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September 25, 2014

We do not sin with impunity. We cannot sin without consequence. Once the Holy Spirit reveals sin within us, we cannot simply ignore that sin and expect that our spiritual lives will continue to grow and thrive. In his great work Overcoming Sin and Temptation, John Owen lists six evil effects of sin—sin that we identify but refuse to destroy.

In chapter four of his book, Owen wants the reader to think about this: A God-honoring life is one in which we constantly wage war against sin. He says it like this: “The life, vigor and comfort of our spiritual life depend much upon our mortification of sin.” I take life to be the existence of spiritual life, vigor to be the extent of it, and comfort to be the Holy Spirit’s assurance of its existence. All of these are imperiled by the existence of sin. He will give six consequences of sin in our lives, but first he has a couple of foundational points to make.

The first foundation point Owen makes is that putting sin to death is necessary for a secure and comfortable Christian life, and yet they are not a guarantee of it. I find this important as a Christian and as a pastor: “A man may be carried on in a constant course of mortification all his days; and yet perhaps never enjoy a good day of peace and consolation. The use of means for the obtaining of peace is ours; the bestowing of it is God’s prerogative.” In other words, God does not owe us anything for putting sin to death; it is our duty and we must do it out of love and loyalty to him. However, under ordinary circumstances, he rewards such action with life, vigor and comfort.

The second foundational point is that we must not confuse mortification of sin with the gospel. “In the ways instituted by God to give us life, vigor, courage, and consolation, mortification is not one of the immediate causes of it. … Adoption and justification … are the immediate causes.” Spiritual life, comfort, and vigor are not ultimately the fruit of mortification, but of justification.

With those matters aside, he now offers a series of six evil effects of refusing to do battle with sin:

  1. Sin deprives us of spiritual strength and comfort. “Every unmortified sin will do two things: it will weaken the soul and deprive it of its vigor. It will darken the soul and deprive it of its comfort and peace.”
  2. Sin weakens the soul and deprives it of its strength. “An unmortified lust will drink up the spirit and all the vigor of the soul, and weaken it for all duties.” When he speaks of duties, he speaks of the ordinary means of grace, and particularly reading Scripture, praying and gaining the spiritual benefit that comes from doing these things.
  3. Sin becomes the delight of the heart. “It diverts the heart from the spiritual frame that is required for vigorous communion with God; it lays hold on the affections, rendering its object beloved and desirable, so expelling the love of the Father.” Unmortified sin becomes our delight, and we come to love it and rejoice in it.
  4. Sin becomes the meditation of our minds. “Thoughts are the great purveyors of the soul to bring in provision to satisfy its affections; and if sin remain unmortified in the heart, they must ever and anon be making provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof.” When sin goes untouched, it becomes the meditation of our heart, taking the place that should be filled with the Lord.
  5. Sin hinders our spiritual walk. “The ambitious man much be studying, and the worldling must be working or contriving, and the sensual, vain person providing himself for vanity, when they should be engaged in the worship of God.” Sin steals the time, attention and affection that we need to maintain our communion with God.
  6. Sin darkens the soul. “It is a cloud, a thick cloud, that spreads itself over the face of the soul, and intercepts all the beams of God’s love and favor. It takes away all sense of the privilege of our adoption; and if the soul begins to gather up thoughts of consolation, sin quickly scatters them.” When we continually choose sin over godliness, sin destroys the comfort that the Holy Spirit seeks to provide. Our souls become darkened to his goodness and to the privileges of our adoption.

The solution to all of this is to put sin to death. Here is how Owen says it: “Mortification prunes all the graces of God and makes room for them in our hearts to grow. The life and vigor of our spiritual lives consists in the vigor and flourishing of the plants of grace in our hearts.” 

As we continue read Overcoming Sin and Temptation, we will soon come to instructions on actually putting sin to death.

Next Time

Next Thursday we will continue with the fifth chapter of the book. We have only just begun so there is still plenty of time for you to get the book and to read along.

