Slavery to Sin and “Free-Will”

In today’s class I touched on the much disputed, but often incorrectly explained, notion of man’s so-called “free-will”.

What I wanted to show today, and what I will demonstrate in this post, is that “free-will” must be correctly defined and understood if we’re going to use the term in a Biblical and accurate manner. Further, the idea itself that “free-will” exists is a bit of a misnomer, and I will seek to give you some logical reasoning for that truth.  Lastly, “free-will” as it relates to our choice of Christ and salvation from bondage is a most abhorrent notion in the general way Christians today think of it. I will show you why its not only abhorrent, but also a logical absurdity.

Free-Will Popularly Defined

First we must understand what we’re talking about, and that means defining our terms.  “Free-will” is often understood to mean our mind/soul/will making choices in complete freedom and liberty, with no previous (“antecedent”) influence or outside influence or internal (spiritual) influence. For brevity sake, let it suffice to say that those who define freedom this way say that our will can be completely neutral or “indifferent” before we make our decisions. That the only thing that affects our decisions is our mind, or emotion, or understanding etc. (pre-supposing an entirely “free” act of the mind upon the will…as if one can be suspended apart from the other without any antecedent motive or influence).

I believe this is a poor definition of “free-will”, but it is what most people think of when they hear the term. They think of the power to make their own choice without reference to any outside/inside agency or coercion.

There’s No Such Thing as a Perfectly “Free” and Unbiased Will

In order for this popular definition of “free-will” to work in reality, our will must first achieve a perfect state of indifference or neutrality before making a decision – before choosing one thing or another. Without laboring the point too much, let me just say that this is a logical impossibility. It is impossible to not have any prior inclination or motive informing our mind/will either internally or externally. In other words, we do not live in a vacuum.

Jonathan Edwards explains, “to make out this scheme of liberty, the indifference must be perfect and absolute; there must be a perfect freedom from all antecedent preponderation of inclination. Because if the will be already inclined  before it exerts its own sovereign power on itself, then its inclination is not wholly owing to itself…For so long as prior inclination possesses the will, and is not removed, the former binds the latter, so that it is utterly impossible that the will should act otherwise than agreeable to it. Surely the will canot act or choose contrary to a remaining prevailing inclination of the will.

Now maybe it is obvious what I am getting at…the idea of a “free-will” (as popularly defined) is really non-existent because of the fact that we always lean on prior information and current desire to form our decision making.  We cannot properly claim for ourselves perfect indifference. In fact, because we are born into a bondage to sin all of our decision making is tainted by our sinful viewpoint and sinful desires. This is why re-birth is so crucial to true sanctification, and why “renewing our minds” has a much deeper meaning than most people perhaps realize.

Our Will is Never at Liberty Until Freed by Christ

Let us now briefly take a step back before looking at what Christ has done for us through regeneration, and remember the that prior to His work we were in a state of complete mental, emotional, and spiritual captivity. A.W. Pink helps us here:

The condition of the natural man is far, far worse than he imagines, and far worse than the average preacher and Sunday school teacher supposes. Man is a fallen creature, totally depraved, with no soundness in him from the sole of his foot even unto the head (Isa. 1:6). He is completely under the dominion of sin (John 8:34), a bond-slave to divers lusts (Titus 3:3), so that he “cannot cease from sin” (2 Pet. 2:14). Moreover, the natural man is thoroughly under the dominion of it. He is taken captive by the Devil at his will (2 Tim. 2:26). He walks according to the Prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience (Eph. 2:2). He fulfills the lusts of his father, the Devil (John 8:44). He is completely dominated by Satan’s power (Col. 1:13). And from this thraldom nothing but the truth of God can deliver.

We’ve also read in our study of John that mankind not only doesn’t desire the good things of God, but actually desires to stay in his sin and darkness (see John 3:19-21).

