D-Day and V-Day

D-Day and V-Day

Romans 7:14-25

James C. Denison

What’s wrong with me? My parents had every right to ask that question all the years I was in their home.

Not all my discipline problems were intentional. When I showed Lamar Daniels my Cub Scout fire-starting abilities in a nearby field, I didn’t know I was starting a two-alarm blaze. Or that the baseball I hit in the street would smash a neighbor’s car windshield.

But when I used my new Cub Scout pocketknife to dig holes in a neighbor’s hose, I knew that was wrong. When I melted crayons in my first grade teacher’s hair, I knew that was wrong. When I locked a girl in the coat locker over lunch in the fourth grade, and scattered chalk dust into the window air conditioner so that it coated the classroom, I knew that was wrong.

My parents were two of the most honest and moral people I’ve ever met. They raised me better than that. Why did I do these things?

Did the arsonists who started the California wildfires know what they did was wrong? Why did they do it?

Why did you do the last thing you knew you shouldn’t? Is there any hope for the human race? Any hope for people who call ourselves Christians? If the holy God of the universe lives in us, why aren’t we more holy? If we are really the children of a perfect Father, why do we do the things we do?

Can we do better? Can we live the kind of godly lives we all know we should? Can we ever find victory over temptation and weakness and sin? The promise of God’s word today is that we can. It is my privilege to show you how.

Admit your total depravity

As you know, D-Day in World War II came on June 6, 1944 at the Battle of Normandy. V-Day, Victory Day, came in Europe on May 8, 1945, and in Japan on August 15. Between D-Day and these V-Days, the war raged on, but victory was in sight. The enemy was on the road to defeat, but was not yet destroyed.

In spiritual terms, I’ve often heard that you and I live in the same period of time. D-Day came with the death and resurrection of Jesus. V-Day comes with his return. In the meanwhile, we must fight the enemy every day. We will win some battles and lose others, but the ultimate victory is certain. V-Day is on the way.

I no longer believe that. I now know that V-Day, like D-Day, has already come for Christ-followers. We can have total victory over sin and Satan today. We don’t have to do the things we do, ever. V-Day can be this day. How?

In theological terms, we’re dealing with the topic of “total depravity.” Theologians mean by this that every part of us is affected by sin. Your mind, your emotions, your attitudes and feelings as well as your action. Not just what you do, but who you are. You are not a good person who sometimes does bad things–you are by nature a bad person who often does good things. So am I. It is our nature to sin. Depravity has affected every dimension of our lives.

Romans 7 gives the most honest expression to this fact in all of Scripture.

Paul is writing as a believer when he says that he is “sold as a slave to sin.” He belongs completely to it. What he wants to do, he does not, “but what I hate I do” (v. 15)–this is “sin living in me” (v. 17). He wants to do what is good, “but I cannot carry it out” (v. 18). This is an ongoing problem: “the evil I do not want to do–this I keep on doing” (v. 19). More specifically, “it is sin living in me that does it” (v. 20).

In his “inner being,” Paul loves doing the word and will of God (v. 22), but there is “another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members” (v. 23).

The apostle is trapped between the two, caught in the spiritual crossfire with no way out. He can do well one day and sin another. He can step forward in faith but then backward in defeat. “What a wretched man I am!” he admits (v. 24a). “Who will rescue me from this body of death?” he cries (v. 24b). If this is true for the greatest apostle in Christian history, what of us?

Paul is simply stating what God’s word says of us all. All of us have sinned and come short of God’s glory (Romans 3:23).

King David lamented, “The Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:2-3).

The first step to winning the battle against sin is admitting that you cannot win it. You can fight temptation and sin for a while, but don’t you inevitably lose?

Preachers used to speak of “besetting sins,” those temptations to which we are especially and individually susceptible. Yours may not be mine, and mine may not be yours, but we all have them.

Charles Finney, in a famous sermon preached in 1845, made this list: temper, worry, coveting what we do not have, greed, dishonesty, falsehood, laziness, slander, gossip, envy, jealousy, prideful ambition, overeating, overdrinking, vanity of appearance, and sexual lust.

Are any of these living in your soul? What temptation continually plagues you? What sin do you find yourself struggling to defeat? Start there. Begin by admitting your total depravity, your absolute inability to gain total victory in this battle.

Claim your total victory

“Who will rescue me from this body of death?” Paul cried (v. 24b). Here’s the answer, the incredible good news for us today: “Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (v. 25). He will say it again in Romans 8:1: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Why? “Because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death” (v. 2).

