Holiness

How Studying the Bible Changes You

I was so perplexed and started to grow angry. Was she kidding? No, there was an unpleasant glint in her eye that gave credence to her words.

My daughter had been given permission from the guy at the top of the bridge to have her baby’s car seat in the plane. When we arrived in the plane, the stewardess informed us in no uncertain terms that this would not be possible. She condescendingly told us it was a full flight and she highly doubted there would be room for his seat. But the plane was far from full. So not only was she rude but she lied. We did question why permission was given at the top, which seemed to set her against us. She continued her churlishness with us throughout the flight. This same stewardess was quite rude to the rest of family behind us as they made legitimate requests. It’s hard to believe that someone like that has a job working with people.

A few moments before the flight started, a man came and very kindly explained that, due to Covid, car seats were no longer allowed on the smaller planes. While this didn’t make any sense to us at all, his calm and kind manner as he explained was comforting after the stinging meanness of the stewardess. (They all seemed to be rather confused as to protocol regarding car seats and the rules about them. It was very disorganized. It does seem like we now live in a world where anything and everything can be blamed on Covid. It’s actually very strange.)

As we taxied on the runway and then took off, I could feel myself growing angrier and angrier at this woman. I wanted nothing more than to be rude back to her. But about fifteen or twenty minutes in, as I started to settle down, it dawned on me that she was very likely unsaved and that I had a Christian testimony to keep. While I (to my shame) did not go out of my way to “kill her with kindness”, I did manage to hold my tongue and to mumble a “thank you” a time or two as she brought things by.

I do long for the day that I can overcome my flesh in these situations and actually be extra kind when someone is so incredibly rude to me (or my child.) But Sunday was not that day.

The next morning, I was reading in Matthew and I came across these verses in chapter six–

For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

I thought about this lady from the day before and remembered the danger of holding grudges. I thought of how anger and bitterness shatter all relationships–whether it be with a stranger, a customer, a person at church, a friend, or a family member.

Unforgiveness and bitterness destroy everything in their path. It can never be allowed to set up residence in our soul. Even over the small matter of an extra-ordinarily rude stewardess. At that moment, I chose to forgive her. I wished I had been able to do that on the plane so that I could have been a better testimony. I will probably never see her again and that chance is gone.

So, honestly, I am not a big one for flying. Flying with masks is far worse. But the thing that had me the most worried was that all of the women, save one, in our family were on the same plane for four different flights. About two weeks before we had left this hit me and I grew incredibly worried about something happening to all of us at the same time. Enter Matthew, chapter six again. It was from the end of that chapter that I drew much comfort and chose to trust the Lord.

You see, in the Growing4Life Bible Reading Challenge we have been reading Matthew 5-8, which contains the Sermon on the Mount. There have been so many times that what I have been reading and studying over this past month have been practically applied to my daily life. I gave just two examples above but there are so many more. The scriptures have exhorted, reminded, encouraged, and rebuked me. They truly are life-changing.

Any good in me, any right response, is the Holy Spirit working through the Word to transform me and make me look more like Christ. It has nothing whatsoever to do with me or my efforts to be a “better person”.

I wish I could get every single person who claims to love Jesus to actually study the Word. It would change the world because it changes the individual.

If you’d like to study the Bible but aren’t sure where to begin, I’d like to invite you to join this year’s Bible Reading Challenge. It’s a great time to join because we will begin the book of Ruth on April 1st. You can find the details here. I would love to have you join me in studying God’s Word.

But any study of God’s Word is life-changing. The key is to get started. Paul tells us in I Timothy 3:16-17–

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

If we want to be transformed by the Word, it will require study and meditation. Cursorily reading it isn’t a bad thing but it could be compared to a lollipop in its sustenance regarding our spiritual health.

Life happens. Every day we face various trials and challenges. Big ones and small ones. We face rude stewardesses, customer service reps, and clerks. We find out a company scammed us or cheated us or didn’t receive our payment. We learn that our child or spouse or family member did something very disappointing. We find out that someone passed away, is getting divorced, or has been diagnosed with illness.

God has told us how to respond to these things and so much more in His Word. But if we don’t know it, we are missing out on the greatest strength and guidance God has offered us. Let us not ignore this wonderful gift God has given us for this life.

 

 

The Smallest Crack

If you live in the country you know that mice can get in the smallest, teeniest, tiniest crack there is. They can slip under a door or scurry through a small hole in the wall. They will find any area that has not been sealed properly. Even when you think you have everything boarded up tight, you will find that mice will often find a way in. Especially in the fall when it’s starting to get cold.

