Category Archives: Mortification of Sin

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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The Expulsive Power of a New Affection

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. – 1 John 2:15

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.

heartThis, 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….

The object of the Gospel is both to pacify the sinner’s conscience, and to purify his heart; and it is of importance to observe, that what mars the one of these objects, mars the other also. The best way of casting out an impure affection is to admit a pure one; and by the love of what is good, to expel the love of what is evil.
Thus it is, that the freer the Gospel, the more sanctifying is the Gospel; and the more it is received as a doctrine of grace, the more will it be felt as a doctrine according to godliness. This is one of the secrets of the Christian life, that the more a man holds of God as a pensioner, the greater is the payment of service that he renders back again. On the tenure of “Do this and live,” a spirit of fearfulness is sure to enter; and the jealousies of a legal bargain chase away all confidence from the intercourse between God and man; and the creature striving to be square and even with his Creator, is, in fact, pursuing all the while his own selfishness, instead of God’s glory; and with all the conformities which he labours to accomplish, the soul of obedience is not there, the mind is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed under such an economy ever can be. It is only when, as in the Gospel, acceptance is bestowed as a present, without money and without price, that the security which man feels in God is placed beyond the reach of disturbance – or, that he can repose in Him, as one friend reposes in another – or, that any liberal and generous understanding can be established betwixt them – the one party rejoicing over the other to do him good – the other finding that the truest gladness of his heart lies in the impulse of a gratitude, by which it is awakened to the charms of a new moral existence.

Salvation by grace – salvation by free grace – salvation not of works, but according to the mercy of God – salvation on such a footing is not more indispensable to the deliverance of our persons from the hand of justice, than it is to the deliverance of our hearts from the chill and the weight of ungodliness. Retain a single shred or fragment of legality with the Gospel, and we raise a topic of distrust between man and God. We take away from the power of the Gospel to melt and to conciliate. For this purpose, the freer it is, the better it is. That very peculiarity which so many dread as the germ of antinomianism, is, in fact, the germ of a new spirit, and a new inclination against it. Along with the light of a free Gospel, does there enter the love of the Gospel, which, in proportion as we impair the freeness, we are sure to chase away. And never does the sinner find within himself so mighty a moral transformation, as when under the belief that he is saved by grace, he feels constrained thereby to offer his heart a devoted thing, and to deny ungodliness. To do any work in the best manner, we should make use of the fittest tools for it.

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

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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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Fighting Sin with Worship

Originally posted here by Tony Reinke but worthy of a repost.

(The following post has been transcribed and edited from Tim Keller’s sermon “Sin as Slavery,” which can be downloaded for free here.)

Every one of our sinful actions has a suicidal power on the faculties that put that action forth. When you sin with the mind, that sin shrivels the rationality. When you sin with the heart or the emotions, that sin shrivels the emotions. When you sin with the will, that sin destroys and dissolves your willpower and your self-control. Sin is the suicidal action of the self against itself. Sin destroys freedom because sin is an enslaving power.

In other words, sin has a powerful effect in which your own freedom, your freedom to wantthe good, to will the good, and to think or understand the good, is all being undermined. By sin, you are more and more losing your freedom. Sin undermines your mind, it undermines your emotions, and it undermines your will.

Sin Is Addiction

All sin is addiction. Whether it’s bitterness, whether it’s envy, whether it’s materialism, whether it’s laziness, whether it’s impurity — every sinful action becomes an addiction. And every sinful action brings into your life a power that operates exactly like addiction cycles and addiction dynamics begin to operate.

In other words, in the specific addictions of alcohol or drug addiction, or voyeurism, or exhibitionism, or sexual addictions, you actually have a microcosm of how sin works in general.

You know how addiction works. It starts like this: There’s some kind of disappointment or distress in your life. As a result you choose to deal with that distress with an agent; it might be sex, it might be drugs, it might be alcohol. The agent promises transcendence. The agent promises freedom, a sense of being in control, a sense of being above all this, a sense of being liberated, a sense of escape. And so you do it. But when you do it, when you take the addicting agent as a way of dealing with life, the trap is set.

The trap is set because three things begin to happen:

1. Tolerance. You get trapped into what the experts call the “tolerance effect.” In other words, the tolerance effect is that today this or that amount of alcohol or drugs, or this kind of sexual experience, will pale in comparison to your desires tomorrow. The same activity will not give you that same experience any more, and you will find you need more and more and more. What brought you joy yesterday will not be enough to give you joy tomorrow, because your emotions are shriveling and numbing. There’s a tolerance effect.

2. Denial. Addiction destroys because of denial. We all know part of addiction patterns is that your craving makes you rationalize and justify. It twists your thinking. You become selective in your reasoning, selective about your memory. You’ll do all sorts of tortured rationalizations, but you refuse to think clearly and objectively. You can’t.

