Archive for the 'Sanctification' Category

Books and Websites for Christians to Read: 2016 Edition [Part 1 – for the Newcomers]

January 29th, 2016

My friend Pastor Kenny found this blogpost over at Changed By Glory:

7 Reasons You Should Start Studying Theology Right Now

In the post, the author (also a pastor, but over in the UAE) gives a compelling list (a short one) of reasons Christians should study theology:

  1. Because to know God is the essence of eternal life (John 17:3)
  2. Because God has made himself known (Hebrews 1:1, Deuteronomy 29:29)
  3. Because by beholding Him we become like him (II Corinthians 3:18, 1 John 3:2)
  4. Because by knowing God rightly we worship him rightly (John 4:23, Proverbs 19:2)
  5. Because we are commanded to get knowledge and to think on excellent things and there is nothing more excellent than God (Proverbs 23:12, Philippians 4:8)
  6. Because we should be always ready to give an answer for our hope and be ready to teach others (1 Peter 3:15, 2 Timothy 2:2)
  7. Because there is literally nothing greater that we could do than this (Jeremiah 9:23-24)If these seven reasons are not enough, then I don’t know what is.

He absolutely nails it with this post. I’ve been beating the drum about #4 specifically (which I believe should be #1 on the list) for the entire 23 years I’ve been actively involved in Christian apologetics and theological discussions.  If we have a fundamentally wrong (Biblically inaccurate) concept of God, our worship will cease to be worship.

With that, I’ve expanded on Ken’s call for books Christians should read (in addition to the Bible) to “Books and Websites” for Christians.  Plenty of people read, but many like the convenience of something electronic to keep up with. In no particular order, have these books find their way to your personal library as a start of something bigger.  I realize that the study theology can be intimidating to those who have never studied it actively before, so all of the books here, unless otherwise noted, treat them as an introduction to the subject. Very readable, very accessible and in plain english.

Knowing God by J.I. Packer – this book is multipurpose. It will help you gain a biblical understanding of the attributes of God and the character of God.

The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul – without an understanding of the holiness of God, you will not understand the sin problem and the need for Christ in the first place! But this book covers more than that.

Essential Truths of the Christian Faith  by R.C. Sproul – for new believers wanting a brief and understandable introduction to Christian theology and beliefs. Short, straight to the point, scripture included, short explanations included a list of ‘further reading’ references.

What is a Healthy Church Member ?  by Thabiti Anyabwile – short and concise, to the point, supported by scripture.

Don’t Waste Your Life by  John Piper – p. 79-87 of this book are dangerous. “Risk is Right: Better to Lose Your Life Than Waste It”. God did not put you on Earth to work, gather, consume and spend the rest of your time gathering sea shells on the shore in retirement. That is a wasted life. He created you for His glory – this book gives you a basic roadmap of how that works out theologically and practically. It is part of the reason I’m married now.

Desiring God by John Piper – God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. Sounds glorious and great, right ? Piper’s approach to the Christian life fills the believer with joy and deepens their love for God. If you grew up in a legalistic church tradition where you thought God was going to ‘get you’ if you broke from church tradition OR if you grew up in a stodgy, cold and sterile church tradition where everything was about ritual and obedience….this book is for you.

By Grace Alone by Sinclair Ferguson – Amazed or…..accustomed ? If you are not daily amazed at the grace of God in the life of the Christian, you don’t understand it well. The good Dr. Ferguson has laid out an entire book on the topic and he approaches it from multiple angles. Revisit this topic and learn it afresh and anew.

What Is The Gospel ? by Greg Gilbert – Part of the IX Marks series, this one is short and concise (similar to Thabiti’s book) and is a welcome reminder of the simple, yet complex and overwhelming truth of what the gospel is. Read it and pass it on to a friend stuck in a not-so-sound church.

The Difficult Doctrine of God by D. A. Carson – Carson’s book may be considered ‘heavy reading’ for those not used to theological discussions, but he writes in a very understandable fashion.  What is the love of God ? A lot more than you think. A lot more complex than you think. 

Love in Hard Places by D.A. Carson – Carson’s follow up book two years later – this time, dealing with Christian love. What is it ? And let’s not do the easy cases – let’s pick the hard ones. This book will challenge you – heavily.

The Forgotten Trinity by James R. White – A devotional book on the Trinity. Meditations on God as He exists and praising Him for it. This book is more devotional than theological, but it is theological. 

Father, Son and Holy Spirit: Roles, Relationships and Relevance by Bruce Ware – Where Dr. White’s book is missing information, Dr. Ware’s book fills in the blanks. Understanding both how He has revealed Himself and how all the members of the Godhead work together.

In My Place, Condemned He Stood- J. I. Packer and Mark Dever – Understanding and appreciating the atonement. Simple, right ?

Faith Alone: The Evangelical Doctrine of Justification  by R.C. Sproul – Sproul gives a good overview of church history and controversies down to the present day regarding the question of how a person is made right with God. He gives detailed Biblical evidence for the Bible’s teaching that man is declared just before God by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone apart from works, tackles the James vs Paul issue and more.  This is one of those books that gives you a good basis and background to understand what you believe, why you believe it and why you don’t believe something else.

