Sixteen Books I Recommend on Holiness in the Christian Life

Posted by on Feb 27, 2015 in Featured, Holiness

Sixteen Books I Recommend on Holiness in the Christian Life

 Editors note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers think through what prayer is and how they can improve their prayer lives.

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holiness1This month at Servants of Grace, we’ve been considering the topic of holiness. We live in a time where many teach that Christians are only to be passive in their Christian life. As Donald Whitney recently said, “Rest in grace; strive for holiness.” This reflects the twin truths of sanctification. On one hand, Christians are to depend on the finished work of Christ for the forgiveness of sins, and rest in those gospel truths. On the other hand, as a result of resting in Christ, Christians are fueled by the grace of God to press on — and press in — towards Christ. In other words, the indicative (what Christ has done in His death, burial, and resurrection) informs or fuels the Christian’s obedience. Through the gracious work of the Holy Spirit, Christians are united to Christ, convicted of sin, and empowered to live out gospel commands.

The following list of books reflects, in my view, the best teaching on holiness in the Christian life. Some are newer and some are older. This list is provided in no particular order. I trust that you will enjoy them much as I have.

  • The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul. Buy the book at Amazon.
  • The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges. Buy the book at Amazon.
  • The Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges. Buy the book at Amazon or WTS Books.
  • Spiritual Disciplines and the Christian Life by Donald Whitney. Buy the book at Amazon or WTS Books.
  • Tempted and Tried by Russell Moore. Buy the book at Amazon or at WTS Books.
  • The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin DeYoung. Buy the book at Amazon or at WTS Books.
  • Holiness by J.C. Ryle. Buy the book at Amazon or at WTS Books.
  • Overcoming Sin and Temptation by John Owen. Buy the book at Amazon or WTS Books.
  • Be Holy by Jason Garwood. Buy the book at Amazon.
  • Rediscovering Holiness: Know the Fullness of Life with God by J.I. Packer. Buy the book at Amazon or WTS Books.
  • Act the Miracle by Dr. Piper. Get the book at Amazon.
  • Gospel Mystery of Sanctification by Walter Marshall. Buy the book at Amazon or WTS Books.
  • Christ Formed In You: The Power of the Gospel For Personal Change by Brian Hedges. Buy the book at Amazon or from WTS Books.
  • Licensed To Kill: A Field Manual for Mortifying Sin by Brian Hedges. Buy the book at Amazon or from WTS Books.
  • Active Spirituality: Grace and Effort in the Christian Life by Brian Hedges. Buy the book at Amazon.
  • Holiness by Grace: Delighting in the Joy That Is Our Strength by Bryan Chapel. Buy the book at Amazon or from WTS Books.
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Active Spirituality: The Relationship Between God’s Grace and Your Effort in Living the Christian Life

Posted by on Feb 26, 2015 in Featured, Holiness

Active Spirituality: The Relationship Between God’s Grace and Your Effort in Living the Christian Life

Editors note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers think through what prayer is and how they can improve their prayer lives.

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holiness1One of the most important questions I am asked as a pastor is how to understand the relationship between God’s grace and our effort in living the Christian life. We know that we are supposed to walk in the power of the Spirit. But what does this look like? Some forms of spirituality promote an unhealthy passivity in their approach to sanctification, by using such slogans as “Let go and let God” or “It’s not in trying, it’s in trusting.” (Note: for an excellent historical overview and charitable critique of one significant stream of this teaching, see Andy Naselli’s book Let Go and Let God: A Survey and Analysis of Keswick Theology.) Even among Reformed thinkers, who are rightly allergic to an overemphasis on moral effort that obscures the primacy of God’s grace, there lurks the danger of speaking about the role of the gospel (or grace, or the Spirit) in sanctification in ways that mute biblical exhortations like “walk,” “fight,” and “run”. I’ve written a book that addresses these issues, called Active Spirituality, which is published by Shepherd Press. But here is a sampling of quotes from theologians across the centuries who seem to get the biblical balance right.“Give me the grace to do as you command, and command me to do what you will! . . . when your commands are obeyed, it is from you that we receive the power to obey them.” –Augustine, Confessions, Book X, Chap. 31.

