It has been about 8 weeks since Hurricane Laura, the strong category 4 hurricane out of the gulf, hit Southwest Louisiana. With sustained winds of 150 mph at landfall, Laura brought great destruction to Southwest Louisiana as a whole. Our church, First Baptist Church of Longville, received a portion of that destruction. You can find pictures of our church below:
Though our church building did not do so well, the 50 people that took shelter in it (Kahlie and I were a part of that 50) were preserved. Even in the midst of that kind of destruction, the Lord was still immeasurably gracious.
In regard to our church family, Hurricane Laura damaged many houses (almost every house to be honest), and destroyed some. Below are pictures of some of the families in our church that had significant destruction:
It really is hard to fathom the destruction that Laura brought. Even after enduring Hurricane Delta, a category two hurricane, a few weeks ago, I cannot get my mind off Laura. Laura has changed the daily lives of every individual in this area. Shopping, driving, living, yards, and going out to eat do not look the same as they used to. Laura really has changed everything.
Though all this sounds rather gloomy, things are beginning to change. Some businesses are open, some businesses are close to opening, kids are back in school, some people have new roofs on, and others are close to having new roofs. And though recovery efforts will take years, Southwest Louisiana will slowly begin to look normal again. Until then, we labor and toil to serve our neighbor and our community. And for those of us in the church, we labor to adorn the gospel we preach by doing good to others for the glory of God.
To rebuke somebody is to tell somebody that they have done wrong. It is, figuratively speaking, a verbal spanking (Ps. 141:5)! A godly rebuke, one that honors the Lord, is to lovingly tell somebody they have done wrong with the aim of bringing them to repentance and restoration (Gal. 6:1). An ungodly rebuke, one that dishonors the Lord, is to angrily or bitterly tell somebody they have done wrong with the aim of tearing them down. The important point is this: if either rebuke, the godly or the ungodly, is true, then it is for the benefit of the Christian.
Think about it this way, surgery is one of God’s ordained means to heal a person from an illness, infection, or injury that’s wreaking havoc on the body. Generally speaking, if there was no surgery, then there would be no healing. In the same way, rebuke is one of God’s ordained means to a heal a person of a spiritual malady that’s inflicting harm on the soul. So if there is no rebuke, then there will be no spiritual healing.
This truth becomes evident as one looks at the Bible. Take David for example; David was languishing in unconfessed sin after he quenched his sinful sexual passions by having intercourse with Bathsheba, another man’s wife (Ps. 32:3-4). As David languished, the Lord mercifully sent Nathan to use the scalpel of rebuke in order to expose David to the spiritual danger that he was in (2 Sam. 12:1-5). Afterwards, David confessed his sin and found restoration and forgiveness (Ps. 32:5). Nathan’s rebuke proved to bring healing. As Proverbs says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Prov. 27:6).
Rebuke…..A Despised Thing
Though what I am saying is biblically accurate, I should let you in on something. Our sin nature abhors rebuke. Since we often times desire the approval of man, we don’t like giving nor receiving rebukes, and this is understandable. Giving a rebuke is kind of like doing surgery on somebody that is not under anesthesia. You can visibly see the pain that you are causing them, so you want to stop or even avoid the surgery. And receiving a rebuke is like being under surgery without anesthesia. You feel every bit of the pain.
Despite the fact that our sin nature is repulsed by both giving and receiving rebukes, we must remember that our sin nature doesn’t desire our spiritual well-being. Our Heavenly Father desires our spiritual well-being, and those who are his children must understand God’s ordained means for rebuke in the Christian life. It is clear from the Bible that rebuke is necessary if we want to grow spiritually. And it is clear from the Bible that the godly man both gives and takes heed to rebukes, and that the ungodly man refuses to both give and listen to rebukes (Ps. 141:5; Pr. 13:1; Pr. 17:10).
How To Rebuke
So how are we supposed to rebuke people? Here’s some advice:
Examine yourself to make sure you aren’t in the same sin you are about to rebuke
Make sure what you are about to rebuke is actually sin, and not merely some man-made standard you have for people
Make sure the sin you are about to rebuke is actually deserving of a face to face rebuke
Simply put, you can’t rebuke every sin that somebody commits. I mean, you could……people just wouldn’t hangout with you anymore
Be as gentle and loving as possible when you rebuke
Have useful Scripture
One of the purposes of the Bible is to reprove and rebuke, so let the Bible do the rebuking
Expect the person you are rebuking to get defensive (this will allow you to remain calm when they actually do get defensive…….because they probably will)
Do not expect the person to appreciate your rebuke immediately
Often times the person will come to appreciate your rebuke hours, days, weeks, or even months later
Trust God for their repentance
God is the one that grants repentance, so trust him for the other person’s repentance
How to Receive Rebuke
And here is how we can receive rebuke:
Be in a constant pattern of repentance
This produces humility and a spirit that is willing to receive rebuke
Have friends that are willing to wound you
Gather godly friends around you that are willing to rebuke you when it is necessary
When rebuked, in either a godly way or ungodly way, weigh the rebuke to see if there’s any truth in it
If the rebuke is valid, repent as soon as possible
Thank the one that rebuked you, and tell them that God used it to bring you to repentance
Memorize Psalm 141:5 which says, “Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it.”
The Christian faith lends itself to mental effort. Just think about this: we serve a God that has revealed himself in the Bible. In other words, we serve a God that has revealed himself in letters, words, sentences, paragraphs, books, and one body of books…the Bible!
And the Bible is filled with rebukes of false doctrines and explanations of sound doctrines. It is filled with arguments against certain systems of beliefs as well as clarifications on what to believe. It is filled with inferences, explanations, and reason. It is loaded with certain biblical themes that span across all its sixty-six books.
Because God has revealed himself this way, it is an invitation for us to use intellectual exertion; to toil and labor to acquire knowledge. He is calling us to follow the evidence that led to the inference; to follow the reason that made up the argument. He is enticing us to trace the themes that span across all sixty-six books of the Bible. He is bidding us to use our God given mental capacities in order to rightly know Him and the teachings He has left us.
Contemporary Christianity-Anti Intellectual
Though the Christian faith lends itself to mental effort, there does seem to be a growing anti-intellectualism in the church today. There are many in the church that distrust the Christian that spends his time reading, memorizing, developing arguments, and striving to become a good theologian. You can hear people say, “We don’t care about all the details. Just stick to the main things like the Bible, the gospel, the cross, salvation, and heaven.” Or maybe they say, “We can’t possibly know things like the Incarnation, Trinity, or God’s purpose in election. Those things are mysterious. Just stick to Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!” And when a Christian persists in studying and talking about the particulars of certain theological beliefs, fellow Christians begin to distrust him.
Now, for those of you that may not agree that there is an anti-intellectualism in the church today, maybe you will agree with me when I say there is a growing disinterest in intellectual toil within the church today. People seem to be indifferent to the things of God. They have reduced the Christian faith to the Bible, the gospel, the cross, Jesus, salvation, and heaven. They are not interested in anything other than these aspects of the Christian faith. And, in all honesty, they are not interested in studying these in too much detail.
Right Emphases in Light of the Whole
Here is the thing though, throughout Church history, Christians realized that what they emphasized was important. Therefore, the main emphases throughout Church history have been on the Bible, the gospel, the cross, Jesus Christ, salvation, and heaven. They were not reducing Christianity to these teachings. They were not intending on isolating these points of emphases in order to make them the whole of the Christian faith. Rather, after a thorough study of the Bible, they realized that, at the end of the day, these where the key points of the whole. As a result, they emphasized them.
But, and this is very important, they viewed these key points in light of the whole. These emphases were viewed in light of a good and proper understanding of the Biblical narrative. Behind these key points, there were good arguments for what each point meant in light of what God has revealed in the Bible as a whole.
Right Emphases Without the Whole
Within the contemporary church, we still make the right emphases. We emphasize the Bible, the cross, Jesus Christ, salvation, and heaven. However, due to many Christians’ anti-intellectualism or indifference, these main topics have been separated from the whole of the Christian faith.
