Material possessions tend to focus one’s thoughts and interests on the world only. Wealth gradually enslaves those who are attached to it and perverts their values. The more we have, the easier it is to be possessed by our possessions, comforts, and recreations.
Are there dangers in mutual confession [of sin]? Yes, and they are substantial. Psychologically needy persons sometimes use confession to get attention for themselves. Through the apparently spiritual medium of “confession” they can handcuff a captive audience as they relate the details of their sin with deluded or feigned contrition. Confession can also foster spiritual exhibitionism, a perverted moral pleasure in airing one’s laundry. The overly morbid can bend confession to become an excuse for unhealthy hyper-introspection. Ostensibly humble confession can also be used as a vehicle for spiritual aggression: “I want to ask your forgiveness for being bitter toward you over the years” – but what follows is not a confession, but an egregious assault… Confession turned into religious routine is deadly!
Materialism – buying things we don’t need with money we don’t have to impress people we don’t even like… If there is no fruit in our lives, and if our focus is on material possessions, we are probably not Christians. We have fooled others and, even more tragically, have fooled ourselves.
1. Confession should generally me made to an individual. There are exceptions, of course – as, for example when a sin has been against a whole group. But normally confession to all the church is not required to restore one to fellowship with the whole congregation.
2. If the sin has been against a fellow Christian, it is to that person that we must make confession (cf. Mt. 5:23-24). The rule of thumb is, the confession should not exceed the range of commission.
3. If the sin is not against a person, and if it is such that we need to confess it and gain spiritual counsel and support, we must go to a mature Christian. This cannot be stressed enough! An immature Christian should not be expected to carry such burdens. Moreover, confession to the immature may provide a temptation to gossip. Along this line, those whom we would confide in must be people of prayer.
4. The confession must be concrete, not amorphous. This is not to suggest, however, that all the lurid details be shared. One sins in confession if his recounting becomes voyeurism.
5. Confessing sins to one another is not a law, but a divinely given help and is to be practiced only as God directs.
This, and what experience God so far has given me in preaching and prayer, has brought a conviction. Should I ever write a book on essentials for preaching, I know now that I would devote at least a third of it to spiritual preparation in matters such as prayer. This would be the first third.
In my ministry I have noticed that when people are hurting, they frequently express their hope for Christ’s return – “Oh! I wish the Lord would return today!” But I have never heard anyone say, “Things are going so well…I wish Christ would return right now!”
In the lives of many churchgoers today, there is a yawning chasm between profession and action, professed faith and works – and that chasm gives the lie to people’s loud claims to real faith.
Brothers and sisters, the coming of Christ is near. The ultimate epiphany is just around the corner. If we think otherwise, we tragically impoverish our souls. Most Christians think little of Christ’s return, or if they do think about the day they will see Christ, they associate it with the day of their death. This is a proper hope, but death is not a pleasant thing, and thus the expectation of seeing Christ is mixed with a certain fear of the dark veil. But it is not so with His Second Coming. It is all joy! And that singular joy is meant to be a boon to our souls.
Jesus asks for a radical truthfulness which supersedes the requirements of the Law – a radical truthfulness that does not need oaths. Oath-taking is popular because people are liars. It’s that simple.
A.T. Robertson, the towering genius of Greek grammar, calls wisdom “the practical use of knowledge.” F.J.A. Hort, in his painstaking commentary, terms it “that endowment of heart and mind which is needed for right conduct in life.” J.H. Ropes describes it as “the supreme and divine quality of the soul which man knows and practical righteousness.” And Ralph Martin in his recent study states. “For the Jewish mind wisdom meant practical righteousness in everyday living.”
Oath-taking is permitted, but it is not encouraged. In civil life, as in a courtroom, oath-taking is permitted. And when one is put under oath, he or she is not sinning against Christ’s teaching. Also, on rare occasions such a practice may be necessary, as it was for Paul. This said, oaths are not to be a part of everyday conversation. Christians should not need such devices. They should be known to be people of truth.
