Baptism On Monday

Baptism on Monday

Matthew 28:18-20

Dr. Jim Denison

A couple of weeks ago, the Dallas Morning News carried one of the strangest stories I’ve seen in a while. It seems that Beverly Mitchell of Douglasville, Georgia came home from 2½ weeks in Greece to find a stranger living in her house. Beverly Valentine broke in with a shovel, ripped up the carpet, took down the owner’s pictures and replaced them with her own. She had the electricity switched over to her name, and moved in a washer, a dryer, and a dog. She was even found wearing some of Ms. Mitchell’s clothes when she was apprehended. Just because someone is living in a house doesn’t make it theirs.

Just because you and I are in church today doesn’t mean we’re in Christ. We can be faithful attenders; we can serve on committees and sing in the choir; we can give through our various missions offerings, teach Bible studies and preach sermons, but still be lost spiritually. And we can be baptized and just get wet.

The most misleading and misunderstood symbol of salvation in a Baptist church is baptism. Many people think that baptism makes them a Christian. Many of our guests don’t understand why we baptize the way we do. Many of our members don’t really know what baptism means, either. And many of us can miss the present-tense relevance of an act we experienced years ago.

So let’s discuss baptism today: who, why, and so what? What does the subject have to do with the unified missions emphasis we have just concluded? With our church and her ministries? And with your life and faith today?

What does the Bible teach?

Here are some important biblical passages on our subject:

The risen Christ said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).

Peter exhorted the Pentecost crowd, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). With this result: “Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day” (v. 41).

When the Ethiopian met Philip, “The eunuch asked Philip, ‘Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?’ Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?’ And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him” (Acts 8:34-38).

When Peter met the Gentile Cornelius and his family, “Then Peter said, ‘Can anyone keep these people from being baptized with water? They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.’ So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 10:46-48).

When Lydia became the first European convert, “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home” (Acts 16:14-15).

After God sent an earthquake to free Paul and Silas from their Philippian jail, “The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He brought them out and asked, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.’ Then they spoke the word of God to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds, then immediately he and all his family were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God—he and his whole family” (Acts 16:29-34).

In Corinth, “Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized” (Acts 18:8).

Paul wrote to the Romans, “Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Romans 6:3-4).

He instructed the Colossians, “In Christ you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature, not with a circumcision done by the hands of men but with the circumcision done by Christ, having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead” (Colossians 2:11-12).

What does the biblical data tell us?

Fact one: baptism follows faith.

In the Great Commission, “make disciples” precedes “baptizing them.”

At Pentecost, “those who accepted his message were baptized.”

The Ethiopian heard the gospel before he was baptized by Philip.

Cornelius received the Spirit before he was baptized; Lydia responded to the gospel before she was baptized; the Philippian jailer responded to the gospel before he was baptized.

We do not find a single person in the Bible who was baptized before he or she came to personal faith in Jesus Christ.

Fact two: baptism is for anyone who comes to Christ.

Children can be baptized, if they have trusted in Christ. With the Philippian jailer, after Paul and Silas “spoke the word of God to him and to all the others in his house,” they baptized them (Acts 16:32). Crispus “and his entire household believed in the Lord” before they were baptized (Acts 18:8).

Anyone who is old enough to be a “disciple” (Matthew 28:19), who has chosen to follow and obey Jesus as their Lord, is old enough to be baptized. But he or she must come to Christ first.

No other requirements exist. No denominational affiliation is necessary; no feelings or actions must be demonstrated first.

Fact three: baptism is by immersion.

“Baptize” comes from the Greek word baptidzo, which means “to dip.” It is found in ancient literature to describe the act of dipping a cup under water, or washing clothes. It simply means to “immerse.”

After Jesus was baptized, he “went up out of the water” (Matthew 3:16). At the baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch, “both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing” (Acts 8:38-39).

According to Paul, baptism pictures the fact that we are “buried with him through baptism into death” and raised with him to new life (Romans 6:4). We have been “buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God” (Colossians 2:12).

What does our church believe?

What does all this mean to us today? Baptism is not only the most confusing thing Baptists do—it can be my most dangerous occupational hazard.

In our first church, for instance, I was baptizing one Sunday night. The water heater broke, and the baptism water was freezing. The tallest man I’ve ever baptized was scheduled for that night, and insisted on going forward. He was OK until I got his face under water. Then he started flailing around; he reached up, grabbed me by the neck, and dragged me completely under water with him. That was memorable.

In Midland I jokingly told the congregation one morning that if anyone ever got mad at me, they should poke holes in my waders. That night, they leaked. But I maintain it was a coincidence. A staff member thought it would be funny to pour a cup of cold water in my waders one Sunday. And on it goes.

There was a small boy who was baptized in a glass baptistery. He mistakenly went out the ladies’ side. As the pastor baptized the next person, he swam around him while everyone watched. Baptism is a hazardous activity.

And a confusing one as well. The Catholic tradition has historically viewed baptism as the removal of inherited original sin. Other traditions baptize infants as a way of dedicating them to the Lord.

Baptists see baptism as an act of obedience, following Jesus’ Great Commission to make disciples, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Spirit.” And we see baptism as an act of proclamation, making public our faith so that others can follow our example in trusting Christ as their Lord. As Jesus was baptized publicly, so we baptize publicly. The first Christians immersed in lakes and rivers. Now that we have church buildings, we use them for the same purpose.

If someone wishes to join our church from a different baptism tradition, we welcome them with joy.

We do not suggest that believers’ baptism by immersion is necessary for their salvation. But we do believe that it is the New Testament model and method. And so we ask those from other traditions to make public their faith in this way. Not to be Baptist but to be biblical.

Not as “hazing to join the fraternity,” or because we believe our denomination is better than others. Believers baptized by immersion in other denominations are welcome to join us without being baptized again.

Not because what was done to dedicate a child to God through baptism was a bad thing. We believe in parental dedications, and celebrate them often. We simply believe that baptism is not the best biblical method of doing this. If you have been baptized as an infant, know that your immersion as a believer in no way invalidates the faith your parents demonstrated when they dedicated you to God. Rather, it completes their dedication as you make their faith your own public commitment.

Baptism is a way of affirming the faith which led to your infant baptism, and making it personal and public yourself.


Now, what is God’s word to those of us who have been baptized as believers by immersion? The Lord wants you to understand why you did what you did. He wants you to know that your baptism did not save your soul—it just got you wet. If you have not asked Jesus Christ to forgive your sins and become your Savior, you need to make that crucial decision today. Baptism tells people you are a Christian—it does not make you one.

And the Father wants you to know that he expects you to live your faith as publicly as when you announced it through baptism. Every day is a baptistery; every person you meet is sitting in the congregation watching to see if you’ll enter the waters of faith. Who is the last lost person for whom you prayed? When last did you speak a spiritual word to someone? Invite someone to church? Invite someone to Christ? Who has been baptized because of you? Who will be in heaven because of you?

It took very little courage for me to be baptized on a Sunday while in high school. It took a great deal of courage for me to make public my faith in high school on Monday. It still does.

I think of Marilyn Davis, the stroke victim who came to Christ and was baptized in our church a few months ago. She covered her tracheotomy when I poured water over her head, because if water got in her lungs she could have died. I think of Sue White, the emphysema patient who was baptized in our church a few years ago. She wore her oxygen down the steps into the baptistery, took it off, was baptized, and put it back on.