At first glance, this doesn’t seem that bad, but, upon further study, it is very bad. Since we have isolated these key points of the Christian faith, they have begun to be understood apart from the whole. As a result, they have begun taking on different meanings; meanings that are quite contrary to the biblical narrative.
A Test Case-Heaven
To get a better understanding of what I have been saying throughout this brief blog, let’s think about heaven. Heaven is an emphasis throughout church history as well as the contemporary church. Yet, the contemporary church has developed a concept of heaven that is quite different from what we find in the Bible. In all seriousness, the present church’s understanding of heaven is in line with what we find in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
At one point in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Miss Watson explains heaven to Huck. According to Huckleberry, “She went on and told me all about the good place. She said all a body would have to do there was go around all day long with a harp and sing, forever and ever.” As you can see, Huckleberry wasn’t that intrigued by heaven. And honestly, because of most Christians’ similar misconceptions of heaven, they aren’t intrigued either.
For instance, as one pastor was talking to Randy Alcorn about heaven he said, “Whenever I think about Heaven, it makes me depressed. I’d rather just cease to exist when I die.” But what was his reasoning for this? Well, the pastor goes on to say, “I can’t stand the thought of that endless tedium. To float around in the clouds with nothing to do but strum a harp. . . . it’s all so terribly boring. Heaven doesn’t sound much better than Hell. I’d rather be annihilated than spend eternity in a place like that.”
This is honestly what many people believe. They still emphasize heaven, but they have isolated heaven from the biblical narrative. As a result, it has taken on a different meaning than what we find in the Bible. They speak of a heaven as a disembodied spiritual existence where we sing Amazing Grace for 10,000 years; as an endless church service where we grow in our ability to play a harp! This is what happens when an important biblical emphasis becomes isolated. It begins to take on an unbiblical meaning.
The heaven the Bible talks about is a restoration of all that Adam lost……and then some! Adam was supposed to dwell on earth, exercise a God honoring rule as a king, and spread the knowledge of the glory of God over creation. Adam failed at this God given commission. With Adam’s sin, humanity fell from its original royal dignity.
Then Christ came to redeem humanity and to restore humanity back to its royal dignity. In Christ, human beings are being enabled to fulfill God’s original purpose for them. As Alcorn said, “God never gave up on his original plan for human beings to dwell on Earth. In fact, the climax of history will be the creation of the new heavens and a new earth, a resurrected universe inhabited by resurrected people living with a resurrected Jesus.” And as we, a resurrected humanity, reign on a non-cursed new earth with Jesus Christ, our resurrected King, we will dwell everlastingly in complete bliss.
This is the heaven that the Bible teaches about. It deserves to be emphasized, but it must be emphasized in light of the whole. My fear is that we have detached it from the whole, continued to emphasize it, and allowed it to lose its biblical meaning!
Where Do We Go from Here?
We must begin realizing that the Christian faith lends itself to mental exertion, and we must be willing to exert our mental capacities in order to better understand the things of God. As we do this, we will not merely emphasize what needs to be emphasized (the Bible, Jesus, the cross, salvation, heaven), we will have proper understandings of these key tenets of the Christian faith in light of the overall biblical narrative. In doing this, we will emphasize them for the same reasons Christians throughout history have emphasized them, rather than simply emphasizing them as a crutch to avoid mental effort.
I have enjoyed reading Christian biography ever since the Lord saved me my freshmen year of college. To put it in perspective, I have been a Christian for a little less than ten years and have read (or listened to) forty-three biographies. Reading Christian biography is a discipline that I have cultivated, and this is not without reason.
God has used Christian biography to stir my affections for Christ. And, as I heard Matt Chandler say many years ago, find whatever stirs your affections for Christ and keep doing it. Therefore, I pick up different Christian biographies throughout the year and let the Lord minister to my soul as I read about His dealings with other Christians throughout history.
With that said, what I want to do now is list out five reasons why I enjoy reading Christian biography. After I lay out the five reasons, I will recommend some Christian biographies that you may be interested in.
Christian Biography Demonstrates the Cost of Discipleship
Though salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, a life of discipleship, of following Jesus, will cost you everything. In Matthew 16:24-26, Jesus said:
If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?
Just as Peter denied, completely disassociated himself, with Jesus later on in Matthew’s gospel, so the disciple of Jesus must deny, completely disassociate, with himself. He must realize that Christ “died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Cor 5:15). This is what Christ demands of those who follow him.
And as one reads Christian biographies, they begin to see what this looks like. The lives of individuals like Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Whitefield, Judson, and Spurgeon allow us to see that faithfully following the Lord Jesus Christ comes with a cost. More importantly, they allow us to clearly see that a life of denying self for the purpose of living for the fame of Christ is completely worth it!
Christian Biography Reveals God’s Providence
The 1689 Baptist Confession defines God’s providence as:
God the good Creator of all things, in his infinite power and wisdom doth uphold, direct, dispose, and govern all creatures and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, to the end for the which they were created, according unto his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will; to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, infinite goodness, and mercy.
That is one amazing sentence. This confession goes on to say, “As the providence of God doth in general reach to all creatures, so after a more special manner it taketh care of his church, and disposeth of all things to the good thereof.” As you can tell, this is a comforting doctrine.
However, God’s providential governance is mysterious to us. After something happens, we often times do not know how God is disposing all things for our good. We cannot immediately trace God’s hand to see all the good that He is bringing about out of suffering, hardship, pain, difficulty, and even death. Most of the purposes in his providential dealings with us are not able to be discerned until much later on in our lives. Therefore, during these times of difficulty, we have to trust God’s heart even though we cannot trace His hand.
Though this is the case for us individually, Christian biographies reveal God’s providential dealings with His children. As we read about the lives of these individuals, we are able to see how God disposes all things (suffering, hardship, pain, difficulty, and even death) for the good of His people. Simply put, in Christian biography we are actually able to trace God’s hand as He worked ALL things for the good of the Christians we are reading about (Rom 8:28).
Christian Biography Shows God’s Patience
There are no great Christians. The Christians you read about in Christian biographies would not have said that they are great Christians. They would have said, with John Newton, that they are great sinners and that Christ is a great Savior. This is what makes Christian biographies so fascinating. These men and women battle their sinful flesh by the power of the Spirit, humbly cast themselves upon God, and God patiently deals with them as a loving Father.
Let’s be honest, none of us would have patiently dealt with Luther, Zwingli, or Calvin. As we look into our heart of hearts, we see that we are prone to be impatient and quick to get frustrated. This is not the case with God! Even in the midst of His children’s weaknesses, He is patient with them. Very few things reveal the loving patience of our God as an extensive Christian biography that probes the infirmities of one of our heroes in the faith. As we see this, our hope is stengthened in knowing that the God that was patient with them is the same God that is patient with us.
Christian Biography Displays Christian Living
If you are anything like me then you are well aware that gaining proper theological knowledge is much easier than living a practically godly life! I can read a whole book on a certain theological topic and not be any godlier. Though this is a sad reality, I think that it is understandable.
You see, we not only have a hard time living a godly life because our sinful flesh wages war against us; we also have a hard time living a godly life because we do not know how to apply the theological knowledge that we do have. Christian biographies can help us with this.
For example, I know what the Bible says about marriage. I know the theme of marriage throughout the Bible. However, I don’t always treat my wife in a manner that reflects the sacredness of the marriage covenant. Honestly, I don’t always know how to treat my wife in a manner that reflects the sacredness of the marriage covenant. Then, as I read about Charles Spurgeon and Susanna Spurgeon, I see how Spurgeon treated his wife. I see how he spoke, lead, wrote, and loved his wife. In reading this, I am learning how my theology should be applied. I am gleaning how to live a practically godly life in light of the theological knowledge that I have.
Christian Biography Gives Ideas for Good Works
In Titus 2:14, Paul gives us three purposes for Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection. Christ gave himself for us in order to: 1) redeem us from all lawlessness, 2) purify us, 3) make us zealous for good works (Titus 2:14). I think the last purpose that is mentioned, to make us zealous for good works, is often forgotten. We, as a redeemed people, are to relentlessly devote ourselves to good works that will bring honor to God.
