Tag Archive | how we are transformed

Book Released! Gospel-Centered War

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My book Gospel-Centered War: Finding Freedom from Enslaving Sin just got released! Here are a few of the things people are saying about it.

“As the title of this book makes clear, a gospel-centered approach is, in the long run, the only effective way to combat sin and addiction. Any resource, like this one by Paul O’Brien, which helps us fight our sinful compulsions by means of the gospel of Jesus Christ is one I recommend.”

—Dr. Donald S. Whitney, professor of biblical spirituality and associate dean at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

“Gospel-Centered War is for those who struggle with life-dominating sin and for those who counsel them. Instead of simply addressing behavior modification, Paul O’Brien gets to the heart of the matter. This book addresses the issues that provide freedom from destructive, self-defeating behaviors by helping the reader understand how God can change their heart and passions. Read it, devour it, and then be changed from the inside out.”

—Pastor Mike Wilson, Lincoln Heights Baptist Church, Mansfield, Ohio

“Paul is a genuine man of faith who has dedicated his life to Jesus and his calling. As a former heroin addict who was mentored by Paul, I had the privilege to witness his passion for Christ and his desire to help people through God’s word. This book shows that same passion.”

—Ricky Upton, Louisville, KY

Singing, Sanctification, and Transformation

Why sing? Why are “psalms, hymns, and and spiritual songs” important? What does singing do? 

In the world we live in 

“There is a ‘downward pressure’ continually in operation, which seeks to take that which is penultimate, and make it ultimate… The antidote to such ‘downward pressure’ is the continual eschatological emphasis of word and sacrament, of prayer and praise, and of koinonia [fellowship] lived in the present in light of the age to come.”[i]

Truly, “unless there is within us that which is above us, we shall soon yield to that which is around us.”[ii] St. Gregory reportedly said something similar: “If you do not delight in higher things, you most certainly will delight in lower things.” Truly, “worship shapes individual and community character.”[iii] That is, all worship, good or bad, Christian or other, intentional or unintentional. Thus we must focus on what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy (see Phil. 4:8).[iv] We must keep “the good,” the true good—God and His truth—the summum bonum ever before us.

Our ultimate love, the place where we rest our desire, has an ultimate affect. So, “moral decay doesn’t happen in a vacuum. It is supported by the idolatry of the society at any given time, and expressive of its worship, even if such be completely unarticulated.”[v] Moral decay happens when something other then God is our ultimate good (cf. Rom. 1).

Thus, it is important that we temper our hearts variously through singing, community, and the absorption of God’s word.   That’s how we’re shaped biblically and practically. The more we have our chief end in view, through various means, the better we will live to that end.

We need deep and substantive reflection and celebration. We need to work at fostering transformative experiential worship where we can taste and see that the LORD is good. We need God to restore to us the joy of our salvation. We need God to open the eyes of our heart, we need the Spirit to move, we need God’s strength to comprehend His amazing love that surpasses knowledge. 

Truly

“It is… superior satisfaction in future grace that breaks the power of lust [or addiction]. With all eternity hanging in the balance, we fight the fight of faith. Our chief enemy is the lie that says sin will make our future happier. Our chief weapon is the truth that says God will make our future happier… We must fight [our sin] with a massive promise of superior happiness. We must swallow up the little flicker of lust’s pleasure in the conflagration of holy satisfaction.”[vii]

Where do we turn for this? “The role of God’s Word is to feed faith’s appetite for God. And, in doing this, it weans [our] heart away from the deceptive taste of lust.”[viii] Therefore, we must feast on Scripture. And singing is an especially useful tool to help the word of Christ dwell in us richly (Col. 3:16).

Singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs and being involved in Christian community is very important because, as C.S. Lewis said, “What is concrete but immaterial can be kept in view only by painful effort.”[ix] We need each other, we need music, we need preaching to shake us awake to unseen realities. That’s why we’re told—commanded even when we don’t feel like it—to make a joyful noise to the LORD (Ps. 66:1; 81:1; 95:1, 2; 98:4, 6; 100:1).[x]

