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What Do You Need To Do To Go Backwards In The Christian Life? Nothing. (via Sinclair Ferguson

Words from Sinclair Ferguson posted on the blog Tolle Lege.

“Hebrews is all about persevering in sanctification. Without holiness, writes the author, ‘no one will see the Lord.’ We must therefore ‘strive’ for it (Hebrews 12:14).
He uses vigorous language. His verb (διώκω, strive) appears regularly in the New Testament with the sense of ‘persecute.’
Such strong language was needed here because these Christians were facing hardship and opposition. They therefore needed to pay careful attention to the gospel, to digest what they had heard, so that they would not drift away.
What do you need to do to slow down and go backwards in the Christian life? Hebrews’ answer is: ‘Nothing.” Drifting is the easiest thing in the world.
It is swimming against the tide that requires effort. And the Christian life is against the tide all the way. Spiritual weariness, being ‘sluggish,’ is one of our great enemies. The author is all-too-familiar with its tell-tale signs.
Christians then, as now, were confronted by many pressures. Some of them had suffered deeply for their testimony to Jesus Christ. We might think that anyone who has withstood trials would be in no danger of failing to persevere.
But the battle to be holy is fierce, the opposition is strong, and the obstacles are many. Even those who have won great victories in the past can become weary. Spiritual lethargy can set in, and we begin to drift.
We constantly need to be encouraged to keep going (Hebrews 3:12-13).”

–Sinclair Ferguson, Devoted To God: Blueprints For Sanctification (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 2016), 191.


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Six Symptoms Of Spiritual Heart Failure (via Stanley Gale)

The joys of advancing years include a more necessary interest in personal health.
Stanley Gale observes that, by contrast, an individual’s spiritual health can be in jeopardy at any age, and that there are a number of commonly observable conditions that precede a breakdown in faith.

From Gale’s post:

What are the signs of spiritual heart failure? We can note at least six symptoms.

  1. Attendance in weekly worship becomes optional and irregular. This is pretty serious. God designed us to be worshipers. He sought us to be worshipers. And He turned our hearts from idols to worship Him as the true and living God. You can be sure that neglect of corporate worship is a sign of a heart that is not given over to God in everyday life.
  2. A spotty prayer life. Like shortness of breath and struggle for oxygen, irregular prayer does not breathe in the oxygen of God’s grace in continual awareness of Him and dependence upon Him. This condition often takes in shallow breaths of periodic prayer that fail to fill the lungs or hyperventilate in panic prayer in times of great distress.
  3. Gospel habituation. Habituation is where you tune something out after a while, like you might not notice the loud ticking of a clock in your home but a visitor hears it loud and clear. We can do that with the gospel. It can become familiar, ordinary, and unamazing. God has given us ways to keep that from happening, like hearing Christ preached and celebrating the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, but our diseased heart doesn’t take it in.
  4. Poor appetite and inadequate diet. God has given us a rich banquet in His Word, all the nourishment we need for our growth in grace. But we rarely partake. We don’t feast on it. We content ourselves with snacking on a nugget every now and then. But even then we don’t savor it. We don’t chew on it through attention and meditation, drawing out its flavor and absorbing its nutrients of truth.
  5. Inactivity. A healthy heart has blood flow in and blood flow out. Heart failure affects this circulatory system. It becomes enlarged for lack of exercise. It doesn’t spread nutrients throughout its own body or the body of Christ. It does not look to serve but to be served, unlike the One whose heart was in perfect health. With no sense of sacrifice or suffering, it becomes weakened and ineffective.
  6. Spiritual Listlessness. Indifference to the things of God and tolerance of what dishonors Him are signs of arterial sclerosis, hardness of heart. One contributing factor to this condition is isolation from fellow believers. Without them in our lives to stimulate us to love and godliness, our hearts can be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. Separated from the body of which we are a part, our fire grows dim and our enthusiasm wanes.

How do we address spiritual heart failure? Prescription for each symptom is found in the Word of Life. But it begins by approaching the Great Physician, asking Him to “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23–24)

Read the whole post here.


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Small God, Small Calling – Big God Big Calling (via Jen Oshman)

Jen Oshman writes about the product of a tendency to desire a comfortable, easy to manage life – a comfortable easy to manage God.
From the article:

There’s a destructive cycle often lived out in Western, wealthy Christianity – and in my own heart. Here’s the cycle:

We Christians believe we have a small calling, so we call on a small god, and we grow a small faith. Our small faith fuels our small calling, which in turn perpetuates our belief that our god is small and asks us to do small things.

I’m attracted to this cycle as much as anyone. Messages to pursue safety and comfort engulf me. The dominant goals in my community are health, good education for our kids, a strong retirement account, and plenty of sports on the weekends. We’re all pursuing these goals, even in our churches. We’re cheering for one another as we chase our small dreams and claim it’s what our small god would want.
The calling is small because we can do it in our own power. We’re neck deep in self-help theology, and we applaud one another when we look within ourselves, pull ourselves up by our bootstraps, and do whatever it takes to self-actualize. If the God of the Bible doesn’t fit our small calling, we rewrite or misinterpret what he says.
Many churches in America have exchanged God’s true calling, God’s true character, and the true faith for a manageable, small cycle. But Jesus destroys the small cycle when he calls us to follow him and die.