This is something that certain brothers and sisters of ours throughout history understood. They were zealous for good works. Seriously, there would not be biographies written about them if they weren’t zealous for good works! Who wants to read about a half-hearted slothful Christian that lived a bulk of his life for himself? Nobody! But who wants to read about a Spirit empowered Christian filled with fervor and zeal that joyfully spent his life making Christ famous? Everybody!
And as Christians in the 21st century, we can look at all of their good works and get ideas. We can see particular ways they served the Lord and think through what that might look like in our own lives.
For our church in Louisiana, we have not been able to gather together for four weeks. It has been even longer for other churches in our area as well as around the country. This means that Christian families have had numerous Sunday mornings where they wake up, try to cultivate some type of normalcy, and then sit down as a family to watch their pastor preach to them from a screen.
Of course we can romanticize this by saying we get our hot cup of coffee, sit down on our cozy couch, offer up some eloquent prayers as a Christian family, and then intently listen to our pastor preach the Word of God while our love for Christ is inflamed anew. But let’s be honest, for families with infants and toddlers, Sunday mornings do not look like this.
Sunday mornings are filled with distractions. An infant or toddler needs to be attended too at many points throughout the sermon. They need milk warmed up, or perhaps they need the regular stipend of goldfish that the childcare workers in church normally gives them. Maybe their sinful flesh begins to oppose authority and they take all the attention in the room. This is what Sunday mornings looks like for many families during this time.
Meanwhile, the pastor’s words continue to be unheard. Those nuggets of spiritual truths that nourish our souls simply slide past us. Those life given exhortations from our pastor go out into the unknown. Those theological truths in worship songs go on being heard but not grasped.
Childcare-An Undesirable Service Opportunity
Let’s be honest, most Christians don’t desire to serve in childcare. I think I can speak on behalf of churches all around the country when I say that the ministry that is always in need of volunteers is the children’s ministry. And I get it, it is hard to serve in a ministry where there is very little affirmation, self-fulfillment, or attention. It is hard to serve in a ministry where you see very little tangible spiritual fruit.
And then there are these other erroneous thoughts that run through our minds. We say to ourselves:
Surely God will not look at the rocking of a toddler on a Sunday morning and give eternal rewards. There is no way God will reward the changing of a diaper on a Sunday morning. Plus, even if God sees these things, not many other people do. Sure, the preacher gets some flack as he serves, but he still gets a ton of affirmation and praise from people too. But just look at the childcare volunteer. People do not praise them. Shoot, I’d be shocked if even God praises them.
These types of thoughts leave our nursery with very few volunteers. They leave the leader of the children’s ministry hastily sending out texts, emails, and Facebook posts trying to find somebody to fill a spot on a Sunday morning.
Childcare-A Missed Ministry During Quarantine
But during these hectic Sunday mornings during quarantine, it is evident that the unglamorous ministry of childcare is deeply missed. People are realizing the sacrifices that childcare volunteers make in rocking other’s people’s children so that members of the church, as well as guests, can be attentive to the Word of God. They are realizing how blessed they are to have vetted childcare volunteers to change their baby’s diaper so that they can join together in corporate prayer during worship. In sum, Christian families are realizing how grateful they ought to be for brothers and sisters in Christ that die to themselves, walk down to the childcare/nursery area, and serve in the unnoticed and often overlooked childcare ministry.
Encouragement to Childcare Volunteers
The church needs you. You are a vital aspect to our Sunday morning gatherings. Because of you, believers and unbelievers have the opportunity to sit through corporate worship, listen to biblical truth, and hear life giving exhortations from the Word of God. With this in mind, know that your labor is not in vain. When you, in faith, volunteer in the children’s ministry, your Heavenly Father sees you, and your sacrificial service pleases Him.
Exhortations to Childcare Avoiders
If you are a member of a local church and have long avoided opportunities to serve in childcare, I hope Sundays during quarantine changes your thinking. When we are once again able to gather together, I hope you seriously consider volunteering in childcare. This is a wonderful and greatly needed way to serve the local church.
It is a strange time. COVID-19 has done significant damage to Louisiana, and has upended life for many people. The governor of Louisiana issued a Stay at Home Order on March 22 that would last until the early parts of April. He then extended the Stay at Home Order to last until April 30. And based off recent news, it seems like there is a decent probability that he will extend the Stay at Home Order again. So what does the McDuffie household look like during a Stay at Home Order? I’m glad you asked because I have a little extra time to tell you.
Kahlie has been baking like a Paula Dean mini me. Our family only consists of two people so that means we have ample goods for me, myself, and I!
Let’s be honest, Kahlie and I eat ice cream pretty frequently. And when we eat Ice Cream, we partake in Bluebell Tillamook. You read that properly. Out with Bluebell and in with Tillamook Mudslide. This time of social distancing has given us ample opportunity to eat this most delicious ice cream.
Though we have eaten entirely too many sweets, we have balanced it with working out. We are using the Stay at Home order to get in better shape. Just this week I rewarded my running efforts by purchasing my first ever GPS running watch. It is the Garmin Forerunner 235. I’m pretty stoked about it (hopefully it will come in before the Stay at Home Order is lifted)!
Kahlie and I have been reading a lot. I have been focusing on books related to church history, Christology, and the Trinity.
Kahlie has been reading different kinds of books.
Much time has been spent playing Monopoly Deal. Though Kahlie wouldn’t want me to say this, I have been dominating her in this game.
Kahlie is memorizing her first full book of the Bible. She is almost done with the entire book of Titus! I have been re-memorizing the book of Galatians because I am going to begin teaching the youth on it when we return to normalcy. If you want to learn more about Scripture memorization then check out this resource:
Blue Bloods has been our T.V. show throughout this time of social distancing (and before social distancing). You need to give it a shot if you’ve never seen it. I have pretty much adopted Tom Selleck’s character, Frank Reagan, as my T.V. dad.
Darrell’s in Lake Charles has been our go to place ever since we moved to Louisiana. Thankfully, during social distancing, we can still grab a to-go order from Darrell’s. And if you ever find yourself driving through Lake Charles, you should really consider stopping to eat there. It is super good!
What about Tomorrow?
I am not sure what tomorrow is going to look like. News changes quickly. Different states take different measures. But Kahlie and I plan on continuing to enjoy the small aspects of life. We will sit on the front porch and read as we let our white legs get a little sun. We will run up and down our road breathing in the cool spring air. We will put on Blue Bloods, fix a bowl of Tillamook, and admire the grandeur of Tom Selleck’s mustache. And we will rest in the fact that God is sovereign over all things; from the spread of COVID-19 to the excitement of tastebuds when they encounter the savory flavor of a Darrell’s special.
John Bunyan is a towering figure within church history. Though he was born in the 17th century, his books are still being published, made into movies, and quoted from pulpits. He really did leave us many timeless works. I believe the reason they are timeless is because they are soaked in Scripture. Even the great C.H. Spurgeon said:
Read anything of his, and you will see that it is almost like reading the Bible itself. . . He had read it until his whole being was saturated with Scripture, and though his writings are charmingly full of poetry, yet he cannot give us his Pilgrim’s Progress – that sweetest of all prose poems – without continually making us feel and say, ‘Why, this man is a living Bible!’ Prick him anywhere; and you will find that his blood is bibline . . . for his whole soul is full of the Word of God.
John Bunyan truly was a man of the Bible, and this is evident with every word you read from his works!
Though Bunyan is still being published and quoted from pulpits, most Christians in the 21st century are unaware of who he is. In my own experience, if you mention John Bunyan, people assume they know who you are talking about because they think you are talking about Paul Bunyan! Though this is humorous, it is also sad. My hopes in writing this biographical blog on Bunyan is to introduce him to some folks that are unfamiliar with him. In doing so, I hope and pray that you will be spurred on by looking briefly at Bunyan’s life.
