Four Books I'd Like to Write

Today I'm going to try a little experiment. 

This post is about books I'd like to write. As someone who has been teaching and preaching for over twenty years, I've accumulated thousands of pages of content and lots of ideas for books. I always have a list of books I'd like to write, along with raw material filling up Word docs and Evernote. Some of these books will eventually be written, and hopefully published, while others will never see the light of day. 

So, I'm writing about some of my book ideas, and am doing so with two goals in mind: 

First, I'm interested in the response of readers. Several thousand people cycle through this blog every month, but only a few leave comments. I would like to hear from you. In particular, I'd like to know which (if any) of the ideas below grab your attention. 

Second, I'm curious to see if an acquisition editor somewhere might respond to one or more of these ideas. Having published several books now and knowing a little bit about the filtering process, I don't have high expectations. But who knows? The digital age has changed a lot of things. (I have a friend who married someone they met through Twitter!) So maybe there is a publisher out there somewhere who is looking to pick up a new author, but one who already has some published books to their name. And maybe one of these ideas will spark enough interest to generate a conversation. 

So here are some of the projects I have in mind. For each one I am writing a one-sentence description of the book idea, one or more potential titles, a brief synopsis, and why I want to write it. 

1. Idea: A book on the biblical metaphors of thirst, fountains, rivers, and water. 

Potential title: Thirst; or Spiritual Thirst

Synopsis: This book would show that God is the fountain of living waters, and therefore the only true satisfaction for our soul's thirst. Here is a rundown of the chapters. I would cover: man's longing for God (chapter 1); how the Triune God is himself the source of life and satisfaction (chapter 2); how we have turned from God to idols (chapter 3); the fatal consequences of that choice (chapter 4); how Christ has born the consequences of our idolatry on the cross (chapters 5-6) and now invites us to come to him for salvation (chapter 7) and the gift of his Spirit (chapter 8); and finally, how God satisfies our souls even as we journey through "the valley of tears" (chapter 9), but promises that someday we will be thirsty no more (chapter 10). 

Here are the chapter titles: 

1 | Thirsty 
2 | The Fountain
3 | Broken Cisterns
4 | The Flaming Sword
5 | “I Thirst” 
6 | The Fountain Opened
7 | The Invitation
8 | Springs of Living Water
9 | The Valley of Tears
10 | Thirsty No More

Why I want to write it: When I was a kid, I began to experience longings and desires that were bigger than any experience in this world could satisfy. I didn't know how to categorize these desires until I started reading C. S. Lewis, and later John Piper, Jonathan Edwards, and Saint Augustine. From Lewis I learned about sehnsucht, the inconsolable longing, while Piper gave me the categories of Christian Hedonism and set me on a life-long study of Jonathan Edwards who spoke of God as a fountain. As the years have passed, I have noticed how often the Scriptures use the rich imagery of thirst for water as a picture of our longing for God. See, for example, David's soul thirst in Psalm 63, or Jesus's conversation with the woman at the well in John 4, or his promise of the Holy Spirit in John 7. This book would be my attempt to explore that biblical imagery in a semi-autobiographical way, weaving in the insights I've learned from Lewis, Piper, Edwards, Augustine and others, along with the echoes of this inconsolable longing in many of our films, songs, and stories. 

2. Idea: A manual for spiritual warfare and Christian living based on Paul's description of the armor of God in Ephesians 6. 

Potential titles: Put on the Gospel Armor; or Armed and Dangerous: Standing Strong in the Armor of God

Synopsis: This book would be a biblical and practical study of the realities of spiritual warfare in the everyday life of Christians. Based on a careful study of Paul’s most extensive treatment of spiritual warfare (Ephesians 6:10-18), this book would be written with the two-fold conviction that we have a real and dangerous adversary, and that Christ our brother, captain, and king has given us everything we need for standing in triumph against the powers that assail us. I would devote a full chapter to each piece of armor, weaving in both research from current scholarship on Ephesians and many of the rich insights on the armor from the Puritans and their heirs (especially Richard Rogers, John Bunyan, and William Gurnall).

