Monday, August 02, 2010

Why Government Can't Save You
Ten years ago John MacArthur wrote a book entitled Why Government Can't Save You. The subtitle to the book was "An Alternative to Political Activism." As important and timely as this book was when it was originally published, MacArthur has lamented that of all the books he has written, this one book has sold the least copies. Of course, he wasn't surprised at how unpopular the book was, since (as he expressed it), so many American Evangelicals have replaced the Great Commission with political crusades.
But depsite the lack of readership for the book, its biblical message rings just as loud and clear for the church today, as it did ten years ago. In fact, in the last chapter of the book, MacArthur sets forth a clarion call that we all need to take heed to, as we consider our own personal response to government and the American culture at large:
"With society sliding headlong into greater and greater evil, debauchery, violence, and corruption, and seemingly populated outside the church by no one but "modern barbarians," the temptation is strong for believers to jump into the cultural fray as self-righteous social/political reformers and condescending moralizers. All the while those self-styled Christian activists forget or ignore their true mission in the world...As noble as the desire to reform society may be, and as stirring as the emotions sometimes are when we're involved in a political cause we really believe is right, those activities are not to be the Christian's chief priorities...God does not call the church to influence the culture by promoting legislation and court rulings that advance a scriptural point of view. Nor does He condone any type of radical activism that would avoid tax obligations, disobey or seek removal of government officials we don't agree with, or spend an inordinate amount of time campaigning for a so-called Christian slate of candidates.
The church will really change society for the better only when individual believers make their chief concern their own spiritual maturity, which means living in a way that honors God's commands and glorifies His name. Such a concern inherently includes a firm grasp on Scripture and an understanding that its primary mandate to us is to know Christ and proclaim His gospel. A godly attitude coupled with godly living makes the saving message of the gospel credible to the unsaved. If we claim to be saved but still convey proud, unloving attitudes toward the lost, our preaching and teaching - no matter how doctrinally orthodox or politically savvy and persuasive - will be ignored or rejected."
To sum up what MacArthur is basically pleading for here, is that we as the church of Jesus Christ must keep the main thing the main thing. Our "main thing" is "to know Christ and proclaim His gospel." This must always be what everyone in our communities and the nation as a whole recognize about us. We are CHRISTIANS before we're Americans! We are self-denying, cross-bearing followers of Jesus Christ before we're political conservative crusaders seeking to reclaim America as "our country." Thus, when it comes to how we perceive and respond to our government, we need to always be sure that our actions toward the government are in obedience to God's Word rather than merely pontificating our personal political agendas.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Gospel Freedom and a Godly Example
Of all the many conflicts that plagued the Corinthian church, one of their greatest causes of contention centered around the issue of Christian liberty. In fact, the apostle Paul devoted three chapters to this matter in his first letter to the Corinthian church. In chapters eight, nine, and ten of First Corinthians, Paul confronted a division between fellow believers who were fussing over whether a Christian should eat food which had been offered to an idol. This division however was really over what a Christian was free to do.
For some believers in Corinth, they could not bring themselves to eating food offered to an idol, because in their conscience, they believed it would draw them into the participation of pagan worship. But for other believers, they saw no problem eating such food, since for them, food was food. Thus, at the heart of the division between these believers, was the whole question of Christian liberty. And the exercise of that liberty was determined by what one's conscience would allow.
Now for the apostle Paul, he had no problem eating food which had been offered to idols, because he knew that an idol was nothing and food was just food (8:4-8). He therefore agreed with those fellow Christians who felt the liberty to eat food of any kind no matter where it came from. However, what mattered most to Paul was not the mere exercise of his freedom as a Christian; but rather how his freedom would affect others. And even more than that, Paul was concerned at how his freedom would affect the way in which others received the gospel he was preaching.
So under this consideration, Paul set forth a biblical principle that he lived by in relation to his freedom as a Christian. A principle that he desired the Corinthian church, and all believers for that matter, to live by when it came to the issue of Christian liberty. In I Corinthians 9:19,22 Paul declared:
For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them...I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.
The great point Paul was making by this principle, was that while he would never compromise nor set aside any truth of the gospel; yet, he would gladly deny himself any personal liberty he has in the gospel - if by such a denial, he could win others to the truth. In other words, when it came to matters of personal preference that Paul was free to exercise as a Christian, he would forgo those liberties if they in any way hindered others from receiving the gospel or growing in the gospel.
Thus, Paul said, "to the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews", and "to those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law", and "to the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak" (9:20-22). In each of these examples, Paul was simply demonstrating that he was willing to identify with others at that point where a door for the gospel would be open. And this was not just his practice with unbelievers, but even with fellow Christians (like those offended by eating food offered to idols). Paul would not permit himself to do anything which would hamper their maturity in the faith. A worthy example to follow indeed.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Right and Wrong Way to Judge
There is perhaps no passage in all the Bible more misapplied and misunderstood in our day than Matthew 7:1, "Judge not, that you be not judged." Douglas Wilson once remarked that this is the only verse of Scripture that every pagan in America knows by heart. And the reason why is because for most people in our modern culture, Matthew 7:1 has been erroneously employed to mean that no one should ever evaluate or criticize anyone for anything. The moment you declare something to be wrong or in error about someone's belief or behavior, you are immediately charged with "judging." "Don't you judge me!" is the favorite and typical reaction from those people who insist that we must be tolerant and all-inclusive of whatever anyone believes or how they live. And again, their basis for this conviction is Matthew 7:1.
