Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Book Review: Pleasing God

Pleasing God. R.C. Sproul. 1994. Tyndale. 234 pages. [Source: Bought]

TRUE OR FALSE. Every Christian should have a passion to please God. We are to delight in honoring Him. It should be our greatest desire to please our Redeemer.

In Pleasing God, R.C. Sproul writes that "we all begin the Christian life with the intention of living in such a way to please God. But that we encounter obstacles along the way. We meet with conflicts between what pleases us and and what pleases God. We need help in overcoming these obstacles." His book on sanctification is a practical guide for how to live a Christian life. The premise is, of course, that our lives after conversion should differ from before our conversion, that being saved should change us, transform us.

Sanctification is very much a process--a journey--believers are never instantly victorious and wholly holy! Even if we "win" victory (through Christ) over one area of sin in our lives, we're never completely, totally, absolutely free from sin in all areas of our lives. The Christian life is a struggling life: our battle against self, sin, temptation, even Satan. It may not be popular to think of the Christian life being a battleground, but, it is true all the same. And though it may not be easy to admit: often our greatest foe is ourselves!

Sproul opens the book with a Scripture illustration from the gospel of Mark:
And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Mark 8:22-25
Believers are like the blind man seeing "walking trees." Sproul says:
He was at an intermediate stage between total blindness and full clarity of vision. He was, as we shall see, a representative of all Christians in their progress toward pleasing God.
When we are born again, we see men as trees, walking. Our spiritual vision is clouded by ongoing sin. We do not see all things in sharp spiritual focus. But there will come a day when all remnants of our old nature will be destroyed, when our hearts will be so purified that Christ’s beatitude will be fulfilled: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt. 5:8).
Though the scales are removed from our eyes, we still need to be led by the hand of Jesus. Regeneration is the beginning of a journey. It is a journey with successes and failures, with growth amid stumbling. At times, the progress seems painfully slow, but progress is there.
There is a danger in thinking that we can live the Christian life in our own strength, in our own way. We all need to be reminded that we need to be led by the hand of Jesus. That though some things in the Christian life are instant--regeneration and justification come to mind--other things are a process, at times a very slow, very painful process. I had to smile when I read his illustration of this:
Bunyan understood the many temptations and pitfalls that stand in the path of every Christian. But he also understood two vitally important truths about the Christian life: we are pilgrims, and we make progress.
Sproul shows us what sanctification is and what it is not:
Run for your life from those who promise you instant sanctification. There is a poisonous doctrine—one that dies hard in Christian circles—called the doctrine of perfectionism. It teaches that some people have already attained spiritual perfection in this world. Those who teach this doctrine promise a “second work of grace,” a “second blessing” of instant sanctification. Turn away from such teachers… For people to convince themselves that they have already achieved spiritual perfection, they must do one of two things: they must reduce the demands of God’s law to such a low level that they can obey them, or they must radically inflate their own assessment of their spiritual performance… Either of these steps is deadly. To reduce the demands of God’s law is to do violence to the holiness of God. To inflate one’s own self-assessment to the point of self-delusion is an extreme form of pride.
Sanctification is a journey, a life-long journey, a fighting and struggling journey.  
The journey has but one guarantee: Christ promises to go with us and to bring us out the other side. Our Lord finishes what He starts. He does not abort His handiwork in the middle of its creation. He does not leave us staring at walking trees. No, the Lord is intensely interested in our welfare and our maturing.
The Christian life is to be a SEEKING life. Every step of the journey we are to be seeking: seeking God, seeking his kingdom, seeking His righteousness, seeking to glorify Him. Here are just a few passages from the Bible about seeking:
And those who know your name put their trust in you, for you, O Lord, have not forsaken those who seek you. Psalm 9:10
One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to inquire in his temple. Psalm 27:4
You have said, “Seek my face.” My heart says to you, “Your face, Lord, do I seek.” Psalm 27:8
But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation say continually, “Great is the Lord!” Psalm 40:16
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. Psalm 63:1
Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice! Psalm 105:3
Seek the Lord and his strength; seek his presence continually! Psalm 105:4
With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! Psalm 119:10
My soul yearns for you in the night; my spirit within me earnestly seeks you. For when your judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness. Isaiah 26:9
“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near; Isaiah 55:6
You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:13
But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Matthew 6:33
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Matthew 7:7-8
It also becomes clear that we seek God because He sought us first!

