My assignment is to talk about fighting the fight of faith with the word. The idea of fighting for faith comes from a few texts:
- 1 Timothy 6:12: “Fight the good fight of faith. Take hold of eternal life to which you were called.”
- 1 Corinthians 9:26: “I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others, I myself should be disqualified.”
- 2 Timothy 4:7–8: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing.”
So you have these verses that speak of the fight of faith, and it’s a good fight. Not all fight is good. This one’s good.
Five Observations on the Fight of Faith
Now, what I want to do is give some clarifying observations about this fight. And I’d like to do the first half of the message on those and the last half on practical outworking and how you use it against specific kinds of threats to your faith.
1. The fight of faith isn’t always easy progress.
Here’s clarifying observation number one: I used to think that the life of faith was more or less a straight diagonal line from total lostness to total perfection. And when I was sixteen, I would look forward to ten more years of faithful patience by the time I’m twenty-six, and then ten more years of faithful patience by the time I’m thirty-six, and then ten more years of faithful patience by the time I’m forty-six, and it just would get better and better. And now I’m sixty-two and I’ve scrapped that vision.
Let me clarify now a phrase that I think misleads us. Justification is punctiliar. It happens at a point. It doesn’t happen a lot of times. It’s not a process. You could say it’s instantaneous.
Now we usually say sanctification, growth in holiness, is progressive — a little bit here, a little bit next. Now that’s misleading, perhaps. It’s not misleading as a distinction from justification being at a point. That’s really valuable and essential to get that our transformation into the likeness of Christ is incremental and happens progressively.
However, I’ve never heard anybody talk about regressive sanctification, and I believe in it. It’s not good. It’s bad. And it’s real. You’re not old enough to know this for sure. You know it a little bit. You can fight from age six, when at your mother’s knee you’re born again, to age thirty-six valiantly, growing mightily. And at age forty-six you can be languishing in the wilderness.
So the point of this clarifying observation is to say that the fight is a mortal fight to the death. You never get to a point where you say, “Okay, I have fought valiantly for thirty years. I’m gonna coast and stay at that level.” You won’t. You’re in a river, swimming upstream. The river is sin, culture, demonic influences, your own bidding corruption. And if you stop swimming, you go backward. You don’t stay at your level of sanctification. So that’s observation and clarification number one.
2. The fight of faith is a fight for joy.
Here’s number two. I’m giving these because I think the way we fight for faith all of our life is governed by understanding these clarifications. I have practical illustrations of how to do it later, but even if I never got to them, these, I think, are more important.
Second clarifying observation: The fight of faith is a fight for joy. Saving faith, I’m going to argue, includes as part of it (not all of it) a treasuring of Christ, a being satisfied in Christ, a delighting in Christ. I don’t think it’s icing on the cake. I don’t think faith is mere decision, and then these other things are like icing on the real commitment cake. I don’t think so. The new birth brings about a new heart. And even though it’s a baby heart and an imperfect heart and an immature heart, it’s a real new heart with at least seeds of this kind of affection for Christ — a treasuring of Christ, an embrace of Christ.
Now I’ve got to give you some reasons for believing that because it may be the most important thing because it really shapes how you fight. Here are several bases for that claim that the fight for faith is a fight for joy in Christ.
1. Faith and Joy Are Synonymous
In 2 Corinthians 1:24 Paul says, “Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your . . .” And you would expect him to say faith: “Not that lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your faith.” And he doesn’t say that. He says, “Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy.” He substitutes joy for faith. And he says, “My apostolic vocation is to labor for your joy.” And he’s just called it faith.
2. Believing is Receiving
John 1:11–12: “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” What’s that little parallel there between “to all who did receive him” and “who believed in his name”?
I think that verse defines believing as receiving. If you want to know: What happens at the new birth? What is the conscious experience of the new birth? One answer is: it is a spiritual, inward, welcoming, receiving, embracing of Christ. That’s believing. You hear who he is, what he’s done, and you are receiving.
