Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
When it comes to Christian theology and the application of biblical truths, the Puritans are among my favorite to read and study. Aside from the Puritans themselves, the name that comes to mind when I think of them is Joel Beeke, a Puritan scholar of the highest order. Having been acquainted with the writings of the Puritans and the Reformers from his youth, he has read hundreds (perhaps thousands) of books filled with Puritan and reformed sermons.
When I saw that Beeke released Reformed Preaching, I knew I wanted to get my hands on it. I had already come across his lectures on reformed experiential preaching, and I wanted to get my hands on a copy of the book so I could dive into the topic even further. To say it immediately impacted my preaching is an understatement. I have begun to weave application throughout my sermons, with extra focus on helping believers live in light of the truths of Scripture.
Beeke’s premise—the opposite of the most preconceived notions of reformed preaching—is that preaching shouldn’t simply be a rehearsing of exegesis in front of a crowd of people. For preaching to follow in the footsteps of the Reformation, it needs inform the mind of a the believer, but it fails if it doesn't pierce the heart and reach into the life of the hearer. That begins with the preacher who has experienced God and His Word in such a way before he ever proclaims it to the church. Only then can he powerfully deliver God’s Word in a life-changing way.
It is important that preachers don’t unnecessarily separate the objective realities of scripture with the subjective experiences of God’s presence and the working of His Word in everyday life. As those who are called to build up the church and preach sound doctrine, we must never lose sight of the reality that in our teaching, we are also discipling people to love God and obey all that He has commanded them. This is far from dry, dead orthodoxy. It should lead to lively, obedient doxology.
Two excellent features of the books are the biographical sketches of reformed preachers and their impact on theology and preaching today. These small biographical sections highlight the emphases of these preachers, their impacts on reformed preaching, and their productivity as men of God. These are sure to inspire and spur preachers on to the glorious and weighty task of pulpit ministry. At the same time, rather than a sentimental fascination with the preachers of old, Beeke reminds us of the importance of carrying the biblical and theological emphases from the reformation preachers into the present.
Preachers and those aspiring to the proclamation of God’s word should purchase a copy of this book and study it thoroughly. Though a hefty volume indeed (512 pages), it is jam-packed with encouraging and inspiring teaching on reformed experiential preaching.
Make sure you get a copy (or maybe one for your pastor!) and devote some time to work through this excellent and much-needed volume by Dr. Beeke!
God Can Use Reading Plans
It’s March, and though I recently changed jobs and have been a little under the weather, I've been striving for consistency in my Bible reading plan. This week I finished the book of Hebrews and I’m working my way through Numbers. I’ve been blessed by working my way through the great biblical history of the creation, fall, flood, and the Patriarchs, and it has been great to read of God’s providential work, especially the climactic parting of the Red Sea to rescue His people. I’ve seen (or heard on some days) our Holy God’s plans for dwelling with the sinful people of Israel who are more like me than the Bible superheroes I envisioned growing up. It has been a joy and blessing to follow the old paths and see God’s work among His people in the Old Testament.
In all honesty, at times it was difficult to get through some of it. Living in a world of instant gratification and entertainment doesn’t lend itself very well to 27 chapters of detailed laws, sacrifices, and bloody purification ceremonies that seem so foreign to the world I live in. There were some days that I didn’t fully grasp what I was hearing. On other days, it seemed like I kept hearing the same things over and over again. I was tempted to give up and ask: “What’s the big deal about the priest’s clothing and all these details? It’s not like I need to know or do any of this stuff since I’m not a Jew or a priest.” God knows what I need, though.
Now, I can honestly say I’m glad I read Leviticus last month. More specifically, I’m glad I read Genesis through Leviticus within 60 days of reading the book of Hebrews because I’ve always been told that I needed to know the law in order to grasp Hebrews. Though I don’t fully understand the law or the book of Hebrews, there is so much that I would have glossed over or missed in my reading had I not walked through the first three books of the Bible. In fact, there’s a ton I want to go back and study with greater depth because I can start to trace God’s argument in Hebrews.
God Opened My Eyes
It would be far beyond the scope of this post if I pointed out everything I’ve seen in Hebrews. In a brief reading of the book, you’ll notice angels, Abraham, Moses, Melchizedek, Aaron, the priesthood, Old Testament sacrifices, and much more, but I want to show you a few things I noticed while reading through Hebrews 9:
The tabernacle was only a copy of the heavenly dwelling place of God. The ordinances of the old covenant took place in a tent otherwise known as the tabernacle. Exodus 40 and Leviticus 1 will help to see the background information on this. Basically, the tabernacle was an earthly (and imperfect) shadow of the beauty of God’s presence in heaven. This is not something to take lightly—God gave the Israelites a taste of heaven on earth by dwelling among them! Through Jesus (who “set up tabernacle” or “dwelt” among us according to John 1:14), we also have access to heaven while on earth by “drawing near to God”.
