Book Review: Uncomfortable (Brett McCracken)

Uncomfortable McCracken Review

The “best” church would be the one where we get along with everyone. No one asks us weird questions. We have perfect timing in our responses to anything anyone says. The community helps us when we’re in need. They understand our Meyers-Briggs personality type and Enneagram and understand how often to call (or not to call) us. The worship music is always our favorite songs, and there’s always that one line that finds our tears. The sermon has just enough teaching that we learn something new, and it so pinpoints where we are in life that the Word becomes alive.

This sounds perfect, but rarely does a church run this smoothly. In fact, it can often be down-right uncomfortable. Doing what is right is often uncomfortable. (When was the last time you confessed your sins against someone you somewhat kinda-sorta knew? The last time your church (rightly) disciplined a member? The last time some in your church supported another in need through money, food, time, or fellowship?). These are sacrifices of our time, of what we have, of what is ours. They are awkward; they are uncomfortable.

Brett McCracken, a writer and journalist in South California and author of Hipster Christianity, says we need to destroy our consumeristic approach. “Rather, church should be about collectively spurring one another to ‘be fit’ to the likeness of Christ (Ephesians 4–5). And this can happen in almost any sort of church as long as it’s fixed on Jesus, anchored in the gospel, and committed to the authority of Scripture” (25).

Divided into two sections, McCracken gives us an explanation of the uncomfortable faith and the uncomfortable church. He says, “A healthy relationship with the local church is like a healthy marriage: it only works when grounded in selfless commitment and a nonconsumerist covenant” (26, 178).

Summary

Christianity is becoming less normal, “and that’s a good thing. Christianity, founded on belief in the supernatural resurrection of a first-century Jewish carpenter, has been and always will be abnormal” (35). This outward discomfort will help us realize how much those in the Church need each other—because we will be all we have. There is growth in discomfort. The cross is uncomfortable, because it was our sin that nailed the naked, mocked, and bashed God-man to a cross in order to save us. He suffered because he loved us.

Because we are his we are called to be holy, but people want authenticity. “It’s far more acceptable to say, ‘My life is so messed up,’ than it is to say, ‘I am striving to be holy’” (64). We speak the message of the gospel with our mouths and bear it’s virtuous truths in our bodies. For us to be different than the world, we must have boundaries. “Holiness… is strange. But not for the sake of strangeness. For the sake of Yahweh” (64). Jesus understands us better than anyone. He was authentic. He was real. He was holy (Mic 6.7–8).

The discomfort is that the requirements are self-denial instead of self-actualization (at least according to our view of self-actualization, cf. Phil. 2:5–11). Uncomfortable sacrifice is actually “liberating rather than stifling” (72). We have weird beliefs, which include the supernatural, exclusive salvation, God’s wrath against his enemies, and sexual ethics (which extends to all). McCracken doesn’t try to solve these difficulties, but wants to summarize why they are uncomfortable (and provides a Further Reading section at the end of the chapter).

“It’s vulnerable to speak up to a friend about a damaging pattern you observe in their life. It’s vulnerable to enter a potentially dangerous situation in order to help someone at risk” (90). Love is risky, especially when you don’t know how someone will respond. But we’re called to enter in to love and be patient. A long-suffering love requires the Holy Spirit’s power. Yet even with that power, “in the grand scheme of things, most of us are going to be more of an Ampliatus (Rom. 16:8) or Phlegon (v. 14) than an apostle Paul. And maybe that’s why so many Christians are getting tired of the church. We haven’t learned how to be part of the crowd” (123).

Chapters 8 and 13 (Uncomfortable People and Uncomfortable Commitment) go together. Many want a “Jesus and me” Christianity. The church is full of hypocrites, there are too many problems, I am the church, so I’ll “church” wherever I go. But a finger without the body is gross, and a disconnected pinky toe is creepy. It is covenant over comfort. Keeping our covenant promises to the churches we attend (even if you’re not enrolled in an actual “membership”) shapes who we are. Keeping a promise to another “is more important than being true to yourself” (189). “Christ utterly identifies with his people,” says Allberry. “Neglecting the church is neglecting Jesus” (185, Sam Allberry, Why Bother With Church?). 

