Monthly Archives: October 2011

The Transforming Power of the Gospel

“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:11-14 ESV)

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Happily Married or Miserable Ever After?

Choosing A Mate:

Happily Married or Miserable Ever After?

 Lessons on Marriage from John Wesley & Jonathan Edwards

“Jonathan Edwards had a marriage made in heaven. John Wesley had a marriage that was living hell. Both men were born in 1703. Both men knew the Scriptures. But when it came to choosing a mate, Edwards used wisdom. John Wesley didn’t. And he paid the price for such a foolish move. Edwards was greatly used by God here in the States, and his writings were influential in many nations… Jonathan and Sarah Edwards were friends and lovers. They had eleven children. John and Molly Wesley were enemies, and one wonders if they ever were lovers. They had no children. There’s a reason for that. If you never have sex, you probably won’t have children… Four months after marrying Molly, John wrote a letter to his brother, Charles. In it, he made this statement: ‘Love is rot.’ That’s not the kind of comment that leads to conversation, romance, and intimacy.

“You need to know something up front. God will lead you. But He wants you to use wisdom. Jonathan and Sarah followed wisdom from the start of their relationship. When he was twenty-three and Sarah was seventeen, they were married. They had courted and spent many hours together for nearly four years. In spending time together, they got to know the other’s heart. They knew each other like a book. When they first met, Sarah was just thirteen. Although she was young, they took time to let their relationship mature. One gets the sense that they were both seeking the Lord and His wisdom.

“So, what happened to John Wesley? John Wesley was a great man and a godly man. But when it came to women he bordered on stupid. Instead of seeking wisdom and wise counsel, he consistently made poor choices in relationships. He was always aboveboard in his morality and purity, but seemed to presume upon the Lord’s wisdom by making blunder after blunder. He ran at the last minute from serious romances when he was twenty-five, thirty-five, and forty-five. At forty-seven, on a whim and in absolute secret, he married Molly.

“In each of the prior relationships, he was convinced that each of the young women would make an excellent wife. In at least two of the relationships, he would drop hints that he was going to propose marriage, but never followed through. In each situation, after years of waiting as he procrastinated and refused to commit, each woman married another young man, once due to the encouragement of John’s brother. According to his journals, John knew he should move ahead. But he went against all wisdom and refused to do so. And in each case, he lost the woman he loved. God wanted john Wesley to walk in wisdom, and he normally did—except when it came to choosing a marriage partner.

“At the age of forty-seven, he married Molly very quickly without getting counsel. He didn’t marry her because God made him do so against his will. He married her because he was impulsive and unwise. It’s very apparent that he didn’t seek the Lord’s counsel. And as a result, he was chained to a miserable woman for the rest of his life. If you ignore His wisdom and leading, you will be stuck with the consequences of your decision to not seek His best… Quite frankly, [John Wesley] didn’t use his head or heart.”[1]

 __________________

[1] This post is taken as an excerpt from: Steve Farrar, How to Ruin Your Life By 40 (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2006), 95-98.

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Rappin’ Up Love While You Wait

I found this amusing, and convicting. It’s funny and serious in its portrayal of relationships. It speaks of a woman tired of mediocre relationships who is now waiting for a Christlike man. It’s worth 8 minutes of your time:

Related Articles:

“Five Reasons Why God Calls Us to Wait” by Paul David Tripp

“God’s Will for You While You Wait” by Paul David Tripp

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Purge Us, O Lord–Give Us Humility

Addison Alexander was a professor at Princeton Seminary in the 1830s and was known for his high expectations, as well as his anger and impatience toward those who failed to meet them due to laziness or apathy. While he was known for his impatience, he was equally known for his genuine repentance. The Lord grew him in grace and longsuffering toward his students. Here’s one of the prayers that he wrote in his journal following a moment of frustration toward his students:

“Mercy and help, O Lord, my sovereign Lord! Thou who lovest little children, make me a little child. Make me humble, simple-hearted, tender, guileless, and confiding. Kill my selfish pride. Shiver my hard heart. Break my stubborn spirit. Make me love my kind by making me to love Thee. O soften me, my Saviour, by showing me thy own tender, bleeding, melting heart. Purge envy from my heart by causing me to live and work for thee. O that this foul fiend were wholly dispossessed! I bless thee for trials: may they do me good. Compel me to remember that I am not my own. Save me from being the object of envy or ill-will. Save me from the wickedness of trying to excite it. Lord, I would give the world for true humility. O, make me–make me humble!”[1]

While I am not a professor and have no students, I understand his deep need for humility. Everyday I am reminded of how prideful and self-promoting my flesh actually is–it’s ugly and pathetic, but serves to point me toward the Cross. Pride keeps me from acknowledging my sin and responding humbly before God, and worst of all, it keeps me from treasuring Christ rightly as the greatest Treasure. In my heart, there is a deep-seated desire to please self and to find satisfaction in the things of this world. This cannot remain this way!! If there is no other way to purge me of pride, then I trust that God will graciously beat it out of me through the providence of suffering. However, I pray for His grace to purge me of my pride in less painful ways, but most of all, I want to be humbled so that I might honor Christ. May our lifelong mission be the same as John the Baptist: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” (John 3:30).

