Ordinary Ingredients of Christian Growth

Fad diets exist because healthy diets are boring. We don’t like to hear about vegetables and exercise; we’d rather lose ten pounds in a week by taking some radical step.

But fad diets don’t work. The most reliable path to a healthier body is the one doctors have been recommending for decades.

Ordinary Means

So it is with our spiritual lives. We think mountaintop experiences will provide the jolt we need to grow closer to God.

But the truth is both more mundane and more wonderful. We don’t need to climb the mountain; God has come down! By his Son and by his Spirit, he dwells with his people. As a consequence, God uses ordinary means to make us grow.

Four Ingredients

My recent Bible reading has shown me four ingredients of Christian growth. (This list isn’t comprehensive.)

The Word

God’s word gives us growth.

Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord. (1 Peter 2:1–3, NASB)

We need the Bible like newborn babies need milk: desperately!! Surely you’ve seen a hungry baby. We should long for God’s word with the same urgency. Without the Bible, we simply won’t grow.

Community

God has created a healthy interdependence within the church.

  • God gave the apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:11–12). God gives people to equip the saints, and the purpose is the body’s growth.
  • The goal of this building up is “the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.” Paul wants us to aim for “mature manhood” and “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph 4:13). In the growth of the body, we will find maturity, fullness, and unity. Notice that Paul mentions “knowledge” specifically, so community is not just about emotional support. We are to help each other grow in understanding as well.
  • We are to grow past the adolescent stage, where we are “tossed to and fro by the waves.” Instead, “speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Eph 4:14–15). Much has been written about the phrase speaking the truth in love, but in context it must involve steadying, correcting help that leads to growth. By definition, this cannot be done in isolation.
  • The “whole body” is “joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped.” Every single part of the body is necessary to join and hold it together, and “when each part is working properly,” the body grows and “builds itself up in love” (Eph 4:16). Every part of the body is necessary for the body’s growth, and no part grows without the body.

Repentance

Christians are not to walk as the Gentiles walk. Instead, they have been taught

to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. (Ephesians 4:22–24)

This is the process of repentance. Note the three distinct parts: put off, be renewed, put on. We identify and turn away from our sin, we remember our new God-given identity, and we adopt the godly behavior or thought that replaces sin. To help us, Paul lists five examples of this repentance in Eph 4:25–32.

Beholding the Lord

There is a glory present in the new covenant that was veiled in the old. The veil keeping people from God is removed for those who turn to Christ.

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Corinthians 3:17–18)

As we behold the glory of the Lord, we are transformed from glory to glory. Though “beholding” sounds mysterious, it must include a few actions.

We cannot behold the Lord without delighting in the Bible, the unique place where we hear of Christ’s glorious work. We meditate on God’s glory—thinking about his character and work, thanking him for his love and grace, anticipating the excellencies of his presence. The word leads to our meditation which leads to prayer.

Powerful Means of Growth

It may not be flashy, but God faithfully causes growth from the most ordinary of means: regular Bible intake, membership in a local church, repentance of sin, and beholding the glory of the Lord in meditation and prayer.

God takes weak and ordinary people and uses them in extraordinary ways. He does the same with the ordinary ingredients of Christian growth. They may not be radical, but they are powerful.

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Links for the Weekend (2024-02-09)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

The Parenting Book Too Few Parents Read

Tim Challies encourages us to learn from the ways our fellow church members parent their children.

And yet I believe that many parents fail to read the parenting book that could make the biggest difference to their lives and families. Many neglect to give their attention to the parenting book that God has set right before them. It’s the “book” that is being written in the lives of the people in their own local church.

Why We Pulled Our Kids from Club Sports

This article is an interview with the athletic director at Dordt University about kids’ involvement in club sports. He highlights the good things about sports for children, and he offers some cautions as well.

Navigating that fine line between loving sports and idolizing sports is really hard, and that’s why we need Christian coaches and leaders to help educate families on moderation—on what is enough for their family. Certainly, we are getting no help from the culture on de-idolizing athletics, so we need to be intentional. We hear loud noises from the greater sports culture saying, “Indulge, indulge, indulge.”