But when Jesus spoke these words in Matthew 7:1 about judging others, was He really meaning that we must never pass an unfavorable judgment on the conduct and opinions of others? Is this what Jesus meant? Are we to take these words - "judge not" - to mean that sin is never to be rebuked or that false doctrine is never to be corrected? Well, if we compare Scripture with Scripture, it can be easily and quickly deduced that Matthew 7:1 is not forbidding the exercise of any judgment whatsoever. In fact, right here in Matthew 7, there is the call by Christ Himself that we must judge those who claim to speak for God (7:15). We must be discerning and perceptive in what they teach and how they live, making every effort to judge between truth and falsehood, between what is really from God and what is nothing but a sham.
Moreover, in the immediate context of Matthew 7:1, Jesus tells us that there is a right way to judge others (7:5). But the right kind of judging must be preceded by our own confession of sin and repentance, so that we may "see clearly to take the speck out of [our] brother's eye." In other words, the only way to rightly correct the sin or false doctrine in others, is to be certain that we ourselves are not guilty of the same thing. This means that we must thoroughly examine ourselves, carefully considering our own ways, and thus critically measuring ourselves by the infallible standard of God's Word. Once we have done this, then Jesus says we will "see clearly" to exercise the right kind of judging toward others.
So then, Matthew 7:1 is not condemning altogether the practice of judging others. However, it is condemning a certain type of judging. And sadly, it is a type of judging that is all too common, not only in the world, but even in the church. When Jesus said, "Judge not, that you be not judged" - our Lord was forbidding what is called "a censorious, fault-finding, hyper-critical" spirit. J.C. Ryle (1806-1900) desribed this as a "readiness to blame others for trifling offences or matters of indifference, a habit of passing rash and hasty judgments, a disposition to magnify the errors and infirmities of our neighbors, and make the worst of them."
But what is so wicked about this judgmental attitude, is that it is carried out by our own personal standard as the measuring rod of what is right or wrong. We don't judge people by God's perfect standard but by our own prejudicial standard that is shot through with sin. And in addition to this, a judgmental person also plays God, since they claim that they can perfectly read the motives and intentions in another person's heart. They act as if they are omniscient, and thus know everything about everything at all times. What arrogance! But this is the kind of judging which our Lord Jesus Christ condemns. John MacArthur summed it up this way: "Whenever we assign people to condemnation without mercy because they do not do something the way we think it ought to be done or because we believe their motives are wrong, we pass judgment that only God is qualified to make."

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Loving Jesus More than Family
One of the hardest statements that came from the lips of our Lord Jesus Christ, is recorded in Matthew 10:34-37,
"Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me."
The historic context of these words fall within a larger discourse Jesus was giving His disciples, as He was commissioning them to take the gospel to Israel. From verses 24-42, Jesus set forth the kind of characteristics that will embody His true followers as they carry the gospel into the world. And among the marks of an authentic disciple of Christ, is the willingness to forsake everything, including one's own family if necessary, for Christ's sake.
Our Lord unpacks this kind of sacrifice by first telling us that the coming of His Gospel will render division and estrangement between the nearest relations. While the Gospel certainly proclaims the way of peace between the sinner and God (Rom.5:1-2), yet its presence and preaching create a clear division between those who receive it and those who reject it. Hence, Christ is preparing all His followers for what is the inevitable separation between those who believe in Him and those who don't. In fact, to follow Christ, will bring...a sword that will cut ties in a family with such severity, that "a person's enemies will be those of his own household."
But how could this be? How could sons and fathers, mothers and daughters be set...against each other because of Christ? The answer is really quite simple, but hard to swallow. Our relation to others by blood does not translate into the same relation as the family of God. Unless one is born again with a new nature, they will not love, trust, savor, obey, and follow Christ as their Lord and Redeemer (Jn.1:12-13; 3:1-8). Indeed, as long as they remain unbelievers, they will live in a state of spiritual death, enslaved to sin and Satan (Eph.2:1-3) - despite the fact that we may call them "Mom", "Dad", "brother" or "sister." If we follow Christ and the rest of our family doesn't, then we must not be surprised when we find ourselves set against the rest of our family.
Observing the reality of this kind of division, Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) once said: "The coming of Christ into a house is often the cause of variance between the converted and the unconverted. The more loving the Christian is, the more he may be opposed: love creates a tender zeal for the salvation of friends, and that very zeal frequently calls forth resentment. We are to expect this, and not to be put off by it when it occurs. Animosities on account of [Christ] often excite the fiercest of enmities, and nearness of kin inflames rather than quenches the hostility."