So when Jesus and Paul say that we are in bondage to sin, they’re saying that in man’s natural fallen state he will always choose sin above the things of God. Read that carefully – he will always “choose” sin above God and righteousness. It isn’t as though we didn’t have the “freedom” to choose. It is that in our “freedom” (or shall I say “bondage”) we chose sin – and we will always choose sin until the work of the Spirit because the things of God were things that we did not desire. The “antecedent” motive that Edwards speaks of, is tainted by sinful desires and information. Not until Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, changed out hearts and brought us into newness of life, did we desire to choose Christ or the things of God.

You can now perhaps begin to see how we can rightfully say that as human beings we are not puppets or robots, but that the way we popularly speak about “free-will” is off-kilter and inaccurate. Our freedom exists, but it is informed by our desires, and we choose the things we desire most. Therefore, prior to Christ, we were truly free only to sin.

Calvin explains, “For so long as we are governed by our sense and by our natural disposition, we are in bondage to sin; but when the Lord regenerates us by his Spirit, he likewise makes us free, so that, loosed from the snares of Satan, we willingly obey righteousness. But regeneration proceeds from faith, and hence it is evident that freedom proceeds from the gospel.”

Edwards further elaborates, “The will, therefore, so long as it is under the influence of an old preponderating inclination, is not at liberty for a new free act; or any, that shall now be an act of self-determination.”

In Conclusion – New Creations in Christ!

This has been a short post, and certainly there is more to be said on this topic, but I wanted to explain the logical absurdity of the idea that somehow, outside of the internal sovereign work of the Spirit and the reading of His Word, we freely choose/chose God and make righteous decisions. First God loved us, then we responded in love toward Him for the irresistible beauty of the offer of eternal life. The blinders were taken off, and we now freely choose what He freely offers.

In order to appreciate this great truth, we must first understand and appreciate what freedom is, what it is not, and just how much freedom we had prior to our being born again. The power of old things (antecedent inclinations and desires) has been broken. In the context of our discussion on the will, Edwards explains this reality, “Therefore, if there be the least degree of antecedent preponderation of the will, it must be perfectly abolished, before the will can be at liberty to determine itself the contrary way.” Thanks be to God that he has “abolished” our old ways (though we still battle the flesh – Rom. 7), and given us His Spirit!

Because we are now new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), and as I explained this morning, we now have freedom to choose not to sin. Our choices always rest upon our strongest inclinations/desires at the moment of choice. If you are not a Christian, that inclination will never be for the things of God (see Romans 1). If you are a Christian, and walking in the Spirit, you will bear the fruit of that Spirit (Jn. 8:31-32), and make choices that reflect the One who is changing those desires within you (2 Cor. 3:18).

Study Notes 11-18-12

We continue our study of John’s Gospel and will be looking at some of our Lord’s greatest words (if one can possibly peal off greatness from greatness) as it pertains to freedom, and our natural state of slavery to sin and darkness.

The Lord has freed us from the galleys of slavery and to sin and self-centeredness and brought us into the glorious light of the knowledge of His gospel.  God be praised!  Let’s start into the lesson…

John 8:31-36 – Freedom from Sin

8:31-32 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, [32] and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

First I want to go back and examine how verse 30 and verse 31 interact with each other, because many good commentators have pointed out that both verses in many of our English versions use the word “believe” to describe the people’s reaction here.

Some say there is some difference between the meanings used, Boice, for instance says that the first is meant to be saving faith and the latter to mean intellectual ascent.  But they both utilize the same Greek word “pisteuō”, so I’m not entirely convinced of that.  What I am convinced of is that those who were listening to Jesus may have believed what He was saying mentally, but obviously they didn’t stand the discipleship test, which we’ll see later on.

Abiding in the Word

The second thing we note here is the nature of a true Christian.  The true Christian “abides” in the word of Christ.

In our study of John 6:55-56 we talked about the nature of abiding.  Those verses say, “For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.” Here is what I noted about what it meant to “abide”:

The word “abide” is “meno” in the Greek and can mean to sojourn or tarry in a place, to be kept continually, to continue to be present, to endure, and when talking about it in relation to a state a condition of a person it can mean to “remain as one” and “not become different.”

