Fight for Joy! Blog
Where Jesus Changes Everything
John Owen said, "Be killing sin or it will be killing you." The daily work of the Christian is to put to death remaining sin. This is sometimes a difficult concept for the Christian to understand and put into practice. The following post is from John Piper's Desiring God website. The original post appears here.
George in Cologne, Germany writes in: “Pastor John, if a Christian is born anew, and has died to sin, why is sin in the heart so decisive? The same for the flesh? Why must it be killed everyday? My status in Christ, and my daily work, this mortification, seems (and feels!) so contradictory!”
Yes, it does. I totally resonate. Let’s try to do two things in answer to George’s question. First, let’s show from the New Testament what actually happens in the new birth, especially as it relates to a Christian’s ongoing sinning. And then, second, let’s see if we can answer, at least partly: Why does God do it this way? Because that is really the heart of his question. But in order to get to that, I think we need to start with, What happens in the new creation or the new birth?
So, my answer to this first question is: What God creates in the new birth is not a sinless Christian. What he creates is an embattled, not-yet perfect, Spirit-empowered, persevering, Christ-treasuring, sin-hating, new being — a new creation in Christ. And don’t miss those words “embattled” and “sin-hating.” The new creation in Christ is a fighter. Paul said at the end of his life, “I have fought the good fight” (2 Timothy 4:7). And he tells Timothy, “Fight the good fight” (1 Timothy 6:12) — and he means the fight for holiness and the fight for faith: the good fight of faith. So, notice these four paradoxical pairs of verses to see how the event of new birth relates to this ongoing battle:
“What God creates in the new birth is not a sinless Christian, but a sin fighter.”
1) Here is the first pair: 1 John 3:9, “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning.” Then, 1 John 1:8, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” So, new birth creates a DNA, as it were, in this person — a divine-like DNA that cannot be content with ongoing sinning though, in this life, if we say we have no sin, we have a misunderstanding of how it is working. So, that is the first pair.
2) Here is the second pair: Romans 6:6, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.” Wow. What an event. And then Romans 6:11–12, “So you also must consider [or reckon] yourselves dead to sin.” Well, why? If you are dead, you are dead. No. “Reckon yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign.” This is an imperative. Get about the business of killing sin, reckoning yourself to be dead to sin, and bringing yourself under the reign of Christ, not the reign of your mortal body. So, the indicative statement, “you have died” (see also Romans 7:4) and the imperative statement, “consider yourself dead and live in the power of it” (2 Corinthians 13:4), that is the second pair.
3) Here is a third pair: Colossians 3:3, “You have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Then Colossians 3:5, “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you.” So, the death that we died makes a fighter against what we have died to: “put to death.”
4) And the last pair is 1 Peter 1:23, “You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.” Then, the second half of the pair is 1 Peter 2:1–2, “So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation.”
So, what I infer from those four pairs of verses is that what the new birth, the new creation brings into being is an embattled, not-yet perfect, Spirit-empowered, persevering, Christ-treasuring, sin-hating, new being in Christ. The outcome is guaranteed, but the battle is real.
“Christians are embattled, not-yet perfect, Spirit-empowered, persevering, Christ-treasuring, sin-hating, new beings.”
And so, the last question is: Why does God do it this way? He has the power to snap his finger and make us sinless. And we know that he does because he is going to do that in the twinkling of an eye (1 Corinthians 15:51–52) — at the resurrection or in the moment of death — and we won’t be made into robots when he does it. He will make us sinless without in any way making us less human or less free. We will never ever sin again in heaven. Why doesn’t he do it now? That is the question.
I think there is at least one clear macro answer to that question and some less clear micro answers to that question that flow from the macro. The macro answer is: God does it this way because he intends for the process of sanctification to maximize the praise of his glory, especially the praise of the glory of his grace. And I say that because of numerous places where this is the express intended outcome of sanctification, like Philippians 1:11, where the outcome is supposed to be that we are “filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” So, he is going to bring about a fullness of fruits of righteousness because he means to be praised. That is the design in why he does it the way he does it. Or, 2 Thessalonians 1:11–12 where the outcome of our sanctification is “so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
“One day God will make us sinless without in any way making us less human or less free.”