We’re told to sing because when we sing with our voice our whole body, and I would argue, our whole self (i.e. our heart) reverberates with the truth of what we sing. When we sing lyrics, whether good or bad, they get into us and shape us. We are essentially preaching to ourselves, teaching ourselves, telling our self what we should desire, we are holding up a vision of prospering and “the good.”[xi] If we are driving down the highway listening to Taylor Swift, Blink 182, or Eminem it has a very real potential to shape us. We, at least, very often, internalize what we are singing. We imagine and feel not only the rhythm and tone but what the whole artistic message is putting forth. Music shapes us by implanting seeds of desire.[xii]

We are to be filled with the Spirit, instead of being drunk with alcohol or high on drugs, in part through singing (Eph. 5:15-20). Thus,

“Worship is one of the most transforming activities for us to engage in as Christians… When we become duly impressed with God our lives change because the things that matter to us change. We no longer want some of the things we previously desired. An overridding and overwelming passion for God himself, God’s people, and God’s kingdom purposes in this world replace those desires. True worship happens when we get a glimpse of God–who he is and what he is about–and just stand there in awe of him, being impressed and transformed down to the very depths of our being by the magnificent vision of the glory of our heavenly Father.”[xiii]

Truly, “Reality is simply far too great to be contained in propositions. That is why man needs gestures, pictures, images, rhythms, metaphor, symbol, and myth. It is also why he needs ceremony, ritual, customs, and conventions: those ways that perpetuate and mediate the images to us.”[xiv] We must use a collaboration of means to remind ourselves that it is the LORD God, the Maker of heaven and earth alone, that can meet our every need. We must use good songs, good stories, the Bible, Christian community, logic, etc. to stir up our (correct) desires for the LORD and all the good He is and has for us. We must take care least there be an unworthy thought in our heart (Deut. 15:9). We must pursue things that bring light and life and reject what is rank in ruin and worthlessness (see e.g. Ps. 101).

Truly, wherever our treasure (i.e. desire, view of “the good,” or our view of the good life) is, our heart (“heart” in Scripture has to do with our whole self; cognition, volition, emotions) will be also (Matt. 6:21; Lk. 12:34).[xv] Thus, we must work at fostering worship of the one true God.

Singing sinks God’s truth deep within our souls. Singing works because it leads us to worship. Singing teaches us what we should truly desire. Singing tunes our hearts to sing God’s praise. 

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[i] Doe, Created for Worship, 236.

[ii] Christian worship: it’s Theology and practice, 81

[iii] Doe, Created for Worship, 234.

[iv] Cf. Payne, The Healing Presence, 140.

[v] Doe, Created for Worship, 236.

[vi] Ibid., 235 see also Jonathan Edwards very important book Religious Affections.

[vii] Piper, Future Grace, 336.

[viii] Ibid., 335.

[ix] C.S. Lewis, Letter to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1963), 114.

[x] “Worship isn’t merely a yes to the God who saves, but also a resounding and furious no to lies that echo in the mountains around us. The church gathers like exiles and pilgrims, collected out of a world that isn’t our home, and looks hopefully toward a future. Our songs and prayers are a foretaste of that future, and even as we practice them, they shape us for our future home” (Mike Cosper, Rhythms of Grace: How the Church’s Worship Tells the Story of the Gospel [Wheaton: Crossway, 2013] 104).

[xi] “Music gets ‘in’ us in ways that other forms of discourse rarely do. A song gets absorbed into our imagination in a way that mere texts rarely do… Song seems to have a privileged channel to our imagination, to our kardia, because it involves our body in a unique way… Perhaps it is by hymns, songs, and choruses that the word of Christ ‘dwells in us richly’” (Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 171).

[xii] Even Nirvana communicates; even if it’s emptiness or aggression that they put forward. However, realize that I am not saying that we cannot listen to Garth Brooks or Bruno Mars. Though I am not sure how or to what end those and other artist will shape you. I would say that “For Today,” a Metal band that is explicitly Christian, would have more of intentional transformative affect upon me then most artists. This is, I guess, both because of the content of their lyrics and the package in which they are wrapped (i.e. often very active and passionate singing and yes even screaming). However, Garth Brooks could perhaps have a transformative affect for some people as well (I am not one of them). Bruno Mars may be close to a-formative. Yet, as humans, I think we are similar to water. If we are not moving, i.e. being transformed, then we are stagnating, being deformed. Our bent, since the Fall, is away from our creator. Thus, perhaps, if we listen too much Bruno Mars and the like, a-formative music, we will stagnate. If we are left to our own devises and don’t have a gaud we do not progress. Our default is digression.