Our services are diverse. Either (hopefully) racially diverse, socially diverse, or diverse in our personalities, we are not the same people. We have different preferences on worship music, teaching styles, and church methods. In a world of sovereign autonomy from rules, who wants to follow Christ the sovereign Lord? We fit into Scripture, Scripture does not fit into our perceived reality. There is mystery and paradox in the Bible, and we are to embrace it, wrestle with it, but accept it. This requires unity with a sinful people. Just as we grow through training and practice, we grow through discomfort. Instead of growing into a better musician, we grow toward unity, holiness, lives pleasing to God. We are growing as his temple, one rock on top of another, looking forward to the holy city, growing in character together.

The Spoiled Milk

McCracken has a keen imaginative sense for detail, and it’s quite obvious in his “ideal” comfortable church in the beginning of the book. I’m not good at giving good descriptive detail, only vague generalities, so the precision detail McCracken gives impressed me. It’s one you can see, hear, and feel.

But his precision cuts the other way. In his chapter titled “Uncomfortable People,” McCracken lists “some of the weird church-people types” he has “had the hardest time with over the years” (125). He doesn’t list five generally odd types of people, but fifteen all-too-specific types of people whom he has met. Some types on this list are indeed frustrating (e.g., condescending explainers), while other examples are unnecessary—people with hyperhidrosis, those who still can’t remember your name, “far-too-happy” people, and those who weep during the worship service (which sometimes results in you feeling like an emotionless Christian).

I would like to add this to McCracken’s list: people who are nitpicky “ad nauseam” (126). These fifteen types are too accurate, and such detail is dispensable. What if these types of people are reading this list?(—and with fifteen types of listed, that idea is not farfetched). How would they feel? While some (#6) should think through their questions before they ask an offensive and personal question, some (#2) don’t know whether to hug or shake a hand because they do think through their actions, and they don’t want to be offensive.

The rest of the chapter, however, was great and reminds the reader that they are in a covenant community, one of many living stones making up God’s temple and one of many holy priests serving one another in that temple.

Recommended?

McCracken has given me a greater appreciation, care, and concern for the church in his short book. It is a simple book to read, but in it’s simplicity were deep truths. Bonhoffer has said, “Confession in the presence of a brother is the profoundest kind of humiliation.” Yet it was the excruciating cross that allows us to be uncomfortable which allows us to grow closer.

Lagniappe

Buy it on Amazon 

Disclosure: I received this book free from Crossway. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Amazon Affiliate Disclosure: I receive a percentage of revenue if you buy from Amazon on my blog. 

Book Review: Conscience: What It Is, How to Train It, and Loving Those Who Differ (Naselli/Crowley)

conscience

Andrew David Naselli (PhD, Bob Jones University; PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is assistant professor of New Testament and biblical theology at Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis, Minnesota. J. D. Crowley (MA, Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary) has been doing missionary and linguistic work among the indigenous minorities of northeast Cambodia since 1994.

Buy One, Get Ten Free

Some subjects in Christianity are so fertile, so abundantly promising and useful on so many different levels, that studying them reaps a harvest far beyond expectations. It’s like buy one, get ten free. Conscience is one of those subjects. It touches on salvation, progressive sanctification, church unity, evangelism, missions, and apologetics. Yet hardly is a topic more neglected in the Christian church (Kindle 173-175).

What is a conscience and why do we have it? What are we meant to use it for? Can we sell it? Can we shape it, mold it? Should we, in the words of Jiminy Cricket, always let our conscience be our guide? Can it ever be wrong?

After we’ve answered those questions, the next test remains: since we aren’t like “Bubble Boy,” we shouldn’t keep only to ourselves, and we should live amongst other believers (and non-Christians), how ought we interact with others who have a different conscience than us? Split and form another church? How must we calibrate our conscience to how God desires us to live?

Naselli and Crowley have met a need by writing Conscience. If Paul spent whole sections on it in his letters (Rom 14.1–15.7; 1 Cor 8–10; Gal 2; Col 2), then we must consider our own consciences and the consciences of others more than we already do. It is a gift from God.

