Category Archives: Theological Reflection

Reflecting on Scripture Reading.

The Discipline of Ongoing Repentance

The Discipline of Ongoing Repentance

In regards to Romans 8:13, John Owen said the following: “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.”

Romans 8:12-14 “So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.”

A few chapters later, Paul wrote “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Rom. 13:14). We can only mortify the flesh by perpetually magnifying Christ in our hearts. As we walk by the Spirit (Gal. 5), we will experience the repentance that leads to live—and such repentance is an ongoing work of the Spirit within us as we behold and become like Jesus Christ, our Savior.

John Stott writes:

“The first great secret of holiness lies in the degree and the decisiveness of our repentance. If besetting sins persistently plague us, it is either because we have never truly repented, or because, having repented, we have not maintained our repentance. It is as if, having nailed our old nature to the cross, we keep wistfully returning to the scene of its execution. We begin to fondle it, to caress it, to long for its release, even to try to take it down again from the cross. We need to learn to leave it there. When some jealous, or proud, or malicious, or impure though invades our mind we must kick it out at once. It is fatal to begin to examine it and consider whether we are going to give in to it or not. We have declared war on it; we are not going to resume negotiations. We have settled the issue for good; we are not going to re-open it. We have crucified the flesh; we war never going to draw the nails.”[1]

Let us therefore, embrace a lifestyle of repentance from our sin and faith in the risen Christ.

___________

[1] Brian Hedges, Christ Formed in You (Shepherd Press, 2010), 138.  See also A Lifestyle of Repentance.

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Generosity: The Poverty of A Rich King

The Macedonian church was radically generous in response to the gospel gaining traction in their lives. They understood that they were redeemed in order to serve the rich King who became poor for their sake, so that they might become rich; and thereby bless others through their abundance of wealth and joy in the midst of extreme poverty. God provided for them so that they could provide for the needs of others (cf. Gen. 12:1-3), despite the fact that they were among the poorest churches in the first century (AD). May our hearts reflect their radical generosity…

2 Corinthians 8:1-15 

We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you—see that you excel in this act of grace also.

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I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich. And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness. As it is written, “Whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack.”

 

The Radical Generosity of John Wesley

“[Wesley] had just finished buying some pictures for his room when one of the chambermaids came to his door. It was a winter day and he noticed that she had only a thin linen gown to wear for protection against the cold. He reached into his pocket to give her some money for a coat, and found he had little left. It struck him that the Lord was not pleased with how he had spent his money. He asked himself: ‘Will thy Master say, “Well done, good and faithful steward?” Thou has adorned thy walls with the money that might have screened this poor creature from the cold! O justice! O mercy! Are not these pictures the blood of this poor maid?’

“Perhaps as a result of this incident, in 1731 Wesley began to limit his expenses so he would have more money to give to the poor. He records that one year his income was £30, and his living expenses £28, so he had £2 to give away. The next year, his income doubled, but he still lived on £28 and gave £32 away. In the third year, his income jumped to £90; again he lived on £28, and gave £62 to the poor.

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“Wesley preached that Christian should not merely tithe, but give away all extra income once the family and creditors were taken care of. He believed that with increasing income, the Christian’s standard of giving should increase, not his standard of living. He began this practice at Oxford and continued it throughout his life. Even when his income rose into the thousands of pounds, he lived simply and quickly gave up treasures on earth, so the money went out in charity as quickly as it came in. He reports that he never had as much as £100 at one time.

“When he died in 1791, the only money mentioned in his will was the miscellaneous coins to be found in his pockets and dresser drawers. Most of the £30,000 he had earned in his life-time he had given away. As Wesley said, ‘I cannot help leaving my books behind me whenever God calls me hence; but, in every other respect, my own hands will be my executors.'”

Randy Alcorn points out that Wesley’s income in today’s dollars would be $160,000 annually. Yet, he lived on only $20,000 of it.[1]

While we may not be able to live as radically generous as John Wesley (just as few of us can live out the uncommon faith of George Muller) ,we can certainly strive to imitate the faith and generosity of our King and those who have been given the grace to reflect Him. After all, it is the Spirit of God who empowers such things! May we cultivate the grace of generosity and find God’s provision sufficient to sustain our radical self-denial and increasing ministry to the least of these–both physically and spiritually. May we put God to the test and find His grace sufficient for producing in us an abundance of joy and poverty that results in nothing short of a wealth of generosity (Mal. 3:10; 2Cor. 8).

