Sanctification Flows From The Gospel

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Mark said during his sermon this past Sunday that: “You never ever ever ever ever want to detach the imperatives of the Bible from the indicatives of the gospel.” He went on to say that we should never give people the law of God without giving them the gospel as the motivation for keeping the law of God. Commentator Douglas Moo said that: “Rules must never take the place of Christ as the source of spiritual nourishment and growth; and any rules that we propose to follow must be clearly rooted in and lead back to Christ.” Sinclair Ferguson says that: “Sanctification flows from the gospel.” He goes on to say that: “When God urges us to be holy he is not throwing us back on our own resources to pull ourselves up by our boot strings and to do better. Rather he encourages us to swim into the sea of God’s love, to immerse our lives in his grace, and to live on the basis of the resources he has provided for us in Christ. To change the metaphor, growing in holiness and sanctification requires that we put down deep roots into the soil of gospel.”

Ferguson continues by helpfully telling us that: “Divine indicatives (statements about what God has done, is doing, or will do) logically precede and ground Divine imperatives (statements about what we are to do in response). This is true no matter the actual order in which the indicative and imperative statements appear in any given passage. Thus: Who God is, what God has done, is doing, and will do for us (indicative) provides the foundation for our response of faith and obedience (imperative). Thus his grace effects our faithfulness. This is the logic that explains the power of the gospel.”

Biblical Examples Of This

We can look at some Biblical examples of this. In 2nd Corinthians 8 Paul asked for financial generosity to the poor. The most important motivation that he gives us is the gospel. Tim Keller writes that: “When Paul asked for financial generosity to the poor, he pointed to the self-emptying of Jesus and vividly depicted him as becoming poor for us, both literally and spiritually, in the incarnation and in crucifixion.” This is what Paul wrote in 2nd Corinthians 8: “I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” Tim Keller describes how Jonathan Edwards helped him on this passage: “Jonathan Edwards noted that Paul’s introduction “I say this not as a command…For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” is significant, implying that if one truly grasps substitutionary atonement, one will become profoundly generous to the poor. The only way for Jesus to get us out of our spiritual poverty and into spiritual riches was to leave his spiritual riches and enter into spiritual poverty.”

Keller continues: “If it is the gospel that is moving us, our giving to the poor will be significant, remarkable, and sacrificial. Those who give to the poor out of a desire to comply with a moral prescription will always do the minimum. If we give to the poor simply because God says so, the next question will be “How much do we have to give so that we aren’t out of compliance?” This attitude is not gospel-shaped giving.

1 Peter 1

Another passage that recently hit me was 1 Peter 1. Peter was writing this letter to a church in modern day Turkey that was facing persecution. Sinclair Ferguson throws out this question: “How would you begin such a letter?” Basically, if we were writing to a persecuted church how would we start that letter? Ferguson then answers: “Perhaps with words of sympathy, saying how sorry you were that things had become so difficult? Not Simon Peter. He began first by reminding them of their identity in Christ and then by breaking into a doxology as he reflected on its implications.” Here is what Peter wrote to this persecuted church at the start of his letter:

Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who are elect exiles of the Dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood:

May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

Ferguson adds that: “Peter’s subliminal logic is: As you face life with all its trials do not lose sight of who you are and what you are for. Be clear about this and you will make progress. Forget this and you will flounder and fall…I need to be clear about who and whose I am, and what I am for in Christ. And Peter is teaching us how to answer them here. If you are a believer you are someone who has been chosen in grace, loved by the Father before you were born, and in your experience sanctified by the Spirit in order that you might become obedient to the Saviour who shed his blood to bring you into covenant fellowship with God…Peter says to believers in Turkey exactly what Paul said to believers in Corinth: You are not your own; you have been bought with a price―the sacrifice of Christ; you are his, so live for his glory because it is for this that you have been purchased.”

The Book of Romans

The last Biblical example I will mention on this post is the book of Romans. I am once again borrowing heavily from Sinclair Ferguson. In the first 11 chapters of the book Romans there are 315 verses. If we went through all 315 verses specifically looking for imperatives―’that is, every statement that is in the form of a command, telling the reader to do something.’ We would only find 7 verses that are imperatives. Romans 6:12, 13, 19; 10:4; and 11:18, 20, 22.

Sinclair Ferguson says: “In essence Paul devotes 308 out of 315 verses to sustained exposition of what God has done, and only then does he open up the sluice-gates and let loose a flood of imperatives. (There are more than 20 of them in Romans chapter 12 alone). Clearly Paul believed in the necessity of exhortations, commands, and imperatives. And his are all-embracing and all-demanding. But the rigorous nature of his imperatives is rooted in his profound exposition of God’s grace. He expects the fruit of obedience because he has dug down deeply to plant its roots in the rich soil of grace. The weightier the indicatives the more demanding the imperatives they are able to support. The more powerful the proclamation of grace the more rigorous the commands it can sustain. This is the principle that destroys both legalism and antinomianism. For this is how the gospel works:

I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation. -Romans 1:16

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. -Romans 12:1

Get this right and we have a strong foundation for growth in sanctification. Go wrong here and we may go wrong everywhere.”