Now my question is: Receive him as what? And I fear that the answers some give are only utilitarian. Savior from hell — yes, by all means. But there are all kinds of utilitarian people in our lives whom we don’t admire. They’re just useful. They supply things we want, though we don’t want them. It’s not enough to receive Jesus as Savior — unless Savior means: saved to love him, saved to know him, saved to embrace him. He’s the treasure. So I’m arguing that we receive Jesus not simply as a utility but as your treasure.
3. Saving Faith Is Satisfaction
Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” Now notice the parallel between coming and not hungering, believing and not thirsting. Parallel words like that define each other. So in that verse, believing is a coming to him so as to satisfy still thirst. That’s what saving faith is.
4. Conversion Is Discovering Joy
The shortest parable in the Bible is Matthew 13:44: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.” That’s a picture of conversion. Conversion is stumbling upon the treasure who is Christ, King Christ, and finding him so valuable that everything else can be sold, and you’ll have everything in him. That’s what I’m arguing saving faith includes.
5. Faith Treasures Christ
I’ve been thinking about this for five or six years now: how to complete the gospel in evangelical language so that it is whole and not fragmentary. The gospel has at least five components. And when you get them all together, then you see that believing the gospel is enjoying Christ. So here are the pieces. You know them, but the last thing you may not emphasize like I want you to.
1. The gospel is an event: Christ died for our sins. 2. The gospel is an accomplishment or achievement: he died for our sins, and when he died, righteousness is completed and provided, and sin is covered for all the elect. 3. The gospel is a free offer: If the achievement is offered you for works, there’s no gospel. It is offered freely; there’s nothing that you can do to earn it or merit it. All you can do is receive it. So a third piece of the gospel is we must assert that it is free: it is offered freely for faith. 4. The gospel must be applied to us: My sins are covered and righteousness is counted to me. That’s part of the gospel. It didn’t just happen in being purchased and completed at the cross. It now gets, through faith by the Holy Spirit, applied to me so that I know myself forgiven, and I know myself righteous. 5. The gospel must be precious to us: we don’t just accept Jesus as a ticket out of hell, but we embrace him as the treasure of our life.
Why Forgiveness Is Precious
The problem is that we usually stop at the fourth point: the application of the gospel. To which I want to say: Wo what? So what if I’m forgiven? Why do you want to be forgiven? There are a lot of bad answers to that question:
- “I don’t like a guilty conscience.”
- “It feels bad.”
- “I lose sleep.”
- “I don’t want to go to hell.”
- “My marriage would certainly be better if I didn’t labor under such a guilty conscience.”
And the list goes on of bad answers. They may be true, but they are not very Christ-exalting. I’ll tell you why you want to be forgiven: If you’re a Christian, you want to be forgiven because sins stand between you and Jesus, and you want him. He’s your treasure. You want to be with him. You want to fellowship with him. You want to talk with him. You want to see his glory. So I wrote a book called God Is the Gospel. His gifts are not the gospel. God is the gospel. His gifts are all means to get to him.
Fist Peter 3:18: “Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God.” That’s the gospel. And until you get there, he’s a ticket in your back pocket. Do you know what you do with tickets? When you get to the play or the theater, you throw them in the garbage. Because you got what you wanted: the theater, the show, the ballgame. And if Jesus is just a ticket, he’s not honored.
So my fifth argument for why the fight for faith is a fight for joy is that believing the gospel, in its fullness, means treasuring all that God is for you in Christ.
‘The Chair Is Beautiful’
Let me give you one last argument for that point. I was with R.C. Sproul two years ago in Orlando, at one of the Ligonier conferences, and he was speaking just before I did. And he was arguing about the nature of faith. I can’t remember whether he put the chair there or whether he just imagined the chair there. But there’s a chair. And you’ve heard this illustration. He said, “Now, do you believe the chair can hold you up?” “Yeah, I believe it.” “Well, you don’t believe the chair can hold you up if you’re not willing to sit in the chair.” End of the illustration.
