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The Hidden Beauty of a Bad Sermon
February 05, 2016

There have been times in the life of Grace Fellowship Church when we have endured some bad sermons. You could even say that in these seasons we purposely endured bad sermons. We heard men preach texts that were clearly beyond their ability to understand and explain. We heard men preach with all the fire of Paul Washer but with none of his depth or pastoral concern. We heard men preach who had neglected to ensure the sermon actually had a main point and an outline. There were other men we tried to hear while desperately fighting the distraction of their tics and idiosyncrasies. We sat through some pretty awful sermons, some of which were undoubtedly mine. But we considered it a privilege. We counted it joy.

We counted it joy because these bad sermons came from unseasoned men who were learning to preach. A man can read a hundred books on preaching and watch a thousand sermons on YouTube, but the only way he will really learn to preach is to preach. Sooner or later he will simply need to stand behind a pulpit, open his Bible, and launch into his introduction (assuming he remembers to actually prepare one). There are not many preachers who get away without preaching a few stinkers along the way. There are not many preachers who can become skilled without first being novices, who can grow into excellence without first being mediocre or average.

A little while ago I saw a video of young barnacle geese leaving their nests for the first time. This sounds simple enough except that to escape predators these geese nest along sheer cliffs hundreds of feet above the ground. The only way down is to take the plunge. Sure enough, these tiny three-day-old geese dutifully jump off the cliff and go plummeting, down, hitting every rock, branch, and outcropping along the way. They eventually crash to the ground stunned. Somehow, miraculously, most of them seem to survive. The jump actually contributes to the hardiness of the species since it ensures that only the strongest survive.

Sooner or later every aspiring preacher needs to take the plunge. Knowing he is inadequate to the task, knowing he is unseasoned, knowing that the congregation is accustomed to hearing a skillful preacher, he goes to the pulpit and preaches his very first sermon, and then his second and his third. He inevitably hits a few bumps and branches along the way. But he also learns the art, the craft, of preaching. He becomes confident, he becomes skilled.

Today, many of those young men who preached bad sermons at Grace Fellowship Church continue to minister in the Toronto area. They are among my favorite preachers and I eagerly anticipate every opportunity to hear them exposit Scripture. They survived and they thrived. We survived too and were able to gladly commend them to other churches as men who can skillfully handle the Word of God.

Young preachers, new preachers, preach bad sermons. They preach bad sermons as they learn to preach good sermons. And in some ways, those bad sermons serve as a mark of a church’s health and strength because they prove that the church is fulfilling its mandate to raise up the next generation of preachers and the one after that. They prove that the church refuses to be so driven by a desire to display excellence that they will not risk the occasional dud. They prove that the congregation is mature enough to endure and even appreciate these first, messy attempts. There is hidden beauty, hidden value, in these bad sermons.

Image credit: Shutterstock

The Character of the Christian
February 04, 2016

Today we continue our series on the character of the Christian. We are exploring how the various character qualifications of elders are actually God’s calling on all Christians. While elders are meant to exemplify these traits, all Christians are to exhibit them. I want us to consider whether we are displaying these traits and to learn together how we can pray to have them in greater measure. Today we will look at a set of three traits that are closely related to one another.

First Timothy 3:2 (which is paralleled in Titus 1:8) says that elders must be “sober-minded, self-controlled, [and] respectable.” We can group these words together because of a shared emphasis on self-mastery that leads to sound judgment.

Sober-minded is a word that relates primarily to the mind. The sober-minded man is clear-headed and watchful, free from excesses and wild fluctuations in thinking and ideas. This trait allows him to keep alert so he can protect himself and others from any kind of spiritual danger. He is not rash, but thoughtful.

Where “sober-minded” relates to the mind, self-controlled relates to decisions that lead to action. The self-controlled elder is free from excesses and wild fluctuations in actions and behavior. He willingly submits his emotions and passions to the control of the Holy Spirit and, with his wisdom, makes wise, thoughtful judgments. He shows restraint and moderation in all areas of life. Thabiti Anyabwile says those who exhibit this trait are “sensible, discreet, and wise.” They do not live for the moment, but consider the future consequences of their actions.

