Last time we talked about Jesus’s second Beatitude, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). If mourning is the way to that parental, ongoing, moment-by-moment forgiveness which is the way to happiness and blessing, as we saw, that raises a question. How do I become a mourner?
First, I must eliminate all hindrances. Here are five things that stand in the way of godly grief over sin.
The Bible speaks of the possibility of having a “hard heart,” sometimes called a “heart of stone.” This is a state of numb resistance to the Holy Spirit. A stony heart can’t mourn. The plow of the Word can’t break it up. And this happens in a heart that treasures sin. Nothing freezes and hardens a heart faster than loving iniquity in wholehearted rebellion to God’s commands.
There are some people who say, “I’m beyond help. I’m too far gone, and life is too unfair.” Thoughts like these underestimate and undervalue God’s power and minimize the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross. And the natural outworking of this perspective is going out and doing whatever you want to — because nothing really matters anyway, right? Despair hides the transforming power of God’s grace behind a black cloud.
In contrast, arrogance says, “I’m really not that bad. I’m not so bad that I need to be penitent.” A foolish doctor treats a deadly disease as if it is a cold. In the same way, an arrogant sinner does not treat his sin with the seriousness it deserves, mistaking a fatal rebellion as a minor error. Sin cost the death of Jesus Christ. It is profoundly serious.
As Hebrews 3 says, “Today if you will hear His voice, harden not your heart.”
Some people just keep pushing repentance off, letting their hearts grow harder and harder. The folly of postponing mourning over sin is that a more convenient time never shows up. The sooner sin is dealt with, the sooner comfort and happiness come. Why should you wait?
Some people just never want to think deeply about anything, least of all their sin. They are shallow thinkers. They trivialize life at every point. Everything is a source of laughter for them. They are like this description of some in Israel who refused to take judgment seriously:
Those who recline on beds of ivory
And sprawl on their couches,
And eat lambs from the flock
And calves from the midst of the stall,
Who improvise to the sound of the harp,
And like David have composed songs for themselves,
Who drink wine from sacrificial bowls
While they anoint themselves with the finest of oils,
Yet they have not grieved over the ruin of Joseph.
Therefore, they will now go into exile at the head of the exiles,
And the sprawlers’ banqueting will pass away. (Amos 6:4-7)
There is an age-old temptation among mankind to avoid suffering by not thinking about it. But this only brings more suffering when we refuse to face up to our sin and repent.
So, how do we know whether we have a hard heart or a soft heart? One way to do a little inventory is to look at the cross of Christ. If that can’t break your heart, I don’t know what can. Years ago I began reading the poetry of Christina Rossetti, who died in 1894. This woman wrote some profound poetry, and one of my favorites, “Good Friday,” is about hardness of heart and the cross:
Am I a stone, and not a sheep,
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,
To number drop by drop Thy blood’s slow loss,
And yet not weep?
Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter, weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;
Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky,
A horror of great darkness at broad noon –
I, only I.
Yet give not o’er,
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.
Looking at the cross is a good place to have your hard heart impacted.
So first, we remove the hindrances to mourning. Next, we study the examples of penitence in Scripture. I don’t think there’s anything better for learning to mourn than seeing the penitent in Scripture. Look to Isaiah, Jeremiah, Peter, Paul and Job. Listen to them as they say with David, “My sin is ever before me” (Psalm 51:3). Understand what they understood about the power of sin, that it tramples on God’s law, slights His love, grieves His Spirit, spurns His blessedness, and robs us of joy and reward.
Then pray for a contrite heart. Pray, “Lord, break my heart, teach me how to mourn over my sin, and show me that true blessedness comes through the comfort of Your forgiveness for the sin over which I grieve.”
Let me leave you with a few questions for self-reflection. Ask yourself, are you sensitive to sin or do you take pleasure in it? Does it grieve you? Do you mourn over the sins of others? Do you mourn over the sins that you see in the people you know and the people you don’t know? Do you mourn the fact that the Father’s world and Christ’s church have been polluted by sin? And most of all, do you mourn the fact that your own life is polluted by it?
At the same time, do you have a happy heart in spite of your mourning? Are you in that sort of constant spiritual ambivalence where you’re sorry about your sin and happy about your forgiveness? Are you on the one hand contrite and broken before the Lord and on the other hand relishing the unlimited grace and mercy dispensed to you? Are you constantly going between sorrow and joy in a way that demonstrates true humility?
You know you’re a mourner if you’re genuinely grieved over your sin and long to turn from it and seek the forgiveness of God and the blessing that He brings. And you know you’re a mourner if you experience the comfort of forgiveness.
This blog post is based on Dr. MacArthur’s sermon “The Only Way to Happiness: Mourn Over Sin,” originally preached in 1998.
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