Category Archives: Biblical Lesson/Teaching

A Roadmap for Prayer

When I pray, I’m less distracted if I have a course to follow.

There are several prayer plans out there. Such an aid is easy to remember and follow under various circumstances and pressures. Having a roadmap for your prayer time can help redirect misguided prayers and focus meandering prayers.

I most often use a well-known prayer guide that goes by the acronym ACTS.

This prayer aid helps remind me of my priorities in prayer. Even if I have only a moment to pray, and even if I’m pursuing a specific request or concern, praying through the ACTS roadmap helps me focus on God’s will and not my own desires.

ACTS stands for adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. Let’s go over each one.

Adoration

Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness. (Psalm 29:2)

When Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, he started like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9). He expresses love in addressing God as Father and respect for him as the Ruler of heaven. He recalls God’s majesty and magnificence by speaking the truth that our Father is holy and perfect. Jesus begins prayer with adoration: praising and worshipping the Father for who he is.

Through adoration we express our love, awe, respect, and even reverent fear, of God. We declare his power, holiness, and eminence. We praise his justice, grace, mercy, sovereignty, righteous anger, and unceasing love. We sit in wonder at his unsearchable knowledge, his unfathomable wisdom, his unending understanding (Romans 11:33-36). We tremble at his unavoidable, undying presence and his intractable will. Basically, we gawk in amazement at everything that he is and sing his attributes back to him in worship.

This is the best way to start prayer. The act of adoration reminds us that our lives are not about us; they are about God. It also reminds us that he is more than capable of handling anything that is going on around us because of who he is. Priming our hearts with adoration before we continue in prayer will help ensure that we are seeking his will and glory—not our own.

Confession

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

Confession isn’t just admitting our faults, it’s about continual repentance—turning away from sin and toward God. We confess regularly, not because unrecalled sins wouldn’t be forgiven if we forgot to pray for them, but to acknowledge that we are still ever in need of Jesus.

Jesus’s work of salvation is complete and sufficient for the forgiveness of all our sins, but we need to remember that his work in sanctifying us—becoming more like Jesus—is not yet complete. Confession humbles us. We declare to God that we are lost without him, and affirm this through confessing our struggle with specific sins.


Confession reminds us how much grace we have received from Jesus and how much we still need him.
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Confession is being honest before God about who we are, and what we’ve done, and who he is, and what he’s done for us. God sees us and knows us at all times. We can’t hide and aren’t trying to. God loved us enough to send Jesus to deal with our sin, and he loves us enough to give us his Spirit to strengthen and guide us in our ongoing battle with sin. Confession reminds us how much grace we have received from Jesus and how much we still need him.

Thanksgiving

Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,

for his wondrous works to the children of man!

For he satisfies the longing soul,

and the hungry soul he fills with good things. (Psalm 107:8-9)

Thanksgiving naturally comes after confession. What do we have to be more thankful for than our salvation through Jesus Christ?

Thanksgiving is also a type of adoration, as we express our gratitude to God for all his provisions, blessings, and gifts. Giving thanks in prayer trains us to be thankful in all parts of life. When we give thanks to God, we are praising him for his control of all things.


When we give thanks to God, we are praising him for his control of all things.
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Thanksgiving is appropriate and necessary “in all circumstances,” meaning we thank God in his discipline and in his blessing (1 Thessalonians 5:18). We strive to see his sovereign will, his holiness, and his goodness in all circumstances, regardless of the difficulty we are experiencing.

Supplication

…do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Philippians 4:6)

For good reason, supplication is last on our prayer roadmap. When we come to God with our requests, we need to remember who he is, our constant need of him, and his goodness to us.

Adoration, confession, and thanksgiving tune our minds to the truth that God is God, and we are not. Only then can we really make requests of him with a right heart. We can ask what we will, but must understand that he gives and takes away as he wills. We must learn to be content with how he answers.

Jesus models godly supplication in the Garden of Gethsemane. Even being fully God, and knowing the ultimate outcome of his work, he dreads the pain of the cross. Jesus is also fully man, so the cross is still a horror (Matthew 26:38). He knows that he will be separated from his Father, even if only temporarily. This has never before happened in all of time and space, and is the greatest sacrifice that our sin demanded of Jesus. Understandably, he looks on his immediate future with dread.


We can ask what we will, but must understand that he gives and takes away as he wills.
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So he prays, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will” (Matthew 26:39b). Jesus honestly brings what is on his mind to the Father, but submits to his decision. The concern on his heart brings him to God in prayer three times, but at no point does he insist on his own way (Matthew 26:39, 42, 44). He is emotional, intense, and straightforward. But, he submits and concerns himself first and foremost with the will of his Father.

This is what prayer is for—to orient us to God’s will. We fill our minds and hearts with his Word, and then we pray his words back to him.

We can come to him honestly as long as we also come to him humbly.

We can come to him with supplications as long as we come in submission.

We can come to him with our needs as long as we come to him for his glory.

We can ask for all that our hearts desire, but our hearts must be first and fully his.

Having such a guide through prayer reminds us seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Matthew 6:33). When we do that, he will be happy to give us the desires of our heart, because they will be what he also desires for us.

[Photo Credit: Unsplash]

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Sanctification  — Belonging, Not Behaving

“Belonging to another isn’t something that can be compartmentalised for certain times or certain people. Holiness is a radical, all-in call to submit our lives daily to God. It’s the call to live for our Possessor’s glory, not our own. To be holy means to surrender our lives to God and grant him free access into every corner.”

