Daily Archives: January 29, 2014

Legalism: The Biggest Threat to Church Unity

There is no greater threat to the unity of the church than legalism. These are strong words, but history, tradition, experience, and Scripture reveal that where legalism spreads, disunity prospers. Thankfully, God has provided an antidote to legalism through the free gift of eternal life which is received by grace along through faith alone in Christ alone. legalism threat to unityJust as legalism breeds disunity, love and unity flourish where grace and faith multiply. The more we emphasize grace and faith, the greater our unity will be. For this reason—and simply for the sake of the truth—a strong stance on the simplicity and freeness of eternal life by grace alone through faith alone is essential. To see this, it is important first of all to know what legalism is. Read more

Prodigal Prayer List (Perhaps we need to say less and pray more. )

Because I’ve never seen a “Prodigal Prayer List” before, it led me to think about what it all means:

1. Prodigals happen. Sometimes we want to deny this, but we shouldn’t. Even in the best homes, where Christ is honored and his Word believed, children may choose not to follow their family’s spiritual heritage.

2. Prodigals come in all varieties. Some wander into sexual sin, others lapse into spiritual disinterest, occasionally some will rebel by adopting a pagan religion. Some will become absorbed in the quest to build a career with no thought of God.

3. We can always pray when we can’t do anything else. We have probably tried tears and anger and constant discussion. We may have bombarded our prodigals by throwing Bible verses at them like hand grenades. But the problem is rarely in the realm of knowledge. If they were raised in the church, they already know what we believe. Sometimes they know the Bible better than we do. Our prodigals may run from us, but they can’t run from our prayers. Perhaps we need to say less and pray more.

4. Coming back to the Lord is a process, not an event. While there may be a crisis moment in which a life is changed, more often the change comes in small ways–a smile, a returned phone call, an email they send, a text received, a kind word spoken. We need to give God time to work, and we need to give people time to respond in their own way.

5. We ought to celebrate small victories. Thus the importance of the “Praise and Progress Report.” These bits of news remind us that no one is ever beyond the reach of God’s grace. In response to prayers that may feel useless to us, God reaches down and touches a heart and some prodigal begins the long journey home.

I have written more about this in my message Praying for Your Prodigals.

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How Do We Help Family and Friends of a Person Struggling with Depression?

You’re reading the first in a four-part BCC Grace & Truth blog series on biblical counseling and depression. Few issues are more painful. God’s Word provides us with wisdom for addressing depression with compassion so we can care well and wisely. Today’s post: How Do We Help Family and Friends of a Person Struggling with Depression? Continue reading →

Ligonier Ministries Blog: A Catechism on the Heart

Sometimes people ask authors, “Which of your books is your favorite?” The first time the question is asked, the response is likely to be “I am not sure; I have never really thought about it.” But forced to think about it, my own standard response has become, “I am not sure what my favorite book is; but my favorite title is A Heart for God.” I am rarely asked, “Why?” but (in case you ask) the title simply expresses what I want to be: a Christian with a heart for God.

Perhaps that is in part a reflection of the fact that we sit on the shoulders of the giants of the past. Think of John Calvin’s seal and motto: a heart held out in the palm of a hand and the words “I offer my heart to you, Lord, readily and sincerely.” Or consider Charles Wesley’s hymn: 

O for a heart to praise my God!
A heart from sin set free.

Some hymnbooks don’t include Wesley’s hymn, presumably in part because it is read as an expression of his doctrine of perfect love and entire sanctification. (He thought it possible to have his longing fulfilled in this world.) But the sentiment itself is surely biblical.

But behind the giants of church history stands the testimony of Scripture. The first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart (Deut. 6:5). That is why, in replacing Saul as king, God “sought out a man after his own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14), for “the Lord looks on the heart” (16:7). It is a truism to say that, in terms of our response to the gospel, the heart of the matter is a matter of the heart. But truism or not, it is true.

What this looks like, how it is developed, in what ways it can be threatened, and how it expresses itself will be explored little by little in this new column. But at this stage, perhaps it will help us if we map out some preliminary matters in the form of a catechism on the heart:

Q.1. What is the heart?

A. The heart is the central core and drive of my life intellectually (it involves my mind), affectionately (it shapes my soul), and totally (it provides the energy for my living).

Q.2. Is my heart healthy?

A. No. By nature I have a diseased heart. From birth, my heart is deformed and antagonistic to God. The intentions of its thoughts are evil continually.

Q.3. Can my diseased heart be healed?

A. Yes. God, in His grace, can give me a new heart to love Him and to desire to serve Him.

Q.4. How does God do this?

