many are living today. They decide that it is wrong or foolish or old-fashioned, and, knowing precisely and exactly what they are doing, they reject it and choose its very antithesis. Indeed, the vast majority not only do not deny this, but actually glory in the fact that they have done so.

This is further shown by the fact that though they know what the Scripture teaches about God’s view of such conduct, they not only do so, but delight in all others who do likewise. What proves so conclusively that evil and wrongdoing are not mere negative remains of the animal part of our nature is the fact that in spite of all warnings of consequences, and, at all costs, man persists in sinning. Though it may mean loss of health or loss of money, though it involves loss of character and lowering of standard, and even though it threatens to affect eternal destiny, still men persist in it. What is worse is the pleasure which they take in the thing itself, the way they enjoy it, and talk and joke about it. Were it the case that they were ashamed, the argument about the negative nature of sin might at least have a semblance of truth, but the fact is that men boast of their sins and talk about them and encourage others to do precisely the same. One has but to read the newspapers or to listen to the wireless to discover how true this has become of life.

But the third step is that which the Apostle describes by saying that they ‘hold down’ the truth in unrighteousness. This is the final and clearest proof of the activity of sin and its deliberate character. Though men decide not to believe in God and to put Him and His ways out of their lives, though they ignore all consequences and in a spirit of bravado decide to follow the other life, they do not therefore finish with God and truth at that point. The truth continues to remind them of its existence and to worry them. It does so most definitely, of course, in and through the conscience. It warns, it condemns, and it prohibits. The Truth is not static and lifeless. It is actually within us – there is ‘the light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world’. That is the whole meaning of remorse and what we call the pangs of conscience. These become particularly marked at certain times – for example, illness or death or war, etc.. The Truth follows us and worries us. Man is not ignorant. He knows the difference between good and evil, right and wrong. This knowledge confronts him always and worries him. But what he does about it, says Paul, is to hold it down, to suppress it, to do his utmost to stifle it, and to destroy it. Men try to throttle this activity of truth within themselves. The ways in which they do so are almost endless. They argue against the truth and try to explain it away. They deny its postulates and try to rationalize their own misdeeds. They would even try to explain away conscience itself in terms of psychology. Anything to silence its voice and to rid themselves of its condemnations. And when argument and denial and persuasion are of no avail men deliberately plunge still further into sin, hoping thereby to drown it. They refuse deliberately to give themselves time to think and to reason; they deliberately avoid the truth and do their utmost to conceal it from themselves. ‘Why stop?’ they ask. ‘Why think when thinking is painful and disconcerting?’ Thus they hold down the truth in the interest of their unrighteousness and by means of it. The trouble with mankind is not that it does not know enough about the truth. It deliberately denies the truth. Its difficulty is not that its advance in the direction of truth is somewhat slow and laboured. It prefers to go in the opposite direction. Its problem is not that it lacks sufficient light, but rather, as we are reminded in John 3:19, that ‘men loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil’.

(ii) But St Paul is also anxious to show that sin is debasing and depraves. This we see most clearly in verses 21-23 and verse 25, where he sums up it all by saying, ‘who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen.’ His case is, as we have seen, that men give up the worshipping of God deliberately and that therefore they are inexcusable. But that is not all. There is something else which is quite as characteristic of sin and its effects and which arouses the Apostle’s anger. Were men to give up God and then remain irreligious and cease to worship altogether, the situation would be bad enough. But actually it is worse than that. For sin is not only deliberate, but also debasing in its effects and essentially depraved in its nature. Having given up God, men do not cease to be religious, they do not cease to worship. They make other gods for themselves and then proceed to worship them. What is the nature of the new gods? Paul does not give the complete list; that, in a sense, would be impossible, for they are so many. But he gives a glimpse into the condition of heathendom in the words, ‘they changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.’ And again ‘and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator’. So he summarizes all the phenomena of paganism, with its worship of ancestors, sun, moon, stars, four-footed beasts, birds, trees, stones, its belief in magic, etc.. From the glory of the uncorruptible God to – such things! From the Creator to the creature. Comment is scarcely necessary. What a fall! What a lowering of the standard! How utterly debased!

But what calls forth the sarcasm of Paul is that all this was done in the name of wisdom! They preened and prided themselves on it and boasted of their advance. What can account for this? Surely there is no adequate explanation save that which is given by Paul himself. It is the perverting and debasing effect of sin that darkens the mind and the understanding and makes fools of us, or, as the phrase, ‘they became fools,’ has been translated, ‘they became silly.’

And if that was true of his day, it is equally true today. There is something rather pathetic in the way in which men during the past hundred years have fondly imagined that they have been doing something new and original in giving up the worshipping of God. The fact is that they have but repeated this old, old story, and the repetition has been perfect right down to the smallest detail. Nothing has been more characteristic of this whole tendency than the way in which men have given up religion always in terms of advance and enlightenment, knowledge and understanding, emancipation from bondage and tyranny, and liberty and freedom. It has almost become the hallmark of intelligence to scoff at religion.