When Jesus died for us, “he condemned sin in sinful man” (v. 3). His death killed the sin nature. He defeated sin and destroyed the reign of Satan. He broke the chains which enslaved us and won us total victory. Not just one day–this day. Not just when he returns–when his Spirit comes to live in each of us.

The same Holy Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead and defeated sin forever now lives in us. The same Spirit who enabled Jesus to live without sin in total victory now lives in us. The same Power who brought him victory has come to bring us victory. V-Day is now ours.

So, how is this victory to be ours?

First, receive the Holy Spirit. You do this when you ask Jesus to forgive your sins and become your Savior and Lord. We speak of Jesus “coming into our heart,” but it is actually his Spirit who enters us at salvation. Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3:16). When you received Christ, you received all of God there is.

Second, submit to the Holy Spirit. The Bible commands us to “quench not the Spirit” (1 Thessalonians 5:19). The Spirit is a gentleman. He goes where he is wanted. He will not make you holy without your permission.

If you try to fight this battle in your strength, you cannot have his. He cannot drive the car unless you give him the wheel. He cannot remove the tumor unless you let him operate. He cannot fight this spiritual battle if you insist on using human weapons.

So “be filled with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:18). Begin every day by surrendering that day the Lordship of the Holy Spirit. Pray through your plans, problems, and dreams for the day. Give them intentionally to his direction and control. Ask him to take charge of you yet again, and know that he will.

Psalm 91 begins, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust'” (vs. 1-2). A shelter is no good unless you’re inside it; a fortress is no help until you run behind its walls. If you will “rest in the shadow of the Almighty,” you will know his strength and help and hope.

Why do so many Christians live like the rest of the world? Because we’re trying to live with worldly power and human strength. Self sufficiency is the enemy of the power of God. Submit to the Spirit.

Third, live in the Holy Spirit. Jesus was plain: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). What does it mean to stay attached to the vine, to the Spirit of Jesus living in us?

We depend on him. The branch depends completely on the vine for its life and strength. We read the Bible and pray not to fulfill religious duties but to get the power we must have to go another day. The spiritual life is not an added elective for those who have time for religious hobbies–it is the fuel and food without which we die.

We rest in him. We trust that he is flowing and working through us. Nowhere does the Bible say how it feels to abide in Christ. We trust that when we are close to him, he is close to us. We trust his presence and power.

And we expect fruit to result in our lives. The “fruit of the Spirit” are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). Each is the opposite of the sin which so plagues our lives. The branch doesn’t have to try harder to make more fruit–so long as it stays connected to the vine, its fruit is inevitable. Expect fruit when you are close to Jesus.

If you don’t see such fruit, don’t try harder to produce it. Instead, get right with God again.

If you struggle with loving someone who has hurt you, don’t try harder to forgive them–get back to Jesus. If you have lost your joy, don’t try to find it–find Jesus. If you’re not at peace, don’t try harder to feel peaceful–go to Jesus. If you struggle with patience as I do, don’t try to be more patient–get back to Jesus. If you battle self-control issues, don’t try harder to do better–take them to Jesus.

Depend on him, rest in him, and expect his character to show in yours.


And his victory is yours. It is actually possible to live today in total victory over Satan, temptation, and sin.

There is no sin you must commit. The Bible is clear: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

Jesus has never lost a battle to Satan, and he never will. If you believe in D-Day but have not yet found V-Day, the fault is not his. You’re trying to win this battle in your strength, but you cannot. You may even have given up on total victory, believing that it is simply your lot in life to live with spiritual defeat and frustration. That’s a lie of the enemy. Jesus won total victory over total depravity. Now that victory can be yours.

To sum up this message in a single verse: “Submit yourselves…to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Submit and you can resist. Resist, and you will win. It’s that simple. Today can be your V-Day. The choice is yours.

Daniel W. Whittle was born in Chicopee Falls, Massachusetts in 1840. A major in the Civil War, he was wounded at the battle of Vicksburg. After his recovery, his meeting with D. L. Moody changed his life and he was eventually called into ministry.

Major Whittle was one of the noted preachers of his day, but became even more famous for his hymns. He wrote more than 200 hymn texts expressing every dimension of the Christian life. One of my favorite was written in 1893. Listen to its words:

Dying with Jesus, by death reckoned mine,

Living with Jesus a new life divine;

Looking to Jesus till glory doth shine,

Moment by moment, O Lord, I am thine.

Never a battle with wrong for the right,

Never a contest that He doth not fight;

Lifting above us His banner so white,

Moment by moment I’m kept in his sight.

Never a trial that He is not there,

Never a burden that He doth not bear,

Never a sorrow that He does not share,

Moment by moment I’m under his care.

