Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Paul, Confrontation of Sin, and Fellowship

In last Tuesday’s post, the take-away application point was that we ought to improve our everyday, relaxed, natural conversation, especially with other believers. And this was in the service of grounding our subjective experience of fellowship in the objective reality of fellowship (the Gospel) first by speaking to one another about the things of Christ.

A second way that we can work towards having true fellowship with one another that is honoring before God is the subject of today’s post (which was originally going to be one long post but will now be two shorter ones). I really believe this to be an important, essential, and even foundational element to our relationships with each other as we live the Christian life together. If Christians don’t have this element, we do little more than play church, and have a social club under the banner of the Word of God and the name of Jesus Christ – which is blasphemous.

Here's a little fill-in-the-blank test to get us started:

“And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to ________ one another.” – The Apostle Paul

What do you think goes in the blank? What do you think many professing Christians think goes in the blank? Would you guess things like: “love,” “encourage,” “affirm,” “serve,” “teach,” and “agree with”?

The text is Romans 15:14, and the word that fills in the blank correctly is admonish.

This is that second component that is absolutely foundational to living the Christian life together. We could call the first component that we talked about last Tuesday conversation. And we can call this second component confrontation. (We could also call it admonition, rebuke, or reproof, but they don’t start with con- like conversation and confrontation.
:-) )

And so Paul praises the Roman church for being competent to admonish one another. And Paul himself exemplified this
nouthetéō in his own ministry. Indeed, even in this text we see his positive evaluation of the believer who, in goodness and according to knowledge, confronts his brother regarding sin.
  • Romans 15:15-16 – But I have written very boldly to you on some points so as to remind you again, because of the grace that was given me from God, to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles, ministering as a priest the gospel of God, so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
Taking that piece by piece, we see that Paul regards confrontation, admonition, or rebuke ("I have written very boldly") as a mark of grace ("because of the grace that was given me from God"). The grace he speaks of includes his Apostleship ("to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles"), and so considers this to be a mark of maturity. By using the language of the Old Testament priesthood ("ministering as a priest the gospel of God"), he also shows that he considers it to be a mark of service. And he sees this ministry of confrontation, admonition, and rebuke as serving the purpose of advancing believers in holiness ("so that my offering of the Gentiles may become acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit").

And we know that Paul didn’t just talk about it. He lived it out in His own ministry. In Acts chapter 20, Paul is giving his farewell address to the Ephesian elders, among whom he labored for three years, and whom he loved very dearly. In it, he says:

  • v. 20 - You yourselves know...how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house.
  • vv. 26-27 - Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.
  • v. 31 - ...remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.
This is pretty striking. Paul continues to lump in the same category the idea of speaking boldly, admonishing, and declaring even hard things to his fellow believers, with the idea of being innocent of men's blood, and with profiting them in love. When the situation called for Paul to talk straight, even in what would seem to be a severe manner, he didn't let some man-made, man-centered, vague, ambiguous fabrication that people call "love" hinder him from actually benefiting his brethren by admonishing them.

And by today's standards, you'd think that Paul wouldn't be very liked among this group. I mean, night and day for three years? I can hear the Tone Police
of contemporary evangelicalism now: "Come on, Paul? Isn't that overkill? It's quite arrogant of you to do so much admonishing! Nobody's perfect! Have you taken the plank out of your eye?"

But we don't see that arrogant, ungrateful attitude among these brothers. The result of Paul's tireless ministry among them
in which he wasn’t afraid to say hard things to them and admonish them for their unbiblical actions and beliefs – was true, loving fellowship. We read in Acts 20:36-38:
When he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they would not see his face again And they were accompanying him to the ship.
Such affection is heartwarming. These brothers knew that Paul was benefiting them by presenting Christ to them, even and especially in his admonitions, rebukes, confrontations, and warnings. And his love, plainly manifested in his ministry of night-and-day admonition, produced in them great and overwhelming love for him.

Next time, we'll look into how we can apply these lessons in our own lives as we live the Christian life with our brothers and sisters.

We proclaim Him,
admonishing every man
and teaching every man with all
so that we may present every man complete in Christ.
For this purpose also I labor,
striving according to His power,
which mightily works within me.

- Colossians 1:28-29 -

Friday, August 27, 2010

How to Be An Effective Preacher: Be Passionately Thrilled by the Bible

I think everyone who is currently in a regular preaching ministry and everyone who aspires to serve God's people by preaching His Word should listen to this clip repeatedly. A transcript of a relevant portion (1:54 to 3:03) is below.

"I think the way I became a preacher was by being passionately thrilled by what I was seeing in the Bible in seminary. Passionately thrilled! When Philippians began to open to me, Galatians opened to me, Romans opened to me, the Sermon on the Mount opened to me in classes on exegesis -- not homiletics but exegesis -- everything in me was feeling, 'I want to say this to somebody! I want to find a way to say this! Because this is awesome! This is incredible!'

"So preachers today that go everywhere but the Bible to find something interesting or something scintillating and passionate -- I don't get it! I don't get that at all! Because I have to work hard to leave the Bible and go somewhere to find an illustration because everything here is just blowing me away. And it's that sense of being blown away by what's here -- by the God that's here and the Christ's that's here and the Gospel that's here and the Spirit that's here and the life that's here -- being blown away by this, you just kinda say, 'That's gotta get out. That's gotta get out.' ...

"I don't think there's much you can do to become a preacher except: (1) know your Bible and (2) be unbelievably excited about what's there, and (3) love people a lot."

As I listen to this, everything in me says, "YES!!! YES!!!" This is how a preacher that honors God is made, because God is honored when He is beheld and marveled at! And marveled at to such a degree that His glory compels praise.

