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Tim Challies

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The Two Kinds of Conversation with Your Children
April 25, 2016

Over the course of my years of parenting, I have picked up advice from a hundred different sources. Like most parents I have read a few books on parenting, some of them general works and some of them targeted at specific joys or challenges. I have read a lot of blog posts and other articles addressing one angle or the other. Of course I’ve been challenged by the Bible through personal study and sermons. And then there are those personal one-on-one conversations with other parents where I have asked them questions or they have volunteered counsel. I remain a firm advocate of saying to people, “I’d like my children to be like yours. Tell me what you’ve learned along the way.”

One of my most formative conversations came when my oldest child was seven or eight. I was speaking to a friend who was both older and more experienced in parenting—his oldest child was already into her late teens. The counsel this friend gave me was as simple as it gets and just about as helpful as any I’ve heard.

He told me about the various conversations you will need to have with your children as they grow and mature. Those simple and direct talks with seven-year-olds eventually give way to much deeper and more nuanced ones with seventeen-year-olds. And then he offered advice on two different ways to have such conversations.

The first is the face-to-face conversation. This is the one you have when sitting on opposite sides of a table at Starbucks or of a booth at Denny’s. In this setting both you and your child can look each other in the eye and enjoy all the relational directness and intimacy this affords. These are occasions that will at times arise serendipitously but ones you should also be deliberate in creating by inviting your children to go out with you or by finding times you can be alone in the home. This is when you can ask about school and work and family. This is when you can ask about faith and church and devotion. This is when you can enjoy simple and free conversation and follow it wherever it goes.

The second kind of conversation is the side-by-side conversation. This is the one you have while driving together—you in the driver’s seat and your child in the passenger seat—or perhaps when working on a project or activity together. In this conversation you will not be looking one another in the eye because the setting makes it difficult, and this is exactly the point. As you converse you will both be able to keep your eyes fixed on the road ahead or on the task at hand. As you reduce the intimacy of your posture you can increase the intimacy of your conversation. You do this out of kindness to your child, knowing that it is easier for him or her to express or confess certain matters when not being forced to stare into the eyes of mom or dad. This is when you can ask about love and romance and matters of the heart. This is when you can ask about lust and purity and matters of sexuality. This is when you can discuss matters that would otherwise be awkward and uncomfortable. And again, these are opportunities to take when they unexpectedly arise and opportunities to generate when you know a particular conversation is due or overdue.

From the perspective of an inexperienced parent with young children, this counsel was both timely and valuable. It was counsel I’ve heeded and counsel that proved to me the necessity of mature, experienced Christian friends.

Image credit: Shutterstock

April 24, 2016

The last couple of weeks have been fairly quiet when it comes to letters to the editor. Not surprisingly, the majority of them dealt with the article I wrote on evolution and the age of the universe. Here are a small selection of letters.

Comments on Spiritual Drafting and the Danger of Christian Complacency

Thanks so much for this article. One point to add is that drafting actually helps the person in front go faster due to less personal wind drag. I think you could develop more spiritual applications with this principle in mind. My wife and I ride bikes… well, now we ride one bike—a tandem. This bike is now our bike of choice and “two are better than one, for they have a good reward for their labor”. Just some thoughts. Thanks for your ministry!
—David D, Meridian, ID

Tim: Yes, I am aware that drafting actually benefits the lead rider as well. It’s something to do with physics, I suppose. But to admit that it benefits the lead rider would have damaged my analogy so I just chose to ignore it! And, actually, I think I’m on good ground there since even in the Bible analogies or parables are used to prove one point without fully exploring every angle. They all fall part at one time or another.

Comments on Evolution and a Universe as Young as Humanity

Tim: I knew when I wrote this article that I was going to receive responses. I was grateful to see how many of them were kind and challenging. The great majority compared space to time and said that if I want to say that the vastness of time causes trouble with my understanding of creation, I also need to deal with the vastness of space. Here are just a couple of examples.

The theological thrust of this article seems to be missing something. If you think we need to deny the vastness of TIME for the theological reason that it makes humanity too insignificant, you’d also need to deny the vastness of SPACE, a similarly tiny proportion of which is directly relevant to humanity. In fact, on this reasoning, vast space is a bigger problem than vast time. Any amount of time can be understood as all purposed by God to lead up to humanity, while nothing similar can be said of all space.

