So, You've Done It AgainDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | April 27, 2003
Selected highlights from this sermon
It’s never safe to sin. When we’re disobedient, God can bring roadblocks and trials into our lives to get our attention. And though God is willing and able to forgive our sins, the consequences continue on—sometimes until we pass from this life into the next.
Don’t be discouraged. We can’t change what happened in the past, but we can change the future by agreeing with God and discarding our sinful habits with habits of righteousness.
“Now if I sin in a big way, I can be forgiven in a big way, and then I can talk about God’s grace in a very big way.” (chuckles) Those are the words of a college student who just began to understand the meaning of grace.
The question before us today is, “How does God deal with people who take advantage of His grace, once they understand it?” And understanding grace is the beginning of the Gospel. What about the man who was going to give his wife an abortion, a Christian man and a medical student? And before he did he prayed this prayer. He said, “Oh God, forgive the sin that I am about to commit, but guide my hand.” His wife happened to die in the procedure, and that’s why this story that I’m telling you came to light.
Now the reason I’m preaching this message is… If you recall, this is a series of messages titled After You’ve Blown It – Reconnecting with God and with Others. The reason I preach it is because the last two messages in the series, if you remember, had to do with God’s matchless grace, the fact that God forgives us and takes all the guilt away. And there’s no one who is here today who has sunk so deeply but that God can cleanse you and forgive you and take your sin and cast it into the very depths of the sea.
But, you know, after hearing that, it might be that someone says, “Yeah, but… So I can take advantage of God’s grace? I can simply presume that God is so good that He’s going to forgive me anyway? It’s safe to sin?” So this message is a warning to tell you why, even after you understand grace, it is never safe to sin.
When the Apostle Paul was writing the book of Galatians, and I invite you to take your Bibles and turn to that New Testament book, he was writing to a church that was in danger of being engulfed in legalism. Legalism was the view that grace wasn’t totally to be received. It had to be combined with the Law, and so there were those who said, “Yes, we are saved by grace, but actually we’re saved by the Law also.” And Paul is writing against that and saying, “That’s wrong. Don’t go there.”
But he was also well aware that there were some people who were going to say, “Well, this really is great news. What we can do is to sin and get by because God is so gracious, He’ll forgive us anyway.” And you know, there are people today on both sides of the spectrum. There are those who say when we explain the Gospel to them and say, “Did you know that it’s possible for you to know that your sins are forgiven, and when you die, you will go to heaven, and you can have that assurance?” they will say, “Wait a moment. Don’t you dare tell people that, because the minute you tell people that they’re going to go out and believe on Jesus and then sin to their fill.” And so what they are is stingy on grace. Paul would say, “Don’t do that. Don’t ever be stingy on grace.”
But at the same time what he’s saying is, “Don’t you dare think that what I’m saying gives you license to sin.” I’m now in Galatians 5:13: “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Don’t you misunderstand. Don’t misuse grace either.
Now God’s answer for the fact that we are prone to sin, even after we have believed on Christ as Savior, really comes in two parts. The first part of the answer is let’s recognize that salvation means a change of our very nature. Before we trusted Christ as Savior we loved sin. Sin with all of its desires captivated us. Now that we’ve accepted Christ as Savior we have a whole new set of desires. For example, we love God.
There was a graduate student over in Europe who was involved in an immoral relationship while his wife was here in America, and a friend of mine said to him, “You know that God sees what you’re doing.” And he said, “Well, of course, God sees it but He’ll forgive me. That’s his job.” Do you think that person was actually born again? I don’t think so. That’s not the way a Christian talks. A Christian can be caught in sin, but when he’s caught in sin he is grieved because he has grieved the blessed Holy Spirit of God. He’s not flippant about God’s forgiveness, so God says the first answer is, “I actually give you a new heart.”
