Category Archives: Christian Living

These are 8 of the Most Controversial Topics in the Church Today

Christians take very different opinions on these issues and both sides refer to Scripture to support their views. Discernment is certainly necessary, even among a group of believers in today’s culture. Whatever your views on each of these topics, hopefully reading this list of the areas where the church often experiences division will encourage us as Christ-followers to strive for unity within our own churches and even across denominations, because although there is much division and controversy among the broader church, there are also core doctrines that unite us.

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Seeing the Unseen: The Nature of Spiritual Warfare

Did the Lord Jesus teach his followers to “bind” the powers of darkness?  Should the emphasis on spiritual warfare be on prayer-infused power encounters? What exactly does the Bible teach on the nature of spiritual warfare? Well, according to Christian apologist Greg Koukl of Stand to Reason (STR), the Bible has a lot to say about how we are to defend ourselves against other worldly forces in the unseen realm. We must be armed to the teeth!

What does a Christian’s armor look like? “The very first step in arming ourselves for battle against the devil is to gird our loins with truth (Eph. 6:14).” In this piece from STR’s Solid Ground magazine, Koukl tells us what the Bible teaches about the armor of God. Some who read this will be surprised by his teaching for the reason that the way in which charismatics go about dealing with the demonic is highly unbiblical, only they don’t know it. To make matters worse, attempting to “bind Satan” is a ridiculous and foolish practice.  Taking on powerful, lying, deceptive demons is dangerous!

So with this background in mind, we urge you to open up your Bible and follow along as Greg Koukl explains what it means to “gird your loins with truth.” He writes:

Sometimes, if you know what to look for, you can “see” something that is invisible; you can see the unseen. It’s not a parlor trick, but a valuable spiritual skill. And it’s not that difficult if you know what clues to look for. I’d like to show you what those clues are.

First, though, a foundational matter. I am convinced that most Christians do not understand spiritual warfare. Either they are unaware of the unseen battle or, if they do recognize its importance, they do not focus on the central issue but instead are distracted by a secondary concern. In military terms, they have been taken in by a feint. Here is the feint.

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Comfort on the Deathbed (Or: A Pastor’s Most Important Resource)

“In this spiritual drama, Satan is especially active. Goulart’s discourse ‘Remedies Against Satan’s Temptations in our Final Hour’ enumerates the stinging accusations and doubts that Satan launches against God’s children as they struggle on their deathbeds. The voice of Satan accuses: ‘You are a miserable sinner, worthy of damnation.’ ‘Your sins are too great to be forgiven.’ ‘How do you know that the promise of the gospel pertains to you?’ ‘Are you certain that your repentance and faith are genuine?’ ‘How do you know that you are among God’s elect?’ In response to each of these attacks, Goulart provides the faithful Christian a ready answer, drawn from the pages of Scripture.”

Simon Goulart was a Reformed theologian and pastor from France who served in Geneva in the middle of the 16th century.  His preaching and teaching were solidly biblical, clearly doctrinal, and very applicable.  One example of this is his biblical comfort he gave to Christians on their deathbed.  Scott Manetsch gives a good summary of Goulart’s pastoral care:

As Christians approach death, Goulart recognizes, they are frequently tempted to doubt God’s promised salvation and despair of their future hope.  In this spiritual drama, Satan is especially active.  Goulart’s discourse ‘Remedies Against Satan’s Temptations in our Final Hour’ enumerates the stinging accusations and doubts that Satan launches against God’s children as they struggle on their deathbeds.  The voice of Satan accuses: ‘You are a miserable sinner, worthy of damnation.’  ‘Your sins are too great to be forgiven.’  ‘How do you know that the promise of the gospel pertains to you?’  ‘Are you certain that your repentance and faith are genuine?’  ‘How do you know that you are among God’s elect?’  In response to each of these attacks, Goulart provides the faithful Christian a ready answer, drawn from the pages of Scripture.

For example, when Satan questions the believer’s election, the Christian responds: ‘All true believers are sheep of Jesus Christ, elected in him to eternal life.  Psalm 23 says that ‘The Lord is my Shepherd.’  And Psalm 100 says ‘Know that the Lord is God.  It is he who has made us, and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture.’  So too, Jesus Christ says in John 10, ‘My sheep hear my voice.’  I have heard this voice and heeded it.  Thus, I am one of the sheep of this Great Shepherd, who has given his life to bring me into his sheepfold, having rescued me from your jaws, O roaring lion.’

Clearly, Goulart believed that God’s Word was to serve as the pastor’s most important resource in caring for Christians on their deathbeds.  Scripture is like a ‘pharmacy’ for wounded souls, he asserted.  It offers a ‘secure harbor for agitated consciences.’

The above quotes were taken from Scott Matnetsch, Calvin’s Company of Pastors, p 297-298.

Rev. Shane Lems is a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and serves as pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Hammond, Wis. This article appeared on his blog and is used with permission.

The post Comfort on the Deathbed (Or: A Pastor’s Most Important Resource) appeared first on The Aquila Report.

5 Passages Your Pastor Wishes You’d Stop Taking Out of Context

Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers (3 John 2 NASB). Sometimes misinterpreting a passage boils down to decontextualizing a single word—in this case prosper. “This passage has typically been used as a proof text that God is mandated to bless in a very specific way—usually financially and materially,” says Ernest Gray, senior pastor of Keystone Baptist Church in Chicago and assistant professor of Bible at Moody. “Human beings misunderstand the place of suffering, and Christianity in the West tends to idolize success. We struggle with viewing the Christian life from a triumphalist perspective: ‘I’m a Christian; therefore I’m entitled to victory in every way.’

Chris Maxwell, director of spiritual life and campus pastor at Emmanuel College in Franklin Springs, Georgia, recalls a troubling episode during his pastoral tenure in Orlando: “In March 1996 I almost died of encephalitis. A group of people came to visit me and read Matthew 7:17–18: ‘Every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.’ For them, admitting I had brain damage and needed medicine was lack of faith. This was the reason I became sick and wasn’t being healed. I told them, ‘If that caused my sickness I would’ve been sick long before.’”

John Koessler, professor and chair of pastoral studies at Moody Bible Institute, is all too familiar with scenarios like this. “I find that people tend to be one-sided in their handling of the Bible. They ‘lean into’ certain texts or truths to the exclusion of others. Some focus only on a portion of a verse. Others use one text to cancel out another.”

This isn’t surprising to most church leaders, who often see verses plucked from their homes to serve other purposes. To better understand these tricky situations, I asked several pastors to share the misused passages that make their skin crawl and how people in ministry can model healthy biblical interpretation.

