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September 18, 2011

“All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.” Ephesians 2:3

A number of you have asked me about the riots that caused such devastation in London and other parts of Britain last month.  Some of you picked up on the fact that the rioting broke out in Enfield where Karen and I lived for 16 years.

Watching the news and knowing that the rioting was just round the corner from the home where we lived, I found myself astonished, trying to imagine this and asking, “How could these events have happened?  Who would do these things and why?”

Of course the common explanations have all been repeated many times:

Deficiencies in education, housing, employment… But then I read a piece in the London Times that really got my attention: On Friday August 12th, The Times carried this front page headline: Why Did I Do It?

Last month Natasha Reid’s parents watched with pride as she graduated from university and prepared for a career as a social worker. Yesterday they were picking up the pieces of her shattered life as she sobbed inconsolably in her bedroom, ruing the wrong turn that has added a criminal record to her degree and jeopardized her dream of professional success.

Reid, 24, from a comfortable upbringing in Edmonton, North London, walked in brazenly and stole a flat screen TV when she noticed that the Enfield branch of Comet had been broken into on Sunday night.

 

Reid’s mother, Pamela, told The Times last night that her daughter was baffled by her criminal behaviour. “She didn’t want a TV. She doesn’t even know why she took it. She doesn’t need a telly,” she said, adding that a 27 inch television already hangs in her bedroom in the family home.

 

Speaking from her home in Rosemary Avenue where a huge, legally acquired TV dominates the living room, and an Audi sits in the driveway, Reid’s relatives said that she bitterly regrets the apparently spontaneous theft that, at a stroke, has put her future career in jeopardy…

 

Reid said that she had been on her way to McDonalds in nearby Enfield on Sunday night, when she noticed a Comet store had been broken into. Caught up in the hysteria of the riots, she made a split-second decision to join the intruders. [1]

The theft was caught on video camera, and a few days later, the police were knocking at Natasha’s door.

Natasha’s family told the reporter, “She hasn’t slept since Sunday night.  She hasn’t eaten this morning.  She is bawling her eyes out and she says, ‘I just don’t get it.  Why did I do it?’”  Have you ever asked that question?  Some foolish or hurtful thing comes out of your mouth, “Why did I say that?  Where did that come from?”

Last week we read from Jeremiah, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (17:9).  Do you understand your own heart?  David asks, “Who can discern his errors?” (Psalm 19:12).  Who can make sense of the things that he does?  David the King and Jeremiah the prophet are making the same point: Something is going on inside me that makes me a mystery to myself.  Why did I do that?

Why Did I Do That?

“All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.” Ephesians 2:1-3

Sin goes everywhere in the human personality

It’s in the thoughts.  It’s in the desires.  It’s in the cravings of the human heart.  Sin pervades the mind, the will and the heart, inhabiting our thoughts, desires and affections.

Sin corrupts the whole human personality.  What we love, what we want and what we think are all shot through with the impulse of sin.  Our Lord says, “Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light” (John 3:19).  The problem of sin runs deeper than we often think.

Not only are we sinners because we sin; we sin because we’re sinners.  Most people grasp the first statement.  We all do wrong things, at least some of the time.  But Ephesians 2 tells us what lies behind our sin.  It tells us the source behind our sin.  Why do we sin?  Where does this come from?  The answer is, “We sin because we’re sinners.”

We’re all born with a nature that produces sin.  It is a fountain of sin.  Like a deep sea oil well, spurting endless gallons of black oil into the ocean, the human mind, heart and will keep producing sinful cravings, desires, and thoughts.  If you are a Christian, you find yourself constantly fighting against it.

So, to repeat the analogy from last week, the problem of sin is bigger than a crayon on the wall.  It’s like mold in the wall—a living thing that grows and spreads, and takes you to your own destruction.

Sin is in you and it is in me.  That’s why our Lord Jesus says, “For from within, out of men’s hearts, come… greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly” (Mark 7:21-22).

Foolishness comes out of your heart.  Putting other people down… The endless desire for more that drives so many people… A sense of your own importance… Where do these things come from?  They’re in our hearts.

That’s where our sin comes from.  The problem is not our environment… it’s in us!  The cravings of the sinful heart produce them.

Sin is in everyone

“You were dead in your transgressions and sins… All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.”  Ephesians 2:3

 

Notice how Paul moves from “you” to “us”: “You were dead in your transgressions and sins…” (2:1), “All of us also lived among them (ie. the sins) at one time…” (2:3), so Paul includes himself.

Paul was about as religious, conservative, moral and disciplined a man as you could ever hope to meet.  For years he’d thought himself righteous. But then he came to know Christ, and when that happened, he discovered how far from righteous he really was.