So I was speaking next. I like to fix talks that go before me. And I haven’t been here so I can’t fix any talks. I know that R.C. Sproul is watching this on video back in the speaker’s lounge. So I’m not being careless here. And I said, “Okay, we’ve got a problem here. You’re saying that faith is not just believing that the chair can hold you up, that Jesus is able to save you, but will you sit on it, will you give your life to him? And everything about that is right. However,” I asked in front of five thousand people, “what I want to know is: What if the chair is ugly and you don’t like it? It’s just ugly. It’s a lousy chair. ‘But I’m tired so I guess I’ll have to sit in the chair.’ Is that saving faith? It is not.” So he came out between sessions and we sat down together and he put his arm around me and he said, “The chair is beautiful.”
Now this gets a little more like William Tyndale, but another way to say it would be this: Are you willing to sit in the chair if a thousand arrows are aimed at your face, ready to fly, if you sit in the chair. Illustrations need to be pushed to the fullness of the gospel. The fight for faith is a fight for treasuring him. It’s a fight for delighting in him. It’s a fight for being satisfied in him. It’s not just a fight to trust him for something. He’s the end of the quest. He’s not a means, merely.
That’s clarifying observation number two. The first one was there is such a thing as regressive sanctification. It’s not a straight line. You’ve got a fight to the end; you can’t coast. And the second one now is: the fight for faith is a fight for joy in Christ.
3. Joy in Christ does not erase suffering.
Clarifying observation number three is: joy in Christ is not the opposite of suffering, which is another way of saying that the fight for faith, or the fight for the joy of faith, is not a fight for the prosperity gospel; it’s not a fight for health, wealth, and prosperity. What I would in fact argue is that it’s a fight for that alone which can enable you to suffer. It’s a fight for a relationship with Jesus that enables you to say, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my lord” (Philippians 3:8). That’s what I want more than anything.
I want to be so related to Jesus, so that if my wife dies and I get a phone call tonight and my little girl dies — suppose one of those awful tornadoes that was dancing around Minneapolis yesterday and took out a little two-year-old in Hugo, Minnesota, just a stone’s throw away from my house. If that happened and my wife and child were gone, I would say, “Christ is all, and he will be there. I will not ever abandon him. I will not ever fault him for anything. I will always embrace him. I will always fly to him.” That’s the way I want to relate to Jesus. That’s saving faith.
4. By faith, God is totally for us.
Clarifying observation number four: we fight for faith, not to get God to be one hundred percent for us, but because he is one hundred percent for us in Christ. This is one that is so hard to live by because the devil and our flesh and the whole legalistic scheme of the universe under the fall is pulling us another direction.
There are going to be dozens of you who go out misunderstanding this message. I know that because the devil is alive. You are going to go out and you’re going to feel: “He made it sound like I get justified, I get God on my side, by the vigilance of my warfare.” You’re going to say it. You’re going to feel it because you’re wired to be that way. So I’m going to say right here, and try to rescue as many of you from that misunderstanding as I can: That’s not what I believe. It’s not what the Bible teaches. You cannot make any progress in the Christian life until you believe that God is already one hundred percent on your side — not just ninety-nine. If you think that there’s this little piece that’s left that could result in my being opposed by my God, if I don’t get him to be on my side, then you don’t understand justification.
If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died — more than that, who was raised — who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Romans 8:31–34)
All of that happened through faith in Christ. Christ is your righteousness, not incrementally. Christ is not carved up. If you have Christ by faith alone, you have God totally on your side, which means that whatever horrible thing happens in this coming here, he’s not against you. He’s not against you. It may be very hard to believe, but it’s very true, very essential. When we think about the fight of faith, we’re fighting to believe that. We’re fighting to believe that. Not to get it to be true. That’s number four.
5. The fight of faith is a fight to see Christ.
Clarifying observation number five: the fight for joy, the fight for faith, is a fight to see Christ. Here’s what I mean: I know he’s in heaven, and he’s not on the earth, and he’s not physically here. He will be, but he’s not yet. Paul, in Ephesians 1:18, refers to “the eyes of the heart”: he prays that we would have “the eyes [our] hearts enlightened,” so that we can see the unseen. This is something probably a good many of you haven’t thought a lot about, and it can sound little spooky. “Whoa, have I ever experienced that?” And you probably have, even if you don’t know you have. I mean, you certainly have if you’re a believer, and you may have never been taught that vocabulary.
