How to Preach the Gospel to Yourself

Preaching Gospel to Self

Paul, in Colossians 2.6, instructs us: “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him…”  Simple words, but powerfully practical when unpacked.

How did we “receive” Jesus?  By faith and repentance – or by repentance and faith.  We are not quite sure which comes first, but perhaps that does not matter.  It may be that the order is different with different people. What matters is that genuine conversion involves both of these elements: Repentance of our sin and of all our desire and attempts to save ourselves through our good behavior; Faith in the gospel – the good news – of what Jesus has done on our behalf, and what is offered to us in him.

If these are the two elements by which we received Jesus then, according to the Apostle’s instruction, these are the two elements that should be characteristic of our day-to-day life in Jesus.  The old Puritan Thomas Watson once wisely noted: “Faith and repentance are the two wings by which we fly toward heaven.”  In other words, faith and repentance are not only the instruments by which the journey of salvation is initiated, these are the practices by which we travel.  These are the ingredients of spiritual growth leading to maturity.

The chart above reflects both faith and repentance, and provides a tool to help us be able to “preach the gospel to ourselves”.

It reminds us that when recognize sin in our lives, our response should not be to simply resolve to “stop it”. We need to discern its source.  In other words, the sin we see, the sin which shows itself in our behavior (and in our attitudes), has deeper roots and causes.  So, like an explorer commissioned to trace the a great river to discover its tributaries and its origin, we are called upon to discover what “root sins” are tributaries of our behavior, and ultimately what idols are the original source.  Once discovered – or even while in the process of discovery – “putting sin to death” requires that we confess it and repent of it.  All of it – the sinful behaviors, the attitudes that lead to it, and the idols that source it.  Growth in grace is greater than mere moral reform.  Growth in grace is a work of the Spirit upon the heart which eventually and inevitably leads to a change in behavior.

Yet growth in grace does not come by confession and repentance alone.  Such may lead to behavior change, if we feel guilty enough and desire to change. But that is not growth in grace.  Growth in grace requires that we believe what grace gives; that we ponder what is true, and good, and beautiful: chiefly among such things is the gospel, the good news of what God promises – and does – when we trust  in Jesus.  (Philippians 4.8)   Reminded of the truths of the gospel, our hearts change; they turn toward God, causing us to hunger to grow more like him, and enabling us to rely more on his promise that what he began he will complete.  (Philippians 1.6)

This is the spiritual discipline of preaching the gospel to ourselves.

5 Obedience Killing Lies

Colorful Confusion

No doubt in my mind, it is one of the more difficult aspects of living in line with the gospel. Is it about grace, or is it about obedience?  If I say “both” – which I do – then how does this not add a requirement of works to the gospel requirement of faith alone for our justification/salvation?  If I say obedience is not necessary to our salvation – which I also say – then are we not very close to the precipice of anti-nomianism (lawlessness)?  No wonder people scratch their heads, and then revert back to patterns learned or to personal instinct – both of which are often wrong.

To avoid confusion, I answered “Yes” to both grace and obedience for a reason.  Let me clarify.

I must say that our obedience is not necessary to our salvation, because we are incapable of perfect obedience – and perfect obedience is what the Law demands.  To add any measure of obedience to our justification would be to minimize the law and deny the gospel at the same time.  Christ became like us, and lived in perfect obedience to his Father, and then died in our place, because we are not and cannot be perfectly obedient.  And it we are not perfectly obedient, we are not obedient.  But by faith, we are counted as righteous – credited with Jesus’ righteousness as if it were our very own.  But part of what we must believe, as part of that faith is that we are disobedient.  In a real sense the admission of being disobedient is requisite to be saved. How then could we say that obedience is required for salvation?

