Monday, October 20, 2014

The Battles and The War

In 1944 Hiroo Onoda, a Japanese 2nd lieutenant, was given the command to hold ground and fight against the Allies on Lubang Island in the Philippines. He didn't realize that the Japanese surrendered to the Allies just a year later, and he continued to fight for THIRTY YEARS. Finally in 1974 his commanding officer (Major Yoshimi Taniguchi, who after the war had become a bookseller) personally traveled to the island to give him formal orders of surrender.

How many of us, in our fight for sin, are like Hiroo Onoda, thinking that the war is still happening, and we must fight for our lives? How many times do we feel alone in the fight, and our strength is failing? Do you feel like you're on the losing side? Do you feel like you're just a few failures away from total defeat and surrender?

For Hiroo Onoda, he was fighting losing battles, because for the Japanese, the war had already been lost. Although his heroism and courage were remarkable (check out his book, No Surrender) ultimately his small battles did not change the fact that World War 2 was over. Japan had lost. For the Christian though, our reality is the opposite. No matter how our little battles go, we have the confidence that Satan, sin, and death have been forced to surrender to our Captain. The war is won.

What is the war? When Christ died on the Cross, He died a substitutionary death for our sins. This satisfied the wrath of God, as if Christ swallowed all the anger, all the justice, all the punishment.... and all that is left is God's love, mercy, and acceptance into His family. In the Resurrection, Christ ultimately defeated death, so that for all those who die in Christ, they will be resurrected as well on the last day, thus defeating death. And in Christ's dying and rising, He defeated Satan, that old serpent who tried to strike His heel, but Christ crushed his head (Genesis 3:15). Christ has won the war against Satan, sin, death, and has rescued us from our greatest threat: The just wrath of God because of our treason.

What are "battles" against sin? It's the battle at 2am to not look at porn. It's the battle at 12 noon to not have a second portion of french fries because you know it's only for comfort, not for health. It's the battle at 8am against discouragement and apathy, to get out of bed trusting in God's promises. It's the battle of loneliness at 8pm on a Friday night, and seeking comfort from the Lord instead of your favorite sin. These are our battles. We must fight them.

But there are two mindsets for how to fight the battles. Both involve fighting, but one is exhausting and the other is liberating:
1. Thinking that I need to win my battles so that ultimately I can win the war. (This is a Christ-less mindset, it's basically just self-made-religion.)
OR
2. Believing that Christ has already won the war, now I can fight the battles in the confidence of His ultimate victory. 

Here is the truth Christian: Christ has won the larger war. You are merely fighting the small battles. Victory is inevitable.

This mindset gives us enormous courage and hope! This is what sustains us in the battles. We may win some and lose some. That happens. But stay focused on the fact that Christ has already won the war. This will encourage you, and provide you the strength and perseverance to fight the battles.

No Surrender,
The Relentless Fight

Monday, September 15, 2014

Book Review: When I Don't Desire God

John Piper founded Desiring God and served for 33 years as the pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church. He is the author or contributor to more than 50 books (woah!) and has preached thousands of sermons. There are few men who have been more influential in this generation, bringing a BIG vision of the glory of God and stirring hearts to love Christ.

Piper is probably best known for his book Desiring God, the same title as the organization that he founded. Arguing from Scripture and theologians through the ages, the thesis of the book is summarized in, "God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in Him." This simple yet powerful mind-set has changed the lives of so many, igniting a passion in them to find their supreme joy in God and devote themselves to "Christian Hedonism". As folks applied this new perspective, many started approaching John Piper with this type of problem, "I totally agree with everything you said in Desiring God, but here's my problem: I don't. I WANT to love God like you say, like the Bible commands, but I don't. And I'm scared. What do I do?"

That's what prompted Piper to write When I Don't Desire God: How to Fight for Joy. This book is being featured here on The Relentless Fight because of how it encourages and equips Christians to make God their treasure, inspiring them to FIGHT the great fight of faith: the fight for JOY in God!

Here's just a few highlights from the book to get you excited. It's worth the read!

  • Why does joy in God matter?: First because God commands it (Psalm 100:2, and hundreds of other verses). Second, because nothing proves quicker where someone is at spiritually than focusing on desires. It brings conviction against our preference for God-substitutes. Do you LOVE and treasure Jesus? "Esteeming God less than anything is the essence of evil." (page 34) and Piper draws this from Jeremiah 2:12f.
  • Only God can create joy in God: Joy in God is a gift from God. As fallen sinful people, even when we're saved, we cannot MAKE ourselves feel joy in God. It is a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit. But that doesn't leave us off the hook. God has appointed MEANS to cultivate joy. He has given us tools and methods and strategies. 
  • The Christian life is WAR: Piper seeks to rouse us from our passive slumber and to take up arms against Satan and our sin, to FIGHT hard against our smaller pleasures so that our highest affections are for Christ alone. "Far too many Christians are passive in their fight for joy.... the central strategy is to preach the gospel to yourself. This is war. Satan is preaching for sure. If we remain passive, we surrender the field to him." (page 81) "Christianity is war. It is a declaration of all-out combat against our own sinful impulses." (page 103) and "The Word of God is the instrument for killing sin." (page 106)
  • It's a fight to SEE: We primarily fight to SEE the glory of Jesus in the gospel. That is what awakens joy. Example: You may fight to get up to SEE the sunrise, but you can't fight to MAKE the sunrise make you happy. Joy is a spontaneous gift. But you can fight to put yourself in the God-ordained path of blessing. And then wait for God to give the gift. 
  • PRAY for God to give joy: PRAY for God to give you the joy. Many of the prayers in the Psalms assume we are unable to make ourselves satisfied in God. Piper gives four prayers he asks of God when he opens up the Bible, through the acronym IOUS on page 151f. You can listen to a 5-minute explanation of IOUS on an #AskPastorJohn episode titled I'm Bored With The Bible.
  • Tons of practical tips: Piper gives a boatload of practical tips for engaging our heart and fueling our passion for God. His highest recommendation is simply prayer and Scripture. He highlights making a PLAN to read the Bible (page 116), and taking it to the next level through memorizing it, journaling your thoughts on it, and meditating (chapter 8). He recommends solid books on doctrine. He stresses the importance of being committed to a local church (page 130ff) and the encouragement found in reading Christian biography. You can fight for joy through music, art, the commonplace, bodily health, suffering, exercise, and rest (chapter 11). Food & sex are occasions for gratitude to the Giver through the Word of God and prayer (1 Timothy 4:4f). Choosing to thank God may even cause our hearts to be moved to gratitude (for more on this, see the TRF post Fighting for Gratitude).
  • Fight in community"The fight for joy is a battle to be fought alongside comrades. We do not fight alone. To be a Christian is to be a part of the Body of Christ. We are meant to help each other fight for joy." (page 173). For more, see the TRF post Brothers in Arms

In summary, every one of us should be loving and treasuring God more than we already are. He is worthy of our highest affection! Piper's book will spur you on to pursue God and will give you practical strategies to fight for joy in Him. You can get the FREE pdf of When I Don't Desire God here, or purchase a hard copy from Amazon. But if you prefer watching instead of reading, you can buy the DVD series of Piper himself teaching a conference on When I Don't Desire God.

Fighting for joy,
The Relentless Fight

Monday, August 11, 2014

Brothers in Arms

"Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed." - James 5:16

This life is hard. Even though we're saved from the penalty of sin, we still await Jesus' return when we will be finally free from the presence of sin in our heart and lives. Until then we fight and make war against our sin. But you don't have to fight alone. 

One of the greatest weapons God has given us in the fight against sin is each other. We were never meant to be on our own in the fight! Someone once said "There's a reason why God saved a bunch of us" - we were meant to have brothers and sisters to walk alongside us, to help us in the fight against sin, to encourage and strengthen us in our weakness, and to remind us of the gospel.

