What is Godliness?

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by Spencer Harmon

It’s a prerequisite for Christian leadership. It’s championed in Christian literature. It’s absence is a red light in romantic relationships.   It’s heralded in thousands of churches every Sunday.  It motivates accountability groups, is commended by Christians around the world, and is summarized in one word:

Godliness.   

But godliness is dangerous.  Not because you may be persecuted if you pursue it – although you may.  Not because Satan will oppose you at every turn of your striving towards it – although he will.  Not because your sinful flesh will roar in resistance as you reach for it – although it will.  No, godliness is dangerous for a much more subtle reason.  

Godliness is dangerous because we use the word so much.  And where words are used often, assumption follows closely behind.  As we continually use this word without defining it from God’s Word, vague definitions take root.  As a result, people who should be pricked are comforted, people who should be freed are burdened, and at worst a culture of shallow holiness implants itself in our Christian communities.  

When something is precious and being threatened, you guard it from multiple sides.  The same is true with godliness.  We not only need to know what godliness is, but also what it isn’t.  

WHAT GODLINESS ISN’T

Godliness is not gifting.  God gives his church gifts, but we should not equate them with godliness.  The Corinthians excelled in spiritual gifts, but at the same time were rebuked for heinous sin (1 Corinthians 5; 11:17-22).  Preaching, teaching, counseling, music, writing, leadership, persuasiveness, hospitality – all of these things can be included in godliness, but are not godliness in and of themselves.

Godliness is not personality.  Godliness is not politeness, an easy going attitude, or diplomacy. Jesus was not perceived as polite by the money-changers when he turned over their tables and called them robbers.  He wasn’t perceived as diplomatic when he called the Pharisees whitewashed tombs.  He wasn’t perceived as easy-going when he rebuked his disciples.  Paul rebukes Peter for not eating with Gentiles.  James rebukes the rich.  All of these men were godly, and one of these men was God himself.  

Godliness is not knowledge.  A robust knowledge of theology, a nuanced understanding of the human heart, and sharp apologetical skills does not make us godly.  Knowing things makes us accountable for them.  The Pharisees were men of astute knowledge, but Jesus tells them they are blind to spiritual reality (John 9:40).    

Godliness is not a leadership position.  The greatest cause of trembling for me as a young pastor is that I would begin equating godliness with my position rather than my character.  Just because we lead a discussion group or Sunday school does not make us the godliest person in the room.  Being a pastor does not automatically mean you become the holiest person in the church.  No, the Bible assumes this principle: the higher the leadership, the deeper the character (1 Timothy 3:1-7).  And the higher you get without deeper character the more likely you are to fall.  

Obvious gifting, a dynamic personality, rigorous knowledge, and lofty leadership are wonderful.  They should be affirmed in the local church lifted up as worthy of pursuit.  But these qualities are not what the Bible defines as godliness.  Knowing this for myself is challenging and clarifying as I aspire towards greater Christ-likeness in daily life.

CHARACTERISTICS OF GODLINESS

Godliness believes the truth.  The fountainhead of godliness is knowing and believing the truth.  Trees need seeds, houses need foundations, cars need gasoline, and godliness stands on truth.  The man who follows a false map walks in the wrong direction.  False teaching in the New Testament warrants swift rebuke because it leads people to sin and death.  The apostle Paul calls the gospel itself the mystery of godliness (1 Timothy 3:16).  The apostle Peter says godliness comes through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence (2 Peter 1:3).  This is why every saint is called to speak the truth in love to one another. (Ephesians 4:15)

Godliness is dignified.  In 1 Timothy 2-3, dignity is a marker of the Christian community from the laity to the leadership.  We should pray for leaders so we can live dignified lives (2:2), pastors should lead their families with all dignity (3:4), and deacons are to be dignified (3:8, 11).

Dignity is the outward reputation of a godly heart.  Dignity doesn’t flow from trying to look dignified, but it’s the result of a heart that loves Christ and others.  The Bible calls this living worthy of the gospel (Philippians 1:27) or conducting yourself with fear (1 Peter 1:17).  It’s a life that appreciates that gravity of their salvation in Christ, and lives a life dripping with that gravitas.  

