Reader Questions: Book Recommendation on Marital Intimacy & Responding to Christian Perfectionism

There is a feature here on the site where you can Ask a Question or Suggest a Topic.

Here are some recent questions that came in:

Book Recommendation on Marital Intimacy

Is there a book or message series you can recommend to help rebuild sexual intimacy in marriage?

I’m sure there are other resources out there, but the one I am familiar with and can recommend is Sheet Music: Uncovering the Secrets of Sexual Intimacy in Marriage

Responding to Christian Perfectionism

I have a Christian forum at my place of employment. One employee regularly posts statements in line with a ‘sinless perfection’ doctrine and encourages others to listen to Jesse Peterson (which I know nothing about.)  

Essentially, this employee constantly insists that if we are still sinning we are hypocrites and is adamant we shouldn’t listen to others or read the Bible but should just ‘know’ God, we should ‘just be’ (insert confused emoji here), and sin is hate, the only way to receive eternal life is to forgive. I dismiss his theology – he makes no sense – and despite support from the Word of God, he continues his posts – because he doesn’t value the word of God.  

Do you have any thoughts on how I can redirect his skewed theology, while helping the other members of this group also dismiss this line of thinking?

One way to respond might be to point out how this kind of theology has been dismissed and rejected by Christians throughout history. John Wesley, for example, who taught a form of Christian perfectionism at one point (unsurprisingly, when he was younger), later changed his position on the topic.

My guess is that other people on the site probably see the wackiness of what he’s writing and aren’t swayed by it. A smart, simple response will be gladly received by most people in the group therefore, but don’t let the group get focused on responding to everything he says. Don’t let the squeaky wheel get all the grease, in other words. You’ve got bigger fish to fry. Sorry for piling on the idioms!

The most compelling Biblical arguments against Christian perfectionism I can think of are:

  • Romans 7
  • 1 John
  • 1 Timothy 1:15

Martin Luther famously stated that the Christian is Justus et pecator (both righteous and a sinner). We have been declared righteous in Jesus; his righteousness has been accounted to us by grace through faith – and yet, we still sin.

When the Bible talks about salvation, it is important to note that it speaks of it in comprehensive terms: it says that we have been saved (past tense), we are being saved (present continuous tense), and we will be saved (future tense).

We have been saved (think: “It is finished”) from the penalty of sin by what Jesus did for us in the past. We are being saved (sanctification) from the power of sin as we “work out our salvation with fear and trembling,” and yet “it is God who works in you to will and to do His good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13). And we will be saved, in the future, from the very presence of sin, when Jesus comes and saves us from the very presence of sin.

Romans 7

In Romans 7 Paul speaks about his experience of struggling with sin. Some in the Christian perfectionist circles will claim that Paul is writing about his life before his conversion, but that argument doesn’t hold much water because Paul speaks about his sin in the present tense.

1 John

In 1 John, John says things like, If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8). 1 John is a favorite book, by the way, of Christian perfectionism advocates, because of its black-and-white language about righteousness, obedience, and sin. However, it is important to note that John is talking about a pattern of life, not about individual sins.

It’s about what you practice. Think about things you practice, and why you practice them: you practice the guitar, you practice your golf swing. Why? So you can do them better. A person who practices sin habitually and willfully truly needs to ask the question of if they are actually in the faith at all.

In Christ, we have become “new creations” (2 Corinthians 5:17). A sheep and a pig are two different creations. They both might fall in the mud on occasion, but the pig lives for the mud. The mud is what the pig dreams about, and the goal of its life is to get in that mud! A sheep, on the other hand, might fall in the mud, but that’s not where it wants to be. This is the essence of John’s point about sin and righteous living in 1 John.

I wrote something recently related to 1 John and the topic of Christian perfectionism. Check it out here.

1 Timothy 1:15

In 1 Timothy 1:15, Paul says: “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”

If you read through Paul’s descriptions of himself as he progressed in life and in relationship with Jesus, you’ll notice this:

  1. In Philippians 3, he wrote that according to the law, he was blameless.
  2. Later on, in 1 Corinthians 15:9, he describes himself as “the least of all the Apostles”
  3. Even later on in life, in 1 Timothy 1:15, he describes himself as the chief of all sinners.

As Paul progressed through life, he did not become more and more enamored with himself, but he actually saw himself as more and more of a sinner – yet one who was loved by God and a recipient of His grace.