The Enemy Within by Kris Lundgaard – why do I do the things I don’t want to do ? Why do I struggle with X, Y and Z sins ? Kris Lundgaard’s book tackles this issue and all related issues. A must read and re-read, as all believers struggle with something throughout the course of their lives.

Always Ready – Greg Bahnsen, Edited by Robert Booth – The non-Christian is not starting off on neutral or objective ground when discussing things related to Christ and Christianity. Neither is the Christian. Both presuppose a host of things that guide their search of truth. As a Christian, we must begin with (not ‘reason up to’)  the Word of God as true and move forward from there. “But the non-Christian won’t accept that!”  They accept something…. and Bahnsen’s book will help you understand how to critique their worldview, defend your own and show the foolishness (Psalm 14:1) of unbelief.

Covenantal Apologetics by K. Scott Oliphint – A good introductory approach to the same topic as Bahnsen, but a more recent book (Bahnsen’s book is based off of his lectures in the 80’s and early 90’s before he died in 95). Very readable and very understandable. I’d get this one first and then the Bahnsen book if you’re new to the topic. Also addresses some of the modern critics of scripture and Christianity.


The Doctrines of Grace-James Montgomery Boice and Philip Graham Ryken – Reformational theology; something a lot of modern believers have not heard before and are completely unfamiliar with. Ryken and the late Dr. Boice make the doctrines of grace (sometimes nicknamed “Calvinism”) very easy and understandable. Yes, for those of you not familiar, you will run into things that contradict things you’ve been raised up on.  Don’t be surprised.  You’ll also see ways that the doctrines of grace apply to daily life. 

Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem – This is a reference book you will use for the rest of you life. As with any systematic theology text, you don’t read it from front to back, but you use it chapter by chapter as needed. Grudem writes in plain english, yet he doesn’t dumb anything down. Easily understandable, you’ll actually feel smarter after you get done reading portions of it…and you’ll have a lot to meditate on.

A New Theology of the Christian Faith by Robert L Reymond – You will use this book for the rest of your life. Reymond is heavy reading.  Whereas Grudem is the teacher who knew the subject well and knew how to bring even the person who had no knowledge of the subject up to speed, Reymond kinda requires you to know a few things before you step in to read here. Don’t worry, he won’t ridicule your ignorance and if you have to read a section 2-3 times to get it, that’s okay. 

*Reymond and Grudem agree on a lot of things, differ on some things. It’s good to have theology you disagree with on your shelf, once you get yourself settled on major issues.  It is good to know what other Christians believe, why they believe it and how they defend it.

A General Introduction to the Bible by Norman Geisler and William E. Nix – This book is a classic and will give you a boatload of information on the trustworthiness of scripture. It’s very ‘academic’, so it’s not light reading. But when folks come up to you with things like “the Bible has been handed down and retranslated so many times, there’s no way it can be accurate to what was originally written”, or “the Catholic church hid these other gospels from you because they didn’t want you to know the truth”, you’ll have a ready answer.

Another note on books – a few of these are available FREE online. John Piper has made all of his books available for free as PDF files on his site. This has been his practice almost from day one of having his site up. Both of D.A. Carson’s books (and others) are also free online. Look around.

Websites

I’m going to limit my immediate recommendations to four.  Yes, in future blogposts, I’ll probably recommend quite a few more sites, but for now I’m keeping it simple (this is an ‘introductory’ article on the subject).

Speaking of which, I’m not recommending any blogs at the moment. My reasoning is simple; get your theology from published authors whose works are in print, have been trained in the subjects they speak about and have stood the test of time. Here-today-gone-tomorrow blogs are a dime a dozen.

Monergism.com is probably the most user-friendly, multipurpose, comprehensive Christian website with good material that I can recommend. Just about everything you can think of, this site has.

Desiring God – John Piper’s ministry website: 30+ years of sermons, every book free as a PDF file, current articles and much more.

Ligonier Ministries – R.C. Sproul’s ministry website along with all of the Ligonier Academy teaching fellows. Ligonier exists to fill the ‘gap’ between Sunday school and the seminary, so this is a good place for believers of all experience and knowledge levels to drop in and learn.  R.C. Sproul’s daily broadcast, Renewing Your Mind, is also located on the site.

CARM – Christian Apologetics and Resource Ministry. Matt Slick’s website is what I originally wanted my main site (mentioned below) to be. The difference between he and I is that he invested more time and I got busy with my regular job (he also went to seminary while I got a masters’ in a different area of study).  Anyway, this site is a goldmine for Q & A on just about every Christian subject and Christian-related subject you can think of.  Stumped with that hard question about the reliability of scripture ? Yeah, he’s covered it.  Stuck on a ‘trick question’ about the nature of God ? That’s been handled too.

Missing Things……

I’d normally throw my own site (theologicallycorrect.com) into the mix, but it got hacked back in December and I’m slowly in the process of moving it to a new server. I’ll relaunch soon and announce it. :)

I’m also purposely missing sites and books on church history, although Holcomb’s Know the Creeds and Confessions (good for knowing the basics of church history) and Know the Heretics (good for understanding false teachings from the past….because a lot of them pop back up at multiple points in church history including now) are two books I’d immediately recommend on the topic.

