Once the summer is here and in full swing, the temperatures are rising and the heat comes and goes. Soon we’ll be experiencing several heat waves coupled with high humidity and it’s going to become pretty unbearable for some people. Some people will just sit and relax in air-conditioned homes, or for those without air conditioning, they may sit in front of a fan to stay cool. If you’re like me, then you want to be outside during these times. I love the oppressive heat. I love to be outside in it. So if you enjoy that too, beware of the “safe sun time.” If you don’t, you may just end up with a problem. Sunburns are a problem that time of year, if you’re not careful. Those sunburns can be mild or moderate in severity causing mild to moderate discomfort. But that discomfort is to remind us to take precautions the next time so that we won’t allow ourselves to get burned again.
There are three types of burns, and they all happen in this order. The basic and probably the most common burn is the “First Degree” burn. It’s mild in severity and mild in discomfort and usually just affects the top layer of the skin. Usually, this type of a burn will heal quickly without leaving any after effects. The “First Degree” burn is usually your typical sunburn. Other causes may be from steam while cooking. The “Second Degree” burn is the next step up in severity. Now you have more involvement than just the single layer of the skin. Now the burn gets deeper and affects more of the skin. The pain is more severe and blisters form on the skin at the burn site. While the “First Degree” heals quickly, the “Second Degree” type of a burn may remain for up to three or more weeks. The last and most severe burn is the “Third Degree” burn. Now, every layer of skin is involved and affected in some way. By now, the burn runs deep. Healing will take place with the help of skin grafts and other treatments and lasting scars will remain. The “Third Degree” burn, though it’s the most severe, is typically the least uncomfortable because the nerves around the burn have been destroyed…seared if you will. This last point is the focus of this week’s article.
Sin brings discomfort to our otherwise healthy consciences. We can stumble and do something we shouldn’t, and that causes our consciences to bother us, much like a “First Degree” burn. Our conscience feels the discomfort and causes us to realize we need to confess the sin and repent of the sin, and put safeguards in place so as to not sin that way again (much like putting on sunscreen to prevent a future sunburn). When we sin, and are chastened with an unhappy conscience at this level, it usually will stay between you and God, as He gives us time to repent. Once we repent, fellowship is readily restored and there are probably no lasting consequences to the slip-up.
If you continue in the sin, and it progresses to the “Second Degree” you will undoubtedly experience more discomfort in your conscience and you will experience more uncomfortable chastening from God because of your unrepentant and willful continuance in your sin. Now this chastening from God may not be as simple as it was when you were being chastened in the “First Degree.” No, now there may be consequences that may not be permanent, but will be still difficult to bear. All these consequences are designed to bring you back to a place where you are repentant and willing to be restored to fellowship with God. At this point, the severity is such that it takes a little more time for us to recover from the chastening, but we can still recover fully.
However, if you continue in a state of willful and unrepentant sin, despite experiencing chastening in the first and second degrees, you will then move into stage three. At this point, God has been merciful to you in chastening you to try to get you back into fellowship with Him. You, on the other hand have resisted. Now, God will chasten you with the “Third Degree.” That is, He will sear your conscience so that it has no feeling. You will no longer experience discomfort over the sins you are committing. But beware! This sounds like a great situation…carte-blanche to do whatever you want and not feel guilty! But like a “Third Degree” burn will leave you with lasting scars, you better believe that to reach this point in willful sin, you will run head-first into severe and lasting consequences, unless God is merciful to you. By this time, you may have the opportunity to recover, but the part of you affected by your continuance in sin may never fully recover (physically, emotionally, etc…).
First Timothy 4:2 says, “Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron.” This spoke of false prophets who willingly, despite knowing what they were doing was wrong, spread a false gospel and perverted doctrines. They did this to the point that even though they knew it was wrong, it didn’t bother them to do it. That’s the sign of a seared conscience…to willfully sin and not be bothered in the least. At least two people in the Bible progressed this way in their own individual sins. First, Jonah’s sin of hatred progressed through all three degrees. Second, in Genesis, you can find Lot progressing through each degree of chastisement.