Fortunately, there is no theological reason to deny the vastness of either time or space. Psalm 8 reflects on Genesis 1 and gives us two truths about humanity side-by-side. A. Humanity is extremely insignificant compared to the vastness of what God has created (v3-4, alluding to Genesis 1 day 4). B. Yet, despite that, God has graciously given humanity authority to rule creation like God himself (v5-8, alluding to Genesis 1 day 6). So an increased appreciation of the vastness of time and space would not deny that we’ve been appointed to a central position in creation (B). Instead it would deepen our appreciation of the vastness of creation relative to ourselves (A) and so deepen our appreciation of God’s GRACE in appointing us to a central, God-like position over creation (B).
—Jeremy W, Brisbane Australia

***

I have been a longtime fan of this blog, but I think Mr. Challies’ basic argument regarding the age of the universe has some deep flaws.

He writes: “If we admit and endorse an ancient universe, we see a vastly purposeless universe that for the great majority of time had no human beings to bring purpose and order to it. We see that humanity’s role in the universe is late and incidental rather than timely and purposeful.” This simply does not follow. For one, there’s no necessary, logical entailment from the “If” to the “then”. But worse, it seems to presuppose the unbiblical notion that it is man’s presence in the universe that gives the universe purpose and order. There is nothing in Scripture that supports this idea, and I’m sure Mr. Challies does not believe this.

True, man is the image-bearer of God and at the center of redemptive history, but that must be counter-balanced by the fact that we find ourselves at that center because of our sin and neediness— on this score, God’s Word teaches us that it is NOT all about us. And so, on the contrary, one could just as easily take this 24-hour clock analogy as a healthy antidote to human pride, with the lesson being that if we’re this small on a scale of just a few billion years, how much more compared to the eternality and perfection of God?

Indeed, if Challies’s presupposition, above, would apply to an ancient universe, then it would also apply to a 5 literal-days-old universe—but again, Challies would never admit to the notion that creation was “vastly purposeless” for the great majority of the first 5 days of the creation week because he understands that what gave the creation purpose and order was God’s work, not man’s. Man’s work was designed to bring glory to God by imaging the order and dominion that God has manifest from eternity past—following the creation week. But if Mr. Challies can believe, on theological grounds, that a “human-less” creation can still manifest God’s purpose, direction, and design for a relatively short span of time, why not also for a relatively “long” span of time, with God directing the details (as theistic evolutionists argue)?

So our presence and work in the universe is just a blip on the cosmic radar?—welcome to finite existence, and meet your infinite Creator, O man of dust, whose life is a vapor!

Further, if we extended Challies’ logic about mankind’s significance relative to time, we should also wonder why we can’t also apply it to space—but then we might reach the absurd conclusion that the universe, indeed, even our own galaxy, can’t possibly be as large as scientists say that it is, as that too would diminish man’s place in creation.

And finally, what would this logic force us to conclude when we consider that Jesus—the God-Man—only stepped into human history for a mere 33 years? Even in a universe that is only 10,000 years old, Jesus’ ministry would proportionately comprise only 25 seconds of a 24-hour day. And yet, from this, we would certainly not draw the kind of conclusion that Challies draws regarding man’s place in an ancient universe, as we know that it is God Himself who gives great significance to “brief” events.

In the end, this kind of argument seems to unwittingly Christianize the pronouncement of Protagoras that “man is the measure of all things”, which the Greeks and Romans maintained for centuries. For centuries, this notion helped entrench the geo-centric model of the universe, not a God-centered one, as some of its advocates in the Church supposed.

Let me be clear: I am certainly not accusing Mr. Challies of failing to be “God-centered”—indeed, I believe he is devoutly God-centered. Nor am I a theistic evolutionist: I would cheerfully join Mr. Challies in mustering arguments against it, in fact. I just wouldn’t use this one.

Rather, I would simply encourage Mr. Challies and his readers to continue to think more critically about the kinds of arguments that are used on all sides of this debate in order to better harmonize our understanding of science and Scripture so that the God of Scripture would be magnified.
—Eric T, La Mirada, CA

Comments on Our Forgetful God

Many thanks for all your insightful posts! I always enjoy reading what you write.

