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The Power Of A Clear Conscience

The Truth That Hurts And Heals

Dr. Erwin W. Lutzer | October 5, 2014

Selected highlights from this sermon

Addiction is powerful, and anyone can fall into its clutches. Jesus said that those who sin are slaves to sin, and Satan continues to tell us lies to keep us in bondage. 

Sin and addiction are destructive, but there is a path of hope. Through God’s grace, when we come to Christ, addictions can be put into the past.  

I actually read about a cocaine addict in New York who was in a room and decided to chain himself to a radiator so that he wouldn’t go down on the street and do more coke. But apparently he was able to get the radiator broken, at least a piece of it, so that he was able to take it back out on the street, carrying this heavy metal, and chained to it. And he said, “Coke has a voice, and when it calls I must go.” Wow!

But you know it’s not only cocaine that has a voice. It’s alcoholism. It’s gambling. It’s pornography and various sexual addictions. And it’s also self-righteousness that is an addiction, if you can believe it, where we think that we really don’t need as much grace as other people.

Well, this is a series of messages entitled The Power of a Clear Conscience, and of course, it’s really not possible to have a clear conscience if you are struggling with reoccurring sin, and always losing the battle. That’s why it’s necessary, as a part of this series, for me to speak about addictions. And remember our key verse. I hope that you have all memorized it by now. First Timothy 1:5 – “For the aim of our instruction is love flowing from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.” What we’re after is a good conscience.

Now I’m going to make some introductory comments – five, very briefly – before we turn to the text of Scripture. First of all, let me say that this is going to be a message about grace. When it comes to dealing with addictions, people don’t need any more condemnation. They already feel it. That defiled conscience reminds them that there is a part of them that is constantly being defeated, and so what we need is grace. And at the end of this message it is my intention to show you God’s grace and to leave you there and me there, where we all need to be.

The second word by way of intro is that we are all prone to be addicts. We all love something more than we should. Ezekiel, the prophet, spoke about people who put up idols in their hearts. So we’ll discover that some addictions are very obvious and known, but there are some that are subtle, so rather than us thinking of the fact that there are some addicts around us, maybe sitting next to us, why don’t we think in terms of a continuum and know that all of us struggle with sin at some level. And by the way, speaking of addictions, it’s possible and it’s almost not an exaggeration to say that almost every family in America has been affected by addiction. And so let’s not fool ourselves. Let’s talk about the fact that our sinful nature, the default position, is toward addiction.

There’s a third point that needs to be made as we begin, and that is critical. Grace does not enter closed doors. As I speak today, you may be sitting there and already within your mind you are having rationalizations and reasons for why you are the way you are and why you cannot afford to change. Well God’s grace is open and it is wide, but the problem is that oftentimes we don’t recognize that. And will you keep in mind that we expect not merely a challenge today? There was a young man who preached at prayer meeting this week and said that he’s not interested in challenge. He’s interested in change, and that’s what I’m interested in.

When I was younger, which was quite a long time ago, I used to think that if I just lay out what people have to do, they could get rid of their addictions. Memorize these verses, learn these principles, go home and apply them! Well now I know that sin is more deeply entrenched. The rationalizations of the human heart go down to bedrock. Excuses abound. Blindness is all over the place. All that I can do is point the way and lead you to grace, and leave you there.

Next, addiction has many causes. Your home, for example! If you were brought up in an addictive home, whether it’s alcoholism or other things, you may actually have what is sometimes referred to as an addictive personality, so it may be your home. It may be your friends who led you into drugs. This past week I read about a guy who said that at work, they began to introduce him to it. You know, addictions always make life go along much better, until life goes along much worse, and then you become hooked.

So the point is that it may be, friends, that the real problem is you and me. It’s your home, it’s your friends, but at the end of the day, it’s your heart. Someone has said that an addiction is an illusionary promise creating a world of escape. You go into a world of pleasurable sensations. It promises like a god, but in the end pays like a devil.

Finally, in terms of the intro, there are many, many different matches (if I can use that illustration) that inflame addictions. First of all, you have accessibility. The Internet is one of the reasons that pornography has grown so much.

Accessibility! Drugs are accessible. Not only that, there are now people who have a gambling addiction because you can gamble online. Accessibility! Secrecy! Very important so that the shame remains hidden!