Why I want to write it: I've always been intrigued by Paul's description of the Christian's armor. My interest has only grown over time, especially as I've come to see how the seventeenth-century Puritans used the armor to provide pastoral instruction for the whole of Christian living. William Gurnall alone wrote over 1200 double-columned pages of fine print! I think a fresh treatment of the armor of God for 21st century Christians would be useful, especially if it makes the insights from the Puritans more accessible, while still addressing modern pastoral needs and concerns.  

3. Idea: A pastoral and theological treatment of the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Potential titles: Spirit of the Living God; or The Breath of God: Life in the Spirit 

Synopsis: This would be a full-scale treatment of the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, written for the person in the pew. It would cover everything from the Spirit's deity and personhood to his unique ministry to believers in the new covenant, including chapters on Jesus' promise of the Spirit, the meaning of Pentecost, the nature and necessity of regeneration, the Spirit's role in sanctification, what it means to be filled by the Spirit, how spiritual gifts function the church, the Spirit's role in revival, and more. I would be writing from an Evangelical Reformed position, with Cessationist leanings - though not without sympathy for those who believe all the gifts of the Spirit continue today. 

Why I want to write it: One reason is because most books on the Holy Spirit written from my theological perspective are either too academic for the average reader or very old. Books written on a popular level are often more inspirational than theological. What is needed (in the tradition of J. I. Packer's excellent book Keep In Step with the Spirit) is a fresh theological study, written with ordinary Christians in mind. I also want to write this book as something of a sequel to my first book Christ Formed in You: The Power of the Gospel for Personal Change, which was an attempt to present a comprehensive and gospel-centered approach to spiritual formation in the Reformed tradition. There is a lot about the Holy Spirit in Christ Formed in You, but not a systematic treatment. A third reason I'm interested in writing this book is that I'd like to synthesize the insights of John Calvin, John Owen, and Jonathan Edwards with the insights of more contemporary Reformed theologians such as Richard Lovelace, Richard Gaffin, Sinclair Ferguson, and Graham Cole - but in a way that ordinary people will enjoy reading. 

4. Idea: An examination of spiritual formation and the practice of spiritual disciplines in the writings of John Owen.

Potential title: Renewed in the Image of God: Learning from the Spirituality of John Owen 

Synopsis: This book would present a careful study of the themes of spiritual renewal and the Imago Dei (image of God) in Owen's writings, along with a detailed exposition of Owen's practical instruction on the exercise of faith in and through the means of grace and what we now call spiritual disciplines. 
Why I want to write it: Some very good books have been written on John Owen, including Sinclair Ferguson's classic John Owen on the Christian Life, and more recently, Owen on the Christian Life: Living for the Glory of God in Christ by Michael A. G. Haykin and Matthew Barnett. Both of these are excellent additions to the growing corpus of Owen scholarship. But with twenty-four thick volumes to Owen's credit, no single book can cover everything. In my own study of Owen, two things I've noticed are; first, how frequently Owen discusses the renovation (or renewal) of God's image in believers (this shows up, for example, in both Owen's Christological treatises in volume 1, as well as his books dealing with sanctification in volumes 3 and 6); and second, how many of Owen's theological works include chapters full of rich, practical, pastoral instruction on spiritual practices such as watchfulness, meditation, prayer, and confession of sin. I think there are rich veins of theological and pastoral gold to be mined in Owen's Works. One more reason why I want to write this book is that I want to research it. 

Well, there you have it. If you read all the way to the end, do me a favor and vote in the comments:  which book are you most interested in reading and why? 

John Owen's (Surprising) Counsel to Struggling, Doubting Believers

In his masterful exposition of Psalm 130, the seventeenth-century Puritan John Owen gave the church  one of the most comprehensive theological and pastoral treatments of forgiveness of sin and assurance ever written. This is one of my favorite of Owen's books and one that I return to over and again.