[1] David B. Calhoun, Princeton Seminary: Faith & Learning 1812-1868 (Volume 1) (Carlisle: Banner of Truth Trust, 1994), 204.

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Christ is Greater: The Letter to the Hebrews

Listen to the book of Hebrews in a way that its original audience would have (except in English rather than Greek)!! In the following video, Joel Shorey, Pastor of Singles & College Ministry at Covenant Fellowship Church (Glen Mills, PA) preaches the book of Hebrews to his congregation by committing the entire letter to memory. It’s worth taking 46 minutes of your day to listen to this exuberant presentation of such a Christ-exalting letter.

HT: Erik Kowalker

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Spiritual Pride

Jonathan Edwards:

“Spiritual pride is very apt to suspect others, whereas a humble saint is most jealous of himself.  He is so suspicious of nothing in the world as he is of his own heart.  The spiritually proud person is apt to find fault with other saints . . . and to be quick to discern and take note of their deficiencies.  But the eminently humble Christian has so much to do at home, and sees so much evil in his own heart, and is so concerned about it, that he is not apt to be very busy with others’ hearts.”

HT: Ray Ortlund, Jr.

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Making Big Decisions (Part 4): The Way of Wisdom

The Way of Wisdom: This is the fourth post in a series on God’s will. Here, you can read Part 1 and Part 2 and Part 3.

God guides in many ways: through His invisible providence, through His word, and through the Holy Spirit. “In everything, the invisible hand of providence is lovingly directing your life—behind the scenes—down to the smallest detail.”[1] While God has spoken to His people in many different ways, He has most clearly communicated through His Son. He continues to do so through His Spirit who illuminates the Scriptures to us. Apart from the Spirit working through the Scriptures, God does not promise to use any other means to guide us, nor should we expect Him to. While God can lead us through more subjective means (i.e., emotions, circumstances, etc), these are not God’s normative practice. The only infallible source of guidance is the Word of God.

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Making Wise Choices

The normal practice, even for the Apostles who heard God speak audibly (and were compelled by the Holy Spirit), was to simply make wise, God-honoring decisions.  As they observed God’s providence and sought to please Him, they used wisdom to discern which desires were most fitting for the situation and then simply decided where to go and how to get there. “With few exceptions, Paul planned, strategized, and made his own decisions about the nonmoral matters of his life… But when he gets to a fork in the road, hesitating and pleading with God to know which way to go seems completely foreign to the apostle.”[2] Making well-informed decisions that were often faith-requiring risks was the normal practice of the biblical characters. “In most cases, they made their decisions by the use of what we often call ‘sanctified common sense’ and lived quite normal lives.”[3]

Open Doors, Wet Fleece, and Lasting Impressions

Many times we evaluate God’s will for us depending on whether or not there is an open door. Sometimes God legitimately closes down an option in order to redirect us—though, He sometimes tests our hearts in order to sanctify us. He intends to grow us in holiness, faith, and perseverance as we learn to depend on Him. God’s plan for us is not always the comfortable or convenient way, though we should not think that choosing the harder road is more spiritual simply because it deprives us of something good and God-honoring. Similarly, some people “put out a fleece” in order to test whether or not God is for or against a particular decision. Gideon did this in the book of Judges. However, “the book of Judges generally does not provide a good example of much of anything… Gideon’s request was probably an indication of cowardice and unbelief more than faithful, wise decision making.”[4]

Those of us who do not lay out fleece can often be led by instincts, intuition, or mere impressions. “Impressions are impressions… We all get intuitions and hunches and gut feelings all the time. Some are from the Lord. Some aren’t. Most often, it probably doesn’t matter. Listen to your gut or not, but don’t make it an extra-special factor in your decision making, and don’t think you need that peaceful easy feeling before you can make up your mind… We need to be careful that we don’t absolutize our decisions because we pray about them.”[5] Sometimes impressions may be legitimate, but others are little more than indigestion. We cannot always determine the difference, therefore reading too much into them is unwise. Instead, we should trust God and make wise decision based on other, more objective factors. We typically have enough solid evidence to make informed decisions.

