Arie den Hartog is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church of Randolph, Wisconsin.
In a series of articles, we are considering some of the distinctive traits of true godliness These traits must be evident in every true child of God. If we call ourselves children of God, we must be very concerned manifest in our whole life these marks. We must adorn the doctrine of God which we confess with a life of true godliness. Only then will our life bring praise and glory to the name of our God. Many today who call themselves Christians lack the marks of true godliness. Our land is full of professing Christians. At least some churches are growing by the thousands. We see today in our land larger churches than perhaps ever before in our history. Large and beautiful buildings are being built, with the most modern and elaborate facilities imaginable. But in spite of all of this, there is a grievous decline in true godliness in our land, and even in our own churches. There is a growing toleration of all kinds of evil and wickedness. Few churches are today still faithful in the exercise of Christian discipline. There is much which has the form of godliness but denies the power thereof. Lest we judge only those who are without, we must begin by examining our own selves, whether we manifest the marks of true godliness. If this is not true, then we will put to shame the blessed and glorious doctrine of salvation which the Lord in His grace has given us.
A serious attitude about sin is certainly one of the chief marks of the truly godly man. No one who knows anything at all about the Bible and real Christianity will deny this. The profound knowledge and conviction of sin is the first evidence of the work of the grace and Spirit of God in the hearts of His people. As the child of God grows in His faith and knowledge of the Word of God, he does not become less, but rather more conscious of the awfulness of sin. How many who call themselves Christians today lack this great mark of true godliness. Ours is a day of shallowness and superficiality. Though there is very much preaching, even through the means of radio, television, and tape recordings, there is still a grievous lack of knowledge. Little is known of the great doctrines of God and of the doctrines of sin and grace. There is little knowledge of how awful sin really is in the sight of God. Consequently, there is little genuine repentance and conversion to God which leads to true godliness. Many Christians imagine that their sins are largely a matter of a past life which can be left behind and forgotten. These imagine that after they became Christians they ceased to be sinners. There is therefore little need for dwelling on the matter of sin. Christians who do this are judged to be unnecessarily morose and morbid. Christ had died for all our sins on the cross, and that means we no longer need at all to be concerned about our sins. The Christian life is to be one only of joy and happiness, of success and prosperity. When the so-called Christian of our day does fall into sin, he need not be overly troubled. Forgiveness is cheap and easily obtained again. Many imagine that their sins are actually very few. Some imagine that they are so close to perfection that they can actually go for days and weeks without any known sin. The common notion is that all men are basically good. God loves us all and has a wonderful plan for us all. He only feels sorry for us if we fall into sin, and easily overlooks that sin. Let no man judge anyone else. Since we are all sinners and all fall now and then, it is not so serious, really. The Christian who does fall into sin should by no means be judged or even admonished. He should only be pitied and told of God’s free forgiveness. The world we live in is a wonderful place. It is getting better all the time. We are here to enjoy the world and all of its pleasures. We can join hands together to serve the Lord and accomplish great things for God. Who would deny that this is the current mentality of the modern day world of Christendom? How very far this all is from true godliness.
The modernists have done a lot to do away with the seriousness of sin. These have attempted to wed a semblance of Christianity with modern day humanistic philosophy and worldly psychology. Man is no longer a sinner, but rather he is sick and must be healed through counselling and rehabilitation by some professional doctor. Some of these modernists even scoff at the idea of sin and the judgment of God. These are all old fashioned and irrelevant concepts that we must get rid of especially when they contradict our modern thinking. Every man has the freedom and right to live as he pleases. Who are we to condemn another? As far as what the Bible says about sin and evil and judgment, all of that is considered to be from a bygone age. Besides the Bible is subject to thousands of different interpretations. Everyone is free to interpret it as he pleases and to live his life as he sees fit. The highest of all moral principles for many modernists is the principle that everyone has the right to do what is good in his own eyes. But this is the very lie of the devil by which he brought the whole world into sin. The modern Christian imagines that he can continue in the grossest immorality and still be the object of the favor and love of God. His conscience is so hardened to sin that he knows very little about its seriousness.
The true child of God evidences the mark of godliness with a grave and serious attitude about sin. He is profoundly conscious of how dreadful sin is, not only the sin that he sees in the world in which he lives, but also his own continuing sinfulness before God. The true child of God is ashamed of his sin. He deeply humbles himself before God, he weeps and laments over his sin. He loathes and abhors himself continually before God. He smites his breast every time he comes into the presence of his God and cries out: “God be merciful to me, the sinner.” When he considers the awful holiness of God he says with great fear and trembling: “Woe is me, for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of the people of unclean lips,” Isaiah 6:5. When he falls into great sin, he says in shame and amazement: “Behold I was shapen in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51:5). As the Christian struggles against his sinful nature and finds that he is so very weak to overcome the great power of sin within himself, he cries out, “Oh wretched man that I am! Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rom. 7:24). How terribly foreign and strange all this kind of language is to many who today call themselves Christians.
