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Posts Tagged ‘spiritual warfare’


In 1980, Sinclair Ferguson published Add to Your Faith. In 1981 this was republished in the U.S. under the title Taking Your Faith Seriously. In his introduction to Maturity: Growing Up and Going On in the Christian Life, he calls it a “young man’s book.” As a result, Maturity is not simply an old book with a new title, but a re-working of the old book to reflect his greater understanding and wisdom 40 years later. Having not read the original version of this book, I am not qualified to compare the two volumes. I will, however, say this is a much-needed and excellent book.

Similar to Devoted to God, Ferguson notes that he prefers passages to proof-texts as his method. In Devotion, he used a passage that illustrates one of the illustrates an aspect of sanctification. This book is not structured that way, but as he approaches aspects of Christian maturity he looks a themes in books, focusing on a few passages instead of exegeting one passage. The 12 chapters are organized into 5 sections: Growing Up, Standing Firm, Facing Difficulties, Pressing On and Maturity.

In the first section, Growing Up, Ferguson tackles the topics of the Importance of Maturity, the Symptoms of Decay and Abiding in Christ. As indicated by the final chapter in this section, there is a strong emphasis on union & fellowship with Christ as essential to growing up in Christ. We are getting a bit ahead of ourselves in this matter. Maturity does take time and effort (an effort born of that mystical union with Christ, not an effort of the flesh). He begins with some of the hindrances of maturity including contemporary society, our personal history, “Christian” influences that don’t value maturity or communicate the process. Discipleship is not about quick returns, but delayed gratification. We are setting our hopes on God’s promises relating to the future which are often fulfilled when we see the Lord either thru death or His return. They are not all about the present or immediate future.

Ferguson points us to Jesus who also grew into maturity (Luke 2:42). He’s not simply our example, but the source of the resources necessary through the aforementioned union. As man, he was a real man who grew in wisdom and stature. He was a boy as a child, not a man in a boy’s body. Ferguson then surveys a number of epistles to show the importance and need of maturity. We see the great importance of love, and our need to hear the Word preached if we are to become mature.

“The disease diagnosed here is a failure in concentration, an inability to fix the heart and mind on Christ and to make him the chief object of devotion and attention.”

Decay is indicated by attention deficit, the inability to concentrate on spiritual matters. We become governed by our desires instead of the will of God. He also notes a poor appetite as a symptom of decay. This of course is about whether we are feasting on the Word or the world and its delights. One of these will shaping our thinking, desires/values and will/choices. When we are not chewing on Scripture, we begin to be conformed to the world instead of transformed by the renewing of our minds.

“Secret failure cannot remain hidden. If we do not deal with our indwelling sin, it will eventually catch up with us. We may disguise it for a while, but we will lack the perseverance to do so permanently; one day our spiritual failure will become clear.”

Another symptom is a lack of discernment, the inability to spot the problems in a teacher’s doctrine or practice. This doesn’t mean we should all be discernment bloggers, but that we do practice discernment: affirming what is good while rejecting what is bad. It is a rejection of man-made rules, and a dependence upon the grace of God. Weakness of worship is another sign of decay. We look for the pep rally instead of worshiping the exalted Christ who suffered for us, and calls us to suffering.

The third chapter in this section focuses on John 15 and the parable of the vine. We are branches that are grafted in, and this provides a picture of life-giving union with Jesus. The Father prunes us for greater fruitfulness thru providences and interventions. He begins to remove that which is unhelpful for our spiritual life and maturity, as well as shaping and molding us. Abiding with Christ is connected to having His Word dwell in you richly. He returns to the subject of feasting and chewing on the Scripture to gain nurturing truth.

“We need to learn to see our lives within his purposes and plans, not to think of him as fitting into ours!”

Standing Firm focuses on assurance and guidance. Moving toward maturity requires that we are assured of our salvation, and receive proper guidance from God. Otherwise we flounder wondering if we are saved and what we should do with our selves. He develops the idea, as he did in The Whole Christ, of faith as a direct activity and assurance as a reflex activity of faith. To we saved we must be sure that He saves those who believe, and believe. Assurance as a reflex activity has to do with whether or not Jesus has saved us because we believed, not simply whether there is salvation in Christ. Calvin focused on the objective assurance of faith as necessary. The reflex activity, which is reflected in the Westminster Confession of Faith, not necessary, nor infallible (some sure they are saved are not because their certainty is based on something other than Jesus’ person and works). Ferguson spends time exploring Romans 8 to see the foundations of our assurance through the series of questions that Paul asks. If we are in Christ, no one can accuse us, condemn us or separate us from Christ. Opposition while seemingly great, is unable to thwart God and his purposes for us.

