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)

J. Gresham Machen: On The Greatest Battle A Christian Will Ever Fight

J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937)

J. Gresham Machen,

According to Paul [the Apostle] the beginning of the new life is followed by a battle—a battle against sin. In that battle, as is not the case with the beginning of it, the Christian does co-operate with God; he is helped by God’s Spirit, but he himself, and not only God’s Spirit in him, is active in the fight.
At the beginning of the Christian life there is an act of God and of God alone. It is called in the New Testament the new birth or (as Paul calls it) the new creation. In that act no part whatever is contributed by the man who is born again. And no wonder! A man who is dead—either dead in physical death or “dead in trespasses and sins” —can do nothing whatever, at least in the sphere in which he is dead. If he could do anything in that sphere, he would not be dead. Such a man who is dead in trespasses and sins is raised to new life in the new birth or the new creation. To that new birth he himself cannot contribute at all, any more than he contributed to his physical birth. But birth is followed by life; and though a man is not active in his birth he is active in the life that follows. So it is also in the spiritual realm. We did not contribute at all to our new birth; that was an act of God alone. But that new birth is followed by a new life, and in the new life there has been given us by Him who begat us anew the power of action; it is that power of action that is involved in birth. Thus the Christian life is begun by an act of God alone; but it is continued by co-operation between God and man. The possibility of such co-operation is due indeed only to God; it has not been achieved in slightest measure by us; it is the supreme wonder of God’s grace. But once given by God it is not withdrawn.

Thus the Christian life in this world is not passive but active; it consists in a mighty battle against sin. That battle is a winning battle, because the man that engages in it has been made alive in the first place by God, and because he has a great Companion to help him in every turn of the fight. But, though a winning battle, it is a battle all the same; and it is not only God’s battle but ours. The faith of which we have been speaking consists not in doing something but in receiving something; but it is followed every time by a life in which great things are done.¹

¹J. Gresham Machen, What is Faith, Banner of Truth Edition (Edinburgh: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1991) pp. 207, 208, 209   [First Published 1925]

John MacArthur: Biblical Hope And Encouragement In The Lifelong Battle With Sin

Link to short ten minute audio. Once again packed with wisdom —> If I battle the same sin for a long time, does that mean I’m not a Christian?.

“John Owen and the ‘Normal’ Christian Life” by John D. Hannah

“John Owen and the “Normal” Christian Life
or Sanctification in an Era of Confusion”

by John D. Hannah

When methods promise a great deal more than they actually deliver, the
net result is not victory over sin, but an even greater sense of guilt and
heightened awareness of failure.

The lament of recent writers over the deplorable state of theological consciousness
in the churches is alarming. David Wells’ judgment that evangelicalism (being an
expression of the Enlightenment which it so professes to oppose) is on the verge of
“losing its character, if not its soul,” has a ring of reality in it. (1)

Many of the churches in the land seem content with the repetition of heart‐warming,
inspiring stories and the rehearsal of positive experiences, what is designated as
“celebrative worship,” with a foreboding absence of doctrinal teaching. Negative,
oft‐discomforting statements in the Scriptures are glossed over, if not completely
avoided, with the result that saints endure elemental pabulum and the unbelievers
come away with the impression that Jesus looks remarkably like them! Though
touted as a serious Bible‐oriented movement, the lack of in‐depth doctrinal interest
in the churches belies a terrible tragedy. The pastor’s role has become that of an
amiable good‐fellow; the once profound emphasis on character has receded for an
emphasis on personality. The result is that the Lord’s people have little instruction
in the Scriptures; what they may receive is most likely a medley of diverse
theological elements that are mutually contradictory and confusing.

Illustrative of the state of biblical teaching in the churches is what passes as
instruction in the spiritual life. When presented with the question, “How do you
walk with God?”, the rejoinder is often confusing, if not distressing. Generally,
Christian advice‐givers have seen the shallowness of secular approaches to life
which deposit the roots of dysfunctional behavior in external forces that
involuntarily impact the “victim,” and reject self‐exertion and “correct” mental
thoughts as resolutive. For the Christian, at least generally, there is the recognition
that we are responsible moral agents, and…….continue reading at the link provided.(Click here for link). There you can read and/or save/print.

“The Practice of Mortification” by Sinclair Ferguson

“The Practice of Mortification”

by Sinclair Ferguson

The aftermath of a conversation can change the way we later think of its significance.

My friend — a younger minister — sat down with me at the end of a conference in his church and said: “Before we retire tonight, just take me through the steps that are involved in helping someone mortify sin.” We sat talking about this for a little longer and then went to bed, hopefully he was feeling as blessed as I did by our conversation. I still wonder whether he was asking his question as a pastor or simply for himself — or both.