Near the end of his exposition, Owen includes a wonderfully encouraging chapter for saints struggling with sin. Having already presented an extensive exposition of the nature of gospel forgiveness, Owen is now turning to objections. And among the objections he addresses are those "arising from the consideration of [the soul's] present state and condition as to actual holiness, duties, and sins." (Owen, Works 6:600). Owen further explains:
"Souls complain, when in darkness and under temptations, that they cannot find that holiness, nor those fruits of it in themselves, which they suppose an interest in pardoning mercy will produce. Their hearts they find are weak, and their duties worthless. If they were weighed in the balance, they would all be found too light. In the best of them there is such a mixture of self, hypocrisy, unbelief, vain-glory, that they are even ashamed and confounded with the remembrance of them."  (Works, 6:600, emphasis Owen's)
I suppose any earnest and honest Christian has experienced this: doubts regarding the reality of God's forgiveness, struggles with assurance, that are rooted in the consciousness of one's struggles with sin and weakness in holiness.

How do you suppose Owen responds?

Keep in mind that this is the author of that hard-hitting trilogy on mortification, temptation, and indwelling sin (which are, incidentally, bound in the same volume). This is the Puritan about which the Scottish professor John Duncan said to his students, "Prepare for the knife!" What do you think Owen would say to you when you are doubting your salvation because of your low-levels of holiness and on your ongoing battles with sin?

You might be surprised.

Don't just sit there, do something 

Owen first reminds his readers to "take heed of heartless complaints when vigorous actings of grace are expected at our hands." This is a reference back to one his previous directions for those who are waiting on God for assurance. His point is to counter an unbelieving kind of spiritual passivity. Think of the person who just blew it with anger or lust again, and so is again doubting his or her salvation. "I must not be a Christian at all," they conclude. Clouds of guilt hang overhead. But instead of seeking God's face, the struggling sinner starts channel-surfing. No bible-reading, no prayer, no waiting on God. To this person, Owen would say,
"why lie you on your faces? why do you not rise and put yourselves to the utmost, giving all diligence to add one grace to another, until you find yourselves in a better frame?" 
In other words, don't be passive: rouse yourself and seek the Lord!

But that is not all Owen says, for he knows that there are sincere, seeking saints who yet struggle with great discouragement over their sins. And it is to such persons that he now turns.

Don't trust in your sanctification for justification 

The next thing he does is show us that our remaining sins remind us that we are not justified by our holiness, but by grace alone: "known holiness is apt to degenerate into self-righteousness," he writes. "What God gives us on the account of sanctification we are ready enough to reckon on the score of justification...We have so much of the Pharisee in us by nature that it is sometimes well that our good is hid from us. We are ready to take our corn and wine and bestow them on other lovers."

What I think Owen means by this is that sometimes when we are doing well, we start looking at our holiness as if it were the righteousness that commends us to God. We trust in our sanctification as the basis of our justification. And when we're in this state of mind, indwelling sin brings us back to our senses and reminds us that we are saved wholly by grace.

Owen continues,
"Were there not in our hearts a spiritually sensible principle of corruption, and in our duties a discernible mixture of self, it would be impossible we should walk so humbly as is required of them who hold communion with God in a covenant of grace and pardoning mercy. It is a good life which is attended with a faith of righteousness and a sense of corruption." (Works, 6:600, emphasis mine)
In other words, Owen is saying, be humbled and remember that you are saved by grace.

