The Dead Yet Live (YWS Week 46)

richardsibbessmallWelcome to a year of reading Richard Sibbes together! The reading plan for the entire year can be accessed here. I encourage you to stick with us, allow yourself time to read, and soak in the riches of this gifted and prolific Puritan preacher. You will be edified and encouraged.

If you have trouble with how Sibbes used words, check out the Lexicons of Early Modern English for definitions from the period.

Summary/Engagement

“You are dead.” Something the movies say we’ll hear from some creepy person who is apparently an angel and come to take us to the afterlife. This guy usually has some beatific face and casually (though with hushed reverential tones) explains that we’re now going to heaven. What is also usually conveyed is the person’s surprise that there is a heaven and that they’re going.

Colossians 3:3-4 are not the words of an angel to the recently deceased and surprised human. These are the words of God to his church about their life. We are dead, the Spirit says. Our life is hid with Christ in God. How are we dead and yet live? “See,” says the scoffer, “the Bible doesn’t make sense!” Oh but it makes sense, it coheres, in every way.

We are dead to the law and its demands, in Christ. We are dead to sin and its authority, in Christ. We are even dead to death itself, in Christ. Brother Sibbes said it so eloquently:

“Though we live here for a time, we are dead in regard of the sentence that is passed on us, as we say a man is dead when the sentence is passed on him. In that respect we are dead men, for our life is but a dead life. Besides the sentence that is passed upon us, death seized upon us in the time of our life, in sicknesses, etc. And so they prepare us to death.
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We are dead, and yet we have a life. A Christian is a strange person. He is both dead and alive, he is miserable and glorious. He consists of contraries. He is dead in regard of corruption and miseries, and such like, but he is alive in regard of his better part, and he grows two ways at once. It is a strange thing a Christian doth. He grows downwards and upwards at the same time; for as he dies in sin and misery, and natural death approaching, so he lives the life of grace, and grows more and more till he end in glory.”

Application / Further Discussion

We are dead to sin and yet alive to Christ, if you believe the Gospel. We are dead to our old self, dead to our old life, dead to our passions and desires that we identified so tightly with. We have been reborn in Christ our Lord, ready to appear in glory with Him. What implications does this union with Christ have on us, who have been ransomed from death’s embrace into Heaven’s glory?

  1. We are not yet what we will be. (Phil. 1:6) We are the body, joined to the head, Christ. Just as with your body, where your head goes, your body goes. Christ has gone before us in to heaven, in to glory, and so will we. Just as he suffered for righteousness, so will we. He is holy, and so we must be holy. (1 Peter 1:13-16)
  2. We are dead to sin’s authority, not our capability to sin. The old man in us died, our sinful nature was buried with it, and we have been raised in the newness of life that is Christ. This is what baptism signifies. It is a visual representation of the gospel. Yet, as the above states, we are not yet there. We are not yet glorified because we are still living in a sinful world, and we sin because we are sinners. Christ gave us a heart capable of resisting temptation.
  3. We are dead to the law, yet we are not free to do as we please. The law is full of commands, both of what to do and what not to do. Some confuse the freedom we have in Christ with the freedom to do as they choose. This is not freedom. What they have chosen is themselves as God. God never released us from obedience. We are no longer under sin’s authority, because we are now slaves to Christ. We have been freed from the taskmaster of sin, to serve God. Anyone who cloaks their sin by invoking their “freedom in Christ” is attempting to make holy that which is profane. Christ makes the sinner holy, not their sin. We are called to die to self and live to God. If you think that means doing what you want because Christ paid for the sin, you are putting God to the test. God will not be tested. Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith, or in deluded self-worship with Christian veneer.
  4. Death is not cause for fear, living contrary to God is. In Christ, death is the consummation of the change wrought in is. When we who are in Christ die we will go to be with him where he is, in glory. “It is vain to believe well unless a man work accordingly. He that lives against his faith shall be damned, as he that believes against it.” If you believe Christ, you will do as he says. Put to death in yourself that which rebels against him, that your faith may be proven by your works. (James 2:14-26)

Much more could be said. Live without shame before God, who became shame for you. Put sin to death in your life, for Christ died for your sin. Honor Christ who deserves all glory, for he is holy beyond measure. Eagerly await his return, he is coming for you.

“He, as the sun, shall cast a lustre and beauty and glory upon all that are his; and then they shall reflect that glory they have from him upon him again, and he upon them again. So he shall be glorious in them and they in him; but the ground of all is, he is first in glory. He shall appear in glory, and then we in him.”

