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The questions: how do I build a stronger faith or a more robust fear of God; how do I overcome consuming lust are the questions being considered in this series of posts. We come now to factor number four which is you must not only hear and study God’s Word, you must also meditate on it.
A. Ask God the question, “How can I develop and sustain a robust fear of God in my life?” and one of the answers He will give is, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). 1. You want to know me, you want to know about who I really am, what I am like? You want have an experiential knowledge of my greatness, my glory, my majesty? 2. Well then, you must be still, you must be willing to think, you must take charge of your mind, control your thoughts and actions. a. You must stop frenetically running around, keeping yourself so busy mentally or physically that you miss me. You must periodically, regularly, often make time to focus on me, to think about me. You must not let your mind think about whatever it wants to think. b. You must deliberately make yourself focus on who and what I am. If you are not willing to do this, you cannot know me in an in depth way and you will not fear me in a constructive, powerful way. To know me as I really am and to fear me as you ought, “You must be still and know that I am God.”B. Please don’t misunderstand what God means by being still. He’s not just telling us to sit around and relax and be passive. He’s telling us to be still for the purpose of knowing Him. What then should we think about while we’re being still that would help us to know God and fear God? Here are several important things you should do while you are being still that will help you grow in your understanding and appreciation of God. 1. Be still and reflect on your own sinfulness, your own nothingness, your own unworthiness, your own inadequacy. a. Many would tell us that we should make ourselves think about how great we are, about our own value, about how important we are. Scripture would tell us the opposite. b. Again and again, in Scripture God reminds us of how desperately wicked and undeserving we are apart from Him and His grace. 1). Read through 1 to 3 of Romans; read through Ephesians 2; read through Colossians 1 to 3; read I Timothy 1; read 2 Timothy 3 and note what these passages say about what you are by nature. 2) Reflect often on the verses we mentioned from Jeremiah 32 and 17 and Ezekiel 11 and 26 about the condition of our hearts and lives by nature. Memorize and meditate on verses that remind you of who and what you are and what you deserve apart from Christ. 3) Review verses such as Romans 7:14-23, I Corinthians 15:8; Ephesians 3:8; I Timothy 1:15; Isaiah 64:6. c. Most of the Bible was written to and for people who were already the professing people of God. 1) Why then does it include so many references to our sinfulness and depravity? Professing believers already know that they are sinners and can only be saved by grace. 2) So why repeat this fact again and again? Because God knows we are so prone to forget this fact. God knows it is good for us to remember what we were and, to some extent, still is so that we will appreciate Him and our so great salvation even more. i. If you want to increase your faith or your fear of God quotient, make it a point to frequently reflect on your sins of omission and commission, sins of attitude, thought, word, actions and reactions, on what you do that you shouldn’t do, what you don’t do that you should do, on your internal and external sins. ii. Do a thorough Bible study using a good concordance on the biblical doctrine of sin looking up every reference to the different Bible words used for sin. Write down your reflections and what you learn from this study in a fear of God notebook and review your notes frequently. This will be of great help to you in developing and sustaining a robust godly fear. iii. Read a Puritan book about sin such as Edward Reynolds’s The Sinfulness of Sin, or Thomas Goodwin’s Man’s Guiltiness Before God. iv. Read and study our book A Fight to the Death where we unpack what the Bible says about the seriousness of sin. d. So if you want to develop a strong fear of God, be still and meditate on your sinfulness. 2. Then too, if you want to develop a robust fear of God, be still and think much about God’s so great salvation (Hebrews 2:3). a. As we have already noted in the first post on this subject, the apostle Peter believed that an understanding of and reflection on our so great redemption should motivate us to live all of our lives in the fear of God (I Peter 1:17-19). b. Paul’s life is a testimony to the motivating power that thoughts about redemption can have in developing and sustaining a God centered manner of life. 1) In Galatians 6:14 Paul tells us that he has only one thing to brag about and that is the cross of Jesus Christ. He could have at this point listed a number of his accomplishments as things to brag about, but he didn’t. Why? Because he knew what he had been and still was – a sinner in need of the grace of Christ. He understood and appreciated God, His grace, the cross of Christ because he knew how desperately he needed grace and how freely God offered that grace through the cross of Christ. And this continual reflection became a motivating factor in his living a God centered, God fearing life. 2) When we turn to I Timothy 1:13-17 we see the same scenario played out again in Paul’s life. In verses 13 and 14 he describes what he was before God saved him – extremely sinful; he then goes on in verse 15 to describe what he now is – “the chief of sinners”. The impact that these reflections have on Paul is twofold: i. First, in verses 14 and 15 he is motivated to magnify the grace of God for the salvation that he now experiences through Christ Jesus . He’s been a Christian for many years. He has been mightily used of God. He has founded many churches, been used of God in bringing many to faith in Christ. He has written many powerful letters included in our Bible containing many important theological truths and helpful principles. Yet, he is just as excited about God, God’s grace, Christ Jesus, salvation, ministry as he was when he first became a Christian. Why? Because he frequently took the time to be still and remember God’s so great salvation. ii. Second, the reflection on God’s so great salvation motivated Paul to give God praise and glory. “For this reason, in order that in me as the foremost (sinner), Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience, as an example of those who would believe in Him for eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever” ( I Timothy 1:16,17). Do you see what effect Paul’s reflection on God’s so great salvation had on Him? It motivated Him to trust, love, obey and serve, hope in, stand in awe of and glorify and magnify God. iii. Many years ago, John Bunyan wrote this about the development of godly fear: “Godly fear flows from a sense of the love and kindness and mercy of God by Jesus Christ. There can be none of this fear, but rather wrath and despair, which produces a fear that is … devilish; … but godly fear flows from a sense of hope and mercy from God by Jesus Christ.” (John Bunyan, ibid, p.424)In similar fashion, John Brown in his comments on I Peter 1:17-19 writes, “Nothing is so well suited to put the fear of God … into the heart, as an enlightened view of the cross of Christ. There shine spotless holiness, inflexible justice, incomprehensible wisdom, omnipotent power, holy love. None of the excellencies darken or eclipse the other. But everyone of them rather gives luster to the rest.” (John Brown, Commentary of I Peter, ? )c. To help you in your thoughts about God’s so great salvation, get out a concordance and do a thorough study on such subjects as the grace of God, the cross of Christ, justification, forgiveness and redemption. Select verses on these subjects from your studies and memorize them and meditate on them. Do a verse-by-verse study of Romans 3:24 through Romans 6:23. Writing down your reflections and what you learn from this study in a fear of God notebook and reviewing your notes frequently will be of great help to you in developing and sustaining a robust godly fear. d. Read and meditate on books such as Jerry Bridges’ Transforming Grace, The Disciplines of Grace, Charles Spurgeon’s All of Grace, John Bunyan’s Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners¸ Thomas Goodwin’s The Object and Acts of Justifying Faith, James White’s The God Who Justifies, John MacArthur’s The Murder of Jesus, and Michael Horton’s Putting Amazing Back Into Grace. e. So if you want to develop and sustain a robust fear of God, be still and reflect often on your so great salvation. Think much about the greatness of your salvation and you will have much fear; think little about the greatness of your salvation and you will have little fear; think not at all about the greatness of your salvation and you will have no fear of God at all. 3. 