O Christian, Persevere!

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

(2 Peter 1:3-11 ESV)

The Christian’s Virtues

Here, we see a list of the qualities that a Christian should be pursuing. The individual qualities don’t stand alone, however—each quality is listed in order to build it onto the previous one: add virtue to your faith, be knowledgeable in your virtue, and be self-controlled in addition to your knowledge. The first time I read this, though, it was the next one that jumped out at me: that we need to supplement “self-control with steadfastness.”

Not only are we supposed to be self-controlled—being disciplined with our money and our time, building godly habits and fighting sinful ones, battling against our very flesh—but we’re supposed to be steadfast in our self-control? So not only do we have to do these things, but we have to do them consistently, perseveringly, day in and day out?

Combined with the weight of the virtues listed both before and after, it almost seems too much to bear.

The Christian’s Promise

And it would be too much to bear, if it weren’t for the promise that God gives us in the verses prior. Before the “make every effort to supplement,” there’s a “For this reason.” For what reason?

1. “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness,” Peter says. Through human effort, to be steadfast in our self-control would be impossible; but we’ve been granted the power of God Himself to have and do everything pertaining to life and godliness. Everything, Peter says! When we’re called to be godly, God doesn’t just leave us to our own effort, or only help us partway—He promises to supply everything that we need to become like Him. How are we granted this power?

2. “…through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence, by which He has granted to us His precious and very great promises….” By knowing Christ and by being saved, we receive this God-granted power purely through the immeasurable glory and excellence of God. Note how little we had to do with this! We don’t receive this power by trying to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. Instead, God reveals Himself to us and promises us the power of sanctification purely because He is glorious and excellent.

3. “…so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” These promises that God gives us allow us to have fellowship with God and to become like Him. Not only that, but we become like Him “having escaped” our sinful corruption. Look at the past tense! The promises of God guaranteed our separation from the pull of our sinful desires, even if we don’t experience it fully yet.

So when we think about the task of becoming more godly, or becoming steadfast in our self-control, remember this: God Himself has promised to make us more like Him, and He’s promised to give us everything that we need to get there.

The Christian’s Motivation

But wait, there’s more! Not only does God promise us that this steadfast self-control is possible, but He promises two results of pursuing godliness.

1. They keep you from a meaningless life (v. 8). If you’re striving to become more godly, God promises that you’ll be neither ineffective or unfruitful. Have you ever worried that you’re not doing enough for God, or that you’re going to live and die with no legacy? God says to grow in these traits and you’ll have lived for the greatest cause there is.

2. They guarantee your salvation (v. 9-10). If you’re not trying to grow in these qualities at all, then there’s no reason to believe you’re saved. However, if you strive for these things and continue in them, “you will never fall,” says Peter. Not only that, but entrance into the kingdom of God will be “richly” provided. It may be hard to persevere in being a Christian, but God promises you’ll receive the greatest reward if you try.

The Christian’s Calling

So don’t lose hope as you try to live as a Christian, and don’t be complacent. Grow in your faith—your complete trust in God and His promises to provide for you materially and spiritually. And as you grow in your faith, become someone who is virtuous as well, trusting that the character God asks you to have is something that is worth your while. To know how to be virtuous, add knowledge, studying the Word of God to know His will. And the more you learn, the more you need to discipline yourself, growing in self-control.

And to this self-control, add steadfastness. Persevere. Endure. Don’t just be self-controlled for a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a week, but strive to make godliness the pattern of your life, growing in affection and love.

Remember that you’ve been bought by God and supplied with everything you need. And remember that you have a great hope in a worthy life now and an eternal, abundant life to come.

O Christian, persevere!

Book Review: “Passion and Purity” by Elisabeth Elliot

passionandpurity

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“Whom have I in heaven but You?

And besides You, I desire nothing on earth.

My flesh and my heart may fail,

But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

For, behold, those who are far from You will perish;

You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You.

But as for me, the nearness of God is my good;

I have made the LORD GOD my refuge,

That I may tell of all Your works.”

(Psalm 73: 25-28 NASB)

“I have set the LORD continually before me…”

(Psalm 16:8a NASB)

Premise

Elisabeth Elliot is so much more articulate than I could ever be, so I’ll just put her explanation of the book’s premise here:

“The framework of the book is the story of five and a half years of loving one man, Jim, and of learning the disciplines of longing, loneliness, uncertainty, hope, trust, and unconditional commitment to Christ—a commitment which required that, regardless of what passion we might feel, we must be pure…

“If I can help some to avoid sin, I want to do that. If I can show others the message of the Gospel is the possibility of a new birth and a new beginning and a new creation, I want to do that.

“The love life of a Christian is a crucial battleground. There, if nowhere else, it will be determined as to who is Lord: the world, the self and the devil, or the Lord Christ.

“This is why I take the risk. My own love story might be of more or less interest to a few; the “Dear Abby” sort of letters and my replies might be amusing; but my chief concern is that readers consider the authority of Christ over human passion and set their hearts on purity.” (14)

Elisabeth Elliot was the wife of famed missionary and martyr Jim Elliot, who died evangelizing to the Auca tribe in Ecuador. This book is Elisabeth’s memoirs of her relationship with Jim, interspersed with personal observations on romance and Christianity.

