You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Sanctification’ category.

crying woman's eye, black and white image, low key, selective focus Richard Baxter, in A Christian Directory (Ligonier, 1990), page 140, lists seven benefits of looking by faith to the Lord, as to no other, for our deepest delight.  Updating the language a little:

1.  Delight in God will prove that we know him and love him and that we are prepared for his kingdom, for all who delight in him shall enjoy him.

2.  Prosperity, that is, the small addition of earthly things, will not easily corrupt us or transport us.

3.  Adversity, that is, the withholding of earthly delights, will not excessively grieve us or easily deject us.

4.  We will receive more profit from a sermon or book or conversation that we delight in than other people, who don’t delight in them, will receive from many such opportunities.

5.  All our service will be sweet to ourselves and acceptable to God; if we delight in him, he certainly delights in us.

6.  We will have a continual feast within, to sweeten all the crosses of our lives and to provide us with joy greater than our sorrow in our saddest condition.

For the rest of the post…

“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
~ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship   

Pain: A Secret Garden of Pride | Desiring God

August 19, 2015

Pain: A Secret Garden of Pride

Pain can be a secret garden of pride.

We don’t talk about it often because it’s so sensitive, so vulnerable — so painful. As touchy as the topic of pain is, though, it’s equally dangerous to tiptoe around it. John Piper writes this about our pain,

Satan uses pleasure and pain to try and destroy our faith. He wields pleasure to make us doubt God’s satisfying greatness, and pain to make us doubt God’s sovereign goodness.

Pain can be a powerful weapon for good in the heart of faith. It can produce deeper, heartfelt humility and greater dependence on God. And pain can inflict wounds far worse and more lasting than any physical agony. At its worst, it can cause us to doubt God’s goodness, to wallow in self-pity, and to isolate ourselves from him, as well as from others.

Pain becomes proud because it believes no one else understands. No one feels what I feel. And so pain distances itself from anyone who might try and speak into its suffering. But pain afflicts itself even more the farther it separates itself from others. God has given us himself, his word, and each other to produce faith, and even joy, in the midst of pain, even the most severe and unique pain.

One test to determine whether our pain is producing pride is to ask how we respond to encouragement from others, maybe especially from other believers who don’t understand our pain. Are we willing to hear the word and hope of God from someone who has not experienced or cannot comprehend our current suffering? If we’re unwilling, then pain has driven us into isolation, and Satan’s succeeding in his purpose for your suffering.

Case Study: The Pain of Unwanted Singleness

I’m learning this lesson about myself from my own experience with suffering. From far too young, I longed for the affection, safety, and intimacy I anticipated with a wife.

For the rest of the post…

One of my favorite scenes in the Lord of the Rings movies appears early in the Fellowship of the Rings when Frodo and company first encounter Aragorn. Frodo and his adventure mates were putting the happy in happy hour at the Prancing Pony Inn, frolicking, tipping mugs of ale, and generally making a public hash of themselves—foolhardy behavior for a party of hobbits and dwarves embarking on a dangerous clandestine mission. Frodo slipped the ring on his finger and instantly became invisible, took it off, and reappeared to an astonished audience of merrymakers. Aragorn appeared from a dark corner of the pub, grabbed him by the collar and slung him into a side room as if he were a side of beef. “Are you frightened?” Aragorn asked the wide-eyed hobbit. Frodo answered a breathless, “Yes.” Aragorn’s counter line is unforgettable, “Not frightened enough. I know what hunts you.”

Ringwraiths. That’s what hunted Frodo. The evil emissaries of the dark lord Sauron were searching meticulously for the ring bearer; they wanted to destroy him and capture the one ring that ruled them all. Indeed, Aragorn was spot-on: the naïve little hobbit did not know what hunted him. And his naïveté was anything but humorous: the future of Middle Earth hung in the balance.

