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 -

No comments: