The following sermon was delivered at Locust Grove Baptist Church in Murray, Kentucky, on the 15th day of October 2017:
“23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).
Gathered Together for Remembrance
Jesus died. Could you think of a more stunning and sobering truth? That truth is a feature which is exclusive to the Christian faith – it sets us apart from all other religions which exist. Enough good works and you might please God or gods, according to all religions. But in the Christian faith, God takes on human flesh and dies, to enable you to please Him forever! This stunning and sobering truth that Jesus died is precisely why we have gathered together to observe what is known as the Lord’s Supper. We who know the Lord are gathered together here this morning for what is truly a special and solemn occasion, and that is to observe the Lord’s Supper. For that reason, I will not preach for very long this morning, because the Lord’s Supper itself is an unwritten sermon—what it means and what it represents is just as much a proclamation of the truth, as is my speaking of it to you.
The Lord’s Supper is certainly a wondrous thing—it is an ordinance which Jesus Himself instituted to remind us of Him. And how many of us know we could be more reminded of Jesus every day, amen? It is a physical representation which reminds us of the gospel—that Jesus died for sinners so that we who believe can be saved and have supper with Him again one day in glory. We need to be reminded of this truth constantly—we are forgetful people by nature, we forget things all the time. I bet none of us can recall what we saw on the news Friday night, or what we read on Facebook yesterday, or even what we read in our Bibles on Tuesday. Our minds fill up with knowledge, and our minds deteriorate—and both are reasons we forget.
But let me tell you this morning—I’m glad the Lord Jesus Christ knows we forget. The Lord knows we forget, and the Lord saw fit to remind us of the truth of the gospel through the Lord’s Supper. We need the Lord’s Supper to remind us of the greatest truth in all the world, that Jesus came to seek and save that which was lost. This morning, we will look at what God’s word says about the Lord’s Supper—that would be the best place to begin. And we will spend our time this morning understanding the meaning of the Lord’s Supper, before we partake of it. And that is the most important part of the Lord’s Supper—understanding what it means and what it represents. We must understand the meaning of the memorial. We need to know what the Lord’s Supper means, and understand it’s significance. If we don’t know what we’re doing when we’re doing it, then there’s no point.
We can discover the meaning of the Lord’s Supper by looking at 1 Corinthians 11, where Paul explains exactly what it is. This is yet another thing the Corinthians got wrong. They were abusing the Lord’s Supper, misapplying and misunderstanding its meaning. In fact, they had it so messed up that Paul said that when they came together for worship, they might as well have stayed home. He says in v. 17, “But in the following instruction I do not commend you, because when you come together it is not for the better but for the worse” (11:17). And so, in the latter half of chapter 11, Paul is correcting them and giving instructions pertaining to the Lord’s Supper. We will see this morning that apparently, they completely misapplied and misunderstood the significant meaning of the Lord’s Supper, and that’s what lead to all of their problems surrounding it. The reason they were mistreating people, the reason why they were gluttonous, the reason why they were casual in their approach to this supper, even the reason why they were divided—it was all due to their malpractice and misunderstanding of the Lord’s Supper.
The Corinthians needed to understand the meaning of the Lord’s Supper, that it is both a remembrance and proclamation of the gospel. And we need to understand this today. We as believers today need to understand the meaning of the Lord’s Supper, that it is both a remembrance and proclamation of the gospel. It is not some liturgical ritual, or even a casual element tacked on at the end of a church service. It is a sermon, a memorial, a reminder, and a remembrance and proclamation of the gospel!
We will see in the passage we read this morning that:
I. The Lord’s Supper is the Tradition of Christ (v. 23a)
II. The Lord’s Supper is Remembering the Body of Christ (vv. 23b-24)
III. The Lord’s Supper is Remembering the Blood of Christ (v. 25)
IV. The Lord’s Supper is Proclaiming the Gospel of Christ (v. 26)
Let us now begin in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, the 11th chapter.
I. The Lord’s Supper is the Tradition of Christ (v. 23a)
The first thing that will help us understand the meaning of the Lord’s Supper is understanding where it came from. It isn’t a concoction produced by the Roman Catholic Church, and it isn’t the product of any Protestant denomination—in fact, no denomination, no religion, and no person but Jesus Christ Himself is responsible for instituting the Lord’s Supper. If any man came up with it, it wouldn’t hold any real value and it wouldn’t be worthy of practicing in the church today.
The name of this ordinance is very fitting—the Lord’s Supper, because it is just that—it is the supper which the Lord Himself instituted. And that’s the first thing we see in the passage regarding the Lord’s Supper—it is the tradition of Christ. That is precisely why we remember the Lord’s Supper—it has been instituted and commanded by our Lord Himself. And obeying His command to observe it is just as important as obeying any of the other commands which He has given us.
So in the first verse, Paul is reminding the Corinthians that the Lord’s Supper is the tradition of Christ—it is something Paul first received from the Lord to teach to the Corinthians. It is not Paul’s Supper, the Corinthians’ Supper—but the Lord’s Supper.
First, this is a tradition which Paul received from the Lord. Before reminding them of the meaning of the Lord’s Supper, he first establishes its authenticity and therefore his authority in instructing them on how to do it. Paul is explaining the origin of the Lord’s Supper. That’s where Paul goes first, because if the Corinthians know where the Lord’s Supper comes from, it will greatly affect how they see it, and it bears an even greater responsibility for understanding and applying it correctly. If they mess it up, they sin against the Lord, since it is His supper. If it is a tradition of Christ – if it comes ultimately from God, then it is serious.
Paul says that this tradition is something which he received from the Lord in the first part of v. 23, “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you.” This tradition should be observed because it comes from the Lord, and Paul’s instructions should be heeded because they too come from the Lord. This is a tradition which Paul first received from the Lord. But it wasn’t something he kept to himself, he also shared it with the Corinthians.
That’s what Paul says next. Notice secondly that he delivered this tradition to the Corinthians. “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you.” Notice the tense of the word delivered—it’s in the past tense, meaning that sometime previously Paul had instructed the Corinthians concerning the Lord’s Supper. They already knew about it—they had been instructed about it before when Paul delivered it to them. It was first delivered to Paul by the Lord and then Paul delivered it to the Corinthians. This is a tradition they knew about and regularly practiced, because Paul taught them all about it before. They weren’t ignorant about it, they practiced it every time they “came together” (v. 20).
But even though the Corinthians were once taught about the Lord’s Supper, authoritatively from the apostle Paul—they continued to abuse and misunderstand it. That just shows you that a church can have a great pastor, and still be a bad church! And I hope you comprehend this morning that the only thing separating us today from the Corinthians is time and distance. We too can just as easily be taught authoritative instructions about the Lord’s Supper from Scripture, and continue to misunderstand it, undervalue it, abuse it, or approach it flippantly like it’s yesterday’s coffee. No Christian is immune from misunderstanding the Lord’s Supper, or this passage of Scripture under consideration would not need to be written! Just because you’ve been taught correctly about the Lord’s Supper for years does not guarantee you will truly understand and appreciate its gospel-meaning.