How would you best answer his question? The first thing to do is: Turn to the Scriptures. Yes, turn to John Owen (never a bad idea!), or to some other counselor dead or alive. But remember that we have not been left only to good human resources in this area. We need to be taught from “the mouth of God” so that the principles we are learning to apply carry with them both the authority of God and the promise of God to make them work.

Several passages come to mind for study: Romans 8:13; Romans 13:8–14 (Augustine’s text); 2 Corinthians 6:14–7:1; Ephesians 4:17–5:21; Colossians 3:1–17; 1 Peter 4:1–11; 1 John 2:28–3:11. Significantly, only two of these passages contain the verb “mortify” (“put to death”). Equally significantly, the context of each of these passages is broader than the single exhortation to put sin to death. As we shall see, this is an observation that turns out to be of considerable importance.

Of these passages, Colossians 3:1–17 is probably the best place for us to begin.

Here were relatively young Christians. They have had a wonderful experience of conversion to Christ from paganism. They had entered a gloriously new and liberating world of grace. Perhaps — if we may read between the lines — they had felt for a while as if they had been delivered, not only from sin’s penalty but almost from its influence — so marvelous was their new freedom. But then, of course, sin reared its ugly head again. Having experienced the “already” of grace they were now discovering the painful “not yet” of ongoing sanctification. Sounds familiar!

But as in our evangelical sub-culture of quick fixes for long-term problems, unless the Colossians had a firm grasp of Gospel principles, they were now at risk! For just at this point young Christians can be relatively easy prey to false teachers with new promises of a higher spiritual life. That was what Paul feared (Col. 2:8, 16). Holiness-producing methods were now in vogue (Col. 2:21–22) — and they seemed to be deeply spiritual, just the thing for earnest young believers. But, in fact, “they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh” (Col. 2:23). Not new methods, but only an understanding of how the Gospel works, can provide an adequate foundation and pattern for dealing with sin. This is the theme of Colossians 3:1–17.

Paul gives us the pattern and rhythm we need. Like Olympic long jumpers, we will not succeed unless we go back from the point of action to a point from which we can gain energy for the strenuous effort of dealing with sin. How, then, does Paul teach us to do this?

First of all, Paul underlines how important it is for us to be familiar with our new identity in Christ (3:1–4). How often when we fail spiritually we lament that we forgot who we really are — Christ’s. We have a new identity. We are no longer “in Adam,” but “in Christ”; no longer in the flesh, but in the Spirit; no longer dominated by the old creation but living in the new (Rom. 5:12–21; 8:9; 2 Cor. 5:17). Paul takes time to expound this. We have died with Christ (Col. 3:3; we have even been buried with Christ, 2:12); we have been raised with Him (3:1), and our life is hidden with Him (3:3). Indeed, so united to Christ are we that Christ will not appear in glory without us (3:4).

Failure to deal with the presence of sin can often be traced back to spiritual amnesia, forgetfulness of our new, true, real identity. As a believer I am someone who has been delivered from the dominion of sin and who therefore is free and motivated to fight against the remnants of sin’s army in my heart.

Principle number one, then, is: Know, rest in, think through, and act upon your new identity — you are in Christ.

Second, Paul goes on to expose the workings of sin in every area of our lives (Col. 3:5–11). If we are to deal with sin biblically, we must not make the mistake of thinking that we can limit our attack to only one area of failure in our lives. All sin must be dealt with. Thus Paul ranges through the manifestation of sin in private life (v. 5), everyday public life (v. 8), and church life (vv. 9–11; “one another,” “here,” that is, in the church fellowship). The challenge in mortification is akin to the challenge in dieting (itself a form of mortification!): once we begin we discover that there are all kinds of reasons we are overweight. We are really dealing with ourselves, not simply with calorie control. I am the problem, not the potato chips! Mortifying sin is a whole-of-life change.

Third, Paul’s exposition provides us with practical guidance for mortifying sin. Sometimes it seems as if Paul gives exhortations (“Put to death…,” 3:5) without giving “practical” help to answer our “how to?” questions. Often today, Christians go to Paul to tell them what to do and then to the local Christian bookstore to discover how to do it! Why this bifurcation? Probably because we do not linger long enough over what Paul is saying. We do not sink our thinking deeply into the Scriptures. For, characteristically, whenever Paul issues an exhortation he surrounds it with hints as to how we are to put it into practice.

This is certainly true here. Notice how this passage helps to answer our “how to?” questions.

