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sanctification

July 10, 2011

Have you ever asked the Lord that he would teach you to grow in faith and love and grace? Have you ever asked the Lord that you might know more of him, or that he might give you the desire to more earnestly seek his face? John Newton asked this of the Lord and later wrote a hymn about it. It is not one that we tend to sing in our churches, but it is one that is worth reading as a poem. Newton was granted what he asked, but not in the way he had wanted or in the way he had expected.

I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith and love and every grace
Might more of His salvation know
And seek more earnestly His face

Twas He who taught me thus to pray
And He I trust has answered prayer
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair

I hoped that in some favored hour
At once He’d answer my request
And by His love’s constraining power
Subdue my sins and give me rest

Instead of this He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart
And let the angry powers of Hell
Assault my soul in every part

Yea more with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Cast out my feelings, laid me low

Lord why is this, I trembling cried
Wilt Thou pursue thy worm to death?
“Tis in this way” The Lord replied
“I answer prayer for grace and faith”

“These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free
And break thy schemes of earthly joy
That thou mayest seek thy all in me,
That thou mayest seek thy all in me.”

October 19, 2010

Last week I wrote about Sex & Assurance of Salvation, using that post to bring together two ideas that had been floating around my brain. Today I want to do that one more time—I want to use a post to smash two ideas together.

Many Christians talk about seekers, those who are in the midst of pursuing God. Of course this is a little bit of a misnomer since the Bible makes it clear that no one truly seeks after God. As Romans 3 says, “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” Case closed. Sinful man does not pursue God.

What this means is that no one initiates a pursuit of God—the kind of pursuit that would lead to salvation. Instead, it is God who is the initiator and the pursuer. It is God who seeks us. R.C. Sproul says “from our vantage point it seems to us that unregenerate people are in fact seeking after God. But God is not hiding. He is in plain view. His creation clearly and manifestly displays his glory. Fallen humans are not by nature seekers after God. We are fugitives from God, fully intent upon escaping from him.” We do not pursue; we flee. And there is a sense in which we do not need to pursue, since evidence of God surrounds us all the time.

Yet this can be hard to believe because it often looks as if unbelievers truly are seeking God. It seems, for all the world, as if they are truly seeking and yet not finding—as if they are seeking and God is keeping himself hidden from them. Aquinas offered an answer to this dilemma, and again, I turn here to R.C. Sproul. “He explained that the unbeliever desperately seeks happiness, peace of mind, meaning and significance in life, relief from guilt, and a host of other things we link inseparably with God. We make the gratuitous assumption that because people are seeking things that only God can give them that they are therefore seeking God.” So what, then, is the real situation? “People seek the benefits of God, while all the while fleeing from God himself.”

So what appears to be a pursuit of God may well be the exact opposite; something that seems noble may well be utterly evil. While it may seem that a person is pursuing God, he is actually simply seeking what only God can provide, all the while hating God himself.

October 11, 2010

It is Thanksgiving in Canada today. And while I’m stuffing myself with turkey and other stuff, I’m turning the blog over to a guest blogger. Nancy Leigh DeMoss prepared this article, a look at the way spiritual change takes place in the life of the Christian. As it happens, I’ll be spending this coming weekend in Fort Worth with Nancy and her ministry for the True Woman conference.

*****

Recently I ran into a woman I had not seen for several weeks. I hardly recognized her. Her hair, normally blonde, had turned completely white. The transformation was dramatic. All it took was forty minutes and some bleach.

If only spiritual transformation were that easy. Just read a book, see a counselor, attend a conference, make a fresh commitment, shed a few tears at an altar, memorize a few verses … and, presto, out comes a mature, godly Christian.

To the contrary, the experience of many believers looks like this.

Commit. Fail. Confess.
Re-commit. Fail again. Confess again.
Re-re-commit. Fail again. Give up.

After all the struggle and effort, we tend to want a “quick fix”—a once-for-all victory—so we won’t have to keep wrestling with the same old issues.

In my own walk with God, I have discovered some helpful principles about how spiritual change takes place.

1. Deep, lasting spiritual change rarely happens overnight. It is a process that involves training, testing, and time. There are no shortcuts.

We hear of people being dramatically delivered from drug or alcohol addiction, and we may wonder, “Why doesn’t God do that for me? Why do I have to struggle with this food addiction, with lust, worry, and anger?”

Before the children of Israel could possess the Promised Land, they had to drive out the pagan nations that occupied Canaan. Ultimate victory was assured if they would “trust and obey,” but it would take time. “I will not drive them out in a single year,” God said. “Little by little, I will drive them out before you” (Exodus 23:29-30).

God is committed to winning the hearts and developing the character of His people. That requires a process.