I remember a woman I baptized in Cuba. Her husband carried her into the lake, so I assumed she could not swim. After I baptized her I handed her back to him. He picked her up out of the water. And then I saw that she had only one leg.

I think of a teenage girl I saw baptized in Malaysia. Her father told her if she was ever baptized as a Christian, she could never go home again. So she brought her luggage to her baptism.

When last did it cost you something to make your Sunday baptism public on Monday? There is no greater privilege, responsibility, or joy.

Honor People- Or Dishonor God

Honor People—Or Dishonor God

The life and legacy of Moses

Dr. Jim Denison

Exodus 20:12-14

Do you remember the game show Family Feud? 100 people were surveyed on a subject. Then two families, five members each, tried to guess the most popular answers on these surveys. Richard Dawson’s “Survey says…” was the “Is that your final answer?” of the day. The game show aired from 1976 to 1985, was revived again in 1988 for one season, and aired again briefly several years ago. But the title describes our culture even more fully today than it did 25 years ago.

Our relationships need help. Fortunately, God cares. That’s why he gave us the last six commandments. Today we’ll survey more material than one lesson can use, as you select those relational truths which your class most needs to hear.

Honor your parents (Exodus 20:12)

“Honor,” the commandment begins. The word means to respect or venerate. “Your father and mother,” God continues. In a world which relegated women to inferior status, this inclusion is significant. And note that Leviticus 19:3 restates it this way: “Each of you must respect his mother and father.” Here the mother is even listed first.

So that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you,” the commandment concludes. The first meaning of this promise is that the nation of Israel would be secure in her society and land if she kept this commandment. But there are other meanings as well, as we will see in a moment.

Why honor our parents? Note that God’s word makes the fifth commandment binding for all time. Leviticus 19:3 says, “Each of you must respect his mother and father.” None of us are excluded, no matter the circumstances of our situation. We’ll say more about this in a moment. The book of Proverbs adds, “If a man curses his father or mother, his lamp will be snuffed out in pitch darkness” (20:20); and also this gruesome hyperbole, “The eye that mocks a father, that scorns obedience to a mother, will be pecked out by the ravens of the valley, will be eaten by the vultures” (31:17).

The New Testament is clear as well. Jesus renewed this commandment when he told the Rich Young Ruler, “honor your father and mother” (Matthew 19:19), and he severely criticized the religious leaders of his day for not honoring and supporting their parents (Mark 7:9-13). The epistles are clear: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord. Honor your father and mother” (Ephesians 6:1-2); “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord” (Colossians 3:20).

We need to keep this commandment for the sake of our souls, our families, and our future. This is indeed how to “live long” on the earth. Perhaps this brief tale from the Brothers Grimm will make the point. Once upon a time there was a little old man. His eyes blinked and his hands trembled; when he ate he clattered the silverware, missed his mouth with the spoon as often as not, and dribbled a bit of his food on the tablecloth. He lived with his married son, and this son and his wife soon decided that they could not have such a distraction at their table.

So they led the little old man gently but firmly by the arm to the corner of the kitchen. There they set him on a stool and gave him his food in a bowl. But one day his hands trembled even more than usual, and the bowl fell and broke. His son and daughter-in-law, in anger and distress, then made a little wooden trough and fed him out of that. It was terrible to see him eating as would an animal, but that’s the way things were.

One day the couple’s four-year-old son was playing intently with some bits of wood, so they asked him what he was doing. “I’m making a trough,” he said, smiling at them for approval, “to feed you and Mamma out of when I get big.”

The man and his wife looked at each other for a while, then they cried a little, then they took the little old man by the arm and led him back to the table. They sat him in a comfortable chair and gave him his food on a plate, and from then on nobody ever scolded when he clattered or spilled or broke things.

We need the fifth commandment, for our lives, our families, and our future.

What about dishonorable parents? But before we find practical ways to honor our parents, we need briefly to ask a hard question: what if our parents are not honorable? What if they try to keep us from following Christ or otherwise doing what is right? What then?

Sometimes we must choose which commandment to break. When Corrie ten Boom’s family was harboring Jews, one day the Nazis banged on their door and asked if they had Jews in their house. Which commandment will they break—the sixth commandment, not to murder, or the ninth commandment, not to lie?

Jesus made it clear that following him would sometimes cause conflict with our family. His own family misunderstood him early in his ministry. And he specifically told his followers, “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me” (Mt 10:37).

This tragedy happened often to early Christians who had to refuse their father’s order to reject Christ, even to the point of death. In Jewish society as well, when a son turned from his father’s faith he became dead unto him. I had a student at Southwestern Seminary whose Orthodox Jewish family held a burial service for him when he came to Christ. There is a tombstone in New York with his name on it today.

Ephesians 6:1 is clear: “Obey your parents in the Lord.” Martin Luther had to refuse his father’s wishes that he become a lawyer, to become a minister. Thomas Aquinas’s family locked him in the family castle for a year in their attempt to prevent his entering the ministry. Francis Schaeffer’s father forbade his starting L’Abri.

Unfortunately, we must sometimes choose between our earthly father and our heavenly Father. In these situations the first commandment is clear: we can have no god but God. Not even our parents. But, these situations occur far less often today than they did in Jesus’ day. I’ve seen only a handful of circumstances in my years in ministry where a child really had no choice except to disobey his parents in order to obey God.

If this is the situation for some in your class, invite them to ask God to show them what to do. And to be patient. Perhaps their parents will change over time. It is always too soon to give up on them. We are to honor our parents in every way we can, so long as we honor our Father. I liked what one Christian said. His father was a drunkard, and so he said, “I always want to honor the man I want my father to be.”

Insofar as we can honor our parents without dishonoring God, we must do so. This is the clear teaching of his word.

How do we keep the fifth commandment today?

We are clearly to honor our parents—to prize them, respect them, find ways to value them today. How?

Act. Note that the commandment does not say, “Love your parents.” God’s word tells us to love God, the stranger, and our neighbor, but nowhere are we told specifically to love our parents. Why not? Because the best way to show love for our parents is to honor and obey them. This matters far more than any words or material gifts we might give to them.

We act into feeling, we don’t feel into acting. Don’t wait until you feel love for your mother or father—find a loving thing to do. Find a way to honor him or her. When we honor our parents, we find that we feel a new level of appreciation for them. So, find a way to honor them today.

Thank them. Thank your parents for the life they have given to you, and for the ways they provide for you still. Current estimates are that it costs the average parent nearly $300,000 to raise one child from infancy to age 18; that doesn’t count the costs of college, which often exceed $300,000. Take the initiative. When parents have to ask their children to say thanks, it doesn’t mean nearly as much. Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are good, but not enough.

Bill Hybels tells about cleaning out his father’s desk after he died. He and his brother found note pads, files, stacks of legal documents attesting to the scope of his business responsibilities. But in the top drawer on the right-hand side, he found a collection of letters which seemed to occupy a position of honor. There, neatly grouped in rubber bands, were all the letters he, his brother and sisters had ever written to him. What would you find in your parents’ home today?

Obey them in the Lord. As we have seen, the Scriptures are clear here.