One of Ken’s friends on his post (Ronjour) also had a pretty great list (we crossed paths on a few of the same books). It is good to see more people studying theology!

That’s about it for now. I’m already considering writing a follow-up to this with books and website recommendations for the Christian who is a little past the ‘beginner’ stage of discussing and studying theology.

Feel free to discuss and drop off comments below. Take care.

At Least 10 Things I’ve Learned in 15 Years of Being Reformed

January 18th, 2016

As a person 15 years into reformed theology, I’ve learned a few things:

1. Read MANY reformed authors. Piper gets a lot of things right in terms of understanding God’s Sovereignty, but misses in other areas (i.e. baptism, quasi-pacifism). Sproul gets baptism right, but goes with classical apologetics instead of presuppositional/covenantal apologetics. God has purposely allowed many of us to have blind spots in order to avoid us being arrogant about ‘having it all right’ (for those asking, eschatology is my ‘blind spot’ and I’m more than willing to slow my roll here….).

2. People learn and come to understand at different rates. Phil Johnson​ took about 15 years, I took 4, Michael Armstrong took around 2. If you are new (4 years or less) to reformed theology, avoid arguing about Calvinism over the internet, please. It’s very easy (I speak from experience) to slip into fighting to be right and thinking it’s because you’re fighting for biblical truth. Yes, you can be right (and being biblically correct is important), but the motivation behind being right may cause your good works to turn to wood.

3. Grow thick skin. There are plenty of people who will simply attack you because they have no other Biblical evidence on their side….so they make the discussion about YOU instead of about what the Bible teaches on the subject. Forgive them ahead of time, keep your tone calm and the subject of your discussion on the scriptures.

4. Remember you were once one of those “I don’t care about denominations/I don’t follow man-made systems/I don’t follow Calvin or anyone, I follow Jesus” folks once too. Full of zeal, lacking in knowledge. Be patient in conversation (see #3) and ready to explain yourself at length….repeatedly.

5. If you understand that the noetic effects of sin (sin not only affects humanity spiritually but also intellectually) can cause us to take ‘longer’ to get things at times (sometimes not at all), understanding why some of your non-Calvinistic friends can’t see what’s “RIGHT THERE!!!!” in scripture makes a whole lot of sense. Be patient with them, pray that the Lord will gradually take more of the ‘blind spots’ out of their vision as He did with you. It is the Lord who opens eyes to see truth. He may use you…. He doesn’t have to. It does NOT all depend on you.

6. Hold truth humbly, with mercy. Don’t be quick to shake your finger at folks – you too could have been giving money to Creflo Dollar, thinking it was the Lord’s will to sow a seed. God pulled you away from that mess (see #5).

7. If you are new to the reformed tradition (i.e. you just realized that the Bible DOES teach ‘Calvinism’), get into a consistently reformed church ASAP (PCA, OPC, reformed baptist….in that order would be my preferences). Do NOT try to ‘change’ your church from the bottom up (i.e. a Sunday school class, discussions with other congregants designed to prod the pastor into bringing these issues to the fore and discussing them publicly). You will get branded as a trouble-maker, divisive, unloving and people will turn on you. Leave your old, “semi-Arminian, semi-pelagian, nice-people-who-love-Jesus” church through the front door (in full view and in good standing).

Here’s (hopefully) a nice way of saying it:

“Since I believe the scriptures teach X, Y, Z, I don’t believe I can stay here with a good conscience and I don’t want to be seen as divisive, since a lot of what gets preached, I don’t find myself in agreement with anymore. I’m not saying the people here aren’t Christians at all – we just disagree on some things Biblically and that puts a bit of a problem in the way in terms of fellowship, since we fundamentally approach certain things from different theological assumptions. Therefore, I want to respectfully withdraw my membership from this assembly.”

Why leave ? Simple. The type of growth you experience is directly tied to the type of preaching you sit under. Reformed theology has consequences for Christian living in every area of life. It is meant to not simply be “a few things I choose to believe” or even “a few things I believe because the Bible teaches them” or even “stuff related to salvation”, but an entire worldview. It is MUCH larger than simply “the five points”. You will not get that full worldview-level preaching sitting in the church you are currently in anymore than a child playing on the beach will get an idea of how deep the ocean is by staying on the beach and simply looking at it from a distance.

8. Read more Bible than reformed authors (but read reformed authors). Reformed authors are good for getting ahold of how exegesis and application should work. J.I. Packer is no substitute for Paul. J.I. Packer may help you understand Paul a bit better, as Packer (who is about to turn 90) has been walking with the Lord and dealing with hard passages of scripture longer than you (and probably your parents) have been alive. But nothing will beat the Holy Spirit working to renew your mind as He opens the text of scripture up to you while you read it.