While we do not know a great deal about John Bunyan’s physical birth, we do know that John Bunyan was born in Elstow, England on November 30, 1628. His father was a working mechanic, and Bunyan himself says that they were of the lower class. Writing about his own upbringing, Bunyan said, “My descent was of a low and inconsiderable generation, my father’s house being of that rank that is meanest and most despised of all the families in the land.”
During Bunyan’s time, it was common for the poor to receive a basic education in reading and writing. Bunyan received this, but this was all he received. He was not educated in all the classics, nor did he learn Latin, Greek, and Hebrew. Bunyan’s education consisted of knowing how to read and write. And though he was educated in reading and writing, he forgot even these upon leaving school at a young age. In reflecting on his education he said, “To my shame, I confess I did soon lose that little I learned, and that almost utterly.”
Unregenerate and Ungodly
There is a reason Scripture says, “Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions,” as well as, “So flee youthful passions.” When we are young and unregenerate, we seek to gratify our youthful passions and in doing so transgress our Creator in numerous ways. This was certainly true of Bunyan.
When reflecting on the sins of his youth, Bunyan said:
As for my own natural life, for the time that I was without God in the world, it was indeed according to the course of this world, and the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience. It was my delight to be taken captive by the devil at his will: being filled with all unrighteousness; that from a child I had but few equals, both for cursing, swearing, lying, and blaspheming the holy name of God.
He goes on to say, “I was the very ringleader of all the youth that kept me company, in all manner of vice and ungodliness,” and, “I was one of those great sin-breeders; I infected all the youth of the town where I was born.” Bunyan was, on all accounts, a heathen. Within the village of Elstow, he was blot and blemish; a young man that you wouldn’t want your kids hanging around.
When we read stuff like this, it is easy to think that Bunyan is exaggerating. We think to ourselves, “Surely Bunyan was not that sinful as a youth!” But Bunyan was aware that people reading about his youthful passions may think this so he wrote, “In these things, I protest before God, I lie not, neither do I feign this sort of speech; these were really, strongly, and with all my heart, my desires.” Bunyan did not want people to minimize the heinous nature of his sin; he did not want them to believe that he was simply using hyperbole. He wanted them to be aware that he was at enmity with God.
First Marriage and Books
In 1648, when Bunyan was twenty years old, he began his occupation as a brazier (a tinker or metal worker), and started thinking about marriage and starting a family. Though Bunyan was an ungodly wretch, God gave him a godly wife named Mary that had come from a godly family. In reflecting on this he said, “My mercy was to light upon a wife whose father was counted godly. This woman and I came together as poor as poor might be, not having so much household stuff as a dish or spoon betwixt us.”
Though not much is known about Mary, biographers say that Mary seems to have been left in impoverished circumstances. Her father was dead and most people assume her mother was dead as well. They believe that this is the reason she would have married an individual like Bunyan. In all honesty, it is like biographers are trying to figure out how a godly woman like Mary would have married a wretch like Bunyan!
With that aside, this marriage proved to be a providential means that God used to begin softening Bunyan’s hard heart to the reality of his sin. Mary would often reprove and correct Bunyan for his corrupt lifestyle, and would tell him about how godly her father was. She also would force Bunyan to read Christian books that her father had given her.
The reading of these books made an impression on Bunyan. Faith Cook writes, “The first effect of Mary’s concern and books they were reading was to create in John the early awakenings of a desire to improve himself.” Bunyan himself put it this way, “I fell in very eagerly with the religion of the times; to wit, to go to church twice a day and that too with the foremost and there should very devoutly, both say and sing as others did, yet retaining my wicked life.” Bunyan was attending to religious things, but his manner of life had not changed. He mimicked the saints in the church, but lived like the same ole wretch in the community of Elstow. However, his conscience was awakened and his hard heart was being softened.
Unregenerate and Religious
While Bunyan was living an ungodly life, he had an unusual encounter with a very ungodly women that led to a moral reformation. A woman that Bunyan described as a “loose and ungodly wretch” overheard his foul mouth and told him that, “He was the ungodliest fellow for swearing that ever she heard in all her life,” and that, “he was able to spoil all the youth in a whole town, if they came in his company.” This reproof from a vile, wretched, and ungodly woman led Bunyan to leave off his life of outward immorality. As one biographer put it: “Public reproof from such a woman was an arrow that pierced his inmost soul; it effected a reformation marvelous to all his companions, and bordering upon the miraculous.”
However, we must not mistake his moral reformation as regeneration and conversion. His spiritual life did not change. He was still dead in sin. All he did now was act in a civil and religious manner. He simply became, as Scripture says, “A white-washed tomb.” Even Bunyan himself said: “Now I was, as they said, become godly, and their words pleased me well, though as yet I was nothing but a poor painted hypocrite.” Bunyan’s moral reformation made people think that he was godly, but he knew that it was all a facade. He did not know Jesus Christ. He was still unregenerate.
Regenerate and Religious
As we move closer to John Bunyan’s conversion, it is important to keep in mind that the day and hour of Bunyan’s conversion is difficult to pinpoint. There are numerous accounts in his autobiography that read like conversion moments. His biographers are all in disagreement as well. It is as though both Bunyan and his biographers were unclear about the moment he was born again. With that said, I will deal with the two most significant moments in his life. One of these has to be the moment he was converted.
Bunyan had a wife and a blind daughter, therefore there was extra incentive to go out and make a living. As a tinker would walk through nearby towns and villages he would cry out, “Have you any work for a tinker? Have you any old bellows to mend?” And he would do this until some individual needed a tinker to come over and fix some things.
As Bunyan was doing this in Bedford, a village near Elstow, he came across a group of three to four women. He describes them as “poor women sitting at a door in the sun, and talking about the things of God.” As a “brisk talker” in religion, Bunyan drew near to participate in the conversation. However, this white washed tomb had never ran across Christians that were living and radiating with the joy that comes from being Spirit-filled Christians. As he listened to them, he thought to himself, “I heard, but I understood not; for they were far above, out of my reach.”
These poor ladies were indeed out of Bunyan’s reach. He said:
Their talk was about a new birth, the work of God on their hearts, also how they were convinced of their miserable state by nature; they talked how God had visited their souls with his love in the Lord Jesus, and with what words and promises they had been refreshed, comforted, and supported against the temptations of the devil.
Their manner of discourse centered on the new birth, conviction of sin, and a genuine encounter with God through faith in Jesus. Bunyan was ignorant of all of these.
He continues talking about the women saying, “They also discoursed of their own wretchedness of heart, of their unbelief; and did condemn, slight, and abhor their own righteousness, as filthy and insufficient to do them any good.” These ladies were condemning themselves and casting their hope on the Lord Jesus Christ and His righteousness. The self-righteous Bunyan was being made aware of the insufficiency of his own righteousness.
He then said, “Methought they spake as if joy did make them speak; they spake with such pleasantness of Scripture language, and with such appearance of grace in all they said that they were to me as if they had found a new world.” In truth, these ladies had found a new world. They had been transferred from Satan’s domain of darkness into the Kingdom of Christ.
As Bunyan listened to them, his own condition was rising to the top. These poor women were different than him. This led Bunyan to shake and tremble in fear. He said:
At this I felt my own heart began to shake, as mistrusting my condition to be nought; for I saw that in all my thoughts about religion and salvation, the new birth never did enter into my mind, neither knew I the comfort of the Word and promise, nor the deceitfulness and treachery of my own wicked heart.
This conviction led him to earnestly desire to be a godly man. He rid himself of his ungodly companions, and began to soak up the Scriptures. After overhearing these poor ladies conversation he said, “I read as I never did before; and especially the epistles of the apostle Paul were sweet and pleasant to me; and indeed I was then never out of the Bible, either by reading or meditation; still crying out to God that I might know the truth, and way to heaven and glory.” Many biographers mark this as Bunyan’s conversion moment, and there are many reasons that this moment seems to be the moment of his conversion.
