Pastor and author John Ortberg talks about a time early in his marriage when he and his wife sold their Volkswagen Beetle to buy their first really nice piece of furniture. It was a sofa. It was a pink sofa, but for that kind of money, Ortberg says, “It was called a mauve sofa.” The man at the sofa store told them all about how to take care of it, and they took it home.
They had very small children in those days, so the Number One Rule in their house from that day on was “Don't sit on the mauve sofa! Don't play near the mauve sofa! Don't eat around the mauve sofa! Don't touch the mauve sofa! Don't breathe on the mauve sofa! Don't think about the mauve sofa! On every other chair in the house, you may freely sit, but on this sofa—the mauve sofa—you may not sit, for on the day you sit thereon, you will surely die!”
And then one day came the “Fall”, Ortberg says. There appeared on the mauve sofa a stain… a red stain… a red jelly stain. Mom called the man at the sofa factory, and he told her how bad that was. So she assembled their three children to look at the stain on the sofa: Laura, who then was about 4, and Mallory, who was about 2½, and Johnny, who was maybe 6 months. She said, “Children, do you see that? That's a stain. That's a red stain. That's a red jelly stain. And the man at the sofa store says it's not coming out, not for all eternity. Do you know how long eternity is, children? Eternity is how long we're all going to sit here until one of you tells me which one of you put the red jelly stain on the mauve sofa.”
For a long time, they all just sat there until finally Mallory cracked… She said, “Laura did it.” Laura said, “No I didn't.” Then it was dead silence for the longest time. Ortberg says, “I knew that none of them would confess putting the stain on the sofa, because they had never seen their mom that mad in their lives. I knew none of them was going to confess putting the stain on the sofa, because they knew if they did, they would spend all of eternity in the ‘Time Out Chair.’ I knew that none of them would confess putting the stain on the sofa, because in fact, I was the one who put the stain on the sofa, and I wasn't sayin' nuthin'! Not a word!” (“Why Serious Preachers Use Humor,” The Art and Craft of Biblical Preaching, Zondervan, 2005; www.PreachingToday.com)
Here’s the truth, my friends: We’ve ALL stained the sofa. The Bible says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). There’s an ugly stain on everyone of us, and no amount of blaming others or keeping quiet about it will ever solve the problem.
So how do we clean up the mess we’ve made of our lives? How do we take care of the stain that has marred the image of God in each one of us? How do we deal with the sin problem that has plagued every human being since Adam? Well, if you have your Bibles, I invite you to turn with me to Hebrews 10, Hebrews 10, where the Bible shows us how.
Hebrews 10:1-4 For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (ESV)
If you want to take care of the sin problem in your life, then…
DON’T DEPEND ON RELIGION.
Don’t rely on the rituals of religious activity. Don’t trust in sacrifices, sacraments, and such.
The author is addressing a Jewish audience, so he refers to the animal sacrifices the Jews were making at the time to atone for their sins.
And he makes it very clear. Those sacrifices are but a shadow of reality, verse 1. They’re only a hint of the real solution to the sin problem.
It reminds me of Plato’s analogy of the cave. He says most people are like prisoners chained inside a cave with their backs to the opening. They’re chained in such a way that they can’t turn around, but can only see the back wall of the cave. When people and objects move past the opening of the cave outside, they cast a shadow on the back wall, and that’s all the prisoners can see. They see only the shadows, not the real objects themselves.
In the same way, when people participate in religious ritual, especially in the Old Testament Sacrifices, they’re only dealing with shadows. They’re not dealing with something that can truly set them free from sin.
More than that, those sacrifices are only short-term fixes. They are only temporary solutions to the sin problem. They have to be offered year after year after year, since they could never remove sin permanently.
In fact, the constant practice of those religious rituals only serves to remind people of their sin every time, verse 3 says.
Steve Brown, a pastor in Florida, talks about a woman, who came to see him once, who had done something 15 years before that was pretty bad. Her husband told her, “I want you to know I forgive you totally.”
She said, “I know he's forgiven me, because every week of my life, he tells me he's forgiven me.” (Steve Brown, “Forgiven and Forgotten,” Preaching Today, Tape No. 139)
That’s the way it was with the Old Testament sacrificial system. It didn’t remove the sin. It was only a reminder of the sin over and over again. And that’s the way it is with most, if not all, religious activity. At best it is only a shadow of reality, and a short-term fix, which can only remind people of their sin over and over again.
Religion cannot remove sin. So, if you want to take care of the sin problem in your life, don’t depend on religious activity. Instead, enter into a real relationship with Jesus Christ, and…
LET HIM MAKE YOU HOLY.
Let Jesus take away your sin. Let Christ separate you from sin unto Himself.
