Fumbling and Trusting

As we have settled in Newton, MA, much of my posting will be originally assigned to the pastoral blog of the Christ Community Church website (still somewhat under construction).  I highly recommend your visitation.  In fact, this is your invitation.  For two other brothers much greater than I, Erik Schaefer and Joe Keune, will be blogging there as well on everything from pastoral ministry to biblical counseling to mission in Newton and to the nations.  However, my posts there, I’ll link here.  And I’ll continue to write here occasionally, while also linking up to other thoughts that I think will be tasteful food for your hearts and lives.

Go here to read Fumbling and Trusting, a brief synopsis of our discovered weakness in Christian mission and how this realization is the best place to be, for there God’s power is made perfect.

Please continue to pray for us, especially for our faith, holiness, love and unity in the Spirit.  Pray also for our first Bible study, beginning October 7.

100 Quotes From You On Sanctification, posted by Jonathan Parnell

I love quotes.  I especially love good, edifying quotes.  And I really love good, edifying quotes dealing with Bible knowledge and the Christian life.  So go here for 100 quotes on sanctification gathered by Desiring God in lieu of their upcoming National Conference.

When He Lies, He Speaks Out of His Own Character

I happened to be watching ESPN’s First Take this morning, while wearing out my daughter before putting her down for a nap.  The particular topic being discussed was whether or not the debaters were buying Tim Tebow’s comments pertaining to the success of fellow New York Jets quarterback, Mark Sanchez.  One of the debaters, Stephen A. Smith, essentially said he didn’t buy it, which was followed by Skip Bayless with the charge that he had called Tebow a liar.  Smith then posed the million dollar question to defend what he had said: if someone lies one time, is he a liar?  Does that speak to his essential character?  For the record, Smith said “no,” while Bayless said “yes,” although Bayless, a lover of all things Tim Tebow, did not accuse the Jets quarterback of lying.  And both of these men are professing Christians.

Whether or not Bayless could defend his position theologically, I do not know.  But Jesus can.

John 8.31-47 has become one of the most important passages in the Bible for me in understanding why we do what we do, say what we say, think what we think, desire and will what we desire and will.  It is a passage about universal enslavement dependent upon one’s nature.  You see, all human beings are born with not one but two fathers: an earthly father and the devil.  All human beings are born as Paul says it, “dead in trespasses and sins . . . following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience — among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Eph 2.1-3).  Jesus simply says it this way, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (Jn 8.44).  By contrast, He ends the text with, “Why do you not believe me?  Whoever is of God hears the words of God.  The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (Jn 8.46-47).  In other words, while all human beings are, at first, stillborn spiritually as children of the devil, being not “of God,” yet God in His grace regenerates the spiritually dead sinner, and in this process makes the person a new creation with a new heart, new desires, a new will, and a new nature out of which the believer now lives, thinks, acts, speaks.  The Christian is “of God.”  We have been “born of God.”  We are the children of God.  God is our Father, and this changes everything.  We are no longer enslaved to the desires of the devil.  We are set free to be a slave to God.

As Jesus explains these things to his audience, He says something fundamental about the relationship between character and action.  In John 8.44 Jesus teaches, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.  He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him.  When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”  The reason they won’t believe Jesus is because Jesus is telling them the truth, but their father is the father of lies, he is a liar, and therefore he lies.  And because the will of the unrepentant sinner is to do their father’s desires, they embrace his lie, they lie.

