15 Resolves for Maintaining Spiritual Balance in Severe Interpersonal Conflicts

The pain of interpersonal conflict may seem too acute to bear. Sometimes we see these conflicts erupt suddenly among families, or between church members, or at work or school. They may involve serious allegations that tend to rip people apart in ways that seem irreparable. In these most severe ruptures of confidence, when the necrosis of sin is eating up the lives of those involved, is it possible to rise above and maintain a spiritual composure? Certainly that must be so. But we have to apply biblical principles ruthlessly, without wavering.

Sin must be confronted when a person is truly abusive to you. If you are in such a relationship, seek counsel from a pastor or Christian counselor. Don’t feel ashamed to deal with the issue. It will be the best thing for you and the abusive person. God has clearly stated: “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault” (Mt. 18:15). What follows in Matthew 18 is a process of church discipline leading to removal from the church if the person is not repentant. Yet, in the middle of it all, a grace-filled attitude about the painful struggle you are going through will help you deal with the issue in a way that honors God. You must do all you can to find peace and joy and to remain confident in Christ. Following Christ’s example when he suffered unjustly will help.

Here are fifteen areas of obedience that will bring personal peace, assure that God’s reputation is honored in our lives, and improve dramatically the possibility for reconciliation. I have stated them as personal resolves since they demand our action, determination and faith:
 
1.       I will accept whatever means God may use to make me more humble and therefore more dependent on Him, no matter how damaging to my reputation or ambition.
 
“Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:10)
 
2.       I will seek to peacefully and humbly resolve the conflict face to face immediately, unless it is providentially impossible to do so.
 
“Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go: first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” (Matthew 5:23-24)
  
3.       I will thoroughly repent of any known sin in my life, and will sincerely express my repentance to those who are concerned, even if there is blame on the other side.
 
“Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.” (Revelation 3:19)
 
4.       I will be painfully accurate in my words about myself, even if it embarrasses or condemns me (yet I will not be intentionally and unnecessarily hurtful or demeaning to others).
 
“Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord, but those who deal faithfully are His delight.” (Proverbs 12:22)
 
5.       I will believe and speak the truth (i.e. what God says), and not the lie (i.e. what anyone else might say, including me, if my thoughts are contrary to His word) by grounding myself daily through meditation on God’s word.
 
“If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” (John 8:31-32)
 
6.       I will make affection for God and others my great ambition no matter how deeply I have been hurt. 
 
“Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.” (1 Peter 4:8) 
 
7.       I will value fellowship with Christ in suffering as one of the high callings of life even if accused unjustly. 
 
“Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12) 
 
8.       I will treat anxiety as an insipid enemy and a sign to prompt me to pray and to build up my faith by seeking God’s perspective found in reading the Bible carefully and constantly. 
 
“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:8) 
 
9.       I will gladly leave all vengeance to God, who sees and evaluates with perfection. 
 
“Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. . . . If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-21) 
 
10.   I will forgive from my heart any time I’m asked to forgive, not analyzing whether the offending person is worthy, has perfect motives, or is adequately repentant. 
 
“Then Peter came and said to Him, ‘Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.’” (Matthew 18:21-22) 
 
11.   I will cry out to God that His commands would be accomplished in the lives of all involved, but will fully accept His sovereign will even when they are not. 
 
“Your kingdom come. Your will be done.” (Matthew 6:10) 
 
12.   I will entrust myself to the one who judges rightly, just as Christ did, even when I am misunderstood. 
 
“Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.” (1 Peter 4:19) 
 
13.   I will give thanks in everything, and rejoice in the Lord always, for this is safe for me. 
 
“Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you.” (Philippians 3:1) 
“Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (2 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
 
14.   I will persist in believing that God will yet use me in the future even if I have been accused wrongly or was the guilty, but now repentant, offender. 
 
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit. Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will be converted to You.” (Psalm 52:10-13) 
 
15.   I will refuse to let Satan, the archenemy of believers, gain the ultimate victory in this conflict. 
 
“. . . so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes.” (2 Corinthians 2:11) 
“The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” (Romans 16:20)
 
You will notice that the direction of these resolves is downward so that all who are responsive will be in the best position for God’s grace. Grace is often missing in interpersonal conflicts, but it is what we need the most. The apostle Peter said, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Therefore humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you” (1 Peter 5:5-7).
 
Copyright © 2010 Jim Elliff
Christian Communicators Worldwide, Inc.
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including author’s name, title, complete content, copyright and weblink.
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Intro to Judges – Depravity Spirals

Over at the B2Y blog, a group of us from my church in Glasgow have been reading through the Bible using the Robert Murray M’Cheyne Bible Reading Plan with accompanying reading of D.A. Carson’s supporting notes.  I was recently asked by the administrator Greg to write a short introduction to the book of Judges for the blog.  (Incidentally, Greg also came up with the title for the piece, “Depravity Spirals”).