3rd, if you want to develop – then learn to be still and think about God’s attributes. a. We’ve probably all heard the little statement “out of sight, out of mind”. Like it or not, that statement is often (usually) true. We tend to be influenced by the things that we keep in our sight whether literally (visually) or mentally. What we actually see tends to influence us the most. What we mentally focus on is what will influence our feelings, our desires, our choices and our actions. Stop thinking about God or think of Him wrongly (i.e., unbiblically) and His influence in your life will be minimized if not eliminated.b. When Isaiah “saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple”, he was powerfully affected. He saw his own sinfulness and nothingness and cried out, “Woe is me, for I am ruined! … For mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts.” He gladly volunteered for ministry and said, “Here am I. Send me!” He never even asked what God was going to send him to do or where God was going to send him or when he would have to go or what sacrifices he would have to make or how easy or difficult his ministry would be. He had seen the Lord and that provided all the motivation he needed.c. When John, the apostle saw the greatness and majesty of Christ, he fell down before him as a dead man and then gladly accepted the ministry Christ gave him to do (Revelation 1:12-19). He saw the Lord and His inevitable, reflexive reaction to that sight was godly fear which included all the aspect of that fear described in the last message.d. When Moses saw the Lord as He really is, he “made haste to bow low toward the earth and worship” and he was motivated to do the things that constitute the essence of the fear of God mentioned in the last message of this book.e. When Job was reminded of the greatness, power, sovereignty, wisdom, majesty and uniqueness of God (Job messages 38-41), his response illustrates what it means to fear God. He said, “I know that Thou canst do all things, and that no purpose of Thine can be thwarted. Who is this (referring to himself) that hides counsel without knowledge? Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand. Things too wonderful for me which I did not know. Hear now, and I will speak. I will ask Thee and do Thou instruct me. I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear; but now my eyes see Thee; therefore I retract, and I repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42:1-6) At this point in his life Job became still and became focused on the greatness and majesty of God. The result? Trust, humility, confession, repentance, love, hope, awe, reverence, praise, adoration, submission – the fear of God.f. In his comments on the importance of a proper understanding of who and what God is in developing and sustaining a robust fear of God, John Bunyan writes: “God may well be called the fear of His people … because of the dread and terrible majesty that is in Him. ‘He is a mighty God, and terrible, and with God is terrible majesty.” (Daniel 7:28; 10:17; Nehemiah 1:5; 4:14; 9:32; Job 37:22).His people know Him, and have this dread upon them, by virtue whereof there is begot and maintained in them that godly awe and reverence which is agreeable to their profession of Him. ‘Let Him be your fear; let Him be your dread.’ Set Him before the eyes of your souls, and let His excellency make you afraid with godly fear (Isaiah 8:12,13).” (John Bunyan, ibid, p.424) g. To help you in your thoughts about God’s attributes, get out a concordance and do a thorough study on such subjects as the holiness of God, the goodness of God, the sovereignty of God, the power of God, the eternality of God, the immutability of God, the omnipresence of God, the wisdom and knowledge of God, the patience of God, the love of God, the wrath of God. Select verses on these subjects from your studies and memorize them and meditate on them. h. Reflect on passages such as Isaiah 40; Psalm 104-108, 135 and 136 and many other Psalms and portions of Scripture. Review these passages regularly. Writing down your reflections and what you learn from this study in a fear of God notebook and reviewing your notes frequently will be of great help to you in developing and sustaining a robust godly fear.i. Read and meditate on books such as Jerry Bridges’ Trusting God, The Joy of Fearing God , J.I. Packer’s Knowing God; Stephen Charnock’s masterful book The Existence and Attributes of God, A.W. Pink’s Attributes of God, John Macarthur’s God: Coming Face To Face With His Majesty or John Bunyan’s A Treatise on The Fear of God. Study the section of a good theology book such as Louis Berkhof’s systematic theology on the doctrine of God.j. So, if you want to develop and sustain a robust fear of God, be still and reflect often on the attributes of God. Think much about the greatness of your God and you will have much fear; think little about the greatness of your God and you will have little fear; think not at all about the greatness of God and you will have no fear of God at all. (The subject of this post will be continued and concluded on the next blog.)
What you will find in this post is the third part of an answer to a question raised by a reader about how to develop a stronger faith and overcome consuming lust. The third essential factor for developing a stronger faith and overcoming lust takes us back to the basics again. Before i mention this third factor, I want to encourage you not to refuse to think seriously about it because in your judgment it is so basic. Remember the exhortation of Vince Lombardi on another front that we mentioned in the last blog: victories are won by paying attention to the basics and failure occurs because we fail to learn and practice the basics with abandonment. So here’s basic factor number three for developing a stronger faith and overcoming lust: to develop and sustain a stronger faith and a more robust fear of God you must consistently and submissively study God’s Word.
Sometime ago I wrote a book called The Twin Pillars of the Christian Life. One of these pillars was the pillar of fervent prayer that we mentioned in the previous post. The other factor that my book addresses is the pillar of Bible Study. These are the pillars of the Christian life on which a vibrant spiritual life must be built. Though very basic, we must understand that here can be no substitute for either these pillars. Mark it down, don’t overlook it: if you want to develop a strong faith that will overcome sinful patterns and a robust fear of God that is necessary for progress in the Christian life, you will never develop and sustain these essential qualities apart from fervent prayer and the faithful study of His Word. Again as mentioned in the former post, the battles of the Christian life are won or lost because people either faithfully practice or don’t practice these two disciplines.
The crucial importance of faithful and submissive Bible study is suggested by numerous verses in which the fear of God is mentioned. I will quote a few of these verses and, as I do, I will emphasize (underline) certain words that will help us to get an answer to the ‘yes, but how’ question.
1. Deut. 4:10 – “Remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, when the Lord said to me, ‘Assemble the people to Me, that I may let them hear My Words, so that they may learn to fear me all the days they live on the earth…” (Deuteronomy 4:10);
2. Deut. 6:1,2 – “Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the Lord your God has commanded me to teach you … so that you and your son, and your grandson might fear the Lord your God…” (Deuteronomy 6:1,2);3. Deut. 8:6 – “Therefore, you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God to walk in His ways and to fear Him” (Deuteronomy 8:6);4. Deut. 13:4 – “You shall … fear Him, and …listen to His voice…” (Deuteronomy 13:45. Deut. 14:23 “… in order that you may learn to fear the Lord your God always” (Deuteronomy 14:23); 6. Deut. 17:19 – “… and he shall read it (God’s Word) all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God” (Deuteronomy 17:19);7. Deut. 31:12 “…and all
Israel shall hear and fear.” (Deuteronomy 21:21);“Assemble the people … in order that they may hear and learn and fear the Lord your God…” (Deuteronomy 31:12);
8. Psalm 34:11 – “Come you children, listen to me, and I will teach you the fear of the Lord” (Psalm 34:11);
From these verses we may draw several conclusions about how to develop and sustain the fear of God in our lives.
