When I was converted to Christianity in my senior year of Highschool I had the belief that Christianity was merely knowing the truth of the gospel. I thought that claiming the name of Jesus was nothing more than knowing what is true, fixing up your life to be more moral, and attending church. While my belief has certainly changed over time as Christ is being formed in me, I fear that too many in and outside of the church have this same belief system.
Many people think that Christianity is just knowing truth. While this is part of Christianity, for none can be set free without knowing the truth (John 8:32), it is not the whole. Paul hints at this in his prayer in Ephesians 3.
"For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God."
(Ephesians 3:14-19 ESV)
What is Paul praying? While I could write a whole book on Paul's prayer recorded here (D.A. Carson did), I want to zone in on one aspect of it. Look at verse 16 with me: "that according to the riches of his glory that he may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being." Paul is praying for power as he often does. For what purpose, you ask? "and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God" (v. 19). D.A. Carson said this about v. 19:
"In a culture where so many people are desperate for good health but not demonstrably hungry for the transformation of the inner being, Christians are in urgent need of following Paul's example and praying for displays of God's power in the inner being. In short, Paul's primary concern is to pray for the power of God to work mightily in the domain of our being in such a way that it controls our character and prepares us for heaven."
What does all of this mean? Christianity is made up of men and women who know the truth of Christ and who embody the truth of Christ. It is impossible to be a Christian by just mere knowledge. The devil himself can recite the Apostles' Creed, and doubtless confesses its truth, yet he has personally experienced nothing of its transforming power. God's purpose for the men and women he redeems is not that they merely know truth, but that they embody it as the increase in their knowledge of it.
I read. A lot. I typically read 5-8 books, 20-25 blog posts/articles, and a handful of book reviews, and sermons every month. Now, take a moment and go back in time with me...
About 5 years ago, I didn't want to read. I wasn't into it. If you told me in just a couple of years I would choose to read whenever I had free time I would laugh at you. So what changed? There are a couple of things that I decided I must do in order to fall in love with reading and set myself up for success in reading more books. Here are a few things I started to do:
1. Set a goal for how many books I wanted to read in a year.
Setting goals helped me to have something to work towards. In doing this, I was able to plan approximately how many books I needed to read each month and was better able to get a plan on how much I needed to read each week. Don't start out with a goal of 52 books for a year. Instead, start out with a goal of 10-12. Try to read a book a month and move towards that end goal. Once you reach it, up it. Move from 12-15. Then 15-20. Then 20-25. And so on.
2. I set aside time each week to read.
This is important. If you don't make it a priority on your schedule, it isn't a priority. I set aside three times daily to read: in the morning after my devotional time, around the middle of the afternoon (2-3p), and at night. I typically can read 50-100 pages a day when following this schedule which allows me to read around 2 books a week.
3. I chose three categories of books I want to read at all times.
I have four categories of books I am always reading. History, Theology, Personal Help, and Preaching. I suggest to always be reading multiple books at one time. In doing this, you are able to work through multiple books at a faster rate rather than reading one book and getting stuck in the inevitable 'dry spots' many books have. Customize the categories to fit what you are interested in and then buy some books that fit those categories.
4. I started out with little books and moved up from there.
Don't start out with a 500-page book. Start with a 120-page book and move up from there. Don't feel like you have to read big books in order to grow in the discipline of reading. Start small!
Here is the question you've probably asked yourself in regard to revival: How do I know it's happening?
J.I. Packer states that four things have characterized spiritual renewal in the Bible and throughout church history. Here is what he says:
1. God comes down.
2. God's Word comes home.
3. God's purity comes through.
4. God's people come alive.
Pastor Colin Smith said this in regard to Packer's insight:
"As you read Acts chapter 2 — starting with verse 1 — this is exactly the pattern you find. God comes down in verses 1-13. He rushes down in the person of the Holy Spirit. God’s Word comes home in verses 14-37a. Peter preaches Joel 2, Psalm 16, and Psalm 110 to the people, and his sermon cuts them to the heart. God’s purity comes through in verses 37b to 41. They realize how holy God is and how sinful they are, especially for crucifying God’s Son. Finally, God’s people come alive in verses 42-47. Did you catch that? God’s people come alive in verses 42-47. In other words, what we’re witnessing in verses 42-47 is a church that has come alive! That’s why they look like they do. Verses 42-47 are what an alive church looks like! Dead churches don’t do any of the activities mentioned in verses 42-47; you have to come alive first."
Friends, let us pray and seek God that we may experience Him more and more in our lives.
Have you ever felt like you don't know where to start in Bible reading? You're not alone.
