Biblical Obedience Isn’t Legalism, It’s Life

Come and Be Free
Imagine a scenario with me for a moment where you are imprisoned in an old dungeon, wrists and ankles in chains. You have been there a long time, your whole life in fact, because you had been born into this captivity. Because of this, you have no idea that darkness and pain and starvation are not normal or how everyone in the world lives. But then one day, a man comes and releases your chains, proclaiming excitedly that you are now free! He tells you of a glorious King who sacrificed his own life to rescue you as well as the other prisoners who had been jailed with you and invites you to walk with him out of the prison and experience life, light, and liberty. You quickly take his hand and go running from the place of your chains, full of anticipation and hope. However, as you go out, your joy is replaced with shock as your eyes burn from the sunlight you’ve never beheld, your chest aches as it inhales fresh air for the first time, your body shivers as it feels a breeze brush against it, and while you know intuitively that there is beauty and goodness waiting to meet you, the discomfort and trauma that is assaulting your body feels like it is all too much. Suddenly you pull your hand from your rescuer and go running back into the dungeon. You pick up those old chains that chafed your skin for years, and you begin to stroke them affectionately. The darkness feels comforting after the stinging sunlight, and you’ve been hungry and malnourished for so long that you are past feeling hunger pains anyway. You see other prisoners running back in to join you, and rather than reminding one another of the insanity that loving darkness, chains, and bondage is, you all encourage one another, “The King was so nice to die for us, and certainly we should not forget his great sacrifice! But I don’t think he realized how painful it would be for us to leave our home, afterall we have lived here forever! Those soldiers bidding us to leave this place are being so narrow-minded to think that true freedom and joy only exists on the other side of these walls. When we entered that bright light it felt as if we might die, and certainly the King does not want us to experience such agony. Because of what He did, we are now free to walk about our dungeons, and even visit our friends’ in theirs, such grace! And this way we can still be near those chains that have been with us through so much. We wouldn’t even know how to sleep without them! Yes, this King was good indeed to give us such freedom, and we are truly a most blessed people!”

When you hear this story in narrative form, the lunacy of the freed prisoners is immediately apparent. No prisoner in their right mind would choose to remain in those conditions. And certainly if one tried to run back to their chains there would be a hundred people telling them to stop acting crazy and get out of there. And yet, this picture is a fitting description of what so many believers in the American church are experiencing, both personally and corporately, as a Christian culture has sprung that nurtures sin under the guise of grace and writes off serious obedience to the Bible in the name of avoiding legalism. Borrowing some of the apostle Paul’s analogies, they have been left to look and act like natural people when they have been made spiritual in Christ, drinking milk when there is meat on the table, infants in the faith when they should be adults. So many Christians are walking around disoriented by the lack of fruitfulness manifested in their lives, or worse, comfortable in their worldly look-alike lives, unaware that there is so much more to be had if they would only come under the teachings of Scripture. Sin is the chains of our old captivity, the evidence of our previous enslavement, and it is false to view the call to obey the God-breathed Word as harsh, legalistic, or burdensome. Scripture is replete with verses equating our new life in Christ and a love for God to obedience, and when you understand the terrible nature of sin you are able to see that obedience is actually a call to life, light, and liberty. Yes, it is often painful, and in fact comes through a union to Christ’s death as your old self is crucified (Romans 6:6-7). But on the other side of our daily opportunities to die to ourselves is resurrection life, full of real grace, goodness, and glory.

Is Legalism Really Our Issue?
To understand what is wrong with so many in the modern church’s approach to sin and obedience, we have to begin with clarifying what legalism actually is and the sin of self-righteousness that is behind it. Legalism is adding on to God’s Laws or an attitude of self-righteousness because you think you’re really good at following them (plus all the extra rules the Legalist is prone to tack-on). So if you are really proud of how good you think you are at being godly, or if you think you can paint a picture of holiness above or beyond that which God has laid out in His Word, then that is certainly sin in need of serious repentance. Using the illustration from above, it would be like a person getting out of the prison only to put all their chains in a backpack to carry around and fasting four days a week because it brings back precious memories of starving in the dark, dank prison they were supposed to have left. As Paul says, “These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh,” (Colossians 2:23). However, though our flesh may legalistically desire to boast in what it has accomplished, I think it is fair to say in our current cultural context, self-denial and severity are not what sell. Rather, pride often takes a more devious path in our hearts.

