How God Aborts the Birth of Conceived Sin
By John Fast
For anyone to whom God in His providence has just now caused these studies to fall under your eye, we have been following the progressive and incremental way – described by the Holy Spirit in James 1:14, 15 – in which the law of sin works to accomplish its ultimate end; the bringing forth of spiritual death and the eternal ruin of the soul. First, sin carries away the mind. Secondly, it entices the affections by using a person’s own lusts as bait to lure and ensnare them. Thirdly, sin is conceived when it gains the consent of the will unto committing actual sin. The fourth step is “it gives birth to sin” (Jm 1:15), by which is meant the actual commission of the sin into which the mind has been carried away, the affections enticed, and to which the will has consented. However, it is clear from Scripture, history, and our own experience that the sin which the will consents to is not always actually committed. Much sin is conceived which is never born. The actual birth of sin does not necessarily follow its conception.
There is a world of sin conceived in the hearts, minds, and wills of people that never see the light of day. This is not due to any reluctance or weakness on the part of the law of sin, or in the will which has consented to sin. The fact that sin has gained the consent of the will shows that it has overcome any reluctance and opposition the will may originally have had to it. Whatever sin it conceives, it does so with the full intention of giving birth to it, and the fact that it fails to do so does little to mitigate its guilt. A will and determination and intention to sin, is sin, “The devising of folly is sin” (Pv 24:9). This is what separates the sin of a true Christian from the sin of unbelievers. A Christian sins against their will, “I practice the very evil that I do not wish” (Rm 7:19). Whereas the unbeliever sins with the full consent of their will; they are “slaves of sin” (Rm 6:20), and “enslaved to various lusts and pleasures” (Tit 3:3), and they take “pleasure in wickedness” (2 Th 2:12). It is not owing to any lack of effort by the law of sin, or any reluctance on the part of the will which has consented to sin, that every sin which it conceives is not actually accomplished. The cause of its abortion and prevention must lie elsewhere.
How God Prevents Conceived Sin from Being Born
Two things are necessary for conceived sin to actually be perpetrated. First, the person in whom sin has conceived must have the power to commit it, and secondly the will to commit the sin must be retained until it is actually accomplished. Once we have these two facts brought to our attention they become obvious. Where these two are found together, the actual commission of sin will always inevitably follow, and where one is missing, conceived sin cannot be born. Having both the power and the will, Ananias and Sapphira gave birth to the sin which they had conceived in their heart (Ac 5:4). If someone has the will to sin, but not the ability or opportunity, then it does not matter how badly they want to sin, they will not be able to actually do so. Likewise, if someone has the ability to sin, but lacks the will or has an aversion to it, then they will not give birth to sin. If they do, it would be against their will, not with the consent of their will. They must either be forced, as Peter was by fear, or tricked into sin by its deceitfulness.
The prolific explosion of technology within the past 20-30 years has provided people with the historically unprecedented power and ability to give birth to the sin which they have conceived in their hearts. The ability and opportunity for “indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind” (Eph 2:3) has been multiplied exponentially to the point where it has become commonplace. Couple this with three or four generations of people – people who are and have been kept ignorant of the great truths and doctrines of the Bible, and whose mind, affections, wills, and consciences have been formed by and conformed to this world – it is no wonder we are witnessing the unprecedented acceptance and perpetration of evil today, both without and within professing Christendom. People now possess the power to give birth to conceived sin as never before. In our last study we looked at ways by which the deceit of sin both gains and retains a person’s will to sin until sin is actually accomplished.
It is obvious that in order for the actual birth of sin to be aborted, either the ability to give it birth, and/or the willingness to give it birth must, in some way or other, be frustrated and eliminated. This must come from God, and He has two ways of doing so:
- By His works of sovereign power and providence by which He frustrates the power and ability to sin
- By His sovereign grace through which He changes, takes away, or restrains the will to sin
These two are not mutually exclusive. There is much grace in God providentially frustrating a people’s ability to sin, and there is much of God’s providential wisdom in His grace by which He takes away, changes, or restrains a people’s will to sin. In this study we will consider the first of these two ways, and in our next study we will consider the second.
Neutralizing the Power to Sin – Through Death
When sin is conceived, God in His providence will frustrate and hamper its actual birth by neutralizing the ability which is essential to its accomplishment. The most extreme and rare way which God does this is by taking away and cutting short the life, and thereby the power of those in whom sin has conceived. As the creator and giver of life, God can terminate life whenever He pleases, “But Er, Judah’s first-born, was evil in the sight of the Lord, so the Lord took his life” (Gn 38:7; cf. v.10); “it is I who put to death and give life. …and there is no one who can deliver from My hand” (Dt 32:39); “The Lord kills and makes alive (1 Sm 2:6). Pharaoh was determined to destroy the children of Israel. He had the power and the will to do so, “The enemy said, ‘I will pursue, I will overtake, I will divide the spoil; my desire shall be gratified against them; I will draw out my sword, my hand shall destroy them” (Ex 15:9). But God intervened to cut short the life of Pharaoh and his army, thereby taking away his power to commit the sin which he had conceived in his heart. God took away the lives of 185,000 Assyrian soldiers in one night, without which the king of Assyria could not carry out his plans to capture and destroy Jerusalem (Is 37:1-38). In the same way God dealt with two successive companies of soldiers sent by Ahaziah to capture Elijah, “fire came down from heaven and consumed him and his fifty” (2 Kgs 1:10, 12).
