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Archive for January, 2011

 

Bad thinking leads to bad decisions – not necessarily what we think about, but how we think. Paul tells us in Romans 12:2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Our minds need to be continually renewed – day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment.

The reason for Paul’s admonition is that our minds, the part of our soul that thinks and reasons and deliberates, are included in what the Bible calls the “heart.” “The heart,” according to God in Jeremiah 17:9, “is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”  Our mind, affections (emotions, passions, desires, cravings, intentions), and will (the part of us that decides and chooses) are infected and polluted with the disease of sin. Our hearts are not pure and good from the moment of our conception, but rather dark, sinful, fallen, and depraved. Even after we are saved by God’s grace, our hearts are still not fully renewed – it’s a process that will take the rest of our lives.

It seems as if one out of every three movies or books have the theme of “follow your heart,” and “do whatever your heart tells you.” It sounds like good, kind, and loving advice, but it couldn’t be more foolish, unloving, or dangerous. Our hearts are not to be trusted or obeyed – they’re notoriously bad guides. In fact, the Bible says that we are not to “lean on our own understanding,” but instead to “trust in the Lord with all our heart” (Prov. 3:5).

This is where mind renewal comes in. If we’re not familiar with Scripture and have a biblical worldview, we could easily be drawn into the kind of foolishness fed to us in some movies and books. If we’re growing in our knowledge and trust of God, we won’t fall for the lie that human beings are basically good, and with enough education or incentive will do the right thing – that our hearts want only what is good, true, and beautiful.

We renew our minds through intake of the Bible – God’s Word. When we hear it, read it, study it, memorize it, meditate upon it, and apply it, our minds will be renewed and we’ll be transformed into the image of Christ. Let me close with this admonition and encouragement: “Put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:22-24).

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In his great book The Mortification of Sin, John Owen said that we must consider the symptoms that accompany a specific lust which can lead to sin. The first “deadly and serious” symptom is

Firm establishment over a long period of time and settlement as a habitual practice. If a sin has been corrupting your heart for a long time, and you have allowed it to prevail and abide in power, without vigorously attempting to kill it, and heal the wounds that it causes, this is a serious condition. Have you permitted worldliness and ambition to divert you from the important duties that promote communion with God for a long season? Have you allowed unclean thoughts to defile your heart with vain, foolish, and wicked imaginations for many days? This is a serious and dangerous symptom. “My wounds stink and fester because of my foolishness” (Ps. 38:5).

When a lust has remained a long time in the heart, corrupting, festering, and poisoning, it brings the soul into a woeful condition. In this instance an ordinary course of humiliation will not be sufficient. Such a lust will make a deep imprint on the soul. It will make its company a habit in your affections. It will grow so familiar to your mind and conscience that they are not disturbed at its presence as some strange thing. It will so take advantage in such a state that it will often exert itself without you even taking notice of it at all. Unless a serious and extraordinary course is taken, a person in this state has no grounds to expect that his latter end shall be peace.

If this is the case, do you think it will prove an easy thing to dislodge such a room-mate, pleading to stay? Old and neglected wounds can prove to be fatal, and are always dangerous. Indwelling lusts grow rusty and stubborn because they have long continued in ease and quiet. Such a sin will not be easily ejected. It will never die by itself, and if it is not daily killed it will only gather added strength.

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This morning it was my privilege to preach a topical sermon on evangelism. 1 Corinthians 15:1-8 was the key passage (dealing with the gospel itself). Here is the sermon in one sentence: Evangelism is proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, leaving the results to God.

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“Tell your Grandma thank you, honey!”

“Say thank you to the nice man!”

How many times have parents said something like that to their children? Probably more times than they, or we, could count.

Why do they do it? Isn’t it enough to tell your child to be grateful and thankful (and make sure to express it) once, and then they understand it and do it? They tell their children, and our parents told us, to be thankful because it’s not in our nature. We don’t come with gratitude as standard equipment. It’s for the same reason that they have to keep telling them to say “thank you” – it’s a learned behavior that takes time, plenty of time.

The apostle Paul says this in Romans 1:18-21

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So that they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Fallen human beings, by nature, suppress the truth in their own souls about God, don’t honor or glorify Him as God, and aren’t thankful to Him. We’re born that way (yes, even children) and we’ll remain that way until God saves us by His grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

The solution to the problem of ingratitude is the gospel. Jesus lived, died, and rose again from the dead for us, therefore we ought to turn from our sins and trust Him alone for our salvation. One of the results or benefits will be that God the Holy Spirit begins to change our hearts so that we’re more and more grateful to Him and others.

With time and the work of the Spirit, we won’t have to be told so often to say thank you to the nice man – it’ll be second nature (or should I say “new” nature!). Keep going, it’s worth it!

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D.A. Carson wrote:

If I have learned anything in 35 or 40 years of teaching, it is that students don’t learn everything I teach them. What they learn is what i am excited about, the kinds of things I emphasize again and again and again and again. That had better be the gospel.

If the gospel – even when you are orthodox – becomes something which you primarily assume, but what you are excited about is what you are doing in some sort of social reconstruction, you will be teaching the people that you influence that the gospel really isn’t all that important. You won’t be saying that – you won’t even mean that – but that’s what you will be teaching. And then you are only half a generation away from losing the gospel.

Make sure that in your own practice and excitement, what you talk about, what you think about, what you pray over, what you exude confidence over, joy over, what you are enthusiastic about is Jesus, the gospel, the cross. And out of that framework, by all means, let the transformed life flow.

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I was privileged, by God’s grace, to preach this morning on the subject of evangelism from a number of passages (Gen. 3:8-9 and Luke 15:1-32 among them). Even with the cold-addled voice, here is my sermon in the space of one sentence: God has compassion for the lost and pursues them passionately – so should we.

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Here’s something to think about as we enter a new year – ask God to make you like Jesus and do whatever it takes to get you there.

God’s purpose for His people is to make us more and more like His Son Jesus Christ. Romans 8:28 is one of the most familiar verses in all of Scripture, and for good reason. It says, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.” But the not-so-well-known verse is the one that follows – Romans 8:29 – makes God’s purpose clear. It says, “For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son.”  The reason God works all things for good is so that He can make us more like Jesus – to conform us to His image.

“Make me like Jesus” is a scary request to make. It might mean that God will use sickness, the death of a loved one, the loss of a job, or any number of other things to accomplish His purpose. Of course, it could also mean the opposite, but we don’t get a vote in the matter. The Lord will use whatever means He has to in order to achieve the end of Christlikeness.

But “make me like Jesus” is also a good request. What could be better for the Christian than to be like our Lord? Absolutely nothing! Christlikeness is our destination, we just don’t know the route God will use to get us there. It might be scary, but it will definitely be good!

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