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

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter


August 09, 2015

Satan is a formidable foe. He opposes all those who are created in the image of God and is bent on their complete and utter destruction. What makes Satan so skillful at tempting us to sin? In his little book Fighting Satan, Joel Beeke offers 6 reasons.

Satan’s Spiritual Being and Intellectual Power

When people tempt each other, they do so with overt actions. For example, Joseph tempted his brothers’ devotion to their youngest brother, Benjamin, by asking his steward to hide his cup in Benjamin’s sack. But Satan, who is a spirit, doesn’t have to use overt actions. He can prey directly on the mind, tempting us to yield to his devices. Satan could enter the heart of Judas Iscariot and tempt the disciple to betray Christ (John 13:2), and he could enter the heart of Ananias and tempt him to lie to the Holy Ghost (Acts 5:3).

Though fallen, Satan is still an angel, so he is intellectually far superior to us. That makes him very dangerous. … Satan’s great intellect and cunning deceit should make us especially wary, for we know that we cannot defeat him through our limited intellectual abilities.

Satan’s Experience and Work

The devil is old, but not infirm. His temptations are like the arrows of a skillful archer that seldom fail to hit their target (Jer. 50:9). Over the centuries he has mastered the art of wickedness. Satan knows by experience when the best time is to shoot his arrows. He knows what bait to use whenever he fishes. He tempts young people with beauty, the thrifty with money, and the ambitious with power. He has remarkable experience in overcoming every defense against yielding to his temptations.

Satan is adept at deflecting our defenses. Believers are often startled and perplexed when they are tempted because Satan responds so quickly and effectively to their arguments against sinning. Satan’s rapid response ought to teach us to deny him totally and immediately rather than dispute with him.

Satan’s Tireless Energy for Promoting Evil

Satan relentlessly and endlessly tempts man to keep him from God. He has a one-track mind, and that single-minded purpose makes him formidable. An ancient Italian proverb says, “Lord, deliver me from a man who has but one business to do.” Satan tempts us to be idle, but he is never idle.

Satan’s Kingdom of Demons

Daniel 7:10 says that “thousand thousands” of angels minister to God, and “ten thousand times ten thousand” stand before Him. Fallen angels who serve Satan are also numerous since Scripture describes Satan and his demons as a powerful kingdom.

Satan’s kingdom is also united in purpose. Every demon hates God’s glory and our happiness. Every demon unitedly promotes Satan’s doctrine, distinctions, domination, and distractions. Every demon unitedly opposes God’s position, precepts, purity, and people. There are no divisions in Satan’s kingdom (Matt. 12:26), no uprisings because of poor pay, no complaints about strenuous marches, no balking at difficult tasks. We expect the angels in heaven who dwell with the triune God to be united. But is it not remarkable that the devils in hell are more united in purpose than the church on earth? What a tragedy that the communion of devils so often exceeds the communion of saints. If devils are filled with pride, wrath, envy, and bitterness, how can they be so united? Just as enemies on earth can be united through mutual hatred of a third party, so Satan’s demons are united by their mutual hatred of God and man. As good angels rejoice over the repentance of a sinner, evil angels rejoice over the destruction of a sinner.

Satan’s Evil Suggestions

It is difficult at times to know whether a sinful thought originates with Satan or with us. It is difficult to distinguish between evil that is sown in the mind by the tempter and evil that is ours by nature. As the old saying goes: “The devil’s boots don’t creak.” Spurstowe says that a bird will hatch an egg and nourish a young bird until it discovers that the young one is not its own. Then the mother bird pushes the intruder out of the nest. Likewise, if we would recognize promptings as given by Satan, we would have the strength to repudiate them. If King David had known that Satan was tempting him to number the people of Israel, he undoubtedly would have stopped counting immediately (1 Chron. 21:1).