And frequency of observance doesn’t ensure understanding and appreciating its meaning either. You can observe the Lord’s Supper for 65 years and be as far from its meaning as the east is from the west. Traveling to the place where you can understand its meaning begins here with understanding that it is the tradition of Christ—it is something which Jesus Himself commanded and instituted.
And if the Lord’s Supper is the tradition of Christ, then that means several things. First, we dare not neglect it. If it’s something Jesus started, we should continue it. Second, we dare not approach it flippantly, because it bears His authority. It deserves the utmost respect when we observe it, if it is the tradition of the Lord. And thirdly, we should long to understand its meaning, if it is so meaningful. If it bears the authority of Christ, as tradition which He has instituted, then we should want to know what its all about!
We need to understand that the Lord’s Supper is the tradition of Christ.
II. The Lord’s Supper is Remembering the Body of Christ (vv. 23b-24)
Not only do we need to understand that it is Christ’s tradition, but secondly, we also need to understand this morning that the Lord’s Supper is remembering the body of Christ. It is a time for us to remember that Jesus gave His body for us on the cross. The Lord’s Supper is remembering the body of Christ, and it is uniquely represented by the breaking and consumption of bread. There’s a reason why bread is chosen to represent that, and we will take that up later. But in giving instruction and correction on the Lord’s Supper, Paul goes straight to the teaching of Jesus on this matter, and he refers to Jesus’ last earthly supper with His disciples where the Lord Himself instituted such an ordinance. If it is the tradition of Christ, it makes since for Paul to refer to this exact tradition, as he does here.
Paul recalls exactly when the institution of the Lord’s Supper took place. Paul says, “the Lord Jesus on the night he was betrayed [instituted this supper].” The institution of the Lord’s Supper took place during Jesus’ last meal on earth with His disciples before He was crucified and killed. This institution took place the night that Judas betrayed Him. Before He was betrayed, He has this memorable supper with His disciples, and Jesus institutes a new ordinance for His disciples to observe from then on. Luke tells us that “when the hour came, he reclined at table, and the apostles with him” (Luke 22:14).
Paul says that on this night he “took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it.” The first part of the Lord’s Supper concerns bread, that’s what we see Jesus doing here. He took bread, gave thanks for it, and likely tore it in pieces as He handed to His disciples to eat. Now, why bread? Was it because it was convenient and easy to produce? The reason for the bread was because of why they were gathered together. They were gathered together and sharing a meal because it was Passover. And the consumption of bread was commanded in partaking of the Passover. Passover, if you didn’t know, is a festival which Jews observed as a memorial of when God delivered the Israelites out of the hands of the Egyptians. In Exodus 12, we read what brought this about: God was striking the Egyptians with plagues in an effort to convince Pharaoh to let the Israelites be free from slavery. He didn’t budge, so God threatened them with one final plague—the death of the firstborn son. And the Israelites were commanded to take the blood of a spotless lamb and place it on their lintels and doorposts so that God would “pass over” their house, so their firstborns would live. Hence the name, Passover. God said, “The blood shall be a sign for you, on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt” (12:13). They were also commanded to have a meal during Passover as well, and God says to them that they “shall eat the flesh (of the lamb) that night, roasted on the fire; with unleavened bread and bitter herbs they shall eat it” (v. 8). And so Jesus is observing this Passover with His disciples, sharing bread with them.
But what is most striking about this scene where Jesus is sharing Passover with His disciples is how He reinterprets the Passover bread to be representative of His own body. Jesus makes no reference to the Israelites or their freedom from bondage in Egypt, but instead says concerning the bread, “This is my body, which is for you.” Jesus says that the bread is His body. Now, some like the Roman Catholic Church have taken this to mean that the bread is literally the body of Jesus, and that when you eat the bread you are literally receiving His body, and are thus saved by it. This doctrine they call transubstantiation. And while I love those who are Catholic, and have friends who are Catholic—that idea is absolute blasphemy and heresy if I’ve ever seen it. If Jesus means that the bread literally is His body, and not merely a representative of such, then we’d better take everything Jesus says metaphorically about Himself. By that logic, Jesus literally is a door (John 10:7); He literally is a vine (John 15:1), and He literally is a loaf of bread (John 6:35)!
Jesus is saying here that the bread represents His body—it represents what happened to the body. Jesus was using bread as an object lesson here, and as a fuller interpretation of the Passover supper. The bread represents His body, He says, “which was given [for us].” The bread serves as a reminder that Jesus has given Himself for us. Titus 2:14 says, “[Jesus] gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness.” The bread that He gave His disciples to eat is representative of His body He was about to give for His disciples on the cross.
But that is not all Jesus says. Jesus tells the disciples that they are to “Do this in remembrance of me.” Here’s where the Lord’s Supper is enacted—Jesus issues it to us as a command. Jesus says to do this—to do what He did with the disciples at the Passover. It is Jesus saying, “This bread which I am passing on to you as representative of My body given for you on the cross— so do this same thing to remember Me.” Therein is the purpose of the Lord’s Supper—to remember Jesus on the cross. The Lord’s Supper doesn’t save you, but it does sanctify you. You do not have to observe it in order to be saved, but you certainly have to observe it if you are saved. It doesn’t justify you in the sight of God, but the justified should observe it to remember justification. The purpose of the Lord’s Supper is to remember Jesus Christ and His death on the cross—His body which was pierced on the cross. It is to remember the work of Christ on the cross, such as that which is described by Isaiah:
“Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth” (53:4-7).
Are you remembering that this morning? This is a time dedicated entirely to remembering His body given on the cross. Whatever is on your mind this morning—put it to a halt and remember the given body of Jesus on the cross. The Lord’s Supper is remembering the body of Christ on the cross, as we partake of the bread together.
III. The Lord’s Supper is Remembering the Blood of Christ (v. 25)
We need to understand that the Lord’s Supper is the tradition of Christ, and that is remembering the body of Christ. But the Lord’s Supper is also remembering the blood of Christ—the new covenant ratified by Christ’s blood, and this is represented by the cup. Part of remembering what he did on the cross is remembering His spilled blood which has been spilled on our behalf, and “drank in” by faith.
