Daily Light – Dec 4, 2019

You Can Be Anxious About Nothing

Article by Kim Cash Tate

 “Do not be anxious about anything.” The familiar words from Paul’s letter to the Philippians present something of a paradox — we love them adorned on artsy frames, on the one hand, and find them seemingly impossible to put into practice, on the other.

If we’re honest, we may secretly believe that we get a pass from obeying this particular command. We tell ourselves that it simply can’t mean anything. Not when we suffer trials that are altogether devastating. Surely God knows our human frame. He knows we can’t control the anxious thoughts that bombard us — nor the shortness of breath, the heart racing, or the restless nights that can accompany those thoughts.

“As we pray, lingering in God’s presence, everything else has to bow.”

Alternatively, we tell ourselves that “do not be anxious about anything” is for the spiritually mature saint, a verse to aspire to. And since we’re not there yet, we can dismiss this direct command for a while. Moreover, we’re careful not to burden others with it. If a fellow believer is battling anxious thoughts, we think it insensitive to bring this verse to bear on the situation. Better to show sympathy than to risk sounding trite.

But God has not given us an impossible standard or one to be attained only by spiritual growth. He’s telling us what’s possible by his Spirit. He knows the crippling effects of anxiety, and he’s telling us we needn’t submit to its tyranny. He’s blessing us with divine direction as to how to receive supernatural help.

Call to Prayer

Anxiety consumes. It commands the breadth of our thoughts, and fills them with dread. Unfurling its scroll of worst-case scenarios, it extinguishes hope and pummels our faith. A favorite tool of the enemy, it’s effective in silencing God’s voice and trumpeting our fears.

When we’re hit with the cares of this world, it’s hard to avoid those anxious thoughts. Our God knows. “Do not be anxious about anything” doesn’t mean we will never feel anxious. The verse is telling us what to do with it — give it to God. It reads in its entirety:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

We can be anxious for nothing because in everything — each and every trying situation — we are involving the God of the universe. Rather than bear the load ourselves and allow it to cripple us, we take it immediately to God, “casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:7).

Prayer Redirects Us to God

Prayer redirects our attention from the all-consuming problem to our all-powerful God. Before our thoughts can rehearse every hopeless scenario that could attend the problem, we intentionally set our minds on things above. We’re reminded that we have hope and help. We’re reminded that even this hardship is subject to the sovereignty of God, and that he remains in control.

“God knows the crippling effects of anxiety, and he’s telling us we needn’t submit to its tyranny.”

And we pray against anxiety with thanksgiving because we know that God is good. Our perspective transforms when we cast the current dilemma in the light of who God is and all that he has done. We can never thank God enough for sending his Son, for the gift of eternal life, and for blessing us with every spiritual blessing.

As we pray, lingering in God’s presence, everything else has to bow. Prayer silences our anxious thoughts, and positions us to hear from God, including reminders of precious promises such as this: He is faithful.

Call to War

“Do not be anxious about anything” is also a call to spiritual warfare. It’s telling us to stay poised to reject every uprising of temptation. When a hardship hits and our minds begin to spin out of control, a battle is being waged. Galatians 5:17 is instructive:

The desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.

Our flesh wants to be in control. It bears the burden of the hardship and works to figure out how to handle it. And when it determines that the hardship is beyond its capabilities — when we can’t see a satisfactory solution — anxiety sets in. This posture is at odds with the Spirit who implores us as believers to trust God — to walk by faith and not by sight.

This was the central issue when Moses, at God’s direction, sent twelve men to spy out the land God had promised. Ten of them couldn’t shake their anxiety over the giants that currently resided in the land. It didn’t matter that they’d already seen God’s faithfulness in fighting for them against a mighty enemy, Egypt. It didn’t matter that they’d seen God do miracles, most notably the parting of the Red Sea. In their minds, they could never defeat this fearsome enemy. Thus, they lost hope, saying, “We seemed to ourselves like grasshoppers, and so we seemed to them” (Numbers 13:33).

“Prayer redirects our attention from the all-consuming problem to our all-powerful God.”

Only two of the spies — Joshua and Caleb — understood that the true battle was in their souls. They didn’t need to fear the giants; they needed to remember that “the Lord is with us” (Numbers 14:9). Joshua and Caleb implored the people to trust God and go forth, knowing that with him they would overcome. These two men could be anxious for nothing because they believed God and walked by faith.

Promise of Protection

That Philippians 4:6 verse which tells us, “do not be anxious about anything,” but in everything to pray with thanksgiving, is followed by this:

And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7)

This is such a powerful promise. Such grace. When we look to the Lord in the midst of anxiety, his peace will guard our hearts and minds. In other words, his peace will stand at the gates, refusing to allow anxious thoughts to enter.

But, you may say, I’ve prayed, and those thoughts keep coming. Keep praying. In Christ, our lifestyle is prayer (1 Thessalonians 5:17). We stay ever clinging to our Savior, mindful that apart from him we can do nothing. We can’t fight the battle without him. But with him, no matter what anxious thoughts may come, his peace is our most powerful protection. In Christ, we are promised a never-ending supply of grace.