Who can deny…that the evangelical enterprise has become worldly, that materialism grips the church, that pleasure-seeking dominates us, that evangelicals watch sensuality and violence like everyone else, that immodesty is de jure, that voyeurism and pornography and sexual laxity and divorce are on the rise, and that we, like Lot, could find that Sodom has been born anew in our own homes. God help us if while decrying sin, we are sprinting headlong after it. We must lay this to heart: A worldly church cannot and will not reach the world.
A preacher paid a visit to a farmer and asked, “If you had 200 dollars, would you give 100 dollars to the Lord?” “Sure would,” said the farmer. “If you had two cows, would you give one cow to the Lord?” “Yeah, I would.” “"If you had two pigs, would you give one of them to the Lord?” The farmer replied, “That’s not fair. You know I have two pigs.” There is no other time for giving but now. It will never be easy.
Satan knows that if he can get us to laugh at things we believe we would never do, our defenses will fall.
Gossip is saying behind a person’s back what you would never say to his or her face; flattery is saying to a person’s face what you would never say behind his or her back.
Thousands today change what they believe to accommodate their moral behavior. On the other hand, thousands more take up false doctrine, then apostatize in their actions.
It is better to fail in an attempt to exercise faith than to let it lie dormant and fruitless. God never belittles those who attempt to follow Him, but He does chasten those who refuse to attempt anything for Him.
God’s Word becomes a millstone if we do not make it a milestone.
[For Christians] the ground is level at the foot of the cross. This being so, it is absurd to be partial toward anyone. All should be treated equally – as beings created in the image of God. Rich and poor should be accorded equal honor and cordiality. Discrimination or favoritism is spiritually irrational.
Church attendance is infected with a malaise of conditional loyalty which has produced an army of ecclesiastical hitchhikers. The hitchhiker’s thumb says, “You buy the car, pay for repairs and upkeep and insurance, fill the car with gas – and I’ll ride with you. But if you have an accident, you are on your own! And I’ll probably sue.” So it is with the credo of so many of today’s church attenders: “You go to the meetings and serve on the boards and committees, you grapple with the issues and do the work of the church and pay the bills – and I’ll come along for the ride. But if things do not suit me, I’ll complain and probably bail out–my thumb is always out for a better ride.”
The Cross is the ultimate evidence that there is no length the love of God will refuse to go in effecting reconciliation.
The “gravity of grace” works like the earth’s water system, which always flows from the highest to the lowest. Just as the waters of Niagara roll over the fall and plunge down to make a river below, and just as that river flows ever down to the even lower ranges of its course, then glides to still more low-lying areas where it brings life and growth, so it is with God’s grace. Grace’s gravity carries it to the lowly in heart, where it brings life and blessing. Grace goes to the humble.
The biblical doctrine of depravity means that every part of the human person is tainted by sin. It does not mean that all humans are equally depraved; most do not go near the depths they could go. Nor does it mean that humans are not capable of any good (cf. Luke 11:13). Nor does it mean that there is no dignity in man, for there certainly is, as he is the imperfect bearer of the divine image (Genesis 1:27).
John Broadus (one of the founders of the Southern Baptist Seminary and the author of the most influential book on preaching ever written in America) was lecturing his class just nine days before he died when he paused and said: “Gentlemen, if this were the last time I should ever be permitted to address you, I would feel amply repaid for consuming the whole hour endeavoring to impress upon you these two things: true piety, and, like Apollos, to be men ‘mighty in the Scriptures.’” Broadus then paused and stood for a moment with his piercing eyes fixed upon the class. Over and over he repeated in that slow but wonderfully impressive style that was distinctively his, “Mighty in the Scriptures, mighty in the Scriptures.”
Recently Leadership Magazine commissioned a poll of a thousand pastors. The pastors indicated that 12 percent of them had committed adultery while in ministry – one out of eight pastors! – and 23 percent had done something they considered sexually inappropriate. Christianity Today surveyed a thousand of its subscribers who were not pastors and found the figure to be nearly double, with 23 percent saying they had had extramarital intercourse and 45 percent indicating they had done something they themselves deemed sexually inappropriate. One in four Christian men are unfaithful, and nearly one half have behaved unbecomingly! Shocking statistics! Especially when we remember that Christianity Today readers tend to be college-educated church leaders, elders, deacons, Sunday school superintendents, and teachers. If this is so for the Church’s leadership, how much more for the average member of the congregation? Only God knows!