So, whether we can see at the micro level why this is the case, it is clear at the macro level God has chosen to sanctify us through this painful, slow, progressive, embattled way because it glorifies Christ and the grace of God more than if he snapped his finger and made us perfect and sinless at the point of new birth. Now, are there any micro, sub-reasons that we can see that might explain why that is the case? And I will just mention three:
1) Through this slow, painful, embattled process, we are reminded — John Piper is reminded — every day how dreadfully depraved and sinful and helpless I am and would be if left to myself. And so, God intends for me to know this, to feel this by my constant need for warfare to overcome my bent to sinning.
“God reminds us every day through sanctification how depraved we are and how gracious Christ is.”
2) Flowing from that reminder, we are made — John Piper is made — to feel the wonder of God’s patience and grace in holding on to me and returning to me again and again and reviving me and fighting for me and bringing me safely to glory — at least for 70 years now. It is no wonder that the book of Jude closes with a stunning doxology to God’s persevering, keeping power in the embattled Christian life: “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority” (Jude 24–25).
Isn’t that amazing? What is he giving glory to God for? He is giving glory and majesty and dominion and authority to God for one simple reason: God patiently keeps working with us until the end. That is just astonishing to me, and I don’t think I would feel that nearly to the level that I do without God doing it the way he is doing it.
3) And the last thing, the third thing I would say is that since true holiness is the reflex of seeing the superior beauty and value of Christ, the nature of the daily battle keeps this reality in front of me so that Christ and his beauty and his value remain central in my life. So, it becomes clear that Satan is defeated not by the mere finger-snapping, raw power of God, but by the supreme beauty of Jesus Christ that I have to get clear every day from Scripture so that I am more attracted to Jesus than to unholiness.
So, I think the main thing that I would say to George is that, whatever the reasons are that God has chosen to sanctify us in this slow, painful, embattled way, this choice of his is because he gets greater glory when we fight the battle every day with the weapons he has appointed and the way he has ordained. So let’s get on with the good fight.
"But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead" (Philippians 3:7-11). That is one long passage but, man, does it say a lot. The bottomline is simply this: Paul wants to know Jesus in order that he may attain to the resurrection from the dead.
Some people drift through life while others make and pursue various goals. What about you? Are you drifting or pursuing? And, if you are pursuing, what is it that you pursue? Some pursue things and riches while other pursue gym bodies and fleeting beauty. The possible pursuits are limitless it seems. For Christians, however, our pursuit is to be singular--to know Jesus and to be found in Him. Paul puts it this way: "...that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him."
I must confess I have stumbled into the trap of pursuing worldly things. Thankfully, God has not left me to myself. He always has a way to bring me back to the reality of who I am in Christ. Over the years I have developed some goals for my own life--a mission statement, so to speak. It's what I aim for and although I break it out into four areas or goals, they can ultimately be summed up in the phrase, "So that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him." I aim for these four things: (1) I want to treasure Christ; (2) I want to live the Word (sometimes I refer to this one as proclaim the Word); (3) I want to make disciples (followers of Jesus); (4) I want to finish well.
I made the above image a couple years ago to try and capture these goals. Sometimes I explain the last goal (to finish well) as the strategic focus of my life. If I finish well, then naturally, I will have treasured Christ, lived the Word, and made disciples. At the end of his life Paul was able to say, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith" (2 Timothy 4:7). The ongoing prayer of my heart is that I, too, will be able to say with Paul, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith." By God's grace--and only by His grace--I will finish well.
All this got me to thinking recently what it takes to finish well. I came up with the following list of characteristics of one who fights the good fight, finishes the course, and keeps the faith. It is in no way exhaustive. You may think of additional characteristics. But these are good ones with which to start. And, these all assume one is a believer and surrendered to God and sold out for Jesus. To finish well, therefore, a person must...
1. Be a visionary. The writer of Proverbs wrote, "Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained, But happy is he who keeps the law" (Proverbs 29:18). Vision, especially a vision to finish well, restrains a person in such a way to keep on target.