Those who are sober-minded and self-controlled are also respectable. They live orderly lives and are wise and prudent in their dealings so that others have respect for them, both in their character and their behavior. They know how to make wise decisions and live out the kind of practical wisdom described in the book of Proverbs. They are people for whom others have high esteem.

When we put these traits together we see a person who has mastered his thinking and behavior so he is now capable of making wise judgments. His own life is a showcase of such wisdom. Anyabwile aptly summarizes the importance of this trait: “The ministry and the church are always being watched by people inside and outside, and the church’s enemies continually look for opportunities to condemn it and slander it. Churches are greatly helped to withstand this onslaught when its leaders are respectable in their conduct and are men of sound judgment.”

Of course, God does not call only elders or prospective elders to be “sober-minded, self-controlled, and respectable”—He calls every Christian to pursue these traits. Let’s start with sober-minded. In Romans 12:3, Paul writes, “For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” Later, in 1 Thessalonians 5:6, he says, “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.”

When it comes to self-control, Solomon warns, “A man without self-control is like a city broken into and left without walls” (Proverbs 25:28). Paul lists self-control as part of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23) and warns that those without self-control fall prey to Satan’s temptations (1 Corinthians 7:5). He explicitly commands it of all believers in Titus 2:2-6. What Alexander Strauch says of elders is true of every believer: He must be “characterized by self-control and self-discipline in every aspect of life, particularly in his physical desires (Acts 24:25; 1 Cor. 7:9; 9:25). An undisciplined man has little resistance to sexual lust, anger, slothfulness, a critical spirit, or other base desires. He is easy prey for the devil.”

As for respectability, Peter says, “in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame” (1 Peter 3:15–16). Paul writes, “Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed” (Romans 13:7).

The Bible is clear that while these traits must be exemplified in elders, they are to be present in all believers. The character of the elder describes the character we should all pursue and exhibit.

Self-Evaluation

Would others say of you that you are “sober-minded, self-controlled, and respectable”? I encourage you to evaluate yourself in light of questions like these:

  • When things do not go your way or when someone points out sin in your life, do you tend to respond with patient humility or with fits of anger? Would your spouse, children, or parents agree?
  • Do you have any unrestrained or unhealthy habits in what you eat or drink or in your entertainment? Or in all of these things are you joyfully submitted to the Holy Spirit?
  • Do you exhibit consistency and discipline in the spiritual, devotional, relational, and bodily aspects of your life?
  • Do you maintain a schedule? Do you generally bring your tasks to completion and do so with excellence?
  • Are you confident in what you believe, or are you easily swayed by new books, new teachers, or new ideas? Do people seek your counsel when they are uncertain or facing a difficult decision?

Prayer Points

Apart from Christ, we can do nothing (John 15:5), so we need his strength if we are to grow in holiness. Let me encourage you to pray in these ways:

  • I pray that you would fill me with your Spirit so that self-control reigns in my heart and life. (Galatians 5:23)
  • I pray that you would help me to put others first so that I do not think of myself more highly than I ought to think. Help me to think with appropriately sober judgment. (Philippians 2:3; Romans 12:3)
  • I pray that you would help me to be slow to anger so that I might have mastery over my temper. (Proverbs 16:32)
  • I pray that others would ask me about the hope within me because of my joyful, respectful life. (1 Peter 3:14–17)

Next week we will consider what it means to be hospitable.

Boys Need Their Moms
February 03, 2016

Thinking back, I wonder if people thought I was a bit of a mama’s boy. I grew up in a stable home and loved and respected both of my parents. I regularly spent time with each of them. But I was always closer to my mother. If this was true when I was young, it was even more pronounced when I was a teenager. In those years I was a boy, a young man, who needed his mom.

