Don’t confuse sin with negative thinking

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[A] misunderstanding of sin is to say that it’s just a matter of negative thinking.… Get rid of your old wineskins! Think bigger! God wants to show you his incredible favor, if you’ll just get rid of all those negative mind-sets that hold you back!

Now that’s a compelling message to self-reliant people who want to believe they can take care of their sin all by themselves. That’s probably why men who proclaim that message have managed to build some of the largest churches in the world. The formula is pretty easy, really. Just tell people that their sin is no deeper than negative thinking and that it’s holding them back from health, wealth, and happiness. Then tell them that if they’ll just think more positively about themselves (with God’s help, of course), they’ll be rid of their sin and get rich, to boot. Bingo! Instant megachurch!

Sometimes the promised goal is money, sometimes health, sometimes something else entirely. But however you spin it, to say that Jesus Christ died to save us from negative thoughts about ourselves is reprehensibly unbiblical. In fact, the Bible teaches that a big part of our problem is that we think too highly of ourselves, not too lowly. Stop and think about it for a moment. How did the Serpent tempt Adam and Eve? He told them they were thinking too negatively about themselves. He told them they needed to think more positively, to extend their grasp, to reach toward their full potential, to be like God! In a word, he told them to think bigger.

Now how’d that work out for them?

Greg Gilbert, What is the Gospel?, 53

Links I like

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Here are a whole bunch of new deals for you:

Finally, the New American Commentary Studies in Bible & Theology series is on sale for $3.99 each:

Oprah, edited

Drew Dyck had some fun with the Oprah quotes on the sleeves at Starbucks.

Gungor, Questions, and the Doubters Among Us

Trevin Wax:

For better or for worse, evangelicalism’s lack of authority structure and ecclesial identity open the door for campus ministries, parachurch organizations, and singers, writers, and moviemakers to fulfill the role of quasi-theologians. This is why, when celebrities cross the boundaries of their conservative audience, they get an earful from their constituency, who, rightly or wrongly, feel betrayed by the star’s defection.

The left’s response to Gungor and Jars of Clay was to celebrate an artist’s willingness to boldly “ask questions,” to be “authentic,” and to reformulate Christianity in ways that take into consideration our contemporary setting. The conservative response was to decry these artists as defectors from the faith and to write them and their questions off.

My Facebook feed was filled with both responses – those who praised the courage and creativity of Gungor, and those who condemned their unorthodox views. Both attitudes left me unsatisfied. Here’s why.

On Nude Celebrities, Virtual Voyeurs, and Willing Victims

Tim Challies:

But there is still another aspect of their victimization I want us to see: The very fact that these women took these photographs in the first place is proof that they are victims of the world, the flesh, and the devil. I assume they were all willing participants in these photo shoots, but they were victims even in their willingness—victims of those forces that makes them believe they are nothing more than their beauty, their sexiness, or their sexual desirability. They are victims of the lust that drove them to inappropriate sexual relationships outside of marriage. When we understand sin, we understand that a person can be a willing participant and victim at the same time and in the same act.

Karen Swallow Prior’s recommendation for a novel every Christian should consider reading

Probably the most unique selection in this series so far. (Also, by far one of my favorite blog series from Justin Taylor.)

When Pastors Experience Depression

Thom Rainer:

Depression was once a topic reserved for “other people.” It certainly was not something those in vocational ministry experienced. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that ministers rarely admitted that they were depressed. After all, weren’t these servants of God supposed to have their acts together? How could pastors and other ministers who have the call of God on their lives experience the dark valley of depression?

Ministers often feel shame and failure when they go through bouts of depression. And their reticence to tell anyone about their plights has exacerbated the problem.

But today more and more ministers are willing to talk about this issue. Articles in Christian Post, the New York Times, and Paul Tripp’s Gospel Coalition blog address the problem candidly and proactively.

The Cloak of Righteousness

Lore Ferguson:

This morning I woke thinking of all the ways I have failed, all those I have failed, and all the failures yet to come. How could a holy God condescend to me? How could he fit his goodness as a cloak on me? Surely I have toed the line of arrogance and fear and anxiety and lust and envy and all kinds of sin, enough that I have gone out the bounds of his demands.

But if Salvation is to “make wide” or to “make sufficient,” then the salvific act was one that spread wide around the boundaries of every one of my days and sins and weakness and proclivities and covers them all.

Alive and full of power

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

If you look back across the history of the Christian Church, you immediately find that the story of the Church has not been a straight line, a level record of achievement. The history of the Church has been a history of ups and downs. It is there to be seen on the very surface. When you read the history of the past you find that there have been periods in the history of the Church when she has been full of life, and vigour, and power. The statistics prove that people crowded to the house of God, whole numbers of people who were anxious and eager to belong to the Christian Church. Then the Church was filled with life, and she had great power; the Gospel was preached with authority, large numbers of people were converted regularly, day by day, and week by week. Christian people delighted in prayer. You did not have to whip them up to prayer meetings, you could not keep them away. They did not want to go home, they would stay all night praying. The whole Church was alive and full of power, and of vigour, and of might. And men and women were able to tell of rich experiences of the grace of God, visitations of his Spirit, a knowledge of the love of God that thrilled them, and moved them, and made them feel that it was more precious than the whole world. And, as a consequence of all that, the whole life of the country was affected and changed.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Revival

Be eternally grateful for His rebukes of love

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Ah! brethren, when we were groaning under the chastening hand of Jesus, we thought him cruel; do we think so ill of him now? We conceived that he was wroth with us, and would be implacable; how have our surmises proved to be utterly confounded! The abundant benefit which we now reap from the deep ploughing of our heart is enough of itself to reconcile us to the severity of the process. Precious is that wine which is pressed in the winefat of conviction; pure is that gold which is dug from the mines of repentance; and bright are those pearls which are found in the caverns of deep distress.… If we have any power to console the weary, it is the result of our remembrance of what we once suffered—for here lies our power to sympathise. If we can now look down with scorn upon the boastings of vain, self-conceited man, it is because our own vaunted strength has utterly failed us, and made us contemptible in our own eyes. If we can now plead with ardent desire for the souls of our fellow-men, and especially if we feel a more than common passion for the salvation of sinners, we must attribute it in no small degree to the fact that we have been smitten for sin, and therefore knowing the terrors of the Lord are constrained to persuade men. The laborious pastor, the fervent minister, the ardent evangelist, the faithful teacher, the powerful intercessor, can all trace the birth of their zeal to the sufferings they endured for sin, and the knowledge they thereby attained of its evil nature. We have ever drawn the sharpest arrows from the quiver of our own experience. We find no sword-blades so true in metal as those which have been forged in the furnace of soul-trouble. Aaron’s rod, that budded, bore not one half so much fruit as the rod of the covenant, which is laid upon the back of every chosen child of God; this alone may render us eternally grateful to the Saviour for his rebukes of love.

Charles Spurgeon, The Saint and His Savior

Even now, the Lord is betrayed

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Just now, the Lord Jesus is betrayed by not a few of His professed ministers. He is being crucified afresh in the perpetual attacks of skepticism against His blessed gospel; and it may be that things will wax worse and worse. This is not the first occasion when it has been so, for, at various times in the history of the Church of God, His enemies have exulted, and cried out that the gospel of past ages was exploded, and might be reckoned as dead and buried. For one, I mean to sit over against the very sepulchre of truth. I am a disciple of the old-fashioned doctrine as much when it is covered with obloquy and rebuke as when it shall again display its power, as it surely shall. Skeptics may seem to take the truth, and bind it, and scourge it, and crucify it, and say that it is dead; and they may endeavour to bury it in scorn, but the Lord has many a Joseph and a Nicodemus who will see that all due honour is done even to the body of truth, and will wrap the despised creed in sweet spices, and hide it away in their hearts. They may, perhaps, be half afraid that it is really dead, as the wise men assert; yet it is precious to their souls, and they will come forth right gladly to espouse its cause, and to confess that they are its disciples. We will sit down in sorrow, but not in despair; and watch until the stone is rolled away, and Christ in His truth shall live again, and be openly triumphant. We shall see a Divine interposition, and shall cease to fear; while they who stand armed to prevent the resurrection of the grand old doctrine shall quake and become as dead men, because the gospel’s everlasting life has been vindicated, and they are made to quail before the brightness of its glory.

