Book Review: The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges

During last year, I spent a good amount of time reading on books dealing with sanctification. While there are many books that address this teaching, I’ve come to realize that most books on this topic within Reformed circles have two basic problems: (1) they merely repeat and/or reword the doctrine of sanctification found in Reformed confessions and catechisms and (2) they spend an inordinate amount of time discussing what is sanctification is NOT. While these are helpful and have their place, I wouldn’t say that these books are convicting or challenging. In looking for a change in pace, I picked up a classic from Jerry Bridges entitled The Pursuit of Holiness. Although it’s a relatively short book (less than 160 pages), it was one of my favorite books of last year.

Jerry Bridges begins his book with the following statement:

We Christians greatly enjoy talking about the provision of God, how Christ defeated sin on the cross and gave us His Holy Spirit to empower us to victory over. But we do not as readily talk about our own responsibility to walk in holiness.

This is a perspective that I did not grow up with as a young Christian. As a child of the Holiness Movement, I grew up with the testimony “Are you saved and do you know you’re saved? Are you free and separated from sin?” However, since I have begun fellowshipping with Reformed believers, I’ve noticed that holiness is not a common topic of discussion. In an effort to avoid legalism and various strains of perfectionism, many have fallen for the opposite error – namely that sanctification functions in the same manner as justification.

The title of this book comes from the biblical command found in Hebrews 12:14

Pursue holiness, for without holiness, no one will see the Lord.

In many ways, this book circles around this essential statement by carefully explaining what this verse means and by explaining what this verse doesn’t mean. However, the book goes a step further in actually discussing appropriate spiritual disciplines necessary for a genuine pursuit of holiness.

The book begins by simply declaring that holiness is basic to the Christian life and thus holiness is for all believers. One of the points that Jerry Bridges repeats is that God wants us to walk in obedience, not victory. This is a subtle point, but often times, our discussions on “victory over sin” is oriented toward self whereas walking in obedience is oriented towards God. Bridges address this concern head-on in his chapter Obedience, Not Victory, where he states

Our reliance on the Spirit is not intended to foster an attitude of ‘I can’t do it’, but one of ‘I can do it through Him who strengthens me.’ The Christian should never complain of want of ability and power. If we sin, it is because we choose to sin not because we lack the ability to say no to temptation. It is time for us Christians to face up to our responsibility for holiness. Too often, we say we are defeated by this or that sin. No, we are not defeated; we are simply disobedient.

Secondly, Bridges argues that part of the larger problem of ungodliness among Christians is because of a misunderstanding of what it means to live by faith. He discusses this point multiple times in the book by examining the nature of our union in Christ and by examining relevant passages in Romans 6-7. The reality is that the battle over indwelling sin is lifelong and thus there is a legitimate need to cultivate personal discipline. In his chapter The Place of Personal Discipline, Bridges argues that the sure way to obtain godliness is through Christian discipline. In referencing 1 Corinthians 9:25, Bridges states:

If an athlete disciplines himself to obtain a temporal prize, how much more should we Christians discipline ourselves to obtain a crown that lasts forever?

This Christian discipline includes a regular healthy diet of the Word of God (which includes Scripture memorization and meditation) along with a regular habit in disciplining our physical body. His commentary regarding our physical body is particularly insightful. In his chapter entitled Holiness of Body, he writes

Materialism wars against our souls in a twofold manner. First, it makes us discontent and envious of others. Second, it leads us to pamper and indulge our bodies so that we become soft and lazy. As we become soft and lazy in our bodies, we tend to become soft and lazy spiritually… When the body is pampered and indulged, the instincts and passions of the body tend to get the upper hand and dominate our thoughts and actions. We tend to do not what we should do, but what we want to do, as we follow the cravings of our sinful nature.

Hence, holiness in mind and spirit cannot be accomplished without holiness in body.  This methodical discipline in our body is not contrary to “living by faith”, but it is wholly consistent and harmonious with it since true saving faith has many graces that accompany it. Based on this above discussion, this means that the battle for holiness is centered around how our human will operates and how we need to develop godly habits in order to direct our will in the appropriate direction.

