There is an old computer acronym called GIGO, which stands for Garbage In, Garbage Out. It means no matter how good the computer program is, if you feed it the wrong data, you will get the wrong answer.
The GIGO principle works in our lives too. If we feed our minds and our hearts with “input” from a mixed up, self-centered world, we will end up thinking, feeling, and acting just as mixed up too. We wonder why we see so many young people getting in trouble, so many people getting divorces, so many struggling with addictions, and yet we never stop to consider whether thousands of hours consuming television, movies, books, & music that falsely glorify God-rejecting values & behavior might have anything to do with it.
But we have the option of using an even more powerful principle: God In, Garbage Out. The power & presence of God is far greater than any garbage in our heart, and it is only a love for Him that can rid us of a love for the world. The 19th century Scottish pastor Thomas Chalmers taught this in his famous sermon titled The Expulsive Power of a New Affection. He wrote,
How impossible it were for the heart… to cast the world away from it; and thus reduce itself to a wilderness… the only way to dispossess it of an old affection, is by the expulsive power of a new one.
In other words, simply telling yourself, I won’t sin, I won’t do this or that which I know is wrong but I desire to do, is doomed to fail because the human heart HAS to desire, has to attach itself to something. You can’t simply tell a wrong desire to go away, you have to overpower and overwhelm that wrong desire with something infinitely more desirable— the love of Christ. God In, Garbage Out. It’s the only way to change from the inside out.
Temptation— it’s something we all face every day. There has been much written to help Christians understand and apply what the Bible teaches us on overcoming temptation. This short article will remind us how focusing on God is a key to overcoming temptation in our lives.
A first step to take when confronted with temptation is to focus on God’s presence. To focus on God’s presence is to think about how God is with us, and for the Christian in us, right now, right at the moment we are tempted. A simple way to focus on God’s presence is to meditate on a passage like Psalm 139:
O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
it is high; I cannot attain it.
Where shall I go from your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me,
and your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.
To be aware of God’s presence should next lead us to focus on God’s holiness. An essential part of God’s glory is His holiness, and the Bible repeatedly instructs us to focus on God’s holiness as a means to our holiness. In Leviticus 19:2 God specifically states, “You shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy.” When Joseph was tempted by Potiphar’s wife he immediately brings God into the conversation as the reason for his refusal to sin:
How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God? (Genesis 39:9)
As David did in Psalm 51, we must always frame sin first and foremost to be rebellion against God and His holiness.
After focusing on His holiness, we can focus on God’s provision. God has not left us alone and helpless: He will always provide for us, even in temptation. We can bring to mind 1 Corinthians 10:13—
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.
Note that there are two promises in this verse: first that God will never put us in a situation that is beyond us, and second that he will always supply what we need. This “way of escape” may take many forms. Sometimes it is literal, a way to physically walk away from the temptation. Other times it may be the wisdom and strength to refuse, while at other times it may be the prayers or help of a friend. Regardless of the way God chooses, we can trust that He will be faithful in every circumstance.
However, we cannot take God’s presence or holiness or provision lightly, for we must also focus on God’s judgment. God judges sin, and although our eternal penalty in hell has been atoned for, that does not mean that God will simply pass over our sin. As a loving father he wants us to grow in holiness, and part of that growth involves discipline when we rebel against Him. Paul is teaching us for our benefit in Galatians 6:7, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” As we focus on God we must never forget that there are consequences, sometimes very bitter consequences, for our sin.
Lastly, as we are faced with temptation we can focus on God’s reward. Our lives of holiness and faithfulness will not go unrewarded by a faithful and holy God. As we say no to temptation, we can look forward to the future when our present faithfulness will be repaid. We can strengthen our hearts as we focus on Christ one day saying to us what the master said to his faithful servant in the parable of Matthew 25:
‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’
As we focus on God in His presence, His holiness, His provision, His judgment, and His reward we will find the means to overcome every temptation that we face. Let your focus on God strengthen your heart today.
Note: The following is article #27 in a series reflecting on chapters in John Piper’s book Future Grace. More information on the book from Amazon.com is available here. A list of all the articles in this series so far is available here.
There is much that has been said about the Christian and sexual lust. We all face it, and we all know what the Bible says about it. We’ve all felt its power in our lives, and we’ve all felt defeated by its power in some way at some time. For some, its power enslaves their whole lives.
