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Sanctification

Killing Sin

Most of us are aware that there are certain sins that we consistently struggle with. Gavin Ortlund calls us to stop tolerating these sins and to intentionally fight against them.

The Bible portrays sin as a powerful, ever-vigilant enemy. Sin deceives (Genesis 3:13), desires (Genesis 4:7), destroys (Genesis 6:7). Even forgiven sin within the Christian is powerfully active, waging war (Romans 7:23), lusting (Galatians 5:17), enticing (James 1:14), entangling (Hebrews 12:1). 

Many Christians struggle with “nagging sins” — those entrenched, persistent, difficult-to-dislodge sins that continually entangle us in our efforts to follow Christ. Sometimes we struggle for decades, with bouts of backsliding and despair recurring. Most godly Christians, who have made true progress in their pursuit of holiness, can sing with feeling “prone to wander, Lord I feel it,” or share the lament of Augustine: “I have learned to love you too late!” 

The gospel gives us hope that all sin, even nagging sins, can be both forgiven and subdued. But because sin has such persistence and power, we must be vigilant in our struggle against it. As John Owen puts it, “If sin be subtle, watchful, strong, and always at work in the business of killing our souls, and we be slothful, negligent, foolish . . . can we expect a comfortable event?”

Here are four strategies for maintaining vigilance in the fight, drawn from John Owen, and particularly in relation to a nagging, persistent sin — that kind that keeps on tripping us up and entangling us in its grip.

1. Hate it.

...Nagging sins are those we are most likely to become numb to, and therefore we have to work extra hard to continually re-sensitize our consciences to them in light of the gospel, saying things like:

  • This impatience is part of what Christ had to bear on the cross.
  • This worldly ambition would lead me to hell, but for the grace of God.
  • This lingering resentment grieves the Holy Spirit within me.

Often this means really slowing down and really examining our hearts. In a lesser-known passage in his Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis, reflecting on the distinction between enjoyment and contemplation, observes that “the surest means of disarming an anger or a lust (is) to turn your attention from the girl or the insult and start examining the passion itself.” Defeating nagging sins often requires this uncomfortable, honest reflection and acknowledgement on what the sin is doing within us. 

Nagging sins can survive our annoyance and mild dislike. Only hatred will fuel the needed effort. 

2. Starve it.

...One of the most important principles involved in this starvation process is to act quickly: Don’t let sin get even the smallest step. Don’t say, “I will give in this much, but not that much.” That never works. As John Owen puts it: “Dost thou find thy corruption to begin to entangle thy thoughts? Rise up with all thy strength against it, with no less indignation than if it had fully accomplished what it aims at.” 

3. Corner it.

Sin, like any other enemy, thrives among its allies (unhappiness, exhaustion, and discouragement are some that come to mind). To wage effective war against sin, therefore, we must deprive it of the opportunities and occasions it makes use of... 

4. Overwhelm it.

...the gospel means that God provides us with power, that we might overcome nagging sins (2 Timothy 1:7). His Spirit gives us strength beyond ourselves with which to fight, and his all-satisfying presence gives us the promise of a superior, lasting joy...

Read the full article here.

Sometimes We Need a Good Rebuke

Marshall Segal over at Desiring God with an encouragement that most of us need to hear: 

When was the last time someone told you you were wrong? 

If you can’t remember, you may have reason to be concerned. Sometimes the most loving thing someone can do for us is point out an error or inconsistency in the way we think or live. The reality that we have remaining sin still inside of us means that we will be wrong. And it means we will inevitably be blind to some of the ways we are wrong. Therefore, God often gives us the perspective we desperately need on ourselves through someone else’s eyes, heart, and words. They see something that needs to change or be corrected, and they lovingly tell us the truth. They rebuke us. Love will rebuke us.

Paul had to rebuke Peter once. “When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned” (Galatians 2:11). Why? Because Peter (a Jew) caved to pressure from his peers, and refused to eat with Gentile believers. Peter had pioneered the reconciliation of the Jews and Gentiles through Jesus (Acts 15:11). He had seen and experienced the barrier-breaking love of God for us through Jesus and his cross (Acts 10:28). It had changed everything, even down to his eating habits (Galatians 2:12).

But Jews started persecuting Christian Jews because of Peter’s eating habits, and so some tried to convince him to stop. Thus, at the very point the Gentile Christians needed him most, Peter withdrew in fear. Christ had purchased these people, the Father had declared them his own, and the Holy Spirit was living inside of them. And Peter abandoned them.

Love Enough to Say the Hard Thing

Paul writes, “When I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?’” (Galatians 2:14). In short, “Stop it!” Peter, the testimony of your behavior is telling a different gospel, a gospel that will not save anyone. And the false, peer-pressure, racist gospel your conduct tells is winning followers (Galatians 2:13). Remember the true gospel — by grace alone, through faith alone, apart from ethnic barriers — and repent. Bring your public actions back into conformity with the message for which Jesus died. 

Based on the rest of the story, Paul’s rebuke may have rescued Peter’s ministry and the fledgling church (humanly speaking). Peter repented and openly ate with Gentiles again. Because Paul was willing to say the hard thing, to love Peter the inconvenient and less socially acceptable way, a false gospel’s seed was dispelled, and the true gospel was preserved, demonstrated, and spread. 

So what can we learn from Paul’s example? How do we rebuke one another in love? Here are four lessons.

1. Rebuke to preserve the gospel and its witness.

2. Rebuke on the gospel’s terms, not your own.

3. Rebuke with humility, gentleness, and conviction.

4. Rebuke to please God, not man.

Read how he fills out each point here

The Mirage of Temptation

Jon Bloom with some helpful thoughts on temptation:

A mirage is that hallucination parched people sometimes experience in a hot desert. A real desire for water and the shimmering heat of the sand play disorienting games with the mind and emotions. A refreshing oasis seems to appear in the distance promising the happiness of a quenched desire.

A thirsty person might know that no oasis has previously existed in that location. But his desire to be happy, fueled by the hope that this time he just might find happiness there, or at least relief from misery, tempts him to believe the vision. If he yields, he discovers his hope was hopeless and his desire dashed because the oasis was a sham.

In temptation, the mirage moment occurs as we are tempted by a vision promising happiness. Some shimmering oasis of promised joy or relief from despair appears where God said it shouldn’t be.

The mirage’s appearance taps into our real desire to be happy. Our disoriented emotions begin to respond to this desire with a feeling of hope — hope that maybe this time, even if we’ve been disappointed many times before, the oasis will quench our desire. But we knowthat God has told us it is a false hope.

So we are faced with a choice between temptation’s compelling appearance and God’s promise. We are tempted, but have not yet succumbed to sin.

 

Satan employs the same temptation tactics with us. And one key to not letting him outwit us (2 Corinthians 2:11) is to be on the alert to our mirage moments.