 _________

[1] Charles Edward White, “Four Lessons on Money from One of the World’s Richest Preachers,” Christian History 19 (Summer 1988): 24; cited in Randy Alcorn, Money, Possessions and Eternity (Sisters: Multnomah, 2003), 298-99. Cf. Thabiti Anyabwile, Finding Faithful Elders and Deacons (IX Marks) (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2012), 88-89.

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The Fruit of Love

Dr. Barnhouse:

“Love is so intrinsic to the fruit of the Spirit. Love is key. Joy is love singing, peace is love resting, long-suffering is love enduring, kindness is loves touch, goodness is love’s character, faithfulness is love’s habit, gentleness is love’s self-forgetfullness, self-control is love holding the reigns.”

J. R. Miller:

“Human love is very precious, but it is not enough to satisfy a heart. There will be trials, there will be perplexities, there will be crosses and disappointments, solicitudes and sorrows. Then none but Christ will be sufficient.” 

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Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

This is an excellent article and video worth watching…

A medical scientist sketches human development from conception to birth and describes the intricate structure of the human body in a way that clearly reflects divine creation, “Tsiaras claims that the developing human body is ‘so perfectly organized a structure that it was hard not to attribute divinity to it.’”

Incredibly fascinating–watch the video here!!

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“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was none of them.”
(Psalm 139:14-16 ESV)

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Thirty Pieces of Silver

30 Pieces or LessWhile Judas sold Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, my wretched heart has often sold Him for less… 

How can we trust Him so little and find the world so attractive? Our foolish hearts would drink poison if they could–were it not for the Living Water who does not allow His precious Bride to remain thirsty or drink from broken cisterns.

Praise God that His steadfast love endures forever, and that His love for us is rooted in His faithfulness, not ours. Oh, how sweet to know the patient love of Jesus who purchased His bride back from harlotry. We are an unfaithful people and we shall never fully know the depth of His love on this side of eternity–but when we finally see our Savior face-to-face, we shall see Him as He is and know the full measure of His steadfast love!! What a beautiful day that will be…

Redeeming Love

The book of Hosea portrays the story of a prophet instructed to marry a prostitute–and the story boggles our minds except for the fact that we see Israel, ourselves, and our Savior in it. God was making a point–His people had prostituted themselves with sin, and while He had covenanted Himself with them, they ran back to their former, promiscuous way of life. Yet, in His mercy, God buys us back–a truth demonstrated through the self-denying, heart-breaking, and longsuffering love that Hosea had for His blemished bride:

Hosea 3:1-3 And the LORD said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.” So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a lethech of barley. And I said to her, “You must dwell as mine for many days. You shall not play the whore, or belong to another man; so will I also be to you.”

Anthony Selvaggio: “Do you see what’s going on here? Hosea marries Gomer and she eventually leaves him to continue practicing her adultery. She ends up being sold as a slave. So does God say to Hosea, ‘Let her go, she’s getting what she deserves’? No, to the contrary, God commands Hosea to go and buy her back!

“Now just pause and think about this for a moment. Hosea is being asked to walk into the town square and buy his wife back at an auction. Do you know how a woman slave was sold at an auction? All of her clothes were removed so that the buyers could see the merchandise. Hosea had to bear the indignity of entering into a crowd of men gazing at his undressed wife. If that was not enough, he also had to bid for her! He had to bid for his own wife!

“…Why did God make Hosea endure such personal hardship? It is because God transmitted his message not only through Hosea’s words, but through his life as well… He was trying to teach Israel that they were Gomer, the unfaithful and adulterous wife.”[1]

Jeremiah 4:5-9

For their mother hath played the harlot: she that conceived them hath done shamefully: for she said, I will go after my lovers, that give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, mine oil and my drink. The LORD said also unto me in the days of Josiah the king, Hast thou seen that which backsliding Israel hath done? she is gone up upon every high mountain and under every green tree, and there hath played the harlot.  And I said after she had done all these things, Turn thou unto me. But she returned not. And her treacherous sister Judah saw it.  And I saw, when for all the causes whereby backsliding Israel committed adultery I had put her away, and given her a bill of divorce; yet her treacherous sister Judah feared not, but went and played the harlot also.  And it came to pass through the lightness of her whoredom, that she defiled the land, and committed adultery with stones and with stocks.”

