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Christian Living

March 30, 2011

Have you ever noticed that the sins you hate most may just be the sins closest to your heart? I hate the sin of envy, and I think I hate it so much because it is so often very near to me, just waiting to strike, to cause me to mourn when I ought to rejoice, or to rejoice when I ought to mourn. “Rejoice with those who rejoice,” Scripture tells me. It is rarely that easy. I wish it was that easy.

I recently began reading Assist Me To Proclaim, John Tyson’s biography of Charles Wesley, and was challenged with these words:

Charles had a meekness and unfeigned humility about him that was remarkable and attractive. His sermon editor observed, “His most striking excellence was humility; it extended to his talents as well as virtues; he not only acknowledged and pointed out but delighted in the superiority of another.”

To delight in the superiority of another. There is humility. There is envy slaughtered and laid to rest. I think I envy this lack of envy.

In his book The Call Os Guinness says this:

Traditionally envy was regarded as the second worst and second most prevalent of the seven deadly sins. Like pride, it is a sin of the spirit, not of the flesh, and thus a “cold” and highly “respectable” sin, in contrast to the “warm” and openly “disreputable” sins of the flesh, such as gluttony. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that it is the one vice that its perpetrators never enjoy and rarely confess.

It was Aquinas who provided a famous definition of envy when he suggested it is “sorrow at another’s good.” Guinness says:

Envy enters when, seeing someone else’s happiness or success, we feel ourselves called into question. Then, out of the hurt of our wounded self-esteem, we seek to bring the other person down to our level by word or deed. They belittle us by their success, we feel; we should bring them down to their deserved level, envy helps us feel. Full-blown envy, in short, is dejection plus disparagement plus destruction.

March 23, 2011

Sin. I can’t live with it, but am just not able to live without it. I know that I’ve been freed from sin, freed from the power of sin, and yet I still sin. Scripture tells me not to let sin reign, it tells me that if I am truly a child of God I will not go on sinning (Romans 6:12, 1 John 3:9). And still I sin. Even in those times that I focus my efforts on one particular sin I find that I am unable to stop, unable to put it entirely to death. My mind can’t do it; my will can’t do it. It may not reign as sovereign, but it continues to exist as a trial and a steady temptation.

In The Christian Life: A Doctrinal Introduction Sinclair Ferguson writes about this tricky relationship of sin to the Christian and offers these words of assurance: “We are no longer what we once were; we are no longer related to sin the way we once were.” This is important for me to understand and to keep in the forefront of my mind as I battle sin—any sin. I am not what I once was. I am not who I once was. I was once a slave to sin, owned by it, inexorably drawn to it. But now I am the slave to a different master. I am owned by God and subject to him. My relationship to sin has been radically transformed.

And yet I still get angry. I still lash out in anger. I still simmer in anger. I still have desires that stem from anger and suffer the consequences of my anger. And that is just one sin. I still lust and am still jealous and am still thankless and still sin in so many ways. I have died to sin but sin has not yet died within. But here is the difference; here is the change: Sin no longer has dominion. And practically I cannot relate to it as if it has dominion. I have to ensure that my experience of sin is consistent with my theology of sin.

Anger does not own me. Christ owns me. Lust does not motivate me. Christ motivates me. Jealousy does not get the final victory. Christ will get the final victory. The cross stands there as assurance that I have been saved from its power and will some day be fully and finally delivered from its presence. Sin is in me but I am in Christ. And what is in me was put upon him on the cross. He triumphed over it then. He broke its power. And now I just wait, battling all the while, for him to speak the word and bring it to an end once and for all.

March 17, 2011

A few days ago I was looking through my book The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment (though at this point I can’t remember why I was looking at it). It’s amazing how much you forget about a book a few years after you’ve written it. As I browsed through it I came across a portion that I found very helpful. And I can say that without pride since it was drawn from Mark Dever’s Nine Marks of a Healthy Church.

As I wrote about how a Christian ought to develop discernment, and as I wrote about the best context to develop discernment, I wanted to convince readers of the importance of the local church. So here are 5 reasons that Christians need to join a church:

1. For Assurance.

While a person should not feel he needs to join a church in order to be saved, he ought to join a church to be certain that he has been saved. Christians, those who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, will naturally gravitate towards other Christians and will desire to be with them, to learn from them, and to serve them. A person who professes Christ but feels no desire to be among his believing brothers and sisters is not a healthy Christian. Thus, eager participation in a local church and heartfelt attempts to measure our enthusiasm for that group of believers is a God-given way for us to assure ourselves that we are truly saved.

2. To Evangelize the World.

The gospel can best be spread through combined and collaborative efforts. Throughout the history of the church great men and women have attempted great things on their own and have often been successful. But more often, great things have been accomplished through the collaborate efforts of Christians working together. If we are to reach this world with the gospel message of Jesus Christ, we must share our efforts with other believers.