I will not be an effective preacher -- one that plumbs and mines the depths of God's Word to feed the people on the meaty delicacies of the voice of their Shepherd -- if I am not blown away by the vision of an all-glorious, all-satisfying, high and lofty and exalted and lifted up God as is revealed in His Word. I must be affected -- thrilled! -- by God's own magnificent presentation of Himself, and worship over that in my study so that I can worship over that as I'm preaching. Because it is only as the preacher worships over the Word as he proclaims it that the people will worship over the Word as they hear it proclaimed.

This is just so huge! I love what Piper says about being thrilled in his exegesis classes and not his homiletics classes. You know what that shouts out to me? You can't fabricate a preacher. Preachers are not man-made. You can't study really hard to become a preacher. No matter how good a communicator you are, how clever you can turn a phrase, how good your outline is, or how white your teeth are, God and God alone makes preachers. When Christ ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives and He gave gifts to men. And He gave some as pastors and teachers (Eph 4:8, 11). Pastors and teachers are Christ's divinely-made gifts to His Church. They are not men who thought they could turn a phrase well and didn't mind the idea of talking for a living and so decided to take up preaching.

And the implications of that are wildly significant! It means that the Church must depend on Christ for the provision of these men. Do you want to be a preacher? I do. But all I can do is prayerfully, with fear and trembling, get on my face before the Lord Jesus and beg Him to open my eyes to behold wondrous things from the truth of His Word, and to affect me rightly with them, that I might be able to properly proclaim the excellencies of Him that called me out of darkness into His marvelous light (1Pet 2:9). You see? I am at His mercy to make me a preacher. And if He doesn't, I am not called to the ministry -- no matter how much I really think I am called, no matter how much I really want to preach and teach and shepherd and counsel and lead, and no matter how much passion I can muster up for those tasks.

"Preacher" is not merely a title. It is an identity. A God-given identity.

And if God hasn't granted that identity to you -- if He hasn't given you the vision to be blown away, to be passionately thrilled by what He's revealed of Himself in the Bible (and not the television, the newspaper, and the depraved human culture!) -- then for Christ's sake stay out of the pulpit! Don't torture the people of God by trying to give to them out of your own resources that which only Christ can give out of His.

Know your Bible, be unbelievably excited about what's there, and love people a lot. And trust Christ to provide all three by grace.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Grounding our Experience of Fellowship in Objective Reality

I wonder what comes into your mind when you hear the word "fellowship." Some may think of friends. Others think of having interesting and inspiring conversations. Others think of sharing a meal or having a snack. Still others think of the time of a church service or Bible study where the teaching is officially over and everyone gets to just "hang out."

It's funny how certain words -- Biblical words -- come to be co-opted and used by our own circles of the Evangelical subculture. It's also kind of scary. We can be using the exact same language as the Bible, and thus suppose we are being Biblical, and yet mean something entirely different than the Bible means by it. We have refused to read such words in their Biblical contexts, and instead have ripped them from their contexts and then invest and infuse them with our own meanings. (For an example of how we've done that with the word 'love,' click here.)

The Lord Jesus recently blessed me with a wonderful opportunity to regularly teach and shepherd a terrific group of saints in a Bible study setting as a ministry of Grace Church. As I thought and prayed about what I'd wanted to teach on to begin my time with them, my heart was inclined to do something on fellowship. A home Bible study -- whether at a church with 70 members or 7,000 -- is a place where life is lived out together in community, a place where we can spur one another on to love and good deeds (Heb 10:24-25), and to encourage one another as long as it is called "Today," so that none will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Heb 3:12).

And so I looked up the instances of the word koinonia in the New Testament. And I found that in an overwhelming number of instances, koinonia has very little to do with what mainstream American Christians call fellowship. Here's a breakdown of its use in the New Testament:

Fellowship with Each Other
  • Acts 2:42 – They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
  • 1 John 1:3, 7 – …what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. … but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.
Contributing Resources
  • Romans 15:26 – For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the saints in Jerusalem.
  • 2 Corinthians 8:4 – …begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints…
  • 2 Corinthians 9:13 Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all…
  • Hebrews 13:16 – And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.
Fellowship with The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
  • 1 Corinthians 1:9 – God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship with His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.
  • 1 Corinthians 10:16 – Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing in the body of Christ?
  • 1 John 1:3, 6 – …what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. … If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.
  • 2 Corinthians 13:14 – The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.
  • Philippians 2:1 – Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion…
Participation and Partnership
  • 2 Corinthians 6:14 Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness?
  • Galatians 2:9 – …and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, so that we might go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.
  • Philippians 1:5 – in view of your participation in the gospel from the first day until now.
  • Philemon 1:6 – and I pray that the fellowship of your faith may become effective through the knowledge of every good thing which is in you for Christ’s sake.
  • Philippians 3:10 – that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.

Objective Reality

What I come away with as I read these uses of koinonia is the notion that fellowship is an objective reality. As noted above, it is an objective state of relationship with each of the Members of the Trinity. It is a sharing in the Good News of the Gospel (Phil 1:5), in faith in Christ (Phm 1:6), and even in sufferings (Phil 3:10). One is said to have fellowship in something when one gives his money and resources (Rom 15:24; 2Cor 8:6; 9:13; Heb 13:16). And even the fellowship that we have with each other is spoken of as an objective reality based upon the work of God in Christ, and not merely a subjective enjoyment of one another (1Jn 1:3, 7).

And even where the word koinonia is not used to describe this concept based on the objective work of Christ, the reality of it is apparent elsewhere in the Scriptures. In Romans 6, Paul speaks about our baptism into Christ (i.e., our salvation) in terms of union, or fellowship, with Him.
  • Romans 6:3-7 - Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so that we would no longer be slaves to sin; for he who has died is freed from sin.
Then in 1 Corinthians 12, he speaks of this same baptism in terms of our union with Christ's body. As we are united to the Head, we are also united to all those who are united to the Head.
  • 1 Corinthians 12:12-14 - For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. For the body is not one member, but many.
And so, Biblically speaking, our fellowship is an objective reality that was accomplished by the atoning work of Christ.