He then looks to some obstacles to assurance of salvation, also focusing on Romans 8 (Kevin DeYoung, for instance, goes to 1 John). He reflects the Westminster Confession, again. One is an inconsistent life as a Christian. He’s not talking about the presence of temptation, but the practice of unholiness. Forgetfulness of the indwelling Spirit is another obstacle for assurance. We can also be confused by suffering which often makes us think God does not love us.

Ferguson then looks at marks of assurance. They are laid out as:

  1. Satisfaction with God’s way of salvation.
  2. A new sense of security in Christ stimulates a new desire to serve him.
  3. Assurance fills our hearts with love for Christ.
  4. Boldness to live our lives for Christ.

“God does guide his people.” The question for the chapter is how God guides his people. We have to recognize that we won’t and can’t always understand what God is doing or up to in our lives. We can have guidance, but we won’t have comprehension. To illustrate the general views of guidance, Dr. Ferguson points us to the differences between Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield. The point of using them is that neither was an extremist and is esteemed within the Reformed community most likely to read Ferguson’s book. Whitefield was prone to rely on “impressions”. Edwards focused on “the application of the precepts and principles of his word.” During an overnight stay in Northampton by Whitefield, the two talked about this. Edwards was concerned about the dependence on this sudden impulses. How do we know they are from God unless they are consistent with biblical commands or principles. The Spirit may bring these things to mind when we need them, but we should still stop to consider whether that impression or impulse is consistent with Scripture properly understood. But this reliance on impulses is highly subjective, and God doesn’t speak to which legitimate job I should take, which single Christian woman I should marry, which house I should buy, etc. God reveals those not by impressions but largely through circumstances (which offer is better for me and my family overall, which woman actually wants to marry me, or which house can my spouse and I agree upon).

The difficulties we face, which God works for our maturity, are largely things we have little to no control over. These are realities that can often dismay and discourage Christians. We need to begin to see them from a different angle as under the providence of God who uses them for our good, even if they themselves are not good. Those difficulties he covers are sin, temptation, spiritual warfare and suffering.

“Sin is the internal enemy of spiritual growth.”

The sin in question is our original corruption, the sinful nature, the remaining presence of sin as a power in our hearts. This corruption which produces temptations and transgressions is one of God’s means to keep us humble, and amazed at the glory of the gospel. This is something that gets lost in the SSA discussion for some. Some seem to grossly minimize the problem of pride, and the great means God uses to root it out of our hearts.

“There is a profound correlation in the Christian life between the consciousness of sin and the realization of the wonder and power of the gospel. … Until we realize how great the weight of sin is, we will not make much progress in pursuing holiness without which we will never see the Lord (Heb. 12:14).” … He sets up an ongoing cycle in our lives, convicting us of sin in order to deepen his work of sanctification in us.”

In this chapter, Ferguson keeps returning to Psalm 119. It is the Word that exposes sin and its power, the Word that holds out gospel promises, and the Word that the Spirit uses for our sanctification thru these means.

His chapter, Overcoming Temptation, is probably the best in the book. I read this just after reading the PCA Report’s section on temptation, and thought they would have benefited from talking with Dr. Ferguson. This, while only one chapter, is great stuff. As one friend would say, he puts the cookies on the counter when the kids can reach them. The cookies being John Owen’s penetrating but heady work on this topic. He defines temptation, and notes that as such it is not sin (by this I believe he means transgression based on the larger context of the chapter). He speaks of indwelling sin remaining and producing an inclination and disposition to sin (verb, to transgress, or actual sin). In temptation, however, the enemy speaks as if we are already condemned. Maturity begins to tune this out, not in a way that minimizes the real danger we are in, but in a way that we don’t fall into the trap that means we might as well go ahead and sin anyway, or that we are so vile we are beyond hope because we experience such temptations.

“So the distinction between temptation and sin is vital theologically and also pastorally.”

He then explores Owen’s distinction between temptation and “entering into temptation.” In that process he explores the process of temptation.

Internal desires ==> stimulated further by the world ==> weakness exposed & opportunity for the devil to stimulate further

But the key to “entering into temptation” is a sentence I missed somehow in Owen that ties it together well.

“Whilst it knocks at the door we are at liberty; but when any temptation comes in and parleys with the heart, reasons with the mind, entices and allures the affections, be it a longer or shorter time, do it thus insensibly and imperceptibly, or do the soul take notice of it, we ‘enter into temptation’.” John Owen, Works, VI, 97

We enter into temptation, or transgress (I think he uses them interchangeably if we recall that transgressions include thoughts). There is a parley or dialogue instead of immediately saying “no” to temptation. We begin to argue with our temptation, or entertain that temptation. At this point the temptation becomes transgression.

