Monday, February 20, 2012

Why Do We Keep Remembering What God Forgets?

“As we mature personally, as our families mature, and as our churches mature, we need the doctrine of sin more, not less; and we need to keep growing in rightly understanding and applying this doctrine. Be assured that this is no less true if you’re a pastor or teacher or ministry worker. There’s no pastoral privilege in relation to sin. There’s no ministry exemption from the opposition of the flesh. There’s only a heightened responsibility to oppose sin and to weaken the flesh, as an example to the flock.” -C.J. Mahaney, Humility (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 2005), page 133.

The movement C.J. Mahaney founded, Sovereign Grace Ministries, is one that is supposedly built on an understanding and application of God's grace. I recently listened to several messages by Mahaney and read a couple of his books, including the one quoted from above.  I find myself rather surprised. SGM seems to focus God's people on the subject of 'sin' much more than they do Christ. Rather than an emphasis on growing in grace within the body of Christ, there is a stated goal by SGM's founder of 'growing in the doctrine of sin.' That, to me, is quite shocking.

In Hebrews 10:17-18 the Lord says,  “This is the covenant I will make with them (us)… I will remember their sins no more.”  For the life of me I can't understand why pastors would put  emphasis on remembering what God forgets. There’s no denial Christians struggle with ‘indwelling sin.’ There's also no denial that sin is destructive. The question, though, is "How does a believer defeat indwelling sin?" I am absolutely, positively, one-hundred-percent convinced that every Christian leader who places more emphasis in his ministry to Christians on indwelling sin than he does Jesus Christ, will ultimately lead his people down the path of religious bondage, emotional pain and spiritual abuse.  Sin's power and influence are only diminished by displaying the beauty of Jesus Christ. Focus on sin and it entices you; focus on Christ and He enraptures you. An easy way to remember this axiom of the faith is: "There's no high like the Most High!" When God's people regular taste of Him "and see that He is good," every false high that sin brings will be recognized as a sorry substitute for the real thing. The ancient people said as much when they asked of Philip, "Sir, we would see Jesus" (John 12:21).

Focusing on sin may 'sound' spiritual, but it is in essence anti-Christ. Binding God's people to
various religious rituals (church attendance, quiet time, devotionals, 30-minute morning prayers, promises, commitments, accountability, etc...) in order to overcome indwelling sin is completely missing Christ. Focus on Christ, not your performance or lack thereof. Focus on Christ, not your accountability or lack thereof. Focus on Christ, not your church attendance or lack thereof. When Christ is your focus, you will find growing satisfaction and delight in Him! When that happens, indwelling sin loses its power because it loses its enticement. Religious bondage may lead you to THINK the power of sin is gone in your life, but in reality,  you haven't changed a lick by the bondage. All that's happened to you is you've been tied down by religion's rituals. If somebody were to cut the ropes that tie you to the institution of the church, you'd be sin's dead meat. But as you taste of the sweetness of Christ, sin begins to lose its power. I've already quoted Hebrews 10:17-18 as the biblical basis for the good practice of NOT remembering (or focusing) on what God forgets, but let me see if I can illustrate this principle from ancient Greek mythology.

Odysseus and his mighty sailors sailed the Aegean Sea. The sorceress Circe had warned Odysseus and his men to be wary of the beautiful but deadly Sirens. These half-woman, half-beast creatures would entice sailors with their beautiful music, compelling the men to sail closer to the island of the Sirens. Without warning, the Sirens would swoop down, kill and canabilize the sailors who had sailed too close to the island of the Sirens. The sorceress told Odysseus that he and his sailors should have their ears filled with wax to block the Sirens' songs from being heard.   Odysseus complied with the instructions by ordering his men to fill their ears with wax. He, however, wanted to hear the Sirens'  beautiful songs for himself. So he told his sailors to tie him up to the mast with strong ropes so that when the Sirens began to sing, he could focus on the singing, but he could not jump ship and swim toward the enticing but deadly island. The sailors complied and bound their captain to the ship's mast. When the ship sailed near the island of the Sirens, music began to fill the air,  and Odysseus focused on the beautiful songs and found himself enraptured. He began to fight the ropes and chains that bound him, longing to draw closer to the Sirens. He struggled with all his might to free himself from the bondage. He wanted to free himself, but he was trapped and held by the ropes and men on his ship. His battle with bondage was bloody and ugly. Odysseus avoided death at the hands of the Sirens, but he was a miserable wretch as his shipmates sought to hold Odysseus "accountable" and keep him safe.