Paul says, “In the same way also he took the cup, after supper.” The cup, filled with wine (or juice for most of us), is the second element in the Lord’s Supper. And Jesus says that this cup represents the new covenant in His blood, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood” (v. 25a). Often times, when speaking of the Lord’s Supper we say, “The bread represents His body, the wine represents His blood.” And there’s nothing wrong with that. But if we do not also understand that Jesus said it represents the new covenant in His blood, we lose sight of what its complete meaning is. It is not merely His physical blood, but what His blood accomplished. The blood of Jesus ensured, secured, and enabled the new covenant to be ushered in. The new covenant is what God’s people in the Old Testament looked forward to for a long time. In the days of the exodus, the Israelites entered into a covenant with God in the Old Testament. They promised to obey the Lord, and to do all He commanded – about how well do you think that worked out? Here’s the full context of what happened:
“Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the rules. And all the people answered with one voice and said, “All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do.” And Moses wrote down all the words of the LORD. He rose early in the morning and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars, according to the twelve tribes of Israel. And he sent young men of the people of Israel, who offered burnt offerings and sacrificed peace offerings of oxen to the LORD. And Moses took half of the blood and put it in basins, and half of the blood he threw against the altar. Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read it in the hearing of the people. And they said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.” And Moses took the blood and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words” (Exodus 24:3-8).
Considering you know the Old Testament, it is easily observable that the people could not keep their end of the covenant. They constantly broke God’s laws and broke their covenant all the time. They were not obedient, and the sacrifices they were making were not enough to cover their sins completely. So the people yearned for a new covenant, where God might enable and ensure their obedience, and where He would cover their sin completely so that they would no longer need a sacrifice. The beautiful thing is that God said He would make this new covenant with them. Perhaps the greatest expression of what this new covenant will be is found in Jeremiah 31. Notice the language of salvation in this passage – the references to enabling obedience, transforming hearts, and forgiving sins:
“Behold, the days are coming [it will be in the future for God’s people], declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers [it will not be like the old covenant, and how it will be different is later explained in this passage] on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke [the precise problem with the old covenant], though I was their husband, declares the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD [here’s how it will be different]: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts [obedience will come from their hearts]. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people [God will be in relation with them]. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more [their sins will be forgiven]” (vv. 31-34).
God would transform them so that they could obey Him—He would change their hearts—that’s what happens in the new covenant. And Jesus is saying in this passage that the cup represents His work on the cross of ratifying this new covenant. It represents His blood which is the means of bringing His people into a new covenant. All those promises of Jeremiah 31 are made real through the death of Jesus Christ.
Once again, Jesus says, as He does before, to “Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” Like the bread, we drink the cup in obedience to Christ’s command here to remember Him. Do you notice the difference in this verse compared to the one earlier about bread? There is mention of how often you should do it. Of course, for many years, Christians have debated about how often they should observe the Lord’s Supper. Some say every time the church meets together, others say just periodically. There is great evidence for both main views, I have to confess. But the frequency of observance is not an issue which Scripture plainly and explicitly addresses – Paul and Christ just say, “as often as you do.” What matters is understanding the meaning! Those who split hairs over this need to memorize Paul’s instructions about quarrels: “But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless” (Titus 3:9). The point is not how often, the point is understanding its meaning! I would rather partake of the Lord’s Supper one time a year understanding its meaning, than 52 times a year misunderstanding it!
We need to understand that the Lord’s Supper is remembering the spilled blood of Christ on our behalf.
IV. The Lord’s Supper is Proclaiming the Gospel of Christ (v. 26)
The Lord’s Supper is Jesus’ tradition. It’s remembering the body and blood of Christ, which has ratified the new covenant – these things we remember when we partake. But we also proclaim something during the Lord’s Supper. In observing it, it is proclaiming the gospel of Christ. Finally in this passage, we proclaim the gospel through the Lord’s Supper. Of course, what we have looked at already is the gospel in the giving of Jesus on the cross and of our receiving of Him by faith. But lest we entertain the thought that the Lord’s Supper is merely a ritual or a simple tradition, Paul says that it is a proclamation of the gospel as we wait on Jesus to come again. The gospel is presented through the Lord’s Supper as the elements are explained. In the Lord’s Supper, the gospel is preached as it is both seen through the eyes and heard through the ears. And that proclamation of the gospel is the very purpose of observing the Lord’s Supper. Paul says, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”
We testify to two truths when we partake of the Lord’s Supper—first, that He has died and been risen for us. Second, that He is coming again. Both truths are of equal importance. He died and one day He will return; He will return one day because He once died. And so we proclaim the wonderful news of the death of death in the death of Christ, but we also proclaim that He is coming again—that one day He will return to set things right, and that we will one day be with Him to feast at His table forever (Rev. 19:6-9).
Conclusion: A Reminder of the Most Important Thing
You might know of the legendary sports broadcaster Jon Miller—he provided the play-by-plays for the Baltimore Orioles for many years, and he was actually considered one of the best sports announcers in the nation. He was just the right guy for the job—he could keep you gripped in the game. Some people are just made for their occupations, and so was true of Jon Miller. Whenever he would broadcast a game, Miller never forgot the most important thing—to remind everyone of the score. And to do this, he always kept an egg-timer to remind him to give the score every three minutes. You might even say that he needed a reminder to point him to the most important thing.
And through the Lord’s Supper, we have the reminder that we need to point us to the most important thing. It keeps us focused on what’s really important. We need the Lord’s Supper to remind us constantly of what’s most important—the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, let me say in closing that not just anyone can partake of the Lord’s Supper. To partake of the Lord’s Supper, you need to be one of the Lord’s people. We who believe are, through its observance, being reminded of our receiving of the body and blood of the Lord by His grace. If you are not a believer, you need to get saved before you partake. Friend, let me tell you that you are better off leaving the church building than partaking of the Lord’s Supper in an unworthy manner. There are instructions from Paul about how you should approach the Lord’s Supper (vv. 27-32). Paul notes that one should not partake in an unworthy, unrepentant, or casual manner (v. 27). One should examine themselves before partaking and repent (v. 28). To ignore those things is to “drink judgment” upon oneself (v. 29). God can take your life or allow you to succumb to sickness if you partake of the Lord’s Supper unworthily (v. 30). Of course we are all unworthy, but if we know Christ, He makes us worthy. What Paul means is that we must not be insensitive to His presence, unrepentant, casual, unloving to our fellow church members, or God forbid regretful for His great sacrifice on our behalf.
Let us remember the meaning of this remembrance. It is the tradition of Christ – a time to remember the body and blood of Jesus Christ, for the purpose of proclaiming the the gospel.
By God’s grace, let us praise God for giving us this reminder today—this remembrance of Jesus, and proclamation of His gospel.
Introduction: Something Small Can Be Deadly
How many of you have ever wanted a snake as a pet? Probably not many of you. Most of us do not like snakes because we recognize how deadly they are, don’t we? Not very long ago, I was researching the world’s most deadliest snakes, and I came across many of the familiar ones: the rattlesnake, the viper, and finally the black mamba.