Never a heart-ache, and never a groan,

Never a tear-drop, and never a moan;

Never a danger but there on the throne,

Moment by moment He thinks of His own.

Never a weakness that He doth not feel,

Never a sickness that He cannot heal;

Moment by moment, in woe or in weal,

Jesus, my Saviour, abides with me still.

Moment by moment I’m kept in His love,

Moment by moment I’ve life from above;

Looking to Jesus till glory doth shine,

Moment by moment, O Lord, I am thine.


Getting a Grip on Guilt

Getting a Grip on Guilt

Psalm 51

James C. Denison

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918, an armistice ending hostilities with Germany went into effect. Its result was the eventual end of World War I. As a consequence, “Armistice Day” was observed each November 11. In 1954, following the end of World War II and the Korean conflict, legislation was signed changing this annual observance to Veterans Day.

Whereas Memorial Day honors those who died in the service of our country. Veterans Day honors the veterans of all American wars.

Nearly 2.7 million men and women are currently serving in the military or in the reserves. There are 23.7 million veterans living in America today. Each and every one deserves our gratitude on this day and every day. You were willing to serve and even to die so that we could live free.

On this Veterans Day, it seems especially appropriate that we consider our topic. Our Savior died at Calvary so that each of us could live free from spiritual slavery and guilt. We can celebrate total victory over temptation and sin this morning. We can be completely free from guilt and shame.

Why, then, is guilt such a pervasive problem for Christians? Why is it is hard for us to make peace with our past? Why do we all have secret sins and failures which plague our souls? How can we get a grip on guilt today?

Why guilt? (5)

Let’s begin by understanding our spiritual disease. “What’s wrong with me?” our series has asked. The answer is your sin nature, your desire to be your own God. It has affected every part of you. Guilt is the inevitable result.

Here’s the background of Psalm 51. King David had an affair with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. She became pregnant. To cover his sin, eventually he had Uriah killed and took the widow as his wife. But God knew what he had done, and sent the prophet Nathan to expose his sin.

In this one event David broke nine of God’s Ten Commandments. He broke in order the tenth, coveting his neighbor’s wife; the seventh, by committing adultery; the eighth by stealing her for himself; the sixth by murdering her husband; the ninth, by lying about his sin; the fifth, by dishonoring his parents; the second, by making an idol of Bathsheba; and the first and third, by shaming God and his name. At least he didn’t break the Sabbath, that we know of.

Why did he do this, knowing how wrong these sins would be? Why do we sin, even when we know that guilt and shame will be the result? “The church is full of hypocrites,” our critics allege. If we are the children of God, why do we still struggle with temptation and sin? Let’s apply some of the facts we’ve learned so far in our series.

First, sin is still real. Verse 5 is clear: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” This verse does not mean that babies or fetuses sin; it means that we have all inherited a sin nature, a propensity to sin.

Romans 5:12 says, “Sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all have sinned.” We have each inherited a tendency toward sin and the guilt it produces.

Even when we become the children of God, sin is still real. Paul admitted that what he wanted to do he did not do, and what he did not want to do, that he did (Romans 7:14-20). An illustration from Roman law may help: when a victim was crucified, he was considered dead in the eyes of the law from the moment he was nailed to the cross. His execution was recorded on the day he was crucified, not on the day his body actually died. It might take hours or even days for him to die physically, but he was already dead legally.

So it is with your salvation–you became the legal “saint” of God at the moment you invited the Spirit into your life, but the sin nature is still real. It won’t leave you forever until you step from this fallen world into God’s perfect paradise.

Second, Satan is still real. He is a roaring lion (1 Peter 5:8), looking for you. You are his enemy. Jesus said in John 8:44 that the devil is a “murderer from the beginning,” and “a liar and the father of lies.” He only left Jesus after his wilderness defeat “until an opportune time” (Luke 4:18). He tempts and deceives every one of us. He is better at tempting than you are at resisting.

He is sly and subtle, never tempting us to do what he knows we will not do. As when lights are dimmed slowly and our eyes adjust to the darkness, so he seeks to lead us by steps from sin to its devastating results. David had no idea that adultery would lead to murder, but Satan did.

As a result, we each think that we are the one person in all of human history who can sin without consequences. No one will know about us; we can do this and be OK.; no one will be hurt. Every person in sin thinks it’s so. But that’s a lie.

Third, free will is still real. God does not remove our freedom when we become Christians. My sons will always be my sons, but they don’t have to act like it. “The devil made me do it” is a cop-out. Our family backgrounds and circumstances are often contributing factors, but the choice is ours. We choose to sin, even know the shame it will produce.

Listen to James 1:14-15: “Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.”

Why do we sin, even when we know that guilt and shame will result? Because we have a sin nature, and we choose to sin; we are deceived into thinking we can do so without consequence. The results and guilt which come from our sin are disastrous and devastating.

I read once about a terrible work of modern art: a loaded shotgun affixed to a chair. It was to be viewed by sitting in the chair and looking directly into the gun barrel. The gun was set on a timer to fire at an undetermined moment within the next hundred years. And people waited in line to sit and stare into the gun!

Get out of that line, now.

What do we do when we sin?

Our second question: what do we do when we sin? Our psalm is very clear.

First, we turn to God (vs. 1-2). We ask for his “mercy,” which is not getting the punishment we deserve. We ask for his “unfailing love,” the Old Testament word for “grace,” which is getting the love and forgiveness we don’t deserve. We ask him to “blot out” our transgressions, a Hebrew phrase which means to wash the garment until it is clean and the stain is gone.

Our tendency when we sin is to run from God and his church, to hide from him as Adam and Eve did in the Garden, when we need to do the opposite. The sick need a doctor; the sinner needs God.

Second, we admit our sin to him (vs. 3-4). Our human reaction is to excuse our sin, to transfer blame to others, or to rationalize what we have done. A lawyer once said he never met a guilty defendant. Every one had justified his or her behavior somehow. We judge others by their actions and ourselves by our intentions.

But David didn’t do that–he admitted his “transgressions,” which means to cross the boundaries of what is right. He acknowledged his “sin,” his moral failure.

And he stated correct theology: “Against you only have I sinned” (v. 4). We hurt other people, sometimes in horrible ways; but by theological definition we “sin” against God.

Third, we claim God’s cleansing (vs. 7-12). When we confess our sin God does truly forgive and cleanse us. Hyssop was used by a priest to sprinkle the blood of a sacrifice over the sinner. So God cleanses us by the blood of his Son, Jesus Christ, who paid for all our sins.

God can wash us and make us whiter than snow; he can blot out all our iniquities; he can recreate a pure heart and spirit in our lives. He can restore to us the joy of our salvation (v. 12). He can make us new people. This is the miracle of his grace.

1 John 1:9 is clear: if we confess our sin, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sin, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Every time.

Last, we make restitution to those we have hurt (vs. 13-19). David vowed to “teach transgressors your ways,” from his personal experience, so that “sinners will turn back to you” (v. 13).

He would “sing of your righteousness” and “declare your praise” in worship (vs. 14-15). He would lead the entire nation to “righteous sacrifices” as their godly king (v. 19).

In other words, he would make restitution to the nation he has so injured. In fact, David wrote this psalm for public use by the people, not just private use in his worship. So that all would know of his sin, his repentance, and God’s grace.

We make restitution–not so that we can earn God’s forgiveness, but in gratitude for it; not so that others will forgive us, but so that we can help those we have hurt. By grace, as God has been gracious to us.

How do we deal with guilt?

Now, what guilt is plaguing your soul this morning? Where do you need to make peace with your past? Let’s assume that you’ve done what David did. You have turned to God, admitted your sin to him, claimed his forgiveness, and made restitution. But still you are bothered by the shame which sin brings to your soul. How do you deal with it?

Know that guilt is never of God. Jesus condemns sin, never sinners. The Holy Spirit convicts us of our transgressions, but never condemns us for them. When Jesus had to call the Pharisees and Sadducees “hypocrites” (cf. Matthew 25), he was describing their actions as a means of bringing them to repentance. He was willing to forgive all who would be forgiven and restore all who wanted to be restored.

Whatever guilt you are feeling today, know that it is not from the Lord. It is not how he punishes. It is not how the God who is love relates to his children.

Know that guilt is often of Satan. He uses it to anesthetize you spiritually so that your spirit grows dull and sin is easier for you to commit. And he uses guilt to defeat you and steal your victory in Christ. So refuse it, this moment. Stop listening to the voice which tells you that you’ll never win over this sin so you might as well stop resisting. Refuse to hear that whisper which condemns you for your failures and tries to take away your joy in Christ.

And know that guilt is how we pay for sins God has forgiven. If he will not punish us, we’ll punish ourselves. We’ll feel guilty enough for long enough to believe that we have somehow paid our debt. All the while the One who died to pay that debt is grieved that we will not accept his grace and celebrate his victory.

Instead, take your guilt to the grace of God. If you have followed David’s example, claim your Father’s forgiveness for your sin. Then the next time guilt attacks, return to this moment when you confessed that failure and were forgiven. Tell your guilt that you have been set free by grace. The next time the guilt returns, do the same thing.