Kim Cash Tate (@kimcashtate) is a wife, mom, YouTuber, and author of several books, including, most recently, Cling: Choosing a Lifestyle of Intimacy with God. She and her husband, Bill, live in Saint Louis.

Daily Light – Dec 3, 2019

This Advent Will Change You

The Habit of Waiting for Christmas

Article by David Mathis, Executive Editor, desiringGod.org

Advent is finally here.

Over the years, in the days following Thanksgiving, I have reached instinctively for two prized possessions. One is a Beach Boys Christmas compact disc I came into sometime in the late 90s, a tradition which now has slowly but sweetly faded away. The other item, which has served my soul much better, and continues to do so to this day, is Donald Macleod’s book The Person of Christ. I’ve taken Advent as an annual reminder to take up reading on christology. I try to branch out some each year, but it always includes at least a little rereading of Macleod.

The opportunity of Advent, to remember the real reason for Christmas, is perhaps all the more poignant in our increasingly secular society. With every passing year, we have to be more vigilant, even aggressive and relentless, to remind ourselves, and our children, and our churches, what really is the heart and inspiration of Christmas.

Habits for the Holidays

We are, by nature, creatures of habit. Such is not the product of the fall, but of God’s good design. Good habits help us flourish by enlisting our subconscious to carry out repeated functions so that we can direct our limited bit of attentiveness and conscious intentionality elsewhere.

Of course, sin plays havoc with our habits too, but an important part of practical redemption and holiness, by the power of the gospel and God’s Spirit, is the creation, over time, of new habits — habits of holiness and fellowship, daily habits of hearing God’s voice in his word and having his ear in prayer, and weekly habits of belonging to, and gathering with, his body in worship.

“Advent will confront you, and make you more like Scrooge or more like the shepherds.”

Habits, however, are not just daily and weekly but annual as well. God made seasons (Genesis 1:14). He made us to feel something deep down in those first days of spring, in the hottest days of summer, in the coziness of fall, and in the first snow-fly of winter. And for Christians, we have long linked the month of December with the birth of our Savior, and anticipated one of our two highest feast days with essentially a month of liturgical anticipation called “Advent.”

Season of Waiting

One vital aspect and offering of this season is often missed today: Advent is a season of waiting. Whereas Lent, as a season, encourages a kind of whole-life consecration in anticipating the marking of Jesus’s final week — and especially his sacrificial death for us on Good Friday, and his victorious resurrection for us on Easter Sunday — Advent’s particular note is one of patient waiting.

Each year, in our month of waiting to mark the arrival of God himself in human flesh, we remember the people of God who waited centuries — centuries! — for the coming of the promised Messiah to rescue them. They had God’s promises: a “seed of the woman” who would crush the serpent’s head (Genesis 3:15Romans 16:20), a prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:1518Acts 3:227:37), a priest who would surpass the first-covenant order (Psalm 110:4Hebrews 5:4–67:11–17), a son of king David and heir to his throne (Isaiah 9:7Matthew 1:122:42) who would be greater than David, as his Lord (Psalm 110:1). For centuries, God’s people waited.

They “did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us” (Hebrews 11:39–40). We now live in the era of the Messiah. Christ has come as the climax of history and shown us the Father and his purposes. It is good for us, though, to rehearse the patient waiting and anticipation of God’s ancient people to renew and deepen our appreciation of what we now have in him.

For this reason, Advent is a season of minor chords, captured so well in “O Come, O Come, Immanuel.” As we wait, we replay the centuries of longing and yearning that preceded the coming of Christ, and in doing so, our joy in and gratitude for what we have in Christ deepens and enriches and sweetens. And we too live with longing and yearning — for Jesus’s second coming — even as our waiting now takes on a fundamentally new shape, and rises to previously unforeseen levels of hope and anticipation, and joy in the waiting, because of his first coming.

Then, on Christmas Day, those minor chords break into the bright, festive major chords of “Joy to the World,” resolving the tension of ages past, even as they point us to the second coming for which we hope.

Advent Will Change You

God’s good and powerful gift of habit teaches us an important truth for the Advent season: Holidays and feasts not only fill our mouths with laughter, and bellies with food, but shape our souls, for good or ill.

“As we wait, we replay the centuries of longing and aching anticipation that preceded the coming of Christ.”

December is the single most distinctive month in our society. It has its own special décor and music. It has the most distinguishing feel. Few publicly dispute its claim to being “the most wonderful time of the year”; most play along. Now December is here, and you cannot help but be affected. Advent will confront you, and make you more like Scrooge or more like the shepherds, who glorified and praised God (Luke 2:20). Come December 25, you will be different, to some degree, whether more like Herod or more like the magi, who “rejoiced exceedingly with great joy” (Matthew 2:10).

This Advent will change you. You will not be the same afterwards. You will be the better for it, or the worse. Every Advent matters. Will you be closer to Christ come December 25 or further away? Will you be softer to him or more callous? Will more fog lie between your eyes and his face, or will you see him with greater clarity and savor him with greater fervor? Will you know and enjoy Jesus more?