It is a general principle of Scripture that “men of bloodshed and deceit will not live out half their days” (Ps 55:23); “The fear of the Lord prolongs life, but the years of the wicked will be shortened” (Pv 10:27); “Do not be excessively wicked, and do not be a fool. Why should you die before your time?” (Eccl 7:17). God sometimes takes away the life of those who have conceived excessive evil in their hearts, thereby preventing them from actually giving birth to it. There is no way of knowing the infinite amount of evil God has prevented in this way even in our own time. Here again we can see why it is such a severe judgment of God when He gives people over to actually “do those things which are not proper” (Rm 1:28). He neither frustrates their power nor takes away their will for giving birth to all the sin and evil which has been conceived in their hearts, “therefore the hearts of the sons of men among them are given fully to do evil” (Eccl 8:11).
Such is the state today not only of our nation and the world in general, but of the great majority of professing Christendom in particular. Today the whole world is full of the violence, strife, crime, greed, dishonesty, profanity, vulgarity, lasciviousness, voluptuousness, addictions, and immoralities that are the result of people being given over to actually perpetrating the sin which they have conceived in their heart. The challenge lies not in finding examples, but in selecting them. The wickedness of Noah’s generation was so great because every intent of the thoughts of their hearts was evil only continually (Gn 6:4). The more wicked people become, the more they become proud of themselves, unashamed of their sin, and insensitive to sin’s sinfulness. The more lawlessness grows, the more people’s love grows cold (Mt 24:12). Whereas the more holy a person grows, the more they grow to abhor themselves and the sin which remains in them, the less power the law of sin has over them, the more they lose their will to sin, and the more willing and desirous they are to “abstain from fleshly lusts, which wage war against the soul” (1 Pt 2:11). They grow more jealous, watchful, and suspicious over their own hearts, not more presumptuous in their sin. This is always the effect of the true Gospel in the life of a true Christian.
Given that even the wills of true believers may conceive sin, either through its power or its deceit, the question may arise whether God ever deals this way with a true Christian. Does He ever take away and cut short the life of a believer to prevent them from actually committing the sin which their will has conceived? And the answer is, no He does not! This is not the way God deals with His own children. Rather, “God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline?….He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness” (Hb 12:7, 10). As we saw in our last study, conceived sin, even if never actually committed, still contains the whole guilt of sin by its nature. When the will consents to sin, it does so with the full intention of actually committing it, which is itself sin. God will discipline, train, and instruct a believer. He will chastise and He will prune, sometimes very painfully, but to take away the life of a believer while they remain in a state of willful unrepentance and rebellion toward God is contrary to the purpose for which “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph 1:4). To be “hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds” (Col 1:21) is the description of an unbeliever, not a believer.
Willfully harboring known sin in the heart, having no intention of forsaking it and every intention of willfully committing it at the first opportunity, should give anybody who professes to be a Christian cause to examine themselves to see if they are truly in the faith. Especially if their obstinate continuance in sin is emboldened by a presumptuous belief that all they have to do is ask for forgiveness at a later date and God will forgive them and take them to heaven when they die. A true believer “did not learn Christ in this way” (Eph 4:20, 21). How does God bless all those who turn to Jesus Christ in true saving faith? “…God raised up His Servant, and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways” (Ac 3:26). Those who do not turn from, but continue in their wicked ways are under the curse and wrath of God, not His blessing. It is not from the true Gospel, but from a false one that people learn to use the blood of Christ as a cloak and covering for their sin; to turn God’s grace into a license and justification for their lusts; to offer their own righteousness to God rather than trust solely in the righteousness of Christ; and to use the doctrine of the imputed righteousness of Christ as an argument against diligently pursuing “the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord” (Hb 12:14). Such is the false hope taught everywhere today and believed in by multitudes; a hope which is flatly contradicted by, and warned against in Scripture (Mt 7:21-23; Hb 10:26-31). God has and can take away the life of unbelievers to prevent them from actually giving birth to the sin conceived in their heart, but more often He has other and less severe ways of neutralizing the power and ability to give birth to sin.