Dr. Piper makes several points regarding this very important part of our spiritual lives. The first point is that we must take this battle with sin seriously:
Jesus says that if you don’t fight this sin with the kind of seriousness that is willing to gouge out your own eye, you will go to hell and suffer there forever.
Far too many Christians, under the influence of a culture where there is almost no acknowledgement of sexual sin and that is permeated by it, soften and even abandon God’s stance on the role of sex and the role of purity in our lives. There are many who have decided “not to make a big deal” of infidelity or sexual media, knowing that God is “loving and gracious.” He warns:
There are many professing Christians who have a view of salvation that disconnects it from real life, and that nullifies the threats of the Bible, and puts the sinning person who claims to be a Christian beyond the reach of biblical warnings. I believe this view of the Christian life is comforting thousands who are on the broad way that leads to destruction.
If we do not fight any & every sin in our lives, including sexual sin, with every ounce of our strength, we are fools to assume that we are truly saved. We must strive to live lives of holiness.
Dr. Piper’s next point is that God’s grace in our lives is sufficent for every battle, even the battle against lust. Just like any other part of the Christian life, it is all about grace:
This is the grace we live under— the sin-conquering, not just sin-canceling, grace of God. Triumph over the sin of lust is all of grace— past grace, canceling lust’s guilt through the cross, and future grace, conquering lust’s power through the Spirit.
Dr. Piper then moves onto the primary means through which grace triumphs over lust. Willpower isn’t enough. Guilt won’t do the job. Neither will a sense of duty. The secret in triumphing over lust or any sin is God Himself seen by the eyes of faith:
When my thirst for joy and meaning and passion are satisfied by the presence and promises of Christ, the power of sin is broken. We do not yield to the offer of sandwich meat when we can smell the steak sizzling on the grill. The fight of faith against lust is the fight to stay satisfied with God. (Hebrews 11:24-26)… It is the “precious and magnificent” promise that the pure see God that empowers our escape from lust. (Matthew 5:8)
He ends with a quote from a pastor who realized the power of treasuring God in the fight against sin:
I was limiting my own intimacy with God. The love He offers is so transcendent and possessing that it requires our faculties to be purified and cleansed before we can possibly contain it.
May we all so grow in our vision of Christ and treasuring that vision that every other attraction fades from our view.
Note: The following is article #26 in a series reflecting on chapters in John Piper’s book Future Grace. More information on the book from Amazon.com is available here. A list of all the articles in this series so far is available here.
Spiritual Warfare. The words conjure up many different images to different people, whether of fierce looking supernatural creatures locked in combat or demons vying to control or destroy unwary mortals.
But what does spiritual warfare mean to you & me, in our day to day lives? Does a supernaturally evil Satan really expend any effort against “ordinary” Christians, and if so what does he do, and how do we respond?
The Bible is very clear that Satan indeed does try to destroy the lives of the people of God, that he “prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8)
But what is he doing? What should we be on our guard for? How can we fight back? In Chapter 26 of Future Grace Dr. Piper says that it is all about faith:
The number one aim of Satan is the destruction of faith (Romans 14:23)…[and] the way to thwart the devil is to strengthen the very thing he is trying most to destroy.
Whether it is a discouraging situation, a tempting thought, or any other kind of battle, the real target of Satan is always our faith. Since without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6), the destruction of our faith in God has been Satan’s plan since the Garden of Eden. Piper explains:
All the sinful states of our hearts are owing to unbelief in God’s super-abounding future grace. All our sin comes from failing to be satisfied with all that God is for us in Jesus. Misplaced shame, anxiety, despondency, covetousness, lust, bitterness, impatience, pride— these are all sprouts from the root of unbelief in the promises of God.
Whenever we turn from faith (total trust and reliance) in God and turn toward anything else, we open the door to sin in our lives. Piper uses Paul’s teaching about the love of money in 1 Timothy 6:10 to illustrate this battle in our hearts between faith and sin:
Money stands for what you can get from man instead of God… So the heart that loves money is a heart that pins its hopes, and pursues its pleasures, and puts its trust in what human resources can offer. So the love of money is virtually the same as faith in money (trust, confidence, assurance) that money will meet your needs and make you happy. … You can’t trust in God and in money at the same time. Belief in one is unbelief in the other.
All of Satan’s attacks against us hinge on him saying (pardon the reference to 70′s TV), “Who loves ya, baby?” Satan does all that he can to make us doubt God’s goodness, God’s power, and God’s love for us. Our faith is the pillar by which we stand or fall. Piper exhorts:
Where faith in God fails, sin follows. Faith stands or falls on the truth that the future with God is more satisfying than the one promised by sin. Where this truth is embraced and God is cherished above all, the power of sin is broken.
