16 Lessons on Pursuing Holiness

Not that I have already attained, but in my desire to press on, I recently taught a class called Holiness: Seeking the Savior’s Likeness at Bethel Grace Baptist Church. If you are interested, you can listen to the lessons at the links below. Simply click on the link to play, or right-click to download the mp3.

 

What Does it Mean to Mourn? [Beatitudes]

“Blessed are they that mourn.” This beatitude is clearly one of the great paradoxes of scripture. “Blessed” and “mourning” almost seem to be contradictory. When we think of mourning, we rarely think about blessing, Typically our minds think of death because mourning is something we do when someone dies, but here again, Jesus is showing us that there is a depth to the Christian life we need to take the time to understand.

What it does not mean

What does Jesus mean when He says, “Blessed are they that mourn? To understand this, the first thing we should do is clear away the debris by eliminating a few possible types of mourning that Jesus does not have in mind. First, there is some mourning that is sinful. Some people desire to fulfill their lusts, but they are unable to do so. These unfulfilled sinful desires could lead them to depression and mourning. Others have satisfied their lusts and have been caught and mourn the fact that they have been exposed and have to face the consequences, but they do not regret the sin itself. Scripture calls this worldly sorrow which leads to death (2 Corinthians 7:10). Second, it does not simply mean being sad that someone has died. Even haters of God do this, but they mourn like those who have no hope. There is no blessing in these kinds of mourning.

What it means

So what does Jesus mean? It is important to keep in mind that the beatitudes build upon each other. They are not things we do to be saved; they are changes in our nature worked in us by the Holy Spirit. The first beatitude was poverty of spirit, and when we looked at it, we understood that because we are sinful, we have no merit before a holy and just God. The mourning of the second beatitude flows directly from our poverty of spirit. If you have never known your poverty of spirit, you will never mourn spiritually over your destitute condition. With this in mind, we are aware that this mourning is a mourning over our sinfulness. 

We first experience this at our conversion, but it continues throughout the Christian life. Do you hate your sin? Do you hate to see sin hurting those you love? Then you are experiencing this blessed mourning. Romans 8:23 says, “And not only creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.” This groaning seems closely related to mourning over sin. This mourning is an attribute of a blessed person because this mourning is a gift of God. As Martyn Lloyd-Jones says, “Conviction must of necessity precede conversion,” and conviction of sin is a gift of God. We should not be afraid of it. 

The end of glibness

Glibness in the Christian life is done away with by this beatitude. Do you see life as a joke or merely one big party? Then maybe some self-examination is needed. There is a seriousness about the Christian life that needs to be part of our character. We are not to be morose or miserable. We can laugh, and we should have joy, but not regarding sin. It is important to remember, that one of Jesus’ titles was “Man of Sorrows.” If we have no spiritual hunger, and our lives are characterized by glibness, Jesus speaks directly to us in Luke 6:25. He warns, “Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.” If there is no mourning over sin in this life, there will be plenty of it in the life to come.

Those, however, who mourn over their sin now, will be comforted. Jesus is revealing Himself to them, and He will continue to do so. We will be comforted because our sins are forgiven. We are declared righteous in Him (justification) and He has also begun to kill the sin in us (sanctification). We are both mournful and happy because of Christ and the hope He gives us as the victor over sin and all its wages.

In the next post on the beatitudes, we will see how the poverty of spirit and mourning over our sinfulness produces in us a meekness that inherits the earth. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section. How does this blessed mourning manifest itself in your life, and how is it a blessing?

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. – Matthew 5:4

D. Eaton

 

God’s Moral Law and Absolutism: Introduction

What do you do when it seems you have to choose between two sins? For instance, the midwives in the Old Testament, do they lie and say that the Jewish women have their babies too quickly to kill them, or do they tell them the truth and fail to protect the babies (see Exodus chapter 1)? In this case, they lied, and God commends them for it. Over time, I plan on posting three more posts on this topic. I will be discussing three ethical theories surrounding God’s moral law and absolutism. The book covers you will see in these posts are books I have read in my study of Christian ethics and have helped me in my understanding of this topic.