Self-deception! The best definition of addiction I think I’ve ever read is a short one. I’m not sure exactly who said it, but he said, “It is really the blinding absorption of sin.” Oh my, is that accurate! The blinding absorption of sin! You can’t really find an alcoholic who can really see the devastation that he is doing to his own life, to what he’s doing to his family, and what he’s doing to his children, because there is so much denial and blindness that we simply can’t see it in our own little selfish world. So there’s deception!

There’s escape! I talk to people who say that all during the week they are thinking about what they are going to do on the weekend. It fuels them. It draws them and so they put up with work because what they’re really living for is the weekend when they can finally do what they want to do, and this is the world of escape. Life is hard, and so what you want to do is to find a place of euphoria, a place where you are in a trance, where nothing else matters except the fulfillment of these desires. All consequences are blotted out of your mind. “I’ll shake hands with the devil and walk with him over the bridge, and then I’ll deal with the consequences later.” A world of escape! A world of shame that keeps people bound!

Well all of that by way of introduction! I’m going to ask you now to take your cell phones, if you would please, and turn with me to John 8 (laughter). I decided this week if you can’t lick ‘em, you might as well join ‘em.” (laughter) And those of you who actually have your Bibles that you brought from home (the two or three of you that did that), you can turn to John 8, or there is also a Bible in the seat in front of you.

I’m beginning at verse 31 of John 8. “So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, ‘If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ They answered him, ‘We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, “You will become free”?’
Jesus answered them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.’”

Let’s just look at the passage for a moment. I think that the people who believed on Jesus in verse 31 are probably true believers. And Jesus is saying to them, “If you continue in my Word, you are truly my disciples. You’ll know the truth and the truth will set you free.”

Now I think there was a larger crowd out there that was overhearing what Jesus would say to His disciples, and so it may be that they are the ones that say, “We are offspring of Abraham. We’ve never been enslaved to anyone. How do you say we shall become free? What do we need to become free of? We’re Abraham’s offspring.”

Jesus uses an illustration they’d be acquainted with. “Truly I say to you. Everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” What a powerful statement. “But the slave does not remain in the house forever.” A slave can be bought. It can be sold. It can be traded. But a son abides permanently. And so if the Son sets you free you will be free indeed.
I don’t want to overuse the word, but I do have to say “Wow!”

What I’d like to do in the next few moments is to give you three truths at least, and remember this is a “fly-over.” It dawned on me as I was preparing this message that I could preach a whole series if we were to unpack all the things that we could think about. But what I’d like to do is to give you three truths that you need for freedom. And then what we’re going to do is give you some steps and point the way, and you, with an open heart, have to go the rest of the way with Jesus. Alright?

The first thing I think that we need to know is we need to know ourselves. We have to know our own heart. You see, the people to whom Jesus was speaking didn’t know their hearts. They said, “Well, you know we’ve never been slaves to anyone.” Please notice this. Their self-righteousness closed them off to the possibility of experiencing God’s grace. “We’ve never been slaves to anyone. We’re the righteous ones. We go to the Temple. We pray. We keep the Law. What do we need to be set free from?”

You and I, because of the deception of our hearts, make two profound mistakes when we evaluate ourselves. Number one, we underestimate our blindness. The Pharisees certainly did that all the time. They didn’t see what Jesus was getting at – the deeper issues of the heart. They were closed off from that.

And then the other thing that we do is we overestimate our ability. I read a book about addictions and this week I was spending time in a book entitled The Last Addiction, and it’s by a woman by the name of Sharon Hersh. And some of the ideas I throw out undoubtedly come from my reading. But the point that she is making is that the very last addiction is the belief that we can get out of our predicament alone, simply by helping ourselves, by memorizing verses, by saying we won’t do it again, by a resolution that says this will never happen again. But it will. The idea that the self that got us into trouble is the self that can get us out of trouble is mythology.

Recently I took a stress test. I don’t know if you’ve had one, but they put you on a treadmill. And the doctor said to me, “At first, you’re going to be able to keep up with the treadmill, but eventually you will lose, and the treadmill will win.” Alright! So for the first three minutes I thought, “Hey, this isn’t bad at all. Just a fast walk!” And then after three minutes they increase the incline and then the speed and you say, “Oh, this is taking more energy than I thought,” and then they do that again, and pretty soon you surrender, and you say, “Treadmill, you win!”

Do you know what an addiction means? Do you know what the root word is? It’s to surrender to the gods. At the end of the day we surrender to the gods, and it is a myth that we can pull ourselves up and deliver ourselves if only we follow the prescribed path. Sin is deeper. The devil is stronger, and that’s an illusion.

