Sanctification: The Expelling Power of Love

Thomas Chalmers wrote a treatise called The Expulsive Power of a New Affection. The title of this treatise sums up the difficulty of the sanctification process in a quick and accessible way.

“So to tear away an affection from the heart, as to leave it bare of all its regards and of all its preferences, were a hard and hopeless undertaking – and it would appear, as if the alone powerful engine of dispossession were to bring the mastery of another affection to bear upon it.”

Chalmers writes with depth about how casting off the burden of an old affection or sin cannot be done without the help of a new one. Article X of The New Hampshire Baptist Confession provides a complete definition of sanctification;

“We believe that Sanctification is the process by which, according to the will of God, we are made partakers of his holiness; that it is a progressive work; that it is begun in regeneration; and that it is carried on in the hearts of believers by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, the Sealer and Comforter, in the continual use of the appointed means—especially the Word of God, self-examination, self-denial, watchfulness, and prayer.”

The heart of believers is the battlefield that the process of sanctification is fought. All three aspects of the dynamic heart can be used to relate this doctrine to everyday life. God is the primary actor in sanctification in the person of the Holy Spirit. However, humans have a role as well, a passive and an active role. Each role will be examined and considered using this understanding of sanctification.

God’s Role

“The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord” (Prov 21:3).

There are three main actors in the sanctification process displayed in the New Testament. “Sanctified by God the Father” (Jude 1). “Sanctified in Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:2). “Through sanctification of the Spirit” (1 Peter 1:2). Each person of the Trinity serve in changing believers to become more holy. God the Father has the role of disciplining His children for them to become more holy (Heb 12:5-11). He provides the desire to want to do His will. “for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil 2:13). God the Son that earns our sanctification. He is also our example (1 Pet 2:21). God the Holy Spirit is the one who works within us to change us and sanctify us to greater holiness (2 Thess 2:13, Gal 5:22-23). Therefore, we read Proverbs 21:3 seeing that we are to ready ourselves for battle but only the work of God can truly win the victory over sin, since He works inside us and outside us to greater holiness.

Human’s Passive Role

The passive role can be considered one of trust, or surrender. Thomas Chalmers makes this clear by describing what he calls the ‘moralist’ who attempts to either use knowledge to expulse an affection or to attempt to withdraw attention to that affection that is unwanted. Chalmers calls the moralist’s approach ineffectual due to our constitution as humans. The only way to remove an old love is by looking on a new and better object to desire. The only object that can be greater than the world is He who created the world (1 John 5:4-5). Our first step is to walk by faith through the mediation of Christ Jesus. We are to yield to God in prayer asking to be sanctified in Him (Rom 6:13). We are to remain dependent on Him “to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil 2:13).

To enjoy this truth practically there can be no better writer than Richard Baxter in his Christian Directory. Baxter lays out what he calls ‘contemplative’ and ‘active’ duties for life. A person that is seeking sanctification in the passive role should follow many of these directions as expressed by Baxter. To start a posture of humility and learning should be foremost in the life of a Christian. The more mature a Christian is in life the humbler he is, because he knows how little he knows. Expect trials to come and do not be discouraged by them. Endure through them, trials build holiness (1 Peter 4:12-13, Rom 5:3-5). While in these trials it is helpful to meditate on this verse;But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Co 12:8–9). Paul suffered many trials and imprisonment, yet his comfort was in Christ.

The hope gained through the endurance of trials is vital to the process of sanctification. When in a time of suffering or trials follow the lead of David in Psalm 77:2 “In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted.” Yet David was not abandoned and remained a man after God’s own heart. Passive sanctification is trust in the goodness of God.

Human’s Active Role

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord (Heb 12:14). This passage encourages us to actively pursue holiness. There are numerous passages in the New Testament that provide information on specific aspects of holiness (Rom 12: 1– 13: 14; Eph 4: 17– 6: 20; Phil 4: 4– 9; Col 3: 5– 4: 6; 1 Peter 2: 11– 5: 11). A careful inquiry into these passages provide specific actions to take in the quest for sanctification. While it is true we can prepare, and work actively it is only through the work of the Triune God that any change occurs. The three functional areas in the dynamic heart are highlighted.

Romans 12:1-13 contains all three aspects. In verse one we are encouraged to present(volition) our bodies as living sacrifices for spiritual worship. Worship is a key element in the human life, we are creatures that worship something, here we are encouraged to worship God. In verse two how this worship plays out in the heart comes into view. The renewal of the mind(cognitive) and discerning the will of God is stated. We are given the grace of the Triune God to make sober judgment and be humble. It is necessary to know and seek out our gifting in which to serve His purpose. In verses 9-12 Paul uses affective language to describe the marks of a Christian. Love is commanded to be genuine, abhorring evil, fervent in spirit to serve the Lord. Serving the Lord brings out the worship concept again.

Conclusion

Sanctification is a combined work of man and God. Only with God is it possible to become sanctified. Sanctification involves the whole heart both actively and passively. How a person orders their life in the passive sense influences the heart. When actively working for sanctification all three parts of the dynamic heart are involved. Knowing the process of sanctification aids the believer in becoming more like Christ.

References

Adams, Jay E. A Theology of Christian Counseling: More than Redemption. Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resource Library, 1986.

 C. H. Spurgeon, “Threefold Sanctification,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 8 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1862), 85.

Grudem, Wayne A.. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (p. 746). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

Lambert, Heath. A Theology of Biblical Counseling: The Doctrinal Foundations of Counseling Ministry. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2016.

Pierre, Jeremy. The Dynamic Heart in Daily Life: Connecting Christ to Human Experience. Greensboro, NC: New Growth Press, 2016.

Chalmers, Thomas. “THE EXPULSIVE POWER OF A NEW AFFECTION.” Accessed July 12, 2018. https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/sdg/Chalmers,%20Thomas%20-%20The%20Exlpulsive%20Power%20of%20a%20New%20Af.pdf

Walter A. Elwell and Barry J. Beitzel, “Sanctification,” Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1988), 1898.