Come, Let Us Adore Him

Let’s not go through the motions this Advent. Let’s approach the season by faith (Romans 14:23), as God’s people, for Christ’s honor and our joy in him. Join us this Advent in admiring the diverse excellencies of Christ: he is God and man, holy and virgin-born, upholding the universe by the power of his words and lying swaddled in a manger.

Would you make a particular effort with us to see and savor the person of Christ this Advent? He is worthy of our best daily, weekly, and annual habits.

David Mathis (@davidcmathis) is executive editor for desiringGod.org and pastor at Cities Church in Minneapolis/St. Paul. He is a husband, father of four, and author of Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines.

Daily Light – Dec 2, 2019

Why Do I Still Struggle with My Pre-Conversion Sins?

From an interview with John Piper

Why do my pre-conversion sins still haunt me? That’s the question. Here’s the email. “Hello, Pastor John! My name is Rico, and I have a question about past sins resurfacing. Before I was saved, a little over a year and a half ago, I was pretty badly addicted to drugs. I met the Lord Jesus, and literally all the desires to pursue drugs went away — until about April of this year. I’ve fallen a few times, but God has been very gracious and merciful to me in carrying me through these rough times when I’ve fallen. So I guess what I’m asking is, How does this come about? I thought I was done with that part of my life — for good! Why are my pre-conversion sin patterns coming back now?”

Rico, let me give a short description of what the Bible teaches about what has already happened to you as a born-again believer in Jesus, and what has not yet happened to you. And this will give you some biblical ways of thinking about what you are actually experiencing. Let’s put this description of the already of your life and the not-yet of your life into the larger biblical description of what Christ has already done in the world, and what he has not yet done in the world.

Thy Kingdom Came

When Christ came into the world (you know this), he preached the kingdom of God. And in that preaching, he said two things:

“You are in heaven with Christ; now fight the sins of earth.”

1. The kingdom is here. It’s here right now: “Behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:21). “I am the King. My rule has arrived. In my miracles, in my teaching, in my perfections, in my love, in my death for sinners, in my resurrection, I am showing that my kingdom, my rule, my saving reign is here. The long-hoped-for, waited-for kingdom has come.” That’s the first crucial thing — essential thing — for Christianity to say.

2. “My kingdom is coming and is not yet here.” Luke 22:18: “I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.” What? I thought you said it had come. Why are you saying it’s coming? It’s coming, but not yet. So, in the big picture of history, the kingdom of God has already come in the person and work of Jesus. And yet, it has not yet fully come, completely come — not yet come with the fullest consummation.

I remember reading George Ladd one time, one of my New Testament professors years ago. He said, “The mystery of the kingdom is fulfillment without consummation.” Fulfillment without consummation — that captures the tension. Yes, the kingdom has come. The time is fulfilled. It is here. Repent. The King has come. But the consummation — there are so many things left that are not yet done that the kingdom promised to do. And that tension, Rico, affects virtually every part of the Christian life, including your struggle with past sins, including drugs.

New and Old in Five Pictures

So, how does this work itself out in the life of individual Christians? Here are just a few biblical descriptions of the already–not yet reality in the Christian life.

1. Colossians 1:13–14: “[God] has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” Wow, that’s already done — already transferred out of darkness into the kingdom of the Son. Glorious. That’s awesome. And then Colossians 3:3 says, “You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” It’s over. You’ve already passed beyond death. You are secure and hidden with Christ in God.

But now comes Colossians 3:5, with this imperative that suggests something is very much not complete. It says, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” And we could add drugs. That needs to be done, Rico. It needs to be done. You are in heaven with Christ; now fight the sins of earth. You have died; therefore, put to death the old habits. And notice the therefore. The battle with sins that are not yet destroyed is because of the already being dead with Christ and being seated at his right hand.

2. Here’s another picture of it in Romans 6:6: “We know that our old self was crucified with [Christ].” We’re done. It’s over. We’ve died. Romans 6:11: “So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Because something is not yet complete. You’ve got something to do with this. So again, the command to complete this, finish this, to bring your life into accord with your deadness, is based on the fact that you’re already dead.

3. Romans 6:12 says, “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body.” That’s the not-yet. And now the already of Romans 6:14, “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” Don’t let sin reign because it won’t reign. There’s the Christian way of life.

“Your new self has been created. It’s the work of God. You’re not forging a new self in Christ.”

4. First Corinthians 5:7 talks about getting sexual sin out of the church and out of our lives. It says, “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump.” So it’s picturing the church and the Christian life as a lump of dough, and leaven as sin penetrating the lump. It says, “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened.” So again, the command about getting out the leaven is based on the fact that there’s not any leaven. There’s the glorious already–not yet mystery as it applies to the Christian life. We are becoming what we are.

5. Ephesians 4:24: “Put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” So put on what already has been created. Your new self has been created. It’s the work of God. You’re not forging a new self in Christ. You’re not. You’re not forging a new self in Christ. God made that. He created that. It’s already created, but you must put it on. Own it. Wear it. Become in practice what you are in Christ.

