Tuesday, February 19, 2008

The Suicidal Exchange of Licentiousness

The Suicidal Exchange of Licentiousness
Jeremiah 2, Luke 15

As we began this series we looked at 1 Peter 1:8-9 and noted that Christ died to purchase our inexpressible joy. You were encouraged to pursue this inexpressible joy. The central theme of that first sermon was this: The Gospel was meant to be enjoyed, so enjoy it. That is all great and wonderful, but our experience tells us that we do not live lives of inexpressible joy. As we try to stay on the path of God-centered joy we often fall into a ditch. The last time we met we discussed one of these ditches; legalism. This time we will discuss the ditch on the other side; licentiousness. Eventually we will look at the all-sufficiency of the Cross of Christ and we will close up this series the last week of February by looking at the life of a man named John Newton.

Last time as we looked at the ditch on our right we discovered the pitfalls of legalism. We defined legalism as, “seeking to achieve forgiveness from God, justification before God, and acceptance by God through our obedience to God.” It is self-salvation. It is our subtle attempts to smuggle our character into God’s work of grace. And we saw that it is deadly. We exposed it as an impossible burden and we were driven to the Cross for refuge from legalism.

Tonight we are going to look at the ditch on our left, the suicidal exchange of licentiousness. I understand that it is kind of a foreign word, so I hope to explain to you what it means. I would like to choose a simpler one but if I do I think the meaning will get lost. So, I will try to teach you a word you may not be familiar with. What is licentiousness? It sounds like something you get checked for at church camp. Or maybe it is the act of applying for a driver’s license. Now, we do check for licentiousness at church camp, but not in the way that you think. And this word does have something to do with a license. There are 3 definitions in the dictionary for licentiousness. One refers to being sexually unrestrained. That does have something to do with what we are talking about, but it is far too narrow. The second and third definition is what we are going to look at tonight. Two, “Unrestrained by law or general morality; lawless; immoral,” and three, “going beyond customary or proper bounds or limits; disregarding rules” are the definitions that we will use.

But that is a drab, meaningless definition. That definition probably does not stir you or cause you to camp out there and wonder if you struggle with licentiousness. We probably need to paint a picture for you of licentiousness. What does licentiousness look like? What is the driving force behind someone that is licentious?

Imagine with me for a moment driving your car on a really narrow bridge. It’s kind of exciting, but a little scary too. It is scary because on both sides of this narrow bridge is a deep canyon. If you fall off on either side you are certain to have a damaging wreck, possibly even death. Now in our little picture this narrow road that you are driving on is the gospel. It is the God-centered inexpressible joy that we talked about a few weeks ago. This is where God is calling you to live. This is the life that Christ had died to secure for us. Some day we will drive only on this road without the danger of the cliffs. But for now we have violent winds against us. Sometimes causing us to teeter to the left a little too far, and sometimes causing us to teeter too far to the right. Legalism is on your right side. It is partially faithful to the narrow road because it exalts holiness. That is good. It shutters at the judgment of God. That too is good. It strives to please God. That is also good. But legalism is a damning cliff because it is pitted against God-centered joy. It is pitted against finding pleasure in God. In fact it is pitted against God. You might not think it but at its core is self-salvation. Legalism will never please God. On the other side is licentiousness. Licentiousness loves pleasure. It treasures freedom. It is far from legalism. Licentiousness offers fun, legalism offers strict rules. Licentiousness offers freedom, legalism offers bondage. Licentiousness offers fulfillment and great pleasures. Licentiousness offers life. Yet for all that it offers it does not come through, because licentiousness is also a deep pit. Legalism is guilty of not finding pleasure in God. Licentiousness is guilty of not finding its pleasure in God. Licentiousness pursues another lover and rejects the gospel.

If you want a biblical example of these look at the Pharisee and the Prodigal Son. The Pharisee is the legalist. He follows strict rules. The Prodigal is the licentious man. He wants to take all of his father’s inheritance and go have some fun. He thinks that fun is found outside of the Father’s house. We can easily see licentiousness in the story of the Prodigal Son. But we will not have that text as our central starting point tonight. Tonight we are going to spend most of our time in Jeremiah 2. We will come back to the prodigal throughout the story, but we will focus here on the words of the prophet Jeremiah.

READ Jeremiah 2

These people are licentious. They have cast off all restraint. They have fallen headlong into idolatry and sin. They have rejected God. They are like the prodigal son that is gathering up his inheritance and is now spending it on prostitutes and the pleasures of the world.

Notice that I said pleasures of the world. I am not denying the fact that there are pleasures to be had in the world. He probably had moments of grand pleasure. I am sure that he enjoyed being with prostitutes. There was probably a season where his partying was really fun. Sin can be fun. Sin does hold pleasure. Listen to Hebrews 10:25 and what it says about Moses, “choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin”. There are two things for you to notice from that. One, Moses would have enjoyed these fleeting pleasures even though they were sinful. But now notice the second thing, they are fleeting. And that is where the big problem of licentiousness is. It is fleeting. It does not last. We can see this throughout the second chapter of Jeremiah.

Licentiousness offers much and delivers little. It offers a life filled with fun and excitement. It offers riches and fulfillment, and provides emptiness. It offers freedom from the shackles of rules, yet drives us into a deeper form of slavery. It offers flexibility, growth, life, and vibrancy and causes us to be hardened, rigid, betrayed. Licentiousness offers much and delivers so little, that is why I call it a suicidal exchange. Licentiousness is forsaking that which is all of those things it deceivingly offers all the while leaving you in the despair of all that which you wanted to escape. As we look at Jeremiah 2 we will see these things more prominently.

I. The fruit of licentiousness

A. Licentiousness leads to emptiness (2:1-13)

One of the things that Nikki and I enjoy doing together is watching American Idol. A couple of weeks ago, in one of the first auditions, there was a young man that had never kissed a girl; he desired to keep himself pure for his wife. Now, I have no clue if he is a Christian or if his passion was legalistic or if it came from a pure heart. What I did notice was the reaction that the judges gave him. They thought that he was utterly ridiculous and depriving himself of fun. They advised him to go kiss a girl and have a little fun. That is the deception that permeates our society, just as it did in Jeremiah’s day.

But I do not want this to fall into a discussion about the evils of society. The point of this text is not the evil of society that is attracting and hurting the Israelites. The point of this text is the evilness of our hearts. Our problem is that our hearts have disordered affections. Our fundamental problem is that the remaining corruption in our hearts lures us with disordered affections. If you are not saved; if the Holy Spirit has not made your heart new, then you always struggle with disordered affections. That is what this text is showing us. And it is showing us that if we are left to ourselves we will continually pursue idolatry and we will forsake that which gives us life. Left to ourselves we will go down the path of licentiousness and it will lead where licentiousness always leads, in emptiness.

Ask the prodigal son that finds he is starving and longing to eat the leftovers of a pig. Licentiousness always leads to emptiness. This is what God’s Word says in Jeremiah 2:5, “…and went after worthlessness, and became worthless.” In other words, you become what you behold. If you give your life to that which is worthless then that is exactly what you will become. The question is what did Jeremiah mean by “went after worthlessness”?

We see a common theme in these first thirteen verses. It is exchanging that which is beautiful for that which, “does not profit”. I take that to mean that what Jeremiah is talking about is the suicidal exchange of God’s glory for anything else. Paul picks up this idea in Romans 1 when he says, “they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” In other words they engaged in the suicidal exchange of self-worship and self-gratification. You can see where this leads in Romans 1. It leads to all kinds of immorality and inevitably to emptiness.

You become what you behold. You are what you treasure. If you treasure what is empty you will inevitably end up empty. What this means is that if you are living your life as the prodigal did then you will end up in pig slop. It may take 40 years. It may take 4 years. It may take 4 days. Licentiousness will lead to emptiness always. Therefore, we are urging you to abandon that which does not profit and come to the fountain of living water and drink.

In C.S. Lewis’ book, The Silver Chair, Jill is lost and thirsty in a strange land. She finds a brook, but she sees Aslan the Lion (a symbol of Jesus) lying beside the water. Aslan growls and tells her she may come and drink.” May I … could I … would you mind going away while I drink?” said Jill. The Lion answered with a look and a very low growl and as Jill gazed at its motionless bulk, she realized that she might as well have asked the whole mountain to move aside for her convenience. The delicious rippling noise of the stream was driving her nearly frantic.
“Do you promise not to – do anything to me if I do come?” said Jill. “I make no promise,” said the Lion. Jill was so thirsty now that, without noticing it, she had come a step nearer. “Do you eat girls?” she said.” I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms,” said the Lion. It didn’t say this as if it were boasting, nor as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it. “I daren’t come and drink,” said Jill. “Then you will die of thirst,” said the Lion. “Oh, dear!” said Jill, coming another step nearer. “I suppose I must go and look for another stream then.” “There is no other stream,” said the Lion.

There is no other stream! Everything else but Jesus Christ leads to emptiness. There is no other stream. As verse 13 says the Lord is the fountain of living waters. If you forsake that fountain of living water, no matter where else or to what else you turn it will lead to emptiness.

