Category Archives: Holiness

Christ: The Most Precious Remedy

old-medicine-bottlesWhat is the most precious remedy against the wiles of the devil and sin?

Seriously to consider, That even those very sins that Satan paints, and puts new names and colors upon, cost the best blood, the noblest blood, the life-blood, the heart-blood of the Lord Jesus. That Christ should come from the eternal bosom of his Father to a region of sorrow and death; that God should be manifested in the flesh, the Creator made a creature; that he who was clothed with glory should be wrapped with rags of flesh; he who filled heaven and earth with his glory should be cradled in a manger; that the almighty God should flee from weak man—the God of Israel into Egypt; that the God of the law should be subject to the law, the God of the circumcision circumcised, the God who made the heavens working at Joseph’s homely trade; that he who binds the devils in chains should be tempted; that he, whose is the world, and the fullness thereof, should hunger and thirst; that the God of strength should be weary, the Judge of all flesh condemned, the God of life put to death; that he who is one with his Father should cry out of misery, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46); that he who had the keys of hell and death at his belt should lie imprisoned in the sepulcher of another, having in his lifetime nowhere to lay his head, nor after death to lay his body; that that HEAD, before which the angels do cast down their crowns, should be crowned with thorns, and those EYES, purer than the sun, put out by the darkness of death; those EARS, which hear nothing but hallelujahs of saints and angels, to hear the blasphemies of the multitude; that FACE, which was fairer than the sons of men, to be spit on by those beastly wretched Jews; that MOUTH and TONGUE, which spoke as never man spoke, accused for blasphemy; those HANDS, which freely swayed the scepter of heaven, nailed to the cross; those FEET, “like unto fine brass,” nailed to the cross for man’s sins; each sense pained with a spear and nails; his SMELL, with stinking odor, being crucified on Golgotha, the place of skulls; his TASTE, with vinegar and gall; his HEARING, with reproaches, and SIGHT of his mother and disciples bemoaning him; his SOUL, comfortless and forsaken; and all this for those very sins that Satan paints and puts fine colors upon! Oh! how should the consideration of this stir up the soul against sin, and work the soul to fly from it, and to use all holy means whereby sin may be subdued and destroyed!

Thomas Brooks (1608-80), The Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices20.

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A Lot More Dying to Do: A Birthday Reflection

birthday-candles33

Yesterday was my 33rd birthday.

In most ways, the day was no different than any before.  If it was not for calendar dates, I would know no difference.  But there it was, November 25th and therefore another birthday come by the gracious hand of God.

I have never been one to think much of my age.  It’s just another number in many respects.  A course that all must follow granted and paved by the Author, Giver, and Sustainer of Life.

Since God called me to Himself in His Son by His Spirit through His Word a little over ten years ago I have lived with an ever present urgency toward life.  Tomorrow is a gift not a promise.  This urgency, at times for better and at others for worse, has encouraged my longing for the wisdom of age and experience separated from the life and time needed to cultivate such gifts.  A temptation for all – particularly Christians.

As I reflected on my birthday, I was humbled by what came to mind.  Throughout the day, God’s gifts in my life were constantly brought before me: His salvation, constant provision, care, and grace, my loving and compassionate wife, three beautiful daughters, a supportive and loving family and friends, the body of Christ to which we have been joined, and so many other expressions of grace.

But more than that, my mind was fixed on Christ’s death (bear with me for I am not attempting to be super-spiritual).  Tradition (not dogma) has been that Jesus Christ, in his incarnation, was 33 years of age when he was crucified.  This is the age I now bear.  Many, in light of the fleeting nature of life marred by the curse of sin, say to themselves and others as they grow older that they have a lot more living to do.  Therefore they set out to amass for themselves those things which they feel are lacking in enjoying a “fulfilled life.”  Yet, as I considered my life in relation to Christ’s death on my behalf I realized that it was not more living to my self that was needed but rather I have a lot more dying to do.

You see, this is why Christ came – that in dying he would give us life and in dying we would live.  In Luke 9, following Peter’s great, God-given confession of Jesus as “The Christ of God,” Jesus announces the plan to bring life through death and the way in which we might enjoy such life.  Luke records Jesus’s words:

“The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself?” (v 22-25)

There it is.  Death for life and life for death.  Christ’s substitutionary and sacrificial death purchased my life, freedom, and eternity.  But my experience and enjoyment of the life he died to give is directly impacted by the life, or better yet, the death I live.

