by Ernest O'Neill

God's Normal Plan For Us

I'd like to talk a little this morning about the grace of God. I know I need it today and I think some others here this morning may need it. It might be a blessing to you and I pray it would be a blessing to me. Would you look at James 4:17.

"Whoever knows what is right to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin. " I know this last week, I did that and I'd like to apologize to the dear one that I offended by doing that. Now you may say, "Well, big deal." Why is it such a big deal to fail to do what you know is right?

Well, loved ones failing to do what you know is right is sin. God's plan for us men and women is to live above sin. You get that in 1 John 3:8-9. However hard it is for us, it's right. 1 John 3:8 - "No one born of God commits sin; for God's nature abides in him, and he cannot sin because he is born of God." So that's the normal plan for you and me that we would live lives free from known, conscious sin.

Sin -- An Emergency

That is, if you or I do something to someone or with someone or just against God that we know is not right, then it's sin. And then what do we do? Well, you have to treat it as an emergency. It's our only hope that we treat that as an emergency so that we never get used to it. Now, how do you deal with it as an emergency? Well, it's there in 1 John 1:9.

1 John 1:8-10 - "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just, and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." So that's it.

If we say we haven't sinned, then we walk towards that fantasy-land of amorality where we just go to hell -- that's putting it plainly. We'll just go to hell. And so when you or I sin, if we hurt God or hurt somebody else then God Himself has said, "If you'll confess your sin to Me and confess it if possible to the person that you offended and you hurt -- the person whom you ignored and whom you didn't really love as the person was meant to be loved", if you do that then, "He is faithful to forgive us our sin and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." But it's based on you and me being honest about our sin.

What Sin Is

You just have to admit that you have sinned and that it was wrong and that you did what you knew you shouldn't do. I would encourage you and encourage myself to see that that's what sin is. It's failing to do what you know is right and if you ever do that, that's sin and it's a big deal. It's an emergency because our dear Father planned for us to live free from sin -- without known, conscious sin. There are a million things you and I do that we don't know are wrong, I agree with you. The dear Lord does not hold us responsible for all those things. But He does hold us responsible for the things we know about and He expects us to live above those.

Why Is It Possible That God Is Able To Forgive Us?

Now, why is it possible that He is able to forgive us? Because He is kind beyond anything you could describe. I don't know how many of you have ever cursed. Some of us were brought up to think that cursing was very bad and so we haven't cursed much. I would think I haven't cursed much but it doesn't really matter how we were brought up. How many of us have used Jesus' name in vain or God's name in vain? Then ask, who gives you the strength to speak that?

It's amazing isn't it? Who gave you the strength to say, (it's hard for me to say it) "for Christ's sake..." Who gave you the strength to say that? Or, "my God...", who gave you the strength? Who was keeping the blood circulating while you were cursing Him? That's how kind He is. That's the grace of God. That's how gracious He is to us, beyond anything that you or I can imagine.

When you have cursed Him, He's the one that kept your legs straight so that you could stand up to curse Him. You can't believe that kind of love, can you? There's a verse in the Bible that says, "God caused His rain to rain on the just and on the unjust." That means that the Roman soldier that lifted his sword or his spear and thrust it into Jesus' side, did that with arteries that had blood circulating in them by the continued energy and activity of God.

God gave the strength to the Roman soldier to thrust the sword or the spear into Jesus' side. As you're actually sinning, as your tongue is cutting your friend apart or criticizing the other member of the family, or you're doing something to someone else that is not in God's will, God Himself is giving you the strength to do that. He's even keeping you alive, (so dear to Him is free will) for your eventual free will love for Him. So dear is that to Him that He is gracious and gives you the strength that you use even against Him. That's how gracious He is.

He is gracious beyond anything that you or I can ever imagine. You're still alive. You know the things you have done in your life. You know some of the things you're still doing and yet God is the one who keeps you alive. I have tried to think of it in some graphic terms that I would understand. It seems like the Savior is walking down Calvary road and there you and I are with our whips beating Him over the head. He has His hand up to ward off some of the blows. But at the same time He has His other hand around our backs drawing us to Him.

God's Grace

It seems like that's God's grace. There's every reason for us to be grateful to Him and be overwhelmed by His kindness. How come He can really be so kind? Because when you are in the depths of guilt over what you've done, when you can no longer see God or look at anybody else, when you feel that God is not close to you or hearing you, the heavens are closed and all of life seems dark, there's only one thing that God is saying to you at that moment. There's just one thing and I'll show you. It's in Isaiah 1:18. I know you think, "Oh, He will never have anything more to do with me. I am such a rotten sinner that He cannot even hear me." There's only one thing God is saying.

Isaiah 1:18 -- "Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."

To each one of you, I would say the same thing as God has said to me, "Though your sins are as scarlet, to Him, they shall be as white as snow." Now, if you say, "Why, why, why? Is He a dumb God? Can't He see that it's a sin? Can't He see that it's black? Why does He say it'll be as white as snow?" Just for one reason loved ones. It's in Ephesians if you look at it.