Boys need their dads, we know that. Boys need their dads to model masculinity, to model the love and affection they ought to have for a woman, to teach them the kind of life skills they will need. Girls need their dads too. They need their dads to protect them, to be affectionate with them and in that way to display healthy physical boundaries. They need their dads to hold the boys at bay and, eventually, to give their blessing to that special one. Girls need their moms. They need their moms to model femininity, to teach and train them to be women, to model patience and wisdom. Books, blogs, and sermon illustrations abound for each of these relationships. But what about boys and their moms?

Boys need their moms—I am convinced of it. Even teenaged boys, boys who are nearly men. I see this when I look back at my own life. It wouldn’t be overstating it to say that my mother was my primary counselor and most trusted companion through those turbulent teenage years. It’s not that I didn’t have peer friendships, but that none of those friends influenced me as much as she did. I would often spend that time between school and dinner chatting with her while she prepared our meal. I would come along with her on errands just so we could talk. I confided in her and depended on her wisdom and her interpretation of my thoughts and feelings. We talked about girls and God and pretty well everything else I was thinking and experiencing. I relied on her for physical affection. In so many ways I wanted to be like her, to model much of my life and character after hers. It was really only when Aileen entered my life that this friendship, this dependency, began to diminish. The relationship I enjoyed with the most important woman in my childhood slowly declined as the relationship with the most important woman in my adulthood increased. The first had in some way prepared me for the second.

The relationship between a boy and his mother is a unique and precious one. Sadly, it is one we often look upon with suspicion, as if closeness between a boy and his mother is a warning sign, as if it may indicate a latent femininity or perhaps even homosexuality. We have names for boys who are close or too close to their moms—they are mama’s boys or sissies or pansies. A boy who is close to his mom is a boy we believe to be weak, not strong.

Yet James Dobson, in his book Bringing Up Boys, dedicates a whole chapter to mothers and sons and says this: “The quality of early relationships between boys and their mothers is a powerful predictor of lifelong psychological and physical health.” Writing to mothers, Kevin Leman says, “Although it might be natural to think that the man in your son’s life … would have the most influence on him since they’re both males, the opposite is true. You influence your son directly and have a much greater impact on the man he will become.” In the Bible we see Timothy mentored and discipled by his mother and grandmother (2 Timothy 1:5), we see Solomon warning his son not to depart from his mother’s teaching (Proverbs 1:8), we see Jacob’s closeness to Rebekah (Genesis 27). In history and church history we encounter many great men who were shaped by their mothers as much as by their fathers, many great men who ascribe who they became to the influence of their mothers.

And yet even in Christian circles there is little attention given to the relationship of boys and their mothers, at least once they pass the toddler stage. It is rarely mentioned and rarely celebrated. We still look askance at a boy who spends a lot of time with his mom or a mom who is close to her boy. There is still that suspicion—that irrational and unfair suspicion. There is still that fear that a boy necessarily ought to be closer to his father than his mother.

Today I have a teenaged boy of my own. He and I are close, but I suspect that he and Aileen are closer. I see and celebrate the unique relationship between them. He shares with her, he confides in her, he depends upon her, he receives affection from her. And this is good, this brings me joy. He is a boy who needs his mom, just like I was. I trust that she will help guide him through these formative years with a perspective I simply do not have. I trust that in some way the relationship he enjoys with his mother is in some way preparing him for the relationship he will someday enjoy with his wife. Perhaps, like me, he will be able to echo John Wesley and say, “I learned more about Christianity [and life] from my mother than from all the theologians of England.”

Image credit: Shutterstock

Run! Run Away!
February 01, 2016

Maybe you’ve seen that hilarious news footage of a man unexpectedly coming face to face with a bear. He is on his own property, distracted by his phone, when he looks up right into the face of a marauding bear. The man’s reaction is exactly what we would expect—he turns tail and runs away as quickly as he can. A news helicopter captured it all for our amusement.