This points us to the value of the prayer, where we draw near to God and experience His presence. It also points us to the local church, the people of God, where Christ dwells by the Spirit. Ultimately, it points us to our heavenly hope in eternity where we will dwell in God’s physical presence with no possibility of sin or death to separate us from Him.
Earthly purification and sacrifices were not enough. The people of God were physically purified from uncleanness through the sprinkling of the blood and ashes of a heifer. There were daily and yearly sacrifices on behalf of God’s people (including the priests) that served as a reminder of their guilt from sin and temporary atonement from that sin. This reminder pointed the Israelites to Jesus because only His blood was enough to justify and make people holy for eternity. His sacrifice was of much greater significance.
We need to remember that God doesn’t desire empty sacrifices of formal worship or our attempts to justify ourselves before Him. The only sacrifice that is good for our souls is Jesus’ payment for sin on the cross.
The high priest entered the holy of holies once a year. The second and most holy area of the tent, where God’s presence dwelt on earth, was the holy of holies. The high priest could only enter it once a year, and it was a fearful place that was not to be entered haphazardly or foolishly. They had to bring blood to purify themselves and the people they represented before God each time. In contrast, Jesus entered into heaven once for all to represent His people before God, and He entered by means of His own blood. This can only happen because Jesus, our great High Priest, is completely pure and free from any sin. He put away sin completely by the sacrifice of Himself and allows us to draw near to God in full confidence. Through Christ, we get to be in a relationship with God that no Israelite or believer prior to Jesus ever experienced.
We shouldn’t take this lightly, but we also should take advantage of the fact that we can approach God, our Father, with the confidence of a child speaking to his loving father. When you feel that you can’t come to God, preach the gospel to yourself! In Christ, your sins are paid for and you’re welcomed to the throne of God!
These observations and meditations don’t even scratch the surface of the depth of truth found in Hebrews, but if I had given up on my bible reading plan, three things probably would not have happened:
Keep pressing on. Keep reading your Bible, even when you don’t feel like it. Keep reading the Bible even when it seems boring and useless—the Old Testament too! God will work in ways you could never imagine!
This week, I want to recommend a wonderful resource by Luke Walker. He wrote Olaudah Equiano: The Interesting Man to highlight the life of a godly black Christian who has made an impact on the world. I hope this sampling of the book whets your appetite to pick up a copy!
A Boy In Bondage
Olaudah Equiano was the first known writer of the atrocities of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. His autobiographical writings chronicled his life from the moment he and his sister were kidnapped and enslaved to his days as an abolitionist and missionary. He was only eleven years old when he and his sisters were forcefully kidnapped. After this, he was separated from his sister and tossed back and forth amongst domestic slave owners before finally being carried across the Atlantic Ocean to America.
For a short time, he was enslaved in Virginia but was eventually purchased and taken to England. On his way, his name was changed to Gustavus Vassa (the name he would carry most of his life, until his autobiography revealed his birth name). Luke Walker, a biographer of Equiano, calls us to consider a painful reality: “Imagine being a child alone, socially isolated with no explanation given while horrors are carried out all around you. That is perhaps the most frightening aspect of all, the psychological terror of the ice-hearted cruelty of men”. (p. 10)
Glimpses of Providence
A man by the name of Daniel Queen began to instruct Equiano in the scriptures, and this would lead to a passion and love for God’s Word in his life. His master, who should have freed him, instead sold him to another master, bringing Equiano to the West Indies. As he traveled under his new master Robert King and Captain Thomas Farmer, he chose not to run away because he trusted in God’s sovereign hand over his life (though he didn’t fully grasp who God was at the time). This integrity led to a relationship with Thomas Farmer that would ultimately change his entire life.
In God’s Providence, King advised him to pursue his freedom. He even gave Equiano sugar and rum to sell as he sought to purchase his freedom. Though God’s hand was with him, he experienced injustice in his trading with no legal support when fraudulent transactions occurred. Even worse, Equiano recounts the rape, iron muzzles, thumb screws, and other cruel methods used to punish and harm the slaves. Walker says, “I will not let the reader forget that these were real people, created imago dei (in the image of God)” (p. 17). He continues accurately, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles” because of such wickedness (Romans 2:24)!
“I wished to be as happy as them… this kind of Christian fellowship I had never seen, nor ever thought of seeing on earth; it fully reminded me of what I had read in the holy scriptures, of the primitive Christians who loved each other and broke bread.”
Things Are Changing
When Equiano earned enough money to buy his freedom, his master almost didn’t let him go. However, God’s hand was at work just as it was in the days of Joseph in Genesis and Thomas Farmer convinced King to let him go. After buying his freedom, he returned to England where he would use his appetite for learning to gain much knowledge and insight in music, mathematics, and other areas.
