Christian, Don’t Patronize Sin

J.C. Ryle encourages Christians to make war on our sin.

Look within, each one of you. Examine your own hearts. Do you see there any habit or custom which you know to be wrong in the sight of God? If you do, delay not a moment in attacking it. Resolve at once to lay it aside. (Thoughts for Young Men, pg. 55)

Now, before we continue, let me point back to the danger he emphasized earlier in the book on delaying in attacking sin. He said:

Habits are like stones rolling down hill,–the further they roll, the faster and more ungovernable is their course…Custom is the nurse of sin. Every fresh act of sin lessens fear and remorse, hardens our hearts, blunts the edge of conscience, and increases our evil inclination. (pg. 11)

With this powerful imagery in mind let’s return to Ryle’s comments we began with. He continued:

Nothing darkens the eyes of the mind so much, and deadens the conscience so surely, as an allowed sin. It may be a little one, but it is not the less dangerous for all that. A small leak will sink a great ship, and a small spark will kindle a great fire, and a little allowed sin in like manner will ruin an immortal soul. Take my advice and never spare a little sin. (pg. 55, emphasis original)

I’ll leave you with these two lines from Pastor Ryle:

Put up with a few little sins, and you will soon want a few more. (pg. 57)

Whatever the world may please to say, there are no little sins. (pg. 57)

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” –Romans 8:13

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Calvin on endurance and perseverance in suffering:

Paul fittingly describes the war that believers wage against natural feeling of anguish in their pursuit of endurance and perseverance: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed” (2 Cor. 4:8-9). We see that bearing the cross with endurance doesn’t mean that a person is absolutely stupefied or robbed of every feeling of sorrow. The Stoics of old foolishly idealized such a person… (A Little Book On The Christian Life, pg. 77)

He continued:

At present, likewise, there are among Christians new Stoics who think it a vice not only to groan and weep, but even to be sad or upset…But this cruel philosophy is nothing to us. Our Master and Lord condemned it not only by word but also by example. Our Lord groaned and wept, both for His own and others’ difficult circumstances. Nor did He teach His disciples anything different: “The world,” He said, “will rejoice, but you will weep and lament” (John 16:20). (pg. 78)

He then stated:

I’ve said these things about our experience of grief in order to keep godly people from despair—to keep them, that is, from immediately abandoning the pursuit of endurance because they cannot rid themselves of a natural feeling of sorrow. Such despair and abandonment will come to those who turn endurance into indifference. They will turn a courageous and faithful man into a wooden post. Rather, Scripture praises the saints for endurance when we, though knocked around by evil circumstances, remain unbroken and undefeated; when we, though pricked by bitterness, are simultaneously filled with spiritual joy; when we, though oppressed by anxiety, breathe freely—cheered by the consolation of God. (pgs. 79-80)

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Repentant Living

If you have been around Redeemer long you have heard us talk about the Christian life in terms of daily walking in repentance. Or when we observe the Lord’s Supper together we will often say the Supper is not for perfect or sinless Christians, but for repentant Christians. Well, what do we mean by such language? First, it’s easy to say what we don’t mean. In using language like this we are seeking to correct the false notion that repentance is only a one-time decision that happens at conversion. No, repentance is continual in the life of the Christian.

I like the way David Powlison lays it out in his recent book, Making All Things New. Powlison writes:

We tend to use the word repentance in its more narrow meaning, for decisive moments of realization, conviction of sin, confession, seeking mercy. (pg. 66, emphasis original)

Yet, Powlison says we must understand the wider meaning as well. The wider meaning, he says is;

…the essential inner dynamic of the Christian life. It is an ongoing change process. It involves a continual turning motion, turning toward God and turning away from the riot of other voices, other desires, other loves. (pg. 66)

He continues:

Transformation, growth, maturing, and renewal of mind and lifestyle involve a continual process of mentanoia (repentance), and ever-changing, ever-developing wisdom. We turn from what comes naturally and turn to the faith, love, and joy that are found in knowing Jesus Christ….The entire Christian life (including the more specific moments of repentance) follows a pattern of turning from other things and turning to the Lord. (pg. 67, emphasis original)

I’ll close with this quote from John Calvin that Powlison offers:

This restoration does not take place in one moment or one day or one year…In order that believers may reach this goal [the shinning image of God], God assigns to them a race of repentance, which they are to run throughout their lives. (quoted on pg. 67)

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“Unfathomable Mystery”

In the Sermon this past Sunday I made a passing reference to a J.I. Packer quote on the Incarnation. Here is the fuller quote for your edification. Dr. Packer wrote:

It is here, in the thing that happened at the first Christmas, that the profoundest and most unfathomable depths of the Christian revelation lie. “The Word became flesh” (Jn 1:14); God became man; the divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. And there was no illusion or deception in this: the babyhood of the Son of God was a reality. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation.

This is the real stumbling block in Christianity…and many of those who feel the difficulties concerning the virgin birth, the miracles, the atonement, and the resurrection have come to grief. It is from misbelief, or at least inadequate belief, about the Incarnation that difficulties at other points in the gospel story usually spring. But once the Incarnation is grasped as a reality, these other difficulties dissolve. (Knowing God, pgs. 53-4)

He offers this summary statement:

The Incarnation is in itself an unfathomable mystery, but it makes sense of everything else that the New Testament contains. (pg. 54)

“…veiled in flesh the Godhead see; hail th’incarnate Deity, pleased with us in flesh to dwell, Jesus, our Immanuel.” -Charles Wesley

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Unto Us

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.” -Isaiah 9:6-7

On this passage, Sinclair Ferguson wrote:

…long in advance of the event (Isaiah) detected the true meaning of Christmas. It involves the birth of Jesus-Immanuel. He is the Wonderful Counsellor who has God’s wisdom for us in a world of darkness. He is the Mighty God who has the power to deliver us from our bondage. He is the Everlasting Father who can bring us into God’s family. He is the Prince of Peace who came to bear our guilt and comes to bring us his shalom. (Child in the Manger, pgs. 102-3, emphasis original)

He then pointed out:

But did you notice exactly what Isaiah wrote? ‘To us a child is born, to us a son is given.’ Jesus was born to be all of this for us. (pgs. 103-4, emphasis original)

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“Merciful Father”

The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for man.” -Mark 10:45

Reflecting on this verse in light of Christmas, John Piper wrote:

Paul put it like this in Galatians 4:4-5: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” In other words, the redemption, or the ransom, frees us to be a part of God’s family. We had run away and sold ourselves into slavery. But God pays a ransom and redeems us out of slavery into the Father’s house.

To do that, God’s Son had to become human so that he could suffer and die in our place to pay the ransom. That is the meaning of Christmas. Hebrews 2:14 puts it like this: “since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death.”

In other words, the reason Christ took on our full humanity was that he could die and in dying pay a ransom and free us from the power of death. And free us to be included in his own family. The ransom is ultimately about relationship. Yours to God, your merciful Father. (The Dawning of Indestructible Joy, pgs. 53-54, emphasis mine)

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Help with Prayer

This past Sunday we started the section on prayer in our study of the Sermon on the Mount. Over the years, I have been encouraged by various people to pray the Bible, a practice that has been employed by Christians throughout history. One specific example would be Martin Luther instructing his barber, Peter, to pray in this fashion when Peter asked Luther for help in this area. Recently, Donald Whitney has written a simple book on the subject entitled, Praying the Bible. He says that Christians often get discouraged in their prayer life because they continually “return to that mental script (they’ve) repeated countless times” when they pray (pg. 15). Often this method of praying can become the thoughtless “empty phrases” our Lord warned us against (Matt. 6:7, pg. 17).

Whitney suggests that a more healthy method is praying the Bible. He says we can read through any passage and begin to pray the things that come to mind as we read. A good place to start, he says, is the Psalms. He offers this example from Psalm 23:1 on the Lord being our shepherd. He said reflecting on this truth could lead us to pray something like:

Lord, I thank you that you are my shepherd. You’re a good shepherd. You have shepherded me all my life. And, great Shepherd, please shepherd my family today: guard them from the ways of the world; guide them into the ways of God. Lead them not into temptation; deliver them from evil. O great Shepherd, I pray for my children; cause them to be your sheep. May they love you as their shepherd, as I do. And, Lord, please shepherd me in the decision that’s before me about my future. Do I make that move, that change, or not? I also pray for our under-shepherds at the church. Please shepherd them as they shepherd us. (pgs. 29-30, emphasis original)