The feared Black Mamba is found throughout many parts of the African continent. They are known to be highly aggressive, and strike with deadly precision. They are also the fastest land snake in the world, capable of reaching speeds of up to 12 mph. These fearsome snakes can strike up to 12 times in a row. A single bite is capable of killing anywhere from 10-25 adults. The venom is a fast acting neurotoxin. The victim experiences a tingling sensation in the mouth and extremities, double vision, tunnel vision, severe confusion, fever, foaming at the mouth and nose, and depending on the nature of the bite, death can result at any time between 15 minutes and 3 hours.¹
But they are so small. People who die from their bites are not expecting to die from their bites. People go into areas their not supposed to, and unknowingly, BAM! They get bitten. It’s ironic how something so small can be so deadly. In our passage tonight, James the brother of Jesus, warns us about something very small that can be very deadly—our own desires. We probably don’t think about our desires very often, but it is our very desires that cause our temptations. Our desires are the source of our temptations, and if nothing is done about them, there are deadly consequences.
The Text: James 1:13-15, ESV
13 Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 14 But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.
I. The Goodness of God During Temptations (v. 13)
You’ve probably noticed that I have not included verse 12 in with this passage. In your translation, it is likely that v. 12 is part of the paragraph containing verses 13-15 also. I haven’t included it in this part of the passage because it is a verse that serves as a pause or reflection on James’ previous thought. He had just finished talking about enduring trials (1:2-11), and now he is beginning to talk about temptation and personal sin. So for this sermon, it is better to start where James starts his new thought, and that is in v. 13.
I want us to notice first that James talks about the goodness of God during our temptations in v. 13. And the idea here is that God cannot be responsible for our temptations because He is a good God. James writes first a word of warning and of comfort: “Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.”
James presents a scenario of a man who is being tempted and blames God for his temptation. But James says that nobody has the right to say that, or to blame God for temptation because “God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” God cannot tempt and entice you to sin because He Himself cannot be tempted with evil—He doesn’t face temptations. He doesn’t have the impulse or desire to sin, He’s perfect and completely holy. So then, James says, because God is good and cannot be tempted with evil, “he himself tempts no one.”
Not once have your temptations ever come from God. Not a single time in the history of humanity has God ever tempted any person to sin. All that comes from God is completely and entirely good, because He is good. James writes about that in the next passage: “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (vv. 16-17).
God cannot be tempted with evil and tempts no one because He is a holy God. The Scriptures testify:
“For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy” (Lev. 11:45)
“Exalt the Lord our God, and worship at his holy mountain; for the Lord our God is holy!” (Psalm 99:9)
“And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and within, and day and night they never cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8)
I think we realize at this point that God is good, but why would James feel like it’s necessary to tell us that God is good? Why does James feel the need to remind us that we can’t blame God for our temptations because He is a good God? I think he has a twofold purpose in mind:
1) So that we understand who is truly responsible for temptations. He is going to spell out later in this passage that we are ultimately responsible for the temptations that we face. But notice how James is eliminating the possibilities of who could be responsible for temptation. Already, he has excluded Satan—he’s not even listed. And he has just said that God cannot be responsible for them. This serves a great purpose: the only one left on the list for being responsible for sin is us.
2) So that we understand that God is good—He wants to help us through temptation, not cause us to stumble into them. Adam tried blaming God and refusing to take responsibility didn’t he? God inquired of Adam and Eve for why they ate from the tree which God commanded them not to—and their response? “The main said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit of the tree, and I ate” (v. 12). Adam blamed the woman. Listen to Eve’s excuse: “The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” (v. 13). Eve blamed Satan. For once in the history of the universe a woman was wrong, can you believe that? I saw a sign once that said “ALL MEN GO TO THE LEFT, BECAUSE THE WOMEN ARE ALWAYS RIGHT.” Just joking of course, but only a little.
The point is, since the beginning of humanity we have not taken responsibility for our sin—but listen: do not doubt the goodness of God during your temptations. He is a good God that is for you, not against you, and wants to provide the “way of escape that you may be able to endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13).
II. The Source of Our Temptation (v. 14)
We’ve seen that God is a good God who cannot be responsible for our temptations, so what is it that causes our temptations? Why are we always slipping up on the same old sins? Why are we being tempted to sin all the time as believers? And why are temptations so frequent? James answers: “[But] each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire” (v. 14).
The source of our temptation is our own desire. James tells his readers, instead of God being responsible for temptation, “each person is tempted . . . by his own desire.” It’s desire. Desire is the culprit. Desire is problem. Desire is the root and the source of our temptations. The problem is within us—it’s not on the outside, but buried within our innermost beings.
Notice James says that “each person is tempted,” meaning that everyone faces temptations. You can bank on that—you will face temptations. If you didn’t, there’d be no need for this passage of Scripture whatsoever. James uses a fishing metaphor to describe what happens in temptation. Notice the language he uses here: “each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.”
Desire is the problem, but what happens in temptation is that we are lured and enticed by our own desires. The Greek word for “lured” here is exelkó, literally meaning to be “dragged away.” It was used to describe when game (whether fishing or hunting) was lured away from its path to bait. So we have the picture of an animal that is dragged away from its usual path to bait that it thinks it needs. Similarly, the Greek word for “enticed” here means to “set a trap.”
So here you have these powerful Greek words that describe a man being dragged away and falling into the trap of sin. And why do we become lured into sin and fall into it’s trap? Well go back to the fishing metaphor that James is using. When you fish, you bait a hook. Before you drop the line in, you cover the hook with a jig and bait—it is so that the fish sees it as something he needs (food) and he goes after it, seeking satisfaction for his hunger. When he bites the bait, we jerk the pole and snag him—lift him out of the water where he dies and then he fries in fish grease so that we can eat him (if you like fried fish, that is).
It’s the same way with sin in our lives. It looks like something we need—it looks like something we need to satisfy us. Sin never appears to be dangerous, did you know that? Temptation never says, “Don’t do this. This will disgrace the name of God and hurt your witness. This will damage your relationship with God.” No, it sounds more like, “This will be fun! This won’t hurt! No one will ever know. Just do it.”
Our desires are deceptive, and it’s important to realize that our desires are the thing that pulls us in. It’s imperative to realize that the real problem is our own desires. Another Greek word for desire here is “lusts,” it is that passionate longing for sin that we sometimes experience. This is because we’ve been born into this world as sinners—naturally inclined to sinning against God. But if we’re born again, we have new natures and no excuse for continuing in the same sins.