The Humble Brag of a Non-Pharisee
Today, I would suggest that the form of self-righteousness most rampant in church culture is not the kind where people are trying so hard to not disobey God that they wrongly add additional standards to His perfect statutes. Rather, it is the kind where people make a lackadaisical approach to sin their boast, believing themselves to be superior to the stingy rule-followers that, according to them, give following Jesus a bad name. Imagine the tax collector overhearing the Pharisee’s boast in Luke 18, full of its evident pride, and responding in kind with a “Thank you, God, that I’m not like this arrogant Pharisee over here.” Certainly boasting in one’s attempts at obeying the commandments are evil and heartily condemned by Scripture, but what is equally condemned is a lack of love for the Law of God and an unwillingness to submit to it. As James 1:22-25 says, “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” Those who make a feelings-driven, non-confrontational version of Christianity their boast are experiencing the same sinful pride as the Legalist, just with a bit of a backdoor approach. Sadly, this philosophy is leaving people to live in their dungeons while congratulating themselves for not being chained to the wall. Messages of cheap grace are a gross misunderstanding of the Lord’s purposes in calling us to lives of repentance and holiness, and they spring from a lack of comprehending the beauty of Christian obedience.

Defining Biblical Obedience
Biblical obedience is defined for us in Scripture in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.“ and 1 John 5:3, “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.” Because we have experienced the love of God in the gospel, we are led to trust what He has outlined as good and avoid what He has called evil in His Word. This obedience is born of our love for Him and a passion for His glory, knowing He laid down His life, “that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised,” (2 Corinthians 5:15). Coming out of the dungeon that was slavery to sin admittedly feels like dying a lot of the time because we are still in the flesh, still in that body that was born in darkness. Ephesians 5:8b-10 tells us, “Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” Like eyes adjusting from a dark dungeon to the light of the real world, it will certainly be a shock to our system to open our eyes, but akin to the kind that will lead to visions of mountains and rivers and flowers and the ocean. Putting off anything that reminisces of our old dungeon lives and walking in the Light of our Lord will lead to glorious experiences of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, and gentleness that are the fruit of a Spirit-led life. “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit,” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18). This is the magnificent hope of the sanctification offered to us in the power of Christ through the Spirit – freedom and unveiled glory!

Go and Bear Glorious Fruit
In the famous Vine and Branches parable, our Savior said, “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full,” (John 15:8-11). The call to obedience is the call to glorify God and to abide in the love Christ has for you, so that you may experience bountiful joy. How could we ever find that burdensome or restrictive? We should not be content with more dungeon space when there is a whole world of gospel glory awaiting us on the other side of obedience. Consider the sin of anger. Is it really “freeing” to be getting sinfully mad at your kids, spouse, the person who cut you off, the insurance agent on the phone, etc. on a daily basis and not feeling like you have to deal with it because of some nice Instagram post you saw about how you’re “enough” and “grace”? Because that is what I see being marketed to women everywhere. In the place of truth and calls to walk in the glorious freedom of obedience there are empty comforts and passing over of sins that God does not give us to permission to overlook. What if instead we were exhorting women with the truth of Scripture to be so secure in the love of God, so desirous of His glory over their own, that they might be liberated to respond to life’s most difficult people or trying circumstances with a peace that surpasses understanding, unconditional grace to give in light of the unlimited grace they have been given, and unshakeable joy that is built upon their trust in God alone?  This is the reflective glory that our King not only died for, but rose again in glorious victory over death and sin: that we might become holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16). He purchased our eternally secure position as His children, making us slaves to righteousness and freeing us to live out our blood-bought identities more and more as free women in Him as long as we are on this earth, until He brings our sanctification to a perfect completion (Philippians 1:6). Rather than being discouraged by the fact that we have to battle our sinful flesh or coping with it by diminishing our beliefs about the seriousness of sin and our response to it, we can resist growing weary in doing good knowing that through our perseverance we will be blessed (Galatians 6:9, James 1:22-25).