When I Survey The Wondrous Cross

I will end with a portion of this powerful hymn written by Issac Watts. In that hymn Watts said:

“When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the prince of glory died”

As we ‘survey’ the cross, and as we meditate on the cross we are overwhelmed by the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge. Then we will respond as Watts does in his hymn:

“My richest gain I count buy loss, And pour contempt on all my pride.”

Once again Sinclair Ferguson says: “Thus the motivation, energy and drive for holiness are all found in the reality and power of God’s grace in Christ. And so if I am to make any progress in sanctification, the place where I must always begin is the gospel of the mercy of God to me in Jesus Christ.” So let us all “immerse ourselves in appreciating the grace of God expressed to us in Jesus Christ…”

 

Prayer & Giving Thanks

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1st Thessalonians 5:16-18 says: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing,  give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” How do we obey these verses? Specifically, how do we pray without ceasing? Part of the answer to this is to obey verse 18 which says: “give thanks in all circumstances.” Let me share a powerful story from Corrie Ten Boom that relates to these verses from 1st Thessalonians 5. She and her family were Christians who hid Jews in their home in Holland during World War II. They hid Jews in their home undetected from 1943 to the early part of 1944. Then in February 1944 Corrie and her entire family were arrested. Corrie and her sister Betsie were both in their 50’s at this time. They were sent to a few different prison camps, but eventually they were transferred to a horrible prison camp named Ravensbruck. This camp was in operation from 1939-1945 and during that time about 130,000 female prisoners passed through this camp. Of that 130,000, it is estimated that 50,000 ‘of them perished from disease, starvation, overwork and despair; some 2,200 were killed in the gas chambers. Only 15,000 of the total survived until liberation.’ 

Giving Thanks In All Circumstances

Here is Corrie Ten Boom in her own words describing being moved to the horrible prison camp Ravensbruck:

“The move to permanent quarters came the second week in October. We were marched, ten abreast, along the wide cinder avenue…Several times the column halted while numbers were read out–names were never used at Ravensbruck. At last Betsie’s and mine were called…We stepped out of line with a dozen or so others and stared at the long gray front of Barracks 28.
Betsie and I followed a prisoner-guide through the door at the right. Because of the broken windows, the vast room was in semi-twilight. Our noses told us, first, that the place was filthy: somewhere, plumbing had backed up, the bedding was soiled and rancid.

Then as our eyes adjusted to the gloom we saw that there were no individual beds at all, but great square tiers stacked three high, and wedged side by side and end to end with only an occasional narrow aisle slicing through.

We followed our guide single file–the aisle was not wide enough for two–fighting back the claustrophobia of these platforms rising everywhere above us…At last she pointed to a second tier in the center of a large block.

To reach it, we had to stand on the bottom level, haul ourselves up, and then crawl across three other straw-covered platforms to reach the one that we would share with–how many?

The deck above us was too close to let us sit up. We lay back, struggling against the nausea that swept over us from the reeking straw…Suddenly I sat up, striking my head on the cross-slats above. Something had pinched my leg.

‘Fleas!’ I cried. ‘Betsie, the place is swarming with them!’

We scrambled across the intervening platforms, heads low to avoid another bump, dropped down to the aisle and hedged our way to a patch of light.

‘Here! And here another one!’ I wailed. ‘Betsie, how can we live in such a place!’

‘Show us. Show us how.’ It was said so matter of factly it took me a second to realize she was praying. More and more the distinction between prayer and the rest of life seemed to be vanishing for Betsie.

‘Corrie!’ she said excitedly. ‘He’s given us the answer! Before we asked, as He always does! In the Bible this morning. Where was it? Read that part again!’

I glanced down the long dim aisle to make sure no guard was in sight, then drew the Bible from its pouch. ‘It was in First Thessalonians,’ I said. We were on our third complete reading of the New Testament since leaving Scheveningen.

In the feeble light I turned the pages. ‘Here it is’: “Comfort the frightened, help the weak, be patient with everyone. See that none of you repays evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to all…” It seemed written expressly to Ravensbruck.

‘Go on,’ said Betsie. ‘That wasn’t all.’

‘Oh yes:’…”Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.’

‘That’s it, Corrie! That’s His answer. “Give thanks in all circumstances!” That’s what we can do. We can start right now to thank God for every single thing about this new barracks!’ I stared at her; then around me at the dark, foul-aired room.

‘Such as?’ I said.

‘Such as being assigned here together.’

I bit my lip. ‘Oh yes, Lord Jesus!’

‘Such as what you’re holding in your hands.’ I looked down at the Bible.

‘Yes! Thank You, dear Lord, that there was no inspection when we entered here! Thank You for all these women, here in this room, who will meet You in these pages.’

‘Yes,’ said Betsie, ‘Thank You for the very crowding here. Since we’re packed so close, that many more will hear!’ She looked at me expectantly. ‘Corrie!’ she prodded.

‘Oh, all right. Thank You for the jammed, crammed, stuffed, packed suffocating crowds.’

‘Thank You,’ Betsie went on serenely, ‘for the fleas and for–‘

The fleas! This was too much. ‘Betsie, there’s no way even God can make me grateful for a flea.’

‘Give thanks in all circumstances,’ she quoted. It doesn’t say, ‘in pleasant circumstances.’ Fleas are part of this place where God has put us.’

