Sin doth not only still abide in us, but is still acting, still labouring to bring forth the deeds of the flesh. When sin lets us alone we may let sin alone; but as sin is never less quiet than when it seems to be most quiet, and its waters are for the most part deep when they are still, so ought our contrivances against it to be vigorous at all times and in all conditions, even where there is least suspicion. Sin doth not only abide in us, but ‘the law of the members is still rebelling against the law of the mind,’ Romans 7:23; and ‘the spirit that dwells in us lusteth to envy,’ James 4:5. It is always in continual work; ‘the flesh lusteth against the Spirit,’ Galatians 5:17; lust is still tempting and conceiving sin, James 1:14; in every moral action it is always either inclining to evil, or hindering from that which is good, or disframing the spirit from communion with God… Who can say that he had ever any thing to do with God or for God, that indwelling sin had not a hand in the corrupting of what he did? And this trade will it drive more or less all our days. If, then, sin will be always acting, if we be not always mortifying, we are lost creatures. He that stands still and suffers his enemies to double blows upon him without resistance, will undoubtedly be conquered in the issue. If sin be subtle, watchful, strong, and always at work in the business of killing our souls, and we be slothful, negligent, foolish, in proceeding to the ruin thereof, can we expect a comfortable event? There is not a day but sin foils or is foiled, prevails or is prevailed on; and it will be so whilst we live in this world.
-Owen, The Mortification of Sin, pp. 11-12 (original references in KJV, emphasis added)
Title is a link.
The choicest believers, who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it their business all their days to mortify the indwelling power of sin.
‘This is the work of the Spirit; by him alone is it to be wrought, and by no other power is it to be brought about.’ Mortification from a self-strength, carried on by ways of self-invention, unto the end of a self-righteousness, is the soul and substance of all false religion in the world.
The vigour, and power, and comfort of our spiritual life depends on the mortification of the deeds of the flesh.
Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.
And our Saviour tells us how his Father deals with every branch in him that beareth fruit, every true and living branch. ‘He purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.’ John xv. 2. He prunes it, and that not for a day or two, but whilst it is a branch in this world. And the apostle tells you what was his practice, 1 Cor. ix. 27, ‘I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection.’
Now, it being our duty to mortify, to be killing of sin whilst it is in us, we must be at work. He that is appointed to kill an enemy, if he leave striking before the other ceases living, doth but half his work, Gal. vi. 9; Heb. xii. 1; 2 Cor. vii. 1.
-excerpts from John Owen, The Mortification of Sin
The initial question about forming a grassroots movement to change a local church is one I’ve gotten in one form or another several times in the past five years. So perhaps it would be helpful to spell out my answer in a little more detail.
Title is a link.
I recently read a piece in which the writer observes how much regard we have for flippant, detached, sarcastic, and too-cool-for-school writers. It reminded me of an answer Stephen Fry once gave to a question about the difference between American and British humor. This writer laments that we easily make light of passion and fervor, and make earnestness out to be a crime. I won’t cite the piece, because I don’t know the person and I don’t mean to make this about me vs. her. My purpose is simply to introduce what seems to be a very popular worldview and address it. Besides, her audience seems to be larger than mine by a few orders of magnitude. I want to include an excerpt, though, to illustrate her point. She’s an excellent writer and I think it does the task well.
No one wants to be the person who is made fun of for caring too much about something, who treats in earnest a situation that everyone else considers absurd. Even in personal relationships, feeling too heavily invested while simultaneously understanding that the other person couldn’t be more detached is one of the most profound feelings of embarrassment we can experience…
It is perhaps for this reason that I often feel so profoundly ostracized. I find myself constantly feeling my cheeks flush with the possibility of having entered a conversation where I wasn’t welcome, or expressing a sentiment that is not reciprocated, or putting too much stock in something that others find unimportant. There is a deep cultural premium put on the “cool” of indifference in my generation, and it’s a persona that I doubt I could ever even fake. Because I do care, I care so deeply, and I am fairly certain I’m not alone.
