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Christian Character Holiness

God’s Divine Power

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness… (2 Peter 1:3a)

“Divine” here from theios only used three times in the NT, but commonly used in other Greek literature when speaking about deity. It has no inherent theological meaning, but is defined by the context of the particular deity being discussed.

“Power” in the Greek is dynamis, and is used predominantly throughout the NT to refer to the miraculous supernatural power of God which is unattainable by humans (e.g. Matthew 11:21, Luke 1:35, etc.). It seems technically unnecessary for Peter to use the word “divine” before “power,” since the type of power referenced in the previous verse is within the context of “the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” The reader already knows who’s “power” Peter is referring to without the adjective “divine.” It would be the equivalent to saying “Seth lifted the box with all the human strength he could muster.” To use the word “human” is completely redundant, as the reader already knows that “strength” is linked to “Seth” who is human. My point is, Peter seems emphatic about the type of power which works within Christians. It is not merely an earthly power by which we are changed from a set of strict religious or physical disciplines, but it is a DIVINE power, a miraculous power, a heavenly power that we have been miraculously granted so we may “become partakers of the divine nature” and escape a world corrupted by its sinful desires. Paul somewhat echoes this when he says, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds.” (2 Corinthians 10:4)

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Christian Character Holiness Words Of Ryle

Words of Ryle 12.10.2012

J.C. Ryle on the happiness of holy men,

…let us never be ashamed of making much of sanctification, and contending for a high standard of holiness. While some are satisfied with a miserably low degree of attainment, and others are not ashamed to live on without any holiness at all—content with a mere round of church-going and chapel-going, but never getting on, like a horse in a mill—let us stand fast in the old paths, follow after eminent holiness ourselves, and recommend it boldly to others. This is the only way to be really happy.

Let us feel convinced, whatever others may say, that holiness is happiness, and that the man who gets through life most comfortably is the sanctified man. No doubt there are some true Christians who from ill-health, or family trials, or other secret causes, enjoy little sensible comfort, and go mourning all their days on the way to heaven. But these are exceptional cases. As a general rule, in the long run of life, it will be found true that “sanctified” people are the happiest people on earth. They have solid comforts which the world can neither give nor take away. “The ways of wisdom are ways of pleasantness.”—“Great peace have they that love Thy law.”—It was said by One who cannot lie, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”—But it is also written, “There is no peace unto the wicked.” (Prov. 3:17; Ps. 119:165; Matt. 11:30; Is. 48:22)

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Christian Character Holiness

God Loves Despite Our Sin

In yesterday’s post I made a reference at the end about how we should seek to know God despite the ugly sins of our past. I started thinking about my own past sins, and felt so ashamed of them and how they displeased God. Then I began to reflect on the lives of David and Paul, who both sinned in such publicly gross ways, yet they were both chosen and beloved by God. The volume of sinfulness that followed David’s uncontrolled lust for Bathsheba always astounds me. When he saw Bathsheba on the rooftop, instead of looking away instantly, he held his gaze and gave in to lust. He became so consumed by his lust that he told his servants to take a married woman out of her home without the consent of her husband (an absolutely shameful thing to do in that culture), and then he committed adultery with her. Still completely enslaved to his lust, he then conspired deceitfully against Uriah, using numerous other people to carry out his murderous plan, until Uriah was dead and Bathsheba was David’s for the taking. Yet after all the wickedness he had done, David came to his senses only after Nathan rebuked him. David faced severe discipline from God because of His sin.

And yet, God loved him–and David loved God.

In David’s prayer of repentance, he made a remarkable statement. He said, “For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:16-17) In other words, if a religious ritual could appease God for David’s sins, then he would have offered sacrifices, but he knew better. David knew that God wanted his heart–that is why David fell into so much sin in the first place, because his heart had been hardened and consumed by lust. It wasn’t soft and malleable. It wasn’t broken. God desires that the will of our hearts are broken in submission to His will, not our own.

David knew that he could not fool God with an insincere sacrifice. Likewise we may fool other friends and family into thinking that we are alright when our heart is black with sin. We can hide behind our external appearance and actions. David hid his sin through the abuse of his status and authority as king. But it was all for nothing, because while he was able to temporarily hide his sin from other people, he was unable to hide it from the most powerful Being in existence–and that is all that counts. God knows the hearts of all. But in this we can also be encouraged, because while we may be misunderstood by others or our intentions thought ill, all that matters is that we seek to know God and submit to His will. That’s it.

Whatever our lot, we may seek God boldly, knowing that God loves us despite our sinful past and delights in those who know Him and seek His will. (Jeremiah 9:23-24).

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Christian Character Holiness

Knowing God’s Will

How do we know God’s will? We have all been at one of life’s crossroads where we hoped God would speak to us directly from heaven. I know I have many times. But instead of telling us what specific choices to make, God is only concerned with our knowledge of Him. He wants the devotion of our entire will, and as we simply seek to follow and know God, the other little details work themselves out. Here are some passages that talk about these things along with a few notes I jotted down.

Commit your way to the LORD;  trust in him, and he will act. (Psalm 37:5 ESV)

“Commit” here is from the verb root galal which means literally “to roll.” It would seem an odd word choice at first, but lexical references point out that in this case it means “to roll away from oneself to another.” In a figurative sense this verse means for us “to roll” our derek (journey, way) from ourselves to the Lord. We  roll out the course of our life’s journey in a trajectory that leads to the Lord. Proverbs 26:27 may help give perspective: “Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling.” So the one who rolls the “stone” of his will in a trajectory of wickedness, it will “come back on him” — and not in a good way. It’s a fascinating verb actually.

I was also looking at this theme of knowing God in the context of one’s life journey, path, destination, etc. Wisdom literature teaches that to know God is to know the way or path one should follow. If we seek God, then we will know our way. There is a real sense in which one’s pursuit of God and His ways result in a surety about one’s direction in life. Those who put their confidence in God have a solid confidence about the direction they are going. Even more, they continually acquire a wisdom that comes only from God Himself. They gain an understanding that only He can give. The verses below I think illustrate these truths.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD, and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones. (Proverbs 3:5-8 ESV)

“Acknowledge” or “know.” Don’t lean on your own knowing, but lean on God’s knowing—His ways. Also, more of the “all” language I have been studying—all your heart (leb, will and desires), all your ways (derek, life’s journey). Not some. All.

And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you. (Psalm 9:10)

Again, know God. God does not leave those who seek Him. Their confidence is assured.

Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths. (Psalm 25:4 ESV)

And again, know God. Follow His ways. Follow the path that one follows as he seeks to know God.

Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. (Psalm 51:6)

When we seek truth and pursue it within ourselves, God is pleased. “You teach” meaning literally “You cause me to know.” As we know God and seek Him we acquire wisdom from God deep within our hearts.

The following two verses are a warning for those who do not seek to know God, as well as a reminder for those that do.

They bend their tongue like a bow; falsehood and not truth has grown strong in the land; for they proceed from evil to evil, and they do not know me, declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 9:3 ESV)

 

Thus says the LORD: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the LORD.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24 ESV)

It’s also interesting that there is no discussion about one’s past. Any poor choices we’ve made in the past are irrelevant in terms of what should guide our future course. I’ve made plenty of them. Regardless, we follow and seek to know God faithfully, with confidence.

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Grace and Law Holiness

How To Tie A Knot Without Breaking The Sabbath

The Jewish Talmud is a treasure trove of legalism. There are rules for everything, especially about keeping the Sabbath. There’s even a section on what kinds of knots one can tie on the Sabbath. Here’s a section discussing if it’s okay for a woman to tie the bands of her hood,

…The case is, that the bands of the hood are always tied, and the woman slips on the hood without untying or tying the bands, and we might assume that for this reason the knot is considered permanent; he therefore informs us, that if a hair become entangled in the hood, the woman may tie and untie the bands.

So in other words, the woman should try to keep her bands permanently tied on the Sabbath to avoid any opportunity to slip, and she can only tie or untie her hood if her hair becomes entangled. If she ties her hood bands in any other scenario, she could be in danger of working on the Sabbath, thus breaking it. And there are plenty more rules for other knots too–for example when one should tie bands on leather flasks, or a pot of meat, or a girdle, or the straps of one’s sandals. The Jews believed that following all these rules helped them avoid breaking the Sabbath. And there are many many many other Sabbath rules about hunting, weaving, handling utensils, and even clearing crumbs off the table (yes, there are rules on that). The Jews were serious about these rules, but Jesus demolished them with the teachings of the purpose and full meaning of the law, and how the law addressed the desires of the heart. That’s one reason why His ministry was so radical at the time and still is today to modern-day Jews. These extra rules were not the law of God. They missed the point.

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Christian Character Holiness j.c. ryle

Become Friends With The World And Become An Enemy With God

In my reading of Ryle’s Holiness today, I came across this convicting quote on Lot’s wife and her looking back at Sodom as it was being destroyed, motivated by her idolatrous love of the world:

That look was a little thing, but it told of secret love of the world in Lot’s wife. Her heart was in Sodom, though her body was outside. She had left her affections behind when she fled from her home. Her eye turned to the place where her treasure was, as the compass-needle turns to the pole. And this was the crowning point of her sin. “The friendship of the world is enmity with God.” (James 4: 4) “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15)

I ask the special attention of my readers to this part of our subject. I believe it to be the part to which the Lord Jesus particularly intends to direct our minds. I believe He would have us observe that Lot’s wife was lost by looking back to the world. Her profession was at one time fair and specious, but she never really gave up the world. She seemed at one time in the road to safety, but even then the lowest and deepest thoughts of her heart were for the world. The immense danger of worldliness is the grand lesson which the Lord Jesus means us to learn. Oh, that we may all have an eye to see and a heart to understand!

