Monthly Archives: April 2012

The World Crushing Power of a Gospel Vision of Christ

The love of the world cannot be expunged by a mere demonstration of the world’s worthlessness. But may it not be supplanted by the love of that which is more worthy than itself? The heart cannot be prevailed upon to part with the world, by a simple act of resignation. But may not the heart be prevailed upon to admit into its preference another, who shall subordinate the world, and bring it down from its wonted ascendancy? If the throne which is placed there must have an occupier, and the tyrant that now reigns has occupied it wrongfully, he may not leave a bosom which would rather detain him than be left in desolation. But may he not give way to the lawful sovereign, appearing with every charm that can secure His willing admittance, and taking unto himself His great power to subdue the moral nature of man, and to reign over it? In a word, if the way to disengage the heart from the positive love of one great and ascendant object, is to fasten it in positive love to another, then it is not by exposing the worthlessness of the former, but by addressing to the mental eye the worth and excellence of the latter, that all old things are to be done away and all things are to become new. To obliterate all our present affections by simply expunging them, and so as to leave the seat of them unoccupied, would be to destroy the old character, and to substitute no new character in its place. But when they take their departure upon the ingress of other visitors; when they resign their sway to the power and the predominance of new affections; when, abandoning the heart to solitude, they merely give place to a successor who turns it into as busy a residence of desire and interest and expectation as before – there is nothing in all this to thwart or to overbear any of the laws of our sentient nature – and we see how, in fullest accordance with the mechanism of the heart, a great moral revolution may be made to take place upon it.

This, we trust, will explain the operation of that charm which accompanies the effectual preaching of the gospel. The love of God and the love of the world, are two affections, not merely in a state of rivalship, but in a state of enmity – and that so irreconcilable, that they cannot dwell together in the same bosom. We have already affirmed how impossible it were for the heart, by any innate elasticity of its own, to cast the world away from it; and thus reduce itself to a wilderness. The heart is not so constituted; and the only way to dispossess it of an old affection, is by the expulsive power of a new one. Nothing can exceed the magnitude of the required change in a man’s character – when bidden as he is in the New Testament, to love not the world; no, nor any of the things that are in the world for this so comprehends all that is dear to him in existence, as to be equivalent to a command of self-annihilation.

But the same revelation which dictates so mighty an obedience, places within our reach as mighty an instrument of obedience. It brings for admittance to the very door of our heart, an affection which once seated upon its throne, will either subordinate every previous inmate, or bid it away. Beside the world, it places before the eye of the mind Him who made the world and with this peculiarity, which is all its own – that in the Gospel do we so behold God, as that we may love God. It is there, and there only, where God stands revealed as an object of confidence to sinners and where our desire after Him is not chilled into apathy, by that barrier of human guilt which intercepts every approach that is not made to Him through the appointed Mediator. It is the bringing in of this better hope, whereby we draw nigh unto God – and to live without hope, is to live without God; and if the heart be without God, then world will then have all the ascendancy. It is God apprehended by the believer as God in Christ, who alone can dispost it from this ascendancy. It is when He stands dismantled of the terrors which belong to Him as an offended lawgiver and when we are enabled by faith, which is His own gift, to see His glory in the face of Jesus Christ, and to hear His beseeching voice, as it protests good will to men, and entreats the return of all who will to a full pardon and a gracious acceptance_it is then, that a love paramount to the love of the world, and at length expulsive of it, first arises in the regenerated bosom. It is when released from the spirit of bondage with which love cannot dwell, and when admitted into the number of God’s children through the faith that is in Christ Jesus, the spirit of adoption is poured upon us – it is then that the heart, brought under the mastery of one great and predominant affection, is delivered from the tyranny of its former desires, in the only way in which deliverance is possible. And that faith which is revealed to us from heaven, as indispensable to a sinner’s justification in the sight of God, is also the instrument of the greatest of all moral and spiritual achievements on a nature dead to the influence, and beyond the reach of every other application.