“There can be no doubt…that the beginning of our salvation rests with God, and is enacted neither through us nor with us. The consent and the work, however, though not originating from us, nevertheless are not without us… What was begun by grace alone, is completed by grace and free choice together, in such a way that the contribute to each new achievement not singly, but jointly; not by turns, but simultaneously. It is not as if grace did one half of the work and free choice the other, but each does the whole work, according to its own peculiar contribution. Grace does the whole work, and so does free choice – with this one qualification: that whereas the whole is done in free choice, so the whole is done of grace.” –Bernard of Clairvaux, De gratia, 14.46-47; Quoted in Dennis E. Tamburello, Union with Christ: John Calvin and the Mysticism of St. Bernard, p. 42.

“Our duty and God’s grace are nowhere opposed in the matter of sanctification, yeah, the one doth absolutely suppose the other. Neither can we perform our duty herein without the grace of God; nor doth God give us this grace unto any other end but that we may rightly perform our duty. He that shall deny either that God commands us to be holy in a way of duty, or promiseth to work holiness in us in a way of grace, may with as much modesty reject the whole Bible.” –John Owen, “A Discourse Concerning the Holy Spirit,” in Works of John Owen, Volume 3, p. 384.

“In efficacious grace we are not merely passive, nor yet does God do some, and we do the rest. But God does all, and we do all. God produces all, and we act all. For that is what he produces, viz. our own acts. God is the only proper author and fountain; we are the only proper actors. We are, in different respects, wholly passive, and wholly active.” –Jonathan Edwards, “On Efficacious Grace,” in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, Volume 2, p. 557.

“In the gospel…there are actually no demands and no conditions. For God supplies what he demands. Christ has accomplished everything, and though he did not accomplish rebirth, faith, and repentance in our place, he did acquire them for us, and the Holy Spirit therefore applies them. Still, in its administration by Christ, the covenant of grace does assume this demanding conditional form. The purpose is to acknowledge humans in their capacity as rational and moral beings; still, though they are fallen, to treat them as having been created in God’s image; and also on this supremely important level, where it concerns their eternal weal and eternal woe, to hold them responsible and inexcusable; and, finally, to cause them to enter consciously and freely into this covenant and to break their covenant with sin. The covenant of grace, accordingly, is unilateral: it proceeds from God; he has designed it and defined it. He maintains and implements it. It is a work of the triune God and is totally completed among the three Persons themselves. But it is destined to become bilateral, to be consciously and voluntarily accepted and kept by humans in the power of God… The covenant of grace does not deaden human beings or treat them as inanimate objects. On the contrary, it totally includes them with all their faculties and powers, in soul and body, for time and eternity. It embraces them totally, does not destroy their power, but deprives them of their impotence. IT does not kill their will but frees them from sin; it does not numb their consciousness but delivers it from darkness. It re-creates the whole person and, having renewed it by grace, prompts it, freely and independently, with soul, mind, and body, to love God and to dedicate itself to him.” –Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation in Christ, Volume 3, p. 230.

“God’s work in salvation, in Paul’s view, never absorbs or invalidates man’s work, but arouses and stimulates it and gives it meaning.” –G. C. Berkouwer, Faith and Sanctification, p. 122.

“Passivity, which quietists think liberates the Spirit, actually resists and quenches him. Souls that cultivate passivity do not thrive, but waste away. The Christian’s motto should not be ‘Let go and let God’ but ‘Trust God and get going!'” –J. I. Packer, Keep in Step with the Spirit, p. 157.

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” –The Apostle Paul, Philippians 2:12-13

This post first appeared at Brian’s blog and is posted here with his permission.

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JC Ryle’s Holiness–A Review

Posted by on Feb 25, 2015 in Christian Living, Featured, Holiness

JC Ryle’s Holiness–A Review

HolinessEditors note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers think through what prayer is and how they can improve their prayer lives.

Classics of the Christian faith are classics for a reason. Books standing the test of time should receive more than a “head-nod” from us. They don’t belong on lists or even on our shelves. They should be devoured by us. J.C. Ryle’s Holiness is such a book. I confess I had not read it until this year and I equally confess that I am a fool for not doing so earlier.

