Living in Assurance
Forsaking Doubt and Sin
1 John 3:9
Sermon Transcript by Rev. Ernest O’Neill
This is Communion Sunday. For those of us who are from the Catholic background, it’s the same as the Mass, the Lord’s Supper. You’re all welcome to take part in it this morning. But there are some things you need to be clear about in order to take communion for your good and not for your harm. I’d point you to one of those in 1 Corinthians 11:27.
“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord. Let a man examine himself, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For any one who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment upon himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we should not be judged. But when we are judged by the Lord, we are chastened so that we may not be condemned along with the world.”
So, even if you have read that for the first time, you can gather, that you need to examine yourself before you take the bread and wine this morning. You need to be able to discern the body of Jesus. You need to know what this sacrament is about. In our modern society we cleanse and sterilize everything to make it nice and acceptable. And therefore it often loses its real point and power in our lives. There is a real danger of us doing this with communion because so many of us, not only of Catholic background, but also of Protestant background, have been taking communion for years.
Loved ones, I’d just like to make it clear again to all of us, what communion means. The first thing it means is in connection with a piece of the Old Testament back in Leviticus. Let’s look at it. It’s Leviticus 20:9 and it concerns your relation with your mom and dad.
“For every one who curses his father or his mother shall be put to death.” That was the law. If you cursed your mom or your dad, you would be put to death. So I’d ask you, have you ever cursed your mother or your father? Or have you ever had that attitude to them whether you cursed them or not? Now you deserve death. Look at verse Leviticus 20:10.
“If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death.” Have you ever committed adultery? Have you ever had intercourse with somebody who was married to someone else? Well then, you deserve to be killed, to be put to death.
Look at Leviticus 20:27. “A man or a woman who is a medium or a wizard shall be put to death.” So, have you ever been involved in spiritualism? Then you deserve to be killed. Loved ones, that’s what God’s law says. You should die for any sin that you have committed. It goes for stealing and it goes for bearing false witness and it goes for lying and for coveting. The sinful soul will die. We should be dead now, you see, that’s it. That’s the law of God.
Now, communion this morning states God’s mercy to you and me. It states that Jesus died the death for you and that’s why you’re not dead yet. That’s why you weren’t struck dead. That’s why you weren’t stoned to death like the man in the reading this morning. That man was gathering sticks on the Sabbath. He was stoned to death. Now, the reason you and I have not been killed on the spot, the
first moment we lied, the first moment we coveted, the first moment we had thoughts of fornication, the reason is that this dear Son of God died for you. He died the death that you should have died. It’s because of that that God shows His mercy to you and me this morning.
That’s stated in Psalm 103:10-11. “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor requite us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him.” So, the first meaning of communion is that God does not deal with you in this life according to your sins or reward you according to your iniquities. He deals with you graciously, and mercifully. Therefore, loved ones, you and I have to deal that way with each other.
You remember there is a piece in the Bible that says, “God cannot forgive you, if you do not forgive others.” So, we live now because of a gracious God who has given us that sky out there. We don’t deserve to be able to see that sky. We deserve to be dead. But God has allowed you and me to live out of grace and mercy and forgiveness. We must deal with each other that way. So must we forgive each other. So must we be merciful to each other. I am with any of you here who say, “But if I am a boss, don’t I have to demand discipline from my employees?” Yes, yes, the whole world would fall apart if we didn’t demand justice and order. But in our heart’s attitude to each other, there is to be absolute mercy and forgiveness. It’s to be unending because we ourselves are the recipients of such unending mercy and forgiveness.
So, brothers and sisters, first of all communion states that you and I are all alive today because of God’s mercy. Therefore, we can only live one way with each other. So loved ones, there is no place for resentment against roommates. There is no place for a critical attitude towards husband or wife. There is no place for holding grievance against your friend or your colleague. We have no ground to stand on for that. We are in days of grace. We live because of God’s mercy and because of His forgiveness.
The first thing you need to do to take communion this morning is to get rid of any judgment, criticism, or resentment against somebody else. Get rid of any demands that somebody else live up to your fine standards. Because you have failed utterly to live up to the standard of your Creator. So the first meaning of communion is God’s mercy towards us. He does not deal with us according to our sins nor reward us according to our iniquities.
