Ezekiel prophesied of the new birth that was coming through Jesus Christ, “Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you.A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them…ye shall be my people, and I will be your God. I will also save you from all your uncleannesses…ye shall receive no more reproach… Then shall ye remember your own evil ways, and your doings that were not good, and shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and for your abominations.” (from Ezek. 36:25-31)
It is important though we have been forgiven for our past sins that we take serious our bent and natural inclination toward future possibility of sin. In our flesh “dwells no good thing” and there is an endless battle between the sinful and spiritual nature after we are saved (Gal 5: 16-18). This lah-dee-dah attitude church people have these days toward sin and temptation, shows not only a lack of fear for God, but a lack of respect toward sin’s influence and power. We are to “put on Christ and not make provision for the flesh to fulfill the lust thereof.” (Rom 13;14) Now to “put on” is to be clothed with Christ that is not “put on” a show but to wear the new clothes designed by Christ and throw out of our closet all the old fat, “what not to wear” clothes of sin. Don’t keep the fat clothes because you don’t want to fit in them again. Sin does not fit in or on our lives anymore. Sin’s power has been broken by what Jesus did on the cross. But it is still around attempting to enslave us through temptation or the solicitation to do evil.
Sin is breaking God’s law or lawlessness and Ezekiel called this iniquity and sins are also called abominations or the things God hates. That is what we used to let run our lives. We were out of control sinners and we did the things God hates. Jesus propitiated (appeased) God’s wrath toward sin and sinners and expiated (made amends for) our sins by his death on Calvary’s cross. God hated and was offended by sin and he could easily send the sinner to hell without a second thought. “But this is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation that Christ Jesus came to save sinners…” (1 Tim 1:15). Not only did God make provision for past and present sins but future sins as well. It only makes sense. The cross had to secure the salvation of God’s people or else all would be lost.
It is important that we clarify that the scriptures teaching about justification (or being made right with God) is by faith alone and while are still people who have a propensity to sin, God sees us as saints. Justification is external, outside the sinner. God legally removes the guilt of sin, the culpability, fault and responsibility of sin. Justification and is an act which is complete at once and for all time. Thank God for that because of the times, more often than we want to mention, even after we know the Jesus Christ as our Savior, there are outbreaks of sin in our lives. We repent by saying the same thing that God says about our sin: that we have broken his law and done something he hates. God then says, “if we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us of our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9). He deals with the fruit of sin in the sense of forgiving us in God’s sight.
God says in Ezekiel I will not only cleanse you from your filthiness but from your idols. God justifies us by faith in Christ by cleaning our filthiness as he sanctifies or purifies us by cleansing us from our idols. Sanctification is internal, inside the sinner and deals with and removes the pollution, contamination, defilement of sin, and is an uninterrupted process that takes place over a lifetime. Idols were images set up in the place of God. But the idols in our lives are the images or thoughts, and emotions that lead to words and actions. Idols attempt to lead us away from God. The Bible says, “And they served their idols: which were a snare unto them.” (Ps 106:36). Idols are the devices of our enemy Satan who wants to catch and enslave us. There is a lifelong idol bashing or iconoclasm going on in the Christian heart. God will give the genuinely saved person a hatred for sin and a love for God. It is important that we take aim at our sin and fortify our faith against temptation, realizing the seduction to act out sin is ever-present. God by his Spirit deals with the root of sin exposing and eradicating the idols out of our hearts by the preaching and study of his Word and cooperating with his Spirit’s correction of our lives.
The repentance I speak of is long after a sin has been committed and forgiven. It can be before or in memory of that sin and the desire never to go back to it. It is brokenness over that sin. Too often Christian men and women confess their sins and then hope and wish the sinful desire and thoughts go away. That is not genuine compunction for sin. We recognize that though we are Spirit led people we also have many “crooked ways” and “rough places” that need to be straightened and smoothed out by the purifying work of the Spirit (Luke 3:5). We are priests of the Lord (1 Pet. 2:9) but we still need to be cleansed from presumptuous sins and secret faults (Ps 19:12-13) that lurk in the heart as latent evil. God has not called us to live under the load of condemnation for sins that have been forgiven (Rom 8:1). He does not want us to beat our breasts asking for mercy already given and wallowing in guilt that has been washed away. Your sins are forgiven, dear brother and sister. Trust in Christ and stand fast in his promises. God says, “I will also save you from all your uncleannesses…that ye shall receive no more reproach.” (Ezek 36: 29-30).
