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December 08, 2014

We live in a world that is full of temptation. There is no rest from sin and no rest from temptation to sin. There is not a single moment when we can relax our vigilance. As John Owen says, we can leave sin alone when sin leaves us alone, and that will not be until we are on the far side of the grave.

Temptations can be like the waves of the sea as they break along the beach—they rise and fall, they ebb and flow. Yet temptations are not entirely unpredictable, and there are certain times in life in which they are more likely to press hard than in others. Here are 4 times or seasons in which you need to be especially vigilant against temptation.

A Season of Prosperity

Prosperity and temptation so often go hand-in-hand. It is not that prosperity is a curse or that you ought to dread it. Rather, you need to have an awareness that prosperity carries with it the food and fuel for so much temptation. Agur knew this, writing in Proverbs, “Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’” Guard yourself in those times of abundance, and prepare yourself for an onslaught of temptation—temptation to deny that this prosperity is a gift of God’s good grace (ingratitude!), temptation to hoard those good gifts (greed!), temptation to believe that God prefers you over those who have less (pride!). Your prosperity may be the smokescreen that masks a great temptation.

A Season of Spiritual Formality

There are inevitably times in life when your delight in God grows lukewarm. There are times when your heart longs for satisfaction in something—anything—other than God and his riches. In these times your worship is marked by formality, your time in prayer and God’s Word become cold duty, you look with dread at the times of fellowship with other Christians. You may neglect the pursuit of communion with God, and instead treat your relationship with him as just another of life’s joyless duties. In these times you may be sure that Satan is close at hand to tempt you, to draw you even farther from God and even deeper into lesser pleasures. Your heart is already marked by coldness, and he longs to make it colder still. Fight! Fight to restore the joy of your salvation.

A Season of Spiritual Bliss

Just as temptation may be close behind your spiritual doldrums, it may also be lurking close behind your spiritual heights. You can observe this very thing in the life of Paul, who received the great gift of being caught up to the third heaven and seeing Christ there, but who was immediately visited by Satan (2 Cor. 12:7). God loves to bless us with those times of freedom and pleasure, but temptation may be close at hand. In those times of great spiritual enjoyment you may be tempted to neglect the means of grace. So satisfied are you in the current state that you stop fighting sin and accept this grace as your due. You may even brag about the heights you have reached, and all but beg God to chasten and humble you. Enjoy soaring to those spiritual heights, but do not cease from guarding your heart, mind, and soul.

A Season of Self-Confidence

You will inevitably enter into sore temptation in those times when you are full of self-confidence. This was exactly the case with Peter who, on the final night of Jesus’ life, bragged that he would never desert his Savior. Yet within hours he had not only abandoned him but denied him not once, not twice, but three times. His self-confidence allowed him to compare himself with others and boast, “Though they may forsake you, I will not.” And still he fell gravely at the very first opportunity. This world is full of temptations that range from sins of lust to sins of anger and sins of false belief. The greater your confidence in your ability to overcome these sins in your own strength, the greater your confidence that these sins cannot sway you, the greater the likelihood you will be tempted with them, and the greater the likelihood you will fall into them. Beware self-confidence and flee from its first awakenings.

Temptation will come. Temptation may well come in those times of prosperity, those times of formality, those times of bliss, and those times of self-confidence. But even when temptation is inevitable, succumbing to the temptation is not. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (1 Corinthians 10:13). You must, and you can, endure.

To learn more about these seasons of temptation, read John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation (pages 197-202). 

Image credit: Shutterstock

December 08, 2014

I dug up some great Kindle deals to start the week: We’re Just Friends by Chuck Milian (free); Jesus > Religion by Jefferson Bethke ($1.99); Note to Self by Joe Thorn ($0.99); Faithmapping by Mike Cosper & Daniel Montgomery ($0.99); Not By Sight by Jon Bloom ($0.99); Give Them Grace by Elyse Fitzpatrick & Jessice Thompson ($0.99); Finding God in the Hobbit by Jim Ware ($1.99). And a few by John MacArthur: The MacArthur Bible Handbook ($4.99); The MacArthur Daily Bible ($4.99); MacArthur Study Bible NASB ($4.99); MacArthur Study Bible NKJV ($4.74); One Perfect Life ($4.99). If you’re in the market for a Kindle device, today only they have a selection of their newest models at 50% off.

Marriage Is On the Rocks - Here’s an important follow-up to one of last week’s interesting articles. Divorce rates are falling but marriage is still on the rocks. How can that be? Read on…

Why Christians Care About Sex - In a different (but related) matter, here is one take on why Christians care about sex and those who seek to tamper with it.

Covenant Eyes - Ever thought of trying out Covenant Eyes? You can get your first 2 months free, today only.

Christian Christmas Haters - Clint Archer has a gift for the Christian Christmas haters.

Can We Identify Those Who Prey On Our Children? - Please read this one, and prepare your church.

4 Ways Generosity Benefits Us - “By God’s grace, it’s not only others who benefit when we give. Here are just four of the many benefits we receive when we choose generosity…”

Praise God For Mentors - I really enjoyed reading this sweet and simple example of the power of mentorship.

There is a God we want and a God who is, and the two are not the same. —Ligon Duncan

Duncan

December 07, 2014

I continue to enjoy and benefit from Prone to Wander, a new book of prayers that was inspired by The Valley of Vision. This week I found a prayer meant to stir up delight in God, and to seek forgiveness for when we did not delight in him. Here it is.

Almighty Lord,

We find great delight in your creation and the good things you have given us to enjoy, but we rarely spend time delighting in you. We tend to enjoy you when you give us what we want, but we become anxious, fretful, and angry when life is hard and you seem unwilling to rescue us from uncomfortable or painful circumstances. We spend many days haunted by guilty fears over the sins that we have committed, forgetting the wounds that will forever scar the hands of your Son, and that plead forgiveness for us every moment of every day. We fail to bear grief and shame patiently, because we forget that you alone are our stronghold in times of trouble, and you are working all things together for our good. Father, forgive us.

We thank you for your radiant and beautiful Son, who delighted in you above all else and perfectly committed all his ways to your sovereign will. We praise you that his flawless obedience is ours through faith, and we are forever reconciled to you as your beloved children. Instead of trying to escape discomfort, Jesus chose the pathway of excruciating pain in order to purchase us. In the tomb he waited patiently for you, trusting in you for his salvation. You delivered him from death, making a showcase of his righteousness and your justice, investing him with great honor and glory. He took refuge in you, and you exalted his name above every other name. Thank you for uniting us to Christ and for loving us in the very same way that you love him.

Father, cause us to find overwhelming delight in the salvation you have given us through Christ. Stir our weak souls to arise and shake off the fearful guilt we cling to with stubborn pride. Open our eyes more and more to see our great High Priest, crushed for us, and now pleading for us before your throne. May we treasure his love and believe with all our hearts that nothing can separate us from it, not even the sin with which we continue to struggle. Give us such great confidence in the gospel that we run joyfully to you in the midst of our weakness, to hear your pardoning voice and feel the ardent and passionate embrace of our true Father. Amen.

December 06, 2014

For some reason this week’s Free Stuff Fridays never posted. So we’ll make it a Free Stuff Saturdays and run it through to tomorrow.

This week’s giveaway is sponsored (again!) by CBD Reformed. They are offering 5 prize packages this week, which means there will be 5 winners. Each of those winners will receive the following 3 items:

  • Romans 1-7: The Gift of God by Timothy Keller - Retail Price $8.99
  • Fundamentals of the Faith by John MacArthur - Retail Price $11.99
  • ESV Compact Bible - Retail price $24.99

In addition, CBD Reformed is offering a 4-day sale (December 5-8) on the following three products:

Enter to Win

All you need to do to enter the draw is to drop your name and email address in the form below. (If you receive this by email, you will need to visit challies.com to enter.)

Giveaway Rules: You may enter one time. As soon as the winners have been chosen, all names and addresses will be immediately and permanently erased. Winners will be notified by email. The giveaway closes Saturday at noon.

December 06, 2014

I was able to find just one new Kindle deal today: Paul Well’s Taking the Bible at its Work ($3.99); Beyond that, it was a great week for Kindle deals, so feel free to browse through this week’s A La Carte archives if you’re looking for some new reading.

This article from TIME outlines 10 Tricks Companies Use to Get You to Buy More. Don’t fall for them!

You may well have encountered the “You’re Not Really Pro-Life Unless…” argument. Here’s why it doesn’t stand up.

Reuters offers their Best Photos of the Year 2014. Warning: Some of them (especially the very first) are brutal. They aptly highlight the horror of life in this world.

This article offers several helpful points as it focuses on Missionary Life: No Shortcuts.

According to the Wall Street Journal, here is why Everything You Think About Aging May Be Wrong.

We Don’t Need a Mrs. Jesus - This article makes many valid points about how people are prone to make Jesus less than human, and Mary more than human.

If a man be not saved on this side of the grave, he will never be saved on the other. —William Jay

Jay

Thanks to P&R Publishing for sponsoring the blog this week with their article Grace Abounding.

December 05, 2014

I am in the enjoyable position of receiving copies of most of the latest and greatest Christian books. It has been a little while since I’ve sorted through the piles and to tell you which of them have risen to the top. Here are some of the new and notable books I’ve received in the past month or so.