Now, the next step we take in the twentieth century is a trap into which many of us have fallen. It is the reason why many of us live such futile lives. Here it is. We say, “If God has given Jesus to die for my past sins then all He requires of me now, is to do my best and Jesus’ death will make up for the shortfall.” That, I think is the Gospel, as almost all of the twentieth century understands it. If God has forgiven me for my past sins because of Jesus’ death, then from now on, I have just to do my best and God will make up for the shortfall.
It results in a world full of people who do not exercise their wills, who do not live according to God’s plan and who have long ago lost any spiritual relationship with God. Loved ones that is not the Gospel. God’s mercy covers past sins but it does not permit continual sinning with the understanding that the blood of Jesus will make up the shortfall. It doesn’t.
There is a notice, typically polite, in a famous London store called Harrods. Harrods has several nice restaurants and in one of them, they have on the wall, “Please try to stop smoking.” And in other restaurant it says, “Please try not to smoke.” My wife and I joke because we can imagine some
guy puffing away saying, “I am really trying. I am really trying.” That kind of direction gets no results. Yet, that is often what you and I understand to be the Gospel. God has forgiven us for our past sins because of Jesus’ blood. So all he expects is for us to do our best and wherever we fail, the blood of Jesus will make up the shortfall.
That is not the Gospel. The mercy of God does not wipe out our responsibility to avoid sin at all cost. The mercy of God does not permit sin. Now you’ll see that clearly in both the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. Look back at the Old Covenant, which is the piece we read in the lesson. It’s Numbers 15:27. It’s an important distinction about sin that we do not make in these days. It’s what makes sense of Jesus’ death and makes sense of all our dealings with God. But we have ignored it.
Numbers 15:27. “If one person sins unwittingly, he shall offer a female goat a year old for a sin offering.” Another translation of that adverb is, “Unconsciously or unknowingly.” If a person sins unknowingly or unconsciously, if he sins and he doesn’t realize he is doing it, then he shall offer a female goat, a year old, for a sin offering. “And the priest shall make atonement before the Lord for the person who commits an error… (An error is sinning without knowing, sinning unconsciously) …when he sins unwittingly, to make atonement for him; and he shall be forgiven. You shall have one law for him who does anything unwittingly, for him who is native among the people of Israel, and for the stranger who sojourns among them.”
The other case is entirely different, loved ones, in Numbers 15:30-31. “But the person who does anything with a high hand, whether he is native or a sojourner, reviles the LORD, and that person shall be cut off from among his people. Because he has despised the word of the LORD, and has broken his commandment, that person shall be utterly cut off; his iniquity shall be upon him.” Do you see?
“If a person sins with a high hand”, you can guess what that is. It’s contrasted against unconscious sin. It’s conscious sin. If a person consciously sins — knows it is a sin, knows it’s something God despises, yet he does it and continues to do it– then that person cannot be forgiven. That’s what it says. That’s even back in Old Testament days. Even in Old Testament days, there was no sacrifice that would cover conscious sin. There was sacrifice that would cover unknown, unconscious sins. You would suddenly realize you’d done it, and you had sued for forgiveness. But there was no sacrifice that would cover continued, conscious sinning.
Now loved ones it ties up with a doctrine that many of us knew from when we were children, from probably our first communion. It’s mentioned in 1 John 5:16. “If any one sees his brother committing what is not a mortal sin, he will ask, and God will give him life for those whose sin is not mortal. There is sin which is mortal; I do not say that one is to pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin which is not mortal.”
In other words, the New Covenant comes right down the same line. It says there is mercy and forgiveness for unconscious, venial sin. But, there is not forgiveness or mercy for conscious, mortal sin where a person continues to do what they know is wrong and persists in it. We need to be clear about this distinction or otherwise you will take communion this morning and drink damnation unto your own soul.
The death of Jesus is for all the sins that you commit probably day after day that you don’t know about. It’s those things that you do that you don’t realize you are doing. You’re sorry for them when they are brought to light. You confess them and God forgives you and cleanses you from all unrighteousness and you go on. Jesus’ death is to cover those sins and to put them as far as the
east is from the west. But it is not to provide for future sinning.
Loved ones, don’t you see it’s madness? Don’t you see it makes no sense? I mean, if what we’re saying now is not the Gospel, the other stuff is foolishness. Nobody here on earth would think of dealing with you that way. Well, just do your best. Do your best and whatever kind of mess you end up with at the end of this life, I’ll haul you into Heaven and somehow or other, we’ll make it work.