But why has this been so important to know? Because we must recognize what the problem is before we can solve it or do anything about it. About a year ago, my office began to give off an awful odor. I looked everywhere for the source of smell. I cleaned the floors, took out the trash, and searched every corner—still nothing. Around this time we had recently been given a new puppy, and obviously he hadn’t been house trained, for I soon discovered the source of the smell. Behind a small guitar stand in my office lay a pile of hardened, old, dog droppings. That’s what the smell was! I cleaned it up, and soon my office was finally bearable. But you see, I couldn’t take care of the problem (the stench) without identifying it. And it is the same with our temptations—we can do nothing about our temptations until we discover what the real problem is: our own desires.
III. The Course of Our Temptations (v. 15)
We’ve already seen that God is a good God who doesn’t tempt us, and we’ve just seen what the source of our temptations are, but what’s the problem with letting our desires have their way? What is really at risk here, if anything? James answers again: “Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (v. 15)
Our desires, if we welcome rather than resist them, lead to destruction. James uses another image here (as in v. 14) but one of birth. He pictures desire as conceiving and then giving birth, but then giving birth to death. Really, a horrifying image to think about. James has in mind the person who actively responds to his sinful desires. It is a person who has allowed his desires to conceive. And we understand this. It takes effort to conceive a child doesn’t it? It’s never, “Oops, how did that happen?” That’s what James has in mind here. He’s talking about somebody who does nothing about their desires. They welcome rather than resist those desires and then they conceive.
Once conception takes place, then what’s the next step? Birth. So follows James picture here. Once desire has had its way, it gives birth to sin. It doesn’t give birth to satisfaction like you think it does, it doesn’t give birth to pleasure, or prestige, or power—it gives birth to sin. Once birth takes place, then what? Growth and death. And so follows James’ image. He says that once sin has “fully grown,” once it has matured, it brings forth death. That’s where sin ultimately leads—that’s what James is warning us about (Rom. 6:23).
If you do nothing about sin, it will only get worse and worse and ultimately lead to death. Do you know how an avalanche works? What causes one? An avalanche occurs when the snowpack — or the layers of accumulated snow — on the side of a mountain is in some way disturbed, leading to a fracturing of the top layer and a downward torrent of a large mass of the snow. Snow builds over time—it’s not moved, it just builds on top of more snow. Once it gets too heavy, if falls, sometimes killing many people each year.
That’s the way it is with our desires for sin. When our desires grow, when we do nothing about them and they just get worse and worse, then they give birth to sin and then sin brings “forth death.”
IV. How to Fight the Desires (selected Scriptures)
As we’ve unpacked this passage of Scripture verse by verse, James has taught us several things. First, God is a good God who cannot be responsible for our temptations. Second, our desires are—and always will be, the source of our temptations. Third, if our desires are welcomed rather than resisted, great destruction can take place—even death. But finally, I want us to look at a few practical ways we can fight those desires. If desires are the problem, then our desires need to change and they need to be fought. So how can we do this?
1) Study and know yourself. It’s good to take a long look in the mirror sometimes isn’t it? We need to know what desires we have a problem with and what situations or people cause us to enter into temptation. What desires do you have a problem with? Find out what situations, places, or people, cause you to have desires for sin. Study and know yourself well. Ask God to reveal that to you as well. Pray with David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24).
2) Avoid tempting situations. Keep yourself away from the situations that cause you to sin against God and fall into temptations. You know it does no good to pray, “Lord deliver me from evil,” if we thrust ourselves into it. I heard an old preacher say, “You can’t pray “Deliver me, Lord, from temptation,” if you thrust yourself thither!” Avoid the situations that cause temptations. Don’t park a freshly washed car under a tree full of birds. In other words, don’t try to be clean when you willingly go into areas that will make you dirty! The writer of Proverbs presents a picturesque warning for us concerning flirting around with sin, “Can a man carry fire next to his chest and not be burned?” (Proverbs 6:27). Indeed not.
3) Submit to Christ. When we get saved, we make Jesus our Savior and Lord. He is our Savior because He saved us from death, hell, and the grave. He is our Lord because He takes control. But that’s the part that gets us sometimes. There may be areas of our heart that we haven’t submitted to Christ and made Him Lord over. But we must submit to His leadership and will and allow Him to take control of all the areas of our heart—including our desires. It is taking “every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).
4) Get satisfaction from God. Desires seek to be satisfied. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be desires. So since desire is the problem, then our desires need to change. How can that be done? By getting our satisfaction from God. If you don’t believe that God can satisfy you, David invites you to “Taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!” (Psalm 34:8). Similarly David says to “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4). It’s like eating your favorite food—you keep eating it because of the satisfaction it brings your belly! When you get hungry, don’t you desire your favorite food? Of course you do, because you have a mental remembrance of the satisfaction it brings. It works in a similar way with God. If we will get our satisfaction from Him, we will inevitably begin to desire Him.
Conclusion: Enchanting But Deadly
For years, workers and visitors flocked to the sight of silvery dust flakes that floated to the floor in a mill where steel strips rolled over pads in a tall cooling tower. There was a steelworker, Joe Gutierrez who wrote about it. He says that “the snow danced in August.” It was beautiful and enchanting, but it was soon discovered that it was asbestos floating in the air. “Everybody breathed it,” Joe writes. He now suffers from the slow, choking grip of asbestosis, as do many plant workers.
“Can’t walk too far now. I get tired real fast, and it hurts when I breathe sometimes. And to think we used to fight over that job,” he says. Sin is enchanting, sin is pretty and attractive, but it can be a killer. Are you taking the steps necessary to overcoming these desires? Are you avoiding tempting situations? Are you submitting totally to Jesus Christ?
1. Iakhovas. “Top 10 Most Venomous Snakes.” List Verse. March 30, 2011. http://listverse.com/2011/03/30/top-10-most-venomous-snakes/
Jonah: Jonah’s Prayer (2:1-10)
What we are going to study tonight may be the theologically richest part of the book of Jonah. The amazing context of this poetic prayer is Jonah’s gratitude while inside the fish. He fully expected to die in the water. His thanksgiving within the belly of a fish is a proclamation of joy, with the realization that God has delivered him in spite of his running. Though he is not yet on dry land, his faith reaches a new dimension of understanding. He seems to have no doubt that, as he was delivered from drowning, he will also eventually be delivered safely to the shore. In chapter 2 of Jonah we are able to understand Jonah’s point of view, as he speaks in the first person. It also offers a window into the nature and circumstances of true gratitude.
Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish, 2 saying,
“I called out to the LORD, out of my distress,
and he answered me;
out of the belly of Sheol I cried,
and you heard my voice.
3 For you cast me into the deep,
into the heart of the seas,
and the flood surrounded me;
all your waves and your billows
passed over me.
4 Then I said, ‘I am driven away
from your sight;
yet I shall again look
upon your holy temple.’