A. God does this through the work of the Lord Jesus for me and the ministry of the Holy Spirit in me. He illumines my mind through the truth of the gospel, frees my enslaved will from its bondage to sin, cleanses my affections by His grace, and motivates me inwardly to live for Him by rewriting His law into my heart so that I begin to love what He loves. The Bible calls this being “born from above.”

Q.5. Does this mean I will never sin again?

A. No. I will continue to struggle with sin until I am glorified. God has given me a new heart, but for the moment He wants me to keep living in a fallen world. So day by day I face the pressures to sin that come from the world, the flesh, and the Devil. But God’s Word promises that over all these enemies I can be “more than a conqueror through him who loved us.”

Q.6. What four things does God counsel me to do so that my heart may be kept for Him?

A. First, I must guard my heart as if everything depended on it. This means that I should keep my heart like a sanctuary for the presence of the Lord Jesus and allow nothing and no one else to enter.

Second, I must keep my heart healthy by proper diet, growing strong on a regular diet of God’s Word — reading it for myself, meditating on its truth, but especially being fed on it in the preaching of the Word. I also will remember that my heart has eyes as well as ears. The Spirit shows me baptism as a sign that I bear God’s triune name, while the Lord’s Supper stimulates heart love for the Lord Jesus.

Third, I must take regular spiritual exercise, since my heart will be strengthened by worship when my whole being is given over to God in expressions of love for and trust in Him.

Fourth, I must give myself to prayer in which my heart holds on to the promises of God, rests in His will, and asks for His sustaining grace — and do this not only on my own but with others so that we may encourage one another to maintain a heart for God.

This — and much else — requires development, elaboration, and exposition. But it can be summed up in a single biblical sentence. Listen to your Father’s appeal: “My son, give Me your heart.”

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How to Avoid a Cult of Personality

For it has been reported to me by Chloes people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, I follow Paul, or I follow Apollos, or I follow Cephas, or I follow Christ. Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? (1 Cor. 1.11-13)

Just because you’re a strong and effective leader doesn’t mean you’ve built a cult of personality. That should be all of us. But the Oxford Dictionary helps us know what we are trying to avoid. It defines a cult of personality as a “misplaced or excessive admiration for a particular person or thing.”

its-all-about-meThere is nothing wrong with your people admiring you as their pastor. The problem starts when the healthy admiration morphs into unreflective obedience, fearful retreat, or a messianic complex.

Only our admiration of Jesus could never be misplaced or excessive. So perhaps the best way to avoid a cult of personality in your ministry is to actively pursue creating a cult of personality for someone else, namely Jesus.

Consider these other ways to help you avoid an unhealthy cult of personality.

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Highly Educated, Highly Indebted: The Lives of Today’s 27-Year-Olds

In the spring of 2002, the government’s researchers began tracking a group of roughly 15,000 high school sophomores—most of whom would be roughly age 27 today. In 2012, the government’s researchers handed their subjects an enormous survey about their lives in the real world. Here, are some of the findings.

  • More than 84 percent of today’s 27-year-olds have some college education. Only a third have a bachelor’s degree.
  • Asians are far more likely to have a bachelor’s degree than blacks, Hispanics, or whites.
  • Of those sophomores who expected to eventually earn a bachelor’s degree, only 34 percent did it.
  • About half of today’s 27-year-olds borrowed students loans.
  • Since Obama came into office, 40 percent have spent some time unemployed.
  • One in ten say they have already fulfilled their career goals.
  • They were more likely to be living with their parents than with roommates.
  •  28.2 percent were married in 2012 and 30.9 percent were living with a significant other. The majority of bachelor’s degree holders, however, reported they were still single.

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Is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy the Same as Biblical Mind/Heart Renewal?

Is Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy the Same as Biblical Mind/Heart Renewal? (Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:1-10) 

My short answer is, “Absolutely not.”

I’ll develop my longer answer in a moment.

In the last three days, I’ve shared three posts on depression, medicine, and counseling: here, here, and here.

These have been part of my interactions with my friend, David Murray.

In one of David’s posts, he stated regarding cognitive-behavioral therapy that:

“It’s actually one of the ways way the Bible describes and portrays how we work as well (Psalm 42; 73, 77; Proverbs 23:7; Romans 12:12; Philippians 4:8-9). If CBT is guilty of anything, it’s of unwittingly plagiarizing the Bible’s insights!”

Now, David doesn’t specifically mention Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 4:22-24; or Colossians 3:1-10). (I’m not sure if his reference to Romans 12:12 was meant to be Romans 12:2?)

However, many Christians who equate CBT with the Bible’s thinking on mind/heart renewal, attempt to link CBT with the three major passages where Paul discusses the biblical concept of putting off and putting on a whole way of life—Romans 12;1-2; Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:1-10.

Let’s think about that attempted linkage.

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