: Christian Living

The Christian Life Isn’t Meant to Be Effortless, part 2

Read part one of this post here.

When God saves people, He doesn’t make them less human, but more fully human. And He intends for us to use all that He created us with—our minds, our bodies, our will, and all that’s part of being human—to live for His glory.

Who is to do the obeying?

Some teachers, however, deny this when they say that if you abide in Christ as you should (Jn. 15:1-11), then you won’t have to exert effort to be Christlike, any more than a branch of a grapevine exerts effort to produce grapes.

This kind of teaching ignores the fact that in Scripture repeatedly God commands us to accept the responsibility of obeying Him. In Col. 3:2, when you are told, “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth,” who is to do that, you or God?

When God says in Eph. 5:25, “Husbands, love your wives,” that means husband, you’d better actively love your wife. Do you think God intends for you to tell your wife, “I’m not going to try to love you any more, I’m just going to let go and let God”? Try telling her that. She knows how much love she’d get out of that deal!

When the Lord says in 1 Cor. 6:18, “Flee from sexual immorality,” what He means is for you to use your feet and get away.

Even in Romans 6 when it says, “Consider yourselves dead to sin,” who is to do the considering? You are!

There is no elimination of any part of our humanity in Christian living.

Work toward what only the Holy Spirit can produce

The Bible commands us to work toward things that only the Holy Spirit can give. For example, notice 2 Pet. 1:5-7, especially at the beginning when it reads, “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.” Only the Holy Spirit can truly develop those Christlike qualities, nevertheless we are told to cultivate them.

Think about what Paul says in Phil. 2:12“Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” You’ve probably heard the explanation of that. You are to work out the salvation that God has worked in. The verse 13 adds, “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” God’s grace gives you both the desire and ability to work out what He has worked in. But you must be about it.

Justification is monergistic, sanctification is synergistic

It’s important not to confuse at this point how one becomes a Christian with how one grows as a Christian.

When a person becomes a Christian, only one Person is at work—God. Theologians apply to this process the word  “monergism,” which means “one person working.” God comes to the person who is dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1-7) and “regenerates” them, that is, He does all the work to make the person alive. The corpse contributes nothing to the process. But once alive, the first thing he or she immediately wants to do is come to Christ in repentance and faith.

This is much like when Jesus took the initiative to come to Lazarus who was dead and entombed. Jesus, by Himself, raised Lazarus to life, and the first thing he freely wanted to do was to come to Jesus (Jn. 11:1-44, esp. vv. 38-44).

Once God has made us alive spiritually, we work together with God to grow in the faith. We can’t do anything without God’s grace (Jn. 15:5), but His grace doesn’t eliminate what we gives us to do by His grace.

Notice what the Apostle Paul writes in Phil. 4:13: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” What did Paul say he could do? He could do all things God wanted him to do. But He could only do it as Christ strengthened him. Still, Paul had to do what Christ gave him the strength to do in obedience to the Father.

Compare that with what we’re told in the many popular books like Hannah Whitall Smith’s The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, (which has sold more than 10 million copies). She says, “Let me entreat you, then, to give up all your efforts after growing, and simply to let yourselves grow” (p. 127). As spiritual as it sounds, it doesn’t sound like the New Testament any more, does it?

What has Christ been calling you to do? Then by His grace and empowered by His Spirit, do it!

 

Read part one of this post here.

In 1987 I made notes while reading a Banner of Truth booklet, Living the Christian Life. I recently reflected upon those notes, modified them, and expanded upon them for this piece.

The Christian Life Isn’t Meant to Be Effortless

When we’re born again from above by the Spirit of God, the Lord makes a “new creation” of us (2 Cor. 5:17). But when He accomplishes that radical, regenerating transformation of us, He does not eliminate our minds, our bodies, our emotions, our will or anything that’s a part of what makes us human. God’s grace doesn’t eliminate any of those things, instead He gives dramatically new purposes to them.

He calls us to live the Christian life with the full—though God-centered—use of our minds and judgment and everything else that is a part of our humanity.

Let go and let God?

However, many people will tell you that your spiritual problems stem from the fact that you are trying to live the Christian life, but that God never intended you to do so. They say that just as God never intended for you to save yourself so He does not expect you to live the Christian life. They will tell you to “let go and let God; let go and let the Lord Jesus live His life through you.”