You may have to respond to guilt a hundred times today and 90 times tomorrow, but eventually guilt will die in the presence of grace and you’ll be set free. Start today.


I read this week about Shannon Ethridge, a 16-year-old who was driving to school when she ran over Marjorie Jarstfar, a woman riding her bicycle along a country road. Mrs. Jarstfar died from her injuries, and Ethridge was found completely at fault.

She was consumed by guilt and considered suicide several times. She never took her life because of one person: Marjorie Jarstfar’s husband, Gary. He forgave the teenager and asked his attorney to drop all charges against her. Instead, he asked her to continue in the pattern his wife had lived. “God wants to strengthen you through this,” he told her. “In fact, I am passing Marjorie’s legacy on to you.”

Shannon Ethridge has since written bestselling books for girls and women. She writes to help people overcome guilt-ridden lives, sharing the grace which was shared with her.

You have probably not killed anyone or committed sin as public as hers. But your past is just as personal, your guilt just as real. Jesus has already forgiven every sin you’ve confessed to him. Now it’s your turn. Start today.

Grades vs. Grace

Grades vs. Grace

Psalm 139:1-18

James C. Denison

Thanksgiving was the first American holiday. A harvest feast was celebrated by Indians for centuries before Europeans first landed on these shores. In 1621, the Plymouth colonists and Wampanoag Indians shared an autumn harvest feast which may have been the first Thanksgiving in the colonies. They had no forks, eating with spoons and knives and their hands.

Their first menu was somewhat different from yours last Thursday, I would presume. It included mostly meat: wild turkey, crane, duck, eagle, goose, seals and swans. Their seafood included clams, cod, eel, and lobster.

Their vegetables included beans, carrots, lettuce, onions, peas, pumpkins, and radishes. They had no ham, no sweet potatoes or potatoes of any kind, no corn on the cob, and no cranberry sauce. Worst of all, pumpkin pie had not yet been invented.

From then to now, we have much for which to be thankful. Consider the prosperity of just our generation. Per capita income in America since 1950, adjusted for inflation, has tripled. Global gross domestic product has increased seven-fold. I’m 49 years old; if you’re anywhere my age, think about the home in which you lived as a child. Now compare it to your home today.

My first car was a 1966 Dodge Dart, the most misleading name in automotive history. My second car was a 1967 Mercury Cougar–it had no air conditioning (in Houston!) or radio. My car today is not a Lamborghini (I wish), but at least it has air and a radio, and a six-CD changer to boot.

I remember our amazement when Dad brought home a color television. Of course, we had to get up to change the channels. Not that this was such a problem, since there were only three

My first dictionary was given to me by my parents in the sixth grade. I’ve kept it for the simple reason that the word “computer” does not appear in it. I did my masters degree on my father’s World War II manual typewriter; several years ago our sons got it out of the closet, looked at it, and asked me what it was. Now I work on my laptop when I’m not using my BlackBerry.

Yet with all our prosperity, are we happier people?

“Unipolar” depression, the condition in which a person always feels blue, is ten times as prevalent as it was 50 years ago. Suicide among young people has tripled since 1950. Every year in America, more people kill themselves than kill each other. Alcohol consumption has doubled in the last 50 years; 43 alcohol-related deaths occur every hour in our country.

Why, when we have so much for which to be thankful, are we not more happy? It’s because we need to learn a simple formula: Grace – Grades = Gratitude. This formula will lead us to Thanksgiving all year long and the joy of Jesus every day.

Here’s how.

The good news of grace

Tradition attributes Psalm 139 to David, written probably near the end of his life as he is looking back over all he has seen and done: Saul, Goliath, Bathsheba, and all the rest of one of the most checkered figures in history. Here is his testimony of the grace of God.

God knows all about us: “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me” (v. 1).

“Searched” is a Hebrew word for boring or digging, exploring every part of us; “know” means to know someone intimately and personally. These words are active–God has searched you and me and knows us right now, this moment.

He knows our actions: “when I sit and when I rise.” He knows the good and bad things we’ve done, our personal Goliaths and Bathshebas and everything in between.

He knows our thoughts: “you perceive my thoughts from afar.” He knows what you’re thinking at this very moment.

He knows our activities: “You discern my going out and my lying down,” what I do in public and in private. “You are familiar with all my ways,” literally “all the paths I take, everywhere I have been and am going.”

He knows our words, so that before we speak our next word “you know it completely” (v. 4). He knows what we say and what we mean by what we say.

