“Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? Then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil” (Jer. 13:23).
There are different types of passages in the Bible. Some passages are designed to comfort and cheer. Others inspire hope, while still others offer special promises. Then there are passages in the Bible designed to strike terror into the hearts of man, or if the heart is so hard it is beyond fear, these passages proclaim ultimate judgment. We have such a passage before us. It is not an easy text to read for it speaks of despair, destruction, and ultimate judgment. Two questions are asked of sinning Israel.
“Can the Ethiopian change his skin?” and, “Can the leopard his spots?”
Both questions demand a negative answer. The skin of an Ethiopian is black. He might wish it something else, but black it shall be. The skin of a leopard is spotted. He might wish it to be all one color, but his wish will not come true. From this we learn something about sin, and, having learned, grow to hate sin for the plague of all plagues it is.
Sin is something that is natural to man. The Psalmist says that man goes forth from the womb lying. Among the first words a child learns are used to take possession of his world. “Mine, mine,” says the baby and grabs for possessions and power.
We smile, and think it somewhat cute. But, if uncorrected the child becomes a youth, and the youth an adult. If the selfishness and foolishness in the heart has not been checked, a tyrant has been reared.
One problem with sin being so natural is that it becomes so acceptable. There is no passage in the Bible where a person came to God and said specifically, “Lord, I am wicked and I want to change. Help me.”
Jesus told a parable about two men who went up into the temple to pray. One asked for God’s mercy, but again, I do not find anyone saying, “Lord, change me.”
The prophets commanded people to change.
John the Baptist preached a baptism unto repentance.
Jesus told Nicodemus, “You must be born again,” but there is no occasion when somebody walked up and said, “Lord, I am really sick and tired of myself and want to be different.”
I believe millions upon millions of people have these desires and thoughts in their hearts, but sin is so natural that we do not think about changing. That is why the gospel must be preached. The Christian has the task of calling dead men to life, evil men to righteousness, and sinners to salvation. That is why the prophet has no honor in his own country. People simply do not want to hear that they are by nature vile sinners in the worst sense of the word.
And, there are some modern-day preachers who agree with the philosophy of the Natural Man. There are those who refuse to speak of man as a sinner. Still, the truth remains whether it is encouraged to be admitted or not, man is a natural sinner.
Sin is something that shows. Just as a black man is distinct in a white society, or a white man is distinct in a black society, just as the spots of a leopard are obvious for all to see so is sin. Through refinement and cultivation, we tried to hide our sin and for the most part we do well. But in the privacy of our heart, in the protection of our homes the hot lava gathers forces and like a ruptured volcano, sin comes pouring forth from the heart in the form of harsh words, cutting remarks, sinful impulses, and unspeakable emotions. If friends or family finds out they are shocked and saddened and so little is told, but it is happening.
The evidence is in the divorce court. The evidence is in the fact that one out of every five children in America will grow up in a single parent home. The evidence is in the staggering number of violent crimes being committed so that our society and our world are saturated with evil. Evil abounds on the movie scene, at the book store, and the world is armed to the teeth as men battle for so called rights, land, and more power. Sin! Sin! Sin! Must show itself and it does. Our text teaches it. Experience teaches it.
For years as I watched Billy Graham preach, I have always been amazed by his optimism. In almost every crusade he talked about the great work God is doing in lives, and indeed, God has turned many millions of people to Himself. But in an interview, when Dr. Graham was turning seventy, he spoke of his readiness to go home because the world was not getting any better. Mr. Graham did not know he would live for many more years and die at the age of ninety-nine.
The world is not getting any better, and in fact, we can hear the tanks of war rumbling in Europe, and elsewhere. Sin is something that shows.
There is a third point in our text. In its natural state sin is irreversible. A black man cannot change the color of his race. The leopard cannot change the spots on his skin. Spiritually speaking, sin is irreversible and so the sinner, like water running downhill, shall follow his natural course.
The Jews did not believe they were so bad that in themselves they could not be good. They had the Temple, the priests, the sacrifices and rituals. Therefore, God sent Jeremiah to make clear the true situation. “If a black man,” says Jeremiah, “could change his skin color; if a leopard could remove his spots, then you could also do good.” “But,” the prophet continues, “that will not happen for you are accustomed to do evil.” I wish I could stop here but we must press on. Let the truth be told, the chosen of God, the elect of the Lord, those who are under a covenant relationship are accustomed to do evil.
This means sinful habits have replaced holy habits if holiness ever existed. If the Jews were once unfamiliar with sin they had grown accustomed to do evil. The Bible tells us just how evil the chosen of God became. There was the breaking of the Sabbath. God’s Laws were no longer honored (The Ten Commandments). Sexual immorality became rampant until like modern America there was nudity in public and the marriage bed was defiled. Finally, men and women became so depraved they would take their precious children and butcher them. On the outstretched arms of the god Molech, children would be burned in human sacrifice. Before we get too angry at ancient Israel, let us remember that some fifty million children have been sacrificed on the altar of abortion in America alone since 1973.
It is very possible for people to get accustomed to do evil. Evil is very subtle. We have mentioned the more obvious sins of open immorality and murder but, remember it was such an innocent sin which plunged man into the Fall. Just a little piece of fruit was eaten. Is it possible that we can get accustomed to do evil in the ‘little’ things in life? It is sad to say, it is tragic, but true, there are those who rather enjoy being critical.
There are those who will to rule over others and not prefer others better than themselves. There is within the human heart a love affair with some private sins so that while others are condemned, self is accustomed to do evil. There are Christians hooked on pornography. There are Christians hooked on gossip. There are Christians hooked on being angry, jealous, bitter, suspicious, and more.
God is speaking to His people and He is saying directly, “You think you can do good but you cannot. Not in your present condition, because you are too accustomed to doing evil.” The sin pattern is irreversible. Human techniques are offered to stop the sinning and many of the techniques are religious in nature. In isolated cases there is a measure of success but looking at spiritual Israel as a whole, the judgment is still rendered, “You are accustomed to do evil.”
If we will agree that what God says is true, there is hope for there is a divine promise which came from the lips of Jesus Himself. “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give thee rest.” (Matthew 11:28).
I believe God, and I invite you to do the same. Apart from God’s help, we who labor against sin will find ourselves sinking, like Christian in John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, into the Slough of Despair. We need to hear Jesus say, “Come to Me”, and we come.
We can come in the mentality of our soul. In the integrity of our heart, without any reservation we can say, “Lord, I do come. I want to follow You. I want to be changed.”
We can come by faith. By faith, all the Bible says about Jesus can be believed. Christ can be loved, even though we have not seen Him. By faith we find that what is natural is overcome by the supernatural. And the supernatural One changes us so that former things are passed away and all things become new. One thing in particular is that sin is not so acceptable anymore in the new heart.
Again, by coming to Jesus we find that sin no longer shows as the Holy Spirit produces His holy fruit.
What I declare is that outside of Christ, sin is irreversible. There is only one Name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.
“Do you want to be different?” Then, come to Christ for salvation, and for sanctification, for strength to resist temptation, and for power to serve.
If you and I will not come to God moment by moment, we shall find ourselves accustomed to doing evil, and we shall also find change impossible. Sin deceives us. It makes us think we can stop anytime we so desire, but we cannot. We need Jesus. I need Jesus.
As heaven listens, as the record is written, let the world know your testimony as you say, “This poor man cried unto the Lord.”