Nevertheless, the reason for the difficulty in pointing to this as Bunyan’s conversion moment is because, shortly after this, he went through great bouts of depression that brought a lack of assurance. He simply did not believe himself to be saved. He said this in regard to conversion: “Gold! Could it have been gotten for gold, what could I have given for it! had I had a whole world it had all gone ten thousand times over for this, that my soul might have been in a converted state!” As you can see, there is nothing Bunyan wants more than conversion. He wants to be right with God. Yet, in Bunyan’s opinion, there is nothing that is so distant from him than conversion. He simply does not believe that he has crossed over from spiritual death to spiritual life. This is why pinpointing Bunyan’s conversion is so perplexing.
The second moment that I want to look at in Bunyan’s life is what many other people consider to be Bunyan’s conversion moment. As he was going through bouts of depression, lacking assurance, and crying out to God to have mercy on him, Bunyan had an encounter with God that profoundly impacted him. He said:
As I was passing in the field, and that too with some dashes on my conscience . . . suddenly this sentence fell upon my soul, Thy righteousness is in heaven: and methought withal, I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God’s right hand; there, I say, is my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was a-doing, God could not say of me, he lacks my righteousness, for that was just before him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse; for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself, the same yesterday and today for ever (Heb. 13:8).
Bunyan seems to realize for the first time that the very foundation of his right standing with God is Christ’s righteousness; not his good frame of heart or his bad frame of heart. Realizing this, Bunyan said, “Now did my chains fall from my legs indeed.” This led to a time of peace. His conscience was no longer being wounded left and right because his focus was on Christ. He said, “Here, therefore I lived for some time, very sweetly at peace with God through Christ; Oh, methought, Christ! Christ! there was nothing but Christ that was before my eyes.”
It is evident that this is a moment of utmost joy for Bunyan. This is why so many people point to this as the moment of his conversion. I do not have the authority to determine when this wretched tinker passed over from death to life; that prerogative belongs to God and God alone! All I can say is that these two moments are of utmost significance to Bunyan. These providential dealings where instrumental to his salvation. And as we read these accounts, we cannot help but have our affections moved by God’s dealings with this poor tinker.
From Tinker to Preacher
Within the town of Bedford, Bunyan was attending a small independent church that consisted of about 90 members. After the death of the pastor, John Gifford, in 1655, the church was looking for another pastor. In the meantime, Bunyan would fill the pulpit. As he filled the pulpit, the church began to increasingly notice Bunyan’s extraordinary giftedness. They desired Bunyan to become their pastor, and in 1656, they gathered together to vote him in. This call to be the pastor meant that he would regularly preach the word to the church, and that he would also gather the unconverted together within other villages in order to preach to them.
As Bunyan set out to do this, he had a remarkable impact. In his preaching he would do what we call law work. He would impress upon his listeners a sense of their own sin. He said:
In my preaching of the Word, I took special notice of this one thing, namely, that the Lord did lead me to begin where his Word begins with sinners; that is, to condemn all flesh, and to open and allege that the curse of God by the law, doth belong to and lay hold on all men as they come into the world, because of sin.
He would press upon the conscience a deep and terrorizing sense of the coming wrath of God, but then he would bring the good news of the gospel. He said that he “labored to hold forth Jesus Christ in all his offices, relations and benefits.” Heralding the word like this was something that Bunyan treasured. To give you an idea of this, here is how Bunyan reflected on preaching:
My heart hath been so wrapped up in the glory of this excellent work, that I counted myself more blessed and honored of God by this than if he had made me the emperor of the Christian world, or the lord of all the glory of the earth without it.
As you can see, the fact that God had called him to preach the Word was a great honor to him. It was an honor that he most certainly did not take lightly. Also, it was something that he was really good at too.
Just to give you a sense of the greatness of John Bunyan’s preaching, King Charles asked John Owen why he goes to listen to “that tinker” preach. John Owen, arguably one of the greatest puritan theologians, said, “I would willingly exchange my learning for the tinker’s power of touching men’s hearts.” In other words, John Bunyan may be an uneducated tinker, but the Spirit of God powerfully worked through his preaching ministry in order to bring men to Christ. This was to be a mark of his preaching ministry for the rest of his life.
From Preacher to Prisoner
When Bunyan was around thirty years old, his wife Mary passed away shortly after giving birth to their fourth child. Bunyan was left to raise their four children, one of whom was blind, by himself. This put great strains on him, and gave him great incentive to remarry.
In God’s providence, he was able to marry a woman named Elizabeth. Faith Cook puts it into perspective when she writes: “To take a man like John Bunyan and his four children was also to share his sufferings, but Elizabeth rose to the challenge.” Bunyan, now having a capable woman tending to the needs of his children, relentlessly continued his preaching ministry.
Sadly, after Bunyan had been married to Elizabeth for about a year, he was arrested and thrown into prison in 1660. He was not thrown into prison because he was rebellious. He was thrown into prison because he refused to stop preaching. Within England, Parliament had a growing hostility towards nonconformist (people that refused to conform to the Anglican Church) like Bunyan (Bunyan was an independent Baptist). Parliament implemented a series of acts that placed greater and greater legal pressure on nonconformist that refused to give up preaching to gathered assemblies.
Bunyan, in light of the call of God upon his life to preach the gospel, refused to give up the preaching ministry. In Bunyan’s words, “Come, be of good cheer, let us not be daunted; our cause is good, we need not be ashamed of it; to preach God’s word is so good a work that we shall be well rewarded if we suffer for that.” Needless to say, Bunyan continued to preach the Word of God, and it is the preaching of the Word that ultimately got Bunyan thrown into prison.
He would spend the next twelve years of his life, from 1660-1672, in prison. This meant that he was in prison from the age of thirty-two to the age of fourty-four; arguably some of the best years of an individuals life. He was separated from his family, and his wife Elizabeth was forced to raise four kids that were not even biologically hers. This was a time of great suffering. However, great suffering usually produced great spiritual maturity.
Bunyan in Prison
It was no trivial thing to be imprisoned in the 17th century. Prison brought great sufferings. Bunyan said, “I have suffered as much misery as soe dismal a place can be capable to inflict and soe am likely to perish without your Majestie’s further compassion and mercy towards me.” It is evident that Bunyan believed that, apart from God sustaining him within prison, he would not have made it.
And his sufferings were not merely physical. They were also emotional. To be stripped from your wife and four children, one of whom was blind, was devastating. Bunyan gives us a glimpse of this when he writes:
The parting with my Wife and poor children hath often been to me in this place as the pulling of the Flesh from my bones; and that not only because I am somewhat too fond of these great Mercies, but also because I should have often brought to my mind the many hardships, miseries and wants that my poor Family was like to meet with should I be taken from them, especially my poor blind child, who lay nearer my heart than all I had besides; O the thoughts of the hardship I thought my Blind one might go under, would break my heart to pieces.
I don’t think there is a more vivid picture of the inward pain that Bunyan was feeling than when he says that the departing with his wife and children has been to him like “the pulling of the Flesh from my bones.” His suffering meant they were suffering. This truth was almost too much for him to bear!
Thankfully, in the midst of all this, God dealt graciously with Bunyan. God began to illuminate Bunyan’s understanding of Scripture. While in prison Bunyan wrote, “Those Scriptures that I saw nothing in before are made in this place and state to shine upon me. Jesus Christ also was never more real and apparent than now; here I have seen him and felt him indeed.” While in the midst of affliction, Bunyan’s faith was strengthening.
While his faith was strengthening and his understanding of Scripture was deepening, Bunyan picked up a pen and wrote. He wrote poems, letters, books, and sermons. Sure, the authorities thought that imprisoning Bunyan might silence him, but they never considered what the Spirit-filled, uneducated tinker might do with his pen!
For example, as George Whitefield reflected on Pilgrim’s Progress, Bunyan’s most famous writing, he said, “It smells of prison. It was written when the author was confined to
Bedford jail. And ministers never write or preach so well as when under the cross: the Spirit of Christ and of Glory rests upon them.” This was the case with many of Bunyan’s works. Bunyan’s imprisonments did a great deal of harm to Satan’s domain of darkness because his imprisonments allowed him to take up a pen and write.