Several times we notice in these verses that hearing and listening are associated with developing the fear of God. Romans 10:17 informs us that “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” In other words, if we want to have a strong faith we must put ourselves in a place where we will hear God’s Word being faithfully preached. Faith doesn’t float around in the air and mysteriously grab us. God uses His preached Word to strengthen our faith. People who want to develop and sustain a robust fear of God must faithfully,diligently and attentively hear God’s Word being preached. This is one of theprimary instruments God uses in building this quality into our lives.
Still further these verses teach us that people who want to develop a stronger fear of God must make this a priority in their lives and they must do it regularly.
And, they must make sure that the preaching they are listening to is really an expository ministry. It is not some man’s ideas, it is not the theories of psychologists or philosophers or sociologists that promote the fear of God. It is the faithful proclamation of God’s Word. There can be no neglect, nor substitute for this.
The second conclusion we may draw from these verses we just read is set of verses that the fear of God is that developing and sustaining the fear of God will involve the use of the mind. To become God-fearing people we must be students, we must put forth an effort to learn. Being a student obviously involves studying. If you don’t study, you have no right to think of yourself or present yourself as a student. Sitting around watching television or even sitting in a church auditorium or classroom doesn’t necessarily mean you are a student or that you are learning anything.
You may just be sitting there occupying space. You may not be learning or retaining or processing anything that is being said. No one can be considered a learner unless they retain, process and benefit from what is being said. And, again please note that growing in the fear of God is associated with being taught, studying and learning the Word of God.
In our book, The Fear Factor, we define the fear of God in this way (and what we said about the fear of God can also be said about true faith): the fear of God is a reflex attitudinal and emotional reaction to an accurate understanding of who and what God is.
1. The word “reflex”indicates that our attitudes and emotions automatically respond to something. When our hand touches an extremely hot surface, we don’t have to tell our hand, nor make our hand move away from that surface. Because of the nerve endings in our hand, our hand just automatically jerks away from the hot surface.
When I use the word “reflex” in association with the development of the fear of God or a stronger faith, I mean that when a certain thing happens we will naturally, automatically respond with the fear of God and have a stronger faith.
2. The word “reaction” in our definition conveys a similar idea. What we’re saying is that the fear of God (or a stronger faith) is more of a “reaction” than it is an action. It is something that happens rather than something we directly make happen. Only in an indirect way do we make the fear of God and a stronger faith happen. The fear of God happens because something else has happened. And unless that something else happens we will never develop and sustain the fear of God.
The question then is: what is it that causes the fear of God or a stronger faith to develop? What must happen for the fear of God to happen? The rest of our definition answers these questions.
1. The fear of God happens as we gain and maintain an accurate understanding of who and what the God of the Bible is. In other words, it happens as we hear and listen to God and His Word; it happens as we continue to study and learn, as we continue to accurately think about and meditate on God and His Word.
2. This is the method God uses to make our fear of God quotient stronger. You simply can’t expect to have a strong fear of God quotient if you are unwilling to be a perpetual student of God’s Word.
Interestingly, Psalm 19:9 makes this connection between the diligent study of God’s Word and the development of the fear of God unmistakably clear by calling the Bible “the fear of the Lord”. Obviously, the Bible is called “the fear of the Lord” because it is a primary means by which God develops and sustains this quality in our lives.
In his book on the fear of God, John Bunyan writes, “The fear of God flows from … a sound impression that the Word of God makes on our souls; for without an impress of the Word, there is no fear of God. Hence it is said that God gave Israel good laws, statutes and judgments that they might learn them, and in learning them, learn to fear the Lord their God …For as to the extent that a man drinks good doctrine into his soul, so to that extent he fears God; if he drinks in much, he fears Him greatly; if he drinks in but little, He fears Him but little; if he drinks not at all, He fears Him not at all.” (John Bunyan, ibid, p. 424)
So to develop a robust and influential fear of God or a stronger faith you must make the study of God’s Word a regular and diligent discipline in your life.. Scripture makes it clear that faith in God and the fear of God are His gifts to His people (Ephesians 2:8, 9; Galatians 5:22, 23; Jeremiah 32:39, 40). And along with that, Scripture, as noted in the earlier part of this blog, makes it clear that God bestows these gifts on people who fervently and faithfully study His Word.
This, then, is the third factor in answering the questions: how can I develop a strong, robust fear of God? How can I overcome unbelief and doubts? How can I overcome consuming lust? If you are serious about overcoming unbelief and doubts and lust you must make sure that you are fervently practicing the privilege of diligent and submissive Bible study..
John Bunyan was absolutely convinced that a diligent study of God’s Word played a crucial role in the development and maintenance of the fear of God in our souls. He could hardly have made that point more clearly. According to Bunyan, drink much of the Word of God and you will have much of the fear of God, drink little and you will have little, drink not at all and you will have none is his conviction. And, according to the Scripture, he was right! This, again I say, is only one of many factors, but it is a foundational factor
(God willing, we will move on to another extremely important factor in the near future. I have just been dismissed from the hospital after a minor hart problem. So it may be a little while before I actually post the next factor, but Lord willing it will come. )
In this post, I’m continuing to respond to one of the questions a person who reads our blogs raised in the comment section to one of our blogs. One of the questions he asked was “how do you overcome unbelief and doubt” and the answer I’m giving this series is really related to the question how do you develop a more robust fear of God? But what I’m writing about in terms of how to develop a robust fear of God is the same answer I would give to the question “how do I develop a stronger faith and overcome unbelief”? (And as I previously mentioned, the answer I’ll give in this series of blogs is also the answer to another question raised by a responder about how to overcome consuming lust.) Now here’s an absolutely essential second factor for developing and sustaining a robust fear of God or developing and maintaining a strong faith: to develop and sustain the fear of god you must be devoted to fervent and persistent prayer. “You have not because you ask not” or because you ask for purely selfish reasons is the word of God that explains why the faith of many of us is weak (James 4:2, 3).
Several years ago when Vince Lombardi was a well known coach of one of the best and winningest American professional football teams he stood one day at the beginning of the season before his seasoned, very experienced football players and brought a stirring message to them. He was attempting to motivate them to become a strong, dedicated, skilled and winning football team. There they sat before him as a group of massive human beings eagerly waiting for instructions from their experienced and knowledgeable coach; there they sat wondering what pearls of wisdom about how to be a winning team would come from his lips. And what did he say? He said something similar to what he had often said and would often say in the future. It’s reported that he said something like this, “Gentlemen, if you want to be a good, strong, winning football team you must concentrate on the basics. The game of football is not really that complicated. When you boil it all down, the game of football consists of blocking, tackling, running, passing and catching and doing all these basics with abandonment. Let’s get back to the basics. That’s how you win football games by learning and doing the basics well. Teams lose football games because they neglect the basics.”
Well, the message that Vince Lombardi brought to his football team is the message I’d like to bring to Christians who want to build a strong faith in God and a robust fear of God. My message is, “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s time for us to get back to the basics. It’s time for us to learn and practice and do the basics of Christianity well and with abandonment. Instead of looking for new techniques and gimmicks for developing super duper Christian lives, for building a strong faith and increasing in the fear of God, let’s get back to learning and practicing Christianity 101. That’s how to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. And failure to practice the basics well is why many Christians are losing the battles in their spiritual lives.”