Much more can be said about this little book, but it is a very challenging and very convicting book. It is not a legalistic book, but it is a book that will challenge you if you are currently apathetic regarding your growth in grace. This book will exhort you to treat your sanctification with as much skillfulness and discipline as an athlete treats his own body. This book will cause you to rejoice in the provision that God has given you as a person united to Christ. Finally, this book will encourage you to see the blessed joy that comes with obeying the Lord and walking blameless before Him.

Book Review: The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs

I just finished The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment by Jeremiah Burroughs earlier this week, and I really enjoyed this book and wanted to share some of my thoughts with you about it to hopefully encourage you to get your hands on it soon.

Boston based his book on Philippians 4:11-12:

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.

And I think the real question most Christians have is this: How do you get this kind of contentment? How do you get to be at that place like Paul that no matter what, you’re all good? You’re still happy, satisfied, and okay whether things are going great or falling apart at the seams. And we know it’s a valid question because even if we handle most of life’s curveballs well, there is always something that is bound to mess us up and leave us wondering why we just can’t be content and be over our sinful frustrations like we’re supposed to be.

So I approached this book with all of those thoughts (and more) in mind, and I was shocked by what I learned.

1) You can’t get contentment

Contentment isn’t like the love of God. You don’t just receive it and enjoy it. Contentment is something that must be developed in you like gaining wisdom and understanding or like bridling your tongue – you know what you have to do, and you keep making daily efforts to work on it and walk that out in your life as you receive grace for each day. It requires intentional effort. It’s difficult, and you’re going to feel like you’re failing at it constantly. But only time (and the Lord with one of those good providential tests) will prove how disciplined you have been in the matter and how much you have grown.

2) You know more about contentment than you realize

I had so many moments while reading this book where I said to myself “I know that!” And I think that as Christians, we do know more than we realize about contentment. We know to take all of our cares to the Lord because He cares for us. We know that self-denial is a part of the Christian life. We know that we have to remember all of the promises that we have from God and the joy that awaits us at Christ’s return. We know that our hearts are deceitful and wicked and that we have to be transformed by the renewing of our mind…..we know this stuff already! And guess what! Contentment is the product, or the fruit, of holding all of these truths together (there’s way more explained in the book) in your mind and deliberately contemplating on them each day.

3) Murmuring and complaining are sins that we really don’t take seriously enough

Burroughs spent three chapters discussing murmuring and complaining, and I felt like I was repenting every other page as I realized how sinful complaining really was. If you have ever read through the historical books in the Old Testament and wondered why the Israelites just couldn’t get themselves together and live the covenant life God commanded of them, especially after He delivered them from slavery in Egypt, then I want to wholeheartedly suggest to you that this book will crush all sense of pride (plus exposing areas of pride you didn’t even know existed) you have in thinking that you are nothing like those people. We are just like them, and we need to realize that and the sinfulness of having a murmuring/complaining heart and attitude before we can make any progress in growing in contentment.

As always, there is a lot that can be said about this book, but I want to conclude my thoughts with this:

picture-1If you’ve ever had a large jigsaw puzzle to put together, you know that you always try to get your border pieces put together first. But oftentimes, you see other pieces that go together, so you end up with little sections of the puzzle coming together before the border is even complete…..understanding contentment is a lot like that. The truth is, we have lots of small things that we know and have learned over time in our Christian life. But this book puts your border together so that you can take all of these small sections and assemble them together the right way so that the whole puzzle is complete. Consequently, I finished this book realizing that contentment is not some sort of ‘mysterious’ Christian fruit that only the ‘super pious’ Christians have. While it may be rare to see it in Christian lives, it is not mysterious at all. It takes holding lots of smaller lessons together. It takes practice. It takes discipline. It takes consistent work. It takes patience. And above all, it takes the Spirit of God granting you grace and opening your eyes each day to repent of your sins and diligently apply the lessons you have learned over the years in a way that brings encouragement, peace, and joy to your heart.

So I hope that you choose to add this book to your reading list soon. I pray that you are encouraged to work at the difficult discipline of developing contentment in your Christian life, and I pray that the Lord grants you grace and blesses your efforts exceedingly.

A Little Time With The 1689: Day 205

Day 206

Of Sanctification.

Chapter 13, Paragraph 3.

“In which war, although the remaining corruption for a time may much prevail, yet, through the continual supply of strength from the sanctifying Spirit of Christ, the regenerate part does overcome; and so the saints grow in grace, perfecting holiness in the fear of God, pressing after an heavenly life, in evangelical obedience to all the commands which Christ as Head and King, in his Word has prescribed to them.”