Godliness is marked by good works.  The person who spends all their time in a prayer closet but never loves their next door neighbor isn’t a godly person in the Bible.  Godliness is not just private piety, but public goodness.  Godliness is a light that is meant to be seen (Matthew 5:16).  Good works signify a godly person, and the nature of good works are to not remain hidden (1 Timothy 5:25).

Godliness is a fight and race.  Godly people are marked by fighting and fleeing, racing and pushing, practice and persistence.  Paul tells young Timothy to train himself for godliness (1 Timothy 4:7).  Training involves intentionality and vigilance that monitors the areas of life that propel you towards or away from your goal.  This means that godliness doesn’t come automatically to us, we must intentionally grow in it, practice it, and discipline ourselves for it.  

GODLINESS HAPPENS TO US

Two parallel truths meet when we talk about godliness.  The first truth is obvious from everything written above: godliness can’t be assumed. It must be understood, pursued, and intentionally fought for.  Godliness doesn’t just happen to us.  Yet, there is a second truth that undergirds the first truth: godliness does happen to us.  

The human heart does not thirst for godliness out of the formation of new habits, but from the transformation brought about by the new birth.  God’s Spirit transforms the human heart by cleansing it from sin and giving it a new nature that desires to grow in godliness (John 3:1-8).  The human soul becomes tender as the seed of the gospel breaks through cement-soil hearts.  May we grow in this grace that he might reap a fruitful harvest.  


Spencer Harmon is the Senior Pastor at Vine Street Baptist Church and the co-author of Letters to a Romantic: On Dating and Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement (P&R, 2017).

Two New Books: Letters to a Romantic

Dear Readers,

We have some exciting news.

We have been working on a project together over the past two years. We have been writing two books that are expanded versions of our Letters to a Young Engaged Man blog series. These books are being published by P&R and will release simultaneously in the Fall of this year.  

The books are called Letters to a Romantic: On Dating and Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement.

The book On Dating begins with topics related to singleness and then covers a wide range of topics such as breaking up, physical affection, early marriage, and discussing sexual history. Some chapter titles include:

  • Marriage vs. Singleness
  • First Date
  • Should We Be in a Relationship?
  • Do We Have a Bad Relationship?  
  • What if I am not a Virgin?
  • Should I Guard My Heart?

The book On Engagement walks couples from the time right before a proposal all the way to their wedding night. Some chapter titles include:

  • The Length of Engagement
  • Till Death Do Us Part
  • Loving Your New Parents
  • Should We Elope?
  • Handling Conflict
  • On Birth Control

The chapters are designed to be short and can be read individually or together as a couple. Even though we don’t know the specifics of your situation, we have made a concerted effort to make each chapter as practical as possible. It is our prayer that this content feels immediately helpful and comes from a refreshing peer-like voice.  Our wives have also contributed to many of the letters and provided their own warm touches throughout the books.

Our prayer is that your plans for dating and engagement would begin aligning with God’s plans to glorify his Son in the world.  We pray that these letters will tune your ears to hear God’s voice in his Word and that these letters will provoke many conversations between you, your partner, and godly mentors in your life.  

We are not relational gurus.  Quite the opposite.  We would be the first to admit to you that when we follow our own wisdom… we get lost.  We are sinners who are desperately in need of God’s illuminating Word in every facet of our lives.  We have simply tasted the goodness of God’s shepherding voice in our romances, and we want you to taste it too. We pray that you fall in love with hearing his voice in the Bible so that it guides you in singleness, dating, and engagement – and every other season after that.

In the meantime you can check out the recent Truth in Love podcast with Dr. Heath Lambert and Sean on the topic of Physical Boundaries Before Marriage that discusses a controversial portion of the dating book.

As we continue to write to you, we always want to hear your letters. Don’t hesitate to send us your feedback and share your story with us.

 

Until then,

Sean and Spencer

 

Explore The Garden: Kindling Affection While Dating

by Spencer Harmon
by Spencer Harmon

Dating is a complicated dance.  Especially when you are trying to avoid sin.    

For Christians, dating pulls you in two opposite directions.  First, you experience the tug of your affection for your significant other.  You spend more time together, and your heart swells with warmth and care.  You rejoice in the presence of your significant other, and, naturally, you want to express that joy.  In addition, because God created you as an embodied person you usually expresses your emotions physically:  You hug the people you love, you cry over losses, you eat the food you want, and sometimes you even jump with joy.  You have a body.  You were made for this.  

Enter the second (and opposite) tug.  

Although your heart swells with love and you desire to show your love physically, you also feel the tug of biblical truth.  Even though God gave you a body, he wants you to control it (1 Thessalonians 4:4), he didn’t make it for sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:13), he wants you to flee immorality at all costs (1 Corinthians 6:18), and he wants you to keep the marriage bed undefiled (Hebrews 13:4).  Although you feel the pull of the desire to express your affection physically, you are pulled in the opposite direction by God’s word.  

Many single Christians live within the tension of these seemingly opposing desires.  To add to the confusion, when Christians talk about affection during dating, we typically talk about it in negative terms.  “Don’t be alone in the car”, “Don’t kiss each other”, “Don’t touch her there”  Although these specific prohibitions are important , they are not the full story.  

Outside of knowing what not to do, is there a way forward?  How do you kindle appropriate affection in your relationship while honoring God with your body?

Transform How You Think About Boundaries

The temptation of the serpent in the Garden succeeded by blurring the purpose of boundaries.  Why are you not allowed to eat of the tree in the Garden?  Because God doesn’t want you to grow in your knowledge, and he’s holding things back from you (Genesis 3:5).  The first couple were convinced by the serpent that their God given boundaries were not given to them for life (Genesis 2:17) and so they broke them.  This insidious lie took root in their hearts, and the curse pulsated through the world.  

How do God’s righteous boundaries sit in your heart?  Are they a pointless burden meant to keep you in line? Or are they lamps that light the path to life?  But even more specifically, how are you thinking about the boundaries of your relationship?  Do you think of them as a burdensome prerequisite class of purity before the elective of marital intimacy?  This is that ancient lie of the serpent that plunged our race into the dark waters of the curse.

The best way to combat the lie of the serpent, is to renew your mind with God’s good purposes for your relationship.  When you discuss your boundaries with your significant other, talk about them as a means to store up pleasure, rather than a temporary misery that must be endured.  Not: “We can’t do this together because the Bible says we can’t”; but: “We choose to save this to be enjoyed within the covenant of marriage”  

To be sure, the call to purity will be difficult.  However, comfort and joy are found when we view our difficulties through the lens of God’s good purposes and promises for us as his children.  This starts in your heart.  Meditate on the goodness of God’s purpose behind your boundaries.  You’re storing up pleasure for later.  Very soon, you will experience God’s good gifts in God’s good time under God’s good smile.  Transform your thinking.

Patterns Become Permanent

Although intimacy is a vital part of marriage, it is a relatively small part when compared to the various aspects of your relationship with your spouse.  So much of marriage happens outside of the marriage bed.  So during this time, when this fruit of marriage is forbidden, explore the other trees in the garden.  The memories you make now, the habits you are cultivating, the relationships you pursue – all of them are patterns that will affect the fragrance of your marriage.

Some couples miss the wonderful “yes’s” of their current season because they are so focused on the “no’s” of their relationship.  When we are convinced that the only way to show affection is through physical intimacy we never see the potential for love in the other areas of life:  Long walks, road trips, serving saints in your church, eating with friends, adventuring through your city, asking questions.  These habits of pursuing one another outside the marriage bed will become patterns in your relationship.  Furthermore, they will serve to bind your hearts together through shared experiences and memories.  Make patterns now while you wait for intimacy.

Trust The Divine Sequence

In fact, the patterns you create while waiting for intimacy will actually improve your marital intimacy.  The joy of the bride and groom in the Song of Solomon is a symphony of emotional, physical, and relational delight.  They experience the security of belonging (Song 6:3), the joy of friendship (Song 5:16), and the intensity of physical intimacy (Song 4).  The poem is composed of all these elements.  This is the divine sequence.

It makes more sense to touch each others’ hearts before you touch each others’ bodies.  The sweetness of the wedding night – the reason why they call it consummation – is found when it is the rightful climax to a million shared moments, memories, joys, sorrows, conversations, experiences, and adventures.  And when you do finally touch each other, you will find that you are participating in a divine sequence – one that compounds your joy and intensifies your pleasure.   