The Scripture is chock-full of exhortations to be in community in the fight against sin:
  • Galatians 6:1-2 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
  • Hebrews 3:12-14 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.
  • Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.
This is war. You cannot do it by yourself: the enemy is too strong, and you have blind spots. You are weak by yourself, but there is strength in numbers. God has given you brothers in arms! You are not alone in the trenches, you have fellow soldiers who are going through the same temptations and struggles you are. Open your eyes and call out for help! Advance on the enemy together, like the Spartans in the movie 300: locked shield to shield, an impenetrable force operating as a single unit. 

What does this look like practically? Consider these applications:
  • Seek Out Brothers: Get involved in a deep community of folks who together are pursuing holiness and maturity in Christ. If you don't have this, GET THIS. You may have to be intentional, even pioneering, and CREATE this community. Share with a brother about your struggle with porn. Share with a sister about your struggle with cutting. Share with a small group about your struggle with anger. Reach out and come into the light (1 John 1:9) there is such freedom in being open! Likewise there is real danger in being a Lone Ranger, so don't go it alone or you'll be a sitting duck. And don't just seek out brothers once in some big display of repentance, but seek out brothers often, maybe even DAILY as you fight temptation and face failure. 
  • Practice Radical Confession and Accountability: What happens when you fail? James 5:16 says we should confess our sins to one another and PRAY for each other so that we can be healed. Confession is not just done to God, but to our brothers. Our sin is made public! Sin thrives in secret, but if we drag it out into the light it loses its power. Confess your sin! Betray it, don't protect it any more in the darkness! And then get accountability. Have brothers followup with you about it, ask them to pray for you every week. Share with them your battlefield of when and where you're most tempted. Ask them to ask YOU about it.Tell them that they have permanent free access to bring up this topic with you every week. Richard Baxter writes, "If less means prevail not, open thy case to some able, faithful friend, and engage them to watch over thee; and tell them when thou art most endangered by the temptation. This will shame thee from the sin, and lay more engagements on thee to forbear it...It would be hard for thee to sin thus if it were but opened."
  • Help Others: Realize this, friend: you are not the only one struggling! Open your eyes to the hurting people around you. They're in the trenches of sin, fighting with all they can, but they're discouraged and tired and lonely JUST LIKE YOU. Reach out to them, ask them how they're doing, and PRAY with them. You will be surprised how encouraging it is to YOU and how much new strength comes into YOUR fight as you pour out into others to help them in THEIR fight. Text someone! Grab a lunch! These are your brothers around you, they need your encouragement and accountability. 
Strength in numbers,
The Relentless Fight

Monday, July 7, 2014

Three Strikes You're Out

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” - Matthew 22:36-40 ESV

Jesus said these are the top 2 commandments, and every other commandment hangs on these two biggies. That means that if you commit murder, you've already broken the first two commandments: you aren't loving God (you're destroying His creation) and obviously you're not loving that person that you just killed. Or consider slander and gossiping: you aren't loving God (by spreading lies which offends His truth, or you're dishonoring His people and giving Him a bad name if you're a Christian) and you aren't loving people (how does that girl feel when you're spreading this junk about her?)

So any sin is then automatically a triple sin. You've broken the original commandment (do not lust, do not covet, do not use obscene talk) but you've also in that very sin broken the first and second greatest commandments to love God and love others. That's three strikes. You're out. It's much worse than you think.  

This devastates us. We are much bigger sinners than we ever had feared! How do we respond to this? It feels like such a weight of condemnation. It convinces us that we could never work our way out of this by paying God back. It's like every sin comes with 3x the condemnation. When understood the right way, this news doesn't ultimately devastate us, but rather it forces us to become desperate and search for a salvation outside of us. That's when the gospel becomes even bigger!

So what do we do when we see our guilt three times bigger than before? Run to Jesus. Trust in Him three times bigger than before! See, Jesus takes our punishment for ALL THREE sins. He is the one that gets the strikes on HIS body, so that we can go free. And he was righteous for all of the commands: He loved God. He loved others. And He beat whatever sin you're wrestling with.

So rejoice, Christian! Yes, you are a much bigger sinner than you ever thought, and the wrath of God is more dangerous and more greatly deserved than you had feared. But that just highlights the EPIC SALVATION that Jesus accomplished. He didn't just pay for a little measly white-collar sin. He paid for the rampant breaking of the top 2 biggest commandments that you're guilty of again and again and again. His rescue is so much richer. Praise Him and thank Him today with gratitude and awe!

"Oh praise the One who paid my debt!"
The Relentless Fight

Monday, June 30, 2014

3 Steps in Ministering to Others

We live in a hurting world. We have pain inside us, pain around us, and sin seems to soak everything. Everywhere we turn, others are struggling in their own ways with sin and suffering. For those who are in Christ, we are called as ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20) to incarnate Christ into this world and minister God's grace to hurting people. How do we do this?

You have to do 3 things, sometimes it feels like all at the same time:

1. LISTEN (encourage): The first step is to really seek to understand what they're saying. What are they going through? What's most difficult about this? How are they feeling? Where do they feel God is in the midst of it? How have they responded to their pain so far? What are they struggling with? If you are lost, try asking some of the most basic questions: Who, what, when, where, why, how? As a first and last response, PRAY.

2. GOSPEL (empower): Listening by itself is encouraging, but it isn't empowering. We need to remind our brothers and sisters in Christ of the glorious gospel. You can either ask them "How does the gospel encourage you?" or speak directly to them: Your guilt has been washed away, your shame has been cleansed, you have a new identity now in Christ so this sin doesn't define you. Christ has entered into our world and identifies with suffering, and has faced every temptation as we have, so He knows our pain. We are adopted as sons and daughters into the kingdom and are set on a trajectory of holiness and victory. REMIND them of these truths. Preach the gospel to them. Secondly, try to guide them towards gospel solutions, meaning: options and "end of the story" mindsets that are distinctively shaped by the gospel. Often in our despair we say things like "it's hopeless, I'll never change, etc." But the gospel solution is: Christ has transformed you, you do have hope, by His Spirit you are changing and you WILL change. The gospel gives us hope-filled resources. Pray that God helps them SEE the gospel.

3. FIGHT (equip): Lastly, help them to make it practical. It's not enough just to give them the gospel, you have to show them how to wield it. Give them tools, weapons, resources. Do they need Scripture? Do they need accountability? Do they need help in their repentance? Do they need comfort? Where can they make an effort to remove provision for their flesh? Where can they practically pursue holiness? Help them to do this. Help them brainstorm. Help them PRAY and ask the Spirit for His help in fighting their sin, or peace in the midst of suffering.

Seeking to help others,
The Relentless Fight

PS: For those who know the model of Love, Know, Speak, Do (from Instruments in the Redeemer's Hands) here's the connection: The basic point of Love/Know is to listen and understand the person. The most important part of speaking is the glorious truth of the Gospel. And in this scenario, the Do (call to action) is to fight against our sin.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Battlefield

You know your fight. But do you know your battlefield?

Your battlefield is the context for the fight, the where and when and how of your temptation and failure. You can know the fight but miss the battlefield, which means you're going to get hit again and again from "out of nowhere". It'll remain a mystery. This blog post aims to dismantle that mystery and give you a tactical map for your temptation, so you can ready up and fight with wisdom.

