Tag Archives: suffering

The Other Issue with Kevin DeYoung and “Game of Thrones”

10 Aug

Kevin DeYoung wrote an article this week on The Gospel Coalition website that has caused a firestorm in the comments section. DeYoung’s piece, “I Don’t Understand Christians Watching Game of Thrones” has more that 250 comments at this point. Many people agree with DeYoung, that watching this sexually explicit and violent HBO series is a no-go for Christians, while others are harshly critical, accusing DeYoung of being judgmental or worse.

My take on this issue is that the controversy reveals a deeper issue with Christians: we have bought into the lie that we must be entertained. Our culture reveres, and revels in, entertainment. Our hours are to be devoted to it, so much so that a leader with the streaming service Netflix recently said that the company’s chief competitor was sleep. Their goal was to hook their subscribers free time to such an extent that they would only put the remote down when physically exhausted.

But does the Bible give us any theology of entertainment? To be sure, we can look to verses which celebrate God’s good gifts. We can look to the ethos of the book of Ecclesiastes, which directs us to enjoy life under the sun. We can see that the Bible is not against food or drink or enjoyment. But the Bible is strongly against idolatry. And I think that is where some Christians go in their need for entertainment. In this regard, the choice of entertainment is not my focus (though I think we should be careful about the kinds of things we choose to watch/listen to). Instead, I am thinking about the volume of entertainment we insist on and the ways we bring ourselves constantly to the throne of sensory stimulation.

What we are doing is not good for us. I would be the last person in the world who would want us our attitude as Christians to fit H.L. Mencken’s definition of a Puritan: “The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, might be happy.” But I am concerned with my own heart and, in reading the comments in DeYoung’s article, I am concerned with many other Christians with regard to our entertainment obsession.

Why do we feel the need to occupy every free moment with some form of entertainment (often entertainment that isolates us from others)? Why do we give so much time to cell phone games and social media and streaming services and sports and so little time to Scripture and prayer? Why do we eschew opportunities to edify our souls and embrace opportunities to stimulate our senses? We reach for what feels good rather than what is good. This is idolatry, plain and simple.

What is not so simple is how we walk this out day by day. There is not a biblical prescription or command (“30 minutes of entertainment and no more”). Each believer has to work out their entertainment theology with fear and trembling. “You shall have no other gods before me” is really the flip side of the greatest commandment “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart.” So idolatry is unacceptable in any form to those who want to love God. But how this looks for each believer will vary slightly from person to person and from season to season.

But I also want to say that I think there may be a deeper issue at work here as well. I believe many Christians in America have rejected a theology of suffering that is much more explicit and developed in Scripture than a theology of entertainment. In other words, while the Bible doesn’t tell us to pursue entertainment or to expect entertainment as part of our lives, we are told to expect suffering. In fact, in some way we are to count trials joy for the good they produce in us. But our culture is allergic to not feeling well. If you have a sniffle, get a pill. If you are lonely, fire up Netflix. If you are hungry, the drive-thru beckons. We have created a culture that caters to our whims so when the inevitable empty hours arise, we fill them with entertainment. The problem with this is that these empty hours are God’s will for us. They are the hollow places of life where God shapes us and fills us. Our disconnection from the reality of God is owing not to a lack of God’s presence but to our pushing everything else into the spaces God should fill.

We understand, I think, the need for Christians to embrace suffering in the big things, but we are reluctant to embrace the hundred little sufferings we face every day. A personal interaction that falls flat, an effort at work that is less than stellar, overactive and irritating children, bad news in the world, aging parents, there are dozens of things every day that we face as part of life in a fallen world. How do we handle these things? I think for many of us, we go to entertainment as a way to escape our pain. There is a place for entertainment and we certainly need to choose wisely. But sometimes we need to allow pain to do its work, even the pain of loneliness or emptiness or concern. Maybe we never get far with God and never make much progress with our problems because we medicate our symptoms instead of treating our disease. Applying gospel truth to our hearts, waiting on the Lord, talking to Him, these are all things which are not flashy or immediately stimulating, but they bring to our lives a richness and depth we can find nowhere else. In the end, our lives will be fuller if we empty them a little bit.