Secondly, God will deprive people of the power and ability to commit the sin which their wills have conceived, without taking away their life, so that even though they continue to live, they no longer have the power to commit the sin they have conceived. The Bible abounds with examples of God thus dealing with people. At Babel, God confused the language of men and women so they could no longer understand one another, thereby frustrating their ability to commit the sin conceived in their heart (Gn 11:7). In the same way God dealt with the Sodomites when they were intent on abusing the two angels sent to rescue Lot, and thereby gratifying all their vile and filthy lusts to which their will had consented. God struck the Sodomites with blindness, so that even though their lives were not taken, and their will remained unabated, even to the point that “they wearied themselves trying to find the doorway”, yet their power to commit their vile intentions was taken away (Gn 19:9-11). Likewise, God struck the Aramean army with blindness when they came to Dothan looking for Elisha (2 Kgs 6:18), thereby denying them of the power to perpetrate their evil intentions toward Elisha.
God used a sensual tyrant like King Henry VIII to begin a reformation in England and strip Roman Catholicism of its power from motives which, to say the least, were anything but virtuous and spiritual. Henry VIII made Thomas Cranmer Archbishop of Canterbury. He ordered the Bible to be printed in English and placed in churches. He denied the supremacy of the Pope. He rid the churches of images, icons, and gross superstitions. God used a Henry VIII just as He used a Nebuchadnezzar or Cyrus or Artaxerxes or Herod or Pilate to accomplish His own purposes. The use of a proud, self-willed, sensual man like Henry VIII to subdue the power of Rome and initiate a work of God can only be ascribed to the deep and hidden wisdom of God’s providence. We cannot understand it. We can only admire it.
In this way God providentially prevents much evil that would otherwise overflow the world. He takes away or prevents the obtaining of that power which, had they been able to retain or obtain it, would have been used to bring about all the sin they had conceived in their will. All we need to do is observe what happened in England when Roman Catholicism was able to once again reassert its power under the reign of Queen Mary. She was not called Bloody Mary for nothing. As horrific was the carnage of World War II, can we even begin to imagine what the world would be like had the Axis powers been victorious. There is no telling how much evil God has prevented in depriving wicked people of their power, or in thwarting someone’s rise to power and influence. Their will remains just as determined, “They hold fast to themselves an evil purpose”; all their plans are well conceived and thought out, “We are ready with a well-conceived plot” their true intentions have been carefully hidden and disguised, “they talk of laying snares secretly; they say, “Who can see them?” (Ps 64:5, 6). All their minions are in position. Everything is ready and waiting. All they lack is the power. What is it that prevents them from doing all that they have imagined, plotted, and conspired to do? Only the providences of God, by which He, “frustrates the plotting of the shrewd, so that their hands cannot attain success” (Jb 5:12); “He thwarts the way of the wicked” (Ps 146:9).
Some have their bodies weakened by disease so they can no longer fulfill their lusts. Some are stripped of their wealth so they can no longer afford to indulge in their sins. Some, in one way or another, lose their positions of power. The prophet Micah tells us that the reason those who scheme iniquity actually do it is because “it is in the power of their hands” to do it (Mic 2:1). They will do all that is within their power to do, and the only reason they do not do more is because they do not have the power to do it. They do no more sin and evil than they can do. Their only restraint is that they lack the power and ability, in one way or another, to do all the sin that they desire to do. They live all their lives frustrated, unsatisfied, tortured, and angry that they have not been able to accomplish all the evil they have conceived in their heart. This way of God preventing sin, by taking away the power to actually commit what has been conceived, is usually confined to frustrating the plans of the wicked. In this way God deals with unbelievers every day. They are never content. They are always looking for ways to indulge “the desires of the flesh and of the mind” (Eph 2:3). They are “wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam” (Jude 13). We live in a time and place where any perceived threat – whether real, fabricated, or imagined – to a person’s ability to sin at will, is met with violent, angry, and bitter public opposition, outrage, and protests.
God does not frustrate a person’s or nation’s attempts to sin in order that they might scheme and devise other ways of accomplishing the sin which God has thwarted. Yet this is precisely what our culture does day after day on every level, even within most of professing Christendom. If sin is frustrated by the legislative process, then people turn to the courts. If it is frustrated by the courts, they turn to the legislature to change the laws. If neither of these work they take to the streets in mobs in order to impose their will on others. If someone cannot feed and gratify their sinful lusts actually, they do so virtually via the internet and social media. When they find something in God’s word that prohibits and threatens their cherished lusts and goes against their own self-interests, or would thwart their plans and schemes, then they invent all sorts of arguments, exceptions, and justifications so that they might actually do what is not proper. “God made men upright (i.e. “wise”), but they have sought out many devises” (Eccl 7:29). They use their wisdom to seek out ways and schemes to perpetrate, justify, and excuse their sin and unbelief, not to seek and know the will of God and do it.
God will take away the power and ability to sin so that by its obstruction He might awaken people to the sinfulness of their desires, and so that they might see the evil nature of what they are doing, and their horrible condition of being under the wrath of a holy, angry, and offended God, so that sin might be aborted in the womb. By being deprived of the power to give birth to their sin, some people have been awakened to feel the evil of their own hearts and the vileness of their own righteousness, to see their hopeless and helpless condition and their need and necessity to be given a new, transformed heart, and to cast themselves on the grace and mercy of the only One who can give them a new heart, and to trust exclusively and totally in the righteousness of Christ, and in none of their own.
However, instead of stepping back and asking. “What am I doing?”, most will immediately set to work on devising new ways to accomplish, justify, and extenuate the sin which has been conceived in their will, “they conceive mischief, and bring forth iniquity” (Is 59:4). They device vain things and set themselves “against the Lord and against His Anointed:” (Ps 2:1, 2). Rather than mourn and weep for their sin, they “will rot away in your iniquities, and you will groan to one another” (Ezk 24:23). Today our nation is filled with special interest groups whose special interest is their sin. They are relentless in their mission to remove all stigmas and barriers – be they legal, social, cultural, moral, or religious – to their ability to engage in their sin at will. It is a great act of God’s grace when He providentially takes away a person’s or nation’s power to actually commit the evil they have conceived in their heart, and it is one of His sorest judgments when He gives people over to do what is not proper, and does nothing to interfere with or frustrate their power to commit the sin which they have conceived. Instead He leaves them to rot away in their sin and self-righteousness.
Thirdly, God will providentially frustrate the actual commission of conceived sin by raising-up an opposite, opposing, and deterring power to prevent it. Their lives are spared; they still have the power and ability to do the sin they intended, but God will introduce some power to restrain, deter, and prevent sin’s actual accomplishment. In this way God prevented David from destroying the entire family of Nabal; by sending Abigail to prevent him from sinfully avenging himself, “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, who sent you this day to meet me…who have kept me this day from bloodshed, and from avenging myself by my own hand” (1 Sm 25:32, 33). God placed Esther in a position where she could entreat the king on behalf of her people the Jews, procuring for them the ability to oppose and defend themselves against the power of their enemies (Est 8:11). In this way God has often delivered His people from would-be persecutors. Saul had determined that his own son Jonathan should be put to death, but the people opposed the edict of Saul and Jonathan was delivered (1 Sm 14:43-45). When Paul was shipwrecked, the Roman soldiers intended to kill all the prisoners, including Paul, so they would not escape, “but the centurion, wanting to bring Paul safely through, kept them from their intention” (Ac 27:42, 43). God raised up an Athanasius in the 4th century who almost single-handedly opposed the Arian teaching concerning the person of Jesus Christ from being sanctioned as the official teaching of professing Christendom, even when his life was threatened by emperors. It is to Athanasius – or “the Black Dwarf” as he was known by his contemporaries – that true Christianity owes its thanks as the human instrument used by God that the theology of Jehovah’s Witness is not the “orthodoxy” of professing Christendom.
One of the functions and purposes which the true people of God are to serve in this world is to act as salt, “You are the salt of the earth” (Mt 5:13). Martin Lloyd-Jones accurately expressed what being salt implies,
“It clearly implies rottenness in the earth; it implies a tendency to pollution and to becoming foul and offensive…As a result of sin and the fall, life in the world in general tends to get into a putrid state. That, according to the Bible, is the only sane and right view to take of humanity. …the first thing which is emphasized by our Lord is that one of the Christian’s main functions with respect to society is a purely negative one. Now what is the function of salt? …it is to prevent putrefaction. The principal function of salt is to preserve and act as an antiseptic….Salt’s main function then is purely negative rather than positive… in the first instance this is to be our effect as Christians….Christians, by being Christians, influence society almost automatically.”(D. Martin Lloyd-Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1959-60; 131, 133, 135)
This has always been the effect which the true people of God have had on the world wherever the truths of the Gospel have taken root and are practiced by those who profess them. This was the case in 18th century England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, and America as a consequence of The Great Awakening. Even those who were not converted under the preaching of men like George Whitefield, Daniel Rowland, John Wesley, Howell Harris, Jonathan Edwards, Gilbert Tennent, Samuel Blair, and many others, had their sins restrained by the changed and holy lives of those who were converted. Society was transformed; evil was either forsaken or driven into the shadows; and sin was noticeably restrained and prevented. A new seriousness and reverence for God, a new appreciation for the sinfulness of sin, and a deep concern for the souls of people began to pervade society. But wherever the Gospel and its truths are neglected, corrupted, and not practiced, then the salt loses its saltiness, society is plunged into ever increasing wickedness, professing Christendom becomes more and more apostate, eventually becoming good for nothing. It does no good to the souls of men and women and it provides no restraint or deterrent to sin.
Today, the church and professing Christians, which ought to be a bulwark against wickedness, have all but ceased to provide or be any restraining influence on the evil and darkness into which our nation continues to descend. Most of professing Christendom is so busy intervening in political, social, and economic matters, or denouncing one or two particular segments of society, or trying to win the admiration of the world, or greedily pursuing its own version of success, that it no longer has any influence to restrain and deter the sin which has been conceived in the hearts of people. The salt has lost its saltiness because it has lost its holiness, and so has become good for nothing. Most of professing Christendom today actually contributes to, rather than arrests the evil which has been conceived in the hearts of people today. It has, with rare exceptions, and praise God for those exceptions, assimilated the wisdom and methods of the world, justifies and caters to the desires of the flesh, exalts rather than humbles the pride of man, propagates and profits from, rather than exposes and opposes, the lies and deceptions of Satan, and as a result has become weak, worldly, and impotent.
