Sometimes people ask authors, “Which of your books is your favorite?” The first time the question is asked, the response is likely to be “I am not sure; I have never really thought about it.” But forced to think about it, my own standard response has become, “I am not sure what my favorite book is; but my favorite title is A Heart for God.” I am rarely asked, “Why?” but (in case you ask) the title simply expresses what I want to be: a Christian with a heart for God.
Perhaps that is in part a reflection of the fact that we sit on the shoulders of the giants of the past. Think of John Calvin’s seal and motto: a heart held out in the palm of a hand and the words “I offer my heart to you, Lord, readily and sincerely.” Or consider Charles Wesley’s hymn:
O for a heart to praise my God!
A heart from sin set free.
Some hymnbooks don’t include Wesley’s hymn, presumably in part because it is read as an expression of his doctrine of perfect love and entire sanctification. (He thought it possible to have his longing fulfilled in this world.) But the sentiment itself is surely biblical.
But behind the giants of church history stands the testimony of Scripture. The first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart (Deut. 6:5). That is why, in replacing Saul as king, God “sought out a man after his own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14), for “the Lord looks on the heart” (16:7). It is a truism to say that, in terms of our response to the gospel, the heart of the matter is a matter of the heart. But truism or not, it is true.
What this looks like, how it is developed, in what ways it can be threatened, and how it expresses itself will be explored little by little in this new column. But at this stage, perhaps it will help us if we map out some preliminary matters in the form of a catechism on the heart:
Q.1. What is the heart?
A. The heart is the central core and drive of my life intellectually (it involves my mind), affectionately (it shapes my soul), and totally (it provides the energy for my living).
Q.2. Is my heart healthy?
A. No. By nature I have a diseased heart. From birth, my heart is deformed and antagonistic to God. The intentions of its thoughts are evil continually.
Q.3. Can my diseased heart be healed?
A. Yes. God, in His grace, can give me a new heart to love Him and to desire to serve Him.
Q.4. How does God do this?
A. God does this through the work of the Lord Jesus for me and the ministry of the Holy Spirit in me. He illumines my mind through the truth of the gospel, frees my enslaved will from its bondage to sin, cleanses my affections by His grace, and motivates me inwardly to live for Him by rewriting His law into my heart so that I begin to love what He loves. The Bible calls this being “born from above.”
Q.5. Does this mean I will never sin again?
A. No. I will continue to struggle with sin until I am glorified. God has given me a new heart, but for the moment He wants me to keep living in a fallen world. So day by day I face the pressures to sin that come from the world, the flesh, and the Devil. But God’s Word promises that over all these enemies I can be “more than a conqueror through him who loved us.”
Q.6. What four things does God counsel me to do so that my heart may be kept for Him?
A. First, I must guard my heart as if everything depended on it. This means that I should keep my heart like a sanctuary for the presence of the Lord Jesus and allow nothing and no one else to enter.
Second, I must keep my heart healthy by proper diet, growing strong on a regular diet of God’s Word — reading it for myself, meditating on its truth, but especially being fed on it in the preaching of the Word. I also will remember that my heart has eyes as well as ears. The Spirit shows me baptism as a sign that I bear God’s triune name, while the Lord’s Supper stimulates heart love for the Lord Jesus.
Third, I must take regular spiritual exercise, since my heart will be strengthened by worship when my whole being is given over to God in expressions of love for and trust in Him.
Fourth, I must give myself to prayer in which my heart holds on to the promises of God, rests in His will, and asks for His sustaining grace — and do this not only on my own but with others so that we may encourage one another to maintain a heart for God.
This — and much else — requires development, elaboration, and exposition. But it can be summed up in a single biblical sentence. Listen to your Father’s appeal: “My son, give Me your heart.”
Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) was one of the most remarkable men of his time—a mathematician, evangelical theologian, economist, ecclesiastical, political, and social reformer all in one. His most famous sermon was published under the unlikely title: “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” In it he expounded an insight of permanent importance for Christian living: you cannot destroy love for the world merely by showing its emptiness. Even if we could do so, that would lead only to despair. The first world–centered love of our hearts can be expelled only by a new love and affection—for God and from God. The love of the world and the love of the Father cannot dwell together in the same heart. But the love of the world can be driven out only by the love of the Father. Hence Chalmers’ sermon title.
