A. For several weeks now, we have been spending some time in the early chapters of Jeremiah talking about the issue of sexual sin.
1. Even though these words were written centuries ago, they speak very directly to us about the true impact of sexual sin in our lives in terms of the shame, the emptiness, the enslavement that it brings.
2. While it seems that our society wants to ignore the consequences, God loves us enough to tell us the truth about this. So that is the focus of chapter 2. We spent about 3 weeks talking about these things from that passage.
3. But in chapter 3 there is a significant shift. We see that God isn’t simply interested in diagnosing the problem. He also wants to help us break free from these things that are destroying our lives.
B. So in chapter 3, God begins showing us a way out--not just of this sinful behavior but any sin that is at work in our lives. What is that way out? Well we see it summarized in Jeremiah 3:22.
1. A very interesting verse: "Return, faithless people; I will cure you of backsliding." In this verse, we see two absolutely essential aspects of our experiencing God’s way out of the sin that entangles us. Two critical aspects of real transformation.
2. The first aspect is contained in that first word: Return which also can be translated repent. Last week we talked in detail about what that means, what that looks like.
3. And what we discovered from chapter 3 was that to return or to repent does not mean what we typically think it means. When we hear the word repent, we typically think it means to just stop doing what you are doing. Just stop it.
C. That’s how a lot of Christians approach sin in their lives--just stop it. We make promises to do better. We exert our will power. But it doesn’t work. Trying harder to avoid sin doesn’t work.
1. You see, repentance--at a foundational level--is not simply about stopping our sin. Rather it is about seeing our sin the way God does. Acknowledging to God the guilt of our sin and the devastation that our sin brings into our lives.
4. In that seeing, something significant happens in our soul. Which is the second critical aspect of genuine transformation and is what is described for us in the second part of this verse: vs 22 "Return, faithless people; I will cure you of backsliding." Another translation says "I will heal you of faithlessness."
D. But notice who is doing the heavy lifting here. Notice who is doing the work. God is. It is His activity in us that will help us break free from these sins that are destroying our lives.
1. This is amazing when you think about it. Our God is not saying, "C’mon. do better. Try harder. You can beat this thing." No. That’s not what He’s saying. God says, "return to Me, and I will release my power in your life in greater ways. I will do the work in you."
2. So what exactly does that mean? What exactly does that look like? How does this work? Well that’s what we want to look at today.
3. We’re going to build upon this incredibly important foundation of repentance and discover how we can experience God’s power helping us in our battle with sin.
E. In order to do that, we need to move a bit forward in the book of Jeremiah to chapter 17. So if you have your Bible, please turn to Jeremiah 17.
1. Now if you are wondering what is the primary theme of chapters 4-16, let me give it to you in a word: sin. For the bulk of chapters 4-16 (which probably encompasses several years in the life and ministry of Jeremiah), God is passionately pointing out the sin of his people.
2. What becomes clear is that sin--this tendency toward self centeredness and trying to find life apart from God--is not just a minor issue in our lives. It is pervasive. It is a dominating force in our lives--but there is a more dominating force that we can tap into. The very power of God.
F. And the way we tap into this power is revealed in Jeremiah 17:5-8 Let’s read this out loud together: "This is what the Lord says: ’Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord. He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.
But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit." This is God’s Word.
1. This is an amazing picture, an incredible description of the key to tapping into the resources of God and experiencing real transformation.
2. So what is the key? It’s not trying harder and exerting more will power. No. What is the key? Trust. That is the one thing that connects us to the power of God.
3. That is the one thing that God is most interested in from us--trust or faith. The Hebrew word here is the word Batach which means to attach oneself to, to place one’s absolute confidence and security in.
4. God is describing this contrast--two very different ways of living. One results in a wasteland experience, the other in life and fruitfulness.
G. And the difference between the two boils down to this one issue: Trust. The entire world, every human being, can be placed in one of these two categories. One of these two groupings--and it’s not republican or democrat, conservative or liberal, rich or poor.
1. It all boils down to this question, In whom are we trusting. Now right away there is something very important about humanity that God reveals here.
2. Notice the grouping is not, Those who trust God and those who do their own thing. The believers and the unbelievers. No. That’s not what God says.
3. It’s not that one camp is all about trust and the other camp is all about something else. No. Both camps are trusting in something. One is trusting in their own strength, the other is trusting in God.
H. But both are placing their confidence, their trust in something. This tells us something very important about our humanness. We were created, not as independent beings, but rather as dependent beings.
1. Every human being trusts in something. Every human being is looking to something or someone to be their security, their identity. No one is exempt.
2. We were not created as independent creatures--even though we like to think we are. Every one of us trusts in something.