Until the professing church and professing Christians forsake and repent of their inordinate love for and friendship with the world, their earthly-mindedness, and their fanatical pursuit of worldly success, love of self, love of money, and love of pleasure, and make it their primary business to be holy as He is holy and walk in a manner worthy of their professed calling, they will continue to be good for nothing but to be cast out and trampled underfoot by men. Here again we can see what a great judgment of God it is when He allows the power to commit the sin which has been conceived in the heart to go unopposed and unrestrained. We are now experiencing what happens when any opposing, restraining, or deterring power to prevent sin is no longer affective, and none are raised-up to prevent it. Instead people are given more and more power to actually commit sin, thereby giving people over to do the sin which they have conceived in their hearts. We have sown the wind and are reaping the whirlwind. For decades, the church in its obsessive pursuit of numbers and success has been enthusiastically sowing to the flesh, and it is now reaping a bumper-crop of corruption (Gal 6:8).
Fourthly, God will prevent the accomplishment of conceived sin by providentially removing the object(s) against which the sin is to be committed. Esau was determined to kill his brother Jacob, but God providentially sent Jacob to Haran to his uncle Laban, and away from the anger of Esau (Gn 27:41-44). More than forty Jews formed a plot and bound themselves with an oath to neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul. Paul’s nephew, hearing of their plot, alerted the Roman commander who removed Paul from Jerusalem to Caesarea (Ac 23:12-23). On the very night which Herod had determined to kill Peter, God sent an angel to remove Peter from the prison and away from Herod’s evil intentions (Ac 12:11). On several occasions when the Jews would have seized Jesus to kill Him, He was taken away from their evil designs because His time had not yet come (Lk 4:30; Jn 8:59; 10:39). The history of the church is full of incidents where God has providentially discovered and made known some plot, danger, or deception, or obstructed someone’s path, or delayed someone’s departure, or altered someone’s plans, thereby preventing one of His own from being physically hurt, morally compromised, or spiritually deceived. To echo the author of Hebrews, time will fail me if I tell of all those who “by faith…shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword (Hb 11:33, 34).
God will, by one means or another, remove His own children from bad company and corrupting influences (2 Cor 6:14-7:1). He will call them out of and separate them from the world (Jn 15:19; 1Jn 4:5, 6). He will remove them from their idols. He will refine His children with fire to separate them from their dross (1 Pt 1:7). He delivers all His elect “from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1:13). Only God can deliver us from the evil of this world (Mt 6:13). Many look to God to deliver them from their problems, but not to deliver them from their sin and evil that is the source and cause of their problems.
Jesus Christ has promised to remove all His true sheep from false and apostate systems of religion (Jn 10:4). He does not leave His sheep to be mauled and molested by wolves, thieves, robbers, and hirelings, or to be exploited by false, ambitious, self-serving, and greedy teachers. When Jesus puts forth all His own then His sheep follow Him because now they know His voice (Jn 10:4). Jesus’ sheep hear His voice and follow Him, and those who do not simply prove that they are not His sheep (Jn 10:8, 26, 27). “For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls” (1 Pt 2:25). When His sheep stray, they do not stray far or for long. He has ways of bringing them back and making them cling ever closer to His side.
Wolves can disguise themselves with sheep’s clothing, and Satan’s servants can disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, but they cannot disguise their voices nor can they precisely impersonate the voice of the Good Shepherd. They can approximate it, corrupt it, twist it, dilute it, alter it, and deny it, but they cannot duplicate it; “they speak as from the world” (1 Jn 4:5). The seeds of error are like the head of a thistle. The seeds from one thistle head, blown and dispersed by the wind, can sow an entire field. One prominent and popular false teacher and/or teaching can inspire and spawn a generation of copycats. Today, many voices tell us that Jesus came for “broken” people, and for those who are “hurting”. But the Bible tells us that Jesus came to save sinners (1 Tm 1:15), and to justify the ungodly (Rm 4:5). Jesus Himself said that He came to call sinners to repentance, not those who only see themselves as merely hurting or broken. The tax-gatherer prayed, “God be merciful to me, the sinner!”(Lk 18:13), not “the broken and hurting”. Most will say that this is just a matter of semantics, that I am being too narrow and too precise; that I am deliberately trying to be controversial and divisive. But behind the terminology are real doctrines and truths. The words used are the difference between the true or a false view of man and his true nature and problem; the true or a false Gospel and its nature and effects; the true or a false Jesus, Christianity, and church.
