Tag Archives: sanctification

Sermon — 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8, Sexuality and Sanctification

1 Jul

1 Thessalonians 4:3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.


This section is most obviously about sexuality and the call of God on the lives of His people for holiness. But in back of this direct teaching is the person of God. God, the Lord, the Holy Spirit are mentioned over and over in these verses. Real Christianity is always God-centered. There is no area of life which is not touched by the Person and Presence of God. There is no area in the life of a Christian that is not to be subject to the Lordship of Christ.

In our text today, we hear the call of God for our sanctification, or holiness. This holiness in our passage is particularly connected to our sexual morality. Several weeks ago we looked at the Song of Solomon and talked about the need for a joyful Christian sexual ethic. Today is kind of the flip side of that coin. We will not find lasting joy in sexuality if we walk in sexual immorality. Holiness was the picture the Old Testament temple provided. It was a reflection of God’s presence and purity. Holiness was required. Cleansings and washings were prescribed, sacrifices were made. Purity was paramount. God’s nature has not changed but the Temple was just a picture of the new covenant reality that through Jesus’ death on the cross God has purified His people from their sin, counting the perfect life and the atoning death of Jesus in the place of all who trust Him. The dwelling place of God is no longer to be thought of as a building. The church building today is not the house of God. We are the house of God. We are God’s temple, believer by believer joined together to be God’s dwelling place. And as purity was a top priority in the Old Covenant so should it be in the New Covenant. What we have by virtue of our position in Christ God intends to work into our lives by practice, so that we grow in holiness, becoming what we are, a people purified by God through the dying and rising of His perfect Son Jesus. It is a sad reality that many professing Christians understand grace as being distinct from holiness. Nothing could be further from the truth. The idea that one can be saved by grace without a care for holiness is an absolutely false view of grace that is damning many people to hell. Sometimes in our eagerness to avoid teaching salvation by works, at other times in our eagerness to console ourselves about family members who made a profession of faith but have lived fruitless lives, we have separated salvation and sanctification. But the Bible gives us no place at all to do this. Our memory verse from June makes this clear, Colossians 2:6,7, “Therefore as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him.” We were saved by faith and we now walk by faith. And if we don’t walk in faith, if we live as a lifestyle in darkness rather than light, we show that we are not saved. This is a big part of what 1 John is about that some of us men are studying on Saturday mornings.

So this is a sobering message today. We need to be careful about comforting ourselves about our family members if there has been no evident spiritual fruit in their lives. This is not a denial of salvation by grace or of our security as a believer, it is just an acknowledgement of what the Bible teaches everywhere, namely that those whom God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of Christ. Holiness is not an add-on to the Christian life for the really serious Christians, it is the reality of life for those who truly belong to God. Those whom God saves He will sanctify. Sanctification is where we begin in 1 Thessalonians chapter 4, verse 3 . . .

 The WHAT of Holiness: ABSTAIN from Sexual Immorality (4:3).

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality;

To be sanctified is the opposite of being impure. The word ‘sanctification’ means to be set apart, to be godly. Because I belong to God through Christ I should reflect the family likeness. I always perk up when I see a Bible passage say, “This is the will of God.” When something is made explicit as the will God, I really want to take notice. Here the will of God explicitly stated is that we as believers is our sanctification and that this holiness is shown as we abstain from sexual immorality. The complete avoidance of sexual thought and action centered outside the marriage covenant is in view here and in many other places in the New Testament. In every list of sinful vices I can think of in the New Testament the issue of sexual immorality is mentioned, and it usually leads off the list. Paul makes an argument in 1 Corinthians 6 that sexual immorality is especially damaging as it is a sin against one’s own body. Jesus’ teaching on marriage, that it is to be a lifelong bond of union except in highly unusual circumstances and Paul’s teaching that marriage is a picture of the relationship between Christ and the Church, all raise the stakes as to the significance of sexual sin. So sexuality is not the only issue of holiness we need to think about but it is a major one. Thus we are not wrong as Christians to speak about this issue in the church and hold out a biblical view of sexuality to the world. We are not obsessed with these things, we are just trying to be faithful to the focus the Bible gives them.

Sexuality is a watershed issue in our day, a dividing line between being faithful to the truth of God and being unfaithful. This is one of those issues that in the days to come will divide families and churches. It is already happening and it will only pick up steam in the next few years. At the core, the issue is this: where does my view of life come from? If your view of the life is shaped by the Bible, then you will hold to the view that sexuality is only properly expressed in the context of one man, one woman marriage and that other expressions or thoughts outside that boundary are sinful and put one under the judgment of God. If on the other hand your view of life is shaped by culture, then in today’s world you will hold the view that sexuality is properly expressed through the exercise of personal freedom. In other words, anything goes as long as I like it. As the old cliché goes, “What I feel makes it real, what I like makes it right.” So there is no limit, no boundary, except that which is put on me by society legally or culturally. The focus of the worldly view is self-gratification, the focus of the Christian view is God-glorification. Where is your view of sexuality coming from? If your view is being shaped by culture you will live an immoral lifestyle, you will not avoid sexual immorality. But if your view is grounded in Scripture, seeing sex as a good gift to be enjoyed within its boundaries, you can pursue holiness and honor God with your life. It is a watershed issue.

And it was a watershed issue in Paul’s day for the Thessalonians. This church was living in a pagan culture that coupled sexual activity with the worship of the gods. Many of the Thessalonian believers had come out of this background of casual sexual self-gratification. So don’t think this call to sexual purity was easy for the Thessalonians but difficult for us. The Thessalonians didn’t have an internet, but they did have all kinds of public sexual degradation. Sexual purity has never been easy. But we make it much more difficult on ourselves when we try to walk in two worlds, when we try to have a Christian exterior while inside we are being shaped by culture and our own sinful desires.

This is not a matter of Christian liberty. We are to abstain from sexual immorality. There is no wiggle room. This is not a matter of debate. Lustful thinking or acting outside of marriage between a man and a woman is sin and puts us under God’s judgement. This is the will of God. Have we forgotten the words of Jesus, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God?” Could it be that if there is spiritual coldness in you: a lack of interest in church, a coldness to your prayer life, an emptiness to your Bible reading, weakness in your service for the Lord, a spirit of despondency, is it possible that these things are not the fault of other church members or your past experiences or your pastors or deacons? Is it possible that you are not seeing God because you are not pure in heart? Is it possible that your sexual sin is the thing that is most holding you back from a joyful walk with God? Does this sexual sin even call into question whether you have even ever really trusted in Christ? The stakes are high. As high as seeing God.

How do we abstain from sexual immorality? Look at verses 4 and 5 . . .

  The HOW of Holiness: Self-Control through the POWER of God (4:4,5).

 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 

The first principle of sexual purity given in this passage is the principle of self-control. There is some dispute about what is said here. Some of your translations may speak of controlling the body and others may speak of taking a wife. The wording could point in either direction. Whether one controls his sexual passions through godly discipline or through taking a wife or husband rather than burning with passion, we see concrete ways in which we seek to turn away from sexual immorality. For some, marriage may prove a great help in the battle against sexual immorality. It is not true that marriage ends the battle with sexual immorality because we still have sinful tendencies and we are still surrounded by a world of immorality, but marriage can help. At the same time, self-control cannot be ignored. We need to remember when we talk about self-control that for the Christian it is Spirit-empowered. Galatians 5 tells us that self-control is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. I am heartened that Paul teaches us that sinful sexual impulses can be controlled. We do not have to be like little boats tossed by the big waves of a sinful world. Paul doesn’t give us the specifics of how to win this battle consistently, but he does say God has given us the power to do so.  For me, it means God gives me the power to say “no” to watching something sinful on tv. God empowers me to not let my mind wander into lustful thoughts. But a part of God’s provision for me may just be the wisdom of not having cable movie channels or having filters on my internet or memorizing Scripture as a way to fight the unbelief that leads to lust. You probably have a different battle than me but you have the same Holy Spirit if you are trusting in Jesus. Trust Him to give you the power and wisdom to take the steps in your life to be holy and honorable rather than impure and degrading.