[xiii] Richard E. Averbeck, “Spirit, Community, and Mission: A Biblical Theology for Spiritual Formation,” 38 in the Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care).  I think Eph. 5:17-21 is noteworthy here. See also “Singing, in the Body and in the Spirit” by Steven R. Guthrie in JETS and “Being the Fullness of God in Christ by the Spirit” by Timothy G. Gombis in Tyndale Bulletin. 

[xiv] Payne, The Healing Presence, 146 cf. 148.

[xv] “Disordered action is a reflection and fruit of disordered desire” (Smith, Desiring the Kingdom, 177)

What Forms and (Re)forms You?

Introduction

First off, this in many ways is the prequel to “Are You Mindful of Your Mind?” It is also very related to “The Fight of Faith: How we are Transformed” but from a different vantage point. In the future I hope to put the three together in a more substantial article.

We’re shaped by a whole host of things—constitution, genetics, socioeconomic factors, health, education, culture, upbringing, etc.; and we are (re)shaped by a few, consciously and subconsciously. Therefore, we see the importance of understanding how it is that we are transformed. For when we know how transformation takes place we can make a better conscious effort at transformation.

We’re shaped by one of two Gods, one of two voices. The god of this world (Jn. 12:31; Eph. 2:2-3; 6:12), or the one true God. There are two masters with two different sets of commands, we will obey one of them (Matt. 6:24; Lk. 16:13). We will be slaves, that’s inevitable (Rom. 6). The question is to who? And with what result? Life or death (Rom. 6:23)? We’re shaped by one of two kingdoms. Our kingdom, informed by Satan; or, God’s Kingdom, informed by God.

This post is not concerned with which kingdom we should desire. It is assumed that we should desire the Kingdom of God. This post is concerned with helping us understand how we are (re)shaped or transformed to desire the right Kingdom. This is a more difficult task than it would first appear. However, if you know Scripture, and indeed your own heart, you know this is a difficult task. Yet, it is terribly grave and important (e.g. think of Judas desiring his own kingdom and thus betraying the Messiah and the true Kingdom).

We are being shaped. But how? And by what?

Definitions

Putting things in categories, like putting things in containers, is helpful. However, their strength lies where their fault lies: they keep things that naturally run together from running together. With food this is helpful for taste, with thoughts it is helpful for understanding, but, when it’s all said and done, we must realize that containers like categories do not finally keep the contents apart. They are helpful, and perhaps necessary, but in the end affect (and yet assist) precision. Our categories are: 1) knowledge, 2) worship, and 3) practice. Below is a figure that shows their interconnected relationship (Figure 1).

The Interconnectedness of Knowledge, Worship, and Practice in Transformation

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Figure 1. The Interconnectedness of Knowledge, Worship, and Practice in Transformation. 

Knowledge

By “knowledge” I mean worldview or view of our chief end or “the good.” Worldview deals with more then what we see as “the good.” However, it does, or should, also shape what we see as our ultimate goal as well. A worldview answers questions and tells the story of our existence, but it must also tell us where, if anywhere, that story is going or should go.

Notice also that it’s not just the intentional thinker or the Christian that is shaped by a worldview, by knowledge. We are all shaped and informed by what we know, or think we know. For instance, the sex addict and gangster are shaped by a worldview, even if it is a sub-conscious and unarticulated form of hedonism or nihilism. However, I do believe that one will be shaped more when one’s knowledge or worldview is more explicit. So, perhaps a sex addict who is also a convinced and proud naturalistic hedonist will have less restraint when it comes to illegal sexual practices (e.g. rape, prostitution, etc.); rather, for him it is more a practical matter of will he be caught, than a question of whether such and such practice is ethical or not.[1]

Worship

What then is “worship”? Worship here is the (often purposeful and artistic) ingesting of “the good.” This definition equally applies to the sex addict watching porn, the gangster listening to rap, and the Christian singing songs, meditating on Scripture, or celebrating the Lord’s Supper. Worship, as you can see, very clearly incorporates both the two other categories. Worship is, you could say, the conscious (and also subconscious) practice (our second category) of thinking about something (our first category).

Therefore we see that many things that we would not typically consider worship are in fact worship under this definition. Television, the mall, the radio, and innumerable other things shape and influence our view of the good life or our view of “the good” and thus are a form of worship. They move and inspire us. They shape us to a certain end. And this clearly happens subconsciously and consciously. Just as if we feed upon something or imbibe food through a different means it becomes part of us through the metabolic process. What we feed on, intentionally or unintentionally, shapes us into who we are and thus also greatly shapes what we do.