The knowledge of the seriousness of sin begins with a right knowledge of God and a true love for Him. Godliness, we must remember, involves first of all our attitude and relationship to God. This is suggested by the very English word itself. We will only have a serious attitude concerning our sin if first we have a profound knowledge of the awesome, perfect, infinite holiness and righteousness of God. We will be serious about our sin if we love that God and hate our sin as much as He hates our sin. Sin is an abomination unto the Lord. That word means that he strongly hates sin. He hates sin with all of the infinite fury of His holy being. If He did not hate sin, then He would not be God at all. Because He hates sin, He will judge the sinner with a most terrible judgment. Our sins are so very serious because they are first of all against God. That is even far more terrible than all the evil many of our sins cause to our fellow man. Our sins are a violation of the holy majesty of God. In our sins we are rebels and enemies of God. In our sins we transgress His holy commandments. If we truly love God, we will have a profound hatred for our sins. We will certainly not take them lightly.
We will have a serious attitude about our sins if we know all that our sins really involve. Anyone who imagines that sin is merely a matter of a few sinful deeds and falls will never have a serious attitude about his sin. If man’s nature remains good after the fall, then he is still able in his own strength to overcome his sin. We know the seriousness of sin when we know the awful depravity of our nature. Sin is so terrible because it corrupts the whole of our nature, and out of that corrupt nature proceeds all sorts of evil deeds. The fall has left us by nature wholly incapable of doing any good and enslaved to the devil.
We will have a serious attitude about our sin if we always remember and realize that sin makes us guilty and damnworthy before God. Except by the grace and mercy of God, we deserve the eternal judgment of hell because of our sins. We are not able to do anything at all to atone for the guilt of our sins and deliver ourselves from the wrath and judgment of God. We only every day increase the guilt of our sin and our worthiness of judgment and wrath.
More than anything else, the Christian sees the great seriousness of sin when He remembers the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. With shame and utter humility we stand before the cross. We realize that all of the terrible anguish and torment which Jesus bore on the cross was on account of the awfulness of our sin. As the Christian stands before the cross, he cries out in amazement; “how dreadful, how unspeakably terrible was our sin that it could only be atoned for through the great sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.”
At the cross we see also the amazing wonder of the love and mercy of God that saves us from all our sins. Through the cross we have been delivered from all the horrors of hell and judgment. By His death on the cross, Jesus has merited for us perfect and everlasting righteousness. He has made us worthy of the everlasting favor and blessing of God. Profoundly moved by our remembrance of the cross, it is impossible that true children of God can be careless about their sin.
We have a serious attitude about sin because we know that as Christians we still sin daily. We bear with us until the day of our death our corrupt, sinful nature in the old man of sin. From that nature still proceed many awful sins. Sin is still the power of the devil in us, from which we can only be daily delivered through the grace and Spirit of Christ. Our daily sins and weaknesses are grievous in the sight of our God and Savior. The true child of God is profoundly conscious of the reality of his continual sinfulness. He knows that he is still very far from loving God perfectly with all his heart and soul and strength and mind. He knows that God indeed requires such perfect love. Because the true child of God loves God and loves the Savior Jesus Christ for His great salvation, therefore he is earnestly desirous to love God perfectly. Therefore, he also grieves over any sin that remains in him. The more the child of God grows in his faith, the more conscious and sensitive he is towards the seriousness of sin. He knows that God hates every evil motive, lust, and purpose of his heart. He is grieved not only over gross outward wicked deeds but also over his thoughts of pride and enmity and unclean desire and covetousness. He hates every one of them.
Therefore, the child of God is serious about sin. He knows the need of daily confession and repentance before God. He knows that sin is a very terrible power, having its origin in the devil. He knows that when he does not confess his sin before God, he will be separated from God, and interrupt the operation of His favor and love. He knows that if he continues in sin, that sin will have very serious consequences for his life. The godly man is one who therefore daily, in deep humility, cries out for the mercy of God and for the strength of His grace to fight against and overcome the sin that still remains in him. He finds the daily need to go to the cross of Christ Jesus.
The truly godly man is serious about the great sin and wickedness that he sees in the world. He does not foolishly imagine that the world is getting better and that he can somehow join himself with the world. On the contrary, he knows that as the Word of God prophesies, the world is getting worse and worse. Therefore it is necessary always for the child of God to separate himself spiritually from the world and to flee its evil lusts. The child of God knows how extremely dangerous the temptations of the world and the devil are for his own soul. He steadfastly refuses to join the wicked world in its wicked entertainment and corruption of sin. He earnestly desires to keep himself pure and holy. He longs to be finally delivered out of this sinful world and to be finally presented holy and without blame before His Father in heaven.
We have outlined something of what it means to have a serious attitude about our sins. Is this great distinguishing mark of true godliness evident in you?