Thursday, April 30, 2015

Blissfully Transparent

In this series, we’ve talked about spiritual disciplines.  These are exercises we do to put ourselves in contact with God so He can change us, gradually but inexorably, into the people we were created to be.  Every week, I’ve been challenging you to practice a different spiritual discipline. This week, we’ll talk about one we Baptists don’t discuss often: The discipline of confession.  To practice confession means we bare our souls, becoming completely, blissfully transparent, to at least one other person, as it says in our text, James 5:16.  I'll discuss those questions.  But first, I need to establish a foundation for confession:
The fundamental problem in our lives is sin.  There, I said it.  It sounds ridiculous from a modern, secular standpoint, but the Bible is clear.  Our sin separates us from God.  Since God and His love are the source of all that is good in our lives, to be separated from Him brings misery over time, and an eternity we don’t want to contemplate.  I want to illustrate this with a story that is silly, but true.  Years ago, I studied for a doctorate at New Orleans Baptist Seminary.  I lived in Pasadena, but I would travel to New Orleans for a week or two at a time, and those times were intense periods of class, reading, and writing.  One night in the Big Easy, I had a ton of writing to do.  I was eating supper in a mall food court, when I noticed that there was a Café Dumonde there.  In case you don’t know, Café Dumond makes beignets, and in case you don’t know, beignets are objective evidence of the goodness of God, disguised as fried squares of dough coated with powdered sugar.  I decided right then on my plan.  I would order some beignets to go, along with a large café au lait, and that would get me good and wired to write deep into the night. Back then, I was driving a pickup truck, and when I got onto the freeway, I ran into absolute gridlock traffic.  A five-minute drive to the hotel was going to take thirty minutes or more.  I sat there, not moving, and those beignets called out to me.  I tore into the bag…and found out the Café Dumond strategy for to-go orders: They put the beignets in the bottom of the bag, then filled the rest of the bag with powdered sugar.  In about five minutes, it looked like the DEA had exploded a cocaine factory in the cab of my truck.  My steering wheel was as sticky as flypaper.  And it was still that way when I got home.  My wife laughed so hard, she almost hurt herself.  Now imagine (this part of the story is not true) that when I got home, it had been our anniversary.  Imagine we had reservations at a nice restaurant, and Carrie was in a beautiful black dress, and that truck was our only transportation.  She couldn’t get into that truck without spoiling her beauty, and I’d be a jerk for not dealing with the mess.  My mess would keep me from enjoying a great night with the woman I love.

Enjoying some beignets with my daughter on a recent trip to New Orleans.

Now get this: The first time we sin, it does to our lives what that bag of beignets did to my truck.  And time passes, and we can’t clean that mess up by anything we can do.  And we add to it, because we keep sinning even more: So picture coffee and Coke spilled on the floor boards, discarded French fries scattered through the cab, and worst of all, spilled and melted ice cream.  It all bakes in the hot sun and gets putrid and noxious.  And there stands our God.  A God of infinite beauty and love who wants only to bless our lives and set us free, but He cannot enter into a life like that.  That leaves God with a dilemma He expressed perfectly to Moses in Exodus 34:6-7, Yahweh—Yahweh is a compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and rich in faithful love and truth, maintaining faithful love to a thousand generations, forgiving wrongdoing, rebellion, and sin. But He will not leave the guilty unpunished, bringing the consequences of the fathers’ wrongdoing on the children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation.  There is a seemingly irreconcilable contradiction in the very character of God.  He must punish evil; otherwise, He is no longer righteous.  But He must forgive people, otherwise He is not loving.  How can He do both?  That question hangs over the entire Old Testament, like the world’s most significant cliffhanger.  Then it’s finally answered in Jesus at Calvary. When Jesus died on the cross, God’s love and justice met and were satisfied.  His justice was poured out on Himself, so that His love could be poured out on us; as Romans 3:26 says, He is both just AND the one who justifies us.  All we have to do is accept that gift, and He climbs into our car.  In fact, He takes the wheel.

Scripture is clear: Even after we are saved through trusting in Christ’s sacrifice, we still need to regularly confess our sins to Him.  Why?  It’s not because He won’t forgive us otherwise.  Think of it this way: Imagine you have a friend who is more true and loyal than any friend you’ve ever had.  Will you sometimes do things that hurt your friend’s feelings?  Yes, because you’re human.  Will your friend then stop being your friend?  No, because her friendship is true and loyal.  Do you still need to apologize for the sake of the relationship?  Yes.  That acknowledges the wrong you’ve done.  That makes things right.  And so 1 John 1:8-9 says, If we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  Notice it says “He is faithful and RIGHTEOUS to forgive.”  Why does it say “righteous” instead of “merciful?” Tim Keller explains it in a recent book.  It wouldn’t be just for God to punish us for a sin Jesus died for.  A righteous God wouldn’t accept two payments for one debt.  When we confess to God, we “cash in” the payment of Jesus for our sin.  But if God has promised to forgive us, why does James 5:16 tell us to confess to one another, as well?  We'll talk about that, and how we properly use the discipline of confession, this Sunday.  

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