Dependent Discipline

Article by Jerry Bridges: Does Holiness Come By Striving After it or By Resting in God?

As I sat in the doctor’s waiting room, my attention was drawn to a portrait of a man sculpted out of a block of marble. The sculpture was complete down to about mid-thigh, but below that the partially chipped away marble gradually phased into the outline of the original block. The man in the sculpture was handsome and robust, the kind of body any man would like to have. But the arresting thing about the picture was that the sculptor’s hammer and chisel were in the hands of the man being sculpted. The man was sculpting himself. As I pondered the painting, I was struck by its graphic portrayal of how many Christians seek to grow in personal holiness. We try, as it were, to sculpt or mold ourselves. We seek to grow in holiness through our own personal efforts and willpower. And we’re just as ludicrous as a block of marble trying to sculpt itself.

Holiness is not, as is so often thought, adherence to a set of rules. It is conformity to the character of God—nothing more, nothing less. It is God’s plan for us. He has “predestined [us] to be conformed to the likeness of his Son” (Rom. 8:29). To this end, Paul says, “We are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18). The words conform and transform in these verses have the same root. A form is a pattern or model.

Transformed speaks of the process; conformed speaks of the end result. We are being transformed into the likeness of Christ so that we might finally be conformed to the likeness of Him who is our pattern or model.

Who, then, transforms us? Paul tells us in 2 Cor 3:18 that it is the Spirit. We are not sculpting ourselves into the likeness of Christ. Only the Holy Spirit can do that. The writer of Hebrews recognized this when he prayed, “May the God of peace … work in us what is pleasing to him” (He 13:20, 21). Paul prayed similarly for the Thessalonian believers, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you [make you holy] through and through” (1 Thess. 5:23). We as believers can no more make ourselves holy than a block of marble can transform itself into a beautiful statue. We are totally dependent on the Holy Spirit to do this work in us. Yet over and over we place the entire burden for growing in holiness on ourselves. We make resolutions, we try harder, and we may even succeed in changing some of our outward conduct. But we cannot change our hearts. Only God can do that.

It was said of the Lord Jesus, for example, that He “loved righteousness and hated wickedness” (He 1:9). To be transformed into His likeness, then, is to be brought to where we, too, love righteousness and hate wickedness. This is more than merely changing our conduct or conforming to a set of rules. It is a complete renovation of our hearts, something only the Holy Spirit can do. Is the road to holiness, then, one of dependence on God, or of personal discipline? Surely it is one of dependence on God.

THE MYSTERY OF SANCTIFICATION

We must not, however, carry the analogy of the marble statue too far. After all, a piece of marble is absolutely lifeless. It has no mind, no heart, no will. The sculptor receives no cooperation from the lifeless block of marble, and expects none. The same is not true of believers. God has given us mind, heart, and will with which to respond to His work in us, with which to cooperate with His Spirit in the process of transforming us into the likeness of Christ. He intends that we understand His will with our minds, that we yearn to do it with our hearts, and that we actually make choices of obedience with our wills. We are to “make every effort … to be holy” (Heb 12:14). We are to train, or discipline, ourselves to be godly (1 Tim 4:7). We are to put to death the traits of our sinful nature and clothe ourselves with the traits of godly character (Col 3:5; Col 3:12).

The New Testament is filled with injunctions about holy character that address our responsibility. In the pursuit of holiness, we must not be passive blocks of marble in the hands of a sculptor.
Is the road to holiness, then, one of dependence on God, or of personal discipline?

Surely it is one of personal discipline. But how can this be?

If the work of transforming us into Christ’s likeness is the Holy Spirit’s ministry, where does our responsibility fit in? How can we be simultaneously responsible for pursuing holiness and totally dependent on the Spirit?

I am an engineer, both by training and by temperament. One characteristic of engineers is that we always want to know how things work.

I carried this analytical attitude into the Christian life. For years I tried to analyze the precise relationship between the Holy Spirit and the human personality. I visualized two gears, one representing the Spirit and one representing my own personality, and I wanted to know just how they meshed. I kept trying to answer the question of exactly how my personal responsibility for growing in holiness fit together with the work of the Holy Spirit.