Selfless Self-Control in a Selfish Society

When we think of self-control, we often think primarily of ourselves. This article explains why self-control is commanded of God’s people—to benefit others.

Godly self-control, such as we find described in Titus, is the opposite. It is about us restraining ourselves not just for our own sake but for the sake of other people. Self-control admits that, left to our own devices, we would not tend towards the interests of others but towards our own interests—and seeks to do better.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article I wrote called God’s Promises Are So Much Better Than We Think. If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (2023-09-22)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Spiritually Hungry? The Church Service Is Your Main Meal

Kristen Wetherell compares individual devotion times to the weekly local gathering of God’s people.

The next time you feel discouraged and guilty about not having your personal “quiet time,” do this instead: remember the previous Sunday at church, and then breathe a sigh of relief and praise. You have consumed God’s Word. More than that, you have feasted on its abundance. Through singing it, praying it, reading it, and hearing it preached alongside God’s gathered and beloved people, you have “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” Your soul has been truly nourished.

Contentment doesn’t mean you must stay in the same circumstance forever

I appreciated this close look at what contentment does and does not mean.

Paul wrote this from prison, yet he knew that he could be content there. His satisfaction with what he had was not due to his present circumstances, but it was due to God who strengthened him.

This raises a logical question for us: does this mean it is wrong for Christians to try to change their circumstances? Is it wrong to be ambitious and to make major life changes? After all, if we are to content with what we have, surely what we have should be sufficient!

What does it look like to glorify God?

Ligonier has a short video addressing this most important question: what does it look like to glorify God?

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article I wrote called One Surefire Way to Harden Your Heart. If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Finding Hope in Slow Sanctification

Have you ever felt like sanctification is too slow? I have. This is a common (and healthy) tension. For on the one hand, yes, God hates sin and we are called to live holy lives. On the other hand, no Christians on earth are completely free from the old self.

But there are some pitfalls here—some unhealthy places this tension can take us. Despair, frustration, and giving up are temptations we all feel from time to time. How can we avoid these traps? The best way is to focus on God’s role in sanctification.

The Temptation to Despair

God is not trying to lead us to despair. Sanctification is often a painfully slow process. I have grown impatient as I appear to be “left in my sin” with little to no evidence of growing holiness in my life. “I thought God hated sin,” I might say, “so why doesn’t he get rid of it?” I am aware of my blindness, but I don’t see any evidence of spiritual growth. But I’m superimposing my plan over and against God’s plan, as if to say “it would obviously be better if…” and failing to take the time to be still and know that he is God (Psalm 46:10). 

This despair can undermine our assurance of salvation. “Am I truly saved at all?” My only recourse is to trust, despite not seeing, that Christ is at work (Philippians 1:6) and, for some reason, taking his own sweet time. We were never saved because we were good. Remember, sanctification is founded in Christ and his obedience, not us and our weakness.

The Temptation to Frustration

God’s slowness can also become frustration, which is a pride issue. Often this is less about how slowly God works in us and more about how slowly God seemingly works in others. “Our country is going down the tubes. If only Christians in this country would…[fill in the blank]” or “my church would give more money if they actually believed what they say they believe.” Do other Christians need to work out their salvation? Yes (Philippians 2:12). But we can take it too far and become critical of the work of God himself. Again, this is an overemphasis on humanity’s role in sanctification and implies that people are hindering God. Nope, sorry. Doesn’t work like that. 

We are assured that Christ will bring his work to completion (Philippians 1:6) in his time. Becoming frustrated or angry puts my plans ahead of God’s and is unloving to the church. Everything is on track, and we are to “count the patience of our Lord as salvation” (2 Peter 3:15), realizing that he is still building his kingdom (Matthew 16:18)!

The Temptation to Indulgence

Unfortunately, God’s patience can also manifest in ungodly indulgence. This is a particularly dangerous pitfall which twists the patience of our Lord into permission to sin. “Oops, I guess that was just a bit of the old self” or “no one is perfect.” This is obviously wrong when I say it, for it presumes upon the sacrificial work of Christ (Romans 2:4). Nevertheless, it can creep into my life in more subtle ways, such as with a particular sin or for a particular season of life. And it creeps in so easily because it has a grain of truth to it. Yes, we will always struggle with sin on this side of eternity, and yes, in his divine purpose God has allowed sin to persist in believers. 