Bible Reading Blog — January 13, 2016

13 Jan

Today’s Readings — Genesis 43-50 & Mark 2:18-22

Have you ever thought about how the story of Joseph is a fulfillment of the promise to Abraham? In Genesis 12, God says to Abraham, “I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”

We see these promises unfold in the life of Joseph. He saves the sons of Jacob, his brothers, so that in Egypt Israel becomes a great nation. Joseph is blessed by God through many trials to rise to second in power in all Egypt. His name becomes great and he is a blessing to others. Those who favored Joseph were blessed mightily (Pharaoh, the Egyptians, other nations who came to Egypt for food, his brothers when they recognized their sin) and those who were against Joseph were cursed (the baker in chapter 41, Potiphar’s wife, Joseph’s brothers before their repentance). And all the people of that whole part of the world were blessed through Joseph’s life.

We know of course that Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant, but it is exciting to see that even by the end of Genesis, God is already proving true to His promises. The other thing to note is that God’s way of fulfilling His promises is often through suffering. So we must bear that in mind when we are in the valley.

Dead Poets Society: 25 Years Later

22 Dec

** Spoiler alert: If you haven’t seen this movie, major plot lines are discussed below.

In 1989, I saw Dead Poets Society in the theater with a good friend from college. It was the first movie I’d ever seen in the theater which so moved me that I could not speak for minutes after the movie concluded. The movie spoke to so many realities in my life at that time. The phrase carpe diem resonated with me as a young man on the cusp of all life had to offer. “Seize the day, make something extraordinary of you lives.” The character of Mr. Keating (Robin Williams) inspired me with his creative teaching style and his focused efforts to get his students to think and to open themselves up to new possibilities. The interaction of the boys with each other opened up to me the possibilities of true community and friendship. The character of Todd Anderson (Ethan Hawke) particularly affected me. I saw so much of myself in him. Fearful, shy, lacking confidence. I identified with his character completely.  The triumphant moment when he stands on his desk in allegiance to Mr. Keating is still one of my favorite movie moments. Mr. Keating brings Todd out of his shell over the course of the movie and in the end Todd stands up in courage to defend Keating. Todd, who had been the very definition of a follower, becomes a leader. But the most emotional part of the movie for me 25 years ago was the story of Neil (Robert Sean Leonard). The son of a domineering father who insisted he become a doctor, Neil’s imagination was captured by Keating and he followed the mantra of carpe diem, convincing his friends to re-form the Dead Poets’ Society, a secret club founded by Keating many years earlier. In addition, Neil finds his passion: acting. He gets cast in the lead role of a local production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Knowing his father would disapprove and prohibit his participation in the play, Neil hides his performance from his father. The father finds out and, though seeing Neil’s dynamic performance and the crowd’s enthusiastic applause, the father chastises Neil and decides to pull him out of school at Welton and put him into military school. Neil reaches his breaking point and late that night goes into his father’s office and kills himself. His father and mother discover his body. Keating is made the scapegoat through his influence on the boys and this ultimately sets the stage for Keating’s dismissal and the movie’s final scene.