I just wanted to make a few notes about this before I head to physics lab.
1. The writer’s observation is astute and communicated very well, at least as it pertains to the subculture it addresses. The world is homogeneous across the board and a little bit huge, so there are certainly people out there who applaud zeal for causes they could not care or know less about. But the premium on indifference is not difficult to find. It is, to be sure, pretty sad. That is, however, the topic for another day.
2. Here’s the issue. Since I want to start focusing on the point the writer makes about relationships, I want to explore this question: why does it pain us when we are deeply emotionally invested in people who don’t reciprocate? It seems silly, especially to those who have stronger empathetic inclinations than others, but it might prove to be beneficial.
Well, is it so wrong to need people? Man is a political animal, and even apes are social. Shouldn’t we be hurt when we make ourselves vulnerable to others and aren’t met halfway? What’s wrong with caring too much?
3. Here’s where we do go wrong. There is nothing wrong with caring for people. But care cannot be conditional. More to the point, the joy we get from caring for people cannot be conditional. Even more to the point, the joy we get from caring for people cannot be contingent upon what they do or don’t do in return.
It seems that the Bible presents us with this proposition: there is a baseline disposition that Christians are to have toward others. That disposition is one patterned after Christ. It does not grow weary. It does not become frustrated. It is patient. It is kind. It is sacrificial.
The reason for this is that the motivation and reward for the Christian’s love for other people are not found in anything other people do or don’t do. They’re found in a love for Christ. It is in obedience to his biblical commands (love your neighbor as yourself), in imitation of his example (he who did not consider equality with God something to be grasped), in pursuit of his glory (for which we do all things, whether we eat, drink, or sleep), and in the power of his justifying and sanctifying grace (he who began a good work in you is carrying it out to completion). Our needs are not met by people. They are met fully by Christ. When you relate with people not because you need them but because of Christ, there is no such thing as too heavily invested. It hurts, certainly, when we are spurned. But suddenly we weep much more when Christ is spurned than when we are, because souls and joy and the glory of God are at stake.
Who is Dr. Sidney Starkman?
-Head of the Geffen School of Medicine’s emergency neurology training program.
-Co-director of the UCLA Brain Attack Team (stroke response team).
-Founder and coordinator of a well-respected program at UCLA (Stroke Force) in which I’m a student coordinator.
-Temporarily, an employer of mine.
-A likely future employer of mine, since I will be taking a gap year after graduation and am strongly considering working in his office for the duration of it.
-In all likelihood, also the employer of at least one person reading this.
-Incredibly accomplished, remarkably brilliant, and extraordinarily kind.
I mentioned that Dr. Starkman is temporarily an employer of mine. This is true as of a few weeks ago, when I got the incredible opportunity to, along with several other students, help him wrap up a clinical trial. “Help him wrap up a clinical trial” entails sitting around a table going through binders upon binders of patient information checking for accuracy and slapping Post-it notes onto pieces of paper. It’s a task that is only slightly more glamorous than I’m making it seem, but I am deeply grateful for the opportunity.
Fast-forward to this afternoon, my fourth day of work. After we’d been working for an hour and twenty minutes, Dr. Starkman pointed out that I was doing something erroneously. Later on in the day, he mentioned that he wanted to review my work before I left because he was concerned about the quality. Fortunately (or unfortunately, depending on how you see it), I’ve committed enough errors and been called out for enough of them over the years that I typically don’t have to collect my fragile feelings and stop being butt-hurt to move on. Correction is, after all, necessary for improvement.
To my surprise, this bothered me. A lot. Even after he reviewed my work and found only one or two things to critique, the silly self-justifying questions found a way in. “See? You called it excellent work at the end. How was that not just as good as anyone else’s work? Didn’t you review my work two days ago and find that it was on par with what you’re asking for? You noticed one small error that wouldn’t affect the overall quality of my work and felt like you couldn’t trust me because of that? Why can’t you look at me with as much admiration as I deserve?!”
The petty insecurities answered with vigor: “Well, you were doing something he didn’t want you to do, weren’t you? Dr. Starkman did get frustrated with you when he didn’t get frustrated with some of the others. He runs a meritocracy and doesn’t play favorites, which just means you have less merit. See, this is what people do when they’re deluded about their abilities. You’re a slow learner. I think this means you’re really dumb, Winston!”
Steady on. When we’re thus perturbed, it’s likely due to a heart problem (not à la atherosclerosis, but in the Jeremiah 17:9 sense).
Thankfully, God is accessible via prayer and a good friend, Daniel Stevens, was accessible online. This is the not the first time I’ve needed this brother to redirect me to the Word, work with me to identify the heart problem, and help me see where the rubber of biblical doctrine meets the road of daily living. It will certainly not be the last. I want to walk you through my process, because I realized that these are issues we will all (sans only a few) wrestle with as Christians with bosses in the workplace.
I told Daniel I did not think the issue was that I feel like my work should remain unquestioned. I’m not saying I’m humble (and within the next few paragraphs you will find, if you have not already, that I most certainly am not). I’m just saying that wasn’t the feeling.
I identified three possibilities as to what the underlying issue might be: fear of man (i.e. primarily, and therefore sinfully, desiring other people’s approval), frustration with my shortcomings, or trying to demonstrate my abilities to a boss. The third can be a wise and correct thing to do, if properly motivated.
Fear of man? I told Daniel that, when Dr. Starkman said that he was concerned about my work, I didn’t care what everyone else in the room thought. I understood that to mean that I was not being affected by a fear of man, at least among my peers.
Frustration with my shortcomings? Though that battle is far from won, it did not seem to be a factor.
Why would I feel the need to do well before my boss? Per Daniel’s prompting, I started listing what I thought were the two possible dominating motives: to glorify Christ in my excellence, or a sinful fear of man—if not among my peers, then at least with regard to Dr. Starkman. But then I realized that, if the glory of Christ possessed the throne in my heart at the moment*, then I would have been more concerned that the other people in the room had seen my fumble. But, I wasn’t. I would have thought not just about my boss’s perspective, but about my coworkers’ perspectives as well.** But, I didn’t.
*It always does, at the most fundamental level. Sometimes, however, I do what I do not want to do, or do not do what I do want to do (Romans 7:17-23).
**This is not actually the reaction one should have when seeking to glorify Christ. It simply would have been consistent with my concern regarding Dr. Starkman’s perception of me. One does not glorify Christ primarily by making no mistakes that other people can see.
When I consider the biblical mandates and exhortations to hope in God and not worry, seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, put our trust in him and not in princes (as the psalmist pens it), and so forth, I realize something. I am far less assured of the sovereignty and goodness of God than I ought to be. I either do not primarily desire sanctification because I don’t think it’s the best thing for me, or I forget that God does all things unto my sanctification and his glory (Romans 8:28-29). From layoffs to job interviews to promotions, there is nothing that comes to me that does not pass through the fingers of God (I think I’m quoting someone, but I don’t know whom I quoting). God is good. God is sovereign. God accomplishes all of his purposes for his glory.
I told Daniel that I’d never dealt with this sort of situation before; there’s never been a person whose perception of me seemed to matter so much. As a person hoping to work even more regularly under him in the near future, and as a coordinator and representative of one of his undergraduate programs, I am easily oversold on the importance of what Dr. Starkman thinks of me. I don’t want him to think he made a bad choice. I don’t want my failures to affect the progress of Stroke Force.
When we fear man, we must always ask the question, “Before whom do we want to be justified?” When we realize that it is only before God that we will ultimately be held accountable, there’s a strong paradigm shift. When we realize that we cannot attain justification before him by our own merit, but that through the death and resurrection of Christ we are reconciled to him, there’s an endless source of joy. His righteousness is counted to us, and he pays the penalty for our sins so that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ.