3. To Expose False Gospels.

As we interact with other believers, we will see what true Christianity is, which ought to expose the common belief that Christians are self-righteous, selfish individuals. As we labor, fellowship, and serve alongside other Christians, and as we observe the lives of other Christ-followers, we will see what biblical Christianity looks like. The more we see of genuine Christianity, the more the counterfeits will be exposed.

4. To Edify the Church.

Joining a church will help Christians counter their sinful individualism and teach them the importance of seeking to serve and edify others. The benefit of being a member of a local church is not primarily inward, but outward. Christians attend a local church so they might have opportunities to serve others and thus to serve God. Every Christian should be eager to serve within the church and to edify others through teaching, serving, and exercising the spiritual gifts.

5. To Glorify God

We can bring God glory through the way we live our lives. God is honored when we are obedient to him. He is glorified when his people come together in unity and harmony to find assurance, to evangelize the world, to expose false gospels, and to edify one another. God is glorified in and through the local church.

March 14, 2011

FacebookJust about everyone has joined Facebook. And just about everyone has since considered giving it up. There are all kinds of studies today telling us how much time Facebook is sucking—700 billion minutes between the lot of us every month. That’s a lot of time. But when you divide it 500 million ways it doesn’t seem quite so bad. That’s not why most of us have considered giving it up. There are studies telling us how Facebook is invading our privacy and selling our personal details to advertisers. That’s annoying, but not reason enough to quit.

The reason so many of us have considered giving up on Facebook is that it makes us miserable. A recent paper in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin looks at a series of studies involving how people evaluate moods—their own and those of others. The study itself is not as interesting as the implications. What the study found is that people tend to underestimate how dejected other people feel and that this in turn increases a person’s own sense of unhappiness. Put otherwise, we all believe that others have better lives than we do and this makes us feel bad about ourselves. That’s strangely significant.

Where do we find this phenomenon in clearest form? On Facebook, of course. We log on to Facebook, look through the photographs and status messages our friends post, and believe that everyone is happier and more successful than we are. And when I have spoken to friends and family members who have considered giving up Facebook, this is exactly the reasoning they have given. They look at other people and feel miserable in comparison.

What an interesting phenomenon. It seems clear that Facebook is exposing something, some ugly little corner of the human heart. Facebook is all about making life seem joyful—we “like” one another’s happy status updates, not the sad ones; we post photos of our parties, not our funerals; we use it to celebrate births and marriages and new relationships, not to mourn deaths or remember break-ups. Facebook is meant to be a happy place for happy people. But it doesn’t seem to work out so well. We all think everyone else is happy, but we don’t feel the joy.

March 07, 2011

Hell
Everyone is talking about the existence of hell. Is hell a real place? Is it a literal place of literal torment? It seems that this issue snuck up on us a little bit. Just a month ago a book came out titled Don’t Call It a Comeback. In that book several of the “young, restless, Reformed” authors (myself included) penned chapters discussing issues pertinent to the church today: the gospel, the new birth, Scripture, social justice, homosexuality. These are some of the big issues in the church today and tomorrow. But there is no chapter on hell (the index shows only 2 references to it).

And yet here we are with discussion raging on the existence and nature of hell. This weekend, as I thought about this controversy, I allowed myself a little thought experiment. What would I have to deny in order to deny hell? If I am ever to come to the point of denying the existence of hell, what will be the doctrinal cost of getting there? Though I am sure there is much more that could be said, I came up with four denials.

I Will Deny What Jesus Taught

Jesus believed in the literal existence of a literal hell. It is very difficult to read Luke 16 (the story of The Rich Man and Lazarus) and arrive at any other conclusion except that Jesus believed in hell and that he believed in a hell of conscious torment of body and mind.

The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’

Jesus also believed in the permanence of hell: “[B]esides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.” In Matthew’s gospel Jesus speaks of hell as the furnace of fire, the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. He calls it a place of everlasting fire. This would be strange language for a man to use if he believed that hell did not exist and that it was not a place of horrible torment.

If I am going to deny the existence of hell, I will need to outright deny what Jesus teaches and declare that he is wrong, or I will need to obscure what is so plain. I will need to make all of Jesus’ language symbolic and all of the meaning something other than what is clear. I will need to deny what Jesus says.

February 15, 2011

In some parts of my life God has called me to lead and in some parts he has called me to follow. In either case the calling is one of service. He has called me to lead my family and he has called me to be involved in the leadership of my local church. And in all my leading these words from David Powlison present a genuine challenge: “You particularly image Christ by looking out for the well-being of those God has placed within your care.”