Last night, for the first time in 25 years, I watched Dead Poets Society again. I was still moved, though nowhere near the way I was moved the first time I saw the movie. I know part of the reason is that this was a second viewing but I also believe that Dead Poets Society was a movie made explicitly to appeal to the young. I am no longer young. The teaching of Keating still inspires me, though I am not given so much to ripping out the introduction of a textbook when I don’t agree with it. I am not eager to offhandedly dismiss those with whom I disagree but would rather interact and understand different viewpoints. I also found that the phrase carpe diem holds very little charm to me anymore, especially when coupled with the phrase, “make something extraordinary of your lives.” I love the idea of having passion for life and particular passions we pursue. This is much of what makes life a joy. Yet the idea of following your passion as your life’s goal, when said passion is a career or a hobby or an expression of one’s talent, has largely lost all charm to me. I have come to see that most of what is thought to be extraordinary in our culture is largely empty, while the things thought ordinary are most profound. A long pattern of faithfulness to God, to one’s spouse, to children, to integrity and hard work is much more valuable to me than the ability to act or sing or create. When we think of extraordinary, we think of someone who creates an app that entertains millions, but we should think instead of the middle-aged woman who cares lovingly for aging parents. Doing something extraordinary with your life may mean changing diapers for several years without resentment. It may mean working a job you don’t love so you can provide for those you do love. One of the most twisted parts of my early Christian life was the issue of “doing something great for God.” Many young men and women are filled with delusions of grandeur by well-meaning adults and put on a track where onward and upward is the only way to go. So they go off to the mission field hailed as heroes or pastor a church or lead in some other ministry. Most do not set the world on fire. When the inevitable bumps in the road come, when inward expectations are not met, disappointment and even depression follow. I have been learning over these last twenty five years that simple, daily faithfulness is the real way to seize the day and that pain and suffering and hardship and waiting are essential tools in the hand of God for shaping our souls in a good way.

But most of all in regards to the movie, I now look at Neil so much differently. When I first saw the movie, I thought his suicide almost heroic. He was not willing to compromise his ideals, even if it meant death. In the end, Neil was unyielding. Since he couldn’t live the life he wanted to live, he wouldn’t live at all. But now, twenty five years later, I see Neil’s suicide, while an effective (some would say manipulative) plot device, as ultimately and only a great tragedy in the story. Looking into the faces of my four children makes me realize that Neil ultimately threw away so much. He missed out on so much of the joy of life because of the one thing he thought he couldn’t live without. He was ruled by his passion for acting and need to be free from his father’s domination. He lacked the ability to see into the future, much as I did when I first saw the movie. He lacked the ability to see that over the course of time, new vistas open to us, we are never really confined to one and only one destiny. The one constant in life, apart from God, is change. Neil could have pursued his interests and had a great measure of independence had he only waited. Of course, this would have taken away from the dramatic impact of the movie. Nevertheless, Neil’s life is not a good template for us to follow. Patience over impulsiveness, passion tempered with wisdom, this is a better way. Throwing one’s life away in suicide seems to me never a good option.

Twenty five years have made a difference. Maybe I’ve just become a “get off my lawn” old man, I don’t know. What I do see is how much one’s views can change over time and how maybe we ought to cut younger people some slack when their attitudes are strident or their passions seem misplaced. And at the same time we give them grace, though, maybe we should also lovingly share with them things we have come to recognize through life experience. The last twenty five years have allowed me, like Keating’s students, to stand on the desk and see from a different perspective. Maybe I’ll watch this movie again in 2039 if I’m still around. That would be an interesting blog article, if blogs still exist (the way things change, probably not).

Ramblings on a Saturday Night

12 Jul

I was too hot to stay inside. After sweating to the 80’s on the treadmill (yes, I’m old) I decided to come out on the front porch to see ol’ Super Moon. He’s really something, full and bright, so bright you can see the dark spots (there’s a sermon illustration in there somewhere).

There is a cricket hoedown going on out here but not much else. No, wait. A loud motorcycle just rolled by. Now some talking I can’t make out. Ever wonder why people seem to talk louder at night? Maybe you’ve never noticed that.

I know I should be sleeping. I’ve got to preach tomorrow. But I find I’m so excited that sleep is hard to come by. I know some of our members won’t have trouble sleeping tomorrow around 11 am. I’ve learned that what I’m excited about doesn’t always excite other people. Generally, I can brush it off. I tell myself they’re old or I’m just not their favorite person to listen to and that’s OK. But then I beat myself up sometimes. If only I had a better preacher voice. If only I could be more persuasive. If only. But then all my onlys seem so small when I think about the One I get to talk about. Surely He can make His own way in the world and He surely does. That He chooses to use any of us in any way is pure grace and that He actually does use us to impact others is proof that He is a miracle-working God.

