Category Archives: Sanctification

Vices and Virtues

Chess

One important task carried out in Christian homes is family worship. Leading our families in the worship of God and study of his word is one of the main ways the Lord shapes for himself the next generation of his church. However, there are some ways we, as parents, can become unbalanced in our family worship. One way would be to constantly be setting the prohibitions of Scripture before our children. In this kind of family worship our children only know what they should not do. The accompanying confusion should neither surprise or please us. Another way we become unbalanced is to teach our children only one part of our redemption: justification. The grace of the gospel is a far greater blessing than simply God’s declaration of our righteousness. But if justification by faith alone through grace alone is all our children hear, they may fail to recognize the duties God requires of us as his children. There is a very simple way to avoid this mistake: teach your children the Bible’s vices and virtues.

When we teach our children about the vices of Scripture, we teach them of man’s sinful nature and depravity. For example, in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18:9-14, we can teach our children the vice of self-righteousness in the Pharisee. Then we help them see it in our own family. We confess our self-righteousness and show them theirs so they would recognize who they are: sinners in need of deliverance both from the guilt and dominion of sin. We should teach our children how they ought not to live. We should tell them: “Christians should not do these things because it displeases the Lord who bought us with a price.” However, to leave our teaching there may unnecessarily discourage our children because they see nothing of the grace of God. We must also teach them the virtues.

When we teach our children about the virtues of Scripture, we teach them of God’s grace. Going back again to the above-mentioned parable, we would hold out the humility of the tax collector as commendable. God is gracious not only to free us from the guilt of our sin, but also to free us from its dominion. We are no longer slaves to the pride of our own lives. He has given us hearts that are able to will and act according to his good pleasure (Cf. Phil. 2:13). The virtues of Scripture remind us that we have been set free: free to do all that which gives glory to God.

In our times of family worship, we should make sure our children recognize they are not okay as they are. We should help them see the depths of their sin. Then we can also help them to see the grace of God which equips them to change and live for the glory of God.

Leading Like a Man

Wedding Rings

Writing an article on the role of husbands should always make the writer feel a twinge of hypocrisy. I know you know this, but there is no such thing as a perfect husband. An article like this one make the writer painfully aware of his own short-comings as a husband. I think we, as husbands, often think of ourselves as better than we really are. A quick look at our standard should be enough to bring us back down to earth. Christ is the standard of the proper treatment of our wives. Even the most proud-hearted husband would have to admit he has not loved his wife as Christ loved the church. That does not mean we should give up. Instead we should repent, and to make a start below are two of the most basic sins we husbands commit and some humble suggestions of solutions:

  1. Selfish Love. So often we love our wives so as to bring maximum comfort to ourselves. How many of us, when getting a snack on our romantic evening together, do a quick size calculation before giving our wives their “half?” Even our best attempts at love have twinges of selfishness. The solution is not a greater affection for our wives, but rather a greater affection for the Lord. It is in our proper understanding of the work of Christ and the greatness of his forgiveness for us that our expression will change. Only when we love our Savior more will we, as husbands, show honor to the woman as the weaker vessel (1 Pet. 3:7). The solution to selfish love is selfless love, the kind of love that shows you love your wife as Christ loved the church.
  2. Spiritual Abdication. Most of us understand the need to provide materially for our wives. Scripture gives a very different emphasis. Instead of material provisions the Bible speaks of spiritual provision. We are to be used by the Holy Spirit as sanctifying agents in our marriage. We are to cleanse our wives with “the washing of water with the word,” (Eph. 5:26) in order that they would grow spiritually. To perform this task something greater than our words is needed. We need to set God’s word before our wives. We may fail to read Scripture to our wives because they ask difficult questions, or because we would rather watch the latest episode of our favorite TV show. The Bible calls us back again: Husbands, wash your wives with the word of God. Make that commitment to read just a little more of God’s word. It does not need to be profound. You just need to read. If she asks a question you cannot answer, beg for time and find the answer.

If, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, we might grow in our spiritual earnestness how much better our marriages might be. We may even be convinced of the selfishness of our love.