November 07, 2008

Guest blog by Andrew Lindsey

Mark Lamprecht is also live-blogging this Conference, and is catching some statements that I miss. Read his posts HERE.

March 27, 2008

You’ve probably seen this video. If not, you’ll want to take six minutes of your life and give it a look. It’s Bob Newhart at his best, really. If you’ve heard his old bits about the discovery of tobacco or the invention of baseball you’ll see that not much has changed over the years. He’s as funny as ever. His stuttering, his naivete—it’s the same as it ever was. It’s brilliant.

In the case of this video, though, every time I see it I can’t help but think he’s just a little bit more than funny—he shares some advice that is surprisingly valuable, even if it is both abrupt and hilarious. I keep the video around and watch it every now and again. I think it’s good for me to do so. Sometimes I think that, as a Christian, I can go looking for cures for sin that are long and involved and a little bit mysterious. I can go to friends or pastors or books for counsel and, like the woman in this video, I’m looking for a cure that I can jot down in a notebook and follow step-by-step. I want something I can do twice a day for ten days and watch the sin magically fall away. I want a five or ten step program. Sometimes such strategies work. Often they do not.

In Mark Driscoll’s book Confessions of a Reformission Rev he shares a late-night conversation with a member of his church. This video reminded me of Driscoll’s tale. The man called him in the middle of the night crying and begging for help because he had committed a certain sexual sin yet again. Though Driscoll’s answer was a tad vulgar I think he essentially gave the guy the right one: Just stop it! His counsel to the man was probably exactly what he needed to hear: shut up, grow up, man up and stop sinning. The guy called his pastor looking for a shoulder to cry on but what he got was a lesson in growing up. I hope it wasn’t lost on him.

Some time ago I spoke to a friend about an ongoing sin in his life and tried to show him that the essence of his problem was this: he hates his sin just a little bit less than he loves it. Sure he wants to stop sinning, but even more he wants to keep sinning. And I think he came to agree. My advice was pretty well what Newhart offered the woman in this video: “Stop it!” Are you fighting sin? I’ll pray for you—really, I will. And I’ll recommend that you memorize some Scriptures, some fighter verses, that will help you battle that sin by bringing to mind the promises of God. But I’ll also challenge you to just stop it and to stop it now. You stop sinning by turning your back on it. You do not sit back and wait for God to change you while you remain in your sin. Rather, you join him in the fight, joining your will with His strength. And together you go to war.

I can memorize Scripture from Genesis to Revelation and I can have the whole world pray for me. But there comes a time when forsaking sin, truly putting it to death, requires a decision of the mind and an act of the will. Sooner or later I need to just stop it. And God can give me the strength to do so.

March 14, 2008

This morning began with John MacArthur’s second and final sermon. His topic was “Simultaneously Righteous and a Sinner” (or, to use the latin theological term, simul iustus et peccator). He turned first to the well-known story of the raising of Lazarus and on that basis titled his message (rather creatively, I might add), “We Have Been Raised but We Stink.”

He looked to the story of Lazarus and remarked on the fact that, even after Lazarus left his grave, the smell of death would have been upon him. His clothes would have been scented with death, so that though he was alive, death clung to him. MacArthur used that as a metaphor for Christians today—people who have been saved from sin but who still have death upon us. Of course eventually the metaphor breaks down. After all, once Lazarus removed his grave clothes, the smell of death would have left him. He could have bathed and all traces of death would have been gone. But our predicament is not quite so easy. We do not just have grave clothes that stink, but we have a full, dead carcass—the presence of sin that remains upon and within us. The stench of death is not just on us, but all through us.

From here he turned to Romans 6 and 7 and showed that there the Lord tells us that we are no longer slaves to sin because once a person dies he is no longer a slave. Death frees him. Through Christ’s death we have been freed from sin’s mastery—we are no longer in slavery to sin. Sin no longer rules or has dominion. We now need to consider ourselves dead to sin but alive to God. Having been freed from sins we now become slaves of righteousness. There was an entity in existence that is no longer in existence. There was a real death and this was a real transformation. We often hear that when we are converted we have a new nature added to our old nature. But this is not the language of the New Testament. It is not addition but transformation—the death of one entity and the creation of a new one. The change in you when you were converted is greater than the change will be at your death. Death is simply subtraction.

Can we become total masters over sin and achieve sinlessness? Is that our goal or objective? Those who hold to perfectionism necessarily separate the act that brings justification and an act that brings sanctification. They separate these so a person can, by an act of his free will, become entirely free from sin. To support this, they downgrade the definition of sin only to acts which are premeditated.