To abide in Christ and have Him abide in us is normally meant that we are continually relying on Christ for our vitality.  I like what the ESV Study notes say, “abide in me means to continue in a daily, personal relationship with Jesus, characterized by trust, prayer, obedience, and joy.”

What Christ is saying, in affect, is that a true Christian will have the desire to spend time listening, reading, and meditating on His word.  A true Christian will be obeying His word as well.  These are fruits of a true Christ-follower.  Truly it is a privilege to know something of the eternal God, and that we should know this truth in even a small way is in itself part of our reward as well as our fruit of the relationship we gain by acquaintance with Jesus.  Calvin enumerates upon this privilege as only Calvin can:

Wherefore, whatever progress any of us have made in the Gospel, let him know that he needs new additions. This is the reward which Christ bestows on their perseverance, that he admits them to greater familiarity with him; though in this way he does nothing more than add another gift to the former, so that no man ought to think that he is entitled to any reward. For it is he who impresses his word on our hearts by his Spirit, and it is he who daily chases away from our minds the clouds of ignorance which obscure the brightness of the Gospel. In order that the truth may be fully revealed to us, we ought sincerely and earnestly to endeavor to attain it. It is the same unvarying truth which Christ teaches his followers from the beginning to the end, but on those who were at first enlightened by him, as it were with small sparks, he at length pours a full light. Thus believers, until they have been fully confirmed, are in some measure ignorant of what they know; and yet it is not so small or obscure a knowledge of faith as not to be efficacious for salvation.

Freedom from Sin

The third thing we take from the passage is the result of abiding is learning the truth, and by learning that truth we will experience a great reality: freedom.  What kind of freedom could He mean?  I believe that Christ is talking about freedom from sin, freedom from guilt, freedom from the slavery to the prince of this world – what Calvin calls “an invaluable blessing.”  It is these points Jesus goes on to labor in his debate with the Pharisees.

What does true freedom looks like? Freedom looks like someone who has the fruit of the Spirit.  And, not coincidently, those who have the fruit of the Spirit are also abiding in the Word of God – written by that same Spirit.

Perhaps there is no better expositing of this truth than Paul’s writing in Romans 6.  The entire chapter is about being free from sin, and being a slave to righteousness.  The dichotomy between the two is labored by Paul because so many people think that they are basically good people who happen to sin a little here and there.

Amazing to think that what was so important for Paul to intensively labor in Romans 6, is actually more pertinent today than ever before.

Perhaps the most pertinent part of Romans 6 as it applies to this particular verse, is the section between verses 6 and 11:

[6] We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. [7] For one who has died has been set free from sin. [8] Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. [9] We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. [10] For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. [11] So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

The main thrust of this part of the passage is that we were formally slaves to sin, but because of Christ’s work we have been set free from sin.  It is the gospel that has delivered us from our sin. That is the freedom Christ is talking about here in verse 32.  He’s saying that because He was going to conquer death, death would no longer have dominion over us. Sin’s end is death, and so sin and its result (death) would no longer have power over anyone who believes upon Christ. Calvin agrees, saying that the kind of liberty that’s being described here is “that which sets us free from the tyranny of Satan, sin, and death.”

Barnes says, “The service of God is freedom from degrading vices and carnal propensities; from the slavery of passion and inordinate desires. It is a cheerful and delightful surrender of ourselves to Him whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light.”

When we think about the practical way this has revolutionized our lives, its unthinkable to go back to living any other way. Calvin says, “All men feel and acknowledge that slavery is a very wretched state; and since the gospel delivers us from it, it follows that we derive from the gospel the treasure of a blessed life.”  To this comment I can only add “amen!”

Born Free?

I’m always amazed at how many Christians insist on stating that they “freely” chose Christ because they were born with “free will.”  But as R.C. Sproul reminds us, we need to be cautious when we talk about free will so that we know exactly what it is we’re saying.