Jonah is charged by God to go to Nineveh and preach repentance to the inhabitants of Nineveh. Now Jonah was a Jew and as a whole, in general, the Jews hated non-Jews. Jonah’s sin was his hatred for people who weren’t Jews, and he certainly hated the people of Nineveh. So when God asked him to go and preach to those people, he willfully sinned and went to Joppa to board a boat headed for Tarshish. From the place where God called Jonah, all the way to Joppa, God was patient and dealt with Jonah’s heart with “First Degree” chastening. I’m sure Jonah was experiencing discomfort in his conscience over his refusal to obey God. I can speculate with good certainty that this was the case simply because the Word of God tells us that once he boarded the boat, he went down below and fell asleep (Jonah 1:5). Now most people will say that a good night’s sleep is the sign of a clean conscience toward God, and that may be true, but what about when you’re feeling guilty about something and you want to “sleep it off” because “things will be better in the morning.” In this first-degree of chastening, Jonah was alone in his sin, and it was between he and God at this point. He could repent and board the next boat back, and go to Nineveh…only he and God would have known what was going on.
Now God ramped up the chastening to the next degree. No longer would he allow Jonah to feel guilt and not deal with it. He now brought about a storm. The reason I believe this to be a “Second Degree” chastening is because now it’s no longer “First Degree” chastisement between he and God. Now, God is getting other people involved in knowing about the sin and this is causing Jonah’s sin to now affect other people, while having his reputation suffer a blow at the same time. Now his character comes into question by others, and that hurts more than something kept in private. “Then the men were exceedingly afraid, and said unto him, Why hast thou done this? For the men knew that he fled from the presence of the Lord, because he had told them” (Jonah 1:10). If you continue in your sin the way Jonah did, it will find you out and it may just put others in harms way.
God continued to chasten Jonah for refusing to go to Nineveh once again. Jonah requested he be thrown overboard to allow the innocent sailors to be spared from the storm. So God had him swallowed up by a big fish. This is Jonah’s second chance at “Second Degree” chastening. Jonah experienced utter discomfort in the belly of the fish, affecting all five senses. Salty vile water unfit to drink. Smell of digesting fish within that belly. Sounds of gurgling. Soft slimy surfaces everywhere he sat. Black as night in the belly so that he could see absolutely nothing. Finally, he asked God for a second chance: “But I will sacrifice unto thee with the voice of thanksgiving; I will pay that that I have vowed. Salvation is of the Lord” (Jonah 2:9). However, don’t miss the fact that Jonah wanted out of the fish…but did he repent of his sin of hatred toward the people of Nineveh? I don’t think he ever did, because we find him with a seared conscience in Chapter Four.
Once Jonah finished his ministry in Nineveh, he went up to a hillside overlooking the town and sat down for a front row seat to view what he thought would be God’s destruction of the town. I don’t believe he did what God wanted him to do out of a love for God or a love for those people. Because in the end, his conscience was so seared, that he had no love for the people in Nineveh: “So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city” (Jonah 4:5). God dealt with him on the road to Joppa, then again while in the boat, then again while in the fish, finally, Jonah lay there in the beating hot sun, alone with his disdain for the people God commanded him to love and share salvation with. You can’t tell me he witnessed to them out of love, and then he went up to watch God destroy the city. Nope, God used a man who went through the motions, but never repented of his sin of hatred for the people of Nineveh, and he got no joy out of what God had asked him to do.
Lot made many mistakes and went far off the “deep end” later in life, but his troubles began long before he fled Sodom and Gomorrah. In Chapter 13, we find that Lot and Abram were dwelling together and that meant both their flocks were grazing the same plains. It’s unclear from reading the account whose herdsmen began to complain first and cause conflict with the other herdsmen. But either way, Lot was involved as the leader of his herdsmen, and this is where we find Lot’s “First Degree” chastisement from God. Lot’s sinfulness is not yet detailed for us as it relates to his early years, but rest assured that something was going on. The proof of this speculation is that Lot was experiencing interpersonal conflicts between his employees and those of his uncle, which I’m sure caused him some unrest and lack of peace in his heart. Abram and Lot were brethren and kin and Lot knew there should be nothing that gets in the way of familial relationships. Another clue as to the level of spiritual maturity Lot lacked was the fact that while the strife is going on between the two families, it was Abram that approached Lot. Lot himself was probably not strong and making several mistakes in not using sound spiritual discernment. As a result, Lot experienced the “First Degree” level of chastisement in the form of unrest and unease in his heart over the conflicts that arose.