What happened in the new birth is that the eyes of the heart were illumined so that the cross ceased to be foolishness and became the wisdom of God. That’s what happened. If you, once upon a time, considered Christianity boring, stupid, irrelevant, scary — “I don’t want anything to do with it” — but then something happened, and today, when you look at the cross, you just want to see because there’s so much wisdom and so much love and so much justice and so much power in what happened there, what happened in your life is that the eyes of your heart were opened. That’s the vocabulary of the New Testament.
Jesus said to one group of people, “Seeing they do not see” (Matthew 13:13). That implies there are two ways to see: You can see with your physical eyes, or you can see with the eyes of your heart. And he said to the Pharisees that they’re good with their physical eyes — and these are blind. We were all blind. Spiritually, Christ was, at best, uninteresting, and, at worst, a threat.
Where We See Christ
Now, where do you see God or Christ? And the Bible has two basic answers: one is nature, and the other is the Bible. Psalm 19:1: “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.” The heavens are something you see: the stars, sun, the moon, clouds. It’s a stunning creation. And the Bible says that what’s happening there is that if you have eyes to see, you can see the glory of God. That’s amazing. Scientists look at it. Some of them see the glory of God and some of them don’t because the eyes of their heart are either open or not open.
The more important way we see is by the word: it’s the infallible way that God reveals himself. And here are two verses that are so key to me. First Samuel 3:21: “And the Lord appeared again at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord.” Now two times he uses language of seeing: he appeared at Shiloh, and he revealed himself at Shiloh to Samuel. And then it adds this: “by the word of the Lord.” There are eyes in your ears. Do you hear that? He revealed himself. He appeared to Samuel by what he heard. Now we’re really close to the nitty-gritty of how you fight for faith. “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). And now we learn that seeing comes by hearing.
And the reason I’m stressing this is because of 2 Corinthians 3:18: “We all, with unveiled face, beholding [that’s a seeing word] the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” So the way you are transformed, the way your life is changed, and you are filled with delight in treasuring Christ, is by seeing him in what you hear.
Second Corinthians 4:4 may be the most important word on this because it focuses on the gospel and not just the word of God in general. It says, “In their case, the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”
When the gospel is faithfully spoken (which it has been in many cases in this conference), this text says that there’s a glory in it — a spiritual glory, not a physical glory but a spiritual beauty. And the devil blinds unbelievers from seeing it, and the new birth is the removal of the scales, so that when the story is told about the Christ — about his life, about his death, about his resurrection, about his achievement and all of his character; when the whole story is told — we see beauty, we see glory. And it is self-evidencing.
So if you were to ask me, How do you fight doubt in your life? I do give some effort to apologetic works, but mainly I fight to see glory, because the bottom line for being saved is having the eyes of our hearts opened, and we see something nobody can contradict. Calvin said it was the difference between a blind man and a man seeing the sun. How do you know that that globe is light? What kind of arguments would you give? Would you give chemical arguments, physical arguments? You’d say, “I see it.” That’s basically how people get saved: the eyes of the heart are opened, and we see glory in the gospel.
Two Ways to Use Scripture
Those five observations about the fight of faith all imply a number of implications, but the main one is that you must ground your life on the word of God. In the fight of faith, we must major on the word of God.
- “The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing in the heart” (Psalm 19:8).
- “Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart” (Jeremiah 15:16).
- “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11).
- “His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2).
So those four texts, at least, say that the word of God is the place where joy, the joy of faith, is stoked, preserved, energized, enabled, renewed, which is what has to happen in me every day. So I’m pleading with you that you be people of the word every day.
There are two ways to do that: one is in a disciplined way, and the other is a spontaneous way. I’m at the practical ground level of how I live now.