Bunyan in Bedford
Bunyan was well known by the time he was released from prison. Many people knew about his preaching, writings, and sufferings. This could have possibly afforded Bunyan the opportunity to go pastor in a more centralized location; maybe even in London. Bunyan would not do this though. He once again took up his pastorate in Bedford; that little village where he ran across those three to four poor women talking about the things of God when he was in his twenties. It is hard to overstate the love that Bunyan had for the people of Bedford. His life’s mission was to minister to them, and that is what he sought to continue to do when he was released from prison.
When Bunyan was nearing his sixtieth birthday, he set out to London on horseback in order to take a book manuscript to a publisher. On his trip, he was caught in a storm. Rather than pulling off the muddy road to take shelter, Bunyan continued to ride through the torrential downpour until he reached London. He was cold and shivering. His old and often sick body was failing. Soon a fever set in, and it was evident that Bunyan’s health was deteriorating rapidly.
On August 31, 1688, Bunyan passed away in London. He died apart from his wife Elizabeth, all his children, and his church in Bedford. But his last words were, “I go to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will, no doubt through the mediation of his blessed Son, receive me, though a sinner; where I hope we ere long shall meet and sing the new song and remain everlastingly happy, world without end.” This saint that was tormented with a lack of assurance early on in life, died with utmost assurance because he never took his eyes off of Christ.
Last year I wrote a blog on the seventh commandment that listed out its meaning as well as some applications that followed. Within this blog, I want to do something similar with the first commandment. Let’s begin looking at this famous commandment.
The Importance of this Commandment
The importance of this commandment cannot be overstated. Our God is an orderly God and, in his infinite wisdom, He placed this commandment at the beginning of the Ten Commandments. This led J.I. Packer to say that the first commandment is, “the fundamental commandment, first in importance as well as in order, and basic to every other. . . .true religion starts with accepting it as one’s rule of life.” And Packer is simply drawing from Thomas Watson who, when looking at the first commandment said, “This may well lead the van, and be set in the front of all the commandments, because it is the foundation of all true religion.”
In essence, Packer and Watson are saying that the essence of true religion is placing the God of Israel, the God of the Bible, as the exclusive object of our worship. If we make the God of the Bible anything less than the exclusive object of our worship, then we have swerved into a false religion.
These truths lead me to say this: in order for us to be obedient to any other commandment, we must be obedient to this commandment. Every other commandment must be obeyed because we have the God of the Bible as the sole object of our worship. To attempt to obey every other commandment without obeying the first commandment is considered sin, and is worthy of eternal condemnation. This is why this commandment is so very important.
The Uniqueness of this Commandment
As one looks at the gods of the ancient world, it is evident that none of them make the kind of assertion that our God makes in the first commandment. The God of the Bible is saying that you must worship Him and only Him. None of the other religions said anything like this. The cult of Baal, Asherah, and Molech never made such statements.
So when God said, “You shall have no other gods before me,” He was saying something quite unique. Ryken makes this even clearer when he says, “This command was without precedent. None of the other nations in the ancient world prohibited the worship of other gods. The God of Israel refused to acknowledge the legitimacy of any ofter God.” As you can tell, the God of the Bible is not a man pleaser! He will have you worship Him and Him alone because all the gods of the nations are false and illegitimate; completely unworthy of the worship of men and women made in he image of the one true God.
The Commandment in Light of the Trinity
We have briefly covered the importance and the uniqueness of the first commandment. Let’s now look at this commandment in light of the Trinity. This will be important when we start addressing what this commandment is requiring of us.
God has revealed Himself as the triune God. The One true God that gave us the first commandment eternally exists as three distinct persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Each person within the Trinity is fully God and is worthy of our worship, allegiance, and trust.
So, the Son is worthy of the same honor as the Father (Jn 5:23). The Spirit is worthy of the same honor as the Son. All three distinct persons of the Trinity, since they have the same essence, are worthy of the allegiance that the first commandment requires. And it is when our lives are dominated by our relationship with the one true triune God, that we are walking in faithfulness to the first commandment.
Now that we have a general overview of this commandment, let’s try to understand what the first commandment is forbidding us from doing, as well as what the first commandment is commanding us to do. In order to do this, we will use the two-sided rule.
The Two-Sided Rule
This is one of the interpretive methods we use in studying the Ten Commandments. This rule teaches that, when something is forbidden, the opposite is also commanded. It also teaches that, when something is commanded, the opposite is forbidden. In essence, there are always two sides to each commandment; a negative side and a positive side. We will begin with the negative side of this commandment.
The Negative Side
First, this commandment is forbidding us from worshipping any other so called “god.” When the Lord says, “You shall have no other gods before me,” He is forbidding us from worshipping any and all false gods. With that said, false gods come in many different shapes and sizes.
-Obvious False “Gods”
This is important to understand because some people merely think of false gods as statues of certain gods and goddesses, or they think about all the gods of other religions. Though the worship of these statues and gods of other religions is clearly forbidden by the first commandment, there are other false gods out there that are a little more subtle.
-Subtle False “Gods”
False gods that are a little more subtle are ones that have Christian terminology attached to them. For example, in 2 Corinthians 11:3-4, the Apostle Paul talks about Satan’s craftiness in deceiving people. One way he deceives people is by placing a different Jesus out there than the Jesus the apostles were preaching about.
Also, in Galatians 1:7, Paul admonished the Galatians for turning to a different gospel than the one he originally preached to them. These false teachers in the region of Galatia are using Christian terminology, but they are preaching and teaching about a different gospel than the one handed down by the apostles. And the first commandment is forbidding us from worshipping these different “Jesuses” and different “gospels.”
This means that the first commandment is forbidding us from worshipping the Jesus of the Jehovah witnesses. They do not believe in the Trinity, that Jesus is God, or that Jesus resurrected bodily from the grave. They preach a distorted gospel with a distorted Jesus.
This also means that the first commandment is forbidding us from worshipping the Jesus of the Mormons. They believe that god used to be a man and that, after obedience to the law, was eventually elevated to a god. They believe that god had sex with his goddess wife and they produced offspring (Jesus and Lucifer). Jesus obeyed god’s laws and became a god himself. This is also a distorted gospel with a different Jesus.
This also means that the first commandment is forbidding us from worshipping the Jesus of the prosperity gospel. The prosperity gospel preaches that the Abrahamic covenant brings material wealth, that prayer forces God’s hand, that faith is not a gift from God, and that Jesus’ atonement brings physical healing and financial prosperity. As Jones states, “In light of Scripture, the prosperity gospel is fundamentally flawed. At bottom, it is a false gospel because its faulty view of the relationship of God and man.” The Jesus of the prosperity gospel is different than the one recorded in the gospels and preached by the apostles.
And lastly, for subtle false gods, the first commandment is also forbidding us from worshipping the Jesus of theological liberalism. The Jesus of theological liberalism is not God over all, a being most glorious and worthy of our exclusive allegiance. Rather, he is merely a moral example; a paragon of virtue. His death was not substitutionary. It did not accomplish anything. It merely teaches and models what it means to be sacrificial and to look after the interests of others. Simply put, the god of theological liberalism is not the God of the Bible.
-The “God” of the Muslims or Jews
I would also say that worshipping the god of the Muslims or the Jews is a breaking of the first commandment. Sure, both Muslims and Jews say that they worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but as Christians we must reiterate that they are worshipping a god other than the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. When you look at the Bible, it is clear that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob has revealed Himself as the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. And Jesus clearly teaches that to dishonor the Son is to dishonor the Father (Jn 5:23). Therefore, both Muslims and Jews are worshipping a false god, and not the God of the Bible. They are worshipping a god that is other than the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The last category that I want to hone in on when it comes to things forbidden by the first commandment is god substitutes. God substitutes do not present themselves as gods, but we end up relying, trusting, and worshipping them as though they were gods. At the outset, let me just say that these are the predominant idols that gain our allegiance and affection in the west.
A god substitute can be strength (Hab 1:11), money (Job 31:24; Dan 5:23; Mt 6:24), possessions (Lk 12:16-21), pleasure (1 Tim 3:4), or entertainment. The scripture clearly teaches that our sin nature delights in elevating these things to unhealthy places in our heart. When we do this, we then trust and rely on these god substitutes as though they were the one true God. When we do this, we are breaking the first commandment.
