Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Do you mortify?

The apostle John has a message to proclaim. It's not a new one; it's one from the beginning. It is a message concerning the word of life. His purpose in writing is so that "our joy may be complete." The message is that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all (I John 1:1-5).  After this proclamation, John launches into a discussion about sin, using "if" statements.

If we say we have fellowship but walk in darkness (i.e., sin) we're lying, but if we walk in the light, we have fellowship and cleansing from sin. (I John 1:6-7)

If we say we don't sin, we're deceiving ourselves and we don't have the truth in us, but if we confess our sins, we will receive forgiveness and cleansing from sin. (I John 1:8-9)

If we say we have not sinned, we are making God a liar. (I John 1:10)

Dealing with sin is one of the themes of I John. Throughout the letter, there is an understanding that a changed spiritual condition results in a changed life. That means forsaking sin. As John points out in v. 8-9, we will sin, but we have forgiveness. Later, in chapter 2, he will talk about our "advocate," and introduces the principle of "propitiation." No, there is no expectation that we will be sin-free.

Would we dare to say "I have no sin?" When we sit in church regularly, and read the Bible for ourselves, could we actually think we have no sin?  We may automatically deny such a thought, but let's think about this for a minute.
  • Are we unwilling to be told that we're wrong? 
  • Do we resist being corrected? 
  • Do we always make excuses for our conduct?
  • Do we seldom ask forgiveness from others? 
  • When do we apologize to someone, do we open with "I'm sorry, BUT...." which is no apology at all? 
  • Do the people we wrong end up apologizing to us simply to bring the conflict to an end?
Our refusal to entertain the possibility of wrongdoing could very well mean that we don't like to admit that we have sin. We may know it on an intellectual level, but our conduct says something else. Pride is at the root of our sin. We think we know better than God, and we live by the truth we create for ourselves. Yet John reminds us that if don't walk in God's truth, we walk in darkness, and are not practicing the truth (I John. 1:6).

The first step to conquering my sin is to squash my pride. My pride says, "You're not really sinning." When I refuse to admit that I have been arrogant or obnoxious, my pride is telling me, "It's just your personality." When I am reluctant to admit that I am at fault, it is my pride that is telling me that I have a "right."

John mentions cleansing in this passage, cleansing which is through Christ's blood. His sacrifice cleansed me from the sin which separated me from God before I knew Him. Now, it cleanses me from the day to day sin which interrupts my fellowship with Him. There is a reason why when Jesus taught his disciples to pray he included a petition for forgiveness. We need it daily. Do we want our fellowship with God broken?

As a creation of God, one who bears His image, the condition of my heart is of great importance. The consequence for not dealing with sin is serious. I like what John Owen said:
“Do you mortify? Do you make it your daily work? Be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.”
Every relationship, every circumstance, every goal in my life will be affected by sin in my heart. But I cannot have forgiveness without first acknowledging that I sin. When I fail to do that, I "deceive" myself (I John 1:8).

And yet, all is not lost. Praise God, there is cleansing from sin! Praise God that if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Wage war

I have a new blogging rule of thumb: write (if you're going to write) before checking any social media of the day, Twitter in particular. It's a mental deal, no doubt, but on the days I haven't scrolled through all that Twitter has to offer I find I write, when I write, with much more freedom and honesty.

In contrast, on the days I break that rule I sometimes find myself fighting the feeling that my blog is inconsequential and my words insignificant at best, self serving at worst.

Which perhaps is true. I mean, really, I'm a smart girl. I read my own blog and I see the stats. But, bottom line, it's not the stats but my own self consciousness, self doubt, and maybe a dash of selfish ambition that tend to read between the lines of my Twitter feed and sometimes find my small corner of the Internet to be oh so very small and oh so very pitiful.

"I'm taking a break from social media, Instagram especially" my friend confessed to me over scrambled eggs and French toast several months ago. "I just can't handle seeing everyone else's perfect lives and perfect children and perfect homes." My friend is currently persevering through a complicated and messy stage of life and the relative dichotomy between her reality and the appearance of others' perfection on Instagram was too much.

I think my friend is wise.

I suppose I'm trying, in some small way, to adopt a measure of her discipline with my new (and too often broken) blog-before-Twitter rule.

I recently read an article online about Instagram envy. Yeah, it's real and I doubt it's relegated only to Instagram. As I've already confessed, Twitter can have the same sort of effect. For some of us, it's the pictures of the beautifully decorated homes or the exquisitely staged meals that make us bitter. For me, it might be humbly acknowledging someone else's writing to be better and, maybe here's the real rub, better appreciated.

Just keepin' it real.

Years and years and years ago, like when I only had two children and those two only babies at that, I was in my kitchen listening to a syndicated talk show on the local Christian radio station. I have no idea who was being interviewed nor even the subject at hand but the guest on the show that day made a statement I have never forgotten: "Godliness with contentment is great gain but it's comparison that is the beginning of discontent."