But while we can expect this division between believers and unbelievers who live under the same roof - yet for the believer, Christ must always be first! First in our hearts, minds, affections, and actions. He must be first therefore even over the natural love we have for our family. "Whoever loves father or mother...son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me." Here is the acid test of our claim as Christians: is our commitment and love to Christ so profound and far-reaching, that any relationship that endangers that relationship will be sacrificed? If our parents or siblings are standing in the way of our faithfulness to Christ, will we cut ties with them to serve Christ with greater liberty? What relationship matters more to us?
To quote again from Spurgeon: "We must earnestly beware of making idols of our dearest ones, by loving them more than Jesus. We must never set them near the throne of our King...Father and mother, son and daugther - we would do anything to please them; but, as opposed to Jesus, they stand nowhere, and cannot for an instant be allowed to come in the way of our supreme loyalty to our Lord."
So, what marks does Christ expect to embody His true followers? According to Matthew 10:34-37, we are to be a people whose passion, love, and devotion to Christ surpasses and supersedes every right affection we have for our family. Even if following Christ brings upon us the scorn and disapproval of our family; yet, by God's grace, we will not shrink back from obeying Jesus fully.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Ashamed of the Gospel
Today I received in the mail John MacArthur's third edition of his 1993 book, Ashamed of the Gospel. Next to his 1988 publication, "The Gospel According to Jesus", Ashamed of the Gospel has been considered by many as perhaps the best book MacArthur has ever penned. The subtitle to the book is "when the church becomes like the world" - and with the straight-forward, plain spoken language which MacArthur is known for, Ashamed of the Gospel is a critical analysis of the seeker-sensitive movement; and a clarion call for the church to return to a firm and humble reliance on the power and sovereignty of God for salvation. In the preface to the original edition, MacArthur raises an important question which all seeker-sensitive churches need to weigh in with grave seriousness: "What's wrong with pragmatism?" MacArthur's answer is both discerning and convicting for any church or pastor either using pragmatism or tempted to be pragmatic as the basis of their ministry. In addition to answering this question, MacArthur also gives helpful examples of what a church does when it is driven by pragmatism rather than God's Word:
"What's wrong with pragmatism? After all, common sense involves a measure of legitimate pragmatism, doesn't it? If a dripping faucet works fine after you replace the washers, it is reasonable to assume that bad washers were the problem...But when pragmatism is used to make judgments about right and wrong, or when it becomes a guiding philosophy of life, theology, or ministry, it inevitably clashes with Scripture. Spiritual and biblical truth is not determined by testing what 'works' and what doesn't. We know from Scripture, for example, that the gospel often does not produce a positive response (I Cor.1:22-23; 2:14). On the other hand, Satanic lies and deception can be quite effective (Matt.24:23-24; 2 Cor.4:3-4). Majority reaction is no test of validity (cf. Matt.7:13-14), and prosperity is no measure of truthfulness (cf. Job 12:6). Pragmatism as a guiding philosophy of ministry is inherently flawed. Pragmatism as a test of truth is nothing short of satanic.
Nevertheless, an overpowering surge of ardent pragmatism is sweeping through evangelicalism. Traditional methodology - most notably preaching - is being discarded or downplayed in favor of newer means, such as drama, music, dance, comedy, variety, side-show histrionics, pop psychology, and other entertainment forms. The new methods supposedly are more 'effective' - that is, they draw a bigger crowd. And since the chief criterion for guaging the success of a church has become attendance figures, whatever pulls in the most people is accepted without further analysis as good. That is pragmatism.
Perhaps the most visible signs of pragmatism are seen in the convulsive changes that have revolutionized the church worship service in the past decade. Some of evangelicalism's largest and most influential churches now boast Sunday services that are deliberately designed to be rollicking rather than reverent.
Even worse, theology now takes a back seat to methodology. One author has written, 'Formerly, a doctrinal statement represented the reason for a denomination's existence. Today, methodology is the glue that holds churches together. A statement of ministry defines them and their denominational existence.' Incredibly, many believe this is a positive trend, a major advance for the contemporary church...We're actually told we can get better results by first amusing people, giving them pop psychology or impressing them with a high-tech, special-effects smoke-and-light show - thus wooing them into the fold. Once they know we are cool and feel they are comfortable, they'll be ready to receive biblical truth in small, diluted doses.
Pastors have drawn their ministry philosophies from books on marketing methods. Many young ministers devour such resources in search of new techniques to help their churches grow. Major seminaries have shifted their pastoral training emphasis from Bible curriculum and theology to counseling technique and church-growth theory. All these trends reflect the church's growing commitment to pragmatism" [pages 27-28].
