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Posted 9/18/14 at 9:33 AM | Tim Challies

You Need the Power of the Holy Spirit!

Book cover for Overcoming Sin and Temptation

We are sinful people. We are sinful, forgiven people, who long to live in a way that pleases God. And there are few better tools for battling and overcoming sin than a close reading and application of John Owen’s classic work Overcoming Sin and Temptation. I have been reading through the book and came this week to a chapter on the critical importance of the Holy Spirit.

Owen’s purpose in this chapter is both simple and clear: He wants his reader to know that sin is put to death only by the power of the Holy Spirit. There may be other ways we suppress sinful behavior, but true mortification always depends upon the Holy Spirit.

Here is a brief outline of his argument:

  1. Other remedies are sought in vain
    1. Because they use means God has not appointed for the work
    2. Because they do not properly use the means God actually has appointed for the work
  2. Why mortification is the work of the Spirit
    1. God promises us that Spirit for this very purpose
    2. All mortification is from the gift of Christ, and all the gifts of Christ are communicated to us and given us by the Spirit of Christ
  3. How the Spirit mortifies sin
    1. By causing our hearts to abound in grace and the fruits that are contrary to the flesh
    2. By a real physical efficiency on the root and habit of sin
    3. By bringing the cross of Christ into the heart of a sinner by faith
  4. If the Spirit alone mortifies sin, why are we are exhorted to put sin to death?
    1. Because all graces and good works which are in us are his
    2. Becase it is still an act of our obedience

Those who read the chapter with me will have seen that much of what Owen writes here is meant to oppose Roman Catholicism, the chief enemy of true faith in his day. But the main points of the chapter remain easily applicable. While I may not be Catholic, I still feel the temptation to allow my man-centered desires to interfere with God’s gracious work. Maybe this is what Owen means when he writes of “the natural popery in man.” I may not wear rough garments or take vows and orders as an attempt to destroy sin, but I may still look to myself and my homespun remedies rather than to God and his remedies. Just as Catholicism has invented ways of putting sin to death, I may also invent ways and means, and find them just as powerless to bring about true and lasting change. FULL POST

Posted 9/16/14 at 9:39 AM | Tim Challies

Built on a Single Behavior

Photo: Flickr/winnifredxoxo - Creative Commons

I have found that for short stretches of time I can convince myself that I am being faithful to God if I define faithfulness in terms of only one behavior.” That is an insight from Nate Larkin, author of Samson and the Pirate Monks, and I think he is on to something. We all have a desire to be seen as good and faithful and righteous, yet we cannot deny that we are bad and unfaithful and unrighteous. We are neither who nor what we want to be.

Our lack of faithfulness leaves us in a predicament. Either we deal with it by crying out to One who can forgive and redeem us, or we define-down faithfulness to a standard that is manageable. We choose a behavior we are good at, or perhaps a behavior that addresses a major source of guilt in life, and we define faithfulness to God in that narrow way. As long as we do that thing, or as long as we succumb to its opposite, we are convinced that we remain in God’s graces, that he is pleased with us. FULL POST

Posted 9/15/14 at 9:17 AM | Tim Challies

A Failure of Worship

Photo: Pixabay - Public Domain

I find addiction, and the bondage of addiction, to be very difficult to understand. It seems like overcoming addiction should be so simple, and especially for the Christian: Instead of doing that thing, how about next time you just don’t do that thing? Instead of opening that bottle, keep it closed. Instead of buying those pills, buy some groceries. Instead of typing in that web site, type in a different web site. Instead of walking through the doors of the casino, choose not to even go near the casino. If only it was so simple.

To treat addiction so simply is to misunderstand its very nature. I said recently that Kent Dunnington’s Addiction and Virtue is easily one of the most fascinating books I have read recently, and in that book he tells us why addiction is far more than making bad choices instead of good choices. Addicts are not simply satisfying a need or following habits, though they are doing those things as well. Addicts are actually seeking the good life, and are convinced it can be found in and through the addiction. Dunnington says it this way: FULL POST

Posted 9/14/14 at 9:43 AM | Tim Challies

Faith Hacking: Preaching the Gospel to Yourself

I love to find and share practical methods or techniques for living the Christian life—ways other Christians live out their Christian faith day-by-day. As I speak with people, as I read books, as I listen to sermons, I am always looking for these tips which I call “faith hacks.” I am going to share another one with you today. It comes from Jerry Bridges and deals with the important disciplines of preaching the gospel to yourself.

Bridges has written in several of his books about the importance of the daily practice of preaching the gospel to yourself. In The Discipline of Grace he writes, “When you set yourself to seriously pursue holiness, you will begin to realize what an awful sinner you are. And if you are not firmly rooted in the gospel and have not learned to preach it to yourself every day, you will soon become discouraged and will slack off in your pursuit of holiness.” He also gives an overview of the practice: “To preach the gospel to yourself, then, means that you continually face up to your own sinfulness and then flee to Jesus through faith in His shed blood and righteous life. It means that you appropriate, again by faith, the fact that Jesus fully satisfied the law of God, that He is your propitiation, and that God’s holy wrath is no longer directed toward you.” FULL POST

Posted 9/12/14 at 8:39 AM | Tim Challies

Why Curious People Don't Get Bored

Photo: Pixabay - Public Domain

There were two weeks left in summer vacation. For another two weeks, the kids would be off school and out of class. For another two weeks they would experience the freedom they long for through ten months of every year. For another two weeks they would be dead bored.