Outline

  • Chapters 1 and 2 ask what a conscience is and how we define it from the NT. Humans have consciences. Animals don’t. Our conscience reflects the moral aspect of God’s image. No one has the same conscience, your conscience doesn’t perfectly match God’s commands (thus you must always be growing), and you can damage your conscience. In chapter 2, all NT verses which speak of “conscience” are written out, and afterwards a definition is produced which tells us what the conscience can and cannot do and why it matters.

The following four chapters ask four critical questions:

  • Chapter 3, What should you do when your conscience condemns you?
    .
  • Chapter 4, How should you calibrate your conscience to match God’s will?
    “Martin Luther believed that maintaining a good conscience was worth going to prison for and even dying for.” (Kindle 774-775). Here the authors look at how reliable your conscience is on it’s own, and show you how you can calibrate your conscience according to what is pleasing to God. They give plenty of examples of third-level issues (issues which many will disagree over, but they are issues that nobody should split over), and reason over why no one should be dogmatic over all of his convictions.
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  • Chapter 5, How should you relate to fellow Christians when your consciences disagree? The authors give 12 principles from Romans 14.1-15.7 on how Christians can disagree with one another on disputable matters. They show Paul’s solution of love that emphasizes and “magnifies the gospel.”
    .
  • Chapter 6, How should you relate to people in other cultures when your consciences disagree? It can sometimes seem like people in other cultures don’t even have a conscience. They easily offend you, and, as it turns out, no matter how hard you try, you easily offend them too! How can we live together? And how can we bring the Gospel to other cultures without imposing our own cultural “laws” on to their lives? Chapter 6 pulls out another facet of Christian liberty and the freedom to disciple yourself to be flexible for the Gospel.

The book ends with two appendices:

  • Similarities Between Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8–10
  • Conscience Exercises For Cross-Cultural Effectiveness

The Chocolate Milk

Every chapter is important, and I found chapter 6 interesting, especially since Mari has a bachelor in intercultural communications, and we are an intercultural couple. Even though I’m American, I’ve been abroad for 5 years, and coming back to America I have to learn a few things over again (such as with being in a Southern Baptist context). It’s all fairly familiar to me, but it can be down right bizarre for Mari. This chapter is especially important:
…….(a) if you move to a new city/state/country.
…….(b) if someone else moves to your city.
…….(c) if you are a missionary to another country.
…….(d) because, with all the incoming refugees, you can’t just assume you know how they think, nor should you generalize.

More could be listed here, but it’s important to work toward understanding those who think differently than you (and I) do. In all of this we should seek unity with our family in Christ, and, as much as is possible, be peaceable among nonbelievers.

Recommended?

At 160 pages, this is a seriously easy and important book for any and all Christians to read through. I tried scanning through Amazon for books on the Christian conscience, and found next to nothing (minus a book by Sproul which is free on Kindle). While I haven’t read any other books on the conscience, the lack of Christian books on conscience shows the need for more discussion on this topic. There are a number of books about the conscience on Amazon, most of them from a non-Christian perspective. If you’re going to spend your time reading a book, pick up one written by two biblically solid scholars who seek to glorify God in all that they do. Read this book, and put it into practice. You’ll need it.

Lagniappe

  • Authors: Andrew Naselli & J. D. Crowley
  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Crossway (April 30, 2016)
  • Read a Sample

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Disclosure: I received this book free from Crossway. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.

Review: Newton on the Christian Life

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Crossway’s Theologians on the Christian Life series wants to fill our lack of “perspectives from the past, perspectives from a different time and place than our own… [When] it comes to learning about and practicing discipleship[, it’s] like owning a mansion and choosing to live in only one room. This series invites you to explore the other rooms” (Series Preface). The aim of the TotCL series isn’t to give us biographies nor full-blown theologies of each man. They are “an exposition of each man’s view of the Christian life” (Storms). So far there are twelve volumes, ranging from Calvin to Bavinck, Packer to Luther, Schaeffer to Wesley, and then some.

