Dr. Chuck DeVane, Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
September 23, 2018
1 And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin. 3 Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, 4 and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.” 5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. 7 “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? 8 Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? 9 Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”
— Luke 17:1-10, ESV
Christianity is more militant that most of its modern models. It is supposed to resemble an army unit more than a social club or sales force. It is entered into by free grace through God-given faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ to be sure. Once baptized into the faith, however, we are given boots to wear, boots that come with marching orders.
Among our orders is the commandment to fight the bad fight against sin. All sin is bad, bad things happen when it is left unchecked, and the bad news that travels fast from it can deafen people to the gospel of Jesus Christ. We who are forgiven of sin must be the most militant against it, lest its bad effects stain our witness, corrupt our churches and families, and keep lost people away from the cross.
Fight the bad fight.
A more positive approach to the Christian life is to “fight the good fight of faith” (ref. 1 Timothy 6:12), or “contend for the faith” (ref. Jude 1:3). The ideal of fighting for the Christian faith is encouraging, hopeful, powerful. We wage the good fight with the good weapons of prayer, preaching, and personal witnessing.
But what is the opposite of faith? It is unbelief in the unbeliever. What is the opposite of faith for the Christian? “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (ref. Romans 14:23). So while Christians fight the good fight of faith, we must also fight the bad fight against sin.
The text before us in Luke refers to “sin” four times in the first four verses, and the context is clear that Christ is speaking to believers. What is sin? Sin is anything contrary to the word of God, which teaches us the will of God. Sin, even and especially secret sin, is anything that damages or puts distance in your relationship with God. Sin, when committed publicly, damages your witness for Christ and potentially turns family, friends, or strangers away from the gospel. Sin is terrible, sin is toxic, and sin is obviously not to he taken lightly by those who have had theirs nailed to the cross.
So, this text tells us we are to fight the bad fight against sin in our own lives and in other Christians’ lives. It is basic duty for those who are followers of Jesus Christ.
Fight against sin in your own life.
It is hard to fight an enemy you cannot see, so Jesus admonishes us, “Pay attention to yourselves!” We must learn to identify those awful “temptations to sin” so that we do not fall into them; or, even worse, perpetrate them upon other people. For this, God has given us at least three things.
All men and women have a conscience. This is what Paul meant when speaking of all mankind in Romans 2:15, “The law is written on their hearts.” Men made in God’s image are free moral agents, and unlike instinctive animals we can choose right from wrong. The problem with most people is that when their consciences prick them, they ignore the right and proceed into the wrong. This causes a defiled conscience, a hardness of heart, reprobation is the theological term, and eventually God gives up on those who have given up the fight against sin (ref. Romans 1:24-26). How horrible it must be to get to a point where you do not even care that you are living in sin.
Christians are different, however, for we not only have a moral conscience, we have the Holy Spirit. He lives within us and convicts us “concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (ref. John 16:8). The world cannot hear Him, but to believers He speaks louder than words. God teaches us through His Spirit what sin is, what the right or righteous thing to do is, and the judgment that befall those who disobey and disbelieve Him. The Holy Spirit is the perfect Teacher, and He has a perfect textbook.
To fight the bad fight against sin we must hear, read, study, and learn to obey the written word of God, the Bible. It is an offensive and defensive weapon, “The sword of the Spirit” (ref. Ephesians 6:17). Know it and you will know what sin is, and how to fight against it and win.
It is a sinful temptation to treat sin lightly. Christians are forgiven, right? Real Christians are, indeed. But the reason we who are forgiven fight against sin is for the sake of those who are not. Perhaps the biggest reason unbelievers stay unbelieving is the sin and hypocrisy evident in the lives of professing believers. Our careless sin can “cause one of these little ones to sin,” to quote Jesus. “Little ones” include anyone who needs to be loved and taught to follow Jesus. The sure way to cut them off is to carelessly sin. Rather, fight the bad fight against it, beginning by examining your own life.
Fight against sin in your brother’s and sister’s life.
Jesus’ teachings, especially His “Sermon on the Mount,” contain beautiful and wonderful warnings against a self-righteous, judgmental attitude. A key passage is this:
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye” (ref. Matthew 7:1-5).
Yet Luke records Him saying, “If your brother sins, rebuke him.” There is no inconsistency here. Once you are fully fighting the bad fight against sin in your own life, you must help your brother and sister fight the same fight.
This brings an additional weapon into the bad fight. We have conscience, the Holy Spirit, the Holy Bible, and we also have one another. Sometimes believers often ignore their conscience, turn a deaf ear to the Holy Spirit, and neglect the word of God. Sins ensue, which is where a militant Christian must step in.
Warning! Do not be a Pharisee. Don’t rebuke a brother or sister for not keeping your marginal or unreasonable interpretation of Scripture. Don’t rebuke them over philosophical issues that are not rooted theologically. Don’t rebuke them for disagreeing with you, but don’t be afraid to rebuke them if they are clearly disobedient to the plain moral and spiritual claims of Scripture.
To not do so is to not love God. To not do so is to not love a fellow believer. To not do so is to not love the family, friends, and strangers who may also be tempted to turn away from the soul saving and life giving truths of God’s word. We fight the bad fight of sin in our fellow Christians’ lives out of the best and highest motive, love. And, hopefully, when they repent, which real Christians almost always do, we forgive, and forgive, and forgive.
Notice it is here that the disciples make a stark request, “Lord, increase our faith!” This is because the two hardest things to do in the Christian life are to rightly confront another Christian over sin and forgive someone when that sin is against you. So, much faith, which comes from much grace, needs to be given.
People bathed with grace and clothed with faith can fight the bad fight against sin, and win. We can keep our own lives reasonably clean and right with God. We can help fellow church members keep in step with the Spirit, too. This is part and parcel of our Christian duty, and much is at stake.
Remember what, or Who, we are fighting for.
I attach this parable to the previous teaching because the Holy Spirit inspired Luke to do so. In military bootcamp, one learns rather quickly which one is the sergeant and which ones are the grunts. In basic Christianity, Jesus is Lord and we are simply His followers and servants.
So, it becomes basic for people of faith to be faithful, to obey the word of God, and to quickly check ourselves when we get out of line. It is also basic Christian friendship and fellowship to lovingly lift up a brother who is falling down. If he stays out of line or if he goes down, everyone suffers. Let us do our duty, and let us remember for what, or Whom, and whom, we are really fighting the bad fight against sin.
God’s name and glory are at stake. The bad fight is actually a good fight indeed, a fight for the goodness, greatness, and glory of God. We trivialize God when we trivialize sin. We make Him look bad, we tread the precious blood of Christ underfoot, we grieve the Holy Spirit. This should be motivation enough.
God’s church and her mission are at stake. Grace is harder for the unbeliever to obtain when grace is abused by believers. We do not sin so that grace may abound (ref. Romans 6:1ff). We abstain from sin so that grace may be poured out upon sinners. Gandhi famously said he would have become a Christian except for the Christians, and this sentiment is exponential in our present world.
The bodies and souls of men, women, boys, and girls are at stake. Think of the victims of church splits fueled by slander, gossip, and pride. Think of the victims of homes ripped apart by adultery and deceit. Sin is not a harmless toy, it is a poisonous snake, and woe to the ones who let it in the house.
Atticus Finch fought the bad fight against the sins of slander and racism in To Kill a Mockingbird. In the closing courtroom scene he begged the jury to do the right thing. He said it was their duty. He said, “In the name of God, do your duty.”
In the name of God, let us do our duty, and fight the bad fight against sin.
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