Doctrine that “takes possession of the entire soul” – J. Calvin

Little-book-christian-life-calvinResponding to those “nominal Christians” who want the name but “possess nothing of Christ,” John Calvin wrote:

For true doctrine is not a matter of the tongue, but of life; neither is Christian doctrine grasped only by the intellect and memory, as truth is grasped in other fields of study. Rather, doctrine is rightly received when it takes possession of the entire soul and finds a dwelling place and shelter in the most intimate affections of the heart. So let such people stop lying, or let them prove themselves worthy disciples of Christ, their teacher.

We have given priority to doctrine, which contains our religion, since it establishes our salvation. But in order for doctrine to be fruitful to us, it must overflow into our hearts, spread into our daily routines, and truly transform us within.

Even the philosophers rage against and reject those who profess an art that ought to govern one’s life, but who twist that art hypocritically into empty chatter. How much more then should we detest the foolish talk of those who give lip service to the gospel?

The gospel’s power ought to penetrate the innermost affections of the heart, sink down into the soul, and inspire the whole man a hundred times more than the lifeless teachings of the philosophers.

Taken from the fresh translation and edition of John Calvin’s short work on the Christian life,  A Little Book on the Christian Life (Reformation Trust, 2017), pp.14-15 (slightly edited). For my previous post on this “golden booklet,” visit this page.

Reset: Relate, or Why Our Relationships Are Important

Reset-DMurray-2017This Spring and Summer we are looking at the practical and profitable thoughts of Dr. David Murray in his newly published book Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture (Crossway, 2017).

Writing especially with men in view, Murray, in each chapter, has us take the “car” of our lives into various “repair bays” to have our lives rechecked and reset.

Today we consider “Repair Bay 9,”“Relate” – where Murray talks to us about the importance of relationships, in order of priority – God, wife, children, pastor/elders, and friends. For our purposes in this post, we will focus on that last relationship – friends.

At the end of the section on relating to pastors and elders, the author lays the ground work for the importance of friendships for men:

We all need men in our lives who deal lovingly and faithfully with us, who watch for our souls and speak into our lives when we need that. Although this requires us to make ourselves vulnerable, and that takes tremendous courage, doing so is a wise and safe act, especially as we mature or succeed and perhaps become more self-confident and self-sufficient.

Murray then discusses why men often fail in finding and making good friends. He gives these “reasons” (which are really amount to excuses):

  • We’re too selfish – What’s in it for me?
  • We’re too functional – friends are good at the clubhouse, but not in real life.
  • We’re too proud – friends are for wimps!
  • We’re too safe – we don’t handle rejection well.
  • We’re too superficial – shallow contact and superficial talks are ok, but don’t ask me to go deep!
  • We’re too brainwashed – we have bought into Hollywood’s idea of masculinity.

So what is the answer? He points us to the Triune God and to Jesus Christ, the Friend of sinners, and then gives us these guidelines for establishing biblical friendships:

  • Prioritize friendships – that is, make them a priority.
  • Cultivate the greatest friendship – know and model Christ’s friendship.
  • Build unselfish friendships – not ones that benefit your career or network.
  • Beware of substitutes – not social media relationships but face-to-face ones.
  • Prepare for disappointments – you will get hurt, but you will also gain faithful friends.
  • Cultivate transparency – be a “to know and be known” friend.
  • Make spiritual growth central – our friendships “must have at its core a desire to do spiritual good to one another.”
  • Recognize your limitations – we can’t be friends with everyone, so strive to make the best ones.

Sound counsel from a trusted friend in Christ, even if a distant one. How would you evaluate your friendships in the light of these guidelines?

The Goal of Reading the Bible: White-Hot Worship

It’s Monday. We returned to our work-week today. We were busy in our daily callings. High things and mundane things. Important things and small things.

But worship must still be on our minds. The worship of yesterday in God’s house. The worship of today in serving the Lord with our work and tasks. The worship of reading the Bible and prayer, personally and with our wives and families.

Reading-Bible-Supernaturally-Piper-2017And it ought to be “white-hot worship”, as John Piper points out in his new book Reading the Bible Supernaturally: Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture (Crossway, 2017). For this is the purpose God Himself gives us for revealing Himself in His Word, that we might read about His great glory and might worship Him with “supremely authentic and intense” worship.

This is how Piper puts it in Chapter 2, “Reading the Bible toward White-Hot Worship”:

Our ultimate aim in reading the Bible, I am arguing, is that God’s infinite worth and beauty would be exalted in everlasting, white-hot worship. When I use the phrase ‘white-hot-worship,’ I am calling out the visceral implications of the words ‘supremely authentic and intense.’ ‘The reason words like these are important is that there is a correlation between the measure of our intensity in worship and the degree to which we exhibit the value of the glory of God. Lukewarm affection for God gives the impression that he is moderately pleasing. He is not moderately pleasing. He is infinitely pleasing. If we are not intensely pleased, we need forgiveness and healing. Which, of course, we do [p.59-60].