Consider what James Montgomery Boice says about contemporary vs. Biblical concepts of fellowship (from his commentary on Philippians, p. 31):

“The word fellowship has been so watered down in contemporary speech that it conveys only a faint suggestion of what it meant in earlier times. When we speak of fellowship today, we generally mean no more than comradeship, the sharing of good times. But fellowship originally meant much more than a sharing of something, like the fellowship of bank robbers dividing their loot. It meant a sharing in something, participating in something greater than the people involved and more lasting than the activity of any given moment. When the Bible uses the word, it means being caught up into a communion created by God. […]

“This is the way the Bible regards fellowship, and it was this for which Paul was so thankful in the case of the young church at
Philippi [1:5]. They may have had things in common. But Paul is not speaking of these. He is thankful for their share in the gospel of God. They had been taken up into a divine fellowship. They were united, not upon a social level, but by their commitment to the truths of the gospel.”

So this idea we have of fellowship as being the time in the worship service or Bible study where we all talk and have food is a misunderstanding of what the Bible says fellowship is. Of course it involves our interaction, conversation, and enjoyment of one another. But all of that – let's call it – subjective stuff is rooted in something objective: the fellowship we have with the Father and with each other by virtue of the saving work of Christ on the cross (Rom 6:3-7; 1Cor

And one thing that can make our subjective experience of fellowship with each other seem awkward, or forced, is forgetting that our fellowship is grounded in this objective reality. We base our conversations and interactions with each other more on superficial things than on the fellowship we have as beneficiaries of the Gospel and as children of God. We base our "fellowship" with each other on shared interests, mutual hobbies, common experiences, being in similar "life stages," and so on, and so we exclude those who don't fit that mold – even though we may not intend to or even know that we're doing it.

Improving our Fellowship by Improving our Conversation

So what can we do to remedy this problem? How can we better ground our subjective fellowship in the reality of our objective fellowship?

Well, the primary way I believe we fail in this is in our conversation – the things we talk to each other about. And so I think that's the place to start improving. The big take-away application point from all of this talk about subjective and objective fellowship is that we must improve our everyday, relaxed, natural conversation, especially with other believers. We devote so much time to talking to each other about our families, our jobs, sports events, movies we’ve seen, TV shows we watch, aspirations we have and so on. And these are good things. But the things of Christ, spiritual things, the things of the Scriptures are so much more worthy of our attention and conversation than those other things. And comparatively, they often don't occupy enough of our interaction with each other.

In Deuteronomy 6, just after God gives
Israel the Greatest Commandment to love Him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, the very next thing He says is, “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Dt 6:6-9).

He commands them to be talking about His Word all the time. I think that it's significant that this command comes directly after the Greatest Commandment in all the Law (Mt 22:36-38). I take that to mean that there is no surer way to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, than to be constantly meditating and musing over and speaking about His truth. And you’ll remember that keeping the first commandment is how you will keep the second greatest commandment (cf. 1Jn 5:2), which is: to love your neighbor as yourself.

Love for each other – the cornerstone of our fellowship – is based on our love for God. And our love for God is greatly affected by how great a place His Word and His truth occupies in our hearts and in our mouths.

So, after a sermon in church or a Bible lesson at a mid-week Bible study,
don’t just immediately start talking about the weather. Talk with each other about the sermon or the lesson. Talk about the main Scripture text in the message, about significant things that stood out to you. Talk about how you were affected by God's Word.

Let the subjective experience of your fellowship with each other be rooted in the real, objective basis for that fellowship: the fellowship that we have as fellow-partakers of the grace of Christ.

Therefore, laying aside falsehood,
speak truth each one of you with his neighbor,
for we are members of one another.

- Ephesians 4:25 -

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Atonement Q&A: A Contemporary Catechism

I've posted on Shai Linne before (here, here, and here), so I'm going to limit my introduction to this post. I'll only say that what he's given us in this song is akin to a contemporary catechism. If folks can memorize the sometimes inane and sometimes gruesomely irreverent lyrics to contemporary songs, imagine what they could do both for their soul and for the glory of Christ by memorizing this.

"Take to your heart all [these] words....
For it is not an idle word for you; indeed it is your life."

- Deuteronomy 32:46, 47 -

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Advice to First-Year TMS Students

In a couple of weeks I will begin my second year at The Master's Seminary. It's been one whirlwind of a first year, to be sure. I actually intended to blog much more about the experience at seminary than I have in the past, giving more personal updates and things like that, but I suppose that's not how it's gone. Maybe I'll seek to work more of that in during the second year.

In any case, one thing that I did do through this first year of seminary at Master's was, as I thought of them, to record various pieces of advice I'd offer to those incoming first-year students in the future. I kept these in their own document and added to them piece by piece, hoping that other guys might benefit from them in some capacity. They're a mix of the theoretical and the practical, the theological and the relational, the academic and the recreational. I do pray they're a benefit to you.

Also, if any of my seminary brothers are reading this, feel free to add your own insights in the comments section. I'd love to hear from you!

Without further ado, here they are.

