I Have Sinned, What Shall I Do?
May 30th, 1982 @ 10:50 AM
I HAVE SINNED—WHAT SHALL I DO?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
05-30-82 10:50 a.m.
Choir, you look so good, especially when you stand up and just sing out of your heart. And once again, a thousandfold welcome to you who are sharing this hour with us on radio and on television. This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas delivering a message in the series on the “Great Doctrines of the Bible.” The section in which we are now preaching concerns soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. The Greek word for “savior” is soter, so the theological word soteriology refers to the doctrine of our Savior; the forgiveness of our sins. The title of the sermon is I Have Sinned—What Shall I Do? This is an agonizing cry of Job the patriarch. In Job chapter 7, verse 20: “I have sinned; what shall I do?” [Job 7:20]. And the background of the sermon is found in the righteousness of the man who is crying before God.
The book opens in Job 1:1: “There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.” That is what the Bible says about him. Now listen to what God says about him: “And the Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered My servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?” [Job 1:8]. That is what God said about him: then when I read in chapter 7 of that same book, verse 20, the agonizing cry of that godly patriarch: “I have sinned; what shall I do?” [Job 7:20]. This is an universal cry, not just the cry of Job in the Old Testament. It is the cry of all men everywhere, including us. It is not only a pharaoh, who oppressed the people of God, who said, “I have sinned” [Exodus 10:16]. It is not only King Saul, who disobeyed God [1 Samuel 15:3-9, 13-15, 19-26], and the Spirit of the Lord left him [1 Samuel 16:14], who cried, “I have sinned” [1 Samuel 15:24]. It is not only Judas Iscariot, who cried, saying, “I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood” [Matthew 27:4]. But it is also the court preacher and great prophet Isaiah, who cried, saying, “Woe is me! for I am undone; for I am a man of unclean lips” [Isaiah 6:5]. It is also the cry of the incomparable apostle Paul who said, “I am the chief of sinners” [1 Timothy 1:15]. It is also the cry of the sainted apostle John who wrote in Holy Scripture: “If we say we have no sin, we make Him a liar, and His truth is not in us” [1 John 1:10].
But not only is that confession in the Bible, 1 Kings [1 Kings 8:46], 2 Chronicles [2 Chronicles 6:36], will say that there is no man that sinneth not; and in the third chapter of the Book of Romans, which is a doctrinal treatise on our salvation, not only does the Book of Romans say: “All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” [Romans 3:23]; but that same lament is echoed, reverberated in all of ancient literature. Sophocles, the great gifted Greek tragedian, speaks of the universality of our sin. And Seneca, the stoic philosopher and moralist, speaks of the curse on the human race because of the universality of sin.
When a critic will speak today, accusing modern literature, whether it is a drama on television or a play on Broadway or a novel of fiction; when modern literature is accused of being salacious and corrupt and immoral, the author will reply—seeking to vindicate what he writes—with the avowal that he is just depicting modern life as it is. He is just being a realist. But not only where the gospel is preached, where the Christian faith is known, is there a consciousness of sin, it is also universal among all the tribes and families of the world. However low, however degraded, all men everywhere repeat this mournful cry, “I have sinned, what shall I do?”
In Africa, world without end, have I seen blood on trees, and on rocks, and on sticks, and on stones, and on mountain sides; animists seeking to expiate transgression. In the Jumuna River I have looked upon uncounted multitudes bathing in its sacred waters. Throughout the whole world, in church, in temple, have I watched people go through the ceremonies, litanies, genuflections, rites, seeking to wash away their sins. The curse of it and the drag of it is felt by all of us. “The soul that sins shall die [Ezekiel 18:20], and the wages of sin is death” [Romans 6:23]. And God Himself linked that chain together. I cannot escape its judgment, I am a dying man. And I am preaching to a dying people. If I had not sinned, I would face no judgment. It is because I am a sinner that I shall certainly die [Ezekiel 18:4, 20]; and after that the judgment [Hebrews 9:27]. And that is why the agonizing cry of the patriarch Job: “I have sinned; what shall I do?” [Job 7:20].
