Formula for Wisdom: Discerning Right From Wrong

Jerry Bridges, in his contemporary classic book, The Pursuit of Holiness, writes about a time when a friend shared some words of wisdom, a “formula” that helps discern right from wrong:

“Years ago a friend gave me what he called his ‘Formula: How to Know Right from Wrong.’ The formula asks four questions based on three verses in 1 Corinthians.”

1. “Everything is permissible for me- but not everything is beneficial.” (1 Corinthians 6.12).

Question 1: Is it helpful – physically, spiritually, and mentally?

2. “Everything is permissible for me – but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6.12).

Question 2: Does it bring me under its power?

3. “Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.” (1 Corinthians 8.13)

Question 3: Does it hurt others?

4. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10.31)

Question 4: Does it glorify God?”

Two Sides of Holiness


Jerry Bridges offered a powerful insight and challenge to Christians about the nature and focus of the Christian life:

“Scripture speaks of both a holiness which we have in Christ before God, and a holiness which we are to strive after. God has made provision for us to live holy, but He has also given us definite responsibilities to pursue holiness. Only as we accept our responsibility and appropriate God’s provisions will we make any progress in our pursuit of holiness.”

Schaeffer’s Theorem

Francis Schaeffer was a prophetic voice to Christianity for the latter half of the 20th Century.  His treatises such as Mark of the Christian and Two Contents, Two Realities were excellent primers for Gospel-Centered & Missional Christianity long before either Gospel-Centered or Missional were coined terms.

The premise behind his philosophy has been has been summarized in this mathematical equation:

  • Truth – Love = Ugliness
  • Love – Truth = Compromise

How might this theorem, if lived out, effect the church? How could it impact your life?

Some Aspects of Sin

Something I have long found intriguing: In the opening chapter of his book, HolinessJ.C. Ryle dedicates his entire attention to the subject of Sin. At first I wondered why that was. Eventually I realized that we cannot grow in holiness unless we understand our very real condition and the effects it has on us.  

Just what is sin, though?

The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines it this way:

Sin is any lack of conformity to, or transgression of, the Law of God

According to Richard Trench’s Synonyms of the New Testament, Sin is decribed in the Bible as having at least eight different aspects:

  1. Missing the Mark or Aim; Falling Short
  2. Passing Over or Transgressing a Line
  3. Disobedience to a Voice
  4. Falling When One Should Have Stood Upright
  5. Ignorance of What One Should Have Known
  6. Diminishing of that which Should Have Been Rendered in Full
  7. Non-observance of a Law
  8. Discord in the Harmonies of God’s Universe.

That last one is also described by Cornelius Plantinga as “A Violation of Shalom”.  (See: Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be.)

Understanding our condition of sin is as important to our overcoming it and growing in holiness as it is for those with some form of cancer to understand their condition and its effects so they know how to treat it and beat it. My father-in-law, while fighting a rare lymphoma, used to say: “Be as nasty to your cancer as your cancer is to you.”  Not only is that good advice for cancer patients, but it is good advice applied to those of us who are infected by sin. This is known as “mortifying” our sin or “dying” to sin.

Beauty & Purpose of the Cross

Sadly not everyone recognizes the requisite necessity for God to be Just. Many picture him exclusively as absolute and unconditional love, thinking he will dismiss the the legal demands that result from mankind’s sin on that basis alone. This approach is offensive to God because it demeans two of the other essential facets of his unfathomable nature: Holiness & Justice. In addition, to see God solely as love is to overlook the beauty and the purpose of the Cross. For at the Cross, the perfect holiness of God meets his perfect love in action.

-Jerry Bridges & Bob Bevington, The Great Exchange

Faithfulness vs. Floating Along


Here is a helpful insight from D.A. Carson, in his book For the Love of God, that reminds us that while, as  Christians, we are Justified and freely forgiven by God through Faith alone in Christ alone, we grow in Spiritual maturity by God’s grace AND our diligent faithfulness:

People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, prayer, obedience to Scripture, faith, and delight in the Lord.  We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith. We cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.

A sobering reminder to avail ourselves in the means of grace.

Easy Chairs & Hard Words – Part 4

by Douglas Wilson

We join a conservation in progress; it is between a young theological questioner who grew up in a typical Evangelical church, and an older pastor from a historical theological tradition.  


Pastor Spenser shifted easily in his seat while I carefully thought over my next question. “Some of my friends at my church have figured out that I have been coming to see you,” I said.  

Pastor Spenser nodded, and waited.  

“Naturally,” I said, “they are somewhat concerned.”  

“Naturally. About what?”  

