Joey Parker

About Joey Parker

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Joey lives in Dayton, Ohio with his wife Stefanie and their three children (Lily, Aiden, & Samuel). He is currently pursuing ACBC Biblical Counseling Certification. He is a lover of Christian literature, international food, Duke Basketball, and sci-fi movies!



Pride and Humility at War Book Review

Pride and Humility at War Book Review

Pride and Humility at War

by J. Lanier Burns
Length: Approximately 7 hours. To read (217 pages).
TCB Rating:
four-stars
Buy on Amazon

Book Overview

In Pride and Humility at War J. Lanier Burns provides a biblical-theological study of pride and humility from Scripture. Before I read this book I had no doubts that pride was a great sin that needed to be put to death and that humility was a Christ-like characteristic that Christians should desire to cultivate in their lives. What stood out to me in Pride and Humility at War was how prevalent these two traits are throughout Scripture and as the title suggest, are continually at war with one another. I have found this to be true in my own life and agree with Burns when he states that, “all of my life I have been taught that ‘man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever’ (true humility). But all my life I have observed that we live for greater profits and our own pleasure until we die (true pride).” I was not taught this my whole life, as I became a Christian later in life, but the observation is still the same. There is a battle that often takes place for self-autonomy, self-sufficiency, and self-love, all of which run in opposition to true humility. Pride and Humility at War takes the reader on a biblical-theological survey of Scripture to compare these two character traits.

Who should read this?

My guess is that most, if not all, Christians struggle with pride in some form. It may not be a full-blown, haughty spirit that looks down on everyone, but it still may present itself in very subtle ways. For this reason, I think that this book would be an excellent resource for any Christian who desires to study pride and humility from a biblical-theological perspective.

Pride anPride and Humility at War Book Review 1d Humility at War Book Review 1

SUMMARY

Pride and Humility at War examines the topics of pride and humility in 5 sections of Scripture: the Pentateuch, Wisdom Literature, the Prophets, the Gospels, and in Paul’s Epistles. Burns rightly begins in the garden showing how Adam and Eve lost this battle of self-autonomous pride and brought the devastating consequences of life outside of God’s rule.

He notes that “when the first couple stepped out of the simplicity of obedience to God, possessing forbidden knowledge, they initiated an absurd movement, which has ever since imagined that people could do whatever they wanted apart from God without life-threatening consequences.”

As the title suggests, Burns draws out examples of pride and humility in Scripture and often sets them up in contrast for the reader to note the clear difference. One example from the Pentateuch is the contrast between those involved in the building of the tower at Babel and Abraham. At Babel, the focus was on making a name for themselves instead of being “God’s ambassadors.”

As Burns states, “the city was to be a sign of their aggressive self-reliance, and the tower symbolized their will to fame.” This is contrasted with Abraham, who waited so long for an heir who would carry on his name and was then directed by God to sacrifice his only son. Obeying God at this point is a picture of humility and trust in God. Burns states this well when he says, “when God called Abraham to willingly return the heir of the promises to the Giver, the patriarch’s obedience exemplified the worship of a humble heart.”

The contrast is clear: Biblical pride is aggression against God (or disobedience, such as Cain and the settlers at Babel), while humility is ambition for God’s glory (or serving him like the families of Enoch, Noah, and Abraham).

The same comparison can be seen as the author contrasts pride and humility through Job, the Psalms, and Proverbs. Job shows us that part of humility will be submitting to God’s wisdom even when difficult circumstances arise in our lives. Often times the proud are pictured in the Psalms as having wealth and worldly success which sometimes baffles the psalmists.

God reminds us that the wicked/prideful will ultimately stand before God and his servants should remain humble in their submission to him. Burns tour of the prophets notes how God brings down proud rulers and that in their pride they are not able to please God.

As the page turns to the New Testament the gospels present a picture of what true humility looks like. Humility in the gospels is “being willing to become childlike under God, being willing to be last for God, being willing to serve all people for God, and being willing to follow Christ on the road to Calvary.”  These characteristics of humility mark greatness in God’s kingdom and stand in direct opposition to a life marked by pride.

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he encourages them to follow the example of humility that Christ has set (Phil. 2:5-11). Burns is helpful here in showing the contrast between pride and humility with the Philippian church as well as with the church at Corinth. Burns adds helpful summarizing thoughts in the final chapter that really bring each of the five sections together.

He notes that both pride and humility will be reflected in a persons character and actions. One of the places that this works itself out for Christians is in the local church. As Burns rightly states, “humility of mind, a Christ-centered attitude, is biblically imperative for unity in the church.” One other observation that I found helpful is that pride is by nature competitive. Pride seeks to be first and wants to be recognized above others. It is antithetical to humility and to a Christ-like character.

ANALYSIS

Personal Perspective:

Personally, I found the study in this book to be extremely edifying. Any time that I can study a topic and work through how it is presented in the Scriptures I know that I will gain understanding. That was certainly the case with Pride and Humility at War. As Burns worked his way through Scripture the need to cultivate humility and mortify pride in my own life became clear.

It was also clear that this has been a battle since the fall, and so it isn’t one that should catch us by surprise. But, through Christ and the power of the Spirit the characteristics of the humble, that were presented in this book, can be mine as well.

