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Last week we learned that the Bible rarely speaks of the heart as an organ, but as the seat of emotion, the center of a person’s being. Solomon confirmed that you really can’t trust your heart; it will break, it will lead you astray. No one can really know exactly what’s going on in there either. When you follow your heart, you tend to do what is right in your own eyes and the result is death. This morning, Solomon touches on some things that might have you scratching your head and on something that many people have got dead wrong.
Pro. 14:13-14 says, “Even in laughter the heart may be in pain, and the end is the way of death. The backslider in heart will have his fill of his own ways, but a good man will be satisfied with his.”
Emotions are complex. You’ve heard me say that it’s okay to feel something. No one can tell you how to feel or not to feel or how you should feel. We saw last week that no one can really know how you feel. It’s wrong to deny the emotions that God gave you and often we cannot control how we feel given a set of circumstances. One thing we can do is control how we respond to and in those circumstances. Here Solomon is giving us what seems like a conflicting set of emotions. He says, “Even in laughter the heart may be in pain, and the end of joy may be grief.” How can your heart be in pain and still laugh? How can your heart hurt and still have happiness? The best way I can explain this is to illustrate it. Outward appearance often mask what’s going on in the heart of a person. Someone that is enduring great sorrow will be asked, “How are you doing?” The typical response is, “Fine.” There may be periods of laughter and happiness, but that will end and what’s inside will still be there. We laugh at funny things and we cry at sad things. Outward appearance can mask what’s going on inside. When you suppress those feelings by acting like you don’t have a care in the world, you miss out on what God wants to accomplish. It might be for your personal growth because we know, “We also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Rom. 5:3-5) There’s not a single person here that’s in their right mind would ask God for trials and suffering. But you who have been through a trial and having reached the other side, you wouldn’t trade what you learned, wouldn’t trade how your faith has grown, wouldn’t trade how the Lord worked in you and through you. Emotions are very complex.
A really bad doctrine has been built on Solomon’s next verse. Here’s an example of why it’s poor hermeneutics, poor exegesis, and a total departure of 2 Tim. 2:15. The term backsliding in v. 14 is a general term used in the church to describe someone that made a profession of faith at some point in their life and then strayed off the path of righteousness, or someone that simply does not want to participate in the things of God, but they’ll stand on the confession of their faith. They typically occur for periods of time that can last months, years, or decades.
I’m going to speak in broad terms because there are always exceptions. There’s something very critical in this verse that refutes that argument. We’ve seen Solomon use this writing technique numerous times to this point. It is his use of the word, “but.” If a person has been truly saved, then old things are passed away and all things have become new. (2 Cor. 5:17) Romans 6 is one of the most important chapters in Scripture. I encourage you to study the entire letter of Romans. It has been called the Constitution of our faith. Everything in our walk with Christ must be compared with the foundation established in Romans. I want to highlight a couple of important verses in this very critical chapter to help us understand why we are where we are in the church.
Before I get to Rom. 6:1, Paul has spent significant time laying the foundation of faith in his letter to the Romans. In Chap. 1 he said that God puts a desire in each person to know the Creator. He spoke of people that won’t acknowledge God who were unrighteous, wicked, greedy, evil, envious, killers, deceitful, malicious, untrustworthy, unloving, and disobedient among a host of other characteristics that were worthy of death because they practiced these things. He spoke of Jews and Greeks and confirmed that God shows no partiality to either because all have sinned. He spoke of the Law which served to show people they are accountable to God. We are justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 3:24) Faith is credited as righteousness. We have been justified by faith and God demonstrated His love for us while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom. 5:8) Where sin increased, grace increased all the more. So now comes the pivotal chapter 6. Paul laid the foundation of salvation through grace by faith and now he says, “Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?” (Rom. 6:1) He answers his own question in v. 2 by saying, “May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” Look at the conditional statement in vs. 5-15. I wish I had time to go through all of it. The bottom line is that as professing believers, there should never be a period of time where you slide back into old habits, where you look and act like the world, where ungodliness and wickedness is excused under some misguided notion of grace. We in the church are partially responsible for this. In every facet of life, there seems to be some form of accountability. You hold your kids accountable for their chores, their grades, and their behavior. But lately, it seems that our society is becoming increasingly willing to excuse unacceptable behavior.
That has made its way into the church as well. There is an overall unwillingness to hold people accountable for their actions and we make excuses for them. There seems to be someone else that is responsible. Their upbringing or background. Their ignorance – they just didn’t know any better. I think it’s an effort to strike a balance between exercising mercy and grace without coming across judgmental. That’s not a bad thing. We don’t want to have an air of superiority or of false piety, but at the same time, we have to be willing to stand on truth without compromise. It can be very painful to realize that someone you love dearly who has professed to be a believer simply isn’t. You cannot excuse a total lack of Christian growth and call it backsliding. If your baby stopped eating, growing, and learning, you’d rush him to the doctor.
Paul says in Rom. 6:17-18, “But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.” The principle of Christian living is an essential element of the New Testament. Living an authentic life for Christ does not save us, but is evidence of a life that has been redeemed by Christ. The people that cry out that we are saved by grace don’t fully understand grace. Paul established that we do not sin greater and greater to show God’s grace is abounding. Tit. 2:11-12 says, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present age.” The grace of God is the Lord Jesus Christ. If He’s powerful enough to redeem your soul; I think he’s powerful enough to change you from the inside out. Rom. 12:2, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” John the beloved is pretty clear in his first letter on this topic of authenticity in our walk of faith. If we say we have fellowship with Christ, if we say we’re believers and yet walk – present tense – in darkness, we’re liars. In 1 Jo. 2:1 he says, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.” Sin here is a verb. The Holy Spirit through John is telling us not to commit a sinful act, not to have a sinful thought, He is telling us to be perfect. John had just said in 1:8 and 10, that if we say we have no sin, we’re deluded. This is why verb tense is so important in Scripture. This is in the aorist tense indicating a single point in time. He is saying don’t commit individual acts of sin. BUT since you will, God made a way to cleanse us through the blood of Christ who John calls the Advocate in v. 2. Advocate is a legal term that means someone that speaks on behalf of another. Jesus Christ the righteous intercedes on our behalf before the Father. The assumption is that you are not living a lifestyle of sin because that would be inconsistent with the teaching in Scripture. There is no such thing as being an authentic believer and then having a period of time where you turn your back on all things Jesus Christ. I don’t see that modeled in the Bible.
Are there people in the Bible that did terrible things, that engaged in immorality, that lied, cheated and stole? Of course, but I am not aware of anyone in Scripture that is an example of what we have defined as a backslider. It’s a doctrine invented to make us feel good about people that are not really saved. If we really engaged in intentional, consistent discipleship from the beginning, I think things would be a lot different. When we take the time to teach and invest in people using the Bible and engage in this thing called discipleship, we are much more effective in enabling and encouraging spiritual growth.
Walking with Christ is a lifelong endeavor, it is an ongoing process. There are no shortcuts. It is scripturally incomprehensible to excuse a lifestyle of sin by declaring a person has backslidden. Solomon says the backslider in heart. Notice the contrast word but. “But a good man will be satisfied with his.” His ways are God’s ways and that’s why it’s satisfying. Let’s be intentional in making disciples and teaching the commands of God. Let’s be intentional in our walk with Christ.