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Posts Tagged ‘Sanctification’

Q; What kind of plant grows best after it has been struck by lightning?

A: A Christian?

lightningHuh? Says who? Turns out, God did:

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” (James 1:2-4)

And in another place:

“All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” (Hebrews 12;11)

I love this Hebrews passage because it harmonizes two Biblical truths about suffering and trials:

  1. Trials are good for you.
  2. Trials hurt.

Many Christians fall into an unbalanced view of trials, thinking that they are somehow supposed to be happy when they are suffering. This is to think without regard for the reality of terrible circumstances. I think of Christ in Gethsemane, anticipating the agony of the cross, sweating blood. Christ was not smiling, nor was he fearful. His affect was appropriate to the awful events that were to follow. When Christians suffer, sorrow for pain is appropriate, anger at sin is appropriate, grief over personal loss is appropriate.

I’ve always wondered why so many Christian’s seem to say at funerals that they are happy to have lost a loved one. Yes they have actually gone to be with Christ, but it is OK if you REALLY miss them A LOT!

The ironic thing here is that we don’t grow unless we hurt. Pain makes us evaluate what it is we cling to, and God wants to teach us to cling to Christ. Suffering forces the Christian to see that everything else is vanity, and that we have to look to “the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus” (Php 3:8).The more we suffer, the superstock_1728-129amore we can see the foolishness of fixing our affections on things that will pass away. The more we suffer, the more we see that worldly affections can’t even make a return on investment before they pass away. Only by emptying ourselves of ourselves and filling ourselves with Christ (Romans 8:28-30) brings eternal satisfaction. Suffering helps us to see forest for the trees by burning it down, first.

We are to be like trees planted beside the invigorating, life-sustaining waters of God’s Word (Psalm 1), and yet sometime God brings a forest fire to enrich the soil and accelerate our growth. Trials serve not only as a benchmark for growth, but as the catalyst.

Now don’t go sticking your finger in an electrical socket, but don’t shy away from trials either. Harmonize the difficulty with the benefit. Praise God for His wisdom. Make the most out of what God gives you.

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The quotification of John Owen

Some time ago picked up a copy of John Owen’s “The Mortification of Sin.” I literally bought it because I had a gift certificate to our church bookstore, wanted one particular book, had only a few dollars left, and Owen’s book was the cheapest one available at the time. I figured, “Hey, I always hear what a great theologian this guy was, and what a classic book this is. Why not?” I didn’t get to it for some time but picked it up due to a challenge from a friend, Travis Carden. I read the first four chapter and put it down because I am a chicken. It is a TOUGH read and it refused to let me move quickly at any point.

I’ve found few books that intimidated me in this way; his style of writing is challenging and yet the material is so compelling that you know you have to go back over and over sections because the effort proves worthwhile every time. It’s a book that I read 5 pages at a time.

After putting it down, I ended up hearing Kris Lundgaard at a church conference and ended reading his modern adaptation of Owen’s work, “The Enemy Within.” In time, Lundgaard’s book has driven me back to Owen. Because of the difficulty of the book and its grip on me that demands that I understand it completely, I knew I had to cover the first four chapters again. Upon further review, I was reminded of so many priceless quotes that I had to share them with you. I quoted “Mortification” once already. I just have to add more, and more will follow as I work my way through the book.

On the definition of ‘mortification’:

“To kill a man, or any other living thing, is to take away the principle of all his strength, vigour and power, so that he cannot act, or exert, or put forth any proper actings of his own.”

On the need to be thorough in the task of mortification:

“He that is appointed to kill an enemy, if he leave striking before the other ceases living, doth but half his work.”

On the insidious tendency of indwelling sin to cloak itself in silence:

“When sin lets us alone, we may let sin alone: but as sin is never less quiet than when it seems to be most quiet, and its waters are for the most part deep when they are still, so ought our contrivances against it to be vigorous at all times, in all conditions, even where there is least suspicion.”

On the need to constantly wage war against the flesh:

“He that stands still, and suffers his enemies to double blows upon him without resistance, will undoubtedly be conquered in the issue.”

Suffer me one more, on the effects of the neglect of mortification:

” Where sin, through the neglect of mortification gets a considerable victory, it breaks the bones of the soul; and makes a man weak, sick and ready to die, so that he cannot look up. And when poor creatures will take blow after blow, wound after wound, foil after foil, and never rouse themselves to a vigorous opposition, can the expect anything but to be hardened through the deceitfulness of sin, and that their souls should bleed to death?”

