Category Archives: Christian Living

Friday’s Featured Sermon: “Four Hallmarks of Humility, Part 3”

Luke 17:5-10

Code: B170526

What is the worst sin? Most of us probably think of the big ones in terms of visibility and fallout. Sins like adultery or murder are usually near the top of the list. But how many of us would put pride as chief of crimes against God?

Scripture actually contains a list of things God hates and pride is at the top of that list (Proverbs 6:16–17). Pride is certainly one of the best ways to imitate Satan. No wonder it’s so offensive to God. “Everyone who is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord; assuredly, he will not be unpunished” (Proverbs 16:5).

Pride is a subtle and sinister threat that continually stalks the Christian life. The temptation is always there to take credit for things when God rightly deserves the glory. Pride is so utterly subversive it often attacks us subconsciously. Even our piety can become a battlefield with pride. Have you ever caught yourself feeling good over your worship of God, your selflessness—even your humility?

In his sermon “Four Hallmarks of Humility, Part 3,” John MacArthur points out that the pride so inherent to the human condition was turned into an art form by the Pharisees.

Fallen, unredeemed flesh is proud and it will turn pride into a virtue, as you well know from the culture in which you live. That’s bad enough. But when you compound it with religious pride—spiritual pride which takes it to a higher level of virtue—you sell that as if that is legitimate religion. It is a difficult disconnect to remove people from those things which are both instinctive to their fallenness and cultivated in them from their youth as virtuous.

And so Jesus spends a lot of time teaching His disciples about humility, while at the same time they’re having discussions about which of them will be the greatest in the kingdom. Even so audacious, a couple of them send their mother to ask Jesus if they can please be on His right hand and left hand. And when that was unfolded, the rest of the disciples were angry—not because they were more humble but because two of them got there first. They were struggling deeply with these issues of humility, it just wasn’t part of their nature and nor was it part of their religious culture.

Our modern plight is really no different from the prideful struggles of Jesus’ disciples. Humility is counterintuitive to every natural tendency and instinct we have. For that reason, we need it to take root via supernatural means. And John MacArthur lays out that reality from a profound biblical perspective in “Four Hallmarks of Humility, Part 3.”

Here’s what one of our staff members said about John’s sermon and its central text, Luke 17:5–10:

Jesus’ teaching in these verses serves as a welcome reminder that everything commendable in us is the result of God’s grace, and all good works attempted and accomplished must be attributed to His gracious gifting and empowerment. Jesus’ words in verses 9–10 remind us of the beauty of humility in our service for God: “He [the master] does not thank the slave because he did the things which were commanded, does he? So you too, when you do all the things which are commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy slaves; we have done only that which we ought to have done.’” Such an attitude rightly acknowledges and exalts God’s grace which works in us who believe. —Jeremy S.

Click here to watch or listen to “Four Hallmarks of Humility, Part 3.”

 


Available online at: https://www.gty.org/library/blog/B170526
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Measuring Your Spiritual Growth

Code: B170524

In the entryway to my parents’ home, there is what looks like a giant ruler bolted to the wall. It functions as a growth chart for their grandchildren, marking the incremental changes in their height through the years. And without fail, the kids are eager to see how much they’ve grown since their last measurement, delighted with their progress.

It is likely that somewhere in your childhood home—possibly near a doorframe—there are similar marks that measured your growth.

Whether it’s marking your height as a kid, or measuring your weight loss as an adult, it’s natural to want to quantify the progress you’re making. And it extends beyond just our physical condition. Many people fastidiously track their retirement accounts, their sleep habits, and even their gas mileage. If you can measure it, it’s certain that someone, somewhere is paying close attention to the numbers.

What if we could bring the same kind of scrutiny to our spiritual lives? Is there a reliable barometer of our spiritual growth—some way to track the trajectory of our sanctification? We put those questions to John MacArthur recently. Here’s what he had to say:

As John explained, spiritual growth is not measured incrementally, over short periods of time. Just consider the volatility of today alone—you might have begun your day in devotion and praise for the Lord, but it likely didn’t take long for you to succumb to temptation and sin.

Rather than tracking those lurching highs and lows, we need to consider the overall trend of our lives. Are we sinning less over time? Are we breaking old habits and gaining victory over sin in areas of life that were once dominated by defeat? And are we growing in our appreciation for just how sinful we are? Is the Spirit revealing new areas of sin in our lives, and are we attacking that sin biblically? If you want to get a sense of how you’re growing spiritually, you need to start with those questions.

At the same time, we need to remember that spiritual growth does not happen by osmosis. We can’t expect to grow if we’re not faithfully returning to the only true source of spiritual nourishment: God’s Word. And as John will explain next time, feeding on Scripture means a lot more than simply reading it.

 


Available online at: https://www.gty.org/library/blog/B170524
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).