Satan’s Skill at Matching His Suggestions with Our Corrupt Reason

Satan cannot conquer our soul by force; his success depends on confusing us about the origin of his suggestions. Satan is a master at suggesting that we believe what we want to believe rather than believe the truth. To the atheist, Satan suggests that worshiping God is a crutch for the weak-minded. To the convicted, Satan suggests that a little religion will do. To the nominal Christian, Satan suggests that intellectual faith is sufficient. To the true believer, Satan suggests that the worldly do not suffer as the righteous do (Ps. 73).

August 02, 2015

To be human is to feel guilt. At least, to be a sinful human is to feel guilt. And most often we feel guilt precisely because we are actually guilty—guilty of offenses against man and God. R.C. Sproul addresses guilt, and the right and wrong ways to approach it, in this little quote from Pleasing God.

A sad commentary on contemporary life is the frequency with which counselors seek to relieve people’s guilt problems by focusing on the removal of guilt feelings. To relieve guilt, people are told that they are victims of their environment and of the oppressive moral standards of outmoded religion. This applies not only to non-Christians, but to Christians as well. Many Christians, living with a burdensome guilt over past or present sins, tell their woes to therapists who say, in effect, “Considering the life you’ve had to lead, no wonder you’ve behaved in this way. As long as you understand that, there is no real problem.” But it isn’t true, is it? Explaining the problem does not eliminate the problem. Guilt only disappears when we are made right with God. That rightness is available at any time, for we serve a forgiving God. But He does not force His children to ask His forgiveness. They do so willingly, or they torment themselves with guilt that the therapists cannot explain away.

I was approached by a distressed college girl who was engaged to be married. She explained that she had been sexually involved with her fiancé and was feeling guilty about it. She related to me that she had gone to her school counselor who told her, “The reason you feel guilty is because you have been a victim of a Victorian ethic or a Puritan taboo. You need to understand that your behavior is perfectly normal. It is a healthy part of mature self-expression and of preparation for marriage.”

The girl then said to me, “But Professor Sproul, I still feel guilty!” I said, “Perhaps the reason you feel guilty is because you are guilty. The prohibition for fornication was not invented by Queen Victoria, nor was it the creation of the Puritans. It is God who forbids fornication. When we break the laws of God we incur real guilt. The only remedy I know for real guilt is real forgiveness.

I explained to the young woman that the price tag for real forgiveness is real repentance. Real repentance is what the individual must do himself. No one else can repent for me. I cannot repent for anyone else. I encouraged the woman to get alone with God, to go before Him on her knees. Without me. Without the counselors. Then I promised her—indeed, I guaranteed her—that in God’s sight her guilt would be removed and that she would once again be a virgin in God’s sight. Then she would be free of the fear and paralysis that come in the wake of guilt.

As Christians we must examine our lives. We must ask ourselves two basic questions: At what point am I paralyzed in my spiritual growth? Why am I paralyzed? Chances are that if we can answer these two questions accurately, we can identify those areas of fear and guilt that are in need of resolution. The grace of God—especially the grace of forgiveness—is the most potent force available to us to be freed from paralysis.

God does not want us paralyzed. He wants us to feel so secure in Him that we need have no real fear of the world and its obstacles. He wishes us to be conscious of our sins, but He takes no joy in our being immobilized by guilt. God is, like any good human parent, eager to lead us out of a life of fear and guilt so that we are free to do what is right and pleasing. What freedom is offered to us! Freedom from guilt, freedom from fear, freedom to serve and please God with everything we are. No therapist in the world can offer us such a life.

July 26, 2015

Sometimes I just need to be reminded about the seriousness of sin. And sometimes I just need to be reminded off the slipperiness of sin. Those reminders came this week through Charles Spurgeon and a sermon he preached on June 29, 1890.

Many men are violent against one sin; but the true saint abhors all sin. You are a teetotaler; I am very glad to hear it: you will not allow the sin of drunkenness to have dominion over you. But are you selfish and ungenerous? Have you learned habits of strict economy in regard to religious donations, so that you always give a penny where you ought to give a pound? What have you done? You have only changed your idols. You have dethroned one usurper to set up another.