“And the people of Israel [again] did what was what was evil in the sight of the LORD”

Judges 2:11; 3:7, 12; 4:1; 6:1; 8:33; 10:6; 13:1

Reading through Judges can be both frustrating and encouraging at the same time.  Separated as we are from these events by time and culture, Judges can be a difficult read for those of us on this side of the cross, especially for those living in the “civilised” West.  We see recorded within its pages amazing feats of strength and cunning, courage and cowardice, gang rape and dismemberment, massacres, enslavement and a pretty horrific “camping accident”! And that’s just from God’s chosen people.

From a purely Man-centred perspective, Judges makes for a depressing read. We witness God’s chosen people, as an indicator of ALL of fallen humanity, rejecting Him time after time, despite His many provisions, in a downward spiral of depravity.  Judges is a damning record of an ever increasingly faithless people (Judges 2:19) before their faithful, loving and merciful Creator.

It would be helpful for us to remember where and when these events take place in Salvation History.  As this is still relatively early in God’s salvation plan, we should remind ourselves of God’s purpose for saving the Israelites: Jesus Christ (Gen 3:15; Matt 1; Gal 3).

The Israelites disobeyed God by not completely removing the inhabitants of the “Promised Land”.  Was this an act of mercy on the part of the Israelites? (Judges 1:28, 30, 33, 35)

What was God’s response to their disobedience? (Judges 2:3)  How does Paul’s view of his “thorn …in the flesh” help us to understand God’s curse here? (2 Cor 12:7-10)

In Judges 3:4, God reveals another purpose for His preventing the Israelites from fully removing the previous occupants from the land.  Does this seem fair to you?  How does Rom 3:20-26 help us to put these events in perspective (especially v20&26)?

Judges 2:6-20 summarises the whole book of Judges by illustrating the downward cycle of God’s chosen people under God’s law:

1)      God reveals His character and provides for His people (v7)

2)      God’s people forget Him and engage in idolatry (v10-12)

3)      God sends affliction (v14-15)

4)      God’s people remember what He has provided for them in the past and cry out to Him (v16)

5)      God provides Judges (civil leaders) who lead the people back to God and victory (v18-19)

Why is it important for us to remember that the cycle of events always begins at 1)?  How would our view of God as loving and merciful provider change if we only began the event cycle at 3)?

A similar cycle can exist in the NT church today. Where the gospel is at first proclaimed explicitly, the gospel can become assumed (implicit), leading to the gospel becoming consequently forgotten.  In what ways practically do/should you remind yourself, your family and your church of what God has done for you in Christ Jesus? (Deut 6:4-9; Psalm 119:10-12; Rom 1:16; 10:14-17; Heb 10:23-25)

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On Regeneration/True Conversion 3

This week, the JC Ryle Quote blog, has been going through Bishop Ryle’s6 Marks of Regenerationbased on 1 John:

 

1st Mark of Regeneration: A Deep Hatred For Sin

“No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God.” “We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning.” (1 John 3:9; 5:18.)

A Regenerate man does not commit sin as a habit.

“He no longer sins with his heart and will, and whole inclination, as an unregenerate man does. There was probably a time when he did not think whether his actions were sinful or not, and never felt grieved after doing evil. There was no quarrel between him and sin—they were friends. Now he hates sin, flees from it, fights against it, counts it his greatest plague, groans under the burden of its presence, mourns when he falls under its influence, and longs to be delivered from it altogether. In one word, sin no longer pleases him, nor is even a matter of indifference—it has become the abominable thing which he hates. He cannot prevent it dwelling within him. “If he said he had no sin, there would be no truth in him” (1 John 1:8)—but he can say that he keenly abhors it, and the great desire of his soul is not to commit sin at all.

He cannot prevent bad thoughts arising within him, and shortcomings, omissions, and defects appearing, both in his words and actions. He knows, as James says, that “In many things we offend all.” (James 3:2.) But he can say truly, and as in the sight of God, that these things are a daily grief and sorrow to him, and that his whole nature does not consent unto them, as that of the unregenerate man does.

Reader, I place this mark before you. What would the Apostle say about you? Are you born of God?”

2nd Mark of Regeneration: Exclusivity of Christ

“Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God.” (1 John 5:1.)

A Regenerate man believes that Jesus Christ is the only Savior by whom his soul can be pardoned and redeemed; that He is the divine person appointed and anointed by God the Father for this very purpose, and that beside Him there is no Savior at all.

In himself he sees nothing but unworthiness—but in Christ he sees ground for the fullest confidence, and trusting in Him, he believes that his sins are all forgiven and his iniquities all put away. He believes that for the sake of Christ’s finished work and death upon the cross, he is reckoned righteous in God’s sight, and may look forward to death and judgment without alarm. He may have his doubts and fears. He may sometimes tell you he feels as if he had no faith at all. But ask him whether he is willing to trust in anything instead of Christ, and see what he will say.