I, however, cannot agree with you that God forgets things. As Jay Adams points out in his book From Forgiven to Forgiving, God does not forget, He not-remembers. That is, He stops bringing things up. God is omniscient. To say that God forgets something, at least in the normal way people forget things, is contrary to this attribute of God.

Not-remembering is at the heart of forgiveness, as Jay Adams points out. Indeed, one of the chief points of interest in that book is Adams’s definition of forgiveness as a three-fold promise: when you forgive someone, you are making a promise that you will not bring the matter up again either to the person who offended you, or to anyone else, or to yourself.

Applying this definition to God’s forgiveness towards us, forgiveness is a promise that God will not-remember our sins against us. He will not bring them up again. Of course He knows that we actually did those sins.

This distinction between not-remembering and forgetting is crucial, I think. Forgetting is a human thing where we once knew something, and some time later we do not know it. God forgets nothing, because He knows everything. Not-remembering is a decision, a promise, never to bring something up again, and it is this, not forgetting, that is at the heart of forgiveness.
—Adrian K, Park City, KS

Tim: I believe you and I are saying roughly the same thing. I am teeing off a passage which says that God forgets our sins. I understand that God’s forgetting is a particular kind of forgetting—the kind that Jay Adams helpfully labels as a “not-remembering.” But because the Bible says God forgets, I think we are on good grounds to say it as well.

April 22, 2016

Every parent has the responsibility of eventually having “the talk” with their children. You know the talk I mean—the one that finally tells the children where babies come from. I don’t think there are too many parents who look forward to the conversation or too many that are confident with their handling of it. But somehow we blunder through and both we and our children survive.

I spent much of this week preparing a couple of conference messages about God’s design for human beings and human sexuality. This required diving deep into the differences between a biblical understanding of sexuality and the one espoused by the culture around us—an understanding that requires deconstructing what humans have always believed and creating all kinds of new and alternate categories. (See, for example, The New Birds and Bees.) The more I read about the utter confusion that surrounds the topic today, the more I became convinced of the need to not only see “the talk” as a parental responsibility, but to see it as a parental privilege. “The talk” is not only an opportunity to convey information, but an opportunity to convey wonder.

Just pause for a few moments to think about the human reproductive system, the subject of that infamous talk. Let’s consider just one aspect of it. Have you ever thought about why we use the word “system” to discuss reproduction? When I was writing a book on productivity I had to look up the definition of a system and arrived at this: “A system is a set of connected things or parts forming a complex whole.” A system usually looks outwardly simple but is actually very complex; the complexity is hidden because of the smooth functioning of the whole. In that way, human reproduction involves a system—a stunningly simple and complex system. The wonder of it is that an independent and fully-functioning male reproductive system can combine with an independent and fully-functioning female reproductive system to become one much greater system. Not only that, but when combined they can create an entirely new system, an entirely new person. There’s nothing like it! It is mind-boggling and very nearly miraculous. It is wonderful—it evokes awe and wonder.

Now think about the prevailing understanding in society that these two systems came about through evolution, through the fortuitous combination of time and chance. No, really. People deny the design and insist on chance. Think about the corollary that because they came to be without the involvement of a designer, there is no particular meaning or significance to them. Certainly there is no moral responsibility attached to them—they can be used however we see fit. In fact, we can’t even insist that what looks so obvious actually is obvious. We can’t even insist that the difference between the sexes has meaning. Think of the hopelessness and meaninglessness, and contrast that with the sheer wonder of admitting what God has done and marveling at it.

Many years ago, Elisabeth Elliot wrote these words:

Throughout the millennia of human history, up until the past two decades or so, people took for granted that the differences between men and women were so obvious as to need no comment. They accepted the way things were. But our easy assumptions have been assailed and confused, we have lost our bearings in a fog of rhetoric about something called equality, so that I find myself in the uncomfortable position of having to belabor to educated people what was once perfectly obvious to the simplest peasant.

Though she was not writing about twenty-first century sexual confusion, she may as well have been. What was once so simple has become so difficult. What was once so obvious has become so complicated. What was once a source of wonder has become a source of confusion and uncertainty. And in the face of this confusion and uncertainty, we have the joy of celebrating God’s good and wonderful design. We can celebrate what God has done, what God has made.