We get the word sanctify by glueing two little Latin words together: sanctus (which means holy) and fiacre (which means to make). Therefore, to be sanctified is to be made holy and sanctification is the gradual ‘holy-fying’ that takes place in a believer’s life from the very first moments of regeneration. The Westminster Shorter Catechism calls it ‘the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness’. You and I might call it ‘holistic upcycling’, as dark habits are broken, sinful patterns are corrected, and lives are remade to the image of Christ by the power of God’s Spirit.
However, sanctification is much bigger than simply becoming more like Jesus. As glorious as that is, sanctification is God’s planned cosmic restoration happening before our very eyes. Ever since Adam rebelled, the world and its people were plunged into ruin. Throughout the Bible story, our God promises a renewed earth, decisively rid of grief and death. This hope is made certain through Christ’s death and resurrection and will be seen when Christ returns to reign. In the meantime, however, we glimpse his new creation in the church. Have you known a brother live more peaceably or behave more gently or kindly? Behold what God is doing! He’s making all things new (Rev. 21:5).
Belonging, not just behaving
But if sanctification is about becoming holier, what does ‘holy’ mean?
We might be surprised by the answer. Our instinct says that holiness has to do with purity and morality; holiness is about right behaviour. But that’s only half the story. Holiness is about behaviour, but it’s firstly about belonging.
In his first letter, Peter uses the word ‘holy’ a lot. It’s a dominant theme throughout the book, as he seeks to comfort a suffering church and call them to live distinctly amid an unbelieving world. In chapter 1 verse 15 he bids them, ‘Be holy, as he who called [them] is holy,’ then, to drive his request home he quotes from Leviticus, another book in which the theme of holiness runs throughout.
The term ‘holy’ is used in a surprising way in Leviticus. Almost everything is holy in Leviticus: people, tables, tents, breads… Bread!? That should set off alarm bells if we think holiness is simply a matter of right behaviour. How can a piece of bread behave properly?
In the Hebrew language, ‘holy’ literally means ‘set apart’; that is, to exist for God’s use alone. Our instinct is wrong. Holiness is more than behaving: it’s belonging to God. To be holy is to realise that we are a people for God’s own possession (1 Pet. 2:9). We no longer belong to ourselves. We are his.

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Christians, Sin and Repentance

It must always be the case that core Christian truths and basic biblical beliefs must be restated and reaffirmed on a regular basis. Even though they may be basic or elementary biblical truths, that does not mean we can just assume all believers have a good, solid grasp of them.

So the job of the Christian teacher never ends, and a constant affirmation and explanation of key Christian beliefs is always needed. So let me yet again do just that, this time concerning some basics about sin, repentance and the like. What inspired all this was a recent social media discussion on homosexuality and the church.

I had posted something on the Bible and homosexuality, with various comments following, and one fellow entered into a helpful discussion on all this. Hopefully our exchange helped to clarify a few things for others. What follows is pretty much how this discussion went:

Him: A friend – a Christian – asked me today, if two homosexual Christians were in a monogamous, loving relationship then will they lose their salvation under grace because of their lifestyle or will they still be saved but have their works burned up on the last day? Thoughts and scriptures please?

Me: Thanks, but we may need to ask a somewhat bigger question here. What does the Bible teach about those who claim to be Christians yet live in known, unrepentant sin (be it fornication, adultery, homosexuality, etc)? Put another way, is there such a thing as a deliberately disobedient Christian? Or is that a contradiction in terms?

Him: Please don’t get me wrong I’m not defending the “case for grace no matter what”…. But am trying to understand the depth of love and power afforded by His blood. If the guy on the cross next to Jesus was a homosexual, and he asked to be remembered by Jesus when His kingdom came…would Jesus have said “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise”?

Me: But we know from what the thief said, he was repentant and he looked to God for mercy. And so Jesus could say what he did to him. But in your first scenario you had an ongoing and unrepentant sinful lifestyle. That makes all the difference in the world. We are all sinners, but only those who agree with God about their sin and repent are going to be forgiven!

Him: Yes Bill….I agree…what if he were repenting of homosexuality?

Me: It matters not what the sin is. What matters is if we agree with God about it and turn from it in repentance and faith

Him: Otherwise if unrepented and not turned from, even if the sinner dearly loves God he/she will be cast into the pit.

Me: Yes, how can we say that someone dearly loves God if they still doggedly hold on to their sin? That is like me saying, “I dearly love my wife, but I am doggedly holding on to my extramarital affair”. Once again, we have a contradiction in terms. A true Christian may sin, but he grieves over it, repents, and seeks to be set free from that sin. A fake, nominal Christian says he loves God but in fact loves his sin more. Until he agrees with God about his sin and turns from it, he is not a real Christian!

Several things can be said about this brief conversation. One, while this person was asking good and important questions, and was basically on the same page, for many other believers this would still be a hard thing to even consider or to get right. Confusion abounds on such matters.

Many folks really do not know the basics of the Christians faith, including the fundamental truth that a life of regular, defiant sin and rebellion is a pretty good indication of someone NOT being a Christian. So much emphasis has been placed on the love and mercy of God – and those are wondrous and glorious truths indeed – that many believers know or think very little about God’s holiness and righteousness.

So many folks think that because of God’s great love, people can claim to be Christians, live like the devil, and still be found to somehow be right with God. Um no, it does not quite work that way. A life of wilful rebellion and disobedience is not and cannot be what a true Christian is all about.

Related to this is the ongoing need to restate the basic truths about salvation. As I have said so often before, when it comes to the first step of salvation – justification – yes, it is all of God. We are saved by grace through faith and can add nothing to this initial step.

But that is just the beginning. The rest of the Christian life has to do with sanctification – the continued growth in Christ which is indeed a cooperative effort. God gives grace, the Holy Spirit indwells us, but we have to keep making right choices and keep obeying.

There are hundreds of commands in the New Testament. Believers are urged to do plenty to grow and mature as Christians. That includes saying yes to God and no to sin. So while we rejoice in the mercy and grace of God, we dare not take it for granted, nor be presumptuous about it.

Known, defiant sin and rebellion are pretty clear indications of where a person is at. As stated above in the conversation we had, yes the Christian still sins, but it is not something he seeks to excuse or condone or justify. The real Christian knows such sin is wrong, and seeks – with God’s help – to overcome it.

Related to this is just how much of the world’s thinking has permeated the churches. Instead of preaching holiness, godliness and repentance, we simply follow the spirit of the age, and try to make excuses for those wilfully defying the clear commands of Scripture.

The issue of homosexuality is a classic case in point. Instead of affirming the plain biblical teachings on this, we buy into all the world’s thinking on it. We refuse to call it sin, we refuse to affirm what Scripture teaches on this, and we reject God and his Word as we just emote our way through these areas.

We buy the lies of the world that “love is love” and as long as people “love” each other, that is all that matters. Nope, not at all. What matters is the truth of God and whether we align ourselves with it or not. Love is far more than lust or feelings. Biblical love is a much higher and nobler thing.

Many of those who are weak and compromised here will actually quote from the “love chapter”: 1 Corinthians 13. But let me remind them of what is actually found there. Verse 6 brings it all into proper focus: “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.”

Love and truth always go together, and a rejection of evil is also always a part of this. So it simply is foolish to speak of Christians being in a “loving homosexual relationship.” One might as well try to argue that a Christian can be in a loving adulterous relationship. Sorry, sin is sin – end of story.

Those conversant with the basics of Christianity 101 will of course find nothing new here. But it is mainly for those who are not conversant with it that I write this – again. I have discussed such matters countless times before, and it looks like I will keep having to do so.

Hopefully however, some folks will get it this time around!

Source: Christians, Sin and Repentance

Spiritual Dry Spells: Causes and Cures

I’m willing to bet that most of us have experienced a spiritual dry spell—a time when we felt far from the Lord, unfruitful, unmotivated, and maybe a little lost. Feelings of closeness and communion with the Lord faded. That fiery desire to love and serve Christ dwindled.

Maybe that’s you, now. Maybe you’re wrestling with the host of emotions that accompany a spiritual drought—anything from confusion to doubt, apathy, even depression.

Three Causes of Spiritual Dry Spells

If we are Christians, if we have been freed from condemnation, united with Christ, and the Holy Spirit has taken up residence in our souls, then how is it we still experience these dry spells? What causes them? How do we get through them?

Let’s look at three common causes and their cures.

1. Harbored Sin

In Romans 6:2, Paul asks, “How can we who died to sin still live in it?” The answer is…miserably. We cannot serve two masters. While “we know that our old self was crucified with [Christ]…so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin,” the battle between our flesh and our new spirit is still very much in play (Romans 6:6). The sinful part of our nature that is wired to respond to temptation is still a dividing force in our lives.

If you’re feeling far from the Lord, if you no longer feel drawn to spend time in his Word, if you’ve become hardened to serving him and maybe even hardened toward other people, odds are that there is a part of your life where sin is reigning free. Sin is always in the business of distancing us from the Father. Sin turns our focus inward instead of upward, and eventually downward into shame and despair.

The cure for this cause is simple—repentance. We have a painfully, yet beautifully clear picture of this in David. David was a man after God’s own heart, who at one point sank so deeply into sin that he justified murder as a means of hiding his indiscretions (2 Samuel 11). Look at his prayer of repentance in Psalm 51:11-12. He says,

Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

David prayed for the Lord to restore the joy of his salvation because it had been lost to sin. He begged the Lord not to cast him away because he knew that sin has the power to divide and cut off.

If there is an area of habitual sin in your life, put it to death. As a believer, the cost to you is too great to continue in it, and the cost to your Savior was too great for you to ignore it. As John Owen so simply put it, “Always be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

2. Trust in Feelings

Our hearts are fickle. Our emotions are not to be trusted. In fact, Jeremiah goes so far as to say that our hearts are “deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9). Oftentimes when we feel far from the Lord, when we don’t feel God’s love the way we used to, it’s because we’ve mistakenly put our trust in feelings about our faith rather than facts, what God’s Word says about our faith. That’s what Proverbs 3:5 means when it says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.”


God’s Word is living and life-giving. It’s able to breathe new life into a dry and distant soul.
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The Lord is unchanging, immovable, and steadfast. The same cannot be said of our emotions. That’s why we’re commanded to trust in him with our hearts, rather than trusting in our hearts to understand him.

The cure, in this case, is Scripture. If this cause is ringing a bell, you’re probably spending more time dwelling on your thoughts and feelings than you are on the Word. Turn to passages like Romans 8:31-39 that remind us of the binding love we’ve received through Christ. Nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ, not even our ever-changing moods and affections. Look at 1 John 4:10 where we’re reminded that our salvation came out of God’s love for us, not our love for him. Our emotions didn’t save us, and they are not what will sustain us.

God’s Word is living and life-giving. It’s able to breathe new life into a dry and distant soul. Like the psalmist, make the Lord’s testimonies your delight and your counselor, not your emotions (Psalm 119:24).

3. A Forgetful Memory

Fear of the future or bitterness over the past can suck a soul dry and harden the heart. Though fear and bitterness are two different states, they spring from the same root. If you find yourself with a fearful or bitter heart, it’s likely that you’ve forgotten the goodness of the Lord. In the case of fear, you’ve forgotten all the Lord has already seen you safely through and his promise to never leave you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5-6). In the case of bitterness, you’ve forgotten the Lord’s mercies woven through your past pain and his power to redeem lost days (Joel 2:25).

Deuteronomy 4:9 lays out this final cause and its cure beautifully with a warning we would all be wise to heed:

Only take care, and keep your soul diligently, lest you forget the things that your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life.

