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​26 Common Ways We Hinder our Growth in Sanctification

1 Sep

(1) Thinking some (little) sins don’t matter or aren’t a big deal. 

(2) Not watching out for and actively avoiding the temptations that might lead us to sin. 

(3) Whether out of pride or desire for acceptance, allowing the presence of our peers to lessen our vigilance against sin. 

(4) Allowing ourselves to dip a toe in sin so long as we don’t pass a certain self-defined line. 

(5) Thinking we don’t need to fight against certain sins because culture has redefined them as acceptable or even admirable. 

(6) Thinking sin matters little because we’ve been forgiven by God’s grace. 

(7) Easing our guilt and shame by passing the blame for our sin on another (e.g. My accountability partner didn’t call me, my elder didn’t check on me, my wife didn’t give me the attention I need, my coworker pushed me over the edge, my children were just exhausting today, etc.) 

(8) Not approaching Scripture with an eye to revealing our sin. 

(9) Forgetting to consider the sins in the Bible as opportunities of warning and instruction.

(10) Failing to pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal and root out unknown sins in our lives. 

(11) Rejecting the exhortations and rebukes of the Church. 

(12) Brushing off all criticisms by those who are not currently Christians. Their eyes are often keenly trained on the Church and can reveal our sins as well. 

(13) Not actively praying and desiring for an abhorrence of our sin. 

(14) Trying to win over sin by our own efforts and forgetting that it is the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ that frees us from the power and bandage of sin. 

(15) Forgetting that Christ yet interceeds for his people. 

(16) Not caring that we are to be making ready for our Beloved’s return. 

(17) Only focusing on putting off our old sinful self without remembering to actively be putting on the new self. 

(18) Not enjoying, living, desiring, relishing in our union with Christ. 

(19) Not faithfully engaging in the means of grace given us (Sacraments, Prayer, and the reading, preaching, teaching, meditating, and praying of the Scriptures) and wondering why we show no progress. 

(20) Withdrawing from the fellowship and corporate worship of the Body of Christ. 

(21) Thinking some sins are more powerful to condemn than Christ’s blood sacrifice is to save. 

(22) Forgetting how loving our heavenly Father is and that his discipline is an outworking of love. 

(23) Failing to realize that the Father desires for us to depend upon his mercy. 

(24) Letting shame, self-pity, guilt, or anger keep us from praying and reading the Word. 

(25) Not seeking help and prayer from a trustworthy brother or sister in Christ.

(26) Thinking that you will deal with the sin later. 

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When Opportunity Arises: The Testing of Your Faith

29 May

“Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted of the devil.” Matthew 4:1

It was the Spirit that led Jesus into the wilderness to be tempted. It was not the Spirit, but the devil that tempted Jesus, for God does not tempt (James 1:13)–he cannot do evil, but the Spirit led him there to be tested, to give opportunity to prove his perfect obedience. Sometimes we are led into situations where our faith will be tested and tried. But rest assured that God is with us in those times. He never leaves nor forsakes us (Deut. 31:8). He will never allow us to be tempted beyond what we can bear, but will always provide a way (oftentimes many ways) out (1 Cor. 10:13). So in suffering and temptation, when our faith is tested, remember, God is always in control: he decrees when and where you will be tested, as it was with Jesus in the wilderness; he determines the severity of the testing, not allowing the temptation to be more than we can bear nor the suffering more than what will suit his perfect, good will; he is always there to be called and relied upon for comfort and strength (Ps. 145:18); he always has his glory and your betterment in purpose, for all things happen by and for his good will and pleasure (Rom. 11:36), and all things are worked together for the good of him that trusts in Christ (Rom. 8:28).

Each time of testing, each situation of suffering, is an opportunity to be faithful and to be strengthened in the Lord, to glorify and praise the Almighty, to grow in relationship with him. “And Yahweh, he it is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed” (Deut. 31:8).

Be On Guard

7 Sep

“Then He said to them, “Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions.” -Luke 12:15

Jesus was a master of using any circumstance to teach about salvation and holy living. Consider the text above. Jesus was in the middle of teaching the contrast between man and God: fearing God not man, confessing Christ not denying him, not worrying what you should say before men if you are placed on the judgment seat, for having the truth already in you, the Holy Spirit will teach you what to say in your defense. A man in the crowd however had something else on his mind: “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” What? Where did THAT come from. Obviously this man was more concerned about what he thought he deserved materially, than Jesus’ undeserved gifts of salvation and care. Yet Jesus used this opportunity to teach that man and those listening:
“Man, who appointed Me a judge or arbitrator over you?…Then he said to them, ‘Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions’” (Luke 12:14-15). Jesus thought that this topic was important enough to stop his teaching and make a sudden shift to greed. He knows the heart of man, and like me, people have a tendency to want. Certainly this instruction of Jesus is just as relevant, if not more, for Americans today.

