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James Merritt - Off Ramp

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    James Merritt - Off Ramp
TOPICS: Sin, Redemption

If you're like me, for most of us at least, if not all of us, life is full. As a matter of fact, it's more than full. Sometimes it feels like it's overfilled. Now, I'm not looking for sympathy, but let me just give an example. We pastors have a saying: "Sunday's comin'". And what we mean by that is, no matter what else we do or how well we do it, it really doesn't matter to you. Here's what matters to you. You're comin' to hear a message on Sunday, and it better be worth hearing. So, we pastors have that saying: "Sunday's comin'". So we're always thinking about, praying about, working on, and preparing a message. Now, for you, your saying's a little bit different. What you say, "Monday's comin'".

It just happens to be that my Sunday is Monday. Your Monday is Monday. I just a start a little bit earlier. And we all kinda have the same things going on in our life, right? Tons of emails to answer, phone calls to return, teams to lead, people to meet, counsel to give, books to read. In my case, books to write, speaking engagements. And then, besides all of that, I'm a father, I'm a grandfather, I'm a husband, I'm a son, I'm a brother, I am a friend, and I'm a neighbor. And oh, by the way, did I mention that I wanna exercise, must watch ESPN, and I like to play golf occasionally? Now, you add all of that up, you get the point. Too many obligations and not enough time to get them all done. I just sometimes feel overwhelmed. We decided we would start with something that, in my mind, may be the most overwhelming thing that people deal with in church and out of church.

As a matter of fact, this is so overwhelming, it could drive people to suicide. Guilt is an inside job, but you've gotta have outside help to deal with it. You can't deal with your guilt on your own. You can never get free of the guilt trip on your own. You can't get off the guilt trip on your own. You cannot get free of the guilt trap on your own. This is what I want you to take out the door. There is an off ramp for the guilt trip, there is. God's forgiveness through the cross and the empty tomb.

Now, here's what I wanna show you this morning. One of the disciples, his name was John, was an eyewitness both of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection. John wrote a little book that I want you to turn to if you brought a copy of God's Word or an iPad or a smartphone or whatever you use. There's a little book in the Bible called 1 John. It's almost at the end of your Bible. I want you to turn to 1 John chapter 1 because what John does is John tells us in this little book how to get off the guilt trip and how to get out of the guilt trap. And what he says is so simple, you won't believe how easy it is to find the off ramp of guilt on the exit marked "Forgiveness". There are three simple things that he tells us to do.

Number one, you've got to acknowledge the fact of your sin. You'll never understand guilt till you understand what causes guilt. And there's only one thing that causes guilt that's deserved, and that's sin. Sin is what causes guilt. Now, I'm gonna explain sin in just a moment, but just I want you to think about this. If the root cause of guilt is sin, then in order to remove the guilt, you've gotta deal with the sin correctly. You will not take care of the guilt unless you take care of the sin. Now, this is where the problem comes in. Because what you'll find today is, there are basically three ways that people try to deal with their sin today. You watch this. Some people deny their sin.

For example, John, as a matter of fact, John knew this was a problem. He deals with this issue twice. Listen to what he says. He says: "If we say we have no sin," that is, we do, but we say we don't, "we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us". And then he gets stronger. He says, "If we say we have not sinned," that is, if God says what we did is sin, but we say, "No, it's not". "No, God says it is". "No, it's not". "But you broke God's law". "I don't care what God says. If it feels good, I do it". "If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his Word is not in us". In other words, if God says, "'X' is wrong," but you say, "I don't think 'X' is wrong. If it feels good, do it. It doesn't hurt anybody else. It's my life. I wanna live it the way I want. I don't see anything wrong with it at all". Then somebody lied. If God says, "'X' is wrong," and we say, "'X' is not wrong," either God's a liar or we're a liar. And John says, "If you have the audacity to say, 'Oh, no, what I did is not a sin,' you make God a liar".

