by Mike Ratliff
 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.  You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deuteronomy 6:4-5 ESV)
The very last thing I want for my own Christian walk is to get off the narrow way and fall into some form of deception following after some sort of false teacher that promises a way to get closer to God if we only follow him (or her) only to find out that we are like the blind following after blind guides. Any who is truly born of God is in Christ. They are new creations. They were once dead in their trespasses and sins and now they have been made alive by God himself (Ephesians 2:1-9). All through the Bible we are commanded to draw close to God, to repent, to be holy even as our Heavenly Father is Holy, et cetera. This is for the mature in Christ, not the immature. How do we grow from new Christians into those who are those living sacrifices Paul spoke of in Romans 12:1?
We have spent a great deal of time over the last several months digging deep into God’s Word clarifying both how we come to be in Christ and how we grow in Christ. As we look with eyes of wisdom into the history of the Church we see that many persuasive deceivers have been enabled to preach their false gospels and lead many away with their false-gospel of “experience.” Remember what we have been studying my brethren. What is the Gospel? It is a message of good news of the completed work of Christ on behalf of those he came to redeem through the sacrifice of himself on the cross. There, the sins of the elect were imputed to his account and all who believe this good news by faith turning to him as their Lord and Saviour are forgiven of their sins and have Christ’s perfect righteousness and his perfect keeping of the law imputed to their account. This is the Gospel.
Those who hold to that other “gospel” of experience talk about a burning in the heart and a “knowing that you know that know that you know” that you are saved, et cetera. In reality, those truly in Christ receive the Good News with and are transformed into new creations as the Word says. They receive the Good News with Joy and become the Lord’s disciples by taking up their own crosses and following him. But…how do they grow into mature Christians? In John 15 we are commanded by our Lord to abide in him for apart from him we can do nothing. In Romans 12:1-2 we are commanded to become living sacrifices then be transformed by the renewing of our minds. What is that? This is spending time in the Word of God and by us obeying him by be partakers of the ordained sacraments of the Church such as the The Lord’s Supper, hearing the Word Preached and participating in the Baptism of new believers, et cetera.
That is our part as far as what we do in our interaction with our local Church, but what about daily? When Daniel was taken captive to Babylon as a young man he never abandoned his submission to the Lord in is daily devotion of prayer, that is, spending time with him. That is what his enemies used against him and that got him thrown into the lion’s den (Daniel 6). When we think of the proper application of Spiritual Disciplines, Daniel’s example would apply. He was told by an angel that he was held in high esteem in heaven.
I am going to give you three examples. The first two are meant to be guides into becoming more mature as a Christian through Spiritual Disciplines. You read them and we will discuss whether these are proper application based solely upon what we know from God’s Word, not emotional, knee jerk responses.
The first example is from Sinclair Ferguson. I got this from the January 2012 issue of Tabletalk Magazine.
A Catechism on the Heart
by Sinclair Ferguson
Sometimes people ask authors, “Which of your books is your favorite?” The first time the question is asked, the response is likely to be “I am not sure; I have never really thought about it.” But forced to think about it, my own standard response has become, “I am not sure what my favorite book is; but my favorite title is A Heart for God.” I am rarely asked, “Why” but (in case you ask) the title simply expresses what I want to be: a Christian with a heart for God.
Perhaps that is in part a reflection of the fact that we sit on the shoulders of the giants of the past. Think of John Calvin’s seal and motto: a heart held out in the palm of a hand and the words “I offer my heart to you, Lord, readily and sincerely.” Or consider Charles Wesley’s hymn:
O for a heart to praise my God!
A heart from sin set free.
Some hymnbooks don’t include Wesley’s hymn, presumably in part because it is read as an expression of his doctrine of perfect love and entire sanctification. (He thought it possible to have his longing fulfilled in this world.) But the sentiment itself is surely biblical.
But behind the giants of church history stands the testimony of Scripture. The first and greatest commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart (Deut. 6:5). That is why, in replacing Saul as king, God “sought out a man after his own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14), for “the Lord looks on the heart” (16:7). It is a truism to say that, in terms of our response to the gospel, the heart of the matter is a matter of the heart. But truism or not, it is true.
What this looks like, how it is developed, in what ways it can be threatened, and how it expresses itself will be explored little by little in this new column. But at this stage, perhaps it will help us if we map out some preliminary matters in the form of a catechism on the heart:
Q.1. What is the heart?
A. The heart is the central core and drive of my life intellectually (it involves my mind), affectionately (it shapes my soul), and totally (it provides the energy for my living).
Q.2. Is my heart healthy?
A. No. By nature I have a diseased heart. From birth, my heart is deformed and antagonistic to God. The intentions of its thoughts are evil continually.
Q.3. Can my diseased heart be healed?
A. Yes. God, in His grace, can give me a new heart to love Him and to desire to serve Him.
Q.4. How does God do this?
A. God does this through the work of the Lord Jesus for me and the ministry of the Holy Spirit in me. He illumines my mind through the truth of the gospel, frees my enslaved will from its bondage to sin, cleanses my affections by His grace, and motivates me inwardly to live for Him by rewriting His law into my heart so that I begin to love what He loves. The Bible calls this being “born from above.”
Q.5. Does this mean I will never sin again?
A. No. I will continue to struggle with sin until I am glorified. God has given me a new heart, but for the moment He wants me to keep living in a fallen world. So day by day I face the pressures to sin that come from the world, the flesh, and the Devil. But God’s Word promises that over all these enemies I can be “more than a conqueror through him who loved us.”
Q.6. What four things does God counsel me to do so that my heart may be kept for Him?
A. First, I must guard my heart as if everything depended on it. This means that I should keep my heart like a sanctuary for the presence of the Lord Jesus and allow nothing and no one else to enter.
Second, I must keep my heart healthy by proper diet, growing strong on a regular diet of God’s Word ó reading it for myself, meditating on its truth, but especially being fed on it in the preaching of the Word. I also will remember that my heart has eyes as well as ears. The Spirit shows me baptism as a sign that I bear God’s triune name, while the Lord’s Supper stimulates heart love for the Lord Jesus.
Third, I must take regular spiritual exercise, since my heart will be strengthened by worship when my whole being is given over to God in expressions of love for and trust in Him.
Fourth, I must give myself to prayer in which my heart holds on to the promises of God, rests in His will, and asks for His sustaining grace ó and do this not only on my own but with others so that we may encourage one another to maintain a heart for God.
This – and much else – requires development, elaboration, and exposition. But it can be summed up in a single biblical sentence. Listen to your Father’s appeal: “My son, give Me your heart.”
For example two you will have to follow this link to Carolyn Mahaney’s blog “Girl Talk.” What do you think my brethren? Which is the way we are going to grow in Christ? If you followed the humbling of self before the Lord as Sinclair Ferguson gave us or this open-ended emotional “Spiritual Discipline” given to us by Carolyn Mahaney? I promise you, the one based on feelings will only be sustainable for a short period of time because it is all of self.
Now for the third example, which is not really an example of a process or method, but a confession of what happens when a believer “goes the wrong way,” but God mercifully brings them back. Read the following with both discernment and charity. The entire post can be found here.
Do you see the difference between true Biblical Spiritual Disciplines and the counterfeit? Do you see the vast difference between that and Spiritual Formation? Be wise and discerning my brethren. Just calling Jesus Lord, Lord and not taking up one’s cross and following him in a life of repentance is simply joining the ranks of those who will be judged by him as false professors at the final judgment.
Soli Deo Gloria!