You’ve probably heard it put this way: “Have you ever seen an apple tree struggling and working and trying to produce apples? No! The branches just let the sap from the trunk produce the fruit. As long as they remain in the trunk the fruit will come. And in the same way, Christians produce spiritual fruit. All you have to do is abide in the vine, abide in Christ, and He will produce spiritual fruit through you. You don’t have to do anything; He does it all.”

It’s true that the Holy Spirit produces the fruit (that is, Christlikeness) through us and not we ourselves who produce it. But to say that we don’t do anything but remain passive takes the analogy of fruit-bearing too far.

Why does sin tempt me if I’m dead?

Here’s another analogy related to the Christian life that people take too far. Once again, in the process of trying to illustrate a biblical truth they teach that part of our humanity is eliminated in true Christian living. These well-meaning believers will remind us how Romans 6 teaches that we are identified with Christ in His Cross and Resurrection and therefore should consider ourselves as dead to sin. Then they will say something like: “Suppose an immodestly-dressed woman walks past the corpse of a man; will that man notice? Of course not, he’s dead! And that’s the way it’s to be with you if you are identified with Christ; sin will have no real appeal to you.”

But that’s taking the analogy beyond the bounds of Scripture. Romans 6:11 doesn’t say we are dead to sin, but rather “consider yourselves dead to sin.” The Apostle Paul exhorts us to this because believers are united with Christ by faith and Christ has died to sin on the Cross. In other words, sin will still appeal to us as long as we live in these bodies that have been corrupted by sin. However, we should no longer let any sin master us because we are united with Christ. As people united with the sinless, risen Christ, we’re to consider ourselves as dead to sin as He is.

Christlikeness requires effort

Note that to obey the command to “consider yourselves” requires intentionality and effort. It’s a faith-initiated, Christ-focused effort, to be sure, but it is human effort nonetheless. The Holy Spirit motivates and empowers you to do that, but He doesn’t do it for you.

When God saves people, He doesn’t make them less human, but more fully human. And He intends for us to use all that He created us with—our minds, our bodies, our will and all that’s part of being human—to live for His glory.

 

Read part two of this article in the next post.

In 1987 I made notes while reading a Banner of Truth booklet, Living the Christian Life. I recently reflected upon those notes, modified them, and expanded upon them for this piece.

 

Remember, Every Spiritual Discipline Is About Jesus

Why pray when it appears that your prayers go unanswered? Why keep on reading the Bible when it seems like you’re getting little from it? Why continue worshiping God privately when you feel no spiritual refreshment? Why persist in keeping a journal when writing your entries bores you? Why engage in fasting, silence and solitude, serving, and other spiritual disciplines when you sense meager benefits from doing so?

It’s easy to forget the real purpose of anything that’s as habitual as the activities of the spiritual life. And purposeless spiritual practices soon become dry routines that shrivel our souls.

The apostle Paul wrote of his concern that something like this would happen to the Christians at Corinth: “But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3, nasb). Notice that the direction of devotion is to be “to Christ.” Spirituality is not an end in itself; it’s about Jesus.

When we realize just who this God-Man—this Jesus who is called the Christ—is, we understand why the spiritual life is about Him: “And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent” (Colossians 1:18). So, “in everything,” including our spirituality, Jesus should “be preeminent.”

That’s why God inspired Paul to tell us, “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” [that is, Christlikeness] (1 Timothy 4:7, nasb). All our spiritual disciplines should be practiced in pursuit of Christlikeness.

We pursue outward conformity to Christlikeness as we practice the same disciplines Christ practiced. More importantly, we pursue intimacy with Jesus and the inner transformation to Christlikeness when we look to Him through the spiritual disciplines.

So when we engage in the disciplines of Bible intake, we should look primarily for what it tells us about Jesus, for what Jesus says to us in it, for how we are to respond to Jesus, for what we are to do for Jesus, and so forth.

And when we discipline ourselves to pray, we want to pray in Jesus’ name (see John 14:13-14); that is, we should come in the righteousness of Jesus (and not our own), and to pray what we believe Jesus would pray in our circumstances.

