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Walking the Walk – What are the big rocks in your life?

January 16, 2012 Leave a comment

In Philippians 3:14 Paul says, “I press toward the mark for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus …”

He introduced that statement in v.13 with “but this one thing I do.” Obviously Paul did more than one thing!   He made tents … He preached sermons. He planted churches … He wrote books … Paul did a lot of things! But what he is telling us is that his top priority in life was to “press toward the mark of the upward call…”Paul is saying, “I run straight toward the goal to win the prize that God’s heavenly call offers in Christ Jesus.”

In other words, Paul’s number one priority was the Kingdom of Heaven! He was running straight toward that goal; he wasn’t going to let anything distract him from it!

What is your focus/priorities for the coming year?  Let’s learn from a pickled egg jar!

 A while back an expert on the subject of time management was speaking to a group of business students!    After speaking to them for a while, he said, “Okay, it’s time for a quiz.” He set a two-gallon, wide mouthed Mason jar on the table in front of him. Then he produced about a dozen tennis-ball-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, inside the jar. When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, “Is this jar full?”

 Everyone in the class said, “Yes.”  “Really?” he said.

 Then he reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of small gravel.

 He dumped some gravel into the jar and shook it , causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks. Then he smiled and asked the group once more, “Is the jar full?”

 By this time the class was starting to catch on … “Probably not,” one of them said. “Good!” he replied. * Then he reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in and it filled all the spaces between the rocks and the gravel. Once more he asked, “Is this jar full?”

 “No!” the class shouted. * Again he said, “Good!” Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim.

 Then he looked back at the class and asked, “What is the point of this illustration?”

 One eager student raised his hand and said, “The point is, no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really heard, you can always fit something more in!”

 “No,” the speaker replied, “that’s not the point…The truth is illustration teaches us is this:  IF YOU DON’T PUT THE BIG ROCKS IN FIRST, YOU’LL NEVER GET THEM IN AT ALL.”

 What are the big rocks in your life?  As you look ahead over this year, what are your priorities?

Jesus had a lot to say about our priorities.

 Jesus said in Matthew 6:33

33But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.

 Matthew 22:37-39  – Great Commandment

37Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’

38This is the first and great commandment.

39And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

Matthew 28:19-20 – Great Commission

19Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

20teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

 Are you living at the intersection of the Great Commission and the Great Commandment?

Are your big rocks Christ centered and kingdom focused? Worship, prayer, Bible reading and study, family, fellowship, missions, ministry, evangelism. These should be among the big rocks in your jar.

It’s  heartbreaking, but a true fact, that many Christians do not make God’s Kingdom a priority in life!   Where do you find yourself at the beginning of this New Year?   Won’t you make this year a time for reigniting your walk with God and reaffirm or re-establish your priorities in a manner pleasing to God as Jesus commands – be Christ-centered and kingdom focused.  Amen.

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The Survival Zone: Can ALL be good in the midst of difficult trials?

January 11, 2012 1 comment


How do you respond to the events which happen in your life?  Do you see them as good or bad depending on the situation?  We are often faced with tragedy, hurts, disappointments and the like in the midst of many positive circumstances in our life.  Are life events all good independent of their nature?  God’s Word tells us in…

1 Thessalonians 5:18
18in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

And in,

Romans 8:28
28And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.

So, are bad trials, really bad trials, in our lives good?

The following story (source: Open Doors Ministry) helps give an interesting perspective for how we should endeavor to look at life’s circumstances and appropriately respond.

A tribal king in Africa had a close friend with whom he grew up. The friend had a habit of looking at every situation that ever occurred in his life (positive or negative) as well as the lives of others and remarking, “This is good!” He based it on our two Scriptures above.  The king loved his friend’s positive outlook and took him with him wherever he went.

One day the king and his friend were out on a hunting expedition. As the king fired his gun at a pheasant that flew up from the long grass, the rifle backfired and blew off his right thumb. Looking at the king’s bleeding hand, his friend remarked as usual, “This is good!”

The king was angry and replied, “No, this is NOT good!” and proceeded to send his friend to jail for his insensitivity.

About a year later, the king was hunting all alone in an area that he should have known to stay clear of.  Cannibals captured him and took him to their village. They tied his hands, stacked some wood, and were going to cook him in a big pot. As they set fire to the wood, they noticed that the king was missing a thumb on his right hand. Being very superstitious, cannibals never eat anyone who is less than perfect. So they released the king.

Walking home he kept staring at his right hand without a thumb. “This IS good!” he said out loud. He was reminded of the event that had taken his thumb and felt remorse for his shabby treatment of his friend. So he went immediately to the jail to speak with his friend.

“You were right,” he said, “it was good that my thumb was blown off.” And he proceeded to tell the friend all that had just happened. “And so, I am very sorry for sending you to jail for so long. It was bad for me to do this.”

“No,” his friend replied as usual, “This is good!”

“What do you mean, ‘This is good?’ How could it be good that I put my friend in jail for over a year?”

“Well,” replied his friend, “if I had not been here in jail, I would have been out there with you!”

Survival Points:  God is sovereign and desires His people to draw near to Him, trust Him, and be totally dependent on Him.  As He crafts our character through our trials in this life He uses the circumstances of life to accomplish His purpose in growing us toward Christ-likeness.   Even in the negative things He is sovereign and has purposed all we experience for our good and His glory.  Our response should be to focus on the “what” of our trial – what do You wish me to learn from this Lord; how can I serve You more fully; how can I become more like Your Son?  Let the negative challenges of your life circumstances, small or great, draw out the positive of God through your testimony!

Yes, all is good even in our really difficult trials and circumstances (while in many instances we may not see this at the time);  we are even given the privilege through our trials to experience the joy of Christ as never before as we learn to see our trials for their designed purposes.  The Apostle Paul’s Christian life seemed to be one difficult trial after another, yet he was always positive, on mission, and an encouragement to others independent of his circumstances (read Acts 16).  Which is in essence the definition of joy (a feeling of peace beyond our understanding independent of our most challenging circumstances – Phil 4:6-7)!  His secret was to always have the mind of Christ (Phil 2:5) and be focused on the future and the upward calling of the kingdom of God (Phil 3:13-14).

Our prayer should be for God to help us always see the positive in ALL our circumstances (Romans 8:28); trusting in His sovereignty; acknowledging He always knows what is best and good for us; and in all things give thanks (1 Thess. 5:18) for we have a strong Advocate to cast all our cares upon for He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7).  We are not alone, ever, He has promised to never leave us or forsake us, that means especially in our difficult trials (Heb 13:5). Remember God’s ways are not our ways, nor His thoughts or timing (Is 55:8-9).  We should ask God to help us always elevate our thoughts upward toward Him, seeing His purposes of goodness in them!

Lord help us always to be Christ-centered and Kingdom-focused seeing beyond ourselves toward Your higher purposes all for Your honor and glory.  Amen.

3 Practical Steps to a Good Conscience

January 11, 2012 Leave a comment

3 Practical Steps to a Good Conscience

Paul says I always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men. Acts 24:16 Having a good conscience before God is living the Great Commandment (Matt 22:37-39) believing and acting on all He has spoken out of our love for Him (John 14:15).  Having no offence toward men we should live our lives in obedience to God as salt and light with grace in our speech (Col 4:5-6) with the love of Christ in our hearts (1 John 4:7).

The following daily practices are practical steps for never having to look over the shoulder of your conscience:

1.  Always do the right thing (Col 3:17)

2.  Always do the best you can (Col 3:23-24)

3.  Always treat people the way you want to be treated (Matt 7:12)

Having a good conscience before God and man is an intentional choice.  Praise God He has given us His Word to guide our hearts and direct our steps (Ps  119:11, 133)

Moments of Decision – Longing for the Good Old Days

December 23, 2011 Leave a comment

Ecclesiastes 7:10
10    Do not say,     “Why were the former days better than these?”     For you do not inquire wisely concerning this.

We often find ourselves reflecting back and saying, “I really long for the good old days when..”.  It seems that this thinking often comes in times of nostalgia, difficult trials, or when things around us seem hopeless.  Are the “good ole days” really better than today and our hope for the future?

According to Solomon, the preacher in Ecclesiastes, the answer to this question is; not really.  In fact this saying, while very common, indicates there is no biblical truth in our attachment to this notion about former days.  In fact, when we reflect on the former days we often are using it to excuse current circumstances around us and even our own behavior.  We might say that in former times, men were more religious, have a deeper sense and longing for God, experience more self-denial, lived holier lives, and were more exemplary in all their conduct in the world.  This is false thinking.

In former times men were wicked as they are now, and religion just as mixed with its share of hypocrisy, saintly saints, and lostness.  God is the same now as He was then; as loving, as just, as merciful, as ready to save, as ready to help.  So you may say that we live in a corrupt age – and you would be right even as prior ages where corrupt.  The thought here is that it is not the age that is corrupt, but the men of the age.    We only have to look at ourselves; our hearts, our attitudes/motives, and our obedience to determine the why and how our thoughts may race to the “good old days”.

Solomon proclaims in Ecclesiastes chapter 1 verse nine that there is “nothing new under the sun”.

Ecclesiastes 1:9
9    That which has been is what will be,      That which is done is what will be done,     And there is nothing new under the sun.

Man continues in his sinful fallen state and God continues in His goodness and has ordained the means through His Son to redeem a lost world from its fallen condition and restore a right relationship with Him.  This has not changed since the garden and each generation experiences the grace, mercy and love of God, His offer of salvation, and the hope of eternity.

I will acknowledge that nostalgia plays a role in our feelings about the good old days.  Memories are often found there to refresh the soul and give peace in our hearts.  Past times seem to have their medicinal qualities to refresh by their positive and comfortable thoughts like hot chocolate on a cold winter night remembered.   Praise God we are creatures with a memory and can enjoy these thoughts.

We, however, need to be cautious to check our motives for reflecting on prior days that they are not fueling ungodly attitudes and behaviors.  This could be discontent, anger, bitterness, grudges, acting on ungodly memories of many sorts.  The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked and needs to be checked at all times for its motives.  This is true for individuals and applies equally as well to churches.

Husbands, wives, families are often “historical” in their relating to current events of life.  This can bring up many hurts, frustrations, unforgiveness, bitterness, and put a wet blanket on God’s current work in their lives.  My wife and I have an agreement that we cannot bring anything up which is greater than thirty days past.  This has worked wonders for keeping focused on God’s activity in our lives today seeking His will and being thankful for all He has and is providing.  Never looking back in an attitude of ungratefulness with the ” would of, should of, could of” syndrome should be our heart attitude.  Paul gave an admonition to the believers in Philippi which reflects an attitude of forward thinking and not looking back.

Philippians 3:13-14
13Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead,
14I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

The truth of these verses might be summarized as follows – In Jesus, your days ahead are greater than your days gone by.  Hands down, without doubt, with hope and expectation the future in Christ promises to bring you deeper and closer in your relationship with Him and the resulting joy and abundant life only He can give.

Paul says to forget those things which are behind (don’t dwell on past failures, poor decisions, sinful behavior no matter how grievous, disappointments, bitterness, hurts, should of’s, etc.).  He could speak with authority given the weight of his past which included broad persecution of Christs’ church and being complicit in murder.  Paul knew that it was not wise to dwell on the past but to keep his priorities focused on the prize of the higher calling in Christ Jesus.   Oh, how we need to take these words in and embrace them in our daily walk giving our lives to the lordship of Jesus Christ and allowing Him to direct our hearts and minds toward the upward call.  There is no greater source of peace, fulfillment, and contentment in life.  You will never have to look over your shoulder if you keep your eyes on Jesus.

Thoughts of the past and yearning for the “good old days” in itself is not the issue Solomon is addressing; it is the foolishness in making the distinction, because in truth every age (stages of life) has its bright and its dark sides.  It is for us to look forward with thanksgiving and anticipation at what God is doing today in our lives and strive to seek His will as we progress toward spiritual maturity.  Our aim is not to be detoured reflecting on the past but be purposed in Christ Jesus toward the future.  It is a high calling. A calling requiring intentionality, forward momentum, and the acknowledgement of an  eternal purpose which is greater than ourselves.

In the end it is foolish to complain about present times and longing for the good old days when the real issue much of the time is dealing with the current state of our own hearts.  When our hearts are right with God our lives are right with Him and others.  This provides the spiritual state of mind which equips us for coping with the world around us which seems to relentlessly tempt us, discourage us, and give us a sense of defeat.  This often draws us back to times we perceive were more in keeping with a better state than what we are experiencing at the present.  That is exactly what the enemy wants us to think.  To discourage, deceive, and derail what God has in store for us up the road.   It is our task to recognize our need to stay focused on our highest priority, as Paul exhorts us to do, the goal of our upward calling.

The chief subject of the book of Ecclesiastes is the folly of all man’s efforts in seeking happiness here below, and that the wisdom which judges all this only renders man still unhappy.   One way man seeks to reconcile his state is to look backward and long for perceived better times, which we are told is unwise.   What then are we to do?  The preacher of Ecclesiastes gives us the conclusion of the whole matter.

Ecclesiastes 12:13
13Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter:      Fear God and keep His commandments,     For this is man’s all.

Moments of Decision – longing for the good old days:  Reflect on the good old days without comparison, enjoy the thoughts of pleasant times, enjoy  the memory of fond smells and bright sunny days, while making the decision of always being steadfastly focused on the prize of the upward calling, being content and grateful for where God has you today, fearing God with reverence and awe and obeying all His commandments while resting in the blessed hope of glory and eternity to come.

Holiness – our sanctification is the will of God

December 2, 2011 Leave a comment

In our series on holiness it is important to define the key doctrine of sanctification and to understand exactly what this term means and how it relates to our pursuit of holiness. Sanctification is another area the Bible speaks substantially about (over 1000 times in various forms) yet there seems to be limited attention paid to it in our churches. Sanctification’s importance can be seen when comparing it to regeneration; where regeneration for the Christian is birth; sanctification is all about spiritual growth. I will not effort to exhaust this study, but to provide an overview to help us understand the importance and nature of growing in holiness – our sanctification.

1 Thessalonians 4:3
3For this is the will of God, your sanctification:

In the ordinary acceptance of these words, they simply mean that among many other things that God has willed, sanctification is one; it is something in accordance with His will. This thought contains teaching of great value. God very distinctly and definitely has willed your sanctification: your sanctification has its source and certainty in its being God’s will. We are ‘elect in sanctification of the Spirit,’ ‘chosen to be holy;’ the purpose of Gods will from eternity, and His will now, is our sanctification.

Ephesians 1:4
4just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love,

“To be one with God’s will is to be holy. Everything in a life of holiness depends upon our being in the right relationship to the will of God.” (A. Murray)

The design of the Gospel is to teach men not only what they should believe, but also how they should live. It is God’s will that all His should be holy. The Lord calls none into his family to live unholy lives, but that they may be taught and enabled to walk before him in holiness. Some make light of the precepts of holiness, because they hear them from men; but they are God’s commands, and to break them is to despise God.

Let us look at some basic dictionary definitions for context.

“SANCTIFICATION: The act of making holy; the state of being sanctified or made holy. Theologically—The act of God’s grace by which the affections of men are purified or alienated from sin and the world, and exalted to a supreme love of God.” Webster’s Dictionary

SANCTIFY: To make holy or sacred; to consecrate or set apart; … to purify from sin,… SANCTIFICATION: Technically, an operation of the Spirit of God (Rom. 15:16; 2 Thess. 2:13; 1 Pet. 1:2) on those who are already in Jesus, i.e., are united to Him by faith (1 Cor. 1:2), by which they are rendered increasingly holy, dying to sin and living to God, to righteousness, and to holiness (Rom. 6:6, 11, 13, 19; 1 Thess. 5:23; 1 Pet. 2:24). American Dictionary

HOLINESS: “1. Perfect moral integrity or purity; freedom from sin; sanctity, innocence. 2. State of being hallowed or consecrated to God, or His worship. Webster’s Dictionary

The Bible has much to say about this key doctrine. Sanctification occurs in various forms some 300 times in the New Testament and 760 times in the Old Testament for a total of 1060 in the Bible. The basic meaning in all these instances is “to set apart.” It is a lifelong process of growing in grace and spiritual maturity.

If regeneration has to do with our nature, justification with our standing, and adoption with our position, then sanctification has to do with our character and conduct. In justification we are declared righteous in order that, in sanctification, we may become righteous. Justification is what God does for us, while sanctification is what God does in us. Justification puts us into a right relationship with God, while sanctification exhibits the fruit of that relationship—a life separated from a sinful world and dedicated unto God.

The characteristic life pursuit in which the Christian is to live is that of sanctification, separated unto holiness. We cannot forget that the new man has a renewed will. This new will delights in the will of God because it is born of it.

There are three key aspects of sanctification taught in the Bible. The following is a brief review.

1. Instantaneous Sanctification

1 Corinthians 6:11
11And such were some of you. But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.

Hebrews 10:10
10By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Hebrews 10:14
14For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.

By the death of Jesus Christ the sanctification of the believer takes place at once. The very moment a man believes in Christ he is sanctified, that is, in this first sense: he is separated from sin and separated unto God. For this reason all through the New Testament believers are called saints (1 Cor. 1:2, Rom. 1:7). If a man is not a saint he is not a Christian; if he is a Christian he is a saint. We can see that in 1 Cor. 6:11 “sanctified” is put before “justified.” The believer grows in sanctification rather than into sanctification out of something else. By a simple act of faith in Christ the believer is at once put into a state of sanctification. Every Christian is a sanctified man. The same act that ushers him into the state of justification admits him at once into the state of sanctification, in which he is to grow until he reaches the fullness of the measure of the stature of Christ.

2. Progressive Sanctification

Justification differs from sanctification: the former is an instantaneous act with no progression; while the latter is a crisis with a view to a process—an act, which is instantaneous and which at the same time carries with it the idea of growth unto completion.

2 Peter 3:18
18but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.

2 Corinthians 3:18
18But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.

The tense is interesting here: We are being transformed from one degree of character, or glory, to another. It is because sanctification is progressive, a growth, that we are exhorted to “increase and abound” (1 Thess. 3:12), and to “abound more and more” (4:1, 10) in the graces of the Christian life. The fact that there is always danger of being defiled by contact with a sinful world, and that there is, in the life of the true Christian, an ever increasing sense of duty and an ever-deepening consciousness of sin, necessitates a continual growth and development in the graces and virtues of the believer’s life. There is such a thing as “perfecting holiness” (2 Cor. 7:1). God’s gift to the church of pastors and teachers is for the purpose of the perfecting of the saints in the likeness of Christ until, at last, they attain unto the fulness of the divine standard, even Jesus Christ (Eph. 4:11-15). Holiness is not an overnight growth; it is not the thing of an hour here and there; it grows as the coral reef grows: little by little, degree by degree. See also Phil. 3:10-15.

3. Complete and Final Sanctification

1 Thessalonians 5:23
23Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

“Completely” means, perfect in every respect, whether it refers to the Church as a whole, or to the individual believer. Some day the believer is to be complete in all departments of Christian character—no Christian grace will be missing. Complete in the “spirit” which links him with heaven; in the “body” which links him with earth; in the “soul” as being that on which heaven and earth intersect. Maturity in each separate element of Christian character: body, soul, and spirit. This blessing of entire and complete sanctification is to take place when Christ comes:

1 Thessalonians 3:13
13so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.
1 John 3:2
2Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.