Once we understand the nature of the enemy, we must put on the proper armament. For this let us picture the old warrior Paul in his own spiritual armor (Eph. 6:10-17).
1. He has worn his war belt so long that it is sweat through and salt-stained and comfortable like an old horse’s bridle, and it holds everything perfectly in place. The “belt of truth,” God’s truth, has girt him tight for years, so that it permeates his life and truth reigns within. He is armed with the clear eyes of a clear conscience. He can face anything.
2. His torso is sheathed with a battle-tarnished breastplate. It is crisscrossed with great lateral grooves from slicing sword blows and dented from enemy artillery. The “breastplate of righteousness” has preserved his vitals intact. His holy life has rendered his heart impervious to the spiritual assaults of Satan.
3. His gnarled legs are comfortable in his ancient war boots. He has stood his ground on several continents. The boots are the “gospel of peace,” the peace with God that comes through faith in him, and the resultant peace of God – the sense of well-being in wholeness – shalom. He stands in peace, and being rooted in peace he cannot be moved.
4. Paul’s great shield terrifies the eyes, for the broken shafts and the many charred holes reveal him to be the victor of many fierce battles. He has held the “shield of faith” as he repeatedly believed God’s Word and so extinguished every fiery dart of doubt and sensuality and materialism. None have touched him.
5. On his old gray head he wears a helmet which has seen better days. Great dents mar its symmetry; reminders of furtive blows dealt him by the enemy. The “helmet of salvation,” the confidence of knowing that he is saved and will be saved, has allowed him to stand tall against the most vicious assaults. His imperial confidence gives him a regal bearing.
6. Then there is his sword. He was equal to a hundred when his sword flashed. The “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” the ultimate offensive weapon, cut through everything – armor, flesh, glistening bone, and running marrow – even the soul (cf. Heb. 4:12).
These are the weapons: truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, the Word of God – and any believer who resists with these will put the Devil and his armies to flight! This is not arrogance. This is the truth! You and I can withstand the Devil if we wear the armor God provides. “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (Jas. 4:7).
Today there is an urgent truth shortage! There was a time when western culture was distinguished from other cultures by at least a conventional outward sense of obligation to tell the truth. But now there is a pervasive indifference to truth-telling, and this has not only infected day-to-day conversation but the most solemn pledges of life. Perjury under solemn oath is epidemic. The sacred vows of marriage are broken almost as often as repeated. God’s name is invoked by blatant liars who purport to be witnesses to the truth.
There are two views which the Christian ought to cultivate with all that he has: the Devil’s back and the face of God [see James 4:7].
We must remember that for Jesus words are sacramental – an outward sign of an inward condition. Jesus said, “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34; cf Mark 7:14-23). A continually truthful spirit will produce an increasing veracity of speech.
Pride is the sin we cannot see in ourselves and yet so detest in others.
Contemplation of God brings reflection on sin, and reflection on sin brings contemplation of God.
What are our crosses? They are not simply trials and hardships… A cross results from specifically walking in Christ’s steps, embracing His life. It comes from distain because we follow the narrow way of Jesus Christ… Our crosses come from and are proportionate to our dedication to Christ. Difficulties do not indicate cross-bearing, though difficulties for Christ’s sake do.
There is a grave danger in ritual familiarity with holy matters, even if you are not a professional. It is all too easy to go spiritually brain-dead when the prelude begins, to “say” prayers rather than pray them, to use the cadence of a confession as a rhythmic anesthetic, to mindlessly mouth the words of great hymns and gospel songs, to nod off during the sermon, to glibly mouth evangelical creeds – and then imagine that we’re really spiritual.
It is important for us to see the close connection between repentance and forgiveness, because while no amount of repentance can ever merit forgiveness in the sight of God, without repentance no soul will ever be saved. Repentance is the telltale mark of the grace of God at work in our lives. Saving faith and true repentance are always found together. Saved souls are repentant souls.
There are no churchless disciples.
It is impossible to truly pray for someone and hate them at the same time.