2. Be willing to suffer. It amazes me the number of so called believers I encounter who think any suffering is a sign of weak faith. The Christian life is not an easy one. If our leader (Christ) suffered, we can expect the same thing. Peter wrote, "Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose" (1 Peter 4:1). Earlier, in 1 Peter 3:17, he indicates suffering is often God's will for the believer. The primary reason for suffering, I believe, is to make us more like Christ. Suffering also serves the same purpose as vision--to keep us on target.
3. Not get bogged down by past successes and failures. Paul said, "But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ" (Philippians 3:7). A few verses later he writes, "...forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead" (Philippians 3:13). It is good to celebrate victories but we should not camp out there. Furthermore, the devil will try to bog us down by pointing out past sins and failures. We must forget those, too. If God has forgiven us in Christ Jesus then we must move on. Otherwise, we'll fail to stay on target.
4. Be patient. In our fast-food world we want what we want and we want it now! James said, "Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. The farmer waits for the precious produce of the soil, being patient about it, until it gets the early and late rains" (James 5:7). A farmer doesn't go out and dig up his recently planted crop to see why it's not growing. He continues to "farm" while patiently waiting for the harvest. Likewise, a believer who wants to finish well is going to be patient. Sanctification (the process of becoming more like Jesus) is an often slow, tedious, and sometimes painful process. But if we're patient we'll eventually reap the reward of said patience--we'll finish well!
5. Be willing to persevere no matter what. The Bible mentions perseverance or endurance multiple times. In other words, God doesn't want us to give up. Consider Revelation 14:12, which reads, "This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus." Finishing well calls for endurance. When you stumble, get back up and keep on persevering. When you fail miserably, get back up and keep pressing on. Run the race set before you until you cross the finish line. And how will you know you've crossed the finish line? You'll see Jesus face-to-face and He'll say, "Well done, good and faithful servant!" (Matthew 25:23).
Again, this is not an exhaustive list. Perhaps you know of more. Feel free to share via the comments section below. Comments will remain open for 60 days following the date of this posting. My prayer for me and my prayer for you is that we'd run the race and finish well, having treasured Christ, lived the Word, and made disciples along the way!
In my latest video blog installment I discuss the so called Prosperity Gospel, which is really no gospel at all. Colossians 2:6-10; 1 Timothy 6:11-12.
Today's video blog is in honor of my 24th wedding anniversary and focuses on the mystery of a Christian marriage as discussed by Paul in Ephesians 5:32.
For this video blog my son, Christian, joins me as we share some thoughts on Proverbs 22:6. He may be only 5 years old but I'm trying my best to teach him the ways of God. I pray God's grace supersedes my "best." Most of what he has learned is currently head knowledge but my prayer is that it would become heart knowledge as he grows older.
Continuing my thought from my previous video blog about the Gospel, this installment answers the question, "Why the Gospel?" The text is Romans 1:14-23.
Today I began a new endeavor which I plan to practice fairly regularly and that is making video posts as part of my blog. I am calling it my Fight for Joy! video blog, for the lack of a better name and description. I hope you enjoy and learn from this first post. If you follow me on Facebook they will also be posted there, probably before they are posted here. The text is 2 Corinthians 4:7-18.
“O God, who is like you? You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again. You will increase my greatness and comfort me again” (Psalm 71:19b-21). Four months into my forty-fifth year and I find myself reflecting back over the course of my life. My conclusion: sometimes life sucks but God is good.
It is not unusual for one to arrive at such a conclusion. Those who think life is a bed of roses are either delusional or lying. Those who think this is your best life now are simply lost and on their way to eternal separation from God as the only way this can be your best life now is to be on your way to hell. So why my blunt yet true assessment? Like the psalmist, I have experienced times of trouble and the goodness of God in the midst of such times of trouble.