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Why We Need to Stop Giving Cheap Grace

“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found. Was blind, but now I see.” The theme of this beloved hymn, grace, is the banner of the Christian’s new life in Christ. We love grace! It’s the pivotal point of sermons, articles, blogs, podcasts, Bible studies, and even our everyday conversations. And this is for good reason, since apart from the grace of God, we literally would not have the gospel! But there is always a danger present when we become overly familiar with an idea, and that is that through our familiarity we can distill its value and impact. We see a lot of this today in the American church. There are many false teachers that preach about grace, except for the fact that they aren’t really teaching biblical grace since the one they preach is detached from repentance, sacrifice, and the atoning work of Christ. In his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes this “cheap grace” when he says, “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”

“Biblical grace is inextricably connected to the atoning work of Christ and His sufficient sacrifice on our behalf when He died on the cross.”

While, thankfully, I don’t think most of us are embracing every degree of cheap grace that Bonhoeffer describes, there is still a way that many of us can unwittingly downplay grace that has been a recent point of conviction in my own life. It is common for us as Christians to talk about covering a person with grace, or we even may be encouraged by a friend to give ourselves grace. In certain contexts, these are valid and good exhortations. But what is not valid, and yet is far too common, is how frequently we will use that expression to refer to non-sin issues. “Her personality is different than mine, so I just need to give her grace.” “I’m going to cover this annoying habit of his with grace.” “Ugh, I didn’t get that last load of laundry finished, but now it’s late and I’m just so tired. You know what, I’m just going to give myself grace and I’ll get to it tomorrow.” Now, I am by no means advocating that we shouldn’t overlook personal differences, quirks, or understand that we aren’t always going to get everything we set out to do done in a day. But the problem with this sort of language that I am concerned about is that it neglects to understand what grace really is. Biblical grace is inextricably connected to the atoning work of Christ and His sufficient sacrifice on our behalf when He died on the cross. As Romans 3:22b-25a says, “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” This has radical ramifications for our relationships. You can’t give real grace to someone for a non-sin issue, because they haven’t done anything requiring it. And when it comes to sin issues, we must always view grace in light of the cross in order to apply it correctly in difficult moments.

“When we frame our understanding of grace with the atonement in view, and then apply that to how we respond to sin, it has so much more impact on our lives than just broad-brushed so-called grace.”

When we frame our understanding of grace with the atonement in view, and then apply that to how we respond to sin, it has so much more impact on our lives than just broad-brushed so-called grace. For example, when a fellow Christian sins against us, it is through grace that we are able to view that sin in light of the gospel. Yes, they sinned, but we can forgive them because Christ atoned for that sin perfectly with his blood. Because of God’s abundant grace, they will not be condemned for that sin, and therefore should not be brought under condemnation by us. As Paul states in Romans 8:1, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.” When a non-believer sins against us, it is the reality of our own position of favor, graced by God, that equips us to extend forgiveness, to choose to not hold the offense over their head. Like the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:21-35, it would be utterly absurd to not forgive and give grace to others, in light of the abundant blessing of grace that is ours in Christ. It is also precious when confronted with our own guilt as we process our own emotions and thoughts. A few months ago, I was battling feelings of inadequacy. I am abundantly grateful for the many ways the Lord has provided for me to serve Him, but I am also continually humbled by my own insufficiency to accomplish my callings apart from Him. When I am not looking to the Lord, it is easy to feel guilty when I don’t complete everything on my to-do list at the end of the day. This meditation on grace has been so helpful in working through that feeling in my own heart. Is there a specific sin that kept me from walking in the work the Lord has prepared for me today? Then I must repent and turn to grace! My sin has been atoned for. The cross covers that point of failure and equips me to wake up another day and seek to mortify my flesh as I learn to walk by the Spirit. Rather than wallowing in discouragement, I can glory in my redemption, being confident that He who has begun a good work in me will complete it until the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6).

“Like the parable of the unmerciful servant in Matthew 18:21-35, it would be utterly absurd to not forgive and give grace to others, in light of the abundant blessing of grace that is ours in Christ.”

