Last night at church Pastor Jeff continued our series on the “I AM” statements in John. He spoke on the fact that Jesus said that he was the light of the world (John 8:12). And it hit me last night as he was speaking that when you think about it everyone is looking for something to “light” up their dark world. Everyone is searching for truth to help them interpret and make sense out of the events of their lives.
Some people look to their own reason, thinking that it will provide them the means by which they can make sense of their lives and liberate them from their darkness. But I think back to something I once heard Matt Chandler say, “If you got into the state you are in by following your own dumb advice, what makes you think that your dumb advice will get you out of it.”
Others, look to religion. They look to a system of belief to help them interpret and make sense out of the events of their lives. All the major religions of the world seek to provide enlightenment for their followers – a way of interpreting and making sense out of their lives.
However, what hit me last night is the uniqueness of the Christian faith. The uniqueness of the Christian faith is that we don’t look to our reason, or even to a system of belief to help us interpret and make sense of our lives but we look to a person. I remember something I heard Paul Tripp say, “Christianity is not about a system of redemption, it is about a redeemer.”
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” The promise of Jesus is that by being in relationship with him we will find the truth that we need to correctly interpret and make sense out of the events of our lives.
Mother’s day is just another the corner and I was thinking today about some of the things that my mother did that made a difference in my life.
The first thing that my Mother did was she cultivated my individual gifts and talents. I grew up in Burrum Heads Queensland and was not a very athletic, nor academic sort of kid.
My older brother Steven, had been born with all the brains and was good at everything. I struggled at school and especially with reading. My mother noticed this fact and so in order to give me something that I would be good at, she brought me a violin and started me on violin lessons. This would change my life forever.
I was good at music and grew in confidence as a person. I am so grateful for a mother who took the time to cultivate my particular gifts and abilities.
The second thing my mother did for me is that she spoke the truth when I needed to hear it. At the end of year 12 I was in a band with some of my mates from school.
We were not very good, but of course, we believed that we were going to be the next U2. And so, at the end of year twelve I was faced with a decision – would I go with the band and try to make it in the music industry by playing in pubs and clubs, or would I go to university.Going with the band would have certainly lead me down a dark path since I was not a very strong Christian.
Well, I had made my decision. I was going to go with the band. And so one day I plucked up the courage and told my mother. I will never forget what she said to me. She said, “I had hoped your life would have amounted to more than that.”
Well, we talked about it some more and I came to realize what she was saying was true and changed my mind. Instead of going with the band I went to Brisbane to university, a decision that would eventually lead me to encounter Jesus in a powerful way and give my life fully to him.
And finally, the third thing my mother did was she modeled an authentic Christian life. Although, she was always a behind the scenes sort of person my mother showed me what faithful service for Jesus is all about. Faithful service for Jesus means getting your house ready for a Bible study meeting when you are tired and would rather cancel. Faithful service for Jesus means adding something more to the dinner when your husband has for the 100th time invited another random person to dinner. Faithful service means remaining in the same church on mission for Jesus for 30 years giving and serving, when it would be much easier to give up.
So thank you Mum, I love you. God has used you to make the biggest difference in my life and I am grateful.
Well, today I come to the final chapter of a call to spiritual reformation by D.A. Carson. In this final chapter of the book the main idea that I got out of the chapter was this line by Carson:
“Paul understands real praying to include an element of struggle, discipline, work, spiritual agonizing against the dark powers of evil. Insofar as the Roman Christians pray this way for Paul, they are joining him in his apostolic struggle.”
I have thought about that allot recently. That real prayer includes an “element of struggling” and “spiritual agonizing against the dark powers of evil.” I think that the reason that I have pondered that allot lately is because that is not how I want my prayer life to go, and yet that is how I find it going. I want my prayer life to be all warm fuzzes and answered victories. And yet I have found myself wrestling and struggling to keep praying in faith. But Carson encourages us in the struggle:
There is a profound sense in which the sovereign, holy, loving, wise Father whom we address in Jesus’ name is more interested in us than in our prayers. I do not mean to depreciate praying, only to say that God’s response to our prayers cannot be abstracted from his treatment of us. I do not know the end from the beginning. Only God does. But he is interested in me as his child, in the same way that he was interested in the life and ministry of the apostle Paul. Part of this business of prayer is getting to know God better; part of it is learning his mind and will; part of it is tied up with teaching me to wait, or teaching me that my requests are often skewed or my motives selfish.
Just as God’s unexpected answer to Paul’s prayers was the best possible answer (precisely because it was God’s), so also his answers to our prayers will always be for his glory and his people’s good.
And it is with that conviction that I continue to pray….
Yesterday I preached a sermon on faith from Romans 4:18-25. And I defined faith in this way:
“Faith is being fully convinced now that you have received, or will receive what God has promised.”
Just think about that definition for a second. Isn’t that the way you became a Christian. You became a Christian because you became fully convinced that you had received and would receive in the future what God had promised. Namely, you became fully convinced that Jesus died for you – that his death was sufficient payment for your sin and that he arose from the dead. You became convinced that through Jesus your sin had been forgiven and you had eternal life. But here’s the thing I find that many Christians forget – the Bible says that not only are we justified by faith – meaning not only do gain forgiveness and a right standing with God through faith – but the Bible repeatedly exhorts us to live by faith. (2 Cor 5:7; Gal 2:20)
So let me ask you, as a Christian do you live each day by faith? Now I am not asking whether you have you trusted in Jesus for salvation, but I am asking you do you live by faith? Do you live each day fully convinced in the present that you have received, or will receive in the future what God has promised?
This past week I wondered what would my life look like if I really lived by faith. What if I was fully convinced convinced that Jesus’ blood had atoned for all of my sin and that there is no condemnation from God because I am in Christ Jesus? Well, then I would no longer run from God in shame and guilt. I would no longer try to self atone for my sin by my religious performance.
OR…What if I was fully convinced that my life was in God’s hand and that he would never leave me nor forsake me – even in the darkest moments of my life? Well, I would be free from worry and anxiety.
OR… What if I was fully convinced I that I am dead to sin and alive to God and that sins power in my life is truly broken through the cross? Well, then I would have assurance that I can really change this year.
You see it is a good question to ask yourself – do I live by faith? Do I live my life fully convinced in the present that God has given me or will give me in the future what he has promised? Do I live by faith, or am I really walking in unbelief?
A few years a prominent evangelical pastor Rob Bell brought out a book on ‘Hell’ and the Christian world erupted into controversy. So today I want to ponder the question – ‘is the doctrine of Hell all that important?’
And to answer that question I want to post sometime that I read this week from author Kevin Deyoung in his book, “What is the mission of the church?” He writes:
The doctrine of hell, however unpopular it may be and however much we may wish to soften its hard edges, is essential for faithful Christian witness. The belief that there is something worse than death is, to recall John Piper’s imagery, ballast for our ministry boats.
Hell is not the North Star. That is, divine wrath is not our guiding light. It does not set the direction for everything in the Christian faith like, say, the glory of God in the face of Christ. Neither is hell the faith wheel that steers the ship, nor the wind that powers us along, nor the sails that capture the Spirit’s breeze.
Yet hell is not incidental to this vessel we call the church. It’s our ballast, and we throw it overboard at great peril to ourselves and to everyone drowning far out at sea. For those not familiar with boating terminology, ballast refers to weights, usually put underneath in the middle of the boat, that are used to keep the ship stable in the water. Without ballast, the boat will not sit properly. It will veer off course more easily or be tossed from side to side. Ballast keeps the boat balanced. The doctrine of hell is like that for the church. Divine wrath may not be the decorative masthead or the flag we raise up every flagpole. The doctrine may be underneath other doctrines. It may not always be seen. But its absence will always be felt.
Since hell is real, we must help each other die well even more than we strive to help our neighbors live comfortably. Since hell is real, we must never think alleviating earthly suffering is the most loving thing we can do. Since hell is real, evangelism and discipleship are not simply good options or commendable ministries, but are literally a matter of life and death.
If we lose the doctrine of hell, either too embarrassed to mention it or too culturally sensitive to affirm it, we can count on this: the boat will drift. The cross will be stripped of propitiation, our preaching will be devoid of urgency and power, and our work in the world will no longer center on calling people to faith and repentance and building them to maturity in Christ. Lose the ballast of divine judgment and our message, our ministry, and our mission will all change eventually.
On Wednesday I read through a chapter of a book and write a reflection on that chapter. Today, we are up to chapter 11 in D.A. Carson’s book, “a call to spiritual reformation.” In this chapter, Carson reflects on the prayer of Paul in Ephesians 3:14-19. In this prayer Paul asks the Father, that through the power of the Holy Spirit believers might be strengthened so that Christ might dwell in their hearts through faith.
Why pray this prayer? I thought that when you became a Christian, Christ already had come to indwell you. Well, the word ‘dwell’ in some contexts can mean more than just the idea of ‘reside in.’ When we become Christians, Christ does come to reside in us permanently. So in that sense we are indwelt by him through the person of the Holy Spirit. However, the word ‘dwell’ can also mean ‘make your home in.’ It is sort of like a young couple who buy their first home (a fixer upper). When they move in they are excited to own their first home. It is a dream come true but like most first homes their is still allot of remodeling work that needs to happen. It has old carpets from the seventies, horrible tiles in the Kitchen and a small kitchen. However, over time as they dwell in that home they make changes and the home starts to take on the character of the inhabitants.
In the same way, when we become Christians Christ comes to live inside of us. But overtime, as he lives in us he will start to make changes, and we should start to reflect his character. A challenging question then to ask ourselves is this – is my life changing since Christ has come into it? If not, maybe you need to pray the prayer that Paul prayed – “Father, strengthen me by the Holy Spirit so that Christ may dwell in me by faith.” The truth is that we should be praying that prayer for ourselves and others everyday. We should be praying this so increasingly Christ is being formed in us and we are continuing to reflect his character.
One of the most compelling reasons to believe that the Bible is divine in origin is because of the fulfilled prophecies. Earlier in Biblical revelation, the Bible predicts certain events that then in later revelation or in history are fulfilled. Prophecies like in Ezekiel 26 where Ezekiel predicted that the city of Tyre would be destroyed. In Ezekiel’s time Tyre was a thriving port city and no one would have consider that it could be destroyed. But later it was destroyed just like Ezekiel had predicted. Or another example is the length of Israel’s captivity. Jeremiah predicted that the captivity would last for seventy years in Jeremiah 29:10 and this was precisely fulfilled in 2 Chronicles 36:21. An event that the exiles could not have engineered themselves.
However, the most remarkable prophecies in the Bible are the ones concerning Jesus. For example, the virgin of birth of Jesus was predicted by the prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 9:6. The place of his birth Bethlehem was predicted in Micah 5:2. And the fact that he would come riding into the city on a fold of a donkey was predicted in Zechariah 9:9. However, probably the most remarkable prediction in the bible is the fact that Jesus death was portrayed and predicted by Isaiah in Isaiah 53. And this, was hundreds of years before Roman crucifixion was even invented. If you are a skeptic then I challenge you to read Isaiah 53 and ask yourself how you can not but help see Jesus and his crucifixion in that passage. You see if the Bible is truly revelation from God, then this is what you would expect. You would expect that God would be able to predicted future events.
The other morning I was praying and I was led to look over the ten commandments. I was actually praying through Psalm 19 and in v.12 David exclaims, “Who can discern his errors?” It is true we cannot discern our errors ourselves. We need the Holy Spirit to search our hearts through the Word of God so we can see the ways in which we sin and are deceived. So I was led to look over the Ten Commandments. And as I was praying over the Ten Commandments and asking the Holy Spirit to convict me of the ways I had broken God’s law so I could return to him for forgiveness and cleansing I came to the third commandment – “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain” (Ex 20:7). And as I was pondering and praying I thought what does it mean to take God’s name in vain?
Option 1: Do not swear or use God’s name in an irreverent way
Growing up in a Christian family the most common way that I viewed this commandment was as an exhortation that prohibits the use of swear words in daily speech, and in particular the use of the name ‘God’ or ‘Jesus’ as a curse word. Now certainly, I think that Christians should treat the names of God with absolute reverence. Further, I think that Christians should avoid using ‘swear words’ in their daily speech. Ephesians 4:29 states clearly that we should not “let any corrupting talk come out of our mouths.” Out of the heart the mouth speaks said Jesus. So if our hearts are in love with God then our speech should not be characterized by curse words that are usually invoked in order to express frustration at people or circumstances. Both of which for the Christian are under God’s control.
However, as I thought about it, I wondered whether the meaning was a little deeper than this traditional understanding.
Option 2: Do not live in such a way that brings dishonor to the God in whose name you are saved
As I thought about it, I started to see it from a different perspective. Israel were saved by the LORD and brought into covenant relationship with him. They were saved by the LORD and the LORD had revealed his covenant name to them. So to take the name of the LORD their God in vain would be to live in such a way as to bring dishonor to the God in whose name they were saved.
When we look at the New Testament we see that we are called to live in a manner worthy of the gospel (Eph 4:1). Paul prays that Christians would walk in a manner worthy of the Lord (Col 1:10). And Jesus said that his followers are to pray, “Hallowed be they name.” This interpretation is completely consistent with commandments 1 and 2. In the first two of the Ten Commandments the LORD says to Israel that they are not to have any other gods beside him and that they should not make idols and bow down and worship them. Then, it makes sense that they should not take his name in vain – in other words live in such a way that brings dishonor to the God in whose name they have been saved. They should reverence his name.