In this context, Ferguson goes to David’s temptations regarding Bathsheba and Uriah for illustration and explanation. Then he shifts to the complementary accounts of the census to discuss the doctrine of concurrence in the context of temptation.

“Here, taking the statements together, God, Satan, and David are all involved in one and the same action. We should not try to resolve the tension here…”

In terms of overcoming temptation, he advocates watchfulness, prayer and being armed against the enemy. He then writes about spiritual warfare. Spiritual conflict is another difficulty we must face. He brings us to Ephesians 6, like so many other books I’ve read recently. Our ordinary life is the context, the setting, for our spiritual conflict. Here the Enemy seeks to disrupt and discourage. The conflict reminds us that we are intended, and only successful as a result, to depend upon the Lord’s provision to us in Christ for this warfare. As in other chapters, we see references to Pilgrim’s Progress. There is also the influence of William Still, his pastor while a student. The following sounds like a paragraph in Still’s book Towards Spiritual Maturity:

“… sudden sinful and distasteful thoughts and temptations; moments of feeling overwhelmed by a sense of darkness; doubts that appear in our minds from nowhere.”

Suffering can, sadly, define us. I’ve seen men crippled by suffering. By this I mean all roads lead to their particular and personal suffering. They seemed unable to really move beyond it. Their fixation stunts their growth. Forgetting our suffering can also stunt growth. Ferguson brings us back to Psalm 119 to show us that God intends us to learn from our suffering but not be ensnared by that suffering. He breaks it down this way:

  1. Affliction brings our spiritual needs to the surface.
  2. Affliction teaches us the ways of God.
  3. Affliction shows us the faithfulness of God.

Ferguson then brings us to Paul and his thorn to help us understand these realities in the flesh. It was a sharp pain in his life. He was “‘cuffed’ by it, beaten black and blue as it were.” Our usefulness for the future necessitates our prior suffering. We need to be changed, and shaped by that suffering.

“Satan desperately tries to drive the holy man insane.” John Calvin

Ferguson then moves into the areas we have more control over in the section Pressing On: service and endurance. Serving moves us beyond ourselves and our needs to the needs of others. He interacts with 1 Corinthians and Hebrews. God gives us grace to serve just like He gives us pardoning and purifying grace. He covers some of the pitfalls and dangers if we don’t deal with our selfishness when seeking to serve.

Crossing the finish line at the London Marathon (Image: Reuters)

The reality is that Christians must keep going to become mature. They keep running that race, by grace. Ferguson again provides some hindrances like indwelling sin, sluggishness, discouragement and more. He then provides some encouragements focusing on Christ who has run the race before us.

The book concludes with a short chapter on living maturely. In many ways he reiterates much of what he has already said. Maturity doesn’t mean “retirement” but continuing the life you’ve been living to the glory of God by the grace of God. As a result, the repetition makes sense.

This is a book drenched in Scripture that continually encourages the reader to dig into and chew on Scripture as one of the primary means of grace for maturity. This book also bleeds Bunyan and John Owen. Ferguson loves the Puritans, but his loves are not narrow. There is plenty of Calvin, as well as Augustine and other church fathers. He also refers to some recent books which means that Ferguson is reading in “community” past and present as Richard Pratt encouraged us as students.

Sinclair Ferguson provides us with another great book in his “retirement”. This book could well serve as Sinclair Ferguson on the Christian Life, thinking of the Crossway series. It makes the theological practical and pastoral as Ferguson usually does. It’s a keeper.

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Is God trying to tell me something or am I unconsciously seeking to address a present need.? That is an interesting question.

The Whole Armor of God: How Christ's Victory Strengthens Us for Spiritual WarfareEarlier this year I read one of David Powlison’s final books: Safe and Sound. It is about spiritual warfare. I’ve just finished reading Iain Duguid’s The Whole Armor of God: How Christ’s Victory Strengthens Us for Spiritual Warfare. While I was reading Duguid, Paul Tripp made the same point from Ephesians 6 that both Powlison and Duguid made: that Paul was not changing the subject in Ephesians 6, but that spiritual warfare is the subject of the whole letter. God must be trying to tell me something.

Dealing with a mother’s death is spiritual warfare. Dealing with a pandemic includes spiritual warfare. Parenting kids is spiritual warfare. Session meetings, and especially meetings with the deacons, are spiritual warfare. It is an ever-present reality, not just when I am aware of it happening (like on certain FB groups).

Powlison and Dugud’s books are very similar in many ways. They are both relatively short, unlike William Gurnall’s 3-volume treatise on the subject (you can get a devotional version which is excellent- and I almost re-read it this year until buying Tripp’s devotional for our officers). They are obviously focused on the whole armor of God from Ephesians 6. They both take the approach that Jesus wore this armor, and His victory is what established our victory in spiritual warfare. They are far more concerned with the OT references to this armor than the armor of Paul’s Roman guards.