Jeremiah 29:11

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

An entire cottage industry has developed around this decontextualized verse. It adorns t-shirts, knickknacks, and the walls of our churches, written in graceful, soothing script. “Having worked with college students,” says Ben Connelly, who co-leads The City Church in Fort Worth, Texas, “I heard this verse time and time again as discouraged graduates struggled to find jobs. Christian friends and family would pat them on the back, lift their downcast chins, and recite Jeremiah 29:11.”

Yet when it’s lifted from our coffee mugs and placed back into context, we discover a difficult truth about Scripture: the Bible was written for us, but not everything in it was written to us. In an interview with Christianity Today, Eric Bargerhuff, director of the Honors Program at Trinity College in Florida and author of The Most Misused Verses in the Bible, said, “Most people overlook the context of the verse because it speaks to what they want to hear for their life. This was a corporate promise given to the nation of Israel.” Connelly elaborates: “Only after promising to leave his people exiled in a foreign land for seven decades (Jer. 29:10) does God make the declaration we’re familiar with.”

So should we avoid sharing this verse with those in despair? Not necessarily. Abram Kielsmeier-Jones, pastor of Union Congregational Church in Magnolia, Massachusetts, says, “Certainly the God who knew us before we were born desires to give us ‘hope and a future.’ Even if the immediate context is not addressed to individuals, might not the general truth still hold that our God (even ‘my’ God) desires to offer hope and a future to each of his children?” If so, this passage presents a key teaching moment for church leaders. “There is comfort in this verse, and let’s never forget that God does have a plan,” says Connelly. “But we need the context to remind us that God’s goodness is true whether we find a job tomorrow or if his plans include 70 years of trial and oppression.”

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The post 5 Passages Your Pastor Wishes You’d Stop Taking Out of Context appeared first on The Aquila Report.

Motives at Work in Sexual Sin (Powlison)

Making All Things New: Restoring Joy to the Sexually Broken by [Powlison, David] Last week I mentioned David Powlison’s forthcoming book, Making All Things New.  Today I want to highlight part of it that is quite helpful in thinking of the nuts and bolts of sexual sin, whether it be adultery, pornography, homosexuality, or lust (and so on).  Below are various motives at work in sexual sin, which I’ve edited for length.  These motives are helpful for those who are fighting lust and other sexual sins:

  1. Angry desires for revenge.  Sexual acting out can be a way to express anger.  I once counseled a couple who had committed backlash adulteries.  They had a big fight, and the man angrily went out and hired a prostitute.  In retaliatory anger, the women went out and seduced her husband’s best friend.  The erotic pleasure wasn’t necessarily the driving force; anger was.  Though it’s rarely that dramatic, anger frequently plays a role in immorality.  A teenager finds sex a convenient way to rebel against and to hurt morally upright parents.  A man cruises down the internet after he and his wife exchange words….
  2. Longings to feel loved, approved, affirmed, or valued through romantic attention.  Consider the situation of a lonely and unattractive teenage girl who doesn’t necessarily enjoy sex.  Why does she sleep around?  It’s not because she longs for erotic pleasure.  She sleeps around in order to feed her consuming desire to have someone care for her romantically and pay attention to her.  It makes her feel loved.  She is enslaved by the desire to get attention and affirmation.  This is an extreme case, perhaps, but many people become sexually active at a young age because they feel pressure to be acceptable, they don’t want to be rejected, and they desire attention.  Sexual behavior can be an instrument in the hands of non-sexual cravings.
  3. Thrilling desires for the power and excitement of the chase.  Some people enjoy the sense of power and control over another person’s sexual response.  The flirt, the tease, the seducer are not motivated solely by sexual desires.  Deeper evil desires are at work than just sex – the thrill and rush that comes with being able to manipulate the romantic-erotic arousal of another.
  4. Anxious desire for money to meet basic survival needs.  Sex makes lots of money for lots of people.  The desire for money is greater than the desire for sex in this case.  One difficult example is the case of a single mother who was in desperate need of money.  Her sleazy landlord offered her free rent in return for sexual favors.  (Thankfully, this woman refused and her church family ended up helping her financially.)
  5. Distorted messianic desire to help another person.  Sometimes people play the rescuer-savior and they sleep with someone because they feel sorry for that person’s loneliness, rejection, and abandonment.  It is a sexual sin, but it is fueled by a warped desire to be helpful, admired, and to “save” a person.
  6. Desires for relief and rest amid the pressures of life.  Sexual sin often serves as an escape valve for other problems.  Consider a man who faces extreme pressures in the workplace.  He and his team pull a few all nighters to get an important project done.  They make it and he goes home completely exhausted.  But he finds no relief in having the project done.  So he revels in pornography and forgets his troubles.  Lust is at work, but there’s more to it.  He is looking for rest, and he sinfully finds it in erotic pleasure.
  7. Indifference, cynicism, ‘Who cares?’, ‘What’s the use?‘.  A single student – a Christian – once confessed that she slept with a co-worker.  She was working late and was tired after a long shift.  She had no accountability that night and was somewhat attracted to her co-worker.  He invited her over, and with a “what does it matter?” attitude, she accepted and sinned by sleeping with him.  This is the sin of acedia – sloth, giving up, spiritual laziness, not caring, saying ‘whatever.”

There are, of course, other reasons why people fall into sexual sins.  The point Powlison was making is that “sexual sin is symptomatic.  It expresses that deeper war for the heart’s loyalty.  We’ve looked at a handful of different ways the deeper war operates.  There are other dynamics, too!  But I hope this primes the pump so you learn to recognize more of what’s going on inside when red-letter sins make an appearance.”

The above-edited quotes are found in  David Powlison, Making All Things New, p. 80-87.

Shane Lems

Source: Motives at Work in Sexual Sin (Powlison)