Still though, it is a broken world, there’s no way around that. Joel Osteen’s shiny smile just doesn’t work in the world of cancer and famine and senseless crime. There’s got to be a deeper victory in this thing than a good parking space at the mall. I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. How do we live in this world which is so filled with pain? We can surely ignore the pain. But we know deep down in our hearts that the pain of this broken world is always lurking in the shadows ready one day to pounce on us. And we know the moment we try to insulate ourselves from pain we’ve abandoned the great commandment to love God and love neighbor, for how can we truly say we love another if we don’t stand with them in their pain? So ignoring pain doesn’t cut it.

We can try to fight the brokenness. There is much to commend this approach. It is an act of caring to fight evil and sickness and pain or to provide support for those who are experiencing these things. But it is also exhausting. Ultimately, the pain is too big for us. As much as you try, you can’t care for everyone and the ones you care for you can’t care for equally. Further, the pain we fight often fights us, as we see the brokenness of the world the brokenness of our own hearts is revealed. Bitterness is often the companion of the activist, of the servant. “Why isn’t anyone helping me? Where is God? I thought this service thing would be more glamorous.” Souls shrink in the fight for good. There just aren’t any people in the world like Clark Kent. Nobody’s walking around with a big “S” on their undershirt just waiting for the right moment to save the day. None of us is saving the day. No one. We’re not even saving our own day. The only reason there are a thousand Self-help books on the shelf at Barnes and Noble is because we can’t help ourselves. Our efforts fall short time after time. How many times have you resolved not to give in to that bad habit?

So much pain and suffering. Where is God?

Here is the good news, the only good news worth living and dying for . . . God is here. He has entered this world of suffering. He left the glories of heaven to take on human flesh. He emptied himself by taking on flesh and becoming a servant. He humbled himself by dying, even dying on a cross. The brokenness of the world has been undone by Jesus who, out of love for the Father and us, entered the broken world and suffered the utmost punishment, bearing the sin of the world. We don’t have a God who created and then allowed His fallen creatures to go their own way. We have a God who entered the suffering of His fallen creation to redeem it. And redeem it He did. It is not complete. But the empty tomb and the Spirit are the foretastes of the coming reality. This is not the end. No matter what happens in our country or in our churches or in our own lives . . . the Lord reigns. He will put everything, including death and suffering, under His feet.

This is the God who is worthy of worship, an almighty God who is good enough to come suffer in your place. So worship Him today. Come with a sense of excitement to worship. Enter in heart and soul to song and prayer and sermon. Look for people to encourage in the things of God. Let your life be taken up with God, not only on Sunday but every day. Because a day is coming when there will be no Super Moon, no sun, only the light of God making all things new.

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.

Sermon Saturday: John Piper — “Sorrowful Yet Always Rejoicing”

12 Jan

Today is the first installment of what I am calling Sermon Saturday. Each Saturday I am planning to post a sermon which has blessed me during the last week or a classic from the past.

Today’s sermon is John Piper’s “Sorrowful Yet Always Rejoicing.” This sermon was given on December 30, 2012 at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. This is Piper’s last sermon as pastor for preaching at Bethlehem (he will stay on staff until March as the church transitions to new pastor Jason Meyer). Piper’s message is important because we are hearing what a pastor who has been at a church for 32 years wants his people to remember.

Here is the link for the message . . .

Are You Blessed?

10 Jan

When I talk to people in our community, sometimes people will say “I’m blessed.” When I talk to fellow pastors they will often say, “Our church is blessed.” What both the people and the pastors usually mean is that things are going well. They are at peace or some good news has come their way. The church is growing or the budget is good. And I think my own sense of blessedness is too often linked to whether everything is going smoothly, whether people like me, whether I am healthy and the bank account is sufficient. How different from the description of blessedness Jesus gave.

