Disciplined and Equipped

Hello Ladies! It’s been awhile since we talked about IDEALS, so let’s do it!

In the last post, we considered what it means to be Immersed in the Word—to live a life in which the truths of Scripture determine how we think and act because we are hiding the Word in our hearts (Ps. 119:11) and meditating on it continually (Ps. 119:97).

At our March ladies gathering, we looked at why it’s important to cultivate a supreme view of the Word—and the God of the Word—and how we can put that conviction into practice. (The handout from the gathering is attached here, in case you missed that time of sweet fellowship.)

Today, let’s look at the “D” and the “E” of the IDEAL Christian life: Disciplined in Our Walk and Equipped for Every Good Work. These two principles go together like peas and carrots.

If the term “discipline” makes you scrunch up your nose in an eat-all-your-veggies sort of way, taste and see that discipline is a good thing! Biblical discipline is not harsh or rules-driven, as some might think. Rather, it is training in godliness.

In the first of two inspired letters that the Apostle Paul wrote to his protégé in the faith, Paul warns him in 1 Timothy 4:7-8 to avoid false teaching (error) and to instead “discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness; for bodily training is just slightly beneficial, but godliness is beneficial for all things.”

In the nearest context, Paul is addressing Timothy, a young preacher; but in the broader context, this call to godliness is extended to believers of all ages, vocations, and eras.

Godliness can be defined as reverence or respect toward God—possessing a high view of God.  The godly person adores God and has a practical awareness of God in every area of life. A godly person puts God in His proper place. The undisciplined person puts something else in God’s place. This is referred to as idolatry. [1]

A disciplined walk generates and sustains a right view of God (godliness) that permeates the very fiber of the believer’s being—mind, heart, attitudes, and behaviors. Now that we have considered what godliness is and recognize that it stems from a disciplined life, let’s contemplate the meaning and composition of spiritual discipline.

In his excellent book, Disciplines for the Christian Life, Donald S. Whitney defines spiritual disciplines as “those practices found in Scripture that promote spiritual growth among believers in the gospel of Jesus Christ.”[2]

To be disciplined in our Christian walk, then, means to obey Scripture as a routine way of life and as a natural response to our saving faith. It involves doing those activities that Scripture commands us to do, such as reading and meditating on the Word, praying, worshipping, and serving. A disciplined walk results in knowing and experiencing God and growing in Christlikeness—it results in godliness.

Godliness is beneficial for all things, Paul says to Timothy. It influences how we view the world and our circumstances. It determines how we use our time (Eph. 5:15-16). It shapes our understanding of God, and it impacts our earthly relationships as we consider them from the perspective of eternity. It affects how we carry out the Lord’s work. It authenticates our Christian witness. In short, it makes us more like Christ, and it is profitable for this life and the next.

In her equally excellent book, Disciplines of a Godly Woman, Barbara Hughes gets to the heart of the matter by providing a definition that addresses some misconceptions. She distinguishes true spiritual discipline from letter-of-the-Law- legalism, the latter of which might give the outward appearance of a disciplined Christian walk but falls short of a heartfelt hunger to grow in godliness. Put succinctly, “legalism is self-centered; discipline is God-centered. [3].

Let’s chew on this a bit.

Legalism is the use of human effort to achieve or maintain a right standing before the Lord (Gal. 3:3). For the legalist, discipline has a self-centered goal in mind: to gain merit with God.

Legalism inevitably results in adding rules and commands where there are none and twisting the ones that actually are there in God’s Word. Legalism is rooted in pride and often consists of judging others for not living up to the man-made moral standards the legalist has determined meritorious.

Can you think of some examples of legalism disguised as spiritual self-discipline?

One need not look further than the Pharisees to find a few illustrations, but let’s get even more practical—and perhaps look a little closer to home. One example that comes to mind is the desire to read the Bible every day.

It is a good thing to read the Bible every day. A very good thing! However, if reading the Bible every day produces a sense of self-accomplishment—or perhaps feelings of drudgery—the point (and the Person) has been gravely missed. As well, if the intent of reading the Bible is to merely gain knowledge or to impress others, the point (and the Person) has been gravely missed. In these examples, the effort has moved from spiritual discipline to counterfeit godliness.

