When you do sin…

shame

Christians are those holy people who live perfect lives and never do anything wrong.  Right?  Either that or they are a bunch of hypocrites who live just like the world and yet claim to have God “on their side”, or in support of whatever whacked-out thing they choose to do.  We tend to not really make room for a middle ground, recognizing the simple fact that Christians are people who should be interacting with God on a regular basis and dying to sin, yet still bound to their flesh and making mistakes and giving in to temptation from time to time.

Because of this fact – even within the Christian community – we tend to put up walls and be minimally vulnerable with one another.  Christ has given us the most beautiful community in which we should depend on one another for accountability and Spiritual sharpening, but yet we think that those around us are not falling into sin and we are too afraid of damaging our reputation to confess our struggles to one another.

But there is hope!

As long as we are in our earthly bodies, we will wrestle with our own personal sin, temptation and failure.  There are times that we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

“For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.”

– Gal 5.17

Notice here that the flesh and the Spirit are directly opposed to one another, and by giving in to one you are suffocating the things that the other desires.  When we submit to and follow the Spirit, we are not doing the things that we would please in our flesh.  When we submit to the flesh, we are not doing the things that we would please in our Spirit.

We might be tempted to blame the enemy or Satan when we sin, but the simple reality is that our flesh wants things that are sinful, and sometimes we give in.  Yes, there may be times that we are lured by an outside force, but by-in-large we lead ourselves into those situations.

“Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am being tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.  But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.  Then when lust has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and when sin is accomplished, it brings forth death.”

– James 1.13-15

The simple reality is that sin looks attractive.  It feels good, at least for the moment.  And often times it starts small and snowballs or grows over time as we become immune to the conviction of the Spirit.  And sometimes we have been so inoculated by the world and our culture that we neglect to evaluate an action, word or deed against Scripture to even determine if it is sinful, and we sin unintentionally.

But it is all sin, it must all be confessed and we must repent from it as the Spirit leads and convicts.

So where is the hope?

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”

– 1 John 2.1-2

The book of 1 John is a gut wrencher and convictor.  It makes statements that sound extremely black and white, cut and dry, such as:

“By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments.  The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him:  the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked.”

– 1 John 2.3-6

John even goes so far as to say that if you hate someone you are not saved (v 2.9).  Have you ever struggled to forgive someone?  Do you have any grudges in your life?  Or are you living perfectly at peace with everyone in your world?  The risk of that is our very salvation.

But yet John gives us this beautiful hope that when we do sin we have an advocate.  There is a heavenly court room in which the enemy approaches God to accuse us of our sin.  When we have confessed our sins and repented of them, however, Jesus stands as the defense lawyer to simply say, “Punishment paid”.  Jesus intercedes for us continually before the Father, taking the penalty of our sin upon Himself and presenting us as washed clean in His blood.

“Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies; who is the one who condemns?  Christ Jesus is He who died, yes, rather who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us.”

– Rom 8.33-34

“Therefore He is able also to save forever those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”

– Heb 7.25

Jesus has already paid the punishment and appeased the wrath of God for our sins.  When we confess them and lay them at His feet, he covers them in His blood and deems us clean before God.  We will continue to sin, as long as we are in our bodies, and He will continue to wash us clean and empower us to die to that sin throughout the Christian life.

He has also given us community to help and push us on to holiness.  We are commanded to confess our sins to one another, to pray over one another, and to push one another on to holiness:

“Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.”

– James 5.16

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

– Heb 10.23-25

Repenting is two fold:  turning away from sin and turning to God.  When you are convicted or when you give in to sin, confess it to God and turn away from it in His strength.  He continues to forgive us and sanctify us.  He forgave David for rape and murder.  Salvation was offered to those who murdered Jesus Himself.  There is nothing too great for Him.  Turn to Him, find your peace and comfort in Him, confess your sins to those who will push you on to righteousness, and rely on His mercy and grace.  You will sin, let’s be prepared for how to respond.

Are there really two sides to every story?

witness

It is ingrained in us to state – and believe – that there are two sides to every story.  We sympathize with our friends when they tell us their woes, but when we debrief in our hearts or with our spouses we typically caveat the story with “this is her perspective” or “I’ve only heard one side”.  We so value individuality and the lack of absolute truth that we have muddied the reality of actual events into a philosophical goulash in which people’s perspectives and logic are more important than what happened.

For instance:  a man stands in a street intersection, pulling a gun and aiming at an approaching driver.  The driver stops, the man opens the car door, throws the driver to the ground, speeds off in the car and shoots the driver as he speeds away.  The driver dies.

These are the cold, hard facts.  Now, we can add circumstances and perspectives that alter this story to make either party appear innocent or excusable.  Perhaps the driver stole the car from the gunman, and the gunman’s child was in the back seat.  Perhaps the gunman was fleeing from a robber and his gun accidentally discharged while he was getting into the car.  Perhaps the two were convicts who escaped prison and turned on each other the moment they cleared the prison walls and both were running for their freedom while trying to frame the other.  Perhaps one of the parties is mentally handicapped and did not understand the ramifications of his actions.

It is always good and helpful to gather as many facts as possible when evaluating a story and situation.  Circumstances can add dimension and understanding to an event and help us to rightly evaluate events and guilt.  This is one reason God gave clear instructions that whenever a case was brought to the court, it could only be tried on the account of two or more witnesses:

“A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.”

– Deut 19.15

Where we often fail, however, is to allow the evidence of two or three witnesses to confirm an event.  We have become so softened to nuance that we desire everyone to not only have the opportunity to defend his actions, but to offer sympathy and alternatives to punishment.  We think that if we can understand why someone did something then we can help him change at the core level.  We believe that everyone is fundamentally good and we can help or rehabilitate them with the right understanding.  In short, we make excuses.

