Welcome to the online home of Tim Challies, blogger, author, and book reviewer.

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter

Christian Living

October 17, 2011

I find one of the trickiest areas of very practical theology to be knowing the will of God. This is an area that applies to every Christian and it is one for which there is a great deal of disagreement. Some Christians teach that we ought to expect God to provide us with guidance in every area of life, from the most important to the most mundane. Others teach a very different view, that God gives us very general guidance. Some take a middle position.

It’s a valid and pertinent question: What does the Bible tell us about discovering God’s will for our lives? When we talk about knowing God’s will I think the heart of what we’re asking is something like this: How will God guide me today in such a way that I can consciously participate in doing his will? How can I make decisions that allow me to consciously participate in what God wants for me? What would it look like at this time and in this place for me to do God’s will?

Over the next couple of days I want to answer these questions and seek to show what the Bible teaches us about knowing and doing the will of God. Here is how I want to go about this: First I want to show that God is absolutely sovereign; then I want to show that God is speaking today; then I want to show that God is speaking to you today; and finally, I want to show that God is speaking clearly to you today. 

God Is Sovereign

We need to begin with the sovereignty of God. If the Bible teaches anything, it teaches that God is sovereign, by which we mean that God is King, that he is Lord, that nothing happens outside of his knowledge or outside of his will. God is able to do whatever his will is; God will and must do whatever his will is. This means that God is always at work behind the scenes in our world and in our lives. God’s providence directs every event in the universe and every event in my life. God is involved not just in the big picture of this world, but in the nitty-gritty. Nothing is too big or too small or too difficult. In his sovereignty he quietly directs everything that happens in the entire universe. Not a hair falls from my head without him knowing it and in some way willing it. Literally. There is not an atom in all the universe that is outside of God’s direct control.

October 12, 2011

In yesterday’s A La Carte post I included this quote by Matthew Henry: “Christ’s followers cannot expect better treatment in the world than their Master had.” I liked it enough that I later added it to Twitter where it was retweeted many times. Later in the day I found myself thinking about these words a little bit and found them rather convicting. What Henry says is true, of course: those who follow Jesus should not expect to be treated better than he was. This is attested throughout the New Testament and it is displayed in the history of the early church. Those who followed Jesus suffered. Those who followed Jesus most closely suffered most.

But here is what I found convicting: I am treated quite well in the world. Becoming a pastor has been interesting in that it seems to be a position that commands respect. When someone asks what I do and I reply that I am a pastor, most people respond quite positively. Often people immediately want to confess a sin or to confess why they no longer attend church. What has been consistent, though, is that they treat me well. And, really, this has been my lifelong experience as a Christian. I like a good quote about suffering as a Christian as much as anyone, but they ring true theoretically more than experientially.

And all of this makes me wonder, if Henry is right, could it be that the reason we are treated better than Christ is that we are not faithful to bring the same message he brought? Are we faithful to bring it to the lost with the same force and the same motivation? Are we really like him if we are not treated like him?

October 11, 2011

Jacob’s Well. That’s a place and a context I had not thought about too much until I read Richard Phillips’ book Jesus the Evangelist. Based on a series of expositional sermons, this book teaches the principles and practice of witnessing by looking at the model of Jesus in the first four chapters of John.

When he turns to the practice of evangelism, Phillips teaches from the fourth chapter of John which is, of course, the well-known story of the woman at the well. This chapter falls immediately after Jesus’ late-night encounter with Nicodemus and the contrast between the two characters is striking. James Montgomery Boice says:

It is difficult to imagine a greater contrast between two persons than the contrast between the important and sophisticated Nicodemus, this ruler of the Jews, and the simple Samaritan woman. He was a Jew; she was a Samaritan. He was a Pharisee; she belonged to no religious party. He was a politician; she had no status whatever. He was a scholar; she was uneducated. He was highly moral; she was immoral. He had a name; she is nameless. He was a man; she was a woman. He came at night to protect his reputation; she, who had no reputation, came at noon. Nicodemus came seeking; the woman was sought by Jesus.

A great contrast. Yet the point of the stories is that both the man and the woman needed the gospel and were welcome to it. If Nicodemus is an example of the truth that no one can rise so high as to be above salvation, the woman is an example of the truth that none can sink too low.

As Phillips looks at Jesus’ encounter with the woman, he draws out several features of Jesus’ evangelistic approach. The first is caring for the lost. Jesus cared for this woman so much that he made a great detour in his route simply so he could encounter her. He was weary after his journey because he expended himself in journeying to her. “For many of us, the first step in doing evangelism is simply to care enough for the lost to become weary in the gospel.” Phillips says also “Realizing [Jesus’] sacrificial care for your soul ought to inspire you to care for the salvation of people you know and love, that He might send you as His witness to them.” It seems obvious but it still made me pause and think about whether I love other people enough to share the gospel with them, even at the cost of inconvenience to myself. Or is it possible that I love myself more and thus work to protect my dignity, my reputation?

October 10, 2011

Once again, don’t run away from this blog post just because it’s got a bit of a Puritan flavor to it. I mentioned last week that I’ve been running through John Owen’s 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. I recently summarized the first chapter, The Foundation of Mortification. Today I want to share what I learned from the second chapter, which has the rather long and clunky title of “Believers Ought to Make the Mortification of Indwelling Sin Their Daily Work.” I shortened it to “Daily Put Sin to Death.” In this chapter Owen seeks to show that Christians need to work every day to put sin to death (Owen’s word mortification simply means put to death).

Here is how he goes about building his argument. You can see from the headings how he progresses.


“The choicest believers, who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it their business all their days to mortify the indwelling power of sin.”

“Do you mortify?
Do you make it your daily work?
Be always at it while you live.
Cease not a day from this work.
Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

Indwelling Sin Always Lives On

“We have a ‘body of death’ (Rom. 7:24), from whence we are not delivered but by the death of our bodies (Phil. 3:20). Now, it being our duty to mortify, to be killing of sin while it is in us, we must be at work. He that is appointed to kill an enemy, if he leave striking before the other ceases living, does but half his work.”

October 05, 2011

Don’t run away from this blog post just because I’m quoting a Puritan. Yes, Puritans are scary with all their big words and frilly collars, but some of them had remarkable insights into God’s Word and into human hearts. Read on to see an example of that. I am confident that it will be a blessing to you.

Here is the context: Once a month our church has what we call Adult Fellowship. This is a time where we gather as adults and look at a particular topic, working toward application. Over the course of this year we’ll be looking at sanctified sins—sins that we commit but tend to give a pass to. We allow them to be respectable sins. As we do this, I’m offering a brief overview of John Owen’s Overcoming Sin and Temptation. What I am trying to do is take one chapter per month and distill it to its essence, while still allowing Owen to speak in his own words.

I’ve now summarized the first two chapters and, in doing so, have been reminded of just how powerful Owen’s book is. Let me share with you the essence of the first chapter which is titled “The Foundation of Mortification.” Mortification, of course, refers simply to killing or destroying or putting to death. When we mortify a sin, we put it to death by the power of the Holy Spirit. As this is only an opening chapter, it touches just briefly on subjects that will be dealt with in more detail a little bit later on.

Owen bases this chapter on Romans 8:13: “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death [mortify] the deeds of the body, you will live.” He shows that this verse describes a condition, a means, a duty and a promise.

September 21, 2011

A little while ago Stephen Altrogge wrote a small article he titled So You Think You’ve Married the Wrong Person and today I would like to add one thing to the discussion. Stephen’s article addresses an always-pertinent topic. It is a topic that is applicable to married folk who may one day wake up and wonder, Did I marry the wrong person? In fact, I think most married people wonder that at one time or another. It may not be a question filled with true angst and regret, but one that may persist at the back of their mind.

At such times you can find great comfort in this simple reality: I guarantee that you have married the wrong person. We all marry the wrong person. Perhaps I should say it like this: we all marry the “wrong” person. We all marry a person who sins against us, who sometimes exasperates us by helping us worship our idols and at other times irritates us by smashing them to pieces. We all marry a person who has stinky breath and physical blemishes and bad moods. We all marry a person who is apparently incompatible with us on all kinds of levels. To quote Stephen, “The husband is neat, the wife is messy. The wife is talkative, the husband is quiet. The husband is always on time, the wife lives more in the moment. The wife is social, the husband is a homebody.”

The differences can go far deeper than that. The differences may extend from the marriage bed to the church sanctuary, from the way we make love to the way we worship, and everywhere in between. 

Stephen turns to Paul David Tripp who offers some valuable and biblical counsel:

September 14, 2011

TaxesI spent a lot of time pondering the first few verses of Romans 13 last week, verses that speak about authority. Paul is writing to the church at Rome and telling them that each one of them is to actively obey the governing authorities in every situation. He makes no exceptions; he simply commands them to obey all the time—“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities.” It’s interesting to think about what Paul was commanding here.

He was writing to people who lived in Rome, people who were under the authority of a government that worshipped idols, that was systematically out to conquer and subjugate the world, that made death a form of entertainment, that promoted slavery, that was utterly ruthless and actively opposed to God. This was the government that was always on the verge of breaking out in persecution against the church. It was the government that had put Jesus to death. Paul was telling these Roman Christians to give honor, respect and taxes to the very government that paid the wages of the men who crucified Jesus, who mocked him, who spat on him, who rejoiced in his death.

And yet the Christians were to obey these rulers, to give them honor, respect and taxes—whatever was asked of them.

I had to sit for a while and ponder the value of taxes. This was obviously an urgent issue to people in those days since both Jesus and Paul had addressed it. These people were paying taxes to a government they did not believe in and paying taxes that would go to the soldiers who took advantage of them. Yet Paul and Jesus agreed: pay your taxes. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. “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.”

I believe that there are at least two reasons that we are to pay taxes to the authorities. There is practical value in paying taxes and there is also a kind of important symbolic value.

September 12, 2011

Read an outside view on Calvinists or Calvinism, and you are sure to read something about God’s wrath. Every time. The God of Calvinism is a wrathful, vengeful God, boiling over in anger against any part of creation that has turned against him. He is no God of love, this. Sure, he may have some love for his elect, but to the rest of the world he is this angry, brooding presence eagerly awaiting the day of judgment in which he will cast the rest of humanity into the flames of hell.

I suppose Calvinists have sometimes given others reason to think that this is what we believe to be true of God. Perhaps Calvinists have at times erred by over-emphasizing God’s wrath and have done so at the expense of his love. But this angry, vengeful God is not the true God of the Calvinist.

It is good and useful to consider the relationship of God’s love to his wrath. Are they equal characteristics or is one greater than the other? How can God both love and hate? Michael Wittmer’s book Don’t Stop Believing is a very good, popular-level look at some of the hard questions facing Christians today and it offers a powerful response. One of those questions concerns the cross and whether, as some have suggested, a traditional Christian understanding of the cross is tantamount to cosmic child abuse.

In this chapter Wittmer explains how we can (and must) reconcile God’s wrath with his love. “Scripture says that God is love and that he has wrath. This means that love lies deeper than wrath in the character of God. Love is his essential perfection, without which he would not be who he is. Wrath is love’s response to sin. It is God’s voluntary gag reflex at anything that destroys his good creation. God is against sin because he is for us, and he will vent his fury on everything that damages us.”

September 07, 2011

Last year I was ordained to the ministry at Grace Fellowship Church. Since then I went on-staff as a part-time pastor and, more recently, as a full-time associate pastor. Needless to say, this has given me great opportunity to closely examine the calling and task of the minister. At its heart, this task is very simple. “We will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the Word” (Acts 6:4). Prayer and Bible; praying for and with people and teaching them the Word of God. If the job description is so simple, why is it so hard to do?

Of these two tasks, I feel much more confident and equipped when it comes to teaching. Words come easy to me. While I may labor over a sermon for many days, I am at least confident that in the end the words will come and the result will be adequate at least. But I find prayer far more difficult. While I feel the desire to pray and while I often long to pray, I find myself especially frustrated in organizing my times of prayer; often times I find myself giving up, or at least wanting to give up, because of the frustration involved in remembering all the things I want to pray for and in actually bringing them before the Lord.

To that end I have turned to a few pastors I know to ask them how they manage the task of prayer and in the days and weeks to come I plan to share some of these with you in the hope that you will find it helpful. The first man I turned to is Tim Kerr, pastor of Sovereign Grace Church here in Toronto. Tim is a dear friend to our church and a man who feels a special burden to pray. I asked him how he prays, and here is what he sent me. 

August 31, 2011

Last week I spent a long time studying the fourth chapter of Ruth, the climax to an amazing story. The bulk of chapter 4 is a description of a legal transaction between Boaz and one of his relatives as the two men decide which one of them will take upon himself the role of kinsman-redeemer. This strange transaction, which is eventually completed not with a signature but with the exchange of a sandal, offered me a glimpse into the heart of these 2 men and, from there, a glimpse into my own heart. Let me explain.

You remember the context, I’m sure. Naomi has been left without a husband and without an heir and, Ruth, her daughter-in-law, has asked their relative Boaz if he will become a kinsman-redeemer. If he accepts, he will take all that belongs to Naomi and he will marry Ruth; the first child born to them will not be considered his child, but the child of Naomi and her now-dead husband, Elimelech. This child will not carry on Boaz’s name and family line, but Elimelech’s. Though it is a significant commitment and a significant sacrifice, Boaz is willing. Before he can do this, though, he must see if this other relative, who is more closely related to Naomi, will accept the role. 

For that reason Boaz calls this man into a formal legal proceeding. He is a little bit crafty, first telling this man only that Naomi is seeking to sell all the land that belonged to Elimelech. He asks if this man will be willing to buy the land. At least for now he doesn’t mention anything about Ruth.

From a social perspective it makes a lot of sense to act as a kinsman-redeemer. There is great honor in being a redeemer and carrying out that kind of familial duty. It is probably be like being labeled a philanthropist today—not a bad title to carry around.

Pages