Philippians 3:12-14
12Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.
13Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead,
14I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

From the Divine Side: It Is the Work of the Triune God.
a) God the Father

1 Thessalonians 5:23-24
23Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
24He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.

God’s work is here contrasted with human efforts to achieve the preceding injunctions. Just as in Hebrews 12:2, and Philippians 1:6, the Beginner of faith is also the Finisher; so is it here; consequently the end and aim of every exhortation is but to strengthen faith in God who is able to accomplish these things for us. Of course there is a sense in which the believer is responsible for his progress in the Christian life (Phil. 3:12, 13), yet it is nevertheless true that, after all, it is the divine grace which works all in him (Phil. 2:12, 13). We cannot purify ourselves, but we can yield to God and then the purity will come. The “God of peace,” He who reconciles us—is the One who sanctifies us. It is as if the apostle said: “God, by His mighty power will do for you what I, by my admonitions, and you by your own efforts, cannot do.” See also John 17:17—“Sanctify them through thy truth.” Christ addresses God as the One who is to sanctify the disciples.

b) Jesus Christ the Son

Hebrews 10:10
10By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

The death of Jesus Christ separates the believer from sin and the world, and sets him apart as redeemed and dedicated to the service of God. This same truth, namely, the sanctification of the Church as based on the sacrificial death of Christ, is set forth in Eph. 5:25, 27—“Christ loved the church, and gave himself up for it; that he might sanctify it.” Christ is “made unto us… sanctification” (1 Cor. 1:30). See also Heb. 13:12

c) The Holy Spirit Sanctifies

1 Peter 1:2
2elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied.

2 Thessalonians 2:13
13But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth,

The Holy Spirit seals, attests, and confirms the work of grace in the soul by producing the fruits of righteousness. It is the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus who gives us freedom from the law of sin and death (Rom. 8:2). He is called the Holy Spirit, not only because He is absolutely holy Himself, but also because He produces that quality of character in the believer. The Spirit is the executive of the Godhead for this very purpose. It is the Spirit’s work to war against the lusts of the flesh and enable us to bring forth fruit unto holiness (Gal. 5:17-22). How wonderfully this truth is set forth in the contrast between the seventh and eighth chapters of Romans. Note the unsuccessful struggle of the former, and the victory of the latter. Interestingly there is no mention of the Holy Spirit in the seventh chapter of Romans, while He is mentioned about sixteen times in the eighth chapter. Herein lies the secret of failure and victory, sin and holiness.

From the Human Side

a) Faith in the Redemptive Work of Jesus Christ

1 Corinthians 1:30
30But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption—

Christ is indeed all these things to us, but, in reality, He becomes such only as we appropriate Him for ourselves. Only as the believer, daily, even moment by moment, takes by faith the holiness of Jesus, His faith, His patience, His love, His grace, to be his own for the need of that very moment, can Christ, who by His death was made unto him sanctification in the instantaneous sense, become unto him sanctification in the progressive sense—producing in the believer His own life moment by moment. Herein lies the secret of a holy life—the momentary appropriation of Jesus Christ in all the riches of His grace for every need as it arises. The degree of our sanctification is the proportion of our appropriation of Christ. See also Acts 26:18.

b) The Study of the Scriptures and Obedience

John 17:17
17Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth.

Ephesians 5:26
26that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word,

John 15:3
3You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you.

Our sanctification is limited by our limitation in the knowledge of and our lack of obedience to the Word of God. How does the Word of God sanctify? By revealing sin; by awakening conscience; by revealing the character of Christ; by showing the example of Christ; by offering the influences and powers of the Holy Spirit, and by setting forth spiritual motives and ideals. There is no power like that of the Word of God for detaching a man from the world, the flesh and the devil.

c) The Pursuit of Holiness

Hebrews 12:14
14Pursue … holiness, without which no one will see the Lord:

To pursue means to seek out, as Saul of Tarsus pursued and followed the early Christians. One cannot become a saint in his sleep. Holiness must be the object of his pursuit. The lazy man will not be the holy man. Heb. 12:10, 11: God chastens us “for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.” Chastisement often is intended to “produce the peaceable fruit of righteousness.” Rom. 6:19-22; 2 Cor. 6:17; 7:1. Sanctification is brought about in the life of the believer by his separating himself deliberately from all that is unclean and unholy, and by presenting, continually and constantly, the members of his body as holy instruments unto God for the accomplishment of His holy purposes. Thus by these single acts of surrender unto holiness, sanctification soon becomes the habit of the life.

Summary

The Westminster Shorter Catechism says sanctification is “the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.” The concept is not of sin being totally eradicated or merely counteracted, but of a Holy Spirit orchestrated character change freeing us from sinful habits and forming in us Christlike behavior, attitudes, and virtues.

As stated in the introduction regeneration is birth; sanctification is growth. In regeneration, God implants desires that were not there before:

  • desire for God, for holiness, and for the hallowing and glorifying of God’s name in this world;
  • desire to pray, worship, love, serve, honor, and please God;
  • desire to show love and bring benefit to others.

In sanctification, the Holy Spirit “works in you to will and to act” according to God’s purpose; what he does is prompt you to “work out your salvation” (i.e., express it in action) by fulfilling these new desires (Phil. 2:12-13). Christians become increasingly Christlike as the moral profile of Jesus (the “fruit of the Spirit”) is progressively formed in them (2 Cor. 3:18; Gal. 4:19; 5:22-25). As we progress in Christlikeness we are growing in holiness, for He is holy.

A.W. Pink wrote these words as a warning to Christians regarding personal holiness in the early 1900’s which still applies to our current day.

“How many there are today who suppose that if they have trusted in Christ, all is sure to be well with them at the last even though they are not personally holy. Under the pretense of honoring faith, Satan as an angel of light, has deceived and is now deceiving multitudes of souls. When their “faith” is examined and tested, what is it worth? Nothing at all so far as insuring an entrance into heaven is concerned: it is a powerless, lifeless, fruitless thing. The faith of God’s elect is unto “the acknowledging of the truth which is after godliness” (Titus 1:1). It is a faith which purifieth the heart (Acts 15:9), and it grieves over all impurity. It is a faith which produces an unquestioning obedience (Heb. 11:8). They therefore do but delude themselves who suppose they are daily drawing nearer to heaven while they are following those courses which lead only to hell. He who thinks to come to the enjoyment of God without being personally holy, makes Him out to be an unholy God, and puts the highest indignity upon Him. The genuineness of saving faith is only proved as it bears the blossoms of experimental godliness and the fruits of true piety”

Scripture is clear we are to Pursue holiness, without which no one will see the Lord” Heb 12:14 and the decision to purse holiness is our choice for we are to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” Phil 2:12, and gratefully with thanksgiving we are empowered by the power of the Holy Spirit Phil 2:13 in this pursuit. The doctrine of sanctification  has serious and eternal implications for the believer. Given the price Christ paid for our salvation and having separated us out to holiness to become conformed to His image, should not our reasonable pursuit be a life of obedience toward sanctification for it is the “will of God” 1 Thess 4:3?

