The New American Standard Bible has a four word heading at the top of the third chapter ofRomans – ‘All the World Guilty’. From verse 18 of chapter one to verse 20 of chapter three, Paul works out that theme of universal guilt. It is not pleasant reading and yet its truth is foundational to any understanding of the gospel. The move towards faith in God begins with a deep realization that we are powerless to deal with the guilt of our acts of sin – powerless to free ourselves from the dominion of the sin nature. The entire world of humanity stands in need of a Redeemer and Saviour.
Beginning at Romans 1:18, you find a graphic downward spiral in the human condition. This downward movement is from bad to worse – even to “worser” – until it bottoms out in the worst possible perversions and a mind totally depraved. We see where it all ends but the more interesting question is: ‘Where did it all begin?’
If you read backwards (text by text) from Rom.3:20 to Rom.1:18 you make the discovery: this entire digression of the human condition begins with this – They knew all the time there is a God, yet they refused to acknowledge Him as such, or to thank Him for what He does.(JB Phillips) Every black sin and perversion Paul refers to in these chapters begins with a subtle refusal to acknowledge God, and perhaps more amazingly the first evidence of that refusal is failure to give thanks.
In this, Paul makes it clear that all men are without excuse: that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made itevident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.This is what theology calls ‘natural revelation’ meaning the revelation of God in nature, in the material creation and order. Not everything we need to know about God is contained in nature but there is enough of God revealed in nature that to miss Him there is to leave us without excuse when it comes to judgement.
How important is it that we guard our hearts with all diligence against this attitude of ingratitude or lack of thankfulness?
Strictly speaking the core goal of advertisement is not the selling of product; it is to create a perception of need. The selling of product follows the perception of need. On this Thanksgiving Sunday I want to address the relationship between perceived need and our ability to give thanks. I will do so around this theme: ‘The Tyranny of Perceived Need.’
At the risk of sounding my age I am compelled to conclude that the majority of what is considered need in our culture is in fact greed. And it is precisely this issue of greed that becomes so dangerous because it manifest as a perception of legitimate need. That perception of need then eats away at our heart of gratitude.
We all know there are legitimate needs common to the human experience. Concerning those we have the covenant promise of God through the lips of the Lord Jesus: “….your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. The difference between God and us regarding this matter of need is that He knows what we need while we think we know what we need.
Jesus went on to say the following: For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about yourlife, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?Now there is the critical question to put to our culture; ‘Is life defined by what we consume, and is the body defined by what we wear?’ The unfortunate answer of the cultureis yes to both issues; life is defined by consumerism (the measure of things purchased/consumed) and the body is defined by what’s on it.
Christ continued with (and I am extracting some key phrases relevant to this message): “Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ ‘…your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. …all these things will be added to you. Every promise you see on the overhead is the covenant word of God who cannot lie. But these promises relate to legitimate needs as defined and known by God. They do not apply to our perceptions of need.
To understand the power of perceived need we have only to look at the culture surrounding us. I could spend a great deal of time itemising a whole litany of perceived needs from the clothes we wear to the cars we drive to the house we live in, the education we get or don’t get, the foods we eat, the drinks we drink, the makeup we use, hairstyles, friends, peers and the church we attend or refuse to attend. But what is the core issue in all these perceptions of need? It is all about identity – all these things we think we need to make us who we think we need to be and to express who we think we are. When we are there we cannot be freely led by the Holy Spirit; rather, we are driven by the tyranny (oppressive dictatorship) of a false identity defined by endless perceptions of need.
I have learned to ask myself a fundamental question when making choices: Is this a legitimate need or a mere perception of need, and am I being directed by the Holy Spirit or manipulated by need?
To understand the fearful power of perceived need you only have to see what took place in the fall of man as recorded in Genesis three. This much I can tell you for sure and certain –perceived need is one of the biggest tools in the devil’s handbag of dirty tricks and deceptions. To understand that story is flat out scary.
The lie he told Eve was that God was withholding something from her. So what was Satan really saying? “You can be more than what God created you to be.” And right there he created a perception of need. I need to be something other than what God is allowing right now; I need to be somewhere other than where God has placed me right now. Why be content with being Eve? Why be content with this garden home? In fact why not go for the top position: Be God. That way your personal happiness will rest entirely in your own hand and you will be responsible and accountable to no one.
The New Testament tells us that Eve was beguiled. But what was she beguiled by? The answer is – a perception of need rooted entirely in the lie of the evil one. How can we look at the world around us – in fact how can we look at the church and fail to understand that this same devil is active 24/7 trying to beguile our minds through false perceptions of need. You need that title; you need that office; you need that position; you need that ministry; you need that pulpit; you need to be over there; you need to be here; you need that income; you need that platform; you need that big event; you need, you need, you need – and at the heart of all these perceptions of need is one thing: When I am there and doing that I will finally be happy and fulfilled.
Returning to Romans 1:18 here is the final question: Driven by this incessant perception of need what in fact do we become? I can tell you with certainty we do not find the happiness or fulfilment we seek. Driven by a perception of need we become disloyal and dishonouring in our relationships – first with God and then with one another. At some point this leads to loneliness.
In terms of our relationship with God it leads to ingratitude and a lack of thankfulness. Beyond that it leads to the accusation that God is unfair and unjust – that He is withholding from us what we really need. As long as I entertain that lie I cannot come to God with an open heart full and running over with praise, thanksgiving, gratitude and worship. In fact I will more and more deny Him and fail to acknowledge Him as God.
At this stage of my life my faith experience is defined less and less by naming and claiming all those things I once perceived as legitimate needs – things I just could not live without. My faith experience is defined more and more by opening my hands, releasing, letting go and offering up to the sovereignty of God all those perceived needs I once thought essential to my identity as a man of faith.
Paul wrote the following: Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.The word ‘content’ carries the idea of sufficiency and enough and as such relates to the sufficiency and “enoughness” of God. It is not based on or tied to external materialistic definitions. Satisfaction is another matter and is (at least in our present use of the word) tied to external circumstances and the measure of material goods.
Satisfaction in our culture is directly linked to our perception of need. And this oppressive tyranny of perceived need keeps us from entering that rest of true contentment and slowly turns our heart away from gratitude and thankfulness toward God.
As we approach the table of the Lord this morning I am asking that we do so in deliberate celebration of God’s sufficiency and full provision. Look your need right in the face and then take up this bread and this cup and in doing so declare: “My God is enough! He has fully provided all things through the redemptive provision of His Son, Jesus Christ.”