There are several places in the Bible where you, Christian, are commanded to flee, to turn tail and run from an enemy far more vicious than any bear. You are told to flee from sin. Some sins are so strong and so dangerous that you simply cannot mess around with them. Just like you can’t fight a bear and expect to win, you can’t tangle with these sins and hope to emerge unscathed. Yes, you are to put sin to death and yes, you can have confidence in the inward work of the Holy Spirit. But you always need to respect the power and deceptiveness of sin, and you always need to acknowledge your weakness and proneness to depravity. For your soul to survive and thrive in this world, you need to learn to flee.

“Flee” is a strong word. The Bible does not tell you to amble, meander, lope, or trot from your sin. It tells you to flee. Fleeing involves effort. It involves straining. It involves speed. You flee when you need to find and experience safety from a threat—a threat like a bear. You flee when it is too dangerous to remain where you are, when standing still would put you in mortal peril. What are we to flee? George Knight points out that “Paul always uses ‘flee’ in relation to particular sins, not sins in general.” His concern, then, is to warn you about those sins that are especially attractive and deadly.

“Flee from sexual immorality,” he says to the church at Corinth (1 Corinthians 6:18). You are to flee at the first hint of sexual sin. “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” (1 Corinthians 10:14). You are to flee idolatry too, which is so often expressed in the kind of sexual immorality that plagued the church in Corinth, but which may appear in other forms.

He returns to this theme in his letters to young Timothy. “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things” (1 Timothy 6:9–11). You are to flee materialism, the desire to be rich and to be known and respected for what you have accumulated. And, more generally, “flee youthful passions” (2 Timothy 2:22). Paul warns Timothy of the danger of self-indulgence and selfish ambition and the other passions and excesses of youth.

Stott provides crucial application: “True, we are also told to withstand the devil, so that he may flee from us. But we are to recognize sin as something dangerous to the soul. We are not to come to terms with it, or even negotiate with it. We are not to linger in its presence like Lot in Sodom. On the contrary we are to get as far away from it as possible as quickly as possible. Like Joseph, when Potiphar’s wife attempted to seduce him, we are to take to our heels and run.” This kind of fleeing is not a mark of weakness, but of strength, not of spiritual infancy but maturity. The mature Christian knows when to turn tail and run.

Interestingly, the command to flee is sometimes accompanied by an opposite command—the command to pursue. This, too, is a word that implies effort. If fleeing is fast and purposeful, so is pursuing—it is moving quickly and purposefully toward instead of away from. If fleeing involves determination and effort in sprinting away from a vice, pursuing involves determination and effort in racing toward a virtue.

“But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness” (1 Timothy 6:11). These are four crucial marks of every true Christian. “So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Timothy 2:22). Here, too, Paul tells you, through Timothy, to strive for the key Christian virtues. “Pursue love” (1 Corinthians 14:1), that greatest of all virtues. “So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding” (Romans 14:19). Peace and mutual upbuilding come through the very virtues Paul elsewhere commands you to pursue.

Because I can say it no better than Stott, I will give him the concluding remarks:

So, then … we are both to run away from spiritual danger and to run after spiritual good, both to flee from the one in order to escape it and to pursue the other in order to attain it. This double duty of Christians—negative and positive—is the consistent, reiterated teaching of Scripture. Thus, we are to deny ourselves and to follow Christ. We are to put off what belongs to our old life and to put on what belongs to our new life. We are to put to death our earthly members and to set our minds on heavenly things. We are to crucify the flesh and to walk in the Spirit. It is the ruthless rejection of the one in combination with the relentless pursuit of the other which Scripture enjoins upon us as the secret of holiness. Only so can we hope to be fit for the Master’s use.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Letters to the Editor
January 31, 2016

With another Sunday, we have another batch of letters to the editor. I received plenty of comments on my article about preaching the gospel to Mormons. Several of them were from practicing Mormons who, not surprisingly, strongly disagreed with what I said. Here are some of the other responses I received.

