Rob Sturdy: The Glory of Christ and the Destruction of Sin

19 12 2011

I think it would be good for me to do a little explanation on the front end for why I have chosen these two themes, “the glory of Christ” and the “destruction of sin.” I think it would also be wise for me to explain why I have chosen such a hard sounding session for a “renewal” conference.  So let me begin with the two themes, and I trust that it will become clear in time how the two relate.  First the glory of Christ:

The Glory of Christ

Let me begin by saying that the glory of Jesus Christ is an all consuming passion of mine, and I believe it is a passion well ingrained in the language of Scripture.  First of all let me say from Scripture that I gain the sense that God the Father’s consuming passion is the glorification of his Son:

“If I glorify myself, my glory is nothing. It is my Father who glorifies me, of whom you say, ‘He is our God.’ (John 8.54)

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus ever knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2.9-11)

Furthermore, the glorification of the Son is one of the if not the principle work of the Holy Spirit:

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” (John 16.12-14)

I want to take a second and unpack that last verse for a moment.  Jesus says “I still have many things to say to you, but I won’t say them now.  I will say them later.”  But how will Jesus say them later if he leaves?  “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”  So the work of the Spirit is to come and complete the words of Jesus.  That is the action of the Spirit, and the fruit of that action is the New Testament.  Now I believe the next verse is crucial for how we read the new testament.  “He will glorify me,” that is when God the Holy Spirit inspires the New Testament into being he is inspiring words of Jesus’ glory into being.  The whole of this book is to be read as a praise song to the Lord Jesus.  If you read it in any other way you have wandered far off the rails of reading this book rightly.

Aside from the glory of Christ being an obvious passion of the Father, the Holy Spirit, and Scripture it is also a personal passion.  In August and September of 1999 I had the great opportunity to read about Jesus for the first time in my life.  In August of 1999 I left my home in Alabama to study at The Citadel, the Military College of South Carolina.  Wednesday of Hell Week we were escorted to the chapel where a team of chaplains greeted us and gave us Bibles.  It was not the first Bible I had ever owned, but it was the first Bible I had ever read.  By mid September I had made it clear through John’s Gospel and without knowing the cross, or the forgiveness of sins, or the adoption of sons, or of eternal life, I did know simply from reading about Jesus in John’s Gospel that Jesus was glorious.  I knew he was worth following and from that moment on I committed my life to following him.  I want to be very careful as I talk about commitment, because Christian commitment is not a work but a grace.  What do I mean by this?  Augustine described Christian commitment as grace best when he wrote:

Do not think that thou are drawn against thy will.  The mind is drawn also by love… “Delight thyself in the Lord, and He shall give thee the desires of thy heart” (Psalm37.4).  There is a pleasure of the heart to which that bread of heaven is sweet.  Moreover, if it was right in the poet to say, “Every man is drawn by his own pleasure,” –not necessity, but pleasure, not obligation, but delight, -how much more boldly ought we to say that man is drawn to Christ?…Give me a man that loves, and he feels what I say.  Give me one that longs, one that hungers, one that is travelling in this wilderness, and thirsting and panting after the fountain of his eternal home; give such and he knows what I say

– Augustine, Homilies on John’s Gospel [1]

According to Augustine, Christian commitment is commitment to the extent that a thirsty man is committed to drinking a cup of water, or a hungry man is committed to eating a sandwich.  As Augustine says I was drawn by pleasure, not obligation but delight.  To the extent that is commitment, I suppose you could say I was committed, but I hope you now see what I mean by commitment as grace rather than as work.

And finally, I want to argue that a passion for the glory of Christ is one of the key distinguishing factors between a hypocrite and a true child of heaven.  As a pastor of a church I see men and women who have a Biblically informed worldview.  I also see many men and women who profess Christ as Lord and savior.  I also see a great deal of men and women who pray, attend worship, tithe, read their Bibles etc.  But where the rubber really hits the road for me relates to the glory of Christ and the desires of the heart.  Let me draw back for a moment in order to enhance this theme somewhat.  C. S. Lewis in his Reflections on the Psalms had some interesting things to say about worship, praise, and glory and how they relate to the human heart.  He writes:

“I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?” The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about. My whole, more general, difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what indeed we can’t help doing, about everything else we value.”[2]