Scripture Lookup

Romans 7:23

Romans 6:14

Ephesians 4:15,16

2 Corinthians 3:18, 7:1


Drawn, justified, and adopted are graces Christians view with joy. As believers, when we are first drawn to the Father, we are filled with wonder and awe: “I am saved due to Christ’s righteousness! I am forgiven! Eternal life is my destiny!” We rejoice over these truths, and rightly so!

Soon after receiving faith we are taught that our remaining corruption of sin will be ever present with us until death. Okay, we think. I can live with that. We learn we will be waging war against it. No problem – the battle belongs to the Lord! Our wills are resolute, and romantic visions of victoriously mortifying our sin energize us.

Then one day there’s a sin that is particularly hard to defeat. Over and over again you strive to be fortified against its onslaught, only to succumb again and again. Shame, frustration, and fatigue creep into your life. Any notion of you as a valiant warrior, stoically withstanding temptation, vanishes. Will I ever defeat this? you wonder.

Sanctification is the medicine that cures us of our corruption. Unpleasant to taste, hard to swallow, but necessary for our spiritual health. We battle against ourselves, and our sin prevails for a time. We are not left to face this foe alone, however. The bottomless spring of strength from the Holy Spirit is always with us, always ours from which to draw. Through His strength, we shall overcome. With Him working in us, we will grow in holiness, obeying His commands found in Scripture.

When we realize that sanctification is a grace, and not a torturous test, we learn to accept such medicine as good for us. In those times when your sin prevails, do not focus on your own weakness, but on the Holy Spirit that dwells in you. Be thankful for the grace of sanctification, and know that because of Him your sin will be defeated.

Questions to Consider

  • In your struggle with sin, have you forgotten the strength of the Holy Spirit?

A Little Time With The 1689: Day 205


Day 205

Of Sanctification.

Chapter 13, Paragraph 2.

“This Sanctification is throughout, in the whole man, yet imperfect in this life; there abideth still some remnants of corruption in every part, whence ariseth a continual, and irreconcilable war; the Flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the Flesh.”

Scripture Lookup

1 Thessalonians 5:23

Romans 7:18, 23

Galatians 5:17

1 Peter 2:11


Fighting against our selves is not new to women. Just look at the financial success of the beauty industry. Every day, millions of women are curling straight hair, straightening curly hair, moisturizing dry skin, drying up oily skin. Commercials tout products with words like restore, renew, correct, reverse. We long to change our imperfections, and spend time and money to see a difference in our appearance.

Before being called and drawn by God to Himself, not only is our appearance imperfect, but our entire self is “wholly defiled, in all the faculties, and parts, of soul, and body.” (LBCF 6.2) When we are regenerated, however, we are freed from the power sin has over us, and are set apart, or sanctified. There is no part of you that is not affected by the Spirit and the word dwelling in you. While formerly corruption seeped through every pore unhindered, now that corruption is weakened and destroyed.

Yet in this life sanctification is not complete. There is no part of you that does not have to wage war, to put to death the remaining sin within you. The diligence with which we attend to our outward appearance should seem like sloth compared to the painstaking mortification of our sinful flesh. The battle is constant and irreconcilable. Yet in this war, through the work of the Holy Spirit, we shall overcome, and our sinful flesh shall be overcome.

Questions to Consider

  • How goes the battle, Christian?

A Little Time With The 1689: Day 204

Day 204

Of Sanctification.

Chapter 13, Paragraph 1.

“…and they more and more quickened and strengthened in all saving graces, to the practice of all true holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord.”

Scripture Lookup

Colossians 1:11

2 Corinthians 7:1

Hebrews 12:14


In sanctification, those of us in Christ have the sin which remains in us progressively weakened and destroyed. This occurs through the Holy Spirit and the word dwelling in us. This mortification of sin lasts the remainder of our lives. We will wage war within ourselves until death.

While we have the intimidating task of fighting our remaining sin ahead of us, it is not the only thing we can anticipate. We are not left in a neutral state as we struggle with our remaining corruption of sin. The same word and Spirit that regenerate us, and that weaken and destroy our remaining sin, also aid us in growing in all saving graces. As a result of such we grow in godliness. In Christ, you are not where you were yesterday, and you are not where you will be tomorrow. The climb heavenward may include some falls, but it resolutely moves onward and upward.

