Are There Sins Separating Me From God?

There’s a fairly prevalent idea out there in Christianity that our sins separate us from God because God can’t be in the presence of sin. But is it true that God pulls back from us because we’re too dirty for Him, or is there something else going on?

The idea that God can’t be around sin is largely based on a verse in Habakkuk that reads, “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity” (Hab. 1:13, KJV). When we look at the context, though, we see God just told Habakkuk He planned to work with the vicious Chaldeans, and this verse is part of Habakkuk asking God why He would ever associate with such wickedness.

If we accept the premise that Jesus was and is fully God (as I believe we should), then we know God doesn’t shrink back from sin as if scared to get His hands dirty. Rather, He dives right in among sinners so that He can wipe sin away and replace it with holiness. God gets close to sinful people so He can set things right.

But there are also verses that talk about iniquity separating us from God and revealing that God will not fellowship with evil. While we don’t have to worry that we’re so filthy God wouldn’t touch us, if we want a close relationship with Him we need to figure out what’s going on here. Read more

“You’re Okay” Doesn’t Help A Sick Man

Imagine you’ve noticed something wrong and you go to the doctor. They run their tests and scans, take their samples, and sit you down with the results. You were right — you’re sick and quite probably dying without prompt attention. But instead of offering a cure, the doctor says he can alter the test results. You’ll still be dying, but you can pretend you’re not and tell all your friends the doctor says you’re fine.

"You're Okay" Doesn't Help A Sick Man | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Photo credit: Luis Llerena via StockSnap

Sounds ridiculous, right? I’m not sure any of us would take that deal. But that’s what churches are doing on a spiritual level if they hold out the idea of salvation without repentance.

Our Western society is uncomfortable with objective morality. It’s unpopular to think certain actions are inherently wrong. We don’t want to acknowledge a higher power with the right to determine what is and is not sin. Yet that’s exactly what you must do when you become a Christian. My decision to follow Jesus means I’m not the ultimate authority in my life. He and Our Father are.

Repenting From What?

When Jesus began preaching, He said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). It has become popular in some Christian churches to say God’s commands aren’t relevant today. If you accept Jesus as your personal savior that’s it — you’re saved. There’s a measure of truth to this last statement, for God sent Jesus “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). But Jesus also commanded repentance and that begs the question, “What are we repenting of?” Read more

Battling Our Thorns In the Flesh

We’ve all “sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23, KJV). We know this, and repenting of those sins in our pasts and accepting Jesus as our savior to wash them away was a first step in becoming Christian. Even after conversion, though, we’re not perfect. God keeps forgiving us when we repent, but we still fall short of perfect obedience. I think it’s also fair to say all or most of us have struggled with some sins more than others.

I’m sure we can all think of someone else like this. Someone who you’d think has been in the church long enough to “get over” their bitterness, or lust, or covetousness, or whatever the particular problem is. But if we think about it, many of us are in the same boat. We’re often more understanding toward our own struggles, but we still have them. Or perhaps we’re even harder on ourselves than we are on others.click to read article, "Battling Our Thorns In the Flesh" | marissabaker.wordpress.com

So what do we do? How do we deal with our own sin struggles and react to those around us when they come short of God’s commands?

The Simple Answer

There are several ways people with a tendency toward a certain sin might react. They could ignore and hide it, ashamed to have thoughts and desires they know are wrong. They might flaunt it, choosing to live in sin because “that’s just how I am.”

The problem with the first is we have to face our struggles and talk about them with God, at the very least. You can’t overcome something you’re ignoring. With the second, the problem is that people who are openly and willfully sinning can’t be allowed to stay in the church (1 Corinthians 5). If you’re going to follow Christ, you have to stop practicing immorality. Read more

Anger Is Not A Sin (at least not all the time)

A couple weeks ago, I read a blog post that stated emotions can’t be sins. They just are, and how we act on them determines whether or not we’re sinning. The example they used was anger. For proof, they cited all the times God is described as angry. Because God is incapable of sin, this demonstrates that anger can’t be inherently sinful.