I believe there never was a time when warnings against worldliness were so much needed by the Church of Christ as they are at the present day. Every age is said to have its own peculiar epidemic disease: the epidemic disease to which the souls of Christians are liable just now is the love of the world. It is a pestilence that walketh in darkness, and a sickness that destroyeth at noonday. It “hath cast down many wounded; yea, many strong men have been wounded by it.” I would fain raise a warning voice, and try to arouse the slumbering consciences of all who make a profession of religion. I would fain cry aloud, “Remember the sin of Lot’s wife.” She was no murderess, no adulteress, no thief—but she was a professor of religion, and she looked back.

There are thousands of baptized persons in our churches who are proof against immorality and infidelity, and yet fall victims to the love of the world. There are thousands who run well for a season, and seem to bid fair to reach heaven, but by and by give up the race, and turn their backs on Christ altogether. And what has stopped them? Have they found the Bible not true? Have they found the Lord Jesus fail to keep His word? No: not at all. But they have caught the epidemic disease: they are infected with the love of this world. I appeal to every true-hearted Evangelical minister who reads this paper: I ask him to look round his congregation. I appeal to every old-established Christian: I ask him to look round the circle of his acquaintance. I am sure that I am speaking the truth. I am sure that it is high time to remember the sin of Lot’s wife.

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Christian Character Holiness

How To Get God’s Attention

All these things my hand has made,
and so all these things came to be,
declares the LORD.
But this is the one to whom I will look:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit
and trembles at my word. (Isaiah 66:2 ESV)

How do we get God’s attention? How do we do this? He has made it plain.  He will come near those who humble themselves before Him and fear His word–those that fight to resist desires to please themselves rather than God. Paul said that he beat his body into submission so that he would not be disqualified. (1 Cor 9:27) But those that do not humble themselves, those that are not contrite in spirit, and those who do not tremble at His word, God will not look on them. The Hebrew word is nabat in Hiphil form. It means God will not regard them. They will not be considered. God will pay them no mind. Similarly David said, “Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death (Psalm 13:3 ESV). To ask this of God confidently as David, we must tremble at His word. There will be many who claim to call on the name of Christ who do great works for the Church–if these are not serving out of fear and reverence for God, He will not regard them. To them Christ will say, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ (Matt. 7:23) Only those that tremble at His word will God see and know as His own. Remember the words of Christ, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28) Those that tremble at the God’s Word know their shepherd’s voice. They heed Him, they listen to Him, they follow Him. The sheep know what is required of them, and they do so willfully, not under compulsion, and they delight in His law, and they meditate on it day and night. (Psalm 1:2)

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Christian Character Holiness

Holding Our Thoughts And Affections Captive

Little time today to write, but one thing I’ve been wrestling heavily with is the theme of holding “every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Cor. 10:5). This is very powerful and convicting language. The Greek means literally “to lead away.” Paul says that ALL thoughts–not some–must be led away from disobedience and towards obedience and subjugation to Christ. All thoughts? Seriously? How is that even possible? It would almost seem easier to just not think at all or put oneself in a self-induced coma. I seriously don’t know how I can do this. Every day I have hundreds of thoughts both big and small, both profound and insignificant–thoughts about my friends, thoughts about my co-workers, thoughts about my lunch, thoughts about the carpet color, and so on and so forth. Do we really have to hold every thought captive? The more my mind meditates on this, the more insurmountable it seems, but then I think on passages like Deuteronomy 6:5 and 1 Corinthians 10:31 and know what Paul really means. God doesn’t demand just a little bit of my will, He demands all of it. I fall miserably short of this.

The cost to follow Christ in this way is truly great. The stark contrast between the expectations of culture and the expectations of God are so radically opposed. On one corner God desires that my affections be wholly devoted to Him, while culture stands on the other corner with its grand display of distractions. Material possessions can all be deliciously desired, if only I give up my thoughts and affections in pursuit of them. But then my heart is brought low when I read, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit,” (Rom. 8:5) and then I realize that the things of culture are puny and pathetic. God have mercy on me and on His people. How desperately we need His grace for our tiny hearts. But we must not be discouraged, we must press on.

I end with this inspiring quote from J.C. Ryle,

“Think, if you want stirring motives for serving God, what it cost to provide a salvation for your soul. Think how the Son of God left heaven and became Man, suffered on the cross, and lay in the grave, to pay your debt to God, and work out for you a complete redemption. Think of all this and learn that it is no light matter to possess an immortal soul. It is worth while to take some trouble about one’s soul.