Comments on When the Mormons Come Calling

I have both Mormon and JW family members and have studied apologetics in that area for decades now. I appreciate that you try to reach them with the gospel and that you understand the JW’s are more likely to have a chip on their shoulder. I would say that with JW’s you must change your strategy. Trying to prove the trinity or divinity of Christ is a dead-end with the JW’s and it is the area they train for. Worst is that it doesn’t really get you to the gospel. Go for an area where they are less prepared and is essential to the gospel. They deny the resurrection of Christ from the dead. Push them to tell you their position that Jesus’ body was dissolved into gases and God recreated the archangel Michael again from His memories. Then get them to read through John 2:18-22. This outright contradicts their beliefs. Then go to the gospel definition in 1 Corinthians 15 and go through that slowly with lots of questions. Their rejection of Jesus’ resurrection is a rejection of a key and essential part of the gospel. Your time will be much more well spent there.
—Greg H, Columbia, MO

*****

Speaking as a former Mormon, I can tell you that it can be very difficult to get through the hard veneer of Mormon doctrine - especially since most of these young men have grown up in the Mormon faith and have been indoctrinated since birth with the false gospel of Mormonism. I’m sure you know that they do not hold a view of the Bible as inerrant and that their founder Joseph Smith re-translated many verses of the Bible to fit the doctrine they teach. They hold the Book of Mormon and Doctrine & Covenants in much higher esteem and authority than the true Word of God and, for this reason, it can be difficult to point them to errors in their doctrine using the Bible alone. This is why praying for the Holy Spirit to reveal the truth to them is so key. Also, it is important to know that terms we use and take for granted have very different meanings in the world of Mormonism (such as Jesus, salvation, & hell) so you can’t assume that you are all on the same page just because you are using the same terms.

When they arrive on Saturday, you can expect them to be prepared to present to you an overview of the gospel as they understand it. They have been trained to basically ignore any objections and deflect any questions you might have. It is an excellent move to request that they listen to what you have to say in exchange for listening to their message but don’t expect too much. As I said, these are young men who have been heavily indoctrinated, have never seriously investigated the claims of their church, and rely heavily on well-practiced, canned presentations to make their point. Any veering off-script tends to be met with a deer-in-the-headlights look and an exhortation to read a highlighted passage in the Book of Mormon they will leave with you and to be on the watch for a “burning in your bosom” that will testify of the “truth” they are sharing. I pray, Tim, that the Holy Spirit will give you wisdom, discernment, and the right words to say that will at least get them questioning their beliefs and set them on a journey of discovery that will set them free from the falsehoods and imprisonment they are living under.
—Rick E, Hillsboro, OR

*****

Appreciated your recent article on Mormonism and agree with what you say. One thought, though: I have shared the gospel with Mormons, and they will agree with everything I say. This is because of the language barrier. Every important word has been redefined by the LDS church such that you must slowly define every term carefully or else what you’re saying and what they’re hearing are two different things. I try to be intentional about defining my terms so that they will know that terms like “God”, “Jesus”, and “grace” mean something different than what the LDS church has taught them. Blessings to you.
—Jeffrey S, Central City, NE

*****

There is also a practical reason for being polite and listening to the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons who may knock at your door: for every minute they are spending with you, they are not next door or down the street spreading their false teachings to another person who may be more inclined to accept it.
—Paul M, St. Thomas, ON

Comments on Going All-in With Ebooks

And then, of course, there were plenty of letters about my decision to go all-in with ebooks. (See last week’s letters for more of them.)

Although not written specifically to Bible readers, I think Nicholas Carr’s “The Shallows” and Naomi Baron’s “Words Onscreen” both effectively raise the issue that reading eBooks could be changing the way we read. In my own journey into reading Scripture well, I continue to find people who are re-awakening to the possibility that reading Scripture on an e-device really does effect the way they read, how they attend to the text, and what they end up taking away from their reading. It’s easy to eRead. What might escape notice is the real possibility that reading eTexts could be changing how we read and understand Scripture.
—Brian O, Greenville, SC