If the purpose of reading the Bible is a desire to gain the Lord’s approval, to feel accomplished, or to impress others, isn’t it likely that missing a day will result in guilt feelings, despair, a sense of failure, or fear that God is angry? Do you see, then, how such motivations and responses are self-centered, driven by emotions, and the opposite of spiritual self-discipline?

In terms of God’s approval of us, our right standing before Him is achieved only through Jesus Christ, who died for our sins, was raised from the dead for our justification, and even now intercedes for us at the throne of grace (Ro. 4:25; Heb. 7:25). Where our efforts have been tainted in full or in part by any variety of legalism, let us repent, trusting that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

Since Jesus’ work on the cross covers our sins past, present and future, and the Father can never love us any more or less than He does now, we are unencumbered to pursue godliness.

In Colossians 1:10, the Apostle Paul instructs the believer to “walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.”

Paul is effectively saying that good works flow out of godly living. A truly godly person can’t help but do good works! In other words, a disciplined walk produces genuine godliness, which is pleasing to the Lord, and equips us for every good work. See? Peas and carrots!

A disciplined walk is not a short jaunt down a well-manicured path—it is a lifelong pilgrimage of faith through hills and valleys, around twists and turns. It’s an invigorating journey, because the Lord is with us and is making us more and more like Him. At the same time, the passage and the perils along the way often push us to near exhaustion. Nevertheless, we must press on and do the hard walking! Ladies of Grace, “…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:12b-13)

There is so much more that could be said! Fortunately, we are being offered a couple of ways to grow in our reverence of God and to consider more deeply the spiritual disciplines which will better equip us to bear fruit in every good work.

The Elders at Grace Hill are offering two Equip classes on Wednesday evenings this summer, beginning May 5th at 6:30PM. The first 6-week class will provide a study of God’s incommunicable attributes—those characteristics that only He possesses.  The second 6-week Equip class will offer instruction on the spiritual disciplines of the Christian life. The timing of these classes could not be more ideal!

Until next time, keep pressing on in the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, encouraging one another to do likewise.

Bibliography:

[1] Virtue and Assurance, Part 1, Grace to You; August 19, 1990

[2] Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life by Donald S. Whitney; page 4

[3] Disciplines of a Godly Woman by Barbara Hughes; page 14

Male and Female He Created Them: God’s Good Gift of Gender

Where once revealing the gender of your baby was accompanied by a party and celebration, those parties are now labeled as transphobic and hateful. One of the first questions you might ask a pregnant woman is “do you know the gender of your baby?” and now a question like that is deemed offensive. The world in which we live is confused and fallen. We live in a world where all of mankind is lost and ruined by the fall. We live in a world where men and women have “exchanged the truth about God for a lie (Rom 1:25).” People with their hearts so hardened and minds so darkened that for some it has become difficult to answer one of the most rudimentary questions: am I a boy or a girl?

The CDC refers to the word “transgender” as “an umbrella term for persons whose gender identity or expression (masculine, feminine, other) is different from their sex (male, female) at birth.” I don’t want to take the time in this post to explore the absurdity of transgenderism. I affirm that distortion of gender is a sin and that the sinfulness of transgenderism, a continuum of genders, gender-neutrality, or genderfluidity are against God’s design. However, what I do want to explore is the positive side of the discussion and how God designed gender as a good gift.

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. He also created mankind. Within mankind, God created two, and only two, genders. Genesis 1:27 states, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” These gender distinctions, which God had made, are not constructs of society nor are they simply labels we can choose according to how we feel. God created male and female, and gender is the sovereignly ordained difference between male and female. Any sort of attack on gender or its distinctions is ultimately an attack upon God.

Notice, later in Genesis, we read, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good (Gen 1:31).” God called everything he created very good. God’s creation includes his gender distinctions. Gender and the difference between males and females are a good gift God gave to us. God created males and females for the good of humanity and human flourishing. We see that men and women have different roles in the home, church, and society. When we blur the lines of gender, we also blur the lines of God’s created structure for us as humanity.