Jesus fundamentally disagrees with Stephen A. Smith.  And for a couple of reasons.  First, contrary to Smith, Jesus understands that no person has only lied one time (Smith actually said of Bayless that he knew he didn’t lie).  Insofar as a person is enslaved to the desires of their father, the devil, they lie constantly by their rejection of the truth, namely, Jesus Christ.  Secondly, Jesus attaches lying to character.  When a person sins, it does not so much make them a sinner as it proves that they are one.  When a person sins, it is because they are a sinner.  In other words, life — thoughts, words, actions, motivations — arise out of nature or character.  If a man lies, it is because he is a liar.  Now, before moving on, I just want to go back to John 8.47, because Jesus teaches that a man’s nature or character can be supernaturally resurrected from the spiritually dead.  This is good news!  What we are now is not what we must always be!  We need not always be defined by our initial relationship to the devil.  We do not have to remain enslaved to his desires (enslaved, by the way, does not equal drudgery; unrepentant sinners are very much in love with this enslavement, they love their sin, and indeed find it to be of their own volition with joy).  Jesus proved to be the one and only exception to this rule.  Thus, Jesus died in the place of sinners, and by His death purchased the new birth for everyone who believes in Him.  So Christians really are set free from sin, death, Satan, and all his desires, his nature, his character; and we really are set free from having our characters and lives defined by a serpent’s.  Nevertheless, until this grace is bestowed, a sinner sins because he is a sinner.  A liar lies because he is liar.  When he lies, he speaks out of his own character.  

A common objection to this goes as follows:

What about Christians?  Do Christians sin?  Don’t Christians lie, etc., etc.?  What is the difference between the one who is “of God,” and those who are still of the devil?  This is a key issue.  In fact, it is one that I am confronted with most often in evangelism.  So here goes (disclaimer: this is a difficult subject to navigate):

1.  Yes, Christians sin.  And, yes, Christians sin by lying and in many other ways.  So what is the difference?  If the unbeliever sins, it is because he is a sinner.  He sins out of his own character and nature.  Is this true for the Christian, and if not, how can that be so?

2.  This is not true of the Christian.  There are only two natures that can be experienced in this world.  The old and the new.  That of the devil and that of God.  That which is of the flesh and that which is of the Spirit.  And they are mutually exclusive.  They cannot be held together.  All human beings experience the former in every case.  Some also experience the latter by grace.  How then does the Christian still sin and how is this not indicative of a sinful character?

3.  I want to be very clear here.  This is not an easy subject.  So while it is obvious that I still sin, that since having been born of God almost 13 years ago, I have sinned in many ways, it is not indicative of my nature or character.  And this is not some philosophical mumbo-jumbo designed to self-justify.  There is a reality true of the children of God that is not true of an unrepentant sinner: the child of God is free, while the child of the devil is not.  What that means is that the unbeliever can only do what is pleasing to his father, the devil.  Again, Jesus: “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (Jn 8.44).  Volitionally, the unbeliever is gladly enslaved to sin.  This volitional enslavement, or enslavement of the will arises from and evinces their sinful nature or character.

The Christian, on the other hand, has been “set free” by the Son and so we are “free indeed” (Jn 8.36).  Whereas the unbeliever has one option and can see no other but to delight themselves in what is most pleasing to them, namely, sinful desires, the Christian has been set free to be gladly enslaved to delight themselves in what is most pleasing to God.  And the Christian knows the other option too, namely, sinful desires.  The Christian knows both the desires of their heavenly Father and the desires of their former father.  Whereas the unbeliever can do nothing but sin, for they do nothing from faith (Rom 14.23), the believer can do what is pleasing to God and we can sin.  And when we do the latter, we are acting contrary to our new nature.  We are testifying falsely about Christ and our character.

4.  One more crucial reality must be tied to this.  I have confessed that Christians do still sin after being the recipients of divine and resurrecting grace.  To confess to the contrary is simply unbiblical and dangerous (1 Jn 1.8, 10).  But this must be said also: because of our new nature, the Christian is characteristically violent against sin.  In other words, the Christian will not stay there without a fight.  He will abide in the dark without turning on the flash light.  In fact, distinctive of the Christian is a walking in the light where God is, which is a metaphorical way of saying that the Christian does not desire to walk in sin, and if the Christian has committed sin, we do not desire to conceal it, but rather to confess it, to go public with it to our Father, and to our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ.