Our perennial purpose for practicing any and all of the spiritual disciplines should be a Christ-centered purpose. Authentic Christ-ian spirituality is about Jesus Christ.

 

This post is available as a bulletin insert here.

 

Taken from Simplify Your Spiritual Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2003), pages 27-28.

 

 

Do All to the Glory of God

The unifying principle for all of life, including our spirituality, is found in 1 Corinthians 10:31—“So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” This is the sun around which every spiritual practice, every decision, every prayer, and everything else—including our efforts at simplifying—should revolve.

Concern for the glory of God in all things was the heartbeat of God’s Son, Jesus. When only one of ten lepers (and he a Samaritan) whom Jesus had cleansed returned to thank Him, Jesus said, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? Was no one found to return to give praise [i.e., glory] to God except this foreigner?” (Luke 17:17-18). Jesus wasn’t indignant because He received so little thanks for healing these men. He wasn’t thinking of Himself; rather He was jealous over the lack of glory God received for this wonderful miracle.

According to John 12:27-28, Jesus had realized that the time for His arrest and crucifixion is at hand. Knowing He will soon die under the wrath of God, listen to His primary concern: “Now is My soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour?’ But for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify Your name” (emphasis added, here and below).

A short time later, just hours before He was taken into custody, Jesus taught us to ask in His name when we pray. Notice the reason why He promises such prayers will be answered: “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son”(John 14:13). The passion that propelled the entire life and ministry of Jesus Christ was His zeal for the glory of God.

From matters as crucial as the death of Jesus, to those as mundane as eating and drinking, the Bible presents the glory of God as the ultimate priority and the definitive criterion by which we should evaluate everything.

So when faced with choices about your spiritual life, ask first, “Which choice(s) will bring the most glory to God?” Choose and live in such a way “that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever” (1 Peter 4:11).

 

Taken from Simplify Your Spiritual Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2003), pages 45-46.

Salvation Doesn’t Remove Any of our Humanity from Living the Christian Life.

When we’re born again from above by the Spirit of God, the Lord makes us “a new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17). Indeed, “The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (v. 18). But in doing so He does not eliminate our minds, our bodies, our emotions, our will or anything that’s a part of what makes us human. God’s grace doesn’t remove any of those aspects of our humanity; instead it dramatically gives new purposes and perspectives to them.

Followers of Jesus are called to live the Christian life with the fully Christ-centered use of their minds and judgment and everything else that is essentially human.

Yet some will tell you that your problem is that you are trying to live the Christian life. They say that just as God never intended for you to save yourself so He does not expect you to live the Christian life.

“Let go and let God,” they say. “Let go and let the Lord Jesus live His life through you.”

They may frame it this way:

Have you ever seen an apple tree struggling and trying to produce apples? No! The branches just let the sap from the trunk produce the fruit. As long as they remain in the trunk the fruit will come. In the same way, as a Christian all you have to do is abide in the vine—abide in Christ—and He will produce spiritual fruit through you. You don’t have to do anything, He does it all.

It is true that the Holy Spirit produces spiritual fruit through us and not we ourselves, but it takes the fruit-bearing analogy too far to say that we don’t do anything.

Here’s another Scriptural analogy that some take too far and in the process teach that part of our humanity is eliminated in living the Christian life. They’ll remind us how Romans 6 teaches that we are identified with Christ in His Cross and Resurrection and that we should consider ourselves dead to sin. Then they will say something like: “Suppose a scantily-clad woman walks past the corpse of a man, will that man notice? Of course not, he’s dead. And that’s the way it’s to be with you if you are identified with Christ, sin will have no real appeal to you.”

But Romans 6:11 doesn’t say we are dead to sin, rather it exhorts us to “consider yourselves dead to sin,” because we are in Christ and Christ has died to sin on the Cross. In other words, sin will still appeal to us because of our flesh, but we are not to let it master us any longer because we are identified with Christ. We’re to consider ourselves dead to it.

Such teaching ignores the fact that in Scripture God commands us to accept the responsibility of obeying Him. For instance, in Col. 3:2, when you are told, “Set your minds on things above, not on things that are on the earth,” who is to do that, you or God?

When God says, “Husbands, love your wives” (Eph. 5:25), that means husband, actively love your wife. Do you think God intends for you to tell your wife, “I’m not going to try to love you any more, I’m just going to let go and let God”?

When the Lord says in 1 Cor. 6:18, “Flee from sexual immorality,” what He means is for you to remove yourself from the temptation, not for you to passively wait for Him to transport you to a new location.

Even in Romans 6:11 when it says, “So you must also consider yourselves dead to sin,” who is to do the considering? Should you let go and let God do the considering? No, you are the one God wants to consider yourself dead to sin.

Salvation doesn’t remove any of our humanity in living the Christian life.

The Bible commands us to pursue things that only the Holy Spirit can give. For example, 2 Peter 1:5-7 begins by saying, “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, etc.” Only the Holy Spirit can truly develop those things, nevertheless we are told to cultivate them.

Think about what Paul says in Philippians 2:12-13, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.” God’s grace gives you both the desire and ability to work out what He has worked in. But once He does this, He doesn’t want you to just “let go,” rather He calls you to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” We can’t do any of this without God’s grace, but His grace doesn’t eliminate what we have to do by His grace.

Listen to Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” What did Paul say he could do? He could do all things God wanted him to do, but only as Christ strengthened him. Still, Paul had to do what Christ gave him the strength to do in obedience to the Father.

Let go and let God? As spiritual as it sounds, it doesn’t sound like the New Testament any more, does it?

Through His Word, what is Christ calling you to do? Then by His grace do it! Obey Him!

 

In 1987 I made notes while reading a Banner of Truth booklet, Living the Christian Life. I recently reflected upon those notes, modified them, and expanded upon them for this piece.

 

No secret key to living the Christian life

Ever read a book or heard a sermon about the key to living the Christian life?

Typically, as the story goes, the author/preacher struggled for years in living for Christ. He or she was an earnest, devoted follower of Jesus, but never seemed to make much progress in Christlikeness.

Then one day, someone gives them a book. Or perhaps they hear a particular sermon at a conference or a message delivered by a guest preacher at their church. And in a moment, everything is different.

Perhaps the “secret” is surrender to the Lordship of Christ, or abiding in Christ, or being filled with the Spirit, or another great biblical truth. Suddenly, the beauty and glory of this truth shines in their soul and from that instant they are changed. This becomes the key that unlocks everything that had prevented their spiritual progress.

After that experience their growth in grace and their Christian influence accelerates dramatically. They manifest more spiritual fruit in the next few months than they’ve heretofore seen in their entire life.

And now, they eagerly offer the secret key for Christian living to you. Follow the steps they took, pursue the same experience, and you, too, can enjoy unparalleled new freedom as a disciple of Jesus.

Without denying that these folks had a powerful experience, the reality is this: no one truth is the secret to living the Christian life.

Think about it–if there were one supreme key to Christian living, don’t you think it would have been put so plainly that we couldn’t miss it? In all his letters, wouldn’t Paul have identified “the secret” as clearly as a full moon on a cloudless night? When he wrote to the Corinthians about all their problems, why didn’t he just say, “Here’s the answer! Just experience this one truth and it will solve everything”? But he didn’t. And that’s because there is no such secret to daily Christian living.

I heard someone say that God has not given us one key, but a key ring. On that key ring are many keys. That key ring is the Bible and the keys are its many verses and principles.

If there is anything like a Master Key it is Master Himself, Jesus Christ. He has told us that, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt. 4:4, quoting Deut. 8:3.) In other words, to live the Christian life we need every word of God—the whole Bible—not just one key or secret.

The Apostle Paul put it this way: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). God has inspired all Scripture and it has a variety of uses, but no individual truth is the secret or key to everything in the Christian walk.

We need the whole Bible in order to live the Christian life. Without question some passages and some truths are more important than others, but none of them is the key. Of course, we do need to continually submit to the Lordship of Christ, experience what it means to abide in Christ, and always seek to be filled with the Spirit, etc. And although there is much overlap in the experience of these truths, they are not identical in meaning, and none of them is ever held forth as the key to Christian living.

Therefore it should be our aim to master as much of the Bible as we can. We should read it all the way through, study it, memorize it, meditate on it, an apply it to our lives so that we may live the Christian life as God desires and become more like Jesus Himself. That’s what God wants us to be—like Jesus—and there’s no one secret key to doing that.

