Charles Barrett – The Grace of Becoming Less

Reflecting upon twenty years of ministry, the gifted Scottish preacher Andrew Bonar wrote the following in his diary. “It is amazing that the Lord has spared me and used me at all. I have no reason to wonder that He used others far more than He does me. Yet envy is my hurt, and today I have been seeking grace to rejoice exceedingly over the usefulness of others, even where it cast me into the shade. Lord, take away this envy from me!” Whether wrestling with envy like Bonar, or desiring to be a member of an inner ring the likes of which C. S. Lewis warned, Christians face the dreaded dangers of comparison, discontentment, and self-promotion in a variety of ways and in a variety of places. One arena where this subtle temptation lurks is the church, and it extends to both ministers and members. While it extends to both, it is a temptation that leaders do well to face. The focus of the temptation often centers on gifts and ministries.

John the Baptist, at the height of his ministry, encountered the possibility of ministerial envy (John 3:22-30). A loyal disciple who resented the growing ministry and popularity of Jesus approached John the Baptist and expressed his apparent frustration that all were following Jesus. John the Baptist enjoyed large followings by this point in his ministry. It is not too difficult to be committed to the confession that you are not the light of the world, but rather, a pointer to the Light at the beginning of your ministry, especially when it is small. There must be some pull, however, to seek a little more focus when the ministry grows and throngs are expressing utmost devotion. Such was the case when John’s disciple approached him. If John ever had an opportunity to upstage Jesus, this was it. John responded with an astounding desire become less. His desire was genuine because he knew something of both Christ and himself.

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Nick Batzig – Keeping Short Accounts

My family moved to St. Simons Island, GA in 1989. I was 12 years old. One of the first things that I distinctly remember about that beautiful, little secluded Island was the fact that we could walk into a store, write our name on a ledger and walk out with just about whatever we wanted in the store. I remember my dad and mom talking about needing to pay off their account at the hardware store every month. The owners and my parents both wanted to keep “short accounts.” It was a peculiar and fascinating experience for a boy who moved there from a major city in which that would have never happened. The population of the Island was small enough at that time for store owners to feel as if they could offer that service. Needless to say, it didn’t last long. Within a year or two, you could no longer do so. It is somewhat tragic that this practice isn’t part of our culture anymore, because it serves as an illustration of an important aspect of our spiritual life. In the Christian life, we are–as the Puritans used to say–to “keep short accounts with God and men.” So, what do short accounts look like in the Christian life? Here are a few thoughts:

1. Confess Your Sins. Believers are people who confess their sin. That is part and parcel of what it means to be a Christian. If a man or woman, boy or girl, never confesses their sin, they reveal that they do not believe that they are sinners in need of a Savior. A true believer is one who has learned, by the work of the Holy Spirit, to say, “Will you please forgive me?” This is true in the vertical dimension of our relationship with God, first and foremost; and, it is true in the horizontal relationships we have with others. If we don’t confess our sin, we evidence that we are not sincere in our profession of faith in Christ. We must first confess our sins to the Lord. We learn this from Psalm 51, where David prays, “Against You and You only have I sinned” (Ps. 51:4). Even though David had sinned against Uriah, Bathsheba, both of their families, his family and all of Israel, he viewed his sin, first and foremost, as that which he committed against the Lord. It was sin because he broke God’s law. We too must first go to the Lord and then to others. When we go to others, but not to the Lord, we functionally act like the man or woman who goes to the priest in the confessional but not to God in heaven.

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Steven Lawson – Grace-Fueled Obedience Is Absolutely Necessary for Christlikeness

Can you imagine a Christian couple actually praying about living together before marriage? Can you fathom a young woman who professes Christ even bothering to pray about whether she should marry an unbeliever? Can you grasp a Christian businessman having to pray about whether he should tell the truth in a transaction? When the Word of God is so clear, praying to discern God’s will becomes a convenient excuse—or even a prolonged filibuster—to avoid doing what Scripture commands.

Many who profess Christ today emphasize a wrong view of grace that makes it a free pass to do whatever they please. Tragically, they have convinced themselves that the Christian life can be lived without any binding obligation to the moral law of God. In this hyper-grace distortion, the need for obedience has been neutered. The commandments of God are no longer in the driver’s seat of Christian living, but have been relegated to the backseat, if not the trunk—like a spare tire—to be used only in case of an emergency. With such a spirit of antinomianism, what needs to be reinforced again is the necessity of obedience.