I remember my summer vacations fondly. I remember them as times I roamed free and spent all day every day with childhood friends. We wandered woods, and drifted down streams, and discovered the world around us. And, of course, there were the vacations, mostly spent at a cottage four or five hours from home—close enough to be accessible, but far enough to be a vacation.

But, realistically, I know I must have spent a lot of my summer moping around and whining to my mother, “I’m bored.” Parents try to help their kids through the summer, to keep them entertained. But most parents don’t, and just plain can’t, keep up the excitement for two full months. FULL POST

Posted 9/11/14 at 8:23 AM | Tim Challies

Christian, Do You Make It Your Daily Work?

If you read what I’ve written here today, it will deepen your hatred for sin and spark your love for holiness. At least, I think it will. All I’ve done is summarize chapter two of John Owen’s classic Overcoming Sin and Temptation, a book that has been precious to generations of Christians as they have battled sin and pursued holiness. Read on!

Here is Owen’s thesis for the chapter: “The choicest believers, who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it their business all their days to mortify [“kill” or “put to death”] the indwelling power of sin.” In other words, Christians battle sin and put it to death. They battle sin every day until the day they die. They never stop. They never let up.

And so Owen asks you:

“Do you mortify?
Do you make it your daily work?
Be always at it while you live.
Cease not a day from this work.
Be killing sin or it will be killing you.” FULL POST

Posted 9/10/14 at 9:17 AM | Tim Challies

If Only You Knew What I Know

I think it may be the Calvinist in me, or maybe it’s the inner bibliophile, but for some reason I’m quietly convinced there is no problem that can’t be solved with a few facts. If only you knew what I know, you’d change your behavior. If you would read what I’ve read, if you would listen to what I’ve listened to, you would see the impropriety of what you’re doing, and you’d stop doing it. Virtue is just a few simple facts away.

If only it were so simple.

I am a problem-solver, and my default means of solving problems is through information—I am quick to distribute books, and quick to recommend sermons or conference talks. Struggling? Read this. Looking for life-change? Try these conference talks. I apply the fix to myself, and I apply the fix to others.

None of those things are bad, and none of those things are wrong. Conferences and sermons and books can be life-changing. But they often represent the easy way out. And they often represent the less effective way.

Book cover of Addiction and Virtue

I was thinking about these things already when I got punched in the head by words from Kent Dunnington, author of the wonderful book Addiction and Virtue. Dunnington provides a long, dense, philosophical, and powerful argument that addiction is really a kind of habit. He is convinced that the Bible and the Christian faith offer a robust understanding of this kind of habit, and that the gospel offers the best hope for overcoming it. But even as he argues this, he has to grapple with the reality that when it comes to addiction, 12-step programs are often far more effective than anything the church offers. And, of course, he has to ask why this is. FULL POST

Posted 9/9/14 at 9:22 AM | Tim Challies

5 Things You Must Do to Protect Yourself Online

Photo: Pixabay/geralt - Public Domain

A couple of years ago an unknown person hacked my GMail account. I had been lazy, I had used a low-quality, low-security password, and I paid the price. Within seconds the person had changed my password, locked me out, and deleted all my archived email. I tried everything I could to attract the attention of Google’s support team, but to no avail. It was only when I asked for help from my Twitter followers that I regained access to the account. In other words, if I didn’t have so many Twitter followers, I would have permanently lost my account.

This event and a hundred headlines convinced me of the need for better security. Recent news stories have once again shown the importance of properly securing accounts, apps and services behind best practices. Here are 5 steps you need to take to protect yourself online. FULL POST

Posted 9/8/14 at 9:13 AM | Tim Challies

On Nude Celebrities, Virtual Voyeurs, and Willing Victims

Photo: Flickr/Jackie - Creative Commons
Cat covers its eyes.

I am sure you have heard by now that a group of hackers invaded the private accounts of a list of celebrities, found their photographs, and released them to the public. The celebrities were young women, the photographs were nude or semi-nude, and the shots were meant to remain private. The end result is that millions of people have now seen and enjoyed revealing photographs that were intended only for these women and their most intimate acquaintances.

We could talk about the folly of taking nude photographs, and the inappropriateness of such moments shared between two people who are not married (which, I assume, is the context of most or all of the photographs). But I think such a focus would be to miss out on more important matters.

When I read this story I felt a deep sadness for these young women. These women are victims, and they are victims several times over. FULL POST

Posted 9/7/14 at 9:04 AM | Tim Challies

Faith Hacking: Getting Better at Meditation

The Bible
Photo: Flickr/George Bannister - Creative Commons

Today I’d like to do a little “faith hacking”—to find and share one of those practical methods or techniques for living the Christian life. As I read, as I listen to sermons, as I speak to people, I am always looking for insights on how other Christians live out their faith in practical ways, and today I want to tell you about one great suggestion for improving the way you meditate on Scripture.

If you are like me, you find meditation a difficult practice. You like the idea of it, but find the reality difficult to carry out. In my mind, “meditation” seems like an ethereal term, one that contains a good idea but without any clear structure. I struggle with it.

In his book Simplify Your Spiritual Life, Donald Whitney says, “When meditating on a verse of Scripture, it’s usually much easier to answer specific questions about it than to think about the text without any guidance or direction at all.” Which, I think, pretty much explains my frustration. He describes meditating on Philippians 4:8 and realizing that the verse offers helpful directions for the kinds of things he could meditate on for any passage in the whole Bible. FULL POST

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