Struggling against indwelling sin is an evidence of grace 

A couple of paragraphs later, Owen reminds us that,
"Oftentimes holiness in the heart is more known by the opposition that is made there to it, than by its own prevalent working. The Spirit's operation is known by the flesh's opposition. We find a man's strength by the burdens he carries, and not the pace that he goes. 'O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?' is a better evidence of grace and holiness than 'God, I thank thee that I am not as other men.'" (Works, 6:601, emphasis Owen's)
The nuancing that follows shows that Owen is not veering into antinomianism here. He doesn't mean that we should continue in sin that grace may abound. He is speaking not to the profligate who has turned grace into a license for sin, but to the those who know the "close, adhering power of indwelling sin, tempting, seducing, soliciting, hindering, captivating, conceiving, [and] restlessly disquieting." Only those who pursue holiness and fight the good fight of faith have really experienced this intense assault of indwelling sin. But as Owen says, "He may have more grace than another who brings not forth so much fruit as the other, because he hath more opposition, more temptation..."

God accepts your imperfect duties because of Christ 

Perhaps the most surprising thing Owen says is this:
"Know that God despiseth not small things. He takes notice of the least breathings of our hearts after him when we ourselves can see nor perceive no such thing. He knows the mind of the Spirit in those workings which are never formed to that height that we can reflect upon them with our observation. Everything that is of him is noted in his book, though not in our ours . . . even whilst his people are sinning, he can find something in their hearts, words or ways, that pleaseth him; much more in their duties. He is a skillful refiner, that can find much gold in that ore where we see nothing but lead or clay. He remembers the duties which we forget, and forgets the sins which we remember..."  (Works, 6:602-603; emphasis of last sentence mine)
How can God do this? Only because of Christ. "Jesus Christ takes whatever is evil and unsavory out of [our duties], and makes them acceptable . . . God accepts a little, and Christ makes our little a great deal."

Grow in faith in order to grow in holiness  

His final response is to exhort us to faith in Christ for sanctification. Read carefully what he says:
"The reason why thou art no more holy is because thou has no more faith. If thou hast no holiness, it is because thou has not faith. Holiness is the purifying of the heart by faith, or our obedience unto the truth. And the reason why thou art no more in duty, is because thou art no more in believing. The reason why thy duties are weak and imperfect is, because faith is weak and imperfect. Hast thou no holiness? believe, that thou mayest have. Hast thou but a little, or that which is imperceptible? -- be steadfast in believing, that thou mayest abound in obedience." (Works, 6:603)
These excerpts demonstrate once more John Owen's wisdom and skill in the art of soul surgery. Owen is a surefooted guide on the narrow road of gospel holiness, avoiding both the precipice of legalism on the left and gulf of antinomianism on the right. When he counsels the doubting Christian who is discouraged by the presence of indwelling sin, Owen does not simply tell them (us) to quit sinning and work harder at being holy (the legalistic approach). But neither does he say holiness doesn't matter (the antinomian approach).

He instead shows us that our failures should cause us to slay self-righteousness and grasp tenaciously to God's grace and mercy in Christ. He reminds us that genuine struggle against indwelling sin is itself an evidence of God's grace in our lives. He points us to God's mercy in Christ, reminding us that God mercifully receives even the imperfect obedience of all those who are accepted in his Son. And he exhorts us to deeper faith in Christ himself, since faith is the root of holiness.