How to Combat Biblical Illiteracy in the Church

“Two-thirds of young people are leaving the church largely because of unanswered questions about the Christian faith.” says Avery Foley of Answers In Genesis.  Foley has some good suggestions as to what we can do about this crisis in the visible Church. He writes:

Biblical illiteracy has become an epidemic across America. People, sadly including many professing Christians, simply don’t know what the Bible teaches and often hold to unbiblical or even heretical beliefs. For example, a recent study found that a mere 10% of Americans have a biblical worldview (despite 70% of Americans claiming the label of Christian). And the biblical teachings that the study considered part of a “biblical worldview” were the most basic of biblical beliefs, such as the personhood of the Holy Spirit or the existence of Satan. This study is a sad testament to the state of the American church.

What Can We Do?

What can parents, pastors, and Sunday school teachers do to combat biblical illiteracy? Here are a few ideas for how to instill a biblical worldview in the young people under your influence.

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Source: How to Combat Biblical Illiteracy in the Church

What Should I Do When I’m Struggling to Read God’s Word?

There are times when I read God’s Word…and the words seem to fall flat. I’m hungry to hear from God, eager to meet him in my Bible—yet nothing jumps off the page or particularly moves my heart.

This can feel like looking at a delicious meal, and wanting to enjoy it, but having no appetite for it.

Identify Your Motives

Such hunger and disappointment reveal two attitudes about the human heart, one we should pursue and be thankful for, and one we should confess and flee from:

First, our hunger and disappointment mean we desire God—this is good! We want to hear from him, because we love him and want to obey him. We desire to know the God who speaks and walk closely with him by opening the Scriptures.

But our hunger and disappointment can equally say we expect God to reveal himself on our terms and timing, according to our needs and feelings. If we’re not careful, our time in God’s Word can become less about knowing him and more about checking off a list of spiritual duties to make ourselves feel good.

Usually, our hunger and disappointment are some combination of both.

Recognize Your Dependence

C.J. Mahaney says in his book Humility, “One morning, I’m profoundly aware that God is near to me, while the next day I can sense only His absence….I’ve learned that regardless of how I feel when I’m finished reading my Bible in the morning, I can know that I’ve made the statement, ‘I need You. I’m dependent upon You.’”

As I’ve battled through Bible reading in certain seasons, this reminder has helped and humbled me. We open our Bibles to see God and depend on him, and what better opportunity to do this than when we struggle to sense his presence and be moved by his Word. We need God even to meet with him, and this need produces humility within us. So, in a divine turn-of-events, the dryness we feel leads to deeper dependence, exposing our motives and increasing our desperation for God to do what only he can do.

Read God’s Word through Four Helps

Several things have been helpful for me in pursuing humble dependence on God for the reading of his Word each day:

1. Prayer

Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law. (Psalm 119:18)

Prayer is an expression of our dependence on God and another aspect of our communion with him. Through prayer, we’re reminded that we approach God the Father through Jesus, not our efforts or merits. Prayer humbles us from plunging into the Word with a self-sufficient attitude and tunes us to the Holy Spirit, who alone can open our spiritual eyes to see and apply his truth.

Prayer reminds us that spiritual sight is God’s work, not ours; we open his Word by the strength he supplies and trust him to act. Because we know God will never leave or forsake us, we can have confidence he’s speaking and working, even when we can’t sense it. We pray because we cannot read our Bibles to see God’s glory apart from his enlightening help.

2. Confession

Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psalm 139:23-24)

When God’s Word feels dry to me, I can walk away from it feeling insecure and bitter. So I bring this concern before God in prayer and confession, asking him to search my heart.

There are a couple ways our sinful pride is exposed as we read our Bibles:

Insecurity. If “how well” we read our Bibles, and what we “get” from the reading, is the measure of our time with God, then we’ll feel insecure when these are lacking. Insecurity is another angle to pride: It’s self-confidence fighting with failure and refusing to rest in grace.

Bitterness. Pride also lives at the root of bitterness, which says we deserve certain benefits from God and can therefore be upset when we don’t receive them. So we become bitter if he doesn’t act the way we think he should.

Pride is sin. It’s always lingering in our hearts, but a dry season of reading God’s Word exposes it. Leverage your time of prayer to confess pride and sinful motives to God, and ask him to lead you in the way of humble dependence through a repentant heart as you read.

3. Other Believers

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints…Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth… (Colossians 1:3-5)

Friend, if the Bible has felt dry to you lately, you’re not alone—fellow believers are in the same boat. Yet, many are experiencing the opposite: While some of us are struggling through it, others are enjoying God and seeing much in his Word.

This should encourage us; God is indeed at work among and within his people! When I’m discouraged by my time in the Bible, and I hear how God is growing the faith and love of my sisters and brothers through his Word, I’m encouraged to press on, trust him, and rest in his grace. This is one reason why the local church and its small group ministries are so vital.

4. Grace

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:16)

There’s a reason Bible reading is called a “means of grace.” We engage with God’s Word not to earn his favor but because we already have his favor, not to work for our salvation but because Christ has finished the work on our behalf. We dive into the Bible’s depths to remember and enjoy what’s already ours in Christ.

We can pray before we start and confess our sin to remember how God gives grace to help us in time of need. And we grasp this grace freshly when nothing seems to jump off the page at us: Our standing before God isn’t dependent on this, but on Jesus Christ, who never changes and is always at work.

Believer, if reading God’s Word has felt like a struggle lately, rest in his gospel. God’s grace abounds even in this.

RELATED POSTS:

The post What Should I Do When I’m Struggling to Read God’s Word? appeared first on Unlocking the Bible.

What If I Don’t Feel Forgiven?

There is an important difference between guilt and guilt feelings. The distinction is between that which is objective and that which is subjective. Guilt is objective; it is determined by a real analysis of what a person has done with respect to law. When a person transgresses a law, that person incurs guilt. This is true in the ultimate sense with regard to the law of God. Whenever we break the law of God, we incur objective guilt. We may deny that the guilt is there. We may seek to excuse it or deal with it in other ways. Still, the reality is that we have the guilt.

However, guilt feelings may or may not correspond proportionately to one’s objective guilt. In fact, in most cases, if not all cases, they do not correspond proportionately. As painful as guilt feelings can be—and we’ve all experienced the rigors of unsettling guilt feelings—I don’t think any of us have ever experienced feelings of guilt in direct proportion to the actual guilt that we bear before God. I believe it is one of the mercies of God that He protects us from having to feel the full weight of the guilt that we actually have incurred in His sight.

Just as there are objective and subjective aspects of guilt, so there are objective and subjective aspects of forgiveness. First of all, forgiveness itself is objective. The only cure for real guilt is real forgiveness based on real repentance and real faith. However, we may have real and true forgiveness before God and yet not feel forgiven. Likewise, we may feel forgiven when we are not forgiven. That makes the issue of forgiveness very sticky.

We tend to trust our feelings to tell us what state we are in before God. Someone recently told me about a friend of hers who lives her Christian life on the basis of experience. I think that’s a very dangerous thing, because it’s like saying, “I determine truth by my subjective responses and feelings to it.” I would much prefer that her friend tried to live the Christian life on the basis of Scripture, because Scripture is objective truth that transcends the immediacy of a person’s experience.

Ultimately, the only source of real forgiveness is God. Thankfully, God is quick to forgive. In fact, one of the few absolute promises that God makes to us is that, if we confess our sins to Him, He will most seriously and surely forgive those sins (1 John 1:9).

Many years ago, I went to see my pastor to tell him about a struggle I was having with guilt. After I told him my problem, he opened the Bible to 1 John 1:8 and asked me to read this verse out loud. It says, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” In this verse, the apostle John is addressing the scenario we discussed earlier, in which a person who has real guilt attempts to deny or excuse it. John is saying that if we deny our guilt, we are simply fooling ourselves. We all sin. Therefore, we all contract guilt. If we refuse to accept that, we are engaged in perhaps the worst kind of deception, namely, self-deception. But when I read that passage, my pastor said to me: “That’s not your problem, because you’ve just told me why you came here. You came to tell me that you had a problem with sin.” Then he had me read the next verse: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

When I finished reading that, he asked me, “Have you confessed your sin?” I said: “Yes. But I still feel guilty.” He said: “OK. How about reading 1 John 1:9 for me.” I looked at him in confusion and said, “That’s what just I read.” He said: “I know. I want you to read it again.” So I picked up the Bible and I read, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Then I looked up at the minister, and he said, “So, what else?” I said: “Well, I’ve read this passage, I understand what it is saying, and I’ve confessed my sin. But I still feel guilty.” He said, “OK, this time I’d like you to read 1 John 1:9.” He made me read it again, and I ended up reading it five or six times. Finally, he got my attention. He said, “R. C., here’s what the truth of God declares: If ‘A,’ ‘B’ necessarily follows. God has promised that if you confess your sins, He will forgive you of your sins and cleanse you of your unrighteousness. You don’t believe that you’re forgiven because you don’t feel forgiven. What, then, are you trusting—your feelings or the truth of God?” I finally got the message he was trying to help me see.

This excerpt is adapted from What Can I Do with My Guilt? by R.C. Sproul. You can download all of R.C. Sproul’s Crucial Questions booklets for free here.

Source: What If I Don’t Feel Forgiven?

Watching Your Spiritual Diet

According to Bible expositor Dr. John MacArthur, although Christians are supposed to be growing in Christlikeness, many are not. So Dr. MacArthur lays out the ways in which the believer can eat right and grow spiritually. He writes:

Most of us have known people whose bodies have not grown or matured properly. It’s sad to encounter people with cognitive handicaps, brain damage, or other developmental obstacles that have hindered their growth. Many of them remain locked in a child-like state—others tragically don’t progress even that far.