The irony was that his religion had blinded him to his own sin.  But when Christ opened his eyes, he realized for the very first time how lost he really was.

By the way, that’s a great question: When did you first realize that you are completely lost?  I’m going to stop asking people when they became a Christian, “When did you see for the first time that you really are a sinner by nature and practice?  Is that clear to you now?”

Have you come to the place of confessing, “Apart from Jesus Christ, there is absolutely no hope whatsoever for me in heaven… even at my best?”  This is what a true Christian believes.  The first work of the Holy Spirit is to convict us of sin.

 

The sinful nature produces sinful cravings

“Gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature…” Ephesians 2:3

A craving is a strong desire, an intense longing.  Some time ago, I attempted the Atkins Diet.  That’s the diet where you can eat all the protein you want, but no carbs.  That appealed to me—a diet in which you can eat steak and burgers and sausage.

That’s a guy thing, but it didn’t last long for me—first, because my wife was totally against it, and second, because after a few days, my whole body was craving for just one slice of bread.

What are the cravings of the sinful nature?  What kinds of strong desire does the sinful nature produce?  What does the intense longing that comes from your sinful nature look like?  Here are ten examples.  You’ll recognize then immediately…

Ten Cravings of the Sinful Nature

  1. When you are blessed, the sinful nature produces pride: The sinful nature wants to take the credit.
  1. When others succeed, the sinful nature produces envy: The sinful nature says, “It should have been me.”
  1. When you do something good, the sinful nature is self-righteous: It says, “Look what I did!”
  1. When you do something wrong, the sinful nature goes into denial: The sinful nature says, “It wasn’t me!”
  1. When you suffer, the sinful nature indulges in self pity.
  1. When you don’t get what you want, the sinful nature gets irritable, frustrated and angry.
  1. When your work is not recognized or appreciated, the sinful nature gets resentful.
  1. When you are in a conflict the sinful nature produces self-justification: It says, “I’m right!”
  1. When you hear about the love of God, the sinful nature produces unbelief: It will say, “That can’t be true!”
  1. When you hear what the Bible says about sin, the sinful nature responds with evasion. (So, when you heard about the girl who took the television, your sinful nature may well have said, “Well, I wouldn’t have done that. I’m better than that.”  Guess where that comes from?)

The list goes on and on… Learn to detect the voice of the sinful nature.  Learn to read your heart and predict where your sinful nature will go…

…If the fires have burned low in your marriage, expect your sinful nature to produce thoughts about divorce.  Something within you will say, “You deserve better than this.  There must be another person out there for you.”

…If you are discouraged in ministry, expect the sinful nature to produce thoughts about quitting.  The sinful nature will say, “You deserve better than this.  There’s something else you could do.’

The sinful nature will always produce these cravings, strong desires, and intense longings.  The Christian life is a sustained battle against the constant impulses of sin that rise from the sinful nature.

If you are a Christian, your sin is forgiven, but it has not yet been expelled.

You are now involved in a lifelong struggle, with the help of the Spirit of God, against the desires of the sinful nature.

How the cravings of the sinful nature find expression

“All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts.” Ephesians 2:3

A Scottish preacher named Thomas Boston described how the imagination enables the sinner to indulge the cravings of his heart.  If you think the primary problems arise from our electronic age, let his words remind you—the problem lies closer to home.  He wrote this in 1729, long before cable television, the internet and even the invention of the camera…

[The sinful mind] “supplies the lack of real objects to the corrupt heart, that it may make sinners happy at least in the imaginary enjoyment of their lusts.  The corrupt heart feeds itself with imagination-sins.  The unclean person is filled with speculative impurities…”

The covetous man fills his heart with the world, though he cannot get his hands full of it.  The malicious person fills his mind with acts of revenge.  The envious man… beholds with satisfaction, his neighbor laid low.

Every lust finds the corrupt imagination a friend to it in time of need.  This the heart does, not only when people are awake – but sometimes even when they are asleep; whereby it comes to pass that those sins are acted in dreams which their hearts pant after when they are awake.” [2]

The title for today’s message is a quip from Woody Allen.  Allen had been living with a woman for some years and then left her to take up with her daughter.  Many people were shocked and when he was asked why he would do that, he said, “The heart wants what it wants.”  Friend, that is exactly the teaching of Ephesians 2:3.

All of us have to make a choice about the way we live, and that choice will derive from what you believe about the state of your heart.  If you believe your heart is fundamentally good, you will follow the inclinations of your heart and live on impulse, as Woody Allen did.  If you believe what we’re learning from the Bible today, you’ll distrust your own heart.