Patience in Pastoring
One of my heroes of the faith whom I have gleaned much wisdom from in the work of pastoring is John Newton (1725-1807). Recently I ran across a biographical sketch of Newton by Iain Murray in his book, Heroes. On pages 102-103, Murray unveils some insightful characteristics of Newton's pastoring when it came to the progress of spiritual growth among his congregation. As I read how patient Newton was with God's flock, I was rightly and sorely convicted of how impatient I tend to be with those God has granted me to shepherd. This was a needed word of challenge and wisdom that I must hear as a pastor. Moreover, I was especially taken by Newton's handling of believers who have not yet come to see "the doctrines of grace." May these words be a great encouragement and challenge as well to other fellow-pastors:
"For Newton, God's great patience in his people's slow progress in grace and truth was a lesson that ministers must ever remember. Preachers are to teach, but they do not control the pace at which grace develops in their hearers. They cannot give the experience that prepares a Christian for fuller light. He concluded that it is a dangerous thing to hurry young believers into an acceptance of teaching they are not ready to receive. Our Lord himself taught the people 'as they were able to hear it' (Mark 4:33). Newton regarded this as very relevant to 'the doctrines which are now stigmatized by the name of Calvinism.' On the presentation of those doctrines he writes:
I am an avowed Calvinist: the points that are usually comprised in that term, seem to me so consonant with Scripture, reason (when enlightened), and experience, that I have not the shadow of a doubt about them. But I cannot dispute, I dare not speculate...but...I think these doctrines will do no one any good till he is taught them of God. I believe a too hasty assent to Calvinistic principles, before a person is duly acquainted with the plague of his own heart, is one principle cause of that lightness of profession which so lamentably abounds in this day, a chief reason why many professors are rash, heady, high-minded, contentious about words...I believe that most persons who are truly alive to God, sooner or later meet with some pinches in their experience which constrain them to flee to these doctrines for relief, which perhaps they had formerly dreaded...In this way I was made a Calvinist myself; and I am content to let the Lord take his own way, and his own time, with others."

Monday, April 12, 2010

Pursuing Peace
In the face of the world, the church of Jesus Christ should not be seen as relishing discord but pursuing peace with all people. This is in fact the imperative set forth in Romans 12:18 - "If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all." The context of this command falls within the framework of a larger series of precepts directed at how the church is to relate to the unbelieving world (cf. Rom.12:14-21). And among these divine requirements is the call to be peaceable rather than pugnacious. In other words, when the world observes the character and conduct of a Christian, they should see someone who is all for peaceful relations rather than just one who loves a fight.
But what does this look like practically? Romans 12:18 gives us a snapshot. "If possible, as much as it depends on you, live peaceably with all." The most important thing we need to notice about this verse is that it is qualified by two conditions. Condition number one says: "If peaceably with all." Those opening words toward peaceful relations imply something which every Christian must recognize: it may not be possible to be at peace with everyone.
Let's face it: there are people in this world (and sadly, even in the church) who make peace impossible because of either what they believe or how they behave. This means that to be at peace with such people would involve sacrificing both the truth and purity. Thus, having peace on their terms would compromise the gospel and our walk with Christ. Therefore no matter how much we may desire to be at peace with everyone, this is simply unobtainable if we're going to remain faithful to Christ and His Word.
In fact, this is where we've got to use discernment in our pursuit of peace. God has not called us to be Casper Milquetoast. We are not to be a people who are flabby and flimsy, cowards with no conviction. As we pursue peace with all people we do so governed by truth and holiness. This means that peace must never be put first in our relationships with others. We must not live by the unbiblical standard of "peace at any price." We must never go into a relationship with someone by saying, "Well, I'm just here to keep the peace."
If this is the position you take, ask yourself: "What will I have to give up in order to keep the peace?" You see, the moment we put peace as the first priority in how we relate to others, then we will ultimately sacrifice the truth of the gospel and our commitment to Christ. How is this? If peace is all you're wanting to keep in that relationship, then the terms of that relationship will be determined by whatever the other person is wanting - even if that means forfeiting truth and holiness (e.g., Gal.2:11-14). But this is not true peace. Rather it is nothing more than a cold civility that is tolerated as long as we don't say or do anything which would break the selfish terms of the other party. The spirit of authentic Christianity cannot abide under such terms (see Heb.12:14). Therefore, as a faithful servant and follower of Jesus Christ, we must accept this: it is impossible to be at peace with everyone.
But there is another condition to pursuing peace which also surfaces in Romans 12:18 - " far as it depends on peaceably with all." The first condition focused on people and circumstances out of our control. The second condition however aims completely at what we will do. And the great point of these words is simply this: don't be the cause for discord! To say this positively - we must exhaust every avenue to live peaceably with all.