C. H. Spurgeon, in a sermon at Metropolitan Tabernacle, 1878, (as quoted in C. H. Spurgeon’s Autobiography, vol. 4, 253)

Fright of one sin is not repentance of all

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Jesus never enters the soul of man to drive out one or two sins, nor even to overcome a band of vices to the exception of others; his work is perfect, not partial; his cleansings are complete baptisms; his purifyings tend to remove all our dross, and consume all our tin. He sweeps the heart from its dust as well as its Dagons; he suffers not even the most insignificant spider of lust to spin its cobweb, with allowance, on the walls of his temple. All heinous sins and private sins, youthful sins and manhood’s sins, sins of omission and of commission, of word and of deed, of thought and of imagination, sins against God or against man, all will combine like a column of serpents in the desert to affright the new-born child of heaven; and he will desire to see the head of every one of them broken beneath the heel of the destroyer of evil, Jesus, the seed of the woman. Believe not thyself to be truly awakened unless thou abhorrest sin in all its stages, from the embryo to the ripe fruit, and in all its shades, from the commonly allowed lust down to the open and detested crime. When Hannibal took oath of perpetual hatred to the Romans, he included in that oath plebeians as well as patricians; so if thou art indeed at enmity with evil, thou wilt abhor all iniquity, even though it be of the very lowest degree. Beware that thou write not down affright at one sin as being repentance for all.

C. H. Spurgeon, The Saint and His Savior: The Progress of the Soul in the Knowledge of Jesus, 84–85

This should make us stop and think

Without realizing it, leaders can paint their own dysfunction over churches, ministries, and missions fields. All too easily, the effort to preach the gospel becomes about appeasing fears and insecurities, turning leadership into a tool used to primarily gain a sense of personal meaning.

If this doesn’t make us sweat a little bit, I’m not sure we’re examining ourselves carefully enough, what do you think?

What makes the humble cry out for grace?

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It is not fear of damning, but fear of sinning, which makes the truly humbled cry out for grace. True, the fear of hell, engendered by the threatenings of the law, doth work in the soul much horror and dismay; but it is not hell appearing exceeding dreadful, but sin becoming exceeding sinful and abominable, which is the effectual work of grace. Any man in his reason would tremble at everlasting burnings, more especially when by his nearness to the grave the heat of hell doth, as it were, scorch him; but it is not every dying man that hates sin—yea, none do so unless the Lord hath had dealings with their souls. Say, then, dost thou hate hell or hate sin most? for, verily, if there were no hell, the real penitent would love sin not one whit the more, and hate evil not one particle the less. Wouldst thou love to have thy sin and heaven too? If thou wouldst, thou hast not a single spark of divine life in thy soul, for one spark would consume thy love to sin. Sin to a sin-sick soul is so desperate an evil that it would scarce be straining the truth to say that a real penitent had rather suffer the pains of hell without his sins than enter the bliss of heaven with them, if such things were possible. Sin, sin, SIN, is the accursed thing which the living soul hateth.

C. H. Spurgeon, The Saint and His Savior: The Progress of the Soul in the Knowledge of Jesus, 81–82.

The righteous don’t go with the flow

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The happy man (or, the man enjoying God’s blessing) is the separated man, a man who is not in neutral but who has a bias against evil in all its forms.… So… how happy the man who does not… He is countercultural. He is, in a word, different. He is not just a nice, easy-going, tolerant chap who likes to share a Löwenbräu with you. There’s a difference between the righteous man here and what my culture calls a ‘good old boy.’ He resists the vacuum-cleaner power-moves that evil puts on him. Mardy Grothe tells of a long-lived lady who, when asked what was the best thing about being 104, replied, ‘No peer pressure.’ But the righteous man in [Psalm 1:1] is not 104 and he meets plenty of peer pressure. It may cost him. But the righteous man is the one who does not go with the flow.

