Are We Too Heavenly Minded?

That is a question I’ve been spurred to think about recently because of reading a sermon by Richard Sibbes called The Hidden Life.  Of course, the question really stems out of the quote “Don’t be so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good,” which I probably quotes a number of years ago, but now see how silly it is.  Sibbes’ sermon is based on Colossians 3.3-4.

For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

It is an amazing sermon, and I want to work through it a bit in my own reflections as well as here with you.  If you’d like to read it, you can do so here.  If you’d rather listen to it, then I’ve got something for you as well.  Upon my first reading, after about 2 pages, I said to myself, “I’ve got to record this!  This is so good, and it needs to be preached.”  So, friends, I recorded the sermon.  You can find it here.  I hope I represented the heart behind it in my reading, and I hope it encourages you.

What you’ll notice is that Sibbes argues that these 2 verses are not only the grounds for, but also the way to live out the commands of verses 1-2 and verses 5-10.  In other words, verses 1-2 which tell us to be heavenly minded and verses 5-10 which tell us to put to death what is earthly in us are two sides of a coin – the coin of the Christian life, you might say.  And they are things we should do because of the truth of verses 3-4, and also things that we CAN do because of verses 3-4.

So, because of the truth that we are hid in Christ and will appear with Him in glory, we seek to be heavenly minded, knowing that it will produce in us the greatest earthly difference in our lives, in our churches, our families, and our neighborhood.  It’s a masterclass on preaching the Gospel to ourselves.   And it exposes the shallowness of a statement like “you’re too heavenly minded to be any earthly good.”

Please listen to the sermon and let me know what you think!  In my next post, I’ll try to outline the sermon and make some initial comments.

 

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Overcoming Sin through Holistic Discipleship

Image result for transformed from glory to glory

Sorry for the break, but here we are with the final installment of this series on overcoming sin.  The first part discussed the role of boundaries in our walk with Christ and the second talked about becoming fluent in the Gospel, seeing how the good news speaks to the specific heart idols with which we struggle.

In this post, we will discuss the 3rd and final layer…that of Holistic Discipleship.  You will notice looking at the pyramid that this piece is the largest, the foundation.  That is because when this piece is strong and well established, the other two pieces are almost unnecessary.  Let me elaborate.

When someone, especially a man, is struggling with a particular sin, we tend to make that single issue the only thing we are focused on.  If we struggle with lust, we read books about it, join groups about it, and have boundaries and accountability around it.  When we read our Bible during that time, we are usually either looking for passages about that struggle OR trying to apply other passages to it.  We become consumed with fixing that particular issue.

While the heart behind this is good, I’m suggesting that it’s unhelpful.  It takes our eyes off of God, his love, his tenderness, his glory and goodness and focuses them on our sin, to the exclusion of the rest of our spiritual lives.  There is more to discipleship, to knowing God than simply fighting lust or pride or greed.  There is the fullness of God, his Word, and his works to be explored.  The deeper we go in all the fullness of God, the stronger our walk will be.  The more we delight in him, the less of a pull we will feel from the world.  Think of 2 Corinthians 3.18…how are we transformed?  Not boundaries…not even by identifying our heart idols, as good as both of those things are.  But how are we changed?  By gazing on Jesus.  By spending time with Jesus.  By seeing and learning to enjoy Jesus!  That’s where transformation happens and we do that through spiritual disciplines and partaking in the ordinary means of grace.

Remember in our first post, we talked about an athlete.  Putting up boundaries is like wearing a cast…it helps keep us from hurting ourselves even more.  The second layer, Gospel  Application, when applied to that metaphor is like physical therapy.  Like an athlete rehabbing a torn Achilles tendon, with repetitive and focused movements, it is the focused application of the Gospel for the rehabbing of our heart idols.

This third layer is different, it’s the total body work that an athlete might do to maintain health and strengthen their bodies.  Cardio, stretching, weights, balance, agility, sprints, etc.  They all exist not for rehab so much as overall health.  Similarly, our prayer life, time in the word, memorization of Scripture, listening to the preached Word, Christian fellowship, worship…they are all meant to keep us healthy and build up our spiritual strength.  When an athlete is holistically healthy, she is less likely to be injured.  When the body is strong and fit, it doesn’t need a cast.  So to, the spiritually healthy don’t need boundaries (though they may still have them), and they don’t have to spend a ton of time on Gospel application for one, single besetting sin because they are daily destroying heart idols as they appear through regular and holistic spiritual disciplines and the ordinary means of grace.

So, if you have a besetting sin.  First, set up boundaries.  They will make it harder for you to hurt yourself and others.  Second, with the help of others, discern the heart idol(s) that is at the root of your besetting sin.  Understanding why you find that sin so attractive and what the Gospel has to say to that.  But don’t forgot, along with that, do not give up pursuing a holistic maturity through the normal means of grace.  Don’t navel gaze.  Lift up your eyes and see Jesus, your righteousness at the right hand of the Father.

Fighting Sin – 2nd Layer

In our previous post, I started sharing about fighting sin.  I went on to unpack the role that boundaries play in overcoming sin.  In short, they are important in that they create opportunity and space for growth, but boundaries do not change the heart, so they are never the whole answer.  That brings us to the second layer.