If we aren’t careful to remind ourselves of all the Lord has done for us, memories of his provision, protection, and grace will fade. Along with them, fruitfulness, confidence, and joy in the Lord will fade as well. When that happens, it’s no wonder we feel a sense of emptiness.

To combat this cause, we give thanks. Listing everything the Lord has done for us helps us call to mind his goodness and his faithfulness. We should again be like the psalmist and say, “I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds” (Psalm 9:1).

Washed in the Living Water

Regardless of why you find yourself in a spiritual dry spell—whether because of harbored sin, misplaced trust in feelings, a forgetful memory, or any other cause—pray for your soul, your heart. We know that God, alone, can remove a heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26).

This is why it’s so important that we preach the gospel to ourselves every day. Sin becomes less tempting the more I think on its deadly weight. The more I meditate on Jesus as Lord of all, the easier it is for my heart to submit to his sole lordship. When I remember the grace I’ve been given through my Savior, it’s more difficult for fear or bitterness to take root.

It’s hard for the soul to dry out when it’s daily washed in the living water of Christ, crucified and risen to save it.

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The post Spiritual Dry Spells: Causes and Cures appeared first on Unlocking the Bible.

Counting Our Blessings

Code: B171025

Imagine you’re sitting in church this coming Sunday morning. Your pastor steps up to deliver his sermon and starts speaking in a language almost entirely foreign to you. You might recognize a few words, but the majority of what he says flies past you as gibberish. You can’t even follow along with the text—there are no pew Bibles, and you don’t own a copy to study for yourself.

Imagine if that were your entire spiritual intake for the week—a message preached in a language you don’t understand, from a text you can’t read, in a book you’re not allowed to own.

Such was life in the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages. The pope and his priests had a stranglehold on the text of Scripture, withholding it from the common man. There was no personal study of God’s Word to speak of—you only got whatever you heard from week to week during mass. Those who couldn’t speak Latin—which was often the majority of the people—got even less.

These days, when information is so easily accessible, it’s hard to imagine being totally separated from God’s Word. An inaccessible Bible is a foreign concept to most of us in the developed world. You’ve likely got several copies laying around your house. As I type this, I have about ten Bibles within reach of my desk, not counting the digital versions on my computer and phone.

Because of such immediate and abundant access to God’s Word, believers today have a tendency to grow complacent and cold to Scripture’s preciousness. We purchase Bibles like accessories, giving more thought to their external appearance than the spiritual riches they contain. It’s the natural progression of the trend Charles Spurgeon famously described to his congregation more than 150 years ago:

Most people treat the Bible very politely. They have a small pocket volume, neatly bound; they put a white pocket-handkerchief around it, and carry it to their places of worship; when they get home, they lay it up in a drawer till next Sunday morning; then it comes out again for a little bit of a treat and goes to chapel; that is all the poor Bible gets in the way of an airing. That is your style of entertaining this heavenly messenger. There is dust enough on some of your Bibles to write “damnation” with your fingers.[1]

Most of us don’t know what it is to truly hunger for God’s truth, since we’ve never been without access to it for more than mere minutes.

Consequently, we don’t appreciate the widespread spiritual starvation that set the stage for the Reformation. We can’t fathom the bravery of men like John Huss, who was banished from his pulpit for daring to preach in the common language of his parishioners. We can’t understand the revolutionary work of men like John Wycliffe and William Tyndale, who labored tirelessly to translate and publish the Bible in English. We can’t appreciate the seismic impact of Gutenberg’s movable-type printing press, and the unprecedented access it gave God’s people to His Word.

What we can appreciate, from our vantage point in church history, is how the Lord sovereignly orchestrated events to bring about the Reformation in His perfect timing. We can see how He gifted and used His servants to recover His Word and shine the light of His truth into a world dominated by the darkness of Catholic lies. We can see the immense price so many paid to protect and preserve God’s Word for future generations of church history.

As beneficiaries of the Reformers’ tireless efforts, we’re right to recognize their lives and ministries. But don’t make the mistake of celebrating the Reformers while missing the point of the Reformation itself. Scripture alone is the authority in the church. Scripture alone defines and declares the truth about Christ and the power of His gospel. And Scripture alone is our standard for life and godliness.

In many ways, the church today is in at least as bad a shape as it was prior to the Reformation—it’s probably even worse . Overrun with worldliness, charlatans, and heresy, the Protestant church needed less than five hundred years to dig a deeper well of apostasy than the one it was originally born out of. And while the corruption might be more pervasive, the remedy is the same. The modern church does not need some new marketing strategy or public relations campaign—it doesn’t need to further mimic the tastes and trends of this wretched world.

Just as the Reformers before us, God’s people need to recover the authority and sufficiency of Scripture and return it to its preeminent place in our congregations. We need to shake off our indifference and complacency and get busy with the work of God’s kingdom. Like the Reformers, we need to expend ourselves—even unto death—to shine the life-transforming light of God’s Word into a world dominated by spiritual darkness.

And thanks to those faithful Reformers and Bible translators, much of the hard work has already been done for us. We don’t have to wrestle God’s Word out of the clutches of Satan—we simply have to submit to it and faithfully proclaim it.

The Reformers understood that God’s Word is a treasure worth fighting and dying for—it alone can bring life to the dead and sight to the blind. You can’t truly celebrate the Reformation if you don’t share that conviction.

 


Available online at: https://www.gty.org/library/blog/B171025
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John MacArthur on the Reformation and the Word of God

Code: B171023

This month marks the five hundredth anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his Ninety-Five Theses to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany—an event commonly cited as the flash point of the Protestant Reformation. Believers around the world are celebrating the legacies of Luther and the other Reformers, who worked to recover the true gospel from the dogma and tradition of the Roman Catholic Church.