Rowing or Sailing in Ministry?

The Desperate Need for Biblical Counseling in Church Revitalization 

By Matthew Statler

The last thing I want to do is add additional burdens to the hardworking pastor, church work and in particular church revitalization can feel like rowing a boat. When you hear the exhortation from the biblical counseling world, or read books like Competent to Counsel you may nod your head but know in your heart you are already overwhelmed. I want to encourage you to raise the sail of biblical counseling and watch what God does. 

The personal ministry of the Word is sometimes a neglected element in church revitalization. There are so many other things that demand our time. I was convinced of Biblical Counseling before arriving at my current church, but experience confirms to me the desperate need for biblical counseling in dying churches. Biblical counseling can often be the sail that catches the wind, it should not control the direction of the church, but it can move the church in a healthy direction. Not only that but it will also take some of the pressure off of you in the long run. Why should you as a leader in a local church counsel biblically? I can think of at least five reasons. 

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Hurt People

Our communities are hurting, from pandemics to riots to mandates everyone and anyone has an opinion. People are tired and wounded. Some are hurt because they lack any biblical or church foundation, they have never developed spiritual disciplines, and are sheep astray. They experience worry and fear, they are downcast and full of sorrow. Many have lost loved ones and are grieving. A church website that offers biblical counseling can be a great opportunity to bring in some of these sheep and help them grow in their faith. Good biblical counseling in a church can encourage healthy one-anothering. Some of our best volunteers have received biblical counseling and are now reaching out to others. What a beautiful picture of redemption, the broken telling the broken about the Good Shepherd (John 4). 

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Sinful People

What do you do with ingrained sinful habits? I have heard some pastors exclaim; “That’s above my pay grade!” When asked to deal with an adulterous husband and a hurt wife. These things should not be so! We can offer hope through Christ, by confession and repentance and faith there can be renewal and reconciliation. In fact, that is our ministry (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)! A church that is in revitalization has men and women who have settled into preferred sin patterns, partiality, gossip, and laziness all abound. In my ministry, I have done more biblical counseling sitting in the sanctuary and talking with an older saint about sin struggles and our calling in Christ than I have sitting in my office. The training and instruction that comes from certification with ACBC provide immeasurable help in navigating delicate conversations. 

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Preaching Benefits

Preaching the Word is the primary task of the Pastor and the church (2 Timothy 4:2). Public proclamation corrects many of the errors a church in need of revitalization has, however, I have noticed that when I take the truth preached and engage one on one with a church member that truth becomes practical and useful.

We must follow the example of Paul in Acts 20:17-38 and preach the whole counsel of God and also warn individually and personally each person we can. This makes our preaching much more intimate. Think of the tears of the Ephesian Elders in Acts 20, but also our preaching is more specific to the struggles our people are facing. One of the most poignant moments over these last few years was when counseling an older woman who was suffering the effects of aging. I was able to mention in one of my sermons through Titus that we are waiting for the blessed hope (Titus 2:13) and that even though our bodies are failing we have something greater. The counseling and the preaching of the Word impacted her so much that she was no longer gloomy but had an unspeakable joy. 

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Scalable

Biblical Counseling in the local church is scalable. Most pastors I know are occupied with many tasks. It is hard to consider adding counseling into the mix. If you are the only staff member of a church it can be hard to find the time to counsel. God is gracious that when we act in obedience to His Word He provides the means and the time. Meeting with one church member or community member a week for scheduled and specific biblical counseling is manageable for most of us.

Not only that inviting an elder to sit in and learn will multiply your efforts as you equip that elder to do counseling. The main point is that our counseling does not have to be expansive it can be simple. As you graduate counselees you should be setting up home groups or small groups. These groups often put into practice the biblical principles that were taught in counseling. 

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Diminishing and Increasing Returns

The beauty of biblical counseling in the local church is that as the pulpit ministry strengthens the congregation, the counseling needs of the body begin to diminish. The more I exposit Scripture the more equipped the congregation is in Titus 2 ministry, the older teaching the younger. What I have found is that the church members are handling most of the care in their small groups. They only reach out to the pastor and elders when there is a complicated issue that is not resolved easily. This increases our outward focus as more and more it is members of the community are reaching out for help. This becomes a means of evangelism as well as church growth. Community members that do not have a local church home are expected to attend worship with our congregation. This develops relationships and in turn, leads to a community. 

As you can see biblical counseling is hard work because it is heart work. Yet this rewarding effort can be a benefit to any church but is increasingly helpful to a church in revitalization. I don’t know about you but I would rather sail than row. 

We want to help you! Sign up for a Biblical Counseling Fundamentals Class! Here

4 Digital Tools for Spiritual Change

I love Bibles, I like quality paper and perfect font settings. I like them wrapped in leather, I like the smell of an old Bible. I am in no way saying toss out your Bible and use digital Bibles. Both my hardcopy Bibles and my digital Bibles see much use. I have found technology to provide very useful tools to increase my time in Scripture no matter the medium. So here are a few tools I used last year. 

Prayer

Last year I used an app called Prayermate. This app allows you to subscribe to feeds like Open Doors others to focus your prayer for the world. You can also set up “cards” with each family member, co-worker ect. It also has reminders to alert you to pray throughout the day. Needless to say this can encourage better prayer. 

One aspect I use is Donald Whitney’s praying the Bible, each day you are given five Psalms to choose from and to pray. 

Bible reading

I use Logos Bible software for study, teaching and school. However, for just reading Scripture the You version Bible app is the most enjoyable. It has many plans you can read from and enjoy. You can read as a group or individual. You can modify the view to suit your comfort (large font for aging guys like me). 

Bible memorization

There are so many great memorization apps out there. 