With the Spirit Himself quickening you and strengthening you, you do not have to fear that your attempts at holiness will end in utter failure. Like the Proverbs 31 woman we can smile at the future, for in His provision the Lord has promised that growth will happen. Rely on the Spirit, let His word dwell in you richly, and with endurance pursue sanctification.

Questions to Consider

  • Are you trusting in the Holy Spirit as you pursue holiness?

A Little Time With The 1689: Day 203

Day 203

Of Sanctification.

Chapter 13, Paragraph 1.

“…the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed, and the several lusts of it are more and more weakened and mortified…”

Scripture Lookup

Romans 6:14
Galatians 5:24


The elect are called, justified, and also sanctified. Through the Holy Spirit and the word of Scripture dwelling in them, they are freed from sin’s rule, and that remaining corruption of sin that believers possess is put to death. This sanctification is a constant battle in this life, but victory is assured.

Look at what the confession says: “the dominion of the whole body of sin is destroyed”. Sin no longer has any power over you. Is there any part that still reigns? No, for the whole body of sin is destroyed. When you are in Christ, there is not one sin that is still master over you. You are free to live to righteousness!

While sin no longer has any hold over the believer, though, like an evicted tenant who claims squatter’s rights, it refuses to leave. Thomas Boston wrote:

[Believers] are planted together with Christ in the likeness of His death, which was a lingering death (Rom. 6.5). Sin in the saint, though not quite dead, yet is dying. If it were dead, it would be taken down from the cross, and buried out of his sight: but it hangs there as yet, working and struggling under its mortal wounds. – Human Nature In Its Fourfold State

We will still succumb to temptation. Knowing we are no longer slaves to sin should make our grief over the times we do sin more keenly felt. Thankfully, through Christ we are forgiven and cleansed from all unrighteousness.

Through the grace of sanctification, our corrupt nature is progressively weakened and put to death. It doesn’t always feel that way, does it? As believers, we have heightened senses to the sin in ourselves, so we see it for the hydra it is: one head is slain and two more pop up in its place. Despair can tempt us to give up. Yet the Holy spirit is dwelling within us, with the same omnipotence that raised Christ from the dead. We need not doubt that He will accomplish what He says. Christian, your sin is being stamped out; trust Him to give you strength to continue the fight!

Questions to Consider

  • Are you drawing strength to fight sin from the Holy Spirit?

A Little Time With The 1689: Day 202

Day 202

Of Sanctification.

Chapter 13, Paragraph 1.

“They who are united to Christ, effectually called, and regenerated, having a new heart and a new spirit created in them through the virtue of Christ’s death and resurrection, are also farther sanctified, really and personally, through the same virtue, by his Word and Spirit dwelling in them…”

Scripture Lookup

Acts 20:32

Rom. 6:5,6

John 17:17

Ephesians 3:16-19

1 Thessalonians 5:21-23


A regenerated sinner does not stay a mere sinner. Not only is she declared righteous on account of Christ’s perfect obedience to the law, she is set apart as well. She is declared holy, or sanctified, because of what Christ has done on her behalf.

Freed from the guilt of sin, God enables the believer to will that which is good. The elect desire to be righteous since they have tasted and seen that the Lord is good. However, they still drag their corrupted nature with them throughout this life. How can they do what is right with such an enemy as their own flesh hanging around?

Herein lies the beauty of sanctification: not only are we declared righteous due to Christ, but God works in us so that we are personally sanctified. Through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the Word, the alien righteousness of Christ becomes ours as we are gradually conformed to His image. Our corrupt nature is slowly but surely defeated. Victory over sin is guaranteed at death.

It is important to note that sanctification requires the dwelling of the Spirit and the Word. Scripture is not only necessary for conversion, but for the rest of the Christian’s walk. Thus Paul instructs believers to “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Colossians 3:6). To neglect the Word is to neglect our sanctification. The same is true of the Spirit. We are not regenerated so that we may turn around and tell God “I’ve got it from here, thanks!”, but constantly depend upon the Spirit for strength to produce the fruit of sanctification. Through His guidance combined with His Word, we will grow in godliness.