As I was finishing up the final chapter of a *Bible Study based on the book of James last week, there was a list of questions given at the end that made me realize that pride is just like that mouse. It slips in quietly, often unnoticed, in the unsealed places of our hearts and minds. We had spent the last several chapters of the study learning about biblical humility and pride. James does not mince words, as we can see in chapter 4, verses 6–

But He gives more grace. Therefore He says:

“God resists the proud,
But gives grace to the humble.”

God resists the proud. And He gives grace to the humble. We already know this. But have we given thought recently to just how pride will slip in through even the smallest crack in our spiritual armor? It slithers in unbeknownst to us while we are patting ourselves on the back for not being prideful. It slides down into our hearts when we are least expecting it. Compliments and applaud and rewards make us even more vulnerable.

The more I study the Bible, the more I understand these three things: 1) how much God hates pride 2) just how deadly pride is to godly, righteous living and 3) how susceptible I am to it at all times.

As I worked on that final chapter and read through those questions, I thought that you all might appreciate this, as well. I think these questions are very revealing. They help us understand that pride isn’t simply boasting or having an arrogant attitude. It is so very much more than that, as we will see by this list of questions. At the end of the final chapter of his Bible Study on James, Steve Pettit says this–

Sometimes we view humility as the absence of outrageous vanity and boasting. But evaluating our pride should go much deeper than such surface observations. Consider the following questions (I have added a few comments in parentheses):

1.  Am I a critical person?

2. Do I regularly question authority?

3. Do I make fun of weaker, less privileged people?

4. Do I treat people differently based on their status? (Or on their wealth or their position in the company where I work or their leadership role at church?)

5. Am I dissatisfied with God’s Word as sufficient for life and godliness? (Or do I crave a supernatural experience that will make me feel special and important?)

6. Do I make plans without making the Lord the center of my life?

7. Do I shift blame instead of taking responsibility for my actions? (Do I get defensive if someone confronts me?)

8. Do I widely proclaim my views but rarely listen? (At home, at work, at church, on the sidelines–am I more concerned with being heard or with hearing others?)

9. Do I hold grudges instead of extending forgiveness?

10. Do I put up a front instead of confessing my faults to those who can help? (Do I confess my sins to God? To others? Am I willing to humbly apologize?)

11. Do I pray sparingly? (Lack of prayer indicates that we believe we can do life on our own.)

I don’t know about you, but this is quite a list! How did you do? Were you as convicted as me?? Does this list help you recognize that pride is something very real in your life? That it has seeped into the cracks of your armor–even when you didn’t realize it? Like that tiny mouse or a slithering poisonous snake, it slides through the smallest crack and takes up residence in our heart before we even know it.

Pettit gives this final paragraph–

The point of these questions is not to drive you to simply to do better. Answering yes to some of these questions is the first step toward repentance and receiving God’s grace, because a humble person is honest. He understands what David confessed–that God wants us to have integrity in our hearts (Psalm 51:6). Recognizing spiritual unfaithfulness and pride does not mean we pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. It means running to Christ for superabundant grace. It means humbling ourselves to get back on the path of wisdom from above.

We have to face the fact that we can’t fix ourselves. In this day and age of self-help, we think we should be able to. Removing ourselves from the path of earthly, human wisdom means discarding our pride and putting on humility, recognizing that only God can give us the grace and strength we need for permanent change and righteous living.

And then we must remain in the Word and keep our eyes open because that deadly pride will slip in through the cracks once again, as soon as we leave even the slightest chink in our armor. We will see it when we argue with our spouse. It will crop up when someone criticizes something we did. And when we are tempted to criticize someone else. It rears its ugly head when we are hurt and rejected, when someone tells us what to do, when someone compliments us, or when we get too busy to pray. It is a constant danger to all believers and we must be on the lookout at all times.

So, over the next few days, let’s reflect on how pride tends to manifest itself in our own lives. Let’s ask the Lord to grow us in humility. Let’s be sure to keep our spiritual armor on (Ephesians 6:10-20), so that we may withstand those arrows of temptation thrown at us every day. And let’s thoroughly and regularly examine our spiritual armor for chinks and gaps so that– while we are busy defending ourselves from the “bigger sins”–pride doesn’t slip in, quiet as a mouse, and take up residence in our hearts.

 

*From Wisdom from Above: A Study in James by Steve Pettit

Beautifully and Naturally Changed

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We were about halfway to church when I realized it. I sighed and looked in my car mirror, just to be sure. Yep. It was true: I had totally forgotten to put on my make-up. Distracted during my morning routine, I remembered that I had never gone back to the bathroom mirror to finish getting ready.

I don’t actually wear that much make-up but it still felt strange going to church without it. I looked at my husband.

“I forgot to put on my makeup. Can you tell?”

“Nahhh. It’s summer. You are tan. It’s not a big deal.”

Not that it mattered. We weren’t turning around for such an insignificant reason, anyway. We drove on to church and worshiped, as usual.