Now, we're living in a world and a culture and a society and a nation today, as you well know, where the word "sin" is hardly ever used. In fact, I'll give you a challenge. Sometime when you don't have anything else to do, DVR, or however you wanna do it, Netflix, or whatever you do these days, watch Fox News, watch CNN, and watch MSNBC, watch CBS, ABC, NBC, watch all the talk show hosts, watch all the sitcoms. You will never hear the word "sin" ever used. It's just not even in our vocabulary. Here's what you'll hear. A politician is caught sexting or having an affair, or a banker is caught embezzling money, or an investment broker knowingly bilks thousands of people out of their retirement. They'll get on TV and they'll have all these cameras in front of them, and they'll get up with all the courage they can muster and you'll hear these four words: "I made a mistake". "I made a mistake".

"Yeah, I know I bilked thousands of people out of millions of dollars, and I took all their retirement, I broke them, and I ruined their life, and here's what I have to say: oops, mis-added a row of figures, just made a mistake". "Yeah, I broke my wedding vows and I committed adultery, and I slept with a woman that was not my wife. I just made a mistake". Well, let me give you a news flash. There's a big difference between a sin and a mistake. And let me just help you with this. There's no need to feel guilt over a mistake. Mistakes don't bring guilt. Sin brings guilt. As a matter of fact, it's worse than that. If I'm a mistaker and I'm not a sinner, I don't need a Savior. Why do I need Jesus to die on the cross and come back from the dead if I'm just making mistakes?

See, mistakes don't need to be corrected. Mistakes need to be corrected. Sins need to be forgiven. That's the difference. Jesus Christ didn't die for mistakes. He died for sins. He didn't come back from the empty grave to correct our mistakes. He came back to forgive sins. But there are some people that say, "Oh, no, no, no, no, no, it's just a mistake". No, it is a sin. And then there's some people, they deny their sin, or they dilute their sin. They water it down with statements like, "Well, everybody does it. I'm not the only one that does this". Or here's my favorite one: "Things happen". Or even better: "Whatever". And they just say, "You know, I just don't understand what a big deal".

And let me just say this to you. If that's your attitude towards your sin, that may make you feel better for a while, but it won't take away your guilt. So, some people deny their sin, and then some people dilute their sin, and then some people defend their sin. "Well, I was young". "I was naïve". "I didn't know any better". "I was ignorant". "I was broke". "I was desperate". "I was entrapped". Now, I want you to listen. If you don't hear anything else I say and you're on a guilt trip, if you don't hear anything else I say and you're tired of this guilty feeling you have all of the time, I want you to listen to this next statement. You are never going to get past your past until you quit trying to pass your past off. That took me two hours to come up with that, okay?

You are never going to get past your past until you quit trying to pass your past off. You'll never clean until you acknowledge that you're dirty. You'll never get free until you acknowledge that you're in prison. Your conscience will never be clear until you acknowledge you've got a sin problem and it's caused your guilt. And the best way to deal with sin is not to deny it. It's not to dilute it. It's not to defend it. The only way to deal with sin is simply to declare it. You've got to acknowledge the fact of your sin, all right? That's step one. Here's step two. Once you acknowledge the fact of your sin, you've got to admit the fault of your sin.

Now, let me tell you what I mean by that. This is really, really good. There's only one remedy for guilt. There's only one. There's not two. There's not three. There's not four. There's only one remedy for guilt, and that's forgiveness. The remedy for guilt is not a good lawyer, is not a coverup, is not an alibi. It's not shifting the blame. The only for guilt is forgiveness. And the only way to get forgiveness is confession. So, John says in 1 John 1:9: "If we confess our sins, he," that is, God, "is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness".