Starting soon, the college ministry I have the great opportunity to lead is going through the gospels in 30 days. Along with the reading, I am encouraging each student to pray J.D. Greear's Gospel Prayer over there time in the Word and themselves.
I encourage you to join us! Just download the PDF document below that includes both the 30-day reading program along with the Gospel Prayer:
Have you ever received a gift that you have no use for? Let's be honest, we all have. Rather it's a shirt that is two sizes too big or a home decoration item that goes with nothing in your home, we all have received things that we have little to no use for.
God is the perfect gift-giver. James 1:17 tells us that "Every good and perfect is from above." He is sovereign over all things that happen in our lives and uses all things in our lives to work out His eternal purposes. All of his working is ultimately "For the good of those who love God..." (Romans 8:28) and His utmost glory. Do you believe that?
Then ask God to give you the gift of suffering.
Philippians 3:10 is bold. It's powerful. It's scary. It's Paul's prayer. "Oh that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like Him in His death."
"Oh that I may know him... and may share his sufferings...."
This isn't on my prayer list. I don't pray this over my wife. I don't pray this over my church. I don't pray this over my friends, family, even enemies! Why? If every good and perfect gift is from God. If God is sovereign and truly works all things together for good. If He uses EVERYTHING to shape His people to be more like Christ and drive their hearts deeper into the well of who He is. And if the most used tool in His toolbox to allow us to know Him more and be conformed to His image is suffering...
Why would I not ask God for suffering?
1. We mistake suffering for being bad.
While I do not pretend to sit back and proclaim that I have experienced any suffering in my life (because I have not up to this point), I do stand upon God's Word and what He has said. God has made it clear that while suffering is HARD, it ultimately is not BAD because it has been sovereignly allowed by an infinitely good God who uses all things, even inherently evil things, for our good. It is in light of this truth that we can say as Job with great confidence, "Blessed be the name of the Lord."
2. We want to have deeper fellowship with Christ as long as we aren't uncomfortable.
I fear many of us, myself included, have been so saturated by Western civilization comforts that we can actually worship Christ and comfort at the same time without even knowing it. We want Jesus with a side of a comfortable life. We want Jesus as long as we don't have to lose our homes, our jobs, our spouse, our kids, our church, our reputation, or our lives. This is a total affront to the teachings of the New Testament where Jesus says "Take up your cross and follow me." You can't have a comfortable life and your Jesus too.
In light of who God is, suffering is not bad. It is good. And when it comes, we should not despair but "Count it all joy" (James 1:2) because the One who allowed it has promised to use it. Suffering is a gift.
Recently I read the book A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Praying with Paul by D.A. Carson. The book has many highlights, but none more personally eye-opening and convicting than this:
In the Western world, many of us in our praying are like nasty little boys who ring front doorbells and run away before anyone answers.
I cannot help but pray and ask God straight from Psalm 85:6 "Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in You?"
Will you join me?
1. College is a Privilege; Take it Seriously! Every year, thousands of freshmen come to campus and immediately start taking college for granted. They cut class, they stay out too late, and they try to get by with the minimum work required… that recipe leads to disaster! Nationally, only 2 of every 3 freshmen will come back for their sophomore year. And, while there are many factors behind that statistic, personal folly is certainly a big one.
As Christians, we have the responsibility of being “sober-minded” (1 Peter 5:8). We’re called to understand what reality is and respond to it accordingly. So, in college, that means we should understand the importance of the assignments we have and work hard to meet those challenges. Also, we should see our school work as the task that God gave us and work hard, like we were doing it for Him (Colossians 3:23). Sometimes that means missing-out on the popular thing to do, and that’s ok.
2. Know why YOU are a Christian. If your sole motivation for “Christian living,” up to this point, has been the fear of your parent’s discipline, then you need to rethink some things. I would urge you to study Matthew 16:24. It teaches that genuine followers of God should deny their own desires and seek to live for Him. Are you ready to do that?
There are two types of Christian students in college: Those who are living for God, and those who are living in sin. Are you ready to live for God without the threat of parental discipline?
3. Don't date right away. I wish I could say, don't date until you’re a senior, but nobody would listen. My advice: Get your feet on the ground. Get used to being a college student. Find a church. Get plugged in. Find accountability… THEN date! Truth be told, as a casual observer of student’s lives, relationships that start during Welcome Week typically end by Labor Day. So, why not just focus on making friends for now?