In some near-death experiences while traveling with Dr. Charles Irving strike a northern passage to India, Equiano realized that his soul was not free from the bondage of sin. After a season of seeking Catholicism, Quakerism, and Judaism, God opened a door for Equiano to hear the gospel from some sea-faring man he met. This man and his minister would show and speak of the impacts of the powerful gospel in their lives. Equiano writes that “I wished to be as happy as them… this kind of Christian fellowship I had never seen, nor ever thought of seeing on earth; it fully reminded me of what I had read in the holy scriptures, of the primitive Christians who loved each other and broke bread.” (p. 27)
Free At Last
On October 6, 1774, Equiano came across this life-changing verse of scripture: “there is no other name under heaven by which men must be saved” (Acts 4:12). It was then that Equiano “saw clearly with the eye of faith” that he was a wicked sinner, that Jesus died to pay for his sin, and that God’s invisible hand had been with him since he was 11 years old (p.29). Jesus and His Word became sweeter and greater to him than anything else on this earth. He was born again. The slave who had been released from the shackles of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade was freed from the eternal shackles of sin and death!
After his conversion, the saints in London urged him to use his gifts as a sailor to spread the gospel. Several of his early missionary efforts were thwarted, but he eventually founded The Sons Of Africa and fought for the rights of blacks in Britain. Being an entrepreneur, he self-promoted his autobiography The Interesting Man to help his work in the abolition of slavery at a time when William Wilberforce and others were also fighting for the same cause.
The slave who had been released from the shackles of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade was freed from the eternal shackles of sin and death!
His Legacy Lives On
In 1792, Equiano married Susanna Cullen, a white woman. Like many of the early white abolitionists of his day, he desired to see society as a whole shaped by the freedom of all people. Olaudah and Susanna had two children before Susanna passed away in 1796 and Olaudah in 1797. In 1833, the Slavery Abolition Act was passed by the British Parliament due in some part to Equiano’s life and work some 40 to 50 years prior. It would be another 30 years before slavery was abolished in the United States, but Equiano was undoubtedly aided in the “domino” effect that England’s abolition had in the United States (p. 38)
Though Christianity is often called a “White Man’s Religion”, men like Equiano prove that Christianity—and Reformed theology—are not inherently white or racist. Equiano was a Calvinist and his Calvinistic theology pervaded his views of humanity and our being made in God's image. There is an increasing animosity toward Reformed theology today, but Christians of all races would be wise to look back at men like Olaudah Equiano to be reminded that Biblical truth transcends the racial distinctions set up in any culture.
As you celebrate black history month, thank God for His sovereign hand in the lives of slaves who saw a corrupt form of Christianity but, more importantly, saw the true Savior in His glory. All things work together for those who love God.
Two Christian men, one black and one white, had a major impact on the abolition of slavery in England. The common thread between Equiano and Wilberforce was a robust, Biblical, and Reformed theology of man’s dignity. Every free black person in America and England can be thankful for God’s Providential hand in the life of Olaudah Equiano. Equiano, like other black Christians from his day, can truly look back at all of his former masters and oppressors and say, “as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen. 50:20).
As you celebrate black history month, thank God for His sovereign hand in the lives of slaves who saw a corrupt form of Christianity but, more importantly, saw the true Savior in His glory. All things work together for those who love God.
*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Since it’s Black History Month, I am reading The African Preachers published by Sprinkle Publications. I plan to share about the four African preachers spotlighted in this wonderful work in order to stir your affections for the work God has done among black Christians in America. I also highly recommend this volume for your personal library! It's a wonderful glimpse into Christ's work amid the horrors of slavery in America, and it will truly remind you that God works all things together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).
Early Life and Conversion
Lott Carey (1780-1828) may not be a household name, but God's use of this man will be known and celebrated for eternity. Born a slave, Carey made his way to Africa through God's missionary call on his life.
Carey was raised by godly parents in his hometown of Charles City, Virginia before being moved to Richmond, Virginia to work as a common laborer in a warehouse at the age of 24. For the first couple of years that he was in Richmond, he was described as "increasingly vicious" (p.12), being frequently drunk and very vulgar in his language. God was at work in his life, and this would soon be obvious.
In 1807, Carey was saved by the Lord and "an immediate and remarkable change was discovered in his life" (p.12). This change can be attributed only to the powerful working of the Holy Spirit in transforming his heart. It was at this time that he would hear his pastor preaching about the Spirit’s mighty work of the new birth in the life of believers found in John 3. He devoted himself to learning how to read this passage.
From Slave to Student
At his conversion, Carey was lacked knowledge even of the alphabet (p.13). However, just as God used "uneducated men" to spread His kingdom in the New Testament, He would give Carey all he needed to preach the Word and build enough favor to purchase his own freedom (Acts 4:13). With the help of some young men at the warehouse, Carey quickly taught himself to read John 3. Soon after, he also learned to write.
His learning was not in vain, either. He began preaching and exhorting people to come to Christ immediately. Carey devoted his free time to reading and building up his mind, even being found studying Smith's Wealth of Nations. Meanwhile, as his intellect grew and his call to mission work was growing, Carey "became more and more respected, and useful in his services at the warehouse" (p.14). He took seriously the biblical command to "work heartily as unto the Lord and not unto men" (Colossians 3:23).