The Church has been given quite the opposite command, however.  We, as believers, have been taught clearly the reality of sin.  Lying.  Cheating.  Fornication.  Adultery.  Murder.  Stealing.  Idolatry.  Pride.  Gossip.  The list goes on and on, and even if we cannot quote the ten commandments or the deeds of the flesh which are listed in various places throughout Scripture, believers have the indwelling Holy Spirit to convict us when we indulge in sinful activities (John 16.8).  As harsh as it sounds, sin is black and white.  Sex outside of marriage is wrong.  Period.  Gossip and slander is sin.  Period.  There are times that we might find ourselves in a philosophical dilemma of self-defense or looking out for the greater good, but by in large our experience with sin is simply to gratify the flesh.  Most people do not lie, steal, or kill with pure motives.  And this is why God sets the standard for multiple witnesses:  to protect the accused and to hold accountable the accuser.

But since we understand the fact of sin and its consequence, the Church has been strongly commanded how to handle it:  accountability and church discipline.  These things go hand in hand.  It starts on the individual level:  If you see your brother or sister in sin, or if someone has sinned against you, you have been commanded to go to that person and confront him.

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.”

– Matt 18.15

Notice that this assumes fault.  Jesus does not say, “ask him what he was thinking” or “evaluate the circumstances”.  No.  Jesus says, “show him his fault”, and then the sinner has the opportunity to repent or continue into the discipline process.  There very well may come an explanation for why the sin was committed, but Jesus is not concerned with the logic or excuse.  Jesus is concerned with repentance and change.

Thus, if the one who sinned does not not listen, we take the next step:  take one or two people with you to confront him again:

“But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.”

– Matt 18.16

Notice here, that this is not necessarily an ongoing sin.  Sometimes we think we should just get over a sin and utilize Church discipline for someone who continues in sin consistently.  But again, Jesus is concerned about our repentance and heart towards that sin.  If someone stole from another, the restitution of property is part of the repentance.  If someone cheated on his spouse, confession of the sin is part of the repentance.  If someone lied, gossiped or shamed another, apologizing and making right what was broken is part of the repentance.  If these things are refused – even if the sin or offense is over – we must take witnesses to confirm the event.  Because God is primarily concerned about our hearts and attitudes towards sin, and if we are unwilling to repent or confess sin, then we most likely are not saved.

If the offender still does not confess or repent, we take the next step:  go to the church at large:

“If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

– Matt 18.17

If someone can stand unrepentant in his sin when the entire church agrees that he has sinned, we are to remove him from our midst.  He has proven himself to not be a believer because he will not submit to God by confessing his sin and repenting from it.  Recognizing our sin and guilt is the first step on the path to salvation.  If we are not guilty and condemned, then we do not need a savior.  Thus if a person is choosing to embrace sin and his own autonomy over his life, He has not submitted to Jesus as Lord and is not a Christian.

But what about “his side” of the story?  Most people can make themselves sound innocent or present themselves as the victims in their circumstances.  It has become common place to say that situations like divorce are always two sided.  But the simple reality is, that is just not true, always.  Yes, it is true that no person is perfect.  No marriage is perfect.  No friendship is perfect.  But one person’s imperfection or sin never warrants another person’s sin.

Philosophy aside, consider this:  A gay man marries a Christian woman because he thinks marriage will change who he is and hopes that her faith will wear off on him.  He never tells her of his disposition, and lives a life of turmoil until he can no longer handle it and eventually divorces her and gives in to the homosexual lifestyle.  Is the woman perfect?  No.  Of course not.  She might lash out at him for being unwilling to be physically intimate with her.  She might get angry or bitter because they will never have children.  She might get angry or bitter when she realizes the fact that he deceived her.  Is there something more she could have done to save the relationship or marriage?  Is she at fault for the divorce?

No.

This is not a two-sided event.  Sure, the man can paint a sad picture to make his friends feel badly for him: that he has spent so much of his life confined by society, that he is finally being true to himself, and that his wife was a terrible person anyway…but the fact of the matter is he sinned.  He deceived his wife, he entered into a covenant with her and did not keep it, and he divorced her for unbiblical reasons.  This is not a two-sided event.  Her sins of anger, bitterness, and just normal life failures do not justify his sin, and there is nothing she could have done to save the marriage.

It takes three people (God, husband and wife) to make a marriage work and one to break it.

Rape.  Child molestation.  Deception.  Gossip.  These things are never excusable because of the other person’s sin.  The old adage is true:  You can only control yourself.  If someone sins against you, you do not then have the freedom to turn around and sin against them.  The wife is indeed guilty of the sin of bitterness, and should seek to love her husband.  If he has been unfaithful to her or divorces her, the Bible says that she is free to move on and remarry because she is not guilty in the divorce – but anger, bitterness, gossip and sins of the like are not excusable and she must confess and repent from them (1 Cor 6-7).

Consider Jesus.  He came to the Earth declaring Himself to be God.  It was because “He made Himself equal with God” that the pharisees and Jews were trying to kill Him (John 5.18).  If we consider their side of the story, it would be extremely convincing.  God had given a promise to Abraham to make the Jews a great nation who would inherit the land of Israel.  They had lived in the land and then were sent into captivity because they had not kept God’s Law.  The very foundation of the Law was to have no other gods or idols, and to only worship God.  To claim deity is blasphemy, punishable by death (Lev 24.16).  Yes, they did not understand Jesus, yes they were wary of His power, but they were weighing Jesus’ claims against the Law and found Him guilty.