And so we stood between tiers of bunks and gave thanks for fleas. But this time I was sure Betsie was wrong.

Back at the barracks we formed yet another line–would there never be an end to columns and waits?–to receive our ladle of turnip soup in the center room. Then, as quickly as we could for the press of people, Betsie and I made our way to the rear of the dormitory room where we held our worship “service.” Around our own platform area there was not enough light to read the Bible, but back here a small light bulb cast a wan yellow circle on the wall, and here an ever larger group of women gathered.

They were services like no others, these times in Barracks 28.

At first Betsie and I called these meetings with great timidity. But as night after night went by and no guard ever came near us, we grew bolder. So many now wanted to join us that we held a second service after evening roll call.

There on the Lagerstrasse we were under rigid surveillance, guards in their warm wool capes marching constantly up and down. It was the same in the center room of the barracks: half a dozen guards or camp police always present. Yet in the large dormitory room there was almost no supervision at all. We did not understand it.

One evening I got back to the barracks late from a wood-gathering foray outside the walls. A light snow lay on the ground and it was hard to find the sticks and twigs with which a small stove was kept going in each room. Betsie was waiting for me, as always, so that we could wait through the food line together. Her eyes were twinkling.

‘You’re looking extraordinarily pleased with yourself,’ I told her.

‘You know, we’ve never understood why we had so much freedom in the big room,’ she said. ‘Well–I’ve found out.’

That afternoon, she said, there’d been confusion in her knitting group about sock sizes and they’d asked the supervisor to come and settle it.

‘But she wouldn’t. She wouldn’t step through the door and neither would the guards. And you know why?’

Betsie could not keep the triumph from her voice: ‘Because of the fleas! That’s what she said, “That place is crawling with fleas!’”

My mind rushed back to our first hour in this place. I remembered Betsie’s bowed head, remembered her thanks to God for creatures I could see no use for.”

Pray Without Ceasing

A key then to praying without ceasing is to give thanks in all circumstances. If Betsie and Corrie Ten Boom could give thanks in Ravensbruck, how much more do we have to be thankful for? Let’s see if we can all cultivate a spirit of thankfulness in our hearts to God each day.

John Piper says that to pray without ceasing: “means that there is a spirit of dependence that should permeate all we do. This is the very spirit and essence of prayer. So, even when we are not speaking consciously to God, there is a deep, abiding dependence on him that is woven into the heart of faith. In that sense, we “pray” or have the spirit of prayer continuously.”

He goes on by saying: “I think praying without ceasing means not giving up on prayer. Don’t ever come to a point in your life where you cease to pray at all. Don’t abandon the God of hope and say, “There’s no use praying.” Go on praying. Don’t cease.” To pray continually according to Piper means that we: “lean on God all the time. Never give up looking to him for help, and come to him repeatedly during the day and often. Make the default mental state a Godward longing.”

Something else that I think is helpful on this topic is that we don’t have to be praying for 10-15 minutes at a time all throughout the day. I don’t think that is what Paul had in mind. Charles Spurgeon is helpful when he said:

“You may be…weighing your groceries, or you may be casting up an account and between the items you may say, “Lord, help me.” You may breathe a prayer to Heaven and say, “Lord, keep me.” It will take no time. It is one great advantage to persons who are hard pressed in business that such prayers as these will not, in the slightest degree, incapacitate them from attending to the business they may have in hand! It requires you to go to no particular place. You can stand where you are,…walk along the streets,…and yet pray just as well such prayers as these. No altar, no Church, no so called sacred place is needed!

Wherever you are, just a little prayer as that will reach the ear of God and win a blessing. Such a prayer as that can be offered anywhere, under any circumstances. I do not know in what condition a man could be in which he might not offer some such prayer as that. On the land, or on the sea, in sickness or in health, amidst losses or gains, great reverses or good returns, still might he breathe his soul in short, quick sentences to God! The advantage of such a way of praying is that you can pray often and pray always. If you must prolong your prayer for a quarter of an hour you might possibly be unable to spare the time, but if it only needs a quarter of a minute, why, then, it may come again and again and again and again—a hundred times a day!”

George Mueller who was an amazing man of prayer, describes what praying without ceasing looks like: “I live in the spirit of prayer. I pray as I walk about, when I lie down and when I rise up…From the very early morning, let us make everything a matter of prayer, and let it be so throughout the day, and throughout our whole life.”

Picture from here

Rejoicing Through Suffering

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My blog post this week just didn’t quite come together. So, I decided to post something from Matt Chandler that I thought was powerful. I took this quote from a Matt Chandler book, which you can get here. This is a powerful portion of the book where he talks about rejoicing through suffering. Chandler writes:

“One day when my son, Reid, was just a little over one year old, I went home from the office in the middle of the day to surprise my wife for lunch.  My wife’s a blogger, and she was working on a new post that day. When I show up, Reid’s upstairs napping.  Lauren asks me to read what she’s written before she posts it, so I sit down to give it a look.  And while we’re sitting there reading and just catching up, I hear Reid upstairs.

He’s not able to get out of his crib yet, of course, but something up there just sounds … wrong.  I don’t know if you can understand that if you’re not a parent, but if you are, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about.  You get used to certain sounds of stirring, crying, turning over.  You know which silence is normal and which isn’t.  And this time, something just doesn’t sound right. So I say that. I say, “What is that?”

