How to Win the Battle for Your Heart

Christians are in a battle with the world. A battle that rages continually as we are confronted with promises of pleasure, joy, and satisfaction at every turn. These messages are often subtle, chipping away at our defenses little by little. A billboard on our commute to work, prompting us to book a bliss filled spur of the moment weekend getaway. A commercial as we relax after a hard day at work, telling us to treat ourselves to luxury by driving their latest release. Little by little the world chips away at our defenses until one day it breaks through, capturing and stealing us away from God. I know this to be true because it has happened in my own life. When I was in college, the world captured me for a time. Instead of living for God, I lived for the promises of the world. I am sure many of you have experienced the same.

The battle we fight and the captivity we endure as Christians is real. If that is true, how do we guard ourselves and break free?

Love, the Greatest Commandment

If you remember, in the book of Matthew, the Pharisees and Sadducees tried to trap Jesus in order to discount Him with the people, so they could rise to prominence once again. One of the Pharisees — a lawyer — asked Jesus what is the greatest commandment. Jesus responds by saying:

“You shall love the Lord with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.”

Then comes the second greatest commandment.

“You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments [He tells us] hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 22:37-40)

Jesus’ commands tell us our heart is the place from which our affections and our love for God and others arise. When we love ourselves, or the things of the world, more than God, we won’t sacrifice our desires for God’s. Instead we sacrifice God’s desires for own, resulting in us sinning against Him. When we love ourselves more than others, we won’t be able to sacrifice our desires, rights, freedoms, and resources for others either, which could result in us sinning against them or using them for our own gain or pleasure. So our hearts are the castle we must guard and the key to the cell in which we sit.

How Do We Guard Our Hearts and Escape Captivity?

I have been reading and studying the book of Colossians lately during my devotional time. It is fast becoming one of my favorite books in the Bible. One of the things I have noticed throughout the book is Paul’s gospel-centered nature. I understand Paul is gospel-centered throughout his writings, but it seems it is more apparent and condensed in the book of Colossians.

Time and time again he comes back to Christ as a way to motivate the Colossians to resist false teachers, press on in their Christian faith, and love one another. In the same way that Paul uses the gospel to motivate the Colossians to action, we should use the gospel to guard our hearts against the attacks of the world. We do that by preaching the gospel to ourselves, reminding ourselves of God’s love and sacrifice for us. As we preach the gospel to ourselves, our love for God should increase while, at the same time, our love for the world should decrease.

So the gospel is our God-given battle strategy against the world’s constant barrage of attacks, and our escape route from captivity. Preaching the gospel to ourselves, then, not only fortifies our heart against the world’s attacks, but it also forges a key to the cell in which we sit.

Christian, do not underestimate the gospel. It not only has the power to save and sanctify, but also to protect and release. Preach it to yourselves often.

Question for Reflection

  1. Are you guarding your heart with the gospel?

Resources

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Sermons, Cultural Studies, and the Heart

Heart and the City

Studying culture is necessary when preparing a sermon. Pastors, including myself, read and devour everything in culture to ready themselves for their sermon. While it is profitable for pastors to know what is going on around them, I think we have to be careful what we take in. Consuming everything is not profitable, and it may even be a subtle way for us to make way for our sin.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his Studies in the Sermon on the Mount tackles these subtle sins of the heart. Here is what he has to say:

You have never been guilty of adultery? All right. Would you then answer me this simple question. Why do you read all the details of divorce cases in the newspaper? Why do you do it? Why is it essential that you should read right through these reports? What is your interest? It is not a legal interest, is it? or a social one? What is it? There is only one answer: you are enjoying it. You would not dream of doing these things yourself, but you are doing them by proxy.

You are sinning in your heart and mind and in your imagination, and you are therefore guilty of adultery. That is what Christ says. How subtle this awful, terrible thing is! How often do men sin by reading novels and biographies. You read the reviews of a book and find that it contains something about a man’s misconduct or behavior, and you buy it. We pretend we have a general philosophical interest in life, and that we are sociologists reading out of pure interest. No, no; it is because we love the thing; we like it. It is sin in the heart; sin in the mind!