B. Licentiousness leads to slavery (2:14-

What did the prodigal son hope to do? He wanted to leave his Father’s rule. He thought that his happiness would be in freedom from his Father’s rule. But what did he find? He found that as he pursued freedom he ended up enslaved. He ended up having to work for a farmer feeding pigs. He had to hire himself out. He lost his freedom.

Is this not what sin always does to us? Stop telling me what to do! I can live my life how I want! I am free! Who are you to tell me what I can and can not do?!? Every alcoholic starts out totally free and then ends up enslaved. Sinners are convinced that they are extremely free. Listen to what Jesus said about sin and slavery. “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin”.

The truth of the matter is that everyone apart from Jesus Christ is enslaved. The biblical picture is that man apart from Christ is enslaved to sin. Given the choice between Christ and sin, the unsaved man will choose sin. But it is never this obvious. Our sin is so subtle and so enslaving. When the heroine addict took his first hit, he did not see 20 years down the road losing his job, family, life and becoming enslaved to heroine. When the alcoholic took his first drink he did not see what he would do to his family and his own life. Even those of you that do not know Jesus Christ may not become alcoholics and heroine addicts. But you will be enslaved by something far more deadly; yourself. You will live your entire life for yourself. You will never turn to Jesus Christ every bit of your life will be spent on that great idol of old—yourself.

Now, this tendency does not only happen to those that are not believers. Even those that are regenerate will struggle with this because of our remaining corruption. It might be subtle hidden things. Pornography addictions. Bouncing from boyfriend to boyfriend and then spouse to spouse. Constantly going from one idol to the next, whether it is television, sports, games, friends, work. Pretending to be passionate about Jesus but all the while you are enslaved to fears and doubts and questions and even, dare I say it, a secret atheism.

This is what licentiousness does. This is how sin entangles us. Notice what it says in Hebrews to cast off the sin that so easily entangles us. That is what it does; we are easily lured and entangling by sin because of our remaining corruption. And if we are not cautious, even as believers, we can end up enslaved. Now, if you are not in Christ you are a slave, period. That is what the Bible says. You are in bondage to your sin. You may think that you are free but you are not.

This is what we see here in Jeremiah. They refused to serve God. Just as the prodigal they wanted freedom from their Father’s rule. But what happened. As they sold themselves off to foreign nations they slowly became enslaved to them. And what a sad comment is verse 20-22. They refuse to serve God. The beautiful glorious loving Father. They refused to serve Him. And instead they bow down like whores and go after everything else. Yet, God continues in His mercy and what do they do? They continue pursuing sin. And what is the result? It is feelings of guilt. Sin holds with it consequences. They cannot seem to get clean enough. They try washing and washing away their filth but they cannot. Their guilt is always before the Lord.

Now, lest we become arrogant lets try to find ourselves in this passage. Is this not what we also do? Perhaps this passage describes you perfectly. You are stubborn and refusing to serve your gracious Heavenly Father. You would rather reign in hell than serve in heaven. Do you not see your ignorance? Can you not see the futility of bowing down to all of these worthless idols and forsaking the living God? Oh, will your foolish pride be broken.

Even for those of us that are believers, are there not areas in our lives of remaining corruption? Do we not also sometimes play the harlot? How many times do we become enslaved by our idols that we pursued for the sake of freedom?

C. Licentiousness leads to hardening

Now if you find yourself going down the path of licentiousness let me tell you it is a very dangerous path to go down. If you have not and are not trusting in Jesus Christ to save you but are instead pursuing self-gratification, I hope that you will see the urgency of this text. I hope that you will see that after hearing this sermon and being confronted with this text, that if you do not heed the words of God you are one step closer to hell today than you were yesterday. One step closer to hell puts you one step further away from the Lord.

Look at what happens in this text. The Israelites have forsaken God. We have seen that it leads to their emptiness. But it is not as if they are just empty and alone and we should feel sorry for them. They have forsaken the Lord and they have water and food in front of them but they are too foolish to drink it, they would rather find their own spring. This downward spiral then leads to slavery. They have become slaves of their own desires and their pride. And now it will spiral even further down into what is known as hardening.

Hear the words in verse 25. “It is hopeless, for I have loved foreigners and after them I will go.” They have become hopeless. They are now being further hardened to the gospel. And notice what God is doing at this point. He is letting their sin takes it’s natural course and giving them exactly what they wanted. They find themselves empty and estranged. So, God says, “call out to your precious idols”. Call out to your other lovers, maybe they will save you.