On the other hand, God does demand obedience – and he is worthy of our total obedience.  But two things occur here, in some ways simultaneously.  First, the demand for what we do not and cannot do highlights our brokenness and our dependence upon grace – the grace of a savior.  The demand, coupled with our lack of obedience, drives us to either despair or to the cross. Those driven to the cross find, not condemnation, but forgiveness and love, through unmerited grace extended to us by God, because of Jesus.  This breaking, because we become aware of our disobedience, is a necessary step toward healing and wholeness.  But second, God’s demands are not a mere bait and switch. When he commands obedience, he means it.  Inability it no excuse.  He commands because obedience not only pleases him, we find that his ways are the ways the work, that lead us to the greatest joy.  In short, we find in both obedience and our failures to obey that God’s commands are really a tremendous gift of his love.

While I hope the reader will see the dichotomy – the two distinct tracks – I also hope all will be able to see how these two tracks work together.  Obedience cannot be required for salvation, because it denies both our reality and the necessity of the gospel.  But in walking with God, obedience is expected – though we fail, and are reminded of our continual need of grace – but it is expected, demanded, because through obedience we are able to bring joy to both God and ourselves.  Failure, or disobedience as a Christian does not cause the forfeiture of our salvation; but as Job discovered, we can forfeit the grace of joy that would otherwise be ours – and rob God of the joy that we would give to him.  But if that drives us back to the cross, we find grace anew, and we are renewed in faith, strength, to experience the joy that comes through gospel-prompted obedience.

Because this can be such a dizzying subject, I was appreciative when I recently read a short piece by Brad Watson, titled 5 Obedience Killing Lies.  Watson rightly notes:

Our ability to quit and become sidetracked is great.

I believe we get sidetracked by the confusion of the place of obedience, as well as by many other things that creep into our consciousness that hinder our pursuit of obedience.  Watson focuses on the more practical issues, rather than the confusion of the relationship of Law vs. Grace.  As he says in his article:

Our hearts are constantly being attacked by lies that keep us from persevering in faith. These five lies are particularly successful. They are deceptive and effective in killing our conviction to follow Jesus and trust in his work.

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Messy Christian Communities

Missional Communities

As our church makes the slow but intentional shift toward Missional Communities, I found this illustration to be a good picture of the contrast between common perception and ideal reality of what such communities, or small groups, and even church is like.

On the left side, “What People Think It Looks Like“, we see the idea that the Christian life is one that should be free of ugliness.  It makes sense, right?  If all the people in the group are saved by Jesus, forgiven of sin, and empowered to overcome their sin, then a gathering of Christians should be pretty clean, and always leading us upaward.  Isn’t this what Paul calls for in Ephesians 4?

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  (v. 1-3 ESV)

11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (v. 11-13 NIV)

It is the picture God calls for, through Paul, in these verses.  But it is the ideal; the objective. It is not the complete picture, at least not at present.  It is sort of a Norman Rockwell version of the Christian life lived in community.  It is true.  But it does not show the complexity, and the brokenness that is all around us, nor the baggage that we all carry in varying degree.

But we have hope to experience it.  Afterall, God has promised it. He has said that he is at work in us, and he would finish what he started. (Philippians 1.6)  And we get a taste of it, if we have the privilege of engaging in a genuine Christian community.

The picture on the right, however, “What It Really Looks Like“, is a reflection of the present reality of Christian community.  It is often messy.  And if it is done right, it should get messier. This is OK, though, because this is God’s means of achieving the picturesque image we may have in our minds when reading Ephesians 4.  It is the sharing of life, the freedom and safety to unload our baggage in the presence of others who, rather than judging and comdeming, help us to sort through it, to own our part, and to see ourselves – and our messes – as God sees: through the lenses of the gospel.

Because each of us has our own mess, it only makes sense that a collection of people would look like a bigger mess.  But there is a beauty in that mess!  Because in the midst of that mess, love is shown.  Love leads to freedom and honesty.  Honesty leads us to the gospel, the power of which transforms us, cleanses us, and frees us from the bondage of all that is aweful and ugly.

Neil Cole has rightly said:

“Life is messy. If someone doesn’t break your heart, you’re not doing it right.”