Support them when you can. As the population lives longer than ever before, more and more children are parenting their parents. This is often hard, but always right. God’s word is clear: “Give proper recognition to those widows who are really in need. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, these should learn first of all to put their religion into practice by caring for their own family and so repaying their parents and grandparents, for this is pleasing to God” (1 Timothy 5:3-4); “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (v. 8).

Last, remember them when they’re gone. We continue to wear their name, and to reflect on them with our lives. We will bring honor or dishonor to our parents, as long as we live. I really like something my wife tells our boys: we belong to everyone who loves us. This fact should affect our decision, as long as we live. For our parents’ sake, and for our own as well.

Honor life (Exodus 20:13)

The national prison and jail population in 1980 was 501,900. For last year, the Bureau of Justice Statistics projects it to be 2,014,000. Recent demographics in North Dallas list crime as the greatest single fear we feel. A few weeks ago, my neighbor’s car was vandalized; recently one of our members had her purse stolen from her house; since the Wedgwood Baptist Church shooting, we know that even churches are not guaranteed safety.

The problem is not just with our society, but with our personal lives and relationships. Mother Teresa said that the greatest epidemic in America is not AIDS or cancer but loneliness. Isolated, hurting people, in strained marriages and families and relationships, are all around us. Even this morning.

Where are you at odds with someone today? When I ask you about the problem people in your life, what person comes to mind first? God wants to help you with that person, and to help us as a society. That’s why he gave us the sixth commandment.

What not to do

Our text today is very simple. The sixth, seventh, and eighth commandments are each expressed in only two Hebrew words: “No murder, no adultery, no stealing.” “You” is plural, including us all. “Shall not” is a present-tense command. Not a suggestion or principle but a law. In the present tense, thus applying today, and tomorrow, and for all time.

“Murder” is the key word in the sixth commandment. What does it mean? This is not the typical Hebrew word for “kill.” This word, ratzah, appears forty-seven times in the Old Testament, each time with reference to premeditated and intentional murder. This word and commandment does not prohibit defending ourselves (Exodus 22:2), accidental killings (Deuteronomy 19:5), involvement in war (Deuteronomy 13:15), or capital punishment (Genesis 9:6). But it prohibits us from all other killing, for any other reason.

However, most of us have never killed anyone and certainly don’t intend to. So why waste time dealing with this issue? Why not move on? Before we decide we’re free to bypass the sixth commandment, perhaps we should remember what Jesus said about it. If we are “angry” with our brother we are subject to the same judgment as if we murder him (Matthew5:22). If we call him “Raca,” an Aramaic term of contempt, something like “Good for nothing!” we must answer to judgment. If we call him “fool,” the worst form of contempt in the ancient world, a term which means that he is immoral and corrupt in the extreme, we deserve the same penalty as Jeffrey Dahmer or Adolf Hitler.

Is anyone you know angry with someone? Calling them names? Branding them immoral failures? Apparently there are many ways to “murder.” Why are they wrong?

Scripture gives us at least three reasons.

First, we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:27). And so, to hurt a person is to hurt God. This is like attacking your child or spouse. To hurt my wife or sons is to attack me. And 1 Corinthians 3:17 says that we are the “temple” of God. If I attack your house I attack you. If I attack you I attack the God who dwells in you. If we don’t want to hurt God, we’ll keep the sixth commandment.

A second reason harming others is prohibited is that we are to treat others the way we want to be treated. This is the famous Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12), and it’s still the best way to live. The German Protestant pastor Martin Neimoeller said, “The Nazis came for the Communists, but I wasn’t a Communist so I didn’t object. They came for Socialists, but I wasn’t a Socialist so I didn’t object. They came for trade union leaders, but I wasn’t a union leader so I didn’t object. They came for the Jews, but I wasn’t a Jew, so I didn’t object. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to object.”

If we want to treat others as we want to be treated, we’ll keep the sixth commandment.

A third reason hurting others is prohibited is this: how we treat the person we hold in lowest esteem is how we treat Jesus. In Matthew 25 Jesus spoke of the hungry which weren’t fed, the thirsty not given a drink, the stranger not invited in, the naked not clothed, the prisoner not visited, and said, “Whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me” (Matthew 25:45). If we want to treat others as we would Jesus, we’ll keep the sixth commandment.

What to do with problem people

We all know someone we could call a “problem person.” Jesus’ commentary on the sixth commandment gives us the help we need in seeking health and healing with them.

First, release your anger (Matthew 5:22). When Jesus tells us not to be “angry” with our brother, he uses a very specific Greek word, orgizesthai, which means long-lived, cherished, nursed wrath and anger. This is not thumos, the word for short-lived angry emotions, but the word for anger we choose to hold onto and feed.

Jesus does not tell us not to feel angry, but not to hold onto that anger. We cannot help our feelings, but we can manage them. Luther said we cannot keep the birds from flying over our heads, but we can keep them from nesting in our hair. So, refuse to hold onto your anger. Ask God to help you let it go today.

Take the initiative to heal (Matthew 5:23-24). To put Jesus’ words in our context, if you are on your way into the sanctuary for worship and you remember that your brother has something against you, leave church, drive to his house, and make things right. Only then should you come in here to worship God. Not if you have something against him—if he has something against you. Take the initiative to heal the relationship.

Do it now (Matthew5:25-26). Again in our terms, if someone is suing you and you’re in the wrong, settle before you get to court. It will cost you far less now than then. It will never be easier to make things right than it is today.

Choose to pardon (Matthew5:38-42). Jesus’ words relate to an insult, as when someone slaps you on the right cheek with the back of his hand or a Roman soldier makes you carry his pack for him. You can retaliate, but you only hurt yourself. To forgive is to pardon. It is not to pretend you’re not hurt, or excuse the hurt, but choose not to punish the one who hurt you. Ask God to help you choose to pardon, for his sake and for yours.

Last, pray for the person (Matthew 5:43-44). This is sometimes the only thing you can do, but it is always the best thing you can do. And it is hard, perhaps impossible, to hurt those we are praying for. Pray for the problem person in your life, today.

Honor marriage (Exodus 20:14)

There are half as many divorces granted in a given year in America as marriages performed. One fourth of our adult population has been divorced. 53% of Americans said on a recent anonymous survey that they would have an affair if given the chance. 92% of sexually active people say they have had ten or more partners in their lives.

Marriage today is a game, played for our amusement, and many of us think we can change the channel whenever we want. God knows better. He wants us to be pure and holy. He has given us all we need to defeat the temptations of our culture, and offers us hope even when we fail. Let’s see what he says.

What is adultery? Martin Luther had picturesque ways of putting things. As relates to our topic today, for instance, he once said, “If your head is made of butter, don’t sit by the fire.” On another occasion he declared, “You cannot prevent the devil from shooting arrows of evil thoughts into your heart; but take care that you do not let such arrows stick and grow there.”

We’re going to use his metaphor for our study. So, our first question: what is adultery? What is this “arrow” the enemy fires at us? Jewish law defined adultery as voluntary sexual relations between a married person and someone other than the lawful spouse. That much is clear. But there’s more.

Adultery is not the only kind of sexual sin forbidden by God’s word:

Colossians 3:5: “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, and greed, which is idolatry.”

1 Corinthians 5:9,11: “I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. . . . but now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.”

1 Corinthians 6:9-10: “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” Satan has many such arrows.

And Jesus condemns them even further. In the Sermon on the Mount, he articulates the purest standard to be found in all of literature: “I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Jesus forbids immoral action, and even immoral thoughts, as arrows from Satan. Why?

Why is adultery wrong? There are three basic answers to our question.

First, sexual immorality destroys the family. Dr. Frank Pittman, an internationally renowned expert on sexuality and marriage, reported recently in the New York Times that in thirty-seven years of practice as a therapist, he has encountered only two cases of first marriages ending in divorce where adultery was not involved.

Of those who break up their marriages to marry someone else, 80% are sorry later. Only 10% actually marry the person with whom they had an affair. 70% of those who do later get another divorce. Sexual immorality is an arrow to the heart of your family and home.

Second, sexual impurity destroys our witness. The only credibility for a Christian is his or her character. If that is ruined, our witness and ministry is ruined. And Satan knows this—he is a great economist. If we can get me or you to sin sexually, even one time, he knows that our witness and ministry will be ruined, perhaps forever.

Do you think it’s a coincidence that the great failures among prominent ministers in recent years have been sexual in nature? Aren’t these Satan’s arrows, fired at us all?

Third, sexual impurity destroys our spiritual lives, our souls. Listen to these profound words from Proverbs: “Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned? Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched? So is he who sleeps with another man’s wife; no one who touches her will go unpunished” (Proverbs 6:27-29). This is an arrow to the soul.

How do we defeat this temptation?

God has given us some shields to use when we’re being attacked.

First, agree with God that sexual immorality is wrong. Refuse to accept the culture of our day, the “sexual revolution” characterized by the slogans, “Just do it” and “If it feels good, do it.” Hollywood is wrong. The advertisers who simply want to make money off us are wrong. Sexual immorality is wrong.

The Cherokee Indians, in their marriage ceremony, would join hands across a running stream to signify that their lives would flow together forever. And “white men” called them primitive! Agree with God that all sexual immorality is wrong.

Second, guard your heart. This is Satan’s target. Jesus warned us not to “look at a woman lustfully” (Matthew 5:28). The Greek here does not refer to natural, normal human instincts, but to the man who looks at a woman with the deliberate intention of lusting after her. This is not about the first look, but the second.

We are to do whatever it takes to keep this sin from growing in our hearts and souls. In the next verses (Matthew 5:29,30) Jesus says, “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away….And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.” This is rabbinic hyperbole, overstatement to make this point: we must do whatever it takes to keep from sinning.

Turn off the television set. Walk out of the movie. Cancel the magazine subscription. Block immoral internet sites. Change your friends. Change your job. Do whatever it takes to remove this cancer before it kills your soul. Say “no” to sin, now.

Third, get help. I believe every Christian needs an accountability relationship with someone. We need to empower someone to ask us the hard questions, to tell us when they see us going down the wrong road, to support and strengthen us with total confidence. Start with someone you already trust; covenant to make a time to be together this week; begin by sharing something with each other you’d not share with others. Ask God to help you help each other. And if you’re in trouble here already, get help.

Here’s the bottom line: run. 1 Corinthians 6:18 says, “Flee from sexual immorality.” If you think you’re the one person in all of human history who can get away with this, know that you’re being deceived. My college professor was right: if we say “maybe” to sin, eventually we’ll say “yes” to it. If we turn down the lights, our eyes adjust to the dark. As do our souls. Stop now. Run, now.

What if you’ve sinned? What if it’s too late? What if you’ve already fallen here, if the arrow has already pierced your heart and home? God’s word gives us the help and hope we need. His Spirit can pull out the arrows of the enemy, and heal their wounds.

The first thing to do is to turn to God. You may think your failure has forever ended God’s love and care for you. Nothing could be further from the truth. Read this verse of Scripture: after citing the “sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes and homosexual offenders,” Paul says to the Corinthians: “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). It’s never too late to turn to God. He can pull out arrows we cannot.

Next, with God’s help, you must make right what is wrong. Get out of the relationship, now. The arrow will never be easier to remove than it is today.

Third, ask God to help you make things right with others. Who else has been hurt by your arrows? We need forgiveness from all those we have harmed, unless asking for that forgiveness would hurt them further.

Gordon MacDonald is an example for us. This well-known pastor committed the tragic sin of adultery. Immediately he confessed this single act to his wife, then to his entire congregation. He resigned his pulpit, and entered into years of counseling and accountability. Over time another church called him as their pastor; then several years later, his original church invited him back as their pastor again. He serves there today, and has a national ministry to hurting souls and broken lives.

God can redeem anything, given the chance. But we must be willing to make things right with all those we have wronged. Luther was right—the arrows of the enemy don’t have to kill us. God stands ready to help. But we must choose to let him, now.

The Gift You’ll Never Return

The Gift You’ll Never Return

Revelation 21:1-5

Dr. Jim Denison

Once again, we flooded the stores on the day after Thanksgiving, a shopping day only to be rivaled by the day after Christmas (when we bring it all back and exchange it for other stuff). You could give the items listed in “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” but this year they will cost a total of $65,264.28 (up 18 percent from last year). Or you could sit it all out. I found a website which sells “Bah Humbug!” t-shirts, and another titled “,” whose home page blares, “Christmas Resistance: No Shopping, No Presents, No Guilt.” Somehow I think they’ve missed the reason for the season.

Today I want us to consider the best of all Christmas gifts: how we can receive ours, and give it to everyone on our shopping list. There is literally no subject we can discuss of greater significance, for today and for eternity.

What is heaven like?

Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection were intended for this central purpose: to make it possible for us to be in heaven with our Father. He was born so we could be born again. He came to earth so we could go to heaven. He died so we could live. He was raised so we will be raised. He exchanged a crown for a cross, angels for shepherds, his throne for our thorns. He was born in a stable, so we could be born again in glory.

Now let’s learn some facts about the heaven which Christmas offers us. First, it is a real place: “I saw a new heaven and a new earth” (v. 1).

John “saw” it. He didn’t feel it, or dream of it, or hear about it. He saw it, and we only see things which are. Heaven is a place.

Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you” (John 14.2; emphasis mine).

Second, heaven is the place where God dwells (v. 3).

John reveals, “Now the dwelling of God is with men.” When we get to heaven, we get to God.

Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven” (Matthew 6:9). Heaven is a real place, where God is. It’s being with God.

Third, heaven is a blessed place (v. 4). Because God is there, all that is perfect is there as well.

There will be no death in heaven, thus no mourning or crying or pain. Our greatest enemy will trouble us no more as we spend eternity in paradise.

It’s a place of incredible joy: “You will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand” (Psalm 16:11).

Heaven is a celebration, a party: “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God” (Luke 14:15).

We reign in heaven: “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne” (Revelation 3.21). In heaven, we’re royalty!

We’ll have perfect understanding there: “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

No wonder Jesus called heaven “paradise” (Luke 23:43). It is that, a place of blessing beyond all description: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what the Lord has prepared for those who love him” (1 Corinthians 2:9; cf. Isaiah 64:4).

Who goes there?

I read about a man who died and went to heaven. Walking around, he was shocked at some of the people he saw there—people he never expected to find in heaven. Then he noticed the look on their faces—they were shocked to see him as well.

A woman woke up after surgery and looked around. She asked, “Is this heaven?” Then she saw her pastor standing beside her bed and said, “Oh, no, it can’t be—there’s Dr. Smith.”

