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

Tim Challies

Challies on FacebookChallies on Twitter


December 16, 2010

So we’ve got just one week left in our reading of R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God. Next week we’ll wrap up—rather good timing, I think, since the holidays are just about upon us.


This week’s chapter was titled “Looking Beyond Shadows.” In the first part of the chapter, Dr. Sproul writes about the ways in which man refuses to acknowledge God as God. God has revealed himself clearly to each and every individual in the world, but left to ourselves we despise that revelation and suppress it.

The real person of God is really known through the real revelation that takes place in the real realm of nature. But the problem is that in the case of God, we distort our knowledge of Him with an image that we create ourselves. This is the essence of idolatry; replacing the reality with a counterfeit. We distort the truth of God and reshape our understanding of Him according to our own preferences, leaving us with a God who is anything but holy.

Paul does not bring a universal indictment against humanity for the failure to know God. That is not our problem. It is not that we fail to know that God is and who God is; it is that we refuse to believe what we know to be true. Here we face a problem that is not an intellectual problem. It is a moral problem. It is the problem of dishonesty. All idolatry is rooted in this fundamental dishonesty.

God’s holiness is not an arcane secret that may be discovered only by some spiritually elite group of people. Rather God’s holiness is on display daily for everyone to see. Again it is not merely that it is available to be seen for those who earnestly search for it. Rather Paul’s point is that God’s holiness is seen, and it is seen clearly.

…The knowledge of God that is given through creation is not a knowledge we warmly receive and embrace. Instead it is our nature to abhor this knowledge of God’s holiness. It is characteristic of the reprobate mind not to want to retain God in our knowledge. We prefer to change the holy into something less than holy. It is this rejection of God’s majesty that leaves us with minds that are darkened. It results in a massive foolishness that has disastrous consequences for our lives. Once we refuse to honor God as God, our whole view of life and the world becomes distorted.

December 02, 2010

Today we continue with our readings in R.C. Sproul’s classic work The Holiness of God. This week we come to chapter 8, “War and Peace with a Holy God.” I know that quite a few of you continue to read along; I trust you’re enjoying this rather amazing book.


As with last week, I think I’m going to focus on quotes from the chapter rather than writing out a summary of it (since that is meaningful even to people who aren’t involved in the project). I find that this is a very quotable book and that even the short quotes offer a lot to ponder.

The saints of Scripture were called saints not because they were already pure but because they were people who were set apart and called to purity.

My sins have not brought me happiness. But my sins have brought me pleasure. I like pleasure. I am still very much attracted to pleasure. Pleasure can be great fun. And not all pleasures are sins. There is much pleasure to be found in righteousness. But the difference is still there. Sin can be pleasurable, but it never brings happiness.

Our marks of piety can actually be evidences of impiety. When we major in minors and blow insignificant trifles out of proportion, we imitate the Pharisees. When we make dancing and movies the test of spirituality, we are guilty of substituting a cheap morality for a genuine one. We do these things to obscure the deeper issues of righteousness. Anyone can avoid dancing or going to movies. These require no great effort of moral courage. What is difficult is to control the tongue, to act with integrity, to reveal the fruit of the Spirit.

The key method Paul underscores as the means to the transformed life is by the “renewal of the mind.” This means nothing more and nothing less than education. Serious education. In-depth education. Disciplined education in the things of God. It calls for a mastery of the Word of God. We need to be people whose lives have changed because our minds have changed.

To be conformed to Jesus, we must first begin to think as Jesus did. We need the “mind of Christ.” We need to value the things He values and despise the things He despises. We need to have the same priorities He has. We need to consider weighty the things that He considers weighty. That cannot happen without a mastery of His Word. The key to spiritual growth is in-depth Christian education that requires a serious level of sacrifice.

If we say we have faith, but no works follow, that is clear evidence that our faith is not genuine. True faith always produces real conformity to Christ. If justification happens to us, then sanctification will surely follow. If there is no sanctification, it means that there never was any justification.

