I Have Sinned, What Shall I Do?
May 30th, 1982 @ 8:15 AM
I HAVE SINNED, WHAT SHALL I DO?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-30-82 8:15 a.m.
And we are no less grateful for the great multitudes of you who this morning are listening on the radio with the great throng here in the sanctuary of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the message, one in the series on the "Great Doctrines of the Bible." We are now in that section called soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. The Greek word for "savior" is soter; and on that word "soteriology" the doctrine of salvation, how we are saved. And the title of the message this morning is I Have Sinned, What Shall I Do? It is in its background taken out of the life of Job. That is an agonizing cry of the old patriarch, in Job 7:20, "I have sinned; what shall I do?"
And the background becomes significant for us when we read of the character of the man who uttered that agonizing and heartbreaking cry. In the first chapter of Job, the first verse, "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" [Job 1:1]. That is what the Bible says about him. Now, in the eighth verse we read 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 I turn to the seventh chapter of the Book of Job, and verse 20, I read his heart-ringing cry: "I have sinned; what shall I do?" [Job 7:20].
It is not only a pharaoh, who oppressed the people of God, who cried, "I have sinned" [Exodus 9:27, 10:16]; it is not only a King Saul who disobeyed God [1 Samuel 15:2-11], 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 betrayed our Lord, and who cried, saying, "I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood" [Matthew 27:4]; but it is also the courtly court preacher 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 incomparable apostle Paul who said, "I am the chief of sinners" [1 Timothy 1:15]. It is also the sainted apostle John who wrote, "If we say we have no sin, we make Him a liar, and His truth is not in us" [1 John 1:10]. It is not only the Bible who speaks of the universality of our sin; several times in the Old Testament, such as in Kings and in Chronicles, is it avowed that, "There is no man that sinneth not" [1 Kings 8:46; 2 Chronicles 6:36]. And the great doctrinal treatise on salvation, the Book of Romans, in the third chapter of Romans lays the foundation for the whole afterstructure in the avowal, "There is none righteous, no, not one" [Romans 3:10]. "All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" [Romans 3:23]. That’s not only in the Bible, but we read the same agonizing characterization of humanity in ancient literature.
Sophocles, the great, gifted Greek tragedian, dramatist, spoke of the universality of sin. And Seneca, the Stoic philosopher and moralist, wrote of the damning consequences of sin in human life. When modern literature, fiction, and drama, and poetry, and the scenes that we see on television and hear on radio, when modern literature is accused of being salacious and immoral and violent and bloody, the answer of the authors is simply this: they are but realists – they are depicting life as it is. Not only in the Christian world made sensitive to sin by the preaching of the gospel is the universality of sin seen in human life, but it is no less seen in the whole heathen, pagan world.
For many, many years, every summer I used to spend lengths of time in mission work, preaching on foreign fields in other continents. And I would be asked when I’d return to the city here in Dallas and to the church, I’d be asked, "Pastor, how do you preach to those Stone Age Indians in the Amazon jungle or to those benighted, black tribes in the heart of Central Africa? What do you say? How do you preach to them?" And my answer was very plain and very simple: "I start with the fact of the black drop of sin in our hearts. I’m on common ground," I replied, "when I begin with sin in our lives. Whether we are Christians or whether we are in the depths of abysmal paganism, we’re all alike, conscious of sin."
How shall we face God in our sin? Most emphatically does the revelation of the mind of God say, "The soul that sins shall die" [Ezekiel 18:20],"And the wages of sin is death" [Romans 6:23]; God linked those two together, and we cannot break it. Sin means death. I’m a dying man because I sin, and we are a dying people because we sin. My body dies. I’d be immortal if I were not a sinner. My body dies because I sin. And my soul dies, shut out from God, because I sin. The Bible calls that separation of my soul from God "the second death" [Revelation 20:14-15; 21:8] or "hell," but "hell" is such a curse word, it’s lost its spiritual meaning. "But the wages of sin is death" [Romans 6:23], and all of us face that inevitable judgment. And that’s why the agonizing, heartbreaking cry of this righteous patriarch Job, "I have sinned; what shall I do?" [Job 7:20].