  1. Don’t think that simply being in seminary fixes your spiritual life. If you struggle with consistent personal worship times, don’t think that just being around Christians, church, and talking about the Bible will cultivate rich and sweet fellowship with Christ. If anything, it makes it more difficult. "The same sun that melts the wax hardens the clay," as they say. In order to actively pursue that relationship with Christ, you need to make your morning worship time with Him a priority above everything else. However, don’t be legalistic with this, or it will implode on you. Don’t just clench your fists and grit your teeth and resolve to have 45 minutes with Christ each morning, so you can check it off your to-do list and feel good about yourself. Set times and everything. Plan. Be disciplined. But do that out of a loving, willful desire to see and savor more of Him.
  2. Budget time for absolutely everything. Assignments, devotional/worship/prayer time (both personal times and family times), time with your wife, Bible studies, service opportunities, even leisure. Everything. Being intentional is the key to maintaining proper priorities.
  3. Get ahead as much as you can. During the first week, if you have an assignment given on Tuesday, get it done that Tuesday if you’re able. Don’t worry about forgetting the content a week later. Don’t think that you should do the reading right before it’s due because otherwise you’ll forget. That’s not necessarily true. If you read well the first time, the material comes back to you as you discuss it.
  4. If you know of any reading assignments before the semester starts – assignments that are just going to be supplemental reading with no real interaction (e.g., you won’t have to do a paper or book review) – try to read them before the semester begins. You’ll be very happy to not have another thing to be concerned with at the end of the semester.
  5. Invest yourself most in learning the languages. Other disciplines (written and discussed in English!) can be studied and re-studied on your own with minimal frustration. The languages are the hardest to pick up in isolation. It’s definitely the most beneficial subject to do in a group.
  6. With Greek and Hebrew vocabulary, make your own flash cards, and say them out loud as you’re making them. It aids tremendously with retention. Cut 3x5 index cards in half, punch a hole through them, and get one of those 1.5" or 2" rings. Make one set of rings the “already memorized” set, and the other the “yet unmemorized” set. Review both, but review the ones you’ve already memorized much less frequently. One of the biggest time-consumers (and thus hindrances) in language learning is studying stuff you already know.
  7. Talk to pastors and professors. Ask them to have lunch with you, especially if you’d like to discuss an assignment (or ministry opportunity). Don’t hesitate here. They love to do it, they’re awesome to get to know, and usually you’ll get a free lunch! :-)
  8. Take some time off and enjoy lunch and fellowship with the guys around you. It’s easy – and often necessary! – to be a hermit in the library. But as you’re able, take an hour and a half and just hang out with your brothers. Talk about classes, assignments, ministry, but also just be goofy. That brotherhood will be good for your soul. And do this outside of school too! Go over each other's houses, meet each other's families, and have meals with each other.
  9. If you’re going to worship and serve at Grace Community Church, pick a fellowship group early and stick to it. I spent the entire first semester shopping around, and I’m not recommending it. You may want to check out a couple before landing, and that’s fine. But in my experience you’ll find that they’re all generally awesome, but that each has a little something you won’t like about it, or will make you think it’s not a good fit. Go, commit to loving and serving people, pray, and Christ will mold your affections accordingly.
  10. Don’t think that your service at Grace Church will necessarily be through your fellowship group. It may and it may not. Take advantage of the plethora of ministry opportunities that you see advertised in Grace Today (e.g., Fundamentals of the Faith class, Jail ministry, Skid Row outreach, Homebound ministry, etc.).
  11. On a related note, start serving! Even if they’re menial tasks, go where there is a need and meet it. It’s very unlikely that you’ll walk right into a regular teaching opportunity. But if you are faithful in little things, when those making the decisions need someone to do something “bigger,” they’ll think of you as someone they can trust and count on to be faithful.
  12. If you want to be discipled by an older, godly couple (or, if you’re single, by an older, godly man), you’ve got to do the work to make that known. Scout a few couples (seriously!), track folks down, and ask them. No matter how cute you are, they won’t come to you.
  13. Create a folder on your desktop (or wherever you create folders) for interesting articles you come across and would like to read but don’t have time to. Save the articles in a Word document and read them when you have time (e.g., over Christmas break, over the summer, after seminary, etc.).
  14. Create an Amazon.com and/or Christianbook.com wish list. When pastors and professors recommend a book or commentary on a particular subject, check them out online or in the library, and if it seems like it would be helpful and a good addition to your library, add it to your wish list. Purchase titles from time to time based on priority and as you have the means. Give the web address for your wish list to those who support your ministry.
  15. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, remember that seminary is not supposed to be your master, but your servant. It should not rule you, but should be a tool in your hand. If it begins to become too high of a priority in your life, it’s becoming an idol. Put away your idols from among you. My little cheesy, yet hopefully memorable, way of saying it is: Don’t be mastered by Master’s, be mastered only by the Master.
"Now after a long time
the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them.
The one who had received the five talents came up and brought five more talents,
saying, 'Master, you entrusted five talents to me. See, I have gained five more talents.'
His master said to him, 'Well done, good and faithful slave.
You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things;
enter into the joy of your master.'"
- Matthew 25:19-21 -

Friday, August 13, 2010

God Has Designed Us Such That Only He Can Satisfy

C. S. Lewis, from Mere Christianity, pp. 49-50:

The moment you have a self at all, there is a possibility of putting yourself first -- wanting to be the centre -- wanting to be God, in fact. That was the sin of Satan: and that was the sin he taught the human race. ... What Satan put into the heads of our remote ancestors was the idea that they could 'be like gods' -- could set up on their own as if they had created themselves -- be their own masters -- invent some sort of happiness for themselves outside God, apart from God. And out of that hopeless attempt has come nearly all that we call human history -- money, poverty, ambition, war, prostitution, classes, empires, slavery -- the long terrible story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.

The reason why it can never succeed is this. God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol [gasoline], and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.

"How sweet all at once it was for me
to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose! …
You drove them from me, You who are the true, sovereign joy.
You drove them from me and took their place,
You who are sweeter than all pleasure,
though not to flesh and blood,
You who outshine all light,
yet are hidden deeper than any secret in our hearts,
You who surpass all honor,
though not in the eyes of men who see all honor in themselves. …
O Lord my God, my Light, my Wealth, and my Salvation."

- Augustine of Hippo -

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Effect on My Personal Walk with Christ

I have greatly appreciated the effect that the study for this series on Biblical repentance has had on my personal spiritual walk. Thinking about these things at such depth for a prolonged time has shed light on how inclined I am to be a ‘functional Catholic’ when I confess my sin and seek to be restored to fellowship with God. Though I vehemently denounce the doctrine of penance as blasphemous, my flesh, ever seeking its own self-righteousness, is prone to try to earn God’s forgiveness. I’ve recognized how often, when I ask for forgiveness, my deep sorrow is more a reflection of my pride than my sadness over the offense of my sin to my God. While I never consciously or explicitly state it this way, my sadness is essentially saying, “I’m sorry, Lord. I should be better than this.”