Do you feel embattled? Does your faith seem small? Know that it is both your lifeline and that which the Enemy most wishes to destroy, and know that you can boldly go to your loving Father and receive the grace and mercy and faith that you need to win every battle in your life.
Workouts are like brushing my teeth; I don’t think about it, I just do it. The decision has already been made.” ~Patti Sue Plumer, US Olympian
I got up and ran this morning. I am not a “runner”— running is not the center of my existence. In fact, most days I don’t even like it. But I know I need the exercise; I know that running is good for this body that God has given me.
That’s where the above quote comes in. If I had thought about it, if I had turned over in my mind whether or not I should run this morning, there’s a pretty fair chance that my lazy butt could have come up with a lame excuse for not running. But the decision had already been made. I was running. And I didn’t give myself the opportunity to “think it over” and back out.
This principle can apply to more than running. At any decision point, I have a choice to do less than what I know to be God’s best, God’s will. (That’s ”temptation” and “sin” for you theologically minded folks)
In my humanness, if I give my mind a chance, it is going to try to talk me out of God’s best for my life. But I can say “the decision has already been made”— I am going to follow Christ.
If you look back, this is where Eve messed up:
The serpent was clever, more clever than any wild animal God had made. He spoke to the Woman: “Do I understand that God told you not to eat from any tree in the garden?” The Woman said to the serpent, “Not at all. We can eat from the trees in the garden. It’s only about the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘Don’t eat from it; don’t even touch it or you’ll die.’”
The serpent told the Woman, “You won’t die. God knows that the moment you eat from that tree, you’ll see what’s really going on. You’ll be just like God, knowing everything, ranging all the way from good to evil.”
When the Woman saw that the tree looked like good eating and realized what she would get out of it—she’d know everything!—she took and ate the fruit and then gave some to her husband, and he ate. (Genes 3:1-6 The Message Bible paraphrase)
Did you catch it? She started wondering, thinking, questioning, “What if?…..” when she could have just said, “The decision has already been made. I will follow God’s instructions.”
Where in your life do you need to put a resolution about what is right in concrete? Go ahead and make your choice to follow God in that area now, so when confronted with the opportunity to compromise you can firmly say “The decision has already been made.”
Like millions of other red-blooded American men I went and watched Spiderman 3 last week. By the time the credits rolled, I had seen a man gripped by the passions of vanity, self-centeredness, pride, power, fame, lust, arrogance and vengeance. I had seen a man enjoy and revel in these passions, actively seek their increase in his life, and then witness the destruction of himself and others that they left in their wake.
No, I’m not talking about Peter Parker.
I was referring to me. My sin nature.
Not being a woman, I don’t know what the sin nature “feels like” in a woman’s soul. But I can tell you, it feels real close, uncomfortably close, to Peter Parker in my soul. And if you’re a guy and you say to me that you can’t identify with Mr. Parker, “No, I’m never tempted to want
people attractive women to think I’m special, I have never had someone mistreat me that I wanted to see get “what was coming” to them, I have never used whatever type of power or prestige I possessed to feed my ego” then I suggest you take the log out of your eye and take a hard look in the mirror.
C. S. Lewis once commented that the Puritans had Christianity right when they considered that,
One essential symptom of the regenerate life is a permanent, and permanently horrified, perception of one’s natural and (it seems) unalterable corruption. The true Christian’s nostril is to be continually attentive to the inner cesspool.
Strong words, “to be contually attentive to the inner cesspool.” That’s not a very popular idea in Christian or non-Christian circles, to be continually on the watch for the evil that is within us. I find it very telling that the scriptwriters for Spiderman 3 went out of their way to repeatedly have different people describe Peter Parker as “a good person.” And yet the storyline makes clear that the seeds of vanity and pride and all those other poisonous passions were in Spidey’s soul before he ever put on the Venom suit, that the symbiote merely amplified what was already there.
At the end, Spiderman 3 said what
the world semi-Pelagians my flesh wanted to hear: that although we are tempted to do selfish things, that we, at heart, are good people who can always make the right choice. The truth is harder to bear: that our emotions, minds, and wills have been pervasively and permanently distorted by the Fall, and that only by God’s work within us to be “continually attentive to the inner cesspool,” to be continually putting to death the sin that we will daily find if we are willing to look, and to be continually looking to Christ for wisdom, strength, forgiveness, and grace can we live lives worthy of our Saviour’s calling.