When someone says to you, “Follow your heart,” your antenna will immediately go up and you will say, “Follow my heart?  Wait a minute, this heart is sinful, in the likeness of Adam.  If I follow my heart, it will lead me into all kinds of folly and all kinds of destruction.”

The Biblical Doctrine of Sin

 

What do you really believe?

A few weeks ago, I met with some of our pastors to talk about this series.  One of the guys said, “Many of our people are reading the Bible, but they don’t really believe what it says about sin.”

Then Josh Newton, our youth pastor at the Barrington campus said, “Pastor Colin do you know the song by Lady Gaga, called, “Born This Way?  Because that’s what students in middle school and high school really believe.”  I didn’t know the song, so Josh pulled up the words right there on his phone and read them to me…

My mama told me when I was young

‘We are all born superstars…’

 

‘There’s nothing wrong with loving who you are’

She said, ‘cause he made you perfect, babe’

 

‘So hold your head up girl, and you’ll go far’

Listen to me when I say

 

I’m beautiful in my way

‘Cause God makes no mistakes

I’m on the right track, baby

I was born this way.

 

Don’t hide yourself in regret

Just love yourself and you’re set

I’m on the right track baby

I was born this way.

Let me say this to parents: You may not allow your children to watch or listen to Lady Gaga.  But, is it possible that you are actually teaching your children exactly the same thing?

My mama told me when I was young,

‘We are all born superstars’

Is that what you are telling your children?  Is that what your parents told you?  We live in an affirming culture that teaches us that the best thing we can do for our children is to constantly tell them how good they are.

Here’s the problem: That is the most damning thing you could ever tell your children.  If nothing in your child is broken, then what is there to redeem?  How will they ever see their need of a Redeemer?

You are undoing the very basis of Christian faith, if you keep telling them how good and how great they really are.  You may say, “Are you suggesting that I start telling my kids that they are little sinners?”  No.  I want you to start by telling them that you are a big sinner.

Father, does your son know that you see yourself as a sinner who hangs on the grace and mercy of God in Jesus Christ?  Does your son see a passion in you to battle the cravings of your sinful nature?  Is there a growing likeness to Christ that your son can see in you?  Or does your son see the smugness of complacency?

Mother, is your daughter seeing a spirit of humility in you?  Does she see repentance and brokenness over the pride of your own heart?  Does she see a great longing in you to become more like Christ?  Or does she see a satisfied contentment with the position you’ve gained in life?

When our boys were in middle school, we were driving together just before the beginning of a new year and we got into a conversation about “what would be one thing that each of us could change.”  One of our boys said a line that has gone down in our family history… “I wish Dad would mess up more.”  I tell you that was a wake-up call to me…

“This boy actually thinks his dad has life all sorted out and he never messes up.”  So, I started a new habit:  Confessing the mess ups!  “Boys, I want you to know, dad messed up again today!”  You know how it goes, “Not again, dad, not again!”  Sometimes it was said with humor, and sometimes, as they got older, with great seriousness and sadness.

A rudder that will guide your life

What are you teaching your children?  Are you helping them to understand the mystery of sin that is in them, or are you blinding their minds, by drip feeding the false gospel of self-esteem?

My mama didn’t tell me when I was young, that we’re all born superstars,  and I’m so grateful for it.  So, with apologies to Lady Gaga, I’ve rewritten the song.  This is my story…

My mama told me when I was young,

‘We are all born sinners.’

 

‘There’s everything wrong with loving who you are,’

She said, ‘cause you’re far from perfect, babe.’

 

‘So bow your head down, boy, and you’ll go far,

Listen to me when I say’

 

Become beautiful in God’s way

‘Cause God makes no mistakes

You’re on the wrong track, baby

You were born this way.

 

Draw near to God in regret

Seek faith in Christ, then you’ll be set,

You’re on the wrong track baby

You were born this way.

That’s what my momma told me, with great love.  What do you most deeply believe today… the Word of God, or the words of Gaga?  They cannot both be true.

You have to make a choice and that choice will determine the direction of your life.  If nothing in you is broken, there’s nothing to redeem.  As long as you believe that, you will never embrace Christ, and you will die in your sins.

But if you see that you’re a sinner by nature and by practice, then there is a Redeemer to whom you can come—Jesus Christ the Righteous One.  He is ready to receive you and walk with you.  He has power by His Holy Spirit to help you and change you.  There’s hope for you in Him today.

 

[1] The London Times, front page article, August 12, 2011

[2] Thomas Boston, “Human Nature in its Fourfold State,” p. 65-66,  Banner of Truth, 1964

 

© Colin S. Smith

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By Colin S. Smith. © Colin S. Smith. Website: UnlockingtheBible.org



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