Ask him whether he will rest his hopes of eternal life on his own goodness, his own amendments, his prayers, his minister, his doings in Church and out of Church, either in whole or in part, and see what he will reply. Ask him whether he will give up Christ, and place his confidence in any other way of salvation. Depend upon it he would say, that though he does feel weak and bad, he would not give up Christ for all the world. Depend upon it—he would say he found a preciousness in Christ, a suitableness to his own soul in Christ, that he found no where else, and that he must cling to Him.

Reader, I place this mark also before you. What would the Apostle say about you? Are you born of God?

3rd Mark of Regeneration: Habits of Holiness

“Everyone that does righteousness is born of Him.” (1 John 2:29.)

The Regenerate man is a holy man.

He endeavors to live according to God’s will, to do the things that please God, to avoid the things that God hates. His aim and desire is to love God with heart and soul, and mind and strength, and to love his neighbor as himself. His wish is to be continually looking to Christ as his example as well as his Savior, and to show himself Christ’s friend by doing whatever Christ commands. No doubt he is not perfect. None will tell you that sooner than himself. He groans under the burden of indwelling corruption cleaving to him. He finds an evil principle within him constantly warring against grace, and trying to draw him away from God. But he does not consent to it, though he cannot prevent its presence.

In spite of all short-comings, the average bent and bias of his ways is holy—his doings holy—his tastes holy—and his habits holy. In spite of all his swerving and turning aside, like a ship going against a contrary wind, the general course of his life is in one direction—toward God and for God. And though he may sometimes feel so low that he questions whether he is a Christian at all, in his calmer moments he will generally be able to say, with old John Newton, “I am not what I ought to be, I am not what I want to be, I am not what I hope to be in another world—but still I am not what I once used to be, and by the grace of God I am what I am.”

4th Mark of Regeneration: Love For Other Christians

“We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren.” (1 John 3:14.)

A Regenerate man has a special love for all true disciples of Christ.

Like his Father in heaven, he loves all men with a genuine general love—but he has a special love for those who are of one mind with himself. Like his Lord and Savior, he loves the worst of sinners, and could weep over them—but he has a peculiar love for those who are believers. He is never so much at home as when he is in their company. He is never so happy as when he is among the saints and the excellent of the earth. Others may value learning, or cleverness, or agreeableness, or riches, or rank—in the society they choose.

The Regenerate man values grace. Those who have most grace, and are most like Christ, are those he loves most. He feels that they are members of the same family with himself, his brethren, his sisters, children of the same Father. He feels that they are fellow-soldiers fighting under the same captain, warring against the same enemy. He feels that they are his fellow-travelers, journeying along the same road, tried by the same difficulties, and soon about to rest with him in the same eternal home. He understands them, and they understand him. There is a kind of spiritual brotherhood between them. He and they may be very different in many ways—in rank, in station, in wealth. What does it matter? They are Jesus Christ’s people. They are his Father’s sons and daughters. Then he cannot help loving them.

Reader, I place this mark also before you. What would the Apostle say about you? Are you born of God?

5th Mark of Regeneration: Overcomes the Love of the World

“Whoever is born of God overcomes the world.” (1 John 5:4.)

A Regenerate man does not make the world’s opinion his rule of right and wrong.

He goes against the stream of the world’s ways, notions, and customs. “What will men say?” is no longer a turning point with him. He overcomes the love of the world. He finds no pleasure in things which most around him call happiness. He cannot enjoy their enjoyments—they weary him; they appear to him vain, unprofitable, and unworthy of an immortal being. He overcomes the fear of the world. He is content to do many things which all around him think unnecessary, to say the least. They find fault with him—it does not move him. They ridicule him—he does not give way. He loves the praise of God more than the praise of man. He fears offending Him more than giving offence to man.

He has counted the cost. He has taken his stand. It is a small thing with him now whether he is blamed or praised. His eye is upon Him who is invisible. He is resolved to follow Jesus wherever he goes. It may be necessary in this following to come out from the world and be separate. The Regenerate man will not shrink from doing so. Tell him that he is unlike other people, that his views are not the views of society generally, and that he is making himself singular and peculiar—you will not shake him. He is no longer the servant of fashion and custom. To please the world is quite a secondary consideration with him. His first aim is to please God.

Reader, I place this mark also before you. What would the Apostle say about you? Are you born of God?

6th Mark of Regeneration: Watchful Over Their Soul

“He who was born of God keeps himself.” (1 John 5:18.)

A Regenerate man is very careful of his own soul.

He endeavors not only to keep clear of sin—but also to keep clear of everything which may lead to it. He is careful about the company he keeps. He feels that evil communications corrupt the heart, and that evil is far more catching than good, just as disease is more infectious than health. He is careful about the employment of his time—his chief desire about it is to spend it profitably. He is careful about the books he reads—he fears getting his mind poisoned by mischievous writings. He is careful about the friendships he forms—it is not enough for him that people are kind, and amiable, and good-natured—all this is very well—but will they do good to his soul?

