Daily Light – July 10, 2019

How Do I Survive This Midlife Crisis?

Taken from an article by John Piper

The older I get, the more I want to give God public, heartfelt, explicit credit and praise for keeping me through every kind of distress that I have experienced. I really want to make known to as many people as who will listen that God has kept ahold of me. This is the decisive reason why I have kept ahold of him, and it is my first and main reason for being willing to say a few more words about this. I want to give God glory for being a keeping, holding God.

The second reason why I’m willing to say another word about this experience is that God’s keeping is manifest — his divine act, his decisive keeping, is manifest, shown, evident — precisely through our fighting to be kept. Now, make sure you hear that rightly. It’s a little bit odd, so make sure you hear it rightly, and not the other way around.

It’s not that God is moved to keep us by our fighting to be kept. Are you with me? Let me say it again. It is not that God is moved to keep us by our initiative in fighting to be kept, but (let’s turn it around now) that God moves us to fight to be kept, and thus he keeps us. If that sounds perplexing to you, that’s why I’m willing to talk about this again, because if you don’t get this, you don’t get the Christian life and how God sovereignly keeps his own.

God Uses Means

Now, first, the decisive thing to say about any Christian midlife crisis is that God keeps us. When I say Christian midlife crisis, what I mean is that God and God alone is the decisive one in getting us through so that we remain faithful to him for a lifetime.

God may use a thousand things. He mentions genetics, and stress, and all that stuff. That’s absolutely right. Who can fathom all the reasons why we go up or down, or why we come out and go back? Who can fathom the practical horizontal effects that are at work? Thousands of them, not just four. God may use a thousand things to keep us back from the cliff of pride and greed and sexual immorality and apostasy. But whatever the means — the horizontal means that we and others can see in our lives and the lives of others — whatever the means are, what is always decisive is the invisible power of God.

Promised Steadfast Hope

The greatest benediction in all the Bible, I think — there may be another one greater, but I don’t know of it — is spoken in celebration of God’s keeping. That’s amazing. Here it is:

Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen. (Jude 24–25)

“God and God alone is the decisive one in getting us through so that we remain faithful to him for a lifetime.”

That’s stupendous. That’s just over the top. What’s he praising? He’s praising that he kept me. He just kept me. If you don’t feel amazed that you woke up a Christian this morning, you don’t get it. You just don’t get it, because if God hadn’t kept you at 3:00 a.m., you’d wake up at 6:00 a.m. and be an unbeliever. That’s stupendous.

Peter puts it like this: “. . . who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Peter 1:5). How are we being kept? By God’s power. How does it work? It works by awakening in us faith every morning.

Paul, more than anyone else — bless him, I love him, we all love Paul — felt the wonder and the force of God’s keeping. He says, “[God] will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:8–9). In other words, he keeps whom he calls.

Or he says in Philippians 1:6, “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” He began it; he will finish it. He will finish it decisively, and that’s why you will finish it.

Look at 1 Corinthians 10:13: “God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation, he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” Don’t miss the word endure. The escape from the tests is through the enduring, and that is the work of God. That’s my first and main aim in looking at this issue of midlife crisis again: just to give God all the credit for every stitch of endurance and perseverance.

Don’t Let Your Guard Down

Here’s the other aim — namely, to communicate clearly that God’s keeping is manifest, shown, precisely through our fighting to be kept. I’m going to say it again because this is just so perplexing why people have a hard time getting this, yet they do. God’s keeping — God’s decisive, sovereign keeping of his own, his children — is manifested, works itself out, is shown, is evident in our lives precisely through our fighting to be kept.

“If you are fighting to be kept, God is at work in you.”

If you are fighting to be kept, God is at work in you. That’s the key statement in 1 Corinthians 9:26–27. Paul says, “I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”

Amazing — it’s amazing. Paul believed that if he let down his boxing guard, sin would deliver a knockout blow. I don’t know when people are going to listen to this, but just three days ago, there was a big heavyweight boxing match. I saw the headline, so I clicked on it. These people are paying, who knows, one hundred dollars for a live stream to get to watch this boxing match for fifteen rounds. But it ends in 28 seconds. I love it. Because this guy lets down his guard, and whammo! — he’s on the floor. Knocked out in just a few seconds. Paul believed, “If I let down my boxing guard for a moment, sin will deliver a knockout blow to me. It really will.” That’s how God keeps Paul. He makes him a fighter.

He says in Philippians 3:12, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” Beautiful. “I press on; I lay hold of.” But why? “I’ve been let hold of. I’ve been taken. I’m in his hands. I’m just grasping what I’ve been grasped with. Yes, I really run the race, but he is running in me.” Just like he says in 1 Corinthians 15:10: “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”

Never Stop Fighting

As I look back over my thirties and forties — indeed, my twenties through my seventies — as I look back over my life, I have never stopped fighting. I don’t remember any season. I don’t remember a week. I wrote a whole book entitled When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight For Joy. That’s not an accident — a whole book on how to fight for joy.

I have never stopped fighting to tremble at God’s severity. I have never stopped fighting to rejoice at God’s kindness. I cannot remember missing a day that I was not in God’s word and in prayer. I suspect there were some. I’m not claiming any perfection. I just can’t remember any. It’s that much a part of my life. Every day is a day of pleading over the word that I would be kept and shaped according to the God I see in the Bible.

I’ll end with this. I’ve never tried to go it alone. It’s easy to go at it alone. People are hard. People cause the most problems. Books — they’re not a problem. People are the problem. I know that’s not right. I know that’s not biblical. “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God” (Hebrews 3:12). Well, how am I going to take care? Here’s the answer: “But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13).

Trust is my lesson. Trust God’s sovereign keeping. And in that confidence, cut off your hands, and tear out your eyes, and fight for a greater joy than any sin could ever bring.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Why I Love the Apostle Paul: 30 Reasons.

Daily Light – July 9, 2019

The Legalist’s Final Rest

Six Reasons to Read Galatians Again

Article by Jeff Robinson, PhD

I’ve found that many Christians, post-conversion, tend toward legalism or antinomianism in their pursuit of sanctification.

I’ve seen this trend both in churches I’ve pastored and in Christian friends. One woman grew up in a strict Reformed Baptist home. She always tended toward legalism, and fought it biblically for years. Another friend was converted in his mid-thirties after spending many years searching for joy in bars and honky-tonks. He has battled an antinomian impulse for many years. Others pendulum-swung after conversion: from legalism to license, or vice versa.

Not all Christians struggle deeply in one of these areas, but the tendency is widespread. That’s why we so desperately need Galatians.

Give My Life Back to Jesus?

My discovery of the spiritual riches in Galatians came at the end of a long road. For more than a decade, I tried to follow Jesus by “rededicating” my life to him over and over and over again, maybe two hundred times. I was converted at age 10 and was fortunate to grow up in church. That church preached the gospel pretty well. My sin. His grace. Repentance. Faith. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. God’s anger at sin and sinners was always present.

But discipleship and sanctification? Not so much.

Although my childhood church helped me understand how to become a Christian, it took me a lot longer to learn about the pilgrimage that follows salvation — the need for daily repentance and killing sin, praying for the fruit of the Spirit, and other crucial elements of sanctification. I lived as if justification came by grace through faith but sanctification came by law.

My life was a frustrating merry-go-round of sin — rededication, law-keeping in my own strength, sin, rededication, law-keeping — you get the picture. I had to keep proving to God that I was serious about him. Practically, it was a strange brew of Baptist nominalism and Roman Catholic formalism.

Sanctified by Grace

Then, at a national conference for Christian men in 1995, I heard a plainly worded sermon on Galatians 2:20:

I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Through the preaching of that passage, God worked in my heart. The gates of paradise swung open (to use a phrase from Luther), and I walked through. At age 28, I understood (perhaps for the first time) that both justification and sanctification are by grace — I was saved by grace and am now being sanctified by grace. Though I hadn’t yet begun to study the Reformation in any depth, I comprehended more clearly two vital solas: sola fide and sola gratia.

I understood how they applied to my daily walk with Jesus: I was saved(justified) by grace through faith alone, and I am being saved (sanctified) by grace through faith — the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God. For all the effort involved in the Christian life, we grow, at bottom, by faith in Jesus Christ, as we rest on the grace he gives us. The cycle of rededication, sin, and rededication stopped; my growth in the Lord accelerated, and I eventually entered the ministry with a heart to help others.

And I fell in love with Galatians. Nearly 25 years later, I have preached or taught through Galatians five times and have read meditatively through it dozens of times. Still, I haven’t grown past my need to walk on a path paved with the grace-saturated words of this letter. I suspect I’m not alone, so here are six reasons I’ll never be able to leave Galatians behind.

1. Good works, however good they may appear, do not justify us.

I know, this is Christianity 101, an obvious truth, particularly for those of us of a certain theological persuasion. But I’m a fourth-class legalist at heart, and my inner Pharisee is often the preacher I am most eager to hear. The system of rededication I operated under for so many years gave me security because I was constantly doing something, then checking the box. Done. But Paul corrects this impulse: “Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:2–3).

While genuine saving faith will show itself in spiritual fruit (as James 2 makes clear), I am regularly tempted to make my works — rededicating myself to God, doing evangelism, feeding the hungry — the ground of my acceptance with God. But in Galatians, Paul reminds me that justification is through faith alone, by grace alone, in Christ alone. I never grow past my need to be reminded of the gospel.

2. Confusing law and gospel is a pathway to misery.

Sadly, many Christians walk this difficult road every single day. A pithy saying often (falsely, I think) attributed to John Bunyan captures this potential misery well:

Run, John, run, the law commands, but gives us neither feet nor hands.
Far better news the gospel brings: it bids us fly and gives us wings.

The law as power for Christian living is a terrible taskmaster. For years, I tried to earn for myself what Christ had already bought. For years, I was a joyless, tired Christian. I’ve met far too many Christians over the years who are in the same condition due to an unbiblical understanding of law and gospel. Instead of seeing the law as a guide to their sanctification, they saw the law — and not the gospel — as the means of achieving their sanctification. Grace is the tracks on which both justification and sanctification run.

3. Christ has set us free from sin, but not free to sin.

For all the years I spent struggling with legalism, I also spent a lot of time as a practical antinomian. I loved the part where Paul says we are set free from the law. I sinned. God forgave. That was his job. While I would have never agreed that this was true, I lived as if it were. I’m probably not the only Christian in church history who has lived this way for a season until God’s truth corrected this deadly untruth. Grace not only pays the penalty for sin; it also disables the power of sin. God’s grace not only pardons but empowers. A Christian is a slave to Christ, free to no longer submit to the chains of sin (Galatians 5:1).

4. The Holy Spirit is not the junior-varsity player within the Godhead.

Here’s one often overlooked fact about Galatians: references to the Spirit outnumber the terms related to justification. Galatians taught me to walk in step with the Spirit and liberated me from any need to be constantly re-upping my commitment to Jesus. It helped me to see the vital role the Spirit plays in my sanctification and corrected my naïve theology that practically assumed the Spirit was only for Pentecostals. All Christians should write Galatians 5:16–25 over the door of their hearts.

5. The Christian life is the crucified life.

Paul reminds us that if we are in Christ, then we are crucified with him (Galatians 2:20). Our sin — not in part, but the whole — is nailed to the cross, and we bear it no more. Our old man is nailed to the cross, and we are free to take up our crosses daily and go hard after Jesus. We are set free from love of self, liberated to love and serve others. Central to orthodox Christianity is give, not get. For years, I lived as if the reverse were true.

6. God calls us to reassert the gospel in every generation.

Paul’s strong admonition in Galatians 1 helped spur Luther and other Reformers to recover the true gospel in the Reformation. The same gospel must be asserted and reasserted in every generation. Peter sought to stir up our minds by way of reminder because we are a forgetful people (2 Peter 1:13). And the first thing to go, usually, is the gospel. But the gospel we reassert must be the gospel of God’s grace in Christ. As Paul points out in Galatians 1, all other so-called “gospels” are the broad road that leads to destruction (Galatians 1:6–9).

Find Freedom

Do the tendencies to legalism and license sound familiar? Then flee to Galatians and find glorious freedom from the bondage of continually proving your goodness to God, or find joyful liberation from your desires for liberty to chase after the world.

For every Christian can say with Paul, “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20).

Jeff Robinson , PhD, is a senior editor for The Gospel Coalition. He is lead pastor of Christ Fellowship Church of Louisville, and he serves as senior research and teaching associate for the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies and as adjunct professor of church history at Southern Seminary and Grand Canyon University. He is co-editor for the book, Christ Has Set Us Free: Preaching and Teaching Galatians.

Daily Light – July 8, 2019

From David Niednagel, Pastor, Teacher.  (David uses S.O.A.P. in his morning quiet time – study, observe, apply, pray)

2 Corinthians 7:8-16   Sorrow – good and bad

7:8  I am not sorry that I sent that severe letter to you, though I was sorry at first, for I know it was painful to you for a little while. 9 Now I am glad I sent it, not because it hurt you, but because the pain caused you to repent and change your ways. It was the kind of sorrow God wants his people to have, so you were not harmed by us in any way. 10 For the kind of sorrow God wants us to experience leads us away from sin and results in salvation. There’s no regret for that kind of sorrow. But worldly sorrow, which lacks repentance, results in spiritual death.

11 Just see what this godly sorrow produced in you! Such earnestness, such concern to clear yourselves, such indignation, such alarm, such longing to see me, such zeal, and such a readiness to punish wrong. You showed that you have done everything necessary to make things right. 12 My purpose, then, was not to write about who did the wrong or who was wronged. I wrote to you so that in the sight of God you could see for yourselves how loyal you are to us. 13 We have been greatly encouraged by this. In addition to our own encouragement, we were especially delighted to see how happy Titus was about the way all of you welcomed him and set his mind at ease. 14 I had told him how proud I was of you—and you didn’t disappoint me. I have always told you the truth, and now my boasting to Titus has also proved true! 15 Now he cares for you more than ever when he remembers the way all of you obeyed him and welcomed him with such fear and deep respect. 16 I am very happy now because I have complete confidence in you.   NLT

Paul wrote them a strong letter, pointing out their sin and calling for repentance – and they did it! It could have gone either way. If Paul’s words had been softer, or not from a heart of love, or if they had resisted they would have hardened in their sin and the church would have died. It was painful – but worth it. 

Paul makes a powerful observation/statement – Godly sorrow leads to repentance and life. Worldly sorrow, where we grieve over the consequences more than over our sin, leads to discouragement, hopelessness, resentment, anger – and death.

But they passed the test! And Paul has confidence they will remember the lessons and make better choices in the future.

Lord, I have seen so many people more upset about getting caught for their sin, than for the sin itself. They blame others instead of grieving over their own self-centeredness and foolishness. Help me face my own sin and repent and not make excuses or blame others. And use me to help others be grieved over their sin more than getting caught. Help me/us learn the sweet benefits of brokenness and repentance and not listen to the schemes of the devil to resist. And Lord, help me know when to use strong letters or words to reach others. I am more likely to use softer words so I don’t upset people, than to describe their actions like You see them. Help me see situations through your eyes, and speak like Paul did. And help me pray every time for You to work now just like You did in Corinth.  Amen.

Daily Light – July 5, 2019

Why God Hides His Will for You

Article by Sam Allberry

Some time ago, the relief organization Oxfam ran a number of ads that used a familiar proverb:

Give a man a fish and he’ll feed himself for just a day, but give him the means to catch his own fish and he’ll be able to feed himself and his family for a whole lifetime.

The principle is clear and, on the surface at least, compelling. It is often used as the difference between aid and development. One gives what is needed in the moment; the other seeks to provide the means for being self-sustained. There is an important parallel to this in the Christian life.

The Will of God for You

The book of Hebrews reminds us that in the Old Testament era God spoke “at many times and in many ways” (Hebrews 1:1). We think not just of prophets being given direct words from God, but also of angels appearing with divine guidance, of visions, dreams, and even personal messages appearing on a wall to declare what was to take place (Daniel 5:5).

Looking back on such times, we can easily feel a little envious. Which of us wouldn’t want our own private angel to tell us how best to navigate life? Or a vision to let us know what God’s will is? Without such direct revelations, it can be hard to discern what God would have us do.

But when we think that way, we may actually be asking for less, rather than for more.

The New Testament is not short on teaching about God’s will. It is there. It is clear. But it is often not as specific as we would like. On one occasion Paul writes, “This is the will of God, your sanctification, that you abstain from sexual immorality” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). That’s all well and good, but what job should I take? Should I move next year? Should I be pursuing marriage? And what about all the smaller decisions we face each day?

How We Find His Will

God hasn’t given us a Magic 8 Ball. That might seem frustrating. But he has given us something better:

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)

This is our relationship to God’s will: not that he emails a daily briefing of what we’re to do each day, but that he gradually renews our minds, changing the way they work, giving us the capacity to discern his will without moment-by-moment direct updates.

This is hugely dignifying. God is not telling us what to think at every moment, but how to think. He’s rarely telling us what decision to make, but teaching us how to make decisions.

What God Is After

There are a couple of examples of this in the New Testament. We’ve already seen what Paul said to the Thessalonians. God’s will is that we be sanctified; that by ever-increasing measure we become more and more like he is: holy (1 Peter 1:15). A significant component of that is therefore resisting all sexual immorality. Any move toward sexual sin (mental or physical sin) is a direct contradiction of God’s will. As we take in God’s word, we gain a better understanding of what he’s like, and what he likes.

Or take Romans 8:29: “Those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn of many brothers.” What’s God’s will for you? That you become more like Jesus, and that many others become more like him too. Anything that leads us toward that end is God’s will.

A couple I know retired a few years ago and finally fulfilled their dream of a house by the sea. But they gave no thought to whether there were any healthy local churches. Their decision took them far from the main means God has for conforming his people to the image of Christ and for drawing others to him. Their church didn’t send them out with that purpose. They weren’t ultimately thinking of God’s will for their lives.

Or let me turn this on myself: What if I didn’t take time to be with the Lord and in his word this morning? The Bible doesn’t say I have to sit at my desk at seven o’clock with an open Bible. It does say I’m to become more like Christ. And this won’t happen without time on my knees and in his word.

Transformed, Not Just Informed

So, God doesn’t give us a spiritual GPS — “turn left here; then right.” He gives us an atlas — “this is your destination; get here, by all good means available.”

This may not be as easy as simply being told what to do or where to go, but surely it’s far more rewarding. God is training us to not need angels delivering instructions. He’s giving us far more: the increasing capability, by his Spirit who lives in us, to think like he does — to have our minds rebooted with his new operating system. God is not merely handing us a fish when we need to eat, but teaching us how to feed ourselves.

During the process of learning how to “feed ourselves,” however, God’s will often seems frustratingly vague and non-specific. The difficulty is part of the design. In those moments, we must look again at the destination we’re headed, pray much, and think carefully about how to get there. God wants so much more than to prescribe our every step. He wants to help us change. He does not simply want to inform us, but to transform us.

Sam Allberry (@SamAllberry) is an apologist and writer for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and a consulting editor for The Gospel Coalition, and is based in Maidenhead, UK. He is the author of 7 Myths about Singleness.

Daily Light – July 4, 2019


God Does Not Forgive Excuses

Article by Scott Hubbard

Very few of us fail to learn, at some point in our growing-up years, the fine art of the fake apology.

We have spoken a careless word to a friend, for example. Conscience lays a millstone of guilt upon our shoulders, but pride staggers forward, refusing to bend the knee. We look for a way to satisfy both parties.

“I’m sorry if I hurt you,” we say, skillfully implying that the real problem is with our friend’s fragile feelings. Or perhaps we add, “It’s just been such a long week at work,” or “I’m always cranky at this time of night” — statements that locate our guilt somewhere outside us. By the time we’re through, we have decorated the word sorry with enough qualifications that we somehow deserve the apology.

Although the gospel of God’s grace goes to war with such fakery, Christians are not immune from the allure to adorn our apologies and confessions with qualifications. “What we call ‘asking God’s forgiveness,’” C.S. Lewis writes, “very often really consists in asking God to accept our excuses” (“On Forgiveness,” 179).

The trouble, of course, is that God does not forgive excuses. He does not forgive qualifications. He does not forgive “buts” and “I was justs.” But he does forgive sins.

Forgive Me or Excuse Me?

Nowhere can we spot our fake confessions more clearly than in the accountability group, the Bible study, or wherever else we confess our sins to other people. Whether we are confessing to someone we have wronged, or to someone who simply helps us in the fight of faith, the question remains: Can we lay our sins before the eyes of another, in all their hellish ugliness, without trying to tuck part of them beneath the cover of an excuse?

I often find that my grand ambitions to be transparent, vulnerable, and real feel much less grand as I sit across from another. I read in my quiet times, “Blessed are the poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3) and pray, “God, I want to be like that.” But then I discover that, in the company of others, I prefer to appear spiritually rich — or at least not so poor as I really am. Needy, perhaps, but not a welfare case. I act as if “Blessed are the poor in spirit” actually means “Blessed are those who need a little help.”

And so, I often find myself tempted to adorn my confessions of sin with a variety of excuses, most often in the form of extenuating circumstances and euphemisms.

Excuses, Excuses

Sometimes, we explain our sin by adding an extenuating circumstance onto the end of a confession. We shift the center of guilt from in here to out there, and subtly cast ourselves as mere victims of circumstance.

Extenuating circumstance: “I shouldn’t have spoken to you like that; the kids have just been driving me crazy lately.”
Confession: “I lashed out at you because I felt impatient and angry. I’m sorry. Will you forgive me?”

Extenuating circumstance: “I wish I wouldn’t have spent the whole day watching that show, but it’s been such a long week at work; I needed to rest somehow.”
Confession: “I used entertainment as an escape from stress instead of trusting God with the burdens I’ve been feeling.”

Extenuating circumstance: “I don’t want to be bitter, but I just can’t get over what she did.”
Confession: “I’ve been holding on to bitterness lately because, deep down, I haven’t believed that God is a good refuge.”

Other times, we blunt the edge of a confession with euphemisms. We exchange the names of specific sins with vague, Christian-y phrases that keep anyone from looking too closely.

Euphemism: “I stumbled.”
Confession: “I lusted in my heart and turned away from Christ.”

Euphemism: “I’m having a hard time being content.”
Confession: “I envied this person’s relationship and resented him for it.”

Euphemism: “I could have been more kind.”
Confession: “I lost control and snapped at my kids.”

To be sure, confessions of sin sometimes warrant additional information. Our friends and family do not share God’s omniscience, so knowing the factors at play can help to clarify the situation. But many of us, in our eagerness to “clarify,” turn our sin into something excusable.

When we lace our confessions with such language, we are no longer confessing sin, and we no longer want forgiveness. We’re offering an excuse, and we want someone to understand.

Confess Like a Psalmist

Such was not the practice of the psalmists. When these holy men made public the confession of their sins, they used language that would startle some of our small groups.

When was the last time you turned to a roommate and confessed with Asaph, “I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward [God]” (Psalm 73:22)? Or when have you looked at your accountability partners and, with David, lamented that your sins were “more than the hairs of [your] head” (Psalm 40:12)? Or when have you prayed out loud with your spouse, and said to God, “For your name’s sake, O Lord, pardon my guilt, for it is great” (Psalm 25:11)?

Excuses were ready at hand for each of these men had they wanted to make use of them. “But the wicked are prospering!” Asaph could have said (Psalm 73:4–12). “I’ve just been in the pit for so long,” David could have acknowledged (Psalm 40:1–2). “I’m just so tired of enemies boasting over me,” he could have added (Psalm 25:2).

But they didn’t. Where did the psalmists find the strength to confess their sins unvarnished? How could they say to God, in the presence of others, “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity” (Psalm 32:5)?

Because they loved the grace of God more than they loved their reputations. Grace had captured them. And the captivity was so sweet they didn’t dream of trying to escape with an excuse.

Our Only Hiding Place

The psalmists had discovered, as Charles Spurgeon puts it, that “when we deal seriously with our sin, God will deal gently with us.” Our attempts to excuse our sin might be understandable if we had a harsh Lord, but such is not our Lord Jesus Christ. He holds an “abundance of grace” in his right hand (Romans 5:17), and stands always ready to bestow it on all who confess without excuse (1 John 1:9).

When we refuse to cover our sin (Psalm 32:5), Christ himself covers it with his own blood (Psalm 32:1). And more than that: he hides us behind the shield of his righteousness; he preserves us from the condemnation of the accuser; he surrounds us for all eternity with shouts of deliverance (Psalm 32:7). Better by far to be a poor debtor to grace, and yet belong to this Christ, than to cover ourselves with the finery of our excuses, and yet be left to ourselves in the end.

So find your roommate, your few close friends, your spouse, or some other trusted confidant, and dare to rest wholly on the grace of Christ. Provide any helpful information, by all means, but leave aside every excuse. And find, when you are finished, what Jesus does with your inexcusable sin: He buries it. He casts it into the depths of the sea. He blots it out. He forgives you.

Scott Hubbard is a graduate of Bethlehem College & Seminary and an editor for desiringGod.org. He and his wife, Bethany, live in Minneapolis.

Daily Light – July 3, 2019

Is God Angry at Me When I Sin?

By John Piper

As you can imagine, we get a lot of questions about what it means to live as a child of God. We go from being a rebel against the King to becoming a child of the King. So how does God’s disposition toward us change? And specifically, is God angry at his children when they sin?

It might be possible to put in a sentence or two the complex affectional disposition of God toward his children in this age. But it seems to me that such an effort does less than what the Scriptures actually do when we read them regarding God’s disposition toward us.

It gives some help to try to synthesize those words; I do this all the time. That’s what preaching and theology is: the effort to make sense out of all the passages of the Bible. But when it comes down to it early in the morning, late at night, when we need some word of truth and firmness and helpfulness and encouragement, it isn’t so much the syntheses that have power in our lives, but the very words of God himself in Scripture. So let me do both, but really put the emphasis on the Scriptures.

Disciplined, Not Condemned

“Even though God is displeased when we sin, he never looks on us with contempt.”

Let me say just a short word of synthesis and then refer to the very specific passages of Scripture. Here’s my synthesis:

God’s punitive anger — that is, his punishing or condemning anger — is completely absorbed by Christ when he died. He became a curse for us. He bore our sin. But God may still be angry and displeased and grieved toward his beloved children in a disciplinary sense rather than a condemning sense.

Let’s put it positively:

Before we were believers, we could not please God. “Without faith it is impossible to please him” (Hebrews 11:6). Before, we could not please God. We were by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3). Now that we are believers, we do please God, and he feels great delight in us as his children.

