For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?
—1 Corinthians 4:7 (ESV)
—1 Corinthians 4:7 (ESV)
I hope no reader will suppose that ‘mere’ Christianity is here put forward as an alternative to the creeds of the existing communions—as if a man could adopt it in preference to Congregationalism or Greek Orthodoxy or anything else. It is more like a hall out of which doors open into several rooms…
And above all you must be asking which door is the true one; not which pleases you best by its paint and panelling. In plain language, the question should never be: ‘Do I like that kind of service?’ but ‘Are these doctrines true: Is holiness here? Does my conscience move me towards this? Is my reluctance to knock at this door due to my pride, or my mere taste, or my personal dislike of this particular door-keeper?’
When you have reached your own room, be kind to those who have chosen different doors and to those who are still in the hall. If they are wrong they need your prayers all the more; and if they are your enemies, then you are under orders to pray for them. That is one of the rules common to the whole house.
-C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, XV-XVI (emphasis added)
I could easily start off this post with a list of fifty ways Winston has screwed up in these past five weeks. From being tardy to things/irresponsible/extremely inconsiderate of others, to managing my time poorly and paying heavy prices for it (e.g. wasting at least a dozen hours playing Civilization 5 because I found a deal that I
just couldn’t pass up could have and should have passed up but didn’t), to not staying in my roommates’ lives and talking/praying with them, to being in the Word only when convenient, there have been a lot of instances in which my actions have demonstrated lots of misplaced desires and one very sinful heart. There are many things I could say about these past five weeks, but I’ll keep it to the following:
1. Talk is not enough.
I recognize that this is ironic because blogging here is one of the worst ways to talk (not talking to anyone face-to-face, audience is small, etc.). Tabling the irony thing for a moment, though, the point here is that talking well is important but not sufficient—and without living well, we can render it useless. By talking well, I mean talking in accord with biblical truth. By living well, I mean living in accord with biblical truth.
Talking well is a big thing in my mind because I a) do and will continue to talk in extraordinary excess until I am dead or someone rips my tongue out in frustration and b) understand, by God’s grace, the importance of sound biblical doctrine (and talking about it). And I’ve always heard that “orthodoxy must lead to orthopraxy”/”you must walk the walk, not just talk the talk,” but for some reason living well was never very high on my list of priorities. Never above talking well, anyway.
Yet James 1:22-25 (ESV) tells us:
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
I can talk the good talk about loving others to death, but I’m not forming comparable desire in my heart and resolve in my mind to show up to meetings on time or ask how I can pray for the great friends God has placed in my life. I can emphatically unpack a text about how the Gospel drives us to the Word and prayer, but taking the time to apply it in my own life takes the backseat. Though the Word commands us to talk and preach about the Word (and it does do that, very seriously), that is only part of Christian living.
I’ve heard it said that the path from the head to the heart is the longest path there is. I pray that, by God’s sanctifying power and grace, that path would shorten on the daily.
Talk is not enough.
2. Weakness is underrated but not the main thing.
The point about preaching brings me to this next point. If our lives must live up to our words, and if our words must be from God’s perfect Word, then how on earth do we do or say anything at all? Have you even read that thing?! There is no way someone can preach well if that’s a requirement, at least not without being insanely disingenuous.
This past Friday, I delivered a sermon at my church (the table is sinking under the weight of the irony, I know). For various reasons, I felt completely unprepared. I hadn’t had enough time to prepare the content as well as I would have liked, and my heart wasn’t in the best of places. In desperation, I texted Jesse, who’s my discipler, and Derek, who’s one of the best friends I could ever ask for. I told them what I was thinking and asked them to pray for me. In no time at all and with all kinds of care and compassion, they both agreed. And Jesse encouraged me to do the following: “Trust the word and the spirit and recognize your weakness and ask for his grace.”
I think that about sums up what I’ve been learning and what I’m trying to say here. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 (ESV):
But [God] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
I am so thankful for last Friday, and for Jesse and Derek. I regret that it is only when I feel inadequate (which, because I tend to overestimate my own abilities, is not very often) or am unprepared by my own sinful standards that I am ready to talk about my weakness. Yet it is clear from the Bible that my weakness is inevitable and a constant reality.