Your Turn

I would like to know what you gained from this chapter. Feel free to post comments below or to write about this on your own blog (and then post a comment linking us to your thoughts). Do not feel that you need to say anything shocking or profound. Just share what stirred your heart or what gave you pause or what confused you. Let’s make sure we’re reading this book together.

September 25, 2014

When Someone Reaches Out - Christine Hoover touches on something important here: “The people who tend to struggle to connect are those who take a long while to reach out for the hands that are extended to them.” She offers good advice for joining into the life of a church.

Derek Jeter Isn’t the Greatest Player Ever - Here’s a video for the baseball fans (Note: there’s some minor language in it.)

Coming Home from War - I really enjoyed Greg Lucas’ article on family and life with a severely disabled child.

How Busy People Read - Here’s an article from Fast Company on how busy people find time to read.

7 Real-Life Reasons Women’s Blogs Go Cold - This is a follow-up to the article I shared yesterday on why blogs have gone cold.

Encourage One Another - Read this article about being an encourager and creating a culture of encouragement.

Scripture Memory Songs - You can use coupon code challies to get 25% off these two new Scripture memory albums for kids. (Listen to God Created and it will be in your head all day!)

To fear God is to have such a holy awe of God upon our hearts, that we dare not sin. —Thomas Watson

Watson

September 24, 2014

Last month I posted a list of recommended blogs by and for Christian women. At the end of the post I made a parenthetical remark that many of the blogs I follow had gone cold in recent months. A short time later I received an email from three women who blog: Hannah Anderson, Courtney Reissig, and Megan Hill. They asked if they could speak to the issue, and I was glad to have them do so. Here are their thoughts on blogs gone cold.

Conservative female bloggers tend to publish less consistently than their male counterparts. Three women writers explore the reasons why.

True Success (Hannah Anderson)

Back in August, Tim Challies posted a helpful list of theological blogs by and for women. At the end, he noted that several blogs had “gone cold,” questioning when and whether the writers would return. As a female theological blogger myself, I smiled and thought, “Of course, they have.”

There are many reasons that blogs go cold—neglect, attrition, or simply a lack of focus—but  one reason that conservative female bloggers struggle to publish consistently is because we tend to blog outside organized ministry while our male counterparts write from within it. Certainly, not every male theological blogger is employed in ministry, but many do serve as full-time pastors, directors of para-church organizations, seminary professors, and students preparing for a theological career. You don’t find many male engineers, doctors, mathematicians, or police officers blogging in this same niche.

On the other hand, the majority of conservative female bloggers do not blog from a ministry context. Rarely are they employed by a church; they are not even pursuing a “career” in this field. By and large, they are lay women—homemakers, teachers, graphic designers, and writers who simply have an aptitude and interest in theology.

I do not mean to suggest that male bloggers in ministry are blogging “on the clock” but simply that their day job and their blogging flow together naturally. The opposite is true for their female peers. Conservative female bloggers must actually devote more time to covering the same topics because they do not naturally arise from their work week. For example, my day job is as a wife and mother; if I decide to respond to the latest theological snafu, it’s not because I need to understand the nature of sanctification in order to get the laundry done. But if I were a pastor, I would need to understand it and could justify the time to study it out.

The tension between our “day jobs” and blogging is not a problem so long as we don’t evaluate a blogger’s worth based on productivity alone. In my own life, I’ve had to accept that God has called me to be both a stay-at-home mom and a writer. I must believe that His providence is wise enough to have placed me at this nexus for a reason—perhaps to show that theology is for all of life, for both men and women.

But accepting this tension also means accepting the fact that I will be less “productive” than my male counterparts. It means learning to multi-task and not being surprised when I find myself listening to “The Future of Protestantism” while decorating an Angry Bird birthday cake for my 5-year-old son. (True story.)