3. Defeat. Addictions destroy willpower. You know you are an addict when you are trying to escape your distress with the very thing that brought you your distress. And when you are in that spiral, you are stuck forever — down and down and down and down.

Sin in general operates like that. When you think disobedience to God is going to bring freedom, the very act that promises freedom is taking the freedom. The very act that you think is putting you in the driver’s seat of your life is taking you out of the driver’s seat of your life.

Playing With Fire

The Bible defines sin as craving something more than God. Sin is making something moreimportant than God. If you’re just religious occasionally, if God is on the outskirts of your life, that is the essence of sin, and that sin grows.

Jonathan Edwards says sin turns the heart into a fire. Just as there has never been a fire that said, “Enough fuel, I’m fine now,” so there has never been a sinful heart that said, “I have had enough success. I’ve had enough love. I’ve had enough approval. I’ve had enough comfort.” Oh, no. The more fuel you put into the fire, the hotter it burns, and the hotter it burns, the more it needs, the more oxygen it is sucking and the more fuel it requires.

And this is the heart of the fire. Next time you are crabby, or grumpy, or irritable, or scared to death, or in the pits, ask yourself: What am I telling myself would make me happy if onlyI had it? There is an if only at the bottom of this. Whatever is your if only, that becomes your slave master. It destroys your will.

This explains how lies necessitate other lies. Envy necessitates more envy. Racism necessitates more racist thoughts. Jealously necessitates more jealous thoughts. Bitterness necessitates more bitter thoughts. In the beginning when you first tell a lie you still have an appetite for the truth, but it won’t take long. Sin is a power. And the things you crave become your slave masters because in your heart those things burn with this idea: if only. Everything would be fine if only I had that. This creates a suction in your life. The more you throw in, the more it wants.

Winning the Firefight

If you are a Christian and you are dealing with enslaving habits, it’s not enough to say, “Bad Christian, stop it.” And it is not enough to beat yourself up or merely try harder and harder and harder.

The real reason that you’re having a problem with an enslaving habit is because you are nottasting God. I’m not talking about believing God or even obeying God, I’m saying tasting —tasting God.

The secret to freedom from enslaving patterns of sin is worship. You need worship. You need great worship. You need weeping worship. You need glorious worship. You need to sense God’s greatness and to be moved by it — moved to tears and moved to laughter — moved by who God is and what he has done for you. And this needs to be happening all the time.

This type of worship is the only thing that can replace the little if only fire burning in your heart. We need a new fire that says, “If only I saw the Lord. If only he was close to my heart. If only I could feel him to be as great as I know him to be. If only I could taste his grace as sweet as I know it to be.”

And when that if only fire is burning in your heart, then you are free.

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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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Can’t Say “Can’t” in Christ

Most Christians who need counseling have one thing in common.  Every observant pastoral counselor has noticed this all-but-universal characteristic: their conversation is studded with the word “can’t.”  This common trait may be explained in various ways.  Some might suppose that it is indicative of a basic weakness or inability that underlies their other problems.  This explanation leads to the conclusion that these are people who constitutionally, or for some other reason, really can’t do what God requires.  That is, of course, an explanation that accepts the counselee’s view that he is helpless.  It also renders the counselor helpless, you will notice.

But there’s another explanation of this phenomenon: the biblical explanation is that men “cop out” on their responsibilities and fail to accomplish their tasks because of sin.

Paul allows no Christian to escape by the use of the word “can’t.” He writes:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)

If indeed God never sends trials heavier than a Christian can bear, the Christian has no right to protest, “I can’t.”  If God has sent it, he can take it!  If God has required it, he can do it!  Even though the trials we face are not unique in their basic designs, the detailed form they take, the intensity with which they come, and the point in life at which we must face them, are all tailor-made to each individual child of God, and, don’t forget, God is the tailor!  No trials or temptations hang too long on us.  They fit us precisely.  God never allows the Devil to tempt a Christian beyond his ability to withstand, provided that he does so in God’s way, by means of God’s resources and not his own.  The book of Job stands as a sturdy witness to this promise.

But you protest – “I don’t think I could stand firm for my faith before a firing squad as other Christians have.”  You may be correct.  But you do not now have to face a firing squad.  The promise is not that you will have strength to meet tomorrow’s problem today, but only that, when it comes, God will provide the needed wisdom and courage to do so.  Often the strength comes in the doing….