In Psalm 86:11 the Psalmist is an example for all of us who want to be more God-fearing in our approach to life. Here we find him praying, “Unite my heart to fear Thy name.” David who wrote this Psalm teaches us several things about becoming a more God-fearing or a person with a strong faith. One, he makes it clear that you have to begin with the heart. The fear of God (or strong faith) is developed in the heart before it is ever experienced anywhere else. If we have a powerful fear of God it will emerge from the heart. If we lack the fear of God, something is wrong in our hearts. Two, David realized that for a person to have a robust fear of God his heart had to be united. David knew that his heart was the mission control center of his life; he realized that if his heart was not united nothing else would come out right in his life. He was aware that a double hearted or triple hearted or quadruple hearted person is unstable in all his ways (James 1:8). He knew that his heart was the reservoir from which all of the issues of life flowed (Proverbs 4:23). He realized that frequently our hearts are divided in terms of their focus. He knew that sometimes our hearts begin to drift or become distracted from what is really important.
Sometimes we lose our focus, and like Martha, we become focused on many things rather than the one thing that is needful (Luke 10:38-42). Sometimes our hearts get out of control and run off in many different directions. Sometimes we forget that the fear of God should be a priority issue with us. David knew that he couldn’t control his heart on His own. He knew this was too big a task for Him. He knew that if his heart was to be united, God had to give him strength to do it. This petition was both an expression of his desire and also an expression of weakness. He realized he desperately needed the help of God if he were to have a united heart controlled by the fear of God.
In essence, David has learned the lesson about prayer that Jesus was teaching in the model prayer He gives us in Matthew 6:9-13. In this prayer Jesus used different words than the ones David did, but the meaning is the same. He said that when we pray we should begin by praying that God’s name (which represents who and what He is) would be hallowed. And what is it to hallow God’s name? It is to set it apart as holy, unique, worthy of reverence and holy respect. By indicating that this is the first petition we should pray, Jesus was teaching us that reverence for God should be a primary focus of our lives and prayers. And, the fact that he taught us to pray that God’s name would be hallowed indicates that we can’t do this without the help of God.
Developing and sustaining a healthy, robust fear of God should be a primary emphasis in our prayer lives. We will never be able to give God the respect and reverence that is His due apart from His help. You show me a person who isn’t praying the way David prayed in Psalm 86:11 and the way Jesus taught us to pray in Matthew 6:9 and I’ll show you a person in whose life the fear of God or his faith in God is very small or non-existent.
So to develop a robust and influential fear of God or a stronger faith you must make the acquisition of such a matter of fervent and persevering prayer. Scripture makes it clear that faith in God and the fear of God are His gifts to His people (Ephesians 2:8, 9; Galatians 5:22, 23; Jeremiah 32:39, 40). And along with that, Scripture makes it clear that God bestows these gifts on people who fervently and faithfully ask Him for these gifts (James 4:2; 5:17; Matthew 7:7 – 11; Luke 11:13).
This, then, is the second factor in answering the questions: how can I develop a strong, robust fear of God? How can I overcome unbelief and doubts? How can I overcome consuming lust? If you are serious about overcoming unbelief and doubts and lust you must make sure that you are fervently practicing the privilege of devoted prayer. This, again I say, is only one of many factors, but it is a foundational factor. I close this blog with a paraphrase of a statement made by John Piper. He wrote, “Much prayer, much power; little prayer, little power and no prayer, no power.” Well, I say, “Much of the right kind of prayer, much faith; little prayer, little faith and no prayer, no faith.” (God willing, we will move on to other factors in the near future.)
In this post, I’m kind of responding to one of the questions Scott raised in the comment section to one of our blogs. I say “kind of responding” because one of the questions he asked was “how do you overcome unbelief and doubt” and the answer I’m going to give in the next few blogs is really related to the question how do you develop a more robust fear of God?
At first glance, what I’m going to say about how to develop a robust fear of God may not appear to relate his question, but, in my judgment, my answer does very much relate. It is my conviction that the answer to the question “how do I develop a robust fear of God” is the same as the answer to the question “how do I get rid of my doubts and develop a strong faith”?
(Actually, the answer I’ll give in this series of blogs is also the answer to another question raised by a responder about how to overcome consuming lust.)
If Scott or anyone else is saying, “I really do want to develop or increase and sustain a more healthy, wholesome, robust fear of God (i.e., a strong faith in God). I really do want to be a truly God fearing person, i.e., a strong believer. Will you please tell me how I can become and remain that kind of person? I want it, I need it, but how do I get it?” my next few blogs should be very helpful. In these posts I want to point Scott and all of us who claim to be Christians to some biblical directives for doing the very thing the previous quote from Scott indicates he desires to have happen. If the fear of God (or a strong faith) is as important for us as Christians as the Bible clearly indicates it is, we might expect that God would give us information about how to develop it. And, indeed He has! In these posts we’re going to see that God has much to say about this aspect of developing, increasing and sustaining the fear of God in our lives.
I begin in this post with factor number 1 which is: to develop and sustain the fear of God you must have a change of heart. (Hang with me: this is only the first installment. There is more to come, but we must begin with factor number 1 because it is foundational to all the other factors.)
To understand how to develop and sustain a healthy, robust fear of God it’s important for us to note that we don’t just naturally fear God. With all that the Bible says about the majesty and glory of God we might be tempted to think that men would automatically fear God or have a strong faith in God.
Understanding who God is, what He has done and still does and the benefits that come to people who fear Him, we may be inclined to ask the same questions that Jeremiah and the people in Revelation asked: “Who would not fear Thee, O King of the Nations?” (Jeremiah 10:7); “Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify Thy name?” (Revelation 15:4) It seems irrational, absurd, unbelievable that people would not automatically fear and reverence someone who is as great and majestic as God is, someone who has the power and ability that God has, someone who has done and still does what God has done and continues to do.
In reality, when you consider the greatness of God, there is nothing more reasonable than the fear of God. To not fear Him is the height of absurdity. Yet the Scripture declares and our experience illustrates the fact that men don’t naturally fear God. In God’s description of what characterizes the whole of the human race (Romans 3:9 – both Jews and Greeks are under sin) since the time of Adam, He says, “There is no fear of God before their eyes” (Romans 3:18). In this verse Paul is probably quoting an Old Testament text that says essentially the same thing: “There is no fear of God before his eyes” (Psalm 36:1). “There is no fear of God in this place” was the way that Abraham described the society in which he lived. The situation has not changed. The society in which we live in the twenty first century is still devoid of the fear of God. Unregenerate, unredeemed men don’t by nature fear God. Instead of fearing God, men automatically fear man (Proverbs 29:25; Romans 1:23, 25). By nature, men are more concerned with the approval of men rather than the approval of God (John 12:43).