But, a believing heart will never be comfortable with sin again (Ephesians 4:22–24). The struggle must continue. This is key; a believer may struggle with recurring sin for the rest of their life, and the sin itself may look identical to that of an unbeliever, but the Spirit of God will never abandon the believer to feel at home in sin (John 16:7–11). A believer with a new heart takes after the character of God, and God hates sin (Romans 6:11).

What is Truly Valuable

So when our sanctification seems slow, it may be because we still have a lot to learn about what is valuable to Christ. We can become obsessed with a particular sin while Christ has bigger fish to fry. He may be working in us on a more fundamental level.

And the kingdom of heaven is not about you. It includes you, but it’s not all about you. So cultivate a heart of gratitude that you are included, and the fruit will be selfless love and service to others, without regard to their degree of sanctification.

Finally, know that there is a fire in you. The Spirit is alive and active in tectonic (powerful but often invisible) ways. Consider that the Scriptures make sense to you, you’re convicted of your sin, you are interceded for, works are prepared for you (and you for them), prayer to the Father is open to you in Christ, and a peace which passes understanding is yours.

When we seek to understand what is valuable to the kingdom of heaven, we start to see more and more of the beautiful work of Christ all around us and in us. Soon there is no room for despair because we see the fingerprints of God in our lives. A growing love for God’s people prevents our self-righteous frustration as we celebrate the small victories and realize they’re not that small after all. And we find that the new self takes on new life, caught up and pulled along by the hope and excitement of the gospel, leaving behind the old self where sulking in sin simply makes no sense anymore.

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Links for the Weekend (2022-11-04)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

The Body Is Bigger Than You Think

Trevin Wax writes about the ways he has realized the body of Christ is larger than he assumed and why we need the global church.

Yes, Christians have divided into various traditions and denominations, but despite the outward differences, every true believer in Christ is connected by “mystic sweet communion” to all the Christians who have gone before and to all true Christians around the world today. The beating heart of orthodoxy joins us to confessors across space and time. We say, “I believe,” and we know we share a commonality with millions of people who have found the same treasure, who recite the same words, who believe the same concepts and trust the same Savior. The Body is big.

From Burden to Image Bearer: How God Changed My View of Children

The title of this article does a lot to convey its content. I enjoyed reading about how relationships in the local church helped Lainee Oliver view children more biblically.

My love for her children began to grow, and so did my heart toward motherhood and children in general. The Lord used this family—along with other families in my church and the faithful preaching of his Word each Sunday morning—to put right before my eyes the joy of raising children to know and love God. The more I got outside my college student bubble, the closer I became with families who valued children rightly. Couples who weren’t just raising children for the self-gratification of raising “successful” kids, but because of their calling as parents who viewed their children as fellow image bearers of our Almighty God.

Hymn of the Day

I love this idea: an email every day with the lyrics to a hymn. Often the emails will contain some historical or theological background to the hymn and/or a link to a recording on YouTube. I just signed up for this email; maybe it will interest you too!

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article I wrote called Gather With All Ages. If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Gather With All Ages

Almost a decade ago, my wife and I moved to a new city. We visited several churches, decided on a large, solid one, and wanted to get involved in Sunday school. We chose a class from the provided list, asked directions in the church foyer from the Sunday school traffic cop (note: not her official title), and made our way to the classroom.

We opened the door to a class bursting with young married couples. Almost immediately, we began to field question after question about our children. We didn’t yet have children, but having been married for three years, we were adept at volleying back our answers. We were surprised, however, by the reaction when others heard we were childless; this news was (apparently) shocking and confusing. Finally, someone broke the news to us: this class was only for young married adults with children under a certain age. Childless couples didn’t belong here. “Perhaps you’d fit better in another class.”

We soon learned that this church had segmented their Sunday school offerings to the extreme. Please report to room 205 if you are young, single, born in the midwest, and have at least two older siblings. Maybe it wasn’t quite this bad, but the number of categories and subcategories on display was something to behold.