That scene came to mind Thursday night as I watched the sad news about Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim outfielder Josh Hamilton scroll across the screen: Relapsed, again. Drugs and alcohol, again. The sin that has hunted Hamilton since he was a teenager found him, again. I whispered a prayer under my breath: “Father, lavish your mercy on Josh Hamilton and his family. And have mercy on us. Let us never forget what hunts us.” I’m a big fan of our national pastime. I’m a big fan of Josh Hamilton. And like Josh Hamilton and Frodo Baggins, I, too, am hunted. I’m well aware that something hunts me, something deadly, an enemy I can only shake by unilateral grace: sin.

All-World Talent

Hamilton’s story is deeply compelling. At 18 years old, he was an all-world talent with a powerful bat that reminded some of Mickey Mantle and a howitzer arm that conjured memories of Roberto Clemente. He was the top overall pick in the 1999 draft, chosen out of high school in Raleigh, North Carolina, but Hamilton’s path to greatness was blocked by the twin demons of alcohol and drug addiction. Twice he failed drug tests, and on another occasion he was arrested after smashing the windshield of a friend’s car. Major League Baseball suspended him for most of three seasons from 2003 to 2005. His star appeared to have fallen.

But the effectual grace of God found Hamilton after this tumultuous period. God gave Hamilton new life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. His conversion also breathed new life into his baseball career. Hamilton made his Major League debut in 2007 with my beloved Cincinnati Reds. He was an instant star. During the past seven years he has become what scouts expected him to be from the beginning: one of the best players in the game. He led the perennially mediocre Texas Rangers to consecutive World Series appearances in 2010 and 2011 and was named American League MVP in 2010. There were hiccups along the way, like a time in 2009 when he was photographed in a bar in a compromising position. And there was a seemingly small slipup 2012 when he admitted to drinking three beers. But Hamilton has mostly kept a strong witness for Christ. His family has helped build an orphanage in Uganda and established an outreach called Triple Play Ministries. Hamilton chronicled his fall and redemption in a 2008 book, Beyond Belief: Finding the Strength to Come Back (FaithWords).

Hamilton has kept accountability partners constantly at his side while away from home. He travels with only a small amount of cash and carries no credit cards. His wife, Katie, shuttles him to and from the ballpark during home games. After the Rangers won the American League pennant in 2010, Hamilton celebrated with ginger ale rather than champagne. I once heard Hamilton quote the apostle Paul, saying that he does not want sin to have mastery over him. No follower of Christ does.

Core Disease

Despite all that, sin continues to want to rule over Josh Hamilton. It wants to rule over us all. As a follower of Christ, Hamilton no doubt knows and agrees. Paul Tripp puts it memorably:

Sin is every human being’s core disease. It is completely beyond the power of any human being to escape it. It separates you from God, for whom you were created. It damages every aspect of your personhood. It makes it impossible for you to be what God created you to be and to do what God designed you to do. It robs you of inner contentment and peace, and it puts you at war with other human beings. It renders you blind, weak, self-oriented, and rebellious. It reduces all of us to fools, and ultimately it leads to death. Sin is an unmitigated, almost incalculable disaster. You can run from a certain situation, you can get yourself out of a relationship, and you can move to another location and choose not to go back again. But you and I have no ability whatsoever to escape from the hold that sin has on us. It is the moral Vise-Grip that has held the heart of every person who has ever lived.

Hamilton’s story could be my story or your story. The world, the flesh, the Devil is an unholy trinity that hunts us all. His story is in the news because of his profession; ours is not. What should we take home from Josh Hamilton’s sad brush with sin?

  • Life between the times is brutal war. We face enemies within and without that relentlessly wage battle against us. We will not defeat them fully in this life, but in the next. Thankfully, Christ has defeated them for us. My own pastor, Tom Schreiner, preached a powerful sermon from 2 Corinthians 10 this past Sunday on this reality. Even Paul, in Romans 7, continued to be hunted by indwelling sin.

