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Christian Living

May 25, 2012

Gospel-centeredness is all the rage today. We want the gospel at the center of our lives, our churches, our families. I love it. Gospel-centeredness is simply a new phrase that expresses the age-old practice of recounting the gospel and living all of life in light of what Christ has done. The fact is that the gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection is relevant to every part of life. When we say that we are gospel-centered, this is all we mean—that we are committed to continually bringing the gospel to our minds, so it can be brought to our hearts, so it can be brought to our lives.

I awoke this morning pondering one component of the gospel: the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. In his death Christ atoned for my sin and after he rose from the dead and ascended to heaven, he sent his Spirit—the Holy Spirit—to live within me. There is a powerful, life-altering consequence: I have been freed from the power of sin. It is stunning to consider that I never need to sin. I never have an excuse to sin. Now that I have the Holy Spirit dwelling within me, there is no power in all the universe so strong that it can force me to sin. Satan may parade temptation in front of me, people around me may demand that I sin, but none of them can compel me.

If I sin today—when I sin today—it is not because I had to or because anyone forced me to, but only because I chose to. The sins I commit between the moment I pen these words and the time I fall asleep will be nothing less than acts of willful rebellion against God. They are not mistakes, they are not blunders, they are not nothing; they are acts of rebellion against my Creator and King.

It is so helpful to know that, to admit that, to own that. When I own it, I can confess it. When I confess it, I can bring to mind the gospel, which brings to my heart the gospel, which transforms my life, which brings glory to God.

I’ve often returned to Jerry Bridge’s description of how he goes about the practice of preaching the gospel to himself. It is just one way of reminding himself of truth, of reminding himself of who he is in Christ. It never loses its power, because it is the power of God. Here is how he does this:

Since the gospel is only for sinners, I begin each day with the realization that despite my being a saint, I still sin every day in thought, word, deed, and motive. If I am aware of any subtle, or not so subtle, sins in my life, I acknowledge those to God. Even if my conscience is not indicting me for conscious sins, I still acknowledge to God that I have not even come close to loving Him with all my being or loving my neighbor as myself. I repent of those sins, and then I apply specific Scriptures that assure me of God’s forgiveness to those sins I have just confessed.

I then generalize the Scripture’s promises of God’s forgiveness to all my life and say to God words to the effect that my only hope of a right standing with Him that day is Jesus’ blood shed for my sins, and His righteous life lived on my behalf. This reliance on the twofold work of Christ for me is beautifully captured by Edward Mote in his hymn “The Solid Rock” with his words, “My hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.” Almost every day, I find myself going to those words in addition to reflecting on the promises of forgiveness in the Bible.

What Scriptures do I use to preach the gospel to myself? Here are just a few I choose from each day:
As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (Psalm 103:12)

“I, I am he who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.” (Isaiah 43:25)

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (Isaiah 53:6)

Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin. (Romans 4:7-8)

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)

There are many others, including Psalm 130:3-4; Isaiah 1:18; Isaiah 38:17; Micah 7:19; Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 2:13-14; Hebrews 8:12; and 10:17-18.

Whatever Scriptures we use to assure us of God’s forgiveness, we must realize that whether the passage explicitly states it or not, the only basis for God’s forgiveness is the blood of Christ shed on the cross for us. As the writer of Hebrews said, “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (9:22), and the context makes it clear that it is Christ’s blood that provides the objective basis on which God forgives our sins.

May 21, 2012

We are quite the competitive bunch, we humans, and really, given the opportunity, there isn’t much that we won’t or can’t turn into some kind of a competition. I don’t know if this is innate in our humanity or something bequeathed to us in the Fall into sin, but what is certain is its certainty—we just plain love to compete with one another. Or maybe it’s better to say that we hate to compete, but we do it anyway.

One of the greatest, most common, and most bloodthirsty contemporary competitions is motherhood. Yes, motherhood. It may be that motherhood has always been competitive, but the Internet in general, and social media in particular, have widened the field. You are no longer competing against only neighbors and sisters-in-law and fellow church members, but the professional moms, the ones who are reinventing motherhood. It’s always a losing battle.

Today you open up Facebook or blogs and you see daily updates from the moms who lead the way, who set the standards. They keep the house spotless every day, even while homeschooling six kids. They never miss a day of devotions and love every minute of working their way through Jonathan Edwards and John Owen. They go thrifting and put together a magazine-worthy home on a budget of very nearly nothing. They dress beautifully or eclectically or whatever their style is, without spending any money. Their husbands are that perfect combination of handsome and harmless, good-looking but not demanding. Their children are mischievous but not rebellious, they make funny messes in the home, but nothing that can’t be fixed with a hug and a few homemade chocolate chip cookies.