9. Learn from older brothers and sisters in the faith. Learn from older writings (read Calvin, not just Piper and Sproul – see the second half of #8), learn from older brothers and sisters in the church (see #7). The Mark Driscolls of the world come and go. Driscoll’s arrogance at correction from men like MacArthur came back to bite later when it was shown that every single criticism men like MacArthur had against him was true. Beware the arrogance of ‘youth’. Better yet, beware the arrogance of ‘we need to hear something relating to now, not what people did yesterday’ (as if humanity has changed fundamentally). If you aren’t teachable, you’ll become hardened, argumentative and arrogant very quickly.

10. Realize that every true believer is reformed at heart. If you press hard enough and long enough, any true believer will affirm:

– Christ saved me, not just made me ‘savable’.
– It was God who orchestrated events in my life to bring me to a point of realizing my need for salvation.
– No, I suppose that if I was left to myself without God keeping me, I’d probably walk right into hell.
– Yes, at some level, I understand that God is indeed guiding all aspects of my life, though I don’t exactly understand how and ultimately I know that my life is truly and completely in His hands.

Church Membership and Excommunication

November 6th, 2011

So this scan of an excommunication letter has been making its’ way around the internet for the past few days (literally – gone viral in 24-48 hours).

What’s interesting is the responses I’ve read to it. Having been close to most of my pastors in my life, this letter isn’t a big shock to me – but apparently, even to some professing Christian folks, this letter is (supposedly) rude, shocking and unexpected.

I’ve commented a few times: the only people whining and complaining about the letter are people whose churches don’t practice church discipline and/or they haven’t read their bibles.  I have no idea on what has happened on ‘both sides’ of this particular issue, nor am I writing to address that….just to comment on the content of the letter and whether or not it is biblical or not.

It is. Plain and simple.

American individualism and charismatic spirituality have made church-hopping and a low view of church membership commonplace. Don’t like church A ? Disagree  with the pastor ?  Don’t like the music, advertising, marketing of your church and think they could do more ? Leave and find one that fits you. After all, church should affirm you and all that you believe.  The church growth movement (purpose driven church, becoming a contagious Christian, etc….) have only reinforced this mentality into the minds of the culture, even among Christians who appear to be biblically solid in every other area of their polity.

A few questions came up on one message board related to this letter.

1. Usually, when people walk away from Christianity, some people cite 1 John 2:19 and say the person was never really saved to begin with. If this person was never “saved” in the first place and has forsaken the fellowship together with other believers, how can Pastor Shade in his letter, exhort this person to “…turn away from your self-destructive path and turn back to Christ as your Lord and Savior.”

Because that’s what the Pastor’s job is – to call people to repentance (Acts 17:30-31).  The gospel is not just for the unsaved, but for believers as well and a good pastor constantly points his sheep to follow and serve Christ and turn from sin.  A question like this usually treats the gospel as a message only for believers and repentance as a one-time event.  Scripture doesn’t.

2. In your two posts (see 121 and 135) you seemed to intimate that there were three groups of people – the non-elect outside of the church, the unsaved in the church (who might or might not be elect) pretending to be saved and the elect.  Would you say this person to whom this letter is addressed to is “elect”, “almost elect” or “might be elect”? I would think that you’d say this person is definitely not elect since the elect can’t/won’t turn from fellowship with Christ.

I would say it to someone who once associated themselves with the covenant community and made vows before many witnesses and God that they would do all the things contained in the covenant. This isn’t an ‘election’ issue.  A pastor is not called to ‘preach the gospel to the elect’. Further, there is no ‘almost elect’.

As for you saying the person isn’t elect…well….they’re not dead yet, so no one can say this with certainty – hence the call to repent and the invitation and opportunity to return.  I’ll go into detail on this in another answer below.

BTW – this isn’t a ‘reformed’ issue. One of my old churches (which is dispensational and moderately Arminian) and my old pastor would’ve handled this issue the exact same way with virtually the same language. It’s a biblical issue, not a reformed issue. The problem is that the reddit reader who originally posted it don’t understand church membership or church discipline.

3. If he’s not elect, how can he be restored to Christ’s body? Are you saying that Christ has parts of his body that are NOT elect?

In the second link provided above (135) I talk a bit about what happens when a believer hears the warning passages in scripture versus an unbeliever.  An unbeliever hears the warning passages and ignores them, refuses to repent and walks further away from Christ.  A believer hears them, is convicted by the Spirit of God and turns (repents). It may not happen on the first time they hear a call to repentance or the second, but it will happen. 1 John 3:9-10 is a guarantee of this.

4. Pastor Shade said, “By this excommunication, we are declaring that you are no longer part of the company of the saved”

This would hold to what you and Ricky describe as people being a part of the “visible church” but not a part of the “invisible church”? Or do I have that backwards? But then this would again mean that this person is not “saved ” or “elect” in the first place, but only in the “company of the saved” but not “actually saved”, right?

Church has that right (Matt. 16:19, 1 Cor. 5:1-11) given by God. If they repent, great and praise God. But read closely – you are no longer part of the company of the saved (the visible church). Is it possible he’s saved and going through a period of rebellion ? Yep. But scripture only knows of Christians who are part of a visible local body.

Ever seen an arm by itself ? Ever seen a toe live on its’ own ?

So declaring dude to not be a part of the company of the saved is saying “you’re cut off from the body. There is no life outside of the body. Come back, or die.”

