Naming our Struggles (Murray)

 Quite often we as Christians know the various sins against which we struggle.  We might be strong in some areas, but are weak in others.  For example, a person might not have a violent or quick temper, but he does struggle with discontentment and envy.  A Christian might have real and genuine loves for others, but she has a hard time being a good steward of her money.  The list goes on.  Usually as we mature in the faith, we start to see our strengths and weaknesses.  The Lord, through Scripture, helps us see our failures so we can repent of them and ask for grace to “put off” what is sinful and “put on” what is good.  However, sometimes we can’t always name our weaknesses, we don’t know what to call them, or they haven’t been pointed out to us yet.  In Refresh, the authors list some of the main areas of stumbling for women – though I’d add these are areas of stumbling for men as well:

Idolatry.  We make idols of beauty, fashion, career, husband, or children – especially their success in school and sports.

Materialism.  Our pursuit of money or bigger and better homes often results in working more hours or jobs than we can handle and also nourishes the womb of discontent that gnaws away at our minds and hearts.

Debt.  One of the greatest causes of stress is living beyond our means.  Maybe we don’t spend 50 percent more than we can afford, but 10 percent, year on year, grows our debt and our anxiety levels.

Comparison.  Pinterest, Facebook, and mommy blogs can lead us to compare ourselves unfavorably with others who seem better looking, better homemakers, better organizers, and better everything.

Indiscipline.  Although it’s hard to be disciplined and organized, it’s more stressful to be the opposite, which so easily occurs as we use technology.  How many hours are wasted on the internet, resulting not only in guilt over wasted time but a pileup of other duties that now have to be rushed.

Identity.  We define who we are by our successes, our failures, or some part of our past, instead of who we are in Christ.

Media diet.  Just as what we put in our mouths affects our emotions, thoughts, and hearts so what we put in our ears and eyes has emotional, intellectual, and spiritual consequences.  Many live as if Philippians 5:8 said, ‘Whatever things are false, whatever things are sordid, whatever things are wrong, whatever things are filthy, whatever things are ugly, whatever things are terrible, if there is any vice, if there is anything worthy of criticism, meditate on these things.’

Perfectionism.  We strive for flawless family, house, meals, and appearance.

Failure.  We fail at school, or at a job, or at homemaking, or in witnessing, or we fail to meet our own or others’ expectations.

Later in this helpful book the authors talk more about dealing with these dangers and sins in light of God’s grace and his word.  It’s good to know our sins and weaknesses so we can, by God’s grace, fight them.  We don’t want to wallow in weakness, we want to press on obediently in the strength of the Lord!

NOTE: I edited the list for length; you can find it in its entirety on pages 46-48 of Refresh by David and Shona Murray.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

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Apart from the Law Sin is Dead

 Romans 7 is a rich text that has some very deep truths about sin and the law.  Some phrases that stick out to me are these: “Sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind...” and “…when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died” and finally “…sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me” (Rom  7:8, 9, 11 NASB).  Herman Ridderbos has some helpful comments on these verses:

It is not the law itself, therefore, which is sin.  But sin avails itself of the law as its starting point, that is to say, sin – here thought of as a personified power – gets its opportunity through the law.  For the law forbids sin.  Consequently, when the law comes on man with its prohibition, sin springs into action and awakens in man the desire for what is forbidden by the commandment.  In that sense it can be said that the desires are ‘by the law’ (v. 5).  Thus it can also be understood that sin is ‘dead’ apart from the law, that is, sin asserts itself in man only when the law comes to him with its prohibitions.  Then sin begins ‘to live’ (v. 9), it stirs from its slumbering, its resistance awakens to the power that is bent on bridling it.

What is written in 1 Corinthians 15:56 applies here as well: ‘the strength of sin is the law.’  Without the law sin would not have been able to make men rebellious and lawless.  For this reason it can also be said that sin, starting from the law, deceives man.  By holding up the commandment to man as the end of his liberty and by promising him life in the transgression of the commandment, sin draws man under its enchantment.  It promises him just that which the law appears to take away, and leads him thus into death.

Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology, p. 144.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

God’s Wrath/Anger Against Wickedness (Morris)

Pillar New Testament Commentary: The Epistle to the Romans Here’s a helpful commentary by Leon Morris on Paul’s discussion of God’s anger or wrath being revealed against man’s ungodliness and unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18):

It is, of course, true that God is love. But it is not true that this rules out any realistic view of God’s wrath.  …Wrath is perhaps not an ideal term, for with us it so easily comes to denote an emotion characterized by loss of self-control and a violent concern for selfish interests. But these are not necessary constituents of wrath, and both are absent from the “righteous indignation” which gives us the best human analogy. In any case “wrath” is the word the Bible uses, and we need the strongest of reasons for abandoning it. It is a term that expresses the settled and active opposition of God’s holy nature to everything that is evil. Until some better suggestion is made we do well to stick to the biblical term to convey the biblical idea. What we should not do is to abandon the idea that the wrath is personal. This leads to the position that God does not care about sin, or at least does not care enough to act. It is impossible to reconcile such a morally neutral position with the scriptural teaching about God. The Bible in general and Paul in particular see God as personally active in opposing sin.

 Leon Morris, The Epistle to the Romans (Grand Rapids, MI; Leicester, England: W.B. Eerdmans; Inter-Varsity Press, 1988), 76.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Workings of our Remaining Sinful Nature

51Wtr7fGObL._SX358_BO1,204,203,200_ Those who have true faith have truly been given new life in Christ.  If a person believes in Christ, he or she has been “born of God” (1 John 5:1).  Regeneration means that someone who was dead in sin is now alive in Christ (Eph. 2:4-5).  However, new birth (regeneration) does not mean that the old sinful nature is completely gone.  True believers still struggle with indwelling sin (Gal. 5:17).  As Luther rightly said, the Christian is a saint and a sinner at the same time.

This means that when we stumble into sin, we can’t simply blame the devil or the world.  The devil can mess with us and the world can entice us, but we sin because we still have the “old man” in us, the “flesh.”  So how does this “old man” function in us?  W. Brakel (d. 1711) explained this well in his discussion on sanctification.  I’ll summarize it below:

  1. Sometimes the old nature stirs us up to sin by violent assaults.  The lusts are so agitated and are stirring so vehemently that there is no time to think upon the fear of God. Even if the fear of the Lord is present, the lust is so strong and forceful that any good inclinations are quickly extinguished.
  2. Sometimes the old nature seeks some rest and relaxation.  He begins to think upon natural things and the lusts of the flesh begin to stir, and the thoughts pertaining to natural things become sinful.  His mind wanders and he lusts, covets, or becomes proud.  He falls into more sin as the moment permits, or even to the degree he never thought himself capable of.
  3. Sometimes the old nature gains strength due to recklessness.  He puts himself into situations he knows will ensnare him, but he does it anyway.  The sin at hand gains the upper hand.  Contact with grease cannot but leave a stain (vetjes maken smetjes).
  4. The old sinful nature also is engaged in keeping us from doing good.  A) He makes us think there is no time to pray, read Scripture, sing, or meditate upon the word.  B) He makes us procrastinate and say we will do godly things later.  C) He makes us believe that doing good is too difficult and impossible to do.  D) He makes us think that doing good is in vain because God is not paying attention and it will not benefit us. E) He makes us compromisers by saying the path is not as narrow as we think.
  5. The old sinful nature also wants to keep us from doing good so he attempts to spoil that which is good.  A) He makes our thoughts wander.  B) He distracts us by making us think about a good thing that isn’t applicable to the situation. C) He causes us to be proud of doing good, and the purity of the duty is contaminated.  D) He causes us to think we do not have the Spirit.  E) His atheism and unbelief surface and it ruins the good with evil.