1. Learn to admit sin for what it really is. Call a spade a spade — call it “sexual immorality,” not “I’m being tempted a little”; call it “impurity,” not “I’m struggling with my thought life”; call it “evil desire, which is idolatry,” not “I think I need to order my priorities a bit better.” This pattern runs right through this whole section. How powerfully this unmasks self-deceit — and helps us to unmask sin lurking in the hidden corners of
our hearts!

2. See sin for what your sin really is in God’s presence. “On account of these the wrath of God is coming” (3:6). The masters of the spiritual life spoke of dragging our lusts (kicking and screaming, though they be) to the cross, to a wrath-bearing Christ. My sin leads to — not lasting pleasure — but holy divine displeasure. See the true nature of your sin in the light of its punishment. Too easily do we think that sin is less serious in Christians than it is in non-believers: “It’s forgiven, isn’t it?” Not if we continue in it (1 John 3:9)! Take a heaven’s-eye view of sin and feel the shame of that in which you once walked (Col. 3:7; see also Rom. 6:21).

3. Recognize the inconsistency of your sin. You put off the “old man,” and have put on the “new man” (3:9–10). You are no longer the “old man.” The identity you had “in Adam” is gone. The old man was “crucified with him [Christ] in order that the body of sin [probably “life in the body dominated by sin”] might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin” (Rom. 6:6). New men live new lives. Anything less than this is a contradiction of who I am “in Christ.”

4. Put sin to death (Col. 3:5). It is as “simple” as that. Refuse it, starve it, and reject it. You cannot “mortify” sin without the pain of the kill. There is no
other way!

But notice that Paul sets this in a very important, broader context. The negative task of putting sin to death will not be accomplished in isolation from the positive call of the Gospel to “put on” the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 13:14). Paul spells this out in Colossians 3:12–17. Sweeping the house clean simply leaves us open to a further invasion of sin. But when we understand the “glorious exchange” principle of the Gospel of grace, then we will begin to make some real advance in holiness. As sinful desires and habits are not only rejected, but exchanged for Christ-like graces (3:12) and actions (3:13); as we are clothed in Christ’s character and His graces are held together by love (v. 14), not only in our private life but also in the church fellowship (vv. 12–16), Christ’s name and glory are manifested and exalted in and among us (3:17).

These are some of the things my friend and I talked about that memorable evening. We did not have an opportunity later to ask each other, “How are you going?” for it was our last conversation. He died some months later. I have often wondered how the months in between went in his life. But the earnest personal and pastoral concern in his question still echoes in my mind. They have a similar effect to the one Charles Simeon said he felt from the eyes of his much-loved portrait of the great Henry Martyn: “Don’t trifle!”

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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

Humility – John MacArthur

“Understanding Who We Are”

John MacArthur

The first step to humility is understanding our own sinfulness

…..Humility begins with self-awareness. We need to look at ourselves honestly. We can mask who we really are and convince ourselves that we’re something wonderful. But we are sinners and need to confess our sins daily before God (cf. 1 John 1:9) Even Paul called himself the foremost of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15) and realized he had not yet reached the goal of Christlikeness (Phil. 3:12-14). Whenever you’re tempted to be proud, remember you haven’t arrived yet spiritually.

And don’t fall into the trap of comparing yourselves to others. Paul said, “We are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves, and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding” (2 Cor. 10:12). If we’re to be honest with ourselves and with God, we need to evaluate ourselves by an outside standard — God’s standard. Humility starts when we take off the rose-colored glasses of self-love so we can see ourselves as unworthy sinners. We must recognize our faults and confess our sins daily. (excerpted from the 11 March devotion, Understanding Who We Are in John MacArthur’s, Strength For Today)

(John MacArthur, Strength for Today [Wheaton Ill.: Crossway, 1997], March 11 devotion)

Does Living Worthy Of The Gospel Mean Sinless Perfection? – Morning Scripture Exposition From John MacArthur

“To live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ is to live a life consistent with God’s revealed Word. That includes living a life that corresponds to the divine truth Christians profess to believe, preach, teach, and defend. In other words, it means living with integrity in every facet of life. This mandate is expressed elsewhere in the New Testament as walking ‘in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called’ (Eph. 4:1), ‘in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God’ (Col. 1:10), and ‘in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory’ (1 Thess. 2:12; cf. 4:1). It means ‘showing all good faith so that [believers] will adorn the doctrine of God [their] Savior in every respect’ (Titus 2:10), demonstrating ‘holy conduct and godliness,’ and being ‘diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless’ (2 Peter 3:11, 14).

The church’s greatest testimony before the world is spiritual integrity. When Christians live below the standards of biblical morality and reverence for their Lord, they compromise the full biblical truth concerning the character, plan, and will of God. By so doing, they seriously weaken the credibility of the gospel and lessen their impact on”……..continued at MacArthur Commentary Page (Link here)