A Keepable Law

Hypocrisy and self-righteousness is the result of giving children a keepable law and telling them to be good. ~Tedd Tripp

That doesn’t only apply to children. We all want a keepable law. A law that we can obey in our own power. A law that doesn’t crush our pride and arrogance. A law that doesn’t necessitate a substitute. A law that doesn’t show us how weak and foolish we are. A law that doesn’t drive us to the cross.

Perhaps that’s why we are so emphatic about keeping the Ten Commandments. Or should I say, our Ten Commandments? Our Ten Commandments are a bit different from God’s—a bit more keepable. We water them down so that we can obey them in our own strength.

Here’s the APV (American Popular Version) of the Ten Commandments:

1. Don’t worship Buddha and company
2. Don’t make or own creepy little statues of gods
3. Avoid four letter words
4. Show up on Sunday
5. Have a decent relationship with your parents
6. Don’t kill people
7. Don’t sleep around
8. Don’t be a thief
9. Don’t lie
10. I don’t really know what this one means

But there’s a problem. It’s called God’s law. Jesus summarizes his teaching on the law by saying,

“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48)

That doesn’t square well with the APV of the Ten Commandments. Those commandments are keepable. But God’s standard is perfection. Even on our best days, we can’t hope to achieve that.

You see, properly understood, the law is a mirror in which we see how sinful we really are. It shatters our pride, crushes our arrogance, and shows us that we desperately need a Savior. This is the law we need to hear and teach. A law that sends us running to the cross. A law that requires us to trust in the finished work of Christ. A law we can now obey only because we have been given the Spirit who empowers us to do so. We need the perfect law of God.

The Words That Wreck Me

“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matt. 5:48)

There was a time when I didn’t know that this verse existed. I was probably hiding from it. After all, it’s a bit startling. I can handle the parts of the Sermon on the Mount where Jesus talks about hate being the same as murder and lust being the same as adultery (Matt. 5:21-30). Those words are uncomfortable, but they don’t wreck me. What wrecks me is the realization that God requires perfection. It’s non-optional, and I can’t attain it. Nothing I do can earn God’s favor. Nothing I do can make me perfect. That’s humbling. In fact, it’s downright scary.

If I’m left to myself, I am doomed. And the same goes for you, your spouse, your kids, and your neighbors. We’re all doomed if left to ourselves. We can’t be perfect as the Father is perfect.

But, that’s not the end of the story. There is a man who lived a perfect life. There’s a man who wrapped himself in flesh to come and save his people. The Shepherd who suffered the wrath of God in the place of his sheep. The Son who was perfectly obedient to his Father. The High Priest who became the perfect sacrifice. That man is the God-Man—Jesus Christ.

Christ has earned God’s favor on our behalf. He has imputed his righteousness to our account (2 Cor. 5:21). In him we have everything that we can’t hope to have in our own power. Let this be our prayer:

Lord break our pride and all our vain attempts to earn your favor
Help us to rest upon the finished work of Christ

What Your Flesh Doesn’t Want You to Know: The Role of Prayer in Mortification

1. Your flesh doesn’t want you to know that prayer plays a crucial role in mortification.

Prayer is vital to mortification, but your flesh will work diligently to keep you from remembering that on a day to day basis. It wants you to think of prayer as an optional add-on to the Christian life for the super devout. And if that doesn’t work, it has a backup plan that countless Christians have fallen victim to: it wants you to divorce prayer from the rest of the Christian life. It doesn’t want you to wake up knowing that prayer is intimately bound up with loving God and others. As long as you have a small view of prayer, your flesh is a happy camper.

2. Your flesh doesn’t want you to know how prayer reveals sin.

Prayer has a special way of showing us the sinful desires of our hearts. As James writes, “You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions” (Jas. 4:3). Our prayers often drip with selfish intentions. “Lord, if only I had ___!” Unfortunately, we’re all born experts at concealing the sinful desires behind our prayers. Consider this prayer: “Lord, help me to be a better pastor.” Seems innocent enough. But our heart and flesh are so deceitful that a man could pray this prayer for all the wrong reasons. Friend, your flesh hates you, and it’s crafty. It doesn’t want you to see the sinful desires of your heart. In humility ask God to reveal the wicked intentions of your heart that you may mortify them.

3. Your flesh doesn’t want you to know that you can come before God in repentance.

My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. (1 John. 2:1)

This is the last thing your flesh wants you to know when you sin. Your flesh hates God, and it hates that you have an advocate with him. When you sin, it will beat you into the ground, sowing seeds of despair. It will do anything during these times to keep you from remembering the gospel. It doesn’t want you to know that there is forgiveness in Christ. It doesn’t want you to remember that your sins have been fully atoned for on the cross. It doesn’t want you to repent.

4. Your flesh doesn’t want you to know that you can come boldly to the throne of grace that you may receive mercy and help in time of need.

Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Heb. 4:14-16)

The flesh is a formidable foe, but it’s a conquered foe. And not only has your Savior set you free from its bondage, he has given you everything you need to mortify it. When temptation comes, you can come before the throne of grace for help. When you are struggling with sin, you can find courage and strength in your Savior who will never leave you or forsake you.

Conclusion

The only hope for your flesh is to keep you from the means of growth God has given you. It doesn’t want you to pray—ever. So, pray. Pray in humility, knowing that you can come before God only because of what he has done for you in Christ. Pray boldly, knowing that your perfect Father hears you. Pray watchfully, rejoicing as God answers your prayers for his glory and your good. And pray in response to who God is and what he has done. Seek him first and the temptations and allurements of the flesh will grow uglier by the day. They can’t satisfy your heart, only God can. So, mortify them. You have not been left unarmed. God has given you everything you need to fight the good fight. Stand up, face your flesh, and put it to death.

I’ll let John Owen close out this series:

The choicest believers, who are assuredly freed from the condemning power of sin, ought yet to make it their business all their days to mortify the indwelling power of sin.

Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it while you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.

Read It: 3/7

Check out these articles from this past week!person-310799_640

The 3 Sieves: Tim Challies writes,

I know it is not the perfect standard by which to judge, but I often find myself thinking it: If others speak of me the way I speak of them, I would be devastated. If I could hear what people say about me, and if they could hear what I say about them, I don’t know that I would have a friend left on earth. Why do we do this? Why are we so endlessly cruel?

Your Job Is God’s Assignment: John Piper reminds us of four key things we must remember about our jobs.

Things You Don’t Want to Hear Your Worship Leader Say: This article is from a few years back, but I believe it’s still worth sharing. This is just plain funny—and perhaps a bit sobering.

A Biblical Theology of Clothing: If you’ve never thought about the theological implications of clothes, this is an excellent place to start.

What Your Flesh Doesn’t Want You to Know: The Vital Role of the Word in Mortification

1. Your flesh doesn’t want you to know how important reading and hearing the Word is to mortification.

If you’ve been led astray by the misconception that the Word contributes nothing to the war against your flesh, you’re exactly where it wants you. As long as you view the Word of God as an optional part of the Christian life, your flesh can rest easy knowing that you’ve neglected one of the primary weapons God has given you to fight against it. The Word is the “sword of the Spirit” (Eph. 6:17b); it is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16b); but your flesh can’t have you coming to grips with that.

2. Your flesh doesn’t want you to know how the Word reveals sin.

When we open the Scriptures, we are confronted with the perfect requirements of the law of God. We see the beautiful and holy character of our God, and it shines a spotlight into the wicked depths of our hearts. Our most well hidden sins are exposed by the Word. When we see God as he has revealed himself to us in his Word, the appropriate response is to cry out with Isaiah,

“Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” (Isa. 6:5)

But half of your flesh’s battle revolves around making sure you don’t see how sinful you actually are. Its battle plan would fall apart if you recognize your hopeless condition. After all, one of the worst things that could happen to your flesh is for you to realize you need a Savior.

3. Your flesh doesn’t want you to know what the Word says about God’s attitude toward sin.

It’s impossible to seriously read the Word and come away thinking that sin is no big deal. From Genesis to Revelation we see that sin is an abomination that has thrown creation into chaos. Sin in its very nature is rebellion against God. As R. C. Sproul puts it, it’s cosmic treason against the King of the universe. And God doesn’t brush sin under a rug, hoping that it will disappear. No, our God hates sin and must pour out his wrath upon all unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18ff). But your flesh doesn’t want you meditating on the holiness and wrath of God. It wants you to think God takes sin lightly. It wants you to view God as an omnipotent Santa Claus who exists for your pleasure. Your flesh knows that if you understand how seriously God takes sin, you will begin to as well—and it can’t let that happen.

4. Your flesh doesn’t want you to know the message of the gospel that flows through the veins of the living Word.

Throughout the Word we are presented with the grand story of redemption. Before time began, God planned and promised within himself to save his rebellious people. Right after the Fall, he promised to crush the head of the Serpent through the seed of the woman (Gen. 3:15), and it is this promise that unfolds as we flip from page to page in the Scriptures, culminating in the work of Christ on the cross. Here is the beautiful news we find in the Word: We are totally depraved sinners, and God sent his Son to suffer his wrath in the place of totally depraved sinners. If you are in Christ, all of your sin has been dealt with on the cross, and your salvation is secure. You are a new creation, made alive to live for the glory of God!

But this news is like ipecac for your flesh. The gospel makes it nauseous, and worse, angry. It hates the good news, and will do anything to keep you from remembering it. Listen to who you are because of what Christ has done for you:

We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. (Rom. 6:6-7)

Such good news is the worst news your flesh will ever hear. This is why your flesh delights in assaulting your thoughts. One of its chief goals is to make you forget who you are in Christ.

