Posts

The True and Better Judas Iscariot

It happens every once and a while. A big-name “sinner” claims he or she has been wrong.

On hearing such a claim, some scoff: “Ha! Impossible!” Conversely, others start preparing the victory parade and inviting all to come celebrate—the sinner has repented!

Each side makes a valid point. Yes, we should be cautious before simply believing everything we hear. And only God can bring change that bears lasting fruit. We should be ready to celebrate the return of a prodigal heart, believe the best about others, and guard our hearts from needless cynicism.

But how do we know the difference between mere remorse and full-blown repentance?

To this question, the Bible speaks—loudly. And in the end, it causes us to ask one more.

Compelling Story

There once lived a man who was a horrific sinner. He was an expert swindler. Money was his god. His religion was gain.

There was another man, a different man. He was the religious sort, playing the role of treasurer for a non-profit, if you will. He looked trustworthy, though he loved money too—for spiritual reasons, of course. He followed Jesus. He had witnessed mighty works and compassionate deeds. And one day this man, Judas, saw true repentance firsthand.

As he followed Jesus through Jericho, they suddenly stopped because Jesus saw a man sitting up in a sycamore tree. Jesus called the man to come down and host him for a meal.

The man descended the tree and, as he drew closer, the crowd gasped. It was the horrific sinner himself! Here was the swindler, the scammer, the greed monger. Zacchaeus. Just his name made the blood boil. If only Jesus had known how many old ladies had lost their last dollar to this man’s tricks (Luke 19:5–7).

The crowd pressed in, peering through the doorway and the windows in hopes of seeing Jesus put Zacchaeus in his place. Perhaps some even thought Zacchaeus set up the whole encounter himself, to polish his image in the public eye. That’s it! This was nothing more than a publicity stunt to manufacture grace after pilfering the community with salacious greed. Here it comes, they think. Let him have it, Jesus!

But instead of Jesus, it was the swindler who spoke:

And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:8–10)

The onlookers could hardly believe their ears. From greedy fraud to godly follower? From exploiting the poor to paying them back?

It was more than they could take. Some probably erupted into tears of joy because they had been wounded for years by Zacchaeus’s gimmicks. His penitent action was a healing balm to their anxious souls. Others embraced those around them in relief that the falsehood was finished. One less wolf to threaten the sheep. Still others, though, refused to accept this as true repentance.

As days turned to weeks, and weeks to months and years, Zacchaeus made good on his promises and continued in his newfound faith. His repentance was real, his eternal peace secure.

Lesson in the Aftermath

Back at the table that day, I imagine Judas looking on somewhat indifferently. He doesn’t seem to know that he would become the “son of perdition” (John 17:12) and that Satan would enter him during history’s most heinous betrayal (Luke 22:3; John 13:2).

But I can also see Judas looking on somewhat nervously—perhaps even annoyed with conviction. I can imagine him clutching the money bag just a little bit tighter, pondering whether anyone could tell that his own actions were no different from Zacchaeus’s—though he was much better at hiding them.

In his Gospel account, the apostle John shows his readers what was in Judas’s heart. During Mary’s beautiful display of worship, she had used expensive perfume and her own hair to wash the feet of Jesus (John 12:3). Judas, protesting that such an act was a waste of money, showed his true colors. John points out that Judas “was a thief, and having charge of the moneybag he used to help himself to what was put into it” (John 12:6).

Later, overridden with guilt after betraying Jesus unto death, Judas was remorseful but not repentant. He tried to undo what he had done by throwing the dirty money back at the feet of his shady business partners (Matt. 27:4–5). It was blood money, dripping pure and red from the righteous Lamb himself. Even still, that same blood could’ve covered his sin—if he would truly have repented and turned to Christ. Surely, Judas remembered what repentance looked like. Repentance is self-exposure, the heart laid bare, the mind determined to head in a new direction! Surely he knew that all it would take to make things right was running to Christ in confession. Instead, he hid in the shadow of shame. Indeed, Judas’s effort was nothing more than a feeble attempt to hang fruit on a dead tree. But only genuine repentance produces genuine fruit (Matt. 3:8). After all he had seen firsthand, Judas undoubtedly knew that mere remorse couldn’t account for his sin against God.

Through the lives of both Zacchaeus and Judas, the Bible speaks with unwavering clarity. Zacchaeus was truly repentant, showing faith through his confession and open accountability. Judas was merely remorseful, remaining in the shadows of guilt because he’d betrayed the Son of God.

Judas knew remorse would not do. Why, Judas, did you not repent?

