Jesus Saves Us from Our Sins
P. G. Mathew | Sunday, December 14, 2003
Copyright © 2003, P. G. Mathew
Depart, depart, go out from there! Touch no unclean thing! Come out from it and be pure, you who carry the vessels of the Lord. But you will not leave in haste or go in flight; for the Lord will go before you, the God of Israel will be your rear guard.
The first New Testament proclamation of Christ's mission on earth is found in Matthew 1:20-21. An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph at night and said to him, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins." Jesus saves his people away from their sins (apo ton hamartiôn autôn), not in their sins (en tôn hamartiôn autôn). Salvation means we are freed from the dominion of our sins.
This same message is proclaimed in Isaiah 52:11-12. The text begins with the admonition, "Depart, depart," meaning, "Go out, go out." The phrase "go out" occurs seven times in these two verses-six refer to us going out, and the seventh refers to God going out before us. If the Holy Spirit is using that word seven times, it is clear we should pay close attention! He is commanding us to leave sin and separate ourselves from the whole sphere of evil. Why? Because Jesus saves us from our sins.
The Westminster Confession speaks about sanctification this way:
They, who are once effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart, and a new spirit created in them, are further sanctified, really and personally, through the virtue of Christ's death and resurrection, by his Word and Spirit dwelling in them: the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts thereof are more and more weakened and mortified; and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord (Chapter 13, Section 1).
Those who are regenerated and justified are also sanctified, or made holy. If a person is truly saved, he will also be made holy by the Lord.
The first ten verses of Isaiah 52 speak about salvation; verses 11 and 12 speak about sanctification. Where there is true conversion, there will also be progressive conformation to the image of our Savior Jesus Christ. So the Lord commands us in Leviticus 11:44, "Be holy, because I am holy," and in Hebrews 12:14 we are warned, "Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord." And 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 says, "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."
This is what the Bible teaches. Yet today many Christians dislike the doctrine of separation and holiness. They prefer the philosophy of "both/and"-both Jesus and fornication, both Jesus and greed, and so on. Christians do not seem to hate sin; rather, they want to believe in Jesus while continuing to practice sin. They want a Jesus who permits them to live as they did before-in greed, divorce, autonomy, fornication, abortion, pornography, premarital sex, homosexuality, moral relativism, pleasure-mania, drugs, drunkenness, and materialism. They do not want to be labeled "Puritans" or "fundamentalists."
But if we live to please God, the world will call us Puritans, fundamentalists, old-fashioned, prudish, non-intellectual, narrow-minded, Neanderthal, exclusivistic, holier-than-thou, fools for Christ. The truth is, when the bondage to sin ceases, our pilgrimage begins. Jesus calls us out of Egypt and Babylon, and sets us on the road to Zion, the holy city of God.
The Negative Command: "Go Out!"
The first divine imperative in this text is negatively stated: "Depart, depart, go out from there!" The preceding verses of chapter 52 set the stage for this command. There we are called to awake to a new reality: the Lord has come, defeated our enemies, and set us free. We have heard the good news: "Our God reigns!" There is victory, peace, prosperity, and glorious spiritual freedom.
In light of this salvation, we are to free ourselves of the chains on our neck, rise up from the dirt, shake off the dust and cleanse ourselves. We are to put on the garments of strength and splendor provided for us by our great Redeemer and sit enthroned as royal priests in all dignity. And we are given a promise that wicked foreigners, the uncircumcised, and the defiled shall never again enter the holy city to defile us.
As the saved people of God, we are called to be holy by the voice of our divine Commander. It is that voice that spoke and the whole creation sprang into being. It is that voice that told the dead, buried and stinking Lazarus, "Come out," and he came forth. The same voice now tells us, "Depart, depart, go out from evil and sin!" If we are saved, we must do what he commands. If we are not saved, we will not, and indeed cannot, obey God.
This command to depart is repeated; that means it is an urgent matter. The people of God must immediately depart from Egypt and Babylon, which symbolize the sphere of evil. The doors of our prison have been thrown open; it is time to enjoy our freedom by fleeing from the City of Destruction and journeying to the City of God.
Notice, the responsibility to do this rests in us. Having repented and believed in Jesus Christ, we now must leave every sin, and do so immediately. This injunction is repeated throughout the Bible. In 1 Corinthians Paul tells us, "Flee from sexual immorality" (6:18) and "Flee from idolatry" (10:14). First Timothy 6:11 exhorts us to flee the love of money, and 2 Timothy 2:22 says, "Flee the evil desires of youth." Just picture how Joseph ran when Mrs. Potiphar tried to seduce him. That is what we are told to do: Flee! Do not linger or negotiate! Your soul is in jeopardy! Save yourself from this crooked and perverse generation!