Lauren heads upstairs.  I sit down at the computer to finish reading her blog post.  As I’m scanning through her post, I hear her scream like I’ve never heard her scream before.  She’s screaming at the top of her lungs – and she’s running down the stairs, carrying my son, who’s in a full-on seizure, turning blue and gasping for air.  He’s trying to breathe, but he can’t.

I take Reid from her, set him down on the ground, try talking to him, try to get him to snap out of it, and Lauren starts dialing 9-1-1.  The fire department is literally a block from our house, so I hear them, while my wife’s on the phone with them, fire up the siren and start the short drive to my house.

I turn Reid on his side.  I don’t know if he’s living or if he’s dying, but the ambulance gets there right away, and the paramedics push me out of the way and start working on him. Then they hustle Reid outside and put him in the back of the ambulance. They turn to Lauren and me and say, “Only one of you can ride in the ambulance.”

Now, I don’t know how it works in your house, but we didn’t even have a discussion about that.  We didn’t say, “Well, what do you think?  Do you want to go?”  My wife just gets in the ambulance.  She doesn’t even turn around.  She doesn’t look at me.  She doesn’t nod.  She just gets in the ambulance, and the paramedics tell me, “Follow us.”

So I run and get in my car.  The paramedics shut the ambulance door.  Boom, and they’re gone.  I don’t know what hospital they’re going to.  I quickly start my car and tear off after them, and I keep up with them for maybe about the first mile.  They’ve got a siren, remember, and I don’t.  So it doesn’t take long for me to get cut off and for us to get separated.

I don’t know where I’m going.  I don’t know where they are going.  I can’t get Lauren to answer her cell phone.  And I don’t know if my one-year-old son is about to die. How do you rejoice then?  Because God is not saying through Paul, “Rejoice when everything’s going well.”  He said, “Rejoice always.”  “Always” includes when they put your son in the back of an ambulance.  Or when you get put in there yourself. Rejoice in the Lord.  Always.  And again I say, rejoice.

We need help then, don’t we?  I want to rejoice always, but I need help on the day I’m stuck at a stoplight, my son and wife are gone, I have no idea where to go, I don’t know if he’s going to make it – how in the world could I possibly rejoice?  Because as out-of-the normal as those situations are for many of us, they are still real-life situations right?….That day when the ambulance disappeared out of my sight, knowing that God is God – that nothing is too difficult for Him, that His love and His sovereignty are real – was my foundation.  When my heart and mind wanted to go to every plausible reason why despair made sense, the fact that nothing is too hard for God became my reason, my rationality.

This is why the mature Christian is reasonable.  Because, as Paul says, “the Lord is near,” even in a desperate situation like the one I described.  Because in that moment, here’s what I had at the ready: the knowledge that the God of the universe, the God who rescued and saved me, is not Himself powerless at all in that moment, is not at all surprised or shocked by that moment, is not reeling one bit or trying to figure out what to do in that moment.

The God of the Bible is not an ambulance driver who shows up after the wreck and hops out and thinks, Okay, let’s do some triage here.  The God of the Bible does not show up after the accident and try to fix it.  That’s not what He does.

He’s there.  He knows. And on that day, the Lord was near, and my son’s life was not too difficult for Him to save.  He could be trusted with my son.  Reid was and is His.  My wife is His.  My daughters are His.  I am His.

My prayer, then, is, “Lord help me rejoice in You in this moment.  Because I know you are in control.  I know You love me; I know You love my family.  And I don’t understand what You’re doing, and I don’t know how things are going to work out.  But help me to acknowledge that if I have You, I have everything.”

My prayer in that moment, seeking joy in all circumstances, is similar to Job’s – “Though he slay me, I will hope in him” Job 13:15) – and Jehosephat’s – “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chron. 20:12).

Now, let me be very clear, because I’m not trying to make this whole exercise stupid.  I didn’t sit in my car with an idiot grin on my face, saying, “Well, I’m glad the Lord’s here, and this is great!  Rejoice in the Lord always; and again, I say rejoice!”

That wasn’t happening.  That’s what we might call an unreasonable theology.  God is not glorified when you act happy about horrific things. He’s glorified when, in the deepest possible pain you experience, you still find a way to say, “I trust You.  Help me, because my heart is failing in my chest.  Help me!  My son is Yours.  His soul is Yours.  His life is Yours.  You loaned him to me for Your good to begin with.  And I know I’m supposed to hold him loosely, and if you take him home, he’s Yours…but I’d like to keep him.”…

In the end, all turned out well with my son.  But in those moments when joy is hard to come by, I go back to that painful, desperate day.  And I use my imagination like this:  I see the Lord in that ambulance with my son.  I see the Lord caring for my wife, calming my wife, and giving peace to my wife.  I see His glory filling that ambulance with infinite power.  Regardless of how it might have ended, I see God as fully in control and fully loving in that moment.”

Picture from here

 

Fighting Sin

Put to death therefore what is(1)

It is time once again to dig deeper into this past weeks sermon. We saw the great contrast between the two brothers Judah and Joseph. Judah in chapter 38 falls prey to sexual temptation. Joseph on the other hand in chapter 39 flees the sexual temptation that he was under. What I want to do this week is just spend some time discussing temptation, and our fight against sin. How do we obey Colossians 3:5? “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” How do we: “die to sin and live to righteousness?”