May we keep that in mind as we read God’s Word this week. How “hot” is our worship of God? How much do we value His glory as revealed in that Word we read?

Jesus Christ: the True Fountain of Our Holiness

JCalvin1To prompt us toward righteousness more effectively, Scripture tells us that God the Father, who has reconciled us to Himself in His Anointed One, Jesus Christ, has given us in Christ a model to which we should conform our lives. You will not find a better model in the philosophers – in whom many expect to find the only correct and orderly treatment of moral philosophy. They, while doing their best to encourage us to be virtuous, have nothing to say except that we should live ‘ according to nature.’

Scripture, however, draws its encouragement from the true fountain. Its teaches us to contemplate our lives in relation to God, our Author, to whom we are bound. And, having taught us that we have fallen from the true state and condition of our original creation, Scripture adds that Christ, through whom we have been restored to favor with God, is set before us as a model whose form and beauty should be reflected in our lives.

What can be more effective than this? Indeed, what more is needed than this? We have been adopted by the Lord as children with this understanding – that in our lives we should mirror Christ who is the bond of our adoption. And truly, unless we are devoted – even addicted – to righteousness, we will faithlessly abandon our Creator and disown Him as our Savior.

Little-book-christian-life-calvinTaken from the fresh translation and edition of John Calvin’s short work on the Christian life,  A Little Book on the Christian Life (Reformation Trust, 2017), pp.8-9 (slightly edited). For my previous post on this “golden booklet,” visit this page.

Reset: Refuel (Yes, watch what you take into your bodies!)

Reset-DMurray-2017This Spring and Summer we are looking at the practical and profitable thoughts of Dr. David Murray in his newly published book Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture (Crossway, 2017).

Writing especially with men in view, Murray has us take the “car” of our lives into various “repair bays” to have our lives rechecked and reset.

Today we consider “Repair Bay 8,” which is titled “Refuel”. In this chapter Murray calls us to examine the food we eat, the medications we take, and the energizers we use.

There are many practical and edifying thoughts in this chapter, and for our purposes let’s take a quotation just from that first section. Concerning the food we eat, Murray says,

I’m a theologian, not a dietician. That’s why “The Murray Diet” begins with theology: ‘Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God’ (1 Cor.10:31). This profound Scripture verse tells us that there is a way to glorify God not just by what comes out of our mouths in praise and prayer, but by what goes into our mouths by eating and drinking. In other words, every choice we make about what to eat or drink either magnifies or minimizes God.

…When we pray ‘Give us this day our daily bread,’ God graciously answers not only by giving sufficient and suitable food for our physical and intellectual life, but also by calling us to take responsibility for the quantity and quality of food and drink we consume. We can’t expect our minds to function well if we are stuffing our faces with junk. And remember, God works through our minds. He does us spiritual good by imparting truth through our brains. Thus, if we are not caring for our brains by giving them sufficient and suitable fuel, that will ultimately damage our spiritual lives as well [pp.142-44].

Your Mind Matters – J. Stott

mind-matters-stott…The Christian doctrine of revelation, far from making the human mind unnecessary, actually makes it indispensable and assigns to it its proper place. God has revealed himself in words to minds. His revelation is a rational revelation to rational creatures. Our duty is to receive his message, too submit to it, to seek to understand it and to relate it to the world in which we live.

That God needs to take the initiative to reveal himself shows that our minds are finite and fallen; that he chooses to reveal himself to babies [Matt.11:25] shows that we must humble ourselves to receive his Word; that he does so at all, and in words, shows that our minds are capable of understanding it. One of the highest and noblest functions of man’s mind is to listen to God’s Word, and so to read his mind and think his thoughts after him, both in nature and in Scripture.

I venture to say that when we fail to use our minds and descend to the level of animals, God addresses us as he addressed Job when he found him wallowing in self-pity, folly and bitter complaining: ‘Gird up your loins like a man, I will question you, and you shall declare to me.’ [cf. Job 38:3; 40:7]

Taken from Your Mind Matters: The Place of the Mind in the Christian Life (Inter-Varsity Press, 1972) by John R. W. Stott, pp.20-21

Blessed Pure in Heart, Blessed Peacemakers, Blessed Persecuted

As we noted before this month, the June Tabletalk is devoted to the Beatitudes our Lord spoke during His ministry on earth (cf. Matt.5).

Each of these beatitudes are given a brief explanation and application in the issue. Today I was able to read three more of these articles before our worship times.

On this Sunday night, I want to leave you with quotations from all three, so that you can also benefit from these edifying articles. I give you the links to each article so that you may also read the entire thing if you wish (they are all brief).