I use Verses Bible Memory App

It is packed full of features and Bible versions. It offers a notification setting to remind you to practice. It has games to help you to memorize, it has a word bank where you can drag a word to a specific line in the verse, or a type out section and even offers a listen option. By engaging more of your senses to help you memorize. 

Evangelism

If you have never shared the Gospel with someone, this year is the time to do it. While the best methods are the most natural methods it can help to have a tool to help you. The North American Mission Board has produced an app called Life Conversation Guide

This app can guide you through God’s Design, Our Brokenness and the Gospel. This year make it a goal to share the Gospel, once, twice, once a month, make a goal and make a plan to do it. 

Whatever you do this year I would encourage you to get in God’s Word.

Is Scripture sufficient for Counseling? With one objection answered.

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The phone rang, and as I picked it up, I wondered who was calling me this late. After the initial greetings, he dropped the question he called to ask; “Pastor, do you have some time this week to meet with me?” I responded in the affirmative, asking what it was concerning.

He responded, ” I have this uncontrollable habit; I have tried everything and can’t seem to shake it. It’s consuming my life and likely going to end my marriage.”

As a Pastor, I get this call often, and it could be anything from broken relationships to sinful habits to great tragedy. Where do you turn to provide help to others? Many of us claim we believe the Bible is sufficient for all of life, but many do not function as if we do. How easy would it be to call in the “experts”? You could say, “whoa, sounds like a difficult problem. Have you called a psychiatrist?” But shouldn’t a people inquire of their God? (Isa 8:19) God’s word offers hope and life; let us look at what the Bible says.

Sufficiency

The sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture contains all the words of God He intended His people to have at each stage of redemptive history and that it now contains everything we need God to tell us for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly. (2 Tim. 3:16–17). Sufficiency of Scripture reminds us that nothing is a sin that is not forbidden by Scripture either explicitly or by implication. To walk in the law of the Lord is to be “blameless” (Ps. 119:1).

            Sufficiency may be characterized by four categories; Progressive Sufficiency, Completed Sufficiency, Formal Sufficiency, and Material Sufficiency. Each of these has an impact on the practice of biblical counseling.

Progressive Sufficiency

Progressive sufficiency, also called general sufficiency, means that everything revealed at that time is the amount of information for God’s people is sufficient for the time in which they are. The special revelation of Scripture to Moses was all that was needed for him to live a life that was pleasing to God. For God’s people today, there are sixty-six books, a treasure trove to help us learn how to honor God. In biblical counseling, we have an enormous amount of resources in the Scriptures. 

Completed Sufficiency

Completed sufficiency explains that God’s work in redemption has completed the canon. God has been adding to the canon up until the completed work of Jesus Christ (Heb 1:1-4). This doctrine of completed sufficiency provides the biblical counselor with trust and thankfulness in the completed nature of Scripture.

Formal Sufficiency

Formal sufficiency expresses that everything needed to interpret Scripture is included in Scripture. Scripture interprets Scripture. For a biblical counselor, all instruction must be grounded in Scripture.

Material Sufficiency

Material sufficiency explains the idea that everything necessary to live life and honor God is in Scripture. This is encouraging for the biblical counselor since, by it, we may know that we have all the resources we need. However, some Christian counselors do not affirm sufficiency. 

Objection

“While the Bible provides us with life’s most important and ultimate answers as well as the starting points for knowledge of the human condition, it is not an all-sufficient guide for the discipline of counseling. The Bible is inspired and precious, but it is also a revelation of limited scope, the main concern of which is religious in its presentation of God’s redemptive plan for people and the great doctrines of the faith.” (Jones, Stanton Modern Psychotherapies: A Comprehensive Christian Appraisal (Christian Association for Psychological Studies Partnership).

Response

This statement is a rejection of sufficiency, in particular material sufficiency. Jones rejects the notion that Scripture can be sufficient for counseling because it is limited to doctrines and redemption. However, Jones is wrong. Yes, Scripture contains words more specific to doctrines and redemption. If we examine counseling as one person with trouble or problems seeking assistance from another, this is exactly what the Bible is concerned with. The Bible is about the problems humans face, and it provides God’s solutions. This does not deny that there are other rich resources outside of Scripture. It means that only Scripture is necessary and has the answers needed to engage with counseling problems in all of life. 

Back to the late-night phone call, the Bible is sufficient to deal with problems that concern all of life. I have seen it restore relationships in marriage and families. I have seen it help those with PTSD, anxiety, pornography, etc. I have yet to find a human situation that the Bible does not speak to, not in a simplistic way, but in a way that is more robust than any secular option.


A question I like to ask is; what is Scripture NOT sufficient for?

What do you think? Do you think there is something that the Bible is not sufficient for?

Don’t Waste Your Trauma! (Part 5)

Consider these earlier musings on trauma. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4,

How God uses bad things for good.

“I dare not say but my Lord Jesus hath fully recompensed my sadness with his joys, my losses with his own presence. I find it a sweet and rich thing to exchange my sorrows with Christs joys, my afflictions with that sweet peace I have with himself.”

– Samuel Rutherford

A great comfort to me when I consider affliction and hardships is how God uses all things for good.

Romans 8:28 says: “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”

Musing 1: Painful circumstances work for good.

We are comforted in knowing God, whose character is good. Job is instructive to us in how God works. Job says; “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” Who gives and takes away? The Lord is the one who ultimately controls all things, even the Devil is the Lord’s devil.

Why is this comforting? Think about the alternative, God is not in control, the evil that happens is solely the result of circumstances and the devil. We are at the mercy of Satan and whatever he wants. God then is subservient to the will of Satan or evil. It makes God have to respond to and use what is broken and repair it.

But what if there is an alternative? What if Scripture teaches God is in control of all things, yet not the author of evil.

The Second London Baptist Confession of Faith puts it this way: “God the good Creator of all things, in His infinite power and wisdom does uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures and things, from the greatest even to the least. By His most wise and holy providence, to the end for the which, they were created, according to unto His infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of His own will; to the praise of the glory of His wisdom, power, justice, infinite goodness, and mercy.” Chapter 5 (https://1689londonbaptistconfession.com/5)

Good News!