Whitney says, from there you simply move to the next verse, reflect and pray. He later said:

By this means, the Spirit of God will use the Word of God to help the people of God pray increasingly according to the will of God. (pg. 37)

I would encourage you to incorporate this practice of praying the Bible into your prayer life. Over the past year, as a church, we have returned again and again to Ephesians 5:1-2 which says:

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

How can you pray this passage for yourself and your fellow church members this week? How can you pray this for our marriages, singleness, parenting, church life, work/neighborhood relationships, and so on?

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“All This and Jesus Too”

Over the years I have heard the story of an old Puritan recounted. The man sat down to a very small meal of a simple piece of bread (or potato) and water. He then voiced his prayer; “all this and Jesus too!” This man seems to have understood well and experienced the same grace as the Apostle Paul who wrote:

…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:11a-14)

Prior to saying this Paul called the Philippians to “rejoice in the Lord always” (Phil. 4:4). This tells us that the contentment Paul knew in all circumstances was rooted and grounded in rejoicing in Christ and not in his circumstances.

Christian, in Christ, God has poured on us inexpressible and unsearchable riches (2 Cor. 9:15, Eph. 3:8), and this is a gift. We didn’t earn or merit salvation in Christ. In fact, we earned not blessing, but instead curse.  In his book, Chasing Contentment, Erik Raymond said; “The truth is, we deserve hell and we got mercy!” (pg. 54) In light of this proper understanding of the gospel, Raymond pointedly wrote:

If you are having a hard time being content, make a list of everything you have that you don’t deserve, and then make a list of everything you deserve that you don’t have. When you and I realize how kind and gracious God has been with us, we’re able to see things in a proper perspective. (pg. 62)

We have much for which we should be thankful. I hope we can join the old Puritan in saying, “all this and Jesus too!”

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Take Up Your Cross

Michael Lawrence offers a few quick examples of what it might look like for a believer to “deny himself and take up his cross and follow me (Jesus)” (Matt. 16:24). He wrote:

That means Jesus might make a difference in your marriage by giving you the grace to persevere with a spouse who no longer loves you. He might bring love, joy, and peace to your home by making you an agent rather than a recipient of those things. He might give you renewed purpose at work by changing your attitude rather than your job description. (Conversion, pg. 22)

What does the call to deny yourself look like in your life right now?

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“Rolling-Stone Christians”

In a sermon preached on October 24, 1869, Charles Spurgeon said:

Now I know there are some who say, “Well, I hope I have given myself to the Lord, but I do not intend to give myself to any church, because…” Now, why not? “Because I can be a Christian without it.” Now, are you quite clear about that? You can be as good a Christian by disobedience to your Lord’s commands as by being obedient?

Well, suppose everybody else did the same? Suppose all Christians in the world said, “I shall not join the Church.” Why there would be no visible Church! There would be no ordinances! That would be a very bad thing and yet, one doing it—what is right for one is right for all—why should not all of us do it? Then you believe that if you were to do an act which has a tendency to destroy the visible Church of God, you would be as good a Christian as if you did your best to build up that Church? I do not believe it, Sir! Nor do you, either. You have not any such a belief—it is only a trumpery excuse for something else.

There is a brick—a very good one. What is the brick made for? To help to build a house with. It is of no use for that brick to tell you that it is just as good a brick while it is kicking about on the ground as it would be in the house. It is a good-for-nothing brick! Until it is built into the wall, it is no good! So you rolling-stone Christians, I do not believe that you are answering your purpose—you are living contrary to the life which Christ would have you live—and you are much to blame for the injury you do!

Now, of course we can formally belong to a local church while at the same time functionally it is as if we didn’t belong to any church. In other words, we can be a church member without actively seeking to do our “best to build up that Church” as Spurgeon said above. The calling to be a part of a local church is a calling to actively and consistently pour into that body seeking to build one another up in love (Eph. 4:15-16). Let us, by God’s grace, avoid being “rolling-stone Christians” both formally and functionally.

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