The reason for this is because, the closer you get to God, the more you become aware of your shortcomings, much like how: the more light there is in the bathroom, the more clearly you see your blemishes in the mirror – and like how, the older you get and the more you learn, the more you realize how much you don’t know.

The point is not that Christian maturity means thinking less and less of yourself, but that as you become more aware of your flaws, you are more thrilled by the grace and love of God as you realize more and more how much you need it!

The Danger of Christian Perfectionism

The great danger of Christian perfectionism theology is that it places an unbearable burden on a person, and it leads to either pride or despair.

If you tell someone that if they are really in the faith that they won’t sin anymore, then when they are doing well, and not falling into temptation, they will be puffed up with pride and look down on those whom they observe sinning. Conversely, when they (inevitably) do commit some sin, they will immediately be forced to question their own salvation, and if they are even saved at all.

The good news of the gospel is that our salvation is the work of God! It is based on what He did for you, not on the things that you do or don’t do. Even if you slip, the good news of the gospel is that He is holding onto your hand, and He won’t let you go!

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“Anything” and “All Things”?

In Romans 8:32, Paul poses the rhetorical question:

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?

In the Gospels, we read these words from Jesus:

Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.

John 14:13-14

Does “anything” really mean anything? Does “all things” really mean all things?

What if I ask for a dinosaur?  What if I ask for Abraham Lincoln to be raised from the dead? 

You might say those would be ridiculous requests, but don’t they fall under the umbrella of “all things” and “anything”?

What about the times I’ve prayed for things, and I did not get them? Why did I not get them? Did I pray wrong? Or did God break His promise?

In the Bible, there were people who prayed, and their prayers were not answered – or at least not in the way they originally hoped they would be. Joseph was beaten up and thrown in a pit, then sold into slavery by his brothers (Genesis 37), and we’re told in Genesis 42, that when this was happening, Joseph was crying out and begging for mercy and to be rescued. Paul prayed three times earnestly that God would remove his “thorn in the flesh” (2 Corinthians 12), but God refused to remove it, because He wanted to use that pain in Paul’s life to shape him.

Apparently, God reserves the right to say no to some of our requests. 

Another interesting Biblical text to consider is James 5:2-3, which says:

You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

Two things are interesting about this passage: 1) we are told that we sometimes don’t have because we fail to ask. The implication is: ask – and you will receive. However, 2) we are told that sometimes we do ask and God doesn’t give us what we ask for, NOT because we fail to pray in Jesus’ name, but because we ask for wrong things with wrong motives, and therefore God chooses not to give it. 

So then why does God say that He will give us “anything” we ask for, and that He will give us “all things”?

Consider Psalm 84:11:

For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.

In Jesus, we have been made righteous, and we have been given the Spirit of God to empower us to walk uprightly. We’re told that God does not withhold “any GOOD thing” from the righteous, those who walk uprightly. God is committed to giving us that which is good for us. Thus, if God chooses not to give you something you ask for, you can rest assured that in His loving omniscience, He knows that thing would not actually be good for you, or perhaps it wouldn’t be good for you right now in light of what He wants to do.

What we have in God, therefore, is a Father, not a genie – and that is immeasurably better!

What is the “Sin Unto Death,” and Why Should We Not Pray for It?

1 John 5:16-17 is a passage that many people have a difficult time understanding, and recently someone reached out asking if I could help them understand this passage.

If you ever have a question or a topic you’d like me to cover on this blog, fill out this form: Ask a Question or Suggest a Topic

Here’s the passage:

If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that. All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.

1 John 5:16-17

The question this person asked was: “If there is a sin leading to death, why are we told not to pray for it?”

Physical Death or Spiritual Death?

Different interpretations of this passage center on the issue of whether the “death” John speaks about is physical or spiritual in nature.

Interpretation #1: Physical Death

If John is speaking about physical death, then the interpretation goes like this: Not all sins lead to physical death. If you see someone doing something that will hurt them physically, then pray for them. But if someone sins, and as a result of their sin they die, then there is no need to continue praying for them after they are physically deceased.

However, I find this interpretation lacking, because it does not take into account the broader context of what John has been talking about throughout his letter.

Interpretation #2: Spiritual Death

This is the interpretation that I find most convincing, because it is a conclusion based on what John has been saying throughout this epistle.