But how is this done? First, we ourselves must be at peace with God (Rom.5:1-2). True peace comes from God alone which can only be experienced through faith in Jesus Christ. Second, we must lead others to have peace with God (II Cor.5:20). Since we are at peace with God through Christ, we have the joy of being His instruments to bring others to that same peace. Third, we must help others to be at peace with one another. Where there has been division there needs to be reconciliation (Matt.5:23,24). But to seek this will require rebuking and repenting, since reconciliation implies a division made due to sin. However, if the sin is not confessed and forsaken, then there will be no peace; and hence, no reconciliation. Finally, we must prove ourselves in all things to be lovers of peace. We must contend for the truth without being contentious; disagree without being disagreeable; and confront sin without being abusive.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

The Taproot of Theological Liberalism
Whether one realizes it or not, thelogical liberalism is alive and well in many churches. In fact, it lives and breathes in many so-called conservative churches. I have seen this first hand in my own pastoral experience. But when we talk about liberalism in the church, what do we mean by this? Dr. J.I. Packer has written much on this subject, and gives a fitly spoken expose on what is "the taproot" of theological liberalism:
"For the best part of two centuries, forms of the intellectual chameleon called liberalism, or modernity, have dominated the mainline churches of the West. The taproot of modernist liberalism is the idea, issuing from the so-called Enlightenment, that the world has the wisdom, so that the Christian way must always be to absorb and adjust to what the world happens to be saying at the moment about human life. Deism, which banishes God entirely from the world of human affairs, and the view nowadays called "panentheism" or "monism", which imprisons him pervasively but impotently within it, have been the two poles between which liberal thinking about God has swung. But neither of these God-concepts is, or can be, trinitarian; neither has room for any belief in the incarnation, or in an objective atonement, or in an empty tomb, or in the sovereign cosmic Lordship of the living Christ today; and neither squares with the affirmation that biblical teaching is divinely revealed truth. It is no wonder, then, that liberalism typically produces, not martyrs, nor challengers of the secular status quo, but trimmers, people who are always finding reasons for going along with the cultural concensus of the moment, whether on abortion, sexual permissiveness, the basic identity of all religions, the impropriety of evangelism and missionary work, or anything else...In the last century, when ideas of progress were in the air and it was possible to believe that every day in every way the world was getting better and better, liberalism, which presented itself as progressive Christianity, could be made to appear right-minded...[But] the only sort of Christianity that can reasonably claim attention for the future is the Bible-based Christianity that defines God in scriptural terms and offers, not affirmation, but transformation of our disordered lives" [from the book, A Passion for Faithfulness: Crossway publishers; 1995: pgs. 43-44].

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A New Kind of Pastor?
Critiquing again the market-driven churches, Dr. David Wells describes the type of pastors who emerge out of these churches. If one compares Dr. Wells' description of these pastors with passages like I Timothy 3:1-8, II Timothy 3:15-4:2, and Titus 1:6-9 - it should be very clear that the market-driven pastor is not modeled after what God sets forth to be the kind of man He calls to shepherd His sheep:
"Across much of evangelicalism, especially in the market-driven churches, one...sees a new kind of leadership among pastors now. Gone is the older model of the scholar-saint, one who was as comfortable with books and learning as with the aches of the soul. This was the shepherd who knew the flock, knew how to tend it, and Sunday by Sunday took that flock into the treasures of God's Word. This has changed. In its place is the new 'celebrity' style. What we typically see the leader who works by manipulating the feelings of the audience, enhancing his own image with personal anecdotes, modeling himself after the CEO, and adopting a domineering management style. He (usually) is completely results-oriented, pragmatic, happy to employ any technique from the secular world that will produce the desired results. And this leader has to be magnetic, entertaining, and light on the screen up front" [from The Courage to be Protestant: published by Eerdmans; 2008: pg. 40].
Catering to the Customer
What is the driving force behind the market-driven churches? Dr. David Wells offers keen insight in answer to this question from his excellent book, The Courage to be Protestant. Dr. Wells' observations clearly imply the fact that market-driven, seeker-sensitive church models are sadly motivated by what attracts the flesh, rather than exalting Christ and spreading His fame:
"If we are going to market the church and its gospel, where are we going to start? We start, of course, with our customer. What does the customer want? The conventional wisdom is that seriousness is the death knell of successful churches. In an age of entertainment, such as our age is in the West, we have to be funny, engaging, likable, and light to succeed. So, seriousness must be banished. Preserve the taste but the cut the calories.
That is the recipe seeker-sensitive strategists and pastors are following. It is their response to their perception of this changing public, and it matches the change Miller Brewing Company made from regular beer to Miller Lite when Americans became more weight conscious. If Miller can follow the changing habits of American consumers, so can our leading evangelical pastors!
Regular Christianity, many now think, does not go down easy and smooth; Christianity Lite does. A church that is serious, that is still regular...well, what can one say? It will stand out like an organ stop, if that still makes sense now that organs are becoming as rare as dodo birds. And how better to signal the change than by replacing the old-fashioned sermon with a personal chat from a barstool, or by replacing the serious discourse from the pastor with a drama whose very format carries with it a sense of entertainment?
There really is no end to the innovations that are possible as churches think of different ways to attract and accommodate consumers. Some churches, for example, allow those who attend to express themselves on walls devoted to sacred graffiti. Those who come can draw, paint, and sloganize their feelings into life. And how about a table laden with Play-Doh from which to build shapes that express how they are feeling that day? These are the tricks of marketing du jour. This is probably not what Jesus had in mind when he said his Father had hidden truth from the "wise" and revealed it to "little children" (Matt. 11:25)!
One of the ways of making the experience of going to church more pleasant is to offer choice. Consumers want to be able to choose the style of music they hear, the kind of worship they participate in, and to have a say in what they hear from the barstool up front. (The barstool, by the way, is what replaced the Plexiglas stand in many avant-garde churches, which, in turn, had replaced the pulpit.) Having a wide array of choices, after all, is the way the world is going" [pgs. 28-29].

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Taking Time To Dig Deep
Writing in light of Matthew 7:24-27 concerning the wise and foolish builder, John MacArthur observed:
"You can't dig deep if you're in a hurry. You just barely have time for a quickie conversion or lightweight confession. Some people say they are saved before they have any sense that they're even lost. Those who claim Christ legitimately as their own are willing to take time to dig deep. They've thought it through, they've counted the cost. Their profession of faith will not be rejected at the final judgment...Those who come rushing in, but who want out again as soon as you start to lay down the standard for following Christ, are not fit for the kingdom.