Check out this post (“Harlots at Heart”) to read of the redeeming love of Jesus that saves and changes us!!

Lord, we have been an unfaithful people and we have wandered into our former ways of life. Yet, you have loved us with an everlasting love and pursued us with patience. You bore our shame and nakedness, and suffered on our account. You purchased us with the greatest price, so that we might experience your mercy and forgiveness. You welcomed us into Your home with tenderness and love. You have dwelled in us so that we might dwell with you. Forgive us, Lord, for chasing other lovers. May you ruin our hearts for the things of this world, and help us to find satisfaction in You.

_____________

[1] Anthony Selvaggio, The Prophets Speak of Him: Encountering Jesus in the Minor Prophets (Webster: Evangelical Press, 2006), 18.


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Understanding Miracles: The Sovereignty of God

God works sovereignly, whether through ordinary or extraordinary means. While reading some material on the topic of hermeneutics, I came across the following paragraphs which I found helpfully clarifying on the topic of God’s miraculous providence.

Sidney Greidanus, The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text, 39-40:

“The Bible, however does not set God and nature over against each other as two autonomous entities. On the contrary, nature is God’s handiwork which responds obediently to his bidding: ‘He sends forth his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly,’ and God’s creation responds with snow, ice, or rain–whatever God’s word calls for (Ps. 147:15-18; cf. 148:8). Hence the regular patterns we observe in creation are not immutable laws of autonomous nature but rather creation’s regular responses to the constancy of God’s words or laws (see Gen. 8:22). The sovereign God is not locked into these regular patterns, however; he is free, naturally, to vary his word, and then creation responds in unique ways.

“It must also be recognized that according to the Bible God performs many of his miracles by ‘natural’ means. For example, the miraculous conception of Samuel to the barren Hannah came about by quite natural means: ‘Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the Lord remembered her’ (1 Sam 1:19). Similarly, the miracle of Israel crossing the Sea of Reeds on dry ground was accomplished by natural means: ‘The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and made the sea dry land’ (Exod 14:21). Later, the crossing of the Jordan may well have been made possible by a landslide at Adam blocking the water of the Jordan, thus drying up the riverbed opposite Jericho (Josh 3:16). Should we deny that these were miracles because the Bible points to so-called natural causes? But then we may overlook that God works in regular, natural ways as well as unique ways, mediately as well as immediately. It is clear, moreover, that Israel celebrated these events as miracles not because they ‘violated natural law’ but because they were unexpected and therefore surprising; the timing of these events clearly revealed God at work. Hence these miracles were perceived as fulfillment of God’s prior promises or his answer to prayer. As Goldingay notes with respect to the Exodus, ‘The marvel was not essentially something quite inexplicable, but something quite unexpected. It intervened to break the bounds of what could have been envisaged in the situation, and Israel responded with wonder.

“Another problem with defining miracles as ‘violations of natural law’ is that this definition overlooks that fact that we now live in a fallen creation where, for example, enslavement, sickness, and death appear to be natural. Is it indeed the case that liberation, healing, and resurrection from the dead are contrary to the ‘laws of nature’? They may be contrary to what we have come to expect in this world, but from the perspective of God’s good creation and his coming kingdom, enslavement, sickness, and death are unnatural, and liberation, healing, and eternal life are natural (Gen 2-3; Rev 21:4). From that perspective, then, miracles are not to be seen as ‘unnatural’ but as signs of God’s kingdom breaking into our fallen world, provisional indications of the restoration of God’s creation to its original goodness.