Thus may we come to perceive what it is that makes the most effective kind of preaching. Itis not enough to hold out to the world’s eye the mirror of its own imperfections. It is not enough to come forth with a demonstration, however pathetic, of the evanescent character of all its enjoyments. It is not enough to travel the walk of experience along with you, and speak to your own conscience and your own recollection, of the deceitfulness of the heart, and the deceitfulness of all that the heart is set upon…. But he has a truth in his possession, which into whatever heart it enters, will, like the rod of Aaron, swallow up them all – and unqualified as he may be, to describe the old man in all the nicer shading of his natural and constitutional varieties, with him is deposited that ascendant influence under which the leading tastes and tendencies of the old man are destroyed, and he becomes a new creature in Jesus Christ our Lord.

Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847), The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.

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The Futility of Fig Leaves

As the blindness began to set in, the man and woman began to see most clearly.  What was formerly veiled had now become terrifyingly visible.  That which had been beautifully common became tormenting to their soul.  What had formerly been a look of acceptance turned to a gaze of accusation.  Previously they stood together open and unashamed, now they cringe, exposed by their treasonous hearts.  Having been divinely united in covenant, created one for the other, they now stand together separated by their nakedness, sin, and shame.

Just moments before, they were listening to the poisonous words of a cunning serpent.  As doubt, desire, and deception engulfed the couple, one tasted and then gave to the other.  Simultaneously, their eyes were both blinded yet beholding, their minds both darkened yet enlightened, their bodies living yet now dying, and their hearts were both sensitive yet hardening.  Everything had changed in an instant.  With lips still moist with the sweet taste of nectar, the first man and woman sent mankind forth upon a journey of which even the greatest storytellers could never tell.

After indulging their desires, the man and woman quickly attempted to fix, or better yet, cover up their problem.  Hastily reaching for the nearest means of concealment, they made themselves garments of figleaves, venturing to accomplish the first act of works-righteousness.  The man and his wife sought to clothe their sinful hearts by covering their bodies, attempting to hide their sin from God and from one another.  Yet, the couple’s efforts were futile, for God, their Creator, is He who discerns “the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from His sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:12-13).

As we read the story of Adam and Eve it is easy for us see the futility of their attempts to cover their sin, yet the “apple” has not fallen far from the tree.  From the moment sin entered into the world through the first couple, all of mankind has been striving to cover up their sinful hearts.  Take for example all the religions of the world, apart from true, biblical, gospel-centered Christianity.  All require its devotees to do something to take care of whatever problem that religion declares they have.  All are trying to cover up their sinful hearts with external attempts of works-righteousness.  We were created to be in right relationship with God and in our depraved state we seek to attain such status in our own efforts.  Works-righteousness is the religion of the natural man in sin.

Not only do we find these futile efforts out there in the religions of natural man, but they can be found within Christianity as well.  It is easy for a Christian to revert back to his or her former ways of works-righteousness, seeking to cover up a sinful heart with the clothes of external conformity to the norms of the Christian community.  It is easy to forget how amazing God’s grace is towards those who are in Christ and seek to make right our daily wrongs.  We are all susceptible to using fig leaves to cover our nakedness.  Now before you think that you might be excluded from “we all”, take a moment to think about the following fig leaves Christians often use to cover up sin lurking in their hearts (the list is not exhaustive – feel free to add your own).

Futile Fig Leaves of Christians:

  • The fig leaf of theological precision to cover up an unbelieving or disobedient heart.  It is easy to think that knowing the right information will make you acceptable before God, rather than truly resting in Him for all things and following Him in obedience (James 2:19).
  • The fig leaf of church attendance to cover up an uncommitted or rebellious heart.  Being at church some or all the time is not pleasing to God when our hearts desire to be somewhere else or we have no desire to follow those who God has put in authority over us (Heb. 13:17).
  • The fig leaf of singing or “Christian talk” to cover up a lying and corrupt heart.  Singing the songs and talking the talk with others at church cannot make up for our lips profaning the gospel during the week (Matt. 15:8-9).
  • The fig leaf of giving to cover up a selfishly hoarding heart.  Tithing or giving little or even much to others cannot make up for our desire and actions to build up treasure here for our own good (Matt. 6:21).
  • The fig leaf of serving to cover up a lazy or unloving heart.  Giving time and serving others at church or elsewhere cannot cover up our laziness during the week or even our lack of love for others (Mark 10:45).
  • The fig leaf of abstinence to cover up an immoral and adulterous heart.  Abstaining from physical, sexual sin does not cover up our immoral and adulterous thoughts and desires (Matt. 5:27-28).
  • The fig leaf of diet and exercise to cover up a gluttonous heart.  Not eating too much or exercising so as to make up for indulging will not cover up our undisciplined and dissatisfied hunger (John 6:25-35).

