Lent — A Helpful Tradition in Christian Living

Title: Lent – A Helpful Tradition in Christian Living
Text: 2 Corinthians 13:5, Psalm 139:23-24, Psalm 51
Time: March 8th, 2014

Just last week we passed Ash Wednesday. Now most of us in the evangelical tradition don’t make much of the season of Lent, and most churches don’t participate in Ash Wednesday services. We usually leave that to the more traditional, liturgical churches to observe. But starting about twenty years ago, I’ve made it a habit, or you might say, tradition, to visit a nearby church and participate in the Ash Wednesday church service. I slip in the back door and sit in the back pew and just take it in because I enjoy doing what has been done for centuries, even though it’s not mentioned in the Bible and we are not commanded to do it by the Lord. I think the idea of reflecting on brevity of life and examining our soul’s condition before God is a good and healthy activity, so I support any church that does it. Now in the Baptist tradition, we might call such a time revival preparation, because that’s almost the same thing as the season of Lent. For those of you who don’t know, Lent is a season observed by traditional or liturgical churches for examining one’s heart for unconfessed or unrepented sins, and then making an effort to forsake these sins as preparation for the celebration of Easter. Lent also is, traditionally, a season of reflecting on our mortal life, or in other words, the brevity of life, and the fact that we are going to die, and how our faith relates to that fact. It’s all good and healthy. Well, I snuck into a local, nearby church; I walked a few blocks from my home in Jamestown and visited a liturgical church that was observing Ash Wednesday. The Pastor explained the meaning of the season of Lent as it was practiced in the early days of the church as a time of preparation for new members joining the church on Easter. This new member training time eventually developed into a preparation by the whole church, not just the new members, as a form of renewal or revival leading up to Easter Sunday. Lent calls us to reflect on and examine our lives for any sins or bad attitudes or bad behaviors that are hurting our relationship with God and others. It challenges us to do something that doesn’t come natural – that is, to be self-critical. We all by nature are good at pointing out the faults in others, but when it comes to our own faults, well, we tend to ignore these or let them slide. The season of Lent reminds us to dare to put a magnifying glass on ourselves and get right with God relationally. So because of the season of Lent, and because of how extremely helpful it is, I’d like to spend a few minutes this morning going through a number of important Bible verses that deal with spiritual self-examination. Where do we even start in approaching the whole topic of examining ourselves for areas that aren’t yet fully surrendered to God? Well, one of the best approaches is to go to the Bible and begin to learn what God says in His Word concerning the task of self-examination. I hope the passages we cover this morning will inspire you to continue the work of spiritual self-evaluation during the season of Lent. Anything that helps us draw closer to God is a good thing, so let’s take a look at what God says about examining our spiritual condition. Hopefully, it will be an exercise that leads to spiritual revival and renewal in your life. Let’s look at three main Bible passages.

First, Examine yourself to see if you are a Christian. 2 Corinthians 13:5, “Examine yourself to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test? And I trust that you will discover that we have not failed the test.” There is this false notion going around in some church circles that says that you can get saved, or receive salvation, or be born again spiritually, or be redeemed – whatever you want to call it, simply by raising your hand, kneeling at an alter, going forward at an alter call, signing a card, shaking a pastor’s hand, or any other such outward act. Well, you can’t. Just doing those things, or any other act, doesn’t save you. What saves you is when the Holy Spirit enters your heart and convicts you of your sins, you confess and repent of your sins, and you turn to Jesus Christ by faith. By placing your trust in Christ’s finished work on the cross as payment for your sins, your sins are forgiven and you are given the gift of salvation. Christ’s righteousness becomes yours and you are born again. Now that may be accompanied by any number of visible, outward acts, although it may not. But the point is, don’t fool yourself into thinking that just because you did something – like responded to an evangelists salvation invitation, or that you walked forward at a church service, or knelt at the alter, or cried, or any other thing, don’t think that saved you. It didn’t. Your heart response as you were moved by the Holy Spirit to receive the gospel saved you – if you are truly saved. Now during the season of Lent, as the liturgical, traditional churches would put it, or during a season of revival, as more evangelical or Baptist churches would call it, is a good time to examine yourself once again for signs of salvation. Listen to the Apostle Paul urge the ancient Corinthian church to examine themselves to see whether they are Christians or not, “Examine yourself to see whether you are in the faith; test yourself.” How? By examining your life for evidences or fruit of salvation. Remember the words of Jesus, “You shall know them by their fruit,” Matthew 7:16 (15-23). Now in this verse, it’s talking about false prophets specifically, but it applies to anyone really, church leaders and all church people. The truth is, if you are saved, if you are truly a Christian, your life will bear testimony to that fact. I remember I heard a clever saying, “If you were arrested for being a Christian, would they have enough evidence to convict you?” Does your life bear the evidences of a saved person? Are you growing in the faith? Are you drawing closer to God as time passes? Some people think that salvation is as simple as a one time thing, some emotional experience. Now you may experience great emotion when you got saved, but emotion itself didn’t save you. When I was born again, I went forward at a Billy Graham crusade in Michigan, but going forward didn’t save me. God saved my by stirring my heart to confess and repent of sins and place faith in Jesus for salvation. And my life has been progressing ever since. I love reading God’s Word. That’s a good sign of salvation. I love to pray. That’s another good sign. I’m better able to say “No” to temptation today than I was years ago. That’s a good sign of progress. And so forth. Love for God and love for others is another good sign. Are you a Christian? Are you bearing Christian fruit? Examine yourself. Are you saved, but backslidden? Now’s a good time to get the ship turned around and headed in the right direction. Are you wondering whether you might not be saved after all? Now’s a good time to really get saved. Paul says to examine yourself. Don’t just assume you’re saved. Look for evidences of it. There should be if you really are saved. If you’re not, it’s good you find out now, so you can receive Christ authentically.