Become Who You Are

So, Rico, your ongoing struggle with sin is nothing new.

You already are new in Christ, and you are not yet perfected.

You are dead, and must put sin to death.

You are raised with Christ, and you must seek the things that are above.

You are a new self, and you must put on the new self.

You are unleavened, and you must cleanse out the old leaven.

Sin will not be king in your life, and you must not let sin have dominion.

And so here’s the key: every imperative, every command, every exhortation, every admonition given to a Christian should be passionately pursued and obeyed on the basis of what’s already true about us in Christ. We are commanded to become what we are in Christ.

So, what you are experiencing is the reality of what Paul calls in Romans 7:20 indwelling sin — the not-yet of sanctification. And you are now to put that sin to death because you have already died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. So, Rico, may God take this biblical picture of salvation deep into your life, and give you a great freedom.

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 – Nov 29, 2019

Giving Thanks When Your Family Is Struggling

Article by Laura Baxter

Soon after graduating high school, our son had his first psychotic break. Eventually, he was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a variant of schizophrenia. The past few years have been incredibly difficult for him. They have also been hard for us, his family.

Five years ago, our son was entering college on a full academic scholarship, playing clarinet in the band, and enjoying close friendships.

Suddenly, everything changed. He was hospitalized five times in four years, requiring multiple medical leaves from school. His behavior was strange, alienating, frustrating, sometimes frightening. He burned through all the common medications. Some meds came with a steep price tag and no benefit. Others came with terrible side effects, including nightmares and panic. After the last hospitalization, the doctor told us his frontal lobe was “fried” and implied we should be looking at institutions.

Schizophrenia is a devastating mental illness, afflicting approximately 1 percent of the population. Common symptoms include hallucinations, delusions, disordered speech, emotional flatness, and apathy. Not surprisingly, individuals with schizophrenia have trouble living independently. They find it difficult to make friends, hold jobs, or even change their clothes on a regular schedule.

As his mother, I spent five years crying, and praying, and struggling to understand what had happened.

Thankful? In This?

During that time, the Thanksgiving holiday was particularly trying. Of course, I had things to be thankful for. Food, family, friends, a roof over my head. But these blessings seemed insubstantial compared to the hollowing-out of my beloved son.

I knew believers are called to “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances” (1 Thess. 5:16–18). But how could I fight my way to a place of gratitude?  Would I ever find joy again?

Corrie ten Boom, a member of the Dutch resistance during World War II, wrote about her imprisonment in a German concentration camp, crawling with fleas. Corrie’s spiritually minded sister Betsie urged Corrie to practice gratitude, to the point of thanking God for the fleas. Corrie thought Betsie was out of her mind.

Then, surprisingly, the guards gave the prisoners unprecedented freedom in the barracks. Corrie later discovered this reprieve from harassment was precisely because the guards feared the fleas.

If Corrie could thank God for fleas in a Nazi concentration camp, could I find a way to thank God for his goodness—even in the midst of my beloved son’s mental illness? Five years in, the answer is miraculously “yes.” Here are four blessings I’ve experienced as a direct result of my son’s affliction.

1. Camaraderie

As we walked with our son through his diagnosis, we couldn’t hide the fact our family was in crisis. This itself was a blessing, albeit painful and embarrassing. We were forced to open up to our friends, to rely on our church family. And lasting bonds were formed in those trenches.

As I continued to read blogs and memoirs about schizophrenia, I realized I wasn’t the only one experiencing this struggle. I gained “virtual” friends from around the country, and we took comfort from each other. These are people I never would’ve known apart from our shared crisis. I am thankful for the many relationships that came into being, and were paradoxically enriched, by my son’s illness.

2. Compassion

To the healthy, mental illness can seem incomprehensible. As a result, people with mental illness often experience shame or exclusion. Sadly, in the past, I also avoided suffering people. But my son’s experiences have taught me that mental illness does not change our essential humanity. My son was still my son, bearing the image of the living God, deserving love and respect.

Through our family’s crisis, I was given new eyes to see the suffering around me, especially parents with adult sons who did not or could not meet social expectations. Now, when my students speak of anxiety and depression, or changes in medication, I have ears to hear. I am thankful that God softened my heart through my son’s journey.

3. Communion

As C. S. Lewis wrote, God “shouts in our pains.” When my world fell apart, where could I turn but toward God? My prayers increased in frequency and urgency. At church, I clung to every worship song with tears. I pored through the book of Job, wondering together with the patriarch whether God had abandoned me. Year after year, I searched for the hand of God in the life of my son, and in my own life.

It was only after my hopes were completely dashed—after multiple psych professionals proclaimed my son beyond help—that I learned to hope in God alone. Miraculously and mysteriously, I found him walking with me every step of the way. Like Job, I got to experience God up close, to see him with the eyes of faith (Job 42:5).

4. Contentment

Job famously said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away, blessed by the name of the LORD” (Job 1:20–21). That was not my first response to suffering. I couldn’t understand why a good and all-powerful God would allow the destruction of my son’s beautiful mind.