Think through each of these categories, dissecting and analyzing your sin:

  • WHAT? What particular sin are you struggling with? Don't just use a casual cultural term or water it down, rather use a biblical word. "Lookin' at junk on the internet" = sexual immorality. "Just talking too much" = selfishness & pride. "Obsessing over this guy" = lust & idolatry. "Frustration" = anger. Identify the sin for what it really is! Name it and bring it before the throne of God. 
  • HOW? How do you get to your sin? Is there a method, an access point, a provision for it? If it's internet porn, what device do you use? If it's cutting, what items do you use? If it's food, is it stuff in your fridge, pantry, or out to eat? 
  • WHERE? Where do you usually get tempted? Can you notice any patterns? Is it almost always in your dorm room? Is it at a certain store? Is it at the gym? With your family at home? 
  • WHEN? What time of day are you usually tempted? Is there a certain day of the week? Is it usually in the evening after your roommates are all in bed? Is it in the early hours of the morning? Is it on Sunday afternoons? What is it about that time of day that is more challenging, are you tired or discouraged or lonely?
  • WHO? Are there certain people that feed into your sin? Maybe a family member or an old friend from your past or a certain roommate? Is there a hot girl that you always hope is near you at the gym so you can check her out? Do you have a friend circle that celebrates sin and entices you to join?
  • WHY? What is motivating you to run to this sin? Are you feeling lonely, angry, hungry, tired, discouraged? Are you feeling like you've worked hard and now you deserve to enjoy a break? Do you feel like God has cheated you and this is your way of getting what you NEED? Why are you running after THIS particular sin? What is it offering you? Pleasure? Power? Identity?

Now that you've identified what the battlefield looks like, it's time to respond. Get serious about fighting and defeating your sin. Write it down. Ask a roommate or a friend for help if you don't know the answers. Then create a battle plan based off insights you see from your battlefield. Share that plan with close friends so they can ask you specific questions and hold you accountable. You're not alone in the fight. Maybe you need to make some changes in your schedule and habits to avoid some of the most common pitfalls. Maybe go to bed a little earlier, maybe pray before you go to the gym, maybe get accountability for Sunday afternoons.

Identifying your battlefield is one of the fastest ways to know how to make no provision for the flesh like Romans 13:14 talks about. Basically, what is the supply chain for your sin? Get some insight into how you're failing. From where and when are the enemies coming? From that clump of trees to the west? Then let's set up some fences and artillery, it's stupid not to. Don't you want to be free from this scourge? Then know your battlefield.

Making war,
The Relentless Fight

Monday, May 26, 2014

No God Saves Like Jesus

Please welcome guest author Matthew Bryant! Matthew serves as Coordinator of College Ministry at King Street Church and loves seeing young people grow in Christ. He also serves as a chaplain in the United States Air Force, is married to his wife Lindsay, and is a non-identical triplet. Enjoy his exhortation, and fall more in love with Jesus!
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Saying, "No" to sin does not bring a possible death, it requires death. "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" (Rom. 8:13). This verse takes my mind to one of my favorite deliverance stories that is a constant reminder that no one saves like Jesus.

In the third chapter of Daniel, three Hebrew men - who were but boys two chapters earlier - stare down the most powerful earthly king of their time. Nebuchadnezzar was not just a king, but a king over many kings. He ruled the Babylonian Empire with absolute surety. The three Hebrews (Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego) were brought to the king because they refused to bow down and worship the king's gods or the statue that he had set up. The king had given the order that every time music, of any kind, was played that everyone in the kingdom would bow down and worship. It appears that everyone was compliant except for these three men.  Why would people from so many different nations, faiths, and ethnicities be so "compliant"? Because the king also gave the order that those who do not bow down and worship his statue and his gods would be thrown into a fiery furnace. That’s where we pick up in verse 13 of chapter three:

Then Nebuchadnezzar in furious rage commanded that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego be brought... "to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good.  But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” 
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter.  If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king.  But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” 
Then Nebuchadnezzar was filled with fury, and the expression of his face was changed against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. He ordered the furnace heated seven times more than it was usually heated... Because the king's order was urgent and the furnace overheated, the flame of the fire killed those men who took up Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, fell bound into the burning fiery furnace. 
Then King Nebuchadnezzar was astonished and rose up in haste. He declared to his counselors, “Did we not cast three men bound into the fire?” They answered and said to the king, “True, O king.” He answered and said, “But I see four men unbound, walking in the midst of the fire, and they are not hurt; and the appearance of the fourth is like a son of the gods.” (Daniel 3:13-25)

Saying, "No" to the king would not only mean death was possible for the three Hebrew men, saying, "no" required death.  Deliverance, for Shadrack, Meshack, and Abenego, was a guarantee: "our God...is able to...and he will deliver us."  What the great king did not realize is that a rescue mission from an even greater king was already underway.  Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego knew this - One thing was for sure: deliverance was on its way.  Whether it was deliverance out of the flames or through the ashes.  That day they were going to meet their deliverer.

All of us have "great" kings in our lives that claim to have dominance and control over our lives.  These kings promise us that compliance to their ways is not only way easier but also more comfortable and pleasurable than rebellion.  These kings take on many different forms: addiction to pornography, an insatiable fascination with entertainment, preoccupation with working-out to pursue the perfect body, a fixation on being in a romantic relationship, escape into video games,...you name your "king."

Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego's deliverance is testimony to the frailty of our kings and their chains that bind you.  Their deliverance from the flames points us to an even greater deliverance that has already come through the Great Deliverer - Jesus Christ.  When we compare our kings to The King they don’t even come close to matching up.

  • Porn may provide minutes of pleasure, but Jesus offers ENDLESS pleasure (Psalm 16:11)
  • Movies or TV shows may be fascinating entertainment for the night, but the worship of God will be our ETERNAL fascination (Psalm 84)
  • Preoccupation with the gym or fitness centers may provide 80 years of a nice body, but Jesus offers a NEW body that will never break down (1 Cor. 15:50-58)
  • Romantic relationships devoid of Christ provide cheap intimacy, but Jesus offers a relationship with God bought with his PRICELESS blood – anything but cheap (1 Cor. 6:20)
  • Video games may give the illusion of danger and adventure, but Jesus invites us into a REAL fight equipped with the Sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17) – remember this fight requires your death (Rom. 8:13)

Jesus too, faced a "great" king in Pontius Pilate - representative of Caesar, the ruler over the whole Roman Empire.  Jesus too, chose death over the pleasure, comfort, and riches of this world.  Jesus too, went to His death but did not spare himself suffering - as he spared Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego.  He took the death we deserved, baring the full weight of sin as the wrath of God was poured out on the Son.  Jesus too, just like the three Hebrews rose from the flames, rose from the grave in His Glory defeating sin and death.  Now you tell me what earthly king has dominion over you?! Our KING is greater.  Our KING is more glorious. Our KING is more powerful.  Our KING is the true KING OF KINGS.   "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross." (Col. 1:15-20).  He is KING JESUS.  He was greater than King Nebuchadnezzer, He is greater than our feeble kings and idols.  He invites us to come and die to the flesh that we might live by the Spirit, the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead!

For the sake of your freedom - run to His death and your own! And you too will say, like king Nebuchadnezzar, "there is no other god who is able to rescue in this way." (Dan. 3:29).  No God saves like Jesus.  Amen.  

Monday, May 19, 2014

WHY is God Allowing This?!

Surprisingly, asking the question "Why is God allowing this?" provides great encouragement. It is not a faithless question, though there often is anger and pain mixed with it. It is difficult to ask, and even more difficult to answer. But great fruit comes from answering it.

Maybe you can relate to this: You're TIRED of struggling with this besetting sin. Maybe it's porn, masturbation, cutting, alcohol, anger, an eating disorder, drug use, selfish speech, pride, people pleasing or manipulation, or just some "garden variety" idolatry. Sometimes there are certain struggles that just drag on and on and they exhaust us. You may feel like, "It is killing me, it is stealing my joy, it is what got Christ crucified. Why is God not stopping it? I have prayed, cried, begged him for help. I have fought with EVERYTHING in me, and yet I still fail. WHY!? Does God not care? This sin is an offense against his glory! Does He not have the power to save and redeem? Why is heaven silent?? Why is God ignoring my prayers??"