Ask yourself today, are you living in such a way that demonstrates honor and reverence to the God in whose name you have been saved?
Yesterday, I was teaching on reasons to believe in the biblical account of creation over evolution. One of the things I mentioned was that everyone has presuppositions. You see the primary reason that Christians believe in creation over evolution is because God’s word tells us that God created the world in six literal days. So the creationism is built on the presupposition that the Bible is God’s word and tells us the truth about the world. However, as I said yesterday it is not only Christians who build their worldview on presuppositions. Note this quote from John MacArthur:
“Naturalism is the view that every law and every force operating in the universe is natural rather than moral, spiritual, or supernatural. Naturalism is inherently anti-theistic, rejecting the very concept of a personal God. Many assume naturalism therefore has nothing to do with religion. In fact, it is a common misconception that naturalism embodies the very essence of scientific objectivity. Naturalists themselves like to portray their system as a philosophy that stands in opposition to all faith-based world-views, pretending that it is scientifically and intellectually superior precisely because of its supposed nonreligious character. Not so. Religion is exactly the right word to describe naturalism. The entire philosophy is built on a faith-based premise. Its basic presupposition—a rejection of everything supernatural—requires a giant leap of faith. And nearly all its supporting theories must be taken by faith as well.”
So the next time someone accuses you of circular reasoning – of building your worldview on presuppositions- you can challenge them to realize that this is something that everyone does!
This week in Australia the first season of the Bachelor concluded. And so today on this historic occasion, I want to ponder the question – should Christians watch the show the Bachelor?
Now of course there is no direct command in the Bible that forbids Christians from watching the bachelor, nor from actually watching television or movies in general (there are other commands that should inform these practices but we will get to that). This is rather a issue of conscience, but it begs a good question and that is how should Christians engage with culture in general?
Like a fish in water, we swim in culture. We cannot get away from culture – we live in a culture (it informs the way we speak and what we wear), we all participate in varying degrees to forming that culture by the way we live and we all in various ways enjoy the art forms of that our culture provides. So we all engage with culture whether we are conscious of it or not. Yet, as Christians we are called to live very distinctly Christian lives for God. So how should we engage with culture as Christians?
Three approaches to culture that I have found helpful:
- Receive: There are things in every culture that are not good or bad but rather are morally neutral and can be received. God has given human beings (because they are created in his image) the capacity to create culture, therefore culture is a gift from God that can and should be enjoyed with thanksgiving.
- Reject: On the opposite end of the spectrum, their are things in culture that need to be rejected. There are things in our fallen culture that oppose God and his moral law and therefore Christians should have no part in them and should stand against. Rather, than engage with the evil works of darkness we should expose them by the way that we live (Eph 5:11).
- Redeem: However, Christians can also take things from within a culture and redeem them. They can use them for God and his purposes. Take for example the internet – it can and is used for all manner of wickedness, however Christians can also take the internet and use it for the glory of God.
We see Jesus doing these three things in his earthly ministry. In the incarnation he took on human flesh (receive), yet he lived in a very distinct way (he rejected human sinful practices) and he ultimately died to purchase people and restore the whole of creation back to himself (redeem). The question then of course, is which category does the Bachelor belong too – is it something that can be received, need to be rejected or is it something that can be redeemed? Christians will vary on how they answer this question, so I think we should not judge one another but be willing to state our reasons and dialogue in love. This way we help one another grow in godliness and in effective witness in our world.
The reality is that as we engage with culture we do not do it most of the time on a conscious level. We are not walking around thinking can I receive this, or must I reject this, or can I redeem this? In reality, as I said it comes down to conscience, as we walk with Christ, he informs our conscience through his Word so something that we would have watched a year ago we may not do as we grow closer to him. It is not so much that Christ changes our minds on various things (he does do this), but rather he changes our appetites. We no longer have an appetite for trashy meaningless television shows (I am showing my hand).
So should Christians watch the Bachelor? To be honest – I did not watch it myself, so I don’t know what it was like – but one thing I would challenge those who did watch it with – did you ever stop to wonder – should I be watching this? Should I be receiving this, rejecting this or redeeming this? It is so easy to be asleep as a Christian and participate with activities – not realizing the effect they are having on your heart and mind.
In chapter nine of ‘A Call to Spiritual Reformation’ D.A. Carson seeks to provide an answer to one of the most enduring mysteries concerning prayer – ‘does prayer change things?’
If you haven’t ever pondered this question you probably will sometime. (The enemy will make sure of that – there is probably no greater question that he has used to silence the praying of God’s saints). What I mean is that you will be praying and you will start to wonder, does my prayers actually change things? Maybe, you have more of a leaning towards Calvinism and so you start to wonder, if God is sovereign and has ordained all things that come to pass then what difference does my prayers make anyway? Or, if you are from more of an Arminian background you might think, what difference will my prayers make for someone to become a Christian if it is just a matter of their will/choice?
D.A. Carson, in this chapter, shows us the folly of this way of thinking by pointing us back to the mysterious nature of the God. Christianity is a faith that at it’s core asserts a number of beautiful mysteries, that although are beyond human comprehension are not illogical or unreasonable. For example, Christians believe that there is one God who exists as three separate distinct persons (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and each person is fully God. Or here is another example, Christians believe that Jesus Christ has two natures in hypostatic union – he is fully God and fully human.
Prayer forces us right into the middle of the mystery. When we pray we come to realize the truth as presented in the Bible that God is both sovereign and man is responsible. On our knees we come to the sovereign of the universe and sincerely ask him to work in our lives and the lives of other people. Our confidence while praying comes from the fact that we know that if we ‘ask the door will be opened unto us’ (Matthew 7:7). Our Sovereign God is able to open any door that he chooses.
However, on our knees we are also forced to recognize that man is responsible. The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sins and we repent and turn back to God and recognize that often, ‘we do not have because we do not ask’ (James 4:3). We also weep like Moses, David, Nehemiah, Daniel, Paul and Jesus over the rebellion and wickedness we see in people’s hearts interceding for them that God maybe merciful.
Further, we come to realize the mystery that God is both transcendent and personal. As the sovereign of the universe we fall down before him and recognize that he works out all things in accordance with his will and our foolish human pride is exposed. However, as our Father we recognize that he longs for us to come and experience intimacy with him. Further, he beckons us to “ask for anything” in the name of his Son and promises that if it is in accordance with his will he will hear us and respond (1 John 5:14-15).
As I said prayer forces us right into the middle of this mystery. It is only those that don’t pray who actually don’t come to understand/experience this mystery. Listen to what Carson writes,
“Something has gone wrong in our reasoning if our reasoning leads us away from prayer; something is amiss in our theology if our theology becomes a disincentive to pray. Yet sometimes that is what happens. The slightly ingenuous but enthusiastic believer may have more experience at prayer than the theologian who thinks a lot about prayer.”
I pray that while you ponder this question – ‘does prayer change things?’ – it might not lead to give into the temptation of prayerlessness, but might lead you into the mystery of serving and knowing our sovereign and personal God.
Today I want to ponder this question – Should Christians pray to bind Satan and his demons?
Often in prayer meetings I will hear people pray for other Christians asking that Satan and his demons be bound over a person’s life e.g. “Lord we pray that you would bind Satan, so that he would have no place in Bill’s life.” Now while I appreciate an emphasis in prayer on Spiritual warfare and I think that we need to be alert for our enemy the devil prowls around like a lion seeking those who he may devour (1 Peter 5:8) I do not believe that we as Christians should pray asking God to bind Satan and his demons. Here are my reasons:
- No where in the Bible does it say that Christians should pray to bind Satan and his demons. Now there is a passage in Matthew 12:29 that reads, “how can anyone enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man? Then he can rob his house.” This is often then supplemented by Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:18 where Jesus says, “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven.” So advocates of ‘praying to bind Satan’ claim that these passages teach that Christians should bind the powers of evil and command them to leave. However, Matthew 12:29 has been wrenched completely out of context. Note this quote from David Powlison in his book ‘Power Encounters: Reclaiming Spiritual Warfare:
“The passage does not intend to describe pastoral methodology: rather, it is a parable describing Jesus’ cosmic work as the Messiah. He entered a “house” that belonged to a “strongman” whom he “tied up” in order to “rob” him of his “possessions.” The house is planet earth. The strongman is Satan. The possessions are people, you and I, whom Jesus has saved, robbing the devil. The tying up is the entire work of Christ…Satan’s kingdom of sin and death has been dealt a definitive blow, and his former followers are fleeing the darkness and streaming into the kingdom of mercy, righteousness and life. The passage does not teach – and nowhere else does Jesus illustrate – a pastoral method of ‘binding’ spirits.”
- Christians are already free from the dominion of Satan because they are ‘in Christ.’ In Colossians 1:13 Paul says that God “has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son.” Then over in chapter 2 of the same book Paul says in verse 15, “He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.” I think that these passages clearly teach that we do not have to pray for Satan and his demons to be bound in our lives, but rather, if we are “in Christ” then through the cross Satan’s power and dominion has been broken.
Now does that mean that Satan can no longer influence and oppress believers? Absolutely not. As I have already quoted he prowls around like a roaring lion seeking to devour Christians – so what should we pray for?
- We should be praying for spiritual alertness (1 Peter 5:8; Eph 6:12). We should be praying that we, the Church of Jesus Christ will be watchful and alert, not asleep and dull. We should be praying that we recognize each day that we are in a wrestle not against flesh and blood (Eph 6:12), but that we do have an enemy who is seeking to harm us.
- We should pray that Christians won’t be ignorant of the Schemes of the Devil, but by God’s truth will learn to recognize his temptations, accusations and deceptions (Eph 6:11; 2 Cor 2:11). Even though the devil has been defeated he is still is doing his utmost to render Christians ineffective and powerless now they are ‘in Christ.’ He still seeks to tempt, accuse and deceive Christians. His plan is to deceive and tempt the Church of Jesus Christ so they live by the flesh and are caught in the prison of habitual sin. One of the best books ever written about this topic is a book by Thomas Brooks in the 1600’s called, “precious remedies against Satan’s devices.” You don’t have to read the whole book, all you have to do is read the index and you will see some all to familiar strategies that the enemies uses against us (e.g. the first one device of the enemy Brooks mentions is that in temptation Satan will show the bait – the pleasure of sin- but hide the hook – the consequences of sin). We should be praying for one another that we are in God’s word and not ignorant to his devices.
- We should pray that Christians will submit themselves to God and resist the devil (James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:9; Eph 6:10-18). We should be praying that Christians will surrender themselves to Jesus and resist the temptations, accusations and deception of the enemy. We should be praying that Christians will be strong in the Lord and the strength of his might and put on the full armor of the Lord and take their stand. The promise to Christians is that if they do this – submit themselves to God and resist the devil, he will flee from them (James 4:7).
- And finally, we should pray that Christians confidence in the gospel and the power of God will grow. We should pray for one another that our confidence that he “who is in me is greater than he who is in the world” will grow and therefore there is nothing to fear (1 Jn 4:4).
In chapter 8 of his book ‘A Call to Spiritual Reformation’ D.A.Carson challenges us to overcome the hurled of mediocrity when it comes to prayer. The chapter is built around the prayer of Paul in Phil 1:9-11 where he prays that believer’s love will abound in depth of insight so that they may be able to discern what is best as the day of Christ approaches. Throughout the chapter Carson notes that as believers we need this level of discernment because in life we are often required to make choices where there is not a clear right or wrong. Rather, the choice is often between what is acceptable and what is better.
For example there is nothing wrong with a Christian engaging in leisure activities (watching a movie, sports etc…) – but how much leisure should a Christian have in comparison with prayer, service and Bible study? Carson notes that we need to pray like this for one another because we want our choices to come from a sincere desire to love and please our Savior, not out of guilt and legalism. We want to make sure that we do not slide into mediocrity when it comes to serving and knowing Christ but like Paul want to press on for the upward call of God in Christ (Phil 3:14).
However, what challenged me most about the chapter was at the end when Carson noted that it is easy in our pursuit of excellence, (even excellence in serving and knowing Christ) for excellence to become an idol. He finishes the chapter by sharing some stories (and here is where I got inspired):
“Retirement can betray where our hearts really are; so can medical incapacity. Bishop Stanway was used by God to multiply churches and strengthen the outreach of the gospel throughout East Africa. In Tanzania alone he was responsible for creating more than twenty dioceses; some referred to him as the apostle to Tanzania. In retirement he helped to found a seminary in North America. But when I met him, he had returned to his native Australia, and Parkinson’s disease had so debilitated him that he could no longer talk. He communicated by writing on a pad of paper; more precisely, he could no longer write, but printed his answers in scarcely legible block letters. By the time I got to know him a little, I felt emboldened to ask him how he was coping with his crippling disease. He had been so active and productive throughout his life; how was he handling being shunted aside? He had to print his answer on that pad of paper three times before I could read it: “There is no future in frustration.”