Who goes to heaven?

We discovered the answer last week: “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15). But if your name is written there, you are with the Father forever: “He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels” (Revelation 3:5).

God keeps this promise, no matter what you’ve done or haven’t done.

The rich young ruler kept all the commandments, he thought. And yet he left Jesus sad. The Pharisees and priests were the religious Marine Corp of their day, zealous for the law in every detail. Yet they rejected the Messiah of God.

Conversely, David committed adultery with Bathsheba and arranged for the murder of her husband Uriah. And yet he knew that he would “dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6), despite his sin. And he was right.

We can all go to heaven, but only if we have asked Jesus to take us there: “I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am” (John 14:3).

He is driving the only car allowed through the front gate, and he’s stopped to pick you up. But he won’t kidnap you—you must choose to get in. He doesn’t care what you have done or haven’t, how religious you are or are not. He cares only that you trust him enough to get in his car and let him drive. Are you in the vehicle, or trying to walk there on your own?

Is heaven fair? (1 Corinthians 3)

After the worship service last week, a man asked me a very good question. A Christian breaks into someone’s home, and kills the man living there. Police then shoot and kill him before he has time to confess and repent of his sin. What happens to him?

It bothers many people that heaven is God’s free gift, offered to any who will take it regardless of their sins and failures. It offends us that Jeffrey Dahmer, the most horrific criminal most of us have ever heard of, could trust Christ in prison and go to heaven. And yet our honest neighbors and friends who have never committed any of Dahmer’s sins but have not trusted Christ as their Lord, will go to hell. How is this fair?

There are two facts to consider. One: if heaven were fair, none of us could occupy it. The last sin you committed was enough to keep you out of God’s perfect paradise. If God starts choosing which sins exempt us and which do not, he has no fair way to decide. Adultery keeps us out, perhaps—but Jesus said that lusting after a woman is adultery in the heart (Matthew 5:28). Murder surely exempts us—but Jesus said that hatred is as bad in the eyes of the Lord (Matthew 5:21-22). We want everyone’s sin to count but our own. Either everyone gets in by grace, or no one gets in by grace.

A second fact: there are most definitely rewards and loss of rewards in heaven.

In 1 Corinthians 3 Paul described some of our works as “gold, silver, costly stones,” but others as “wood, hay or straw” (v. 12). At the Judgment Day, we’ll know which was which: “the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames” (vs. 13-15).

Once we trust Christ as our Lord we become the children of God. Nothing can change that fact—my sons will always be my sons. But they can receive reward or lose reward from their father, based on their choices. So it is with our heavenly Father. He simply cannot be the holy God of the universe and reward disobedience. If we refuse to live in his word and will, we lose eternal reward.

This fact applies even to confessed sin. When we confess our sins, God forgives them and chooses not to punish us (1 John 1:9). But we lose reward for the obedience we refused to give. And that moment, that hour, that day of sin can never be recovered. That reward is lost forever.

What works lose reward?

Secret, unconfessed sins will be judged: “God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes. 12:14). Jesus confirms it: “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs” (Luke 12:2-3).

Our words will be judged: “I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken” (Matthew 12:36-37).

After listing all sorts of sin, Peter declared that those who do such things “will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:5).

On the other hand, “gold, silver, costly stones” are rewarded. What kind of rewards?

There is the “crown of life”: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12). Jesus said, “Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Revelation 2:10).

There is the “soul-winner’s crown”: “What is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you/ Indeed, you are our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20).

There is the “crown of righteousness”: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:7-8).

For Christian leaders there is the “crown of glory”: “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away” (1 Peter 5:2-4).

Gold, silver, costly stones will be rewarded with everlasting crowns. For what? Enduring temptation; winning souls; staying faithful to God’s purpose; serving God’s people in love. Live for these. Jesus said, “Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:20). These are rewards which last forever.


What will you give the people you love, this year? For guys you know, there’s a new watch on the market, with a strap made out of duct tape—waterproof, of course. For bird watchers on your list, there’s now a sound amplifier focused on birdcall frequencies; they can wear it as “binoculars for the ears.” For every husband I know, there’s a new remote control which connects through the Internet to control 255 operations at once. All gifts you can live without.

Here’s one you cannot, literally. Here’s the Christmas gift Jesus came to give you: if you have made him your Lord, your name is in his book of life and heaven is yours forever. His book of works will determine your reward or loss of rewards in eternity. Ungodly words, secret sins, immorality will be burned away and suffer loss; holiness, soul-winning, faithfulness, and loving service will be rewarded with eternal crowns. These are gifts you’ll never return.

Are you ready, today? Are you using your life to help others be ready tomorrow?

Thirty Minutes In Hell

Thirty Minutes in Hell

Revelation 20:11-15

Dr. Jim Denison

I love church bulletin bloopers. Here are some recent additions to the file: “The sermon this morning: Jesus Walks on Water. The sermon tonight: Searching for Jesus”; “Ladies, don’t forget the rummage sale. It’s a chance to get rid of those things not worth keeping around the house. Don’t forget your husbands;” “Barbara remains in the hospital and is having trouble sleeping—she requests tapes of Pastor Joe’s sermons;” and, “The Rector will preach his farewell message, after which the choir will sing Break Forth into Joy.” But to get back at them, “Eight new choir robes are currently needed, due to the addition of several new members and to the deterioration of some older ones; “and, “At the evening service tonight, the sermon topic will be What is Hell? Come early and listen to our choir practice.”

This fall we’re seeking to know that we know him. Now we close our series by asking what happens to those who do not know him, and those who do. This week we get the bad news. Then next week, on Thanksgiving weekend, we get the good news. For today, let’s talk about the eternal destiny of those who do not know Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord—and why the issue matters to every one of us, whether we know him or not.

Avoid the “lake of fire”

John sees a “great white throne and him who was seated on it” (v. 11). “Great” (mega in the Greek) shows his power—the higher the throne, the greater the one who sat on it.

“White” points to his purity and holiness, his right to be judge. He is so holy that “earth and sky fled from his presence.” He is the Holy One of the universe.

One day, we will all stand before him: “I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne” (v. 12a). One day we will all stand before God like this: “Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).

What happens here? “Books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books” (vs. 12-13). First, God will open the book of works, recording all we have done and every sin we’ve not confessed to God.

Nothing escapes his notice: “My eyes are on all their ways; they are not hidden from me, nor is their sin concealed from my eyes” (Jeremiah 16:17); “God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil” (Ecclesiastes 12:14; cf. Luke 12:2-3; 1 Corinthians 4:5).

“You, O Lord, are loving. Surely you will reward each person according to his conduct, according to what his deeds have done” (Psalm 62:12).

“I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve” (Jeremiah 17:10).

“For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory, withy his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done” (Matthew 16:27).

“We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:10).

“No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames” (1 Corinthians 3:12-15).

Upon this basis none of us can be admitted to God’s perfect paradise, for “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), and “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Then God opens the “Lamb’s book of life.”

Jesus told his disciples, “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Luke 10:20).

Paul wrote, “Help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life” (Philippians 4:3).

The book of Hebrews describes “the church of the first-born, whose names are written in heaven” (Hebrews 12:23).

God promises, “He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels” (Revelation 3:5).

This is the only way to get into heaven: “Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:27).

