Summary: When we are unwilling to finish our spiritual growth, we are inviting judgment. We need to seek the counsel of others and remember and learn from our victories. The same hands that hold us in judgment are nail-scarred for mercy.
Takoma Park Baptist Church, Washington, DC March 9, 1985
My house, I’m afraid, is a museum of unfinished masterpieces. Unfinished masterpieces. In every room of the house, in every nook and cranny you will find unfinished masterpieces.
Now that is not to say that I have found the last Rembrandt or have cornered the market on the sketches that Van Gogh never completed. These are my masterpieces, and they are not paintings; they are projects, household projects honey-dos of one kind or another. You do know what a honey do is, don’t you? Some of you nod your heads. It's “Honey, do this” and “Honey, do that” and “Honey, do something else, just for a minute.” And being a dutiful husband, properly mutually submissive acc according to the Scriptures, honey do do them. Halfway. I start, but they never quite get finished. Unfinished masterpieces.
Now maybe masterpiece is too strong a word, but I tell you, if I ever get finished, these projects will look great. I know the kitchen cabinets will look fine once I make doors for them. I'm sure the gap in the paneling where I cut to install a microwave will look fine once it's filled. I am confident that the upstairs plumbing that still leaks just a little will be all right when I can get around to finding that tiny little dribble. Unfinished, almost masterpieces.
But the truth about them, of course, is that they are unfinished. Incomplete, less than perfect, less than what they were intended to be. As much as I may suppose they are on their way to becoming masterpieces, I assure you they will not be until the holes are filled and the wires are hidden and the paint is applied and the tools are put away. Until then, all they are is – you know, what? – unfinished.
Now the Bible speaks to us about unfinished Christians, incomplete believers. It speaks to us, and often in very harsh language, about those who begin the journey of faith, who begin to build a spiritual life for themselves, but who then set it aside and leave it unfinished. They could have become spiritual masterpieces, but they stopped, they quit along the way, and now they are not masterpieces at all, they are simply spiritually – what? – unfinished.
Listen to the author of Hebrews on this point: “Let us hold on firmly to the hope we profess. Do not lose your courage.” And then the part that startles, the part that challenges us to the core: “There is no longer any sacrifice that will take away sins if we purposely go on sinning after the truth has been made known to us. Instead all that is left is to wait in fear for the coming judgment and the fierce fire which will destroy those who oppose God.” And then a little further on he says, “What then of the person who despises the son of God, who treats as a cheap thing the blood of God's covenant which purified him from sin? The Lord will judge his people. It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God:”
The Lord will judge his people; it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the Living God!
Friends, it is not easy or fun to preach a message that has anything to with judgment. It is no fun to read these passages about destruction and judgment, no one in his right mind gains any pleasure from dealing with them. And yet there they are. There are these terrifying words, there is this pronouncement of warning, and it has to do with remaining unfinished, it has to do with continuing in a lifestyle of purposeful sin even though we have made a commitment to Christ. More than that, in the interpretation of the author of Hebrews, judgment comes when we persist in denying the spirit of God access to our lives and we insist on remaining unfinished, we make the sacrifice of Christ a cheap thing, we act as though the cross didn't matter much, we discount the price of the blood of Christ paid for us. And when we do so, when we insist on remaining unfinished, we are going to discover that it is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
One of the greatest of the colonial preachers was Jonathan Edwards. Jonathan Edwards lived and ministered in the New England churches in the 18th Century, and by now every schoolchild at one time or another has to read Jonathan Edwards' most famous sermon, called, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." When you read the sermon you are apt to think, this is pathological, this is a sick, sick man; where is the love of God? And you would be right, I believe. One ought never to stress the anger and the judgment of God without seeing also that even in the midst of that there is the love and the mercy of that same God. And yet, there it is, the theme of this Scripture, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.