5. Can God’s “elect” be turned over to satan for their destruction? I think your answer would be a definite “no” on that one, but I just want to be sure…

That’s what excommunication is. Why would my answer be a no when that’s the very language used in 1 Cor. 5 to describe the man who was kicked out ? The good thing is that in 2 Cor., we find that he has repented and been restored to the body.

To be more specific, excommunication is both an act of love and of discipline – love for the body to keep them from the leaven of professing brothers and sisters who continue to sin openly (1 Cor. 5). A little leaven, leavens the whole lump.  Being placed outside of the covenant community, outside of the fellowship and accountability of the saints, it is hopeful that the person excommunicated will, like the prodigal son, find himself eating with the pigs and come to his senses and turn.

All that said, the tone and the content of the letter is both serious and loving. It amazes me (okay, it really doesn’t) that folks are up in arms over the fact that:

1. Dude has been repeatedly called and asked to return to fellowship – both in letter and in word (personally).  He has ignored these repeated calls to repent.

2. The session (not the individual pastor) made the decision, not the senior pastor.  For the non-reformed – scripture does NOT teach that ONE pastor/elder/bishop is to rule over a church and everyone falls under him. What scripture DOES teach is multiple elders at each church, all equal in power though differing in role (teaching elders and ruling elders). So that means thatmultiple people made a decision – not one person.

3. Matthew 18 seems to have been followed according to the letter. ‘Let him be as a heathen and a tax collector’ means that you do not treat him as a part of the covenant community.  You pursue him to repent and turn from sin, but you no longer consider or treat him as a Christian.  Look at the passage carefully:

Matthew 18:17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

Remember the context – a Jew would understand that a Gentile and a tax collector were NOT to be treated as the people of God. Gentiles were outside of the covenant made by God with His people and tax collectors were people who were considered traitors (specifically if they were Jewish tax collectors – robbing their own people to pay the pagans and make themselves rich).  In that aspect, an excommunication ruling (specifically in this case as laid out in the letter) indeed does say ‘based on your actions, we are declaring you not to be a Christian’.  What that entails is not a wish for the man to go to hell.  Rather, there is an open door and opportunity to repent – an encouragement even.

Only American individualism and biblical ignorance can find problems with this letter.  Of course, if someone has a case (a biblical case) against the content of the letter, I am more than willing to both listen and if necessary, retract everything posted here.  Otherwise, this stands.

Pray for the elders at CRC, as I’m betting pastor Shade’s e-mail has been overrun with folks blasting him and their church over the letter.  American Christianity is way overdue for a biblical primer on biblical church discipline. The fact that so many churches have so many morally failing pastors is due in part to the fact that church discipline is not practiced (under the guise of ‘grace’).  This lack of holiness is part and parcel of why the church looks more and more like the world in the US – self-absorbed (and catered to by the Osteens of the church world), self-concerned (and catered to by the Rick Warrens’ of the church world) with little concern for anything else other than making a better ‘me’ and living in ‘prosperity’ (catered to by the Jakes, Myers, Copelands and Hinn’s of the church circuit).

Be Renewed in the Spirit of Your Mind

November 26th, 2010

and be renewed in the spirit of your mind…Ephesians 4:23

Paul told us in Ephesians 4 that we are not to walk like “the Gentiles” (ie. those without Christ) walk but are instead to walk in a manner that is fitting for saints. We are to walk like we have heard and learned the truth from Jesus. This means that as we come to faith in Christ we must first repent. We must put off our former way of life, turning from our sin and turning to Christ in faith.

Continuing on with that theme here in verse 23, Paul tells us that after we put off that former conduct, our “old man” that only grows more and more corrupt, then we are to “be renewed in the spirit of your mind.” This is a rich verse so we will take a few minutes today to take it apart, looking at the two phrases he uses.

Be Renewed

Notice he does not say “act renewed.” It is not a command to learn about renewal or to start a renewal ministry or to find the secret of renewal. No. He says, be renenwed. And the way he says it the reader should already know how to be renewed and that their duty then is to actually “be renewed.”

When the Holy Spirit regenerates us we are indeed “born again.” Now we understand that when we repent and believe in Christ it is because we have been made a new creation. There is renewal. But being renewed in the spirit of our mind is not a one time act of renewal as when we are born again. This word means that from the time we repent and put on the new man (Eph 4:24), continuing through the rest of our life we are being renewed. It is the renewing of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5) as an ongoing part of the new walk of the new man in this new life.

So the Holy Spirit continually renews and refreshes us. But how? The Word of God read, heard, obeyed, memorized, and meditated upon is the tool that the Holy Spirit uses to renew us and conform us to the image of Christ. As we are renewed we are indeed transformed (Rom 12:1-2) and as we are transformed our lives prove that God’s will is perfect, acceptable, and holy.

Do you need reviving? Do you need to rekindle your love for Christ? Do you need to grow in grace and get beyond a dry stagnant place in your walk with Christ?

Get into the Word!

Is it that simple? Yes. It really is.