Certainly God gives us the freedom of choice to make decisions.  We aren’t robots, and we aren’t puppets.  But there are some things that even in our natural freedom we are not free to do.  One of those things is not sinning.  When we are born into this world, we are not free not to sin.  In other words, we are going to sin because it is who we are, and we are enslaved to it.  We will continue in this sin until Christ sets us free from it.

Calvin comments, “It is astonishing that men are not convinced by their own experience, so that, laying aside their pride, they may learn to be humble. And it is a very frequent occurrence in the present day, that, the greater the load of vices by which a man is weighed down, the more fiercely does he utter unmeaning words in extolling free-will.”

This is what irked the Pharisees.  They were saying, “Hey Jesus, we’re not slaves to anyone!  We make our own decisions.  We live our own lives.  No one rules over us, or our families!” But they were wrong in saying this, and people today are wrong in thinking that mankind is free to do whatever they’d like – we aren’t free to be holy and perfect because we’re incapable of it in our natural state.

When you think about how this plays out, it’s really worth contemplating and meditating on deeply because it shows the state of our old self and where we were headed apart from Christ.  For when we were slaves to sin, not only were we tethered to that form of life that is most odious to Christ, but we are tethered to the result of that life, namely death. When Christ unchains us from our slavery to sin, He also unchains us from the pangs of death – death could not rule over him (Acts 2), and we also have victory over death due to His death and resurrection (Rom. 6).

A.W. Pink laments at how fallen we are in our natural state, and yet how unwilling we are to realize this fact:

The condition of the natural man is far, far worse than he imagines, and far worse than the average preacher and Sunday school teacher supposes. Man is a fallen creature, totally depraved, with no soundness in him from the sole of his foot even unto the head (Isa. 1:6). He is completely under the dominion of sin (John 8:34), a bond-slave to divers lusts (Titus 3:3), so that he “cannot cease from sin” (2 Pet. 2:14). Moreover, the natural man is thoroughly under the dominion of it. He is taken captive by the Devil at his will (2 Tim. 2:26). He walks according to the Prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience (Eph. 2:2). He fulfills the lusts of his father, the Devil (John 8:44). He is completely dominated by Satan’s power (Col. 1:13). And from this thraldom nothing but the truth of God can deliver.

When I first read Pink’s comments it struck me to the bone. His first sentence was aimed at me – the teacher. Am I really honest with how ugly I was before Christ? That is a question that not many men or women truly meditate on for much more than a passing thought – perhaps before taking the Lord’s Super. But what Pink is calling us to realize is our state of depravity and darkness without Jesus.

Calvin says this, “For so long as we are governed by our sense and by our natural disposition, we are in bondage to sin; but when the Lord regenerates us by his Spirit, he likewise makes us free, so that, loosed from the snares of Satan, we willingly obey righteousness. But regeneration proceeds from faith, and hence it is evident that freedom proceeds from the gospel.”

Barnes adds, “There is need of the gospel. That only can make men free, calm, collected, meek, and lovers of truth; and as every man is by nature the servant of sin, he should without delay seek an interest in that gospel which can alone make him free.”

In the midst of our celebration of this freedom, we pause and wonder, “now wait a minute, how is it that I still continue to sin?”  Well, as Paul works this matter of slavery out in Romans 6, we are glad he continued to write because when we get to Romans 7 we learn that he faced that same dilemma – namely that he still continued to battle sin.  Despite the freedom not to sin that Christ has given us, Paul says that we still sin due to the nature of the flesh. But I don’t want to get too deep into that here.  The main point we need to see is the dichotomy between one who is a slave to sin, and one who is not, and that we have been made free men and women by the power and work of Christ.

8:33 They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”

Ironically, the very shackles that bound these Pharisees in their sin were the same chains causing them to claim they weren’t enslaved to anyone.  In their blindness they claimed they weren’t blind.  In their darkness they claimed to be enlightened.  These were truly men who were missing the point.

Oddly enough (and Calvin picks up on this point as well) it isn’t as though these people have never been enslaved physically to anyway…in point of fact, they were currently under a type of mild slavery/tyranny by the Romans at this very time in history – something I will address shortly. Warren Wiersbe collects these thoughts together succinctly:

Their claim that Abraham’s descendants had never been in bondage was certainly a false one that was refuted by the very record in the Old Testament Scriptures. The Jews had been enslaved by seven mighty nations, as recorded in the book of Judges. The ten northern tribes had been carried away captive by Assyria, and the two southern tribes had gone into seventy years of captivity in Babylon. And at that very hour, the Jews were under the iron heel of Rome! How difficult it is for proud religious people to admit their failings and their needs!

Pink cites all of the above that Wiersbe mentions, and then says, “It was therefore the height of absurdity and a manifest departure from the truth for them to affirm that the seed of Abraham had never been in bondage. Yet no more untenable and erroneous was this than the assertions of present-day errorists who prate so loudly of the freedom of the natural man, and who so hotly deny that his will is enslaved by sin.”

8:34-36 Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. [35] The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. [36] So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Jesus uses the emphatic phrase “truly, truly” to get our attention.  He is saying to us “pay attention to this.”

Bondage to our Self-Centeredness

D.A. Carson explores the intent of what Christ is saying, “For Jesus, then, the ultimate bondage is not enslavement to a political or economic system, but vicious slavery to moral failure, to rebellion against the God who had made us. The despotic master is not Caesar, but shameful self-centeredness, an evil and enslaving devotion to created things at the expense of worship of the Creator.”

In other words, we are so self-centered and self-serving that our own sin and moral failures are the chief problems that need to be dealt with in life.

I think this is so important because the context in which Jesus is saying this is under the oppression of the Roman regime. The Jewish people had found their freedoms limited, and their liberties cut off. We also are going through a time in America where our own liberties are in question. We see the despotic nature of our government, which is becoming ever more tyrannical and hostile to Christian beliefs and values, and we wonder (rightly) if our freedoms will all be gone within a generation.

The generation of men and women Christ was addressing were far worse off than we are today, yet, like them, we often find ourselves distracted from solving life’s most important challenges, and that is what Christ came to solve.  The real problem is with ourselves, not our government. There’s only so much you can do about government – believe me, I’ve been fighting that battle for a while now.  Jesus isn’t saying that freedom from political tyranny isn’t important, what He is saying is that there’s something even more important.  When the Son of God came to the earth, He came to address life’s biggest problems, life’s biggest challenges. He came to free us from our bondage to sin.

That’s why we gather on Sunday mornings, that’s why we “abide” in the word of God, that’s why we pray and devote ourselves to growth in Christ. Because what we are doing today and on these other days, is addressing the real problems in life – life’s most consequential and difficult challenges.

The Power of the Son

The second thing that Jesus says in this passage is that as the Son of God He has unique privileges and power. He has the ability to set them free, because He has full reign over the house of God.  Calvin comments, “By these words he means that the right of freedom belongs to himself alone, and that all others, being born slaves, cannot be delivered by his grace.  For what he possesses as his own by nature he imparts to us by adoption, when we are engrafted by faith into his body, and become his members.”

“…the Gospel is the instrument by which we obtain our freedom” – Calvin

One of the main reasons I like to bring up the issue of the way we view “free will” is because in our “freedom” we come to rely too heavily on our flesh for the support of our souls. Here is what I mean by that: when we are going through the turmoil that this life brings us, it is natural (because of the flesh) to wonder at the purpose of life, and even whether our souls are truly saved. We wonder at God and ask Him in our difficulties whether He’s really there or not.  We wonder at Him and ask if we are truly saved or not.

