When Your Sin Plays Dead

Your Sin Deceives You

Sin is like a master but in Christ we have died to sin (Romans 6:11). However, sin’s presence has not yet been eradicated and its desire is still to rule over you (Genesis 4:7; Galatians 5:17). Deceit is one of its go-to tactics used to gain a stronghold in your heart. Obadiah, Paul, and the author of Hebrews all attest to the deceitful nature of sin:

Obadiah 3 – The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rock, in your lofty dwelling, who say in your heart, “Who will bring me down to the ground?” (ESV; see below).

Ephesians 4:22 – to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires,

Hebrews 3:13 – But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

How Does Your Sin Deceive You?

In order to fight sin we must understand the intricacies concerning exactly how sin deceives. Sin’s toolbox is fully outfitted and ready to wreak havoc on any Christ-follower at any stage of his journey. Sin knows the contours of every weak and vulnerable spot in your heart and it has a carefully devised plan to revisit and expand its footprint. Its deceitful ways are custom built and person specific.

This being said, we know that sin is said to be deceitful because it plays to our pride (Obadiah 3), entices and lures us (James 1:14), and because it attempts to convince us that the source of our temptation is God (James 1:17). Another way in which sin is deceitful is evident when we consider Paul’s words to the church at Corinth, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Cor. 10:12). We must ‘take heed’ because one of the deceits of sin is that it pretends to be weak or dead. When a sin pretends to be dead it often has the look and feel of a sin which has lost all of its allure and grip. The believer considers the sin and it appears as if the sin has retreated and is no longer plaguing him as it once did.

Every believer experiences this particularly deceitful tactic of sin and its devastating toll. Theologian, John Owen (1616-1683), captures the danger we face when our sin is playing dead, “When sin lets us alone we may let sin alone; but as sin is never less quiet than when it seems to be most quiet, and its waters are for the most part deep when they are still”. (Overcoming Sin and Temptation, pg. 51; see below).

Why Does Your Sin Play Dead and How Do You Fight Back?

Sin plays dead for two reasons. First, your sin pretends to be weak or dead as a defensive survival tactic. If a particular sin is weak or dead it does not need to be challenged or attacked. It looks harmless and not worth confronting. It has been declawed, so to speak. Second, your sin pretends to be weak or dead for an offensive advantage. Sin floats, slithers, and creeps so as to go unnoticed but all the while it’s plan is to suddenly spring into action at an opportune time much like a Venus flytrap. When you perceive sin to be weak or dead it goes unchallenged and it is able to grow in an imperceptible way, gaining strength and further extending its tentacles around more chambers of your heart. 

The God-pleasing response to the seemingly harmless sin(s) which used to master you is to never turn your back on it/them. It is in the moment that you think yourself strongest that you are often actually the weakest. Even when reason tells you to move on to fight some other sin because victory is apparent or at least imminent you must continue to put your sin to death. Again, remember Paul’s call to ‘take heed.’ You must recognize that the sins which used to rule you are still active and crouching at the door waiting to destroy. You must not let down your defense and you do not stop attacking. You must ‘take heed’ and consider carefully your sin by observing its patterns and methods. John Owen called this the work of “[tracing the] serpent in all its turnings and windings.” (Overcoming Sin and Temptation, pg. 77). Then, once the sin has been carefully considered, you fight back. By God’s grace as made available through His Word, His Spirit, His Church, and your prayers, you “consider yourselves dead to sin” (Romans 6:11) and you fight your sin until Christ returns.

Credits

Photo by NO NAME on Unsplash

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Psalm 88 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Owen, John, Overcoming Sin and Temptation. (2006). ed. Kelly M. Kapic & Justin Taylor Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

The Church: Imperfect, but Beautiful

Last week my wife returned to teaching as her summer break came to an end. The day before school started a friend from church called to let us know that she had dropped off a cooler with pre-made breakfast meals for the whole week. The next day there was another meal from another church member waiting for me at my office. These acts of kindness are simply two recent instances in which I’ve seen God’s grace through the thoughtfulness and sacrifice of others. 

I could go on and on about ways I’ve been immeasurably blessed by people in the church. From the day I first walked into a church at the age of 16, I’ve been around the most generous, gracious, and loving people I’ve ever met. None of this is to imply that the church is perfect, but it is to say that she is beautiful (by “church” I mean all those who have united to Christ by faith who then gather into local congregations all over the world).