I can’t help but wonder whether some of the current confusion about sanctification is the result of a non-reading western Christian Church. Many of our ills, wanderings, and misconceptions have been addressed by previous generations as they wrestled with the teachings of God’s Word. The Lord has gifted the Church with pastors and teachers and some of the best speak to us from the grave.

JC Ryle is such a pastor and his masterful Holiness is such a book. Banner of Truth has recently released a beautiful hardback copy of this work. Its pages are crisp, the font is clear, and no edition of this classic has ever looked better. Do not walk, run to buy it. And when you have it in hand, read every page. In fact, you will find it difficult to put this book down.

Ryle addresses the topic of sanctification and holiness with the care of an able shepherd. Cowardice finds no outlet in his words. He is bold when the subject demands it. Yet, he is equally gentle and gracious, approaching hard doctrines with care. He calls the reader into the depths of the subject like a Midwest cave tour-guide, delving the depths while the reader intuitively knows they are being safely led. Ryle’s knowledge of the Scriptures is replete. Few, if any, pages lack a scriptural foundation and argument.

The most crucial chapters reside in the middle of this work. He addresses sanctification, holiness, the fight of holiness, the cost of holiness, growth, and assurance. These chapters are followed by chapters detailing the positive example of Moses and the negative example of Lot. The reader is then led on a trek through the riches of Christ and the glory of the church.

My favorite chapter in this book was the chapter on assurance. Ryle rightfully notes the relationship between holiness and assurance. In our day and age, this doctrine and its relationship to holiness receives little attention. Ryle makes no such mistake. In this chapter he details the nature of assurance as well as its hindrances and difficulties. As an example, he address “probable causes why an assured hope is so seldom attained.” He offers a few suggestions.

The first is what he believes to be the most common cause, “a defective view of the doctrine of justification.” Ryle states on this point, “If any believing soul desires assurance, and has not got it, let him ask himself, first of all, if he is quite sure he is sound in the faith, if he knows how to distinguish things that differ, and if his eyes are thoroughly clear in the matter of justification. He must know what it is simply to believe and to be justified by faith before he can expect to feel assured.” He goes on to say, “Happy is the man who really understands ‘justification by faith without the deeds of the law.'” His second suggestion as to why a lack of assurance may pervade an individual is “slothfulness about growth in grace.” He states, “Many appear to think that, once converted, they have little more to attend to, and that a state of salvation is a kind of easy chair, in which they may just sit still, lie back, and be happy. They seem to fancy that grace is given to them that they may enjoy it, and they forget that it is given, like a talent, to be used, employed, and improved.” Third, he suggests a want of assurance is often caused by “an inconsistent walk in life.” As Ryle says, “Inconsistency of life is utterly destructive of peace of conscience. The two things are incompatible. They cannot and will not go together.”

In the above, you should sense the care with which Ryle addresses the different facets of holiness in this book. There is a directness about his words and yet a careful and persistent wisdom permeates his writing. He does not shy away from the comfort of the gospel, but neither does he neglect its demands. Ryle is an able physician of the soul, masterful exegete of the Text, and a compassionate shepherd of the sheep.

As the reader finally closes Holiness, one can’t help but feel they have sat with one of the ablest teachers the church has enjoyed. The treatment is full, without being complex. The writing is lucid, without being wooden. The thoughts are clear, without being simple. This book engages the mind, the soul, the heart, and hopefully the very will of man.

In our day, within the Evangelical world, maybe no subject is more important than the doctrine of sanctification. There is much confusion on this subject evident in our pews, popular Christian books, and even our pulpits. Too often we find the doctrine of sanctification exchanged for legalism, neonomianism, or antinomianism. We need good teachers, preachers, and writers willing to once again call the church back to mind-engaged, heart-inflamed, soul-charged, will-motivated holiness. The Church needs to take holiness seriously, because God takes it seriously. Here is a book, written by such a teacher/preacher/writer, standing the test of time, providing help in this very way.

Buy the book at Amazon, WTS Books or from Banner of Truth.

