Monday, October 5, 2015

Just DO IT!

"So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin." - James 4:17

The Lord is always calling us to take the next step of obedience and growth. Sometimes we KNOW what to do, and we even FEEL God pushing us to it, but we still don't do it.

Have you ever thought, "I just need to read a good book on this topic, THEN I can do it." Or felt like, "I just need to spend a week in prayer, THEN I can do it." Or maybe "I should talk with a few mentors first to make sure I'm on the right page, THEN I can do it." What's going on here? It's helpful to identify three different areas of application: Head, heart, hands. Head is what we know, our theology. Heart is our emotions and feelings. Hands is our practical doing. Each are important, and if we miss one of them, the other two are unbalanced. (To learn more, check out this Knowable Word post)

What we'll focus on in this blog post is the hands, the doing. Sometimes we don't need to learn more. We don't need to read more. We don't need to pray for God to change our hearts more. We don't need to wait until we are more excited about it. God has spoken clearly in His Word! We know the truth! He has provided us with a new heart and new affections! Our job now is swift obedience. To hesitate is to disobey. 

So if the Lord has convicted you of a path of obedience, and you know what it is... just do it! Don't sit around contemplating it further. Get out there and make it happen! What are some examples? Perhaps you know you should confront a brother who is in sin. Perhaps you have been convicted about your paltry time in the Word and know you should step it up. Maybe God has been poking you about a sin pattern that needs repentance and change. Or maybe you've been building a great relationship with your nonChristian friends but you just haven't brought up Jesus yet. 

Why are we slow to do it? Why is our obedience sluggish? There are plenty of obstacles, and the first step is to identify them. What's holding you back? Admit it. Then when it's clear, you can process it through with the truth of God's word. Most of the time it's simply fear and risk. If we bring up Jesus to an old high school friend it could estrange the relationship. If we start up a Bible study in our community there's a risk of the unknown. If we start a new initiative by faith, there's a risk it could fail. If we repent of our favorite sin, we fear God might not come through with healing and joy. 

So practically: write a list of the things you know you should be doing but aren't. And then DO THEM. 

Here's the great part! When you obey, you begin to see God's amazing work happen right in front of you, through your faith-motivated action. This is incredibly exciting. We see our lives change, we see God's kingdom advance, we see Him move and act through us. 

But what if our hearts and minds aren't on board? What if we still want to learn more first, or what if we just don't have the kind of desire and motivation that we wish we had? Here's the secret: sometimes the very act of doing it, of faithful obedience, is enough to change our hearts and minds and set us on a new trajectory. A previous blog post addressed this in the realm of Bible reading, sometimes if you don't have a desire for the Bible you just have to force feed yourself the Word

We do often fail in this. We are guilty of James 4:17, we know the good we ought to do, but we do not do it. But the gospel forgive us, and then enables us to move to action. We know that even our failure to obey is one of the sins that Christ covers with His blood, we are completely forgiven! And when we see how Jesus didn't feel like going to the cross but went anyway, as an awesome example of faithfulness and love, that helps us to follow in His footsteps. So remember the gospel, and FIGHT. 

Just do it!
The Relentless Fight

PS: Francis Chan uses the illustration of telling his daughter "Go clean your room". Check out this 2 minute video: 

PPS: Two secular examples of the "just do it" mentality. The first is from The Art of Manliness about how acting like a man will make you feel like one:

And finally, a classic exhortation of the "just do it" mindset, from Shia Labeouf:

Monday, July 27, 2015

Indicative THEN Imperative

Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. - Galatians 5:25

Have you ever read a passage of Scripture, felt convicted you should repent, but then immediately felt crushed by how difficult it was and despaired that you would ever change? Have you ever felt like you needed to clean your life up just a bit more before the Lord would really love you? Today let's explore a fundamental distinctive of the gospel, by taking a look at two technical grammar concepts.

In English grammar, the INDICATIVE is a statement of being. "The car is red." The IMPERATIVE is a statement of command, "Paint the car red." And the distinction between these two grammar concepts is one of the most glorious and empowering truths of Christianity, and it stands in contrast to culture & religion. The indicative comes first, then the imperative. Meaning, who you are comes before what you should do. Being, then doing. Identity, then activity. And it's dangerous to put it the other way around! Let's look at some Scripture to back this up:

  • 1 John 3:1-3 "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him. 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. 3 All who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure."
    We are loved children (indicative), and then purify ourselves (imperative). 
  • Ephesians 4:1 As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.
    You have received a calling (indicative), now live a life worthy of it (imperative). 
  • Colossians 3:1-5 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature...
    You have been raised with Christ, your life is now hidden with Him (indicative), so then, put to death what is earthly (imperative). 
  • Galatians 5:24-25 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
    Living by the Spirit, then keeping in step. Indicative, then imperative. 
  • 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. 
    Wow! This is one of the most clear of all the Scriptures. We're presented first with the imperative: get rid of the old yeast! But it's backed up by the indicative: you really are a new batch! Wow. Paul is essentially saying, "BE who you ARE". And what's the power of this? The gospel: Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed in our place. That's what makes us new. 