In answer to that cry, there are many things that we observe in human life and in our own life. Number one is this: we blame somebody else. That has been from the beginning. Adam said to God in his sin and transgression, "The woman You gave me, she gave me to eat" [Genesis 3:12]. And the woman said to God, "The serpent, he deceived me, and I ate of the forbidden fruit" [Genesis 3:13]. That has been our characteristic universal reply to God ever since: "It’s his fault," or, "It’s her fault," or, "It’s their fault. It’s not my fault, it’s somebody else’s fault. It’s the judge’s fault. It’s the policeman’s fault. It’s the peer pressure fault. It’s the gang that I run with. It’s the society in which I live. It’s the culture to which I belong. It’s my parents’ fault. It’s somebody else’s fault."
One of the proverbs that is quoted in Jeremiah and in Ezekiel is this: "The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge [Jeremiah 31:29]. We are bearing the sins of somebody else, somebody else’s fault. And the Lord God said, "What mean you, 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 God, the soul that sins, it shall die" [Ezekiel 18:3-4]. There is no such thing as the transfer of guilt in the mind and omnipotence and working of God. We may bear the consequences of the transgressions of our forefathers, visited on the generations that follow after; but there’s no such thing as the transfer of guilt. Our fathers are chargeable before God for their sins, and I am chargeable before God for my sins. I am not chargeable before God for my father’s sins. "And the soul that sins, it shall die" [Ezekiel 18:20]. I cannot blame my sins on somebody else; I am responsible. All of the water in the ocean cannot damage the ship unless it gets inside. And all of the devils of hell cannot destroy a human soul unless they are chosen and invited inside. I can’t blame somebody else for my sins; I am responsible [Ezekiel 18:4, 20].
What is our reply to God? "I have sinned; what shall I do?" Many times it is our persuasion that the passing of the days, that time, will bury our sins out of sight, and they’ll be remembered no more. That would be fine were it not that there’s no past with God, there’s no future with God; there’s only present with God. God sees the end from the beginning, and all history is ever present before Him and all of our lives.
You have a poignant illustration of the ineffectiveness of time to bury our sins out of sight in the forty-ninth chapter of the Book of Genesis. Jacob, Israel, has gathered his twelve sons around him, and one of them is to receive the blessing. He starts with the oldest one, Reuben. Reuben, by birth, his eldest son, should have inherited the blessing. But when Jacob on his deathbed, bestowing that benediction turns to his firstborn, his eldest, Reuben, he says, "Reuben, you went up to your father’s bed, and you defiled my sacred home, Reuben" [Genesis :3-4]. My brother, that sin of Reuben was committed forty years before [Genesis 35:22]. But in that day of judgment and pronouncement, it was as vivid and as livid as when Reuben committed it forty years before. Time doesn’t change our sin.
There are those of us who think secrecy will bury our sin. "I shall keep it hidden, and no one shall know it. Secrecy will bury it out of sight." There is no one of us in divine presence, if I had an enormous screen and placed up here at the front of the church, all of the thoughts of your life, and all of the deeds of your life in childhood, in youth, in manhood or womanhood, and I depicted the imaginations of your hearts and the deeds of your life on that screen, there’s not one of us but that would bow his head in embarrassing shame. The Bible avows that God, in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Psalms, for example, God sees all of our hearts, and our imaginations are ever before Him [Psalm 11:4-7]. Secrecy doesn’t hide our sins from God.