The Church is Imperfect

The church has its flaws. God’s Word even anticipates and makes provision for the imperfections of the church. Commands like “bear with one another” and “forgive one another” clue us in to the fact that we will both be sinned against and sin against others in the church (Eph. 4:32). Further, Jesus instituted a process by which unrepentant church members should be removed from the congregation (Matt. 18:15-20). The New Testament contains a realism about the church. It doesn’t deny that the church will be filled with imperfect people, even at times wicked people. 

Thus, my intention in writing is not to deny anyone’s pain or suffering at the hands of church people. It is undeniable that some churches, whole denominations, or even eras of church history have been responsible for terrible sins. I’m not writing to defend any abuse or hypocrisy or hurt. Instead, my goal is to balance out the narrative a bit. As it is too easy to point out all the flaws in another person and deny their good qualities, in the same way, it is too easy to criticize the church without praising her virtues.

The Church is Beautiful

In the New Testament, the church is described as the bride of Christ (Rev. 21:9), the family of God (2 Cor. 6:18), the temple of God (1 Cor. 3:16-17), and a people purchased by Christ’s sacrifice (Acts 20:28). What is absent from the Scriptures is the sort of attitude that is prevalent today, that the church is a burden, full of hypocrites, or inconsequential in the life of the Christian. Despite this common narrative, the church has been an undeniable force for good in history as well as the present day.

Nicholas Kristof, a writer for the New York Times and an avowed agnostic, has become an unlikely defender of the evangelical church. He writes, “Today, among urban Americans and Europeans, ‘evangelical Christian’ is sometimes a synonym for ‘rube.’ In liberal circles, evangelicals constitute one of the few groups that it’s safe to mock openly…Yet the liberal caricature of evangelicals is incomplete and unfair. I have little in common, politically or theologically, with evangelicals or, while I’m at it, conservative Roman Catholics. But I’ve been truly awed by those I’ve seen in so many remote places, combating illiteracy and warlords, famine and disease, humbly struggling to do the Lord’s work as they see it, and it is offensive to see good people derided.”

Kristof’s defense of Christians stems from something he has noticed in them, a self-sacrificial service to others as well as a generosity of time and resources. He goes on, “I must say that a disproportionate share of the aid workers I’ve met in the wildest places over the years, long after anyone sensible had evacuated, have been evangelicals, nuns or priests… Likewise, religious Americans donate more of their incomes to charity, and volunteer more hours than the nonreligious, according to polls. In the United States and abroad, the safety net of soup kitchens, food pantries and women’s shelters depends heavily on religious donations and volunteers.”

I appreciate Kristof’s observation and kind words about the church. His opinion matters. However, there is one whose judgment means infinitely more. Let’s not forget God’s verdict of the church. Christ purchased her with his blood, he loves her, and will one day return to gather her up as his bride. Let’s make sure that our words about the church are consistent with God’s. If the church is the bride of Christ, we should tread carefully in attacking her. As Ed Stetzer has said , “You can’t love Jesus and hate his wife.”

Credits

Photo by Andrew Seaman on Unsplash

Nicholas Kristof, “A Little Respect for Dr. Foster,” New York Times, March 28, 2015. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/29/opinion/sunday/nicholas-kristof-a-little-respect-for-dr-foster.html

Stetzer, Ed, “You can’t love Jesus and hate his wife,” Twitter, 10 Aug 2019, https://twitter.com/edstetzer/status/1160378867955187713

Praying for Government Officials

Coverage for the 2020 presidential election is beginning to heat up. Candidates have declared their intention of running for president, debates are being hosted by national media, and Trump is tweeting. All of this coverage should serve as a reminder that God’s people are called to pray for their leaders. Paul wrote to Timothy, “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:1-2). 

Whether we like our leaders or not, whether we voted for them or not, God’s command is that we pray for them. This begs the question, “what sorts of prayers ought we to be praying for our elected officials?” The following is not an exhaustive list. It is four suggestions to help structure some of your prayers for the leaders God has placed over us. 

Pray that our elected officials would have their eyes opened to see the beauty of the gospel.

Ultimately, we desire political leaders who genuinely fear God and reflect that in their personal and political lives. The first prayer for those in positions of leadership ought to be that they would see their need for Christ and turn to Him in repentance and faith. Our prayer is that God might move in such a way that He would grant to those officials “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).

Pray that our elected officials act in ways that accord with the justice of God.

God has given government as a common grace. One of the purposes of government is to protect righteousness and to punish wickedness. When done well, the government acts as an extension of God’s justice. Paul wrote, “For he [government] is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain” (Romans 13:4). All governments do this very imperfectly, but we ought to pray that our officials would lead in such a way that righteousness is protected and wickedness is punished. 