Christians are often persecuted not for their Christianity, but for their lack of it. Sometimes they simply have unpleasant personalities. They are rude, insensitive, thoughtless – piously obnoxious. Some are rejected because they are discerned as proud and judgmental. Others are disliked because they are lazy and irresponsible. Either arrogance or incompetence mixed with piety is sure to bring rejection.
If one can make no moral judgments, there can be no morality.
Judgmentalism is an unwitting revelation of one’s own soul, because people rush to condemn their own sins in others… The greedy delight to condemn the greed in others. The ambitious charge others with self-ambition. Liars love to call others liars. Somehow judgmental people imagine they will lessen their guilt by judging their sins in others.
The baby Mary carried was not a Caesar, a man who would become a god, but a far greater wonder – the true God who had become a man!
It works like this: we hunger spiritually and are then filled and become supremely satisfied. The satisfaction then makes way for a deeper spiritual hunger, a further filling and blessed satisfaction. And so it goes on in sublime paradox: hunger – filling – satisfaction, hunger – filling – satisfaction. We become more and more full of Christ.
We must never allow our subjective experience of choosing Christ water down the fact that we would not have chosen Him if He had not first chosen us. The doctrine of election presents us with a God who defies finite analysis. It is a doctrine which lets God be God.
It is possible to endure in this life but to do it in a self-righteous, resentful survivor-spirit that is self-pitying and angry at those who do not shoulder the burden with you while being inwardly proud of your grit. Instead of the fruit of the Spirit, there is bitterness and joylessness. In truth, God may not consider this kind of life to be one of endurance, and certainly not one of “great endurance” (2 Cor. 6:4). Paul endured with the inner graces of the Spirit. Sweet endurance is what the Scripture here enjoins… Sweet in-Spirited endurance testiﬁes to the reality of Christ and that He is worth our trust and service.
The ministry of reconciliation is not telling people to make peace with God, but telling them that God has made peace with the world.
We are not called to make peace with God — that is God’s work! The method of reconciliation is reckoning, God “not counting their trespasses against them”… There is a reckoning of sins. But they are reckoned not to the sinner but to Christ.
The gospel is not “reconcile yourselves.” The gospel is “be reconciled.” Receive reconciliation from God.
Jesus Christ is no princelet or kinglet, and not merely a king, but “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16). Thus when you confess that “Jesus Christ is Lord” you at once confess His incarnation and His Messiahship and His lordship, sealed by His glorious resurrection as He now forever reigns.
But it is far more common for the evangelical preacher to edit God’s Word: 1. By removing the text from its context, and using it to say what-ever the preacher likes, 2. By moralizing the text, so that it is reduced to an ethical maxim that ﬁts any religion, 3. By using the text to promote hobby-horses, and 4. By dogmatic insistence that the text says things it does not truly say. This homiletical hocus-pocus has subtle roots such as the desire to be clever and popular or synthetically relevant or intellectually respectable or to make the gospel more acceptable. But most often God’s Word gets watered down by the preacher’s laziness. He simply will not do the hard work to engage and preach a text in its context.
God is not looking for gifted people or people who are self-sufficient. He is looking for inadequate people who will give their weakness to Him and open themselves to the ministry of the Holy Spirit and the transforming grace of the new covenant as it is ministered by Christ Jesus Himself.
Giving is a “grace” as it demonstrates that God has met your needs and that His grace has inclined you to give to others.
On the most elementary level, you do not have to go to church to be a Christian. You do not have to go home to be married either. But in both cases if you do not, you will have a very poor relationship.
Another reason for the de-churching of many Christians is the historic individualism of evangelical Christianity and the grass-roots American impulse against authority. The natural inclination is to think that one needs only an individual relationship with Christ and needs no other authority. Such thinking produces Christian Lone Rangers who demonstrate their authenticity by riding not to church, but out to the badlands, reference Bible in hand, to do battle single-handedly with the outlaw world.
Listen well, and you will be pronounced a “brilliant” conversationalist!
Marriage is a call to die [to self], and a man who does not die for his wife does not come close to the love to which he is called. Christian marriage vows are the inception of a lifelong practice of death, of giving over not only all you have, but all you are. Is this a grim gallows call? Not at all! It is no more grim than dying to self and following Christ. In fact, those who lovingly die for their wives are those who know the most joy, have the most fulfilling marriages, and experience the most love.