*****

I’ve enjoyed reading all about your decision to go all-in with e-book reading. And I’ve enjoyed reading the comments. My Kindle bit the dust about a year ago (it refuses to re-charge and I am hesitant to purchase another.) I went through terrible withdrawal! Which only served to show me that I was relying way too much on it. So now I’ve retreated back to the printed page. It’s been a good journey. I’m sticking here.
—Pamela N, Hudson, OH

*****

Thank you for your article on committing to E-books. I made the same decision years ago and here is why:

  1. Like you, space was an issue with printed books for me. I learned this lesson eight years ago when I moved from Massachusetts to Wyoming after nine years of Bible college and pastoral ministry. In those nine years I amassed a library of nearly 2500 volumes, saturated with large commentary sets and weighty (in both thought and actual weight!) reference works. The book boxes took up the most space in our moving truck, dwarfing the upright piano and couch. After some time in Wyoming we returned to Massachusetts to plant a church, yet some of the books have yet to make the trip!
  2. The ability to bookmark, or copy and paste directly into documents is invaluable. I spent hours as a pastor and seminary student meticulously handwriting quotes and references into sermon notes or notecards, tasks that take no time with e-books. Insisting on printed books means considerable more time in sermon prep or academic research, and makes me think of a person that would insist on performing a lexical search through different Greek reference works that would take hours, rather than using Logos or Bibleworks, which would only take seconds. I do think a refusal to use e-books when they could save significant time is a stewardship issue that deserves consideration.
  3. In our digital age, e-books easily go anywhere with me. Time spent waiting while my wife shops or in an airport terminal can be used to maintain my reading plan, do research, or continue sermon prep. Many commentaries and reference works are just not mobile in their paper form, but e-books allow me to make the most of downtime that might otherwise be wasted.
  4. While authors might lament this, the reality is that e-books are usually much more inexpensive than printed versions and allow me to stretch my book budget much further than if I purchase paper versions. E-books seem to go on sale within months of their initial release, and I have gotten many books for a fraction of the cost of the paper version.

Thank you again for the article. No doubt there were those that had trouble adjusting to printed, bound books when they replaced scrolls hundreds of years ago!
—Mark R, Middleborough, MA

The Character of the Christian
January 28, 2016

Today we continue this series on the character of the Christian. We are exploring how the various character qualifications of elders are actually God’s calling on all Christians. While elders are meant to exemplify these traits, all Christians are to display them. I want us to consider whether we are displaying these traits and to learn together how we can pray to have them in greater measure.

Our topic today is a qualification Paul repeats in both 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:6. The ESV translates it as “the husband of one wife,” a common rendering of the Greek which says, literally, “a one-woman man.” There are several ways we could interpret this qualification. Does Paul mean to say that a pastor cannot be a polygamist? Does it mean that an elder must be married? Does it mean that the pastor cannot have been previously divorced and remarried? None of these quite get to the heart of the matter. John MacArthur says, “It’s not concerning status, it is concerning character. It is not a matter of circumstance, it is a matter of his virtue. And the issue here is a man who is solely and only and totally devoted to the woman who is his wife. It is a question of his character. He is a one-woman man. Anything less is a disqualification.”

Similarly, in his book Biblical Eldership, Alexander Strauch reminds us that the first qualification, above reproach, is a summary that is defined by the virtues that follow. He writes, “In both of Paul’s qualification lists, he places the qualification ‘the husband of one wife’ immediately after ‘above reproach.’ So the first and foremost area in which an elder must be above reproach is in his marital and sexual life. … The phrase ‘the husband of one wife’ is meant to be a positive statement that expresses faithful, monogamous marriage. In English we would say, ‘faithful and true to one woman’ or ‘a one-woman man.’” Philip Ryken says Paul “wants the leaders of the church to be living examples of biblical marriage: one man and one woman in a love covenant for life.”

Just as an elder is to be an example of sexual integrity, so the call goes out to all Christians to “abstain from sexual immorality” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). This is true whether the Christian is married or single, male or female. Paul commands the whole congregation in Corinth to “flee from sexual immorality” and warns “every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18). Writing to the gathered church in Ephesus, Paul sets the standard so high as to demand, “Sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints” (Ephesians 5:3). If you are “sexually immoral or impure,” he says, you have “no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:5). Writing again to an entire congregation, Paul calls such sexual immorality one of “the works of the flesh” (Galatians 5:19).