Alternately, understanding grace this way affects how we handle non-sin situations. We don’t need to cover personality differences, annoying habits, or mistakes with grace. We need to humble ourselves and not see our personal preferences as superior to others, because doing so is in fact pride. Suddenly we are not in the seemingly high position of bestowing grace, but in the low position of choosing to esteem others as more significant than ourselves. Not long ago I had the opportunity to discuss this idea with some of my youth girls. We were discussing practical situations, and one student mention a sibling had accidentally broken something of hers. When I asked her what the biblical response was, she responded, “I know, I need to show grace.” I asked her if her sibling intended to hurt her or break her thing, and she answered no. We went on to have a fruitful conversation about how grace didn’t apply in this situation, except that she herself needed to turn to God for the grace to respond to her sibling with patience, in love. As sinful anger sprung up in her heart, she was actually the one who needed grace rather than her sibling who had made an accidental mistake! This idea continues to rings true for how we counsel our own hearts as well. Returning to my feelings of inadequacy that I mentioned previously as the example, I needed to consider: was it just a busy day with unexpected interruptions that kept me from accomplishing certain tasks? If so, then it changes how I needed to approach the Lord. Rather than repenting of my human frailty, which is a gift of God to remind me of my insufficiency apart from Him (2 Corinthians 12:9), I need to repent of my tendency to look to my performance for validation instead of resting in the providence of God. “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law,” (Romans 3:28). Instead of feeling guilty I can thank the Lord for being sovereign over my days and trust that as I seek to obey, He will be faithful to accomplish everything He desires with my life. That is good news!

“As we understand the high cost of grace, that indeed Christ had to die to purchase it on our behalf, we will also grow in our understanding of how we use it.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, after defining cheap grace, goes on to provide the contrast with biblical, costly grace. He wrote, “Costly grace…is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.” Costly grace is what we as Christians get to live out every day as we pour out our lives as sacrifices unto the Lord. As we understand the high cost of grace, that indeed Christ had to die to purchase it on our behalf, we will also grow in our understanding of how we use it. Hopefully, the examples we looked at served to demonstrate how this change in perspective in the way we discuss grace can have such practical ramifications for our lives. As we take time to truly process and evaluate if and to whom grace need be applied as we encounter different situations and then think about how the cross-work of Christ is relevant, we will experience so much more power in our battle with sin as we fight with the truth of the gospel! It’s a simple fact that we cannot meditate on truth if we are misinterpreting the issue in the first place. Learning to distinguish between sin and non-sin issues, applying atonement-based grace, and developing a humble, kind nature, will producing fruit in our lives as we think and then walk differently towards those closest to us. It is truly my prayer that all of us would, “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.” (2 Peter 3:18).

Truths for the Angry Heart

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
You have given me relief when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!
O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame?
How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? Selah
But know that the Lord has set apart the godly for himself;
the Lord hears when I call to him.

Be angry, and do not sin;
ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah
Offer right sacrifices,
and put your trust in the Lord.

There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?
Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!”
You have put more joy in my heart
than they have when their grain and wine abound.
In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety.
(Psalm 4)

Feelings of distress, being wronged, and anger… these are exceedingly common to the human condition. The vast majority of our anger usually flows out of the belief that we have not been treated by another in a way we feel is right. David felt this in Psalm 4, and indeed, he had been wronged. Yet even in the face of being clearly sinned against, he counseled himself with these words: be angry, and do not sin. He then goes on to gives some beneficial exhortations for how to handle anger, whether it is justified or not (hint: most of ours is not). There is an abundance of wisdom in this psalm from the way David seeks the Lord in prayer, to how he remembers his position as set apart unto the Lord, and later identifies the true joy and peace that can only be found in God. But for the purpose of this piece, I just want to zoom in on verses 3 and 4. As we look at David’s approach to handling his own feelings of distress and anger, there are a few key points that I think we as Christian women would be wise to hold onto, in order that we too might learn to handle even the most intense emotional moments in a way that glorifies Christ.