Contentious Contending – Jan Markell

“Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.” Ephesians 4:29 NKJV
I have watched as fellow Christians have torn into one another, slandered Christian brothers and sisters, tried to harm successful ministries, and behaved in such a manner that would result in the unbelieving world fleeing from them.
Added to this is a new contention online, particularly on social media. Disagreements over even minor issues often result in name-calling and denigrating one another. Whether the venue is YouTube, Facebook, or Twitter, the contentiousness is out of control.
I have watched mean-spiritedness coming from Christian “leaders” that might make the secular world blush. It is “friendly fire” that isn’t so friendly. And if I publicly chastised them and named their names, they would reply with even more vindictive blogs, radio programs, articles, commentaries, and YouTubes. They can dish out the chastisements but they cannot take an ounce of correction.
Yes, there is raging apostasy. The most frequent email to me is, “Can you recommend a church in you-fill-in-the-blank city?” Many churches have caved to the most unsound doctrine. True heresy needs to be called out with the naming names and citing the aberrant theology. 
But some in today’s discernment crowd hide in the bushes, waiting for a Christian leader to make a single misstep. They are then pounced on, labeled a hopeless heretic, and marginalized by others in that community. And if you associate with people they disagree with, feature them, quote them, or publicly show approval of them, you have lost all common sense, discernment, judgment, and more. You are an equal heretic in the guilt by association game.
My radio co-host, Eric Barger, wrote an excellent article titled “When Discernment Turns Ugly.” I’d like to quote a few lines.  
Eric writes, “Both Jan and I have become increasingly uncomfortable, even disturbed, with the tone and lack of civility being portrayed by some within the apologetics and discernment community of speakers, writers, and commentators. We’ve watched, listened, and have tried to intervene as assorted discernment ministries have fired shots at others inside Christianity over issues that fall miserably short of what has always been considered heresy.
“A troubling precedent has been spawned by some, lending validation to the idea that it’s perfectly acceptable to publicly rake anyone over the coals for nearly any theological reason.”
Eric continues, “Jan and I are not alone in our dismay with what is happening. Other leaders have voiced the same concern to us in recent days and mind you, the issue is not concerning any rejection of the virgin birth or the bodily resurrection of Christ. Nor is it related to the pseudo-Christian yet cultic Emergent heresy or the seducing web with which spiritual liberalism ensnares so many.”
Eric writes, “The type of ‘discernment’ that I’m referring to here doesn’t involve someone’s denial of the essential doctrines of the faith. Instead, what these squabbles really amount to are nothing more than disagreements on secondary doctrines, styles of worship, and peripheral practices.”
I am puzzled as to why this ministry has been the brunt of constant attack for years. I previously reported that Hank Hanegraaff, the Bible Answer Man, called Olive Tree Ministries a “blight on our times” and “reprehensible.” This and more was stated on his national radio program. He could have called me and said, “Jan, here’s where we disagree. Let’s talk about it.”  Instead Hank spent at least three minutes shredding my theology and character. At the root of the issue is his Preterism cannot tolerate Dispensationalism. 
Recently another ministry leader who has spent five years denigrating this ministry wrote and said his attitude had softened. He was glad for the areas where we agree. He acknowledged he had not acted Christ-like. He apologized for the damage done and stated that for the issues upon which we agree such as end-time events, he should not have been an adversary.  We are flawed human beings who will never see eye-to-eye on everything. I accepted his apology.
I think Olive Tree Ministries is doctrinally sound. I have sometimes featured guests on air or at conferences with whom I have some minor theological disagreements. I have felt that what they have to say is important enough that I will not let secondary issues stand in the way. I also know that these guests would never push their own agenda.
But I have begun to wonder if the contentious contenders expect a background check of everyone with whom one associates? And if so, has the standard been set so high that no imperfect human being can qualify? 
Do these folks think that they have no flaws, no theological weaknesses, and have attained a level of such perfection that they have become, in essence, a sheriff for the church? They must stamp their seal of approval on everyone?
Recently one online ministry attacked another and so denigrated the other with insults that it was embarrassing. The one who was verbally insulting the other via YouTube suggested the other lacked a proper education even though this particular pastor is loved by thousands. He is cutting-edge with an electronic audience consisting of tens of thousands.
He was then insulted as someone who needed more theological education in Greek and Hebrew. After an hour of insults, any sound believer would be heartsick and an unbeliever would flee from our camp observing that his unbelieving friends would be far more gracious to him should he make a mistake or have a disagreement.
Eric writes, “I think it’s needful for each Christian to be able to express positions or hold beliefs on the so-called secondary issues, but is biblical apologetics about denigrating others and, in effect, besmirching entire ministries based on disagreements about side issues? For some, this is what it’s become, and worse. The field of discernment has, at least in part, become a hotbed of separatism that seems to far exceed biblical standards.”
Eric continues, “From what is sometimes only one pen or keyboard, judgment is meted out against the suspected offender as newsletters are printed, blogs are published, seminars are given, and whole ministries and reputations are possibly done irreversible harm.
“All this takes place no matter how flimsy the evidence presented may be, and often over non-essential theologies! This should disgust the Christian community and I fear for the next generation of apologists (and those they’ll likely influence) who are being schooled by this example.”
I think that God is saddened that elements in the apologetics’ world behave no better than the Pharisees of Jesus day.
As flawed human beings, we make missteps and we certainly make mistakes. As each day dawns, I ask God for sound judgment for the many major decisions I will face that day. I don’t want to mislead anyone or introduce them to unsound doctrine. I likely am not batting 1,000.  In that teachers and leaders have a higher accountability, I would ask you to pray for all of us.
It’s one thing to contend for the faith which we must do (Jude 3). It’s another thing to denigrate character, engage in name calling, and make untrue accusations. A false teacher needs to be called out. Wolves are devouring millions of sheep.  
It’s only the contentious contending we are observing that is troubling.
 II Timothy 2:24-25:
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness…..

 

LIAR! 12 Reasons God Hates Lying

Lying: God hates it, and don’t you? But God loves truth-tellers. He is truth! In this brief article, pastor-counselor Paul Tautges shares a dozen reason God hates lying with ample scripture. What would you add to the list? His article appeared first here and is used with permission.

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Deception, in one form or another, is a regular part of many people’s lives in our world today. However, much to the church’s shame, many Christians continue to give in to the temptation to lie their way through life as well. What does God think of this? Proverbs 6:19 includes on the list of things that God hates, “a false witness who utters lies.”

Why does God hate lying?

And why does he not only hate lying, but liars as well? The Bible provides many reasons. Here are twelve of them.

1. God loves truthful speech and truth-tellers.

Do not let kindness and truth leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. So you will find favor and good repute in the sight of God and man (Prov. 3:3-4).

Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who deal faithfully are His delight (Prov. 12:22).

2. Lying reveals a lack of godliness.

He who speaks truth tells what is right, but a false witness, deceit (Prov. 12:17).

A righteous man hates falsehood, but a wicked man acts disgustingly and shamefully (Prov. 13:5).

3. Lying is a mark of an unfaithful person.

A trustworthy witness will not lie, but a false witness utters lies (Prov. 14:5).

4. Deceiving people in order to get financial help is worse than being poor.

The acquisition of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor, the pursuit of death (Prov. 21:6).

What is desirable in a man is his kindness, and it is better to be a poor man than a liar (Prov. 19:22).

5. Lying is often motivated by fear, which is contrary to love.

Then Abimelech called Abraham and said to him, “What have you done to us? And how have I sinned against you, that you have brought on me and on my kingdom a great sin? You have done to me things that ought not to be done.” And Abimelech said to Abraham, “What have you encountered, that you have done this thing?” Abraham said, “Because I thought, surely there is no fear of God in this place, and they will kill me because of my wife” (Gen. 20:9-11).

Perfect love casts out all fear (1 John 4:18).