There are many things that we try to do. One of them is we try to blame somebody else. It’s not my fault. It is his fault. It is her fault. It is their fault. That is characterized humanity from the birth of the race. Adam said, when he transgressed, “The woman that you gave me, she gave me to eat” [Genesis 3:12]. And the woman said to the Lord God, “The serpent deceived me, and I did eat” [Genesis 3:13]. From that tragic day of fall [Genesis 3:1-6], unto this, all of us try to blame somebody else for our transgression. It is the fault of the judge. It is the fault of the policemen. It is the fault of society. It is the fault of the culture in which I live. It is the fault of peer pressure. It is the fault of the gang that I run with. It is the fault of the bad influence of those upon me. It is my parents’ fault; anything except, “It is my fault.”
God has a very stern word to say about that. There was a proverb quoted in Israel; repeated among the people of God. You read it in Jeremiah [Jeremiah 31:29]. You read it here in the Book of Ezekiel: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” [Ezekiel 18:2]. The fathers are the cause of my sin. It is because of my parents that I am a sinner. Now the Lord God says: “What mean ye, when you use this proverb . . . saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge? [Ezekiel 18:2]. As I live, saith the Lord . . . the soul that sinneth, it shall die” [Ezekiel 18:4, 20].
According to the Word of God, the iniquities of the fathers, the repercussions of transgressions are visited upon the following generations [Exodus 34:6-7], but not guilt. Guilt is non-transferable. I am not guilty of the sins of my father; I am guilty of my sin [Ezekiel 18:20]. I sin, and I am responsible. The repercussion of the sins of the generations before us, we live with today and forever, but not guilt. Guilt is non-transferable [Psalm 49:7]. They stand before God judged for their sins. And I stand before God judged for my sin. If I sin, it is my choice. I do it. I am responsible. I am judged. All the water in the ocean cannot damage the ship unless it gets inside. And all of the devils in hell cannot damage my soul unless I invite them in. I am accountable; not my father, or my mother, or my friends, or my forefathers, or the gang I run with. If I sin, I have chosen to do so, and I am accountable and to be judged. “I have sinned: what shall I do?” So many times we are persuaded time will erase it; efface it. The only thing is, there is not any time with God. There is not any yesterday, and there is not any tomorrow. God looks at all creation in the present. The end, the beginning, it is all before Him. And He looks at it, and He looks at us in time, and time does not efface or erase our sin. It is ever before Him.
One of the most poignant of all of the incidents in the Bible is recorded in the forty-ninth chapter of the Book of Genesis. Israel, Jacob is dying and his twelve sons are gathered round him. And one of those sons is to receive the blessing. He starts with Reuben, his firstborn. Reuben should have by inheritance, by birth, received the blessing. But Jacob turns to Reuben and says, “Reuben . . . unstable as water, thou shalt not prevail; because you went up to your father’s bed, and you defiled your father’s home” [Genesis 49:3-4]. My brother that was a sin that Reuben committed forty years before! [Genesis 35:22]. But it was as vivid and as livid and as stark forty years later as it was on the day that Reuben went up to his father’s bed. Time does not change our sins before God.
Then we pray and hope that secrecy will hide its dark, stark face away. Nobody knows it, it’s in secret. If I were to place up here a large screen and I showed on that screen the secret thoughts and imaginations and deeds of any one of you; thoughts and deeds hidden away in childhood, in youth, in manhood or womanhood, and we looked upon it, you would bow your head in embarrassing shame. Because they are secret, does not change their crimson color or their awesome judgments before God. The Book says He knows the hearts of all men and searches the souls of all mankind [Revelation 2:23]. They are ever-living and ever-present before Him. Secrecy does not wash them away.
Then, of course, world without end, and over the whole earth is that ceremony and ritual that men attempt to employ to hide away our sins. I think of the cry of Micah in Micah chapter 6, verses 6 and 7;
Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the High God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
“I have sinned; what shall I do?” [Job 7:20]. Then of course, there are those who seek to expiate their transgression by personal atonement. One of the saddest and most pitiful of all of the repercussions of life is the burden of guilt, the drag of sin; vivid, livid, ever before us. I had you read, “My sin is ever before me” [Psalm 51:3].
