The prominence of prayer in the new covenant – Part 2

INTRODUCTION. The new covenant, which was announced in Jeremiah 31:31-34, inaugurated by the Lord Jesus on the night that He was betrayed, and established by Jesus’ death on the cross, differed dramatically from the old covenant, which had been in effect since the Fall and which the LORD formalized when He gave the Law on Sinai. The old covenant was a covenant of works whose purpose was to bring the awareness of personal sin (Romans 3:20) and of sin’s corresponding condemnation (Romans 5:16a), while the new covenant brings with it forgiveness of sin (Ephesians 1:7) and imputed righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21).

Not only do these two covenants differ in their purposes, but they also differ dramatically in the day-to-day practices of each covenant. One of the most apparent ways that the new covenant differs from the old is in the area of prayer.

Post #483 (January 13, 2022) examined prayer under the old covenant, while this post (#484) examines prayer in the new covenant.

First, we examined prayer under the old covenant and saw that prayer was rare because few people knew the LORD.

AND IN THE NEW COVENANT?

The previous comments (Post #483) were focused on the old covenant. As we turn to the new covenant, we ask the question, “Has anything changed?” Well, some things have not changed. In the new covenant, as under the old, it is still true that those who know the Lord, pray to the Lord, and those who do not know the Lord do not. This is an immense truth. In fact, this can serve as a diagnostic tool to determine spiritual health and even to assess whether or not someone is a genuine follower of Jesus. A feeble or nonexistent prayer life may very well indicate a nonexistent relationship with Jesus Christ, even for a person who claims to be a Christian, even for a person who regularly goes to a church. But in the new covenant, this truth has not changed: “Those who know the Lord, pray to the Lord, and those who do not know the Lord do not.”

But with the coming of the Lord Jesus and the new covenant, everything else related to prayer has changed, and changed dramatically. In the new covenant, prayer becomes prominent, even primary in the life of the individual believer and in the life of the church. One of the major features of Jesus’ earthly ministry was His time spent in prayer. Since Jesus prayed, all His disciples should pray. In fact, on more than one occasion, the disciples asked Jesus to teach them to pray. So, in contrast to the old covenant and the Law, there is explicit instruction on prayer in the New Testament and there are many examples of prayer. The New Testament epistles are full of prayers to guide the disciple in their own conversations with the Lord.

We also see that every believer is commanded to pray. A few examples will suffice. Paul charges every believer to “Pray without ceasing” in 1 Thess. 5:17. No comment needs to be made on that verse, does it? In Ephesians 6:19, again the apostle Paul directs his readers to “pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and petition for all the saints.” Prayer saturates the life of the new covenant believer and the worship of the new covenant church. Since the new covenant church is made up of those who know the Lord (Jeremiah 31:33), the church should be a place of prayer (Matthew 21:13). This is different from the old covenant temple, which was not a place of prayer, but a place of sacrifice.

Consider this for a moment. The Law of the old covenant loomed over the temple and demanded the blood of sacrifices to hold back the wrath of God. But in the new covenant, the final sacrifice has been offered and the wrath of God has been quenched (Romans 3:21-26; 1 Cor. 5:7). The Law’s demands have been satisfied (Romans 8:4) and the wages of sin have been fully paid (John 19:30). The believer has now been reconciled to God through the death of His Son (Romans 5:8-11) and fear of judgment has been nailed to the cross. The veil of the temple that intentionally separated sinful man from holy God has been ripped in two from top to bottom to show that God now dwells with His people; indeed, God, by His Holy Spirit, now dwells in His people! Now God’s people know Him because He indwells them (Ephesians 1:13-14). And as we stated before, those who know the Lord, pray to the Lord.

As we examine the contents of the book of Acts, we see that prayer is prominent in the early church. In Acts 1:14, the apostles are “devoting themselves to prayer.” In 2:42, they were continually devoting themselves to the prayers.” A bold prayer to God is prayed in 4:24-31 that results in the place being shaken. In Acts 6:4, the apostles select deacons so that they can “devote themselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” In Acts 8:15, Peter and John come down to Samaria from Jerusalem and “prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit.” There is no need to go through the entire book to see that prayer was central to every aspect of the New Testament church. And why was that so? The new covenant believer prays because he gets to pray! The believer is invited to come boldly to the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). In Ephesians 3:12, Paul reminds all believers that “in Christ we have boldness and confident access through faith in Him.” Paul is here referring to access to God through prayer, because he follows this up with, “For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father” (Eph. 3:14), as he begins another prayer. Again, prayer is the very heartbeat of the new covenant because conversation with his God is the privilege of every member of the new covenant church. Prayer is the rule, rather than to rare exception.

The new covenant believer has been invited to pray to the Lord of the universe any time he wants. Let us be those who pray intimately and often.

SDG                 rmb                 1/16/2022                   #484

The prominence of prayer in the new covenant

INTRODUCTION. The new covenant, which was announced in Jeremiah 31:31-34, inaugurated by the Lord Jesus on the night that He was betrayed, and established by Jesus’ death on the cross, was wholly different from the old covenant, which had been in effect since the Fall and which the LORD formalized when He gave the Law on Sinai. These two covenants differ in their forms and in their foundations. The old covenant was a covenant of works whose purpose was to bring the awareness of personal sin (Romans 3:20) and of sin’s corresponding condemnation (Romans 5:16a), while the new covenant brings with it forgiveness of sin (Ephesians 1:7) and imputed righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21).

Not only do these two covenants differ in their purposes, but they also differ dramatically in the day-to-day practices of each covenant. One of the most apparent ways that the new covenant differs from the old is in the area of prayer.

These next two posts will consider the practice of prayer in the old and new covenants, show how they are dramatically different, and give reasons why they are different.

First, we will examine prayer under the old covenant.

