If My People…Turn From Their Wicked Ways
2 Chron. 7:11-14
If you’re visiting us, we have dedicated this month to focusing on the importance of the church praying. Just a brief reminder of the context of this passage, under the leadership of King Solomon, Israel has just finished building a temple to the Lord and after that Solomon prays a prayer of dedication that envisions the day when Israel will turn away from the Lord and go apostate. In that day, when they are reaping the hard consequences of their sin, Solomon prays, if they repent and humble themselves and call upon the Lord, will You hear? Will You answer? Will You heal their land?
God comes to Solomon in the night and answers and He says, I will hear and answer and heal – if. There are certain conditions that must be met. These are not conditions of bartering, if you do so much for me than I will do so much for you. No, these conditions simply put us in a place where God can pour out His blessings again without it doing us spiritual harm and hardening us in our sin.
We’ve been looking at the conditions one by one and this morning we come to this condition: If My people…turn from their wicked ways… Let’s begin by praying.
I. Clarifying the message of the gospel
I realize that there might be some people here who are not Christians or who might be exploring what it means to follow Jesus and this phrase “turn from your wicked ways” might reinforce a common idea that a lot of people – and even some churches – have about Christianity. That is, that the message of the Bible can be summed up as do good and don’t do bad so you can go to heaven. If at the end of your life your good works outweigh your bad then you will be forgiven of your bad and allowed into heaven.
No one knows exactly where the tipping point of good outweighing the bad is, so we compare ourselves to people we think are worse than us, like Hitler or the underwear bomber and figure that compared to them we must be ok. It reminds me of a story about two brothers.
ILL. These two brothers were well known for their crooked business dealings, and both had ruined a lot of people’s lives as they went after getting rich. They did become quite wealthy over the years and then finally one of the brothers died.
The surviving brother knew that he and his brother’s reputation in the town was dirt so he searched for a pastor who would give a eulogy that would improve his brother’s image (and thereby improve his own). He told the pastor that he would pay him a lot of money to give the eulogy on one condition: somewhere in the eulogy the pastor had to refer to the deceased brother as a saint. The pastor thought of all he could do with the money and finally agreed to do it.
When the funeral service began, the sanctuary was filled with townspeople who had been swindled by these guys and were hoping that the man’s wicked character would be publicly exposed in the service. They had no idea about the deal made between the pastor and the surviving brother.
At last the moment for the eulogy arrived. The minister began to speak, “the man you see in the coffin was a vile and debauched individual. He was a liar, a thief, a deceiver, a manipulator, a reprobate, and a hedonist. He destroyed the fortunes, careers, and lives of countless people in this city, some of whom are here today. This man did every dirty, rotten, unconscionable thing you can think of. But compared to his brother here, he was a saint.”
There won’t be any comparisons on Judgment Day. Each person will have to stand before a holy God and answer for his/her life and God doesn’t grade on a curve. The only standard God uses is His own perfect sinlessness and unless we hit that mark God will have to judge us and condemn us if He is to remain a just and righteous Judge. No one can be saved by doing enough good to outweigh the bad – if that’s your plan then the Bible has bad news for you. But there is good news for us. The good news is that out of love for lost and helpless sinners, Jesus Christ, the perfect Son of God, came to earth and lived the perfect life, pleasing His Father in everything perfectly and then paid for our sin on the cross so that anyone who believes in Jesus will be saved from God’s judgment. That’s why something as brutal and horrible as the cross was necessary to save us from our sins, and why the only way to heaven, according to the Bible, is through faith in Jesus Christ. If you aren’t a Christian, God isn’t asking you to do better. He’s asking you to believe. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.
II. Turning from our wicked ways (repentance) is a vital part of the gospel
So in light of the gospel of grace, what do we do with this phrase? Sadly I think far too many have gone to the other extreme and have gutted the gospel of the call to turn from sin to God – to repent. In fact the call to faith in Christ must include a call to repent. Jesus began his ministry with this message:
"The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel." Mark 1:15
Faith in Christ and repenting from our sin are two sides of the same coin. There is no genuine repentance without faith, and no genuine faith without repentance. There is a costless, changeless form of Christianity that not only says “come as you are” but also says “stay as you are”. The result is that churches are filled with churchgoers who have little more intention of obeying God than non-churchgoers. At every point that they see sin, they refuse to repent.
In his book I Surrender, Patrick Morley writes that the church's integrity problem is in the misconception "that we can add Christ to our lives, but not subtract sin. It is a change in belief without a change in behavior. It is revival without reformation, without repentance."
In other words, there are multitudes of people who profess to belong to God who are in the same distant state from God that the Israelites God was speaking to were in. They are far from God, chasing after other gods, reveling in sin, and reaping the barren, tragic consequences of turning away from God. Who here hasn’t found themselves straying far from God at some point in your life? We sang in the hymn earlier, Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love. Who here can’t relate to that personally? Maybe that’s where you are right now – you know that you are distant from God, that there are things in your life that do not honor God but rather keep you far from God, and while faith in Christ is the only answer for cleansing and forgiveness, we must not think that it is a faith without repentance. God in His love says, come to Me, seek My face, turn from your wicked ways, and I will hear, I will draw near to you.
It’s a matter of direction: we cannot run away from God and run toward God. Turning to wicked ways leads us to turn away from God. Turning to God means turning away from wicked ways. Can’t go in both directions at once!
And we’ve got to be honest about how broad the road of wickedness is. Wickedness isn’t just doing things like murder and stealing and adultery and child abuse. These things are wicked, but the Bible speaks of wicked things going on in our hearts that, to be honest, have become acceptable – even respectable – in the church.
1. Pride (root of all sin – yet it can masquerade as a respectable sin)
2. Selfishness – nothing kills love in our hearts like self-centeredness. A church filled with selfish people will never love one another or the world. Selfishness will make a Christian (or a church) hard and cold and unloving.
3. Gossiping – gossip is like planting an IED (improvised explosive device) that will blow up someone else’s reputation and character. The Bible says gossipers will not grace the halls of heaven. Pretty serious. Pretty wicked. It is amazing that churches can get all upset because someone smokes a cigarette, but it’s no big deal to tear someone apart in the eyes of other people. I know churches that put ash trays outside so that people who smoke can go outside to have a smoke. By all means – the Bible doesn’t say anything about smoking being a sin (I’m not encouraging smoking, just saying it isn’t a biblically identified sin) but it says a lot about gossip.
4. Self-righteousness – being critical of others and feeling superior in our assessment of ourselves is a double edged sword: it is a wicked poison and at the same time it makes us feel spiritually superior. Wow! It takes the work of the Spirit to make us aware of this sin and bring us to repentance.
5. Cowardice – we don’t often think of this as a wicked sin, but cowardice in the list in Rev. 21 of who will be cast into the lake of fire. It is giving in to fear to the point we don’t trust God or do the right thing. Someone else suffers because of our cowardice. The church is to be filled with bravehearts not cowards.
Now, the reality is that we are all sinners – and the sin we commit is wicked sin. The church is to be filled with murderers and adulterers and thieves and yes, even child abusers, and proud, selfish, self-righteous gossips and cowards who have heard the call of the gospel and repented of their sin and found grace and mercy and forgiveness in Jesus Christ. That’s the power of the gospel! But we must not gut the gospel call of the call to repent!
III. Turning from our wicked ways means turning to an obedience-producing love for God
Jesus saves us from our sin, not merely in our sin. The gospel doesn’t just save us so that we can remain comfortably in our sin with no change. Believing in Jesus Christ means receiving the power of the Holy Spirit to turn from sin and turn to God and that means obedience to God. We aren’t saved by obedience to God, but we are saved for obedience to God.
But something vitally important needs to come before our obedience to God – and that is a wholehearted love for God. Listen to Deut. 11:13-17 and see if it doesn’t sound familiar.
"And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the LORD your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul (that’s the commandment), 14he will give the rain for your land in its season, the early rain and the later rain, that you may gather in your grain and your wine and your oil. 15And he will give grass in your fields for your livestock, and you shall eat and be full. 16Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them; 17then the anger of the LORD will be kindled against you, and he will shut up the heavens, so that there will be no rain, and the land will yield no fruit, and you will perish quickly off the good land that the LORD is giving you. Deut. 11:13-17 (ESV)
Keeping the Lord’s commandments is a product of loving Him with all our heart and soul. Jesus also linked our love with our obedience.
"If you love me, you will keep my commandments. John 14:15 (ESV)
It really comes down to what we love. The things that keep us from loving and obeying the Lord have more of our affections than God. We love God first or we love something else first. It’s that simple.
Last week we talked about wholeheartedness – here’s a prayer for us to pray: give me a wholehearted love for Jesus! Help me to love Jesus more than anything – even life itself. We want this church to be characterized by love – a love for Jesus first. Then a love for one another. Then a love for the lost. All the commandments hang on this and flow from this – love for God and for our neighbor.
Do you love Jesus more than life itself? Is your love for God growing and burning brighter than anything else in your life, or has your love for Jesus cooled? Do you find yourself going through the motions: go to church, read your Bible, talk a little about the Bible at care group but quickly want to move on to other topics? We might need to hear Jesus’ words to the church in Ephesus:
"To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: 'The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands.
2" 'I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. 3I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. 4But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Rev. 2:1-5 (ESV)
The remedy, according to Jesus, is to repent. Losing our first love (loving Jesus more than anything) is sin, not just an emotional state, which means we can, by the grace of God, turn away from the sin that is dampening our love and turn towards God and receive a fresh and burning love. Let’s ask for that and ask wholeheartedly! It is a prayer God delights to answer.