Dale Ralph Davis, The Way of the Righteous in the Muck of Life: Psalms 1-12, 15

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When is saving repentance truly seen?

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If our sorrow only gushes forth when we are musing upon the doom of the wicked, and the wrath of God, we have then reason to suspect its evangelical character; but if contemplations of Jesus, of his cross, of heaven, of eternal love, of covenant grace, of pardoning blood and full redemption bring tears to our eyes, we may then rejoice that we sorrow after a godly sort. The sinner awakened by the Holy Spirit will find the source of his stream of sorrow not on the thorn-clad sides of Sinai, but on the grassy mound of Calvary. His cry will be, “O sin, I hate thee, for thou didst murder my Lord;” and his mournful dirge over his crucified Redeemer will be in plaintive words—

“’Twas you, my sins, my eruel sins,
His chief tormentors were;
Each of my crimes became a nail,
And unbelief the spear;
’Twas you that pull’d the vengeance down
Upon his guiltless head;
Break, break, my heart, oh burst mine eyes,
And let my sorrows bleed.”

Ye who love the Lord, give your assent to this our declaration, that love did melt you more than wrath, that the wooing voice did more affect you than the condemning sentence, and that hope did impel you more than fear. It was when viewing our Lord as crucified, dead, and buried that we most wept. He with his looks made us weep bitterly, while the stern face of Moses caused us to tremble, but never laid us prostrate confessing our transgression. We sorrow because our offence is against Him, against his love, his blood, his grace, his heart of affection. Jesus is the name which subdues the stubborn heart, if it be truly brought into subjection to the Gospel. He is the rod which bringeth waters out of the rock, he is the hammer which breaketh the rock in pieces.

C. H. Spurgeon, The Saint and His Savior: The Progress of the Soul in the Knowledge of Jesus, 82–83.

The story is God’s story

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Anyone who has had Bible stories read to him as a child knows that there are great stories in the Bible. But it is possible to know Bible stories, yet miss the Bible story. The Bible is much more than William How stated: “a golden casket where gems of truth are stored.” It is more than a bewildering collection of oracles, proverbs, poems, architectural directions, annals, and prophecies. The Bible has a story line. It traces an unfolding drama. The story follows the history of Israel, but it does not begin there, nor does it contain what  you would expect in a national history. The narrative does not pay tribute to Israel. Rather, it regularly condemns Israel and justifies God’s severest judgments.

The story is God’s story. It describes His work to rescue rebels from their folly, guilt, and ruin. And in His rescue operation, God always takes the initiative. When the apostle Paul reflects on the drama of God’s saving work, he says in awe, “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen” (Rom. 11:36).

Only God’s revelation could maintain a drama that stretches over thousands of years as though they were days or hours. Only God’s revelation can build a story where the end is anticipated from the beginning, and where the guiding principle is not chance or fate, but promise. Human authors may build fiction around a plot they have devised, but only God can shape history to a real and ultimate purpose.

Edmund Clowney, The Unfolding Mystery, 12-13

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God’s Word is our ultimatum

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Certain errant spirits are never at home till they are abroad: they crave for a something which I think they will never find, either in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, or in the water under the earth, so long as they are in their present mind. They never rest, for they will have nothing to do with an infallible revelation; and hence they are doomed to wander throughout time and eternity, and find no abiding city. For the moment they glory as if they were satisfied with their last new toy; but in a few months it is sport to them to break in pieces all the notions which they formerly prepared with care, and paraded with delight. They go up a hill only to come down again. Indeed they say that the pursuit of truth is better than truth itself. They like fishing better than the fish; which may very well be true, since their fish are very small, and very full of bones. These men are as great at destroying their own theories as certain paupers are at tearing up their clothes. They begin again de novo, times without number: their house is always having its foundation digged out. They should be good at beginnings; for they have always been beginning since we have known them. They are as the rolling thing before the whilrwind, or ‘like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt,’ Although their cloud is not that cloud which betokened the divine presence, yet it is always moving before them, and their tents are scarcely pitched before it is time for the stakes to be pulled up again. These men are not even seeking certainty; their heaven lies in shunning all fixed truth, and following every will-o’-the-wisp of speculation: they are ever learning, but they never come to a knowledge of the truth.