Practice

Practice is the conscious and subconscious practices that shape our life.[2] What some have explained as thick and thin habits or practices.[3] These habitual practices have greater or lesser affect upon us depending upon their significance.

What we do has an effect upon who we are and what we will be. So, for example, when three different types of men see an attractive lady jogging on the side of the road they will have three different responses because of their conscious and subconscious practices which are ingrained in them through their “knowledge” and “worship.” Yet, their practices, as we’ll see, serve to further their worship and knowledge.

So, for example, the sex addict will undress the attractive jogger. This will in part be because of his worship and knowledge and will yet undergird and inform his worship and knowledge. He will in a sense say to himself subconsciously that his knowledge of things is justified by the image of this woman and his worship is also justified. The gangster will have a similar response. But, perhaps to a different end; he may think of all the money he could make with her body. The Christian man also informed by his knowledge and worship will pray for the jogger; or, perhaps, not look at her so as not to be tempted.

Whatever the specific example, we see that our knowledge, worship, and practices have a very real impact on us and how we are shaped. Each aspect serves it’s purpose, yet it is closely tied to the other two. We cannot neglect any aspect or the fact that they are closely interconnected.[4] Now that we have defined each category, we will look at each aspect in more detail.

How are we Transformed?

In Aristotle’s terms our view of “the good” is reshaped by knowledge.[5] And, in catechismal terms, if our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever[6] it will necessarily have a specific impact on our lives. That is just the way we are as humans. We all, without exception, live towards our chief end, our view of the “good life.” However, this is messy, there are many things and ideas which vie for this place. Thus the importance of knowledge rightly directed (i.e. wisdom), worship, and habits; all of which inform, play off, and undergird the others (see figure 2 below). Notice also that it is not just the Christian that worships, all men do (e.g. the gangster has a certain type of rap music that glorifies his view of the good life).

The Reciprocal Transforming Relationship of Knowledge, Worship, and Practice_______________________________________________
Figure 2. The Reciprocal Transforming Relationship of Knowledge, Worship, and Practice.   

It is clear then that right and good worship is vital because it exalts and holds before us our chief end. If our worship has as its object the wrong thing we will thus go wrong in innumerable ways (cf. Rom. 1:18-32). Because of this, the reformation of our lives is a slow, and often painful, process. Witness the fall (the body of the book) and rise (the epilogue) of Raskolnikov from Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment.[7] If we dig ourselves into a ditch we do not magically rise out of it (cf. Prov. 26:27). We have to dig ourselves out of it. Of course, as Christians we do believe that the Spirit assists us (e.g. Jn. 14:16). Yet, the fact remains, transformation is difficult and does not finally occur here.[8]

Scripture and reality are not at odds. We are shaped by what we know, worship, and do (and these are all interrelated). Scripture tells us to know the LORD, worship Him, and serve Him and thus be transformed. We see this same type of thing when we understand the relationship of faith and works, and the relationship of indicative and imperative. We know/believe God’s truth (faith) thus worship and have corresponding actions (works). Again, when we (rightly and supernaturally) understand God’s truth (indicative) we will worship, which in turn will change the way we live (imperative).

In Scripture we see huge importance placed on listening to He who speaks wisdom, the LORD, and not to the father of lies, Satan. We see this especially in the beginning. Eve listens to the serpent’s words and disregards the LORD’s, and chaos and curse ensue. However, notice that she did not just receive information/knowledge or believe the wrong source. Her desires were also wrongly informed. Because Eve listened to the serpent she saw the tree as delightful. She saw the tree as desirable (Gen. 3:6). Thus she fell.

As the Scripture says, “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14-15). We, thus, resist the devil by being firm in the faith. We, like Jesus, fight off wicked desires with God’s Word. Satan would have us be reconstituted by his words, wicked untruth, yet we combat his lies by teaching ourselves to desire good things by the implantation of God’s words, the truth (e.g. the place of Prov. 7:1-5 in the larger context of Prov. 7). When we feed on the Word of God the metabolic result is a healthy representation of God. God would have us (re)shaped into His image, the image of His Son. Conversely, Satan would have us formed into what C.S. Lewis called the “unman.”

