Direction 1: Concerning the Novelty of Godliness
A number of years ago, Scripture Studies.com. put out a series of excerpts from one of my heroes, Richard Baxter. Baxter's Christian Directory was a powerful influence in my life and I was happy to see this material put online. This particular material consisted of excerpts focused on Baxter’s Directions to Young Christians.
I thought I would provide an even smaller excerpt and include the link for you to check out more of Baxter's excellent spiritual counsel. He was a physician of souls indeed! As one person put it, “And in our day of spiritual fads and consumerism, his direction is needed more than ever.” I couldn’t agree more. I thought these directions were fitting for Christian men and women of all ages who are at different places along their Christian pilgrimages. May Baxter’s words bless you as you continue your journey to the Celestial City and the likeness of Christ.
Here’s Direction 1…
Take heed lest it be the novelty or reputation of truth and godliness, that takes with you, more than the solid evidence of their excellency and necessity; lest when the novelty and reputation are gone, your religion wither and consume away.
…To this kind of professor, the greatest truths grow out of fashion, and they grow weary of them, as of dull and ordinary things; they must have some new light, or new way of religion that lately came in fashion; their souls are weary of that manna that at first was acceptable to them, as angels’ food. Old things seem low, and new things high to them; and to entertain some novelty in religion, is to grow up to more maturity: and too many such at last so far overthrive their old apparel, that the old Christ and old gospel are left behind them.
Click here to read the whole message.
Our True Rule
The United Methodist Church, by way of our denominational standard, addresses the sufficiency of Scripture. Our 2008 Book of Discipline reminds us, Scripture is “necessary for salvation” and is “the true rule and guide for faith and practice.”
I’m assuming the “practice” referenced is the practice of our faith, the exercise of living one’s life under the Lordship of Jesus Christ and preparing for the next. We believe God expects us to live such a life in accordance with Scripture’s direction, rules, laws, commands, examples, teachings, principles, and all the rest. That covers a great deal of ground.
United Methodists believe that what John Wesley called scriptural holiness relates to both our inward walk with Christ and the outward expression of that relationship with our neighbors. Our Doctrinal Statements, General Rules and Social Principles cover a lot of ground and an enormous variety of topics, such as economics, environment, bioethics, justice, marriage, parenting, politics, poverty, and yes, our precious Lord Jesus Christ and the salvation that comes through him. In all these spheres and more, Scripture is our “true rule and guide for faith and practice.”
Our 2008 Disciplines says this about scriptural holiness,
We insist that personal salvation always involves Christian mission and service to the world. By joining heart and hand, we assert that personal religion, evangelical witness, and Christian social action are reciprocal and mutually reinforcing.
Scriptural holiness entails more than personal piety; love of God is always linked with love of neighbor, a passion for justice and renewal in the life of the world.
This is what I mean when I say Scripture is sufficient for every sphere of life. This is what I take our Discipline to mean when it reminds us that Scripture is “necessary for salvation” and is “the true rule and guide for faith and practice.”
So, while the Bible doesn’t, for example, teach me how to change the oil in my car, it still directs and guides me to do even something as mundane (and as important) as that to God’s glory. It teaches me to be a good steward of what God has provided.
The Apostle Paul teaches us,
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
Scripture is profitable for a bunch of stuff. He doesn’t use the same language here, but Paul is saying Scripture is sufficient for every sphere of life. Bishop Mack Stokes addressed this by writing,
Immediately following the “General Rules,” Wesley wrote, ‘These are the General Rules of our society; all which are taught of God to observe, even in his written Word, which is the only rule, and the sufficient rule, both of our faith and practice.’ (The Bible in the Wesleyan Heritage, p. 21)
Understanding that Scripture is sufficient for faith and practice is not the same as saying the Bible is a science textbook, a political constitution, or a manual for how to care for my car. But the Bible clearly does have something (and something important) to say about those areas of life and far more.
Wayne Grudem, (who is not United Methodist), shares this definition for the sufficiency of Scripture, which I believe is helpful. He writes,
The sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture contained all the words of God he intended his people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly. (Systematic Theology, p. 127)
We want to submit to our Lord in every sphere of life and are guided in that pursuit in and through God’s Word. It is sufficient for such a pursuit.
Grace and Truth,
I’m embarrassed and ashamed to say that after staring at it on my bookshelf for over 17 years, I finally picked up J.I. Packer’s book, Rediscovering Holiness, and started reading it. It is extraordinary and I am kicking myself for waiting so long. (I’m also groaning over the fact that there’s a revised and updated version available. However, I’m going to resist the temptation and stick with my older copy. Ugh.)