Deep Roots

In this season of pursuing the heart rather than touching the body you are nurturing deep roots.  If God blesses your relationship with marriage you will discover that your friendship and intimacy are weaved together. The cultivation of friendship solidifies the foundation of your marriage.  So, don’t lose sight of the beauty of the garden because you are obsessed with the forbidden tree.  Explore, cultivate, and adventure in the current stage you are in.  Soon you will find that the exploration never ends.

The content for this post has been expanded into Letters to a Romantic: On Dating which will be released in 2017 by P&R Publishing. 

Beware of Lists

by Spencer Harmon
by Spencer Harmon

 

I love lists.  Making them.  Reading them.  Checking things off of them.

There is something that excites me when I read the title, “6 Ways to Read the Bible” or “10 Ways to Pursue Your Wife in the New Year” or “4 Ways Not to Waste Your Singleness” It awakens some faint hope that if I read this article, I might just find the silver bullet.  I might have that great epiphany that changes everything.  And I’m not the only one.  Take a quick look at your Twitter and Facebook feeds, and you will quickly see that one of your friends has probably shared a list.  We want to reach our goals, we want to improve, and we want to change.  And we want all of it quickly.

But for all the good that lists can give us, there is a subtle poison I have noticed in my thinking.  I have developed a “quick fix” mentality.  Best practice replaces conviction; behavior replaces motivation; doing replaces being.  But apples don’t grow on trees that don’t have roots, and our behavior won’t change unless our hearts do first.

The barometer of my life is not my resolves for this year, but my reasons for living.  Our thinking is warped when our goals and lists don’t have the deep roots of conviction nourishing them and giving them life.  Although Jesus calls Christians to specific actions and steps of obedience in this life, he first calls us to believe.  Before we act, we abide.  Roots before fruits.

Don’t settle for a quick fix.  By all means: make the list, and be filled with resolve.  But let your resolve be the overflow of a heart that is rooted and grounded in deep love for Christ and faith in his promises.  Because, as C.S. Lewis said,  “sometimes the longest way around is the shortest way home”

 

My Wife Has Tattoos: Marriage, New Birth, and the Gospel

 

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Photo credit: Todd Balsley

by Spencer Harmon

 

Today is the day of my wedding.  And I am not marrying the girl of my dreams.

If you would have told me when I was a teenager that my wife would have seven tattoos, a history in drugs, alcohol, and attending heavy metal concerts, I would have laughed at you, given you one of my courtship books, and told you to take a hike.  My plans were much different, much more nuanced with careful planning, much more clean-cut, and much more, well, about me.

You see, it wasn’t my dream to marry a girl that was complicated.  I never dreamed that I would sit on a couch with my future wife in pre-marital counseling listening to her cry and tell stories of drunken nights, listing the drugs she used, confessing mistakes made in past relationships.

This isn’t my dream – it’s better.

Many people wouldn’t put Taylor and I together.  In high school, we probably would not have been friends.  She probably would have thought that I was a nice, boring, judgmental Christian kid; I probably would have thought that she was a nice, lost, party-scene girl that guys like me are supposed to stay away from.  People like us, with our backgrounds and histories are not supposed to meet, fall in love, and covenant their lives to each other.

But everything changes when people meet Jesus.  Jesus takes people like rebellious teenage partiers, and goody-two-shoe homeschoolers and puts them together in marriage to put something on display much bigger than their own hand-crafted, perfectly planned love-story.

Right in the middle of the mess of life, Taylor met Jesus, and he planted his flag in her life, and she believed in him and he transformed her.  The Taylor who spent her life living from one pleasure to the next died, and a new person was born.  A new person with new desires, and a new heart that longed to please God, serve people, and treasured Jesus Christ above all other pleasure.

And this is how I see Taylor.  She is completely new, completely transformed, and completely clean.  This is not because she became a part of a helpful program, or because she really “pulled herself together.” It’s because God, in his incredible, infinite kindness, took Taylor’s dark, crimson life, and made her as white as a snow.  He took all of her sins on placed them on his Son, and then gave her Jesus’ righteousness to wear like a perfect white wedding dress.