Given the grace of God, given your knowledge of God’s Word, given your present state of sanctification, given the resources of the Holy Spirit within, there is no trial into which God calls you that is beyond your ability to withstand.  Instead of saying “can’t,” you should say, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

This is an important principle to grasp…. The Bible is able to equip every Christian fully for every emergency in life.  To fail to use God’s gracious provision of the Scriptures in which lie the principles needed for a life of godliness is to misrepresent God to unbelievers.  It is no less than a slander against the One who died for sins on the cross and who, if He did that for us, will also freely give us all things necessary for life and godliness.  Indeed, those who do not know Christ are repelled daily by Christians who live and act in the spirit of the word “can’t.”

Paul neither ignores the severity of your problem nor minimizes it when he says you can endure it; he simply tells the truth about God and about you.  And if you doubt him, then remember that he was careful to preface this promise with the assurance that God’s Word is as certain as His own faithfulness: “God is faithful who will not allow you to be tried beyond what you are able to endure.”

Christian wife, your home can be different.  Young man, you can help your behavior when you are out alone with girls.  Businessman, you can meet that irate customer tomorrow.  Shut-in, you can overcome the feeling of loneliness and uselessness that seems to be driving you to despair.  Whatever the problem, through Jesus Christ, you can.  So, go ahead and prove to yourself and those all around you that God’s promise is true.

Jay Adams, Christ and Your Problems, 23-26.

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Grace Trumps Performance

On a good day we may get out of bed as soon as the alarm goes off and have a refreshing quiet time. Events of the day generally fall out the right way and we encounter no significant sin issues. A bad day is just the opposite. We oversleep, skip our quiet time, muddle through a difficult day, and struggle all day long with sinful thoughts (resentment, envy, frustration, lust, etc.). On which of those days would you be more expectant of God’s blessing or answers to prayer? Your answer to that question reveals whether you are living by your works, or by the gospel.

Our default setting is to live by our works. But let me repeat a statement that I made to a group of college students some twenty years ago that is still valid and speaks to the good day and bad day scenarios: 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.

Every day of our lives should be a day of relating to God on the basis of his grace alone, for every day of our lives we are not yet perfect. Someday we will be. Someday each of us will go to be with the Lord (if he does not return first), and at that time we will join the spirits of “the righteous made perfect” (Hebrews 12:23). We look forward to that day with anticipation and hope. In the meantime, despite having died to the dominion of sin through our union with Christ, we still struggle with the presence and activity of sin that remains in us.

So if we are going to grow in the realization of who we are in Christ, we must come to terms with the reality that we are not yet perfect; the presence and activity of sin is still alive and well within us. The reason we must accept this fact is that we cannot look to Christ for our identity if we are still trying to find something about ourselves to prop up our self-esteem. To really grow in the wonderful reality of who we are in Christ, we must abandon any desire to find something within ourselves that makes us acceptable to God.

This does not mean that we should not aspire to grow in holiness, nor does it mean we will never see progress in our lives. It certainly does not mean that we should shrug off the expressions of remaining sin with the thought, “Oh well, that’s just the way I am.” No, all the moral imperatives in the New Testament imply that we are to seriously pursue growth in Christian character. Consider just a few:

  • We are to put off the old self and put on the new self (Ephesians 4:22-24).
  • We are to put to death the deeds of the body (Romans 8:13).
  • We are to put on such character traits as compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, and      love (Colossians 3:12-14).
  • We are to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against our souls (1 Peter 2:11).
  • We are to make every effort to grow in all the traits of Christian character (2 Peter 1:5-7).

These are just representative of many moral imperatives scattered throughout the New Testament. There is no question that it is God’s will that we pursue a holy and Christlike life.

But though we are to vigorously pursue spiritual maturity, both in putting to death sinful traits and putting on Christlike traits, we must never think that God’s approval and acceptance of us is earned by our progress. God is obviously pleased when we seek to please him (Colossians 1:10), but his acceptance of us is based entirely on the work of Christ alone in his sinless life and sin-bearing death.

Let’s return to that thought that God is pleased when we seek to please him. How do our efforts please God? It is by our motive more than it is our actions. If our motive, even unconsciously, is to earn God’s approval and blessing by our obedience, then he is not pleased, because that motive actually demeans the perfect obedience of Christ in our place. It suggests that the work of Christ on our behalf was insufficient, so we need to step in and help out. The motive that God finds acceptable is joyful gratitude for the fact that Christ has already perfectly obeyed for us.

[T]he concept of Christ’s ownership of our lives is radical and comprehensive. At the risk of overusing the word radical, I want to say that the motive of obeying God out of gratitude, instead of out of the assumption that obedience earns God’s blessing, is a radical concept. It is radical in the sense that the vast majority of believers do not understand what it means to be “in Christ” and to find their basic identity in him. They do not understand the truth of our representative union with him so that his obedience becomes our obedience, and his death for sin becomes our death for sin.

Jerry Bridges, Who Am I?, 92-95.

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