Category Archives: Sanctification

Medicine for the Discontent

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” ~Philippians 4:11-13

Discontentment is a seed of destruction that is easily stirred in the heart, even of those who have experienced overwhelming mercy and deliverance. Take, for instance, the people of Israel who were brought out of slavery from Egypt. The Lord provided for all of their needs, but grumbling and complaining were never far from their lips. The manna wasn’t good enough and water bursting forth from the rock was not sufficient to keep their gaze on the God who had been merciful to them. They focused so intensely on what they did not have that they seem to have forgotten the work done among them. Not only did they long for what they did not have, they also began to view their former slavery through rose colored glasses. “And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, ‘Would that we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger (Ex 16:2-3).”

What’s at the root of Discontentment?

1. Ungratefulness and Entitlement 

The first and primary root of discontentment is our attitude towards God. It is rooted both in our ungratefulness for what God has graciously done, and in an attitude of entitlement regarding what we think God should be doing. In actuality, it is an anti-Christian, anti-grace state of mind, where we deceive ourselves into believing that we’ve earned what we have, yet deserve more.

2. Selfishness

I have found that when I am discontent, it is not only my attitude towards God that is perverted, but also my attitude towards others in need. Discontentment reveals our self-exalting, self-gratifying tendencies. Think about it, when you are worried or anxious about what you do not have, are you the least bit concerned with the needs of your neighbor? It appears to be impossible to display Christian love to others while also exalting the self. Paul says, “do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourself. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus… (Phil 2:4-5)” Discontentment is opposed to humility and counting others more significant than yourself.

Medicine for the Discontent

So, how are we to make war against our discontentment? The medicine for the discontent is rejoicing. I do not mean to simply cheer up, but a process of renewing the mind. Again, Paul helps us here in Philippians when he writes, “Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you (4:8-9).” We rejoice and are made content by God’s grace when we think upon Christ, his person, work, and his transforming us in Spirit.

In other words, discontentment is not going to simply go away. I am not an advocate of sitting by and hoping you stop struggling with certain sins. I am a firm believer that putting to death the deeds of the flesh requires intense effort that is Spirit-filled and grace driven. I am encouraged by the words of Paul that are mentioned at the beginning of this post where he writes, “for I have learned in whatever situation to be content.” Contentment is not natural and must be learned. Yet, we are given greater hope still. We are not left to our own devices, for they only stir up more discontentment. We can do all things through him who strengthens usPaul finds his contentment in the strength that Christ gives, not in his own ability and singing “hakuna matata.”

Therefore, Christian, when thoughts of discontentment arise in your heart and mind, turn your gaze to your Redeemer who bought you with his life and who is now at work in you. This requires effort, but effort that is rooted in Spirit that works in you. Rejoice, because he who began a good work in you will carry it to completion and he will supply all of your needs according to his riches and glory in Christ Jesus.

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More Than We Can Ask or Imagine

It has often been said that Jesus Christ loves you and accepts you just the way you are. The flip side of that coin is that Jesus loves you too much to allow you to stay the way you are. As a Christian, it can often be hard to tell what God is doing in your life because we don’t really know the subtle ways the Spirit chisels us and how those subtle changes lead to an all together “new creation.”

When I was about 8 years old, my family moved into a new house. It was a house that my dad designed. The inside and outside of the house was built to his specification, but there was one thing that he couldn’t really control—there were no trees around our house. My dad loves trees so he decided he would just plant his own, knowing that it would take a long time for those trees to grow. Several of the trees began no larger than my thumb. My dad nurtured them, fertilized them, and placed supporting beams when necessary. The problem was it was not working. From my perspective nothing my dad did working. The trees remained the same exact size.

Nevertheless, my dad carried out the daily routine of watering, shading, fertilizing etc. I, on the other hand, quickly lost interest. In my mind the trees would eventually shrivel up and die.

A few weeks later I walked past one of the trees and it was no longer the length of my thumb, but was now about as tall as my middle finger. I was astonished but my dad was not surprised. Now, 17 years later, most of the trees are tall and stable. My parents have since added more landscaping and our yard is almost unrecognizable to what it was when we first moved in.