Slowly, I came to realize that suffering is an inescapable part of our fallen world. God does not, despite the teachings of prosperity preachers, promise health and wealth on this earth. The meaning of my life, and the meaning of my son’s life, does not depend on our productivity, our achievements, our Instagrammable moments. God only asks that we remain faithful in the situation where he calls us, day by day. I am thankful for this hard-fought lesson—although I wish I’d learned it earlier and easier.

Fight for Gratitude

This Thanksgiving, as you gather around the table, don’t be afraid to name your crisis. Talk about your “fleas”: your struggles with mental illness, your loneliness, your unemployment. Then fight your way to gratitude. Paul describes believers as “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10). By the help of the Holy Spirit, this can be true of you. Take your broken heart to him. Weep. And then give thanks.

Laura Baxter practices law and teaches at her local university. She attends The Bridge Community Church in Ruston, Louisiana. You can read more of her work at stirfrylaura.wordpress.com.

Daily Light – Nov 28, 2019

The Devilishness of ‘Let Go and Let God’ Theology

Article by Jared C. Wilson

Maybe you’ve said it. Maybe someone has said it to you. It’s one of those religious cliches, a vapid form of Christianese doled out whenever someone is struggling. “Let go and let God.”

It means well. In its best sense, it means “don’t worry and trust God.” But even that exhortation needs some packing. And “let go and let God” is often implied as some kind of key to spiritual breakthrough. It has its roots in the “higher life” principles of the (old version) of Keswick theology.

“Let go and let God” as a problem-solver is a way of suggesting that faith is a force field against trouble. When we say “let go and let God” to those who struggle, we must be careful we aren’t suggesting to them that if they were stronger Christians they wouldn’t deal with such things. “Let go and let God” can inadvertently promote the idea that there are Christians, and then there are Christians.

There is no Christianity 2.0. Every believer in Jesus—whether new or old, immature of experienced, weak or strong—has received every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph. 1:3). Every believer is totally and inextricably united to Christ for all eternity. There is no partway in. Every Christian is justified totally, freely, forever. In this regard, no one is higher or more advanced than any other. Christianity is not Scientology. It’s not a pyramid scheme.

Like those within the Lordship controversy who (wrongly) argued that one could receive Christ as Savior but not as Lord, “victorious Christian life” kinds of Christians don’t just distinguish justification from sanctification but, in a sense, make them entirely dichotomous, as if you can have the former without the latter.

The Devil Loves the Hollow Theology of ‘Let Go and Let God’

If Satan cannot keep you from salvation, he will do his best to undermine and obscure the gospel that saved you by making you either overconfident in yourself or under confident in God. Both dispositions make the gospel look small and consequently may prevent more people from believing.

“Let go and let God” as advice to struggling people imagines there is some next-level Christian experience just waiting for us to crack the faith code. Like Luke Skywalker staring at the swamp trying to use his feelings to raise the X-Wing, we aren’t quite sure how to accomplish something so big by doing so little. Do we think about it hard? Or not at all? Do we concentrate? Or do we empty our mind?

Our enemy would love to get us off the comfort we could have in knowing that no matter what our difficulties, we are already close to God through union with his Son by faith, and he would love to get us on the insecurity that comes from constantly worrying if our faith is strong enough. The best way to rattle your assurance is to keep measuring it. And the best way to undermine your confidence in your justification is to begin holding your sanctification up to the imaginary light of the Super Christian.

It doesn’t take long for those who’ve been trying to “let go and let God” to let go of the process entirely, finding it futile and anxiety-inducing. “Let go and let God” is a lie that will ironically make you feel further from God, not closer.

But there’s another reason the Devil is fond of this fortune-cookie faith, and it has to do with the view of God it promotes.

You Don’t ‘Let’ God Do Anything

An early proponent of Keswick theology once wrote, “Christians need not sin, and if they allow the Holy Spirit to ‘operate invariably’ they will not sin.” There are numerous problems in this one sentence, not least of which is that it represents, again, a fundamental misunderstanding about how sanctification works in a Christian’s life. Another issue is the idea that Christians can reach a point of sinlessness (or near-sinlessness). But a big problem hiding behind the others is one that is repeated in countless Christian sermons, books, social media thoughts, and even songs. It is the notion of “letting God.”

We must “allow the Holy Spirit” to operate, W. H. Thomas says.

I don’t know if you noticed, but this sounds a lot like the Holy Spirit is our servant, a cosmic butler of sorts, rather than—oh, I don’t know—the third Person of the Trinity and thus our God.  I get the heebie-jeebies when I come across language like this, which is a lot more often than I would like. Christians who ought to know better routinely begin statements with phrases like “God can’t” or “God needs.” We are told that we need to “let God” do all manner of things before he can guide us, bless us, reward us, and so on.

To all of this we ought to say that any God who needs us to activate him is not much of a god at all. God says, “Look, I am the LORD, the God over every creature. Is anything too difficult for me?” (Jer. 32:27). He doesn’t need our help. And he doesn’t need our permission.