Unfortunately for them, Jesus is God and therefore was neither lying nor blaspheming and therefore not guilty of death.

So do they get a pass?  Can they justify themselves by explaining their side of the story?  No. Jesus pronounces terrible judgment on them (Matt 23).  Their sin is not justified or excused just because they thought they were obeying the Law.  They sinned.  Perhaps the most terrible of all sins.  And yet our logic would offer them a chance to defend themselves.

We need to get real about sin.  Yes, we need to remember that the voice of two or three witnesses is vital to avoid false incrimination and to help establish the facts, but we also need to validate the person who has suffered injustice.  We need to get real about confronting sin, but we also need to get real about moving on from sin.  If a person confesses and repents from his sin when confronted, then it is over.  Jesus says that person “has been won”.  Paul says that we should address these conversations carefully because of our own tendency to fall and sin:

“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.”

– Gal 6.1

The reality is, we are all going to sin.  We will all need someone to point out sin in our lives throughout our entire lives.  And our love for one another should help us to confess and move on from those sins without permanently damaging our reputation or standing.  Peter was blessed to preach at Pentecost and lead thousands of people to faith just days after he denied Jesus.  God hates sin, and so should we.  God identifies sin, and so should we.  God honors repentance, and so should we.  God does not keep a record of wrong, and neither should we (1 Cor 13).

We might find that we are tempted to believe that there are “two sides” to every story, but sin is sin and one person’s sin never justifies another’s.  We are all responsible to confess and repent of our own personal sin, even if we have been sinned against.  Why?  Because our sin is ultimately an offense against God, and He judges sin with the harshest judgment.  And while our actions may cause an offense to another person, they never justify another person sinning against us.

The Keys to a True Apology

apology

Most of us have learned – somewhere along life’s path – that a true apology always includes a few things:

  1. An expression of remorse (“I am sorry”)
  2. An acknowledgement of the wrong or offense  (Verbalizing how the offender wronged the offended utilizing empathy to acknowledge and validate the offended’s feelings)
  3. An acknowledgement of responsibility (“It was my fault”, or “I was wrong”)
  4. An expressed plan to change (I will not do this again, and this is how I will be held accountable)
  5. An offer of restitution (“I will make it up to you by…”)
  6. A request for forgiveness

Few of us follow the mental checklist when we are in the heart of a disagreement or are trying to make peace, but after learning how to restore a relationship in this healthy manner we are keenly aware when we receive (or give) a false apology.  It is like the stubborn toddler that the mother forces to “say sorry” when he steals a toy or hits his sister.  As we grow older, however, our false apologies become a bit more suave.  We “say sorry”, but assign the guilt to the offended:  “I’m sorry if I hurt you somehow…” and make excuses, “It was not my intention to offend you”.  While it may be true that it was not our intention to hurt or offend someone, true sorrow recognizes the pain of the other party and seeks to make it better, not justify himself.

It is possible for the offended party to hear true remorse and in spite of being validated in their feelings, offered restitution and asked for forgiveness to choose not to forgive.  And once bitterness has established a deep root it only becomes more difficult.  This is one reason we must be able to recognize broken relationships and make every effort to restore them quickly.  Bitterness and unforgiveness are also offenses, and thus it typically happens that when a confrontation or problem occurs, both parties need to practice the steps of an apology in order for the relationship to be restored.

Mature adults, and well socialized children have learned the interpersonal skill of a true apology.  Surprisingly, however, the skill is not as widely grasped as one would hope.  Many people skirt through life, floating from relationship to relationship and leaving behind any and all who have hurt them.  Some people and families have mastered the art of “moving on” – simply pretending the problem never occurred and “letting it go”.  (Yes, it is also a healthy skill to learn to forgive when an offense was clearly unintentional, or the value of the relationship is greater than the weight of the offense.)  Some people just verbalize “I’m sorry” without validating the other person’s hurt or offering restitution or a plan to change – and thus remain in a cycle of hurting one another.

This confession process, however, is also the pivotal point on which salvation hangs.  It is what Christians call “repentance”.  Scripture teaches us that there are two kinds of sorrow:  one that is a guilt rooted in pride – sorrow for having been caught in sin or sorrow for one’s reputation being tainted, and one that is rooted in humility – sorrow for having sinned against God and for being the cause of Jesus’ suffering.

“For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it—for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while—I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us.  For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.”

– 2 Cor 7.8-10

Godly sorrow recognizes one’s wicked heart and is broken over it.  Worldly sorrow recognizes only the punishment or the ramifications to one’s reputation and just wants a get-out-of-jail-free card.  Godly sorrow leads to deep, profound change.  Worldly sorrow leads to escapism, self-justification, and tactics by which one can save face.  Godly sorrow leads to repentance, and repentance requires not only the apology, but the confession of guilt, the seeking to make restoration, and the earnest effort to change.  Simply saying “I’m sorry” or asking God to forgive us and accept us does not exemplify the heart that is broken in humility before God.

This is why Scripture teaches us that even though we are free in Christ, we cannot use our freedom as an opportunity to sin:

“Act as free men, and do not use your freedom as a covering for evil, but use it as bondslaves of God.”

– 1 Peter 2.16

In short, we cannot make up our minds to sin and expect God to forgive us.  We cannot decide to go rob a bank and think, “I will just repent later”.  We cannot look at pornography, cheat on our spouse or file for divorce and assume God’s forgiveness while we are continuing in that sin process.  True repentance recognizes personal guilt, seeks to make right what is wrong and takes responsibility to change.  God can forgive the bank robber or adulterer, but part of his repentance process will be returning the money or serving the jail time, and making amends to his spouse.