Almost everyone knows the song “Amazing Grace” by Isaac Newton. Fewer know that he used to be a sailor who participated in the trading of slaves. Even fewer know much anything else about him. Tony Reinke seeks to impart the voice of Newton to us. So much so that John Piper says the voice of Reinke and Newton have become one. “Tony has absorbed the spirit and mind of John Newton.”

But why read about Newton? Piper relays J. I. Packer’s statement on Newton, “‘Ex-slavetrader John Newton was the friendliest, wisest, humblest and least pushy of all the eighteenth-century evangelical leaders, and was perhaps the greatest pastoral letter-writer of all time.’ Tony has lived in those one-thousand letters long enough to be the sweet aroma of this ‘least-pushy’ of eighteenth-century giants” (Foreward).

Summary

Here I will try to pair the book off in sections, though Reinke doesn’t do this, and, as we will see, many of the themes are interwoven throughout the whole book.

The first four chapters (though all of them do, really) point us to Christ. Chapter 1 lays the foundation of Newton’s thoughts on the Christian life: grace. Yet grace is not some “spiritual currency or some abstracted spiritual power.” No, it is Jesus himself. He is the architect who builds us up along our life. Jesus isn’t blind to the “jobsite mess” of which he will clean us up from. God’s grace binds us to Christ.

Before we learn from Newton about the common challenges of the Christian life, before we study the particular blemishes of Christian character, before we study his instructions to those who are discouraged and depressed, before we see his balm for the pain and trials and the insecurities Christians face, and before we can learn from him about trying to do business in the world, or about how to honor God in our marriages, or about how to deal with particular indwelling sins—before we look at any of these particulars, we must understand the root of all grace, Jesus Christ.

Reinke shows the reader how Christ’s is all-sufficient (ch 2) through six different titles: Christ is our Shepherd, Husband, Prophet, Priest, King, and Friend. Because Jesus is all-sufficient, we are to find our daily joy in him because we know by faith that he is truly glorious (ch 3). What if the joy of Christ becomes boring to us? Then we merely need to look at our lives. “Trials remedy fictional escapism.” When trials happen in the drama of life we are to run to our all-sufficient friend who gives us all that we need. Trials point us to a better, greater reality.

“The Apostle, when speaking of the love and riches of Christ, uses remarkable expressions; he speaks of heights, and depths, and lengths, and breadths, and unsearchable, where I seem to find every thing plain, easy, and rational. He finds mysteries where I can perceive none.”

Perhaps we should envy Paul’s sufferings, for Paul lived a life of gospel-simplicity (ch 4). He was being “emptied of all self-reliant thoughts and abilities” and knew that “every trial or stroke of pain [came] from God’s hand, with his own glory at stake ultimately.”

Chapters 5-9 deal with sin and trials in the Christian life. We must face our inward sin (ch 5), “we must feel our own sin and it must shake us,” to see that beauty of Christ’s all-sufficient power to overcome sin. In pursuing Christ-centered holiness (ch 6), we aim to overcome the indwelling sin that rises up when trials come around. They must come, for if we want to resemble Jesus, we must “have real fellowship with him in his death” also. Suffering can bring selfishness or it can bring maturity. Newton gives us a growth chart of the Christian life (ch 7), one that is all too aware of the trials but provides the hope of spiritual maturity. Maturity is sought after and found by defeating not only the big sins, but the small blemishes (ch 8) as well. Christian “[trials] are medicines of kindness applied to serious diseases called indwelling sins” [Ch 9]

Indwelling sins are more readily smoked out with noxious trials than with powdered donuts. God would not send the pain if he did not intend to rouse the vipers and drive them out. The Christian life includes God’s intention that we not only comprehend our sins theoretically, but feel them actually. Trials make us feel the power of the sins residing in our hearts, and such awareness is essential to the cure.

