Category Archives: Sanctification

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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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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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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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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Taking Sin Seriously

Maurice Roberts:

“It is the besetting sin of our age to trivialize sin.  The remedy is to meditate on the holiness and righteousness of God himself, on the strictness and perfection of his laws, on the agonies of the damned in hell and, above all, on the sufferings of our blessed Redeemer on the cross of Calvary.  The Christian stops making spiritual progress as soon as he stops repenting.  The modern fashion is to skip through a few words of confession as though sin were no more serious to God than the omission of some detail of etiquette or the infringement of table-manners.  Let us recall that sin is the contradiction of God.”

May we not be those who “take sin lightly,” and therefore “take Christ lightly.”* May God grant us genuine repentance as we daily confess our sin and turn from it. May we entrust ourselves to the Holy One who powerfully saves and sanctifies all who put their faith in Him.  We offended God by our sin, and yet He offered up His only Son for us.  Might we run to the Cross whenever we see our sin and cry out for the mercy of God to change us.  He loves us and He will transform us, and that transformation includes no longer trivializing sin because minimizing sin means minimizing God’s holiness and minimizing the Cross.

________________

*Charles Spurgeon: “Those who think lightly of sin will think lightly of Christ.”

Maurice Roberts, The Thought of God (Carlisle: Banner of Truth Trust, 1993), 12.

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Confession

Confession:   I rarely borrow posts from other blogs; however, this one seemed especially beneficial.  It’s a helpful 7-step process toward practicing biblical confession and repentance.

From Peacemakers Ministries:

As God opens your eyes to see how you have sinned against others, he simultaneously offers you a way to find freedom from your past wrongs. It is called confession. Many people have never experienced this freedom because they have never learned how to confess their wrongs honestly and unconditionally. Instead, they use words like these: “I’m sorry if I hurt you.” “Let’s just forget the past.” “I suppose I could have done a better job.” “I guess it’s not all your fault.” These token statements rarely trigger genuine forgiveness and reconciliation. If you really want to make peace, ask God to help you breathe grace by humbly and thoroughly admitting your wrongs. One way to do this is to use the Seven A’s.

1. Address everyone involved (All those whom you affected)
2. Avoid if, but, and maybe (Do not try to excuse your wrongs)
3. Admit specifically (Both attitudes and actions)
4. Acknowledge the hurt (Express sorrow for hurting someone)
5. Accept the consequences (Such as making restitution)
6. Alter your behavior (Change your attitudes and actions)
7. Ask for forgiveness

See Matthew 7:3-51 John 1:8-9Proverbs 28:13.

HT: Justin Taylor

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Broken-Hearted and Crushed

Psalm 34:18 “The Lord is near to the broken-hearted and saves the crushed spirit.”

The following is an excerpt from John Calvin’s commentary on Psalm 34:

“Jehovah is [near] to those who are broken of heart, he will save those who are bruised of spirit.  David here exemplifies and extends still more the preceding doctrine that God is the deliverer of His people, even when they are brought very low, and when they are as it were, half-dead.  It is a severe trial when the grace of God is delayed, and all experience of it so far withdrawn, as that our spirits begin to fail; nay more, to say that God is [near] to the faithful, even when their hearts faint and fail them, and they are ready to die, is altogether incredible to human sense and reason.

jesus-cross-407x1

“But by this means His power shines forth more clearly, when he raises us up again from the grave.  Moreover, it is [necessary] that the faithful should thus be utterly cast down and afflicted, that they may breathe again in God alone.  From this we learn also, that nothing is more opposed to true patience than the loftiness of heart of which the stoics boast; for we are not accounted truly humble until true affliction of heart has abased us before God, so that, having prostrated ourselves in the dust before him, he may raise us up.  It is a doctrine full of the sweetest consolation, that God departs not from us, even when we are overwhelmed by a succession of miseries, and, as it were, almost deprived of life.”