The end of verse 5 is a critical aspect of this passage. We are to live self-controlled lives, not like the Gentiles WHO DO NOT KNOW GOD. You see, this life of sexual obsession and sexual sin is a sure mark of a person that does not know God. Knowing God is essential to sexual purity. Sex is not about us it is about God. As Paul says in Titus 2, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us to say no to ungodliness and worldly desires and to be upright and self-controlled in this present evil age.”

Understand me. Sexual purity is only sustained by God. It is not rules, it is not simple self-discipline. As Paul says in Romans 6, we must yield our lives over to the Lord, Romans 6:13: “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God … and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness.”

And again, in Romans 6:19, Paul writes: “You used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.”

Look at verse 6 . . .

 The WHY of Holiness — A WARNING to the Unrepentant (4:6).

that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you.

Some think Paul is changing the subject here, telling us that one should be honest in their business dealings. But the context doesn’t bear this out but seems to stay on this theme of sexual sin. Certainly adultery is the wronging of another, as you have relations with the spouse of another. But the actual person with whom you engage in immorality is also wronged through your sin. Even a person you think about in a sinful way is diminished in your eyes as you have made them an object of your desire rather than seeing them as a brother or sister in Christ.

The proof that the stakes are high is shown here in the threat of God’s judgment. Hebrews 13:4 says much the same thing, “Marriage should be honored by all and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the sexually immoral and the adulterous.”

The seriousness of this verse is also seen in the way Paul calls the Lord an avenger. There is a sense in which sexual immorality and sexual betrayal of others is fundamentally abhorrent to God.

The seriousness of this verse is also seen in the way Paul highlights the fact that he has had this talk with the Thessalonians before. It is true that the people in Thessalonica came out of a very immoral background, but this is also true of many of us. Some here lived in the passions of their flesh for years before they were saved. We may all need to revisit this sober warning of judgment from time to time. But this is not the whole story. Take a look at verses 7 and 8 . . .

God’s WORK for Our Purity and Our Response (4:7,8).

 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

There is a warning of judgment here which it is wise for us to heed. But there is also a word here about God’s calling for us. As the passage started stating God’s will that we abstain from sexual immorality so the passage ends with God’s call to holiness. God’s call is holiness. Impurity short circuits not only the vitality of our relationship with God but also derails the working out of God’s purposes in our lives. How many ministers in recent years with great gifting have been brought down through sexual immorality? I mentioned a couple of weeks ago three prominent Southern Baptist leaders who had been involved in immorality. Since I gave that message, three more professors and state convention workers in the SBC have resigned because of immorality. It is a tragedy. We must not play around at the edges of this. It applies to all of us, every church member, every pastor and deacon. Notice here that Paul says God has called US to purity, he includes himself in his statement. He is accountable too. It is possible and even likely that these men who have fallen, if repentant, are true believers. But oh how tragic the consequences of their sin. We are not under condemnation through faith in Christ, but there is a principle of sowing and reaping that Pastor Terry talked about a couple of weeks ago.

God calls us. He draws us. He saves us. But He does all of this to bring us into holiness. And He did this to draw us close to Himself. Notice, if you reject these instructions you reject not just the instructions but God who gave His Holy Spirit to you. Sexual immorality is a form of blasphemy. It is a form of idol worship and no man can serve two masters.

This verse is so important for our world today. To reject these instructions is to reject God. If someone has an issue with the idea that sexuality is only rightly bounded within one man, one woman marriage, their argument is not with me, it is with God.

If you look at these instructions and feel it is impossible, let me give you three grounds of hope: 1) Jesus was totally pleasing to God and totally fulfilled in His life on earth and never had sexual relations. Sex is not like air and water, regardless of what our culture says. 2) God has given you His Holy Spirit to empower you for this life. 3) Our year verse, Luke 18:27 – what is impossible with man is possible with God.

I want to conclude this morning in a detailed way. What does it look like for us today to abstain from sexual immorality as an important part of our growth in grace, our sanctification?

First, we must reject as a matter of principle all forms of sexual immorality. We must say no to ungodliness. We must draw a line in the sand and define what is right and what is wrong from a biblical point of view.

Having carefully thought through these things, I can say without hesitation that the following principles should be characteristic of a Christian when it comes to sexuality. I haven’t seen every principle possible, but I believe I can biblically justify each of the things I am about to say. . .

When it comes to sexuality, a Christian is characterized as one who . . .

Rejects lust and affirms married love.

Rejects adultery and affirms faithfulness in marriage.

Rejects pornography and affirms a joyful sexual ethic in marriage.

Rejects living together without being married and affirms the biblical obedience of marriage.

Rejects sleeping together apart from marriage and any other sexual relations outside of marriage and affirms the beauty of sex itself within marriage.

Rejects fantasizing or setting our thoughts on people to whom we are not married and affirms the cultivation of a healthy marital relationship of mind, body and soul.

Rejects homosexuality in all of its forms and affirms heterosexual marriage as God’s pathway of obedience.

In the absence of marriage a faithful Christian affirms celibacy as God’s pathway of obedience.

Rejects the idea that our identity is tied up in our gender and affirms that our identity is found in Christ.

Rejects the notion that gender is self-constructed and affirms the truth that God’s design is two genders: male and female, made in His image.

Rejects the idea that life is about self-gratification and affirms that life is about God-glorification.

Rejects dating or marrying unbelievers and affirms the value of marriage between believers as God’s pattern of obedience for Christians.

Rejects divorce (with few exceptions) and affirms the permanence of marriage.

Rejects a spouse seeking sexual fulfillment outside of marriage when sexual fulfillment in marriage is not happening.

Rejects spouses withholding sexual activity in a prolonged way with one another except for an agreed upon time and affirms the joy of sexual activity as a blessing and a guard for our hearts.

Rejects flirting, immodest dress, crude jokes, cat-calls, all forms of sexual harassment, all sexual abuse and affirms the beauty and worth of married love.

Rejects all forms of media that stir sinful desires in the heart and affirms setting our minds on things above.

I truly believe that these things I have just mentioned are clear and biblical standards for our holiness when it comes to sexuality. These things are not matters of Christian liberty, they are truths that flow from God’s Word and His standards for purity. They are things that cannot be lived apart from the Holy Spirit’s power. There will never be complete obedience to these things this side of glory. But there should be substantial alignment with these things if we belong to Christ. These are the kinds of people we should be as followers of Jesus.

What if I am falling short in one or more of these areas? Let me suggest three things: 1) Repent. Turn away from these sin areas immediately and embrace the truth. Don’t live under God’s judgement. Draw near to God. Know that through faith in Christ you have forgiveness and His righteousness is counted on your behalf. 2) Take steps to get help/make changes. Talk to a friend. Confess to another brother or sister. Bring your life into the light. Sin thrives in darkness. Get counsel from a wise believer. Make physical changes to draw healthy boundaries. 3) Understand that God’s grace is greater than your guilt. If you have a marriage that split up, if you committed adultery, if you have yielded your heart to every manner of lustful thought in times past, know that you can be forgiven and restored and that through faith in Christ you are acceptable in God’s presence. Finally, may all of us exercise patience and kindness toward others in the spirit of Galatians 6:1. If this message is really taken seriously there will be much confession and change as a result. If someone comes to you wanting you to walk with them through change, be gentle with them. Treat them kindly, don’t be harsh with them.

If you need to repent today, you are safe here. You will be received and understood and prayed for and helped. Let’s get our lives into the light. Let me hear from you if you are defeated in this area. If you are a woman I will connect you with a trusted woman. Don’t fail to bring your struggles into the light.

Finally, understand that what we said earlier is true: this is a watershed issue. If you disagree with the biblical pattern for sexuality, I urge you once again to consider that your argument is not with me but with God and that He is all-wise. He really does know better than we what is right and good and true. There may be others here for whom this may be the start of a long battle. For still others this may be a critical step in a long-term victory. Understand that some hearing this message will insult me, if not publicly then privately. Understand that if you believe these things and live them you will be looked at, even by some in the church, as odd and intolerant. In the minds of some people you will be categorized with all the worst hate groups in our society. In your seeking to walk with Jesus you may be the most loving and kind person but if you say the wrong thing in the wrong way in our world, you will be hated and vilified. And I want to say to you, and to myself, take heart! Blessed are you! You’re just walking the path of the prophets and the path of the Savior.

Jesus is better than sexual immorality. Trust Him today to do His work of sanctification as you walk with Him.





Our Greatest Need

26 Jul

The missing element in many American churches today is a real and deep understanding that being a Christian means following Jesus. Christianity is about time and eternity. We have boiled down the essence of Christianity to having right doctrine or having some past decision for Christ to lean on or having life enhancement to make my earthly journey more comfortable or happy or purposeful. So I can fail to pay my taxes as long as I hold to the doctrines of grace. Or I can treat my family like trash because I trusted Jesus when I was 11 and so I’m going to heaven. Or I can commit adultery because my spouse is inattentive because after all, God wants me to be happy, right? These false approaches are entirely out of step with the New Testament, where Jesus tells us, “if you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Now to be sure, we can’t keep the commandments of Jesus apart from the power of Jesus. A living relationship with Jesus is essential and that relationship is understood and defined through sound doctrine, a biblical understanding of the gospel and it does have as a by-product a security and joy of heart that is a great blessing.  Jesus says, “Apart from Me, you can do nothing.”

Most Christians know the basics of the gospel. They know God sent Jesus to die in our place, to bring forgiveness of sins and reconciliation to God. Most know that we are saved by grace, not works. But there are certain truths which flow from the gospel that we have diminished our ignored and most of these have to do with our present lives. This ignorance of the present power of the gospel and the ensuing failure to walk in that power is the explanation for much of the hypocrisy and weakness in the American Church* today.

So by all means, let us recapture good gospel doctrine. Doctrine like adoption. We are part of God’s family now through the work of Jesus. We are sons and daughters of God. We have a secure place to grow in the family of God. God calls all His people to gather together with other believers for encouragement and worship and equipping. The doctrine of adoption forms a solid foundation for the local church. We are not a loose association of individuals. We are family. Let us recapture the doctrine of grace-empowered obedience. We are so allergic to anything that smacks of rule-keeping or legalism that we have moved to the other side and give everyone a license to do anything in the name of Christian liberty. By all means, many matters of preference are matters of Christian liberty and provide us opportunities to love and serve one another and to get along in spite of differences. But many other matters are matters of Christian obedience. Jesus commands us to seek first the kingdom of God, to serve one another, to love one another, to give generously, to endure persecution faithfully, to pray and not give up, to abide in Him, to not lust and covet, to not be ruled by the cares of this world or the deceitfulness of wealth. Dozens of other commands come just from the teachings of Jesus, not to mention other Scripture. So what do we do with those commands? If we ignore them and do our own thing we dishonor God, put ourselves on a destructive path and become a terrible witness for the kingdom. If we cry “legalism” or “works-righteousness” at this point we deny the voice of Jesus, because He tells us in the gospels alone dozens of things we ought to do. We sometimes criticize those who call themselves “Red Letter Christians,” who pay attention primarily to the words of Jesus and minimize other parts of Scripture. But are we not in danger of making the opposite mistake in the name of grace? Might we not be guilty of minimizing the commandments of Jesus in a misguided effort to uphold grace.

Here is the bottom line . . . in the Bible, grace changes us. Those Jesus saves are never left the same. Sanctification may be a messy, slow, frustrating process (mostly due to our stubborn hearts) but it is a reality. The one who began the work will see it through. So if you profess faith in Christ but see no growth in obedience to Him, no growing depth of love for Him, no progress in faithfulness, then all your sound doctrine and all your past experience and all your expectation of blessing should really be replaced by repentance and faith.

While it is undeniable that there is significant gospel ignorance in our culture, it is more true I think that we suffer more from a lack of gospel living than from a lack of gospel information. There is a connection of course and there is a sense in which many people do not thrive because they do not really understand how the gospel is to affect every day life. But many of us, I think, understand these things. We just don’t want to live by them. We are happier in our minds being our own Lord. But no man can serve two masters. And I wonder, if we have lived our lives being our own Lord here, what makes us think we will want to bow the knee to God when we pass into eternity? If we don’t really want to live under His authority here, why in the world would we want to live under His authority there? If heaven is going to be like Thanksgiving dinner with family members you barely talk to and hardly know, is it really going to be heaven?

It is interesting that in John’s gospel, both love and belief are linked to obedience (John 3:36; John 14:15). So obedience is not opposed to loving and trusting Jesus, it is an expression of love and trust. Don’t buy the lie that it is legalism to follow your Lord. And don’t buy the lie that you’re OK as long as you have right doctrine. And especially don’t buy the lie that God exists to make you the center of the universe and to give you what you want without hardship. Trust the Lord to work the full implications of the gospel into your life, so that while you are not perfect, you are being perfected and you are walking in the strength of a life lived by faith in Jesus Christ.


*I dislike the phrase “the American Church” because it is so broad and too general but I can’t really think of an alternative term so take it here with the reservation that I am not saying every single church or every single Christian is characterized by these things.


Behold Your God — Week Six, Day Five

7 Jul

Today’s study covers some of the pitfalls we may encounter along the way in our pursuit of holiness. The Christian Classic The Pilgrim’s Progress, covers these pitfalls in a creative and comprehensive way, so I recommend it to you if you have opportunity to read it.

Our study opens today with the slippery slopes we may encounter as we seek to live a holy life. The first is self-indulgence. We may rejoice in our salvation in Christ and believe that the forgiveness of sins and reconciliation to God gives us freedom to do what we want. God does want us to be happy, but He knows that happiness only truly comes for us when we submit to God’s lordship and walk in His ways. As Paul says in Galatians 5:13, “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.”

The other slippery slop is legalism. Legalism is not a desire for obedience or a willingness to please God through what we do. Instead, legalism is when we try to use our efforts to earn God’s favor or gain God’s acceptance. Whereas self-indulgence often produces in us a spiritual laziness, legalism often produces a judgmental spirit.

Think of these slippery slopes as two ditches on either side of the narrow way of holiness.

There are other ditches along the way as well. Without the foundation of relationship with Jesus, we have no hope of following God. So we can say that God tells us to keep His commands, and this is true. But in context Jesus says, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” The walk of holiness is never disconnected from a love relationship with Jesus. The reason this is so is that this relationship empowers us for obedience. This is what days 3 and 4 of this week’s study were all about. If you are unsure about how this works, go back and review days 3 and 4.

The final slippery slope is the matter of our motivation. Why do we do what we do? That is an important question to ask from time to time. I have found in pastoral ministry that my heart is revealed and often I am not happy with what is revealed. I find I can do ministry out of a desire to be liked or admired. I can do ministry out of a desire to be important or powerful. I can minister in a self-centered way, just participating in those areas of ministry in which I am gifted and comfortable. I can minister in competition with other churches. I can do ministry in a hundred wrong ways. It is helpful for me to step back from time to time and ask myself, “Are you ministering primarily by faith, in love and gratitude for Jesus? Or is one of these lesser motives driving your ministry?” To be clear, wrong motivations are lingering just under the surface in most of our lives. This side of glory, our hearts will never be perfectly pure. But what is the trajectory of our lives? Who are we serving, Jesus or self? What is motivating us, love for God or self-exaltation?

A final word. Even though we do walk on a narrow way as Christians there is no need to live in fear. There is a sense in which many of us walking on a narrow path with deep ditches on both sides might be a little fearful. That is understandable. But don’t be paralyzed with fear, always second-guessing yourself and endlessly probing to make sure you’re on the path. Just focus on the path and focus on the horizon (see Philippians 3:12-14 and Hebrews 12:1-3) and you’ll reach your destination without getting sidetracked or sidelined.

Behold Your God — Week Six Introduction

2 Jul

The focus in this week’s study will be the call to personal holiness. It is critically important not to run off the rails here. Where many people go wrong is in thinking justification is by faith but sanctification is by works. 2 Peter 1:3 tells us otherwise . . . “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness.” Paul’s letter to Titus tells us much the same in chapter 2 . . . “For the grace of God has appeared . . . training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in the present age.” So the principle of faith, of trusting in Christ, is not only necessary for our justification, it is also necessary for our sanctification. So when we talk about personal holiness it is important to never separate the call to holiness from the spiritual power God gives, otherwise, we have turned sanctification into works righteousness.

Behold Your God — Week Five, Day Four

29 Jun

Salvation is bigger than you think. Today’s study is largely a matter of looking up and summarizing key New Testament verses on salvation, focusing especially on what God has done for us in salvation. Tomorrow the focus shifts to what God does in us in salvation.

These two days of study clearly show us two truths . . . salvation is a work of God and salvation is much more than the forgiveness of sins. I don’t want to diminish the forgiveness of sins or the initial faith in Jesus which leads a person from darkness to light, from hell to heaven but it is important to remember that the saving work of God really changes everything. We are given a new status, no longer slaves to sin but now sons of God. We are given new power for living, as the Spirit comes to dwell in us and strengthen us. We are given new eyes for spiritual truth, so that the Bible comes alive. We are given the promise of growing holiness. We are given the promise of eternal perfection. We are given the promise that God will never leave us and that we will be with Him forever. Salvation is much more than we think. Spend your time thinking about these things, and then share them with others. God’s plan of salvation is more exciting than any church program or activity, than any entertainment or vacation, than anything. Let the gospel be your life-long fascination.

Powerful Quotes from David Powlison’s “How Does Sanctification work?”

18 Jun

Last week I finished reading David Powlison’s new book How Does Sanctification Work? It is a small volume, but well worth reading. Powlison is the executive director of the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation (CCEF). This book is powerful and helpful to all who want to grow in Christ. Here are a few quotes I found helpful . . .

“Jesus’s first three words (from the cross) reach with mercy to others. His last four words reach out in need to His Father. Why is this significant? Jesus’s actual first-person experience expresses the fundamental extroversions of candid faith and personalized love. We can easily imagine how being tortured to death and facing imminent asphyxiation would pull any one of us into a whirlpool of self-absorption in pain and vulnerability. A person in such agony reacts in typical ways: despair, impotent rage, self-pity, terror, and an overwhelming urge to numb or escape pain. But amid intense suffering, Jesus cries out to the Father and cares for the people around Him. We watch and hear how honestly He lives the Psalms. We witness how specifically He lives out the commandments to love His God and His neighbors. We stand in awe.” (p. 38)

“Ministry electrifies when it connects something to someone rather than trying to say everything to no one in particular.” (p. 42)

“There are good reasons why not every Christian is impressed with the one truth that may have revolutionized your life. That one partial truth may have really helped you, and it may be drawing a particular kind of person to your ministry. But when one truth morphs into The Truth — the whole truth — it becomes an ax to grind. It promises a panacea, a “cure all.” As this happens, it slides in the direction of a magic formula, a “secret” to be discovered, not the plain, simple wisdom of God. A word that helps some kinds of people can prove unhelpful — even misleading and destructive — to people who need one of the other kinds of help that God gives. Preachers and counselors, beware!” (p. 42)

I could go on with more great quotes, but that gives you a flavor of some of the wisdom Powlison shares in the book. I benefited greatly from the fruit of Powlison’s life and ministry shared in this book.

Bible Reading Blog — January 3, 2016

3 Jan

Today’s Readings — Genesis 1-3 and Mark 1:1-8

The readings for today unfold two of the big realities of life: Creation and Redemption. In Genesis 1-3 we see the explanation of God bringing all things into existence. We see humanity as the pinnacle of His creation. And then we see it all go wrong as the serpent does his crafty, deceiving work. And this sets the stage for redemption. The rift has been made (we will see in the next few days of reading that it will only get worse) and the rest of the story of the Bible and the story of the world is about God healing that rift.

He promised to heal it even when it happened (see Genesis 3:15). The serpent will be crushed. This is what John’s voice crying in the wilderness is all about. The Kingdom of God has come, Jesus is about to defeat the serpent, sin is about to be dealt with and the rift is about to be bridged by a rugged cross.

So much of life is waiting, living between worlds. The people of the Old Testament lived between Creation (and the Fall) and Redemption. Salvation was still by faith but it was in shadow form, the fullness of time had not yet come. Today, we live in Creation between Redemption and Consummation (the renewing of all things when the full effects of Jesus’ saving work are realized). So much of our story is “already, but not yet.” This is a hard place to be . . . deep longings not fully realized. Frustration with treasures boxes of joy not quite unlocked, anger that the serpent still writhes on the ground and that we still listen to his deceit. We live in between. It is hard. But it is going somewhere. Creation –> Fall –> Redemption –> Consummation. God is bringing about His beautiful plan. In the meantime, for us, sanctification. And God’s choice tool for sanctification is living life in the land in between.

Notes on Romans 8:12-17

21 May

Here are my notes from our Sunday night study in Romans 8.