Those who dig deep show a desire to give a maximum effort. The easy path always tempts us. Sometimes we make the gospel so easy that it's no gospel at all. We Christians stew about how hard it is to follow up with new converts. One large church in America reported it had 28,000 conversions in a year, baptized 9,600 people, and had 123 join the church. The fact is that 28,000 people weren't saved if only 123 joined the church. The problem is not the difficulty of follow-up; the problem is the difficulty of conversion. We're trying to follow up with people who never were redeemed.
Another characteristic of the man who digs deep is that he's teachable. The Pharisees weren't teachable; you couldn't tell them anything. So many people are like that; they profess Christ but don't want to hear all that true Christianity demands. The call to self-denial, they reject. They hold high their own ideas, goals, and designs. They want to go their way, and when you try to teach the right way instead, they don't want to hear it. It's not because they're unteachable Christians; it's because they're sham Christians.
The one who digs deep empties himself of self-righteousness and self-sufficiency, casts aside his own visions and experiences, and builds on the Word of God for God's glory and not his own" [from Hard to Believe : Thomas Nelson publishers; 2003: pgs. 114-116].

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

How do we mortify sin? part four
One of the first great lessons that every Christian should learn about their new life in Christ is that while they are now redeemed they are not yet without sin. In other words, the grace of God has not eradicated every remnant of sin's corruption and effects in their life. With Paul the apostle, we all can say:
"So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members" (Rom.7:21-23).
Here is the Christian life in daily experience. Our reach exceeds our grasp. We strive to follow the desires of our new nature (which is consistent faithfulness to Christ) but we find a roadblock in our way each time. And that roadblock is "the law of sin" housed in our members which works like a gravitational pull on our affections, thoughts, words, and deeds.
So, what are we to do? Are we helpless victims to the downdrag of indwelling sin? Thankfully we're not. For our face off with remaining sin is in God's strength through means of grace He has provided, whereby we can deal sin a mortal blow. This exercise is called "mortification." And for my past three posts I have been unpacking from Scripture the "how to" of mortifying or putting sin to death.
In this present study, we will look at the final means of grace for mortifying sin: it is by fixing our hearts on Jesus Christ. In Hebrews 12:1-2, the writer of Hebrews calls on his fellow Christians to "run with endurance the race that is set before us" - which is the race of Christian perseverance. Or as A.W. Pink (1886-1952) describes it: " is a call to constancy in the Christian profession; it is an exhortation unto steadfastness in the Christian life; it is a pressing appeal for making personal holiness our supreme business and quest." And in this strong call to "run with endurance the race that is set before us," the writer of Hebrews urges us to do two things: first, we are "to lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely" (12:1). This is a call to mortify sin. But the word-imagery used here is powerful. It is that of a runner who would remove anything that would hinder him from winning the race - whether it would be clothing or extra physical weight. Thus, in the Christian race there is nothing that hinders us most than "sin which clings so closely" to us. Hence, we are called to "lay aside" that sin!
But how do we do this? The answer to this question is the second call issued from Hebrews 12:1-2. We "lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely" by "looking to Jesus...the founder and perfecter of our faith." This is another way God gives us to kill sin. We fix our gaze on Christ, who is the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.
When Hebrews 12:2 says, "looking to Jesus", the verb translated "looking" means "to look away from one thing and to concentrate on another." So, rather than gazing and concentrating on sin and all its allurements - we fix our hearts and minds on Christ, treasuring Him, not only above sin - but above life itself (Phil.3:7-14). He is the goal, the aim, the sustainer, and the keeper of all that we are as His people (Rom.8:29).
In his classic book on the subject of mortification, John Owen (1616-1683) explained the practical outworking and effect of fixing our eyes on Christ as a means for putting sin to death. He noted four applications: First, by faith fill your heart with a right consideration of the provision that God has made in the work of Christ for the mortification of sins. Second, raise up your heart in faith with an expectation of relief from Christ. Third, place your faith particularly upon the death, blood, and cross of Christ; that is, on Christ crucified and slain. Finally, when you meditate upon the death of Christ, keep in mind the power available to us, and your desire to be conformed to Christ.
How often do we really think hard about all that Jesus did by His suffering and dying to save us from our sins? Whenever we are tempted to sin, do we fight to fix our gaze on Christ and remember what He did to kill this sin for us? Do we also remember that by His death we are forever set free from sin's enslaving power, therefore, through Him we have the grace to "lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely to us?" To kill sin is to "look to Jesus." It is to be satisfied in all that He is for us and cast ourselves on all that He has done to liberate us from sin's power.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

How do we mortify sin? part three
When it comes to living the Christian life, God has not left us to figure it out on our own or attempt to make it work by our mere strength. Instead, the Lord has amply supplied His saints with the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, a new nature, and means of grace (like prayer, the Word of God, Christian fellowship, etc.) to sufficiently enable them to live for His glory in all things. And thankfully, such rich supplies for Christian living include what every believer needs to fight, subdue, weaken, and kill the "works of the flesh" (Gal.5:19-21; cf. Rom.7:14-24). In my last two posts we have been considering what "means of grace" God has specifically given us to effectively put sin to death, or "mortify sin" as the old divines would call it. We have observed three specific things: first, we mortify sin by remembering the truth of our death to sin's dominion and our new life in Christ (see Rom.6:1-11; Gal.2:20). Second, we mortify sin by abstaining from fleshly lusts (I Pet.2:11). And third, we mortify sin by making no provision for the flesh (Rom.13:14).