True Christian living, holy and right living, requires a new affection for the Father as its dynamic. Such new affection is part of what William Cowper called “the blessedness I knew when first I saw the Lord”—a love for the holy that seems to deal our carnal affections a deadly blow at the beginning of the Christian life. Soon, however, we discover that for all that we have died to sin in Christ, sin has by no means died in us. Sometimes its continued influence surprises us, even appears to overwhelm us in one or other of its manifestations. We discover that our “new affections” for spiritual things must be renewed constantly throughout the whole of our pilgrimage. If we lose the first love we will find ourselves in serious spiritual peril.
Sometimes we make the mistake of substituting other things for it. Favorites here are activity and learning. We become active in the service of God ecclesiastically (we gain the positions once held by those we admired and we measure our spiritual growth in terms of position achieved); we become active evangelistically and in the process measure spiritual strength in terms of increasing influence; or we become active socially, in moral and political campaigning, and measure growth in terms of involvement. Alternatively, we recognize the intellectual fascination and challenge of the gospel and devote ourselves to understanding it, perhaps for its own sake, perhaps to communicate it to others. We measure our spiritual vitality in terms of understanding, or in terms of the influence it gives us over others. But no position, influence, or evolvement can expel love for the world from our hearts. Indeed, they may be expressions of that very love.
Others of us make the mistake of substituting the rules of piety for loving affection for the Father: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” Such disciplines have an air of sanctity about them, but in fact they have no power to restrain the love of the world. The root of the matter is not on my table, or in my neighborhood, but in my heart. Worldliness has still not been expelled.
It is all too possible, in these different ways, to have the form of genuine godliness (how subtle our hearts are!) without its power. Love for the world will not have been expunged, but merely diverted. Only a new love is adequate to expel the old one. Only love for Christ, with all that it implies, can squeeze out the love of this world. Only those who long for Christ’s appearing will be delivered from Demas-like desertion caused by being in love with this world.
How can we recover the new affection for Christ and his kingdom that so powerfully impacted our life-long worldliness, and in which we crucified the flesh with its lusts?
What was it that created that first love in any case? Do you remember? It was our discovery of Christ’s grace in the realization of our own sin. We are not naturally capable of loving God for himself, indeed we hate him. But in discovering this about ourselves, and in learning of the Lord’s supernatural love for us, love for the Father was born. Forgiven much, we loved much. We rejoiced in the hope of glory, in suffering, even in God himself. This new affection seemed first to overtake our worldliness, then to master it. Spiritual realities—Christ, grace, Scripture, prayer, fellowship, service, living for the glory of God—filled our vision and seemed so large, so desirable that other things by comparison seemed to shrink in size and become bland to the taste.
The way in which we maintain “the expulsive power of a new affection” is the same as the way we first discovered it. Only when grace is still “amazing” to us does it retain its power in us. Only as we retain a sense of our own profound sinfulness can we retain a sense of the graciousness of grace.
Many of us share Cowper’s sad questions: “Where is the blessedness I knew when first I saw the Lord? Where is the soul-refreshing view of Jesus and his word?” Let us remember the height from which we have fallen, repent and return to those first works. It would be sad if the deepest analysis of our Christianity was that it lacked a sense of sin and of grace. That would suggest that we knew little if the expulsive power of a new affection. But there is no right living that last without it.
Should preachers aim for the affections? Is this even possible without resorting to manipulation techniques? In a new roundtable video, John Piper, Voddie Baucham, and Miguel Núñez—all Council members for The Gospel Coalition—explore differences between “working the crowd” and awakening authentic, God-honoring emotion.
“As long as preaching unpacks the greatness of God, the emotions should be moved,” Núñez observes. Faithful exposition, then, is a excellent way to cultivate godly affection and safeguard against squalid manipulation.
A bored preacher misrepresents the God he proclaims, Piper adds, since God is not boring. Moreover, he explains, “the difference between emotion and emotionalism is whether you’ve awakened it with truth.”
Baucham references a complaint sometimes voiced in more traditionally emotional (e.g., black and Latino) cultures that emphasizing truth and theology amounts to “denying your culture, your heritage, your ethnicity.” But the call to awaken affections with biblical truth is not culturally specific. As Piper quips, “I want to be known as the best black preacher there ever was.”
Watch the full 12-minute video to hear these three preachers discuss Grand Canyon moments, when God looks boring, and more.
Have you tasted and seen that the Lord is good?
Have you, when you have thus been emptied of yourself and weaned from this vain world, found a better good?
Have you had those discoveries of Christ, or that sense of his excellency or sufficiency and wonderful grace, that has refreshed and rejoiced your heart, and revived it as it were out of the dust, and caused hope and your comfort to spring forth like the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain?
Has there been light let into your soul, as the light of the sun pleasantly breaking forth out of the cloud after a dreadful storm, or as the sweet dawning of the light of the morning after long wandering in a dark night, or the bright and beautiful day star arising with refreshing beams?