Identify the hope tempting mirages offer. The reason temptations are hard to resist is because hope is hard to resist. Temptations threaten us with missing out on happiness or less misery. We must ask ourselves what the mirage is really promising? Sometimes just saying it out loud breaks its spell.

Declare, like Jesus, “It is written” and take your stand on a promise God has made to make you happy. Don’t fight hope merely with denial. Fight false hope with true hope. Determine to hope in the God of hope (Psalm 42:11; Romans 15:13), not a shimmering hopeless mirage.

Expect the mirage to be tempting. God made you to want to be happy and the mirage has promised you happiness. So of course your emotions, which have responded to the initial deceptive vision, will want the happiness. They will feel demanding, but denying them won’t kill you. In this case, gratifying them just might kill you. Don’t allow your passions to be your dictators (Romans 6:12). Remember, emotions are gauges, not guides. They are indicatives not imperatives. They are to be directed, not to be directors.

To be tempted is not a sin. To yield to temptation is sin. Temptations are never truly as strong as they feel. Their power lies solely in the false hope they produce in us. Remember, it is hope that is powerful. God created us to hope in him (Psalm 43:5).

In temptation, Satan is just trying to use our God-given desire for hopeful happiness against us. If we can identify his false promise of hope, declare the true promise of hope, and expect to weather some disorienting emotional urges, the mirage will dissipate and our hope in God’s promised happiness will strengthen.

Read the rest here.

Evaluating You and Your Smartphone

Alastair Roberts gives us some questions to help us evaluate how we use our smartphones. 

The diagnostic tests that we should run — and should continually be running — ought to be informed by a clearer concept of what our freedom is for and the sorts of shapes that it takes. The bigger questions that we need to address are as follows:

  • Do our particular uses of our smartphones, and our use of a smartphone more generally, have the actual effect — not just hold the theoretical possibility — of making us better servants of God and of our neighbors?
  • Are our smartphones tools that facilitate our commitment to the central purposes and values of our lives, or are they — and our habitual modes of using them — constantly distracting, diverting, or obstructing us from them?

More specific diagnostic questions could include the following:

  1. Is my smartphone making it difficult for me to give the activities and persons in my life the full and undivided attention and self-presence that they require and deserve?
  2. Do I habitually use my smartphone as an easy escape and distraction from the difficult task of wrestling through the experience of lack of stimulation and boredom to the rewarding reality of true engagement?
  3. Is my smartphone use squeezing out my inner life, encroaching upon time that would otherwise be given to private contemplation, reflection, and meditation? Do I use it as a way to distract myself from unsettling truths and realities that can slowly come into focus in moments of silence and solitude?
  4. Am I using hyper-connectedness to substitute a self unthinkingly immersed in a shallow and amniotic communal consciousness and its emotions, for the difficult task of developing my own judgment, character, disciplines, resolve, and identity?
  5. Are my uses of my smartphone arresting and hampering my processes of deliberation and reflection, encouraging reactive judgments and premature decisions?
  6. Is my use of my smartphone mediating my relationship with and understanding of myself in unhealthy ways?
  7. Is my smartphone a tool that I use, or has it fettered my attention and time to other persons and activities that are wasteful and overly demanding of them?
  8. Are my uses of my smartphone preventing me from developing and maintaining healthy patterns and routines in my life, disrupting my sleeping patterns, interrupting my concentration upon my work, habituating me to the fragmentation of my time and attention?
  9. Is my smartphone usage consuming time that I used to, or could potentially, devote to worthier activities? Do I use my smartphone to “kill time” that I could otherwise fill with prayer, reading, writing, edifying conversation, face-to-face interactions, and more?
  10. Are my uses of my smartphone conducive to the faithfulness and freedom of others? Am I using my smartphone in ways that create unhealthy demands and pressures upon them?

I'd encourage you to read the rest of the article here.

When You're Spiritually Stuck

We all feel spiritually stuck at times. Dane Ortlund gives some helpful counsel for what to do in these times.

I’m spiritually stuck. We are stuck people. We get distracted, pulled down, undone. God feels distant and irrelevant. Dane Ortlund says, “You are not abnormal. So relax. We all go through this from time to time.”

Seasons of spiritual darkness are common — even when many pretend they’re an anomaly. Even when indifference pirates our most pious intentions, and we surrender ourselves to isolation in our lack of holy zeal, don’t be deceived: gloom in the Christian’s heart is common.

It does often look and feel different for different people:

  • Your daily fear of future tragedy erodes your affection for God.
  • Your experience in corporate worship is empty and distracted.
  • You feel unimpressed, aloof to the things of God.
  • Patterns of repentance crumble and fade.
  • The preached word seems boring.
  • Hymns prompt only an irregular cadence of exhausted sighs.
  • Spiritual advice trips over its own triteness on its way to cynical ears.
  • Christian articles online induce more guilt than help.

Day after day, sermon after sermon, small group after small group, we’re discouraged and frightened by a widening gap between the desired self and the real self. We feel the torque pulling between our desired relationship with God — the desired emotions, the desired disciplines, the desired relationships — and the real.

It feels like the solution should be simple — another round of repentance, a worship song, a Paul Tripp devotion. Something. Anything. But those things either don’t feel effective or mysteriously elude us. Here are six places to start — intentions to experiment with — when you feel spiritually stuck and alone. “Intentions” are things that we easily lose. They are good, but they can be slippery. Find yourself in one, or a few, of these intentions. They’re not all right for you. But discover which one might be most relevant to you now. Read through them, and search for words for your heart. Read them in sequence, and look for the helpful nutrients you need.

1. Be honest about your heart.

2. Complain out loud to God.

3. Complain out loud to others.

4. Get out of your own head.

5. Get back in your head.

6. Practice receiving the love of God.

Read how he fills out each point here.

God's Commands and Your Joy

Jon Bloom describes how our assumptions about God's commands are so often off.

The only time God gives us restrictions or prohibitions is for our joy. He never says “no” to us unless “no” will make us ultimately happier.

Back in Eden, before the horrible fall, the only prohibition God placed on Adam was this:

“You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16–17)

Adam, you have complete freedom to eat of every single tree in the entire garden except for the one tree that will kill your joy.

A Liberating Prohibition

This prohibition was a profound expression of God’s love for Adam in warning him against terrible harm. It was also an opportunity for Adam to express his love for God through trusting and obeying him. It was a liberating prohibition. As long as Adam believed it was an expression of God’s love, it would guard Adam from becoming a slave of sin (John 8:34) and of the fear of death (Hebrews 2:15). It was an expansive restriction, keeping all the best options for Adam’s enjoyment available to him, as he refrained from the one tree.

 

All of God’s prohibitions are love. Every “you shall not” of God’s law is an expression of God’s love.