Romans 8:29
29For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.

May the Spirit of God draw us humbly toward holiness, moment by moment, breath by breath, that Christ might be fully expressed in and through us for the glory of the Father. Amen.

 

Holiness – without it no one will see the Lord

November 16, 2011 1 comment

I am writing this series on holiness because I believe the whole notion of the command in Scripture to pursue holiness and its critical importance to the Christian life is not preached, taught, or emphasized sufficiently, if at all, in our churches today.  The doctrine of holiness and all it entails is one of the most essential and practical in application to the daily life of the believer.  I pray God will use this series in the life of those it touches to enrich and deepen their walk with God.

Hebrews 12:14
Pursue .. holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: 

The writer of Hebrews gives a specific, pointed, and direct command.  Pursue holiness.  The thrust is strait forward – without being holy we will not see the Lord.  This short powerful compelling verse is one that communicates a clear warning while at the same time confidence and hope.   For the Christian it prompts two immediate questions, 1) who is holy? 2) who will see the Lord? Christians would do well to understand and heed this verse, its consequences, and live in obedience to its command. 

So what does this verse mean?  One question that obviously comes to mind is does my salvation depend on my attaining some level of personal holiness?  The short answer is no. Isaiah 64:6 tells us that our righteous deeds are like filthy garments in the light of God’s holy law.  Our best efforts are like filthy rages sowed together with the thread of sin.  Second, Scripture is clear that it is Christ’s righteousness on our behalf which gives us audience before God clothed in righteousness. 

Romans 5:19
19For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.

1 Peter 3:18
18For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring £us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, 

Hebrews 10:10
10By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Based on the above verses we see that our holiness before God depends entirely on the work of Jesus Christ for us, by God’s will.  Now we can ask the question, doesHebrews 12:14refer to this holiness which we have in Christ?  No for the writer of Hebrews says that the holiness referred to here is to be pursued, strived for and without this effort no one will see the Lord.

The Bible then speaks of both a holiness which we have in Christ before God (our positional holiness), and a holiness which we are to strive after (progressive holiness).  These two aspects complement one another, for our salvation is a salvation unto holiness.

1 Thessalonians 4:7
7For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. 

1 Corinthians 1:2
2To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified (made holy) in Christ Jesus, called to be saints (to be holy), Italics mine.

So we are made holy in Christ in our standing before God, and called to be holy in our daily lives.  When the Holy Spirit comes in our lives at salvation, He comes to make us holy in practice.  If there is not, then at least a yearning in our hearts to live a holy life pleasing to God, we need to seriously question whether our faith in Christ is genuine.

This does not mean that when we are saved this desire is a blazing fire for God, but there should be a recognized spark.  But this spark will grow into a flame when God works in your life and places the desire to live a life wholly pleasing to Him in you (Phil 2:13).  We are saved not only from the penalty of sin, but its dominion (its hold on us in our Christian walk).

Bishop J. C. Ryle said, “I doubt, indeed, whether we have any warrant for saying that a man can possibly be converted without being consecrated to God. More consecrated he doubtless can be, and will be as his grace increases; but if he was not consecrated to God in the very day that he was converted and born again, I do not know what conversion means” 

Holiness, then, is not necessary as a condition of salvation – that would be salvation by works – but a part of salvation that is received by faith in Christ. As stated above, this does not mean the desire for holiness must be a conscious desire at the time a person comes to Christ, but rather it means that the Holy Spirit who creates within us saving faith also creates within us the desire for holiness. He simply does not create one without the other.

Titus 2:11-12
11For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, 
12teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, 

God’s nature demands holiness in the life of a Christian. (See prior post on Getting a Grip on God’s Chief Attribute – Holiness).  Holiness is required for fellowship with God.  David asked the question, “Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary?  Who may live on your holy hill?” (Ps 15:1). Essentially this is saying who may live in fellowship with you?  The answer which is summarized in the next four verses is “he who leads a holy life.” 

Prayer is a vital part of our fellowship with God; yet the psalmist said, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened” (Psalm 66:18). To regard wickedness is to cherish some sin, to love it to the extent that I am not willing to part with it. I know it is there, yet I justify it in some way like the child who says,” Well, he hit me first:’ when we are holding on to some sin, we are not pursuing holiness and we cannot have fellowship with God.” Jerry Bridges

God does not require a perfect, sinless life to have fellowship with Him, but He does require that we be serious about holiness, that we grieve over sin in our lives instead of justifying it, and that we earnestly pursue holiness as a way of life.

Holiness is also required for our own well-being. Scripture says, “The Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son” (Hebrews 12:6). He disciplines us because we need discipline. To persist in disobedience is to increase our necessity for discipline. Some of the Corinthian Christians persisted in disobedience to the point where God had to take their lives (1 Corinthians 11:30).

When God speaks to us about some sin we need to listen and take action.  To fail to deal with that sin is to risk incurring His hand of discipline.  Peter said, “Live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear” (1 Peter 1:17). God is serious about holiness in the lives of His people, and He will discipline us to attain it.

Holiness is also necessary for effective service to God. Paul wrote to Timothy, “If a man cleanses himself from [ignoble purposes], he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work” (2 Timothy 2:21). Holiness and usefulness are linked together. We cannot bring our service to God in an unclean vessel. The One who makes our service effective and who empowers us for service is the Holy Spirit. Note well that He is called the Holy Spirit, or the Spirit of Holiness. When we indulge our sinful natures and dwell in unholiness, the Spirit of God is grieved (Ephesians 4:30) and will not prosper our service. These are not times when we fall into temptation and immediately seek God’s forgiveness and cleansing, but lives that are characterized by unholy living.

Holiness also is necessary for our assurance of salvation -not at the moment of salvation, but over the course of our lives. True faith will always show itself by its fruits. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17).  James tells us that “for the body without the spirit is death, so faith without works is dead also.” (James 2:26) Is there evidence in your life that you are a new creation – a changed life which is growing to become more like Christ? 