In this way, the sin that does not lead to death (that is, eternal death or damnation) is any sin that we commit that we are, by grace, capable of truly confessing and repenting from.

John Piper, in his article: What Is the Sin Not Leading to Death? says that in Vs 16 there is no indefinite article in the original Greek text – in other wards, it is talking about “sin” in general, not “a” particular sin specifically.

He goes on to explain:

We need to make sure that we see these two verses as part of the larger balancing act that John is doing in this letter. On the one hand, there’s a strong emphasis in 1 John that those who are truly born of God don’t go on sinning. On the other hand, John warns against misunderstanding that in a perfectionistic way as though Christians don’t sin anymore.

On the one side, you don’t keep on sinning if you’re born again. On the other side, you don’t ever stop sinning in this world. In other words, John is trying to strike a balance between the absolute necessity of the new birth, which necessarily gives a significant measure of victory over sin. That’s the one side. On the other hand, there’s the reality that we do in fact as Christians commit sins and can find forgiveness as we confess them.

John is striking the note firmly that we should not take anything he has said in a perfectionistic way that implies Christians don’t sin or that all sin leads to damnation. It doesn’t.

Christians do sin, and not all sin leads to damnation. But right there in the middle, verse 16, near the end of the verse, he puts in a disclaimer. He says, “When I tell you to pray for sinners I recognize that Jesus taught about unforgivable sin, and I recognize that Hebrews taught about Esau, and I do acknowledge that there is sin that does lead to death and damnation. It puts you beyond repentance. And I’m not talking about that.” That’s the point of that verse. “I’m not talking about that when I tell you to pray for those who have sinned.” He doesn’t tell us not to pray for such sin, he simply says, “That’s not what I’m talking about when I tell you to pray for sinners that God will give them life.”

I hope this explanation helps! It’s the one that makes the most sense given the context of what John writes about throughout the letter.

Thanks for reading and suggesting topics!

Were the Apostles Aware that Their Letters Were Scripture?

In 2 Peter 3:2 Peter says something very interesting:

that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior,

2 Peter 3:2

Here’s why this is interesting: Peter is putting the commandments of the Apostles on the same level as the word spoken by the “holy prophets.”

The “holy prophets” were those who wrote the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament). The Apostles and their “commandments” came through the writings of the New Testament letters, or epistles.

We can be sure that this is the case, because later on in 2 Peter chapter 3, Peter refers to the teachers of the Apostle Paul in his letters – specifically in regard to the same topic which Peter is addressing in 2 Peter 3:2 where he refers to the “commandment” of the apostles, which is to be patient and diligent in waiting for the coming of the Lord.

And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.

2 Peter 3:15-16

Did you catch that? Peter calls Paul’s writings “Scripture”!

2 Peter was written shortly before Peter’s death in Rome, and after Paul the Apostle’s death, also in Rome. Thus, at this time, all of Paul’s letters which we have in our New Testaments were already written, they were being distributed amongst the churches, and they were considered Holy Scripture – in the same way that these Jewish believers considered the Old Testament to be Holy Scripture!

This is all the more interesting when we consider what Peter wrote in the first chapter of this letter, in which he describes how Scripture is written and inspired by the Holy Spirit:

And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

2 Peter 1:19-21

Were the Apostles aware that they were writing Scripture? Perhaps sometimes they were not, but it would seem that many times they were!

For a broader discussion of this topic, check out:

At What Point is a Different Interpretation of the Bible “False Teaching”?

In 2 Peter 1:20, Peter states, “knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation.” Then in 2 Peter 2, Peter addresses the issue of false prophets and false teachers who, like wolves, infiltrate, ingratiate, isolate, and then destroy by introducing “destructive heresies.”

At the same time, different Christian groups interpret some parts of the Bible differently, such as eschatology (things regarding the “end times”), pneumatology (things regarding the Holy Spirit), and ordinances or sacraments such as baptism and communion.

See: Is There Only One Correct Way to Interpret a Given Passage of Scripture?

And yet, the question is: at what point does a difference in interpretation of particular scriptural text or principle constitute “false teaching,” i.e. a “destructive heresy”?

I answered that question both in the video linked below, and in the sermon: Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing (2 Peter 2:1-22)

What Does Peter Mean by Adding “Virtue” to Your Faith?

parthenon greece landmark

This past Sunday at White Fields we began our study of 2 Peter, as part of our “Pilgrim’s Progress” series. The sermon “Make Your Calling and Election Sure” looked at 2 Peter 1:1-15.