But in addition to these provisions God has made for us to carry out a proficient warfare on sin, we also mortify sin in this way: by saturating our hearts and minds in the Word of God. This can never be said enough: if we are going to kill sin, then we must employ with faithfulness and constancy the Word of God. But what this means practically, is that we must be diligent in the reading, study, meditation, and application of God's Word. We must be what Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892) exhorted his own congregation to be: "Walking Bibles!" This means that God's Word must be what governs and rules and shapes our thinking, feeling, conservation, and conduct. Thus when it comes to sin - God's Word must be the final authority to determine for every Christian what sin is and how to deal with it.
So then, we need to be like the psalmist, in Psalm 119:11, "I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you." The verb translated "stored up" literally means to "hoard" or "to reserve." The idea in this context of Psalm 119:11, is that we read the Word of God so that we remember and keep close at hand all that it says regarding sin and holiness. We read the Scriptures to remember the Scriptures. Therefore, if we are reading the Bible every once in a while, then it will not be a safeguard against sin. If we read the Scriptures casually, like some cheap novel, then we are setting ourselves up for sin's invasion. To store the Word of God in our hearts, we must be in the Word daily - and we must commit to memory what God's Word says regarding the nature and danger of sin.
But in addition to memorization, there also needs to be meditation on the Word. Again, consider the godly example of the psalmist. In Psalm 1:1-2, we read: "Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night." What keeps the godly man from "the counsel of the wicked", "the way of sinners", and "the seat of scoffers"? It is his meditation on "the law of the Lord." He meditates "day and night" on God's Word.
What does it mean to "meditate?" Its basic meaning is to "murmur", "mutter", or "muse" and hence, to speak to one's self. It was used to describe the low growling of a lion after he had trapped his prey (Isa.31:4) or even the cow chewing the cud. Both images capture something that takes a slow and methodical concentration. In the context of the believer meditating on the Bible, he is literally taking selected passages of Scripture, and mulling over them in his mind, vocally repeating them to himself. Moreover, he is asking those passages specific questions.
Of course, to be at the discipline of memorizing and meditating on the Bible takes time, planning, prayer, and strategy in our war on sin. We have to be deliberate and intentional to employ God's Word in the killing of sin. Thus we have to make the time to be in the Word. We also must pray as we come to the Word. We need the Holy Spirit to illuminate our understanding so that we see clearly what the Bible says about sin and how to conquer it. The end result will be developing a firm and godly conviction regarding any particular sin we're fighting. A conviction that goes beyond merely admitting sin is wrong, but actually controlling how we think and feel about the sin in accordance with God's Word.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

How do we mortify sin?: part two
John MacArthur once said: "Mortification involves the cultivation of new habits of godliness, combined with the elimination of old sinful habits from our behavior." This statement sums up the practical outworking of what Romans 8:13 describes as mortifying or "putting to death" the sinful deeds of our body. This spiritual discipline is not for only a few elite Christians to practice, but it is for all believers in Christ. Moreover, it should be our daily practice - since the presence of indwelling sin is always there to ensnare us at every turn in all our thoughts, words, and deeds (see Rom.7:14-24).
In my last post I began to unpack the ways in which we carry out this discipline. So far, we have only covered two means of grace that should be exercised for the purpose of mortification. First, we mortify sin by remembering the truth of our death to sin's dominion and our new life in Jesus Christ (see Rom.6:1-11; Gal.2:20). Knowing who we are in Christ and the glory of what God has done for us in Christ is vital to healthy Christian living. And in the arena of killing sin, it is especially important that we understand that sin no longer has power over us to enslave us since we are now united to Christ in spiritual union. Secondly, we mortify sin by abstaining from fleshly lusts (I Pet.2:11). Having been set free from sin's former dominion, we have the power in Christ to say "NO!" to sin. We are not victims to the temptations of the flesh - but in Christ we can "abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against [our] soul" (I Pet.2:11). Thus, to kill sin is to refuse to sin by God's grace.
Another means though of mortifying sin is by making no provision for the flesh. In Romans 13:14, we are commanded "to make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires." Now the question must be raised: what is the difference between "make no provision for the flesh" and the previous point from I Peter 2:11, "abstain from the passions of the flesh?" The difference between these two imperatives is that to "abstain" means just to stop sinning, whereas "to make no provision" carries the idea of not making plans to sin. The word translated "provision" in Romans 13:14 comes from a Greek term that carries the idea of "forethought" or "planning in advance." Hence, when we're commanded to "make no provision for the flesh", then we're being called to refuse accommodating the flesh in any way that will inevitably set us up for a fall.