We also cannot come to God and make a blanket confession, “I am a sinner, please forgive me”, and expect that sinner’s prayer to cover our eternity.  From the moment we begin the repentance process, the Holy Spirit will take up residence in our lives and convict us of sin continually and consistently.  And this is a good thing!  Scripture also teaches us that it is the kindness of the Lord that leads us to repentance.  It would be unkind of Him to allow us to remain in our sins and headed to Hell!

“Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?”

– Rom 2.4

Thus we should check ourselves – is the Holy Spirit convicting us?  Have you walked through the steps of confession and repentance with God recently?  Have you walked through the steps of confession and restoration with a friend lately?  It is possible to go long periods of time without hurting or being hurt by a friend, but it is uncommon when we are living life in community the way God has commanded us.  That is just the nature of relationships.  It is not possible, however, with God.  Because none of us will reach full Spiritual maturity and perfection until we are free of our physical bodies.  God knows our every thought and feeling, and while we may not act out on those thoughts or feelings, He knows the sins within.

So let’s get real about our confession and interactions with God.  Even though we preach tolerance in our culture, God does not tolerate our sin.  He hates sin.  And He will not accept us if we just give him a fake “sorry” and continue acting however we want to act.  He must have authority over our actions and decisions, He must be the Lord of our lives and continually guiding us through repentance in order for us to be saved.  So let’s recognize our guilt, confess it, seek to make it right and seek to change.  Let’s also practice these interpersonal skills with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and with the outside world.  People know a true apology when they hear one, and this is just one more brick we can lay in the house of love we are building – by which we seek to be known.  And whenever someone confesses a wrong to us, let us be quick to forgive – for Jesus has always forgiven us of infinitely more than we could ever be asked to forgive.  And not only that, but He promises that God will not forgive us if we are unwilling to forgive others:

“But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.”

– Matt 6.15

So let us be quick to love, quick to apologize, quick to listen and quick to confess.  Let us not grieve the Holy Spirit but follow His prompting when He convicts us, and let us also be quick to apologize if a friend or family member confronts us in a sin or grievance.  God desires that change, that we love well, and that we be known by our love.

Why We Cannot Be Switzerland.

switzerland

Do you remember the childhood pacifist response to confrontation, “I am Switzerland!”  You could listen sympathetically to two friends who were mad at each other for any reason, but when a quarrel would break out in a large group the peace keepers would refuse to take sides, claiming to be neutral – like Switzerland always is – and just wait for the conflict to be resolved and everyone to be happy again.  This is a fairly safe method of conflict management for seven year-olds because rarely is the offense worthy of a life-long feud and while the reconciliation process might be lacking, the conflict is quickly forgotten by distraction.

What does last, however, is the implantation of the worldly worldview that it is best not to intervene.  Our young minds were molded into pacifism, cowardice and selfishness all because we were never trained to rightly and Biblically handle confrontation and sin.  We think if we bury our heads in the sand, someone else will figure it out.  We think that it is not our problem or business, so we turn our backs and ignore the situation.  We do not recognize the eternal consequences of the situation and just wait around for things to work themselves out.  We do not want to pick sides, try to befriend both sides, and end up with nothing in the end.

Does the Bible have anything to say about all of this?

Yes, actually.  It has a lot to say.  First of all, we must approach life, relationships and conflict in humility.  If we have been saved, then we have recognized our own sin, we have recognized the weight of that guilt, we have confessed our sins (and are continually confessing them) to God and to close friends, we are repenting of our sins, and we are forgiving those who offend us (Matt 6.12, 18.22).  If we all were capable of dying to ourselves at every moment and in every situation – putting one another first the way Scripture commands – this would be a non-conversation.

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

 – Phil 2.3-4

Secondly, we must approach life, relationships and conflict in love.  It may feel like the loving thing to let people do whatever they want, but we all know that sometimes love intervenes.  Loving parents do not let children put themselves in harm’s way.  “Friends don’t let friends drive drunk”, right?  And we all know the intervention that is required to help a friend who has been allowed to destroy themselves for years.  But more importantly, we recognize that when someone’s heart has been hardened against repentance, his eternity is at stake (Heb 10.26).  This is why Scripture commands us to confront sin in one another, pushing one another on to holiness, and holding one another accountable.

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.  “But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.  “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

 – Matt 18.15-17

“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.”

 – Gal 6.1

“…and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds…”

 – Heb 10.24

Notice here, that Jesus does not say “If a brother sins against you”, but rather “if your brother sins”.  We often try to excuse ourselves from responsibility because we are not a part of the conflict.  But Jesus says no matter what, confront him so that we might see him repent and be restored and pulled back from the snares of the devil!  It is the loving thing to address sin, so as to help one another along the way to salvation.  We do this with greatest humility and tenderness, knowing that we ourselves are not perfect or above temptation:

“Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.”

 – Gal 6.1

“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

 – Matt 7.3-5

Thirdly, we will be convicted to approach life, relationships and conflict when we understand God’s expectation of us:

“Son of man, I have appointed you a watchman to the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from My mouth, warn them from Me.  When I say to the wicked, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to warn the wicked from his wicked way that he may live, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.  Yet if you have warned the wicked and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered yourself.  Again, when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I place an obstacle before him, he will die; since you have not warned him, he shall die in his sin, and his righteous deeds which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand.  However, if you have warned the righteous man that the righteous should not sin and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning; and you have delivered yourself.”

 – Ez 3.17-21

If we do not confront sin in our brothers and sisters, their blood is on our hands.  If love and compassion for our brother who is toying with his Spiritual walk and eternity will not drive us to say something, then perhaps the direct commandment from God and the consequence of forever having his blood on our hands will.