1) She ponders truth
“Ponder in your own hearts on your bed…” (v. 4)
So often when we are angry, we have chosen to cling to and dwell on ourselves and our feelings rather than looking outside of ourselves to set our minds on the things of Christ. The Hebrew word for “ponder” in verse 4 is amar, and its literal meaning is to carefully give an answer, challenge, or command, or even to speak against something. When we are feeling angry, we must challenge and command our hearts to submit to the Lord’s will for our life at that moment, answering our hearts protests and speaking against any thoughts that might seek to feel justified in lashing out. Tim Keller suggests that, when angered, we would be wise to ask ourselves, “What am I loving so much right now that my heart is moved to feel angry?” Taking time to think about and evaluate our answer before we respond can provide the critical self-assessment we need to know how to move forward. We need to identify the underlying issue to understand the proper truth to apply to it. Psalm 143:5, “I remember the days of old; I meditate on all that you have done; I ponder the work of your hands.” The universal truth we can always choose to ponder regardless of our clarity on the problem is on the great works of God, beginning with Christ’s humble sacrifice for us on the Cross. It is as we meditate on that precious reality that we are able to find strength to overcome any emotion. 2 Corinthians 5:14-15 tells us that, “The love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” Controlled by the love of Christ, we have the power to preach the truth to ourselves, strengthened by the One who died so that we might give all of ourselves, including our mind and thought-life, to Him.

2) She is quiet; she doesn’t spew
“…and be silent. Selah.” v. 4
Selah is a word frequently found throughout the Psalms that signaled the musicians to rest and pause, providing a moment for quiet contemplation of what had just been sung. Strategically, David inserts this restful pause here, right after he has commanded silence as the prelude to passing through the minefield of anger righteously. The gateway drug of anger is to say “just one thing” before we tell ourselves we will be done talking. In the heat of anger, it is all too easy to deceive ourselves into thinking that we will be able to make one jab, and then cease swinging. And yet we know this is almost never the case. Wisdom from Proverbs 10:19 says, “When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.” James 1:19 challenges us to be, “quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” A wise woman will actively rule her spirit, choosing to be silent in the heat of her anger, running to God with her internal frenzy, so that she will not compromise her position as a representative of God. There is no greater example of patience under pressure than our great Shepherd who was, “oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth,” (Isaiah 53:7). If we feel like it is impossible to stay silent when we are feeling wronged or exasperated, we can always think back to the one who bore the Ultimate Wrong in silence.

3) She actively obeys / does good
“Offer right sacrifices…” (v. 5)
Romans 12:1 exhorts us to, “by the mercies of God, present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” While David wrote Psalm 4 when the Old Testament sacrificial system was still in place, the heart of sacrifice has remained the same pre and post Christ’s messianic sacrifice on our behalf. It is His sacrifice for us that enables us to offer our lives as a holy sacrifice through our obedience. When Saul disobeyed the Lord by not killing the Amalekites livestock, in the name of using some of it for sacrifices, Samuel replied, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice…” The “right sacrifices” of David’s time were rooted in hearts of obedience, just as ours must be. When we feel the surge of anger welling up in our hearts, the best thing we can do after preaching truth to ourselves and patiently being quiet is to go and actively seek to obey God and do good things. If we just sit around, telling our heart to get right indefinitely without choosing to move forward in our day, it will take so much longer for us to overcome that angry heart. We need to actively divert our emotional eyes from dwelling on the person, circumstance, or words that have upset us and turn to godly ways of distracting ourselves. Cleaning, exercising, calling or texting a friend that you know is in a difficult season, playing with your children, and praying for each of your family members, friends, or ministry leaders as you are busy with your hands are just a few ways that we might be able to offer ourselves as living sacrifices, running after good even as our hearts seek to overwhelm us.