The Way of Wisdom

God-centered Life: We should take a profoundly God-centered approach to life that affects our various decisions: “Biblical wisdom means living a disciplined and prudent life in the fear of the Lord.”[6] In other words, we seek to love what God loves and hate what God hates—and simply make decisions regarding the more “neutral” matters that are neither right nor wrong.

Study Scripture: We should have lives that are regularly saturated with Scripture as the primary influence upon our thoughts and emotions. Our behavior should be an outworking of the truths that we embrace. “[God] wants us to know Him so intimately that His thoughts become our thoughts, His ways our ways, His affections our affections. God wants us to drink so deeply of the Scriptures that our heads and hearts are transformed so that we love what He loves and hate what He hates… God wants us to develop a taste for godliness.”[7]

Seek Wise Counsel: The Christian life is lived in the context of community. God intends us to learn and grow alongside of other believers where we can offer and receive encouragement, accountability, instruction, admonition, service, and rebuke. Two major components of living in community are transparency and teachability, both requiring humility. In making major decisions, we should seek the wise counsel of God-centered, gospel-living Christians who are wise, mature, and know us well enough to offer objective counsel. Human counsel is never infallible, but it is often helpful in confirming or redirecting us. In fact, it would be wise for us to always have godly mentors in our lives who know our strengths, weaknesses, interests, and predispositions well. They will help to sharpen and refine us as we learn and grow to overcome some of the sinful biases, fears, or immaturities that we often experience.

Pray for Wisdom & Grace: “Apart from me, you can do nothing.” (John 15). We must pray for illumination so that we can understand and apply the Scriptures. We should also pray for wisdom—we have not because we ask not (James 1). “God wants us to make good decisions that will help us be more like Christ and bring Him glory.”[8] Pray for things you already know are God’s will—good motives in decision making, an attitude of trust and faith and obedience, humility and teachability, and for His gospel to spread. After all, Jesus instructs the disciples to “Seek first His kingdom… and all other things will be added to them.” (Matt. 6:33). God will provide for every need of theirs—including the need for wisdom and the faith to make decisions—when they seek to live according to His word.

Make a Decision: Finally, make a decision. After you’ve prayed and studied and sought counsel, make a decision and trust God to confirm or redirect you along the way. Don’t over-spiritualize your decision. Do what seems best in light of the biblical wisdom you have and the nature of the circumstances before you. Don’t be afraid to take a God-honoring risks, as that demonstrates your faith in God rather than in your flawless decision-making skills.

Concluding Thoughts

“The way of wisdom is a way of life… If you are drinking deeply of godliness in the Word and from others in your prayer life, then you’ll probably make God-honoring decisions. In fact, if you are a person of prayer, full of regular good counsel from others, and steeped in the truth of the Word, you should begin to make many important decisions instinctively, and some of them even quickly… Study the Scriptures, listen to others, and pray continually—that’s the best course of action, not just at the moment of crisis, but as a way of life. And as you engage in these practices, don’t forget to make a decision—always with wisdom, always with freedom, and sometimes even with speed.”[9]

*DeYoung provides examples in applying the way of wisdom to marriage and career, but I will not be posting notes from that chapter. However, it’s interesting to note how he addresses the fallacy of waiting for “the one” in terms of jobs or soul-mates and instead encourages believers to actively make wise choices that are flavored with godliness and led by faith.

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[1] DeYoung, Just Do Something, 64. This series is based on content adapted and expanded from Kevin DeYoung’s book.

[2] Ibid, 70.

[3] Ibid, 73.

[4] Ibid, 80.

[5] Ibid, 84.

[6] Ibid, 89.

[7] Ibid, 92-93.

[8] Ibid, 95.

[9] Ibid, 97-98.

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Making Big Decisions (Part 3): Letting Life Pass You By…

Letting Life Pass You By: This is the third post in a series on God’s will. Here, you can read Part 1 and Part 2.

In his book, Just Do Something, Kevin DeYoung identifies several problems with the conventional approach to discerning God’s will (i.e., searching the corn maze for the hidden path of God’s plan for our lives): (1) It focuses most of our attention on non-moral decisions, (2) It implies that we have a sneaky God, (3) It encourages preoccupation with the future, (4) It undermines personal responsibility, accountability, and initiative, and (5) It enslaves us to the chains of hopeless subjectivism.

 

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Could Indecision Be Disobedience?

Haddon Robinson on our tendency to avoid personal responsibility and initiative:

“If we ask, ‘How can I know the will of God?’ we may be asking the wrong question. The Scriptures do not command us to find God’s will for most of life’s choices… We seek relief from the responsibility of decision-making and we feel less threatened by being passive rather than active when making important decisions.”[1]

In other words, we are afraid of failure or undesirable consequences and so we abdicate the responsibility that God has given us to actively make decisions.