Let me say that I dislike the word “victory” in the context of our sanctification. We may win a battle, but due to the reality of indwelling sin I will face that battle again. We don’t experience full victory in this life. We have moments of obedience. But that is a personal pet peeve derived from people I used to interact with who went on about the “victorious Christian life.” It didn’t feel all that victorious as I struggled with persistent temptations of various sorts.

Both books do helpfully discuss Christ’s complete victory as the basis for our eventual victory and the source of grace in each conflict we engage in. In other words, both books focus on the objective work of Christ for our salvation (justification, sanctification and glorification).

Powlison writes much of his application within the context of counseling. It is very helpful. Duguid writes much of his application within the broader context of sanctification. It is also very helpful. I can think of a few people that I may give copies.

Duguid begins with the reality of warfare and the reality of our enemy. He is more powerful than we are. But he is far less powerful than Jesus. The spiritual forces of darkness Paul speaks of are behind the unspeakable evil we’ve seen, not simply the human actors. Those people, like Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pablo Escobar, and others are just pawns. Our struggle is not against flesh and blood. This means that the deep state is spiritual in nature, not simply political. The power of the Beast is the demonic force that uses governments as counterfeit Christ’s. But now I’ve oozed into Revelation. Daniel learned there was more to the spiritual battle than he realized when the angel informed him that Michael the archangel had to assist him in a battle with the prince of Persia (Daniel 10).

This means we need to be prepared whether we are pastors, parents, employers, employees, children, rich, poor, majority culture or a minority culture. The Ephesians believed this, and Paul taught this. We should believe this because Paul taught this.

“The choice is not whether you will be a Christian solider or a Christian civilian but whether you will be a prepared Christian soldier or an unprepared one. And an unprepared soldier of flesh and blood will not be able to stand up against the scale of the spiritual forces ranged against him or her.”

The major of Paul’s focus, and Duguid’s focus, is Christ’s provision. The Lord provides armor for us instead of leaving us to our own devices.

“That mighty power of God is at work for our spiritual growth in two distinct ways. First, it was demonstrated outside us in the once-for-all work of Christ in resisting sin and Satan in our place, and, second, it is demonstrated inside us through the ongoing, progressive work of the Spirit, renewing our hearts and minds.”

We see Duguid not only wants us to see the Scriptures, but supports his views confessionally and we see the influence of John Newton. Duguid brings us through the armor of God with this dual focus in mind. In our battle of sanctification (his work in us) we must never lose sight of our justification (his work for us).

At one point he does misspeak. I don’t want to misrepresent the book as flawless. In speaking of the cross he says “God treated the innocent One as guilty so that he could treat us, the guilty ones, as innocent.” He and I know that it goes far beyond this and “innocent” should be replaced by “righteous”. But his unfortunate phraseology understates the reality of Christ’s work and our benefit.

That’s it for the negative really. Duguid gets to the point, repeatedly brings us to Jesus and challenges us to make use of God’s provision by faith. If we were to evaluate this by J.C. Ryle’s 3 questions we say it does indeed exalt Jesus, humble sinners and can also calls them to godliness. It is, as I noted, I book I recommended and hope to teach (along with Powlison’s) after we are able to have Sunday School again. This is what discipleship is about.

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I became a Christian in the 1980’s. Soon This Present Darkness became a popular book in evangelicalism. While Peretti was writing fiction, some took it as reflective of reality. Some people’s focus shifted from Jesus to a fear of demons.

We do see an outbreak of demonic activity with the Incarnation of the Son. Some try to normalize those events and come up with formulas, rites and whole taxologies of demons. We’ve gone too far in many ways.

Safe and Sound: Standing Firm in Spiritual BattlesYears ago David Powlison wrote the now out of print Power Encounters to address this erroneous focus among Christians. Prior to his recent death, Powlison wrote another book , a shorter book, on the subject called Safe & Sound: Standing Firm in Spiritual Battles. This little book is a gift to the church if we’ll listen.

Unlike Power Encounters which serves as a corrective, Safe & Sound is more instructive. It has a different approach or focus. At times he notes how others have gone far beyond Scripture, but the focus is more positive and instructive. Yet, as he notes, the Christian life is lived in the fog of war.

The heart of the book is Ephesians 6. In the first part of the book where he defines spiritual warfare, he shows us how to see the passage in context with expanding circles of context (I claim this phrase as my own and will use it if I ever write a book on preaching). He looks at the text in the context of the Letter to the Ephesians, the context of the New Testament and then the context of the whole Bible. This itself is instructive to people.

“At the center of spiritual warfare is not the devil. It’s Jesus Christ.”