Chapters 10-14 deal with Bible reading, battles, and victory. As there is a daily need for communion with Christ so we can know him and also overcome sin, we are to be humble as we are reading the Bible (ch 10), knowing we don’t have it all together. It will teach us how to battle insecurity (ch11) and find assurance in the all-sufficient One. We will find victory over both spiritual weariness (ch 12) which comes from our trials and sins, and of Mr. Self (ch 13). We are nothing, and Jesus is all in all. To die to our selfish desires is to gain Christ (ch 14), who is all in all.

Recommended?

It’s hard to summarize a fourteen chapter book, especially one so well-written as this. If I have one complaint it’s that I had a difficult time finding any sort of structure while I was reading the book. The chapters themselves were excellent, but I didn’t really know why they were ordered as they were. But that aside, this book is highly recommended. If the rest of the series is this good, then every volume is worthy of purchase.

We are not to think that 21st scholars, pastors, friends, and parents are the products of all that have come before us and are, therefore, wiser and more insightful than our previous ancestors. The way we choose to live as Christians speaks volumes to the world around us. Let us not pass up this opportunity.

Lagniappe

  • Series: Theologians on the Christian Life
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Crossway (May 31, 2015)

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[Special thanks to Crossway for allowing me to review this book! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book]. 

Newton and Seven Christian Blemishes

John Newton was a spiritual gardener of the heart. Since he was so often a student of his own heart, he knew well how to find the character flaws of others, those “defects that [do] not rise to the level of blatant sins or gross violations of Scripture.” He knew how to treat them. He could both valiantly uproot trees and gently pull out weeds.

In chapter 8 of his book, Newton on the Christian Life, Tony Reinke shows us how “Newton zeros in on seven types of Christians who broadcast [their] character flaws, using rather picturesque names in the tradition of John Bunyan.”

[P.S., quotes are not cited, as the page number on iBooks varies depending on the size of the font, and may not accurately represent those found in the book. However all quotes can be found in Chapter 8 of the book]. 

1. Austerus: Orthodox (but Strict)

Austerus prizes the truth and resists “the promises of worldly indulgence. His friends see his genuine humility, but those who do not know him well see him as cold and rigid.” He is strict and harsh which makes him “more admired than loved.” Sure, Austerus is not comfortable with the world and will not lose his biblical convictions, but he is not kind toward his friends, neighbors, or enemies.

See, Austerus misuses the law. He “believes God is glorified only by meticulous and calculated obedience, and yet he forgets that God is also glorified in the enjoyment of his good and perfect gifts,” especially with others.

2. Humanus: A Self-Sacrificing Life (with a Tireless Tongue)

Humanus loves people. We call this kind of person an “extrovert.” He is a loyal, helpful servant, but… he knows everyone’s business. If he’s a vault of secrets, there is no key. His tongue works as hard as his hands. But it’s not slander. Humanus simply can’t keep his mouth shut, nor his stories accurate. While his “faith is evident in his example of pure and undefiled religion (James 1:27)…. Humanus must learn to bridle his tongue (James 1:26; 3:1–12).”

Solution: His prayer should be Psalm 141.3, “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!”
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3. Prudens: Generous in Private (but a Miser in Public)

Prudens is generous… to his friends. But bring him down to the marketplace, and Mr. (or Mrs.) Prudens is quite the frugal one. He is good, perhaps too good, with his money, and he forgets that he is dealing with a real person. Though he is generous to friends, the world sees him as a Scrooge. At the end of the Christian’s life, how did one use the money with which God gave them? “Was it used in a way that honored God and reflected gospel simplicity? Was it used to care for others? Or was it withheld to take advantage of others?”

Solution: The solution is to become a spiritual hoarder, who is more concerned about running his hands through gospel riches than he is the change in his pocket: ‘Jesus is mine: in him I have wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, an interest in all the promises and in all the perfection of God.”
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4. Volatilis: Large-Hearted (but Always Late)

Volatilis is a loving server who puts too much on his plate and tries to serve too many dishes to too many people. As a result, Volatilis “appears late, if he appears at all.” Again Reinke asks, “A commitment is a commitment. If a man’s word is important, how much more important is a Christian man’s word?”