4. Let me make this even more practical. At any given moment in time, each one of us are in one of these two camps. At any given moment in time, we are either trusting in God as our security, our identity, our life OR we are trusting in something else.
I. This applies to any sin including sexual sin. Someone who is committing adultery for instance--why are they doing something that breaks covenant with their spouse, that puts their marriage at risk. Why?
1. At that moment, they are placing their trust, their confidence in something other than God--this other person’s affirmation, this other person’s interest in them. They are looking to that as a way of bringing them life.
2. Pornography, premarital sex--same thing. We are placing our confidence in this thing’s ability to bring us life. And God tells us here exactly where that leads.
3. Look again at vs 5 Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord. He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives."
4. This is a vivid picture of where this stuff always leads. Anytime we are placing our trust in something other than God, it leads to this wasteland experience--emptiness, etc.
5. Now we’ve already talked about that in detail in chapter 2. The emptiness, the dissatisfaction that sexual sin brings into our lives--but these verses here are actually saying so much more than that.
J. Notice again vs 5 Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength. This term ’flesh’ refers to our physical body, our outer man. So what does that mean exactly--to trust our outer man, our physical body?
2. Well it helps when we realize that this term is also used in the New Testament to describe our physical body, our outer man. What we learn in the NT is that sin actually dwells in our flesh, in our physical body. And it is waging war against the Spirit who lives in our hearts.
3. Now unfortunately, when we hear the word "flesh’ in this way, we tend to only think of evil desires--our lusts and our greed. These are desires of the flesh.
4. Which is true but it’s a bit too limiting. Because the word flesh also refers to something else. It refers to human effort.
5. So in Galatians 3:2 Paul writes "Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?"
K. That word translated ’human effort’ is actually the word flesh. Paul is so frustrated at the Galatian Christians because, while they started their Christian life trusting in Jesus, they now are trying to live out that Christian life by trusting in the flesh. By trusting in their own effort. And it won’t work.
1. This is so important. When we try to break free from sinful behaviors by trusting in our own effort, our own ability, our own strength, we are doing exactly what God is saying in Jeremiah 17:5.
2. We are placing ourselves in a spiritual wasteland, a spiritual desert. We will never experience real transformation, because we are trusting in our own ability.
3. "I can do this. I can defeat this thing. I can get better. I can become more Christ-like." We’re placing our trust in our selves. We are overestimating our own ability and underestimating the power of sin.
L. What God is saying here in Jeremiah 17 and also in Romans 7 in the NT is, No matter how hard we try, we cannot defeat sin through will power and effort. ’Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength.’ We can’t do it.
1. This is a critical part of the repentance that we talked about last week--to see our sin the way God does means fully realizing that we can’t do a thing to fix it.
2. All my efforts to become holy, to become less sinful or ultimately bankrupt because they are rooted in self effort.
M. I spent most of my Christian life on this path--thinking that by working hard at this Christianity thing--doing all the things Christians are supposed to do--praying, reading the word, going to church, etc. that I would become more Christ-like.
1. After years of this, I had a very unsettling realization: I’m not getting any less sinful. The pull of my flesh is as strong as ever.
2. How can that be? After all that time and effort? What was the problem? The problem was, all of this effort was ultimately rooted in a trust in myself, a confidence that if I just worked at it hard enough, I would become like Jesus.
N. A lot of us as Christians are on this same path--trying to defeat the sin in our lives through self effort. Now I’m not saying prayer and the Bible and going to church are bad things. They are not. They are good things. They are critical things.
1. The critical question is, what are we using them for? Why are we doing these things?
2. If I am trying to do these things to help me become less sinful, it won’t work. These things don’t change in any way the sinfulness of my flesh. My lust and greed are as strong as ever.
3. Well then why do them? Only one reason--to deepen my trust in Jesus, to deepen my dependence upon Him. If I read the Bible simply as a list of things to avoid, it won’t help me overcome sin.
4. But if I read the Bible in such a way that it enables me to encounter Jesus and to more deeply trust Him, real transformation can happen. Because, remember what is it that God is most interested in? Not our ability. He is most interested in our trust.
5. Look again at vs 7 But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him.
O. That’s what God is after. Our trust. He wants us to live in a vital, moment by moment dependence upon Him.
1. Where we live our lives placing our confidence, not in our ability to defeat sin, or in our ability to make ourselves less sinful. No.
2. It’s not about our ability at all. It’s about His ability. It’s about trusting in greater ways His power, His holiness, His life.
3. Do you see now how repentance and trust go hand in hand in this whole transformation process? In repentance, I see my sin from God’s perspective--I see how self focused and self absorbed and self centered I am and I realize that I can’t do a thing to fix this.