CONCLUSION

Pride and Humility at War is an excellent biblical-theological survey of these to attitudes of the heart that will be of great benefit to all who read it. As noted above, this would be a wonderful book for any Christian to study. Burns has provided questions at the end of each chapter that could be used for personal reflection or a group study.

I think this book could be particularly useful for Elders or other church leaders to study together as often times it is easy to become proud when in a position of leadership. Pride and Humility at War is a well written, edifying book that I will definitely recommend to others.

four-stars
By | 2018-07-02T00:02:03+00:00 July 3rd, 2018|

Seven Arrows Book Review

Seven Arrows Book Review

Seven Arrows

by Donny Mathis, Matt Rogers
Length: Approximately 9 hours. To read (276 pages).
TCB Rating:
five-stars
Buy on Amazon

Book Overview

Seven Arrows is a book that is aimed to help Christians read their Bibles better. The Bible is God’s revealed word to his people and we should long to understand it, because in understanding Scripture we come to know God more, and become transformed by it. In Seven Arrows Rogers & Mathis guide readers through seven questions to ask when reading Scripture to come to a proper understanding of the passage they are reading. The goal of Seven Arrows is “to provide a practical tool to aid the average Christian, who has not had formal theological training, in discovering the word of God, feasting on its riches, and applying it to his or her life.”

Who should read this?

Any Christian would profit greatly from this book. Seven Arrows provides a solid hermeneutic in a package that is not daunting. Rogers & Mathis have not written a textbook for Bible college or seminary, but rather for all church members. That is not to say that those who teach could not profit greatly from this book (I think that they would) but the target audience really spans the entire church, not just a select few.

SUMMARY

After an introductory chapter covering the importance of the Bible to the life of a believer, Seven Arrows is neatly divided into 7 chapters, one for each question. In these chapters, Rogers & Mathis present and explain 7 questions to ask when reading any passage of Scripture. They explain why these questions should be asked as well as providing examples along the way to guide the reader.

Rogers & Mathis provide a compelling reason for why this book was written in their introductory chapter. They state, “Overstating the importance of the word of God in the life of the Christian is impossible. A direct correlation exists between a person’s intake of the Scripture and his conformity to Christ….There are no shortcuts, nor alternative methods for transformation; therefore, God’s people must learn to feast on his word.” Since God desires his people to be transformed to look more like Christ then we must spend time in his Word learning who he is and what he has done for us.  

As the authors point out, there is no magic zap for transformation in the Christian life. Rather, change and growth come through the ordinary means of grace that God provides to his people, one of those means being the study of Scripture.

After laying a foundation in the introductory chapter Rogers & Mathis spend time introducing and developing each arrow. I briefly want to walk through these seven arrows to help readers understand what they can expect from the book.

Arrow 1: What Does this Passage Say?

This arrow is focused on determining the main point that the author is seeking to communicate in a passage of Scripture. The goal that Rogers & Mathis have is for readers to “slow down our pace of reading and to pay attention to the ways the biblical authors have constructed passages to convey the main point they were making.” This is accomplished by examining the genre, literary style, and techniques (i.e. repetition, figures of speech, lists, tone) of the portion of Scripture being read/studied.

Arrow 2: What Did this Passage Mean to its Original Audience?

Here the authors guide the reader to look back into the original context in which the passage was written to gain an understanding of what the author is saying. While sometimes the biblical authors will provide helpful contextual clues for us, this arrow will often benefit from additional “tools.” The first tool that the authors mention is cross-references.

Most Bibles come with a center-column or footnote section where cross-references for passages will be listed. The authors rightly point the reader to these as they are incredibly beneficial in gaining a better understanding of the author’s words and context. This arrow also guides the reader to use maps, Bible dictionaries, surveys of the Old and New Testament, and commentaries. All of these tools will prove to be beneficial to the reader and the authors do a fine job of introducing these tools in this chapter (an additional note on this follows in this review).

Arrow 3: What Does this Passage Tell Us about God?

In introducing this arrow the authors hit on what may be the greatest hindrance to understanding the Bible in our current culture: we are a self-oriented people and read the Bible first and foremost to find out what it says about me.

As Rogers & Mathis state, “God is the main focus of the Scriptures. You are not the point of the Bible. God is. Before we understand what the Bible says about man (Arrow 4), we must observe what it tells us about God (Arrow 3).” To miss God in any passage of Scripture is to read it incorrectly. Or “your task is first to read every story to determine what the passage says and what it meant to its original audience. If your answers to those questions do not include something about the triune God, you probably need to aim again.”

This is a helpful statement that shows how these arrows are meant to build on and work with each other to guide the reader into a proper interpretation and understanding of Scripture.

Arrow 4: What Does this Passage Tell Us about Man?

This arrow focuses on 4 ways that the Bible discusses man. They are Image Bearers, Rebels, Redeemed, and Ambassadors. Instead of trying to fit ourselves into each story this arrow points the reader to what a text says about people in general and how that applies to us individually as well.

These four areas actually mirror four areas in relation to God that the authors discussed in the previous chapter. This is helpful because it reminds us that our identity flows from God and who he is, rather than just reading ourselves into a text and seeking to follow a character’s moral example. The latter will cause all sorts of confusion. The former will help readers to understand how the Bible speaks about man in relation to God, which should bring with it proper interpretation and application.  