I finally gave up. I concluded that God has not answered that question anywhere in the Bible. The mutual relationship of the Holy Spirit and the human personality in the work of sanctification is a mystery known only to God. But our inability to explain just how God works in and through our personalities should not keep us from believing that He does. He not only instructs us to “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling,” but also assures us that He Himself “works in [us] to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Phil 2:12;13). Although God has not explained to us the mystery of how He works in us, He has made our responsibility clear. He has also made it clear that, in carrying out that responsibility, we are dependent upon Him. I call this dependent discipline. Continue reading

Some Errors Avoided by a Right Doctrine of Sanctification

Phil_NewtonArticle by Phil Newton (original source here)

Phil planted South Woods Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee in 1987 and continues to serve as senior pastor of that congregation. He previously pastored churches in Mississippi and Alabama. He received his education at the University of Mobile (B.A.), New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div.), Fuller Theological Seminary (D.Min.), and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (Ph.D.). Phil and his wife Karen married in 1975, and have five children and seven grandchildren.

My sermon betrayed the gospel. I was young, a-theological, and gripped by legalism. That toxic mix led to a litany of don’ts with no hint of the power of the cross, standing with Christ, or certainty of the believer’s sanctification. Instead, it left the hearers with more stuff to do if they desired to be right with God but no hope in the gospel. Unfortunately, that was not the only time that my failure to understand sanctification blurted out in gospel-betraying sermons.

Nor was I alone in that kind of preaching. Not that many intend to undercut the gospel while preaching supposedly Christian sermons, yet it happens when we fail to see sanctification in the redemptive work of Christ.

A right doctrine of sanctification liberates and motivates the church as a holy people. Let’s think about this subject by sketching a biblical understanding of sanctification and then identifying some of the errors that it helps us to avoid.

Just What is Sanctification?

Short posts can only overview sanctification. Yet most discussions on sanctification transpire in brief snippets. How do we briefly explain it? Sanctification has to do with holiness. Hagiasmos—“sanctification, consecration, holiness”— has its roots in hagios—“holy.” While countless theological works expand upon it, holy is holy. Sanctification, then, acts on the holy status of someone in the actual practice of holiness. Continue reading

Ten Marks of the Holy Spirit in a Believer

ten10BY J. C. RYLE

What then are these general effects which the Spirit always produces on those who really have Him? What are the marks of His presence in the soul? This is the question which now remains to be considered. Let us try to set down these marks in order.

1. All who have the Spirit are quickened by Him, and made spiritually ALIVE. He is called in Scripture, “The Spirit of life.” (Rom. 8:3.) “It is the Spirit,” says our Lord Jesus Christ, “who quickens.” (John 6:63.) We are all by nature dead in trespasses and sins. We have neither feeling nor interest about true religion. We have neither faith, nor hope, nor fear, nor love. Our hearts are in a state of torpor; they are compared in Scripture to a stone. We may be alive about money, learning, politics, or pleasure—but we are dead towards God. All this is changed when the Spirit comes into the heart. He raises us from this state of death, and makes us new creatures. He awakens the conscience, and inclines the will towards God. He causes old things to pass away, and all things to become new. He gives us a new heart; He makes us put off the old man, and put on the new. He blows the trumpet in the ear of our slumbering faculties, and sends us forth to walk the world as if we were new beings.

How unlike was Lazarus shut up in the silent tomb, to Lazarus coming forth at our Lord’s command! How unlike was Jairus’ daughter lying cold on her bed amidst weeping friends, to Jairus’ daughter rising and speaking to her mother as she was accustomed to do! Just as unlike is the man in whom the Spirit dwells to what he was before the Spirit came into him.

I appeal to every thinking reader. Can he whose heart is manifestly full of everything but God–hard, cold, and insensible—can he be said to “have the Spirit”? Judge for yourself.

2. All who have the Spirit are taught by Him. He is called in Scripture, “The Spirit of wisdom and revelation.” (Eph. 1:17.) It was the promise of the Lord Jesus, “He shall teach you all things.” “He shall guide you into all truth.” (John 14:26; 16:13.) We are all by nature ignorant of spiritual truth. “The natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God—they are foolishness to him.” (1 Cor. 2:14.) Our eyes are blinded. We neither know God, nor Christ, nor ourselves, nor the world, nor sin, nor heaven, nor hell, as we ought. We see everything under false colors. The Spirit alters entirely this state of things. He opens the eyes of our understandings. He illumines us; He calls us out of darkness into marvelous light. He takes away the veil. He shines into our hearts, and makes us see things as they really are! No wonder that all true Christians are so remarkably agreed upon the essentials of true religion! The reason is that they have all learned in one school—the school of the Holy Spirit. No wonder that true Christians can understand each other at once, and find common ground of fellowship! They have been taught the same language, by One whose lessons are never forgotten.