Now, now we have to understand what sin is. You don't go to God and confess a mistake. You don't go to God and confess a problem. You don't go to God and confess a weakness. You go to God and confess a sin. Well, that raises a question, and I don't wanna beg the question. What is sin? What do you mean by "sin"? 'Cause a lot of people don't understand that. Well, let me make it very easy. Sin is disobeying God, period. That's it, sin is disobeying God. Sin is breaking God's laws. As a matter of fact, John goes on to say this in chapter 3. He said, "Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness".

So, the next time somebody comes up to you and they say, "Hey, you people in church talk about sin. What is sin"? Simply say, "Well, sin is lawlessness". And then they'll probably ask, "Well, whose law"? "God's law". Sin is not breaking human law, could be, but sin is breaking God's law and sin is breaking God's heart. Now, here's, again, where we kinda miss the boat. When I talk about confessing sin, I'm not just talking about admitting sin. You can admit sin but not confess it, and let me tell you what I mean. The word "confess" comes from two words. One word is the word "homo". It means "the same". And one word, we get the "Logos" with it. It means "to say".

So it literally means "to say the same thing". When you confess sin, you're saying the same thing about your sin that God says, and you call it what God calls it. So, for an example, it's not an affair. It is full-blown adultery. It is not creative accounting. It is stealing. It is not exaggerating. It is lying. You call it what God calls it and you agree with him that's what it is. So, what, in effect, you're dying, and by the way, this is why it's so hard for us to confess. Because when you confess, you not only go to God and say, "God, this is exactly what I did. This is what you call it. This is what I call it".

You also say to God, "And by the way, let me go ahead and tell you what you already know. It's all my fault. I'm not a victim. The devil didn't make me do it. It wasn't society's fault. I'm not a victim of my circumstances. I did what I did because I chose to do it. I was wrong. The guilt is my fault". I am a follower of Jesus Christ. I have trusted Christ, but I've got guilt in my life. I've got unconfessed sin in my life. I've got sin that I've not dealt with in my life. So, what's my issue? Well, your issue is not a relationship with God. Your issue is fellowship with God. Relationships are permanent. When you establish a relationship with God through Jesus, it's permanent. But the fellowship, that can be greatly, greatly affected.

Here's why John said this. John said, "If we say that we have fellowship with him," that is, with God, "while we walk in darkness," what does it mean to walk in darkness? It means you're doing things you know you shouldn't do. You're living a life the way you know you shouldn't live it, even though you claim to be a follower of Jesus and you're not doing anything about it, so you've got unconfessed sin, or you've got guilt in your life. If that's true of you, we lie, and we do not practice the truth. In other words, he says, "It's not that you don't have a relationship with God. You don't have a fellowship with God".

I've got three sons. We have a permanent relationship. No matter what my sons do, they will always be my sons. No matter what I do, I will always be their dad. That relationship never changes. However, growing up, my three sons did what I did growing up. They disobeyed me sometimes. And when they disobeyed me, it did not affect our relationship. They were still my sons and I was still their dad. It greatly affected our fellowship. We just didn't really... we weren't clickin'. And until they made things right, until they apologized, and until things were made right between us, our fellowship was simply totally off. And the point I'm making is, just as there is no such thing as a no-fault divorce, what an oxymoron that is.

I've never met a divorced couple where both of them were perfect. Somebody's at fault. When somebody gets a divorce, somebody's at fault. And just as there's no such thing as a no-fault divorce, there's no such thing as a no-fault sin. Sin is our fault. And the guilt that comes from it is our fault. And if we wanna get forgiveness of that sin and we wanna get free from that guilt, we've got to admit to the fact of our sin. We've got to acknowledge the fault of our sin. We've gotta come to God and say: "I am my biggest problem. I'm in the mess that I'm in because I created it. I'm the one that sinned. I'm the one that fell short of your glory. I'm the one that disobeyed you. The guilt that I have is all on me, and I need you to help me get rid of it".