So far in Romans 8 Paul has been talking about the way things are for two groups of people: those who are in Christ Jesus and those who are not. Those who are in Christ Jesus are under no condemnation. Through the work of Christ the requirements of the law are fulfilled in them. They have a mindset on the Spirit who dwells in them. Through the work of the Spirit they have life and peace.
On the other hand, those who are in the flesh are under condemnation, they can’t fulfill the law, they have a fleshly mindset that is actually hostile to God and unable to submit to God’s law. They are unable to please God and are in the way of death.
Up to this point it has been all about what we are. There are few if any commands in this section. But when we get to verse 12, we shift to commands. We move from what we might call the indicative to the imperative, from who we are to what we do.
When Paul starts giving commands, he does two things: he encourages us toward godliness while at the same time assuring us of salvation. Any time we talk about growing in the Lord and we aren’t doing both of these things we are not following the biblical pattern. Paul wants to assure us that we belong to God while at the same time urging us to act like we are children of God.
So let’s look tonight as at much as we can of verses 12-17 and see this dynamic played out . . .
12 So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.
This first phrase, so then, is a strong transition in Greek, a stronger emphasis than normal. The point is that Paul is moving on to say what results from all he has been saying in verses 1-11.
The word “brothers” obviously means that he is talking to believers. Both women and men are included in this word and some translations will say “brothers and sisters.” So this section is not going to describe the worldly, sinful person and the Spirit led person so much as it is going to prescribe how the true Christian should live.
We should live first as those who are debtors. Christians are people under obligation. Because we have received such grace from God, the gift of His Spirit, adoption into His family, an inheritance with Him, freedom from condemnation, life and peace, eternal life, and a thousand other gifts, we are debtors.
Now we don’t like the idea of obligation. For many Christians, the idea of obligation strikes them as wrong. We should be motivated by gratitude, not obligation. I think this way most of the time. I want to avoid any sense of trying to earn favor with God and instead rest in His grace. Yet there is a clear theme in the Bible that we are under obligation. It is our duty to love Christ.
It makes more sense when I think of it in relation to marriage, for example. A good marriage would be mostly grounded in gratitude and love and joy but there is, in a good marriage, an undertow of obligation, of debt. This person has chosen to commit to me for life therefore I am going to persevere in this relationship. I made a commitment to them too and I am going to honor that commitment in the hard times. And when I am challenged to not love and cherish my wife I am going to remember that I am under obligation. And I think this is the place where duty may serve a good purpose in the Christian life. When worldliness is surrounding you and challenges are coming your way that are pushing you toward the flesh, there is a time when you just must do your duty. If you can’t obey from a sense of gratitude and delight, you should still obey. So when you are about to say the slanderous thing that you are tempted to say, you back up and say, no, this is not what a person saved by grace does.
Our debt is not to the flesh. The flesh gave us nothing but misery and death. Our new life and peace did not come from the flesh. We don’t owe the flesh a single thing.
If you remember chapter 7, before we were in Christ we were sold as slaves under sin. But now we have been set free from that slave master and have become instead servants or slaves of righteousness.
But freed slaves might sometimes be tempted to go back to their former masters because it is all they’ve known. So we also may still listen to and follow our flesh even though we have been freed from slavery to sin through Christ. This means that the Christian life is one in which we can still sin, but we have power through the Spirit not to sin. We must trust in Christ to be saved and we must continue to trust in Christ day by day in order to grow as believers.
But interestingly, the next verse will tell us, we must live by the Spirit day by day, not only to grow as believers, but to avoid eternal death. That may strike you as strange. You may wonder whether I am teaching that we can lose our salvation. So we need to look at this carefully.
13 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.
It is clear that one who lives according to the flesh will die. This is obvious because of what we have already seen in Romans. The mindset on the flesh is death. But those who put to death the deeds of the body will live. Why? Because they live by the power of the Spirit.
Our way of thinking is all twisted. Most people think to live for Christ is a kind of joyless, sour existence filled with duty alone. And they think giving in to every fleshly desire is the way to live. But in reality, they are heading for eternal death. And the fact that indulging the flesh leads to death causes Paul to use it as a motivation to tell Christians not to give in to the flesh. This is not a new thing for Paul. Look at the first 11 verses of chapter 8: “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus liberated me from the law of the sin and of the death” (v. 2); “the mind of the flesh—death; but the mind of the spirit—life and peace” (v. 6); “the spirit—life through righteousness” (v. 10), the Spirit who raised up Christ “shall make alive” even our mortal bodies.
The theologian Charles Hodge said, “There can be no safety, no holiness, no happiness, to those who are out of Christ: No “safety,” because all such are under the condemnation of the law (Ro 8:1); no holiness, because such only as are united to Christ have the spirit of Christ (Ro 8:9); no happiness, because to be “carnally minded is death” (Ro 8:6)”
But the issue of course is whether a believer can lose his salvation if he lives for the flesh.
Some would say yes, if a believer goes on in a fleshly way in their life they can lose their salvation.
Others believe that a true believer cannot lose his or her salvation and if a person does go back to a fleshly lifestyle after professing faith in Christ they were most likely never saved.
This is an issue which is not easy, for there are passages that seem to provide assurance and there are other passages which seem to warn believers that ongoing sin will lead to eternal death. So if we really want to be fair with the Bible, we have to consider all the passages. We can’t just throw out the ones that don’t suit us and keep the rest.
So how does this all fit together? I think of the president of my seminary, Robertson McQuilkin, who said that we must strive to “stay in the center of biblical tension.” I think that is right. And what it means is that we hold both of these things to be true.
How do we do that? We hold two truths in tension: that faith in Christ infallibly secures eternal life and that a lifestyle empowered by the Holy Spirit is necessary to inherit eternal life. Every true Christian has trusted in Christ and every true Christian is indwelt by the Holy Spirit and every true Christian will submit himself to the work of the Holy Spirit, not perfectly but substantially.
This means that all the great truths we talked about in verses 1-11 do not make us passive, just believing truth but not acting on truth. Instead, these truths produce faithful, grace-dependent lives. We see this clearly in Titus 2:11-15.
So, yes, we do work actively for our growth in grace, but even here when we are told to mortify, or kill, the deeds of the body, there is only one way this can happen. We must mortify the deeds of the body “by the Spirit.” So it is not that I must defeat my flesh. Instead, the Spirit defeats the flesh as I draw on the power of the Spirit. So we are not saved by works and we are not sanctified by works.
A couple of illustrations might be helpful to understand this. First, it is like the difference between a snapshot and a movie. If you took a snapshot of my life, you might see me at some point looking like I am living in the flesh. But if you took a movie of my life, if I am a true Christian, the overwhelming sense you would get is that I am not living in the flesh.
I also like what CH Spurgeon said, “The believer, like a man on shipboard, may fall again and again on the deck, but he will never fall overboard,”
As John Murray says, “The believer’s once for all death to the law of sin does not free him from the necessity of mortifying sin in his members; it makes it necessary and possible for him to do so.”
I think the overwhelming force of Romans 8 is for the security of the believer. This especially of 8:35-39. Yet we can not ignore warning passages in the New Testament.
So there seems to be a paradox: Christ’s work is the ground of eternal life but holy living is necessary for final salvation. The resolution of the paradox is that when we trust in Christ the Spirit comes to indwell us and gives us power to do God’s will. This is a middle way between moralism/legalism on the one hand and “Let go and let God” passivity on the other hand. I think it gets closer to taking into account what all the Bible says than any other view.
So on the one hand the New Testament is clear that believers have an obligation by the power of the Spirit to live lives of righteousness. Think about just a few passages.
• Romans 6:13: “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin.”
• Colossians 3:5: “Put to death … whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.”
• Galatians 5:24: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.”
• Mark 9:43–47: “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.… And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off.… And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.”
But on the other hand, as Jesus says, no one can snatch us from the Father’s hand. And as Paul says in Romans, nothing can separate us from God’s love.

But there is an even more compelling reason of all to live lives of holiness which we see in verse 14 . . .