In short, Bishop Stanway would not allow himself the luxury of frustration. He lived with eternity’s perspective before him, and frustration plays no part there. He simply had not tied his ego to his service, so that when the active, fruitful forms of service he had enjoyed for decades were withdrawn, he himself was not threatened. He could still trust his Master, and pursue what was best within the constraints imposed on him.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones was one of the most influential preachers of the century. A few weeks before he died, someone asked him how, after decades of fruitful ministry and extraordinary activity, he was coping now he was suffering such serious weakness it took much of his energy to move from his bed to his armchair and back. He replied in the words of Luke 10: 20: “Do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” In other words, do not tie your joy, your sense of well-being, to power in ministry. Your ministry can be taken from you. Tie your joy to the fact you are known and loved by God; tie it to your salvation; tie it to the sublime truth that your name is written in heaven. That can never be taken from you. Lloyd-Jones added: “I am perfectly content.”
Here then is a practical test as to whether the excellence I pursue is really for the glory and praise of God or for my own self-image. If the things I value are taken away, is my joy in the Lord undiminished? Or am I so tied to my dreams that the destruction of my dreams means I am destroyed as well?”
Carson then finished the chapter with the lyrics from the hymn ‘Be thou my vision’ and I have to admit that I sang it our loudly in my study with tears in my eyes. Why don’t you take a moment to ponder these words?
|Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.
Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;
Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
High King of Heaven, my victory won,
Words: Dallan Forgail (8th Century)
One of the main excuses that we hide behind for our lack of prayer is that we “don’t feel like praying.” Many times I have gone without praying for extended periods simply because I haven’t felt like praying. I have felt spiritually dry and haven’t felt in a particularly spiritual mood. Now there might be many different reasons for spiritual dryness in someone’s life. You maybe getting no sleep and therefore are physically exhausted, which will effect your emotional life. Or, you may have a serious spiritual problem that needs addressing in your life. So I don’t want to be simplistic about spiritual dryness.
But I think one of the major reasons why many people don’t pray consistently is because they misunderstand the nature of our relationship with God. Jesus said in Matthew 4 and verse 4,
“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
Notice, he did not say,
“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every spiritual feeling about God.”
There is a big difference between those two statements. You see I think that many of us live our Christian lives by our feelings. If we are feeling spiritual then we pray, read our bibles and serve with joy etc… And sometimes we are in season when we are on fire so we are reading our bibles, praying and serving etc…But then we go through times when we don’t feel all that spiritual. Let’s be honest, we may even go through a time when we don’t even feel like God exists at all. But as Jesus says, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” We are to live by faith in the revealed word of God, not by spiritual feelings about God.
I think this is one of the big differences between immature and mature believers. The difference between people who consistently pray and those that do not. Mature believers have come to understand that their relationship with God does not rest on their feelings, but rests on living according to what God says in his word period. They are committed to pray even when they don’t feel like it because their relationship with God is not built on their feelings.
Now I am not saying that there is anything wrong with spiritual feelings. I love worshiping God and expressing my worship and devotion to him in passionate outward ways. I am that type of person (I cry in Disney movies – my kids laugh at me). So I am not saying that emotions or spiritual feelings are bad. Emotions are an important part of any relationship.
No, what I am saying is that every significant relationship that we have in our lives (family, spouse or friends) is not primarily built on emotions, but rather on commitment. You see just like my relationship with Tegan, my wife, is not built on the fleeting feelings of romance, but the covenant we have made– my relationship with Jesus should not be built on my fleeting spiritual feelings, but on the solid foundation of his promises. And just like I serve and spend time with Tegan daily, even when I don’t feel romantic because we are married, I should serve Jesus and spend time with him, because of his commitment to me in the gospel and my response to deny myself, take up my cross and follow him.
So don’t just wait around to until you feel like praying – commit to spending time daily with Jesus whether you feel like it or not. What you will find is that if you walk by faith and not by feelings, then the feelings will follow. If you are in a dry spiritual place, it could for a number of reasons as I said, but maybe what you need to do is by faith start to pray and you will may find as I said the spiritual feelings returning. They will be a beautiful by product of your relationship with God that you enjoy, but not the foundation.
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In Mark 8:34 and the parallel passages in Matthew and Luke’s gospel (Matt 16:24; Luke 9:23) Jesus says – “if anyone would come after me let him deny himself, take up his cross and follow me.” The question I want to look at this Friday is what does it mean to take up your cross?
Option #1 – Endure suffering
Many people would see the metaphor of ‘taking up one’s cross’ as an exhortation to embrace and endure suffering. They would take the phrase ‘one’s cross’ to mean – the suffering that God chooses to allow in our lives so that we can develop character and glorify him. So our cross becomes the trials that we have at work, or in our relationships or with our health. Now it is true that suffering is an important part of the sanctification process and that God uses the trials we face in this fallen world to change us (John 15:1-2; Rom 5:3-5; James 1:2-4). So as Christians we should embrace suffering and endure it with joy because God works all things together for the good of those who love the Lord. And God uses our suffering to change us into the image of Christ (Rom 8:28). However, I believe that the call to take up ones cross is much deeper.
Option #2 – Embrace the cost of discipleship
I think that when we look at the call to ‘take up one’s cross’ in the gospel’s, we see that it is actually a call to embrace whatever cost our discipleship might require. When Jesus issued the call he had just spell out his plan. He was going to Jerusalem to suffer, be rejected and killed at the hands of the religious leaders (Mark 8:31). Peter had not liked this plan, and told Jesus as much. For which he received the strongest rebuke in Scripture (get behind me Satan). Then Jesus outlined what following him would mean. Following Jesus would mean be willing to go with Jesus to Jerusalem and suffer, be rejected and die. It would mean losing your life for the sake of the gospel (v.35). It would mean standing for Jesus in this wicked and sinful generation by dying with him (v. 38). So I think that to ‘take up one’s cross’ actually means to embrace whatever cost following Jesus might require.
A modern example of ‘taking up of one’s cross’ can be found in the writings of Brother Yun. He writes,
“Soon after God saved me as a teenager, He called me to take the gospel to the West and South. In the first year, I saw more than 3,000 people come to faith in Jesus. There had been such a long famine of the Word of God in China at the time that people’s hearts were like tinder boxes. The slightest spark of the Holy Spirit set them ablaze for Jesus! Once the fire of the Holy Spirit ignited them, new believers experienced streams of living water flowing from within them, and the revival spread across China as multitudes of hungry people met the Bread of Life face to face.
After a few years, I came to realize that his call God had given me would come at a great cost. It was not easy to be a preacher, as every word that came from a preacher’s mouth was considered a criminal act by the authorities. They could not control the revival, nor could they understand how the church continued to multiply despite all their efforts to crush or control it.
After my first arrest I was thrown into prison and treated cruelly by the guards and my cellmates. At the beginning I didn’t understand what was going on. I was confused and cried out to God, as though there had been some kind of mistake. “Oh Lord,” I cried, “Do You realize I am sitting here in prison? Have you forsaken me?” Soon the Lord showed me that He had certainly now forsaken me, but that my arrest and imprisonment were His will for my life and His calling for at the time. The Bible declares that God loves the entire world, and Jesus commanded his followers to take the good news into the entire world. The world includes Chinese prisons, where there are thousands of desperate men who need to know Jesus. That is where the Lord chose to send me so that I could be a witness to His truth and grace.”
Brother Yun came to realize that following Jesus would cost him his freedom. It would mean imprisonment. What did brother Yun do? He ‘took up his cross’ – meaning he embraced imprisoned as God’s will for him and continue to witness to Christ.
What is the cross that Christ is asking you to take up? What is the cost of your discipleship?
At church at the moment we are reading through the “A Call to Spiritual Reformation.” It is a brilliant book on the topic of prayer. I am growing allot through it.
Summary of Chapter 6 – The Content of a Challenging prayer
In this chapter Carson takes the prayer of Paul in Colossians 1:9-14 and challenges us to pray in this manner. From this prayer Carson observes:
1. Paul prays for Christians he has never personally. A good question to ask yourself is how extensive is our own praying?
2. Paul prays unceasingly. Carson notes that there are some things for which we should not stop praying. Prayer is God’s appointed means for appropriating the blessings that are ours in Christ Jesus. Many of those blessings we need again and again.
3. Paul links prayers of thanksgiving to prayers of petition. Although we are inclined to pray for people and situations when they have fallen into desperate need, Paul’s common practice is to pray for ongoing concerns. His thanksgiving drives his petitions.
4. Paul asks God to fill believers with the knowledge of his will. This will is not necessarily God’s sovereign will (e.g. whom you should marry etc…). But rather Paul is talking about the moral will of God. The way that God wants his people to live.
5. The purpose of Paul’s petition is that believers might be utterly pleasing to the Lord Jesus. Although Believers are “in Christ” and therefore are justified and accepted before God – believers can live in a way that is either pleasing or not pleasing to God. We should be praying that believers might live lives that are fully pleasing to our God.
6. Paul sketches, in terms of four characteristics, what a life pleasing to the Lord looks like.
- Christians bear fruit in every good work.
- Christians grow in the knowledge of God.
- Christians are strengthened so as to display great endurance and patience.
- Christians joyfully give thanks to the Father.
Here are his questions for review and reflection.
- Granted that one aim in praying is that you might be utterly pleasing to the Lord Jesus, what concrete things in your own life should you be praying about?
- What praying do you do for believers you have never met? How can you improve in this area?
- What connections do joyful thanksgiving and faithful endurance have with prayer?
Yesterday at church we looked at the cure for the dreaded D.D. – disciples disease. We looked at how we can cure a hardened heart. We have doing a series on the gospel of Mark and we have been looking at the most important lesson that we will ever learn as disciples – the lesson of the loaves. The lesson of the loaves is the lesson that Jesus taught his disciples when they fed the five thousand. The lesson of the loaves is:
You must do what you cannot do with what you do not have for the rest of your life.
We have been learning that that’s what ministry is like – ministry is always lived out in the deep end of the swimming pool – the need is always great and the resources are always few. Ministry is always like feeding five thousand people with only a few loaves and a couple of fish. But what we have also been learning is that even though the need is great and the resources are few, it’s okay because we have Jesus. Even though – you must do what you cannot do with what you do not have – it’s okay – because Jesus says –
“I will do what I can do through you.”
If you take the very little that you have – your five loaves and a few fish and give it to Jesus. He will take it and multiply it and hand it back to you and enable you to do what he is calling you to do. Now he might not be literally calling you to feed five thousand people. That of course was a unique situation at a unique time. But he maybe calling you to be an usher who welcome people into church and make them feel loved and appreciated, or he maybe calling you to be a care for others in your church – to look out for people who are hurting and call him and encourage them. Or Or he maybe calling you to share in light, life and love in your workplace. It does matter what he is calling you to do – to do it in a Christlike consistent fashion that produces true spiritual fruit will always be beyond you and you will need his strength and enablement to do it.
However, last week we learned that the disciples instead of trusting in Jesus to be their sufficiency for life and ministry were only looking to themselves. We saw that the reason was because they had a hardened heart. They had the dreaded D.D. – disciples disease. We saw that even though Christ has given us a new heart through regeneration, our hearts are never neutral they can be softening in dependence on Christ and allegiance to Christ, or they can be becoming hardened towards him. And it is my belief that the reason that many churches and many Christians waste their lives is because of hardness of heart, because of disciples disease.
Last week we looked at some of the symptoms of disciples disease – we saw that a hardened heart darkens our understanding, deafens our ears, blinds our eyes and limits our hands. So how do you cure a hardened heart? How do you cure the disciples Disease? Well, in the teaching we looked at three things – the diagnose, the cure and the surgeon.
Before we can look at how to cure a hardened heart we need to understand exactly what a hardened heart is. We need to understand the nature of the disciples disease. We need a diagnose. Fortunately for us Jesus gave us the diagnose of a hardened heart in Mark 8 and verse 27. It reads,
“And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am? (Verse 28) And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” (Verse 29) And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.”
Now in saying that Jesus was the Christ, Peter was making a monumental statement. You see the word ‘Christ’ is not just Jesus’ last name. It is not like his parents were Mr. and Mrs. Christ. In Greek the word ‘Christ’ means anointed one. It referred to the Messiah – God’s King who would come and inaugurate a new covenant with his people and set up the kingdom of God. And in the first century after four hundred years of prophetic silence and because of the occupation of that Israel by the Romans – their was allot of Messianic expectation. People were desperately awaiting the Christ – the Messiah. They were desperately waiting for God’s anointed one to come and set up his kingdom. So when Peter says to Jesus, ‘you are the Christ’ – he’s saying – you’re it. You’re the real deal. You are the God’s anointed King. You are the one who will bring about the New Covenant and bring in the kingdom of God.
Then in v.31 we read:
And he (that’s Jesus) began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. And he said this plainly.
Jesus did not talk in parables – he explained it plainly so that their could be no mistaking what he was saying that Messiah would do. But how did the disciples respond? Well, in verse 32 we read,
And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.
Now Peter had said, “Your God’s King! You’re the Messiah!” But now he is rebuking him – what’s going on? Peter has disciples disease – he has a hardened heart – his heads knows, his hands do but his heart is hard.
So Jesus turns to Peter and says,
“Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
And by saying this Jesus points out the exact nature of disciples disease – a hardened heart. Disciples disease is a where we have our minds set not on the things of God, but on the things of man. Peter was following Jesus, but he was really following him for his own purpose and glory. He didn’t want a Messiah who would suffer and be rejected and killed, he wanted one who would kick out the Romans and demonstrate his power. He didn’t want a cross, he wanted prestige and power and his best life now.
Bill Lawrence in his book effective Pastoring writes,
“Here is the root of the disciples’ problem, and of ours as well. At times they came to right conclusions and did right actions, but they could not accomplish the supernatural things that serving Jesus demands Why was this? Because their hearts were hardened. It is not enough to hold accurate theology and do what is right. Unless the heart is softened and sensitive to depend on Christ, truth of doctrine and rightness of action will make little difference.”
What is disciples disease? It is a chronic condition of the heart where our minds are set on our own interests, rather than God’s. We are living for the kingdom of self in the power of self.
So I have a question for you – what is your mind set on? Serving yourself and your own interests – or serving God and his interests? You can even be in a ministry, like Peter but doing it for own self interests. Ask yourself this question – what’s my motivation in serving Jesus? Do I really serve for the glory of God, or am I doing it to build my own kingdom?
So what is the cure for disciples disease? Well, Jesus in the very next breath takes disciples disease head on. In v. 34 we read,
“And calling the crowd to him with his disciples he said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. “
Wow! What a massive call. There is only one cure for disciples disease and that is radical heart surgery. We need to die to ourselves, surrender our lives and follow Jesus wherever he is leading us. If it means suffering, rejection and death then that is what it takes.
So if the cure for disciples disease is radical heart surgery – who performs the operation? Well, we cannot perform the surgery on ourselves. The disciples could not perform the surgery on themselves. After hearing these words of Jesus we find that the disciples are as hardhearted as ever.
In Mark 9:14 – we see them powerless – unable to cast a demon out of a small boy. There hands are still limited. In Mark 9:30 we see Jesus predict his suffering and death a second time but they do not understand. Their ears are deaf. In Mark 10:35 we see James and John asking Jesus for positions of power and prestige. Their eyes are blind – they don’t realize that ministry is about serving people, not ruling them. And in Mark 14:26 we see Peter bragging about how great he is and how he would never desert Jesus. He has a darkened understanding. Limited hands, deaf ears, blind eyes and a darkened understanding the disciples are as hardhearted as they have ever been.
And in Mark 14-15 when Jesus goes to the cross there is not 15 crosses on the hill of Golgotha -Jesus, two thieves and his 12 disciples, there are only 3 – Jesus is crucified alone between two thieves. Instead of taking up their cross – they ran away in fear. Instead of losing their life for the gospel – they sought to preserve it. Instead of standing up for Jesus, they were ashamed of him.
So hearing about the cure is not good enough. You can’t perform the surgery on yourself. So who then is the surgeon? Well, at the end of Mark’s gospel we find that all the disciples both men and women have failed to take up their cross and follow Jesus. The gospel of Mark ends very abruptly but in the final chapter when the women come to anoint the body of Jesus and Angel says to them,
Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.
Jesus is going to restore his fallen disciples and get them back on the road of discipleship.
And we know from the gospel of John that Jesus did restore Peter and the other disciples. After the Crucifixion – where Peter had denied even knowing Jesus, Peter went back to fishing.
But one morning the resurrected Christ came to Peter and the other disciples and had breakfast with them. And Jesus asked Peter three times whether he loved him – the same number of times that Peter had denied him. And Jesus recommissioned Peter and restored him.
And Jesus wants to restore you and me. You may have been the biggest failure as a disciple. You may have had the greatest case of disciples disease – a hardened heart. And like the disciples you may have failed massively. But maybe that has been good for you – maybe that has been the way that the master surgeon Jesus has been able to operate on your hardened heart. You see we cannot operate on yourselves – the disciples couldn’t. But their failure at the cross forced them to come face to face with the hardness of their hearts and they were broken.
You see there is no way that Peter could get to Pentecost apart from going through the cross. And there is no way that you and I can experience the fullness of God’s Spirit in our lives apart from brokenness – apart from surgery on our self serving hearts .
And Jesus as the master surgeon allows sovereign circumstances and allows us to fail in our flesh so that we will be broken and come to realize that without him we can do nothing. So we will loosen the grip and give over control to him and will choose to follow him no matter what the cost and no matter where he leads us.
The question is whether you are going to run away from Christ and hide in shame and guilt, or are you going to run to him? Are you going to trust that his blood can truly cleanse you from all sin. You see the cross was the disciples biggest failure, but it was also to atone for that same failure.
And we all need to come to the cross and admit our hardness of heart – confess our agenda’s, surrender control and receive Christ’s cleansing.
Is there a hole in your holiness? You see if there is one thing that could be said about the modern church – it is that there is a hole in our holiness. We love to talk about grace and we love to celebrate grace and so we should. But does that grace actually teach our hearts to fear. Does that grace propel us and transform us into people who are actually and practically demonstrating holiness in our lives? Grace should be transforming us so that we, increasingly live lives of practical real holiness. Writer Kevin Deyoung in his book on holiness puts it this way:
“My fear is that as we rightly celebrate, and in some quarters rediscover, all that Christ has saved us from, we are giving little thought and making little effort concerning all that Christ has saved us to.”
And Kevin’s fear is my fear as well. My fear is that as we as a church community even though we may have rediscovered the beauty and greatness of Christ and his gospel of grace – my fear is that many of us might be giving little thought and exerting little effort to pursue that to which Christ is calling us to – holiness..
So let me ask you that question again, is there a hole in your holiness? Is holiness sadly absence from your daily life? I think that there might be three reasons why there is a hole in our holiness.
We don’t understand the nature of holiness!
The first reason there might be a hole in our holiness is that we don’t understand the nature of holiness. Now I want to ask you a question – can one Christian be more holy than another Christian? My sister was once teaching this class at her church and she asked the class this simple question – who here thinks they are as holy as me? And a few hands went up. She then said keep your hands if you think you as holy as the Pope. All the hands went down except for one. Then she said, what about Jesus – who here thinks that they are as holy as Jesus? All the hands went done. No-one thought that they were as holy as Jesus. Would your hand still be up? How would you answer that question?
Well, the problem with that question is that it is a trick question. You see the answer to that question is really Yes and No. Can one Christian be more holy than another Christian? On the one hand the answer is no – no Christian is more holy than any other Christian. There is level ground at the cross. You see when God called you to himself and you believed in Jesus you were brought into union with Jesus and his perfect righteousness was accredited to your account. And so you are standing before God in the holiness and righteousness of Christ. Theologians call this positional holiness. You are positionally holy before God. So in one sense you can’t get any less holy or any more holy than you are right now because you are clothed in Christ’s perfect holiness.
And I think the reason that there is a hole in many people’s holiness is that they may be ignorant of the new position they have in Christ. For some Christian’s have never understood the significance of being “in Christ.” Richard Scribbes, an English Puritan, who did allot of thinking about the Christian life wrote these words in his book, a bruised reed, he says:
“What a support to our faith is this, that God the Father, the party offended by our sins, is so well pleased with the work of redemption! And what a comfort is this, that, seeing God’s love rests on Christ, as well pleased in him, we may gather that he is as well pleased with us, if we be in Christ!”
You see many Christians I have found try to earn from God the favor that he has already given to them by grace. They sin and they feel so guilty and ashamed of their sin. But instead of running back to God in confession and repentance they actually run away from him. They try to silence their guilty consciences by making promising themselves that they will never sin again. And they set out to prove to God that they are really worthy of his love and acceptance. But because they are doing it in their own strength for their own glory – they end up sinning again which makes them feel more guilty and more ashamed. And so they make more promises to themselves about how they are really going to change this time and how this is going to be it. But they end up sinning again and if the cycle continues for any length of time they usually end up giving up and live in the darkness with their sin and shame hidden from sight.
Maybe you can relate to what I am saying? I certainly can. But the whole thing is destined to failure because it is built on a faulty premise that you can earn God’s love and acceptance by your efforts. I hate to tell this to you but you can’t. You never were and never will be worthy of God’s love and acceptance – his adoption of you as his child was a gift. A gift that you did not earn, nor did you deserve. The only thing that you and I deserved was his judgment and wrath.
You see the process of growing in holiness begins by understanding, resting in and celebrating your new position in Christ – your positional holiness. Do you know the ACTS paradigm when it comes to prayer? Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving and Supplication. It is a pretty good way of organizing your prayer life. However, I found that most times when I prayed this way I never got past confession. I felt so guilty and ashamed of sin that I would give up and run away from God. I found prayer a chore. And to be honest I viewed God as a capricious slave driver who I could never please – and the last thing I wanted to do was spent time with him as he went over and over and over my sin – pointing out all my faults. But this is because I had the wrong view of God and the wrong view of my position in Christ. And as I learnt about my position in Christ I decided to change the format of my prayer life. I still had a time of confession – but before my time of confession I first had a time when I celebrated and worshiped God for all he had done for me in Christ. I reminded myself of his complete forgiveness and acceptance in Christ. I reminded myself of my adoption as his Son. I reminded myself that my battle with sin would be over because of my future hope. And I found that that when I did this my heart was drawn to love God and my faith in his salvation was strengthen and instead of running away from him I ran to him. As Robert Murray McCheyne once said, “For everyone one look at your sin, you need to take ten looks to Christ.”
Are you running away from Christ? Maybe you are hiding in the brushes and God is whispering to you and saying where are you my child? You need to run back to him – he is not a capricious slave driver but a loving Father and because of your position in Christ he will accept you and cleanse you and forgive you.
However, holiness is not just positional, it is also practical. Can one Christian be more holy than another Christian? In one sense as we have already seen no, but in another sense, absolutely yes. One Christian may have be demonstrating more faith, more hope and more love in their daily lives. One Christian may be more obedient, more self-sacrificing, and producing more fruit of God’s spirit in their life. You see holiness is not just positional, but it is also practical. It begins by resting in our position in Christ, but it grows in our daily life as respond with obedience. And I am finding that while many Christians on the one hand are ignorant of their new position in Christ, many other Christians on the other hand are ignorant of the call and importance of practical holiness. Hebrews 12:14. reads, “Strive for peace with everyone and for holiness.” Holiness is something we are to strive for – the word strive means, “to make great efforts” or “fight rigorously for.” Does that describe your life? Are you making great efforts to be holy? Are you fighting rigorously for holiness?
Now the second half of the verse is very serious. It says, “strive for holiness without which, no one will see the Lord.” Remember, in this context the writer of Hebrews is not talking about positional holiness, no he is talking about practical holiness. And he is saying clearly that if we do not have practical holiness showing up in our lives then we will not see the LORD. You see the expectation of the New testament is that positional holiness, should result in practical holiness. People who are plucked from the fires of hell, should be on fire for Jesus – striving for, fighting for practical holiness in their lives. Have you become indifferent or complacent when it comes to practical holiness? Have you been lured in a complacency when it comes to sin?
You see their is something really subtle about the Christian life that we must understand. While God accepts you because you are in Christ, and you are his adopted child, that does not mean he turns a blind eye to the way that you live. He does not accept our sin and is not pleased when we live in disobedience. In the book of Revelation Jesus wrote to the church at Laodicea and told them that he had things against them. He told that they were out of fellowship with him and he was standing at the door of their lives and knocking. And Jesus may have something against you. He may not be pleased with the way you have been living. You may be out of fellowship with him.
You see when we do not pursue lives of practical holiness and when we walk in disobedience God because he loves will discipline us to get us back on track so that we will pursue holiness. The Westminster Confession of Faith put it like this – those fully and irrevocably justified, “may by their sins come under God’s fatherly displeasure and not have a sense of his presence with them until they humble themselves, confess their sins, ask for forgiveness, and renew their faith in repentance.” Does that sound like you? Well, the reason that you can come back to God is because of your position before him. He is ready and willing to receive you back into fellowship because of your position in Christ. So the first reason that many of us may have a hole in our holiness is because we do not understand the nature of holiness – we do not celebrate and rest in our positional holiness and do not see the importance of striving for practical holiness.
We think that practical holiness is a one time event, not an ongoing struggle!
The second reason why I believe there is a hole in many Christians holiness is because we think that practical holiness is a one time event, not an ongoing struggle!
Many of us believe that practical holiness is possible as long as you are completely surrendered to Jesus and in fact if you lived a life of complete surrender you would never sin again. I have heard this many times over the years from the lips of various preachers – if only Jesus were truly Lord of your life then your problem with sin would be over. If you just “let go and let God” – then you would naturally obey him and all your struggles in the Christian life would be over. So surrender yourself completely to Jesus – and all your problems with sin and obedience will be over. Have you heard that teaching?
The problem with this teaching – is that it sets up Christians for failure. After trying again and again to obtain the secret – full surrender of their lives to Jesus – eventually, they will give up. Some will give up going to church altogether, others come to church but think that “the victorious Christian life” is out of reach for them. Most end up thinking – I am not a super spiritual christian so you cannot expect much from me. Maybe that’s where you are today?
Now in saying all this – please don’t misunderstand me – I believe that their are times when Christ speaks to us through his Word and leads us back to himself and our response should be one of repentance and submission to him. There have been times in our church in the past twelve months when God’s Spirit has been speaking powerfully through his Word to our hearts and the appropriate response was to come back to him in surrender. So there are transfiguration experiences – when we see the glory of Jesus and respond.
Further, I believe that surrender to the Lordship of Jesus is important. It is who he is. Jesus Christ is the sovereign LORD of the universe. Aligning yourself with this reality is very important. Every Sunday as we enter the gathering of God’s people I believe that we should ask the Spirit to search our hearts and we should confess, repent and in faith return to Christ giving up our idols and acknowledging his lordship and goodness.
