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Spiritual Development January 2019

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The Fierce Fruit of Self-Control” by John Piper

The very concept of “self-control” implies a battle between a divided self. It implies that our “self” produces desires we should not satisfy but instead “control.” We should deny ourselves and take up our cross daily, Jesus says, and follow him (Luke 9:23). Daily our “self” produces  desires that should be “denied” or “controlled.” The path that leads to heaven is narrow and strewn with suicidal temptations to abandon the way. Therefore Jesus says, “Strive to enter through the narrow door” (Luke 13:24). The Greek word for “strive” is agonizesthe, in which you correctly hear the English word “agonize.”

We get a taste of what is involved from Matthew 5:29: “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.” This is the fierceness of self-control. This is what is behind the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:12: “The kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” Are you laying hold on the kingdom fiercely? Paul says that Christians exercise self-control like the Greek athletes, only our goal is eternal, not temporal. “Every athlete [agonizomenos] exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable” (1 Corinthians 9:25). So he says, “I discipline my body and keep it under control” (1 Corinthians 9:27). Self-control is saying no to sinful desires, even when it hurts.

But the Christian way of self-control is not “Just say no!” The problem is with the word “just.” You don’t just say no. You say no in a certain way: You say no by faith in the superior power and pleasure of Christ. It is just as ruthless. And may be just as painful. But the difference      between worldly self-control and godly self-control is crucial. Who will get the glory for victory? That’s the issue. Will we get the glory? Or will Christ get the glory? If we exercise self-control by faith in Christ’s superior power and pleasure, Christ will get the glory.

Fundamental to the Christian view of self-control is that it is a gift. It is the fruit of the Holy Spirit: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace . . . self-control” (Galatians 5:22–23). How do we “strive” against our fatal desires? Paul answers: “For this I toil, struggling [agonizomenos] with all his energy that he powerfully works within me” (Colossians 1:29). He “agonizes” by the power of Christ, not his own. Similarly he tells us, “If by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13). “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (Zechariah 4:6). We must be fierce! Yes. But not by our might. “The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord” (Proverbs 21:31).

And how does the Spirit produce this fruit of self-control in us? By instructing us in the superior preciousness of grace, and enabling us to see and savor (that is, “trust”) all that God is for us in Jesus. “The grace of God has appeared . . .  training us to    renounce . . . worldly passions . . . in the present age” (Titus 2:11–12). When we really see and believe what God is for us by grace through Jesus Christ, the power of wrong desires is broken. Therefore, the fight for self-control is a fight of faith. “Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called” (1 Tim 6:12).

 Recommended ResourceGraciousness by John Crotts
Sometimes we have important things to say to other Christians, but if we deliver our message ungraciously, they won’t benefit from it.  Author John Crotts points out that God cares about how we say what we say: “It is not enough always to say the truth; you must also say the truth in love.” In Graciousness, the author addresses Christians who are zealous for God’s truth yet struggle to communicate it graciously— in a loving way. Filled with practical instruction and wise insights, this book includes a biblical description of graciousness, with a look at positive examples and commands from the Bible and methods for cultivating graciousness in various areas of the Christian life. Be equipped to speak the truth in love!


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Spiritual Development November 2018

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                 “What is the Difference Between Justification and Sanctification?” by Erik Raymond

In short, justification means we are declared righteous, while sanctification means growing in righteousness.

Justification refers to God’s declaration that someone is determined to be righteous in his sight. This justification is a one-time act whereby God declares a sinner like you and me to be not only not guilty but perfectly righteous before his high bar of justice. How does God does this and maintain his justice? The basis for the divine declaration is the doing and dying of Christ. God credits (or imputes) us with the righteousness (merit) of Jesus. We are justified by grace (a gift) through faith (trusting in Jesus). Some great verses are Rom. 3.24; 4.1-5; 5.1; 2 Cor. 5.21, Tit. 3.7.

Sanctification, on the other hand, is the continual process of being made more holy. It is the progressive conformity of the one who has been justified into the image of their Savior through the work of the Holy Spirit. Like justification, sanctification is a work of grace through faith. And, sanctification is possible because of the  finished work of Christ on our behalf. Some great verses are Rom. 6; 8; Tit. 3.5; 1 Thess. 4.3, 5.23; Heb. 12.14; 2 Pet. 3.18; Jud. 1.20.

What’s the differenceA few helpful things to remember about the two:
- Justification happens outside of you, you are declared righteous; sanctification happens inside of you, you are made righteous.
- Justification is not being made righteous, and it is not based upon what we do.
- Justification is a one-time event, and sanctification is a continual process. When we are justified, we are declared righteous positionally (that is, before God we are righteous). However, while we are positionally righteous, we are practically not perfectly righteous. While doubtless growing in grace, we are still, when compared to Christ, unrighteous. Sanctification then is the gradual conformity to the likeness of Christ. In other words, sanctification is the gradual process of becoming practically what we are positionally (righteous).

There are three quick reasons why you should understand this doctrinal distinction and not see it as simply splitting hairs.

In order to praise Christ - Whenever we think about the matters of the gospel and Christian living, we must remember that it all falls under the rubric of what Jesus died for. Therefore, it is vital that we do not deflate the glorious truth of the gospel. The Savior gave his life for your justification so that you might exalt in having your balance cleared and live in peace with God (Rom. 5:1). He also did this for you to secure your holiness (1 This. 5.23).

In order to guard the gospel - As Christians we are to defend and promote the gospel (Phil. 1:27ff). In order to defend it we need to know it (Jude 3). We must know what Christ did and the implications. It is a reflex for us as Christians to slouch into a works-righteousness that would obliterate the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. The Roman Catholic concept of justification as a process is appealing to our pride. A lack of doctrinal precision on this matter makes one (and their churches by implication) vulnerable to compromise on the gospel. We know this is vitally important (Gal. 1:6ff)!

In order to encourage other Christians in holiness - To know who we are practically and are to become positionally drives us to dig into this glorious grace—not only in our lives but also in the lives of church members. To know what Christ has won for you will fuel you and encourage you to press into one another’s lives with the word of victorious grace in the gospel (cf. Rom. 6-8). Because of what Jesus has done God will never love you more than he does that first hour of faith. And, because of what Jesus has done, you who truly trust in Jesus are as secure in that imputed righteousness as Christ is. It is as if his righteousness is stitched to your own soul! And, you can mark it down, just as Christ has been resurrected, so too will you walk in newness of this resurrected life (Rom. 6).

Recommended ResourceChurch History in Plain Language by Bruce L. Shelley
Dr. Bruce Shelley makes church history come alive in this classic book that has become not only the first choice of many laypeople and church leaders but the standard text in many college classrooms. What separates Dr. Shelley's book from others is its clarity of language and organization. Church History in Plain Language treats history as the story of people—their motivations, the issues they grapple with, the decisions they make—and the result is that history reads like a story, almost as dramatic and moving as a novel. Yet there is no fiction here, Dr. Shelley was a respected scholar whose work was painstakingly researched and  carefully crafted for historical accuracy.

Church History in Plain Language makes history easy to follow and retain by dividing the Christian story into the great ages of the church. The continuing popularity of this book attests to its success in achieving its purpose—to make church history clear, memorable, and accessible to every reader.

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