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The Need for the Bride of Christ to be Holy and Mature

Posted by on Feb 24, 2015 in Featured, Holiness

The Need for the Bride of Christ to be Holy and Mature

Editors note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers think through what prayer is and how they can improve their prayer lives.

holiness1Scripture declares the bride of Christ is to be holy. Ephesians 5:25-27 states “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.” Despite what some may think, being holy or without stain or wrinkle, spot or blemish is not speaking of the need to be perfect. In reality, what the Apostle Paul is referring to, being the learned Hebrew scholar that he was is the Hebrew word tamiym. This is a word used over 90 times in the Old Testament and it means “complete, whole, entire, sound, or mature”. Genesis 6:9 states “This is the genealogy of Noah. Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God.” Now this does not mean Noah was perfect and without sin. The Hebrew word translated perfect is tamiym. In Genesis 17:1, God told Abraham “walk before Me and be blameless.” Once again, the word translated as blameless is tamiym. Even a cursory review of the life of Abraham will reveal he was not perfect. What God desired was maturity, a desire to become closer to Him. This is the essence of what it means to be tamiym. Through the process of progressive sanctification wrought through the power and work of the Holy Spirit, believers can become tamiym bride.

So how does one become tamiym? Good works, hard work, luck of the draw, clean living? Let’s return to Ephesians 5:25-27. Paul speaks of Christ giving himself up for his bride doing what exactly? Christ is making her holy (again a clear reference to tamiym) by “the washing with water through the word.” I Corinthians 6:11 states “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” Ps. 19:7 states “The law of the Lord is perfect (tamiym), refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.” It should be rather clear the word of the Lord is tamiym, it washes us and thus there is something important about the word and the concept of tamiym in relation to what it means to be holy as the bride of Christ.

Grasping what this washing hearkens back to requires us in part to explore the betrothal marriage process, in particular what the bride did to prepare herself following the Kiddusin (the first stage of betrothal) while she awaited the wedding day (the Nis’uin). Following the acceptance of the terms of the Ketubah (the marriage contract) by the bride, the bride and bridegroom would begin the period of separation, typically lasting one year. One essential element of what the bride did during this period was a ritual washing by water. The bride, with assistance from a family member who we would label in today’s wedding parlance as the “maid of honor”, would ensure the bride was completely submerged in the water. To further ensure the water touched every part of her body, the bride would also spread her fingers and toes. This ritual bathing served as a symbol of the bride casting aside the former things as well as the beginning of a new married life with her betrothed.

If we put all this together, we have a number of key points to consider. God wants a bride that is tamiym, mature, without spot or wrinkle. How does one work towards becoming tamiym? As the bride of Christ, we are to be constantly visiting the well of living water, the Word of God. When Psalm 19:7 speaks of “converting the soul”, many have attributed that solely as the act of salvation. In reality, what this passage also speaks of is the impact that washing oneself in the water of the Word, which has been demonstrated to be tamiym (perfect), will have in the life of the believer. It will literally “convert” or change the soul, more appropriately translated as nephesh, the entirety of what constitutes an individual namely their mind, will, and emotions from being simple (Hebrew word pĕthiy – naïve, simple, foolish) to being tamiym. James 1:2 speaks of this process by stating “Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” The bride of Christ is called to be mature and complete. Part of how that is accomplished is by spending time in the Word of God.

Hebrews 6:1-3 declares, “Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.” Notice once again the call for maturity. It is through the word of God that spiritual maturity can be found, the place where the bride of Christ can daily wash herself in the sanctifying and cleansing power of God’s Word in order to convert our nephesh from being naïve to being wise in things of the Lord. This is a requirement and characteristic of the bride of Christ, that of seeking God’s paniym (His face) by devouring the Word of God. Do we desire to be so close to God through the reading and study of His Word that His taniym Word is so written on our hearts that the glory of God shines through us in every word and deed we do to the extent we are truly a light on a lampstand or a city set on a hill that cannot be hidden? After all that is a characteristic of what it means to be the bride of Christ, a longing for a word from our bridegroom!