Our Happy God

That’s my synthesis of what I see. Let me turn now to specific Scriptures so that these can just sink in. Let’s start with the fundamental truth that God is a very happy God in providing gospel hope to sinners.

In 1 Timothy 1:11, Paul refers to the “gospel of the glory of the blessed [or happy] God.” We just have to be sure that we rid our minds of a gloomy picture of God, whose Son somehow finagled a way for us to sneak into heaven, and now we must stay out of his way lest he slap us around like maybe our father did. We need to be done with thoughts that God is disinclined to save sinners.

Luke 15, over and over, like four times, talks about gladness. “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7). We know it’s talking not just about angels throwing a party, but God himself, because in the parable of the prodigal son, that’s in fact what he does. He runs out. He grabs his son, hugs him, throws a party, and says, “Come on, come on, older son. He’s home, he’s alive!” I mean, this father is just oozing gladness, not begrudging, as if he is saying, “I guess I have to save my son who wrecked all my property.” It’s just not like that.

Grieved Over Sin

He does hate sin. I mean, we’re not going to gloss over that. God hates sin, including mine — my regenerate, John Piper sinning. God hates sin, not only because it dishonors him, but because it damages me. Sin damages us, Christians.

“God is a very happy God in providing gospel hope to sinners.”

Ephesians 4:30 says that we can grieve God with our sin. And 1 Thessalonians 5:19 says we can quench his Spirit with our sin. It’s plain from 1 Thessalonians 4:1 that some behaviors please God and some behaviors displease God.

Probably the most important text on feeling the tension and getting it right is Hebrews 12:5: “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves” (Hebrews 12:5–6). This is what is hard for us to feel when we’re being disciplined, because the discipline here is physical suffering at least (it may be other things as well). We know it is physical suffering because he said, “You have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (Hebrews 12:4). We know what kinds of things he’s talking about. He then concludes, “[God] chastises every son whom he receives” (Hebrews 12:6).

Then he goes to quote a proverb, starting in verse 10: “[God] disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:10–11).

Loved with Great Love

Here’s what we have to affirm and see in these texts. In and through and under all of this grieving and quenching and displeasing and the resulting discipline, we must not lose sight of the following texts. So let me just read them, They’re glorious. Bathe in these.

“There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). That is gone; it’s over. No guilt, no condemnation, no punishment. Christ took it all.

“What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us [which he is one hundred percent], who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:31–32). God is bent on giving us everything that is good for us.

Here is Ephesians 2:4–5: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love [that’s the only place in the apostle Paul where that phrase, great love, is used] with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ.” If you’re alive in Jesus — which means, if your heart is alive to Jesus, loving Jesus, trusting Jesus — he has great love for you, and that’s the evidence of it.

Here is my favorite gospel Psalm: “He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” Here it gets really tender and sweet: “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him” (Psalm 103:10–13).

Singing King

“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). Can you hear God singing? No, you cannot because you don’t have glorified ears yet, and you wouldn’t be able to take it. You think thunder is loud.

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32). Oh, I love that verse. Your Father, little flock, he’s a Father, he’s a Shepherd, he’s a King. He’s not merely giving us the kingdom. He’s loving to give us the kingdom. He’s finding good pleasure in giving us the kingdom.

“God will restore us and bring us unfailingly to an eternity with no grieving him anymore.”

Here’s Psalm 147:10: “His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the legs of a man, but the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love” (Psalm 147:10–11). The reason I think that’s precious is because you might say, “Well, I’ve got strong legs; I can run. Why isn’t God delighting in my strength?

This text is written for the last hour of your life, man. I mean, you’re going to have no legs. You’re going to be lying in a bed. You’re going to weigh 85 pounds. You’re going to be in a diaper. You’re going to be breathing through your mouth and you’re going to be wishing you were dead. In that moment, nothing is required of you but hope for him to delight in you at that moment. That’s good news. That is really, really good news for helpless people. All of us are going to be helpless sooner or later.

The last text is one of my favorite new-covenant promises, Jeremiah 32:40–41: “I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me. I will rejoice in doing them good, and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul.”

Contempt Versus Disapproval

Maybe I can offer one last summary word that might help put God’s displeasure with our sinning together with his delight in us as his children. Even though God is displeased when we sin, he never looks on us with contempt.

I remember talking to a woman some time ago who was struggling with feeling the affections of God because of a sense of continual disapproval. When I introduced the distinction between the disapproval of the behavior of one you love and contempt for one you find disgusting, something clicked in her mind. Maybe this would help you as well.

He never looks upon us with contempt because he’s always for us, never against us. He will always restore us and bring us unfailingly to an eternity when there will be no grieving him, no quenching him, no displeasing him anymore.

John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College & Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books, including Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist and most recently Why I Love the Apostle Paul: 30 Reasons.

Daily Light – July 2, 2019

When We Want to Give Up Waiting

Article by Vaneetha Rendall Risner

I am an impatient person. I don’t like waiting. I get annoyed by slow drivers in fast lanes. I audibly sigh when I get into a long checkout line. I am quick to remind wait staff in restaurants that I’m waiting to be seated or served.

“Could it be that what we are waiting for is more important to us than God?”

Those are trivial situations, yet I still find it hard to wait. There are bigger, much more important issues that I’ve waited for as well. I’ve waited an agonizingly long time for healing from my post-polio. For clarity on which path to take in an important decision. For restoration of a difficult relationship. For a dear friend to return to faith. For each, I have waited long past the time when I thought my requests should have been answered. For many serious requests, I’m still waiting.