It doesn’t make sense and you know it doesn’t work. Mortal sin is conscious, known disobedience to God’s law. In other words, you can’t take communion today and have in your heart a determination to continue doing what you know is wrong. You can take communion, but there’ll be no work done in your spirit and there’ll be no real relationship with God. You’ll be a hypocrite, just talking big but not living in the power of God’s Spirit.
Now that runs through all of the Old Covenant and all of the New Covenant. Just look loved ones at Matthew 5:17. I do think some of us are genuinely confused about this and I think it is good to clarify it.
Matthew 5:17-30. “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
“You have heard that it was said to the men of old, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that every one who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the council, and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Make friends quickly with your accuser, while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison; truly, I say to you, you will never get out till you have paid the last penny.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”
Loved ones, that’s serious stuff. It’s our own Savior telling us that his death cannot cover persistent, known sin in our lives. That we have to forsake, and if you say, “Well, what’s the difference between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant?” The Old Covenant gave no power to overcome sin. The New Covenant has brought about our death in Jesus and our recreation in him with a new personality and with the gift of the Holy Spirit so that we are able to obey from our hearts. That’s the New Covenant.
The Old Covenant gave a command but no power to fulfill it. The New Covenant gives the command but gives a new heart and a new personality to us and a new Holy Spirit today. The Holy Spirit is new and will come into your heart this morning and will enable you to obey from the inside of your heart out to the outermost part of your body. That’s God’s promise. That’s what the New Covenant is about.
The New Covenant is not a softer Gospel. The New Covenant is a power Gospel. It’s the gift of power to live up to what we were called to obey in the Old Covenant. Of course loved ones, it’s built into the Old Covenant. If you look back at Psalm 103, that high point in the Old Testament where the psalmist is touching the fringe of the New Testament you’ll see it in verse 10.
Psalm 103:10-11. “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor requite us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him.” Is it towards anybody? No, it’s toward those who fear Him, those who fear to hurt Him with their sin.
“As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear him.” Does the Lord pity everybody? No, he pities those who fear him.
So loved ones, it’s built into the Old Covenant too. God extends His mercy to all of us this morning who believe that Jesus has died for us. He extends His mercy to all who are determined to forsake all known sin and to live obedient to His commandments from this day forward. And to those of us determined to forsake sin and obey God, He gives a new heart. He gives us a new personality. He gives the Holy Spirit so we’ll have the strength and ability to live above sin during these coming weeks and months. Loved ones, that’s the Gospel.
Will you consider your life now before coming to this holy table? Especially if you have doubtful things in your life and things you are not sure of. Remember your own past life. Remember the tendency of us human beings to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think. If there’s doubt, you can bet the thing is wrong. You can bet you’re not being too hard on yourself and it won’t kill you to forsake whatever it is.
So particularly if you have some things in your life that you have been debating back and forward on, those are the things that have been making you sick spiritually. Those are the things that have been destroying your life with God. Have done with them. Finish with them today. Determine “I will no more indulge in that sin.” Whatever is not of faith is sin. If you have something which you’re doubtful about, you haven’t faith. So that’s sin.
If you have something that you have any doubt about, then you certainly haven’t faith about, so it’s sin. Have done with it. Don’t touch it. Leave the unclean thing at the altar today and go out of here, determined to live obedient to every command of God that you know of in this dear book and that He has given to you through His Spirit. If you do that, God will give you His Spirit’s power to obey. Then if you find yourself falling, or you find you have fallen, immediately you become conscious of it, sue for forgiveness before God. Commit yourself again to walk in absolute obedience. You see what it is? It’s not a fiddler on a roof. It’s not. It’s not a salvation that you’re going to lose if you make an unconscious step in the wrong direction. But it is a salvation that depends on an honest heart that fully intends to obey God, that’s it.
So, you know yourselves, no one knows you besides God. You know yourselves. Examine to see if there is any intention in your heart to continue in any known sin, and have done with that this morning, loved ones. Walk out of here with a clear, clean determination and intention to obey God in every detail you know realizing that the blood of Jesus will cover unconscious, unwitting sin. God will regard that as far as the east is from the west. He will remove that far from you. But He does demand that you have a full-hearted intention to obey Him.
So will you seriously deal with this? This is the basis of God’s forgiveness for us this morning and it is for you. Let us all stand as we receive the invitation.