That has been the claim. But what of the facts? Once more an exact repetition of the old story. And as was true in the story Paul had to unfold, so it is still true that this debasing influence of sin is as manifest and evident intellectually as well as morally, as much in theory as in practice. We can look at this along the following lines:

Consider the gods that men worship today and that they have worshipped especially during the past twenty years. The use of the terms ‘gods’ and ‘worship’ is perfectly justifiable. That is a man’s god for which he lives, for which he is prepared to give his time, his energy, his money, that which stimulates him and rouses him, excites and enthuses him. He lives for it and is controlled by it, and is prepared to sacrifice all for it. What are the modern gods? First and foremost I would place ‘man’ himself. This may not have been quite as evident in the past two or three years, but prior to that the belief in man and his powers was almost endless. Nothing was impossible to man, and one of the strongest reasons for putting aside a belief in God was that that belief was an insult to man and imposed limits upon him. This belief in man has expressed itself in many different ways. Ultimately it is the explanation of Nazism and Bolshevism, the worship of race and blood and of the State. I am appalled at times at the number of people who worship England, and I suggest that much of the heroism that is being displayed today is often really the result of a definite worshipping of a code or a tradition. Other gods that are worshipped are money and wealth, the things that these can buy, such as houses and motor cars, social status and position. I have known parents who have literally worshipped their children. There was a time when it seemed clear that many were returning to a worshipping of the body and physical fitness, and one has but to glance at a newspaper to see that there has obviously been a marked and striking revival in the belief in astrology. I merely mention also the various cults that have flourished so much since the last war – theosophy, Christian Science and the popular psychological teaching which has told us to believe in ourselves, and to have faith in ourselves. I read a most interesting and provocative article which suggested that the ever-increasing number of pet animals kept by people was definitely a religious matter, and I need but mention the use of mascots. Such are the gods to whom men and women have turned, boasting as they have done so of their superiority over their fathers and forefathers, who worshipped the only true and living God. Comment is surely unnecessary.

Precisely the same thing is seen if we look at the way in which men spend their time, and contrast it with what was true when men believed in God and worshipped Him. Apart from the enormity of sin, I hate it and protest against it because of the way in which it insults man and debases all his powers and especially his highest powers. While men believed in God, they spent their time in a manner that was ennobling and uplifting. They were out to improve their minds. They read the best books they could find, and their conversation had reference to theology, politics, and other matters which called for the exercise of intelligence. And when I say this I am thinking not only of certain classes or of townspeople only. It was true in general, and of the country as well as the town. Is there anything which is more tragic than to compare and to contrast the average man of, say, fifty years ago and the corresponding man of today? The modern man lives on newspapers and periodicals, repeats the views of others without thinking for himself, and spends his time listening to the wireless or sitting in a cinema. In his talks and discussions he is interested chiefly in sport and gambling. Even his interest in politics had so degenerated, and he had become so apathetic, that he allowed himself to be governed for years by the dullest and most supine politicians that this country has ever known. Indeed, a good case can be made for saying that it was the slothfulness, and love of ease and pleasure, which characterized the majority of our people that accounted most directly for the present war. Crimes committed on the Continent which would have aroused the whole country fifty or sixty years ago were allowed to pass almost without a comment, leave alone a mighty protest. Intellectually as well as morally, we have been witnessing a sad decline, a decline that is the invariable consequent of worshipping and serving ‘the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever’.

(iii) But there is a further statement concerning sin made by St Paul. He says that it is also disgusting. And he is not content with merely making the statement. He illustrates it by giving us a picture of the kind of life that was lived at that time. He gives a list of the foul and ugly sins of which men and women were guilty and in which they gloated – the sexual perversions, ‘fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness, full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity, whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, without understanding, covenant-breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful’ (Rom. 1:29-31) What a horrible list. How disgusting. The list itself can be easily subdivided. All I am concerned to do is to show the ugliness and foulness of it all, which is to be seen quite as much in covetousness, maliciousness, envy, deceit, malignity, whispering, backbiting, pride, etc., as it is in the grosser forms of sexual licence and perversion. The same lust and passion, the horrible ‘burning’ to which Paul refers, is found in all, though we have tended to pass some as being quite respectable! How futile and ridiculous it is to try to make light of sin when we think of the twists and contortions, the passion and the lust which are displayed in temper and malice, in jealousy and envy, and the way in which men and women plot and scheme to destroy each other socially and in other respects. There is but one word to describe it all – it is disgusting.

But again we must remind ourselves that this list of Paul’s is as accurate a description of life today as it was then. What more perfect account is possible of our sex-ridden mentality, leading as it has done to promiscuity, infidelity, divorce and the moral muddle of present-day society? Life has become loud and ugly, decency and chastity are almost regarded as signs of weakness and incomplete development. Everything is justified in terms of self-expression, and the more animal we are the more perfect we are. The moral sense itself seems to be atrophied, for what Jeremiah said of his generation can be said of ours: ‘Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? Nay they were not at all ashamed neither could they blush’ (Jer. 8:12). What an indictment! Beyond blushing – sunk and wallowing in the mire!

Such is the problem with which we are confronted. There is in us, in man, this terrible, mighty power called ‘sin’ which alienates us from God and leads us to hate Him, and at the same time debases us and leads us to conduct which can only be described as disgusting. How idle it is to think of these matters and to discuss them theoretically. How criminal to look at life through rose-coloured spectacles. It is only as we face the facts, and realize the true nature of the problem, that we shall come to see that one power alone is sufficient and adequate to deal with it – the power of God.