On the other hand, Jason and the Argonauts dealt with the Sirens in a different manner. They too sailed the Aegean, but unlike Odysseus, they refused the ear wax, the strong ropes, and all attempts to "bind" anyone to the mast of the ship. Instead, they brought the greatest musician in the land onto their ship, a Muse named Orpheus, and they ordered him to play his beautiful music. The music from Orpheus' lyre and harp was so much sweeter, so far better, so incredibly more beautiful than the songs of the Sirens that Jason and the Argonauts had no desire to listen to the Sirens' songs when their ship passed by the island of the Sirens. What kept Jason and the Argonauts on the ship was the greater pleasure and beauty of Orpheus' music.

Odysseus and Jason serve as parabolic illustrations for the modern church. The great mistake of many Christian leaders, including many associated with SGM,  is that they are attempting the Odysseus approach to indwelling sin in their people. They wish to expose sin (confess it), focus on sin (analyze it), control sin ('by binding people'), as they put more and more emphasis on sin as "God's people 'mature.'"  The only thing that this particular emphasis brings is tired, worn out people who collapse under the weight of 'authoritative leaders' and their edicts on how to be 'more holy.'

Pastors need to be more like Jason and the Argonauts. We need to bring Jesus into the church like Jason brought Orpheus onto the boat. Talk of Christ. Preach of Christ. Tell of Christ. Magnify Christ. Exalt Christ. Honor Christ. Uplift Christ. Sing of Christ. Speak of Christ. Point to Christ. Focus on Christ. The sweet music of Christ as written in the sacred hymn of Scripture is sufficient. The Holy Spirit does a pretty convincing job of guiding His people by the island of sin when the sweet song of the Savior is being played.


Anonymous said...

Amen and Amen!

It is absolute delight to focus on the mercy of God and wonder of Christ!

Once you taste that sort of worship, you find you have absolutely no appetite for anything that comes between your soul and God.

Not haranguing about sin.

Not abusive leadership.

And not sin itself.


Ramesh said...

Amen. Amen. Amen.

The sweetness of Jesus is more appreciated when one is truly lost in sin and appreciates a Savior, without whom there is no hope. Yes, it is paradoxical. That one appreciates Jesus when one is truly lost and mourns deeply.

Rex Ray said...

You’ve nailed it! The light of Jesus overpowers the darkness of sin. Filled with Jesus is better than starving sin.

It’s always rubbed me the wrong way to hear people mention their prayer time or their daily bible reading over and over.

Once a preacher went through the congregation putting a microphone in people’s faces and waited their replies to three questions:

Have you ever lied?
Have you ever stolen?
Have you ever had immoral thoughts?

Then from the pulpit:
“I see we’re all just a bunch of liars, thieves, and adulators.”

Jeff Rogers said...

All attempts to focus on sin at the expense of focusing on Christ is a declaration that my flesh can overcome sin better than the work of Christ.

It is a statement that I believe that I can do a better job of dealing with sin than Jesus could.

Great article.


Anonymous said...

Thanks, Wade, for clearly explaining the legalism vs. grace approach to sin. Amen! God draws us to Christ with his lovingkindness (his kindness leads to repentance) and leads us away from sin. Isn't that how "sinners" were drawn to Christ in the gospels? They were drawn by Jesus' love, compassion, and grace, and then he would speak the truth gently, "Go and sin no more."

Rachel said...

thank you, wade for the wonderful direction to the person of christ! i'm a new visitor to your blog, but now that you've brought greek mythology into it, i'm hooked! ;)

seriously, it's all Jesus. everything. the more we remember that, the more everything else falls into place.

Rachel said...

thank you, wade for the wonderful direction to the person of christ! i'm a new visitor to your blog, but now that you've brought greek mythology into it, i'm hooked! ;)

seriously, it's all Jesus. everything. the more we remember that, the more everything else falls into place.

Christiane said...

I had not noticed that evangelicals focused on their own sins, WADE. I had thought that, with the assurance of being saved, had come peace of mind and all that focus on personal failing was no longer a priority.

The focus instead seemed to be on the sins of others . . . so many others who are visible and pointed out by evangelicals in our society as great sinners who are bound for hell.