_____________________________________

This article was originally published at The Gospel Coalition on October 17th, 2019. 

5 Principles for Sexual Sin

Old time evangelist Vance Havner once said, “The alternative to discipline is disaster.”[1] You know what? He was right. And what’s more? From beyond the grave his words are still piercingly true. When we apply them to how we deal with sexual sin in the church today, his much-needed words touch a sensitive nerve and must stir us into action, and not the type of action they seem to get up to on fulltube.xxx and many other adult sites!

Without question, sexual sin must be addressed and dealt with in the body of Christ. If we do not lovingly and firmly face our impurities, our lack of discipline will most certainly lead to disaster. Are you a church leader to whom God has given some level of responsibility in overseeing His flock? Do you have a biblical philosophy for dealing with sexual sin in the lives of those entrusted to you? Are you a believer who is discipling someone who is floundering in sexual temptation without a clear plan for waging war against sin? Use the following principles from 1 Corinthians 5 and 6. Without a clear plan from God’s word, you may be found wanting in this area of your life and ministry.

#1 Be direct and specific

Nobody benefits when sexual sin is kept in the dark by those who know about it. When Paul addresses the sexual sin that was plaguing the Corinthian church he was not passive aggressive or dropping hints in the hopes that someone might catch his drift. He was direct, and specific. In no uncertain terms he wrote, “It is reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such kind does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife” (1 Cor. 5:1). Well, there are you have it. Paul simply “goes there.” Pastors should use tact when doing this because Paul’s not necessarily mandating a public shaming for every case of sexual sin. In Corinth, this was blatant and unrepentant. It was happening without much challenge. It needed public discipline. How you apply this can vary depending on context. However, one thing is clear: when sexual sin is present it needs to be dealt with in a direct way.

#2 Mourn sexual sin

It may be our desensitized culture or the result of antinomianism in too many churches but sin isn’t always mourned the way it should be. Paul sternly reprimands the Corinthians saying, “And you have become arrogant, and have not mourned instead…” (1 Cor. 5:2a). He is unseated in frustration because the Corinthians are not broken over sin! Where is the agony? Where is the good kind of guilt that tells us something is very wrong and must be fixed? Too many professing Christians want to jump right to grace but they’ve never faced their guilt with genuine repentance. One can argue that the church is fattened with many false converts as a result. We need to know the bad news about our sin and face it before we can appreciate the good news of grace. If you’ve never mourned your sin, you may be living a superficial, American version of Christianity.

#3 Discipline sexual sin

Want to do something unpopular in today’s tolerant world? Call for the discipline of sexual sin when it remains without repentance and is blatantly unceasing. Call it what it is. Call the person what they are. Put them out of the church because they are not a part of the church. True believers will sin, but they will repent of sin and habitual sin will slowly fade from the pattern of their life. Grace doesn’t mean we keep on sinning. Paul exhorts the church to remove “the one who had done this deed” (1 Cor. 5:2b), to “judge those who are within the church” (1 Cor. 5:12), and to “remove the wicked man from among yourselves” (1 Cor. 5:13). This is explicit and clear. Discipline sexual sin.

#4 Demand purity

Another unpopular and dogmatic step here we come! In 1 Corinthians 6 Paul continues by following up his demand for discipline with a demand for purity. The body belongs to the Lord and Christians are to “flee immorality” (1 Cor. 6:17). The body “is a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19a) and should be treated as such. There is no room for a sexually flagrant lifestyle in which sexual sin is not repented of. Every church leader is biblically allowed to demand purity from themselves and those they serve. It’s not man’s authority that calls for this. It’s the word of God.

#5 Point to Christ

All these imperatives can seem too intense if we’re not constantly reminding ourselves of the ultimate motivation for purity. Legalism isn’t our motive. Good behavior isn’t our motive. Pleasing men is not our motive. Christ is our motive! In light of the gospel and what Jesus has purchased, every believer can overcome sexual sin and “glorify God” in their body (1 Cor. 6:20b). Perfection doesn’t come until heaven, but we ought to be progressing in our purity while here on earth. Purity is desired when we remember that we belong to Christ (1 Cor. 6:15) and have been “bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:20a). Could there be a better motivation when dealing with sin than to look to the One who shed His blood for it?

Much more can be said about dealing with sexual sin and various practical applications can be added here. But that fact remains, we must internalize what the Bible says about sexual sin so that we can equip ourselves to be striving for purity, and pro-active when helping others.

[1]As quoted in Donald Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2014), 21.