I take comfort in seeing that people in the Bible, like Abraham, grew impatient too when their prayers and promises didn’t materialize as they’d hoped.

What Only God Could Do

God promised Abraham that he would be the father of many nations. And then there was silence. Nothing happened for eleven long years (imagine where you were eleven years ago). Abraham’s wife, Sarah, was barren and well past her childbearing years.

After more than a decade of waiting, they both assumed that perhaps they needed to act on their own to fulfill the promise of God. So, Abraham took Hagar, Sarah’s servant, and had Ishmael. For a while, they thought the promises would now come true through Ishmael.

Thirteen years later, God told them Sarah would bear a son, Isaac. They had waited so long, neither of them believed God was going to do it now. Abraham was decidedly unenthusiastic at the proclamation. After he audibly laughed and inwardly doubted, Abraham said to God, “Oh that Ishmael might live before you!” (Genesis 17:18).

Abraham had figured out a way to have heirs on his own. The thought of waiting, being wholly dependent on God, wasn’t part of his plan. He wanted God to bless what he had done, rather than wait for what only God could do.

Why We Give Up Waiting

That’s what I often do. I don’t like waiting. I want to act, to figure it out, to know with certainty what’s going to happen. And then I want to move ahead. Abraham wanted God to bless Ishmael so he could have descendants through him. God had something different in mind, something that unfolded to Abraham over time — something impossible in the eyes of man.

“Don’t shortcut what God has for you.”

Honestly, often I want Ishmael too. I want the thing I can figure out, that I have control over, that doesn’t require waiting and trusting.

What do we do when, like Abraham, our waiting for days turns into months, which turns into years, which turns into decades? Do we turn our heart away from God, who seemingly never delivered what we’re waiting for? If that happens, could it be that what we are waiting for is more important to us than God?

What God Denies Us

What is happening in our waiting? Is it just an empty space between our prayers and their fulfillment? No, in our waiting, God does his deepest work.

God is sanctifying us and teaching us to trust him. Sometimes we get what we are waiting for, and we rejoice and are grateful. Other times, we never see that fulfillment on earth, and we are drawn closer to God as we continue to seek him.

God has not forgotten us. It’s not that our requests are unimportant. He will answer them in his own time (which is also always the best time for us). He sees what we cannot see; he knows the potential dangers and snares he is protecting us from. While we’re waiting, God is with us. He aches with us, cries with us, comforts us. He meets us in our pain and uses all our struggles for our good. One day, we will thank him for everything that he gave us, and denied us, on this earth.

Pass on the Humanly Possible

Waiting is good for us. It’s painfully easy, however, to grow weary and take matters into our own hands because it’s taking too long. It’s tempting to look for Ishmael, to provide for ourselves, to meet our desires our own way. It may feel like we’re simply finding another means to an end, but God is in both the means and the end. Don’t shortcut what God has for you. Don’t give in to disillusionment. Don’t settle for Ishmael when God has Isaac for you. Isaac was the son of laughter and promise, the fulfillment of all God had said. Isaac was worth waiting for.

“One day, we will thank him for everything that he gave us, and denied us, on this earth.”

Isaac requires faith. It’s scary to let go of a sure thing and wait for something that may not materialize. We’re afraid we’ll be left with nothing, wondering why we waited at all. We may reason that something is better than nothing, and so we are satisfied with Ishmael. It meets our needs. But Ishmael will never fulfill us because Ishmael is what we do in our own strength. And we have no ability to satisfy our deepest desires. We need God to do that. He may do it through miraculously fulfilling what we asked for, or he may do it by denying what we asked for and giving us more of himself. Either way, we will find joy because we have him.

What is your Ishmael? What are you tired of waiting for and tempted to take into your own hands? What are you afraid to let go of because it seems that something is better than nothing? What are you trusting God for?

Don’t settle for what is humanly possible; wait for what only God can do.

Vaneetha Rendall Risner is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Desiring God, who blogs at danceintherain.com. She is married to Joel and has two daughters, Katie and Kristi. She and Joel live in Raleigh, North Carolina. Vaneetha is the author of the book The Scars That Have Shaped Me: How God Meets Us in Suffering.

Daily Light – July 1, 2019

The Secret to Breaking Free from Habitual Sin

Article by Jon Bloom, Staff Writer, desiringGod.org

We keep falling into the same sin when we fail to believe that holiness really will make us happier than giving in again. Many other factors may influence us, but at the root of habitual sin is a battle not for self-control, but for happiness. What we believe and want, deep in our hearts, really matters.

When my two oldest children were younger teens, they did what most younger teens do (including my three remaining teens). They ransacked the pantry, refrigerator, and freezer for empty, sugar-based carbohydrates. If they didn’t find them, they would run to fast-food restaurants and convenience stores. My wife and I would urge them toward more balanced diets and cite the science-based negative effects of such foods on the body and mind, but with little success.

“We will keep choosing to sin as long as we believe that choosing not to sin is choosing less happiness.”

Then, around ages 17 or 18, suddenly they began to eat healthy, nutritious food and eschew junk food. In fact, they began to excel their parents and exhort the rest of the family regarding the importance of eating well. Now in their early twenties, they eat far better than I did at their ages.

What happened to them? It really wasn’t that they went from being ignorant to being informed. They knew, even as kids, that junk food was “bad” for them and veggies were “good” for them. What they lacked was a belief that eating veggies would really make them happier in the long run than eating junk food now. Then they experienced an “awakening” that nutritious food would bring greater long-term joy, on multiple levels, than empty carbs. That is when they began to change what they ate.

