Wednesday, March 18, 2020

28. Stand Firm

Stand Firm: Living in a Post-Christian Culture. John MacArthur. 2020. [April] 152 pages. [Source: Review copy] [Christian living; Christian Nonfiction; theology]

First sentence: The New Testament resounds with calls to holiness.

It continues, "We are told to abstain from fleshly lusts (1 Peter 2:11), mortify the deeds of the body (Rom. 8:13), love not the world (1 John 2:15), flee immorality (1 Cor. 6:18), put off the old man (Eph. 4:22), and think on what is true (Phil. 4:8). We read commands to let the Word of Christ dwell in us richly (Col. 3:16), to put on the breastplate of righteousness (Eph. 6:14), to buffet our bodies to bring them into subjection (1 Cor. 9:27), and to present our bodies as living sacrifices (Rom. 12:1). We hear the call of the Apostle Paul to cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh (2 Cor. 7:1), walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:16), and lay aside all bitterness, anger, and malice (Eph. 4:31). Peter quoted from Leviticus in his charge to live disciplined, godly lives: “Like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior; because it is written, ‘You shall be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:15–16). Most Christians are well versed in those commands—we know them and we believe them. However, familiarity and mental assent are not enough to produce righteous results. In fact, the church seems to be rapidly losing the battle for holiness and purity. Consider the worldliness that pervades the church today. Some congregations are virtually indistinguishable from the world; many more are moving fast on a similar trajectory. Others don’t necessarily wear their worldly affections on their sleeves, but their outward acts of piety and devotion cannot conceal the corruption within. The reason is simple. The battle for holiness is not primarily about public professions and external displays. Rather, if God’s people are going to be holy, we must first win the battle on the inside."

John MacArthur's newest book is essentially a primer on the Christian life. It covers a wide range of subjects essential to living out the Christian life.

Chapter One: The Christian Life Means Being Called to Holiness
Chapter Two: The Christian Life Means Loving Your Neighbor and Your Enemy
Chapter Three: The Christian Life Means Loving Until It Hurts
Chapter Four: The Christian Life Means Engaging In Prayer
Chapter Five: The Christian Life Means Repudiating the Myth of Influence
Chapter Six: The Christian Life Means Persevering to the End

If there is a common thread to these chapters--to these subjects--it's that Christians are called out ones. No matter if we live in a so-called "Christian" culture or the worldly-world, we are called out by God, commanded to live not for the world, not for ourselves, but for Him and Him alone. Often this means countering culture and society, choosing to follow and believe what God has said.

I love short books. (Of course, I also love long books--but that is besides the point!) There is something oh-so-satisfying about sitting down with a little book and reading it in a day--or two or three. If it is super-relevant and packed with truths--both familiar and new--so much the better. I would definitely recommend this one.

  • A properly functioning conscience is fully informed by the truth of Scripture. When David said, “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You” (Ps. 119:11), he was confessing his desire for a fully informed conscience. Christ prayed for the same thing for His disciples: “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth” (John 17:17). Holiness comes as a result of the Word of God informing the conscience and the conscience informing the person.
  • God’s people must not buy in to the demonic lie that God is only concerned with the exterior—that sins of the heart and mind are acceptable as long as they remain secret. 
  • In truth, there is no such thing as a private, secret sin. The wicked imagination is merely the seedbed of external sin. No one “falls into” immorality or adultery—the sinner indulged those lustful desires internally long before he ever acted on them. In the same way, the thief ’s heart was corrupted by covetousness long before he ever stole anything. Wickedly toying with sin internally is the best way to guarantee that it will eventually manifest itself externally. And in the meantime, the conscience is battered and defiled while its cries fall on deaf ears.
  • We cannot afford the occasional dalliance with sins of the mind. We cannot indulge our sinful imaginations with impunity. If we think the sins of our imagination are truly secret, we’re lying to ourselves. There is no corner of our hearts or minds that is hidden from the Lord.
  • The fact is that it isn’t easy for any of us to love someone else as thoroughly as we love ourselves. Our love for ourselves is unfeigned, fervent, habitual, and permanent. It generally respects and prioritizes all our needs, wants, desires, hopes, and ambitions. It consistently promotes our well-being. It does everything possible to secure our own happiness and satisfaction, protect our own welfare, produce our own comfort, and meet all our own interests. It seeks our own pleasure and fulfillment, and it knows no limit of effort to secure all of these things. Scripture says that is exactly how we are to love our neighbor. But Israel’s religious elite left that out, reducing “love your neighbor” to something less than such consummate devotion. Worse still, the rabbis and scribes had narrowed the definition of “neighbor” to exclude virtually everyone but themselves.
  • if we are going to be known as our Father’s children, we need to manifest that same kind of love for the lost. He demonstrates His love to sinners through general goodness, pity, warning, admonition, real grief over their plight, and a pleading offer of the saving gospel. We must love our neighbors—including our enemies—in the same way. We need to prioritize their general welfare. If that means a meal, clothing, money, or some other kind of assistance, we give it freely, out of a sincere desire for their good. More than that, we show them pity, compassion, and grief over their slavery to sin and the consequences that await if they do not repent. Loving our enemies also means warning them of God’s judgment and faithfully, lovingly admonishing them to repent and believe while there is still time. That is loving our neighbors the way God loves.
  • The world talks a lot about love. But the more people talk about it, the less it seems as if they actually know what they’re talking about. They certainly don’t seem to understand what divine love is or how it functions. Worse still, the same kind of confusion is creeping into the church. For example, you have probably heard some pastor or some church describe their desire to “just love on people.” That sounds good, but often it doesn’t actually mean anything beyond the superficial. Increasingly, what it actually means is, “We don’t want to make people uncomfortable.” Churches like that routinely settle for a vague sense of acceptance that’s not grounded in any biblical truth. They inevitably skirt the difficult topics and the penetrating and convicting truths, instead planting their flags in whatever inoffensive common ground they can identify. They’ve mastered the technique of sounding loving without having to say anything of substance.
  • I want to see the lost redeemed and the slaves of sin set free. I want to see society changed and righteousness prevail. But the only way it can be changed is through the power of the Spirit and the truth of the gospel. There is no other hope for the spiritually dead, no other means by which the Holy Spirit makes dead sinners alive in Christ.
  • The gospel produces hostility. It is popular to attempt to alter it, not only to make it easier for people to believe but to take some of the heat off themselves for presenting it. In fact, the word of the cross is so shameful and antagonizing that even faithful Christians struggle to proclaim the true gospel, afraid of the rejection, ridicule, and embarrassment it will bring. That’s why it is hard for even some Christian leaders, when they get on television in secular settings, to speak the gospel with honesty and clarity. Sometimes they can’t even seem to get the name “Jesus” out of their mouths.

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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