4) She puts her trust in the Lord
“And put your trust in the Lord” (v. 5)
The Christian’s ability to have bold confidence in the plans and purposes of God is one of the sweetest sources of peace and comfort in the midst of life’s most emotionally trying circumstances. In 2 Samuel 16 a man named Shimei cursed and threw rocks at King David, even as he was on the run from his son Absalom. Talk about difficult and desperate life circumstances. Personally, I can imagine few things more likely to ignite anger in my heart than someone throwing rocks at my head (thankfully, something I have never experienced!). But David did not get angry and retaliate at all, even as his men were eagerly pushing to rush to his defense and strike Shimei down. David’s response has humbled me as I have realized how far I have to go in my own trusting the Lord. He says in verse 12, “Leave him alone, and let him curse, for the Lord has told him to. It may be that the Lord will look on the wrong done to me, and that the Lord will repay me with good for his cursing today.” This older, wiser, patient David stood in stark contrast to the hothead who wanted to kill Nabal the fool for a similarly disrespectful offense in 1 Samuel 25. There is nothing that will take the wind out of our anger’s sails faster than a recognition of God’s providential hand at work through painful people and strenuous situations. No matter what another person has said or done to us, when we “trust in the Lord with all of our heart, and do not lean on our own understanding,” (Proverbs 3:5) we will be able to enjoy the surpassing peace of God in our hearts that is able to overcome any anger that may reside there.

There is so much more in this Psalm that we could dive into, but I hope that these four points from the Word will serve to encourage and embolden our hearts to enter into the battle against our own flesh and anger. All of our efforts to have self-control over our emotions are only possible through of the abundant grace of God in our lives! In verse 3 David says, “The Lord has set apart the godly for himself; the Lord hears when I call to him.” This is the incredible calling and access that we ourselves have in Christ that encourages us in our battle against sin. He has set us apart positionally, He will continue to sanctify us progressively, and we have the hope that He will consecrate us permanently and perfectly in Heaven. And this position equips our prayers. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:12) He hears us when we call to Him! So let us constantly, hour by hour, be calling to Him, so that we may find due strength to respond to our hearts when we are feeling distressed, wronged, or angry.

You are What You (Read, Watch, Think)

In 1911, a man named Holbrook Jackson wrote a book of progressive “wisdom” called Platitudes in the Making, comprised of short statements intended to be profound and insightful. He sent a book to G. K. Chesterton, who proceeded to respond by writing a response to nearly every line in green pencil. One example was when Jackson said, “When we love we are most like animals. When we love we are at our best.” Chesterton wrote underneath, “We are never like animals. And least of all in love.” Chesterton was wise enough to discern through the facade of Jackson’s words. He tested the self-proclaimed truths and quickly exposed their foolishness. This skill of testing the ideas we encounter, thinking them through and comparing them to Scripture, is an important one indeed.

As women who have grown up in the age of information, we have no lack of resources when it comes to life advice or opinions. If you can think of a question, you can surely find an answer online. Beyond our ability to access material on any topic, we are entrenched in a postmodern culture that constantly barrages our mind with relativistic, liberal doctrine. I am particularly concerned with how this trend has affected our thought processes and views. When I look at the landscape of women in our country, even Christian women, I often see discouragement, dissatisfaction, and even depression. While this is a multi-faceted issue, one of the main culprits appears to be a lack of discernment which leads to ineffectively counseling our own hearts through the issues we face and the worldviews we encounter in various forms of books and media. It is far too easy to allow bad advice and worldly wisdom to work its way into our thought life, and then reap the consequences as we face our days in our own strength. And yet, there is hope! We have access to God’s Word, and that is the primary tool we need to develop a discerning mind that is able to walk in wisdom and make the best use of this life that God has given us (Colossians 4:5)!

Discernment: Wisdom’s Prerequisite
First, we must take a brief look at what discernment is and how it differs from wisdom. While wisdom is doing what you know you ought, discernment is what helps you know what you ought to do in the first place. Wisdom is the application of knowledge; discernment is the tool through which you sift knowledge and test the accuracy of ideologies. It could be said then that knowledge and discernment are prerequisites to wisdom. Proverbs 17:24 says, “The discerning sets his face toward wisdom, but the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth.” What a fascinating word picture contrasting a discerning person and the fool! The fool is running all over the place, always trying to find the next big idea, the newest self-help book, or another angle. Rather than being grounded, focused, and intentional, the fool is haphazard with no anchor for his or her life. Comparatively, we see an entirely different kind of person in the discerning individual. This person isn’t just going along, assuming they’ll figure things out along the way. No, this person is in purposeful pursuit of God’s truth.

