Tag Archives: sin

Is the Book of Psalms Obsolete?

Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
–Psalm 51:1 ESV

David wrote about his experience with sin and his discovery of important moral truths nearly three thousand years ago. What does his writing have to do with twenty-first century human beings?

The first time I wrote a blog post questioning the use of the word “marriage” for same-sex unions, I received quite a few comments. Among them were several writers who objected strenuously to my position on that moral question. One person, unlike the other objectors, did not try to persuade me that I had misinterpreted the Bible. Instead, he protested the whole idea of using the Bible to learn the right thing to do. He said that he was smart enough to decide for himself what was right and wrong, and he did not need a Bible to tell him. I had never before encountered someone who thought he needed no external standard to guide his moral choices, and I asked him how he knew that he was doing it right. He replied, “When it makes me feel good, then I know it is right.”

If David had subscribed to that moral standard, he never would have written Psalm 51.

I have been blogging for about 10 years, and I have often blogged about the effect of sin in our lives. David wrote about that problem, too, and in Psalm 51 uses the word “sin” more than once:

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin!
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
–Psalm 51:2-3

The word “sin” is not a popular word among secular thinkers, and among those who call themselves “progressives,” there are many who believe that it is immoral to call anyone a sinner. They feel so strongly about it that they even accuse parents of child abuse if the parents tell their children that they are born sinners.

If David’s worldview included rejection of the whole concept of sin, he would never have written Psalm 51.

David makes other comments that arouse scorn and pejorative labels in contemporary culture. David speaks to God and says,

Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
and blameless in your judgment.
–Psalm 51:4

Contemporary culture expresses scornful dismissals and abusive language for God that is unthinkable in polite conversation, let alone public discourse. The intellectual elite think they are being polite when they accuse Christians of serving an “imaginary friend,” and those who believe that nothing in all the universe is more intelligent or powerful than themselves utterly reject the notion of letting God push them around with a bunch rules. They believe that they are quite well able to know what is good for them, and they don’t need an imaginary friend to tell them anything.

If David had agreed with contemporary culture that no power in the universe had any right to tell him what to do, he would never have written Psalm 51.

If you closely examine contemporary cultural mantras, you know that the culture would never send you to a higher power in order to fix what is broken in your life. The culture believes that you must merely “dig deep” within yourself to find the power to do the things that make you feel good. When you do what makes you feel good, the culture says that you won’t be wallowing in self-degradation and begging to be cleansed, because, according to secular thinkers, when you feel good about what you are doing, you won’t feel bad about yourself.

Furthermore, if you do doubt yourself, you can simply take a poll and find out what everyone else thinks, and that should clear up your moral choices. According to the culture, when you are part of a consensus that something is right, whether it is abortion, homosexual behavior, or full frontal nudity, the fact that there is consensus means you are not alone. If you act consistent with the consensus, you do not need to do any research at all to know what is right. If everybody else feels good about doing it, you can do it, too, and feel good about it.

If David had believed that knowing the consensus was the same thing as knowing what was right, he would never have written Psalm 51.

David would not have fitted in with contemporary culture at all, just as confessing Christians do not fit in. Studies of the culture, conducted by Barna and Pew, reveal that the culture regards many central Christian teachings as either irrelevant, detrimental to the culture, or dangerous. The idea of sin is anathema to secular thinkers. The idea of God is anathema to all who consider evolution to be the guiding power in the universe. A man who calls himself a sinner for doing something that made him feel good looks ridiculous to secular thinkers. A man who believes he has broken his relationship with the Creator of the universe by doing something that displease the Creator is to be pitied for his lack of self-esteem. A man who believes he needs to be cleansed because he is a filthy sinner, a man who believes he needs to be born all over again with a new heart because he is out of sync with the will of God will be laughed to scorn by those who say they can plainly see that there is no God.

We can all be grateful that David was not a contemporary secular thinker, because instead of leaving us to contemplate our own sinful human nature and our multiple specific sins against God, David confessed his own experience with sin, and then he showed us how to be healed when we sin:

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.          –Psalm 51:10

If you have ever been suddenly brought to attention by the recognition that you committed sin against God, sin you hid from even yourself as you did it, then you know that you cannot heal what is sick, or fix what is broken, by claiming that it made you feel good at the time. You know what David knew—you are a sinner. You have built a wall between yourself and God, a wall  made up of your own will and wishes. Furthermore, the “good” feelings that accompanied your behavior are dissolving in your shame when you realize that your barrier is full of holes, and God can see exactly who you are. Then is a good time to borrow David’s words and pray, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

The Bible is full of Jesus, from the first page to the last. The day that Jesus rose from the dead, he joined a couple of men walking from Jerusalem to Emmaus. As they walked together, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, [Christ] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). David’s Psalm 51 surely came up that day. When you read David’s words, baptism is vividly referenced in David’s statements, “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!” (Psalm 51:2 ESV) David further wrote, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10 ESV), obviously pointing forward to the work of Christ on the cross, which Paul would describe by saying, “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV).