Usually in our meritocratic culture, the imperative comes first, and then the indicative is earned. Example: You do well on a test, and then you get a good grade. Or, you campaign well for a leadership spot, and then you get the title and position. It actually works just the same in religion: You work hard and obey all the rules, and then god awards you with the good place at the table. But the gospel is precisely the opposite! The NEW indicative (who you are) comes first and EMPOWERS the imperative (what you should do). Being, then doing! By grace we are adopted as sons, THEN called to live as sons. By grace we are forgiven of all sin, and THEN told to start living free of sin. Tim Lane and Paul Tripp summarize it well in How People Change, page 187, "When rightly understood, God’s love will propel you toward holiness and growth in grace. The order is essential: I am a new creation, accepted, adopted, and free; therefore I want to please God. We do not say: I will try to please God so that I may become a new creation, make myself acceptable, and hope that God adopts me and sets me free."

So, when you feel burdened by the call to change, the call to repentance, the call to a new life, remember who you are. You are a new creation, you are free from sin, you are alive by the Spirit. Now live like that. It isn't a crushing burden, it's an empowering reminder! You don't have to keep going back to the dirty dungeon of your sin. You've been liberated, so now walk in the freedom of a loved child. This is the great and fundamental difference between the gospel and religion! Remember this gospel, and THEN keep fighting.

Be who you are,
The Relentless Fight

Monday, June 29, 2015

Book Review: Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers

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. - Romans 8:13

John Owen was a prolific Puritan author in the 1600's, producing over the course of his life a library of works that fill over 15 volumes. But out of all his writing, there is one that has risen to the top again and again, instructing new generations of Christians on the bloody subject of sin-killing. Even today this work remains just as needed and insightful as ever. Its full title for the 1656 publication was "Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers: The Necessity, Nature, and Means of it. With a resolution of sundry cases of conscience, thereunto belonging"

Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers is being highlighted here on The Relentless Fight because it is a classic text on WHY to kill sin, and HOW to kill sin. The book is a short treatise, roughly 100 pages, based on an exposition and meditation of Romans 8:13 which reads, "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."  In the language of 1656, to "mortify" meant to put to death. Therefore "mortification of sin" was the killing of sin.

Justin Taylor summarizes the structure of the book in the edited compilation of 3 of Owen's works called Overcoming Sin & Temptation. He identifies 3 parts:
  1. The Necessity of Mortification: believers must make it their daily work to mortify the fleshly sin in them, the Spirit is required for this work, and the life of the believer depends upon this work. 
  2. The Nature of Mortification: What it is NOT (i.e. the utter destruction of sin, or an occasional victory, or a surface-level change), but rather, "mortification consists in a habitual weakening of sin" which involves relentless fighting. He then offers 9 practical considerations. 
  3. The Means of Mortification: We set our faith on the work of Christ (in the cross), and we rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to accomplish the killing of sin. 