The Positive Side
Now that we are done with the negative side of this commandment (looking at what this commandment is forbidding us from doing), let’s look at the positive side (what this commandment is positively commanding us to do). This will be much shorter so bear with me!
The first commandment is positively commanding us to place our allegiance, affections, and love on God and God alone. God is to be the chief object of our love. Our loyalty is to be to Him and Him alone. I love how one author put it when he said, “The commandment calls for a style of life dominated by a relationship with God….the relationship to one God must dominate every sphere of life, whether the life of action, of thought, or of emotion.” So the first commandment is commanding us to have a life that is dominated by our relationship with the triune God of the Bible.
This means that our entire lives are to be consecrated to the Lord; completely set apart for the purposes of glorifying and magnifying Him. Like Jesus, we should seek to be obedient to the Lord in every sphere of life: thoughts, actions, motives, and words. When we eat and drink, we are to do so to the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31). When we work, we are to work heartily as for the Lord (Col 3:23). While we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord (Rom 14:8). Our entire life is to be dominated by our relationship with the one true God that has eternally existed as three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is when we are doing this that we are walking in obedience to the first commandment.
With that said, it is evident that there is no commandment that we break more often than the first commandment. As a matter of fact, anytime we break any other God given commandment, the root of our sinful disobedience can ultimately be found in a breach of the first commandment. It is when God is not the supreme object of our affections that we dishonor our parents, murder, commit adultery, steal, or covet our neighbor’s wife and possessions. So, though this commandment comes first and is of utmost importance, there is no commandment that we have violated more frequently than this one.
And the Bible teaches that only a curse awaits those who violate God’s law. When we commit cosmic treason by elevating other gods and god substitutes to the place of Almighty God, we deserve everlasting torment in the lake of fire. However, the good news of the gospel is that, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Gal 3:13).
After Christ faithfully obeyed the first commandment throughout his life, he hung on a tree; bearing our violations of the first commandment and suffering under the lawbreakers curse. God the Father willed for Jesus, his beloved Son, to die this way so that violators of the first commandment might be redeemed and restored to a proper relationship with Him. This is the hope of the Gospel, and this ought to lead us to praise and glorify our Savior, who loved us and gave himself for us! Indeed, this ought to lead us to joyfully and wholeheartedly live a life that is dominated by our relationship with the God that saved us by His grace.
COVID-19 has confined many of us to our homes as we practice social distancing. Our objective in social distancing is to limit the amount of contact we have with people in order to stop the transmission of this virus to others. This means that many junior high, high school, and college students are not busy with school and extracurriculars. Rather, they are at home with limited social interactions and limited things to do. This presents us with grave spiritual vulnerability.
One reason this places many of us in a vulnerable situation is because, ever since the fall of man in Genesis 3, many of our God given longings are inclined towards heinous sins due to the sin nature we inherited from Adam. For example, we have a God given longing for seeking praise, but we are often tempted to seek praise from men and women rather than praise from God.
And, for our purposes in this blog, three God given longings that we have are:
social interactions with the opposite sex,
sexual attraction to the opposite sex,
and sexual interactions with the opposite sex.
These are all God given desires that are to lead us to pursue a member of the opposite sex in a God honoring way so that we can pursue them in marriage in order to have an unique and special companionship and intimacy that God specifically and exclusively reserved for the marital union. This is how God created us, and it is beautiful.
However, because of our sin natures, we use these God given desires in corrupt and immoral ways. One such way is through the use of pornography. We take to the web to find “intimacy” that doesn’t really involve true intimacy. We go to our browsers to have an orgasm without companionship. This is the way so many individuals use these God given desires in heinous and deplorable ways. And sadly, the ruling power over the porn industry, Satan, is aware of this.
Satan Capitalizes On Our Spiritual Vulnerability
Seeing an opportunity to capitalize on our sinful inclinations to use our God given desires in terribly immoral ways, porn outlets are giving away free subscriptions during our time of social distancing. Porn outlets are opening up the dark chambers of their nearly limitless illicit videos and letting folks in to find “relief.” They are aware that we, as people, desire intimacy and companionship, so they are going to deceptively offer it through hours upon hours of fake intimacy.
And just to show you how successful Satan has been in his endeavor to draw the sin nature in man to commit sexually heinous sins via the internet, take a look at this chart:
The chart above shows the percent change in traffic day to day. Just think about this; Pornhub traffic was up .1% on February 25, 2020. You can see how this traffic began to significantly increase day after day as more and more people were forced inside. Traffic peaked, according to the chart, at 11.6% on March 17, 2020, after free subscriptions were offered. This is a significant increase in the use of pornography. The COVID-19 global pandemic that brings physical death is leading to a porn pandemic that brings spiritual death. This is a tragedy that we must be aware of.
A Warning to Christians
Christians, though our sin nature no longer reigns, it does remain. In union with Christ, our sin nature has been crucified. However, that crucified sin nature rears its head everyday seeking to wreak havoc in our lives. It seeks to keep us from doing what we know we ought to do as believers in Christ.
With this in mind, you must remain awake and alert during this time of social distancing (1 Peter 5:8). Do what needs to be done in order to crucify the flesh with its hideous sexual passions (Galatians 5:14). Take great measures that will keep you from gratifying the flesh with its immoral desires (Matthew 5:27-31; Galatians 5:16). And, by doing whatever it takes, flee this type of sexual sin (1 Corinthians 6:18).
Also, get educated on how pornography greatly affects the brain by reading helpful articles. Think through all the different ways you actually sin against God when you view pornography. In one helpful article, a Christian blogger named Challies mentioned these eight ways we sin against God when we view pornography:
We commit the sin of idolatry
Idolatry is seeking satisfaction and joy in something other than God. As you view pornography, you are seeking satisfaction and joy in it rather than the one true God.
We commit the sin of adultery
Jesus said that looking at a woman with lustful intent is adultery. The sheer purpose of pornography is to illicit lust in those who are consuming it. Thus, if you are consuming pornography, you are committing the sin of adultery.
We commit the sin of deceit
When we sin we feel shame. When we feel shame we hide sin. This has been happening since the garden of Eden. And, if you are viewing pornography, you will inevitably feel shame. And once you feel shame, you will hide your sin. You’ll erase your browsing history, and you’ll refuse to confess it to friends and family that can help. This is deceitful.
We commit the sin of theft
“60 percent of all illegal downloads are of pornographic content” (Challies). This means that, as you download more and more pornography, are likely downloading material that has been stolen.
We commit the sin of greed
Greedy people seek to take advantage of other people for their own gain. When we view pornography, we are taking advantage of a woman or man that is made in the image of God for our own sinful gain. We are using that individual in a very shameful way for the express purpose of reaching sexual climax.
We commit the sin of sloth
Paul tells us that we are to make the best use of our time (Ephesians 5:15-16). We are to use the limited time we have here for God honoring purposes. When we view pornography, we are using our limited time in a wasteful and God dishonoring way. This is the worst kind of sloth.
We commit the sin of sexual assault
“A person who drives a getaway car for a band of bank robbers will rightly be charged with murder for anyone who is killed in committing the crime. The person who voluntarily watches sexual assault for the purposes of titillation is rightly guilty of that sexual assault. And a nauseating quantity of pornography is violent in nature” (Challies).
We commit the sin of ignoring the Spirit
When Paul writes about the importance of fleeing sexual sin and impurity he says, “For God has not called you for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you” (1 Thessalonians 4:6). To ignore the warnings the Holy Spirit gives before you view pornography, and even while you are viewing pornography, is a sin against God.
As a child of God, it should grieve us if we sin against our Heavenly Father in these ways! So resolve, by the power of the Spirit, to refuse to sin in these ways by staying as far away from pornography as possible.
As you can see, pornography costs a great deal. Most people vastly underestimate this truth! Meditate on the costs of committing such a sin and be renewed in your zeal to fight it.