The only clear evidence that we are in Christ is a holy life.  John said everyone who has within him the hope of eternal life purifies himself just as Christ is pure (1John 3:3). Paul said,”Those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God” (Romans 8:14). If we know nothing of holiness, we may flatter ourselves that we are Christians but we do not have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us. J. C. Ryle helps us see the many false perceptions of what being holy means.

So what sort of persons are those whom God calls holy. A man may go great lengths, and yet never reach true holiness. It is not knowledge–Balaam had that: nor great profession–Judas Iscariot had that: nor doing many things–Herod had that: nor zeal for certain matters in religion–Jehu had that: nor morality and outward respectability of conduct–the young ruler had that: nor taking pleasure in hearing preachers–the Jews in Ezekiel’s time had that: nor keeping company with godly people–Joab and Gehazi and Demas had that. Yet none of these was holy! These things alone are not holiness. A man may have any one of them, and yet never see the Lord.  J.C. Ryle

Everyone, then, who professes to be a Christian should ask himself, “Is there evidence of practical holiness in my life? Do I desire and strive after holiness? Do I grieve over my lack of it and earnestly seek the help of God to be holy?” It is not those who profess to know Christ who will enter heaven, but those whose lives are holy. Even those who do “great Christian works” will not enter heaven unless they also do the will of God.  Jesus said,

Matthew 7:21-23
21“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 
22Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 
23And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

From the above we know what holiness isn’t and its consequences, but what might some of the characteristics be of someone who is earnestly pursing holiness?   How can we have confidence when we stand before Jesus that He says well done good and faithful servant?  In the end the key determinate is a genuinely changed life, a new creation, a life well lived in the pursuit of holiness.  The following is a short list of how you might know you are pursing holiness.

You know you are pursing holiness when you……

  • turn away from every known sin and endeavor to keep all God’s commands (Rom. 7:22;Ps 119:128)
  • have a willingness to submit and surrender all to the Lordship of  Jesus Christ (Luke 14:27, 33)
  • strive earnestly to be Christ-like (Rom. 8:29)
  • exhibit the fruits of the Spirit, manage your tongue and bear, forbear, overlook much (Gal. 5:22-23)
  • are of one mind with Christ loving and hating what He loves and hates (Phil 2:5)
  • follow after humility and desire to esteem others better than yourself (Phil. 2:3-4)
  • follow after a spirit of mercy and benevolence toward others continually trying to do good (Rom 8:8)
  • follow after purity of heart, self-denial, avoiding all things that draw away from God (1 Cor. 9:27)
  • have a Holy Spirit compelled desire to seek and know God (Ps 25:4, 27:11;Jer. 31:34)
  • endeavor to walk by the Spirit and not by the flesh (Gal 5:16)
  • have a fear and reverence for God wishing to please Him in every aspect of your life (Eccl. 12:13;1 Peter 1:17)
  • crave time with God in prayer and Bible study (1 Peter 2:2;Joshua 1:9)

Life is a continual warfare with sin, the world and the devil.  It is a relentless battle that only by the power of the Holy Spirit can we progress from faith to faith (Romans 1:17), glory to glory (2 Cor. 3:18), and strength to strength (Ps 84:7) in our pursuit of holiness.  This is a never ending journey.  We don’t arrive.  We progress to deeper and deeper levels of experiencing God and living a life increasingly consecrated to Him until He receives us into glory where we are then fully perfected. 

God is forever shaping our character as we live a life in pursuit of holiness.    There will be times of trial, temptation, chastisement, and troubles, but a lifetime of blessings and hope as God gives us the privilege of experiencing His grace and mercy, and allows our unworthy lives to be used to bring honor and glory to Him.

In summary, why is the pursuit of holiness so important?  

First the pursuit of holiness is commanded. 

Scripture is clear it is God’s will our sanctification and we are to be holy for He is holy. 

1 Thessalonians 4:3
3For this is the will of God, your sanctification:

1 Thessalonians 4:7
7For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. 

1 Peter 1:15-16
15but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, 
16because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” 

These are commands to be obeyed, they are not optional.  Obedience to pursue holiness and all commands in Scripture is based on our love relationship with Christ (John 14:15, 21, 23; 15:14).  Yes, it would be difficult to find any words more clear on our motivation to obey than those spoken by Christ – “if you love me you will obey my commandments” (John 14:15).  Our pursuit of holiness is God’s will, we are called to be holy, and we are compelled to obey these commands by our love for Christ. 

Second, it is the only sound evidence that we have a saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

We are exhorted to examine ourselves as to whether we are in the faith.  God was gracious to give us through John the Apostle the First Epistle of John which was written that Christians might know they have eternal life.  Throughout this epistle a life of holiness is exemplified by obedience to God’s commands.  Take some time and review again these pages of affirmation as you pursue a life of holiness.

 2 Corinthians 13:5
5Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified. 

1 John 5:13
13These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.

We also must show in our lives the family we belong; that we are members of the family of God, children of the Holy One.  The Spirit of God bears witness with our spirit that we are His children.  In the end true saving faith will always show itself by its fruits; it will sanctify, it will work by love, it will purify the heart and give life. 

Romans 8:14
14For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. 

Romans 8:16
16The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 

James 2:17
17Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

Romans 8:10
10And if Christ is in you, the body is dead because of sin, but the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 

Third Christ gave Himself that we might be a church and people presented holy.

Ephesians 5:25-26
25Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, 
26that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, 

Titus 2:14
14who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.

The notion talking of men being saved from the guilt of sin, without being at the same time saved from its dominion in their hearts, is to contradict the witness of all Scripture. Are believers said to be elect!–it is “through sanctification of the Spirit.” Are they predestinated?–it is “to be conformed to the image of God’s Son.” Are they chosen?–it is “that they may be holy.” Are they called?–is it “with a holy calling.” Are they afflicted?–it is that they may be “partakers of holiness.” Jesus is a complete Savior. He does not merely take away the guilt of a believer’s sin, He does more–He breaks its power and its dominion.

1 Peter 1:2
2elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied.

Romans 8:29
29For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren. 

Ephesians 1:4
4just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, 

Hebrews 12:10
10For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. 

As believers we must ask ourselves if we are living our lives in obedience to the command to pursue holiness.   Am I obeying God’s will to give my life fully over to sanctification, being set apart to holiness?  Do I have a yearning to grow deeper in my relationship with God?  If I compared my life today with my life the day I was saved, is there a discernible difference – is my life truly changed – more holy?