How can we please God in this life? Sproul argues that it simply comes down to one word: obedience. Easy to conclude that, not so easy to accomplish it, right?!
The conclusion we reach is this: the great overarching goal of the Christian life is obedience to the King. He is pleased when we obey. We cannot possibly imitate His deity, but we are to imitate His single-minded devotion to obedience, His commitment to pleasing God.
What is righteousness? The simplest answer that righteousness is doing what is right in the sight of God. This is a simple definition that is far more complex under the surface. To be righteous is to do everything that God calls us to do.
Sproul goes on to address common obstacles that all believers come up against in this life. The table of contents provides you with a good idea of what to expect:

  • Tender Grace
  • The Goal of Christian Living
  • Beware the Leaven of the Pharisees
  • The Battle with the World
  • The Battle with the Flesh
  • The Battle with the Devil
  • Satan as Accuser
  • Fear and Guilt Paralysis
  • Real Forgiveness
  • The Carnal Christian
  • The Sin of Pride
  • The Sin of Slothfulness
  • The Sin of Dishonesty
  • Doctrine and Life
  • Never Give Up
In my opinion, every believer needs to read at least one book on sanctification. R.C. Sproul's Pleasing God would be a fine choice.

I'll leave you with some quotes from the book.

TRUE OR FALSE “We Christians, God’s beloved children, have Christ’s righteousness” is a valid statement only if we are truly aiming for righteousness. Pretense does not count. Reality does.

TRUE OR FALSE During His incarnation, Jesus displayed a deep love for the Word of God. He calls His people to be diligent students of Scripture. But He demands more than the acquisition of Bible knowledge. We must have a sound doctrine of the Bible. But even this is not enough. The righteousness that pleases Him is a righteousness that proceeds from being doers of His Word and not hearers only (James 1:22).

TRUE OR FALSE The theater of God’s redemption is this world. It is to this world that God came in Christ. Christ refused to allow His disciples to hide in an upper room with the doors locked because of fear. No tabernacles were allowed on the Mount of Transfiguration. We are called to be Christ’s witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8). Jerusalem is in this world. Judea is in this world. Samaria is in this world. The ends of the earth are still on this earth. So we should not flee this world. But, oh, how many Christians try to do so. And in doing so, they may actually be displeasing the God who wants the world to be redeemed, not escaped.

TRUE OR FALSE It is to our advantage to understand how the enemy thinks.

TRUE OR FALSE Sin is the abuse of the divine gift. It is using the gift in a manner that God does not allow.

TRUE OR FALSE Satan’s chief device of temptation is to attack the truth of God.

TRUE OR FALSE Failure to believe what God says is the foundation of all sin. Once the truth of God is set aside, we have nothing to restrain us from doing what is right in our own eyes.

TRUE OR FALSE  The redeemed of God who are snatched from the flames by the hand of the Lord are still covered with ashes. We remain streaked with charcoal and blemished with soot. We are redeemed, but not sinless. Satan is quick to call attention to the dirt. He wants us to be more conscious of our sin than of God’s mercy.

TRUE OR FALSE It is the possession of saving faith that justifies us, not the mere profession of it.

TRUE OR FALSE The Spirit works with the Word. He does not work against the Word or without the Word. The Word and Spirit go together. Doctrine and life go together. The will and the mind go together. To separate them is to frustrate the work of sanctification within us and to grieve the Holy Spirit. To separate them is to miss the integrated, committed life that pleases God.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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