Second, what we need to do is to know some truth about Satan. We don’t have time to unpack this whole message, but if you can, skip for a moment to verse 44. Jesus interchanges here with the Jews. And you know, Jesus was very gentle, except when He was dealing with self-righteous people. You say, “Did Jesus really say that?”

Verse 44, “You are of your father, the devil.” Try that on when you are witnessing to somebody. (laughter) Say, “You know, I just want you to know that you are of your father, the devil,” and then see how that builds confidence as the witnessing continues. Alright? But these people are bragging that Abraham is their father. And Jesus says, “You’re of your father, the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning (The devil is never interested in life – always death) and has nothing to do with the truth because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

I’ve often said from this pulpit, “The only time you can really believe the devil is if he told you that he was lying.” Then you know that he’s speaking the truth. He can only lie, and what the devil does is he puts ideas into our minds that we think are our own so we’re not afraid of them. He did that with Ananias and Sapphira. He came and said, “Why don’t you use a little bit of deception so that you look better in the church than you really are. You can tell a lie.” It was actually a half lie. And Peter said, “Why is it that Satan has put it in your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?” They didn’t know that came from the devil, or they’d have been afraid of that thought. They thought it was their own.

Now the devil has two different sets of lies. To the Jews here, his lie would be, “Hey, you’re righteous. You keep the Law. You go to Temple. You’re not a drunkard. You’re not with prostitutes. You pay your tithe, and, you know, you’re very meticulous in keeping the Law. You’re okay. I’m okay. You’re okay. We’re all okay as long as we belong to this club.” It’s a lie.

For God to overcome their blindness, if I can put it this way, is a greater miracle than the blindness of the prostitute down the way. That’s why Jesus said that they go into the kingdom of heaven ahead of you all. I think He sometimes spoke Texan and said, “They go in ahead of y’all.”

So there’s that lie. And then for those who are bound in the fleshly addictions, he has a ton of lies. Lies like, “You’ll never change, and furthermore, you’re worthless. You are unloved. You don’t have any real value as a person. Look at your past. Look at what people think of you. Are you accepted? Are you the center of things? No! You have every right to hate yourself, considering who you are. You have every right to slash your wrists in anger. You have every right to be anorexic and not eat so that you can control something in your life, because you’re angry and everything else is out of control.”

Let me ask you a question. Where do those kinds of thoughts come from? Do they come from God? I don’t think so. They come from Satan, and there are going to be times when you are going to struggle and you are going to have to say, “Be gone, Satan, for it is written.” And you’re going to have to stand on the Word of God because the lies are going to want to control you. Jesus said, “Your father is the devil because he lies.” Don’t believe his lies.

So we need to know something about ourselves and something about Satan, and of course, something about God. He is gracious and merciful, and in a few moments I’m going to be giving you an example right from chapter 8 here of that mercy and that grace. God gives us the gift of His presence, He gives us what we normally don’t have and don’t deserve, and He goes with us into the darkest closets of our life. He invites us to open the door and to let light shine there to deal with hidden issues that have plagued us perhaps for years and years. And God comes along and He is merciful and gracious, and we need to draw near to Him. And if you missed the message I preached last time on how we draw near to the blood of Christ, it’s absolutely critical to understand.

Now what I’d like to do is to give you what I consider maybe three steps. They aren’t steps so much as understanding as to where you are at and the path toward hope.

First of all (and you are writing now, I am sure, because this is important), you can’t get free. You can’t get free. You must be set free. “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free. And if the Son makes you free, you are free indeed.” It’s not a matter of will power. It’s not even a matter of memorizing verses, though I strongly advocate that, and it may be a part of the process. But Jesus has to enter into your world to set you free.

You know, I love Psalm 40 (years ago I preached on it) where David says in his experience (and I used to know it by memory in the King James but I’ll read it here), “I waited patiently for the Lord. He inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction (Don’t you love this phraseology?), out of a miry bog, and set my feet on a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth. (Do you mean that after you’ve been in the pit you can still sing? Yup!) Many will see and fear and put their trust in the Lord.”

Now David says, “I was in the pit and He drew me up from the pit.” God didn’t say, “Now David, here’s a shovel. Dig yourself out,” because if you try to dig yourself out of a pit you’re going to have trouble. You’re only going to dig yourself in deeper because of the self-confidence that “I can handle this.” No, you can’t handle it, thank you very, very much.

You can fall into a pit. Years ago I gave you the illustration of a horse of ours on the farm in a slough. Now you may not be acquainted with the word, but it’s like a miry bog. And he got in alone, but I’ll tell you, he couldn’t get out alone. We actually had to put a gadget around him and help him and pull him out.