Civil War at Home

sad boy

When we hold our newborns in our arms they look completely perfect. Even their little baby cries are cute and adorable (mind you, not at 3 a.m.). When we look at them it is difficult to imagine any sin in them at all. But when our little angel(s) grow older, original sin becomes apparent very quickly. Biblically speaking, sin and its manifestations in our children should not surprise us. As parents, we cannot eliminate sin no matter how well intentioned we may be. However, parents are called by God to work to apply biblical truth to our children’s lives. We are called to raise up our children in the fear and admonition of the Lord (Eph. 6:4). So what do we do when our children begin to argue? In family arguments there are a host of sins that our children can choose to commit. However, most of these sins can be placed in two broad categories: unkind speech and unkind action.

  1. Unkind Speech. The moment we hear unkind speech in our home we must stop the offending child. We should give a verbal rebuke to our child and remove him from the social setting. He is not able to handle to freedom in that moment. For children aged 3 and older, part of the resolution process should also involve the offender seeking forgiveness. Not a half-hearted apology, but a sincere asking for forgiveness for sinning against their brother with their unkind words. By requiring the specifics of the sin to be verbalized, our child will recognize the nature of their sin more clearly. Not only are we to correct the sin, but we are also to encourage the opposite virtue. In this case, we should help our children encourage their siblings. Point out successes of siblings and help them complement their brother. Have the family attend siblings’ sporting events and recitals and cheer for them. In other words, we should find ways to have our children’s words build up, not tear down.
  2. Unkind Action. When children stick out their tongues, hit, bite, pinch or any other physical assault that may take place in the normal course of our parenting day we should “throw the book” at our sweet little sinner: corporal punishment at a young age, or strong consequences if our children are older. Though unkind speech is certainly unacceptable, laying hands on a sibling represents a significant step along the path of sin. Instead of using their hands for destruction we want to teach our children to use them for strengthening. We should encourage our children to hold the door open for each other, or help lift up a smaller sibling when they have fallen. Teach them gentleness when the baby sibling arrives in the family. And when these opportunities arise, tell them, “This is a good way to use your hands. You are helping your brother!”

Sin should not surprise us. However, we should not allow sin to fester unaddressed in our families. We must train ourselves to correct the sin and instruct our children in the opposite virtue.

My Mouth Says Yes, My Body Says No

burden

If I were to ask you what my favorite snack is, would you know? Of course not. But there is a way to find out. The solution is to get me in a room full snacks and see which bowl I head toward first. If I claim to love banana cream pie but instead spend all my time at the Doritos bowl you will disregard my previous claim. My actions confirm the trustworthiness of my words. What we do clarifies, and sometimes re-defines, what we say.

Family. Much of our instruction as parents is validated, or invalidated, by the decisions we make around our children. For example, most Christian parents have good intentions to teach their children to love God. But what value are we communicating to our children’s hearts when we neglect corporate worship to attend an event of our own choosing like a music recital, sports event or hunting trip. Our instruction may be, “Love God, no matter what,” but our actions say, “Love God if you don’t have a better offer.”

Marriage. No matter how often we tell our wives we love them, our actions can undo all those words. If you do not believe me, test the hypothesis: try making your wedding anniversary the same as every other day. Do not mention the special nature of the day, no flowers or chocolates, no special date. Instead encourage her to wash your car and fold that special shirt you wear when you go golfing with the guys. Your wife’s response would be both predictable and justified. You may be saying “I love you,” with your words, but by your actions you are saying, “I do not care anything about you whatsoever.”

Church. In the Presbyterian Church in America, membership vows include a promise to support the church in its worship and work. As a pastor, I’ve never met anyone who would take umbrage with this part of their vows. Yet why are churches’ evening services so poorly attended? Our words may say, “I’m committed,” but our actions say, “I’ll come 50% of the time.”

God. Perhaps the primary relationship that sits over all the previously mentioned ones is our relationship with God. As Christians, we profess faith in Christ’s work alone as the securing action of our redemption. Flowing from this redemption is God’s charge to “be holy, for I am holy.” (Cf. 1 Pet. 1:16). God in his word defines what it means to be set apart, dedicated in love to the Lord. The problem, of course, is our sin. Sin says, “I love myself more than I love God.” No matter the transgression, our action confirms love for self. Our only solution is to cry out to the Lord for deliverance. And having been delivered we must begin again learning to match our actions to our words through the power of the God at work it us (Phil. 2:12-13).