If that is true, the question that naturally arises is: what must happen for men who don’t naturally fear or trust God to begin to do this? Thankfully, the Scriptures give a very clear answer to this question. God provides an answer through the inspired prophet Jeremiah in Jeremiah 32. In that message, God says this about the people whom He says He will make His people and for whom He will become their God (Jeremiah 32:38), “I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me always … I will put the fear of me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me” (Jeremiah 32:39, 40). For people to fear God, God has to supernaturally put that fear in their hearts. Earlier in Jeremiah, God has described the hearts of men before He gives them a new heart as being deceitful above all things and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9). Before God gives to men a new heart they oppose the God of the Bible, they resist and rebel against this God (Romans 1:18-25; 8:5-8; Mark 7:21-23; Ecclesiastes 9:3; Isaiah 1:5; Genesis 6:5). Sometimes this heart resistance and rebellion is covert and sometimes overt, sometimes violent (easily recognized) and sometimes more subtle and even disguised.
Nonetheless, the hearts (a word that is used metaphorically to describe our inner man, our soul, the non-physical part of us as human beings, the core of our being, the mission control center of our lives) of all men resist God and don’t fear God in the way described in the last message of this book.
For a person to truly fear God, some important internal changes must take place, changes that only God can make. This change is variously described in Scripture. Jeremiah indicates that for this change from a lack of fear of God to a fear of God to occur, God must perform heart surgery. He must give that person a new heart. He must change that person on the inside, at the very core of his being. In the book of Ezekiel, God describes this same indispensable operation in two passages: First, He does it in Ezekiel 11: 19, 20: “I shall take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh that they may walk in My statutes and keep my ordinances to do them.” Then He does it again in message 26:25-27: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes”. In both of these Ezekiel passages, God makes it clear that the problem with people in terms of their attitude toward and relationship with Him is a heart problem. They have a heart of stone and need a heart of flesh. What they need is a new heart, a new spirit; a heart of flesh. Their heart of stone (a heart that was impervious to God and His Word, a heart that was uncaring about God, a heart that was committed to an antiGod focus in life, a heart that was insensitive and inflexible, a heart that lacked the fear of God) needed to be replaced with a heart of flesh (a heart that was soft and impressionable and responsive, a heart that was sensitive, a heart that was tender and compliant to God and His Word). Ezekiel 26 refers to filthiness and idolatry. Where was the primary location of that filthiness and idolatry? The references to needing a new heart and a new spirit indicate that the change and cleansing that was needed was internal. Ezekiel message 14 mentions that the problem with people is heart idolatry (Ezekiel 14:1-9) and message 11:21 mentions that their hearts are going after detestable things and abominations (i.e., that which is an abomination to the Lord). The problem of man, then and now, is a heart problem. So the cleansing that Ezekiel 26 says men need is a cleansing that is not merely external, but primarily internal.
As with all of us, these people needed to be cleaned up on the inside; because that’s where the real problem was. For them to become God centered, God fearing, they needed to be cleaned up on the inside, they needed to receive a new heart, a new disposition, a new spirit, a new internal control center. No one fears God in the Biblical way until this has occurred. In his comments on this passage Matthew Henry has rightly said, “We cannot sanctify God’s name unless he sanctify our hearts, nor live to His glory, but by grace alone.” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Volume IV, Revell, New York, 962) Turning to the New Testament, we find the same truth about our need for an inner change before we can be rightly related to God and become God fearing people emphasized in many places. I Corinthians 6:9-10 describes what the Corinthians were like before they became Christians. They lived lives of debauchery and immorality, there was no fear of God before their eyes – they lived for themselves, they lived to please people, they did what they wanted to do, they had no regard for the God of the Bible, they had the hearts of stone of which Ezekiel was speaking. But Paul says something happened to them that changed them; he says, “Such were some of you” indicating that they were no longer living that way. What had happened to change their orientation to life? Verse 11 explains what made the change – they had been washed (cleaned up on the inside), they had been justified (declared righteous) through the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ on their behalf. And more than that, the change had occurred because they had been set apart by the Holy Spirit. They heard the Word of God and, as they did, the Spirit of God convicted them of their sin, brought them to repentance over their sin and to faith in Christ. Through the work of the Holy Spirit using God’s Word and through the atoning work of Jesus Christ they had been cleansed on the inside and the inside cleansing then manifested itself in their changed attitude toward themselves, toward sin, toward life and especially toward God. In the words of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, God gave them a new heart, a new spirit, a new disposition that enabled them to do what they could not have done previously. He replaced their old inner control center which was under the control of sin with a new inner control center under the control of God. Or in the words of Paul in his second epistle to the Corinthians, Christ had come to them through the Gospel and by the Spirit and had made them new creatures (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). As a result, they could bring glory to God and live a God fearing life (I Corinthians 6:19, 20; 10:31).
How can we develop the fear of God or a stronger faith in God? How can we overcome unbelief and doubt? The first requirement for developing and sustaining a God – fearing manner of life is being cleaned up on the inside, receiving forgiveness through the sacrificial death of Christ (I John 1:7; 2 Corinthians 5:21); being declared righteous by God’s grace through the redemption that is in Christ (Romans 3:24, 25) by faith in Christ alone. When that happens, a person becomes a new creature in Christ, receives a new heart and spirit which God provides for all who come to Him through Christ and becomes indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God who enables Him to live a God centered and God honoring life (Romans 8:9-13; I Corinthians 12:13; Ephesians 3:17-19). As Peter puts it in I Peter 1, because a person is redeemed by Christ he should and can live his entire life on this earth as a God fearing person. Experiencing redemption from the penalty and power of our sin sets us free to live our lives in the fear of the Lord. (I Peter 1:17-19). This kind of a life is only possible for those who have been redeemed, but it is possible for all who are redeemed. John Bunyan explains, “This fear flows from a new heart. This fear is not in man by nature; the fear of devils they may have, as also an ungodly fear of God, but this fear is not in any, but where there dwelleth a new heart, another fruit and effect of this everlasting covenant, and of this distinguishing love of God. …So then, until a man receive a heart from God, a heart from heaven, a new heart, he has not this fear of God in him. … This fear of God must not be, cannot be found in old hearts; old hearts are not bottles out of which this fear proceeds, but it is from an honest and good heart, from a new one, from such an one that is also the effect of the everlasting covenant, and the love of God to men. He therefore that has not received at the hands of God a new heart, cannot fear the Lord.” (John Bunyan, The Complete Works of John Bunyan, Volume II, The National Foundation for Christian Education, Marshallton, Delaware, p.423.) This, then, is the first factor in answering the questions: how can I develop a strong, robust fear of God? How can I overcome unbelief and doubts? If you are serious about overcoming unbelief and doubts you must examine yourself to make sure you really have had a supernatural change of heart.
This is only one of many factors, but since it is a foundational factor to everything else I will say in future blogs I wanted to begin here in that here is where God starts. (God willing, we will move on to other factors in the near future.)
BIOPSYCHIATRY Psychiatry is back or is it? That’s the question I responded to in a letter to a friend who has been influenced by relatively recent ideas about why behave badly.
I’m writing this letter to share a few of my thoughts and concerns about understanding the causes of and solutions to what the Bible would call ungodly, sinful behavior. In a recent class which you attended I made a strong point about the importance for Christian counselors put ting biblical labels on the problems of people. I warned against the danger of being reductionistic. I wanted students to know that the broad spectrum of what the world may call schizophrenia or other so called serious psychological problems may have many causes with one of them being something physiological or organic.