At times when things are dry and it seems as though God does not hear our prayers or care about us – during those times we often are fooled and deceived into thinking that the Word of God is dry we do not pick it up and read it. We fail to understand that the Word of God is alive, active, powerful, effective, and sufficient. Don’t believe me? Try me! The next time you find yourself in that place of spiritual barrenness – read your Bible. Anywhere. Just pick a book or chapter and read it. Ask the Holy Spirit to open your mind to the truth and just read.

The truth is that we cannot read the Word of God and remain the same. The Word in the hands of the Spirit is used to bring about a continuing renewal. And we all know that we need renewal as often as the Spirit will renew us.

In the Spirit of Your Mind

The second phrase in verse 23 tells us where we are to continually be renewed. In the spirit of our mind. Okay. What is that? Our spirit? Our soul? Our mind? What exactly is “the spirit of your mind.”

This is a phrase that refers to the inner man, the very deepest part of who we are that determines how we think and what we do. This is our heart of hearts. And this is what is renewed day by day through the power of the Spirit applying the Word to our lives.

This deepest part of who we are must be renewed. True saving faith and repentance will be followed with this ongoing renewal which in fact began when we put on the new man. It must continue, for who we are, the spirit of our mind, is still embodied in this fallen flesh. And while the spirit wars against the flesh and the flesh against the spirit it is here in the spirit of our mind that we will win or lose the battle. For the spirit of our mind is that inner man, that part of us that determines what it is that we want (desire) and therefore what we do. Our motives and desires flow from the spirit of our mind.

How interesting then that the contrast here in these verses is that of the difference between how those with and without Christ walk. The lost man walks in the futility of his mind. The repenter walks with the spirit of his mind being renewed over and over again!

Where before we were unable to desire and do what was pleasing to God, now with the Spirit’s help we are in our very inner man motivated and empowered to both want to do what is right, and to do it. We now have a moral capability that before we did not. Whereas we were dead in sin now we are alive to God. Where we were ambivalently apathetic toward righteousness now righteousness is what we crave as though it were as necessary for life as hunger or thirst.

Interesting also that the very thing that the Spirit uses to call us to this new life is what He uses to continually renew us in our inner man. The “gospel” is “the power of God to salvation.” The Word of God cleanses us, sanctifies us, renews us, transforms us, convicts us, breaks us, motivates us, and empowers us. The Word never returns void. It always accomplishes the purposes for which God sends it forth. The written Word of God presents and reveals to us the Living Word of God.

Jesus once rebuked the Pharisees saying that they searched the Scriptures for law after law to obey so that they might be saved, but He said of the Scriptures, “they testify of Me” (John 5:39). The Word does not give us eternal life through a system of obedience and good works. No. It is used by the Spirit to prove that we cannot save ourselves, that we need a Savior, and that that Savior is Jesus Christ! The Word in the hands of the Spirit calls us to Christ.

No wonder then that the devil started in the garden by casting doubt on the Word of God. “Did God really say?” Do not underestimate the Word of God!

So as we repent and believe in Him we enter that continuing process of being renewed over and over again until the final redemption of our bodies at our glorification. This renewal continues until our salvation is complete. Of course, in God’s eyes it is complete, for Jesus declared from the cross, “It is finished.” He even refers to glorification in the past tense in Romans 8:30. But for us this must be worked out in time. And the way that it is worked out is through our sanctification. It is through the Spirit renewing and transforming us daily to the image of Christ.

So the secret is out – if we want to be renewed we must only pick up and read our Bibles, with the mindset to hear and do what it says. How many self help books can we toss out now? Is it really that simple? Yes it is. Paul tells us as simply as he is able by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit: “Be renewed in the spirit of your mind.”

Ephesians 5:3-21

August 14th, 2010

It’s amazing how people try to get around the clear commands of this passage.

Read it and let it soak in for a bit.  I’ll be commenting on it over the next few days.

[3] But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. [4] Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. [5] For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. [6] Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. [7] Therefore do not become partners with them; [8] for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light [9] (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), [10] and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. [11] Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. [12] For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. [13] But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, [14] for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” [15] Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, [16] making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. [17] Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. [18] And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, [19] addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, [20] giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, [21] submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ. (Ephesians 5:3-21 ESV)

Food Choices, Church Choices and Their Effect On Your Body

August 9th, 2010

Over at TheologicallyCorrect dot Com, I’ve been threatening, gathering, pondering and chunk writing portions of a new series (which, at this rate, will end up as a book) on reasons to leave your current ‘not-heretical-but-not-really-deep-theologically’ church for one that is. My friends and my own life experiences are continually giving me new source material to write and use as illustrations.

So you’re at a church that doesn’t teach anything overtly heretical, but the sermons are rather ‘light’ in doctrinal content. The preacher may be content with giving you practical (supposedly) sermons week to week which seem to be ‘how to’ more than anything else. All well and fine. We do need to know ‘how to’ from time to time. But you find yourself a bit ‘critical’ of the sermon week to week – “not enough meat!” So you supplement your church’s sermons with podcasts from people you consider ‘meatier’ – MacArthur, Sproul, Piper, or any number of lesser known but solid biblical and exegetical pastors.

There’s an old saying – if the cook doesn’t eat here, why should you ?