The second layer to overcoming sin is Gospel Application.  What is that?  Gospel Application is the heart work of asking, “why am I so attracted to that sin?”  If I’m angry all of the time…why?  If I’m filled with lust…why?  What is the pay-off?  And there’s always a pay-off.  We don’t do things, as humans, unless we want to.  This reflection is how the heart idol behind our sin is exposed.

Once I understand why I do what I do (and you might need help discerning that), I begin to look at that heart idol through the lens of the Gospel.  What does the good news have to say about my idol.  It may say, “you’re trying to save yourself with your chronic, idolatrous overworking.”  It may, instead, say, “Your idolatrous desire to be loved and accepted by others is a sad, false, little copy of the huge love that Jesus offers you.”  It has an answer to any guilt, shame, regret, longing, or need you believe you feel.  It really does!  At our church, we call the ability to apply the Gospel to specific needs, circumstances, etc. “Gospel Fluency.”

Of course, this is where the fight really begins.  Satan and your flesh and the world do not want you to give up your sin for the One who truly loves you and can satisfy and heal your broken heart.  So, we muster up Gospel knowledge to bring it to bear against ongoing temptation and desire.  We commit time to meditate on God’s Gospel promises!  We memorize scripture that will declare His truth to us.

CLARIFICATION: I haven’t said this yet, and I really should have from the very beginning.  We cannot fight and win against sin alone.  First, sin must be exposed before it can become light (Eph 5.13-14).  Until sin is exposed, we can’t even start to fight it.  And exposing sin means confessing it…it means telling another person, “I’m trapped and I need help.”  Second, isolation is breeding ground for our own desires and lusts.  Bringing someone else into the equation automatically means that I’m not alone anymore just to do whatever feels good in the moment.  Three, others will have wisdom and encouragement for us.  They will help us discern the heart idol, discern Gospel application, and remember the Lord’s benefits (Ps 103.2).  Finally, we were never meant to live alone.  God is community – Father, Son, and Spirit.  He made us to reflect that, not by being alone, but by being in relationships that matter.  Chances are that we are in the predicament because we isolated to begin with, we refused to share what was happening before things got so bad.

So, TOGETHER, we search our hearts and bring the Gospel to bear on our idols.  In the next post, we’ll look at the the final layer of overcoming sin.

Three Layers to Fighting Sin

Struggling with sin is hard!  And we all want to feel like we are becoming more like Jesus.  That growth of character and heart is what Christians have called “sanctification.”  The Bible has much to say about sanctification, especially the letters of the New Testament to the new believers around the Roman empire who had just come to faith.

This growth can be hard.  And I think it is made more difficult when we believe wrongly about how we grow as Christians. If I believe that sin is overcome by sheer will-power, then life is going to be quite difficult.  I’ve gotten to walk with some folks, recently, for whom victory over a particular sin was slow in coming or who were downright hopeless.  As I dug a little deeper, they each seemed to believe, at least subconsciously, that they were losing to sin because they just couldn’t muster enough effort.

At the center of these thoughts is this question:  “As Christians, what do we believe about how people change?”  And a related question: “What can I do to grow in Christlikeness?”  Here’s how I’ve begun to think about this.  I’d love to hear your thoughts.  I see that there are 3 layers of activity that we need to think about when we consider fighting sin or growing in Christlike character.  And these three layers – they accomplish different things.  I’ll deal with the 2nd and 3rd layers in a later post, but let’s look at the first one here.

Layer 1 – Boundaries

Often when someone is struggling with a particular sin, they will think through what boundaries they need to establish.  If they struggle with drunkenness, they avoid the bar.  If the struggle is pornography, the research internet filters, etc.  This is a Biblical step.  In Proverbs, we are instructed to avoid altogether the temptations of the prostitute for instance: 5:8 Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house.  When Paul instructs the Corinthians to “flee” from idolatry or from sexual immorality, it gives the impression of putting a lot of space between us and the object of our temptation.  Run! Don’t go near it!

So, we should create boundaries that will help us stay as far from sin as possible.  Flee!  Sometimes the problem is that we try to choose boundaries that won’t require too much of us.  I’ve seen many people choose a boundary that was completely ineffective because they needed much more distance from their sin.  For the man addicted to work, changing jobs might be necessary.  And that’s demanding.  For some women addicted to streaming entertainment, they need to not only remove the TV from their bedroom, but also from the entire house.  Flee!

This is a good layer, but this layer does not change your heart.  Read that line again because it’s very important.  Jesus said, “if your eye causes your to sin, pluck it out,” but it’s clear from the rest of the Sermon on the Mount that it’s not the eye that causes us to sin…it’s the heart!  That is where all sin resides.  Boundaries do not deal with the heart.  Instead, they simply help clear the immediate danger out of our context so that we can then have space to engage in the heart.

Imagine an athlete, perhaps a quarterback in American Football, who injures his shoulder.  Before anything can get better he has to stop using his arm.  He has to protect it from further external harm.  Boundaries are like casts.  They don’t make you a good quarterback, but they can create a context in which healing can start.

At the same time, if we think that simply adding internet filters will change the lust in our hearts that drives us to look at pornography, then we are in trouble.  Brothers and sisters, the battle has only begun when we’ve built good boundaries.  We have a cast, but we are not yet healed and healthy and holy.  In Christianity, holiness begins in the heart.  It begins by replacing and destroying former loves and former idols.  And that is what Layers 2 and 3 are about.