In the Bible you have clean and unclean animals. A sheep is presented as a clean animal. A sheep doesn’t like to get its fur dirty. As a matter of fact, it loves quiet waters (That’s why it says that in Psalm 23.) so that it won’t get its wool wet. But a pig… We all know that a pig is a dirty animal, an animal that loves garbage. Now you could take a pig, you could wash a pig, you could blow dry a pig, you could put a bow tie on a pig, you could give a pig a lecture on the benefits of cleanliness and remind him that cleanliness is next to godliness. But the moment he’s free, he’ll find dirt and mud. There’s only one way to change the pig and that is to give him the nature of a sheep.
When God converts us He gives us a new nature with new desires, a new love for God, a new love for righteousness. And this creates conflict. That’s why Paul says also here in chapter 5 in verse 16: “Walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other.” Is there a Christian here today who has not understood or felt this conflict, this desire to please God? And yet we are left with sinful desires, and so there is conflict.
But the first part of the answer to those who say, “Well, once you trust Christ you can live the way you like,” is the transformation that God brings in our life is powerful, long-lasting, and goes to the very depths of our desires. But the second part of the answer is God’s discipline.
My wife and I, as you know, have three daughters. We also now have three sons-in-law. And we never withheld any forgiveness that we had to extend to them. And as it turned out sometimes they had to receive our forgiveness also. We never ever skimped on grace, but at the same time, there was discipline for disobedience. And that’s what God does in the life of every single believer. You find it throughout the Bible.
It says in the book of 1 Kings in the Old Testament regarding Solomon who loved many strange women… Solomon was into relationships. He had wives and he had mistresses – hundreds of them. Isn’t it interesting that in verse 1 of chapter 11 in the book of 1 Kings it says: “Solomon loved many foreign women. God was displeased with him,” and you go on in the chapter and it says, “And so God raised up adversaries against Solomon.” God was saying, “Solomon, I’m going to bring difficulties into your life so that you might know that you’re going down the wrong path.”
Even in the New Testament the Apostle Paul… You remember he was given a thorn in the flesh. Some people think that that’s proof that Paul must have been married (laughter), but he was given a thorn in the flesh because God says, “I’ve given you revelations, and lest you exalt yourself above measure, lest you fall into the temptation of pride,” he says, “I’m going to give you a thorn in the flesh to keep you humble.”
You know what God does? And I’m speaking now to believers for a moment. What God does is He brings roadblocks into our lives when we are disobedient. He does that. And you and I have seen believers who have disregarded all of the roadblocks, who have knocked down one roadblock after another, after another as they’ve wandered away from God. And they become increasingly entangled, and they can’t figure out that God is getting their attention. It is the Father who is disciplining them for their disobedience.
Now that doesn’t mean that everyone who had adversaries, everyone who has a thorn in the flesh, it’s because of some specific sin. That’s not the case. But when we have difficulties we should look long and hard into our hearts and say, “God, is there something within me that you’re trying to get my attention about?”
Now with that what I’d like us to do is to move on to another passage of Scripture right here in the book of Galatians where Paul is going to talk about the consequences even of sins that have been forgiven, because forgiveness is one thing, but some of the consequences continue. And Paul is going to give us now another way in which God disciplines His children. It is through the laws of sowing and reaping.
You’ll notice in chapter 6 He says in verse 6: “Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches.” He may be talking even about financial gifts to the teachers of that day. And then verse 7 (very solemn verses) and my message today is a warning: “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”
Some of you in a previous context have heard me give the laws of sowing and reaping, and I would like to just review them today. And then we’ll draw some applications and explain why this message should change us forever. That’s the agenda in the next 15 or 20 minutes. Don’t look at your watch to see whether I stay within those limits.
The first law of sowing and reaping is we reap what we sow. You sow onions and you don’t get bananas. And what he says is, “If we sow to the sinful nature, by the television programs that we see, by the movies that we watch, by the materialism and the greed that is in our hearts, by the dishonesty with which we conduct our business - if we sow to the sinful nature, we receive what we sow. We receive more sensuality. We receive more love of materialism. The effect goes on in the lives of our children, and on and on it goes. We sow anger over here and we reap greater anger over here because we reap what we sow.
