“The fatal mistake is to think of sin always in terms of acts and of actions rather than in terms of nature, and of disposition. The mistake is to think of it in terms of particular things instead of thinking of it, as we should, in terms of our relationship to God. Do you want to know what sin is? I will tell you. Sin is the exact opposite of the attitude and the life which conform to, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.’ If you are not doing that you are a sinner. It does not matter how respectable you are; if you are not living entirely to the glory of God you are a sinner. And the more you imagine that you are perfect in and of yourself and apart from your relationship to God, the greater is your sin. That is why anyone who reads the New Testament objectively can see clearly that the Pharisees of our Lord’s time were greater sinners (if you can use such terms) than were the publicans and open sinners. Why? Because they were self-satisfied, because they were self-sufficient. The height of sin is not to feel any need of the grace of God. There is no greater sin than that. Infinitely worse than committing some sin of the flesh is to feel that you are independent of God, or that Christ need never have died on the cross of Calvary. There is no greater sin than that. That final self-sufficiency, and self-satisfaction, and self righteousness is the sin of sins; it is sin at its height, because it is a spiritual sin.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Way of Reconciliation, (Baker Book House, 1987) p. 11
"In you, O LORD, do I take refuge; let me never be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me! Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily! Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me! For you are my rock and my fortress; and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me..." —Psalm 31:1–3
Before David prays “be a rock of refuge for me,” he confesses and declares “in you, O LORD, do I take refuge.” The prayers of the psalms, we may even say the prayers of the Bible, are full of confessions and declarations. Such declarations often verge on praise, and no doubt this one is an expression of praise, but on the face it, it is just a statement. A confession.
Such confessions and declarations in prayer are a way of thinking on God with God. This is how we should think on God—prayerfully. Say your prayers with confessions of truth, but also, say your confessions prayerfully. As John Owen put it this way:
“Meditate of [upon] God with God; that is, when we would undertake thoughts and meditations of God, his excellencies, his properties, his glory, his majesty, his love, his goodness, let it be done in a way of speaking unto God, in a deep humiliation and abasement of our souls before him. This will fix the mind, and draw it forth from one thing to another, to give glory unto God in a due manner, and affect the soul until it be brought into that holy admiration of God and delight in him which is acceptable unto him. My meaning is, that it be done in a way of prayer and praise,—speaking unto God.”
Because we don’t declare truth in our prayers, we petition lies in our prayers. Because we don’t confess truth, we pray lies. When you fill your prayers with more declarations and confessions of truth, you will petition your God better in those prayers. Such declarations have a way of pulling us out of our little kingdoms and reorienting our prayers around the kingdom of God.
What David first declares, he then pleas, and then he offers as the grounds for that plea what he has declared. “In you, O LORD, do I take refuge… Be a rock of refuge for me… for you are my rock and fortress” (Psalm 31:1, 2, 3; emphasis mine). Prayer is asking God to be for us what He has said He will be for us because He has said He will be that for us. In your prayers, argue God to God. I believe it was another Puritan author who said something like “God is fond of his own handwriting. Show it to Him.”
“The trouble with all false evangelism is that it does not start with doctrine, it does not start by realising man’s condition. All fleshly, carnal, manmade evangelism is the result of inadequate understanding of what the apostle teaches us in the first ten verses of this second chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians. If you and I but realised that every man who is yet a sinner is absolutely dominated by ‘the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience,” if we only understood that he is really a child of wrath and dead in trespasses and sins, we would realise that only one power can deal with such an individual, and that is the power of God, the power of the Holy Ghost. And so we would put our confidence, not in man-made organisations, but in the power of God, in the prayer that holds on to God and asks for revival and a descent of the Spirit. We would realise that nothing else can do it. We can change men superficially, we can win men to our side and to our party, we can persuade them to join a church, but we can never raise the spiritually dead; God alone can do that. The realisation of these truths would of necessity determine and control all our evangelism.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Way of Reconciliation, (Baker Book House, 1987) p. 11,
If the athlete wants to plaster Philippians 4:13 on their person or proclaim it during an interview, let him then speak of having learned to accept both defeat and victory with joy and peace and contentment in Christ. Let him speak of being strengthened to play in his prime with humility and also strengthened to fade from the spotlight with dignity. If he does so, then I might think that he’s actually read a few verses other than 4:13.