“Silence in the face of evil is evil itself:  God will not hold us guiltless.  Not to speak is to speak.  Not to act is to act.”

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer

But how do we know?

Ok, so now we know that we are commanded to confront one another and it is the loving thing to do, how do we know what to say and when to say it?  To oversimplify, we take note of the unrepented sin.  As redeemed and forgiven children of God, we should not walk around looking to beat people up for mistakes and sins that they have committed.  Rather, when we observe that someone has given in to any sin, they have made peace with it, they are not changing from it.

What this means, first and foremost, is we must know what God calls and considers sin.  He is God, and He gets the final say.  Everything from murder to sexual immorality (lust, fooling around with someone and sex outside of marriage, pornography, adultery), to lying, to bitterness, pride and selfishness.

“Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are:immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

 – Gal 5.19-21

Secondly, this means that we recognize repentance is the key.  We will all stumble and fall into sins at times, we will all willingly choose to partake in sins at times, but the determining and damning factor is our response to that sin.  Do we make peace with it?  Do we enjoy it and continue in it?  Or do we recognize it, confess it and repent from it?  If you see someone repeatedly participate or give in to a sin, then we lovingly confront them and walk them through repentance holding them accountable.  If we see two friends fighting, and they are unable to come to resolution, then we confront the pride, bitterness and division – walking them through repentance and holding them accountable.  The expectation of God is not for us to simply point out sin in one another, but to actually enable and walk alongside one another to maturity.

We also understand that God is sanctifying us all differently and we are at different points in our Spiritual development and maturation.  So when we breach a topic of sin, we first pray and rely on the Holy Spirit’s leading, then we bring the Scripture with us – because the person may not yet know that his actions are indeed sinful!  The Holy Spirit might not have gotten there yet with him.  The person may not be hardened in sin, but immature.  This is no excuse, and it is still our role as brothers and sisters to confront and walk alongside.  This is also much easier than dealing with someone who has given in to sin and has hardened his heart against God and Scripture.

Finally, this means that we do take sides.  We take sides against sin.  So often we gloss over confrontation and division and desire to remain neutral, but Scripture teaches us that division itself is a sin (Gal 5.20).  Has a husband abandoned his wife?  That is a sin.  We stand up against that sin.  Has a wife had an affair on her husband?  That is a sin.  We stand up against that sin.  Is someone stealing from the Church or their job?  That is a sin.  We stand up against that sin.  Is someone proud, sleeping around, unforgiving or a gossip?  These are all sins.  We stand up against those sins.  It is very rare that a conflict is based purely on one person’s sin.  It does happen, though typically there is guilt on both sides.  What then?  We stand up against all sin, and we forgive, overlook and hold accountable the repentant.  Our hope and prayer is that all parties repent.  Our instruction is to push all parties to repentance, and to maintain the purity of the body by removing the unrepentant from among us.

Sin is no laughing matter.  It is, in fact, what merits our eternal damnation.  We must, in love, push one another on to holiness and for the sake of our own conscience and confront sin.  We do not want blood on our hands.  We do this all in love, all in humility, and all to the glory and honor of God, hoping that we maintain purity and holiness in our families, churches and communities.  Let us consider one another – better than ourselves – and hold one another accountable!

Am I disqualified from serving God?

shame1

What is your experience and background with the Church?  Do you believe that God is an angry sovereign ready to smite you for every mistake that you make?  Or do you believe that God is love and accepts everyone, regardless of their belief system and backgrounds?  Are you predisposed to pride and arrogance?  Or are you prone to doubt and insecurity?  It is remarkable how our personalities and worldviews affect our assumptions and expectations towards God.  And typically, having one disposition blinds us from truly comprehending the personality makeup of those on the opposite extreme.  We might understand academically that some people wrestle with depression, but having a strong personality and high self esteem we think others are exaggerating or just looking for attention through their insecurity.  Or, wrestling with depression or doubt we might think that others have it all together and never have moments of weakness.

Along those lines, if you have experience in any fundamental legalistic church, you might have been trained to believe that while grace is free and abundant and that God forgives sins, there are many sins that simply disqualify us from serving God.  You might even be condemned for a life situation over which you had no control!  If, however, you have attended a liberal, “grace” driven church, you might believe that your actions have absolutely no bearing on your service to or standing before God.  Thankfully, we have the Bible to clearly teach us about grace and our worth before God, and we can walk in confidence if someone (even ourselves) has tried to convince us we have been disqualified from serving God.

First of all, God hates sin.  There are lists of sins that God hates throughout Scripture, the entire Law from the Old Testament was written to define sin and keep people from it, and the reason Jesus came to the world was to save us from our sin by paying the due punishment we deserve for it.  There is a problem in the world, there is a problem in every single human being and that is sin.  Until mankind had sinned, he was not separated from God, and after one little sin he was damned to Hell and the entire world was cursed.  Sin is a big deal.  It is that which separates us from God and causes us to need a savior.  God hates sin, He pours out His wrath against sin, and He will not overlook even the smallest sin.  His righteousness and justice demands that every single sin be judged by the harshest punishment because His standard is perfection.

We, as sinners, cannot rectify this sin problem.  Therefore, God sent Jesus to live a perfect life so that He, though not deserving punishment for sin, could take our place and pay the punishment that we deserve by dying a horrific death on a cross, descending to Hell for three days, and raising back to life – conquering death and offering us His righteousness.  Jesus offers us the free gift of salvation which is essentially the switching of places with Him.  If we have faith in His work and repent of our sins, then He takes the punishment for our sins and we take His perfection – in the eyes of God.