Of course, as with all of these qualifications, we will not exemplify them perfectly so must always return to the good news of salvation and sanctification through Jesus Christ. Paul also says that even though some in the congregation had been “sexually immoral” and therefore had no inheritance in the kingdom of God, he goes on to rejoice, “And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). He reminds them that their sexual sin is related to the old man and its evil ways, not the new man and its righteous ways. Still, the call to sexual purity is among the most prominent and repeated commands in the New Testament.

Thus this qualification is a call to devotion—devotion first to God and then to a God-given spouse. It is a call away from adultery to be sure, but also from a wandering heart, wandering eyes, or wandering hands. It is a call on each one of us to be pure and chaste, to be exemplary in character and conduct whether in marriage or singleness. It is a call for the married to pursue and enjoy the sexual relationship with their spouse and a call for the unmarried to willingly submit their sexuality to the will and the care of their loving God.

Self-Evaluation

To strengthen your fight against sexual immorality and your striving toward sexual purity, I encourage you to evaluate yourself in light of questions like these:

  • Even though you are imperfect, can you stand before the Lord and honestly say, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23-24)?
  • Are there any sexual sins you have committed that you need to confess and repent of? Are there any sins you have been hiding that you need to expose? (Psalm 32:3-7)
  • Are there certain settings or contexts where you are especially prone to sexual failure? What precautions have you taken to avoid these settings? Are there radical actions that you still need to take? (Matthew 5:27-30)
  • Does your marriage serve as an example of God’s design and ideal for marriage? Are you in love with your spouse? Do you regularly pursue sexual union with your spouse? (1 Corinthians 7:3-5)
  • Do you regularly indulge in entertainment that displays explicit nudity or sexuality or that debases God’s design and purpose for sexuality? Or do you willingly abstain from every form of evil and refuse to make light of it? (1 Thessalonians 5:22; Ephesians 5:3)

Prayer Points

If we are to gain sexual purity, to maintain it, and to increase in it we must pray. Let me encourage you to pray in these ways:

  • I pray that you would give me the desire and the wisdom to guard my heart from all forms of sexual immorality. I pray that I would be quick to confess and turn from all known sexual sin. [Consider praying through Proverbs 6:23-35.]
  • Men: I pray that I would regard older women as mothers and younger women as sisters, in all purity. (1 Timothy 5:1-2)
  • Women: I pray that I would regard older men as fathers and younger men as brothers, in all purity. (1 Timothy 5:1-2)
  • I pray that you would purify my heart so that the sin of adultery—expressed even in lustful thoughts and glances—would lose all of its power over me. (Matthew 5:27-30) Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)
  • I pray that I would not become despondent when I sin. Please let me take comfort in the knowledge that when I confess my sins, you are faithful and just to forgive me my sins and to cleanse me from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

Next week we will bundle together three qualifications: “sober-minded, self-controlled, and respectable.”

Coming Soon: Visual Theology the Book
January 26, 2016

We live in a visual culture. Today, people increasingly rely upon visuals to help them understand new and difficult concepts. The rise and popularity of the Internet infographic has given us a new way to convey data, concepts, and ideas. But the visual portrayal of truth is not a novel idea. God himself used visuals to teach truth to his people. If you have ever considered the different elements within the Old Testament tabernacle or temple you know that each element was a visual representation of a greater truth. The sacrificial system and later the cross were also meant to be visual—visual theology.

I love to teach, I love beautiful graphics, and I have a deep desire to convey the concepts and principles of theology in a fresh, interesting, and informative way. So does Josh Byers who you already know as the artist behind the series of Visual Theology infographics we have been bringing your way. And today we’ve got an exciting announcement.

Josh and I teamed up to write Visual Theology: Seeing and Understanding the Truth About God. Zondervan will release the book in April, but today it is available for pre-order. The book is big, glossy, and stuffed full of really neat illustrations.