November 25, 2010

This will be an abbreviated Thanksgiving edition of Reading Classics Together (since, honestly, most people aren’t doing a lot of surfing today…so maybe if I keep it short, you’ll be able to read quickly and get back to the family!). This week I will simply share some of my favorite quotes from chapter 7 of The Holiness of God. The chapter is titled “War and Peace with a Holy God.”


People in awe never complain that church is boring.

The struggle we have with a holy God is rooted in the conflict between God’s righteousness and our unrighteousness. He is just, and we are unjust. This tension creates fear, hostility, and anger within us toward God. The unjust person does not desire the company of a just judge. We become fugitives, fleeing from the presence of One whose glory can blind us and whose justice can condemn us. We are at war with Him unless or until we are justified. Only the justified person can be comfortable in the presence of a holy God.

When God signs a peace treaty, it is signed for perpetuity. The war is over, forever and ever. Of course we still sin; we still rebel; we still commit acts of hostility toward God. But God is not a cobelligerent. He will not be drawn into warfare with us. We have an advocate with the Father. We have a mediator who keeps the peace. He rules over the peace because He is both the Prince of Peace and He is our peace.

November 18, 2010

If I were to tell someone to read just a single chapter of “The Holiness of God” I would probably recommend chapter 6, “Holy Justice.” More than any other, I think, this chapter displays the holiness of God using the testimony of Scripture. In this chapter Sproul looks to the Word and draws from it what God wants us to know about his holy justice.


I think I can best tell the story of this week’s chapter through a series of quotes. First, though, let me say that this is the chapter in which Dr. Sproul discusses Nadab and Abihu and then Uzzah—biblical characters who were struck down by God for not taking his holiness seriously. Sproul shows that these are not cases of God’s arbitrary nature or quick temper, but cases of God defending his own holiness. These are times in which God shows his holy justice.

God’s justice is never divorced from His righteousness. He never condemns the innocent. He never clears the guilty. He never punishes with undo severity. He never fails to reward righteousness. His justice is perfect justice.

We have a saying that “justice delayed is justice denied.” Not always. In the case of creation and mankind’s fall, the full measure of justice was delayed so grace would have time to work. Here the delay of justice was not the denial of justice but the establishing of mercy and grace.

Sin is cosmic treason. Sin is treason against a perfectly pure Sovereign. It is an act of supreme ingratitude toward the One to whom we owe everything, to the One who has given us life itself. Have you ever considered the deeper implications of the slightest sin, of the most minute peccadillo? What are we saying to our Creator when we disobey Him at the slightest point? We are saying no to the righteousness of God. We are saying, “God, Your law is not good. My judgement is better than Yours. Your authority does not apply to me. I am above and beyond Your jurisdiction. I have the right to do what I want to do, not what You command me to do.”

November 04, 2010

In this week’s episode of the Conneted Kingdom Podcast, David and I answer questions sent to us by readers of this blog and by people who listen to the show. We talk about reading good books, Bible translations, family devotions, doubt and assurance, the size of our libraries, how many books we read, the Holy Spirit in the Old Testament and what your chances are of winning Free Stuff Fridays. All that in one short show. Enjoy!

If you want to give us feedback or join in the discussion, go ahead and look up our Facebook Group or leave a comment right here.

You will always be able to find the most recent episode here on the blog. If you would like to subscribe via iTunes, you can do that here or if you want to subscribe with another audio player, you can try this RSS link.

November 04, 2010

This week’s chapter of The Holiness of God is titled “The Trauma of Holiness.” I love the title; it introduces an immediate question that just begs for an answer: If holiness is so good, how could it be in any way traumatic? It’s a clever little hook.