This exchange is no limited to the little sins.  Pretty much any sin for which you might condemn yourself (or someone else) is exemplified by the greatest men and women of the Bible.  Murder (Moses, Paul), Adultery (David), Prostitution (Rahab), Lying (Abraham), Theft (Matthew, Zacchaeus, David), Denying Christ (Peter and ten other apostles), Idolatry (Solomon, Rachel), and even Killing off Christians and the Church! (Paul).  God chose to use people who had committed the most heinous of crimes to be some of the most monumental people in history and in the Church.  Many of these crimes were even committed while these people were known to be following God!  God is not shocked by our sins and our failure, and He is ready and willing to forgive anything.  Not only that, we see then that the sin itself does not in any way mark us with a scarlet letter as unworthy or unusable before God.  The simple fact is that none of us who have committed any sin, ever, are worthy to serve God until we switch places with Jesus and take on His righteousness.

Where this gets tricky, however, is the reality that the process of us switching places with Jesus and taking on His righteousness is marked by our repentance.  None of us, while in the flesh, will fully conquer sin.  We will wrestle with sin until our dying day.  We must, however, allow God to be authoritative over our lives and define sin, and we must repent of it – continually giving our hearts and efforts over to God and dying to sin.  What this means, for example, is that you cannot plan a sin and carry it out with the expectation of God’s forgiveness later.  We cannot say, “I will just cheat on this test and I will confess it later and God will forgive me.”  We cannot say, “I am going to have an affair on my wife and/or divorce her, but God will forgive me.”  We cannot say, “I hate him, and I will just keep my distance from him.  It’ll fade away and God will forgive me.”  If we hate sin, we run from it, we despise it’s pleasures and we seek to make right what was wronged by it.  God will forgive the cheating or abandoning spouse if he recognizes that he sinned by having an affair and leaving his wife if he is broken over his sin, confesses it to God and to her, and tries to make restitution.  God will forgive the cheating student if he confesses it to God and the teacher and seeks to make it right – either by retaking the test or taking a consequential fail.  If we love the benefits and pleasures of sin, then we have made peace with that sin, and we have not repented.  This is perhaps the most dangerous of situations.  Scripture says,

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.”

– Heb 10.6-27

If we have confessed our sins, repented of them, and are striving to honor God in our lives then there is nothing that can disqualify us from serving God!

Now, this is the point where we need to examine the Biblical outlines for church leadership.  God loves His Church.  We are His body.  The head of that body is Jesus Christ, and the rest of us make up parts of it both in our local congregations and globally.  Within this body, the Bible gives us clear instructions for two specific roles:  pastors/elders/overseers and deacons.

A pastor or overseer is one who teaches the body regularly.  You might say that he is the mouth of the body.  He is not the head, Jesus alone is the head.  But he does have a leadership and authoritative role over the body, and will be help accountable to God for how he led the flock and cared for our souls.  Thus he must meet these requirements:

“It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.  An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.  He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil.  And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”

1 Tim 3.1-7

First of all, we see that he desires to serve in the office.  We should never appoint someone to be our pastor who is not called, and does not desire the office.  It was trendy in the 90’s for people to say that they fought against it and did not desire the office.  It is wise advice for one to follow that if there is anything else they would like to do, then they should do that.  The rest of the qualifications are character assessments rooted in maturity of the faith.  This is a man, who is not a new convert, and has proven himself to be above reproach, free from the love of money, able to teach, and hospitable.  Of course even pastors and overseers will sin, but is his life marked by repentance?  And is he free from being characterized as a sinner in any of these ways?  Congregations value and appreciate transparency, but being “real” does not mean Spiritual immaturity and inability to fight sin.  This also interestingly notes that the pastor should have one wife.  It has been an issue of strife amongst the church that some would disqualify anyone who had been divorced for any reason, but I argue here that culturally and because of the nature of God and grace, that it means polygamy.  God can even forgive un-Biblical divorce:  He forgave and used David.

Deacons are people who serve the church.  They are appointed as men to oversee and make sure that the needs within the church are met well.  They do not have authority as teachers (though some of them may teach), but their office is one of service.  As such, their qualifications are slightly different:

“Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.  These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach.”

– 1 Tim 3.8-10

Again we see that God is primarily concerned with character.  Deacons must have dignity, they must speak truth boldly (not double tongued), and above reproach.  They should be tested or interviewed to be found above reproach, and then should have good reputation.

All believers will serve God in a variety of ways.  No one committed sin can permanently disqualify us from any form of service.  There may be times when a person serving as a pastor or deacon sins and needs to be removed from office for a season, but he can be restored with proven repentance and regained trust.  Here is what Allistair Begg had to say on the topic:

“Much of what we regard as disqualifications for serving Christ, God in His sovereign wisdom and purpose turns them in to stepping stones rather than stumbling blocks. That as we rehearse the details of our lives and as we look back over our days and as we are confronted by our disappointments and as we are made painfully aware of our failures and as we see what a basket case in many ways we have been, we are forced to conclude that an individual such as we could never be useful in the service of Christ. That is a lie of the devil. That is one of the most clever ways that the evil one sidelines useful people from Christian service. To tell us that actually, the mess of our past disqualifies us. And I want to say to you as individuals, let us be about the business of the Phil 3:14 perspective: Forgetting those things that lie behind, once we have learned from them, whether in success or in failure, let us press on towards the goal, to win the prize for which God has called us Heavenward in Christ Jesus. God is in the business of putting people like you and me, warts and all, into the front lines of service for Him, even in our days.”