As for us, we cast anchor in the heaven of the Word of God. Here is our peace, our strength, our life, our motive, our hope, our happiness. God’s Word is our ultimatum. Here we have it. Our understanding cries, ‘I have found it'; our conscience asserts that here is the truth; and our heart finds here a support to which all her affections can cling; and hence we rest content.

Charles Spurgeon, The Greatest Fight in the World, 40-42

Neglecting the Holy Spirit is as sinful as misrepresenting Him

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

Because of certain exaggerations, excesses and freak manifestations, and the crossing of the border line from the spiritual to the scientific, the political and the merely emotional, there are many people who are afraid of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, afraid of being too subjective. So they neglect it altogether. I would also suggest that others have neglected the doctrine because they have false ideas with regard to the actual teaching concerning the person of the Holy Spirit.…

Let me put it very plainly like this: you would all agree that to neglect or to ignore the doctrine about the Father would be a terrible thing. We would all agree that it is also a terrible thing to neglect the doctrine and the truth concerning the blessed eternal Son. Do we always realise that it is equally sinful to ignore or neglect the doctrine of the blessed Holy Spirit? If the doctrine of the Trinity is true—and it is true—then we are most culpable if in our thinking and in our doctrine we do not pay the same devotion and attention to the Holy Spirit as we do to the Son and to the Father. So whether we feel inclined to do so or not, it is our duty as biblical people, who believe the Scripture to be the divinely inspired word of God, to know what the Scripture teaches about the Spirit. And, furthermore, as it is the teaching of the Scripture that the Holy Spirit is the one who applied salvation, it is of the utmost practical importance that we should know the truth concerning Him.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God the Holy Spirit, 5-6

How do you know when God is using you in your preaching?

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The worst, powerless, exhausting, futile sermons I’ve ever preached have been the ones where I’ve preached it once before. There are no rules against this, certainly, and it’s definitely not sinful to do (if it were, conference speakers would be up a creek without a paddle).While some do this quite skillfully, when I do it, I fall flat on my face, confident I will never preach again.

Every.

Single.

Time.

Why is this so? Because, as Martin Lloyd-Jones put it so eloquently, “True preaching…is God acting. It is not just a man uttering words; it is God using him.”1

So, how do you know when God’s using you in your preaching? Lloyd-Jones suggests you tend to see it when He’s not:

You are in your own church preaching on a Sunday. You preach a sermon, and for some reason this sermon seems to go easily, smoothly, and with a degree of power. You are moved yourself; you have what is called ‘a good service’, and the people are as aware of this as you are. Very well; you are due to preach somewhere else, either the next Sunday or on a week-night, and you say to yourself, ‘I will preach that sermon which I preached last Sunday. We had a wonderful service with it.’ So you go into this other pulpit and you take that same text, and you start preaching. But you suddenly find that you have got virtually nothing; it all seems to collapse in your hands. What is the explanation? One explanation is this. What happened on the previous Sunday when you preached that sermon in your own pulpit was that the Spirit came upon you, or perhaps upon the people…and your little sermon was taken up, and you were given that exceptional service. But you are in different circumstances with a different congregation, and you yourself may be feeling different. So you now have to rely upon your sermon, and you suddenly find that you haven’t much of a sermon.2

This is a helpful reminder for me, simply because it is so reflective of my own experience. Preaching is not simply faithfully preparing a sermon, it is also God acting in and through preaching. We may not always realize Lord is working through us, but we definitely know when we’re on our own in the pulpit. And it is a dreadful.