Thankfully, in God’s kingdom, productivity is not everything. My success as a blogger is not found in my stats, my regularity, or how many posts go viral. My success is found in being faithful to His call and believing that He uses the weak—even irregular—things of the world to accomplish His eternal purposes.

A Time for Everything (Courney Reissig)

For me, there is no other place where I feel the limitations of my varying seasons like writing. While both genders are constrained by their seasons, women are confronted with it more acutely. So much of our writing in the blogosphere is born out of our life experiences, and though helpful, there are some life experiences that do not afford the time needed to write about them (i.e. small children, pregnancy, caring for aging parents, etc.). 

September 24, 2014

Here are today’s Kindle deals: HCSB Study Bible ($2.99); Perspectives on the Doctrine of God ($2.99); Perspectives on Christian Worship ($2.99); Israel by Daniel Block ($2.99); The Millennials by Thom Rainer ($2.99); Calvinism by Brad Waggoner ($0.99).

Just a Piece of Paper? - Is marriage just a piece of paper? R.C. Sproul answers.

A Pastor’s Reflection on Shyness - I appreciate this reflection on shyness.

Are You Intellectually Humble? - “Here are 13 tough questions from Elizabeth Krumrei-Mancuso to help you get honest about your intellectual character. We hope it offers you some pause and inspires you to reserve the right to change your mind, like Elizabeth does.”

Busy Is Blasphemy - Here are reflections on the tricky topic of busyness.

Benefit from Reading Genealogies - I like this one! Here are 6 ways to benefit from reading genealogies.

Phantom Vibrations - What’s up with those phantom cell phone vibrations? (Don’t pretend you don’t know what I’m talking about!) This article explains.

Why Leaves Change Color - Here’s a brief explanation as to why leaves change color in autumn.

The Christian life is not always best lived by people making big waves. —Michael Gembola

Gembola

September 23, 2014

I have a simple rule with books by William Farley: If he writes it, I read it. The common element in all of his books it easy to spot: the gospel. Outrageous Mercy is a long look at the cross, Gospel-Powered Parenting is a personal favorite that describes the centrality of the gospel in parenting; Gospel-Powered Humility looks at the cardinal virtue of the Christian life and how we can have it through the power of the gospel. And now, in Hidden in the Gospel he teaches why you ought to preach the gospel to yourself every day. Even better, he models how to do it.

Over the past few years we have been indundated with books about the gospel. Don’t think I am complaining about the trend, though. It would be difficult to find anything wrong with a corporate obsession with the good news of what Christ has done. I have read many of these books, and find myself especially drawn to those that advance the discussion a notch or two. Hidden in the Gospel is just such a book.

Here is what he says in the opening chapter:

The book you are holding is a tutorial on how to preach the gospel to yourself. I am shamelessly and unapologetically building on the ideas of men like [Martyn] Lloyd-Jones, [Jack] Miller, and [Jerry] Bridges. But I am also speaking from personal experience. I have discovered the benefit of continually preaching the gospel to myself. It has melted the fog of depression, repulsed the demons of despair, and displaced feelings of unworthiness and failure with the love of God. When I have been discouraged, it has motivated me to keep plodding. It has humbled me before the wonder of God’s glorious grace. It has encouraged me to love God and others. It has prompted me to be patient with the failings of others. It has urged me to forgive seventy times seven times.

He goes on to offer seven benefits of cultivating the discipline of preaching the gospel to yourself:

  • Those who preach the gospel to themselves are regularly and repetitively exposed to the glory of God.
  • Those who preach the gospel to themselves grow in humility.
  • Those who preach the gospel to themselves are most likely to gain deliverance from that three-headed monster of guilt, inferiority, and low self-image.
  • Those who preach the gospel to themselves accelerate their sanctification.
  • Those who preach the gospel to themselves are increasingly “abounding in thanksgiving” (Col. 2:6).
  • Those who preach the gospel to themselves are increasingly hopeful.
  • Those who preach the gospel to themselves are repeatedly led to worship.