5 The waters closed in over me to take my life;
the deep surrounded me;
weeds were wrapped about my head
6 at the roots of the mountains.
I went down to the land
whose bars closed upon me forever;
yet you brought up my life from the pit,
O LORD my God.
7 When my life was fainting away,
I remembered the LORD,
and my prayer came to you,
into your holy temple.
8 Those who pay regard to vain idols
forsake their hope of steadfast love.
9 But I with the voice of thanksgiving
will sacrifice to you;
what I have vowed I will pay.
Salvation belongs to the LORD!”
10 And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land.
Inside the Fish
“Then Jonah prayed to the LORD his God from the belly of the fish” (v. 1). The author tells us in the first verse what we are about to read. There is a prayer that follows. And Jonah prayed these things while he was in the belly of the fish. We know that this account is still a miracle—but it is interesting that Jonah actually prays while inside the fish. It’s important to notice here that his is the first time that Jonah speaks directly to God. In all this account and all we’ve experienced with him, he was not spoken to God until now. Remember however, Jonah is still in danger. He is still at sea, inside the fish—but still in danger. He doesn’t have a living room built inside that fish.
But here’s what he prays: “I called out to the LORD, out of my distress, and he answered me; out of the belly of Sheol I cried, and you heard my voice” (v. 2). This is the beginning of the prayer of Jonah. Jonah says that he “called out to” God out of his distress. He says that God answered him. But Jonah says something interesting here: “out of the belly of Sheol I cried.” What does Sheol mean? It’s a term used most often in the Old Testament to mean the place of death. Sometimes it means separation from God. Jonah did not literally pray from Sheol but describes his near-death experience. He says that God heard his voice.
“For you cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me” (v. 3). Jonah is describing his experience being thrown overboard with vivid imagery: “into the deep,” “the heart of the seas,” “your billows passed over me.” Just for clarification, billows are great waves or surging masses of water. Though it was the sailors who had hurled Jonah into the sea (1:15), he knows that God was working sovereignly through them, and so he can say that God cast him into the sea.
Jonah expresses, however that he will see dry land again: “Then I said, ‘I am driven away from your sight; yet I shall again look upon your holy temple’” (v. 4). Here Jonah demonstrates his understanding of the power of simply turning again toward the presence of God. Next Jonah gives a very visual description of coming close to death. In vv. 5-6, “The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my heard at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever, yet you brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God.” He says that the waters closed in on him to take his life—he was probably drowning at this point. The deep surrounded him, and he was definitely at the bottom of the sea because he states that seaweed was “wrapped about” his head. He even went down to the “land whose bars closed upon [him] forever.” Departure into Sheol was to go through gates made of “bars.” Job 17:16 says, “Will it go down to the bars of Sheol?” (emphasis mine) See also Psalm 9:13. But regardless, God brought up Jonah’s life from the “pit.” Jonah also says that “When my life was fainting away, I remembered the LORD, and my prayer came to you, into your holy temple” (v. 7).
Saved but Not Completely Delivered
What is interesting to see throughout this entire account of Jonah’s prayer is this: He has been rescued from death by God’s sending of the fish (1:17), but he has not been delivered to dry land just yet (2:10). He has not drowned, but he was unexpectedly saved from death by the “great fish,” but he isn’t completely safe—he is still in danger.
Our lives are very similar to this story—our lives as believers. When we are converted, when we are saved, we are delivered from death and saved from judgment: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). But, we are not immediately taken to the place where there is no sin, no evil, no suffering, and no pain (Rev. 21:4). We are saved in this life, but we are not completely delivered from the ailments of living in this present world. You probably know all too well, that your struggles do not end once you are saved. Struggles continue. In fact, some struggles happen more often because you are saved (ex. persecution). Remember that salvation is in three tenses:
1) Past: You were saved. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). Once we had repentance and faith toward Christ, we were saved. That’s a secured deal.
2) Present: You are being saved. “Therefore, by beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13, emphasis mine). We are daily being delivered from the presence and power of sin through the Holy Spirit.
3) Future: You will be saved; “Training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:12-13, emphasis mine). One glorious day we will finally be delivered from the presence and power of sin forever.
This is what we share with Jonah: We have been delivered from death and the penalty of sin, but we are not yet completely free from sin. One day we will be in complete safety (“dry land”), but until then we must do what is necessary to fight sin daily (Rom. 7).
The Real Miracle
Another thing that is interesting to note here (that we tend to look over) is that Jonah should have died. Listen again to this dreadful description of what is was like to nearly drown at sea: “The waters closed in over me to take my life; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped about my head at the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever. . .” (vv. 5-6). The real miracle here is that what should have been a place of death for Jonah became the place of deliverance and life! What does he say God did? “Yet you brought up my life from the pit, O LORD my God” (v. 6b).
Remember the “sign of Jonah” expression used by Jesus? “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40). Jesus used Jonah’s experience to refer to His own death. The apostle Paul states, “he was raised on the third day” (1 Cor. 15:4). But the wonder of the sign of Jesus’ death and of Jonah’s experience is that a place that ought to have been a place of death became a place of deliverance and life. What do you think of when you see a cross? Jesus death? Addition? We have beautified the cross so much that we have a tendency to forget what a cross actually was in Jesus’ day. We have jewelry, t-shirts, rings, pendants, and various things that may have crosses on them, but in Jesus’ day a cross carried a much different meaning. The crucifix was a torture device. The Romans wanted to state their authority loud and clear to criminals, so they devised this form of punishment known as crucifixion. The cross was a symbol of death—the most humiliating form of death.
But because of Christ’s death and resurrection, the cross is a symbol of victory over death and reminds us that at the cross, we were given deliverance from sin and death. So what should have been a place of death has become they symbol for the Christian faith that has stood the test of time. Christ’s descent to earth and His willing humility even to death on a cross brought redemption to all (Phil. 2:5-11).
A Strange Statement
Jonah has described his experience in his prayer to God and utters something rather abstract: “Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love” (v. 8). It’s a true statement—but it’s strange because it has nothing to do with Jonah’s experience. Does it say anything about him drowning or struggling on the ship? No. Jonah has been describing his experience in the waters as he comes close to death—and he expresses thankfulness for God’s sending of the great fish, but here he states something like a proverb. It’s an interesting part of Jonah’s prayer because it expresses something about his relationship with God.
He was truly grateful to God for saving him through this fish. He has truly praised God for rescuing him in this miraculous way. But Jonah is here referring back again to these sailors and the Ninevites and says that “Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love” (v. 8). He doesn’t pray for them, but states this truth about them. So in the midst of Jonah’s prayer (and after all he has been through!) he is still protesting the idea that God should offer forgiveness to the Ninevites. Remember, why did Jonah run from God’s call in the first place? Because he didn’t believe that God should have compassion and forgiveness for sinners. He knew that if he preached to the Ninevites, that there could be a possibility of them repenting from sin and obtaining forgiveness from God. “That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster” (4:2).