But the point of the Gospel of grace and the scandal of Christ’s substitutionary atonement is that I am not better than this. It took the sinless Son of God to die in my place precisely because I could not do any better. Too often Paul’s admonition to the Galatians could be levied against me: “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Gal 3:3).

It has been freeing to be reminded of and to meditate on the truth that God is not pleased with a burnt offering (my works of penance), but that the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit and a contrite heart (Ps 51:16-17). Often, as I contemplate the grievousness of my sin, I feel that unless I feel badly enough, pray long enough, or do some act of service, God will not restore me to fellowship with Him. I’ve even felt like I was offending God by asking to be forgiven after so quick a confession. (What an unbelievably prideful thought! That is precisely why the Father sent His Son. Do I think I shouldn’t need Him?)

Yet what a joy it’s been to be reminded that in Christ God does not keep His children at bay with a stiffened arm until they have demonstrated themselves worthy of forgiveness and acceptance. Rather, He is the loving Father who once ran to embrace me at the first sign of my return (Lk 15:20)
. If I received such grace while I was His enemy (Rom 5:10), how much more can I hope to be reconciled to Him now that I am His friend! There is no more punishment for me to bear (Rom 8:1), no more atonement to make (Heb 9:24-26; 10:11-14). Therefore, I do not need to view confession as a burdensome or repulsive task. No, confession is sweet to my soul, a pleasant and delightful exercise that removes the burden of my sin and restores to me the joy of the Lord’s salvation (cf. Ps 32:3-5; 51:12).

Further, I’ve been impressed by the truth that any fruit that is borne in keeping with repentance is joyful obedience, flowing naturally from a heart that loves God and desires to experience even more of His grace. His gift of forgiveness does not indebt me to Him, forcing me to pay Him back by burdensome labor. Rather, past and present experiences of grace spur me on all the more to live a life of obedient faith in the hope of future grace. I obey because I get more of Him. Indeed, the one who keeps His commandments is the one who loves Him (Jn 14:15)

In a way that I have often failed to understand, my Christian walk becomes a fight to see the Lord Jesus; indeed, it is by beholding Him that I am transformed into the likeness of His glory (2Cor 3:18)
. I am motivated by the promise of blessing, as a son, and not by the fear of punishment, as a slave (Rom 8:15; Gal 4:7). Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Another Response to the Overturning of Proposition 8

I say another response, of course, because the blogosphere has been brimming with reactions and sound analysis of the Wednesday ruling. Proposition 8 was ruled unconstitutional, which decision effectively legalized homosexuals' rights to "marry," at least in the eyes of the state.

Preeminent among those responses is Dr. Albert Mohler's, who is always amazingly adept to comment on the downward-spiraling of American culture from the Biblical perspective. Over at PyroManiacs, Frank Turk also offered a thoughtful, helpful response, linking to a couple other posts he's done on the subject in the past, one of which I found to be excellent. James White offers the exasperated response, and I stand right there with him on that. Dan Phillips comments briefly, but effectively. Fred Butler is as sharp as always. And let's face it: the Christian blogosphere wouldn't be the Christian blogosphere without a post up at Between Two Worlds, even if Justin is on vacation.

So, with all of those giants, why would I bother giving my two cents? Better yet, why should you bother reading it?

Well, my point isn't to try and comment on something that these others have missed. Not at all. Yet at the same time I do indeed want to remind us of what's important in this whole discussion and call us to keep first things first.

It's likely that as you Christians seek to be a good steward of the Truth of God that has been entrusted to you, and a witness of it amongst your unbelieving friends, that you'll enter into the discussion of why the issue even matters to Christians anyway. Why do we care? What's all the fuss about? I mean, why can't we grant the same rights to two consenting adults who want to make a commitment to each other for life?

Not Just Because Homosexuality is a Sin

One answer that you might be ready to give is that we Christians care about preventing the legalization of gay "marriage" because the Bible clearly states that homosexuality is sinful. As the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God, and our sole authority for all matters of life and godliness (2Pet 1:3), we must accept its word as binding. Here are some examples:
  • Leviticus 18:22 - You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an abomination.
  • Romans 1:25-27 - For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.
  • 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 - Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.
So it's clear. Those who say the Bible doesn't forbid homosexuality don't have leg to stand on. It's clear that Scripture condemns homosexuality as sinful, and thus just as all other sins it is worthy of death. It is a mark of rebellion, and those who practice it will not inherit the kingdom of God, but along with the rest of those who persist in their sin "their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death" (Rev 21:8).

And so, as the purpose of the civil government is to promote the general good and well-being of the society and to restrain the evil therein to the best of its ability (Gen 9:6-7), we believe the government should not sanction that which the Lord of the Universe expressly forbids. Violating God's Word is never the best thing for any society, as long as Jesus is Lord.

But having said all that, I'm saying don't give that answer. At least, don't give just that answer.

Not Just Because God Himself Defines Marriage as Heterosexual

Another answer you might be ready to give is that we Christians care about preventing the legalization of gay "marriage" because God Himself is the One who created marriage, who performed the first marriage (Gen 2:18, 21-22), and He Himself defines marriage as being between only one man and one woman. And as God is the Lord of the Universe, we must accept His Word. Here's what He says:
  • Genesis 2:18, 21-22 - Then Yahweh God said, "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him." ... So Yahweh God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place.God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man.
God purposed to make a companion suitable to Adam when it became apparent that there was no fitting match among the creatures of the earth. And He sovereignly caused Adam to sleep deeply, Himself took one of Adam's ribs and fashioned it into a woman, and then presented the man with his bride. God did not make another man from Adam's rib, but made a woman. In God's mind, only a woman was a "helper suitable for him."
  • Matthew 19:3-6 - Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?" And He answered and said, "Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, and said, 'FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH'? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate."
So when a Pharisee asks Jesus about divorce, Jesus, the Lord of all (Ac 10:36), talks about marriage. He declares that God's purpose was to create human beings "male and female." Now, it is not an accident that He said this. In the context of a discussion about marriage, Jesus prefaces His comment on divorce by underscoring that God made humanity as male and female. God did not make us only male, or only female. He intentionally designed that a man shall leave his family and be joined to his wife, and that these two -- this man and wife -- should become one flesh. He does not speak of a man leaving his parents to be joined to his husband, but his wife.