Philippians 4:13 unveils the “secret” of Philippians 4:12. The secret Paul speaks of is not one for “success” but contentment in the face of success or failure, a promotion or the loss of a job, life or death, sickness or health. The secret of this verse isn’t how you can achieve your goals. It is how you may accept with heavenly poise God’s holy, wise, and good providence wether it stings or is sweet. The strength Paul speaks of is grace to receive whatever comes your way as a heavenly citizen living worthy of the gospel of Christ.
The Greek word for “contentment” here, all by itself, suggests the pagan Stoic notion of self-sufficiency and independence. But the word is not by itself. Paul flips its natural meaning upside down. Paul’s contentment is independent from states of either abundance or need, but it is not independent. It is Christ-dependent. Paul finds contentment through Christ in Christ.
Lloyd-Jones, preaching on theses verses said, “It is a statement that is characterized at one and the same time by a sense of triumph and humility. Paul sounds at first as if he is boasting, and yet, when you look at this statement again, you find that it is one of the most glorious and striking tributes that he has ever paid anywhere to his Lord and Master.” But too many, when they quote this verse, are boasting. It is all triumph with no humility. It is the same stoic notion found in Henley’s Invictus.
“Out of the night that covers me, Black as the pit from pole to pole, I thank whatever gods may be For my unconquerable soul. In the fell clutch of circumstance I have not winced nor cried aloud. Under the bludgeonings of chance My head is bloody, but unbowed. Beyond this place of wrath and tears Looms but the Horror of the shade, And yet the menace of the years Finds and shall find me unafraid. It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul.
No, Paul says, “Christ is the master of my life. To live is Christ and to die is gain. Christ is the captain of my soul. I am sure that He who began a good work in me will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” This is the secret of contentment: finding joy in Christ through Christ; Christ-dependence certain of Christ-sufficiency; desperately needed grace and utterly certain grace; recognizing a need as vast as the ocean and knowing there is a supply as vast as the cosmos. Forget Henley. Sing with Wesley instead.
Thou hidden source of calm repose, Thou all sufficient love divine, My help and refuge from my foes, Secure I am if Thou art mine; And lo! from sin, and grief, and shame I hide me, Jesus, in Thy name. Thy mighty name salvation is, And keeps my happy soul above. Comfort it brings, and power, and peace, And joy, and everlasting love. To me, with Thy great name, are given Pardon, and holiness and heaven. Jesus, my all in all Thou art; My rest in toil, my ease in pain; The healing of my broken heart, In war my peace, in loss my gain; My smile beneath the tyrant’s frown; In shame my glory and my crown. In want my plentiful supply, In weakness my almighty power; In bonds my perfect liberty, My light in Satan’s darkest hour; In grief my joy unspeakable, My life in death, my all-in-all.
“Our starting point must always be, ‘I am what I am by the grace of God,’ and by the power of God. A Christian is the result of the operation of God, nothing less, nothing else. No man can make himself a Christian; God alone makes Christians.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, (Baker Book House, 1979) p. 395
“Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” —Philippians 3:17
It is said that “imitation is the highest form of flattery,” and while this may be said in an innocent and even a good way, the fuller quote speaks to the fuller reality. It was Oscar Wilde who said, “Imitation is the highest form of flattery,” and he continued, “that mediocrity can pay to greatness.” That comes off the tongue a bit more sharply and grates on the ears. You sense the arrogance; yet it is a game the masses play along with.
The imitation that this world knows isn’t simply flattery; it is idolatry. We worship the gods, hoping to become one, or a demigod at least. We act as gods, desiring such “flattery.” Image is valued over integrity; coolness over character. Such is the imitation of this world. In contrast, Christian imitation, imitation as it is meant to be, is worship. This is because Christian imitation is an intentional imitation of imitators.
“Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1, emphasis mine). We don’t imitate others so that others will want to imitate us. At least we shouldn’t do it for that reason. Sometime we do play the Pharisee, playing pious for self promotion, but in our best moments we imitate imitators because we want to look like the Jesus they want to look like. Christian imitation isn’t about idolatry committed and desired. It is about worship and sanctification.
All the imitations of this world, are cheap imitations. We were created in the image of God to image forth God. We were created as mirrors. We were created imitators. Imitation is. Because of sin, the image of God is marred. Man, in the words of Augustine, is “homo incurvatus in se,” that is, “curved in on himself.” Man has created gods in his own image and he is becoming like them—deaf, dumb, and dead.