What a beautiful model God is for all us who must say “no” and “do not” to people for whom God has given us some level of responsibility. Parents, grandparents, older siblings, pastors, elders, deacons, CEO’s, managers, supervisors, teachers, small group leaders, presidents, legislators, law enforcement officers, whatever position of authority we hold or will hold, we are given the sober responsibility of saying “no” for only one reason: to guard the ultimate good, to protect and increase the ultimate joy of those we serve.

Yes, our authority to say “no” is given to us only to serve them, not to lord authority over them (Matthew 20:25–28). We must only prohibit in order to protect their true liberty; we must only restrict in order to expand their most joy-producing options.

It may be that we should review our prohibitions. Are all our “no’s,” “do not’s,” and “you can’t’s” truly expressions of love, or are we imposing some of them out of selfishness, fear, or a sinful desire to win someone else’s approval or desire for revenge?

Let us only prohibit because we love those we serve. Let us only say “no” for their joy.

Read the entire article here.

An Open Letter to Fellow Christians

I appreciated this "letter" that Erik Raymond posted addressing his fellow believers.  I  desire to have relationships where we talk as much or more about Christ as we do about ourselves and how we are doing at the moment.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I need you. I need you to help me. I need you to live your life in such a way that it intends to draw my attention to the glory and greatness of our God. I beg you not to sleep in tomorrow morning but instead to get up and read your Bible. Discover afresh the beauty of God in the sacred text. Dwell upon his faithfulness to his own promises. Muse upon his glorious gift of grace in the salvation of sinners like you and me. Write the Word of God upon your own heart so that it produces reverence for God.

Also, I urge you to spend time on your knees in prayer. And whatever you do, don’t fall asleep, don’t let your mind wander; don’t stop praying until you start praying. Drive yourself into humble submission before the great and infinite reservoir of grace that you might find help in your neediness.

As you leave and go about your day, please preach the glories of the gospel to yourself. Tell yourself afresh of the glorious gift of grace, the Lord Jesus Christ, that incarnation of holiness and love; hear again the words of John the Baptist, “Behold, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1.29) Watch him obey the Law in your place, see his perfection in both speech and in deed. Hear him say afresh, “I always do what is pleasing to my Father” (John 8.29). Watch him march resolutely to the cross to purchase our redemption. See him pray for his executioners, evangelize his fellow cross-bearers, gasp for breath, commission his disciple, proclaim it is finished, and then give up his life. See him here and marvel. But don’t stop here! Run with the disciples to the tomb and stoop with them and see, see ‘the linen cloths by themselves’ and you too come away ‘marveling at what had happened’ (Luke 24.12). Rejoice at the reality of the living Savior who has given his life to vindicate the glory of God and rescue a people for himself.

Now as you leave, sing the doctrinal praise along with Paul “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1.3ff) in tune with Peter with “joy inexpressible” (1 Pet. 1.8).

And now believer, come and talk to a Christian like me and tell me something. Tell me something eternal (Ps. 92.8)! Give me something for my soul (Matt. 4.4)! Tell me what impresses you about Christ (Matt. 8.27)! Tell me of the gospel’s power (Rom. 1.16)! Tell me of Christ’s success as a high priest (Heb. 7.27)! Tell me of his impending return (Matt. 24.30)! Tell me of the divine purpose in trials (Jam 1.3-5)! Tell me the perseverance of the saints (Jude 24)! Tell me of the ultimate success of the church (Matt. 16.18)! Tell me God’s gracious work in your life (2 Cor. 3.18)! Tell me of the purity and power of the word of God (Ps. 19.7ff)! Tell me of how you are praying for me (Col. 1.9ff)! Please…I need you to do this; if you won’t do it for yourself, do it for me! My heart needs to hear continually of why Christ is so great (2 Pet. 1.12). So please Christian, don’t forget to tell me. Please…be a good friend (Heb. 3.13ff). And by the grace of God, I will return the favor to you.

For Christ & the Gospel,

Erik Raymond

(HT: Erik Raymond)

Make It a Priority

As the new year approaches I'd encourage you to consider your commitment to gathering with your church family. It's not all there is when it comes to being Christian and being a part of a church family but it's far more important than we often realize. Matt Manry over at Gospel Centered Discipleship writes a challenging article on this topic:

Let’s just face the facts. Today, many Christians do not think attending church is that important. In the past, Christians believed that actively being a part of a church body was absolutely necessary to one’s faith. There used to be an understanding in Christian families that unless one was deathly ill or there was a family emergency, you just never ever missed church. So what has changed and caused so many people to view the church as a disposable good instead of as an intricate part of one’s spiritual life?

WHY WE DON’T ATTEND CHURCH: A 40-HOUR A WEEK JOB, BUT NO TIME FOR GOD

Pastor Kevin DeYoung is right. Our lives really are “crazy busy.” There is no doubt about it. Whether you are a college student, a newly-wed couple, or have a family of seven, we live in a day and age where the mentality is simply: go, go, go! This is one of the main reasons why church attendance is viewed as optional. Most people work 40-hour a week jobs in the United States, and so once the weekend hits the mindset of rest and recovery sets in. Trust me, I get it. Everybody wants some downtime. But why do we think that rest and recovery should take place outside of the confines of the house of God?

Recently, Trevin Wax wrote an article titled: “Are You A Part-Time Church Goer? You May Be Surprised.” Wax explains various reasons why people miss church in today’s society. There are 52 Sundays a year. If you only attend 25-30 Sunday services, you are a part-time church goer. Congratulations!

Do you recognize what is clearly wrong with this? Our jobs, which of course we must have to be able to support ourselves and our families, are seen as absolute necessities, while church attendance is simply seen as a dispensable activity. Brothers and sisters, this is not how it should be. Of course, the mindset of just attending church, getting your church attendance ticket punched, is absolutely wrong as well. Pastors and church leaders should preach against this mentality as well. However, think about this for a second. Just like you gather with your biological family, shouldn’t you also desire to gather with your spiritual family?

WHY WE NEED THE CHURCH: A BIBLICAL CASE

I know the arguments that are going to be raised about what I have said thus far. People are going to say: “Does he really believe that attending a local church, going to its building, and doing this once or twice a week is what the Bible is suggesting?” Well yes and no. Kevin DeYoung explains, “I know we are the church and don’t go to church (blah, blah, blah), but being persnickety about our language doesn’t change the exhortation of Hebrews 10:25.” I couldn’t agree more.

Fellowship with your spiritual family is a sign of maturing in the faith as a disciple. Hebrews 10:25 says, “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Have we really become so “new-agey” in our thought that we now think that we have matured past the need to attend church? Lord, let it not be so.

GOSPEL-MOTIVATED CHURCH ATTENDANCE

There is no doubt that what we need to recover in the life of Christians today is a gospel-motivated church attendance. What might this look like? Well, in my opinion its demonstrating the fact that when the church gathers on the Lord’s day, she proclaims the gospel, meditates on the gospel, and rehearses the gospel. By doing this, lives will begin to fundamentally change. It really is just that simple.