Have you had that divine comfort that has seemed to heal your soul and put life and strength into you and given you peace after trouble and rest after labor and pain?
Have you tasted that spiritual food, that bread from heaven, that is so sweet and so satisfying, so much better than the richest earthly dainties?
Have you felt something of the divine comfort and peace, which can’t be expressed and which passes all understanding?
Have you tasted that in Christ that has turned the stream of your affections that way and filled you with longings after more of him?
- Jonathan Edwards, “Like Rain Upon Mown Grass,” in Works, Yale ed., 22:315
(HT: Dane Ortlund)
Justin Taylor posts:
From Kyle Strobel’s Formed for the Glory of God: Learning from the Spiritual Practices of Jonathan Edwards (IVP, 2013), 62-64:
While we journey to glory we should learn to trust the path laid before us. Sometimes, no doubt, we find that the path is of our own making. Our natural affections have turned us off course onto other things we find beautiful. But, broadly speaking, grasping the path of glory is really just grasping onto Jesus. By focusing our attention on Jesus and the “Jesus Way,” we come to gain a “taste” for this way over others. Some of the fleshliness that used to taste so good is now bitter. We are walking a path of putting to death our sin by slowly conforming to God’s glory and beauty. In doing so, the sin that still wages war within us begins to die.
In Christ, our sight, hearing and taste are now sensitized to a different world, and therefore they help us trust in the way of the Lord. Many people saw Jesus but did not follow him. What did they not see that the disciples did? Why were the disciples affected by Christ and not so many others?
To explain this, Edwards turns to taste. The Spirit of God works within one’s heart to give them a divine taste—a taste of the ways of God. It is in this vein that the psalmist would say, “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth” (Ps 119:103). Without it, people cannot recognize God and his way as beautiful, “no more than a man without the sense of tasting can conceive of the sweet taste of honey, or a man without the sense of hearing can conceive of the melody of a tune, or a man born blind can have a notion of the beauty of the rainbow.” The disciples were given a divine taste, and so they sought to satisfy their longing by following Christ.
Edwards offers an illustration of two men, one of whom is born without the sense of taste. The man with the sense of taste loves honey, and he greatly delights in it because of its taste. The other man also loves honey, but, not having the sense of taste, he loves it because of its color and texture. The excellency and sweetness of honey is in its taste, Edwards argues, therefore the man who loves the honey because of its taste builds upon the foundation of honey’s true beauty. If you don’t “know” the taste of honey, you don’t truly “know” honey. Likewise, to know Jesus is to develop a taste for who he is and what he is about. If we return to our hiking analogy, we can say that a “taste” for the destination drives your journey. You hunger for it (Mt 5:6). Others may travel with you who only share your actions, and not your taste for the destination. They have the form but not the power of godliness (2 Tim 3:5). A taste of God is prioritizing God above all else.
For true religious affections, the object, God, is primary, and I am secondary. With false affections, the focus reverts to me. The one who seeks Christ alone will know the delight that only he can give.
One who goes looking for self-fulfillment will never find it. In other words, having a taste of divine things is what allows the heavenly destination to captivate your heart. Without that taste it is impossible to will God, and therefore it is impossible to actually walk the path to glory. This taste is the taste of heaven and is the taste that calibrates our souls to glory and beauty. This taste creates a hunger for divine things. This taste is not given in its perfection, but is a seed of grace in the soul. Cultivating this taste should lead to a deeper and deeper hunger for God and his glory. The ways of God, the calling of the church, the Word of God and the ordinances of God should all be tasty aspects of life. Ultimately, our taste should be oriented by God and his life of love, and therefore the hunger of our flesh should begin to be killed off. In this sense, our taste is similar to the compass whose needle seeks north. We can say that the needle has a taste for north. Around that taste all our other affections should fall into place—the west, east and south of our soul should be oriented by the true north of heaven—God and his life of love.
David, in Psalm 34, proclaimed, “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Ps 34:8). In a sense, Edwards’s description of religious affection is a call to taste and see that the Lord is good (and continue to do so)! The light of God’s beauty and glory is given so that believers can actually see that the Lord is good. But sight alone does not comprehend the depths of the Christian experience. For that, Edwards turns to taste. Tasting and seeing that the Lord is good entails having the whole of one’s heart made alive to God in Christ by the Holy Spirit—it is communion with the three-personed God.
Tasting and seeing are the kinds of things that beget more tasting and seeing. Tasting and seeing beget desire. It is this desire that turns the Christian more and more fully to her Lord who is beautiful and glorious. It is a journey we will continue for eternity.