UNDER THE OLD COVENANT, PRAYER WAS RARE

The first observation is that “Under the old covenant, PRAYER WAS RARE.” Most prayer in the Old Testament was limited to the prophet or the priest or the king. When the people needed to hear from the LORD, they would usually go to a prophet or perhaps to a priest, but there is little evidence in the Old Testament that the average Hebrew prayed directly to the LORD. Also, in the Law, there was no command to pray and there was no instruction on prayer, so the typical Israelite was not expected to pray.

WHY WAS THERE LIMITED PRAYER UNDER THE OLD COVENANT?

There are reasons for this paucity of prayer under the Law, though. Under the old covenant, the LORD was perceived as distant and unapproachable. At Sinai with the giving of the Law of condemnation, the LORD had appeared in billowing smoke and blazing fire and thunder and the loud blaring of a trumpet. Then, in the temple, the LORD was behind the veil in the inner holy of holies and could be approached only once a year on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur), and even then, only by the high priest with the shed blood of an animal. The old covenant was dominated by the Law, and under the Law, God was a consuming fire. Men do not have the courage to approach or to pray to the consuming fire.

The result is that, for the Israelite who saw God as a God of judgment and as the God of the Law, there was no need to pray. God required obedience to the Law. That was clear. If I failed to obey the Law, there was a just recompence. The Law was black and white. So, why would I bother to pray and for what would I pray? The Law required me to perform, not to pray. And so, the people of Israel and Judah rarely prayed.

BUT THERE WERE THOSE WHO PRAYED

There were those, however, who lived during the time of the Law who prayed, even prayed fervently and frequently. In the Psalms we see David and Asaph and the sons of Korah and others pouring out their heart to the LORD in intimate, emotional prayers. These prayers are raw and powerful as the psalmist gives unhindered voice to the deepest feelings and secrets of his heart. We see the same thing when we look to the prayers of Hannah and Jacob, the prayers of Daniel and Habakkuk, the prayers of Hezekiah and Jeremiah. These prayers have passion and heat, and they display none of the fear engendered by the Law. The ones who pray to the LORD in the Old Testament pray to One whom they know intimately, whom they know to be gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. Those who pray, pray to the LORD because they know the LORD. There is certainly the fear of reverent awe, the sense of approaching One of unimaginable power and holiness and glory, but there is no fear of judgment or condemnation or retribution. The feelings of awe are consumed not by the fire of judgment but by the immensity of His everlasting love. And so, the one who prayed to the LORD as Redeemer and Savior during the old covenant did not pray from the Law, but they prayed from the love of God that had been given to them by grace.

What are we saying? Those who know the LORD, pray, and those who do not know the LORD do not. We are saying that those who know the LORD long to pour out their heart before Him in prayer. In the old covenant, those who knew the LORD as their Savior and their Redeemer, as their rock and refuge and strong tower; those who knew the LORD as their God of salvation, prayed to the LORD. And those who did not know the LORD, but had merely heard of the God of Israel, the God of Sinai, the God of the Law, these did not pray to the LORD. And, from what we read in the Old Testament, the great majority of people fell into this latter category. Since few people knew the LORD, few people prayed.

In the next post, we will take a look at prayer in the new covenant and begin to see how prayer is different between the covenants and why.

SDG                 rmb                 1/13/2022                   #483

Nothing is impossible for God (Jeremiah 32:17, 27)

We are frail. This reality becomes increasingly obvious with increasing years. We are frail and we are vulnerable, and we live in a broken world that is hostile to frailty and vulnerability.

And this feeling of weakness is intentional. Man is designed by his Creator to feel his vulnerability and his insignificance in the immensity of the universe and in the complexity of his world. There are so many ways that we can feel overwhelmed by life, that it must be given to us by design. There are a variety of threats that can plague us at any moment, unexpectedly breaking into our lives and shattering our former serenity. There can be threats to our most important relationships, threats to our livelihood, threats to our health, threats to our sense of security, threats to our need for meaning and significance. Any one of these threats can produce a situation where escape seems impossible and where there is no path forward that will not be tragic or disastrous. What are we to do in these circumstances? Is there an answer and a place to turn, or is surrendering to our vulnerability simply a consequence of being human? After all, who can do the impossible?

It is in these situations that the believer, the one who calls upon the name of the Lord, can turn to his God and cry out to Him. For what we need is a God who can do the impossible, who can come to us in our frailty and our vulnerability and rescue us. We need a Savior who is mighty to save, not only from sin, but also from the threats of this world. We need a God who has publicly declared His willingness and His ability to help those who cry out to Him. And in the Lord, we have such a God. Consider these passages of Scripture:

‘Ah Lord GOD! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You’ (Jeremiah 32:17).

“Behold, I am the LORD, the God of all flesh; is anything too difficult for Me?” (Jeremiah 32:27).

But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3).

“With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew19:26).

“Is anything too difficult for the Lord? At the appointed time I will return to you, at this time next year, and Sarah will have a son” (Genesis 18:14).

The Lord has repeatedly and conclusively declared His power and His ability to do whatever He pleases, and He has also declared that it pleases Him to do good to His children. The Lord Jesus teaches that, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him?” (Matthew 7:11).

The Lord is certainly able to do the impossible and our faith tells us that He is willing to help us with our impossible situation.

“And there is no other God besides Me, a righteous God and a Savior; There is none except Me. Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth. For I am God, and there is no other” (Isaiah 45:21-22)

Whatever you are facing now that seems humanly impossible is not impossible for God. Cry out to Him and have faith that His power demonstrated in the creation of the world and in raising Christ from the dead will also avail for you.

SDG rmb 1/7/2022 #481

The angel of the LORD went out (Isaiah 37:36)

INTRODUCTION: This post is about a pompous Assyrian king who blasphemes and reproaches the LORD, and who then encounters the angel of the LORD. Those who blaspheme and reproach the LORD will, sooner or later, have to deal with the angel of the LORD.