There are times when we feel like God has withdrawn His gracious hand from us.  And yet we know that God has promised to draw near to the broken-hearted and to save those whose spirits are crushed.  He shall heal our hearts from every affliction, and rescue our souls whenever we are falling apart.  Sin and sorrow have no power to defy the living God when He decides to deliver His children.  Our afflictions, no matter how large or small, serve the purpose of pointing us toward the Cross.  For it was there that our Savior bled and died for us.  It was there that He gave Himself so that we might know the Father’s love.  It was there that He was broken in order that we might experience forgiveness.  He was crushed for our iniquity so that we could find mercy and salvation.  Therefore, let us cling ever closer to the Cross as we remember the love and grace that God has promised us.  His Spirit will draw near to us, and He will deliver us from brokenness.

May we not miss the opportunity to know and love Christ more keenly as a result of the momentary afflictions we endure… for they are but a taste of the Savior’s suffering and a demonstration of the Father’s faithfulness to His promises!!

Blessings in Christ, Gabriel

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The Culture of the Heart

A few years ago, I purchased an antiquated copy of Andrew Bonar’s Memoir and Remains of Robert Murray M’Cheyne.  M’Cheyne was a Scottish minister who died at the unripened age of 30.  In the assessment of his biographer, M’Cheyne was considered to have had an “indelible influence upon Scotland.”  His ministry was seen by many as a precursor to the great revivals that took Scotland by storm.  The profound impact of his ministry has been linked to the unusual degree of personal holiness that he possessed.  His deep conviction of sin and his growing dependence on the cross of Christ resulted in a lifestyle that was clearly set apart for the work of God.  He was perceived as pure and blameless before those who knew him best, and as a result they were deeply moved by his preaching of the gospel.

Memoir_and_Remains_of _Robert_Murry Mcheyne

One particular paragraph in the Memoirs stood out to me.  The following advice was written in a letter penned from M’Cheyne to a young friend training for overseas ministry.

“I know you will apply hard to German, but do not forget the culture of the inner man—I mean of the heart.  How diligently the cavalry officer keeps his saber clean and sharp; every stain he rubs off with the greatest care.  Remember you are God’s sword, His instrument—I trust, a chosen vessel unto Him to bear His name. In great measure, according to the purity and perfection of the instrument, will be the success.  It is not great talents God blesses so much as likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God.”

As I have undergone formal training for ministry, I have sought very hard to remember the cultivation of my heart.  It is so easy to get caught up in theological pursuits, language studies, and ministry experiences while neglecting the formation of my own heart.  The truth is, I can no more fashion my heart than I can make myself fly through the air.  But the Spirit of God can accomplish the work of giving me a Christ-like heart.  Without the Spirit of God softening my heart and working the grace of obedience into my life, there will be no Christ-likeness in me.  As I continue to put my faith in the work of Christ and daily repent of my sin, I am able to humbly rest in the arms of Jesus as the Spirit of God conforms me to His likeness.

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While the Spirit accomplishes the work of transforming our hearts, He does not do so apart from means.  His primary means of transformation is the word of God.  As we study and apply the truth of Scripture, we grow to know and reflect the image of Christ.  Through prayer, we humbly and confidently ask the Father to accomplish this work in our lives.  Through applying the gospel in our studies, relationships, careers, life experiences, and ministry opportunities we begin to cultivate the heart of Christ within ourselves.  We even find that God uses suffering to grow us in godliness.  He may use suffering to soften us and strengthen our affections as each painful  blow tenderizes our hearts toward Him.  Through suffering, He fashions within us a heart of humility and dependence, and despite the difficulty of our experience He fortifies our faith and love for Him.

