Holiness: A Call for Christians to Battle Sin and Pursue God — J.C. Ryle

J.C. Ryle (1816-1900)

J.C. Ryle,

That great divine, John Owen, the Dean of Christ Church, used to say, more than two hundred years ago, that there were people whose whole religion seemed to consist in going about complaining of their own corruptions and telling everyone that they could do nothing of themselves. I am afraid that after two centuries the same thing might be said with truth of some of Christ’s professing people in this day. I know there are texts in Scripture which warrant such complaints. I do not object to them when they come from men who walk in the steps of the apostle Paul and fight a good fight, as he did, against sin, the devil and the world. But I never like such complaints when I see ground for suspecting, as I often do, that they are only a cloak to cover spiritual laziness and an excuse for spiritual sloth. If we say with Paul, “O wretched man that I am,” let us also be able to say with him, “I press toward the mark.” Let us not quote his example in one thing, while we do not follow him in another (Rom. 7:24; Phil. 3:14).

I do not set up myself to be better than other people; and if anyone asks, “What are you, that you write in this way?” I answer, “I am a very poor creature indeed.” But I say that I cannot read the Bible without desiring to see many believers more spiritual, more holy, more single–eyed, more heavenly–minded, more whole–hearted than they are in the nineteenth century. I want to see among believers more of a pilgrim spirit, a more decided separation from the world, a conversation more evidently in heaven, a closer walk with God; and therefore I have written as I have.

Is it not true that we need a higher standard of personal holiness in this day? Where is our patience? Where is our zeal? Where is our love? Where are our works? Where is the power of religion to be seen, as it was in times gone by? Where is that unmistakable tone which used to distinguish the saints of old and shake the world? Truly our silver has become dross, our wine mixed with water, and our salt has very little savor. We are all more than half asleep. The night is far spent, and the day is at hand. Let us awake and sleep no more. Let us open our eyes more widely than we have done up to this time. “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which does so easily beset us.” “Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, and perfect holiness in the fear of God” (Heb. 12:1; 2 Cor. 7:1). “Did Christ die,” says Owen, “and shall sin live? Was He crucified in the world, and shall our affections to the world be quick and lively? Oh, where is the spirit of him, who by the cross of Christ was crucified to the world, and the world to him?” (excerpted from: Chapter 3: Holiness in Holiness: Its Nature, Hindrances, Difficulties, and Roots, J.C. Ryle)

See also:

♦ The First Step Towards Heaven Is to See Clearly That We Deserve Hell — J.C. Ryle
♦ Faith Alone Justifies, But Faith Alone Does Not Sanctify — J.C. Ryle
♦ God Glorified in the Nobodies by John MacArthur
♦ God Justifies The Ungodly — Charles Spurgeon
♦ Solus Christus: Only One Way of Salvation — J.C. Ryle
♦ A Weak Faith Receives A Strong Christ — Thomas Watson (c.1620-1686)

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“God’s Dupes?” by Ravi Zacharias

Is the Christian faith intellectual nonsense? Are Christians deluded?

“If God exists and takes an interest in the affairs of human beings, his will is not inscrutable,” writes Sam Harris about the 2004 tsunami in Letter to a Christian Nation. “The only thing inscrutable here is that so many otherwise rational men and women can deny the unmitigated horror of these events and think this is the height of moral wisdom” (p. 48). In his article “God’s Dupes,” Harris argues, “Everything of value that people get from religion can be had more honestly, without presuming anything on insufficient evidence. The rest is self-deception, set to music” (The Los Angeles Times, March 15, 2007). Ironically, Harris’ first book is entitled The End of Faith, but it should really be called “The End of Reason,” as it demonstrates again that the mind that is alienated from God in the name of reason can become totally irrational.

Oxford zoologist Richard Dawkins suggests that the idea of God is a virus, and we need to find software to eradicate it. Somehow, if we can expunge the virus that led us to think this way, we will be purified and rid of this bedeviling notion of God, good, and evil (“Viruses of the Mind,” 1992). Along with Christopher Hitchens and a few others, these atheists are calling for the banishment of all religious belief. “Away with this nonsense!” is their battle cry. In return, they promise a world of new hope and unlimited horizons once we have shed this delusion of God.

I have news for them — news to the contrary. The reality is that the emptiness that results from the loss of the transcendent is stark and devastating, philosophically and existentially. Indeed, the denial of an objective moral law, based on the compulsion to deny the existence of God, results ultimately in the denial of evil itself. Furthermore, one would like to ask Dawkins, are we morally bound to remove that virus? Somehow he himself is, of course, free from the virus and can therefore input our moral data.

In an attempt to escape what they call the contradiction between a good God and a world of evil, atheists try to dance around the reality of a moral law (and hence, a moral lawgiver) by introducing terms like “evolutionary ethics.” The one who raises the question against God in effect plays God while denying He exists. Now, one may wonder: Why do you actually need a moral lawgiver if you have a moral law? The answer is because the questioner and the issue he or she questions always involve the essential value of a person. You can never talk of morality in abstraction. Persons are implicit to the question and the object of the question. In a nutshell, positing a moral law without a moral lawgiver would be equivalent to raising the question of evil without a questioner. So you cannot have a moral law unless the moral law itself is intrinsically woven into personhood. This means that an intrinsically worthy person must exist if the moral law itself is to be valued. And that person can only be God.

Our inability to alter what is actual frustrates our grandiose delusions of being sovereign over everything. Yet the truth is that we cannot escape the existential rub by running from a moral law. Objective moral values exist only if God exists. Is it all right, for example, to mutilate babies for entertainment? Every reasonable person will say “no.” We know that objective moral values do exist. Therefore, God must exist. Examining those premises and their validity presents a very strong argument.