When the gospel is at the center our focus shifts. We no longer view church attendance as something we just need to check off, but as an intricate part of our spiritual lives. Instead of serving the god of individuality, we will be serving the God of Scripture. The gospel changes everything. However, we must first let the gospel change our low views of the church, and recognize that the house of the Lord is absolutely vital to the Christian life—to the life of a mature disciple. Should not the good news of Jesus Christ dying for our sins motivate us enough to enter into God’s house on Sundays? I would say so.

We are all at different points in our spiritual walks with the Lord. No matter what point you are at on your journey, I hope that you will come to see the importance of attending church.

Read the rest here.

Joy in Repentance?

Gavin Ortlund pens a great article on how repentance leads to deep and overflowing joy: 

There is a kind of joy in repentance. I say “a kind of” because repentance is also arduous, humbling, exacting. Think of Jean Valjean writhing in agony during his soliloquy: “I feel my shame inside me like a knife!” Or Eustace Clarence Scrubb being “un-dragoned” by Aslan: “it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt.

Nonetheless, there is also joy in repentance. In repentance, we pray like David:

“Let the bones you have crushed rejoice.” (Psalm 51:8)

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation.” (Psalm 51:12)

It can seem strange that repentance can produce both grief and joy — that David’s bones can be “crushed” and yet “rejoice.” But this is consistent with the flavor of the gospel, which achieves life through death, joy through suffering, good through evil. We might say that repentance is to joy what Good Friday is to Easter — that necessary path of agonizing, self-abasing death by which alone we emerge into light and freedom beyond what we could have ever imagined.

How can we seek joy in the midst of bone-crushing repentance? Here are four (not necessarily chronological) steps.

1. Fully Acknowledge the Weight of Your Sin.

2. Boldly Claim the Promises of Grace.

3. Involve Other People as Appropriate.

4. Meditate on Christ’s Intercession for You.

Read the rest here.

Who Am I?

Few things in life influence our thinking and living more than how we answer the question, "who am I?" David Powlison gives a strong dose of gospel wisdom to answer this incredibly important question.  I'd encourage you to take time to reflect on his words. 

Who are you? What gives a man his identity? On what foundation are you building your sense of self? Your answer, whether true or false, defines your life.

Wrong ways of defining who we are arise naturally in our hearts, and the world around us preaches and models innumerable false identities. But Jesus maps out and walks out a counterintuitive and countercultural way to know who you are. Your true identity is a gift of God, a surprising discovery, and then a committed choice.

What are the ways men get identity wrong? Perhaps you construct a self by the roles and accomplishments listed on your résumé. You might identify yourself by your lineage or ethnicity, by your job history or the schools you attended, by your marital status or parental role. Perhaps you define who you are by your political leanings or the objects of your sexual longings. Maybe you consider yourself to be summed up in a Myers-Briggs category or a psychiatric diagnosis. Your sense of self might be based on money (or your lack thereof), on achievements (or failures), on the approval of others (or their rejection), on your self-esteem (or self-hatred). Perhaps you think that your sins define you: an angry man, an addict, an anxious people-pleaser. Perhaps afflictions define you: disability, cancer, divorce. Even your Christian identity might anchor in something that is not God: Bible knowledge, giftedness, or the church denomination to which you belong. 

In each case, your sense of identity comes unglued from the God who actually defines you.

God’s way of sizing up a man goes against the grain of our instinctive opinions and strategies. Here are six basic realities to orient you:

  • Your true identity is who God says you are. You will never discover who you are by looking inside yourself or listening to what others say. The Lord gets the first word because he made you. He gets the daily word because you live before his face. He gets the last word because he will administer your final “comprehensive life review.”
  • Your true identity inseparably connects you to God. Everything you ever learn about who God is—his identity—correlates specifically to something about who you are. For example, “your Father knows your need” means you are always a dependent child. “Jesus Christ is your Lord” means you are always a servant.
  • Who God is also correlates with how you express your core identity as your various roles in life develop. For example, the Bible says that God’s compassion for you is like that of a father with his children (Ps. 103:13). You will always be a dependent child at your core, but as you grow up into God’s image, you become increasingly able to care for others in a fatherly way.
  • Your instinctive sense of identity is skewed. In the act of suppressing the knowledge of God (Rom. 1:18–23), a fallen heart suppresses true self-knowing. Whenever we forget God, we forget who we are.
  • A true and enduring identity is a complex gift of Christ’s grace. He gives a new identity in an act of mercy. Then his Spirit makes it a living reality over a lifetime. When you see him face to face, you will know him as he truly is, and you will fully know who you are (1 Cor. 13:12). 
  • Your new and true identity connects you to God’s other children in a common calling. It is not individualistic. You are one member in the living body of Christ.

Now consider a few of the details. Don’t skim through. You will never be gripped by these truths if you treat them merely as an information download.

  • All good gifts, beginning with life itself, come from God. You will never be independent. The Lord sustains our lives physically. And every word from the mouth of God gives life. And, supremely, Jesus Christ is the bread of life. Faith knows and embraces this core identity: “I am his dependent.”
  • Our dependency as created beings is compounded, complicated, and intensified by sins and by sufferings. To know ourselves truly is to know our need for help. Faith knows and embraces this core identity: “I am poor and weak.”
  • The Lord is merciful to the wayward. He redeems the sinful, forgetful, and blind. Faith knows and embraces this core identity: “I am sinful—but I am forgiven.”
  • God is our Father. He adopts us in Christ, and by the power of the Spirit, he gives us a childlike heart. We need parenting every day. We need tender care, patient instruction, and constructive discipline. Faith knows and embraces this core identity: “I am God’s child.”
  • The Lord is our refuge. Our lives are beset by a variety of troubles, threats, and disappointments. We aren’t strong enough to stand up to what we face. God’s presence is the only safe place. Faith knows and embraces this core identity: “I am a refugee.”
  • The Lord is our shepherd. He laid down his life for the sheep. He watches over our going out and coming in. We need looking after and continual oversight. Faith knows and embraces this core identity: “I am a sheep in his flock.”
  • Christ is Lord and Master. He bought us with a price; we belong to him. We need someone to tell us what to do and how to do it. Faith knows and embraces this core identity: “I am a servant, indentured for life.”
  • The Lord is married to his people. He patiently nourishes and cherishes his wife, the living body of Christ. We need husbanding from someone faithful, kind, protective, and generous. Faith knows and embraces this core identity: “I submit to Jesus.”
  • God searches every man’s heart. We live before his eyes. Faith knows and embraces this core identity: “I am a God-fearing man.”
  • Our God is good, mighty, and glorious. He is worthy of our trust, esteem, gladness, and gratitude. Faith knows and embraces this core identity: “I am a worshiper.”

Read the rest here.