In the winter, our skin is lighter but in the summer it tans to a nice golden brown if we spend time in the sun. Since there wasn’t any sunscreen for thousands of years, we can only imagine that God designed our skin this way. And when we are tan we look healthier for some reason. (Even though the latest craze from the medical world is to encourage us to wear sunscreen 24/7 and not let a bit of sun stain our skin.)

So what does this have to do with anything?

Well, I was thinking about how not wearing my makeup was so much less noticeable in the summer than it would have been in the winter and I realized that this is very similar to a dynamic that goes on in many churches, in that–

Good works is the “make-up” that those claiming to know Christ will use when they haven’t actually been transformed by Christ.

Let me explain–

We have all heard of the “good Christian man” who is caught with a prostitute or declares bankruptcy due to a gambling addiction. We have heard of the woman that up and leaves her family out of the blue or gives evidence that she is an alcoholic after hiding it for many years. Et cetera, et cetera. So many of these cases, so many different details, but all the same thing: Someone whom we thought was godly was actually not godly at all, as evidenced by their following after sin and never turning back from it with a repentant heart.

These types of people have worn the make-up of good works–some for many, many years. But what was missing was the golden tan of a heart transformed by the love of the Savior. You see, we can look pretty good to the church if we will simply step up and do the right thing–serve in the kitchen or on the coffee committee, serve as a church leader, teach Sunday School, work in the sound booth, greet people on a Sunday, or minister to children (to name just a few). These things make us look holy–even though we might not be. They give us the “make-up” we need to look presentable at church.

Many people put on a good show, while in the privacy of their own homes or offices, they are not really all that sold out for God as they live a life that is consumed with selfish desires. Some are living a life that is in complete opposition to the one they are portraying at church.

This is a great reminder that we should always be sure to confirm that our own good works are originating from a changed heart and not from some outward putting on of “righteous works” in order to make us look good to others.

Jesus points out a clear example of this in the lives of the Pharisees, who on the outside looked holy and pure but on the inside were wicked and unchanged by God. He puts it like this in Luke 11:39-40–

Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness. 40 Foolish ones! Did not He who made the outside make the inside also?

So let’s be sure that our outward behavior is a reflection of a changed heart and never the means we use to look “holy” to our church family on Sundays while living to please ourselves the rest of the week.

A beautifully changed heart will always yield a life that is also beautifully–and naturally–changed on the outside.

 

Does God Only Care About My Heart?

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I remember having a conversation many years ago with someone about what to *wear to church. The verse used to support their argument for dressing down was I Samuel 16:7–

 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees;[a] for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Since that time I have also heard that verse used many times to support licentiousness (which–simply stated– means the freedom to continue living in sin after salvation). The argument is that God only cares about my heart and He doesn’t care about my behavior. And it has had far-reaching effects on families and churches, as it condones living in sin while still having assurance of salvation.

But is this what that verse is saying? Does God only care about our hearts? If you are a regular reader, you probably already know the answer to this, but let’s go to scripture and unpack this a bit. I think it’s kind of interesting.

First, let’s talk about what’s going on behind I Samuel 16:7. Samuel has been told by God to anoint Israel’s new king. Things have gone badly with the people’s choice (Saul) and now God is going to choose the king. Samuel travels to the home of Jesse as directed and quickly spots his tallest, strongest son: Eliab.

Surely this is whom God has chosen for Israel! Or in Samuel’s words: “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him!”

This is when God says to Samuel that He looks at the heart, not at the outward appearance. By the way, aren’t you so glad God doesn’t care anything about how we look? He has made us all so different. Some are short, some are tall. Some have large feet or big noses and some do not. We have a variety of shades and colors for our skin, eyes, and hair. And this is all good! We are told in Psalm 139:13-14 that God made us fearfully and wonderfully, which means our physical features are not only good but are actually  just the way He designed us!

So this is what God is talking about in I Samuel 16:7. He will often choose the weakest or the youngest or the most unlikely candidate to use for His glory.

So why do people so often use this verse to defend their sin or their own personal agenda?

It is the age-old temptation to twist a verse in the Bible to make it mean what you want it to mean. And I’d like to prove from the Bible why this verse could never mean that God doesn’t care about our outward behavior. There are an abundance of New Testament verses that will show that God most certainly does care about how we behave. Here are two of the most compelling–

Romans 6:1-2What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?

James 2:17-19Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!

We can see very clearly from these verses that I Samuel 16:7 does not give us any right to continue in our sin at all.

BUT–you may say–I thought I don’t have to do anything to be saved. Isn’t what you are describing legalism?

No! A thousand times No! This is the lie in which Satan has so many ensnared.