You can fall into the pit alone. Nobody has to even help you. Some of you say, “I didn’t fall. I was pushed.” Years ago in a subway there was spray-painted “Humpty Dumpty was pushed.” And you may feel that you were pushed into the pit. Either way, guess what! You’re not getting out alone. But in Jesus, God comes into the pit, and He is there, and He doesn’t throw us a rope because you are too weak to grab the rope, and even if you did you could not pull yourself up. He says, “I come into the miry bog where you are and I scoop you up (applause), and I put your feet upon a rock, and I’m the one who establishes your going, and I’m the one who puts a new song in your mouth.” Jesus comes to us in our need and that’s why He was able to say, as He did, “This is My body. This is My blood that was shed for you.” Why? It was for redemption, for reconciliation. “I came into this dirty world to rescue you, and I came to your level. I didn’t sin, but I came to your level because you are worse off than you ever thought. If I had not intervened it would have been a lost cause.” You can’t get free. You must be set free.

Notice what Jesus says. He says, “Whoever commits sin is the servant of sin. The servant doesn’t wake up in the morning and say, ‘Well, today I’m going to tell my master what to do.’” A servant doesn’t do that. Jesus said, “You have to understand that sin owns you. It’s the master who tells you, ‘Do this. Do that,’ and you must recognize therefore that you are in slavery, and I came to set captives free.”

Second, your struggle magnifies God’s grace. You know, I sometimes smile at God. I don’t think that’s irreverent to say because do you know what? God actually thinks of things I don’t. Can you handle that? I think so! Last weekend we were in Nashville and St. Louis for media rallies, and Tuesday morning we got on a plane from St. Louis to fly to Chicago, and God, knowing that I was going to speak about addictions (He knew that. I actually knew that too, but He knew it better than I.), whom does he put me next to on the plane but the man who is sitting next to me? And then there’s another one sitting ahead. And before the plane takes off we’re talking, and I discover that he was an addict who went to an organization that was set up to help addicts. They have about 200 addicts there, and they stay for a number of months. They make them work. Everybody earns. It’s a remarkable organization.

And so, what does God do? God says, “Hey, you know if you are going to speak about addictions, let me give you two guys who used to be addicted but are free now so that you can get some good information for your sermon.” So I said to this guy, “So what were you into?” He said, “You know, it began with marijuana.”

By the way, this idea that marijuana should be legal with everybody buying it! I don’t know exactly how that fits into our definition of progress, but you know, I’m maybe a minority here.

But anyway it begins with marijuana. Then it goes into harder drugs. So there he is. Okay! And then the guy ahead said, “I was in prison.” He didn’t have to give me his pedigree. He said, “Name it and I’ve done it.” Okay!

Now why is it that these guys who are set free, and who now work for the organization, and why is it that there are people in this organization who go there addicted and they end up being Bible teachers and leading others to the path of wholeness, health and deliverance? Isn’t that wonderful?

Well, you see, one of the things that God does (and what He wants to do) is, through our struggles, He display grace. These guys understood grace a lot better than the “goody two shoes” who may be listening to this message who think they don’t need that much grace, because they’ve done it all right. And they may say, “Oh sure, I’ve messed up a little bit.” Like a guy said, “Yeah, I’ve sinned. I remember taking my golf clubs and wrapping them around a tree.” Oh wow! I’m impressed with you! That’s all you’ve done, huh?

Folks, Jesus was not kind to people who didn’t think they needed grace. And what He does is He motivates us by His blessed presence. I read a book about a man who struggled with pornography, and here are a couple of lines. He said, “I remember many times sitting in front of my computer, and the question was to click or not to click. I felt the Holy Spirit tapping me on the shoulder. I knew better. I knew that the peace of God’s presence is better than this rush that I would receive. God was nevertheless even here, present with me, convicting me, yes, but…”

Have you ever wondered what the way of escape is? “There is no temptation that has taken you but such as is common to man, and God will, with the temptation, provide a way of escape.” So what’s the way of escape? He said, “The way of escape was the presence of the living God. He became my rescue.” And he said, “I had to come to the point where the peace of God and my fellowship with God meant more to me than the pleasure that I would receive – the guilty pleasure – and that God ultimately, and my fellowship with Him would mean more.”