Furthermore, the word sanctification, is in Hebrew qadosh and in Greek hagiazō, words that both describe something that is holy. In biblical use, to sanctify something means to set a person, place, occasion, or object apart from everyday secular use in order to be dedicated specifically to use by God and for His glory. We see throughout the Old Testament a great deal of time being spent describing the process of making something holy for use before God. For example, when the various elements of the tabernacle and the later temple were crafted, God provided specific instructions on how they were to be made and cleansed. It was important for the priests to ensure both the instruments and themselves was ceremonially pure before entering God’s presence.

Author and theologian Joel Beeke notes: “Holiness means to be set apart. But what does set apart mean? Two things. The negative sense of set apart is holiness’ call to separate from sin. The positive sense of set apart is holiness’ call to consecrate to God. These two concepts – separation from sin and consecration (or separation) to God – comprise holiness. When combined, these two concepts make holiness very comprehensive. In fact, holiness covers all of life. Everything, Paul tells us, is to be sanctified: “For every creature of God is good, and nothing to be refused, if it be received with thanksgiving: for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer” (I Tim 4:4-5).”[1]

It is clear that an essential truth that is repeatedly mentioned when it comes to believers being the bride of Christ is the necessity of the Word of God. Notice that Paul in I Timothy 4:5 says the creature of God, in other words the bride of Christ is “sanctified by the word of God and prayer.” How does one become sanctified? They become sanctified in large part by washing themselves daily in the Word of God and in prayer.

As theologian R. O. E. White has noted, “Beside positive motives, Paul stresses positive consecration of the personality so sanctified, in active service and love, with the total dedication of a slave, sacrifice and man in love. The addition of “and spirit” in II Cor. 7:1, the transformed mind set on things above and filled with all things holy and of good report, shows that Paul did not think of holiness only in physical terms. Everything is to be sanctified. Holiness represents purity before God, as righteousness represents purity before the law, blameless purity before the world: sanctification includes all three.”[2]

Get in the Word of God. Wash yourself in the Word. Understand that sanctification involves the work of the Holy Spirit writing God’s Word on your hearts to move you from a place of simplicity to a place of maturity. Grasp the importance of being a mature bride, one who is so in love with the bridegroom that they are constantly preparing themselves for the time of His return. Reject stagnant Christianity and embrace the need for holiness that comes again through the Holy Spirit operating in your life through this lifelong process called sanctification. Embrace the reality that sanctification involves being set apart to the glory of God.

As the great Puritan author John Owen once noted:

“What, then, should be our response to God’s command to be holy? Our first response should be that we make this duty a matter of conscience because it comes to us with all God’s authority. Holiness must arise from obedience or it is not holiness. Our second response must be to see how reasonable this command is. Thirdly, we must love this command because it is holy and just and good and because the things it requires are right, easy and pleasant to the new nature.

What should be our response to the promise that God will make us holy? Firstly, we must remember our utter inability to obey the command to be holy. Then we must see that our sufficiency is in God. Secondly, we must adore that grace which has promised to do in us what we are unable to do ourselves. Thirdly, we must pray in faith, believing God’s promise to make us holy, and look to Him to supply us with all grace necessary to walk in holiness. Fourthly, we should pray specially for that grace to keep us holy in times of temptation and when called to carry out special and difficult duties.

Finally, we must never forget that it is the Holy Spirit who sanctifies all believers, and who produces all holiness in them.”[3]

References:
[1] http://issuu.com/gospeldelta/docs/holiness_-_joel_beeke/1
[2] R. O. E. White, “Sanctification” in the Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. Edited by Walter Elwell. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1052.
[3] http://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/articles/onsite/holyspirit_owen.html

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10 Dangers of A Joyless Christian Life

Posted by on Feb 23, 2015 in Featured, The Gospel and the Christian Life

10 Dangers of A Joyless Christian Life

Editors Note: Dr. Murray’s new book The Happy Christian releases tomorrow. For more information on his latest book and resources associated to it including a great pre-release special that ends tomorrow please click here. To read more of Dr. Murray’s work check out his blog.

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index“Oh, what a life might men live if they were but willing and diligent! God would have their joys to be far more than their sorrows.” Richard Alleine*

The Puritan Richard Alleine says that many Christian make their own lives miserable by refusing the joys that God has set before them. He asks:

How much do those persons wrong God and themselves who either make their thoughts of God the inlet of their sorrows or let these offered joys lie by as neglected and forgotten?