In Isaiah 36-37, we find Isaiah’s account of the failed Assyrian invasion of Judah by Sennacherib, the Assyrian king. Or rather, “the great king,” as he calls himself. (This incident is recorded three times in the Old Testament: here in Isaiah, and also in the two history books of 2 Kings 18-19 and in 2 Chronicles 32.) The biblical narrative has a stunning conclusion as what seemed to be certain victory is switched into a crushing defeat.

When Sennacherib king of Assyria sends his spokesman, Rabshakeh, to meet King Hezekiah’s officials, the Assyrians are overflowing with confidence and contempt. Their army has rolled down from Nineveh in conquest and has reached as far as Jerusalem with little resistance. Kingdoms with their pagan gods have fallen like dominoes, and Sennacherib sees no reason Judah and Jerusalem will be any different. Yes, it is true that the Assyrians have heard of the God of Israel, the LORD, but the king of Assyria views YHWH as no different than the gods of wood and stone. Why would anyone have confidence or put their trust in a God you cannot see? And so, Sennacherib sends Rabshakeh to terrify Judah and to blaspheme the LORD and to urge Hezekiah to surrender. Clearly, Sennacherib is the great king.

THE TAUNTS AND THE BLASPHEMIES

As Rabshakeh meets Eliakim, Shebna, and Joah by the upper pool (Isaiah 36:2), his intimidation guns are blazing. The Assyrian spokesman is skilled at taunt and blasphemy.

“What is this confidence?” (36:4). You are outnumbered and you will be overwhelmed. Face it, you are doomed. You have no reason for any confidence.

“On whom do you rely?” (36:5). Look around you. There is no one who can rescue you from the great king of Assyria. Do not rely on your army or on the cleverness of your king. And surely you are not relying on the LORD to protect you!

“We trust in the LORD our God” (36:7). You have got to be kidding! Where do you see the LORD? And besides, the LORD is the one who told us to come up against Judah in the first place, and now you are trusting Him to protect you from the great king? No way!

“Do not let Hezekiah deceive you” (36:14). He thinks that his God is going to help you, but he is dreaming, and he is trying to deceive you. You don’t have a chance.

“Do not let Hezekiah make you trust in the LORD” (36:15). You would be foolish to trust in the LORD. If you let Hezekiah trick you and deceive you, the great king of Assyria will come into Jerusalem and kill you. The LORD is not to be trusted.

“Beware that Hezekiah does not mislead you saying, ‘The LORD will deliver us (36:18).’” None of the other gods have been able to deliver their people, so why would you think that YHWH will help you. The LORD is just like the other gods. He is powerless and useless, but Sennacherib is the great king. Give up, for the LORD cannot help you.

Rabshakeh has already crossed the line and his doom is already sealed. Certainly, the LORD has heard enough from this blasphemer about his pipsqueak king, But Rabshakeh has more reproach and contempt to pour out.

“Do not let your God in whom you trust deceive you, saying, ‘Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria (37:10).’ Did the gods of those (pagan) nations deliver them?” (37:12). Now not only is Rabshakeh saying that the LORD cannot defend Jerusalem against the king of Assyria, but he is also accusing the LORD of deceiving His people. He blasphemes God by accusing the God who cannot lie of deception. Rabshakeh declares trust in the LORD to be foolish and compares the LORD to the powerless pagan gods of the nations.

Up to this point, the LORD has been patient and has allowed the Assyrians to rant and to blaspheme against Him, but when Hezekiah prays to the LORD and asks Him to “deliver us from his hand that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You alone, LORD, are God” (37:20), the LORD moves in power to destroy the upstart king.

“For I will defend this city to save it for My own sake and for My servant David’s sake” (Isaiah 37:35).

THE ANGEL OF THE LORD WENT OUT

The LORD will not long tolerate blasphemies against His name or open contempt from evil people. He will bring a just recompense and He will bring it swiftly. Sennacherib’s arrogant blasphemy against the LORD has sealed his destiny. Like the proud questioning of Pharaoh before him (Exodus 5:2) and like the blasphemous rants of the beast at the end of the age (Daniel 7:8, 11, 25; 11:36; Revelation 13:5, 6), so Sennacherib has reproached and blasphemed the Holy One of Israel (Isaiah 37:23). Therefore, as the LORD destroyed Pharaoh for his arrogance, and as He will destroy the beast for his blasphemies (2 Thess. 2:8; Rev. 19:20), so the LORD recompenses Sennacherib for his arrogance and his raging against the LORD (Isaiah 37:28-29).

“Then it happened that night that the angel of the LORD went out” (2 Kings 19:35). We have met the angel of the LORD before in the Old Testament. He spoke to Hagar and to Abraham. He met Joshua as he was preparing to conquer Jericho. He spoke to Gideon and to Manoah. He fed Elijah when the prophet was discouraged. And now, “the angel of the LORD went out.” He is the mysterious figure who seems to be God, although He also appears to be somehow separate from God. He speaks as the LORD, with all the authority of the LORD, yet He somehow is not the LORD. And here we see “that the angel of the LORD went out.” With all the authority and power of the LORD, He rises up to take vengeance (Psalm 94:1-2) on the Assyrians. It is one against the entire Assyrian army, and the Assyrians are vastly outmatched. The angel of the LORD brings divine judgment on Sennacherib for his arrogance and his blasphemies against the living God. “The angel of the LORD went out and struck 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians” (Isaiah 37:36). With his armies decimated and himself humiliated, Sennacherib returns to Nineveh where he is killed by his own sons in a pagan temple. So much for the great king of Assyria.

CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION

In our walk through this world, the believer can feel attacked by the world and overwhelmed by the perceived forces arrayed against us. There are times when, like Hezekiah, the voices of evil people and the whispers of doubts in our head can threaten to undo us, and our faith can waver. In those times, remember God’s power. Remember that you are the Lord’s delight and that He has promised to be your shield and defender. Remember that He is with you like a dread champion (Jeremiah 20:11). Remember that, like Hezekiah, you can call upon the Lord, and He will hear you. Remember that “He will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways” (Psalm 91:11). We are given this story to remind us that the LORD, He is God (1 Kings 18:39), and He is always with us. When the Rabshakehs in your life begin to taunt and blaspheme the living God, turn to the LORD and cry out to Him.