5. Your flesh doesn’t want you to know that the Word equips you to mortify it.

The Word reveals the schemes of your flesh, casting them into the light. It shows your flesh to be a foe conquered by the work of your Savior on the cross. God has not left you alone to mortify your flesh. He has given you his Spirit, and he has shown you how you are to walk as a new creation. The gospel crushes pride, arrogance, and selfishness, bringing you to see the grace and mercy of God. All of these things are weapons your flesh can’t tolerate. You have been given everything you need to kill the enemy within you.

In light of the great weapon you have, does that mean your flesh will give up? Well, no, it will never give up. And remember this: It doesn’t want you to read the Word. The last thing it wants you to do this year is to seek God in his Word, submitting to his rightful rule and reign over your life. If you want to make your flesh happy, put your Bible on a shelf and forget about it—let it collect an inch of dust. I, however, advise you to ignore its pleas for complacency. Don’t underestimate the importance of the Word in your battle against sin. Open it, read it, submit to it, and let your affections be stirred for our God and Savior who alone is worthy of worship.

The One Another Commands: “Never Put a Stumbling Block in the Way of a Brother” (Rom. 14:13)

There are over 50 one another commands in the Bible. This series of posts is a journey through all of them.

“Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother.”


This week, we will be looking at the second half of this one another command:

Decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. (Rom. 14:13b)

But what are these “stumbling blocks” and “hindrances” that Paul refers to? In the next few verses he provides us with an answer:

I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. (Rom. 14:14-15)

As we observed last week, the Roman believers were quarreling over whether or not it was acceptable to eat what was pronounced unclean under the ceremonial law. Paul makes it clear that such meat isn’t unclean in itself (v. 14a), but he adds an important caveat:

But it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. (Rom. 14:14b)

Because of this, we are called to both respect and protect our brothers and sisters in Christ by resolving to never put a stumbling block or hindrance in their way. As Paul continues in v. 20:

Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble. (Rom. 14:20-21)

These verses bring us straight to a modern application: the issue of alcohol. Reformed Christians (and many other traditions) believe that alcohol is a gift from God that can be enjoyed (in moderation) for his glory. However, we have brothers and sisters in Christ who (sometimes sharply) disagree with us. And that’s okay! What’s not okay—as we looked at last week— is a spirit of arrogance and pride that scoffs at those who disagree with us. We’re called to love each other enough to abstain from beer for an evening if it bruises a brother’s conscience to be around alcohol.

In summary, we’re called to love each other enough that we’re willing to set aside our liberties for them. Will that always be easy? No, but I can assure you that it is far better than wrecking a relationship for the sake of something that doesn’t matter all that much.

What Your Flesh Doesn’t Want You to Know: Its Nature and Schemes

1. Your flesh doesn’t want you to know of its existence.

It will do anything to gain the element of surprise. Utterly perverse and depraved, it slithers about in secrecy. This gives it room to do all of its dastardly planning while leaving you in the dark, unprepared and unaware.

2. Your flesh doesn’t want you to know of its persistence.

It’s always at work, seeking to entice your desires, and bending your affections inward. But it wants you to ignore this and skip along on your merry way. Your resistance is a nuisance, and it well tempt you daily to relax and give it full reign over your heart. Drift into a lackadaisical state, and you’re right where your flesh wants you. “Sit back,” it whispers, “everything will be fine.”

3. Your flesh doesn’t want you to know that it hates you, God, and anything that stirs your affections for him.

In its very nature, your flesh is at enmity with God. It hates him, and desires above all to dishonor him and send you chasing after idols. But, it’s in your flesh’s best interest to keep this truth to itself. To inform you of its desires would be suicidal. As long as you see it as an unlikable roommate, its plans remain hidden. The last thing it wants is for you to see it as an enemy against the glory of God and your enjoyment of him.

4. Your flesh doesn’t want you to know the folly of trying to make peace with it.

As Paul writes,

For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. (Gal. 5:17; see also Rom. 7:21-23)

One of the best presents you could give to your flesh is ignorance to this truth. It wants you to give up the war and write up a peace treaty, oblivious to the reality that you’re setting yourself up for a stab in the back. As a child of God, your flesh will never leave you alone until the day you die. But everyday it will work to keep you from remembering that.

5. Your flesh doesn’t want you to know that it will hit you in the valleys and on the mountain tops of your spiritual walk.

Your flesh has a knack for finding opportunities to attack you. When you’re down it will torture you, dragging you into the depths of despair. But it takes advantage of your “spiritual highs” as well. It will plant seeds of pride, arrogance, and legalism right when you think nothing could go wrong. If you thirst for God, it will do anything to get you to start looking down on others instead of walking alongside them. But, again, for you to know this would ruin your flesh’s fun.

6. Your flesh doesn’t want you to know that it can be mortified.

Your flesh is a formidable foe, but it has a not so hidden secret: it’s mortally wounded. Christ has conquered it on the cross and set you free from the chains it once bound you in. But that’s the last thing your flesh wants you to remember. It wants you to cower in its presence, drained of all hope. You have been given everything you need in Christ to mortify your flesh, and that only makes it angrier.