And so the very definition of marriage from the Creator -- and thus, the authority -- on marriage is that it be between one man and one woman. To sit quietly by, then, while our government -- which we have been blessed with the right to participate in as (at least what used to be) a democratic republic -- in rebellious, treasonous fashion seeks to redefine that given definition would itself be an act of treason against our King.

And yet having said all that, I'm saying don't give that answer. At least, don't give just that answer.

Because It's a Matter of the Clarity of the Gospel

If we're going to speak into this situation with any sort of prophetic voice (read: having a Biblical impact), we need to give the reasons why homosexuality is a sin, and why God has defined marriage between one man and one woman.

Marriage is a wonderful, beautiful, and glorious institution. But the truth is that marriage is not those things in and of itself. God has designed marriage to be a symbol, or a picture, that points to something greater than itself. And it is only so wonderful, beautiful, and glorious because of that something greater that it points to. And that is the Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. That is, that after man rebelled against God in the Garden by sinning against Him, their sin separated them from their God and subjected them to spiritual death absent a redeemer. Because no human being could ever atone for his sin, the Father lovingly sent His Son Jesus to live the life we should have lived, to die the death we should have died, so that everyone who trusts in Him alone for their righteousness before God should not suffer eternal punishment, but should be saved. And of all those whom the Father has given to the Son, He will lose none. He will never forsake His bride, but will always live to make intercession for them (Heb 7:25).

is an institution set up by God with a specific purpose: to glorify Him (to make much of Him) by magnifying the relationship of covenant-keeping grace that exists between Christ and His Bride, the Church.

In Ephesians 5, the Apostle Paul gives us the most amazing, breathtaking instruction on marriage in all of Scripture. There, he quotes Genesis 2:24, just like Jesus did in Matthew 19:5 and Mark 10:7-8: "For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother and shall be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh." Then, the very next thing he says is, "This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church."

Ponder that. Let that sink in. He is speaking about marriage with reference to Christ and the church. Keep that in mind as we consider other things he's said in the passage.

Earlier, Paul is giving the Ephesian church instruction on how to conduct themselves in their marriages. He basically lays out a plan of loving headship on the husband's part (Eph 5:25-30) and respectful submission on the wife's part (Eph 5:22-24). Now, what is absolutely astounding is the reasons he gives for why a husband must lovingly serve his wife and why a wife must respectfully submit to her husband.
  • Ephesians 5:22-23 - Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body.
  • Ephesians 5:24 - But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.
  • Ephesians 5:25-27 - Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies.
  • Ephesians 5:28-30 - He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body.
This is absolutely staggering. Throughout the entirety of Paul's instruction on marriage, the reasoning, the foundation, the basis for his commands is the work of Christ in His relationship with the Church. The Gospel is why husbands must love their wives and wives must submit to their husbands!

What is this all telling us? It's substantiating the claim I made above: that marriage is a picture, or a parable, of Christ and the Church -- of the Gospel of Christ's covenant-keeping grace with a people to whom He has committed Himself, and who have committed themselves to Him. When Paul says that "This mystery is great," and then tells us that he's speaking about Christ and the Church, he's establishing that marriage is designed to point us to the Gospel: that precious Good News that has saved us from sin, wrath, just punishment, fruitlessness, and a wasted life; that precious Good News that has gotten our sin out of the way so that we can enjoy fellowship with our Creator and Redeemer! So that we can spend eternity gazing into the beautifully glorious face of our God, who will dwell among His people in love in the Paradise of the New Creation.

Now this is why Christians should be opposed to the legalizing of gay "marriage": because it mars the picture of that precious Gospel that marriage is designed to be. If marriage is given to us in order to point us to the reality of Christ's covenant-keeping grace with His people, and if the husband pictures Christ and the wife pictures the Church, then any tampering with those participants confuses and obfuscates the Gospel.

And that's what should get our dander up. Not tax breaks. Not nomenclature. Not social agendas. The Gospel. Make sure the people you're having these conversations with leave knowing the difference. And if they don't know why the Gospel is so precious to us, why it's such a treasure, why it's to be so rigorously defended and protected...

Tell them.

through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us,
the treasure
which has been entrusted to you.

- 2 Timothy 1:14 -

But we have this treasure
in earthen vessels,
so that the surpassing greatness of the power
will be of God and not from ourselves.

- 2 Corinthians 4:7 -

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
- Matthew 6:21 -

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Homework for a Sinning Brother


Yes, homework.

In discussions like the one we've been having on repentance, there is a great need to be practical. It's easy to speak hypothetically and to throw around platitudes, but it's another thing to get into someone's life and really minister God's Word to them. This kind of discipleship involves not only unfolding the Word to each other, but also enfolding it back onto the lives of those with whom we live and grow in Christ.

In the last post in this series about Biblical repentance, I offered some ways that I would counsel a brother who has confessed to committing adultery and desires to repent Biblically. I encourage you to read that post.

