The more I’m in awe of God, the clearer I can see the big picture as God sees it. Confronted with the beauty and holiness of God, I’m more aware of the awfulness of sin and I’m more likely to despise it. When I’m continually overwhelmed by God’s glory, I recognize that I’m living for something bigger than myself. I see that sin steals more than I could ever imagine and that God’s promises are better than I could ever comprehend.
I opened the fridge and immediately noticed it. There, in all it’s glory, sat the leftover piece of chocolate cake. It called out to me like the ocean calls out to Moana. My mouth began to water as I immediately imagined indulging in its sweetness. The moist cake topped with the proper ratio of chocolate icing was simply too perfect to say ‘no’ to.
But then I remembered I wasn’t eating sugar.
Compelled by health and training goals, I had previously decided to part ways with those sweet, white grains of deliciousness. Sugar makes everything taste better and shows up everywhere, but I decided to cut it out of my diet for a time.
But, the chocolate cake still called out to me.
There was a war going on in my heart. Two competing desires battling within me. Do I ditch the diet and enjoy the cake? Or, do I resist its calls and carry on toward my goals?
In this case, unlike others, I resisted the urge to indulge in the savory sweetness and stuck to my diet. I had worked hard toward my goals and didn’t want to hinder such progress for a moment of pleasure. It wasn’t merely discipline that helped me say no, it was a greater desire and a more compelling goal.
Fighting Desire with Desire
When Christians think of fighting sin, we usually imagine strict self-discipline and saying ‘no’ to wrong desires. Certainly, self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit and a means of helping us fight our sin. But, what if we had another tool given to us by the Spirit to help us overcome?
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By R.C. Sproul — 9 months ago
Written by R.C. Sproul |
Wednesday, March 2, 2022
The assurance we need the most is the assurance of salvation. Though we are loathe to think much about it or contemplate it deeply, we know if only intuitively that the worst catastrophe that could ever befall us is to be visited by God’s final punitive wrath.
We are fragile mortals, given to fears of every sort. We have a built-in insecurity that no amount of whistling in the dark can mollify. We seek assurance concerning the things that frighten us the most.
The prohibition uttered more frequently than any other by our Lord is the command, “Fear not.” He said this so often to His disciples and others He encountered that it almost came to sound like a greeting. Where most people greet others by saying “Hi” or “Hello,” the first words of Jesus very often were “Fear not.”
Why? Perhaps Jesus’ predilection for those words grew out of His acute sense of the thinly veiled fear that grips all who approach the living God. We fear His power, we fear His wrath, and most of all we fear His ultimate rejection.
The assurance we need the most is the assurance of salvation. Though we are loathe to think much about it or contemplate it deeply, we know if only intuitively that the worst catastrophe that could ever befall us is to be visited by God’s final punitive wrath. Our insecurity is worsened by the certainty that we deserve it.
Many believe that assurance of eternal salvation is neither possible nor even to be sought. To claim such assurance is considered a mask of supreme arrogance, the nadir of self-conceit.
Yet, if God declares that it is possible to have full assurance of salvation and even commands that we seek after it, then it would be supremely arrogant for one to deny or neglect it.
In fact, God does command us to make our election and calling sure: “Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall” (2 Peter 1:10).
This command admits of no justifiable neglect. It addresses a crucial matter. The question, “Am I saved?” is one of the most important questions I can ever ask myself. I need to know the answer; I must know the answer. This is not a trifle. Without the assurance of salvation the Christian life is unstable. It is vulnerable to the debilitating rigors of mood changes and allows the wolf of heresy to camp on the doorstep. Progress in sanctification requires a firm foundation in faith. Assurance is the cement of that foundation. Without it, the foundation crumbles.
By Christine Black — 4 months ago
I may not have visited previously but, during the shutdowns, I enjoyed the large air-conditioned sanctuary, filled with people of all ages in their Sunday clothes, singing, praying, listening, smiling, and visiting with their faces unobscured. At Easter, large groups gathered joyfully and at ease at catered potlucks when most mainstream churches required masks indoors, “distanced,” and did not share food. I am not sure how we are going to find our way from this terrible and strange period, with so much confusion and division, harm and loss, but perhaps sharing stories of our experiences may help us grow in strength and wisdom. I am grateful for the many outsiders, who have saved my heart and my health and continue to during this unprecedented time.