How then can we counteract greed? Firstly, we should begin by looking to the words of Jesus. Let us heed the Master’s warning, recognizing when we sin in this area, and striving for contentment and gratefulness by taking an honest look at what God has given us – “[he] who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1), not to mention all of the other earthly delights and comforts he has provided, being a loving Father who loves to “give good gifts.” Secondly, being aware of what things may tempt us, not going around being ignorant of the devil’s ploys, but being wise to them and taking action.

Practically that may look different for each person. For me, one of the ways I can be tempted to fall into greed is through advertisements. I used to regularly enough look at the ads in the paper, on billboards, or on television (especially relating to the latest personal electronics or gadgets) because I think some of that technology is neat and fun. The Holy Spirit revealed to me that when I stopped doing this, I don’t desire those things nearly as much. When that gadget isn’t before my eyes, and subsequently examined in my mind, I don’t nearly as often feel greedy for it. The common colloquialism has some truth in this respect: out of sight, out of mind.

The eyes are windows. They are the primary means by which information enters into our minds, whether through the written word, television and movies, or static pictures. Christ spoke quite shockingly about this when he said, “if you eye causes you to sin, pluck it out (Mt. 5:29),” because he knows how sin, like yeast, can work its way through the whole dough. We must guard them diligently, allowing “whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8),” to enter our eyes and our minds.

So if this means throwing out your newspaper ads or not window shopping online or in person to guard against greed, or if it means not watching those Super Bowl™ commercials, questionable movies and television shows, or internet sites to guard against lust, whatever it might be, separate yourself from what is unholy, destructive, and enslaving. Think on what is good, and “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rom. 12:1-2).

Our Desire to Sin

19 Apr

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Jonathan Edwards philosophized that we make choices based on our strongest motive/desire in a given moment and situation (see Edwards, Freedom of the Will). Having been washed and renewed by the Holy Spirit (Titus 3.5), we are no longer enslaved to a life of sin (Rom 6), but can choose to do what pleases the LORD. Therefore, when we sin, in that moment we desire more to sin, than to not. In the same way the apostle Paul can say, “For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want (Rom 7.19).” This is not contradictory, for Paul describes, and we can relate, how we seek to serve the Lord as reborn followers of Christ, yet at times give into the evil desires of the flesh. Edwards contends that in that moment, the sin that still resides within us, going unchecked, creates a desire/motivation in us that is stronger than our desire to obey the Lord.

For this reason, we must make war against the flesh: we must resist the devil so he will flee (James 4.7); we must contend for the faith in the presence of sin (Jude 1.3); we must work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2.12); we must press on toward that goal (Phil 3.14); we must humbly submit ourselves to the Lord (James 4.7), forever looking to the Lord and his strength; seeking his face always (1 Chron 16.11); we must seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness (Matt. 6.33); we must keep God as our first love (Rev 2).

God never lets us be tempted beyond what we can bear, but always provides a way out (1 Cor. 10.13). Let us never grow weary in marinating in the scriptures, for by them we are transformed by the renewing of our minds (Rom. 12.2), through the work of the Spirit in us. Christ used scripture in times of temptation, so ought we.

Let Us Not Become Tyred Out

2 Oct

If we likened Atlantis to one biblical city, it would probably be Tyre. Located amidst the beautiful  waters of the Mediterranean, Tyre was a city of exquisite beauty and grand means…and they knew it.

Tyre contained the most skilled merchants, the greatest experts in sailing, the most gifted craftsman, and phenomenal, practical wisdom. The city was adorned with priceless, scintillating jewels. Spices brought from exotic, eastern lands hung on every Mediterranean breeze. They had been so graciously blessed as a city, that King Solomon had sought them in the building of the Temple in Jerusalem.

God had blessed them abundantly, even allowing them to play important roles in his plan for Israel, yet, their hearts and minds betrayed them. They became haughty, and instead of merely rejoicing in the good situation in which they found themselves, the seed of pride overtook them as a disease. Considering themselves to be their own god, their blessing became their curse.

Ezekiel 27 & 28 teach us the dangers that can be found in power, wealth, and prosperity. They are not evil in themselves, but the depraved heart of man can turn them so. Jesus similarly warns against such temptations and pitfalls when he speaks one of His most recognizable statements: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God (Mark 10.25)” Similarly, we read that the “love of money is the root of many kinds of evil (1 Tim. 6.10).” This is not to say that riches and power exclude one from eternal communion with God, or that they are to be abhorred. We ought to heed warning, learn from the past, and put our trust and worship in the giver of all good things, God himself, rather than the gifts.

