A Slave To Sin

Last week, Ricky came running up to me; he was very upset and stressed out! In fact, he looked downright scared. 

He told me how he'd made a promise to God and broken that promise. He was scared of what would happen to him, so he asked me a bunch of questions; Would God forgive him? Does God still care for him? Does this broken promise mean that God would now reject him and cast him aside? Would God listen to him?

His fear was real. His grief was real. He wanted to do right, he wanted to change, but he'd slipped up! It wasn't his first time and he was tired of losing battles, so he was beating himself up and felt God was in the business of beating him down too. 

Ricky has actually come a long way. He's in recovery, he's been sober and clean for some time, but his struggle now is with those dreaded cigarettes. He felt it was his time to overcome this struggle too, so he promised God that he would never smoke again. But, you know how it goes, it was just a matter of time before the urge was too strong, the stress was too much and the temptation was there, so in a moment of weakness, he bought a "square" and took a drag.

The guilt and pain Ricky was feeling was very real. Despite all the positive steps he'd made, all he could see was condemnation! He was on the verge of tears. He was very repentant.

I asked Ricky a simple question; I asked him if he'd prayed for God's mercy and asked for forgiveness; his response was funny, because he looked at me as if I'd asked the stupidest question in the world. Of course he had repented, I knew he had, I just wanted to hear his response so I could reassure him with the promise of 1 John 1:9; "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."

Don't we all go through this? I know I do! I see it all the time at CCO. We want to change, but we screw up, we make mistakes and then we beat ourselves up. Even though God reassures us that He is faithful and just and will forgive us and make us clean, we put our negative view of ourselves on God. Even with God's promises, we struggle to believe them, because we think God views us as we view ourselves. God says to us "come to Me and find rest!", yet we still condemn ourselves!

Thankfully, God is very different from us; His ways are not our ways! Despite our missteps, God is still compassionate, He still loves us, He still forgives us, He still cleanses us and will never leave us, nor forsake us. Our slip-ups are not too big for God to handle. Our sin is not too nasty that God will reject us. He goes through our deepest and darkest moments with us. His grace and mercy will not disappear, our sin and screw-ups are not too big and ugly for Him. He is a God who loves to forgive and will extend His mercy to sinners like you and me.

Remember this; God has a lot better view of us than we have of ourselves. He knows we're all slaves to sin. He knows we all mess up. When we humble ourselves before God, He lifts us up. He forgives us. He cleanses us. He purifies us from all unrighteousness. We are precious in His sight! Do you believe that?

Jesus told this parable, this story:
"Two men went up to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee. The other was a tax collector.

"The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself. 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people,' he said 'I am not like robbers or those who do other evil things. I am not like those who commit adultery. I am not even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week. And I give a tenth of all I get.'

"But the tax collector stood not very far away. He would not even look up to heaven. He beat his chest and said, 'God, have mercy on me. I am a sinner.'

"I tell you, the tax collector went home accepted by God. But not the Pharisee. Everyone who lifts himself up will be brought down. And anyone who is brought down will be lifted up."

I told Ricky this parable. I'm telling you guys this parable as well because despite what we do, it's important to remember how much God loves us. We cannot go too low for God. This is the love of Jesus. His grace, mercy, and forgiveness doesn't disappear because we screw up. His grace, mercy, and forgiveness doesn't disappear when we mess up time and time again. 

Jesus contrasts two fellas; one was a self-righteous "do-gooder" churchy type who walked around with his nose in the air; he thought he was too righteous to need forgiveness. The other guy had a reputation of being a notorious ripoff artist who messed up time and time again. People hated tax-collectors! Tax collectors were viewed as despicable human beings who had no hope. This parable would have shocked those listening, because Jesus condemns the "do-gooder", while elevating the despised one. He announced that the one who everyone thought was evil was the one who went home "accepted by God".

The reason is simple to Jesus; the Pharisee couldn't see his mess, in fact, he thought he was too good to fail. He thought he was too big, too powerful and too righteous, so he judged all those around him. Meanwhile, the tax-collector saw his own mess and repented. He knew he was too small, too weak and too unrighteousness to stand before God without His loving mercy and forgiveness. Jesus calls us to acknowledge our mess and to come to Him humbly, knowing we can't free ourselves and only God can truly set us free!

I love coming here (the Bridge), because what I see is people who are more like tax-collectors than Pharisees, and that's a good thing. What I see when I come here is people who are trying hard, hate the sin in their lives, despise the fact they keep making the same mistakes and wonder why they keep doing it. I see a bunch of folks who love Jesus, who are willing to say sorry and know He is the only answer. Like my friend Ricky, I love seeing men and women who, like this tax collector, who put their face in their hands and cry out, "God, give mercy. Forgive me, a sinner!" This is where God wants us; in humble submission to Him.

Life is hard, isn't it? I hate to say this, but temptations will keep happening, we will keep being pushed toward things we shouldn't do and we will slip up again. We don't have the strength to do it on our own, we will all mess up and fail. We need others who will encourage us to move in the right direction, but more importantly, we need Jesus to give us the strength to keep on pressing forward. He doesn't want us to wallow in grief, He wants us to come to Him humbly like the tax-collector. He wants us to seek His mercy and forgiveness, and you know what, when we do, He showers mercy on us, forgives us and gives us a fresh clean slate.

Remember this parable. Remember who this tax collector was. He didn't have everything together, in fact, he was a mess. Keep trying and don't let your screw-ups cripple you. Be honest about who you are. Remember it wasn't the sparkling clean dude who went home accepted by God, it was the despised and sinful one. It doesn't matter how big or small we are, or how sinful we are, He calls all of us to come to Him, humbly.

As we live our lives, as we continue to slip up, remember God's promises; He will not leave us, nor forsake us, He will not turn His back on us, and His forgiveness and mercy will never fail. 

A brief summary of why I wrote this: There's a ministry on the West-side of Chicago called Mission:USA; every Tuesday night they have a Church service called The BRIDGE. Their services are open to everybody, but especially those who find it hard to gel in their local congregations! Or to put into cruder terms; a lot of these men and women are ex-offenders, homeless and low-income folk who have felt ostracized and rejected by many churches, so their mission is to be a bridge between prison, the streets, and the Church. The Bridge helps these wonderful men and women find churches that will welcome them with open arms..... 
And isn't this exactly what the Gospel and the "Kingdom of God" is all about? 

Every Tuesday night, The Bridge has a host team from a Church, who greet the guests and provide a meal. The guests anonymously submit questions about their "walk of faith", and staff from The Bridge pick out a relevant question. Meanwhile, they have invited 3 pastors from 3 different churches to come and give a 10-minute sermon each about this specific question or topic. In my humble opinion, this is a great concept and ministry, who's staff is very loving, compassionate and supportive to the "least of these".

This was a sermon preached on 1/31/2017, in response to this question; "A Slave to Sin"

I hate the sin in my life, so why do I keep doing it? I’ve said so many times that I won’t go back to my old ways, and yet, time and time again, I slip backwards. I’m always being tempted, and my flesh always pushes me towards something sinful, usually anger or lust. I’m tired of losing these battles.
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