Last week, we read The Art of Contentment.

Next week, we read Christ’s Exaltation Purchased by Humiliation.

Preaching and Hypocrisy

One of the most difficult things about preaching through Scripture one book at a time is that inevitably I’ll be encouraging people to be obedient in an area where I myself am not. That is the nature of preaching. We are almost always preaching above our heads.

There are times when I step into the pulpit feeling like a terrible hypocrite. The text before me is one that encourages unity and forgiveness within the body of Christ and I’m struggling hardcore to forgive a guy in the church that has wounded me.

I’ve watched as other ministers have dropped out of ministry because of the weight of feeling like a hypocrite. And I’d be lying if I didn’t confess that in darker moments I’ve entertained the thought of joining them. But at the end of the day I’m not confident that the accusation of hypocrisy stands. Nor do I believe that preaching on that which I have yet to attain myself disqualifies from ministry.

The Case of John Newton and the Apostle Paul

First, consider this from John Newton:

The Lord leads me, in the course of my preaching, to insist much on a life of communion with himself, and of the great design of the Gospel to render us conformable to him in love…many, who only can judge by what they see, suppose I live a very happy life. But alas! if they knew what passes in my heart, how dull my spirit is in secret, and how little I am myself affected by the glorious truths I propose to others, they would form a different judgment. (Works of Newton, Volume 2, 108)

Did you hear it? Newton is passionately telling others to grab hold of Jesus but he himself is little affected by the glorious truths of the gospel. I’m convinced this would be terrible hypocrisy if not for what Newton says next:

Could I be myself what I recommend to them, I should be happy indeed.

Newton is preaching above his head. He is striving for that which he is encouraging his people to strive for. Newton is only saying what the Apostle Paul said in Philippians 3:12. “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.” Paul too was preaching and teaching above his head.

Conclusion

Preaching above your head doesn’t make you a hypocrite, it makes you a human. You are a hypocrite when you preach something that you yourself are not striving for and hoping for.

If, for instance, I preach about forgiveness but I’m not waging war on unforgiveness in my own soul then I’m a hypocrite. But exhorting others to do what I haven’t yet accomplished accomplished isn’t hypocrisy. It’s all in the heart and the fight.

But even still there will be moments when you step into a pulpit as a hypocrite. You won’t feel—or even want to feel—the great truths that you explain to others. This is a terrible and grievous sin. But thankfully the gospel is true even for hypocritical preachers.

Keep preaching the gospel.

photo credit: Waleed Alzuhair via photopin cc

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6 Reasons Not to Read a Book

small_96724309I am still a voracious reader. But I read much less than I once did. One year I had a goal of reading and reviewing over 100 books. Now I read much less and seldom review books. There aren’t many new books that I purchase and read.

I’m also checking more books out at the local library on very diverse topics. And I’m reading more for entertainment than because I have to.

This is intentional.

With my previous reading habits I noticed a few things happening. For one, I was getting stressed out with a stack of free books that I had agreed to review. Many of them I wouldn’t have bought even at a .99 Amazon sale. Secondly, I wasn’t really chewing on what I was reading.

But more than anything I realized that I’m going to die someday. I started to think through the words of Ecclesiastes 12:12, “Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” I realized that there is a type of learning and reading that is pointless because it dies with you. So I asked this question over my reading:

Is my reading done for Christ or for me?

I realized, thankfully, that a good amount of my reading is done for the sake of Christ. I read to be better equipped to help others. I read to enrich my relationship with the Lord. I read to enjoy God’s creation. I read to be better at writing.

But some of my reading was pointless. And so I gave myself permission to stop reading. Here are 6 reasons not to read a book.

  1. I will not read a book just to say that I’ve read it. That’s pride. Pride is dumb.
  2. I will not read a book to stay relevant. I’ll never keep up. And because of the timeless and always relevant gospel I don’t need to.
  3. I will not read a book solely to win an argument. Winning most arguments is a waste of time. There might be exceptions to this general rule—but for the most part reading for the sake of winning an argument is the type of knowledge that puffs up.
  4. I will not read a book to try to accomplish something that only Christ can do. If I’m struggling with how to be a good husband a book might help. Or maybe I just need to pray and apply what I’ve already learned.
  5. I will not read a book simply because it is free. Send me all the free books you want—but if it’s terrible or even unhelpful to me I won’t read it and I won’t review it.
  6. I will not read a book because I started it. If the book isn’t good or it isn’t helping then I’ll put it down.

There are other reasons not to read a book—but here are six rules that keep me from reading more books than I ought.


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