All this leads up to the good news, God is the Surgeon with a scalpel using afflictions. God cuts out the tumor with affliction. Or think about chemotherapy, poisonous chemicals that in the wrong hands are deadly, but with the right hands are medicinal.

This is the message of 1 Peter 1:6–7 (CSB): You rejoice in this, even though now for a short time, if necessary, you suffer grief in various trials so that the proven character of your faith—more valuable than gold which, though perishable, is refined by fire—may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

We see this plainly in life, physical fitness, “No pain, no gain,” muscles have to tear to grow stronger, to be stretched and rebuilt. Pain produces growth.

An interesting experiment was done in Arizona called the Biodome, scientists wanted to see how to set up life on another planet so they made a big dome and tried to control the environment. The trees that were planted there grew but eventually fell over. They needed the wind to blow on them and cause them to grow deeper roots, but because they were planted without adversity they grew shallow and fell over.

Beneficial afflictions

Scripture gives us numerous examples of providences that seem to be damaging and that are instead beneficial. Joseph was thrown into a pit, later sold into slavery and finally accused of adultery and thrown into prison. Eventually, he was made second in charge of Egypt. His placement allowed many people in the land to survive the upcoming famine. In the end, he tells his brothers, “What you meant for evil, God meant for good (Gen 50:20). Or Job (Job 42:10), or Paul who persecuted the church and was blinded by God so that the light of grace would shine into a conversion (Acts 9:6). The largest example of this in the Bible is that of Jesus on the cross, what seemed like a massive failure was actually a great victory. What man meant for evil God planned for good.

So affliction or our trauma is a teacher. It teaches us to understand, we understand what sin is. The heinous nature of sin is shown in the damage it does to everyone. Most people won’t take a diagnosis of illness seriously until it begins to hurt them. God let’s loose affliction which helps us realize its bitterness.

Many of us have a low view of sin. We think it is a mistake or just a lapse. The reality is it is worse than cancer, it is poison it is of eternal damage to us and everyone around us.

God uses affliction to give us corrective eye surgery so we can see sin for what it is, cosmic rebellion against The Holy and Perfect God.

It also teaches us to know ourselves. When things are going just right we don’t know our true nature. But when things happen to us, when we experience trauma our true nature shines through, our impatience, our unbelief, our lack of trust in God all come to the surface. It is not until we are afflicted that we see how corrupt our heart is. It is not until we cough blood that we see our illness as serious needing radical amputation or surgery.

Purpose for our afflictions

The purpose of our afflictions, or we could say afflictions work for good as they conform us to Christ. This is what Romans 8:28-29 show us. The purpose of all of this is to make us more like Christ. Thomas Watson wrote; “God’s rod is a pencil, to draw Christ’s image more lively upon us.” It is good to be like Christ even though the road to get there is by suffering. The cup Christ drank was bitter, and the wrath of God poured out on Him. Christ’s sufferings satisfied the wrath of God, while ours are only corrective.

Painful circumstances work for good to those who love God, because they are destructive to sin. Once again it is like chemotherapy for the cancer of sin. This chemo helps us hold to the things of this world less tightly.

If you have ever had to move a big boulder you know that to displace it you need to dig up around it before it budges. God digs up our earthly comforts to loosen our attachment to the lesser things we cling to.

A result of all of this is that we have greater comfort, better peace more hope. Our sorrow will become joy! (John 16:20). What we reap in tears will be harvested with joy. Our parents discipline us in order to prosper us, what an amazing thought that God our Father would discipline us in order to correct and guide us.

How circumstances work for good

So how do painful circumstances work for good? They draw us nearer to God, they sanctify us. God sets our earthly comforts on fire so that we run to Him the true source of comfort.

Another benefit of affliction or trauma is that it sets an example for unbelievers. How often do unbelievers talk down to believers because of prosperity? They say things like; “You serve God only because you want the benefits, you are only a pastor because you can’t get a real job.” But when God’s people endure suffering the atheists of the world see that God has a people who serve Him out of love alone. The devil accused Job of being a hypocrite because Job was well blessed by God. Job still worshiped his God even when all his comforts and joys were taken.

Painful circumstances work for good, by preparing us for eternal life, they don’t earn this eternal life, but prepare us for it, 2 Cor 4:17. The comforts of this life prevent us from the comforts that are found in Christ. We cling to earthly joys and hopes and never set our hearts on heaven. This life is a desert wilderness in preparation for the promised land. We don’t earn salvation or glory through suffering, but it does prepare us for it.

Musing 2: Temptations work for good

Satan is called many names, but Tempter is one of his primary duties. He lies in ambush and works on whatever Christian he can find. I could write more about the means and methods and extent of Satan’s temptations, however, I would rather give you an illustration. Satan is like a skilled fisherman, he knows what bait to use, where to cast, the best times and dates and hours. He baits the hook with care and knows when to cast out his line and when to pull it in. He has thousands of years of experience. Not only that he enlists others into his service by enticing others to get in on the temptations.

One of his tricks is to come as an angel of light with Scripture in his mouth, twisting it to suit his needs. He approached Jesus this way in the wilderness. He quoted Scripture and tried to entice Jesus to use His power for personal gain and glory. Jesus of course did not fall into the trap.

Yet Satan’s tricks are subtle and are often hard to avoid. He can implant thoughts into the mind he put it into Judas’ heart to betray Christ (John 13:2). Satan can corrupt and work within the heart to embrace temptation. The Devil cannot override the will but he can provoke or incite others to evil (1 Chronicles 21:1).

Eight ways God overrules temptations

Yet God even uses this for good. Thomas Watson writes that there are eight ways God overrules temptations for good.