How can we be sure our names will be in this book? “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me'” (John 14:6). The Bible is clear: “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

What happens if our name is not found in this book of life? We will hear Jesus say, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).

“The cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).

But for those who make Christ their Lord, “The second death has no power over them” (Revelation 20:6), for “He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death” (Revelation 2:11).

Learn more about hell

Is hell real? Hell is a real place, mentioned 23 times in the NT, 15 times by Jesus himself. He calls it a place of “torment” (Luke 16:23). Sixty two percent of all Americans, including 52 percent of self-described “born again Christians,” say that Satan does not exist. Only two percent of Americans are worried about going to hell. But our ignorance and deceit do not change the fact that it is real.

Dr. Maurice Rawlings tells about one of his patients, a man who died three times. At his first death he saw things so horrible that he experienced a religious conversion. His second clinical death, some days later, produced a wonderful, heavenly experience. At his third and final death, he was the one reassuring his doctor.

What is hell like?

God’s word often describes hell as “fire” (Luke 16:24). Revelation 14:10 says, “He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever” (cf. Matthew 13:49-50; Jude 7; Revelation 20:15).

Hell is called “darkness”: “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 22:13; cf. Jude 6).

Most of all, hell is separation from God (Luke 16:26). Remember Jesus’ warning: “I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers'” (Matthew 7:23).

And hell is permanent (Luke 16:26); it is the “second death” (Revelation 20:14).

When do people go to hell?

They go immediately to a place of punishment in “fire,” as the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus makes clear (Luke 16:19-31).

“The Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment. This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the sinful nature and despise authority” (2 Peter 2:9-10).

Then they are condemned to eternal hell at the final judgment: “They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed” (2 Thessalonians 1:9-10). When they stand before God in the final judgment, “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15).

Is hell fair?

The rich man in Jesus’ parable never protests. He knows he deserves to go there. Dr. Rawlings found the same with patients who went to hell then were resuscitated: not one of them thought this was unfair. Every one knew he or she deserved to go to hell. Instead, the rich and religious man wants to spare his brothers, for they deserve to go there as well. Those in hell would make the greatest evangelists on earth.

The fact is, heaven is a perfect place. One sin would ruin it. So Jesus died to pay for our sins, to cleanse us from them. But if we refuse his salvation, we must pay for them ourselves. This means that we are unable to come into the presence of God, forever.

I especially appreciate the way Calvin Miller puts it. “God, can you be merciful and send me off to hell and lock me in forever?” “No, Pilgrim, I will not send you there, but if you chose to go there, I could never lock you out” (The Singer, p. 129).

What about the “ignorant?

I spent the summer of 1979 working in East Malaysia as a Baptist student missionary. For the first time in my life, I met people who had never heard of Jesus Christ. Our Lord’s name was as unfamiliar to them as the ancient Persian kings are to us. Missiologists estimate that as much as one-third of the world’s population has no realistic opportunity to know or understand God’s offer of salvation through Christ. What happens to them when they die?

One common suggestion is that God judges the “ignorant” according to the light they have, by his self-revelation in nature. Here’s my question: why is it necessary that Christians give them any more light? Yet we are commissioned and commanded to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20), to be his witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).

A second “answer” to our question suggests that God knows what the “ignorant” would do if they were given the chance to hear the gospel. But then why do we need to give them that chance?

A third approach claims that God would never send people to hell for rejecting a gospel they have not heard, with the implication that the “ignorant” will be in heaven. If this is true, we’d best not share the gospel with such people lest they reject it and go to perdition. The first two “answers” make missions unnecessary; this approach makes evangelism positively dangerous.

So far we’ve sought speculative answers to a speculative question. But the Bible was written in a pragmatic worldview, and is more interested in relevance than rationalism. If we could ask the Apostle Paul what happens to the “ignorant,” here’s his likely answer: go tell them. If you know that someone has not heard the gospel, share it with them. Don’t speculate—evangelize. We are clearly commissioned by Jesus to share our faith with the entire world, starting wherever “Jerusalem” is located on our personal maps.

One last fact: God is love (1 John 4:8). He grieves the lost even more than we do. We can trust the “ignorant” to his grace, all the while doing all we can do to share Christ with them. We have no biblical support whatever for believing that anyone can be in heaven apart from faith in Jesus. So we are called to solve the problem of the “ignorant” not with our theology but with our witness.


William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, once took a group of volunteers through an extensive training course lasting many weeks. When it was done he said to them, “I’m sorry our training took so long. If I could take you to hell for five minutes, none of what I’ve taught you would be necessary.” He was right.

“Five minutes in hell.” We’ve spent about thirty minutes going to hell through God’s Word today. Now, do whatever you must not to go there, or let someone else go there, tomorrow.

Use Things And Love People

Use Things and Love People—Not the Reverse

The life and legacy of Moses

Dr. Jim Denison

Exodus 20:15-17

In America, apparently no price is too high for the things we want. Who would have dreamed we’d spend $5 for a cup of coffee, or $3 billion on bottled water? But we’re drinking it. The price of gasoline hasn’t been this high in years, but we’re still buying it.

Our culture measures us by what we wear, drive, or own. Against all this materialism, we find the eighth commandment. Two words in Hebrew, four in English: “You shall not steal.” Let’s look at what the commandment means, and how to keep it today.

What is stealing?

We steal when we take the possessions of others. My family’s home in Houston was vandalized; a thief broke the window of our van in Atlanta and stole what was inside; our church has lost technical equipment to thieves in recent years. A few months ago my car wouldn’t start, so I had it towed to a local repair shop. They wanted $2,000 to replace the head gaskets; I took it to the dealership, who fixed the problem for a fraction of that cost and never had to touch the head gaskets. Stealing is taking the possessions of others.

We steal when we take advantage of others. Forth eight percent of American workers admit to taking unethical or illegal advantage of their employers in the past year. This includes cheating on an expense account, paying or accepting kickbacks, secretly forging signatures, and breaking legal statutes and codes. American industry loses $3 billion per year because of employee’s time spent in personal internet use while at work.

We steal when we take advantage of the government by cheating on our taxes, money which honest citizens must make up. In short, we steal whenever we take financial advantage of others.

We steal when we take the ideas of others. When I taught at Southwestern Seminary I heard the motto from students: if you steal from one source, it’s plagiarism; from two sources, it’s research. No, it’s not. My brother in law once worked as a custodian at a church while going to seminary. He cleaned the pastor’s office, and always knew what sermon they’d hear that Sunday from the open book of sermons on his desk on Friday.

We steal when we take the reputation of others. Remember a few years ago when someone accused Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger of sexual abuse? This godly man was completely vindicated, all charged were dropped, and the person making the allegation apologized, but the damage was done to his reputation. That man stole his good name.

Shakespeare said it well: “Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing; ‘Twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands. But he that filches from me my good name Robs me of that which not enriches him And makes me poor indeed.” Before you say anything negative about any person, ask yourself first, Is it true? Is it fair? Is it necessary? To take the reputation of others is to steal.

How to keep the eighth commandment

So, how do we keep the eighth commandment?

First, we see things as God does. Material success is not the highest value in life—a relationship with God is. Jesus warned his disciples: “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16.26).

As God sees things, material success is a means to an end, given for the purpose of serving God with that which he has entrusted to us. If I value God more than possessions, I’ll not offend him by stealing from you.