Ah, lazy man or woman, is it really come to this, that you will miss heaven for lack of trouble? Are you really determined to make shipwreck for ever, from mere dislike to exertion? Away with the cowardly, unworthy thought. Arise and play the man. Say to yourself, ‘Whatever it may cost, I will, at any rate, strive to enter in at the strait gate.’ Look at the cross of Christ, and take fresh courage. Look forward to death, judgment, and eternity, and be in earnest. It may cost much to be a Christian, but you may be sure it pays.’

Sidenote: I have heard some interpret 1 Cor. 10:5 as referring to Paul’s holding the thoughts of others captive that accuse them. Whether it refers to his thoughts or to others, it means the same, especially in light of other passages like Romans 12:2, for example.

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Christian Character Holiness j.c. ryle

The Cost Of Following Christ

I wanted to share a quote I found very encouraging from J.C. Ryle’s book Holiness (free here) on the cost of following Christ:

In the last place, it will cost a man the favour of the world. He must be content to be thought ill of by man if he pleases God. He must count it no strange thing to be mocked, ridiculed, slandered, persecuted, and even hated. He must not be surprised to find his opinions and practices in religion despised and held up to scorn. He must submit to be thought by many a fool, an enthusiast, and a fanatic—to have his words perverted and his actions misrepresented. In fact, he must not marvel if some call him mad. The Master says—“Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept My saying, they will keep yours also.” (John 15:20.)

I dare say this also sounds hard. We naturally dislike unjust dealing and false charges, and think it very hard to be accused without cause. We should not be flesh and blood if we did not wish to have the good opinion of our neighbours. It is always unpleasant to be spoken against, and forsaken, and lied about, and to stand alone. But there is no help for it. The cup which our Master drank must be drunk by His disciples. They must be “despised and rejected of men.” (Isa. 53:3) Let us set down that item last in our account. To be a Christian it will cost a man the favour of the world. Source

 

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Christian Character Holiness

Don’t Try Back Handsprings Without Training

Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way. (Proverbs 19:2 ESV)

This Proverb really struck me today, firstly because its meaning isn’t as obvious as other Proverbs (it isn’t for me, anyway). In other translations the Hebrew word for “desire” is instead rendered “soul.” After looking more closely, I noticed that the Hebrew word is actually nephesh, which is one of the most basic words in the Hebrew vocabulary and often used to define the total summation of an individual’s will, desires, appetites–everything within them that drives and leads a person to be who he is and make the decisions that he makes. To give a little context, this is the same word used in Genesis where the creation of man is described: “then the LORD God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” (Genesis 2:7 ESV) The word “creature” here is also translated from nephesh. Interestingly, the KJV version translates nephesh as “soul.” English translations seem to differ in their conclusions about whether nephesh should translate to “soul” or “creature,” depending on the context. Either way, nephesh is clearly used to describe the will and desires that motivate living things to do the things they do. So if you asked me, what is my nephesh, I would describe to you my beliefs, hopes, dreams, appetites, preferences, and desires. Then after hearing my description, you would be able to predict, at least in part, the kinds of things I might do. Perhaps no better illustration of this truth is the famous verse in Deuteronomy 6:5,

You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:5 ESV)

I highlight “soul” here because that is the same Hebrew word nephesh which is also used in the Proverbs and Genesis verses. But the Deuteronomy passage is even more emphatic because there is a common prepositional phrase there (b-col) which is translated “in (or with) all.” “Heart” means “innermost being” and “might” means “abundantly and exceedingly.” So the literal translation of this verse is “… love the LORD your God with absolutely everything in your innermost being and absolutely everything that defines who you are, your will, and your desires, and do this exceedingly, abundantly, and mightily.” Understanding the verse this way is deeply convicting to me. It is very unfortunate that this verse has lost so much of its force in English due to the cheapening definitions of “heart” and “soul” in our language today. But to the Hebrews, this passage would have been unquestionably clear to them that God desired the complete and total submission to Him of every thought, word, and deed.

So in linking nephesh back to the verse in Proverbs, I think the author is saying that if one’s nephesh is not influenced and shaped by knowledge, then in his haste to accomplish his goal, he will fail. It’s like someone who has strong ambitions to be a surgeon but doesn’t want to learn the knowledge required to be successful in that role, then as a result causes harm to his patients. Or it’s like a child who has a strong desire to ride a bicycle but stubbornly refuses the knowledge and instruction of his parents, then promptly proceeds to crash into the wall. Or maybe it’s like when I was about eight or nine years old, after being amazed by Olympic gymnasts on television, I promptly attempted a back handspring and nearly broke my neck. Hastily exercised desire without knowledge was certainly a painful experience for me on that day, and for the rest of the week!