Eight Principles of Biblical Friendship

"Friendship is the only thing in the world concerning the usefulness of which all mankind are agreed.” So wrote the Roman philosopher Cicero in the first century B.C. But while all people long for friendship, genuine friends are hard to come by.
Many factors contribute to the dearth of friendship. The increasing mobility of our culture has made lifelong friends a rare commodity. Even when we stay in one place for a long time, the rapid pace of life makes it difficult to carve out time for building and sustaining friendship. Social media may help us connect with old classmates and distant relatives, but it also poses an electronic barrier to the kinds of practices most necessary to deep friendship. If we have ever needed wisdom regarding friendship, it is now.
The book of Proverbs provides such wisdom and provides us with at least eight biblical principles for friendship.
1. Selectivity
First is the principle of selectivity. “A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother” (Prov. 18:24). This proverb reminds me that everyone cannot and should not be a close friend. Quality trumps quantity, when it comes to friendship. Select your friends wisely and then stick to them.  
We should select friendships carefully because wrong friends bring harm. “Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm” (Prov. 13:20). Character is caught as much as taught, and this is true of character both noble and base. “Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare” (Prov. 22:24-25; see also 12:26 and 16:29).
2. Proximity
Relationships gain strength through proximity. Distance makes friendship more difficult. You need friends who live close to you. “Do not forsake your friend and your father’s friend, and do not go to your brother’s house in the day of your calamity. Better is a neighbor who is near than a brother who is far away” (Prov. 27:10). The word “neighbor” translates the same Hebrew word as “friend.” This reminds us that friendship involves not only shared time and interests, but also shared space. When friends don’t spend time together, they will inevitably grow distant. As Emerson said, “Go often to the house of thy friend, for weeds choke the unused path."
3. Boundaries
On the other hand, Proverbs also teaches the principle of boundaries. Know when to leave a friend alone. Different people have different capacities for friendship and various friendships have different limitations. Learn when to give your friends space. “Let your foot be seldom in your neighbor’s house, lest he have his fill of you and hate you” (Prov. 25:17). Benjamin Franklin was on to something when he said, “Guests, like fish, stink after three days.” Don’t wear out your welcome!
4. Mutuality
One of the most important principles is the principle of mutuality. Friendship is a two-way street. In any true friendship, both persons contribute. Each person benefits. To have a friend, you must be a friend. “Oil and perfume make the heart glad, and the sweetness of a friend comes from his earnest counsel” (Prov. 27:9). “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Prov. 27:17). These two proverbs illustrate two kinds of mutuality: sweet and sharp. 
Sweetness arises from mutuality in interests, the sharing of common ground. This is essential to any real friendship. In his brilliant book The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis described the difference between the love of lovers and that which binds friends:
“we picture lovers face to face but Friends side by side; their eyes look ahead... this is why pathetic people who simply ‘want friends’ can never make any. The very condition of having friends is that we should want something else besides friends... Friendship must be about something, even if it were only an enthusiasm for dominoes or white mice. Those who have nothing can share nothing; those who are going nowhere can have no fellow-travellers.”
This is always true. All of my friendships are all based on something: like taste in books, music, or movies; love for the same sport (golf); similar life circumstances; the same vocation; a shared faith; and so on. None of my friendships include all of those things. But every deep friendship is built on some common ground. The more I have in common with someone, the more “sweetness” there is to the friendship.
On the other hand, there is a sharpening aspect to mutuality in friendship. “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” My best friends are the ones who not only share my interests, but challenge me in meaningful ways by informing my thinking, expanding my interests, balancing my weaknesses, and probing me to better character.
5. Respect
Along with mutuality, friendships require respect. Respect is the foundation of any good relationship. One of the main ways we show respect is in how we talk about our friends when they are not around. “Argue your case with your neighbor himself, and do not reveal another’s secret, lest he who hears you bring shame upon you, and your ill repute have no end” (Prov. 25:9-10). In other words, don’t expect to keep friends if you talk about them behind their back. Friends know when to speak and when to be silent. “Whoever belittles his neighbor lacks sense, but a man of understanding remains silent” (Prov 11:12; see also 11:9 and 16:28).
6. Candor
The sixth principle of friendship, closely related to respect, is candor. “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy” (Prov. 27:5-6). As Oscar Wilde said, “A true friend stabs you in the front.” Find friends who will be honest with you, even if it means wounding you with love. Flattery is a flimsy foundation for friendship (see Prov. 28:23).
7. Forgiveness
No friendship can last without forgiveness. “Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends” (Prov. 17:9). This teaches us to be generous in extending the gift of forgiveness to our friends, by covering their offenses. “A friendly eye is slow to see small faults,” wrote Shakespeare. True friendship is too valuable to throw away over petty differences.
8. Constancy
Finally, Proverbs teaches the principle of constancy. “A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity” (Prov. 17:17). The heart of friendship is constancy in love. And the greatest test of love is sacrifice. “Greater love has no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). So said the Greatest Friend of all, the Lord Jesus himself, the friend of sinners, the one whose forgiveness never ends, whose love never fails.