For the rest of the post…

Born in Breslau, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a son of a famous German psychiatrist. As a Lutheran pastor and theologian during WWII, Bonhoeffer saw the authority of the Church begin to crumble under theNazi regime. He boldly countered these attacks by both publicly repudiating the Nazi agenda and by calling Christians to serve Christ more faithfully. His reward for the former was death; he was executed in the spring of 1945 for his association with a failed assassination attempt of Adolf Hitler. Yet, his admonitions to Christians are still widely read today. In his most famous work, The Cost of Discipleship(1937), he comments on Jesus’ strong commendation about fasting to His disciples in Matthew 6:16-18.

Jesus takes it for granted that his disciples will observe the pious custom of fasting. Strict exercise of self-control is an essential feature of the Christian’s life. Such customs have only one purpose—to make the disciples more ready and cheerful to accomplish those things which God would have done. Fasting helps to discipline the self-indulgent and slothful will which is so reluctant to serve the Lord, and it helps to humiliate and chasten the flesh . . . if we give free rein to the desires of the flesh (taking care of course to keep within the limits of what seems permissible to the world), we shall find it hard to train for the service of Christ. When the flesh is satisfied it is hard to pray with cheerfulness or to devote oneself to a life of service which calls for much self-renunciation.

So the Christian needs to observe a strict exterior discipline.

For the rest of the post…

dbonhoefferA new biography on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Strange Gloryimplies that the German theologian experienced same-sex attraction toward Eberhard Bethge, his friend and confidante who later wrote a biography of Bonhoeffer and oversaw the collection of his works.

The response to the biography has been interesting. In his typically understated manner, Frank Schaeffer wrote an article, “Dietrich Bonhoeffer Was Flamingly Gay — Deal With It,” in which he predicted evangelicals would be up in arms about such an explosive claim.

In contrast, Sarah Pulliam Bailey reported on how different Bonhoeffer scholars and evangelical leaders have responded. Christianity Today gave a positive review of the biography, as did The Gospel Coalition, though the reviewers saw the biographer’s focus on Bonhoeffer’s sexuality as distracting.

The facts in the case of Bonhoeffer are clear: he was engaged at the time of his execution, and he wrote about the fact he would die as a virgin. No biographer or scholar claims that Bonhoeffer engaged in a sexual relationship with anyone, male or female, whatever his attractions may have been.

I believe the conversation about Bonhoeffer’s sexuality tells us more about life in the sexualized culture of the 21st century than it does about Bonhoeffer. In fact, if we pay attention, we will see how Bonhoeffer’s life and legacy directly challenges several commonly held assumptions today.

Assumption #1: Life lived to the fullest must include sexual fulfillment.

Bonhoeffer lived faithfully – emphasis on fully – as a virgin. One should not miss the countercultural reality on display in his life.

Post Sexual Revolution, people often define themselves by their sexual identity. For this reason, many people see any restriction or moral restraint on how sexuality is expressed as oppressive, a dagger to the heart of a person’s life and dreams.

For the Christian, such an exaggerated view of sexuality is a pernicious lie. It feeds the falsehood that, without sexual fulfillment, it is impossible for someone to live a full and engaging life. In contrast, Christians believe celibacy is not a pitiable choice but a beautiful calling.

Bonhoeffer’s witness (along with evangelical heroes like John Stott, not to mention Jesus Himself) testifies against the assumption that self-actualization must include sexual relationships. His life challenges a culture that says you are your sexuality.

Sam Allberry, a pastor in the UK who experiences same-sex attraction yet believes homosexual behavior to be sinful, is familiar with the accusation often made against evangelicals, that adhering to Christianity’s sexual ethic contributes to teenage angst and suicide. His response is spot on:

“No, the problem is a culture that says your entire identity and sense of who you are is bound up with fulfilling your sexual desires. You are the ones who have raised the stakes that high. So that the moment you don’t fulfill your desires, you have nothing left to live for.”

Society’s view of a Forty-Year-Old Virgin is Steve Carrell. Christianity’s view of a forty-year-old virgin should be Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Assumption #2: Affectionate male friendships must be romantic in nature.