Context of the Letter

Powlison wants us to see that ultimately all of the letter is about spiritual battles. Jesus has rescued us from the Prince of the Spirit of the Air. Church growth, numerically and spiritually, is a spiritual battle. Sanctification is a spiritual battle. Family life is a spiritual battle. All of these involve battles with identity, guilt & shame, truth & lies, the struggle of allegiance between the two kingdoms. Anger, for instance, can give the devil a foothold when it persists and when we sin in our anger.

“All of Ephesians is about our conflict with darkness- within ourselves, with other people, and with the spiritual forces of evil. … Ephesians is about union and communion with Christ and union and communion with each other in Christ. Spiritual warfare is against the forces that would divide an break our fellowship with Christ and one another.”

Context of the New Testament

This is where this book can sound more like his earlier book. He is addressing the accounts of demon possession in the Gospels and Acts. If we pay attention, we see those power encounters connected with the Incarnation are very different than much of what passes for power encounters today. Only once Jesus asks the name, because usually He’s telling them to shut up. Demons are not connected with particular sins ( the demon of lust, greed or idolatry). In addressing sin people are called to faith & repentance, not the casting out of demons.

Image result for miracle maxAdditionally, spiritual warfare is often seen as defensive. Powlison wants us to see spiritual battles as offensive. He addresses this in both the immediate and NT context. It is not intended to be the Battle of Helm’s Deep as we retreat to a defensive position before an advancing demonic horde. It is more like Miracle Max reminding us to “have fun storming the castle.” As we move forward we encounter resistance, so we need the armor of God. This is also seen in the OT as the people of Israel engage in conquest of the Promised Land. They are on the offense, and God is clearing the way for them in many instances.

“When we are in the grip of anger and bitterness, James says that there is a demonic aspect to us (James 3:13-18). We resemble the liar and murderer in how we exalt ourselves and judge and damn others.”

Context of the Whole Bible

Image result for gladiatorPowlison notes that most expositors connect the armor with Paul being surrounded by Roman soldiers. He brings us to Isaiah and Psalms to see the armor of God there. Jesus shares His armor with us. Jesus shares His power & might with us. Jesus gives His Word of truth to us. Through the OT connection, we also see the centrality of Christ in our spiritual battles.

As a counselor, Powlison writes with an eye on counseling people. After his discussion of the whole armor from Ephesians 6, he addresses different kinds of counseling situations in Part 2 of the book. He addresses personal ministry, the triad of anger, fear and escapism, death, the occult (keep in mind Ephesus was filled with the occult as seen in Acts), and Animism. He reminds us that the focus is on the person before us, not a demon. The final chapter, like the Introduction, is quite personal. In the Introduction he spoke of his conversion. In the final chapter he speaks of his diagnosis and then-impending death.

“One of the goals of pastoral counseling is to restore to people the awareness of choice in situations where they don’t feel like they are choosing.”

The Appendix briefly summarizes Power Encounters and helps us to see the shift from Jesus’ extraordinary ministry (which involves love to needy people, reveals Jesus as God Incarnate and prompts people to faith) to our more ordinary ministry involving love to people in need to reveal Jesus as God Incarnate and which calls them to faith and repentance. Sadly, we love the spectacular and fail to recognize that ministry is ordinary faith expressing itself in love.

“We must learn how to fight well, how to put on Jesus Christ himself, wearing the weapons of light with which he defeats the powers of darkness.”

This is a very good book in that it consistently points us to Jesus and calls us to ordinary ministry in some difficult circumstances. There is no fat to trim in this book. Powlison gets to the point and stays on point as he does in the other books he wrote in his final days. As a result, these are good books for busy elders and lay ministry leaders. He points us to the gospel and ordinary means of grace, not encounters with demons, as we engage in spiritual battles. This is a helpful addition to a toolbox, particularly for those without the time for Gurnall’s classic work on the armor of God.

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In the midst of his discussion in Evangelism for the Rest of Us, Mike Bechtle asks what they would do.

You might think he’s speaking about the people with whom you are sharing the gospel. Or other people, like those extroverts, who use other methods.

He’s really thinking about Jesus and Satan. In two separate chapters he addresses each respectively.

The first of the two chapters focuses on how Jesus interacted with people. There are some speculative questions, just to prompt thoughts. I have no idea if Jesus would go on TV, and don’t actually find it to be a helpful question (Bechtle isn’t focusing on that so this is not a criticism of him).

He does go to the fact that Jesus “came eating and drinking”, essentially doing things that the religious people of His day looked down upon. If Jesus showed up on TV, it wouldn’t be TBN. It might be CNN to talk to Larry King.

Bechtle has 2 assumptions: Jesus wants to impact people eternally, and He’ll use appropriate methods to do that.