Holiness is a topic that is near and dear to United Methodists (at least, it used to be... and still ought to be). It certainly was to John Wesley and Packer gives several tips of his hat to both Wesley brothers. I’m looking forward to reading the whole book.
Of particular interest in the first chapter was Packer’s distillation of J.C. Ryle’s “12 Point Profile” of what a holy person looks like. It’s fantastic! I thought I would share bits and pieces of his points with you below. The Apostle Paul encourages us in 2 Corinthians 13:5 to examine ourselves to see if we are “in the faith” I can think of no better list with which to measure yourself than the following excerpts from Ryle.
I pray the following truths will bless, encourage, convict, and lead you to greater holiness in your life.
Grace and Truth,
1.) Holiness is the habit of being of one mind with God, according as we find his mind described in Scripture. It is the habit of agreeing in God’s judgment, hating what he hates, loving what he loves, and measuring everything in this world by the standard of his Word…
2.) A holy man will endeavor to shun every known sin, and to keep every known commandment. He will have… a hearty desire to do [God's] will, a greater fear of displeasing him than of displeasing the world…
3.) A holy man will strive to be like our Lord Jesus Christ. He will not only live the life of faith in him, and draw from him all his daily peace and strength, but he will also labor to have the mind that was in him, and to be
conformed to his image (Romans 8:29).
4.) A holy man will follow after meekness, longsuffering, gentleness, patience, kind tempers, government of his tongue.
5.) A holy man will follow after temperance and self-denial. He will labour to mortify the desires of his body, to crucify his flesh with his affections and lusts, to curb his passions, to restrain his carnal inclinations, lest at any
time they break loose…
6.) A holy man will follow after charity and brotherly kindness.
7.) A holy man will follow after a spirit of mercy and benevolence toward others…
8.) A holy man will follow after purity of heart. He will dread all filthiness and uncleanness of spirit, and seek to avoid all things that might draw him into it.
9.) A holy man will follow after the fear of God. I do not mean the fear of a slave, who only works because he is afraid of punishment… I mean rather the fear of a child, who wishes to live and move as if he was always before his father’s face, because he loves him…
10.) A holy man will follow after humility. He will desire, in lowliness of mind, to esteem all others better than himself. He will see more evil in his own heart than in any other in the world…
11.) A holy man will follow after faithfulness in all the duties and relations in life… Holy persons should aim at doing everything well, and should be ashamed of allowing themselves to do anything ill if they can they can help it… They should strive to be good husbands and good wives, good parents and good children, good masters and good servants, good neighbours, good friends, good subjects, good in private and good in public, good in the place of business and good by their firesides.
12.) Last, but not least, a holy man will follow after spiritual-mindedness. He will endeavour to set his affections entirely on things above, and to hold things on earth with a very loose hand… He will aim to live like one whose
treasure is in heaven, and to pass through this world like a stranger and pilgrim travelling to his home. To commune with God in prayer, in the Bible, and in the assembly of his people – these things will be the holy
man’s chief enjoyments. He will value every thing and place and company, just in proportion as it draws him nearer to God…
This book offers short devotional chapters covering key principles for men who desire to walk the right path of godly manhood.
A godly man knows Christ, has a Christian worldview, lives under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, is aware of the temptations in his life and fights hard against them, desires to grow in his faith, exercises biblical wisdom and discernment, and follows his Lord wherever he may lead. These are the themes that run throughout these devotions.
Before making it to this book, these chapters were sent out as devotional emails over the course of a year to encourage and equip men to walk the path of godly manhood.
Each of these 52 chapters contains a devotional based on Scripture, questions for reflection and next steps, a prayer, and prayer prompts to help guide you in your prayer life for that week.
This devotional can be used for personal time spent with God, as well as a resource for discipling other men, or to use in your small group.
You can learn more about it or buy it here, at Lulu.com.
I have a good number of "raising sons" sort of books sitting on my bookshelves. While some are better than others, I have appreciated them all and am grateful for the effort being made by the authors to highlight the importance of raising sons in today's world.
As the father of three boys, the topic of raising sons to become godly men is very important to me. It’s more than that… it’s a passion of mine. If only I was better at it. If only I was more faithfully practicing what I’m learning in all the books I’m reading on the subject. If only I was more consistent. Well, like the rest of life, fathering sons is also a journey, one I pray that, by God’s grace, I will become better at traveling.
Many, if not most books on the subject, begin by communicating just how rough it is to be a boy (or man) these days. When you realize some of these books were written 15-20 years ago, you appreciate it has not gotten any better for boys or men. Here were three articles written a few years ago by Al Mohler to help make that case.