First you will notice from Lewis’ quote that all people worship something. Second you will notice that all people worship whatever they most value.  Thirdly you will notice that when people do this they take delight in it. And finally you will notice that because they delight in praising what they value, they cannot help but praise what they value. The true child of heaven worships Christ because they value him most, and delight in praising him because it is the consummation of their desire.  William Guthrie a Scottish Puritan living in the 1600’s once wrote:

“Hypocrites never apprehended Christ as the only satisfying good in all the world, for which with joy they would quite all; for then the kingdom of God were entered into them…The truly renewed man dare, and can upon good ground say, and hath a testimony of it from on high, that his heart hath been changed in taking up with Christ, and hath been led out after him, as the only enriching treasure in whom ‘to be found he accounteth all things else loss, and dung (Phil 3.8,9)”[3]

The Destruction of Sin

In regards to the destruction of sin let me first say that the destruction of sin is a calling placed up all those who have been adopted by the Father and called into the Body of Christ. “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity,passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col 3.5).

1)      The destruction of sin directly relates to the glory of Christ.  “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you” (Rom 2.24).  In a recent national survey the number one reason why people said they would not become Christians was because their principle experience with Christians was one of hypocrisy.

2)      Sin can keep us from the light of Christ.  “And this is the judgment:  the light has cominto the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil.  For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light lest his deeds should be exposed” (John 3.19-20).  Many times in the lives of young Christians, not young in age but young in experience I have witnessed this phenomena.  They receive Christ.  Sin is dealt a crushing blow.  Their lives are visibly and dramatically changed, so much so that they begin to trust in their changed lives rather than in the God who changed it and they set up their changed life as a false God.  When that false God fails them, they withdraw from the God, from the church, and from the Godly people who have poured into them because they don’t want the sin, which they proclaimed form the rooftops as defeated to be exposed.

3)      Sin will be with us as long as we are in the body:  “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” (Rom 7.21-23).  I want to be clear that this seminar is not about abolishing sin in your life.  Rather, if Paul’s words resonate with you at all take heart!  For you would not even struggle if the Spirit of God were not struggling within you.

4)      Sin will sicken the “new man”.  “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”  Commenting on this verse John Owen writes:

“Paul affirms that the inward man is renewed day by day, while the outward man perishes.  Those who neglect mortification allow the inner man to perish.  Grace in the heart must have exercise.  If it is allowed to lie still, it withers and decays (Rev 3.2), and sin seeks to harden our hearts (Heb 3.13).  The omission of mortification withers grace while lust flourishes.  The frame of the heart grows worse and worse.  When sin gains a considerable victory, it breaks the bones of the soul (Psa 31.10; 51.8).  It makes a man weak, sick, and ready to die (Psa 38.3-5), so that he cannot look up (Psa 40.12). [4]

5)       If you neglect the destruction of sin you will cause both yourself and those you love enormous pain.

Job, The glory of Christ and the Destruction of Sin

Let’s turn our attention now to Job ch 42.1-6.

“Then Job answered the Lord and said:

“I know that you can do all things,
and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
‘Hear, and I will speak;
I will question you, and you make it known to me.’
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
and repent in dust and ashes.”

Sin:  The darkening of Counsel

In the section above from Job that we just read, Job says “I know that you can do all things and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’”  Now if you’re astute you’ll notice Job’s statement “Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?” is a quotation.  But who could Job be quoting?

Job ch 38.1  “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said: ‘Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man for I will question you and you will make it known to me.”  God begins his questioning of Job with the intention of answering the question, “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” and in the questioning of Job, Job will make it known that it is indeed himself that darkens counsel by words without knowledge.

The basic tension in Job and the action that results in sin is the tension caused between one’s belief in God and one’s personal experience.  To sum up Job’s belief in God and his personal experience of God we need turn no further than Job 1.

1)       Job fears God (1.1)

2)      God blesses Job (1.2; 1.10)

Now as the story goes, God sort of puts Job on the chopping block by asking Satan to consider him.  Satan responds with a challenge of his own and Job begins to be “sifted”.  In the process Job’s belief in God begins to run counter to his experience of God.