Their awakenings provide a helpful illustration of why we often live in defeat before a habitual sin: we will keep choosing to sin as long as we believe that choosing not to sin is choosing less happiness.

Sin Can Be Quite Simple

Now, I’m a very experienced sinner (like you are), so I know how reductionistic this can sound. There are many factors contributing to why we keep giving in to sin, even if we think we don’t want to. Sin is quite complex, isn’t it?

Actually, no. Sin can create complex illusions, and it can result in all kinds of complexity. But at its essence, sin is quite simple.

The apostle John says it in four words: “All wrongdoing is sin” (1 John 5:17). Yes, but aren’t our motivations and influences to do wrong a big tangled mess? Well, the apostle James says, “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin” (James 1:14–15). Not a lot of qualifications. Not a lot of rationalizations. Not a lot of complications.

If we’re tempted to think that this was due to James’s ignorance of psychological, sociological, biological, or family-of-origin factors influencing us to sin, we’re mistaken. He may have lacked the extent of scientific data available in our day, but he knew human beings. His epistle is full of penetrating insight into our inner workings. In fact, I think he saw more clearly into us than most twenty-first-century Westerners do. James simply saw what sin is at its core.

Sin at Its Core

Every sin, every wrongdoing, no matter what kind — whether acted out in behavior or nurtured secretly in some dark place of our heart (Matthew 5:28) — is a manifestation of something we believe. Every sin is born out of a belief that disobeying God (wrongdoing) will produce a happier outcome than obeying God (right-doing). Whether or not we’re conscious of this, it’s true. Nobody sins out of duty.

“Every sin, every wrongdoing, no matter what kind, is a manifestation of something we believe.”

Every sin is some repeat version, some re-run, of the original human sin, when our ancient parents ate the forbidden tree’s fruit. Why did they do it? Were they ignorant? No. God told them directly that eating the fruit would be wrongdoing and they would be far happier if they refrained from eating (Genesis 2:16–17). But Satan put a different spin on God’s words and motives, and told them they would be far happier if they ate.

They weighed both assertions and made their choice. They saw the tree was “good for food” (“the desire of the flesh”), “a delight to the eyes” (“the desire of the eyes”), and “desir[able] to make one wise” (“the pride of life,” Genesis 3:61 John 2:16). They ate for the joy they (wrongly) believed was set before them.

We Choose What We Believe

It wasn’t wrongdoing for Adam and Eve to be motivated by joy, any more than it was wrong for Jesus to be motivated by joy (Hebrews 12:2). That’s why we choose to do, or not do, anything.

If given the choice, we choose what we believe will make us happier than we are, or less miserable than we are — even if the knowledge in our head tells us our choice is “wrong.” As Blaise Pascal said, “The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know.” And Pascal knew what drove the heart’s reasons: “All men seek happiness. This is without exception.” God made us this way.

What made it wrongdoing was where Adam and Eve tried to find joy, where they placed their faith. They believed Satan’s promise of joy over God’s promise of joy. For “whatever does not proceed from faith [in God] is sin” (Romans 14:23). And “whoever would draw near to God must believe . . . that he is the rewarder of those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).

Getting Free from Habitual Sin

When we are caught in habitual or besetting sin, our problem, at its core, may be simple. What’s holding us captive is a deceptive belief about what will make us happy.

I know the objections that might come. We do often “know” that a sin is destructive to us and others. We might loathe the sin in certain ways and feel shame over it. We may have a sincere longing to be free, and just feel like we can’t, like we’re enslaved to it — which, in a sense, we are (John 8:34). These are the complex consequences and illusions sin produces.

“Sin is not fundamentally defeated through the power of self-denial, but through the power of a greater desire.”

The truth is, however, that we are enslaved as we believe that to give up the sin is to embrace living with less happiness or more misery. Like my now-adult kids once believed: eating junk food might be “bad” for them, but life was more happy eating “bad” food than eating “good” food. This didn’t change until their belief about nutritional happiness changed. Once that changed, the power of junk food began to lose its hold on them.

Habitual sin is not fundamentally defeated through the power of self-denial, but through the power of a greater desire. Self-denial is of course necessary, but self-denial is only possible — certainly for the long term — when it is fueled by a desire for a greater joy than what we deny (Matthew 16:24–26).

How to Break Free

The secret to getting free from the entrapment of habitual sin begins with a prayerful, rigorous, honest examination of what satanic promises we have believed — and the better promises God has made. Which promises will really produce the longest and best happiness if true? And which source of promises has the most proven credibility?

Then we must renounce the lies we have believed, repent to God for having persistently believed them, and begin to exercise faith in God’s promises through obeying him — “[bearing] fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8).

As I said, this is just the beginning. I make no promise of it being easy from there. It is often very hard, because insight into our false beliefs does not itself unseat those beliefs. Often, entrenched false beliefs have shaped our perceptions and instinctive behaviors and therefore take significant time and intentional effort to change. It is not called the “fight of faith” for nothing (1 Timothy 6:12).

But I will say this: the more convinced you become that God is the source of all superior joys for you, the more resolved you will become to fight for those joys, and the easier the fight will become over time. But unless you become convinced, in some measure, that this is true, the power of your habitual sins will keep their hold on you.

Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) serves as author, board chair, and co-founder of Desiring God. He is author of three books, Not by SightThings Not Seen, and Don’t Follow Your Heart. He and his wife have five children and make their home in the Twin Cities.