Let me start with temptation. What is temptation? I am going to quote John Owen (1616-1683) quite a bit on this post because he has been so helpful in my own fight against sin. I will update some of the quotes to be plural and may change some of the old English a little bit. Owen defines temptation like this: “Temptation, then, in general, is any thing, state, way, or condition that…has a force or efficacy to seduce, to draw our minds and hearts from our obedience, which God requires of us, into any sin, in any degree whatever.” So, a point of quick application here. Something that we should probably pray at least at the start of each day is: “Lead me not into temptation.”

So, how are we tempted? James chapter 1 says: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” So, during a temptation sin is seeking to entice us. Let me see if I can use a fishing illustration. When we give into a temptation we are in essence biting the hook. The hook is what we will end up with, but during the temptation sin seeks to hide the hook and it seeks to cover the hook with bait. John Owen says that sin will seek to: “possess the mind and affections with the attraction and desirability of sin,…” When this happens it diverts our: “soul from realizing its danger.” Let’s look at a Biblical example of this. Eve in Genesis chapter 3 is being tempted by Satan. In that temptation she sees the hook in verse 3 and tells Satan that God had told them not to “eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden,…lest you die.” Satan undeterred, covers that hook and he as Owen says: “immediately filled her mind with the beauty and usefulness of the fruit, and she quickly forgot her practical concern for the consequences of eating.” 

We are being tempted with the bait of pleasure, on the hook of sin. John Owen wisely tells us since this is the case we need to: ‘Clearly, watch over our affections.’ Let me see if I can try and explain this. Let’s take the sin of gossip. A modern translation of Proverbs 18:8 says: “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts.” Matthew Mitchel wrote a small book on gossip and in that book he says that “Choice morsels are tasty things that we want to devour quickly. They are the best, most attractive, most addictive things to eat. They are like a bowl of potato chips left on the kitchen counter.” Mitchel goes on to define sinful gossip like this: “Sinful gossip is bearing bad news behind someone’s back out of a bad heart.” He continues by saying that: “Bad news, shameful news…is attractive but not good for us. There is something really wrong within us that makes us want to know and to talk about the shameful things that other people do.”

So, let’s say we overhear some shameful news about someone we know. Right away our affections may be drawn to this shameful news, and we may see it as a choice morsel. We leave that setting and we can’t wait to tell the first person we see about this shameful news. This can literally all happen in just seconds. We enter into the temptation, the choice morsel is dangled in front of us, our affections are drawn out and we take the bait. Later though after repeating the shameful news to our friends we will find ourselves with the hook of sin in our mouths. As Matthew Mitchel says: “Gossip tastes great going down, but is has lasting and poisonous effects on our hearts.”

Watching Over Our Affections

When John Owen says that we need to watch over our affections he is just summarizing Proverbs 4:23 which says: “Watch over your heart with all diligence, For from it flow the springs of life.” To help us better fight our sin we need to watch over our hearts will all diligence. John Piper says that when we commit sinful deeds those deeds come from somewhere. They have a life line that leads back to our hearts. He says: “Sinful deeds have a life line that must be cut. In other words, there is a condition of the heart that gives rise to the “deeds of the body.” It’s a heart issue.” When we begin to see a particular sin as desirable and attractive, our affections and life line as Piper says are already heading out of our hearts at that moment. If we don’t cut that life line then, sin is right around the corner. Once again James 1 tells us: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. 15 Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin…” 

So, let’s say we gave into sin today. We committed the sin of envy. We took the bait and bit the sinful hook of envy. Well, the first thing we would do would be to repent of this sin. Race to the cross as Jerry always says. A second thing that we can do in this situation would be to examine ourselves and see what lead us to commit this particular sin. So, hypothetically let’s take this sin of envy. Let’s say we committed this sin at 5:00 in the afternoon. It is 10:00 o’clock at night and we have repented of this sin. We go back over the day and start looking for answers in terms of what lead us to commit this sin.

As we look back at the start of our day we realize that we didn’t sleep well the night before. Our lack of sleep lead us to be more susceptible to sin. John Piper discovered in his late 20’s that a lack of sleep caused trouble for him. He said: “I realized for the first time that when I lack sleep I get irritable and impatient, and with enough sleep, I am less irritable and more patient.” Tim Challies is so helpful here in explaining what I am trying to get at with this: “Contemplate the occasions in which this sin breaks out and guard against them…think about the times when you fall into this sin. What are the occasions? What happens right before you sin? What are the habits or patterns that lead to it? Think about these things, know what you do before you actually commit the sin, and stop the downward spiral long before it gets to the point of sinning.” This doesn’t necessarily help us deal with the root of the sin, but it helps us better understand how we were made more susceptible to sin. Doing this will help us obey the words of Jesus when he said: “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Matthew Henry says: “we should be much afraid of entering into temptation. To be secured from this, we should watch and pray, and continually look unto the Lord to hold us up that we may be safe.”