Ephesians 2:3-8 "But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith."

Can you see what it says? Before you were even born, God foresaw the things that you would do. He foresaw the things that you would say and the things you would think. Even then when you were dead in your trespasses -- before you had made any attempt at believing in him or any move towards him -- even when you were dead in your trespasses, he made you alive together with Christ.

He destroyed your old nature in Jesus, made you alive together with Christ and he raised you up to his right hand. That's why he is able to forgive you the moment you commit sin here in this world. He has already destroyed you in Jesus. He has destroyed Jesus for your sin and God isn't in the business of wanting two deaths for one sin. God doesn't want your death or my death.

He has already destroyed us in His Son Jesus and has changed us completely. He knows we're changed and has nothing against us. I don't know if you see it. I feel for all of us who fall into guilt - who keep thinking God must hate me. Do you see He doesn't hate you? Do you see that His only desire was to destroy the nature that produced the sin? He has done that in Jesus, so He has nothing but love for you and me. He has nothing against us.

If you say, "Even if I am sinning?" I agree with you, it should be. You'd think He'd hate us. But He doesn't. Even when we're actually sinning He knows that He has already destroyed that nature in His Son. He loves us at that moment and is bent on only one thing -- trying to show us the change that He has wrought in Jesus for us and trying to get us to receive that change into our own life.

If you get to heaven and ask God, "Didn't you hate me when I was sinning?" He'll say, "No, no, no why would I hate you? You're my child. You're the one that I destroyed my own Son for, so that I could change you. Why would I hate you? No, I don't hate you. I loved you all the time and you had only to turn around one inch to see that my face was smiling at you. I was saying to you right then, "though your sins be as scarlet, to me they're as white as snow. And though they be like crimson they'll be as wool". That's it loved ones He does not hate us.

Does God Have Anything Against Us?

He only wants to destroy what has produced the sin and He has done that in Jesus. He doesn't want to destroy you or me all over again. Then you say, "He has nothing against me?" No, He hasn't. He has nothing against us. If you say, "Well, then why do I feel guilt? If He has condemned me in Jesus, why do I feel guilt?" You feel guilt because the Holy Spirit is trying to get you to receive that change into your own life. He's trying to get you to receive the change of your nature that took place in Jesus. The nature of children of wrath was destroyed in Jesus and the Holy Spirit is trying to get you to receive that by faith into your own life. You're resisting Him doing that and that's why you feel guilty.

You don't feel guilt because God hates you. He doesn't hate you. Guilt is not the human registration of God's wrath. Guilt is the human registration of our continuing to grieve the Holy Spirit who is trying throughout this life to get us to receive the change that God wrought in us in Jesus. We're in a time of respite. These 70 years or 80 years are a time of respite.

God has held the sword of death from us and He has said, "Here is a window of opportunity that I have given you. Here on this earth you have an opportunity to receive into your life, the mighty change that I wrought in you in My Son Jesus. Now this is an opportunity. This is an opportunity you have and My Holy Spirit is going to make that real in you, so listen to Him." When we don't listen to Him, when we resist Him, we feel guilt. That's why we feel guilt.

We don't feel guilt because God hates us or has condemned us or is angry with us. All those things were settled when He destroyed us in Jesus. We feel guilt because we're resisting the Holy Spirit. That's the other part of grace. Grace means the unmerited love of God. It also means the ability of God to enable us to do what He tells us. It's the power and ability of God to do what He tells us to do. And that's the work of the Holy Spirit.

Guilt -- A Result of Resisting the Holy Spirit

When you and I feel guilt, it's because we're resisting the Holy Spirit. If you say, "How are we resisting Him?" Loved ones, I put down a few things that meant something to me. We resist Him sometimes because we won't admit we've sinned. We rationalize the whole thing. "Oh it was a shortcoming. I was just showing affection. I just thought it would help the other person. I was irritated or angry that day and I am justified." We rationalize sin and we grieve the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit isn't out to beat us for our sins. He's just trying to say to us, "You're hurting Jesus. You're hurting Jesus". That's what sin is.

We grieve the Holy Spirit when we rationalize our sin. You and I might think, "We shouldn't admit we've sinned otherwise we'll go to hell". The killer is that if you don't admit your sin, you'll go to hell. The sin is wrong, the sin is bad and it hurts God but it's the attitude behind the sin that says, "I didn't do it, it wasn't wrong, it wasn't sin, it was okay and I can justify it" -- that's what will prevent us being at home with God in heaven.

You know the way you have a conversation with somebody, and you know they are miles away from you. Their whole attitude to life is utterly different from yours and you realize we'll never be friends. We'll never be close to each other. That's what sin is. It's an attitude in us that won't agree with God. That's what confession means. Homologio in Greek is 'homo' (like homogeneous) and it means 'the same'. Logo, is 'speak'. So it is 'speak the same'. Confessing is speaking the same or agreeing with another person. It's speaking the same thing as another person is speaking. So confessing is agreeing with God. Rationalizing sin is the very opposite. That's one thing we do.