Many view gender as limiting and restrictive. Yet, it is when we do not live within God’s designed gender for us, we become slaves to sin and live in bondage. Gender is not restrictive. Gender causes flourishing. Little boys are meant to grow up and be men. Little girls are meant to grow up and be women. Then as men and women, they live in the divinely appointed roles that God has given men and women. The church will flourish as men lead the church. The church will equip its women as older women teach younger women to love their husbands and children. The home will flourish as men lead their families as they love their wives as Christ loved the church. As we teach our children to live out in fullness God’s design. Society will flourish through common grace as men and women are fruitful and multiply (which biologically takes a man and woman to do!). It will be good for society as the public witness of the church stands firm upon the good gift of gender.

An unbiblical understanding of gender boils down to an authority issue. We do not get the option of defining reality. God defines reality. God designed the world we live in. Gender is God’s design, and because it is God’s design it is final and absolute. Anyone who seeks to mar that design is in sin and not submitting to God who is in all authority.

If you believe you were born the wrong gender, or believe gender roles and distinctions are archaic, my question to you this: “But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’” God has made you what you are. He has made you either male or female. If you are male, embrace your masculinity. If you are female, embrace your femineity. Embrace the very roles God has given you and flourish. God has sovereignly made you male or female. Who are you to question what God has done? Instead of fighting it, try praising and thanking God for his gracious design.

For anyone who is struggling with gender, you might believe there is freedom in gender reassignment. Please do not believe the lie. Satan and his false teachers will promise you freedom, “but they themselves are slaves of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. (2 Pet 2:19).” Attempting gender reassignment will not produce freedom but only more spiritual slavery and bondage.

Gender reassignment is not the answer. Jesus is your answer. You can pump yourself with all the hormones you would like, you can wear different clothes, and alter your physical appearance, but none of those will address your eternal problem. You hate God, and you hate His creation, and He stands in judgment over you. Escaping God’s appointed gender for you will never help you escape the wrath that is to come. Yet, there is a way of escape, and it is found in Christ. However, if you are to continue God will give you over to yourself in judgment. You, my friend, do not need a gender transformation you need a heart transformation. You can experience a new heart that now loves God when you receive the risen Christ. Christ has the transformative power to give you a new heart. Trust in him today.

Gender distinctions are good. Primarily because God has designed male and female. The church must be faithful to God’s divinely designed gender distinctions. God created male and female, it is very good, and it is for our good.

Euthanasia: Is it Ok to End Life this Way?

On the Higher Degree blog, there are occasions where I will answer your questions from a Christian worldview. One of the questions posed to me went like this: “If someone went through with physician-assisted suicide would they get into heaven?”

The only reason anyone goes to heaven is not based upon their morality or righteousness. We are all unrighteous in our natural state in Adam. We are born hating God and loving sin. We are vile and evil and walk in our trespasses and sins. We are born spiritually dead, damned, and doomed.

The good news is that God made a way of salvation. Out of His love, God sent his Son into the world. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, lived a perfectly moral life. He lived a sinless life. He is perfectly righteous. He then went to the cross to pay for our sin. The wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 6:23).

Death and hell are the payment for sin. However, Jesus went to the cross as a sufficient sacrifice to make atonement for our sin and provide forgiveness. In his person and work, Jesus restores us into a right relationship with God. He was also a substitute for all men. He would represent us on the cross. Therefore, God made Jesus who knew no sin to become sin so that all those who believe might be declared righteous (2 Cor 5:21).

Going to heaven is never based upon what you have or have not done, going to heaven is based upon what Jesus has done. If God asked you why he should let you into His heaven and you responded with any other argument other than Jesus, you are relying upon a deficient and insufficient Savior. Let’s be clear, the only people who go to heaven are those who have turned away from their sin and in faith turned toward Jesus Christ alone.

The question posed however is more based upon the ethics of physician-assisted suicide. There are various categories of euthanasia as posed by medical professionals, i.e., active, passive, indirect, and physician-assisted suicide. However, for this post, I will be working from a definition of euthanasia as “the killing of a patient suffering from a chronic disease.” Physician-assisted suicide falls within that definition. Therefore, I am not referring to stopping treatment, DNRs, etc. It is not wrong for you to refuse medical treatment for your sickness, and I know I would not want to be on life support indefinitely. I am talking about prematurely taking a life.