– Alistair Begg

So let’s get busy about recognizing and repenting from our sins.  Let’s get busy about joining the front lines of the battle, pushing back the enemy and engaging in the battle for people’s souls.  Let’s get busy about serving God in every way that we can.  Let’s remember that God works all things together for our good and for His glory, even our sins and failures.  Let’s allow Him to use our past as a testimony to His grace and goodness.  Let’s not believe lies and get sidelined because of something we have done, and let’s not sin boldly expecting God’s forgiveness.  Let’s revel in grace, repent of our sins, and boldly proclaim the Gospel that all who believe and repent can be saved!

Let’s get you saved.

u turn

We, as a society (and as Christians), are becoming more and more timid and fearful to discuss sin.  We do not want to sound judgmental, we do not want to be labeled a bigot, we think we will be hypocrites for defining sin if we ourselves do not live a perfect life, and we are afraid that we will push people away.  Political correctness, in all of its glory, is making us into a people with soft sin who think that we can ignore reality by burying our heads in the sand and pretending nothing exists.  And in church-ese, we have become very comfortable to invite people “as you are”, we want everyone to feel comfortable and welcome to be a part of our weekly gatherings and worship services, because we just want to “get you saved”.

But what does being saved actually mean?

When we talk about Jesus, forgiveness and salvation with children, we often use terminology like, “ask Jesus into your heart”.  Not only is this concept unbiblical, it is extremely dangerous.  It is superstitious.  It will damage many people for a long time.  Why?  Because salvation the culmination of a person understanding his position before God, grasping the weight of his sin and consequences thereof, confessing his sin and repenting from it, asking God for forgiveness based on the sacrifice of Jesus, being covered by His blood and clothed in His righteousness, and living a lifestyle that is continually dying to self, obeying God and persevering through trials.  Yes, there is a mutual abiding that occurs – us in Jesus and Jesus in us (John 15.4-9).  Yes, God does also place the Holy Spirit within us to convict us of righteousness, sin and judgment (John 16.8).  And yes, we are a temple for the Holy Spirit to indwell (1 Cor 6.9).  But Jesus never commanded anyone to ask Him to come live in his heart.  Paul never preached the Gospel as thus.  Rather, it focused on repentance and making Jesus the Lord over everything.

What this all means is that the salvation experience beings with understanding of sin.  We cannot “get you saved” until you understand that every single human being who has walked the face of this Earth (besides Jesus) is utterly wicked (Rom 3.23), is an enemy of God (James 4.4), is dead Spiritually (Eph 2.1), and deserves an eternity in Hell as just punishment.  And since this is true of every single human being, this is true of me and this is true of you.  I am, by nature, wicked.  You are, by nature, wicked.  We are, because of our nature, separated from God and bound towards Hell.

God hates sin.

God hates all sin.

And because God hates sin,
God will not overlook any sin.

God will, at the end of time, judge every human being by the deeds they preformed in the flesh.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.

– 2 Cor 5.10

 Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor.

– 1 Cor 3.8

“Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to render to every man according to what he has done.”

– Rev 22.12

“I am He who searches the minds and hearts; and I will give to each one of you according to your deeds.”

– Rev 2.23

And God, being perfect, will not sweep any sin under the rug.  He is just, He is righteous, and He does not show leniency towards any sin that is preformed.  This is a terrifying reality.  Because while it is true that murderers deserve to go to Hell for killing another human being, we also deserve to go to Hell for eating a cookie that our moms told us not to eat when we were six years old.  Think about it: that is exactly why God kicked Adam and Eve out of the Garden, damned to Hell, and the entire world put under the curse:  eating a piece of fruit that God said, “Do not eat”.

Would you have cursed all of creation over that?

Probably not, because we are comfortable with a level of sin.  We know, in our hearts, that we are all sinners and we show grace to the little sins and pretend like they are nothing.  But God will repay everyone accordingly, and His standard is perfection:  the Law.

“Vengeance is Mine, and retribution,
In due time their foot will slip;
For the day of their calamity is near,
And the impending things are hastening upon them.”

– Deut 32.35

We cannot find salvation until we understand from what we need saving.  We are not simply trying to introduce people to Jesus so that they can have a relationship with Him, we are trying to help people understand the dire situation in which they are living and flee from it.  Jesus will not enter into relationship with you until you recognize, confess and repent from your sin.

Now, hear me.  This does not mean that we have to get all of our sin in order before we come to Jesus for salvation.  Only Jesus can empower and enable us to fight and conquer sin.  We cannot clean ourselves up enough to make ourselves acceptable to Him.  But the salvation process and experience begins with us recognizing our wicked nature, its consequence, and our turning from sin to Jesus.

Jesus came to the world and lived a perfect life – one not deserving of death – but yet He died in our place.  We have been sentenced to death – physically and Spiritually – and Jesus stepped in and paid our debt.  God does not, by our asking for forgiveness, overlook our sin, He pays our penalty in Jesus.  He does not just say, “It’s ok, I forgive you”, He says, “I have poured out all of my wrath for your sin on Jesus.  He suffered so that you do not have to.”

When we grasp the weight of our sin and fate, and when we then grasp the weight of our forgiveness – that it is not flippant but cost Jesus His life – then we begin the life of getting to know Jesus, learning what God has to say about how we are supposed to live and how we are supposed to act, and changing.

Yes, Jesus wants to have a relationship with you.  But that relationship is fundamentally Him as Lord and you as servant, follower and lastly friend.  Jesus is not your homeboy, He is God.  He is king.  On a throne.  And He will be respected.  He will be worshiped.  On the day that we meet Him, every knee will bow (Phil 2.10).  We will not even be able to stand up in His presence.