For most of my adult life, groups have strengthened my well-being – church services, singing groups, women’s groups, writing classes, book discussions, drum circles, support groups. When times were especially hard, I attended two religious services on Sundays – my beloved Quaker Meeting in the morning, often with my two children when they were growing up, and then an Episcopal service Sunday evenings at 5:30 PM with Holy Communion.
One could always show up at church, maybe on a Wednesday night or a Sunday morning or evening. In mid-March 2020, all that ended suddenly in total shutdowns as though a zombie apocalypse descended, as I imagined from the books my sons read in their adolescence.
I didn’t have cable TV so I did not get the constant stream of messages, but I had the Internet and Facebook and my partner, now husband, had cable, so I saw the messages occasionally. We had to stay home to prevent the spread of a deadly disease, said commentators on TV. We had to do this to keep the hospitals from being “overwhelmed.” And yet, the medium-sized ER department down the street from my house never had more than four to ten cars in the lot for two and half years. Schools were shut down, and students and teachers sent home. Something very strange was happening.
With measures so severe, I expected we would see more visible tragedy around us – for example, news of a close neighbor losing two family members to Covid, including their primary breadwinner, and they needed people to bring food, help with rides, and childcare. We may have received email messages from church pastors, saying that several church members died suddenly of Covid and needed meals and money, visits and yardwork.
I have usually been on such lists and usually signed up to help. We might have gotten calls from multiple family members or friends, across the county, reporting relatives dying from Covid. When I worked with Iraqi refugees living in the US through the International Rescue Committee (IRC), my new Iraqi friend had lost her husband and her successful business. Among Iraqis, she told me, every family she knew had lost at least one person in the war. Death was everywhere, all around them. They didn’t have to check the TV to see if it was out there.
If this crisis was “a war,” as the politicians and bureaucrats told us from their podiums, a war that necessitated shutting down our entire society, isolating terrified children in their houses and away from their schools and friends and extended families, then why were we not seeing dead bodies in the streets, red lights flashing? Why were we not hearing sirens throughout the night? Why weren’t my friends and family around the county and around the world – or my husband’s friends and family calling us about relatives dying? Asking us to help bury the dead? I have many friends and acquaintances over many years. So does my husband.
I chatted with my neighbor over our yards. She had to close down her business. I asked her if she knew of anyone who had “it.” She said she had heard of someone at the retirement community who knew someone who had “it,” and they had to “quarantine.” My mother, who now lived near me, was very involved with the local senior center, which has a large membership. I asked her if she knew people with Covid or who had died of it. No, she said, fortunately, she didn’t know anyone. Her sister in a nursing home in North Carolina had tested positive, though, and had mild or no symptoms.
I know people died of this disease, and, of course, we mourn all deaths. I simply was not seeing the “war” around me, as it was portrayed, as justification for forced government shutdowns of all human communities. I remember spring 2020 in Virginia as more glorious than most, with fresh abundance of sharper and more varied greens and lovely soft color, crisp clear skies, and practically empty streets.
I didn’t know what was happening. I missed my meetings and my churches. For addicted friends and loved ones, I knew that the fellowship of 12-step meetings was a lifeline. Groups and churches were mine; most were not meeting.
I drove around one Sunday during the Easter season, thinking surely some churches would still be open. Maybe I could now visit some that I had wanted to but hadn’t because I didn’t want to miss my friends and the services I loved. The Methodist church? Dark with an empty parking lot. A Baptist church near my house? Empty. The old stone building of the historic Episcopal Church? Vacant.
I saw online that 12-step meetings were not meeting in person either. Only on Zoom. Usually there were several meetings a week all over town. I had attended 12-step meetings for family and friends of addicts and alcoholics at various churches over the years. For my entire adult life, in all the cities where I had lived, addicts and alcoholics, and their families, could attend a meeting every day, if they needed to, and sometimes more than once a day. All shut down. How would we get through this? When and how would it end?