He is careful over his own daily habits and behavior—he tries to recollect that his own heart is deceitful, and that the world is full of wickedness, that the devil is always laboring to do him harm, and therefore he would sincerely be always on his guard. He desires to live like a soldier in an enemy’s country, to wear his armor continually, and to be prepared for temptation. He finds by experience that his soul is ever among enemies, and he studies to be a watchful, humble, prayerful man.

Reader, I place this mark also before you. What would the Apostle say of you? Are you born of God?

Summarizing the 6 Marks of Regeneration

I know there is a vast difference in the depth and distinctness of these marks among those who are Regenerate. In some people they are faint, dim, feeble, and hardly to be discerned. You almost need a microscope to make them out. In others they are bold, sharp, clear, plain, and unmistakable, so that he who runs may read them. Some of these marks are more visible in some people, and others are more visible in others. It seldom happens that all are equally manifest in one and the same soul. All this I am quite ready to allow.

But still, after every allowance, here we find boldly painted the six marks of being born of God. Here are certain positive things laid down by John, as parts of the Regenerate man’s character, as plainly and distinctly as the features of a man’s face. Here is an inspired Apostle writing one of the last general Epistles to the Church of Christ, telling us that a man born of God—

  • does not commit sin;
  • believes that Jesus is the Christ;
  • does righteousness;
  • loves the brethren;
  • overcomes the world;
  • and keeps himself.

Reader, if you have NOT these marks…

Awake to a sense of your danger. Arise from your sleep of indifference and unconcern. Know the immense peril of hell and eternal misery in which you stand. Begin to use diligently every means by which God is ordinarily pleased to give grace to men’s hearts, when they have not received it in their youth. Be diligent in hearing the Gospel preached. Be diligent in reading the Bible. Be diligent, above all, in prayer to the Lord Jesus Christ for the gift of the Holy Spirit.

If you take this course, I have every hope for you. None ever sought the Lord Jesus Christ in simplicity and sincerity—and sought in vain.

If, on the contrary, you refuse to take this course, and will continue as you are, I have little hope for you, and many fears. If the Bible be true, you are not yet born again. You will not use the most likely means to obtain this mighty blessing. What can I say but this, “the Lord have mercy upon your soul!”

Reader, if you HAVE these marks I have been speaking of…

Be advised, and strive every year to make them more clear and plain. Let your repentance be a growing habit—your faith an increasing faith—your holiness a progressive holiness—your victory over the world a more decided victory—your love to the brethren a more hearty love—your watchfulness over yourself a more jealous watchfulness. Take this advice, and you will never repent of it. This is the way to be useful and happy in your religion. This is the way to put to silence the opposition of the enemies of truth. Let others, if they will, have Regeneration on their tongues, and nowhere else. Let it be your care to have it shining forth in your life, and to feel it in your heart.

~ J.C. Ryle

Regeneration, [Ross-shire, UK: Christian Focus, 2003], 39-42.

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On Regneration/True Conversion 2

Over at the Resurgence, Owen Strachan has posted 5 marks of true conversion:

1. You Love Jesus

2. You Hate Sin

3. You Love God’s Word

4. You Love Truth

5. You Love Believers

Jonathan Edwards sought to promote vibrant Christian faith through teaching people what the “marks,” or signs, of godly living actually are. He did so not merely because he was really smart and liked categorizing things, but because he wanted Christians to experience the joy of true Christianity and then spread that joy to others. In short, he was a missional pastor before the vodcasts and fauxhawks.

1. You Love Jesus

In his 1741 text Distinguishing Marks of a True Work of the Spirit of God, Edwards laid out a number of negative and positive signs that distinguished a true work of God from a false one. Though Edwards focused in this text on revivals more broadly, his words apply to individuals seeking to discern whether they know the Lord.

The first of these signs was a “raised esteem” for Jesus Christ. The point of this first sign is that when the Spirit moves in a person’s heart and awakens them to faith and repentance, their view of Jesus changes. The nominal believer respects Jesus, but does not reverence or exalt him. The true Christian takes delight in Jesus, a delight that is often palpable and contagious. As we serve on mission for God by promoting the gospel, we should expect to see a “raised esteem” for Jesus Christ, the author of our redemption.

2. You Hate Sin

(Adapted from Chapter Three of Jonathan Edwards on True Christianity from The Essential Edwards Collection)

The second sign of a “true work” is an increased hatred for sin and defeat of sinful practices.

    When the spirit that is at work operates against the interest of Satan’s kingdom, which lies in encouraging and establishing sin, and cherishing men’s worldly lusts; this is a sure sign that ’tis a true, and not a false spirit… So that we may safely determine, from what the Apostle says, that the spirit that is at work amongst a people… and convinces them of the dreadfulness of sin, the guilt that it brings, and the misery that it exposes to: I say, the spirit that operates after such a manner, must needs be the Spirit of God (Works 4, 250-51).

