The Truth About
n the ultimate sense obedience is an issue of the heart, of purpose, and motive. The apostle Paul stated that the whole law can be summed up in the word "love" (Rom. 13:10). As Finney said:
If the attitude of your heart is founded on God's love, then the fruit that is produced will be good and pleasing to God. You don't have to feel excited all the time; you can be close to God while being calm or even broken and contrite. Realizing this has saved me from much false guilt. Even more importantly, I no longer spend time trying to psyche myself up or hoping that the church will get me excited. His joy is still my strength; but it is no longer a focal point by which to assess my spiritual standing before God. I now realize that whatever heart I have, being devoted to God is sufficient. To quote Finney once more:
As I have said, part of the problem lies in definitions. It is as wrong as it is confusing to tell people that they should be obedient only to follow it up by telling them that they still have to sin everyday. People are occasionally told that they should rely on the Lord for strength to live holy lives. Then they are told that it is impossible to do, and furthermore that they are really deceived if they think that God is going to help them all the time. This is a very deceptive argument, sometimes known as "lip service." The tactic is to pay homage to one thing while pursuing another. In this case, pay homage to obedience but excuse our sins.
Our life should be characterized by obedience. That this seems so incomprehensible to a man as respected as Hank Hanegraaff greatly saddens me. He has already stated that we have to sin. I would like him to clarify the following for me: do we have to lie, manipulate people, and misrepresent God? This is an important question. Do I have to commit every sin, or just the ones I feel like doing? This whole idea causes people to treat sin much too lightly. There is ample testimony in God's permanent record demonstrating that He does not consider sin to be a trivial matter. In Acts 5, Ananias and Sapphira sinned. In response, Peter did not say, "Don't worry; you had to do it," Rather, he treated their sin seriously, and so did God - taking their lives as a result. God is patient and often gives second chances, but we don't deserve His mercy and should not take it lightly.
Probably the primary sin that men fall into is that of lust and I am sure that the underlying reason why they believe they have to sin is due to defeat in this area. In other words they are overcome by lust and then seek to conform the word to their experience. While I admit that this is an incredible temptation to men, including myself, this is not beyond the power of our redemption in Christ. To start we must consider the issue of desire in general. First of all we need to know that the bible does not say continue sinning until you don't feel like it anymore. But it does say put on the lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh and it's lusts. It says, "Dear friends I urge you as aliens and strangers in this world to abstain from sinful desires which war against your soul." 1 Peter 2:11. In other words while experiencing desire is a given, the command is don't give in to them.
Most people are not aware that God has used two very important words to describe the relationship between sin and desire. The most common word for desire is used in James 1:13-15. Epithumia; here desire is addressed as a temptation, each one is tempted when he is dragged away and enticed. In this passage an evil desire is not called a sin, until it conceives a word defined as clasping or seizing.
The word used in Matthew 5:28 is "Epithumeo" it carries the meaning of setting your heart on a desire. This is clear in the Greek but is also somewhat evident in our English translations. "But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." NIV "But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart." NKJV "but I say to you, that everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.' NASB In this verse the word does not imply that experiencing a desire for sex (lust) is in itself a sin. The word means, to set your heart on the desire. It had been noted that adultery was wrong Jesus here has said not only is the act wrong, but even looking at a woman and being willing in your heart, setting your heart on the desire, is wrong. In other words when we consider both passages we should see that sin involves an acquiescence of the heart. While we may not experience complete freedom from temptation, we can and should refuse to surrender ourselves to lust. In this context we should aim to be like Job who made a covenant with his eyes not to look lustfully at a woman. We should be encouraged by Joseph who ran from Potiphers wife, but fear when we consider David.
On a very practical note this is perhaps one of the best way's to develop a prayer life. What I mean is this, why don't you switch from lusting without ceasing to praying without ceasing. It is impossible to live in a vacuum you can't stop doing one thing without starting to do another. In this case I suggest replace your lust life with a prayer life. Make it your aim to pray for women rather then lust after women. Ask God to fill your heart with love for women, pray that God would pour out his grace on them, and move them to work for his glory. Make a commitment to pray whenever you are tempted. If you want to be his, why don't you let his heart become yours. Ultimately it is God that has given us our capacity for emotions, they were intended to be the vehicle through which we could enjoy this wonderful life that God has given us. The problem comes into play when you live to please your desires rather then the God who gave you them. They were never intended to replace your brain and over rule your conscience. He gave your emotional capacity to you because he loves you, he gave them to you so that through them you could know his goodness and love. I pray that you may see his kindness, wisdom, and love. It is his kindness that leads us to repentance.
What about accidents? Obviously there is no culpability involved in that which can truly be deemed and accident. In the Old Testament, murder was a crime punishable by immediate death. Accidental death, however, was not classified as murder; for there to be guilt there had to be malicious intent. This truth is so plain that is has been adopted by virtually every legal code that exists, including our own.
Innocent Ignorance Vs. Willful Ignorance
The Bible declares that "sin is not taken into account where there is no law" (Rom. 5:13). You will not be held responsible for breaking a law that you were not aware of. Some absurdly argue that death still reigned between Adam and Moses; therefore, sin was still taken into account where there was no law. However, this would render the text meaningless; while it is true that death still reigned, it was on another basis. Before Moses came, everyone still had a conscience - a conscience which was often enlightened by pre-flood preachers (Enoch, Noah, etc). They were, therefore, accountable for the light that they had, just as people are today when they haven't heard the Gospel. For the purposes of our discussion, sin outside of revelation or choice is innocent and not relevant. Willful ignorance, however, is a different matter which certainly involves culpability. We are obligated to seek the truth; if we do not, and evil results, we have sinned on both counts. My concern is with what I can and should do. Either way, if you do something and later conclude that it was a sin, confess it, allow Christ to cleanse you, and continue on.
Paul used the phrase "Do you not know" many times. He spoke truth in order to bring people into the light, then holding them obligated to respond. If a person was truly ignorant and had no feeling of conscience on a particular issue (if possible), I would expect the Holy Spirit to enlighten them through the Word, another Christian, or by way of personal revelation. Said person would then be expected to stop. I say this because the Bible tells us that no one born of God will continue sinning; indeed, he cannot, because God's seed remains in him. In relationship to the Big Picture, it should be noted that in order to prove my general view invalid, it would need to be demonstrated that we have to give in to conscious temptation. In other words, it would have to be proven that first Corinthians 10:13 is not always applicable.
In the language of the apostles, the concept of "sins one is not aware of" doesn't seem to have been much of an issue. Most of the verses on ignorance and light, seem to imply that a believer has light available to him and is not ignorant. They could make claims of holiness without being concerned about so called "ignorant" sins. The only time in the New Testament that a possible inference to such is made occurs in 1 Corinthians 4:4, when Paul states: "My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me." While an inference to the possibility of ignorant sins could be implied in this passage, it does not interfere with my own views. God is clearly the higher court, but until He brings "to light what is hidden in darkness," He has given us a conscience and His Word. Paul would have had a much clearer understanding of the issue than I do, yet it did not stop him from saying that his conscience was clear. For all practical purposes we can only live within the realm of our continually expanding understanding. Paul still went on to tell the Corinthians to stop sinning. My advice is that whenever you receive light on a moral issue, you should put it into practice. If truth reveals sin in your own heart, confess it and don't look back.
1. Charles G. Finney, Finney's Systematic Theology, Ed J.H. Fairchild, (1978), 36.
2. Ibid., 125.