Pass-Me-Not: Waiting on God or Fear of Man?

Kevin DeYoung adds some convicting thoughts: “We imagine that our inactivity is patience and sensitivity to God’s leading… When we hyper-spiritualize our decisions, we can veer off into impulsive and foolish decisions. But more likely as Christians we fall into endless patterns of vascillation, indecision, and regret. No doubt, selfish ambition is a danger for Christians, but so is complacency, listless wandering, and passivity that pawns itself off as spirituality. Perhaps our inactivity is not so much waiting on God as it is an expression of the fear of man, the love of the praise of man, and disbelief in God’s providence.”[2]

In our passivity and indecision, we often make foolish “counter-decisions” while avoiding active decision-making. Instead of evaluating and actively choosing the best course, we often decide (passively) to remain comfortable and complacent in the status quo so as to avoid any risk or change. We feel that there is too much to lose, and yet we risk nothing and gain nothing in the very moments that we should risk everything to gain something that would make our lives more fruitful and result in greater levels of godly joy.

Inner Peace: An Infallible Hallmark

We have all heard—and many of us given advice—about not making an important decision unless you first have an overwhelming sense of peace. Such advice, while well-meaning, is not biblical. In most cases, feeling “at peace” with a decision before making it is 50-50, at best. While God can certainly give us peace, He generally helps us to trust in Him no matter what route we choose to take. He wants us to trust Him while being wise and active.  Some of the most necessary and worthwhile decisions can be daunting and unsettling. Peace should not be the measure of whether or not a decision is “the right decision.” Otherwise, we would never have to take risks and live by faith in God’s sovereignty. We could rely on our own subjective sense comfort and guidance—self-sufficiency rather than divine dependence. “The fact is, most big decisions in life leave us feeling a little unsettled.”[3] That doesn’t mean that they are wrong decisions. It just means that we should learn to trust God.

Unbelief vs. Trust and Obedience

Worry, anxiety, and fear are the fruits of unbelief. They reveal distrust in God’s goodness and sovereignty. He has called us to “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness…” (Matt. 6:33) as we believe that He will provide everything else that we need. God’s will is not about figuring out what job to take or where to live or whom to marry; it’s about “running hard after Him, His commands, and His glory.”[4]

 God’s will is that we live holy lives that are set-apart and focused on His glory (1 Thess. 4:3). “He wants you to buy a house that will make you holy. If you marry, He wants you to get married so you can be holy. He wants you to have a job that will help you grow in holiness.”[5] He also expects us to rejoice always as we pray and give thanks (1 Thess. 5:16-18). As we know God’s desire for us (Scripture), we are able to bear fruit and know Him better, which helps us to make wise, God-glorifying decisions (Col. 1:9-12). He desires that we are filled with the Holy Spirit and grow in Christlikeness (Eph. 5:17; Rom. 8:28-30).

The Bottom Line: Just Do Something

Kevin DeYoung challenges Christians to actively make decisions:

“So go marry someone, provided you’re equally yoked and you actually like being with each other. Go get a job, provided it’s not wicked. Go live somewhere in something with somebody or nobody. But put aside passivity and the quest for complete fulfillment and the perfectionism and the preoccupation with the future, and for God’s sake start making some decisions in your life. Don’t wait for the liver-shiver. If you are seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, you will be in God’s will, so just go out and do something.”[6]

God has not called us to risk-free living. He’s called us to die to self and walk by faith. We should not make impulsive decisions, but neither should we be passive and avoid making decisions. Letting “fate” decide through passivity reveals an unbiblical view of God’s sovereignty that is closer to fatalism than the biblical ideas of God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. We don’t treat our physical needs that way, we generally take responsibility through the means that God has provided to us. What aspects of God’s provision are you failing to appropriate to your life as a result of fear or pride? The bottom line is that we should, “Be holy like Jesus, by the power of the Spirit, for the glory of God,” and that happens as we die to self and stop being passive. Life is too short to let it pass you by…

 _________________

[1] DeYoung, Just Do Something, 51.

[2] Ibid, 51-52.

[3] Ibid, 52.

[4] Ibid, 57.

[5] Ibid, 58.

[6] Ibid, 61

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Making Big Decisions (Part 2): The (Un)Certainty of Trusting in God

Living the Life of Faith

This is the second post of a series on God’s will. You can read the first post here.

Sometimes life can feel like a gamble, as though we’re fishing in the dark. We can hope for the best, but we have no control over how it turns out. Our limitations—in both knowledge and control of the future—require us to be dependent on the One who is completely sovereign over all things.