It was the insertion of only one letter into a Greek word which Athanasius fought so stubbornly to prevent. But that one letter, that one iota, was all that separated the doctrine of Jesus being divine from His being merely a creature. That one iota was enough to alter the wording of the Nicene Creed concerning the person of Jesus Christ, from affirming that Jesus is “one substance with the Father”, to affirming Jesus is “of a similar substance”. One affirms Jesus is God, and the other affirms He is like God. Satan and his minions specialize in subtlety.
It is disturbing to think what the Gospel and Christian doctrine would now be had faithful men throughout church history not been deeply concerned with details, and if they had shown the same lackadaisical and lukewarm concern for biblical precision which dominates today. Men and women have been willing to suffer and die rather than compromise or deny what most today would consider insignificant details. It is details which separate sound from unsound doctrine. Sound doctrine is composed of details. Indifference to details has always produced heresies and heretics. It always results in forms of Christianity without its power. An unconcern for details has never failed to produce people and churches that cannot distinguish between true and false doctrine, biblical and unbiblical practices, and true and false faith. An unwillingness to be bothered with details leaves churches without any way to confront and correct sin, refute false teaching, or make any discrimination between the holy and the profane, the carnal and the spiritual, or what is of the mind of God and what is the product of human invention and imagination. It has been a renewed attention to details that has historically produced reformers and martyrs, and reclaimed the Gospel and sound doctrine from almost total corruption and oblivion. Contending “earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), involves a concern for and attention to details. Those who disparage and denigrate biblical precision have a screw loose in their theology and are driven by motives that are less than spiritual.
We do not have to imagine what professing Christendom would be like when it minimizes, neglects, and despises sound doctrine. The effects are all around us. We are swimming in them. No, we are drowning in them! A church which has lost and forsaken the true Gospel and true Jesus Christ is not a church worth preserving. There is nothing so useless, pointless, and powerless to act as salt and light than a Christianity without the Bible and a Church without the true Gospel and sound doctrine, either in its profession or its practice. It is good for nothing but to be trampled underfoot by men. To substitute and change the Bible’s terminology and to give new meanings to old words – words like sin, repentance, faith, salvation, sanctification, holiness, Christian – is not the work of the Good Shepherd, but of a stranger.
The better His sheep know the voice of their Good Shepherd, the more adept they become at recognizing the voice of an impostor. Impostors “speak as from the world, and the world listens to them”. Whereas His sheep “are from God; he who knows God listens to us (i.e. to sound doctrine); he who is not from God does not listen to us (i.e. to sound doctrine). The more His sheep have their sense of hearing trained, the more they discern good from evil and what is genuine from what is counterfeit (Hb 5:14). Sooner or later His sheep will notice the voice of a stranger, no matter how cleverly it is disguised. Eventually they see the gleam of wolves’ teeth under the sheep’s skin and those cloven feet dangling down from under the religious costume. Once Jesus puts forth His sheep, no one ever can, ever has, or ever will snatch them out of His hand (Jn 10:28).
Here again, we can see what a terrible judgment of God it is when people are unwilling to be separated from a false church or apostate denomination. We can see how awful it is when people become blinded to the glorious Gospel because they refuse to give up their allegiance to some false teaching and/or teacher, to where eventually, God delivers multitudes over to all the wolves that today prowl so freely. He leaves them to be exploited by the vast assortment of thieves and robbers who are only interested in fleecing the sheep and cashing in on the latest religious fad, and to the countless hirelings who have abandoned their flocks to the culture, and who, at the first sign of danger to their own self-interests, have fled to accommodate God, Jesus Christ, the Gospel, the Bible, His church, and His worship to popular opinions and preferences.
Fifthly, God will prevent the actual accomplishment of sin by diverting and distracting the thoughts and attention of those who have conceived sin away from the object(s) against which they intended to commit their sin. In this way God delivered Hezekiah and Jerusalem from the Assyrians, by causing the Assyrian king to “hear a rumor and return to his own land” (Is 37:7). When Saul and his army were pursuing David, and about to surround David and his men, “A messenger came to Saul, saying, “Hurry and come, for the Philistines have made a raid on the land,” So Saul returned from pursuing David, and went to meet the Philistines;” (1 Sm 23:27, 28). God diverted the captains of the chariots of Aram from pursuing and killing King Jehoshaphat, “and the Lord helped him, and God diverted them from him” (2 Chr 18:31). God is sovereign over the hearts and minds of people. “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He wishes” (Pv 21:1). Not one in a thousand historians ever acknowledges the overruling providence of God in directing the course of events of human history because they have no conception of spiritual realities. To a natural, unconverted man the notion that there is a divine hand directing, orchestrating, and influencing all the actions of mankind must necessarily appear foolishness.
Here again, we can see what a horrible judgment of God it is when He does nothing to divert the thoughts and attention of people from actually committing all the sin they have conceived in their hearts. Nothing will distract or divert them from seeing the accomplishment of their sin through to the very end – no commandment, no warning, or no threats from God and His word; no amount of pleading, arguments, or reasoning from Scripture; no consideration for the effect their actions will have on others; no thoughts of the consequences to themselves – nothing but nothing will distract or divert them from giving birth to the sin they have conceived in their heart when it is within their power to do it. Therefore, God gives “them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper,” (Rm 1:28).
