Some Practical Advice for Christians

Do you use or have you ever heard of D.A. Carson’s Bible devotional called, For the Love of God? If not, I strongly recommend it. It is very simple to use. It has daily Bible readings and some very practical insights from Bible scholar D.A. Carson on a portion of that day’s reading. It is designed to assist you in discovering the riches of God’s Word and thereby deepen your love of God. So you can get an idea of what it is like, I have copied and pasted today’s devotional below:

SOME PRACTICAL ADVICE FOR Christians (Phil. 4:4-9):

(1) Always rejoice in the Lord (Phil. 4:4). This command is so important that Paul repeats it. Our responsibility to obey it is independent of circumstances, for regardless of how utterly miserable our situation is, the Christian always has the most profound reasons for rejoicing in Christ Jesus: sins forgiven and the prospect of resurrection life in the new heaven and the new earth–not to mention the consolation of the Spirit even now, and much more. Practically speaking, Paul well knows that the believer who is truly rejoicing in the Lord cannot possibly be a back-biter, a cheat, a whiner, a thief, or lazy, bitter, and filled with hate.

(2) Be known for gentleness (Phil. 4:5). That is almost a delicious oxymoron. So much in our culture wants us to be known for aggressiveness, or for some intrinsic strength or superiority. The gentle person does not usually think in terms of being known. But Paul wants us so to focus on gentleness that eventually we become known for gentleness. The ground Paul offers is that the Lord is “near.” In this context, probably Paul does not mean that the Lord’s coming is near, but that the Lord himself is never far from his people: he is near, and is watching us, as he watches over us, all the time. That becomes our motivation for acting as he wishes us to act.

(3) Stop worrying (Phil. 4:6-7). Paul is not advocating irresponsible escapism, still less a Pollyanna-like optimism. Moreover, strictly speaking he is not telling us to stop worrying and nothing more, but rather he tells us how to stop worrying–by replacing this constant fretting with something else: “in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving [there’s the praise theme again], present your requests to God” (Phil. 4:6). Paul does not deny the agony and sorrow of many human experiences. How could he? His letters show that he suffered his share of the worst. But he knows the solution. Either worrying drives out prayer, or prayer drives out worrying. Moreover, Paul insists, this disciplined, thankful, intercessory prayer brings with it “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding” (Phil. 4:7).

(4) Think holy thoughts (Phil. 4:8-9). Garbage in, garbage out. We are renewed by the transforming of our minds (Rom. 12:1-2). So watch what you feed your mind; watch what you think; determine to drive your mind into good and healthy channels, not those characterized by bitterness, resentments, lust, hate, or jealousy. Reflect on all the kinds of things Paul includes in his diverse list of verse 8. Moreover, here too Paul serves as an important example (Phil. 4:9): he is not telling us to do anything he does not practice himself.

Pretty good stuff, eh? You can buy it in book format (it is in 2 volumes) or you can just click here and read it for free in a blog/digital format!

Resist “Dental Chair” Devotions

That is what Erik Raymond tells us over at his blog Ordinary Pastor.

“What are “Dental Chair” devotions?” you ask. He writes:

I am afraid that too many of us practice dental chair devotions. We grab our Bibles, spend some time in it and then we are done. We promptly put down our Bibles and walk out the door or on to our daily tasks. Five to eight hours later someone could ask you, “What did you read in the Word today?” The answer, too often, is, “I can’t remember.”

What happened? We grab a little Bible reading, swish it around in the morning, then spit it out on the way out the door. The treasures from the Word don’t get swallowed and digested but rather spit out quickly. This is because we often practice a “swish and spit” devotional time. We don’t really engage the mind and heart with the Word.

He then provides 9 simple but powerful suggestions (my favorite is number 8) to resist this “swish and spit” mentality and concludes with:

Bible reading is far too precious and important a time to just go through the motions. You must get that word into your heart, mind and life. This takes work. So, resolve today to not practice the swish and spit, dental chair devotional life. Instead prayerfully marinate in the text, interrogate it and take it with you.