One reason the serpent wished Adam and Eve to elevate their conceptions of themselves to god-like status is because he wishes by implication to demote the one true God to man-like status. Satan loves “let God” language because he loves the idea of a deficient God. He will support any doctrine of God that is weak and unbiblical.

The true God is sovereign over all. If he does not do something, it is because ultimately he has willed not to do it. The blessings we receive in response to our honoring God are themselves foreordained. Even the faith we exercise to receive his salvation, which was until then withheld, is itself a gift from him (Eph. 2:8). And contrary to higher life teaching, the power we need to pursue holiness, choose obedience, and participate in our sanctification is granted entirely by God’s grace.

“I labor for this,” Paul writes in Colossians 1:29, “striving with his strength that works powerfully in me.” And when he tells us in Philippians 2:12 to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,” he adds: “For it is God who is working in you both to will and to work according to his good purpose” (2:13).

Still, the language of “letting God” persists. A simple Google search of incomplete phrases like “you have to let God . . .” and “God can’t bless you unless . . .” returns an abundance of distressing results, including from high-profile evangelical leaders and otherwise reliable Christian resources.

It sounds true. But why? It sounds true, because we have smuggled a cause-and-effect kind of spirituality into our Christian thinking, which is more akin to the idea of karma and grossly misunderstands that God declares the end from the beginning and does whatever he pleases (Is. 46:10).

The gospel according to Satan seeks to dethrone the true Sovereign and enthrone the subjects. And the full counsel of the true gospel is the right antidote to “let go and let God” thinking, because only the gospel reminds us that God is sovereign over us and our circumstances—including our good works (Eph. 2:10)—while at the same time empowering us for these good works.

Jared C. Wilson is the director of content strategy for Midwestern Seminary, managing editor of For The Church, and author of more than ten books, including Gospel WakefulnessThe Pastor’s Justification, and The Prodigal Church.  Jared has a new book coming out, The Gospel According to Satan (Thomas Nelson). It is now officially available for pre-order.

Daily Light – Nov 27, 2019

The Watershed Issue in Every Generation

Article by John Piper, Founder and Teacher, desiringGod.org

The watershed issue in every generation is the effective authority of Scripture and the realities it reveals.

Why don’t I just say, “The watershed issue in every generation is the authority of Scripture”? I admit the wording is a bit clumsy. Even the word watershed needs clarification. What I mean is this: In a mountain range, there is a crest from which all the rain, or all the melting snow, flows irreversibly toward one ocean or the other. As the water flows, it may have many twists and turns, but the ocean to which it is flowing was decided way upstream — at the watershed.

A watershed issue is like that. When the human mind and heart approach a watershed issue, the direction of the mind and heart on that issue sets in motion a way of thinking and feeling that may have many ambiguous twists and turns, but lead toward one ocean or the other.

“To see biblical reality as true and real, we need new eyes.”

Not every issue is a watershed issue. People may hold differing positions on some issues, and not find themselves streaming farther and farther away from each other toward different oceans. But a watershed issue is so pivotal, so formative, so pervasively influential that, even when the surrounding terrain looks similar, the rivers are flowing apart.

‘Authority of Scripture’

The next term that needs clarifying is “authority of Scripture.” Here at Desiring God we describe the authority of Scripture in our Affirmation of Faith:

God’s intentions, revealed in the Bible, are the supreme and final authority in testing all claims about what is true and what is right. In matters not addressed by the Bible, what is true and right is assessed by criteria consistent with the teachings of Scripture.

The foundation of that conviction is this:

The Bible, consisting of the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments, is the infallible word of God, verbally inspired by God, and without error in the original manuscripts.

Simply put, the fact that Scripture is God’s word means that everything it teaches is true, and all it requires should be obeyed. It has final authority for what is real and what is right. We believe this is what the Bible claims for itself:

All Scripture is breathed out by God. (2 Timothy 3:16)

No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Peter 1:21)

We impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit. (1 Corinthians 2:13)

Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. (Matthew 24:35)

Every word of God proves true. (Proverbs 30:5)

Scripture cannot be broken. (John 10:35)

We believe that the evidence for the truth of these claims is clear enough for ordinary people to grasp — if God grants them to see what is really there. Our fullest explanation and argument for this position can be found in A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal Their Complete Truthfulness.

‘Effective Authority’

Why don’t I just say, “The watershed issue in every generation is the authority of Scripture”? Why add the word effective? “The watershed issue in every generation is the effective authority of Scripture . . .”

“The watershed issue in every generation is the effective authority of Scripture and the realities it reveals.”

Because the authority of Scripture does not function as a watershed unless it becomes effective in creating a heart of glad agreement, and a mind of transformed perception. It is possible to say that the Bible has authority (and sign an affirmation of faith), and yet not see as real what the Bible says is real, and not feel as precious what the Bible says is beautiful. Until we regard as real what the Bible regards as real, and until we rejoice in what the Bible rejoices in, its authority may be affirmed, but it is not effective — and it is not a watershed.