His Character and Call
Though a slave, Lott Carey's character and work ethic were highly regarded by both black and white folks, and through God's providence, he was able to earn enough money to purchase freedom for himself and his two children for $850. Sadly, his first wife passed away before he could purchase her freedom. His godly reputation would proceed him so much that when he desired to leave his work as a warehouse laborer, his employers offered to raise his salary to $1000 if he would remain in the United States.
Like Paul, in Acts 20:22, however, Carey was “constrained by the Spirit” to take the gospel to Africa. When asked why he would risk his life, comfort, and prosperity to preach the gospel in Africa, he responded, "I feel bound to labor for my suffering race" (p.17). He must have felt the anguish of Paul who said, "...I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh" (Romans 9:1-3). This calling would lead Carey and others to form the African Missionary Society which would give money to African mission work. This wasn't enough for him, though. God called him to the mission field in Africa and he desired it as much as God did.
Onward to the Mission Field
Carey and his fellow preacher Collin Teague were approved by the American Baptist Mission Society and the Colonization Society to take the gospel to Africa where being black would be "no disparagement to their usefulness" (p.20). About a year after their approval, Carey, Teague, and their families would be ready to go. In Carey's last sermon, he preached these profoundly prophetic words:
"I am about to leave you and expect to see your faces no more. I long to preach to the poor Africans the way of life and salvation. I don't know what may befall me...nor am I anxious what may become of me. I feel it my duty to go, and I very much fear, that many of those who preach the gospel in this country will blush when the Savior calls them to give account of their labors in His cause, and tells them, 'I commanded you to go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature'..." (p. 24)
They traveled to the coast of Africa in the Nautilus on January 23, 1821 and eventually settled in the colony of Liberia, where they would live out the Great Commission.
Carey and His Legacy
Lott Carey was the first African American missionary to Africa. He founded Providence Baptist Church in Monrovia, the first Baptist church in Liberia. We would all do well to imitate Lott Carey's "impeccable life" and remember that "because he trusted God in ordinary things, God blessed him extraordinarily" (p. 4-5). As Christians, we know that all authority has been given to Jesus as He will build His church through us as we "make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19).
Though Carey only served in Africa for 7 years until his death in 1828, he was a pastor, counselor, and physician to the people there. His impact was not only felt in Liberia but also in the churches who supported him on the mission field. Carey's integrity, commitment to the mission, and faith in God have encouraged and inspired black and white Christians for nearly 200 years since his departure from Virginia.
“The African Preachers” by Sprinkle Publications
The Lott Carey Global Christian Missional Community: LottCarey.Org
I received a complementary copy of this book from the publisher and was not required to leave a positive review. Also, as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
Many Christians worldwide celebrate Lent, the 40 day period leading up to Easter which emphasizes prayer, fasting, and the importance of repentance. Though typically associated with Catholicism, many Protestants also find that a season of repentance and preparation for Easter is something of great value as well. Regardless of what you call it, you may want to set aside those forty days to give some focused meditation on Christ and His Sacrifice at the cross.
The Beauty of the Cross: Reflections for Lent from Isaiah 52 and 53 by Tim Chester is an excellent option for such a time of focus and reflection. From the introduction, Chester makes it clear that he wants readers to stand in awe of God and His great work in the death and resurrection of Jesus:
I want our jaws to drop as we stand open-mouthed before the cross, lost for words as we see the love of Christ in all its fullness.
Chester's deep love for God and His Word shines bright in this wonderful 40-day devotional. He drinks deep from the wells of sound biblical teaching while bringing rich illustrations and exhortations to see Christ's worth as we behold Him. By no means is this a technical commentary nor is it a light and fluffy feel-good devotional book. The Beauty of the Cross is meant to show us precisely what the title says: that the cross is beautiful because of the Savior who hung on it.
Zooming in on some of the richest and most explicitly Christ-centered passages in the Old Testament, the four songs in Isaiah (particularly the fourth song in 52 and 53) will open readers' eyes to the glory of Christ and His work in making purification for sins.
Chester shows us that Christ's work on the cross wasn't a New Testament invention or God's "whoops, better fix it!" moment to solve humanity's problems. The Beauty of the Cross shows us that God's plan A to rescue His people is glorious and gives us an opportunity to step back in awe as we set our minds and affections on the holy and triune God we serve.
Do yourself a favor and grab a copy before March 6th, so you can savor God's Word in Isaiah 52 and 53 this Lenten season! In a world of distraction, sometimes the best moments are we simply slow down and steep ourselves in a small section of God's Word!
For more information on Lent, see https://www.gotquestions.org/what-is-Lent.html.
This year I am working on memorizing Hebrews with a close friend. When we discussed it, we thought it would be a monumental task but well worth the effort. We decided that there shouldn't be a focus on a deadline. Instead, the focus would be on each day’s memory work, trusting that God would minister to our hearts and minds.
