What Can Make Me Walk Away From Sin?

[This article was originally featured in our hometown newspaper, The Seymour Tribune].

“What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus. What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.”

Encapsulated in these words is the profound truth that the God of heaven and earth has made forgiveness possible through the death and resurrection of his Son.

But this raises a question: “If Jesus’ blood can wash away my sin, what can make me walk away from sin?” On this thanksgiving weekend, I give thanks for my forgiveness, but I wonder out loud, “Is the Christian life only about getting a ticket into heaven? Or does how I live matter?” Let me answer in two ways.

First, those who have had their sins washed away are those who have been born again. And as 1 John says, those who are born again must practice truth, walk in light, confess their sins, strive to obey God’s commandments and turn from sin. In his epistle, John does not teach perfectionism. He simply asserts that those who have been forgiven will lead transformed lives.

Second, when someone’s sins are washed away, the Holy Spirit gives that person a new appetite for Christ. This is what it means to be born again. Whereas before, this person might see Jesus as irrelevant or unattractive, now, in Christ, the same person sees Jesus as the most attractive person in the universe. Obeying God’s commandments is not burdensome because they love God and his Word. In truth, those who are forgiven delight in God, God’s Word and God’s people.

Such an experience is recorded in the Psalms: “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple.” David’s words express the Christian’s heart. Those who know God’s pardon, simultaneously have a passion for his presence. While the blood of Christ washes away our sin, it is his beauty that makes men and women walk away from sin.

What about you? Have you beheld Christ’s beauty? Or have you encountered only the ugliness of some false imitations? Don’t be fooled. Christ is gloriously beautiful, to those who have eyes of faith. Don’t miss him because of a bad experience. For he alone can wash away your sin; he alone can make you whole again; he alone can make loving him an easy duty; because he alone can show you his beauty.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

A Genuine Convert: The Fourth Mark of a Healthy Church Member

When I was in high school, my family moved into a new home, and lets just say, “It was a fixer-upper.”  I’ll never forget waking up the first morning in that ranch-style house and laying for what seemed like hours, hiding under the blankets as flies landed on my head.  Gross!  The floors were torn up with nails jutting out and the kitchen walls were covered with years of baked on grease, tobacco smoke, and other browning agents.  While my parents owned the home and the property had been transferred to them, it was evident that they had only just begun in their cleanup process.

With our relationship with God, we find something similar.  When the Triune God ransoms a sinner from the throws of hell and saves him or her from a life enslaved to sin, the condition of that sinner’s “house” is in a word: Wretched!!  Much worse than my high school abode.  Nevertheless, the transfer of property is certani, and the conversion process is permanent.  Powerful changes will be forthcoming.

Over time, just as my family cleared out and cleaned up that dirty house, so the Holy Spirit comes into the life of a believer and gives us him or her a new priority for God’s word, a new appetite for holiness, a new love for others, and a new power to walk with God–just to name a few of the changes.  All in all, the life-changing effects of conversion are visibly evident, and as the Bible teaches this is part of God’s design.  The one-time purchase is necessarily followed by a life-time of Christian growth and sanctification.  The moment of conversion results in a myriad of Spirit-filled changes.

In this weeks chapter, Pastor Thabiti touches on this important but often neglected truth — Genuine Conversion.  As the fourth mark of a healthy church member, he sets a course to consider the reality of our conversion and to challenge us to know for sure that God has in fact moved in.  From his helpful admonitions, let me give you five ways to meditate on genuine conversion and ways you can encourage others who are clinging to Christ by faith.

1. Read 1 John and consider your own conversion experience.  On page 55, Thabiti provides a helpful set of diagnostic questions.  Take time to read the Scriptures and consider them.

  1. Do you walk in the light or in the darkness (1 John 1:6-7)?
  2. Do you love God the Father or do we appear to love the world (1 John 2:15)?
  3. Do you love other Christians (1 John 3:14-15; 18-19; 5:1)?
  4. Do you have the testimony of the Holy Spirit that we are children of God (Rom. 8:15-16; Gal. 4:6; 1 John 3:24b)?
  5. Are you persevering in the faith (1 John 5:4-5)?

2. Invite another mature member to point out blindspots in our Christian walk.   God’s word instructs us that fellow Christians should spur one another on to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24), likewise that we should speak the truth to one another in love (Eph. 4:15).  Yet, we should not only do this, we should also invite a trusted friend and church member to do this, by asking them to point out areas of weakness and growth.  Of course, this requires humility and a willing spirit, but the fruits of this discipline are invaluable.  

3. Make a habit of recognizing the grace of God in others.  From a great distance, I have been challenged to do this by C.J. Mahaney.  C.J.’s radical commitment to humble himself by laboring to build up others is a model for us all– see his Humility: True Greatness.  His “others-first” mentality is only sustained by the Holy Spirit, and results in a genuine humility and gratefulness that reflects the Son of God himself.  This however, is not an exceptional kind of Christian behavior evidenced in rare Christians, it rather available to anyone who is indwelt and empowered by the Spirit.

4. With another member, set a goal to read a book about genuine conversion.  There are so many good books on conversion, salvation, and how to know the spiritual condition of one’s relationships with God.  Let me commend three:  John Piper’s Finally Alive is a basic and powerful look at conversion and the doctrine of the new birth; Stephen Smallman’s What is True Conversion? is recommended by Pastor Thabiti and looks to be a helpful, 32-page introduction to the realities of conversion; and Donald Whitney’s Ten Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health is another reliable tool to discern the condition of your heart. 

5. With humility, patience, and love, pray for and pursue a member of your church who is walking away from Christ.   James 5:19-20 reads, “My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”  There is nothing more loving you could do than to pray for and gently pursue a fellow church member who is drifting from the Lord.  Perhaps they have been offended and need encouragement or exhortation to make amends and be reconciled; perhaps they have been deceived and ensnared by Satan and need a word of truth to free them; perhaps they have simply grown tired and discouraged and need the loving reminder that God loves carried to them by a compassionate friend.  Whatever it is, we will not know until we go.  And Scripture is clear: We are to be our brother’s (or sister’s) keeper.  We are not to be like Cain who shed his brother’s blood, but rather like our Master Jesus Christ, we are to shed our blood for the sake of others (cf. Col. 1:24ff).

This weeks action points are the most challenging thus far– not because of their intellectual difficulty, they are pretty simple to understand– but because they demand so much from us!  In truth, it is only the genuinely converted person who would even want to attempt these things, and who in fact has the humility and power to do them.  Yet, if these action points confront you as hard, do not be discouraged.  Simply turn to the Lord who has sufficient power to make his calling and election sure in your life and to add good deeds to your faith (cf. 2 Peter 1:5-11).  

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Why blog (5): For the joy of telling the truth.

This is my last extended reflection on why blogging is a valuable endeavor.  (Such a prolegomena could go on infinitum and ad nauseum, so we will conclude with these final remarks).

Why blog?

For the joy of contending for, expounding, and simply telling others about God’s goodness and truth.  John writes:  “And we write these things so that our joy may be complete” (1John 1:4).  Let me unpack this verse with three questions, and than one point of application as it pertains to Via Emmaus.

First, who is the “we”?   Contextually,  without any proper names, it seems like it is the band of witnesses who heard, saw, and touched the risen Lord (v. 1).  This would include all those listed in 1 Cor. 15, but more particularly it seems to be those, like John, who lived to tell the gospel message of Christ.  For John says in verse 2, that “we” who have seen it, “testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life.”  Moreover, since these these witnesses are testifying to Christ’s bodily resurrection and His promise of eternal life, it seems logical that it would be the first century apostles and prophets (i.e. Eph. 4:11). 

Second, what are “these things”?  Again, going only from the context, it seems to be the content of what he is describing in verses 1-3: the reality of Christ’s resurrection, that which he saw, heard, and touched.  Moreover, it is the eternal life himself, Jesus Christ, who “was with the Father and was made manifest to us” (v. 2).  This is what John proclaimed, “so that you too may have fellowship with us” (v. 3) — fellowship that was with God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the assembly of believers (cf. v. 3).  These two things–the reality of Christ’s resurrection and the promise of eternal life–clearly indicate why this beloved disciple is joyful, but they also lead us to a final question.

Third, how is his joy made complete?  John’s joy is found in sharing “Christ”ian fellowship with others.  John loved expanding the boundaries of the community of faith.  He loved telling others of the gospel, describing all that he had seen, heard, and touched.  He delighted in recounting the gospel of Jesus Christ, with its exclusive promise of eternal life; and when he shared this good news with others, his joy was made complete.  In other words, his joy is expanded in the sharing of his joy.  (Oh, that we might all share this joyful spirit).

Let me illustrate this point.  Last night my wife and I found a great little Middle-Eastern restaurant.  The food was great– authentic falafel and shawarmas.  What could be better?  Well, one thing: sharing the good news with others.  For in sharing the experience of these Lebanese delicacies we would not only enjoy the pleasures of the food, but even greater, we would share the joy of seeing others enjoy the same appetizing foods.  How much more with the bread of life that brings eternal life!  (For more on this idea, John Piper has masterfully explained it in Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist.) 

So it is with blogging.  While it is a joy to consider gospel truths in isolation, it is a far greater joy to share God’s daily mercies with others.  For only in this sharing are our joys fully experienced.  While I would contend that it is best to do this in person (particularly in the framework of a local church), the vehicle of blogging is a viable platform for highlighting God’s goodness, truth, and beauty–in his Word and in his world.   Such intentional testimony has the incredible prospect of building faith, fueling hope, and/or purifying love.  Certainly, not all (Christian) blogging is done in this spirit, but what if it was?  It ought to be the conscious effort of every Christian to be a means of grace in all that they say or blog.  Prayerfully, that will be the aim of this fallible blogger.

Let me again refer to the beloved apostle and close by answering the question, “Why blog?” with his words: “that our joy [in Jesus Christ] might be made complete.”

Sola dei gloria, dss