If you were once profane and are now hypocritical, you have only changed iniquities. It is a very curious thing how one sin feeds on another: the death of profligacy may be the resurrection of greed; the flight of pride may be the advent of shameless folly. The man who was lewd, riotous, brawling and irreligious has killed those sins, and on their graves he has sown a handful of a poisonous weed called pride, and it flourishes amazingly.

It may be London pride, country pride, or English pride, or American pride; but it is rare stuff to grow, and to grow over the rotting carcasses of other sins. Unbelief may dethrone superstition, but its own reign may be no real improvement upon that of credulity [gullibility].

If you only throw down Baal to set up Ashteroth, what progress have you made towards God? Little does it signify [matter] which of the false gods is set up in the temple of Jehovah, for he hates them all. The right prayer is, “Let not any iniquity have dominion over me.”

 Some sins are of respectable repute and other sins are disreputable among men; but to a child of God every sin is loathsome. Sins are all what Bunyan calls Diabolonians and not one of them must be suffered to live in the town of ManSoul. “Let not any iniquity have dominion over me.” I can see the throne set up within the heart of man. Who shall sit on it? It cannot be empty; who shall fill it? This sin, that sin, or the other? Nay, Lord, help me to keep every intruder out of it.

Whether he come as an angel of light, or in his true character as the devil, help me to treat every one as an enemy that would seek to supplant thee in thy dominion over me. Oh, that God may reign over us from morn to eve, through every day of every week of every year!

Bad Singing
July 12, 2015

It is ironic that music, an element meant to draw Christians together in mutual love and service (see Colossians 3:16) has become a force for significant division within the church. It just goes to show, I guess, that we can make a mess of pretty much anything. In their book The Compelling Community, Mark Dever and Jamie Dunlop point out 3 common errors of musical style can stifle local church community:

Music that’s difficult to sing corporately. If your music appeals strongly to the taste of American twenty-somethings, you’ll get a lot of accolades from American twenty-somethings. But the African Christian in her fifties may feel decidedly out of place. If you want music that embraces the natural diversity the gospel brings to a congregation, you’ll need to think hard about your goals for musical style. Consider the cultural backgrounds of your congregation. Consider the cultural backgrounds of the non-Christian neighbors you hope to see in your church. How difficult is it for this diversity of people to sing the songs you choose? One factor at play is rhythmic complexity. Many Christian songs you hear on the radio are rather complex from a rhythmic standpoint. That’s part of what makes them interesting. But that syncopation and changing meter and tempo may make them difficult for some in your congregation to learn—and especially those who come from cultural backgrounds where rhythmic simplicity is the norm. Unless your congregation is in a setting where musical complexity is common, you’ll generally find that rhythmic simplicity will make your music accessible to the widest variety of people. When you shape your musical style with the entire congregation in mind, you battle a consumerist mind-set that wants music that “appeals to me.” And you emphasize the breadth of community we should expect to find in a local church.

Music with limited emotional breadth. Much of church music is happy music. But if that is all we ever have, we substantially dilute the Christian experience. And the tone we set in our services will inevitably carry over into relationships. If we teach people through our music that feelings of doubt, despair, and bewilderment are not acceptable starting points for worship, we teach them that these topics are not acceptable in private conversation either—to the detriment of depth in relationships. I tell new members at our church that I want music that helps them worship God if they got engaged the previous evening, and I want music that helps them worship God if they broke up the previous evening. When you select music with a variety of emotional starting points, you teach your congregation that God’s promises hold true no matter our emotional condition.

Music that feels like a performance. Revelation 5:13 pictures the worship of heaven as the song of an entire congregation. Our churches should provide a foretaste of that. Musical accompaniment can help by leading us in song and helping us through sections of songs that are more difficult to sing. Or it can overpower congregational worship and turn us from active worshipers into passive listeners. Consider the volume and complexity of your musical accompaniment: does it help congregational worship? Or do people mumble softly while listening to the worship band or the organ? To be sung well, some melodies require an exceptionally talented congregation and accompaniment. Yet good congregational melodies can work without accompaniment. If you don’t already, try going a cappella (without accompaniment) on the last verse or chorus of some of your songs. Little can build a feeling of congregational unity more than hearing the whole church sing their hearts out in passionate praise to God. We should design our musical style with this in mind.