By Grace, You Can Do It
I’ve read much about the importance of scripture memory and have memorized large sections of scripture in the past. I've seen John Piper recite scripture for 15 minutes, and it was amazing! But it’s a discipline that is easy to leave behind in the busyness of the daily grind.
Seeing the title of this post may have almost turned you away because of guilt or lack of desire for working on scripture memory. I'm here to encourage you and remind you that the point is not quantity but quality. Hiding even small amounts of scripture in our hearts is of eternal value and worth the 5 to 10 minutes per day we could commit to it.
Remember, that the average American watches 5 hours of TV each day. In little more than 3% of that time, you could memorize Titus (46 verses) in less 3 months if you only memorized 5 verses a week. Even at one verse a week you could memorize a book of the Bible in less than a year! Imagine the spiritual encouragement you would have in that year.
The key to scripture memory is reliance on the Holy Spirit. Is that shocking to hear? It shouldn't be. I am guilty of saying, "it just takes 5 minutes a day" or "this method is foolproof". The reality is that no method can replace the work of the Spirit. A method can be a means God uses to show us grace, but if we are to truly benefit from scripture memory, we must look beyond the method.
All believers have the Spirit of Truth who raised Jesus from the dead (John 16:13; Romans 8:11). All means all. Whether you naturally have an amazing memory or a poor memory, God will help you hide His Word in your heart. This means that, by the Spirit, even people who have struggled with memorization their whole lives can memorize books, chapters, verses, or portions of verses from God's Word.
Some Benefits Of Memorization
I’m a list guy, so I just wanted to share some of the benefits of my time in Hebrews so far this year. I plan to do more posts like this to possible spur some people on in the pursuit of grace-powered scripture memory. Though I’ve missed some days and slacked on others, here are some benefits I've seen in memorizing Hebrews 1 during the first 22 days of 2019:
This is only the tip of the iceberg of the benefits of memorizing the Word of God on a consistent basis. Simply slowing down and thinking through God’s Word will change your spiritual vocabulary. And you never know when a verse of the day is a truth to preach to yourself or to counsel another with.
For tips on scripture memory, I highly recommend read Andy Davis’ scripture memorization method. Also, check out the Verses app!
What other benefits or tips do you have for memorizing scripture?
Image Credit: Rolling Stones
The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him. -Proverbs 18:17
The Kid Who Enraged Social Media
If you've been on Facebook or Twitter over the past several days, you may have encountered videos or articles about a young man staring into the face of a Native American man beating a drum. It was probably a picture of some MAGA hats and crowds of white kids surrounding this man and accompanied with a status like: "This is what the pro-life movement looks like." or "This is the what racism looks like... way to go Trump.
You may have been like me and felt a level of anger at the young man for being so foolish and disrespectful to a veteran and Native American. You may have commented as I did and said, "this foolishness doesn't represent the pro-life movement or Christianity" in response to all of the negative backlash plastered all over your Facebook newsfeed. With a short video clip, I thought I heard "build that wall" or something hateful, and I knew this needed to be condemned immediately.
I confess, I didn't do any further research than that. I made a judgment on this young man based on his skin color, his clothing, and political affiliation without giving him a chance to speak for himself. If I'm honest, I didn't give the situation more than a few minutes of thought because this stuff happens all the time in the days of president Trump.
At that time, nobody on my newsfeed shared the young man's perspective on the event.
On Sunday morning, I noticed that one of my Facebook friends shared another article with more footage and details about the case. He was back-tracking on his original sentiments regarding the situation, and I took some time to dive into the details. I honestly thought it was just a far-right website trying to disprove the realities of what actually occurred in the video.
In reality, the videos and further evidence disproved some of the "facts" I had just learned about on the previous day:
A Change Of Perspective
Needless to say, my opinion of the young man has changed. I am not taking a stance on whether he did anything right or wrong. That is not the point of this post, and I am still unsure of everything that went on. In good conscience, I can say that the media painted a picture of the scene that was extremely one-sided.
This is dangerous for many reasons, especially when a high school student and his family are receiving threats of murder and violence over a video, meme, and slanted social media post. More dangerous is the fact that it is sinful and can harden our hearts to the sinfulness of gossip, slander, malice, deceit, and dishonesty. God hates those sins.
Image Credit: OMKAR
A Biblical Path Forward
As a Christian, there is no excuse for slandering the boy in the video. If we don't know all of the facts, it is best that we pray for his soul as well as the veteran who was involved.
This situation has given me time to pause and really think about social media and its impacts on my life. Here are some practical thoughts that I'm going to be prayerfully applying to my life in light of this event:
Run To Jesus
In times like these, I feel the shame and embarrassment of being manipulated by the media. Worse, I have sinned against God and man through my sinful speech. I have become increasingly aware of the effect that social media is having on my life and the lives of the world around me.