Christian, this is a deep place of suffering. But it is not a place without God. The Psalms have much to say about this experience, and many psalmists have been in this place of feeling like heaven has closed its doors and God is distant. Psalm 13:1-2 puts it well, "How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?"

"Why is God allowing this struggle?" It's a very hard question to ask and begin to answer. It makes you wrestle with God in a very deep way. As you ask it, questions come up of God's sovereignty, God's goodness, His faithfulness to His promises, whether He is trustworthy at all, whether the Gospel is true, and whether you will trust God's wisdom by faith even when you don't see any reason for why He's doing what He's doing. This is not intro-level wrestling, this is the real meat & potatoes. This is where godly saints are forged.

But if you phrase the question a little differently, you start to turn the flavor. "What good is God bringing out of my struggle?" Ah, then you begin to open your eyes to see ALL the hundreds of ways that God is at work. Though there usually is not ONE single big answer for why God is doing this (He's much bigger than that), we can draw several TRUE answers from Scripture. Here are several for your encouragement:

  • God's Glory: This is the MEGA-answer from all of Scripture. The glory of God is THE premiere reason why God does everything He does. But this is not a simple answer, nor is it a sterile and unsatisfying one. The aim for which God does all things is the exultation and display of His majesty and beauty, for the satisfaction of those who find their joy in Him. The prayer of Jesus in John 17 is for us to see His glory. The purpose of our eating, drinking, and everything is God's glory (1 Cor 10:31, Col 3:17, 1 Peter 4:11). The ultimate purpose of the universe is God's glory, and even our sin is subsumed into this epic purpose. Peter says this well in Acts 2:23, linking together God's purposes and man's sin, "This Man, delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death." 
  • God loves slow change: God has the power to change us in one instant. He could set us free from our struggles with sins just as easily as a child snaps the head off a dandelion. But often He doesn't. Often God lets us struggle slowly and learn holiness one step at a time. Elyse Fitzpatrick comments, "In our modern, microwave, zap-it-for-ten-seconds culture, we have become extremely impatient. We believe so strongly in our own ability to find quick and easy answers that we get frustrated when things take time. The kind of changes that God desires to make in us will take time - there's no denying that." (Page 151 from Love to Eat Hate to Eat). This steady slow growth often is God's method of helping us to get to know HIM as we struggle and wrestle through this sin and temptation. Slow growth also teaches us PATIENCE and dependence on the Lord for His timing. 
  • God specializes in bringing good out of evil: Joseph was betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery, yet in Genesis 50:20 he claims, "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today." Although this is speaking of suffering and not sin in particular, the principle stands of God's ability to bring good even out of evil. Our sin against God is certainly evil, yet He has the amazing ability to reverse and redeem even our worst sins somehow for good. LOOK for how He might be doing this. Believe that He can. 
  • Greater hatred and violence against our sin: Frequent failures can be greatly frustrating. Use this to your advantage. Get angry against your sin, hate it more and more. Be strengthened in your fight and nurture your passion for holiness. Remind yourself of all the pain and suffering this sin brings, and let that fuel your violence. Remember that you are in a WAR, so put on that wartime mentalityLet it give you greater urgency for growth and strengthening. 
  • Empathy for other strugglers: When you fail, you develop compassion for others who fall. Maybe they don't fall in the same way, but you both experience that same rush of guilt and shame and anger. Let that move you TOWARD them in encouragement, gospel-reminders, giving them life and hope, and helping them with practical accountability. Help others with the same help that you yourself need. 
  • Protect you from pride: Imagine if there was no failure! Imagine how prideful you would become. You would quickly think that you had no need for the gospel, no need for growth or spiritual discipline. Imagine the arrogance and disdain you could develop for those who are still struggling. They are weak, compared with your strength. And gradually God becomes irrelevant. Thank Him for the humbling that He is providing to you through this long struggle. 
  • The presence of a fight shows that God is at work: Be thankful that there even IS a fight. If the Holy Spirit was not in you, there would be NO fight, just your flesh ruling over you and unchallenged love for your sin. 
  • To help you fight OTHER sins: John Owen has profound wisdom on this point from his classic The Mortification of Sin in Believers as he chastises us for fighting against ONE sin but allowing others to walk free. He writes, "If you hate sin as sin, every evil way, you would be no less watchful against everything that grieves and disquiets the Spirit of God, than against that which grieves and disquiets your own soul. It is evident that you contend against sin merely because of your own trouble by it. Would your conscience be quiet under it, you would let it alone. Did it not disquiet you, it should not be disquieted by you. Now, can you think that God will set in with such hypocritical endeavors - that even his Spirit will bear witness to the treachery and falsehood of your spirit? Do you think he will ease you of that which perplexes you, that you may be at liberty to that which no less grieves Him? No. God says, 'Here is one, if he could be rid of this lust I should never hear of him more; let him wrestle with this, or he is lost.' Let not any man think to do his own work that will not do God's. God's work consists in universal obedience; to be freed of the present perplexity is their own only." Note the strange mercy of God, "Let him wrestle with this, or he is lost."
  • Good Discipline: The Lord often brings suffering and difficulty into our lives for our discipline and instruction. He does this because He is good, and He desires us to share in His holiness. Sometimes the only way for us to grow is for Him to discipline us, so we should thank Him and be grateful that He doesn't just let us go in our sin. Pray for Discipline. John Owen writes again, "How do you know but that God has suffered the lust wherewith you have been perplexed to get strength in you, and power over you, to chasten you for your other negligences and common lukewarmness in walking before him; at least to awaken you to the consideration of your ways, that you may make a thorough work and change in your course of walking with him?"
  • Knowing Jesus more: One of the great benefits of struggling with our sin is knowing Jesus more. It will cause us to press into Him more deeply, to trust in Him more urgently, and to cling to His cross more desperately.
  • Deeper knowledge and joy in the gospel: Nothing shows you the depth of your brokenness like struggling with ongoing sin. It humbles you, it shows the power of your sin, and CONVINCES you more than anything else that you ARE a sinner. You cannot save yourself, and you NEED a Savior. This is painful but precious fruit. We wish there was another way. We wish that God in His sovereignty would choose differently. But this is the path He has given. You cannot know deep joy in the gospel unless you know the deep guilt of your sin; THEN you will know the depth to which Christ has dropped to bring you up from the muck. 
  • Self-Control and Spiritual Strengthening: Struggle can strengthen you. Temptation can be your gym. Let this fight be that which builds your self-control and strengthens your spiritual muscles. Use it to grow in Scripture memory, in faith, in violent repentance. Do not waste this fight! 
  • Some other mysterious good reason: If we believe that God's character is good, then even if we don't have a good reason, we know that God is doing this for good. We can trust Him as our loving Father. He has demonstrated His love to us in the Cross, how can we claim He is anything else other than good and merciful and kind? Let us wait for the Lord, and be courageous (Psalm 27:14)

Are you encouraged, Christian? Do you see the good that God could be bringing through your struggle with this besetting sin? He has not abandoned you. He is using even this evil for great good. Be encouraged. So in closing, a few thoughts on application:

  • ASK the question for yourself: Why is God allowing this? How is God bringing GOOD out of my EVIL?  MEDITATE on it and write down at least 5 things: Maybe you see softness of heart, deeper gospel knowledge, dependence on him, patience, self-control, spiritual strengthening of the muscle of faith. Choose to SEE the goodness that God is creating, and be encouraged. Which answer in the list above was most encouraging to you?
  • Ask the question of others: Hopefully there are people in your life that know you well, maybe a roommate, spouse, close friend, family member, or mentor. Ask them how they have seen God bring good out of your sin struggle. Ask them to remind you of what the Scripture says for our encouragement about why God allows evil to flourish for a time. Beg them to remind you of the gospel and God's good character, lest you forget and give up the fight.

