Saturday, March 10, 2012

Sin at Heart

In Gethsemane, Jesus as our Mediator, by sympathy for us, felt what it is like to be as we are, sinners. He felt our sin as if it were his, while himself remaining holy. This assault of sin was killing him then and there.

We carry on as though we are adjusted to our lives of sin. What is it about sin that, when Jesus felt sin for us, it shocked him to the point of death?

Law and Love

“Sin is the transgression of the law,”[1] or “Sin is lawlessness.”[2] Anything that transgresses the law is a sin, and lawlessness is sin. All of the law hangs on two commandments, to love God and our neighbor.

Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”[3]

Not only is the law “summed up” in love,[4] the law is fulfilled by love. “For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”[5]

A Carrying Flame

Thomas Watson says love “is a holy fire kindled in the affections, whereby a Christian is carried out strongly after God as the supreme good.”[6] That 1692 English might sound stuffy to us, but consider it carefully in its parts, and it is anything but stuffy.

Love is a fire. See it kindled. The fire is holy. This kindling of fire is in our affections. Steel strikes flint. Sparks fall into tinder. Flames alight in our heart. As the fire burns, we are carried out. Today we say love is moving, and Watson’s language says that more vigorously. He says we are carried out strongly. The fire carries us after God. Affections are like that. They are carrying flames. Burning affection has eyes. It sees God as the supreme good.

Knowledge, Beauty, Affection

Affection beholds God for his loveliness, his righteousness, his justice, his mercy, his generosity. God has many attributes. A. W. Tozer says a divine attribute is something true about God.[7] Because, as Watson says, “The antecedent of love is knowledge,”[8] we need to know about God, we need to know his attributes, so that fire is kindled. Knowledge acknowledges truth about God, but love is rapturous in God. Love is taken by Beauty.


Aquinas said, Complacentia amatis in amato: “The lover’s delight is in his beloved.” Watson says, “This is loving God, to take delight in him.”[9] Many Christians are trusting the Lord for salvation, they are trusting the Lord for guidance, and they are walking in his ways. The Psalmist refers to this in Psalm 37:3, “Trust in the Lord, and do good.” In the next verse he says, “Delight yourself also in the Lord.” In addition to trusting and obeying, he urges us also to delight in the Lord, for in sin, essentially what is wrong with us is that we don’t love God.

A Word Too Strong

Delight is a strong word. We use it, but in an odd way because it is too powerful for us. When we buy a greeting card for an amorous occasion, such as a wedding anniversary, the card might use the word. We don’t mind so much letting the card use that word, and we would like our beloved to feel touched by the words on the card. But that word, delight, somewhat remains there, on the card. It remains there, on a page of the Bible.

Imagine if a man were to say, “I delight in my socket wrench set” or “I am delighted with my ¾ ton diesel pickup.” He probably is, but he won’t use that word. He will say he loves football. He will say he loves his wife. He will not say he is delighted in his wife. He will not say he is delighted in God. Delight is a strong word, and he knows the word claims more than he can honestly say about his feelings for God.

Delight is a high degree of gratification of mind, a high-wrought state of pleasurable feeling, an extreme satisfaction, an affect of great pleasure as when a beautiful landscape delights the eye or harmony delights the ear.

The God Called Blessing

Watson says,

We must love God propter se, for himself, for his own intrinsic excellencies. We must love him for his lovelieness. Meretricius est amor plus annulum quam sponsum amare: “It is a harlot’s love to love the portion more than the person.” Hypocrites love God because he gives them corn and wine: we must love God for himself; for those shining perfections which are in him.[10]

Too often we are corn-and-wine Christians. My pastor years ago, Craig Strawser, preached a sermon titled, “The God Called Blessing.” He spoke of an idol in our hearts, the blessings of God. We bow down and worship his blessings, not Him. We don’t love him. We have delight in his provision, his benefits, but not in Him. We relate to God providentially, but not personally, not intimately, not with kindled, carrying flames. Craig said, “We make God our butler.” A. W. Tozer said,

Left to ourselves we tend immediately to reduce God to manageable terms. We want to get Him where we can use Him, or at least know where he is when we need Him.[11]

We make God a rich uncle, an addiction counselor, an auto mechanic, a plumber, an insurance adjuster. My pastor, Paul Turek, in a sermon on prayer said, "So often we relate to God as if, I hate to say it, he were some cosmic EMT.” A. B. Simpson writes in his hymn, Himself, “Once it was the blessing, Now it is the Lord.” In the fourth stanza, he makes the piercingly plain confession, “Once I tried to use Him.”


Love sums up and fulfills the law. Lack of love sums up and fulfills sin. We usually think of a lack of love as hate. In the First Commandment, God speaks of generations who hate him. Hate certainly is sin, but so is indifference. In Jesus says to the church at Laodicea,

I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of My mouth.[12]

Indifference is a lack of love. God is more nauseated by indifference towards him than he is by hatred. Not the cold but the lukewarm he vomits.

Sympathy for Lukewarm Exploiters

From eternity and through his incarnate life until Gethsemane, Christ loved the Father and the Holy Spirit with delight. Love for the Father and the Spirit was a carrying flame. In his knowledge of the Father and the Spirit, He was taken in his affections by their beauty. He loved them for themselves, not for how He might use them. That was health and life.

But in Gethsemane, to save us, He volunteered to feel by sympathy as if He were a lukewarm exploiter. That was killing him, as it might us, if only we could feel it ourselves. He knows us better than we know ourselves. He took this on, so that on the cross, this sin of ours would be fully punished in him, giving us a covering under his blood, and reconciling us to God. When we hear his two Words to us, the Law of sin and wrath, and the Gospel of forgiveness in Jesus, and receive them as the truth, we are born again, and love to God and neighbor are kindled with our new life. These are the works of God, and because they are his works, we can be confident in them.


1.  1 John 3:4, KJV.
2.  1 John 3:4, NKJV, ESV.
3.  Matthew 22:35-40.
4.  Romans 13:9.
5.  Galatians 5:14.
6.  Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments, (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1981 reprint, first published 1692), p. 6.
7.  A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1961), p. 20.
8.  Thomas Watson, The Ten Commandments, (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1981 reprint, first published 1692), p. 6.
9.  Ibid., p. 7.
10.  Ibid.
11.  A. W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1961), p. 16.
12.  Revelation 3:15-16.

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