“Well, they say that Christians who believe in the exhaustive sovereignty of God are setting themselves up.”  


“For the temptation which says that because God controls everything, then the way I live doesn’t really matter.”  

“I see. In other words, if I am elect, then my sins won’t damn me, and if I am not, then all the good works in the world won’t save me. Is that it?”  

“Yes. That is exactly it. If the whole thing was settled before the world began, then why bother? My friends know that there are true Christians who believe this, but they think that, because of this theology, these Christians will tend to become careless about how they live.”  

“Why should we take responsibility for our actions after we have embraced a theology which cuts the nerve of personal responsibility?”  

“Right. If God controls everything, then what room is there for personal holiness?”  

Pastor Spenser thought for a moment. “The problem is not with your friends’ concern for personal holiness. That is admirable. All Christians should set their faces against carnal living on the part of professing Christians. But it does no good to oppose carnal living with carnal reasoning.”  

“What do you mean?”  

“When someone is whooping it up down at the bars, or sleeping with their girlfriend, why do we say it is sin?”  

“Is this a trick question?”  

Pastor Spenser grinned. “You might say that. Why do we call such things sin?”  

“Because the Bible does.”  

“Exactly. So this carnal living we have been talking about is a lifestyle that is not in submission to the clear teaching of the Word of God.”  

“Well, sure. But I still don’t see where you are going with this.”  

“Now if carnal living is a lifestyle that does not submit to God’s Word, then how should we define carnal reasoning?” 

“The same way, I suppose?”  

“Right. It is not enough to submit what we do externally to God; we must also submit the way we think. Your friends are trying to defend God’s standards for living by abandoning His standards for thinking. It cannot be successful.”  

“Is there a passage where this point is clear?”  

“Yes, in Philippians. Chapter 2, verses 12 and 13.”  

I turned to Philippians and read. “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” I looked up.  

“What does the passage say God is doing?” Pastor Spenser asked.  

I looked down again. “It says that He is working in the Philippians, both in willing and doing, and that the result is His good pleasure.”  

“And what would carnal reasoning do with that?”  

“Well, the response would be that if God is doing the willing, and if God is doing the doing, and the result is whatever He wants, then there is no reason for me to put myself out. It is going to happen anyway.”  

“Right. The reasoning says that if God is going to do the work, then why should I have to?”  

I nodded, and Pastor Spenser went on.  

“But what application of this truth does Paul command the Philippians to obey?”  

I looked at the passage again. “He tells them to work out their own salvation, with fear and trembling.” I glanced down further. “And in the next verse he goes on to specific ethical instruction – to avoid murmuring and disputing.”  

I sat and thought for a moment. “But my friends would say that the application they are making is obvious – common sense.”  

“Well, it certainly is common. But is it biblical?”  

“Why do so many Christians fall for this line of reasoning then? It seems like a trap that is extremely easy to fall into.”  

“Well, yes, it easy to fall into. But it is also easy to drink too much, not watch your tongue, lust after women, and so forth. And these are things which the church recognizes as sin, and warns the people against. But carnal reasoning is also easy, and almost no one warns the people.”  

“Why not?”  

“Sheep are hungry because shepherds don’t feed them. Shepherds don’t feed them because shepherds don’t have food.” Pastor Spenser leaned forward in his seat. “The shepherds don’t have food because they don’t study their Bibles.”  

“You think it is obvious in the Word?”  

“Certainly. When the apostle Paul magnified the prerogatives of the sovereign God, he fully anticipated the response of carnal reasoning.” Pastor Spenser leaned back, closed his eyes, and quoted, “You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?’” A modern pastor, in the unlikely event that someone asked him this, would say that it was a good question, and that he wrestles with it often himself. Paul tells the questioner to shut up and sit down. ‘But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God?’”  

“Paul doesn’t answer the question then?”  

Pastor Spenser opened his eyes. “Oh, he does. It just isn’t the answer carnal reason wants.”  

“So what is the answer?”  

“The answer is God – the same answer that is given at the end of the book of Job. Carnal reason doesn’t see a real answer there either. But believe me, it is a real answer. The answer is the ground of reality; the answer is God.”  

“What happens at the end of the book of Job?”  

“The questions raised in the book are conducive to carnal reason; indeed, even non-Christians are attracted to the first part of the book of Job. As they would put it, ‘It addresses the human condition.’ But then, at the end of the book, God comes in, with glory and thunder. And do you know what? He doesn’t answer any of the impertinent questions; rather, He poses some sobering questions of His own. ‘Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Now prepare yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer Me.’”  

I nodded. “And He asks where Job was when the universe was created.”  