Well one of the great things we hear Jesus saying in this passage is that “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” In other words, He is the one with the power over sin and death, and not your “free will” or your “fleshly power.”  To steal a recent campaign theme, “you didn’t build this” – no indeed: Christ built this!

Carson says this, “Jesus not only enjoys inalienable rights as the unique Son of God, but exercises full authority, vested in him by the Father (3:35), to liberate slaves. Those who Jesus liberates from the tyranny of sin are really (ontos) free.”

Those who build their house upon this Rock will be able to stand firm in the storm because they know they weren’t the craftsmen, they weren’t the guarantee of the foundation’s sturdiness.  Christ Himself is the cornerstone and the Master Builder, and when life’s trials come, you can say with confidence “I will survive this, and either by life or death I will be with Christ, for He is my firm foundation, and in His work I can trust.”

Carson makes the great point that once free, we have been set free for a purpose:

True freedom is not the liberty to do anything we please, but the liberty to do what we ought; and it is genuine liberty because doing what we ought now pleases us.

What an amazing truth he’s hit on here. Christ knows that those who are set free are going to want to please Christ – before we simply wanted to please ourselves, now we have a desire and are at liberty to please the Lover of our Souls.

Dear friends: step away from the reliance on your own work, and rest upon the great and mighty work of Jesus Christ – the Son who has set you free!

 

Election 2012 Aftermath

Most of you know how deeply I am involved in politics.  It’s my livelihood, and I’ve made a career out of helping candidates get elected and then helping them communicate with their constituents. As a Christian working in politics, I’ve always had a lot of thinking to do on the issues that face our country, and how exactly I ought to prioritize my efforts on these issues.

I’m more convinced than ever that the number one issue facing our nation is spiritual and moral bankruptcy. The only solution for this is the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  As Al Mohler points out this morning:

Evangelical Christians must see the 2012 election as a catastrophe for crucial moral concerns. The election of President Obama returns a radically pro-abortion President to the White House, soon after he had endorsed same-sex marriage. President Obama is likely to have the opportunity to appoint one or more justices to the U.S. Supreme Court, and they are almost sure to agree with his constitutional philosophy.

I’m in a reflective mood this morning and I’m recalling how many people have said to me “you’re really involved in an important line of work!” After all, I know important people, and I help shape the campaigns and outreach efforts of some of the most powerful people in our nation. But as I consider all that I’m involved with day-to-day, I have come to believe that my work in politics is secondary to the most important work one can be involved in, and that’s the spread of the Gospel. That is the reality – and the sooner that we conform our lives to that reality, the sooner we’ll be able to make a difference in this fallen world.

“Conforming” to this reality means conforming our minds and how we spend our time and energy to the image of Christ. Can you honestly say that you are more concerned with those dying without the Gospel than you are about whether Republicans or Democrats won or lost last night? Does your speech reflect this? Does your attitude reflect this?

If I didn’t have these truths as the anchor of my life and soul, then I would be devastated, because I’d look around and see a country on the decline, a nation which glorifies the immoral, a people who love sin with a passion that exalts man over God. And indeed I am sad, and distressed for our nation – and I intend on continuing to fight for what is right and good and moral so long as I draw breath. But my hope is not grounded in the outcome of an election. I know that these things will soon pass away. Our nation will pass into history eventually, but the things that are eternal will remain: the Word of the Lord, His Kingdom, and our faith upheld by the power of His grace, and of course, the glorious purposes of God for the consummation of all things in His Son Jesus Christ.

I’d commend anyone interested in reading more about this election and its consequences to Al Mohler’s latest blog entry.  You can read that here.

“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” (Is. 40:8)

Reformation Day 2012

As some of you may know, this past Wednesday was Reformation Day.  Reformation Day is a celebration of what took place during the 16th and 17th centuries in the church of Christ.  Men of God led the church out of darkness by protesting the shackled gospel and hidden Word that had been all but stolen from the sight of men and women by the church of Rome.