However, the problem with this full consecration view is that promotes holiness as a once for all experience. Whereas the Bible defines the Christian life as a “walk.” It defines our pursuit of holiness as something that is progressive. It will be one in which we will:
- Wrestle against Satan his forces – Eph 6:12.
- Have to disciple ourselves for the purpose of godliness – 1 Tim 4:7
- Endure hardness like a good soldier – 2 Tim 2:3
And we will have to die daily to ourselves, and daily choose to live by faith. And therefore it is something that is not out of reach of any Christian, but something that is expected of every Christ follower. Jesus said in Mark 8:38, “If anyone wants to follow me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me.” That is the normal Christian life. Not some cloud nine experience but daily dying to self, daily killing sin and daily putting on Christ.
Imagine what it would be like if you came home one day and you were going to teach your child how to ride a bike. And so you brought them everything they would need. You brought them a bike, protection gear – a helmet and some knee pads, training wheels and even were willing to come home early every day from work so you could teach them.
And you say to them – let’s go riding. But all you here back from them is excuses – it looks to hard – I don’t know if I can do it – I may not like it – it will take allot of effort – I need to wait until I am older and have the capacity. You would be disappointed right.
Well, the same is true with God. He has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of his Son. He has given us his Spirit to teach us and enable us. He has given us a new compelling hope. But we do need to get on the bike and ride. It may take time. It may take work. We may fall off. But the only way we will learn holiness is through daily practice.
So I wonder maybe there is a hole in your holiness because you are waiting until that moment of full consecration? Maybe you are waiting for the day a really spirit anointed speaker comes into town and through his ministry you are transported to another level. I hate to tell you this, but you will be waiting a long time. The only day you will be fully consecrated to Jesus is when you see him and he transforms you to be like him. Until that day you must pick up the weapons of our warfare and fight the good fight of faith. It will not be easy. Some days it will be very hard. There will be allot of failure. But press on to take hold of the goal of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Having been burnt by legalism, we reject any talk about standards.
The final reason why there maybe a hole in our holiness is because having been burnt by legalism many of us reject any talk about standards or commands.
Some of you may have grown up in legalistic churches, or have been impacted by legalistic people where the focus was on externals. And that really burnt you and I empathize – I really do. Christianity seemed like a straight jacket that sucked all the joy out of life and left you miserable.
Holiness was judged by your performance of certain external behaviors. And if you are like me who is a bit of a rebel by nature you always wanted to go against those behaviors. Wear your hair long, wear jeans to church, listen to David Meece – which was a big sin because he used a drum kit. And so it seemed like holiness made people bitter, upset and ugly.
Now you love Jesus and you are very thankful for his grace – so you haven’t given up on Christianity. But you are so afraid of becoming one of those ugly people – that now even talking about, or trying, or striving to keep some sort of standards repulses you.
However, the problem with this is what Jesus said in John 14 verse 15 – “if you love me, you will keep my commandments.” According to Jesus, commandment keeping is a way of expressing our love for him. When we take the imperatives of the new testament and seek diligently to obey them, we are demonstrating that we love him.
You see the problem with legalists is they follow this formula, “I obey, therefore I am saved.” My salvation in other words – my relationship with God – my right standing with God is based on my obedience. If I obey, then I am saved.
However, the gospel and the teaching of the New Testament is completely different. The gospel says, “I am saved, therefore I obey.” Jesus has graciously plucked me out of the fire, and therefore I obey him. I am positionally holy, so I pursue practical holiness. However, our problem is that we just say – “I am saved” and there is no therefore. There is no response of obedience. Whereas Jesus is saying – “If you love me, you will obey.” If you really appreciate the fullness of what I have done for you, you will seek to obey me.
And this obedience results in true holiness which is beautiful and life giving. One of the things that I try to do most days is pray the psalms back to God. And I came across this week Psalm 29:2 which says, “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness.” The NIV translations say in the beauty of holiness. The holiness of the LORD is beautiful. That is why we worship God is because of the beauty of his holiness.
Now the holiness of the LORD is about two things. First, it describes his transcend majesty. It describes the fact that he is the exalted God of the universe – that he is completely different – that he dwells in approachable light. He is majestic and truly awesome. But second, the holiness of the LORD describes the full weightiness of his character. He is good, wise, righteous, loving, merciful, faithful, kind and creative. He is beautiful. But you already know this if you are truly a Christian, because your eyes have been opened to see him and to taste that the Lord is good.
But maybe if you think that holiness is ugly then you need to take sometime mediating on the holiness of God. And a great place to start is with the most holy moment in all of history – the cross of Jesus.
Because at the cross we see God’s righteousness displayed as sin is being punished, and at the cross we see God’s justice displayed as God’s just wrath is satisfied, but we also see God’s mercy, grace, kindness and love being displayed as God himself takes the place for sinners. The cross is the most holy moment in human history and it is the moment beautiful moment in human history.
And if you have come to the cross personally, then that beautiful one who hung on that cross indwells you through the person of the Holy Spirit and you will be beautiful. That one who always obeyed the will of his Father, obeying him by even going to the cross – will seek to produce the same level of obedience in your life.
You see it is the beauty of the cross that lead us to Christ, and it beauty of cross shaped Christians – holy Christians that lead others to him by their obedience.
So let me ask is there a hole in your holiness? Maybe you have been seduced by trying to be cool – that will never work – by nature we are called to be different. Maybe you don’t think holiness is possible so you don’t even try. If you are truly a Christian then God has changed you and you can attain a measure of practical holiness in your daily life life. Maybe you have been burnt by legalism, but if you have come to Christ then he lives in you and saved you so you could obey him.
In our morning prayer meeting this week at the church we have been reading through John’s gospel. And as we have been looking at John’s portrait of Jesus it has occurred to me how amazing it must have to have been their and witnessed Christ’s incarnation. For he would have been a truly unique human being.
And in particular I was thinking about how unique Jesus was (and of course still is) in that he was free from what so often binds us. Most of us, if we are honest, are so bound by our horizontal relationships. We are bound by others opinions, approval and acceptance. I don’t know about for you, but when I come into a social situation I often feel so awkward and so self conscious wondering what others are thinking about me and whether they accept me. I spend so much of my energy wondering and worrying about the opinions of others.
But Jesus does not seem bound by horizontal relationships. He truly did not seem to care what people thought about him. All he seemed to care about was living for the praise and honor of his Father. And I think that this is the difference. Jesus was completely defined by his vertical relationship with his Father and so he was free in his horizontal relationships. He was free to with express grace and truth to others who so desperately needed it. He was free to truly love others – not so they would love him back or give him anything in return – but because it was the right thing to do. And he was also free to tell others the truth they so desperately needed to hear because he did not fear what they would think about him.
I pray that as we look at Jesus and look at his amazing character we would become like him. We would define ourselves vertically – as dearly loved sons and daughters of God through the work of Jesus and therefore be free to express grace and truth on the horizontal level to those around us.
I am telling you this is a great book. If you read only one chapter in the book, then it is this one. It is built off the passage – 1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:13. The main thesis of this chapter is that Paul’s prayer life comes out of his profound passion for people. Carson states,
“He (Paul) never descends to the level of the mere professional. Paul is a passionate man, deeply enmeshed in the lives of real people. That is why he can say elsewhere, “Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?” (2 Cor. 11: 28– 29). This is not someone intoxicated with ideas but unconcerned about people. Nor is it someone who is content to minister at a distance— through the books he has written, perhaps, or through younger emissaries. No, this man’s ministry is not designed first and foremost to produce ideas, books, or junior colleagues, but to serve the people of God; and to this he is passionately committed. And that passion shapes the prayers he utters on their behalf.”
As a pastor I have to ask myself do I have this same passion for my people. Does my prayer life come out of a passion to seek the good of other Christians – desiring that they be built up in Christ, or have I descended to the level of a mere professional. Listen to this quote:
“As someone who has taught seminary students for more than fifteen years, I worry about the rising number of seminarians who, when asked where and how they think they might best serve, respond with something like this: “Well, I think I would like to teach somewhere. Every time I have taught, people have told me I have done a pretty good job. I get a tremendous sense of fulfillment out of teaching the Bible. I think I could be satisfied teaching Scripture.” How pathetic. I know pagans who find satisfaction and fulfillment by teaching nuclear physics.
In any Christian view of life, self-fulfillment must never be permitted to become the controlling issue. The issue is service, the service of real people. The question is, How can I be most useful?, not, How can I feel most useful? The goal is, How can I best glorify God by serving his people?, not, How can I feel most comfortable and appreciated while engaging in some acceptable form of Christian ministry? The assumption is, How shall the Christian service to which God calls me be enhanced by my daily death, by my principled commitment to take up my cross daily and die?, not, How shall the form of service I am considering enhance my career? This is not to deny that Christians may derive joy from work honestly offered to God, whether that work is vocational ministry or research into the properties of quarks. But it is one thing to find joy in the work to which we have been called, and another to make joy the goal of life, the fundamental criterion that controls our choices.
As Carson states Paul’s prayer life is a reflection of true Christianity. He continues,
“Jesus came to us, choosing to be with us— and this for our good. He chose the path of self-denial, dying in excruciating shame and degradation so that others might live. He calls us to serve the same way, not by lording it over others but by open-eyed death to self-interest, for the good of others. This stance is not a mask to be donned as a disguise at religious conventions, but the hallmark of Christian living. Paul understood the point and lived it out. His prayers for believers are nothing more than an extension of the same love that he bore them.”
Carson then notes four things that Paul prays for when he prays for people
- Paul prays with rich thankfulness for the people of God (3: 9). As noted earlier in the book when he prays for other Christians he thanks God for them. However, Carson also notes that Paul also tells believers that he thanks God for them. He wonders how different our churches would be if we were to tell others how grateful we are to God for them. For example, how would it make Bob feel if we were to tell him that we thank God for his service to the Lord every time he does the ushering at church. If we were to tell him how we love the way he greets the elderly, and the young and makes newcomers feel right at home.
- Paul prays that he might be able to strengthen these believers (3: 10– 11). Paul’s radical concern for people is expressed in petitions asking God to open the way for him to minister to them. Carson wonders what our churches would be like if we had a radical passion for people like.
- Paul prays that there might be an overflow of love among these believers (3: 12). Carson notes how in the Greco-Roman world people would only express love for others and do favors for others if it would advance their place in society. And Paul is pleading that the church be different. That the church be a place where there would be a deep love among every member.
- Paul prays that these believers will be so strengthened in heart that they will be blameless and holy when the end comes (3: 13). Paul prays that the believers would be pursuing holiness in their lives.
What a chapter, well worth the read.
Yesterday at Church we continued our teaching series – “Don’t waste your life” a series on discipleship and service through the gospel of Mark. And for the past two weeks we have been looking at the lesson of the loaves found in Mark 6:30-44. The lesson of the loaves was first taught to me by Bill Lawrence in my first semester of Seminary over ten years ago now.
Bill’s point was that the feeding of the five thousand was actually an object lesson for his disciples. Jesus was teaching his disciples the most important lesson that they would need for life and ministry. He was teaching them that the God sized assignments that Jesus calls us to perform (the feeding of the five thousand) are done through the power and resources that Jesus supplies. What we need to do is turn to him and in dependent faith give him our five loaves and two fish trusting him that he can multiply it to feed the crowd.
After the feeding of the five Jesus sends the disciples out on the boat (v,45) and into a storm. The disciples spent all night straining at the oars and are making no headway against the strong wind. Jesus did this to test them – to see if they had learned the lesson of the loaves. He then came to them walking on the water and intended to pass by them. They were given a difficult assignment – go to the other side of the lake – and they were going no-where – would they call out to him? Would they turn to him and depend on him to help them in the storm? No instead of calling out to him – they were terrified and thought he was a ghost. And when he climbed into the boat with them and the wind and the waves died down – they were astonished. They could not believe what had just happened. They were astonished that Jesus had authority over the wind and the waves.
And Mark tells us the reason they were astonished in v. 52 of Mark 6 – he says they did not understand about the loaves. The disciples had not understood what Jesus was trying to teach. But Mark also says something else – he says that there hearts were hardened. Imagine that the disciples had hardened hearts. The ones who had left everything to follow Jesus had hardened hearts. The ones who had been with him and seen his miraculous power first hand had hardened hearts just like the Pharisees (Mark 3:5).
You see even though believers have been given a new heart in regeneration. Even though when we become a Christian our hearts are changed – our heart of stone is replaced with a heart of flesh – our hearts are not neutral. They are either becoming softer day by day as we grow in grace and godliness and respond to God, or they can – even as believers become hardened to God through sin and unbelief.
So the question is do you have a hardened heart? Maybe the reason why you like the disciples don’t turn to Christ in the midst of the storm is because you have a hardened heart. Well, how do you know if you have a hardened heart? Well, I don’t think we can trust our hearts – or even search our hearts on our own. Our hearts are still being redeemed and therefore still bear the marks of fall so they can deceive us. No, we need to look into the perfect mirror of God’s word and see what it says about a hardened heart.
Fortunately in Mark’s gospel in chapters 6-8 Mark unpacks the theme of hardness of heart, He does it by arranging the narrative material. Mark gives us four miracles in chapter 7-8 which each point to a symptom of a hardened heart.
Symptom #1 – A confused understanding – Mark 7:24-30
Jesus heals the daughter of a Syrophoenician Woman who comes to him in persistent faith. Even though the woman is a Gentile and has only heard about Jesus, she demonstrates a faith in Jesus far beyond her knowledge. In contrast, the disciples have allot of knowledge about Jesus but their faith falls far short of their knowledge. So a hard heart demonstrates itself in a confused understanding. We may know allot about Jesus, but we really don’t understand what it means to depend on Jesus.
Symptom #2 – Deaf Ears – Mark 7:31-37
Jesus heals a deaf man with a speech impediment and his ears are open and he begins to speak plainly. In contrast, the disciples have deaf ears and there tongues are bound. A hard heart demonstrates itself in deaf ears unable to hear what Jesus is saying to us.
Symptom #3 – Limited hands – Mark 8:1-10
Jesus then goes on to feed the four thousand – it is a repeat miracle. But here Jesus actually invites the disciples to act – he says to them “I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry they will collapse on the way, because some of them have come a long distance.” What he is really saying to the disciples is what do you think we should do boys? I believe that he was expecting them to say – (if they had learnt the lesson of the loaves) I know what we should do – let’s feed them. But the disciples respond again by saying that their is no way they can feed them because they cannot get enough bread in such a remote place. The disciples are still defining their life and their ministry in terms of their resources, not his. You see hardness of heart limits our hands because we only look to ourselves and our own resources – instead of seeing that in Christ we have everything we need for life and godliness. So we miss out on ministering to the multitudes!
However, Jesus is really gracious and teaches them the lesson of the loaves again.
Symptom #4 – Blind eyes
Jesus in 8:22 then heals a man who is blind. But he does it in two stages – first he touches his eyes with spit and the man’s eyes are partially opened and he see people walking around like trees, then he puts his hands on his eyes again and they are fully opened. What is the significance of this two part miracle – well, the disciples only have partial sight. Their eyes are open but they are not seeing things clearly. They do not understand fully Jesus and his mission. They see the crowds only as trees. They do not see as Jesus sees – they do not have compassion on people – they do not see them as sheep without a shepherd. Hardness of heart will always effect our vision in ministry. When we lose our compassion and love for people it is a sure sign that our hearts are hard.
So there are the symptoms of a hardened heart – a confused understanding, deaf ears, limited hands and blind eyes. Now you might question whether Mark intended this when writing his gospel – but right in the middle of this section we see this theme of hardness of heart reach a climax.
In Mark 8 and verse 14 the disciples and Jesus get into a boat (v.14) but the disciples have forgot to bring bread except for one loaf. Now this should not be a problem – but after a warning by Jesus about the hardness of their hearts they start discussing the fact that they have no bread. They have Jesus the divine Son of God who has feed five thousand and four thousand with a few loaves and they are worried that they will not have enough to eat. Jesus has had enough and he turns to them and rebukes them saying:
JESUS: “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? (A CONFUSED UNDERSTANDING)
Are you hearts hardened? (YES – this has been the theme)
Do you have eyes but fail to see, (BLIND EYES)
and ears but fail to hear? (DEAFENED EARS)
And don’t you remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfulls of pieces did you pick up?
JESUS: And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?
JESUS: Do you still not understand?”
(NO THEY HAVE LIMITED HANDS THAT DO NOT DEPEND ON JESUS – THEY DO NOT UNDERSTAND THE LESSON OF THE LOAVES)
We see all the things that are outlined in the miracles – a confused understanding, blind eyes, deaf ears, and limited hands. The reality is is that the disciples did not understand. They had the divine Son of God sitting in their boat, but they were still worried about the fact they had only one loaf of bread. However, do you understand how much you have in Christ – or are you still worried about how little you have? You see the fact is if you are a Christian then you have the divine Son of God indwelling you by the person of the Holy Spirit. But maybe you do not understand this because you have a hardened heart.
- How’s your understanding? Does your faith equal your knowledge? Or is your faith far short of your knowledge?
- Are you hearing the voice of God when you read his word?
- Do you see people as Jesus does? Do you have compassion on people or see they only as trees?
- And do you depend on him or look to your own resources for life and ministry?
If you answered ‘yes’ then maybe your heart is hardened. Now of course, our sanctification as believers is a progressive journey – our hearts will never be perfect this side of eternity. But remember what I said at the beginning our hearts are not static, we are either softening to God and growing in knowledge and dependence on him, or we can be hardening our hearts to his voice. After next weeks sermon I will post on how do deal with a hardened heart. It takes radical surgery. But for this week – spend some time with Jesus and his word and ask yourself – do I have a harden heart?
At our church at the moment we are in a month of concentrated praying. So I suggested on facebook to some of the church that they join me in reading the book by D.A. Carson, “A call for spiritual reformation.” It certainly has been an amazing read. I would recommend it to anyone. I just read through chapter four entitled, “praying for others.” In this chapter Carson reminds us that the church is all about people. It is not a building, service, a program but the church by definition is people. He then lists all the prayers of Paul in the New Testament to show how Paul prayed for others. He states,
“If we follow Paul’s example, then, we will never overlook the monumental importance of praying for others. Prayer will never descend to the level where it is nothing more than a retreat house in which we find strength for ourselves, whether through the celebration of praise or through a mystic communion with God or through the relief of casting our cares upon the Almighty. Prayer may embrace all of these elements, and more; but if we learn to pray with Paul, we will learn to pray for others. We will see it is part of our job to approach God with thanksgiving for others and with intercessions for others. In short, our praying will be shaped by our profound desire to seek what is best for the people of God.”
He then says that when we pray for others we must remember two things. First, we must always submit to God’s definition of what is best. That means it is vitally important for us to listen to the prayers of Scripture, for how else shall we know what God judges to be best for us? Just as Scripture must reform our beliefs about God, our dealings with others, our fundamental values, so too must it shape our praying.
Then second he reminds us that praying for others demands that we examine our own hearts. Listen to this quote;
“How can we effectively pray for others if we nurse resentments against them? The hindrance is more than psychological, as if the principal problem were the sheer difficulty of bringing ourselves to intercede for those toward whom we feel bitter. That is a real barrier, of course: how often have you prayed for anyone whom you resent? But there is a deeper barrier. God himself declares that unconfessed sin will cut us off from communication with him, from his powerful answers.”
He then says this – “If you are serious about reforming your prayer life, you must begin with your heart. Unconfessed sin, nurtured sin, will always be a barrier between God and those he has made in his image.” I thought about this obviously in a personal context, but as it is Saturday I also thought about it, in light of the fact that tomorrow is Sunday. How effective will our public worship together be, if we have unconfessed sin in our heart? Maybe tomorrow – I am going to get our church to spend some quiet time asking God to search our consciences – otherwise our worship and praise might all be for naught.
Often I am asked by people this question – “Is masturbation a sin?” You see Christians are very clear on the fact that sex before marriage is a sin and sex with someone other than your marriage partner is a sin, but what about masturbation – is it a sin?
Now you might say – why even address this question? To which I would say – you know why? Most of us – especially guys have struggled/are presently struggling with sexual purity and especially masturbation. Many of the guys in my church that I am ministering too struggle with sexual temptation daily and so clarity is needed on this important issue.
When I was back in seminary a pastor at the church that I was attending told a group of guys that he thought that masturbation was not a sin. He said that it could be a sin if you looked at pornography, but if you just went into a toilet and relieved yourself quietly like you were going to the toilet then it wasn’t a sin. That was his opinion. When I was younger another guy told me that it was okay to masturbate and think about girls naked, as long as you did not put faces to their bodies in your mind.
As I have thought about it and sought to fight the fight for sexual purity in my own life I have come to quite the opposite conclusion. I actually do believe that masturbation is a sin for the following reasons:
- While you will not find the word ‘masturbation’ in a concordance, you do find that the Scriptures call for a radical standard of purity. Paul in Colossians 3 says that as Christians we should put to death – “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Col 3:5). The words ‘sexual immorality’ and ‘impurity’ describe any form of sexual conduct outside of God’s ordained standard. And Paul says that there is only one thing we should do with those desires/practices – kill them. God created sexuality to be a beautiful expression of self giving love within marriage. When I masturbate I do it in isolation and I am completely focused on myself. My own pleasure and fulfillment. Maybe I might have a sensitive conscience – but when I read statements like “there should not even be a hint of sexual immorality named among you” (Eph 5:3) – I cannot see how that does not apply to masturbation.
- In order to masturbate you break other very clear commands of the Jesus. I don’t know what it is like for girls, but for guys in order to masturbate you need stimulation – either some external source (pornography) or some mental fantasy. And Jesus said very clearly – “you have heard that it was said ‘you shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5:27-28). In seems very clear to me that in order to masturbate you have to commit mental adultery in your heart.
- Many people think it’s okay because they think it will keep them from greater sexual sin, but I think that they are being deceived. I think the reason that many Christians masturbate is because they think that if they allow themselves to masturbate then that will keep them from sinning in greater ways – like looking at porn, or sleeping with their girlfriend or boyfriend. However, this is a misunderstanding of what sin is and the way sin works. Sin is not just outward actions, but inward intentions of the heart. In fact, Jesus says that our outward actions proceed from our hearts (Mark 7:20-23). So I would ask a question, why do you desire to masturbate? What is on your heart when you masturbate? I find it very hard to believe that you could say with a clean conscience – “I masturbate to the glory of God.” Typically, I think we masturbate because we are wanting to fulfill our own selfish desires – “we have needs and we want them met.” Is this attitude not sin? Now you might say, Timon are you suggesting that it is wrong to have sexual desires? Of course I am not suggesting that. God created us as sexual beings. Our sexuality is a beautiful gift from our creator. But our desire for intimacy and sexual fulfillment should be met as we give ourselves to our marriage partners seeking to meet their sexual desires. A marriage is beautiful when as Paul says, “the husband does not see their body as belonging to their own, but their wife. And a wife does not see her body as her own, but her husbands” (1 Cor 7:4). Sexual love is beautiful when the husbands and wives give themselves sacrificially to each other for the other partners sexual fulfillment and gratification. In other words, when their hearts are set on loving each other. I believe that when you masturbate, the only thing that is in your heart is selfishness. Now you might say, I am single and I have strong sexual desires? Well Paul would say to, “because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband” (1 Cor 7:2). Now you might say, “I am trying to find a husband or a wife, come on Timon aren’t you being a bit rough?” I understand how you feel, it is difficult nowadays to find a godly husband or wife. But Christ is faithful, take your desires to Christ and ask him to help you. Ask the Holy Spirit to give you the ability to control your desires (Gal 5:16; 23). Let me tell from a married man’s perspective – just because you are married does not mean that you have access to sex anytime you want or desire. Even as a married person you will struggle with purity. And you will need the Spirit’s empowering just as much as when you were single.
- And finally I believe that masturbation leads to further sexual enslavement. James tells us that we sin because we are tempted and lured away by our lusts (James 1:14-15). And if we give in to temptation it will give birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. Typically I have found in my own life and in the lives of the men I have journeyed with that when we masturbate it does not just stop there. Because I am married I might say that I masturbate to thoughts about my wife (which is not wrong, right – to have sexual thoughts about your wife or husband) but unfortunately it does not stop there – sin is never satisfied – if I feed lust it will bring forth sin and sin will bring forth death. What I am saying is that we are never static in our fight with our sin, sin is either killing us, or we are putting it to death by the Spirit (Rom 8:13). I believe the one of the major reasons that the western church is a powerless church is because of enslavement to sexual sin.
Anyways, this post was not to put anyone under bondage, but rather to speak the truth in love so that you can find freedom. And there is glorious freedom in the Son of God. He can free you from the prison of lust and bring you into the wide open spaces of purity.
One of the sins that I never thought I would struggle with was the sin of jealously. I had never really struggled with the green monster. Pride maybe, but not Jealously. However, as I have progressed and grown in ministry I have found myself struggling with jealously. Jealously at how God seemingly is blessing other pastor’s churches and even jealously at how God is using other people to minister powerfully within my own church. How sinful is my heart!
And just this morning as I was praying I was reading John’s gospel. And in John 3:22-26 John the Baptist’s disciples come to him and say to him that the one to whom he bore witness (Jesus) is baptizing and all are going to him (now it was not really Jesus who was baptizing but rather his disciples). However, instead of getting upset, becoming frustrated and being filled with envy, John is filled with joy.
What an example? What did John have that I don’t have that will deliver my heart from Jealously?
I think that the difference between John and me, is that He understood that “A person cannot receive one thing unless it is given to him from heaven” (v. 27). We tend to think that the scope and effectiveness of our ministry is a result of our work. We live in a very pragmatic world – where we judge ourselves and our worth in comparison to others. We often build our whole identity upon our works. We build our whole sense of self upon our ministry accomplishments. If our ministry is growing and being effective then we think we are somebody and are really doing something worthwhile. We often worship the idol of our own accomplishments.
And so when we see others accomplishing – our hearts are filled with Jealously. They are getting the praise we so desperately desire. But it is really stupid. God is the one who hands out the assignments and God is the one who grows his church. He is the one who produces the fruit. If their is any praise to be handed out it should go to him. Our responsibility like John is to be faithful to God and fulfill the assignment that he has given us.