Arrow 5: What Does this Passage Demand of Me?

Proper interpretation and understanding of Scripture must bring with it proper application. That is the focus of this chapter. The authors nail this in the opening of the chapter when they say:

“We must not approach the Bible like a stale, academic resource designed to bolster our knowledge about God for the sake of information alone. Rather, we should humbly allow the truths of Scripture to propel active obedience in a life of worship.”

Arrow 6: How Does this Passage Change the Way I Relate to People?

If you are a Christian you should be a member of a local church. You should also want to relate to the world in such a way that brings honor to Christ. Scripture instructs us in both of these relationships and this chapter guides the reader into examining the text for how we should interact with others. As Rogers & Mathis say, “the word of God should not be read or obeyed in isolation. Throughout salvation history, God has called a community to himself – not simply isolated individuals.”

This arrow focuses on how we can understand and apply the Bible to three relationships: our families, our churches, and our relationships with everyone else outside of the church.

Arrow 7: What Does this Passage Prompt Me to Pray?

This chapter is focused on how we should respond back to God about what we have been reading or studying in our Bible. The authors use this chapter to guide the reader into what it looks like to pray through Scripture. I often find that praying Scripture back to God encourages me and helps me to grow in my knowledge and trust in God. In an age where individualism is king, it is so easy for us to forget about our second by second dependence on God. This arrow helps us to reorient our focus from ourselves onto our God.

ANALYSIS

Personal Perspective:

Years ago I came across an article on The Gospel Coalition’s website1https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/trevin-wax/7-arrows-for-bible-reading/ that provided a brief introduction to the seven arrows. I used those questions, and article, in a teen class that I was teaching to help them in their Bible study. My wife has also introduced these questions to a ladies group that she was leading. I think they proved to be helpful in both settings, but I also felt that it would be helpful if these seven arrows were expanded on and explained more (in written form). When I found out that Seven Arrows became a book I was thrilled to receive a copy.

Personally, I love reading theological and academic works, so reading a seminary level book on hermeneutics is actually fun for me, but I know that isn’t the case for everyone. Seven Arrows provides me with a helpful book on reading and understanding Scripture that I can recommend to any Christian and I know that it won’t come across as a daunting textbook and yet can greatly help them in their study of Scripture.

Strengths:

Seven Arrows brings solid biblical hermeneutics to the entire church. It provides readers with a helpful guide to asking questions of any text so that they can come to know God more and worship him better. This is truly a commendable work because of this. I own quite a few books on hermeneutics, and while I have profited greatly from most of them, they aren’t books that I would give out to practically any Christian.

Seven Arrows is that book. It would be great for pastors to give out to all who teach in their church and to use in the discipleship of new/younger believers or for that matter any believer who has never formed the habit of regular Bible study.

Weaknesses:

I appreciated the authors caution on commentary use and not letting it “become a substitute for reading God’s Word.” However, I would have liked to see them recommend a handful of commentaries that would be helpful for a broad range of people (as they did with other resources). I immediately thought of The Bible Speaks Today and The Christ-Centered Exposition Commentary as two sets that would be helpful, and not intimidating to most readers.  

Also, the last section of the book (Putting It All Together) provides a few examples of how the seven arrows work in a text. I would have liked to see this section expanded a bit, perhaps into an appendix. Aside from these two very minor points, I felt that Seven Arrows accomplished the task it set out to “serve the church in reading the Bible well.”

CONCLUSION

As Christians, we ought to have a hunger for God’s Word. Studying it to know him better should be something that we delight in. We should recognize the gift that Scripture is to us. As Rogers & Mathis state, “God did not have to speak. He did not have to reveal himself. And He did not have to reveal himself in a way that his created beings could understand. Think for a moment about the stunning magnitude of this claim: the glorious God of the universe chose to reveal himself to his people by his word. Our frail, and fallen minds would be entirely incapable of knowing God had he not revealed himself to us.”

Seven Arrows is an excellent book written for the whole church to guide us into a better understanding and application of God’s Word. It is an excellent tool for the church and would be a benefit to anyone who reads it.

five-stars
By | 2018-05-10T22:07:07+00:00 May 10th, 2018|

Discovering the Joy of a Clear Conscience Book Review

Discovering the Joy of a Clear Conscience Book Review

Discovering the Joy of a Clear Conscience

by Christopher Ash
Length: Approximately 7 hours. To read (208 pages)
TCB Rating:
five-stars
Buy on Amazon

Book Overview

Discovering the Joy of a Clear Conscience is about “the joy of a clear conscience in every day of living and in the day of death.” Christopher Ash helps the reader understand what a clear conscience is by defining conscience, examining the conscience from multiple angles, and guiding the reader to living with a clear conscience before God and man through the power of the gospel.

Who should read this?

This book is written for all Christians. The conscience is a topic that has not been explored and written on much in contemporary Christian literature making this book a pretty unique offering. Ash writes with great clarity and will surely guide the reader to a better, biblical understanding of the conscience.

Discovering the Joy of a Clear Conscience 1

SUMMARY

The How:

In Discovering the Joy of a Clear Conscience Christopher Ash begins by working through a definition of conscience. He states that “conscience makes me aware in my mind that this is right and that is wrong. Conscience takes the universal principles of right and wrong that I know, and applies them to my particular circumstances…..[conscience makes] me feel that my knowledge of right and wrong is shared. In particular, I feel that it is shared with God: I know this particular thing would be wrong, and God knows that I know it would be wrong. This gives to my conscience a particular force.