There is hope for us, and that hope is found in Jesus. "In these last days, God has spoken to us through His Son" (Hebrews 1:2). If your life is anchored in the true words of the gospel, no matter how deceitful the media is, you have a firm foundation.
The truth is that Jesus came into the world to save sinners, including people like me who fall into gossip and slander. He made purification for sin, resurrected, and is now sitting enthroned in heaven at His Father's right hand. Jesus has given us the Holy Spirit to show us the Word of God which is the truth.
Jesus' high priestly prayer includes these words: "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth" (John 17:17). If I spend more time with God is His true Word than I do in this world with their false words, I'll be sanctified. If I let the Word of God dwell in me and rule my thoughts, words, actions, and emotions, I'll become more like Christ minute-by-minute, day-by-day, hour-by-hour. As I behold the Son, I'm being transformed into His image.
Think about the last time you were tempted and fell into sin. What were the thoughts going through your mind? What weapons did you use to wage war against your flesh and against sin? Now think of a time when you defeated sin and rose victorious over the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil? What was different about that situation?
Last week, we looked at the crafty serpent and how he tempted Eve into eating the forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden. While it is good to know the anatomy of temptation so we can recognize when we are being tempted, it is essential to know how to actively fight temptation the way scripture commands. Jesus, being our great High Priest, has been tempted in every way like us and yet withstood. Who is better to teach us how to fight temptation?
In Matthew 4:1-11, we can see at least 5 ways Jesus fought temptation. By His grace, we too can fight temptation as Jesus did. It’s a lifelong fight, and much of what we see happened long before Jesus was in the moment of temptation. By implementing these strategies in reliance upon the Holy Spirit, we will be able to overcome the whispers of Satan, the lustful draw of fleshly desires, and the enticements of the world.
1. Know Your Identity
When you see Satan’s attempts to draw Jesus into sin, it is clear that Satan tried to confuse Jesus about His identity as he did Eve in the garden. He begins his tempting words with “If you are the son of God…” (v. 2 and 6). In verse 9, Satan was so bold as to try to subject Jesus to idolatrous worship in exchange for earthly glory.
However, Jesus is so confident in His identity as the Son of God that He isn’t moved by Satan’s attacks. Instead, He launches counter attacks that shift the focus from the Satan’s questioning to the most important matters. Instead of making a stone become bread, Jesus points to something greater than bread—the Word of God. Instead of jumping from a building to test God’s miraculous provision and care, He reminds Satan not to put God to the test. Lastly, instead of bowing down to Satan to receive “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory”, He knew He was the Son of God who is appointed the “heir of all things” (Hebrews 1:2, Matthew 28:19).
As Jesus rested in His identity as the Son of God, we need to rest in our identity as adopted children of God who are in Christ. If we are in Christ, we are “dead to sin” (Romans 6:11) and “slaves of righteousness” (Romans 6:18). We can consider ourselves crucified and risen with Christ because He has nailed our sin and record of debt to the cross (Colossians 2:12,14). We are no longer “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3) for we are “saints… in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 1:1). We could go on and on about who we are as new creatures in Christ. If you don’t know who you are, the enemy will try to entangle you in a web of lies and accusations. Let the Word untangle that web by taking you directly the cross of Christ.
2. Know the Meaning of the Word
Satan attacked Jesus using the Word of God in Matthew 4:6. He did the same to Eve. The ancient serpent has seen and heard God’s Word far more than any human on this planet. That should humble us! This knowledge allows him to twist and turn it in more ways than we could ever imagine. Having hearsay of biblical concepts will not suffice for us. Christians need to know the Word of God and its true meaning.
This is not to say that God will not also graciously protect those Christians who are weak and feeble in the Word. He surely will! But mature saints must, by grace, imitate the Bereans and the blessed man of Psalm 1 through searching and meditating on the Word day and night. With an enemy so knowledgeable and crafty, knowing the Word is not an option.
Through the Spirit we can know the Word:
3. Hide the Word in your heart
It is clear from Matthew 4:1-11 that Jesus knew the Bible and knew it well. He had the Word hidden in His heart and he didn’t sin against God. We should long to say with the Psalmist, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11). Temptation is a major reason to take up the task of memorizing scripture on a regular basis. If you want to use the sword of the Spirit and fight as Jesus did, you’ve got to have it memorized. Jesus didn’t use Google or the Bible app, He used His memory. This is spiritual work even for those who feel that they don’t have a good memory.
Memorization and meditation go hand-in-hand. As you memorize, you can meditate on the meaning, depths, and applications of a passage. As you meditate on the words, phrases, and structures of a passage, you begin to memorize the passage. As you memorize more passages, they begin to come together to bring deeper and fuller meditation than ever before. As you meditate more, your mind is renewed and you become more Christlike because you are beholding Him. The Word begins to slowly move from your mind to your heart. As hot water seeps through coffee grounds picking up the scents, flavors, and characteristics of the beans, we absorb the Word of God and become conformed to it through meditation.