Lies That Keep Us Tied to Our Phones

Marshall Segal with some words that many of us need to hear: 

Satan presents a host of lies to keep us attached to our phones — a kind of twisted spiritual “upgrade” from the corded phone — and detached from those around us. Phones were once attached to walls; now we’re attached to them. There are more lies, of course, than I could identify or address here. Two lies, though, are especially compelling and sum up a lot of the others.

On the one hand, we’ve been taught that we’re each an indispensible part of the world’s engine, a hinge on which everyone else in our lives precariously hangs. What would they do without me? It would be selfish, even unloving, to close myself off completely from them. The world needs me.

On the other hand, we hang our hearts on the world, longing to be wanted, longing for the next affirmation, for that feeling of being important and included. We’ve been wired from birth to want love, and so we fall into a speed-dating world of work emails, social networks, and viral videos. We cling to our phones because we crave the world’s attention and affection. I need the world.

Gaining freedom from our phones requires being liberated from lies like these that bind the technology to us like links in a cold, steel chain.

Lie #1: The World Needs Me

For some of us, a savior complex tethers us to our phones. We’re afraid something will happen and someone will need us — and only us — immediately. What could they possibly do if we weren’t available? Well, probably whatever they did for thousands of years before the telephone existed, or for a couple hundred more while it was anchored to the wall. Or more likely, and yet strangely unthinkable to a me-centered generation, they’ll just call someone else.

If we put the phone down and went for a walk, we might be willing to admit we’re not as needed as we think or act. But that’s scary, too. We love being needed.

But the world doesn’t need me. God has governed, preserved, and prospered the world without me for most of history — thousands and thousands of years. If I suddenly died tomorrow, there would undoubtedly be significant pain, loss, and change for a few, but the world would survive, move forward, and be just fine. The omniscient and omnipotent God is still in control, and utterly committed to fulfilling his work everywhere on the planet.

He will take care of every detail with perfect love, perfect timing, and unlimited power. And he’ll be especially and graciously attentive when it comes to protecting and providing for those who love him (Matthew 6:26, 30). That truth relieves us of trying to play God’s part and enables us to serve the small (yet significant) role he’s given each of us.

Ironically, by trying to “save” the world with our incessant availability — checking and checking and checking — we’re abandoning the world that needs us most, the people under our own roof. The people who need us most — and who we need most, if we’ll admit it — typically aren’t on the other end of an email or Tweet, but on the other end of the couch.

The face time you have with the people you live and work with cannot be replaced with Facetime (or Facebook, or Instagram, and certainly not by Buzzfeed). God has placed all of you — mind, body, and soul — in only one place at any one time, so all of you is only available, face to face, to a few.

The apostles knew that in the long run even personal handwritten letters were not enough (1 Timothy 4:14; 2 John 12; 3 John 13). Paul and John wanted to see these people (Romans 1:11). Tone, body language, facial expressions, and physical touch mattered in these relationships. We’ve lost track of the immeasurable and irreplaceable value of physical presence in relationships. That value puts a premium on the love we give and receive in our homes, our neighborhoods, our church families, and our workplaces.

Lie #2: I Need the World

We have a need to be needed. We love the idea that someone might text or call or tweet to get our attention. We don’t want to miss that moment when someone else thought of us. We need the world. Alert after alert, our phones justify and praise our existence. They reassure us that we are considered talented, important, and loved by someone — even if the affection is often shallow, superficial, and short-lived.

Our smartphones make us feel needed, and they give us control, or at least the mirage of control. Turkle writes, “Today, our machine dream is to be never alone but always in control. This can’t happen when one is face-to-face with a person” (157). We decide when to click, what apps to add, and who to engage. Face-to-face relationships aren’t as convenient as Facebook friends or Twitter followers. You can’t swipe a spouse or child away for a little while. But those relationships are the frontlines of faithfulness as well as the opportunities with the greatest potential for lasting impact.

The information age has transformed us all into need-to-know, nosy people. Like a desperate, sleep-deprived reporter, we check our sources every few minutes, looking for the next headline — sports, eating, politics, and parenting. We work hard to be in the know, but end up knowing everything about nothing. Tragically, we know the latest trends on Twitter, the funniest videos on Facebook, and the Instagrammed milestones of others’ infants, but we have a harder time answering questions about our own family or roommates.

As believers in Jesus and the gospel, our identity is never in how much we’re needed in this life, or in what we control, or in how much we know. Our life is measured by the life that was given for us, by the price that was paid to secure and satisfy us forever (1 Corinthians 6:20; 1 Peter 1:19). We were made and saved not to be loved by social media, but by the almighty God of holiness and mercy.

Read the rest here.

Jesus is Better

A great meditation on the superiority of Jesus from Melissa Kruger. Life is full of distractions, idols and trials- we must remember that Jesus is better.

The writer of the book of Hebrews aims to convince his Jewish audience of one paramount truth: Jesus is better. He is better than the angels. He's better than the prophets. He's better than Moses. His priesthood is better than Aaron's. His new covenant is better than the old covenant they could never fulfill. His blood is better than the blood of bulls and goats. In every way and at every turn, Jesus is better.

It isn't that the treasures of the Jewish faith were in and of themselves detrimental; it's simply that they were insufficient. The blood of bulls and goats could never take away sin. Jesus' blood atoned for sin once for all. The old covenant was written on stone tablets. The new covenant is written on our hearts. The high priest entered into an earthly place of worship to intercede for the people once a year. Jesus entered heaven itself, into the very presence of God, and forever intercedes on our behalf. Though the Jews were richly blessed with God's favor through the ministry of prophets, priests, and kings, it would be foolish for them to continue living in shadows once the substance of their faith had been fulfilled in the person of Christ. Why continue to live on crumbs when invited to a feast?

Two thousand years later, we share in our ancestors' propensity to miss the greater by clutching onto the lesser. Our modern American culture daily entices us with temporal blessings as if they are superior to the riches found in Christ. Perhaps we need a modern-day apologetic to answer our culture's questions: Is Jesus better than material wealth? Is he better than the relationships we yearn for? Is he better than our sexual freedom? Is he better than comfort and ease? All these we may be called to sacrifice in order to follow the way of the cross. And at every turn, the Christian should be able to resound with joy: Jesus is better.

Jesus Is Better than Material Wealth

Money can seem to provide so much: vacations, security, relational peace. Yet, in truth, the love of money is dangerously corrosive to our soul. He who loves money never has enough. One can be extremely wealthy and completely miserable. The poorest saint who has the Holy Spirit residing within her soul is far richer than the wealthiest man devoid of knowledge of God. How many have labored endlessly for money only to look back in deep regret at a wasted life? Yet those who set their hearts on pilgrimage go from strength to strength. Their hearts are wedded to Christ's kingdom in such a way that they can enjoy material blessing here, without being possessed by their possessions. To those who labor long and enjoy few material blessings, rest assured. Jesus is better.