This point, like the others, is both profound and simple. One of the clear signs of a work of God is increased hatred for sin. Our eyes are suddenly opened to see the dreadfulness of one’s condition. Where before one had spotted weaknesses and flaws, but always had excuses at the ready to cover up those personal blemishes, now the Spirit shows the sinner just how degraded and evil he is.

3. You Love God’s Word

The third sign of a “true work” is a love for the Bible. Edwards tied this love for Scripture not to simple literary appreciation for its contents, but to a Spirit-given hunger and thirst for the Word of God:

    That spirit that operates in such a manner, as to cause in men a greater regard to the Holy Scriptures, and establishes them more in their truth and divinity, is certainly the Spirit of God… The Devil never would go about to beget in persons a regard to that divine Word, which God hath given to be the great and standing rule for the direction of his church in all religious matters and concerns of their souls, in all ages. (Works 4, 250)

Many people respect the Bible. It is known as a “holy book,” a sacred text. But few people view it as the actual word of God that God himself “has appointed and inspired to deliver to his church its rule of faith and practice” as “the great and standing rule for the direction of his church.” Where a person’s heart flames with love and holy “regard” for the Scriptures, the Spirit has worked.

4. You Love Truth

The fourth sign that marked the presence of a “true work” was a heightened love for truth and the things of God.

An awareness and responsiveness to divine truth was a clear signal that the Lord had moved in human hearts. So where people came to see “that there is a God” and that he is “great” and “sin-hating,” and that they themselves have “immortal souls” and “must give account of themselves to God,” the Spirit was working true conversion.

Edwards rightly noted that the Spirit does not lead believers into error. Therefore, when we hear news of conversion, whether mass or individual, we need to listen for resonances of the truth in the testimony of the convert. Do they love the truth more? Do they love God more? Do they subscribe to sound doctrine, and root their faith in it? Missional Christians seek to hate sin and to lead others to do the same.

5. You Love Believers

The final positive sign in Edwards’s taxonomy of the Spirit’s “true work” was love for one’s fellow Christians.

Many people who profess Christ lose their footing on this final point. They may well appreciate fellow church members and contribute in some way to their well-being, but they have not been filled by the Lord with a holy love for fellow Christians, and thus they do not serve them. True conversion will cause stable couples to take in young Christians hungry for discipleship. It will lead Christians to give generously to missionaries and fellow believers (see 2 Corinthians 8). It will drive older believers to spend time mentoring younger ones (see Titus 2).

In the end, the way one cares for one’s fellow members says more about our testimony of conversion and our understanding of gospel mission than we might initially think. True Christians serve their fellow members out of love, as a response to the grace of Jesus.

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On Regeneration/True Conversion 1

On the topic of true converts versus false converts, George Whitefield once said:

“There are so many stony ground hearers who recieve the Word with joy, that I have determined to suspend my judgement till I know the tree by it’s fruits.  I cannot believe they are converts until I see fruit brought back; it will never do a sincere soul harm.”

And CH Spurgeon warned:

“Sometimes we are inclined to think that a very great portion of modern revivalism has been more a curse than a blessing, because it has led thousands to a kind of peace before they have known their misery; restoring the prodigal to the Father’s house, and never making him say, “Father, I have sinned.” It very often happens that the converts that are born in excitement die when the excitement is over.”

True repentance was the fruit/evidence of regeneration in the believer’s life for the first four of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, which kick-started the Reformation:

  1.  Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, when He said Poenitentiam agite, willed that the whole life of believers should be repentance.
  2.  This word cannot be understood to mean sacramental penance, i.e., confession and satisfaction, which is administered by the priests.
  3.  Yet it means not inward repentance only; nay, there is no inward repentance which does not outwardly work divers mortifications of the flesh.
  4.  The penalty [of sin], therefore, continues so long as hatred of self continues; for this is the true inward repentance, and continues until our entrance into the kingdom of heaven.

There are many fruits of the Holy Spirit’s work in the regenerated believer, but Jesus Christ has told us that repentance must be THE key fruit in their life, as evidence that they are truly born again, and not decieving themselves and others:

Jesus’ message to his listeners was, “Repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). If faith is turning to Jesus and relying on him for salvation, repentance is the flip side of that coin. It is turning away from sin, hating it, and resolving by God’s strength to forsake it, even as we turn to him in faith. So Peter told the on-looking crowd, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out” (Acts 3:19 NIV). And Paul tells everyone “that they should repent and turn to God” (Acts 26:20).
   Repentance is not just an optional plug in to the Christian life. It is absolutely crucial to it, marking out those who have been saved by God from those who have not.
   I have known many people who have said something like, “Yes, I’ve accepted Jesus as Savior, so I’m a Christian. But I’m just not ready to accept him as Lord yet. I have some things to work through.” In other words, they claimed that they could have faith in Jesus and be saved, and yet not repent of sin.
   If we understand repentance rightly, we’ll see that the idea that you can accept Jesus as Savior but not Lord is nonsense. For one thing, it just doesn’t do justice to what Scripture says about repentance and its connection with salvation. For example, Jesus warned, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (
Luke 13:3). The apostles, when they heard Peter’s story about the conversion of Cornelius, praised God for granting to the Gentiles “repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18), and Paul speaks of “repentance that leads to salvation” in 2 Corinthians 7:10.
   Moreover, to have faith in Jesus is, at its core, to believe that he is who he really says he is—the crucified and risen King who had conquered death and sin, and who has the power to save. Now how could a person believe all that, trust in it, and rely on it, and yet at the same time say, “But I don’t acknowledge that you are King over me”? That doesn’t make any sense. Faith in Christ carries in itself a renunciation of that rival power that King Jesus conquered—sin. And where that renunciation of sin is not present, neither is genuine faith in the One who defeated it.
   It is as Jesus said in
Matthew 6:24: “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” To put one’s faith in King Jesus is to renounce his enemies.

—Greg Gilbert, What is the Gospel (Crossway, 2010), 79–80.

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True Christianity is a Fight

The following is an excerpt from “Holiness” by Bishop J. C. Ryle (1879):

True Christianity! Let us mind that word “true.” There is a vast quantity of religion current in the world which is not true, genuine Christianity. It passes muster, it satisfies sleepy consciences; but it is not good money. It is not the authentic reality that called itself Christianity in the beginning. There are thousands of men and women who go to churches and chapels every Sunday and call themselves Christians. They make a “profession” of faith in Christ. Their names are in the baptismal register. They are reckoned Christians while they live. They are married with a Christian marriage service. They mean to be buried as Christians when they die. But you never see any “fight” about their religion! Of spiritual strife and exertion and conflict and self–denial and watching and warring they know literally nothing at all. Such Christianity may satisfy man, and those who say anything against it may be thought very hard and uncharitable; but it certainly is not the Christianity of the Bible. It is not the religion which the Lord Jesus founded and His apostles preached. It is not the religion which produces real holiness. True Christianity is “a fight.”

The true Christian is called to be a soldier and must behave as such from the day of his conversion to the day of his death. He is not meant to live a life of religious ease, indolence and security. He must never imagine for a moment that he can sleep and doze along the way to heaven, like one traveling in an easy carriage. If he takes his standard of Christianity from the children of this world, he may be content with such notions, but he will find no countenance for them in the Word of God. If the Bible is the rule of his faith and practice, he will find his course laid down very plainly in this matter. He must “fight.”

With whom is the Christian soldier meant to fight? Not with other Christians. Wretched indeed is that man’s idea of religion who fancies that it consists in perpetual controversy! He who is never satisfied unless he is engaged in some strife between church and church, chapel and chapel, sect and sect, faction and faction, party and party, knows nothing yet as he ought to know. No doubt it may be absolutely needful sometimes to appeal to law courts in order to ascertain the right interpretation of a church’s articles and rubrics and formularies. But, as a general rule, the cause of sin is never so much helped as when Christians waste their strength in quarreling with one another and spend their time in petty squabbles.

No, indeed! The principal fight of the Christian is with the world, the flesh and the devil. These are his never– dying foes. These are the three chief enemies against whom he must wage war. Unless he gets the victory over these three, all other victories are useless and vain. If he had a nature like an angel, and were not a fallen creature, the warfare would not be so essential. But with a corrupt heart, a busy devil and an ensnaring world, he must either “fight” or be lost.

He must fight the flesh. Even after conversion he carries within him a nature prone to evil and a heart weak and unstable as water. That heart will never be free from imperfection in this world, and it is a miserable delusion to expect it. To keep that heart from going astray, the Lord Jesus bids us, “Watch and pray.” The spirit may be ready, but the flesh is weak. There is need of a daily struggle and a daily wrestling in prayer. “I keep under my body,” cries St. Paul, “and bring it into subjection.” “I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity.” “O wretched man that I am, who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” “Those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” “Mortify . . . your members which are upon the earth” (Mark 14:38; 1 Cor. 9:27; Rom. 7:23, 24; Gal. 5:24; Col. 3:5).

He must fight the world. The subtle influence of that mighty enemy must be daily resisted, and without a daily battle can never be overcome. The love of the world’s good things, the fear of the world’s laughter or blame, the secret desire to keep in with the world, the secret wish to do as others in the world do, and not to run into extremes—all these are spiritual foes which beset the Christian continually on his way to heaven and must be conquered. “The friendship of the world is enmity with God. Whoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” “The world is crucified to me, and I unto the world.” “Whatever is born of God overcomes the world.” “Be not conformed to this world” (James 4:4; 1 John 2:15; Gal. 6:14; 1 John 5:4; Rom. 12:2).

