Category Archives: Fighting sin
No two men have better instructed me on the way I lead and care for my wife than Steve Shank and C.J. Mahaney. Both are leaders within Sovereign Grace Ministries. After reflecting on a local conference last winter I wrote about how Steve helped me understand the connection between the Cross and headship (see this post).
So when I heard that Steve Shank interviewed C.J. Mahaney on the topic of biblical masculinity I knew it was a message I needed to prioritize on my list of listening.
Taken from The Pursuit conference, a 2007 Sovereign Grace Ministries Regional Conference in Arizona, the discussion covers the understanding and practice of biblical manhood for young men, husbands, and fathers. The interview concludes with a helpful segment on the importance of men humbly welcoming observations from others.
The transcript follows (and you can download a PDF version here).
The Pursuit: Every Man’s Call to Biblical Masculinity
November 14, 2007
Steve Shank: Interview contexts provide fruitful times of interacting with C.J. to tap into his experience and wisdom. Informal questions allow him to ramble through his experiences, memories, things he has observed, seen, and learned. In fact, many of those who have attended our Pastors College would say one of their highlights of their year at the Pastors College is when they get to sit with C.J. and throw questions at him. These interviews open a wide range of rabbit trails of wisdom and insight and personal life.
I’m going to shoot some questions at C.J. geared towards the conference theme of manhood. This will allow him to share his life with us, his experience as a father, and as a leader. If things open up and we head down other trails we’ll allow that to happen as well. But this is our attempt to create a context where informally we can benefit from C.J. on a more personal level.
Thank you for being willing to do this. I’ve got a couple questions to throw at you.
C.J. Mahaney: I’m honored to be asked, although my preference would be to interview you. Steve, you are on the short list of finest fathers and husbands I know.
SS: We’ve already acknowledged this segment of the conference early on, but we have a couple hundred young men here between the ages of 14-19. You know the culture that is after them, trying to persuade them, and squeeze them into its mold. Yet here they are hearing biblical truth about what it means to be a godly man. What would you say to that age group when they face peer pressure, being cool, and all the stuff out there? Speak to that young group. What does it mean to be a young man in-the-making?
CJ: The first thing I would say to each of those young men is how grateful I am that they are here. What a unique joy I derive from the transfer of the gospel to the next generation. If this family of churches was exclusively or primarily populated by those my age I would be very disappointed. I’m grateful for all those my age who do populate our churches and have endured over the years. But I derive a unique joy from the next generation. You bring this aging man joy. Thank you!
I think what I would say to a young man, is that there are categories he needs to familiarize himself with from Scripture. Two would be categories revealed particularly in Proverbs – the wise and the foolish. And I would want any young man (and this has broader application for all of us, but particularly for a young man) to familiarize himself with those two categories.
Those are the only two categories that exist. There are no other categories from God’s perspective. One either identifies with the wise or the foolish. Proverbs is a wealth of wisdom given by God as a gift from God to that age group in particular — to protect them from walking with fools, from being a fool, and from experiencing the consequences of being a fool.
Those who say that wisdom is the fruit of experience haven’t read Proverbs. There is wisdom there that will protect us from the experience of being a fool or emulating the example of a fool. So I would want to impress those categories and familiarize themselves with the numerous and detailed descriptions of the wise son, the wise man, the foolish son, the foolish man.
And I would want those categories to inform that young man and to protect him from sin and to provoke that young man to want to identify with the wise. I would want that young man to be protected from being numbered among the fools.
Proverbs describes a fool as someone who doesn’t acknowledge the relationship between character, conduct, and consequences. God says of that individual – you are a fool.
Often in Proverbs the father is informing the son, “in the end,” a little phrase that appears throughout Proverbs. He is trying to draw his son’s attention to the consequences of sin. Sin in its initial stages appears attractive and can even be pleasurable to some degree. The wise father is drawing the attention of the son to what takes place as a fruit of sin and in the end trying to help establish that relationship between character, conduct and consequence. And then protect the son so the son instead pursues wisdom.
I would also say to that young man, when Proverbs says “the companion of fools will suffer harm,” you will not prove to be an exception to that (Proverbs 13:20). A wise son, a wise man, hangs out with wise men and therefore becomes wise. Proverbs warns us (as an expression of God’s kindness), “the companion of fools will suffer harm.” Now that harm is not always immediately obvious to a fool because often that harm begins in the form of a conscience that goes from sensitive to seared. So that harm isn’t always evident in consequences that are obvious to all. But be assured, the companion of fools will suffer harm.
And I would say to all of us fathers that we must understand that this category of “companion” is broader than just the individuals our children hang out with. Television is a companion. The Internet is a companion. The iPod is a companion. These are all means of transferring foolishness to one’s heart and therefore we need to help equip our sons and daughters with these two categories to protect them from being numbered among the fools and experiencing the consequences of fools and to, instead, be numbered among those who are wise and to taste the sweet fruit of wisdom.
SS: Elaborate on that a little bit for the fathers. As they leave the conference they want to make sure that what has been instructed is imparted and worked out in their son’s lives over the next couple of years. What encouragement would you give to the fathers? Where should they begin? How can they be sure their sons really get what the conference was all about, manhood in particular?
CJ: I would obtain Derek Kidner’s book, Proverbs: An introduction and commentary (IVP: 1981). It is very short. He has a series of studies prior to the formal beginning of the commentary that are simply outstanding. There is a section on the “wise” and the “fool.” That’s one study I would encourage every father to transfer to his child.
