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Christian Living

October 20, 2011

Today we come to the fourth and final part of this short series on knowing and doing the will of God. In the first part of the series I laid a foundation of God’s complete sovereignty over the universe and in the second part I sought to show that God is speaking to us today and how God is speaking to us today. In the third part I wanted showed that God is speaking to you and revealing his will for your life. In this final installment I want to ask the big question: When it comes right down to it, how do I make decisions that please God?

I want to give you 3 questions that will guide you as you think about any decision or any situation and that will help you have confidence that you are doing God’s will for your life. As you consider that big decision, you need to ask these three questions in order.

Question #1

What does the Bible say about it? That’s a rather obvious question, but it’s one we sometimes miss. What does the Bible say about it? Is there a passage in the Bible that speaks directly to this issue or is there a principle that applies to it?

We need to look to the Bible because this is where we hear God’s voice. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 gives us direction when it says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Teaching, reproof, correction and training—that is exactly what we need when we are making decisions. There is nothing else God promises for teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness. Feelings, circumstances and impressions can’t do this. Only the Bible.

What this means is that when facing big decisions, you need to search the Scriptures and to ask others to help you as you do this. This is a great time to talk to a parent or pastor or mentor or some other person to have them help you. They may have a greater knowledge of the Bible and can help bring the Bible to bear on your situation.

What you are especially looking for here is one of two things: a clear command that you must do something, or a clear command that you must not do something. If the Bible speaks directly to the issue, you’ve got to obey right away. When God speaks, we must listen and obey.

October 19, 2011

Today I am continuing this short series on knowing and doing the will of God. In the first part of the series I laid a foundation of God’s complete sovereignty over the universe and in the second part I sought to show that God is speaking to us today and how God is speaking to us today. Today I want to progress to showing that God is speaking to you today and revealing his will for your life.

God Is Speaking To You

We have looked to the Bible and seen that today God speaks to us by his Son, through the Holy Spirit, in the Bible, and that apart from this, he makes no promises to speak to us in other ways. This means that if we want to know the will of God for our lives, we need to turn to the Bible since that is where God has promised that he will speak to us.

If you look to the Bible to seek God’s will for your life, what will you find? You will find that God is speaking to you. He is speaking to you about his will for you, for your life. You will find verses like 1 Thessalonians 4:3 which says, “This is the will of God, your sanctification.” There is God’s will for you in the big picture. He wants you to be sanctified. He wants you to be holy. His will is clear! Just one chapter later we are told, “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” God wants you to be thankful in all things, he wants you to rejoice in all things, he wants you to pray about all things. In other words, he wants you to be constantly aware of his sovereignty and to be constantly in communication with him, submitting your whole life to him.

There are all sorts of other passages like that. This is not the place to look at them all, but even if we did, the message would not change. The consistent message is this: God’s will for you is that you would live like a Christian, like a person whose life has been transformed by his power. God’s will for you is that you would seek to imitate Christ and that more and more you would serve as a greater reflection of Christ, prayerfully submitting yourself to him and his sovereignty. That is God’s will!

What you will not find? You won’t find the Bible saying, “You should marry this fine, Christian girl instead of that fine, Christian girl.” You won’t find the Bible telling you, “Go ahead and buy the Honda and I will bless you” or “Don’t buy that Toyota or I’ll remove my hand of blessing.” You will find lots of principles and lots of wisdom and lots of clear guidance on how you can honor God. But you will see that God does not reveal his secret will to you and he does not reveal his complete will for you. He guides you and he guides me and all of us in the same way and with the same words. The will he reveals for you is the will he reveals for me.

October 18, 2011

Yesterday I began a short series of articles on knowing and doing the will of God. In the first part I laid the foundation of God’s sovereignty over all that happens in this world, affirming God’s absolute and utter sovereignty. But I also said that God has given us freedom to make choices. This brought us to the heart of the issue of knowing God’s will—how can I know God’s will in such a way that I can consciously participate in it? Today I want to show how God is speaking to us in this time and this place.

God Is Speaking Today

Let me talk about the way God speaks to us through a series of 4 statements. We are taking God’s sovereignty, his secret will, as our starting point and building upon it with these statements.

The first thing we need to affirm is that God can speak to people in many different ways and guide them with their cooperation. The Bible is full of stories of God speaking to his people—God speaking to Adam and Eve in the Garden as he walked and talked with them, God speaking to Moses from the burning bush, God speaking to Nebuchadnezzar in a dream. In each case God told people his will and when God told them what he wanted of them, they were able to consciously participate in it, or they were able to reject it. Adam and Eve defied God even though they knew what he demanded of them. Jonah heard from the Lord and ran away. Abraham heard from the Lord and obeyed. All through the Bible we see God speaking and giving guidance and instruction. In all these ways and so many more, God spoke to people and guided them with their cooperation.

We need to be careful here. We are not looking to these examples and necessarily saying, “This is how God tells us he will guide us.” We are saying, “This is how God can guide people.” These are the ways in which God has proven he has the ability to guide people, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that we can expect him to guide us or speak to us the same way. So the question we need to ask now is, How will God guide us today in such a way that we consciously participate?

The second statement is this: today God speaks to us by his Son. It is instructive here to turn to the first verses of Hebrews where we read, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets.” That is what we have just said in our last statement, that long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke. But the author of Hebrews continues. “In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” In these last days, today, he has spoken to us by his Son. He has spoken and is speaking through Jesus. This is not meant to be past tense but present. And how has God spoken to us through Jesus? He has revealed himself, his own character and glory, in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Through Jesus God has spoken to us about his plan of salvation—of the way he has chosen to redeem sinners to himself. 

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.