As Gerald McDermott explains, Jonathan Edwards saw affections as “strong inclinations of the soul that are manifested in thinking, feeling and acting” (Seeing God: Jonathan Edwards and Spiritual Discernment, p. 31).
A common confusion is to equate “affections” with “emotions.” But there are several differences, as summarized in this chart from McDermott (p. 40):
|Consistent with beliefs||Sometimes overpowering|
|Always result in action||Often fail to produce action|
|Involve mind, will, feelings||Feelings (often) disconnected from the mind and will|
He explains why affections are different than emotions:
Emotions (feelings) are often involved in affections, but the affections are not defined by emotional feeling. Some emotions are disconnected from our strongest inclinations.
For instance, a student who goes off to college for the first time may feel doubtful and fearful. She will probably miss her friends and family at home. A part of her may even try to convince her to go back home. But she will discount these fleeting emotions as simply that—feelings that are not produced by her basic conviction that now it is time to start a new chapter in life.
The affections are something like that girl’s basic conviction that she should go to college, despite fleeting emotions that would keep her at home. They are strong inclination that may at times conflict with more fleeting and superficial emotions. (pp. 32-33)
Here is how Sam Storms explains the difference in Signs of the Spirit: An Interpretation of Jonathan Edwards’ “Religious Affections:
Certainly there is what may rightly be called an emotional dimension to affections. Affections, after all, are sensible and intense longings or aversions of the will. Perhaps it would be best to say that whereas affections are not less than emotions, they are surely more.
Emotions can often be no more than physiologically heightened states of either euphoria or fear that are unrelated to what the mind perceives as true.
Affections, on the other hand, are always the fruit or effect of what the mind understands and knows. The will or inclination is moved either toward or away from something that is perceived by the mind.
An emotion or mere feeling, on the other hand, can rise or fall independently of and unrelated to anything in the mind.
One can experience an emotion or feeling without it properly being an affection, but one can rarely if ever experience an affection without it being emotional and involving intense feelings that awaken and move and stir the body. (p. 45)
I get the question from Christians a lot: “How can I know for sure that I’m saved?” So often, in fact, that I wrote a book addressing it: Stop Asking Jesus Into Your Heart (which you can pre-order here). I struggled with the question a lot myself until someone pointed me to passage from 1 John that helped open my eyes. In 1 John 5:13–18, John identifies 2 ways that we can be sure of our salvation.
1. We have placed our hopes for heaven entirely on Jesus. (1 John 5:13)
“I write these things to you,” John says, “who believe in the name of the Son of God.” It’s so simple that we’re liable to miss it, but assurance comes from believing in Jesus. This is the gospel: when we trust in his name, we cease striving to earn heaven by drawing upon our own moral bank account; instead, we withdraw on his righteous account in our place.
The gospel, by its very nature, produces assurance. Because the gospel proclaims “Jesus in my place,” my assurance does not depend on how well or how much I have done. It depends on whether or not I rest in his finished work. So the question is not, “Can I remember praying a prayer?” or “Was my conversion experience really emotional?” The important question is, “Are you currently resting on Jesus as the payment for your sin?”
A lot of Christians get caught up looking for assurance to a prayer they prayed 2 years, 5 years, or 30 years ago. But John does not say, “I write these things to you who prayed the sinner’s prayer.” He writes to those who believe. The point is not the prayer you prayed, but the present posture you are in.
2. You have a new nature. (vv. 16–18)
If you have been born of God you have been given a new nature. And that comes with new desires. So you do not “keep on sinning,” as John writes, because you have new desires. As an earthy way to think about this, you might imagine some vomit on the ground. None of us would require a list of rules keeping us from eating it. Why? Because we find it disgusting. Now, a dog has a totally different nature, with different desires. A dog would find that vomit as appetizing as we find it disgusting.
This is how God changes us: not by browbeating us with rules, but by giving us a new heart. You no longer love dishonesty and hatefulness and immorality like you used to. You do not avoid them because of threats from God, but because these things start to make you sick.
Of course, this does not mean that you become immediately perfect, or that you no longer struggle with sin. But you stop engaging in sin willfully and defiantly. You cannot love God and love the things that grieve him. You cannot have a mouth that sings praise to Jesus with a life that openly crucifies him. It is not your mouth that best reflects your love for God; it is your life.
And when you do start to go back toward your sin—which we all do!—Jesus protects you and renews you (v. 18). In fact, one of the signs that your salvation is genuine is that even though you fall, you never permanently fall away. God brings you back, again and again. As Proverbs says, “The righteous man falls seven times, and rises again” (Prov 24:16).