In 2 Peter 1:5-7, Peter urges his readers to make every effort to add to their faith virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love.

All of those seem pretty straightforward, except perhaps one: Virtue.

How Does Peter Understand “Virtue”?

“Virtue” seems like a pretty broad term, and one that different people might define in different ways.

However, keep in mind that Peter is writing to people throughout Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). This is stated explicitly in 1 Peter 1:1: “To those…in…Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia.” These are the historical regions of Asia Minor, which at this time was a predominately Greek-speaking, Hellenized region. Hellenization wasn’t only about the Greek language, it also included the proliferation of Greek social norms and philosophical ideas.

Greek philosophy included the thoughts and writings of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, and the most influential and prominent stream of Greek philosophy being Stoicism.

The Stoics were very focused on the idea of “virtue” and held that there are four “cardinal virtues”: Wisdom, Morality, Courage, and Moderation.

Keeping this historical and cultural setting in mind, it would seem that when Peter uses the word “virtue,” he does so with the expectation that his readers will associate that with the Greek philosophical teachings on virtue, particularly that of the Stoics.

Without Faith, Virtue Avails Nothing

It is significant that Peter speaks of “adding” or “supplementing” your faith with virtue. In other words, faith in Jesus and his finished work is the baseline upon which we are encouraged to add these virtues.

So, while Peter is affirming that the Stoics were right that these virtues are good, to have these virtues apart from faith in Jesus will avail you nothing before God. These virtues might help you in life and in relationship with other people, but they will not do anything to improve your standing before God.

CS Lewis on Virtue: the Bible vs. the Stoics

If you asked twenty good men today what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness.  But if you had asked almost any of the great Christians of old, he would have replied, Love. 

You see what has happened?  A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance.  The negative idea of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point.  I do not thik this is the Christian virtue of Love. 

The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself.  We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire.  If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. 

Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak.  We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at the sea.  We are far too easily pleased.

CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory 

This week Mike and I sat down to discuss this question of what it means to add virtue to your faith for our weekly Sermon Extra video series:

How Do You Practically “Abide in Christ’s Love”?

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Abide and Bear Fruit is our theme for 2020 at White Fields Church

In my recent post, The Active Passive Actions of Relationship with God, I talked about how abiding in Christ (see John 15:1-11) may at first sound passive, but abiding actually requires action.

A Practical Guide to Abiding

Still, someone might ask: “How exactly do you abide in Christ though?

After all, in John 15:9, Jesus told his disciples:

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.

But what does that mean? What does it look like on any given Wednesday, for example, for me to abide in the love of Christ?”

Thankfully, Jesus answered that question for us!

In John 15:10, here’s what Jesus said:

If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.

So, the way to abide in Jesus’ love is to keep his commandments.

This is interesting, because just a few verses later Jesus says:

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. (John 15:13-15)

This is interesting because it tells us that there is a good and proper motivation for obeying God’s commandments: love for God and a desire to abide in his love.

Obeying God Matters, But It Also Matters Why You Obey God

Obeying God’s commandments matters. Consider what God told King Saul:

Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices,
as in obeying the voice of the Lord?
Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice,
and to listen than the fat of rams.
For rebellion is as the sin of divination,
and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry.  (1 Samuel 15:22-23)

But when it comes to obeying God, why you obey God also matters very much. It is possible to obey God for the wrong reasons. If your reason for obeying God is self-justification or self-glorification, you will find yourself in the position of being in opposition to God. As we are told in James 4:6,

God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

On the other hand, if you love someone, and you want to express your love for them, if you want to experience the joy of fellowship with them, what do you do? You find out what they like, what they love, what makes them happy and brings them joy, and you do those things!

An Example: My Wife’s Birthday

My wife’s birthday is coming up. Knowing the things that she likes, what if I were to say: “I don’t have to do those things in order to win her love, since she already loves me. Therefore I will do nothing, because I don’t have to earn her love.”

Of course my wife will love me even if I don’t do anything for her birthday. However, because I love her and want to share a great experience with her (since intimacy is created through shared experiences), I want to do something for her that she will like. Thus, in my pursuit of her, in my desire to know her, one of my goals is to discover her likes and dislikes and do things she likes; not to earn her love, but as an expression of my love for her, and as a way of having fellowship with her.