When we seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, we learn to depend on His grace to sustain and guide us.  We also learn to treasure Christ above all as the ultimate Object of our affection.  That can be a painful lesson to learn.  I have often had to ask the Lord to “break my heart a thousand times over if that’s what it takes to rid me of these idols and make it belong to Him.”  He continues to answer that prayer.  And while it hurts whenever He “breaks” me, He never fails to remake me.  His grace is sufficient and His love is ever faithful to those who put their trust in Christ.  May we never neglect the culture of our hearts as we seek to be made more and more into the image of Christ.  May we rely on the power of the Spirit and trust the promises of God as we seek to apply the realities of the gospel to our lives.  The gospel alone shall be our means of guarding and growing our hearts in grace.

Blessings in Christ, Gabriel

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The Fruit of Suffering

The Power of Suffering…

  • Grace has the power to turn afflictions into mercies.

Jeremiah Burroughs in The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment

  • Humility is always found connected with long-suffering.”

Jonathan Edwards in Charity and its Fruits

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1 Peter 1:3-9 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

  • There is so much in this passage, but let me just highlight a few things:  God has made us alive, granted us salvation through Jesus Christ, and gave us an inheritance that is untouchable as we are safe-guarded through faith.  The very power of God that saved us continues to sustain us.  While our earthly experiences, and even our physical lives, may suffer the effects of a fallen world, our salvation is beyond its reach.  Through Christ we have a living hope that sustains us, and while we walk by faith instead of sight, we endure suffering with joy that is impossible to describe.  It is impossible to describe, because it is not rooted in the things of earth.  Our joy is bound up in the glories of heaven that have made their home within our hearts.  Our joy is a small taste of heaven that is made available to us though we still live upon the earth.  Through the trials that overwhelm us, we experience the testing of our faith–the dross is burned off and the luster of His glory shines within us.
  • May we ever embrace suffering for it is one of God’s most necessary means of producing Christ-likeness.  Through our longsuffering we are transformed into the beautiful bride of Christ that is pure and blameless.  Suffering produces holiness and humility, and these two beautiful qualities are most clearly mingled in the Cross of Christ–the pinnacle of suffering.  Let us therefore seek to imitate the Savior, who for the joy set before Him endured the Cross for us.

Blessings in Christ, Gabe

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Flesh & Spirit: Part 2

Romans 8:13For 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.”

The truth about sin and its horrible consequences seems completely hopeless and overwhelming.   But God (two of the sweetest words in all of Scripture), being rich in mercy demonstrated His own love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Eph. 2:4-5; Rom. 5:8, 8:1).   Christ died the death that we deserved, and by enduring the wrath of God he put to death the deeds of our bodies.  The righteous suffered for the unrighteous.  Through living the life that we could never live and dying the death we should have died, Christ forever freed us from the tyranny of the flesh.  As a result, He has sent the Holy Spirit to come and take up residence within us (Ez. 36:26-27).  The Spirit of Christ has given us a new heart, along with the ability to live a life of obedience.  Becoming the cause of our faith and the certainty of our salvation (Jn. 6:44; Col. 1:27), the Spirit has given us the power and provision to wage war with the flesh.

Sword of the Spirit

Jesus followed the Spirit’s leading into the wilderness.  He was led there so that He might accomplish what Adam and Israel and all of mankind could not do–overcome sin and become a sympathetic Savior.  He was tempted in all the ways that we have been tempted and yet He was without sin (Heb. 4:15).  He used the sword of the Spirit (the word of God) to wage war against the temptations of the enemy.  Through the Spirit’s power He remained obedient to the Father and resisted the opportunity to sin.  The same Spirit that led Him to the wilderness also led Him to the Cross.  It was on the Cross that He demonstrated His greatest act of obedience as He humbly sacrificed His own life to save ours in order that He might defeat the power of sin and death for all of eternity.  Upon His being raised from the dead and ascending to the right hand of the throne of God, He gave His Spirit to dwell inside us so that we, too, might experience life!!

Spirit:but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live.”

The Spirit is the agent of life, and our sin-killing commander.  He has two main purposes, to magnify Christ in our hearts and to mortify the flesh in our bodies.