Other authors, such as Pat Morley, Steve Farrar, and Robert Lewis, who have written extensively on the subject of ministering to men, have all shared the same: Boys are growing up without any real understanding of what it means to be a man. There are even fewer who have an understanding of what biblical manhood is. When the default definition of manhood comes from movies and other forms of the entertainment industry, you know our culture is in trouble.
In addition to raising our three sons (and one awesome daughter) with my wife, I was also privileged to lead a small group of middle school boys for a few years. I jumped at the chance because I believe the church, (as a supplement to the home) is where boys have the greatest chance to learn what it means to become a godly man. I thank God for homes, churches, ministries to boys, scouting programs, etc., that are taking seriously the call to help boys navigate their way to manhood from a biblical perspective. Our culture will be lost without such boys who grow to become such men.
Where, how, and to whom is God calling you to invest your life in the lives of boys who need your godly influence? Pray about it today and then act on it as soon as possible. They need you. We need you.
Grace and Truth,
Character Then Influence
In his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, John Stott reminds his readers that if Matthew 5:3-12 (the Beatitudes) is about a Christian’s character, then Matthew 5:13-16 is about a Christian’s influence in this world. I have always loved the words of Matthew 5:13-16, which describe Christian influence as salt and light. These words of Jesus point us toward the right balance of inward piety and outward action.
It’s important to note, Jesus doesn’t tell us to go out and be salt and light. He declares we already are salt and light. As men who have experienced new birth, we are now new creatures in Christ whose character is increasingly reflected in the Beatitudes. To paraphrase the Apostle Peter, we are holy so we should go and be holy. We are to “go be who we already are,” Jesus and Peter teach us.
I love this text because it strikes an important connection and balance between inward piety and outward action. The inward and private pursuit of the devotional life, of spiritual introspection and reflection is vital, but if it never moves one forward to “live” the life of Christ in the world then it can become an empty and useless form of asceticism. A person can become quickly self-absorbed in their own stuff if their piety never leaves the prayer closet or Bible study. I hasten to add that, in my opinion, this is not the greatest threat to the church today. Would that more people spent greater time in the prayer closet and Bible study. That leads me to the other side of the coin.
As important as outward action (good works) is, if godly character is not undergirding and directing it, then it can become nothing more than the cause de jour. And that can morph into a self-centered, legalistic way for a man to build himself up, and become a judgmental, finger-wagging Pharisee. Not only that, without the knowledge of Christ and the godly character that comes from that relationship, such action can quickly lead to burnout and disillusionment because, to paraphrase Jesus in John 15, the branch was attempting to do all the work without being connected to the vine. Thus, the branch lacked sustenance, power, and direction.
The Role of the Church
To live as salt and light means disciples of Jesus Christ must exercise the godly influence of the Kingdom of God in the midst of the decay and darkness of the Kingdom of this world. A ministry of discipleship should include educating, equipping, and encouraging followers of Jesus Christ to take up his call to extend his Kingdom into every sphere of their lives as salt and light.
It's a both/and proposition: local churches should teach disciples how to build up their own faith and character so they can faithfully live as salt and light. So too should they equip and encourage their members to live out that faithfulness at home with their families, among friends, in the schools, at work, church, in their neighborhoods, communities, city or town, or even in the broader culture or world. A discipleship ministry should focus on both inward piety and outward action. This is how the church can faithfully minister as salt and light in today’s world.
* What are two ways you are growing in inward piety toward God and in the character of Christ?
* What are some ways your inward spiritual growth is showing up as salt and light in the various spheres of your life?
* What are three specific ways you can be more intentional about being a “Kingdom influence” where God has placed you? Share those ideas with a friend and pray together.
Grace and Truth,
In their study guide, "Being God's Man in the Face of Temptation," Steven Arterburn, Kenny Luck, and Todd Wendorff introduce the topic of men's temptations by listing a sort of "Top Ten" (in this case, it's only eight) temptations men face. They say a man is tempted to...
These are the areas they unpack throughout the rest of the study. I thought it might be helpful and good for me to revisit this study (which I did ten years ago) and see how my answers I wrote then match my thinking today. And, in the process, I hope to be able share some wisdom with you as well as receive some wisdom from you on these issues.
Five key ideas this study helps to provide us are...
You can order your own copy of the study guide here. I encourage you to do so as I found it to be a great blessing in helping me grow in godliness.
The Fellowship of Ailbe
Institute for Faith, Work, & Economics
Ravi Zacharias International Ministries
C.S. Lewis Institute
The Gospel Coalition
The Institute on Religion and Democracy
Every Square Inch Ministries
Gene Edward Veith
Center for Cultural Leadership
Church and Culture