How sin is most deceitful

Aug 20, 2014 | Ray Ortlund


“It is rightly called the deceitfulness of sin because it deceives under the appearance of the good.  This phrase ‘the deceitfulness of sin’ ought to be understood in a much wider sense, so that the term includes even one’s own righteousness and wisdom.  For more than anything else one’s own righteousness and wisdom deceive one and work against faith in Christ, since we love the flesh and the sensations of the flesh and also riches and possessions, but we love nothing more ardently than our own feelings, judgment, purpose, and will, especially when they seem to be good.  For the same reason Christ said, when he healed the paralytic at the Pool of Bethesda, that it was impossible for such people to be able to believe: ‘How can you believe who receive glory from one another?’ (John 5:44).  Why are they not able to believe?  Because the ‘deceitfulness of sin,’ that is, the love of their own righteousness, blinds them and hardens their heart.  Yet at the same time they think it a good thing to glory in their own righteousness and be pleased with it, though that indeed is the very worst of all vices, the extreme antithesis of faith. Faith rejoices and glories in the righteousness of God alone, that is, in Christ himself.”

Martin Luther, on Hebrews 3:13.

View Comments


Aug 19, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

“A psychologist tells the story of a despairing young woman, spent in an endless round of parties, exhausted by the pursuit of pleasure.  When told she should simply stop, she responded, ‘You mean I don’t have to do what I want to do?’”

Charles W. Colson, “The Enduring Revolution,” 1993 Templeton Address.

View Comments

“You can’t always be nice”

Aug 18, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

95-stellingenWhen Martin Luther posted his Ninety-Five Theses, he picked a fight.  It was a good fight, and he won.  He won not only because his arguments were more biblical but also because he manfully took responsibility for challenging the status quo.  It was a public challenge, right out in the open.  His courage added moral authority to his arguments.

Mature Christian leaders know the difference between petty issues that deserve zero passion, and burning issues worth dying for, and the various gradations in between.  But mature Christians leaders are willing to say hard things out loud in public, willing to face the past rather than sweep it under the rug, willing to create an awkward moment because something more important than saving face and remaining comfortable is on the line.  God is so real to men and women like this, that they will do whatever his Word clearly requires, no matter what.

Thabiti did that today on his blog.  He put something significant right out on the table so that the rest of us have to face it, think about it, feel it, and that does all of us nothing but good.  Thabiti is not one of those cruel bloggers who are more eager to vent than to serve, more eager to embarrass than to build up.  Thabiti is a mature Christian leader.

The striking thing, to me, is how rare among us is his admirable forthrightness.  I wonder how thoroughly we have applied the gospel to this aspect of our life together.  Here are two guiding principles — complementary, not contradictory — that come to mind right away, for starters:

1.  “Give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all” (Romans 12:17).  That which is honorable, that which is morally elegant, is our standard always.  Will a reasonable person, including a reasonable unbeliever, look at what we are saying and doing and admire it as honorable?  Self-serving moral fervor comes across as ugly. Selfless restraint comes across as noble.

2.  “To them we did not yield in submission even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might be preserved for you” (Galatians 2:5).  Sometimes, in order to preserve the integrity of the gospel for others, the gospel in both principle and practice, in both doctrine and culture, we must resist. We must protest. And we must offer a positive alternative for the sake of the future.  But as my saintly and gentle dad once said to me, “You can’t always be nice.”

Thank you, Thabiti, for not being nice.

View Comments

The worst kind of evil

Aug 14, 2014 | Ray Ortlund


“The worst kind of evil is the wrong kind of love, love that clutches and possesses rather than loosening and liberating. . . . That is Lewis’ final statement on evil.  Essentially, it is the wrong kind of love. . . . What the evil man calls love is only a sort of hunger aimed at the total consumption of the emotional lives of those around him.  What he calls justice is the selfish granting of his own welfare and pleasure, whether on a personal or a universal scale.  And what he calls good is that which will benefit his own aims at the expense or despite the needs of those around him.  He is evil not because he wills to be an evil man but because he can do nothing else but will his own narrow desires.”

Janice Witherspoon Neulieb, reviewing Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis, in Christianity Today, 28 March 1975, page 16.

View Comments

What might it look like to love our enemies?

Aug 12, 2014 | Ray Ortlund


“I imagine somebody will say, ‘Well, if one is allowed to condemn the enemy’s acts, and punish him, and kill him, what difference is left between Christian morality and the ordinary view?’  All the difference in the world.  Remember, we Christians think man lives for ever.  Therefore, what really matters is those little marks or twists on the central, inside part of the soul which are going to turn it, in the long run, into a heavenly or a hellish creature.  We may kill if necessary, but we must not hate and enjoy hating.  We may punish if necessary, but we must not enjoy it.  In other words, something inside us, the feeling of resentment, the feeling that wants to get one’s own back, must be simply killed.  I do not mean that anyone can decide this moment that he will never feel it any more.  That is not how things happen.  I mean that every time it bobs its head up, day after day, year after year, all our lives long, we must hit it on the head.  It is hard work, but the attempt is not impossible.  Even while we kill and punish we must try to feel about the enemy as we feel about ourselves – to wish that he were not bad, to hope that he may, in this world or another, be cured; in fact, to wish his good.  That is what is meant in the Bible by loving him: wishing his good, not feeling fond of him nor saying he is nice when he is not.”

C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, 1958), pages 92-93.

