(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg

Exodus 20:15, "You shall not steal." NIV

Heidelberg Catechism Lord's Day 42

Matthew 16:24-28

Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom."  NIV

This morning, I won't bore you with a bunch of crime statistics - because crime statistics are out there. I won't bore you with stories about some successful thieves because then we can think of this command as applying to someone else. I will give you one statistic only and the person that statistic applies to.

The statistic is this. Everyone here is a thief. You have all stolen. I include myself. Everyone of us, at one time or another, has taken what was not given, lifted something that was not purchased, owned something we did not earn, kept something we did not inherit, destroyed something that was not ours to demolish.

Whether its a candy in a grocery store, a friends toy, an unreported income on a tax return, a scammed slice of software, a copyrighted piece of music, taped or written, that small office supply from the office, that idea someone else worked hard to put together, getting that extra special deal at a garage sale for a person who didn't know the value of what they were selling, time from our employer, even a person's innocence, or their good reputation - taken away, destroyed by gossip, the myriad of ways to steal is endless.

And our excuses - we've heard them all

  • Finders, keepers

  • They made the error

  • I deserve this,

  • I've worked here for 20 years,

  • The price they were charging was highway robbery anyways.

  • They won't notice its missing.

  • The profound - "I won't get caught"

  • He deserves this treatment - look what he did.

  • Everyone is doing it.

  • This is the easy way out of a difficult situation - Bankruptcy.

  • Its nothing,

  • I couldn't help myself.

  • No one will notice.

  • If he doesn't find out, it won't hurt him.

Now I hope this morning that you recognize this law applies to you.  And if you comb through your life without blinders on, will recognize some of those times where you have taken what was not yours to take, or kept what was not yours to keep. As we begin our look at the 8th commandment, we need to ask ourselves a question:

What was it that prompted our hearts to take?

(Possible answers:  temptation, it looked so good, it was so easy, I would never get caught, I needed it), Go a little deeper; what was the root reason, the root reason why you were tempted?  The answer...

The spiritual driving force behind theft is unbelief!

A lot of people forget that stealing is ultimately a spiritual sin, a sin against God before anything else, because at its root it is driven by unbelief. This morning, let me demonstrate that to you by describing something I have described before - the relentless economy of unbelief.

The unbelieving heart lacks the conscious awareness of God. Psalm 53:1 The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." And then he goes on to describe the unbelieving fool: "They are corrupt, and their ways are vile; there is no one who does good." There is good reason why the unbelieving heart does wrong.

First, because without a conscious awareness of God, people live with an intense spiritual insecurity. They go through life with the firm conviction that they are on their own in this world. Their security comes from those things which they can accumulate, their feeling of well being comes from those things they can gain for themselves. Their root motivator, because they are not consciously aware of God, is that they must take care of themselves first, take care of their own first. Unbelief compels them to be takers.

You might say that there are exceptions, faithless people who give generously, philosophical philanthropists. Check it out though!  If they choose to give unselfishly, they give but only of their excess, their surplus, their abundance, as long as it does not touch their security, as long as it does not put their own lives on a shaky foundation. If they do give so that it affects their life itself, they do it because they find some return somehow. To give away their own security is, to the unbelieving heart, a death wish. Living without God is the driving force behind the heart that takes.

Taking becomes theft when our lack of awareness of God becomes ignorance also to God's law. You shall not steal. We can hide behind a million excuses and justifications but God has told us not to take what is not ours. When we are ignorant of God, his law is forgotten, any excuse justifies sufficiently. Having exchanged the truth of God's presence for a lie, we worship and served created things rather than the Creator, we accumulate things to ourselves finding our confidence for life in them, we sacrifice for material possessions even as we sacrifice our conscience as it sears over the fire of disobedience. We forget that God is the judge who watches our actions and will expect repayment for what we have done. Over time, the price the thief pays is far higher than the price of the valuables he has stolen.

"What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done."