Solution: Because of this, “Volatilis needs to see how his tardiness spoils his love and agitates others.”
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5. Cessator: Heavenly Minded (but Earthly Disconnected)

Cessator

is quick to listen and very slow to act. ’Had he been sent into the world only to read, pray, hear sermons, and join in religious conversation, he might pass for an eminent Christian. But… his conduct evidences that his judgment is weak, and his views of his Christian calling are very narrow and defective. He does not consider, that waiting upon God in the public and private ordinances is designed… to instruct, strengthen, and qualify us for their performance.’

The sermon arrives on Sunday and by Monday it’s already out of the mind. He settles for sermons, books, lectures, prayer, and pithy sayings, but forgets about the real world of work and labor; of sacrifice and people.

Our labors and the seeming hindrances in life are all from him, and they are for our ultimate good and his ultimate glory. Our labors are golden opportunities to apply the means of grace and to worship God in the kitchen or at the office.

6. Curiosus: Upright and Interested (but Nosy and Closed)

While Humanus loves people and hears their tales, Curiosus pries “into the lives and details of others.” Humanus comes to the water and waits for the tide to roll in. Curiosus dives in head first. He means no harm, but others end up either avoiding him or giving him as little information as possible. Such curiosity “is drawn to details that do not concern him. He knows no boundaries between what he should know and what he should not know.”

Solution: He should “mind his ‘own affairs,’ so that he may ‘walk properly before outsiders’ (1 Thess. 4:11-12).”
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7. Querulus: Wrapped in Political Debates: (and Politically Powerless)

Querulus is always on board for a political fight. He reads the paper, heads to the office (or Facebook), and makes a show of himself. His mouth-gates flood fire against the machine, while his hands and feet lay sleeping in the comfort of their own pockets. Though he knows it, he lives as if he doesn’t believe that “‘The LORD Reigns’ (Pss. 93:1; 96:10; 97:1; 99:1),” and nothing is outside of the crucified Christ’s supreme rule.

Politically, Querulus is powerless. Now there is nothing wrong to be a Christian in politics. What’s wrong is the unproductive debating that forgets about the daily duties of life. Even worse, prayer, which does more than our griping, is forgotten. Rather than saying, “‘The greatest need for this nation is a power shift in political parties’ … the church should protect her contemporary opportunity to proclaim to the world, ‘The greatest problem we face as a nation is our sin, and the only ultimate solution is Christ crucified.’”

Conclusion

“Through this list of portraits, Newton intends to help us all locate a character flaw in our lives that may tarnish the glory of Christ in our interactions with the world. This is an act of pastoral love. Of course ‘some are offended at the minister who detects any part of their character which is defective; but a Christian is thankful when his defects are discovered to him.’”

These are character traits that can easily mask the sweet aroma of Christ (2 Cor 2.14-17). It smudges “the local church’s collective testimony in their city (Phil. 2:14-18).” Let us look at ourselves, let us see our sin, and let us change the way we live.

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Buy the Book on Amazon or at Crossway.

Newton and the Growth Chart of the Christian Life

In his book Newton on the Christian Life: To Live is Christ, Tony Reinke shows us Newton’s growth chart of the Christian life in chapter 7 (the title of this post is actually the title of the chapter).

  1. Working on the seasons of planted corn, Newton says the Christian life starts off like a blade of corn. We are like children who know nothing except that we have been saved by the death of Christ. New life has begun, but “as spiritual infants we all do foolish things.”
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  2. Next blade grows into an ear of corn. The child becomes a teen. The teen grows in math, and he or she will need it. They will learn to die to themselves rather than following their every emotion, especially when they don’t feel God’s presence. They become aware of their weaknesses, and thus are loving, kind, and tender toward others.
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  3. Finally, the teen becomes an adult. The budding ear becomes a full corncob. “The spiritual man, the father, always lives in ‘absolute dependence’ on God. His ever-present mindfulness of his weakness is his strength.” New tons says, “In a sense he is much stronger, because he has a more feeling and constant sense of his own weakness.” He is quick to turn to Jesus in every need, and Jesus is his every want and desire.