Your new nature is not demonstrated by never falling, but by what you do when you fall. Salvation does not means sinless perfection, but it does mean a new direction.
By Jonathan Parnell:
Discipleship is about values. This could not be clearer in the Gospels. Jesus’ call is for a double action: leave and follow. “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,” he first said to Peter and Andrew in Matthew 4:19. And “Immediately they left their nets and followed him.” Then to James and John. And “Immediately they left the boat and their father and followed him.” Whether nets or family, the call to follow Jesus is the call to walk away from something else. It is the call to this, not that. Here, not there.
The disciples knew this. They knew they were forsaking one thing for another. And they knew pleasure was at the root. That’s why Peter asked what he did in Matthew 19:27. To be sure, he was still putting the pieces together, but he tipped his hand here. He was waiting for the pay off. Jesus had just taught on riches, which I imagine seemed out of the ballpark to Peter. Riches? Psssssst! (He had even walked away from his meager livelihood.) Ayhem, Jesus? Great lesson on riches, and about that, we, you know, we, uh, we left everything. So when do we get to cash the check?
Maybe more astonishing than Peter asking the question is that Jesus answers him.
Forsake the lesser pursuit in order to gain the greater pleasure. That’s why a man sells everything to buy a field (Matthew 13:44) or why the merchant considers all his goods mere commerce compared to one pearl (Matthew 13:45). There is something better out there and discipleship is the great calling to lay hold of it.
The human is a deep creature: “not just a body, but a soul. Not just a soul, but a soul with a passion and a desire. Not just a desire for being liked or for playing softball or collecting shells.” And Jesus says, “Follow me.” His call harmonizes with our inherent depth. Look, here’s the treasure. It’s me. Then we are awakened, muddy hands and all, wallowing in the slums this whole time but now testifying of a “desire for something infinitely great and beautiful and valuable and satisfying — the name and the glory of God” (Boasting Only in the Cross). So we leave and we follow. Goodbye broken cisterns (Jeremiah 2:13), hello my exceeding joy (Psalm 43:4).
We follow Jesus into a new world, not as pedagogy, but as fellowship. We come not as pupils, but as rebellious creatures made alive for the first time — rebellious creatures now reconciled to God by the death of his Son. Discipleship — following Jesus — is to live before God’s face, to dwell in his presence, to be satisfied in all that he is. We follow as creatures of grace, entering into the fellowship of the triune God in whose presence there is fullness of joy, at whose right hand are pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. (2 Corinthians 4:6)
Faith implies the enlightening of the understanding to discover the suitableness of Jesus Christ as a Saviour, and the excellency of the way of salvation through him. While the sinner lies undone and helpless in himself, and looking about in vain for some relief, it pleases a gracious God to shine into his heart, and enables him to see his glory in the face of Jesus Christ.
Now this once neglected Saviour appears not only absolutely ncessary, but also all-glorious and lovely, and the sinner’s heart is wrapt away, and for ever captivated with his beauty: now the neglected gospel appears in a new light, as different from all his former apprehensions as if it were quite another thing.
— Samuel Davies, Sermons of the Rev. Samuel Davies, Vol 1 (Pittsburgh, PA: Soli Deo Gloria Publications, 1993), 125
(HT: Of First Importance)
From Erik Raymond:
So encouraging to know that neither the problem nor the solution has changed in the last 350 years:
“The reason our affections are so chilled and cold in religion—is that we do not warm them with thoughts of God. Hold a magnifying glass to the sun, and the glass burns that which is near to it. So when our thoughts are lifted up to Christ, the Sun of righteousness, our affections are set on fire. No sooner had the spouse been thinking upon her Savior’s beauty—but she fell into love-sickness. (Song of Sol. 5:8).
O saints, do but let your thoughts dwell upon the love of Christ, who passed by angels and thought of you; who was wounded that, out of his wounds, the balm of Gilead might come to heal you; who leaped into the sea of his Father’s wrath, to save you from drowning in the lake of fire! Think of this unparalleled love, which sets the angels wondering—and see if it will not affect your hearts and cause tears to flow forth!”
— Thomas Watson (The Great Gain of Godliness), p. 87
Edwards, preaching on 1 Corinthians 13:4:
Love to God disposes men meekly to bear the injuries which they receive. . . . None can hurt those who are true lovers of God. . . .