Pray that our elected officials would be humble, wise, and courageous.

Proverbs 3:7 warns, “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.” The fear of the Lord is a holy reverence for God flowing from a right understanding of God resulting in submission to God. Therefore, humility, wisdom, and courage are the fruit of a proper fear of God. Our elected officials are humble when they realize that God is creator and they are creation. Our elected officials are wise when they “lean not on their own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). Our elected officials are courageous when they realize that there is more at stake than the praise of man. As God’s people, we should be praying to this end.

Pray that our elected officials would protect peace and religious liberty.

Paul’s intention in praying for “kings and all who are in high positions” is “that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” Paul’s hope was that Christians would be free to live peaceful, quiet, God-glorifying lives. Notice, Paul isn’t lamenting the latest tax hike; he isn’t calling down fire on those who have differing economic ideals. His agenda is fairly simple: let me live at peace, preach, and serve Christ. 

In Closing

Election coverage can get our blood boiling. It can make our nerves a wreck. It can dominate our Facebook feed. However, this year, make it a goal to pray more than criticize, to plead with God more than complain, and to intercede more than condemn.

Credits

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Timothy 2:1-2 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Photo by Andy Feliciotti on Unsplash

The Temptation of Christ: Better News Than You Think

If you were alive in the 90s you probably remember WWJD bracelets. They exploded onto the scene quickly becoming a nationwide phenomenon. The goal was to be reminded to live like Jesus by asking in every moment, “What Would Jesus Do?” What this fad revealed was man’s tendency to simplify Jesus to nothing more than a helpful example.

WWJD bracelets may have disappeared, but this inclination towards self-focused theology remains. For instance, most sermons on the temptation of Christ focus solely on Jesus’ response to temptation. The emphasis often falls on how we can resist temptation by following Jesus’ pattern. Though Jesus is certainly our example (1 Peter 2:21), a closer look at the temptation of Christ, specifically Luke’s account, demonstrates that this narrative is less about us than we like to admit. It is primarily answering the question, “what kind of Savior has come into the world?” There is great news concerning Christ in Luke 4, but we have to look past ourselves to see it.

Jesus is perfect where we are not

Just before the temptation of Christ, Luke includes a genealogy that begins with Jesus and stretches all the way back to Adam, the first man. The long list of names ends with, “the son of Adam, the son of God.” We often assume that genealogies are not important and skip over them. However, we can’t fully understand the temptation of Jesus without the genealogy of Luke 3. Luke is setting up a deliberate parallel between Adam and Christ by tracing Jesus’ line all the way to Adam and calling Adam the son of God. We are meant to read Luke 4 in light of Genesis 1-3 (there are also many parallels between Christ and Israel).

Adam was tempted in the garden and failed. As a result sin, death, and judgment was thrust upon all creation (Genesis 3). Conversely, Jesus was tempted in the wilderness and resisted every temptation (Luke 4:1-13). In his perfect obedience, Jesus demonstrates that he is indeed the Savior who has come to rescue those under the curse of Adam’s sin. The Apostle Paul made the same point in Romans 5:18-19 writing, “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (ESV).

The good news of Luke 4 is that Christ perfectly obeyed the will of the Father, thus, demonstrating himself to be the true Savior who alone can be our substitute. If you are in Christ, then you have received more than a clean slate. Your justification is more than God simply wiping away your past failures. You are credited with the perfection of Jesus himself. He became sin for you so that you might be found righteous before God (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Jesus sympathizes in our weakness

Many have scoffed at the temptation of Christ, wondering if Jesus really experienced temptation since he is God in the flesh and unable to sin. Hebrews 4:15 is instructive, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” So, how do we reconcile Jesus’ inability to sin with his very real temptation to sin? Bruce Ware points out in his excellent book The Man Christ Jesus that the reason Jesus could not sin is entirely separate from the reason Jesus did not sin. Jesus could not sin because he is God and therefore unable to sin. Jesus did not sin because he fully resisted every temptation through reliance on the Holy Spirit, the Word of God, and prayer. This is a necessary distinction if indeed Jesus was tempted in every way as we are. Luke also demonstrates this truth in highlighting Jesus’ reliance on the Spirit and his three-fold citation of the Scriptures (Luke 4:1, 4, 8, 12).

This is also good news. Unlike Christ, we can’t be described as without sin. We do, however, have the same resources at our disposal when it comes to resisting temptation today. Bruce Ware writes, “The resources God gives–particularly his Word, prayer, and the power of the Spirit–are there for us as they were for Jesus.” We have been given everything we need in Christ to resist every temptation. Though we will fight imperfectly, it is encouraging to know that we are not helpless victims of sin.

In closing, the point of Luke 4 is to magnify Christ. Only when we see him as the sinless Savior and sympathetic high priest are we in a position to follow his example and resist temptation.

Credits

Bruce Ware, The Man Christ Jesus: Theological Reflections on the Humanity of Christ (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013) 73ff.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Luke 4:1-13 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Photo by Jared Verdi on Unsplash

Fight for Joy: “No Condemnation”

I am not a fan of lengthy quotes from people who lived hundreds of years ago and talked in a way that is difficult to understand. With that said, please read this lengthy quote from Martin Luther (1483-1546) about how the devil’s reminders of our sin can actually be used against him as we fight for joy in Christ.

What Luther Said

“Let us therefore arm ourselves with these and like verses of the Holy Scriptures, that we may be able to answer the devil (accusing us, and saying: You are a sinner, and therefore you are damned) in this sort: ‘Christ has given Himself for my sins; therefore, Satan, you shall not prevail against me when you go about to terrify me in setting forth the greatness of my sins, and so to bring me into heaviness, distrust, despair, hatred, contempt and blaspheming of God. As often as you object that I am a sinner, you call me to remembrance of the benefit of Christ my Redeemer, upon whose shoulders, and not upon mine, lie all my sins; for ‘the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all,’ and ‘for the transgression of people was he stricken’ (Isaiah 53:6, 8). Wherefore, when you say I am a sinner, you do not terrify me, but comfort me above measure.’” (Luther, Commentary on Galatians, pp. 38-39, as quoted by Bob Kelleman.

Here is the TL;DR (‘Too Long; Didn’t Read’): when Satan reminds us of our sin we can use that accusation to remind ourselves of what Christ did on the cross for us.

Luther’s point serves us well in our fight against sin and our fight for joy. When the Enemy is poisoning our thoughts, we’ve got to remind ourselves of specific Gospel truths.

Paul Said it First

Luther did not just pull this thought from thin air. His point is grounded in Scripture (Isaiah 53 and “like verses”). In Romans 8:1 Paul makes the statement, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (ESV). Paul is speaking directly to those who feel the suffocating weight of Satan’s unhelpful reminder of their sins. The Deceiver’s goal in these reminders is to create a fog between us and the grace of God. His reminders of our sins are meant to disorient us in such a way that God appears far away because we begin to believe that God has moved himself away from us because of disapproval and disgust of our sins, whether past or present. This type of thinking is demonic in origin and in direct contradiction to the Gospel truths of Romans 8:1.

Two Truths to Consider from Romans 8:1

There are two truths we need to lean on in this Scripture. First, Paul says “there is therefore now no condemnation.” This means that God isn’t just promising the removal of condemnation for some future, more Jesus-like version of yourself (thank you to Ray Ortlund for pointing this out). The verdict of ‘no condemnation’ is a present reality. It isn’t tied to who you are or what you’ve done or not done. It’s tied to who Christ is and what Christ has done (see next point).

Second, the ones who are no longer condemned are those “who are in Christ Jesus.” This idea of being in Christ means that if you have placed your faith in Christ then you are spiritually united to Christ. It is as if who you are in your inner-man has been welded to who Jesus is. Your identity can no longer be defined without thinking and speaking of who Christ is and what Christ has done in you.

These truths never grow old or redundant because Satan is like a relentless prosecutor. However, Satan’s pieces of evidence and line of argument used to condemn us is not based on present facts or present realities. He dredges up past sins (and even present sins) to obscure our blood bought freedom. He has a PhD in all of our faults and is weaponizing them to compound their damage against us. The Enemy is not just interested in the one-time damage caused by sin when initially committed. He is playing the long game. Satan’s desire is for you to be hurt by your sin again, and again, and again, through timely reminders. He is in the dirty business of recollecting all of our sins despite the verdict of ‘not guilty.’

But, because God is gracious there is no sin that can separate us from the love of God if we are in Christ (Romans 8:35). God’s closeness to us is static because He resides in us. The only thing that can change is our perception of that closeness.