SDG                 rmb                 12/9/2021                   #467

The local church as the disciple’s most accessible marketplace

INTRODUCTION: For the disciple of Jesus Christ, their local church is their most accessible marketplace for growing in spiritual maturity. This article will explore factors in the local church that affect discipleship and that largely determine how quickly and how much the disciple can grow in Christlikeness.

NEW IN CHRIST

Through the miracle of the new birth, a sinner comes to faith in Christ, passes from death to life (John 5:24), becomes a new creation in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), and begins his walk with the Lord. Now this sinner has become a saint. He is pointed toward Christ, and he hungers and thirsts for righteousness (Matthew 5:6). And so, his journey in discipleship has begun. Even before he recognizes it, the Lord is purifying him with hyssop (Psalm 51:7) and is beginning to flush out the old man with his evil practices (Colossians 3:9) and is beginning to conform him to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29). And the result of a healthy new birth is that the disciple has a zeal to grow in practical holiness. Having been declared righteous through his faith in Jesus, the disciple now seeks to make his practical righteousness look more and more like his declared righteousness. But where is the best place for the disciple to grow?

THE LOCAL CHURCH

The answer to that question is, “In a good local church.” For the disciple of Jesus Christ, the best place to grow in practical righteousness and in Christlikeness is in a good local church. No matter where the person is in their spiritual journey, whether still a spiritual toddler or a spiritual grandfather and role model to others, the local church is God’s appointed vehicle for growing the disciple to greater maturity as a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Having established the fact that the local church is the place where disciples grow, it must also be acknowledged that, among local churches, there is a wide range of effectiveness in making mature disciples. Why is that? Why are some churches known for the maturity and fruitfulness of their disciples while most churches seem to have no fruit at all? I believe there are several factors that determine how effective a church is in making disciples.

THE FACTORS FOR EFFECTIVENESS

ARE THERE MATURE DISCIPLES THERE? The first factor I will mention is the actual maturity of the local church. Are there mature disciples in the church from whom younger disciples can learn? In a given church, there may be those who are physically mature, and there may be some who have been professing Christians for a long time, but that is not the question. It is very possible to be a member of a local church for a long time and to have not grown much. Does the church have a robust theology that they live by? Are there members of the church who are steeped in the Bible? Does the church pray a lot? Are there members of the church who have been with Christ in their times of testing? Have they seen God’s faithfulness in suffering or in loss or in waiting? Are there any people in the church who could be role models, about whom you would say, “I want to be like him”?

What is the “maturity density” in the church? This is a question about the average maturity that would determine growth by means of “random discipleship,” what we might call “drive-by discipleship.” In churches that have a high “maturity density,” there are ongoing opportunities for discipleship in ordinary encounters on Sunday mornings or in community groups or in breakfasts or lunches. In these sorts of churches, “Iron sharpens iron” (Proverbs 27:17) on a regular basis in ordinary conversations, but in churches that lack spiritually mature disciples, ordinary conversations remain ordinary. So, the first factor is the actual spiritual maturity of the local church.

CHURCH’S ATTITUDE TOWARD DISCIPLING: The next factor that influences the progress of the disciple is the overall attitude of the church toward discipling. Is the church motivated by 2 Timothy 2:2ff, that there are to be generations of disciples “teaching others also”? Does the church practice and even prioritize discipleship, as opposed to people who merely profess to be Christians but never really grow or show any meaningful fruit? Would the church be described as a country club or as a gymnasium? Is the church a place where many different spiritual growth opportunities are constantly being presented, or are real spiritual growth opportunities hard to come by? Is discipleship and spiritual growth championed by the lead pastor from the front? Is the lead pastor constantly talking about the expectation that church members will grow spiritually? Does the church expect members to be helping others grow in maturity or to be actively seeking their own spiritual growth, or is there no real expectation that anyone would be actively seeking spiritual growth?

A church that is serious about discipleship will manifest that attitude in many growth opportunities, such as theologically rich sermons, one-on-one discipleship, training classes like Oakhurst’s Equipping classes, Bible studies, small groups like OBC Community Groups which focus on Word and prayer in a fellowship context, and Spirit-filled worship. In a discipling church, there will be opportunities for sacrifice, suffering, theology, missions, evangelism, encouragement, prayer, and so on.

If you want to grow as a disciple of the Lord Jesus, look for a church the gives evidence of these kind of qualities. Look for a church that is serious about discipling its people.

ZEAL OF THE DISCIPLE. The third factor that will determine the rate of spiritual growth and the upper limit of spiritual growth is the zeal of the disciple himself. In the final analysis, your discipleship is 100% your responsibility. Although a mentor or a pastor may be personally invested in your spiritual growth, at the end of the day, growth is the disciple’s project. The disciple is the one who must be motivated to grow and to bear fruit in keeping with repentance. Are you hungry to grow in your faith? In the richest discipleship environment on earth, a disciple can languish and backslide and stagnate in their spiritual life is they will not put out the needed effort. Do you actively seek growth opportunities? Do you prioritize your spiritual growth? There are many things, even many good things, that can distract a disciple from the path of spiritual growth and of increasing usefulness to the Master. If you are not willing to act on discipleship opportunities, and if you are reluctant to take risks and to try new things and to exercise your faith, then you should not expect to ever make much progress in practical holiness or Kingdom usefulness.

SDG                 rmb                 12/07/2021                 #466

James 5:16 (“Confess your sins”) and biblical accountability

Within the current world of evangelicalism, it is not uncommon for pastors and churches to talk about the idea of “accountability.” Probably the foundational biblical text used to justify “biblical accountability” is the well-known verse from the book of James:

Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much. – James 5:16

In this post I want to explore James 5:16a, the bolded part of the verse above, and the related subject of biblical accountability, to develop a “theology of accountability” so that we can be faithful to the commission that the Lord Jesus gave His church in Matthew 28:19-20, to make disciples.