The Bible uses it in this sense, as something God has placed within human beings to give them a sense of right and wrong.” Working off of this definition Ash spends the majority of the remainder of the book examining different consciences that we may have. They are the guilty conscience, the awakened conscience, the hardened conscience, the cleansed conscience, the calibrated conscience, and the clear conscience.

The Why:

Many of us are probably familiar with these words from Martin Luther: “Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason, my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience would be neither right nor safe.” While much has been written about Luther over the last 500 years, and rightly so, there hasn’t been a whole lot of treatment on the conscience, outside of the Puritans, and certainly not a lot of contemporary writings on the subject.

Ash states a very simple goal for the book, that is that the reader would know “about the joy of a clear conscience in every day of living and in the day of death.”  These two reasons: limited contemporary writings on the subject of conscience, and a desire for believers to know the joy of a clear conscience prove to be worthy reasons for why this book is an important work.

The What:

As mentioned above Ash begins by working through a definition of conscience. His definition is worth repeating as it frames the rest of the book. He states that “conscience makes me aware in my mind that this is right and that is wrong. Conscience takes the universal principles of right and wrong that I know, and applies them to my particular circumstances…..[conscience makes] me feel that my knowledge of right and wrong is shared. In particular, I feel that it is shared with God: I know this particular thing would be wrong, and God knows that I know it would be wrong.

This gives to my conscience a particular force. The Bible uses it in this sense, as something God has placed within human beings to give them a sense of right and wrong.” This definition is pretty straightforward, even if we don’t fully understand how our conscience works, our conscience takes universal standards of right and wrong and tries to move us towards the right and away from the wrong. This often creates an inner war where it feels as if we are battling against ourselves. This is why Ash calls the conscience “a disloyal part of my own army, ready to fight against me when it disagrees with me and to make my life miserable when I disagree with it.”

The above definition of conscience is helpful until we get to chapter two, where Ash tells us that our consciences can often be unreliable.  Our consciences can, and often do, err in one of two ways: Either we think that we are innocent when we are actually guilty, or we think that we are guilty when we are actually innocent.

Here is where Luther’s quote brings clarity: my conscience is held captive to the Word of God. We must constantly come back to Scripture and have God’s Word shape our thinking so that we are working with an informed conscience. Ash uses the picture of recalibrating our conscience like an instrument that needs adjustment back to God’s line from one of two directions: “Sometimes my conscience is on one side of God’s line, so that it makes me feel things are OK when they are sinful; at other times it may be on the other side of God’s line, telling me to keep away from things I could legitimately enjoy or do.” Ash will later spend an entire chapter on the calibrated conscience.

Ash devotes the majority of the book to examining the conscience in six ways. Below I will provide a brief overview of each of these. First is the guilty conscience. Here Ash is helpful as he works through what a guilty conscience does: It never forgets, It makes me want to hide, It isolates me, It makes me fearful and anxious, It is a heavy and painful burden, It makes me angry and resentful,  It makes me restless, It makes me look for religious solutions, It can lead to despair. I am certain that as we read through the above list that some of those are very familiar feelings.

Ash also paints the picture of the guilty conscience as God’s courtroom in our heart: it keeps records, it is a witness, a prosecuting counsel, a judge, and executioner. No doubt we have all felt the weight of a guilty conscience and the condemnation of the above-mentioned courtroom. The weight of a guilty conscience is something we are all too familiar with and why we desperately need to move towards the joy of a clear conscience.

Second Ash examines the awakened conscience. Here Ash works through the Holy Spirit awakening our conscience to the reality and weight of sin. Picture David in Psalm 51 (If that isn’t a familiar Psalm to you then pause and read it right now, I’ll wait ;-)). The awakened conscience moves us away from our self-justifying standard, or the world’s ever-changing standard to God’s fixed standard. Next is the hardened conscience.

In this section, Ash gives reasons why we reject conscience and become hardened. This doesn’t typically happen all at once, but gradually. As Ash states, “What the Bible calls ‘hardness of heart’ is the same as a persistent rejection of conscience: knowing in my heart that something is true, but deliberately not following that truth, at least not now. In some ways the most deceitful thing about hardness of heart is its gradual nature. It usually consists of a series of little rejections masquerading as postponements. And yet, as with all forms of addictive behaviour, each rejection makes it harder to turn back.” A hardened conscience is most definitely something that we need to be always aware of. We can so easily become enslaved to sin and find fighting the sin to feel like an impossible task because we have given ourselves over to it so many times.

Ash then describes eight ways that we try to make our conscience hurt less. I don’t have the space to work through all of them, but they all in some way rely on self rather than repentance, faith, and grace from God.

Fourth is the cleansed conscience. This is the pathway that the awakened conscience should follow. Here Ash differentiates between the objective truth: that Jesus’ death cleanses us and the subjective benefit: applying this truth to our hearts daily and recognizing that though we are cleansed through Christ the process of change is ongoing in our lives. There key here is that the joy of a clear conscience isn’t a “one-off process, but something that needs to happen again and again.” While Jesus’ sacrifice was once for all the process of change in our lives is ongoing.