Second, we acquire things as God directs. Scripture gives us three ways we are to acquire possessions, a kind of philosophy of economics. We are to work hard: “He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need” (Ephesians 4.28).

We are to invest wisely. In Jesus’ parable of the talents (measures of money), he commends the men who doubled their investments, while criticizing the man who did not (Matthew 25.14-30). And we are to pray dependently. When our need is greater than our supply, we are to pray and ask God’s help. The early Christians gave to the common good of the believing community, and their resources were “distributed to anyone as he had need” (Ac 4.35). As we work hard, invest wisely, and trust God, we acquire things as he direct. Then we will have no need to break the eighth commandment.

Third, we use things as God leads. God has blessed us with material possessions, so that we might use them to help others in his name. He gave the Samaritan a donkey and some money, to give to the man in need. We are to do the same with the donkey and the money he has given to us.

The old song says, “Loving things and using people only leads to misery; using things and loving people, that’s the way it ought to be.” If I value you more than your possessions, I’ll not steal what is yours. In fact, I’ll give to you from what is mine.

It is imperative that we see things, acquire things, and use things as God directs, that we keep the eighth commandment. For our own sakes.

What is a “lie”?

When I worked as a graphic artist during seminary, I had a customer who kept a “lie book” in his pocket. Whenever he told someone a lie he would write it down, so he could remember it the next time he saw that person.

The commentaries claim that this is the commandment of the ten we break the most often. Do you agree? Raise your hand if you’ve never lied. Be careful—don’t lie.

The psalmist lamented, “Help, Lord, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men. Everyone lies to his neighbor; their flattering lips speak with deception” (Psalm 12.1-2).

What is “false testimony”? Why do we commit this sin? Why is it wrong? What can we do about it? These are our questions today. We live in a “post-modern” culture, where truth is considered to be subjective and personal. There’s no “right” or “wrong,” just what’s right or wrong for you. No absolutes—which is itself an absolute statement. So, let’s be clear—what is a “lie”?

False words are of course lies. We lie when we tell half-truths, when we exaggerate, when we misquote, when we slander others and gossip about them. False appearances are lies. The psalmist said of his people, “they take delight in lies. With their mouths they bless, but in their hearts they curse” (Psalm 62.4).

Sometimes we gossip in spiritual guise. “Pray for the Does, they’re having marital troubles”; “I’m concerned about the Joneses, their son (or daughter) is really struggling in school.” We pretend to care, which is a lie.

Withholding the truth is a lie. Listen to Leviticus 5.1: “If a person sins because he does not speak up when he hears a public charge to testify regarding something he has seen or learned about, he will be held responsible.” The sin of silence is as real as the sin of speech.

Last, rationalization is a lie. Everyone’s doing it; it won’t hurt anyone; no one will know. It’s just a “white lie.” But “white lies” are an oxymoron. In a Peanuts cartoon (August 1997), Charlie Brown says to Linus, “We’re supposed to write home to our parents and tell them what a great time we’re having here at camp.” Linus answers, “Even if we’re not? Isn’t that a lie?” Charlie Brown explains, “Well…it’s sort of a white lie.” To which Linus asks, “Lies come in colors?” No, they do not.

Why do we lie?

Let’s ask our second question: why are such lies and deceit so common? The first sin in the Bible was a lie. In Genesis 3 we read that the crafty serpent asked the woman if she was allowed to eat from any tree in the garden. When she answered he lied, “You will not surely die” (v. 4). So she ate, and he ate, and eventually they both died. As will we, unless Jesus returns first. The first sin in the Bible is a lie.

The last sinners named in the Bible are also liars. In Revelation 22 Jesus says to John, “Outside [heaven] are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (v. 15, emphasis mine).

The psalmist said, “Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward and speak lies” (Psalm 58.3). Why are lies so common to us?

One answer: we lie to compensate for our own failures. We have some sense of the way things should be, of life as God intended it. But we know that we are not living this way, that we have sinned, fallen, failed. So we compensate. We create a false self, an “idealized self,” the person we wish we were. And we spend the rest of our lives trying to live up to this person.

But no one can do it for very long. So, when we fall short of the perfectionism which drives us, we deceive ourselves and others. We lie. Cain lied to cover up his murder. David lied about Bathsheba to cover up his sin. Any sin they committed, or you commit, I can commit. There is no sin we cannot commit. If they lied to compensate for their own failures, so can I. So can you.

Another answer: to hurt those who hurt us. If someone lies to us, we lie to them. To hurt those who hurt us. We lie to get revenge. We repeat half-truths and rumors, we gossip and slander, to hurt people we think we have a right to hurt. After all, they did it to us, right?

Saul was convinced David was a threat to him, so he became a threat to David. He lied about him to his son, his family, his nation. If he lied to hurt his enemy, so can I. So can you.

Still another answer: to get ahead. We lie to get the account, to close the deal. To impress the girl or the boy. To please our parents. To further our own agenda. Ananias and Sapphira lied about the money they brought to the church, so they could keep some of it for themselves. If they lied to get ahead, so can I. So can you.

Finally: we lie because we are tempted by Satan himself. Jesus called him “the father of lies” (John 8.44). He helps us along, encouraging us to be less than honest with God, others, and ourselves.

Why is lying wrong?

Now we’re ready for our third question: why is lying wrong? If 91% of us do it today, and people did it all through the Bible, why is it so wrong? Here are the facts.

God says it is wrong. Listen to Psalm 101.7: “No one who practices deceit will dwell in my house; no one who speaks falsely will stand in my presence.” And listen to Ephesians 5.25: “Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor.” God says lying is wrong.

Lying offends the character of God. Jesus is truth (John 14.6). The Bible calls our Lord “a faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he” (Deuteronomy 32.4). Thus lying runs counter to his very nature.

Listen to Proverbs 6.16-19: “There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.” See how God feels about deceit?

Lying sacrifices trust. Do you remember the last time someone lied to you—perhaps a national politician or leader, or a personal relationship? Have you been able to trust them since?

Lying destroys people. Once a lie has been told about someone, it can never be taken back. The rabbis used to tell about a man who repeated gossip and slander about his rabbi. Finally he came to him and apologized, and asked what he could do to make things right. The rabbi gave him a bag filled with feathers, and told him to empty it into the wind at the top of a nearby hill. He did, and brought back the empty bag. Then the rabbi told him to go back and pick up all the feathers, which by now had blown across the town and the countryside. Of course he could not. The man then understood the damage he had caused. Do we?

In short, lies destroy. Never underestimate their power or the damage they can do. Who do you think said these words: “The broad mass of a nation will more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a small one….If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it to be the truth”? It was Adolf Hitler. And six million Jews died from his lies.

Lies destroy.

How do we keep the ninth commandment?

Now we’re ready for our last question: how do we keep the ninth commandment? How do we deal with lies, in our lives and our culture?

First, confront them as soon as possible. Don’t let their malignancy grow. Deal with this issue in your own life. If you find deceit in your words, your thoughts, your actions, confess it to God, right now. Deal with this issue with your children. Confess this sin to those you’ve hurt. This will hurt you, and make it far harder to lie next time.

Second, don’t listen to the lies of others. Know that if someone will lie about me to you, they’ll probably lie about you to me. Be the one who stops the cycle of lies and rumors and gossip.