What do we see Him doing?

  1. Jesus went about His daily life and ministered to the people He met. While on a mission, Jesus wasn’t necessarily like a missionary. But for 3 years Jesus was an itinerant rabbi. He focused on His disciples. But there were times when He traveled the countryside speaking to crowds. Most of the time was ordinary. He encountered people in every day life, like the woman at the well, and talked with them.
  2. He met people where they were and moved them closer to God. He went to them. He didn’t set up an office, or booth like Lucy the 5-cent psychiatrist. He found them. “Jesus’s goal was the same- to love people and move them a step closer to knowing God.”
  3. He prayed for God to work through Him. We see Jesus taking time to pray. Fully human, Jesus relied upon the Holy Spirit in His ministry just as you and I are supposed to. As “the perfect man” He was perfectly dependent upon the Father expressed in prayer.

“His philosophy of evangelism seemed to be, ‘Love people and talk to them.'”

Bechtle then applies this to us in the 21st century.

  1. Minister to the people you encounter while going about your daily life. Perhaps you need to pray to see the ministry opportunities available to you every day. The person in the cubicle next to you that is going through a rough patch. Your neighbor with ordinary problems. Jesus simply lived in proximity to people. So do you. See those ordinary encounters or interactions as appointments. Maybe you simplify your life. Live closer to work or church so you have more time. You don’t need to meet every need you come across (we are often driven by what the media thinks is important). But be open-hearted toward those in your path.
  2. Meet people where they are and help move them closer to God. Yes, that is odd terminology if we want to be overly theological. Yes, you are either in Adam or in Christ. We are talking about the process of evangelism. Engage them on one pertinent issue that comes up. Not every conversation turns into the 4 Spiritual Laws. You may just listen to them to better understand them, but willingly engage people.

He spends time talking about listening. We aren’t listening to challenge them, but to love them (which may include challenging their thinking at times). Listening builds trust as well as understanding. It is interesting to ask people about their jobs, most of the time. But you learn things about people, ideas, areas of knowledge. Listen to love.

19 Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. James 1

Bechtle then turns the table, so to speak. He talks about what Satan does in order to keep us from bearing witness or being effective in bearing witness.

11 so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs. 2 Corinthians 2

27 and give no opportunity to the devil.  Ephesians 4

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. Ephesians 6

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. 1 Peter 5

If we pay attention to the NT, we see that Paul wants us to aware of Satan’s strategies. If we are aware of them we won’t be surprised or ambushed.

  1. He wants to keep us distracted. Whether it is focused on method, our sin, entertainment … Anything but bearing witness. It is easy to distract most of us.
  2. He wants to keep us divided. He wants us fighting about methods instead of actually doing evangelism. He wants us to bicker over just about anything: the color of the carpet, instruments and style of music in worship, how to administer communion, etc. He stirs up pride and envy.
  3. He wants to keep us deceived. While we have the mind of Christ, our justified minds are still being sanctified or renewed. There are lies we can believe that keep us from evangelizing others. It could be hyper-Calvinism. It could be racism (see Jonah). There are lots of ways he can deceive us so we don’t bear witness. One Bechtle mentions is focusing on Satan’s power instead of God’s infinitely greater power.
  4. He wants us to be discouraged. He does this with unrealistic expectations. Reminding us of our sins and mistakes so we feel like failures.

In keeping with this overall strategies, Bechtle offers 10 ways Satan schemes to disrupt our efforts.

  1. He tempts us to sin. Whether or not we actually sin, the reality of our corruption is exposed and we can be paralyzed by guilt and shame. We need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the Author and Perfector of our faith.
  2. He works against and outwits us. He knows our weaknesses and patterns. We need to be aware too, so we’ll know the places he’ll strike.
  3. He appeals to our pride. This the “mother of all sins”. One manifestation is seeking to be liked and respected. Our pride will take offense at any slight and detour evangelism. We should be humbling ourselves under God’s mighty hand, remembering that He opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.
  4. He lies. It is his native tongue. We need to know the truth better so we can spot the lies.
  5. He works on our hearts, manipulating our emotions and passions. Scripture reminds us to guard our hearts lest it be tainted by bitterness.
  6. He convinces us to be friends with the world. This means we’ll minimize sin and participate in sin w/out a thought. We are to be friends with God who loved us and gave Himself for us. The world doesn’t love us and give itself for us, but kills us if we oppose it.
  7. He engages in battle against us. Put on that armor: truth, faith, peace, righteousness, salvation, the Word & Spirit and get to fighting.
  8. He pretends to be an angel of light. This is part of the deception. He can distract us with “good causes” that are keeping us from the main fight. The gospel does have social implications, but if we make them the main issue we’ve lost.
  9. He’s vigilant. Be watchful too!
  10. He interferes with our ministry. He’s like the heel in wrestling who cheats whenever the ref isn’t looking. Expect it at every turn. Don’t give up but keep trying.