Our thinking and our beliefs play a large part but we are tempted not by thinking and believing but by our desires (recall James 1:14-15 from above). I do think, however, that thinking and beliefs are the atmosphere in which desire lives. They are the soil and habitat; they’re the ocean in which desire can swim. Thinking and believing are not unimportant. Eve would have never sinned had she not heard Satan’s “knowledge” and believed him. Yet, we are understanding Eve, and ourselves, wrongly, if we don’t also realize that she desired (again, recall Gen. 3:6; also Eph. 2:3 says that we also once carried out the desires of the flesh).

I think it also must be noted here that our desires are shaped by our thinking and believing but they are also shaped by less conscious things. I am quite sure, for instance, that quite a few Nazi Youth did not read Hitler’s Mein Kampf but yet were shaped by the very same image. This was because they lived and breathed and ingested it’s teaching, though not mainly consciously, but because it was the cultural air they breathed.

We have a lot of things externally and internally that seek to shape us. As Calvin has famously said, we are idol factories.[8] That’s why we see much emphasis in Scripture placed on loving God with our whole heart (cf. e.g. 1 Chron. 12:38; 28:9; 29:9, 19; 2 Chron. 15:15; 16:9; 19:9; 25:2; Ps. 9:1; 16:9; 86:12), not just a portion of it.

We temper our hearts variously through understanding (cf. Deut. 6:4-9; Neh. 8), worship (e.g. Ps.; Eph. 5:18-20) and practice (e.g. Lev.). That’s how we’re shaped biblically and practically. The more we have our chief end in view and the better our chief end is the better we will live.

For instance, Jesus reasons with us in Matthew 6:19-24 about desire. He shows that what is in our best interest, i.e. what we should desire, is laying up treasure in heaven. He tells us specifically in verse 21 that what we desire, i.e. “treasure,” will bring the rest of us along (i.e. “heart”). So, again, Eve was led into sin because she desired (“treasured”) the fruit. Our battle is thus the battle of treasuring, desiring. That’s why sex education doesn’t work, for example. You can show a bunch of kids images of a bunch of nasty things and tell them a bunch of bad stories. But, in the end, if sex is what they treasure then that’s what they’ll do. After all, that is what is glorified on the screen and in our culture. 

On the positive side, Paul lived the way he did, and died the way he did, not merely because of his cognitive understanding or because of his beliefs; but because of what he desired (though, as we have said, they are closely related). Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, tells us of the desire that fueled his powerful life. He drove on through thick and thin because he had counted everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus His Lord. For Christ’s sake Paul suffered the loss of all things and counted them as rubbish, in order that he may gain Christ (Phil. 3:8).

Truly, wherever our treasure (i.e. desire, view of “the good,” or our view of the good life) is, our heart (“heart” in Scripture has to do with our whole self; cognition, volition, emotions) will be also (Matt. 6:21; Lk. 12:34).

If we are transformed by knowledge, worship, and practices, how do you think they can transform us? How should our everyday life be different?

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[1] There is a transcript from Reasonable Faith’s podcast that shows the truth of my statement. Our worldviews have consequences, good or bad. R.C. Sproul shows this in his book The Consequences of Ideas. Friedrich Nietzsche even says in Beyond Good and Evil that philosophy always creates a world in it’s own image, it cannot do anything different. 

[2]“Certain habits stir up corresponding affections and appetites; certain core affections and desires are expressed in corresponding habits. You can’t separate desire from practice” (Michael R. Emlet, “Practice Makes Perfect?” 42).

[3] See James K. A. Smith’s insightful book Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation, esp. 80-85.

[4] Michael Emlet understands the complex nature of change. He says, “What we do flows out of who we are, but who we are is indeed shaped by what we do… We are changed by doing and we are changed by a self-conscious and iterative process that scrutinizes thoughts, affections, and actions of their faithfulness to a kingdom ethic, and then chooses certain actions and practices in response” (Michael R. Emlet, “Practice Makes Perfect?” 44).

[5] E.g. Aristotle says, “All knowledge and every choice have some good as the object of their longing” (1095a14 Page 4 for in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics Trans. Robert C. Bartlett and Susan D. Collins [The University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 2011]). The glossary says that “Aristotle famously argues that all human beings do everything for the sake of what seems or is held to be good” (Ibid., 309).

[6] From the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism.

[7] “While God is always free to work miraculously and instantaneously, soul-change is typically a slow process that involves the replacement of old beliefs, affective responses, attitudes, and motives and patterns of relating to others with new ones, one at a time. Given what we know now of the neurological conditions of such change, it is not surprising why this process is gradual. Old neural networks must be shut down, and new ones must be constructed. None of this happens in genuine sanctification apart from the work of the Holy Spirt, but in this age most of the time God tends to work through the created order, and not take shortcuts. Though an incremental approach is sometimes hard for counselees to accept, such a stance, when grounded in justification, helps them to accept their present limitations and to be more realistic about the speed of their recovery, without undermining the ongoing call to grow in conformity to the image of Christ” (Eric L. Johnson, “Reformation Counseling: A Middle Way,” 26-27).

[8] Though I do not agree with everything, I believe “The Spiritual Experience of the Divine Truth of Transformation” is helpful.

[9] “The human mind is, so to speak, a perpetual forge of idols” (Calvin, Institutes, 97).

The Fight of Faith: How we are Transformed

The fight of faith. The battle of belief. This is the war we wage.

Our sanctification, our survival, is tethered to the anchor of our hope. If we are not anchored deep we will be tossed to and fro. We will make shipwreck of our faith.

How do we cast anchor? How do we preserve in life’s storms? How do we wage our warfare?

We do it, the Bible continually shows us, through faith. Yet, how do we have faith? Or how do we increase our faith? We will get to that most practical question. But, first, let’s see (1) where it is that the Bible teaches this and (2) let us understand how faith does do this.

First, the Bible teaches that faith not only saves, but also sanctifies. Our belief that brings us into the fold also keeps us there. This is seen in various places in Scripture, both OT and NT. We’ll take our example from 1 Peter.

God has caused us to be born again through faith (1 Pet. 1:3 cf. Jn. 1:13; 3:3-8; Eph. 2:4-5; Col. 2:13; Titus 3:5; James 1:18; 1 Pet. 1:23; 1 Jn. 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18); that is, salvation. Yet, faith also continues to work; it sanctifies us, makes us holy in practice. By God’s power we are guarded through faith for salvation (1 Pet. 1:5 cf. Rom. 11:20). We see this worked out in 1 Peter 1. So, taking, for now, just one quick example, Peter says, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth.” We purify our souls because we believe the truth, because we have faith. Faith acts! It did for Peter,[1] it did for Paul (cf. e.g. “the obedience of faith” Rom. 1:5; 16:26), it did for James (James 2:14-26), and it should for us. 

Second, how it is that faith sanctifies and preserves us. Again, we will take our example from 1 Peter.

I hate to be repetitive, but here it is. When we believe that we have a reason for hope (1 Pet. 3:15), we know that we are not following cleverly devised myths (2 Pet. 1: 15, 16), then we live accordingly. We, for example, “put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy” (1 Pet. 2:1).[2] It’s simply the natural outcome of belief; or, that is, it should be.

So, for example, suppose I am exhausted from a long day’s work. I come home, see that chair in the corner of the kitchen that’s always beckoning me. It’s made from solid hardwood. I got it when I worked at furniture store. I know it’s solid. So, I sit down on it. I rest. I take my boots off.

However, suppose that chair was not made of hardwood. Suppose I did not get it from the furniture store at which I worked. Suppose I got it from a trash heap. I would then have much to question about its sturdiness. If I don’t believe that it will hold my weight then I will not sit in it.

Why? Why do I sit in one chair and not the other? Because I have faith in the one and not the other. Faith, quite literally, moves us. That is why Peter talks about the “tested genuineness of your faith” (1 Pet. 1:7). Faith is testable. Is action wedded with our faith? Do we, so to speak, sit in the chair? 

Active faith is seen in various places in Scripture. Thus, it says, “when mindful of God,” i.e. when one has faith, one is willing to endure sorrows (1 Pet. 2:19). We are even told to rejoice when we share in Christ’s sufferings—Christ suffered an agonizing death on a cross—because then we will be blessed (1 Pet. 4:13-14; 5:4, 10). We can only rejoice at such things if we truly have faith.

Third, and practically, how can we be firm in the faith? How can we preserve? How can we increase in faith? This is very important because as Isaiah says, “If you are not firm in the faith, you will not be firm at all” (Is. 1:6 cf. 1 Cor. 16:13). 