Why is this important?  For one thing, it helps us as Christians to know ourselves.  We can’t point fingers and blame others for our sinful words, thoughts, and actions (Ps. 51:3-4).  It also keeps us truly humble to know we still have the old man of sin dwelling in us.  It helps us stay near the cross, where we receive continual cleansing from Jesus’ blood.  It makes us constantly confess our sins to God.  It makes us all the more dependent upon the Holy Spirit to give the new man strength in the battle.  It teaches us that God gets all the credit for any good in us or anything good we do in his sight.  Realizing that our old man remains in us also makes us long for heaven, when sanctification will be complete and we will be fully delivered from our remaining sinful flesh.  And the list goes on.  Paul put it this way: What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this dying body?  I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom 7:24-25 HCSB).

The above edited and summarized quote is found in volume three of Brakel’s The Christian’s Reasonable Service, p. 9-11.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

Talking To A Fellow Christian About His or Her Sin (Welch)

Side by Side: Walking with Others in Wisdom and Love Christians are not loners who plow through life by themselves – at least they shouldn’t go it alone!  Since we believe in the fellowship of the saints, there are times when one Christian has to talk to another Christian about his or her sin.  If it is done out of love, if it follows biblical patterns (e.g. Mt. 18), and if it is aimed at repentance, restoration, and spiritual growth, talking to a fellow Christian about sin is a blessing.  It’s not easy and it does sometimes sting, but it is a good thing!  Here is some advice from Ed Welch on talking to a fellow Christian about his or her sin.  He says we need to do so with humility and patience:

Humility means that we already see our sins as worse than others’ sins, so we have no reason to defend ourselves when someone points out our sin (Mt. 7:2-5).  This does not mean that we must publicly identify our own sins before we talk about sins in others.  It means that we live as redeemed tax collectors (Luke 18:9-14) who have no confidence in our own righteousness but live because of God’s lavish forgiveness and grace.

Welch is exactly right.  If we have any sort of arrogance or pride when we confront a brother or sister about their sin, the discussion will usually go downhill rather quickly.  Have you ever had an arrogant person point out your flaws or shortcomings?  It’s not easy to hear since it sounds like what it is: someone who thinks he’s better than you reminding you that you’re beneath him.  Here’s Welch again:

“Patience is humility’s partner.  It is one of the identified fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), and it is a central feature of love (1 Cor. 13:4), so it is essential to our ability to be helpful.  It means that the one we are speaking with is like us – he does not respond perfectly, he changes slowly, and he needs a patient helper.  …Patience is interested in what direction people face.  Do they face toward Jesus?  Patience is more interested in direction and less interested in how fast people are changing.

Again, this is helpful.  Sometimes iron sharpening iron (Prov. 27:17) takes more than a few days!  In other words, sanctification doesn’t happen overnight.  Sometimes God works slowly in a person’s heart and mind, so we need to be patient with God’s timing.  Granted, there are exceptions to this (if someone is physically in danger, for one example), but generally it is very wise to be patient as we talk to another Christian about his or her sin.  God is patient with us, so of course, we should be patient with one another!

The above quotes are from chapter 15 of Side By Side.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

 

The “Broken” Evangelical Buzzword (Wells)

I recently finished reading a very popular evangelical Christian book.  It wasn’t too bad, but when I finished reading it struck me that the author used the terms “broken” or “brokenness” way too much.  After doing a word search on my Kindle, I found that these words were used around 100 times in 300 pages!

It would be interesting to do a sociological study on these terms.  I’m guessing that “broken” and “brokenness” are evangelical buzzwords that have become very popular just in the last 10 years or so.  (Are these words used mostly by GenYers/Millenials?  I can’t imagine my grandpa using these terms!)  I’m also guessing that older generations of Christian writers rarely, if ever, spoke of being broken or facing brokenness.  Speaking of this topic, here’s a post I did in May.  I’m re-blogging it here because I thought of it after reading the book I noted above.