Second, invite God to search your heart for anything unpleasing to Him. Psalm 139:23-24, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me.” Now the first point was to search in order to find evidence of Christianity in your life, to confirm or disconfirm that you are a Christian. But this second point assumes you are a Christian and you are going to examine your life for anything that displeases God, to uncover any sin in thought, word or deed. And the best course of action in examining yourself is to ask God Almighty to help you. Ask God the Father in the name of Jesus Christ to examine you through the power of the Holy Spirit and convict you of anything wrong. Now when we examine ourselves we want to make sure that it’s the Holy Spirit that is convicting us because we don’t want to fall under any false guilt. In other words, we want to feel bad, grieve and have remorse over real sin, not false guilt. There are some people walking around with a lot of false guilt. I remember a TV show I once watched dealing with the Amish people. This program described how Amish who leave their Amish community often feel really guilty for doing so. It isn’t that they’ve done any particular sin, it’s just that they’ve decided to move away from the Amish lifestyle – you know, old fashioned clothes, horse drawn buggies, no electricity, and so forth. After they move away to go to college or take a job in the big city, they often feel guilty because they are breaking the Amish rules – not sinning as defined by the Bible – but breaking the traditional rules of the Amish people. They feel guilty. That’s false guilt. We don’t want that when we examine ourselves according to the Bible. We want to examine ourselves for anything and everything that is displeasing to God, in other words, real sins. Now today, most people try to convince themselves that all guilty feelings are bad. Some people even try to go to a psychologist to get their guilt removed even if they are really sinning. That’s wrong. If we are doing what the Bible says not to do then we should feel guilty, we should be convicted by the Holy Spirit. Some people have suppressed guilt, true guilt, so much that they need confronted by others over their sins. But if we are really drawing close to God on a regular basis, we will be convicted of our sins by the Holy Spirit directly. I was convicted by the Spirit recently of something I did wrong and had to confess and repent of my sin. I got a Starbucks coffee card recently for Christmas. I heard that if you register it on the Internet that you get a free coffee on your birthday, so I did. Only instead of waiting for December, which is my birthday, I signed up for a birthday drink in March. But I started feeling bad about it and it bothered me. Something wasn’t right. I had to confess to God and repent of my sin. Even though I was punching numbers in a computer on-line registration, I shouldn’t have put down March as my birthday when it’s really December. That’s dishonest. So right now my Starbucks card says I have a free coffee coming in March, but I’m not going to use it because God convicted me of my dishonesty and sin. Thank you Jesus. Thank you Holy Spirit for keeping me honest. Examine yourself. See if there is any offensive way in you, says David in the Psalm.

