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Grace is greater than guilt

Dr. Jim Denison is the CEO of Denison Forum.
His Daily Article and podcast globally reach over 160,000 subscribers. Dr. Denison guides readers to discern today’s news—biblically. He is the author of multiple books and has taught on the philosophy of religion and apologetics at several seminaries. Prior to launching Denison Forum in 2009, he pastored churches in Texas and Georgia. He holds a Ph.D and a Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Jim and his wife, Janet, live in Dallas, Texas. They have two sons and four grandchildren.

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Topic Scripture: Genesis 6:1–8

Bill Belichick will coach the New England Patriots in today’s Super Bowl, marking a record eighth time his team has made the championship game. An interesting statistic helps explain his genius: eighteen of his players were not drafted by any team in the NFL. This is a far higher number than for any other team.

Belichick is brilliant at spotting talent that will work within his system. His intellectual approach to the game is clearly working for his team.

Our minds are God’s greatest gifts to us. Our rational capacity is the only attribute which enables our superiority on this planet. Other animals have far better eyesight, hearing, strength, stamina, and so on. Our minds are our best friends or our worst enemies. “As he thinketh in his heart, so is he” (Proverbs 23:7, KJV). What we think is what we become.

How do we keep our minds holy? What do we do when we don’t? No subject is more crucial to living in a way God can bless today. This morning we’ll investigate one of the most perplexing texts in the Bible and find that it is actually one of the most urgent, practical, and relevant passages in all of God’s word.

Admit your need of grace

Our passage begins with one of the more confusing sentences in all the Bible: “When men began to increase in number on the earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose” (Genesis 6:1-2).

Who were these “sons of God” and “daughters of men”?

Some interpreters believe that the “sons of God” were angels (cf. Job 1:6; Psalm 29:1). But Jesus told us that angels “neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Mark 12:25).

Some believe the “sons of God” were kings, but the Bible never makes this connection.

An interesting approach suggests that the “sons of God” were descendants of Seth, the godly child of Adam and Eve, and the “daughters of men” were descendants of the evil Cain. But the text doesn’t say this.

I think the clues we need are found in the text immediately surrounding our passage. Scripture intends to be clear and was very clear to its original audience. So, we must ask ourselves, what did they understand these words to mean?

Genesis 2 says that God formed man from the ground, and woman from man (vv. 7, 23). So, calling men the “sons of God” and women the “daughters of men” was simply repeating what the readers of Genesis already knew, and what the rest of the Bible teaches as well.

The Bible refers to men as “sons of God” in nine different places (Deuteronomy 14:1, 32:5, Psalm 73:15, Isaiah 43:6-7, Hosea 1:10, 11:1, Luke 3:38, 1 John 3:1-2, 10). The text here seems simply to refer to men and women. And nothing in these verses ties these “sons of God and daughters of men” specifically to the flood which follows. They were simply populating the earth as God had commanded them (Genesis 1:28).

Now we come to another confusing reference: “The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown” (v. 4).

They are among the children produced by the “sons of God and daughters of men,” but nothing in the text ties them specifically to the coming Flood. They are simply figures in the biblical narrative.

So, we have “sons of God and daughters of men,” probably men and women who are marrying and having children. Among them were mighty warriors and heroes in the ancient Near East. Perhaps you’re wondering how any of this could be urgent, practical, and relevant, how it could apply to our lives today. Let’s read on.

As our text proceeds, we move quickly from confusion to clarity, from ancient history to life today. Verse 5 comes home: “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time.”

God reads our minds and knows our thoughts. He knows how sinful they can be. He knows that we don’t put our thoughts into action because of legal restraints and fear of being caught. But he knows what we would do if we could. Think about your thoughts for a moment, and you’ll see what God sees every moment of every day.

If we could project on a screen what has been in your mind the last twenty-four hours, what would the congregation see? How embarrassed and ashamed would you be? That’s what God sees every moment of every day.

Such sin “grieves” the Lord and fills his heart with pain (v. 6). He is holy and cannot countenance or condone our sin. He must bring it to judgment, as he did with the Flood.

But now the good news dawns on the black horizon: “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord” (v. 8).