For us to answer this question appropriately, we need to start with the law of God. The sixth commandment states, “You shall not murder.” The Hebrew verb for murder, ratsakh, refers to a killing that is unlawful or forbidden. There are other words in Hebrew for accidental killings, something akin to manslaughter, killings during just war, and the killing of animals. Meaning there are such killings considered lawful and other killings considered unlawful. We will discover physician-assisted suicide falls into the category of unlawful killings.

As we think about the sixth commandment, God calls us to respect and protect life. As God’s image-bearers, we bear the mark of God, even though sin has marred and distorted the image, all human beings regardless of their ability are image-bearers. No human, from the womb to tomb, deserves to ever be thought less than God’s image-bearer. God made us in his image and because of this reality, he instructs us to not take human life lightly. In the unlawful taking of life, we are saying they do not deserve the dignity of an image-bearer.

Advocates of euthanasia view it as mercy killing. Advocates for euthanasia argue that they are minimizing suffering and killing someone for their good since their diagnosis is irreversible. People also consider the quality of life when deciding to euthanize. Whether it is dying of terminal cancer or someone being a quadriplegic, advocates of euthanasia believe the quality of life is so poor, or the prospects of the future so bleak, there is no point in them living any longer. However, none of these reasons give us the right or permission to kill them.

In the culture of death that we live in, we see so many are quick to shed blood and so many are quick to embrace death. Euthanasia rejects life as a gift from God. God tells Israel to “choose life” (Deut 30:19). By opting for physician-assisted suicide, we are choosing death and not allowing for the natural occurrence to take its course. Also, may I say, for a doctor to participate in “assisted-suicide” is a very charitable way to describe their actions. Physician-assisted suicide is murder, and we should think of the physician as a murderer. It is the premeditated destruction of human life. For us to speed up the natural occurrence of death is not protecting nor respecting life, but it is embracing death. Therefore, euthanasia in all its forms falls under the category of unlawful killings thereby breaking the sixth commandment.

We desire to protect life, and we do not want to prolong death in such a way that adds to someone’s suffering. There comes a point in someone’s medical care where we simply let them die, but it is only appropriate to do so when they are dying. It is never appropriate to expedite the process.

Anyone contemplating killing themselves, even with a physician’s help, is participating in self-murder. Self-murder does not make murder anymore justifiable. In your suffering, very often God makes his purposes known (Ecc 7:14). No one wants anyone to suffer, and God hears your cries for your suffering to end. However, in a choice to ends one’s life early, it displays a lack of trust in God’s sovereignty over life. He alone is sovereign and determines the span of our life. Trust God to know that there is a purpose in your suffering and illness, and you can rejoice in your suffering when you have Jesus Christ as your Savior (Rom 5:3). God’s timing is always best even when we contemplate our own death.

If you are in Christ by faith, trust that your chronic illness is a light momentary affliction preparing you for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. Look to the things unseen that are eternal (2 Cor 4:17-18). No matter the circumstances surrounding your death and the suffering you may endure, in Christ, you receive a heavenly reward where He will make you new and you will never suffer again.

Skinny Jeans, Side Parts, and the Savior

Over the past week, a viral post has made its rounds through social media. The video is an indictment from Generation Z (born from 1997-2012) on the fashion and style of Millennials (born from 1981-1996). Gen Z has made it known that the fashion trend of skinny jeans and styling your hair with a side part is no longer cool. As a Millennial myself, any jeans I wore would never be classified as skinny, and I also have no hair left to part. Millennials are growing old and approaching middle-age. What was cool for the Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials have already faded. Also, for any Gen Z’r reading this post, your fashion trends and style will fade too, and Generation Alpha (born from 2013 –mid-2020s) will one day think you are lame and out of date.