In reality, Taylor’s story is my story as well.  As Taylor walks towards me today, I will be reminded of how much I do not deserve the precious gift she is to me.  I have spent much of my life singing a self-centered siren song.  Nothing about my life cries for blessings; it calls for curses forever.  Yet, God has dressed me in white, put my sin upon his Son, and given me a heart that loves him.

I love Taylor with all that I am.  She is gentle, kind, patient, joyful, beautiful, and loving.  I don’t deserve to marry someone like her.  I didn’t plan for this, but I’m so glad I am not getting what I planned for.

So, today when she walks down the aisle to me, I will be reminded of the beautiful reality that God exchanges that sin of our past in exchange for the perfect righteousness of his Son.  Contrary to popular opinion, our wedding day is not our wedding day; it is the display of the most stunning reality in the universe: that God sent his Son to die to redeem a people for Himself made clean the blood of his Son.

God’s ultimate plan in putting Taylor and I together is that he wants to uniquely put his grace on display so that other people will praise him (Ephesians 1:5-6).  That’s his purpose for our marriage, and that’s his purpose in the world at large, and Taylor and I are taking part in that, and hope you will too.

 

The content for this post has been updated and expanded in Letters to a Romantic: On Engagement which will be released September 29th, 2017 by P&R Publishing. Spencer Harmon is also the co-author of the forthcoming book Letters to a Romantic: On Dating.

That’s Not Funny: Dirty Jokes and Jesus

by Spencer Harmon
by Spencer Harmon

What you laugh about says a lot about you.

Most of the world is laughing at things they should be crying about .  They are inviting you to join them.  The Bible teaches that marriage should be honored, and that people shouldn’t defile the marriage bed (Hebrews 13:4), yet the marriage bed is scorned on the silver screen during countless scenes of fornication that are seen as humorous.  Adultery is inane, blasphemy is a gag, and sin is joke, and they want you to start laughing.

To compound the problem, many of us find ourselves confused about the types of things we should be joking about.  You know the situation, right?  You’re with a group of friends, and someone tells that border line joke, and everyone nervously chuckles and shifts their eyes towards everyone else to make sure it’s OK to laugh.  Your conscience is pricked, and you (and everyone else in the group, for that matter) know you shouldn’t be laughing.  How should we think about this?

Jesus wants to be Lord over your laughing, and he inspired Ephesians 5 to show us the way. Here are a few things to keep in mind about crude humor, filthy talk, and sexual immorality as you engage in conversations and entertainment:

It’s improper.  You were not made to indulge in any type of sexual immorality.  Paul tells these people that sexual immorality and impurity, “should not even be named among you, as is proper among saints”.  Like wearing your shoes on the wrong feet all day long, indulging in impurity throughout the day doesn’t fit with believers that are indwelt by the Spirit.  Why would we let these things have a name among us when these are the very things that Jesus bled for?  It’s improper among Jesus’ cleansed bride.

It closes up the kingdom.  If you indulge in sexual immorality for the rest of your days, you won’t go to heaven.  Paul tells us that you can be sure of it.  The raunchy joke on your favorite show may be drained of its humor if you see it as something that is a roadblock to heaven.  Yes, Jesus died for all of your sins and every stumbling into impurity, but Jesus also died so that you would be set free from the power of sin (Romans 6), and that you would be delivered from this present evil age (Galatians 1:4).  Paul is warning Christians that if they are sexually immoral they will not inherit the kingdom of God.

It is damned.  When we laugh at sexual immorality, we are laughing about things that people are being punished for in hell.  Paul tells the Christians that because of sexual immorality and impurity the wrath of God is coming.  The picture painted for us by the world around us is opposite.  Explicit sexual immorality is not that big of a deal, and it’s easy to be numbed and carried by the current of laxity in regards to this type of humor and joking.  This is why we need the truth of Scripture to wake us up to the reality of sin and kick us in the pants to start swimming against the tide.  Paul tells us not to be “deceived”.  How easy it is so consume the view of the world around us without exposing it for what it is.