He must fight the devil. That old enemy of mankind is not dead. Ever since the Fall of Adam and Eve he has been “going to and fro in the earth, and walking up and down in it,” and striving to compass one great end—the ruin of man’s soul. Never slumbering and never sleeping, he is always going about as a lion seeking whom he may devour. An unseen enemy, he is always near us, about our path and about our bed, and spying out all our ways. A murderer and a liar from the beginning, he labors night and day to cast us down to hell. Sometimes by leading into superstition, sometimes by suggesting infidelity, sometimes by one kind of tactics and sometimes by another, he is always carrying on a campaign against our souls. “Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat.” This mighty adversary must be daily resisted if we wish to be saved. But “this kind goes not out” but by watching and praying and fighting and putting on the whole armor of God. The strong man armed will never be kept out of our hearts without a daily battle (Job 1:7; 1 Pet. 5:8; John 8:44; Luke 22:31; Eph. 6:11).
Some men may think these statements too strong. You fancy that I am going too far and laying on the colors too thickly. You are secretly saying to yourself that men and women may surely get to heaven without all this trouble and warfare and fighting. Listen to me for a few minutes, and I will show you that I have something to say on God’s behalf. Remember the maxim of the wisest general that ever lived in England: “In time of war it is the worst mistake to underrate your enemy, and try to make a little war.” This Christian warfare is no light matter. What says the Scripture? “Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life.” “Endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ.” “Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Wherefore take unto you the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all to stand.” “Strive to enter in at the strait gate.” “Labor . . . for [the] meat that endures unto everlasting life.” “Do not think that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace but a sword.” “He who has no sword, let him sell his garment and buy one.” “Watch you, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong.” “War a good warfare; holding faith, and a good conscience” (1 Tim. 6:12; 2 Tim. 2:3; Eph. 6:11–13; Luke 13:24; John 6:27; Matt. 10:34; Luke 22:36; 1 Cor. 16:13; 1 Tim. 1:18, 19). Words such as these appear to me clear, plain and unmistakable. They all teach one and the same great lesson, if we are willing to receive it. That lesson is, that true Christianity is a struggle, a fight and a warfare. He who pretends to condemn “fighting” and teaches that we ought to sit still and “yield ourselves to God,” appears to me to misunderstand his Bible, and to make a great mistake….

Whether we are churchmen or not, one thing is certain—this Christian warfare is a great reality and a subject of vast importance. It is not a matter like church government and ceremonial, about which men may differ, and yet reach heaven at last. Necessity is laid upon us. We must fight. There are no promises in the Lord Jesus Christ’s epistles to the seven churches, except to those who “overcome.” Where there is grace there will be conflict. The believer is a soldier. There is no holiness without a warfare. Saved souls will always be found to have fought a fight.

It is a fight of absolute necessity. Let us not think that in this war we can remain neutral and sit still. Such a line of action may be possible in the strife of nations, but it is utterly impossible in that conflict which concerns the soul. The boasted policy of non–interference, the “masterly inactivity” which pleases so many statesmen, the plan of keeping quiet and letting things alone—all this will never do in the Christian warfare. Here at any rate no one can escape serving under the plea that he is “a man of peace.” To be at peace with the world, the flesh and the devil, is to be at enmity with God and in the broad way that leads to destruction. We have no choice or option. We must either fight or be lost.

It is a fight of universal necessity. No rank or class or age can plead exemption, or escape the battle. Ministers and people, preachers and hearers, old and young, high and low, rich and poor, gentle and simple, kings and subjects, landlords and tenants, learned and unlearned—all alike must carry arms and go to war. All have by nature a heart full of pride, unbelief, sloth, worldliness and sin. All are living in a world beset with snares, traps and pitfalls for the soul. All have near them a busy, restless, malicious devil. All, from the queen in her palace down to the pauper in the workhouse, all must fight, if they would be saved.

It is a fight of perpetual necessity. It admits of no breathing time, no armistice, no truce. On weekdays as well as on Sundays, in private as well as in public, at home by the family fireside as well as abroad, in little things, like management of tongue and temper, as well as in great ones, like the government of kingdoms, the Christian’s warfare must unceasingly go on. The foe we have to do with keeps no holidays, never slumbers and never sleeps. So long as we have breath in our bodies, we must keep on our armor and remember we are on an enemy’s ground. “Even on the brink of Jordan,” said a dying saint, “I find Satan nibbling at my heels.” We must fight until we die.

Let us consider well these propositions. Let us take care that our own personal religion is real, genuine and true. The saddest symptom about many so–called Christians is the utter absence of anything like conflict and fight in their Christianity. They eat, they drink, they dress, they work, they amuse themselves, they get money, they spend money, they go through a scanty round of formal religious services once or twice every week. But of the great spiritual warfare—its watchings and strugglings, its agonies and anxieties, its battles and contests— of all this they appear to know nothing at all. Let us take care that this case is not our own. The worst state of soul is when the strong man armed keeps the house, and his goods are at peace, when he leads men and women captive at his will, and they make no resistance. The worst chains are those which are neither felt nor seen by the prisoner (Luke 11:21; 2 Tim. 2:26).