In a similar way, some Christians remain locked in a perpetual state of spiritual infancy. However, unlike those suffering with mental handicaps, Christians struggling with arrested spiritual development have no one to blame but themselves.

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Eliminating Spiritual Toxins

1 Peter 2:1-3

Code: B170522

Consider a person who exercises fastidiously and holds to a strict diet but also abuses alcohol and drugs. That kind of schizophrenic behavior would raise a lot of questions, and rightly so.

The same goes for Christians who carefully guard their spiritual diet but make no effort to avoid or eliminate sinful, spiritual toxins from their lives. Faithfully studying God’s Word is vital to our growth, but it’s not the only factor. We need to recognize sinful attitudes and motivations as carcinogens that can wreak havoc in our spiritual lives.

Right now, these sinful toxins could be poisoning your life, eating away at your usefulness, and causing all sorts of decay and destruction. Peter recognized the threat these sins pose to our spiritual health and commanded his readers to “[put] aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander” (1 Peter 2:1).

The King James translation of 1 Peter 2:1 tells us to “lay aside” all of these negative things. The Greek word used here actually means to “strip off your clothes.” It’s the same thing that is meant in Hebrews 12:1 where we are told to “lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us.” Peter highlights five specific toxins we should strip out of our lives for the sake of our spiritual health: malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, slander.

Strip out the malice. In biblical times, malice meant “wickedness” or “heathen evil”—the characteristic evil of the world surrounding the young Christian church. Peter doesn’t advise laying aside some malice; he wants all of it gone. Today’s Christians are no different than those in the first century. Many of us like to play at Christianity while dabbling in worldly practices. But there is no place in the Christian’s life for the garbage of the world.

A young man once approached a great Bible teacher and said to him, “Sir, I’d give the world to know the Bible as you do.” The teacher looked him in the eye and said, “And that’s exactly what it will cost you!” If we want to grow and develop as Christians, we need to examine ourselves and identify those worldly remnants and scraps that we are hanging on to.

Strip out the deceit. Peter also instructs us that all deceit (or guile) has to be jettisoned from our lives. Impure motives lie at the root of deceit and this always leads to the conscious deception of others. But deceit never offers any long-term payoff—it’s always exposed eventually.

This is a hard lesson to teach children. I used to tell my own children, “It’s really a lot more expensive to lie, because every time I catch you in a lie you are going to be punished much more severely than if you told me the truth.” I had to prove this on occasion, and it was always a hard lesson for everyone—for me to teach and for them to learn—but it was worth it.

Strip out the hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is a natural outgrowth of deceitfulness. Non-Christians always like to point out that the church is full of hypocrites, and unfortunately they are right.

Christians sometimes reply to this charge by rightly observing that the church—where people can hear the gospel and be taught the Bible in the right way—is the best place for hypocrites to be. Nonetheless, as Peter plainly shows us, we can’t be content with that as the status quo. Hypocrisy, once uncovered, needs to be repented of. There is no place for it in the life of a sincere Christian. If the believer glibly excuses his hypocrisy, he is taking advantage of God’s grace and is a bigger hypocrite than ever.

Strip out the envy. Reduced to its basic components, envy is simply self-centeredness. Envy is always the last thing to die, because it only dies when the self dies. But as most Christians know, the self is hard to kill.

How many churches have been wrecked, how many missionary organizations have been riddled with dissension, how many families have been destroyed—all by envy? In his letter, James joins with Peter in warning Christians about the demonic influence of envy:

But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. (James 3:14–16)

Strip out the slander. Simply stated, Peter is telling us to quit gossiping. Gossip just might be the most attractive sin for Christians. We may nod vigorously when the preacher warns about it from the pulpit, but on the way home or even while walking to the car we engage in it in any number of ways. We are very clever, of course, to mask it behind words like, “I’m so concerned about Mary” or “Can you fill me in a little so I can pray about it?” Far too much gossip goes on under the guise of prayer and feigned piety.

It is worthwhile to note how all of these five sins are interconnected. Malice (worldliness) inevitably fans the flames of deceit or guile. And deceit and guile lead to hypocrisy, which produces the envy. And the fruit of envy often leads to evil speaking—slanderous gossip.

As deadly as these toxins are, we still gravitate to them. In order to break their hold on our lives, we must develop a taste for what Peter calls the milk of God’s Word. He says, “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord” (1 Peter 2:2–3). Peter is telling his readers they have tasted God’s grace by taking that first step into salvation. The imperishable seed has sprouted and now they need to feed the new life they have within. For the new Christian especially, God’s Word is like milk. Milk is crucial to the growth of any baby and God’s Word is crucial to the growth of the new Christian.

Paul had the same idea when he wrote to the Christians at Thessalonica and said, “But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children” (1 Thessalonians 2:7, NKJV). Paul passed on the same idea to Timothy, encouraging him to stand fast in the face of apostasy. He reminded Timothy that, if he is faithful in instructing the brethren in the truth of God’s Word, “You will be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully followed” (1 Timothy 4:6, NKJV).