Let me clarify–Legalism is believing that you have to do something to be saved. That you have to do x, y, and z in order to go to heaven. And if you don’t do x, y, and z, you can’t be saved. The Bible shows us that this is false! In fact, this is the easiest way to tell if a religion is true or false–does it require works or is it simply based on faith?

But this does not let us off the hook to continue in sin, as we read in Romans 6. We have been saved from sin to go and sin no longer! We have not been saved from sin to continue in its destructive path. True faith in Christ yields a transformed life. It isn’t a based on some legalistic set of rules but on a deep and abiding love and desire to please our Savior.

O, how tragic that so many are deceived. How many Christians are living weak, powerless lives because they are living in sin–believing that God only cares about their heart.

If we think about this further, we can see that someone can have a clean outward appearance and be filthy inside–like the Pharisees. But it is impossible to be humble, holy, and pure on the inside and not have that shine forth on the outside. True believers are yielded to God and He is the one who works in them for His will and good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). This shines forth as fruit in a saved life (Matthew 7:20).

Of course, we can understand how appealing it is to think that we can be saved but still continue in our sin. This would mean that no sacrifice or self-denial or hard work would be required. Who doesn’t like the idea of that? A free ride to heaven with no sacrifice here on earth. But, of course, again, there are a myriad of scripture verses to dispute this, as well. My favorite is Luke 9:23-24. This passage makes it very clear what we should expect when we choose to follow Christ–

Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily,[a] and follow Me. 24 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it.

The Christian life is hard work. It is a life of sacrifice and denial. If we are saved we have an overall desire to stop sinning and to please the Lord. While we still battle our flesh every day–even every hour–we have the Holy Spirit to convict us of our sin and help us to overcome it. We experience victory over sin and develop a hatred for evil and a love for righteousness, growing slightly more like our Savior with each passing year. The Christian life leads to victory over sin not to a broken, sin-ridden life!

I don’t know why God placed this on my heart this morning, but I hope that it may help at least one of you who is struggling with this–or perhaps even help some of you use the Word of God to help someone else caught up in this lie.

Let’s never be satisfied with status quo and may we continue to grow in our faith for our entire lives!

*Of course, conversations about what to wear to church are completely irrelevant now but that was at the time when everyone still dressed up to go to church and there was this movement–that was quite successful, I might add–for churches to dress down so as to appeal to the lost. If you would like to know my thoughts on how to dress for church you can find them here. But one thing I didn’t see when I was writing that post was the reason behind this push to dress down and how unbiblical it is. The argument was that we needed to make the lost feel comfortable at church and our suits and dresses just didn’t do that. But here is the problem: Church is for the saved. And the saved are to seek the lost. But everyone wants a shortcut now and they just want to bring their lost friends to church instead of having tough conversations about sin and hell and eternity. It is my opinion that this philosophy has deprived Christ’s bride of boldness and has really curtailed their knowledge of scripture, as churches dumb down their teachings for goats instead of feeding the sheep.

The Four Missing Elements

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If reading about the lives and faith of those who have gone on before has taught me anything, it has most certainly taught me that there is nothing new under the sun. Satan has been working feverishly for thousands of years now to keep people off the path of true, biblical faith. And he has had great success.

One of the ways we see him currently working in the church today is through a false, mystical faith that relies on experience for the assurance of salvation. The only thing that matters in many churches or the lives of many “Christians” is that there has been some sort of spiritual experience that one can look to as the moment of salvation.

I thought this was a new thing. But in reading the biography of Jonathan Edwards by Iain Murray, I see that this trick has been around for many, many years. This biography has required great thought and effort to read (I am still working on it!), but I am learning so much.

If you don’t mind, I am going to just give a really brief paragraph of history before moving on to what Edwards had to say about experiential faith. (If you aren’t interested in the history part of it, feel free to skip the following paragraph.)

From the mid 1730s to about 1743, there came a revival to America which was called the “Great Awakening”. You may have heard about it. George Whitfield and Jonathan Edwards were both a big part of this exciting time in America. About halfway through the revival, Edwards noticed that the revival was taking on a distinctly emotional leaning. People were much more wrapped up in their experiences than they were in living for Christ. This led Edwards to write A Treatise Concerning Religious Affections, a book that is still in print today. This is Edwards’ first paragraph, explaining the reason he is writing this particular book–

There is no question whatsoever, that is of greater importance to mankind, and that it more concerns every individual person to be well resolved in, than this: What are the distinguishing qualifications of those that are in favor with God, and entitled to his eternal rewards? Or, which comes to the same thing, What is the nature of true religion? And wherein do lie the distinguishing notes of that virtue and holiness that is acceptable in the sight of God? But though it be of such importance, and though we have clear and abundant light in the word of God to direct us in this matter, yet there is no one point, wherein professing Christians do more differ one from another. It would be endless to reckon up the variety of opinions in this point, that divide the Christian world; making manifest the truth of that declaration of our Savior, “Strait is the gate and narrow is the way, that leads to life, and few there be that find it.” The consideration of these things has long engaged me to attend to this matter, with the utmost diligence and care, and exactness of search and inquiry, that I have been capable of. It is a subject on which my mind has been peculiarly intent, ever since I first entered on the study of divinity. But as to the success of my inquiries it must be left to the judgment of the reader of the following treatise.