Fighting Sin

Part of our fight against sin involves watching over our affections. One of the best ways though to fight sin is the joy of the Lord. As Nehemiah 8 says: “for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” Matthew Henry powerfully tells us that: “The joy of the Lord will arm us against the assaults of our spiritual enemies and put our mouths out of taste for those pleasures with which the tempter baits his hooks.” So, one of the things that we need to do every day is to pursue joy in Jesus. George Mueller wisely said: “According to my judgement the most important point to be attended to is this: above all things see to it that your souls are happy in the Lord. Other things may press upon you, the Lord’s work may even have urgent claims upon your attention, but I deliberately repeat, it is of supreme and paramount importance that you should seek above all things to have your souls truly happy in God Himself!”

That is profound wisdom from George Mueller. When our souls are happy in the Lord our mouths are put out of taste for sins pleasures. However, when our joy in the Lord is low we are making ourselves sitting targets for sin. Tim Keller said: “The sin under all other sins is a lack of joy in Christ.” This is why it is so important for us to have our souls happy in the Lord. Plus there is far superior pleasure to be found in Jesus. Michael Reeves said: “Compare Christ to whatever else it is that you treasure. So what is it that you really want? Is it love? Is it that you want to be loved? And that can come across in various ways — a sexual addiction, a desire for fame — those are really varieties of wanting to be loved. Is it acceptance? Is it money? Is it power? Is it comfort? Now compare that thing that you dream of and love with Christ. Which is better? Does pornography offer you the satisfaction, acceptance and love that Jesus does? Does money offer you anything in comparison to the riches of Christ? Does passing temporal power offer you anything in comparison to what Christ is offering? And when you see how much better Christ is than those other things you go running after, you will choose Christ rather than those things and you will walk away from them with freedom.”

In our pursuit of joy in Jesus we need to continually go back to the gospel. John Owen reminds us how important the gospel is in our daily battle with temptation. He writes: “keep the heart full of a sense of the love of God in Christ. This is the greatest preservative against the power of temptation in the world. Joseph (in Genesis 39) had this (sense of God’s love); and therefore, on the first appearance of temptation, he cries out, “How can I do this great evil, and sin against God?” and there is an end of the temptation as to him; it lays not hold of him, but departs. He was furnished with such a ready sense of the love of God as temptation could not stand before,…”

Lastly he says: “store the heart with a sense of the love of God in Christ, with the eternal design of his grace, with a taste of the blood of Christ, and his love in the shedding of it; get a relish of the privileges we have thereby,—our adoption, justification, and acceptance with God;…” I hope that we will all be gospel-centered people who fight sin, and who seek to have our souls truly happy in God Himself!

My wife made the picture that I used for this post 🙂

 

 

Hebrews 4 & The Throne of Grace

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I am going in a slightly different direction this week. I am not going to do my in depth digger deeper post this week, as I just don’t have time to write in as much depth this week. I have the privilege of speaking at a men’s conference this weekend and I have been spending a good bit of my time working on my talk. I would appreciate your prayers for my talk which I will give at 1:00 Saturday afternoon. I did want to at least write something this week though. Jerry Ediger read from Hebrews 4 during the confession time this past Sunday. He read verses 14-16 which are below:

“Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Jerry mentioned how many of us have gone to other places rather than the throne of grace. Which I thought what Jerry said was so true. I was leading a Bible study in the past and I was critiqued by a couple of the people attending the study at various times. They told me that I was spending too much time talking about the ideal Christian life, when so few of us were actually living that way. The ideal seemed unattainable from where they were at and it was not that helpful to them to talk about the ideal.

Basically this is the ideal that I laid out. I said we should start our days with God. Even if you aren’t a morning person you could at least pray at the start of the day. We should seek to pray without ceasing throughout the day as Paul says to do. We should seek to rejoice in the Lord always as the book of Philippians says. We should seek to live in light of the gospel and live in light of the great love and grace that we have received from God. We should remind ourselves as the song says that no day of my life has passed that has not proved me guilty in God’s sight. The best I have to offer are these filthy rags and yet God loves me. As we are reminded that all we deserve from God is His wrath and yet His mercies are new every morning, our hearts are softened. We then want to be conduits of His grace to all the people we meet because we realize how much God has forgiven us.

That is basically what I laid out and people were looking at me and thinking there is no way. They were thinking that they were frustrated with their wife that morning and their kids were going crazy and they were dealing with anxiety from work and they lost their temper at a coworker etc. During the confession time this Sunday when Jerry was speaking something just clicked in my mind that will sort of bring all of this together.

One thing that I understood is that we are all sinners and we are all struggling in various ways. As my brother Mark says we all have this dark glass of water that we are carrying around. That dark cup of water represents our struggles, our fears, our anxiety, our anger and frustration. We all have this cup basically every day. Here is the crazy thing. The throne of grace is wide open and we are called to boldly come to the throne of grace to receive mercy. We are called to take that dark murky cup of water and just pour it out at the throne of grace. As Robert Murray M’Cheyne says that if we are feeling sad or frustrated we should: “Go and tell Jesus; spread out your sorrows at his feet. He knows them all; feels for you in them all.” As Jerry was talking this Sunday I realized that so often we take that dark cup of water and we run to so many other places trying to get relief from them. Some people go to alcohol. I remember someone told me that they went to alcohol because it made them forget their sorrows and troubles. The problem with that is that dark water is still there in the morning and it may have gotten darker over night.