“Accordingly, miracles should be thought of not as ‘violations of natural law’ but as outstanding, exceptional acts of God, signs which point to God’s power and faithfulness (cf. Ps 107:20), events which create a sense of wonder. In agreement with biblical teaching, miracles have been defined as occasional evidences of direct divine power in actions striking and unusual, yet by their ‘beneficence pointing to the goodness of God.’ Miracles, in short, are signs of God’s kingdom.”[1]

I think Greidanus makes a convincing case for using more precise language when speaking of God’s activity in our world. Instead of speaking of miracles as being God’s intervention (or reversal of our normal circumstances), it would be better to distinguish between the ordinary (normative, expected) and extraordinary (unusual, unexpected) activity of God. In both cases, He uses His created means to accomplish His purpose–whether we deem it natural or supernatural, it’s ultimately the activity of God. Many of us have spoken, erroneously, of God intervening in human affairs during miracles–as though He were conspicuously absent from any involvement in the world when “miracles” are not taking place. The reality is that He is always actively engaged in the created order, but He generally goes unnoticed (except for those who look at His meticulous providence with the eyes of faith) since His activity works through “natural order” where God resides “behind the scenes.”

However, in the case of “miracles” God works “front and center” rather than “behind the scenes,” and performs unexpected outcomes through various means (weather patterns, human body’s healing capacity, or even the unexplained ‘supernatural’ means, etc) that appear natural but are always supernatural in the sense that God ordains them. It’s just a matter of how much we recognize God in His hidden providence of ordinary activity (natural order) and His visible providence of extraordinary activity (miracles). After all, God created everything, and He holds all things together (Gen 1; Col 1), whether He chooses to work in expected, ordinary means or unexpected extraordinary ones..

May God give us the eyes of faith to see His mighty actions in everything around us from the breath we draw to the snow that falls to the unexpected healing of someone stricken with terminal cancer!! And may we worship Him as completely good and sovereign even when He chooses not to display His power in such wondrous and extraordinary ways.

_______

[1] Sidney Greidanus, The Modern Preacher and the Ancient Text: Interpreting and Preaching Biblical Literature (Grand Rapids: Wm. Eerdmans Publishers, 1988), 39-40. Greidanus aslo has some wonderful stuff on the topic of preaching Christ from the Old Testament: Preaching Christ from the Old Testament, Preaching Christ from Genesis, Preaching Christ from Ecclesiastes.

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The King’s Face

Gazing on Christ: Choice Morsels from Sinclair Ferguson:

There is little profit in visiting Jerusalem unless we see the King’s face.[1] We must gaze on Christ in all that we do–whether in serving or reading or sipping coffee; whether eating or talking or teaching; whether fellowshiping or singing or preaching the word of God. Everything we do in our journey toward Jerusalem must be for the purpose of seeing the King’s face.

“The evangelical orientation is inward and subjective. We are far better at looking inward than we are looking outward. We need to expend our energies admiring, exploring, expositing, and extolling Jesus Christ.”[2] The world tells us that our problem lies outward and our solution lies inward–but the word of God tells us that our problem lies inward (sin) and our solution lies outward (Christ). May we treasure Christ and proclaim His worth!!

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[1] Sinclair Ferguson, “Consider Jesus” (Hebrews 2-3), a message from the 2011 Sovereign Grace Pastor’s Conference. You can listen to the entire message here.

[2] Sinclair Ferguson, “An Interview with Sinclair Ferguson” by CJ Mahaney (SGM). You can read it here.

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Polishing Stones

Hardship Prepares Us to Shine Forth His Glory in Life and Eternity

“Not one ounce, not one grain-weight more is laid on me than he hath enabled me to bear… Faith hath cause to take courage from our very afflictions; the devil is but a whetstone to sharpen the faith and patience of the saint. I know he but heweth and polisheth stones for the new Jerusalem.” Samuel Rutherford, The Loveliness of Christ (Banner of Truth, 2008)72.

May the Lord redirect our wandering gaze, so that we might “fix our eyes on Jesus” as He carries us through the purging fire!! The Spirit of Christ will comfort us as He cuts and carves us into conformity with the Suffering Savior!!

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Setting the House on Fire

I appreciated this post from Dane Ortlund so much that I’m shamelessly reposting it here:

Fires in Our Basements

Jack Miller writes in the 1990s to a church he had recently spoken at–

Jesus knocks at the front door of our heart (Rev. 3:20). In response we do not immediately open the door via our free will. Instead, we quickly put locks on the door and push furniture against it. The Lord then sends the Holy Spirit to slip in the back door. He goes down into the basement, where He turns up the heat and sets fires until the rising heat forces us to remove the barriers and open the front door and let Christ in. I believe that the Lord keeps right on using this backdoor approach in our growth in grace.