But the saints have been renewed in Christ and are being conformed to His image as we imitate our elder Brother. A critical and commanded way in which this happens is by looking to those who imitate Him. Look to Jesus and look to those who are looking to Jesus.
Wilde was on to something; Imitation is a high form of worship that sinners pay to Greatness. The difference is that Jesus stoops to conform us to His glorious image and the saints would never dare to try to usurp or outshine their Savior. We want to be like Jesus, and we will be, but we would never dream of trying to be Jesus. Our goal is not to idolized in hope of becoming an idol, but to imitate as an act of worship. We are mirrors, and when it is Jesus who is reflected, no one is talking about the mirror, and this is just as we want it. So when you’re picking out a mirror, pick one that neither impresses you with the mirror nor yourself. Pick one that helps you look like Jesus.
“The Apostle also prays that the Ephesian Christians may have ‘the spirit of wisdom and revelation,’ that they may come to such a knowledge of God. This is something beyond believing, beyond trusting, even beyond being sealed with the Spirit. The difference is that in the sealing with the Spirit we are given to know that we are His; the Holy Spirit ‘bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God’ (Romans 8 :16). It is God saying to us, ‘Thou art my son, my child.’ Is there anything beyond that? Yes; to know God Himself! That is the summit, the ‘summum bonum.’ It is wonderful to know that I belong to God; it is an infinitely greater privilege and blessing to know God Himself. Such is the knowledge which the Apostle desires for these Ephesian Christians.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, (Baker Book House, 1979) p. 347
“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” —Philippians 3:1
Perfectionism is a peculiar heresy. It is also a perpetual heresy. Part of its peculiarity is its perpetuity. How does this thing live on? A number of variations have afflicted the church throughout the years. All mutations of this virus are strains of Pelagianism.
Pelagius was that British monk who balked at Augustine’s prayer from his Confessions, “My entire hope is exclusively in your very great mercy. Grant what you command and command what you will” Augustine confessed that man was bankrupt and dependent entirely on grace. Pelagius said man has what it takes in himself. There is grace to help, but it is not necessary.
Charles Finney, who is lauded by many evangelicals as a hero of the Second Great Awakening, was a rank heretic whose perfectionism had a strong Pelagian flavor. He denied original sin and total depravity. In contrast and yet developing from Finney, the most infectious forms of perfectionism today are semi-pelagian. They are an attempt to make pelagianism palatable, but pelagianism dressed in garb of grace is still the whore of works underneath.
Full blown pelagianism is the greater evil, but let’s give it this much, at least in pelagianism man may fully take responsibility for his delusion of perfection. Whereas in much perfectionism, man essentially “blames” God for the delusion.
Perfection may be redefined as not “knowingly sinning” as Wesley did. Since Wesley, most perfectionist theology has a strong experiential flavor as in the Keswick, Higher Life, Holiness, and second-blessing theologies. Through some “crisis experience” one comes to “entire sanctification.” Faith is often stressed in this, in contrast to Pelagius’ works.
But the most dangerous form of perfectionism for many is incipient perfectionism, perfectionism in the bud. You must realize that perfectionism finds prepped soil in the heart of every depraved sinner. In unearthing the origins of Finney’s perfectionism, B.B. Warfield, tracing it to New Haven, meaning Yale, and the professor N.W. Taylor, writes, “Pelagianism, unfortunately does not wait to be imported from New Haven, and does not require inculcating—it is the instinctive thought of the natural man.” Pelagianism is the instinctive thought of natural man.
Now if you don’t realize how subtle the danger can be and if you’re unable to identify this heresy as a sapling, consider this: you haven’t arrived even when you realize the flesh profits nothing and you count all as loss for Christ. You haven’t arrived when you realize you won’t arrive in this life.
The paradoxical position of the children of God is that in this life they are to press on towards that which they acknowledge they will never arrive at until the next. While it is premature to think one may attain perfection in this life, it is immature not to press towards taking hold of that for which you were taken hold of. The late R.C. Sproul once warned, “Sanctification is a process. It is a gradual process. Run for your life from those who promise you instant sanctification.” As Douglas Wilson says, the poison is so often found in the -ism. So you must run from perfectionism, and yet you must run towards perfection.
You must in this life run towards what you will only have in the next. If you’re not running, and using God’s grace as an excuse, then while denying perfection, you’re acting as though you already are.