Maybe that’s a bit too strong. Maybe your church is more like this: Not adequately consistent on biblical teaching. The equivalent of eating steak one day, McFood Product 3-4 days out of the week, a McFood Product Apple Pie one day and then one day it’s potluck.

Since we’re running with food illustrations, let me add one more.

My wife and I recently started (maybe over the past 6-8 months) moving the bulk of our diet to being more organic. So we eat at Silver Diner (because they’ve switched over to organic) and Chipoltle as our primary food places if/when we eat outside. The occasional Chic-Fil-A comes in every once in a while (emergency food – but at least we know they serve real chicken) and Arby’s (my wife used to work there, so she knows how the food is prepped – at least the beef).

Since the new food choices have come into play, several things have happened.

1. We’re finding out that processed and non-fresh foods (i.e. canned fruit cocktail versus fresh fruit that you chop up or that is prepared the same day) don’t retain their flavor or their nutritional value. For example, at an event my wife and I went to, my wife (who loves fruit) didn’t finish the fruit cocktail she got (it was one of the healthier choices). She said it didn’t taste like anything. In the past, she used to be able to devour canned fruit cocktail all day….but now…not so much. Fresh fruit tastes better and as you spend extended time around fresh, canned begins to lose its’ appeal.

2. We’re finding ourselves having more energy to do more things. Healthier diet and lifestyle = more energy. The old food choices we used to do (rushing around with little time to cook) tended to ‘fill’ us up, but it left us feeling sluggish and tired afterward. As we’ve learned in researching some restaurants, some of it is because most or ALL of the nutritional value of some foods was pretty much NON-EXISTENT. So your body was working harder to draw nutrients out of something that didn’t have nutrients in it to begin with. Therefore, you’re left tired. Related to that is the additional fact that some of the food which DID have some nutritional value was also high in fat and sodium. So now, the remainder of your body’s energy is spent converting stuff to BAD fat and the sodium content is sapping your body of fluids, dehydrating you. So your body has to work harder to process less and you end up with less energy, altered moods, physiological issues, chemical imbalance, etc… This affects your thinking and communication skills as well. When we switched to organic choices (and added some harder work/regular exercise to the mix), things started to change gradually. At the end of last school year, I did the school yearbook, kept up with the school website and a plethora of changes, did two performances 3 days before the end of the school year and a few dozen other things that normally, I would’ve been completely burnt out to do. I’m not saying I wasn’t tired at the end But compared to last year, I’ve found myself recovering quicker.

3. Overshare time (wife cringing as I type this) !!! We’ve found ourselves more apt to get rid of…stuff. This has also helped with losing weight (since we’re not holding onto stuff in our intestines for extended periods of time) and digestion (good food digests easier).

These three points have great theological significance. Churches that are light on their treatment of theological topics and issues often find their members working harder (whether it be to work themselves into a shout and live off of the emotional high for the next week, or thinking that the various programs and outreaches they get involved in are the equivalent of growth and being spiritual) with diminishing returns (because now they have to involve themselves in ‘more’ over time just to feel like they are ‘doing the Lord’s work’ or ‘serving Him’ or ‘worshipping Him in Spirit and in Truth’).

No real spiritual nutritional value. Just empty spiritual calories to fill you up. ‘How-to’ sermons divorced from their theological and biblical foundations, become morality lessons. Morality lessons don’t transform your way of thinking and they don’t save people. And you can only live off a cliché or morality lesson…until real trials strike.

Good spiritual food (in the form of consistent sound doctrine and good teaching) is like eating steak, organic chicken, fresh vegetables and such….every day. Good food on a regular basis helps your body grow stronger and keeps you free of most diseases. Likewise, good spiritual food will keep you free of most of the pitfalls that some believers constantly face and struggle with (i.e. “Am I good enough now to merit God’s favor beyond Him just saving me ?”). But the key is this: you have to be in the atmosphere consistently. That means you don’t simply live off of podcasts, tapes, CDs and DVDs, but you have people alongside of you who believe the same things, encouraging and strengthening you to move forward. You have a shepherd who consistently teaches and preaches these things every week. Your church consciously is modeled after this line of thought.

As other members of your community are being transformed by the preaching on Sunday and teaching throughout the week, they, in turn, pass that on to you as you interact with them. And as you find yourself being transformed, you pass that back to them. This ‘mutual edification’ gives you the spiritual strength necessary to endure all sorts of trials as they come.

Your view of God changes in a sounder atmosphere. God goes from being a benevolent grandfather up in heaven looking down at you and smiling and waiting to give you all sorts of gifts (because He’s nice and loving) to being the Almighty Creator of the universe, before whom, you deserve nothing but wrath and death, but who instead chooses to give you love, blessings and salvation. Realizing your condition makes God appear as He should – much bigger, much more awesome and then it hits you…. His love for you doesn’t depend on your performance. He didn’t save you because of something you did or would do. He didn’t “see the best in you” and then save you based on that.

It’s easy to think of yourself as being ‘worthy’ of a certain kind of love and knowing that your mate or another human being loves you because you’re you. There’s even a song out about it now (The Best In Me by Marvin Sapp). But knowing that God loves you when the best of ‘you’ is filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) and coming to realize that it doesn’t depend on you at all…well…that’s humility-producing.