I have not read the Treatise of Religious Affections (at least not yet) but Murray shares portions from this book and other writings of Edwards that I have found most helpful in establishing what the Bible teaches about the assurance of salvation. Edwards felt it necessary to respond to the problem of experience-based (and false) faith that had grown like a giant tare in the midst of the true revival. I was most astonished to find this problem to be a very old one. And I am most grateful to Jonathan Edwards for expounding biblically on this very hot and current topic of today.

Jonathan Edwards uses this illustration, that seems so very applicable–

It is with professors of religion, especially such as become so in a time of outpouring of the Spirit of God, as it is with blossoms in the spring; there are vast numbers of them upon the trees, which all look fair and promising; but yet many of them never come to anything….It is the mature fruit which comes afterwards, and not the beautiful colors and smell of the blossoms that we must judge by.*

So, how do we know if we ourselves and those we love are practicing true and saving faith? What are the distinguishing marks of a true believer? How do we have genuine assurance of our salvation? This is no small question, as we all long to be right with God and spend eternity in heaven.

Someone I know recently had a conversation with a co-worker about where she would go when she dies. She stated that she was sure she was going to heaven because she was a good person. When pressed a bit, it was made clear that this woman wasn’t basing her belief on anything but her own desire to be in a good place when she dies. But beliefs do not save us. And, while I most certainly recognize that this will step on some toes, I also recognize the importance of getting a message of biblical salvation out to as many people as will hear it! Eternal life and damnation hang in the balance. How important that we know what the Bible says about these things.

Edwards, in response to this mystical, experiential religion and the aftermath of the revival, gives four missing elements in the lives of those who have no true grace. In other words, those who have had an experience but aren’t truly saved. (Keep in mind, that Edwards is assuming the reader’s high view of scripture. His readers–and even the general population–would have generally viewed the Bible as the true, inerrant, and complete Word of God and the basis for all morality. This is definitely missing from our current culture.)

1. Humility is missing. I have been thinking of this one now for a good, long while. We cannot even come to know true salvation without humility. How can we ever see ourselves as the sinners we are without it? Pride is a most dangerous and deadly sin.

2. An abiding sense of sin is missing.True saints are spoken of in Scripture not only as those that have mourned for sin, but as those that do mourn, whose manner it is still to mourn (Matthew 5:4)’ Repentance and confession are not once and done, but a continual part of a true believer’s life.

3. Reverential fear is missing. Yes, God is our friend, but He is also the most holy, omnipotent God. He is not to be treated casually, as we are so wont to do in this current casual culture. Being too familiar with God means that we don’t truly understand who He really is.

4. True balance is missing. Edwards explains balance in this way: “The real Christian, enjoying assurance of salvation, has ‘holy boldness’ but he also ‘has less of self-confidence and more modesty…He is less apt that others to be shaken in the faith, but more apt than others to be moved with solemn warnings, and with God’s frowns, and with the calamities of others. He has the firmest comfort but the softest heart. Richer than others, he is the poorest of all in spirit: the tallest and strongest saint, but the least and tenderest child among them.” *

Murray wraps Edwards’ helpful work up in one sentence: “Edwards basic and recurring theme is straight forward enough. The love and the pursuit of holiness is the enduring mark of the true Christian.”

Of course, as always, let me clarify something of great importance: True believers may be weak in one of these areas or growing in them, so lacking one or two of these elements does not mean a lack of salvation. However, I would add that if all four are missing it is a very ominous sign. I would also add that if the first one is missing it is also a rather ominous sign. There is really no way to be truly saved without the humble admission of sin and guilt.