Jesus Is Better than Relationships

We were created to be in relationship with one another. However, when we seek for another person to fill the relational void that can only be satisfied in Christ, every relationship we encounter will be lacking in some way. Our spouses can never love us enough, our friendships will be marred by insecurity, and our children will suffer from the pressure of our relational demands. Fear of losing relationships leads to anxiety and worry. Despair at what we may never have leads to bitterness and anger. In Christ alone can our relational needs be fulfilled. No other person can make the promise, "I will never leave or forsake you" (Heb. 13:5). All other relationships suffer from the finite nature of the participants. Only an eternal God can promise that nothing will separate us from his love. Indeed, by growing in our affections for Jesus, all the other relationships we treasure are not lessened but increased. Jesus is better.

Jesus Is Better than Sexual Freedom

The world entices that sexual freedom is paramount to love. To lack the freedom to express oneself sexually is seen as repressive and, by some accounts, harmful. In truth, however, sexual immorality enslaves its victims, and the freedom promised most often results in the painful chains of regret. But Jesus breaks the chains by offering forgiveness and true freedom. "Greater love has no one than this," he says, "that someone lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). The call to chastity outside of marriage in no way precludes our ability to love. The greatest demonstration of love the world has ever witnessed wasn't found in the passion of the bedroom, but in the passion of the cross. Jesus is better.

Jesus Is Better than Comfort and Ease

In the world's estimation, Christians do seemingly ridiculous things: They move their families thousands of miles away to share the gospel. They adopt children when they already have a full house. They forfeit jobs that would require them to sacrifice their integrity. They give to others financially at cost to themselves. They are labeled as foolish and ignorant because they believe the Bible is the infallible Word of God. They get involved in messy relationships and keep pursuing peace, even when it would be much easier to let the relationship go.

Why do Christians make their lives more difficult instead of pursuing comfort and ease? They follow Jesus, who left the comforts of heaven to enter into the difficulties of this broken world. Jesus came to provide abundant life for his followers. However, the full life promised in the gospel isn't found by making our lives easier; it's found by laying down our lives. "Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it," Jesus said (Luke 17:33). Christians don't lead safe lives. They lead joyfully purposeful ones.

Drink and Live

One who attempts to quench his thirst in seawater will only find himself thirstier still. If he keeps drinking, eventually he will die. Likewise, one who attempts to quench his spiritual thirst with temporal stuff will only find himself thirsty for more. This world's treasures simply cannot satisfy our souls. They were never intended to do so. Jesus is the only remedy for our spiritual hunger. It's the greatest kindness, then, to invite others to "taste and see that the Lord is good" (Ps. 34:8). 

As we share our faith, may we do so with the winsome confidence that life in Jesus is so much richer, fuller, and better than any life apart from him. The gospel is good news! Lives that reflect a joy deeper than circumstances lovingly bear witness to this soul-satisfying truth: Jesus is better.

 

The Path of Repentance

A helpful blog post here by Joel Lindsey walking through the pattern of repentance we see in Psalm 32. 

The importance of repentance is hard to overstate. After all, Jesus’ first exhortation in his public ministry was, “Repent!” (Mark 1:15), and if it was that high on Jesus’ list, we probably ought to pay attention to it. But how do we do it well?

Psalm 32 is a wonderful place to explore the nature and process of deep repentance.

1. Be honest about your need for repentance (verse 2)

...Repentance requires honesty. In fact, no one comes to God with true repentance on their heart unless they first acknowledge their need for forgiveness and reconciliation with God...

2. Acknowledge the danger of sin and damage of guilt (verses 3 & 4)

...The point here is to honestly assess the consequences of your sin, which means assessing personal consequences and the impact your sin has had (and will continue to have) on others.

3. Fully confess your sin (verse 5a)

...Deep repentance demands full confession. Though it seems counter-intuitive, the only way to be truly covered by Christ is to fully expose your sin. With an eye to step 4 below, fight to be utterly transparent before God about the depth and breadth of your sin.

4. Hide in God (verses 5b-7)

...A Christian doesn’t just repent of their outward sins, but also of their attempts to hide behind self-made righteousness. Stop hiding in your effort. Start hiding in God.

5. Seize the hope (verse 10)

...How can you be sure God will forgive you? His unfailing love. Recall and find assurance in the great promises God has made throughout history, and how they have been fulfilled in Christ...

Read the rest here.

Eternity Changes Everything

Randy Alcorn writes about how an eternal perspective changes everything: 

Most of us see no further than the horizons of this world. To correct our shortsightedness, God prescribes a vision correction that allows us to look through the lens of eternity. Suddenly we realize this present life is but a brief window of opportunity to invest in what will last for eternity.

Knowing that this present world will end and be resurrected into new heavens and a New Earth should profoundly affect our daily behavior. “...You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God. . . . In keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him” (2 Peter 3:11-14, NIV).

If we understand what “a new heaven and a new earth” means, we’ll look forward to it. (And if we’re not looking forward to it, we must not yet understand it.) Anticipating our homecoming will motivate us to live spotless lives here and now.

Joni Eareckson Tada writes in Heaven: Your Real Home,

When a Christian realizes his citizenship is in heaven, he begins acting as a responsible citizen of earth. He invests wisely in relationships because he knows they’re eternal. His conversations, goals and motives become pure and honest because he realizes these will have a bearing on everlasting reward. …He gives generously of time, money, and talent because he’s laying up treasure for eternity. He spreads the good news of Christ because he longs to fill heaven’s ranks with his friends and neighbors. All this serves the pilgrim well not only in heaven, but on earth; for it serves everyone around him.

When we view today in light of the long tomorrow, the little choices become tremendously important. Whether I read my Bible today, pray, go to church, trust Christ through suffering, share my faith, and give my money—actions graciously empowered not by my flesh but by His Spirit—is of eternal consequence, not only for other souls, but for mine.

After all, what will last forever? God. God’s Word. People. Spending time in God’s Word and investing in people will pay off in eternity and bring me happiness and perspective now. This life need not be wasted. In small and often unnoticed acts of service to Christ, we can invest this life in eternity, where today’s faithfulness will forever pay rich dividends.

Not only will an eternal perspective change our actions, it will also change our attitudes. Living with eternity in mind will infuse us with a joy and purpose that can sustain us in daily life, even as we face hard things. Recognizing our future life on a resurrected Earth can help empower us to stick with a difficult marriage, to persevere in the hard task of caring for an ailing parent or child, or to stay with a demanding job. Moses stayed faithful to God because “he was looking ahead to his reward” (Hebrews 11:26).

Christ-centered righteous living today is directly affected by knowing where we’re going and what rewards we’ll receive there for serving Christ. After all, if we really believe we’re going to live forever in a realm where Christ is the center who brings us great joy, and that righteous living will mean happiness for all, why wouldn’t we choose to get a head start on Heaven through Christ-centered righteous living now? Do we really want to miss out on the true happiness that Jesus offers us here and for all of eternity?