(Photo Source)

In his book, Just Do Something, Kevin DeYoung identifies five reasons that we want to know God’s direction for our lives: (1) We want to please Him, (2) We are, by nature, quite timid, (3) We are searching for perfect fulfillment in this life, (4) We have too many choices, and (5) We are cowardly. Most of these motivations are distracting from our primary mission of honoring God—except for the first reason.

Spiritual, Yet Timid: We generally make things more complicated than they need to be. Sometimes we cannot even understand ourselves, let alone other people or God’s plan for us. “We should stop putting ourselves through the misery of overspiritualizing every decision.”[1] Most Christians are paralyzed by indecision and inactivity because they are too deliberate and too cautious when it is time to make decisions and “just do something.” We are so afraid of making “the wrong decision” that we live most of our lives in timidity and passivity in order to avoid taking responsibility for the circumstances that seem dictated to us. Instead of living by faith, we live in fear; instead of taking risks, we remain locked up in our comfort—and all the while we lose an opportunity to experience the joy and grace of radical, faith-filled risk-taking. Pleasing God should be as simple as living by faith, obeying His clear commands, and trusting Him as we make decisions regarding that which is unclear. Passivity is rarely a godly attribute.

A Large Order of Fulfillment, To Go Please: Seeking perfect fulfillment in this life (i.e., career, financial, or relational happiness) is a vain pursuit. It is an unrealistic and unbiblical goal. Many of us are trying to experience “heaven on earth” in this life. We have unrealistic expectations for family life, career, recreation, and marriage. We intend to avoid any unfulfilled desires—and so we never settle into anything in which we risk the possibility of being “stuck” even if we would actually enjoy and learn the secret of true happiness. Such “true happiness” only comes as we find fulfillment in God rather than seeking fulfillment in people or things. There can be no sense of fulfillment except through the eyes of faith, which are unafraid to take risks. “Most of us would be more fulfilled if we didn’t fixate on fulfillment quite so much.”[2]

Jack Pot: The myriad of unlimited choices (or the potential of an even-greater option left to be discovered) prevents us from actually making choices and moving forward with our lives. Instead, we often live in a cesspool of indecision, because so many options pass alongside of us. We throw ourselves into areas where we feel more comfortable and secure, while avoiding any areas where our faith will actually be stretched and our joy deepened through the uncertain outcome of making decisions while trusting in God. Refusing to make hard decisions is like waiting to win the lottery; it’s unrealistic. The fairytale “jackpot” will never come. The reward of faith does not come to those who wait passively. While most major decisions involve some degree of confusion, we generally have enough clarity to make wise, faith-inspired decisions.

“With fewer options and more constraints, many trade-offs would be eliminated, and there would be less self-doubt, less of an effort to justify decisions, more satisfaction, and less second-guessing of the decisions once made.”[3] While some are making an impact for Christ during these years of “transition” and instability, most are “actually making self-centered decisions in the name of experience, cultural diversity, [independence], and sometimes… under the guise of short-term missions.”[4] Evaluating the heart motivations behind our decisions (and indecisions) is a necessary step in appropriating gospel freedom—there may be idols of fear, comfort, or selfishness that we’re clinging to under the façade of serving the Lord with our time and our treasures.

Sometimes we avoid settling down or making commitments because we’re afraid of cutting off our options in case we end up finding ourselves unsatisfied. We’re afraid of settling for something “good” when something “great” may be hiding around the next corner. The reality is that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, and we’ll generally be unsatisfied and unfulfilled when we seek such happiness from people or things. Only God can provide the satisfaction that our hearts truly seek. Instead of trusting God, we often stay locked up in the prison of indecision where we remain inactive and half-satisfied.

The Gospel Frees Us from Fear

Our indecision is often motivated by fear. We are afraid of having to live with our choices, as though God were incapable of giving us the grace necessary to endure, with joy, the way our lives are unfolding. While we are responsible to make wise choices, God determines our steps—we make plans, but He orders our circumstances. His sovereignty empowers us to find hope and confidence in trusting Him while being active rather than passive. Often, we wait passively as though God is going to bring the right choice to us—and while He can, He usually does not work that way. He wants us to live by faith rather than by cowardice. Avoiding God-honoring risks out of fear reveals a lack of wisdom and a lack of faith.

We have to stop obsessing over the future and the details of our decisions—we have to trust Him to help us be wise and faithful in the present. We need to stop expecting Him to show us His plans for us. Instead we need to live by faith and “just do something” as it seems wise and God-honoring, even if it’s somewhat unclear. There is freedom in making decisions as an act of faith. We should seek to be renewed by the Scriptures and walk in wisdom as the Spirit reveals the person of Christ to us. As we look to His character and promises, we have the confidence to make choices and take risks. There is freedom in making decisions as an act of faith—whether that is getting a job, giving away our money, taking a trip, leaving our current circumstance, or being vulnerable in a relationship—even when some of the details may be unknown and costly to us.