You were made for so much more.  Finally, crude joking just isn’t that funny.  When viewed through the lens of Scripture and brought under Jesus kingship, we begin to see these types of jokes as simply out of place.  Filthy talk and crude joking is nothing but a counterfeit joy that will give you the temporary buzz of laughter.  What Jesus calls Christians to is something much more durable and long lasting: thanksgiving.  You were not made to laugh at sex-scenes in movies and make line-bending jokes; you were made to experience the heart-bursting, pure thrill of thanksgiving.  The next time you are tempted to talk filthy or crudely joke, replace those thoughts and words with thankfulness.  Your joy will be compounded, your community enriched, and soul refreshed.  You were made for so much more.

It would be easy at this point to nuance all of my words with qualifications and exceptions and warnings about being legalistic towards others.  There are people who have over-corrected and think that God loves them based on their humor. However, I believe that what I need more than anything is Paul’s straight talk about my mouth rather than definitions about where the line is when it comes to my humor.  As we seek to bring even our laughter and humor under Jesus’ rule, let each of us live as those who will give an account for every word – and joke – we speak.   There are better things to laugh at, and better gifts to be enjoyed.

Of Sins and Cinemas

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by Spencer Harmon

Iron Man 3.  The Great Gatsby.  Star Trek.  Man of Steel.  The Wolverine.  300.

Within the next three months, you are most likely going to be invited to see one of these movies.  And not only these, a vast array of other highly anticipated summer films.  Your favorite stars, your favorite stories, during your favorite season.  From the ultra-conservative who only watches movies recommended by their pastor, to the movie connoisseur who finds “gospel” even in the most explicit films, the cinema often creates blurry lines for Christians who live in between two worlds. Here are a few categories and cautions to be thinking about as you consider going to the theater for the hottest summer flicks.

Research.  You should never feel victimized by sin at the movie theater.  In our day, there are several resources available to you to aid in making a decision about going to see a movie at the theater.  First, a simple glance at the rating of a movie can save you a lot of heartache.  If the movie is rated R for sexual content and nudity, don’t go.  Is this legalism?  No.  It’s fleeing sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:18), and it will help you see God (Matthew 5:8).  Yet, some movies demand more careful thought.  At this point, I always find it helpful to check a movie review site.  You can find sites that offer a Christian perspective, or just the facts.  Either way, you should never walk out of the theater feeling taken advantage of – the resources are available.  Take and use!

Bail.  Sometimes, whether because of neglect or some other outlying circumstance, you will find yourself in the theater when the movie goes downhill.  If the movie is causing you to sin, you should leave.  Walking out of the theater does several things.  First, it tells the truth.  When you leave the theater during a sex scene, you are telling the truth about marriage, sex, covenant love, and purity.  When you leave the theater during uncalled for, excessive, cruel, and unnecessary gore and violence, you are telling the truth about courage, honor, dignity, and human worth.  Second, it provokes conversation.  Why did you leave the theater?  Why do you care so much about what you watch that it would cause you to walk out?  Third, and most importantly, it protects your soul.  We can grieve the Holy Spirit by the things that we do and say (Ephesians 4:30), and we should be striving to keep ourselves in the love of God (Jude 21).  Sometimes, obedience means saying excuse me, sidestepping out of the aisle, and waiting in the lobby of the theater.

Engage.  No matter what you are watching, you should watch movies like a Christian.  There are glorious amounts of truth to be gleaned at the cinema, but horrendous amounts of deceit to be rejected as well.  Ask yourself good questions while watching the film:  What are the makers of this film trying to say to me?  How do the relationships, circumstances, and actions of the characters relate to how the Bible presents life?  Hebrews 5:14 says that mature Christians are those who, “…have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil” Movies present wonderful opportunities to exercise moral discernment.  Don’t watch passively.

Engage Together.  Let movies that you see with friends lead to good discussion.  It is good at times to take a few moments to gawk at incredible special effects in the movies, but if that is all you ever talk about you are missing out on a world of fellowship.  Ask questions in the car on the way not just about things you liked and disliked, but things you agreed with and disagreed with.  Let the movie spur you on to depth.  Movies can lead to conversations about war, marriage, love, hate, relationships, divorce, death, eternity, God, politics, and a million other important life issues.  Engage in these discussions during the summer – let these talks take you late into the night.

