Growing Up Into Christ

The sermon I preached at King of Grace Church on November 4th, 2012.

“The Church grows into unity in Christ by speaking the truth in love.” LISTEN

Ephesians 4:1-16
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience,bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the onehope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says,

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”

(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended intothe lower regions, the earth? 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Too Ashamed to Confess

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If you have a sin that you’ve been hiding that you dare not confess, then consider the agony of Claudius.
In Shakespeare’s Hamlet play, Claudius is a husband to the widow of the brother he murdered, an uncle to Hamlet whose father he killed, and a king of Denmark who usurped the throne by poisoning his brother to death. Although Claudius longs to set things right and pray for forgiveness, his great guilt militates against confession. What results is a speech that conveys the uniquely, and profoundly, human phenomenon called guilt:

Oh, my offence is rank. It smells to heaven.
It hath the primal eldest curse upon ’t,
A brother’s murder. Pray can I not,
Though inclination be as sharp as will,
My stronger guilt defeats my strong intent,
And, like a man to double business bound,
I stand in pause where I shall first begin,
And both neglect. (Shakespeare, Hamlet,III, iii, 38-45)

The egregious nature of Claudius’s offense is highlighted by its comparison to a foul odor. His offense, like an odor, is invisible yet inconcealable. It “smells to the heavens” and invokes the condemnation not merely of men, but of God. Furthermore, Claudius underscores the gravity of his fratricide by alluding to Cain’s “primal eldest curse.” Like Cain, Claudius was driven by jealousy to murder his own brother. Can you relate to this? Unconfessed sins linger like a foul odor. You know that no one sees it, yet you feel as though everybody somehow “smells” it. Does your sin seem so odious that confessing to God, let alone confessing to other believers, is unthinkable?

“Though inclination be as sharp as will,” Claudius simply cannot bring himself to pray. He has resolved to pray, yet he cannot get himself to pray. The guilt simultaneously impels and impedes his confession. In the end, his guilt is greater than his desire to make restitution, since his “stronger guilt defeats [his] strong intent.” To illustrate this inner conflict, he likens himself to “a man to double business bound.” The chiastic consonance of the ‘b’ and ‘d’ sounds makes the syllables bounce off of each other, mirroring Claudius’s oscillating will and emphasizing the fact that he is “bound.” Immobilized by his clashing emotions, Claudius teeters noncommittally. He “stand[s] in pause” and neglects to act.

Do you ever feel paralyzed by guilt and shame by yourself? Do you want to deal with your sit, but fear people’s judgment and the consequences you might face? As C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity,

“Progress means getting nearer to the place you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, then to go forward does not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-turn and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man.”

A forgotten sin is not a forgiven sin, and as Proverbs 28:13 teaches, “whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” The instinct to preserve the status quo, your reputation, your job, whatever it might be, is misleading you.

And don’t fool yourself into thinking that a private confession between you and God is enough. James 5:16 says, “confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” As Dietrich Bonhoeffer writes in Life Together:

“Sin wants to be alone with people. It takes them away from the community. The more lonely people become, the more destructive the power of sin over them. The more deeply they become entangled in it, the more unholy is their loneliness. Sin wants to remain unknown. It shuns the light. In the darkness of what is left unsaid sin poisons the whole being of a person. This can happen in the midst of a pious community. In confession the light of the gospel breaks into the darkness and closed isolation of the heart. Sin must be brought into the light. What is unspoken is said openly and confessed. All that is secret and hidden comes to light. It is a hard struggle until the sin crosses one’s lips in confession. But God breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron (Ps. 107:16) Since the confession of sin is made in the presence of another Christian, the last stronghold of self-justification is abandoned. The sinner surrenders, giving up all evil, giving the sinner’s heart to God and finding the forgiveness of all one’s sin in the community of Jesus Christ and other Christians. Sin that has been spoken and confessed has lost all of its power. It has been revealed and judged as sin. It can no longer tear apart the community. … Confession in the presence of another believer is the most profound kind of humiliation. It hurts, makes one feel small; it deals a terrible blow to one’s pride.”

It is that humiliation that makes confession to another believer particularly difficult, but though painful it may be, like the alcohol that stings yet sanitizes one’s wounds, confession is the prelude to healing. Jesus endured the shame of the cross and nailed our guilt upon it, so that we can die to our sin and live. It’s only in His presence, and in the presence of His people who dwell at the foot of the cross, that we can dare to be a sinner. By daring to be a sinner, we open the pathway for God’s grace and true community. Let not your courage fail when confession is needed!

Encountering the Master in the Scriptures (Matthew 5.17-20)

The sermon I preached at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary on November 15th, 2011.

“Seek to master the Scriptures, but even more seek to be mastered by the Scriptures, and yet still more seek to encounter the Master, the fulfiller of the Law and the Prophets, the author and perfecter of our faith, the Lover of our souls, who awaits you within the pages of Scripture.” LISTEN

Matthew 5:17-20
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.