For example, the Bible says of Christians, “You have died” (Colossians 3:3). And, “You have been raised” (Colossians 3:1). And, “Your life is hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:3). Those are realities. But thousands of Christians have nothing in their minds that corresponds to those realities. If you asked them to point to realities in their lives that correspond to these things, they would not be able to. Therefore, these biblical teachings are not effectively authoritative in their minds.

The same thing can be seen in regard to what the Bible says is valuable or beautiful. Philippians 3:8 and Matthew 13:44 teach that Jesus is more valuable than everything we own or could possess in this world. But thousands of professing Christians value other things more than Christ. They rarely talk about Christ as pleasing. But movies and social media and sports and politics fill their animated thoughts and conversations.

This is because the revelation of the supreme beauty and value of Jesus is, for them, not effectively authoritative. The authority of Scripture is affirmed the way wrapping paper is affirmed: “I love this gift. It is beautiful” — meaning the wrapping paper is beautiful, though the contents are unknown, displeasing, or simply negligible.

Flashpoints Reveal

Where there is no personal or cultural controversy with the Bible about what is real and what is good, this noneffective affirmation of biblical authority easily goes unnoticed. They say the Bible is authoritative. For a season, the outward forms of culture and personal ethics conform to outward biblical behaviors. So, everything goes along as if the Bible really had effective authority in their lives. But it doesn’t.

Then comes a cultural flashpoint — a controversy. Are practicing homosexuals sinning? If they keep on sinning without repentance, will they enter the kingdom of heaven (1 Corinthians 6:9–10)? If the culture creates something called “marriage” for people of the same sex, is it marriage (Ephesians 5:31–32)? Is same-sex intercourse “natural”? Or is it “contrary to nature” (Romans 1:26–27)? Is marriage between a man and woman the only beautiful marriage — the only marriage that displays Christ and the church?

“The fact that Scripture is God’s word means that it has final authority for what is real and what is right.”

Suddenly a cultural flashpoint (which may be very personal) reveals whether a person’s affirmation of biblical authority is effective or not. Has the authority of the Bible all along been effective in creating a heart of glad agreement, and a mind of transformed perception? Has our affirmation of authority been effective in producing transformation of what we see as real and right? Or has biblical authority been mere wrapping paper for teachings we don’t like?

‘Realities It Reveals’

In sum, then, “the watershed issue in every generation is the effective authority of Scripture.” But that is not all that I wrote in the first sentence of this article. I added a phrase. I said, “The watershed issue in every generation is the effective authority of Scripture and the realities it reveals.” We have now seen enough to make sense of this addition.

My point is to draw attention to the fact that authority by itself does not produce the effects we have been talking about. It is the realities that the authoritative teachings reveal which transform our perception of what is real and our enjoyment of what is beautiful. The Spirit of God causes the real to be seen as real, and the beautiful to be seen as beautiful. Authority may hold our attention. But it can’t change our hearts.

The teachings of Scripture and the realities they reveal do not become real and beautiful to us just because they are asserted by an authority. That is not the way our minds or our hearts work. You can make a child eat his vegetables because you have authority. But you can’t make him like them. That is not what authority can do. It can keep the child at the table. It can even command tastes. But it can’t create them.

Mere authority can assert reality. It can’t make you see it. So you may affirm biblical authority because that is what you are expected to do; and yet you may not have a transformed mind and heart that can see as real what the Bible presents as real, and gladly embrace what the Bible presents as beautiful.

Divine Gift

That transformation of mind and heart happens not by yielding to authority alone, but by the divine gift of sight and savoring. To see biblical reality as true and real, we need new eyes. And to savor what the Bible reveals as beautiful and sweet, we need new tastes.

“It is possible to say that the Bible has authority, and yet not feel as precious what the Bible says is beautiful.”

For example, the Bible teaches that wives submitting to their husbands as the church does to Christ is beautiful (Ephesians 5:24), and husbands loving their wives as Christ loved the church is beautiful (Ephesians 5:25). That is reality. But if your mind can’t see it, and your heart can’t love it, no amount of authority can make it real and beautiful to you. Authority doesn’t work like that.

You may affirm the authority. But it is not effective. It becomes effective when, by the Spirit, the realities themselves become for you what they really are. You see the real as real. And you feel the beautiful as beautiful. And, we should also add, you feel the horrible as horrible.

It is essential to affirm the authority of Scripture. But it is not sufficient. The Spirit of God, by revealing the truth and beauty of biblical realities, creates new sight and new taste. We see and we savor what the Bible presents as real and beautiful. The Spirit does this through the words of Scripture. When it does, the authority becomes effective — dividing generation after generation at the watershed of God’s word.

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 – Nov 26, 2019

How Should I Handle My Regrets?

Interview with John Piper

How should we consider our life regrets? The question comes from Marvin, a podcast listener. “Hello, Pastor John. I am a 72-year-old man with four grown children. My wife is with the Lord. All in all, my life has been good, and I think I served the Lord for a lot of those years. But I can look back on many opportunities I missed in life: missions trips I did not take, missionaries I did not support, even professional opportunities I did not take and probably should have, ways to better invest and redeem my time at every stage along the way. At my age I harbor a bunch of little regrets about my past. All those small regrets add up and leave me wondering: Is it possible for an older man to look back over his life and conclude that I frequently missed God’s will over the years? Or is who I am now the will of God perfectly manifested in all my decisions, and therefore, I should have no regrets at all? How should an old man, in Christ, who believes in the sovereign orchestration of God’s providence, look back on his failures and his missed opportunities?”