The more immediate and personal one’s knowledge of Christ, the more natural it is to share Him with others. This is why those who have newly met Christ are often so verbal and successful in leading others to Him despite the absence of learned arguments… The key to ongoing effectiveness is a perpetual freshness in your growing knowledge of Him.
The Christian world is ministered to by tired people. Eastern Europe is being evangelized by tired missionaries who are making the most of the fleeting day of opportunity. Show me a great church and I’ll show you some tired people, both up front and behind the scenes, because greatness depends on a core of people who are willing to put out as the situation demands. Men, we have to understand that we will never do great things for God without the willingness to extend ourselves for the sake of the gospel even when bone-tired.
We will never get anywhere in life without discipline, be it in the arts, business, athletics, or academics. This is doubly so in spiritual matters. In other areas we may be able to claim some innate advantage. An athlete may be born with a strong body, a musician with perfect pitch, or an artist with an eye for perspective. But none of us can claim an innate spiritual advantage. In reality, we are all equally disadvantaged. None of us naturally seeks after God, none is inherently righteous, none instinctively does good (cf. Romans 3:9-18). Therefore, as children of grace, our spiritual discipline is everything – everything! I repeat…discipline is everything!
It is impossible for any Christian who spends the bulk of his evenings, month after month, week upon week, day in and day out watching the major TV networks or contemporary videos to have a Christian mind. This is always true of all Christians in every situation! A Biblical mental program cannot coexist with worldly programming.
Marriage is a call to die [to self]… Christian marriage vows are the inception of a lifelong practice of death, of giving over not only all you have, but all you are. Is this a grim gallows call? Not at all! It is no more grim than dying to self and following Christ. In fact, those who lovingly die for their [spouses] are those who know the most joy, have the most fulfilling marriages, and experience the most love.
But underlying much of the conscious rejection of spiritual discipline is the fear of legalism… But nothing could be farther from the truth if you understand what discipline and legalism are. The difference is one of motivation: legalism is self-centered; discipline is God-centered. The legalistic heart says, “I will do this thing to gain merit with God.” The disciplined heart says, “I will do this thing because I love God and want to please Him.” There is an infinite difference between the motivation of legalism and discipline! (Paul) knew this implicitly and fought the legalists bare-knuckled all the way across Asia Minor, never giving an inch. And now he shouts to us, “Train (discipline) yourself to be godly”! If we confuse legalism and discipline, we do so to our soul’s peril.
We meet God the Creator as a worker in Genesis 1:1 – 2:2… The image of God in man means man is to be a worker. The way we work will reveal how much we have allowed the image of God to develop in us.
Today friendship has fallen on hard times. Few men have good friends, much less deep friendships. Individualism, autonomy, privatization, and isolation are culturally cachet, but deep, devoted, vulnerable friendship is not. This is a great tragedy for self, family, and the Church, because it is in relationships that we develop into what God wants us to be… Friendships…are there to be made if we value them as we ought – and if we practice some simple disciplines of friendship.
The word discipline in “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7, NASB) is a word with the smell of the gym in it – the sweat of a good workout. It is an unabashed call to spiritual sweat.
Genesis 1 logs God’s commitment to excellence when it says, “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good” (v. 31). Christians should always do good work. Christians ought to be the best workers wherever they are. They ought to have the best attitude, the best integrity, and be the best in dependability.
A taste of righteousness can be easily perverted into an overweening sense of self-righteousness and judgmentalism.
The rich etymology of “discipline” suggests a conscious divestment of all encumbrances, and then a determined investment of all one’s energies. Just as ancient athletes discarded everything and competed gumnos (naked), so must the disciplined Christian man divest himself of every association, habit, and tendency which impedes godliness. Then, with this lean spiritual nakedness accomplished, he must invest all his energy and sweat in the pursuit of godliness.
It is strongly recommended, in light of the great giving requirements imposed on God’s ancient people Israel, that everyone should at least consider the first 10 percent as a starting point in giving – a minimum.
