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Christian Living

February 06, 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. Last month we saw What It Is Not to Put Sin to Death. Today we look to the flip-side of last month’s teaching and see what it is to put sin to death.

Here are the three things Owen teaches…

Mortification Consists of a Habitual Weakening of Sin

Though this quote serves as introduction rather than the main point, I thought it was too good not to share:

The reason why a natural man is not always perpetually in the pursuit of some one lust, night and day, is because he has many to serve, every one crying to be satisfied; thence he is carried on with great variety, but still in general he lies toward the satisfaction of self.

Owen is a straight-shooter! He says that the only reason you are not absolutely consumed with any one sin is that you have many other sins to serve. And then he goes on to share the first thing you need to know about putting sin to death.

The first thing in mortification is the weakening of this habit of sin or lust, that it shall not, with that violence, earnestness, frequency, rise up, conceive, tumultuate, provoke, entice, disquiet as naturally as it is apt to do.

The first thing to observe as you begin to put sin to death is that sin becomes progressively weaker so that over time it does not rise up with the same violence, frequency or force. This means that success against sin is not only in destroying it entirely, but in weakening its grasp on us.

February 02, 2012

Do you remember when you used to have a memory? Do you remember when you could actually remember stuff and when you actually needed to remember stuff? You know, stuff like phone numbers or recipes or Bible verses. Those days seem to be nearing an end. An interesting new study from psychology professors at Columbia University, the University Of Wisconsin-Madison, and Harvard University comes to this rather startling conclusion: “We are becoming symbiotic with our computer tools.” It’s not just that we are no longer remembering things, but we are entrusting to our tools the things we used to entrust to ourselves. In this way we are becoming symbiotic with our tools, with our machines, forming an interdependent kind of relationship.

It is the ease with which we access information through the Internet that has gotten us here. The days of solving our questions by going to the library, searching the index system and looking for the book in the midst of all the shelves are long since gone. The days of walking over the bookcase and pulling out the relevant volume of the encyclopedia are gone as well. Instead, we now head straight to our computers or cell phones or iPads—whatever it is that we use to connect to the Internet.

The advent of the Internet, with sophisticated algorithmic search engines, has made accessing information as easy as lifting a finger. No longer do we have to make costly efforts to find the things we want. We can “Google” the old classmate, find articles online, or look up the actor who was on the tip of our tongue. The results of four studies suggest that when faced with difficult questions, people are primed to think about computers and that when people expect to have future access to information, they have lower rates of recall of the information itself and enhanced recall instead for where to access it. The Internet has become a primary form of external or transactive memory, where information is stored collectively outside ourselves.

Just like people used to think “book” when they wanted information, we now think “computer” and “Google.” With information so easily accessible and so bountiful, we have less reason than ever to invest the time and effort necessary to move that information into our minds—to fully internalize it. Instead we trust that the Internet will retain it and we value only the ability to know where to find it. The more convinced we are that the information will always be available to us online, the less likely we are to memorize it. Instead we just remember where we can access it when we need it again.

February 01, 2012

Last week I shared three articles titled A Picture-Perfect Marriage. That short series looked to Ephesians 5 and the great mystery that is marriage. I showed from that text that marriage is, and always has been, a portrait of Christ and his church. But at the end of it all I was left with a question: What is the role of the sexual relationship in this great mystery? I had to take a shot at answering that question at a recent conference and want to share today how I understand it.

We have established that marriage is a portrait of Christ and the church and that both husband and wife have a part to play in this portrait. The wife completes her part when she joyfully submits to the leadership of her husband and the husband completes his part when he joyfully and lovingly gives himself up for his wife. But how does the sexual relationship fit into God’s good design for marriage? I will admit from the outset that the answer isn’t quite as clear in Scripture as I might have expected, but I will give it a try and eagerly await your feedback.

God’s Good Design

It ought to go without saying that the Bible knows no good in sex outside of the marriage relationship. In love God says that within marriage sex is to be enjoyed and to be enjoyed freely and regularly; in love God says that outside marriage, sex of any kind is strictly forbidden. Why? Because God designed sex for a specific purpose and that purpose can only be expressed within marriage. Any other expression of sexuality, whether that is adultery or fornication or any kind of self-centered sex—all of these things ignore God’s design for sex and reinterprets it according to our sinful designs.

