Category Archives: Sanctification

Oh! The Depth of My Depravity

The longer we walk with the Lord, the further we realize we have to go.

When I first started living as a Christian about 12 years ago, I thought I would be uber-sanctified. I thought the struggles I wrestled with then would be over and I would be aglow with holiness. Perhaps I never articulated that but it was an assumption nonetheless. Although my sins from then have ceased, they have morphed into something else. Better, I am realizing the depth of those symptoms is much deeper than I had feared.

I made it a discipline over the past few years to begin asking what was in back of all my actions. I would not be satisfied with the answer, “Well, it’s sin.” I wanted to ask the more precise questions of “why” it was sin, “how” it was sin, and the reason as to why I persisted in that sin. It is far too easy and affords not as much cleansing from sin when we stop short of what the Spirit wants us to learn when we test ourselves to see if we are in the faith. Instead of just saying “I sinned because I am a sinner,” we need to do the hard work of excising the cancer that is parasiting on our heart. To perform heart surgery you have to both break ribs and tenderly cut. This exercise I am getting ready to illustrate is the breaking of the ribs.

One of the disciplines I was taught early in my Christian life was to memorize Scripture. The typical rationale finds root in Psalm 119.11–“Your word I have hid in my heart, so that I might not sin against you.” This is a great motivation for memorizing God’s Word! Another reason is found in Proverb 25.11–“A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in fittings of silver.” We want to have God’s word on our lips when a brother or sister are hurting and need encouragement to press forward in a trial.

While these motivations are definitely in back of my desire to memorize Scripture, they are intermingled with a nastier nemesis. I too often times want people to know that I have memorized Scripture so that they will exclaim my knowledge and humility. The things of God become tools to exalt me. The fruit of the Spirit is juiced for my aggrandizement. I am kind, I am good, I am gentle, I am self-controlled for my own glory.

The sooner we realize that all our acts of righteousness are tainted with sin, the sooner we will realize our need of a Savior. The longer it takes, the more we will wallow in pride or self-delusionment.

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An End Not a Means

I am reading an anthology of Andrew Bonar’s journal entries composed by his daughter entitled Heavenly Springs. In speaking about about his struggles in preparation for preaching he writes,

I see plainly that fellowship with God is not means to an end, but is to be the end itself. I am not to use it as preparation for study or for Sabbath labour, but as my chiefest end, the likest thing to heaven. {July 21, 1843_

How many times do we as preachers and teachers scour our family and daily interactions for illustrations for a message? If we do this with our family and friends, more than likely we also do this with God. Instead of enjoying coffee with a friend, we mentally file away some sin or issue we discussed so that we can use it in a sermon later.

How many times have you gone to read your Bible just to find something new to teach on or some pithy illustration? While this is good to have a lens through which to view the world so that you may help God’s people follow more closely to him, it seems as though we have sacrificed our own nearness to Christ by using those times of fellowship as illustrations rather than canvasses we have lived life on.

Perhaps it would be a good practice to ask yourself why you are getting ready to meet with God.

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Brotherhood

I mentioned in my last post dating half a century ago that I wanted to post more on what biblical manhood looks like. Sacrificing originality, I am going to hoist this ship with a point to Ray Ortlund’s blog. I just RSS fed his blog and have been richly blessed.

His post boils down to this: Take advantage of every opportunity when with brothers. Conversations tend to swirl around sports and quickly are drowned in the cyclone of verbiage. Sometimes conversations are weight lifting competitions of theological rigor. Flippant put downs and sarcastic remarks may get a laugh and make the mood light, but it won’t feed your soul.

This is not to say that every conversation has to be dour and sour experience where sport is out. These definitely can happen. But the first step in good, biblical, manly fellowship is being intentional.

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The Evaluated Life

I have been teaching on Matthew 7.21-23 for the past two weeks in Sunday School. One of the issues we spent a lot of time on is the fact that both those who enter the Kingdom of Heaven and those that are surprised when they say “Lord, Lord did we not…”, both these groups of people do something. It apperars with the list of things the surprised group lists shuld be classified as doing the will of the Father – since these are the very things done by the Apostles. However, there is an aspect of their acitons that is missing to make them disqualified in doing the will of the Father.

Those that are surprised are essentially not in Christ. My question of the text probed a little deeper than this statement of fact. How do we know whether we are “in Christ.” One of the ways we know is by evaluating our motivations for why we do what we do. In a world that is constantly moving and changing we do not take the time that is necessary to think through why we do what we do. If we get to the answer of this question, then, I believe, we will get at the larger question of whether we are “in Christ” or not.

Here is a list of questions I posed to the Sunday School to help in this exercise:

Self-Evaluation
1. What do I get excited about when I come to church?
2. Do my conversations include testimonies of God’s grace in my life?
3. In what ways does God’s grace seem sweeter to me now than a year ago?
4. When I pray, speak in front of others, serve others, would I be content if no one applauded or noticed that I was serving?
5. If you were to enter the Kingdom of Heaven and God were the only one there, would you still want to enter? That is, you aren’t primarily excited about heaven because you will be reunited with loved ones.
6. Do your conversations allow others to see your flaws or do you feel the need to micro-manage how others will perceive you?
7. Do I understand that all of my obedience will be tainted with sin? If so, is it easy to accept as fact?
8. What have I done in the past three months out of love for Jesus?
9. What have I stopped doing in the past three months out of love for Jesus?

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Religious Lethargy #4

I case you didn’t catch it in my last post, the reason I used the adjective “lethargy” has to do with the relationship between knowledge and emotion. Religious experience that is founded upon the affections without content not only will result in lethargy, but it begins with lethargy. 

There is a fear of many that learning kills any kind of emotion. Jesus said that he delighted to do the will of the Father. His delight was contingent upon his knowing the will of the Father. How could he delight in something he did not know? We mustn’t be lax in our search for truth. We must dig deep as for a treasure. We mustn’t become naive ascetics who long for the spiritual slop of fervor. Rather we are to long for the pure spiritual milk of the word of God (= information about and from God). 

Such fervor leads to lethargy in that the congregation will merely wait for the next innovator to come to their conference or meeting to stir them up. Getting up in the morning and having their mind conformed will seem dry if the only kind of Christianity they experience is an experience.

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Multi-Faceted Blessings

Godliness, while not guaranteed to change the original situation, often had an effect for good on the world. . . . The possibilities for the many-sided blessings of God are endless. Instead of my day being ruined, God has extricated me from sin and misery, and this is perhaps one of the most significant days in my life from the standpoint of growing into the image of Christ. I’ve learned how life works in God’s world. I’ve learned how the gospel works. I’ve learned profound lessons in a very tiny corner of life.

– David Powlison, Anger, 25.

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Question #8 Answer

What are the consequences of faith and obedience? We’ve already mentioned some of the subjective benefits. More objectively, maybe a dented fender or even a killing was prevented. Somebody else was kept from stumbling into sinful anger or murder on my account. And in the half dozen cars around me, maybe my courtesy and relaxed response prove catching.

-David Powlison, Anger: Escaping the Maze, 25.

This point Powlison hit me hard because I too often merely consider my sanctification as indicative of my relationship with God. Here we see that our exercise of self-control entails others in our wake. If I am able to put to death the deeds of the flesh by the power of the Holy Spirit, then, perhaps, someone else may be enticed to pursue such holy living. Perhaps, my willingness to intentionally walk by the Spirit will keep someone else to go down the road to perdition.

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Question #7 Answer

How should I respond in this situation to glorify God? Do it. Repentance and faith lead to concrete changes in behavior, emotion, thoughts. Righteousness is just as specific as the sins described in question #2. At the simplest level, I may simply take a deep breath and relax, trusting that God is indeed in control. But God has other fruits in mind, too. I become a charitable, courteous driver. What does it matter if I’m two more car lengths behind? I’ll let a couple of cars in. God has set me free of both the hostile and competitive aspects of sinful anger. The traffic jam is no longer a dog-eat-dog battle. I offer thanks to God. I plan what I will say to the person I’ve stood up: not anxious excuse-making or blustering irritation, but the simple facts, an apology, and a concern for his welfare.

– David Powlison, Anger: Escaping the Maze (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2000) 24

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Question #6 Answer

As I mentioned earlier, I just finished reading the “Anger” booklet through CCEF. I am going to post a few excerpts that I found especially helpful.

How can I turn to God for help? Do it. Question #5 laid out the worldview in which problems now make sense. Mere analysis, however, won’t change me. Question #6 gets me moving. God wants me to seek him, to interact with him. I need to apply the truths of question #5, for example, by distinguishing between righteous and sinful anger. It’s not hard to tell that my anger fails the test of righteous anger: this traffic jam is not a moral evil! My anger has arisen because I served the false gods identified in question #3.

– David Powlison, Anger: Escaping the Maze (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2000) 23.

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Anger

I am reading one of CCEF’s booklets on anger by David Powlison. This is an area that I have struggled in for the last four years and am trying to tackle head-on. For any that know me, they know that I am a pretty forceful personality that presses forward. Anger comes in when I fail to remember God’s control and sanctifying work in my life through everyday situations. That is, when obstacles come in my way and keep me from accomplishing my goal, I boil. 

I want to post a few excerpts from Powlison’s book that have been helpful for me – and I pray they are helpful to you.