A Strange Struggle
He was praying, but still protesting. We like Jonah may disagree with God for different reasons—but that shouldn’t stop us from praising Him. And God doesn’t expect everyone who praises Him to always have all their questions answered or all of their doubts erased. We will always have questions—but we shouldn’t stop praising God and giving Him thanks. Satan will always use our weaknesses against us. One of our weaknesses is a limited, finite mind. Satan sees an open door there to stumble us and turn our hearts away from God. So when we have questions or doubts about God, we should read the Bible with all our might—listen where God has spoken, but restrain our curiosity beyond His Word. God knows we have struggles and difficulties understanding Him sometimes, but He still welcomes our praise even when we don’t understand or are confused. “For God is not a God of confusion but of peace” (1 Cor. 14:33).
Jonah here, gives thanks to God even when he disagrees with Him concerning the Ninevites. Why is it important to have faith in God when you don’t understand His ways, or you don’t understand your circumstances? Because we have the assurance that God is sovereign, God knows what He is doing, God wants for us what we would want for ourselves (if we had the sense enough to want it), and God calls us to trust Him because of it.
There are numerous biblical examples of this trust that God calls for. One of the greatest is found in Lamentations 3:21-24. This book is a despairing poem about the destruction of Jerusalem. In the midst of the unbearable sorrow, Jeremiah cries out, “But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The LORD is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him” (ESV). Another example is when the psalmist asks, “How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Ps. 13:1), but expresses in v. 5, “But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.”
We continue to trust God in our difficulties and in our confusions, because we know who He is. Our faith in God is not blind. We know that He is a God “who never lies” (Titus 1:2), and “God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?” (Numbers 23:19) Therefore, when God makes a promise like “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28), we know that He means what He says.
Salvation Belongs to the LORD!
We have come to the end of Jonah’s prayer and his last statement is this: “But I with the voice of thanksgiving will sacrifice to you; what I have vowed I will pay. Salvation belongs to the LORD!” (v. 9). Jonah says that with thanksgiving he will sacrifice to God, and says that he will return to do what he originally was called to do. And he utters a statement that is absolutely foundational to the overarching message of the Bible: “Salvation belongs to the LORD!”
Do you think Jonah expected to be saved when thrown into the raging sea? Of course not. He thought he would surely die. If he didn’t he would have described his experience as going down to the land “whose bars closed upon [him] forever” (v. 6). God was at work to save Jonah even before he was fleeing from Him. Think about your own salvation. Think about that day. Did you expect to be saved? Did you expect it to happen? Did you know any point in your life prior that that day would come? Of course you didn’t. That’s what Jonah expresses here. Salvation belongs to the LORD. It is and was God’s plan, God’s work, God’s way, for God’s glory. It wasn’t your plan (Eph. 1:4), and it was not your way. Jesus’ work of salvation through His death and victory over death was even done while the world was still at odds with God. God is indeed the author of our faith, and Jonah here is a key witness. This shines light on the fact that God has been at work to save you (His enemy; Rom. 5:10) ever since before you were born. And Christ died for broken sinners long before they would ever converted. God alone is deserving of full credit for your salvation.
Plainly put, Jonah has looked toward God. It is enough for his deliverance. God will deal with his protest and running issues later. God answers those who call out in distress whether their issues of protest are resolved or not. He delivers those who call out in times of trouble. He accepts Jonah’s thanks and his lack of repentance because he accepts Jonah’s protest, not as sin but as a welcome dialogue. When Jonah concludes his prayer, God answers this way: “And the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land” (v. 10). God has not given up on His prophet, and will continue to relentlessly pursue him.
You’ve Got Questions: Do Children/Babies Go to Heaven?
The Age of Accountability
The idea of the “age of accountability” is that children are not held accountable by God for their sins until they reach a certain age, and that if a child dies before reaching the “age of accountability,’ that child will, by the grace and mercy of God, be granted entrance into Heaven. Is the concept of an age of accountability biblical? Is there such a thing as an “age of innocence”?
First of all, it is important to mention that the fact that children, no matter how young, are not “innocent” in the sense of being sinless, and this is frequently lost in the discussion regarding the age of accountability. The Bible tells us that even if an infant or child has not committed personal sin, all people, including infants and children, are guilty before God because of inherited and imputed sin. Inherited sin is that which is passed on from our parents. In Psalm 51:5, David wrote, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.” David recognized that even at conception, he was a sinner. The very sad fact that infants sometimes die demonstrates that even infants are impacted by Adam’s sin, since physical and spiritual death were the results of Adam’s original sin.
Still, what about babies and young children who never reach the ability to recognize sin? The age of accountability is a concept that teaches those who die before reaching the age of accountability are automatically saved, by God’s grace and mercy. The age of accountability is a belief that God saves all those who die before reaching the ability to make a decision for or against Christ. Thirteen is the most common number given for the age of accountability, based on the Jewish custom that a child becomes an adult at the age of 13. However, the Bible gives no direct support to the age of 13 always being the age of accountability. It likely varies from child to child. A child has passed the age of accountability once he or she is capable of making a faith decision for or against Christ.
The one passage that seems to identify with this topic more than any other is 2 Samuel 12:21-23. King David committed adultery with Bathsheba, with a resulting pregnancy. The prophet Nathan was sent by the Lord to inform David that because of his sin, the Lord would take the child in death. David responded to this by grieving, mourning, and praying for the child. But once the child was taken, David’s mourning ended. David’s servants were surprised to hear this. They said to King David, “What is this thing that you have done? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept; but when the child died, you arose and ate food.” David’s response was, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows, the LORD may be gracious to me, that the child may live.’ But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” David’s response indicates that those who cannot believe are safe in the Lord. David said that he could go to the child, but that he could not bring the child back to him. Also, and just as important, David seemed to be comforted over this. In other words, David seemed to be saying that he would see the child (in heaven), though he could not bring him back.
While these passages imply that God applies Christ’s payment for sin to those who cannot believe, the Bible does not specifically say that He does this. Therefore, this is a subject about which we should not be adamant or dogmatic. God’s applying Christ’s death to those who cannot believe would seem consistent with His love and mercy. But we can safely assume that God applies Christ’s payment for sin to young children and those who are mentally handicapped, since they were not mentally capable of understanding their sinful state and their need for the Savior, but again we cannot be dogmatic. Of this we are certain: God is loving, holy, merciful, just, and gracious. Whatever He does is always right and good.
You’ve Got Questions: How Am I Really a Sinner?