Future Grace was, I think, the first book I read from the pen of John Piper. Since it had been over 10 years since that first read, it was the next in my series of “books to read again.”
But as I started back into it, seeing the underlining and circling and arrows and notations on almost every one of its 400 pages, I knew I needed to do more than just read it and give a review. So, I’m going to write reflections on each of its 31 chapters as I go back through them, and make this an extended blogging series over the next few months.
Some of my reasons:
- Some accountability and discipline to re-read the book.
- I’m going to have to really digest and meditate on the truths of each chapter to write on each one.
- Might actually help me remember and apply the truths in my life.
- To share some of the great truths of this book.
- To encourage others to get this book and dig into it.
- To serve as a reference to go back and review in the future.
- I’ve just about ran out of lame jokes to post on the blog
“The ultimate purpose of this book is that God be prized above all things”
You know when that is the first sentence of a book, that you are in for quite a ride. And to let “God be prized above all things” really is the purpose of this book, and indeed of most of Piper’s writings. But what does he mean? The full title of the book is The Purifying Power of Living by Faith in Future Grace. So, to understand the purpose of the book, we need to think about faith, about grace, and how fatih and grace have the power to purify our lives.
First, we have to think about a good definition of faith. We usually use words like faith, love, or hope rather haphazardly, without a clear and solid picture of what they actually mean in the Bible. Looking back to an ancient definition, the First Helvetic Confession says that faith is “a grasping of all things that one hopes from God.” Piper says that true, God-given faith “embraces all that God promises to be for us in Jesus. And this embracing is not a mere intellectual assent to a teaching, but is also a vital heartfelt satisfaction with God.” Faith trusts in the promises that God has made through Christ, and loves them, cherishes them, prizes them with all the heart.
So, what is grace? Of course, the classic definition is God’s Riches at Christ’s Expense. But what riches? Well, we often think about the grace we receive when our sins are forgiven, and the grace we shall receive in heaven. These are unconditional graces, given to every child of God. But Piper says that our day-to-day life now also entails conditional grace, grace that God promises to us as we are obedient to Him. “God gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6) “If you forgive men, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” (Matthew 6:14) “If we walk in the light…the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7) So grace not only means being saved and going to heaven, but also “the power and beauty of God to keep you from sinning.”
How? How does faith in God’s grace keep us from sinning, how does it purify our lives? Because sin “is what you do when your heart is not satisfied with God.” Sin makes a promise to us, to satisfy us, just as God does. Becoming more like Christ is a process of walking in faith, learning to trust and value God’s promises to satisfy us in Jesus more than trusting or valuing the promises of sin. That is how the ultimate purpose of the book is for us to prize God above all other things.
Whew!!! Heavy stuff, and that was just the introduction chapter! But these truths, if we can truly burn them into the depths of our souls, can truly transform us into Christ-lovers and Christ-followers in essense and action and not just creed. Stay tuned for Chapter One, and learn whether we should try to pay God back…
Note: This article is the first in a series reflecting on chapters in John Piper’s book Future Grace. More information on the book from Amazon.com is available here. A list of all the articles in this series so far is available here.
I recently spent five grueling hours (grueling for a hopelessly out of shape bookworm) climbing a steep, winding mountain trail. Why? That was the only way I could see the view from the top of Mount LeConte. There were no shortcuts; I just had to put in a lot of hard work. But once I completed my quest and saw the view, I would have spent double the effort if necessary: what I saw was THAT spectacular.
The same can be said of reading the great Puritan theologian John Owen. It is HARD work, and a lot of it. So facing a 466 page anthology containing his 3 books on sin seemed more daunting than climbing LeConte, but I am pleased to report that the view is even more spectacular: it is life-changing.
This anthology, put together by Justin Taylor & Kelly Kapic, is not an abridgement: aside from some spelling updates and a few footnotes you’ve got the original manuscripts. There is an excellent introduction to Owen and his thought, as well as overviews of each of the three books. In the back are extremely detailed outlines of each book, as well as several indexes and a glossary of antiquated words (there are plenty of words Owen uses that will make you scratch your head so you will find yourself frequently consulting it!).
As stated before, this is an anthology of three different works by Owen. The first is his famous Mortification of Sin. I had read and reviewed an abridged version earlier this year, so I was interested in seeing how I would fare reading the original. Strangely, I actually like the original language better, it seemed more piercing and powerful.