You cannot be justified and not be sanctified and you cannot be sanctified without being justified.  They are inseparable, one is never found without the other.  

Just as Jesus’ half brother James proclaimed – “faith without works is dead”. We should not look to tell others of our salvation unless we have also some marks of sanctification. We should not boast of Christ’s work for us, unless we can show others the Spirit’s work in us.  May we keep the key verse of this article continually before us: ” Pursue .. holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.”  (Heb 12:14)

May your walk with God be ever growing in holiness for His honor and glory Amen.

Author Note:  This series draws heavily on the devotional writings of many great men of God including:  Holy in Christ, Andrew Murray; Bible Holiness, E.P. Ellyson; Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots J. C. Ryle; The Pursuit of Holiness, Jerry Bridges; The Way of Holiness, S. Olford; Holiness, H. Blackaby.    I have learned much and feel a great debt of gratitude to these devoted men of God.

Moments of Decision – How to Control Your Thought Life

November 12, 2011 Leave a comment

In my experiences mentoring men and families one of the most common areas that seems to always surface is their thought life.   Questions often come from recurring thoughts about their past life before becoming a Christian and how/why this continues to happen now that they are following the Lord?  Men in particular are concerned about lust in their thoughts which they want to deny entry but continue to reoccur.  Women have great memories which can easily resurrect prior relationships and result in improper or impure thoughts.  These thought life situations are all too common, among others many other examples, and often produce guilt and helplessness on what to do about them.  The following article is an attempt to shed some light on this pervasive issue.  An issue that is difficult but not impossible to master.  It is a choice.  A moment of decision.

Why did I think that?  Where did that thought come from?  Why am I constantly thinking about that?  How do I stop these thoughts from coming into my mind? These nagging questions, to one degree or another, seem to confront us more frequently than we care to admit.   For the Christian these questions can often result in discouragement, doubt, lead to a wide range of sin and wage a constant battle for our thought life.  The following are some notable quotes on this pervasive and constant challenge before every Christian.

“Guard your thoughts, and there will be little fear about your actions.” ~ J.C. Ryle

“Our minds are mental greenhouses where unlawful thoughts, once planted, are nurtured and watered before being transplanted into the real world of unlawful actions… These actions are savored in the mind long before they are enjoyed in reality. The thought life, then, is our first line of defense in the battle of self-control.”  Jerry Bridges

“No matter where it ends, sin always begins when an evil thought is sown in the mind and heart.”  John MacArthur

“Great illnesses seldom attack the body, without a previous train of premonitory symptoms. Great falls seldom happen to a saint, without a previous course of secret backsliding. The church and the world are sometimes shocked by the sudden misconduct of some great professor of religion. Believers are discouraged and stumbled by it. The enemies of God rejoice and blaspheme. But if the truth could be known, the explanation of such cases would generally be found to have been private departure from God. Men fall in private, long before they fall in public. The tree falls with a great crash, but the secret decay which accounts for it, is often not discovered until it is down on the ground.”  J.C. Ryle  Commentary, Matthew 26

“Imagination is a God-given gift; but if it is fed dirt by the eye, it will be dirty. All sin, not least sexual sin, begins with the imagination. Therefore what feeds the imagination is of maximum importance in the pursuit of kingdom righteousness (Phil. 4:8)”. D.A. Carson

We must be reminded that the Bible teaches the heart is deceitful and desperately wicked (Jer. 17:9) and Jesus also taught that out of the heart precede evil thoughts (Matt. 15:19) so we should not be surprised at the rate, scope and nature of thoughts that might enter our minds.  Further we also have an enemy, Satan and his demons that are all too helpful in taking over our thought life if we allow. Consequently, it is critical that we proactively guard our minds from evil thoughts entering and if they enter we need to know how to quickly overcome before they take root.  This is an area where the proverbial ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure aptly applies.

The battle of the Christian walk is in the heart and mind, the thought life, both organs of the soul.  When you became a Christian you were immediately justified and positionally sanctified but you were also called to begin the life long process of progressive sanctification (separated unto holiness) which is the will of God (1Thess. 4:3) where you grow to become more like Christ (Eph 4:13;Romans 8:29; 2Cor. 3:18).  This process continues until the return of Christ when we will be changed to be like Him (1John 3:2) and with this hope comes our call to pursue holiness (1John 3:3;Heb. 12:14). 

It is critical then that we keep our hearts with all diligence for out of our hearts spring all the issues of life (Prov. 4:23).  The content of the Christian’s heart and mind and resulting thought life is to be zealously protected as we earnestly pursue holiness.  The following verses (italics my emphasis) highlight the importance of the mind’s (thought life) role in our ability to grow in holiness.

Romans 12:2
2And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

Ephesians 4:17-24
17This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, 
18having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart
19who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.
20But you have not so learned Christ, 
21if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: 
22that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, 
23and be renewed in the spirit of your mind,
 
24and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.

1 Peter 1:13-16
13Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 
14as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; 
15but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct

From the above verses we are clearly called into a continuing process of renewing our minds moving from the old ways of the flesh before we were saved to the new man walking in the Spirit after we are saved. 

So now we know that our hearts and minds are the source of our thought lives.  We also know the critical importance for the renewal and protection of our thought life as we pursue holiness in obedience to God’s command that we be holy; but how do I do this?  While much can be said, in this article I will briefly summarize some key actions we can take to protect and control our thought life.

First, it is imperative that we read and study the Bible. 

When we read and study the bible we are replacing those old thoughts before we were saved, planted by Satan, with God’s thoughts.  The only way you can be sure that the thought you are thinking is of God and not Satan is to know the Word of God.  We also need to be able to discern “good from evil” and allow the Bible to speak to us about the true intents of our hearts.  Without this foundation it will not be possible to proactively manage and control your thought life. 

Hebrews 5:13
14But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

Hebrews 4:12-13
12For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 

Second, we need to consciously walk in the Spirit.  

Galatians 5:16
16I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 

Not to walk in the Spirit is to open ourselves up to all the lusts of the flesh (Gal 5:19-21).  Paul then outlines for us the fruits of the Spirit which Christ perfectly lived as an example for us to follow (Gal 5:22-23).  Therefore living and walking in the Spirit, an indispensable component to controlling our thought life.

Third, we should guard our hearts and minds by focusing on what is good and praiseworthy.

Philippians 4:7-8
7and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
8Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. 