14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
The compelling reason to live holy lives is because God has not only freed us from slavery to sin, He has also made us His own sons and daughters.
All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. Now we have not talked about this at length up to this point, but we need to answer an important question. What does it mean to be led by the Spirit?
Ligon Duncan lists five ways in which we are led by the Spirit. First of all, when Paul says that we are led by the Spirit, he means that we are governed by the Spirit constantly. He’s not saying that, well, you know this Christian was up against this particular trial, and it was like the Spirit just took over. Now you may feel like that sometime, and the Lord may help in extraordinary ways, but that’s not what Paul is talking about here. Paul is talking about the believer constantly, not sporadically, not occasionally, not two or three really extraordinary times in life, but constantly every second being governed by the Holy Spirit. Notice, you see this even in the language. ‘He leads us.’ You know it’s not that the guide is there with you for five minutes, he drops off the trail for several days and comes back and meets you again for another five minutes, and then drops off the trail for a few days. He’s there with you every step. He’s constantly leading you.
Secondly, notice that the leading of the Spirit, as you look at this context, is primarily about correcting not protecting. Paul gives no indication whatsoever that the Holy Spirit protects us from suffering in this passage; in fact, the opposite. The final words of this passage indicate that just because you are led by the Spirit, does not mean that you are not going to go through trial. On the contrary, if you are a true son of God, Paul says you will. So, the Spirit’s leading here primarily is in correcting us. He’s knocking off rough edges; he’s making us to be like the Heavenly Father.
Thirdly, the Holy Spirit does not merely guide us. When we speak of the leading of the Spirit, we’re not speaking merely of guidance; it is that the Holy Spirit empowers us. It’s not like an Indian guide who sort of takes you across the mountains through the treacherous passes because he knows the way. He doesn’t just have information that you need, but he is actually the force that keeps you going. He’s the one who gives you the energy to start the trail in the first place, and to finish it just as surely. So He is empowering you from within.
Fourthly, notice that the leading of the Holy Spirit doesn’t mean that you are lost. The Holy Spirit doesn’t come in and replace some part of you. The Holy Spirit doesn’t displace you; instead He encourages and ages you. It’s truly you who are growing in grace. It’s truly you who are following in the way of the Spirit. And the Spirit is encouraging you and aiding you and helping you in that; not displacing your personality. It doesn’t mean when we say that it’s Christ in me, it doesn’t mean that somehow I has been evacuated, and I don’t exist anymore, and I don’t have no personality, and I’m sort of part of the board now. That’s not what Paul is talking about. The Spirit is encouraging and aiding us, our true self. And it’s helped and encouraged by the Spirit.
Finally, when the Holy Spirit leads us, He always leads us in the way of truth. How many times have you had Christians come to you and say, “Well, you know, the Spirit is leading me to do ‘X.’” And you’re sitting there scratching your heard, and you’re thinking, “That’s wrong. What you’re saying that you’re being led to do is wrong.” So I know it’s not the Holy Spirit that is leading you to do that, because the Holy Spirit leads us in the way of God’s word, God’s law, God’s truth, Psalm 1, Psalm 19, Psalm 119. You can get a hundred other passages. The Holy Spirit never leads against the word of God. He never leads against the will of God. He never leads against the truth of God. He always leads with them. Now we could say a lot more about the Holy Spirit. Indeed, we’ve only scratched the surface on touching this subject of His leading, but we have said at least that. And the apostle Paul, don’t miss the point here.
So this is something of what it means to be led by the Spirit. And when we are led by the Spirit, we are sons of God.
This title, sons of God, is often used in the Old Testament for the people of Israel. It is also a title Jesus used of Himself. How do you know that you are a son? Because the Spirit is working in you for your growth in grace and this is evidence that you are a child of God. It is not some upper class of Christians who are led by the Spirit. All who are children of God are led by the Spirit. The word “led” tells us that Paul is not talking about a temporary status but about a continuous leading.
As Bob Utley says, “Assurance is not meant to soften the Bible’s call to holiness! Theologically speaking, assurance is based on the character and actions of the Triune God (1) the Father’s love and mercy; (2) the Son’s finished sacrificial work and (3) the Spirit’s wooing to Christ and then forming Christ in the repentant believer. The evidence of this salvation is a changed worldview, a changed heart, a changed lifestyle and a changed hope! It cannot be based on a past emotional decision that has no lifestyle evidence (i.e. fruit, cf. Matt. 7:15–23; 13:20–22). Assurance, like salvation, like the Christian life, begins with a response to God’s mercy and continues that response throughout life. It is a changed and changing life of faith!”

How many professing Christians today are not putting to death the misdeeds of the body? This is not what we are intended to be or how we are intended to live. We are sons of God. How can we live in a way that denies that truth? That is what Paul is going to take up in verse 15.

15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!”

In contrast with the control of sin, which enslaves to the point of fear, believers have received the Spirit of sonship. The word translated “sonship” (huiothesias) means “placing as a son” and is frequently translated “adoption” (as in, e.g., v. 23). Believers are adopted sons (Gal. 4:5; Eph. 1:5), not slaves (Gal. 4:7); so they need not be enslaved to sin or in fear. In New Testament times adopted sons enjoyed the same privileges as natural-born sons. So, instead of cowering in slave-like fear, Christians can approach God in an intimate way calling Him Abba, Father. “Abba” is a Greek and English transliteration of the Aramaic word for father (used elsewhere in the NT only in Mark 14:36; Gal. 4:6). Besides being adopted into God’s family as sons, believers also are His children (tekna, “born ones”) by the new birth (John 1:12; 1 John 3:1–2). And the Holy Spirit, who gives believers life, testifies with (not to) their spirit (s) of the fact of the new birth.
In adoption all previous relationships are severed. The new father exercises authority over the new son, and the new son enters into the privileges and responsibilities of the natural son. “Abba,” the Aramaic word for “father,” was used primarily within the family circle and in prayer (cf. Mark 14:36; Gal 4:6). Montgomery’s translation (“My Father, my dear Father!”) underscores the intimate nature of the expression, which is so clearly the opposite of fear (v. 15a).

16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
And then finally in verses 16 and 17, Paul makes it clear that the Spirit witnesses, He Himself witnesses along with our spirit, that we are truly children of God, and thus heirs of God. Christians are assured of their sonship and their inheritance by the witness of the Spirit. And, interestingly, Paul says, look at the end of verse 17, in their perseverance and suffering. In other words, Paul is saying that this assurance that God gives you is not merely subjective or objective, it’s both. Your spirit bears witness, but the Holy Spirit also bears witness. But furthermore, he says that the Holy Spirit’s bearing witness that we are sons of God does not mean that we’re not going to suffer. In fact, precisely because He bears witness that we are true sons of God, we may expect to suffer in this life. One of the old Puritans said, “God has one Son without sin, but none without suffering.”
So what is Paul’s point in this passage? Paul’s point is that you have been so united to the Lord Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit of adoption, that you are one with Him in His sufferings, and you will be one with Him in His glory. And when you doubt that you will be one with Him in His glory, you remember that you are one with Him in His sufferings. And it is just as certain that you will be one with Him in His glory, as it is that you are going through trials now. That’s what Paul is saying. Every trial that you go through in life is a witness of the Spirit that you are going to share in the glory of the inheritance of the Son of God.
And so the apostle says, grow in grace because you are under obligation, because sins kills, because you’re sons of God, because the Holy Spirit of adoption is at work in you, and because the Holy Spirit is in you bearing witness that you are sons of God. Now live, Paul says, in that light.
Our adoption into God’s family, however amazing and comforting, is not the end of the story. For to be children is also to be heirs: to be still waiting for the full bestowment of all the rights and privileges conferred on us as God’s children (17; see especially Gal. 4:1–7, with an argument quite similar to that in 8:1–17). As the Son of God had to suffer before entering into his glory (1 Pet. 1:11), so we sons of God by adoption must also suffer ‘with him’ before sharing in his glory (see also Phil. 1:29; 3:20; 2 Cor. 1:5). Because we are joined to Christ, the servant of the Lord ‘despised and rejected by men’ (Is. 53:3), we can expect the path to our glorious inheritance to be strewn with difficulties and dangers.
In many families children inherit their parents’ estates; each child is an heir and the children together are co-heirs. Similarly, since Christians are God’s children, they are His heirs (cf. Gal. 4:7), and they are co-heirs with Christ. They are recipients of all spiritual blessings (Eph. 1:3) now, and in the future they will share with the Lord Jesus in all the riches of God’s kingdom (John 17:24; 1 Cor. 3:21–23). Sharing with Jesus Christ, however, involves more than anticipating the glories of heaven. For Jesus Christ it involved suffering and abuse and crucifixion; therefore being co-heirs with Christ requires that believers share in His sufferings (cf. John 15:20; Col. 1:24; 2 Tim. 3:12; 1 Peter 4:12). In fact believers do share in His sufferings; if indeed translates eiper, which means “if, as is the fact” (cf. Rom. 8:9). Then after the suffering they will share in His glory (2 Tim. 2:12; 1 Peter 4:13; 5:10).
Paul himself provides the best illustration. Instead of a spirit of fear, we have received a spirit of sonship, or adoption. Adoption is a strictly Pauline metaphor, one common to him and his readers in Rome, due to the practice of adoption in the Roman Empire. Paul says in Ephesians 1:5 that adoption is a sovereign act of God, the result of his predestined pleasure and will. In Galatians 4:5–7, he repeats much of what he says in our Romans text, with one important addition: “That we might receive the full rights of sons” (Gal. 4:5). Therein lies the heart of sonship, or adoption. One who was not a natural son is adopted by a father and given every legal right of sonship held by the natural sons. He is made an heir of the father, and given equal standing (often a more privileged standing) with the father’s natural progeny.
Because Paul does not expand the metaphor in detail, the careful expositor will not do so either, pushing cultural aspects of Roman adoption into the realm of sanctification. But the key point—legal standing as a child of God—is fully represented by Paul’s adoption metaphor: Jesus Christ is God’s (only) natural Son and believers are adopted into the family of God and made “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17).
Suffering is the norm for believers in a fallen world (Matt. 5:10–12; John 15:18–21; 16:1–2; 17:14; Acts 14:22; Rom. 5:3–4; 8:17; II Cor. 4:16–18; Phil. 1:29; I Thess. 3:3; II Tim. 3:12; James 1:2–4; I Pet. 4:12–19). Jesus set the pattern (Heb. 5:8). The rest of this chapter develops this theme.

A Practical Strategy for Fighting Sin

28 Feb

John Piper shares his simple strategy ANTHEM as a way to fight lust. But it really works with any area of sinful temptation. I commend it strongly to you. Here is the link to the website and below is the text of the article.

ANTHEM: Strategies for Fighting Lust

I have in mind men and women. For men it’s obvious. The need for warfare against the bombardment of visual temptation to fixate on sexual images is urgent. For women it is less obvious, but just as great if we broaden the scope of temptation to food or figure or relational fantasies. When I say “lust” I mean the realm of thought, imagination, and desire that leads to sexual misconduct. So here is one set of strategies in the war against wrong desires. I put it in the form of an acronym, A N T H E M.

A – AVOID as much as is possible and reasonable the sights and situations that arouse unfitting desire. I say “possible and reasonable” because some exposure to temptation is inevitable. And I say “unfitting desire” because not all desires for sex, food, and family are bad. We know when they are unfitting and unhelpful and on their way to becoming enslaving. We know our weaknesses and what triggers them. “Avoiding” is a Biblical strategy. “Flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness” (2 Timothy 2:22). “Make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14).

N – Say NO to every lustful thought within five seconds. And say it with the authority of Jesus Christ. “In the name of Jesus, NO!” You don’t have much more than five seconds. Give it more unopposed time than that, and it will lodge itself with such force as to be almost immovable. Say it out loud if you dare. Be tough and warlike. As John Owen said, “Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” Strike fast and strike hard. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” ( James 4:7).

T – TURN the mind forcefully toward Christ as a superior satisfaction. Saying “no” will not suffice. You must move from defense to offense. Fight fire with fire. Attack the promises of sin with the promises of Christ. The Bible calls lusts “deceitful desires” (Ephesians 4:22). They lie. They promise more than they can deliver. The Bible calls them “passions of your former ignorance” (1 Peter 1:14). Only fools yield. “All at once he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter” (Proverbs 7:22). Deceit is defeated by truth. Ignorance is defeated by knowledge. It must be glorious truth and beautiful knowledge. This is why I wrote Seeing and Savoring Jesus Christ. We must stock our minds with the superior promises and pleasures of Jesus. Then we must turn to them immediately after saying, “NO!”

H – HOLD the promise and the pleasure of Christ firmly in your mind until it pushes the other images out. “Fix your eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 3:1). Here is where many fail. They give in too soon. They say, “I tried to push it out, and it didn’t work.” I ask, “How long did you try?” How hard did you exert your mind? The mind is a muscle. You can flex it with vehemence. Take the kingdom violently (Matthew 11:12). Be brutal. Hold the promise of Christ before your eyes. Hold it. Hold it! Don’t let it go! Keep holding it! How long? As long as it takes. Fight! For Christ’s sake, fight till you win! If an electric garage door were about to crush your child you would hold it up with all our might and holler for help, and hold it and hold it and hold it and hold it.

E – ENJOY a superior satisfaction. Cultivate the capacities for pleasure in Christ. One reason lust reigns in so many is that Christ has so little appeal. We default to deceit because we have little delight in Christ. Don’t say, “That’s just not me.” What steps have you taken to waken affection for Jesus? Have you fought for joy? Don’t be fatalistic. You were created to treasure Christ with all your heart – more than you treasure sex or sugar. If you have little taste for Jesus, competing pleasures will triumph. Plead with God for the satisfaction you don’t have: “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (Psalm 90:14). Then look, look, look at the most magnificent Person in the universe until you see him the way he is.

M – MOVE into a useful activity away from idleness and other vulnerable behaviors. Lust grows fast in the garden of leisure. Find a good work to do, and do it with all your might. “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord” (Romans 12:11). “Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 15:58). Abound in work. Get up and do something. Sweep a room. Hammer a nail. Write a letter. Fix a faucet. And do it for Jesus’ sake. You were made to manage and create. Christ died to make you “zealous for good deeds” (Titus 2:14). Displace deceitful lusts with a passion for good deeds.

Fighting at your side,

Pastor John

©2013 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission.

By John Piper. ©2012 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org

Sunday Evening Bible Study — Romans 6:20-23 — “The Payoff and the Gift”