Such is the Christian life. It is slow and at times painful because it doesn’t feel like you are making any progress but we have hope because the process of growing is not our responsibility. We only need to be like trees. My dad took the responsibility to water, fertilize, trim, and support—the tree had nothing to do with that process. The tree grew when it acted like a tree. Had it been possible that the tree try to be something else, the process would not have worked. The trees could not provide for their own needs, rather they are completely dependent on other elements (water, sunshine, etc.)

So do not be discouraged if you feel your progress is slow, because radical change takes time. It could be that Jesus is doing something in you that you never thought possible. Maybe God is in the process of exceeding your expectations, which may not have immediate, over night results.

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right, and stopping the leaks in the roof, and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably, and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to?

The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of– throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

–C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (London: William Collins, 1970), 172.

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Grace-Driven Effort

I just returned from our church’s High School camp and I have to say God really took me out to the woodshed on certain aspects of my character. The conviction of the Holy Spirit is something I encourage our students to be sensitive toward but I found myself being hesitant. Me? Proud? Arrogant? Selfish? Absolutely! Without a doubt. I praise God for the way he brought these things to my attention and I am now digging in His word as we speak and seeking to lay these issues at the foot of the cross.

One day I went down by the river to do my quiet time. It was a special time between my God and me. I still get overwhelmed by the fact that the God of the universe treasures those times with His children. Too often we have a distorted, wicked view of God that strips Him of one of the many attributes that makes him superior to all, namely, His presence and interest in our lives. In my time with God, He led me to Romans 8 (if this chapter doesn’t stir something in you, I don’t know what will) and I began reading about what life in the Spirit is all about. In v. 9, Paul makes a declarative statement about the condition of the heart of those who believe. As believers, we are no longer slaves to our flesh, which brings death, but we are alive in the Spirit, which is life and peace.

It gets better, in v. 11 Paul writes, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you.” Did you catch that? The exact same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead dwells in us who believe. Is that not crazy? Every time I think about this verse I am beside myself! How good is our God and how great is His mercy and grace!

So those are my introductory/contextual remarks. What I really want to throw out comes from Romans 8:13, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. D.A. Carson writes:

“People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, and obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.”

A few things have led me to this. I have been reading an old dead guy named John Owen (one of my heroes) and he talks about the concept of mortification of the flesh, which simply means the putting to death of the sin that remains post-conversion. Second, I keep up with Matt Chandler (another hero of mine) at the Village church and he recently wrote on this issue.

This concept is so important for us to grasp. Believe it or not, we will not magically become more godly. We will not one day wake up with a sense of urgency for the Gospel or a sudden knowledge of Scripture and the character of God. We will not simply stop falling into that same pesky sin we always fall into. Instead, in our apathy we drift into something that is simply not what Scripture describes as faith. We begin to justify our sin by comparing ourselves to other people. We redefine Biblical Christianity and Jesus becomes a fairy who sprinkles grace and mercy dust on everyone. In our redefinition God becomes a God who is no longer righteous, true, and just, but one who isn’t holy and isn’t really bothered by our sin. Sadly, in the end He can do nothing to convict us, nothing to sanctify us, and actually hates us because He allows us to rot in our sin. This simply is not biblical/historical Christianity in any sense of the term.

There is an equal and opposite reaction that is just as wicked. That is known as legalism, which relies more on exertion and moralism rather than the Spirit that dwells in us. This means that we will not become more godly because we stop listening to secular music or watching rated R movies. Our hunger and affection for Christ is not cultivated out of submission to a set of rules. When we live life this way God begins to look more like Zeus than the God of the Bible who is ready to smite us with a lightning bolt every time we mess up.

Both of these responses are wildly self-centered. The first one says, “Hey God remember when I prayed that prayer… now make me this or that. Do this work in me while I sit on my can and have no genuine desire for You or holiness. I am just going to keep doing my thing for now.” This is wickedness and a slap to the face of God. The second response is all about being better than someone else and putting God in a position of obligation (which is impossible). This position says, “Oh I’m sorry, who? Oh! God… you are the one who saved me from my filth. Don’t worry… I got it from here. If there is one person you don’t have to worry about… it’s me!” This is silliness. Just read the book of Galatians where Paul writes, “Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?”

The mortification of sin, our sanctification, our pursuit of holiness and godliness can only be driven by the grace of God, through Jesus, and in the Spirit. Do the hard work! Work out your salvation with fear and trembling, put off the works of the flesh, and obey the teachings of Scripture all the while realizing that it is only by God’s grace that you are saved.