He sets fires in our basements by putting us in limiting and painful circumstances.

The Heart of a Servant Leader: Letters from Jack Miller (P&R, 2004), 90

HT: Dane Ortlund

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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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“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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Guarding the Heart…

Charles Bridges, from his commentary on Proverbs, on the topic of “Guarding the Heart”:

“Let it be closely garrisoned. Let the sentinel never be sleeping at its post… If the citadel be taken, the whole town must surrender. If the heart be seized, the whole man–the affections, desires, motives, pursuits–will all be yielded up. The heart is the vital part of the body. A wound here is instant death. Thus–spiritually as well as naturally–out of the heart are the issues of life. It is the great vital spring of the soul, the fountain of actions, the center and seat of principle, both of sin and holiness (Matthew 12:34-35). The natural heart is a fountain of poison (Matthew 15:19). The purified heart is a well of living water (John 4:14). As is the fountain, so must be the streams. As in the heart, so must be the mouth, the eyes, the feet. Therefore, above all things keep thine heart. Guard the fountain, lest the waters be poisoned… Many have been the bitter moments from the neglect of this guard. All keeping is vain, if the heart be not kept.”[1]

Sobering words… “All keeping is vain, if the heart be not kept”!!!

[1] Charles Bridges, Proverbs (Carlisle: Banner of Truth Trust, 1968), 53.

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Thirty Years to Nothing

Upon his thirtieth birthday (December 1827), Charles Hodge wrote the following:

This night thirty years ago I was born. Thirty years of love and mercy. Thirty years of sin. Thirty years and nothing done. Oh my God, from my soul I pray thee, grant me thy Holy Spirit that if permitted yet longer to live, it may be to more purpose,–that my time may be better improved in working out my own salvation and the salvation of my fellow-men.[1]

God was gracious to Mr. Hodge in giving him many more years of life and Christian ministry. He completed many more years of teaching at Princeton Seminary, composed three volumes of Systematic Theology and commentaries on Ephesians and 1,2 Corinthians. Even more, he invested in the lives of many through his regular teaching, preaching, and mentoring ministry. He did much for the gospel because he was a recipient of God’s grace, and he regularly recalled the depth of his own depravity and the magnitude of the Savior’s mercy and love. Yet, it’s striking that much of Hodge’s focus was on his own sinfulness in light of God’s indescribable love and mercy. All things come to nothing apart from God’s sovereign kindness toward helpless, undeserving sinners. I am 27 years old, and I understand much of what the eminent Mr. Hodge has written, for my heart resembles that of his, upon his 30th birthday. At times, it feels as though I’ve spent 27 years squandering God’s grace toward me… that reality brings me great sadness and stirs up a resolve to invest wisely in the next 27, should the Lord provide such continued mercy.

May we never forget that which we’ve been given–for it is only in this vein that we shall be keen enough to ask for more grace that we might know more of Christ’s person and bear more fruit through the ongoing work of His Spirit! 

______

[1] David Calhoun, Princeton Seminary: Faith and Learning (1812-1868) (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1996), 121.

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Spiritual Pride

“Spiritual pride is the main door by which the devil comes into the hearts of those who are zealous for the advancement of Christianity.  It is the chief inlet of smoke from the bottomless pit, to darken the mind and mislead the judgment.  It is the main source of all the mischief the devil introduces, to clog and hinder a work of God.

Spiritual pride tends to speak of other persons’ sins with bitterness or with laughter and levity and an air of contempt.  But pure Christian humility rather tends either to be silent about these problems or to speak of them with grief and pity.  Spiritual pride is very apt to suspect others, but a humble Christian is most guarded about himself.  He is as suspicious of nothing in the world as he is of his own heart.  The proud person is apt to find fault with other believers, that they are low in grace, and to be much in observing how cold and dead they are and to be quick to note their deficiencies.  But the 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 other hearts.  He is apt to esteem others better than himself.”

Jonathan Edwards, Works (Edinburgh, 1979), I:398-400. Style updated.

HT: Ray Ortlund, Jr.