When studying ethics, we encounter many different theories. Such as utilitarian ethics, virtue based ethics, and deontological ethics. Utilitarian ethics bases its ethical system on some non-moral outcome such as happiness or pleasure. For instance, the way we decide what is right and wrong could be based on what will produce the greatest pleasure for the greatest number of people. A couple of proponents of this view are David Hume and John Stuart Mill. This is the view that seems to be the most popular in today’s secular society. Virtue based ethics looks to character to decide what is right and wrong. In other words, we do not look to follow rules, but we look to virtues that we wish to cultivate such as courage, prudence, and temperance then we look to how we should live them out our lives. As Leslie Stephens says, “The moral law…has to be expressed in the form “be this” not in the form “do this.” Proponents of this view have been Alasdair MacIntyre, Stanley Hauerwas, and, of course, Aristotle (though it is debated whether his teaching was as extreme as today’s virtue ethicists). This view has gained momentum in today’s church and has also gained acceptance by many in what used to be called the Emergent Church. It is also held by many in the Catholic church.

Both views have their flaws, for instance, utilitarian ethics would have to say that committing adultery is a good thing to do if it will lead to the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. As we know, this is contrary to scripture. Virtue based ethics has serious trouble in explaining how good character leads to doing the right thing. For example, if courage is a virtue we are trying to cultivate, how do we apply this to doing the right thing? A woman who abstains from an abortion could be said to be courageous, but so could the woman who was brave enough to have one. Which one is right? I realize if you hold to one of these two views, these simple arguments will not convince you otherwise, but my point here is not to refute these systems. Instead, I want to look at absolutism.

The first two theories mentioned, say that there is no intrinsic value in any action. The value is in either in the outcome of the action (utilitarian) or in the character of the person doing the act (Virtue). Deontological ethics, on the other hand, is a duty or obligation driven system. Deontological ethics says there is some intrinsic value in certain actions, such as not killing, or truth telling, that requires us to do them. The prima fascia understanding of scripture, and I believe the correct understanding, seems to show this view as the most accurate. There are certain actions that we are to do to be ethical. This flows from God’s moral law which is summarized in the Ten Commandments and further summarized when Jesus said the two greatest commandments were to love God and love our neighbor. The Christian understanding of this view does not neglect the character of the person doing the act. For an action to truly be Godly, it must stem from the right attitude or character, but there is value in particular acts and not only in the heart.

A person who holds this view is usually known as a Moral Absolutist. Absolutism means that the moral laws are absolute in that they are binding on all men, at all times and in all situations. This is what most Christians hold to regarding the Ten Commandments and other moral principles found in Scripture. In this view, however, there are what we call moral dilemmas. To use the old example, what do you do when the Nazi’s are at your door looking for Jews which you are hiding? You are under two different principles which seem to be in conflict. First, you are morally obligated not to lie, and second you are morally obligated to love your neighbor and protect them. Regarding this dilemma, there are three different categories of moral absolutists, with three different answers. There is the non-conflicting absolutist, the conflicting absolutist, and the graded or hierarchical absolutist. In three future posts (which have now been posted), I will be looking at each one of these to see how they deal with the dilemma.

D. Eaton

Other posts in this series

Christ Jesus is the One


The following is a guest post from Pastor Jeff Saltzmann of Bethel Grace Baptist Church in Bellflower, California.

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. -Romans 8:33-34 (ESV)

This Easter, Bethel Grace Baptist Church celebrated the truth that Jesus Christ saves sinners. Furthermore, He is uniquely qualified, and more than competent, to defend their case against satanic opposition (Rev. 12:10).  Jesus is the one who died, who was raised, and who was exalted to His Father’s right hand in Messianic glory. Christ saves, preserves, and defends his people on the basis of His crucifixion, resurrection, and coronation.

To close the sermon, I posed five questions hoping to drive home the point that we are secure in Christ. Each question has the same glorious answer.  I pray these five questions, by drawing attention to the one recurring answer, will fortify and encourage every believing heart.