To understand why God says that sex is to exist only within marriage, we need to look at the covenantal nature of the marriage relationship. Marriage is a covenant that a husband and wife enter into, a covenant in which they come together before God and before other people and are made one. It is not the rings or the white dress or even the sexual union that makes marriage, but the covenant (which is why, in older times, betrothal was considered as unbreakable as marriage). While husband and wife obviously remain two individuals, two independent life forms, there is now a sense in which God regards them as one entity. Each is now responsible to the other and joined to the other to such an extent that in some mysterious way God now views them as being one. In Ephesians 5 Paul goes all the way back to Genesis 2 and reminds the reader that “a man shall leave his mother and father and be joined to his wife and the two shall be one flesh.”

January 30, 2012

Today is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Francis Schaeffer. Though I never met the man and though I haven’t read more than small pieces of his books, I owe a great debt of gratitude to him. Schaeffer shaped me by first shaping my parents. To mark this date I asked my parents if they would tell how Francis Schaeffer saved their saved souls.

(This afternoon you’ll have a chance to win The Complete Works of Francis Schaeffer)


Francis SchaefferFrancis Schaeffer did not save my soul. But he did save my saved soul. Let me explain.

My husband, John, and I became Christians in 1972. Neither one of us has had a moment’s doubt about the truth claims of Scripture since that time. But those first years were very difficult, nonetheless, both doctrinally and emotionally. Why?

We became Christians through Pentecostals, as do so many. They were fine people—loving, supportive, passionate in their faith. But, their theological flaws quickly exhausted us to the point we could not see our way forward in Christian life. What were these flaws? The most important was their two-tier approach to knowing God. The Bible was considered an important means to knowledge of God, undoubtedly. But, the superior way, just as undoubtedly, was to know God “directly”. Not through the medium of Scripture but im-mediately, mystically, through the revelations and experiences of tongues and prophecies. Sounds good in one sense, doesn’t it? But, as I said above, in practice, how exhausting! God’s ways and thoughts had to be known day by day rather than once and for all. In no time, we were two worn out little pilgrims. I remember saying to John, “There is no more security in Christian life than there is in non-Christian living.”

And then a wonderful friend told us about Francis Schaeffer. At the first possible opportunity, on our honeymoon to be exact!, we stopped by Swiss L’Abri. We read all of Schaeffer’s books. We spent a summer at English L’Abri.  And, four years later, we took our then-family of two boys—Andrew and baby challies.com (aka Tim)—back to English L’Abri for an entire year.

January 25, 2012

Over the past two days I have been writing about Ephesians 5 and the great mystery of marriage—that in some way marriage is a portrait, a reflection, of the relationship of Christ to his church. In the first article I introduced this metaphor and in the second I spoke about how the wife completes her part of the picture.

Paul now speaks to husbands and here is what he says (in Ephesians 5:25:32): Husbands, you make your marriage an accurate portrait of the real marriage when you give up your life to your wife. You have the unique task of displaying the gospel in your willing, joyful, loving leadership of your wife. In this relationship that is meant to be a portrait of the relationship of Christ to the church, the husband is called to be an accurate portrait of Christ. Husbands, you are to be toward your wife as Christ is toward his church. That is a little bit abstract so let’s see how it takes shape by asking three questions: What, how and why?

What?

What is a husband to do to? Husband, love your wife and give yourself up for her. Notice that Paul does not exactly parallel what he has said to wives. He does not immediately command you to be the head of your wife. He has told your wife to submit to your leadership, but he doesn’t begin by saying, “Husbands, lead!” Instead, he tells you to be filled with love for your wife. You are to lead in love, to give yourself up. This is not love as we may think of it in our culture—love as an emotion or love as something that is purely physical. True love is an act of will. It requires action. You are not commanded to be romantically warm and fuzzy with your wife, though hopefully you have that too, but you are told to act in love toward her. 

The model for your love is Christ’s love for his people. How did Christ love his people? How much did he love his bride? He loved in action, not just in words or feelings. He gave himself up for her. He gave up his life. Christ gave himself up, he did not get given up. He was active and deliberate. Christ may still have shown love for us if he went to the cross kicking and screaming and protesting his innocence and begging to be let go. But how much more is his love displayed in his willing sacrifice, in going to the cross of his own volition. You display your love for your wife when you willingly, joyfully give yourself up for her.

January 24, 2012

Yesterday I began a short series called A Picture-Perfect Marriage. This is my attempt to study what Paul says about the marriage relationship being a picture, a portrait of Christ and the church. Having laid that foundation, I now want to look at how the wife fulfills her part of that portrait.