6. Hypocrites are addicted to lying.

Ephraim surrounds Me with lies and the house of Israel with deceit; Judah is also unruly against God, even against the Holy One who is faithful (Hosea 11:12).

7. Liars love impure conversation.

An evildoer listens to wicked lips; a liar pays attention to a destructive tongue (Prov. 17:4).

8. Lying is a cause of unanswered prayer.

But your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you so that He does not hear. For your hands are defiled with blood and your fingers with iniquity; your lips have spoken falsehood, your tongue mutters wickedness (Isa. 59:2-3).

9. Jesus called Satan “the father of lies” and the devil excites men to lie.

You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44).

But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land?” (Acts 5:3).

10. Lying often accompanies other sins.

Listen to the word of the LORD, O sons of Israel, for the LORD has a case against the inhabitants of the land, because there is no faithfulness or kindness or knowledge of God in the land. There is swearing, deception, murder, stealing and adultery. They employ violence, so that bloodshed follows bloodshed (Hosea 4:1-2).

11. Liars will perish.

You destroy those who speak falsehood; the Lord abhors the man of bloodshed and deceit (Psalm 5:6).

A false witness will not go unpunished, and he who tells lies will perish (Prov. 19:9).

But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death (Revelation 21:8).

12. Truthful people will prevail in the end.

But the king will rejoice in God; everyone who swears by Him will glory, for the mouths of those who speak lies will be stopped (Psalm 63:11).

Truthful lips will be established forever, but a lying tongue is only for a moment (Prov. 12:19).

As followers of Jesus Christ, the Truth incarnate, we are called to put away the old self with its practices, which includes lying (Col. 3:9). Therefore, let us make this our prayer: Keep deception and lies far from me, give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is my portion, that I not be full and deny You and say, “Who is the LORD?” Or that I not be in want and steal, and profane the name of my God (Proverbs 30:8-9).

RECOMMENDED MINI-BOOKHELP! I Want to Change, which is also available in Kindle format.

 

The post LIAR! 12 Reasons God Hates Lying appeared first on Biblical Counseling Center.

15 Prayers for the Wrongfully Blamed

Have you been wrongfully blamed? Or have you been misunderstood for your intentions? Pray with me:

1. You see me.

God, thank you for seeing me. I know that you are always right, true, and just. You see me, and you see when my heart is loving you through what I say or do.

For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. (2 Chronicles 16:9)

2. Your judgments are true.

Thank you that when human judgments are lacking, your judgments are flawlessly true—I long for your standards to reign on this earth, down to every minutia.

Will not the Judge of all the earth do right? (Genesis 18:25)

3. You sought me.

Father, I know that you sought me while a sinner and have worked through me even while I still have sin in my heart—what grace through Christ! Help this truth spur me toward wanting to give grace to others.

As a prisoner in the Lord, then, I urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling you have received: with all humility and gentleness, withpatience, bearing with one another in love… (Ephesians 4:1-2)

4. Make me content.

God, who can know your mind? Please don’t let me expect that you want to use me as a teacher in someone else’s life, as if I know the plans you have ordained for another’s growth and benefit. I am content to play whatever part in others’ lives you want me to play.

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)

5. Motivate me rightly.

Father, I beg that you would keep my heart from self-centeredness; I pray that your Word, truth, reputation, love, and gospel would motivate me. May my foremost concern be you.

For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but think of yourself with sober judgment, according tothe measure of faith God has given you. (Romans 12:3)

6. Help me trust your good work.

God, you have done good work in me; don’t let me believe that you have not truly been present in my life—my mind, will, and heart—for righteousness. Don’t let me ever discount you.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10)

7. I confess my deceitful heart.

Father, I confess that my own heart evades me. I acknowledge and sorrowfully confess that to ever objectively state my complete innocence, holiness, purity, or righteousness in any given moment of life would be impossible for me to do.

If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1 1:10)

8. Thank you for Jesus, the spotless Lamb.

All the more, I worship you, God, that Christ was spotless.

…but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. (1 Peter 1:19)

9. Humble me when you use me.

God, if I have been faithful in how I have acted or spoken before you, let it be in care for others. If I have ultimately taught and helped another through speaking or acting in truth, let me be glad never to receive the credit for being the teacher. 

We are glad whenever we are weak, but you are strong; and our prayer is for your perfection. (2 Corinthians 13:9)

10. Fill me with your love, always.

Father, help me remember that even if I had all possible faithfulness in knowledge of the truth, I would always need, included in this, driving love for my brothers and sisters in order to possibly please you.

…and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:2)

11. Fill me with praise for what you’re doing in others.

God, please help me to be as full of praise to you for the full forgiveness you give to my brothers and sisters as I am for my own salvation.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead… (1 Peter 1:3)

12. Fill me with sorrow over other people’s sin.

Father, help me to have compassionate sorrow for the sin of others, praying as a true partner against it alongside them, regardless of how I have felt or been affected.

Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? (2 Corinthians 11:29)

13. Give me joy in you alone.

Lord, please don’t let me be fooled into thinking there are perfect circumstances “out there” for me to find. Instead, remind me that abiding joy is found in fellowship with you and in knowing that I have done your will.

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. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:10-11)

14. Help me find security and freedom in you alone.

God, I trust you to keep me secure and free—for you are my strength and shield.

The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him. (Psalm 28:7)

15. Thank you for covering my sin.

God, I thank you for not counting my sins against me, but for paying for every single one. You have made me overflow with gladness and praise.

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. (Psalm 32:1)

I praise you, Father, for your unfailing grace and truth for my soul through Christ.

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CultureWatch: Theological Liberalism and “Progressive Christianity”

At the turn of last century battles raged between theological conservatives and theological liberals, especially in Britain and America. The historical background to all this goes back another century to Europe – more on that in a moment. The issues however are still very much relevant to battles over the faith in the contemporary western world.

Today Christians who have a low view of Scripture and who reject many of the crucial doctrines of biblical Christianity like to refer to themselves as “progressives”. They somehow think they are making an improvement on things by rejecting much of the central content of New Testament Christianity.

Of course they are in fact regressive, and are engaged in some of the very things that Jesus and the disciples warned against. But I have written about this more recent form of theological liberalism elsewhere: billmuehlenberg.com/2011/01/23/progressive-christianity/

liberalismHere I just want to repeat some of the vital warnings that Christian champions of the past had made concerning the inroads of theological liberalism into the churches and seminaries of that time. Whenever apostasy and heresy breaks out, God raises up his soldiers to defend the faith and challenge the harmful revisionists.

So if we want to combat the more recent attacks on the faith by progressive Christianity, simply reading about what the defenders of biblical orthodoxy said about their theological predecessors is of use here. But first let me offer a brief explanation of what I mean by theological liberalism.