1. Temptation sends the soul to prayer. We should be driven to pray more the more we are tempted. In combat when you are shot at you tend to run faster than if you were on a daily jog. We should pray more when Satan is shooting at us. Anything that makes us pray more is a good thing!

2. Temptation to sin is used to keep us from acting on it. The more you are tempted, the more you fight against that temptation. Satan spurs temptation and we are more prone to resist. Think about when someone makes a rule you disagree with, the more they push it, the more you resist.

3. Temptation is an antidote to pride. The older I get the more disappointed I am in myself when I fall prey to temptation. I should know better. It is humbling to me to have to fight off old temptations.

4. Temptation tests our hearts, it reveals what is inside. When I feel tempted it is because something inside me is out of order. Consider this, if I did not like Ford pickups and someone offered me a Ford pickup I would not have any inclination to do what they wanted me to do to get it. This is how sin works, if there wasn’t something inside us that wanted it, we wouldn’t be tempted. So it points out our corruption.

5. Temptation makes us able to help those who experience similar temptations. If you have temptations you know how they work in you. You become more aware of how different situations affect you. Paul of course provides the example, 2 Corinthians 2:11 (CSB): so that we may not be taken advantage of by Satan. For we are not ignorant of his schemes.

You become like an expert tour guide able to bring people through dangerous areas watching out for errors and circumstances.

6. Temptation makes us more compassionate to others. When one of our kids gets sick we tend to baby them more than the others who are well. When we suffer a particular temptation we are much more helpful to those who are under it.

7. Temptations make us long for heaven. Temptations make us long for home, where we aren’t being shot at. Think about a Soldier on deployment who longs to be home. A soldier cherishes his home all the more because it is safe.

8. Temptation makes us lean on Christ more. Christ is our friend and when we are tempted His power works in us. We are more than conquers with Christ Jesus, (Romans 8:37).

As you can see there are many ways God uses temptations for our good. I would add that if we fall prey to temptation we can be grieved by it so much that we never want to look at it again. I know some people who come out of bondage to sin, once they broke free they avoided it for the rest of their lives preventing long-lasting enslavement. God uses that for our good as well. By opening our eyes to the deceitful mess of sin.

Musing 3: The Sins of others work for our good

1. God overrules the sins of others for our good. They produce holy sorrow, we weep for those who rush headlong into destruction. We mourn for those who are in rebellion against God. If shows that we have a Christ-like heart, Christ wept for the hardness of the people (Mark 3:5).

2. The sins of others make us pray more, when people sin against us we pray in the pain that was caused against us. When I read the Psalms I see David often crying out in His pain and suffering when others do him harm. When family members or loved ones rebel against God we are inclined to pray more for them as our heartbreaks.

3. The sins of others make us more joyous when they turn from them. Think about the joy we have when our children turn from a wicked path. We celebrate when people turn from sin and wickedness. But when we see someone else’s sin we also are less interested in it. Think about how another person’s pride makes us want to be humble. Or watching an angry person makes us more careful not to emulate their temper tantrums.

The list could continue but I think you get the idea, that sin is a poison that corrupts everything and needs a sovereign antidote. The worse sin is the more we see our need for a Savior. We prize Christ more.

As you can see, we could write more about this, and in much greater detail. The summary of this shows us that God works all things for good, good, and bad things. Suffering and sin all work for good.

This may not be an immediately comforting truth, it takes time to dwell on and meditate on. Think about it and dwell on it.

It takes time

These truths may take some time to provide comfort. For me, I needed these truths. The book of Job shows us that in times of suffering and hardship we need a big God. The end of the book of Job is comforting as it shows us who God is. Read Job chapter 38 to the end.

What about you? Do find comfort in knowing who God really is?

Don’t Waste Your Trauma! (Part 4)

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3,

God works both good things and bad things for the good of His people.

Let us look at Romans 8.

“We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” Romans 8:27–29

“I find crosses Christ’s carved work that he marketh out for us, and that with crosses he figureth and portrayeth us to his own image, cutting away pieces of our ill and corruption. Lord cut, Lord carve, Lord wound, Lord do anything that may perfect thy Father’s image in us, and make us meet for glory.”

Samuel Rutherford

Let’s start with the character of God, in particular God’s attributes.

First

God’s power works for good. We know for God to be God He must be all powerful. God doesn’t use His power in an arbitrary way. Col 1:11 tells us that God uses His might to strengthen us (His people) to endure. He supports us and supplies our needs. The Bible gives us examples of God’s power interceding and uplifting His people. 2 Tim 4 has Paul claiming that though everyone abandoned him left him to face trial by himself, God stood with him. Who brought the Israelites out of Egypt and through the Red Sea? How did the early Christians endure affliction, yet rejoice in it? They were strengthened by weakness (2 Cor 12:9).

A favorite passage of mine is Elijah being sustained by God. 1 Kings. Elijah has a great victory yet goes into the wilderness depressed and God provides food and water for him while he rests and gets restored. When we are weakest God often brings revival. When our comforts are declining and the sun is setting God often restores and rejuvenates us, showing God’s great strength.

Second

God’s Wisdom works for good. Because God is the source of all wisdom, we can rest assured and be comforted by the fact that His is the Wonderful Counselor (Isa 9:6). In matters of confusion and complexity God’s Word, the Bible, is the only fully reliable source of knowledge. In a world of fake news and constant political and social machinations we need a sure foundation of hope.

Third

God’s goodness works for good. God’s goodness is to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4). It can be an instrument in helping us turn away from lesser goods to the one who is truly good! While both those who belong to God and those who don’t experience God’s goodness, the rain falls on both the righteous and the wicked, we can enjoy them even more without guilt. We recognize it is fully a gift, no strings attached.

God who doesn’t lie also promises that our afflictions will work for good. 2 Peter 1:4: “By these he has given us very great and precious promises, so that through them you may share in the divine nature, escaping the corruption that is in the world because of evil desire.”