When we put our stock in what our bosses think of us, we must always ask the question, “To whom am I looking for my provision?” When we realize that God’s is the only real sovereignty and that only he is wise, we are reassured that he knows best and that being faithful according to his Word is what matters most. I believe; help my unbelief!
As Daniel summed our discussion of the Bible’s take on my situation:
“The Christian tries to honor Christ first, then do well in the eyes of the boss—while ultimately trusting in sovereign goodness, not the actions of the boss or the self before the boss.”
Of course, the application is the same. Don’t read this and go to work tomorrow morning without any pants on because who cares what the boss thinks am I right #yolo. Do everything excellently, not to make us look good, but to make Christ look good (John 3:30).
Who is God?
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”
-Isaiah 6:1-7 (ESV)
It’s easy to find people who think work is good and leisure is bad (i.e., you rest to work). You can also find people who think leisure is good and work is bad (i.e., you work to rest). But according to the Bible both work and rest can be good if they are done to the glory of God.
Title is a link.
It seems to me that there are at least two varieties of words in the Christian lexicon, those that are trite and those that are specific. “God thing” is a trite phrase that has no objective meaning and there is not much to lose if we never use it again. “Propitiation” is a very precise term that has a distinct meaning. It is this second category that I believe we need to hold on to and we need to hold on to such words without shame…
The challenge is to not learn new words abstractly or mindlessly but worshipfully. In the Christian context “propitiation” carries a specific meaning that is absolutely crucial to a right understanding of God’s act of saving his people. There is no other word that carries all the nuance and significance of that word. To learn it and understand it is to grow in our knowledge of God and to grow in our understanding of his grace and glory. To learn the word and all it represents is to have new opportunities to worship God for being who he is. The study of theology, and even the study of a single word, is meant to lead not only to knowledge, but to worship.
As always, I find that there’s so much I’d love to quote from the piece that you might as well click on the link [title is a link]. This video still gets me in stitches, though!
To you, who boast tomorrow’s gain, tell me: what is your life? A mist that vanishes at dawn. All glory be to Christ!
All glory be to Christ, our king! All glory be to Christ! His rule and reign we’ll ever sing; all glory be to Christ.
Praise God for King’s Kaleidoscope!
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. -Romans 12:1 (ESV)
We’ll read a chapter or four and think, “There. As far as reading my Bible goes, I have been a good Christian for today,” or “That’s plenty. I’ve been well-fed for today.” We’ll spend a couple minutes or a couple hours in prayer and think, “As far as praying is concerned, I’m covered,” or “I made it down the entire list of prayer requests today; I’m done.” We’ll invite someone to church, get someone to visit a campus fellowship, or present the full gospel to someone over a meal and think, “I have been a good evangelist,” or “Well, I’ve done my job; I wonder how much so-and-so has been doing this week in accord with the Great Commission?” We grin and pat ourselves in the back, because we have done well. We check boxes on the checklist and celebrate.
Of course, it is not wrong that we smile and acknowledge when our Christian disciplines are in order. That is cause for celebration! But there’s a line that we can easily cross when it comes to the disciplines. There’s a categorical (and very important) difference between finding joy in reading the Bible because we delight in knowing and obeying God, and finding joy in reading the Bible because we delight in being good Christians. “Holiness is happiness” is true, but not because our joy is contingent on our performance on any given day. It isn’t true because God loves us more or less based on our performance. It isn’t true because our standing with God changes based on our performance. The basis of the Christian’s standing before God is Christ’s righteousness (for proof, just read Romans). It is true because holy conduct removes barriers to our communion with God and provides us means by which we can delight in him. The disciplines are about putting ourselves in positions where we’re beholding God, being saturated with his grace, and remaining far from our sinful idols. “The business of killing our idols,” as I have heard it put, “is beholding God.” As the psalmist writes, “the upright shall behold his face.” The law of Yahweh is perfect, reviving the soul.
I should know by now that I’m catastrophically terrible at coming up with decent analogies, but I’ll attempt to illustrate this. When you come up for air after being underwater, you don’t think “shoot, I’m so good at breathing oxygen. Check me out. That makes me so happy.” (Or maybe you do. That’s okay.) Most people, in any case, are focused on breathing the air.