How can accountability help us make mature disciples?

Before we begin digging into the meaning of James 5:16a, however, we need to understand the correct context for this accountability, and we need to define what we mean by “biblical accountability.” My hunch is that, if you asked ten Christians what they mean by “accountability,” you would get nine or ten different answers. So, we will start with context and definition.

THE CONTEXT FOR ACCOUNTABILITY

First, the appropriate context for biblical accountability is a Discipleship Relationship. “What is that?” you ask. When I use the term, “Discipleship Relationship,” I mean a relationship between a Discipler (more mature believer) and a disciple (less mature believer) that has been established by mutual consent for a period of time which is primarily intended to produce spiritual growth in the disciple. In this arrangement, the Discipleship Relationship is the vehicle that is being used to further growth toward Christlikeness.

DEFINITION OF ACCOUNTABILITY

Next, we need to define what we mean by the word “Accountability.” As we are using the word, “Accountability” refers to a tool used in the context of a Discipleship Relationship whose main purpose is to help the disciple (less mature believer) see victory over a besetting sin. That is, one of the areas of spiritual growth in Discipleship is the area of victory over persistent or besetting sins. In this area of Discipleship, Accountability can be an effective tool for putting persistent sin to death (Colossians 3:5).

ACCOUNTABILITY AND JAMES 5:16

It is in the practice of Accountability that we will consider James 5:16. In this verse, James gives us specific actions to take and then gives us an implied promise of healing if we do.

James instructs us to confess our sins to one another and pray for one another that we may be healed. Here are two actions followed by a promise. One person confesses their sin to another person, expecting that, once the other person knows of the sin the first person has just confessed, the other person will immediately respond with prayer to the Lord for victory over the sin that has now been brought out into the light. James finishes this sentence with a promise, “that you may be healed.” Within a Discipleship Relationship, then, the disciple confesses a besetting sin to the trusted Discipler, bringing it out into the light. The disciple’s confession of sin elicits spontaneous prayer from the Discipler for the disciple and indicates that the Discipler has now joined the disciple in the fight against the disciple’s sin. There are now two warriors in the battle. Now both disciple and Discipler are firing the weapons of The Word and prayer at the hated sin. The confession of one warrior recruits a fresh soldier into the fray. And the promise is that the sin must yield. There is a promise that the sin confessed and assaulted with the weapons of spiritual warfare will be put to death. There will be victory.

So, we confess our sins to one another for three basic reasons:

  1. The confession brings the sin into the light as the disciple acknowledges the sinfulness of this sin and identifies this particular sin as the target of their mutual spiritual warfare (2 Cor. 10:3-6).
  2. The effect of this confession is to multiply the assault against this enemy of our holiness by recruiting a new soldier and thus increasing the artillery against the sin.
  3. Allows more people to rejoice together when we see the Lord giving the victory. Thus, the Lord receives more glory (2 Cor. 1:11). (Listen carefully!)

ACCOUNTABILITY AND CONFESSION IN ACTION

What we see, then, is that the machinery of Accountability is triggered by a confession of sin within the context of a Discipleship Relationship. That confession moves the sin out of the darkness and into the light and into the line of fire of spiritual artillery from both Discipler and disciple. The spiritual weaponry of the sword of the Spirit (the Bible/the Word), of prayer, of repentance and of mutual encouragement are poured out on the detested sin until it is vanquished.

SDG                 rmb                 11/17/2021                 #456

Maintain your zeal all the way to the end

I have been reading through J. C. Ryle’s book Practical Religion and have recently finished the chapter on “Zeal.” In his usual direct style, Ryle convincingly presents the case that the only way to run the Christian race is to run with effortful zeal. He presents example after example, both biblical and historical, that demonstrate that those who make a difference for Christ live with an abandoned zeal for the things of Christ. Theirs is an unclouded gaze that is set toward heaven which sees life as a brief window of time to be spent in undistracted devotion to the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:35).

This resonates with me. In our age of distraction and dissipation and dissolution, where it seems that all in our society is intentionally designed to obscure Christ and to lure people into the wasting of their lives, the believer needs to be spurred to action and encouraged to press on with zeal. We are those who are convinced that Jesus Christ is Lord, that He is King of kings and Lord of lords, that He is worthy of all praise, and that He is coming back soon to judge the living and the dead. He is the One who has died on the cross and He is the One who has been raised from the dead, and He is the One who now rules and reigns. We proclaim His name and call the nations to bow down to Him. We are those who declare, “To live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). Therefore, in a world that is hostile to everything that I have just stated, the believer must be diligent to maintain his zeal without wavering.

Below are some of my own random thoughts on this subject.

My prayer – “Lord, let me never let up on the throttle! Let me never coast. Lord, fill me with Your Spirit so that I am useful until the day that I draw my last breath. Give me undimmed zeal. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

There is danger in coasting in the Christian race, even for a little while, and coasting poses a significant threat to your future usefulness. Reasons:

  • There is not one biblical reason to choose to coast, so any decision to ease up on your zeal is a decision against the Scripture. The Scripture speaks to the contrary and expects the believer to “die at their post.”
  • Because the flesh still indwells us, we are unwise to consciously reduce our zeal and “give the devil an opportunity” (Ephesians 4:27). Zeal for Christ suppresses the flesh, but reduced zeal gives the flesh breathing room. If given the chance, the flesh will kill your zeal for Christ and for His service and will turn you into a harmless pew-warmer.
  • The Lord rewards zeal, but He often withdraws His hand from those who desire to coast, and once His hand is removed, He rarely replaces it.
  • Human nature is such that when we decide to reduce our effort, even for a short while, it is difficult to get back on the track. This is seen in many human endeavors, but especially in our pressing toward the goal for Christ. The danger is that once we get accustomed to coasting, we find that our zeal has been lost. Once effort is reduced, we suddenly develop an aversion for work and an affinity for ease.