But if we sow to the Spirit, if we are involved in the disciplines of the Christian life, if we sow the seeds of meditation in the Scriptures, the seeds of prayer and worship, and we sow the important seed of church attendance, because it’s here, you see, where we connect with the Body that the choir just sang about, and it’s here that we develop relationship, and it’s here that our faith is strengthened; if we plant these seeds, we will reap the benefits of righteousness and wholeness. And so the first law of sowing and reaping is that you reap what you sow. The only person who doesn’t reap what he sows is the amateur gardener who probably reaps something else. But there is a law that what you reap what you sow.
There’s a second law, and that is that we reap in a different season than we sow. When I was growing up we had lots of room for gardens. In fact, my mother had a big garden, and we as children all had our own small gardens. And we would plant corn and onions probably, and peas and a few other things. And then we, as kids, would run out every day to see whether or not there were any peas or carrots or corn. In fact, we watered it so much… I remember watering my garden so much every single day that pretty soon all of the seeds began to wash away. But what I was expecting was an immediate harvest. Planted one day and there would be corn the next! No, that’s not the way it is. You reap in a different season than you sow. There’s a time to plant and there’s a time to harvest, and those two opportunities do not happen at the same time.
When I was growing up I had a couple of friends and I remember one who used to steal candy and gum from the store. I remember even going to church with him and he would pull out some gum and candy and he would say, “Look at what I just stole.” (chuckles) This was a Sunday school kid. Isn’t it interesting that a little later on he stole clothing, and a little later on he stole a car with some of his buddies, and as a result of that he ended up in jail? Why? He began to sow over here in one season when it seemed as if his seeds were very controllable. After all, stealing some gum and candy is a pretty small thing. But because those seeds began to grow, and the tree began to sink in its roots, he ended up reaping over here something quite terrible. I’m not sure what he ended up doing after that. Who knows? Maybe the next would be a bank robbery because you don’t sow in the same season that you reap. It takes time. There are consequences. The Bible says in Proverbs 22:8: “Those who sow in wickedness reap trouble, but if you sow to the Spirit…”
And now I want to speak to all of you who are in children’s ministries here at The Moody Church or elsewhere. This is so important. You don’t reap in the same season that you sow. Sowing with children is very difficult work, isn’t it? There are some of those kids – those brats – you’d just like to take the board of education and apply it to the seat of learning. You know the feeling. But I want you to know today that some of the most unruly, impossible children have turned out to be some of the most wonderful Christians, mightily used of God. But you don’t see that, do you? That’s why I believe verse 9 was actually written for Sunday school teachers, for Kids Club workers, for camp counselors: “Let us not grow weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Don’t give up. The little boy or the little girl whose life you are touching – only God knows the potential of that child who is now irritating you to death, or close.
The Scripture says: “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He goes out weeping, carrying precious seed, will return, rejoicing, carrying his sheaves with him.” We don’t reap in the same season that we sow. Keep sowing good seed. You will reap a harvest.
There’s a third law, and that is that we always reap more than we sow. I remember my father going out into a field of grain, and he would take stalks of grain in the fall before harvest, rub them in his hand, and count the kernels, because he knew that if every stalk, if indeed each stalk was planted by one grain, if there would be thirty kernels in his hand, he could expect maybe 30 bushels to an acre because he planted, you know, one bushel per acre. So now he would have thirty. And that’s the way it is.
If you sow to the flesh you reap more than you sow. David committed murder and the Lord came to him and said, “David, your sin is forgiven. Your guilt is taken away.” He said, “Wash me and I shall be clean.” And God said, “You shall be clean, but guess what, David. The sword will never depart from your house,” and David lost four sons as a result of of the seeds that he had planted. You reap more than you sow.
What is an addiction? An addiction, as we know, is blinding absorption to sin. That’s true. But how is an addiction developed. It is the end result of toying and playing with sins that should have never been a part of our life in the first place. And you and I know that no matter what the addiction is, whether it’s alcoholism, whether it’s drugs, whether it’s sex – whatever it is – that that addiction usually can only be won when God finally brings a person to the end of himself and he becomes absolutely desperate and he cries out to God and says, “Help!” And God says, “At last I have your attention, and now we’re in business. Now we can do something.”