As important as milk is, however, the human body needs other foods to gain all its proper nutrition. While some Christians are doing pretty well with laying off spiritual junk food, they are perhaps too content with a weekly bottle fed to them by their preacher. They are failing to get into the Word of God for themselves where they can chew on more solid food.

True spiritual nourishment for the believer is God’s Word. However, as Paul told the Corinthians, there is more to God’s Word than just milk (see 1 Corinthians 3:1–2). The milk provides a good start for our spiritual growth but we must also desire meat, the rich spiritual truths that God wants us to have if we are to truly change and become what He wants us to be.

(Adapted from Why Believe the Bible.)

 


Available online at: https://www.gty.org/library/blog/B170522
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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).

Bible Q&A: Do I Need to Confess Every Sin to Be Forgiven?

Question: Pastor Smith made a statement that “God only forgives the sins that we confess.” My question is in regard to the inference that the sins we do not confess are unforgiven. The problem I see is that we are all in trouble because no one can remember all of their sins to confess.

Answer: This really is a good question! And the original quote is from Dr. Alan Redpath: “God has not promised to forgive one sin that you are not willing to forsake.” And you’re absolutely correct: If we had to confess every single sin in order to be forgiven, that would be an unbearable burden!

The key words in the Redpath quote are “not willing.” The question is not, “Have you really confessed all your sins?” The question is, “Are you holding onto a sin, and refusing to turn from it?” These are two very different things.

The first is an issue of remembering all your sins; the second is the issue of a willful refusal to turn from sin. Pastor Colin (and Redpath) was, in fact, saying that God has not promised to forgive our willful refusal to turn from sin.

This is an important distinction because our forgiveness does not depend in any way on our performance in the Christian life. Our forgiveness depends entirely on the finished work of Christ in his perfect life and atoning death on the cross. The question that is being raised here with the Redpath quote is, “Do you have an authentic Christian life? Is the Spirit of God at work in your life?” The authentic Christian willingly turns from sin.

I pray that this explanation would be clarifying and helpful, leading you to find rest in the finished work of Christ.

Pastor Tim

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CultureWatch: Are You Wasting Your Life?

This may be one of the most important questions any Christian can ask of himself or herself. Of course we don’t usually think in those terms. We assume that God is fully pleased with all that we do, and that the life we live – so very much like everyone else around us – is just fine.

And that is a big part of the problem: we compare ourselves with one another, and so our expectations are all rather low, our desires are not so great, and our zeal is only half-hearted. We are just living the normal Christian life found in so much of the West.

It seems like an OK life. We have not murdered anyone. We may not have engaged in adultery. We are not stealing stuff or lying about things – at least not too much. We have a respectable sort of a Christian life in other words. But of course we are not exactly doing anything extraordinary either.

wasted life 2We may go to church once a week. We may read from the Bible a few minutes every day. We may pray now and then, especially when we get in a tough spot. But that is about it. Our lives are otherwise really indistinguishable from any non-Christian.

We simply do the normal routine: we go to work five days a week. We try to earn a lot of money in order to live a comfortable life. We seek to be as well off as our neighbour at least. And all of these things are OK. They may not be evil in themselves. But for most believers, that is the extent of most Christians’ lives.

The real trouble is, therefore, that most folks won’t know that they have wasted their life until it is all over. They have gone through all the right and acceptable motions for decades on end. Nothing exceptional. Nothing fancy. Just a normal life, with a normal job, and normal expenditures in time, effort and money.

But then when we stand before the living God, and see the nail-pierced hands of our Saviour extended toward us, we will instantly come to see that most of our life was a complete waste. We really did nothing for Christ and the Kingdom.

We never really shared our faith with anyone. We never led anyone to the Lord. We never agonised in heartfelt prayer for the lost. We never groaned in grief over the flood of wickedness engulfing our lands. We never really cared about the major disrepair and dysfunction of the church.

Just this morning I read in Nehemiah and saw again how different his life and his attitude was to that of me and most Christians. Consider the first four verses of chapter one:

The words of Nehemiah son of Hakaliah. In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem. They said to me, “Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.” When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven.

Can I suggest that the church today is really no better than what Jerusalem was like back then? The walls are broken down and the place is in a real mess. Yet we don’t really seem to care. We sure do not react like Nehemiah did with weeping, with fasting, with prayers, for days on end.

Our ‘normal Christian life’ knows nothing of such a crushed heart and grieved spirit. And how could it be? We are just so busy with “good” things. Again, they are not evil in themselves. But they have become gods in our lives. Especially older Christians who go into retirement mode can fall prey to this.

While a few retirees may use those sunset years to go help out on the mission field and the like, most will just live fully for themselves. And there are plenty of good things they can involve themselves in, be it travel around the world, or collections of various kinds, whether collecting expensive cars, butterflies, or antique clocks.