THE SCRIPTURE SPEAKS OF ZEAL

The Scriptures speak to this issue.

Ephesians 2:10 – “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Since God has prepared for us good works to carry out, we need to be zealous for good works to be sure that we do all the works that God has prepared for us.

Titus 2:14 – Jesus “gave Himself for us to purify for Himself a people zealous for good deeds.” According to this Scripture, Jesus Christ gave Himself to establish a people zealous for good deeds. This was not the only reason He gave Himself up on the cross, but it is certainly one reason. If Jesus died so that I would be a man zealous for good deeds, how can I be otherwise? My very identity is tied to my zeal. If I am not zealous for good deeds, where does that leave me with Christ?

Matthew 25:15 – The Lord gives to His people a certain number of talents, “each according to his own ability.” The thing is that you don’t know how many talents He has given you. You may live under the assumption that you are a one-talent person and so live with that level of zeal and effort, when, in fact, He may have given you five talents. He may expect much more from you than your effort produces. Therefore, better to spend all your energy for the greatest impact.

Nehemiah 6:3 – Nehemiah was building the wall of Jerusalem, which was certainly the work of his lifetime. To rebuild the wall of Jerusalem was the reason Nehemiah was created, and he knew that. So, when his enemies Tobiah and Sanballat invited him to come have dinner with them, he smells a rat and declines their invitation. But notice what Nehemiah says to them. “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down.” Nehemiah would not be distracted from his life’s work. In the same way, we should seek our “great work,” that work for which the Lord created us, and then live spending ourselves for that work.

2 Corinthians 12:15 – “I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls.” Paul’s zeal for Christ manifested itself in the unrestrained outpouring of himself for other believers. Whatever he had and whatever he was, he eagerly poured out for the blessing and the encouragement of others.

Isaiah 6:8 – “Here am I. Send me.” In this scene, the prophet sees a vision of the Lord in the temple, lofty and exalted, and he is ruined. In the misery of his sin, he cries out to the Lord for mercy and the seraphim takes away his sin with a burning coal. It is then, after his sin is cleansed, that Isaiah hears the voice of the Lord calling for laborers to go. “Here am I. Send me.” In the zeal of his cleansing, and in his joy for now being in fellowship with the Lord, Isaiah gives the Lord a blank check for his future service to the Lord. The prophet gives no conditions to his service, and no limitations. Anywhere, anytime, for however long, he is available to be sent. And this is the normal zeal for the believer. We have been cleansed of a terminal stain and have been placed in the service of the Lord. With zeal, therefore, we give ourselves away to the Lord for as long as He sees fit to use us.

Philippians 1:21 – “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” No comment is required to understand the zeal in this statement.

2 Timothy 4:6-7 – “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.” The apostle Paul is drawing near to the end of his life. Shortly, the Roman guards will lead him away to his place of execution and his faithfulness will be sealed by his death. But Paul’s zeal has had its full expression. He will have been poured out. There will be nothing left. He has held nothing back in reserve. All will have been expended for Christ. This chosen instrument will have accomplished the work he was given to do. At some point in his journey, Paul realized that zeal is only for this life. It is only now that you can pour yourself out for Christ. Only in this fallen world can you be exhausted and expended, so Paul decided to be exhausted and expended for his Savior.

Let us imitate Paul’s zeal.

SDG                 rmb                 8/6/2021                     #427

For the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16)

Perhaps it is just the haze that has clouded my memory over three or four decades, but in my mind, these present days are indeed evil days compared with times past. In my teens and twenties, when I was coming of age and moving into adulthood, I was decidedly not a Christian, so the decisions I made and the ambitions I had were completely disconnected from obedience to God and were, therefore, devoid of any wisdom that would come from the Bible or from wise men. I was living for me and was only interested in my desires and pleasures, and so I made many poor decisions and several disastrous ones. But in the days of my young adulthood, the world was a much more benevolent place and even my major mistakes seemed to have only minor and temporary consequences. Truly bad choices resulted in setbacks, certainly, but there remained a ray of hope and a peculiar confidence that all was not lost and that somehow there was still an escape as I continued to plummet earthward. A parachute would be procured, and the landing might be rough, but I would survive and move on.

But that is not the case today. The world today is a malevolent place where disaster seems to lurk behind the corner of even wise decisions and righteous actions. The devil has been released from the abyss (Revelation 20:7) and the days are evil (Ephesians 5:16) and the consequences of poor decisions and unwise actions are amplified. Our days these days are evil. Instead of hiding in the dark, the wicked brazenly parade their wickedness in broad daylight, unashamed of the vilest of deeds (Romans 1:32). It seems that even the wisest and most cautious plans of the righteous walk a tightrope toward success, and the scattered plans of the unrighteous which characterized my young adulthood inevitably meet with shipwreck.

And so, the disciple of Jesus must “be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time BECAUSE THE DAYS ARE EVIL.”

WHAT ARE SOME WAYS TO WALK WISELY?

In view of the present distress (1 Corinthians 7:26), here are some suggestions for how the believer can walk wisely in these evil days.

First, holiness should be a constant and conscious objective. This holiness is visible righteousness. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6). In years past, it seems that a token nod to holiness would stave off the temptations to evil, but in the evil day the disciple of Jesus must take up the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:13). There needs to be a conscious striving for holiness that is driven into the soul by a persistent discipline. The days are evil, the disciple of Jesus is a visible target, and the battle is fierce. “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2).

Second, the disciple of Jesus must be alert for the encroachment of Satan and watch for the impact of his schemes. It is a doctrinal fact that the believer has, in Christ, defeated Satan and, in Christ, the believer need not fear the ultimate success of Satan’s schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11). Nevertheless, the disciple of Christ is to be on the alert for the working of the wicked one. Our adversary is patient, is deceptive, is subtle, and springs his traps suddenly and unexpectedly. For the naïve and the careless believer, Satan’s schemes can ruin years of fruitful service and can render the disciple useless for future work. “Be sober! Be on the alert!” (1 Peter 5:8).