What’s a Girl to Do?
So where do we begin? We must ask the Lord to teach us, through His Word and by His Spirit in us, how to have discernment. Romans 12:2 exhorts us, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Firstly, we see that one is able to develop discernment through the Spirit-enabled transformation of our minds. We are not naturally born with good discernment, nor do we magically develop a discerning mind just by a mere coincidence. Rather, God’s Word offers itself as the only solution to taking our naturally foolish minds from lesser to greater discernment and wisdom. Hebrews 4:12 tells us, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). The most foolish thing we could believe is that we have the ability to make good decisions or decipher between good and evil based on our life experiences and ability to reason alone. Our natural minds are easily led astray from the truth, deceived by the lies of the world, the Enemy, and our own flesh. Even the psalmists experienced this.

In Psalm 73 we see Asaph lamenting the earthly prosperity of the wicked, tempted to believe that his faith and pursuit of righteousness had been in vain. The solution for his befuddled mind was to get in the presence of God. He said, “But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end…I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward, you will receive me to glory,” (Psalm 73:16-17, 23-24). Asaph needed the Lord to guide him to what was good and true. Indeed, we all do.

Going back to Romans 12:2, we see that the second way our ability to discern is strengthened is by testing. If you think about it, this makes sense. It is only as you are exposed to ideas that challenge you that you are able to grow in your ability to discern good from bad or evil. We are constantly filtering what we take in from the world around us and either accepting or rejecting those ideas. Numerous times a day we make a judgment on all various sorts of things, but the question comes down to whether we are reasoning from a biblically-shaped thought process, founded upon God’s Word, or are we making them from an ulterior source?

Learn to Discern
1 Thessalonians 5:21-22 says, “Test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.” What does it look like on a practical level to be someone who lives out this principle? We must become women who thoughtfully ask questions of ourselves and what we are allowing to influence our minds. To be sure, the habit of asking intelligent questions is one that comes only as a result of great effort. Our natural tendency is to listen to our thoughts rather than to pause to consider the ramifications of how and what we are believing in significant moments. For my own heart’s sake, I have begun writing down questions to consider as I think about an issue, form an opinion, or process a movie, article, book, or song. This is not an exhaustive list, but I have shared some questions below that I’ve thought through when considering books, movies, and various situations. You can use these questions in almost any circumstance, though:

  • When watching a movie, what is the screenwriter’s gospel? What problem are they addressing, and what do they believe is the solution?
  • When reading a book for the purpose of personal growth, what authority is this person drawing from, pointing to?
  • As I am reading up on a particular issue or engaging with a new book, are there any Bible verses that speak to the same theme or topic?
  • When I see reports and comments on tragic events in our country, how does what Scripture tells me about God’s character shape what I believe at that moment?
  • When I read an article that rubs me the wrong way I can evaluate what assumptions I am making. Are they biblical presuppositions? If I believe they are biblical presuppositions, what Scripture confirms this?
  • When reading a fictional book, I ask myself if diving into that fictional world is leading me into sin, possibly feeding sinful desires or tempting me to think in a worldly way?
  • Will reading this book help me to understand God’s design and purpose for relationships and people? Or will it lead me to have false and even sinful expectations of those around me?
  • Is this edifying? Will it improve me morally, intellectually, or spiritually?
  • On a scale of good, better, best, where does this material fall?

A Final Warning for All of Us
There is a sobering situation presented to us in the book of Hebrews. Christians, who had apparently been saved for some time, still lacked wisdom because they had not strengthened the muscle of discernment in their minds and hearts. The writer chides the recipients of his letter, stating, “It is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil,” (Hebrews 5:11-14, emphasis added). May this not be true of us! There is a battle being waged for our minds. Let us take up the Sword, and fight the good fight (Ephesians 6:17). And when we examine our lives, only to find new territories in the form of thought patterns or preconceptions that we have previously allowed the Enemy to infiltrate, may we zealously resolve to regain what is rightfully our Lord’s, by the power of His Spirit, and to spiritually discern what is good. Take heart, sisters, for, “We have the mind of Christ,” (1 Corinthians 2:16).