Hebrews 10:5-9 Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’ ” When he said above, “You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings” (these are offered according to the law), then he added, “Behold, I have come to do your will.” He does away with the first in order to establish the second. (ESV)
When Jesus came, He eliminated the sacrifices in order to establish the will of God. You see, God is not interested in religious ritual. Rather, He wants His followers to be truly righteous.
In 1 Samuel 15, God told King Saul, Israel’s first king, to completely destroy the Amalekites, including all of their livestock. So Saul took his army and completely defeated the Amalekites. They killed everyone but kept some of the cattle and sheep alive.
When Saul returned home with his army, he told Samuel the prophet, “I did as the Lord commanded.”
Samuel responded, “What then is this bleating of the sheep in my ears and the lowing of oxen that I hear?”
“Oh those,” Saul said, “we brought a few sheep and cows back to sacrifice to the Lord.”
That’s when Samuel told King Saul, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has also rejected you from being king” (1 Samuel 15:22-23).
God wants our obedience more than our observance of some religious ritual.
Jesse James, the infamous bank robber and murderer, was actually a member in “good standing” at the Kearney Baptist Church in Kearney, Nebraska. Soon after he killed a man in a bank robbery, he was baptized in the church. Then he killed another man in another bank robbery and joined the choir, where he taught the choir members how to sing. Jesse liked Sundays, but he couldn’t always be at church, especially when he was robbing trains. (Bible Illustrator, #2994-2995, 2/1989.4)
Do you see it? Religion means nothing if you are not also truly righteous. The observance of religious ritual is meaningless if you are not living in obedience to God’s Will.
And that’s why Jesus came. He came to take away the sacrifices. He came to take away the religious ritual in order to establish true righteousness, in order to establish God’s Will.
Hebrews 10:10 And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (ESV)
When Jesus died on the cross for our sins one and for all, He sanctified every believer for all time. That is to say, He separated every believer from their sin unto Himself. Jesus did what religion couldn’t do. By His death on the cross, He took away sin forever!
Please, let Him do it for you. Trust Christ with your life and let Him make you holy. Let Hm separate you from your sin unto Himself. Rely on Jesus to separate you from the PENALTY of your sin. But more than that, rely on Jesus to separate you from the POWER of sin in your life, as well.
I remember my first week at the Moody Bible Institute way back in the fall of 1976. I walked down the street to a local thrift shop and purchased my first typewriter on which to write all my college papers. It was a manual typewriter, and it was a pain! If I made a mistake, I had to take the page out of the typewriter and start all over again.
Then I discovered Wite-Out! Do you remember that wonderful white liquid that you could paint on your mistakes, blow on it a little to let it dry, and then type over the mistake as if it never happened? In 1966, an insurance-company clerk named George Kloosterhouse teamed with a guy who waterproofed basements to develop a correction fluid, which they originally called “Wite-Out WO-1 Erasing Liquid.”
It was a wonderful invention until the self-correcting, electric typewriter came along (IBM Selectric). It’s one I used in graduate school in the early 80’s. In those typewriters, all you had to do was hit the “correction key” at the bottom right of the keyboard and the typewriter used a special ribbon to cover your mistakes one character at a time.
Eventually, the computer became much more affordable. I purchased my first computer when I was pastoring my first church in the late 80’s, and I started using the delete key a lot! You can highlight whole sentences or paragraphs at a time, hit the delete key, and all your mistakes are gone at the click of a button.
Now, wouldn’t it be nice if you could do that with your life? You make a mistake. You do or say something you regret, and all you have to do is hit the delete key and its gone! Then you just start over and do it right.
Think of the husband who says to his wife, “You're just like your mother. Oops! Let me just delete that and start over.” Wouldn't it be great if every spouse or friend or parent or child came with self-correcting technology? (Adapted from John Ortbreg, Unchanging God in a Changing World, Menlo Park Presbyterian Church; www.PreachingToday.com)
However, people are not self-correcting. In fact, they are self-destructing. That’s why Jesus came. He came not to cover your sin like Wite-out. He came to delete it forever from your life one word, one sentence, one paragraph at a time. Please, let Him do it for you.
If you want to take care of the sin problem in your life, don’t depend on religion. Instead, enter into a real relationship with Jesus Christ and let Him make you holy. More than that, rely on Christ and…
LET HIM MAKE YOU WHOLE, as well.
Let Him make you perfect and complete.
Hebrews 10:11 And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. (ESV)
The priests are standing, because their work is never done! They offer the same sacrifices time and time again, because those sacrifices never take away the sin.
On the other hand, Jesus sat down after He sacrificed Himself on the cross. That’s because His work was done!
Hebrews 10:12-14 But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (ESV)
Jesus’ one sacrifice completed the process of sanctification. It completed the process of making believers holy.