The incident with Tyre is over 2500 years passed. Even so, pride works in us as strong as ever. What blessings today threaten to turn sour in us: our income? titles? perceived faithfulness? amount we give to charity or the Church? number of children? position in society? skills? physical beauty? intellect? house or vehicle? hours we volunteer? friends? grades in school? size of our church? Anything CAN, when taken out of its proper place.

There is ONE gift, however, that commands worship – Jesus the Son of God, our hope and surety of salvation. When we truly approach scripture faithfully, we see that even apart from the glorifying of power, riches, and prominence, any sin would keep us separated from God were it not for His lovely, beatific grace. “Who then can be saved?”Jesus looked at [us] and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God. (Mark 10.27,28).”

The Surreptitious Threat

28 Feb

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Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of any tree of the garden?       – Genesis 3.1

Slithering onto the pages of scripture, the serpent makes its entry as if it had already been a part of the story’s telling. The Word does not give a proper introduction of the serpent by providing contextual support, a history of its existence, or the means in which it came upon Eve. It is neither given a name nor a physical description; rather, its advent begins with, “Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made.” The serpent arrives stealthily, and as we shall see, lives up to its only descriptive appellation yet given.

Of all the words that could have been chosen for the great instigator of sin, the one, single word chosen, was subtle, and this, beloved, is no mistake.  With the God-given ability to obey or disobey the mandates of God, to choose what was right or what was wrong, mankind was plunged into the mire of sin and death, having been caught off guard by the cunning of the serpent, and then freely deciding to choose pride over submission, self over Sovereign. 

The serpent does not approach Eve with a statement.  It does not attempt to directly decry the Lord’s will or authority.  Instead, the serpent worms its way into the heart of Eve with a question – “Hath God said, Ye shall not eat of any tree of the garden?” This sly move gets the colloquy started between Eve and the serpent.  Of course God did not say such a thing, and the serpent knew as much. In fact, the serpent counted on Eve correcting him, and after gaining some familiarity with Eve, the serpent leads Eve right where it wants her…to herSELF. 

The serpent can now directly oppose God’s authority with a statement such as, “you will surely not die,” without fear that Eve will turn and run.  The woman, and the man nearby, is then confronted with the cunning, disingenuous lie, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” The seed of pride had been planted.  The serpent subtly had brought mankind to the point where they would choose self over Sovereign. 

It is the subtlety of the serpent, of manifest Satan, that renders him so dangerous and powerful.  He twists and stretches holy truths for his own purposes. Branded “Deceiver” for a reason, Satan slithers his way into the Lord’s churches and families often through subtlety. This is why my pastor has rightly observed that “the biggest threats to the Church are found within the Church itself”.  Such in-house attacks have always been a problem, as seen notably in the writings of the apostle Paul to the gentile churches (e.g. I Corinthians), Jesus’ exhortations and condemnations of religious leaders (e.g. Jn 5.16), and evidenced by the Church’s persistent, offensive attacks on heresy, especially in the first four centuries of the common era.

These threats are not just behind us.  The very heresies that resulted in the thoughtful creeds and confessions of old can still be seen making their ways into the theologies of Christian circles today.  They are heresies of old and new, or better yet, they are old heresies renewed.
     
The serpent is an appropriate animal for Satan to make his first appearance.  Serpents are quiet, camouflaged, concealed, and some very dangerous.   Unless you are watching for them, usually one of two things will occur: you will be completely oblivious of its presence, or you will be surprised by it when you least expect it – when you stumble over it and it strikes at you.  The key then, is to be aware of the serpent’s presence, and to know how to combat it.

Jesus did not fall for the subtlety of Satan, as the rest of mankind did, though He was cleverly attacked by him for days in the desert. Christ did not mince words with Satan; instead, He attacked Satan’s subtle lies with scripture. This is one crucial reason why every Christian must be striving for a thorough knowledge of scriptural truth. Scripture is our sword that cuts out the venomous tongue of the serpent. This discipline must not be taken lightly, for Satan too uses scripture, as he did with Jesus. We need to learn to “rightly divide the word of truth (2Tim 2.15b),” so as not to be caught off guard or be deceived by the twisting of the truth. 

It is Satan’s subtlety that makes him so dangerous, so invasive.  Though we fall with Adam, and likewise in our own decisions, we must continually strive to respond as Christ did, by knowing the truth so as “not to be put to shame (Ps 119.6),” “that no sin may have dominion over [us] (Ps 119.11),” and that we might have “great peace (Ps 119.165).”