Likewise, if we are living in community with other Christians, and it never gets messier, it may be a sign that we are not doing it right. Thank God for the messes!  Thank God that he cares about our messes! Thanks to God, he has promised to clean our messes, and use other messed up people in the process.

Please note that while the picture on the right is messy, it does go up.  It is not that there is no evidence of change, of improvement.  There certainly is!  It is just not always a pretty picture on the way.  But it is beautiful – to God and to us – both in process and as a result. This is the beautiful reality of the Christian community – the church.

Seed of the Word in the Soil of the Heart

Sprout in Hand

“Truly, the Bible as the Word of God has an inherent power, but it is not a coercive power. That is, the Bible does not work it’s effects mechanically. We don’t change just because we read it. Out minds may be engaged in the text, but something must happen in our hearts as well. In the parable of the Sower (Matthew 13.18-23), the seed does not miraculously and independently transform itself into a flowering plant. The condition of the soil effects how well the seed takes root. Our hearts must be receptive to God’s Word in the same way the soil must be rich and conducive to the development of deep roots and luxurient growth. As Oliver Wendell Holmes once said: ‘What you bring away from the Bible depends to some extent on what you carry to it.'”

Tremper Longman, from Reading the Bible With Heart & Mind

10 Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health

Da Vinci Anatomy (Red)

How are you doing, Spiritually?

That is an important question.  God repeatedly encourages us to examine our hearts.  And while many are aware that it ought to be our regular practice to take a spiritual pulse, I suspect that relatively few know how to read the gauges even if we were to try.

Consequently, if we are not sure what we are looking for, it follows that we are not always quite sure how to answer my initial question.

Don Whitney, of The Center for Biblical Spirituality, provides us with a helpful tool for use in measuring our spiritual health.  The 10 questions below are excerpted from his short book 10 Questions to Diagnose Your Spiritual Health.

Immediately below is a brief Introduction written by Don Whitney.  At the bottom of this post are the 10 Questions Whitney asks, each with a link to a brief post devoted to the particular question.

Let’s see how we are doing… And let’s ask ourselves – and each other – these questions often.


One of the early explorers to the North Pole charted his journey hourly to ensure that he stayed on course through the white wasteland. At one point a strange phenomenon began to occur. As he checked his position, his instruments indicated that even though he had been moving northward, he was actually farther south than he had been an hour before. Regardless of the speed at which he walked in the direction of the Pole, he continued to get farther from it. Finally he discovered that he had ventured onto an enormous iceberg that was drifting in one direction as he was walking in the other.

There is a world of difference between activity and progress. That is as true on a Christian’s journey toward the Celestial City of heaven as it is on a North Pole expedition. The Christian life is meant to be one of growth and progress. We are even commanded in 2 Pet. 3:18 , “But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

How can we know that we are growing in grace—that we are making real progress and not merely deceiving ourselves with activity?

It’s often hard to recognize spiritual advance over a week’s time or maybe even a month’s time. Trying to determine the progress of a soul is like looking at the growth of an oak—you can’t actually see it growing at the moment, but you can compare it to where it was some time ago and see that there has indeed been growth. The following 10 questions can help you discern whether you are maturing spiritually. Use them to evaluate the past six to 12 months.

  1. Are you more thirsty for God than ever before?
  2. Are you more and more loving? 
  3. Are you more sensitive to and aware of God than ever before?
  4. Are you governed more and more by God’s Word?
  5. Are you concerned more and more with the physical and spiritual needs of others? 
  6. Are you more and more concerned with the Church and the Kingdom of God?
  7. Are the disciplines of the Christian life more and more important to you?
  8. Are you more and more aware of your sin? 
  9. Are you more and more willing to forgive others? 
  10. Are you thinking more and more of heaven and of being with the Lord Jesus?

5 Gospel Perspectives That Shape Lives


Tim Lane & Paul Tripp, in their helpful book How People Change, suggest that there are 5 Gospel Perspectives that shape lives.  In other words when we understand these principles, and regularly consider our own lives in relation to them, we see change.  These principles, considered collectively,  cultivate the best conditions to see fruitful sanctification.