"I have sinned; what shall I do?" This whole believing world turns to some kind of ritual or ceremony to rid itself of human sin. All through Africa have I seen blood on stones and sticks and big rocks and big trees, ceremonies of the animists trying to rid the human life of sin. When I went to Agra, I noticed that the sacred Jamuna River flows against the Taj Mahal and turns in a big bend there. And visiting that most beautiful of all the architectural creations – to me, in the world – I looked upon thousands and thousands of Indians bathing in the sacred waters of the Jamuna River, seeking to wash away their sins. All over this world, all over the world have I seen vast congregations in church houses and cathedrals, in temples, going through all kinds of rites and rituals and ceremonies, seeking to wash away human sin. I think of the cry of Micah, in Micah 6:6-7:
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 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?" There are those who seek to expiate their sin, to wash their sin away by some kind of self immolation or some kind of personal atonement. When I was a youth, in the first visit I made to New York City – before the television was invented – I went to the RCA building in Radio City and watched a national program broadcast on radio. And that broadcast is as vivid in my mind today as if I were seated there watching those actors present the drama so long ago. It went like this. There was a man that came into a doctor’s office and said to him, "Doctor, do you see that spot on my hand? Cut it out, cut off my hand, I can’t bear the pain any longer." And the doctor looks at his hand, and says, "Why sir, there’s nothing wrong with your hand."
"Doctor, cut it off! Cut it out!"
"Why," says the doctor, "do you have any pain in your hand? There’s nothing wrong with your hand."
And the man replies, "My beautiful, precious wife went on a visit. And when time came for her to return, I bought her a beautiful present. And I went to her bedroom, and I pulled out a drawer to hide my gift so that she would certainly find it among her personal effects. And when I pulled out the drawer and began to hide my gift, I saw there a bundle of letters tied in a beautiful blue ribbon. And when I looked at them, I recognized the writing of my best friend. I picked them up. There was no name addressed, nor was there a name signed, just ‘Your lover.’ But as I read those letters, there before me was the record of her unfaithfulness and perfidy. It was devastating. I carefully wrapped them in the ribbon and placed them back where they were.
"And when my wife, so beautiful and precious, came home, she greeted me, ‘Oh darling, I’m so glad to see you. I’m so glad to be back.’ And when I didn’t respond, she said, ‘Are you sick? Are you ill? Is there something wrong?’
"Ah", the man said, "the wretch, the wretch! How could she greet me so tenderly and preciously and be so unfaithful? That night, preparing for bed she went to her room and I to mine, and after the passing of a small while, I went to her door, and I heard her quiet breathing. I opened the door, and walked in, and there the moonlight flooded her beautiful, beautiful face. And I looked down into her face, how could one so beautiful and so precious be so unfaithful? The wretch!"
He said, "Doctor, I took my two hands, and I placed them around her neck, and just for a moment she looked at me in startled amazement. And then I brought my hands down. And as she choked to death, a drop of blood fell out of her mouth on my hand. Don’t you see it? Cut it out! Cut it off!"
The man said, "Doctor, I disarranged the room as though it were a burglary. I called the police. In the days that passed, her best friend called me and said, ‘When you went through the effects of your wife, did you by any chance find a bundle of letters wrapped in a blue ribbon?’"
He said, "Why, why, yes."
She said, "Would you return them to me? They’re mine. I dared not keep them in my home, and I gave them to her to hide for me with the promise that she’d never look at them."
"Doctor, I cried, saying, ‘You mean, those letters were addressed to you and not to my wife?’
‘Yes, silly,’ the friend replied, ‘they are mine. And if you will, return them to me.’"
"Doctor, I have murdered my sweet and beautiful and innocent wife. Don’t you see that spot? Cut it out! Cut it off!"
The doctor said, "Wait just a moment." And he went into another room, and when he did, he heard a shot, and came back, and the man was lying in his own blood. And as he died, he whispered, "Doctor, I’m going to ask her forgiveness."
Do you remember the first scene in the fifth act of Macbeth, the famous sleep-walking scene? Lady Macbeth cries, "Out damned spot, out I say! Here’s the smell of blood, all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh, oh, oh, there’s the smell of blood still." And she says to Macbeth the Thane, after he has murdered Duncan, king of Scots, "Go wash your hands; a little water will clear us of this deed." And as the Thane Macbeth makes his way to the fountain to wash the blood from his hands, he cries, "Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood clean from my hand? No, rather this my hand will the multitudinous seas incarnadine, making the green one red."
