Beware of the “Death-trap”

As we have been studying through the Sermon on the Mount, we have seen Jesus continually confront religious hypocrisy. C.S. Lewis offers, what I believe to be, a good analysis of the pride that feeds religious hypocrisy. In Mere Christianity, Lewis wrote:

How is it that people who are quite obviously eaten up with Pride can say they believe in God and appear to themselves very religious? I am afraid it means they are worshipping an imaginary God. They theoretically admit themselves to be nothing in the presence of this phantom God, but are really all the time imagining how He approves of them and thinks them far better than ordinary people: that is, they pay a pennyworth of imaginary humility to Him and get out of it a pound’s worth of Pride towards their fellow-men. I suppose it was of those people Christ was thinking when He said that some would preach about Him and cast out devils in His name, only to be told at the end of the world that He had never known them. (pg. 124)

Don’t miss Lewis’ caution:

And any of us may at any moment be in this death-trap. (pg. 124, emphasis mine)

 What is a sign that we may be caught in this trap? He continued:

Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good—above all, that we are better than someone else—I think we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil. The real test of being in the presence of God is, that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. (pgs. 124-125)

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Encouragements from Sibbes

Let Richard Sibbes (1577-1635) encourage you, here are some quotes from his work, The Bruised Reed.

But if we have this for a foundation truth, that there is more mercy in Christ than sin in us, there can be no danger in thorough dealing (with sin). (pgs. 12-13)

A holy despair in ourselves is the ground of true hope. (pg. 14)

Let us not therefore be discouraged at the small beginnings of grace, but look on ourselves as elected to be ‘holy without blame’ (Eph. 1:4). Let us look on our imperfect beginning only to enforce further striving to perfection, and to keep us in a low opinion of ourselves. Otherwise, in case of discouragement, we must consider ourselves as Christ does, who looks on us as those he intends to fit for himself. Christ values us by what we shall be…We call a little plant a tree, because it is growing to be so. (pg. 17)

It would be a good contest amongst Christians, one to labour to give no offence, and the other to labour to take none. The best men are severe to themselves, tender over others. (pg. 23)

Sometimes a Christian has such confused thoughts that he can say nothing but, as a child, cries, ‘O Father’, not able to express what he needs, like Moses at the Red Sea. These stirrings of the spirit touch the heart of God and melt him into compassion towards us, when they come from the Spirit of adoption, and from a striving to be better. (pgs. 50-51)

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Adorn Your Faith

C.H. Spurgeon wrote:

Be not ashamed of your faith; remember it is the ancient gospel of the martyrs, confessors, reformers, and saints. Above all, it is the truth of God, against which all the gates of Hell cannot prevail. Let your lives adorn your faith, let your example adorn your creed. (Foreword to the Baptist Confession of Faith)

Two things we should heed:

  • “Be not ashamed of your faith…it is the truth of God”
  • “Let your lives adorn your faith…”
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Root Idols

This past Sunday, we spent some time thinking about Idolatry. Idolatry is elevating a good thing to the status of ultimate in our lives. Some say it is making a good thing a god thing in our lives. If you’ve heard me talk about idolatry, you have most likely heard me reference Tim Keller in saying that idols are things we love, trust, and obey. (see Counterfeit Gods, pg. xxi)

An Idol is something that we love because we trust that it is going to give our life significance, value, and worth. Therefore, we obey our idol(s).

You may say, “How do we obey our idols?” Let’s say you have made your work/career into an idol. You love your work because you trust that it will fill your life with significance. Therefore, you must obey it as ultimate and meet all the demands of your work: email, phone calls, over-time, and never resting on weekends. Another way to say “obey” is to think of it in terms of sacrifice. We will make sacrifices for our gods (idols) in worship to them. So, again, if you worship your job/career you will sacrifice family relationships giving all your best time and energy to advancing. You will sacrifice your integrity to close the deal and move up the ladder.

Now, career is certainly not the only potential idol. We can make idols out of family, relationships, material possessions, sex, health, politics, being needed, recognition, hobbies…the list could go on and on.

Yet, something else that I have found helpful from Tim Keller is what he calls root or foundational idols. He primarily identifies four: comfort, approval, control, and power. While there are many surface idols, I do think it is helpful to look at these root idols. When we can identify them in our lives we can see how these root idols bud and bear the bitter fruit of a variety of sins. Here is a quick look at the root/foundational idols. (The following breakdown of these root idols comes primarily from Keller’s Understanding Your Heart handout. I have slightly tweaked some words and added some supplemental sentences.)

  • Comfort (privacy, lack of stress, and freedom)
    • The price you are willing to pay: Reduced Productivity
    • Greatest fear: Stress and Demands
    • People around you often feel: Neglected/Hurt
      • Your ultimate quest for comfort causes you to neglect relationships and responsibilities. Your primary focus is you!
    • Your problem emotion: Boredom
  • Approval (affirmation, love, relationship)
    • The price you are willing to pay: Less Independence
    • Greatest Fear: Rejection
    • People around you often feel: Smothered
      • Others feel smothered because you want more from them than what they can give.
    • Your problem emotion: Cowardice
      • You can’t speak the truth in love to others because you fear rejection.
  • Control (self-discipline, certainty, standards)
    • The price you are willing to pay: Loneliness and Spontaneity
    • Greatest Fear: Uncertainty
    • People around you often feel: Condemned
      • If they would only get their act together or have been better prepared that wouldn’t have happened to them.
    • Your problem emotion: Worry
      • Stuck in a vicious cycle of: worry – seeking greater control – fail – leading to more worry – seeking greater control…
  • Power (success, winning, influence)
    • The price you are willing to pay: Burdened and Responsibility
      • You will take on whatever will gain you more power and influence, thus piling up burdens and responsibility.
    • Greatest Fear: Humiliation
      • You cannot lose…you must win and be the best at everything!
    • People around you often feel: Used
    • Your problem emotion: Anger

The purpose of this is not to evaluate someone else’s heart, but your own. Of course there comes a time as we walk together and help one another follow Jesus to speak the truth in love to one another. However, let us first give ample attention to our own hearts as we stand in Christ. Take some time and slowly yet prayerfully work through the above, asking the Lord to reveal the idols in your life. When the idols come to light, seek to walk, by God’s grace, in faith and repentance (see this post on repentance).

“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” -Psalm 139:23-24

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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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