I appeal again to every thinking reader. Can he who is ignorant of the leading doctrines of the Gospel, and blind to his own state—can he be said to “have the Spirit “? Judge for yourself

3. All who have the Spirit are led by Him to the SCRIPTURES. This is the instrument by which He specially works on the soul. The Word is called “the sword of the Spirit.” Those who are born again are said to be “born by the Word.” (Eph. 6:17; 1 Peter 1:23.) All Scripture was written under His inspiration—He never teaches anything which is not therein written. He causes the man in whom He dwells to “delight in the law of the Lord.” (Psalm 1:2.) Just as the infant desires the milk which nature has provided for it, and refuses all other food–so does the soul which has the Spirit desire the sincere milk of the Word. Just as the Israelites fed on the manna in the wilderness, so are the children of God taught by the Holy Spirit to feed on the contents of the Bible. Continue reading

How to Mortify Sin

sinclair-ferguson2Article by Dr. Sinclair Ferguson

This article was originally published in Tabletalk Magazine.

The aftermath of a conversation can change the way we later think of its significance.

My friend — a younger minister — sat down with me at the end of a conference in his church and said: “Before we retire tonight, just take me through the steps that are involved in helping someone mortify sin.” We sat talking about this for a little longer and then went to bed, hopefully he was feeling as blessed as I did by our conversation. I still wonder whether he was asking his question as a pastor or simply for himself — or both.

How would you best answer his question? The first thing to do is: Turn to the Scriptures. Yes, turn to John Owen (never a bad idea!), or to some other counselor dead or alive. But remember that we have not been left only to good human resources in this area. We need to be taught from “the mouth of God” so that the principles we are learning to apply carry with them both the authority of God and the promise of God to make them work.

Several passages come to mind for study: Romans 8:13; Romans 13:8–14 (Augustine’s text); 2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1; Ephesians 4:17–5:21; Colossians 3:1–17; 1 Peter 4:1–11; 1 John 2:28–3:11. Significantly, only two of these passages contain the verb “mortify” (“put to death”). Equally significantly, the context of each of these passages is broader than the single exhortation to put sin to death. As we shall see, this is an observation that turns out to be of considerable importance.

Of these passages, Colossians 3:1–17 is probably the best place for us to begin. Continue reading

Ten Things You Should Know About Sanctification

and how does it work? Today we look at ten things about this crucial biblical truth.

(1) Sanctification is transformation through consecration. The Greek word often translated “sanctification” (as well as “to sanctify”) carries both the sense of consecration (dedication, set-apartness), which is more positional (and less experiential) in force (see 1 Cor. 1:30; 6:11), and the sense of transformation (renewal, change), which is more experiential (and less positional) in force (see Rom. 6:19, 22; 1 Thess. 4:3). By God’s grace, the believer is set apart unto God as his own possession, and inwardly energized by the Holy Spirit to put to death the deeds of the flesh and to grow into Christ-likeness.

(2) Sanctification or growth in holiness is primarily an inner transformation of the intellectual, spiritual, and moral essence of a person such that one’s beliefs, values, desires, and choices are increasingly renovated and renewed and brought into alignment with those of Jesus Christ himself.

Jesus is himself the perfect man and model for our lives, the one in whom the image of God is most completely embodied, and our holiness is authentic only to the degree that we are progressively reshaped to resemble him in all ways. Thus, the aim for our lives must be his righteousness in us: his love for the unlovely, his humility in place of pride, his self-denial as over against self-seeking; wisdom and boldness and self-control, together with faithfulness to the Father and strength under pressure. Continue reading

I Act the Miracle

John Piper: I Act the Miracle – Bethlehem College and Seminary Chapel, Minneapolis, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, 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.

The reason for this message is to give you a glimpse of how the gospel of Christ relates to the front-burner warfare with sin in my own life. These are some things that I have been thinking about and praying over and doing on the leave of absence and since.

So let me give you a summary diagnosis of some of John Piper’s most besetting sins. I have fought them, and I think my wife would say that I am winning more battles in the last year than in a long time. How that battle is being fought is what I want to talk about. But first, the diagnosis. Everyone should do this for their own soul. Those of you preparing to be pastors especially will know your people’s souls best by knowing your own. So be ruthlessly honest with yourself.

Diagnosing My Own Soul

My characteristic sins are selfishness, anger, self-pity, quickness to blame, and sullenness. Let me describe them in their ugliness one at a time. And hear me not as coolly analytical here, but sorrowful and remorseful and thankful for the cross of Christ and for grace.

Selfishness is virtually the same as pride and is the deep, broad corruption that is at the bottom of it all. I would give it six traits.