Questions to Alleviate and Kill Anger:

  1. What is my situation?
  2. How do I react?
  3. What are my motives?
  4. What are the consequences?
  5. What is true?
  6. How can I turn to God for help?
  7. How should I respond in this situation?
  8. What are the consequences of faith and obedience?

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Slow Down

Turn off the radio. I don’t care if it is a sermon. Turn off the television. I don’t care if it is the latest episode of 24. Put the book away. Put the computer away (and yes, I don’t care if you’re reading this…although you may want to wait to see why you should). 

If you’re like me, you have a to-do list of about ten things…constantly. If you’re also like me, you have a to-do list that is full of have-to’s rather than if-i-get-around-to’s. If you’re even more like me (don’t get too scared), then you suffer from discontentment until you have knocked out your to-do list. Not just that you have knocked it out, but that you have smote it and cut off its head.

Yesterday I was forced to turn it all off…and might I say it has been the most rewarding 30 minutes I have had in quite a while. My daughter and I played outside while my wife fixed our supper. As I sat there looking at my beautiful daughter, I had five or six things running through my mind that I should be doing. But I repented and breathed in the air-after-the rain smell and was taken back to my childhood days. How often have I longed for the days when I was 12 and 13 just running around my yard with my dog without a to-do list. For this short moment I delighted in the fact that the measure of a man does not consist in the length of his to-do list. Rather it resides in the content of that list. 

So much of what I think needs to be done is merely an accessory. I would do well to sit down each morning and remind myself what are my priorities in life. Much like Jonathan Edwards (and several fathers in the Early Church) who measured his life by his resolutions each day, I should sit down and look at my priority list – God, family, work, school, etc. 

Some of you may retort that I should just have a scheduled time in my day for down time. Sure, it could be that easy. But I want to challenge myself, in the middle of knocking out my to-do list, to intentionally stop hammering that nail and sit down. I want to challenge us to stop whatever it is we are in the middle of and remind ourselves that he gives rest to his beloved; we need to remember that he gives strength to my arms; he has even given me arms in the first place. 

So the challenge (beyond merely planning downtime in your life) is to go through your day today and intentionally stop whatever it is you are doing and be quiet. To be still and know who is your God.

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The Lure of Opposition

One of the traps I have seen set for me while studying – not that it has not been set before and not that I have not tripped it – is the desire to be a contrarian. You read all these books and you want really bad to make a name for yourself or show that you know the intricacies of an argument so you’ll say something like this: “I liked the book, I think I would have explained things a little differently.” Or, “I can’t stand so-and-so, he doesn’t articulate x as well as he should.” 

This betrays two things (as I see it): 1) my lack of charity; and 2) my laziness.

1) Lack of Charity: If my first inclination is to pick apart someone’s writing and view, then I have not truly listened. Therefore, I am in no position to respond. This is an issue in epistemology where our presuppositions can keep us from gaining knowledge. The wider culture calls it being close-minded. And while most people ruffle at the idea, it is, more often than not, true. Although I may believe what I know to be true, I should bite my tongue and repeat the cpnversant’s argument in my head to make sure I have really listened. My first response should be a question rather than a statement. “Did I hear you right?” “Do you mean this?”

2) Laziness: The times I have quickly responded to someone I have read or listened to with a rebuttal as noted above, I have drifted off into imprecision and laziness myself. That is, I hear so many people say, “Yeah, I heard the speaker but he was a little soft on this.” I have been challenged several times in my short tenure as a theologian by someone when they ask the question: “How would you have said it differently?” So my question to you is: What precisely do you disagree with?

I think many times I have heard someone I respect give such a response to an opponent, but I forget that they backed up the assertion with a list of reasons. My ears keyed in on the “I disagree,” but not on the “why.” So many of us, I fear, want to appear like we know what we are talking about – that we are privy to knowledge unbeknownst to our hearers, when, in fact, we are blowing fluff. May God help us to be quick to listen and slow to speak.

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Filed under Apologetics, Christian Living, Counseling, Evangelism, Family | Parenting, Interpretation, Pastoral, Post-Modernity, Sanctification, Theology

Pull Out the Pride

I will print this list out. They are 41 questions offered by Revive Our Hearts ministry to help weed out evidences of pride in our lives. It is helpful to have someone else pinpoint evidences of sin in our lives. Pride is the most deceptive sin in my life. It grounds all my other struggles. So continuing to chop away at this thick root will be worth the effort… The last question was particularly penetrating:
 
41.  Are you sitting here thinking how many of these questions apply to someone you know? Feeling pretty good that none of these things really apply to you? 
 

41 Evidences of Pride

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What is the Goal of the Strong?