SeifridThe Second Letter to the Corinthians by Mark Selfrid is a new volume in the excellent Pillar New Testament Commentary series which is edited by D.A. Carson. Carson commends this volume. He says that over the past few decades modern scholarship has suggested all kinds of novel interpretations of 2 Corinthians. “Through all of these Dr. Seifrid proves to be a patient and sure-footed guide. The result is a commentary that makes 2 Corinthians come alive against as a letter that provides its own unique contribution to the Pauline corpus, to the New Testament, and to the entire Bible — and thus to the church of God in the twenty-first century.” (Learn more or buy it at Amazon or Westminster Books)

FeeThe First Epistle to the Corinthians by Gordon Fee is a revised edition of his commentary from the New International Commentary on the New Testament, which was first published in 1987. Fee’s commentary was already considered one of the top-two or -three commentaries on 1 Corinthians, and I trust that this new edition will only cement its place. In his commentary on the commentaries D.A. Carson says Carson says that this (or Garland’s) is the best commentary on 1 Corinthians, and most experts appear to agree and have some difficulty with selecting one over the other. Both Carson and Derek Thomas regard this as a helpful volume while pointing out some weaknesses, and especially Fee’s treatment of 1 Corinthians 14:33b-35. His argument for the continuation of all gifts is said to be helpful and well-formed, whether or not that is your position. (Learn more or buy it at Amazon or Westminster Books)

ScriptureScripture and Counseling: God’s Word for Life in a Broken World, edited by Bob Kellemen. Here is what the publisher says about this one: “Part of the Biblical Counseling Coalition series, Scripture and Counseling brings you the wisdom of twenty ministry leaders who write so you can have confidence that God’s Word is sufficient, necessary, and relevant to equip God’s people to address the complex issues of life in a broken world. It blends theological wisdom with practical expertise and is accessible to pastors, church leaders, counseling practitioners, and students, equipping them to minister the truth and power of God’s word in the context of biblical counseling, soul care, spiritual direction, pastoral care, and small group facilitation.” The foreword is written by Albert Mohler who says it “is representative of the type of theologically sophisticated and pastorally sensitive counseling literature needed in evangelical churches.” (Learn more or buy it at Amazon)

AllisonRoman Catholic Theology & Practice: An Evangelical Assessment by Gregg Allison. I read enough of this one to see that it is quite an interesting book that attempts to provide a very fair treatment of Roman Catholic theology in comparison to Evangelical theology. Here is the editorial description: “In this balanced volume, Gregg Allison—an evangelical theologian and church historian—helps readers understand the nuances of Roman Catholic teaching. Walking through the official Catechism of the Catholic Church, Allison summarizes and assesses Catholic doctrine from the perspective of both Scripture and evangelical theology. Noting prominent similarities without glossing over key differences, this book will equip Christians on both sides of the ecclesiastical divide to fruitfully engage in honest dialogue with one another.” (Learn more or buy it at Amazon or Westminster Books)

Matt PapaLook and Live: Behold the Soul-Thrilling, Sin-Destroying Glory of Christ by Matt Papa. I haven’t gotten far into this one yet, but have enjoyed what I’ve read. “Matt Papa was a “professional Christian” in full-time ministry, ready and determined to change the world. All the while he was depressed, addicted to the approval of others, and enslaved to sin. But then everything changed. He encountered the glory of God. All of us live in the tension between where we are and where we ought to be. We try our best to bully our desires into submission. And we all know, this is exhausting. Are you tired? Stuck? Still fighting the same sin you’ve been fighting for years? The call in these pages is not to work or to strive, but to lift your eyes. You don’t need more willpower. You need a vision of greatness that sweeps you off your feet. You need to see glory.” (Learn more or buy it at Amazon)

Truth in a Culture of DoubtTruth in a Culture of Doubt: Engaging Skeptical Challenges to the Bible by Andreas Kostenberger, Darrell Bock, and Josh Chatraw. “Truth in a Culture of Doubt takes a closer look at the key arguments skeptical scholars such as [Bart] Ehrman keep repeating in radio interviews, debates, and in his their popular writings. If you are looking for insightful responses to critical arguments from a biblical perspective, easily accessible and thoughtfully presented, this book is for you. This is the first book to provide a comprehensive response to Ehrman’s popular works. It is presented in such a way that readers can either read straight through the book or use it as a reference when particular questions arise. Responding to skeptical scholars such as Ehrman, Truth in a Culture of Doubt takes readers on a journey to explain topics such as the Bible’s origins, the copying of the Bible, alleged contradictions in Scripture, and the relationship between God and evil. Written for all serious students of Scripture, this book will enable you to know how to respond to a wide variety of critical arguments raised against the reliability of Scripture and the truthfulness of Christianity.” (Learn more or buy it at Amazon)

December 05, 2014

There are a handful of new Kindle deals to tell you about: What Is Reformed Theology? by R.C. Sproul ($2.99); Why Believe the Bible? by John MacArthur ($1.99); The Grand Weaver by Ravi Zacharias ($1.99); The HCSB Study Bible ($2.99). New from GLH Publishing is the classic The Christian’s Great Interest by William Guthrie ($0.99). Amazon has begun another of their “Big Deals” which marks down a lot of Kindle books (Click here for the complete list.)