Questioning and trusting,
The Relentless Fight

Monday, April 21, 2014

Pray for Discipline

"For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it." - Hebrews 12:11

Have you experienced the discipline of the Lord? If not, you should worry.

God's discipline is His firm fatherly hand, allowing us to experience painful consequences for our sinful actions and choices. He brings suffering, difficulty, frustration, emptiness into our lives in order to sober us up out of our sin-induced stupor. He frustrates our sinful plans, He doesn't allow us to be satisfied with our sinful substitutes, He brings pain as a teacher. CS Lewis has said of pain, "it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world." He shouts into our hard hearts, "Turn around! This is the wrong way!" drawing us to repentance and life.

But why should you worry if you're not experiencing discipline? Because God's fatherly discipline is a key evidence that you are truly born again, and a child of God. If there is no discipline in your life, if there is no restraint that God is bringing against your sin, that's an evidence that God has given you OVER to your sin. Paul speaks of this in Romans 1, about God's passive wrath; basically God allows you to live however you want, careening along the well-worn path to Hell. Hebrews 12:8 says "If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons." You should be VERY scared if you do not see God’s hand of loving fatherly discipline in your life in response to your sin against Him. If you are sinning with no consequence, no fear, no conviction of guilt, then this is a dangerous sign that you are not a son of God. He is allowing you to just wallow in your sin and let it consume you from the inside. That’s scary.

So WHY does God discipline us? What is the purpose and fruit? Hebrews 12:11 says we get a harvest of righteousness and peace.  Hebrews 12:10 says God does this "for our good, that we may share his holiness." Holiness: Being set apart from the corrupted filthy sin-sick world, we become weaned off of our sin, and this is one of the best things in the world! And we desperately need this holiness, as it says a few verses later in Hebrews 12:14, "Strive...for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord." Do you want to see the Lord? Do you want to be in His presence? Do you want to go to heaven when you die? Then you MUST be holy. It is the holy ones that come to heaven (Psalm 24:3-4) and the pure in heart that see God (Matthew 5:8).

Holiness is necessary, and discipline is the means to attain it.

But discipline seems too HARD, it seems as though God hates us, has forgotten us, has abandoned us. Is this true? When Christians experience suffering and hardship, is this God forgetting us? Is He too busy? Far from it! God brings discipline because of His great LOVE for His children. Hebrews 12:5-6 quotes from Proverbs 3:11-12, "My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights." So His discipline comes from LOVE! Jesus Himself says in Revelation 3:19, "Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent." Discipline flows from God's love for us!

So how do we apply this? How does it change our mindset, our prayers, and our lives? Three applications to consider:
  1. Reinterpret Discipline: Be grateful, not bitter. Be glad, not sad. See the purpose behind it, don't lament how meaningless your suffering is. Use it to remind yourself of God's character and God's priorities. Holiness is vitally necessary, and He loves you. Be encouraged! 
  2. Pray for Discipline:  Ask for God to bring discipline into your life, like a child who DESIRES the boundaries and the discipline because she knows that it reflects the loving heart of her father to protect her. Pray for His discipline, press into it, ask him to grow and stretch you and chastise you for your rebellion and disobedience. Ask Him to help you see your sin, convict you of it, so that you would grow in holiness. It is worth it in the end! The peace that comes from mature righteousness is worth the pain of discipline! Scripture is replete with examples of those who have come to love discipline: 
    1. Psalm 141:5, "Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it. Yet my prayer is continually against their evil deeds." 
    2. Ecclesiastes 7:5, "It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools." 
    3. Proverbs 9:8, "Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you."
  3. Encourage Others: We all get weary in the fight against sin, especially when we're stubborn and God has to increase the heat of discipline to get our attention. That's why the author of Hebrews ends with this encouragement in verse 12, "Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed." Who do you know who is suffering and experiencing God's discipline? Give them the Hebrews 12 perspective. Encourage them. Help them to see God's love and care, His purposes of making them holy. Give them joy! 
Praying for discipline,
The Relentless Fight

Monday, April 14, 2014

Faith in the Haze

Have you ever felt like you were in a spiritual haze? It could be just a season, or maybe it's after a failure. Perhaps for months now you've been sad, depressed, melancholy... joy seems far and God seems farther. Or maybe it's right after a failure: you had drank deeply from the broken cistern of your favorite sin, and even though you've confessed and repented you still feel the familiar darkness and distance from God that lasts for days. Does that describe your experience?

Sometimes Christians go through these seasons, these "dark nights of the soul". We don't feel the same intimacy with God when we approach His Word. We don't feel closeness with friends. It could be a few days of wallowing in the feelings of guilt over your failure, shame over your weakness. It could be months and months of difficulty and dragging discouragement.

So what do you do? How do you get through the haze? How do you respond when the darkness doesn't leave, and Satan is having a field day accusing you after your failure? How do you respond after a failure when you're spiritually groggy and unclear, without that fight in your belly? Or even worse: How do you respond when you're in a spiritual haze in general? Where there seems to be no good reason for the darkness?

Answer: Live by faith in the haze. That's how you make it. Remember the gospel, remember God's character, remember what's true, and BELIEVE it in a deeper way. Latch onto it and CLING to it with everything in you. Fight!

Three practical encouragements for living by faith the haze:
  • This haze will pass - Honestly, it will go away. God is faithful, and behind the dark cloud that hides Him, there is a smiling face. He LOVES you, not because of your good behavior, but because of Christ. He doesn't hate you for your sins, and He will not punish you. He has ALREADY punished Christ in your place. So be patient, and wait for the haze to pass. It may take a few days, it may take months, or it may take until you die and enter in the joy of God for all eternity... but it is temporary. Meditate on Psalm 27:14, and wait for the Lord. 
  • Believe God's promises, not your feelings - 1 John 1:9 says that if you confess, you are forgiven. But you don't FEEL forgiven!! It feels like a hollow promise. But you must BELIEVE that it is true, regardless of your feelings. Tell your feelings to take a hike. FIGHT. Get violent and LAY HOLD onto the promises of God. Scream them out loud. Believe them with force. The gospel still holds power even if you don't feel it this moment. Micah 7 is a fantastic anthem. 
  • Force feed yourself the Word - You may feel distant from God, and like the Bible is just black words on a white page. Nothing. Lifeless. But sober up, Christian, and read that Word all the same. Read it like it's the antidote to the poison in your veins. Don't wait until you get hungry to start eating the Word. Read it, like your life depends on it. 
Trusting in God in the darkness,
The Relentless Fight

PS: John Piper wrote a short book called When The Darkness Will Not Lift. It's free for PDF download, and it's an excellent encouragement.

Monday, April 7, 2014

God is Greater Than Our Heart

Please welcome guest author Melissa Cimbala! Melissa works on staff for DiscipleMakers and has a passion for seeing others grow in their knowledge and love of Jesus Christ. She also loves sunshine, breakfast, and silliness. For anyone who is weary in the fight and feel condemned by your sin, this post is for you. 
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1 John 3:20 “For whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything.”

Sin runs deep, the cross runs deeper
All people have sinned deeply and rejected God, professing Christians included. That is why we deeply need Jesus; we need a Savior who is bigger than ourselves. We need the cross of Christ with all of its facets and implications for our sin and redemption. One facet in particular stands largely in the face of sin…

You just did it again. Your words oozed with pride and disdain, you looked at porn, you skipped another meal to go to the gym, you went too far and failed to honor him or her physically. You know that it’s wrong, that it is sinful, and yet you keep on doing it. Satan seems to be cheering you on and his victory seems imminent.