And lastly, think through the warnings of Scripture. Both the Old Testament and the New Testament have significant warnings against sexual sin. Proverbs tells us that sexual sin leads to death (Proverbs 5:5-6). The New Testament shouts that those who are sexually immoral will not inherit the kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Ephesians 5:3-5; Galatians 5:19-21). With these warnings in mind, wage war against the sin of viewing pornography like it is seeking to strip you of the salvation that is offered in Christ; for that is exactly what it is seeking to do!
A Warning to Parents
Parents are entrusted with the spiritual well-being of their children. In light of this, parents need to be diligent in protecting their children from the soul ravaging nature of pornography. So here are some things you need to know as a parent (these stats are from a Barna survey conducted from 2014-2016, and the use of pornography has only increased since then):
The following percentages of men say they view pornography at least once a month: 79% of 18-30 year olds; 67% of 31-49 year olds; 49% of 50-68 year olds.
The following percentages of men say they view pornography at least several times a week: 63% of 18-30 year olds; 38% of 31-49 year olds; 25% of 50-68 year olds.
The following percentages of women say they view pornography at least once a month: 76% of 18-30 year olds; 16% of 31-49 year olds; 4% of 50-68 year olds.
The following percentages of women say they view pornography at least several times a week: 21% of 18-30 year olds; 5% of 31-49 year olds; 0% of 50-68 year olds.
55% of married men say they watch porn at least once a month, compared to 70% of unmarried men.
25% of married women say they watch porn at least once a month, compared to 16% of unmarried women.
These stats say a lot of things, but the one thing I want you to think through is the use of pornography amongst both men and women. Pornography is no longer a “male” thing to do. An increasing number of women are viewing pornography as well. In light of this, you need to be protecting ALL of your children from pornography. It would be wise to talk to your children about these things. Chances are, if they are over the age of 11-12, they have been exposed to pornography. In regard to this, Challies said:
At age 11, the average child has already been exposed to explicit pornographic content through the internet. 93% of boys and 62% of girls are exposed to internet-based pornography during their adolescent years and 22% of the vast quantities of porn consumed by people aged under 18 is consumed by those aged less than 10. Significance: Parents are nothing short of negligent if they take no steps to protect their children from being exposed to pornography.
Parents must be the front lines of defense when it comes to guarding their children’s souls against pornography. This is especially the case right now during this global pandemic.
A Final Word
Blogs like this are never pleasant to read. They turn the stomach and overwhelm us with sorrow. Yet, it is necessary to discuss these things because this is reality. So, just to offer some comfort, I want to give some words of encouragement.
First, though our sins are like scarlet, in Christ, they have been washed white as snow. Though we will have to give an account of our lives (every click on pornography) on judgment day, we ultimately will not be condemned if we are in Christ. This is the good news of the gospel. Christ bore our sin in his body on the cross. Praise God!
Second, a Spirit dwelt believer can put any sin to death. This is the beauty of the indwelling Spirit. He enables us to die to sin and to live to the glory of God. He gives us the power to say no to pornography and yes to righteousness.
Third, the throne of grace is called the throne of grace for a reason. We, as children of God, can approach our Heavenly Father to receive grace and mercy in a time of need. If you fall into the sin of viewing pornography, do not recoil away from the Lord. Flee to his throne to receive grace and mercy.
Fourth, if you are a parent, you will be held accountable for how you shepherd your children. Ultimately though, your children will be responsible for their own sins. Do what you can to protect them spiritually (there are a lot of helpful resources our there to protect your children by the way) and then entrust them to God.
This blog is entirely too long so this is where I am going to end. I do hope and pray that this will be helpful in many people putting the sin of viewing pornography to death!
Within the Christian life, God has ordained that certain disciplines, when done in faith, will further our sanctification and give us ever increasing joy and satisfaction in Christ. Here are some of those disciplines:
Bible Intake (Reading, Meditating, Memorizing, & Listening to the Bible)
Preaching & Teaching
Prayer (Personal Prayer & Corporate Prayer)
Worship (Personal Worship & Corporate Worship)
Fasting (Personal Fasting & Corporate Fasting)
Evangelism & Missions
Giving (To the Ministries of the Church, the Needy, & Missions)
Ordinances (Baptism & the Lord’s Supper)
As we discipline ourselves, in faith, to make use of these disciplines, we will progressively be conformed into the image of Jesus and find satisfaction in Jesus.
COVID-19 Presents Some Problems
With one cursory reading through the New Testament, you will realize that God’s Plan-A for spiritual growth and satisfaction in Christ is the local church. Most of the godly disciplines mentioned above take place in the local church:
Listening to the Word
Preaching & Teaching
This is why, when you see a Christian that is not faithfully involved in the life of a local church, they are spiritually immature and find very little satisfaction in Jesus. They are neglecting God’s Plan-A for spiritual growth and satisfaction in Jesus!
With that said, here is the problem that COVID-19 presents: Most churches, out of love for God and love for neighbor, are canceling services. These cancelations could last a couple weeks or they could possibly last for months. Nobody is really sure in light of the volatility of the situation. This means that most Christians are not going to be able to faithfully participate in the life of the local church. Thus, Christians are not going to be able to participate in God’s Plan-A for christian maturity and satisfaction in Christ.
A Spiritual Care Package
With this in mind, I thought it would be helpful to create a spiritual care package that God might use to nourish our souls. So, rather than languishing spiritually during this time, this care package is meant to sustain your joy, contentment, and satisfaction in Christ. This care package will contain advise as well as specific recommendations.
First, consistently intake the Bible. At a time like this, it is tempting to have your face glued to your phone to catch the latest news article, tweet, or Facebook post about COVID-19. Resist that temptation and seek the Lord. Read through whole books of the Bible. Meditate on comforting truths from the Bible. Memorize sections of the Bible that you can share with others. Bible intake is, without a doubt, the chief means that God uses to both mature and satisfy His people.
Second, pray regularly.Make a weekly prayer guide to strategically pray for the following things:
those at high-risk in your local church body,
those that may feel lonely,
those entrusted to lead the church through this trying time,
those in your community,
those working in medical facilities,
those entrusted to lead our country,
those missionaries all over the world,
As you do this, you will bear the burdens of others. You will be petitioning a great King that has limitless resources to act on behalf of others!
Third, listen to good preaching. I do have one caveat here. Though there are a variety of godly pastors out there that are gifted preachers and teachers, be sure to listen to the specific pastor that God has entrusted to the care of your soul. He knows, loves, and cares for you a great deal. He is thinking about how to specifically shepherd you during this time. So listen to him. With that caveat out the way, here are some good sermons that have made a profound impact on Kahlie (my wife) and I personally:
Fourth, read good books written by good teachers.God has gifted the universal church with many godly men and women throughout the centuries that are gifted with writing. God has given them the ability to put pen to paper (or finger to keyboard) to pump out helpful literature for the church. Here are some books, none of which are academic, that have been helpful or encouraging in Kahlie and I’s life:
Fifth, listen and sing some hymns that were penned in troubled times throughout history. Matt Merker actually published an article of 25 hymns to sing. Each hymn has a link that takes you to a website where you can read the lyrics as well as listen to the song. Click on this link and find some hymns to joyfully sing to the Lord.
Sixth, serve the local church and the surrounding community. A global pandemic does not just hinder us as individuals. It hinders those around us. It hinders fellow members in our local church as well as fellow individuals in our community. Health care workers get exhausted, small business owners get anxious, and the elderly get concerned. In light of this, we are presented with some opportunities to serve. Here are some opportunities that I have been thinking through:
Offer to go get groceries for the elderly in your church
Offer to go get prescription medicine for the elderly in your church
Adopt a widow in your church and check up on her every 2-3 days
Give generously toward the benevolence fund at your local church
Order carry-out food or gift cards from local businesses in your area
Send encouraging texts or emails to those in your Sunday school class
Thank those who work in health care, the police department, grocery stores, etc.
Joy in Christ in the Midst of COVID-19
I am confident that if you, in faith, make use of this spiritual care package, then you will find joy and satisfaction in Jesus. In the midst of all the turmoil and volatility, you will be a well of living water that benefits and nourishes other people in these dark days.