I knew the verses they were talking about, but just out of curiosity I ran a word search to see how often God is described as angry. 208 verses. That’s out of 268 verses in the KJV containing the word anger in any context. Anger is only used 60 times that it’s not in reference to God, and this isn’t even counting words like fury and wrath.

click to read article, "Anger Is Not A Sin (at least not all the time)" | marissabaker.wordpress.com
photo credit: “Angry” by Rodrigo Suriani, CC BY via Flickr

Wow. That’s far more than I’d expected. The sheer number of verses wasn’t the only interesting thing, though. There’s also a marked difference in how the Bible talks about God’s anger and human anger. God’s anger is always righteous, ours not so much. Read more

Struggling With Questions For God (Lessons from Habakkuk)

As I study the minor prophets, I’m struck by how relevant their messages are today. Habakkuk wrestled with much the same questions that trouble believers in our own culture.

O Lord, how long shall I cry, and You will not hear? Even cry out to You, “Violence!” and You will not save. Why do You show me iniquity, and cause me to see trouble? For plundering and violence are before me; there is strife, and contention arises. Therefore the law is powerless, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; therefore perverse judgment proceeds. (Hab. 1:2-4)

Why would God let a country founded on His law get so bad? How can He stomach the violence and corruption and rampant sin? Why isn’t He listening to us?

Struggling With God

The entire short book of Habakkuk is a back-and-forth between God and His prophet. After Habakkuk opened with his familiar questions, God responded. It wasn’t what Habakkuk was hoping for, though.

Look among the nations and watch — be utterly astounded! For I will work a work in your days which you would not believe, though it were told you. For indeed I am raising up the Chaldeans, a bitter and hasty nation which marches through the breadth of the earth, to possess dwelling places that are not theirs. (Hab. 1:5-6)

Habakkuk's Question | marissabaker.wordpress.comHabakkuk was understandably confused. He wanted action from God, but not this. The Chaldeans were a cruel people and God confirmed that their invasion would be “terrible and dreadful” as they “all come for violence” (Hab. 1:7, 9). Did the punishment really have to be so bad?

Are You not from everlasting, O Lord my God, my Holy One? We shall not die. O Lord, You have appointed them for judgment; O Rock, You have marked them for correction. You are of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on wickedness. Why do You look on those who deal treacherously, and hold Your tongue when the wicked devours a person more righteous than he? (Hab. 1:12-13)

I find it encouraging to read this and other stories where men of God struggled to understand His will. God is not obligated to explain Himself to man, and yet sometimes He does. He isn’t threatened or irritated by sincere, searching questions.

God’s Answer

What follows in chapter 2 answers Habakkuk’s question about why God would use a heathen nation to punish His own people. It is also a general statement about how God responds to wickedness.

Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time; but at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry. (Hab. 2:2-3)

God basically starts out by telling Habakkuk to follow His instructions and be patient. Even when we don’t understand, God expects obedience. He doesn’t just leave Habakkuk with the answer, “Because I said so,” though.

Behold the proud, his soul is not upright in him; but the just shall live by his faith. (Hab. 2:4)

The Lord gives Habakkuk a guide we’re still using today, and which Paul quotes twice (Rom. 1:17; Gal. 3:11). “The just shall live by faith,” but that is not how Israel was living. Earlier, Habakkuk asked why God would punish Israel’s sin using a nation that was even more sinful than they. God points out here that no matter what Habakkuk thought about the Chaldeans, Israel’s sin still deserved judgement.

Chapter 2 proclaims “Woe” to people who are drunken, proud and never satisfied (2:5), to the violent (2:8, 17), to the covetous and those who plan to escape God’s wrath by their own strength (2:9-12), to those who scheme and take advantage of others (2:15-16), and to the idolaters (2:18-19). These problems were not limited to Israel or to a specific time, but God could not let His chosen people continue in such sin.

All For Us

Chapter 3 records a prayer that my study Bible notes was intended for singing as a Psalm and isn’t part of the exchange between Habakkuk and God. Given the subject matter, though, I suspect Habakkuk did write it after mulling over his talk with God and the answers he was given.

O Lord, I have heard Your speech and was afraid; O Lord, revive Your work in the midst of the years! In the midst of the years make it known; in wrath remember mercy. (Hab. 3:2)

Though he accepted God’s answer and knew his nation deserved punishment, there was nothing wrong with Habakkuk asking for mercy. We can do that today as well. His mercy is abundant (1 Pet. 1:3), and He has a long history of pardoning iniquity and holding back His wrath if we come to repentance, and of protecting His people in the midst of trouble.

If you have some extra time, click here to read all of Chapter 3. It’s an interesting picture Habakkuk paints of God — one full of power to execute vengeance, as well as one of a God full of glory and worthy of praise, who always acts for the good of His people even if it’s not how they expected.