I am typically very ready to talk about my weakness when it comes to what you might call the big picture of sin. And certainly, that’s where we should start. The story about how God deals with our sin—our moral failure, rebellion against our maker, and ticket to an eternity under his righteous anger—is the good news that’s at the heart of the entire Bible. Because of my sin, Christ lived the perfect life I could not live and died on the cross to satisfy the wrath of God. He confirmed his victory over sin and death in his resurrection from the grave. His righteousness is counted to me, just like my sin is counted to him. Because of that, I’m forgiven and the relationship between me and God that I broke is repaired. I’m restored to the purpose for which I was created and the joy that can be found in nothing else.
Yet in so many ways, I ignore the Bible’s discussion of my weakness and God’s grace. In Christ all things hold together (Colossians 1:17, Hebrews 1:3), which means I’m powerless to even hold my own molecules together; Christ must do it for me. Only through God can anyone come to faith (1 Corinthians 2:5), which means I’m merely an instrument in my evangelism. I constantly continue to sin and succumb to the desires of the flesh (Romans 7:7-25), but God is the one sanctifying me; he is the one who works in me both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
In everything I do, I am completely dependent on him. My sinfulness and weakness are inexorably aspects of my life which can be dealt with in no other way. In everything, I need his grace.
And notice that weakness is not the main point. We like to talk about our sin because being self-critical is looked upon with favor and being self-deprecating is seen as clean humor and clearly humble. But we must never forget the main point: that Christ redeems. The weakness of humanity is not the main point; the power of God is.
As what the Bible has to say about God’s strength in my weakness sinks in, so do John the Baptist’s words in John 3:30:
He must increase, but I must decrease.
The glory of my life goes to God. The glory of evangelism goes to God. The glory of my holiness goes to God.
Weakness is underrated but not the main thing.
3. Grace is the best.
Praise God for his work on the cross. Praise God for a resurrection. Praise God for his daily supply of strength. Praise God for his Word. Praise God for brothers and sisters in the church. Praise God that he uses sinners like us to grow each other, reflect his love as his disciples, and reach out to a broken and lost world. Praise God that he’s sovereign over my many, many failures. Praise God that he is glad to forgive us.
Grace is the best!
Man of sorrows, Lamb of God
By His own betrayed
The sin of man and wrath of God
Has been on Jesus laid
Silent as He stood accused
Beaten, mocked, and scorned
Bowing to the Father’s will
He took a crown of thorns
Oh, that rugged cross, my salvation
Where Your love poured out over me
Now my soul cries out, hallelujah
Praise and honor unto Thee!
Sent of heaven God’s own Son
To purchase and redeem
And reconcile the very ones
Who nailed Him to that tree
Now my debt is paid
It is paid in full
By the precious blood
That my Jesus spilled
Now the curse of sin
Has no hold on me
Whom the Son sets free
Oh, is free indeed!
See the stone is rolled away
Behold the empty tomb
Hallelujah, God be praised
He’s risen from the grave!
A post from Winter 2012; you can’t reblog your own material, otherwise I would; now, in Winter 2014, I’d still write the exact same thing.
…along with new year resolutions, job searches, research position hunting, fresh notebooks, commitments to killing certain sins, bible reading plans, uninstalled games, plans for GPA-raising, and promises to ourselves to spend less money, study harder, hit the gym, and cut all dessert in the dining hall.
Praise God for new beginnings, indeed!
But somehow, few things change. I’m not just referring to the 5th week silent emptiness of the gyms. Or to the fact that once we rationalize ditching a single lecture, going to class seems henceforth optional. Or to the huge desire to procrastinate (and the correspondingly huge number of YouTube videos on our subscriptions pages).
Because beyond—and at the root of—all that is our humanity; the depravity, sinfulness, weakness, inefficiency, idolatry, flesh—they’re still there.
So while clean slates are wonderful evidences of grace and provide great opportunities, we need something far more powerful and substantial to answer our true problem.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.
-Romans 6:5-12 (ESV)
The gospel is everything! Christ, our king and savior, has made atonement for the sinful elect by his sinless life, sacrificial death at the cross, and victorious resurrection. And by the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, we are new creations. Thus we have new affections—no longer chasing after the things of the world, but by grace pursuing greater knowledge of and obedience to God. We are reconciled to him. We were dead and hellbound in our trespasses. Now we’re justified and saved, via Christ’s sovereign work at the cross.