Next Ash examines the calibrated conscience. The calibrated conscience is all about training our consciences to submit to Scripture. This training is done by the Holy Spirit. Ash states that he “progressively calibrates [the conscience] as he shines his light on the pages of Scripture and into our darkened hearts.” The key to the calibrated conscience is to examine what we believe to be right and wrong and have the Holy Spirit test our thinking according to the Word of God. The Holy Spirit is the One that applies the Word of God to our lives. This is key.

We do not calibrate our conscience to some external standard that is man-made, but to Scripture. Also, we do not do this in our own strength, but only through the Holy Spirit. Here Ash draws on principles found in 1 Corinthians 8-10 and Romans 14 (He also works through these sections of Scripture while discussing how the conscience is unreliable).

Finally, Ash arrives at the clear conscience. While Ash expands on this thought, the way to a clear conscience is pretty straightforward: regular repentance is necessary for having a clear conscience. Don’t hide sin away, don’t neglect repentance (those are how we get a hardened conscience) rather be quick to repent and seek God’s grace.

Ash closes each chapter with questions that could be used for personal reflection or in a group book study. He has also included an Appendix titled Four Snapshot From History that gives a brief overview of thoughts on the conscience from the middle ages, from Luther to the Puritans, Immanuel Kant/Gilbert Ryle, and Sigmund Freud. As someone who enjoys history, I found this to be an Appendix worth taking the time to read.

ANALYSIS

Personal Perspective:

I personally thought that Finding the Joy of a Clear Conscience was a very beneficial book to read. It helped to define the conscience and how the conscience works. I thought that it progressed nicely from its opening definition to a clear conscience. It is a book that I have recommended to others and will continue to as I think that it will prove to be a blessing to anyone who reads it.

Strengths:

Finding the Joy of a Clear Conscience is a book that is highly accessible for the entire church. Ash’s writing style is very readable and yet isn’t simplistic or shallow. He digs into what the conscience is, how it operates, and how we can have a clear conscience. As he examines the conscience in six different ways the book still feels cohesive and not disjointed. He is always moving toward the clear conscience which is the aim of the book.

Weaknesses:

There wasn’t much that I thought was lacking from Ash’s work, but possibly one addition could have made the book even better. 1 Corinthians 8-10 and Romans 14 are two passages of Scripture that Ash references multiple times in this book.

Through the references, the reader could piece together a rough exposition of portions of these passages, but it could have been helpful if Ash would have provided an Appendix that pulled all of his thoughts together and provided a place for him to add more that would not have fit in the chapters of the book.

Discovering the Joy of a Clear Conscience
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CONCLUSION

Discovering the Joy of a Clear Conscience is a helpful book in understanding the conscience and finding our hope in the gospel as we seek to live with a clear conscience before God and man. It is a worthwhile read and proves to be a much needed contemporary treatment on the conscience.

five-stars
By | 2018-03-05T23:21:59+00:00 March 6th, 2018|

Finally Free Book Review

Finally Free Book Review

Finally Free

by Heath Lambert
Length: Approximately 6 hours. To read (176 pages)
TCB Rating:
five-stars
Buy on Amazon

Book Overview

Viewing pornography is a sexual sin that plagues far too many Christian men. In Finally Free Heath Lambert provides men with eight strategies that are rooted in gospel grace, so that they can fight for purity in their lives.

Who Should Read This?

This book is written especially for Christian men who struggle with viewing pornography or who have struggled with it in their past and desire to remain pure. It really should be read by all Christian men though, as sexual sin is such a common sin for men and none of us are above falling captive to it.

Finally Free Book Review 1

 

SUMMARY

The How:

In Finally Free Lambert writes, specifically to men who struggle with pornography. Lambert writes with a loving tone throughout the book, even when he is saying things that are difficult. This is what one should expect from a pastor and ACBC counselor. Lambert delivery feels like it is coming from an old friend rather than someone perched high above the reader looking down on his struggles with pornography.

In the two sentence dedication to his sons at the beginning of the book Lambert addresses both the seriousness of the topic he is about to discuss as well as the only place where hope is found. He says, “A wicked world seeks to enslave your souls to pornography; the grace of Jesus Christ alone sets you free. Look to him!” Finally Free is a strategy book. It is a discussion about eight ways to fight against pornography in our lives.

But it isn’t your typical self help book offering eight ways to become a better you. Instead, Lambert writes really of one way: the grace of God poured out in our lives. Yes, he writes about eight practical ways to fight against pornography, but these strategies are rooted and grounded in grace. So it is fitting that he begins his book, not with a strategy, but rather setting grace as the foundation for any true and lasting change. He states, “As Christians, we are able to do the work of obedience, but all of our growth is empowered by God’s grace.

Jesus gives us power to obey so that we can obey to the glory of God. Believers are called to lean on his strength, lay hold of practical means of grace, and take practical steps toward change.” As he moves forward he makes his point very clear: it is this grace that motivates and empowers every strategy that he discusses.

The Why:

Lambert clearly understands the struggles that men have with pornography. Sexual sin is a sin that can so easily get a grip on our hearts. Lambert’s goal is to turn the direction of our hearts and affections toward Christ and away from pornography.