In my own counseling experience over the last thirty or more years, I have encountered in counseling a number of people who have been labeled schizophrenic who have never had any serious physical tests to determine the presence of physiological factors. These people were labeled that way because the physician or psychologist saw the symptoms mentioned in the DSM 4r and concluded without any physiological evidence that the person was suffering fro m a disease called schizophrenia. My point in saying what I said to my students was that they should not let the bizarre stuff frighten them. I encouraged my students to send counselees with bizarre behavior to get a thorough check up but I also wanted them to look for garden variety biblically identified problems. In my judgment, doing otherwise destroys hope in the counselee and the person who may be trying to help. It is my conviction based on clear biblical teaching that wrong, unbiblical thinking and behavior messes people up in many ways and sometimes results in weird and bizarre conduct. I believe that if we buy into the world’s definition of the nature and causes of all schizophrenic behavior we have locked a person into hopelessness. And I simply will not do that.
I agree with you that some (? much) bizarre behavior may be manipulative or learned patterns of response and behavior and other bizarre behavior may be connected to something with an organic basis. But since I’m not omniscient and since I can’t quickly distinguish between the non-organic and the organic when I encounter in counseling a person with bizarre behavior I begin to counsel the person looking for the things the Bible indicates may be connected to strange behavior and then go on to present the biblical solution.
To this point in history there have been at least three periods of history where the pendulum has swung to biopsychiatry for diagnosis and solution to human problems. One followed the Civil war where the rage was “neurasthenia”; a second was during the 1940’s and 1950’s where the solution to serious problems was electro shock therapy or having a lobotomy and now since the early 1990’s the emphasis is has been on genetic structures and brain chemistry. In biopsychiatry, the solution for problems that involve clearly unbiblical behavior and ways of living is directed toward localizing brain function, greasing the neuroelectrical system and buoying up our chemistry.
I simply have problems believing that the solution to what the Bible would identify as sin is found in any of these things. I have a theological presuppositional problem as well as a historical problem with that kind of approach. I do not believe because of my biblical anthropology and hamartiology that the main cause of or solution to severe or less severe problems with anger, fear, pride, selfishness, sexual promiscuity of any kind or violence can be relegated to the realm of the organic or genetic. I do not believe that in reference to behavior that the Bible calls sinful behavior (I John 3:4; James 4:17) that we are helpless pawns of our physiology.
And one more thing, as I’ve stated previously, it’s true because we are sinners that some bizarre behavior may be manipulative behavior and, in some cases, it’s probably true that some organic difficulties may make it difficult for a person to concentrate or think constructively or process information, but how do I know which it is? How can I distinguish between a problem involving an physical inability to think and a problem involving a person that is practicing manipulative behavior or that is trying to avoid responsibility or that just doesn’t want to hear what is being said (biblically the old stick your fingers in your ears trick – Acts 7:57)?
In counseling a real person, when I see bizarre behavior, do I assume that the person with bizarre behavior has an organic difficulty or do I realize that the person may have developed a pattern of tuning out, of running away in his mind and that that person may have become very skillful at spacing out? How do I distinguish between someone who has through practice of unbiblical thinking and ways of handling life withdrawn more and more from reality and the person who is manifesting psychotic symptoms related to genetic issues?
Another question – did the genetic difference suddenly appear or was it there all the time? If so, why wasn’t the person behaving weirdly previously? If it was there previously, can the person’s bizarre behavior be totally connected to the genetic issue or is there more involved? It seems to me that to prove that any one genetic difference is the cause of what is called schizophrenia or any other so called psychological problem you would have to prove that no one who is not schizophrenic had that genetic difference. What is the proof that a genetic malfunction is the cause of schizophrenia? Could that genetic difference be true of a person, but not necessarily the cause – perhaps it is one of many things.
I find it very interesting that research seems to indicate that often the time of life when the weird stuff seems to manifest itself is when a young person leaves home (one family systems therapist observed this and wrote a book which I think was called Leaving Home; others have observed the same phenomena). Research also seems to indicate that the person who manifests this bizarre behavior often comes from a seriously disturbed family. Then too, another time when bizarre behavior often manifests itself is when a person is old and seems to be experiencing senility or Alzheimer’s disease. Some studies have seemed to indicate that there are times when schizophrenic behavior in older people is also related to a lack of meaning and purpose in life. They have nothing to live for, nothing really to occupy their minds. Giving them something to live for and helping them to understand that they can make important contributions has helped some of them to get rid of their bizarre behavior and begin to live meaningfully and in touch with reality lives again. I saw that very thing happening very recently in a counseling case with an 85 year old person in the last few weeks. I’m not suggesting that all bizarre behavior with older people is related to a lack of meaning and purpose for life, but I do believe that it is sometimes the case. I fully believe that if we don’t fill our minds and lives with the right stuff all kinds of weird stuff can happen.
Anyway, these are some of the things I’ve been thinking and struggling with recently. I pass them on to you for your consideration. Thanks for listening or reading.
The title of this blog represents the progression on fruit bearing found in John chapter 15. In verse 5 of this chapter Jesus compares Himself to the vine and us as professing Christians to the branches. Then in verse 2 he says that “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit, He (God) takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit.” There you have mention of no fruit, fruit and more fruit. In verse 16 Christ continues this emphasis on fruit by stating a number of important truths about the Christian life, “You did not choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain.” One, he tells us that He is the one who initiates our relationship with Him – He chose ut. Two, He tells us that as those who are chosen by Him He expects us to bear fruit and to continue to bear fruit that is solid and genuine – it remains. Verse 8 enlarges on our Lord’s fruit bearing lesson by stating, “By this is my Father glorified that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” ( John 15:8)
Fruit bearing, according to John 15:8, serves two purposes: one it glorifies God and two it demonstrates that we are really disciples of Christ. In other words, it fulfills the main purpose for which we have been created and redeemed: it glorifies God; it puts the glory of God on display. And more than that, verse 8 asserts that it also manifest the fact that we are really Christians. It does not make us Christians; that is all of God’s grace. But it does demonstrate the reality of our profession of faith.
So the questions are: do you want to really fulfill the purpose for which God made you and redeeemed you? Do you want your life to be a theater in which the glory of God is clearly and vividly displayed? Do you want to fulfill the purpose for which He saved you? Do you want to prove to be Christ’s disciple? Well then Jesus says you can do all these things by bearing fruit, more fruit, much fruit.
But you may ask, what is the fruit I am to bear that will accomplish these purposes? An answer comes from a message I heard yesterday which was preached by my good friend Pastor Lance Quinn at The Bible Church of Little Rock. Lance used an acrostic to define the fruit that fulfills the fruit bearing lessons of Jesus in John 15. I simply give you his outline. In the message , he said that the fruit God wants us to bear is:
F = Fear of God – Psalm 128:1 -3;Ecclesiastes 12:13;
R = Righteousness – Psalm 92:12 – 15;
U = Understanding of God, His Word, His purposes, etc. – Proverbs 3:13; 4:5; 5:1; 8:14; 16:22;
I = Integrity = Psalm 15:1,2; 25:21; 41:12; Proverbs 10:9; 19:1; Job 2:3; 27:5
Trust in God = Jeremiah 17:5 – 8; Nehemiah 1:11; John 15:4.