What a revelation! Comparison gives birth to my discontent?! As I thought that morning, there in my kitchen, about the areas in my life then prone to dissatisfaction, I began to see the truth of the statement.

And not just then. It's true in today's dissatisfactions too, writing being only a small fraction thereof, the small fraction, that is, which I am willing to confess to you in this space.

Comparison kills contentment. It will either lead us to despair or puff us up with false superiority, both of which are enemies to true gospel contentment.

In Matthew 5, Jesus makes the rather startling command to those who struggle with looking at a woman with lustful intent, "If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away." He goes on to recommend cutting off the right hand for the same reason. There is, obviously, a wider application than to a man struggling with lust. We all have areas of our lives, Instagram or something else, where we battle temptation and envy and discontent. Jesus recommends what? Dismemberment? Going blind in one eye? I think, and thankfully most commentators agree with me, that Jesus is employing dramatic overstatement here in order to emphasize the point: Sin is serious and requires radical treatment.

We are to be wise and to take whatever steps necessary to put to death...what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Col. 3:5-6) Put it to death. Wage war, as John Piper has said. Can't get much more serious than that.

We tend to think this all a little silly, at least if we're talking about Twitter and blogging and Instagram. Silly and radical and maybe a little, well, you know, "out there." Maybe so. But did you catch what we are to put to death according to Colossians? Impurity, passion, evil desire and, yes, covetousness.

Waging war against sin and temptation and covetousness begins with the wisdom of knowing ourselves and our weakness. We must pray and ask the Lord to search us and expose us. We must be willing to be radical and to do what it takes to fight and flee temptation. Maybe my friend needs to take an Instagram hiatus. Maybe I need to curtail my social media interaction. Maybe you need to throw away the scale or stop buying fashion magazines or lay off the Internet for an extended time. I don't know your weakness but I know mine and I daresay you know yours.

Let's be wise. Let's stop comparing ourselves knowing full well that comparison gives way to discontent. Let us learn the discipline of godliness with contentment. Let us repent of our dissatisfaction that resents the gracious provision of our God. Let us learn the humble submission of gratitude and the joy of freedom that is ours in Christ. Let us glorify Him not by clamoring after the world and its fading treasure but by seeking that which is eternal, His kingdom, His righteousness.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Wowed by the Word

In Sunday school, we have been learning about various world views/religions. Our teacher has been covering fundamental aspects of each belief, one of which is "What is its epistemology or source of truth?" Since we've been comparing these world views with Christianity, we've been reminded each week that God is the source of all truth. He has revealed Himself through the Bible, and that ultimate revelation was in Jesus Christ. (Luke 24:27, Heb. 1:1-5)

This may seem like kindergarten material, but think about it. Let it sink in and let it wow you.

The Triune God who is complete in Himself, who has need of nothing, the source of all that is true, good, and holy has condescended to reveal Himself to creatures who rebelled against Him. Truth was personified when the Word became flesh, and truth is now available to us in the pages of a Book authored by God, the Holy Spirit. (John 1:1-4, 2 Tim. 3:16-17)

This is very basic, but sometimes it's good to get a remedial lesson. More often than I would like, I take the Bible for granted. Reading it can be more of a duty than a joy or just a means to get answers to life's questions. I'm the last person to down-play studying the Bible or learning doctrine, but our knowledge of God was never meant to stop at the abstract. Its value lies in the fact that truth objective brings us to love and worship truth personified -  Jesus Christ.

May this wow us every time we crack open the Bible.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Review and Giveaway! Picture Perfect: When Life Doesn't Line Up

Perfectionism. It's a loaded word. We largely think of it as a positive thing. Who doesn't want to do all things well? But perfectionism has a dark side. It can become a self-imposed prison where we don't feel like we ever live up to our own expectations. Sometimes, we worry that our imperfections make us unloveable to God.

Even if we know that God loves us, imperfect as we may be, some verses in the Bible can be troubling. 1 Peter 1:16 says "You shall be holy, for I am holy." And also Matthew 5:48 "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly father is perfect." How should we read those verses in light of biblical truth that we are all sinners (Romans 3:10, Romans 3:23)? Amy Baker wanted to tackle this apparent disconnect in her book Picture Perfect: When Life Doesn't Line Up.

The book is divided into three sections. In the first part, Baker tells the stories of several perfectionists. Since most of us associate perfectionism with people who alphabetize their pantries and straighten the fringes of their throw rugs with a ruler, it's important to see that perfectionism can manifest itself in many different ways. Perfectionism causes some to procrastinate. Others are downright paralyzed from any action. Or they may be angry and controlling. Most readers will find something they can identify with in at least one of these stories. Even if you've never made a bed with hospital corners, you probably have one area where you strive for success at all costs.