The aforementioned passage—Psalm 71:19b-21—has become a passage for my present circumstances. For more than ten years I have enjoyed a ministry unlike no other—ministering to, and sharing Christ with, Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, Civilian Contractors, and their families. I thought I would continue in this ministry until I had to retire but God had other plans. Through the unfortunate and misguided actions of others God has sovereignly altered the course of my life. I now find myself in a period of transition. My Air Force ministry will conclude soon. I have no idea what the future holds but I do know who holds the future. Thankfully, He has it all under control and He will sovereignly reveal His will for me in due time.
So, as believers, what should be our response when we conclude life sucks? We should remember that God offers divine help in times of trouble. Psalm 71 is a psalm of experience. In other words, the psalmist doesn’t sugarcoat his experience—life is hard; life has been hard; life will be hard. The key, for the psalmist, is trust and praise in the sovereign God of life itself. He begins, “O God, who is like you?” This is a rhetorical question. The answer is obvious—no one. When life is hard, remember, there is no one like the God we serve. God is good!
“But wait,” you say. “The psalmist says it is God who has made him see troubles.” That is true. The Bible often recognizes the fact troubles and trials are sent by God. God, after all, is sovereign and we live and move in His providence. What are some of the life troubles you have experienced? Abuse? Loss? Sickness? Unemployment? Aging? Just fill in the blank—there seems to be no limit to the troubles and trials life can send our way. Even in the trials, however, God is good.
God’s goodness is seen in the fact these troubles are always sent with a purpose—to make us more like Jesus. James writes, “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4). “Perfect and complete” simply means spiritually mature. To see God as the one who sends calamity is a call to understand suffering from the vantage point of faith in God and confidence in His sovereignty—He is making us more like Jesus.
I can say, “God is good,” only when I understand troubles and trials are designed by God for this purpose. Paul concludes, “We rejoice in hope of the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Rom.
5:2b-4). As believers, we will suffer. Sometimes we will conclude life sucks. Even so, our confidence remains in God and by faith we can still declare God is good! And because He is good we know that ultimately, He will deliver us, either in this life or the life to come. Suffering, after all, lasts no longer than a lifetime. Job is a good example of one who was delivered after a time of intense suffering. Such is not always the case in this life, however, as some are ultimately delivered through the suffering—when they see Jesus face-to-face—think Stephen, the first martyr. “O God, who is like you? You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again…”
“Give heed to me and answer me; I am restless in my complaint and am surely distracted” (Psalm 55:2). Charles Stanley wrote, “If necessary, God will move heaven and earth to show us His will.” This statement has been an encouragement to me over the years as I have sought to know and do God’s will. This is because in my fallen human condition I am not always able to immediately discern God’s will in a given situation. What a joy it is to know that God will do whatever it takes to reveal His will to those who really want to know and do it.
There is another method I believe God sometimes uses to keep us on track—a restless spirit. This idea may seem contradictory to the promise of peace to those who are in God’s will. There is no contradiction. Sometimes God will stir up a restlessness in our spirit in order to cause us to seek after Him in earnest prayer. I find myself in such a situation even as I pen this article. I am thankful to know that a restless spirit is not necessarily a sign of God’s displeasure but an indication He is up to something.
I am in the process of transitioning from Active Duty back to the civilian world. For more than ten years I have served alongside and ministered to Airmen, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and the Coast Guard. I never imagined I would be transitioning at this point in my life but obviously God has other plans. Like anyone in such a situation I have been sending out resumes and job applications. I am fond of saying I have spread my net far and wide and now I am waiting for the right fish to jump in it at the right time.
Lately, however, I have begun to feel restless in my spirit. I believe this to be a godly restlessness—an indication God is about to reveal to me His will concerning the next chapter in my life. I believe it is also probable that in my net casting I have not necessarily considered all the possibilities and perhaps God is about to lead in a much different direction than what I have been willing to consider. I have been praying God would show His will to my wife and me. I believe, as the Psalmist, “God has heard; He has given heed to the voice of my prayer” (Psalm 66:19).
When we find ourselves with a godly restlessness, what ought we to do to insure we are ready to hear from God? First of all, I believe we must surrender to His will. In other words, I must be bound to do God’s will. The measure of such a life is one of faith. The author of Hebrews wrote, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (11:6). Knowing all the details beforehand, therefore, is irrelevant. Believing God, however, is relevant. I must believe God’s will is best and that He has my good and His glory in mind.