This is the point: value and celebrate the Person we have been saved to worship, not what saved people do. We celebrate our disciplines to the extent that God has graciously given us strength to carry them out, and then only because they allow us to enjoy him.
I know I’m channeling John Piper’s explanation of biblical texts at this point, but what makes the good news of Christ good is that reconciliation is at its heart. Expiation, propitiation, justification—they’re significant because they allow rebels like us to have a restored relationship with the God whom we were created to worship and who is worthy of it.
So now the old legalistic way of thinking begins to break down. We do not exercise the Christian disciplines to alter our standing with God. We do not feel more or less worthy to come before his throne with confidence based on our performance. We do not read and pray in order to make him love us more. Our joy is based on his salvation. We rejoice because our names are written in heaven. That’s all there is to it. But what a deep joy it is!
There is another effect that the gospel has. It frees us up to obey and enjoy him. Our entire lives become sacrifices, not just fractions or components of them. We don’t have to purchase a certain number of indulgences or perform a certain number of rituals. One might think about Christian liberties in terms of excuse—we’ve been excused from duties and can therefore get away scotch-free with not reading or praying at all. But shall we sin more, so that grace may abound? By no means! We have been unified with Christ. We are new creations. Why wouldn’t you want to read the Bible throughout the day? Why wouldn’t you want to be steadfastly praying? Why wouldn’t you constantly proclaim the gospel of Christ? Why wouldn’t you be going at 100%, 24/7, doing everything for the glory of God and in obedience to him? There are no quotas. And that frees us to, without ceasing and without limit, enjoy our good and glorious God.
So I should read, pray, and evangelize non-stop? I can’t study or do anything else?
The Bible doesn’t condemn all actions that are not reading the Bible, praying, and evangelizing. The point isn’t to make all 24 hours of your day consist of those three activities alone. You can glorify God in studying, eating, working, and exercising. But that’s part of the point. Glorify God in those things. Obey him in everything. And not merely out of a sense of duty—though it certainly is your duty. Fight to make it a happy practice.
What if that isn’t how my life looks?
The flesh is weak, despite the fact that the spirit is willing. We need grace to do this. We need grace to crush our legalistic mindsets. Sanctification is lifelong; take it day by day, with faith. Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure. He will bring us home.
The culture in which we live endlessly repeats the myth that God loves everybody equally, so it is no big thing to be loved by God. “Of course God loves us. He is a loving God. God loves everybody.” To the contrary, to be loved by God is a privilege, not a birthright. We have no claim on the love of God. Nothing in us would make him desire us, yet he has, by his mercy, turned his affection to all who put their trust in Christ.
To whom it may concern:
I sincerely apologize for the multiple emails; I know you have received many thus far and getting three from the same individual in the course of two days probably doesn’t help things very much.
I am writing this email to rescind the email I sent at 5:32PM yesterday regarding my UCLA GPA. My GPA is not 3.56. Due to my horrendous academic performance during two quarters of my sophomore year here at UCLA (and the summer session prior), it is actually lower.
I wrote yesterday’s email in a moment of terrible, terrible weakness—nothing else mattered, in that moment, except getting the job and via prerequisite getting an interview with Dr. Kimchi. If I could make it that far, I reasoned, I would be able to demonstrate that I am qualified and now able to balance a job and schoolwork. My GPA wouldn’t matter at that point, I told myself. My rationalization (viz. the lie I sold to myself) was that my GPA was misleading; telling the truth would cause past mistakes to unfairly preclude me in the present from having a chance to prove my abilities, because I wouldn’t even be offered an interview—an interview I thought I was entitled to. “Besides,” I thought, “other people lie all the time.” And so I wrote the email and quickly hit “send,” before the strength of my idolatry of the medical assistant job at your office could wane.