When I was a youth, I was in New York City. This was before the invention of television, and we all gathered round our radios and listened to the National Broadcasting Company out of the RCA building in Radio City in Rockefeller Center in New York. So, as a youth, the first time I went to New York, I visited those studios; and I sat there with a little group listening to a national broadcast. It was—it was a dramatic presentation, and this was it: There is a man who comes into the doctor’s office, and he says to the doctor, “Doctor, you see this spot on my hand? Cut it out. Cut off my hand. Anything doctor, this hand is killing me.”
The doctor examines his hand and he says, “Why, sir, there is nothing wrong with your hand.”
And the man says, “But doctor, you don’t understand. My wife, beautiful and precious, went away on a journey, and when time came for her to return, I bought her a beautiful gift, and to surprise her, I went to her room and pulled out a drawer where she kept her personal effects, to hide my gift in the drawer so that she would find it and be surprised by my remembrance of love and affection. And when I pulled open the drawer to hide my gift, there I found a bundle of letters wrapped up in a beautiful blue ribbon. I immediately recognized the handwriting of my best friend. I picked up the bundle. I untied the blue ribbon, and I read those letters. There was no name in the address; nor was there a name; just, ‘Your Lover.’ But the perfidy and the infidelity of my wife was written there, page after page before me. I lost my mind.
“And doctor, when she came back home, she greeted me so sweetly and so beautifully,” ‘I am so glad to be home,’ she said as she tenderly kissed me. And then when I didn’t respond, she said, ‘Are you not well? Are you sick? Are you not glad to see me home?’
“Doctor, the wretch, the unfaithfulness; that night, doctor, when we prepared for bed, she went to her room, and I went to mine. And after I had given her time to go to sleep, I went to the door and heard her quiet breathing. I opened the door and walked over there to her bed. The moonlight was shining in her beautiful, innocent face; so precious, so lovely. How could a wife like that be unfaithful? Doctor, I took my hands and I placed them around her neck, and I drew them tight. For just a startled moment she looked into my face in amazement. Then, she died. And doctor, when she died, a drop of blood fell from her mouth on my hand—don’t you see it? Don’t you see it? Cut it out, doctor! Cut my hand off!”
“I disarranged the room; made it as though it were a burglary; called the police, and the scene passed. After a few days, her best friend called me and said, ‘By the way, when you look through the effects, the personal things of your wife, did you find a bundle of letters tied up with a blue ribbon?’
“I said, ‘Why, yes.’
“And she said, ‘Would you return them to me? They are mine. They were written to me. And I gave them to your wife to hide because I didn’t dare keep them in my home. I gave them to your wife with her promise that she would never look at them. ‘And if you don’t mind, would you return them to me?”
“And doctor, I said to her, ‘You mean those letters were written to you and not to my wife?’
“She replied, ‘Why, silly, yes, they are mine. May I have them back?’
“Doctor, doctor, with my own hands, I have murdered my sweet, beautiful, innocent wife! Doctor, that spot on my hand, cut it off! Cut it out!”
The doctor goes for a moment in another room, and as he does, he hears a shot. He rushes back, and the man is dying in a pool of blood on the floor; and as he dies, he whispers, saying, “I am going to my wife to ask her forgiveness.”
Act V, scene I; the famous scene of Lady Macbeth walking in her sleep. “Out, damn spot, out I say, and here is the smell of blood still. Will all the perfumes of Arabia sweeten this little hand, oh, oh, oh!” And she says to the thane, her husband—Macbeth, who has slain with a dagger—the king of Scotland, Duncan. She says to him, “Go wash your hands. A little water will clear us of this deed.” And as Macbeth makes his way to the fountain to wash his hands, do you hear him say, “Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from mine hand. No rather this my hand will the multitudinous seas incarnadine making the green one red.”
“I have sinned; what shall I do?” Our personal atonement cannot expiate our transgression. I cannot save myself. I cannot wash the stain of transgression and iniquity out of my soul. What shall I do? This is the preaching of the gospel of the grace of the Son of God. It is called the “good news,” that in Christ there is deliverance from sin and forgiveness of iniquity [Luke 24:47]. “This is My blood,” He said, “of the new covenant, shed for the remission of sins” [Matthew 26:28].