[This post was originally written for

Conference Messages on Sanctification

Several months ago, I had the wonderful opportunity of speaking on the doctrine of sanctification for an annual conference at Reformed Baptist Church in Kalamazoo, Michigan. They have posted these talks and handouts online. Here are the links for anyone interested:

Session 1 - Sanctified by the Trinity

Session 2 - Sanctified in the Son

Session 3 - Sanctified in the World

Session 4 - Sanctified by the Gospel

Approach, my soul, the mercy seat

Approach, my soul, the mercy seat,
Where Jesus answers prayer;
There humbly fall before His feet,
For none can perish there.

Thy promise is my only plea,
With this I venture nigh;
Thou callest burdened souls to Thee,
And such, O Lord, am I.

Bowed down beneath a load of sin,
By Satan sorely pressed,
By war without and fears within,
I come to Thee for rest.

Be Thou my Shield and hiding Place,
That, sheltered by Thy side,
I may my fierce accuser face,
And tell him Thou hast died!

O wondrous love! to bleed and die,
To bear the cross and shame,
That guilty sinners, such as I,
Might plead Thy gracious Name.

“Poor tempest-toss├Ęd soul, be still;
My promised grace receive”;
’Tis Jesus speaks—I must, I will,
I can, I do believe.

Words: John New­tonOl­ney Hymns (Lon­don: W. Ol­iv­er, 1779).

The Diagnosis and Cure for an Angry Heart

Of the seven daily sins, wrath may be the most difficult to acknowledge as sin. We’re miserable in envy, depressed by sloth, and embarrassed by gluttony and lust. Those sins may be hard to admit to others, but not usually to ourselves. Wrath is different. We can be deeply angry without fully realizing we’re sinning because anger usually feels so right. Wrath is a chameleon adept at disguise, quickly adapting its color to a variety of background reasons and rationalizations.
Of course, there is a kind of anger that is not sinful (see Eph. 4:26). Aristotle praised the person “who gets angry at the right things and with the right people, and also in the right way and at the right time and for the right length of time.” The word Aristotle used to describe this kind of person is the same word found in Scripture for meekness or gentleness. A meek or a gentle person is a person whose anger is rightly ordered: directed at the right things and expressed in an appropriate manner. Sometimes it is right to be angry. When wicked people prey upon the weak and helpless, love for the victims demands anger and the pursuit of justice. But sinful wrath is what Dorothy Sayers called the “love of justice perverted to revenge and spite.”
The Diagnosis of Anger
One of the best ways to detect and diagnose sinful anger is by setting it in contrast to love. When wrath overruns love, we’re in trouble. In the Bible’s most heart-probing description of love, Paul tells us that love “is not irritable or resentful” (1 Corinthians 13:5b). This description shows us the two primary ways that sinful anger violates love.
  • Hot anger. To be irritable is to get angry too easily. This is hot anger: the easily provoked, quick-tempered wrath of a volatile hothead who flies into fits of rage at the slightest aggravation. Proverbs shows us that this kind of anger is hasty, foolish, and given to stirring up strife. “Whoever is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who has a hasty temper exalts folly” (Proverbs 14:29). “A hot-tempered man stirs up strife, but he who is slow to anger quiets contention” (Proverbs 15:18).
  • Cold anger. To be resentful, on the other hand, is to stay angry for too long. This is cold anger: the record-keeping wrath of a bitter, cold-hearted person who always remembers, never forgets, and never forgives. 