As we fight to be firm in the faith, it’s imperative that we have a holistic approach. The process of change, that is sanctification, is not a simplistic process. Here is one way of looking at the process: stimuli → thinking → emotions → actions → character.[3] I think we see this same type of schema in 2 Peter 1:5-11.[4]

Thinking, Emotions, Actions

We preserve in the faith as we think on God’s truth (1 Cor. 15:1; 2 Thess. 2:15). God’s truth is one of the positive forms of stimuli. It transforms (cf. Jn. 17:17). [5] We have faith not through some nebulous and opaque placement of faith. God uses means. He uses knowledge of various things. He uses experiences. He uses conversations with friends. He uses Scripture. He uses the gathered worship of the church. Thus faith is a fight. And continuing in the faith is a fight. This is because there are things we must do. God uses means to accomplish His ends.

So, what are some of these means that God uses to accomplish the end of us preserving us in the faith? How can we be firm in the faith?

First, God uses our mind (cognition) (cf. Prov. 4:23; 23:7; 2 Cor. 10:5; Rom. 12:2; Eph. 4:22-24; Phil. 4:8).[6] We prepare our minds for action (1 Pet. 1:13) and set our hope fully on the grace that was brought to us at the revelation of the Messiah. We are supposed to be able to give a defensive for the reason we have hope (1 Pet. 3:15). We must use our minds and remind ourselves of truth so we will be firmly established (2 Pet. 1:12). We must recall that we do not follow “cleverly devised myths” (2 Pet. 1: 15, 16). 

We must use our minds! In fact, God “has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him” (2 Pet. 1:3). In this category, God often uses the means of apologetics, meditation, study of devotional texts, and so forth to transform. Our cognitive belief has practical impact (when it is true belief). So 1 Peter 1:13: “you believe in Him and [thus] rejoice with joy that is inexpressible” (In this case, we see an emotional impact).  

Second, God uses our emotions (emotive). For example, when we have prepared minds, minds set on hope (1 Pet. 1:13), we are sober-minded. We have emotions but they are grounded in truth. So, we have due fear for the LORD because we believe, with our mind, that He is our Father and will judge us according to our deeds (1 Pet. 1:17 cf. Rom. 11:20). Thus, we, because of cognitive and emotive reasons, reform our actions. In this category, God often uses community, worship,[7] meditation, etc. to transform. 

Third, God uses our actions (volition). Once we have right thinking and thus right emotions we have, or should have, right actions. We should no longer be “conformed to the passions of [our] former ignorance” (1 Pet. 1:14). We should no longer practice our “futile ways” (1 Pet. 1:18). Notice, “ignorance” and “futile” are both cognitive type terms but work out in the volitional realm. So, Peter says, “As He who called you is holy (both cognitive and emotive), be holy in all your conduct (volitional)” (1 Pet. 1:15). God uses worship, community, refraining from certain unholy practices, acts of charity, and so forth to transform us. 

In this whole schema that I have sought to lay out, there is a back and forth. We should not fix lines where none is fixed. They intersect at many points and continue, like wires, woven together. Knowledge presses emotion and action forward and builds character. Yet, action (e.g. forcing one’s self out of bed early to read Scripture) affects our cognitive and emotive side.

“What we do flows out of who we are, but who we are is indeed shaped by what we do… We are changed by doing and we are changed by a self-conscious and iterative process that scrutinizes thoughts, affections, and actions for their faithfulness to a kingdom ethic, and then chooses certain actions and practices in response.”[8]

So, saving faith is a continuing faith and an active faith.[8] It makes use of means. That’s why we resist the devil by being “firm in the faith” (1 Pet. 5:9). Thus, we must remember, faith is not static. Neither does it stagnate. For God uses means.

“Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:10-11).

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[1] “You are her [Sarah’s] children, [i.e. the regenerate children of God] if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening” (1 Pet. 3:6). However, then, the converse would also be true. If you don’t do good then you are not children of God. Thus, faith is active. God’s children do not fear anything that is frightening. Why not? Because they trust God. They do good. Why? Because they are transformed through faith. 