I agree. For way too many people devotions are little more than reading a chapter or two followed by a few minutes of prayer that MAYBE amounts to increased knowledge and RARELY leads to any Christ-life conformity. Renewal comes through the transformation of the mind (Romans 12:1-2) and that requires we get a good, holy mental sweat going when we read the Bible and it means we should plead with God in prayer asking him to grab us, spin us around, knock us off our feet, flatten us, and pin us until all we can do is cling to him and wholly and solely surrender to him.

What are you waiting for – go read the article and be done with “swish and spit” devotions!

Every Time We Come To Scripture

However, we all come to the Bible with biases. All of us read the Bible with a point of view already in place, a point of view that needs to adjust to Scripture. Therefore, we tend to read biblical passages through our point of view so that, without intending to do so, we adjust words and phrases and clauses to fit our perceptions and biases. None of us ever completely escapes this. Nevertheless, every time we come to Scripture, we must strive to rid ourselves of prejudices that impede our reading of the biblical text and to read it for what it actually says.

The Race Set Before Us: A Biblical Theology of Perseverance and Assurance

The Most Offensive Verse in the Bible

What do you think it is? Dan Phillips answer may surprise you but I think you will agree.

I absolutely love it:

When Piers or Larry or Tavis or Rosie or Ellen or The View or whoever tried probing me about homosexuality, or wifely submission, or any other area where God has spoken (to the world’s consternation), I think I’d decline the worm altogether. I think instead, I’d say something like,
“You know, TaPierRosEllRy, when you ask me about X, you’re obviously picking a topic that is deeply offensive to non-Christians — but it’s far from the most offensive thing I believe. You’re just nibbling at the edge of one of the relatively minor leaves on the Tree of Offense. Let me do you a favor, and just take you right down to the root. Let me take you to the most offensive thing I believe. “The most offensive thing I believe is Genesis 1:1, and everything it implies.

Click HERE to read the rest!

How Sad Our State By Nature Is

One of the shortest letters written to an editor was by G.K. Chesterton:

Dear Sir: In response to your article, ‘What’s wrong with the world,’ – I am. Yours truly, G.K. Chesterton

Were truer words ever spoken?

The depravity of all human beings, though intellectually resisted and even abhorred, is empirically undeniable and what is more, Biblically incontrovertible.

The Biblical teaching is that all human beings are:

  1. Dead in sin:
    1. Ephesians 2:1says, “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins” and again in verse 5, “we were dead in transgressions.”
    2. Colossians 2:13 says, “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature.”
  2. Spiritually impotent:
    1. John 3:3 says, “In reply Jesus declared, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again’” and again in verse 5, “Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.’”
    2. John 6:44 says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
    3. Romans 8:7 says, “The sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.”
    4. 1 Corinthians 2:14 says, “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
  3. Slave to sin:
    1. Romans 3:9 says, “What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin.”
    2. Romans 6:20-22 says, “When you were slaves to sin, you were free from the control of righteousness. What benefit did you reap at that time from the things you are now ashamed of? Those things result in death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life.”

In light of this, we can only conclude that apart from God’s grace and power we are wholly unable to seek God (Romans 3:10-18), cannot please God (Hebrews 11:6), and have no desire to do so (Romans 8:7). Behold the length, breadth, height and depth of our sin!

Why does the Bible point this out?

First, so we will fall out of love with sin for no one will ever come to Christ to be saved from sin until he or she knows from what sins salvation is needed.

Second, to magnify the length, breadth, height and depth of God’s love in sending his Son to make atonement for our sin. Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Third, to put us in awe of God’s indescribable mercy and grace. After detailing the depths of our sinfulness in Ephesians 2:1-3 we then come across these astounding words, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved.”

Fourth, to render us deeply thankful. 2 Thessalonians 2:13 says, “But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers, loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.”