So, like the many people who deny the less severe “First Degree” chastisement, God increases it to the “Second Degree.” As Lot and Abram parted ways in Genesis 13, Lot was kidnapped by invading kings around Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 14:12). Now, Lot needed to be rescued. This meant that his sin of carnality was now going to be found out and his reputation will take a hit, much like Jonah before the sailors in the boat. Abram risked his life and the life of his men to rescue Lot (Genesis 14:13-16). So, again, this “Second Degree” of chastisement brings other people to have to sacrifice to bail the sinner out of trouble. In Lot’s case, it was the men of his uncle and Abram himself. In Jonah’s case it was the sailors who stood to perish because of Jonah’s sin.
Now Lot’s in the final stages of willful sin, his conscience was so seared toward the moving of God in his heart that when two angels approached him one day, and the men of Sodom wanted to be immoral with these two travelers, Lot offered his two virgin daughters to the men to have their way with, if they promised to leave these two men alone. Remember, these two men were strangers to Lot and he was willing to sacrifice the health and emotional well-being of his own daughters to protect these two men (who were angels sent from God). Also, his conscience was so seared that Lot was a leader in the local government of a people that I’m sure he would have preached against in his earlier, more healthy spiritual state. So, in the “Third Degree” what did Lot lose? He lost influence over his family. His sons-in-law didn’t believe his warning of pending judgment, as it was probably so uncharacteristic from Lot’s mouth than what they had known all along. So his sons-in-law perished in Sodom. Lot’s wife perished in the desert as she looked back, despite what God had warned Lot in Genesis 19:17. This may have been the same problem Lot had with his sons-in-law. Perhaps Lot’s own wife didn’t believe him because his message of God’s judgment was something that was foreign to the ears of his wife, as they proceeded out of Lot’s mouth. So she may have looked back not believing her husbands warning. Worse yet, Lot may have been so consumed with himself at this time that he never even warned his wife in the first place. In either case, it was tragic. But not only had he no influence over his sons-in-law, or his wife, but he also lost influence over his daughters. The same daughters that Lot was willing to sacrifice their virginity, got Lot drunk on two occasions and each got pregnant by him, and he had no idea of what took place. I’m sure they learned that type of sexual sin from the carnal society in Sodom. Those two children developed the lines of the Ammonites and the Moabites, which made life difficult for Israel for generations that followed.
Lot probably died a lonely and empty man. That’s not how I, nor any of us, should want to leave this world. But that’s what can happen if we continue in willful sin and that’s why God, in His wisdom, chastens us in varying degrees of severity to wake us up before we reach a point where our conscience is seared and God hands us over to our sinful desires and we self-destruct. Imagine a modern day example. A Christian believes it’s wrong to gamble at the casino. He swears off gambling for years. Then, one day, he lets his guard down and goes to the casino strictly to play an innocent game of Bingo. While he’s there, all the while knowing he’s stepping into a place he vowed never to go, he struggles between the unease and guilt he harbors secretly in his heart, and the allurement of slot machines and the sights and sounds of money jingling everywhere. A few quarters in the slot machine out of curiosity will feed the flesh and ramp up the inner guilt. Then, a few more trips to the casino to play Bingo begins to be more about experimenting with table games, as the allure of the slot machines was wearing out. Now the few quarters are turning into hundreds of dollars. All of a sudden, there are lack of funds to pay for car loans and other prior commitments. You have to borrow money and make others aware of the problem that you have developing. While there’s still time to get out of the casinos and never return, you begin going more and more, and it’s not about winning money, but rather about the escape from your troubled life that the casino seems to afford for you. Soon, the enablers have left you. You have no “supplemental income” to pay your bills. You default on loans. Life is getting more and more unbearable. The only place you have joy in is the casino gambling. Now, you are so seared in your conscience that you begin stealing and prostituting to get money with which you can gamble. If you don’t land in jail, disgraced, you may just kill yourself over what your life has become.
I don’t know if there comes a point of no return when it comes to getting your heart right with God and enjoying His forgiveness, but it gets harder and harder to even look to spiritual things the deeper into sin we go. So the lesson is this: On the news you here about “safe sun time” as a warning about how much you can indulge in the sun and not get burned. I hope this study of Lot and Jonah shows you that there is no such thing as “safe sin time.”