Even mature, theologically-informed Christians can fall into the trap and fall into wrong thinking about sanctification. Part of the cure is ensuring that we truly understand both justification and sanctification—the similarities and differences. If you know these things you can immediately dismiss all talk of perfectionism.

He outlined five similarities between justification and sanctification:

  • -Both arise from the free grace of God.
  • Both are part of Christ’s redemptive work of salvation.
  • Both will (and must) be present in the same persons.
  • Both begin simultaneously.
  • Both are necessary to glorification.

And then he outlined five differences:

  • In justification a person is counted righteous because Christ’s righteousness is imputed to him. In sanctification a person has to work out his salvation over time.
  • The righteousness of justification is not our own, but Christ’s. The righteousness of sanctification is ours, though wrought by the Spirit.
  • Our works play no part in justification but are critical to sanctification.
  • Justification is instantaneous and instantly complete while sanctification is an incomplete and imperfect work.
  • Justification does not increase or develop or grow while sanctification is progressive as Christians grow in their spiritual walk towards glorification.

MacArthur took us on a survey through Scripture to show that perfectionism simply cannot be supported by Scripture. The Bible supports no leaps into eradication or total consecration. Rather, the Christian life is a slow and steady climb towards increased holiness (or, as J.C. Ryle says, a slow climb up an inclined plane). While we try to do the right thing, all we do and all we are is permeated by the flesh, by that old man who cannot be entirely eradicated until we are glorified.

What do we do about it? Believers do everything they can to kill the sin that remains. They do not imagine that they have no sin, but instead endeavor by all the means of grace to mortify the sin that remains. They abstain from sin, they avoid sin, they read Scripture, meditate upon Scripture, pray constantly. It is a lifelong battle we fight daily. It’s a battle that must be fought with passion.

MacArthur closed by borrowing an Old Testament example. He turned to 1 Samuel 15 where God commands Saul to utterly destroy the Amalekites for their cowardly attack on the Israelite women and children. But Saul and the people disobeyed God, sparing Agag and the best of the plunder. Failure to obey God cost Saul his throne and cost him his kingly lineage. Finally Samuel commanded that Agag be brought before him and he hacked him to pieces, but did not wipe out all of his people. A few years later the Amalekites were stronger than ever and began to torment the Israelites with raids and with battle. David attacked but once more did not destroy them utterly. A few generations later Haman showed up (in the book of Esther) and once more sought to destroy the Jews. The analogy is this: that you need to be obedient to God, ruthlessly hacking sin to pieces or it will come back and will come back stronger than ever. Putting sin to death is a lifelong process and one that will be perfected only in the day of Jesus Christ. Until then we are and shall remain both righteous and sinful.

October 29, 2007

Next year is an Olympic year and in the summer of 2008, athletes will converge on Beijing to complete in 302 events across 28 different sports. Already we are beginning to hear about qualifying events and national Olympic committees choosing the teams they will send to China to represent their countries. There isn’t an athlete who isn’t already dreaming of earning a spot on the Olympic team and earning a gold medal for his country.

Athletes know that to earn a spot on the team and to have any hope of bringing home a medal, they need to commit to a serious training regimen. Though the Olympics are still almost 300 days away from the opening ceremonies, all around the world men and women are preparing themselves, pushing their bodies to the limits, enduring grueling competitions, so they can be at their absolute best when the games kick off on August 8, 2008. Only with constant practice, constant attention to their sport, will these athletes be ready to perform at the highest standards. Only those who are absolutely dedicated to their sport will win the prize.

This weekend I read Craig Brown’s The Five Dilemmas of Calvinism, a small book that has just been published by Ligonier Ministries. It is a book that seeks to address five of the most common charges against Calvinistic theology, showing how Calvinism ultimately addresses these issues in a way that is faithful to Scripture. In a brief Foreword to this book, R.C. Sproul says something that resonated in my mind throughout the weekend. He first quotes Hebrews 5:12-14 which reads. “[E]veryone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” Sproul than says, “In other words, there is much to the Scriptures and the Christian faith beyond what immediately meets the eye, and it is not easy to get at it—‘constant practice’ is necessary to move from the ‘unskilled’ state to that of ‘mature’ and ‘trained.’ Even Peter acknowledged the difficulty of doctrine when he said of the letters of his colleague Paul, the apostle who, more than any other, laid down the doctrinal basics of the Christian faith: ‘There are some things in them that are hard to understand’ (2 Peter 3:16b). He was right. For this reason, I would be suspicious of any doctrinal system I could thoroughly grasp with ease.”

As I was writing The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment I spent quite a bit of time studying and pondering those verses from Hebrews 5. I found them challenging verses and ones that had important things to tell us about discernment and its deep connection to spiritual maturity. I’ve written about that here in the past in a three-part Call to Discernment.