There is, of course, much more to this fruit bearing for which Jesus chose us than we’ve noticed in this blog or even in Lance’s whole message, but this is a start. I challenge you to go further by using your concordance and checking it out for yourself by looking up the many references that talk about the source of our fruit bearing, the nature of the fruit we’re to bear, the requirements for fruit bearing and the results of our fruit bearing and the awful warning to those who make a profession of faith but bear no fruit in their lives.
To diminish your PQ (pride quotient) and increase your HQ (humility quotient) we encourage you to take this inventory and then confess, repent, plan how and where you need to change and then put your plan into practice.
Take the following True Humility Inventory which is designed to evaluate our pride and humility quotient. Since humility is considered by God to be such an important quality and since we are so prone to be proud, this inventory can be helpful in promoting spiritual growth in our lives. Read through each of the manifestations of humility and then rate yourself using the following rating scale: 4 = always true of you; 3 = frequently true of you; 2 = sometimes; 1 = seldom; 0 = never. On the items where you recognized your lack of humility, confess that lack to God as a sin and ask Him for help to change. Periodically, complete this inventory to promote spiritual growth in humility. Perhaps you would like to ask an honest, brave and loving friend to evaluate how he/she would rate you on these items.
True Humility in terms of our behavior toward men:
1. I am not selfishly ambitious or greedy of the honor and appreciation of men. ____
2. I am not ostentatious around people; I don’t try to impress people with my intelligence or abilities or status in life. ____
3. I am not arrogant or assuming or presumptuous in my behavior toward people. ____
4. I am not scornful nor contemptuous or demeaning to people. ____
5. I am not willful nor stubborn in my behavior toward people. ____
6. I don’t seek to level those who are over me or have authority over me;
I show respect for and am willing to submit to God ordained authorities. ____
7. I show respect for and am willing to submit to others who are not as educated or gifted as I may be. ____
8. I am not defensive when others rebuke me or criticize me. ____
9. I am willing to confess my sins and faults to others and frequently do so. ____
10. I am willing to accept instruction and correction from others. ____
11. I am willing to serve others and not be upset when I don’t receive appreciation for what I’ve done. ____
12. It doesn’t bother me when others are honored more than I am. ____
13. It doesn’t bother me when others are honored for something I’ve done. ____
14. I am willing to sacrificially serve others even if they are not willing to serve or help me. ____
15. I am willing to sacrificially serve others even if it involves hardship and difficulty. ____
16. I am willing to listen to others rather than talk or express my opinion. ____
17. I am willing to seek and follow good counsel. ____
18. When I must make decisions I seek the input and perspectives of others before acting. ____
19. I display a lifestyle of truthfulness even if others may be upset with me for telling the truth about what I have done or said. ____
20. I am Christlike in my attitude and words and actions toward others.. ____
(Adapted from Wayne and Joshua Mack’s book, Humility: A Forgotten Virtue, P& R Publishers)
If you've been reading our recent posts, you are aware that we've been focusing on what Augustine called the most important Christian virtue, namely, humility. Pride as Joel Beeke and others have stated is the first sin to rear its head and the last to go when we die. God hates pride and loves humility. God is opposed to the proud and gives grace to the humble. Identifying ways in which our pride manifests itself and how will humility manifest itself is a useful procedure for us as we seek to defeat pride in our lives and develop increased humility.
Because this is true, we have designed two pride and humility inventories to assist us in this endeavor. One of them is included in this present post and the other will be inluded in the next blog. To diminish your PQ (pride quotient) and increase your HQ (humility quotient) we eoncourage you to take these inventories and then confess, repent, plan how and where you need to change and then put your plan into practice. Since humility is considered by God to be such an important quality and since we are so prone to be proud, this inventory can be helpful in promoting spiritual growth in our lives. Read through each of the manifestations of humility and then rate yourself using the following rating scale: 4 = always true of you; 3 = frequently true of you; 2 = sometimes; 1 = seldom; 0 = never. On the items where you recognized your lack of humility, confess that lack to God as a sin and ask Him for help to change. Periodically, complete this inventory to promote spiritual growth in humility. Perhaps you would like to ask an honest, brave and loving friend to evaluate how he/she would rate you on these items.
True Humility in terms of your behavior before God:
1. I heartily and freely acknowledge my insignificance and littleness before God. _____
2. I freely confess my sinfulness and unworthiness to God and acknowledge that I am totally unworthy of His mercy and grace _____
3. I am distrustful of myself (Isaiah 2:22; Jeremiah 17:5,6) and know that ultimately I can only put my complete and absolute trust in God. (Jeremiah 17:7,8). _____
4. I renounce all the glory of the good I possess and do, and give God allthe glory and credit (Psalm 115:3). _____
5. I am respectful of, receptive, responsive and obedient to God’s Word even when it tells me to do what is difficult and contrary to my own opinion or the opinion of others (Luke 9:23,24). _____
6. I accept and submit myself to God’s revealed will even if it is difficult to do and might cause others to criticize me and lose respect for me when I do it (Matthew 5:5; 10-12). _____
7. I am content with the providence and daily provisions of God for my life Hebrews 13:5,6; Philippians 4:10-13). _____
8. I delight in worshipping and praising God (Psalm 34:1-3; Philippians 3:3; Psalm 10:1-6). _____
9. I am continuously seeking God in prayer (Luke 18:1; I Thessalonians 5:16; Philippians 4:6). . _____
10. I consider serving Christ in small and insignificant and unnoticed things – basin and towel things -as well as tasks that are considered by others to be important and bring recognition as a great privilege. _____
11. I am content to let God know some things that I don’t know; I don’t require God to explain whatever He is doing to me; I rest in His wisdom and love and grace when the reasons for events and circumstances are not clear to me (Romans 11:32-36; Deuteronomy 29:29). _____
12. I realize that God doesn’t owe me anything except hell and that any pleasures I experience in this life are wholly undeserved. _____
13. When I experience suffering or unpleasantries I don’t get upset or bitter with God; nor do I think or say, "How could God ever allow this to happen to me ? God isn’t treating me as well as I should be treated. I don’t deserve this. I’ve tried to serve Him, I’ve read my Bible and prayed faithfully, I’ve gone to church regularly, I’ve given to Him, I’ve witnessed. I’ve tried to be moral. God should treat me better than this." ____
(Adapted from Wayne and Joshua Mack’s book, Humility: A Forgotten Virtue, P & R Publishers)
One cause of errors attending a great revival of religion, is undiscerned spiritual pride.
The first and the worst cause of errors that prevail in such a state of things is spiritual pride.
This is the main door by which the devil comes into the hearts of those who are zealous for the advancement of religion. It is the chief inlet of smoke from the bottomless pit, to darken the mind and mislead the judgment. This is the main handle by which the devil has hold of religious persons, and the chief source of all the mischief that he introduces, to clog and hinder a work of God. This cause of error is the main spring, or at least the main support, of all the rest.
Till this disease is cured, medicines are in vain applied to heal other diseases. It is by this that the mind defends itself in other errors and guards itself against light, by which it might be corrected and reclaimed. The spiritually proud man is full of light already; he does not need instruction, and is ready to despise the offer of it.