The second book, Of Temptation, concerns itself on the nature and danger of temptation, and our duty against temptation and how to accomplish it. Owen simply amazes me: whereas most of us would exhaust our intelligent explanation of “temptation” in a few sentences, he spends eighty pages poring over the Scriptures, mining deep to bring insight that is both wise and cutting.
The last book, Indwelling Sin, is the longest and most thorough. Seventeen chapters that bring insight after insight on every page on the nature of the enemy within us, concerning its nature, power, and effect in our lives.
It has been said that once you finish reading what Owen says about a subject, you are convinced that he has covered it all. You may wonder, is it really worth reading over 400 pages on sin? And I will tell you, yes, it is hard work, but it is well worth the view. And just as I am planning on climbing LeConte again next year, I am going to reread this book next year as well, for I am sure that God has much more to teach me from its pages.
More information about the book from the publisher’s site is here.
More information about the book from Amazon is here.
—>cross posted at soapadoo!
In a few days, when you polish off a couple pounds of turkey, 2 helpings of stuffing, and 5 helpings of other assorted entrees, someone may shove in your face a plate and say, “How about a piece of Aunt Matilda’s famous blueberry pie, hon?”
What will you say? After weighing whether you’re even conscious enough to waddle to a couch to lie semi-comatose for the rest of the afternoon, you say, “No thanks, I’m full!” to that awful temptation.
Hmmm. You could say “NO” to something because you were ALREADY full of something else. If that works for food, why wouldn’t it work for greed or lust or fear or anything else bad? “No thanks, I’m full.” The problem is, the Bible describes our flesh as having an insatiable appetite, and experience proves this true: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life is never satisfied for long.
BUT…what if we instead had something entirely different filling our soul, that so completely filled us up that we didn’t have any room or desire for anything else? Then we really could say “No thanks, I’m full” to temptation and truly mean it.
That’s some of what the Puritan minister Thomas Chalmers wrote in an old sermon called The Expulsive Power of a New Affection. If we will take the time and effort to commune with God until our affection for Him and experience of Him fills us to overflowing, then we can say “No thanks, I’m full!” when our flesh attempts to tempt us. How full of a “new affection” are you today?
Grace. We love that word, and rightfully so. Without God’s grace our lives would be devoid of any beauty or hope or love. But I’m a little concerned about a little thing I would call entitlement. We are so “used to” God’s grace, sometimes we not only take it for granted, but we make the jump of thinking that it is just automatically there for the taking, to thinking (maybe in the back or our minds) that we might actually deserve that grace because we are Christians, or even that God might actually owe His incredible grace to us because, after all, we’re chosen and pretty darn special in His eyes: “Gimme some of that grace, pronto!”
Maybe part of the problem (besides that pesky little thing called a sin nature) is reading out of context Hebrews 4:16:
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
Well, yea, just pony on up to the throne and lay some of that grace on me now, God. Too bad we don’t read a little before that verse, to understand what “in time of need” means, which explains what kind of grace the writer is talking about:
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning 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. (Hebrews 4:12-13)
Ouch. So, God has just sliced and diced this guy’s heart, slitting it open and exposing every bit of stinking, awful sin in it. He is absolutely, completely naked and exposed before God, in complete shame with nothing hidden. Laying as a naked sinner before God is the “time of need” that this guy needs grace for. And so in verse 14-15 Jesus comes in as his great High Priest: Christ’s heart is completely clean and pure in the eyes of God and yet Christ can sympathize with our weaknesses because he was tempted as a man.
So, in spite of our abject sinfulness and unworthiness and nakedness before God, because of Christ we can still come boldly to receive cleansing from sin and strength to obey God—that’s the kind of grace that we’re talking about. Grace in spite of our sin, grace in order for us to do something about our sin.
My favorite example of this is Isaiah. He gets some incredible grace from God, but read the story of how he got it:
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!” Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” ( Hebrews 6:1-8)
See what had to happen BEFORE Isaiah gets the grace: He has to be completely taken to the ground at the sight of God’s glory and his own sinfulness, and only then does God graciously show him that his sin has been atoned for, and that his guilt is gone for the explicit reason to allow Isaiah to become a servant of God.
Could that be the reason that the first blessing that Jesus gives on the Sermon on the Mount is the blessing of being in absolute poverty humility and abasement in our heart? Hmmm. So, next time you ask for some of God’s grace, first lay your heart out before the glory of God, and let Him show you all of your heart, and let your great High Priest give you the grace and help that you so desperately need.