It should be apparent that there is an unforgivable amount of arrogance and selfishness in me. Even as I wrote the email, I knew what I was doing. I knew every rationalization that I just listed in the previous paragraph was empty. I knew I was, to borrow the phrase, selling my soul to gain the world (and, to be honest, not even that much of the world—just a job, albeit an incredible one). So, I am asking for your forgiveness. I don’t deserve it and don’t presume to receive it, but humbly ask for it because I told a lie and I told it to your face, as it were.
It may come as a surprise to you (if you’ve read this far) at this point that I am a Christian; any high school freshman has a more accurate moral compass. This sort of thing would prick any conscience. I have never done something like this on this scale before—I have never acted on a temptation to this extent—and to be frank it terrifies me to realize that I am capable of it.
It may seem insanely audacious, or at least deeply foolish, for me to write of something like religion when I am the one who is clearly in the wrong here. My intention is not to force anything upon you. But I felt it necessary to provide you an explanation, and that I am a Christian is precisely what compels me to write this email. By that I don’t mean that I must earn back the favor of my God by paying penance. What I mean is that I believe the Christian Gospel from the Bible, and that Gospel is what compels me, ipso facto, to write this email. Doing the right thing as a Christian is not primarily about being a good or moral person who follows rules. Our ethics are in fact predicated on the fact that all people are entirely sinful and fall short of the standard of God’s perfection. From birth, we do the wrong things—because we miss the point. We chase success, money, fame, humanist values, sex, and all the rest, when God deserves our worship. For this, we deserve the righteous punishment of God. But Jesus Christ, God himself, lived the perfect life I could not live. And he died on the cross under all the wrath of God the Father that I deserve. And he rose from the grave in a display of his divinity and his victory. Because he has graciously given himself as my substitute, my sins are forgiven, the wrath I deserve is satisfied, and I am saved and reconciled to God.
There is a deeply rooted notion in us that people who have done wrong must show repentance by paying some kind of penance or expressing agonizing guilt. As in, maybe if I hit myself on the head with my laptop a few times you’d really be convinced that I’m sorry for what I’ve done. I am certainly contrite, more contrite than I have been in a long while. Beyond my asking of forgiveness from you, I am asking for forgiveness from the God of the universe, and he has higher standards than any of us. But the liberating truth is that I am forgiven on the basis of Christ’s righteousness. I know I face no condemnation.
Of course, this does not give me license to lie on every job application and sin all the time because I’m forgiven. Having been saved by the grace of God, and having been made a new creation, I am eager to know and serve God based on his Bible. I am eager to worship, obey, and proclaim him. I know that, if we knew each other better, you would see evidence of that. You would see proof of transformation (trust me, I was a messed up kid in high school, especially before my conversion to Christianity). But this incident is evidence of the fact that I, even now, still sometimes miss the point. By the grace of God, nothing like this will ever occur again. I will not violate my conscience again.
If you’ve read this far, I’m incredibly impressed! More importantly, I want to thank you again for this opportunity. More than anything about the actual medical assistant position itself, it has been a remarkably potent titer against self-dependence for me. I am reminded of how weak I am and how little faith I have that my God will provide. I forget that he knows best. Even now, I’m still often tempted to worry about how any headhunter or admissions officer would even consider me for an interview after seeing my GPA. I’m still often tempted to regret and dwell on past errors. But the Bible reveals that he is sovereign, even over all my failures from the last school year. And I know that my obedience to him takes precedence above all things. The worth of knowing Christ surpasses everything else. If my happiness is based on success, I am unhappy, but if my happiness is based on his salvation of my soul, I cannot be anything but forever glad.
Thank you again for everything, and I wish you all the best in finding suitable replacements for Vivy and Cheryl. I know for a fact that Vivy is remarkably capable and a great delight to work with. I assume Cheryl is equally so, so I’m sure finding someone will be difficult. But thank you again for your time and consideration, and for all the amazing work you do for your patients and for the rest of the medical community (i.e. at the World Congress).
Title is a link.
I tried picking out sections to quote but realized I’d just quote the whole piece.