First is “Blessed Are the Pure in Heart” by Michael Allen:

…Our salvation involves nothing less than the gift of our Savior Himself. God is not merely the author of the gospel—God is the end of the gospel.

The “pure of heart” are those who see that we are made for and only satisfied ultimately by the sight of God. Other gifts are good; this prize alone is ultimately blessed. A crucial facet of growing in the kind of purity envisioned and given by Jesus is the insatiable sense that we would not delight in any other good or reward apart from His giving Himself to us. With David, the “pure in heart” can say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you” (Ps. 16:2).

Second is “Blessed are the Peacemakers” (linked below) by Dirk Naves:

Rooted firmly in the peace made by Christ, today’s peacemakers must look to His life as a model. His peacemaking earned Him the hatred of religious leaders and the derision of His family. His peacemaking led Him to a garden, not for quiet repose, but for midnight wrestling; not for cool refreshment, but an overflowing cup of almighty wrath. His peacemaking led Him to a cross. It led Him to outer darkness.

It also led Him to a crown, a throne, and a people from every tribe and tongue and nation. This is the lot of peacemakers. Their bodies are scarred and they have been despised, but their harvest is full and their title is no cause for shame. They shall be called sons of God.

And finally, we quote from “Blessed Are Those Who are Persecuted for Righteousness’ Sake,” penned by Rev. Michael Glodo.

Finally, persecution testifies to our union with Christ. In Philippians 3:8–11, Paul relates how the persecutor became the persecuted and that even though he lost all that he once held dear, he gained Christ and the righteousness that comes through faith (v. 9). The purpose or goal of counting everything else as loss is knowing Christ and the power of Christ’s resurrection along with the fellowship of Christ’s suffering, for it is necessary to become like Christ in His death if we want to share in His life. Union with Christ means a share in all things that are Christ’s, including the rejection, reviling, and persecution that was His. For if we have a share in Him, ours truly is the kingdom of heaven. And with this knowledge, we will be able to persevere with joy in trials and answer our persecutors with a benediction (James 5:1; 1 Peter 3:9).

Source: Blessed Are the Peacemakers by Dirk Naves

Reset: Reduce by Planning and Keeping Routine

Reset-DMurray-2017We continue to consider the helpful thoughts of Dr. David Murray in his newly published book Reset: Living a Grace-Paced Life in a Burnout Culture (Crossway, 2017).

Having us take the “car” of our lives into “Repair Bay 7” (remember, the author is writing mainly with men in view) Murray points us to the need to reduce the stress and busyness  of our lives by reducing our work and schedules.

There are many helpful thoughts in this chapter, but here are a few. The first involves planning:

It’s not enough to have a purpose [the previous point]. We also need plans; we have to figure out the steps we need to take to get to our goals. If we want to strengthen our marriages, what steps will accomplish that? If we want to visit all the seniors in our congregations, how many a week will we visit, what time in the week will we do it, and where will we record progress? If we want to have more time with our teenage sons, where, when, and how will we do this? It’s not going to happen without a plan. That’s why I make sure that my calendar has time set aside each week for advancing my life purposes. If it’s not on there, it’s not going to happen. If it’s not on there, I’m clearly not serious about accomplishing it.

Scheduling also helps us stop overpromising to ourselves or others. Overpromising is the fatal result of an overoptimistic view of our abilities plus an unrealistic estimate of our available time plus a well-intentioned desire to please other people. The result is megastress in the one making the promises and usually huge disappointment in the ones receiving the promises [pp.131-32].

The second thought involves keeping a routine:

‘Tell me your daily routine.’

Uh, I don’t have one. Every day is different.’

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had that conversation with burned-out pastors and depressed Christians. What came first – the depression or the chaos – is sometimes difficult to trace, but they seem to go together, each one feeding off the other.

That’s why one of the first things I do is to get them to draw up and commit to a basic routine of sleeping, worshiping, eating, working, studying, and so on. God is a God of order, not of confusion (1 Cor.14:33), and as his created image-bearers, we glorify him – and feel much happier – when we live regular, orderly lives. He made our world and us in such a way that we flourish when our lives are characterized by a basic rhythm and regularity. That’s why those who make the most progress toward their lives goals are those who work on them at the same time each day or week. That’s also why those who have the most routine in their lives are healthier and happier [p.133].

How Does Sanctification Work? A New Book and An Open Letter – D. Powlison

Crossway has recently published and is currently promoting a short book on sanctification. The title is How Does Sanctification Work? and the author is noted teacher and counselor David Powlison (executive director of Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation). I have received the book for review and make it available to someone who is interested in the subject.