Healthy Family Worship Habits

prayer

Family worship is typically a source of much guilt for us. Not so much because of the content of what may be discussed, but rather in our neglect of it. We may read books about family worship, we may know what we are supposed to do in family worship, but we may still neglect the practice. Below are some ways family worship can become a habit in your family.

  1. Meditate often on the promises of Scripture. Family worship will be a painful chore if it does not flow from a deep love for God. A deep love for God flows from his deep love for us, summarized in his promises. So meditate on them so you would have joy in the Christian discipline of family worship.
  2. Have a plan. Without some kind of direction and purpose to your family worship, you will lack a clear message. This, in turn, will distract your children and cause you to be discouraged. And when you are discouraged…you will quit.
  3. Keep it simple. Sometimes we fathers are paralyzed by our desire to be profound. We want our family worship lesson to sound like our favorite celebrity pastor. There is a reason these men are well-known: they are uniquely gifted communicators. More significant than your infrequent profundity is your faithful daily reading of Scripture to your family. Stay within your range of gifts, and lead your family in the study of God’s pure words.
  4. Make it a routine. We live in a time when “routine” is a bad word. However, routine is very helpful in establishing habits. Choose a time when you will gather as a family to worship. In our family it has typically been around one of the family meals. Depending on our schedule for the semester, we will come together for family worship either around the breakfast or supper table. By choosing a regular time, you and your children will learn to expect the event, and miss it when it does not happen.
  5. Keep your material close at hand. If you have to rummage around your house to find your Bibles you have introduced a potential excuse. Keep all those things in a cupboard or drawer nearby. Do not tempt your own laziness by having your family worship materials in the next county.
  6. Be faithful in private worship. The strength of your family worship will only be as strong as your own commitment to the pursuit of God’s word. Deuteronomy 6:5-7 is the passage that is most often cited when it comes to our duty of family worship. That passage lays out a specific order. First the parent is to love God and his word. Then he is to pass it on to his children.

The word of God feeds our souls. For that reason we should be diligent to set it before our children daily. Make it a priority in your family starting today.

Family Worship Suggestions

father-son-1

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. (Deut. 6:6-7, ESV)

The obligation of Christian parents to pass on the truth of God’s word is clear in God’s word. The problem is, we do not have an exact “game plan” of what that may look like. Beyond bringing our children up in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4, ESV), how do we find the passage that gives us the checklist? Of course, no such list exists. Our task as parents is simply to set God’s promises and commands before our children so they might know who to love and how to love him (see Westminster Shorter Catechism #3). Below are some different ways we can teach our children diligently and raise them up in the instruction of the Lord:

  1. Catechisms. Catechisms, of course, do not replace the Bible, but summarize the teachings of the Bible. The Heidelberg Catechism or the Westminster Shorter Catechism help your children understand the basic categories of theology, keeping them from error in what they believe and how they live. G. I. Williamson has written very beneficial study guides for each which can help you lead your families through a study of the catechisms.
  2. Bible reading. You may choose to read one chapter per day from the Bible with our children. Read a chapter a day until you finish a book and then start another one. Make sure you choose both New Testament and Old Testament books. If you do this daily, you will have 365 chances each year to teach your children what you are learning as you study God’s word for yourself.
  3. Sermon review. Each day you can talk with your children about part of what you have learned together during corporate worship. This method gives you a handy outline to start with and will help reinforce what was taught from the pulpit. All you need is a little note taking during Sunday worship and choosing several main themes on which to concentrate (see an example here).
  4. Topical study. The catechism is topical, but here I mean something else. Sometimes we may come across a certain theological concept we want to teach our children. Other times there is a certain behavior that crops up in our home. This kind of family worship takes time to address these issues over a span of a week or two.

I’m sure you can come up with more ways to lead your family in worship, but these four can help you get started with family worship. Don’t neglect your responsibility. Adjust what you are saying to the age of your children. Without your leadership in family worship, your children will only think of God’s word on Sunday, and that is simply not enough.

Love Your Spouse by Loving God

Heart Tree

Christian marriage, like all of life, is shaped by self-denial. There is, of course, an understanding among most adults that we cannot always get our way in human relationships. However, I’m talking about something a little different: the denial of self in pursuit of our daily worship of God. Romans 12:1 teaches we are, by God’s mercy, to present our bodies “as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God.” The motive is not inward, but an act of worship toward God. As John Calvin has said, that “we are consecrated and dedicated to God, and, therefore, should not henceforth think, speak, design, or act, without a view to his glory.” (On the Christian Life, Chapter 2, Section 1). Glorifying God should happen in all of life, so what shape does that take in our marriage relationships?