1)       Job fears God (Job 1.21; 2.9-10)

2)      Job is sorely afflicted (2.13-19)

Now when our belief in God begins to run counter to our experience we typically seek out counsel and the best counsel to seek out is Godly counsel that he has given us in his word.  A few things about the word is scripture uses the “word” and “light” at times almost interchangeably.  So for example:

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119.105).  So you how highly the word is esteemed, it is not “like” a lamp or “like” a light but it is a lamp and itis a light.  So the most prudent thing to do in Job’s situation would be to use this word to give him some light on what is a very difficult and trying path.  Job would have seen that God’s people are sometimes unjustly murdered (Abel) or unjustly enslaved (Moses) and that through great trial and suffering he delivers his people.  This would have beenilluminating counsel, but Job is accused of “darkening counsel” which is one of the chief means by which you and I are lead into sin.

For a vivid example of how Godly counsel is darkened we need look no further than Satan.  “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?” (Gen 2.1).  It is important to see just for a moment how Satan darkens counsel.  He begins by claiming God’s words as his own “did God actually say” and then he uses just enough of them that they sound like truth “any tree”.  If you’re familiar with Job you’ll know that one of the most frustrating things about the book is distinguishing between illuminating counsel and dark counsel particularly around the theme of double retribution.  By double retribution I mean that God rewards the just with health, wealth, prosperity etc. and that he punished the wicked with pain, suffering, poverty etc.  Let me say on one hand that this is true, God does reward the just and he does punish the wicked.  But sometimes God afflicts the righteous for reasons that are too deep for us to understand.  For example, while Jesus is dying on the cross many of the Jewish leaders believe that Jesus’ death shows him to be a fraud.  After all, if he were really the Messiah God would not allow this to happen to him.  But Jesus is on the cross because he is the Messiah, so their failure to recognize this (especially in light of Isa 53!) shows that their counsel is darkened, later revealed as “the God of this age” who blinds the mind of unbelievers (2 Cor 4.4).

I would to step back for a moment and talk about where your counsel might be darkened.  The great play write William Shakespeare once compared the world to a stage and the people who inhabit as mere actors.  There is much more to his assessment that is true that we would like to admit.  You and I are acting right now.  By that I mean that you and I are presenting what we want people to see while we are hiding what we do not want people to see.  What you’re seeing right now, me speaking, you sitting, us interacting throughout the week is what one might call the front stage.  Most people’s front stage is pretty clean and well presented.  But everyone also has a backstage.  The backstage is frenzied and untidy.  Here is where the props are hidden, as well as the garbage, as well as the ropes and smoke machines and costumes that we present to pull off the illusion of the front stage.  The backstage is where you and I keep our sin.  Out of everyone’s sight, and possibly even out of our own sight.

To push the analogy a bit further, let me say that you can have a perfectly good front stage and a total mess of a backstage.  That is after all much of the purpose of the Sermon on the Mount.  In Matthew chs. 5-7 Jesus presents a stunning description of a front stage and a back stage and also cuts to the heart of why it matters that the two are reconciled.

“You have heard that it was said, “you shall not commit adultery.”  That is good front stage stuff.  Honor your wife.  Buy her roses.  Be faithful to her for as long as you or she lives.  But we find as we go deeper and deeper into the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus isn’t so interested in the front stage.  He wants the back stage.  “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”  Now that’s the backstage.  I want you all to hear me clearly.  While your front stage says “honorable husband” your backstage, your heart, is going after another woman with intense, damnable passion.  The problem is severe enough for Jesus to say “if your right eye offends cut it out, for it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”  The problem with this is twofold.  The first problem is that there is great danger in sin.  Damnable, eternal danger.  The second problem is that you and I are so deceived we are unaware that we are even in danger.  So we need someone or something to come in and flip a light on and make us aware of what has happened in our souls.  As we shall see in a moment, this “flipping on of the light” happens when God astounds us with a demonstration of his glory that draws us away from the mess of our lives.

Repentance (I have uttered what I did not understand)

“Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me.”  Job’s defense is what he has longed to do for the entire book.  However when the time comes he offers no defense.  “I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderfulfor me.”  What is the meaning of this?