[2] Paul’s logical connections are very often more explicit. I think that is often why he seems to be more liked in evangelicalism (as well as his corpus being larger). Ephesians 4:1 is clear enough, and in Romans 12 Paul even tells us that his application is logical (12:1, the ESV has “spiritual”). Thomas R. Schreiner says, “Paul used the term with the meaning ‘rational’ or ‘reasonable,’ as was common in the Greek language. His purpose in doing so was to emphasize that yielding one’s whole self to God is eminently reasonable. Since God has been so merciful, failure to dedicate one’s life to him is the height of folly and irrationality” (Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans [Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1998], 645 [italics mine].). In addition, Schreiner points out that “the word ‘bodies’ here refers to the whole person and stresses that consecration to God involves the whole person… Genuine commitment to God embraces every area of life” (Ibid., 644. Italics mine).

[3] http://bradbigney.files.wordpress.com/2013/03/diagrams_counselor.pdf, pages 3-4. “While God is always free to work miraculously and instantaneously, soul-change is typically a slow process that involves the replacement of old beliefs, affective responses, attitudes, and motives and patterns of relating to others with new ones, one at a time. Given what we know now of the neurological conditions of such change, it is not surprising why this process is gradual. Old neural networks must be shut down, and new ones must be constructed. None of this happens in genuine sanctification apart from the work of the Holy Spirt, but in this age most of the time God tends to work through the created order, and not take shortcuts. Though an incremental approach is sometimes hard for counselees to accept, such a stance, when grounded in justification, helps them to accept their present limitations and to be more realistic about the speed of their recovery, without undermining the ongoing call to grow in conformity to the image of Christ” (Eric L. Johnson, “Formation Counseling: A Middle Way,” 26-27).

[4] The whole of Scripture shows us this. Jesus for instance said, Love the LORD your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mk. 12:30). Paul says “be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Rom. 12:2) (cognitive), the Psalms say worship  (e.g. Ps. 29:2) (emotive), other places say do righteousness (Jer. 22:3) (volitional). We see that this is the very process that leads to revival in the book of Nehemiah. Cognitive understanding (see esp. Neh. 8:7-8) lead to emotional experience (Neh. 8:9-12) which in turn lead to action (confession, 9:1-37; and covenantal resolve, 9:38). 

[5] Thomas Goodwin said, “Thoughts and affections are sibi mutuo causae—the mutual causes of each other: ‘Whilst I mused, the fire burned’ (Psalm 39:3); so that thoughts are the bellows that kindle and inflame affections; and then if they are inflamed, they cause thought to boil” (“The Vanity of Thoughts”).

[6] “Such is the nature of man, that nothing can come at the heart but through the door of the understanding: and there can be no spiritual knowledge of that of which there is not first a rational knowledge” (Jonathan Edwards, “The Importance and Advantage of a Thorough Knowledge of Divine Truth”). However, Michael Emlet is also wise to point out that “The issue usually isn’t an information gap, but a desire/practice gap… Mere insight never changes anyone. People don’t change, not because they lack information but because they lack imagination that leads to action” (Michael R. Emlet, “Practice Makes Perfect?” 45-46).

[7] “Worship is one of the most transforming activities for us to engage in as Christians… When we become duly impressed with God our lives change because the things that matter to us change. We no longer want some of the things we previously desired. An overridding and overwelming passion for God himself, God’s people, and God’s kingdom purposes in this world replace those desires. True worship happens when we get a glimpse of God–who he is and what is is about–and just stand there in awe of him, being impressed and transformed down to the very depths of our being by the magnificent vision of the glory of our heavenly Father” (Richard E. Averbeck, “Spirit, Community, and Mission: A Biblical Theology for Spiritual Formation,” 38 in the Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care).  I think Eph. 5:17-21 is noteworthy here. See also “Singing, in the Body and in the Spirit” by Steven R. Guthrie in JETS and “Being the Fullness of God in Christ by the Spirit” by Timothy G. Gombis in Tyndale Bulletin. 

[8] Michael R. Emlet, “Practice Makes Perfect?” 44. “Certain habits stir up corresponding affections and appetites; certain core affections and desires are expressed in corresponding habits. You can’t separate desire from practice” (Michael R. Emlet, “Practice Makes Perfect?” 42).

[9] The key thing is that we must persevere. It is not, fundamentally, about whether the person was or was not ever regenerate. I happen to believe that if one does not persevere then they were never regenerate. However, that discussion is not the main point of Scripture. Rather, Scripture is saying persevere, believe, obey! That, it must be seen, is the main thing. 

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