Maybe it’s not a repetitive sin weighing you down. Maybe there was one defining moment that you wish you could take back. You can see how broken and evil it is. How much it influences your life and your relationship with God.

You need forgiveness, redemption, healing. You ask God for forgiveness, but you cannot seem to forgive yourself or to believe that God would forgive you either. It seems too big, too wrong, and too persistent. Where is the hope?

The hope is in the cross.
 Jesus’ death on the cross did something amazing. It not only atoned for our sins, but it also threw Satan’s schemes upside down. Satan WANTS you to despair at your sin and the “worse” the sin, the more he is going to guilt you and plague you and try to make you believe that you cannot be forgiven and redeemed.

BUT when Jesus died He covered it all. He “is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.” He knows what is in your heart. He is bigger than what is in your heart. And knowing what is in you He still died, He still chose you.

What does this mean for Satan? What does it mean for us? It means that the more deeply you feel your sin; the more deeply you can know that Jesus loves you and died for you. No matter how bad and persistent the sin may be, Jesus already knew about it before He died and He still chose to pay the cost.

This actually reverses Satan’s schemes!! It means that the more and more entrenched in sin that you get, the more and more you begin to see your need for a savior and the more and more you realize how great He is and how much He loves you. The worse your sin seems, the more you should love your Savior, knowing what He has saved you from. Because of the cross, whenever Satan leads you into sin or guilt he actually eventually leads you to greater freedom and grace within the Gospel.

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!" (Romans 6:1-2). BUT we can use our sin as a launching pad into greater relationship with Christ. Whenever you feel the weight of your actions hanging over you, whenever you fail again at what you promised you would never do… you GET to know Jesus more deeply. Instead of feeling guilty and too far out of forgiveness, recall that Jesus is greater than your heart and that He has not condemned you.

The devil wants you to wallow in guilt? Look at how deep your sin runs, laugh at Satan, and look to the deeper cross. Your deep sin will deepen your love for Jesus.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Book Review: Sex is Not the Problem (Lust Is)

"But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality..." Ephesians 5:3 (NIV)

Joshua Harris is lead pastor at Covenant Life Church, husband to Shannon and father to three kids, and the author of six books. One of his first books was Not Even a Hint published in 2003, then re-released in 2005 with an updated cover and title, Sex is Not the Problem (Lust Is): Sexual Purity in a Lust-Saturated World.

Sex is Not the Problem (Lust Is) is being highlighted here on The Relentless Fight because it's one of the highest quality books on sexual sin in two regards: It focuses on the gospel (not moralism) and heart change (not behaviorism).

Harris starts the book with a simple definition of lust, "craving sexually what God has forbidden" and challenges us to evaluate our lust in light of God's standard for holiness (not even a hint), God's source of power for change (the gospel), and God's motive for fighting our sin (superior joy in God). This stands in contrast to our typical man-centered approach; we define the standard as "a little better than everyone around us", the power for change is our own willpower and discipline, and the motive is twisted: pride, and self-righteousness fueled by guilt and shame.

Here's a few quick highlights from the book:
  • Sex vs. Lust: As the title suggest, Joshua Harris argues that sex is awesome since it was God's idea, and that's WHY lust is bad. Far too often our culture confuses the two, but we must always start a battle against lust with a rock-solid conviction from God's Word that sex is GOOD and brings Him glory when enjoyed within His boundaries. 
  • The Gospel: The book relentlessly focuses on the gospel, with the paradoxical message of the Cross: you can't save yourself, you need Jesus. So stop fighting, and start RESTING in His finished work. Only with the gospel at your core will you have the strength and reason to fight your forgiven sin. And when we fail, we need to keep coming back to the gospel, with a renewed awareness of our need. 
  • Focus on the Heart: Whereas some books on sexuality spend excessive time describing and delineating behaviors, this book goes deeper with the roots of the sin, focusing not on our behaviors but on our hearts. What are we believing? What other non-sexual sins are thriving that link in to our sexual sins? How are we feeding our lust? For instance, Harris writes, "Masturbation is built on a self-centered view of sex... When our lustful desires are given free rein, sex is pushed into a corner and made a completely self-centered, isolated experience that reinforces a self-centered view of life." (page 103)  Basically: Masturbation is a natural outflow of a selfish heart. It's a symptom of a deeper problem. 
  • Practical Fighting Strategies: This book is chock-full of practical strategies and tactics for fighting our sin. Harris emphasizes the need for accountability, fighting the lies of lust with the truths of Scripture, and gives questions to answer to create a custom-tailored plan for fighting lust. This plan identifies your lust triggers, the time you're tempted, and the common location. Arguing from Romans 13:14, Harris challenges us, "Don't pack a lunch for lust!" (page 65)

In summary, Sex Is Not the Problem (Lust Is) is a top-shelf resource for men and women struggling with temptation or addiction to sexual sin. Well-written, biblical, and Jesus-focused, it's highly recommended as a weapon in the fight. Consider getting it to read yourself at Amazon, or buy a few copies and go through it with some other friends from your church who are struggling in similar ways.

Fighting the real problem,
The Relentless Fight

Monday, March 24, 2014

Temptation Can Be Your Gym

Nobody likes temptation, right? When temptation strikes it feels like everything has gone off the rails, like we're being sucked into our old ways again, and like the plane is going down... and it's discouraging. If we fail it feels like we've never really changed. Temptation stinks. 

But what if we had a different view about temptation? What if we re-framed our experience? Usually we think of temptation as being an experience of weakness. We are tempted to sin, and we give in. Satan mocks us, "WEAK."

But what if temptation was seen as an opportunity to be strengthened? Temptation sometimes can be helpful. Temptation can be used against itself, like judo, using the weight of your attacker against him. God promises that when we are tempted, He will always work to provide a way to overcome it! Paul writes about this hope in 1 Corinthians 10:13, "No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it."

God says that there is another option when we are being tempted: to endure it. Endurance requires strength. And if every time we're tempted, we end up becoming even stronger, then temptation can be transformed into being our gym. It's our training room, every rep of thwarted temptation is one more step to becoming spiritually ripped. And as we succeed in fighting temptation, there are three ways temptation can paradoxically be USEFUL:

  1. Temptation can be useful as a wake-up callIt's like getting slapped when you're sleeping, and it suddenly wakes you up. Temptation can provide a similar effect, as if it screams to us, "HELLO!? YOU'RE IN A BATTLE. WAKE UP AND FIGHT!" Temptation can remind you to sober up and wage war. Temptation can remind you to pray, to pursue the lord, and to depend on Him to rescue you. 
  2. Temptation can be useful as a strengthener: In order to win, we must flex the muscle of our faith. We must CHOOSE to believe the promises of God are BETTER than the promises of this temptation in this moment. As we believe God in the moment of weakness, this sharpens our mind and grows our character. It strengthens the muscles of faith. And we'll be able to face the temptation even better next time, because we're trained and ready. 
  3. Temptation can be useful as a reminder to help others:  When you're being tempted, why not use it as an opportunity to reach out to OTHER brothers and sisters who might be tempted, maybe even in the same way? Check in with others to see how their own temptation is going. For instance: If it's midnight and you're tempted to look at porn, text or call a brother who probably also is going through the same temptation. Strength in numbers!! Fight shoulder to shoulder, and encourage one another that Jesus is BETTER
Growing stronger,
The Relentless Fight

Monday, March 17, 2014

Law, Gospel, Wisdom

Have you ever been sitting in a sermon, and the more you listened the worse you felt? Have you ever felt like you're a pretty good person and only need the gospel on your bad days? Have you ever rushed out of a church service with fresh applications in mind, only to feel even more discouraged when they didn't seem to work?