Pre-Order

Visual Theology Book
In this book, we have made the deepest truths of the Bible accessible in a way that can be seen and understood by a visual generation. We have prepared what we see as a theology of the Christian life, a book that explains the “now what?” of living as a Christian. It is ideal for the new or seasoned believer.

If you pre-order the book at any retailer, we are going to send you some gifts: A free high-resolution download of an exclusive Visual Theology Print as well as some exclusive Visual Theology wallpapers for your desktop and mobile devices. All you need to do is order the book and forward your receipt to preorder@visualtheology.church. (See our pre-order page for details.)

Wayne Grudem was kind enough to pen 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

If you order the book now, you will receive your bonus gifts right away. The book itself will arrive in April. And around that time you will begin to see lots of other great Visual Theology material, including even more posters and infographics.

Visual Theology
Visual Theology
Visual Theology

Pre-Order

When the Mormons Come Calling
January 25, 2016

We live just down the road from a large Mormon congregation—or a large church building, at any rate. Not surprisingly, we receive regular visits from the missionaries dispatched to woo and win our neighborhood. Though the individuals vary each time, the pattern is consistent: Two clean-cut Caucasian young men with American accents, friendly and engaging, are eager to persuade us to accept a Book of Mormon and to ask God to give us the inner testimony that it is his true revelation.

These missionaries have a way of showing up at bad times, but I still try to spend a few minutes talking with them. I like to ask where they are from and how long they have been going door-to-door. I like to ask if they miss their families since I know they are assigned to cities far from their own. I like to ask how they know that they are in God’s good graces. There has never been a time when they were impolite or short with me.

These Mormon missionaries always look happy and confident. They are sure they have compelling answers to life’s deepest and most urgent questions—the source of ultimate truth, the identity of God, the purpose of life, the answer to what lies beyond the grave. They look happy and confident, but I know better. I know they are miserable. They are miserable because they are being sent on a spiritually-bankrupt one-year mission to fulfill a man-made law. This cannot generate true joy. They are miserable because they need to adhere to an unbiblical standard of righteousness. This diminishes joy or destroys it altogether. Ultimately, they are miserable because they believe and teach a counterfeit gospel, have not put their faith in Jesus Christ, have not been restored to relationship with the Father, and have not been indwelled by the Holy Spirit. I know they are miserable. How could they be otherwise?

So this is my strategy when the Mormons visit: Preach the gospel. The gospel, after all, is the source of true joy. This is the same strategy I employ when the far-less-polite and far-more-aggressive Jehovah’s Witnesses come knocking. I may try to use the Bible to show where their beliefs are wrong. I may try to explain how the Bible cannot be just another form of God’s revelation, but that it must either be all or nothing, supreme or utterly futile. I may try to convince a Jehovah’s Witness that Jesus is not the first and greatest creation of God, but the second person of the divine Trinity with all the attributes of God. Those are all good things to do. But I wouldn’t want to say any of these things if I didn’t also preach the gospel of grace alone through faith alone by Christ alone.

There are many strategies for engaging with Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons and members of other cults. Many of these strategies are wise and helpful. But you have to be careful with them—you can win the argument even while you lose the opportunity. You can win the argument about the authority of the Bible but still lose the opportunity to share the gospel. Ultimately, we don’t want to persuade them of their faulty theology, but to have the Spirit persuade them of their faulty gospel. This will happen only when we tell them the true gospel, the saving gospel, the gospel of grace. We can have utter confidence in this strategy because the gospel is the power of God for salvation. The gospel—the true gospel—is infinitely better and stronger than what they offer. They offer salvation by works, but God offers salvation by grace. This is the difference between heaven and hell.

So when Mormons came to my door the other day I said, “I will gladly listen to you for a while as long as you promise to listen to me.” They said they would return on Saturday. I will listen to them. Then I will tell them the gospel and explain why this gospel is such good news—far better news than what they are offering. And already I’m praying that it would take root.