I'm not in agreement with all that, Wade. I see in it a sad reflection of these words of Our Lord, Himself in the Gospel of St. Luke 18:

"10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.

11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance.

He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said,

‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”
This is the teaching of Our Lord, thanks be to God.

Does God still want from us a 'contrite spirit', a 'humble heart' . . . I think He does.

He will 'forget' our sins, but we must remember that we ourselves will never know the depth of suffering our sins have caused . . . the only One who, truly knows the seriousness of our sin, died for them.
If we love Him, we must remember that, and yes, with contrite hearts for the sake of His sorrowful Passion.

Anonymous said...

First let me say I think CJ Mahaney is a cult leader who takes his positions from the shepherding movement he started called, "People of Destiny".

But let's keep reading in Hebrews 10:

26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. 28 Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”[d] and again, “The Lord will judge his people.”[e] 31 It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

If "we".....he is talking about professing believers who continue in deliberate willful sin.

Rex Ray said...


Hebrews 10:26-27 is talking of someone who hears the Gospel, but rejects it.

Verse 29-31: “How much more severely do YOU THINK someone deserves to be punished…”

The question does not say ‘has happened’, ‘could happen’, or ’will happen’.

The question is simply hypothetical, and does not mean a Christian could be lost. My opinion of course.

Rex Ray said...

Did the ‘island of the Sirens’ exist in the Conservative Resurgence? (C/R)

Was the ‘Battle for the Bible’ such sweet music the majority could not resist?

Did the song of ‘Inerrancy’ support “All Scripture stands alone” that resulted in women COULD NOT teach men?

‘CHANGE’ has been the theme song of C/R. They’ve changed about every name except WMU. I remember them wanting to change from ‘Southern Baptist Convention’ in 2004.

The NEWS tonight said the SBC is thinking of changing its name. Why did they notify the news? Does the NEWS make a SIRENS song?

Wade, you said that people collapse under the weight of ‘authoritative leaders’.

Would that be a C/R pastor who says deacons have to ‘retire’ when they’re 80…your truly?

Pege' said...

FREE AT LAST FREE A LAST THANK GOD FOR HIS GRACE AND MERCY THAT FREED ME FROM THIS KIND OF TEACHING 18 YEARS AGO!!! Wade, keep telling people this TRUTH and I will keep shouting it from the mountain tops here in Colorado!!

Lamar Wadsworth said...

Superb! The surest evidence of salvation is that one delights in doing what is pleasing to God--we love Him because He first loved us, and those we truly love are a source of delight to us. We want to please those we love. Delighting in Christ is and always will be the most powerful deterrent to sin.

Anonymous said...

Not sure if I agree. A non-Christian's only hope is sin.

Wade Burleson said...


If you go back and read my post, every single word deals with believers, Christians, and those who have trusted Christ.

An understanding of SIN is needed in the lives of those who do not have Christ.

This is why I think the CHURCH gets this in reverse. We put bumper stickers on our cars that say, "Smile! God LOVES You" to a world that loves themselves, hates Christ, and revels in sin. Then, if those sinners are changed by the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit and enter the church, we place them UNDER THE LAW. Why do we do this?

You may be surprised in that I am in agreement with you about a world without Christ. They need to GROW IN THEIR UNDERSTANDING OF THE DOCTRINE OF SIN.

But the CHURCH, the BRIDE OF CHRIST, needs to grow in our understanding of the Groom.


Anonymous said...

"Hebrews 10:26-27 is talking of someone who hears the Gospel, but rejects it."

That is not what it says.
The letter is written to believers and the passage says "If we....". Those are professing Christians.

The case can be made that it is referring to one who is by their sin rejecting the Gospel because they continue in willfull deliberate sin after knowing the truth. And that means even if they proclaim to be saved. Wilfull consistent deliberate sin says one was never changed.

The real argument is just how much sin as in consistent, willfull and deliberate? That is where we see all the conflict come into play. What I am seeing is many now claiming that living in a consistent sin state is normal for believers. Like Luther said, Sin boldly. Then we have CJ doing the opposite and focusing on sin to the detriment of Grace.

There is a balance and passages like Hebrews 10: 26-31 are as inconvenient as some in parts of 1 John.

Fob James said...