What was Job’s vision of God?  Things “too wonderful” means that whatever he thought he knew about God, the world, himself and especially his suffering, has just been replaced by something more wonderful, in fact it has been replaced by something too wonderful.  And here is the issue relating to repentance.   Repentance is not about taking your medicine, sucking up and doing your duty.  Repentance is about changing from something less wonderful to something more wonderful.  Let me try to illustrate this with Jesus’ announcement of the Kingdom of Heaven in Mark 1.15.

When Jesus arrives on the scene, by his own mouth he has come to “seek and save the lost,” but how does he do this?  He has sought them out, but in order to save them he must change their desires, he must win their affection.  That is essentially what is behind Jesus’ announcement “The time if fulfilled, and the Kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel” (Mark 1.15).  The sad thing that has happened with that word “repent” is that it has been moved from a positive thing to a negative thing.  To repent essentially means to give up something you really love, something which God has unfortunately decreed to be out of bounds “sinful” and turn towards him reluctantly.  Listen to how popular writer Elizabeth Gilbert author of Eat, Pray, Love describes this process.

“Every religion in the world operates on the same common understandings of what it means to be a good disciple- get up early and pray to your God, hone your virtues, be a good neighbor, respect yourself and others, master your cravings.  We all agree that it would be easier to sleep in, and many of us do, but for millennia there have been others who choose instead to get up before the sun and wash their faces and go to their prayers.  And then fiercely try to hold on to their devotional convictions through the lunacy of another day.” [5]

So you give up something you want, for something you may or may not necessarily want.  That is repentance.  Suck it up and do it right as an insurance policy.  But now listen to Lewis describe repentance from his sermon “The Weight of Glory”

“The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself.  We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire. If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope

for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised

in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”[6]

For Lewis, repentance is not about turning away from something you love simply because God said so, rather it is about turning away from something you love because something better has come along.  “The time is fulfilled, the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand repent and believe the good news.”  This is not a threatening statement along the vein of “turn or burn.”  This is not a legalistic statement, like “it’s time to quite drinking whiskey and having sex, you must pay attention to God now.”  Rather it is an amazingly practical statement.  If I were to borrow Lewis’ imagery to update Jesus’ proclamation I might say “Stop playing with mud pies!  God is here!  It’s time for a holiday at sea!  All the good things you never asked for because you never believed they were possible…now is the time for those things!  But you must come!  You must walk away from these other things.  You must leave the slum in order to come to the city of God!”

So you see there is much about repentance that has to do with winning affections, winning the hearts and minds of the sinner.   And this is essentially what has happened to Job.  So what did Job see that won his heart away from his sin?  What caused his repentance?  The same thing that causes all people to repent, a vision of the glory of Christ.  “When I am lifted up,” says Jesus “I will draw all men to myself.”  Now for this to work, attention must be drawn to Christ, this is his lifting up.  And second, he must be seen as an all surpassing, all satisfying, joy and delight in order to draw as away from sin, causing us to repent, to turn away from the mud pies in the slums to use C.S. Lewis’ analogy and towards  a holiday at the beach.

Joy (but now my eyes see you and despising myself is comfort!)

What a minute.  Isn’t Job in the Old Testament?  Where then is Jesus?  On every page!  Use the conversation from Luke.

1)       Jesus is present in Job’s suffering (Heb 2:10-15)

2)      Jesus is present in Job’s longings (Job 19.25)

3)      “His soul draws near the pit, and his life to those who bring deat.  If there be for him an angel, a mediator, one of the thousand to declare to man what is right for him, and he is merciful to him and says, ‘Deliver him from the pit for I have found a ransom” (Job 33.22-23)

4)      Jesus is present in the manifestation of the glory of God.  (39.1) John 12.32

I have found no clearer depiction of what a human being looks like who has repented and turned to the glory of God than Rev ch 22 vs 1-5.  In those verses you will find a description of the final state of humanity.  In those few verses you have a description of the final and finished relationship between God and humanity as well as the final andfinished description of the behavior of perfected humanity.

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as a crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month.  The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.  No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.  They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.  And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” (Rev 22.1-5 ESV). ‘

Contemplating these verses and those like them Jonathan Edwards composed a sermon entitled Praise, One of the Chief Employments of Heaven.  If you’re familiar with Edwards’ writing style you will know that he often wrote in propositions.  I would like to read to you two propositions in that sermon with excerpts alongside two of his applications.