Father, you tell us not to fix our eyes on popular culture, not on fleeting accomplishments and wealth, but upon what is eternal, what will still matter a billion years from now. Give us the eyes of faith, and remind us to focus on you, our soon-returning Savior, and on eternity with you that awaits us.  

Read the rest here.

(HT: Challies)

When The Gospel Infiltrates All of Life

The following quote highlights a massively important truth. Read it and then start praying, thinking and talking about the impact the gospel might have in the every corner of your life (as a side note, I don't think he is minimizing the value of spending focused time communing with God in prayer and drinking deeply of His word).

One of the attendant aims of missional evangelicalism is to challenge the compartmentalizing of the Christian faith that we see within the Western church. We are fantastic at itemizing our schedules, and even if we don't assign God a very large bracket, we are constantly remorseful that we "haven't made much time for him." While such compartmentalizing — as if "time with God" can or should be hermetically sealed off from everything else — is a natural symptom of our culture and environment, it also reflects a bad theology.

The truth is, the day does not belong to us. It is not our day to do with as we please. We serve a sovereign God. He created the end from the beginning, knows our future exhaustively, and is firmly in control. He made our days and they belong to him. As such, isn't it a bit arrogant to begin with the idea that each day is ours and then worry about fitting God in? Instead, we should work at the humble awe of knowing all of our moments, every millisecond, waking or sleeping, are perfectly accounted for within the economy of heaven.

Let us stake the flag of Christ's kingdom into the soil of our first waking moment. Drink your coffee when you get up, of course, but drink it to the glory of God. Then carry on in this way all day, no matter the task, be it menial or notable, so that each day may be a living prayer that God's will will be done on earth as it is in heaven. This is what it means to live a gospel-saturated life: it means being so conscious of the greatness of the gospel that changing diapers or cutting the grass is as much an act of worship as singing a praise chorus in a church service….

Jesus Christ is Lord over my heart, and he is Lord over my hands, and he is Lord over what I do with these hands, and he is Lord over what I say in my heart while I'm doing it. In submitting to the lordship of Christ, then, I do not treat washing dishes as wasting time I could be spending doing something "meaningful," but rather as a service to those who eat in my home, as a service to those who would have to wash the dishes if I did not, and as an offering of thanksgiving to God that I have food to eat, dishes to eat it on, and running water inside my home to clean with.

To paraphrase C. S. Lewis, there is not a square inch of our lives that is not claimed by God and counterclaimed by ourselves. If we believe God is sovereign, however, we will see all of life as mission and be led to submit the square inches we otherwise hold so tightly to the Maker of inches and hands.

-Gospel Wakefulness, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2011), 90–92, paragraphing added.

(HT: Desiring God)

Crying Out in Your Depression

Paul Tautges has written a helpful article on depression over at the Biblical Counseling Coalition Blog (on a side note, the site has tons of great articles and resources that are worth checking out). 

Four Cries

Psalm 13 is one of the most heart-wrenchingly honest prayers in the Bible. Here is a depressed soul, in anguish, wrestling day-in and day-out with what God is doing in his life. He feels abandoned by God, overtaken by grief, and totally pummeled by the enemy of his soul. Yet, as he learns to submit every thought and fear to the Lord, in prayer, ultimately he chooses the path of joy.

“How long, O Lord?” is the man’s repetitive cry. How long will you forget me? How long will you hide your face from me? How long will sorrow fill my heart? How long will my enemy be exalted over me? Here is honest lament—godly complaining to God.

The sons of Korah experienced the same soul agony and also brought their lament to God. “Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever! Why do you hide your face? Why do you forget our affliction and oppression? For our soul is bowed down to the dust; our belly clings to the ground” (Psalm 44:23-25).

Far from being sinful, these cries of the soul are actually acts of faith for it is the Lord to whom each of these struggling believers turned. They ran to God, not from God. Yes, they struggled to trust God’s wisdom, but their cries were, in reality, cries of confession of their deep need and utter dependency upon God. These are cries of submission, not anger. In the agony of their soul they knew where to turn. “Rise up; come to our help! Redeem us for the sake of your steadfast love!” (Psalm 44:26).

Two Pleas

First, the psalmist begs for the assurance that God cares, that He indeed sees him in his affliction. “Consider,” i.e. look, gaze, pay attention. That is the cry of the agonized soul. Again, his cry is an act of faith. It is the “Lord, my God” to whom he pleas. By faith, he believes God does hear his groaning (compare Exodus 2:24).

Second, he needs hope. In his affliction, he has used up all of his resources and his eyes have darkened with despair. Therefore, his plea is “enlighten my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death.” It is for the brightness to return to his eyes, which hope alone can give, that he asks from God.

Three Resolves

The turning point comes when this man’s faith, which has given him only enough strength to cry out to God, leads to three resolutions in his heart and mind.

  • He resolves to trust. “I have trusted in your steadfast love” (v. 5). By faith, he determines to rest upon the Lord’s covenant love for him as one of God’s people.
  • He resolves to rejoice. “[M]y heart shall rejoice in your salvation.” It is God’s salvation, not the psalmist’s own assurance of it, which will ultimately strengthen his soul. Yes, there is wonderful comfort that comes from our own personal assurance that we are saved. But it is not our personal, subjective experience that will be our real rock in this storm. No, it is the objective reality of God as He is revealed in Scripture, the God of salvation, that he chooses to focus upon.
  • He resolves to praise. “I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” This is so significant! He chooses to praise the God whom he knows is ultimately sovereign over the circumstances of his life. Even in his time of affliction he consciously remembers how bountifully the Lord has dealt with him—not only in “the good times,” but even in this time when his soul is completely crushed.

Whatever the trial, however dark the valley, we can learn from the stark honesty of the psalmist. We can bring our complaints to God, in faith, trusting His wisdom and goodness. The steadfast love of the Lord never fails. We can trust Him.

Contentment: A Lost Art

Here are a couple excerpts from Erik Raymond's article on contentment: 

What is contentment? Well, borrowing from a few writers, I would define it the following way: Contentment is the inward, quiet spirit that joyfully submits to God’s providence.

 

Everyone is searching for contentment but few actually find it. It seems as elusive as it is desired. In these verses Paul speaks shocking words to our 21st Century Western ears. He is content in any and every circumstance. Whether in high tide or low tide, storm or peace, the boat of his soul is joyfully resting above the water. He says that in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I have learned the secret of being content.

Do you know why these verses are so profound? They are directly opposed to how we are conditioned and trained to go after contentment. Be honest, when you think about being happy, satisfied, or content, what do you often think about? You think about changing your circumstances. If I could only have a little more money, or this car, or this new job, or this new house, or if I could only get married, be healed of this ailment, or whatever. We go to work on things outside of us to make us happy inside. We think that we can achieve contentment by changing our circumstances. But this is not the way the Bible presents it.