 

————————
In 1987 I made notes while reading a Banner of Truth booklet, Living the Christian Life. I recently reflected upon  those notes, modified them, and expanded upon them for this piece.

 

 

Sing the Table Blessing

When I was a child my Christian parents assigned to me the mealtime responsibility of thanking the Lord for our food and to ask His blessing upon it. They never required me to vary the few words I prayed, so before long the thrice-daily habit devolved into mechanical repetition.

One time I went through the ritual so mindlessly that instead of starting by saying, “Dear Heavenly Father,” I crossed wires with my phone answering routine and began my prayer with, “Hello?”

The traditional Christian practice of thanking God for food dates to biblical times. Jesus “gave thanks” to the Father for the loaves and fishes before He miraculously multiplied the food to feed thousands (Matthew 15:36). It was after “He had given thanks” that He distributed the bread at the last supper with His disciples (1 Corinthians 11:24). The book of Acts (27:35) records that the apostle Paul “took bread and gave thanks to God,” and in 1 Timothy 4:3-5 he taught us to do likewise.

No one wants to bore or be bored when giving thanks to God in prayer. But when we thank Him for the same thing (our food) every few hours more than a thousand times a year, year after year, it’s easy to find ourselves praying on autopilot (a practice Jesus condemns as “vain repetitions” in Matthew 6:7). Singing the table blessing can refresh the routine.

Where to begin? In one brief search I found several Internet pages devoted to this subject. (For example, here and here.) Each posted lyrics and suggested familiar tunes. With very little effort you could bring one to the table with you on occasion.

But you may prefer to create your own, perhaps adapting one or more verses of Scripture. A child taking music lessons might enjoy composing a short tune for musical thanks that’s unique to your family. Or during a mealtime or two you could develop a table blessing as a family project.

Like any other method, a table blessing that’s sung can also become a mindless routine if it’s repeated without variety. Used wisely, however, singing your thanks to the Lord at mealtime can adorn the commonplace with a touch of simple beauty.

 

Related post: “No, I Won’t Bless the Food.”

Taken from Simplify Your Spiritual Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2003), pages 180-81.

“No, I Won’t Bless the Food.”

In my travels, at the start of a meal with Christian brothers and sisters, I’m often asked, “Will you bless the food?”

“No.”

My hosts sit there in stunned silence for a moment. Then, with everyone staring at me with awkward, “What do we do now?” looks, I’ll add, “But I’ll be happy to ask the Lord to bless the food.”

Maybe it reflects the limits of my own experience, but it’s been my observation that nowadays fewer followers of Jesus pause like this at the beginning of a meal to give thanks for what they are about to eat.

This seems to be true for individuals and for families, at home and in public.

Why the decline? As with all Christian practices and disciplines, unless each successive generation is taught the reason for something, it soon devolves into mere a routine, then an empty tradition, and then disuse.

Biblical origins of mealtime prayers

Have you ever been taught the biblical reasons for the Christian tradition of praying before a meal?

• Before miraculously multiplying the loaves and fishes and providing a meal for His followers, Jesus asked the Father’s blessing upon the food:

“And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people” (Mark 6:41).

• As He instituted the Lord’s Supper, Jesus gave thanks before distributing the cup to His disciples and also before giving them the bread:

“And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he said, ‘Take this, and divide it among yourselves. For I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.’ And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me’” (Luke 22:17-19).

• After His resurrection, Jesus blessed the bread at the beginning of the meal at the home of the couple from Emmaus:

“When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them” (Luke 24:30).

• The Apostle Paul, publicly and in the presence of many presumed unbelievers, thanked God for his food before eating.

“He took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all he broke it and began to eat” (Acts 27:35).

• Paul taught that believers should receive their food with thanksgiving when he spoke of:

“. . . foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth” (1 Tim. 4:3).

For such reasons Christians have historically paused before (and sometimes after) meals to acknowledge in prayer (or a song, like the Doxology) that our God, in His goodness and providence, is the ultimate source of the food before us.

Empty ritual?