Could we actually be making way for sin in our sermon preparation? Could we be disguising our cultural studies as a way to make room for our heart to fulfill it’s lusts and desires? I don’t believe that is always the reason we study our culture, but these paragraphs gave me reason to pause and consider the reasons behind the cultural studies I do. It gave me reason to check my heart and see what sin I may be feeding. I hope it gives you reason to do the same.

Questions for Reflection

  1. Why do you study culture?
  2. Have you ever stopped and considered that some of your studies might be done to make way for sin?

Resource

Martyn-Lloyd Jones, Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, 239.

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God’s Heart for the Nations

Did God’s plan for Israel fail resulting in Him creating another plan that included the nations? Let me say right off I believe the answer is no.

God’s Plan Has Always Included the Nations

Even though the Old Testament is primarily focused on the nation of Israel, we see a glimpse of God’s desire to save all nations. Resulting in His mission as always being focused on, and including, the nations.

Since God’s mission has always been focused on the nations, we, as God’s ambassadors, are to take up His mission to reach all peoples with the gospel.

With that in mind, let’s look at some key verses that I believe shows God’s heart for the nations.

Key Verses Showing God’s Heart for the Nations

Genesis 12:1-3

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.

God tells Abraham that all the families of the earth will be blessed in Him. He then is the source of blessing. From him comes the Messianic seed, Jesus, who is the Christ. It is Jesus who will bring redemption to all nations and all peoples (Gen. 22:18; Gal. 3:17; Matt. 1; Acts 3:26).

In Psalm 22:27-28, we are told that the Lord will rule over all nations and all nations will worship Him. Granted some will bow down unwillingly, but many will bow down willingly to God as their Lord and Savior.

All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the LORD,
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before you.
For kingship belongs to the LORD,
and he rules over the nations.

In Psalm 67, the Psalmist prays that God would bless the nation of Israel, so that His blessing on them would cause all the nations to know He is the one true God and worship Him.

May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face to shine upon us,
that your way may be known on earth,
your saving power among all nations.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!

Let the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you judge the peoples with equity
and guide the nations upon earth.
Let the peoples praise you, O God;
let all the peoples praise you!

The earth has yielded its increase;
God, our God, shall bless us.
God shall bless us;
let all the ends of the earth fear him!

In Isaiah 56:3,6-7, the foreigner is not kept from joining Himself to the Lord. Rather, he will be brought into God’s holy mountain. His  sacrifices will be accepted, and he will experience the joy of the Lord.

Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say,
“The LORD will surely separate me from his people”;
and let not the eunuch say,
“Behold, I am a dry tree.”

And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD,
to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD,
and to be his servants,
everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,
and holds fast my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.”

In Zechariah 2:10-11, we are told that many nations will join themselves to the Lord.

Sing and rejoice, O daughter of Zion, for behold, I come and I will dwell in your midst, declares the LORD. And many nations shall join themselves to the LORD in that day, and shall be my people. And I will dwell in your midst, and you shall know that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you.

So then, after reading the verses above, we are not surprised at what Paul writes in Ephesians 3:1-6

For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

As well as we are not surprised that in Galatians 3:28-29, Paul tells us that all those who believe in Jesus Christ will be saved, and that all those who believe in Jesus by faith are Abraham’s offspring.

Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.

Conclusion

The nations were not an afterthought. The Gentiles were not God’s Plan B. He has always had a concern for the nations. His desire has always been for them to experience salvation.

While Israel is God’s special people, experiencing special privileges, they are not God’s only people. Rather, they were the way in which God deemed right to bring salvation to all peoples. In short, Israel was God’s first ambassadors. They were how God manifested Himself to the nations. They were God’s light to the world.

Through God working in Israel the gospel has been made known to the Gentiles. As well as the gospel has been believed by the Gentiles because they were also foreordained to be God’s people.

So then, God has always had a heart for the nations. It has always been His plan to bring salvation to both Jews and Gentiles alike.

Application

Now that we know God’s mission, we are to take up His mission. We are to be His ambassadors, bringing the message of the gospel to all nations, so that all nations will experience salvation.

Questions for Reflection

  1. How are you doing at being a light for God where you work, live, and play?
  2. If we took our mission seriously, do you believe there would be more people reached with the gospel?
  3. Are you allowing the world’s comforts to stop you from sharing the gospel with others?

Resource

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