And mandatory reading should be Ed Welch’s, When People Are Big and God Is Small (P&R: 1997). You want your child to also have this category of “the fear of man.” As I look back how I wish early in life my father had transferred that category in particular to my soul. For I was a slave to the fear of man. I lived for the acceptance and approval of others. I was governed daily by a craving for that acceptance and approval. And so that book should be mandatory reading.
And for fathers I would say (because I have studied this book with my son Chad) you will have no problem identifying with the content of that book. There is no sin my son is presently experiencing or being tempted by, that I cannot relate and identify. So as we have walked through parts of Ed Welch’s book, my illustrations are different, but the essence of my sin is no different. I think when we identify our sin before our children and with our children, it creates a trust in their heart to receive teaching from someone who is humbling themselves rather that someone who is self-righteously seeking to impose or transfer teaching upon them.
Those would be two mandatory studies. I would also think every young man or woman should study what it means to honor their father and mother from Exodus as well as Ephesians. That would be another priority.
Obviously, most importantly, never lose sight of the Cross! In everything that is what I am trying to transfer to my three daughters and son. The Cross is preeminent.
SS: You have a teenage son now. You are training him, and doing a great job at training him. When you think of masculine traits the way God has ordained for him, or skills, or however you want to categorize them, what are you trying to build into him to be a godly masculine man?
CJ: What immediately comes to mind is that I’m trying to build into him an appreciation for, and cultivation of, humility and servanthood. I want that to define true masculinity for him. I believe this is true greatness in the eyes of God. This is not true greatness in the eyes of this world and therefore there is much discussion about what the world honors and celebrates, and what God honors and celebrates, and what I as a father honor and celebrate.
For example, Chad just finished soccer season. My emphasis with him in preparation before a game, my observation of Chad during a game, my evaluation of Chad after a game is (I hope) theologically informed. My accent is not on skill. I don’t want anyone to misunderstand. I obviously believe there is a place for the development of skill. But my accent is upon character. Therefore the goals scored by my son are not the category that is preeminent in either my preparation, observation or evaluation. You will not find me assigning undue importance or celebrating goals scored and leaving the impression this is preeminent.
Actually, the highlight for me this year came in their semi-final game when I guess one of the referees did not show up and the particular young man who was assigned to mark [guard] Chad was twice his size! He did mark Chad. He actually mugged Chad! And because the referee was following the action he wasn’t always able to perceive it. Chad ended up bloody mouth, bloody nose, and a number of other things happened in the game. But Chad never retaliated. Actually we celebrated that on the way home. His blood was on his shirt. I said, “This is great, son! You bring your dad joy. There is a tear in your dad’s eye. That’s outstanding. Blood on your jersey! Blood in your mouth! Blood in your nose!” During the game I had a parent approach me about whether I was going to intervene at some point. Even other parents wanted to intervene.
I told Chad the way he demonstrated self-control is an evidence of God’s grace in his life. And that brings your dad more joy than any victory or any goal.
As a forward, if Chad scores a goal, the celebration is not about his scoring a goal. It’s about expressing appreciation for his team, those who play defense (who normally are not appreciated) and those who, through their passing, made it possible for him to be positioned. So we are going to do what I call a “divine reversal.” In our culture it would be the individual who scored that attention would be directed. By God’s grace I want to reverse that process and honor those who made it possible for him to do that. If Chad knocks someone down and picks them up, that he did not complain about any call by the referee, that’s what I’ll celebrate afterwards. After the game these are what I want to draw attention to and celebrate.
That kind of discernment we want to be imparting as we watch sports. Our kids are always studying us. If you are watching the football team of your choice, the world, culture, and announcers are not theologically informed and will not be drawing attention to these things.
For example, let’s say a particular receiver for the Dallas Cowboys (to choose some random player) or a particular special team player makes a tackle. Whenever there is some expression of self-glorification (this would apply to the Redskins as well), we want to humbly criticize that and not identify with it. And whenever there is an expression of humility, we want to draw our child’s attention to that. So many of these moments are teaching moments, and if we are not poised and prepared and theologically informed, countless teaching moments will pass that could have been seized to make a difference in the lives of our children.
SS: You’ve been married 33 years. You’re now 54 years old. What are you still doing to make sure you are growing as a man?
CJ: I think growing as a man begins by cultivating conviction from Scripture about this call, my role and responsibilities. And one cannot assume that conviction, it must be cultivated in an ongoing way. This role and responsibility to lead, to protect, to provide – must be cultivated by immersing oneself with excellent supplemental materials. Because if one is not in-formed theologically, one will be con-formed to sin and the culture. This is a category I seek to maintain as part of my spiritual diet.
From conviction comes practice. So if you show me someone who is deficient in practice, I’m not going to try and serve them by drawing first attention to deficiencies in practice or ways in which they can grow in practice. I believe practice is important, but practice proceeds from conviction, and therefore I want to address conviction.
I think there are too many men who have not been sufficiently taught about their role and responsibility and it’s all too easy to teach practice prior to establishing these convictions. So that’s what I seek to do.
I seek to interrupt my week either Sunday afternoon or Monday morning with a simple practice to think about my role as a husband and father. That’s the call of God on my life.
Lord willing, God is placing before me another week as a gift. I cannot assume that week, but I need to plan as if by God’s grace that week will be given to me as a gift. I want to live each day receiving each day as a gift. I know at the end of my life I will be accountable for these roles and therefore I want to live today in light of my death and the day of my judgment. I want to work back from that day to this day, and I want to do all I can today and this week to make a difference in the lives of those I love the most — hoping that in some small ways as I, by the grace of God as I serve and lead them, will make a difference in their lives both in the present and when I am no longer present.
So I seek to establish these roles at the outset of the week as priorities. If I don’t, I know going into the week the urgent will overtake me. The legitimate demands of others will intrude. So if I’m not prepared through planning, I will conform to the urgent.
SS: What do you try to accomplish and think through as you look to the week ahead?
CJ: First and foremost, a relationship with, and romance of, my wife. I’m not commending this exact practice to you. You need to custom-design a practice for yourself. But you need some practice. If I don’t interrupt my week, if I don’t create some rhythm where I withdraw from other responsibilities to reflect upon my role and responsibility as a husband and father, I will be governed by the urgent and governed by circumstances. My practice, which is a half-hour and sometimes longer, helps me to reflect upon what is important as informed and defined by God’s Word so I can avoid being a slave to the urgent this week.
And it begins with my relationship with Carolyn. I am convinced that my wife’s task is more important and more difficult than mine. When I ask people to pray for me I ask people to pray for Carolyn more. She has the more challenging job. I’m going off to some place where I’m going to be the object of encouragement by all kinds of people and it can hardly be called ‘work’ (and certainly should never be called ‘sacrifice’).
Monday at some point in the morning I will be at a Starbucks. After having devotions and reading the sports pages, I will say “What can I do to serve Carolyn this week?” I will already know something of her schedule and responsibilities and therefore I want to build my week around certain ways I can serve her. And then I try to build into every week certain ways I can surprise her. And then that extends to Chad as well. How can I serve, lead, continue to develop my relationship, and teach him? And then how can I surprise him?
Those two categories would form plans and practices that then hopefully get transferred to the schedule. It’s not enough to scribble on a piece of paper at Starbucks, if I don’t transfer those to the schedule. It’s the transfer that makes all the difference. This does not work flawlessly every week but it has served me big-time and made all the difference.
There are so many events during a week that if you, say, entered my life a particular moment I would say, “The origin of this moment was my time of planning.” Certainly, I have spontaneous stuff that happens. But most of what happens to me has some point of origin in the past and because there has been planning that’s informed by my roles as husband and father. It has made all the difference in the execution in my life.
SS: You make that point in your marriage material in different contexts. You’ve been a great example to a lot of people in that. I know for me personally, though I don’t feel I’m as faithful or proficient as you are. It certainly does not seem possible to make a memory, to invest, to bless, to lead, to serve, to be connected to my wife’s world, and to do that consistently without planning. So it doesn’t have to be a huge chunk of time but something where you are actually proactive, intentional, and thinking along those lines. That is a way to exercise godly manhood — initiative, leadership, responsibility, faithfulness, and really fulfilling your role as the head of your home and the head of your wife. C.J. you have supplied an exceptional example in that.
CJ: Can I add one thing to that? If we look at how we view our wives and children, they don’t exist to serve us. We exist to serve and lead them. That will make all the difference in our attitude toward them and in our desire to plan. Steve, you are one of the finest examples of this I know. If I come home and I (all too many times) view my home as a refuge of my relaxation rather than a context to serve, then I will not fulfill my role and responsibility as a man. So all of these references are theologically informed and they precede practice and they make all the difference in practice.
I have one more recommendation. You must study your wife and children in order to effectively determine how you can serve your wife and children. So if I gave you illustrations of things I’m doing to serve and surprise Carolyn and serve and surprise Chad, it would not necessarily be transferable to everyone here because they are the fruit of studying Carolyn and studying Chad. And I would say when I’m not studying them in order to serve them it normally means I’m being selfish.
SS: Some people could have the idea that to serve your wife in the way you’re describing is contradictory to headship. But actually it’s an expression of your headship – an expression of Christ-like laying down of your life like Christ loved the Church and manifesting that headship (Eph. 5:25). You’re not abrogating leadership, abrogating authority, abrogating responsibility and you’re still the head of your home. But it’s expressed as a way that reflects Christ.
CJ: Apart from humility and servanthood it isn’t biblical leadership. And my leadership will not be effective, my initiative will not be effective, my direction will not be effective, my decision-making will not be effective if there is not some level of the presence of humility and servanthood in my heart.
SS: Let me ask you about another category. This is totally different from what we’ve been talking so far. A lot of growth that we experience is from the brotherhood, from men in our lives, accountability, relationships and people that know us. What do you do to make sure you have men in your life who know you, that you are benefiting from their wisdom, accountability, care, and insight? What counsel would you give us as we go back to our churches to make certain we have people who really know us and are helping us in our journey together in manhood.
CJ: Great question. I am presently in a care group for which I am indebted to these men. I’m grateful to God beyond words for these men. After my wife, it is this group of men that has responsibility to care for my soul, to identify evidences of grace in my life, and (where and when necessary) to provide correction.
SS: It’s a care group for couples though?
CJ: Yes. But our pattern of meeting is to meet separately as men as well as together for couples in a given month. So there is a context where we are together just as men and another context where we are together just as couples and another context where the women are together just as the ladies.
This is an invaluable means of sanctification. Again this is practice is the fruit of being convinced theologically of the importance of relationships as a means of grace and growth. So if you haven’t been convinced yet from Scripture then you won’t eagerly pursue this, and you will not be inviting the observation of others.
Even to be casually familiar with the doctrine of sin, we should be convinced that we are deceived by our sin. To some degree everyone of us has been – even in this moment – effectively deceived by our sin. Sin blinds and the first person sin blinds is you. The first person my sin blinds is me. So I do go into each week knowing that there is sin in my life I don’t perceive. And I need the eyes of others in order to perceive. And, if I don’t have their eyes on my soul, beginning with my wife’s, I won’t perceive.
I’ve had countless experiences where my evaluation of myself was flattering. I fulfilled the Proverbs that my ways certainly did appear right and superior in my eyes. If I was left to my own eyes, evaluating my own soul, the evaluation would be flattering and inaccurate. I am very familiar with what it’s like to be in a setting where I am describing what I thought, said, and did and thought to myself, “Good to Go!” And then others are invited to examine what I thought, said, and did and provide their perspective. Their questions, observations, interpretations — if I am leaning forward and humbly listening — can make all the difference.
I have had numerous dramatic experiences where I can say “once I was blind, now I see.” And the means by which I see is the grace of God through others. My sin was obvious to them, but not to me. You only need a few of those to remain very close to people and aggressively pursue their questions, observations, and interpretations.
SS: How would you address men who believe this, desire this, want this — but they are in a local church where they would describe relationships with other men as superficial and distant acquaintances. They haven’t taken it to the level where they are really benefiting from truth, honesty, accountability, and encouragement on the level you’ve experienced? Where would you tell these men to start?
CJ: I would tell them to start with their own hearts. If they are convinced that they need the eyes of other on their soul and the help of others for their soul, it shouldn’t be difficult for any man here to identify one, two, or three men they trust and respect to approach and to invite into their lives.
Here’s what we need to assume — others are reluctant to correct us. And this is for a number of reasons. Often it’s humility. Sometimes it’s a fear of man. Sometimes it’s a combination. People are reluctant to correct, therefore we have to aggressively pursue people. We need to take the initiative, we need to weaken them or wear them out with our numerous requests.
If we are really convinced that we want to grow in grace and godliness and there are blind spots in our lives, we will welcome the discerning and caring eyes of others upon our lives. If you are convinced of that it won’t be difficult in practice to find someone else to help you in that process.
And where that begins for every married man is with his wife. Presenting yourself to your wife and saying, “If you knew I wouldn’t get angry…” Do this in relaxed context with plenty of time so you are not hurried and inform her ahead of time that you want to know from her three ways you can more effectively serve and lead her. Then three ways you can more effectively lead and serve the children. Then you set aside time to draw her out.
SS: It’s helpful to do that at a cheap restaurant.
CJ: Absolutely! You do not want to be subsidizing that event in a fancy restaurant with a lot of money. You want to reserve those occasions and locations for romance. For this one, In-N-Out Burger will do just fine. Starbucks will do just fine. What you need is privacy and time.
Most important you must have humility. Your wife has observations. Every man here can assume that your wife has observations, and ones she has not shared with you. You can return home assuming that. You can also return assuming that her observations can make a dramatic difference in your life if you will humbly draw her out and respond to those. Then you just expand the number of individuals who are involved. You will be amazed at what people observe that you don’t perceive. But by God’s grace you will perceive what they observe if you humbly submit to their observations.
Now one final thing I should say. I’m not assigning infallibility to their observations. There is no one who is going to bring infallible observations. Often with these people who know you the best, the most and up close and personal, will have some degree of accuracy in what they observe. If you are humble, it can make all the difference in your life.
If you want to accelerate growth in godliness, present yourself to them and invite the observations of your wife and others in the context of a local church. Then be prepared to receive their observations. I know in the past I’ve said, “Hey, I’m really interested in any observations you have. I would like your evaluation.” And then I’m stunned when they say, “We’ll I do have a couple.”
“Oh!? Okay. Well let’s begin with evidences of grace.” [laughter]
SS: Today C.J. has referred to Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (Crossway: 2006). If you haven’t got this, it is a must for your bookshelf and for you to read through. Also valuable for your sons as you use it to train them to understand what biblical manhood looks like.
CJ: Actually, I would encourage the men to start with John Ensor’s, Doing Things Right in Matters of the Heart (Crossway: 2007). As an introduction to this topic, John Ensor has served us all well. John is very humble. It’s a book intended for single adults to help prepare them for marriage. Once I read it, I thought, “No, it’s not. It’s written to all who are married.” It is the best preparatory work I’m aware of, but it’s also a book for all who are married, both male and female. He has several chapters where he contrasts the role of the man with the role of the woman. Each of these chapters includes a definition, description, and contrast. It will serve the men here and will also be a very helpful book for husbands and wives to go through.
Finally, the assignment in purchasing a book like Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood is not that you must read it cover-to-cover. No. If you will work through the table of contents there will be certain chapters that stand out to you that will be more immediately relevant to you and make a difference in your life.
SS: C.J., thank you for this time. Thank you for sharing your life with us!
Our friends over at 10:31 Sermon Jams are getting ready to launch a new and improved Website next week and with it comes the release of their 4th volume of sermon jams. And they keep getting better! Over the coming days at TSS we’ll be giving you some exclusive access to songs from the new volume.
This first one, War, comes from John Piper’s sermon on Romans 8:10-17 (his ministry will always be equated in my mind with thunder):
“I hear so many Christians murmuring about their imperfections and their failures and their addictions and their short-comings, And I see so little war! ‘Murmur, murmur, murmur… Why am I this way?’ MAKE WAR!”
Ed Welch: “There is a mean streak to authentic self-control. Self-control is not for the timid. When we want to grow in it, not only do we nurture an exuberance for Jesus Christ, we also demand of ourselves a hatred for sin. The only possible attitude toward out-of-control desire is a declaration of all-out war. There is something about war that sharpens the senses. You hear a twig snap or the rustling of leaves and you are in attack mode. Someone coughs and you are ready to pull the trigger. Even after days of little or no sleep, war keeps us vigilant.”
The way I see it, the most delicate balance of the Christian life is in maintaining a Cross-centered perspective and pursuing personal obedience. Push a little too hard on the one side, I fall into self-righteousness and legalism, thinking God’s acceptance of me is rooted in personal obedience. This is spiritual suicide. Or I fall on the other side in thinking the Cross demotes personal obedience to the status of “minor importance.” This too is wrong.
In John 15:1-17 Christ gives us a radical alternative. Here He teaches us that the high calling of personal obedience presses us into the Cross-centered life. Let me explain.
Obedience and comfort
I’ll begin with a hypothetical. What if you somehow discovered that your friend was going to endure, over the next week, the most horrible experience of their life? They will learn another close and beloved friend has experienced a ghastly and painful death. What words today would you leave with your friend to prepare them for the coming pain?
My guess is that we would speak only words of comfort. We would weep with those about to weep. God is faithful, we would say. He will be with you. He will not leave you even in the darkest times.
I think we would agree that – on this brink of tragedy – it would be odd and out of place to call our friend to pursue personal obedience.
Yet on the brink of the crucifixion this is exactly what Christ does. As the disciples are about to forsake the Son and see Him crucified, Christ prepares them by calling them to pursue obedience and fruitfulness (John 15:1-17).
‘Abide in my love’
“Abide in my love” Jesus tells the remaining 11 disciples (v. 9). The Cross will forever exhibit the greatest expression of love ever displayed (v. 13). It’s here, on the Cross, that Christ gives His Body to be murdered to bear the wrath of God’s judgement as the Substitute. He will bear our guilt. He will bear our sins. The wrath we deserve will be redirected into the perfect Son. This is the greatest love. So rest, delight, dwell, find your life, “abide” in this love.
This is to say the spiritual life of the Christian is sustained by the Cross. “Abide in my love” is Jesus’ call to live and breathe and find all nourishment and life in the Cross. Paul says it well, “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” (Gal. 2:20). The Christian life is now sustained “by faith” in the Cross of Christ!
All my righteousness before God and all my spiritual vibrancy derive from this love, this Cross!
Fruit for the Father
In light of the Cross I think it is natural (though not accurate) to de-value personal obedience. Quite the opposite! By giving us the spiritual life necessary, the Cross actually strengthens the call of Christian obedience.
For the Christian (those with “new life”) only abiding in the life-giving Cross makes fruitfulness possible! Previously, the sinner outside the Christ was nothing more than a dead branch seeking to bear fruit but dehydrated from all spiritual life. Christ is our life.
Tucked in verse 8 we glimpse at the very heart of the Trinitarian motivations behind the Cross. Jesus says His Father is glorified when we bear fruit. The fruitfulness of the saint is a direct growth from the life and nourishment of the Cross. Think of it this way: We bear fruit by abiding in the Cross, the fruit of the branches is plucked by the Son and then carried to the Father in a bushel basket as an offering of glorification from the Son to the Father. Here we see the profound motives of Christ to glorify the Father.
In this cycle of the saints feeding off the Cross and bearing fruit, of the Son plucking the fruit and offering His Father the glory, we see Cross-centered thinking and diligent obedience come together. It’s important that we fight the tendency to emphasize works over the Cross and the tendency to think the Cross makes obedience an optional or secondary pursuit.
The calling to pursue diligent obedience and bear fruit came packaged with a stern warning that fruitless branches are thrown into the fire (v. 6). So why the hard demands of Jesus to bear fruit? How can He get away with such strong words? Here’s why: His Cross can sustain the weight of these high demands.
Here is what I’m getting at. In light of the coming tragedy, Christ raises the bar of obedience and fruit-bearing expectations for His disciples. This is how Jesus saw fit to comfort His disciples in the coming storm! He knew the higher the bar was raised in personal obedience the deeper He would drive the disciples into Himself.
We cannot miss this: The high calling to pursue personal obedience will (graciously) press the saint into Christ and into the Cross. And this means, at a profound level, the Cross-centered life is compromised by laziness in the pursuit of personal obedience.
sermon delivered on July 29, 2007
by Pastor Mark Alderton
Sovereign Grace Fellowship
We continue our series on topics that affect our fellowship – our life together – and which are vital to biblical and effective fellowship that builds up the church and the individuals in it. The topic of this message is correction.
Correction is another word for adjustment or changing course. It doesn’t have to be about sin. It can be about improving something like how a team is organized or how a person plays guitar. But the focus of this message is going to be about bringing correction to the sin in our lives, about moving from sin to obedience to God.
