Cameron County Opening Vesper Service. The passage preached on this occasion came from Luke 8:4-15.
Confession is an idea that brings with it a plethora of feelings and ideas that vary from person to person. When you hear the word confession, do the ideas of joy and freedom come to your mind? Consider the words of 1 John 1:5-10:
5 This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
6 If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.
7 But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.
8 If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.
9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.
John begins with the observation that God is holy and upright (he is light v. 5) and from this theological observation comes the application (v. 6): Those who have fellowship with God will become holy and upright. It would be a lie to claim fellowship with God without having a resulting holiness. John then gives us the two results of walking in the light (v. 7): Fellowship with other believers and the blood of Jesus cleansing us from all sin.
Then comes the glory of confession. But before confession comes, recognition of sin is a necessity. If we claim to be without sin, and therefore without need of repentance and confession, we cannot claim to be Christians or have fellowship with God, rather “the truth is not in us.” But if we, instead of denying our need for confession, actually confess our sins, we have the joy of forgiveness already addressed in v. 7. Confession leads to forgiveness from God and a complete cleansing from unrighteousness.
With this in mind, I would like to point out the two aspects of confession that should be near and dear to all Christians. The first aspect of confession is freedom. In a world without the gospel of forgiveness, there is no freedom in confession. Without the glorious grace of God in the gospel, confession of sin only leads to greater guilt and shame. But with the reality of the gospel in mind, we see that confession leads to cleansing, not guilt. All people are invited to find freedom in repentance when Paul says “Have no fellowship with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret” (Ephesians 5:11-12). We confess and turn, Jesus forgives.
This reality of forgiveness leads to joy, the second aspect of confession we ought to cherish. John told us in v. 9 that if we confess our sins, Jesus “is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Though we deserve condemnation for our shameful deeds, God sent forth His son, not to judge us, but to save us. Since Jesus bore the wrath, and shame of sin, He is “faithful and just to forgive us our sins.” In other words, Jesus’ forgiveness not only frees us from condemnation but also shows Jesus to still be faithful and just. What a joy it is to be cleansed and forgiven by a faithful and just savior. Praise God, “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
When it comes to the freedom and joy of confession, few worship songs capture this reality better than this new song by Don Carson and Sandra McCracken. Listen below and click here to read more about this song.
Lyrics by Don Carson; music by Sandra McCracken
I used to nurture bitterness,
To count up every slight.
The world’s a moral wilderness,
And I have felt its blight.
Self-pity ruled, resentment reigned;
No one understood my pain.
I spiraled down in murky night,
Insisting that I had the right
To hate and hate again.
I am ashamed;
O, my Lord, forgive.
But then the gospel taught me how
To contemplate the cross.
For there Christ died for me—and now
I’ve glimpsed the bitter cost.
He bore abuse, and blows, and hate;
He did not retaliate.
Triumphant malice sneered and tossed
Blind rage at him—he never lost
The love that conquers hate.
I am ashamed;
O, my Lord, forgive.
To make no threat, to smile, forgive,
To love—and not because I must,
For Jesus showed me how to live
And trust the One who’s just;
To suffer wrong and feel the pain,
Certain that the loss is gain—
O God, I want so much to trust,
To follow Jesus on the cross,
To love and love again.
You may be reading this article because the title caught your eyes. To Roads Leading to Hell… that seems a bit serious. I want to reassure you; it is that serious. To begin, we see in the Bible that there are two options to chose from when it comes to Jesus Christ (Matthew 7:13). Those who reject God in Christ are sentenced to eternal death for their sin, but those who repent of their sins and turn to Jesus in faith receive eternal life (Read John 12:44-50). I want to argue that in the Bible we look closely at this road to destruction and see that there are two ways we can reject God in Christ and therefore two “lanes” or “roads” leading to hell.
Road One: Irreligion/Paganism
This road is quite obvious and is what we generally think of when it comes to rejecting God. What probably comes to most of our minds is God’s indictment on those who reject God in Romans 1. This is the one who “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images” (v. 23). Those who “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the creator” (v. 25). On this road to hell are those who reject God by being “full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless” (v. 29-31). For those who reject God and live in sin openly, it is obvious they are on a road to destruction. It does not take much to see that they are full of sin and in need of a Savior. This is not a good place to be, but in reality, it is not as terrifying as those who are taking the second road leading to hell.
Road Two: Religious Moralism/Works Righteousness
Here is the simple reason why road two, moralism, is even more dangerous than road one, paganism. The first road of paganism is marked by signs warning them they are heading for hell unless they turn to Jesus. Not so with the religious moralist. This person (maybe it’s you) is on a road with the wrong markings. Though they are headed straight for eternal suffering, all signs say that they are heading for paradise. People tell them “keep it up” and “I am so proud of you that you have turned your life around.” Those on this road are present in churches, and placed next to true believers, they look exactly the same.