On its website the publisher provides this description of the book:

Many popular views try to reduce the process of Christian growth to a single template: Remember past grace. Rehearse your identity in Christ. Avail yourself of the means of grace. Discipline yourself. But Scripture portrays the dynamics of sanctification in a rich variety of ways. No single factor, truth, or protocol can capture why and how a person is changed into the image of Christ.

Weaving together personal stories, biblical exposition, and theological reflection, David Powlison shows the personal and particular ways that God meets you where you are to produce change. He highlights the variety of factors that work together, helping us to avoid sweeping generalizations and pat answers in the search for a key to sanctification. This book is a go-to resource for understanding the multifaceted, lifelong, personal journey of sanctification.

To give you a taste of the book and the way the author approaches the subject, I quote from his “Introduction”:

…To be sanctified is to have your faith simplified, clarified, and deepened. You need God. You know God. You love God. You see life, God, yourself, others more truly. And to grow as a saint is to grow in actually loving people. How other people are doing matters increasingly to you. You care. You help.

Becoming more holy does not mean that you become ethereal, ghostly, and detached from the storms of life. It means you are becoming a wiser human being. You are learning how to deal with your money, your sexuality, your job. You are becoming a better friend and family member. When you talk, your words communicate more good sense, more gravitas, more joy, more reality. You are learning to pray honestly, bringing who God really is to the reality of human need.

And to grow in holiness does not mean that you now talk in hushed tones and every third sentence quotes the Bible. It means you live in more clear-minded hope. You know the purpose of your life, roll up your sleeves, and get about doing what needs doing. You are honestly thankful for good things. You honestly face disappointment and pain, illness and dying [p.14].

As part of their promotion, last Friday (June 2) Crossway published an “open letter” from Powlison to those struggling with their progress in holiness. This is the way that letter opens:

Dear friend,

We all love it when life leaps into forward gear and we make all kinds of progress. Problems just seem to fall away. Perhaps in your life you’ve had a season like that, a season when your life seemed to shine and flourish. Maybe it was when you first became a believer or during some period when you were very well nurtured by good community and wise input.

Then there are those seasons where things go very slowly. You wonder, “Is this all there is? Why do I keep struggling with the same old things? I keep losing my temper, or feeling anxious, or being clumsy in relationships . . . ” What vision does God give us for what our lives are supposed to look like, especially when we’re dealing with the long, hard struggle part of being a Christian? Let me say two things.

If that resonates with you, then go on to read the rest of it (cf. link below) – it will encourage you in your walk with the Lord.

Source: An Open Letter to Those Frustrated by Their Progress in Sanctification | Crossway Articles

Loving God and Our Minds – R.C. Sproul

TT-June2017-BeatitudesIn the new issue of Tabletalk, Ligonier Ministries’ devotional magazine, R.C. Sproul, Sr. has an edifying article on “Loving God with Our Minds.”

After pointing out the effects of sin on our minds, Sproul reminds us that our salvation by grace involves the renewal of our minds, and that this is in part why God calls us to love Him with all our mind.

For this Monday, as we begin our work week and the use of our minds and our hands in our God-given callings in life, Sproul’s thoughts are useful in guiding us in how to love God with our minds.

Jonathan Edwards once said that seeking after God is the main business of the Christian. And how do we seek after God? By pursuing the renewal of our minds. We don’t get the love of God from a hip replacement, a knee replacement, or even a heart transplant. The only way we can be transformed is with a renewed mind (Rom. 12:1–2). A renewed mind results from diligently pursuing the knowledge of God. If we despise doctrine, if we despise knowledge, that probably indicates that we’re still in that fallen condition where we don’t want God in our thinking. True Christians want God to dominate their thinking and to fill their minds with ideas of Himself.

Isn’t it strange that our Lord says that we are called to love God with our minds? We don’t usually speak of love in terms of an intellectual activity. In fact, most of our understanding of love in our secular culture is described in passive categories. We speak not of jumping in love but falling in love, like it was an accident.

But real love is not an involuntary thing. It is something we do purposefully based on our knowledge of the person we love. Nothing can be in the heart that is not first in the mind. And if we want to have an experience of God directly where we bypass the mind, we’re on a fool’s errand. It can’t happen. We might increase emotion, entertainment, or excitement, but we’re not going to increase the love of God because we can’t love what we don’t know. A mindless Christianity is no Christianity at all.

If we want to love God more, we have to know Him more deeply. And the more we search the Scriptures, and the more we focus our minds’ attention on who God is and what He does, the more we understand just a tiny little bit more about Him and the more our souls break out in flame. We have a greater ardor to honor Him. The more we understand God with our minds, the more we love Him with our minds.

To read the rest of the article, follow the link provided in the title above.

And, as you will see, this month’s issue is on the Beatitudes of Jesus. I have started to read those, including this one – “To Be Blessed” by Dr. Brandon D. Crowe.