Beware of Infiltration.  There is nothing like a steady diet of Hollywood to corrupt your view on beauty, truth, and goodness.  Don’t forget that the Bible says that charm is deceitful and beauty is vain (Proverbs 31:30) when you see nothing but coke-bottle figures, and rough whisked buff tough guys presented as beauty.  Don’t forget that you are called to forgive and show grace (Ephesians 4:32), even though revenge is portrayed as the only way to respond to hurt.  All too easily, Hollywood begins informing your values instead of Scripture.  It rouses your feelings before faith, your passions before principles.

Beware of Saturation.  It seems that during the summer, every Friday holds a new film.  Every film claims to be the film of the year.  And you don’t want to miss out, do you?  Remember that you are called to seek the Lord’s presence (Psalm 105:4), and enjoy his free grace, not gorge on movies.  Sure, enjoy a movie with friends; however, don’t become so saturated with the newest and  latest this summer that the only means of “fellowship” you know is happening in front of movies instead of in real conversation about real life things.

Remember, the aim at the theater is not to please your friends, please yourself, or your pastor.  The aim is to please God and honor him with life.  Holiness happens in the small circumstances. It happens with steps. The thoughtful response, the restrained tongue, and even the intentional watcher of film glorify God.  It’s here that the battles are fought.

Thou Shall Not

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by Spencer Harmon

Christians are gloriously and delightfully free.  The law can’t condemn us, Satan can’t accuse us, sin can’t enslave us, and death can’t defeat us.  New desires, new hearts, clean consciences, transformed minds.  This is who we are.  These are the incredible, unchanging realities for every person who has rested on the unchanging grace of God and put all their confidence in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  The message of the gospel is a message of amazing freedom.

Yet, oftentimes, we use this freedom to go back to the sins that we have left.  We pick up the chains that were broken from our bruised wrists; we sit in the jail cell with the door wide open.

One of the great lies that Satan uses to keep Christians in the cell is legalism.  You’re sitting in the movie theater with your Christian friends, and all of a sudden the film takes a horrific turn hellward.  You should leave.  But then it starts, “I don’t want to be a legalist”  You don’t want to be that person that makes the whole group uncomfortable and feel like bad Christians at the movie theater, do you?

The problem with this thinking is that Bible never presents a deep desire for holiness as legalism.  It presents it as the normal life of a Christian. Daniel prayed three times a day (Daniel 6:10); Paul beat his body (1 Corinthians 9:27); Jesus prayed all night (Luke 6:12).  None of these men were legalists, and all of these exerted significant restraint in their daily lives, saying “no” to a hundred sinful things in order to have the One Great Thing.

“But I don’t want to be a Pharisee!”  But what was Jesus’ problem with the Pharisee’s?  “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness” (Luke 11:39).  The Pharisee’s kept the rules because they thought it made them right with God; Christians keep the rules because they have been made right with God and they want to please their Father.  Pharisee’s walk out of movie theaters because they think it will force God to be on their team; Christians walk out of movies because because they’re already on God’s team, and they want to honor the coach.

“For you were called to freedom, brothers.  Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another” (Galatians 5:13).  The freedom the Christians have in Jesus is not a horse to ride into the saloon of satan, but is rather a basin where you wash the feet of others.  Do you feel bad when you have to correct a conversation?  Do you feel like a legalist when you change the channel during a sexually charged commercial?  The glorious reality is that you are free not to feel that way.  “No” isn’t a cuss word; fleeing sin isn’t legalism.  It is when saying “no” becomes your basis for a right standing before God that you become a legalist.  It is when you’re identity is found in the movies you don’t watch and the music you don’t listen to instead of Christ when you become a Pharisee.

So, next time you want to walk out of a movie, turn the channel, look the other way when everyone else gawks, don’t feel foolish – feel free.  Your identity is not wrapped up in the fact that you are running away, your identity is wrapped up in the one to whom you are running.  Let your vision of Him be clear, and let your desire for Him dictate your life. Come out from the dark and into the light; rise from the dead and into life; the chains are broken, the cellar door has swung open, and your once shackled legs are now empowered to walk in the smile of God the Father.  “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.  And his commandments are not burdensome.  For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world.  And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith” (1 John 5:3-4)

The Christian Doubter: An Arsenal of Songs

by Spencer Harmon
by Spencer Harmon

“By day the LORD commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life” Psalm 42:7

One of the difficult aspects of Christian doubt is reminding yourself of the truth in a moment of paralyzing uncertainty. You know the moment, don’t you? The one where all the Scripture you knew leaves your mind like mist in the morning sun; your trusted friend isn’t around and you’re more alone than you care to admit; you’re trying to pray, but you don’t know how to articulate the struggle in your soul. When things are black as night, what resources has God given us to illuminate the path?