Lambert notes that many other books spend a lot of time talking about the broad reach of pornography, it’s accessibility, the affects it has on our lives, etc.. While not condemning these other books Lambert writes without all of this background and has a different goal in mind. He states, “This book is about something much better than pornography. This book is about the amazing power of Jesus Christ to free you from pornography.” So, instead of focusing our attention on pornography Lambert has written Finally Free to turn our gaze to Christ.

The What:

As mentioned above, Lambert roots all change in gospel grace. He states” every strategy you employ in your fight for purity must be grounded in the grace of God in Christ if it is to lead to lasting freedom.” He doesn’t just lay this ground work and then move on to his strategies but continually brings the reader back to the grace and hope found only in Christ. In short, these aren’t “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps” strategies.

The first strategy that Lambert discusses is “Using Sorrow.” Here Lambert draws from 2 Corinthians 7:8-11 and Paul’s distinction between worldly sorrow and Godly sorrow. Worldly sorrow brings death; godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation. This is an important distinction when dealing with secret sins like pornography.

When someone is caught in a secret sin they will often show sorrow. When this sorrow first presents itself it can be very difficult to tell which type of sorrow it is. Sadly, many only have sorrow because of the consequences: losing credibility, losing their family, losing a job, legal consequences, etc. Godly sorrow however, as Lambert says is “pained over the break in relationship with God. It is heartbroken that God has been grieved and offended.

The tears of godly sorrow flow from sadness that God’s loving and holy law has been broken….It marks a change from the sinful self-centeredness of viewing porn and the equal self-centeredness of worldly sorrow to a pure concern for God and living for his glory. The person full of godly sorrow has a heart that wants to please God rather than self. Godly sorrow motivates real and lasting change.”

Lambert’s second strategy is “Using Accountability.” While there is much to commend in this strategy one point that Lambert makes is, in my opinion, a key to accountability. He makes this short statement: “Many accountability groups function as an opportunity for a delayed confession of sin.” Here is what he is getting at. Often times a small group may form to hold each other accountable. While it is good to seek out help, Lambert points out a flaw in the thinking.

In Galatians 6, Paul tells us that if someone is caught in sin the spiritually mature should seek to gently restore that person. What can often happen with accountability groups though is that a group gets together and they all struggle with the same sin, and in Lambert’s example, delay confession until the group meets and then share how many times they’ve sinned and commit to pray for one another. What is lacking though is a spiritually mature brother coming along side and helping to restore the one struggling in sin. Accountability needs to be with a spiritually mature brother, not someone who is stuck in the same pit as you currently are in.

Lambert’s third strategy is “Using Radical Measures.” This strategy is pretty straightforward. If you are struggling with pornography then gouging out an eye or cutting off a hand may need to take place (Matt. 5:29-30). Limiting access to whatever type of media that is providing the gateway to pornography must take place. Lambert is wise to point out that this doesn’t change the heart, but putting up this fence does at least clear the way for the gospel to get into our hearts and do it’s work.

The fourth strategy of Finally Free is “Using Confession.” Here Lambert lays out a framework for confessing sin that consists of six points that he works through. This framework will definitely help the reader to understand what biblical confession looks like. (Hint: it’s not as easy as saying I’m sorry and moving on.) Lambert’s fifth strategy is “Using Your Spouse (or Your Singleness).”

The idea behind this strategy is to focus our attention off of the images of pornography that may have our minds captive and instead to focus on thinking about our spouse instead. Here Lambert also calls singles to devout their time and energy focusing on Christ and his church.

The sixth strategy Lambert discusses is “Using Humility.” This strategy contains some of Lambert’s more pointed words, perhaps because pride is such a struggle for men. Here is one small sample: “Men look at pornography out of an arrogant desire to see women in a way that God does not allow. They show arrogant defiance to God’s commands, rejecting the delight of sexual intimacy in marriage and deciding for themselves what they believe is better—looking at naked women in porn.

They show arrogant disregard for God’s call to selfless marital love. They show arrogant derision for the female actresses whom they should be seeking to respect as women who need to hear the good news of Jesus. They show arrogant disdain for their own children by hiding their sin and inviting the enemy into their home and their marriage. They show arrogant disrespect toward all those who would be scandalized if their sin were known. The root problem with men who look at porn is not neediness—it is arrogance.” He doesn’t just end with these pointed words. He then follows up with a helpful discussion on how to practically cultivate humility in our lives.

Lambert’s seventh strategy is “Using Gratitude.” Viewing pornography is a desire for more and more and more of what I don’t have. Lust requires us to be discontent. Gratitude calls us to be satisfied and content with what God has given us. One of Lambert’s helpful observations is this: “The desire for porn is a desire to escape from what the Lord has given you into a fake universe full of things you do not have and will never have. Porn is the trading of gratitude for greed. Porn trades joy in the reality God has graced you with for greed in the counterfeit world he has not.” The final strategy discussed in Finally Free is “Using a Dynamic Relationship With Jesus.”

Here Lambert wants the reader to see the privilege that we have of being in a relationship with Christ. The goal isn’t just to quit viewing pornography, it’s about being close to Jesus.

At the end of each chapter Lambert provides a series of questions for the reader to answer. Full disclosure, often times I find questions at the end of chapters to be nothing more than a quick add on. Sometimes it feels like they are a requirement from the publisher and the author hasn’t spent much time developing really good questions. This isn’t the case with Finally Free.