I have heard a lot of folks talk about the issue of drinking alcohol as a matter of conscience. They appeal to Romans 14 to show that the Kingdom of God is not about eating or drinking. There is nothing inherently sinful in drinking alcohol. While this may be true (and I believe it is), too many times the implication seems to be that Paul wants to weak to become strong. More than this, it seems that the strong brothers in this area want the goal to be something that Paul does not. That is, it appears that many times in my conversation with folks (myself being included in this tendency!) is that the goal is that weak brothers will be drinkers. While this may not be on the forefront of the mind, it comes out in subtle jokes and not-so-subtle arguments.

While some have argued that Paul does not care whether the weak become strong, I believe he does want the weak becoming strong due to his desire that people emulate his devotion and way of life – which includes his being strong in matters of food and drink and days. With that said, how many times have we thought that if a brother is weak (the one who refuses to drink and believes others should not partake) then our goal as strong brothers is to have him be willing to pick up a pint?

We need to keep in mind that the goal for the weak brother – to become strong – means that he should have the same freedom in Christ to declare that the Kingdom of God is more important than eating and drinking and such. That is, he does not have to advocate drinking a beer with his other strong brothers. Rather, he very may well take the position that drinking is not the issue but his witness is more important.

Before you cry ‘Foul,’ you need to keep in mind context. In a conversation with a good friend of mine last week we were talking about this issue. If I were a Presbyterian minister this would not be an issue because there is not the baggage that comes with being a Southern Baptist evangelist. Those who claim that as the strong brother I have the obligation to drink in front of the weak to model fo them their freedom play too fast and loose with their freedom. Paul seems to be strong enough to carry the inaccurate understandings of his disciples (in Rome, Corinth, Colossae) so much that he is willing to forego his liberty of drinking alcohol if it causes them to stumble. If you say that he was dealing with a specific context of idolatry and it won’t trasnfer to our context, I would argue that the issue is not idolatry but stumbling due to a misunderstanding of Christian freedom – the common denominator with our present-day context.

More than anything, we want to aim for the weak brother to say not ‘Pass me the stout not the O’Doul’s,’ but ‘It’s okay if you drink alcohol because the Kingdom of God is larger than such law.’

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Beware of the Leaven

Loaf of Bread 

 I read two days ago Jesus’ admonition to his disciples to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy (Lk 12.1). Some thoughts:

Leaven: It takes a while for leaven to work through the dough. When my wife makes bread, it can take several hours for the yeast to double the size of the loaf. Yeast is a live micro-organism. It spreads and puffs up. And so it is in my life, I have seen that over time of not being pro-active in killing pride, lust, greed, impatience, etc in my life this invisible microorgamism spreads throughout my life to infect several areas. My greed migrates into areas of impatience. I look at my paycheck and find out how much my co-worker made and I am not satisfied. I dwell on this and become impatient with people when they do not want to buy anything. Then I get home and am impatient with my wife when she hasn’t done something I expected her to do – although I never told her I would like to have said thing done.

As CS Lewis said, pride is the fountainhead of all sin. Why am I greedy? Because I have exalted myself to a position that I do not deserve. I have looked at my life and so focused my energies on my immediate need that I have abandoned that which makes me the happiest and most satisfied – that is, talking about and spreading the joy of knowing Christ. My speech is set on talking about how I deserve something or that I don’t deserve some adversity.

How slowly this pride of life spreads. It has happened over years. Truly, the seed of it was present in my life before Christ saved me. It spread through my college years. Instead of taking pride in my school work, I took pride in the fact that I led a campus ministry. Then I took pride in the fact that I knew an answer to a theological conundrum that other people did not. I entered seminary and the pride increased and spread as I increased in learning… but not in humility – not in the fear of the Lord. Good answers do not mean you know what you say. To be gripped by God’s sovereignty is to know. There is a great difference between answers of someone who has tasted the goodness and beauty and glory of God, and the one who merely vomits what he has heard. True knowledge is not repeating, it is getting low and receiving.

Hypocrisy: Our Savior made reference to the Pharisees. They had the answers that they had memorized, but they did not receive from the mouth of God. They could repeat the Torah, but they could not believe. My wife said to me two nights ago that when I do not love others, even when they are unloveable, the Gospel is at stake. If I truly believe the Creator humbled himself and blessed instead of reviling in return, then I cannot treat my enemy in the same way he speaks to me. If I do not love my enemy, then I prove that I have not first understood the Gospel.
It is dangerous to know answers. It is dangerous to go to school and find out how to answer questions that go to the core of who we are. To study the hypo-static union, the Trinity, total depravity, etc without continually challenging yourself to be affected by what you are learning can be dtrimental to your soul.

Jesus knew these tendencies lie in the heart of every man. Although the disciples had been with Jesus, they were not exempt from wearing masks of religion. Thus the frightful word, “Beware.”


			

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