The Christian knows that Christ has taken away sins by His death on the cross, and that not just in a legal sense, i.e., our sins have been forgiven.  This is wonderfully true, but if this is not packaged with the new birth, it can lead to great misunderstandings about the Christian life and the call to personal and corporate holiness.  In other words, licentiousness (abusing God’s grace to justify our continuance in sin) happens when the truth of justification is severed from the truth of regeneration or the new birth.  But the Christian believes the Word of God, that Christ taking away sins means not only that Christ has brought about the forgiveness of our sins, but also the removal of the present power of sin — and very soon the presence of sin entirely in glory!  The Christian holds these together.  We have been forgiven by God in Christ.  And the very reason we have believed that is because we have been born again by God in Christ, by the working of His Spirit.  As we hold it together, it means that we who know that Christ has taken away our sins also know that we cannot and desire not to live in sins any longer.  We desire, pursue, strive for holiness of life.  Do we sin?  Yes.  But that is not our first love.  And, most importantly, by God’s Spirit, we are fighting against sin — this is all the difference in the world!  Is their a fight?  This distinguishes “of the devil,” from “of God.”  The child of God is a growing person.  We are growing up into Christ.  We are maturing in the ways of our Father.  We are being transformed day by day.  And so, although sin’s presence will not be fully eradicated until heaven, our love for and practice of sin grows less and less, while our love for and practice of holiness increases more and more.  If it doesn’t, we simply are not new.

Do As I Do: Pursuing An Imitation Worthy of Imitation

We ought not to be ignorant of imitation.  While we are not exactly in the image of God (lest we be God), we are in His image and are created to image Him forth to each other.  The Bible is not ashamed to call us, then, to imitate God.  While testifying to our sin and imperfection, the Holy Spirit nevertheless teaches us that (on account of the new birth) we can and must imitate Him.  So,

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children” (Eph 5.1).

“But as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy'” (1 Pet 1.15-16).

Somewhere someone once coined the phrase: “do as I say, not as I do,” and while we do not ascribe to such a frivolous idea, one wonders if we practice it.  We tell our children how they ought not to throw fits, and when they throw a fit, we throw a fit at them.  “Do as I say, not as I do.”

The illustration of children is intentional simply because children, made in the image of God, are born to imitate. They say what we say, how we say it.  They pick up our facial expressions and use them in timely ways.  And they often do as we do, for good and for ill.  The only disconnect is between what we say and what they do, but that is another post for another time.

The illustration of children is intentional, also, because it is the context in which both Paul and Peter and, most importantly, Jesus connects our imitation of God, our Father.  Again, Paul writes, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.”  Peter writes, “As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct” (1 Pet 1.14-15).

And they get this from Jesus who told those who had falsely believed in Him, “If you were Abraham’s children, you would be doing what Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God.  This is not what Abraham did.  You are doing what your father did.”  They replied, “We were not born of sexual immorality.  We have one Father — even God.”  And Jesus responds, “If God were your Father, you would love me (presumably because God the Father loves God the Son), for I came from God and I am here. . . . You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires.  He was a murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth, because there is no truth in him.  When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.  But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.  Which one of you convicts me of sin?  If I tell you the truth, why do you not believe me?

And then this: Whoever is of God hears the words of God.  The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God” (Jn 8.39-47).

What has Jesus said?  Every human being is born having not one but two fathers, a human father and the devil (for all are children of wrath by nature, like the rest of mankind, Eph 2.3).  And even as we imitate our human parents, so we imitate the devil.  His will is our will.  His desires are our desires.  What he does, we do, because we bear his nature, and this ultimately constitutes a rejection of God and Jesus Christ Whom He sent into the world to reveal Himself to sinners.  What we need is to be, as Jesus says, “of God.”  What does this entail?

All of this talk about children introduces the biblical doctrine of regeneration or the new birth.  If we are to imitate God, we must be born of God.  His nature must become ours.  Our will and desires must be created anew.  And this work of God was purchased by the death of Christ on the cross.  All the promises of God, the New Covenant DNA, was bought by Christ.  That includes the new birth, and with it hearts, wills, desires tattooed with that which is pleasing to our Father.  Not only have we received a new nature that loves our Father and what He loves, but Christ’s work on the cross removed all the legal requirements hindering our adoption by God.  We are by nature and by a just adoption, the children of God.  Christ is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters (Heb 2.11).