Secondly, having bound myself to doing God’s will, I must be determined to finish well. In so doing, I must understand and accept the fact that God will often use difficulty and suffering to accomplish His plan and purpose in my life. It would have been wonderful if the writer of Hebrews, in chapter 11, had stopped penning that great chapter in the first half of verse 35. He writes, “And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephtha, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions…put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection” (11:32-35a).
Yes, that would have been wonderful but he does not stop there. He continues, “and others were tortured, not accepting their release…and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword…men of whom the world was not worthy” (11:35b-38). Suffering is God’s prerogative and is to be expected. Dropping out is not an option, as the author notes: “And all these, having gained approval through their faith…” (11:39a).
Finally, if I am going to insure I am ready to hear from and obey God during times of restlessness I must understand and believe it will be worth it all. I oftentimes remind myself it will be worth it all after all—in other words, the difficulty and suffering here will have been worth it all when I see Jesus face-to-face. I must, therefore, finish the race while keeping my eyes firmly planted on Jesus knowing that unimaginable joy awaits me there for my obedience here. The author of Hebrews encourages us to, “Consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” (12:3). Jesus obeyed God because of the joy that awaited Him. We, too, obey God because of the joy that awaits us.
In his first letter to the believers in Thessalonica, Paul wrote, “Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (5:16-18). Remember, discovering God’s will is not a complicated process. If the ongoing practice of my life is one of ceaseless prayer accompanied by rejoicing and thanksgiving and my heart is being transformed by the renewing of my mind through God’s Word (see Romans 12:1-2), God will reveal His will to me at the proper time. Many times, the proper time is preceded by a restless spirit—a godly restlessness.
So, as you prayerfully seek to know God’s will for your life in any given circumstance, remember, come through Christ, separated from all known sin. Believe God! Make sure you are praying in God’s will. If you are not sure just keep doing the same thing God told you to do until He tells you to do something else, and be persistent in your praying. In other words, do not give up simply because you believe God should have already answered. Also, do not allow yourself to become distracted wondering if your prayers are not being prayed just right. Romans chapter 8 reminds us the Holy Spirit fixes our prayers on the way up to the God the Father.
Are you experiencing a restlessness in your spirit? Are you determined to know and do God’s will? Rest assured, as Charles Stanley writes, “If necessary, God will move heaven and earth to show us His will.” Remember the promises of Holy Scripture. Obey God not matter what, and you too, will be a person, “of whom the world was not worthy” (Hebrews 11:38a).
For those unaware, my family and I spent three years living, ministering, and enjoying ourselves in Alaska. The summers were short and mild; the winters long and dark. I think we broke every winter snow weather record over the course of our sojourn there.
Alaska returned to the forefront of my thinking recently as I read a Baptist Press article about the Alaska Baptist Convention's Director of Evangelism being seriously injured in a gas leak explosion. You can read about it here. Please pray for Jimmy as he recovers in a Seattle hospital. The Alaska Baptist Convention posts regular updates on their webpage.
Thinking about Alaska also reminded me the work of missions is not complete. The Great Commission (Matthew 29:18-20) compels us onward even to the ends of the earth. And believe me, with a state more than twice the size of Texas with vast territory and only a few roads (most towns and villages are only accessible by air; some by boat, too), Alaska is quite literally the ends of the earth.
Here's a fact known by few. There are over 100 villages in Alaska with absolutely no evangelical witness. Having grown up in a small town in Mississippi with multiple evangelical churches I cannot begin to comprehend a place in the United States in such dire need of just one evangelical church. Please pray for Alaska villages and peoples, that God would raise up church planters, missionaries, and other Christian workers to reach this last frontier.
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You are welcome to leave comments and you don't have to necessarily agree with me. However, I expect a civil tone and charitable spirit. We can disagree with one another without being disagreeable. "Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt." (Colossians 4:6)
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Striving to glorify God by becoming more like Jesus.
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