They might get into hobbies such as four-wheel drives, or photography, or visiting fine restaurants. Again, these may all be good things, in themselves. But again, when we stand before the Lord, will all these activities and things we devoted our lives to amount to a hill of beans?

What will our Lord say to us when we give an account of how we spent our lives? That is something we all should be thinking carefully about. Let me close by sharing some words by pastor and evangelist John Piper. In 2000 he gave a talk entitled “Boasting Only in the Cross”.

The whole talk, along with a short segment of it, can be found online. A short seven-minute segment of it is about not wasting our life. It goes like this:

You don’t have to know a lot of things for your life to make a lasting difference in the world. But you do have to know the few great things that matter, and then be willing to live for them and die for them. The people that make a durable difference in the world are not the people who have mastered many things, but who have been mastered by a few great things.
If you want your life to count, if you want the ripple effect of the pebbles you drop to become waves that reach the ends of the earth and roll on for centuries and into eternity, you don’t have to have a high IQ or a high EQ. You don’t have to have good looks or riches. You don’t have to come from a fine family or a fine school. You just have to know a few great, majestic, unchanging, obvious, simple, glorious things, and be set on fire by them.
Piper: “Not everybody wants their life to make a lasting difference — you just want to be liked. That’s a tragedy.”
But I know that not everybody in this crowd wants their life to make a difference. There are hundreds of you — you don’t care whether you make a lasting difference for something great, you just want people to like you. If people would just like you, you’d be satisfied. Or if you could just have a good job with a good wife and a couple good kids and a nice car and long weekends and a few good friends, a fun retirement, and quick and easy death and no hell — if you could have that, you’d be satisfied even without God.
That is a tragedy in the making.
Three weeks ago, we got word at our church that Ruby Eliason and Laura Edwards had both been killed in Cameroon. Ruby was over eighty. Single all her life, she poured it out for one great thing: to make Jesus Christ known among the unreached, the poor, and the sick. Laura was a widow, a medical doctor, pushing eighty years old, and serving at Ruby’s side in Cameroon.
The brakes give way, over the cliff they go, and they’re gone — killed instantly.
And I asked my people: was that a tragedy? Two lives, driven by one great vision, spent in unheralded service to the perishing poor for the glory of Jesus Christ — two decades after almost all their American counterparts have retired to throw their lives away on trifles in Florida or New Mexico. No. That is not a tragedy. That is a glory.
“To make a difference in the world, you just have to know a few great, unchanging, simple, glorious things, and be set on fire by them.”
I tell you what a tragedy is. I’ll read to you from Reader’s Digest what a tragedy is. “Bob and Penny . . . took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast five years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their thirty foot trawler, playing softball and collecting shells.”
That’s a tragedy. And people today are spending billions of dollars to persuade you to embrace that tragic dream. And I get forty minutes to plead with you: don’t buy it. With all my heart I plead with you: don’t buy that dream. The American Dream: a nice house, a nice car, a nice job, a nice family, a nice retirement, collecting shells as the last chapter before you stand before the Creator of the universe to give an account of what you did: “Here it is Lord — my shell collection! And I’ve got a nice swing, and look at my boat!”
Don’t waste your life; don’t waste it.

You can watch that video clip here: http://www.desiringgod.org/don-t-waste-your-life

In 2003 he produced a book on this topic entitled Don’t Waste Your Life (Crossway). His closing chapter includes these words:

No, you don’t have to be a missionary to admire and advance the great purposes of God to be known and praised and enjoyed among all peoples. But if you want to be most fully satisfied with God as he triumphs in the history of redemption, you can’t go on with business as usual—doing your work, making your money, giving your tithe, eating, sleeping, playing, and going to church. Instead you need to stop and go away for a few days with a Bible and notepad; and pray and think about how your particular time and place in life fits into the great purpose of God.

[1641 words]

The post Are You Wasting Your Life? appeared first on CultureWatch.

Five Truths About the Holy Spirit

In creation, we have the Spirit breathing His energy, releasing the power of God in the act of creation. We have the same thing in the act of redemption, and we see it again in the divine act of giving to us the record in the Scriptures themselves. The doctrine of inspiration is entirely related to the work of God the Holy Spirit.

Jesus said: “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you” (John 16:7). Now, I don’t want to bring cold coals to Newcastle by giving you information with which you are already familiar, so let me just briefly give some background on this verse. You know that the Greek word translated here as “Helper” is parakletos. In its technical form, it has a legal dimension; it refers to one who would be an advocate. In its wider context, it speaks of comfort, of protection, of counsel, and of guidance. Jesus also spoke of the Spirit as the Helper in John 14 and introduced Him as “the Spirit of truth” (14:17; 16:13).

I think it best for me to simply say a number of things concerning the identity of this Helper with little embellishment.

