Shipwreck, chapter 2

We remain with a fallen nature

Paul was shipwrecked at least three times. The last one happened while he was being taken to Rome after he had appealed to Caesar, the Roman emperor, which was his right as a Roman citizen. The story is in Acts chapter twenty-seven.

The captain or pilot of the boat did not listen to Paul but sailed west from the Island of Crete out into the Adriatic Sea bound for Rome despite the fact it was well into the stormy season. The ship, being driven by a tempestuous wind, arrived off the coast of Malta, an island south of Sicily. Hoping to enter a suitable bay, the crew did what it could but the ship hit a hidden reef and was stuck. However, in accord with what the angel of God told Paul, all hands, 276 of them, made it safe to shore.

Luke did not intend for his recounting of the tumultuous trip to Rome to be used as an analogy, but it may well serve as one. For those on board, those who were shipwrecked, God did not abandon them but brought them safely to shore.

Indeed, God is able to do this, even in the most extreme circumstances. Consider Romans 8:37-39:

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

There will be those who will be quick to point out that the context of the passage is God’s everlasting love and nowhere is it mentioned that those who sin willfully in rebellious disobedience will be covered in this graceful and great love.

Somehow what concerns so many are the obvious sins, especially those that are sexual in nature. Seemingly forgotten are the lesser sins, as if there are indeed lesser sins. How anyone can read the list of the works of the flesh recorded in Galatians 6:19-21 and declare their hands are clean is almost beyond comprehension.

Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry sorcery, enmity, strife, jealous, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Let me suggest a time of prayer and reflection concerning the sins mentioned above; look into your own heart and mind and you might find you have missed the mark on some of them. Missed the mark, well, how about ignored, minimized, dismissed,  disregarded, misidentified, and the sentence could get longer; yes living is messy and as much as we may not want to, we fall into behavior and states of mind are less than God would want for us.

We may be tempted to excuse ourselves by pointing out that others are guilty of sin as well. We must own our personal sin and bring it to Jesus, our sin bearer, and confess our sin and ask for forgiveness. This, as Christians, we know is what we do. It is we who sinned and stand in the need of prayer.

Certainly the impact or results of some sins is far more dramatic and damaging than others, but any sin is committed against a holy and righteous God. And who can, stand? Only those who are clean? Let me state this strongly and directly — we are all guilty.

Paul, after listing the works of the flesh presents the “fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (Galatians 6:22-23). Do I dare ask if anyone reading this claims that he or she exhibits such fruit on a continual basis? I think I will, as I have asked myself on a number of occasions, and never once have I been able to say that I am in compliance.

Essentially we are all dependent upon the power of the Holy Spirit and the grace of God. We must all rely upon the truth of passages like Hebrews 7:28: “He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.”

Though these great and gracious truths are plain and evident, I can still hear it as I have heard in a hundred times: “God will only forgive when a person repents and turns away from sin.”

Repenting is a lifelong process. A friend, shortly after his conversion prayed, “Lord, show me my sin.” A month later he prayed, “That’s enough for now.” Early on we have no idea of the depth of our own sin and the utter holiness of the Triune God and the discovery is shocking. We see, and do agree with Scripture, that we have a fallen nature. We rejoice that the Apostle John spoke directly to our yet sinful condition and explained that we are to confess our sin to a faithful and just God who forgives our sin and cleanses us from all unrighteousness. (see 1 John 1:8-2:2)

Ungracious legalism is deadening and demoralizing; it is most certainly not quickening and moralizing.  The legalist is anxious that an emphasis on grace with result in cheap grace and lax morals, even libertinism. The exact opposite is true. God’s graciousness draws us toward holiness not away from it. Those Christians who give up on themselves as totally worthless failures are heading to a serious condition both spiritually and emotionally.

Where is the balance between self-confidence and a faithful dependence on the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit is not easily, if ever, reached. No doubt living in the presence of God in heaven is the answer. Meanwhile we go on repenting, striving to please God, and refusing to hear the damning voice of the accuser of the brethren.

One further question must be asked here: Could failures, of whatever kind, reveal there was actually no real conversion in the first place? There will be an attempt to answer this serious question in chapter nine.

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