And when you finally own up to it, and admit to it, and acknowledge it, then you get to take this last quick step, and this is the best one of all. Then you can ask for the forgiveness of your sin. Now, let me just show you how this works. This is so good. See, the cross and the Resurrection tells us there's no guilty stains so deep and so dark that the blood of Jesus Christ can't remove it. See, I'm about to something, and I know what some of you are gonna say before I even say it.

You're gonna sit there and you're gonna say, "You don't know my life". "You don't know what I've done". "You don't know the skeletons in my closet". "You don't know. You don't know what I thank God my wife doesn't know". "You don't know what I thank God my husband doesn't know". "You don't know what I thank God my parents don't know". "You don't know what I thank God that my employer doesn't know". "You don't know what I thank God that nobody knows". No, I don't, but you do and God does. And you may think what you've done is so bad, so evil, so dark, and so dirty that God can't forgive it, but God says, "I haven't yet met the sin I can't clean. I specialize in it. That's what I do best".

Because see, at the cross, love won. Jesus dies on the cross, pays off our sin debt, gives us as way out of the guilt trip, and then God comes to us and it's so simple. And this is why I don't understand how people miss it. He says, "Look, let me tell you how this works. You're on a guilt trip". "Yeah, I am". "Can't get off of it". "No, I can't". "Okay, make it easy. You do your part. I'll do my part". You say, "Okay, God, what's my part"? "Oh, your part's easy. Just admit what I already know is true. You're a sinner. Just admit it and just acknowledge it, and then just admit that you are a sinner, that it's your fault, the guilt's on you, and you can't do anything about it". "Okay". And God says, "Okay, then I'll do my part. And my part is, in love, I forgive the sin, and I remove the guilt".

Now, that sounds good. You say, "Hey, I'm all in. But question, how do I know it works that way? How do I really know God will do his part? I know I'll do my part. How do I really know God will do his part"? John says, "Okay, I'm glad you asked that question". So he says this. He says, "If we confess our sins," that's our part, "God," that is he, and then he gives us two reasons why you can take it to the bank. "He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness". John says, "There is a 100% money-back guarantee that if you will confess your sins to God, he will forgive your sins". He says, "I'll tell you two reasons why. Number one, God is faithful to whatever he says".

Whatever God says he'll do, he'll do it. So, for example, the prophet Isaiah said this: "Let the wicked change their ways and banish the very thought of doing wrong. Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them. Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously". God's made a promise. Put it in concrete. Written it in stone. Sealed it with the blood of his on Son. God says, "Here's my promise. When you come to me and you turn to me, and you turn away from your sin, and you admit what you've done and acknowledge what you've done, I will do my part and, in love, I will take away your sin and I will remove the guilt. And if I don't do that, then you can call me a liar, except I don't lie. I'm faithful to what I say". And then, "God is just in what he does".

Now, why does John bring up the fact that God's just? Well, here's our problem. If you haven't figured this out already, you need to think with me. If God is a just God and God is a holy God, and that's what the Bible says primarily about God, he is a holy and a just God, then here's what God cannot do with your sin and my sin. God can't just sweep it under the rug. He can't just pretend it didn't happen. He can't just let bygones be bygones. He can't just say, "Well, boys will be boys. No harm, no foul. That's okay, forget it. Just do better next time". He can't do that.

You say, "Why not"? If a judge allows a criminal to go free that is proven guilty, that he knows is guilty, that everybody knows is guilty, and yet, when he comes to announce the verdict, he says, "Not guilty," the judge then becomes the criminal. If he lets a criminal go free that's guilty, and everybody knows he's guilty, and he's proven guilty, and the judge says, "Nope, not guilty," then the judge becomes a criminal. So, here's the dilemma. The dilemma is, so how can God forgive us of what we are truly guilty of, declare us innocent, and still be just? The answer is Easter.

Jesus dies on a cross and says, "You know what? I'm gonna do for you what you can't do for yourself. You have accumulated a sin debt you cannot pay off. You can't pay it off with money, marbles, chocolate, baptism, church membership, reading your Bible, giving money, doing good deeds. You can never pay it off. So I'm gonna pay it off for you". And he dies on a cross. And then, to prove that he cashed the check, God raises his Son from the dead. And God says, "Paid in full".