What I mean by a disciplined way of giving yourself to the word is that you need a time, you need a place, and you need a plan for this book to get into your life, so that its power to produce the joy of faith, conquer the devil, and sanctify you will be unleashed.
Time, Plan Place
In 1975, I was married seven years and finished school finally at age twenty-eight. I bought my first house with the $17,000 inheritance that my mother left me when she was killed in 1974. It’s the only reason I have a house: because Mom left me some money when she was killed. We found a house, and, lo and behold, would you believe it had been built without a prayer room? Do you believe that? Unbelievable. You wouldn’t build a house that way, would you? There’s a place for a television but no place to pray. Can you believe that a Christian would buy a house that has a place for a television but no place for prayer? That’s ridiculous. I can’t believe that.
So I went downstairs, and I looked around. “Okay, right over there, that’s going to become a prayer place.” And I’m not a carpenter, so I had somebody else do that. But I built my own bench. I can build a bench. So I bought some pressed wood and I designed it so that when I’m kneeling down with my elbows on it, it’s the right height. Now this is a problem because your eyes change when you get older. I designed it so that the place where my Bible lay would be about four inches lower so that it wouldn’t go fuzzy on me as I was reading. Now I’ve got to take my glasses off to read because they don’t work with these trifocals or whatever.
So I built my bench. I’ve got that bench now. The study where I am now, which was just redesigned two years ago, the church did for me as a gift. And they said, “Well, what do you want?” I said, “Just save the bench.” Build a little wall here and make the bench as invisible as possible for when my kids butt in on me. I have a place. You’ve got to have a place. Susannah Wesley, who had sixteen kids, her place was in the kitchen with her apron over her head. And when the kids saw the apron over Mama’s head, they shut up. And you can read about her way of raising children, and they shut up. You’ve got to find a place. It’s not easy, but you have to find it. And you’ve got to find a time.
In other words, if you let this just happen — like, “I’ll read the Bible sometime or somewhere or some way” — the devil will have a field day with you. And you’ll come to four o’clock every afternoon, and it won’t have happened. Or you’ll be in bed at night and it won’t have happened. I don’t know if you can see these little tabs on my Bible, but those are my way. This is “The Discipleship Journal Bible Reading Plan.” I’ve been doing this for years. This is a through-the-Bible reading plan, and I want to go through this every year at least once.
So you need a time, a place, and a plan. We could just talk forever about how to do that when you get there. Be focused. And if you can’t be focused, write out the text. Write the text. Just start writing. There are more eyes in a pencil than you can imagine. You will see so many things.
Store Scripture in Your Heart
Query the text and memorize the text. I memorized Psalm 46 during my first year at Bethlehem Baptist Church. I was called on the telephone, and Rollin Erickson’s wife had just had a heart attack. He was a statesman at our church. I rushed so fast to be at the hospital, I forgot my Bible. I was a brand-new pastor. I’d never been a pastor before. I was thirty-four years old and green as could be. I didn’t know what to do anywhere at anytime. I just loved the Bible and wanted to bless people with it.
I arrived, the waiting room was full relatives, and Rollin puts his arm around me, and he says, “Give us a word, John.” Now I know a lot of Bible. Even at thirty-four I knew a lot of Bible, and mind went blank. I think I murmured in my prayer John 3:16 or something. I felt so humiliated. I felt like I had let them down terribly. They didn’t feel that way. They were gracious. That’s why he was a statesman. I went home. I went to my bench, and I got down and opened my Bible. I said to the Lord, “That will never happen again.” And I nailed Psalm 46 that afternoon. And I’ve got a lot of other psalms, ready to fight the devil with in this slow, fading brain that has to work a lot harder now than it used to, to fight with the word of God. I plead with you: memorize scripture.
That leads to the other half of this observation — namely, spontaneous use of Scripture. And here, I’ll just close with a slew of illustrations of how the spontaneous use of Scripture to fight for faith works. Here come these temptations to be unbelieving, to be lacking in joy, to doubt God, and what do you do? You don’t have your Bible everywhere. You’re working, you’re walking, you’re playing, and thoughts come into your head or things happen, and all kinds of difficulties emerge.