7 Reasons Why BioLogos Is A Threat - Douglas Wilson outlines 7 ways that BioLogos is a threat to classical education … and to a whole lot else.

Stop Wasting Time - Here are some ways to stop wasting your colleages’ time.

How Salvation Brings Freedom - This is good stuff from Jen Wilkin. “I grew up in the Bible Belt where, by mid-elementary, most of the kids in my peer group could point proudly to a note written in the front of their Bibles announcing the exact date they Got Saved.”

$5 Friday - Ligonier has some good items in this week’s $5 Friday: Captivated by Thabiti Anyabwile, The Prayer of the Lord by R.C. Sproul, plus various ebooks and teaching series.

When You Are In Between Jobs - Luke Murry offers wisdom on those times you are between jobs.

Themelios - A new issue of Themelios is available to read or download. You can download it in PDF and/or Logos formats.

Why It’s Hard to Catch Typos - If you ever write, you know how tough it is to catch your own typos. Here’s an explanation.

Most people are brought to faith in Christ, not by argument for it, but by exposure to it. —Samuel Shoemaker

Shoemaker

December 04, 2014

Putting sin to death is at once so simple and so excruciatingly difficult. The theory of it is simple enough, but the practice takes a lifetime. It is fascinating to me that in John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation he dedicates thirteen chapters to the preparatory work of putting sin to death, but just one chapter to the actual practice of it. That fact alone is worth pondering.

As he comes to that one chapter, Owen has only two broad instructions: Put your faith in Christ, and rely on the power of the Holy Spirit.

Put Your Faith in Christ

Owen’s first instruction is simple: Set your faith at work on Christ for the killing of your sin. “His blood is the great sovereign remedy for sin-sick souls. Live in this, and you will die a conquerer; you will, through the good providence of God, live to see your [sin] dead at your feet.”

Owen is not speaking about saving faith here, since at this point he already assumes that. Rather, he is talking about exercising your existing faith to believe that Christ has died not only for your salvation, but also for your sanctification. To practice this kind of faith you need to:

  • Raise up your heart by faith to an expectation of relief from Christ. “Though it may seem somewhat long to you, while you are under your trouble and perplexity, yet it shall surely come in the appointed time of the Lord Jesus; which is the best season.”
  • Consider his mercifulness, tenderness, and kindness, as he is our great High Priest at the right hand of God. “Assuredly he pities you in your distress. … He is able, having suffered and been tempted, to break through all dissuasions to the contrary, to relieve poor and tempted souls.”
  • Consider the faithfulness of him who has made the promise. “He has promised to relieve in such cases, and he will fulfill his word to the utmost.”
  • Act faith particularly upon the death, blood, and cross of Christ. “Mortification of sin is peculiarly from the death of Christ. … Whatever came upon our natures by [Satan’s] first temptation, whatever receives strength in our persons by his daily suggestions, Christ died to destroy it all.”
  • Act faith upon the death of Christ in expectation of power and in endeavors for conformity. “Let faith look on Christ in the gospel as he is set forth dying and crucified for us. Look on him under the weight of our sins, praying, bleeding, dying; bring him in that condition into your heart by faith; apply his blood so shed to your corruptions. Do this daily.”

Rely on the Power of the Holy Spirit

As the section draws to a close, Owen wants the reader to remember all he has already said about the Holy Spirit and how true mortification is only ever carried out by the power of the Spirit.

  • The Spirit alone clearly and fully convinces the heart of the evil and guilt and danger of the sin to be put to death. “Without this conviction, or while it is so faint that the heart can wrestle with it or digest it, there will be no thorough work made.”
  • The Spirit alone reveals unto us the fullness of Christ for our relief. “[This] is the consideration that stays the heart from false ways and from despairing despondency.”
  • The Spirit alone establishes the heart in expectation of relief from Christ.
  • The Spirit alone brings the cross of Christ into our hearts with its sin-killing power.
  • The Spirit is the author and finisher of our sanctification.
  • In all the soul’s addresses to God in this condition, it has support from the Spirit.

This makes a fitting conclusion to Owen’s instructions on putting sin to death. With all the instructions made, we have now only to look to Christ, to trust in Christ, and to rely on his Holy Spirit. So simple. Yet it is the Christian’s lifetime work.

Reading Classics Together

Thanks to all who read this book with me. It was a joy to read it with you and to read your many, excellent comments and summaries. Do consider reading the other parts of the book, as there is so much more to learn from John Owen. And stay tuned; at some point I’ll suggest another classic we can read together.