We are able to flee because God has set us free. Twice in Romans 6 we are told: "You have been set free from sin" (vv. 18, 22). That is a divine indicative for which we must give glory to God. In Jesus Christ, God has set us free from slavery to every sin.
Not only must we flee, but we must live for God: "He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need" (Ephesians 4:28). The lazy man becomes a productive man. The liar becomes a truth-teller. The adulterer becomes a faithful husband or wife. The disobedient children become obedient. The drunkard becomes sober and now worships the living God. The addicted are set free from every addiction. All of these demonstrate the miraculous work of salvation. The Lord saves us out of all bondage, and "if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed."
The word "depart" in Hebrew means absolute, total, and immediate departure. Numbers 16 tells the story of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram-wicked men who rebelled against Moses' authority. God was about to open up the earth to swallow them, so he commanded Moses to warn the people, "Move back from the tents of these wicked men! Do not touch anything belonging to them, or you will be swept away because of al their sins" (v. 26). The people moved away, the earth opened up suddenly, and all the wicked people were destroyed. This is the idea found in the word "depart": Do not linger or rationalize. Get out immediately for your own safety!
In Genesis 19 the angels told Lot and his family to depart from Sodom: "Flee for your lives! Don't look back, and don't stop . . . or you will be swept away" (v. 17). But verse 26 tells us, "Lot's wife looked back, and she became a pillar of salt." You see, there are people who think this world is everlasting. That is what Mrs. Lot thought. But Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 7:31, "For this world in its present form is passing away." And 1 John 2:15-17 says, "Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world-the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does-comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever." We are fools if we think that this world is everlasting and seek the things of this world above all else, as the pagans do.
Jesus warned us, "Remember Lot's wife." She did not want to depart or flee. Instead she turned, and became a pillar of salt. But we must burn all bridges to sin. If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out. Have nothing to do with the unfruitful works of darkness. God is urgently commanding his people to depart. Obey the voice of God for your own safety. Depart from all worldly philosophy; it is injurious to your soul.
In 2 Corinthians 6:14-18 Paul warns us against having fellowship with the evil of the world:
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: "I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people." "Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you." "I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty."
Every true Christian is commanded by God to depart, to get out, to be separate, to have nothing to do with evil. In Revelation18:4 the apostle John says, "Then I heard another voice from heaven say: 'Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will receive any of her plagues.'" Abraham was told in Genesis 12:1, "Leave your country, your people and your father's household," and he obeyed.
The church is not of the world. The church is called ekklêsia, meaning "the company of those who are called out." We are called out of the world to belong to the kingdom of God. We are called out of darkness, out of sin, out of the control of Satan, out of slavery, and called into God's glorious freedom.
Bishop J.C. Ryle's Practical Religion contains a chapter entitled "The World," in which he quotes several New Testament scriptures which emphasize this point:
"Be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Romans 12:2).
"We have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit which is of God" (1 Corinthians 2:12).
"Christ gave Himself for us, that He might deliver us from this present evil world" (Galatians 1:4).
"In time past ye walked according to the course of this world" (Ephesians 2:2).
"Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world" (2 Timothy 4:10).
"Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world" (James 1:27).
"Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God" (James 4:4).
"Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him" (1 John 2:15).
"The world knoweth us not, because it knew Him not" (1 John 3:1).
"Whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world" (1 John 5:4).
"We know that we are of God and the whole world lieth in wickedness" (1 John 5:19).
"The cares of this world choke the Word and it becometh unfruitful" (Matthew 13:22).
"Ye are of this world; I am not of this world" (John 8:23).
"If the world hates you, ye know that it hated Me before it hated you" (John 15:18)
We are commanded to come out of the world. Yet some are still in bondage because of their failure to pay attention to this divine imperative. I appeal to you to listen to the voice of God, come out, and save yourself!
The Negative Command: "Touch No Unclean Thing!"
God now gives his people a second imperative: "Touch no unclean thing." Why? Because uncleanness is contagious. If we touch unclean things, it makes us unclean.
Leviticus 5:2 declares: "If a person touches anything ceremonially unclean-whether the carcasses of unclean wild animals or of unclean livestock or of unclean creatures that move along the ground-even though he is unaware of it, he has become unclean and is guilty." And in 2 Corinthians 7:1 Paul tells believers, "Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God."
This command is unambiguous and all-inclusive: "Touch no unclean thing!" We are to flee from every impure thing. That includes television programs, books, and philosophies that make our soul filthy. The same goes for wicked people. We cannot fellowship with wicked people and remain pure. We contract their uncleanness, which disqualifies us from worshiping the Lord in the beauty of holiness.
Genesis 35 clearly illustrates this problem. When we touch an unclean thing, we become unclean, and we cannot go to the house of God, Bethel, to worship. (PGM) In Genesis 35:1, God the Father is calling to himself a people who will worship him in spirit and in truth, in the beauty of holiness: "Then God said to Jacob, 'Go up to Bethel and settle there, and build an altar there to God, who appeared to you when you were fleeing from your brother Esau.'" But Jacob knows he and his family are unclean, that there is filth in the people of God. "So Jacob said to his household and to all who were with him, 'Get rid of the foreign gods you have with you, and purify yourselves and change your clothes. Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God . . .'" (vv. 2-3). The foreign gods Jacob had to leave were the unclean idols his wife Rachel had stolen from her father (31:19, 34). The unclean cannot worship our holy God.
In Acts 19 we find Paul preaching the gospel in Ephesus. As a result of his preaching, "many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds" (v. 18). We are told they brought out scrolls on sorcery and burned them up, and the value of the scrolls was fifty thousand drachmas. That is what departing means-burn all bridges; burn all old associations and habits; touch no unclean thing, because you are the holy people of God.
There is no point in trying to cover up our defilement, as Rachel tried to hide the pagan idols: "When Laban had gone to shear his sheep, Rachel stole her father's household gods. . . . Now Rachel had taken the household gods and put them inside her camel's saddle and was sitting on them" (vv. 19, 34). So many times people come to church having sinned-having had a fight or having done something else wrong-but they come and cover it up, thinking to themselves, "Well, nobody saw it." When we do this, not only do we deprive ourselves and our family of blessings, but we also deprive the church of blessings. Are you sitting on something, covering it up from everybody else? Remember, the Lord knows it, and he commands you to depart from it.
The Positive Command: "Purify Yourselves"
The next divine imperative is a positive one: "Come out from it and be pure, you who carry the vessels of the Lord." Sanctification is a joint venture: God does something, and we must respond. Oh, we want God himself to do everything in our salvation, but the only thing he does alone is to regenerate us. Because we are dead, we can do nothing; God must make us alive. But then he tells us to cooperate with him by responding in obedience. So we are told, "Purify yourselves." It is our personal responsibility.y.
Paul tells us in Philippians 2:12, "Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed-not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence-continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling." This is the doctrine of sanctification: we must work out our salvation!
We do this through faith and obedience to God's will. So when God says, "Depart," we depart. When he says, "Obey your parents," we obey, and his mercy and grace will come to us to make us able to do so. As we read in verse 13, "for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose." It is a joint venture. God first works inside us so that we can work out our salvation.
In this text we are described as those "who bear the vessels of the Lord." That means we are the Lord's priests, as Revelation 1:6 attests. As royal priests we are clothed in garments of splendor, beauty and purity, and the holy God does not want us to dirty our garments, because, if we do, we become unfit to worship him.
Psalm 24:3 poses a very important question: "Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?" The answer comes: "He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false. He will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God his Savior." To fellowship with this holy God, we must be holy. Thus we are commanded, "Depart, depart, go out! Touch no unclean thing! Come out from the midst of her! Purify yourselves, you who bear the vessels of the Lord."
Our God is the Holy One of Israel. His city is called the holy city, and the way to it is called the Way of Holiness. You see, we are on a pilgrimage. Having been redeemed from the sphere of sin, we are journeying down this highway described in Isaiah 35: "A highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way." This is why Jesus is called the Way. "Wicked fools will not go about on it. No lion will be there, nor will any ferocious beast get up on it; they will not be found there. But only the redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the Lord will return. They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away." That is the inheritance of God's holy people. We must purify ourselves. It is our responsibility to live a holy life.
What, then, is the outward evidence that one is journeying on this Way of Holiness? It is very simple. When children obey their parents, they are living a holy life. When husbands love their wives, they are living a holy life. When the wives submit to their husbands freely and joyfully, on their own accord, they are living a holy life. When parents raise up their children in the fear of the Lord, they are living a holy life. When parents work hard and provide for their family, they are living a holy life. When people of God worship God in spirit and in truth on the Lord's Day, they are living a holy life. When we share our goods with suffering people, we are living a holy life. When we share the glorious gospel with unbelievers, we are living a holy life. When we obey God's authorities in the state, we are living a holy life. When we pray daily and study the word, we are living a holy life. When we forsake all sin and follow after righteousness, we are living a holy life. May God help us to begin to live such a holy life even this day! Amen.
Copyright © 2003, P. G. Mathew
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