Here are a few highlights, quotes, and applications:
  • Mortification is by God's grace: We cannot successfully fight sin without God's help. "Mortification from a self-strength, carried on by ways of self-invention, unto the end of a self-righteousness, is the soul and substance of all false religion in the world." page 47 and "The use of means for the obtaining of peace is ours; the bestowing of it is God's prerogative." p 64 also "Mortification of any sin must be by a supply of grace. Of ourselves we cannot do it." p 133
  • Mortification is only for believers, and by the Spirit: Speaking of unbelievers, "Let men know it is their duty, but in its proper place; I take not men from mortification, but put them upon conversion. He that shall call a man from mending a hole in the wall of his house, to quench a fire that is consuming the whole building, is not his enemy. Poor soul! It is not your sore finger but your hectic fever that you are to apply yourself to the consideration of. You set yourself against a particular sin and do not consider that you are nothing but sin." p 84 and of the need for the Holy Spirit, "This whole work, which I have described as our duty, is effected, carried on, and accomplished by the power of the Spirit, in all the parts and degrees of it" p 138
  • Remember the Gospel!: "Act faith peculiarly upon the death, blood, and cross of Christ; that is, on Christ as crucified and slain. Mortification of sin is peculiarly from the death of Christ." p 136 and again "Set faith at work on Christ for the killing of your sin. His blood is the great sovereign remedy for sin-sick souls. Live in this, and you will die a conqueror; yea, you will, through the good providence of God, live to see your lust dead at your feet." p 131
  • Be exceedingly violent against your sin: "Such a one never thinks his lust dead because it is quiet, but labors still to give it new wounds, new blows every day." p 77 At first temptation, "Rise up with all your strength against it, with no less indignation than if it had fully accomplished what it aims at." p 110
  • The fight against sin must be relentless: Never take a day off against sin. Always fight it. "Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it while you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you." p 50 and "...know there is no safety against it but in a constant warfare." p 52 and "As it never dies of itself, so if it be not daily killed it will always gather strength" p 91
  • It's a hard long fight: Mortification is not the utter killing of sin. We aim for it, but in this life we will not accomplish it. Rather, mortification is "a habitual weakening of sin". We crucify the flesh, and it is bleeding out. (For more on this expectation, see the TRF post Expect a Hard Long Bloody Fight)
  • Sometimes God allows sin as a fatherly discipline: "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?" p 88
If you would like a more eloquent summary of the book, please read this excellent brief article by Jen Pollock Michel called The Bloody Business of Killing Sin, on The Gospel Coalition website.

You can buy the book on Kindle for only $0.99, or as an abridged paperback from Banner of Truth for only $8.10. But perhaps the best version is a 3-part John Owen collection (edited, with footnotes) called Overcoming Sin & Temptation. All page numbers in this post have been referenced to this edition, which includes not only Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers, but also the two Owen books: Of Temptation, and Indwelling Sin.

Always killing sin,
The Relentless Fight

Monday, June 22, 2015

Taking Thoughts Captive

"we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." 2 Corinthians 10:5

What role does the mind play in the fight against sin? Do only our affections matter? Or only our actions? What about our thoughts? One of the hardest parts of the fight is in our minds. It's relatively easy to stop the gross outward displays of sin like adultery, murder, theft. But to stop lustful fantasies, angry thoughts, and ideas of stealing? That's a whole 'nother level. Let's examine a biblical understanding of our mind and thoughts, and see what applications we can draw for the fight.

The Scripture speaks often of the fluidity of our minds. We have the capacity of "setting our mind" on items, and cultivating thought in that direction. We can focus in like a laser. Consider these Scriptures:
  • Colossians 3:1-3 Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. 3 For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 
  • Romans 8:6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
  • Matthew 16:23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
  • 2 Peter 3:1 This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder,

There is a danger that our glorious God-given minds will be turned towards the Enemy's purposes. Paul cautions in 2 Corinthians 11:3, "But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ." Therefore, God identifies our "thoughts" as one of the primary areas of repentance, as we see in these Scriptures:
  • Isaiah 55:7 let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, that he may have compassion on him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
  • Jeremiah 4:14 O Jerusalem, wash your heart from evil, that you may be saved. How long shall your wicked thoughts lodge within you?

So if Satan is using our thoughts as a weapon in the fight, what are we to do? We must fight fire with fire, and use these very same tactics against our Enemy. What does this look like? Primarily by taking every thought captive. We cannot let our thoughts wash by like a river, and gaze serenely at the torrent. We must set a gate, and watch it vigilantly. Let's look more closely at Paul's tactic as he describes it:
For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. 4 The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. 5 We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 6 And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete. - 2 Corinthians 10:3-6 
We have many sinful and tempting thoughts that arise throughout the day: lustful thoughts, angry thoughts, self-centered narratives that we write, fantasies of our own success, doubts of God's goodness, justifications of our actions, and replaying conflicts in our mind. God commands us to NOT let these thoughts roam free. We must capture them! Round them up, label them, identify what they are. Bring them before the judgment seat of Christ, and let Him evaluate them.

Why is this so important? What does it matter what we think? We're not DOING it, so what's the big deal? John Owen describes our danger, "Every unclean thought or glance would be adultery if it could; every covetous desire would be oppression, every thought of unbelief would be atheism, might it grow to its head." Wow, that's scary! There is enough evil in that one initial thought to bring about complete destruction. Make no mistake, it will grow. Owen says "but if let alone, if not continually mortified, it will bring forth great, cursed, scandalous, soul-destroying sins." This is ground zero, the thoughts. This is where your actions originate from: the ruminations of your mind. Ben Stuart put it well in his series The Fight, "What you think about, you care about, and what you care about, you chase."