Springing from movements such as the German Enlightenment, human reason became the source of all truth as opposed to biblical revelation. Mankind, aided and abetted by science and rationality, became the final authority of all things – not Scripture. Enlightenment naturalism replaced biblical supernaturalism.

Thus the Bible was criticised as being outdated and errant, and core doctrinal truths were downplayed or denied. And the miraculous – including the resurrection of Jesus – was strongly attacked. In his important 1958 volume, “Fundamentalism” and the Word of God, J. I. Packer lists five “characteristic tenets of liberal faith in America.” Here is a slightly abridged version of his five traits:

1. God’s character is one of pure benevolence, that is, without standards. All men are His children, and sin separates no one from His love. The Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man are alike universal.
2. There is a divine spark in every man. All men, therefore, are good at heart, and need nothing more than encouragement to allow their natural goodness to express itself.
3. Jesus Christ is man’s Saviour only in the sense that He is man’s perfect Teacher and Example. We should regard Him simply as the first Christian, our elder brother in the worldwide family of God. He was not divine in any unique sense.
4. Just as Christ differs from other men only comparatively, not absolutely, so Christianity differs from other religions not generically, but merely as the best and highest type of religion that has yet appeared. All religions are forms of the same religion, just as all men are members of the same divine family.
5. The Bible is not a divine record of revelation, but a human testament of religion; and Christian doctrine is not the God-given word which must create and control Christian experience.

Today’s progressive Christianity basically runs with the same destructive, watered-down agenda. Packer goes on to say this about it all:

Liberalism was an attempt to square Christianity with these anti-supernatural axioms. The result was tersely summed up by Machen: “The liberal attempt at reconciling Christianity with modern science has really relinquished everything distinctive of Christianity, so that what remains is, in essentials, only that same indefinite type of religious aspiration which was in the world before Christianity came on the scene. . . the apologist has really abandoned what he started out to defend.” Liberalism swept away entirely the gospel of the supernatural redemption of sinners by God’s sovereign grace. It reduced grace to nature, divine revelation to human reflection, faith in Christ to following His example, and receiving new life to turning over a new leaf; it turned supernatural Christianity into one more form of natural religion, a thin mixture of morals and mysticism. As Hebert rightly says: ‘Religion was being substituted for God.’ It was in protest against this radical refashioning of the historic faith that ‘Fundamentalism’ arose.

Appealing to Machen was very helpful indeed. He was one of the main defenders of biblical Christianity at the time, and his writings still repay careful reading today. His classic work on this – the one Packer just quoted from – is of course his brilliant 1923 volume, Christianity and Liberalism.

Let me offer a few more select quotes from it, also just from his introductory chapter:

“In the sphere of religion, in particular, the present time is a time of conflict; the great redemptive religion which has always been known as Christianity is battling against a totally diverse type of religious belief, which is only the more destructive of the Christian faith because it makes use of traditional Christian terminology. This modern non-redemptive religion is called ‘modernism’ or ‘liberalism’.”

“But manifold as are the forms in which the movement appears, the root of the movement is one; the many varieties of modern liberal religion are rooted in naturalism, that is, in the denial of any entrance of the creative power of God.”

“[W]hat the liberal theologian has retained after abandoning to the enemy one Christian doctrine after another is not Christianity at all, but a religion which is so entirely different from Christianity as to be long in a distinct category.”

“[D]espite the liberal use of traditional phraseology modern liberalism is not only a different religion from Christianity but belongs in a totally different class of religions.”

“[L]iberalism in the modern Church represents a return to an un-Christian and sub-Christian form of the religious life.”

Machen was not alone here. Many others were challenging the destructive theological trends of the day. For example, in the 1930s H. Richard Niebuhr was lamenting the emptiness of liberal Protestant theology. He nicely summed it up as something in which “a God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.”

Yep, that about captures its essence. Another champion of Christian doctrine was the fiction writer and English layperson, Dorothy Sayers. She delivered a short address in 1940 called “Creed or Chaos” which has since been printed in various forms.

A few quotes from this piece are well worth offering here:

Official Christianity, of late years, has been having what is known as bad press. We are constantly assured that the churches are empty because preachers insist too much upon doctrine – dull dogma as people call it. The fact is quite the opposite. It is the neglect of dogma that makes for dullness. The Christian faith is the most exciting drama that ever staggered the imagination of man – and the dogma is the drama. Christ, in His divine innocence, said to the Woman of Samaria, ‘Ye worship ye know not what’ – being apparently under the impression that it might be desirable, on the whole, to know what one was worshiping. He thus showed Himself sadly out of touch with the twentieth-century mind, for the cry today is: ‘Away with the tedious complexities of dogma – let us have the simple spirit of worship; just worship, no matter of what!’ The only drawback to this demand for a generalized and undirected worship is the practical difficulty of arousing any sort of enthusiasm for the worship of nothing in particular.

 

The thing I am here to say to you is this: that it is worse than useless for Christians to talk about the importance of Christian morality unless they are prepared to take their stand upon the fundamentals of Christian theology. It is a lie to say that dogma does not matter; it matters enormously. It is fatal to let people suppose that Christianity is only a mode of feeling; it is vitally necessary to insist that it is first and foremost a rational explanation of the universe. It is hopeless to offer Christianity as a vaguely idealistic aspiration of a simple and consoling kind; it is, on the contrary, a hard, tough, exacting, and complex doctrine, steeped in a drastic and uncompromising realism. And it is fatal to imagine that everybody knows quite well what Christianity is and needs only a little encouragement to practice it. The brutal fact is that in this Christian country not one person in a hundred has the faintest notion what the Church teaches about God or man or society or the person of Jesus Christ.

Many other defenders of the faith during this period could be cited here. But let me conclude with a humorous take on all this. It may have come from a television comedy, but what it says hits very close to the sad reality. I refer to a 1986 episode of Yes Prime Minister entitled “The Bishops Gambit” which dealt with the state of play of much of the Church of England at the time:

James Hacker: Humphrey, what’s a Modernist in the Church of England?
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Ah, well, the word “Modernist” is code for non-believer.
James Hacker: You mean an atheist?
Sir Humphrey Appleby: No, Prime Minister. An atheist clergyman couldn’t continue to draw his stipend. So, when they stop believing in God, they call themselves “Modernists”.
James Hacker: How could the Church of England suggest an atheist as Bishop of Bury St Edmunds?
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Well, very easily. The Church of England is primarily a social organization, not a religious one.
James Hacker: Is it?
Sir Humphrey Appleby: Oh yes. It’s part of the rich social fabric of this country. So bishops need to be the sorts of chaps who speak properly and know which knife and fork to use. The sort of people one can look up to.

You can see it here starting at the 9-minute mark: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m3NGFFDQq0U
See also the 6-7 minute mark for more on theological liberalism as presented by Yes Prime Minister.