The moral values of contemporary culture are not very different from the values in the cultures contemporary with David’s lifetime. In fact, contemporary values are well described as far back as Genesis, where God observed that “every imagination of the thoughts of [man’s] heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5 ESV). That is why the work of Jesus on the cross is relevant to every era. In every age it is always necessary to pray, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10 ESV).

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Everybody Needs a Heart Transplant

Psalm 51 is classified as a penitential psalm. The definition of penitence is sorrow for sin or faults. The psalm certainly lives up to that definition, expressing profound sorrow, but it does a great deal more than wallow in recognition of personal wrong-doing.

The header on this psalm links it to David’s adultery with Bathsheba, a sin that was magnified by the murder of her husband. Jesus spoke of the moment David fell into sin. Jesus said, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28 ESV). Jesus said that David’s sin originated in his heart. In fact, Jesus said that the heart is the place where our sins are born: “out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:10 ESV). Apparently, the problem with the world is sinful hearts.

When David wrote Psalm 51, he recognized his real problem. He confessed his sin and his need of God’s forgiveness and cleansing, and then he said, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10 ESV). David knew that his heart would continue to be a source of sin if something did not change. His heart needed to be different, and he knew he could not merely decide to be a better man.

Contemporary culture would have us believe that we can simply decide and then become. “If you can dream it, you can be it,” the culture says. Every person who struggles with diet and exercise can testify that dreams simply are not enough. David looked at himself and saw the way his attitude and behavior had been perverted by the lust in his heart, and he recognized that his heart was the problem. He also recognized that imagining himself as a better man would not fix his heart. He said, “I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Psalm 51:5 ESV) David could see what Jesus saw in the heart—the source of his sinful thoughts, words and deeds. His heart needed to be fixed, and he could not fix it himself.

David turned to the One who could fix what was broken in his heart, and I find that I need to do the same thing. David could not fix himself, and I cannot fix myself, either. David cried out, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10 ESV), and I cry out the same way. My heart is a mess, just as his was, and I turn to the same source for help.

I share meditation on Scripture with an online group, and that means that when I read a text like this with the group, I benefit from the insights God gives to other people. In the group, many people recognized and rejoiced in the cleansing of the heart. That part of David’s cry was thoroughly celebrated, but one person saw the next level of blessing. She recognized that God did not merely cleanse David’s heart, but he “created” a new heart. We don’t simply get washed down. God does not merely paint over the scars of our sin. We get new hearts. She said, “He ‘created’ a new heart in me.”

That is the real blessing. I am not merely clean. I’m all new. I am like the advertising mantra “new and improved.”

Every time I read Genesis 6, I feel a pain in my stomach when I read, “GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5 ESV). Here, too, I am reminded that the heart is the origin of sin, and it boils out of us like an erupting volcano, ultimately destroying everything beautiful in the world God created. Fortunately, the Bible does not stop there. God’s story continues, and instead of despair, there is hope. David looked at himself and saw his own wickedness and evil, but he saw the hope. David knew God as a God who not only forgives us but makes us new. His experience foreshadows the coming of Jesus to work our salvation through Christ. When David asks for a new heart, he exercises the kind of faith that Abraham had, and Paul said that Abraham’s faith made him righteous, just as ours does. The author of Hebrews repeated that assertion that many people who lived before Christ had faith in God’s promise and God counted it as righteousness for them, too. The same faith worked for David.

There is only one way for us to be made clean, righteous, new, and that way is Christ. David’s prayer calls forth the same cleansing power as I experienced when I professed my faith and was baptized. God’s heart was broken by human sin in the Garden of Eden, at the time of Noah, when David took Bathsheba from her husband, and every time anyone chooses evil rather than good. Fortunately, because of the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ, every human being can safely and confidently pray with David, “Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10 ESV)

Is This the End of Humanity as we Know It?

When I was barely sixteen, my English teacher suggested that I read Brave New World. She did not pick that book specifically for me, or me for the book. It was on a list of 50 books college-bound students should read. I was an avid reader of science fiction at the time, and that whole idea was intriguing.