Edwards talks about baby Christians in this manner: While the experience of a young Christian may be like a confused chaos, he will follow holiness, and true religious affections differ from false affections in that the true are always related to holiness.*

He also goes on to say this about the differences between true and false faith–

Individuals, once confident that they are converted, have no more earnest longings after light and grace….they live upon their first work, or some high experiences that are past, and there is an end to their crying and striving after God and grace. But the holy principles that actuate a true saint have a far more powerful influence to stir him up to earnestness in seeking God and holiness…The Scriptures everywhere represent the seeking, striving, and labor of a Christian, as being chiefly after his conversion, and his conversion as being but the beginning of his work. And almost all that is said in the New Testament, of men’s watching, giving earnest heed to themselves, running the race that is set before them, striving and agonizing, wrestling not with flesh and blood but principalities and powers, fighting, putting on the whole armour of God, and standing, pressing forward, reaching forth, continuing instant in prayer, crying to God day and night; I say, almost all that is said in the New Testament of these things, is spoken of and directed to the saints. Where these things are applied to sinners’ seeking conversion once, they are spoken of the saints’ prosecution of the great business of their high calling ten times.*

True Christianity is a beautiful thing. The Gospel message not only saves us, it transforms us. The counterfeit that we see today–embodied by men and women following after their own worldly lusts and dreams, claiming Christ all the while, is not true Christianity. And while I would never, ever judge an individual’s salvation (who am I to know a person’s heart or where they are at with God?) these thoughts by Edwards do give us a litmus test by which to judge church movements and revivals and the current church age. They also cause us to be more earnest in prayer for the spiritual growth (or perhaps even conversion) of those who are not manifesting the elements of true faith. And, finally, the words of Jonathan Edwards should cause us to examine our own lives, in search of these elements of true, biblical faith.

Please NOTE: One of my greatest fears in writing a post such as this one is misrepresenting an author. I have not read all of Edwards works and I am only becoming acquainted with the Great Awakening and the dynamics surrounding it. If you have anything helpful to add or have any corrections to the information I have given, it will be most welcome. I generally stay away from this type of post, but felt this topic to be of particular importance and relevance to the current church culture we live in.

*This quote and all following come from Banner of Truth Trust‘s The Religious Affections, Select Works of Jonathan Edwards.  This organization has done a wonderful job in bringing the works and biographies of great men and women of the faith back into print.

Standing Out in a Sea of Black and White

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On our recent visit to an aquarium, we saw this featherless penguin (see photo above). We all noticed him. The poor guy. He looked awkward sitting there among the beautiful black and white penguins. Instead of a sleek black and white coat, he was covered in a brownish-gray fuzz. He looked quite pathetic.

I spoke with the Aquarium representative and he shared that this particular penguin has an issue with molting. Instead of his feathers coming in every season, they only come in every other year. They had made a special wet suit to help this little guy get through the harsh Connecticut winters.

I think we Christians are a little like this featherless penguin.

In some ways, before we come to Christ, our good deeds function as our feathers. They comfort us and make us believe that we are right with God. Wearing them, we fit in with all of the other Christians and non-Christians, as we strive to be kind, do what’s right, and follow man-made rules. It isn’t until we stand before God without any of our righteous deeds covering us that we can fully understand God’s plan of salvation. The truth of the matter is that we can never be saved when we are counting on our righteous deeds to save us.

This means, simply, that there are really only two world religions –God has provided a way of salvation through His Son Jesus alone (True Christianity) OR Man is trying to reach God through self-righteousness and rules (All other world religions–including some that are labeled “Christianity”).

If we are part of the first religion, we stand out in a crowd, don’t we? When we came upon the penguins, they all melted together in an array of black and white life–all except for that brown fuzzy one. He stood out among them.

I guess this is what I really want to focus on. If we are a true believer in Jesus Christ, we have been given a wetsuit that can only be provided by God. Yes, we look funny. And, yes, we will stand out. And maybe the other “penguins” won’t like us and will pick on us. This is how it is when we step away from the crowd.

This has, historically, been part of what makes it so tough to be a believer. We hate to look different. We don’t want to stand out. And, yet, this is part of being a true Christian.

Paul writes about this in Ephesians 5:8– For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.

If we are a light in the darkness, we are definitely going to stand out! Unless we try really hard not to. Which we do in a myriad of ways, don’t we?–

–We join our friends in their gossip, complaining, and crude jesting.

–We go along to that ungodly movie that our group of friends or our family wants to see.

–We ignore the horrible lyrics on the radio because we want to be the “cool” mom.

–We (and our daughters) wear the same thing to the beach as everyone else. (A little side note here– this is definitely a way to stand out. People think you are absolutely ODD if you are a young woman who doesn’t wear a bikini. I still shake my head over how it became appropriate for Christian women to be almost naked in public. How did Christians come to accept this as okay? How do dads– who I know love their precious daughters deeply –allow them to dress like this when they know how mens’ minds work? This will forever be a puzzle to me. I will step down off my soapbox now…)

Bottom line: Many people who call themselves Christians are just like the world. They wear the same things, they curse, they have sex before they are married, they watch the same entertainment, they look just like the world. 

With the onset of the Olympics this week, many people have been posting an article about Micheal Phelps becoming saved in 2014. I was disturbed to find out that he is living with his fiancee and that they had a son together five months ago. Surely, even a baby Christian would understand that living out of wedlock is a sin? But not in this sick world we are in. I have no idea if this young man is truly saved but what I do know is that he certainly shouldn’t be held up as some kind of Christian role model.