The more men love God, the more will they place all their happiness in God; they will look on God as their all, and this happiness and portion is what men cannot touch. The more they love God, the less they set their hearts on their worldly interest, which is all that their enemies can touch. Men can injure God’s people only with respect to worldly good things. But the more a man loves God, the more careless he is about such things, the less he looks upon the enjoyments of the world worth regarding. . . .
And so they do not look upon the injuries they receive from men as worthy of the name of injuries. Though they are intended as injuries, yet they are not borne as such, and so the calm and quietness of their minds is not disturbed. As long as they have the favor of God, they are not much concerned about the ill will of men.
–Jonathan Edwards, Charity and Its Fruits, in Works of Jonathan Edwards, Yale ed., 8:195-96
(HT: Dane Ortlund)
My thanks to Tim Challies for posting this article by Nancy Leigh DeMoss:
Recently I ran into a woman I had not seen for several weeks. I hardly recognized her. Her hair, normally blonde, had turned completely white. The transformation was dramatic. All it took was forty minutes and some bleach.
If only spiritual transformation were that easy. Just read a book, see a counselor, attend a conference, make a fresh commitment, shed a few tears at an altar, memorize a few verses … and, presto, out comes a mature, godly Christian.
To the contrary, the experience of many believers looks like this.
Commit. Fail. Confess.
Re-commit. Fail again. Confess again.
Re-re-commit. Fail again. Give up.
After all the struggle and effort, we tend to want a “quick fix”—a once-for-all victory—so we won’t have to keep wrestling with the same old issues.
In my own walk with God, I have discovered some helpful principles about how spiritual change takes place.
1. Deep, lasting spiritual change rarely happens overnight. It is a process that involves training, testing, and time. There are no shortcuts.
We hear of people being dramatically delivered from drug or alcohol addiction, and we may wonder, “Why doesn’t God do that for me? Why do I have to struggle with this food addiction, with lust, worry, and anger?”
Before the children of Israel could possess the Promised Land, they had to drive out the pagan nations that occupied Canaan. Ultimate victory was assured if they would “trust and obey,” but it would take time. “I will not drive them out in a single year,” God said. “Little by little, I will drive them out before you” (Exodus 23:29-30).
God is committed to winning the hearts and developing the character of His people. That requires a process.
2. Spiritual change requires desire. We must ask ourselves: Do I really want to change, or am I content to remain as I am? How important is it to me to be like Jesus? What price am I willing to pay to be godly?
Godly desires are nurtured by prayer and by meditation on Christ, who is the object of our desire. As I read the Scripture and gaze on the Lord Jesus, I find my heart longing to be like Him—humble, holy, compassionate, surrendered to the will of God, and sensitive to the promptings of the Spirit.
When our desire to be holy is greater than our willingness to stay where we are, we have taken a big step toward spiritual transformation.
3. Spiritual change flows out of an intimate relationship with Jesus. The more we love Him, the greater will be our motivation to obey Him and to make the choices that please Him.
The ultimate issue in life is who or what we worship. The process of true change takes place as we are weaned from our love and worship of self, pleasure, and this world, and our hearts become wholly devoted to Christ.
4. Spiritual change requires discipline. I can remember sitting in tiny, windowless practice rooms for hours on end as a college student, playing the same piece of music over and over again. I knew I would never reach my goal—to make beautiful music—without that rigorous discipline.
Discipline for the purpose of godliness is not the same as self-effort. Rather, it means consciously cooperating with the Holy Spirit—yielding to Him so He can conform us to the image of Christ.
The problem is, we want the outcome without the process. We want victory without the warfare.
It is futile to pray and hope for spiritual change, while sitting glued to a television set or neglecting the means God has provided for our growth in grace. Bible study, meditation, worship, prayer, fasting, accountability, and obedience are disciplines that produce a harvest of righteousness in our lives.
Spiritual change is brought about by the Holy Spirit, as we exercise faith and obedience. There were occasions when God promised to drive out Israel’s enemies for them. But sometimes He said, “You must drive out the enemy.” Sometimes God said, “I will fight for you.” At other times, He said, “You must fight.”
So which is it? Does God do the fighting, while we “rest in Him,” or do we have to fight against the enemies of our souls? According to Scripture, the answer is, Yes. “Work out your salvation … for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose” (Philippians 2:12-13).
True spiritual change is initiated and enabled by the indwelling Spirit of God; it is all of grace, which we receive as we persevere in humility, obedience, and faith.
5. Spiritual change is possible (and assured) because of the new life we received when we were born again. According to God’s Word, at the point of regeneration, we became “a new creation” (2 Corinthians 5:17). For the believer, holy living is not a matter of trying harder, but of walking in the reality of a supernatural change that has already taken place.