I.  Magnifying Christ in our hearts:  First, the Holy Spirit brings new life to us.  He revives our hearts and restores godly affections when He comes to dwell among us.  Through His grace, we grow in godliness.  And through His power, we follow His leading.  The more we follow His leading, the more clearly we see the image of Christ in our hearts, in the word, in the church, and in the world.  As we behold the image of Christ, we are transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another (2 Cor. 3:18).

So, how does He magnify Christ in our hearts?

He renews our minds by the washing of the word (Rom. 12:1-2; Eph. 5:26).

He causes us to marvel at the mercy of God toward us (Eph. 2:1-22).

He causes us to meditate on the glory of Christ and the beauty of the Cross.

He causes us to treasure Christ above all other things (Phil. 3:7-11).

Are you looking for Christ in Scripture?  Are you talking about Christ in conversation?  Are you thinking about Christ throughout your day?  Are you reading the word for transformation rather than information?  Is it obvious that Christ is your greatest treasure?  Are you obeying what you hear and read?  Are you praising the Father and the Spirit for the work of Christ that saved you?

II.  Mortifying the flesh of our bodies: Second, the Holy Spirit cultivates within us a hostility toward sin.  By the Spirit’s power, we seek to put to death the deeds of our bodies.  Galatians 5:24 says, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”  Instead of feeding the flesh, we have crucified it.  It no longer lives in dominion over us, but has been dealt a mortal wound.  And as it dies, it desperately fights to regain control.  John Owen used the illustration of thrusting a sword in a serpent.  Once you’ve struck a mortal blow, you must keep after it with the sword until it is dead.  Otherwise, the serpent, though dying, will attack you with ferocious anger and resolve.  The Apostle Paul pictures this well in writing of his struggle with sin: “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (Rom. 7:15).  Our war with the flesh will take an entire lifetime, but we know that while we may lose some battles, the Spirit will win the war.  Christ became the captain of our salvation who led us out of the captivity of sin, and He will lead us into eternity with God.  The Spirit that led Christ to the Cross, has also led us there.  That is where we find Christ by faith.  Through the Cross he put to death the deeds of our bodies, and one day soon he will even destroy death itself.  Therefore, let us live in light of the Cross, because we have been delivered by it.  We are no longer under the wrath of God, and nothing can separate us from the love of God; not even our struggles with the flesh (Rom. 8:38-39).

Through radical repentance and faith in the finished work of Christ, we are able to overcome the influence of the sin that remains.  The war is not over, but we don’t have to continue wallowing in our sin.  By the Spirit’s power we can declare war against it.  Rampant sin and resistance to the Holy Spirit indicate that we are of the flesh, but that is no longer who we are!!  But those who walk according to the Spirit, demonstrate that they have the Spirit of Christ living within them since saving grace is always accompanied by sanctifying grace.

So, how does the Spirit mortify our flesh?

By our confession of sin and the cleansing that we receive (1 Jn. 1:8-9).

By forsaking our sin and fixing our eyes on Jesus (Heb. 12:1-3).

By remembering our former enslavement and meditating on our freedom in Christ.

Are you confessing your sin to God and to other believers?  Are you humbly asking for forgiveness and cleansing?  Are you feeding the flesh or are you starving it?

Remember what a wretched sinner you were and never forget that you are now sons of God and fellow-heirs with Christ.  The Spirit has won the war, but you must continue wielding the sword.

Conclusion:

Often we feel like the war with sin is like playing a round of the arcade game “Whack-a-mole.”  We strike one head and another pops us; then another, and another.  It seems overwhelming.  But we can rest confidently in the Holy Spirit who is fighting our battles and that through Him we can continue fighting the good fight of faith.  Philippians 1:6 encourages us with these words: “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”  The Holy Spirit will continue to sanctify us as He implants grace and uproots sin. Therefore, let us put to death the deeds of the body by relying on the power and provision of the Holy Spirit.  We have been called, we have been justified, we are being sanctified, and one day soon we will be glorified (Rom. 8:30).  So, let us take hope in that great promise to us.

Blessings in Christ,

Gabe

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