It is not more living for my self, my desires, my ambitions, my dreams, and my happiness that I need but the perpetual putting to death of these for the greater joy of living for Him, his desires, his will, and his people.  This is life.  It is the life that every person in Christ is called to enjoy not just to do.  This is life more abundant found only in and through the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

You see, as I reflect on my life I still see too much of me: pride, lust, idolatry, foolishness, self-righteousness, and much those entail.  What I long for, by God’s gracious sanctifying work of the Spirit, is to see more of Christ in and through me.  Alongside God’s purpose in salvation to be praised for His glorious grace is His purpose to present us holy and blameless before Him (Eph. 1:3f).  While this will be brought to fulfillment in Christ’ return (1 John 3:1-3; Phil. 1:6), my desire and His intention is that I be, here and now until I take my last breath, conformed into the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29-30).  This conformation (or transformation, as used elsewhere) comes through death – a dying to self and a living unto Christ (Rom. 12:1-2; 2 Cor. 4:7-18; cf. Luke 9:23-25 above).

As I look back upon my life, I am thankful and humbled by God’s immeasurable goodness to an unworthy soul.  John Newton said it well, “I am not what I ought to be. I am not what I want to be. I am not what I hope to be in another world. But still, I am not what I once used to be! By the grace of God, I am what I am!”  Praise God!

So, as I look forward to what lies ahead, I wait “for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13) but not only in His return but the appearing of His glory even now in and through my life as I fix my gaze upon Him and am transformed (2 Cor. 3:18).

I am 33 but, by God’s grace, I have a lot more dying to do.

Soil Deo Gloria

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God’s Greatest Adversaries Are His Gifts

idolatryThe greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night. For all the ill that Satan can do, when God describes what keeps us from the banquet table of his love, it is a piece of land, a yoke of oxen, and a wife (Luke 14:18-20). The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts. And the most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable, and almost incurable.

Jesus said some people hear the word of God, and a desire for God is awakened in their hearts. But then, “as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life” (Luke 8:14). In another place he said, “The desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mark 4:19). “The pleasures of this life” and “the desires for other things”—these are not evil in themselves. These are not vices. These are gifts of God. They are your basic meat and pota- toes and coffee and gardening and reading and decorating and traveling and investing and TV-watching and Internet-surfing and shopping and exercising and collecting and talking. And all of them can become deadly substitutes for God.

John Piper, Hunger for God14-15.

Image Credit: Crossway

HT: Ryan Loveing (Life Action Ministries)

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Flee to Christ If You Would Be Holy

Would you be holy? Would you become a new creature? Then you must begin with Christ. You will do just nothing at all, and make no progress till you feel your sin and weakness, and flee to Him. He is the root and beginning of all holiness, and the way to be holy is to come to Him by faith and be joined to Him. Christ is not wisdom and righteousness only to His people, but sanctification also. Men sometimes try to make themselves holy first of all, and sad work they make of it. They toil and labour, and turn over new leaves, and make many changes; and yet, like the woman with the issue of blood, before she came to Christ, they feel “nothing bettered, but rather worse.” (Mark v. 26.) They run in vain, and labour in vain; and little wonder, for they are beginning at the wrong end. They are building up a wall of sand; their work runs down as fast as they throw it up. They are baling water out of a leaky vessel: the leak gains on them, not they on the leak. Other foundation of “holiness” can no man lay than that which Paul laid, even Christ Jesus. “Without Christ we can do nothing.” (John xv. 5.) It is a strong but true saying of Traill’s, “Wisdom out of Christ is damning folly–righteousness out of Christ is guilt and condemnation–sanctification out of Christ is filth and sin–redemption out of Christ is bondage and slavery.”

Do you want to attain holiness? Do you feel this day a real hearty desire to be holy? Would you be a partaker of the Divine nature? Then go to Christ. Wait for nothing. Wait for nobody. Linger not. Think not to make yourself ready. Go and say to Him, in the words of that beautiful hymn- “Nothing in my hand I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling; Naked, flee to Thee for dress; Helpless, look to Thee for grace.”

There is not a brick nor a stone laid in the work of our sanctification till we go to Christ. Holiness is His special gift to His believing people. Holiness is the work He carries on in their hearts, by the Spirit whom He puts within them. He is appointed a “Prince and a Saviour, to give repentance” as well as remission of sins.–“To as many as receive Him, He gives power to become sons of God.” (Acts v. 31; John i. 12, 13.) Holiness comes not of blood–parents cannot give it to their children: nor yet of the will of the flesh–man cannot produce it in himself: nor yet of the will of man–ministers cannot give it you by baptism. Holiness comes from Christ. It is the result of vital union with Him, It is the fruit of being a living branch of the True Vine. Go then to Christ and say, “Lord, not only save me from the guilt of sin, but send the Spirit, whom Thou didst promise, and save me from its power. Make me holy. Teach me to do Thy will.”

Would you continue holy? Then abide in Christ. He says Himself, “Abide in Me and I in you,–he that abideth in Me and I in him, the same beareth much fruit. (John xv. 4, 5.) It pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell–a full supply for all a believer’s wants. He is the Physician to whom you must daily go, if you would keep well. He is the Manna which you must daily eat, and the Rock of which you must daily drink. His arm is the arm on which you must daily lean, as you come up out of the wilderness of this world. You must not only be rooted, you must also be built up in Him. Paul was a man of God indeed–a holy man–a growing, thriving Christian–and what was the secret of it all? He was one to whom Christ was “all in all.” He was ever “looking unto Jesus.” “I can do all things,” he says, “through Christ which strengthened me.” “I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me. The life that I now live, I live by the faith of the Son of God.” Let us go and do likewise. (Heb. xii. 2; Phil. iv. 13; Gal. ii. 20.) May all who read these pages know these things by experience, and not by hearsay only. May we all feel the importance of holiness, far more than we have ever done yet! May our years be holy years with our souls, and then they will be happy ones! Whether we live, may we live unto the Lord; or whether we die, may we die unto the Lord; of if He comes for us, may we be found in peace, without spot, and blameless!

J. C. Ryle (1816-1900), Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots, 57-58.

 

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Spirit-Empowered Holiness and the Contemporary World

The great contemporary challenge of embracing the biblical perspective about the holiness of the Triune God, in general, and the Spirit’s sanctifying work, in particular, is that the ideas of human depravity coram Deo and therefore of the desperate need for the Spirit’s sanctifying grace do not chime well with modern sensibilities. Men and women today do not view themselves as sinners who fall short of the holiness demanded by a thrice-holy God. Dominique Clift, writing in the late 1980s from the vantage point of twenty-five years of commenting on Canadian society and politics, well describes this modern situation when he writes:

The most significant break with earlier religious attitudes, the one with the most far-reaching psychological consequences because of its effect on the way people see themselves, is the elimination of feelings of guilt and of unworthiness as the foundations of religious life. This development coincides with the appearance of more permissive social standards, particularly in sexual matters. …Somehow religion has moved beyond ethics: what has become uppermost today is the religious experience itself.

J.I. Packer, in his own inimitable way, describes the same phenomenon as a day of “unwarrantably great thoughts of humanity and scandalously small thoughts of God.” Our day, he predicts, will be remembered as “the age of the God-shrinkers.” The result, he says, is that:

belief in God’s sovereignty and omniscience, the majesty of his moral law and the terror of his judgments, the retributive consequences of the life we live here and the endlessness of eternity in which we will experience them, along with the intrinsic triunity of God and the divinity and personal return of Jesus Christ, is nowadays so eroded as to be hardly discernible. For many in our day, God is no more than a smudge.

 Part of the solution is to immerse ourselves afresh in the biblical perspectives about God and his holiness, and radically re-orient our mindset to what constitutes reality. Another part is to recognize that the Holy Spirit is still sovereign and has ways of overriding the barriers erected by erroneous thinking.

Consider the case of Mary Stewart, who, came to know Christ in that turbulent era of the late 1960s and early 1970s and found that she had some radical choices to make in her life. In her own words, she was:

a very liberated young woman at the time. I had had a rich sexual fantasy life almost since I could remember. …I had almost lost count of the number of men I had slept with in a serially monogamous fashion. I had taken advantage of the spirit of the Women’s Movement (in which I was quite active) to begin exploring my own bisexuality. And I had no intention of giving any of that up. When I accepted Christ, I figured that it was the spirit of the law, not the letter, that mattered, that “love” was the overriding principle, and that I could witness in bed as easily as anywhere else.