“The talk” is a time to help your children marvel at God’s good design and to see the evidence of his handiwork behind it. Your task is not just to convey the necessary facts, but to convey the appropriate wonder. Your task is to say, “Look what God has done! Look what God has made!”

5 Ways to Use Visual Theology
April 21, 2016

Several years ago our church experienced an unexpected surge of growth. The majority of those who arrived in that surge were young adults who loved the Lord but had not received consistent teaching on how to live as Christians. As one of their pastors, I longed to see them grow in their knowledge of God so they could, in turn, live for his glory. I did not know it at the time, but it was here that Visual Theology was born.

Want a free infographic? You can download The Fruit of the Spirit right now.
Bought the book? Submit your receipt and get two bonus graphics.

Visual Theology is a book that offers systematic teaching on how to live the Christian life. There are many excellent resources that are meant for new believers or for believers eager to spur on their growth in knowledge and holiness. The majority of the resources are essentially short systematic theologies and, while systematic theology is good and crucial, I wanted to focus instead on systematic Christian living.

Over the course of a series of Sunday afternoons and evenings, I opened up classes to teach about the Christian life. We began with foundational matters such as the centrality of the gospel and understanding our new identity in Jesus Christ. From there we progressed to learning the importance of growing in our knowledge of both the doctrine of the Bible and the drama of what God means to accomplish in his world. We looked at how God calls us to put sin to death and how to come alive to righteousness. And then we looked at specific parts of life—vocation, relationships, marriage, sexuality, stewardship—and saw how in all of these ways we can live for the glory of Christ.

When all of this was complete I realized I had the beginnings of what might be a helpful book. I teamed up with Josh Byers to experiment in making this an illustrated book that would combine words with infographics. And just like that we had Visual Theology: Seeing and Understanding the Truth About God. The book released on April 19. I’m grateful to everyone who purchased a copy and hope those who haven’t yet will at least consider it!

Visual Theology

5 Ways to Put Visual Theology To Work

I’d like to suggest a few ways you may want to consider using this book:

  1. Read and observe it. The most obvious way to use the book is to simply read it while also looking at the graphics. We intended to create graphics that would complement the words, adding visual learning to the standard textual learning.
  2. Read it with your family. We deliberately prepared the book to appeal to a wide range of people. And, indeed, much of the teaching that led to the book was done in front of a full congregation of children and adults. We believe Visual Theology will serve as an ideal book for parents to read with their family, especially with older children. It might also make a good homeschool resource.
  3. Read it with your group. Already I know of peer groups that are reading the book together. It could also be a candidate for men’s or women’s meetings. I believe it will be especially attractive to those who have little natural interest in reading (you know who you are…).
  4. Give it as a graduation gift. The book was prepared with a visual generation in mind. Where young people may be convinced that theology and Christian living are a bit drab, we hope this book will have immediate visual appeal that will motivate them to dive deeper.
  5. Use it as a teaching aid. The book provides a systematic method to teach how to live the Christian life. You can borrow the format and (coming soon!) download and use the graphics to help you as you teach others how to live in this world for God’s glory.

This Visual Theology book is just the beginning. We have a whole collection of additional graphics and resources at www.visualtheology.church with many more graphics (and books?) to come. We are also working on a study guide to accompany this volume.

Want a free infographic? You can download The Fruit of the Spirit right now.
Bought the book? Submit your receipt and get two bonus graphics.

Visual Theology is available wherever good books are sold, including:

Visual Theology

Visual Theology

Evolution and the Time Problem
April 20, 2016

I love to read and ponder the biblical account of creation. So much makes sense and so much comes into focus only as we understand God as the creator of all that is. As I read the creation account I find myself coming to a series of conclusions about the relationship of man and the world he inhabits: God created the world; God created man; God created the world for man and man for the world. God created the world to be seen and overseen by man. He created time and space so he could insert man into time and space. He created all things so man could exercise dominion over it all and, in that way, reflect glory to the Creator. Creation makes no sense, it is incomplete, without man, without the jewel of creation.