In Psalm 42 David is in deep despair. He crying all the time (v. 3), he’s surrounded by those who reinforce doubt (v. 3), his experiences of God are only memories (v. 4), he’s cast down and in turmoil (v. 5), and feels like he’s drowning (v.7). These are the lowest depths in the deepest valley with no light. And it is here that he tells of a weapon against the darkness: a song.

Songs are shelters in the tempest – a lighthouse in the hurricane. Often times a fortification of hope is built around our fainting hearts by the sturdy truth of hymns, songs or poems. David seems to find great comfort in a song in his dark night of the soul. Interestingly enough, he views this song as a “prayer” Biblical songs are deep reservoirs of prayers for the speechless saint struggling for faith. Here are a few examples of prayers or encouragements found in hymns that the Holy Spirit has used to anchor my soul:

“Jesus, Jesus, how I trust You!
How I’ve proved You o’er and o’er
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust You more!”


-Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus

“Not the labor of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.”


-Rock of Ages Cleft for Me

“When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see You there
Who made an end of all my sin”


-Before The Throne of God Above

“AH, my dear angry Lord,
Since Thou dost love, yet strike;
Cast down, yet help afford;
Sure I will do the like.

I will complain, yet praise;
I will bewail, approve:
And all my sour-sweet days
I will lament, and love.”


-Bitter-Sweet, George Herbert

“How long wilt Thou conceal Thy face?

My God, how long delay?

When shall I feel those heav’nly rays

That chase my fears away?



How long shall my poor laboring soul

Wrestle and toil in vain?

Thy word can all my foes control

And ease my raging pain.”


-How Long Wilt Thou Conceal Thy Face?

These small snippets are ammunition in the trenches as we wait for God; they are an arsenal of words for your stammering tongue. They are a song to keep you through the night. When Israel faced their opponents, often times they faced the bewilderment of their plight with songs of God’s steadfast love (see 2 Chronicles 20:20-30). Let it be so for you. Learn some songs, and sing them with mustard seed faith through the dark.

The Christian Doubter: God’s Electing Balm

by Spencer Harmon
by Spencer Harmon

The undercutting of your assurance can steal the breath from your lungs.  Terrible thoughts can plague your mind like a migraine that won’t go away.  The guilt mounts; the pressure builds; Satan is whispering lies and telling you that you have never truly believed in Jesus; your faith feels like a twig in a hurricane.  During these dark times a tempting thought to think is, “Why would God save a weak person like me?” Even though God knows everything, your weak faith must be a surprise to him. It may feel that you are giving God more than he bargained for at salvation.  You think that there is nothing in you that would attract God’s salvation.

Here’s the thing:  you’re right.

The church is made up of unimpressive vessels who are conduits of foreign power.  Your twig like faith is not very impressive, but if your twig like faith is rooted in the rock of ages, you will endure the storm.  But why?  Why would God sustain a person who seeks to believe in Him, but yet constantly doubts?

The reason God sustains and saves unimpressive Christian doubters is because He has been planning to do so before the world began.  God has elected you.  He has chosen to save you.  And the most glorious thing about God’s election of weak people like you is that it was not based on your strong faith, your stellar religious resume, or your ability to think positively when things go awry.  Election is based on God’s happy delight in saving people, not on your checklist of strong spiritual moments.  God has already told you this in Ephesians 1:4-5 when he says, “…in love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will...”  When considering who to save, God did not consider your unbelieving bouts, but rather his sovereign, smiling purpose to show his grace to an undeserving sinner.

So, the next time the tide swells and you’re barely treading water, know that  you will not sink.  God has been planning to set his love on you for ten billion years and more – he will sustain you.    When the wounds of your doubts cut deep, let his divine election is be a healing balm.  Meditate on the truth of God’s unconditional choice of you.  When you are faithless, he remains faithful.  He cannot deny Himself.  Neither death, nor life, nor doubt, or anything in creation can separate you from the love of Christ.