And yet, despite all that he knows about us, he loves us and cares for us. “You hem me in–behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me” (v. 5). The phrase was used of troops surrounding us to protect us. His hand is upon us so that he will never lose us. As Jesus said of his followers, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28).

He will not abandon us, even when we abandon him (vs. 7-12). “If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there” (v. 8). These are the vertical extremes of the world, from the highest to the lowest. “If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast” (vs. 9-10). The “dawn” was to the east, of course; the “far side of the sea” was the Mediterranean Sea to the west. These are the horizontal extremes of the world, from the east to the west.

“If I say, ‘Surely darkness will hide me,'” “even the darkness will not be dark to you” because “darkness is as light to you” (vs. 11-12). “Darkness” in the Hebrew is usually associated with chaos and death, while “light” signifies holiness, purity, and hope. These are the moral extremes of the world, from worst to best. Even then God will not abandon us.

He will not forsake us, because he made us. We are the children of the Father of the universe. “You created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb” (v. 13). “Knit me together” translates Hebrew which means to weave all the strands of cloth. Later he will say “I was woven together in the depths of the earth” (v. 15); the words mean to use all the various colors to make a beautiful tapestry.

Not only did God make us–he made all that surrounds us: “your works are wonderful; I know that full well” (v. 14). You are the greatest miracle you know. Of all the billions and billions of living species which have existed since the dawn of time, 99.99 percent are no longer around. But you are. You are made of protons, things so small that a dot on an “i” can hold 500 billion of them (the number of seconds contained the last half million years). And yet you live in a visible universe which is a million million million million miles across. Our Milky Way is one of 140 billion or so other galaxies. Our universe is so large that the chances you would end up on this tiny planet by random coincidence are one in a billion trillion trillion (one followed by 33 zeroes). Your God made all of that and all of you. Now, what’s your problem?

“All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (v. 16). All 650,000 hours or so. He has made us, and he knows everything that will come to pass in our lives, and loves us anyway.

In fact, he is thinking of us right now: “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand” (vs. 17-18a). A better translation from the Hebrew is, “How precious concerning me are your thoughts, O God.”

God thinks of us more than the grains of sand in the world. How many is this? The latest guess is 75 followed by 18 zeroes. That’s how many times God thinks about you. Do the math: if you live to be 70 years of age, you will have 2.2 billion seconds in your lifespan. To think about you in that lifespan as often as the grains of sand, God must think of you three billion times a second.

When we awake, he is still with us. He never sleeps: “he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:4). He thinks of us all day, every day, every moment. This is the grace of God.

The bad news of grades

When I was in high school, my student minister gave me the best single piece of advice I’ve ever received: “Remember the source of your personal worth.” Your worth, your reason for Thanksgiving, can be the grace of God. It can be the fact that you are beloved by the Lord of the universe, that the Creator of all that exists is on your side, that you are the child of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

You can choose to celebrate the good news of grace. Or you can choose to accept the bad news of grades.

You can decide that you are what you have, what you drive or wear or where you live. This year’s Neiman Marcus Christmas catalog will sell you a submarine for $1.44 million or a $75,000 talking robot. You can buy 10 acres in Montana for $2.3 million, or a $73,000 cell phone studded with 7.2 carats of white and pink diamonds.

Your Christmas can be all about what you get and give, because the one who dies with the most toys wins. You are what you have, except that it’s never enough. They’ll make new cars next year, and bigger homes down the block. Grades are never enough.

You can decide that you are where you’re from. For $119.00 you can buy a kit which will trace your ancestry through your DNA. You can be the product of your family, your home, your education, your college. Except that someone else is from a wealthier family, a better education. Grades are never enough.

You can decide that you are what you do. You are the friends you have or the points you score or the grades you make. Except that you’re never done. There are always more people to impress, more games to win, more tests to take. Always. When I’m finished this week, I have to plan for next week. And the week after. Grades are never enough.

John Claypool, the Baptist pastor turned Episcopal rector, was one of my very favorite preachers. In his classic book The Preaching Event, he speaks for most of us: “People used to ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I was shrewd enough to fashion my answer according to what I thought they wanted to hear. For some it was a policeman, for others a fireman or a preacher. However, in my own heart of hearts, I had my own private fantasy that I never dared to share with anyone. Do you know what it was? I am telling you the gospel truth: I wanted to be president of the world! I envisioned the whole human race as a giant pyramid with one piece of preeminence at the top. I dreamed of climbing over everybody’s back until at last I got there. Then I knew exactly what I would do. I would look down and say, ‘Now! Now, do I amount to something? Have I at last become a somebody out of my nobodiness?'” (p. 64).