I recently came across an extended quote from Denis Alexander’s book Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose? In this excerpt he helps readers understand the incredible amount of time encompassed by an evolutionary framework. But the deeper he goes into his argument, the farther he seems to go from the centrality of man in God’s plan for creation. Here is what he says:

One useful way to envisage history as viewed through the lens of evolution is to imagine the whole 4.6 billion year history of the earth as being crammed into a single day.

If we had a bird’s-eye view of the whole day, what would we see the Creator do, starting our 24-hour clock at zero and imagining that midnight is the present moment in time? Simple forms of life would already be appearing by 2.40 a.m. with single-celled organisms (prokaryotes) flourishing by around 5.20 a.m. The great oceans of the world start to change colour as cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) spread cross the planet. At the same time the genetic code becomes established that will dominate the generation of biological diversity for the remainder of the day.

After this early-morning start, there would then be quite a long wait until single-celled organisms containing nuclei (eukaryotes) become visible around lunchtime. A further seven hours pass before multicellular organisms (living things with more than one cell) start appearing in the sea by 8.15 p.m. About half an hour later the planet changes colour as cyanobacteria and green algae invade the land.

From then on the biological pace picks up and there is a busy evening of observation ahead. The Cambrian explosion starts at 9.10 p.m. and in an amazing three minutes an immense diversity of phyla appear, each with a distinctive body plan, with many of the anatomical features introduced continuing in many of the phyla right up to midnight. Twenty minutes later plants start appearing on land for the first time, followed very soon afterwards by the earliest land animals. At 9.58 p.m. this is followed by the mass extinctions of the Devonian period.

At 10.11 p.m. reptiles start roaming the land, followed half an hour later by the mass extinctions that mark the end of the Palaeozoic period.

By 10.50 p.m. the earliest mammals and dinosaurs are appearing, but five minutes later there is further mass extinction at the start of the Jurassic period.

By 11.15 p.m. archaeopteryx are flapping around and within minutes the sky begins to fill with birds. Another mass extinction occurs at 11.39 p.m. in which the dinosaurs are wiped out.

Just two minutes before midnight hominids start to appear, and a mere three seconds before midnight anatomically modern humans make their entry onto the scene, the whole of recorded human history until now being compressed into less than one-fifth of the second before midnight, the mere blink of a human eyelid.

This is a helpful illustration for the time and scope of evolution. Alexander wishes to draw our attention to the marvel of the universe and the incredible span of time it encompasses when viewed through an evolutionary framework—even an evolutionary framework that admits the presence and power of God. The illustration is helpful and necessary because just as we have difficulty understanding the vastness of billions of dollars we have trouble understanding the vastness of billions of years. The numbers are so big that they beg explanation.

Yet what stands out to me in this illustration is what I consider a serious incompatibility between the biblical account of creation and the evolutionary account (or, for that, any account that demands an ancient universe). What I cannot reconcile with my understanding of the biblical account of creation is that man appears only at the very, very end of it all. In this twenty-four hour day, Adam or an Adam-like figure appears just one-fifth of one second before the stroke of midnight. The day has very nearly elapsed and then, at that final moment, man appears. This split second encompasses all of human history from its earliest beginnings to the lives of Moses and Jesus and you and me. This means that the majority of history is man-less; almost every bit of the world’s history is devoid of humanity. In this understanding of our origins, the history of the universe is not the history of mankind. It is the history of nothing and no one with man’s fleeting role encompassing a fraction of a moment.

Yet the biblical account seems to move crisply and purposefully to the creation of man. There is no indication in the text that the world was ever in a billion-year process of preparation, that for age after age it awaited man’s appearance. Genesis appears to move quickly and deliberately from God’s first words to the creation of man to the assigning of stewardship over all that had been created. The biblical writers seem to want us to understand that the world was created for man and that it had no purpose apart from man. A builder makes a home so a family can move into it; God makes a world so humanity have dominion over it.

If we admit and endorse an ancient universe, we see a vastly purposeless universe that for the great majority of time had no human beings to bring purpose and order to it. We see that humanity’s role in the universe is late and incidental rather than timely and purposeful. We see God’s creation existing for a million ages without the purpose and presence afforded by the one being created in God’s image. And, for me, that is one powerful argument for a universe that is only as old as humanity.