Another thing we do is we want to make up for our sin instead of throwing ourselves into the arms of Jesus. We grieve the Holy Spirit by wanting to make up for our sin instead of throwing ourselves into the arms of Jesus. It's works of righteousness I suppose. We want to do something. We want to be better people. We want to reach a position of victory. Strive, strive, strive, instead of throwing ourselves into the arms of Jesus and saying, "Lord Jesus, You did the only thing that could be done with us. You destroyed us, thank You. We owe everything to you."

Instead of doing that, we want to improve ourselves. So we keep trying and trying. We're just grieving the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is saying, "Look, the only thing to be done with you is destroy you. That's what God did in Jesus and that's what I am trying to bring home to you". And we're replying, "No, we're trying to show you that we can be better on our own. We can overcome this sin by trying harder. We can strive and be better people." We grieve the Holy Spirit and therefore guilt comes on our conscience because we're resisting Him.

Another way I saw that many of us "good Christians", grieve the Holy Spirit is living by laws that we think describe the life of a good Christian. That is, we get a whole series of laws or principles and we judge ourselves as good Christians by how we live up to those laws and principles. Of course the change is still not wrought in us by the Holy Spirit and so our carnal nature fashions those laws into the kinds of things that we want to do and the kinds of things that we don't want to do. So we end up making the laws in our own image.

We pick out the principles that describe our life and we play down the ones that don't describe our lives. We get used to a Christian way of life instead of listening to the Holy Spirit moment by moment. "Holy Spirit, I have allowed myself to be destroyed in Jesus. You're the only one that can run my life. What do you want me to do?" Then we go moment by moment in loving heart submission to the Holy Spirit. Instead of doing that, we set up our Christian pattern of life that we follow.

So -- many of us have Christian lives that are dead. They're dead. We do Christian things. We go to church. We follow Christian principles. We have all kinds of little things, (even prayers and Bible study) which we do. But we're dead inside because the Holy Spirit has not been listened to by us for years. We no longer have a dynamic relationship to the Holy Spirit.

Can We Live in Victory Over Sin?

Now, if you say, "Well, can we live in continual peace with God and in continual victory over sin?" Yes. If you say to me, "How?" My answer is the Holy Spirit -- the Holy Spirit. You and I ease closer and closer to the cliff over which we fall into outward sin by just turning away from the Holy Spirit repeatedly until there comes a time when we can't hear His voice anymore. That's it loved ones. That's how we do it.

I know that's how it works with me. It starts with the thought life. You just allow a little more laxity to your thoughts, a little more broad-mindedness, we say. At the beginning when the Holy Spirit spoke, we acted. Right then, we were afraid to hurt our God. We were afraid to grieve the Holy Spirit. We were afraid to hesitate even. For us, obedience was instant obedience.

What we do is, we get easy going. We get a little more lax each time. We allow a little more critical attitude to come into our minds, a little more unclean imagination, a little more ruthlessness, a little more irritability. We allow these things to creep in instead of listening to the Holy Spirit and doing it immediately. Loved ones the Holy Spirit is sent here to make real in you the change God wrought in you in Jesus. He will do it if you and I will listen to Him. He will keep us from falling if we will listen to Him and give Him instant obedience. Is there a beautiful place to live above sin and self? Yes, yes there is.

Is there a beautiful place where we can love each other freely and with open hearts with beauty and purity? Yes, there is. And will it give us each more satisfaction than anything else would give us? Yes, it will. The Holy Spirit is able to keep you and me in a life that is free from sin where we live continuously in the presence of the Father. It's not a life of striving, to keep up above the standard. It's not.

It's a life of loving companionship with the Holy Spirit. It's a life of honor and respect for this dear gentleman that God has sent to us because that's what He is. In Revelation, the Holy Spirit said to the churches, "Behold I stand at the door and knock. (He is a gentleman.) If any man will open the door, I will come in. (If he opens the door, I'll come in but I won't push in, I won't force my way in.) But if any man opens the door, I will come into him and will sit with him and he with me." The Holy Spirit is God's gentleman. He will lead you and me in paths that are paths of pleasantness and ways that are ways of peace.

I don't know if there's anybody here this morning that has found themselves to have sinned and has not been able to get clear. Then this morning you should just take the step. You should just confess it as sin to God and thank Him, (you don't need to ask Him), thank him for His forgiveness and for what He has done for us in Jesus. Then turn to the Holy Spirit and say, "Holy Spirit, not an inch will I move without listening to you. Will you bring in to me this external life of God that opens my heart up and that delivers me from myself and the domination of my own mind? Will you bring into me the freshness of God?" He will do it.