4. Having a Job in College is a Good Idea. Now, I’m not saying to start a career; working 8 to 15 hours of work per week will probably be fine. Here’s why:
6. Join a Church. Don’t just visit different churches every Sunday and remain uncommitted. You need to find a local body of believers to join. You need them and they need you. If you think you need to stay at your church back home, do the math. Which church will you be at more during the year? And, do you plan to move back in with mom and dad when you graduate?… I didn’t think so!
If you live in the Grant county Indiana area, I recommend my church, Liberty Baptist Church.
7. Planning Ahead is the Key to Success. Don’t let any due-date surprise you. After you have collected all of your syllabi, sit down and map out your semester. If you don’t have a calendar, YOU WILL ACTUALLY NEED TO BUY ONE! Electronic or paper will work, but I prefer the ease of color-coding and rescheduling items that an electronic calendar offers.
Luke 14:28 says, “For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it” (ESV)? Planning ahead isn’t just smart, it’s in the Bible!
8. Sleep at Night, Work During the Day. It’s crazy that I have to say this, but college students have a funny way of getting these things mixed up. It’s often a result of poor planning. Making the most out of your day-time hours will help you keep a more productive rhythm. For example, an all-night cram session one night, will lead to a day-time nap the next day, only to be followed by another all night cram session… Bye bye productivity!
9. Get to Know Your Professors. Every school is different, but many top educational institutions want their professors to become their student’s mentors. Why, you ask… because students who know their professors are more apt to stay and graduate.(2) It’s true, “distant students” that have never talked to their professors, don’t do as well.
10. Your Parents will Miss You. Call Them. You don’t have to call them everyday, but you should make time to call them at least once a week. When you go to college, your relationship with your parents will change a lot. Believe it or not, you will mature and your relationship will grow. On top of all that, calling your parents is a good way to honor them and the investment they are making in you (Ephesians 6:2-3).
11. Don't Sign-up for Everything. When you show up to campus, every student organization will be vying for you. The truth of the matter is this, you can only do so much in a day. You can’t and shouldn’t be a part of everything. I usually make the following suggestion to students: Join a church and then join a secular club that interests you. (i.e. if interested in photography, then join the photography club. If interested in public policy, then join the Student Government or College Republicans).
Joining a secular club doesn’t just make you more well-rounded, it also gives you a platform to share the gospel.
12. Prepare Yourself to Be a Friend. Sometimes, finding a good friend in college will take some work. My advice is this: First, be yourself. Don’t try to be someone that your not. Second, remember the old adage: “if you want to find a friend, you need to go out and be a friend.” That idea is actually quite Christlike, since Jesus taught us that we should “do unto others, as we would want them to do for us (Luke 6:31).
John Piper recently addressed the question, Does Proverbs Promise My Child Will Not Stray? in a recent episode of Ask Pastor John. As you might have guessed, the question was based on Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
Piper ended the episode by sharing these 9 truths for parents to remember and follow:
1) In general, bringing up children God’s way will lead them to eternal life. In general, that is true.
2) This reality would include putting our hope in God and praying earnestly for our wisdom and for their salvation all the way to the grave. Don’t just pray until they get converted at age 6. Pray all the way to the grave for your children’s conversions and for the perseverance of their apparent conversions.
3) Saturate them with the Word of God. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17).
4) Be radically consistent and authentic in your own faith — not just in behavior, but in affections. Kids need to see how precious Jesus is to mom and dad, not just how he is obeyed or how they get to church or how they read devotions or how they do duty, duty, duty. They need to see the joy and the satisfaction in mom and dad’s heart that Jesus is the greatest friend in the world.
5) Model the preciousness of the gospel. As we parents confess our own sins and depend on grace, our kids will say, “Oh, you don’t have to be perfect. Mom and dad aren’t perfect. They love grace. They love the gospel because Jesus forgives their sins. And I will know then he can forgive my sins.”
6) Be part of a Bible-saturated, loving church. Kids need to be surrounded by other believers and not just mom and dad.
7) Require obedience. Do not be lazy. There are so many young parents today that appear so lazy. They are not willing to get up and do what needs to be done to bring this kid into line. So we should follow through on our punishments and follow through especially on all of our promises of good things that we say we are going to do for them.
8) God saves children out of failed and unbelieving parenting. God is sovereign. We aren’t the ones, finally, who save our kids. God saves kids and there would hardly be any Christians in the world if he didn’t save them out of failed families.
9) Rest in the sovereignty of God over your children. We cannot bear the weight of their eternity. That is God’s business and we must roll all of that onto him.
I am a Husband to Clarissa, Pastor at Liberty Baptist Church, reader of many books, and tweeter at @brad_merchant.