Third, pray that the Lord will protect you from shipwreck and will guide you along the path of righteousness. Consider the truths of Psalm 91. “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty” (Psalm 91:1). Pray through the power of Psalm 18:1-3, joining with David in asking the LORD for His protection and declaring the ways the LORD defends His children. It is certainly true that the Lord is our strength and our shield, but it is also true that, when the days are evil, the disciple of Jesus is well-advised to cry out to the Lord and proclaim the Lord’s power and declare the Lord’s promise to be the Defender of His people. “But the LORD is with me like a dread champion” (Jeremiah 20:11). What adversary will come forward to fight my Champion?

SDG                 rmb                 7/6/2021                     #420

Sin, crabgrass, and repentance (Luke 3:8)

If you have ever been a homeowner in the south, then you are acquainted with crabgrass. Crabgrass is the bane of the person who would have “the yard of the month.” The threat of this ugly grass requires the landscaper to enter into the fray and attempt to exterminate the green demon. This post is about the analogy that exists between crabgrass and persistent sin in the life of the believer.

DEALING WITH CRABGRASS

There are a number of steps in the campaign against crabgrass that can help the homeowner keep the brute at bay, but these steps must be accompanied by an acknowledgement that this will be a war, not a short skirmish or a single battle. Crabgrass is persistent and difficult to kill, and the homeowner who would engage in this combat must be committed to the full campaign.

The first step in the war against crabgrass is recognizing what crabgrass looks like and that its appearance represents a call to arms. The lawn-owner must become an expert at spotting crabgrass and become savvy to all its disguises and hiding places. Once sighted, it is all hands-on deck. There is an enemy within the gates, and you must respond to the invasion.

The next step is to develop a conscious hatred for the infernal weed. Crabgrass must be detested and seen as only and purely evil and the enemy of your lawn. In your mind there is nothing pleasant or appealing about this diabolical plant. If it is not destroyed, it will destroy your lawn. This mindset of hatred of all things crabgrass motivates action.

Having recognized what crabgrass looks like and being armed with a hatred of it, the homeowner’s task now becomes clear: crabgrass must be killed wherever it is found. There is no compromise, no middle ground, no terms of peace, no room for reconciliation. Crabgrass is the avowed enemy, and the only possible objective is to put it to death so that the lawn can be rid of the hated infestation and restored to its lush innocence.

DEALING WITH INDWELLING SIN

Although there are some landscapers who would disagree with me, eliminating crabgrass from your lawn is not a life-and-death struggle and if, after a valiant effort, there was still spots of the weed in your yard, life would still go on. It is not a big deal.

But indwelling sin in the life of the believer is a big deal. In fact, it is at precisely the point when we start talking about persistent sin that all humor leaves the conversation. This IS a life-and-death struggle. The believer is called to holiness (1 Peter 1:14-16; Romans 6:2, 15; Leviticus 11:44, 45; 19:2; 1 John 2:3-6) as evidence of their conversion, and without sanctification, no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). But while the seriousness of crabgrass is insignificant compared to indwelling sin, the methods of warfare are similar.

Realize that the battle against indwelling sin is a war, not a skirmish. You will be engaged in this conflict as long as you are in the flesh, and the enemy never rests. But “Greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4).”

For this warfare, you will need to recognize sin when it appears. You will need to be familiar with all sin’s disguises and hiding places. To do that, you will need to become familiar with your Bible and with all that the Bible tells you about this enemy called sin. Know that there are no small sins or minor sins, no forgettable sins and no acceptable sins. Every sin that every believer ever committed nailed Jesus to the cross. Every sin, if it were the only sin, would have required the death of Jesus. Therefore, we must recognize every sin so that we can kill it. You cannot confess or repent of the unrecognized sin.

You should possess an active, conscious hatred of all sin. All sin must be detested and seen as only and purely evil and the enemy of your soul. In your mind there is nothing pleasant or appealing about even the most minor sin. If sin is not destroyed, it will destroy you. Sin seeks to make a shipwreck of your life. Sin has brought unimaginable suffering and ruin into the world and sin seeks to destroy your life. Remember Cain who refused to be warned when sin was crouching at his door. Sin is the devil’s primary weapon, and sin’s commission gives him pleasure. So, take his weapons away from him! To see sin is to hate sin, and this mindset of hatred of all things sinful motivates action.

Having recognized what sin looks like and being armed with a holy hatred of it, the disciple’s task now becomes clear: sin must be killed wherever it is found. There is no compromise, no middle ground, no terms of peace, no room for reconciliation. Sin is the avowed enemy of every believer, and the only possible objective is to put it to death so that the disciple can walk in a manner worthy of their calling.

WEAPONS OF OUR WARFARE

And what action are we to take?

Confession is the identification of sin and the acknowledgement that this sin is evil. Confession serves the function of identifying the enemy and aiming the artillery at the target. While confession is necessary, simply identifying the enemy and aiming the weapon does not accomplish the task. The aimed weapon must be fired.

Firing the weapon so as to destroy sin is called repentance. The disciple of Jesus who would have victory over sin must regularly fire the guns of repentance. Until you resolve to destroy sin through regular acts of repentance, you are probably not serious about holiness.

Put sin to death, as Paul says in Colossians 3:5. In daily prayer, actively attack the sinful behavior. Develop a loathing for the very idea of these activities. If there are memories of this sin from the past, bring them to the light and put those memories to death (Ephesians 5:12). See them as offensive to God and His holiness. Be repulsed by your former sins (1 Peter 4:3).