“Resisting the devil means learning how our enemy works and taking offensive and defensive measures to render him ineffective.”

Not the best chapters in this book. But there were a few things worth considering. He could have recommended a book like Precious Remedies Against Satan’s Devices.

As you go, make use of every opportunity knowing that the enemy will oppose you at every turn.

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Last week we looked at a Lutheran perspective on sanctification by Gerhard Forde in Christian Spirituality: Five Views of Sanctification. We (this would be the imperial we if no one reads this) also noted some of the responses, particularly the one by Sinclair Ferguson. Dr. Ferguson is the next to present his view of sanctification, a Reformed perspective on this doctrine.

It should not surprise anyone familiar with Sinclair Ferguson to know that his presentation is not polemical, but well-reasoned (polemics can be well-reasoned, but often aren’t) and interacts quite a bit with Scripture (not just tossing out a reference proof text). As a Reformed pastor, I have a strong affinity with this presentation. Since it pretty much represents my view (recognizing that in 20 pages you can’t say all there is to say about sanctification) I can see no weaknesses or faults to discredit this view. The other authors obviously pointed out some they perceived (and in some cases imagined).

“A necessary connection between biblical doctrine and holy living is fundamental to the biblical and apostolic way of thinking. That is why Scripture is so full of moral imperatives logically derived from doctrinal indicatives…”

Instead of starting with justification like Forde did, Ferguson starts with the profound and oft-neglected doctrine of union with Christ. As Christ is our justification, so He is our sanctification: thru our union with Him. United to Him in His death, burial and resurrection (though I could add more) we are justified and sanctified (the double blessing of union that Calvin notes).

“Christ himself is the only adequate resource we have for the development of sanctification in our own lives.”

He shares His resources with us. So, Ferguson notes that sanctification is neither accomplished by divine fiat or self-exertion. Christ has provided all we need, and by virtue of our gracious union with Christ we are able to draw on these resources. It is not like a Matrix download where Neo instantaneously gains skills. By faith we drawn His resources and trust His Spirit to work in us. We participate but are utterly dependent.

“Faith involves trusting in and resting on the resources of Christ as though they were our own.”

At this point Ferguson walks through Romans 6 to understand how our union with Christ effects our sanctification. In Christ we have died to sin (via His atoning death) and live to God (via the resurrection) which is the essence of our sanctification. Death to sin does not mean we don’t sin (see Romans 7) but our sin no longer condemns us (Romans 8:1). We are no longer under its authority. Our life is no longer determined by our past, but Christ’s past. The verdict has been passed and Christ’s vindication means we are alive to God, and live for God. Because we are united to Christ we are a new creation. We are no longer the old man in Adam but the new man in Christ. Sanctification can be understood not as getting used to our justification, but as growing into our new identity in Christ.

This new man encounters oppositions from the world, the flesh and the devil. Spiritual warfare, in Scripture, is about the struggle between them and the Spirit. They seek to undermine our new life in Christ like old drinking buddies. They use guilt, shame, temptation and more. This is the context of Paul’s statements on the subject in Ephesians 6. Our sanctification is not an easy thing but one met with great resistance: internal and external.

“All that is true for me in Christ has not yet been accomplished in me by the Spirit.”

This is close to Frame’s perspectivalism. Christ’s work for us has already taken place and I already benefit from it. I have imputed righteousness, for example. Christ’s work in my by the Spirit (and His work thru me by the Spirit) is not been fully applied. Some of it is not yet, or not completely. Imparted righteousness has begin but is not complete. It won’t be until glorification. Romans 7 and Galatians 5 are two places that introduces us to this painful tension we must live with and in.

One aspect of sanctification is called mortification, the putting to death of sin aka the practices of the old man in Adam (Ephesians 4; Colossians 3). This imperative follows the great indicative of our union with Christ. We begin to live in accordance with our new identity in Christ (called vivification which Ferguson does not explicitly mention). We do not work to earn a new status or identity in Christ. Christ is restoring His image in us by His sanctifying grace.

Ferguson then moves to discuss the means of grace essential to our sanctification. These do not merit grace, but are the ordinary means by which God gives us grace as we seek Him by faith. He mentions the Word, God’s providences (often affliction or prosperity which reveals our weaknesses and vulnerabilities as well as sins that need to be confessed), fellowship and the sacraments. You will notice much of this is found in the Church. The Church is one of Christ’s essential means of grace for our sanctification. There we hear the Word, receive the sacraments and enjoy fellowship (including rebuke and encouragement).