It is the presence of God right in the midst of our temptation. It is God’s presence there that becomes the means of deliverance. The passion for God is greater than our passion to sin. When we learn that lesson (with many failures along the way I am sure), at the end of the day we are motivated by the fact that “blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” (applause)

And now here’s the most important thing you may hear from me in this message. When you sin, and when you are loaded with guilt, and when you are in a lifestyle that just increases your guilt, what do you do? Do you know what the big mistake is that people make? They run away from Jesus. They say, “Well, I can’t handle the God thing right now. Someday when I’m out of this and someday when I’m doing better, then I can come to God. I’ll clean myself up and present myself to Him. Then He’s better and I’m better.” And they think He’ll say, “Oh wow! Now that you’ve cleaned yourself up, you are welcome.”

In the book I told you I read the woman was telling about a young woman who didn’t feel right unless she was in another same-sex relationship, and how she had this condemnation and so forth. What she needed to do is, in her need, not run from Jesus, but run to Jesus, because remember last week’s message. The basis upon which we are accepted is not our performance but what Jesus did. And even in the midst of temptation we are reminded of the blood of Christ, we are reminded of the fact that we belong to Him, we remind ourselves that we are the righteousness of God, and we stand on that in the midst of the temptation until we begin to ask ourselves, “What in the world am I doing as a child of God (and a daughter of God) doing this that displeases Him?” We invite the presence of God. You know, there are some of you here who have to take the baggage that you have, and all that stuff, and you have to be willing to open that suitcase in the presence of Jesus.

During the time of the Reformation there was a man who was actually a musician. He wrote music. His name was Martin Arcola, and he was a composer and he lived during the time when there was the struggle between Catholics and Protestants. And he was a teacher in a Protestant school. And I want you to catch what he wrote.

He says, “Though my sins were as great and many as the hairs of my head, the grass of the earth, the leaves of the tree, the sand on the seashore, the drops in the sea, or the stars of heaven, yet I would not fall into despair. But I would run to the great indulgence chest, namely the grace and the overwhelming mercy of God.” Run to Jesus! Don’t walk. Run to Jesus! (applause)

Now your Bibles are open. The battery on your cell phone is still working. We’re in John 8. I want you to notice something. In the beginning of the eighth chapter you have the story of the woman who it says in verse 3 was caught in adultery. These men brought her to Jesus, and they said, “This woman has been caught in the act of adultery. The Law of Moses says to stone such. What do you say?”

I just absolutely smile at Jesus Christ’s answer. He says, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” In other words, “Sure, you keep the Law, but if you haven’t committed a similar sin, pick up some stones and start throwing them at her.” Once more He bent down and wrote on the ground, and they went away one by one beginning with the older ones. They all filed out. Catch this! The woman was caught. For her that was a gift. There is a gift of being caught, exposed in the presence of Jesus, because that’s how healing comes. The men also were caught. They were caught but they walked away with their masks fully intact. “We may be guilty of the same thing but…” So they walk out.

Do you realize the contrast? Here’s a woman who hears the words of Jesus. “Your sins are forgiven. Go and sin no more.” Wow! Here are self-righteous people. “We don’t have any addictions. None! No! We judge all those people who struggle with their sexuality and so forth. We judge them. Those are not who we are.” And the fact is what Jesus is saying is, “Some of these people, in honesty, are exposed in my presence and they come with their bag of shame. And I enter into their world. And I bring the deliverance that they need.” But you know the people who walk away with their masks; they go back to their little hideaway unchanged.

Remember what I said at the beginning? Grace enters open doors – not closed hearts. Jesus comes to where we are and says, “Why don’t you find a secret place somewhere? Find time. Take out an hour of your life and just open the suitcase. We’ll look at it together. We’ll bring healing. We’ll bring hope, and I’ll set you along the right path. There will be many struggles, but I’ll walk with you on your journey.”

Now where are you today? Have you received the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ, or do you live with the illusion that you don’t need His forgiveness, that you don’t need His grace? Or you are a believer but you are still living with the illusion that you can manage it yourself?

Let’s pray together. And as I pray I just want to say this: Whatever God has talked to you about, would you talk to Him about it please?

Father, we pray today that this word may break open, in the lives of people, issues that have never been addressed. Help them, Father, to take time during this week to get alone and to say, “God, I’m going to open it all up and I’m going to expose it to You because, like this woman, I want to hear ‘Your sins are forgiven. Go and sin no more.’” Oh Father, do that in all of our hearts. And even as we remember the Lord’s death, help us to remember that He said, “This do in remembrance of Me. My life was given for the forgiveness of many.” We love You. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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