  1. Think Sympathetically. The apostle Paul tells the Philippian Christians to think about that which is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise (Phil. 4:8). Our Heavenly Father is all those things and, as his adopted children, we are to imitate him (Eph. 5:1). All people are a little irritating at times, but think on that which is excellent: the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of your spouse. Think of the ways your spouse has been used by God to bless and sanctify you. In doing so, you give glory to God for the goodness he has worked in your spouse.
  2. Communicate Graciously. So often we communicate our love for each other according to our own preferences. We should instead take account of the likes and needs of our spouse in a kind and tenderhearted way (Eph. 4:32). If your wife needs help managing the children we are not expressing concern about them when we buy them our favorite cordless drill. That purchase was made for you, not her. God calls us to love our fellow man as ourselves. Since our spouses are included within that category, we should honor the Lord in our expressions of affection by being tender-hearted as he commands.
  3. Serve Selflessly. The first years marriage, Lisa and I would argue about who worked harder. We were both convinced we were shouldering the bulk of the family’s load. Obviously we were thinking of our own glory instead of God’s. Yet he commands us to “through love, serve one another.” (Gal. 5:13). The most important question is not whether you are working harder than your spouse, but whether you are effectively and selflessly performing your God-ordained role. In doing so you give glory to God.

The Bible tells us we are to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. The reflection of the content of your heart can only be seen by what you do. It is not most clearly seen in what we do when we know everyone is watching, but around the one person most likely accept us despite all our warts and sins.

Husbands, Make Submission Joyful

Friends Walking

Last week we began looking at the roles God has set out in his word to guide Christian marriage. Usually men, in their carnality, love to hear the passages of Scripture that deal with submission. It can awaken a sense of entitlement, or pride. God anticipates this reaction when dealing with Christian marriage. Immediately following his teaching to Christian wives he follows up the husbands.

In Eph. 5:22-33 you may notice that, while 51 words are used to instruct the wife the husband needs 102. It is exactly in combining the instruction to the man with what we have previously seen given to the woman that we see the compelling beauty of God’s design for marriage. Here, God gives men the following instruction about his relationship with his wife.

  1. Husbands are to lead as servants. The expectation of many is that men, in marriage, will be the selfish oaf sleeping on the couch while the wife scurries around doing all the work. Nothing could be further from the ideal, as far as Paul is concerned. The husbands is to love is wife as Christ loved the church (5:25). Christ loved the church by giving up the splendor of heaven and suffering humiliation from the day he was conceived up until the point when he is raised from the dead. He suffers those things to redeem his church because he loves her. Christ is the picture given to the husband to follow in leadership. He must be willing to give up the greatest personal comforts for the sake of his bride, just as Christ was. Therefore, the husbands concern in marriage is not his happiness and ease, but his wife’s.
  2. Husbands are spiritual leaders. True happiness is not found in stuff, but in faith in Christ. Often the man is seen as the provider, which is part of his job in marriage. However, he is primarily to be the spiritual leader of his home. Christ gives himself up to sanctify the church, cleansing her through the washing with the word. That is where true joy is found. Therefore the tired, discouraged husband still takes time to open the Bible with his wife, to lead her. The husband does not affect spiritual change in his wife, but can be used by the Holy Spirit to bring about such transformation.
  3. Husbands are to lead as they would like to be led. Husbands are to love their wives as their own bodies (5:28-29). I don’t know many men who would like to be ignored, taken for granted, and treated badly for the sake of some personal convenience. Therefore they are not to treat their wives that way.

It is in combining biblical submission with leadership that the beauty of God’s design for marriage is seen. The wife joyfully follows her husbands leadership trusting him to lead her spiritually as they are sanctified together by the Holy Spirit. That, my friend, is true joy.

The Bible’s Dirty Word on Marriage: Submission

Wedding Rings

Having laid out foundational assumptions in last week’s installment we can now begin to address the issue of marriage. In Genesis 2:18-24 God establishes marriage in this order: 1. God made man; 2. God made woman; 3. God brings them together; 4. therefore, marriage. But God does much more than simply establish marriage. Our God and Savior gives us roles within marriage to be practiced for his glory.