[1690 words]

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When Your Faith Is Shaken

What makes you question your faith? A crisis, chronic condition, daily drudgery, or something else? If you experience a season when your faith is shaken, you’re not alone.

At least three Bible heroes faced a crisis of faith. In each case, Christ intervened and transformed dark moments of questioning, cynicism, and abandonment into reassurance, revelation, and ministry.

Can you identify with any of these cases below? If so, God has an answer for you too.

Case #1: The Seeker

John the Baptist knew Jesus well. He saw the Spirit of God descend at Jesus’ baptism. His entire life was devoted to preaching the good news that the Messiah was coming. He had experienced Jesus’ presence firsthand, and yet he questioned whether Jesus was the Messiah.

Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” (Matthew 11:2-6)

John the Baptist had been preaching the nearness of the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 3:2), but once in prison, no kingdom seemed forthcoming. It didn’t make sense; this wasn’t how the story was supposed to end. Had John been mistaken about the Messiah?

In the midst of his confusion, John the Baptist came seeking answers. And in his mercy, Jesus responded to John’s questions with the reassuring message that he was indeed the Messiah.

For the seeker faced with circumstances that make no sense, Christ offers the good news of the gospel. Jesus is who he says he is: The blind see, the lame walk, and the good news is preached. He is ready to answer us when we pray, cast our cares on him (Philippians 4:5-6), and trust him by faith to save us from sin.

Case #2: The Cynic

Thomas was ready to die with Jesus. When he saw that Jesus was determined to go to Judea despite the danger, Thomas rallied the disciples to follow Christ to the death: “So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him’” (John 11:16).

But Thomas’ noble intentions were later crushed by the news that Jesus had died on the cross. Maybe it was the way Jesus died—the death of a criminal—that caused Thomas to give up. Maybe it was witnessing nails piercing Jesus’ hands or the sword thrust into his side that caused Thomas’ courage to be replaced with cynicism. Was it all a hoax?

Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”

Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:24-29)

Jesus responded to Thomas’ doubts and pointed to the very evidence that Thomas demanded to see. Thomas recognized the scars, and he saw that Jesus was indeed “Lord” and “God.”

Unexpected circumstances have a way of changing our attitudes. Facing pain, loss, or disappointment can turn faith into fear and courage into cynicism. When we find ourselves insisting, “Unless I see…I will never believe,” we can turn to the Lord in prayer and cry out, “I believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

Case #3: The Deserter

Peter loved the Lord. Of all the disciples, he was the one with faith enough to step out of a boat and walk on water.

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” (Matthew 14:28-30)

But this same Peter, full of great faith in Christ, abandoned him one dark night.

And after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” But he began to invoke a curse on himself and to swear, “I do not know this man of whom you speak.” And immediately the rooster crowed a second time. And Peter remembered how Jesus had said to him, “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept. (Mark 14:70-72)

Have you walked with the Lord and then experienced a great failure of faith like Peter? Knowing we’ve messed up can make us hide from Christ and from one another. For me, great failures usually come when I start trusting myself to hold on to Christ and forget that he’s the one who holds on to me. I need a constant reminder that my faith can’t be in my faith; my faith must be in Christ alone. Leaning on him each day is the only way I can avoid another great failure of faith.


My faith can’t be in my faith; my faith must be in Christ alone. 
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Christ showed mercy to Peter. After Peter’s failure, he returned to the fishing life he knew. And although he abandoned Christ, Christ didn’t abandon him. Jesus found Peter at the shore and offered him a second chance to demonstrate his love for Christ.

He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.” (John 21:17)

As if to erase the three times Peter denied Christ, Jesus asked Peter three times to affirm his love by accepting the ministry of feeding his sheep.

Which Case Are You?

Are you a seeker, a cynic, or a deserter? If you’re in a situation that has shaken your faith, bring it to Christ. He is never surprised by your questions. He doesn’t leave you in hopelessness or cynicism. And he will never abandon you, even when you fail miserably.

Just as he did for John the Baptist, Thomas, and Peter, Jesus can turn our questions into reassurance, our cynicism into revelation, and our abandonment into ministry. He is indeed faithful and will surely do it (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).

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The Five Key Factors in Every Christian’s Sanctification

Growth in Christlikeness is a lifelong, active progression. We are holier on the day we die than we were on the day we came to Christ. We are holier on the day we die than we are on the day before we die. Yet this long progression is peppered with seasonal lulls, drudgery, and complacency. We know we are never as Christlike as we ought to be or even as we want to be. Yet while our lack of holiness ought to motivate greater effort in godliness, we often allow it to contribute to discouragement, laziness and apathy. Sanctification is a tricky business.

How does God go about this work of sanctification? David Powlison helpfully narrows it down to five means or five streams through which God pours out his sanctifying grace. These factors work in tandem, each one contributing to our lifelong gain in godliness.

God Changes You

God changes you. He sovereignly and sometimes invisibly intervenes and interferes in your life to help you grow in holiness. This may be the most obvious means, but your natural atheistic bent paired with your inclination for self-glory threatens to lead you to forget or dismiss its importance. Your sanctification would not be possible without God first intervening to make the gospel beautiful to your darkened heart and mind. You cannot will yourself to see when you have been blind from birth. In the same way, you cannot make yourself alive in Christ when you are dead in sin.

Conversion is only one example of God’s sovereign interference. When you call upon him to be your Lord, you must welcome his permanent and perfect interference throughout the course of your life. You must remember that your sanctification too depends on him, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13).

Truth Changes You

God chooses to work in harmony with a book, his book. Romans 15:4 shows this interplay between God and God’s Word: “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Yet in verse 13, Paul prays, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” The Scripture gives hope because its author is the God and giver of hope.

The Bible is “perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7). An unconverted mind may glean wisdom from its proverbial truths and even this can result in behavioural changes. But Christians drink from its words because they are indwelled by God’s Spirit and they desire to hear God’s voice. This, too, should result in behavioural changes, and changes of a much better and deeper nature. God’s truth transforms you as you read, ponder, understand, and obey his Word.

Wise People Change You

At a most basic level, you cannot know the gospel unless it comes to you. You came to faith because someone shared the gospel with you: “how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” (Romans 10:14). Soon after, I hope, you became a part of a church family. It is, after all, in this corporate setting that God dispenses grace through the ordinary means of grace. No man or woman is meant to be an island.

Proverbs 13:20 admonishes us to walk with wise people, for then we become wise. Conversely, the companion of fools becomes foolish. I hope you are acquainted with the sweet blessing of Christian friendship. God calls us to rebuke, to encourage, to confess our sins, to disciple, and to comfort one another in affliction. As we do that, we change each other. Perpetual isolation will keep you from one of God’s great means of sanctification.