I understand the impulse for Christian groups to gather according to age and life situation. Especially when children are involved, it is comfortable and refreshing to compare notes, walk familiar paths, and share common experiences.

But this segmentation is not all good. We miss out when we only spend time with people of our age and exact life situation. Two sandcrabs can’t give each other any wisdom about life on the other side of the dunes.

The Benefits

Here are some of the benefits of gathering with people of all ages, life situations, and backgrounds.

A perspective outside your own

A diversity of perspectives is important not just for sharing wisdom and giving advice. With more backgrounds we get to hear varied testimonies of God’s faithfulness and love. God has a multitude of ways of bringing people to himself, rescuing them, comforting them, and providing for them, and we need to hear these stories. We guard against self-centeredness when we are reminded that our story is not the only one.

Young people learn from their elders

More mature believers have traveled roads that still lie ahead for the young. They have raised their children, faced job layoffs, suffered cancer, mourned for wayward sons, and walked through much other joy and adversity. There is a lucidity that comes from being closer to death than to birth—younger people need to hear that clarity and the accompanying warnings about the entrapments of the world. Younger generations need to know that some of their “important” activities, toys, and pursuits may in fact be evidence of “fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul” (1 Peter 2:11, NASB).

Older people learn from the young

One glorious aspect of multigenerational gatherings is that helping and teaching is not just a one-way street. The Bible tells us that the “glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair” (Proverbs 20:29). Both directions in this verse are true and relevant for this discussion. This strength of young men is real and can be helpful to those of more advanced age. Young men can use their physical strength to help with practical tasks for their elders, but the young man’s energy and approach to life can have an invigorating effect as well. Have you ever spent time around a new believer? They practically exhale enthusiasm and joy for others to breathe. Similarly, when a younger believer is convicted of a sin or God gives them understanding about a key doctrine, what was assumed and lived for years by the older can be seen with newer eyes. This can help challenge long-standing patterns of sin or unbelief in more mature believers.

It’s easy to see how the older can give the wisdom of experience to the younger, but in a quickly-changing world, younger Christians can provide some wisdom to their elders too. Consider the cliché example of technology. Younger believers who have brought some discernment to their use of new technology can help their parents in the faith to do the same. But there may also be experiences—opportunities associated with travel, work, or family—that the young have had which have eluded the old.

Finally, in a multigenerational gathering, we as a church can affirm the value of every believer. As Christians age and they are able to do less physically, this is a small way to communicate just how precious and valuable every person is. And this is no mere show—if you gather with believers of all ages and talk openly with each other for a significant length of time, you will benefit from each other.

A Different Experience

My wife and I had a much different Sunday school experience when we were first married. We intentionally sought out a class with mostly 40- and 50-year-olds. This was one of the best decisions we made in that church. After the group reminded us about the booming Sunday school class for graduate students and hearing that, no, we were here on purpose, we began a wonderful season of sharing our lives.

Meeting with Christians of all ages is not a cure-all, and there is undeniable value in friendships and gatherings with people of similar age and experience. But we would all do well to make room in our lives for all of the people God has placed around us, regardless of age.

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Resisting Revenge is a Whole-Church Effort

Most of the Bible is addressed to groups of people, not individuals. And while collective commands have clear implications for individuals, the corporate nature matters.

Many modern Christians have been breathing individualistic air for years, with far-reaching consequences. But we must remember the communal nature of the Bible if we are to live faithfully as God’s people.

A Community Standard

There’s a verse in Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonian church that highlights this point.

See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. (1 Thessalonians 5:15)

The context, as always, is important—this verse falls in the middle of several commands Paul gives to this church. That a group is addressed is obvious, both in verse 15 itself as well as in the presence of “brothers” in verses 12 and 14 and “yourselves” in verse 13.

Note that the command here is not simply “don’t repay evil for evil.” Rather, “See that no one repays evil for evil.” Paul prohibits revenge for each person, but he also makes every individual responsible for the obedience of others. Each person is charged with maintaining the no-retaliation standard in the community.

It’s natural to balk here. I have enough trouble obeying God myself. How can I be responsible for others?