But how had the gospel of Christ been obscured for so long? How did the Roman Catholic Church gain and maintain such spiritual dominance over people? And how did the light of God’s truth finally break through such pervasive darkness?

We put those questions to John MacArthur. Here’s what he had to say:

We rightly credit men like Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and Knox for their roles in recovering and proclaiming the truth of God’s Word. But the power of the Catholic Church was stifled by Scripture itself, as God’s people came face-to-face with the truth of His Word. The pope and the priesthood, along with Catholic dogma and tradition, were exposed as untrustworthy and unbiblical intermediaries between God and man. In the light of God’s Word, their satanic lies were laid bare.

Today, we worship and serve in the long line of faithful believers who held to the authority, inerrancy, and sufficiency of Scripture. This line includes the heroes of church history who helped recover the gospel of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. If not for the work of those faithful servants, we might still be living under the dark dominion of Catholic lies today.

More on that next time.

 


Available online at: https://www.gty.org/library/blog/B171023
COPYRIGHT ©2017 Grace to You

You may reproduce this Grace to You content for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Grace to You’s Copyright Policy (http://www.gty.org/about#copyright).

To Defeat Your Sin, Look at Jesus

Strategies abound for dealing with sin.

There are mountains of books to help us develop habits to stop lying, beat various addictions, control our thoughts, grow in generosity, or develop contentedness. A quick Google search will reveal list upon list of verses about sexual purity, anger, worry, unbelief, idolatry, business ethics—any area you can think of where Christians struggle to live the way God call us to live.

By all means, read the books and memorize the verses. Many of them have been extremely helpful to large numbers of people. Bad habits do indeed need to be replaced with good ones. I’m not anti-strategy.

What we need to recognize, however, is that all these books and verses, and any other helpful tools, are just that—tools. They are not a cure. You will not suddenly cease to be tempted by porn just because you read Every Man’s Battle. You can memorize every verse in the Bible about financial responsibility and still be addicted to gambling. And those struggling with homosexuality cannot just “pray the gay away.”

Ultimately, focusing on sin will not rid you of it. It is Jesus Christ who saves, not books, tools, or strategies. No matter how deeply you understand the nature of your sin, you cannot rescue yourself from its power.

Jesus Changes Lives

The good news of the gospel is that Jesus changes lives. It’s a statement of unbelief to say you can’t stop or that you can’t change. It’s true that you can’t change yourself. But “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

As new creations, we’re not to manage our sin, but to cease from it: “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14). We don’t focus on our sin as if we can defeat it through the right strategic approach. Instead, we focus on the One who has already done all that is necessary for its defeat and our redemption.


Christian, know what you are forgiven for, but most of all love the One who forgives you.
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Jesus isn’t satisfied with simply eradicating this or that particular sin—he demands our whole lives. He didn’t die and rise from the dead just to save you from pornography or gambling or your bad temper. It is too easy for us to think and act as if a homosexual would be just fine if only they were straight, but that isn’t what the Bible says. Sin runs deeper than mere actions. All mankind is opposed to God and needs the redeeming power of the blood of Christ and his reconciling peace.

Love Motivates Holiness

Christian, know what you are forgiven for, but most of all love the One who forgives you. The Bible tells us we have forgiveness of sin through him. Jesus said whoever has been forgiven much loves much (Luke 7:47). We need to be aware of our sin, but not for its own sake; instead, awareness of sin drives us to repentance, to holiness, and to love the One who forgave us:

Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Romans 7:24-25)

…let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1b-2, NASB)

But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:13-14)

The Goal Is Jesus

If you are focused on your sin, you will run as one being chased. You will always be looking over your shoulder, and you may be overtaken. To win the race, focus on the goal—but the goal isn’t defeating your sin. The goal is Jesus Christ, who has already defeated it.

So cast yourself upon Jesus. Be conscious and deliberate about following and worshipping him in all things. Ask for his help. Pray without ceasing. Pursue him wholeheartedly in everything you do, for it is he, not you, who conquers sin.

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Seven Symptoms of a Prideful Heart

Pride is universal—something we all deal with, as ancient as Adam and as relevant as the morning news. Yet we don’t always see our own pride, which weaves like weeds around our lives.

Oh, we see it in the obvious ways, but we can be blind to its deceptive, subversive way in our hearts. We know the disease, but we don’t recognize the symptoms. And that’s why we need the insight of our spiritual Great Physician to reveal symptoms of pride and rescue us from it.

Seven Symptoms of a Prideful Heart

Here are seven symptoms of pride I’ve been seeing in God’s Word as his Spirit works in my own life:

1. Fear

Pride is at the root of fear and anxiety, when we refuse to humbly rest in God’s sovereign care. Fear simultaneously reveals our lack of trust and our poisonous self-reliance. We fear because we don’t have faith in the Lord, we are enormously preoccupied with ourselves, and we don’t have control.

When Peter stepped out on the stormy sea to come to Jesus, he was walking in humble faith. But when his gaze shifted to his circumstances and self-preservation, he trusted in himself, became afraid, and began to sink. It was Jesus who saved him, while admonishing him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31).

2. Entitlement

Self-sacrifice stems from a humble heart. Entitlement is rooted in a prideful heart. The core of the gospel is that we are not entitled to anything, except just punishment for our sins (Romans 3:23; 6:23). Yet we deceive ourselves into thinking we’re better than we are, so we deserve better than we have. We think we deserve God’s mercy. We think we deserve people’s praise. We think we deserve love, success, comfort, accolades. We certainly don’t think we deserve suffering, heartbreak, or discipline.

But when we do experience these things, we grow bitter, frustrated, and disturbed because we believe we’re entitled to more. We forget that apart from Jesus Christ we are sinners who deserve condemnation.