  1. The need to recognize that God calls for ongoing and continual growth and change in all of us.
  2. The need to understand the extent and gravity of our sin.
  3. The need to understand that the heart is central; that behavior and attitude is a reflection of the heart.
  4. The need to understand the present benefits of Christ.
  5. The need to live a Lifestyle of Repentance & Faith

If you are curious, you might want to check out an interview with Lane & Tripp, where they describe their motivation for writing the book, and explain how to apply the gospel to real life to bring about real change: Interview

Why All This Talk About Sin?

Face in the Glass

It has been a while since I have posted anything from Weak Dave. (OK. I know it has been a while since I have posted much of anything at all…)  But Dave has a keen insight on a timely and timeless subject.  It is timely, at least to some conversations I have had recently.  It is timeless, in that he addresses a topic that never goes out of date.  The topic is “sin” – particularly why Dave talks so much about sin, his own and our common condiditon.

Here is what Dave has to say:

Why always talk about sin, Dave? Why not be more positive?

Fair question.  Seems to me the Church has dumbed down the law and dumbed down sin, like the Pharisees did, so the Christian life seems doable, possible, the commands keepable.  We believers seem to have the impression that sin is something we occasionally do, when in fact, we never stop sinning: there’s a dark side, self-serving side, to our most-noble, seeeemingly-selfless deeds.  We think of sin in outside-the-cup ways, and spend little time talking about inside-the-cup sin/idolatry, and I think Satan could not be more pleased, at snookering us into believing that the really-bad sin is the technicolor sin, that we believers with our acts together, are pretty good folks.  Pharisee thinking.

I never set out to talk about my sin all the time, but I did begin to ask Pray-ers to pray for my faith life, my dependency on Jesus.  And the way He has answered those prayers over time, is to open my eyes and enable me to see many sins/idols that I never saw previously.  Getting new large glimpses of how much worse I am than I ever dreamed, would be depressing, were it not for the ever-growing foundation of grace in my life, that began in 1984 when Janet and I went through World Harvest’s Sonship Course, which was life-changing for both us.  Today I’m convinced that the nicest, sweetest, kindest, most-loving thing He ever does for me, is to freshly convict me of my sin of independence/self-reliance: my passion for worthiness of my own, unsatisfied with Jesus and His worthiness imputed to me.

When I have a sense of having been forgiven little, I love only a little: Jesus, others, myself.  When I love only a little, I’m critical, judgmental, competitive, rejoicing in the failure of others, both believer and pre-believer, and self-contemptful at my own failure.  I don’t enjoy others just as they are, me just as I am, Jesus and His plan for my life, just as it is.  Circumstance-dependent for my joy and peace.  Having the name of Jesus, but not the benefit of Jesus.  Living as joylessly and peacelessly as the pre-believers around me, because I’m so confident I know what would be best for me and those I love.  Independent not dependent.  ShepherdDave, not DumbSheepDave.

~ DumbSheepDave, having an even better year than last year, which was the best year of his life, because folks have been praying

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Sailboat Spirituality

Do you sometimes have difficulty understanding or remembering who does what in our Spiritual maturation? We get that it is God who must make us alive to believe (regeneration), and that he gives us the gift of faith to believe, which leads to salvation (justification).  But then what?  Surely there is something we must do.  What about spiritual disciplines? But then, how does grace work? What does the Holy Spirit do?

I love the imagery Jared Wilson offers in his excellent book Gospel-Wakefulness:

As long as we are thinking of achieving the fruit of the Spirit by our own efforts to be more fruitful and joyful, we may be working in their direction, but we’re getting there by the sweat of our brow.  We’ve embraced rowboat spirituality.   But think of the obedient work of the Christian life like a sailboat.  There are lots of things to do on a sailboat. Sailors don’t just sit there – at least, not for too long.  There are lots of working parts on a sailboat and lots of things to pay attention to. But none of those things make the boat go.  The boat doesn’t go unless the wind catches the sail.