Above all, we must teach our congregations that congregational worship requires sacrifice. That’s why the corrective action at the beginning of this section is not “aspire to a simple musical style that a broad range of people love” but that a broad range of people can use. If we’re serious about displaying the diversity that the gospel brings to a local congregation, then each of us will make sacrifices in the type of music we sing. Some may need to work to enjoy a particularly simple style of music. Some may need to work harder to worship God on Sunday morning. But through that small sacrifice, we enable congregational unity that sings a much more profound note of praise than any individual could ever produce on his own. And having experienced that taste of heaven, your congregation will gladly make the sacrifice.

July 05, 2015

I am sure you have considered God’s command in 1 Corinthians 11:28: “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” It sounds simple enough, but what is actually involved in this kind of self-examination? How should we prepare ourselves before celebrating the Lord’s supper? Thomas Haweis offers help in his classic work The Communicant’s Spiritual Companion, recently republished by Reformation Heritage Books. He offers these 4 directions:

Examine your repentance. Consider whether you have really repented of your former sins and purposed to lead a new life. You can help determine repentance by considering whether you have a sorrow for sin, a hatred of sin, a general forsaking of sin, and whether there are clear evidences of change in your heart and life. Have you confessed known sin? Are you genuinely sorry for how your sin has offended God? Is there evidence that God has been transforming you by his power?

Examine your faith. Consider whether you have a dead faith or a living faith—a mere speculative assent to the truth or a lively, genuine, energetic trust in God. This is the kind of faith that directs you to Christ as your propitiation and that lays hold of his strength as the only power that can cleanse and pardon you. Where is your trust? How often are you pondering the great truths of the gospel?

Examine your gratitude. Consider whether you are thankful for the precious privileges which are yours in Christ. If you are aware of the depth of your sin and the heights of God’s mercy, you must be filled with gratitude. Are you quick to give thanks when you pray? Are you quick to give thanks to God for his grace and mercy? Do you thank God for his most precious gift of his Son?

Examine your love. Consider whether you are “in charity with all men.” The Christian faith is a faith of love toward God that works itself out in love for one another. Are you harboring hatred or malice toward another person? Are you expressing love in acts of kindness and charity? Are you especially showing love to fellow believers?

“Let a person examine himself, then.” And let him do it by repentance, faith, gratitude, and love.

June 28, 2015

There isn’t anything easy about parenting. There isn’t anything easy about parenting girls. For that reason I enjoyed reading through Andy Farmer’s little booklet A Father’s Guide to Raising Girls. I found this section particularly helpful.

We will make our share of mistakes as dads do. But another factor we have to account for is our human weakness—our limits, our foibles, our character deficiencies that affect every aspect of our lives. Let me give you an example.

My girls used to love to stage plays while they were growing up. Elaborate multi–act performances involving friends, puppets, stuffed animals, Barbies, whatever they could cast for effect. There was one performance I’ll never forget. On a lazy Sunday afternoon the girls came up to the living room where we were hanging out and announced that they were going to do a play about mom and dad. We were naïve so we said we’d love to see it and film it for them. From a dramatic standpoint the play was not one of their better efforts. It was a kind of improvisational satire with little dramatic arc. Basically it consisted of Jill’s character running around in a cleaning frenzy while my character spent the entire play snoring on the couch with a newspaper over his head. As a work of art, I found the drama unmoving and my character entirely too one– dimensional.

However, in retrospect their performance was a great lens to see how my kids viewed me. I know snoozing was not the only experience they had of me, but it was a wake–up call that has kept me alert over the years. My ability to detach while at home and to find ways to indulge historic laziness is officially documented in the video of that performance.