—–

David Wells did a nice job of explaining and critiquing postmodern spirituality in the first chapter of Losing Our Virtue.  At one point he says that postmodern spirituality doesn’t really talk about sins in moral terms but in psychological terms.  In other words, instead of talking about sin as breaking God’s law, disobeying God, and a rupture in the relationship between God and man, people talk sin by way of personal experience:

“It begins with our anxiety, pain, and disillusionment, with the world in its disorder, the family or marriage in its brokenness, or the workplace in its brutality and insecurity.  God, in consequence, is valued to the extent that he is able to bathe these wounds, assuage these insecurities, calm these fears, restore some sense of internal order, and bring some sense of wholeness.”

So in evangelicalism today you’ll notice words like broken, numb, shattered, and wounded.  Wells quotes one praise song to prove his point:

“He heard my cry and came to heal me / He took my pain and He relieved me;
He filled my life and comforted me / And his name will shine, shine eternally.”

What’s the big deal?  Why can’t we just talk about being broken and bruised instead of sinful and wretched before God?  Isn’t it OK to say we’re “numb” instead of saying “my sin is ever before me (Ps.51)?  Here’s Wells again:

“This psychologizing of sin and salvation has an immediacy about it that is appealing in this troubled age, this age of broken beliefs and broken lives.  The cost, however, is that it so subverts the process of moral understanding that sin loses its sinfulness, at least before God.  And whereas in classical spirituality it was assumed that sinners would struggle with their sin, feel its sting, and experience dismay over it, in postmodern spirituality, this struggle is considered abnormal and something for which divine relief is immediately available.  That is why the experience of Luther, Brainerd, and Owen is so remote from what passes as normal in the evangelical world today.”

This is important to note!  I’m not saying that everyone who uses the terms “broken” or “brokenness” rejects sin in a postmodern way.  But we do have to be sure we talk about sin in biblical terms and not define sin based on our psychological experiences or emotional feelings.  Sin isn’t first about our feelings, experiences, and emotions, it is first about disobeying God, doing what is evil in his sight, falling short of his glory, and being accountable to him for it (Ps. 51, Rom. 3, etc.).  And the remedy for sin is not something that we feel or do, it is Christ crucified for sinners, doing what they could never do themselves!

David Wells, Losing Our Virtue (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998).

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

No Harbor In My Own Righteousness (Sibbes)

One of the greatest things about being a Christian is knowing that Jesus loves me despite my sin and sinful struggles.  I know I’m sinful but I also know I have a great Savior in whose righteousness I stand accepted by God.  I appreciate how Richard Sibbes (d. 1635) wrote about this:

“[The love of Christ] should teach us not to wrong ourselves with false judgement.  We should have a double eye: one to see that which is amiss in us, our own imperfections, thereby to carry ourselves in a perpetual humility; but another eye of faith to see what we have in Christ, our perfection in him, so to account of ourselves, and glory in this our best being, that in him we have a glorious being – such a one whereby God esteems us perfect, and undefiled in him only.

Sibbes is saying that on the one hand, we need to understand our sin and be humble because of it.  On the other hand, we need to understand our Savior and realize that in him God sees us as perfect, forgiven, justified.  Speaking of knowing, these two things (our sin and our Savior),

The one of which sights should enforce us to the other, which is one reason why God in this world leaves corruption in his children.  Oh, since I am thus undefiled, shall I rest in myself?  Is there any harbor for me to rest in mine own righteousness?  Oh no – it drives a man out of all harbor.  No, I will rest in that righteousness which God has wrought by Christ, who is the God-man.  That will endure the sight of God, being clothed with which, I can endure the presence of God.  So, this sight of our own unworthiness and wants should not be a ground of our discouragement, but a ground to drive us perfectly out of ourselves, that by faith we might renew our title to that righteousness, wherein is our especial glory.  Why should we not judge of ourselves as Christ does?  Can we see more in ourselves than he does?  Yet notwithstanding all he sees, he accounts us as undefiled.”

As the Apostle said, “…not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith” (Phil. 3:9 NIV).

Richard Sibbes, The Love of Christ, p. 150-151.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI 54015