Lambert asks penetrating questions which often ask the reader to make lists, spend time in prayer on a specific thought, or read and meditate on multiple passages of Scripture. For someone fighting against a desire to look at pornography (or any sort of lustful thinking for that matter) these questions could be very helpful in re-focusing one’s thoughts on Christ and away from their lusts.

ANALYSIS

Personal Perspective:

Finally Free is a book that I have read through a few times now. I personally think this is a book that I will reference for the rest of my life. It is rooted and grounded in grace and provides hope for believer’s so that we do not grow weary in our battle for purity.

Lambert’s tone throughout (even when his words are pointed) is that of a loving counselor and friend. Those struggling with sexual sin need words from a brother who cares and Finally Free can provide those words. (I would say that the local church ought to be the first place someone goes to find loving counsel, but Lambert’s book can be a great supplement to the ministry of the local church)

Strengths:

Lambert’s role with ACBC as well as being a pastor gives him credibility to speak into the lives of his readers. Being someone who has struggled with pornography in the past, as he mentions, makes him someone that the reader can listen to, knowing that he understands the battle.

Lambert is never perched on high heaving condemnation down to those who are struggling. Rather, in a loving pastoral tone he is continually pointing the reader to Christ for their hope and the strength to successfully fight for purity.

Weaknesses:

The only weakness that I can think of is an area that I felt Lambert could have developed a little more. Lambert calls married men to focus on their wife and singles to focus their attention on Christ and the church and away from pornography. Lambert spends a lot of time developing what it looks like for the married man, but I felt that he could have further developed the strategy as it relates to singles. I don’t think Lambert feels this way but often times the church can view singles as “those waiting to be married” and a more developed section on singles could have been good at combating this type of thinking.

Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace
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CONCLUSION:

I have read quite a few books on the topic of sexual sin and Lambert’s book is one of the top two that I have come across (Making All Things New by David Powlison being the other). This book should be in every man’s library and one that pastors and counselors are quick to recommend to men. Sexual purity is a crucial battle that Christian men face and Finally Free is a wonderful tool that can greatly help men in their fight.

five-stars
By | 2018-02-16T16:36:58+00:00 February 13th, 2018|

Reorienting Our Affections

For those of us who have been Christians for any length of time 1 John 2:15-17 is no doubt a familiar passage of Scripture.

John states: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:15-17)

This verse speaks to our affections, particularly to our affections when they have shifted away from God. As fallen creatures, we are often drawn away from God and towards sinful things. When this happens we don’t simply need to turn our gaze from sinful things, but we need to look toward the Lord. We need to reorient our affections.

Reorienting our Affections

Thomas Chalmers was a Scottish pastor who lived from 1780-1847. He preached what has become a very well known sermon on this passage of Scripture titled: The Expulsive Power of a New Affection. In it, Chalmers addresses how man is to rid himself of a love for the world. He states:

“There are two ways in which a practical moralist may attempt to displace from the human heart its love of the world—either by a demonstration of the world’s vanity, so as that the heart shall be prevailed upon simply to withdraw its regards from an object that is not worthy of it; or, by setting forth another object, even God, as more worthy of its attachment, so as that the heart shall be prevailed upon not to resign an old affection, which shall have nothing to succeed it, but to exchange an old affection for a new one…

The love of the world cannot be expunged by a mere demonstration of the world’s worthlessness. But may it not be supplanted by the love of that which is more worthy than itself? The heart cannot be prevailed upon to part with the world, by a simple act of resignation. But may not the heart be prevailed upon to admit into its preference another, who shall subordinate the world, and bring it down from its wonted ascendancy.”1Thomas Chalmers, The Expulsive Power of a New Affection, https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/sdg/Chalmers,%20Thomas%20-%20The%20Exlpulsive%20Power%20of%20a%20New%20Af.pdf 

 

Chalmers’ Aim

So what is Chalmers getting at here? Simply trying to quit sinning by recognizing that a particular sin is worthless or vain will not last. Even if we do seem to gain a momentary victory over the particular sin it will often times present itself in others ways because we have not addressed the heart issue OR we just leave a void to be potentially filled by some other sinful desire.

As Calvin stated “man’s nature…is a perpetual factory of idols”.2John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.11.8 John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 1.11.8 Our minds (our hearts) are never-ending factories that can produce and cling to all sorts of objects for us to focus our desires on. We are probably all too familiar with the battle to chase after the idols of our hearts instead of after God. Simply tossing out one idol and leaving a void will not work. Chalmers recognizes this and notes that another object must take our minds captive and then it “disposes the first of its influences”

This thinking pre-dates Chalmers though and is no doubt familiar to many of us. This shares the line of thought of the put-off/put-on principle that Paul introduces in Ephesians 4:22ff. Paul’s description is this passage gives us the picture of someone changing a garment. The Ephesians, and believers today as well, are told to take off the old garment, one of “corruption through deceitful desires,” and to put on a new garment “created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness”. Paul does not see the removal of the first garment as the end result, but rather after removing the first (the old self) we are told we must then put on the new garment (the new self).