Most of us are more given to one form than the other. Some people shout, others pout. But whether you spew or stew, the underlying anger in either case is a violation of love. And either violation is sinful and dangerous.
The basic root of anger is inordinate, idolatrous desire (see James 4:1-2). It may be a desire for justice, esteem, comfort, approval, or security. None of these desires are wrong in and of themselves. But when we seek the fulfillment of these desires in ways that violate God’s will, our desires have become inordinate. What follows may be a hot torrent of molten anger or the slow onslaught of an icy glacier of resentment. But one way or the other, idolatrous hearts are spring-loaded to retaliate once their desires are crossed.
The Prognosis of Wrath
But why is wrath dangerous? Is losing my temper really that big of a deal? Are the consequences of mismanaged anger really that severe? The answer of Scripture is yes. Sinful anger is both serious and dangerous for several reasons. It dishonors God (James 1:19-20), hurts relationships (Proverbs 29:22), gives Satan an advantage (Ephesians 4:26-27), hinders prayer (1 Timothy 2:8), and apart from grace, will keep you out of God’s kingdom (Galatians 5:19-21).
In short, wrath is dangerous because it is a capital sin. Capital sins are leading sins, gateway sins, vices that like military captains bring hordes of other sins with them. And this is particularly true of wrath. As Saint Gregory said, “From anger are produced strifes, swelling of mind, insults, clamour, indignation, blasphemies.” The sin of wrath spoils friendships, splits churches, shatters business partnerships, fractures marriages, alienates children and parents, and estranges our hearts from God. How many homes and churches are spiritual and emotional Chernobyls, devastated by the radioactive fallout of sinful wrath?
The Remedy for Wrath
How does the gospel equip us to deal with the sin of wrath? What is the remedy for anger? It begins by discerning the underlying idolatry of your heart (see James 4:1-2). What are you angry about? How have your desires been crossed? Having identified these desires, repent. In the words of Psalm 37:8: “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.” Most importantly, embrace a life of forgiveness. By this I mean not only that we should embrace the call to forgive others, but embrace also the forgiveness God freely offers to all who trust in Jesus.
Earlier we saw that the sin of wrath is a violation of love. But Jesus perfectly personified love, thus showing us the heart of God. And remember, “love is not irritable or resentful” (1 Cor. 13:5b). This means God is not easily irritated! The Bible tells us repeatedly that God is “slow to anger.” He is not the least bit prone to temper tantrums. “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Ps. 103:8). Nor is God resentful. He doesn’t keep a record of our wrongs (2 Cor. 5:18-19). If you are in Christ, my friend, you can rest assured that God is not keeping a tally chart of your sins.
God’s love and forgiveness are powerful enough to quench the flames of your hot temper or melt the glacier of your cold and bitter heart. Embracing a life of forgiveness means embracing God’s forgiveness and allowing the power of his grace to transform you so that you gradually become a more merciful and forgiving person.
This post was adapted from Hit List: Taking Aim at the Seven Deadly Sins (Cruciform Press, 2014) as a blogpost for The Gospel Project