Now as Christ is the perfect Son of God, so He perfectly imitated and therefore revealed the Father in all He did and didn’t, said and didn’t say, thought and didn’t think, etc.  And as He is our older brother (Rom 8.29) and a perfect revelation of our Father, so as we behold Him and imitate Him, we see and imitate our Father.

And Paul teaches us that, by grace, this is quite possible.  “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11.1).  He says two things: it is possible to imitate Christ, for Paul, a man like us, did it; and insofar as we observe Christ in our brothers and sisters, they too are — wildly — worthy of imitation!  And this is not restricted to the apostle.  For he writes to the Philippian church, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us” (4.17).

So let’s summarize: God has made us imitating creatures.  Sin, however, brought the will, etc. under the bondage of sin and the father of all unbelieving people, namely, the devil.  Therefore, we imitate him.  We do as he does.  But God determined to have children and to redeem them for Himself by sending His Son into the world in order to save us.  A crucial aspect of our salvation is the new birth; another aspect adoption, and the end result is that believers are born of God and are the children of God.  We have new hearts, wills, desires, tastebuds, etc., and love what our Father loves.  Jesus is both the revelation of our Father to us and, as our older brother, as we behold Him we see that which is most worthy of imitation.  It is possible to imitate Christ, as was the case with Paul, and Paul believed that others besides himself did the same and were, thus, exemplary believers whom we are to imitate also.

But if the truth be told, not many desire to be exemplary and worth imitating.  Not many strive to imitate Christ.  Why not?  Call it laziness, carelessness, personal pessimism, hypocrisy, even perhaps a fraudulent faith, we simply don’t want to be exemplary in holiness because the cost appears to be too high and the reward, if it is on the radar, seems to be too small.  Moreover, we have failed to understand our station as God’s children and the nature of the new birth, and how these realities show themselves in a mature and splendid and exemplary holiness.

How do we right the ship?

1. If we have been reckless children, we run to our Father, in light of our Brother’s sacrifice, and repent of being exemplary in hypocrisy.  By His grace, we will no longer practice “do as I say, but not as I do.”  We will strive to match our words and our actions.

2. Doctrinally, we must allow the reality of the new birth to have its full course in our thinking.  We will no longer excuse ourselves from the Bible’s call to exemplary holiness and to the imitation of Christ by thinking heretically about Christ — that He was not a man like us therefore we cannot walk as He walked –, nor by thinking that the Holy Spirit simply can’t be serious in this cause because, doesn’t He know, we are only human.  Yes, we are human, but we are not humans enslaved to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus.  We are new creatures.  We ought to walk in newness of life.

3. We must count the cost of holiness and the infinitely greater cost of unholiness.  Imitating Christ in holiness will lead to imitating Christ in suffering (2 Tim 3.12).  A daily cross and the call to holiness are a packaged deal.  The cost is great.  But the cost of unholiness is far greater.  To be without it will be to miss out on seeing God (Heb 12.14).  No unholy thing will exist in heaven.

4. We must count the cost of holiness and the infinitely greater reward of holiness.  If a man would follow or imitate Christ, he must forfeit his life.  But such a forfeiture is of that base sort, a life lived for self and that life, even if it gains the whole world and a thousand years of happiness, is ultimately the damned life.  But a life lived in imitation of Christ, a life laid down for Christ and the gospel, gains not the whole world but the eternal world of love, not a thousand years of happiness but an eternity of ever-increasing joy in the presence of God.

5. We must simply grow up, brothers and sisters.  A “brother” of ours in Massachusetts has told us more than once as we plan to plant in Boston, “You have got to grow up!  You have got to mature!”  And he means in being like Christ in universal holiness.  The problem for many is that we love being children.  But we have not been saved to remain children but “to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph 4.16).  God has saved us to be conformed to the image of Christ (Rom 8.29).  This is the good that God is working in every situation.  Every circumstance, trial, temptation, moment granted is an opportunity to grow up, to imitate Christ, to become like Him more and more.