How This Book Helped Me

Let me be vulnerable with you: for the majority of my life, I was a romantic enslaved to an idolatry of romance and the idea of marriage. My thoughts were perpetually bent on how I would find a great woman and have a perfect marriage, even from a young age. Even after I was saved and professed my devotion to Christ, the pursuit of a romantic relationship continued to be a deep-seated desire.

Passion and Purity was the most influential book to me in that respect. It forced me to come face to face with my idolatry and to see it for what it was. It taught me to ask questions that were both incredibly hurtful and wonderfully healing: who is Lord over my life? Can I place my desires in submission to God, or do I withhold them out of fear? What is important to me? What am I willing to let God take from me? Do I trust God to know what is best and to provide it?

One thing I really appreciated on my most recent read through the book was what Elisabeth Elliot had to say about the purpose of desires. We’re told to “present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Rm. 12:1, NASB); what we often withhold from God, however, is our deepest desires. Elliot explains that these desires are given to us so that we can offer them to God in submission:

“If the yearnings went away, what would we have to offer up to the Lord? Aren’t they given to us to offer? It is the control of passion, not its eradication, that is needed. How would we learn to submit to the authority of Christ if we had nothing to submit?” (91).

Every time I read this book, I find myself challenged in contentment, in submission, and in single-minded devotion to Christ, and every time I reach the last page I find myself willingly and joyfully offering my life to God again, His worthiness being displayed so clearly.

Recommendation

* Length: The book is less than two hundred pages and is divided into two or three page bite-sized vignettes. Each chapter is weighty enough that I found a lot of value in reading just a chapter per day. You can finish the book at that pace in four to six weeks, or you can read it like a novel and power through over the course of one to three days.

* Readability: Elliot’s prose is exquisite. Maybe she was a fantastic writer, or maybe everyone had that level of eloquence sixty years ago; in either case, between the beauty of the language and the compelling way the book is written, the book is a true pleasure to read.

* This Book Is Good For: Anyone who has, or has had, or plans to have a romantic relationship during their lifetime; anyone who thinks they may have an idolatry of romantic relationships; anyone wanting to learn about contentment; anyone seeking to grow in a single-minded pursuit of Christ; anyone interested in missions; anyone who enjoys biographies or well-crafted prose. (Frankly, I’ve recommended this book at every opportunity. It’s worth a read.)

 

Book Review: “Counterfeit Gods” by Tim Keller

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“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.                                                                                                           

You shall have no other gods before Me.

You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love me and keep my commandments.”

(Exodus 20:2-6 ESV)

Premise

In Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller examines the sin that is perhaps the core of all sin: that instead of worshiping the One True God, we seek other things to replace Him. Not only is idolatry an affront to God and His worthiness, but it’s also harmful to us. We pour out our lives and resources and stake our desires and purposes on things that ultimately cannot fulfill, things that are transient and powerless.

The introduction defines idolatry, explains how idols are made in our lives, and shows how what we worship affects the way we live. The next six chapters are dedicated to specific, common idols: our wishes; romance and love; wealth; success; power and fame; and cultural idols (patriotism and business success) and religious idols (legalism, doctrinal purity, ministry success). The last chapter and the epilogue point to God as the source of true fulfillment and the only One worthy of worship.

How This Book Helped Me

The introduction alone made the book worth reading. Keller makes penetrating and clear statements that help to diagnose sin:

  • “What is an idol? It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.” (xvii)
  • “A counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.” (xviii)
  • “If anything becomes more fundamental than God to your happiness, meaning in life, and identity, then it is an idol.” (xix)

Over and over, Keller forced me to evaluate the things I love in life and to put them in their rightful place before God. I found myself digging up idols that I never thought I had, things that were so innocuous or culturally praised that I had let them take the place of God in my life.

The structure of each chapter was also helpful. Keller presents the potential idol and discusses the ways it can manifest in a person’s life. He then provides an example of the idol at work in the life of a Biblical figure, showing how the idol influenced the person’s actions and the consequences of those actions. Lastly, he shows how God is better than each idol, how He is more worthy and more fulfilling. The chapter on romance was particularly helpful to me in that regard, and I suspect others, single or in relationships, would be similarly benefited.

The last thing that was helpful to me was the solution to idolatry that Keller provides. One cannot simply remove an idolatrous object of worship; we must put off and put on. The solution to idolatry is not removal of an idol, but replacement of the idol with the God who is far more worthy. We must repent of our idolatry by treasuring our Lord more.

Recommendation

  • Length: At fewer than two hundred pages, Counterfeit Gods packs a powerful punch against indwelling sin.  The book could probably be finished within a week reading only ten or fifteen minutes per day.
  • This Book Is Good For: Anyone struggling with persistent sin; anyone seeking to correct their priorities in the things they like; anyone curious about the topic of idolatry.

 

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