 The key is to entrust ourselves  to the One who will never leave us nor forsake us—we can trust Him with the details. The One who gave His own Son will be faithful to give us everything else that we need—but He commands us to walk by faith rather than by sight. We gain Christ by faith and we will experience every other measure of God’s grace by faith as He gives us what we neither deserve nor could ever earn.

______________

[1] DeYoung, Just Do Something, 28.

[2] Ibid, 32.

[3] Ibid, 36, quoting Schwartz.

[4] Ibid, 36.

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Making Big Decisions (Part 1): Overcoming Fear, Confusion, and Indecision

Determining God’s Will

We are a generation prone toward indecision, contradiction, and instability. Instead, most of us need to take more responsibility, be more decisive, and “just do something.” The gospel actually frees us to live by faith rather than fear. Our reluctance to make decisions can often be traced to the misguided belief that “God has a wonderful plan for my life and I need to discover what it is so that I don’t make decisions that mess it up.”  God does not intend for us to discover “His wonderful plan for our lives”—He expects us to live wisely in ways that are God-honoring and faith-driven. He expects us to trust Him while we make wise choices and take calculated risks. The life of faith is never passive—whether it moves or waits—it is active and never motivated by fear or selfishness.

(Photo Source)

In his book, Just Do Something, Kevin DeYoung identifies three aspects of God’s will: (1) the Will of Decree (Sovereign Will), (2) the Will of Desire (Revealed Will), and (3) the Will of Directive (God’s Guiding Influence). God’s Will of Decree is what He has determined will take place (Eph. 1:11; Matt. 10:29-30; Acts 4:27-28; Ps. 139:16; Is. 46:9-10). This will is unknown to us and cannot be thwarted; what God has determined will always come to pass. God’s Will of Desire speaks of what God has revealed to us (1 Jn. 2:15-17; Heb. 13:20-21; Matt. 7:21; Deut. 29:29). It informs us of “how God wants us to live” and is the opposite of worldliness. It means living according to what pleases God rather than what pleases our sinful flesh. Finally, God’s Will of Directive is the way that God guides us in knowing how to make decisions based on both objective and subjective means. In short, we should ask God to give us the wisdom and grace to live by faith and make good decisions rather than waiting for answers that may never come.[1]

DeYoung writes:

“God does have a specific plan for our lives, but it is not one that He expects us to figure out before we make a decision… We should stop thinking of God’s will like a corn maze, or a tight-rope, or a bull’s-eye, or a choose-your-own-adventure novel…”[1]

We should stop being afraid that we’ll somehow miss God’s best and be forced to settle for less. God’s will does not work that way. Whether it’s a career, a location, or a spouse–God’s will is not a hidden bull’s-eye that we’re trying to hit. He has revealed enough for us to live by faith while taking risks and making wise decisions.

Gerald Sittser:

“The conventional understanding of God’s will defines it as a specific pathway we should follow into the future. God knows what this pathway is, and he has laid it out for us to follow. Our responsibility is to discover this pathway—God’s plan for our lives. We must discover which of the many pathways that we could follow is [actually] the one we should follow; the one God has planned for us. If and when we make the right choice, we will receive his favor, fulfill our divine destiny and succeed in life… If we choose rightly, we will experience his blessing and achieve success and happiness. If we choose wrongly, we may lose our way, miss God’s will for our lives, and remain lost forever in an incomprehensible maze.”[2]

If God’s will is a “corn maze,” then we risk having to live the rest of our lives in misery should we happen to make the wrong choice somewhere along the way–or at least a season of misery until we find the right way out of that particular failure. But, such an approach to life is misguided and causes many unnecessary burdens. One of those burdens is the confusion, fear, and anxiety that come with every major decision. Expecting God to reveal some hidden feature of His will (Will of Direction) often leads to disappointment and indecision–We seek guidance where He has not promised to provide it (because He already has given us the means for making decisions as we live by faith). Instead of trusting God, we wait passively for writing on the wall or an overwhelming sense of peace. We want to have certainty before taking risks or making big decisions.

Yet, these things are never infallible and rarely come. Most major decisions–even clear ones–leave us feeling unsettled for awhile. In waiting unnecessarily, we stumble through one disappointment after another while refusing to make appropriate commitments because we fear being stuck in a decision that we cannot change. The result of such passivity is a lifestyle of distraction and indecision in which we become more fickle and less fruitful. We become frozen with fear and paralyzed by indecision as we experience persistent confusion–as a result we lack clarity and never get around to making the commitments necessary to fully experience the God-given joys of living by faith. While we may avoid taking risks, we often end up losing more than we ever tried to protect. Our lack of faith prevents us from experiencing unforeseen measures of God’s grace.