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Old Habits Die Hard

1 Peter 4:1-6:

“Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same way of thinking, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for human passions but for the will of God. For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.”

In the midst of suffering, we are often tempted to revert to our former way(s) of life. Yet, the saving work of God tenaciously refuses to leave us in such futility. He transforms every soul that He saves–even when the purification is best accomplished by the providential furnace of His persevering love (1 Peter 1:3-9). There has never been a more beautiful, though seemingly brutish, sort of love. The mysterious beauty of divine love is that suffering typically precedes the sweetness that it procures. This was the reality of Christ’s death for us in the pursuit of His Father’s glory; and much will be the same for us when we endeavor to follow in His footsteps. As we share in the sufferings of Christ, we incarnate His love as “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1). May we suffer and die well as we remember that He alone is our Life.

This past weekend, my pastor gave the following points of application when faced with the peer pressure of returning to former passions:

1. Remember WHOSE you are.

We belong to Jesus ,the Author and Perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the Cross….

2. Remember your motivation.

We live to honor Christ rather than self.

3. Ask God for help… Employ the means that He’s given.

The Word of God is our sword and the prayer of Faith is our shield of defense!

The Body of Christ are our fellow soldiers who provide support, accountability, and love.

4. For those who have fallen back into their former ways…

A. Remember what Christ has already done and that He has secured God’s love and forgiveness for you.  You’re accepted in Christ, not in and of yourself.

B. Confess your sin to God and fellow believers as you repent of it.

C. Get into God’s word and get God’s word into you.

D. Pursue open, honest transparency with others in spiritual community.

5. When others are struggling, come alongside them and offer: Humility, Hope, and Help.

Humility: You’re capable of sinning in the same way, if not worse, given the right opportunity.

Hope: God’s saving love has the power to change and restore even the worst of sinners.

Help: God’s people need one another to stir up and minister His sanctifying grace to one another in time of need.

 

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Filed under Biblical Counseling, Brokenness, Sanctification, Suffering

A Glimpse of Grace

John Calvin:

“When God beholds his image in us He does that not by looking at that which He has put into us by nature, but at that which He has put into us by grace.”                             (Sermon on Job 10:7-8)

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Justification vs. Sanctification

John Piper provides these brief, yet clarifying definitions that I found helpful:

Justification is the biblical teaching that, by grace alone through faith alone, God counts believers in Jesus Christ to be perfectly righteous and totally acceptable in his presence forever. That is, God imputes the perfection of Christ to those who are united to Christ by faith (Rom. 3:28; 4:4-6; 5:1, 18-19; 8:1; 1 Cor. 1:30; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 3:8.”

Sanctification is the biblical teaching that we are progressively conformed to the image of Christ in our attitudes and words and actions by the power of the Holy Spirit moving through faith to make us become in daily practice what we have already become in Christ (Rom. 6:22; 1 Cor. 5:7; Phil. 2:12-13; 3:12; Eph. 4:24).”

*John Piper, Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2010), 69.

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In Need of Grace

There’s a great old hymn entitled “I Need Thee Every Hour” that captures our need of God’s grace to sustain us.  In fact, as the following hymn suggests, God’s provision of grace comes chiefly through the presence of our Savior:

I need Thee every hour, most gracious Lord; no tender voice like Thine can peace afford. I need Thee, O’ I need Thee; every hour I need Thee; O’ bless me now, my Savior, I come to Thee. I need Thee every hour; stay Thou nearby; temptations lose their power when Thou art nigh. I need Thee, O’ I need Thee; every hour I need Thee; O’ bless me now, my Savior, I come to Thee. I need Thee every hour, in joy or pain; come quickly and abide, or life is vain. I need Thee, O’ I need Thee; every hour I need Thee; O’ bless me now, my Savior, I come to Thee. I need Thee every hour; teach me Thy will; and Thy rich promises in me fulfill. I need Thee, O’ I need Thee; every hour I need Thee; O’ bless me now, my Savior, I come to Thee. I need Thee every hour, most Holy One; O’ make me Thine indeed, Thou blessed Son. I need Thee, O’ I need Thee; every hour I need Thee; O’ bless me now, my Savior, I come to Thee.