In the winter of 2020, a friend told me that an AA meeting was held in a nearby park every day at noon. Craving group fellowship, I drove there for the meeting a couple of times and sat with them in the cold. Though I am not an alcoholic, I felt grateful they were there, huddled in coats with their hats and scarves.
I was not able to wear a mask for extended periods because of health challenges. All over the media and on social media, people proclaimed that there were no health conditions that made masking not possible or not healthy. What about PTSD in people who had been smothered or had had their face forcibly covered during an assault? Or PTSD in people who had survived traumas yet built safety for themselves by being able to read faces? What about children or adults with autism whose learning and navigation of the world depends on reading faces?
What about anxiety or panic disorders that may worsen dangerously with oxygen depletion or with the inability to read facial cues? What about sensory impairments or mobility issues, exacerbated when people can’t breathe freely or when their peripheral vision may be impaired with long mask wearing? What had happened to our compassion and sensitivity to differences and to challenges?
Though most mainstream churches closed, in summer, fall, and winter of 2020 and into 2021, the outsider churches – and outsider people — sustained me. They became what we might call speakeasy churches. I searched the Internet and found a country church a short drive from my house and emailed the pastor and his wife.
By Caitlin McCaffrey — 1 week ago
Are you holding on to unconfessed sin? The Bible never makes a case for a “probation period” or establishing sincerity before running to Christ when we see our sin. Unbelief and Satan’s lies thrive in our hearts in this dangerous gap between conviction and repentance. In this place, we turn to useless, sinful “remedies”: Atonement: I will double-down on serving in church and reading my Bible. I’m a changed person; I can make up for this fall. Penance: I will punish myself with negative self-talk and emotional self-hate because I must pay for this sin. Self-Pity: I am going to comfort myself with more sin because I’m sad about how this will impact me or my loved ones. I am the victim.
The glow of her computer screen gone, Lexi sat in the darkness of her apartment. I can’t believe I did it again, she thought, seething with self-hatred after viewing pornography. To escape the swirl of shame and condemnation, Lexi put on a movie. It would be nine long days before she would pray or acknowledge God. I’ve messed up too many times, she told herself.
Perhaps you struggle with pornography or have an ongoing relationship of sexual temptation and failure in your life. You think, I can’t go to God again when I keep pursuing this! Or maybe you’re a friend, counselor, or pastor trying to understand another’s pervasive shame.
How can strugglers and helpers move out of the shame-spiral and toward real gospel hope?
Words of Death and Words of Life
Psalm 32 can guide Christian confession for your own heart and be a helpful map if you’re discipling someone burdened by unconfessed sin. It immediately gives a sobering prognosis and a rich assurance:
Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit. (Ps. 32:1–2)
First, the bad news; three words describe our evil hearts. “Transgression” is breaking the law. It connotes smashing or breaking ties in a relationship—always the case when we seek our own way outside of our loving relationship with our Creator. “Sin” signifies failing to meet the standard of God’s perfect law, while “iniquity” indicates the twisted, perverse nature of our hearts as we turn away from God and pursue sin.
But there’s good news! The three words of life in these verses reveal what God accomplishes for us, meeting us in our sin and shame. “Forgiven” speaks of the lifting or removal of a burden that is too great—God knows we simply cannot clean ourselves up enough to lift the weighty burden of our sin; we need help outside ourselves. “Covered” indicates God removing our sin from his sight. When God “counts no iniquity” against us, he calls us his righteous children, clothed in the spotless robes of Jesus himself. Lexi is no longer identified as a “porn struggler” or as “shameful.” In Christ, she’s a new creation.
If you’re stuck wondering how to move toward God after sexual sin or what to say to help a sexual struggler, start here. By faith, Lexi can take hold of the amazing gospel truth that when we confess our sins, our God “is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Burden lifted! Sin covered! Righteousness declared!
The Sickness of Unconfessed Sin
Why did Lexi wait nine days to lift her eyes to God? What was happening in her heart during that painful time? Psalm 32 pictures the dangerous gap between sin and confession.