Good understanding gains favor, but the way of the unfaithful is hard. (Proverbs 13:15, NKJV)
Sin is a choice that brings hardship to everyone who is enslaved by it. The consequences of sin are hard, and can be permanent (as is indicated by the Hebrews word which is translated “hard” in today’s verse). When we choose to be unfaithful to God’s standard of truth, under which we live and to which we are accountable, the course of our life will be difficult. When we choose to be unfaithful to God, we only hurt ourselves (cf. Acts 9:5). Unfortunately, evil influences in this world are at work to play-down the age-old truth, that “whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Gal. 6:7). Many think they can sin without consequences or punishment. They have been deceived by a permissive society that glamorizes and rewards sin. It is a hard, yet necessary lesson, to accept the consequences of our sins. Only by acknowledging the reality of our own sins against God – as well as the consequences they bring – will we ever be willing and able to repent and obey the Lord to be saved by His grace (cf. Acts 2:37-41). Good understanding of sin’s difficulties helps us avoid sin, and obtain favor from God and men. Sinners will obtain favor from God by coming to Jesus. His yoke is far easier, and His burden is far lighter, than sin (Matt. 11:28-30).
31 “Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? 32 For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,” says the Lord God. “Therefore turn and live!” (Ezekiel 18:31–32, NKJV)
That fact that a child of God can fall away and be lost (“die”), does not mean God desires it to be so (see 1 Tim. 2:3-4). The prevention lies with the child of God who sins. God calls on His sinning children to repent: “cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit.” Without doing so, they would die in their sins. But, with a new heart, a new life can be lived. Without the change of heart that is called “repentance,” one’s conduct will not be successfully corrected. And so, sinners, including Christians, are urged to repent when there is sin in their lives (Lk. 13:1-5; Acts 8:12-13, 22-24). The world is lost, and needs salvation in Jesus (Acts 4:12). For a Christian to live in sin and not turn to Christ by repenting and ceasing his sin, is to invite certain and eternal death. Turn and live, “For why should you die?”
But when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? All the righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; because of the unfaithfulness of which he is guilty and the sin which he has committed, because of them he shall die. (Ezekiel 18:24, NKJV)
We are tempted to think of our lives like scales, and as long as the good outweighs the bad, we are okay. But, God will not judge us based on whether we have more good than bad, or vice versa. “The soul who sins shall die” (Ezek. 18:4). Today’s verse assures us that if we turn away from righteousness and commit iniquity (lawlessness against God), our righteous deeds will not be remembered. We will experience the punishment of death because of our unfaithfulness. The guilt of our sin brings eternal death (Rom. 6:23). This is another verse that teaches the possibility of apostasy. If it is true that once you are saved you can never be lost, then this verse is meaningless and God’s word is false. John said, “everyone who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous” (1 Jno. 3:7). But if we commit sin, we commit lawlessness (1 Jno. 3:4). We cannot live in sin and be counted righteous. Let us heed Ezekiel’s warning and not turn away from righteousness, but instead, pursue it (2 Tim. 2:22).
14 I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you. 15 For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. 16 Therefore I urge you, imitate me. (1 Corinthians 4:14–16, NKJV)
We ought to be ashamed when we sin against God. Paul did not take shame off the table as an incentive to obey the gospel (see 1 Cor. 6:5 and 15:34: “I say this to your shame”). Here, he was not only shaming them for their pride (that was dividing the church, 1 Cor. 4:71-13), he was also (and especially) warning them as his own children in the faith. They must humble themselves, stop their divisive conduct, and imitate the apostle (cf. 1 Cor. 3:18-21; 4:6). Shame over our sin is a valid reason to repent and change our conduct, when we learn of sin in our lives. Yet, too many who profess to follow Jesus are ashamed of Him and His words. Jesus warned against making this sinful decision: “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels” (Mk. 8:38). If you are ashamed of your sin, then act upon that shame. Repent and be baptized for the remission of your sins, or as a Christian, repent and pray to be forgiven (Acts 2:37-38; 8:22-24).
20 Those who are of a perverse heart are an abomination to the Lord, but the blameless in their ways are His delight. 21 Though they join forces, the wicked will not go unpunished; But the posterity of the righteous will be delivered. (Proverbs 11:20–21, NKJV)
We cannot make God into who we say He is. He is God, therefore, we must yield ourselves into who He wants us to be. God is very clear that perversity of heart and sinful conduct does not have His approval or blessing. Let me illustrate. While it is true that God loves the world, the fact is that God’s love prompted Him to send His Son into the world to save the world from sin. That means God does not tolerate, redefine, or minimize sin. Yet, many who claim faith in God do exactly that. They refuse to define homosexuality as sin – even though God does (1 Cor. 6:9-10). They refuse to define the doctrines of men as sin – even though God does (Matt. 15:7-9). They say that God accepts everyone as they are – but our passage today makes it clear that He does not. God delivers the righteous, but the wicked will not go unpunished. God is ready to save sinners, but He will not tolerate or excuse sin. We must think of sin the way God does (Eph. 5:6-7, 11). And why not? We must yield to His will; He will not yield to ours. He is God, not us.
To do evil is like sport to a fool, but a man of understanding has wisdom. (Proverbs 10:23, NKJV)
People take pride in sporting accomplishments, whether their own, or those of their favorite teams. An example of this is “March Madness,” the annual NCAA college basketball tournament, which is down to the Final Four this weekend. Fans are passionate about their favorite team, joyful in victory and dejected in defeat. Sometimes, fans mock and deride the opposing team as they support their own. When it comes to doing evil, many people act the same way. They delight in the pleasure, joy and excitement of sin. They deride the suggestion that their sin is harmful. But, it is foolish to take a dismissive attitude toward evil. On the other hand, wisdom directs the person of understanding to see the danger of doing what is sinful. The wise person knows the end to which evil brings those who practice it, and turns away from it. “For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil” (Eccl. 12:14). God’s warning is clear: Do not make sport of sin. Only the fool does that.
35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. 36 Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” (Acts 8:35–36, NKJV)
This passage is particularly instructive about what it means to preach Jesus. Preaching Jesus identifies Him as the suffering Servant of God who sacrificed His life (Acts 8:32-34; Isa. 53:7-8). It includes teaching about sin and salvation from it. The Ethiopian was lost, and wanted to be saved. The water would facilitate his salvation. When he asked Philip about baptism, he had not yet announced his personal faith in Jesus, since Philip stated that as the condition upon which he could be baptized (v. 37). To preach Jesus means preaching baptism, since the Ethiopian immediately asked about it when he saw water. How else did he know about baptism, expect that Philip spoke of it when he “preached Jesus” to him? Surely, he told the man what Jesus preached about baptism: “He that believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mk. 16:16). The Ethiopian confessed his personal faith, stopped the chariot, and Philip baptized him (Acts 8:37-38). The man joyfully went on his way, because he was saved when he believed and was baptized. Christ continues to save sinners the same way, today. What hinders you from being baptized to be saved?