This question is vital because if you do not realize that you are a sinner, then you will not recognize your need for a Savior. If you don’t first understand the serious consequences of being an unsaved sinner, then you will never see the worth and value of what Jesus did on the cross.
First of all, what is “sin?” In short, sin is a word that describes anything that fails to meet God’s standard of perfection. The Scriptures make it clear that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Sin is not just murder, rape, or robbery. Sin is failing to do the things we should and doing those things that we should not. Failing to do the things we should are called sins of omission, and doing those things that we should not are called sins of commission. In other words, when the Scriptures say “You shall not” and you do, that is a sin of commission. Equally, when the Scriptures say “You shall” and you do not, that is a sin of omission. Again, sin is failing to do what is required of us, and doing those things which God has prohibited.
Summarized, sin is the barrier between you and a satisfying relationship with God. Just as light and dark cannot exist together, neither can God and sin. Furthermore, sin is a barrier between us and other people. You need only to read the newspaper or listen to a news report to see how true this really is. We live in a time when terrorism abounds and when the world as we know it can be instantly obliterated by nuclear aggression. Finally, sin is the deprivation of good. As such, sin is characterized by a lack of something rather than being something in itself. As noted above, sin is a break in relationship to God and others rather than being an ontological substance. David Horton brings this concept to light and he is worth quoting at length:
“Evil is not a substance but a corruption of the good substances God made. Evil is like rust to a car or rot to a tree. It is a lack in good things, but it is not a thing in itself. Evil is like a wound in an arm or moth holes in a garment. It exists only in another but not in itself. . . To say that evil is not a thing, but a lack in things, is not to claim that it is not real. Evil is a real lack in good things, as the blind person know only too well. Evil is not a real substance, but it is a real privation in good substances. It is not an actual entity but a real corruption in an actual entity” (The Portable Seminary, David Horton. p. 360).
God made this world and all that is in it: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. … God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen. 1:1, 27). He created human beings to be like Him and to have unhindered fellowship with Him, and when His work of creation was finished he saw that it was “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Although the first people God created, Adam and Eve, had complete freedom to live in friendship and trust with him, they chose to rebel (Gen. 3:1–7). Because God designed that Adam would represent the entire human race, his sin was catastrophic not only for him but for us: “one trespass led to condemnation for all men” (Rom. 5:18). Our fellowship with God was broken. Instead of enjoying His holy pleasure, we instead face His righteous wrath. Through this sin, we all died spiritually (see Rom. 3:1–20; Eph. 2:1–10) and the entire world was affected. “The creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it” (Rom. 8:20). And we all individually sin against God in our own lives: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).
He Who Sins
If someone lies, what do you call him? A liar. If someone steals he is a thief. It concludes that the one who commits something is categorized from the act he committed. If someone sins, he is a sinner. But who has sinned? As quoted above, “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Everyone is a sinner. The Bible says that we are sinners in Romans 5:8, “But God shows his love for us, in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (emphasis mine). We are really sinners because we sin.
You’ve Got Questions: What Happens if a Christian Dies by Suicide?
It is a sad fact that some Christians have committed suicide. Adding to the tragedy is the false teaching that committing suicide automatically consigns one to hell. Many believe that a Christian who commits suicide will not be saved. This teaching is not supported in the Bible. Scripture teaches that, from the moment we truly believe in Christ, we are guaranteed eternal life. According to the Bible, Christians can know beyond any doubt that they possess eternal life (1 John 5:13). Nothing can separate a Christian from God’s love (Romans 8:38–39). No “created thing” can separate a Christian from God’s love, and even a Christian who commits suicide is a “created thing”; therefore, not even suicide can separate a Christian from God’s love. Jesus died for all of our sins, and if a true Christian, in a time of spiritual attack and weakness, dies by suicide, his sin is still covered by the blood of Christ.
Suicide is not what determines whether a person goes to heaven or not. Only by trusting in Christ for salvation are you guaranteed entrance into heaven. You must be justified by faith in Christ. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). Of course, if the unsaved person commits suicide, all he has done is expedite his journey straight into hell. There is no way to sugar coat that truth. But will that unsaved person go to hell because he committed suicide? No. The reason for his going to hell isn’t because he committed the act, but because he is an unsaved sinner. Sin is what separates us from God. We are “dead in trespasses and sins” (Ephesians 2:1), “children of wrath,” and enemies of God; hostile to God.
Suicide is not the “unforgivable sin” as many say, but those who take the sacred name of Christ upon their lips dare not contemplate it. Our lives belong to God and He alone has the prerogative to bring them to an end. In the very words of God, “See now that I myself am he! There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand” (Deut. 32:39 NIV, emphasis mine). The Bible views suicide as equal to murder, which is what it is—self-murder. God is the only one who is to decide when and how a person should die. We should say with the psalmist, “My times are in your hands” (Psalm 31:15). God is the giver of life. He gives, and He takes away (Job 1:21). Suicide, the taking of one’s own life, is ungodly because it rejects God’s gift of life. No man or woman should presume to take God’s authority upon themselves to end his or her own life.
Characters in the Bible
In addition, the Bible mentions six specific people who died by suicide: Abimelech (Judges 9:54), Saul (1 Samuel 31:4), Saul’s armor-bearer (1 Samuel 31:4–6), Ahithophel (2 Samuel 17:23), Zimri (1 Kings 16:18), and Judas (Matthew 27:5). Five of these men were noted for their wickedness (the exception is Saul’s armor-bearer—nothing is said of his character). Some consider Samson’s death an instance of suicide, because he knew his actions would lead to his death (Judges 16:26–31), but Samson’s goal was to kill Philistines, not himself.
Furthermore, many people in Scripture felt deep despair in life. Solomon, in his pursuit of pleasure, reached the point where he “hated life” (Ecclesiastes 2:17). Elijah was fearful and depressed and yearned for death (1 Kings 19:4). Jonah was so angry at God that he wished to die (Jonah 4:8). Even the apostle Paul and his missionary companions at one point “were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8). However, none of these men committed suicide. Solomon learned to “fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of all mankind” (Ecclesiastes 12:13). Elijah was comforted by an angel, allowed to rest, and given a new commission. Jonah received admonition and rebuke from God. Paul learned that, although the pressure he faced was beyond his ability to endure, the Lord can bear all things: “This happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead” (2 Corinthians 1:9).
In conclusion, suicide is a sin. It is not the “greatest” sin—it is no worse than other evils, in terms of how God sees it, and it does not determine whether or not a person goes to hell. However, suicide definitely has a deep and lasting impact on those left behind. The painful scars left by a suicide do not heal easily. May God grant His grace to each one who is facing trials today (Psalm 67:1). May God grant the psalmist’s perspective to each one who is facing trials today: “Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God” (Psalm 43:5).