Farley teaches the importance of understanding and celebrating a very broad view of the gospel, one that extends from God’s electing love all the way to the sure hope of eternity. And then he shows how those truths, when rightly understood, can be preached to yourself day by day, all throughout your life. The strength and uniqueness of the book is its practicality. Where other books may discuss the practice of preaching the gospel to yourself, and while they may give brief examples, this is a whole book on the subject. Each chapter culminates with pointers on the practice and even a sample prayer that celebrates the truth taught.

September 23, 2014

I’ve tracked down just a couple of noteworthy Kindle deals today: The new book Autopsy of a Deceased Church by Thom Rainer is $4.99, and How We Got the Bible by Neil Lightfoot is $1.99.

Serving Those with Mental Illness - David Murray introduces a new, free ebook.

Wilderness Forever - Here are 18 of the best photos from Smithsonian’s “Wilderness Forever” photo competition. 

Two Fruits of True Forgiveness - “Psalm 32 gives us a litmus test for true forgiveness, which shows us how distinct it is from all competing ideas. According to the psalmist, those who find forgiveness are changed by it. Once we are truly forgiven, we find that our love for God and our compassion for others begin to grow.”

To the Pure - Mike Leake looks at Titus 1:15 and asks whether it means we can watch South Park.

Sobering Up - Sobering up (not that kind of sobering up!) is the prerequisite to a good prayer life. 

Advice to Young Pastors - From The Gospel Coalition: “This is the second installment in a new series in which we publish brief answers from experienced church leaders to this question…” 

The Bible is a letter God has sent to us; prayer is a letter we send to him. —Matthew Henry

Henry

September 22, 2014

It’s is God’s grace to you if your church is messy. I heard those words come out of my mouth yesterday as I was guest-preaching at a church close to home. I said them, and I believe them. At least, I believe them most of the time.

I love my church. I love the people I gather with week-by-week. They are fun and safe and easy to be with. But who said church should be safe and easy?

Yesterday, when I was at that church, I preached on the parable of The Lost Sheep, which is actually a parable about a kind and loving shepherd (see Luke 15). Like so many of Jesus’ parables, this one was told in the presence of two groups of people—people who were convinced of their own badness and people who were convinced of their own goodness. And in this case Jesus was speaking primarily to those good and religious people.

The parable is simple: A sheep has wandered off and the shepherd will not rest until he has found it and restored it to himself. And I thought about that sheep, wandering lost and alone in the wilderness, and that shepherd who went looking for it. There are so many different ways that shepherd could have reacted when he finally found it.

  • He finds his sheep and rebukes it: “You stupid, ignorant sheep. How dare you wander off from me?” No. He doesn’t rebuke it.
  • He finds his sheep and punishes it: “You dumb, disobedient sheep. I’ll teach you to wander off!” No, he doesn’t punish it.
  • He finds his sheep and is disgusted by it: “You are filthy and smelly! What on earth did you get into? You go clean yourself up right now and I’ll come back later.” No, he doesn’t make it clean itself up.
  • He finds his sheep and sells it: “I can’t have a sheep like you polluting my flock. Do you know how you made me look in front of everyone else?” No, he doesn’t get rid of it.

The text says, “And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.” When that shepherd finds his sheep, he cares for it. He hoists that big, heavy, dirty sheep onto his shoulders and carries it home, rejoicing all the way. He carries it home and calls his friends and throws a party to celebrate.

The point of the parable is that God loves to save the lost. He loves to save sinners. He doesn’t save those who are righteous and whose lives are all put together, he saves those who are just plain bad.

If God is in the business of saving sinners, we need to expect that church will be full of sinners—those who are still wandering and those who have only just been found. If our churches reflect God’s heart for the lost, they will be full of people with problems, full of people showing the consequences of a lifetime of wandering. And this means that church may not be a safe and easy place. It may not be a place full of people who have it all together. It may be messy. It should be messy. Thank God if it is messy.