Wade, thanks again, for giving utterance to things that have long needed to be said forthrightly. Some of us have been watching this battle since the 1970s. What over the last 10-15 years has come as a great surprise to me is that these authoritarian perversions of scripture have not been limited to the 1970's "charismatic movement" in which I grew up, but have been robustly expressed throughout the whole evangelical church in the U.S., in some cases tracing back to errors of centuries ago.

As for the transpiring events, what does it mean to "trample the Son of God underfoot, count the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insult the Spirit of grace?" When so-called pastors elicit from believers the confession of their sins and then use those confessed sins as leverage to keep "the flock" in bondage to the pastor's "authority" -- is there much more dangerous ground to be on than this?

"It Is Finished."

Fob James

Martin Kids said...


Read Hebrews 9 and 10 in context of the Old Covenant Jews coming out of the old age and entering the age to come or the New Covenant Age.

If they went on sinning (adhering to the OC Law system instead of Christ) they would miss out.

Maybe the writer of Hebrews is contrasting those who were holding onto the old (Judaizers) and those who were entering the New.

Notice the time statements in chapter 10.

For those who held onto the OC and rejected Christ (sinning) they were destroyed in the fires of AD 70.

For those Christians who fulfilled the Law by believing in Christ, there was no sin for them to remember (or God for that matter).

The corporate body of Christ is sin free! That is what is so great about Grace.


Ramesh said...

Wade, if you have some time, you can edit the reactions, by adding Amen, and Amen, Amen, Amen (a triple Amen, if you will) ...

Blogger > New feature: Reactions

Aussie John said...


Thy Peace said it as eloquently as anyone. I can't improve on that.

Wade Burleson said...

Thy Peace,

Thanks, friend! I learn more about blogging, links and the Internet from you than anyone else!

Appreciate the heads up on how to change things I had no clear were possible to change!

Wanda (Deb) Martin said...


Several years ago, Thy Peace used to take the links I posted here and turn them into hyperlinks. I didn't know how to do it at the time, and I was very grateful!

By the way, you inadvertently taught me how to put words in BOLD print just last weekend over at TWW. I'm having fun with this newly learned technique. I'm trying not to get TOO carried way with it. :-)

Cameron said...

Really likes this post. This hits home where I'm at for sure. Here's my follow up question. When you say we need to focus on Jesus and not our sin, how do we do that? It sounds like a cliche and im no longer interested in cliche answers. When I begin to focus on my sin and lose sight of god, how do I focus on Jesus instead?


Wade Burleson said...


Great question. Let me ask you something. Do you see Jesus in every page of Scripture? For example: Do you know the number and names of the Hebrew feasts in Leviticus and how they relate to Christ? That's just one illustration on how to study the Bible in order to see Christ and take the focus off yourself.

Take a few moments to read this post entitled The Feast of Israel Fulfilled in the Person of Christ. It will help you see that most of what passes off as 'preaching' on Sunday morning in church is nothing more than serendipitous moral sermonizing rather than showing Jesus in Scripture!

Faith in Christ is simple, but the knowledge of Christ is profound!

Cameron said...

Thanks for the response Wade! Really appreciated. One of the elders at my church does a great series on the feasts and how they proclaim Jesus. I also went to Israel with Ray Vanderlaan and saw first hand how the Old Testament is all a picture of Jesus. In the Old Testament class I teach, that is one of my favorite themes. That's also why the road to Emmaus is one of my favorite NT stories, where Christ opens up the scriptures(Old testament) and shows them all the places where He showed up!

I can read the Bible and see Jesus, but is that what you would say is the answer? Just open up your Bible and start reading? Maybe it is that simple, but it sure seems like that's what I've been doing. Hmm, some more thinking on my end seems to be in order. Thanks again.


Wade Burleson said...

"I can read the Bible and see Jesus, but is that what you would say is the answer? Just open up your Bible and start reading?"

No. It's the APPLICATION of what you have read. And, I am NOT talking about the kind of application that most Christians think of, as in "What should I DO for God?" I mean the APPLICATION that leads you to say, "I am OVERWHELMED by what GOD HAS DONE FOR ME!" Until you realize you don't HAVE to do ONE thing for God, try to change yourself to obtain the FAVOR of God, or make any commitment, promise or vow to God - and GOD ACCEPTS YOU and LOVES YOU just as you are because HE HAS DONE FOR YOU WHAT YOU CANNOT DO YOURSELF (ie. 'cleansed you, promised to change you internally, given you every spiritual and eternal blessing you will ever receive by His grace,' etc...) then your FOCUS will be on the right place and THAT'S WHERE YOU START! :)

Most people read the Bible as if it is manual for change, when God gave us the Bible as a love letter containing the good news that He requires nothing of sinners, but has provided sinners precisely everything they need.