In Closing

When I think of Luther’s words I’m oddly reminded of the weird dynamic which exists between salty and sweet foods. Have you ever noticed how certain salty foods, like popcorn, make you crave something sweet, like soda? Likewise, Satan’s reminders of our sin, although bitter, do not have to redefine our relationship with God or even obscure other spiritual blessings of being in Christ. These intentionally unhelpful reminders can become on-ramps for us to taste again the sweetness of Christ’s redemptive work. This was Luther’s point and it comes directly from Scriptures like Romans 8:1.

Credits

Photo by Sebastian Pichler on Unsplash

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Romans 8:1 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Ray Ortlund. Sermon: “GOD’S GRACE – BETTER THAN WE THINK – 1” – ROMANS 8:1-2. https://www.immanuelnashville.com/resources/multimedia/details?id=1622906.

The Exhaustion of Having Control

Having control of our lives feels good. We love and crave control because we hate surprises. The allure of control is that the details and quality of our future can be predicted and altered as need be.

The thing about control is that our appetite for it is insatiable especially when envy comes into play. Our tendency is to look out at the lives of others with envy in regards to control. It’s not that we believe everyone we know has more control of their lives than we do. It’s that there are many we know who seemingly have more control over some aspect of their lives and envy can begin to poison our attitude. Experiencing exhaustion as a result of pursuing more control of our lives is inevitable.

How much control do I (or any of us) actually have?

The thing about control is that it doesn’t exist (at least not the way we often think it does). The way God talks about the type of control we desire is that it is something He alone possesses.

In Proverbs 16:9 Solomon writes, “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.” We are volitional and cognitive beings who make “plans.” However, God presides over us in such a way that ultimately He is the one “establishing” and directing our steps.

Similarly, in Ecclesiastes 7:13 Solomon calls us to, “Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked?” There are things in your life that are “crooked,” which you desire to change, and conversely there are things in your life which are “straight” (good) which you wish to never see change. The point is that we are incapable of truly altering the outcome of those things which God has made crooked or straight. Any change that comes as a result of our actions happens because God allows to happen according to His plan.

As finite beings it is impossible for us to fully-grasp how it is that we make plans, decisions, and choices but yet God is in control. Our grasp of cause and effect is simply insufficient in terms of accounting for God’s sovereignty.

The Danger of Control

Recently I heard a song called If You Want Love by Nathan Feuerstein (‘NF’) and a couple of lines stuck with me. Feuerstein sings, “I’ve always tried to control things; In the end that’s what controls me.” He is spot on. Control is like a drug which once tasted has the ability to take control over us. We never feel as though we have enough control because control is absurdly addictive and for good reason.

Our sinful hearts sell us the lie that control is necessary because God operates according to a rigid sense of retribution. Within this framework of a rigid retribution we wrongly believe that God immediately and proportionately rewards righteousness and punishes wickedness. Solomon goes on to confront this wrong way of viewing God in the next few verses of Ecclesiastes 7:14-16. Unfortunately, this way of thinking distorts the very nature of God’s grace and mercy. By definition grace is God giving us what we do not deserve and mercy is God NOT giving us what we deserve.

How do we respond to God’s control? Faith, not Apathy

Someone could argue that a high view of God’s control (sovereignty) results in people being given over to indifference/apathy. The rationale being that if we aren’t truly in control in the exact way that we want then why even bother trying and doing.

A balanced view of God’s sovereign control recognizes that God in His sovereignty utilizes and accounts for our decisions, plans, and choices. Yes, we are to yield to God and His control of all things meaning that we relinquish our grasp (or at least our perception of having a grasp) on our lives. But this surrendering does not lead to indifference or lack of effort on our part. Just the opposite is true. Our responsibility to live and move in faith is unchanged and we strive to make choices, decisions, and plans which are God-pleasing.

With Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:10 we proclaim, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”

By grace we live by faith.

Credits

Photo by Patryk Grądys on Unsplash

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Psalm 88 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Jesus was Thirsty so You Don’t Have to Be

I love lemonade. Sweet, cloudy, pulp-filled lemonade. I love it so much that sometimes I am (almost) motivated to mow my lawn just so I can feel like I deserve a glass. The more thirsty I am the more I enjoy this dew that descends from the mountains of Zion.

In God’s kindness He designed our bodies not only to feel thirst, but also to experience the sweet relief of having that thirst quenched by our favorite beverages. One of the interesting ways that our human experience tracks with Jesus’ words and ministry is in regards to this idea of thirst.

In John 19:28 we have this seemingly insignificant detail recorded that right before Jesus died He uttered the words, “I thirst.” Of interest to us is: (1) why did Jesus say this and (2) why did John see fit to record these words when arguably every word and action John records serves the purpose of making a larger theological point?