We are to stand out! We are to be obedient to the words of scripture. We are not to join the world in all its lusts and sinful activities. And, yet, somehow this has all become fully acceptable with nary a word. I just don’t get it.

We are to be that penguin that looks different among all of the black and white. That is part of the cost to being a Christian. Yes, the plan of salvation is simple, but that doesn’t mean it is easy. Following Christ means taking up our cross and denying self (Matthew 16:24). It is not a self-centered decision –filling us with purpose, giving us happiness, etc.

When we fall humbly before God confessing our sin and asking Him to save us, it is a God-centered decision, making us right with the One, True God so that we can stand righteous before Him through the blood of Jesus Christ. It is the only way to be reconciled to God.

When we surrender our wills and lives to God, our happiness, our purpose, our health and wealth are irrelevant. Paul makes this clear in Philippians 4:11-13–

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 12 I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 13 I can do all things through Christ[b] who strengthens me.

Are you standing out? Are you focused on your own personal happiness and fulfillment or on surrendering your will to God’s? This is a constant battle. For me, too. But we know that God’s Word teaches that true salvation yields transformation (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 2:20). Truly saved people stand out like featherless penguins in a sea of black and white. Truly saved people rely on Jesus Christ alone for salvation. Any good works are done because of the deep love they have for their Savior–not because of some drive to save themselves. Sure, we all grow spiritually at different rates and we give grace to those who are young in the Lord (Philippians 1:6). But this cannot keep us from speaking these important truths.

It is critically important that this is the Gospel we not only preach but that we also live! Eternal destinies are at stake.

 

 

 

Is Magic That Big of a Deal?

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I could feel my little-girl heart beating fast inside my chest. My hand slowly reached out to hold onto the little piece that was supposed to move ever so slowly on the Ouija Board in front of us and give us the answers to our most important questions. My two friends’ hands were also on the piece. We waited expectantly.

Somewhere way down deep inside me, this felt absolutely wrong. Yes, I was young but I knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that this was not something I should be fooling around with. After just one question, I made up some reason why I couldn’t keep playing and we left the evil game behind and went outside to play.

That moment is forever etched in my mind. I knew that this was no game. And I knew that I was playing with danger. My spirit was so vexed within me, I almost felt like I couldn’t breathe. I needed to get away from that game. I don’t remember details but I remember that feeling!

I thought of that memory the other day when I was reading about Saul. In our 2015 Bible Reading Challenge this past week, we read about Saul’s death and David being crowned King of Judah. In the midst of all of that, we are reading many of the Psalms. They are like a breath of cool, crisp air in the midst of all of the action and drama we are reading, giving much needed encouragement and refreshing the spirit.

But when I read about Saul’s death the other day in the I Chronicles passage, something really hit me. His death is recorded this way–

(I Chronicles 10:13-14) So Saul died for his breach of faith. He broke faith with the Lord in that he did not keep the command of the Lord, and also consulted a medium, seeking guidance. 14 He did not seek guidance from the Lord. Therefore the Lord put him to death and turned the kingdom over to David the son of Jesse.

Saul died for disobedience and lack of faith. But he also died for seeking guidance from a medium.

We know from other passages that God abhors sorcery and witchcraft. It is abundantly clear in scripture. Here are a few passages that make this clear–

Deuteronomy 18:9-12
Isaiah 8:19-20
2 Chronicles 33:6
Acts 19:19
Galatians 5:19-21
Revelation 21:8

So if Saul died partly for his use of sorcery and we see clearly that anyone who practices sorcery will not inherit the Kingdom of God, then I can’t help but wonder if our lackadaisical attitude towards witchcraft and sorcery as believers is a problem?

We seem to just accept this as innocent and fun entertainment.

But is it?

What should our attitude be towards books and movies that are driven by magic and spells? What about Ouija Boards, tarot cards, and horoscopes? Are these things just light-hearted fun or are they dangerous tools? Should anything having to do with sorcery be in our homes?

I’m just asking.

Here’s the thing–

I know that so many of you draw the line at having actual magical items in your homes, but really leave your guard down when it comes to entertainment. For some reason, many of us Christians, while we believe it’s wrong to actually participate in something we know God hates, we think it’s okay to read it or watch it. I don’t really get this, but I do recognize that Harry Potter books sit on the shelves of many believers. Some own every Twilight movie. And they may even record The Medium. In each of these series, the whole plot is driven by magic and the supernatural in a very entertaining way–they focus on an unknown world that so intrigues us all.

We love a good fantasy, don’t we?

A place where we can get lost and escape for a little while and these books, movies, and shows do just that for us.