Whenever we come to a fork-in-the-road where we must decide which way to go, we must remember that “He is a good God who gives us brains, shows us the way of obedience, and invites us to take risks for Him.”[3] God never takes risks with our lives—so we can live by faith and “just do something.” We can make decisions and take risks while trusting that He will either confirm or redirect us according to what He has planned for our lives. He desires that we live by faith rather than remain frozen with fear and paralyzed by indecision–even when we lack clarity, His character should inspire enough confidence for us to “just do something.”

In subsequent posts, I’ll unpack some helpful tips that DeYoung provides in approaching major decisions…

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[1] A brief summary adapted from Kevin DeYoung, Just Do Something. DeYoung’s book provides the basis for the posts in this series. While most of the material is summarized or expanded from his book, the core ideas come from Kevin DeYoung.

[2] Ibid, 24-25.

[3] Ibid, 26.

[4] Ibid, 26.

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“Wedding Dress” by Derek Webb

This has been one of the most convicting songs that I have ever heard… It deepens my love for Christ whenever I consider how sacrificially and faithfully He has loved His unfaithful, syphilitic bride!! May it help us to treasure our Beloved…

Wedding Dress by Derek Webb

If you could love me as a wife
And for my wedding gift, your life
Should that be all I’ll ever need
Or is there more I’m looking for

And should I read between the lines
To look for blessings in disguise
To make me handsome, rich and wise
Is that really what you want

‘Cuz I am a whore, I do confess
Put you on just like a wedding dress
And I run down the aisle
Run down the aisle

I’m a prodigal with no way home
I put you on just like a ring of gold
And I run down the aisle
Run down the aisle to you

So could you love this bastard child
Though I don’t trust you to provide
With one hand in a pot of gold
And with the other in your side

‘Cuz I am so easily satisfied
By the call of lovers less wild
That I would take a little cash
Over your very flesh and blood

‘Cuz I am a whore, I do confess
Put you on just like a wedding dress
And I run down the aisle
Run down the aisle

I’m a prodigal with no way home
I put you on just like a ring of gold
And I run down the aisle
Run down the aisle to you

Because money cannot buy
A husband’s jealous eye
When you have knowingly deceived his wife

So I am that whore, I do confess
Put you on just like that wedding dress
And I run down the aisle
I run down the aisle

I’m a prodigal with no way home
I put you on just like that ring of gold
And I run down the aisle
Run down the aisle to you, to you

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Justification as the Fuel for Sanctification

Most Christians misunderstand their justification, and it severely robs them of joy and causes them to unnecessarily stumble through doubt, fear, and sin. Yet, an appropriate understanding of justification actually fuels our growth in godliness as we see the truths of the gospel applied to our lives.

Richard Lovelace accurately describes the way that most Christians misunderstand the doctrine of justification:

“Only a fraction of the present body of professing Christians are solidly appropriating the justifying work of Christ in their lives. Many have so light an apprehension of God’s holiness and of the extent and guilt of their sin that consciously they see little need for justification, although below the surface of their lives they are deeply guilt-ridden and insecure. Many others have a theoretical commitment to this doctrine, but in their day-to-day existence they rely on their sanctification for justification, in the Augustinian manner, drawing their assurance of acceptance with God from their sincerity, their past experience of conversion, their recent religious performance or the relative infrequency of their conscious, willful disobedience. Few know enough to start each day with a thoroughgoing stand upon Luther’s platform: you are accepted, looking outward in faith and claiming the wholly alien righteousness of Christ as the only ground for acceptance, relaxing in that quality of trust which will produce increasing sanctification as faith is active in love and gratitude.”[1]

The bottom-line reality of justification is that we are “accepted before God because of who Christ is and what He has done.” Our faith in Christ secures our right-standing before God and empowers us to be transformed into His likeness.

Justification provides the fuel on which the vehicle of sanctification runs: God declaring us righteous by status, is the grounds on which the Spirit transforms us to be righteous in behavior. Michael Reeves provides a more helpful, illustrative example of this truth in terms of Christ uniting himself in marriage to an undeserving prostitute (the Church): You can read it here!! It is the love of Christ that changes us to eventually display a lifestyle that is worthy of such love. It is not our love for Him that changes us–our default is to be lovers of self and lovers of sin. He loved us first, when we refused to love Him, and such sacrificial love begins to change us until we begin to love Him in return. In other words, Christ’s union with us is motivated by His deep love for us (not because of our worthiness of being loved by Him), and in the security of His faithful love (despite our occasional affair with sin) we begin to respond to Him with a similar, though imperfect love. And one day, when we see Him face to face, we shall be like Him (1 John 3:2).