The prophet Jeremiah noted, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”(Jer. 17:9). Similarly, the apostle James said, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (James 1:22–25).

The world does not understand what the absoluteness of the moral law is all about. Some get caught, some don’t get caught. Yet who of us would like our heart exposed on the front page of the newspaper today? Have there not been days and hours when, like Paul, you’ve struggled within yourself and said, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate…. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:15, 24). Each of us knows this tension and conflict within if we are honest with ourselves.

Therefore, as Christians, we ought to take time to reflect seriously upon the question: “Has God truly wrought a miracle in my life? Is my own heart proof of the supernatural intervention of God?” In the West we go through these seasons of new-fangled theologies. The whole question of “lordship” plagued our debates for some time as we asked if there was such a thing as a minimalist view of conversion? “We said the prayer and that’s it.” Yet how can there be a minimalist view of conversion when conversion itself is a maximal work of God’s grace? “The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17).

If you were proposing marriage to someone, what would the one receiving the proposal say if you said, “I want you to know this proposal changes nothing about my allegiances, my behavior, and my daily life; however, I do want you to know that should you accept my proposal, we shall theoretically be considered married. There will be no other changes in me on your behalf.” In a strange way we have minimized every sacred commitment and made it the lowest common denominator. What does my new birth mean to me? That is a question we seldom ask. Who was I before God’s work in me, and who am I now?

The immediate results of coming to know Jesus Christ are the new hungers and new pursuits that are planted within the human will. I well recall that dramatic change in my own way of thinking. There were new longings, new hopes, new dreams, new fulfillments, but most noticeably, there was a new will to do what was God’s will. Thomas Chalmers characterized this change that Christ brings as “the expulsive power of a new affection.” This new affection of heart — the love of God wrought in us through the Holy Spirit — expels all other old seductions and attractions. The one who knows Christ begins to see that his or her own misguided heart is impoverished and in need of constant submission to the will of the Lord — spiritual surrender. Yes, we are all gifted with different personalities, but humility of spirit and the hallmark of conversion is to see one’s own spiritual poverty. Arrogance and conceit ought to be inimical to the life of the believer. A deep awareness of one’s own new hungers and longings is a convincing witness to God’s grace within.
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From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Email: tabletalk@ligonier.org. Toll free: 1-800-435-4343. www.ligonier.org
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“I Thought My Sufferings Would End When I Became A Christian?” by John MacArthur

“I thought my sufferings would end when I became a Christian?”

1 Peter 4:13-14; Romans 8:18

God’s Word provides us with two reasons that God’s children continue to face suffering after salvation.

First, though delivered from the dominion of sin, Christians still experience the effects of sin. The reality of suffering endures in a world tainted by sin. Even believers experience pain, disease, aging, and death, and we often fall victim to accidents or sinful acts of others. Those things are the common lot of all, and they all have a connection to sin.

But there is a second reason believers suffer–believers are one with Christ. In that union, God gave us the privilege of participating in the same kind of suffering Jesus endured–suffering for doing what is right. Consider what Peter said:

To the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you (1 Peter 4:13-14; cf. Romans 8:18).

Suffering for righteousness sake is part of normal Christian living. Far from removing suffering, our salvation guarantees it. Scripture, in fact, tells us to expect trials: “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12).

Thankfully, along with the promise of suffering, God promises us His presence and a lasting reward. And because of those precious truths, you can respond with hope–that’s a complete contrast to the despairing outlook that plagues the unbeliever.

Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Hebrews 13:5 reminds you that God will never desert you–“I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (KJV; cf. Matthew 28:20). You can rest assured that God is as near in the darkest suffering as He is in the brightest days of blessing. The prophet Jeremiah wrote,
“Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22-23). The New Living Translation says it this way: “The unfailing love of the LORD never ends! Great is his faithfulness; His mercies begin afresh each day.” God’s compassion never runs out or grows old; it’s unceasing and continually renewed. No matter what suffering you may be experiencing, that truth is unchanging.

First Corinthians 10:13 promises that “no temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, that you may be able to endure it.” You can endure because God has promised not to give you more than you can handle. He wants you to overcome and won’t allow you to face any temptation that will crush you under its weight.

All believers are imperfect and need discipline and training from their heavenly Father. God faithfully provides every true child of His with the sort of chastening that produces holiness. Hebrews 12:6 says, “For whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.” That truth is not unique to the New Testament–Deuteronomy 8:5 says, “You should know in your heart that as a man chastens his son, so the Lord your God chastens you.”

How should you respond to God’s chastening? With thankful submission that recognizes your loving heavenly Father is at work in you. Resolve not to despise or be discouraged by that work (Hebrews 12:5). God is pruning your life to make you more effective and fruitful. Jesus said, “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit” (John 15:2).

God knows what you need and can handle, and He brings trials to prove your faith and display it to those around you. He has graciously chosen you to stand as an example of the power of His grace. His grace is “sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). In a world without hope, without peace, fearing death, and living in complete emptiness, your perseverance in trials is testimony that God is alive and gloriously at work.

Persevering in the midst of intense suffering provides a testimony of true hope to a world without hope. No matter the intensity of the trial you are facing, you always have the hope of heaven to cheer you. As one who believes in God and trusts His Word, treasure the truth that suffering and death are not worthy of comparison with the wondrous glory of knowing Christ. Paul affirmed that when he wrote, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).

So, if you are going through a trial, pray that your spiritual condition will be gloriously evident to all around as you exemplify true joy in it (James 1:2-4, 12).
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This article here originally appeared at Grace To You. © 1969-2010. Grace to You. All rights reserved. www.gty.org
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