Coming Soon: Visual Theology the Book
April 19, 2016

Today is the day! Today is the official launch day for my new book Visual Theology: Seeing and Understanding the Truth About God. This book is the result of a collaboration between me, a writer, and Josh Byers, a graphic designer. We worked together to create a book that brings together two great media—words and infographics. Combining the power of each of them, we created a book that both describes and illustrates the truth about God and man.

Our purpose in creating Visual Theology is to provide a guide to the joy and privilege of Christian living, a systematic look at living in this world for the glory of God. We teach that living for God’s glory is a matter of Growing Close to Christ, Understanding the Work of Christ, Becoming Like Christ, and Living for Christ—the four major sections that comprise the book.

Order

Sections

As you progress through these four sections you will learn the centrality of the gospel in all of life, you will come to understand both the doctrine and the drama of the Bible, you will see the importance of putting sin to death and coming alive to righteousness, and you will come to see how the Christian faith transforms vocation, relationships, and stewardship. All the while you will see these truths illustrated through beautiful visuals.

Visual Theology is a work meant to celebrate and combine two complementary media—words and pictures. It is meant to combine them in a way that teaches and disciples Christians to better know, love, and serve the Lord. It is a book to read on your own, a book to enjoy with your family, a book to read with people you are discipling. It is a book to read, to observe, and to enjoy.

Order It

Visual Theology is available at all major book distributors, including:

Visual Theology

Wayne Grudem kindly penned a foreword to the book, and here is what he says about it:

Visual Theology is a delightful read. It combines wise knowledge of sound theology with a readable, inviting style and frequent perceptive insights into practical Christian living. Tim Challies and Josh Byers repeatedly tie their discussion to relevant Scripture passages and then provide a healthy and balanced application to the Christian life.

Another strength of this book is that it takes sin seriously, an emphasis that is sadly lacking in some evangelical writing and preaching today. This book describes practical steps for progressively overcoming sinful habits and patterns in the daily lives of Christians, something that is essential if we are going to grow in Christian maturity.

I often draw diagrams in the classroom because I find that students can more quickly grasp and retain theological concepts when they can see them in a single visual image. But this book has expanded that process far beyond anything I have ever done. The visually inviting infographics in this book are very helpful in synthesizing theological concepts and showing their application to practical Christian living.

I am happy to commend this book, and I expect that it will invite many readers on a pathway toward regular Christian growth and increasing likeness to our Lord Jesus Christ.

—Wayne Grudem, author of Systematic Theology and research
professor of theology and biblical studies at Phoenix Seminary

Visual Theology
Visual Theology

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Spiritual Drafting
April 18, 2016

I’m no fan of most forms of racing. Cars, horses, drones, people—none of them do much for me. I find bicycle racing especially drab, except for those Olympic sprint events that suddenly grab my attention every four years. I do not know a whole lot about racing (which may well be why I don’t enjoy racing), but I do know enough to understand what they call drafting. Drafting is when a rider tucks himself immediately behind another racer, often settling just inches off his rear tire. When he does this, the lead rider has to muscle through the air resistance while the follower can enjoy the little vacuum that forms behind. The first rider has to work just a little bit harder which allows the second to conserve energy for that final push. In other words, the second rider benefits from the strength and diligence of the first.

Drafting is a great strategy for racing. Drafting is a lousy strategy for Christian living. Yet I fear that many Christians allow themselves to fall into a form of spiritual drafting. Let me explain—and let’s not push the analogy too hard since eventually, like any example, metaphor, or parable, it will eventually fall apart!

A number of times I have spoken to a woman and heard her admit that she essentially drafts behind her husband. She takes comfort in her husband’s spiritual strength and discipline but neglects her own. She goes to church when he is around but is quick to bail when he is not. She allows him to carry the load when it comes to teaching and training the children, when it comes to reading and praying with them. She doesn’t only allow him to take the lead (as, indeed, he should) but uses his leadership as a quiet excuse to not put in much effort of her own. She finds that the family is in good shape spiritually but admits that this is far more because she rides in his draft than that she is full-out pursuing the Lord. If he stopped putting in the effort, she would have little strength of her own.