Have you ever entered a highway on the wrong ramp? You intended to go east instead of west but you take the wrong entrance. You get on the highway thinking you are going EAST but most likely, eventually, your eyes catch a sign that says WEST. Then you know, “I am going the wrong way, I better turn around.” Well, with the religious road of works righteousness, the signs have been changed. The wicked enemy of God, Satan himself has switched the signs and instead of them saying “wrong way” or “road to destruction” they say “keep going, paradise 20 miles, no U-turns.”
This person is addressed in Romans 2. In Romans 1 as we saw, Paul addressed the Pagan who is on the first road headed to hell. In Romans 2, Paul begins addressing the “religious person” pointing out that they are on the same boat, or better yet, are on a similar road to destruction. He points out that no matter how moral you try to be, you will always fall short. You will be caught judging other people while you are practicing the same thing, just more discreetly (Romans 2:3-5). Paul then concludes chapter 1 (the judgment of God on the Pagan) and chapter 2 (the judgment of God on the religious) in this way:
For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. Romans 3:20 (ESV)
Both of these roads lead to hell.
Alternative: The Gospel of Grace
This has been a depressing blog post so far, and I pray you are now hungry for the Gospel of Grace- the only road to eternal life. Paul has clearly established that we have no hope in ourselves. If we give up on obeying God’s rules and run to paganism, we are headed for hell. If on our own we seek to live a moral life, we are also headed for hell. But Paul gives us a third option, a third road in Romans 3:21–27; the free gift of righteousness through faith.
21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
27 Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith.
This is our only hope in life and in death, to cling to the cross of Christ, to run after our resurrected Savior Jesus Christ. Our own righteousness is filthy before God, but the righteousness of Jesus is able to cleanse us, make us whole, and gives us new life, namely eternal life. This eliminates boasting and all glory goes to God.
If you find yourself on the wrong road, headed the wrong way, listen to Peter: “Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out” -Acts 3:19
As churches stray from the biblical teachings, they will generally become more man centered and less God centered. The purity of the church needs to also be examined next to the unity of the church. Unity is God’s will for the church and this is a large way the gospel is displayed to the community. God calls us to seek for unity in both the visible and invisible church. We can do this through being gracious to those in our church in understanding differences, as well as cooperating with likeminded churches to spread the gospel and serve the community.
An important aspect of these two things though is how they relate to one another. Both purity and unity in the church are important, but there are clear situations where the need for purity must be place below a desire for unity (See 1 Cor. 5 and 2 John). There does come a time where doctrinal differences, matters of conscience, and simple practical issues require people to split off from a church or some churches to stop working with other churches. Though Christians should seek to bring change within the church in biblical ways, leaving the church is sometimes the best option. There are many examples of this in Church history. For the first part of the early church, there was unity despite some need for the removal of false teaching. But, the protestant reformation was sparked when Luther raised issues with the Catholic doctrine of his day (as they we taking money from people in exchange for claimed forgiveness from God) and was excommunicated in 1521. Unity apart from the gospel is meaningless. If we set aside the truths of God’s word yet we hold onto unity, this unity will not bring about God’s good will of reaching the nations. Our Goal must be first to proclaim the gospel. When unity and cooperation with other gospel church is possible it should be perused. When unity and cooperation with churches that reject the gospel will hinder that work, unity must be place aside for the salvation of the lost.
There is one message that is going to bring real change to our broken community and this message has to start with you. The message is the Gospel. What is the Gospel? The Gospel is the good news that Jesus became flesh, fulfilled the law, died on the cross for us, and was raised to assure us that those who repent and believe in him have freedom from sin and eternal life. Do you believe this message? Have you experienced this message? When I say “experienced”, I don’t mean have you said some prayer and asked Jesus for forgiveness. What I mean is have you recognized you utter sinfulness to the point where you realize the only place you can go is to Jesus and when you get to him, you lay your entire life down before his feet and cry out “it is all yours Jesus!” This is what I mean by have you experienced the gospel. If you have not experienced it, then you don’t understand it and you need to run you God’s word and cry out to him that he would open your eyes and help you see his beauty and your need for him (Start with Romans 3:21-31).
The gospel is the power of God that will change our community and it has to start with you. You may be thinking, “why does this guy have so much confidence in this story about a man who lived over 2,000 years ago?” My answer to you: It’s what the bible says, Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.” Paul here says that this gospel, this good news, leads to salvation and is the power of God. We can’t save people, we don’t have the power to. We can only present the gospel to those in bondage to sin around us and pray that they believe, because if they do, they will be free from sin.
As you go about your day, think about the people in need in our community. Think about those who are entrapped in sin blind to the reality of eternity (It may be you). Think about those who are trusting in their good works to save them yet inevitably, have no freedom from sin because they have not turned to Jesus (it may be you). You have the answer that they need. The gospel that you have is the only hope they or you have of a better day and an eternity with Jesus. Freedom from sin in our community is not going to come merely through hard work and determination. It is only going to come when the gospel of Jesus Christ becomes our focus, our song, and our message.