Their little drama became a morality play revealing to me that my weaknesses are not private things. Nor are they inconsequential. The book of Proverbs is about weakness. It assumes weakness as a starting point for everyone—a lack of understanding that speaks of immaturity and limited insight. The first ten chapters of Proverbs are essentially one long appeal for us to grow—to seek wisdom and insight. Immaturity is not a permanent condition. Instead, it is the starting point to either wisdom and insight or foolishness and blindness. A father who is not seeking to address his weaknesses by the pursuit of wisdom will become blind to them and foolish in them.

We all have weaknesses. Here’s what I’ve learned about my weaknesses: they usually affect other people far more than they bother me. At times I’ve grown accustomed to them, made provision for them, coddled them where I can, compensated for that where I must, and ignored them wherever possible. But in some ways they define what others know about me.

How do you identify weaknesses in your life? Here’s a clue: your weaknesses are what others who really know you have to endure while living with you! If you can’t describe your weaknesses and how they affect others, you don’t really know them. Talk to those who are affected by your weaknesses. Ask your kids. Ask your wife. Ask your coworkers. Ask your heavenly Father. Asking God to open our eyes to our weaknesses is a scary prayer! But I’ve found that he answers those kinds of prayers with great mercy and abundant grace for change. It is a healthy family where dad gets real and gets wise about his weaknesses.

June 21, 2015

Few people have had a deeper impact on my way of thinking than John Stott. In his little book Your Mind Matters, he writes about the importance of being Christians who use our minds. But knowledge is not an end in and of itself. Rather, all that knowledge is meant to lead somewhere.

Knowledge should lead to worship. The true knowledge of God will result not in our being puffed up with conceit at how knowledgeable we are, but in our falling on our faces before God in sheer wonder and crying, “O the depths of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” Whenever our knowledge becomes dry or leaves us cold, something has gone wrong. For whenever Christ opens the Scriptures to us and we learn from him, our heart should be aglow within us. The more we know God the more we should love him.

Second, knowledge should lead to faith. We have already seen that knowledge is the foundation of faith and makes faith reasonable. “Those who know thy name put their trust in thee,” wrote the psalmist. It is our very knowledge of God’s nature and character which elicits our faith. But if we cannot believe without knowing, we must not know without believing. That is, our faith must grasp hold of whatever truth God reveals to us. Indeed, God’s message brings no benefit unless it meets with faith in the hearers. This is why Paul does more than pray that the eyes of our hearts may be enlightened to know the greatness of God’s power which has been demonstrated in the resurrection; he adds that this power which God accomplished in Christ is now available to use who believe. The first and necessary step is that we know in our minds the magnitude of God’s power, but this should lead us to appropriate his power in our lives by faith.

Third, knowledge should lead to holiness. We have to see how the more our knowledge grows, the greater our responsibility to put it into practice. Many biblical examples could be quoted. Psalm 119 is full of aspirations to know God’s law. Why? In order the better to obey it: “Give me understanding, that I may keep thy law and observe it with my whole heart.” Thomas Manton, the Puritan minister, who at one time was Oliver Cromwell’s chaplain, likened a disobedient Christian to a child suffering from rickets: “Rickets cause great heads and week feet. We are not only to dispute of the word, and talk of it, but to keep it. We must neither be all ear, nor all head, nor all tongue, but the feet must be exercised!”

Fourth, knowledge should lead to love. The more we know, the more we should want to share what we know with others and use our knowledge in their service, whether in evangelism or ministry. Sometimes, however, our love will restrain our knowledge. For by itself knowledge can be harsh; it needs to sensitivity which love can give it. This is what Paul meant when he wrote: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”

Knowledge is indispensable to Christian life and service. If we do not use the mind which God has given us, we condemn ourselves to superficiality and cut ourselves off from many of the riches of God’s grace. At the same time, knowledge is given us to be used, to lead us to higher worship, greater faith, deeper holiness, better service. What we need is not less knowledge but more knowledge, so long as we act upon it.