You marched through the land in indignation; You trampled the nations in anger. You went forth for the salvation of Your people, for salvation with Your Anointed. You struck the head from the house of the wicked, by laying bare from foundation to neck. (Hab. 3:12-13)

Habakkuk's Question | marissabaker.wordpress.comNo matter how bad it gets, Habakkuk says, “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation” (Hab. 3:18). We can do the same thing, secure in the knowledge that God is committed to saving us who stay committed to following Him.

The Lord God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, and He will make me walk on my high hills. (Hab. 3:19)

 

God’s Anger at Nineveh (Lessons from Nahum)

You usually only hear about Jonah, but there’s a second book in the Bible that’s concerned with the destruction of Nineveh. Since Nineveh repented after Jonah’s warning, its destruction was held off about 150 years — until 612 B.C. According to my study Bible, Nahum probably wrote his prophecy around 620 B.C., and this time Nineveh’s destruction really was just around the corner. The city’s repentance hadn’t translated into continued faithfulness through the generations, and the people’s return to wickedness meant it was time to fulfill the prophecy of destruction made originally though Jonah.

The burden against Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite. God is jealous, and the Lord avenges; the Lord avenges and is furious. The Lord will take vengeance on His adversaries, and He reserves wrath for His enemies; the Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked. (Nah. 1:1-3)

Studying a book wholly concerned with a fulfilled prophecy might seem like time that could better be spent elsewhere, but while reading through Nahum I realized it actually has quite a bit to teach us about who God is and how He works.

When God Gets Angry

God's Anger in Nahum | marissabaker.wordpress.comIn the first verses of Nahum, God is called “slow to anger” in the midst of a passage describing His wrath and vengeance. It might seem odd, but actually God’s fury at this time is an example of His being “slow to anger.”

The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in mercy. He will not always strive with us, nor will He keep His anger forever. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor punished us according to our iniquities. For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward those who fear Him (Ps. 103:8-11)

David’s Psalm is talking about God’s dealings with His own special people, but this is also what happened with Nineveh. Though the city was populated with unbelievers who oppressed God’s people, He held back His judgement when the city repented. He was “slow to anger” for 150 years, but this time there was no repentance and justice demanded a reckoning for sin.

Behold, I am against you,” says the Lord of hosts, “I will burn your chariots in smoke, and the sword shall devour your young lions; I will cut off your prey from the earth, and the voice of your messengers shall be heard no more.” Woe to the bloody city! It is all full of lies and robbery. Its victim never departs. (Nah. 2:13-3:1)

In Jonah, we weren’t given a list of Nineveh’s transgressions, but we have one here in chapter three: Lies, robbery (v. 1), warfare and slaughter (v.2-3), harlotry, witchcraft, the selling of nations and families (v. 4), and general “shame” (v. 5).

Your injury has no healing, your wound is severe. All who hear news of you will clap their hands over you, for upon whom has not your wickedness passed continually? (Nah. 3:19)

It’s one thing to commit sins that hurt you, but wickedness that spreads out and injures or enslaves other people is something God will not tolerate. He is slow to anger, but this sort of thing does make Him angry and will be removed. When the wound is incurable, it must be cut out to prevent further infection.

Hope For The Repentant

Even in the midst of prophecies about destruction and the outpouring of God’s wrath there is still, as always, hope.

Who can stand before His indignation? And who can endure the fierceness of His anger? His fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by Him. The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and He knows those who trust in Him. (Nah. 1:6-7)

God's Anger in Nahum | marissabaker.wordpress.comEven in troubles that come as part of God’s just vengeance, He is still a stronghold for those who trust in Him. In fact, getting close to God is the only safe place to be as the world draws nearer and nearer to judgement for its evils.

See that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if they did not escape who refused Him who spoke on earth, much more shall we not escape if we turn away from Him who speaks from heaven, whose voice then shook the earth; but now He has promised, saying, “Yet once more I shake not only the earth, but also heaven.” Now this, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of those things that are being shaken, as of things that are made, that the things which cannot be shaken may remain.

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. For our God is a consuming fire. (Heb. 12:25-29)

Though the events described in Nahum took place long before Christ was even born, there are parallels for Christians today. Just as Nineveh was destroyed, the world we now live in will be shaken and removed at Christ’s second coming. Whether that happens in our lifetimes or not, our responsibility now is to listen to God and actively draw near to Him as we strive to serve Him “acceptably.”

O Judah, keep your appointed feasts, perform your vows. For the wicked one shall no more pass through you; he is utterly cut off. (Nah. 1:15)