6. We must stop settling for sin and pursue joy in God.  Holiness did not always produce a smile in the life of Christ.  Holiness necessitates war against sin and war does not produce many smiles.  The thought and reality of the end of war does.  For too long and sometimes still, my obedience was/is stale.  It lacked true joy.  There was no happiness in holiness.  There was no pleasure in holiness.  And this makes sin all the more enticing.  It is because we do not know the blessedness of holiness, to imitate God, to walk as Christ, to live by the Spirit, to commune with the Triune God, to evince our new nature, to manifest our new position, to magnify divine grace, to know His care, His joy, His delight, to testify to the whole gospel, to come to share in God’s holiness, to inherit the promise of seeing God and Christ face to face, etc.  Joy in holiness (communion with God, cf. 1 Jn 1.5-8) keeps us from settling for sin.

7. We must not fear being exemplary in holiness.  Many will turn up their noses, thinking you uptight, too heavenly minded, not fun enough.  Others will make fun, setting up fake twitter accounts in your name (all in good fun of course), and joke about how you are too holy for their presence and the like.  Still others will want to fight you, tempt you, and even kill you because of the Christ they see in you.  Do not fear.  Paul welcomed it all.  “Imitate me,” he said, “even as I imitate Christ.”  Are we of that stock?  Yes, of course.  Paul’s new birth carried no more power in it than yours or mine.  Will we look our brothers and sisters, our husbands and wives, our children and all others in the face and say, “Imitate me, even as I imitate Christ”, and then strive for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord?

Will we say not only “Do as I say,” but also, “Do as I do?”  Will we pursue an imitation of Christ worthy of imitation?

If we will, we will edify the church.  We will point the Bride to Christ.  We will shine like lights in the midst of a twisted and crooked generation.  We will show forth our God and Father.  We will testify to the supernatural working of the Holy Spirit.  We will experience joy, for the absence of sin is the presence of joy in God.  And perhaps our children won’t throw fits anymore either . . . perhaps?!

That Awkward Moment When We Speak the Gospel, by Ken Currie

A practical help for evangelism:

Evangelism is counter-cultural. It’s true everywhere on the planet, but perhaps it’s especially so in our increasingly post-Christian Western society. We live in a polite culture, for the most part. Talk about religion? You just don’t go there. Talk about how many tornadoes have come through, and how the team is doing, and how the city has new recycling bins. But Jesus Christ, crucified for sinners and risen from the dead? You just don’t go there. So they say.

For the time being, it seems the greatest threat to gospel-telling in such a society is not that we will be hauled before the city council, beaten, and have our property taken away. What we are really dealing with is some awkwardness.

Awkwardness is perhaps the biggest threat to evangelism for far too many of us.

Go here for the full post.

Raising Gospel-Centered Children, by Luma Simms

When Jesus instructs us to go out and make disciples of all nations, that includes our children—our closest disciples. Of course, discipleship should not end in the home, but our families are our most naturally-authentic relationships. Everyday, the gospel compels us to ask: How are we discipling our children? More importantly, how should we be discipling them? There is a tendency (sometimes unknowingly) for parents to fall into child-centered discipleship. This could happen for many reasons, even from a well-meaning desire to see our children become Christians. However, what we may fail to grasp is that we should be applying the gospel daily even to the relationships with our children. They don’t need something else; they need the same thing we all need—they need Jesus.

For the full article, go here.

How Pastor-Counselors Differ from Secular Counselors, by David Powlison

The uniqueness of your message is easy to see. But you already know this. I won’t rehearse the unsearchable riches of Christ, or the 10,000 pertinent implications.

But I do want to note the uniqueness of your message by contrast. Every counselor brings a “message”: an interpretation of problems, a theory that weighs causalities and context, a proposal for cure, a goal that defines thriving humanness. How does your message compare with their messages? Simply consider what our culture’s other counselors do not say.

To discover what they do not say and what we have to say, go here.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.