That’s two chapter’s worth! I’ll try not to just type the whole book out. As you can see, Owen is one of the greatest Christian minds that the world has know. If nothing else, buy this book and settle yourself to harvest its fruit.

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Fastidious, Pt.2

Back again with some more thoughts on fasting. As I work through this issue, it’s felt more natural to throw some of the large fragments out there for public consumption. Was that a pun? I apologize if so.

After digesting (sorry, last time) a basic framework for discussion and establishing a goal in my considerations, I want to consider a few things. First up is the public vs. private aspect of fasting. the following passage is probably the most commonly quoted on the subject:

“Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. “But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” (Matt 6:16-18)

One obvious observation from this passage is that Jesus assumes the practice of fasting. He does not discourage it, and further gives guidelines for how it ought to be done. Whether fasting was in any way cultural or related to the old covenant, or related to the coming/presence of the bride is something I will address later.

What I want to discuss now is that it is that fact that Jesus says that fasting is by some means meant to be private. However, I believe that the context teaches us that fasting need no be exclusively private. The context I speak of is just a few verses prior:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. “So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. “But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” (Matt 6:1-6)

The common idea here is that fasting, like giving and prayer is not to be done for the sight of men. However, one things that we can reasonably say about prayer is that we need not go totally out of our way to do it in private. Indeed there are very public forums in which giving and prayer are done in broad daylight, all the way from Moses into the present day. Scripture is littered with example of God’s people giving and praying publicly. This point isn’t contested by anyone.

The point of Jesus’ comments about giving in prayer is one of motivation; that is, public shows of religiosity are often done with selfish motives, and regular public practice infects good intentions. He wasn’t prohibiting these things, including fasting , from being public in any way.

I’m making this point because whenever I discuss fasting with anyone who fasts, they are always tight-lipped, as though revealing a fast negates its value. Further, there is no corporate emphasis on fasting like we see in the Old Testament

  • 1 Kings 21:9 – Jezebel, I know, but still apparently an accepted public practice and an occasion for public gathering.
  • 2 Chronicles 20:3
  • Ezra 8:21
  • Jeremiah 36:9
  • Joel 1:14, 2:14

Jesus would have know that fasting was often a corporate practice for the Jews when HE made this statement. Context tells me that HE was referring to individual fasts here, but my point is the same: when I look at the modern day practice of fasting, the private, individual aspect of fasting seems to be stressed to the neglect of the public, corporate side of fasting.

Why is this? I think it is because Matthew 6 is a pretty stern warning, and Christians don’t want to get crosswise of Jesus. Fair enough. And yet, if I am to practice Biblical fasting, I would like it to be full, complemented by the corporate aspect. Do we have to declare a fast for our church? No? Would it be cool if fasting was advocated in addition to prayer when there are serious decisions to be made by our pastors and elders? Sure.

Those questions still assume an answer about the question of fasting that I have not yet reached, but I do find the emphasis on the privacy of fasting interesting. I hope you found it provocative as well.

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Here is a passage that is more often abused than used correctly:

“Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.

However not all men have this knowledge; but some, being accustomed to the idol until now, eat food as if it were sacrificed to an idol; and their conscience being weak is defiled. But food will not commend us to God; we are neither the worse if we do not eat, nor the better if we do eat. But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone sees you, who have knowledge, dining in an idol’s temple, will not his conscience, if he is weak, be strengthened to eat things sacrificed to idols? For through your knowledge he who is weak is ruined, the brother for whose sake Christ died. And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.

Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.” (1 Cor 8:4-13)

In this passage, Paul is addressing the correct use of knowledge (also called wisdom). The correct use of knowledge is aways guided by love (1 Cor 8:1), as in, to serve others. In many cases we have freedoms in Christ, liberty if you will. However, sometimes we forgo our liberty for the sake of another. This is the essence of Christian living. After all, it was Jesus Himself who said that the whole law was summed up in two commandments, the first being “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, AND WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND. (Matt 22:37) and the second being “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF (Matt 22:39). The first commandment really sums up the whole law, but the second commandment sums up how the Christian can express the first law toward the world. Paul expands on this in Galatians 5:13 “For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”

Translation: Liberty is first and foremost for the benefit of others.

That said, I’ve noticed in my life as a Christian that many people use this fact like a weapon…no, like a terrorist.

To explain what I mean, let me explain what the ‘weaker brother” (a la 1 Cor 8, quoted above) is NOT:

  1. He is not someone who understands Christian liberty. The weaker brother is still thinking of his faith as a list of things to avoid doing, rather than having been freed to pursue the desires of the indwelling Spirit.
  2. He is someone who does not trust in the sufficiency of God’s Word. Likely he knows that he has freedom, but insists on being narrower than the Bible.
  3. He is not someone who fully grasps the Biblical process of holiness. This person is often under the notion that things do something to you, rather than seeing the heart as a sinful user of things.
  4. He is not someone who is offended. The ‘weaker brother’ is someone who is tempted. The idea here is not that we avoid doing things that make others upset. The idea is that this person thinks that a particular behavior is sinful and is tempted to defy his conscience because he sees you do it. (For more on this, please get to know the entire book of Colossians.)
  5. He does not use outrage as a tool. Here’s the kicker, people play the ‘weaker brother card’ all the time because they ARE narrower than the Bible and they want to force you to be just as narrow. These people will eventually control the church with their legalism if left unchecked. This was PRECISELY the case in Galatians. In Galatians 2:4, Paul refers to a similar false teaching he’d just dealt with in Jerusalem, “But it was because of the false brethren secretly brought in, who had sneaked in to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, in order to bring us into bondage.”

So how do we deal with these kind of liberty-squashing terrorists? In the name of love, we have to be careful not to disregard objections we may face. I suggest the following:

  1. DO strive to discern between the one who is tempted and the one who is offended. The one who is tempted will often say nothing.
  2. DON’T force the issue, ever.
  3. DO be sensitive to the conscience of the one who struggles with what is free to him as a Christian.
  4. DO try and help him embrace his liberty at another time, so that he might be free of self-inflicted bondage and enjoy his liberties.

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How to use your brain.

Since I keep saying that I’m going to get back to things and never do, I want to return to a topic I’ve been meaning to bring up again. I think that a drastically overlooked aspect of spiritual growth is an understanding of the intellect, the affections, and the will. Understanding these elements of thinking and doing are like looking under the hood of a car. As Christians we cant rely surely on our pastor-mechanic to do all the work. We need to get our hands greasy and our knuckles bruised if we want to enjoy life as a follower of Christ.

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Lets talk about your brains, also known by our fine Puritan friends as the intellect. I’ll define the intellect as that part of the brain that is purely rational, concerned only with the processing of information. It is the intellect that assesses each situation we face and makes conclusions purely on fact. The intellect employs reason to help you make choices. When you are faced with a moral dilemma, the intellect works something like this:

“There’s Bob’s wallet sitting on the table. Bob’s not here. No-body’s watching. Stealing is sinful. I won’t take his wallet.”

Just like that, nice and easy. the intellect is your cold-blooded accountant looking across his desk at you telling you that you can’t buy that new car because there isn’t enough money in your bank account. It’s your mother telling you not to jump off of the roof because you can’t fly. It’s your car refusing to start because it’s out of gas.

I wish you people could meet my mortgage guy. Yeah, HE’S the intellect. No funny stuff. Just the facts, sir.

So how does the intellect fail lead the will correctly? Here are several suggestions:

  1. Sometimes the intellect can be deceived. For Christians this can be due to bad Bible teaching or mistakes in understanding the Bible. If your premise is faulty, your conclusions will be faulty.
  2. Sometimes the affections can override the intellect. You may know full well that you are considering sin and fail to act according to the counsel of the intellect because you don’t WANT to. Don’t like the conclusion? Don’t care! (I don’t like Bob so it serves him right!)
  3. Sometimes the intellect conspires with sinful affections. If you want to sin badly enough, you can convince yourself of a lie. Don’t like the conclusion? CHANGE the premise! (Bob owes me money, anyway!)

The most important part of all of this is that if Christians want to think through temptation correctly, they have to program their intellect with Scripture. If the intellect is like a computer, then refer to the old axiom “garbage in, garbage out” and vice versa. If you want to make good decisions, you have to set all your parameters with the Bible. Knowledge of the Bible is so important because the intellect comes first in the process. Ideally, the intellect should inform the affections and then move the will. If the process begins in error, it is doomed to failure. Likewise, starting the process with the Word is the only hope we have of pleasing God.

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Some advice on buying spiritual real estate.

My wife and I go a chance to go out tonight. One of the students in the high school ministry offered to watch our children, so we gladly took advantage of the opportunity for a quiet evening out. That’s the thing about having young children: you love them to death, you even miss them when you’re gone only a few hours, and yet you need all the breaks that you can get. One of the benefits of getting out of the house is that you can get into some good conversation. Normally, the time comes for conversation after the kids have gone to bed and you are both tired. Sitting down and talking sometimes exaggerates the wind-down period. A good long talk usually translates into feeling that much more tired the next morning.

