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Archive for the ‘Godliness’ Category

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This morning I had the privilege of preaching on Philippians 1:9-11. The following is a one-sentence summary of my sermon: Love that is guided by knowledge produces a godly life lived for the glory and praise of God.

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I just finished reading The Hole In Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung, and I have to say I loved it. DeYoung writes well and his book is brief (150 pages including questions for each chapter), which makes it a quick, but excellent read.

Within the last ten to fifteen years, there has been a resurgence of emphasis on the gospel. That’s a good thing and there’s nothing wrong with it considering what the apostle Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4. But some, like DeYoung, think the pendulum has swung too far. Yes, God has delivered us from the penalty of sin (which is called justification), but He’s also in the process of delivering us from the power of sin (which is called sanctification). According to DeYoung, passion for the gospel has overshadowed the pursuit of godliness and holiness. He writes,

The hole in our holiness is that we really don’t care much about it. Passionate exhortation to pursue gospel-driven holiness is barely heard in most of our churches. It’s not that we don’t about sin or encourage decent behavior. Too many sermons are basically self-help seminars on becoming a better you. That’s moralism, and it’s not helpful. Any gospel which says only what you must do and never announces what Christ has done is no gospel at all.So I’m not talking about getting beat up every Sunday for watching Sportscaster and driving an SUV. I’m talking about the failure of Christians, especially younger generations and especially those most disdainful of “religion” and “legalism,” to take seriously one of the great aims of our redemption and one of the required evidences of eternal life – our holiness.

J.C. Ryle, a nineteenth-century bishop of Liverpool, was right: “We must be holy, because this is one grand end and purpose for which Christ came into the world…Jesus is a complete Savior. He does not merely take away the guilt of a believer’s sin, he does more – he breaks its power (1 Pet. 1:2; Rom. 8:29; Eph. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:9; Heb. 12:10).” My fear is that we rightly celebrate, and in some quarters rediscover, all that Christ has saved us from, we are giving little thought and making little effort concerning all that Christ has saved us to. Shouldn’t those most passionate about the gospel and God’s glory also be those most dedicated to the pursuit of godliness? I worry that there is an enthusiasm gap and no one seems to mind. (pp. 10-11. Italics in original.)

This is a good book on an important topic, and well worth your time. God’s grace is amazing, but it doesn’t stop with forgiveness; holiness is included. I’m with DeYoung in saying we need to close that hole.

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Learned and Godly

 

When I entered seminary, one of the first required readings was a little booklet written by theologian B.B. Warfield called The Religious Life of Theological Students. Here is one of the numerous wise comments he made:

But aptness to teach alone does not make a minister; nor is it his primary qualification. It is only one of a long list of requirements which Paul lays down as necessary to meet in him who aspires to this high office. And all the rest (my explanation – referring to 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9) concern, not his intellectual, but his spiritual fitness. A minister must be learned, on pain of being utterly incompetent for his work. But before and above being learned, a minister must be godly.

Nothing could be more fatal, however, then to set these two things over against one another. Recruiting officers do not dispute whether it’s better for soldiers to have a right leg or a left leg: soldiers should have both legs. Sometimes we hear it said that ten minutes on your knees will give you a truer, deeper, more operative knowledge of God than ten hours over your books. “What!” is the appropriate response, “than ten hours over your books on your knees?” Why should you turn from God when you turn to your books, or feel that you must turn from your books in order to turn to God? If learning and devotion are antagonistic as that, then the intellectual life itself is accursed, and there can be no question of a religious life for a student, even of theology. The mere fact that he is a student inhibits religion for him. That I am asked to speak to you on the religious life of the student of theology proceeds on the recognition of the absurdity of such antithesis. You are students of theology; and, just because you are students of theology, it is understood that you are religious men – especially religious men, to whom the cultivation of your religious life is a matter of the profoundest concern – of such concern that you will wish above all things to be warned of the dangers that may assail your religious life, and be pointed to the means by which you may strengthen and enlarge it. In your case there can be no “either-or” here – either a student or a man of God. You must be both.

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It didn’t take long for me to discover that being a Christian wasn’t easy.  In fact, there were (and still are) times when it was downright hard. The initial “glow” of putting my faith and trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior gave way to the reality of the discipline, effort, and struggle required to be a faithful follower of Christ. There’s still joy – don’t get me wrong – but the Christian life is a struggle.

The reality of the struggle is found in Scripture. 1 Timothy 4:7-8 says, “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.” Training for anything takes effort – we have to work at it. According to God’s Word, godliness is no different – effort and hard work is required to attain it. In 1 Timothy 4:10, Paul explains the kind of effort we need: “For to this end we labor and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all  people, especially of those who believe.” He uses the word agonizomai to describe our labor and strife – it refers to working, laboring, striving, and straining to the point of agony and exhaustion. Godliness and maturity in Christ require that kind of effort.

While living as a Christian is hard, there is help, hope, and joy available.

We have help in our walk with Jesus Christ. First, God gives us the ability, power, and strength we need through His Holy Spirit. Philippians 2:13-14 says, “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” We don’t have to muster up the strength to be faithful to the Lord on our own (that’s good news!) because He is at work in us to bring it about. Yes, we work, but only because He is at work in us.

We have hope in our life as a Christian. While it can be agonizing and hard work to be a follower of Jesus Christ, we have a great promise in 1 John 3:2-3: “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” As those whom God has made part of His family, we’re painfully aware that we are not what we should be, but we will be like our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ when we are with Him in eternity. As the hymn says, “It will be worth it all,” when we see Him.