15 Jan

The Bible is a bottom-line book. It often points to the results of different courses of life. We, on the other hand, often don’t look down the line to the results of our actions. We are driven by emotion or impulse. This is one reason why America has so much credit card debt and so much divorce and so much addiction. We don’t look down the line and see either the good of walking in right ways or the destruction of choosing our own ways.
I believe the Bible talks about results so often because we need to be reminded that to walk with God is worth it. In spite of the very real sorrows we face. In spite of our own failings, our own sins, our consistent falling short. In spite of the things we see happen to other people that break our hearts. In spite of all this, it is worth it. God often points to the long-term blessings of knowing Him because He knows that life will often lead us to believe that it is not so. And on the other hand, the Bible often warns against the uselessness of sin because God knows we will often be drawn to sin, thinking it will be a good long term solution for our sorrows.
Tonight we come to a short but significant passage. If you get this and walk in it every day, you will set yourself up for a God-glorifying, joyful and useful life. Let’s look at the end of chapter 6 together.
Now as we go back to chapter 6, we remember that Paul has been taking about sin as a slave master and Jesus and the one who has removed the authority of sin over our lives through His death. As verse 15 tells us, we have been brought out from under service to sin and are now slaves to righteousness. This example of slavery was imperfect. For we are not only slaves, but also beloved sons and daughters, so Paul even told us in verse 19 that he was speaking in human terms to help us understand what was happening.
Now in this final part of chapter 6, Paul will summarize and point to the results of living under sin versus living under the authority of Christ.
20 For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.
This for in verse 20 relates to that last line of verse 19. Paul reminds us that we once presented the members of our bodies as slaves to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, but now we are commanded to present our members to righteousness leading to sanctification. In other words, walk in light of the change that has come to you through union with Christ.
So what Paul is going to do in verses 21 and 22 is to provide further reason for presenting our members to righteousness by showing how futile sin really is in our lives. We see that by his first words, “when you were slaves of sin.” Now he is talking to Christians here, telling them that they had been slaves of sin. One of the interesting things in this passage is the Greek verb tenses. There are many verb tenses in Greek. In English we have mainly past, present and future tense but Greek has many more. The most common Greek tenses are present and aorist. Aorist is the tense of simple action. It is recording that something happened but without real regard to time. Some Greek scholars call it the vanilla tense. But a less common tense is called the imperfect. The imperfect tense points to continual action in the past. Now what is interesting when we come to this passage is that the verbs here, when talking about sin, are imperfect tense, but when talking about our present life as believers, they are all aorist tense. Now that is interesting because it seems to point to the idea that our past lives were our own doing while we have been brought into our present life by the work of God and that is what we will see clearly when we get to verse 23.
When this passage says we were free from righteousness, it means we were under the power of sin and therefore not able to please God. Isn’t it said that apart from Christ there is a real freedom and people feel that, but it is a freedom to be apart from righteousness. The freedom of doing your own thing feels like freedom to many people but in the end it leads to death. Now the thing for us as Christians, the heart of the battle, is for us to remember this truth. This is what Paul wants to hammer home in the last verses of chapter 6. He wants us to remember the payoff of sin so that we will not walk back into its slavery but will continue to wholeheartedly serve Jesus. So he reminds us in verse 21 . . .
21 But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death.
When Paul says “what fruit were you getting” he is looking at the payoff. What were the results of this life of sin? Notice the phrase “at that time.” Many people live as though sin is really the best way to live in the present time but for eternity it is bad, so they pray a prayer to cover heaven and then live for themselves under slavery to sin. They would never say it, but they look at it as a way of having their cake and eating it too. The problem is, it is not a cake, it is a mud pie. Even worse, it is a cow patty. Even worse, it is a deadly poison, killing us in this life and bringing to our souls eternal death. So we need to remember this. The life of sin holds nothing for us in the present besides a truck load of shame.
I think our tendency at times as Christians can be to look at people apart from Christ and envy them and wonder why it seems that they prosper even as they have no shame. There are people who have tremendous mental gifts who invest their lives in tearing down the things of God and standing against the Scriptures. The movie stars in their nice houses seem to be having such a good time and their lives seem so problem free. But this verse tells us that appearances are deceiving. The end of these things is death and being in the midst of them is not so nice either.
I thought there was a psalm that was particularly fitting for this passage in Romans, so I wanted to read it to you. It is a psalm of Asaph, psalm 73 . . .
1 Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.
2 But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled, my steps had nearly slipped.
3 For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
4 For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek.
5 They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
6 Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment.
7 Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies.
8 They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression.
9 They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth.
10 Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them.
11 And they say, “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
12 Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.
13 All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.
14 For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning.
15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed the generation of your children.
16 But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task,
17 until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.
18 Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin.
19 How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors!
20 Like a dream when one awakes, O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.
21 When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart,
22 I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you.
23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
27 For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28 But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge,
that I may tell of all your works.

Now as we get to verse 22, we see the contrast between the death-giving way of slavery to sin and the life-giving way of slavery to God. Look at verse 22 . . .

22 But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.
The verbs here, have been set free and have become slaves of God are both aorist, they are pointing to the finished work of Christ. Through His death and resurrection we have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God. So the fruit is very different. Not shame, not regret, but holiness. Not death, but eternal life. So there is an immediate benefit of Christlikeness and there is the ultimate of being with Christ forever. The tense of the verb “leads to sanctification” here is present tense. So the focus here is on the present benefits of the work of God on our behalf.
Now by way of application we can talk for just a minute about the connection between sanctification and eternal life. We have been saying all along that sanctification is a part of salvation. Salvation is past, present and future. So the conclusion we draw from this truth and from verse 22 is that if there is no change in my life, if I am only living in slavery to sin, I have reason to believe that I may not be saved. In other words, if the present aspect of salvation is not happening in my life, the future aspect will not be there either. This is why James said faith without works is dead, not because good works lead to salvation but because good works result from real salvation. This is why Jesus said in Matthew 7 that not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” is really saved. This is why John quotes Jesus saying, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” Good fruit points to a good root. This is why the author of Hebrews said in chapter 12 that without holiness, “no one will see the Lord.” If there is no fruit or if it is all bad fruit, you are trusting in the wrong thing to be saved. This is a critical message for our churches. There are all sorts of unsaved people in churches. How do I know that? Fruit. There is so much rotten fruit. A lack of hunger for the Word of God. No desire to sing praises to God. No apparent life of prayer. Very little sharing of our faith. Little service of others. Rampant sin. Worldliness in our entertainment choices. Worldliness in our dress. Worldliness in our leering looks and our internet habits. Sin in broken marriages, broken relationships in the church, lack of the fruit of the Spirit. The fruit of things that lead to death. Now we can bemoan this, we can go around trying to figure out who is saved and who is not. But I don’t think that is very helpful. By all means, test yourselves to see if you are in the faith. But more than anything, what we need to do is live in light of who we are as believers. Just like there was a faithful remnant in Israel, there is often a church within a church. And what we want to do is not run around judging everybody so much as to be the people of God. And what I pray for is this: may your tribe increase. May the percentage of the faithful increase over the years and may the percentage of the apathetic, the unengaged, the fruitless diminish year after year. But I pray they don’t diminish by leaving but by drawing near to God in sincere faith. This is my prayer, that we would each embrace by faith the world-shaking gospel we have in Jesus Christ. He is not a tie clip, he is not an accessory to make things a little more comfortable. He changes everything. The danger is focusing on whether everybody else is there. We shouldn’t spend too much time taking everybody else’s temperature. But when you see that spark of hunger and life in a person, love them, get to know them, encourage them, be there for them.
Enough soapbox. Let’s finish tonight with one of the golden verses of the Bible. Present yourselves as slaves to righteousness. Why?
23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Now remember back to Romans 6:16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?
So here is the payoff. Sin will pay you off. It will give you death. I read up on this word wages quite a bit. Some people think it refers to the provisions soldiers got for their supplies and their needs, kind of like a stipend, that which sustained them in their work. Others point to evidence that this word was used with reference to money that slaves could earn for various work, and sometimes could even collect to purchase their freedom. In either case, to me it doesn’t matter. Because the point here is that what sin pays is death. For all our allegiance to it, in the end it gives us death. Notice here that the big contrast is between wages and the gift. Our wages for sin are what we deserve for our lives of sin: we deserve death.
But notice the gift. The gift is eternal life. The future of life with God is his gift. We earn death when we live in sin but when we live in holiness you do not earn eternal life. It is still a gift, far greater than we could imagine, far more than we ever deserve. Eternal life is based not on our work but is based on the work of Christ.
Matthew Henry says, “for he does not say, the wages of good deeds, “but the gift of God;” to show, that it was not of themselves that they were freed, nor was it a due they received, neither yet a return, nor a recompense of labors, but by grace all these things came about. And so there was a superiority for this cause also, in that He did not free them only, or change their condition for a better, but that He did it without any labor or trouble upon their part: and that He not only freed them, but also gave them much more than before, and that through His Son.”
So remember the gift. Better than anything you’ll ever get under the tree. And remember that it is all through Jesus Christ

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