John didn’t need to prove himself. He didn’t need to start to compete with Jesus for who would win the most disciples of the year award. In fact, he seems content to see his ministry completely decrease, so that Christ’s could increase. And I think that is because John understood who he was and what God was calling him to do. His assignment was to point people to the Messiah. Now that the Messiah had come and people were following him and being baptized he was overjoyed. He was free from the idol of ministry performance and accomplishments.
This is the only way to be free from the prison of ministry Jealously. It is to find our identity not in ‘ministry success’ but in Christ and to recognize that the breadth and effectiveness of our ministry comes from heaven. We should then set about being faithful to that calling – keeping our eyes fixed on him, not on ourselves and certainly not on others.
For one day we will all transition out of our current ministry (you don’t live forever). Just like John’s ministry was transitioning from him to Jesus. And when that time comes we will need to say to the people around us – it’s okay they (whoever God has to take over) must increase, and I must decrease.
Here is the third installment of Carson’s call to Spiritual Reformation. This was a great chapter – for it answers the question what do we pray for other Christians. And Carson gives us two answers:
- We should pray that God might count Christians worthy of their calling (2 Thess 1:11a). Paul uses the language of calling to describe salvation. As Christians we have been given the unbelievable invitation to come into relationship with God, where we have become his blood bought sons and daughters. And so we should pray that God would give other Christians the grace to be able to live lives worthy of this calling as forgiven Christian of God (Eph 4:1). Note this quote from Carson, “By God’s free grace we have been forgiven; by his free grace we have been made “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8: 17). By his free grace we have been justified, we have been given the Spirit, we have tasted eternal life. But Paul wants us to be worthy of this calling. Certainly none of us was worthy when we received it. Now, however, Paul wants us to become what we were not, and he prays to that end. He prays that Christians might become worthy of all that it means to be a Christian, of all that it means to be a child of the living God, of all that it means to be worthy of the love that brought Jesus to the cross. …But judging by this example of Paul’s praying, it should already be clear that our chief concern in petition must not be that we might become successful, wealthy, popular, healthy, brilliant, triumphant, happy, or beautiful. Still less does Paul encourage us to pray that all our problems will disappear. Paul’s prayer is constrained by the framework he brings to it: he prays for more signs of the grace for which he has already thanked God, and he prays with eternity’s values in view.”
- Paul prays that God by his power might bring to fruition each Christian’s good, faith-prompted purposes. “With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that . . . by his power [God] may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith” (v. 11b). God prompts Christians to serve him and we should pray for the effectiveness of those faith prompted actions.
Carson then states what the goal of our prayer should be:
- We should seek the glorification of the Lord Jesus. (2 Thess 1:12) – “We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you.” All our prayers should be that Jesus might be glorified in a group of believers. Not just so they might have successful, happy, or healthy.
- Paul seeks the glorification of believers. The goal of our praying should be that believers will become changed from one degree of glory to another degree of glory.
So in essence:
The Goal of our praying – that Jesus might be glorified and that believers might look Jesus.
The how of our praying – that believers might mature in their faith (live out their calling) and be effective (to glorify Jesus) in their faith prompted service.
Application: Are you praying this way for others, or just for their physical material needs?
Prayer is one of the important practices of a Christian and also one of the hardest for a Christian to master. In our church we are beginning 30 days of prayer for our EPIC give month. To help grow and equip myself in prayer I am reading through “A Call to spiritual reformation,” a great book on prayer by D.A. Carson, with a number of people in our church. Here is my summary of the first chapter.
1. Much praying is not done because we do not plan to pray. “What we actually do reflects our highest priorities. That means we can proclaim our commitment to prayer until the cows come home, but unless we actually pray, our actions disown our words.”
2.Adopt practical ways to impede mental drift. It is so easy to get off track when praying so vocalize your prayers, or write them out, or pray through Scripture.
3.At various periods in your life, develop, if possible a prayer partner relationship. We can learn how to pray by praying with others.
4. Choose models – but choose them well. Choose someone who knows how to pray and learn from them. But be careful you do not start to sound like them.
5. Develop a system for your prayer lists.
6. Mingle praise, confession, and intercession; but when you intercede, try to tie as many requests as possible to Scripture. This keeps your prayer biblical and God glorifying.
7. If you are in any form of spiritual leadership, work at your public prayers. When praying in public you are not only speaking to God, but praying so that others can be edified.
8. Pray until you pray. Even though he was praying in line with God’s promises, Elijah prayed for rain seven times before the first cloud appeared in the heavens. Christians should pray long enough and honestly enough, at a single session, to get past the feeling of formalism and unreality that attends not a little praying.
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I am reading through D.A. Carson’s “A Call to Spiritual Reformation.” I have just read through the second chapter of the book and the main theme of the chapter is thanksgiving. He reminds us to do is that before we pray for others we should give thanks to God. But not just give thanks for the ‘common grace’ we receive – like food, clothing and general provision, but like the Apostle Paul does in 2 Thessalonians 1:3-4 we should thank God for his grace expressed in the lives of others – we should thank God for the faith, hope and love we see in other Christians. And that really made me think – how often am I on the look out for faith, hope and love in other believers? And do I send time thanking God for it? Maybe today be on the lookout for faith, hope and love in others.
Understanding the Church
Why does the Church exists? For some people they would say that the Church exists for evangelism. That the only reason that we are still on earth is to evangelize the world. However, while I believe that this is an important priority of the Church I do not believe it is the most central purpose of the Church. Others, would say that the central purpose of the church is to edify believers. That the church is about building up believers. Others, still would say that the purpose of the Church is both – evangelism of unbelievers and edification of believers. However, I believe that while these might be the priorities of the Church – their is a larger purpose of the church that sustains it. A larger purpose of the church that is important to keep in view.
In my understanding it was founded by Christ to bring honor/glory to God. In other words, the great purpose of the Church is worship. It is to proclaim with all of life the excellent greatness of God. This great purpose finds expression in mission. For if God is the most excellent person and having a relationship with him is the most satisfying, then the Church should attempt to bring every person to him. As John Piper states, “Mission exists because worship does not.”
Further, if God is the most excellent person and having a relationship with him the most satisfying then we should teach other about him and grow our faith in him. So every church should be about evangelism and edification because it is seeking to magnify his greatness. Without this central purpose in place our motivation and passion for evangelism and edification will grow cold.
I have been reading a book by JD Greear called “Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary” and in his chapter entitled, “God is better” he puts forward an idolatry test. I thought it was really insightful.
The “Idolatry-Detector” Test
- What one thing do you most hope is in your future?
- What is the one thing you most worry about losing?
- If you could change one thing about yourself right now, what would it be?
- What thing have you sacrificed most for?
- Who is there in your life that you feel like you can’t forgive and why? “Many times our inability to forgive is connected to the fact that someone took away from us something we feel like we can’t be happy without.”
- When do you feel the most significant?
- What triggers depression in you?
- Where do you turn from comfort when things are not going well?
It is reported that Robert Murray McCheyne once said, “For every one look at self, you need to take ten looks at Christ.” I think what he was trying to say is that often we can become very weighted down with self introspection. Often times what keeps us from spending time with God is our guilt and shame. We can live under a wet blanket of condemnation.
Now of course you must be very careful. Because sometimes the reason that we feel distant from God is because we are. WE ARE NOT WALKING IN THE LIGHT! John tells us that “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.” (1 Jn 1:6)
So there is this aspect of our relationship with God were we must stop and ask ourselves:
Am I walking in the light?
Am I justifying sin?
Am I being obedient to the voice of the Spirit or am I hardening my heart to his voice?
Have I been deceived by sin, and am I lying to myself?
Have I grieved God’s Spirit?
However, once we have asked ourselves these questions and done business with God (repented), I believe that we can claim that we are walking “in the light, as he is in the light,” and we have fellowship with others and “the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 Jn 1:6-7)
We can claim his grace. We can in faith believe that our guilty past has been forgiven (Eph 1:7). We can claim that the stain of sin upon our soul has been washed away. What am amazing thing to claim!
Now what makes this difficult is that it takes faith – it takes walking not by how you feel, or by what you see, but by absolute belief in the promises of God and the gospel.
And I am certain that one of the devices of the enemy among Christians is to weight them down with condemnation. As I often say, (and it does not originate with me – but I took from Charles Price) is that condemnation is different from conviction. When the Spirit convicts us he points out specific sins always for the purpose of repentance and to move on in our sanctification. When the devil accuses it is always general with the purpose of weighing us down with condemnation.
I think this why McCheyne said, “For every one look at your self, take ten looks to Jesus.” Because we must constantly remind ourselves of God’s grace. And be drawn closer to him by God’s grace….
Improving your conversation with God part 2 – Examining your heart attitude
As I said in my previous post I have a confession to make – prayer has not been easy for me. I failed many times to maintain a consistent prayer life. As I said in my previous post if you look on my shelves in my study at home you will find a consistent theme of failure. I have a shelf full of half completed prayer diaries…Maybe you are the same. And so I decided to have a look at my prayer life – why was I failing so consistently – why did the cycle repeat itself so often?
And I think the place to start is to examine your heart attitude. In proverbs 4:23 it says, “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” In other words what the writer is saying is that all of life flows from our hearts. If something is wrong we must examine first what is going on in that inner place of our lives.
So what was going on in my heart? What was my motivation to pray? Why did I start out so strong but could never maintain it? And as I have reflected I think it is because I had the wrong attitude when it came to prayer. I approached prayer in two ways:
1) As something for me to do that would identify me as mature and godly. If I did my quiet time everyday then that would identify me as godly, as “full on for Jesus.” Because I wanted others to look up to me as Godly and mature, I pursued prayer. If I was a praying Christian then others would see me in that light. That is why when I was going well, I congratulated myself, “Well done, Timon. You are just like Luther, Wesley or Paul.” But when I did not do my quiet time I feel so bad, like the worst sinner in the world.
2) I also saw it as a way to manipulate God. If I prayed consistently then God would hear my prayers and do what I wanted him to do…Because I was in ministry – first as a volunteer in the youth ministry and then as a pastor, prayer was a means to an end. I need to pray so I can get the blessing of God, so I can get God to do for me what I want him to do – which is to make me successful in ministry.
You see behind both of these approaches was the heart attitude of pride. Now I am not saying that that was completely my heart attitude. I also believe that their was some genuine part of me that had been touched by God’s grace and wanted to respond to him. However, on the whole my approach was pride. And this heart attitude manifested itself in a number of ways:
1) A focus on the form of prayer. I focused allot on the form of my prayer. I read books on prayer trying to find the secret. The secret form (the ACTS etc…) that would unlock prayer for me. That is why I have to reboot my prayer life all the time, because I thought the problem was with my outward form.
2) I would get angry when my wife or my children interrupted me while praying. When they would come in while I was trying to cultivate godly silence I would lash out at them and then go back to my godly quiet tones.
3) I would get very depressed and angry with myself because I could not sustain my prayer life.
You see all of these fruits represent a root of pride. And is it any wonder that my prayer life fell apart. If the one (God) with whom I am trying to have a conversation with says, “I resist the proud” (1 Peter 5″5) then is it any wonder that my prayer life became dry, boring and lifeless. Is it any wonder that I was focused on outward form, because there was no inward substance.
You see when it comes down to it, all prayer really is – is talking with God. It is speaking openly and honestly with the God of the universe. But if we are motivated by pride we will turn prayer into a magical formula or an arm twisting session – and the God of the universe is not into playing silly games like that. So next Wednesday we are going to look at drawing close by grace….
Ask yourself…what is my heart motivation for drawing close to God. Is it pride? Or maybe something else? What is your motivation?
I have a sneaking suspicion (well not really so much a sneaking suspicion – I guess I know it for certain) that most Christians when it comes to prayer feel guilty! We feel guilty because we know that prayer is like oxygen. It is not a luxury, it is a necessity. We know that it is absolutely essential for Christian vitality and life.
Further, we have all probably had times when we have been disciplined to pray every day and during that period it made a huge difference in our lives. We felt closer to God and could honestly see the difference that prayer was making. However, if you are like me you go through down periods. Periods when praying is difficult. Periods when prayer is pushed to the margins of your life. Periods when it is so difficult to talk to God.
So I guess I have a confession to make. I am not that good at prayer…but do you know what? I do not think I am alone. I am think that most of us struggle.
If you were to come to my study at my home where I am writing this post you would see a shelve, and on that shelve is prayer diary, after prayer diary, after prayer diary. And as I have looked at that shelf in the past I couldn’t help but feel guilty. Because I remember that each one of those prayer diaries represented a time when I was going ‘to get my act together.’ I remembered that with each one of those prayer diaries I decided that this was going to be it. I was going to be disciplined. I was going to be a mighty prayer warrior the likes of which the world had never seen.
But inevitably I went through the same cycle. I would start with great enthusiasm. I would be disciplined for sometime. It would be great! I would slap myself on the back and in prayer start comparing myself to the likes of “Luther, Wesley and praying Hyde.” However, eventually I would miss a few days. I would forget to pray. Life would get in the way. My child would be sick and get up at 6.30 (they were supposed to be up at 7.00) and interrupt my silent moment of communion with God (how inconsiderate – can’t they see that their daddy is praying here!!!) I would fall off the horse and lose momentum. Then I would go days and sometimes weeks without intentionally praying. I mean I would pray at church or in corporate settings, but my own personal relationship with God would be non-existent.