He “found” it—he didn’t earn it. He found “favor”—the Hebrew word means “to bend or stoop,” and describes the condescending and unmerited favor of a superior for an inferior. This is the Old Testament’s primary word for grace; this text is its first use in all of Scripture.

Through Noah, God extended this favor to the rest of mankind, as Noah warned the race of the coming judgment and Flood. Finally, God had to judge humanity, after mankind refused his grace and salvation. But only after he had given them every chance to be saved.

We are all in this passage, each of us a “son of God” or “daughter of men.” No matter how much “renown” we have earned in the eyes of others, each of us is guilty of sinful thoughts and hearts before the only Judge of the universe.

Will you admit that this text describes you? That you are as much in need of God’s “favor” as those who died in the Flood? That apart from God’s mercy you have no chance at heaven, no claim to salvation, no right to forgiveness? That your thoughts require God’s grace today?

Find his grace for your need

Since our thoughts determine our lives, it’s vital that we learn how to control them so that God can bless them. How?

First, seek the mind of Christ.

Consider these biblical imperatives:

  • “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 2:5 KJV).
  • “Holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess” (Hebrews 3:1).
  • “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:1-2).

Make it your goal to think as Jesus thinks, to have his thoughts in your mind and heart. How?

Second, admit what is impure.

When we see ourselves in his light, we see all that is wrong in our minds and hearts. What next? “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator” (Colossians 3:5-10).

Do a mental inventory this morning. Do you find sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires, greed, anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language, lies? Get rid of the impure, so you can replace it with the pure. It doesn’t take much poison to pollute a bottle of drinking water.

Conduct this mental inventory every day before the Father. Ask the Spirit to show you the thoughts which must be removed. Spit out the poison before you swallow it into your soul.

Third, give your guilt to his grace.

When you find sin in your mind and life, and you confess it, the residual which remains behind is guilt. Guilt is not of God. Jesus condemned sin, never sinners.

Guilt is how the enemy punishes us when we fall into the temptation he lays before us. And it is the way we punish ourselves when God forgives us. We don’t want to be in debt to anyone, not even the Lord. If he won’t punish our sin, we’ll do it for him. We’ll carry guilt in our souls until we finally think we’ve paid its price. Some of us never finish paying that debt.

So, confess your sinful mind and life to God and claim his forgiveness (1 John 1:9). Rejoice in the fact that he has separated your sin from you as far as the east is from the west (Psalm 103:12), throwing it into the depths of the sea (Micah 7:19). Trust his promise: “I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more” (Isaiah 43:25).

If he doesn’t remember our sins, why should we? The next time guilt attacks you, fight back. Claim the forgiveness you received when you confessed that sin, and say that the sin is gone, its debt paid, its guilt gone. The next time the guilt attacks, say it again. And again and again, until the guilt finally leaves. Give your guilt to his grace and find his favor today.

Last, fill your thoughts with God.

The Bible commands us to “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). Spend time each morning and through the day in prayer and Bible study. Think about God often and practice his presence throughout the day. Stay connected to the source of your life, and you will have his pure and holy thoughts in your mind.

Conclusion

Anne Graham Lotz is not only Billy Graham’s daughter—she is also one of the most anointed communicators of biblical truth I have ever heard. My wife and I have been privileged to be her friend for many years and to share a speaking platform with her several times.

Anne’s ministry produces a daily devotional taken from her writings. I read it each morning and commend it to you most highly. This week, one of her devotionals noted:

“The One Who called Abraham out of Ur of the Chaldees, promising to fully bless him if he would follow Him in a life of faith is the same Person Who today calls us out of the world and promises to bless us if we follow Him in a life of faith.

“The One Who delivered His children from bondage to slavery in Egypt with a titanic display of power is the same Person Who was crucified then rose from the dead to deliver His children today from the bondage of sin.

“The One Who halted the entire invasion of Canaan by the Israelites while He extended His grace to one Canaanite prostitute is the same Person today Who stops to care for and extend His grace to sinners.

“The One Who answered Elijah’s prayer and sent down the fire to consume the sacrifice on Mount Carmel and then sent down the rain to end the three-year drought in Israel is the same Person today Who hears and answers prayer.”

His grace is always greater than our guilt. Why do you need this fact today?

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