For all true followers of Christ, obedience is never peripheral. At the heart of what it means to be a disciple of our Lord is living in loving devotion to God. But if such love is real, the acid test is obedience. Jesus maintained, “If you love me,you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Genuine love for Christ will always manifest itself in obedience.

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Jeff Robinson – Some Reasons Personal Holiness has been Neglected in American Churches

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“Good works, performed in obedience to God’s commandments, are these: the fruits and evidences of a true and living faith. By these believers express and show their thankfulness, strengthen their assurance, edify their brethren, adorn the profession of the Gospel, stop the mouths of adversaries, and glorify God, whose workmanship they are, created in Christ Jesus thereunto, that having their fruit unto holiness they may have the end eternal life.” — Second London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689, Chapter 16, Paragraph 2

One of the most frightening verses in the entire Bible is Hebrews 12:14, particularly the final phrase: “…and pursue holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.” Yet, like Aragorn’s dramatic words to Frodo Baggins in their encounter at the Prancing Pony in The Fellowship of the Ring, I don’t think we’re frightened enough.

The author’s words are an imperative, and the holiness he is commanding is not the spotless righteousness of Christ imputed to the believer at conversion. Rather, he is speaking of purity of life. Essentially, the writer is telling his audience to pursue Christ-likeness, for without ongoing transformation into the image of Christ, a sinner has no rightful claim on the grace of God. In real life, this means we can go to church, read our Bibles daily, pray regularly, and yet, if we are not being transformed so that our lives reflect Christ’s, as Spurgeon put it, we may prove to be unconverted at last and go to hell on a feather bed.

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Charles Spurgeon – Grace Abounding Over Abounding Sin

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“Moreover the Law entered, that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.” Romans 5:20

The first sentence will serve as a preface. The second sentence will be the actual text. “Moreover the Law entered, that the offense might abound.” Man was a sinner before the Law of Ten Commandments had been given. He was a sinner through the offense of his first father, Adam. And he was, also, practically a sinner by his own personal offenses. For he rebelled against the light of nature and the inner light of conscience. Men, from Adam downward, transgressed against that memory of better days which had been handed down from father to son and had never been quite forgotten.

Man everywhere, whether he knew anything about the Law of Moses or not, was alienated from his God. The Word of God contains this truthful estimate of our race — “They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable. There is none that does good, no, not one.” The Law was given, however, according to the text, “that the offense might abound.” Such was the effect of the Law. It did not hinder sin, nor provide a remedy for it. But its actual effect was that the offense abounded. How so?

It was so, first, because it revealed the offense. Men did not in every instance clearly discern what was sin. But when the Law came, it pointed out to man that this evil, which he thought little of, was an abomination in the sight of God. Man’s nature and character was like a dark dungeon which knew no ray of light. Yonder prisoner does not perceive the horrible filthiness and corruption of the place wherein he is immured, so long as he is in darkness. When a lamp is brought, or a window is opened and the light of day comes in, he finds out to his dismay the hideous condition of his den.

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John MacArthur – Grace vs. Holiness

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One of the great dangers facing the church in these postmodern days is that professing believers will substitute the God of the Bible for a lesser deity of their own design—one that reflects their values, their morality, and their priorities. It’s a subtle shift, as men and women who claim to know and love God de-emphasize aspects of His nature and attributes that don’t sit well with them, or adhere to their worldview.

Even those who truly love God can venture onto that slippery slope, as they stress the more attractive features of God’s character and sidestep those that offend and convict. As we saw last time, many believers have lost all sense of the fear of God, and instead imagine Him in more casual, friendly terms. If we’re to truly worship the Lord, we need to eliminate such theological imbalance.

God’s Grace Does Not Cancel His Holiness

Perhaps we have lost the fear of God because we take His grace for granted. At the very beginning, God said to Adam and Eve, “The day that you eat from [the forbidden tree] you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). They ate from it, but they were not struck dead on the spot. Their physical lives did not end that very day; in fact, they lived for hundreds of years. God showed them grace.

Throughout the Bible we see that God is gracious. The law called for death for adulterers, blasphemers, and even rebellious children. But many in the Old Testament violated God’s laws without suffering the death penalty the law prescribed. David committed adultery, but God didn’t take his life. God’s grace is greater than all our sin.

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J. C. Ryle – The Expulsive Power of Grace

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The woman left her water jar beside the well and went back to the village and told everyone, “Come and meet a man who told me everything I ever did! Can this be the Messiah?” John 4:28-29

She had left her home for the express purpose of drawing water. She had carried a large vessel to the well, intending to bring it back filled.

