It's been said that if a person doesn't stand for something, then he will fall for anything. To stand for something means that you are committed to it; you strongly support it. We need to stand for the truth. If we are not committed to the truth, then we will fall for error. If we don't stand firmly for what is right, then we will tolerate and eventually practice that which is wrong. Of course, one must realize that standing for the truth is more than just standing for certain things; it also includes standing against other things!
But Stephen, how do we know what to stand for and what to stand against? Humans don't have the authority to decide for themselves what is right and what is wrong, but God does! Jehovah--the eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, just, gracious, and holy God--He, as our Creator and Sustainer of life, has the authority to tell us what is right and wrong. He has the privilege of commanding us, through His holy word, as to what we are to stand for and what we are to stand against. God's word is "right," and the entirety of His word is "truth" (Psa. 119:128,160). It is so comforting to know that no matter what the issue, no matter what the problem, no matter what the circumstances, the Bible has the answer! If you go to God's book with an open mind and a heart that is searching for the truth at any cost, then you will find it! In Matthew 7:8, Jesus promised that if we are genuinely seeking then we will find the truth. The Bible is the word of God. It is divinely inspired. It is "profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (II Tim. 3:16,17).
Yes, God's word is what we need to meet any difficulty in life. If we aim to please God, then the Scriptures must be our guide in all things, like a "lamp" to our feet and a light to our "path" (Psa. 119:105). We must follow God's book--we must stand for those things that His book authorizes and we must stand against everything else!
Specifically, in this lesson we will consider what it means to stand against the pleasures of the world. Let me be clear that Christians do not stand against all forms of pleasure. Some have the mistaken notion that being a Christian is living a life with no fun whatsoever. They believe that living as a Christian is basically giving up everything one enjoys. This is not the case at all. Christians aren't against pleasure, per se. We're only against the pleasures of the world; that is, we're against all forms of pleasure that are sinful.
But, why are we against such things? Because God is against them, and His word instructs us to stand against them also. Let's consider I John 2:15-17 at this time - "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world--the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life--is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever."
Notice in those verses that we are commanded to not love the evil things of this life. If we do love that which is evil, then we are lacking in the love that God wants us to have. God loves us with all His might, and He wants us to reciprocate that love by putting Him first--not the pleasures of this life. And what are those pleasures? John labels them as the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.
To give in to the lust of the flesh is to be dominated by one's physical senses. It's to be a slave to pleasure, lust, and selfishness. It's to be lax in morals and full of desire for personal gratification. When one is afflicted with the lust of the eyes, he can't look at things without wanting to acquire them. He values material things and wants things to have and to flaunt. He believes happiness is found in the things that money can buy and that the eye can see. The pride of life is the sin of boasting and haughtiness. It is when one brags and exalts himself, and when one thinks of himself more highly than he ought to think.
In I John 2:17, John emphasizes that the things of the world are deceptive because they don't last! They're only temporary! The lust of the flesh--that's deceptive pleasure. The lust of the eyes--that's deceptive treasure. The pride of life--that's deceptive honor. The sins of this world do not truly satisfy; in fact, they lead to destruction. People that are of this world are doomed to disappointment. But those who do the will of God will live forever in heavenly glory! At this time, I'd like for us to talk about...
THE GENERAL PROGRESSION INTO SIN
I'm not thinking about any specific sin, just sin in general, whether it be the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, or the pride of life. Here is how sin often works:
1. We HATE it at first
We might say things like this in regards to a particular sin: "It's terrible and wrong," "it's wicked and disgusting," or "I can't believe anyone would do such a thing!" We might plead with the person committing the sin to repent and seek the Lord's forgiveness as the Scriptures prescribe. But, after a period of time, if we don't continue to boldly stand against it, then we will get desensitized to it and we may...
2. TOLERATE it in others
We see the sin so often that it is not quite as offensive as it once was. We may say things like: "What they're doing is wrong, but there's nothing I can do about it," "Their actions don't really affect me or bother me all that much," or "It's not really my business if they want to live in sin." After a period of time of continuing to tolerate and put up with sin, then we might begin to...
3. ACCEPT those who practice it
We say something like this: "It's not really that big of a deal, is it? After all, these people are my friends, and other people are doing even worse things." After we reach this stage, often we will actually start to...
4. ENGAGE in the sin ourselves
Sadly, once we go this far it's hard to stop from proceeding to the last step. If our conscience becomes hardened, we will...
5. DEFEND the sin we are practicing
We'll say things like: "I'm not hurting anyone," "It's my life and I have the right to do what I want," or "Leave me alone and stop judging me!"
That is how the progression into sin often works. If we don't stand firmly against it, then gradually, over time, we may begin to tolerate it, accept it, and even embrace it by practicing it in our own lives and defending it verbally. This deterioration should scare us! In order to prevent this progressive erosion into sin, we, like the psalmist, need to learn to "hate every false way" (119:128). Did you catch that? Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, a man wrote that he hated every false way! It was appropriate to hate sin then, and it is still necessary to do such today! We must stand against every form of error, doctrinally and morally. We must stand against the pleasures of the world, otherwise we will fall for them!
You see, Satan is no fool, he has his "devices" (II Cor. 2:11), he has his "wiles" (Eph. 6:11), and he has his "snares" (II Tim. 2:26). He has many ways he'll try to get you! One very strong tool of deception that Satan possesses is the process we've been talking about--the gradual accepting of sin. And how does it happen? It happens when we stop standing against it! For instance, if we don't stand against sexual immorality, sooner or later we will be practicing it! If we don't stand firmly against the sin of murder, then pretty soon we will have no respect for the sanctity of life and we'll be aborting our babies and euthanizing our parents! If we don't stand against denominationalism, eventually we will leave the faith and become a man-made church ourselves! If we don't stand against improper worship, then it is certain that sinful innovations will find their way into the assembly. We could go on and on, but I think you see the point.