How are addictions developed? They are developed because we reap more than we sow. We sow and we say we have it under control here. These seeds are small. That’s why Paul says in this verse, “Do not be deceived.” The deceit is it’s under our control, and eventually it spirals out from under our control and takes on a life of its own.
Do you remember how the Israelites complained to God about the fact that they had manna and they wanted meat? And God didn’t like their complaining. They said, you know, “God, we don’t like your menu here in the desert – manna in the morning, manna in the evening, manna just as a bedtime snack, manna for breakfast.” God says, “You ought to be happy with manna. I’m giving it to you. I know you don’t like the cafeteria, but you should put up with it. You know part of this is your discipline too.” And they just kept calling God, and God said, “Okay, you want meat? Fine!” He said, “I’ll give it to you so that it comes out of your nose.”
See, that’s the answer to the student who said, “Well, if I sin in a big way, I can be forgiven in a big way, and I can talk about God’s grace in a big way.” And God says, “Yes, yes, all that is true, but do you know what? You are going to be hooked in a mighty big way because you’ve not taken sin seriously.”
So we reap more than we sow. Did you know that in context, as I mentioned, Paul actually is talking about giving? And that is true. If we plant good seeds of generosity, we also reap more than we sow. Paul says in 2 Corinthians that the reason you should give is not just because the church has needs. “You should give,” he says, “to increase (And I’ve pondered this phrase often) your harvest of righteousness.” You are generous over here. God feels free to bless you over here with a harvest of righteousness. You sow some seeds here and you are blessed over here. It’s not saying that every dollar you give God is going to give you ten dollars back. Just send in your offering, and your credit card is going to be miraculously paid. It’s not that kind of nonsense. What God is saying is faithfulness over here will bring blessing over there – greater blessing than you could imagine.
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, how do we put this all together so that our lives are changed?” That’s why we’re here. Right? Aren’t you in church today because you are saying, “God, I want my life to be different from now on and forever?” I hope that’s why you are here.
First of all, keep in mind that a harvest is inevitable. Every single day we are either sowing to the flesh or we are sowing to the Spirit, or we may be doing both. But the simple fact is that there is a harvest coming, and we cannot change last year’s harvest, but we can change the harvest of the future by planting different seeds.
Could I say that even confession does not change the harvest and its inevitability? If you are involved in repeated sin and all that you do is commit the same sin and then ask God’s forgiveness, and do the same thing, the same thing, what you’ll discover is that you, too, are sowing and reaping. And you may of the flesh be reaping destruction because not even confession can save the harvest. If a man kills his wife and unborn child, and is indeed guilty of that murder, he can receive God’s forgiveness and cleansing. That’s what grace is all about, but the consequences will continue. But a harvest is inevitable, and every day we change the equation.
Secondly, we need to both pull out weeds and plant seeds. How do we pull out the weeds? We pull them out, and I’m talking to Christians now, through confession. And then at the same time what we do is we replace those sins with habits of righteousness because we want to plant some good seeds.
You know, in Central America there was a woman in those cultures where they bring their clothes to a river to wash them. Sometimes women gather at the river together with a bundle of clothes. And this dear woman, God bless her, felt so much shame and embarrassment because her clothes were so dirty that she refused to open her bundle, but simply took the whole bundle and dipped it in the river back and forth and then took it back home.
You know, that’s the way some Christians confess their sins. I have a good friend who always confesses his sins this way. “Oh God, forgive my sins for they are many.” And I’m sure they are. Mine are. God has never let me get by with that kind of confession. God says, “Yeah, you confess your sins because they are many. Would you please list them for me so we know that we are agreeing on what is sin and what I have the right to take out of your life forever?” That’s what confession is. It’s agreeing with God. It’s saying, “God, I don’t want any of these weeds in my life. I want you to uproot them and not merely cut them off. I want them actually uprooted.” Now, if you become a hard-hearted Christian, what will happen is those seeds will not be planted, and furthermore the weeds you may cut off, but the roots will stay.