There are many, many things that could be said about correction – about methods of correction, about the different levels of correction like counsel, reproof and rebuke, and so forth. Our focus this morning is going to be on one thing: how to give and receive correction for sin in a hopeful and grace-motivated way. We’re going to learn how to speak into one another’s lives about our sin.
Now, most of us are probably not thinking at this point, “How excellent! We’re going to talk about how to confront sin in my life. I’ve been feeling the need to have more correction. Why don’t we have a whole series on this?!”
More likely the idea of correcting one another provokes a feeling somewhere between tolerance and dread, unless you’re hoping that someone else who is hearing this will be more open to your correction after this message.
We generally don’t like correction. We like to get it over with as soon as possible and would be glad to avoid it altogether. It can seem so unfriendly and oftentimes it is brought with sinful attitudes and we respond to it in similar fashion.
Well, by God’s grace we’ll have a more favorable and faith-filled understanding of correction after this morning. Correction does not need to be a bad experience. In fact it should not be. There is a way to give and receive correction in a hopeful and grace motivated way. The Scriptures show us how.
sermon delivered on July 22, 2007
by Pastor Mark Alderton
Sovereign Grace Fellowship
[Along with Rick Gamache, Mark Alderton pastors a church in Bloomington, MN (suburb of Minneapolis). Mark is a very wise brother in Christ and gifted as an excellent expositor of God's Word. This sermon on confessing sin is 'lights out.' Literally! About 20 minutes before the sermon began the electricity went out. Mark continued with the sermon in a dark and hot elementary school gymnasium without any amplification. The manuscript is too good not to post here on TSS. Mark graciously offered this sermon on confessing sin and another for tomorrow on his follow-up sermon on giving and receiving correction. These sermons are a tremendous blessing. Thank you Mark! - Tony]
The topic of this text and this message is confessing sin. Or in other words, it’s about agreeing with God that we have done something wrong; that we’ve either done something he says we shouldn’t do, or failed to do something he says we should do.
We are addressing this topic because we’re in a series dealing with those things that affect our fellowship, our life together as a church. And sin affects our fellowship, especially unconfessed sin, so this is a matter of importance to us.
I don’t know what you think of the idea of confessing your sins to someone or why you would want to do that. I can tell you what I thought of it growing up.
I was raised with the understanding that to be right with God you needed to go every once in a while to a priest and confess your sins to him in a confessional booth. I’m not sure how these appointments were set up – I know I never asked for them. But they were pretty intimidating to me and I thought that I’d better have some pretty bold sins to confess or the priest would think I was hiding something, and I wanted to get through this as quickly as possible.
So I got a list in my mind, and at the confession I’d say sheepishly, “Well, father (that’s what we called the priest) …”
… I got angry with my sister and I hit her
… I hit a golf ball through the house window and lied to my dad that someone threw a rock at it, and…
… I stole firecrackers out of my dad’s dresser drawer and blew up an anthill
Then, if all was right in the world, he wouldn’t ask for too much else, and let me go fairly quickly with an assignment to do some penance to show that my sorrow for my sin was real.
That was my idea of confessing sin. I didn’t like it and I had no idea why I needed to do it other than that it was expected of me.
Now that may not be your exact experience (and I would be glad if it wasn’t because that’s not a biblical model), but you may have some of the same misunderstandings and temptations related to confessing your sins to others.
Perhaps you don’t think you have much sin in your life to confess. Or perhaps you think that your sin is just between you and God and there is no need for others to know. Or perhaps you don’t know about the blessings God promises to those who live a life of ongoing confession of sin.
It’s overwhelming to count the number of Christian books focused on topics not explicitly biblical. Just on church leadership, the most popular books cover keys to increase attendance, tricks to design the best information cards, strategies to station greeters, and checklists for meeting the expectations of church visitors. However, it seems the greater challenge for the Church is excellence where the Bible is clear. Isn’t that what Mark Twain said?
Let me give you two examples.
When was the last time you confessed your sins to another Christian? That’s biblical (1 John 1:8-9). Or when was the last time you humbly received correction? That, too, is biblical (Heb. 3:12-13). Reformatting the information cards can wait.
Now, I’m not saying these two disciplines are easy or popular. They are not. It’s far more comfortable to circle the theological errors in other groups. And when it comes to popularity, publishers know a book on these topics would flop. Confession and correction rub the cat the wrong way. They are too painful to be popular.
Speaking of pain, have you ever stepped on a nail? I mean really stepped on one. Out of the blue, you’re walking along, minding your thoughts and then – silence! – you feel the odd sensation of the nail entering the bottom of your foot. Youch! (My foot just curled in reaction to writing that sentence.) The worse part is the expectation that someone now needs to pull the nail out. (Now my hands, both feet, jaw and forehead are all tense.) I think removing a nail is the most agonizing part of it all. But the nail must come out for healing to begin.
So it is with sin. Spiritual health demands sin be pulled out of our hearts. Despite the painfulness of confessing sin and receiving correction, this is the Christianity once for all delivered to the saints.
How we style the welcome cards is a matter of preference. Whether we confess sin and receive correction is a matter of faithfulness.