But in a counseling situation -- whether a formal pastoral counseling session or just one-on-one, layperson-to-layperson discipleship -- it's easy to just get together and talk. We're all prone to the "take two verses and call me in the morning" approach to counseling, where we just throw Bible verses at people and expect that to take care of things. That rather careless approach hardly works, because sin is rarely, if ever, about a lack of information. Instead, it's about the clarity of our vision and the desires of our heart. Sheep don't need food thrown at them. They need to be led to a good, green pasture to graze. The pastor (or counselor) must feed his fellow sheep in a 'shepherdly' way.

In that situation, then, it's helpful to walk with a counselee through a thorough, Biblical understanding of the issue, as well as through practical ways to break bad habits and establish godly ones. One way that's often done is through homework. I know it sounds kinda quirky, but it's true for a couple of reasons.
  • It sets expectations of actual change (cf. Prov 14:23) and gives hope by underscoring in the mind of the counselee that change is possible.
  • It's obviously a helpful tool to evaluate progress.
  • It gives the counselor an opportunity to "be with" the counselee in between the times that they can actually physically get together. Because he'll be consistently meditating on and working through the homework, the counselee's progress won't sag in between counseling sessions.
  • It also helps wean the counselee's dependence off the counselor and on Christ Himself through the Word of God.
To that end, I offer a sample of four weeks of homework assignments for a sinning brother in Jim's position. You might notice that much of the material in the assignments comes from the material I've presented in this series. This is a way of applying our study to the real lives of the sheep. Also, I've provided sample answers to my questions in brackets to help the reader understand my intentions in asking these questions. The counselee would not see these answers before providing his own. These answers also provide a frame of reference for discussion of the counselee’s own answers in the following session. Here's the outline:
Week 1: The Nature of Biblical Repentance
Week 2: Sin and Obedience are Matters of Worship

Week 3: The Sweetness of Christ’s Lordship

Week 4: Putting Off and Putting On
Week One: The Nature of Biblical Repentance

The Bible teaches that when a believer has sinned, the appropriate response is repentance (Lk. 17:3). It is necessary, then, that you understand the nature of Biblical repentance. What does it look like? What does it involve? The following passages contain the words the Bible uses to describe repentance. Please look up these passages and read them carefully. Then, answer the questions that follow. A helpful pace might be one assignment per day coupled with a time of meditation on the indicated passages.

  1. Read Psalm 32:3-4, Psalm 28:6-8, Jeremiah 31:19, Joel 2:12, Matthew 26:69-75, Romans 7:14-25, and 2 Corinthians 7:9-10. What do these passages teach are necessary components of repentance? If you had to summarize in one word a common theme in these passages, what would it be? [Sorrow, or remorse.] Does this characterize you? If so, how? If not, what would that look like in your life?
  2. Read Psalm 32:5, Psalm 51:1-4, Hosea 14:2, and 1 John 1:8-10. What do these passages teach concerning repentance? In one word or phrase, what is the common theme? [Sin must be acknowledged and confessed.] Read the following passages and state how each character demonstrates this characteristic of repentance: (a) 2 Samuel 12:1-15, especially verse 13; (b) Job 38:1-2 and 42:1-6, especially 42:3. Have you evidenced repentance this way? If so, how? If not, how would your confession sound?
  3. Read Jeremiah 18:11-12, Ezekiel 18:21, 27-28, 30-31, and Daniel 9:13. Now read Jesus’ admonitions to sinning churches in Revelation 2:4-5, 21-22, and 3:15-19. What is the common theme in repentance here? [Turning from sin.] Re-read Job 42:1-6. How does Job demonstrate this characteristic in 42:6? [He retracts his statement.] According to Hosea 5:4, can one continue in their sin and repent toward God? What might it look like for you to turn from the sin in your life?
  4. Read Luke 3:7-14, Acts 26:19-20, and Revelation 2:5. What is the common theme in repentance in these passages? [Obedience.] In what three ways does David declare that he will bear fruit in keeping with repentance in Psalm 51:13-15? Also, read Luke 19:1-10. How does Zaccheus demonstrate his repentance? Finally, read Acts 4:8-11, 18-20 and 5:27-32, 41-42. How is Peter’s repentance of his denial of Christ made evident? In each of these cases (David, Zaccheus, and Peter), does their obedience happen before or after they are forgiven? [After. It’s a fruit, not a cause, of repentance.] Finally, read Deuteronomy 4:30, 2 Kings 17:13 and 23:25, Ezekiel 18:21, and Daniel 9:13. What is our standard of obedience? [The Word of God.]
  5. Read Deuteronomy 4:29-30 and 30:2, 10, 1 Samuel 7:3, 1 Kings 8:47-48, Jeremiah 3:10 and 4:1-4, Joel 2:12-13, and Acts 8:21-22. Above all else, what is repentance concerned with? [The heart.] Is repentance merely external, or does it include the internal also? Does the external shape the internal, or does the internal shape the external? [The latter. Obedience is the free and joyful response of a truly repentant heart.]
  6. Read the following passages and list some results of repentance: 1 Samuel 7:3, 2 Chronicles 30:9, Job 22:23, Psalm 32:5, Isaiah 1:27-28, Ezekiel 18:21-32, Acts 3:19, 2 Timothy 2:25.
Week Two: Sin and Obedience Are Matters of Worship
  1. Read Isaiah 42:8, 43:7, and 48:11, Ezekiel 36:22-23, and Ephesians 1:11-12. What do these passages teach about the reason you exist? [To glorify/worship God.] Now read Romans 1:18-32. What are the fundamental sins of mankind that invite the wrath of God mentioned in 1:18? Focus particularly on 1:21, 1:23, 1:25, and 1:28. [They did not acknowledge, honor, nor give thanks to God; exchanged His glory for a glory-substitute and His truth for a lie; worshiped the creature not the Creator.]
  2. Read Deuteronomy 29:2-4 and 30:6, Jeremiah 31:33, and Ezekiel 6:9 and 36:26. What is the common theme running throughout those passages? [Obedience from the heart.] Now, according to Mark 7:18-23, where does adultery come from? [The heart.]
  3. Read Matthew 6:19-21. Ponder the statement in verse 21 for a few minutes. What is the relationship between your desires and the allegiance of your heart? [We worship what we desire, what we love, what we delight in.] How does this relate to Mark 7:21? [What we worship shapes our actions.] And according to Romans 1:25, to whom does our worship rightly belong? [God, not created things.]
  4. According to Ephesians 5:3-5, sexual sin is related to covetousness. Examine your heart. What was it that you were coveting when you engaged in adultery? [Approval, appreciation, attention, comfort, etc.] How does this relate to worship? [I worship those things rather than Christ.]
  5. Ephesians 5:5 calls covetous men idolaters. With this in mind, read Ezekiel 14:1-8. What idols have you erected in your heart that have led to your sin? (Hint: What were you coveting in #4?) In what ways are you worshiping these idols in the way you ought to be worshiping Christ? [I am shaping my life to receive the joy and satisfaction that they offer, when God tells me I was created to rejoice in and to be satisfied by Him, and nothing else.]
  6. With Isaiah 43:7 in mind, read the following Psalms. What do they teach about what we were created to be satisfied by? Psalms 16:11, 17:14-15, 21:6, 26:8, 27:4, 36:8-9, 43:4, 63:1-5, 65:4, 73:25-28, 90:14, 107:9. [We are to rejoice in and be satisfied by the glory of God Himself.] Next, read Philippians 3:2-11. What did Paul worship, or treasure, more than anything else? [Christ. Paul counted Him more satisfying.] Finally, read Hebrews 11:23-27. How did Moses battle against being enticed to worship the idols of the sinful pleasures and treasures of Egypt? [He was looking to the reward, seeing, being enticed by, and preferring Christ Himself.]
  7. What did/does your heart crave more than Christ? Why does it crave those things more than Christ? [I crave things more than I crave Christ because my sinful flesh deadens my spiritual taste buds so that they taste better to me than He does.]
Week Three: The Sweetness of Christ’s Lordship