Fifth, to ensure God gets all the glory. We cannot take credit for our salvation for it is wholly God’s work of grace and power in our life. Romans 9:16 says “It does not, therefore depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy.” Ephesians 1:4-6 says, “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.”

Sin has such strength that only Omnipotence can break its bond; only the Author of Life can raise the dead. Total inability requires total sovereignty for its overcoming. Cast yourself upon the mercies of God. You are powerless to save yourself but God is All-Powerful to save you and sustain you and lead you into all holiness and godliness.

I close with “How Sad Our State By Nature Is” by Isaac Watts:

1. How sad our state by nature is!
Our sin, how deep it stains!
And Satan binds our captive minds
Fast in his slavish chains.

2. But there’s a voice of sovereign grace
Sounds form the sacred Word,
“Ho, ye despairing sinners, come,
And trust upon the Lord.

3. My soul obeys th’ almighty call,
And runs to this relief;
I would believe Thy promise, Lord,
Oh,! help my unbelief.

4. To the dear fountain of Thy blood,
Incarnate God, I fly;
Here let me wash my spotted soul
From crimes of deepest dye.

5. Stretch out Thine arm, victorious King!
My reigning sins subdue;
Drive the old dragon from his seat,
With all his hellish crew.

6.A guilty, weak, and helpless worm,
On Thy kind arms I fall;
Be Thou my strength and righteousness,
My Jesus, and my all.

The Obedience of Faith

“Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God – the gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the Holy Scriptures regarding his Son, who as to his human nature was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was declared with power to be the Son of God by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. Through him and for his name’s sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith.” – Romans 1:1-5

(NOTE: The following is an excerpt from my sermon “The Gospel of God” preached March 18, 2012)

These six, short verses introduce the book of Romans and are packed with rich truth. Since Paul has never visited the church in Rome he effectively introduces who he is (v. 1) and what he preaches (v. 2-5) to the believers in Rome.

This blog-piece will focus solely on one aspect of “what he preaches,” namely, the phrase found at the end of verse 5, “the obedience that comes from faith.”

I want to point out two things about this phrase…

First, everyone is saved by faith alone in Christ alone.

There is a wicked, false doctrine that has flooded the world, namely, that one can earn their way into heaven by being a good person. That as long as your good outweighs your bad God will let you into heaven. That because you do lots of good things God promises heaven in your future. This is a teaching straight out of hell. The Bible teaches salvation by faith alone in Christ alone.

Romans 1:16-17 – “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith.’

Romans 3:21-22 – “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made know, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.”

Notice, one is not justified by anything one has done, can do, or ever will do. One is justified by faith in what Jesus did for us. Jesus life and death form one great act of obedience. One is saved by faith in Jesus obedience. All are unrighteous because of disobedience but all of us can be made righteous by faith in God’s obedient Son – Jesus Christ our Lord (v. 4). One is not saved by lots of good works; one is saved by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.

Second, faith and obedience are distinct yet inseparable.

Faith and obedience can never be severed just as the sun and light and fire and heat cannot be severed. They go together. Already I have warned against the error of salvation by works but there is another opposite yet equal error of salvation without obedience

I hear many people talk about believing in Jesus but then they live like the Devil. I tell you that is not saving faith. It is not possible to accept Jesus as your Savior without having surrendered to him as Lord. He has been declared to be the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord. You can’t divide this person. He is indivisible. One will have all of him or none of him. Saving faith makes one obedience to the Lord Jesus. It doesn’t mean you will live a perfect life – you will struggle – you will still sin – but you will sorrow over it, repent from it, and press on in obedience. Faith and obedience run side by side. They are two sides of the same coin. Paul says he travels the world calling all people to the obedience that comes from faith (v. 5). He doesn’t just preach “believe” – mere knowledge of the facts – nor does he just preach “obey.” He preaches the obedience of faith. They cannot be severed. Where one is lacking, the other will not be found either. Real faith will always lead to real obedience; real obedience comes from faith. True faith always expresses itself in obedience, and genuine obedience always stems from a true and living faith.