Let's face it: this is why most Christians fall into sin - they foolishly set themselves up to gratify the desires of the flesh. And what's worse, it is our own wicked pride that leads us into that pit of sin. We say to ourselves, "I can handle this. I'm strong. I can beat this." So we watch television programs and movies that only stir up the lusts of the flesh; we listen to gossip that only excites our taste buds for more of those little trifles; we look at magazines or read books or view websites that fill our minds with ungodly, immoral images; or we keep company with people who have no passion or love for Christ whatsoever, allowing their godless worldview to slowly erode our thinking away from the Bible. And all the while, we're saying to ourselves in the stupidity of our pride: "I can handle this." No, you can't handle it - you're falling!
Consider again the counsel of Romans 13:14, "...make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires." If you don't want to fall, then don't walk where it's slippery. To mortify sin we have to become strategists. We have to be aware of what is going to tempt us and seduce us and drag us into sin; and make strategic plans to stay away from whatever that is. For instance, if we struggle with the sin of gluttony, then we should plan to stay away from those foods and restaurants where the temptation to indulge ourselves is strongest. If we struggle with gossip, then we need to plan out how we are going to converse with others on subjects that will neither draw us into that sin nor the person we are talking with. To mortify sin we must become strategists.
But in addition to this, there must be a wholehearted commitment to give up whatever is necessary, even the most cherished things we possess, if doing that will help protect us from falling into sin. This is what Jesus meant by gouging out the "right eye" and cutting off the "right hand" (Matt.5:29-30). If we are going to mortify sin, then we must make no provision for the flesh - no matter what that self-denial will cost us. Anything that would ensnare us to sin must be eliminated immediately.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

How do we mortify sin?: part one
Having underscored in my past three posts what mortification is and what it is not, I now want to turn our attention to a much more practical question: how do we mortify sin? Since mortification is the lifelong process and work of every Christian, by the divine power of the Holy Spirit, to crush, sap, root out, weaken, and subdue all known manifestations of indwelling sin - what then are the means of grace God has supplied for us to kill sin? Based on how we have defined mortification from Romans 8:13, we know that this is chiefly a work accomplished only through the power of the Holy Spirit. But understanding the importance and absolute necessity of the Spirit's role in our mortifying sin, we are still left wondering, "What do I do?" Answering this question will take up my next few posts.
In the first place, we mortify sin by remembering the truth of our death to sin's dominion and our new life in Jesus Christ. This is what we are commanded to do in Romans 6:11, "So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus." This divine imperative falls on the heels of Paul's incredible exposition concerning the death of every Christian to their former slavery to sin, as a consequence to their spiritual union with Christ (see 6:1-10).
Paul declares that because we have "died to sin" and have been united with Christ - we have received a new life whereby our life in sin is dead and gone (6:3-6). Hence, because we are no longer under sin's dominion, then we must count this as a fact everyday. This is the command of Romans 6:11. No matter how harassed we may be by the temptations of remaining sin (Rom.6:12-13; 7:14-25), it will never change the fact of who we are in Jesus Christ as His people who have been set free from sin's enslaving power.
This must be the first mortal blow we give to indwelling sin. As each new day begins, we need to remind ourselves: "I am dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Sin has no authority over me. Sin has no right to bully me. I belong to God. I live in union with Jesus Christ who is now my life." This is the truth of what God's grace has done for all His people, despite how they may feel. And this is how we start each day to put sin to death.
In the second place, we mortify sin by abstaining from fleshly lusts. In First Peter 2:11, we are commanded: "Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul." Probably the most simple and straightforward response to the ongoing attacks of indwelling sin, is to abstain from it. This verb translated "abstain" in First Peter 2:11, comes from a Greek term that means "to hold one's self away from." Used in the present middle construction, Peter is calling on all believers in Christ to be actively, unceasingly staying away from those things that pertain to the flesh. This means that whatever thoughts, words, images, sounds, feelings, and actions which are sinful in nature - must be at all costs, put away from ourselves. No sin of any kind should be entertained.
This is what Paul meant when he wrote to the Ephesian church, in Ephesians 4:31, "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice." And again in Ephesians 5:3-4, "But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which is out of place..." The simple point of these prohibitions is this: "Stay away from it! Don't do it! Abstain from these things."
Martyn Lloyd Jones (1899-1981) once nailed down the directness of such a command when he said: "...stop doing it, stop it at once, never do it again! You have to be a total abstainer from these sins, these 'fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.' You have no right to say, 'I am weak, I cannot, and temptation is powerful.' The answer of the New Testament is, 'Stop doing it.' "
So, how do we mortify sin? Here is some of the most practical counsel of God's Word: just stop it! Abstain from sin. Understand this: we have no excuse here. We have been set free from sin's enslaving power, we have a new nature, a new life in Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit indwells us (Rom.6:1-8:17; I Cor.6:19-20; Gal.2:20; Eph.1:3-14; Col.3:1-5) - henceforth, there is no justifiable excuse whenever we give in to the temptation of indwelling sin. God has supplied us with all we need to put sin to death, and thus to abstain from its subtle and deceitful desires.

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