What we are picturing here is the work of the Spiritual Disciplines in conformity with the law of God found in Scriptures, not as the means of propulsion, but as the means of setting the conditions for Spiritual fertility. In obedience, we till the soil of our hearts so that they are more receptive for the planting and growth of the Word in our lives.  We obey both in response to the Spirit’s awakening us and in order to raise the sail for the Spirit’s movement.

“If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit.” ~ Galatians 5.25

Killing Me Softly: Putting Sin to Death

In Colossians 3.5, the Apostle Paul commands:

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.

Based on the language Paul uses it is clear that sin is in our hearts, and it will not just go away on its own.  We need to take an active role and kill it within ourselves, like any other form of heart disease – or like weeds from a garden.  And this list is suggestive, not exhaustive – a starting point, not a few last details.

In other words, we have a need to die to sin while we grow in grace.

But just how do we actually do this?

Puritan John Owen offered these profoundly helpful insights in his book, The Holy Spirit,

Determine that you will, everyday and in every duty abolish and destroy this ruling principle of sin.  it will not die unless it is gradually and constantly weakened.  Spare it, and it heals its wounds and recovers its strength.  Negligence allows sin to regain such power that we may never recover our former state as long as we live.

We are continually to watch out for the rising up of this ruling principle of sin and immediately subdue it.  This is to be done in all that we are and do.  We are to be watchful in our behaviour to others, watchful when we are alone, watchful when in trouble or joy.  We are to be particularly watchful in the use of our pleasure times and in temptations.

Determine that you will no longer serve sin  (Rom. 6:6).  See it as the worst service of which a rational creature is capable.  If you serve sin it will bring you to a dreadful end.  Determine that though sin remains in you, yet you will not serve it.  Remember, if the ‘old ma’ is not crucified with Christ, you are still a servant of sin, whatever you might think of yourself.

Realise that it is no easy task to mortify sin.  Sin is a powerful and dreadful enemy.  There is no living thing that will not do everything in its power to save its life.  So sin also will fight to save its life.  If sin is not diligently hunted down and dealt with by holy violence, it will escape all our attempts at killing it.  It is a great mistake to think that we can at any time rest from this duty.  The ruling principle of sin to be slain is in us, and so has hold of all our faculties.  Sin cannot be killed without a sense of pain and trouble.  So Christ compared it to ‘cutting of the right hand’ and ‘plucking out the right eye’.  The battle is not against any particular lust but against all sinful lusts which war against the soul.

Mortification arising from convictions of the law leads only to dealing with particular sins, and always proves fruitless.  True mortifying of sin deals with the entire body of sin.  It goes tot the heart of the matter and lays the axe to the root of the tree.  This is the mortification which the Holy Spirit drives the believer to do.

Mortification of particular sins arises from a guilty conscience.  But mortification arising from gospel principles deals with the whole body of sin in its opposition to the renewing of the image of God in us.

Fighting the Sin in Our Hearts

In Colossians 3, the Apostle Paul commands us:

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you:sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (v. 5)

His list should not be seen as exhaustive, but rather suggestive.  There are many other things that could be included in this list – things which are mentioned in many other passages throughout the Old and New Testaments.

But while Paul’s list here may not be complete, his message is clear:  “Put your sin to death!”

For those who cling to the notion that once we are secured in the grace of Jesus that we have little or no need to give serious and ongoing thought to our sin and the lingering effects it has upon us – that all we need to do is look at the positives of the promises of the gospel – Paul’s words provide a much needed corrective.

Certainly, the promises of the gospel give us a tremendous status. But there is still much to be done; much we need to be doing.  The gospel gives us the confidence that no matter what we may find when we look deep into the recesses of our own hearts, we will never be forsaken.  Whatever we may find in the dark and dank depths of our souls, it is no surprise to God.  He already knows. And he is the one who is encouraging us to take a look for ourselves. God, our Father, does this with the reassuring promise that no matter what we find he will not love us any less.

Still, easier said than done.