Our forefathers understood the depth of remaining sin. As you saw earlier today in the brilliant quote from Horatius Bonar, we may think we sail on a calm and sinless ‘wine dark’ sea. But it only takes an icy blast of trial to awaken the old man and churn the mud of sin – the idolatry, anger, self-centeredness – that remains in our heart. Puritan Richard Sibbes warns us too. Let Rome say she cannot err. But let us who know better be aware of our black hearts and proneness to sin.
The battle of mortification continues throughout our lives. Confessing sin and receiving correction is the appropriate awareness of our sinful condition. Because sin ever remains in our hearts, our confession of sin and openness to correction never ends.
So I invite you to join me this week as we conspire to boot that wicked old man overboard in our seafaring pursuit of holiness.
The icy blast of trial awakens the old man
by Horatius Bonar
We are not at all persuaded that there is so very much evil in us. We do not know ourselves. Our convictions of sin have been but shallow, and we are beginning to imagine that the conflict between the flesh and the spirit is not so very fierce and deadly as we had conceived it to be. We think we have rid ourselves of many of our sins entirely, and are in a fair way speedily getting rid of all the rest.
The depths of sin in us we have never sounded; the number of our abominations we have never thought of marking. We have been sailing smoothly to the kingdom, and perhaps at times were wondering how our lot should be so different from the saints of old.
We thought, too, that we had overcome many of our corruptions. The old man was crucified. It seemed dead, or at least feigned itself to be so in order to deceive us. Our lusts had abated. Our tempers had improved. Our souls were calm and equable. Our mountain stood strong, and we were saying, ‘We shall never be moved.’ The victory over self and sin seemed, in some measure, won.
Alas, we were blind! We were profoundly ignorant of our hearts.
Well, the trial came. It swept over us like a cloud of the night, or rather through us like an icy blast, piercing and chilling us to the vitals. Then the old man within us awoke, and, as if in response to the uproar without, a fiercer tempest broke loose within. We felt as if the four winds of Heaven had been let loose to strive together upon the great deep within us. Unbelief arose in its former strength. Rebelliousness raged in every region of our soul. Unsubdued passions resumed their strength. We were utterly dismayed at the fearful scene.
But yesterday this seemed impossible. Alas, we know not the strength of sin nor the evil of our hearts till God thus allowed them to break loose.
It was thus He dealt with Israel; and for this end He led them into the desert. “And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart” (Deu. 8:2). Their desert trials put them to the proof. And when thus proved, what iniquity was found in them! What sin came out which had lain hidden and unknown before!
The trial did not create the evil: it merely brought out what was there already, unnoticed and unfelt, like a torpid adder. Then the heart’s deep fountains were broken up, and streams of pollution came rushing out, black as Hell. Rebellion, unbelief, fretfulness, atheism, idolatry, self-will, self-confidence, self-pleasing – all burst out when the blast of the desert met them in the face and called Egypt to remembrance with its luxurious plenty. Thus they were proved.
Even so it is with the saints still. God chastens them that He may draw forth the evil that is lying concealed and unsuspected within. The rod smites us on the tenderest part, and we start up in a moment as if in arms against God. The flesh, the old man, is cut to the quick, and forthwith arouses itself, displaying all of a sudden much of its former strength. When it was asleep we did not know its power, but now that it has been awakened, its remains of strength appall us.
It is not till the sea is ‘troubled,’ that ‘its waters cast up mire and dirt.’ When all was calm, there seemed naught but purity pervading it, and ripple folded over ripple in the still brightness of its transparent green. But the winds break loose, the tempest stirs its lowest depths, and then all is changed. Thus we see it in the saints. When calamity breaks over them like a tempest, then the hidden evils of their hearts awaken. Sins scarcely known before display themselves. The heart pours out its wickedness. Hard thoughts of God arise. Atheistical murmurings break out and refuse to be restrained.
- Horatius Bonar (1808-1889). Taken from The Night of Weeping and The Morning of Joy (Chapel Library) pp. 57-60. Also found in The Night of Weeping: Words for the Suffering Family of God found in The Life and Works of Horatius Bonar CD-Rom (LUX publications: 2004), pp. 36-37.
Living Upon the Son of God
by Horatius Bonar (1808-1889)
[As a compliment to Sinclair Ferguson’s quotation from earlier in the day, this is an excellent example from one of my favorite authors of how the imperatives of Scripture should be wrapped in the indicatives of the Gospel. Notice by the end we have been called to endure hardships and pursue holiness. -Tony]
“I live by the faith of the Son of God” (Galatians 2:20)
Through the law we die; through the cross we live. The law kills; it kills even to itself: ‘We, through the law, are dead to the law.’ But this legal death produces or issues in a divine life; we die to the law, that we may live to God; we are crucified with Christ; yet we live; this crucifixion (or death) produces life; and yet this new life is not our own, — it is that of Christ; who dwelleth in us, and liveth in us, so that the life which we live in the flesh, we live by faith on the Son of God, who loved us and gave Himself for us. This is the love that passeth knowledge; this is the gift that transcends all gifts.
Thus Christ is our life; its spring or fountain; its root; its storehouse or treasury. We live not upon ourselves, but on another; all that we have, and are, and hope for, is derived from that other.