Why did Jesus say “I thirst”?

There are a few reasons why Jesus said these words. First, Jesus said “I thirst” because He was literally and legitimately thirsty. Jesus had been tortured and was under the hot Sun. The Son of God is not only 100 percent God but also 100 percent man. He experienced things like hunger and thirst no differently than the rest of us. It is actually safe to say that Jesus knew thirst in a way that we will never know thirst.

Second, Jesus said “I thirst” because He was intentionally fulfilling Scripture which is why John says “[Jesus] said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.”” These words connect back to Psalm 69:21 (“for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink”) and offer another Scriptural evidence that Jesus of Nazareth really is the promised Messiah.

One more reason that Jesus utters the words “I thirst” is so that John could record these words and show us deep theological truths about Jesus.

Why did John record Jesus saying, “I thirst”?

There is a theme of our thirst and Jesus quenching that thirst that builds throughout the book of John.

In John 4 we find Jesus interacting with the woman at the well who is thirsty. This woman is thirsty in ways she doesn’t fully understand. Her thirst isn’t primarily physical but spiritual. This spiritual thirst is evidenced by the fact that she has had five husbands and the man she was currently with was not her husband. What Jesus saw in this woman was an emptiness and discontentment that only living water could fix. This thirst is thirst that speaks to the heart of every person born in a sin riddled world. As we begin to see ourselves depicted in this woman our ears become attentive to what Jesus is offering.


Then in John 6 Jesus teaches that His “flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink” and that “Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” (6:55-56). The connection between John 4 and John 6 is that the living water promised to the woman at the well is revealed to be the sacrificial work of Jesus made complete and sufficient through His death on the cross. It is only through consuming Christ (His completed work) through faith in Christ (6:40) that the woman’s spiritual thirst (and our thirst) can be quenched.

This necessary suffering is why Jesus in John 18 rebukes Peter for drawing his sword and attempting to use physical force to protect Him. What Jesus understands that Peter does not is that He must drink from “the cup” (18:11) of suffering. What drives all of Jesus’ suffering, including His thirst, is that He is willingly submitting to plan of the Father to suffer for our sins.

Jesus was thirsty so you don’t have to be

Standing back and looking at John as a whole it becomes clear that in order for Jesus to quench our thirst, He must thirst for us. His thirst is literal and legitimate but at the same time representative of His suffering.

Without Jesus being crushed by God’s wrath, we would inevitably be crushed instead of quenched. In the Father’s infinite wisdom He saw fit to pour out His wrath on His very Son so that we wouldn’t have to be.

Are you thirsty and leaning on someone or something else to quench that thirst? This thirst can only be quenched by Jesus.

Credits

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Psalm 88 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash

Disciple-Being: A call to be discipled

In 1992 Gatorade released the “Be Like Mike” commercial in which viewers were called to be like Michael Jordan. He had become such a household name that his renown was felt nationally. Most people already wanted to be like Mike, the commercial just gave voice to this sentiment. Since then this commercial and its message have been scrutinized many times by pastors and Bible teachers as they call their listeners not to be like Mike but to be like Jesus Christ, and rightly so. But how do we reconcile this noble commitment to not mimic other people with passages like Philippians 3:17 where Paul says, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us”? Are we to be followers of Christ or other people? Biblically speaking the answer is both.

“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”

What Paul is getting at in Philippians 3:17 (and again in 4:9) seems counterintuitive to our modern Christian mindset but this does not need to be the case. Paul does not view his words as a challenge to following Christ because Paul is only calling his readers to follow him to the extent that he follows Christ. This is most clearly observed in 1 Corinthians 11:1 when Paul says, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” In Paul’s theology he considers it a grace to be in the presence of other brothers and sisters in Christ who are more mature and seasoned in the faith. This concept of imitating other believers as they imitate Christ is also found in 1 Corinthians 4:16; 2 Thessalonians 3:7, 9; 2 Timothy 4:12; Hebrews 13:7; 1 Peter 5:3.

Disciple makers are being discipled

I’ve heard Mark Dever say, “If you say you are following Jesus but are not helping others to know and follow Jesus then I don’t know what you mean when you say ‘I follow Jesus.” Dever’s point is hard to accept but is certainly biblical (Matthew 28:19-20). It should be part of our normal Christian experience to help others follow Jesus. But making disciples is not the only ‘normal’ part of our Christian experience.

What Paul’s words remind us is that being discipled is also part of our normal Christian experience. God intends both being discipled and making disciples to be coexisting realities for the life of believers. We never graduate to the role of ‘disciple-maker’ in such a way that we can leave behind our need to be discipled. Maybe ask yourself the question, ‘who is currently helping me better follow Jesus?’

Clarifying comments


This commitment to be disciples doesn’t mean that there must be a person whom you have formally asked to disciple you or that there is a person who sees himself/herself as being your spiritual father/mother/counselor/advisor/mentor. Often these relationships are informal and organic in nature. The person you see fulfilling this role for you may even be surprised that you see him/her in this way. For others, this relationship may be may formal and structured and that is more than okay.

The core of what Paul is calling believers to is to identify individuals who are more mature in their following of Christ than you are and to imitate them. The person you have in mind may not be more mature in Christ than you in every way but he/she must necessarily be more mature at least in many ways and therefore a good source of imitation. Having someone(s) you look to as a point of reference for imitating Christ helps us see the commands of Scripture come to life in concrete and culturally ways.

Praise God that He saw fit to grow us into Christ-likeness along with others!

Credits

Photo by Karl Fredrickson on Unsplash

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Psalm 88 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Quote from Mark Dever obtained from The Gospel Coalition book review for Dever’s book Discipling.

Why God Creates “Bad” Days For You

“Bad” days are relative to each person’s experience but we all have them. Sometimes our bad days are things like car problems or allergy issues, but then other times our bad days involve more difficult news. Our tendency is to think if we just had (fill in the blank) then we could avoid bad days, but this is not the case. Even Solomon had bad days despite his immense wealth and wisdom. While Solomon’s unparalleled resources were unable to protect him, his theology accounted for bad days so that he could process them in a God-honoring way. In Ecclesiastes 7:14 Solomon’s theology for understanding bad days is spelled out, “In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.” (ESV). Solomon’s words are significant because he addresses “bad” days (‘days of adversity’) and in the process he gives us insight into both their source and purpose.

Where do bad days come from?

The book of Job shows us that even when Satan is the immediate culprit behind our difficult days that God, at the very least, has to sign off on what happens (Job 1:12). This is a hard truth to chew on and stomach. It is easier for our brains to process God being the cause of all pleasant things and the Devil being the cause of all difficult things in our lives. We like these nice and tidy categories but in God’s economy things are not this simple.

While bad days may be the immediate result of our choices or even Satan’s meddling, nothing happens outside the providential and inscrutable hand of God (Proverbs 16:33). At the very least God could have stopped or prevented the events and situations which result in what we deem a “bad day” but for reasons we cannot understand, He didn’t. So, during days of ‘adversity’ we strive to remember that “God has made the one as well as the other,” meaning that we remember God’s good and wise hands design and bring into existence what we often call “bad days.”

Why does God create (or at least allow) bad days?

God being the creator of bad days does not make God some kind of ant-bully arbitrarily dispensing pain to helpless beings. Romans 8:28 speaks to God’s good and providential plan in all things (“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good”). We know that God is using all events, even bad days, for our good which is Christ-likeness. What isn’t immediately clear is how God uses bad days to mold us into being the people He desires us to be. As we continue to read the words of Solomon we see that he speaks to this issue with specificity.

When Solomon says, “so that man may not find out anything that will be after him” (7:14) he is speaking to the specific purpose as to why God brings hard days into our paths. The translation from Hebrew to English comes across a bit weird but the phrase means, God does not want people to know or predict their future.

God knows that as imperfect, sinful humans we are relentlessly self-reliant. If we can leave God out of the equation, we will. We like to be able to predict and even control what tomorrow holds based on what we do (or don’t do) today. The logic is, “If I did _______ today, then I can expect ________ tomorrow.” The problem with this kind of thinking is that it keeps God on the fringes of our lives because it is an attempt to work around needing God’s grace and mercy. Thankfully, God is too kind to let us go on this way. We need the presence and grace of God every day and God knows how to force the issue so that we don’t begin to think otherwise.

In Closing

What we read in Ecclesiastes 7:14 does not make “bad” days any more enjoyable. The grace of Solomon’s words is that for those of us who are God’s people (true followers of Christ), our bad days gain perspective. No “bad” day is wasted in God’s providential care.
Even on our worst days God is not distant and unconcerned. We don’t get to know all the ways that God is using difficult days to accomplish His purposes but it is clear that He is using them to continually make us reliant on Him.