There are times in my life when I am more mindful of my need of grace than others. Tonight happens to be one of them. Sometimes my awareness is clothed in gratitude for my salvation and a desire for sanctification.  And, sometimes it stems from feeling helpless as a result of my sin or the challenges of living in a fallen world with fallen people. That’s when desperation and despair drive me to desire grace. Whether I acknowledge it or not, I am always utterly dependent on God’s grace throughout each moment of every day. There is absolutely no hope apart from God’s grace, and there will be no spiritual growth without it. The more consistently I acknowledge this fact, the better off I will be and the more gloriously will God be reflected through me.

The late Puritan pastor, John Owen, had a keen understanding of this human condition. He acknowledged that the Holy Spirit uses means to deliver God’s grace to us when He initiates regeneration; He then excites that grace within us throughout our sanctification. It’s a beautiful mess as God takes graceless sinners and establishes His grace within them. Nothing could be more marvelous and mind-blowing than that…

“God inclines our hearts to duties and obedience principally by strengthening, increasing, and exciting the grace we have received, and which is inherent in [believers]; but we neither have nor ever shall have, in this world, such a stock of spiritual strength as to do anything as we ought without renewed co-operations of grace.” (John Owen, The Holy Spirit, 491).

Charles Spurgeon made a similar observation when he wrote, “One thing is past all question; we shall bring our Lord most glory if we get from Him much grace.”  (An All-Around Ministry).

Oh, how desperately I feel my need of  God’s grace. I pray for both His provision of it and a growing sense of my own deep need of it.

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Filed under Charles Spurgeon, John Owen, Quotes, Sanctification, Tribbett

Plans and Priorities

Our plans and priorities ought to be written in pencil and bathed in prayer…

“A man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

“The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but victory rests with the Lord” (Proverbs 21:31).

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Filed under Theological Reflection, Tribbett

An Undivided Heart

We have but one life to live, and but one heart from which to give… May they both be undivided in their faithful devotion to God…

Psalm 86:11-12 “Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.   I give thanks to you, O Lord my God, with my whole heart, and I will glorify your name forever.”

Charles Spurgeon comments on these verses: “Our minds are apt to be divided [among] a variety of objects, like trickling streamlets which waste their force in a hundred runnels; our greatest desire should be to have all our life-floods poured into one channel and to have that channel directed toward the Lord alone.”

Source

We are naturally disposed toward having divided, distracted, ever-wandering hearts.  We gravitate toward those things that seem to satisfy our momentary longings, and yet realize that even those objects of affection are fleeting at best.  As believers, we are called to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  It’s pretty much the greatest commandment, according to Jesus (Matt. 22:34-40; Cf. Deut. 6:5).  However, anyone who is the least bit self-aware will realize the profound difficulty of such a charge.

To love God with an undivided heart, a satisfied soul, an undistracted mind, and every ounce of one’s strength is entirely impossible.  Yet, King David serves as our example in asking God to give him an undivided heart that he might “fear” His name.  David was seeking something that could not be accomplished apart from the gracious provision of God.  He was seeking to be awestruck by the person of God, to be amazed by the majesty of His power, and to be intoxicated by the beauty of His glory.  In essence, David wanted to be so captivated by God’s love that he could not help expressing unending love and undivided devotion back to Him.  Such praise–such obedience–would simply be the overflow of a grateful heart to the God who had been immeasurably gracious to it. David wanted to worship God with every part of his being.  He wanted to offer his entire person, his whole heart to fearing the Lord and obeying His word. David was a man of intense passion and yet, without the help of God, those passions would always be divided among lesser things.

Without the grace of God, one cannot have an undivided heart, a single-minded focus, a satisfied soul, or the necessary strength to stand-fast in the face of hardship.  It’s simply impossible.  However, with God all things are possible as we embrace Jesus Christ and yield to the power of His Holy Spirit.  Therefore, we must ask the God, the Giver of all good things (Matt 7), to give us an undivided heart so that we may fear His name. Only in fearing God will we be able to humbly and obediently walk in His ways (Ecclesiastes 13:12).  The gospel that saves sinners like us, is the same gospel that God uses to change us.  He does this so that we may come to love Him with an undivided love…

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Filed under Charles Spurgeon, Theological Reflection, Tribbett