It's vitally important to discern the difference between what is law, gospel, and wisdom. When these three categories are confused or missing, we careen out of control to dangerous thinking and unhealthy strategies.

First let's define the terms:
  • Law: What God says is right and wrong, based on His character. It merely identifies sin and assigns guilt. It identifies the problem and condemns it. Example: Don't commit adultery. If you do, you'll die (Leviticus 20:10). 
  • Gospel: What God has done for us based on His grace. This is the good news! God has sent Christ to obey the Law FOR us, and to pay the penalty for our disobedience to the Law. Example: Christ dies the death of an adulterer, so that the adulterer can be forgiven and reconciled (2 Cor 5:21).
  • Wisdom: What God has instructed us so that we can live holy lives, based on His knowledge of how the world works. This encompasses ways to fight our sin: strategies, tactics, methods, equipping, making no provision. This is largely the world of accountability, sermons, books, articles, counseling, and memorizing Scripture. Example: Do not go near the door of the adulterer's house (Proverbs 5:8). 

Notice that there is a necessary progression to these three categories. First we have the Law which identifies what we should or should not be doing. This reveals our wrongdoing, which is a prerequisite for seeing our need for grace and forgiveness. Then the Gospel reconciles us to God and transforms our hearts to WANT to obey, which finally leads us to the need for Wisdom to know how to walk in this new way of life.

You need all three. There's a danger of minimizing OR exalting only one of them:
  • Without the Law: Nothing done wrong! Meh, NBD. There's no standard for wrongdoing, so there's no need for a gospel, no need for the cross, and no need for any wisdom to fight, because what would you fight? The Law is necessary. But if the Law existed by itself, it would be devastating. 
  • Without the Gospel: No power for change, no transformation, no new heart, no new creation, no new identity in Christ, no freedom from sin. You're a sitting duck for any sin that comes by, and you're standing condemned by God's holy Law. The Gospel is necessary. But if the Gospel existed by itself, it would be powerless. 
  • Without Wisdom: No practical fighting or growth. No strategies. Sure you may have been set free from sin, but how do you start WALKING in that freedom? You've been given the Sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17) but how do you use it? Wisdom is necessary. But if Wisdom existed by itself, it would be useless. 

When you hear a sermon, or a friend counseling you, or are reading a chapter in a book, take the time to figure out what you're hearing. Is it Law, Gospel, or Wisdom? Categorization is vitally necessary. If you hear wisdom and interpret it as law (and forget the gospel) this makes you beat yourself up over how you're NOT applying this wisdom. You'll just sit there condemning yourself as a failure. Don't do it! Hear the wisdom AS it is, as wisdom that comes AFTER the Gospel. You can't do it, but Jesus has done it. So now that you're transformed, hear the wisdom as a call: "HERE'S the way to live wisely".

Fighting sin with all three,
The Relentless Fight

Monday, February 10, 2014

Communion is a Mighty Weapon

“This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” - 1 Corinthians 11:25

How do you think of communion? Maybe your church does it just once a month and you often forget what it's for. Maybe it's just a weird religious ritual, or maybe you don't even know why the church does it. But have you ever thought of communion as a mighty weapon?

First, what is communion? During Jesus' last mealtime with his disciples before His crucifixion, it's recorded in Luke 22:19f, "And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, 'This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.' And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, 'This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.'" For centuries Christians have celebrated this Last Supper in remembrance of Jesus death in our place for our sins. Different churches celebrate with different frequency and traditions, but the core is the same: bread and a cup for the remembrance of Christ's death.

What is the significance of communion? Why is it that Jesus asked us to remember Him in this way? Consider three things to remember about the the Cross of Christ:
  1. Remember who you WERE without Christ: Paul speaks in Ephesians 2 about how you were dead without Christ. Dead in your sins, shackled to your idols. No life, no hope, no way of getting free. And God's just wrath was upon you, with no escape. You were destitute, afflicted, condemned, guilty, and walking to your death.
  2. Remember who you now ARE in Christ: God has had mercy on you!! Oh what glorious good news! He made you alive in Christ, set you free from your bondage, gave you eternal life, adopted you into His family, forgave all your sin, and caused you to be a completely new creation
  3. Remember who you WILL BE in Christ: God is at work in you! Not only has He saved you and forgiven you for all your past sins, but He is now at work in you to progressively change and grow! Look at this amazing promise in Philippians 1:6, "he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ." God started the work, and He will finish it. One day, you will be PERFECT. No more sin, no more weakness, no more struggling, no more FIGHT. It'll be over. Finally. And you will live in joy with Christ FOREVER. 
We are so prone to forget the gospel, to get distracted, to forget our sin, to just start to coast. Sometimes we begin to see ourselves as good people, not in need of Christ's death. Sure, maybe we needed a little help when we were younger, but we've got it from here, right? That's why communion is a mighty weapon. It FORCES us to remember the gospel, to fix our mind on the broken body and shed blood of Jesus. WHY was His body broken? WHY was His blood shed? Because HE died the death of a sinner, to save sinners who trust in Him. As you crush the bread in your mouth, between your teeth, REMEMBER the crushed body of Christ for forgiveness! As you drink the wine or grape juice pouring down your throat, REMEMBER the blood of Christ poured out of His veins for YOUR sin. That's the gospel! And He has commanded us to remember His death.

If you take communion in this way, remembering the gospel, there will be these precious fruits:
  1. Confession: No longer will you hide your sin in the dark. Seeing that it is forgiven, you will thrust it out into the light, and let it die (1 John 1:9). 
  2. Repentance: No longer will you love your sin, but a break will be made. The bridge will be burned. In your heart you will resolve to turn away. 
  3. Joy: To look upon the work of love your Friend has done for you, it will spark a fresh sense of gratitude and joy! What a Savior! 
  4. Violence: This sin caused your Savior to be crucified. Fight it! Now that it has died with Christ, it is a dying sin, a forgiven sin, a mortified sin. You have authority and power to kill it, to destroy it, to wage war with all the power of heaven against your sin. Start the barrage.
Remembering Christ,
The Relentless Fight

Monday, January 13, 2014

Wage War!

Please welcome guest author Matthew Bryant! Matthew serves as Coordinator of College Ministry at King Street Church and loves seeing young people grow in Christ. He also serves as a chaplain in the United States Air Force, is married to his wife Lindsay, and is a non-identical triplet. Enjoy his challenge, and be reinvigorated in your fight against sin!
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"This is the fighting day, expect nothing now but bullets, bruises, wounds, [and] scars..." Charles Spurgeon preached in 1896. This message to engage in battle is not new. Paul told Timothy in a letter written around A.D. 62-64 - "This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight, keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith" (1 Tim. 1:18-19). The call to fight remains just as relevant today as it was for Paul and Timothy. True or False: In a fight people get hurt. True. I just want you to recognize here at the onset that "fighting the good fight" will not be easy or painless. But if you do not fight - then you will lose and are in grave danger of "shipwreck[ing]" your faith. 

No more beating around the bush - I am specifically talking about the fight for your sexual purity for the glory of God, to magnify the name of Jesus. Sexual sin may not be as enticing to you as is to others but it is a tantalizing temptation for MANY - your son or daughter, brother or sister, husband or wife, pastor or congregant. And if sexual sin is not your hang up, it does not mean that you are not in the battle! There is still battles to be fought alongside other brothers or sisters in Christ. 

I don't have to make a well polished case for the over sexualized nature of our culture. Most entertainment from music, internet, TV shows, and movies all profit from the fact that sex sells. Sex is being talked about on billboards, magazine racks, and social media news feeds. 