Well, as you can imagine, this strikes very close to home. He’s 72 and I’m 73. I am that man, right? Marvin and I are both in our early seventies. We both look back over most of our lives already being lived — most by far. And there is nothing, absolutely nothing — this is what hits me sometimes so hard — we do can change the past. It sometimes hits me with tremendous force.

“Press on in faith toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ.”

My 33-year chapter as a pastor is complete. It had a beginning: 1980. It had an ending: 2013. And every second of it — every word spoken, every attitude felt, every deed done or undone — is written in the books of heaven, and they are more fixed and unchangeable than Mount Everest. Nothing I do — nothing — makes those years better or worse. That’s an awesome thought. I mean, it’s obvious as can be, right? Like, duh. But it doesn’t hit you until you’re almost done with life, and you look back. I used to think in terms of “I’m going to make my pastoring better. I’m going to be a bit better. I’m going to get better.”

Well, it’s over. You’re not going to make it better. It’s over. You’re not going to make those 33 years better or worse.

And so, Marvin is just forcing the issue again. Thank you, Marvin. It’s good for me. It’s really good for me. At this point in my understanding of how to look back at the past, I have four things that I can make fit into an APJ.

1. Christ died for a million regrets.

Let’s begin, Marvin, by remembering that we have the kind of Savior and the kind of salvation that says to the thief on the cross, just hours before he dies, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Think of it: Just before he dies, he realizes that everything — everything — in his past is regrettable. Everything. Nothing was done from faith. Nothing was done for the glory of Christ. And he will be with Jesus forever — welcomed.

That’s an amazing reality, an unspeakably sweet reality of grace. “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (Psalm 130:3). And that’s where we start, Marvin. We just start there: Christ died to cover a thousand regrets — ten thousand, a million.

2. Your memory deceives.

Marvin, your memory and my memory and everybody’s memory of our past is utterly unreliable. If you start to try to measure the spiritual successes and failures of your past — the good versus the bad, the loving versus the unloving, the helpful versus the helpful — you’re kidding yourself. My memory, your memory, is utterly not up to the task, for four reasons.

1. Many of my sins were hidden from me. “Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults” (Psalm 19:12).

2. I have long forgotten many things entirely. Paul himself said in 1 Corinthians 1:16, “I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.” Thank you. Paul didn’t remember whom he baptized. Well, there are ten thousand things I don’t remember which may have been good or may have been bad. I don’t know. I can’t remember them. I’m absolutely hopeless if I try to rehearse my past and add things up like that.

3. My heart is deceitful. It recalls some things as good that weren’t good. I’m going to deceive myself. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9).

4. Paul ponders his own record of faithfulness, and here’s what he says: “I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me” (1 Corinthians 4:4). In other words, even a good memory and a good record is not decisive. Christ is decisive. So, beware of thinking too highly of your memory, whether good or bad.

3. Remember regrets to a point.

It’s good to remember our sins and feel regret. It’s good. It’s good to feel regret up to a point. And I say this again for four reasons.

1. A life without regrets is built on a mirage. If you don’t see sins when you’re looking back over your life, and you don’t regret those sins, you’re not seeing reality. You’re not feeling reality. You’re seeing a mirage. We all have sinned. There were plenty of attitudes, words, deeds that were not for the glory of God but selfish, not loving but uncaring, not from faith but from fear. There were plenty of things that came out of your mouth that were not designed for upbuilding, and plenty of good paths taken with defective motives. A life without regrets is a life built on a mirage.

2. Paul said to the Gentile converts in Ephesus, “Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ” (Ephesians 2:12–13). Their memory of their regretful condition was commanded: remember.

3. Surely the reason for this, this memory, is that it deepens and intensifies our thankfulness for grace.

4. And here’s the last reason for this remembering of sins in our lives. Paul never forgot his regretful past. Writing near the end of his life, he said, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15). That was a regret, and he never forgot it.

So, I conclude that it is good to remember our sins and feel regret up to a point.

4. Press on in faith.

The time for forgetting — what is it? Paul said this: “Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own.” That is, I haven’t become perfect. I haven’t arrived yet. “But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13–14).

“A life without regrets is a life built on a mirage.”

In Ephesians 2:12, Paul says, “Remember.” And in Philippians 3:13, he says, “Forget.” And if you said, “Well, when do you do which?” here’s my sense of what he means for us old men: Wherever remembering our failures will help us fly to Christ, love Christ, rest in Christ, cherish grace, sing of mercy, serve with zeal, then let’s get on with remembering and regretting.

But wherever remembering begins to paralyze us with the weight of failure and remorse so that we don’t love Christ more, or cherish grace more, or serve with greater energy, then let us forget and press on by the power of grace for the little time we have left. That’s the main word: press on in faith toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ.

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.