When we put together Newton’s stages of maturity (which are expanded in the book), “they form a robust picture of Christian growth.” Reinke gives the reader some order to these stages and allows us to review the categories individually.

Maturity Moves…

Maturity moves

  • away from a self-centered life
  • and toward a gospel-simple, God-centered orientation aimed at God’s glory.

Maturity moves

  • away from a circumstantially centered roller coaster of emotions
  • and toward a disciplined life rooted in daily spiritual habits.

Maturity moves

  • away from a legalistic, works-oriented relationship with God
  • and toward a stable, gospel-centered security in Christ.

Maturity moves

  • away from a self-centered evaluation of the assurance of salvation
  • and toward a firm confidence in Christ as the ground of assurance.

Maturity moves

  • away from exalted thoughts of self
  • and toward lower and more humbled opinions of self and greater awareness of the remaining sin within.

Maturity moves

  • away from the impulse to correct others in harsh arrogance
  • and toward a humbled and loving correction of others motivated by a deep sense of the worth of souls.

Maturity moves

  • away from a fearful apprehension about life’s circumstances
  • and toward a confidence in God’s sovereign orchestration over every detail in life.

Maturity moves

  • away from worldly securities
  • and toward an increasing willingness to leave this world in the Lord’s timing.

For Pastors

Faithful pastor, don’t fuss over the imperceptible growth in your flock. Let God’s timing recalibrate your expectations for what maturity will look like in them. Although the progress is often unseen, and your pastoral labors never end, the Spirit-born fruit is growing. Celebrate even the smallest evidences of maturity you see. Christian, don’t fuss over your current mood as a gauge of your spiritual health, but keep two eyes focused daily on the Christ who hung on a tree.

For All Christians

Remember, the growth of a believer is not like a mushroom, but like an oak, which increases slowly indeed but surely. Many suns, showers, and frosts, pass upon it before it comes to perfection; and in winter, when it seems dead, it is gathering strength at the root. Be humble, watchful, and diligent in the means, and endeavor to look through all, and fix your eye upon Jesus, and all shall be well. Follow this Christ-centered plan and you will mature into a broad-spreading, deeply rooted tree, established for ages, flourishing forever.

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Buy the Book from Amazon or Crossway

John Newton on the Christian’s Indwelling Sin

There are few bigger questions the Christian has than “Why doesn’t God take us to heaven when we get saved?” and “Why do I as a Christian still struggle with sin?”

In Romans 6.6-7 Paul says, “We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin.”

If the Christian is set free from sin, why do is there still sin? Why do we still desire to disobey God? Reading through Newton’s thoughts helps us to answer our personal questions, especially when struggling with sin (which is most of the time). We can be thankful, not that we have sin, but that God uses our sin to bring glorify to himself and his work in Christ.

Six Reasons Why Christians Have Remaining Sin

In his book Newton on the Christian Life: To Live is Christ, Tony Reinke gives the reader six reasons why Christians still have sin remaining in their mortal bodies.

For Newton, a profound mystery exists in the work of sovereign grace. God could completely remove all the roots of indwelling sin from our hearts in a moment, and yet he chooses not to. Sin remains in the Christian because Christ is overruling it, not because sin is stronger than grace. But if the cross of Christ has broken the power of sin, if Christ is stronger than the remaining evil in my heart, how do we explain remaining sin in the Christian life?