“The question is not irrelevant. It is the heart of the matter. Discussions of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility very rarely display any understanding at all of Who the Creator is.”  

“But my friends would say that you are making God responsible for evil, and that they are concerned to protect God’s honor and glory.”  

Pastor Spenser looked at me intently. “It is true that the affirmation of God’s total control over all things causes some to blaspheme. But your friends need not be concerned for God’s glory; man’s slanders and blasphemies do not touch Him. Such slanderers are pelting the sun with wadded-up balls of tissue paper.”  

“They are stumbling over something though.”  

“They stumble, being disobedient to the word, to which they also were appointed.”  

“Now, see? Why do you have to put these things so strongly? Doesn’t that cause people to react to what you are teaching? They were appointed to stumble?”  

“That wasn’t my choice of words. I was quoting 1 Peter 2:8.”  

“Oh. Oops.”  

“Your friends are concerned that God be seen as good. But seen as good by whom? Those who believe the Word of God will know that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. Of course He is good – by definition. And those who do not believe the Word of God will persist in thinking that there is a tribunal or court somewhere in which God will one day be arraigned. On the day of judgment, their folly will be apparent to all – even to them.”  

“So how do we bring this back to the original point?”  

“The original point was the concern that the doctrine of God’s sovereignty would be made into a cushion for sin. My answer to this is that we must, in all things, recognize God as God. We must do so in how we live holy lives, but we must also do so in why we live holy lives. We are to live in a holy way because God has commanded it.”  

“But you would also say that what God has commanded the believer He has also given the believer.”  

“Well, certainly.”  

“I honestly see why carnal reason has a problem with this.”  

“And I honestly see why carnal men want to lust after beautiful women. But what does the Bible say?”  

“What do you mean?”  

“What is the greatest commandment?”  

“That we love God.”  

“And what is the first fruit of the Spirit?”  

“Love.” I said. “I see.”  

“What do you see?” Pastor Spenser asked.  

“This takes us back to Philippians. We are commanded to work out what God works in.”  

“Right.” he said. “Nothing less.”


This is Part 4 in a series of 6 posts titled Easy Chairs & Hard Words.

Walk in the Light – Studies in 1 John

If it is true, as they say, that one is known by the company he/she keeps, then the first epistle from the Apostle John is really good news for Christians. 

In the prologue of this letter John talks about Christian Fellowship.  He tells us that, if we are in Christ, not only do we have fellowship with other Believers, but with God Himself!   

In the following verses John explains how we experience that fellowship. That’s what he is talking about when he writes about “walking in the light…” (See v. 5-10

John begins by talking about God: “God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all. 

John is here succinctly expressing a few important things.   

1.      Theology is important.   

Theology, in the proper sense, is the study about God.  And John demonstrates here that theology, at its best, is practical.  For John, knowledge of God is not an optional accessory for the Christian life; theology is not something that is left for the professionals.  Theology comes first, as a foundation upon which we build our lives, our churches, and our relationships. 

2.      Fellowship begins with considering God.   

John has already expressed that his purpose in writing about our fellowship is “to make our joy complete.”  Here, again, he elaborates about how we experience that fellowship – and he begins by talking about God. 

Wisdom, true spirituality, and real fellowship (that produces joy) always begin with our understanding of who God is. 

This may seem obvious to most of us. But, as Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones suggests:  

“Most of our problems occur precisely because we don’t begin at this point.” 

3.      God is Holy 

J.I. Packer says: “Those who know God have great thoughts of Him.” 

John describes God as being “light”.  Again, it is helpful to remember that John uses word pictures to help us grasp concepts that are important but difficult to define. 

By describing God with the metaphor light, John opens us to consider a wide range of God’s attributes. But while “light” may illustrate many of God’s attributes, most scholars seem to agree that what John has in mind, primarily, is God’s holiness. 

Recognizing, and contemplating God’s holiness is essential to having a relationship with God, and according to John understanding God’s holiness is important for our relationships with others.  

For more reading about God’s Holiness, I suggest: 

Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul 

The Knowldege of the Holy   by A.W. Tozer 

Holiness: The Second Mark of the Church

by  James M. Boice 


Holiness is the characteristic of God most mentioned in the pages of the Word of God and is therefore, quite rightly, that which should characterize God’s church. We are to be a “holy” people (1 Pet. 2:9). We are to “follow” after holiness. Indeed, without it “no man shall see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). Jesus speaks of this characteristic of the church in our passage (John 17) by praying – it is his second petition combined with the third – that God would keep it from the evil one. 