Proposition 1:  The Saints are employed in heaven

“They are not idle.  They have much there to do.  They have a work before them that will fill up eternity.  We are not to suppose, when the saints have finished their course and done the works appointed them here in this world, and are got to their journey’s end, to their Father’s house, that they will have nothing to do.  It is true, the saints when they get to heaven, rest from their labors and their works follow them.  Heaven is not a place of labor and travail, but a place of rest (Heb 4.9).  There remaineth a rest for the people of God.  And it is a place of the reward of labor.  But yet the rest of heaven does not consist in idleness, and a cessation of all action, but only a cessation from all trouble and toil and tediousness of action.  The most perfect rest is consistent with being continually employed.

Proposition II:  Their employment consists very much in praising God

“Without doubt they have various employments there (in heaven).  We cannot reasonably question but they are employed in contributing to each other’s delight.  They shall dwell together in society.  They shall also probably be employed in contemplating on God, his glorious perfections, and glorious works, and so gaining knowledge in these things.  And doubtless they will be employed many ways that we know nothing of:  but this we may determine, that much of their employment consists in praising God, and for the following reasons.”

1.  Because they there see God

2.  They will have another sense of the greatness of the fruits of God’s mercy than we have in this world

3. They will be perfect in humility

4. Their love to God and Christ will be perfect

Which four points find their consummation in this final paragraph:  “Now the hearts of the saints are all, as it were, a pure flame of love.  Love is the grace that never faileth.  Whether there be prophecies they shall fail, whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.  Faith shall cease in vision, and hope in fruition, but love never faileth.  The grace of love will be exalted to its greatest height and highest perfection in heaven.  And love will vent itself in praiseHeaven will ring with praise because it is full of love for God.  This is the reason that great assembly, that innumerable host, [praises] God with such ardency, that their praise is the voice of many waters, and as the mighty thunderings, because they are animated by so ardent, vigorous, and powerful principle of divine love.”

The picture we get form Revelation and from Edwards, Lewis etc. is a relationship with God so amazing that you are consumed by his glory and forget everything else.  What does this look like?

“I had hear of you by hearing of the ear, but now my eyes see you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes” (42.6).  Notice what Job is content with.  He is covered in sores, he is ill, his family is dead, his wife hates him, he is the mockery of the whole town and he’s o.k.  Because he’s drinking from the fountain.  “whoever drinks of the water that I give him will never be thirsty forever” (John 4.14).  Job isn’t thirsting for health, for freedom, for approval, for restoration.  He’s satisfied because he’s drunk from the fount.

What about this “despising of self?”  “As long as there is a particul of selfishness remaining within us it will mar our sweet rejoicing in Christ.  Till we get rid of it we shall never feel constant joy” (Charles Spurgeon, The Exaltation of Christ).  And here we may enter into the notion that the glory of Christ doesn’t merely destroy sin by drawing us away from sin, but it actually draws us away from ourselves.  Listen to this quote from the Apostle Paul:

“It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.  For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Phil 1.20-21)…”Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Phil 3.8)

What is interesting about this quote is that “deliverance” for Paul does not mean that he gains his freedom.  Freedom is after all a good thing.  But Paul has found something more important than freedom.  “Deliverance” for Paul in the above passage is that Christ might be honored in his body “whether by life or by death.”  And here is the great mystery about the glory of Christ.  The glory of Christ destroys sin by drawing us away from sin but the glory of Christ also destroys our desire for freedom, health, family, and many other good things.  Why?  Because the glory of Christ is better than everything else.  Therefore, just as the saints in heaven, the apostle Paul and even Job the glory of Christ is a surpassingly wonderful thing that draws us towards itself and away from everything else.  It is the winning of the heart that is the final work of the Holy Spirit and the most profound work and wonder of God himself.

[1] Augustine, Homilies on John’s Gospel Tractate XXVI.4 NPNF vol. 7 pg 169

[2] C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World 1958), pp. 93-95.

[3] Guthrie, William The Christian’s Great Interest (Puritan Paperbacks 2002) pg 91-92

[4] Owen, John. The Mortification of Sin (Banner of Truth 2002) pg 19

[5] Gilbert,Elizabeth.  Eat, Pray, Love (Penguin: New York 2006) pg 175.

[6] Lewis, C.S. “The Weight of Glory”    accessed June 20th 2009



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