This is the resounding testimony of Scripture:

Acts 26:20 – “First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.”

Ephesians 2:8-10 – “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Titus 1:16 – “They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.”

Hebrews 11:8 – “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.”

James 2:17 – “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

Think of it this way – faith and obedience are like the two parts of salt: Salt is composed of two poisons, sodium and chlorine. If you should take either of the two poisons, you would die. But if you combine them properly, you have sodium chloride, and that is common table salt, without which there is no flavor for food (illustration from Dr. Barnhouse).

Faith and obedience are distinct yet inseparable. I believe that in our effort to guard against salvation by works, as so often happens, the pendulum swung to another equal and opposite error of salvation without obedience. The Bible maintains a balance and so must Christians as we preach the gospel – You are saved by faith alone in Christ alone and that faith bears the fruit of obedience. A working faith, a living faith, a genuine faith produces change in the person’s life. If one’s faith leaves them unchanged, one does not have saving, biblical faith.

Again, the gospel of God that Paul preached and which all Christians are to proclaim to all the nations is that of surrender to the truth about Jesus and surrendering one’s body as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is one’s reasonable, spiritual service. The gospel is a message of total unreserved commitment in doctrine and doing, truth and action, orthodoxy and orthopraxy to Jesus Christ our Lord. As Christopher Ash wrote, “The Obedience of faith means bowing the knee in trusting submission to Jesus the Lord, both at the start and all through the Christian life.”

Bible Study as Simple as “ABC”

Do you struggle with studying the bible or perhaps in more practical terms, do you struggle with having a good devotional time in the Word of God? Below is a post called “ABC Study” from the website “Gentle Reformation.” It will only take you a few minutes to read but if you put it into practice it will greatly improve your study of God’s Word!

From my early training under Dr. Roy Blackwood, I was taught the value of an ABC  Bible Study.  I have found with young and old Christians through the years that God’s people have found this type of study, which is explained below, helpful to their growth.  In our church membership class, we teach this basic study as a way of having a devotional time.  We also encourage those in a discipling relationship with others to use this study to train them to relate to God through His word.  We will also have studies where we ask participants to prepare a study like this so they can participate more actively in the discussion.  The Lord promises that as you search His Word, He will use it significantly in your life (Proverbs 2:1-12).  Keeping a journal works well with this type of study.

Analysis – What is God saying in the passage?

The analysis can be done by using ONE OR MORE of the following suggestions.  Remember, the most important thing to do while studying the Bible is to pray, asking its Author to use His Spirit to guide you into the truth (note in Psalm 119 we ask God to “quicken” us that we might be responsive to His Word.)

  • Paraphrase the chapter in your own words
  • Make an outline of the passage
  • Compare different versions of the Bible, noting their similarities and differences
  • Using a concordance, list cross references of important verses with their key thoughts
  • Take notes from several good commentaries on the passage
  • Ask the questions “Who? What? When? Where? Why?” and answer from the text

Best Verse – What is God saying to me in the passage?

From your study, usually the Lord will use a verse or two, or an idea contained in the text, to address particular areas of your life.  The Bible is like a sword that can pierce us so deeply that it discerns the thoughts and intentions of our heart (Hebrews4:12).  Prayerfully ask yourself, “What is the Lord using His WORD to speak to me about?”  Write down the reference and the chief personal thought you have.

Commitment – How does God want me to respond to His Word?

We must always be diligent not to only hear and know His Word, but to obey it.  The good fruit of obedience shows that the Lord is truly working in our lives (Matthew13:18-23, 36-43), proves that we are not deluding ourselves by listening but not responding to God’s Word (James1:22-25), and reveals that we love God even as He loves us (John14:15, 21).  Under the Commitment section of your study, make some practical application to your life based on what you have learned.  If you are doing this study with another person or in a group, grow in your fellowship by sharing your commitments, praying for one another, and following up one another’s commitments to encourage each other  further in godliness.