Spiritual Laziness

September 11, 2019
Spiritual Laziness

I recently heard Alexander Strauch, a well-published and reputable author who served as an elder in one congregation for over 50 years, talk about spiritual laziness in a way that hit me between the eyes. Here is a rough paraphrase of what he said in an interview:

From the time of the Fall, man has been spiritually lazy. He can use all his energy to do many, many things but sit down and read the Bible and ten minutes later, “Oh, my neck hurts;” or, “Oh, my eyes, they might be bleeding!” Time for prayer and, five minutes of prayer, “Whew, I’m tired; I’m exhausted.” I can sit and watch a two-and-a-half-hour movie, or I can watch two movies back-to-back for four hours, no problem. But, study the Bible? Fifteen minutes, that’s max. We are inherently spiritually lazy, and the things of God come to us in a difficult way.[1]

The last phrase is certainly true. The things of God come to us in a difficult way. Work is required for the Christian life. Spiritual growth, which the Lord wants for all of us, requires that we put forth effort. We have to pray and study.

The Fall (and our own continuing sins to boot) has taken a toll on all of us. While we mean well, we tend to struggle on matters of spirituality. As our Lord Jesus put it, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matt 26:41). What I find very interesting is that the remedy for this problem was given in the same verse by our Lord in the phrase just before the famous statement. He said, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation.” The remedy for overcoming the weakness of the flesh is to be that much more watchful and prayerful. Commentator Leon Morris has helpfully written, “A willing spirit is not enough; it must be supplemented by prevailing prayer.”[2] Well-meaning words are inadequate. Good intentions are deficient. We should add, too, that Jesus is not just giving us an excuse that we can use whenever we fail. Scholar Craig Blomberg reminds us, “Jesus’ proverb is often casually reapplied almost as an excuse for human shortcomings but, in context, is an incentive for disciples to resist temptation.”[3] I’ve heard Christians jokingly reference this verse about their own moral lapses. However, Jesus’ goal is for His followers to overcome temptation, not to have a good excuse when we fall to it!

Thus, here’s the main point: If you want to overcome the weakness of your flesh, then you are going to have to be spiritually alert and constantly prayerful. You can succeed in your spiritual life, and that is our Lord’s desire. You can grow more spiritually mature, and that is God’s purpose for you. Do you want this for yourself, or are you just at ease in your spiritual sloth? I say: Let us not sleep! It is high time to awake out of slumber! Couple spiritual disciplines with your good intentions, and God will give you strength.


[1] H. B. Charles Jr., #087: Alex Strauch Interview, The On Preaching Podcast, podcast audio, August 16, 2019, https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/on-preaching-with-h-b-charles-jr/id888503224?i=100044707608.

[2] Leon Morris, The Gospel According to Matthew, Pillar New Testament Commentary Series, 1992.

[3] Craig Blomberg, Matthew, New American Commentary, 1992.

Lessons on Suffering: Introduction

September 8, 2019
Lessons on Suffering: Introduction

These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world. —John 16:33

(1) Limited Knowledge.

We should begin with an obvious point, as if you didn’t already know it, but I do not have all of the answers to the questions you may have on this subject over the next several weeks. And yet, I do not want you to ever think that the Lord has not provided enough in the Scriptures to guide us. He does give sufficient light to our paths. I also do not want you to ever get the idea that I am not willing to address the most difficult of questions. We are not those Christians who just dismiss difficult questions as if they don’t matter. We owe more than that to ourselves, to one another, and to our youth.

Moreover, while Bridget and I have endured a few hardships in our lives, that we do not talk much about, I confess that I have not suffered like some of you have or are suffering even now. But I do want you to know that I empathize with you and want what’s best for you and will do what I can to ease your burdens. You should know that I love you.

(2) The Reality of Suffering.

Pain and suffering are very real experiences. We do not want to deny that fact or neglect it. Christ promised trials and persecutions; believers have struggled throughout history just as much as anyone else; Luther basically taught that to be a Christian requires three things: prayer, study, and trials (adapted from Horton).

(3) Prosperity Gospel Errors.

Pop-culture Christianity makes the problem that much worse because it promotes the false idea that Christians should not suffer. It follows after New Age ideas like mind over matter, the magic of positive thinking, word of faith concepts like speaking things into existence. Prosperity preachers teach that if you have enough faith, you will not get sick and you will not struggle. They promise health and wealth.

Even for those of us who don’t believe the whole of the Health, Wealth, and Prosperity doctrine, we are still affected by it. We often question ourselves when trials come. We ask, “What have I done to deserve this?” And, “Is God mad at me; is He punishing me?” Or we say, “Maybe I haven’t been a good enough Christian or had enough faith or done enough good deeds.” Let me assure you, Christian, that suffering is notalways due to your sins. God does not operate on a “enough faith” kind of system. Our Lord taught us that if we just have faith the size of a mustard seed, we can move mountains.

(4) The Essence of the Problem.

Christians believe that God is omniscient (all knowing), correct?  We believe that God is omnipotent (all powerful), right?  And Christians believe that God is omnibenevolent (all good/loving), true?

If these things are all true of God, then why does He allow evil, suffering, and pain to persist in this world and, especially, in the lives of His children?

Many have claimed that all three of these things cannot be logically true of God. For example, if God is all-loving and He is all-powerful, then why does He not stop the horrific storms in this world and terrible diseases and all the like? There would be nothing to stop Him—at least not from our finite vantage point.

And that is where we must begin as we think about these things. We should not conclude there but begin there as we open our Bibles to see what God has said. The Bible actually provides many answers to these gut-wrenching subjects. I believe that a biblical, Christian worldview is the most coherent perspective offered and provides the most answers to these problems. Everyone on this planet must grapple with these issues, no one is immune from suffering, pain, and death, but biblical Christianity provides the most help by way of worldview. It is the most consistent.

(5) Sample List of Different Types/Terms

Natural Evil: We live in a fallen world
Satanic Evil: The devil and the demons are active
Suffering: A more general term for all kinds of things
Pain: Suffering, or unpleasant feelings, felt in the physical body.
Death: The moments and the culmination of termination of life, which is itself the wages of sin.
Disappointment: When we do not meet up to our own or others’ expectations.
Persecution: Poor treatment by others precisely because you’re a Christian.
Divine Discipline: The Lord uses punishment to teach His children to do right.

What is Sin?

September 4, 2019
What is Sin?

The question we want to answer in this article is simply: What is sin? Now there are many other things that need to be addressed on this topic, and we typically want to provide application, but I want to spend the space here only answering that one question.

There are many in our day who would deny such a thing as sin. The word is repulsive to some and useless to others. Theologian Jack Cottrell has written that the modern man does not want to think of failures as sin “because sinconnotes a wrongdoing for which one is responsible before God, and modern man does not want to see himself in this light. He will take his evil and his failures to sociologists and psychologists, but not to God” (159). Cottrell goes on to quote Karl Menninger writing, “A problem may be ‘evil, disgraceful, corrupt, prejudicial, harmful,’ but never sinful” (159). So, the term itself has been abandoned by the popular culture and, more than that, even banned in some sense.

There are many terms used in the Scriptures and in Christian theology for the concept of Sin: Ignorance, error, inattention, missing the mark, irreligion, transgression, iniquity, lack of integrity, rebellion, treachery, perversion, abomination, sensuality, immorality, selfishness, and fallenness. (Many of these are listed and discussed in Erickson).

What is sin? Sin, simply put by one encyclopedia, is “A transgression of God’s commands or any failure to meet his standards; as a verb, the word means ‘to violate the divine law, to commit an offense against God or others’” (Zondervan EB). To give a more nuanced definition, theologian Millard Erickson writes, “Sin is any evil action or evil motive that is in opposition to God. Simply stated, sin is failure to let God be God and placing something or someone in God’s rightful place of supremacy” (513).

Erickson (515) goes on to teach us that our understanding of God gives us an understanding of sin. If God is imperfect or unaware or indulgent, then human behavior is not that serious. But, “If God is a very high, pure, and exacting being who expects all humans to be as he is, then the slightest deviation from his lofty standard is sin and the human condition is very serious.” Thus, we know what sin is because we know who God is. This is maybe the best insight we have into a definition of the concept of sin.

As good a place as any to get an introduction to the term and concept of sin is in Genesis 3-4 which recount the Fall of Adam and Eve and, later, the first murder as Cain killed Abel. Among many things that can be learned, here are just a few thoughts:

[Gen 4:6-7] God confronts Cain about his anger with a question. We would probably be safe to assume that he is allowing Cain to confess his sin (Gen 3:9). Cain knows right from wrong, he is conscious of God, but decides to rebel against Him. He did not trust God to accept him if he did well. “It takes faith to believe that God always does what is right” (Waltke, 98). Sin is personified in this verse. It takes on a serpent-like quality (“lies at the door”), and it desires to rule over the man. This creature or thing, as sin is seen, is supposed to be mastered instead by the man.

We can consider Psalm 51 as well, which is King David’s confession of sin after the Bathsheba episode and the ripple effects of it. Here are a few, brief comments:

[Ps 51:3-6] Confession of Sin: A variety of words are used for sin (which is a poetic way to stress the seriousness): transgression, sin, evil, iniquity.
There are a few things that are clear and must be confessed by all of God’s people:
(1) we have sinned
(2) our sin has offended God  
(3) God judges our sin blamelessly
(4) sin has affected us to our core

At the heart of sin is rebellion. Notice that the biblical concept is never separated from God. The term is very practical but also very theological. We rebel against God. We do not obey God. We trust ourselves more than we trust God! This is sin, and the perfect, holy, and just God must judge it righteously.

Now, I said at the beginning that I would not concern myself with giving application, but I do have one to share with you. Our understanding of sin will have massive implications for the nature and style of our ministry (Erickson, 515). If we actually believe that God is holy, then we will believe in the concept of sin. And if we believe in the concept of sin, then we will evangelize, calling on people to repent of their sins and be born again (ibid.). As Erickson plainly says, “If . . . the problems of society are rooted in radically perverted human minds and wills, then the nature of those individuals will have to be altered, or they will continue to infect the whole” (515). Sin perverts the individual human and the whole human race. Because we believe these things, which the Bible teaches, we make it our mission, as a church, to tell of the saving acts of God in Christ. We are going to preach the whole counsel of God. We are going to call on men and women to repent of their sins. We are going to tell people that they must be born again. This will dictate our preaching, teaching, evangelism, outreach, missions, youth ministry, and everything we do as a church.