The words demand an obvious question: Am I providing those whom I serve an accurate image of Christ? Or am I leaving them with an image that is warped and distorted? Do my children look to the way I lead my wife and the way I lead them and see a reflection of the love of Christ? Or do they have cause to doubt that he is truly for them, that he loves them with a steadfast and immovable love? Do the men and women of Grace Fellowship Church see me leading them and learn that Christ labors for them in prayer, that he longs for them to know the Father through the Word? Or do they see a distortion, a picture of Christ who is self-centered and lazy?

This is why these words grab ahold of me—they challenge me as a leader. There are many measures I could use in an attempt to gauge the effectiveness of my leadership. I could seek to measure by the way people receive me, by the way they regard me, by the number of people who follow me, by wealth or health or happiness. Each of these measures is too easily manipulated; each is too subjective, too prone to my own agendas.

But in framing the success of leadership in its relationship to Christ—here is where the heart has little room to run or hide. Here the heart must see Christ as the model and myself as the one striving to be like him. Am I a good and godly leader? I need only look to Christ and see myself in relation to him. That is where the answer is found.

Interestingly, Powlison assures me that I can also gauge the way I follow by a similar measure. “You particularly serve Christ by standing under those God has placed over you.” But that is a topic for another time.

February 14, 2011

This weekend I spent a little bit of time reflecting on a couple of seemingly random books: Michael Horton’s Christless Christianity and Rick Warren’s The Purpose of Christmas. But they’re not random—they are in many ways books that approach an issue from opposite directions.

Throughout his book, Horton emphasizes the importance and transcendence of the gospel message—the pure, undefiled simplicity of the gospel. Warren, on the other hand, obscures that message with talk of purpose and rash generalizations about the nature of a person’s relationship with God (though, thankfully, the heart of the gospel message is present despite that obscurity). Over the past couple of days I’ve found myself pondering the gospel message over and over again and asking myself why it is that this message is so unpopular even in Christian churches and among Christian authors. Why would an author or a pastor seek to soften the message?

I guess there is no great mystery here. Unbelievers hate the gospel message because it insists that things are true about them that they simply do not wish to believe. It insists things are true that they are unable to believe. The gospel message tells us that we are sinners. Many people are able to accept this information; only an incredibly dishonest and delusional person could pretend that he has done no wrong. The gospel message tells us that ultimately we have not sinned against others or against ourselves, but against God. This is more difficult to digest. Few of us care to think that we have sinned against the Creator of the world. The gospel goes on to tell us that our sin against God has offended him and filled him with wrath against us. Fewer people still are able to digest and accept this information. Few people are able to believe that God is justified in his wrath towards those who transgress his laws. But the gospel reaches its ultimate offense when it tells us that we are utterly unable to do anything about all of this. None of our deeds, however noble and good, are able to make the least dent in the debt we owe to God. Furthermore, none of us would pursue any kind of reconciliation with God were it not for his prior action in our hearts. We are, in our heart of hearts, God-haters. Without God’s grace we are helpless and hopeless.

February 06, 2011

This week, in the course I am taking with CCEF, I read David Powlison’s reflections on Psalm 131. And as he teaches the Psalm, he re-writes it as the exact opposite—rather an interesting teaching technique. But rather an effective one, I’d say.

So here is Psalm 131, words I’m sure you know well.

O Lord, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.

O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time forth and forevermore.

And here is Powlison’s anti-psalm:

Self,
My heart is proud
and my eyes are haughty
and I chase after things too great and too difficult for me.
So of course I’m noisy and restless inside; it comes naturally,
like a hungry infant fussing on his mother’s lap,
like a hungry infant, I’m restless with my demands and worries.

I scatter my hopes onto anything and everybody all the time.

January 31, 2011

A couple of years ago I was asked to submit an article to Compassion International’s magazine. The article was to answer a single question: What is the greatest hindrance to the gospel today? I stumbled across that article today and thought I would share it with you.


You know the oft-told story, I am sure. G.K. Chesterton, along with other prominent authors of his day, was asked by The Times to answer this question: “What’s Wrong with the World?” His answer was beautiful in its simplicity and brilliant in its profundity.

Dear Sirs,
I am.
Sincerely yours,
G. K. Chesterton

As I ponder the greatest hindrances to the gospel today, I can’t help but feel that Chesteron’s words are applicable to this question, too. And yet, at the same time, I feel as if they are wrong; dead wrong.

I Am

I, as a Christian, hinder the spread of the gospel and hinder its power in the world.

I hinder the gospel when I lose confidence in the gospel—in the powerful simplicity of the good news that Jesus Christ has died to save sinners. Our age has seen more gospel innovation than any other. We have unprecedented access to programs, teachings and technologies that claim to be able to further the gospel’s spread. But how easy it is to find that my confidence is in the programs or in the teachers or in the technologies, rather than in the gospel message itself. How quick I am to prefer my own message and my own methods above those given to me by God.