My selfishness is a reflex to expect to be served.
My selfishness is a reflex to feel that I am owed.
My selfishness is a reflex to want praise.
My selfishness is a reflex to expect that things will go my way.
My selfishness is a reflex to feel that I have the right to react negatively to being crossed.
And the reason I use the word “reflex” to describe the traits of selfishness is that there is zero premeditation. When these responses happen, they are coming from nature, not reflection. They are the marks of original sin.

Now what happens when this selfishness is crossed?

Anger: the strong emotional opposition to the obstacle in my way. I tighten up and want to strike out verbally or physically.

Self-pity: a desire that others feel my woundedness and admire me for my being mistreated and move to show me some sympathy.

Quickness to blame: A reflex to attribute to others the cause of the frustrating situation I am in. Others can feel it in a tone of voice, a look on the face, a sideways query, or an outright accusation.

Sullenness: the sinking discouragement, moodiness, hopelessness, unresponsiveness, withdrawn deadness of emotion.

And, of course, the effect on marriage is that my wife feels blamed, and disapproved of, rather than cherished and cared for. Tender emotions start to die. Hope is depleted. Strength to carry on in the hardships of ministry wanes.

How the Gospel Conquers

Now the question we are asking in these messages in Bethlehem College & Seminary chapel is: How does the gospel conquer such sins? Paul said there is a way of life that is “in step with the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:14). There is a gospel walk. He said there is a “manner of life worthy of the gospel” (Philippians 1:27).

The reason there is a way of life that fits the gospel is that what happened on the cross of Christ not only cancels the sin and completes the perfection that grounds our justification but, in doing that, also unleashes the power of our sanctification. And what I am most interested in today is how that power over my sins is experienced. And I want to illustrate that eventually from Philippians 2:12–13. But, first, some wider context to make sure we grasp the way the cross is the key to sanctification as well as justification.

The Cross: Key to Justification—And Sanctification

When Charles Wesley taught us to sing, “He breaks the power of cancelled sin” (in the hymn “O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing”), he was teaching the fundamental truth about how the cross and our battle with sin are related. The cross cancels sins for all who believe on Jesus. Then on the basis of that cancellation of our sins, the power of our actual sinning is broken. It’s not the other way around. There would be no gospel and no music if we tried to sing, “He cancels the guilt of conquered sins.” No! First the cancellation. Then the conquering. Continue reading

Grace-Fueled Obedience

lawsonsteveArticle: Grace-Fueled Obedience Is Absolutely Necessary for Christlikeness by Steve Lawson (original source praying to discern God’s will becomes a convenient excuse—or even a prolonged filibuster—to avoid doing what Scripture commands.

Many who profess Christ today emphasize a wrong view of grace that makes it a free pass to do whatever they please. Tragically, they have convinced themselves that the Christian life can be lived without any binding obligation to the moral law of God. In this hyper-grace distortion, the need for obedience has been neutered. The commandments of God are no longer in the driver’s seat of Christian living, but have been relegated to the backseat, if not the trunk—like a spare tire—to be used only in case of an emergency. With such a spirit of antinomianism, what needs to be reinforced again is the necessity of obedience.

For all true followers of Christ, obedience is never peripheral. At the heart of what it means to be a disciple of our Lord is living in loving devotion to God. But if such love is real, the acid test is obedience. Jesus maintained, “If you love me,you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Genuine love for Christ will always manifest itself in obedience.

This does not mean that a Christian can ascend to sinless perfection. This will never be realized this side of glory. Neither does it imply that a believer will never disobey God again. Isolated acts of disobedience will still occur. But the new birth does give a new heart that desires to obey the Word. In regeneration, God says:

And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. (Ezek. 36:26–27)

In this heart transplant, God causes the believer to pursue Spirit-energized obedience. The Apostle John agrees when he writes, “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3). In the new birth, the elect are granted saving faith, and they immediately begin to walk in “the obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5). There is no timelapse between the time of conversion and when one begins to obey Christ. The exercise of saving faith is the first step of a life of obedience. When Jesus preached, “Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14–15), this was issued as an urgent imperative. The gospel is more than an offer to be considered—it is a word from God to be obeyed. John writes, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life” (John 3:36). In this verse, believing in Christ and obeying Him are used synonymously. Simply put, true faith is obedient faith. Our obedience of faith is not the grounds upon which God declares us righteous, but it reveals our faith to be genuine. Continue reading

After School Activites

Text: Ephesians 4:25-29

Once someone is schooled in gospel truth, there is a Christian lifestyle that needs to be embraced – things that must be put off as well as things to put on. While human works play no part in justification, they are definite evidence of a genuine work of God in the human soul.