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The War Against Sin: Ezra 9-10
Pastor Caleb Delzell - April 10, 2018

We live in a world that is dominated by sin. Our society seems almost built around the idea of declaring right what God declares wrong, and the Christian is not immune to these influences. Though our spirits are regenerated in Christ’s resurrection power, our minds and bodies are presently still subject to the desires of the flesh. We experience the pull of carnal lusts and the allure of a debased mind, we are beset by temptations (often of our own design) and too often we give in to those temptations. The popular message in the western “church” today is one of complacency and tolerance: “Since we can never truly be holy, then we ought not even try.” Why struggle against sin if Christ is gracious? Why try to combat the flesh if God forgives? Why intentionally take captive our sinful thoughts if we are living in a day of heavenly mercy?

Jude talks about people who try to use God’s gracious nature as a license to live in sin, and the word he uses to describe such people is “ungodly” (Jude 1:4). That certainly doesn’t sound like a Christian! Paul asks the rhetorical question in Romans 6, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase?” The apostle answers his own question with a resounding, “May it never be!” (Romans 6:1-2) The truth is that we are told time and time again that not only are we to be aware of our own inclination to sin, but that we are to be actively engaged in the struggle against it!

This is what we see in Ezra 9-10, and honestly, for me, these two chapters contain one of the saddest stories in the whole of Scripture. The people of Israel are on a spiritual high. The exiles have returned home, the temple has been rebuilt, the vast treasures of offerings from the emperor and the people has been brought and placed into the treasury, everything is on the upswing!

But even in the high moments, even in the mountaintop experiences, there’s still work to be done, the guard must remain up. The people of Israel, with their punishment and captivity fresh on their minds, are on the lookout for anything that might lead them to into stumbling, anything that might take them back to the place of needing the Lord’s discipline. And they find something.

During the process of rebuilding, during the sacrifices and Passover, during the filling of the treasury, while all of these big things had been going on, a very subtle but deadly sin had begun creeping back into the midst of God’s holy people. And when this sin comes to light, the people’s first reaction is to immediately make it known and deal with it. They come to Ezra and they inform him that the people have begun to intermarry with the pagan nations around them. This is a big deal, because it was this intermarriage with the pagan nations that was a major contributor to their need for discipline in the first place. The people and Ezra remember this, and so they begin the process of waging war against this sin.

The beauty of the Bible is that the same truths we see in Ezra’s struggle against sin apply to us today. Maybe you find yourself tempted by an old sin, maybe the struggle is all to real for you, and you’re not sure if you can win this fight. Well, the bad news is that you cannot. The good news is that Christ in you can! So let’s see the steps the people of Israel take in Ezra, and how we can apply them to ourselves.

WINNING THE WAR AGAINST SIN:

1. Recognize it’s reality
(Ezra 9:1-2)
We can’t hope to begin winning the war against sin if we don’t recognize that it is actually sin. If we aren’t willing to admit that something is wrong, we won’t begin striving to live in a way that is right. Sin is sin. Call it like it is. Don’t sugar-coat it, don’t downplay it. Understand that it is a violation of the holy nature of our supreme God. It’s real, and it bears real consequences. (Psalm 10:3-4, 10-11; Isaiah 29:15; 47:10; Numbers 32:23; Ecclesiastes 12:13-14; Jeremiah 23:23-24)

2. Be willing to confess (Ezra 9:3-15)
Once we can confidently say that our sin is indeed sin, then we can take the next step to admitting that it’s wrong, and that we are in error. It does us no good to recognize the reality of sin if we don’t then deal with that sin, and the first step to dealing with it is to confess it. It’s one thing to admit to yourself that something you’ve done is wrong. It’s another thing entirely to admit to others and to God Himself that you’ve done something wrong. Recognize your illness is real, and then ask the Great Physician for help. (Leviticus 26:40-42; Proverbs 28:13; Jeremiah 3:11-14)

3. Seek support (Ezra 10:1-4)
The beauty of the Christ’s church is that we’re in this together. You don’t have to struggle against the temptations of sin on your own! We support each other, bear one another’s burdens, confess our sins to each other, and encourage and admonish one another to righteous living. This is one of the most comforting things we can know as believers, that we can trust in and rely on Christ’s body to stand by us in our pursuit of holiness. (Matthew 9:1-8; Galatians 6:1-2; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; Hebrews 12:12-13; James 5:16, 19-20)

4. Be ruthless (Ezra 10:5-17)
This is the big one. Once you’ve recognized the reality of your sin, once you’ve confessed that sin to your God, and once you’ve sought out the support of the church in your battle against sin, the only step left is to be ruthless against it. Too often we go easy on our sin! We have the tendency to only go half-power in our struggle. Listen, sin doesn’t take it easy on us, our flesh won’t cut us any slack, the price we’ll pay for a life dominated by sin is an eternal price, a damning price. We cannot afford to go light on sin! We cannot afford to only kind of care. We must be ruthless, brutal in the battle against our flesh and sin. (Isaiah 55:6-7; Galatians 5:17-21, 24; Ephesians 4:22-32; Colossians 3:5-10; 1 Peter 2:11-12)

The call is to crucify the flesh, and praise the Lord, that’s not something we have to do on our own! His Holy Spirit is the One who empowers and enables, but He empowers and enables us to strive actively against it. Stay humble, don’t underestimate the power of sin and don’t overestimate your own ability. Instead, we must call it like it is, sin is sin. We have to confess it as such to our gracious heavenly Father. We must be willing to ask for the help and support of the body. And we mustn’t take it easy on sin, because sin won’t take it easy on us.

It truly is a war, and we must treat it as such, lest we lose the battle and pay the price. Resolve instead to live victoriously in Christ and His Spirit.

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THE DWELLING PLACE - April 26, 2018