What about anxiety? So the threat of anxiety comes, and you memorize Psalm 56:3: “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.” My little girl knows that one. We have this Fighter Verse program at our church where we memorize a different verse every week, and we use them like that.
What about anxiety for uselessness? “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58). So here you are, and a threat comes over you: “I’m wasting my time. My ministry is pointless. It’s not having any effect.” That’s the devil talking. How do you stick him? You stick him with 1 Corinthians 15:58: “Everything done in the name of the Lord is not in vain. Get out of here. I’m believing the promise.” This is the way I use the Bible day by day.
What about anxiety for feeling weak? You feel weak. You get on the plane in the morning, come to Louisville, and you feel spent. “I’m supposed to be the passion guy. Come on, what am I going to do? Expectations are high.” And the Lord says, “My grace is sufficient for you. My power will be made perfect in your weariness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Or what about the anxiety of feeling the need for guidance? There are a lot of you in that situation, probably. What do I do next? Who, when, how? “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you” (Psalm 32:8). Or one of my favorites, Psalm 25:8: “Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.” I qualify. I mean, isn’t that great? Isn’t that an incredible promise? “Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way.” Man, you can send the devil tumbling with that one.
Or anxiety about afflictions. One of my colleague’s daughters wrestled for seven years with colitis. They finally did a major surgery and said, “You’re going to have immediate relief, even though you don’t have a colon now.” And fourteen hours later, she was so sick. She was throwing up all the medicine. Yesterday she went back into the hospital. How does Katie fight for faith and joy? “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all” (Psalm 34:19). She really good at this. You’ve got to sing the praises of grace in people like this. She knows how to appropriate the promises, and she believes them.
What about anxiety about aging? I probably shouldn’t bother you with that one, since you are a young audience. “Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been borne by me from before your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save” (Isaiah 46:3–4). He will carry you and he will bear you and he will deliver you. That’s good news for anxiety about aging.
What about anxiety that you won’t persevere to the end? You hear me say that you’ve got to fight to the end. And you go home tonight, and you lie down, and this horrible feeling comes over you: “What if I don’t? What if I can’t make it? What if I don’t persevere?” You reach down into your scabbard and you pull out Philippians 1:6:“He who began a good work in [me] will bring it to completion.” I don’t know any other way to live the Christian life than to take all these tidal waves of doubts that break over us and stick them with the word.
What about death? You’re going to be afraid of death, I promise you, you are. In your victorious moments you’ll have triumph: “Neither death nor hell can separate me.” Then there will be another kind of moment, and it will terrify you. And then what will you do? You better have another sword in there: “None of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord of the dead and of the living” (Romans 14:7–9). I tell you, that text has served me so many times both for others in hospital rooms, and in my own soul late at night. Know some great gospel promises about the triumph over death.
What about the threat to your faith of covetousness and greed? “I only have an old phone, not the shiny new one I just saw.” Then there starts to be this discontent over such a little thing. You have to pull out the sword. Hebrews 13:5–6: “Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”
What about lust? That’s a killer, right? It just conquers us again and again. It affects guys differently than girls, but it’s still a problem for all of us. The statistics about internet porn are not encouraging for men and women. This lust thing is massive, and it’s a faith killer. Where shall we turn? What will you pull out of your scabbard for this one? This is a hard battle. I’m 62, and it’s still hard. Sorry about that. It’s not going to get easier. (Well, it might some, but it won’t be easy.) I’ll give you to weapons in the fight.
Pure in Heart
So you pull this one out: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). And you know that when you click that button, and illicit images fill your mind, seeing him is harder — to put it mildly. If you don’t, there will be vistas open to you of your God that in the gutter of pornography, or worse, you cannot see. I’m putting it positively. I’m not giving you the negative one: cut off your hand because, if you don’t, you go to hell (Matthew 5:30). That’s there: gouge out your eye because, if you don’t, you go to hell. I’m giving you the positive one: if you will turn from uncleanness, there will be vistas of divine pleasure open to you that will not be opened any other way, and they will satisfy your soul longer and more deeply than anything satisfaction offered by lust.