Here is what Paul says to wives: You make your marriage an accurate portrait of the real marriage when you willingly submit to your husband’s leadership. You have the unique task of displaying the gospel in your willing submission to your husband. Here is the text I am drawing on:

Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. (Ephesians 5:22-24)

In this relationship that serves as a portrait of Christ and the church, it is the wife who is called to be an accurate portrait of the church—at least an accurate portrait of what the church is called to be. Wives, this is your calling from God. It is your duty and your privilege. As you relate to your husband, you are to be toward him as the church is toward Christ. That is a little bit abstract so let’s see how it takes shape by asking three questions: What, how and why?

What?

First, the what question: What are you to do to complete your part in this portrait? The answer is, You are to submit to your own husband in everything.

Paul says, “Wives, submit to your own husband.” Let’s not miss your own. A woman is not to submit to every man, as some people may teach, but to her own husband. The Lord has determined that there should be a leadership structure within marriage but this does not mean that women are to submit to men in general. The head of the church is Christ and the church is to submit to him; the head of a wife is her husband and she is to submit to him.

She is to to submit in everything. That is an intimidating statement and we need to deal with that word everything. We need to be careful that we don’t make it mean more than it says. If you want to be ridiculous you could say that I could now order my wife to jump off the Golden Gate Bridge and she would have to obey me. But of course we know that a wife is to submit to a higher authority before a lesser one. The whole idea of a hierarchy of authority is that there are levels of authority; if a lesser authority tells you to disobey a higher authority, your submission needs to be to the higher authority. So let’s not make in everything more than it says.

Yet let’s not make it mean less than it says either. It is an all-encompassing phrase which means that you really are to obey your husband in everything that isn’t directly contradictory to what a higher authority says. You are not free to follow his leadership or ignore it as you see fit. Really, the only time you are to refuse to follow your husband’s leadership is when you can come to him with your Bible and say, “Here is where God says that I may not submit to you.” You don’t have to believe in what he says and you don’t have to like what he says, but you do have to follow him. This will not always be easy and yet the Lord calls you to submit to his leadership. This is the role God has given you—a role in which you can beautifully display the gospel. You aren’t submitting to your husband for your own happiness or peace, but to be that display, that portrait.

How?

So that is the what question: you are to submit to your own husband in everything. But how? How is a wife to submit?

January 23, 2012

This morning I am going to begin just a short series of articles on marriage. Having read several books on marriage in the past few months, I found myself really intrigued by what Paul says about the topic in his letter to the Ephesians. I’ve since had the opportunity to study it and wanted to share what I’ve learned along the way.

I am going to cheat a little bit at the start of this series by going to the end of the story before the beginning. There are a couple of members of my family who do this if they are reading a tense or scary novel—they will flip to the end, figure out how things conclude, and then go back and read the middle. Once they know that everything works out well, they can go back and read the rest without getting too wound up. I am going to do that here because any discussion of biblical marriage involves some scary words and ideas like submission and headship and leadership. This makes it very tense for a lot of us, so we’re going to go to the end of the story and see that it all turns out okay. Then we’ll go back to the rest of it.

Here is where we will begin:

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:31,32).

As he comes to the end of his teaching on marriage, Paul springs a giant surprise. He says that marriage is a mystery, that there is a hidden meaning in it and that until now this meaning has been hidden. The surprise is that marriage is a type or a picture or a display. Marriage is meant to be a portrait of something else. To show this he goes to the Old Testament, to the very first marriage of the very first man and woman. Let me give you some context.

The Mystery

God had created Adam and then allowed Adam to live by himself for a time so he could come to this understanding that in all of creation there was not a helper that was suitable to him. All the animals God had created paraded in front of Adam. Adam gave them names but saw that they were all very different from him. It’s not that he was lonely and pining away, but that God had him see that there was nothing or no one who was equal to him, no one who could help him carry out his God-given mandate. Adam had received his mandate from God, that he was to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it. But he knew that he could only do that with the help of something or someone that was like him.

Then God said, “It is not good for this man to be alone.” He caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep and he took one of his ribs and he fashioned a woman from it. He presented this woman to Adam in the first-ever wedding ceremony and the man immediately broke into a song of praise. Now he saw his helper, the one who would complement him and complete him and he sang out:

This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.

And then we read these words: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Now here, thousands of years later in this letter to the church in Ephesus, Paul returns to these words and says this: “This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Just like that, Paul gives a whole new meaning to marriage, a whole new purpose. He says that for all this time the joining of husband and wife in marriage has actually been a mystery, that it has been pointing to something else, something greater. Only now after the death and resurrection of Jesus are we able to see what it has been pointing to. The mystery is that the marriage relationship is a portrait of the relationship of Christ to his church. This relationship is the ultimate marriage, the real marriage.

January 20, 2012

In his answer last week as to whether all jobs have the same intrinsic value, Matt Perman made the distinction between economic value and moral value: Not all jobs have the same economic value because, clearly, some jobs pay more than others. But this doesn’t make some jobs more important than others, because all jobs have the same moral value—that is, we are able to serve God fully and completely in any job (assuming it isn’t unethical by nature).

Matt’s answer spawned a lot of good comments and questions. One in particular brought up a point I wanted to hear Matt talk about a little bit more. In a nutshell, the commenter stated: “In addition to the moral value and economic value for a job, wouldn’t you say there is also a third category that we could call ‘impact value’?” He defined impact value as “the amount of good it does or can do for the kingdom.”

So I asked Matt if he would give us his thoughts on this, and once again he kindly obliged (He’s good that way). His answer:


This is an excellent question and I would say: yes, absolutely. That is a great and important point.

So we really have three categories here: moral value, economic value, and impact value.

January 18, 2012

It has come as kind of a shock to me, now that I am a pastor and preaching on a regular basis, that the vast majority of the sermons I preach will be rather ordinary. I will study hard and pray hard and work hard, I’ll get started early in the week and give it a couple of days to germinate and give it another look-through early on Sunday morning, and at the end of it all I will have a rather ordinary sermon. Not a bad one, but an ordinary one. It certainly won’t be the sermon I had envisioned when I first sat down with my Bible and a cup of hot coffee on Monday morning. In my mind I’ve got these visions of greatness; before me on the pulpit I’ve got this reality of ordinariness.

Last week a friend asked me how my sermon had gone and I said, “Somewhere between being receiving a standing ovation and being pelted with dead cats.” That seems to about capture it, because honestly, I don’t know. It’s not like the people were weeping and throwing themselves to the ground in sorrow and repentance, and it’s not like they all just got up and left. Their response was as ordinary as my sermon—some people expressed gratitude, a couple of people offered correctives or improvements, and the majority said nothing while showing nothing out-of-the-ordinary.

I guess when I had considered preaching I figured I’d be able to knock it out of the park every Sunday—that if I began early enough in the week and gave myself enough time to study I would always be able to put together an amazing sermon, or an above-average one at least. If I just put in the time, I would be able to do something extraordinary and put together something sublime. But even in those weeks that I can dedicate a full 30 or 40 hours to sermon preparation, Sunday rolls around and I find myself wishing for just another week or just another two weeks, to iron out the kinks and get the sermon where I hoped it could be.

This month I am preaching through the second half of Ephesians, a text that really deals with the ordinary Christian life. What does it look like to live a life that has been transformed by this gospel of grace through faith? Paul lays it out in all its ordinariness. It is not a life of doing things that makes all the world take notice and declare your virtues, but a life of quiet, humble service and a long, slow growth in godliness. And yet I still find myself hoping to write extraordinary sermons on being ordinary. Until now I had missed the irony.

January 17, 2012

Yesterday I wrote about Satan’s Great Desire which is to bring about disunity in your local church, somehow convincing you that the people in your church are no longer worthy of your love. I ended by giving the encouragement that God has equipped us to build and maintain this kind of unity and that all we need to do is use the tools he has equipped us with. How has he equipped us? According to Ephesians 4, he has given each of us a spiritual gift that is to be used to build unity through service to one another. 

This area of spiritual gifting is noticeably Christ-centered and along the way Paul makes three big points:

First, Christ is the giver of gifts. Paul goes all the way back to Psalm 68 and shows that this Psalm speaks of the resurrected Jesus giving gifts to the people he loves. These aren’t gifts wrapped in paper that we can open and put on display, but gifts in the form of abilities we possess. Christ doesn’t toss these gifts out to Christians in a random way, but thoughtfully and deliberately gives a gift to each person as he sees fit. Christ has a plan in giving out these gifts. He is the one who determines who will receive each gift and how much of that gift each person and each community of Christians will receive.

Second, Christ gives gifts that are diverse. If we look throughout the whole New Testament we’ll find several lists of these gifts and when we put them together we find that there are at least 20 of them; there are undoubtedly many more than the ones listed. What we see is that Christ gives out diverse gifts. In this letter Paul gives a partial list and one that focuses specifically on teaching. Some Christians are given gifts of teaching and here he lists apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers. The job of these teachers is not to do all the ministry or to use all the gifts, but to shepherd and teach and equip every Christian to use his own gift. These teachers are to equip the saints for the work of ministry. Why? So each one can then use his gift in a fuller, more comprehensive way.

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