That’s not to say that believers are perfect today, no. Just that Jesus’ one act on the cross was the only thing necessary to perfect those who are in the process of being made holy. The tense of the verb indicates a one-time act with continuing results. In other words, Jesus one act not only started you on the process of sanctification. It guaranteed the completion of that process.
Philippians 1 says, “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).
Your ultimate perfection is not the result of continuous effort on your part. It is GOD’s work already accomplished in you when Jesus died for you on the cross. So relax! Quit trying to perfect yourself through frenzied activity or the endless motions of religious ritual. Instead, rest in your relationship with Christ and let Him complete the work He started in you a long time ago.
In an article in The Atlantic, Ann Dowsett Johnston writes honestly about what she calls “the tyrannical myth of perfection.” Quoting a friend, she writes:
“At one point in my life I was trying to be the perfect woman… I was involved in so many community efforts – it was that feeling that I was never good enough. That whole perfectionist thing was driving everyone: you could bust your [butt], and it wasn't good enough… I think we're living in a culture that's so demanding… People are exhausted at the end of the day… A lot of people have to self-medicate because it would be hard for them to look in the mirror otherwise.”
Johnston admits that she has often tried to self-medicate the pain of her perfectionism with a glass of wine – or two, or even three. She writes:
“With two parents who had their own serious troubles with alcohol, alarm bells should have been ringing. But my habit seemed relatively harmless. Common, even. A glass or two seemed innocent enough… Alcohol smoothed the switch from [my hectic work schedule] to my [role at home]. It seemed to make life purr. I could juggle a lot. Until, of course, I couldn't.
“That's the thing about a drinking problem,” she says. “It's progressive. But for a long, long time, alcohol can step in as your able partner, providing welcome support – before you want to boot it out.” (Ann Dowsett Johnston, “Alcohol as Escape from Perfectionism,” The Atlantic, 10-15-13; www.PreachingToday.com)
My dear friends, don’t turn to alcohol or drugs. Don’t turn to shopping or sex. Don’t turn to excessive activity to medicate the shame of your imperfection. Turn to Jesus Christ, who has already accomplished your perfection on the cross.
If you want to take care of the sin problem in your life, don’t depend on religion. Instead, enter into a real relationship with Jesus Christ and let Him make you holy; let Him make you whole; and…
LET HIM SET YOU FREE.
Let Jesus release you from the bondage of your guilt and sin. Let Christ deliver you from the prison of your imperfections.
Hebrews 10:15-16 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds…” (ESV)
God promises to give you an internal desire to please Him and to remove those things that don’t please Him from His mind.
Hebrews 10:17-18 …then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. (ESV)
God promises to forget your sins, freeing you from having to pay for those sins. Since Jesus already sacrificed Himself on the cross for your sins, you no longer have to bring a sacrifice for your own sins; you no longer have to bring an offering; you no longer have to do punish yourself to pay for your transgressions. Jesus paid it all already on the cross!
While George Washington was in his first term as president, He borrowed the book The Law of Nations by Emmerich de Vattel from the historic New York Society Library. And then promptly forgot to return it. Ever.
And the library never brought it up… For the next 221 years, it sat on a shelf in Washington's Virginia home, until 2010 when the Mount Vernon staff finally sent it back. The overdue book fines? $300,000.
Fortunately, the head librarian, Mark Bartlett, graciously forgave the fine. (Mark Mancini, “11 Ridiculously Overdue Library Books (That Were Finally Returned),” Mental Floss, 3-18-14; www.PreachingToday.com)
That’s what Jesus did for you when He died on the cross. He forgave the fine of your sins, having paid for it Himself. He released you from the bondage of having to pay for your own sins, a debt you could never pay.
So if you want to take care of the sin problem in your life, don’t depend on your own efforts in religion. Instead, enter into a real relationship with Jesus Christ, and let Him make you holy; let Him make you whole; and let Him set you free.
I like the way Chip Heim put it years ago: They laugh and smile and talk and embrace and I do too. But sometimes my smile covers a tear. And no one knows. Right now, my tear is from an ‘it’. I’m sorry, so very sorry I did ‘it’. I feel like a broken record and the skip is the ‘it’ that never completely goes away. What would they think if they knew my ‘it’? Would the laughs vanish? The smiles disappear? Would the talk be hurled at me? The embrace taken back? Do they have an ‘it’? What do they do with ‘it’? Why do we act for each other when there is no play? There is only life. And that life includes a lot of ‘it’. The point is not to celebrate ‘it’. But only to admit to ‘it’. I am told Jesus knows everything which means he knows about ‘it’. And yet, He whispers in words too good to be true… I died for you. ‘It’ is dealt with. Don’t worry about ‘it’.” (Chip Heim)