Of course these moms also chart and photograph every one of their triumphs. Julian says it well:

And whatever you do, if you are a good mom, you must make sure you get it all on camera so you can post the pictures on Facebook and the ideas on Pinterest to let everyone know you’re keeping up. Plus, you should probably earn some income (at the very least, open an Etsy shop) to prove you’re not inferior to the women around you who hold down jobs.

Most moms consider themselves to be in the little leagues, just barely learning the rules of the game, but through the Internet they’re now directly comparing themselves to the big leaguers. Not surprisingly, they find themselves falling woefully short.

May 16, 2012

In wisdom and love God does not leave his people to live this life alone, but rather calls us into community. One of the sad inevitabilities of living in community is that we will sin against one another. The invitation to Christian community is an invitation to be tested by other people’s sin and weakness.

There are many ways to react badly when sinned against by another Christian. Some of us tend to react with sulking and feeling sorry for ourselves. Some go big and blow up while others give in to the slow, brooding kind of anger. Some just walk away. There are as many ways to react badly to sin as there are ways to sin against one another. There are not nearly as many ways to react well to being sinned against. The Bible gives us two: lovingly overlook that sin or lovingly address that sin. The question is, when are we to overlook and when are we to address?

The well-known eighteenth chapter of Matthew provides a detailed roadmap for addressing sin, but before a person follows that route, he first needs to determine whether or not this is the kind of sin he can simply overlook. Overlooking a sin is held high in Scripture. Proverbs 19:11  says “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” Proverbs 12:16 says that “the prudent ignores an insult” and on the other side of the cross, in 1 Peter 4:8, we are commanded, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.”

Love covers a multitude of sins, but love does not always cover a multitude of sins. There are situations in which the most loving action is to address a sin, to make known to the other person that you have been offended by his words or deeds, and to give him the opportunity to repent and seek forgiveness.

Here is how you can go about determining whether this is an offense you should overlook, or an offense you should address.

May 10, 2012

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a short series of articles on The Lost Sin of Envy, saying that envy is a sin that few of us still have a category for and, therefore, a sin that many of us have unwittingly fallen prey to. As I studied envy, I saw mounting evidence of it in my life and as I shared what I had learned, I guess quite a few of you saw its presence in yourself as well. It’s strange how sin can sit like that, hidden in plain sight.

The heart of envy is the feeling that comes over a person when he sees another person’s success or advantage. When I see a person succeeding in an area where I long to be admired and acknowledged, that person’s success somehow calls me into question. His success makes me feel like a failure; the love people have for him makes me feel hated. Eventually the feeling begins to take action, usually in grumbling against God and in gossiping against the person. Eventually, of course, it proceeds into deeper and darker territory.

Through my study of envy I came to see that I am prone to this sin and that I will need to be constantly vigilant against it. While writing those articles brought me face-to-face with the sin, it certainly did not destroy its power in my life. Envy remains, and I continue to fight against it.

Those articles generated a lot of discussion, including one between myself and some of the men of my church. As we discussed envy I found myself challenged by a thought which became a prayer. It was something like this: Do not allow me success that exceeds my sanctification. In retrospect it sounds a little bit odd, but what I came to see is that I may well lack the character to handle a great wave of success. In any area of life or vocation in which I am prone to envy, an area that will be all tangled up in my pride, great success might just crush me. And so I ask God, please don’t give me success that exceeds my sanctification.

I guess this thought come out of the knowledge that envy calls me to lose faith in God’s goodness and sovereignty, and to deny that God expresses his goodness through his sovereignty. My envy is a declaration that I believe that I can be a better god than God, and that if God is truly good and wise, he will give me the success or the advantage that he has given someone else. There is a very dark and anti-God element to all envy.

May 07, 2012

This is my once-monthly post on the Puritan John Owen. In this series of posts I am sharing some of what John Owen says about putting sin to death, or what he calls mortification. I have been going through his book Overcoming Sin and Temptation and trying to distill each chapter to its essence—to a few choice quotes that capture the flavor of what Owen is trying to communicate.

So far we’ve looked at The Foundation of Mortification, we’ve been encouraged to Daily Put Sin to Death, to understand that It Is the Holy Spirit Who Puts Sin to Death and to acknowledge that Your Spiritual Life Depends Upon Killing Sin. Then we saw What It Is Not to Put Sin to Death and What It Is to Put Sin to Death. He now moves on to the actual directions for how to put sin to death; first he deals with a couple of foundational issues and then with dangerous sin symptoms.

Today he moves to the first of his practical instructions on putting sin to death and the first action you need to take when you identify a sin in your life. It is this: You need to ponder the guilt, the danger and the evil of that sin and let it rest in both your mind and heart. Or as he says it, “Get a clear and abiding sense upon your mind and conscience of the guilt, danger, and evil of your sin.” He will discuss each of these three things in turn.