Suffering and Struggle Change You

If even Christ “learned obedience through what he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8), how much more are you changed by suffering and struggle? Think about doctrines that became dearer to you in the darkest nights of your soul. Think about the lessons you learned in your toughest trials. Suffering and struggle necessitate God’s grace in your life in a way that ease does not.

Much of your suffering is a result of your inner darkness, and the evil in others. As you wait with expectation for your complete sanctification, your sinful nature keeps you bent towards evil, and this often opens a door to suffering. Other times, it is the result of uncontrollable circumstances, of loss, of physical deterioration, of persecution, or of the harmful effects of someone else’s sin. We live in a decadent world where trouble abounds. But suffering is never without cause, for we know “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3-4). God changes us through every struggle and every moment of suffering.

You Change

Suffering, wise people, truth, and the sovereign work of God must be joined with your willful and constant repentance. You resist sanctification when you are passive and unresponsive to these four factors. You are called to be both a hearer and a doer of the Word. If someone gently rebukes you for sin, you ought to choose to repent and change. In the face of suffering, you have the choice to give in to the temptation to mental doom or to find hope in God. When you believed upon the Lord, “You turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thessalonians 1:9). But even your repentance is an outworking of God’s power in you.

Rather than resisting, enter into the current of God’s sanctifying work and see the Lord’s power reveal itself in all the ways God, truth, people, and struggle change you as you respond in continual obedience and continual repentance.

These points were drawn from How Does Sanctification Work? by David Powlison.

Source: The Five Key Factors in Every Christian’s Sanctification

15 Questions to Apply Scripture to Your Life

A good question in Bible study helps uncover riches in the text that we may not see. This is true for observation, interpretation, and application stages of Bible study.

The following questions¹ will help you apply a passage of Scripture to your life and rely on God for transformation. It may help you to print off the list and tape it inside your Bible (download it below!).

15 Questions to Apply Scripture to Your Life

1. What does this say about God?

2. What does this say about the human condition?

3. What does this say about God’s provision in Christ for the human condition?

4. What response does God want from me?

5. What response does God want from the church?

6. What does it look like for me to believe and obey this Scripture in a genuine, non-superficial way?

7. How can I obey this passage externally but not internally?

8. Is there anything I need to confess?

9. Is there any sin from which I need to repent?

10. How do I need help in believing or heeding this Scripture?

11. What can I be thankful for because of this passage?

12. How can I praise God because of this passage?

13. How can I encourage myself with this passage today?

14. How might I encourage others with this passage today?

15. How does this passage deepen my longing for the return of Christ and the joys of heaven?

A Transformed Life

As you engage these questions, bring your responses to God in prayer, asking for deeper faith and an obedient heart. Faithfully seeking transformation from God’s Word will plant you firmly in truth and lead to great joy and satisfaction in Christ (Psalm 1:3; Psalm 119).

Happy reading!

[1] Questions adapted from Martin Luther’s A Simple Way to Pray, Joe Thorn’s Note to Self, LRI’s Dig & Discover Hermeneutical Principles Booklet, and “Keeping Christ Central in Preaching” from Telling the Truth, ed. D.A. Carson. A version of this article first appeared at Anchored in Christ.]

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12 Signs of Genuine Repentance

I have sinned against you. I have apologized. But how do you know if I mean it?

How do you know when someone is repentant? In his helpful little book Church Discipline, Jonathan Leeman offers some guidance:

A few verses before Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 18 about church discipline, he provides us with help for determining whether an individual is characteristically repentant: would the person be willing to cut off a hand or tear out an eye rather than repeat the sin (Matt. 18:8-9)? That is to say, is he or she willing to do whatever it takes to fight against the sin? Repenting people, typically, are zealous about casting off their sin. That’s what God’s Spirit does inside of them. When this happens, one can expect to see a willingness to accept outside counsel. A willingness to inconvenience their schedules. A willingness to confess embarrassing things. A willingness to make financial sacrifices or lose friends or end relationships. (p. 72)

These are good indicators, and I believe we can add a few more.

Here are 12 signs we have a genuinely repentant heart:

1. We name our sin as sin and do not spin it or excuse it, and further, we demonstrate “godly sorrow,” which is to say, a grief chiefly about the sin itself, not just a grief about being caught or having to deal with the consequences of sin.

2. We actually confessed before we were caught or the circumstantial consequences of our sin caught up with us.

3. If found out, we confess immediately or very soon after and “come clean,” rather than having to have the full truth pulled from us. Real repentance is typically accompanied by transparency.

4. We have a willingness and eagerness to make amends. We will do whatever it takes to make things right and to demonstrate we have changed.

5. We are patient with those we’ve hurt or victimized, spending as much time as is required listening to them without jumping to defend ourselves.

6. We are patient with those we’ve hurt or victimized as they process their hurt, and we don’t pressure them or “guilt” them into forgiving us.

7. We are willing to confess our sin even in the face of serious consequences (including undergoing church discipline, having to go to jail, or having a spouse leave us).

8. We may grieve the consequences of our sin but we do not bristle under them or resent them. We understand that sometimes our sin causes great damage to others that is not healed in the short term (or perhaps ever).

9. If our sin involves addiction or a pattern of behavior, we do not neglect to seek help with a counselor, a solid twelve-step program, or even a rehabilitation center.

10. We don’t resent accountability, pastoral rebuke, or church discipline.

11. We seek our comfort in the grace of God in Jesus Christ, not simply in being free of the consequences of our sin.

12. We are humble and teachable.

As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter.

—2 Corinthians 7:9-11

Source: 12 Signs of Genuine Repentance

CultureWatch: Five Hallmarks of Spiritual Maturity

The New Testament is full of exhortations and commands to grow in our Christian faith, to become all we can be in Christ, and to be mature, wise and complete as Christ followers. Spiritual maturity is the aim of the Christian, not remaining a spiritual baby or toddler.

We are to grow up in Christ, in knowledge, in wisdom, in discernment, in love, and in truth. But regrettably so many Christians have never progressed beyond spiritual infancy. They may have been believers for many years now, but they have never really grown and matured.

In the physical world we would be massively worried about a baby that never grew and developed, but remained the same in size, in need, and in immaturity. We should be equally concerned when this occurs in the spiritual life. The Bible often mentions this. Hebrews 5:11-14 is one such passage:

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

So let me look at five signs or indications of spiritual maturity. There would be others that could be added to this list of course, but these will do for a start. This is a spiritual checklist to help us all see just how far along in the Christian life we have progressed.

One. Having the fear of God rather than the fear of man. This is one of the key marks of the mature Christian. He is not really worried about what others think of him, but he is very concerned about what God thinks of him. This may be one of the most important lessons any believer can grasp.

maturityIn Proverbs we read an important passage on this: “The fear of man brings a snare” (Prov. 29:25). Yet so many Christians are petrified by what others might say or think about them, but seem so little interested in what God’s assessment is.