The controversial aspect to this is the Law and the Christian’s relationship to the Law as part of the Word. It should not be controversial in light of 2 Timothy 3’s view of Scripture. The third use of the law, as a guide for Christian living, is often accused of being legalistic. But we are not trying to establish or maintain our status through obedience. We have these by grace. The Law shows us what it looks like to live as the new man in love. We don’t say, as we are often accused of saying, that the Law has the power to sanctify us. The power comes through our union with Christ in the power of the Spirit through faith and love.

The Responses

Ferguson said very little about the Law (just about 1 page), but Forde sees this as overplaying the role of the law in our sanctification. He puts words in Ferguson’s mouth about the law “producing holiness.” He is allergic to the law and misinterprets Ferguson as a result. In some sense Forde underestimates the “already” aspects of our salvation such that we still interact with the law as if non-Christians. I can read the Law and say “this is who Christ is and who He wants me to be- help me to be like You.” Forde agrees with Ferguson’s description of sanctification (though it differs greatly from his own chapter) but faults him on implementation. Perhaps because there is so little implementation in Forde’s scheme (to borrow his phrase).

Wood, the Wesleyan perspective, agrees with much of what Ferguson says but claims that the intention of the heart is what is decisive. That is rather subjective in practice. He takes this to briefly introduce Wesleyan perfeectionism. It is not sinless perfectionism but we’ll get there next time.

Spittler calls himself a “Reformed Pentecostal” and sees much to affirm in Ferguson’s presentation. He would not share Ferguson’s high view of the sacraments. He also thinks there is too much focus on controlling behavior.

The Contemplative response, by Hinson notes that Ferguson makes too little of prayer in his discussion of the means. I suspect Ferguson would agree with this oversight. He then lapses into a great misunderstanding of the Puritans which seems to imply that Ferguson wants to coerce obedience from people, even non-Christians. I really didn’t follow this line of reasoning because it was quite irrational as well as historically inaccurate.

Bottom Line: Sanctification by being united to Christ and appropriated by the means of grace.

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Since I have benefited greatly from Sinclair Ferguson’s ministry, I decided to read what I can find from his mentor William Still. I was given a copy of The Work of the Pastor and have been working my way through that when I have time. I recently purchased Towards Spiritual Maturity: Overcoming All the Evil in the Christian Life. I had some extra time to read so I did just that. It was worth my investment of time.

It is not a long book, being less than 100 pages. But we cannot judge the significance of a book by its size. What matters is what is found inside. This is a great little book on sanctification.

He starts with a short chapter called He is Our Peace. Sanctification necessarily starts with justification. We are sanctified because we have been justified, not so we can be justified. Still notes that the greatest blessing of the gospel is peace, he calls it the foundation stone, and top stone of our Christian experience. While in justification God imputes Christ’s righteousness to us, in sanctification he imparts righteousness to us. He makes us like Jesus.

“The laws tell us what God is like. They also imply that since God is like this, holy and righteous, he desires his creatures to be like this also.”

He begins to explore the three dimensions of the work of Christ in his death upon the cross. The first is the removal of sins. Jesus must deal with our guilt and condemnation. I’ve recently come across people arguing that Jesus died for sin, not sins (trying to justify an Amyraldian view of the atonement). He must deal with both, not just one or the other (as I argued back). If he only deals with our condition, we are still guilty for our actual sins which stand between us and God. We must have peace with God, which was broken by our sins, and Christ re-establishes this in dying for our sins.

(more…)

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Here’s what I have lined up so far (all of them are at Cypress Ridge PCA):

8/31     A Trustworthy God for People Who Don’t Trust Genesis 17:1-8

9/7      A Heart for the City     Nehemiah 1

9/14     Taking Risks for the City     Nehemiah 2

9/21     The Battle for the City     Nehemiah 4

9/28     Justice & Generosity for the City     Nehemiah 5

10/5    The Battle for the City Part 2    Nehemiah 6:1-14

10/12  A Few Good Men for the City    Nehemiah 6:16 -7:73

10/26  Revival in the City   Nehemiah 9:1-37

11/2    In, But Not Of, the City     Nehemiah 9:38-10:39

11/9    Joy in the City     Nehemiah 12:27-43

11/16  Sin in the City- Part 1     Nehemiah 13:1-14

11/23  Sin in the City- Part 2     Nehemiah 13:15-30

13 Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching.  14 Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.  15 Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress.  16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.  (1 Timothy 4, NIV)

I’m thankful that I have the opportunity to continue to devote myself to these things rather than neglecting the gift given to me.  May I be diligent!

It should be noted that God’s spokesmen did not ‘fail’ when they faithfully deliver God’s messages.  The people who disobey are the ones who ‘fail.’  Edwin Yamauchi

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