I appreciate the work Jonathan Dodson has done to  develop the concept of Fight Clubs to help us put our sin to death.   Dodson bases Fight Clubs on three essential principles:

1. Know Your Sin

Look for the sinful patterns in your life and trace them to the “identity of the moment” that you are looking to for worth and/or meaning (good person, faithful parent, creative artist, successful entrepreneur, etc.).   For instance, your sin could be sulking and your false identity could be victim

2. Fight Your Sin

Once you know your sin/identity issue, you can begin to fight it.

There are two primary ways God calls us to fight our sin.

First, confess your sin to God and ask for his forgiveness for your God-belittling desires and decisions. (1 John 1.9)  Follow your confession to God with confession to community so you can experience healing and encouragement of the church.  (James 5.16)

Second, encourage one another to take sin seriously, to “put sin to death”. (Romans 8.13 & Colossians 3.5) Don’t let identity-twisting sin just roll off your back. Get tenacious about glorifying and enjoying God!

In short, you could summarize it this way:

  • Confess your sin (to God and one another)
  • Get serious about fighting for true joy

3. Trust Your Savior

Trusting our Savior for gospel identity instead of an identity-of-the-moment is the most difficult and important part of being a disciple.

Robert Murray McCheyene said:

“For every look at sin, look ten times at Christ.”

How does Christ offer you a better identity than the false identity?

Dodson writes:

If my sin was sulking and my identity was victim, 2 Peter 1.3 reminds me that my identity is godly, a partaker of the divine nature. I was sulking in ungodliness because I thought I deserved better circumstances. I felt weak. Peter reminds us that we have “divine power granted to us for life and godliness.”

This scripture reminded me of my identity — godly — but it does not stop there.

It also offers us a Savior to trust, a counter-promise of divine power necessary to live a godly life, not a sulking life. What a relief! Our identity is godly, and our promise is divine power!

So, again, in short:

  • Find your Gospel counter-Identity
  • Trust your Biblical Promise

Looking Heaven-ward

“There are two methods which the Lord graciously adopts, in order to draw our heart away from this present world:

  • The first is by setting before it the attractiveness and stability of “things above:”
  • The second is, by faithfully declaring the evanescent [temporary] and shakable nature of ‘things of earth.’

… Now it is much better to be drawn by the joys of heaven than driven by the sorrows of earth.

The believer should not wait to be shaken out of the present things…There is no difficulty in giving up the world when we have, by faith, laid hold of Christ: the difficulty then would be to hold it.”

~adapted from C.H. Macintosh, Notes on Genesis (1879)

I Asked the Lord to Grow in Grace

This song comes from a beautiful poem by John Newton.  It is a powerful reminder to me about God’s grace and how God works.

Like Newton in the opening lines of this poem, I often ask God to grow me in grace and faith and the fruits of his Spirit.

I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith, and love, and every grace;
Might more of His salvation know,
And seek, more earnestly, His face.

And like Newton expresses in the third stanza, in my mind this is something noble and therefore should be experienced mystically, gently and painlessly:

I hoped that in some favored hour,
At once He’d answer my request;
And by His love’s constraining pow’r,
Subdue my sins, and give me rest.

Spiritual growth is easy, right? It should be automatic. Like sleeping, or breathing.  Certainly it should be no more difficult than eating, or learning to ride a bike or drive…

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Confession of a Recovering Legalist


The guy seemed somewhat indignant. “There are no legalists in this room”, he insisted in response to an indirect, and unintentional, indictment made by another member of the presbytery.

Little did he know.

“Absolutely there are legalists in the room”, I thought outloud.

I cannot say with certainty that this man, who felt compelled to defend himself and all those like him, is indeed a legalist.  I suspect he is. There seems quite a bit of evidence that suggests he is.  But I don’t know what is in his heart – or the heart of any other man in that room.

What I do know is my own heart.  And even if no one else there in that room matched the description, at heart I am a legalist.