  1. “Indwelling sin remains to make us wonder how such a weak sinner’s faith has been sustained.”
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    • The fact that faith survives in our sin-filled bodies is a sure sign of God’s sovereign grace. We would have messed up our salvation by Day 1, yet we can wake up each morning knowing that “[this] faith-sustaining grace proves the power, wisdom, faithfulness, and love of God toward us. How can it not? Faith survives in the most unlikely of places: within us!”
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  2. “Indwelling sin magnifies the extent of redemption.”
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    • As “the natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God” (1 Cor 2.14), Christians “have received… the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God” (1 Cor 2.12). We don’t understand how wicked sin is until we are saved by God’s grace, and it is then that we see the battle between the Holy Spirit and sin. And that battleground is in us.
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    • “Indwelling sin affords us the firsthand experience of sin’s potency, thereby magnifying the work of Christ’s power in its defeat. Only a powerful Savior could defeat evil this stubborn and strong.”
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  3. “Indwelling sin humbles us in our awareness of its presence.”
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    • Just as Paul can thank God for his immeasurable comfort in 2 Corinthians 1.3-11 (also seen in his trials in 2 Cor 11.24-33), Newton knew that the trials of sin in the life of the believer, plus the successes brought by God, would give the believer sufficient reason to praise her Savior.
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    • If God must save us and preserve us to the end, the final work is all due to him. He gets the glory. If a sailor escapes with his life in a storm on the open sea, he will be grateful but soon forget his deliverance, Newton writes (no doubt looking back to the storm that nearly took his life). But even more permanently thankful will be the sailor who escapes storm after storm, swell after swell, near-death experience after near-death experience, and then after such an odyssey finally finds his way to safe harbor. The Christian is the second sailor, and the waves and the billows are the swells of indwelling sin that rock our lives and conscript us to daily battle. The Christian is safe on the journey home, but not arrogantly safe—properly humbled, we can say.

  4. “Indwelling sin magnifies Christ’s sovereignty.”
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    • The righteous are said to be scarcely saved (1 Pet. 4:18)… in respect of their own apprehensions, and the great difficulties they are brought through. But when, after a long experience of their own deceitful hearts, after repeated proofs of their weakness, willfulness, ingratitude, and insensibility, they find that none of these things can separate them from the love of God in Christ, Jesus becomes more and more precious to their souls.w

    • And so, if the righteous are ‘scarcely saved,’ their salvation is owing to Christ’s magnificent power, not to the sufficiency of the Christian. ‘In a word, some of the clearest proofs they have had of his excellence, have been occasioned by the mortifying proofs they have had of their own vileness. They would not have known so much of him, if they had not known so much of themselves.’

  5. “Indwelling sin humbles all our attempts at charity.”
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    • Newton was convinced Romans 7 was a realistic and normative picture of the struggles in the Christian life. When we seek to do good, evil lies close at hand to thwart our attempts (Rom. 7:21). No act of love or obedience is free from the sludge of self and sin. And therefore Christ is honored by our broken and contrite hearts (Ps. 51:17).

    • Though I disagree with Newton’s position of Romans 7 (another view taken by deSilva can be seen here), the application is spot on. We are sinners, and all of our best efforts are sinful. No Christian is a “good” Christian. We are righteous only because of the only one who was perfect, the same one who became a curse for us. One day we too will be perfect, but that day is not today.
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  6. “Indwelling sin sets our hopes off this world.”
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    • Why is sin still in the mortal bodies of believers? Because one day we will be delivered from this body and from this evil and twisted generation. We will be resurrected into new bodies, and this world will be made new.
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    • God would never allow sin to remain inside his children if he did not purpose to ultimately defeat its presence. Which is to say, our indwelling sin causes us to cherish the forthcoming day when it will be removed forever. The sense of our indwelling sin now entices our anticipation for the day we see Jesus, the day when every evil and every imperfection and every hindrance to full joy in Christ—every desire we have for sin—will be exterminated from our hearts…. But for now, indwelling sin is what sets our hope on this future day, prevents us from storing up treasures on earth, readies us for death, and keeps us in eager anticipation of our ‘glorious liberty’ to come (emphasis mine).

Thus

Reinke adds,

these so-called ‘benefits’ of indwelling sin are never an excuse for sinning. Sin is our mortal enemy, sin killed our Savior, and mortifying indwelling sin is the daily work of the Spirit in our lives now. God ever ‘abhors pride and self-importance,’ and he has committed in mercy to ‘pound them as in a mortar, to beat it out of them, or to prevent its growth.’ And yet even within the battle to purge his children from all evil, evil plays a role. For now we in our flesh harbor sin—an enemy, a viper of lingering enmity against God that eludes our mortifying efforts….

“When Paul said that all things work together for our good, he meant it, all the way down to the core of our indwelling sin (Rom. 8:28).

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