Sanctification is the process by which the change God has wrought within us is worked out in our daily experience, as “we are being transformed into [Christ’s] likeness” (2 Corinthians 3:18). It is a life-long—and sometimes painful—process. But we have the confidence that one day the transformation will be complete and “we will be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
For more from Nancy, check out www.ReviveOurHearts.com. There, you’ll find her daily radio program/podcast/transcript, books, and much more helpful content. Check in at the blog Thursday, Friday and Saturday of this week as my wife and I travel to the True Woman conference in Fort Worth, TX.
From Desiring God:
This past Sunday, Kenny Stokes preached his second message on 1 John 5:20-21, which ends, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” (See his first sermon on this passage.)
Near the end he laid out 13 questions, adapted from an old Puritan sermon, to help us identify the idols of our hearts:
- What do you most highly value?
- What do you think about by default?
- What is your highest goal?
- To what or whom are you most committed?
- Who or what do you love the most?
- Who or what do you trust or depend upon the most?
- Who or what do you fear the most?
- Who or what do you hope in and hope for most?
- Who or what do you desire the most? Or, what desire makes you most angry or makes you despair when it is not satisfied?
- Who or what do you most delight in or hold as your greatest joy and treasure?
- Who or what captures your greatest zeal?
- To whom or for what are you most thankful?
- For whom or what great purpose do you work?
“You will cleanse no sin from your life that you have not first recognized as being pardoned through the cross. This is because holiness starts in the heart. The essence of holiness is not new behaviour, activity, or disciplines. Holiness is new affections, new desires, and new motives that then lead to new behaviour. If you don’t see your sin as completely pardoned, then your affections, desires, and motives will be wrong. You will aim to prove yourself. Your focus will be the consequences of your sin rather than hating the sin and desiring God in its place.”
- Tim Chester, You Can Change (Wheaton, Ill.; Crossway, 2010), 28.
(HT: Of First Importance)
An excerpt from Marcus Honeysett’s EMA address:
The question I most want to ask any Christian, but especially any group of Christian leaders is “how would you describe the state of your worship life at the moment?” Do you currently have the space, capacity and leisure to enjoy God?
If not, something will have to go. The reason I say this is that biblical leadership and preaching are by-products of joy in God. They don’t work properly unless they spring from this source. You can’t say “I honour God in my preaching” if you heart is not bursting for him in your affections and adoration. You really can’t.
The tasks of leadership and preaching centre around working with people for their progress in the Lord and their joy in the Lord (Phil 1, 2 Cor 4). And the strength to carry out the task, that ability to labour and struggle with God’s energy powerfully working in us, comes from the joy of the Lord. How easily we forget that it is the joy of the Lord that is our strength and start to look for strength from other sources.
Therefore I conclude that the leadership task emerges out of joy in God, is empowered by Spirit-fuelled joy in God and is done in order that others have joy in God. Leadership and preaching are shot all the way through with dependence on joy in God. No joy, no good preaching and leading.
Worship (having adoring affections for God in every area of life) is the giving of expression to that joy. Worship reflects our joy back to God in exultation and to everyone around us in discipling them and evangelising. Discipleship and evangelism, just like biblical preaching are by-products of Holy Spirit-produced joy in God.
“Without a justification-driven, christocentric foundation all [self]examination results either in self-righteousness or despair, legalism or antinomianism.
A clear and forceful integration of the biblical doctrines of the Trinitarian existence of God, the intrinsic glory of the Godhead, Christ’s infinite condescension, humanity’s fall and consequent just condemnation and punitive corruption, divine sovereignty in election, reconciliation and redemption, calling, resurrection, and eternal occupation—all of these and others constitute the pastoral task from the very beginning of establishing a worshipping congregation.
The biblical responsibility of the pastor consistently to place the believers in the context of this picture is at once both experimental and theological, practical and doctrinal. What we do and how we feel and how we respond to life’s details flows out of who we believe we are in God’s relentless push toward subduing all things to Christ, that in all things he might have the pre-eminence.”
- Tom Nettles
(HT: Timmy Brister)
From Reformation Theology:
In one of the Q&A sessions this week at the Ligonier National Conference, R.C. Sproul asked questions submitted by attendees. On the panel were Michael Horton, Alistair Begg, Albert Mohler and Steven Lawson. An effort was made to capture in brief form the questions and answers but you may wish to track down the audio or video to hear lengthier responses. Here is one such question:
Why don’t Christians care, or care enough, that they are sinning?