A Great Comfort

They are a great comfort to us when we suffer. If we are full of guilt for sin God promises that is we confess it He will forgive completely but also cleanses us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9). What great comfort that we can be forgiven anything! When we feel the heavy weight of sin, Christ takes it on Himself. The mercy of God is not exhausted. God gives us mercy but also grace.

What about when we are overwhelmed? God promises to be with us (Psalm 91:15). He does not lead us into trouble to leave us there, but to strengthen us in Him! This is such a joy inducing reality, we can turn to the one who delights to give us good things! (Psalm 34:10) God’s promises are certified checks, is it too much to go to the source and deposit it?

God’s good character and promises work for our good, for those who love God. Think about Romans 8 with me. Paul says, “We know that all things work together for good.” “We know” says Paul. Paul has experienced this first hand, it is not just a man writing a letter about some future hope, but real, personal boots on the ground experience. Paul is like a beggar who found the one restaurant in town that gives away free food. He is trying to tell everyone where to get fed! God’s promises are food, food that strengthens our faith. We need to go to them for the milk of faith. We can be strengthened by going to the Word. They are springs of living water for thirsty men in the hot desert.

Paul goes on and says, “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” Notice that they work together, they are not made good things, God isn’t taking evil and making it less evil, He is using it. It is an instrument in His hands to cut the cancer from our hearts. Think of it, in a serial killer a scalpel can be a dangerous weapon, but in the hands of a surgeon it is a tool to remove deadly growths. God as the Great Physician can use all things for our good. Martin Luther said that the Devil is God’s devil. If you read the first few chapters of Job the Devil has to ask God for permission. God is not powerless but all powerful and He has a purpose for our trauma, affliction, and suffering.

But we need to not miss this, the good worked is for, “those who love God and are called according to His purpose.”

Going Home

We must be counted as those who love God. The second post covered this, but let’s expand on this thought. When I was deployed and it was time for leave or a return to home, I was willing to endure any discomfort to get home to my loved ones, to my wife! A long flight, no problem. Sleeping on the floor at some midpoint airbase, I’ll joyfully lay here until they call me. Cargo nets for seats, 10-14 hours? No problem I am going home!

So if we love God no discomfort is too great for us. God has a purpose in all this. We are called for this. He has a purpose. If we believe that, then we can trust God even when the bad things work for our good.

We will see next time how God works bad things for our good.

How does this perspective help you deal with the struggles in your life?

Don’t Waste Your Trauma (Pt 3)

Musings on Trauma (Part 3)

Part 1, Part 2.

Trauma is difficult to define. For one thing trauma and it’s effects can be very subjective. Trauma is defined by Merriam-Webster as “A very difficult or unpleasant experience that causes someone to have mental or emotional problems.” Honestly, that could mean anything and is in many ways completely subjective. So what do we do with trauma? For one thing let us examine what is a traumatic event. It is an experience that is shocking, scary, or dangerous. Disasters like floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, and natural destruction. Violence (a universal human phobia) like assault, abuse, terrorist attacks, shootings, rape, car accidents and injuries. All these can be shocking, scary, or dangerous. So these events have some type of affect on us. Or Psychology Today’s definition ”Trauma is a person’s emotional response to a distressing experience.” Not super helpful for our purposes.

As a Christian I believe that the Bible speaks to all of life. The Bible is full of traumatic events, floods, famines, war, rape, torture, death and threat of death. The Bible doesn’t shy away from the hard parts of life, it is real and raw. The Bible calls these type of things afflictions, or suffering, all part of living in a fallen and broken world. So instead of traumatic events let us just call it suffering or affliction, this seems to be helpful language shift.

Now what about the rest of the original definition of trauma? “Causes someone to have mental or emotional problems” once again vague, what problems arise from suffering and affliction? Feeling anxious, sad, or angry, trouble concentrating, difficulty sleeping or staying asleep, thinking about what happened, or obtrusive unwanted thoughts. Wisdom tells us that this is a normal response to these types of troubles. However, sometimes we are affected long after our experience and it begins to damage our lives, either relationships, or daily life.

Now I want to be clear sometimes our daily life needs to be disrupted for reasons we will get into later, but for now we are looking at definitions.

Have you had a traumatic experience? Most people will be afflicted in some way. Man is born to trouble (Job 5:7). How did it affect you? How long have you been afflicted? Reoccurring memories? Night-terrors? Trouble thinking clearly? The truth is a lot of this is normal since our bodies are made to respond naturally. Responding physically to danger before my mind has to think through it can save my life! Hitting the ground when a sound goes off is a mechanism for safety. While it can be awkward when unwanted or unwarranted it is still a natural response.

Sometimes our response to affliction or an event that causes suffering will fade away over time. But sometimes it doesn’t. So how do we move forward?

If you were like me, your experience is that you feel trapped or in bondage to the past. You are trapped by bad memories and experiences and no matter where you run, you are like a hamster on a wheel, your mind spins but gets no traction. You are stuck in a pattern and you cannot get out. I have been there. I know what it is like to be numb, to isolate, to be angry, to start fights just to FEEL something again. I know what it is like to wake up in night sweats screaming and crying and overwhelmed with shame. To look at my children and wonder, what’s the point of it all? If that is you then keep walking this journey with me.

I need to tell you my approach, hopefully by now you are willing to listen even if you disagree.

My thesis is this, “The afflictions we experience are for the purpose of making us more like Christ”

I believe Scripture is clear on this. Take Romans 8:28-29 for example: “We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.”

All things in life work together, ALL. If you belong to God through Jesus Christ then there is a purpose, a purpose in suffering a purpose in affliction, a purpose in what the Christian has gone through and is going through.

Not only that, but we are predestined to experience these things, for the purpose of being conformed to the image of His Son! We go through the trials and hardships that we do in order to be restored to the image of God that we were created to be like. This is incredibly good news! God uses our suffering and affliction for a reason. It is not fate, or Karma, or bad luck, it has a purpose. To believe that is to believe God’s Word. But it’s not easy, in fact if you are in pain or suffering affliction in the moment, then this might not be the most comforting truth. But, it is a foundational truth that we need.