Questions to Consider

  • Do you find you separate the Spirit and the Word, rather than see how they work together for your sanctification?

A Reformed Baptist Perspective on Public Theology: The Pauline Epistles, Part III – Romans 12, 14-16

You can read earlier posts in this series by clicking on the links below:



As we observed in our last two articles, Paul’s desire to preach the gospel to the church at Rome provided him the necessary motivation to write his letter to the Romans. In fact, Paul’s mention of his desire in Romans 1:15-17 functions as the thesis statement of the letter:

“So, for my part, I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith,’” (Romans 1:15-17; NASB).

In the first two articles on Romans, we considered four themes found in this thesis statement: the gospel preached to the church, the gospel as the power of God unto salvation, God’s salvation to all without distinction and, in this way, God will save all His chosen people. These four major themes help us to understand why Paul spends the first eight chapters of Romans explaining the gospel of Jesus Christ and the following three chapters describing the relationship between Israel and the church. Since the thesis statement of Romans 1:15-17 sets the framework for all that follows, we are in our present study using it as the lens through which we examine the rest of the book of Romans. In this offering, we will focus on principles found in these verses that help us to understand why Paul teaches what he teaches in chapters 12, and 14-16.

From Faith to Faith

The gospel results in a life lived in the light of a justification that comes by faith. Paul writes that, in the gospel, the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith (1:17). As we learn of God’s righteousness, that He is both just and the Justifier of sinful men (Rom. 3:26), we are freed from the shackles of sin to walk by faith in the justification we have received through Christ. We are saved by faith; we are also called to walk by faith. Paul spends the last five chapters of Romans explaining how it is that we who have been saved by gospel faith might also walk by that very gospel faith.

Some mistakenly believe that, because they have been justified by faith, they do not have a responsibility to live by faith. This false notion is contrary to the teachings of Romans. The late Jerry Bridges wrote of a time in his life when he had adopted this false notion:

“During a certain period in my Christian life, I thought that any effort on my part to live a holy life was ‘of the flesh’ and that ‘the flesh profits nothing.’ I thought God would not bless any effort on my part to live the Christian life, just as He would not bless any effort on my part to become a Christian by good works. Just as I received Christ by faith, so I was to seek a holy life only by faith. Any effort on my part was just getting in God’s way,” (Bridges, The Pursuit of Holiness, pp. 78-79).

Well, Bridges was right about one thing during this time of his life: we can only accomplish what God has called us to do by faith. However, God precepts require that we walk according to faith, that we do according to faith, that we actively work according to faith. So, just as we are justified according to faith, we are called to live the Christian life according to faith. As we will see in this article and the next, this Christian life is one of relationships: relationships within the local church, within the church universal, and between us and governing authorities.

Body Life

In Romans 12, he urges by the mercies of God that the church of Rome be merciful toward one another in the local church. In this way, he first turns the church inward, drawing them to one another for strength and support for the road ahead. First, he tells them not to be conformed to the image of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of their minds (vs. 2). Paul does not tell his readers to remove themselves from the world, but rather to resist being conformed by it. Thus, they will escape two errors: conformity to the world and isolation from it. The task to which we are called requires much more faith and trust than merely seceding from the public square. Having been saved by faith, we are called to resist conformity to the world by faith while we sojourn in it. This imperative is necessary in our day, for one reason, because our conformity to the world can easily sap the strength of our Christian witness.

Notice that Paul’s first exhortation focuses on the mind of the believer. Prior to our initial repentance, we thought according to the precepts of this world, but when the Holy Spirit awakened us, our minds were changed. The mind is central because transformation comes from a renewed mind.

The first step in renewing one’s mind and resisting the influence of the world is that of recognizing the fact that we are each members of  the body of Christ. As members, we have each been granted a measure of faith, gifts of the Spirit. Now, there are myriad tests that have been developed to help people try to discern their spiritual gifts. All of these tests are flawed. The true test is found in living out one’s faith in the body of Christ.

Each local body of Christ has its own individual needs. As each Christian lives and serves among the body of Christ, certain needs naturally arise among that body. Not every Christian is meant to bear the full weight of every burden in the body but, as Christians seek to find ways to serve the body of Christ, they will naturally gravitate toward those needs that are most suitable to their unique giftings. It is through this process, not canned tests, that Christians throughout the ages have discerned their unique giftings in the body of Christ.