Begg: Because we don’t truly understand the nature of the atonement and what has happened in Christ bearing our sins. A low view of the atonement goes in line with an easy-going view of sin in the same way that when people take sin seriously they have a solid and clear grasp of what has happened in Christ dying for us. This was not a moot question for Paul in writing Romans where the same question applied to the people he was writing to. The answer lies in the gospel. We need to preach the gospel to ourselves all day every day and one way we will fail is a fast fall into antinomianism (lawlessness). The ultimate reason is that the believer does not understand what it means to be united to Christ. If we don’t, we’ll have legalism on one hand or lawlessness on the other. People simply don’t know who they are in Christ.
Sproul offered one correction to the question saying that there is no such thing as a true Christian who does not care about his sin. The question should be “why don’t we care to the degree that we ought to care?” And it’s because our hearts are still less than fully sanctified and God has not fully revealed to us the sinfulness of our sin (and thank God for that). If God revealed to me right now the full measure of the continuing sin in my life, it would destroy me. God is gracious and gentle in correcting us gradually.
Lawson added that some Christians are not as sensitive to their sin because they have a lack of exposure to the Word of God. It is the light of God’s Word that shines the light into our hearts. If we are distant from the Word of God there are sins that are not being exposed by the light of the Word. On the other spectrum there can be exposure to the Word of God but it’s mere intellectualism and not something that stirs the heart or the affections. It is all cognitive, touching the head but not the heart. If a person is not regularly coming to the Lord’s table where you’re coming face-to-face with the death of Christ for us and confessing sin to God, you are ignoring a great means of grace. It is here that you are asking God to bring into the light sin that has not been confessed, acknowledged, repented of. Also, Christians who are out of community with other believers are leaving themselves exposed and weak before Satan’s attacks.
“If we have regarded religion merely as a means of getting things — even lofty and unselfish things — then when the things that have been gotten are destroyed, our faith will fail. When loved ones are taken away, when disappointment comes and failure, when noble ambitions are set at naught, then we turn away from God. We have tried religion, we say, we have tried prayer, and it has failed. Of course it has failed! God is not content to be an instrument in our hand or a servant at our beck and call.
Has it never dawned on us that God is valuable for His own sake, that just as personal communion is the highest thing that we know on earth, so personal communion with God is the sublimest height of all? If we value God for His own sake, then the loss of other things will draw us all the closer to Him; we shall then have recourse to Him in time of trouble as to the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. If here and now we have the one inestimable gift of God’s presence and favour, then all the rest can wait till God’s good time.”
—J. Gresham Machen, What Is Faith? (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1991), 73-74
(HT: Of First Importance)
“All gracious affections, that are a sweet odor to Christ, and that fill the soul of a Christian with a heavenly sweetness and fragrancy, are brokenhearted affections. A truly Christian love, either to God or men, is a humble brokenhearted love. The desires of the saints, however earnest, are humble desires: their hope is a humble hope; and their joy, even when it is ‘unspeakable, and full of glory,’ is a humble, brokenhearted joy, and leaves the Christian more poor in spirit, and more like a little child.”
– Jonathan Edwards, Religious Affections (Yale edition, ed. Paul Ramsey), 339-40; see Storms, Signs of the Spirit: An Interpretation of Jonathan Edwards’ Religious Affections (Crossway 2007), 117
(HT: Dane Ortlund)
Jared Wilson – Three ways to tell if you are gospel-shaped, or just religious:
1. Your reaction when things fall apart.
Do you catch yourself saying, “God, why is this happening? I’ve done x, y, and z?” Do suffering, difficulty, and obstacles provoke “why?” questions predicated on your goodness or effort? You’ve been working so hard, reading your Bible, going to church, serving others . . . why would God let this happen to you now? If that’s your line of thinking, it reveals you believe God owes you. And that’s religion.
2. Your reaction to others.
Do you compare yourself, bad or good, against others? Do you belittle, mock, condescend, even if just internally? Do you resent others’ successes? Do you celebrate others’ failures? Do you really wish people would get their act together, or do you really wish people knew Jesus? Are you frequently annoyed, put out, irritated, embarrassed, or inconvenienced by others?
3. Your appraisal of Jesus.
Is he your greatest treasure? That’s the number one indicator of gospel-conformity. You may know right off the bat if this is true or not. For some, it’s true only sentimentally or religiously. You may think it’s true ultimately, but your time, talents, words, emotions, and bank account testify differently.
These are all heart issues. Anybody can get the behavior right. The Pharisees certainly did, and most of them went to hell. But this isn’t even about looking Pharisaical or legalistic or churchy. There’s a lot of Christian hipsters out there in coffee shop churches who have no idea they’re just religious.