Passion Week Bible Reading Plan

Passion Week is such a sacred, special time of year as we get to set apart this particular week to contemplate the glory of our Savior in His last days leading up to Calvary, His death on the cross, and His resurrection. Of course, meditating on the realities of the gospel is for every week, not just this one, but even so it can be a source of spiritual renewal to embrace rhythms in the midst of our distraction-filled world that bring our gaze back to where it ought to always be!
This morning, our pastor gave a very insightful sermon regarding the correct timeline for Passion Week, pointing out that Christ’s triumphal entry, usually celebrated on “Palm Sunday”, actually took place on Monday. That message was part 4 of a pre-Resurrection Sunday series in which we have been encouraged to see the numerous ways that Christ confirmed His kingship while on this earth. I came away from today encouraged and excited to celebrate our Lord’s resurrection and desiring to be extra intentional to prepare my heart for next week! With Pastor Lance’s timeline in mind, I did a little search to find a Passion Week reading plan that assigned the correct reading for each day, but was unfortunately unable to find one. I’m sure if I had looked long enough I would’ve been able to, but I didn’t want to spend a ton of time looking and enjoyed the challenge of researching it myself 😉 So instead, this afternoon I compiled the readings from all four gospels, in chronological order, as they correspond to each day of the week. Because the point of clarity comes from understanding that Jesus was in Bethany being anointed by Mary on Sunday, I began there. Because John ends with Christ conversing with the disciples on the beach the following Monday, I ended there. You can click the title below, and it will open a printable PDF version if you would like to use it for your own personal study this week. We would love for you to join us as we take these next eight days to immerse ourselves in the beautiful story of the suffering servant and His humble ascension to Calvary!

Printable PDF: Passion Week Bible Reading Plan

Sunday – Mary Anoints Jesus at Bethany
“Six days before passover…” (John 12:1)
Matthew 26:6-12
Mark 14:3-9
John 12:1-10

Monday – The Triumphal Entry
“The next day…” (John 12:12)
Matthew 21:1-11
Mark 11:1-11
Luke 19:28-44
John 12:12-19

Tuesday – The Cleansing of the Temple and the Cursing of the Fig Tree
“On the following day…’” (Mark 11:12)
Matthew 21:12-19
Mark 11:12-19
Luke 19:45-47

Wednesday – Christ’s Authority Challenged, Final Parables and Prophecies, and the Olivet Discourse
“It was now two days before the Passover and feast of Unleavened bread…” (Mark 14:1)
Matthew 21:20 – 26:5, 13-16
Mark 11:20 – 14:2, 10-11
Luke 20:1 – 22:6
John 12:20-50

Thursday – The Last Supper
“Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread…” (Matthew 26:17)
Matthew 26:17-56
Mark 14:12 – 14:52
Luke 22:7-53
John 13:1 – 18:11

Friday – The Crucifixion
“Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover.” (John 19:14)
Matthew 26:57-27:61
Mark 14:53 – 15:47
Luke 22:54-56
John 18:12-19:42

Saturday- The Tomb Secured
“The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation…” (Matthew 27:62)
Matthew 27:62-66

Sunday – The Resurrection
“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn…” (Luke 24:1)
Matthew 28:1-20
Mark 16:1-18
Luke 24:1-49
John 20:1 – 21:3

Monday – Breakfast by the Sea of Galilee
“Just as day was breaking…” (John 21:4)
John 21:4-25

One suggestion, if this seems like too much reading, is to pick one or two of the gospels rather than all four to read each day. But if you do have the time, I think you will be so blessed if you take the time to go through all four!

If you have any questions regarding the thought process behind this timeline, you can listen to part 4 of Pastor Spark’s sermons below. For greater clarity, I have provided all four parts if you would like to be encouraged regarding the Kingship of Christ!
Why Jesus Died, Part 1 by Pastor Lance Sparks
Why Jesus Died, Part 2 by Pastor Lance Sparks
Why Jesus Died, Part 3 by Pastor Lance Sparks
Why Jesus Died, Part 4 by Pastor Lance Sparks