Instead of changing our circumstances God changes our hearts so that we can be content in the midst of changing circumstances.

 

Contentment then does not depend on outward circumstances but rather upon an inward disposition. We can be brought low or we could abound; humbled to the dust like Job exalted to a place of honor like Esther. Contentment is worked from the inside out.

This fact that is all too often missed: contentment is achieved not be changing our circumstances but by changing our desires. It is not about adding to what you have but subtracting what you want to be in line with what you already have.

Read the rest here.

From Worry to Prayer

Christina Fox has some great thoughts on turning to God in prayer when we find worry filling our hearts.

Do you ever worry?

I think we can all admit that we do. In fact, we probably worry more than we realize. As a mother, I find myself worrying about my children, about their health, their learning, and whether I can just make it to bedtime each day.

I also find myself worried about paying bills, about my husband’s travel for work, and about that message from my doctor needing to discuss test results with me. My to-do lists keep me awake at night because I fear I’ll forget to do something important. Questions like “what if?” and “should I have?” swirl around my mind, holding me hostage and keeping me chained to my worries and fears.

Worry is a kind of “acceptable sin.” By that I mean worry is one of those sins that everyone does so we don’t often address it. Like gossip, worry is something we all know we aren’t supposed to do, but we often gloss over it and call it something else — something like stress. Especially for women, worry can be expected and in some situations to not worrywould seem strange.

But deep down, we want to be freed from the chronic feeling of doom and the expectation of something bad lurking just around the corner. We know that the Bible tells us not to worry, but “what if?” thoughts seem like such a part of us that we don’t know how to stop.

What can we do?

Remember and Pray

Like oil and water, trust and worry do not mix. To expel worry from our heart, we need to grow deeper roots of trust in God. Time and again in the Psalms, when the writer’s heart was heavy, he turned to look back at all that God had done for him. As the psalmist looked back at God’s faithfulness and his sovereign care for him, he was able to trust God even in the midst of troubling circumstances.

When we look back in our own lives at God’s faithfulness to us, it gives us confidence and hope in his future faithfulness. We look back to our own story of salvation. We see that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, that this is the demonstration of God’s love for us. When worries threaten to seize our heart, we need to remember and dwell on the truth of the gospel. Remembering the cross propels us in faith for what lies ahead.

And as we remember, we need to turn to God in prayer. Hebrews says that because of Jesus, we can come to the throne of grace with confidence, to receive the help we need (Hebrews 4:16). Paul was referring to chronic worry when he wrote in Philippians 4:6, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” We are to give our worries to God in prayer, trusting him with all our burdens and cares. As a result, we will receive in return the peace we long for, “And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

Read the rest here.

Spirituality

Donald Whitney has written some great material on spirituality and the spiritual disciplines (see here and here). This article gives you a little taste of it. Enjoy!

As you’ve surely noticed, everyone is “spiritual” today. Some years ago I came across a USA Today survey where even a majority of atheists consider themselves “spiritual” people. Come to think of it, I’ve never heard anyone say, “You know, I’m just not a spiritual person.” Perhaps for many spirituality simply means spending time occasionally in personal reflection. For others maybe it means consciously trying to live by certain principles, or attempting to be thoughtful on important issues like the environment or homelessness.

However, the common perception of spirituality is not the biblical one. I’m writing from the perspective that spirituality includes—but transcends—the human spirit, and involves the pursuit of God and the things of God, through Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit in accordance with God’s self-revelation (that is, the Bible).

Spirituality and the Gospel

This kind of spirituality is not self-generated; rather it is one result of the new spiritual life that God creates in the soul as he works through the gospel. In other words, Christian spirituality is part of living in response to the gospel. In theological terms, spirituality is an aspect of the sanctification that necessarily begins at and follows justification.

Think of it this way: we come to God through the gospel, and we live for God through the gospel. The apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him” (Col. 2:6). Through the gospel by faith we receive Christ, and through the gospel by faith we walk in Christ.

The gospel—in a word—is Jesus. In a phrase, the gospel is the person and work of Jesus Christ. That’s why we can speak of the Christian life as a gospel-centered life. We come to God initially on the basis of faith in who Jesus is and what he has done for us. And we continue to come to God and to live a life pleasing to him on the same basis. To paraphrase Paul in Galatians 3:3, having begun by the Spirit through the gospel, we are perfected (that is, sanctified; made like Christ) in the same way—by the Spirit through the gospel.

Role of Spiritual Disciplines

Although the Holy Spirit gives a believer the desire and the power for a biblical spirituality, some reformatting of life and habits must also take place to practice a gospel-centered piety. Thus Paul also wrote, “Train yourself for godliness” (1 Tim. 4:7). This doesn’t refer to physical training, for mere bodily activity—despite its health benefits—does not by itself build godliness, as the next verse makes plain. Rather, the kind of training or exercise that promotes godliness (that is, Christlikeness) is spiritual training.

No Christian coasts into Christlikeness. Godliness, according to this text, requires training. Some Bible translations render “train” as “exercise” (KJV) or “discipline” (NASB). Thus the biblical and practical ways in daily life of living out this command to “train yourself for godliness” have often been termed “spiritual exercises” or “spiritual disciplines.” (Note: some false teachers have also used these expressions, but that doesn’t invalidate such biblically derived terms any more than a heretic’s use of the word Trinity nullifies our orthodox use of that term.) What was true in Paul’s day is still true: by means of the spiritual disciplines found in Scripture we are to pursue godliness.

Of course, legalism is always a danger in spirituality. Anything a Christian can count, measure, or time can be twisted into something that falsely assures a person that by this—instead of the sufficiency of the life and death of Jesus—he is more spiritually secure or favored by God. But just because the disciplines of godliness can be misused doesn’t mean they should be neglected. “Train yourself for godliness” is God’s command, therefore it must be possible to pursue obedience to it without legalism.

Disciplines in Practice

So how do Christians practice a gospel-centered spirituality?

First, practice the right disciplines—those personal and interpersonal spiritual disciplines found in the Bible. A gospel-centered spirituality is a sola scriptura spirituality. For individual practice, the most important personal spiritual disciplines are first, the intake of Scripture, and second, prayer; all the others relate to these two. The interpersonal spiritual disciplines we observe are primarily those biblical practices related to life together in a local church.

Second, practice the right disciplines with the right goal. Consciously practice these disciplines with Jesus as the focus—pursuing intimacy with Christ and conformity (both inward and outward) to Christ. To put it more succinctly, by means of the biblical spiritual disciplines seek to be with Jesus and like Jesus.

Third, practice the right disciplines the right way. Emphasize the person and work of Jesus in each one. Through them, learn from, gaze upon, and enjoy Jesus—who he is and what he has done. Let your soul be restored by the truths of the gospel.

Engage in the spiritual disciplines given by God in Scripture so that you are continually shown your need for Christ and the infinite supply of grace and mercy to be found by faith in Jesus Christ.