So, when God forgives, what does he do? He cancels the sin debt completely. And I want you to watch this last little verse in here 'cause this is so good. It says, "And he cleanses us from all unrighteousness". Can you just say that word with me right there? Say it real loud. Okay, do you understand, if that said, "And God cleanses us from most unrighteousness," we're dead? We're dead meat, we're sunk. "God cleanses us from a lot of unrighteousness". We're up the creek without the paddle. "God cleanses us from all unrighteousness". Everything you've ever done in the past, everything you may do today, everything you probably will do some time tomorrow, God has already cleansed it.

That's why, when you go to God's courtroom and you look up your legal file once you give your life to Jesus, you'll find one sheet of paper with one word on it, and all it says is, "Forgiven," done. No indictment, no condemnation, nothing on file. Slate is clean. And just how clean are we? Verse 7: "And the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin".

And this is what Easter's all about. You kneel at the foot of the cross, and you look up at the man that's hangin' on that cross and you say, "I'm not what you are. You're not what I am. But because I am who I am, I need who you are. And I believe you are doing for me what I cannot do for myself. You are dying for my sin so I don't have to be on a guilt trip anymore. And I believe that you came back from the dead, and I believe you're alive right now, and I am accepting you into my life, and I'm accepting you into my heart. And once you do that, the only word you'll ever find in your legal file ever again is that little word FORGIVEN".

So, let me show you how this works out, and we'll be done. I've never seen this before. One of my favorite books in the Bible is the book of Revelation. Just out of curiosity, how many of you don't really understand a lot about the book of Revelation? Can I just see a show of hands? Thank you. If you didn't raise your hand, you are lyin' through your teeth. I translate Greek. I know the Greek language pretty well. I don't understand a lot about the book of Revelation. I mean, I just really don't. But it's one of my favorite books because I love to read about it. I don't understand, you know, a good bit of it, but I just love to read it. And it's just fascinating to me.

Well, I wanna show you something I've never seen before. John has this vision of this new heaven and this new earth and this new city called Jerusalem, where we're all gonna live in eternity one day. And I've read this thousands of thousands of times, folks, and I've never seen it before in my life. So, John's given this great vision of where we're going to live, and all of a sudden, in Revelation 21, verse 12, he says: "I saw this". Now, watch this. "It," that is, the city, the new Jerusalem, "it had a great, high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels," now this is what struck me, "and on the gates the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel were inscribed".

Now, I've read that a thousand times, never thought that much about it. And then I discovered this the other day. So, I'm gonna get to the new Jerusalem, and I'm gonna see all these beautiful, these pearly gates, and on these gates, you're gonna have Joseph and Manasseh and Dan and Ephraim and Benjamin and all these names of these sons of Jacob on these gates. And I thought, "That's amazing, that's unbelievable". And you say, "Why is that unbelievable"? Do you know who those guys were? They weren't Hall of Famers. Their dad was a crook. They were guilty of incest. They were guilty of genocide. They wiped out an entire city. They were guilty of mass murder. They were guilty of treason. And yet, these same guys who, in today's world, would either be thrown under the prison or executed, their names are on the 12 gates of the new Jerusalem.

You say, "Pastor, how in the world did their names make those gates"? Easter, because of Jesus, their sin was paid off and their guilt was removed. So, here's the good news of Easter, and we're done. Jesus specializes in replacing guilt with grace. He specializes in replacing sin with salvation. He specializes in replacing failure with forgiveness. And today, I don't care what the devil's been tellin' you all of your life. Today, you can get off the guilt trip. You can get off a highway of guilt, and you can take the exit ramp marked "Grace". And when you get to the top of that ramp, you'll find a resurrected Lord who looks at you and will simply say, "All is forgiven".
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