Let's close with some practical applications:
  1. Patrol your thoughts: Become a mental bounty-hunter. Don't just let your thoughts pass through your mind unchecked. Challenge them, take them captive! And if needed: kill them. Become more aware of WHEN you're thinking, and WHAT you're thinking. Maybe even write it down. Label them biblically, and realize the power in your thoughts. Realize the direction these sinful thoughts are headed in, and get violent. John Owen again, "Do you find your corruption to begin to entangle your thoughts? Rise up with all your strength against it, with no less indignation than if it had fully accomplished what it aims at. Consider what an unclean thought would have; it would have you roll yourself in folly and filth. Ask envy what it would have - murder and destruction is at the end of it. Set yourself against it with no less vigor than if it had utterly debased you to wickedness."
  2. Remember the gospel, and pray for God's help: As you consider this great task, it is appropriate that you would feel it is overwhelming, because out of our evil hearts are constantly coming evil thoughts (Mark 7:21). And you're right! On our own, we CANNOT fight this exhausting constant battle. This pushes us away from dependence on ourselves, and onto Jesus. Remember the Gospel first, because you CAN'T do this on your own. You fail. You're weak. But Jesus has forgiven you and GIVEN you his Holy Spirit to make war. Now you CAN take captive those thoughts. And do so. Keep fighting! Pray that God gives you awareness of thoughts, empowers your self control, grants you repentance and a willingness to kill your evil thoughts. Remember that self-control is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. Cry out with the psalmist, "Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!" (Psalm 139:23)
  3. Cultivate the mind of Christ: Don't just take your bad thoughts captive and leave it at that. Cultivate the good holy thoughts! We must put off AND put on. Colossians 3:2 instructs us to set our minds on things above; and Philippians 4:8 commands, "Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." Again in Romans 12:2, "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." Slowly, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we will grow in holiness in our minds. 
Happy hunting,
The Relentless Fight

PS: All quotes above from John Owen are taken from one of his most famous works, "Of the Mortification of Sin in Believers," found in this volume, "Overcoming Sin and Temptation". To learn more about this book, check out the TRF review here

Monday, June 8, 2015

Relentless Rest

Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD! - Psalm 27:14

Here on The Relentless Fight, we often talk of the need for ACTION against our sin. The overall flavor is that of activity and movement and work. But the Scripture also commands us to rest, to wait, to be silent. How do we make sense of this?

First, let's explore the biblical commands to rest and wait:
  • Psalm 27:14 Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD! 
  • Exodus 14:13f And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”
  • Matthew 11:28-30 Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
  • Psalm 131:1f O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.
  • Hebrews 6:15 And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise.
  • Exodus 20:8-11 Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

We see there are different contexts for rest: In the Psalms we have the daily walk with God through the suffering and anxieties of life. In Jesus' ministry we find rest for our souls. In Hebrews we see Abraham and other heroes of the faith resting and waiting for God to fulfill His promises. In the 10 Commandments we see the command to rest 1 day out of 7 to honor God's Sabbath. But there is another kind of deeper rest, that regarding our spiritual standing with God, in relation to our righteousness. Let us explore that:

  • Romans 4:4f Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness
  • Hebrews 4:3a For we who have believed enter that rest
  • Hebrews 4:9f So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God's rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.
  • John 6:29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” (Note: in Jesus' logic, work = faith)
  • Romans 11:6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

So we see that the deeper rest is the resting of FAITH, of believing and trusting in Christ for our gifted righteousness. This means we cease striving and working to earn our right standing before God. We dismantle all the complicated machinery of human-made religion and self-righteousness. We discard it as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). Therefore our primary application from this meditation on rest is that we are called to give up our hard working and receive quietly the GIFT.

But all over the Scripture, we are also commanded to FIGHT (1 Timothy 6:12), to "work out your own salvation" (Phil 2:12) and be active in our sanctification and holiness. Which one is it? Do we fight, or do we rest? How do we make sense of this? As John Piper has said in illuminating simplicity, "It's a fight to rest". Wow. Meaning, we fight hard to rest in the gospel. We fight against substitute saviors, and we fight against the thinking that we just need to try harder. We fight to STAND on Christ the solid rock, remembering that all other ground is sinking sand. And it's only by resting on the Rock of Christ that we are able to fight with any lasting gospel power.

Hebrews 4:11 summarizes this paradox quite well, "Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience." We STRIVE to enter REST. We must be diligent, to work at it, to watch out that we do not fail to rest in Christ. As Hebrews goes on in verse 14, "Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession." Hold fast!! And how do we do that? By drawing near often as invited in verse 16, "Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."