4. and in that realization of my brokenness and weakness, something absolutely wonderful can happen. I can look beyond myself for help. I can look beyond my ability for help.
P. In 2 Corinthians 12:10, Paul said it this way: "Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me...When I am weak, then I am strong."
1. Paul is saying, ’when I finally get to the end of myself, when I finally realize that I cannot defeat this thing, that it is too powerful for me, a door is opened for me to experience the power of God being released in my life.
2. This is so counterintuitive, isn’t it? When we are broken, when we have failed again and have given into sexual sin, when we see the depth of our need and our inability to fix it, what do we feel in that moment?
3. Discouragement, defeat. We feel light years from God. But that’s not true. The truth is, we are closer to God than we ever were trying to defeat this sin in our own power.
4. Because suddenly we see with incredible clarity our need for help beyond ourselves. In that place of failure, we can experience Jesus in a deeper way. In a transforming way. Through the power of trust.
Q. One of my favorite ways to illustrate this is found in a video clip from the Fellowship of the Ring movie. I’ve shown it before but it is powerful enough to show again and again.
1. The movie centers around a magical ring--one that can bestow absolute power on whoever wears it. The ring is a vivid image of sin, because whoever gets near the ring begins to be controlled by it. The ring awakens the sinful nature within people.
2. In one particular scene, Bilbo Baggins, who during his adventures came into the ring’s possession , is being asked by his good friend and wizard Gandalf to give it up. Let’s watch this scene.
Quote from clip:
Gandalf: "I think you should leave the ring behind, Bilbo. Is that so hard?"
Bilbo: "Well no... and yes! Now it comes to it, I don’t feel like parting with it, its mine, I found it, it came to me!"
Gandalf: "There’s no need to get angry."
Bilbo: "Well, if I’m angry, it’s your fault!" [caresses the ring] "It’s mine! My own, my precious."
Gandalf: "Precious? It’s been called that before, but not by you."
Bilbo: "Argh! What business is it of yours what I do with my own things!"
Gandalf: "I think you’ve had that Ring quite long enough."
Bilbo (puts up his fists): "You -- want it for yourself!"
Gandalf: "Bilbo Baggins!! Do not take me for some conjurer of cheap tricks. I am not trying to rob you. I’m trying to help you."
[Bilbo starts weeping. He stumbles towards Gandalf, who embraces him gently.]
Gandalf: "All your long years we’ve been friends. Trust me as you once did, hmm? Let it go."
Q. Did you notice Gandalf’s appeal to Bilbo? It’s not, ’Let go of the ring because it’s the right thing to do’ or ’Just do it because you’re supposed to’, or even ’Do it because I told you to.’
1. No. His appeal is rooted in trust: "I’m trying to help you...Trust me as you once did." It was Bilbo’s trust in Gandalf that ultimately broke the stronghold the ring had in his life.
2. Such is the power of faith. It breaks through strongholds that will-power and ’trying hard’ cannot break. Jesus extends this same appeal to us every moment of our lives. Will you trust me?
3. Will you place your confidence, not in your own ability but in mine? That’s the only way the power of sin will be broken in our lives. That’s the only way we will experience the life God wants us to know. He continually asks us: Will you trust Me?
R. That trust decision opens a door for the very Presence of Jesus to flow in and through us. This is what the imagery in Jeremiah 17 points toward.
1. Look again beginning in vs 7 "But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit."
2. What an incredible picture of the life that is released in us when we trust Jesus. Can you see this in your mind’s eye? Here is this tree that is planted right next to a fresh water stream.
3. So when drought and heat hit, it doesn’t matter. This tree always has leaves that are green and full of life and fruit. Why? Because its roots are connected to this stream. This water is always flowing into the tree and nourishing it.
S. This is the life God invites us to experience--a life of vital connection to His life giving stream, so that no matter what our circumstances, no matter how strong the pull of temptation, no matter how weak our flesh, the very power of Jesus can flow into our lives, enabling us to choose holiness, to choose life.
1. It’s not that our sinful flesh is becoming more holy at that moment. No. What’s happening is that the holiness of Jesus is flowing through us at that moment.
2. We simply become a conduit of His life and power. And it is our trust that opens the valve at that moment in time. Our willingness to run to Jesus, to depend upon Him, to lean into Him in the midst of our weakness.
3. These two things, repentance and trust, are God’s way out of the sexual sins--or whatever sins--that pull at us and enslave us. No matter how far from God you feel, no matter how enslaved to this sin you are, the way out is the same.
4. In the midst of your brokenness, there is a Savior who loves you and longs to meet you in that place. He longs for you to depend upon Him, to let His life flow through you.