Big Cycle
“If anyone would come after me,” Jesus said, “let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:34–35). This call to deny ourselves, take up our crosses, and follow Jesus is not small and manageable.
Scripture calls us to live out a big, risk-taking, self-denying cycle. To answer this call we need a huge God capable of doing huge things. We need a faith that’s robust and doesn’t reject hard things but acknowledges that the hard things are, in fact, what God has designed for our good and his glory. This cycle – the opposite of the small cycle – acknowledges our calling is big, our God is big, and he will give us a big faith to carry out our big calling.

Read the rest here.


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Tell-Tale Sign Of A Graceless Heart (via Jared Longshore)

A graceless heart can be at the centre of what appears to be a commendable life.
Not demonstrably bad, even hardworking and knowledgeable.
But graceless hearts grumble.
From Jared Longshore at Founders Ministries:

Jesus found grumbling so off putting that he lined up three parables to fix it. We are commanded in the Bible to “Do all things without grumbling.” Paul tells us that when the Israelites grumbled in the wilderness they were destroyed. Jude puts grumblers alongside the malcontents and loud-mouth boasters who are designated for condemnation.
Why is it that grumbling is so reprehensible? It is because grumbling reveals a graceless heart. That is the key quality that the Pharisees, the scribes, and the older brother lacked: Grace. Grace gives people more then they deserve. This is a kind of giving that these men did not know. The Pharisees said, “These sinners don’t deserve to eat with Jesus.” The older brother complained, “My younger brother does not deserve this celebration.” But justice, though important, is not ultimate in a grace filled heart. Justice is not the end of the story or the totality of the story. It was for the Pharisees, scribes, and the older brother. But not for Jesus.
We must ask ourselves, “Am I a graceless person?” I may be zealous for truth, obedience, and service, but am I zealous to treat people better then they deserve? May God help us to examine ourselves according to the graceless man revealed in Luke 15. And where we find ourselves lacking in this godly quality, may God strengthen us to do good to the undeserving by the very grace that is in Christ Jesus.

Read the whole post here.


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The Bible Is Not A Book Of Lessons About How To Be A Hero

The heart of the Bible is not about emulating heroes.
It’s about convicting you about, Jesus, the hero you need.
From Aaron Earles:

If we are honest we are ourselves, we can easily find ourselves in the pages of the Bible—just not among the heroes.
We are the failures, the rejects, the idolaters, the sinful, the prideful, the villains. But that’s the most wonderful part. God hasn’t called us to be the hero, only to follow the One who actually is.
Christ is the true hero and even the real protagonist. He’s the One on which all of history turns. He’s the One to which all of Scripture points.
And in His being the hero, He has laid down his life for us. Even though we didn’t deserve. Even while we were sinners. Even with us being the villain to His Hero.
The gospel frees us to read God’s word—not anxiously searching for how our life matches the hero of the passage, but thankful that even though you don’t measure up to a heroic standard God loves you regardless and has sent His Son to redeem you anyway.
The good news of the gospel is that you aren’t the hero of the story and you don’t have to be.

Read the whole post here.


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No Self-Made Christians (via Michael Jensen)

People from modern western culture can find themselves defined as the sum of what they can do.
This can have devastating effects on perceptions of those who are not able to be actively productive.
Aged people, for instance, feel profoundly diminished if their capacities fail.
Michael Jensen reminds us that in God’s Kingdom there are no self-made people, no people whose identity in grounded in what they can or cannot do.

The modern world has made human actions the basic compositional unit of the human self. We moderns understand ourselves primarily as acting subjects—as people who do things.
The damaging consequences of this idolization of the acting self are numerous: from an instrumentality in human relationships (they are only good insofar as they provide me with what I need in order to bolster my C.V.), to a removal of the dignity of those who cannot act, or who are limited in their ability to act (the disabled and the elderly in particular). If it is by action that we establish ourselves as true men and women, then what are we to think of those whose ability to act is limited? Can a person who cannot act be truly good, if they cannot express their virtues in action?
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The gospel of the crucified Christ actually overthrows that path to self-realization! Just as thinking that we are justified by our works is a terrible proud mistake, so is thinking we are most truly expressing and finding ourselves in our human achievements.
The great Reformation doctrine sola fide or ‘justification by faith alone’ explains that it is God who judges, declares, and determines; it is he who calls human beings to themselves. It is he who even gives them to themselves. There cannot be self-made people, not really. The extremity of the cross—that the Son of God would need to suffer so—shows us just what proud failures we are in the business of making ourselves.

Read the whole post at Crossway.


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Encourage One Another (via Dane Ortlund)

Those who have received the Word of Life speak words of life to others.
From Dane Ortlund:

After all, when Paul says, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up,” what is the “therefore” referring to? What is fueling such encouragement? One of the greatest exultations in all the New Testament about the hope of the gospel:
God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him (1 Thess. 5:9–10).
Having been shown life through the word of the gospel, we give life through the words we use.

Read the rest of the encouraging post here.