But she found at the well a new heart, and new objects of interest.

She became a new creature!

Old things passed away!

All things became new!

At once everything else was forgotten for the time. She could think of nothing but the truths she had heard, and the Savior she had found. In the fullness of her heart she “left her water jar,” and hastened away to tell others.

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J. C. Ryle – 6 Marks of the Believers’ Growth in Grace

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Let me take it for granted that we do not question the reality of growth in grace, and its vast importance. So far so good. But you now want to know how anyone may find out whether he is growing in grace or not? I answer that question, in the first place, by observing that we are very poor judges of our own condition — and that bystanders often know us better than we know ourselves. But I answer further that there are undoubtedly certain great marks and signs of growth in grace — and that wherever you see these marks — you see a growing soul. I will now proceed to place some of these marks before you in order.

1. One mark of growth in grace, is increased HUMILITY. The man whose soul is growing, feels his own sinfulness and unworthiness more every year.

He is ready to say with Job, “I am vile!”
And with Abraham, “I am dust and ashes!”
And with Jacob, “I am not worthy of the least of all Your mercies!”
And with David, “I am a worm!”
And with Isaiah, “I am a man of unclean lips!”

And with Peter, “I am a sinful man, O Lord!”
(Job 40:4; Genesis 18:27; 32:10; Psalm 22:6; Isaiah 6:5; Luke 5:8). The nearer he draws to God, and the more he sees of God’s holiness and perfections — the more thoroughly is he sensible of his own countless sins and imperfections. The further he journeys in the way to Heaven — the more he understands what Paul meant when he says,

“I am not already perfect!”
“I am not fit to be called an apostle!”
“I am less than the least of all saints!”
“I am the chief of sinners!”
(Philippians 3:12; 1 Corinthians 15:9; Ephesians 3:8; 1 Timothy 1:15).

The riper he is for glory, the more, like the ripe corn — he hangs down his head. The brighter and clearer is his gospel light — the more he sees of the shortcomings and infirmities of his own heart. When first converted, he would tell you he saw but little of them — compared to what he sees now. Would anyone know whether he is growing in grace? Be sure that you look within for increased humility.

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Archibald Alexander – Practical Directions How to Grow in Grace and Make Progress in Piety

Archibald Alexander

When there is no growth, there is no life. We have taken it for granted that among the regenerate, at the moment of their conversion, there is a difference in the vigor of the principle of spiritual life, analogous to what we observe in the natural world; and no doubt the analogy holds as it relates to growth. As some children who were weak and sickly in the first days of their existence become healthy and strong, and greatly outgrow others who commenced life with far greater advantages, so it is with the ‘new man’. Some who enter on the spiritual life with a weak and wavering faith, by the blessing of God on a diligent use of means, far outstrip others who in the beginning were greatly before them.

It is often observed that there are professors who never appear to grow, but rather decline perpetually, until they become in spirit and conduct entirely conformed to the world, from whence they professed to come out. The result in regard to them is one of two things; they either retain their standing in the Church and become dead formalists, ‘having a name to live while they are dead’ — ‘a form of godliness, while they deny the power thereof’ — or they renounce their profession and abandon their connection with the Church, and openly take their stand with the enemies of Christ, and not infrequently go beyond them all in daring impiety. Of all such we may confidently say, ‘They were not of us, or undoubtedly they would have continued with us.’ But of such I mean not now to speak further, as the case of back-sliders will be considered hereafter.

That growth in grace is gradual and progressive is very evident from Scripture; as in all those passages where believers are exhorted to mortify sin and crucify the flesh, and to increase and abound in all the exercises of piety and good works. One text on this subject will be sufficient: ‘Grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.’ And this passage furnishes us with information as to the origin and nature of this growth. It is knowledge, even the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Just so far as any soul increases in spiritual knowledge, in the same degree it grows in grace. Persons may advance rapidly in other kinds of knowledge, and yet make no advances in piety, but the contrary. They may even have their minds filled with correct theoretical knowledge of divine truth, and yet its effect may not be to humble, but to ‘puff up’. Many an accurate and profound theologian has lived and died without a ray of saving light. The natural man, however gifted with talent or enriched with speculative knowledge, has no spiritual discernment. After all his acquisitions, he is destitute of the knowledge of Jesus Christ. But it should not be forgotten that divine illumination is not independent of the Word, but accompanies it. Those Christians, therefore, who are most diligent in attending upon the Word in public and private, will be most likely to make progress in piety.

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