Often the best approach to dealing with anxious or evil thoughts is to reorient and focus on those things which are positive, good, and praiseworthy.  Paul in his epistle of joy gives great encouragement as we overcome anxiety – giving it over to prayer and thanksgiving while channeling our thoughts toward anything that is praiseworthy.

Fourth, we need to guard against giving Satan access to our minds.

From Scripture it is evident that Satan is alive and well desiring to devour those He can.  Those that allow him to have a foothold in their lives do so by not being vigilant and sober minded.   Our ability to resist the devil is directly related to our being steadfast in our faith and having a dynamic and growing walk with God.  This is a spiritual war that is being waged for our minds and only by the Spirit of God can we resist.   This is a battle all believers experience – none are exempt from this fight.

1 Peter 5:8-9
8Be sober, be vigilant; £because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. 
9Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world. 

James 4:7
7Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 

Scripture also tells us that the times are evil and we are to walk uprightly redeeming the time.  How do we do this?  By being wise and understanding what the will of the Lord is.  How do we do this?  We need to have a thorough intimate knowledge of God’s Word.  Our minds should be immersed in the Word otherwise idle minds are the devil’s workshop.  We need to constantly be active not passive in our walk with God always endeavoring to be obedient, growing in our knowledge of God, and actively engaged in doing His will.

Ephesians 5:15-17
15See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, 
16redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
17Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 

So briefly how do demonic forces attach themselves to us?   I believe the following analogy may be helpful in understanding how this works.

Satan has no power over us except the power we give him. Think of the mind as the United States and all fifty territorial states. Satan’s goal is to take and steal every one of these territories. He does it by taking one state at a time. How does he do this? When he implants in our minds a thought that is contrary to God’s Word and God’s revealed will to us by the Holy Spirit confirmed through the Word, when we decide to surrender to that thought and act upon it, then and only then is Satan able to attach Himself to us in that piece of territory of our mind. This is why the Bible tells us that our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but spiritual forces. Once we act upon that thought and the evil spiritual force which put it there then attaches itself to us, we then are under bondage to that idea and find ourselves not able to say no to the thought any longer even if we want to.

What is the solution once a thought gets attached to our minds? We must retake back that piece of territory Satan has stolen from us. Unfortunately once we have surrendered it, Satan does not want to give it back, and so begins the spiritual battle. How do we regain that area of our minds?  First, by confessing the sin to God.  Second, by repenting of the sin, by resurrendering that area of our lives to Jesus: “Jesus, I will to resubmit this area of my life to you and to obey Your will in this area of my life.” Third, remove from your life whatever is associated with the sin, whatever tempts you and causes you to fall to the sin.  Paul wrote in Romans 13:14 “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.”  If the flesh has opportunity, it will sin, so you must remove the object of temptation if you are to go on and have victory over the sin repented of.

Watchman Nee in his book The Spiritual Man outlines five ways we give control of our minds to Satan:

First, by not daily meditating on God’s word.

Second, by deliberately considering and living out sin in one’s mind.

Third, through willful ignorance of God’s truth’s and moral absolutes.

Fourth, by accepting any suggestion in the mind as if from God without questioning or checking to see if it lines up with God’s Word or past light of God.

Fifth, by deliberately blanking one’s mind so as to receive suggestions from evil spirits.

Do you find any of these areas contributing to your ability to control the purity of your thought life?  These are fairly self explanatory but offer a good guide for things to do and not do if we are going to resist the devil and take control of our thought lives. 

The control of our thought life is difficult

The mastery of our thought life is difficult, but then everything that seeks to honor God and counter the flesh, Satan, and the world is difficult.  The difficulty of controlling our thought life rests in the deep recesses of our heart and mind.  Our thought life is totally hidden.  It is impenetrable by even those closest to us.  Our thoughts have no immediate social impact. A person may have bitter thoughts of you yet meet you with a smile on their face.  An employee may despise their boss, yet outwardly be a model of obedience.  A person may have deep lustful thoughts as they sit at lunch in the school cafeteria, yet seem innocent without any emotional attachment. 

Yes our thought life is unlike other areas we seek to master such as our speech, behavioral issues, physical addictions, etc.  Our thought life is an area which is so private we believe that no one will ever know.  This way of thinking is of course of the devil given the Lord knows our heart and all of our thoughts (Ps 94:11; 1Cor 3:20;Matt 15:19).   Consequently, without appropriate prevention and correction, a Christian’s thought life can often result in debilitating feelings of guilt, depression, hopelessness, and a continuing spiral into ever deepening sinful behavior.  It is this secrecy, this surrounding darkness that has led men to say that thought is free without consequence, and that makes the mastery of thought so difficult.

The mastery of thought is within the power of every Christian

The thought life is a matter of the will.  It is a choice, a moment by moment decision, as are all other disciplines of the Christian life which lead to a life of holiness.  It is within the will and power of Christians to master their thought lives.  The following is a short summary list of some ways to help master the thought life.

  • If we will but surrender our lives to the mind of Christ (Phil 2:5). 
  • Choose to walk in the Spirit versus the flesh empowered by the Spirit of God (Gal 5:16). 
  • Choose to decrease and Christ increase in our lives to where He is overflowing where no ungodly thought has place of entry (John 3:30). 
  • Develop a solid pattern of Bible study, prayer, and Scripture meditation keeping your mind active and focused on godly pursuits (Ps 119:11)
  • Do not trust yourself to prevent entry of ungodly thoughts into your mind – trust in God, acknowledge Him and lean not on your own understanding – fear the Lord and depart from evil (Proverbs 3:5-8)
  • Do not allow idle time to give Satan access to your mind – those who are in the flesh cannot please God (Rom 8:6-8)
  • Do all you can to think pure thoughts as any unscriptural thought works to penetrate the heart and mind  (Phil 4:9)

In the end you must fill your being so full of higher interests that when the devil comes and clamors for admission, he will find there is not a chair for him to sit on. Above all, you must endeavor daily to walk in a closer fellowship with Christ. It is always easier to have lovely thoughts when walking with the Altogether Lovely One. (Morrison)

Prayer: 

Philippians 4:8-9
8Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. 
9The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.

Lord I know what I put in my mind determines what comes out in my words and actions. By your Spirit may my mind only have thoughts which are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy. Examine my life and convict my spirit if there are any areas of my life such as people, television, internet, books, conversations, movies, and magazines corrupting my thought life. I pray Lord that you would replace harmful input with wholesome material. Above all, Lord would you place in my heart the desire to read your Word and pray without ceasing empowering me toward a pure thought life.   And where the enemy has captured my thought life I pray for release of that territory by the name and blood of Jesus.  Amen.