I hinder the gospel when what I do fails to match what I say. When I claim to follow Christ but allow my actions to betray my words, a watching world scoffs at the gospel, and rightly so. When I claim to have been transformed by God’s grace but live as if God has made no change at all, I cause others to heap contempt on the gospel. Robert Robinson said this so eloquently in his great hymn, “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing:” “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, Prone to leave the God I love.” Living in the constant tension of being both saint and sinner, I am prone to wander away from the One I love; prone to live as if He is nothing to me. And in this I hinder the gospel.

I Am Not

From my human perspective, I am the greatest hindrance to the gospel. But the Bible tells me to look higher. It tells me with glorious clarity that nothing, no one, is able to hinder the gospel. It tells me to place my confidence in the God whose plans cannot be stopped. My lack of confidence in the gospel, my indifference to it, and my unfaithfulness in spreading it, cannot truly hinder the work of God. God reigns supreme over all.

his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:34b-35)

Not one person who truly seeks after God will be hindered from embracing Christ as Lord and Savior. Christ, the Good Shepherd, has sent His Spirit to gather a people to himself. Christ knows his own and his own know him. He will draw them to himself and not one will be lost; not one can be lost. Far be it from me to think that I can stand in the way of God, the Creator and Sustainer of all that was and is and ever will be.

What is the greatest hindrance to the gospel today? I am, but nothing is. God reigns supreme.

January 27, 2011

The Lord has been forcing me to learn about prayer. And it’s a good thing since I’m finding myself in one of those times in life when prayer is coming only with difficulty. It was a blessing to attend a local pastors’ fellowship on Monday where I enjoyed a panel discussion about prayer and the pastoral ministry. And it was a blessing to record an interview this morning with Dr. Joel Beeke, a man who is known not only for writing books on prayer, but for being a man who loves to pray and who prays powerfully. (listen to the interview)

When discussing prayer, I find that there is always a lot of value in the little nuggets, the little pieces of gold that are encountered in conversation. While listening to an hour-long panel discussion on prayer, each person in the audience picked up on a few little things that impacted him. And the same was true in my conversation with Dr. Beeke.

I want to share with you just a few of the things that have been resonating in my mind.

Pray in Jesus’ name. To pray in the name of Jesus is to pray with his authority in a way that claims his power. In prayer I should always be asking, “In whose interest am I praying? What is God’s agenda in this?” In other words, I need to make sure that I have a conscience sense of praying to the Lord, the King, the Sovereign One. I pray not only to this God, but I also pray in his power and with his authority. That merits a “wow!”

Use model prayers. One of the best ways to learn to pray is to use the New Testament prayers as a model. The Apostle Paul always brings home what he has been teaching through his prayers. So learn these prayers, learn how they relate to the letters, and learn to pray them first for yourself. Let Paul be your teacher.

Pray within your capacity to believe. One pastor said that we often pray beyond our capacity to believe. He used the example of praying for the salvation of his wife’s parents. He and his wife would pray that the Lord would save them, but they were praying without faith; though they knew God could, in theory, do this, they doubted that he actually would. What they decided to do was to pray within their capacity to believe, and so they began to pray smaller, incremental prayers for things they truly could ask in faith. In a similar situation you might pray that the Lord would bring your parents just one Christian friend, or that they would hear the gospel just one time, and so on. And once that prayer is answered, you can then pray for the next, slightly bigger thing. All the while you are ratcheting up your prayers while acknowledging God’s incremental answers to them.

Do not stop praying until you get through to God. This pastor said that you need to labor in prayer until you feel that you have gotten through to God. He particularly warned against stepping into the pulpit and preaching before first gaining a sense of the Spirit’s presence and power. If the preacher cannot go into the pulpit in the power of the Spirit, how can he expect the Spirit to then speak to the people?

Prayer is better caught than taught. Do you want to know how to pray? Then spend time with people who pray and pray with them. Do you want your children to learn to pray? Then pray with them and let them catch the ability to pray. There are few shortcuts here.

Prayer changes us, not God. The purpose of prayer is not to change God, but to change us, to realign ourselves according to his purposes. Prayer is not an attempt to twist the arm of God or to bend him to our will. Instead, it is God’s means of changing and transforming us, driving us to joyfully submit to his will.

Pray warmly. Dr. Beeke asked what right anyone has to feel that he should be able to pray warmly out of the cold blue. If we want to enjoy warm fellowship in prayer, we should first be willing to spend time with the Lord in the Word and in meditation. This warms the heart and draws us to the Lord, igniting our prayer.


If you would like to hear the wisdom of these men, you don’t have long to wait. Audio from Toronto Pastors’ Fellowship will be available soon. My interview with Dr. Joel Beeke will be available here at the blog next Tuesday (Lord willing).

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