He then goes on to list ten problems that result from the lack of spiritual joys:

  1. This lack will dampen, if not destroy, love to God. Insofar as we apprehend God’s loving purpose to make us eternally happy, we will increase in love to God and delight in God. But refusing to think so highly of God’s goodwill cannot but chill our hearts and harden them against Him.
  2. This lack produces infrequent and unpleasant thoughts of God. Because our thoughts tend to run after what we delight in, if we don’t delight in God, we won’t think about Him much; and any thoughts we do have of Him, will made us sadder rather than happier.
  3. This lack results in infrequent and unpleasant speech concerning God. We talk much about what we think much about. That’s why most people talk only of worldliness and wickedness; it’s what their minds and hearts delight in. Thus, the lack of spiritual joy silences the Christian’s witness to God in the world.
  4. This lack deprives us of all desire to serve God, because we have no delight in Him or any sweet thoughts of heaven. Without delight in prayer, or praise, or Bible reading, these services will be performed rarely and reluctantly.
  5. This lack perverts our judgments concerning the ways of God. What happens when God’s providence crosses our view of how our life should be, or our world should be? Alleine says it all depends on whether we have joy in God. “Affection holds its object faster than bare judgment.” If we love God, we are more likely to submit to His providence, whereas if we don’t have this delight, we will quarrel with Him. Alleine says, “Had men a true delight in God and heavenly things, it would rectify their judgments better than all the arguments in the world.”
  6. This lack causes us to entertain the delights of the flesh. The soul needs something to delight in and will find it elsewhere if it doesn’t find it in God. Alleine says that if more could experience the pleasures of a spiritual life, we could dispense with so many of the laws that are needed to regulate our passions.
  7. This lack leave us under the power of every affliction without any divine comfort. When the pain of this world outweighs or replaces the pleasures of this world, what’s left to comfort and ease people in their suffering?
  8. This lack makes us unwilling to die, for who would wish to go to God when he does not delight in Him? The reason most people resist death so vigorously is because they believe that their greatest happiness is in this world. Who would want to go to God when he finds to pleasure in Him? The believer, in contrast, looks forward to getting even more of the pleasure in God that they have begun to experience on this earth.
  9. This lack lays us open to the power of every temptation. It’s very easy to turn away from work that we don’t enjoy and be diverted to something that seems more enjoyable. Similarly, if we have little joy in God and His ways of holiness, we will easily be distracted and turned away by seemingly more enjoyable temptations. “A little thing will entice a man from that which he has no pleasure in.”
  10. This lack is a dangerous step on the road to total apostasy. If we get no joy from reaching the summit of a mountain and enjoying the view, it’s unlikely we will persevere through the difficulties to get to the top. Rather, we will easily and quickly give up when the going gets tough. Sadly, many eventually depart from the Christian faith because they never had sufficient joy in the way or anticipation of joy at the end. As Alleine says, “A man will hardly keep on for long in a way that he has no delight in, nor use the means if he has no delight in the end.”

Alleine concludes his warnings with a passionate appeal:

“And now dear friends, we have tried to lay before you a precious, heavenly employment. Would you but pursue it, it would make you happy indeed. To delight in God is the work of angels, and the contrary is the work of devils.”

Or as the Psalmist said:

“Delight yourself also in the Lord,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4)

* Richard Alleine, The World Conquered by the Faithful Christian (Morgan, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1997), 159-162.

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Living as Awakened Sinners

Posted by on Feb 23, 2015 in Featured, Holiness

Living as Awakened Sinners

Editors note: The purpose of this series is to help our readers think through what prayer is and how they can improve their prayer lives.

In the Valley of Vision there is a prayer called “The Awakened Sinner.” This prayer has two movements. First, it is a reproof to forgetful souls, who chase vanity and forget the creaturely need for the Creator. The second movement is a confession to the Creator for forgetfulness of Him. People forget, neglect, and overlook His greatness and His goodness in that He created them and made them His possession for His purpose.