Can a mealtime prayer become a meaningless ritual? Of course it can, especially since it’s something we experience two or three times per day, seven days per week. In addition to its frequency, the table blessing—or any other prayer—is even more likely to diminish in meaning if we carelessly mouth the same words each time.

No Christian practice or spiritual discipline remains significant to the soul if one experiences it mindlessly and mechanically. Even activities as precious as personal daily prayer, singing praises to God with His people, or taking the Lord’s Supper can become hollow if we engage in them thoughtlessly. All prayer, including the brief prayer of thanks before a meal, requires the engagement of both mind and heart.

Benefits

A mealtime prayer also acknowledges that “every good and perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17). In a culture of plenty, it’s easy to forget that our food is in answer to Jesus’s command to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11).

Besides the benefits it has for ourselves, openly testifying in prayer that the meal before us is God’s provision also speaks to our children of our devotion to Christ and teaches them that what we eat is ultimately from the Lord, not the grocery store or our paycheck.

All of life should be lived with an awareness of the presence and blessing of God. Even in something as mundane and repetitive as eating, Scripture exhorts us, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31). Taking a moment to pray before a meal can help us to do that mindfully.

 

This post is available as a bulletin insert here.

 

(See the article/bulletin insert “Sing the Table Blessing” from the book Simplify Your Spiritual Life, 180-81.)

Walk with the Wise

We’ve all heard of the three “wise men from the east” (Matthew 2:1) and the role they played in the story of Jesus’ birth. Who are the three wisest people you know? Do you know how to gain wisdom like theirs?

Wise King Solomon wrote in Proverbs 13:20, “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise.” The wisest men, of course, are in Scripture, for divine inspiration fills their words. And the wisest of them all is the perfect Son of God, Jesus Christ. So if you want “the wisdom from above” (James 3:17), go often to the Bible and walk with the wise people who live in its pages.

But what about the wise who have lived since the times of the Bible, including the wise people of God alive today? How do we walk with them?

Woman reading book

One of the more obvious ways is to read their books and the stories of their lives. Walk with them through the lines they toiled over and let them tell you their best and wisest thoughts. Glean the insights discovered by the biographers who walked with these wise men several hours every day for many months and years.

You can also walk with wise people by hearing them. Go where they will be speaking. Listen to them via radio, the Internet, or recording.

Find a wise person to disciple you. You may know a wise role model, but protest, “He’d never be willing to spend time with me.” You’ll never know unless you ask. Look for creative ways to offer a skill or service to him in exchange for his wisdom. One of the busiest, most sought-after pastors I know spends two to three hours each week with a young man who offered his services as a personal trainer. As he “walks with the wise” from one weight machine to another, his soul is trained spiritually and the pastor’s body is trained physically.

When you anticipate being with an unusually wise person, prepare a list of questions. One of the most profitable days of my ministry came when I learned that I’d be in a van for hours with several other men, including a couple of well-known, experienced ministers, who were driving together to a conference. I made a list of the toughest theological and practical questions in my ministry at the time. I’m sure that Solomon would agree that “riding with wise men” can be as profitable as walking with them. I'm with Stupid shirt

You will become like those with whom you “walk” or spend a great deal of time. If you spend much of your discretionary hours with foolish or worldly people—including those on TV shows and commercials—you’ll grow more foolish and worldly. But if you become one who “walks with the wise” you’ll become wise.

Who has displayed wisdom in an area where you sense a need for more wisdom? Through books, recordings, or in person, walk with them and you will become more wise.

 

Taken from Simplify Your Spiritual Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2003), pages 115-16.

Who Could Sin After Seeing the Transfiguration?

One of my favorite stories in the Gospels is the Transfiguration of Jesus. I sometimes imagine that if I could go back in time and be present for any event in the Gospels prior to the crucifixion, I would choose the Transfiguration.

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” (Matthew 17:1-9, ESV)

What actually happened here? Of course, there’s no way we can fully understand it this side of Heaven. But did Jesus “simply” reveal the glory of some of His divinity as Moses and Elijah arrived on Earth (having momentarily departed Heaven), while the omnipresent Father spoke so as to be heard in that geographic location?

Or did Heaven and Earth overlap in such a way so that the place where Jesus stood was at that moment neither fully Heaven nor fully Earth, but rather He and His two visitors conversed in a temporary nexus between the earthly world and the spiritual world?