History is replete with examples of robust male friendships that are full of affection and expressions of love and yet are not sexual.

Unfortunately, the sexual revolution has made it more difficult to imagine passionate philos apart from eros. That’s why revisionist historians read romantic notions into Teddy Roosevelt’s affectionate letters to his closest friends. People wonder out loud about Abraham Lincoln’s sharing a bed with his friend, Joshua Speed. It’s hard for our society to understand how King David could weep so terribly over the lost love of Jonathan unless there was some sort of romance between them. And now, Bonhoeffer’s relationship with Bethge is put under the microscope of 21st century assumptions.

In fairness to the biographer, it is certainly possible that Bonhoeffer was attracted to Bethge, even though acting on such a notion was always out of the question. But it’s also possible, even likely, that Bonhoeffer’s friendship was, like many male friendships of the time, strong and affectionate, with a passion that did not include sexual desire.

The speculation about Bonhoeffer’s sexuality distracts us from the greater loss of slowly disappearing same-sex friendships, the kind of love we see in literature between Sam and Frodo, relationships that many today can hardly conceive of, apart from some sort of sexual longing.

Assumption #3: Sexual attraction must define one’s identity.

Because our society has adopted the notion that sexual expression is wrapped up in our identity, some may think that getting to the root of Bonhoeffer’s sexuality is the only way to truly understand the man he was. But I suspect Bonhoeffer himself would dispute such a notion, and so would most people throughout history.

When we assume sexual orientation is fixed from birth and unchangeable, the question of identity naturally comes to the forefront: “Was he gay or not?” But Christianity rejects such a reductionist view of sex and identity. Everyone is warped in sexual attraction, at least to some degree. We are all sexual sinners in need of the grace and mercy of God. We are marked by our need for grace, not our longing for sex.

Bonhoeffer’s identity was not defined by sexual attraction, but by his costly discipleship following in the footsteps of his King. Going beyond letters and writings and personal correspondence to speculate on the unspoken sexual longings of a figure from the past says more about us and our own preoccupations than about the person under scrutiny.

For the rest of the post…

Why have a quiet time?

Recently I read “Why I Don’t Pray or Study the Bible (Much),” a Patheos blog post by Ellen Painter Dollar. She recounts how her time in an evangelical college fellowship was her first exposure to the discipline of daily Bible reading and prayer. “As a friend explained in a talk,” Dollar writes, “if you want to have a good relationship with somebody, you spend time with that person. Likewise, if you want to have a relationship with God, you must spend time with God, and ‘quiet time’ is how you do that.”

Dollar pushes back against this idea of building a relationship with God through dedicated personal prayer and Bible reading. “I think my college friend was right, that we draw closer to God by being deliberate about our relationship with God. But I’m not so sure that 30 or 60 minutes of prayer and Bible study is the only or primary way to do that,” she writes. She then explains how, in human relationships, closeness is built through shared (and often ordinary) life experiences, and defends her own practice of simply experiencing fellowship with God throughout her day in the normal situations of her life.

Some of Dollar’s skepticism about prayer and Scripture-study comes from her underlying assumptions about the nature of both. I believe the Bible is complete truth, God’s perfect revelation of himself, and essential for a Christian’s life and godliness. Likewise, I have a high view of prayer as one of God’s primary means for communion with his children, for glorifying himself, and for accomplishing his purposes.

Dollar would probably acknowledge theological disagreements with me on these points. But I think even among theologically conservative Christians, the priority of regular personal worship is not well understood. A recent national survey found that while 56 percent of Americans believe the Bible to be “the actual or inspired word of God,” only 37 percent read it at least once a week. And deliberate daily times of individual Bible study and prayer (what the Westminster Confessioncalls “worship . . . in secret” and what Dollar calls “quiet time” and what I grew up calling “devotions”) are sometimes viewed skeptically as legalistic or as a potential idol by even Reformed brothers and sisters.