In the same way, we can express love for God and experience fellowship with God by doing the things that we know He likes!

For more on this topic, see: “Oh, How I Love Your Law” – the Role of the Law in the Life of a Believer

May we be those who abide in Christ’s love, just as He abided in the love of the Father!

The Active Passive Actions of Relationship with God

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Abide and Bear Fruit is our theme this year at White Fields Church

The Bible uses a few terms to describe what a relationship with God looks like, and how it is to work in practice. Some of these terms imply movement, such as walking with God (Genesis 5:22, 6:9, 17:1; Luke 1:5).

There are other terms however, which at first glance appear passive. A further look into these terms reveals that they actually imply action:

Wait on the Lord

The word “wait” conjures up thoughts of waiting at government offices, hospital waiting rooms, or waiting for Christmas to come. All of these are passive actions: you have no control over the outcome, and many times these experiences of waiting sap our energy. Waiting for 2 hours at the DMV can be exhausting, even if you spend the whole time sitting in one place and not moving.

However, to “wait on the Lord” is not a completely passive action. The word “wait” in Hebrew is the word Qavah which means “to hope” or “to expect.” It can also be translated “to bind up,” or “gather together.”

While on the one hand, the outcome is out of your control, you are not completely passive nor inactive; you are doing something because you know the God who controls the outcome.

It is in this way that Isaiah the Prophet could say,

“Even youths shall faint and be weary,
and young men shall fall exhausted;
but they who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength;
they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:30-31)

Whereas in many cases waiting can be an exhausting and energy-sapping experience, waiting on the Lord, Isaiah tells us, actually renews your strength and invigorates!

It is in this sense that the Psalm-writer says, “I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I hope.” (Psalm 130:5)  This is not the waiting of passive inaction, but the hopeful expectation of trusting in God’s word and God’s promises.

Abide in Christ

At the Last Supper, Jesus told his disciples:

I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.   (John 15:5,8-9)

To abide means “to remain, to dwell.” In the picture of a vine and its branches, the branch has to merely stay attached to the vine.

Yet, while on the outside it may not appear that there is any movement involved in the branch abiding in the vine, under the surface there is movement of nutrients from one to the other, providing life, health, and growth, which is seen by the fact that this abiding produces something: fruit.

For us to abide in Christ, on the one hand, involves not moving away from Christ, but the actions of abiding are anything but passive. Another definition of abide is to adhere to a pattern of life. Practically speaking, abiding in Christ requires intentional action to pursue fellowship with God.

These intentional actions by which you abide in Christ are also referred to by the term spiritual disciplines, things like prayer, studying the Scriptures, fellowship with other believers, generosity and giving, and more.

Click here for articles on spiritual disciples and spiritual formation.

In 2 Peter chapter 1, Peter urges the believers to “make every effort” to add to their faith: virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love (2 Peter 1:5), stating that these things help us not to fall, and they help us to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2 Peter 3:18)

The outcome may ultimately be the Lord’s work in us, but we are invited to participate in working out what God has worked into us, and we get to participate in cultivating our own spiritual growth.

May we be those who trust in, wait up, and abide in the Lord Jesus, not passively – but actively. May we be those who work out our own salvation, knowing that it is God who works in us to will and do to His good pleasure. (Philippians 2:12-13)

For sermons from 2 Peter, click here: Pilgrim’s Progress: a Study Through 1 & 2 Peter

Keystone Habits and Christianity

Image result for keystone in an arch

In his book, The Power of HabitCharles Duhigg talks about something researchers call “keystone habits.”

According to Duhigg, keystone habits are “small changes or habits that people introduce into their routines that unintentionally carry over into other aspects of their lives.”

Like the keystone in an arch, these habits have a synergistic effect that overflows into other areas of your life.

Exercise is a well-known keystone habit. When people start exercising, it has an affect on many other areas of their lives, including patience and productivity.

Having dinner as a family is another keystone habit which has outsized beneficial effects in areas such as children’s emotional control and performance at school. [1]

Keystone Spiritual Habits

What about spiritual habits and disciplines? Are there any keystone habits when it comes to Christianity? There most certainly are, in fact – most of the spiritual disciplines that are taught in the Bible would qualify as keystone habits, which have effects which overflow into other areas of your life.