1. We live upon His person. His person, like His name, is wonderful. It is both divine and human. It contains all that is excellent in the creature, along with all that is excellent in the Creator. His person is the great vessel of fullness, in which is contained all that is needed by the neediest of souls. It pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell. In Him is the perfection of all perfection, the glory of all glory. On this glorious person we live. We draw our spiritual life out of Him. We live by faith upon Him. In receiving the Father’s testimony to His person, we draw in the life which is in Him for us. We use Him. We partake of His fullness. The virtue that is in Him flows out to us. Out of His fullness we receive, and grace for grace, — like wave upon wave.
2. We live upon his work. The great feature in that work is substitution, atonement, propitiation. It contains many things; but this especially: ‘Christ died for our sins.’ He ‘gave Himself for us.’ He was ‘made sin for us.’ It is this aspect of His work that so specially suits us; for what we require is one to stand in our stead, to represent our persons, to bear our sins, to furnish us with a righteousness. His work upon the cross presents us with all these, — – His finished work, His accepted sacrifice, His precious blood, His completed expiation on ‘the accursed tree.’ On this work we live daily. It is a quickening work; a work the knowledge of which is life to the dead soul. To disbelieve that work, or to lose sight of it, is death; to believe it, and to keep our eye upon it, is life and healing. The sight of it, or the thinking about it (call it by what name we please), draws in life; we live in and by looking. This work contains the divine fullness provided for the sinner.
3. We live upon His love. It is love such as men saw on earth when He went about speaking the words and doing the works of grace. It is love (or grace) which comes out so specially from the person and the work; the love of Christ; love without measure; love that passeth knowledge. It is love, infinite, free, suitable, unchanging. The knowledge of this great love is life and peace. Jesus loves! ‘As the Father bath loved me, so have I loved you; continue ye in my love.’ How quickening and comforting is love like this!
We have thus spoken generally of what we get out of Christ’s living fullness. But let us now ask what this living upon Christ does for us. What do we specially get?
A. We get strength. In looking, we are strengthened with might in the inner man. Out of the depth of weakness we look, and are made strong. Connection with the person, the work, the love of Christ, communicates the divine strength. We lean upon His arm.
B. We get peace. The sight of Him whose name is the Peacemaker pours in peace. It is a peace-giving sight. We get peace by the blood of His cross; for He is our peace. Each fresh look communicates fresh peace, — the peace which passeth all understanding.
C. We get sympathy and consolation. He is touched with the feeling of our infirmities. In all our affliction He is afflicted. He sympathizes with us; He goes down to the lowest depths of our sorrow; He comforts us in all our tribulation.
D. We get health. The sight of Him is healing. As we remember Him or think of Him, health flows into us. The fragrance of His name is medicine. To think of Him, is to inhale the health. Thus our cure proceeds; thus our diseases are banished.
E. We get holiness. Contact with Jesus is sanctifying. It is faith which brings us into contact with Him, and it is by faith that we are purified. We live by faith on the Son of God, and are by Him made holy. Thus it is that we are taught to hate sin, and thus we learn to seek holiness, and to delight in all progress therein. Christ says to us, Be holy; His cross says to us, Be holy; His love says to us, Be holy.
F. We get eternal glory. If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him. ‘Thou hast redeemed us to God by Thy blood,’ sing the saints in heaven, ‘and hast made us kings and priests unto God: and we shall reign on the earth.’ Oneness with Him in humiliation leads to oneness with Him in glory; the glory to be revealed when He comes again.
- Horatius Bonar, Light and Truth in The Life and Works of Horatius Bonar on CD-Rom (LUX publications: 2004), pp. 744-745.
Ferguson: Supporting the imperatives to holiness
At the 2007 Banner of Truth conference this Spring, Sinclair Ferguson made the following note after reading Titus 2:11-13 (“For the grace of God has appeared … training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions”). He says,
“The great gospel imperatives to holiness are ever rooted in indicatives of grace that are able to sustain the weight of those imperatives. The Apostles do not make the mistake that’s often made in Christian ministry. [For the Apostles] the indicatives are more powerful than the imperatives in gospel preaching. So often in our preaching our indicatives are not strong enough, great enough, holy enough, or gracious enough to sustain the power of the imperatives. And so our teaching on holiness becomes a whip or a rod to beat our people’s backs because we’ve looked at the New Testament and that’s all we ourselves have seen. We’ve seen our own failure and we’ve seen the imperatives to holiness and we’ve lost sight of the great indicatives of the gospel that sustain those imperatives. … Woven into the warp and woof of the New Testament’s exposition of what it means for us to be holy is the great groundwork that the self-existent, thrice holy, triune God has — in Himself, by Himself and for Himself — committed Himself and all three Persons of His being to bringing about the holiness of His own people. This is the Father’s purpose, the Son’s purchase and the Spirit’s ministry.”
- Sinclair Ferguson, message from the 2007 Banner of Truth Conference, Our Holiness: The Father’s Purpose and the Son’s Purchase.
Along with Titus 2:11-13, Ferguson cited 1 Peter 1:1-2, 2 Thessalonians 2:13, Romans 8:28-29 and 15:16. Ferguson preached from John 15:9 the next day where Jesus’ call for fruitful disciples is wrapped in His call for them to “Abide in my love.” Ferguson challenges preachers to root the commands to be holy in the grace of our electing Father, the work of His Son on the Cross and the ongoing work of the indwelling and filling Spirit towards our holiness. The challenge is not to avoid the commands, but make certain our indicatives are strong enough to support them. Preaching from the indicatives assumes the preacher is first living daily in the indicatives of God in his private study.