We may try and take that dark cup of water to TV shows. So, we go to Netflix and we binge watch a show hoping to relieve our stress and anxiety and sadness. We may go shopping hoping to get rid of this dark glass of water, or we may go to sports, or movies, or other forms of entertainment. While we are doing all of this the throne of grace remains wide open. Let us all run to the throne of grace with our dark murky glasses of water and just pour them out to God at the throne of grace. Let us cast our cares on Him because He cares for us.

Let me share a wonderful story from Stephen Nichols that has been really helpful to me and my prayer life. He writes:

“In June 1730, a handful of Cherokee Indian Chiefs crossed the Atlantic ocean seeking an audience with King George II. They first appeared in court at Kensington Palace. They were there to sign treaties, to present their grievances against the French, and to petition the king for aid and support. They had to wait in the lobby for days, returning again and again until the king granted them an audience. They were finally granted their opportunity to present their petitions. Custom dictated that the king would signify his acceptance of their petition by giving them gifts. King George II gave the Cherokee clocks.

They were fine clocks, no doubt. Any English nobleman would be honored beyond words to have such a gift, and he would be just as sure to display the clocks prominently. But these Cherokee had no idea what these clocks were and had no use for them whatsoever. It’s not even clear that they took the clocks home with them as they crossed the Atlantic on their return to the colonies. History is clearer on what became of the treaties King George II made with the Cherokee.

How opposite is prayer to the almighty God, sovereign King of the universe. We do not need to board a ship and travel thousands of miles and wait for days in a grand entrance hall. And when we do get an audience with this King, he does not give us clocks. He graciously grants to us exactly and precisely what we need. And we know that his promises are sure. He does not break treaties.

The journey of prayer is actually far more costly than a transatlantic trip. Our journey of prayer into the presence of God cost the precious blood of Christ, God’s Son. Christ’s sacrifice grants us entrance to the Father’s court. Christ’s sacrifice grants us the good favor of receiving the King’s gifts: the gift of participating in his kingdom, the gift of seeing God’s will come to pass, the gift of forgiveness of sins, the gift of protection from temptation, the gift of deliverance from evil, and even the gift of daily bread. Why would we want to be a people or a church or an age characterized by neglecting the gift of prayer?”

Let us always remember that: “Our journey of prayer into the presence of God cost the precious blood of Christ, God’s Son. Christ’s sacrifice grants us entrance to the Father’s court.” The throne of grace is wide open and it cost the precious blood of Christ. Let us not stay away from the throne of grace too long, but let us continually come to the throne of grace. Let us continually pour out our fears, and anxiety’s, our hurts and our pains, and let us remember to pour in the crystal clear water of the gospel and the promises of God.

Mark and I were with Jerry Ediger this past Saturday and he told us this wonderful story about his daughter Maggie who is 6 years old. Jerry who has suffered a great deal in his life was recently dealing with more physical suffering. He said that his daughter asked him what was wrong and if he was having nightmares. Jerry said no it wasn’t nightmares. She then said was it bad thoughts? Jerry said yes it was bad thoughts. Maggie said: “I know what you need Dad. You need Jesus and you need the promises of God!” Amen Maggie! We need to go to Jesus at the throne of grace and we need to remind ourselves of the precious promises of God.

Picture from here

Treasure In Heaven

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I didn’t have much time this week to work on the digger deeper post. So, I decided to go a totally different direction this week. I decided to talk about treasure in heaven. I had written on this previously for a Bible study that I was leading. The category I put for this is Christian living. I hope to do more of these type of post in the future.

What does storing up treasures in heaven look like? Colossians 3 says: “If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” Storing up treasures in heaven is a subject that I have thought about quite a bit. I agree with it wholeheartedly in my head, but my heart is so slow to follow. I will give a long John Piper quote because I feel that this is such an important topic. Piper says: “Today I want to simply focus for a few more minutes on the meaning of “Lay up treasures in heaven.” What does this mean? Are you doing it? Jesus says to do it. Are we?

Up to a point the text is plain, isn’t it? Verse 19: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” Evidently there are two ways to live: you can live with a view to accumulating valuable things on earth, or you can live with a view to accumulating valuable things in heaven. Jesus says: the mark of a Christian is that his eyes are on heaven and he measures all his behavior by what effect it will have on heaven – everlasting joy with God.

And something else is clear: laying up treasures in heaven and laying up treasures on earth are not good bedfellows. You have to choose between them. You can’t say, “Well how about both?” That’s the point of verse 24: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”

There is something about God and money that makes them tend to mastery. Either you are mastered by money and therefore ignore God or make him a bellhop for your business, or you are mastered by God and make money a servant of the kingdom. But if either tries to master you while you are mastered by the other you will hate and despise it. This is why Jesus said it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Much money makes a cruel master.

But let’s be more specific. If Jesus means “devote your life to accumulating treasure in heaven” – which I take to mean increasing your joy in God in heaven – what is the main thing he has in mind that we should do now? My judgment from the context would be that it is giving rather than accumulating. If laying up treasures in heaven is the opposite of laying up treasures on earth, then probably laying up treasures in heaven will be NOT laying up treasures on earth but giving them away in ways that magnify the worth of Jesus.