What can wash away my sins?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus;
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
O! precious is the flow,
That makes me white as snow;
No other fount I know,
Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
[“Nothing But the Blood,” Robert Lowery]
There is one experience that all of us have in common. When we describe our conversions, the angle at which we met the Lord Jesus, there will be as many different stories as there are different Christians testifying. But there is one experience that all of us have in common; and that is, rising from our knees with the assurance that God for Christ’s sake has forgiven our sins [Ephesians 4:32]. The Holy Scriptures search every imagery to describe God’s goodness to us.
As in Psalm 103, he will say: “As far as the east is from the west, so far hath He removed our transgressions from us” [Psalm 103:12]. As far as the east goes east and the west goes west, hath God removed our sins from us. In [Isaiah 44], the prophet will say, “God hath blotted out our sins as a thick cloud” [Isaiah 44:22]. In the [thirty-eighth chapter], the great prophet will say, “God hath cast our sins to His back and will remember them against us no more” [Isaiah 38:17]. In the seventh chapter of [Micah], the prophet will say, “That God hath cast our sins into the depths of the sea” [Micah 7:19].
That’s why there is something in the Christian faith that is not found in any other religion; singing; the overflowing heart that expresses itself in no other way but in singing. They don’t sing in a Muslim mosque. They don’t sing in a Hindu temple. They don’t sing in a Buddhist pagoda. But you will never find a congregation of God’s Christian people who don’t sing.
For a decade, for ten years, I was a country pastor. Never had a baptistry, and I preached standing in a pond, or in a creek, or in a river. And the people gathered on either side or all around. And always there was never an exception that I could remember; always, as I stood there with the Bible preaching the gospel of the grace of the Son of God, when time came to baptize my converts, they would always and inevitably sing:
Happy day, happy day,
When Jesus washed my sins away.
He taught me how to watch and pray
And live rejoicing every day.
Happy day, happy day,
When Jesus washed my sins away.
[“O Happy Day,” Philip Doddridge]
This is what God has done for us. This is the purpose of our Savior’s coming into the world, that He might save His people from their sins [John 3:16-17]. And this is what Jesus does for us when I open my heart heavenward and God-ward and Christ-ward [Romans 10:9-10]; washed whiter than snow [Isaiah 1:18; Revelation 1:5]. Oh, bless His wonderful name. No wonder we sing. Praise God, thank Him forever. This, He has done for us. May we stand together?
Our Lord, our wonderful Savior, facing the inevitable judgments of God upon our transgression [2 Timothy 4:1], who can save us? Who can deliver us? O Lord Jesus, with what abounding, overflowing gratitude do we this day express our love for Thee; dying in my place [1 Corinthians 15:3]; taking the penalty of my wrongdoing [Romans 5:8; 2 Corinthians 5:21]; opening for me the gates of justification and of glory [Romans 4:25]; welcoming me a sinner in the presence of the very holiness of God—washed clean and white in the blood of the Lamb [1 John 1:7; Revelation 1:5]; standing by me in the day of judgment. My Counselor, my Friend, my Mediator, O Lord Christ, we love Thee, praise Thee, thank Thee.
And in this moment that we stand before our Lord, if the Holy Spirit bids invitation, would you answer with your life? “Pastor, this is my family, we all are coming today.” “Pastor, the two of us, we are coming together.” Or just one somebody you, accepting the Lord in all that He has promised to be and to do; or following our Savior in the waters of the Jordan [Matthew 3:13-17], or coming into the fellowship of our dear church, or answering God’s call to a special ministry in your life; would you make that decision now in your heart? Do it now in your heart? And when we sing in this moment, down that stairway, down that aisle, “Here I come, pastor, this is God’s day for me.” And wonderful Savior, thank You for the precious harvest, these who come to Thee and to us, in Thy saving and keeping name, amen. While we sing, welcome.
I HAVE SINNED, WHAT SHALL I DO?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-30-82 8:15 a.m.
I. Universal cry
1. Not only Saul, Judas but David, Isaiah, Paul
2. Not only in the Bible but in philosophy, Roman moralists, modern fiction
3. Not only in Christendom but in heathen, pagan nations
II. No man can see God’s face with unforgiven sin
III. I Have Sinned What Shall I Do?
1. Blame others
2. Time passing
3. Ceremony to try to wash it away
4. Reform, change self
6. Confession to God for His forgiveness – the only solution
IV. Forgiveness of sin comes only through the saving work of Christ on the cross