One of my favorite Psalms for when I am hurting, or when Night-terrors bother me is Psalm 119. The verses that relate to this are 67 and 71.

67: Before I was afflicted I went astray,

but now I keep your word.

71: It was good for me to be afflicted

so that I could learn your statutes.

Like the Psalmist, I can say that the hard things I experienced in combat and war was good for me. I didn’t say pleasant, but good. The afflictions I experienced lead me to find greater joy in Christ. The more I learn to respond to the traumatic events in my life with the eyes of faith, the more I become like Christ. When I respond to life by faith (trust) in a Good and Sovereign God, I cannot only survive but thrive.

John Piper wrote a book called “Don’t Waste Your Cancer” I like the theme so much I want to use the title “Don’t Waste Your Trauma!”

How about you? Can you say you wont waste your trauma? Or do you need further inducement? Maybe, we can take the path of the Puritans, those Soul Doctors who studied Scripture, God and Man and created a healthy soup that rejuvenates souls?

Thomas Watson writes that all things work for good to the godly, the best things, the worst things. Not only that God’s purpose in this provides great comfort to those who build their life on this impregnable rock. So if you want some heavy reading, get “All Things for Good” by Thomas Watson.

Or read the next part where we talk about how the best things work together for the good and comfort of those who belong to Christ.

Don’t Waste Your Trauma!

Musings on Trauma (Part 1)

A month ago I was digging in my toolbox and my finger ran across a moderately dull blade. I felt it grind against my skin and into my finger. I immediately yanked my hand back and put pressure on it, cleaned it, and bandaged it. However, it was a pretty deep cut and eventually scarred my finger. The other day I was reading to my children and I felt the same sensation of the blade running across my hand, it was as if I was back in the garage digging through the toolbox. Even though my hand is healed my mind remembers the experience.

This is a good thing since it keeps me from foolishly leaving blades in my toolbox as well as not digging through it with my hand. But these reminders of an injury or experience are not unusual to me. I often have flashbacks from my time in combat, I have learned to control them for the most part and not respond. My mind may go to an old place but my body remains mostly still.

It is indeed true that the body keeps a score1

God has created our bodies to respond to stimuli in amazing ways. We respond before we even think. Imagine having to think before you take each step, about what muscles to balance and tighten as you take the step. God gives us an immediate response system that is completely natural. Yet when we experience a startling event, sometimes we respond before we have time to think about it.

Any Iraq/Afghanistan War veteran could explain to you the dangers of roadside bombs called IEDs. Disguised as trash or a pile of dirt a startling explosion on an otherwise boring patrol could be classified as a startling event. Your body tenses up for impact, you may jerk the wheel away from it or try to steer clear. If you have one or more of these experiences your body has learned to respond before you can mentally tell your body to act. This is a wonderful response for our survival.

Yet take the scenario of dad in the minivan with his kids in the back and wife in the passenger seat, maybe they had an argument and dad is tense, and a plastic bag or pile of trash is sitting on the side of the road. Dad jerks the wheel without thinking to avoid the upcoming explosion. We hear about this response all the time. Or you are at a birthday party and a balloon pops, next thing you know dad has adrenaline coursing through his veins looking to fight someone.

Unwanted responses to trauma

These unwanted responses can be scary if you don’t know what to expect. You might think, “Man I am too dangerous to drive”, or possibly, “I just need to stay away from people.” Isolate. Or you put on a “dysfunctional Veteran” shirt and try to look mean.

There are so many perspectives to such a complex yet natural experience. Should I stop reading to my kids because my finger mentally aches and I shiver at the thought of the blade running down my finger. Do I forego my kid’s birthday party because I might respond in an embarrassing way? Should I put the burden of driving on my wife because I might have a flashback (maybe depending on how often you have flashbacks)? Do I adopt the identity of the dysfunctional Veteran? If I am diagnosed with PTSD am I truly disordered? Can I help with it? Is this the new normal?

What if there was a better way? What if there was a way to move from victim to victor? What if instead of Post-Traumatic Stress you had Post-Traumatic Growth? What do you think?

You might be objecting, I tried it all, Cognitive behavioral therapy (didn’t work for me either), EMDR (Once again failed for me), I’m on all the medications (same, only dulled a few senses). All secular therapies failed me.

What if I told you my problem, and very likely yours, is more than physical, no matter how many chemical experiments they do on your brain, or how much therapy, you will still struggle? What if it is something more, what if it is a heart issue, that is your soul is disordered?

That would be great news! Since Jesus Christ promises to transform us! The promise is for me, and for you! (Ezekiel 11:19)

Here is the BLUF (bottom line up front), it is not easy, it is not quick, and just dealing with your symptoms is not the ultimate goal. It will require you to get humble, like back to Basic Training kind of humble, what you think you know is probably wrong, you need a new way of thinking, a new way of doing, and a new way of being. Only God can do this for us.

Are you done dealing with your struggles like you are playing Call of Duty? Are you ready for real combat? Join me in these next few posts as I seek to unpack my experience of healing and transformation!

(1) A., V. der K. B. (2015). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind, and body in the healing of trauma. Penguin Books. 

Growth in Christlikeness.

There is a start to sanctification (growth into Christlikeness), that is a moral change that starts at a specific point in life. Paul expresses this as a “washing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5, 1 Cor 6:11). This initial past category of sanctification involves the breaking off from the power of sin (Rom 6:11). Past sanctification is not progressive but is a one-time setting aside to holiness. In a sense this is a positional sanctification. Since we are justified in Christ and born again, we can no longer make a habit or pattern of sinning (1 John 3:9). This past sanctification is necessary because it is the power to break free and keep us from yielding to a life of sin and death. This is not to imply that we are completely free from sin, yet on the other side we cannot say that we are defeated by sin (Rom 6:14). 