God is saying to you and to me today, “Open your life and your heart. Get rid of those weeds through confession. Plant seeds of righteousness. Begin to find help. Begin to study God’s Word. Begin to devote yourself to the things that really matter.” And I want you to know today that your development as a Christian can be measured by how long it takes between conscious sin and conscious heart-felt confession. Ideally the minute we become conscious of sin, at that moment we should look up to God and say, “God, I have just sinned. Cleanse me because I love you so much I don’t want to be out of fellowship with you, and so in this moment please put away the barrier that is between you and me so that I can be back in fellowship with You.”
Remember this. The goal that God has in mind is for us to have a greater passion for Christ than our passion to sin. And that only happens when we weed and when we seed and God gives us the harvest of righteousness.
There’s a final lesson. And the final lesson is that sin is the most expensive thing in the universe. Nothing comes close in terms of cost. It cost so much that God says, “I’m going to deal with it; I’m going to send My Son to die on the cross to make atonement and He will bear the eternal penalties for all who believe.” Isn’t that wonderful? Because we’ve trusted Christ as Savior, the final penalty, the eternal penalty, does not rest on our shoulders. It rests on the shoulders of our sin-bearer, of our substitute. And God says that that substitute is bearing your sin so that you don’t have to bear its eternal consequences. We have certain consequences in this life, and those are the things we are talking about, but eternally we have been saved from all condemnation.
But sin is so expensive that if you do not trust Christ as Savior, if you do not turn to Him, but say, “I’m going to bear the penalty for my own sin, and I’m going to go my own way,” your penalty will be an eternal penalty of separation from God because sin is so expensive. It costs, and it will cost you so very much.
George McDonald who influenced C. S. Lewis said that there is a principle of hell, and that principle is “I am my own.” That’s the principle of hell. The principle of heaven says, “Not my will but Thine be done.”
Today I’m talking to people who perhaps think, “I could not even possibly believe on Christ because you don’t know what I’m bringing to the table. You don’t know who I am. You don’t know my background. You don’t know my needs. You don’t know my sins. You don’t know my addictions.” I want you to know today that when Jesus died, His death was so complete and so wonderful that God says, “If you humble yourself and you come just as you are with your need, not even having to change (You come and you let God change you, but you come) there can be forgiveness and cleansing and you will not have to bear the eternal penalty of your sin.
But if you say no, that penalty will be yours forever.
So you’ve done it again. Rush to Christ to be forgiven, to be cleansed. And if you are a believer, begin to understand His grace toward you. And if you’ve never been saved, come to Him. Believe on Him so that your penalty will be His, and He will bear it.
Do you remember John Newton? We know his story, don’t we? He’s in a ship, and it is there that he is suddenly overcome. The name of the ship is The Greyhound. He’s overcome by a tremendous storm. Sailors curse God. He begins to call on God. When they get to the end of the storm finally he finds a New Testament that is on the boat. Now remember this is the guy who gave people prizes if they could think of some new way of sinning that he had not tried because he had done it all. And he began to read the New Testament and he said, “You know, Jesus meets my need exactly.” Isn’t that wonderful? He meets our need exactly. He believed on Christ and became a minister, and he wrote that wonderful song:
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind but now I see.
That’s the grace that saves us, and it’s the grace that keeps us and disciplines us all the way to the heavenly home.
Our Father, with great inadequacy we have ministered today. Unless the blessed Holy Spirit helps people in this moment it shall all be for naught. For those who know You as Savior, Father, teach us to take sin seriously. And for those who have never trusted You, we pray that they may embrace You as their Savior right now, knowing that there’s no one who has gone too far, fallen too deep, but that they can believe. Grant them that ability even now.
And before I close this prayer, what is it that you need to say to God right now? You talk to Him based on what you’ve just heard.
Father, I’m believing that You’ve done a work in the lives of many people, but it’s only begun. Follow through with it we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.