First, we need to notice that the Holy Spirit is a unique person and not simply a power or an influence. He is spoken of as “He,” not as “it.” This is a matter of import because if you listen carefully to people speaking, even within your own congregations you may hear the Holy Spirit referenced in terms of the neuter. You may even catch yourself doing it. If you do, I hope you will bite your tongue immediately. We have to understand that the Spirit of God, the third person of the Trinity, is personal. As a person, He may be grieved (Eph. 4:30), He may be quenched in terms of the exercise of His will (1 Thess. 5:19), and He may be resisted (Acts 7:51).

Second, the Holy Spirit is one both with the Father and with the Son. In theological terms, we say that He is both co-equal and co-eternal. When we read the whole Upper Room Discourse, we discover that it was both the Father and the Son who would send the Spirit (John 14:1616:7), and the Spirit came and acted, as it were, for both of Them. So the activity of the Spirit is never given to us in Scripture in isolation from the person and work of Christ or in isolation from the eternal will of the Father. Any endeavor to think of the Spirit in terms that are entirely mystical and divorced from Scripture will take us down all kinds of side streets and eventually to dead ends.

Third, the Holy Spirit was the agent of creation. In the account of creation at the very beginning of the Bible, we are told: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Gen. 1:1-2). The Hebrew word translated as “Spirit” here is ruach, which also can mean “breath.” The ruach elohim, “the Breath of the Almighty,” is the agent in creation. It is not the immateriality of the Spirit that is in view here, but rather His power and energy; the picture is of God’s energy breathing out creation, as it were, speaking the worlds into existence, putting the stars into space. Thus, when we read Isaiah 40:26 and the question is asked, “Who created these?” we have the answer in Genesis 1:2—the Spirit is the irresistible power by which God accomplishes His purpose.

Tangentially, one of the questions of Old Testament scholarship concerns the extent to which we are able to discover the distinct personhood of God the Holy Spirit from the Old Testament. In other words, can we understand the nature of His hypostasis in the Old Testament alone? When we read Genesis 1, it is not difficult to see that we have in the second verse, certainly in light of all that has subsequently been revealed, a clear and distinct reference to the third person of the Trinity.

In his book The Holy Spirit, Sinclair B. Ferguson notes that if we recognize the divine Spirit in Genesis 1:2, that provides what some refer to as the missing link in Genesis 1:26, where God said, “Let us make man in our image.” Ferguson observes that this is a clear antecedent reference to the Spirit of God who is at work in Genesis 1:1-2.

This issue reminds us, incidentally, that it is helpful to read our Bibles backward. As we read from the back to the front, we discover the truth of the classic interpretive principle attributed to Augustine: “The New [Testament] is in the Old [Testament] concealed, and the Old is in the New revealed.” In other words, we discover the implications of those teachings and events that come earlier in the Scriptures.

Fourth, the Holy Spirit is the agent not only of creation, but also of God’s new creation in Christ. He is the author of the new birth. We see this in John 3, in the classic encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus, where Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (v. 5). This truth, of course, is worked out in the rest of the Scriptures.

Fifth, the Spirit is the author of the ScripturesSecond Timothy 3:16 tells us, “All Scripture is breathed out by God. …” The Greek word behind this phrase is theopneustos, which means “God-breathed.” In creation, we have the Spirit breathing His energy, releasing the power of God in the act of creation. We have the same thing in the act of redemption, and we see it again in the divine act of giving to us the record in the Scriptures themselves. The doctrine of inspiration is entirely related to the work of God the Holy Spirit. Peter affirms this view, writing, “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21). The men who wrote the biblical books were not inventing things. Neither were they automatons. “They were real people in real historical times with real DNA writing according to their historical settings and their personalities. But the authorship of Scripture was dual. It was, for instance, both Jeremiah and God, because Jeremiah was picked up and carried along. Indeed, in Jeremiah’s case, God said, “Behold, I have put my words in your mouth” (1:9). He did so without violating Jeremiah’s distinct personality, and he then wrote the very Word of God. This is why we study the Bible—because this is a book that exists as a result of the out-breathing of the Holy Spirit.

Concerning the identity of the Helper, we could go on ad infinitum, but we must be selective rather than exhaustive. His identity is as “another Helper.” The word translated as “another” here is allos, not heteros. Jesus promised a Helper of the same kind rather than of a different kind. The Spirit is the parakletos, the one who comes alongside. Jesus said He would “be with you forever … he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17). In other words, His ministry is both permanent and personal.

This excerpt is adapted from Alistair Begg’s contribution to Holy, Holy, Holy: Proclaiming the Perfections of God. This article used with permission.

The post Five Truths About the Holy Spirit appeared first on The Aquila Report.