Applying the Word to your life will also hide it deeper in your heart. Think of those times when you made a concerted effort to obey God’s specific teaching in your life. Do you have to go back and open your Bible to remember what it said? Instead, you are able to give yourself counsel directly from the Word of God because you’ve been there before. You may have used directions to get to work the first few times, but by the hundredth time, you recognize the streets, houses, mailboxes, cars, and know exactly where to go. The more you apply the Word of God in everyday life, the more you will be able to use it fight temptation. The Spirit will bring it to remembrance at the perfect time.
4. Walk by the Holy Spirit
It is easy to miss the seemingly insignificant detail that Jesus was “led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1). Jesus was not alone! He was walking “full of the Holy Spirit” (Luke 4:1). As believers, we too must be filled with and led by the Spirit, especially during times of intense temptation (Ephesians 5:18). How often do we fail to pray “lead us not into temptation” and then walk aimlessly as though Satan has taken a day off?! We aren’t conscious of our enemy or the Spirit of Christ within us.
If we are going to walk by the Holy Spirit, we need to:
5. Fight with the Word as your sword
If it isn’t obvious yet, Jesus’ primary weapon in his war against temptation was the sword of the Spirit—the Word of God (Ephesians 6:17). Each time He refuted Satan, He used the Word of God powerfully to pierce His enemy. Each deceptive attempt to lead Jesus into sin was met with living and active Word of God. It should bring us great confidence to know that we have access to the same sword used by our Savior to defeat satanic temptation! How great it is to have the heaviest artillery ever wielded against temptation!
The culmination of knowing your identity (through the Word), knowing the Word, hiding the Word in your heart, and walking by the Spirit who inspired the Word of God is found here. When you’ve believed the gospel, you can counter attacks on your faith with the truths of the gospel. When you know the Scriptures, you can use them to dismantle the corrupt arguments crafted to deceive you. By hiding the Word in your heart, you can be armed and ready at any given moment. If Satan is prowling like a lion, we better be ready to defend ourselves! If we are walking by the Spirit, He will guide us in what scriptures to hide, what prayers to pray, and give us the power to walk in obedience.
As you begin the new year, it is wise to look back at last year to see areas of success, failure, and the need for improvement in your spiritual life. Regardless of how great your year was, you have sins that need to be repented of. There are temptations that need more diligence in guarding against.
Being watchful against sin means knowing when temptation arises and having a plan for how to fight. One way is to look closely at the cycle of temptation in order to develop a battle plan. Since temptation is a part of the fabric of life for the believer, it is wise to understand a general pattern for temptation.
5 Steps In The Path of Sin and Temptation
In Genesis 3:1-7, we see Eve faced with temptation from the "crafty" serpent who is later called "the ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan" (Rev. 20:2). Taking a closer look at his tactics will reveal a lot about the process of temptation. As you read, consider how you’ve seen this progression in your own life.
1. The Word of God is twisted and contradicted. (Gen. 3:1-4)
Satan asks Eve tricky questions to trip her up and bring confusion: "Did God actually say?", "You will not surely die". Sometimes—because our flesh is weak—Satan doesn't even have to prompt such twisting. Men often twist the scriptures to their own destruction (2 Peter 3:16). This first layer of temptation is especially dangerous for those who are lax in their devotional lives, especially Bible reading and prayer. If we don’t have a steady diet of daily bread, we will be anemic Christians in times of temptation.
2. A convincing argument is made against God and the meaning of His Word. (Gen. 3:5)
Satan offers a convincing argument for his contradiction and paints God as keeping something from Eve. This happens so often and so subtly. For example, "Be angry and do not sin" gets turned into, "you have the right to be angry, so your response can't be sinful! Even Jesus turned over tables and beat people with whips!". See how assumptions turn into facts and allow us to justify sin?
You can also see Satan sneakily throw shade at God: “For God knows that when you eat...you will be like God.” It’s like Satan said, “See Eve! He’s keeping something from you! He doesn’t want you to be happy or live your life to the fullest! Break free from this bondage and really find out what it means to be in the image of God!” Again, craftiness at it’s best.
3. The contradiction and argument are embraced. (Gen. 3:6)
Eve thought enough about Satan's argument to change her mindset about the tree. She set her mind on the flesh (Rom. 8:6). She began to covet what she didn't need rather than appreciate the forest around her, leading her into idolatry (Col 3:5). The fruit appealed to the flesh, eyes, and pride of life (1 John 2:16).
How often are we settled in our convictions about a sin only to conjure up some strange reason for why we might not have to fight it after all. For example: "It's only lust if you look twice, right?". We hear the lie, consider the serpent’s logic, and then embrace the contradiction.
4. The sin is committed. (Gen 3:6)
Eve took of the tree and ate. She embraced the lie of Satan so much that she threw away God's command like yesterday’s trash. When we get to the point of committing sin, it may not always be as conscious and certainly not as willful, but we all still take this step and make this choice. We can never say, “the devil made me do it!”. James 1:14 is clear that when we sin, it is due to being “lured and enticed” by our “desire”. Eve demonstrated this clearly when she saw that the tree was “to be desired to make one wise” (Gen. 3:6).