  1. When you’re on Satan’s hit list, and that time of spiritual warfare is at hand, who is the one that can be your sure defense? Christ Jesus is the One.
  1. When you’re walking through the shadowed valley, and the storm clouds of the curse gather and life becomes dim, and you feel the heaviness of it all, and unseen spiritual enemies perceive your weakened state and unite to do you harm, who is the one at your side, who can guide you with His staff and protect you with His rod? Christ Jesus is the One.
  1. When that hour of temptation comes when sin entices you, and your flesh wants to give in, who is the one who can provide for you a clear way of escape, giving you the clarity and the perspective that you need to say, “No” to sin and stay on the path of obedience and blessing? Christ Jesus is the One.
  1. When you let your sin get the best of you, and you stumble into transgression, and you, as a Christian, do what your soul hates, and you are discouraged and downtrodden asking yourself “Why have I done that again?” When you despise yourself under this oppression of sin, who is the one who loves you still, who will scatter your accusers, who will lift you back up to your feet, and hold on to you, and prop you up, and see you through, and restore you to that path of blessing and holiness and joy in the Lord? Christ Jesus is the One.
  1. When the time comes, and your body expires, and your soul departs, and you go before the awesome throne of the Living God and find your soul quaking before the majesty and the glory and the immensity of appearing before the pristine purity of God Almighty, who is the one who can present you faultless, sinless, perfect, and righteous in the midst of the sound of mighty shouts of joy? Christ Jesus is the One!

-Pastor Jeff Saltzmann, Bethel Grace Baptist Church

To listen to Pastor Jeff’s powerful full sermon, click the following link and be blessed. Christ Jesus is the One!

 

Broken and Blessed

No matter how much I strained and struggled there was no relief. I could not win the fight. At the time, none of it made any sense. What or who was I even struggling against?  All I saw was wave after wave crashing upon me, which were driven by the dark skies overhead. I fought and fought but to no avail. At first, I was determined, but the battle continued, the night was long, and my strength was spent.

It was lonely. No matter how many people came to encourage me and let me know they were concerned, they could not take this burden from me. When you face a time like this, you do everything you can to be as light of a load as possible on your loved ones, so even though they carry some of the weight, there is a portion of it that you always have to bear alone.

I continued to fight, but the battle seemed unending. I fought to subdue it until it broke me. Its accuracy was so perfect that it struck right where I thought I was strong. My strength was vanquished, and I was no longer able to contend, but in my brokenness, something happened. I recognized the hand that was heavy upon me.

Just like the story of Jacob wrestling with God, we can sometimes be left alone for a long night of combat, but when it comes to the story of Jacob, we often fail to see the full picture. That event is often explained as Jacob wrestling God to get a blessing from Him. It is said that through his persistence, Jacob prevailed and was blessed. This understanding is why this event is often seen as a picture of our need to prevail in prayer, and I believe that is a truth that can be drawn from this time in Jacob’s life. However, I believe there is something more.

This night of wrestling is not primarily about Jacob getting something out of God. This contest is about God getting something out of Jacob. Remember, Jacob did not go looking for the struggle. God came to Him, and for a while, Jacob had no idea what was going on. Here is the point that is often missed. During the fight, Jacob had a complete reversal and went from striving against God to clinging to Him, and that is where the blessing was given.

When dark providences hit our life, we often fight and struggle in our own strength against the powers that confront us, but once in a while, through the sovereignty of God, we are shown our weakness, and we find ourselves broken. For the believer, it is during those moments that we stop striving against God and start clinging to Him because we find our strength to be nothing, and learn that without Him we are doomed.

This reversal is precisely what happened when we came to know the Lord. The conviction of sin began to lay heavy upon us, and we did everything in our power to resist it. We tried leaning on our morality, philosophies, and the suppression of our guilt but the heavy hand of God upon our sinfulness was more than we could handle. At that moment, we turned to our pursuer and found a hand ready to bless us. Just like Jacob, our names were changed from deceiver to Israel, Prince of God. The Lord came to us, fought against our sinfulness and self-reliance and then delivered us.

I am not sure what you may have faced in the past, or what you might be suffering right now, but if you see yourself clinging more to Jesus because of it, it is a work of God. He has come to bless you. After we face a time like this, we are changed. We have come to understand our weakness, as well as God’s strength. Jacob’s realization came when God touched his hip and put it out of joint. That was the moment his strength failed, and he realized who he was fighting. Because of that encounter, Jacob walked with a limp for the rest of his life.

Some may have looked at Jacob and mockingly asked, “Is this the mighty man of God I’ve heard about? He can’t even walk correctly.” Likewise, because of some of the battles you have faced, you may have disfigurements that are still evident to the world, and some may ridicule you for them. But if what caused those scars in your life, caused you to walk closer with your Lord, those who know your Savior will recognize them, not as flaws, but as the fingerprints of our gracious God.

So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. -Genesis 32:30-31

D. Eaton