But what is holiness? Some people have identified holiness with a culturally determined behavioral pattern and so have identified as holy those who do not gamble or smoke or drink or play cards or go to movies or do any of a large number of such things. But this approach betrays a basic misconception. It may be the case that real holiness in a particular Christian may result in abstinence from one or more of these things, but the essence of holiness is not found there. Consequently, to insist on such things for the church is not to promote holiness, but rather to promote legalism and hypocrisy. In some extreme forms it may even promote a false Christianity according to which men and women are justified before God on the basis of some supposedly ethical behavior. 

The Apostle Paul had found this to be true of the Israel of his day, as Jesus had also found it before him. So he distinguished clearly between this kind of holiness (the term he used is “righteousness”) and true holiness which comes from God and is always God-oriented. He said of Israel, “For they, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” (Romans 10:3). 

This biblical idea of holiness is made somewhat clearer when we consider those words that are synonyms for it in the English language, namely “saint” or “sanctify.” Christ uses the second one in verse 17. What is a saint? A saint is not a person who has achieved a certain level of goodness but rather one who has been set apart to himself by God. 

But now we need to ask this question: If holiness has to do with separation (or, better yet, consecration) and if believers are already holy by virtue of their being set apart to himself by God, why does Christ pray for our sanctification? Why pray for that which we already have? The answer is obviously that although we have been set apart to himself by God we often clearly fail to live up to that calling. 

We are worldly in the sense that the world’s values often remain our values and the world’s priorities our priorities. 

First of all, there is the matter of the world’s wisdom. The old wisdom of the church, in every age and in every denomination, was the wisdom of the Scriptures. Christian people stood before the Word of God and confessed their own ignorance in spiritual things. They even confessed their inability to understand what is written in the Scriptures except for the grace of God through the ministry of the Holy Spirit who opens the Scriptures to us. Christian people confessed their resistance to spiritual things and the fact that, if left to ourselves, we always go our own way. But what has happened in our time is that this old wisdom, the strength of the church, has been set aside for other sources of wisdom with the result that the authoritative and reforming voice of God through the Scriptures is ignored. 

Second, it is not only in the area of the world’s wisdom that we are faced with secularism; we are also faced with it in the area of the world’s theology. The world’s theology is easy to define. It is the view that man is basically good, that no one is really lost, and that belief in the Lord Jesus Christ is not necessary for salvation. 

Finally, secularism in the church is seen in the world’s methods. God’s methods are prayer and the power of the gospel, through which the Holy Spirit moves to turn God’s people from their wicked ways and heal their land. That has always been the strength of the church of Jesus Christ. But today that power is despised. It is laughed at, because the methods that those laughing want to use are politics and money. 

Well, the secularism of the church is bad. I will be considering the cure for it in our study of the church’s next distinguishing characteristic: truth. But, of course, we must notice the cure even now.  Jesus makes it clear in his prayer by saying at the beginning of this section, “I have given them thy word” (v. 14), and then again at the end, “Sanctify them through thy truth; thy word is truth” (v. 17). It is by means of the Bible, then, by the Word of God, that we are to become increasingly separated unto God and grow in practical holiness. 

Without a regular, disciplined and practical study of the Bible the church will always be secular. It will fall into that state described by Paul for Timothy, when he warned that in the last day “perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, truce-breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God, having a form of godliness, but denying the power of it” (2 Tim. 3:1-5). That is the secular church: “having a form of godliness, but denying the power of it.” But on the other hand, by means of the Bible, God’s people will become the opposite. For if the secular church employs the world’s wisdom, the world’s theology, the world’s agenda, and the world’s methods, the true church will invert it. It will employ the wisdom of God, the theology of the Scriptures, the agenda of God’s written revelation, and the methods that have been given to us for our exercise in the church until the Lord Jesus Christ comes again. 


This is the second in a series of six posts by Dr James M. Boice concerning the characteristics of a healthy church.

10 Questions: Are you More and More Aware of Your Sin?

In one of the last things he wrote, when he was about as mature as a Christian gets, the Apostle Paul described himself as the worst sinner in the world (1 Tim. 1:15 ). How could he say that, since he was probably more like Jesus than anyone we’ve ever met? It’s because the closer you get to Jesus, the more aware you become of your sin and how unlike Him you are.

One of the first spiritual struggles of a new Christian occurs as he becomes aware of sin that never bothered him before. It’s not uncommon for a new believer to feel more guilty at times than he ever did before becoming a Christian. That’s because he’s alive to the Holy Spirit for the first time in his life, and thus he’s more aware of sin.

The more you grow as a Christian, the less you will sin. But it often will seem as though you sin more because your sensitivity to sin will be so much greater.

– This post is 8 of 10 excerpted from 10 Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health by Donald Whitney.