These are just some of the ways by which God providentially frustrates and hinders the power and ability necessary to actually commit the sins people have conceived in their hearts. As bad as the world is today; as widespread as wickedness is; as desensitized as people are to the sinfulness of sin; as commonplace, public, and acceptable the most heinous sins have become; as much as people demand their right to commit evil and go berserk at the very thought of having that ability curtailed, it could be much worse. As immoral, profane, vulgar, and lawless as our society is, it could be much worse. As corrupt, worldly, carnal, sensual, self-willed, and apostate as most of the church has become, it could still be much worse than it is. As quickly as our nation and professing Christendom has degenerated, to where they make a person rub their eyes and say, “Where am I?”, it could be much worse.
We could have no Bible in our native language like prior to the Reformation. We could be without the writings of the Puritans and other godly men like the people in Kazakhstan today which has not one solid theological book in its native language of Kazakh, and where they did not have a complete Bible in their own language until 2010. We could be “separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world” (Eph 2:12) as were Gentiles prior to Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension and His sending the Holy Spirit to convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment (Jn 16:7, 8). We could have been born and raised in a part of the world that has never heard the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. Why do we have and enjoy blessings and mercies which others in the world must live without? Yes, it could be much worse.
As bad as things are, and with no indication of their getting any better, and every warning and probability of their only getting worse, let every true Christian pray that God would revive His true church and the true preaching and practice of His word. Let us pray that He would arrest and restrain the evil which permeates every strata of society, has corrupted His word and His church, and filled it with all manner of worldliness, carnality, ignorance, contempt for God’s word and His commandments, false teachers, false forms, and false security. Let us, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the former lusts which were yours in your ignorance, but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior” (1 Pt 1:14, 15). Let us be salt and “abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul” (1 Pt 2:11). Let us not “participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them;” (Eph 5:11). Let us shine as lights and “prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation…holding fast the word of life” (Phil 2:15, 16). Yes, we could be much worse off than we are today. So why aren’t we? What is holding back the flood gates and preventing the full outbreak of sin in the world? Only God’s omnipotent providence! What lessons should we draw from the fact that things are not as bad as they could be?
Lessons to Draw
First, the fact that things are not as bad as they could be should give us some insight into, and cause us to wonder at the gracious providence of God that he does not deal with us as our sins deserve. By these and a multitude of other hidden and unobserved ways, God has and is frustrating and preventing the commission of all the sin which people of all sorts have conceived in their hearts. It is only the overruling providence of God that keeps anyone – from the rulers of the world to the most hardened and habitual criminal – from committing all the evil they have conceived in their corrupt natures, and overwhelming the world with confusion, corruption, mobocracy, violence, and rapaciousness. As it was in the days of Noah, so it is today, every intent of the thought in the heart of man is only evil continually because their minds are set on the flesh and on the lustful desires of their hearts (Gn 6:5). It is due only to the almighty hand of God that the earth is not filled with all the villainy which the heart of man can conceive. If the government of the world were not firmly in the hands of Jesus Christ, if all authority in heaven and on earth did not belong to Him (Mt 28:18), mankind would have perished from the face of the earth long ago. The preservation of the world requires no less of the wisdom and sovereignty of God than did its creation.
Secondly, if we stop and consider all the evil which God has thwarted from being perpetrated against our own lives, it should give us cause to admire and adore the wisdom of God’s providences. That we can live in relative peace and safety, travel and move about freely and not live under a self-absorbed tyrant as people in North Korea must, is to be attributed solely to God’s providence. Whose home would not be ransacked, whose life would not be in danger every minute, who would not be robbed blind if wicked people had the power to perpetrate all the sin they have conceived? It could be that your destruction has been conceived a thousand times. It is to the desperate wickedness of the human heart alone that we can attribute all the evil in this world. Likewise it is to God’s gracious providence alone that we can attribute the preservation of our lives, our homes, our families, the liberties we enjoy, and whatever else we hold dear. We can say with the psalmist, “If the Lord had not been my help, my soul would soon have dwelt in the abode of silence” (Ps 94:17); “Had it not been the Lord who was on our side, when men rose up against us; then they would have swallowed us alive” (Ps 124:2, 3). With some, God may cut short their life; some He may strip of their power or deprive them of their opportunities; with others He may restrain with an opposing power; some He will move out of harm’s way; others He diverts their attention away from the objects of their lusts and oftentimes causes them to expend their energies and efforts on one another – wicked groups and people at each other’s throats, and violent people committing violence against each other.