Sin is often a slow progression. Satan knows that he probably won't get strong Christians to forsake the way of truth all at once or suddenly, but he knows that if he continually works on them then he may have a shot at getting them in the long run. Satan doesn't care if you run to him or tiptoe to him, as long as you come he'll accept you! He's happy if you just slowly proceed in his direction. He rejoices when anyone takes baby steps toward destruction, and it all starts by tolerating sin!
But, we must ask the question: What is the ultimate result of sin? Death! James 1:14,15 declares - "But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death." Sin causes separation from God (i.e., spiritual death; cf. Isa. 59:2), and if one's sins are not forgiven then they will eternally separate that individual from God's presence (cf. II Thess. 1:9).
If you're reading this transcript, you may have noticed the underlined letters in the five points mentioned above. If you read the first letter of those five key words backwards, the word "death" is spelled (D from defend, E from ENGAGE, A from ACCEPT, T from TOLERATE, and H from HATE). So, there is an easy way to remember the terrible progression of sin and what it ultimately leads to.
Let us now contemplate two Bible examples that illustrate this gradual progression into sin.
First, how did the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah ever get to be so depraved? One step at a time! Certainly the city didn't start out practicing the sexual immorality and wickedness that is recorded in Genesis 19. We know this to be true because all the people of the earth are descendants of Noah, and Noah did not practice homosexuality. It is sad to realize, but can be proven through the Old Testament chronologies, that the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah happened less than 500 years after the floodwaters had cleansed the earth. Somewhere during those 500 years, the perversion of homosexuality found its way into the world. At first, there can be no doubt that only a few departed from the means of sexual fulfillment that God had purposed through marriage. But, when those few departed, what did the others do? Did they hate the sin? Perhaps, but they grew to tolerate it, accept it, and even practice it themselves! The sin grew so prevalent in Sodom that the text records that men from every quarter of the city, both young and old, participated in it (cf. Gen. 19:4). What a shame! And it led to their destruction, both physically and spiritually! What's even sadder is that there were not ten righteous souls within that city (cf. Gen. 18:32); God couldn't even find ten people who were standing for what was right and standing against what was wrong! Now, I highly doubt that everyone in Sodom was practicing homosexuality, but according to God Himself there weren't ten righteous souls there! Those who weren't practicing homosexuality were either accepting and defending those who did or they themselves were involved in other forms of wickedness.
What about us today? Be honest with yourself. Do you avoid participating in sin yourself? If you do, good, but that is not enough! We need to hate sin like God does; we need to rebuke those who sin like Jesus and the apostles did! Yes friends, there are times when sin needs to be rebuked! If you are skeptical of that fact read Matthew 23, Luke 17:3, I Timothy 5:20, II Timothy 4:2, Titus 1:13, and 2:15. If we don't rebuke those who are sinning, how else will they ever realize their need for repentance (cf. Luke 13:3)? Souls will never be saved unless they are convicted by the truth. People will never come to Christ until they realize their need for forgiveness through His blood! We must stand against the sins of this world!
A second example is seen in Judges 2:7,10 - "So the people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great works of the Lord which He had done for Israel...When all that generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation arose after them who did not know the Lord nor the work which He had done for Israel." The book of Judges is a sad book to read. It records the incomplete conquest of Canaan and it tells of the continual unfaithfulness of Israel to God. Did you notice in the passage we just read that the people were faithful as long as Joshua was alive? Why? Because Joshua hated sin! He stood against it and he stood for what was right; that fact is clearly seen in his life. But did you also notice that the nation was faithful to God as long as the elders who outlived Joshua were still alive? Why is that? I suspect it has something to do with the fact that those men had the same conviction for truth and opposition to sin that Joshua had. But sadly, they didn't pass that attitude on to the next generation. The leaders of Joshua's day hated sin, and the people followed them. But, the people didn't hate sin like God wanted them to, for they tolerated it in the land by allowing some of the Canaanites to live against God's command. Once these faithful leaders died, the people started to accept the sinful, idolatrous ways of the Canaanites, and it wasn't too long before they started defending that sin as they embraced it themselves. How sad!
Of course, God got angry with this sort of behavior and punished His people. They repented and God then delivered them from their oppressors through the leadership of a judge. However, it never took very long for them to go back to their idolatrous ways again. Listen to Judges 2:19 - "And it came to pass, when the judge was dead, that they reverted and behaved more corruptly than their fathers, by following other gods, to serve them and bow down to them. They did not cease from their own doings nor from their stubborn way."
Do you know what the fundamental problem with the Israelite nation was? They tolerated sin! That's right, had they wiped out the idolatry of the land as God had told them to--had they truly hated that sin--then they wouldn't have had their cycles of idolatry and punishment from God. They could have spared their children and future generations so much pain and suffering! For the sake of our children and future generations, we need to stand against sin. The stronger we stand against sin and the harder we work to uproot it, then the world will be that much better of a place when our children and grandchildren grow up in it. But, if we act like the Israelites and tolerate sin, even if we don't practice it ourselves, it will increase the chances of unfaithfulness in future generations. I know this is true for it happened in Joshua's day, and history repeats itself.
As we conclude this lesson, let us not forget that:
Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.