We turn back to the passage for the answer. We are to respect our church leaders and “esteem them very highly in love” (verses 12–13). Giving proper love and encouragement to our elders is essential for the health of the church.

Additionally, we are to “be at peace” among ourselves (verse 13). And there is a summary of sorts at the end of verse 15: “always seek to do good to one another and to everyone.” If we are all seeking to do good for everyone, no one will be repaying evil for evil.

Becoming Like God

A church’s reputation and testimony can be damaged by one flagrant or unrepentant sinner. But the church acting together in love can say glorious things about God.

As a local church body obeys this no-revenge command, they become more and more like their patient, saving God. Quite simply, God does not repay evil for evil! Rather he is “merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 103:8). God’s patience and forbearance are such that we were reconciled to God while we were his enemies (Romans 5:10).

God is just, but his is a patient justice. He will repay, but he offers mercy. In fact, our forbearance with others must be based upon the certainty of God’s justice (see Romans 12:19).

In some ways, it’s in our (fallen) nature to seek revenge. When we are injured, we want to nurture the internal wound until just the right moment to visit an equal or greater injury in return.

But as we practice forgiveness and reconciliation, fueled by the forgiveness we’ve received in Christ, the church can offer (and point to) a balm the world desperately needs. That balm is the very presence of God.

For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. (1 Thessalonians 5:9–10)

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Links for the Weekend (5/14/2021)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Even Dementia Is Not Dark to God

This is a beautiful article by Cynthia Fischer, writing about her mother’s dementia and Psalm 139. It’s worth your time.

My mother can’t call on Jesus to help her. She’s no longer clear who he is. She cannot seek God for peace. She cannot pray to him. She cannot cry out to him—at least not in any verbal way. Who among us has contemplated the end of our days and considered we might not be able to pray aloud?

The Missing Conversation in Our Accountability

At Desiring God, Ryan Griffith writes about an old practice called “holy discourse” which may be able to make our notions of accountability deeper, richer, and more effective.

Holy discourse seeks to apply the blood-bought benefits of Christ to the deepest recesses of the human heart. Holy discourse fans zeal for Christ, strengthens understanding of Scripture, reinforces doctrinal orthodoxy, unearths destructive patterns of thought, addresses beleaguered souls, nurtures preserving prayer, bridles gossip and backbiting, deepens compassion for others, and develops skills of soul care.

Your Weird Church is “Plan A” and There is No “Plan B”

We all know there’s no perfect church, but since we see our church up close, we see its flaws and weirdness more clearly than most. Jared Wilson reassures us about our weird church and about how God calls us to this glorious weirdness.

It’s almost like He prefers losers, cast-offs, and ne’er-do-wells. Like He’s recruiting sinners, in fact. God is prioritizing broken people from broken situations to be His chosen emissaries to a broken world. Which means that as weird and messy as your church may be, you are exactly suited to this weird and messy time. There is no other church than your church to be the church to the people in your community. There is no other people than the church to be an outpost of heaven in your city, in your nation, in this world.


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (4/9/2021)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

To Those Who are Frustrated with the Church

Colin Smith writes to those who have felt like giving up on the local church. Perhaps you’ve felt that pull and would benefit from this article.

The church is made up of ordinary people who are in the process of being redeemed, all of us sinners in the process of being renewed. It was Augustine who described the church as “a hospital for sinners.” He said it would be very strange if people were to criticize hospitals because the patients were sick. The whole point of the hospital is that people are there because they’re sick, and they haven’t yet recovered.

Serving Christ When Everyone Needs You

Ann Swindell reflects on what God has been teaching her in this difficult pandemic time. When we feel pulled by family and work and ministry, how do we respond?

I felt like I was serving in a hundred ways but missing out on many of the gifts of relationship and normal life that helped make that service joyful and rewarding. It all felt like too much, and those tears at the kitchen window revealed both my frustration and exhaustion.

My circumstances and responsibilities wouldn’t change anytime soon. But my heart could change, and it needed to.