And Jesus takes the sin matter extremely seriously.  So seriously, in fact, that Scripture teaches us that if we come to Jesus for salvation, but then continue sinning, we are not saved.  There is very little hope for us, in fact:

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.”

– Heb 10.26-27

This does not mean that will not sin.  Scripture offers us great comfort and peace when we stumble in a moment of weakness:

“My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.”

– 1 John 2.1-2

What this means, then, is that we cannot make peace with sin.  We cannot go on sinning willfully and assuming that Jesus will forgive us.  Jesus wants us to love Him and obey Him out of that love.  If we are striving to honor Him in our daily lives, but falter in a moment of weakness, He will forgive us.  It is covered by His blood.  But if we think that we are buddy-buddy with Jesus and that we can live however we want and assume His forgiveness, then we are not saved.  True love for Jesus is rooted in a sober understanding of our sinful nature and overwhelming gratefulness for His sacrifice – paying our debt – and is exemplified in our complete surrender to His will and desire.  In short, because of what He did for us, we do everything that we can to honor Him and to make Him proud of us.

This is what abiding in Him means.  Not that we just ask Jesus into our hearts and obtain some eternal fire insurance.  It means that the Holy Spirit takes up residence within us and convicts us of sin and helps us to change.

“And He, when He comes, will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment…”

– John 16.8

In summary, God wants to have a relationship with us.  And that relationship is based on love – God is love, and we only know love if we know God.  But that relationship also is built on our submission and obedience to Him.  And the outpouring of our love and appreciation for the gift of salvation is getting to know Him by reading the Bible, applying His truths to our lives, turning away from sin and glorifying Him in everything that we do.

Will Jesus vomit you out of His mouth?

jesus at the door

The last church that Jesus addresses in His revelation to John is the Church at Laodicea.  This admonition contains two of the most well known teachings of Scripture, both of which are regularly misunderstood.

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this:  ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot.  So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.  Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see.  Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.  Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.  He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’”

– Rev 3.14-22

Jesus, as He has with all six of the other Churches, defines Himself according to the coming warning.  He is “the Amen”, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God.  Amen literally translates as, “So be it”, but when it begins a phrase it is usually found in Scripture translated as, “Truly” or “verily”.  He is the Truth and the fulfillment of the will of God, the witness who is never quieted – regardless of His circumstances, and because of His faithfulness is the first born of all creation, and in particular the first raised to new life of the new creation.

This is in stark contrast to the complacent Church who is neither hot nor cold.  Some have wondered if being hot implies a fervor for God and being cold is the extreme opposite.  But we know from all of Scripture that God pours out His wrath on sinners who do not repent.  Therefore, we must conclude that both hot and cold are desirable.  It has been suggested that the analogy lies in the geographical reality of the Church:  a city nearby, Hieropolis, contained hot springs from which Laodicea built aqueducts to transport water – which would grow tepid by its arrival to the city, and also nearby Colossae had the pure cold water.  The analogy is simple, they are – by their deeds – lukewarm water:  undesirable and useless.

Notice that Jesus is pointing out specifically their deeds, and not their heart.  They are complacent, they are self-sufficient, and they are doing nothing of value or service to God.  They have become wealthy and comfortable and are not relying on God, and doing nothing to His glory or service.  Jesus describes their Spiritual state as ” wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked”.  In essence this Church has accepted Jesus to take care of their eternity and are comfortable taking care of their own livelihoods on Earth.  Sound familiar?  But when we strive to live our lives in our own strength and without Jesus, we are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked.  And we have no expectation of hope in the end.

Jesus implores them to turn to Him; to buy gold refined by fire, Spiritual gold, to become Spiritually rich, so that they can be clothed Spiritually in white garments which are free from sin and blemish, washed clean by His blood.  And Jesus will anoint their Spiritual eyes so that they can see their Spiritual state and the things which have true, eternal value.  He is chastising them out of love, because “Those whom [He] love[s], [He] reprove[s] and discipline[s]”.

This is of utmost importance:  Jesus is addressing a church.  Remember the Parable of the Soils we looked at when studying the letter to the Church at Sardis?  The seed of the Gospel has fallen on the Church at Laodicea, and there has been some measure of response, some life.  Jesus, therefore, is stepping in and helping them remove the stones that are blocking their Spiritual depth:  wealth and comfort.  If they do not repent, they will shrivel up and die.  But they are alive and Jesus loves them and is calling them to repent, become zealous for Him – to follow His example of being a faithful and true witness.  He is standing at the door of their hearts knocking, admonishing them to repent.  Jesus is not standing at the door of every heart knocking, we know that there are some who were created as vessels of wrath (Rom 9), and we know that there are some with whom Jesus already resides (the Church at Philadelphia).  Jesus stands at the door of sinning believers who have tasted of the Heavenly gift, calling them to repentance.  And he who opens the door, he who turns from his lukewarm ways,

“I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.”

Do you want to reside with Jesus?  Do you want to be one with Him as He is one with the Father?  Do you want to rule with Him throughout all of eternity?  We must turn to Him, rely on Him, obey and serve Him faithfully here on the Earth.  The Church at Laodicea sounds to me like the American Church.  Very few of us are concerned about our next meal.  We have electricity, we have a roof, we have transportation, and we are struggling for very little.  Therefore we are complacent, we are not zealous, and our deeds are lukewarm.  Let us heed the warning of Jesus, to focus on eternal rewards, on eternal wealth, and exhausting our resources on the kingdom of Heaven.  Let us be zealous for Jesus and His return.  Otherwise, we may find ourselves being spewn from His mouth.