How does this practically apply? Consider these 3 areas:
  • Spiritually rest in Christ and war against your self-sufficiency. Remember the gospel. HOLD tightly to the promises of Scripture. This might actually mean NOT asking forgiveness for the 10th time. If you've confessed your sin and asked God for forgiveness, believe that He has given it. REST in His Word in 1 John 1:9. You don't need to pay Him back. You don't need to earn your way into His favor again. You don't need to clean yourself up before you walk into His throne room. What does this mean? Go to church! Sing some worship. Meet up with some Christian friends. Read the Word. Pray. Enjoy the Lord. Do it all out of joy, walking in your standing in Christ. But don't do it out of guilt. Sometimes this may seem like NOT fighting. But it's the most effective strategy TO fight. Remember the gospel. 
  • Physically rest like keeping the Sabbath. There's something that happens spiritually when we live out in parable form the great rest of Hebrews 4. We enter into God's rest by resting our bodies. This reminds us (somewhat like communion) of the gospel. Practically, this helps in the fight against the temptations to workaholism, which can be a form of spiritually earning our standing. 
  • Emotionally rest in a balanced way. There's no need for crazy activity but rather a confident faith in The Lord. Wait for his timing. Be at peace, Christian. Your God reigns supreme and sovereign. He is not wringing His hands wondering how it will all work out. Consider Psalm 46:10, "Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!"

Fighting to rest,
The Relentless Fight

Monday, March 23, 2015

How to Receive a Rebuke

The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. Whoever ignores instruction despises himself, but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence. - Proverbs 15:31-32

Three weeks ago we looked at How to Confront Sin in our brothers and sisters. But what happens if you're on the other side of the table? How can we be humble people who are willing to receive a rebuke?

The Scripture are replete with exhortations to have a humble heart that listens to correction:
  • 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.
  • Proverbs 9:8 Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.
  • Proverbs 9:9 Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.
  • Proverbs 10:17 Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray.
  • Proverbs 12:1 Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid. 
  • Proverbs 13:18 Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is honored.
  • Ecclesiastes 7:5 It is better for a man to hear the rebuke of the wise than to hear the song of fools.
  • Revelation 3:19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.
Honor and life and MORE wisdom come to those who are willing to receive rebuke and correction. Poverty, disgrace, and stupidity are waiting for those who will not listen. One of the most important character traits of a growing Christian is teachability. But let's be honest, receiving a rebuke is HARD. When a close friend says, "I have something I want to talk with you about..." we instinctively cringe and brace for impact. It's just so hard to be wrong! It feels exposing and shameful.

How can we cultivate a willingness to receive a rebuke? Here are some practical steps:
  • Read the Bible: Learn God's character and what He calls you to. Learn what His will is and how to be holy and acceptable (Romans 12:1-2). This will soften your heart, like a plow digging up the hard earth to be ready to receive the life of the seed. 
  • Pray: Pray for God to grow you, pray for humility, pray for a teachable heart, pray for hatred of your sin, pray for a listening ear, pray for brothers and sisters that will love you enough to rebuke you, pray for God to show you your sin and convict you. Also, Pray for Discipline.
  • Get Brothers: Surround yourself with godly mature brothers and sisters. Open your life to them. Live regular life together, basically: be deeply involved in a local church. If possible even get Christian roommates who can help you grow. We need Brothers in Arms to help us in the fight, and bring these life-giving rebukes to us. 
  • ASK people how you can grow: It's not just enough to HAVE brothers in our life, we need to make use of them! Ask if you've sinned against them. Ask them what they are seeing in your life. Invite correction. Pursue and invite rebuke from wise godly people who know you and know the Scripture. Develop a hungriness for it. One of the fastest ways to grow in sanctification and Christian maturity is to pray for God to show you your sin, and then ask some close brothers where you need to grow. And then listen to their answer and apply it! 