Third, live with consistent integrity. Be the same person when you talk to someone as when you talk about them. Be the same in private as in public. Be one person, always. Will Rogers once advised, “So live that you would not be ashamed to sell the family parrot to the town gossip.” That’s good advice.

Last, stay close to God. Jesus always told the truth. In fact, he was the Truth. The best way to keep the ninth commandment is to get close to him—to ask his Spirit to fill and control you, to stay right with him as the source of your life. Then all which comes from your heart and lips will be right.

The tenth commandment

This commandment begins as do the other nine: “You shall not.” “You” is plural, showing that the commandment applies to us all and that we are all tempted here. It is in the present tense, because it is still relevant today.

And it is a command, not a suggestion or a principle. Someone said that God gave us the Ten Commandments in stone so we could keep them or break them, but not bend them. A command for all of us, for all time.

The key word, of course, is “covet.” his word simply means to long after or desire earnestly. It is a common theme in the Bible. Interestingly, the word itself is neutral. The question is not whether or not we will have desires, but what we desire, and at what price.

Some things we “covet” are good, as in wishing to emulate the great qualities of someone we admire. Some things we desire are natural, such as a good appearance or a nice car, or the ability to play golf well. So, what is “coveting” in the wrong sense?

The tenth commandment specifically prohibits two kinds of desires: to want something I should not possess, and to want something which belongs to someone else. These can be material things, such as “your neighbor’s house,” ox or donkey. Here’s a principle for life: don’t love something which can’t love you back.

This can be the wrong desire for status, as in coveting your neighbor’s manservant or maidservant, ancient symbols of place and status. This can be the wrong desire for people, as with “your neighbor’s wife.” It is wrong to want anything I shouldn’t have, or to covet what belongs to you.

This commandment is crucial. If we keep it, we will keep the other nine. If we don’t covet status or power above God, we will worship him, refuse idols, honor his name, and keep his day. If we don’t covet status or power with others, we will honor our parents and refuse to hurt people. If we don’t covet people, we’ll refuse adultery. If we don’t covet things, we’ll not steal or lie.

Breaking this commandment is at the root of all our troubles. So, why do we?

Learning not to covet

We covet things because we have the idea that things will bring us happiness. It’s no wonder. Thousands of people in our country spend forty hours every week designing ways to get us to buy more. They use music, slogans, sights, sounds, and colors. Their goal is to make us covet what they’re selling. Their message is everywhere. The typical American consumer is bombarded with 3,000 advertisements daily.

And they’re working. In 1967, 44% of college freshmen believed it was essential to be “very well off financially”; by 1990 that figure had jumped to 74%. By contrast, 83% in 1967 thought it was essential to have a meaningful purpose to life; by 1990, only 43% agreed.

We’re not the first people to struggle with coveting things. Do you remember the story of Ahab and the vineyard of Naboth (1 Kings 21)? Simply put, King Ahab wanted Naboths’ vineyard in ancient Samaria, but it was his father’s and he refused to sell it. Ahab became depressed and wouldn’t eat. So his wicked wife Jezebel arranged for two men to accuse poor Naboth of blasphemy; he was stoned to death, and Ahab got his field. The result was that Ahab and Jezebel died for their sin. Three people were killed, because one man coveting things.

From their story we learn not to want things we shouldn’t have, or things which belong to others. Why? Because such coveting will only hurt us, and hurt other people. It’s never enough. A servant asked his rich master, “How much money is enough?” His reply: “Just a little more.”

Recently a man on television interviewed people who had become instant lottery millionaires. He asked, “How many of you are happier today?” Not a single person raised his or her hand. One of the winners replied, “How many new suits can you buy? How many cars can you drive? Every time you get something nicer, it isn’t good enough, because you see and want something even nicer.” It’s never enough.

And we will use people to get more things. The right approach is to love people and use things, not the reverse. Martin Buber, the Jewish poet and philosopher, suggested that only two kinds of relationships exist: I-you and I-it. We should have I-you relationships with each other, and I-it relationships with things. When we reverse them, everyone loses.

It’s possible to use things for people and God, thereby keeping the tenth commandment. For instance, a few years ago Bo Pilgrim spoke at an outreach lunch our church created. He wore his pilgrim hat, put Henrietta the stuffed chicken on the podium, and simply preached the gospel. Then he called attention to a gospel tract he had written—there was one at every place, for all 220 people at the lunch. Inside each one was a $20 bill, to encourage us to take the tract and read it. He said, “It’s not mine, and there’s more where that came from.” He’s right. And he kept the tenth commandment.

We’re not the first. Listen to Paul’s confession: “I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘Do not covet.’ But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire” (Romans 7.7-8).

Here was Paul’s problem, the only sin he ever admits committing anywhere in the New Testament: coveting. Not after things or people, but status. Wanting to be a Pharisee of the Pharisees, wanting to be the most zealous for the law and the rituals of their faith, wanting to be the holiest man in the nation. Paul admits that this was his own heart.

I admit that this is an issue for me as well: wanting to impress you, to please you, to perform well for the sake of status and achievement. Who today doesn’t struggle here?

Coveting at its root is all about me. “I trouble.” Note that the middle letter of pride and sin are the same. But as with other kinds of coveting, we can never have enough. Enough status, or reputation, or honor. We always need a little more.


So what is the answer to our problem? First, we admit that seeking things, people, or status we should not have is wrong. Seeking things, people, or status which belong to someone else is wrong. We start there.

Second, we admit that we cannot solve this problem ourselves. Our fallen human nature wants things, people, and status. We must have the nature of Jesus as our own.

This was Paul’s experience. The same man who admitted that he had “every kind of covetous desire” later said, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4.12-13). We can keep the tenth commandment, with the help of Jesus.

Listen to Jesus’ story with the tenth commandment: he, being in very nature God, chose not to covet the things, people, or status of heaven. Instead, he “made himself nothing” as a servant, to die for us. And so God restored him to the highest place and the highest name, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2.5-11). He refused to covet, and received from his Father more than coveting could ever have given him.

Now his Spirit is ready to help us have his humility. Will you admit that you need his help with coveting? Will you ask for that help? Will you trust God for it? Will you ask Jesus to make you like himself? The results will outweigh whatever they cost you today.

There was an elderly man who lived on the island of Crete. He loved everything about Crete—the hills and mountains, the beaches, the sunrises and sunsets. And so when he came to die, his sons laid him on the soil of Crete. He scooped into his hand some of that soil, and then he died.

He found himself outside the gates of heaven. They opened, and he started in. Then the angel saw his clenched fist and asked what was inside. “Crete,” he said. “I go nowhere without it.” The angel said that he would have to let it go to come inside. “Never,” he said, and sat down outside the wall.

A week went by. The angel came back out and asked him to let go of the soil of Crete and come inside, but he refused. Another week went by. Then an old friend from years before came out and asked him to release his dirt and come in, but he refused. Another week went by; his soil was dry and caked, and he cupped his hands under each other to hold it.

Then the gates opened, and his granddaughter came out to him. She said, “Grandfather, the gates only open for those with open hands.” He looked at the soil of Crete in his hands, then finally released it. It fell through the heavens as he took his granddaughter’s hand. The gates opened, and he went in. Inside, was all of Crete.

What’s in your hand today?