The reason we can be confident in Christ’s faithful love for us is displayed in the Cross. He went to the Cross in order to stand in our place. His life provided the obedience that we could never adequately obtain, and His death experienced the condemnation that we so rightfully deserved. In other words, He became our substitute in every way–He became our righteousness before God and He became our curse before God; He experienced God’s wrath for our sin. As Luther so aptly said it, “He is my righteousness, and I am His sin.” We have nothing to bring to God except for our sin–and yet, Jesus provides every ounce of righteousness that we need in order to be justified before God (2 Cor. 5:21). By putting our faith in Christ as our Substitute, we receive all the blessings of justification. (Here you can read a brief elaboration regarding Christ’s substitution as “the heart of the gospel”.)

Sanctification, on the other hand, is the outworking of our justification. It might be rightly summarized as “justification applied.” As God applies the truths of the gospel (Christ’s work on our behalf), we experience the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. As we worship Christ, the Holy Spirit transforms us into His image from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18; Rom. 8:21-39). He enables us to display the fruit of Christlikeness (Gal. 5:16-26) and empowers us to say no to ungodliness (Titus 2:11-14). However, this process of transformation is progressive–meaning, that it doesn’t happen all at once. It happens in degrees and throughout seasons of life, until we reach maturity. There will be set-backs, as well as giant leaps forward; however, most of the time we experience such slow growth that we can sometimes feel discouraged or doubt our own salvation and/or maturity. In fact, John Piper has often remarked of being most in doubt of his own salvation when he sees how painfully slow his sanctification actually is. The reality is that our sanctification is a spiritual battle that is won inch-by-inch as we entrust ourselves to the One who fights our battles for us. While we should “work out our salvation with fear and trembling,” we realize that it is “God who works in us to will and to work for His own good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13). We should pursue Christlikeness in humility and faith and God-centered worship, but realize that it is God who gives us the motivation and ability to actually change. And, He who began a good work in us will bring it to completion when He comes again to consummate His union with us (Phil. 1:6). In other words, we are pieces of fruit that are ever-growing in maturity until Christ returns and finally makes us completely ripe and sweet.

Misunderstanding our justification can be detrimental to our growth in godliness–it can lead to minimizing our sin or the holiness of God, and thereby rendering the cross of Christ as seemingly unnecessary. Or we think that our standing before God is dependent on how well we live our lives–the quality of our devotions, the sincerity and consistency of our love for God, the frequency of our victory over sin, etc. And while all of these things are important features of our spiritual maturity (sanctification), they are not the grounds for our ability to stand “guilt-free” before God (justification). Christ bore our shame and provided to us His guilt-free life, and through our worship of Him, the Holy Spirit makes our lives increasingly reflect His character. Therefore, we should wake up everyday with the realization that we are righteous before God (due to faith in Christ who secured our justification) and that our greatest need is to continually worship God in humility, gratitude, and faith for the work that He has already done, continues to do, and has promised to complete for us, in us, and through us. He has defeated our sin and will one day put an end to it. In the meantime, we strive–by His power–to live by faith, to hope in His promises, to battle our sin, to love others, and to display the fruit of His Spirit as we perform the good, God-honoring deeds that He has prepared in advance for us to do (Eph. 2:1-10).

We must not confuse justification and sanctification. In the worst case, a confusion of these matters may result in false assurance for those who think they are saved, yet are actually headed toward hell: those who trust in their works to make them right before God. In the better case, a confusion of these matters would make the true believer live a life full of unnecessary guilt and doubt regarding his own salvation due to his/her struggles to be Christlike: these believers can only be free of the burden when they realize that Christ has already stood in their place and they simply need to worship Him by faith as He completes everything that He has started on their behalf. In order to see sanctification rightly, we must have a functional understanding of justification. In other words, the truths of our justification should be connected to our everyday lives (i.e., living guilt free, responding to Christ by faith, trusting in God’s promises, asking God to finish the work that He started, confessing sin yet believing that we are forgiven and clean before Him, trusting in the Holy Spirit to strengthen us and change us, etc). Here, John Piper offers a brief summary of the difference between justification and sanctification!

It is only when we rest in the righteousness of Christ that we begin to reflect Him. As we recognize that God accepts us as we are—because of Christ—and that He intends to change us to reflect His Son—because of the Holy Spirit, we then begin to live the life of faith that is free of guilt and is fertile for gospel transformation to take place. May we live in such a way…

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[1] Richard Lovelace, Dynamics of Spiritual Renewal (Downers Grove: IVP, 1979), 101.

[2] See Ray Ortlund, Jr. on the differences between justification and self-justification: here.

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