A legalistic commitment to duration can kill one’s prayer life.
It is an immutable fact that we will never get anywhere in life without discipline – especially in spiritual matters. There are some who have innate athletic or musical advantages. But none of us can claim an innate spiritual advantage. None of us are inherently righteous, none of us naturally seek God or are reflexively good. Therefore, as children of grace, our spiritual discipline is everything.
In a word, [Paul] is calling for some spiritual sweat (1 Timothy 4:7)! Just as the athletes discarded everything and competed gumnos – free from everything that could possibly burden them – so we must get rid of every encumbrance, every association, habit, and tendency which impedes godliness. If we are to excel, we must strip ourselves to a lean, spiritual nakedness. The writer of Hebrews explains it like this: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Hebrews 12:1). Men, we will never get anywhere spiritually without a conscious divestment of the things that are holding us back. What things are weighing you down? The call to discipline demands that you throw it off. Are you man enough?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer made the observation that when lust takes control, “At this moment God…loses all reality… Satan does not fill us with hatred of God, but with forgetfulness of God.” What a world of wisdom there is in this statement! When we are in the grip of lust, the reality of God fades… This is what lust does! It has done it millions of times. God disappears to lust-glazed eyes.
The successful Christian life is a sweaty affair!
Our devotion must culminate in a conscious yielding of every part of our personality, every ambition, every relationship, and every hope to Him. This done, we have reached the apex of personal devotion. As Thomas a Kempis said, “As Thou wilt; what Thou wilt; when Thou wilt.”
Above all, we [as parents] must make sure that the open book of our lives – our example – demonstrates the reality of our instruction, for in watching us they will learn the most.
The key to liberation from the power of materialism is not an exodus from culture – abandoning Wall Street or leaving the wealth of the nation to others – but the grace of giving… Givers for God disarm the power of money. They invite God’s grace to flow through them.
Nothing is of greater importance than loving God! If we fail to take this seriously, we may find at the end of our lives that all of our works counted for nothing… [However] He wants us to be before we do. Love first!
The answer to the problem begins with Saturday preparation… It is advisable that young families have their clothing clean and laid out on Saturday night, and even that the breakfast be decided upon. The whereabouts of Bibles and lessons should be known, and even better, ought to be collected and ready. There should be an agreed-upon time to get up which leaves plenty of time to get ready for church. Going to bed at a reasonable hour is also a good idea. Spiritually, prayer about the Lord’s Day is essential – prayer for the service, the music, the pastors, one’s family, and oneself.
Never ever make a promise to your children you do not keep! …You may forget, but you have a little boy or girl who will remember it eighty years from now.
God saves us from the reductionism of such legalism which enshrines spirituality as a series of wooden laws and then says, “If you can do these six, sixteen or sixty-six things, you will be godly.” Christianity, godliness, is far more than a checklist. Being “in Christ” is a relationship, and like all relationships it deserves disciplined maintenance, but never legalistic reductionism.
Integrity characterizes the entire person, not just part of him. He is righteous and honest through and through. He is not only that inside, but also in outer action.
Men are never manlier than when they are tender with their children – whether holding a baby in their arms, loving their grade-schooler, or hugging their teenager or adult children.
The height of devotion is reached when reverence and contemplation produce passionate worship, which in turn breaks forth in thanksgiving and praise in word and song.
Some fathers exasperate their children by being overly strict and controlling. They need to remember that rearing children is like holding a wet bar of soap – too firm a grasp and it shoots from your hand, too loose a grip and it slides away. A gentle but firm hold keeps you in control… We ought to begin our fatherhood by holding the tiny helpless bar snugly, but as it grows, gradually and wisely loosen our grip.
Gossip often veils itself in acceptable conventions such as “Have you heard…” or “Did you know…?” or “They tell me…” or “Keep this to yourself, but…” or “I do not believe it is true, but I heard that…” or “I wouldn’t tell you, except that I know it will go no further.” Of course, the most infamous such rationalization in Christian circles is, “I am telling you this so you can pray.”
Not a few preachers’ kids have been catapulted into rebellion because their fathers squeezed their lives to fit their parishioners’ expectations. What a massive sin against one’s children!