The disciples wrestled with entitlement many times. On one occasion, they were arguing about who was the greatest. They selfishly thought they deserved honor and glory. But Jesus’ response to them was a rebuke: “Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves” (Luke 22:26).

3. Ingratitude

Our proud hearts say we are good, that we should get what we want, and if we don’t, we’re justified in our ingratitude. If we’re uncomfortable or inconvenienced in any way, we can complain. It’s our right. Humility recognizes that God is good, that he gives us what he knows we need, so we have no reason to be ungrateful. There is nothing we lack (Deuteronomy 2:7; Psalm 34:9).

The Israelites’ grumbled in the wilderness, though God fed, clothed, and led them through it (Exodus 16:2; Deuteronomy 8:2). Their stubborn hearts rejected God’s daily mercies out of a foundation of self-idolization. But God’s Word rebukes our proud grumbling with this command: “Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…” (Philippians 2:14-15).

4. People-Pleasing

Pride is self-worship and self-preservation at all costs—and people-pleasing is the direct result of pride. Some think people-pleasing is a positive trait because they’re so clearly concerned with serving others. But that belief is nothing more than a sneaky sheepskin we put over a wolfish habit. People-pleasing is all about self-satisfaction—fearing man more than God—and seeking the fleeting happiness that comes from man’s approval.


Jesus’ humility means forgiveness of our pride. That’s the sting and joy of the gospel.
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The apostle Paul knew human approval was a pointless and prideful pursuit. Because of that, he could say, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).

5. Prayerlessness

Pride deceives us into thinking we can “do life” on our own—that we’re capable, independent, unstoppable, and self-reliant. We think we don’t need God every hour, that we don’t need his help, grace, mercy, courage, and hope. So, surely, we don’t need to pray.

But a humble heart submits itself to God in prayer because it knows it can do nothing without him.

When God called Jonah to go to Nineveh, Jonah’s response was not to go to God in prayer. Instead, he fled, his heart furiously and arrogantly silent (Jonah 1:3). When God humbled him in the belly of a great fish, Jonah finally cried out in prayer (2:1).

6. Hypocrisy

When you’re proud, you elevate your status, forgetting the mercy God has shown you. You think you’re better and holier than everyone else, and you easily find fault with others. Pride produces a hypocritical spirit.

The Pharisees’ hypocritical pride blinded them to their sin and to God’s mercy—which made them cold-hearted and cruel toward others. Jesus had harsh words for them: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27).

7. Rebellion

Rebellion against God manifests itself in resistance toward the Word and the spiritual leaders he has placed in our lives. It is the reflex of a prideful heart. It also shows itself in a lack of submission—wives, to your husbands; children, to your parents; employees, to your bosses; citizens, to your government. Rebellion says, “I know better than you, God,” when you don’t.

We see rebellion in the first people God created: Adam and Eve (Genesis 3). Even though they had all they needed for life and joy, out of pride they rebelled against God’s good decree, thinking they knew better than him. And this rebellion brought pain, suffering, and death—for them and for us.

The Humble Servant

Yet there is hope for the proud heart in the incarnation of humility, Jesus Christ. Immanuel—God with us—condescended to live among us, die for us, and raise us to new life. He never owned a shred of sinful pride—no fear, entitlement, ingratitude, people-pleasing, prayerlessness, hypocrisy, or rebellion.

Philippians 2:4-6 says,

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

Jesus is God, his equal, and yet emptied himself of all he deserved to save us from our pride. He who was entitled to the highest honor forfeited it for our redemption.

It’s because of Jesus’ humility that we can be forgiven of our pride. That’s both the sting and joy of the gospel. It deals with our pride by destroying it, reminding us that life is not about us, and that we deserve only the wrath of God for our sin. Jesus Christ also deals with our pride by taking the just punishment for it upon himself at the cross, that we might be renewed in the image of our Creator (Colossians 3:10) and made humble like our Savior.

Being humbled is not smooth or painless, but it’s our rescue.

Jesus is our rescue from pride.

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Is It Really God Speaking to You?

This is why that voice in your head needs to be submitted to God’s Word and not just assumed it is God. God could very well be using your conscience. It is not wise to go against your conscience. But our conscience must be recalibrated to the word of God. It is also possible that your conscience could be way off and causing you to submit to laws which are opposed to the gospel or giving you permission to do things that God never said is appropriate.

“I’ve prayed about this and I really feel like God told me that it would be okay.”

Those were the words that I heard when a young lady informed me that she was leaving her husband in order to live with another dude. She was happier with the other guy. She knew that God didn’t want her to be unhappy and so as she prayed that voice in her head confirmed that she had permission from the Almighty.

Don’t write me off as crazy, but I think she probably did hear a sort of “voice” in her mind that she attributed to God. And I don’t believe it was necessarily demonic. In fact I believe it is a voice that many of us hear on a daily basis. I believe many well-meaning believers attribute this voice to God.

That voice is your conscience.

I was with a guy who told me that as he was praying “God told him” that he was being inconsistent in a particular behavior. As he played out the conversation with “God” it was interesting how much the Lord sounded like the man who was telling me the story. Your conscience is “your consciousness of what you believe is right and wrong.” (Naselli, 41) It is that internal voice that you hear that tells you whether things are right or wrong.

But here is the problem with equating the voice of your conscience to the voice of God. Your conscience can be wrong. In fact it can be seared (1 Timothy 4:2) and guilty (Hebrews 10:22). Your conscience can make you think that right is wrong and that wrong is right.

This is why that voice in your head needs to be submitted to God’s Word and not just assumed it is God. God could very well be using your conscience. It is not wise to go against your conscience. But our conscience must be recalibrated to the word of God. It is also possible that your conscience could be way off and causing you to submit to laws which are opposed to the gospel or giving you permission to do things that God never said is appropriate.

