A Biblical Vision for the Church

Pastor Mark Dever has a message from 1 Corinthians up on the audio portion of the 9Marks site. I listened to it last week.

He entitled it A Biblical Vision for the Church. Essentially he argues that the church exists for God and that the thing that should constrain us more than anything else in terms of our participation in a local church is that perspective.

From that starting point he goes on to articulate from various places in the epistle how the local church is to be three things: holy, unified, and loving. He reasons that because God Himself is these things, which he shows from the text as well, we should reflect these things in our churches.

It means we can’t afford to overlook things like church discipline.

It means we can’t fragment into divisions that center on various personalities.

It means we ought to bend over backwards in deferring to one another in showing love.

He finishes with how the gospel informs all those things. He pleads with the listener to evaluate his church in these terms.

It’s a worthwhile investment of about fifty minutes.

Check it out. You can listen to the audio here.

Birthday Reflections

How did September 15 come around so fast again? I turned 58 today.

Ever since my battle with cancer in 2005, I have marked each birthday with a little phrase or ditty to commemorate God’s mercy to me in giving length of days.

  • 53 and cancer free
  • 54 and ready for more
  • 55 and staying alive (with apologies to the US government)
  • 56 and up to the same ole tricks
  • 57 and not ready for heaven

And now, drum roll please, though my wife already gave it away on Facebook . . .

  • 58 and feeling great!

Oh the mercy of God after even odds in ’05 of survival of head and neck cancer that I would turn 58 and feel better than I can ever remember in my adult life. I am extremely grateful.

This morning I met as always on alternate Wednesdays with three young men that I treasure and seek to invest in for their spiritual well-being. We are reading through J. C. Ryle’s classic, Holiness.

Our chapter discussion closed this way – Ryle’s summary applications from his treatment of Revelation 2 & 3and the letters to the churches. It reflects my aspirations for another year and however long the Lord allows me to live and serve Him:

Let us rather covet the best gifts. Let us aim at eminent holiness Let us endeavor to be like Smyrna and Philadelphia. Let us hold fast what we have already, and continually seek to have more. Let us labor to be unmistakable Christians. Let it not be our distinctive character, that we are men of science, or men of literary attainments, or men of the world, or men of pleasure, or men of business, but ‘men of God’. Let us so live that all may see that to us the things of God are the first things, and the glory of God the first aim in our lives, to follow Christ our grand object in time present, to be with Christ our grand desire in time to come. Let us live in this way, and we shall be happy. Let us live in this way, and we shall do good to the world. Let us live in this way, and we shall leave good evidence behind us when we are buried. Let us live in this way, and the Spirit’s word to the churches will not have been spoken to us in vain.

O to leave good evidence behind when I am buried.

To live is Christ, to die is gain (Phil. 1:21).

Are You Weary in the Battle?

HolinessAnd make no mistake about it. The Christian life is a struggle, a battle, a war.

Paul made clear to the church of Ephesus that we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places (Eph. 6:12).

In light of this perpetual warfare Paul exhorted Timothy, Fight the good fight of faith (1 Tim. 6:12) and Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus (2 Tim. 2:3).

As I prepared to start another work week with our early morning prayer time as a staff, I read a word of encouragement from J. C. Ryle’s Holiness that gave my prone-to-be-weary soul a burst of strength for the fight. In stressing that the Christian’s fight must be one of faith, Ryle urges special faith in our Lord Jesus Christ’s person, work, and office as the life, heart, and mainspring of the Christian soldiers character. He writes:

He sees by faith an unseen Savior, who loved him, gave Himself for him, paid his debts for him, bore his sins, carried his transgressions, rose again for him, and appears in heaven for him as his Advocate at the right hand of God. He sees Jesus and clings to Him. Seeing this Savior and trusting in Him, he feels peace and hope and willingly does battle against the foes of his soul.

He sees his own many sins, his weak heart, a tempting world, a busy devil; and if he looked only at them, he might well despair. But he sees also a mighty Savior, an interceding Savior, a sympathizing Savior—His blood, His righteousness, His everlasting priesthood—and he believes that all this is his own. He sees Jesus and casts his whole weight on Him. Seeing Him, he cheerfully fights on, with a full confidence that he will prove “more than conqueror through Him that loved him”  (Rom. 8:37).

So if you are weary this Monday morning as you reengage the battle fronts before you, I remind you with Ryle’s help to do so by faith in your unseen Savior casting your whole weight on Him.

What True Practical Holiness Is

Holiness

In chapter three of J. C. Ryle’s Holiness he offers these twelve marks of true and practical holiness in the believer.

  1. Holiness is the habit of being of one mind with God, according as we find His mind described in Scripture.
  2. A holy man will endeavour to shun every known sin, and to keep every known commandment.
  3. A holy man will strive to be like our Lord Jesus Christ.
  4. A holy man will follow after meekness, longsuffering, gentleness, patience, kind tempers, government of his tongue.
  5. A holy man will follow after temperance and self-denial.
  6. A holy man will follow after charity and brotherly kindness.
  7. A holy man will follow after a spirit of mercy and benevolence toward others. Do good.
  8. A holy man will follow after purity of heart.
  9. A holy man will follow after the fear of God.
  10. A holy man will follow after humility. “He will see more evil in his own heart than in any other in the world.”
  11. A holy man will follow after faithfulness in all the duties and relations in life.
  12. A holy man will follow after spiritual mindedness.

In short, a holy man follows hard after God (Psalm 63:8). How vigorous is your pursuit of God and His holiness today?

In the same chapter, Ryle adds this clarification about our pursuit of hoiness:

It is the greatest misery of a holy man that he carries about with him a “body of death”;—that often when he would do good “evil is present with him”; that the old man is clogging all his movements, and, as it were, trying to draw him back at every step he takes (Rom. vii. 21). But it is the excellence of a holy man that he is not at peace with indwelling sin, as others are. He hates it, mourns over it, and longs to be free from its company. The work of sanctification within him is like the wall of Jerusalem—the building goes forward “even in troublous times” (Dan. ix. 25).

May we know the great misery of indwelling sin and the excellence of no peace with it.