The Guilt of It

First, you need to consider the guilt of your sin. Your sin will try to convince you that it isn’t very serious and that it is not worth worrying about. “It is one of the deceits of a prevailing lust to extenuate its own guilt. ‘Is it not a little one? Though this be bad, yet it is not so bad as such and such an evil; others of the people of God have had such a frame; yea, what dreadful actual sins have some of them fallen into!’ Innumerable ways there are whereby sin diverts the mind from a right and due apprehension of its guilt. … This is the proper issue of lust in the heart—it darkens the mind that it shall not judge aright of its own guilt.”

There is more. The Christian who sins needs to be aware that he does so in spite of God’s grace in his life. Reflecting on Romans 6:1-2 Owen says, “How shall we do it, who, as he afterward describes it, have received grace from Christ to the contrary? We, doubtless, are more evil than any, if we do it.”

May 02, 2012

Today I want to wrap up my short series on the sin of Envy. Yesterday I looked at How Envy Behaves and this morning I want to show what Envy wants from you and then to give some instruction on putting him to death. There are at least four things Envy wants from you.

Envy Wants to Destroy Your Joy

Envy is unique among the sins in that you never, ever enjoy it. Envy never brings any satisfaction. If you commit the sin of adultery, you enjoy the fleeting pleasures of the flesh; if you commit the sin of gluttony you get to enjoy the taste of food while it slides down your throat. These are very fleeting and fleshly pleasures, but they are pleasures still. Envy only, ever makes you more miserable than you were before.

Envy also bring misery by making you unwilling or even unable to confess the sin. He cuts so deep, he exposes so much of what you really want that confessing that he exists requires a true baring of the deepest, darkest recesses of the soul. You may not know just how ugly and dark your sin is until you look into your soul and see Envy and then go digging around to try to get him out of there, to find the source and to uproot it.

When I am walking with Envy and allowing him to influence me, I cannot enjoy anything in itself because I only see what I have and what I am in comparison to someone else. I am not popular, I am less popular than he is. I don’t sell books, I sell fewer books than he does. In every case, I can never be joyful, because everything the other person has calls me into question.

Proverbs says that Envy is rottenness to the bones (14:30). Envy makes you sick with grief and dissatisfaction, rotting you from the inside out.

Envy Wants to Destroy Your Love

Envy is anti-love. 1 Corinthians 13 says it plainly: “Love does not envy.” Why? Because love cannot envy. They cannot co-exist. You cannot be envious and loving at the same time toward the same person and this means that you have the choice before you: will I love this person or will I be envious toward him? To love is to rejoice in who he is and in what he has been given. To be envious is to hate who he is and to want to watch him lose what he has been given.

May 01, 2012

Yesterday I began to write about what I called The Lost Sin of Envy. I gave a short history of Envy and then shared some of what the Bible says about him. Today I want to show how he behaves and how you can expect him to work himself out in your life.

Envy Competes

Who is Envy? What does Envy do? How do we define Envy? Something like this: Envy makes you feel resentment or anger or sadness because another person has something or another person is something that you want for yourself. Envy makes you aware that another person has some advantage, some good thing, that you want for yourself and, while he’s at it, he makes you want that other person not to have it.

This means that there are at least three evil components to Envy: the deep discontent that comes when you see that another person has what you want; the desire to have it for yourself; and the desire for it to be taken from him.

It’s crucial to understand that Envy flows out of Pride. (A commenter said it well: “In my wretched experience pride has always been envy’s father…”) Pride says, “This is what I deserve” or “Let me boast about all I have” or “I am better than you in all of these ways.” Have you ever thought about the fact that pride always compares? C.S. Lewis says, “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others.” When you are proud you compare yourself with another person and there are only two possible outcomes: If you believe you come out on top, you feel even more pride; if you believe you come out on the bottom, you feel envy. Envy comes when Pride is wounded.

Envy does something very strange and ugly. When I look at your success or your money or your joy, that good thing makes me feel bad. It somehow calls me into question, it taunts me, it makes me doubt myself, it even makes me doubt God. When I see your success, it makes me think less of myself. It calls into question all that I am, all that I’ve done, all that I’ve accomplished, all that I’ve worked for. It becomes an issue of my own identity. Your success screams that I have failed.

April 30, 2012

A little while ago God did what he sometimes does and rather suddenly made it very clear to me that I had a sin in my life—a prominent sin—that had somehow been hidden to me. It surprised just how prevalent this sin was, how ugly, and how little I knew about it. Once I saw it and once I tried to understand it, I came to see that it may well be a sin you struggle with as well. It is one of those sins we talk about very little and one of those sins that has wormed its way into our culture and into the church. It may just be a lost sin, a sin we’ve forgotten about. Many of us don’t even have a clear category for it anymore. Ancient writers and theologians talked about it a lot, even suggesting that it was the second most serious and second most prevalent of all the sins, and yet today it has almost disappeared from our vocabulary or it has been confused with related sins like jealousy or covetousness. That sin is Envy.