In chapter 13, Paul addresses the Christian’s unique relationship to the government. Given that this relationship is a paramount point in our discussion, we will devote an entire article to it separate from this discussion.

Christian Liberty

In Romans 14 and 15, Paul expounds on principles of Christian liberty urging concessions for and patience with weaker brothers and a godly practice of liberty in all things done in good faith. This too was meant to break down barriers between Jews and Gentiles. Many Jews, freed from the law, wished to practice their newfound liberty in eating meat. Believing Gentiles, having participated in pagan sacrifices and knowing those meats were likely sacrificed to idols, might not have known such liberty of conscience. Both were called to be mindful of their brothers in the faith for the sake of the gospel.

In our present day, there is an added dimension. Many Dispensationalists and New Covenanters, arguing from a subjective interpretation of the “Law of Love,” have become professional “weaker brothers.” They make much of their abstinence from things, when properly used, God has explicitly blessed in His word. They use passages like Romans 14 and 15 to argue that Christians’ love for one another means they can forbid their brothers from partaking in things God has blessed. This is not the spirit with which Paul is writing.

In Acts 10, Peter had a vision in which he was shown several animals whose consumption was forbidden in the Ceremonial Law of Israel. Peter was told to rise, kill, and eat the animals, and he begged God that he not be made to eat anything unclean. A voice came from heaven saying, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy,” (Acts 10:9-16; NASB). Were Paul in Romans 14 and 15 saying that weaker brothers could simply declare for themselves what is holy and unholy and impose their subjective standards of holy and unholy on their brothers, Peter’s vision would make no sense. Rather, Paul is recognizing that some of the novices in the church still considered certain things unholy that, used properly, were actually holy. Paul is calling for the more mature brethren to bear with these younger believers. He certainly was not giving license to Seminary professors and Seminary presidents to bind the consciences of mature believers on matters of consumption. If a believer partakes of food or drink to the glory of God, it is holy, and no one is to pass judgment.

On the other hand, we must be careful how we use liberty. In the hands of the immature, Christian liberty can be a very dangerous thing. Historically, the church has labored long to mine and consolidate from Scripture its teaching on Christian liberty. Apart from the teaching of the church on this matter throughout church history, one might take it merely to be a license to sin. Such is not the case. Consider the teaching of The Baptist Confession on the matter:

“The liberty which Christ hath purchased for believers under the gospel, consists in their freedom from the guilt of sin, the condemning wrath of God, the rigour and curse of the law, and in their being delivered from this present evil world, bondage to Satan, and dominion of sin, from the evil of afflictions, the fear and sting of death, the victory of the grave, and everlasting damnation: as also in their free access to God, and their yielding obedience unto Him, not out of slavish fear, but a child-like love and willing mind,” (The Baptist Confession, 21.1). Keep reading…

We must understand that we live in a very reactionary culture. For decades, we have been inundated with notions of political correctness, and this inundation has led to an unholy push for political incorrectness. Rather than policing our tongues, many in Western culture have taken to purposefully setting out to offend others. This is a clear violation of the principles Paul is teaching in Romans 14 and 15. To be sure, we do not want to be ruled by the weaker brother. However, neither is the Christian called to purposefully offend him. We are called to bear with him, lovingly, in his immaturity.

If he has not arrived yet at the place where he understands that all things properly used are holy unto God, we must bear with him until he does understand these things. We should not entice him to partake in something he still perceives to be unholy because, at least in his mind, he would be doing it out of rebellion against God. We are to help him to avoid any such rebellious attitudes toward God while he matures in his understanding of Christian liberty.

The Universal Church

Having examined two major points on relationships in the local church, let us now focus in on a matter that is also of vital importance to Christians: the universal church. Paul ends his letter, in Romans 16, by commending brothers and sisters in the faith to the church in Rome. His commendations are not without significance to us today.

If you have been in the church for any amount of time, you may have wondered why it is that churches require letters of transfer from other churches commending new members to their fellowship. This is not a purely modern practice. In Romans and in Colossians, Paul establishes this practice. He encourages local churches to receive and greet specific saints and offers words of commendation on their behalf (Rom. 16:1-24; Col. 4:7-14).