The psalmist cries out, “O that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes!” He was praying, Oh that the steps of my life were settled and steady keeping to the course you set. This is a prayer from the psalmist that expresses strong emotion. Adam Clarke paraphrases it saying, “Without thee I can do nothing; my soul is unstable and fickle; and it will continue weak and uncertain till thou strengthen and establish it.” (Clarke). When we see our need to obey God’s law, we cry out to him because in our own strength we cannot obey him. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. So God answers our prayer and he gives us but James speaks of! I love this verse, “But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.” (James 4:6; Prov. 3:34; Job 22:29; Isa. 57:15). Oh his grace is yours dear child of God. In our weakness he is strong! He gives greater grace as we humble ourselves in prayer.
One of the marks of the new birth prophesied in Ezekiel was that not only would we have a new supple heart and a spirit made alive and conscious of God, “Then shall ye remember your own evil ways, and your doings that were not good, and shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for your iniquities and for your abominations.” (Ezek. 36:31). The Word washes out our idols, “the washing of water by the word” and when the Word exposes the root not just the fruit of sin we are broken and the washing of our weeping takes place as we repent of the hidden idol. “The tears that accompany repentance, conversion and inward renewal are linked both in the scriptures and in the later Christian spiritual tradition with the concept of penthos, “mourning” that purifies the soul… penthos in the New Testament is also mourning with tears; but it is a grief that leads to a determination to act or change.” (I. Hausherr, Penthos, the Doctrine of Compunction in the Christian East, Cistercian publ, 1982)
Isaac Watts the great hymn writer penned, “Physician of my sin-sick soul, to thee I bring my case; my raging.” malady control, and heal me by thy grace. Pity the anguish I endure, see how I mourn and pine; for never can I hope a cure, from any hand but thine. I would disclose my whole complaint, but where shall I begin? No words of mine can fully paint that worst distemper, sin. It lies not in a single part, but through my frame is spread; a burning fever in my heart, a palsy in my head. It makes me deaf, and dumb, and blind, and impotent and lame; and overclouds, and fills my mind, with folly, fear, and shame. A thousand evil thoughts intrude tumultuous in my breast; which indispose me for my food, and rob me of my rest. Lord I am sick, regard my cry, and set my spirit free; say, canst thou let a sinner die, who longs to live to thee?”
This is not the sorrow of the world that works death, but repentance that leads to life (2 Cor. 7:10). Paul wrote that to saved people who had an idol of sin exposed in them. Regret is not enough. Penance cannot earn anything with God. You can cover “the altar of the LORD with tears, with weeping, and with crying out” (Mal 2:14). Esau “found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.” (Heb. 12;:7). Even when someone dies we must not give into despair. We should not sorrow as those that have no hope (1 Thess 4:13) or weep with, “the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter…” (Eccl. 4:1).
God gives the gift of tears to you. Joy is mingled with sorrow! You may have many tears on your face, weeping in secret places, weeping in prayer on your bed at night, sometimes as you wake up. God allows trials and problems to expose the root of the idols that exploit us. You may eat the bread of tears and drink tears in great measure. But it is a blessed gift. Blessed are they that mourn for they shall be comforted. Like precious seed he has given you tears. He that granted you the gift of repentance in salvation, has given you the gift of tears in a deeper compunction. Like a storm of weeping that washes the earth of its filth, the sun of grace shines causing a garden of grace to bloom! That healing of heart is the sweetest. The Lord is with you. He is on your side and in His mercy is driving out of your heart by His Spirit the devestating idols that rob your joy and your tears flood out the devices that bring sin and guilt and pain.
You feel hatred for your sin, and pure love for God, you desire to not only be forgiven but to know freedom from the cancer causing idol-agent in your heart. God says, “I have seen thy tears: behold, I will heal thee.” (2 Kings 20:5). You have washed the feet of Christ with these tears often in asking forgiveness, now the release from this root sin will be yours. Your sin will be sent away from your heart. He will comfort you. He will then save your eyes from tears because he keeps your from falling in this area of your life. He will wipe away the tears from your face as he swallows up that deadly sinful idol in victory. In your mourning you rejoice as sin is exposed and put out by the Holy Spirit. “Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded..” (Jer 31:16). That is the precious collaboration of you and God in work of the heart and inner man who is so neglected, you will be rewarded by “the peaceable fruit of righteousness.”
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