"I have sinned, what shall I do?" That’s the preaching of the gospel of the grace of the Son of God. He said, "This is My blood of the new covenant, shed for the remission of sins" [Matthew 26:28].
What can wash away my sin?
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 Lowry]
There is one experience common to all of us who have found refuge and faith and forgiveness in Christ, and that is this: rising from our knees with the promise and the consciousness that God has forgiven our sins. Our conversion experience may take a thousand different turns, but not that one. In this we’re all alike: confessing our sins before God, and knowing in our hearts that God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven us [Ephesians 4:32].
The Bible searches for strong imagery to assure us of that forgiveness. The one hundred third Psalm: "As far as the east is from the west, as far as the east goes east and the west goes west, just so far are our transgressions removed from us" [Psalm 103:12]. In the [forty-fourth] chapter of the Book of Isaiah: "I have blotted them out as a thick cloud" [Isaiah 44:22]. In the [thirty-eighth} chapter: "I have cast them to My back, and I remember them no more" [Isaiah 38:17]. In the seventh chapter of the Book of [Micah]: "God hath cast our sins in the depths of the sea" [Micah 7:19].
Did you ever wonder why it is that they don’t sing in other religions? They don’t sing in Buddhism. They don’t sing in Mohammedanism. They don’t sing in Hinduism. The Muslim doesn’t sing, the Buddhist doesn’t sing, the Hindu doesn’t sing; but the Christian sings all the time. There’s never a gathering of God’s people but that they sing, why? Because of the outflowing, overflowing gratitude of the soul that can express itself in no other way but in praise and thanksgiving for the forgiveness of God.
In the first ten years of my [pastorate], I was a country preacher, had no baptistery; never was there any day that I stood in the middle of the river preparing for a wonderful baptismal service for the converts God had given me, never was there an exception but that we all sang,
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, That Fixed My Choice," Philip Doddridge, 1755]
I thought this morning, instead of standing for the prayer; we might kneel in gratitude to God.
Our Lord who died for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3], precious, precious Savior, if the Bible is true, there’s no one that sinneth not [1 Kings 8:46; 2 Chronicles 6:36]; if all history is a record of that tragic accusation, we all have sinned and come short of the glory of God; then that includes us [Romans 3:23]. We have sinned and face the penalty and judgment of death [Ezekiel 18:4, 20]. Physical death, we shall die; not "if," but just when we shall die; and after that the judgment [Hebrews 9:27]. We shall stand before God, forced to confess our whole lives have been one of aberration and transgression. What shall I do? O blessed God that we have a Savior, and a friend, and an advocate, and a mediator, a Savior, blessed Jesus, how could we ever frame the word to pronounce it, the depths of our gratitude and thanksgiving for Thee?
Precious Lord, take my hand,
Lift me up, help me stand,
I am weak, I am tired, I am worn;
Through the day, through the night,
Lead me on to the light:
Precious Lord, take my hand,
Lead me home.
["Precious Lord, Take My Hand"; Thomas A. Dorsey]
Bless our people, this great congregation, that without loss of one we might find a Savior in Thee, in Thy precious name, amen.
Now may we all stand together? And while we sing this hymn of appeal, to give your heart in faith to our wonderful Lord, to come into the fellowship of the church, to answer the knocking and appealing and wooing of the Holy Spirit in your heart, while we sing this song, come and stand by me. Down a stairway, down an aisle, "Pastor, this is God’s day for me, and here I stand." Make the decision in your heart, do it now. And when we sing this song, into that aisle, or down that stairway, come. We’re praying and waiting just for you. Answer with your life this morning, this moment. May angels attend you in the way as you come, while we sing, while we sing.