There are three primary biblical texts to which we can turn for instruction on the roles of husbands and wives within marriage: Eph. 5:22-33, Col. 3:18-19, and 1 Pet. 3:1-7. In examining biblical roles we will mostly use the Ephesians passage. This text begins by addressing the woman’s role in marriage.

In Eph. 5:22, Paul calls the wife to “submit to your own husbands”. Paul helps us understand what this means through a word-picture. “Now, as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” (Eph. 5:24). In our day, submission is often associated enslavement to tyranical napoleon complex types. Even “complementarians” can do summersaults to avoid the cultural backlash of using this word. But if God says it, it must be good. So what should we consider when it comes the issue of biblical submission?

  1. The cultural definition of submission is misrepresented and/or misunderstood. Submission is not an enslavement, but rather a joyful yielding of our rights to one in leadership over us. Each day we submit to many things such as traffic laws, lines at customer service counters, our bosses, clients, and the list goes on. Why then would a woman submitting to the man she loves be a bad thing?
  2. The nature of submission is misrepresented and/or misunderstood. Submission is not an assessment of the value or rank of a person. Therefore there should be free and open discussion between husbands and wives on the decisions that will be made in their marriage.
  3. Wives are to follow the leadership of their husbands. The church is led by Christ, and marriage is a picture of that relationship. The wife takes on the role of the church and the husband that of Christ. Therefore, the husband leads the marriage, and the wife follows his leadership.
  4. The wife is to submit to her husband in everything. The Bible teaches that, unless the husband is leading to sin, the wife is to submit to her husband. In everything. My next post will show this instruction to be less risky than it may appear to you now, especially when considering a properly functioning, Biblical marriage.

The challenge of examining biblical roles for marriage by weekly installments is that we look at each role in isolation. The Bible teaches on these roles in relation to each other, so our conclusions on roles within marriage will have to wait until next week when we examine the Bible’s prescribed role for men.

Marriage: Taking a Foggy Plunge

Marriage Introduction

If parenting is a labor of foggy love, so is marriage. Of course it does not start out that way. When I started dating my wife 24 years ago, our first days were all excitement, sunshine and roses. Nary a cross word was spoken between us, and we had limitless patience for each other, or so it seemed. We were young, foolish and ran into all sorts of trouble. Lisa was eighteen years old when we married, and there was a pressing motivating factor behind our marriage who arrived six months later. For people looking at our start, the most likely outcome would be two (or three) ruined people and one ruined marriage. However, by God’s grace he preserved us, using people and his word to sanctify us and accomplish his purpose in us.

Now I’m no marriage guru, but I think I have learned a couple of things after 22 years. I want to walk through some of what I’ve learned in my own marriage and try and clear the fog a little. However, first there are foundational assumptions to lay out:

  1. Trust the Bible. Christians start with the sufficiency and perspicuity (why just say “clarity” when you can say “perspicuity”?) of the Bible to give stability to every part of life, including marriage. The Bible and the Bible alone is our final authority when it comes to every single minuscule detail of our lives. Sorry Oprah.
  2. Biblical Obedience Presumes Regeneration. It seems one always has to make this disclaimer when teaching the commands of Scripture. As soon as the “thou shalts” of the Bible come out, so do the cries of “legalism!” In the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 16, good works are described as acts done according to God’s command, out of faith in him, as we live empowered by the Holy Spirit, bearing his fruit. That means biblical marriage does not make you acceptable to God. Instead, you are acceptable to God by the work of Christ alone, therefore you should honor him in your marriage.
  3. Command and Principle. Though the Bible will be specific in its commands, there will areas of marriage governed by application of biblical principle. In these there can be variety among faithful Christians. It is my goal to be gracious in teaching application, yet uncompromising in the Bible’s requirements for obedience.
  4. Men and Women Are Different. In some quarters there is a desire to minimize differences between men and women. However, the Bible does not operate that way. For example, the curses given to Adam and Eve after the fall are not the same. God curses Adam with hardship in his work, and curses Eve with hardship in bearing children and submission. If men and women are the same God would not need to make distinctions along gender lines in his curses.

So, no legalistic righteousness through marriage. Instead we will look together at God’s requirements for his people in marriage so we would know how to honor him.