The second section reminds us that because of Christ, it is finished. Yes, Jesus death and resurrection is our only hope of escaping God's wrath, but it also saves of from finding our worth in earthly things. We must "preach the gospel to ourselves every day." If we're really doing this, every area of our lives will be changed. That doesn't mean our lives will be easy, but we can rest from striving to justify ourselves by what we do.

Baker does this by focusing on the Sermon on the Mount, specifically Jesus words to "be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect." I enjoyed this focus on Christ's perfection—his finished work that frees us. Perfection is, at its root "a heart that fears suffering"(page 70). But when we trust in Christ, we have nothing to fear.

We begin to see perfection both as a gift that Christ has purchased for us and as a process of growing in Christlikeness. Once a source of stress or despair, perfection becomes a wonderful goal. Because of the gift we've received, we want to live a life of love (Ephesians 5:2) because that's what our Savior did (page 68).

The third section focuses on application. Baker zeroes in on things perfectionists tend to struggle with, such as fear, pride, shame, and busyness.

This is an important subject, and I believe it's something we need to be addressing more often. Sometimes, though, we go too far. In our effort to communicate the sin of perfectionism, we might inadvertently leave people with the message to quit trying. This is not, of course, the purpose of God's grace (Romans 6:1). It's a fine line to walk, but Baker does it well. We should still work as if to God (Colossians 3:32), but not as a way to secure what Christ has already secured for us.

I appreciate this book. I recommend it to anyone who struggles with perfectionism. And even if you don't think you struggle with perfectionism, this book will probably reveal to you ways that you do.

Thanks to the generosity of New Growth Press, I have an extra copy to give away. Please enter your name and email in the form below. I promise your email will remain private and we won't spam you. The winner will be drawn on Thursday, July 17, and the winner will be notified by email.

I received a review copy of this book from the publisher. This review reflects my honest opinion.

Friday, July 11, 2014

God Saves

His own purpose . . . before the ages began.
It's been more than a month since the last post in this series on truths every Christian woman should know, and you've probably forgotten where we were. We Are All Sinners, our previous post, told the story of the fall of humankind. Adam sinned, and the whole human race inherited his guilt, along with an inner corruption that causes us to sin, too. So we are all guilty before God—both for Adam's sin and our own—and alienated from him. It wasn't a happy place to end things.

But thankfully, it was only the end of a post, and not the end of the story. The story continues with a flashback to eternity past. Way back, before the fall of Adam, before the creation of the universe, God had a plan. His goal for history of the universe was to show his glory, and all the events in history, including the fall, are his means to accomplish this goal. The bad news that we are guilty and alienated is the backdrop for the good news, the centerpiece of God's plan for history: his plan to save sinful people "to the praise of his glory" (Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14).

The Plan to Save

J. I. Packer calls this plan God's "redemptive project."1 The blueprint for this project is laid out in Ephesians 1.

Before creation, the Father chose people from Adam's guilty and alienated descendants to eventually stand before him as blameless adopted sons and daughters.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons . . . . (Ephesians 1:3-5 ESV)
Christ's role in the redemption project is to make God's chosen people blameless, for it's through his death that their sins are forgiven.
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses . . . . (Ephesians 1:7 ESV)
And it's the Spirit who applies Christ's redemption to those God has chosen, and who protects his forgiven sons and daughter until they receive their final inheritance.
. . . you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory. (Ephesians 1:13-14 ESV)
This plan requires a Triune God; each member of the Trinity has a role. In eternity past, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit agreed to a "division of labor"2 in their work to reconcile sinners. This eternal agreement is sometimes called the covenant of redemption.

In later posts, there will be more on the roles of the Trinity in salvation, particularly the work of the Son and the Holy Spirit. But for now, we can bring in the biblical teaching from other texts and  summarize the agreement for the division of labor in salvation like this: The Father chooses and sends and adopts; the Son comes and redeems and intercedes; the Spirit applies and creates and keeps. In other words, the Father gave the Son a people to redeem, and the Holy Spirit applies the benefits of Christ's redemption to his people.

And the best news is that what God plans, he accomplishes for certain. In the end, God's people will be saved and his glory will be praised.

Learn More

Here are a few ways to learn more about God's plan to save sinners.
  1. Study Ephesians 1:1-14, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, and 2 Timothy 1:9-10.
  2. Read up on the covenant of redemption in your favorite systematic theology. It's in chapter 25 of Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine. Here's the section from Louis Berkhof's Systematic Theology.
  3. Listen to The Covenant of Redemption by J. Ligon Duncan.

[1] Concise Theology by J. I. Packer, page 38.

[2] Systematic Theology by  Louis Berkhoff, page 266.

This post is the latest in a series of posts on truths every Christian woman should know. Here are the previous posts: