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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Filed under Books & Media, Christian Living, Culture, Ethics, Pastoral, Sanctification

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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Filed under Christian Living, Counseling, Ethics, Pastoral, Quotations, Sanctification