I named three of the most popular, but I know there are many other examples of this kind of entertainment in so many of our home libraries. Even some Disney movies push the limit in this area of magic and spells. There are several we chose not to own for this very reason.

We tend to be very “frog-like” in this area of entertainment. And Hollywood takes great advantage of this, throwing in a little black magic  (or sex or bad language, etc.) and increasing it ever so gradually and so subtly that what starts out as “not that bad” ends up very wicked.  And this has led us to the point that we actually have Christians reading, watching, and endorsing things like Harry Potter and Twilight (and The Bachelor and Shades of Gray and all other kinds of wicked things).

I have to confess that I am completely and utterly befuddled by this.

But, listen, I am not going to tell you what you can and cannot watch. That is certainly not my place. I recognize that we are all at a different place of conviction and spiritual maturity. But can I at least ask you this–

If we are trying to live a life that pleases God and we know with complete certainty that He hates sorcery, should we at least consider the appropriateness of having entertainment that glorifies these things in our lives and the lives of our children?

It is my belief that Satan has used the human propensity for entertainment to wield many believers almost ineffective for the cause of Christ. We have put our swords of truth down (the Word of God) and have instead found ourselves wrapped up in the goings-on of pretend worlds. We find ourselves powerless and hungry for supernatural experiences that will prove to us that we aren’t as powerless as we feel.

May I encourage you to pick up your Swords and use them? May I encourage you to clean house of all that you know God hates–and not just things full of magic and witchcraft, but all of the other stuff, too?

I  believe that it is impossible to live the full and blessed Christian life that Christ offers until we are willing to give up our ungodly entertainment.

Would you at least consider praying about this?

 

 

 

 

Why How We Live Is So Important

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Many times, as believers, we really struggle with this concept of holiness. If we are truly saved, it is something we know is required of us and so we work and strive to be more “holy”. But do we truly understand why?

I think that is a question with several answers, but one was just made very clear to me by our scripture reading this past week.

As you read the detailed description of the tabernacle, did your eyes glaze over? I have to confess that as I read all of the specifics about the Tabernacle, I found it hard to stay focused on what I was reading. In this day and age of “soundbite” information, such detail can be hard for us to read.

So why did God place so many details about the Tabernacle in His Word? That was the question my youngest daughter and I found ourselves discussing the other day.

If God gave 50+ chapters in the Old Testament to let us know His exact requirements for the place His Spirit would reside with the children of Israel in the wilderness, then it must be important. As we discussed this question, it dawned on me that it could have something to do with helping us to understand just how holy is the place His Spirit demands as a sanctuary. It gives us some insight into just how holy and awesome God is!

Now, jump with me, if you will, to the New Testament. Suddenly, personal holiness takes on a whole new meaning–

Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? (I Corinthians 6:19)

 That good thing which was committed to you, keep by the Holy Spirit who dwells in us. (2 Timothy 1:14)

For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one.(I John 4:7)

If, now, in this church age, we have become the place in which the Holy Spirit dwells, then our sin takes on a whole new light, doesn’t it? It becomes even more offensive and not something to brush off lightly, as we are so apt to do.

I would often ask my kids if they would take Jesus to that movie or listen to that radio station if Jesus were sitting in the car with them as they were growing up. But God is with them at all times. God, the Holy Spirit, is with them. With me. With you. At all times. We have a responsibility to live a holy and pure life so that we are a fitting place for the Holy Spirit to dwell.

If God gave all of that detail in the Old Testament showing us what He required (and it’s clear that the sacrifice of Jesus did eliminate all of the ritual and blood sacrifices of old — just read Hebrews 9) and if we read all of the specifics of gold and silver and bronze, of the colors of blue and purple and scarlet, the carvings of orange and almond blossoms, we have to understand that God demands the best.

Not perfection. Perfection isn’t an option in this sinful world. But the best, purest, most holy me I can be. Because if I believe what the Bible says then I understand that when I became a believer, His Spirit came to dwell within me.

Doesn’t that make us view even the smallest choices with much greater care? And even our “smallest” sins with much greater remorse? Doesn’t daily confession and the idea of repentance make much more sense with this insight? We not only represent a Holy God, but His Spirit dwells within us!

In this day and age of casual living, we tend to view God as our buddy and friend (and we are called His friends in John 15:14) but may we learn from our Old Testament reading that God is also holy and awesome and omnipotent. This hasn’t changed just because of Jesus’s sacrifice on the cross. And a Holy God demands a holy dwelling place. Let us not forget!

 

Please Note: I am presenting the insight and understanding that I am learning as we read through the Bible with each Thursday post, but may I encourage you to please do your own study using good resources to gain insight and grow in the Lord. I am doing my best to give biblical, solid food for thought as we read through the Bible, but I would be the first to admit that I am no theologian!

 

 

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