Sadly, we often sin with that anxious feeling in our stomachs because we've wrestled with it, but ultimately saw fruit that seemed more glorious than God. We must fear this lest we be "hardened by the deceitfulness of sin" (Heb. 3:13).
5. Others are invited to partake in, or are supported in, their committing of the sin. (Gen 3:6)
Finally, Eve gave some fruit to Adam (who was with her!), and he ate. Even in our “secret” sins, we often try to convince others that it’s not such a big deal, or we partake in sins that involve others. In turn, we "give approval to those who practice them" (Rom 1:32).
Consider the sin of gossip. You’ve heard more than you should have, or you know about a situation more than others. You know you shouldn’t ask for more details or get into the nitty gritty of what you know. In that moment you could be honest and say, "You know, this is moving into gossip, I’m sorry. Please forgive me." Instead, you give the details with a perceived sense of concern or righteous anger, but you really just enjoy the conversation. Now you’ve brought others into sin with you. Replace with gluttony, along with many other sins, and you can see the same outcome.
A Beam of Hope
While some Bible readers spend much time trying to determine what the fruit was, what it meant for Eve to talk to the serpent, what the nature of her sin was, etc., it is more important to realize that we are weak and need help in the time of temptation. Jesus, our great High Priest, was "in every respect, tempted as we are, yet without sin" (Heb. 4:15). As we behold the glory of Christ, we are being transformed into His image (2 Cor 3:18). We are only able to fight temptation if we have trusted in Christ as our Savior and are walking in the power of the Holy Spirit.
In your temptation, rely on the Spirit and look to Christ. Before your temptation, behold Christ’s glory by drinking deeply from the rich well of scripture. If you fall into sin, trust that He is interceding for His sheep and has paid for sin once-for-all for those who have placed faith in Him. Christ is the headcrusher of the serpent, and He is our very present help in time of need (Ps. 46:1).
Next time, Lord willing, we will look at fighting temptation the way that Jesus did.
2019 is underway, and many of you have probably already started your new Bible reading plan. You’re likely working your way through Genesis and Matthew and starting to get into a groove. You’re getting up early or staying up late to read, you’re highlighting and underlining like crazy, and you’re enjoying it.
But as we all know, that dreaded Monday is soon to come. You won’t feel like getting out of bed to read. You’ll be too tired to stay up and read. Your eyes will just gloss over the page or you’ll totally lose focus while you’re listening to your favorite audio Bible.
Life happens, but the blessed man meditates on God’s Word “day and night” (Psalm 1:2). With such busy and hectic lives, we must keep reading our Bibles and seeking the Lord.
5 Tips To Help You Keep Reading
So, how do you abide in Christ (John 15:4) and walk by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16) in the 21st century? Though not even close to an exhaustive list, here are some practical tips that can help you spend more time in God’s Word this year:
1) Acknowledge your dependence on God’s Word.
Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 8:3 when He was tempted by Satan in Matthew 4:4. He said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” If we want to live and thrive spiritually, we need to be eating the bread of the Word on a daily basis. Confess this to God and others on a regular basis. Deut. 8:11-14 serve as a good reminder that prosperity can lead to spiritual forgetfulness and carelessness.
2) Pray daily and ask for God to give you delight in His Word.
Not only should you depend on the Word, you should enjoy it! Ask God to give you the heart of David when he said of the word: “more to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:10).
3) Make Bible reading a part of your daily routine.
Though it should be much more than a mere routine, reading the Bible should be something that you do every day. If you’re a list person, add it to the top of your daily to-do list. Keep a journal or document with your daily readings in it. In Deuteronomy 6:7, God called His people to talk about his Word when they sit in their house, as they walk, etc. The Word can’t go with us in all of life if we are not reading it and knowing it daily.
4) Meditate on something from your daily reading.
Whether it is a journal, text message, or simply sitting in silence, do something to process a portion of your daily reading. It is vital that we “meditate day and night” (Psalm 1:2). This is a good time to ask: How does what I’m reading apply to my life?
5) Read the Bible with a spouse, your children, a friend, or an accountability partner.
One way to keep you reading the Word is to read and talk about it with others. We talk to people about what we delight in. If you have children, share your daily reading with them, too! Again, we see in Deuteronomy 6:7 to take the Word everywhere we go and to talk of them with everyone we meet.
Care For Your Soul Like You Do For Your Body
Put simply, Bible reading isn’t a thing you do to mark off your list. It is as vital to the soul as eating and drinking are to the body. Each week, we plan what we are going to eat, we make a grocery list, we shop, we cook, and we eat. Even when we don't do these things, we make sure our bodies are fed. All of this is to take care of body that is perishing (2 Corinthians 4:16). How much more diligence and care should we have for our eternal souls?
What are some practical tips that help you read your Bible day after day?