They are men pleasers instead of God pleasers. They have things back to front, and that is why they are not growing. They will remain spiritual babes until they get this right. God must come first, and the opinions of men must take second place. (But see below – there is certainly a need to listen to the counsel of others.)

A healthy fear of God is the best place we can be in. A paralysing fear of man is the worst place we can be in. The passages on all this are numerous. Here are just a few of them:

-Deuteronomy 6:24 The LORD commanded us to obey all these decrees and to fear the LORD our God.
-Proverbs 1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.
-Proverbs 9:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.
-Jeremiah 5:22 “Should you not fear me?” declares the LORD. “Should you not tremble in my presence?”
-Matthew 10:28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
-John 12:42-43 Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God.
-Galatians 1:10 Do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Two. Having a consistent and regular Bible study, prayer and fellowship life. Those who do not read and study the Word of God on a daily basis, pray on a daily basis, and fellowship with other believers, can hardly expect to become a solid, mature disciple of Christ. They will forever remain spiritual infants in need of being spoon fed and led about by others.

That we need these spiritual disciplines is of course Christianity 101. Yet so many believers who are floundering and getting nowhere just don’t seem to get it. They will tell me they seem to be unable to progress in their Christian walk, and when I ask them about their devotional life (reading the Word, prayer, worship, fellowship), they tell me it barely exists.

Well, no wonder they are just not getting anywhere. And the analogy I used above applies here as well. If we saw a ten-year-old who was the size and weight of a three-year-old, we would all know something was radically wrong. The first thing we would inquire about is whether the child was getting proper nutrition: regular, daily food and drink.

If we discovered that this was not the case we would be shocked, and the negligent parents would likely be locked up. Yet too many believers are guilty of the same thing: they are woefully stunted in their growth, and should be arrested for spiritual self-neglect. We either engage in daily spiritual nourishment, or we will remain a runt.

Simply read Psalm 119 if you want to know how utterly crucial it is to daily immerse yourself in God’s word. Let me mention just one verse, v. 95, “How I have loved your Law, and it is my meditation the whole day!” And look at the life of Christ or any of the great saints of church history to see how imperative a regular prayer life is.

And passages such as Hebrews 10:24-25 inform us about the crucial need to stay in close fellowship with other committed believers, and not stay isolated and alone: “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

Three. Being able to handle criticism and being willing to admit you are wrong.Regular criticism is sadly part of the job description of the mature Christian – whether or not you are a leader. The truth is, you will constantly be criticised and condemned – and especially by other believers.

Think of your most loved and respected spiritual leaders or teachers. Every one of them will have heresy hunters trying to convince you that they are no good apostates, heretics and false prophets. They readily attack these folks, and they will attack you as well.

Indeed, over the years I have been accused of everything under the sun. I have had the critics inform me of all sorts of things I must repent of: of being a cultist, of not being a real Christian, of not believing Scripture, of being a hater, of not having the Spirit, of being judgmental, of being in deception, of not really knowing Christ, etc.

Being able to withstand all this criticism is a sign of Christian maturity. And as I have so often said, we need to deal with criticism the way we deal with a fish dinner: eat the meat but leave out the bones. When criticism comes, we need to prayerfully and carefully consider if it is of God or not.

If it is – or even parts of it – then we need to learn the lessons, make the course changes, and repent where necessary. But if it is not of God, then we should just let it go and move on. Often criticisms will contain a mix: there are some things we need to heed, and some things we need to ignore. The mature believer carefully listens to instruction from others, and will take on board various criticisms.

Getting angry and lashing out at those who seek to speak truth into your life is a sign of an immature Christian. Refusing to listen to others is a dangerous place to be in. There are numerous passages in the Book of Proverbs on this. Here are just a few:

-Proverbs 10:17 Whoever heeds discipline shows the way to life,
but whoever ignores correction leads others astray.
-Proverbs 15:31-32 Whoever heeds life-giving correction
will be at home among the wise.
Those who disregard discipline despise themselves,
but the one who heeds correction gains understanding.
-Proverbs 25:12 Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold
is a wise man’s rebuke to a listening ear.

Four. Not being blown about by every wind of doctrine. The Bible speaks to this often. The mature believer is solid in biblical truth and doctrine. He knows his Bible well and has a firm grasp of basic Christian truths. He knows the Word and basic Christian theology well enough to easily spot heretical and false teachings and practices.

Just as a bank teller can easily pick out a counterfeit note because he knows the real thing so well, the mature Christian can easily spot false teaching and deceptive doctrines because he knows the Bible very well indeed, and has a good grasp of theology and at least some church history.

This is how we stay on the straight and narrow. It keeps us from getting sucked into deceitful cults and false doctrine. And it also helps us to live the Christian life in a biblically balanced fashion. We will not heed all sorts of dopey and unbiblical claims about how we are to live and act as Christians.

Again, plenty of texts can be appealed to here. These are just some of them:

-Ephesians 4:14-15 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.
-1 Timothy 4:11-16 Command and teach these things. Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
-2 Timothy 2:15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.
-Titus 1:9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.
-Hebrews 13:9 Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings.

Five. Not being blown about by every emotional up and down. I know of far too many believers who have been Christians for many years now, yet they seem to live their lives on emotional roller coasters. They are up and down and all over the place.

There are simply too many Christian emotional bungee jumpers around: up, down, up, down. One minute they are on fire for God and the next minute they are flat as a tack and ready to give it all up. Sure, all Christians will go through hot and cold patches, up and down times.

But for the mature Christian there will be a slow and steady upward climb. There will be some setbacks and bumps along the way, but a noticeable upward path will be there. The immature believer never really grows or develops. There is no upward progress, just a lot of floundering and inconsistency.

While God made us to be emotional beings, we are not to let our feelings determine how we live our Christian lives. We are to know what is true, we are to choose and act on what is true, and our feelings should follow on from this. Simply emoting our way through life will never result in us becoming mature Christians.

Again, the Bible would have much to say on this, especially in the Wisdom literature, dealing with various emotions and the need to keep them in check, etc. Here are a few of them:

-Psalm 139:23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
-Proverbs 15:18 A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict,
but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.
-Proverbs 16:32 He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty,
And he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city.
-Proverbs 29:11 Fools give full vent to their rage,
but the wise bring calm in the end.
-Philippians 4:7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

As mentioned, there would be other indicators of Christian maturity. But these five would offer us key tests on this. So how do we stack up? Taking regular spiritual inventory of our lives as disciples is always vital. Let us all press on to maturity. As Paul put it in Ephesians 4:11-13:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

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The post Five Hallmarks of Spiritual Maturity appeared first on CultureWatch.

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