But, if this disease be healed, other things are easily rectified. The humble person is like a little child, he easily receives instruction; he is jealous over himself, sensible how liable he is to go astray, and therefore, if it be suggested to him that he does so, he is ready most narrowly and impartially to inquire. Nothing sets a person so much out of the devil’s reach as humility, and so prepares the mind for true divine light without darkness, and so clears the eye to look on things as they truly are; Ps. xxv. 9. "The meek will he guide in judgment. And the meek will he teach his way."
Therefore we should fight, neither with small not with great, but with the king of Israel. Our first care should be to rectify the heart, and pull the beam out of our eye, and then we shall see clearly.I know that a great many things at this day are very injuriously laid to the pride of those that are zealous in the cause of God. When any person appears, in any respect, remarkably distinguished in religion from others; if he professes those spiritual comforts and joys that are greater than ordinary, or appears distinguishingly zealous in religion; if he exerts himself more than others in the cause of religion, or seems to be distinguished with success; ten to one but it will immediately awaken the jealousy of those about him. They will suspect (whether they have cause or no) that he is very proud of his goodness, and affects to have it thought that nobody is so good as he; and all his talk is heard, and all his behaviour beheld, with this prejudice. Those who are themselves cold and dead, and especially such as never had any experience of the power of godliness on their own hearts, are ready to entertain such thoughts of the best Christians; which arises from a secret enmity against vital and fervent piety. But zealous Christians should take heed lest this prove a snare to them, and the devil take advantage from it, to blind their eyes from beholding what there is indeed of this nature in their hearts, and make them think, because they are charged with pride wrongfully and from an ill spirit, in many things, that therefore it is so in every thing.
Alas, how much pride have the best of us in our hearts! It is the worst part of the body of sin and death; the first sin that ever entered into the universe, and the last that is rooted out; it is God’s most stubborn enemy!The corruption of nature may all be resolved into two things, pride and worldly-mindedness, the devil and the beast, or self and the world. These are the two pillars of Dagon’s temple, on which the whole house leans. But the former of these is every way the worst part of the corruption of nature; it is the first-born son of the devil, and his image in the heart of man chiefly consists in it. It is the last thing in as sinner that is overborne by conviction, in order to conversion; and here is the saint’s hardest conflict; the last thing over which he directly militates against god, and is most contrary to the Spirit of the Lamb of God. It is most like the devil its father, in a serpentine deceitfulness and secrecy; it lies deepest, is most active, and is most ready secretly to mix itself with every thing.And, of all kinds of pride, spiritual pride is upon many accounts the most hateful, it is most like the devil; most like the sin he committed in a heaven of light and glory, where he was exalted high in divine knowledge, honour, beauty, and happiness. Pride is much more difficult to be discerned than any other corruption, because its nature very much consists in a person’s having too high a thought of himself.
If you've checked our blog site in the last few days, you've noticed that we haven't put anything new on it. This is true for a couple of reasons: one is that Joshua has been away finishing his course work for his doctorate and the other is that Wayne has been out of pocket because he has been travelling from South Africa to the USA to teach some courses on biblical counseling in Little Rock, Arkansas and Santa Clarita, California. Now we're back to a more normal routine and can therefore put some new posts on our blog site. What you'll find on this post is the first in a series on the subject of what Dr. Joel Beeke calls God's first enemy or the first sin in paradise.The foreword that Dr. Joel Beeke wrote for our book, Humility: A Forgotten Virtue was so good and challenging that I decided it should be given wider circulation by featuring it on one of our blogs. Here is what he had to say:
Pride was God’s first enemy. It was the first sin in paradise and the last we will shed in death. "Pride is the shirt of the soul, put on first and put off last," wrote George Swinnock.…
As a sin, pride is unique. Most sins turn us away from God, but pride is a direct attack upon God. It lifts our hearts above Him and against Him. Pride seeks to dethrone God and enthrone itself. Pride also seeks to dethrone my neighbour, we are told. It always puts self-idolatry above neighbour-service. At root, pride breaks both tables of the law and all Ten Commandments. Pride is complex. "It takes many forms and shapes and encompasses the heart like the layers of an onion—when you pull off one layer, there is another underneath," wrote Jonathan Edwards.
Pride feeds off nearly anything: a fair measure of ability and wisdom, a single compliment, a season of remarkable prosperity, or a small accomplishment. "It is hard starving this sin, as there is nothing almost but it can live upon," wrote Richard Mayo.
Our forefathers did not consider themselves immune to this sin. "I know I am proud; and yet I do not know the half of that pride," wrote Robert Murray M’Cheyne. Twenty years after his conversion, Jonathan Edwards groaned about the "bottomless, infinite depths of pride" left in his heart. And Luther said, "I am more afraid of pope ‘self’ than of the pope in Rome and all his cardinals."
A godly person fights against pride, whereas a worldly person feeds pride. "Men frequently admire me, and I am pleased," said Henry Martyn, but adds, "but I abhor the pleasure I feel." Cotton Mather confessed that when pride filled him with bitterness and confusion before the Lord, "I endeavoured to take a view of my pride as the very image of the Devil, contrary to the image and grace of Christ; as an offense against God, and grieving of His Spirit; as the most unreasonable folly and madness for one who had nothing singularly excellent and who had a nature so corrupt." Thomas Shepard also fought pride. In his diary entry for November 10, 1642, Shepard wrote, "I kept a private fast for light to see the full glory of the Gospel… and for the conquest of all my remaining pride of heart."
How do we fight against pride? Do we understand how deeply rooted it is in us? Do we ever remonstrate ourselves like the Puritan Richard Mayo: "Should that man be proud that has sinned as thou hast sinned, and lived as thou hast lived, and wasted so much time, and abused so much mercy, and omitted so many duties, and neglected so great means?—that hath so grieved the Spirit of God, so violated the law of God, so dishonoured the name of God? Should that man be proud, who hath such a heart as thou hast?"
If we would kill worldly pride and live in godly humility, let us …. look at our Saviour, whose life, Calvin said, "was naught but a series of sufferings." Nowhere is humility so cultivated than at Gethsemane and Calvary. Confess with Joseph Hall:
Thy garden is the place,Where pride cannot intrude;For should it dare to enter there,T’would soon be drowned in blood.
And sing with Isaac Watts:
When I survey the wondrous cross,On which the Prince of glory died;My richest gain I count but loss,And pour contempt on all my pride.
Here are some other ways to help you subdue pride and cultivate humility:
Seek a deeper knowledge of God, His attributes, and His glory. Job and Isaiah teach us that nothing is so humbling as knowing God (Job 42; Is. 6).
Meditate much on the solemnity of death, the certainty of Judgment Day, and the vastness of eternity.
View each day as an opportunity to forget yourself and serve others. The act of service is innately humbling.
Read the biographies of great saints, such as Whitefield’s Journals, The Life of David Brainerd, and Spurgeon’s Early Years. As Dr. Lloyd-Jones says, "If that does not bring you to earth, then I pronounce that you are … beyond hope."
Remember daily that "pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall" (Prov. 16:18). Pray daily for humility.