In the Bible we are instructed to examine ourselves to see whether we are truly believers (2 Corinthians 13:5) and we are also called to confess our sins to the Lord (1 John 1:9). To obey both of these commands requires that we look within ourselves. We have to know what the sin is before can confess it and we have to see evidence of faith to help us see if our faith is real. Self-examination is an important practice for Christians as we seek to love and serve our King, but please allow me to give you a warning as you look inside yourself.
Self-examination can very easily move from a humble desire to walk in the light before God to a concentrated effort to find confidence and esteem in yourself apart from God. If you’re not careful, you can find yourself engaging in something that seems to others as very contrite – the practice of someone who is taking holiness seriously – but is actually fueled by a self-righteous attempt to find evidence of your own worth so you can feel good about yourself. If you find what you’re looking for (as rationalized and duplicitous as it may be), then you’ll be proud and self-reliant, but if you don’t find what you’re looking for, then you’ll be devastated and insecure.
Some counsel: don’t go spelunking inside your heart without first anchoring yourself to the gospel. The gospel will remind you that you desperately needed to be rescued…that will keep you from pride when you see your “credentials”. And the gospel will remind you that you stand before God in the righteousness of Christ…that will keep you from devastation when you see the wretchedness of your sin.
My apologies for the week-long hiatus from blogging. My family just moved out to California for the summer so I could attend Grace Advance Academy, which is essentially a two-month crash-course in church leadership and church-planting.
On a another subject entirely, as I was meeting with God in the book of Galatians this morning, he brought my attention to a subject I am trying to clarify more and more – the relationship between the law of God and the Christian. In Galatians 4:21, Paul addresses the Galatians by calling them “you who desire to be under the law”. What does this designation mean? Does it have a negative or positive connotation? Well, given the context, the connotation is a negative one that speaks to the desire of the Galatians to rely on the law (specifically, their obeying the law) to gain a right standing before God. Paul demonstrates in chapter 3 that the law was not given so that we would be saved by keeping it (that’s impossible), but rather so that we would see our sin and believe in Christ to save us (the only One who has kept the law perfectly).
So, Galatians makes it clear that the law has no place in the life of a Christian as a system for salvation, but that does not mean that the law has no place in the life of a Christian. Tim Keller, in his book, Galatians for You, gives an easy way for us to remember what place the law should have in our lives now that we’ve trusted Christ alone for salvation: we are called to law-obeying, not law-relying. He explains:
Law-obeying, not law-relying – These are Christians who understand the gospel and are living out the freedom of it. They obey the law of God out of the grateful joy that comes from the knowledge of their sonship, and out of freedom from the fear and selfishness that false idols had generated.
In Acts 2:42 we are told that the believers in Jerusalem were devoting themselves to fellowship among other things (i.e. – the apostles’ teaching, the breaking of bread, and prayer). When we devote ourselves to fellowship – enjoying Jesus together, sharing with one another, serving the Lord together – we encounter God’s grace in and through each other to the point where coming into contact with a member of the body is to be reminded (almost instantaneously) of the Lord.
In my life this has played itself out in merely seeing another member of my local church. In specific, there have been occasions in my life when my heart has been insensitive to the Spirit and plagued with sinful desire, and simply seeing another brother walk into the room begins to help me think of things that are “true…honorable…just…pure…lovely…commendable…worthy of praise” (Philippians 4:8). Thoughts of who these people are (representatives of Christ and siblings with me in God’s family) and how they’ve ministered to me personally (with loving care and faithfulness) seep into my mind and begin to wash away the hardness of heart at these times.
My conclusion: devote yourself to the family of God and let them devote themselves to you to such a degree that to merely catch a glimpse of them will cause you to remember the grace of God and praise him for it!
So sorry for my lack of posting recently. We just moved out of our house and are preparing to travel to California for church planting training this summer, so things have been a bit insane.
Having said that, on the subject of church planting, a good friend of mine took me out to lunch and gave me some fortifying encouragement on Tuesday. He read to me Colossians 1:3-6 which begins with Paul telling the Colossian believers that he and Timothy always thank God for them in their prayers ever since they heard of their faith in Christ Jesus and the love they have for God’s people. This faith and love, Paul says, is a result of the gospel coming to them. What comes next is what Paul says about the effects of the gospel:
“…in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing – as it also does among you” (v.6)
In response to these words (and in reference to the future church plant), my friend said, “We can’t see the fruit yet, but we know what the gospel does.”
Whether you are going to a new place to minister the gospel or you will be continuing to minister the gospel where you are, this should be profoundly encouraging – we know what the gospel does…it bears fruit. The gospel rescues sinners, transforms lives, and grows people in holiness. So, when you are tempted to turn to worldliness or a diluted gospel in order for your ministry to be more successful, remember what it is that bears fruit and yields effect – the gospel as passed down from the apostles.
Our pastor, Dan Kirk, preached what I pray will be a paradigm-shifting message for many Christians with a reformed bent in regard to salvation (i.e. – believing God is sovereign over the salvation of sinners). Being such a Christian myself, I, along with Pastor Dan, see a need for correction in ourselves, and others like us, in how we view the love of God. Preaching on John 3:16, Pastor Dan answers questions that have needed clarification on this subject…questions like:
- What does the word “world” mean in John 3:16?
- Does God love unbelievers?
- Is it true that God only hates the sin and not the sinner?
- Does God want unbelievers to be saved?
If you consider yourself to be reformed, you may be surprised by some of the answers.
A favorite quote of mine from the sermon is in the context of a request Dan makes of God: “Help me to worship you as you’ve revealed yourself and not as I want you to be.” This comes from a reformed pastor who is ultimately constrained by what the Bible says.
The sermon is simply called, The Love of God, and you would do well to give it at least two listens.
You can download it here.
Or get the notes here.
I’m thankful for this story I encountered in my reading today about the late Howard Hendricks, long-time professor at Dallas Theological Seminary:
Someone years ago called him up and said, “Dr. Hendricks, we’re having a Bible conference, and we want you to be our speaker. Can you come?” After he said no, the conference planner said, “This is a crucial event for our whole community. Why can’t you come? Do you have another appointment? Hendricks said, “No, I’ve got to play with my kids.” “You’ve got to play with your kids?” questioned the incredulous planner. “Don’t you realize that our people need your instruction?” “Yes”, Hendricks answered, “but my kids also need me” (taken from The Master’s Plan for the Church by John MacArthur).
Somehow I think Dr. Hendricks knew that managing his household well (1 Timothy 3:4), meant more than just being faithful to discipline.
A couple of months ago, I had the privilege of teaching at a men’s conference called Pure Life: Cleansing the Heart of Sexual Lust. One of the other speakers at the conference was Keith Palmer, associate pastor at Grace Bible Church in Granbury, TX. Keith’s message at that conference continues to minister to me as one of the most biblically-practical presentations on how to battle sexual lust.
In the message, Keith gives several strategies to help men create a battle plan for fighting lust in their hearts. One of those strategies is one I haven’t heard recommended in the past: “Load your iPod (smartphone, iPad, Kindle Fire, etc.) with Christ-exalting, Word-saturated, flesh-battling Christian hymns and songs.” With the goal of battling temptation in mind, Keith says that one of the playlists he has created is made up of songs specifically chosen to “set [his] heart right”. “A good Christian song”, he says, “burns theology into your affections.”
I have experienced the value of what Keith is suggesting and find it helpful not just as I battle lust in my heart, but anxiety, despair, and anger too. It can be a help with any temptation to sin and so I second what Keith is advocating. Also, in case you’re interested, here are some albums I would recommend for this purpose: