Psalm 66:18 “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.”
This verse is a verse that has been in my spirit for about three weeks. God led me to preach about salvation two weeks ago, about sanctification last week, and this week, He has directed me to preach about the dangers of sin. “Sin” is a pretty strong Bible word. The word “sin” appears 474 times in the NIV. It is a big deal to God. It ought to be important to us to understand why it is a big deal to Him, and why it is important that we try to live as far removed from sin as possible.
Picture yourself on a blind date. You meet at a restaurant to avoid as many possible awkward endings as possible, and you sit down and begin talking. When you start asking the person to tell you about themselves you find out that they live a completely different lifestyle than they do. You realize you aren’t compatible when you learn that they have 35 cats and like to decorate with posters of Ninja turtles and want to eat only Cocoa Puffs for every meal. And as the night goes on and you are contemplating your exit strategy you find out more and more that you simply couldn’t be comfortable with, interested in or attracted to. Who you are, what you love, what you stand for, doesn’t mesh with that person’s weird interests and desires, and so there is a disconnect. The relationship doesn’t progress and become close because of an incompatibility.
God and sin aren’t compatible. Psalm 5:4 says, “You are not a God who takes pleasure in evil; with you the wicked cannot dwell.”
Imagine pursuing a relationship with someone who loves everything you hate. You wouldn’t do it, right? There would be a halt in the pursuit of relationship. When we enter a relationship with God, His Spirit is born on the inside of us. That is what it means to be saved or born again. In that moment, we are “clothed with Christ.” We are given the righteousness of Christ and we are to grow in the image of Christ, becoming more and more like Him. We are supposed to be remade in the image of Christ and like what He likes and live how He lived. He is supposed to rub off on us so that we change and become like Him.
In a good marriage where there is great compatibility, there is a oneness that emerges. Often, couples who have invested in their relationship, who are cherishing the same things, start to complete one another’s sentences. They know how the other thinks. They know what the other person would say when asked a certain question. There is a growing together. They aren’t just known as their own person, but they are also known as a couple. They are known as a family. They have become alike. I’m not suggesting that both husband and wife love Buffalo Wild Wings, golf and house flipping TV shows because that would be a miracle of epic proportions, but I am saying that where there is true compatibility, there are shared values and pursuits. I hope that when people see me, they not only see Melissa, but they see Melissa Pratt, the wife of Thom Pratt, a member of the Pratt family. My identity comes not only from who I am, but also from who I am with Thom. Yes, I am my own person, but I have chosen to identity with my husband. I have taken his name. I am sharing life with him. What he thinks about how we should live together matters to me (and vise versa, of course). What offends him should mean something to me.
The Apostle Paul says that marriage is to be a picture of Christ and the church. Jesus is referred to as the Groom, and we, His church are referred to as His Bride. We are to be nurturing the relationship with Him and to become more and more compatible with the things of God. We are to have a growing respect for Him, a growing appreciation for His ways, a growing delight in doing the things that bring Him delight.
But I think too often, there is a disconnect between our profession as Christians and our living as Christ did. Do we hate sin like God does? Do we live to flee temptation? Do we live to honor God with our bodies? Are we careful to not set things before our eyes that offend God’s holiness? Are we careful about what we are ingesting? Does it matter to us where we go for entertainment? Does it matter to us what Jesus thinks about how we are occupying our time? In a strong and healthy marriage, one spouse would consider if their attitudes and actions were offensive to their spouse. How much more should we consider what God thinks about our lives? If we want to be in right relationship with Him, if our relationship is important, then choosing to stay away from that which offends Him is critical.
Here is what I know: When we cherish sin, we love what God hates, and we compromise our relationship with God.
Sin disgusts God. If your spouse was doing that which disgusted you, there would be a distance, a disconnect, right? You wouldn’t draw closer in that moment. You would separate yourself. It is no different with God. Cherishing sin means we are choosing that which disgusts God over God Himself. I think there is a whole lot of desensitization that has taken place in our culture to where we just accept things, or participate in things or paint things as “not that bad” or “no big deal.” Like it if is a little pornography, it is ok because it isn’t a lot. We aren’t doing it all of the time. If it is the club life just once a month, that isn’t too bad because it isn’t like we are hanging out at the clubs all of the time. I’ve heard things like, “Well, sexting someone isn’t really cheating on my spouse because it is just words and pictures.” or “I don’t use bad language around my kids. I just do it with my friends at the office. It is just how we communicate.” I have had people tell me that they know they are doing wrong, but they just make sure no one takes pictures of them doing it so it can’t hit social media to be widely known.