Having discussed that true Biblical repentance results in obedience, as well as how that obedience comes from a worshiping heart, we will now turn to the Bible’s teaching of the Lordship of Christ. Romans 10:9 teaches that an essential characteristic of a Christian is that he confesses that Jesus is the Lord, or master, of his life. To not know Christ as Lord is to not know God.

  1. Read 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8. What is the relationship between lust and the knowledge of God? [Lustful passion comes from a failure to know God as He is.]
  2. Read Luke 9:23-27 and Luke 14:25-34. What does it mean to be a disciple of Christ? [I must submit all of my life to Him. He is my master.] In what areas of your life is Jesus to be Lord? [All of them.] What kinds of thoughts and emotions spring up in you as you read these passages? [This question evaluates the counselee’s desire to be lovingly ruled by Christ vs. his desire to rebel against Him.]
  3. Read Matthew 11:28-30. What does it mean to take Jesus’ yoke upon you? [Receiving Him in faith means submitting to Him as Lord.] What is the nature of Christ’s Lordship according to this passage? Is Jesus a burdensome, tyrannical Lord? [No. His Lordship grants rest for the weary soul.]
  4. Read Psalm 23:1-6 and Psalm 32:10, Proverbs 13:15, Jeremiah 31:25, Matthew 7:24-27, John 6:35, John 13:17, Romans 2:9-10, and James 1:22-25. What are the benefits of living according to Christ’s Lordship? What are the negative consequences of rebelling against His Lordship?
  5. Read “Faith in Future Grace vs. Lust,” pp. 329-338 in John Piper’s Future Grace. Look up all of the Scriptures that are not fully quoted but only referred to. Underline at least 10, but not more than 15, statements in that chapter that you find particularly striking, important, and/or helpful. Come prepared to discuss the chapter.
Week Four: Putting Off and Putting On
  1. A vital principle of the Christian life is that we continue to mortify the deeds of the body (read Romans 8:1-13). The strategy Scripture provides for doing this is putting off sinful attitudes and behaviors and replacing them by putting on godly ones (read Ephesians 4:17-24). Using these principles, as well as those you learned from the chapter in Future Grace, list at least five attitudes and behaviors which contribute to your lust that you will put off. List five that you will put on in their place. How will you go about putting these off and the others on in the context of your own life? Be specific.
  2. What regular practices in your lifestyle need to change and/or be avoided to safeguard you from future temptation? [E.g., avoiding certain neighborhoods or restaurants, not allowing yourself to be alone, commitment to going on regular dates with your wife, etc.]
  3. In the moments that you are tempted by lust, how will you take up the sword of the Spirit in the fight of faith against lust? What are some promises of God you will recall and trust in when sinful lust tempts you to trust in its promises? [E.g., setting my mind on the things of the flesh brings death, but setting my mind on the things of the Spirit brings life and peace, Romans 8:6].
  4. This week, keep a folded sheet of 8.5"x11" paper in your back pocket at all times. Whenever you are tempted by lust (and/or adulterous thoughts or desires), immediately write the following on the paper: (1) Where you were, (2) what you were thinking immediately before, (3) what it was that lust was promising you that seemed enticing, (4) any Scripture passages that come to mind which expose those promises as lies, and (5) any Scripture passages that come to mind which promise greater happiness in Christ.
As should be obvious, none of this can be one-size-fits-all. The counselor/discipler will have to evaluate which topics need to be addressed in further detail and which can be gone through more quickly. Also, all of these answers provide a lot of data for discussion during the sessions. Just because it's homework doesn't mean it stays at home. If you're going to ask your counselee to be as serious as to do all this work, go through it with him. Don't make him feel like it's busy-work, but use this very personal and pointed feedback to shepherd him through to Biblical repentance.

So then, brethren, we are under obligation,
not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh--
for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die;
but if by the Spirit
you are putting to death the deeds of the body,
you will live.

- Romans 8:12-13 -

Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work;
be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work.
Be killing sin, or it will be killing you.

- John Owen -