The good news is He is not forgetful — except of our sin. More than that, not only does He not forget, but He is faithful to wrench His children out of slumber, awakening them to sin and His holiness.

It’s interesting when I share with others about the gospel. They either have two responses. They are either asleep to sin or in despair of sin. It’s easier to help someone in despair to see that Jesus death is sufficient to cover his or her sin than it is to help the one who is asleep to sin. Those asleep to sin assume innocence of sin or obsoleteness of sin. The Holiness of God has no value with this person and personal holiness is inconsequential.

Unfortunately, it does not help these people when God’s people are asleep to sin too. You see, church leaders and even local church organizations are tempted to trivialize and conceal sin, even though they shouldn’t. Granted, they don’t want the Church to develop the reputation as a harlot. Since it is Satan’s aim to be a homewrecker, one he’s really good at, we’re tempted to conceal sin in the darkness and in that darkness be lulled to sleep. This deceptive response to sin is dangerous and deadly.

This macro problem filters down to a micro level where Christ followers either trivialize or conceal sin. Ultimately, this leads to sleepfulness; after years of neglecting sin they forget it altogether. They forget they are sinners, maybe not on a rational level but on a functional level. Though they recognize that they rationally are sinners, they functionally neglect sin by not confessing it. Since it has already been concealed or trivialized, they deceive themselves into thinking that the dirty deeds are dealt with.

What sleepers don’t realize is that sin always comes into the light, either through noble or ignoble means. God means to bring sin into light and wake sleepers from their slumber.

“Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, ‘Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’” (Eph. 5:11-14)

In spite of the fact that it is shameful to speak about these atrocious sins, Paul, the other writers of Scripture, and obviously God himself, who superintended the Scriptural record, give vivid accounts of sinner’s sin. This is one technique that God uses to awaken sinners; he shows them sin, which awakens them to their sin.

People respond to wakefulness in three ways. Two are dead wrong and one is right on. First, they become disillusioned and disgusted by the Church and its people. The disillusioned and disgusted are permitted to walk in hardness and return to their slumber. Second, they recognize the holiness of God and long for personal holiness themselves. The honest remain sober minded, rest in Christ’s finished work, and trust that his holiness is enough to both save them from sin and stimulate a pursuit of holiness. In other words, their wakefulness leads to an indissoluble union with Christ.

The third way is most dangerous in my opinion. It is a cathartic, therapeutic response to sin that thinly veils itself as holiness when it is no such thing. J. C. Ryle anticipated this response to sin’s awakening in the preface to the enlarged edition of Holiness.

He says:

“It is easy to get crowds together for what are called ‘higher life’ and ‘consecration’ meetings. Anyone knows that, who has watched human nature and read descriptions of American camp-meetings and studied the curious phenomena of the ‘religious affections’. Sensational and exciting addresses by strange preachers or by women, loud singing, hot rooms, crowded tents, the constant sight of strong semi-religious feeling in the faces of all around you for several days, late hours, long contracted meetings, public profession of experience — all this kind of thing is very interesting at the time and seems to do good. But is the good real, deeply rooted, solid, lasting?” (viii)

Does this sound familiar? It should. It could be the megachurch gathering that takes place every Sunday in hundreds, even thousands of American churches. The time is different; the technology is different; the experience is the same — a therapeutic worship with a look of godliness but lacking power.

True and enduring holiness is dependent on union with Christ alone. It is a hidden, private holiness. It’s not a public display on Sunday morning, but it is private worship through Scriptural fellowship and closet prayer. As Ryle concludes his preface to Holiness he says: “I only know it is far easier to be a Christian among singing, praying, sympathizing Christians in a public room, than to be a consistent Christian in a quiet, retired, out-of-the-way, uncongenial home” (ix).

Being awakened sinners is critical for holiness. Responding appropriately to wakefulness is a miraculous work completed by the power of the Holy Spirit who regenerates sleepers. Yet, like weary drivers on a long, cross-country road trip, you’re prone to drift back to sleep. Your response to sin is rooted in your relationship with Christ. It is what keeps you awake at the wheel. Your ongoing confession of sin and confession of Christ keeps you when power-ballad worship choruses and therapeutic feel good messages wear off.

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