Paul views both steps as necessary. This isn’t simply a surface change though. Paul mentions our desires. What we want. What we lust after. What we have a passion for. Underlying this is an even greater question: What are we worshipping? Or perhaps to state it differently to focus on our heart condition: What does my heart delight in?

Again, Chalmers in his sermon is helpful to point us to where we need to go “We know of no other way by which to keep the love of the world out of our heart, than to keep in our hearts the love of God—and no other way by which to keep our hearts in the love of God, than building ourselves up on our most holy faith.” It is at this point that I would like to add to Chalmers. Where do we go to build ourselves up in our most holy faith?

This isn’t some zap that we magically get and instantly have a faith that desires God above all else. This isn’t us thinking that maybe we can just muster up enough faith then our love for the world will decrease. In this view, faith becomes some mystical thing that is hard to quantify, but something that we must work up in ourselves and in our own strength. NO!!! Our faith will grow as we come to know more and more about the Object of our faith. And we learn about the Object of our faith, God, in His Word.

 

Delighting In God’s Word

There are many places in the Bible where we could turn if we wanted to stir up our hearts with a love for God and His Word, but perhaps none are better than Psalm 119. Let’s take a brief look at Psalm 119, a sort of 20,000-foot flyover, specifically focusing on some of the wording that the psalmist uses throughout the psalm as he addresses God and His Word.

The psalmist gives us a vivid description of what it would look like if we set our affections upon God and not upon the things of this world that so easily captivate and entice us. Psalm 119 contains 176 verses of focused attention meant to express the psalmist’s desire to “seek God with his whole heart, or as one author put it “it is a poem that rejoices in the fact that God has revealed himself to his people. He has spoken, and the unnamed psalmist shows intense devotion to the word of God. The focus of attention throughout is on God.”3Allan Harman, Psalms: A Mentor Commentary: Volume 2: Psalms 73-150, p841-842

Psalm 119 focuses in on God by way of His commandments and its multiple synonyms: His precepts, His Law, His Word, His Ways, His Statutes, His testimonies, and His ordinances. One struggle that we may often have is to study God’s Word simple for the sake of knowledge. In verse 2 the psalmist corrects this view and establishes that this is not studying God’s Word as a mere academic exercise, but as a way to “seek him.” The goal isn’t to be great at Bible trivia, but to know Him!!

First of all look at some of the many ways in which the psalmist describes his focus on God’s Word: my eyes [are] fixed on all your commandments (v6), with my whole heart I will seek you (v10), in the way of your testimonies I delight (v14), My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times (v20), I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes (v48), your statutes have been my songs (v54), your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart (v111).

It is clear from his choice of words that the psalmist displays an intense desire to know God through His Word. Cultivating an affection for God’s Word like the psalmist displays in this psalm will help to drive out affections that we may have that are sinful, or leaning towards idolatrous.

The psalmist also uses vivid language to describe how he wants to relate to God’s word. Take note of the language that he uses and the picture that the words create in your mind: I cling to your testimonies (v31), O LORD, I will run in the way of your commandments (v32), how sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! (v103), I open my mouth and pant because I long for your commandments (v161), my heart stands in awe of your words (v161). The psalmist clings. He runs. God’s words are sweet to him. He pants longingly for them. He stands in awe of them.

The question that this presents to us is: Do we cling to, and run after, and desire the sweet taste of, and pant longingly and stand in awe of God’s word daily in our lives? Or do the things of this world stir our affections and rule our desires? If we are to have victory over the sins that so easily ensnare then we must constantly reorient our affections from the things of this world to the Creator of this world and the Word that He has given to us so that we might know Him and His ways more.

 

A God Who Empowers His People

Finally, but certainly not least in importance, Is the psalmist doing this in his own strength? Is he finding in himself the ability to awaken these affections for God on his own?

Rather than answer for him we can let his words provide the answer: let me not wander from your commandments (v10), teach me your statutes (v12), Deal bountifully with your servant (v17), open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law (v18), hide not your commandments from me (v19), give me life according to your word! (v25), make me understand the ways of your precepts (v27), strengthen me according to your word! (v28), put false ways far from me (v29), give me understanding (v34), lead me in the path of your commandments (v35), Incline my heart to your testimonies (v36), turn my eyes from looking at worthless things (v37).

The psalmist’s words clearly reflect his understanding of God sovereignly working this desire in him and his constant need for the Lord to work in him and on his behalf. So, we find in the psalmist a heart that sounds strikingly similar to the apostle Paul’s understanding of his work and God working in him. The psalmist is diligent to cultivate his affections toward the Lord all the while knowing that it is God who must do the work in him to even give him the desire to seek after God.

Like the rest of our growth in the Christian life, we must put in effort. We must strive to know God more by delighting in His Word. We must desire Him more than the desires of the flesh, the desires of the eyes and the pride of life. We must fight to be holy by loving His truth more than the false claims that the world, the flesh, and the devil put before us every day. And we do this knowing that any victory we have in expelling sinful affections and replacing them with affections for God is only done by the Spirit and in His strength.

Our growing affection for God and His Word will always be grace-fueled and Spirit-empowered, not some desire to know Him that we naturally possess in ourselves. So we should pray, like the psalmist, that God would incline our hearts to His testimonies and we should find our ultimate delight in God and in His Word that he has gifted us with.

 

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By | 2018-02-11T17:27:59+00:00 February 11th, 2018|

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