Proverbs says that whoever walks with the wise will be wise, but a companion of fools will suffer harm (13:20). What I found out is that Envy has been a friend of mine for a long, long time. I just didn’t realize it until recently. He has infected me with his foolishness. Let me tell you how he’s worked in my life.

Nine years ago I slapped together a little web site so I could share a couple of articles with my parents. The Lord took that site and has done something amazing so that today tens of thousands of people read it every day. Not only that, but I have been able to write books and I have been able to travel all around to teach and preach and so much more. You might think that I would be just thrilled with all that has happened and certainly I should be. And yet I came to see that this really was not the case. Instead I was growing resentful, I was envious of what I didn’t have and of what God hadn’t given me. I came to see that I had made friends with Envy. 

For the next couple of days I want to write about Envy, sharing some of what I’ve learned about it, about him. I want you to be able to know Envy when you see him because maybe, just maybe, you’ve become friends with him as well.

Today I want to introduce to you Envy in two ways—first by giving you a look at his list of accomplishments and then by telling you what God says about him.

April 23, 2012

When a new technology explodes on the scene, there is always a period of time in which society negotiates the rules that will surround it. When the telephone first gained popularity it took time to learn what would be considered the polite way of answering it. Alexander Graham Bell suggested “Ahoy!” Others tried, “Who’s there?” Those would be considered rude or ridiculous today, but that is only because society successfully negotiated “Hello?” as the preferred greeting. In years to come we will negotiate the polite way of using a mobile phone (Is it rude or acceptable to use it on a crowded train?). What is considered rude today may become normal; what is considered normal may become rude. We won’t know until it happens.

Electronic devices are quickly becoming the new norm in church. Almost three years ago I said Don’t Bring Your iPod to Church, but today that rebuke seems almost quaint. Just a few years later it is not at all unusual to see all kinds of iPods and iPhones and iPads and iEverythingElse being used in place of a printed Bible. That’s not necessarily a good or a bad thing; it’s just reality. As times goes on, printed Bibles will likely fade into history.

But what about using that same device to do more than read the Bible? What about using it to take notes? And what about sending out Twitter or Facebook updates during the sermon? This is something we often experience at conferences or political events. While people sit and listen to the speaker, they grab ahold of memorable phrases, type them down, and send them out to the world via social media. Is it a good idea to tweet during a sermon?

Let’s get this out of the way: Tweeting during a sermon is not sinful, at least not in the abstract (though certainly your motives could make it sinful). The Bible does not forbid it. However, even though it falls within the realm of Christian freedom, this does not necessarily make it wise or helpful. In fact, I’ll just go ahead and lay my cards on the table and say that I am convinced that it is neither wise nor helpful, either to you or to the people around you. At least for now, I would suggest that you refrain. Here are five good reasons:

April 16, 2012

This is my once-monthly post on the Puritan John Owen. In this series of posts I am sharing some of what John Owen says about putting sin to death, or what he calls mortification. I have been going through John Owen’s book Overcoming Sin and Temptation and trying to distill each chapter to its essence—to a few choice quotes that capture the flavor of what Owen is trying to communicate.

So far we’ve looked at The Foundation of Mortification, we’ve been encouraged to Daily Put Sin to Death, to understand that It Is the Holy Spirit Who Puts Sin to Death and to acknowledge that Your Spiritual Life Depends Upon Killing Sin. Then we saw What It Is Not to Put Sin to Death and What It Is to Put Sin to Death. He now moves on to the actual directions for how to put sin to death; first he deals with a couple of foundational issues (that was last month) and now he moves to specific directions.

The first thing to do when seeking to put a sin to death is this:

Consider Whether Your Lust Has These Dangerous Symptoms Accompanying It

He goes on to list several of those dangerous symptoms.

Inveterateness (hardened or deep-rooted). Here is what he says: “If it has lain long corrupting in your heart, if you have suffered it to abide in power and prevalency, without attempting vigorously the killing of it and the healing of the wounds you have received by it for some long season, your distemper is dangerous. … When a lust has lain long in the heart, corrupting, festering, cankering, it brings the soul to a woeful condition. In such a case an ordinary course of humiliation will not do the work: whatever it be, it will by this means insinuate itself more or less into all the faculties of the soul, and habituate the affections to its company and society; it grows familiar to the mind and conscience, that they do not startle at it as a strange thing, but are bold with it as that which they are wonted unto.”

Secret pleas of the heart for the countenancing of itself without a vigorous gospel attempt for its mortification. He offers two ways in which this may happen:

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