See also: The Role of Habits in Transformation & Inputs and Outputs for Growth and Maturity

Giving

For example, giving, both in generosity towards others and to support the work of God through the church, is a spiritual discipline. One pastor I know used to explain tithing and financial giving like this:

“Tithing isn’t God’s way of raising money, it’s God’s way of raising kids.”

His point was that when God calls us to give, it’s not because He needs money, but because we need to benefit from the practice of giving away 10% or more of our money.

Giving/tithing/generosity is a keystone habit; it shapes the way you live in other areas of your life. It shapes the way you think about what you possess, and the purpose of your life. Since money is literally effort and time made tangible, you are making a choice to spend your life on things other than yourself: on other people, and on furthering the work of God.

Jesus told us that where your treasure is, your heart will be also. This is true: if you give towards someone or something, you will be much more interested and invested in what happens, rather than if you did not have any skin in the game.

Another pastor explained it like this: when you give, you are making a conscious choice not to let your money or possessions possess you. You are choosing to love people and use money, rather than love money and use people. You are deciding that you will not let money set its claws into your heart.

Prayer

According to an article about these studies in Psychology Today, praying makes you nicer, more forgiving, more trusting, and offsets the negative health effects of stress. Prayer has also been shown to boost self-control.

Bible Reading

In his book, Your Future Self Will Thank You, Drew Dyke cites a study on spiritual growth which surveyed more than 250,000 people in 1,000 churches. Their conclusion was that nothing has a greater impact on spiritual growth than engagement with Scripture. Their research showed that Bible-engagement is the single most spiritually catalytic activity a person can engage in.

Church Attendance

A 2016 Harvard study found that frequent church attendance actually lowers the likelihood of death over a 20 year period 😮. Studies show that churchgoers are less prone to mental illness, report higher levels of happiness, and have better sex lives.  Students who attend church regularly have higher GPAs on average and are less likely to live in poverty. [2]

See: “After 12 Years Of Quarterly Church Attendance, Parents Shocked By Daughter’s Lack Of Faith” – from the Babylon Bee

Before it was cool…

Basically, the Bible has been teaching “keystone habits” since before it was cool. What we have now is a large body of research which explains how and why these practices are so effective in shaping us our lives, leading to greater well-being all around.

May we, by God’s strength that he gives us, apply these habits in our lives, for His glory, and our good.

The Least Popular Fruit of the Spirit

apple tree

In Galatians 5:22-23, Paul writes, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.”

I would venture to say that all of these fruits are very popular today, with one exception: the last one – “self-control.”

Jesus told his disciples that a tree is known by its fruit, i.e.: the way to identify what kind of “tree” (or person) someone is, is by looking at the outward evidences that their life produces. And self-control made the short-list of evidential fruits.

John Stott on Why Self-Control is Essential to Loving Others

“Why do I say that love is balanced by self-control? Because love is self-giving, and self-giving and self-control are complementary, the one to the other. How can we give ourselves in love until we’ve learned to control ourselves? Our self has to be mastered before it can be offered in the service of others.” – John Stott, “A Vision for Holiness”

Self-Control Requires Some Effort on Our Part

Colossians 1:29 describes human effort and divine power working together: “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he (Jesus) powerfully works within me”

In Philippians 2:12-13, Paul tells us that we are to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, but then tells us that it is God who works in us to will and to act according to his good purpose.

Drew Dyke, in his book, Your Future Self Will Thank You, describes how God’s power and our effort work together to produce fruit in our lives:

Sanctification is like sailing. Sailors can’t move without the wind, but that doesn’t mean they kick up their feet on the deck and wait to start moving. They’re tying knots, adjusting sails, turning the rudder—all while making sure the boom doesn’t swing across the deck and smack them in the head. Sailing is hardly a passive enterprise—but it’s completely dependent upon the wind. In a similar way, we’re completely dependent on God’s Spirit to make progress. But we’re not passive. Our effort works with God’s power to move us forward.

How to Bring Glory to God

In John 15:8, in the same passage where Jesus tells his disciples that the way to bear fruit is by abiding in Him (and He in them) – Jesus then says this: “By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit”

Why should we care about spiritual disciplines and spiritual development? Why should we care about being fruitful? Because it brings glory to God – and this is the very reason we exist! It’s what we were made for!

May the Spirit of God move in us that we would produce the fruit of self-control, and may we be those who work with all the energy that God supplies in order to bear much good fruit that brings God glory!

For more on this subject, see: The Role of Habits in Transformation