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Four Hindrances to Prayer

God can seem far away when I pray.

It can feel like I’m beating my head against a wall. My prayers feel repetitive, self-indulgent, short, and they seemingly go unanswered.

When things are good, or when I have plenty, or even when I’m distracted, God gets too little of my time. When I do pray, my prayers are often filled with a wish list of things I want. Instead of being a time of communion with my Savior, prayer becomes a means to an end, and that end is self.

Four Hindrances to Prayer

I’m sure these are common problems for many believers: that praying is difficult and self-centered, and that our prayers seem hindered. Let’s look at the latter difficulty: What does Scripture say about what can hinder our prayers?

1. Ignoring God’s Word

If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination. (Proverbs 28:9)

If someone, even a professed believer, refuses to hear and heed God’s discipline and guidance, their prayers become detestable to the Lord.

This includes a rejection of the Bible’s authority as God’s revealed Word. If you reject God’s primary communication about Jesus and his work, how can you know him? You don’t love the real Jesus; you love a made-up Jesus. This fabricated Jesus doesn’t even exist, so he obviously can’t answer prayers.

2. Loving Sin

Psalm 66 points out another issue that restricts the reception of our prayers: “If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” (Psalm 66:18).

Our prayers won’t be heard if we “cherish iniquity,” holding unrepentantly to some sin. This does not include a believer struggling with a recurring sin who regularly and humbly repents, but this is anyone who willfully harbors sin and refuses to repent.

3. Desiring Wrongly

You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. (James 4:2-3)

James makes two points here.

The first is that we don’t ask God for his help. I’ve fallen into this many times, either when I think my prayers are insignificant or selfish, or when I try to do things in my own power.

James’ second point speaks to our motivations. He writes this after saying that we’re too often ruled by our desires, and just as our unchecked passions may lead to quarreling and sin, they can inhibit our relationship with God, including his response to our prayers.

4. Doubting God

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord. (James 1:5-7)

God wants to give his children good things. Since he gave us his Son, the greatest gift of love and goodness and mercy, can we then believe he would withhold any of his love and goodness from us (Romans 8:32)?


Knowing and loving Jesus will change how, why, and what we ask of him.
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It may seem that evil in the world and the unending worries of life are too overwhelming to address in prayer. We would be constantly asking for help, and God would get sick of us, we think—

Or we get overwhelmed by our sin. We know the things we’ve done, we know how unlovable we are. God may have given us his Son, but we certainly don’t deserve any more than that, we think…

Both of these are examples of how doubt can creep into our prayer life. Doubt lies to us that God’s love, patience, and power have limits. James states clearly that actively doubting God’s graciousness and providence can impede our prayers.

Prayer That Delights God

In order to avoid blockades to prayer, it helps to know prayer’s purpose. Wonderfully, Jesus explains:

If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. (John 15:7-10)

To abide in Christ’s love, we follow his commands, which means knowing Scripture, “the word of Christ” (Colossians 3:16). As we increase in the knowledge of Jesus, we will also increase in love for him, which drives us to our knees in repentance. When you know Jesus and what he has done for you, it becomes progressively easier to turn from the ugliness of sin to the beauty of the Savior.

As we come to know and love Jesus, our prayers will be increasingly transformed. This will change how, why, and what we ask of him. We will love what he loves, hate what he hates, and desire what he desires. We will learn to submit to his timing in answering because we are learning to trust him more.

A Praying Faith

As our Father, God delights to give good gifts to his children (Luke 11:5-13). Knowing we ask according to his will, we can have faith that he will answer us, even when his answer doesn’t align with our understanding or timetable. When doubt still comes, we reject it and turn to our forgiving and compassionate God who will bolster our faith. We come to God humbly in prayer through Jesus, who opened the way for us to do so by removing all blockades to communion with God when he defeated sin and death.

Yes, we will still struggle with the flesh and the world; therefore our requests may be tainted, and our ability to notice God’s answers may be clouded. So we cling to Psalm 37:4: “Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

Jesus has changed those who love him, delighting us in himself. Even when we don’t know how to ask or receive, he sees what we truly want—to know him, love him, and bear fruit for him—and knows how and when to provide and answer.

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Weekly Watchman for 10/20/2017

Willow Creek Pastor Bill Hybels to Retire; Names Successor

Founding and Senior Pastor Bill Hybels has announced his retirement effective October, 2018. He will remain as “founding pastor” and oversee the expansion of Willow Creek’s Association that provides services and resources to churches and also the Willow Creek Leadership Summit.

Hybels and Willow Creek are no strangers to controversy. The WC Leadership Summit has elevated people like Bill Clinton, Rob Bell and several corporation executives as “leaders to emulate” even though many of them are not even Christians and support homosexual marriage and abortion. Some people believe this is incorporating the ways of the world into the church.

His wife Lynne openly opposes the nation of Israel through “Christ at the Checkpoint,” criticizing Israel while giving a pass to the terrorist organizations who kill in the name of Allah. In typical controversial fashion, Hybels is going out with a bang: he has named Heather Larsen his successor to the lead pastor position having the title of Executive Pastor.

Many of you have weighed in on this so we discuss it in the first segment today and then get to more listener questions and comments.

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The Real Inconvenient Truth

The liberal, utopian mindset is an interesting thing. No matter the facts that might get in the way of their arguments, they charge forward convinced that they are the enlightened geniuses who have everything figured out. If for some reason stupid, backwards thinking conservatives would just get with the program and blindly follow them; then we could unite, solve the world’s problems and achieve the utopian dream.

The basis of this is not necessarily liberalism; it is the belief in humanism: man’s nature is good and if we just collectively become one, we can solve any problem and accomplish anything. (Does the Tower of Babel ring a bell?) Sadly, this same humanism is actually infecting the professing Christian Church–but we’ll discuss that another day.