Indeed, I can’t think of a better new beginning! Or, in fact, any other that matters.
I am glad if this new quarter/semester/year finds you resolving to do better than you did in the last. Resolving is good; JEdwards did a lot of it. But let’s keep, above all, depending on grace to obey Christ, reminding ourselves of his gospel, and building on the solid rock of his Word.
2012 2014, let’s go. Soli Deo gloria!
—Richard Baxter (via jasminecrystal)
—Spurgeon (via jasminecrystal)
My discipler is taking us (two other brothers he disciples and myself) through a book called Relationships: A Mess Worth Making by Timothy Lane and Paul Tripp. Our most recent conversations focused on a particular phrase Lane and Tripp use: recreating others in our own image. It describes the tendency many of us have to try to conform those around us to our notions of right Christian living. The thinking goes something like this:
I’ve found the perfect balance when it comes to personality (between funny and serious, life of the party and wise one-on-one counselor, academic and pragmatist, easygoing and stalwart, in the world and not of it) and doctrine (neither antinomian nor legalist, hyper-Calvinist nor Arminian, egalitarian nor misogynist, science-phobe nor eisegete-of-Genesis-1). My practices (alcohol in moderation, pumping iron as stewardship and not in vanity, schoolwork as faithfulness and not idolatry, video games for fellowship and not immaturity) are also well-balanced and optimally biblical. Sure, they’re not mandates per se, but the convictions and preferences I have are the best ones to have. I may not live according to the ideas I have all the time, because I’m sinful, but at least I have the right ideas. There are certain ways of thinking and doing things that everyone should follow.
Furthermore, it is my task to ensure that they do. I have to make sure that I’m doing my best to sanctify people.
The two attributes of God that I fail to acknowledge when I think this way, as Lane and Tripp point out, are creative and sovereign.
God is Creator and makes each person in a wonderful manner (Psalm 139:14). This does not mean each person is without defect and sin (Romans 7:13-25). This does not mean people are inherently worthy of anything north of Hell (Romans 3:23). This does mean that each person is designed with intention and in a way I could describe as “optimal” if I were not so narrow-minded in my definition of the word. This does mean that the wide range of personalities and preferences we see in the church is not only acceptable, but also to be celebrated.
God is sovereign and is in control of each person’s sanctification (Isaiah 46:10, Romans 8:28-30). This does not mean that people are perfect. This does mean that we can trust God with the process. The role is exclusively his; we humans can’t change other human hearts. Only God can; we’re the instruments.
Of course, this doesn’t mean that you’re not supposed to correct, rebuke, teach, or counsel. On the other end, you can’t say “Stop trying to recreate me in your own image!” every time somebody tries to correct, rebuke, teach, or counsel you.
The reason is that biblical obedience is still a goal. I realize I may have confounded some issues earlier; some things are more subject to black-and-white language than others. Doctrinal issues can and should be treated with precision in mind; getting the precise balance between humorous and serious seems a little hard to do. A certain biblical interpretation is better than the others (because it’s right and the others aren’t), but it’s not so clear if being an extrovert is better than being an introvert. Also, some practices are obviously biblical when others aren’t. Neglecting schoolwork is bad stewardship, and idolizing grades is sinful. Getting drunk is wrong, but so is condemning anyone who takes a sip.
The point is that those things are from the Bible. The question we should always be asking ourselves when we’re correcting, rebuking, preaching, or exhorting is, “Am I saying this because it’s in the Bible and I love these people enough to want them to see it?” If the answer’s no—if we’re saying it because we’re trying to remake other people in our own image—then we should think twice.
There are several reasons that we might try to remake others in our own image. Maybe we just learned something incredibly impactful and really want other people to learn it too. Maybe we possess certain personality traits that we’ve found really helpful in our personal ministries and evangelism, and think it would be nice for others to possess them too. Maybe we’re just being arrogant.
In any case, the application’s the same. I must trust my sovereign God with the life and sanctification of every Christian I know. To the extent that I am involved in changing people, it must be as God’s instrument and on his terms. I must, therefore, learn to love people enough to say nothing to them that contradicts Scripture or makes it seem like Scripture says things which it does not. I must not teach the traditions of men and my own preferences as if they were the commandments of God. So help me God.