It is not that any of these “fig leaves” are sinful in and of themselves, in fact they are all good when done from a heart drawing near to God, but they can become repulsive to Him when done in an attempt to cover a sinful heart.  You see, we may be deceiving others and even ourselves but we are not fooling God – we are merely putting on a show.  All throughout Scripture we see God rejecting and repulsed by the fig leaves of His people.  In 1 Samuel 15:22 Samuel tells Saul:

Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, 

  as in obeying the voice of the LORD?

Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,

and to listen than the fat of rams. 

Saul had put on the fig leaves of animal sacrifice to cover up a rebellious and prideful heart, and God was disgusted with him.  Repeatedly in the prophets God delivers a message to His people, saying, “Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them” (Isaiah 1:14), “I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them; and the peace offerings of your fattened animals, I will not look upon them. Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:21-24), and Jesus echoes Isaiah saying:

This people honors me with their lips,

but their heart is far from me;

in vain do they worship me,

teaching as doctrines the commandments of men (Matt. 15:8-9).

God’s people were putting on a show, covering up their sinful hearts with the rituals of worship and conformity to religious expectations and He rejected it all.  We are no different.  When we revert to covering up our sinful hearts with the wrappings of fig leaves, we mock God, His faithfulness, His grace, and His provision – the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So, what is the answer?  How do we keep from covering ourselves with futile fig leaves?   How do we stop mocking the grace of God in Jesus Christ?

Some will choose to continue on covering up their sinfulness with the trappings of the fig leaves they wear, but they will not experience the rest Christ came to give us (Heb. 3:7-4:13).  Others will think that they should quit striving to obey God for fear that they are doing it from sinful hearts or with wrong motives, and will keep themselves from experience the abiding presence, joy, and peace of God (John 15:5-16).

Instead, we must rest in the grace of God in Christ Jesus.  To do this we must look back to the beginning to see what God did with Adam and Eve’s fig leaves.  After God declares the curse of sin upon all creation, Genesis 3:21 says, “And the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.”  The couple’s attempt to cover themselves was futile.  They could not fix the problem of their sin with fig leaves.  It was God who had to provide a covering for their sin.  We are no different.  Before we were given new life in Christ all our attempts to cover or make up for our transgressions were futile fig leaves.  God in His grace and wisdom provided a covering in the person and work of His Son for all who would repent and believe.   Christ lived the life of perfect righteousness that we should have lived, He died the death, enduring the Father’s wrath, that we deserved as a penalty for sin , and defeated death by His innocence and power, accomplishing salvation for His people.

Once in Christ, our circumstances do not change.  The same grace we needed to cover our sin, we need to keep us until Christ returns or we go home to be with Him.  Paul asked the believers in Galatia, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (3:3).  We are not brought into the new covenant with Christ by grace only for God to leave the rest up to us.  It is by the grace of God in Christ that we are saved and by that grace we are kept (1 Cor. 15:1-11).  We mock this grace when we revert back to our former fig leaves trying to cover up our sinful hearts.  Jerry Bridges, in his book The Disciplines of Grace, writes, “Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace.  And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.”  When we realize this gospel truth, our lives will be radically transformed.  You are and will forever be acceptable to God not because of your efforts but because of Jesus Christ.

So what’s the answer to your futile efforts to cover sin?  Rest in Christ who is your righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21).  Run to Christ in confession of your sinful heart that you may find peace in His cleansing blood (1 John 1:9).  Cling to Christ who is your great sympathizing High Priest who lives to make intercession on your behalf (Heb. 4:12-13, 7:25).  Arise in praise of God’s glorious grace for which you were saved and are being saved (Eph. 1:3-14).  Forsake your futile fig leaves for the beautiful and imperishable garments of white provided by your Lord’s sacrifice (Rev. 7:9-12).  Put off the fleeting pleasures of sin from which Christ set you free and live unto righteousness (Rom. 6).  And lastly – Behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ and be transformed into that same image (2 Cor. 3:18).

