Cleaning Our Closets

Cleaning our Closets

Since we are moving, we are cleaning our closets. It is surprising how many “lost” items are discovered as we take everything out and organize it. (Show racket) Some stuff we can throw away. Some stuff we can give away. Some stuff we box up to put in a closet in the new house.

We all have closets. This morning we are going to go to the closet of our life and open the door and look in. You know, that place where you store past hurts, successes, mistakes, etc. The place you don’t let other people look into. Sometimes we hide stuff in there that offends God or is unloving. We think God can’t see it. Well, He does and He wants us to get rid of it. So let’s ask God to help us sort through it so our love for Him and others can grow.

Psalm 139:23-24 Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

That is what we are asking God to do this morning. Sin will stifle our growth and hold us back as a Christian. If something in our lives does not fit the following Scripture, we must get rid of it, so we can love God and others more fully.

Mark 12:30-31 And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

We might be very surprised what we have in our closet that is hard to discard. Like this racket, it has been with me most of my life and it is part of me. Even though it is not useful, I hang on to it. Only when we see how much it is costing us to keep it, will we consider letting it go.  For an example, we will take a look at some Christians in Ephesus who cleaned their closets.

Acts 19:11-20 And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit answered them, “Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize, but who are you?” And the man in whom was the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. And this became known to all the residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks. And fear fell upon them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled. Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.

From what we just read, God was doing great things in Ephesus. He brought many Jews and Greeks from the repentance of John to salvation in Christ. A church was established with excellent leadership. God was doing extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched Paul were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.

As happened at other times in the book of Acts (and even occurs today), the power that caused this to happen was misunderstood. Paul, through the power of the Holy Spirit, cast out demons, and some thought it was a matter of incantations and spells, simply saying the right word—like magic.

For, magic was prominent in Ephesus. The religion of Diana (Artemis) that was practiced in Ephesus was full of paranormal exercises. Some of the magic was associated with the Zodiac and astrology. Some of it was earth or nature based incantations. Some of it was fertility rites. The large image of Artemis, housed at the temple in Ephesus, had 7 magical spells inscribed on it. So it was natural for the Ephesians to believe in Jesus and sorcery.

We, too, have misconceptions about evil spirits and the power of the Holy Spirit. Most of our conceptions about demons and how to deal with them comes from horror movies out of Hollywood—a bad source for understanding anything. On the other hand, some people have the misconception that demons don’t exist and the power of Jesus’ Name was for back then.

The Bible says demons are very real. They are unclean spirits, angels who decided to follow Satan instead of God. They are also dangerous. They cannot be controlled with magic words or spells, and they must be confronted in the Name of Jesus Christ, who has power over them.

Revelation 12:7-9 Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.

People who are steeped in pagan religions often experience demonic activity because they are unknowingly worshipping the devil. Ignorantly, we dismiss this activity and relegate demons to the realm of superstition.

We like to explain demonic oppression and possession in terms of psychology rather than spirituality. It is so much nicer to say they are sick, they are schizophrenic or bipolar. So, it is not their fault, and with the proper "non-judgmental" treatment they may be cured.

That is a misunderstanding of demonism. The presence of a demon does not mean a person is worse than anyone else. It means they are more vulnerable. They are in a position, for whatever reason, that demons find appealing for their own purposes and they exploit that person or place. Their cure is the deliverer, Jesus Christ, as it is for all of us.

The Bible makes it clear that all have sinned. I am bad, you are bad, and apart from Jesus, no good thing can be found in us. So, demons are not responsible for all the bad things that happen in a person’s life, but they are responsible for some of it.

Paul and the sons of Sceva were dealing with a super-natural demonic possession, similar to that of the Gadarene that Jesus delivered. As a result of this occurrence, fear came upon the Ephesians with an awareness of the importance of following Jesus. It became apparent to the Ephesians to draw a stark distinction between Jesus and other religions. They realized the Judaism of Sceva was not powerful against demons, and the magic of Artemis that they believed and practiced was making them vulnerable to demons.

Verses 18 and 19 that we read in Acts are very telling: Also many of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver.

As a result of this demonic occurrence, many were convinced Jesus is Lord, and those who believed in Jesus came and openly confessed their evil deeds. A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls out of their closets and burned them publicly.

Notice who was confessing and divulging their practices.  The people who were repenting, according to verse 18, were believers in Christ.

It was Christians who confessed their sin. It was Christians who were practicing sorcery. It was Christians who came to burn their books publically. Who would have thought that the church of Ephesus, under the preaching of Paul, would have been practicing sorcery?

But sorcery is what was in their closet. It had always been part of their life. Now they saw how dangerous it was and they repented.

The value of the books that were burned came to 50,000 drachmas: A drachma was a silver coin. It is always an uncertain thing to try to translate values from New Testament times into today’s money, but if we calculate based upon a day’s minimum wage, this value would have been nearly 3 million dollars. Imagine burning 3 million dollars’ worth of anything!

In our contemporary way of looking at this, we might think it was terrible that these believers were mixing their faith with pagan practices that involved demons. What a contradiction! We might even doubt their salvation.

But we do the same thing! Some of us look at our horoscope—just for laughs, believing it doesn’t really mean anything. We read fortune cookies. We play games that involve demons. We invite magicians into the church to entertain children and talk about Jesus during Vacation Bible School. We watch horror movies. And, we practice pagan traditions during religious holidays.

In Ephesus, people had been coming to Christ for 2 or 3 years. Like us, some believers had not completely abandoned their pagan practices. But this event sparked a certain amount of fear, and it revealed what was in the closet of their lives and it motivated them to get rid of it.