Well, what does any of this have to do with Jesus, the church, ministry, and the gospel? What we realize is too often churches are enthralled and allured with results. Therefore, they will take pragmatic approaches to ministry and some will sacrifice core doctrine and beliefs for the zeitgeist. Pragmatism places methodology over theology which will inevitably lead to gospel compromise. It will lead a church, a pastor, or an individual to eschew the sufficiency and authority of God’s word.

Churches will offer pragmatic solutions, human ingenuity, and ride the wave of current trends all in the name of “reaching the next generation.” Now, we do need to reach the next generation, but we do not reach them with TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, or having trendy pastors. Every trend and fad will pass. Fashion, trends and all that is deemed cool today will look antiquated in just a matter of a few years (at most). By relying upon human wisdom, we communicate that the gospel is not powerful or sufficient to save sinners. What every generation needs, those that have all passed and those that will come, need a Savior. Why? Because all men and women have the same fundamental problem. The problem is that we stand as sinners before a Holy God. We have rebelled against him, and we deserve an eternity in hell under a righteous God’s fury and anger. The church is armed with the most powerful weapon, the gospel, the power of God unto salvation (Rom 1:16). Out of God’s love, He commissioned His Son into the world to save us from our sins. Yet, the way we “do ministry” seems like we are ashamed of the gospel or don’t believe its power to save sinners to the uttermost. At the end of the day, what you win people with is what you win them to. If we “win” the next generation with passing trends, they are still in their sins. There is but one mediator because God and man, and that is the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim 2:5)

The church is called to preach the gospel. May we not be “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes (Eph 4:14).” Everything fades. As Isaiah 40:8 states, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” It is the Lord who stands forever. He is the one that will remain. Jesus Christ stands transcendent over time, culture, and trends. He is the only sufficient savior for all generations. When everything in this world is nothing more than an asterisk in the history books, Jesus Christ stands as the Sovereign Lord. On the last day, the one who stands will be the Savior – – Jesus Christ. He will stand as judge over the wicked. Yet, there is a way of escape, and it is trusting in His sufficient sacrifice on the cross for sins and his resurrection from the grave. It is through Jesus Christ that we can be saved and know God. As the church, may we stand upon what transcends the test of time, Jesus Christ, His Scripture, and His gospel!

Higher Degree

Hey everyone! Welcome to my blog (Pastor Lee) and thank you for taking the time to read the very first blog post. I wanted to share with you a few reasons why we started this blog.

First, let’s start with the purpose of the blog. If you look at the name, it is called “Higher Degree.” In the Christian life, we endeavor to love God supremely. My prayer is that each post causes you to love God to a higher degree. As we look at a variety of topics from a biblical perspective, we want to look at life through a gospel lens. By doing so, we will hopefully understand more fully the work and person of Christ. As we dig deeper into doctrine the higher our worship will ascend.

Also, we want you to love others to a higher degree. God has called us to love Him and others. Matthew 22:37-39 reads, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” My hope is not only that we would love God to a higher degree but also learn to love the brethren to a higher degree too.

Second, we want to fulfill God’s call to make disciples. Jesus says in Matthew 28:18-20, “18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Part and parcel of loving God and loving others is to obey God and proclaim His good news to the world.

Reading biblically faithful articles and blogs is one way which we can learn more about God and His character while simultaneously applying the Scripture to life. We know the Word of God is profitable for us. Paul writes in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, 16All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” The Spirit of God, applying the Word of God, will train Christ’s disciples to grow in love, devotion and holiness. These posts are another avenue in which we can be discipled.

Third, with keeping the profitability of Scripture in view, we want to take theological and ethical questions you may have and answer those questions from a Christian worldview. By disseminating these answers in a digital format, it allows for answers to be concise and clear. We face a myriad of questions that we want answer and various situations in which we want to be faithful.

Therefore, I want to ask for your help with the Higher Degree blog. I would love for you to submit your questions. I have provided an anonymous form below that you can fill out. When you fill out this form it will send your questions directly to my inbox. I cannot promise you that every question will be answered, however, I do promise every question I do answer will be my best attempt at biblical fidelity. I am sure with many questions there will be some gray areas, and you may not agree with all my conclusions. Yet, I hope at the end of it all, each and every post will help you love God and love others to a higher degree!