The other side of this coin is where the apostles specifically warn against certain individuals who have caused major problems either for him or for the church as a whole (1Tim. 1:18-20; 2Tim. 2:16-18; 4:10). This information was of vital importance for local churches, and it still is today. One of the roles of elders in a local church is that of shepherd, and shepherds are tasked with the unenviable duty of warding off wolves who come in seeking to devour the flock (Acts 20:17, 29). In this age of consumerism, wolves easily move from church to church sowing division and dissention. Pastors must be careful to examine each new member of the flock and determine their ecclesiastical history in order to guard the sheep from potential wolves.

In our next article in this series, we will continue to examine what it means to live from “faith to faith.” Specifically, we will zero in on the faith needed to live according to Paul’s teachings regarding the relationship between Christians and governing authorities in Romans 13.

Why I Am Not Opposed to Accountability Software

I’ve heard the arguments: “If you are truly indwelt and walking by the Spirit, you should not succumb to the temptation of internet pornography.” “External systems of constraint don’t solve the internal issue of the soul.” “You don’t mortify sin by mere external means.” To all of these I fully agree. No work to mortify the flesh will ever be complete apart from regularly partaking of the ordinary means of grace. Is that really the question, though? Let’s apply this logic to another area of Christian warfare.

Business People Sitting Around TableLet’s say a physically attractive pastor is counseling a young, physically attractive woman who has just found out that her husband is cheating on her. By the logic used above, the pastor should have no fear of counseling her alone, should he? I mean, if he is truly indwelt and walking by the Spirit, he should not succumb to the temptation of adultery. Besides, having others sit in with them won’t solve the internal issue of their souls. Seriously, though, you can’t mortify their lusts by mere external means, right?

For all of the arguments I’ve heard from some pastors against using accountability software for internet use, I find it quite hypocritical that they still use common sense when guarding themselves from sexual sin. The problem is not with the use of online accountability software; there’s wisdom in it. The problem is when people become sola software in their battle against pornography.

We are to be Sola Scriptura in our approach to all matters of faith and obedience. However, we are not to be Sola Scriptura to the exclusion and utter denial of “the light of nature and Christian prudence” (LBCF 1.6). There are certain aspects of the Christian life which require that we operate with the common sense that God gave everyone. Accountability may not have worked for David (2 Sam. 11:3-4), but that’s not because he didn’t need accountability. It’s because he relied solely on accountability without addressing the deeper issues of his soul.

But what about Paul’s warning against asceticism in Colossians 2?

If you have died with Christ [x]to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as,“Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence” (Col. 2:20-23; NASB).

Notice what Paul says about the nature of the things he is talking about. He defines them as “things destined to perish with use.” In other words, they are things created for a good use that do not defile the body. Pornography is not among these things. Thus, in regard to pornography, you are not an ascetic if you “do not handle, do not taste, and do not touch.” In fact, Paul further goes on to argue that the things to which he refers are “in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men.” However, when we talk about accountability and self-control in the area of pornography, we are talking about the commandments and teachings of God, not men. So, Colossians 2 obviously does not apply to this situation. To seek accountability in battling lust is far from “self-made religion”; it is of God.

So, the next time you counsel someone on how to handle his pornographic sin, don’t be so quick to discount the wisdom of accountability software. It won’t work all by itself, but neither will accountability in the preacher’s counseling office. The issues of the soul must be remedied in a manner that’s in keeping with Sola Scriptura, but not to the expense of “the light of nature and Christian prudence.”

Longing for Egypt: Discontentment with the Ordinary Means of Grace

Lately, in considering the continuationist movement in Evangelicalism, I have begun to wonder if what lies at root of the movement is not a discontentment with the ordinary means of grace. One thing that is not often considered is the fact that such an emphasis on the extraordinary, emotions-based revelry that passes as worship in many churches today encourages in the mind of the average congregant a dissatisfaction with the means God has ordained for the edification and sanctification of His saints. Let me state this clearly: True worship is that which leads the worshiper to find his joy and satisfaction in God’s weekly, incremental, ordinary means of grace. Does God sometimes work through lightening bolts to jolt His saints into greater obedience and faith? Sure. Will God work outside of the ordinary means of grace to bring us to the places He wills for us to be? Certainly. Do we have any right to require anything more than His ordinary, week-by-week, incremental dealings with us? Absolutely not! Let us be content with the manna we have received for this day and repent of our longings for the food of Egypt.