Just as many times I have spoken to a man who confesses, perhaps a bit more sheepishly, that he drafts behind his wife. She is the one who has the living, vital relationship with the Lord and he coasts behind it. She is the one who guards her time to ensure she has a time of personal devotion each day. He allows her to be the one who suggests that they read the Bible and pray together. He expects that she will be the one to call the children for Bible and prayer. The family is doing well enough spiritually, but he can’t deny that it owes more to her effort than to his. He is drafting, taking advantage of her spiritual strength so he can put in little effort of his own.

It isn’t just husbands and wives. Teenaged children can coast along behind their parents instead of learning to pursue God on their own and determining they will personally develop spiritual strength and discipline. Church members can nestle in behind the few who are especially godly and neglect their personal spiritual walk. Sometimes the vast majority of the work of prayer, evangelism, or service is done by just a few members, often an indication that many are gladly coasting along, enjoying the greater efforts of the few. It’s all drafting.

Drafting is a concern because it is an indication of complacency. We all benefit from observing other Christians and seeing how they live the Christian life. This is God’s grace to us, giving us men and women who are worthy of imitation, putting people in our lives who are stronger than we are spiritually. But having such strong believers in our lives is meant to drive us to imitate them, not to simply take advantage of their efforts. Their example is meant to spur us on to greater earnestness in our spiritual lives, greater discipline in our pursuit of holiness.

The antidote to drafting is zeal, that quality we bring to so many of life’s pursuits but are prone to neglect when it comes to our faith. This is a good time to pull in that common biblical metaphor of the race. The Bible tells us that the Christian life is a race—not a race against one another but against the old man as we overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil. This is a race that demands everything we have. It requires every effort. “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” (Hebrews 12:1) We are to lay aside everything that hinders us, everything that slows us, including complacency. This race requires zeal deliberately directed to the highest pursuit.

We may think some people are naturally zealous or supernaturally gifted with spiritual fervor. Perhaps so. But my observation is that zealous Christians are those who are most committed to the awesomely ordinary means of grace—Word, prayer, worship, sacrament. This deep commitment to ordinary means is the fuel to their fire. This is a tremendous relief but also a significant challenge because it assures us that zeal is available to all Christians. Zeal is not bestowed only on the few and the gifted but is available to all who will follow the Spirit’s conviction. If you can honestly admit that you are drafting, putting in little effort of your own because of the greater effort of the one you follow, today is the day to confess that sin of complacency before God, to ask him to grant you godly fervor, and to pursue the means he offers to ignite such zeal.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Our Forgetful God
April 15, 2016

There are some things I just can’t forget. There are some wrongs done to me that I cannot erase from my mind. I try, I pray. I don’t want to remember them. I don’t want them to remain in my memory or to come back to my mind. But somehow I can’t forget them. Somehow, sooner or later, they come back, flooding me once again with all of those thoughts, feelings, and emotions.

There are some things God just can’t remember. Perhaps better said, there are some things God just won’t remember. There are some wrongs done to him that he will not bring back to his mind. He doesn’t want to remember them. He doesn’t need to remember them. They never come back, flooding him with all of those thoughts, feelings, and emotions. They are erased from his mind and gone forever.

“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins” (Isaiah 43:25). “For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more” (Jeremiah 31:34). “For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12). “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more” (Hebrews 10:17).

Looking at all of this evidence, Charles Spurgeon says, “This is a wonder to me, a wonder of wonders, that God should say that He will do what in some sense He cannot do—that He should use speech which includes impossibility, and yet that it should be strictly true as He intends it.” He intends for us to know that “His pardon is so true and deep that it amounts to an absolute oblivion, a total forgetting of all the wrong-doing of the pardoned ones.” God puts aside our sin so thoroughly, so utterly, so completely that it is like he has forgotten it altogether. He has so dealt with our sin that he does not ponder it, he does not ruminate over it, he does not allow it to change the way he thinks of us, he does not look for further justification to make right our wrong-doings. “The Great Father’s heart is not brooding over the injuries we have done. His infinite mind is not revolving within itself the tale of our iniquities. Ah, no. If we have fled to Christ for refuge, the Lord remembers our sin no more. The record of our iniquity is taken away, and the judge has no judicial memory of it.”

The very things I cannot forget are the very things God will not remember.

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