We may take comfort about our souls if we know anything of an inward fight and conflict. It is the invariable companion of genuine Christian holiness. It is not everything, I am well aware, but it is something. Do we find in our heart of hearts a spiritual struggle? Do we feel anything of the flesh lusting against the spirit and the spirit against the flesh, so that we cannot do the things we would? (Gal. 5:17.) Are we conscious of two principles within us, contending for the mastery? Do we feel anything of war in our inward man? Well, let us thank God for it! It is a good sign. It is strongly probable evidence of the great work of sanctification. All true saints are soldiers. Anything is better than apathy, stagnation, deadness and indifference. We are in a better state than many. The most part of so–called Christians have no feeling at all. We are evidently no friends of Satan. Like the kings of this world, he wars not against his own subjects. The very fact that he assaults us should fill our minds with hope. I say again, let us take comfort. The child of God has two great marks about him, and of these two we have one. He may be known by his inward warfare, as well as by his inward peace.

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To Judge or Not to Judge….That is the Question

The following is an excerpt from a book I’m currently enjoying (“The Humor of Christ”):

“One of the saddest of our failures to see Christ’s humorous intent, and thus to sharpen our perception of the teaching, is found in our confusion about judgement.  When, in a contemporary church, the members decide to try to practice the reality of membership [church discipline], there are always some who profess to be shocked.  Who are we, they ask with mock humility, to exclude anybody?  They conveniently ignore Christ’s own practice which, by erecting a costly standard, produced self-exclusion (Luke 9:57-62).  They neglect the fact He warned, and did not beg anyone to enter the Cause, always pointing out that the price was high, the way narrow, and the recruits consequently few.  We have already seen how violent was Christ’s judgement of the Pharisees.  He did not exclude them, but allowed them to exclude themselves. It is inconceivable that He would approve of accepting into membership those who are seeking chiefly social standing or respectability, and whose contribution in prayer or money or witness is intentionally nominal or trivial.  Neglecting this entire side of Christ’s message, the critics of a tough standard of entrance into membership fall back either on the strategy of literalism and say that either they nor anyone else can rightly make a judgement in such matters because Christ said “Judge not” (Matt 7:1 and Luke 6:37).  The notion that there is subtle humor in Christ’s dictum is seldom even examined.  But let us see.

It is obvious that men must judge!  If we give up judgement we give up almost everything which dignifies human life.  We are judging, and rightly so, between different men and different platforms, every time we cast a vote.  We judge colleges when we help our children to decide where to enroll. To say that one is as good as another would contribute to the complete undermining of the effort to achieve academic excellence.  In art, if we do not judge between authentic and the forged, the artistic effort is destroyed.   And it is men who must do the judging, for there is no one else available.  To say that one church is as good as another would be to harm rather than to help the entire Christian movement. After all, some churches are financial rackets with all the assets vested in the name of the pastors.  Some mean business and some do not.  It is patently absurd to say that there should be no standard by which the qualifications of membership should be judged, because the acceptance of such a practice would mean the complete devaluation of membership.  There is no cutting edge that is not narrow.  Judgement may be mistaken or imperfect, but the only alternative to it, viz., the refusal to judge at all, is manifestly worse.

What then can Christ have meant?  He is reported to have said, “Judge not, that you may not be judged.  For with the judgement you pronounce you will be judged.” (Matt  7:1, 2).  Here the irony is particularly sharp.  “You want to avoid judgement do you?” He can be understood as saying, “Then be sure at least to have the consistency to avoid it yourself.”  It is of the essence of judgement that it is always two-edged.  People will apply to you the standard which you apply to others, and so, indeed, they ought to do.  “Do you criticize others for advertising their benevolences?  Then you had better,” says Christ, “examine your own practice, since an ethically honest man will never make an exception of himself.  It is intrinsic to any moral order that every judgement is a self-judgement.”

If this paraphrase is at all correct, we have here one of the most vivid examples of that kind of irony in which the intended implication is the exact opposite of the literal sense.  What we have, in reality, is not the categorical command never to render judgement, a command which, if obeyed, would destroy all that is best in human life.  What we have, instead, is the warning that if you want to avoid judgement on yourself, you will have to do the impossible, i.e., refuse to engage in any judgement at all.  It is here that we find Christ’s humor at its subtlest and deepest.  It is not surprising that it sometimes escapes the insensitive.”

 “The Humor of Christ: A significant but often unrecognised aspect of Christ’s teaching” by Elton Trueblood, Harper & Row, 1964, pg60-62 (Red emphases mine)

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