Image credit: Shutterstock

June 17, 2015

There is always one truth or another that is being disputed. There is always some doctrine or another that is under attack. And speaking personally, I find it hard to keep up. Sometimes it is best to recruit some help, and I did that very thing recently. I keep hearing about differing views on the historical Adam, with more and more people moving away from a strictly literal understanding that Adam was divinely created by God on the sixth day of creation. Knowing that William Vandoodewaard had just written a book on the subject (The Quest for the Historical Adam), I asked if he would help me sort it all out. He did that in this brief but helpful Q&A.

MeCan you briefly (and as objectively as possible) lay out the different options when it comes to the historical Adam? What are the predominant views?

WilliamThere are really five possible views:

  1. Adam was specially created by God on the sixth day, as understood by the literal interpretation of the Genesis text. Adam is created without ancestry, apart from any evolutionary processes. He is the first human.
  2. Adam was specially created in the manner that Genesis describes (out of the dust, life breathed into him), but without the time frame of six days of ordinary duration—it occurred at some unknown point in the ancient past. Adam is created without ancestry, and apart from any evolutionary processes. He is the first human.
  3. Adam was created through a combination of natural processes and supernatural, divine intervention at some unknown point in the ancient past. Evolutionary processes played a part in Adam’s creation, he had animal ancestry, but God intervened, doing something special in his conception, or making him human after birth, even though his biological parents were not. Some argue that God’s intervention included changing Adam’s physical constitution; others argue that it was only God’s gift of a spiritual constitution or soul that set Adam apart from his animal ancestors.
  4. Adam developed the same way as in #3, but he was simply an individual whom God entered into relationship with, making Adam religious. The immediate change that made Adam “human” was relational, not constitutional.
  5. There was no Adam. Adam is simply a figure or type for early humanity as a category. 

While these are the five main categories, it is helpful to be aware of their place and proportion. The historic, mainstream understanding of the Christian church is view #1. Despite continuing efforts to the contrary it remains the predominant view among evangelical Christians. By contrast, view #2, rooted in post-Enlightenment geological theories, is actually a minority stream. Views #3–5, while trendy, very vocal, and on the evangelical edge (where broad evangelicalism merges into theological liberalism), actually represent an even smaller fringe than view #2. 

Ongoing round-tables and “four views on Genesis and origins” type books produced by parts of evangelical academia are misleading. They give the impression that the literal understanding of origins is a minority when it actually remains an overwhelming majority commitment, much to the chagrin of its opponents.

MeWhat is really at stake here? What does the church stand to lose if we widely accept an alternate view of the historical Adam?

WilliamThe teaching of God’s Word is at stake here. God’s character is at stake. The gospel of Jesus Christ is at stake. Accepting an Adam with evolutionary origins immediately impacts what it means to be human, created by God in His image. It opens a Pandora’s box of theological problems—from Adam’s relationship with his animal parents and surrounding community, to the doctrine of sin and the fall, to God’s holiness, goodness, and justice. It immediately impacts the doctrine of Christ as the One by whom all things were created, as well as His incarnation and work of salvation. It’s an issue that touches so many others: from soteriology to race relations to sexual ethics to the new creation at the second coming. Those who take the logically consistent step beyond an evolutionary Adam to a figurative Adam join a line of thinkers including Voltaire and Kant. 

MeDo you think there is an inevitability here? Do you think that those who deny a historical Adam are necessarily on a slope to full-out theological liberalism?

WilliamThe denial of a historical Adam is already theological liberalism, beyond the bounds not only of evangelicalism, but also historic Christianity. There is an inevitability of further decline, not always in the case of the individual who departs further from Christian orthodoxy, but almost always in the next generation, and in any institution or church that allows this. The underlying problem is the capitulation to reading Scripture through the lens of this world’s culture and thought, rather than reading culture and thought through the lens of Scripture.