I was less than half through the book when my mother discovered I was reading it. I was lying sprawled on my bed, my favorite way to read, and when my mother saw the title of the book, she snatched it out of my hands. “Let me see that!” she said. “Where did you get this book?” After I caught my breath, I told her about the list.

“We’ll see about that!” she said, and left the room with the book in her hands. I learned from my teacher that Mother had accosted the principal, the school counselor, and my teacher about that book. She was angry that the school promoted such an immoral book. They made the best of things, telling me that I should simply choose something else from the list and not worry about it.

My mother was affronted by Brave New World because it promoted an amoral view of human sexuality. The most imaginative element of the story was the harvesting of eggs from females as they reached adulthood and the subsequent production of human beings under the government’s direction, along with the details of a strategy to produce people who did work commonly described in current political debates as “jobs Americans won’t do.” The element that outraged my mother the most was the “Malthusian drills” for schoolchildren and the game “Find the Zipper” in the brave new world of the book that replace familiar children’s games like “tag” and “ring around the rosy.”

My mother would be completely traumatized, therefore, if she were alive to read the daily news or see television broadcasts today. Today’s schools don’t even mention the fabled Malthus so honored in Brave New World, but they do teach heterosexual and homosexual practices to schoolchildren, and they routinely refer pregnant children (children! As young as 10) for abortions without the knowledge and consent of parents. There is no national standard for harvesting the eggs of all young women, but the horror of calling a couple of homosexual men a “marriage” has already raised the specter of rented wombs and genetic selection of physical traits in unborn babies. I often give thanks to God that my parents died before these issues became the grist of daily conversation.

As a writer, I have long struggled with the tortured language that arose after rabid feminists protested against the word chairman. When I read about that protest, I laughed aloud, because I knew the language, and I knew that the common usage of the suffix –man did not in any way injure or prejudice women, but the depths of my error in judgment soon became evident. The battle moved to the words fireman and policeman, and soon it had progressed to a distaste for calling God our heavenly Father. (Even if I could stomach the protest in general, which I cannot do, I would balk at changing or denying the language Jesus himself gave us for prayer. He said, “Pray this way” and “this way” begins with the words, “Our Father.”)

Today I read another article that records further degradation of the culture’s view of human sexuality. Princeton University has issued “communication guidelines” that “reflect the inclusive culture and policies at Princeton University.” Under those guidelines, students will no longer be called men or women. The correct term will be student, individual, or person. People who used to be called our forefathers, must now be called our ancestors. Work requires person hours not man hours. In order to avoid traumatizing .001% of the student body, the university is traumatizing 100% of the student body – minus .001%.

Someone will dispute my numbers. Someone will point out that every day some new “person” declares self to be gay or to be trans or to be other things for which I do not even know the vocabulary. Therefore, some will say, I must have vastly underestimated the number of people subject to be hurt if we address people according to the gender identified at birth by the simple process of examining the physical traits of the newborn baby. I contend that the vast new numbers of gender-confused and sexual-orientation-confused people is largely attributable to the fact that to be confused is the most popular trait anyone can have right now. People who are confident in their genitalia or their skin color or their nationality are viewed as conceited and arrogant. They are accused of subconscious demand for and expectation of privilege, and they need to be taken down a notch.

The culture today is a morass of confusion on many points where there need be no confusion. It is quite true that human beings have invented privileges for themselves. Hillary Clinton is a very public example of someone who does it daily. Historically every human being wants to be the best or the first or the fastest or the strongest. People naturally want to be superlative by some or by several standards, and that is the common theme behind hateful behavior related to gender or skin color or any other trait.

My mother was right to recognize the moral danger expressed in Brave New World. However, she was wrong to believe that suppressing the reading of that book would suppress the evil it contained. No amount of laws or policies or regulations will ever change human nature. Secular thinkers who flout all the existing laws are the very ones who propose an endless stream of new laws to suppress things they do not like.

The real moral danger of Brave New World was the way it opened the door to an amoral worldview in which humankind became factory products. Chairs and automobiles cannot commit sin, because they are incapable of moral choices. Only human beings have that capability, but human beings produced by an amoral process and spit out into an amoral world can absorb the programming “it is good to be an eta,” and never worry about anything.

Today’s evil is really nothing new in the moral sense. The only difference between today’s amoral activists and Caligula is technology. Christians in the Roman Empire were hated for their moral standards, and Christians today are hated for the same reasons. The news gets out faster and goes viral today in ways not possible in the first century CE.