“Every preacher will, I am sure, agree that preaching is comparatively simple as compared with praying, because when one is preaching one is speaking to men, but when a man prays he is speaking to God. Many find it difficult to concentrate, others to know how to speak and how to form their petitions, and so on. The moment you take prayer seriously you begin to learn its profound character. Of course, those who ‘say their prayers’ mechanically are not aware of any difficulties; all seems so simple. They simply repeat the Lord’s Prayer and offer up a few petitions and they imagine that they have prayed. But such a person has not started praying. The moment you begin to face what really happens in prayer you find inevitably that it is the profoundest activity in which you have ever engaged. How little we have prayed, how little we know about prayer! It is not surprising that the disciples of our Lord turned to Him one day and said, ‘Lord, teach us to pray as John also taught his disciples’ (Luke 11 :i). But they were probably not only thinking at that moment of John and his disciples, they had been watching their Lord Himself and the way He repeatedly withdrew for prayer. I do not hesitate to assert that unless you have ever felt something of what those disciples felt, and offered that petition, it is certain that you have never prayed in your life. If you have never been aware of difficulties It is because you have never realized what prayer involves.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Ultimate Purpose, (Baker Book House, 1979) pp. 326, 327
“[R]ejoice in the Lord…
Look out for the dogs…
For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…” (Philippians 3:1, 2, 8).
Rejoicing in the Lord corresponds to looking out for dogs in the same way that ridiculing the flesh corresponds to glorying in Christ. Steak at home makes the Slim Jim at the convenience store less appetizing. Joy in Christ not only frees you to not take false teaching seriously; it so liberates you that you can laugh at it—a gut-busting guffaw kind of laugh. If you used that emoji with the cocked head and tears in reply to false teaching, you wouldn’t be exaggerating.
Sometimes one ridicules in another what they lack in themselves. So it is that the geek mocks the jock for his lack of brain and the jock the geek for his lack of braun. The mockery is self-validating and the laughs are a thin attempt to hide jealously and insecurity. Paul, in contrast to this, holds up in himself everything they boast of and then laughs at his own refection. If these dogs are flexing in the mirror, Paul comes alongside them, demonstrates his superiority, and then laughs at how ridiculous he looks and how absurd such posing is.
Paul was no Gentile ridiculing Judaizers. Do you not see the wisdom of God in preeminently calling Paul to confessedly be “an apostle to the Gentiles” (Romans 11:11)? Yes, Matthew, Peter, and John were all Jews. Yes, they ministered to Gentiles too. But Paul was a Hebrew of Hebrews, and he was expressly an apostle to the Gentiles. Matthew was a tax collector. Peter and John were fisherman. Paul was a Pharisee. And here, he holds that up, and laughs at it.
You must see that this passage is dripping with sarcasm. If this passage were a dog and sarcasm were water, this dog has just had a bath and is now shaking and rubbing its body against the carpet and furniture. What Paul says they put no confidence in, he now ridicules, not because he is laughingly lacking, but because that in which they boast in is laughingly lacking. Paul says, “I’ll play your game,” he scores the most points (v. 4), and then he demonstrates that the game itself, the whole thing, is a loosing enterprise.
Boasting in the flesh before the holy God of heaven is like a doughboy hoping to win World War I by playing chess with a German commander at the Battle of the Somme in no man’s land. Boasting in the flesh before the holy God of heaven is nothing more than a good way to get killed. Thinking you could win that way is laughable and fully worthy of mockery. Paul writes off all his attempts at self-righteousness as nothing more than a steaming hot pile (v. 8). “Rubbish” pathetically fails to capture, the color, or rather the smell of the original language. What the Judaizers hold up as a trophy is that which Paul doesn’t want to step in. These dogs are like children playing with their own diaper deposits, creating a mural on the wall, thinking they’ve exceeded Michangelo. “Look Daddy!”
Three times Paul writes off as loss, loss, and crap what he previously boasted in as credit. Each time he does so, these things are reckoned such in comparison to Christ. This is why Paul’s laugh isn’t off putting like that of a bitter critic. His laugh is infectious. It is infectious because he is infatuated. And it is because he is infatuated with Christ, that he can laugh at the advertisements of the false teachers like they were some corny infomercial. When you’re curled up on the sofa with that quilt your Grandma made and reading Tolkien, you don’t even know the Snuggie infomercial is on. But if you were to divert your attention for a bit, you know what your response would be. Righteous laughter.