And let's be clear, sex is not the problem or enemy. God made sex and it is a beautiful thing. If you are reading this, you are a product of sex. So what is the issue? What is the problem? Joshua Harris, in a book titled Sex is not the Problem (Lust Is), looks to scripture to pinpoint the issue. Ephesians 5:3 says, "But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people." Notice the scripture does not read, "But among you there must not be even a hint of sex..." Such a command would be foolish and go against one of God's earliest instructions to man - "Be fruitful and multiply..." (Gen. 1:28). This instruction was of course given inside of the context of marriage between one man and one woman. 

That is why Joshua Harris clarifies the issue in the title of his book - simply put - sex is not the problem in your battle for sexual purity. Lust is the problem. He defines lust plainly in the book: "Lust is craving sexually what God has forbidden."

So the problem is identified, what now? Fight! Fight to not gratify those sexual cravings that God has forbidden. 

Romans 13:14 says, "But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires." What does that mean for us? 

There are two ways of fighting:

1. "...put on the Lord Jesus Christ,..." Any relationship requires time and effort. Without time and effort you will have a failed relationship. We cannot ignore the grave consequences of attempting to fight for sexual purity without Jesus. What you end up with is someone who is very moral (and probably proud) but not a Christian. 

2. "...and make no provision for the flesh,..." We must get rid of things that easily cause us to stumble and fall. More clarification may be needed - - This does not mean that Television, Movies, Media, Magazines, Smart Phones, etc. are all evil and the problem. Lust is the problem. Now those mediums may bring lustful excursions to your living room, bedroom, and front door but that does not make them evil. And just because they are not evil does not mean that we should welcome unfiltered access to these mediums. 

So if you are going to take the battle for your sexual purity seriously then you will make some radical choices, choices that may seem crazy to others around you. Do I have to get rid of cable? No. But it may be wise. Is it wrong for me to have a smart phone? No. But consider Jesus' extreme position in the battle against sin - "If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell" (Mt. 5:29). Let me contextualize: "better to throw out your smart phone, get rid of cable, seek out accountability...than to be stuck worshiping sexual fantasies and enter eternity without Jesus!"

Here are some tools for you to use in your battle for sexual purity for the glory of God, to magnify the name of Jesus. 

1. Put on the Lord Jesus:
  • Spend time in the Word of God everyday! No plan to read the Word might as well be a plan not to read the Scriptures - - Jesus fought off the temptation of Satan in the wilderness through quoting scripture. Memorize it!
  • Pray. Jesus said, "Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak" (Mt. 26:41)
2. Make No Provision for the Flesh:
  • Check out the awesome resources found in The Relentless Fight's article "The Armory".
  • Get in the fight with both feet! Make radical decisions to cut out things that easily cause you to fall into lust.
  • Don't fight alone! Commit to being a part of the body of Christ. The body of Christ is the church - God seeks to accomplish His will not only in your life but throughout the world by the local church. Commit to it, submit to it, and get accountable with people in it. 
Remember that your fight for sexual purity is not about earning God's favor. We fight because of what Jesus has done for us in His finished work on the Cross. Because He is risen and lives, we can have new life. Our sexual purity is for the glory of God, to magnify the name of Jesus. 

So WAGE WAR and Fight Well all for the glory of God, to magnify the name of Jesus through all the earth! Your sexual purity matters. 

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Regaining Hope

Please welcome guest author Peter Krol! Peter blogs at Knowable Word, a site dedicated to helping ordinary people learn to study the Bible. He also serves as an elder at Grace Fellowship Church of State College, PA and as a collegiate missionary with DiscipleMakers.
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Hope is slippery, and this fallen world constantly threatens our grip on it.

The definition of marriage is in question. Religious liberty could be threatened. School shootings become routine. Horrific infanticide takes place in unaccountable clinics. Chemical weapons endanger world peace. Government shutdowns inflame disgruntlement.

Through it all, we try to do good. We love our neighbors, we support the community, and we preach Christ and him crucified.

But it gets wearying.

You’re Not Alone

The Christians in Thessalonica had the same problem. They started well, but affliction, tribulation, and ingrained sin threatened their composure and challenged their endurance.

In Paul’s first letter to this church, he gives thanks to God for three chief virtues among the people:

“We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess 1:2-3, ESV).

Faith, love, and hope characterized the Thessalonians as they transformed their part of the world (1 Thess 1:6-10). These three virtues likewise saturate Paul’s encouragement and instruction in the body of the letter.

But in a matter of only months—by the time Paul writes his second letter—the Thessalonians let something slip:

“We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing” (2 Thess 1:3).

So their faith is growing, and their love is increasing. But their hope stands out by its absence.

All hope is not lost, since Paul boasts about their steadfastness in next verse (2 Thess 1:4). But it’s clearly in question, since they need relief (2 Thess 1:7), have been quickly shaken and alarmed (2 Thess 2:2), and are in danger of growing weary in doing good (2 Thess 3:13). In fact, the word “hope” occurs only once in the letter, when Paul reminds them that God, in Christ, already gave them every reason to hope (2 Thess 2:16-17).

The Thessalonians are a lot like you and me. They want to serve the Lord and proclaim Christ. They care about their world. They just grow worn and weary after a while. They must be reminded of God’s eternal comfort and good hope through grace. Paul wrote his second letter to that end.

How to Regain Hope

What would Paul say to us today, were he to encourage us to regain hope?
  1. We thank God for you because you haven’t given up. Your faith and love are stronger than ever (2 Thess 1:3).
  2. We boast about how you’ve endured so many difficult things (2 Thess 1:4).
  3. Your endurance is evidence that God counts you worthy of his kingdom (2 Thess 1:5).
  4. Your enduring faith glorifies Jesus. Know that everyone will suffer for Jesus’ sake. Some suffer now, for a short time. Others will suffer then, for eternity. So when you suffer now for Jesus, you show the world he’s worth suffering for, and this gives him great glory (2 Thess 1:6-10).
  5. We’re praying for you. We’re praying for God to make you worthy of his calling. We’re praying for God to strengthen your resolve for good to triumph. We’re praying for God to make your faithful work even more effective for his glory (2 Thess 1:11-12).
  6. Don’t be alarmed by what you hear is going on in the world (2 Thess 2:1-2).
  7. What you’re going through is not yet the Day of the Lord. Don’t worry; you’ll know it when it comes (2 Thess 2:3-10).
  8. Regardless of what happens, the Lord will stick to his plan. He knows what’s happening, and he’s got it well under control (2 Thess 2:11-12).
  9. In fact, he chose you and called you to obtain Jesus’ glory (2 Thess 2:13-14).
  10. So stand firm and hold on to what you know to be true (2 Thess 2:15).
  11. God loves you because of Jesus. He already gave you eternal comfort and good hope through grace. May you now experience his comfort personally and be encouraged to press on. Your work is not in vain. Your words still matter (2 Thess 2:16).
  12. As I said, your words matter. You preached the Lord’s word, and it sped ahead. Now pray the same for us. Ask God to deliver us from evil men, just as he will guard you against the evil one (2 Thess 3:1-3).
  13. I’m confident that you’ll do the right thing (2 Thess 3:4).
  14. Remember God’s love. Remember what Jesus endured for you (2 Thess 3:5).
  15. And as I also said, your work is not in vain. Don’t coddle professing believers who are too lazy to work. Imitate my example in this matter (2 Thess 3:6-9).
  16. For the idle busybodies: Get a job! It will do you good (2 Thess 3:10-12).
  17. For the rest: Don’t grow weary in doing good (2 Thess 3:13-15).
  18. Our only real hope is if the Lord of peace gives us peace: peace with him, and peace with each other. One day this peace will be all that’s left. May he be with you (2 Thess 3:16).