Men like John Calvin, Martin Luther, and many others translated the Bible into their native tongues, and preached verse by verse the clear unvarnished word of God. They led what became the Protestant Reformation, and because of their faithfulness we enjoy gospel preaching today.

Below is a video that Pastor John Piper did on Reformation Day.  He traveled to Geneva where Calvin preached for some 25 or so years.  I hope you find this short video inspiring and enjoyable!

United and Abiding in Christ

Yesterday in class we had a great discussion about what it looks like to be abiding in Christ, and we grappled a little with the concept of being united in Christ, and how He wants us to have the same intimate relationship with Him as He has with the Father (or at least that is the picture we get from the Scripture – however difficult this may be for our finite minds to grasp).

I’m in Tampa now, and last night I was reading Jerry Bridges’ book ‘The Transforming Power of the Gospel’ and found some things he says on these topics to be insightful.  I think he expresses each idea in a different way than we approached it in class, so perhaps it will show more depth to the concepts than I was able to explain.

On being united with Christ and growing in grace he says this:

…the reality of the Christian life is that even as we come more and more to desire to do our duty, we still experience the combat between the flesh and spirit. Though we may not understand all that Paul was saying in Romans 7:14-25, most of us can at least identify with some of Paul’s words such as “I do not understand my own actions for I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate” (verse 15) or “I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand” (verse 21).

Obviously this tension between desire performance can cause frustration and discouraged. And the truth is, the more we grow, the more tension between knowledge and desire and perceived progress becomes greater. This is because, as JC Ryle said, “the man whose soul is growing feels his own sinfulness and unworthiness more every year.” How then can we keep motivated in the face of this growing tension?

The answer is through the gospel, particularly the perfect righteousness of Christ credited to us. While we are struggling daily with our tension between knowledge and desire and perceived performance, we are in fact united to Christ (in Him) in his perfect obedience. We must keep our eyes on that glorious truth, and we must do it daily as we embrace the present reality of our justification: our righteous standing in Christ. Only then will we be motivated to keep pursuing holiness even in the face of increased tension.

Later on in the book, Bridges addresses this idea of abiding in Christ and what he thinks it ought to look like.  Here’s what he says:

In John 15:4-5, Jesus made it clear that the divine source of life and power comes through abiding in him. How does one abide?

Most often we think of activities such as studying our Bible and praying as abiding in Christ. These are important spiritual activities and I will address in chapter 10. But these activities do not constitute abiding in Christ; rather, they belong in a subject we called communion with Christ. What then does it mean to abide in Christ? It is reliance on Him for His life and His power. By faith we renounce any confidence in our own wisdom, willpower, and moral strength and rely completely on him to supply the spiritual wisdom and power we need. This does not mean we sit back and just “turn it all over Him” to live His life through us; rather, we rely on him to enable us. So we can say that our salvation is by faith in our transformation is also by faith. But this does not mean that the object of our faith is the same in both cases…In salvation, we are passive except to believe.  In transformation, we are active as we seek to pursue holiness in relying on the Holy Spirit to apply the power of Christ to our hearts and enable us to do his will.

I hope these brief excepts have been helpful to you, and I look forward to more discussion about the nature of Christ’s work in us, and our pursuit of holiness in the weeks and months ahead!

PJW

Golf Tournament for causelife

Some of you might already know that I’m hosting a golf tournament in 6 weeks, and I wanted to pass along the info. The tournament is benefiting causelife – a group that is part of World Help’s ministry.  The goal of the tournament is to raise about $15,000 to build a water well in Guatemala, after the well is built we’ll share the gospel message.

This is an amazing organization, with a real heart for sharing the gospel with the lost and showing others the love of Christ – something I know each of you is interested in.  This will be a neat opportunity to bring unsaved brothers and sisters to either golf, or come to the dinner afterwards and hear Vernon Brewer talk.  Vernon was the first graduate of Liberty University and is really passionate about the spread of the gospel.

We’re playing golf at Longenberger Golf Club – consistently rated one of the best public courses in America.