That’s repentance. It begins with a realization that what we are doing is wrong. This conviction brings a change of mind. It gives us a desire to stop doing it and to start doing what God wants.

These Ephesians were believers. They had already trusted the grace of Jesus to save them and give them eternal life. They had been under excellent leadership. They had developed a viable church. However, they had continued to practice a dangerous sin.

Their repentance was demonstrated by two actions: Open confession and rejection of their sinful things.

Now, don’t consider this example a history lesson. The point is: Christians sin and we try to hide our sin. We don’t like to be identified as "sinners." We are ashamed to reveal what is in our closet.

I was recently reading a magazine for ministers. They were talking about how important it is for ministers to have other minister friends that they can confide in and who will hold them accountable. They recommend prayer and discussion groups in which open sharing is a regular exercise. In the article, they were talking about the temptation and sin that ministers deal with: tension in their marriages, the enticement of pornography, spending issues, discouragement, depression, etc.

You might think that this sounds like the same list of temptations you deal with. Well, it is! Thankfully, we have this promise:

Romans 3:22-24 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus

All believers are tempted and all believers sin. Sometimes even mature believers have sin problems that are habitual or addictive. But we keep all this hidden in the closet of our lives. We don’t even want Jesus to go there and open the door. But, ignoring what is in our closet is the pathway to spiritual failure and possible demonic activity.

When the Ephesians saw the danger and violence latent in the sin that they were hiding, they had a visual representation of what Satan was doing to their own souls.

What sin are you harboring? What demon is oppressing your soul?

Just like the Ephesians, it is important to break the power of sin and the devil by repenting; that is, changing our mind and turning around. Repentance begins with open confession. Our first confession is to God. He wants us to admit our sin, and it is His joy to forgive and deliver us.

Jesus came not just to die and save lost people from Hell. He also died to save people from the bondage of their sin. He wants us to be free. He wants us to overcome Satan, sin, and addiction.

Repentance also means telling a believing friend, of the same gender, who will help you pray and overcome the temptation in which you are involved. This is hard because it is humbling and embarrassing, but sin gets its power by staying in the dark. When we open the door to our closet, we expose our sin to the light of Jesus Christ, and temptation’s power over us is greatly reduced.

This is not like catholic confession. In that tradition, people depend on a priest to forgive them and mediate their absolution. Our forgiveness and absolution comes from Jesus. That is why we confess it to Him. Telling another person does not absolve us of our sin. It is only a way for us to be accountable for our sin, repent, and no longer hide it. As long as we keep it hidden, our sin can control us and hold us back spiritually.

Next, walk away from your sinful situation. In Ephesus, that meant, burning their magic books. What could that mean for you: Flush some drugs? Burn some pornography or romance novels? Cancel cable TV or Internet service? Find another job? Cut up some credit cards? Send someone else food shopping? Sell your car?

I read about a man who invested far too much love, attention, money, and care on his old Thunderbird. In the end, it became an idol to him. The only way for him to get free from the sin of idolatry was to sell the car.

Likewise, repenting of your sin may cost you. Even if the monetary value is low, it will cost you withdrawal pains to part with it. But what is more valuable—Jesus or your sin?

Sin will separate you and God, and you will not progress as a disciple of Jesus any further than your sin will allow. We must see our sin as God sees it and throw it out. We can’t stand against Satan when we give him a foothold in our lives.

So, if you wonder why the Church at large is failing in our country, it is this problem. Christians sin, keep that sin hidden, and do not repent. As a result, they become like the world.

Learn from the Ephesians. Look what happened after they repented of the sin in their lives. The Word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power. The rejection of this sin, on the part of so many people, destroyed the power of Satan and allowed the Church to grow.

The Holy Spirit will do the same for you and this church. If you struggle with a hidden sin, don’t struggle alone. I will repeat the steps of repentance that will set you free.

 First pray, confess your sin to God. Admit that it is wrong and that you want to give it up. He will freely forgive and give you grace to overcome.

Psalm 32:5 I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD," And You forgave the iniquity of my sin.  

Second, go to another believer of the same gender that you trust, one who is mature in Christ. Tell them what that sin is. You don’t have to go into gory detail, but just get it out in the open with another person who will pray for you, who will counsel from the Word, and who will ask you how you are doing from time to time.

James 5:16 Confess your faults one to another, and pray for another, that ye may be healed. The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.

Now, if you are that person that someone confides in, be strictly confidential and trustworthy. Don’t take this person’s confession lightly. Don’t offer forgiveness that is not yours to give. Don’t tell them it is ok. It is not ok, and they know it! Instead pray with them, share the Word with them, and go to them occasionally to see if they are following through. Be committed to help them until they gain victory over this sin and are able to help others.

Finally, Christian, replace the sinful activity with something spiritually healthy and helpful.

John 8:10-11 Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on, sin no more.”

Sometimes it helps to define the opposite of our sin and embrace that. For example, sexual sin may be turned to loving Jesus or our spouse more; lies may be turned to learning to speak the truth in love; stealing may be turned to working harder and giving to others thus alleviating the desire to steal; gluttony may be turned to the discipline of prayer and fasting; alcohol or drug abuse may be turned to an intentional focus on getting high on Jesus; and hatred can be turned to intentional expressions of selflessness and love.

All of these steps are real repentance. They are the process of getting rid of the junk in our closet.

If you have never let Jesus look into your closet, do so today. He knows what is in there and is waiting to deliver you. Invite Him in by confessing your faith in Him as Savior and Lord. Give your life to Him by repenting and following Jesus in baptism. You will be born again of the Holy Spirit, who will lovingly help you to see and discard the junk in your closet. Each time you obediently throw something away, the Holy Spirit will show you something else. This is how we grow spiritually and become more like Jesus.