Ironically, the topic tonight was sin. It’s probably in part due to some of the reading I’ve been having the high school students do this summer for our Saturday book study. We were reflecting on the odd tension inside the Christian when sin is present. Sin makes you miserable and yet you just won’t stop. This is true even for mature believers who don’t even enjoy sin briefly, and yet they still find themselves sinning.

As years go by, it makes me sad to see people that I know personally know, or know by acquaintance, slowly unveil a pattern of unrepentant sin. Often it’s so subtle that you don’t even realize it until they’ve made career out of it. Often the subtlety of the sin makes it hard to pin down and confront. Sin is crafty and skilled as disguising itself, not declaring itself until it marbles the soul like fat on a rib-eye steak. The product is a wasted life; wasted relationships, wasted gifts, you name it.

You know, people have too cheap a conception of what we are to make out of our lives. They see their spiritual contribution to the church much like their material contribution to the economy. It’s like they say “Not everyone can be rich, not everybody needs to be a hero, not everyone can get ahead.” and settle on spiritual mediocrity.

It’s the spiritual equivalent of a house a wife, two cars, 2.3 kids, and a dog. Welcome to Christian suburbia.

That makes me so angry. The disgusting truth is that it’s not really suburbia, it’s the reject rack at the Goodwill. If I have learned one thing in my recent studies about sin, it’s that if you aren’t going forward, you are going backward. John Owen said it well in “The Mortification of Sin”: “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

I was reading a movie review in a magazine this evening on our night out. The magazine was a British publication. The movie was based on the “tension-beneath-the-surface- in-peaceful-suburbia” premise, and the review panned the movie by asking why, with so many movies based on this premise, would anybody want to live in an American suburb? The popular premise holds that the picture perfect, well groomed neighborhood is a cover for all kinds of angst and potential mayhem, like a pot ready to boil.

This is an accurate description of the Christian suburb of spiritual mediocrity: what looks like tranquility and peace is actually decay. Christians who no longer feel the need to press forward into the kingdom are slowly crumbling. The end of this decay is that millions will wake up on the wrong side of eternity, finding that their professions of faith were unfounded.

Sin, our mortal enemy, has many weapons at its disposal. One of sins most effective weapons for professing Christians is complacency. Christians must be armed with urgency about their spiritual progress. To declare premature victory and arrival is to invite heartbreak and failure.

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Some thoughts about the mortification of the flesh, gleaned from the book study hosted in my home with some of the students in the high school ministry. Many of the students were noting the extreme positions that people take in dealing with their sin. They tied some points of note in the Kris Lundgaard book “The Enemy Within” together with things they pulled from John MacArthur’s “The Gospel According to the Apostles”.

“The Enemy Within” is a modern day re-working of John Owen’s “Mortification of Sin”. “The Gospel According to the Apostles” deals with the issue of “Lordship Salvation”, that is, does salvation necessarily entail fruit, is repentance part of the gospel, can one take Jesus as Savior without taking Him as Lord? Both books, the students pointed out to my pleasure, run parallel on the issue of sanctification.

One one hand, MacArthur laments that many people who claim to be Christians believe that spiritual growth may never occur. They accept living in a state of total moral defeat without pausing to question their profession of faith. They are comforted by their professions of faith, undaunted by the lack of further evidence of salvation.

On the other hand, Lundgaard point out that the battle to mortify our flesh is never over, and our flesh comes after us even when we are at our best. Christians never rest. Regrettably, many Christians who do believe that saving faith is followed by fruit are in a state of denial about their flesh. They declare premature victory. They don’t take their sin as seriously as they should because they think they are supposed to pretend it isn’t there.

What I added to the student’s observations, is that most every theological issue in history is mostly populated on either extreme of that issue. It is like a swinging pendulum, and most people end up clustering on one far side or the other.

In the issue of personal holiness, the one extreme is to accept living in total defeat. The other extreme is living in willful ignorance of the battle. Both extremes are equally harmful.

I think that the ultimate example of how to approach the mortification of the flesh is found in Romans 7:15-25:

For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good. So now, no longer am I the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh; for the willing is present in me, but the doing of the good is not. For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want. But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me. I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.”

Here are a few points toward a balanced view of mortification:

  1. Humble yourself; you are a sinner and you sin.
  2. Don’t become comfortable with your sin.
  3. Don’t flag in your disgust with your sin even though the fight is lifelong.
  4. Work hard at the practice if resisting the flesh.
  5. Be assured that victory through the Spirit is assured.

 

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