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The Idolatry of Dissatisfaction

It was all you ever knew.  It was all your parents ever knew, as well as the rest of your family.  It was all that any of your people had ever known.  Up before sunrise, awakened by the call of your master’s voice.  Grueling, seemingly endless labor surpassed the day and fear of torture or death covered your bed through the night.  That is, until you were redeemed from your slavery.  A far off King, having known of your plight, set forth an ancient plan that would forever change your life.  He sent His man into your country of captivity and began to work wonders amongst the people and herald the impending judgment coming by the hand of the King.  Your captors mocked and increased your oppression, which aroused mummers against the King. And then it happened: the King’s man proclaimed one final judgment – death would sweep the land.  As hope fled from your people, the King sent a message, “I will pay the price required.”  Under the darkness of night the King’s wrath was poured out, yet you and your people remained.  With the fragrance of death in the air, your captors had been destroyed.  At the price of life taken, you have been set free, given life, and brought under the care of the King.

Immediately you begin your sojourn to the land of the King.  The journey is hard but the King’s provisions are abundant and continue to rain down.  And your constant hope is the promise the King has made that when you reach His land you will dine with Him forevermore as one of His own. After many years sojourning, you arrive at a glorious sight – the kingdom of the King.  You are ushered quickly to the King’s palace and into a grand hall to await the entrance of the King and the banquet He has prepared for your coming.  Great anticipation fills your heart and your mind.  What will He look like?  What will He be like?  How should I act?  How can I thank Him?

After years of being fed out of the King’s rations in your travels, you begin to inquire about the contents of the banquet.  There had been many times while on your journey that you and others would long for the delicacies you enjoyed while in your captivity, and at times even grumbling about the King’s food.  But surely it would be different now.  You think, surely the King would have all that you desired and, as you await His arrival, your mind is flooded with the longings of your heart.  These fantasies deafen your ears to the sound of the trumpet call announcing the entry of the King.  As you are led into the banquet room, the sweet and savory fragrances carry you further into your fantasies, blinding you to the presence of the King.  A servant declares, “Taste and see the King’s goodness towards you.”  You dig in but quickly push back in wonder.  You look back and forth along the table spread before you and drop your head in disappointment.  After all this time awaiting this moment, you complain: “How could He forget to have _________? If only He had prepared __________ then everything would be perfect!”  Then, as though the whole world stopped, the King rises from His throne, walks to your seat, kneels beside you and says, “I have redeemed you, made you my own, given you all things that are mine, constantly cared for you in every turn of life…”  And as He continues, you notice battle wounds on His hands and His feet and remember the story you had been told of your redemption.  The King had not sent His warriors to defeat your captors or to pay the price due but it had been the King who had given Himself in battle as a price for your freedom.  He died that you would have life.

A flood of tears rush from your eyes.  Never before had you understood that the provisions and care in your journey, the promise of a blessed inheritance, and the promise of dining at the table of the King forevermore were not the treasure but the King Himself.  Broken by your grumbling and unbelieving heart, you fall prostrate before the King and begin to declare His glory for all to hear, proclaiming:

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,

to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might

and honor and glory and blessing!”

One of the most ignored sins in Christianity is complaining or grumbling.  While no analogy is perfect, the story above is a picture of our hearts every time we complain about anything.  The sin of complaining may not sound that terrible in comparison to others (adultery, theft, murder) but before God it is abominable.  Several times after the exodus from the Egyptian captivity the Israelites grumbled about their situation, against Moses and ultimately against God. God’s anger was kindled each time and He was prepared to wipe them out of existence and many were destroyed (Num. 11, 14, 16).  Paul even picks up on this in 1 Corinthians 10, linking their complaining with idolatry and warning believers not to test God in this way.  It is easy for us to think that this doesn’t applies to us, feeling that we are quite content with our life, but ask yourself a few heart diagnostics:

  • Do you get physically, emotionally, or mentally angry when you are stuck in traffic, get stopped by every stoplight, or are made late by other people or circumstances?
  • When you go out to eat and the service, food, or atmosphere of the restaurant is not too your liking, does it ruin your meal and mood?
  • Do you criticize the decisions of those in authority over you (in government, at work, at home, and at church)?
  • Are you perpetually dissatisfied with your life (looks, status, income, wife, husband, kids, etc.)?  Do you constantly buy into the “grass is greener” deception?
  • Are your conversations with others or your social networking (Facebook posts, Twitter tweets, etc.) filled with complaints or criticism?
  • Do you have a hard time being thankful “in all things” or to rejoice “at all times”?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, there is a good chance that you have a problem with complaining.  If those questions didn’t get you, then ask yourself this, “Do you sin?” Now we are all in trouble because none of us are exempt from that last question.  You see, every time we sin we are trying to put ourselves in the place of God, usurping Him with our dissatisfaction, literally complaining that what God was doing wasn’t good enough so we had to take over.  Not only that, but every sin is unbelief.  A. W. Tozer said, “At the moment of sin, we are all practical atheists.”  Our sin, especially the sin of complaining, reveals that we do not believe God to be who He has revealed Himself to be or to do what He has said He will do.  Stephen Altrogge, in his book The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment on Your Side of the Fence, unravels several misrepresentations we proclaim about God to ourselves and to the world when we complain.

Complaining Declares that God is:

  • An Unkind Master – When we complain, we’re saying that God hasn’t been good to us.  We are making a loud statement to ourselves and to the rest of the world that God hasn’t been a good master…. [It is] blindness to all God has done for us (103-4).
  • A Helpless God – When I complain, I’m preaching to myself and everyone else that God is helpless.  I’m saying that God doesn’t know what he’s doing when it comes to my life, that God is a new driver behind the wheel of the universe (105).
  • Open to Our Judgment – When we complain, we accuse God. We drag God to the witness stand and demand that he give an account for his actions…. we’re accusing God of hating us… of not caring for us…of deliberate neglect (107-8).
  • Not the Source of Joy – When we complain, we portray God as a joyless Scrooge in the sky, a miserable master who has no time for happiness.  We show our neighbors and friends that followers of Jesus are scowling, joyless drips who follows a joyless master (110).

That’s what our complaining proclaims about God, but what does He tell us about Himself.  Like the story above, God is not only the King of kings but He is a loving master as well, who gives Himself for His people.  The King Himself, Jesus, said, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45).  God has not revealed Himself as helpless but the One who created and controls all things.  Ultimately, complaining is a rejection of or mistrust of God’s sovereignty.  We want to control our lives.  We think we know what’s best for us, but the presence of sin in all of us screams otherwise.  God is the all-wise, all-powerful, all-good God who, as He has declared, is working together in ALL things for the good of His own that they may be transformed into the image of Christ.  That means every circumstance whether good or bad in your estimation, every person in your life whether a good or bad relationship, and every thing in your life has been purposefully orchestrated by the sovereign hand of God for your good and His glory.  Not only that but all this is beyond our understanding and judgment.  We, His rebellious creatures, have no right nor ability to truly call God to give account.  Paul, after writing about God’s wondrous plan of redemption, proclaims:

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Rom. 11:33-36)

Lastly, God is not a joyless tyrant, rather He is the source of all joy and pleasure.  To know Him is to know joy.  To follow him is to find the source of all pleasure.  Psalm 16:11 declares, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right had are pleasures forevermore.”  If we are to know this immeasurable joy and pleasure we must know Him who came to give us those things, Christ our Lord.  If you need joy, run to to Christ.  If you desire pleasure, follow Christ and He will give you the greatest joy and pleasure that you could ever imagine – Himself.

Altrogge writes, “Complaining is blindness… Blindness to the mercies that surround us.  Blindness to the blessings that greet us with the sunrise.  It’s as if we’re standing on top of a mountain of gold coins complaining about a quarter we lost.  God has dumped many, many blessings on us, and we’re whining about the one thing we don’t have (103-4).  If you are in Christ, you have been given life, set free from your captivity to sin, made a child of God, given an inheritance with Christ, and are being kept by the power of God, awaiting a weight of glory beyond comparison.  We are undeserving slaves rebelling against our redeemer when we complain.  We must repent of our complaining and remember all that God is and all that He has done for us.  We must confess the sin of our unbelieving hearts and cling to the promises of God in Christ.  We must rejoice with thankful hearts for the gift of grace found in the surpassing pleasure of knowing Jesus Christ.  When we set our minds on the things above, our complaining hearts and mouths should stand silent before the gracious and holy King of kings.  Behold and be satisfied.

“Do all things without grumbling or disputing, that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world, holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.” – Philippians 2:14-16

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