Thirdly, if God so frustrates and negates the conceived sin of wicked people and unsaved sinners, we can observe how miserable their lives must be, and in what incessant turmoil, for the most part, they spend their days. They are “like the tossing sea, for it cannot be quiet…There is no peace…for the wicked” (Is 57:20, 21). The law of sin within them is not abated in the least, and their will to sin is not changed or taken away. They have all this sin which they have conceived, yet they are not able to give birth to a tenth of it. Every day they bring some sin almost to the point of birth, they are in great hopes of seeing it accomplished, they are in pain to deliver it, but every day God disappoints, frustrates, and aborts their sin. Some people burn with sensual lusts which they are never able to gratify. Some are consumed with ambitions they can never attain. Some covet things they can never acquire. Some are filled with revenge that they never have the opportunity to take. Some are tormented by envy which is never pacified. Some have a quest for power, fame, and wealth that is never appeased. Some long for a peace and contentment they can never seem to find. Some are filled with hatred toward God and His people yet never have any opportunity to exercise it.
What discontentment, what turmoil, and what misery do such poor souls live in! If they ever fulfill any of their desires, rather than satisfying them, it makes them more wicked and ravenous than before, and if their desires are frustrated, they are filled with fretting, rage, self-pity, and discontentment. Despite all their outward show and appearance of being glamourous, successful, and powerful they are full of turmoil, anxiety, trouble, and pain. All they look and long for can only be found by denying self, their idols, their own righteousness, their false religion, and their sin, and taking up the cross of Jesus Christ, and following Him wherever He may go. But this is precisely what they are unwilling to do, “you are unwilling to come to Me that you might have life” (Jn 5:40). Intent on gaining, having, and fulfilling their lusts, and preserving their life and lifestyle in this world, they lose their own soul. O, do not envy them or their condition.
Fourthly, do we sometimes see the torrent of men and women’s unrestrained lusts inundating society and corrupting professing Christianity, and for a season all power appears to be on their side? Do not let the children of God fret or despair, “Rest in the Lord and wait patiently for Him; do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, because of the man who carries out wicked schemes. Cease from anger, and forsake wrath; do not fret, it leads only to evildoing” (Ps 37:7, 8). God has innumerable and effective ways of bringing their power to an end and of aborting all the sin they have conceived. He can stop them in their tracks whenever He pleases, “Surely You set them in slippery places; You cast them down to destruction. How they are destroyed in a moment! They are utterly swept away by sudden terrors!” (Ps 73:18, 19). God will use the wrath and wickedness of man to accomplish His purposes and bring glory to Himself. What man intends for evil, God uses for His glory (Gn 50:20), “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rm 8:28), even those things which in themselves are evil and sinful. All sin is evil, but by the wise, overruling power of God even those things which appear to be harmful to the cause of Christ and detrimental to His children, God in His providence causes all of them to work for the spiritual and eternal good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.
Fifthly, all who have been delivered from sin by any of God’s providential interventions should not consider their preservation a common thing, or attribute it to fate, or to anything in themselves. Whenever you have conceived sin it has been God who denied you the opportunity or weakened your power. It was God who took away the object(s) of your lusts, or providentially diverted your thoughts and intentions with other matters. Has God removed you from one of the many forms of false and superficial Christianity while multitudes remain comfortably secure in them? Had God not intervened, had He given you over to actually do all the sin which you have conceived in your heart, there is no telling how much ruin you would have brought to yourself and others. It could be at this very minute you would be a shame to your relations, brought ruin to your marriage, made your family destitute, poisoned your children’s future, and be living in some wicked lifestyle. It could be you would have corrupted others and drawn them into your sin, bringing the guilt of their blood on your own head. The fact that God has prevented you from being as wicked as you would or could be is an act of great divine grace and mercy – mercy which is not to be despised, attributed to “good luck”, or anything within yourself. Do not look on such things as common accidents of fate, rather the hand of God is in them all and is not to be despised by attributing them to something else.
Sixthly, we can see what a great blessing it is to be under a government that restrains and deters the power of people to do evil, and what a severe judgment of God it is when there is no fear of punishment on the part of evildoers. Even when people do not fear God, their natural tendency toward evil will be restrained by the fear of punishment by the civil authority, “for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minster of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon one who practices evil’ (Rm 13:4). God has ordained human government for the purpose of restraining evil by deterring its perpetration through fear of its punishment. When there was no king in Israel, everyone did what was right in their own eyes (Jg 21:25). When there is nothing to instill fear into evil men, there is nothing to restrain them from doing all the sin and evil they have conceived in their hearts, lawlessness increases, evil is called good and good is called evil, and people’s love grows cold.
These are some of the ways by which God will providentially neutralize the power which is essential for conceived sin to actually be born and committed. We can see what a great mercy of God it is when He frustrates the power and ability to give birth to sin. However, the frustration and obstruction of the power to sin does not remove or change the will to sin. Therefore, we can see what a great and severe judgment of God it is when He gives people over to actually do the sin they have conceived in their heart and leaves them with the power to actually do it. Until the will to sin is removed, people will continue to weary themselves looking for a way to give full vent to the sin that dwells within them. In our next study we will look at two ways by which God works on the will in order to prevent the actual commission of the sin which has been conceived.