The Loss of the Christian Mind in America (Moreland)

As I was re-reading parts of Love God With All Your Mind, I came across this great section I had marked up – a section of the book where Moreland talks about the loss of the Christian mind in American Christianity.  I’ve posted it here before, but it is for sure worth noting again.  Especially fascinating are Moreland’s comments on how the rise of two major cults in the U.S. had a lot to do with the lack of doctrinal knowledge about the Christian faith:

“During the middle 1800s, three awakenings broke out in the United States: the Second Great Awakening (1800-1820), the revivals of Charles Finney (1824-1837), and the Layman’s Prayer Revival (1856-1858).  Much good came from these movements, but their overall effect was to emphasize immediate personal conversion to Christ instead of a studied period of reflection and conviction; emotional, simple, popular preaching instead of intellectually careful and doctrinally precise sermons; and personal feelings and relationships to Christ instead of a deep grasp of the nature of Christian teaching and ideas.  Sadly, as historian George Marsden notes, ‘anti-intellectualism was a feature of American revivalism.’”

“Obviously, there is nothing wrong with the emphasis of those movements on personal conversion.  What was a problem, however, was the intellectually shallow, theologically illiterate form of Christianity that became part of the populist Christian religion that emerged.  One tragic result of this was what happened in the so-called Burned Over District in the state of New York.  Thousands of people were ‘converted’ to Christ by revivalist preaching, but they had no real intellectual grasp of Christian teaching.  As a result, two of the three major American cuts began in the Burned Over District among the unstable, untaught ‘converts’: Mormonism (1830) and the Jehovah’s Witnesses (1884).”

J. P. Moreland, Love God With All Your Mind, p. 23.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

Source: The Loss of the Christian Mind in America (Moreland)

Friday’s Featured Sermon: “Sound Doctrine Backed by Sound Living”

Titus 2:1

Code: B170519

In many churches across modern evangelicalism, good doctrine has taken a back seat to good works. The emphasis has shifted away from believing the right thing to doing the right thing, with a particular focus on community works and social justice.

Often that shift is the result of legitimate critique—that professing Christians frequently fail to apply and live out their good doctrine. Today, many church leaders argue that doctrine simply does not answer the multitude of practical problems we face in this fallen world. In that sense, the emphasis on prioritizing good works over good doctrine is an overcorrection against the threat of cold orthodoxy and dead faith.

Others simply treat doctrinal disputes as long-argued issues we must ignore or circumvent to accomplish the work God has for His people. That was essentially the point Rick Warren made in a 2005 interview with the Pew Forum. He argued that we find our common ground in what we do rather than what we believe.

You’re never going to get Christians, of all their stripes and varieties, to agree on all of the different doctrinal disputes and things like that, but what I am seeing them agree on are the purposes of the church. And I find great uniformity in the fact that I see this happening all the time. Last week I spoke to 4,000 pastors at my church who came from over 100 denominations in over 50 countries. Now, that’s wide spread. We had Catholic priests, we had Pentecostal ministers, we had Lutheran bishops, we had Anglican bishops, we had Baptist preachers. They’re all there together and you know what? I’d never get them to agree on communion or baptism or a bunch of stuff like that, but I could get them to agree on what the church should be doing in the world.

Warren’s ecumenical enthusiasm for the practical work of the church is so strong it has blinded him to who constitutes the true church in the first place. And that is the danger of emphasizing, as Warren puts it, deeds, not creeds.

In spite of what Warren and others like him seem to believe, Scripture does draw a direct relationship between what we believe and how we live. In John MacArthur’s sermon “Sound Doctrine Backed by Sound Living,” he lays out the clear biblical connection between doctrine and deeds. Moreover, he emphasizes the two in that particular order—doctrine then deeds—because good deeds are the byproduct of good doctrine, never the cause.

John also warns about the critical flipside of that truth—wrong doctrine always produces wrong conduct because “error is a communicable disease.” Good or bad, doctrine lies at the root of all behavior.

Centering on Titus 2:1 (“speak the things which are fitting for sound doctrine”), John shows the biblical pattern of sound living following on the heels of sound doctrine. He also reinforces the importance of this issue because all of us are under the gaze of this fallen world. With regard to Titus 2:8 (“that the opponent will be put to shame, having nothing bad to say about us”) John reminds us:

Look, [unbelievers] are examining us and we want to so live that those opponents of the faith will blush in sheer embarrassment because there is no just criticism. Don’t you think that the opponents of Christianity love it when Christians scandalize the faith? Don’t they love to pick up the magazines and the newspapers and read about the fornication and the adultery and the fiscal irresponsibility and the thievery and all of the conning that goes on in the fakeries of Christianity and all of the sin and iniquity in leadership? Sure they do.

And I’ll tell you something else, the people in your little world . . . would love to see you fail significantly so they can justify their unbelief. They don’t want to see God transform your life and then rebuke them. But that’s exactly what you want to do, you want to make them red faced, you want to make them blush when they criticize because they can’t find anything to criticize. You see, the issue here is evangelism.

You live out your Christian life in your own personal mission field, and your witness is always on the line. For that reason, “Sound Doctrine Backed by Sound Living” is a timely reminder for all Christians on how to practice what we preach.

Click here to listen to “Sound Doctrine Backed by Sound Living.”

 


Available online at: https://www.gty.org/library/blog/B170519
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