Or third, and applying the terminology of our three-dimensional world to a spiritual realm, did Heaven press so closely to Earth at this point that although Moses and Elijah were still in Heaven they were literally at the “edge” of it, and God’s voice came from across the border of Heaven to Earth, and Jesus’s face and clothing shone because of His immediate proximity to the heavenly realm and the glory of God? Or is there a better analogy? Only God knows.

In any case, a short time after this incomparable experience, possibly less than a week after the Transfiguration we read where Jesus’s disciples “argued with one another about who was the greatest” (Mark 9:34).

Think of that. Peter, James, and John saw—not in a dream or a vision, but with their eyes—Jesus transfigured. “His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.” Have you considered how He must have looked? His appearance surely took their breath away.

Then they saw Moses and Elijah—men in the front rank of Jewish history; heroes they’d heard about heard all their lives—appear out of thin air, as if beamed down from Heaven. And they heard Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus, speaking with voices more real than those you hear on your television when White House reporters ask questions of the president. We can only wonder at the specifics of what the disciples heard this heavenly duo say to the Man with the sunlike face.

And then they heard the voice of God. This alone would shake a person to the core, stunning their senses. They see the face of Jesus suddenly begin to radiate a brilliant light, they see Moses and Elijah appear from the past (imagine how it would affect you if Jonathan Edwards and Charles Spurgeon suddenly stood before you), then God in Heaven speaks directly to them in an audible voice.

Despite all this, in a matter of days they join with the other disciples in arguing about which of them is the greatest. If I’m Peter, I’m saying things like, “Ha! You wouldn’t think you’re the greatest disciple, Matthew, if you knew what I saw the other day.”

In other words, after this unearthly, next-worldly, never-to-be-forgotten experience, they still sinned. And of course, biblical theology tells us that this Transfiguration-watching trio didn’t wait several days until that argument arose before they sinned again.

At first, it’s almost hard to believe that a person could sin after such an experience. And yet, it’s just like every other encounter with a glimpse of God’s glory in Scripture. From the appearance of the pillar of fire in the Exodus, to the consuming blaze and heart-melting sounds atop Sinai, to Isaiah’s vision in the temple, to Paul’s pre-death visit to Heaven, to the revelation of Christ, Heaven, and the future to John on Patmos—they were experienced by sinners who nevertheless remained sinners after the experiences, despite “the surpassing greatness of the revelations” (2 Corinthians 12:7).

Though many observations could be made, two stand out to me as I think on these things.

First, the depth of human depravity. Nothing we experience in this body, no matter how frightening or glorious, can stop us from sinning. We could visit Hell or Heaven, and though the experience would doubtless have some indelible impact, no amount of terror or beauty could wring all the sin out of us. We could behold something that would take our breath away, but soon we’d breathe again. Just as surely, we could see something that would cause us in the moment to resolve never sin again, but soon we’d sin again.

Second, the greatness of the grace of God that He would still love and save creatures who are such sin factories that even after He allows them to glimpse the most glorious things in the universe they still choose to sin. When we come to Jesus for rescue from the sin that saturates us, God immediately forgives every sin we ever have or will commit. After that, though, we still do sin, even though He sends the Holy Spirit who causes us to loathe it and to fight it and to long for release from it. Knowing every sin we will commit after He forgives us, He loves us still and determines to keep us forever.

There’s only one experience that can cleanse us from all traces of the cancer of sin’s presence forever. It’s what the Bible calls “the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). This is the final, everlasting, freedom from sin that those “who have the firstfruits of the Spirit” (that is, the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit given to all the followers of Jesus) “groan inwardly” and “wait eagerly” for (Romans 8:23). And whether in the grave or alive when Jesus returns, He will transform the bodies of all His people to be fit to live forever with Him in a sinless, perfect, and glorious Heaven.

That’s because, as Philippians 3:20-21 puts it, “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”

In other words, one day all we who are in Christ will experience our own transfiguration, changed suddenly by the power of God from “our lowly body to be like his glorious body.”

“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20)

 

Coming in July, 2015 from Crossway Books and available for pre-order now: Praying the Bible

 

  • 1
  • 2