While affirming the whole of life as worship, and also proclaiming the primacy of corporate worship, we sometimes neglect to press ourselves and others to daily private worship.

Dollar’s narrative reveals how a common evangelical argument (“If you love Someone you want to spend time with him”) can be inadequate. And I’ve taken her words as an opportunity to consider a better explanation that I can give to others—and preach to myself.

So why should we study the Bible and pray as a dedicated, daily event?

(1) God commands it.

No, the Bible doesn’t contain chapter-and-verse Thou Shalt Have 45 Minutes of Devotions Every Day. But the Bible is filled with direct imperatives to pray and compelling incentives to meditate on Scripture.

We are commanded to pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17), to overcome anxiety with prayer (Phil. 4:6), to intercede for other Christians (Eph. 6:18), and to receive encouragement from the One who prays for us (Heb. 7:25).  About the Scriptures, God tells us they are sweet, valuable, and necessary for wisdom (Psalm 19); they are the right subject of our meditation (Psalm 119); they contain every truth a Christian needs (2 Tim. 3:16-17); and they are a powerful Spiritual tool (Heb. 4:12). We dedicate ourselves to praying and studying the Bible because in those activities we obey the Lord and benefit our own souls.

Much of this benefit, of course, comes to Christians through our most important spiritual discipline: the worship of God by his gathered people on the Lord’s Day. (I would agree with Dollar that personal devotions are not the “only or primary” way to draw near to God; the Westminster Confession upholds public worship as more solemn and obligatory than secret worship.) But a Scripture-and-prayer-shaped life will also necessarily include specific quiet times.

(2) We are weak. 

These days, my children are learning catechism about the three offices of Christ (prophet, priest, and king). One of the questions asks, “Why do you need Christ as your prophet?” The answer applies as much to 35-year-olds as to 5-year-olds: “Because I am ignorant by nature.” We have no native wisdom about God on which we can rely.

As Jen Wilkin writes in her new book, Women of the Word, “How can we conform to the image of a God we have not beheld?” I would love to go through my days, witnessing the hand of God in every moment of the mundane, praising him for every blessing from his throne. But the truth is I am ignorant. I don’t even know what to look for, how to trace the providential kindness of my Father on my calendar, or where to expect his frown or his smile. Though God is certainly present in my to-do lists and my interactions with my children, he is best revealed through his chosen means: the Bible. And unless I have hidden his Word in my heart, unless I have meditated on Christ my prophet—he who is the Word incarnate—I will go through the hours always seeing but never understanding.

I would also love to spend my days in communion with my listening Father, making every breath an exhaled prayer. But, again, I am weak. If I do not dedicate myself to times of prayer (and I cringe to think how often I do not) I forget that I depend on spiritual realities in the midst of temporal realities. As the hymn says, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it. Prone to leave the God I love.” I pray and read my Bible because without it my heart, soul, mind, and strength will always immerse in the visible and forget entirely the One who is invisible.

(3) Jesus did it.

This example is where we best see the truth in the relationship argument for personal devotions. In his excellent book Delighting in the Trinity, Michael Reeves writes, “The Christian life is one of being brought to share the delight the Father, Son, and Spirit have for each other.”

Jesus has a perfect love for the Father and the Spirit and perfect union with them. If anyone could have practiced a relationship with the Father while simply acknowledging him throughout the day, it would be Jesus. But how did he, the God-man, outwardly demonstrate his love for the persons of the Godhead and his desire for Trinitarian relationship while living on the earth?

He prayed, and he read the Bible.

For the rest of the post…

“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” 

Dietrich BonhoefferThe Cost of Discipleship

“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” 

Dietrich BonhoefferThe Cost of Discipleship

With our consciences distracted by sin, we are confronted by the call of Jesus to spontaneous obedience. 

Dietrich BonhoefferThe Cost of Discipleship1961 ed., 86.

August 2017
S M T W T F S
« Jul    
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728293031  

Twitter Updates

Error: Twitter did not respond. Please wait a few minutes and refresh this page.