Please join me in this effort – I think its going to be a lot of fun!  You can click here to register and check out the video below, on the work that this effort will help with…

Total Village Transformation Documentary from World Help on Vimeo.

 

Grace/Gospel-Based Parenting

One thing that we’ve touched on in class and in other activities, is how the gospel changes the way we interact with our spouses and our children.  Paul Tripp and Elyse Fitzpatrick are two rock stars of helping explain this perspective, and below is an interview they’ve done where they talk a little about what it means to interact with our children in this way.  I HIGHLY recommend you watch this video, discuss with your spouse, and pray that God gives you the clarity and patience to implement the principles here.

Getting to the Heart of Parenting: Ted Tripp

This weekend Kate and I went to a homeschool convention in Cincinnati, Ohio and heard from many good speakers.  The topics ranged from teaching creation to logic, to teaching latin, but probably my favorite lecture was from Ted Tripp on addressing obedience issues from a heart perspective.

In case you don’t know who Ted Tripp is, you can find his seminal book on child rearing here, and learn more about him and his ministry here.

A short outline from my notes of what he said, this isn’t the thing in its entirety, but sums up some of the key points he was making:

The heart sets the course of life – Prov. 4:23

“All hopes and desires are all coming out of the heart.  It is the seat of emotions and desires.  Many things we think of as cognitive activities are activities the bible says are from the ‘heart’. It’s possible to setup idols in our hearts and still inquire of God.  So even though people participate in the outward structure of religion they are still idol worshiping in their hearts.  God will not disclose himself to those who are idolatrous.  Ezekiel 14:3-4”

1 John 5:21 says ‘dear children keep yourself from idols’ and John is addressing the most important question for parents. Does something or someone else have control of my child’s heart other than Jesus Christ?   Anything that rules the heart is an idol.  What is driving them?  What is capturing their attention?”

Much time in parenting is wasted in trying to remove bad from and replace it with good fruit that is completely alien to the root system of the tree instead of dealing with the root system of the tree: Idolatry.”

(Therefore, we) should look at our lives and see if there are functional idols (Fear of man, pride, image, others approval).”

Look at what our heart desires.  Where is our treasure?  Matthew 6:19 says everyone has a treasure.  Every child has a treasure.  Whatever that treasurer is will own them. It will own their hearts.  Whatever they treasurer will shape their choices and control their behavior.

There are three kinds of desires.  The desires of the flesh.  (This is from Romans 13)

1. Pleasure seeking (seeks a rush etc)
2. Sensual passions
3. Relationship cravings

“So what rules me? What rules my child?  This is the Lordship question. The world Is always inviting us to desire what it has to offer and put ourselves under its lordship.”

Behavioral sins are always motivated by these internal things (the sin from within).  Jesus focuses on the heart and not the outward behavior (murder in our hearts, adultery in our hearts).  Mark 7:20-23 This is true when he talks about what comes out of a man is what defiles him. Translation: what comes out of a child is what defiles them.  This is a heart issue.  We see this in the greediness, envy, slander, malice, deceit, etc.  ‘From the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks'”

We hang fruit on the tree instead of concerning ourselves with the root system.  We do this by shaming them, heaping guilt on them, threatening them etc.  All of these ways are just ways of manipulating their behavior.  But once you remove those external motivations the fruit rots because it’s not motivated by the life giving roots of the tree.  We are offering our children a false basis of ethics.  We are training the heart in a wrong way.  The real problem isn’t being addressed.  We are manipulating them with the fear or man, pride of life etc. and this doesn’t incorporate he gospel or make it central.  Lastly, it shows the idols of our own hearts: control, pride, etc.

So what are our motivations as parents?  Is it idolatry or a God-centered desire to please and glorify Him?

We need to make the gospel the center in all of our teaching and parenting.  If we don’t then we make hypocrisy the center of our lives because we are sinners as well.
Identify them in their struggle (as Christ identified with us) and bring them to Christ and the cross.