A cornerstone of the progressive movement toward a one world government is the alarmism and desperation we hear from the Left over climate change. Al Gore and others have made millions stirring up panic by claiming we are on the verge of world wide catastrophe if we don’t stop using fossil fuels as energy. But is their theory based on scientific fact? Or is it just a scare tactic meant to manipulate and control people – and make them big money?

This morning we are joined by Dr. Roy Spencer who was a Senior Scientist for Climate Studies at NASA. His latest book is titled An Inconvenient Deception: how Al Gore Distorts Climate Science and Energy Policy. Dr. Spencer is a preeminent expert on the field of Climate Science and he joins us to separate fact from fiction and manipulation over the topic of climate change.

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Trafficking and Profiting from Hate

We have reached a time in America where speaking the truth, no matter how gently done, is called hateful. If you speak out against the facts in the Quran, you hate Muslims. Speak about God’s definition of marriage, and you hate homosexuals. Share what the Bible says about gender being assigned at birth and permanent – even though secular science confirms this truth – and you hate transgenders. Speak up and defend life, and you hate women.

There is big money and power in screaming “hate speech” every time the progressive agenda is challenged or the Bible is referenced out loud. Today, we look at a thought provoking commentary on how the business of hate is consuming our nation.

In our first segment, we check in with Pastor Randy White and continue our discussion on how the Old Testament of the Bible is increasingly overlooked or discarded, even by many professing Christians. Is our growing ignorance of God’s wisdom and proclamations of the Old Testament causing problems in our spiritual growth as Christians and effectiveness as a church?

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Fearing God. Exactly What Does that Mean?

Proverbs 9:10 states: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” But what exactly does the Bible mean when it says we are to fear God? Does it mean that even as His adopted children we expect Him to punish us every time we disobey Him? Or that the moment we disobey Him, He will rescind His promise to those who confess, repent and place our complete faith and trust in Jesus Christ?

Dave Wager of Silver Birch Ranch and Nicolet Bible Institute joins us to discuss what a healthy and accurate fear of God looks like, and why “the fear of the Lord” is seen as an antiquated belief even among professing Christians.

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Gospel Opportunities, Halloween, and Good News in the NFL?

The first century Christian Church was well aware of what God wanted them to do and why they were still in this world. They knew for a fact Jesus was alive and they believed the return of Christ was imminent. They also knew it was their responsibility to share the gospel with as many people as possible in the hope they would repent and accept forgiveness and salvation through Jesus Christ. And while many were wrong about the timing of His return, their passion for the gospel led many into the eternal Kingdom of Heaven.

Here’s a heart check for us: how is our level of passion and commitment for the gospel? Do we understand the true purpose God has us in this world? Or is it more about finding God’s “special purpose” for our lives these days? If we truly believe what the Bible teaches, that people who do not surrender to God and submit themselves to the lordship of Jesus Christ will spend eternity separated from Him in hell, then why are we so timid about sharing the good news with our family, friends and neighbors?

Jay Seegert of The Starting Point Project joins us to discuss why Christians seem afraid or are hesitant to share the Gospel. We also look at #GreenBayPacker’s quarterback, #AaronRodger’s broken collarbone from a spiritual perspective, knowing God allows things to happen in our lives to bring us back to Him.

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Friday’s Featured Sermon: “Strange Fire Revisited”

Code: B171020

“The charismatic movement is not faith. It is doubt looking for proof.” Those potent words come from John MacArthur in a new interview titled “Strange Fire Revisited.”

It has been four years since the Strange Fire conference, and the publication of John MacArthur’s book Strange Fire. He and Phil Johnson recently sat down for a frank discussion about the history of the charismatic movement, its current state, and the ongoing impact of Strange Fire. This is a candid and eye-opening conversation, as John delves into what first motivated him to scrutinize the charismatic movement decades ago, and discusses the important distinction between charismatics and Reformed non-cessationists.

Here are a few quotes to illustrate the wide-ranging nature of the interview, and the various topics they tackle.

On why this is still a pressing and pertinent issue, John said:

I’m confident that will continue to be an issue; it does not go away. In fact, it seems that it morphs into an even more extreme version as time goes on. The thing that is so sad to me, Phil, is the people who proclaim themselves as teachers and representatives of God are unwilling to do even what the Bereans did, and that is to compare the things they say with Scripture in an honest way. And that, to me, is evidence that there is no righteous intent behind this. This is part of the adversary’s strategy.

On whether the movement is home to genuine believers:

I think Christians will find their way out, sooner rather than later. It’s a great place for non-Christians to belong. I think a true believer, with a real hunger for the Word of God, and a genuine love for God, and a believer that is under the influence of the Holy Spirit has to be led out of the aberrant aspects of that movement. You can’t be a Spirit-filled, Spirit-led true believer, and be at home with the outrageous misrepresentations of the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit that exist in that movement.

On the enduring allure of the charismatic movement:

The charismatic movement is not faith. It is doubt looking for proof. They’re people living in doubt. I think they’re deeply fearful in many cases—deeply worried and deeply traumatized by their spiritual condition. And they don’t know what it is to have the love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control that comes as the fruit of the Spirit. And they’re reaching out for something external to validate themselves spiritually, so they know they’re okay. And then you have now, of course, a whole generation who just want an experience.

“Strange Fire Revisited” is a powerful, thought-provoking conversation that you don’t want to miss. It’s a unique look at the heart of a godly shepherd who has been faithfully fending off spiritual wolves for several decades. And it’s a call to God’s people to carry on the fight for the purity of the church and the authority of Scripture.

Click here to listen to “Strange Fire Revisited.”

 


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