But the verses are also a challenge to us in that they exhort us to constant practice. All around the world Olympic athletes are practicing as they gear up for the Olympics, hoping that they can bring a medal home with them. And yet many Christians seemed lulled into complacency about the spiritual matters that are of far greater importance than any athletic competition. The Bible is clear, not only in Hebrews but in other passages, that God expects and demands maturity. He expects that we will move beyond the unskilled state to the state of one who is mature and trained—the state of one who is ready to be challenged.

As I read these words from Hebrews and as I pondered their significance I was led to ask myself, “What have I done today to prepare myself?” I am certain that this is a question athletes must ask themselves every day as well. And I asked again this morning, “What will I do to practice today?” To be a man who is mature in my faith and to be a person who is ready to have my faith challenged, I must practice and I must dedicate myself to maturity. Have I done those things God requires of me in order to mature in my faith? Have I given time to learning from Him in the Bible? Have I spent time communing with Him in prayer? Have I dedicated myself to a local church and to sharing my life with other Christian men and women? If I wish to be mature, I must train. And if I am to be mature, I must train in the way God tells me to.

My challenge to you and my challenge to myself at the beginning of another week is simply this: What have you done to practice?

July 30, 2007

Monday July 30, 2007

Church: Trevin Wax discusses the phrase “personal relationship with Jesus” asks whether this phrase helps or hinders evangelism.

Culture: Peggy Noonan says that we live in an age of great wealth but of lousy manners. And I would tend to agree.

Homosexuality: Dr. Mohler’s most recent commentary is worth reading as he writes about the normalization of homosexuality and how this conflicts with man’s natural morality.

Du Jour: Lifehacker shares a good productivity tip, courtesy of Jerry Seinfeld.

July 16, 2007

Monday July 16, 2007

Culture: Dr. Mohler sounds an important warning about “Screen Kids” and a whole generation of children being raised by their electronic devices.

Photo: I did the research and it turns out that this is a real photograph. Can you imagine?

Nature: This site looks to nature to find some examples of stunning color palettes.

September 02, 2005

I have watched far too much coverage of the Katrina aftermath. In fact, I don’t think I have watched so much news coverage since 9/11. I do not have a lot of choice of what to watch, as CNN is the only news outlet in my list of channels that is constantly covering the event. This morning I did spend a bit of time watching coverage on some of the morning news shows.

What I began to notice yesterday and this morning is that the media is quickly and perhaps subtley changing their focus and are now desperately seeking someone to blame. They are quickly putting a negative spin on even good news. Note that the Houston Astrodome does not represent a great success in transportation, but a failure because it has already filled and buses are being diverted to other shelters. The headlines proclaim that victims are being “turned away” from the Astrodome. The media suddenly seem interested more in finding a culprit than in reporting the news. And in the media it seems that all roads lead to the White House. Here is my interpretation of some of the questions I heard the media asking various figures this morning.

Asked of Michael D. Brown, Principal Federal Officer for Hurricane Katrina response. “Thank you for taking the time to speak with us this morning. You must be a busy man, especially as you flail hopelessly in this putrid morass of your own making. You are clearly an incompetent fool and one unsuited for this position. Tell me, why are you doing nothing for the people of New Orleans?”

Asked of generic Republican politician A. “Millions of Americans who thought Farenheit 9/11 was the very height of journalistic integrity would like to know why President Bush has not yet toured New Orleans. Is it because he is preoccupied with satisfying his insatiable appetite for eating babies?”

Asked of generic Republican politician B. “For many years we have been told that New Orleans could withstand a Category 3 hurricane, but not a Category 4 or 5. For two days we knew this was going to be a major hurricane and yet President Bush, who was provided with powers of omniscience when he took this oath of office, did not adequately prepare the region. Why is this?”

Asked of Governor Kathleen Blanco. Last night you warned the roving gangs in New Orleans that the National Guard has been trained in the use of their firearms and that they may shoot to kill. Why is it that you intend to kill people who are only seeking to find food or water to feed their families?”

A reflection by a news anchor. “I make $8 million a year and live in a penthouse apartment in New York City. I earn merely $7,983,000 more than the average New Orlean. So I believe that I speak for the average victim of this disaster when I say, “When will it no longer be too soon to cast the blame for this disaster on President Bush?”

At this point I am beginning to wonder what good the media is doing. Are they really helping this situation? Isn’t there more they can do? Surely they can use their camera time a little more productively than searching around for someone (who probably works in an oval office) to blame. At least wait until the situation has stabilized!

Anyways, I think it is time for me to turn off the television for a while before I get a little too disillusioned with the Mainstream Media. Oops, it’s already too late!

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