Find Scriptures which address your specific besetting sins and read them and meditate on them regularly. At the same time, find Scriptures that extol holy behavior and develop a holy affection for godly behavior. Meditate on holiness and purity. Find Scriptures which extol the holy opposite of your besetting sins. If you are battling pride, meditate on humility and on being of the same mind with one another. If you are an angry man, meditate on the fruit of the Spirit of peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control.

Confess your indwelling sins to a trusted friend and then pray together about the sin. Confess them to the Lord in prayer and ask the Holy Spirit to cleanse you and purify you. Express in prayer your hatred of the sinful behavior and your desire to be holy.

Meditate on psalms of repentance like Psalm 51 and Psalm 32. Engage in daily repentance until the grip of sin has relaxed its stranglehold.

Be killing sin, or it will be killing you.

SDG                 rmb                 5/20/2021

When is disappointment a sin?

My friend and I had talked for a long time over breakfast on Saturday morning about how crazy the real estate market is in Charlotte. When a house comes on the market, there are usually twenty showings the first day and then fifteen offers are made, all of them over the asking price, and within 48 hours the house is under contract. Davis and his wife, Natalie, had found a house they wanted, and Davis and I were talking about what they should offer. My advice was, “Go all-in, Davis. When God sent His Son to earth to save us, He went ‘all-in.’ So, we should live as ‘all-in’ people to demonstrate our trust in the Lord.” We had prayed about the house, and I had asked the Lord to provide the desire of their heart (Psalm 37:4). Then I had prayed, and I know that Davis and Natalie had prayed, throughout Saturday and Sunday, that their “all-in” offer would win the house.

Early Tuesday morning I received a text from Davis that their offer did not win the house. He said, “it is tough, but the Lord did what was best for us.” I replied, “Amen! The Lord has revealed His will in the matter. Romans 8:28.”

NOT DISAPPOINTED

Now, what is significant is that neither of us used the word “disappointed” in our conversation. We did not use the word “disappointed,” because we were not disappointed. We had prayed to our God and our God had given a clear answer. There was no ambiguity at all. The sovereign Lord of the universe inclined His ear to us (Psalm 116:1-2). He heard our supplications (Psalm 6:9) and the King of kings answered us (Psalm 99:6, 8)! And our loving God said, “No.” It was not the answer that we had requested, but we acknowledged that the Lord is infinitely wise, and He knows what is best. And, after all, He is the Lord. He does whatever He pleases (Psalm 115:3). But we were not disappointed.

UNDERSTANDING DISAPPOINTMENT

“Disappointment comes from unmet expectations.”

There is a lot of truth in this common expression. And this applies to believers as well as unbelievers. When our expectations are not met, we feel let down and we may even feel a little cheated, like somehow the world is obligated to meet our expectations. If that is our attitude, we will need to accept the advice from the dread Pirate Robert in the movie, “Princess Bride:” “Get used to disappointment.” Most (all?) of our expectations are baseless and unrealistic. “Why did you have that expectation?” “I don’t know, I just did.” “Oh. Well then, get used to disappointment.”

So, that is a little about disappointment from the world’s perspective. But there is also a disappointment that applies uniquely to the Christian when we request and the Lord answers, but we do not like the answer we received, and thus we are disappointed. This disappointment is sin because it means we are not satisfied with God’s performance. In this case, our prayer “requests” were really veiled demands and God did not do our bidding. To put it another way,

“Disappointment comes from unmet prayer requests.”

You had prayed fervently about a job opportunity, and someone else got the job, and you remain unemployed. Like Davis and Natalie, you prayed that your offer would win the house, and you came in second. You prayed for healing and your friend died. You have prayed for a godly spouse and yet you remain alone. And so, you feel something inside. Is it disappointment?

DISAPPOINTMENT IS A SIN

In these cases, I would suggest that disappointment is sin, because the “request” was really a demand. When we are disappointed with a clear answer to our prayer, have we not treated God as our servant?

Isn’t our thinking a lot like this? “After all, we did what we were supposed to do. We made our request according to the formula (Matthew 7:7; Philippians 4:6), we even prayed, ‘In Jesus’ name. Amen.’ We put our prayers in the correct slot of the prayer machine, and we expected the right answer, but out came an answer we did not request.” In essence, our disappointment says that God got the answer wrong. God did not do our bidding, so we are disappointed.

The truth is that when we experience disappointment, it means we were not seeking God’s will on a matter and then accepting His answer as the perfect answer, but instead we expressed our demand in a “prayer request,” and then pouted when God gave us the wrong answer. (See Jonah, chapter 4, for a good example of this.)

This is the very essence of sin. We, the creatures, are disappointed with the Lord God, the Creator of the universe. Brothers and sisters, we must be very cautious when we make demands of our God. Like Job, we should repent of this in dust and ashes (Job 42:6).

HUMBLE ACCEPTANCE IN PLACE OF DISAPPOINTMENT

Alan had been a pilot for American Airlines, when he contracted a rare disease that robbed him of his eyesight. Some years after he was blinded, Alan was having a conversation with his mother. His mother is a strong Christian who has walked with the Lord a long time, but she was asking Alan how he felt about being blinded. Didn’t he wrestle with God about this? Alan simply said, “We accept what the Lord allows.”

Queen Esther understood what it was to go before the sovereign king and make a request. She was not making a demand, but rather a humble request. And she accepted the possible answers and their consequences: “If I perish, I perish (Esther 4:16).”

Likewise, we should replace disappointment with acceptance of the Lord’s perfect will.

CONCLUSION

The Lord invites His children to come boldly to His throne and He calls us to make our requests to Him as our Abba, Father (Ephesians 3:12; Hebrews 4:16), but He remains ever and always the One who sovereignly “works all things (including all answers to our prayers) after the counsel of His will (Ephesians 1:11)” to the praise of His glory.

Therefore, I will repent of disappointment and will replace it with acceptance of the Lord’s perfect will, and I will rejoice in the love of the Lord my God. Replace disappointment with contentment (Philippians 4:10-13).

SDG                 rmb                 4/20/2021