Has the church in general and Christians in particular bought into a definition of blessedness that is at odds with Jesus? Certainly, our culture has bought the definition, but so has the church. Notice what Jesus says is blessed in Matthew 5–

1 Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
2 And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Mt 5:1–12). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Meditate on these truths from Matthew 5 today (Ps. 1:2-3) and see your heart be transformed over time to lay down the weak, flimsy, temporary blessedness of this world for the rock-solid blessedness of the kingdom that comes through suffering and waiting and ends with rejoicing, now and eternally.

Recommended: “Sorrowful Yet Always Rejoicing”

7 Dec

I was just reading this morning in the gospel of Matthew about Jesus in Gethsemane, where He said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.” These words of the perfect Son of God have always moved me. I saw them in a deeper way as a result of reading Trilla Newbill’s excellent article at Desiring God. I hope you will take time to read this God-saturated perspective on our lives.


Two Interesting Perspectives on the Christian Life

16 Jul

I found these two items recently and thought they were both thought-provoking. I have long been suspicious of a view of the Christian life as one uninterrupted mountain climb of victory. That has not been the experience of my own life nor of most of the Christians I know, nor of the characters in the Bible. There is real conversion and real transformation for sure but for most, the journey on the road of sanctification is exceedingly slow. This is also true in churches. I think one of the things that causes many professing believers to check out on Christian living is the slowness of sanctification. When you take that out to a corporate level, what causes many highly motivated believers to check out of church life is likewise the slowness of sanctification within a congregation. The first piece I found that speaks to these thoughts was an excerpt from a 2009 interview with Mark Galli, one of the editors at Christianity Today. Then I found an interview with Ligon Duncan, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, MS on the topic of Suffering and the Christian Life. Read Galli’s comments and listen to Duncan if you can.

Here is the link for the Duncan interview and below are Galli’s words.


Mark Galli — “I just keep on coming back to Luther’s truth that we are simultaneously justified and sinners. I keep on looking at my own life, and at church history, and I realize that when the Gospel talks about transformation, it can’t possibly mean an actual, literal change in this life of a dramatic nature, except in a few instances. It must be primarily eschatological; it must be referring to the fact that we will in fact be changed. The essential thing to make change possible has occurred—Christ died and rose again. (And in this life we will see flashes of that, just like in Jesus’ ministry there were moments when the Kingdom broke in and we see a miracle. And these moments tell us there is something better awaiting for us and God is gracious enough at times to allow a person or a church or a community to experience transformation at some level.) But we can’t get into the habit of thinking that this dramatic change is normal, this side of the Kingdom. What’s normal this side of the Kingdom is falling into sin (in big or small ways), and then appropriating the grace of God and looking forward to the transformation to come.
Now, some people would say that it’s depressing that I can’t change. Well, it’s not depressing, it’s freeing! It’s depressing and oppressive to think every morning that I somehow have to be better than I was the day before to justify my Christian religion and to justify my faith. That’s the oppressive thing. The freeing thing is to realize that I am a sinner and God has accepted me as such. And yes, of course we’re called to strive and be better and to love and all those things—duh!—that’s not the issue. The issue is the motive out of which that comes and what we actually expect to happen as a result of that.
A lot of this is driven by my own personal spiritual journey and is hammered home by the biblical message, and something that Luther got really well: the harder I try to be a good Christian, I notice the worse Christian I am: more self-righteous, more impatient, more frustrated. But when I stop trying to be a good Christian and just realize I am a sinner and that God has accepted me, and that’s the way it is, that, for some reason, releases the striving part of me that makes life harder, and all of a sudden I find myself, surprisingly, more patient, more compassionate, less judgmental and more joyful. So I think that kind of personal experience is a merely reflection of what the Gospel truth is. And those moments when I experience that, that’s wonderful.”

Suffering, Sorrow and the Reality of God

17 Apr

This is one of the best and most God-focused interviews I have ever seen on the topic of suffering. Two of Nancy Guthrie’s infant children died of a rare genetic disorder and in this interview she opens her heart to the work of God in her life in these trying times.

This is a long interview, but much more worth your time than a couple of sitcoms. Take some time today to listen to this interview, even as you are going through this day.

Here is the link . . .