Sanctification that increases in the present can also be considered as progressive sanctification (1 Thess 4:3). This is a work that continues throughout our earthly lives. Wayne Grudem has a helpful definition; “Sanctification is a progressive work of God and man that makes us more and more free from sin and like Christ in our actual lives.”[1]This recognizes that sin remains in our lives and we are to not let sin reign in our mortal bodies ( Rom 6:12-13). Paul continues to articulate the concept of growing in sanctification, to more and more Christlikeness (Phil 3:9-14). The New Testament spends a significant amount of time exhorting believers to grow in the likeness of Christ. The moral commands can be considered part of the encouragement to sanctification as they are relying on the finished work of Christ. This need to strive for sanctification cannot be used as an excuse to continue in sin as it goes contrary to the teaching in Romans 6 about the resurrection power of Christ that enables us to overcome sin. The remaining sins in mature Christians should be less outwardly noticeable but the inward sins and attitudes of the heart and desires that are contrary to the will of God. Their zeal for in loving others and God should be matchless. Yet they are still sinners and sin showing how far we still fall short. 

Our future sanctification is completed at death. Only when we arrive in the presence of God will we be made perfect (Heb 12:23). Sin remains after we become Christians (Rom 6:12-13; 1 John 1:8), our sanctification will never be completed in this life and so it follows that only in the future will our sanctification to be complete. Nothing unclean can enter the presence of God and the heavenly city (Rev 21:27). This sanctification involves the whole person as our bodies will also be included in the new heavens and new earth (2 Cor 7:1; 1 Thess 5:23; Phil 3:21). 


[1] Grudem, Wayne A.. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Cómo Entender) (p. 746). Zondervan. Kindle Edition. 

A Vaccine and Conscience

“I always strive to have a clear conscience toward God and men.” Paul (Acts 24:16)

How do you determine right and wrong? If you are a Christian where do you go if the Bible isn’t clear on a decision? Are we left with just our reason? What about Vaccinations and Covid-19 what do we do?

The answer, the conscience. I have been studying the conscience lately and have endeavored to apply it to the idea of Vaccination.

Definition,

How to define the conscience? Some people refer to it as the small voice, or some feeling of right or wrong.

The Reformers all emphasized the conscience.

Martin Luther: “My conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe.” (1)

John Calvin: “Therefore, in order that none of us may stumble on that stone, let us first consider that there is a twofold government in man: one aspect is spiritual, whereby the conscience is instructed in piety and in reverencing God; the second is political, whereby man is educated for the duties of humanity and citizenship that must be maintained among men. (2)

A simple working definition could be that; the conscience is the soul’s rational sense of moral judgement.

Every human being has a conscience since every human being has a soul. We also have a capacity to consider our ways (Hag 1:5, 7) which is one job the conscience does. It is primarily the rational part of our brain, to make accurate rational judgments the conscience needs knowledge to direct it.

The knowledge of God is there in the conscience (Rom 1:19-20) but it is suppressed (Rom 1:18). We recognize that like all natural knowledge our conscience is corrupted by sin and we have a faulty moral sense. Yet with a renewed heart in Christ, we recalibrate the conscience.

The Greek word used for Conscience in the New Testament is συνείδησις, εως, ἡ (συνεῖδον)(3).

Used most in 1 Cor (8x), Heb (5x), 1 Tim (4x)

If the conscience is, the souls rational sense of moral judgement, then it’s purpose is to distinguish right and wrong for the individual. It is not the infallible rule, but it is a guide or witness when making decisions. We can experiment thoughtfully and practically.

Practically,

Paul in 1 Corinthians says the conscience provides help in making decisions about right and wrong. Primarily in areas that are not plainly laid out in Scripture, which some ethics and decision making also fall into this category. A test question we could ask is, “Do you eat food sacrificed to idols?”

It is not a sin by itself, but becomes a sin when your individual conscience and that of others is negatively affected.

What a gift the conscience is!

Let’s take a controversial topic that is in the news a lot today.

Vaccination,

The Bible doesn’t say you should or should not get the vaccine against Covid 19. How do we determine if we should?

If I get the vaccination against my conscience I could be sinning.

If I don’t get the vaccination and my conscience convicts me I could be sinning.

What do we do? Well if 1 Corinthians is our guide then we should inform ourselves as much as possible about the vaccination. Get the medical information, look at benefits and risks, pray that God will give you wisdom as you explore it.

Then once settled, get the vaccination or don’t! It’s that simple!

Third Area:

Unfortunately we have a third area. Do I force it on others? The answer is no, you do not have authority to bind the conscience of another person. You can educate and inform and even encourage, just like the weaker brother or unbeliever who refuses to eat food sacrificed to idols, but you don’t force them (1 Cor 10:29).

Paul never instructs the Corinthians to force each other to eat meat sacrificed to others, instead he says abstain for their sake. He doesn’t say you can’t eat any meat ever again only that it is not something you insist on when eating with others.

There are areas that you should seek to bind a conscience is when they are in open rebellion to the Word of God. For example, a man that visits pornographic websites must be admonished with the Word of God.

The Westminster Standard Chapter 20, Paragraph 2, discusses liberty of conscience.

“God alone is Lord of the conscience,a and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men which are in anything contrary to his Word, or beside it, in matters of faith or worship.b So that to believe such doctrines, or to obey such commands out of conscience, is to betray true liberty of conscience;c and the requiring of an implicit faith, and an absolute and blind obedience, is to destroy liberty of conscience, and reason also.d

So are we obeying out of blind obedience or are we allowing for a liberty of conscience in our brothers and sisters in Christ?

Following posts will discuss more on the conscience.

Boldness and Conscience

(1) Roland H. Bainton, Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther (New York: Abingdon-Cokesbury Press, 1950), 185.

(2) John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion & 2, ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles, vol. 1, The Library of Christian Classics (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 847.

(3) William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 967.