But to my progressive astonishment, I found all that changing. Not quickly. Not all at once. Not by anyone’s prying into my personal life or trying to send me on a guilt-trip (although I am sure I had lots of people praying for me). It was totally a process of God’s working on me, one item of behaviour at a time, over many months, like patiently peeling one layer after another off an onion.

As God’s Spirit began to enable her to “walk in his statutes,” as promised in Ezekiel 36:27, she came to find herself “progressively liberated, gentled and strengthened” and that, in her own words, “I wanted God’s Spirit more than I wanted transient physical titillation.”

Modern sensibilities be what they may, God’s Spirit and his sweet grace are ultimately, thankfully, and blessedly irresistible. And this gives us great hope and encouragement. Well did John Ryland, Jr., the close friend of Andrew Fuller (1754–1815) and William Carey (1761–1834), express this truth, albeit with reference to a much broader context, in a 1792 circular letter that he drew up for the Calvinistic Baptist churches of the Northamptonshire Association:

Surely the state both of the world, and of church, calls loudly upon us all to persist in wrestling instantly with God, for greater effusions of his Holy Spirit… Let us not cease crying mightily unto the Lord, “until the Spirit be poured upon us from on high” [Isaiah 32:15]; then the wilderness shall become as a fruitful field, and the desert like the garden of God. Yes, beloved, the Scriptures cannot be broken. Jesus must reign universally. All nations shall own him. All people shall serve him. His kingdom shall be extended, not by human might, or power, but by the effusion of His Holy Spirit [cf. Zechariah 4:6].

The Spirit’s work will ultimately be victorious—both personally in those whom he indwells and globally.

Michael Haykin, The Empire of the Holy Spirit, 47-50.

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How to Mortify Sin (Repost)

Determine that you will, everyday and in every duty abolish and destroy this ruling principle of sin.  it will not die unless it is gradually and constantly weakened.  Spare it, and it heals its wounds and recovers its strength.  Negligence allows sin to regain such power that we may never recover our former state as long as we live.

We are continually to watch out for the rising up of this ruling principle of sin and immediately subdue it.  This is to be done in all that we are and do.  We are to be watchful in our behaviour to others, watchful when we are alone, watchful when in trouble or joy.  We are to be particularly watchful in the use of our pleasure times and in temptations.

Determine that you will no longer serve sin  (Rom. 6:6).  See it as the worst service of which a rational creature is capable.  If you serve sin it will bring you to a dreadful end.  Determine that though sin remains in you, yet you will not serve it.  Remember, if the ‘old ma’ is not crucified with Christ, you are still a servant of sin, whatever you might think of yourself.

Realise that it is no easy task to mortify sin.  Sin is a powerful and dreadful enemy.  There is no living thing that will not do everything in its power to save its life.  So sin also will fight to save its life.  If sin is not diligently hunted down and dealt with by holy violence, it will escape all our attempts at killing it.  It is a great mistake to think that we can at any time rest from this duty.  The ruling principle of sin to be slain is in us, and so has hold of all our faculties.  Sin cannot be killed without a sense of pain and trouble.  So Christ compared it to ‘cutting of the right hand’ and ‘plucking out the right eye’.  The battle is not against any particular lust but against all sinful lusts which war against the soul.

Mortification arising from convictions of the law leads only to dealing with particular sins, and always proves fruitless.  True mortifying of sin deals with the entire body of sin.  It goes tot the heart of the matter and lays the axe to the root of the tree.  This is the mortification which the Holy Spirit drives the believer to do.

Mortification of particular sins arises from a guilty conscience.  But mortification arising from gospel principles deals with the whole body of sin in its opposition to the renewing of the image of God in us.

John Owen (1616-83), The Holy Spirit, 167-69.

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The Slippery Slope of Sin

ONE OF THE MOST STRIKING EVIDENCES of sinful human nature lies in the universal propensity for downward drift. In other words, it takes thought, resolve, energy, and effort to bring about reform. In the grace of God, sometimes human beings display such virtues. But where such virtues are absent, the drift is invariably toward compromise, comfort, indiscipline, sliding disobedience, and decay that advances, sometimes at a crawl and sometimes at a gallop, across generations.

People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.

D. A. Carson, For the Love of God, Vol. 2, January 23.  For more free works from Carson click HERE.

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