T. Now some of you may be thinking, how in the world are you getting all this out of Jeremiah 17, this old testament passage? How do we know this is pointing us to Jesus?
1. There is a very interesting passage a few chapters later in Jeremiah 23 that reveals where all of this old testament stuff is pointing.
2. Look with me at Jeremiah 23:5-6 "The days are coming," declares the Lord, ’when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days, Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety."
3. To whom is this pointing? Jesus. In the midst of all the sin and rebellion that Judah and Israel are engaged in, God points them to a way out--a perfect, wise King who will save them. Who will deliver them. The way out is Jesus.
4. Now look again at vs 6 "In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety." Guess what this word ’safety’ means? The verb from which this word derives is the same verb used in Jeremiah 17 and there it is translated "trust".
5. God is saying, when Jesus comes, Judah will be saved and Israel will live in trust, in vital dependence upon this King, this Savior.
U. Now in light of this, look at the very next phrase: "This is the name by which He will be called: The LORD Our Righteousness.
1. Think about what this is saying. It is not saying, Jesus will show us what righteousness looks like. Jesus will be an example to us of how to live a righteous life. Just follow Jesus. Try hard to be a better person.
2. That’s not what it says. It says "His name will be called, The LORD our righteousness. He IS our righteousness. It’s not about us becoming more righteous. And trying hard to establish our own r’ness.
3. It’s about us living in and experiencing His righteousness flowing through us. How does that happen? Trust. Living in moment by moment dependence upon this incredible Savior, who gave His life for us--who longs to live and express His righteousness through us.
V. So how does all of this repentance and trust stuff work in practical terms. What might this look like in someone’s life?
1. Let’s say John is being pulled toward pornography. After everyone is in bed, he is getting on the computer and engaging in this secret sin.
2. He knows it’s wrong. He wants to change but he keeps feeling pulled toward this. So what do repentance and trust look like for John?
3. Repentance means a willingness, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to see our sin the way God does. So John decides to spend some time before God about this.
4. Asking the Holy Spirit to open his eyes to see this the way God does. This isn’t just a quick one time prayer. Over a period of time, John opens his heart to God about this--looking at the sin beneath the sin, which we have talked about in previous weeks.
5. Admitting the longing for affirmation, the longing to feel good about himself that is feeding his porn habit. So He opens his heart to God about that.
U. In the midst of this time repentance, John realizes that part of the power of this sin is that he is struggling in secret. So he decides to tell someone.
1. Perhaps he shares this with his wife and asks her to pray for him. Or maybe he shares it with a close friend and asks his friend to meet weekly with him for awhile to check in and pray.
2. Do you see how repentance is helping break up the unplowed ground in John’s life? He’s seeing the sin from God’s perspective. He’s not hiding, shifting the blame, minimizing. He sees his need.
3. Which then opens a door for John to trust Jesus more deeply. So he begins welcoming the presence of Jesus into these places of sin and shame.
4. He opens His heart to the love of Jesus into those places. He finds that listening to worship songs, and having time alone with God are helping Him encounter Jesus more deeply.
5. In the midst of all this, one night he wakes up and feels the pull to go look at porn. But instead of jumping out of bed and going back to this sin, he does something different.
V. He prays. He admits to God how desperately he wants to go do this. He admits to God that in His own effort, He can’t defeat this.
1. And then John says, "Jesus, I need You. I welcome You into this longing. I know that you alone can meet my need for affirmation. This won’t. I need You to live your r’ness through me.
2. Now maybe the first few times, it doesn’t work. He goes ahead and gives in to the sin. But in the midst of his failure, rather than feeling overwhelmed with guilt and shame, he begins to taste of God’s mercy--which never leaves Him.
3. Something deep in his heart is stirred to want to trust God in this, so the next time the temptation arises, he chooses to trust God. He leans on Him and God gives Him the strength he needs.
4. That experience is so life-giving and encouraging. He feels great the next day. Like a tree planted by streams of water, feeding his soul. Suddenly repentance and trust are being cultivated and transformation is happening.
5. Notice, this is not a one-time thing but is a lifestyle--continually cultivating a life of repentance and trust.
6. So that’s one example. Now I don’t know what repentance and trust specifically look like in your situation, but I do know that they can bring the transformation you long for.
W. This is the life God invites us to live--seeing the depth of our need, and running to this Savior who longs to express His life and righteousness in and through us.
Alan Kraft is lead pastor of Christ Community Church in Greeley, CO and author of Good News for Those Trying Harder. He is a graduate of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. To find out more about Alan’s ministry to the spiritually exhausted, check out his website at www.alankraft.net. For free MP3 downloads of sermons by Alan Kraft, visit www.cccgreeley.org. For Alan’s blog, visit www.stoptryingharder.com