We have been saved by grace and it is only by grace that we continue.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (Gal. 1:3-5).

Shadows

Throughout this semester there has been a constant theme in everything I have learned. The reading of Scripture, class lectures, and other readings have continually revealed the idea of the “Already/not yet” that we (Christians) find ourselves in. What I mean by that is basically because of salvation in Christ we are already justified and made right in the eyes of God. That is why Paul can write to a wicked group of Christians in Corinth and call them “Saints”. However, we are also in the state of “not yet” which means we have not fully arrived. Although we have been justified by the cross of Christ, we have not yet been perfected. Therefore, I can be confident in my Lord because I am already holy in His sight because of the blood of Christ, but I must always press into Him and seek to kill the sin that remains in me.

One of the encouraging aspects of this “Already/not yet” relationship is God gives previews of what is to come. For the most part this is the way God has chosen to reveal himself throughout history. He gives glimpses of the fullness that is to come. For example, the sacrificial system in the Old Testament. On the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16), the High Priest would have two goats to offer as a sacrifice for sin. One was slaughtered, spilling its blood on the mercy seat and on the other, the Priest would lay his hands and confess the sins of the nation. He then would let the goat free in a remote place as it bore the sins of Israel and carried them far away. This is a shadow of what would be fulfilled in Christ.

The same type of shadows can be seen in our lives today. Every joy that we experience is a shadow of the fullness of joy that we will experience one day in heaven with our Savior. Here and now we can enjoy a relationship with Him but it is nothing compared to what we will experience when we stand in him complete. In addition, there is another shadow, the shadow of suffering. I dare not say that suffering is not real or we shouldn’t agonize in suffering, but we should realize that it is momentary. We should praise Christ for the promise that every bit of suffering in our lives is a shadow of the Hell that we will never experience (Romans 8:18).

Crown him the Lord of life,who triumphed o'er the grave
and rose victorious in the strifefor those he came to save.
His glories now we sing,who died, and rose on high
who died, eternal life to bring,and lives that death may die.

Sin Managment

This is where i think many Christians go wrong, especially myself. We all know sin is bad and that we shouldn’t do it but it rarely extends beyond that. I know that i tend to gauge where I am in my walk with Christ by my “victories or defeats” in temptation and sin. First off, I think these terms are bad because the idea is carried within them that we are not to be held responsible. Allow me to clarify… If i say, “I was tempted to sin and was defeated” it seems to shift the blame from me to some outside agent. I think the better terms would be “obedient and disobedient”.

So when we begin to measure our lives primarily on how much we sin or do not sin, we are always going to end up wanting something more. Why is that? I think we would all agree that it is because ultimately the Christian life is not based on what you do or don’t do but on what Jesus Christ has done.

I am taking a class this semester on John Owen. He is a difficult and terrifying read and much of the time I feel like he is starring at me, constantly looking over my shoulder. The class is outstanding. I have really enjoyed reading Owen because his writings are saturated with the work of the Holy Spirit and human responsibility to put the deeds of the flesh to death. So while we should not measure where we are in our walk with Christ primarily on how well we manage sin, we should make it our joyful duty to kill our prideful, idolatrous desires. In his book Death by Love, Mark Driscoll says, “Stop trying to manage your sin and put it to death.”

Subconsciously (or perhaps intentionally) I think we can tend to justify our sin because “well, it’s been a while since i have lied… so maybe its ok if i tell this one little lie today.” That is a complete anti-God perspective that I am guilty of more than often. John Owen says, “There is not a day but sin foils or is foiled, prevails or is prevailed on; and it will be so, as long as we live in this world.”

So how do we kill sin? Owen says you pray, pray, and pray some more that God will begin to work in your life. One of the Holy Spirit’s duties to progressively bring the believer along in sanctification. In praying in reading the Scriptures, our heart and soul will begin to see Jesus as most beautiful. Granted, we know we will never arrive while we live in this earthly body… but i believe the measure of a Christian is found in the fight, not in sin management.

We must rid ourselves of the idea that God is only angry toward the “big sins”. Jesus had the flesh ripped off of his back and hung on the cross in a bloody mess for our disobedience and failure to live up to God’s standard… even in the little things. Jesus doesn’t want us to make a deal with our sin, but nail it to cross, watch it scream, and smile as it dies.

For more on putting sin to death or if you are just interested in John Owen… check out his book the Mortification of Sin.