Even though the Christian life is hard, we have joy in our labor. “Looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand  of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Heb. 12:2-3). Everything Christ endured for us on the cross, as well as before it, was with a view to the joy that would be His. I can’t help but think that His joy had to do not only with the future, but even with the excruciating pain of the crucifixion. There is joy in the destination, to be sure, but also in the journey.

Living as a Christian is hard, but we’re not without help, hope, and joy. Praise God for that!

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Donald Whitney, in his excellent book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, explains the importance of “Bible intake” as he calls it.

No Spiritual Discipline is more important than the intake of God’s Word. Nothing can substitute for it. There is simply no healthy Christian life apart from a diet of the milk and meat of Scripture. The reasons for this are obvious. In the Bible God tells us about Himself, and especially about Jesus Christ, the incarnation of God. The Bible unfolds the Law of God to us and shows us how we’ve all broken it. There we learned how Christ died as a sinless, willing Substitute for breakers of God’s Law and how we must repent and believe in Him to be right with God. In the Bible we learn the ways and will of the Lord. We find in Scripture how to live in a way that is pleasing to God as well as best and most fulfilling for ourselves. None of this eternally essential information can be found anywhere else except the Bible. Therefore if we would know God and be Godly, we must know the Word of God – intimately. (p. 24)

If all of this is true, and it certainly is, how can we let our Bible sit on a shelf and gather dust? Tolle lege Coram Deo! (Take up and read before the face of God!)

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“How do I get to Carnegie Hall?”

“Practice. Practice. Practice.”

You’ve probably heard that before – it’s funny, but it’s absolutely true! If we want to make it to the stage and perform at Carnegie Hall, we’ll have to practice and practice hard.

Here comes the link: what’s true for Carnegie Hall is true for Christianity, too. If it’s our aim to follow Jesus Christ and be a faithful child of God, it’s going to take a lot of hard work and practice. 1 Timothy 4:7b-8 says, “Rather train yourself for godliness; while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.”

Paul tells Timothy to “train” himself to be godly. The word means “exercise, work hard, or discipline.” It has to a lot to do with hard work and practice. Most of us don’t enjoy hearing that – a shortcut would be better (we think). but like Tiger Woods’ golf coach told him, “There are no shortcuts.”

Piano players have to practice. Violin players have to practice. Electricians have to practice and get better at what they do. Swimmers have to be in the pool a lot in order to improve. Becoming a better reader takes practice. Learning another language takes practice. If I want to preach or teach better, I have to do it a lot (meaning practice). Nobody is comfortable doing something the first time, but with practice comes greater levels of competence and confidence.

The first time we opened God’s Word it seemed foreign and we didn’t know quite how to interpret it. It gets easier with practice, though. Prayer seems very unusual to us at first, but with practice it becomes more natural. Sharing Christ with someone can be terrifying the first time, but with practice we become much more comfortable. If we want God to be more glorified by our worship and service, we have to practice. Forgiving people takes practice. Spending time with other Christians in order to do them good spiritual takes practice. Loving our neighbors, especially our family, takes practice and hard work. There are no shortcuts in any of these areas.

So, how do we get to spiritual maturity in our walk with Christ?

Practice! Practice! Practice!

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Jerry Bridges has an answer to that question in his book Respectable Sins. Here’s what he says:

When I talk about specific areas of acceptable sins, one comment I often hear is that pride is the root cause of all of them. While I agree that pride does play a major role in the development and expression of our subtle sins, I believe there is another sin that is even more basic, more widespread, and more apt to be the root cause of other sins. That is the sin of ungodliness, of which we are all guilty to some degree. (Emphasis in original)

So, what is ungodliness? Bridges says,

Ungodliness may be defined as living one’s everyday life with little or no thought of God, or of God’s will, or of God’s glory, or of one’s dependence upon God. You can readily see, then, that someone can lead a respectable life and still be ungodly in the sense that God is essentially irrelevant in his or her life. We rub shoulders with such people every day in the course of our ordinary activities. They may be friendly, courteous, and helpful to other people, but God is not at all in their thoughts. They may even attend church for an hour or so each week but then live the remainder of the week as if God doesn’t exist. They are not wicked people, but they are ungodly.

Now, the sad fact is that many of us who are believers tend to live our daily lives with little or no thought of God. We may even read our Bibles and pray for a few minutes at the beginning of each day, but then we go out into the day’s activities and basically live as though God doesn’t exist. We seldom think of our dependence on God or our responsibility to Him.  We might go for hours with no thought of God at all. In that sense, we are hardly different from our nice, decent, but unbelieving neighbor. God as not at all in his thoughts and is seldom in ours.

The attitude we need – one of godliness rather than ungodliness – is summed up by the following passages and verses in God’s Word.

Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit” – yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” (James 4:13-15)

Slaves, obey in everything those who are your earthly masters, not by way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. (Col. 3:22-24)

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Cor. 10:31)

 As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God? (Ps. 42:1-2)

In summary, Bridges says,

Our goal in the pursuit of godliness should be to grow more in our conscious awareness that every moment of our lives is lived in the presence of God; that we are responsible to Him and dependent on Him. This goal would include a growing desire to please Him and glorify Him in the most ordinary activities of life.

As far as I’m concerned, that’s worth thinking about.

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