I would then feel so guilty…I mean really guilty. So I would start all over again. I would look to reboot my prayer life. New prayer journal. New prayer system. New enthusiasm. New everything – however same result…the inevitable cycle continued. Can you relate to what I am saying?
So I decided that it was time to have a look at what was going wrong… And that is what these blog posts are going to be over the next few weeks – it is my pilgrimage in prayer. I invite you to join me.
As you have probably noticed I have not updated my blog for sometime. However, I have now update my blog and plan to write posts every Wednesday and Friday… On Friday I am going to look at “my heart attitude towards prayer – what was I seeking?”
So what is your mind usually set upon? You see I am responsible for what I allow my mind to dwell upon. Paul in his letters says some interesting things about my mind:
1) He says that I have the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16). According to Paul already in regeneration God has placed within me a new mind, and a new heart for him. The scales have fallen from my eyes and I now see the glory in the face of Christ Jesus (2 Cor 4:6). My mind which was hostile to God and hardened to the reality of God has been changed. Therefore,
2) He says that my mind needs to be renewed (Rom 12:1-2). This is why it is so important to get into God’s word. God’s word cleanses my mind and helps change my perspective and gives me strength. Just recently I have downloaded an app from the istore on my ipad and it is called fighter verses. It is a memory verse program that helps you learn 1 memory verse a week. Pretty easy right. It is so good. After going through the memory verses just for 10 minutes I feel so much stronger spiritually.
Hope that helps as we continue to renew our minds…
We reclaim our passion for God by facing reality!
In the book of revelation Jesus wrote to a Church that had lost it’s passion for God. The Church at Ephesus had experience a great revival (Acts 19) and had started out with a burning hot passion for Jesus. However, Jesus writes to them in Rev 2:4 and tells them that they have lost their first love.
He gives the church at Ephesus a reality check. He points out that even though you can be doing many good things, you still can lose your passion for Jesus. In v. 2 Jesus says to the Ephesians, “I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance.” The word that Jesus uses here to describe the Ephesians ‘toil’ means ‘working to the point of exhaustion.’
So the Ephesian Church were no slackers when it came to work. They worked hard for Christ. They were used to getting their hands dirty. Every working Bee they were there. Every Monday night for prayer meeting they were there. Every time someone was in need they jumped to attention to lend a hand. However, Jesus still says that they had lost their first love. You see we must recognize that even though you might be fully involved in the ministry of the Church, you can still lose your first love. So to reclaim your passion for Jesus, you need a reality check. You need to ask yourself honestly is Jesus your first love? Is he foremost in your affections? Is he the one you run to, the one you honor and live for with your life? What is really going on in your life? Are you just going through the motions? Is there any reality to your relationship with God?
So how do we reclaim our passion for Jesus? Well, we need to face reality – is Jesus our first love? But there is something else we need to do.
We reclaim our passion for Jesus through repentance.
After Jesus has told the Ephesians in v. 4 that they have lost their first love he says to them in v. 5 “remember the height from which you have fallen, repent and do the things you did at first.” Jesus says right here that if you want to reclaim your first love then the pathway forward is repentance.
You see the antidote to losing your first love is repentance. Unfortunately we often believe that the antidote to losing our passion for Jesus is listening to a great sermon. I am a preacher so believe me I do believe that sermons are helpful, but only to the degree that they encourage you to repent. Or we often believe that the antidote to losing our passion for Jesus is to go to an inspiring worship event. Inspiring worship events are great as well, however, they are only helpful to the degree that they help you see the greatness of God and help you see your need for repentance. Or we can be lead to believe that if we go to a counsellor and unload all of our issues and problems on someone else then our passion will be restored. However, once again, opening up the pages of your life for another to read is helpful, but only to the degree to which it helps you repent. But all these things in themselves, inspiring sermons, inspiring worship gatherings, empathetic counsellors will not help you reclaim your passion for Jesus. They will only help to the degree that they help you repent. Because as Jesus himself says, if you have lost your first love what is needed is that you repent.
So what is repentance? One author I read said that most Christians do not really know how to repent. They do not really know what repentance is all about and since it is something that we will being doing our whole Christian lives it is important that we understand the nature of true repentance. The Greek word for repentance is the word metanoano and it means “to change your mind.” However, I think that that does not capture the essence of what it means to repent. One of the passages in the Bible that clearly speaks about repentance is 2 Cor 7:10. Paul exclaims in v. 10 that “Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret.” I think that this verse teaches three phrases to the repentance process. First, there is conviction. God’s Spirit shines his light on your heart and convicts you of your sin and it produces in your heart as Paul says in the verse 10, Godly grief or sorrow. Sorrow that you have sinned against God and broken his law. Sorrow that you have misused the grace of God. Sorrow that you have not lived as you should have lived. However, conviction is just the first step in the process. Many times people can begin and end at this step. They come to church hear a great sermon and feel conviction. They feel a sorrow rising in their hearts for they have not lived God’s way. But the service ends and they start talking to their friends after church and the seed that was just sown is taken away. They feel the fire of conviction but never do anything about it. Do you know that it is very dangerous to feel the conviction of God’s Spirit and do nothing about it? Because if you continue to do nothing then your heart may grow hard towards God and God may have to do something really drastic to get your attention.
Don’t shy away from guilt and feeling sorrow over sin. In fact, John Owen, a puritan writer from the 1600’s wrote that if you want to mortify sin – which is just an old word meaning to kill sin – then what you need to do is “Load your conscience with the guilt of it.” I know that this is completely different from what our culture teaches us. Our culture teaches us that we need to silence our consciences, or we need to turn on the T.V. so we can drown out the voice of our conscience. However, what the Bible teaches is the opposite. When we sin, we should feel guilty before God. And if the Holy Spirit is shining his light on your heart don’t harden your heart to his voice, let your heart feel the full weight of his conviction. Listen to the counsel that James gives us in James 4:8-10. James encourages us to in v. 8 to “draw near to God and he will draw near to you.” Which sounds all positive, doesn’t it, but then he goes onto say – “Cleanse your hands, you sinners, purify your hearts, you double minded, Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.”
The pathway back to God is one that is paved with tears. John Welch, another 16th century Scottish preacher said, “There is a godly sorrow which leads a man to life.”
The next step in true repentance is to move from conviction to confession. You feel convicted of your sin and sorry for your sinful actions and this causes you to go to God and confess your sin. As Paul says in v. 10, “godly sorrow produces repentance,” that is godly sorrow produces a complete change of mind in regard to the sin. You go to God and you admit that you have sinned against him. You admit that it was wrong. You claim his promise of forgiveness in the gospel and receive his cleansing.
Now in true confession I believe that you not only admit that you have sinned, but you confess with the view that you are no longer going to continue to sin. You forsake your sin. You are turning your back on sin. You are asking God to change you. You confess it to the LORD and determine in his power and strength that you are going to obey the command to “hate what is evil and cling to what is good.” (Rom 12:9). Don’t go to God and confess you sin, if you know very well that you still want to do that sin and you still plan on doing it. I think that much confession is as Paul says, “worldly sorrow.” We are sorry for the effects of sin. We are sorry that it brings such devastating consequences in our lives. We are sorry that it has hindered our joy. And so we wallow around in self pity – sorry for ourselves and the sad reality that our sin has brought upon us.
One of the inventions of the past ten years has been reality T.V. And one of the attributes of reality T.V. is that it often has these confessional bits. You know spliced throughout the whole program will be these bits where a player or a person will give their take on what just happened. It seems very therapeutic. Well, let me tell you that confession is not like that. It is not just you sharing your feelings with God. It is not just you unloading all your frustration and self-pity before God. It is you taking the guilt that is rightfully yours to God because you have broken his law, admitting you have sinned, forsaking sin and crying out to God to change and cleanse you because of the atoning work of Christ. The question we should all ask ourselves is – do I see this sinful action, behaviour or attitude as an offense against God? Or am I just seeing it as something that is making my life miserable? True confession involves confessing your sin as sin to almighty God, turning you back on it and crying out to God for his power and protection to help you follow him.
The final step in the process of repentance is that true repentance produces a fruit- a changed life. As Paul says in this verse it leads to salvation without regret. George Whitefield once said, “True repentance will entirely change you; the bias of your souls will be changed, then you will delight in God, in Christ, in His Law, and in His people.” As John the Baptist said to religious people in his day “produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” Repentance produces a changed life. How do you know if you have truly repented of something – you will no longer habitually do that thing. Now you may slip up here and there. We all do and we all will. You may be tempted and fall or gradually get too over confident and allow the deceitfulness of sin to come in and trick you. But that is why I am teaching you about the process of repentance. Because guess what? Not only did you repent when you came to Christ initially – but as you journey as a Christian you will find that repentance is a lifestyle. You will find that as you draw nearer to the Son and feel the heat of his holiness, it will melt away your hardness and you will repent.
So what is repentance? Well, as I have defined it, repentance is the a third fold process, first you experience conviction of sin, then you confess your sin to God forsaking that sin and then finally it results in a changed life – conviction, confession, changed life. And as I have said if you want to reclaim your passion for Jesus then you need to repent.
What is the sin that you are battling with right now? Have you repented of it and are just battling with the temptation? Or are you defeated by it? Even worse are hardened to the point where you don’t even care anymore? If you are in that place that you really need to cry out to God to bring the heat of his conviction? If you haven’t repented then maybe you need to take some time this week to repent? Take time to feel the weight of God’s conviction – don’t run away from guilt – let your guilt draw you to God for mercy and forgiveness, then confess and forsake your sin and turn to God to change you.
So if we want to reclaim our passion for Jesus we need to repent.
Yesterday, I preached a message on the missionary mind of the ordinary Christian. We were looking at 1 Cor 10:31-11:1 where Paul is addressing the topic of meat sacrificed to idols. This was a very thorny topic for the Christians in Corinth because in the ancient world if you were to buy meat from the meat market often it had come from a pagan temple. The priest in a Greek temple would have blessed it and then it was given to the meat market for sale. For Greeks this meant that their food was blessed, but for Christians and Jews they were wondering what they should do – is the meat now tainted? In particular, there were three questions that the believers were struggling with:
- Are we allowed to eat meat purchased from the meat market? (Knowing full well that most of the meat would have come from the temple).
- Should we eat meat if invited by a non-believing family member or friend to their house or banquet?
- Are we allowed to eat meat in pagan temples in their dining halls? (Pagan temples in the first century had dinning halls attached to them much like modern restaurants).
Well, you can imagine that in the Corinthian church that their would have been two groups: the conservatives and the liberals. The more conservative Christians would have said, “No,” to these three questions. You cannot risk it, so it is better to abstain. The liberals on the other hand would have said, “Yes,” to these three questions. Their reasoning would have been something like this, “We know that that an idol has no real existence and there is no God but one (1 Cor 8:4), so why can’t we eat in the pagan temples dinning halls.”
Now I do not have time to give a full exposition of 1 Cor 8-10, but it seems to me that what Paul says is to the first question – “Yes” – eat whatever you purchase from the meat market. He says in 1 Cor 10:25-26, “Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” This answer would have pleased the Liberals.
But then to question three – it seems he says – “No” – you shouldn’t eat meat in pagan temples but should “flee idolatry” (1 Cor 10:14). Because you “cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons” (1 Cor 20). This answer would have pleased the conservatives.
But to question two, I think he would have said, “maybe.” In 1 Cor 10:27-28 he writes, “if one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience.” So Paul is instructing them to be flexible.
Why be flexible? Why not just make up your mind on what you are going to do? Why not just abstain all the time? Well, the answer is because of the missionary mindset of the ordinary Christian.
Paul goes on to say in 1 Cor 31 – “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews of to Greeks, or to the church of God.” You see the reason that you need to be flexible is because you want to glorify God, and in particular glorify him by making sure that you do not put a stumbling block in front of someone coming to Christ. The word “offense” in v. 32 is rendered “stumbling block” in other translations and means to give someone a reason to reject Christ and miss out on salvation.
Now it is not hard to see how that might happen in the Greco-Roman context. If Jews saw Christians eating meat sacrificed to idols they might be turned off from Christ forever. So if a Jew is in your presence then don’t eat it. But, on the other hand, if a Greek puts a plate of hot meat in front of you and you don’t eat they may think you are being rude, exclusivist or worst in a Greek context uncitizenly. So eat it! Further, if a Christian who is weak in faith (meaning that they came out of idol worship) sees you eating meat sacrificed to idols they might go back to their old ways and start worshipping idols again. So you need to be flexible. You need to adjust your dining habits on the basis of mission.
What Paul says negatively in v.32 he says positively in v. 33 “just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many that they may be saved.” Paul is saying that he is flexible in his social habits because he wants to use them for the promotion of the gospel.
Now where does Paul gets this missionary mindset from? Well, Paul finishes this discussion by stating: “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” You see Paul got his missionary mindset from Jesus. Jesus was flexible with his social habits for the sake of the gospel. In the gospels we read that he dined with “sinners” in order to demonstrate God’s redeeming love.
So the question is do you have a missionary mindset? Are you flexible with your social habits (obviously within biblical boundaries) in order to promote the gospel? Are you just a conservative who abstains from all social interaction with outsiders and ends up isolating yourself from the very people who should be trying to reach? Are you a liberal who faunts their freedom in Christ and ends up hurting weaker Christians through your freedom? A person consumed by the glory of God would want to avoid both extremes and do all for the sake of the gospel and the good of others.