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Christian Living

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.

August 22, 2011

It was A.W. Tozer who wrote (in The Knowledge of the Holy), “what comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” That is a broad statement, a grand one, but one that merits some thought, for as Tozer says, “the history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God.” If no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God, the same must true of individuals. We can never rise above our idea of God.

Tozer says, “We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. …Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God, just as her most significant message is what she says about Him or leaves unsaid, for her silence is often more eloquent than her speech. She can never escape the self-disclosure of her witness concerning God.” I think he is right. Once we have decided who God is, we chase after that image. The application becomes obvious: It is critically important that we gain an accurate understand of who God is through the Bible, God’s own self-disclosure. Otherwise, we will inevitably move towards a fabricated and false image of him. We will put aside the real thing and chase after a mere shadow.

Here are words that have long gripped me and are worthy of lengthy reflection: “Were we able to extract from any man a complete answer to the question, ‘What comes into your mind when you think about God?’ we might predict with certainty the spiritual future of that man. Were we able to know exactly what our most influential religious leaders think of God today, we might be able with some precision to foretell where the church will stand tomorrow.” This is a sobering thought and not only for those who pastor megachurches and enjoy a national platform. If Tozer is right, then what he says applies to the smallest local church, it applies to the family and wherever else there is spiritual leadership. What comes into the pastor’s mind will predict where his church stands tomorrow. What comes into dad’s mind will predict where his family stands tomorrow.

August 11, 2011

Yesterday evening I went to the mid-week Bible study at Grace Reformed Baptist Church in Chattanooga. Pastor Wayne Layton has been leading a series examining the church’s statement of faith and last night he came to what Christians know as the hypostatic union. 

Hypostatic union is bit of an intimidating term that describes the union of Jesus’ two natures. Jesus has a human nature and a divine nature and these two natures are united in the one person of Jesus Christ. Christ is not two persons—one human and one divine—rather, he is one person with two distinct natures. These natures do not mix or intermingle. Each is completely distinct.

This intimidating term describes a glorious and eternal reality. We can ponder and treasure this reality for all of our lives and never get to the end of it. It occurred to me last night that when it comes to pondering such tough and glorious doctrines, there are at least two ways we can err—two ways in which pride can rear its ugly head.

August 09, 2011

Canada’s Bank of Nova Scotia has to be one of the few banks in the world that allows you to order gold bullion online. Visit their web site, punch in your order along with your credit card information, and a couple days later FedEx will deliver your gold to the door, all sealed up in a plain and boring little envelope.

The gold comes in tiny little bars. For somewhere around $1700 (and rising fast!) you can purchase a 1 ounce gold bar and have it delivered to your home. It will be 22mm wide, 38mm high and 2.3mm thick. What you do with it once you buy it is a bit trickier—maybe you will want to put it in a safe deposit box or bury it out in the backyard.

That 1 ounce gold bar is 24 karat gold, 99.99% pure. Think about that for a moment. If it is 99.99% pure, it means that in order to divide out the impurities, you would need to divide it into 10,000 equal pieces before you found the one that was not gold. If the total surface area of that gold bar is 836mm, the impure part would come to less than one tenth of one millimeter. That would be smaller than the period at the end of this sentence. Do the calculation by weight and you’d find that it comes out to less than 3 milligrams.

A little while ago my son was asking me about holiness, about what it means to be a sinner. He was having trouble distinguishing between what it means to do bad things to other people and what it means to be a sinner. He is only a young kid, not old enough to have experienced any significant trouble. He has never murdered, he has never stolen, he has never cursed the name of God. He may have done some bad things in his life, but honestly, he’s a pretty good kid. Isn’t that good enough? If we were to divide his life into 10,000 little thoughts and actions, would we find that only one in 10,000 was impure?

August 04, 2011

There was a time in my life when I worried about money. These were not just occasional thoughts about how little money we had, but the kind of worry that would wake me up in the night, bathed in sweat, my mind racing, trying to figure out how on earth I was going to scrape together a few hundred dollars to pay another bill. I was being eaten up by worry and I came to believe that the solution was to worry some more. Every few days I’d make up a list of all the money we had, all the money we owed, all the money that was coming to me, and would try to make the pieces fit. They didn’t. That night I’d wake up again, lying in the dark, trying to figure it all out.

I thought of those days last week when I was studying the book of Ruth. There was one little thing there that caught my attention and got me thinking about this. At the beginning of chapter 2, Ruth and Naomi have returned from Moab and Ruth declares that she is going to head out to the fields to work; she will take on the role of breadwinner. But here’s the question I had: Why doesn’t Naomi go out as well? It seems that at this point she is not yet an old lady; she is older but not old. At least it is unlikely that she is so old that she can’t go along with Ruth and put in a day’s work. And since gleaning was dangerous work—a woman out in a field alone was always vulnerable—2 would be better than 1. But we are not told why Naomi remained home.

And this led me to wonder if she was experiencing the kind of paralysis that can come when we are overwhelmed with worry. Naomi is convinced that God is sovereign, but she is not at all convinced that he is good. Perhaps she is in a funk and in such a dark place that she can’t even bring herself to get up and get going. Maybe she believes that her job is to stay home and worry. Have you ever been there before? We all worry at times—we all have problems that weigh on our minds, problems related to health or love or money. I think there are times when we feel like we need to worry, like if we don’t worry, God won’t pay attention. We can feel that our worrying is effectual, like it is effective, like it gains the ear of God.

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