We need to be reminded even as I talk about the unbelieving heart, that it is in all of us, the desire to take to ourselves, to find our security in our accumulations, is resident in everyone of our hearts. And that old and sinful nature comes to the surface again and again, every time we lack a conscious awareness of God. The sinful mind by its very nature,(Romans 8 tells us), is hostile to God, refusing to obey God's laws, unable to please God, fulfilling its own motives and desires.

What then is the cure to our thieving hearts?

The answer should be obvious: the cure has to do with faith, growing a conscious awareness of the goodness and the presence of God in our lives.

Let me first of all demonstrate that by describing the wonderful economy of faith and its consequence on our lives.

When we, by the power of the Holy Spirit are born again, one of the clearest demonstrations of that rebirth is a conscious awareness of God. If at one time God was a concept, now he is a reality, as real as our most real experiences, and God through his Spirit starts directing our lives as Isaiah says "Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, "This is the way; walk in it." (Isaiah 30:21) We become people who are increasingly sensitive to God's present watchful care over us and his precious will for us.

Once we come to understand that God is watching over us in life and death, once we understand that God has gracious given us eternal life, we develop a sense of security that is rooted in the awareness of God taking care of our needs, of our concerns, of our families. And we start hearing the Jesus instruction for ourselves when he tells us not to worry about what we will eat or wear, rather we are to "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well."(Matthew 6:33) A transformation happens in our lives. We start becoming people who, having received grace, we grow in the grace of giving. And the economics of that is simple. No longer is our life made up of what we can gather to ourselves. Our life, our security is in an entirely different source - it is in God, our Rock and Refuge. When we live in the consciousness of that security, the drive to take is overcome by the willingness to give - to give freely because even if we give sacrificially, it does not touch our security. God will take care of us! That is what Jesus meant one day when he was sitting at the temple with his disciples. Scriptures tell us

"Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything--all she had to live on." (Mark 12:41-44) These rich people gave lots even heaps of money, their excess, wonderful donations but they all had plenty left to live on. Those donations did not take faith to give. Why would a poor widow give what she had to live on?  Because her security in life came from knowing that God was watching over her.

When we know that God is the source of our life, we can afford to give those things that do not give us life away. And in the process we build up treasures for ourselves in heaven.

Living with a conscious awareness of God in our lives also makes us sensitive to his will. God's law is no longer a distant document recited on Sundays, rather it is written on our hearts, we become sensitive to its truths and the principles that lie behind it. When we hear, "You shall not steal." we hear Jesus words from Luke 12:15 "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." (Luke 12:15) As we listen to the truth of God's law, we with sensitive un seared consciences begin fulfilling the righteous requirements of the law because we stop living according to the sinful nature and start living according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:3)

In conclusion this morning, I have but one question for you.

What is your heart like?

Is it a heart that takes, or is it a heart that gives?

If you, looking at yourself see a heart that predominantly takes, and justifies your taking with many excuses, you are seeing the old nature.  And it may be that the reason why you see the old sinful nature is because that is all that there is there. The answer of scripture is to turn from your lack of faith to faith in Christ, trust your life into his care, trust your future into his hands, your eternal security secured on the emptied cross of Calvary, your comfort and strength in belonging to him. There is no other treatment for the old sinful nature.

What is your heart like?

Is it a heart that takes, or is it a heart that gives?

Maybe this morning as you look at yourself, you see both. Having given your life to Christ, you have the desire to give, but you still feel that urge to take, to find life in possessions, to justify your taking.

You are experiencing the new nature and the old nature. And scripture tells us very clearly that the answer is to grow in Christ, to grow in your conscious awareness of the presence and care and guidance of God in your life. Romans 8 (13) tells us to live by the Spirit and by it to put to death those old drives and actions that come from our sinful nature. As we learn walk by the Spirit, we become giving people, giving not only of our surplus, giving even of what we have to live on, because the source of our life is not in money, not in things, it is in God alone.

What is your heart like?
Is it a heart that takes, or is it a heart that gives?

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(NIV) Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright (C) 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.

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