This might sound extremely unforgiving and unmerciful of God, but there is a point in which God says, you have come this far you will go no more. Friends, God’s mercy is not unending. It is for his children. But there is a biblical precedent for believing that there are those that have become so hardened that they will never turn to Christ. God has given them over as it says in Romans 1, and as it appears here. God has given numerous and numerous corrections, invitations, pleas, warnings, offers of grace, etc. and they have time after time rejected Him.

Look at what has happened in this text. God corrects, no response. Day after day he pursues them. He provides for them. He blesses them. He punishes them. He cares for them. Everything to draw them into fellowship with Himself, but what happens? “Yet my people have forgotten me days without number.” God provides and blesses they thank the gods of Egypt. God corrects and rebukes they flee to Assyria for help. Never do they come to God. And they continue in this downward spiral of sin, even to the point of taking innocent lives and never do they turn back to the Lord.

This is what happens in hardening. Now the fool will reason thus: I think I may be one of those that God is dealing with in such a way. Oh no, it looks like maybe God has hardened me. Looks like I am not going to be saved so I might as well live it up and run as far away from God as possible, he is not merciful and will not save me anyways. Oh, foolish unbeliever. God is merciful yet today. That you have came under the teachings of his word and have even heard this admonishment is evidence that his offer of mercy still stands. He is offering you mercy yet once more. This may be your last offer of mercy. This may be the last time that God deals with your heart. Oh, dear friend, do not reject His calling. Do not reject His offer. It is urgent. He may withdraw it tomorrow. If Christ is offering you mercy today, you must not reject Him.

Believer, you know that the mercies of the Lord are new every morning. You know that He no longer deals with you as a sinner but now as a dear child. If you are finding yourself go down the path of licentiousness I urge you to turn around. You do not want to go there. I believe that the story of the prodigal applies more to you than it does to an unbeliever. Come back. Come to your senses and fall back into the arms of Christ mercy. He is there to heal you. He will forgive your many transgressions. He will throw a party with you.


I was afraid as I put this sermon together that you would walk out of here and believe that the sermon was about how stupid licentiousness is and how you need to turn away from it, pull yourself up and just stop your darn sinning.

We must understand biblical theology at this point or else you will fall into the trap of legalism trying to pull yourself up out of licentiousness. The truth is you cannot pull yourself up from licentiousness. If you are not a believer then your heart must change. Guess what, you cannot change your heart. Only God can do this. That is not to say sit on your rear and wait for Him to do that. It is saying to cast yourself on the mercy of God and plea with Him to change your heart. And here is another aspect of biblical theology that you must understand. If you have such a heart that desires repentance and faith and a new life in Christ, where do you think that came from?

Jesus Christ has died for every transgression (licentiousness) of His sheep. Every transgression. This is the beauty of the gospel. But Jesus did not die for you to leave you just the way you are. He is in the process of making you holy and more like Him. In this process guess what you do. You cast yourself wholly on His mercy and trust Him in this. Put yourself in the path of the various means of grace. He uses Bible reading. He uses prayer. He uses ministers of the gospel and the preaching and teaching of His Word. He uses fellowship with other believers. He uses many things to cast out of our hearts the remaining corruption of sin. Surrender to Him in these things. Your answer to licentiousness is not to look down deep inside yourself and try really hard not to sin. Your answer is found in the Cross of Jesus Christ. Notice in Jeremiah that it said we cannot clean up our guilt no matter how much soap we use. Why is that? Because we cannot remove our guilt. But guess who can. Jesus. And he has, he does and he will. So, if you are in Christ and struggling with licentiousness I admonish you to follow the command of 1 John 1:9, “confess your sins” and cast yourself on the mercy of Christ.

If you are not certain whether you are in Christ or not and see that you are heading down the path of licentiousness I urge you to think about where you are going. It will lead to emptiness, slavery, and hardening. Jesus Christ is the opposite of all those things. He will change your heart and make it tender towards him. Instead of getting closer to hell each day you will be getting closer to Christ Himself. Instead of being enslaved to your sin, you will be given his freedom. Instead of the emptiness of licentiousness you will be given the bread of life and the water that will make you never thirst again.

How? Because Jesus Christ will step in your place. He has taken the punishment that your licentiousness deserves. He drank the entire cup of God’s wrath. All of God’s anger was poured out upon Jesus, so that it would not have to be poured out on His other children, believers, the bride of Christ. In doing so Christ has not only taken our punishment but He has also given us His righteousness; meaning that we stand before God in one instant justified, free from the guilt of sin. How does that become yours? God imparts to you grace and you latch on to that by faith. You believe Jesus. You believe in the promise of God. God does a work in your heart and you respond to Him. To make it simple, you cry out for mercy and God hears you. You believe that He has heard you and you live accordingly, giving your life to Him.

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