There are several other teachings of Jesus that confirm this meaning: laying up treasures in heaven is giving money away for Christ’s sake rather than accumulating it. For example, consider Luke 12:32-33, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.”

Here Jesus explains how you “provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old” and how you “provide yourselves with treasure in the heavens that does not fail,” namely, “Sell your possessions and give to the needy.” That’s how you do it.

In other words, possessions on earth are not for accumulating, they are for distributing in ways that Christ is honored and our joy in heaven is increased (see Ephesians 4:23). When we give – especially when we give so generously that we have to sell something to have anything to give – we show that Christ is our treasure and that we love others more than we love our own security and comfort.

You can see the same thing in Luke 14:13-14 where Jesus tells us to give to those who can’t pay us back. Why? Jesus answers, “You will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” In other words, when you give freely and generously because you trust Jesus to take care of you, you are laying up treasures in heaven. You will be rewarded at the resurrection of the just. Randy Alcorn, in that little book, The Treasure Principle, says, “I’m convinced that the greatest deterrent to giving is this: the illusion that earth is our home” (p. 44; see Colossians 3:1-3). It’s not; Christ is our home. And therefore to live is Christ and to die is gain. And it will be all the more gain as we learn to lay up treasures in heaven by giving.”

Piper adds elsewhere: “Don’t miss this utterly radical point. It’s the way Jesus thinks and talks all the time. Being heavenly-minded makes a radically loving difference in this world. The people who are most powerfully persuaded that what matters is treasure in heaven, not big accumulations of money here, are the people who will constantly dream of ways to simplify and serve, simplify and serve, simplify and serve. They will give and give and give. And of course they will work and work and work, as Paul says in Ephesians 4:28, “so that [they] may have something to share with those in need.” The connection with worship is this: Jesus commands us to accumulate treasure in heaven, that is, to maximize our joy in God. He says that the way to do this is to sell and simplify for the sake of others. So he motivates simplicity and service by our desire to maximize our joy in God. Which means that all of our use of money becomes a manifestation of how much we delight in God above money and things. And that is worship.”

An Increased Capacity to Enjoy God

When I was a kid I had teachers say that treasure in heaven was our crowns that we would receive and then place them back at the feet of Jesus. This is taken from Revelation chapter 4 which says: “the twenty-four elders fall down before him who is seated on the throne and worship him who lives forever and ever. They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power,for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

Jonathan Edwards taught that treasure in heaven would involve an increased capacity to enjoy God. Edwards said: “Every vessel that is cast into this ocean of happiness is full, though there are some vessels far larger than others; and there shall be no such thing as envy in heaven, but perfect love shall reign throughout the whole society.”

To finish this off let me quote from a book by Owen Strachan and Doug Sweeny called Jonathan Edwards on Heaven and Hell: “Though we might instinctively think that every Christian will occupy the same position in heaven, Edwards argued that it was not so. He grounded his argument in Scripture: “God has abundantly promised to reward good works of the saints in another world. Christ has said that if we do but give a cup (of cold water only, we shall in no wise lose our reward). But how can this be, if it be so that whether they do more good works or fewer, all that have just the same reward? When a person has a good work before him to be done, how can he say with himself to encourage himself to do, “If I do it, I shall be rewarded for it; I shall in no case lose my reward”; if at the same time it be true that he shall have as great a reward, if he lets it alone as if he does it; and he shall have as much future happiness, if he does few good works as many? There can be no such thing as any reward at all for good works, unless they are rewarded with some additional degree of happiness. If nothing be added, then there is nothing gained.”

Living with heavenly rewards in mind was not an option, as Edwards found in his study of the Word. It was: “A duty expressly commanded. Matthew 6:19-20, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal.” By laying up treasure in heaven is not only meant obtain some inheritance there, but to be adding to it; as is evident by the comparison made between this and what is forbidden, laying up treasure on earth. By which Christ doesn’t mean that we should get nothing in this world, but not do as worldly-minded men do, be striving insatiably to hoard up, and keep adding to our worldly good things; but rather strive to add to our inheritance in heaven, and heap up treasure there; labor daily to increase our interest there by doing good works, and abounding in them; as appears by Luke 12:33 “Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.”

“Edwards’s argument matches the plain teaching of Scripture. The way we live on this earth affects our heavenly status. The more that we live for the Lord with the little time that we have here, the more He will reward us in the life to come. Day-to-day life, with moment-by-moment, even second-by-second decisions, counts. It is not all a wash, or all the same to God. The thoughts we think, the programs we choose to watch, the evangelistic conversation we try to have, the cup of cold water we give in the name of Christ, the word of correction we offer a straying believer, the prayer we say as we hurry to work—all of this matters to God. All of it impacts, in a way we do not fully understand now, our eternal standing in heaven.

We do not know exactly how things will shake out. It may very well be that leaders we admire now must take a back seat to saints we have never heard of in heaven. Our earthly calculus for heavenly standing may prove wrong altogether. We do not know, in the end, where the Lord will seat us in His gallery of worship. We do know, however, that the life we live on this earth matters. Every second of our earthly existence counts.”

Oh, that we would live our lives in light of eternity, and live our lives for the Lord with the little time that we have here!