Credits

Photo by Casey Horner on Unsplash

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Psalm 88 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Praying for God’s Glory Is Not Easy

We’ve all had those times when we’ve heard someone pray and thought to ourselves, “Geeze…I wish I prayed like that.” I imagine the disciples felt this emotion when they heard Jesus pray His prayer in John 17.

For many of us, when we think of Jesus and prayer our minds go to Luke 11:2-4 (“Father, hallowed by your name. Your kingdom come […]”) where Jesus teaches in three short verses the content that should shape our prayers. If Luke 11 is the Reader’s Digest lesson on prayer then John 17 is Jesus’ unabridged, Magnum Opus. It is 26 theologically rich verses which are unparalleled in their ability to instruct us how to pray. Oddly enough, Jesus doesn’t do any instructing in this prayer. We receive this instruction as flies on the wall catching a glimpse of what a God-honoring prayer sounds like. As we look at Jesus’ prayer we notice it prioritizes God’s glory and that praying for God’s glory may be a bit more difficult than we envision.

Praying for the Glory of God can be Costly

In John 17:1 Jesus has a unique way of praying for God’s glory. He prays that he himself would be glorified (“glorify your Son”) so that God the Father may be glorified (“that the Son may glorify you”). On the surface, this sounds a bit self-centered of Jesus. After all, who goes around praying for their own glory? Well, Jesus’ prayer isn’t so simple. As this prayer comes to fruition in the next several chapters we realize that the Father glorifying the Son happens through Jesus being betrayed, beaten, and crucified for our sins (as well as subsequently being resurrected and ascending into Heaven). Jesus is moved to pray for the glory of God even when He knows it comes at great personal cost.

Praying for the glory of God is doable when we suppose it will not cost us too much or unsettle our version of comfortable. Sometimes though, God, for the sake of His glory, pushes us past the boundaries of our own comfort by taking our children to the mission field or by bringing about hard-to-accept consequences for sin. Understandably, we struggle with praying for the glory of God because the glory of God can be both kind and terrifying. That being said, it is always for the good of those of us in Christ because it is transforming us into the image of Christ (Romans 8:28-30).

Praying for the Glory of God is Not Passive

Sometimes we assume that our work concludes with “Amen” when praying for the glory of God. However, we are not moviegoers waiting for the show of God’s glory to start. We participate in God’s good plan in displaying His glory. As we walk through John 17 we watch the verbs unfold and find that Jesus “glorified” the Father “having accomplished the work” the Father gave Him to do (v.4). Further, Jesus “manifested” (v.6) the Father’s name to people by “[giving] them the words” given to Him by the Father (v.8). Jesus doesn’t take a backseat and He doesn’t take over. He simply takes action by being obedient to the work God gave Him to do.

Again, the glory of God in prayer has a way of uncomfortably stretching us. Becoming a participant in the glory of God recognizes that we are His instruments. It is for the glory of God that we are called to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19), speak “the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) and show “hospitality to one another” (1 Peter 4:9). God’s work oftentimes includes our work.

God will be Glorified

Sometimes, we need reminding that God always accomplishes His glory. This doesn’t make us complacent or indifferent. Instead, it fastens our hearts to the solemn reality that God’s glory is in God’s hands, according to God’s plan. The ones whom Jesus was given to preach to (v.2), do indeed keep (v.6), receive (v.8), and believe (v.8) God’s Word. In other words, what happens is exactly what the Father intended to happen. Like Paul, we recognize our part as instruments in God’s hands but we never forget that although some of us may plant and some of us may water it is God who gives the growth (1 Corinthians 3:5-9).

I love this truth because it reorients my thoughts to see things like God sees things. God calls me to speak and live out the Gospel. He has not given me the ability, or responsibility, to awaken dead hearts or rid human hearts of indwelling sin. These things are the things of the Holy Spirit as He works through the living and abiding Word of God (1 Peter 1:23).

I can lay my head to rest at night because of the truth that God’s Word always accomplishes exactly what God has intended it to accomplish (Isaiah 55:11).

In Closing

Praying for the glory of God may be costly and it will likely require participation on your part but there are no better words to occupy the space of your prayers. Every prayer uttered for the glory of God is a surrender to infinite wisdom and the sovereign plan of the Father who is preparing you for eternity. All that God calls you to be and do is for your joy both now and forever (John 15:11; 17:13). It is always worth it to pray for God’s glory, even when the answer to your prayer pushes you beyond the boundaries of your own comfort and leisure.

Credits

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Psalm 88 and all other Scripture). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

Photo by Siim Lukka on Unsplash