And when we receive the actual rebuke, how can we respond in that situation? 
  • Humbly listen: When someone rebukes you, LISTEN. Yeah they may get some things wrong, they may be misunderstanding you. But give them the benefit of the doubt. What can you hear and agree with? What are they saying that is true? How can you RECEIVE what they're saying with a humble and listening ear? Guard against your first response being defensiveness in arguing against their observation and challenge. Try to make the FIRST thing out of your mouth something like, "Thanks for sharing that with me, I'd like to grow."
  • Remember and BELIEVE the Gospel!: Hearing rebuke is HARD. But if we think we have to change all on our own power, rebuke is destructive and renders us so weighed down with guilt and heavy burdens that we are immobilized. Yes, you have sinned. But God's grace is for sinners! God in His grace has showed you an area to grow, but He provides the blood of His Son to cover and heal your disease. Use this rebuke as a fresh opportunity to remember the forgiveness that is yours in Christ, and rejoice that God is continuing to give LIFE to you. 
  • Apply and change: Listening to the rebuke and receiving it has more to do with our application than just merely HEARING out the person speaking to us. If we hear correction but don't actually CHANGE, we are like the foolish man who looks in the mirror and forgets what he looks like (James 1:22-25). Figure out what practical next steps of repentance you can be taking, and DO IT. Enlist the help of brothers for accountability if necessary. 

May God give you a humble heart to receive rebuke!
The Relentless Fight

Monday, March 2, 2015

How to Confront Sin

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. Psalm 141:5

The Christian life is a call to believe the gospel and fight our sin. One significant problem we face is our own blindness to our sin. We love our sin, and because it is so ingrained in our lives we often miss it on the radar, and it continues to thrive unchallenged. This is why God has saved a bunch of us! We sharpen one another "as iron sharpens iron" (Proverbs 27:17) and help one another grow by pointing out the sin we must put to death. But HOW do we do this? And when? Who do we confront?

The Scripture has much to say on confrontation and rebuke:
  • Matthew 7:3-5 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. (Notice that Jesus doesn't say to do nothing about the speck, but rather to first take out your own log SO THAT you can clearly see and help your brother.)
  • Matthew 18:15  If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.
  • Galatians 6:1 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.
  • James 5:19-20 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (Notice that God is using your rebuke to rescue your brother from not only the current sin but also from all the others that would have grown with it. Sin never is stagnant, it's always growing and adding to itself!)
  • Luke 17:3 Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him
  • 1 Timothy 5:20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.

And the Scripture goes on to speak of how the wise man loves and receives rebuke, correction, & reproof:
  • Proverbs 9:8 Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you.
  • Proverbs 10:17 Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects reproof leads others astray.
  • Proverbs 12:1 Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is stupid. 
  • Proverbs 13:18 Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is honored.
  • Proverbs 15:31 The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise.

God will discipline us for our sin because He is a loving Father. And we should PRAY for discipline and receive it. Another resource that God provides for us is brothers and sisters in Christ. We need to both BE and HAVE brothers in arms who will help us in the fight. But how practically do we confront sin in others? Let's look at Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How: 
  • Who: We only confront believers in Christ, we don't confront unbelievers over specific sins but rather call them to overall conversion! A nonchristian isn't called to fight their sin, they're called first to CONVERSION. John Owen writes, "I say, then, mortification is not the present business of unregenerate men. God calls them not to it as yet; conversion is their work, -- the conversion of the whole soul, -- not the mortification of this or that particular lust...." and again, "Let men know it is their duty, but in its proper place; I take not men from mortification, but put them upon conversion. He that shall call a man from mending a hole in the wall of his house, to quench a fire that is consuming the whole building, is not his enemy." (from Of the Mortification of Sin in BelieversPaul writes in 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 that we don't judge unbelievers. We only confront & discipline those inside the church. 
  • What: We confront SIN, not the violation of our personal preferences. And we define sin according to the clear teaching of Scripture. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness". So we should have a Scripture text that we are pointing to when we confront our brother in his sin. For anger, perhaps Ephesians 4:26, for lust perhaps Matthew 5:27-30. Use biblical language (anger, idolatry, selfishness), not cultural buzzwords (annoyed, just relaxing, me-time). 
  • When: You could confront right in the moment, but perhaps it would be wise to talk with the brother later. "Strike while the iron is cold", when the anger isn't at it's highest point, or when the conflict cools down in a few hours. Chances are your brother will hear you better when there's some time distance from the event. 
  • Where: Matthew 18 says to first confront your brother in private, one on one. We don't confront publicly until much later when the brother is consistently unrepentant. Consider taking him out for coffee just the two of you. Or maybe if you're at an event, take them to the side out of earshot. 
  • Why: A very important question! Why are we confronting? Again Matthew 18 says we are trying to WIN our brother, and Galatians 6 says for the purpose of restoration. We confront out of love and concern for their spiritual safety. We long for them to grow and mature into the fullness of Christ! And we are called to kill our sin (Romans 8:13, Colossians 3:5) not ignore it and let it grow and kill us (James 1:15). 
  • How: How does the conversation itself go? We must have love govern all our words (1 Corinthians 13). We must be quick to listen (James 1:19). We must exercise gentleness and not be harsh (Galatians 6:1). We must be humble and not consider ourselves better than our sinning brother (Matthew 7:1-5, 1 Corinthians 10:12). We must PRAY at all times: before, during, and after (1 John 5:16, James 5:16). 