Grades are never enough.


Why did you need to hear about grace today? How was your Thanksgiving? Did it last past the meal and the football games? Where have grades stolen your soul? What troubles or stress or guilt or fears have enslaved your spirit?

The good news of grace is that when I don’t want to be with God, he wants to be with me. When I am too shamed to seek his presence, he seeks mine. When I am too busy for him, he is never too busy for me. When I want only what is best for me, he still wants what is best for me. When I refuse to follow him, he still follows me. And you.

Worship Jesus because he loves you, not so he will. Pray and read God’s word because he accepts you, not so he will. Serve your Lord and share your faith because God has rewarded you, not so he will. Grace – grades = gratitude.

Henri Nouwen heard God whisper these words to his soul and ours:

I have called you by name from the very beginning.

You are mine and I am yours. You are my beloved; on you my favor rests.

I have molded you in the depths of the earth, and knitted you together in your mother’s womb.

I have carved you in the palm of my hand and hidden you in the shadow of my embrace.

I look at you with infinite tenderness and care for you with a care more intimate than that of a mother for her child.

I have counted every hair on your head and guided you at every step.

Wherever you go, I go with you, and wherever you rest, I keep watch.

I will give you food that will satisfy all your hunger and drink that will quench all your thirst.

I will not hide my face from you. You are my beloved in whom I am well pleased.

This is the grace of God. Are you grateful?

Words That Changed the World

Words That Changed the World

Romans 6:15-23

James C. Denison

We will begin in a rather strange way today. I need to ask you to stand to your feet, please. Now, would you please turn and face the back of the Sanctuary? Now, would you turn and face forward again? Now would you be seated? Why did you just do these strange things? Because of words. Because of the power of spoken words. Because words change the world.

They always have. Listen to these:

“The Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of the Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire…Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands…Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that, if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.'”

Who spoke those immortal words, rallying a nation and world to fight Hitler and win the freedom of billions?

“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at a table of brotherhood…I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together…When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!”

Who spoke those immortal words, calling a nation to civil rights and liberty and justice for all?

Today I offer you others, seven words which will change your world if you only believe them and choose to live in the light of their truth. Seven words which are the promise and power and hope of God Almighty for every fallen, struggling, discouraged soul on earth. Seven words which are your Maker’s gift to your soul today. Let’s believe them and claim them together.

Are you free?

Imagine being a Christ-follower living in the Rome of Paul’s day. Idols to the worship of Caesar stand at every corner of every street. Altars venerating Zeus and his pantheon of decadent pagan deities are at every side. 1,300,000 people are crowded into the largest city known to humanity, more than half of them slaves, most living in multi-storied tenements without running water or sanitation. According to Cicero, only 2,000 people in the entire city own property. History has never known a city more corrupt in its personal ethics. Unwanted children are thrown out with the trash and left to die. Every kind of sexual immorality is licensed.

Yet the Apostle can say to these Roman Christians, a struggling and often-despised minority, many of them slaves and former slaves: “though you used to be slaves to sin, you wholeheartedly obeyed the form of teaching to which you were entrusted” (v. 17). You received the gospel of the living Lord Jesus and it transformed your lives.

With this staggering result: “You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness” (v. 18). “You have been set free from sin.” This is the past tense in Paul’s Greek, completed action, a “done deal.” This is the gift Christianity alone in all human history and world religion can give.

These words would change the world. They ushered in an era of grace, whereby we no longer needed to fear the irrational wrath of the gods or placate them with our rituals. They offered us an intimate, personal relationship with the living Lord of the universe. They promised us the forgiveness of our sins and the eternal salvation of our souls. They became the message which spanned the globe and sparked the greatest spiritual movement in human history. “You have been set free from sin.”

No other religion can make such an offer. Buddhists desperately seek to live by the Four Noble Truths and the Eight-fold Noble Path, striving to cease their wrong desires and thus end their suffering. Hindus seek oneness with this fallen world and hope for release only through reincarnations to come and future reward for present works. Muslims are convinced that obedience to the Five Pillars of Islam is the only way to find peace in this world and reward in the one to come.

It was not much different for me when I became a Christian as a high school student. Go to Sunday school on Sunday morning, followed by church where you sing hymns and sit through a sermon. Put money in the plate, paying your spiritual bill just as you pay your electric bill. Come back for the same on Sunday night. Don’t forget Tuesday night visitation, Wednesday night prayer meeting, Saturday morning bus ministry and youth Bible study. Read your Bible and pray every morning, and be good all day long. “What you are is God’s gift to you–what you make of yourself is your gift to God.” Jesus saved your soul from hell–religion and morality are how you repay him.