View Comments

He took it lovingly

Aug 09, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

“And the legendary ‘Rabbi’ Duncan concentrated it all into a single unforgettable sentence, in a famous outburst to one of his classes: ‘D’ye know what Calvary was? what? what? what?’  Then, with tears on his face — ‘It was damnation; and he took it lovingly.’”

J. I. Packer, In My Place Condemned He Stood (Wheaton, 2007), page 95.  Italics original.

View Comments

Who can fight the Lord’s battles?

Aug 05, 2014 | Ray Ortlund


“We should never come to [differences] with true Christians without regret and without tears.  Sounds simple, doesn’t it?  Believe me, evangelicals often have not shown it.  We rush in, being very, very pleased, it would seem at times, to find other men’s mistakes.  We build ourselves up by tearing other men down.  This can never show a real oneness among Christians.

There is only one kind of man who can fight the Lord’s battles in anywhere near a proper way, and that is the man who by nature is unbelligerent.  A belligerent man tends to do it because he is belligerent; at least it looks that way.  The world must observe that, when we must differ with each other as true Christians, we do it not because we love the smell of blood, the smell of the arena, the smell of the bullfight, but because we must for God’s sake.  If there are tears when we must speak, then something beautiful can be observed.”

Francis Schaeffer, The Mark of the Christian (Downers Grove, 1970), pages 26-27.

Whatever the current controversy may be — whoever, whatever — are there tears?  Do we express our differences with such care that a reasonable unbeliever could say, “There is no blood-lust here.  This is different.  There is sincerity of heart here, even nobility”?

View Comments

Something altogether unearthly

Aug 01, 2014 | Ray Ortlund


William C. Burns was preaching in Perth, Scotland, in 1840.  His biographer writes,

“The power indeed that attended his words, and the effects which often in the most unexpected quarters followed them, was at this time most remarkable.  ‘I never thought,’ exclaimed a strong, careless man, who had heard him, ‘to have been so much affected; it is surely something altogether unearthly that has come to the town.’”

Islay Burns, Memoir of the Rev. Wm. C. Burns (London, 1870), page 144.

I think of true preaching of the gospel as consisting of three arrows.  One arrow points backward into history, all the way back into the biblical text, declaring the pure, authorial meaning of the passage being preached.

A second arrow points forward into the world of today, into the questions people are asking today and, for that matter, into the questions they aren’t asking but should be.  We preach out of yesterday, but we also preach into today.

But these two arrows alone do not suffice for true preaching of the gospel.

A third arrow points down from above.  It represents something altogether unearthly, something from above entering into the experience of the preacher and his hearers at the moment of the sermon, something that cannot be explained merely in terms of exegetical clarity or contemporary insight, something powerful that sets the moment apart as divine, a glorious awareness that God is there, that the sermon is coming to us as a message from a distant shore, a word from The Throne.

True gospel preaching is more of God than of ourselves, and that’s why it’s so helpful in our world today.

View Comments

The greatest personal question ever asked

Jul 28, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

“Justification by faith is an answer to the greatest personal question ever asked by a human soul: ‘How shall I be right with God?  How do I stand in God’s sight?  With what favor does he look upon me?’  There are those, I admit, who never raise that question.  There are those who are concerned with the question of their standing before men but never with the question of their standing before God.  There are those who are interested in what ‘people say’ but not in the question of what God says.  Such men, however, are not those who move the world.  They are apt to go with the current.  They are apt to do as others do.  They are not the heroes who change the destinies of the race.  The beginning of true nobility comes when a man ceases to be interested in the judgment of men and becomes interested in the judgment of God.”

J. Gresham Machen, in God Transcendent (Edinburgh, 1982), pages 89-90.

View Comments

Before we preach tomorrow

Jul 26, 2014 | Ray Ortlund

Kennedy“There are some who preach before their people, like actors on the stage, to display themselves and to please their audience.  Not such were the self-denied preachers of Ross-shire.

There are others who preach over their people.  Studying for the highest, instead of doing so for the lowest, in intelligence, they elaborate learned treatises, which float like mist, when delivered, over the heads of their hearers.  Not such were the earnest preachers of Ross-shire.

There are some who preach past their people.  Directing their praise or their censure to intangible abstractions, they never take aim at the views and the conduct of the individuals before them.  They step carefully aside, lest their hearers should be struck by their shafts, and aim them at phantoms beyond them.  Not such were the faithful preachers of Ross-shire.

There are others who preach at their people, serving out in a sermon the gossip of the week, and seemingly possessed with the idea that the transgressor can be scolded out of the ways of iniquity.  Not such were the wise preachers of Ross-shire.

There are some who preach towards their people.  They aim well, but they are weak.  Their eye is along the arrow towards the hearts of their hearers, but their arm is too feeble for sending it on to the mark.  Superficial in their experience and in their knowledge, they reach not the cases of God’s people by their doctrine, and they strike with no vigor at the consciences of the ungodly.  Not such were the powerful preachers of Ross-shire.

There are others still who preach along their congregation.  Instead of standing with their bow in front of the ranks, these archers take aim in line and, reducing their mark to an individual, never change the direction of their aim.  Not such were the discriminating preachers of Ross-shire.

But there are a few who preach to the people directly and seasonably the mind of God in His Word with authority, unction, wisdom, fervor and love.  Such as these last were the eminent preachers of Ross-shire.”

Revd. John Kennedy, The Days of the Fathers in Ross-shire (Inverness, 1895), pages 22-23.

HT:  William Mackenzie



View Comments
1 2 3 196