Practically, this might be the progression: You see a sin in a brother or sister. Pray for God's mercy & wisdom. Consider & evaluate your own heart. Pray for insight & humility. Ask, "What is the real issue to address?" Search the Scriptures and identify a few that you can share. Pray for God's leading. Speak face to face privately, praying during the conversation that God would use your words. Share your observation, share the Scripture, graciously call them to repentance. Pray with them. After the conversation, walk with them in help, encouragement, prayer, and maybe some measure of accountability. Continue to pray for God to grow them.

We often shy away from rebuke, because we are asking "What is the risk for bringing this up?" We fear losing the relationship, being judgmental, or offending our friend. And that is a good question to consider! There IS a risk when we rebuke and confront sin in others. But we should also ask, "What is the risk if I DON'T bring this up?" Sin is dangerous. And your brother is in DANGER if this sin continues unchecked and unchallenged. Love means you confront and rescue your brother from the clutches of this sin. So you step out in faith, and trust 2 Timothy 2:24-26, believing that maybe God will use your words to bring repentance. 

And finally, when God blesses your rebuke, and your brother repents.... rejoice! There should be great excitement and joy! Support him and be glad with him. Praise the Holy Spirit for His powerful work of granting life and freedom. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 7:8-9, "For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us."

Jesus says it best in Revelation 3:19, "Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent."

Monday, February 23, 2015

Attack the Base

"You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." - Jesus, from Matthew 12:34

Typically we tend to think of our sinful actions as just that: bad behavior. The solution then seems pretty simple: STOP it. But the Scripture provides unique resources in our fight against sin. As we read the Word, we find it presents the idea of the "heart".

Our culture says to "follow your heart", but the Bible objects. Jeremiah writes in 17:9, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" Rather, we need to be guarding our heart and watching out for danger in it. Proverbs 4:23 warns, "Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life."

What is the heart? It's not just what we feel. It's not just our romantic dreams. The Bible defines the "heart" as the seat of the affections and the will. The heart is the driver of the person, and from the heart flows our behavior and actions. Consider the words of Jesus in Mark 7:20-23, "What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person." The Scripture further elaborates and corrects our thinking on the source of our sin, in James 4:1-3, "What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions."

Usually porn or cutting or drugs or alcohol or sinful eating are just SYMPTOMS of a deeper problem. Using these substances is usually a means of anesthetizing whatever deeper pain and difficulty is being experienced. If you can figure out what that pain is, and find your ultimate comfort in Jesus, the behavioral escapism might just go away. See, the problem is not just the BEHAVIOR, you need to get below the surface and focus on the heart. The heart is the source and working on the behaviors without addressing the heart is like mopping up water from a running faucet. You have turn off the faucet first! So to make real progress on our sin, we have to go deeper and address the heart. To put it in military terms, we need to "Attack the Base" instead of merely fighting on the battle front with the endless waves of enemies. In real-time-strategy video games, if you destroy the enemy base with the unit producing structures, victory is inevitable.

But wait! Before you rush off in your attack, one important clarification is needed: Knowing the source of your sin is useless unless you have the power to destroy the source. In ourselves, we have no weapon to blow up the home base of our sinful hearts. It's NOT good news that the source of our sin is OURSELVES. That's even worse! What we need is a heart transplant. We desperately need to be transformed from the inside out! Here's the good news: This is PRECISELY what the Gospel of Jesus Christ offers us. God promises in Ezekiel 36:26-27, "And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules." At the moment of the new birth  (John 3:3-8), God begins an inside-out work of change.