Try harder to do better. Is it working? Josh McDowell’s latest book, The Last Christian Generation, documents that in the last 12 months, 93 percent of America’s non-Christian youth lied to a parent; 93 percent of America’s Christian youth did the same. 85 percent of America’s non-Christian youth lied to a teacher; 83 percent of America’s Christian youth did the same. 76 percent of America’s non-Christian youth cheated on a test; 74 percent of America’s Christian youth did the same (McDowell 17).

“You have been set free from sin.” Have you? Yes, Satan tempts us to be our own god. Yes, sin affects every part of our lives so that “total depravity” is very real for us. But God forgives every sin we confess to him, and remembers them no more (Isaiah 43:25). He has released us, for grace is greater than guilt. Now “you have been set free from sin.”

Will you choose freedom?

These words changed the world. When will they change yours? When you choose to be who you already are: “Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness” (v. 19).

“Offer” translates the Greek word for laying a sacrifice on an altar. “The parts of your body” describes every dimension of your life, every part of your being. You once chose to give them “in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness” before you chose to follow Jesus. “Now offer them in slavery to righteousness.” Now choose to enslave them to the holy God of the universe.

And what will happen? He will lead you to “holiness”: “now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life” (v. 22).

You cannot make yourself holy, but God can. You cannot give yourself eternal life, but God can.

“Eternal life” has to do with quality, not just quantity–“the life that lasts forever,” beginning now. You can live in the intimate presence of God today, not just in heaven. You can worship him with unspeakable joy now, not just in paradise. You can experience his life-changing power now, not just in glory. You can live victorious over temptation and free from sin now, not just in eternity.

You see, “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (v. 23). Sin pays a wage, the “death” you have earned. God gives by grace the “eternal life” we could never deserve–starting here, today, now.

But God the Savior can save only what you entrust to him. God the Great Physician can heal only what you put in his hands. God the Good Shepherd can lead you to green pastures and still waters only if you will follow. God the Bread of Life can feed your mind and nourish your soul only if you will receive what he offers. God the King of Kings and Lord of Lords can be your King only if you will be his subject.


“You have been set free from sin,” God promises. But you must leave the prison. You must stop trying to break down the bars which bind you, the chains which enslave you, the enemies who have captured and imprisoned you. Your key doesn’t open this lock. Your self-sufficient, self-reliant strength cannot overcome these enemies. There is only One liberator who can set you free. Only One who has defeated the warden of the prison, shattered its bars and broken its chains. Only One.

When he began his public ministry, that One came to his hometown synagogue to preach. He opened the scroll to the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19, quoting Isaiah 61:1-2). Then he rolled up the scroll, returned it to the attendant, and said to the astonished congregation, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (v. 21).

“You have been set free from sin,” but only when Jesus sets you free. When last did you let him? When last did you “offer the parts of your body” to him? When last did you lay every part of your life on his altar? Your past failures and victories, your present problems and joys, your future fears and hopes?

What temptation have you not defeated? What guilt have you not purged? What hurt have you not forgiven? What chains are binding your soul? Name them and give them to him this morning. Believe that his grace is greater than all your sins. Believe that his power is greater than the enemy’s gravest temptations; that he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4). And it will be so.

On June 26, 1963, President John F. Kennedy delivered another of the “words that changed the world.” Standing at the Berlin Wall, he proclaimed, “Ich bin ein Berliner,” “I am a Berliner,” and announced, “Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free.”

He could not know that some five years later, the government of East Berlin would rebuke his words by constructing what they intended as a masterpiece of Communist engineering and an eternal sign of their superiority over Kennedy’s rhetoric and vision. Their Fernsehturm or “television tower” would stand some 1,200 feet above the ground, the third-tallest building in Europe. It would show the world the greatness of the Communist achievement and vision.

But they did not know that when they unveiled their monstrous tower, the sun would strike what they built and reflect a giant cross over Communist East Berlin. Scandalized, they covered their tower with non-reflective paint, but on the next clear day the sun blazed its cross again and does so to this day.

And those Communist officials could not know that at that very place, beneath that cross, a demonstration would begin on November 4, 1989 which would lead to the collapse of their Berlin Wall five days later. Beginning within sight of the place where Mr. Kennedy stood on that fateful day.

And so President Kennedy’s message proved prophetic: “Freedom is indivisible, and when one man is enslaved, all are not free.” His words changed the world. But his vision of freedom from enslavement was fulfilled under the cross of Jesus Christ. It still is.

“You have been set free from sin.” Are you?