Here is what I think is going on. Many Christians have begun to evaluate their behavior in light of the behavior of the world rather than in light of God’s holiness. We aren’t supposed to compare ourselves with people who don’t even profess to know God or even believe in God. The world isn’t our standard, but too often, we have allowed it to become so. When we think, “I don’t drink as much as so and so,” or “I don’t lie as much as so and so,” we have moved away from our relationship with God as the One to whom we are accountable. How we look compared to so and so means nothing to God. It is how are we stacking up against Jesus?
Notice I am not talking about perfection. While that would be the goal, there is grace upon grace upon grace for the times we get it wrong. What I am talking about is cherishing sin. Are we looking forward to sin? Are we trying to live so as to “technically” be a Christian but all the while still trying to get away with as much worldly living as possible? To cherish means to crave something. Are we craving sin and worldly, fleshly, ungodly living? If we want our own way, that means we don’t want God’s way. In order to nurture our relationship with God, we need to pursue the things He wants for our lives.
To cherish sin means we are looking for ways to do it. It means we are planning on it. It means we are making room for it in our lives. It means we are making provision for it. We are scheming about how to do it. We aren’t supposed to be planning rendezvous with sin. Romans 13:14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.
Christians who value their relationship with the Lord aren’t going to be spending time on purpose thinking about how they can deviate from the relationship. They will instead be focused on ways to grow it. They will look for ways to get closer to Jesus. They will plan on prayer and worship to be even closer to Him. They will be in the Bible trying to discern what God’s unique plan is for their lives. That is what they will cherish.
I’ve met with lots of people over the course of 28 years in ministry who struggle to understand why they feel disconnected from God, why they don’t sense His nearness. All the while, they are doing whatever they want, whenever they want in order to satisfy fleshly and unholy desires. Life with Christ isn’t compatible with life with self.
If we want to grow in our relationship with Christ, we need to become desperate to move away from sinful practices. God will help us overcome sin if we fully embrace Him.
When we cherish sin, we choose the wrong path, and we compromise our destiny.
Sin not only separates us from God, hindering our relationship, but it takes us on a path apart from God, a path in the opposite direction from God. It not only seeks our attention, but Satan, through getting us to sin repeatedly, wants to change the trajectory of our lives. He wants us on the wrong road. He wants to steal our potential for the Kingdom of God. He doesn’t want us to become what God knows we can. He doesn’t want us to live with the blessing and favor of God. He doesn’t want us enjoying a relationship with God. He sure doesn’t want us walking down the path God has planned for us.
You see, sin has consequences. Galatians 6:7 tells us that sinning is like planting a seed. What we sow, we reap. When we sow evil things, wicked things, sinful things, dark things, those are the things that produce a harvest in our lives. Those are the things we reap. They are thorny. They become tall weeds that choke the life out of us. They destroy the good things God has given to us and that God wants us to enjoy. I have worked with so many people who tell me they never intended for things to get out of hand. They never intended to destroy their family. They never intended to get addicted to drugs, alcohol, pornography and gambling. They never intended to hurt anyone. They never intended to deceive their employer. They never intended to lie to their friends. The list goes on and on. That is the progressive nature of sin. When you take one step in the wrong direction, there is a pull, there is a desire, there is an attraction to want to take another and every one of those steps is away from God which means every one of those steps is a step away from His plans for your life.
Selma Elmore’s conscience must have been bothering her. In October 2010, The 44-year-old woman flagged down a police car in Lockland, Ohio to ask if there was a warrant out for her arrest. After the officer informed her that there was, she ran away. Her previous warrant was for failing to pay a fine, but her new problem, resisting arrest, was much more serious.
Sometimes we try to pretend as if we have not sinned and run away from the consequences, but we always end up getting in worse trouble than before. When we “resist” the loving arrest of the Holy Spirit, and we take off running further down the sinful path, we are only getting deeper and deeper into sin.
The Apostle Paul tells us that our sinful nature isn’t compatible with the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:17). There is a conflict. So, every time we take a step towards sin, we are taking a step away from the Holy Spirit. If there is one person we don’t want to step away from it is the Holy Spirit. He is the One who helps us understand our destiny. He is the One who empowers us to say no to sin and to walk toward our God-given destiny.
Satan is so clever that he lures us one step at a time in the wrong direction because he wants to rob us of our destiny. Before people realize it, they are trapped in a dark place. You see, sin causes a disorientation in our thinking. When we cherish sin as a lifestyle, our minds get messed up. The Bible calls it being “darkened in our understanding” (Ephesians 4:18) It is a spiritual disorder. I had never thought of it that way until I worked on this message, but that is the revelation I have received. Cherishing sin will lead to a kind of spiritual mental disorder in our lives. We won’t clearly understand spiritual truth when we cherish sin. Even when other people point out that we are headed down the wrong path and are headed for destruction, even when it is obvious to everyone around us, we won’t see it.
Before we know it, we are stopped in our tracks by something, we come to our senses and we can’t believe where we find ourselves. We have walked a long time and gone a long way on the wrong road. At some point on the wrong path, we will discover that sin has taken us to a hellish existence. Proverbs 14:12 There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.
Here’s the good news: God can redeem anything. God knows how to make up for lost time. Rather than continuing to stumble toward destruction, rather than giving up and sitting down on the broken road, we can come to God and ask Him for a new heart and a fresh start. Satan may have stolen some life from you, but if you return to the Lord, God will return your destiny to you. If you have given the devil the last month of your life, or last year of your life, or last five or ten years of your life, don’t give him another second because the road he has you on leads to destruction and away from your God-given destiny. Don’t live broken when you can live blessed. Sin will break you, but God can remake you, and He will bless you on the path of righteousness in a way that far outweighs the supposed pay-offs of sin.
When we cherish sin, we hinder our prayer life, and we compromise our daily victory.
That is what our verse for this morning tells us. Psalm 66:18 “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.”
Isaiah 59:1-2 corroborates this reality: Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear. Isaiah 59:1-2
In his book Why Prayers are Unanswered, John Lavender retells a story about Norman Vincent Peale. When Peale was a boy, he found a big, black cigar, slipped into an alley, and lit up. It didn’t taste good, but it made him feel very grown up. . . until he saw his father coming. Quickly he put the cigar behind his back and tried to be casual. Desperate to divert his father’s attention, Norman pointed to a billboard advertising the circus. “Can I go, Dad? Please, let’s go when it comes to town.” His father’s reply taught Norman a lesson he never forgot. “Son, he answered quietly but firmly, “never make a petition while at the same time trying to hide a smoldering disobedience.”
Oh, God still hears every prayer, but He refuses to “hear” some of the prayers that are prayed from a heart that cherishes sin. God does not make it a priority to answer those prayers. That may not sound nice to us. It may not seem right to us, but it is true. When we are cherishing sin, how can we ever pray with the right motives or for the right things? When we are cherishing sin and living in the mental instability it creates, how can we even think to pray correctly? When we are cherishing sin, we cannot pray in faith. When we are cherishing sin and have put distance in the relationship between us and God, why would we assume He should be at our beckon call?
Now, don’t assume that if you have prayed for something and haven’t gotten an answer or the answer for which you have been praying that it can be attributed to sin. My point is simply that if you choose sin, you are choosing the consequences that come from that lifestyle rather than the blessings that come from sowing righteous and godly seeds. One of those blessings is the willingness of God to hear and answer our prayers.
How can we live with daily power, and daily insight, and daily peace, and daily wisdom, and daily authority if we are cherishing sin and don’t have the confidence that God is hearing us when we cry out to Him?
If we are going to live successful Christian lives, we can’t bench God. We can’t shelve God. We can’t compartmentalize our lives and say, “This is the part I live for God and this is the part I live for myself.” Healthy, lasting marriages don’t work that way, right? My husband doesn’t say, “Here is our life together, I will budget 50% of my time and affection to honoring us, and I’ll give 50% of my time and affection to honoring someone else.” How could my relationship with Thom flourish under those circumstances? How could I ever want to grow closer to him or trust him or assist him when he needed help? I would never stand for that, and he would never tolerate it coming from me. Listen, our God is a jealous God. He isn’t going to share His people with Satan and sin.
Be assured by this, however, there is one prayer God will always hear. It is the prayer that comes from a repentant heart. It is the prayer that says, “Lord, forgive me for my sin.” It is the prayer that says, “God, redirect my life. God, restore my relationship with you.” I John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Instead of a lifestyle of sin, why not live a lifestyle of confession? Why not open yourself up on a regular basis for God’s cleansing and empowering? “But Pastor Melissa, I’m not doing any of the stuff you mentioned. I am pretty sure I am moral in the ways a Christian should be moral.” That’s good, but why not make sure? David prayed, “See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting (Psalm 139:24). Why not just be sure? Why not ask God for cleansing from sin on a regular basis as a way of life?
Sin creates weight in your life. It suffocates you spiritually. Why not live free of that burden? Why not live free of that heaviness? Who choose to become a slave to sin, to be mastered by the things of the world and the things of the flesh rather than the freedom we have been offered in Jesus?
It seems in every way that we deal with God, it all comes down to our hearts. What are we cherishing? Anyone sensing a distance between you and God this morning? Anyone aware that they are traveling the wrong road? Anyone wondering how you let things get so far out of hand? Anyone struggling to feel as if God is responding to them in prayer? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, I want to ask you “What’s in your heart?” What do you cherish? Is what you cherish tied to the things of God or the things of the world? Is what you cherish connected with God’s holiness or the ways of hell’s rebellion?
I know this: God cherishes you. He wants a relationship with you that will enable you to live your best possible life. That isn’t a life of sin. It is a life of salvation, sanctification and surrender to God as you walk with Him each and every day.