A Conversation with Pastor Tim Keller about Hope in Times of Fear

Here’s a podcast episode where Russell Moore interviews Tim Keller. Keller was diagnosed with cancer last year and has written a book called Hope in Times of Fear. I find an encouraging freshness in listening to someone who has a palpable sense of their mortality talk about trusting in Christ. Maybe you will too.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article I wrote called Look and See, O Lord! If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!

Thanks to Maggie A for her help rounding up links this week.


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

The Right-Now Blessings of the Kingdom of God

Christians have a sure hope of heaven. Because Jesus has paid for our sin and we have received his righteousness, we are children of God who will be with our Father forever.

That’s wonderful! But, some might ask, what’s in it for me now?

Though most Christians don’t ask this question in polite company, many have wondered. Aren’t there some tangible, present-time benefits of being a Christian? Or must we wait entirely for heaven?

We Have Left Our Home

Jesus addresses this matter with his disciples on the heels of his interaction with the rich ruler in Luke 18. The ruler wants to do something to inherit eternal life, and Jesus pokes his finger where it hurts.

When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Luke 18:22)

The ruler leaves in grief because he is so wealthy, and Jesus notes how difficult it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. This doesn’t rule out the possibility of prosperous Christians, however, because “what is impossible with man is possible with God” (Luke 18:27).

Peter then says, “See, we have left our homes and followed you” (Luke 18:28). Peter must be thinking back to Jesus’s words in verse 22. We have done what the ruler did not. What does that mean for us?

Jesus’ reply is stunning.

And he said to them, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the kingdom of God, who will not receive many times more in this time, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18:29–30)

There is eternal life to come, but the blessings of the kingdom of God start now. And those blessings are abundant.

Blessings in this Time

We can almost hear the gears turning in Peter’s head. What is it that we receive now?

Jesus is not talking about wealth. That wouldn’t make sense in the context of leaving house and family, and it doesn’t fit after the warning about material riches.

There are probably hundreds of gifts we could discuss, but let’s focus on three.

The Freedom from the Grip of Idols

If an idol is anything (even a good thing) that occupies a commanding place in one’s heart, then the ruler made an idol of his wealth. Jesus told him to sell everything—not because this is a universal command to all believers, but because Jesus wanted the ruler to confront his idol. Sadly, the ruler was devoted to his riches.

When we follow Jesus, we start down the path of freedom from our idols. Jesus calls us to this freedom and gives us the power to make this freedom happen.

To determine the idols that occupy our hearts, we must ask ourselves: Where do I turn for refuge, safety, comfort, or escape? What brings me hope or causes me despair? It could be family, reputation, achievement, politics, or work. It might be a dozen other things.

If you’ve identified one or more idols here, don’t despair. It simply means that you are a human being. Jesus is eager to help idolatrous humans like us!

The Church

In the first century, a disciple who left his family (Luke 18:29) was leaving virtually all of his friends and contacts. With a few exceptions, he probably didn’t know any other disciples, but he was so compelled by Jesus that it didn’t matter.

We may lose family and acquaintances when we follow Christ, but we gain so much more. Christians who have joined a healthy, local church know the joy of belonging to a new family (Matt 12:46–50).

The people in the church are our brothers and sisters (Rom 8:29). They care for us; they help us with physical, emotional, and spiritual needs; they share a mission and a vision with us. In prayer, in gathering around the Scriptures, they point us toward the most important things in life—loving God and loving our neighbors.

The Presence of God

The disciples walked the same roads as Jesus. This was its own blessing—they learned from and were cared for by the Son of God! This is the very gift Jesus wanted to give the ruler in Luke 18.

And this gift is just as present for us. We have the Holy Spirit, and Jesus said that in some ways we have it better than his first-century followers.

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)

The presence of God—lost in the garden of Eden, accessible to a select few in the tabernacle and temple, described and promised in the psalms and prophets—is a real, glorious gift for Christians right now.

Not Just in the Age to Come

The best earthly blessings resonate with us because they offer a foretaste of heaven. Freedom from sin, the fellowship of believers, the presence of God—we long to have these gifts in full!

But the good news of this passage is that leaving everything to follow Jesus has benefits now. These present-time blessings strengthen us, encourage us, and develop our affections for eternity.

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