Let's see if this comment hits the mark! :)

Cameron said...

Thanks Wade. I've printed out your last comment. I want to absorb those thoughts. I think you've hit on something that has been escaping me even though I been a believer for 17 years. The legalism thing does not work, but I've been struggling in more of a libertine mindset, searching for the middle ground. Thanks for the time you have devoted to answering me.


Wade Burleson said...

You bet, Cameron! All the Lord's richest blessings are yours in your Savior!


Martin Kids said...

Wade and Cameron,


Your last few comments are right on.

One of my favorite sermon series' is on the parable of prodigal son. The teacher pointed out that it was not until the son accepted "sonship" that he finally realized what grace was. His idea of going back as a "hired servant" (different than a doulas slave) was a typical "works based" idea of salvation. He would work his debt off but still have the "freedom" of living outside of the fathers house.

The father never gives him the chance but instead invites him back as a son. (Something the son could not buy back.) That is the real turning point in the story.

You are so right that the Bible is not a "manual" but a love story from a Father to his children. When we start seeing it that way it is incredibly powerful.

I write a religion column for my local paper once a month. Wade, if you are so kind as to let me link it here I think it might be of interest to Cameron.


Wade Burleson said...

Thanks, Micah!

Very wonderful words in both the comment and the article.

Martin Kids said...


Thank you. That means a lot to me.

BTW, I just wanted to say that your article on the Feast Days that you linked on this comment thread was very good.

I have never seen a futurist deal so graciously (and honestly) with the preterist paradigm. That is truly a breath of fresh air.

I am more than likely coming down to OK for the Preston / Jordan debate in July. It would be a pleasure to stop by and meet for coffee, that is, unless I can talk you into attending the debate. ;)

I am very thankful to have come across your blog. It is one of my favorites.


John said...

I've read most of CJ's books and I've heard him preach many times and he is one of the most cross centered preachers I've ever heard.
The paragraph you quoted is preceded by a discussion of the war that we have as believers with the old nature. He quotes John Owen and then said, "As we grow in our desire for GOd we'll see not a lessening of sin's opposition but, if anythign, and intensification of that opposition. Do you excepct that increased opposition? Are you aware of it? It's why we are commanded to watch ourselves closely. We watch our hearts and study our hearts in the shadow of the cross as a means of protecting our hearts from the daily presence and opposition of sin. If you don't watch, you'll inevitably weaken."
I agree with much of what you said, but you took CJ out of context to prove a point that could have stood on its own without the quote.

Wade Burleson said...


My feelings on the unholy emphasis on sin in SGM are based on much more than one paragraph in the book Humility. The entire concept of people holding others accountable for the indwelling sin of pride - or selfishness - or greed - etc... is far and away the wrong emphasis. EVERYBODY has pride. EVERYBODY has selfishness. EVERYBODY has indwelling sin. The cleansing power of the cross ALONE roots it out. Acknowledge it, but for heaven's sake, don't spend your life worrying about it. Enjoy Christ.

Steve said...

Here is a link where Larry Tomczak gives his perpective on C.J. Mahaney blackmailing him:

If there is truth in some of what C.J. Mahaney teaches just realize that he doesn't practice all of what he teaches.

There were a series of documents that Brent Detwiler compiled that showed this. Even other top leaders in SGM were questioning how C.J. Mahaney could write a book on "humility" when he wasn't practicing what he taught in the book.

Anonymous said...

"everybody has endwelling sin," yes and it will be that way until we die. A lot of Christians don't seem to understand this. Especially the authoritarian pastors and the people who agree with them.

People think just because you confess a certain sin/sins that you are completely rid of it forever but the Bible says that the heart is deceitfully wicked...

One pastor I listen to believes that the more mature you get the more you sin less. How he comes up with this one, I have no clue. How can someone sin less when we ourselves don't even know the depth of our own sinfulness(depravity).

Thanks for this post,Wade. It's refreshing.