That would surprise many. In our presbytery, which is historically characterized as being very narrow and uptight, I am, I suspect, by comparison seen as being ‘looser’ and to the Left of center. (NOTE: It’s probably the only place I ever go where I am consisered Left of anything.)  I am the guy who frequently points out the emptiness of Fundamentalism and all the associated rules as compared to the greatness of the grace offered us in Christ.

But as Craig Cabaniss articulately points out:

Legalism, however, is not a matter of having more rigourous rules.  It’s far more lethal than that. It strikes at the very core of our relationship with God.

C.J. Mahaney explains:

Legalism is seeking to achieve forgiveness from God and acceptance by God through obedience to God. In other words, a legalist is anyone who behaves as if they can earn God’s approval and forgiveness through personal performance.

Now I am not usually so foolish as to think I can or will gain God’s forgiveness or acceptance by my behavior.  I realize my only hope is in Christ. And I know that Jesus – and He alone – has already accomplished everything that is necessary to reconcile me to God.  (This is known as forensic justification.)

But I often get the feeling that God likes me better than those uptight legalists because I am not as uptight. And I like that feeling.  Furthermore,  I like to think I am more committed to  the advancement of Christ’s kingdom than they are.  I am not sidetracked by mind-numbing minutia, as some others seem to be.  In short, I like ‘knowing’ that I am ‘better’ than others because I am faithful -more or less – to a set of behavioral standards that others are not so visibly faithful to observe.

And that is what makes me a functional legalist.

A legalist is not defined by narrowness or the imposition of rules upon others.  It is the erroneous sense that I can earn God’s favor by  my behavior – by what I do and what I don’t do.  And for me it is favor and not forgiveness that I desire through my legalism.

Cabaniss points out:

Legalism is a heart condition that can easily affect… and color any activity.  Legalism can taint our Bible reading, praying, witnessing, eating, sleeping, lovemaking, working, recreating, joking, shopping – we can be legalistic about anything!

The solution is not lowering our standards.  It is necessarily raising our understanding of and response to the glorious grace of God.

Gospel-Driven Sanctification

by Jerry Bridges 

Early in my Christian life I heard someone say, “The Bible was not given to increase your knowledge but to guide your conduct.” Later I came to realize that this statement was simplistic at best and erroneous at worst. The Bible is far more than a rulebook to follow. It is primarily the message of God’s saving grace through Jesus Christ, with everything in Scripture before the cross pointing to God’s redemptive work and everything after the cross–including our sanctification–flowing from that work.

There is an element of truth in this statement, however, and the Holy Spirit used it to help me to see that the Bible is not to be read just to gain knowledge. It is, indeed, to be obeyed and practically applied in our daily lives. As James says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (James 1:22).

With my new insight, I prayed that God would use the Bible to guide my conduct. Then I began diligently to seek to obey it. I had never heard the phrase “the pursuit of holiness,” but that became my primary goal in life. Unfortunately, I made two mistakes. First, I assumed the Bible was something of a rulebook and that all I needed to do was to learn what it says and go do it. I knew nothing of the necessity of depending on the Holy Spirit for his guidance and enablement.

Still worse, I assumed that God’s acceptance of me and his blessing in my life depended on how well I did. I knew I was saved by grace through faith in Christ apart from any works. I had assurance of my salvation and expected to go to heaven when I died. But in my daily life, I thought God’s blessing depended on the practice of certain spiritual disciplines, such as having a daily quiet time and not knowingly committing any sin. I did not think this out but just unconsciously assumed it, given the Christian culture in which I lived. Yet it determined my attitude toward the Christian life.

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5 Life Changing Gospel Perspectives

There are 5 perspectives from the gospel that, when embraced and frequently pondered, shape lives:

  • The need to recognize that God calls for ongoing and continual growth and change in all of us.
  • The need to understand the extent and gravity of our sin.
  • The need to understand that the heart is central; that behavior and attitude is a reflection of the heart.
  • The need to understand the present benefits of Christ.
  • The need to live a Lifestyle of Repentance & Faith.

Source: How People Change by Tim Lane & Paul David Tripp