Running Ahead with Patience

Running ahead is not usually  associated with patience, neither do these seem to fit well together. We might think to connect running with endurance, but not patience. We want to be like the hare racing ahead, yet also must be like the tortoise patiently trodding along. There is a strange tension as a Christian, and I feel it more intensely in the ministry, of a need to be running ahead, and yet doing so with patience.

We want to see the gospel advance, we want to see people grow, we want to see conversions happen and people saved, we want to see progress and moving forward; we want to see explosive things happen. We are to not look back, but to press on running forward (Phil 3:13).

Yet, we are told to be preach the word "with complete patience" (2Ti 4:2), that we are to sow seeds, that growth is like a plant that grows and bears fruit--not exactly something that happens overnight. Even though we are to press on running forward, we have not yet arrived (Phil 3:12)! Rather, we are told that this change happens gradually and slowly, "from one degree of glory to another" (2Co 3:18).

This tension helps me. We pursue excellence, yet recognize perfection does not come this side of glory. In all of our pursuit forward, we do so with patience. 




Depression Is a Sign of Love for Life

Depression is a sign that love for life still exists, albeit not the greatest sign. It is frustrated with the present unhappy state of things and wishes for life as it ought to be. Indeed, things are not as they ought to be. Any sustained meditation on the extent of this fact is quite able to sink the highest spirits. The depressed soul still has the capacity to long for life as it ought to be.


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How Does Change Happen? (Part 2)

Joy in the gospel and our forever-acceptance by God on the basis of Christ (rather than grief over sin), is what motivates true change (i.e. 'progressive sanctification').

Change happens by soaking our minds in the truth of the gospel, such that we are firmly convinced of the love of God for us despite our utter sinfulness, a truth which motivates joy and love for God that is the source of all true obedience, one that views God's commands as a pleasure and not as a burden.

At the end of the day, how do people really change? How does growth happen in the Christian life? 

Sanctification is never advanced by self-focused grief or guilt. It is energized by joy and driven by love.

[Counsel from the Cross, 118]

Fitzpatrick and Johnson's Counsel from the Cross--especially chapters 5-6--(again very helpfully!) has reaffirmed and clarified previous thoughts on this topic, and brought them to life in a way very challenging and joy-inducing!

On their focus on "gospel-centered counseling" and not simply "biblical counseling", they say:

Other counselors share our belief that humanistic psychology leads into blind alleys, but their solution is to focus extensively on the Bible's imperatives and the counselee's self-discipline [i.e. 'put on, put off' and that's it!] with little attention to the patterns of self-doubt and unbelief that enervate the counselee's motivation and hope in the painful process of change.

[Counsel from the Cross, 98]

Change does not come to pass simply as a matter of saying, "The Bible says it, just do it." Rather, "Our problem with obedience is that we don't love as intensively as we should." (102) We do not love as we should, because we either don't see the depth of our sin, or we don't see the magnitude of his grace and that we are forever loved and accepted in Christ!

It is this love for God--which grows in response to his love, and thus from the gospel and not the law--which generates true obedience / sanctification / change.

Let us hear again the gospel of Jesus Christ: "We are all more sinful and flawed than we ever dared believe but more loved and welcomed than we ever dared hope." (49)




Self-Esteem, Pride, Shame, and Humility

That's the paradox of self-esteem: Low self-esteem usually means that I think too highly of myself. I'm too self-involved, I feel I deserve better than what I have. The reason I feel bad about myself is that I aspire to something more. I want just a few minutes of greatness. I am a peasant who wants to be king. When you are in the grips of low self-esteem, it's painful, and it certainly doesn't feel like pride. But I believe this is the dark, quieter side of pride--thwarted pride.

[Edward T. Welch, When People are Big and God is Small, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1997), 32]

He had some interesting things to say about "self-esteem" in this chapter. Earlier he had said:

The massive interest in self-esteem and self-worth exists because it is trying to help us with a real problem.  The problem is that we really are not okay. There is no reason why we should feel great about ourselves.

[Welch, 29]

According to Welch, the biblical word for low self-esteem is shame. I think he is right. This is indeed a real problem, not in our thinking or feeling it, but in the cause of it: our sin against God and others, and our being sinned against. A mere silencing of it by saying, "Think well of yourself!" is a shallow and harmful way to deal with it--just about as harmful to a car as disconnecting the "Check Engine" light because it makes you feel bad looking at it.

The cross of Jesus Christ is the only thing that can truly take away our shame. And it doesn't replace it with a high view of ourselves (i.e. "Jesus loves me so I don't care if others don't"). Rather, it enables you to stand before God without shame, accepted by him through the blood of Jesus, and to find your joy in his (true) greatness, not in your (supposed) greatness; joy in making much of him, not in making much of yourself. 

This is (才是) true humility, not some external modesty ("No, I'm not great!") that internally treasures the compliments people make of you. This humility finds ways to love other people rather than seeking a sense of fulfillment from other people, i.e. it actually loves people, rather than using people for self.

This humility is true greatness.




How Does Change Happen?

How does change happen? There are long books written about sanctification, positional and progressive; long books written about counseling, each of which has an essential core idea about what man's problem is and how it is to be fixed. Some say "Put on, Put off". Others say, "Let go and let God". Others say, "Just do it". Others say, "Future Grace".

At the end of the day, how do people really change? How does growth happen in the Christian life? 

I am left feeling less satisfied by some of these answers than others. The whole "put on, put off" idea seems to be at the heart of Jay Adam's book on counseling, which he gives the fancier name of "dehabituation and rehabituation". While the old must indeed put off and the new must indeed put on, it seems a little too mechanical. Does not sanctification happen by God's grace? So then do we just "let go" and let God do the rest and not worry about fighting? That doesn't sound right either.

I continue to be drawn back to 2 Corinthians 3:18 which seems to provide an answer:

And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

We are being transformed by beholding the glory of the Lord. The same book, chapter 4, verse 4 tells us this glory of the Lord is more precisely "the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ". The glory of Christ as seen in the gospel is bright and awesome and this is what we are to behold. 

Thomas Chalmers once preached a sermon entitled "The Expulsive Power of a New Affection". The title alone is spectacular. This is the exact same idea. 

Change happens by cherishing and savoring the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, the center of which is his work on the cross and resurrection that followed. This is the supreme demonstration of God's love, and it is the very way that he loved us, it is the very center of the glory of Christ, it is the heart of the gospel. 

This has practical results. Our reading should be centered on the cross. Preaching should not be merely practical, but doctrinal and thereby practical as well; and not just doctrinal, but even more precisely, majoring on the cross.

What do you spend your time meditating and trying to fill (not empty!) your mind with?

Matt Hauck (郝柏昇)

A once enemy now son, forgiven and freed by Jesus' blood, adopted and called by grace for glory.   (more...)