Today’s agenda is to suppress any moral standard not invented by some human being to make himself feel good. That was the agenda of Caligula, and that is the agenda of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. This agenda is not invented by the people who are promoting it. As Paul pointed out in his letter to the Ephesians, “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12 ESV).

Christians in the first century were asked to look to their government for all guidance. The Emperor thought of himself as a god, and he expected Roman citizens, and all the people Rome had conquered, to worship him as their duty in return for what Roman government did for them, i.e. the emperor. Today, the government makes the same request. The government uses money as its tool of oppression. People who receive money from the government must put the government ahead of all other powers in their lives. The government wants to be the god of the USA. The government wants people who worship any other god to keep their god somewhere out of sight in a box marked “worship space.” There, and only there, may any god other than the federal government be honored. Without a doubt, the people behind this agenda intend those little boxes to go away, too, as they did in the Soviet Union, where churches became at best museums of a defunct sort of cultural phenomenon and at worst, factories or warehouses for instruments of oppression.

The spiritual armor about which Paul wrote, and the spiritual fiber exhorted by the book of Revelation are the means of our warfare. In the case of gender confusion and the associated sexual chaos it creates, Satan’s battle, expressed in the lives of people who deny his existence as firmly as they deny God’s existence, targets the creation of human beings.

That moment is recorded in Genesis 1:27: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27 ESV). There is no room for confusion in this statement. Like all the other living things, God gave humans gender and sexuality, precious gifts, gifts that were encoded so deeply into their being that even the very first cell, at the moment of conception, already had gender. The moment of creation is followed by God’s blessing, evidence that God was pleased with human beings.

The first instructions God gave to humans grew out of the blessed power he had given them by creating them male and female. “God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” Genesis 1:28 (ESV). They could not have been fruitful if not for gender and the process of sexual reproduction. That is the only means God has provided for humans to “be fruitful.” The Bible tells us that God is not the author of confusion, a fact that explains where gender confusion and sexual confusion originates; those problems are due to Satanic work in the lives of human beings.

There is a way to deal with gender confusion and warped sexual orientation. The solution to every sin is the work of Christ on the cross, where he defeated Satan. Human beings who succumb to the temptation to be confused and warped need Jesus. The existence of such sin does not justify name calling or any other ungracious behavior toward the people who have been enslaved that way. It was not Christ’s way to call people names and authorize stonings of sinners. Rather, he invited them to find a better way, and people such as the Samaritan woman at the well, Zaccheus the tax collector, the woman caught in adultery, and the man born blind were transformed by his grace. They turned their lives around and became different. They were reconciled with God and with creation, and they were not confused about the source of their moral guidance.

If the human race (the only race I ever acknowledge) loses God-given gender and God-given sexual procreation, it will disappear. That is why I ask the question: Is this the end of humanity as we know it? I don’t actually believe that will happen, because the Bible predicts that there will still be people on earth when Jesus comes back. I do believe that Christians are in for a long period of cruel persecution by Satan’s slaves. The book of Revelation makes it pretty clear that there will be persecution, to a greater or lesser degree, until Jesus returns. That means that even if the fad of confused gender and warped sexuality fades away, Satan has many other ways to assault Christians, always with the goal of separating them from Christ. Whether or not humankind vanishes from the earth, it is good to know that “neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39 ESV)

Whose Opinion Counts Most?

Yesterday I heard a report that stated that Mississippi had enacted an “anti-gay” law. Before that I heard that North Carolina was “restricting the rights of homosexual and transgender citizens.” Both of these items claimed to be “news,” a tag which suggests that it was written by a “journalist,” or that it adhered to standards for “journalism.” To call such wording in such contexts “journalism” is an affront to everyone’s intelligence. It is the obvious expression of an opinion by word choice that projects inferences not supported by the facts.

In both instances, states have acted in response to both overreach by the federal government and cultural hysteria. Citizens in North Carolina, Continue reading Whose Opinion Counts Most?

God Does Not Ignore Those Who Ignore Him

I am the Lord; that is my name;
my glory I give to no other.
Isaiah 42:8

Whether people love God, hate him, or deny his very existence, they should be aware of this fact: God does not ignore attempts to usurp his place.

The number of people who choose to deny that God exists grows daily. Likewise, the number who so trivialize God’s role in their lives that he might as well not exist. God is out of fashion Continue reading God Does Not Ignore Those Who Ignore Him