Sproul begins with the story of Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee. At the conclusion of the story he points to the disciples’ reaction to the fact that Jesus could simply speak and calm the storm: they were terrified. And here he makes an application that really struck me. “Now that the sea was calm, the fear of the disciples increased.” Sproul answers, “In the power of Christ they met something more frightening than they had ever met in nature. They were in the presence of the holy. … It is one thing to fall victim to the flood or to fall prey to cancer; it is another thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” He points as well to a rather interesting little point. “The words the disciples spoke after Jesus calmed the sea are very revealing. They cried out, ‘Who is this?’ The King James Version expresses the question like this: ‘What manner of man is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’ The question was ‘What manner of man is this?’ They were asking a question of kind.” In other words, they were looking to put Jesus in a category, realizing that he was in a class all by himself. They saw that he was holy. And this holiness traumatized them.

A little later in the chapter Sproul looks to the Pharisees, the religious leaders who were regarded as the holiest of the holy. They were revered as men who were singularly pure, as men who drew near to God by their fastidious obedience to his every law.

Through their singular devotion to the pursuit of holiness, the Pharisees achieved a level of popular respect for piety and righteousness that was without parallel. They had no peers. They were accorded lofty human praise. They were welcomed to privileged seats in the banquet halls. They were admired as experts in religion. Their uniforms were decorated with the tassels of their exalted ranks. They could be seen practicing their virtue in public places. They fasted where everyone could see them. They bowed their heads in solemn prayer on the street corners and restaurants. No one missed the clang of the coin in the beggar’s cup when the Pharisees game alms. Their “holiness” was plain for everyone to see. Jesus called them hypocrites.

But then there was Jesus, who was so different from the Pharisees.

October 05, 2010

As Christians we sit through a lot of sermons. The preaching ministry is one of God’s greatest means of grace to us, the means by which he teaches us truth, by which he calls us to pursue truth and to live out of it. And yet many of us are passive listeners, people who expect great preaching skill from the pastor but demand no listening skill from ourselves.

Lately I have come across a few resources dedicated to helping Christians be better listeners, to help them emphasize active listening. Here are three of them, each with a few words of description and an overview of the contents. If you have never read a book on how to listen to a sermon, I’d encourage you to do that. Take full advantage of the privilege you have of sitting under the ministry of the Word!

Helping Johnny Listen

Helping Johnny ListenHelping Johnny Listen by Thadeus Bergmeier. “The preaching of God’s Word happens tens of thousands of times each week across the world.  As these sermons are given, when the preacher is faithful to the text of the Scripture, it is as if God is speaking to the people of that given congregation. The question is, are people listening? Listening to preaching is more than showing up, sitting still or even nodding one’s head.  It is taking that which is preached and applying it to life.  Helping Johnny Listen is a book designed to help the average person who sits in the average church on the average Sunday take full advantage of the sermons they hear so that they are able to live what they hear.” 

Thad’s book is written from a pastoral perspective and is applicable to any level of listener. I was glad to see that he included a section on the difficulties of being a preacher and a listener in the Internet age—when better sermons by better preachers are available in the millions online. He focuses on the importance of being a faithful listener within the long context of a single local church.

Here is how he structures the book:

  1. The Preaching Intersection
  2. Receive the Preaching of God’s Word
  3. Examine the Preaching of God’s Word
  4. Live the Preaching of God’s Word
  5. Persevere the Preaching of God’s Word

($20 at Amazon)

Expository Listening

Expository ListeningExpository Listening: A Handbook for Hearing and Doing God’s Word by Ken Ramey. “In many people’s mind, if they don’t get anything out of the sermon, it’s the preacher’s fault. But that’s only half true. The Bible teaches that listeners must partner with the preacher so that the Word of God accomplishes its intended purpose of transforming their life. Expository Listening is your handbook on biblical listening. It is designed to equip you not only to understand what true, biblical preaching sounds like, but also how to receive it, and ultimately, what to do about it. You need to know how to look for the Word of God, to love the Word of God, and to live the Word of God. In this way, God and His Word will be honored and glorified through your life.”