It also produces a different kind of sanctification. You’ll find yourself more apt to self-examination (per 2 Cor. 13 and all of 1 John) and find yourself jettisoning as much ‘waste’ in your life that weighs you down from running toward the goal of Christlikeness.

Now I hear, on regular basis, people say things like “well, maybe some people are built up by things from this style of preaching versus that ‘theological’ stuff.” That, to me, falls in line with thinking that “ Well, maybe some people are built up by eating unhealthy food versus all that ‘organic stuff’.”

Objectively speaking, there’s only one meaning to the text of scripture. It cannot mean one thing and the exact opposite of that one thing at the same time. Objectively speaking, only ‘real spiritual food’ brings real spiritual growth. In other words, if what gets taught is false doctrine, no matter how the person feels about it, they are not being built up in the faith. They may be built up in habit, tradition, feeling, thinking and experiencing, but these things are not the Christian faith as taught in scripture.

In food analogy terms: one cannot say that McDonalds builds up people in a healthy fashion and that real beef from one cow builds up people just as well. Both statements are mutually exclusive (if you know how McDonalds’ meat gets mushed together from several different animals in varying shades of health). One is good for you and provides more nutrients for your body.  One is not and provides little nutrients for your body, gives you unwanted antibiotics, possible disease contamination (because those cows aren’t in the healthiest of shape and they eat a lot of filler).  Both taste differently.  So although both might fill you up, don’t mistake being full for being healthy. Both are having different effects on your body over the long haul.

I’ve encountered people who, after eating so much fast food for so many years, really don’t have a taste for real food. They have a taste for food…but not healthy food. And like children, over time, they must be weaned off of the bad food in order to develop a taste for the good.

A few ramblings of a man determined to nudge folks on to better ‘food choices’. I already know that some people will be moderately offended by it because they know that their church has good food. I teach middle school kids who think that McDonalds’ is good food too. But I’ve also been humble enough to sit and watch Super-Size Me and follow up on that with personal research. I also realize that middle school kids don’t necessarily have the maturity and capacity to think at the level of ‘what is this doing to my body over long periods of time’ because they’ve been trained up (by culture, society, media and parents) to have everything ‘now’ and focus on ‘now’. Likewise, there are many believers who have been trained up to not think critically and use their minds to the glory of God (Deut. 6:5).

The thing with good food, though…even if your palate has been trained to love fast food, you can be weaned off of it and moved over to real food. You can grow teeth that will bite into and rend steak. You can develop a taste for fresh fruit so that canned longer appeals to you. It takes time, work and the same way you would reprogram your muscles with daily workouts to grow stronger, you’d need to reprogram your appetite with good foods.

All that said…move somewhere with fresh, real, healthy, nutritious food. Nothing scripture says that you should remain at a place that is malnourishing you. You have friends at these places ? Instead of staying for their benefit, why not bring them with you to your new place of eating ?

Words from Spurgeon on Restoring Fallen Pastors

April 6th, 2010

Pastors.  People who are in a position of leadership of God’s people and serve as shepherds (not just ‘sheep’).  People charged with feeding the church of God and protecting them against false doctrine (Acts 20:28-32).  The Pastor must hold to sound doctrine, be able to teach it and correct those who contradict it (1 Tim. 1-3, Titus 1). Character qualities are high – must be equally above reproach (bad reputation) to the church as well as the outside world so that the gospel doesn’t have an opportunity to be blasphemed by unbelievers.  Scripture commands (1 Timothy 5) to rebuke a sinning elder (elder, pastor and bishop are synonyms for the same office – pastor) in the presence of all so that the rest of members of the church will fear. So it’s a big deal when pastors fall into sin.

Spurgeon wrote:

The highest moral character must be sedulously maintained. Many are disqualified for office in the church who are well enough as simple members. I hold very stern opinions with regard to Christian men who have fallen into gross sin; I rejoice that may be truly converted, and may be with mingled hope and caution received into the church; but I question, gravely question whether a man who has grossly sinned should be very readily restored to the pulpit. As John Angell James remarks, “When a preacher of righteousness has stood in the way of sinners, he should never again open his lips in the great congregation until his repentance is as notorious as his sin.” Let those who have been shorn by the sons of Ammon tarry at Jericho till their beards be grown; this has often been used as a taunt to beardless boys to whom it is evidently inapplicable, it is an accurate enough metaphor for dishonoured and characterless men, let their age be what it may. Alas! the beard of reputation once shorn is hard to grow again. Open immorality, in most cases, however deep the repentance, is a fatal sign that ministerial graces were never in the man’s character.

While I can quickly assent to agreement with every sentence Spurgeon wrote, I get a little fuzzy around the last sentence, even though he put the qualifier of ‘most’ on there.   A few preachers believe there is no restoration to ministry after the fall of a pastor, specifically for sexual sin (because of the nature of the sin and the damage it does to the witness of the gospel).  Others believe that there is a time, after watching one’s life again consistently (measuring consistency in years, not simply months) where an ex minister can indeed be restored.

Thoughts ?

I have a few more, but I’ll post them in a few more days.