Favor and Honor
Here’s a second one. This is Psalm 84:11: “The Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor.” Now here’s the part that’s really hard to believe and really true: “No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.” The devil is going to tell you that if you don’t sleep with him or her, and you are chaste, and you never marry and die never having had sex, then you blew it; you’re not even fully human. I’ve had people tell me that. If you obey Christ and are chaste and pure till marriage or your dying day, no good thing has he withheld from you. Do you know the best argument for that? I said this to a guy one time who was just furious at me because of the stand I took on public advertisements for condoms in the Twin Cities. His argument was: “I’m not even human unless my girlfriend and I go all the way. It’s what we’re designed for. What’s with you?” And I said, “The most fully human person who ever lived never had sex, ever. I’ll take him over your view any day, and his name is Jesus.
Bitterness and Unforgiveness
Lastly, what do you do with the temptation of being destroyed that bitterness and unforgiveness and anger and vengeance? Some abuse in your background, you can’t let it go. The horrible betrayal in your life a year ago. You just cherish the anger. You get up thinking about it, go to bed thinking about it; it’s eating you up. What do you do? How do you fight for such joy in Christ and such contentment in him and such faith in him that that goes. How do you do that? What’s the sword that you use? And I’ll give you two. They’re very different ways of fighting.
As God Forgave You
Ephesians 4:32: “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” I said that I love Sovereign Grace’s emphasis. I love the New Attitude conference. This is very close to the reason why I am so celebrative about what this movement is: It is so gospel saturated. It is so gospel driven. And right here you see how liberating that is if you know.
Even if you don’t have a some “big testimony,” and you can’t even remember being an unbeliever, all you have to do is just accumulate about five days’ worth of sin. And that’s all you need to know the massive grace it takes to keep me saved — let alone get me saved. So the gospel is precious to me. One of my associates likes to say, “God saved me from a life of drugs and a life of crime and a life of abuse when I was six.” And it always is funny — and it’s always massively, gloriously true. And I don’t think anybody should say anything negative about God saving them from their sins, as though they missed out.
God Will Repay
Here’s the other one. The other text, the other sword that you’re pulling out against bitterness is this one. This is deep. This is big. Get this. One of the reasons it is so hard to forgive real wrong against us, and it eats away at us and destroys joy and destroys faith, is because it was real wrong. It was unjust. And we feel like: “If I start asking kindly towards that dad or uncle or former boyfriend or former spouse — if I start returning good for evil — it’s going to feel like or look like and maybe be like what they did wasn’t bad. That’s what it feels like. I mean, I feel that with my wife. She does something that annoys me that I think is not right, not good, I feel like if I just say nice things to her, she won’t know how bad she was. That’s awful. I’m 62. I’m a pastor.
But here’s the answer. I’ve set it up with my wife so it’s going to sound all wrong. But I’ll read it anyway. This is Romans 12:19: “Never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” You may not think that that applies to marriage. Well, if you dial it down just a little bit it does. But I’m more concerned those of you who have real, incredible injustice and horrible things that happened to you — horrible things, wrong things, unjust things, and it is so hard to let it go. Because there is this one piece — namely, it would look as though the universe became amoral.
And this text in the Bible — “Vengeance is mine, I will repay” — means this: If that person has never been punished the way they deserve to be punished, and they probably haven’t, lay it down. Just say, “God, there are two possibilities here. That sin committed against me is either going to be punished (1) at the cross when that person repents, or (2) in hell when they don’t repent, and I cannot improve on either of those acts of justice. Therefore, I will now return good for evil. “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by doing so you will heap burning coals [and perhaps repentance] on his head” (Romans 12:20)
So, I would simply close by pleading with you, be people of the book. Get your sword fixed, and be able to pull it out every day spontaneously, because you’ve in a disciplined way, given yourself to the word of God.