Therefore only the regenerated Christian can begin to fight the heart, because of the nuclear weapon of the gospel. Practically, here are a few steps to addressing the heart:
  • Realize you're rejecting God's comfort: Jeremiah 2:12-13 says, "Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water." Our sin is not an isolated behavior without consequences. Ultimately it's a heart decision of turning AWAY from the Lord as our comfort and satisfaction, and turning to our favorite sin. 
  • Repent Deeper: You may have only been repenting of the behavior. When we realize that the behavior is flowing out of a bad & sinful HEART, it necessitates a much deeper repentance. Instead of saying "God, please forgive me for looking at porn" we're instead saying, "God, my heart is filled with lust and selfishness, and last night it bore the fruit of looking at porn. God please forgive me for my lustful heart!" And then remember & believe the gospel in a deeper way. Rejoice! God is changing your heart! 
  • Figure out what the sin is promising: Our sin is making a promise of what it offers. Perhaps cutting offers release. Porn offers pleasure amidst our loneliness. Alcohol offers distraction from the worries in our lives. By unearthing the false promise, we can replace it with TRUE promises from God. The key is to ask, "What's the lie?"
  • Believe that Jesus is BETTER: Allow the sin & Jesus to go toe-to-toe in a fight for who is greater. Is sin offering comfort? Jesus' comfort is BETTER. Is Sin offering pleasure? Jesus' pleasure is BETTER. To learn more, read the blog post: Jesus is Better.
  • Cultivate a superior satisfaction in Christ: We can't merely believe that Jesus is better. We have to put it into practice. We have to cultivate an affection for Him through reading the Word, singing, and talking with Him in prayer. To learn more, read the blog post: The Counter-Attack.

May God help you to repent and grow, not just in your behavior, but from the deepest places of your heart.

Attack the Base,
The Relentless Fight

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Counter-Attack

You've fought hard against sin & temptation. You've even won a few battles. But this onslaught keeps on coming, and you're getting tired defending off these attacks. Something has to change. It's time to go on the offensive.

A good offense might be better than a continual defense in the fight against sin. Better to keep the enemy so busy and weary from your constant barrage that they have no time to attack. In fact, let's say you successfully defend against all the temptations. Does this mean you've grown in holiness and glorifying Christ? Not necessarily. Unless we are worshiping Jesus and exalting Him, it doesn't matter if we are sinning "less" in the sins of commission. Behavioral purity without affection for Jesus is worthless. That's no better than the Pharisees to whom Jesus said, "Hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence." 

What is this offensive counter-attack? It's fighting FOR joy in Christ. It's the second part of repentance: turning FROM the fun of sin TO the better delight of Christ. It's cultivating a superior satisfaction in Jesus so that the allure of sin decreases in its attractiveness. Proverbs 27:7 says it well, "One who is full loathes honey, but to one who is hungry everything bitter is sweet." Consider: Who wants to eat a stale granola bar when they just finished a meal at Shady Maple Smorgasbord? Who wants to watch a dumb cat video at the top of Mount Everest? Who would pull out their phone to check the latest celebrity gossip on Twitter at their own wedding reception? See, when we are satisfied with great pleasures, we aren't even tempted by small pleasures. The goal is to glut yourself on Christ so you're always satisfied. 

The Scriptures give us several strong arrows in this counter-attack. Use these weapons to consider Christ as BETTER:
  • Psalm 16:11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. 
  • Psalm 84:10 For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. 
  • Psalm 73:25-26 Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
  • Hebrews 11:24-26 By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward. 

How do we do this? Primarily by meditating on the beauty of Christ, found most clearly in YOUR rescue through the gospel of redemption. Here are several practical applications: 
  • Read the Bible: Commit to a time, a place, and a reading plan. Consume large quantities of Scripture. Carefully pick through passages in depth. Search out truth that will make your heart sing. 
  • Worship Jesus through song: Worship corporately with large groups of other Christians. Worship in small groups. Worship by yourself. Saturate your mind and heart with songs of His grace. Songs for the Cross-Centered Life is a good place to start. 
  • Talk with Him often through prayer: How are you going to grow in affection for Christ if you aren't talking with Him every day? Do people fall in love by ignoring each other? Speak with Him. Share your thoughts, fears, dreams, ideas. Ask Him for help, for comfort, for encouragement, for forgiveness. Pray for others in their struggles. Pray relentlessly.
  • Read solid Christian books:  Learn satisfying truths about Jesus through solid books. Some great ones to get you started: The Glory of Christ by John Owen, Who is Jesus? by Greg Gilbert, and When I Don't Desire God by John Piper (see book review on TRF)
  • Biblical preaching: Be convicted, challenged, encouraged by passionate sermons about Jesus. Here are a few to get you started: Sex and the Supremacy of Christ (part 2) by John Piper, and Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ (conference sessions) also by John Piper. 
  • Local Church: Be deeply involved in a local community of believers (church) who will help you in all these things (Bible, worship, preaching) and keep you accountable if you slack. If you're not involved in a church, do you really think you can go it alone? 

Don't be discouraged if you aren't feeling deeply satisfied right away. Cultivating affection for Christ is kinda like exercise. It takes some time to see the results. Keep at it! Endure. This is worth it. Keep pressing in to Jesus and wait for Him to bring the joy.

The Relentless Fight.