Third, when you know you’ve done something sinful, pray Psalm 51. “Have mercy on me O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions and my sin is always before me,” Psalm 51:1-3. I like to refer to this Psalm as the Big League confession and repentance verse. The last point was an invitation for God to search your heart and point out sins that we might have overlooked or denied or suppressed, and so forth. This passage, Psalm 51, is for sin that we know about, that is obvious, that we can’t escape. We are already convicted and we are just looking for a way to confess and repent of our sins. We are looking for the right words and how to pray the correct way to express it. This Psalm is by far the best way I know to confess sin. This is really strong medicine if you’ve ever prayed through this verse. If you are a sinner – and who isn’t? – you really need to get to know this verse. We don’t have time to go through the whole passage, because it would really take a sermon or two to do it justice. But let me just read through it quickly and stop briefly and make comments. Notice it starts out with a call for God’s mercy and love. We need to know that God loves us and that it’s safe to confess to him. “Blot out my transgressions, wash away all my iniquity, cleanse me from sin.” You’ve got to confess your sins. You can’t live in denial. Own up to your sins. Don’t call them mistakes either. A mistake is not necessarily a sin. Be honest with God. Don’t sugar coat your sin. Confession, the word, means saying the same thing God says about sin. Do you say what God says about your sins? Or do you sugar coat your sins, or live in denial? I’ve found it’s better to be blunt or brutally honest with yourself and God. Don’t talk in euphemisms. Don’t say, “God, I misappropriated that item,” if you’ve stolen something. Say, “God, I stole that and was a thief! Forgive me God.” The language you use really makes a lot of difference. Tell it like it is. If you’ve sinned, admit it, confess it, stop playing games, stop wasting God’s time. He already knows what you’ve done anyway, so stop beating around the bush. Get real. David, here in the Psalm, is brutally honest, and that’s what we’ve got to be in dealing with our sins, or else we’ll weasel our way out from under them. A lot of people are walking around with big guilt in their lives – which they usually deny and are in denial to themselves and others – but the guilt is still there because it’s real and produces psychological and even physical problems. Now this particular Psalm is a prayer of David in response to his sin of adultery with Bathsheba. It’s an extra strength prayer because of the great guilt that David had to carry for his sins. He deserved that guilt, and it wasn’t going away until David dealt with his sins before God. Psalm 51 is David’s prayer for forgiveness, it shows us how to confess and repent of sins, any sin. “Create in me a clean heart O God.” He wants God’s forgiveness of sins. He feels guilty. You can tell he’s going through a lot of inner pain, rightfully deserved.

“Restore unto me the joy of your salvation.” Evidently, David was suffering depression. Yes, unconfessed sin will do that, make you depressed. Not all depression is called by unconfessed and unrepented sin, but some is. Do you have any business you need to take care of with God? Are you carrying around within you unconfessed sin? Are you harboring any grudges with anybody? That’s sin. Are you breaking one of God’s commands? That’s sin. Are you feeling guilty? You should be. Humble yourself before God. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite spirit, O God, you will not despise.” Thousands if not millions of people in the country suffer from the effects of unconfessed and unrepented sins. They are either living in deliberate rebellion, or they are living in denial, and they don’t realize that it’s killing them. From a mental health standpoint, Americans are a mess. The millions and billions of dollars spent on treatments that confession and repentance can cure. Why not use the season of Lent, that ancient, traditional church calendar as an occasion to do what should be done on a regular basis anyway – confessing and repenting of sins. I like the time leading up to Easter every year. It gets me excited about my faith in Christ. It renews my faith. Especially this year because a number of Bible movies are coming out at the theaters and on television. I remember ten years ago when the Passion of The Christ came to theaters. It was exciting because everyone was talking about Jesus! That’s why I like Easter season every year because it gets people talking about Jesus. There’s a move out called The Son of God, and another movie about Noah and the Ark, and I even hear there are a couple other movies too. It’s great to be a Christian this time of the year, when we get to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus from the grave, a reminder of hope for all of us that death isn’t the final scene. But before we get to Easter, let’s examine ourselves for anything that isn’t pleasing to the Lord. We get sloppy sometimes. We get into bad habits, of not reading the Bible, of not praying regularly, of not being a witness for Jesus to the people we know, of not carefully observing the Lord’s will in our speech and life. But now we have the opportunity to get things squared away with God by confessing and repenting of our sins. By examining our life, by doing some soul searching, by getting honest with ourselves and with God we can prepare our hearts for a joyful celebration of Easter this year. David said, “Let me hear joy and gladness.” Would you like to be full of joy and gladness this year? Would you like for God to restore to you the joy of salvation in your life? Then take the time to examine yourself, confess any sins you find, and repent of them. Some people have turned the season of Lent into silliness by saying things like, “I’ve given up chocolate for Lent.” That’s a joke. That’s trivial. God is looking for honest and real confession and repentance. Are you willing to do it? Are you willing to draw close to God this year, closer than you’ve ever been with God before? What does James say? “Draw nigh unto God, and he will draw nigh unto you,” James 4:8. It’s true. Are you willing to do it? Let’s pray. How many here are willing to draw close to God in soul examination, confession and repentance in the coming weeks leading up to Easter? Let’s pray.

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