Ken’s book is also written at a popular level and, with just 110 pages of text, is quite a manageable read. It comes endorsed by John MacArthur, Joel Beeke, Jay Adams, Lance Quinn, Thabiti Anyabwile and yours truly.

He follows this structure:

  1. Welcoming the Word
  2. A Theology of Listening
  3. Hearing with Your Heart
  4. Harrowing Your Heart to Hear
  5. The Itching Ear Epidemic
  6. The Discerning Listener
  7. Practice What You Hear
  8. Listening Like Your Life Depends on It

($10.19 at Amazon | $10.07 at Westminster Books)

Listen Up

Listen UpListen Up by Christopher Ash. “Why on earth does anyone need a guide on how to listen to sermons? Don’t we simply need to ‘be there’ and stay awake? Yet Jesus said: ‘Consider carefully how you listen.’ The fact is, much more is involved in truly listening to Bible teaching than just sitting and staring at the preacher. Christopher Ash outlines seven ingredients for healthy listening. He then deals with how to respond to bad sermons - ones that are dull, or inadequate, or heretical. And finally, he challenges us with ideas for helping and encouraging our Bible teachers to give sermons that will really help us to grow as Christians.”

Ash’s book is actually just a booklet, weighing in at only 31 pages. The beauty of this one is that very thing—its brevity. This is the kind of booklet you can buy in bulk and distribute widely. Many churches hand it out to all of their members as a reminder of their duty to listen. In those 31 pages, Ash packs in quite a lot of value. The book is an an attractive, fun, easy-to-read format that will make people want to read it.

Here is the way he breaks down the subject:

  1. Expect God to Speak
  2. Admit God Knows Better Than You
  3. Check the Preacher Says What the Passage Says
  4. Hear the Sermon in Church
  5. Be There Week by Week
  6. Do What the Bible Says
  7. Do What the Bible Says Today—and Rejoice!
  8. How to Listen to Bad Sermons
  9. Suggestions for Encouraging Good Preaching

($2.39 at Westminster Books, discounts for bulk purchasing)

October 02, 2010

Last week I told you about the next classic work of the Christian faith that I’d like to read along with you. You can see that post here. Today I simply want to remind you about this, to see who else would like to participate (Thanks to the 100+ who already siad they’re interested!) and to remind all of you to go out and buy the book.

The format of this program is simple: every week we read a chapter or a section of a classic of the Christian faith and then on Thursday we check in at my blog to discuss it. It’s that easy: one chapter per week.

The Holiness of GodThe next book I want to read with you is R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God. I am convinced that this is destined to be a classic in its own right—one that will be read 50 and 100 years from now. James Montgomery Boice agreed saying, “It may be a bit early to call R.C. Sproul’s The Holiness of God one of the classic theological works of our time. But if it does not have that status yet, it is well on the way to achieving it.”

Now celebrating 25 years of publication, this classic can help you better understand the biblical picture of God’s awesome holiness and why it is so foundational to God-centered, God-honoring theology and Christian living. In The Holiness of God , R.C. Sproul demonstrates that encountering God’s holy presence is a terrifying experience. Dr. Sproul argues that this struggle is nonetheless necessary because it is the only way to cure our propensity to trust in ourselves and our own righteousness for salvation.

This is the kind of book that every Christian should read and the kind that is ideally suited for reading more than once. So if you have read it before, don’t think that means you can’t read it with us again.

Let’s start reading together on October 14. That gives you just about two more weeks to find a copy of the book, something that will not prove difficult since it is very widely available. For October 14 please get ahold of a copy of the book and read the first chapter. And then simply return to the blog on that day and we can compare notes.

Now, you need to get a copy. Westminster Books has it at $9.09. Amazon has it at $10.07 or $9.57 for the Kindle. And if you’d like to go straight to the source, to Ligonier Ministries, you can find it there for $8.40 or in the exclusive pocket-size edition for just $4.00 (It is also avaiable in Spanish, if you prefer).

So go ahead and get yourself a copy. And then let me know if you intend to read along with us. Just leave a comment…