7 Errors to Avoid in Following Christ

What you believe makes a big difference in your Christian life. Even if the categories of formal theology seem remote and unfamiliar, you have a theology. Everything you think about God, Jesus, law, sin, salvation, holiness, the Spirit, the church, human nature, life, death, and eternity is theological. We are all theologians. The real question is whether or not our theologies are true to Scripture.
One of the most important areas of theology is sanctification: the doctrine that concerns our consecration to God, the restoration and renewal of God’s image within us, and our practical progress in holiness. I’ve seen a number of common errors that Christians make in this area. In fact, here are seven errors to avoid in following Christ.
1.     Looking to your sanctification for your justification 
Justification and sanctification are related, but not to be confused. Justification concerns our legal status before God. Scripture teaches that we are justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. If you believe in Jesus, your sins are pardoned and God already accepts you as righteous – even though you still struggle with sin.
And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness… (Rom. 4:5)
God justifies the ungodly! Full forgiveness is freely given through faith in Jesus crucified and risen alone. The verdict is in: “not guilty.”
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 8:1)
Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.       Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Rom. 8:33-34)
Don’t measure your acceptance with God by your progress in holiness or apparent lack thereof. Sanctification depends on justification, not the other way around.
2.     Adding rules to Scripture
Make no mistake: there are commands in Scripture and we must obey them. Even Christians, who are freed the law (Acts 13:39Rom. 7:48:2Gal. 5:1-13), are commanded to walk in love, work out their own salvation, bring holiness to completion in the fear of God, and more (Eph. 5:2Philip. 2:122 Cor. 7:1). While obeying God’s commands does not justify us, obedience is an essential part of sanctification.
But sometimes people require more than God requires. When Paul warned of those who would forbid marriage and require abstinence from certain foods, he said it was demonic (1 Tim. 4:1-3). That’s pretty strong language! But it underscores the absolute sufficiency of God’s word for training us in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16).
If the Bible doesn’t forbid it or require it, neither should you. Doing so won’t help you or others become holy. It will only undermine confidence in Scripture. Beware of adding rules to the Bible.
3.     Focusing on behavior to the neglect of the heart 
Behavior is important. But our words and deeds always flow from the heart.
For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. (Luke 6:43-45)
If you want to change the fruit, you have to change the root. This doesn’t mean we either can or should neglect behavioral issues until we feel different. You should do what God says, even when you don’t feel like it. But if you don’t go after the underlying motives, passions, and desires that drive your sinful behavior, your efforts to change will be short lived and superficial.
And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.(Gal. 5:24)
4.     Thinking you can go it alone 
One of the most overlooked facts about the New Testament letters is that almost all of them were written to churches. Even Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus were written with a church context in mind. This means that most of the exhortations and commands given in these letters are given to churches, not individuals.
It was John Wesley who said, “The Bible knows nothing of solitary religion.” But when it comes to holiness, too many of us try to go it alone. It won’t work. You need the church. You need the church because you need the means of grace: the preached word, prayer, and the sacraments. And you need the church because you need other people. Even the Lone Ranger needed Tonto. Holy living is a community project. 
5.     Neglecting the ministry of the Holy Spirit 
Sanctification is part of the Spirit’s ministry (1 Pet. 1:22 Thess. 2:13). The Spirit is the one who fills us (Eph. 5:18), strengthens us (Eph. 3:16), and reproduces the character of Christ in us (Gal. 5:22-23). And while the Spirit indwells the heart of every believer (Rom. 8:9), we are responsible to “keep in step with the Spirit” (Gal. 5:25) and to put sin to death in his strength (Rom. 8:13).
Neglecting the Spirit’s ministry is a sure recipe for stunted spiritual growth. We therefore need to cultivate continuous, conscious dependence on the Spirit. And Paul’s writings indicate that the primary ways we do this are through the word and prayer (study, for example, the parallels between Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:18-20, and Paul’s many references to the Spirit in his prayers).
6.     Failing to put effort into the pursuit of holiness  
Sometimes an emphasis on the Spirit has led believers to spiritual passivity – the old “let go and let God” approach. But the biblical path leads in the opposite direction: the greater our dependence on the Spirit, the more active we become. Dependence on the Spirit is fully compatible with fighting the good fight of faith (1 Tim. 6:12) and running the race set before us (Heb 12:1). Effort is an essential ingredient in spiritual growth (2 Pet. 1:5-10).
7.     Forgetting the reality of your union with Christ
But we must never forget the reality of the new identity we already have through union with Christ. In fact, in Paul’s fullest teaching on the Christian life, this is always how he starts. We see this pattern in Romans 6 where he argues that continuing to live in sin is deeply incongruous for those who are already dead to sin through their faith union in the death of Christ.  This is also the focus of Colossians 3, where all Paul’s commands (imperatives) rest on the realities (indicatives) that we are already dead, raised, and hidden with Christ.  Or consider Ephesians 4:17-32, where Paul admonishes us to holy living, because we’ve already put off the old man and put on the new, in learning Christ. As Paul says in another familiar verse:
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal. 2:20)
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