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John MacArthur on Being Above Reproach

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A small item I read in the news twenty years ago has stuck in my mind ever since. The Rockdale County High School Bulldogs basketball team of Conyers, Georgia, won their first-ever state championship in March of 1987, rolling over all their opponents. After eighteen years of coaching the team without a championship, coach Cleveland Stroud was ecstatic.

But a few weeks after the championship game, Coach Stroud was doing a routine review of his players’ grades when he discovered that one of his third‑string players had failed some courses, rendering the player academically ineligible for the basketball team.

The struggling student was by no means a factor in the team’s victory. He was an underclassman who suited up for games but hadn’t actually seen any playing time all season. During one of the semifinal matches, however, with the team leading by more than 20 points, Coach Stroud wanted to give every player an opportunity to participate. He had put that player in the game for less than 45 seconds. The ineligible man had scored no points. His participation had in no way affected the outcome of the game. But it was, technically, a violation of state eligibility standards.

Coach Stroud was in a distressing predicament. If he revealed the infraction, his team would be disqualified and stripped of their championship. If he kept quiet, it was highly unlikely anyone outside the school would ever discover the offense.

Yet the coach realized that at the very least, the player involved was aware of the breach of rules. It was also possible that other students on the team knew and thought their coach had purposely ignored the eligibility guidelines. But more important still, Coach Stroud himself knew, and if he deliberately tried to keep the facts from coming to light, his greatest coaching victory would be forever tainted with an ugly secret.

Coach Stroud said from the moment he discovered the violation, he knew what he had to do. He never even pondered any alternatives. His priorities had been set long before this. He realized that his team’s championship was not as important as their character. “People forget the scores of basketball games,” he said. “They don’t ever forget what you’re made of.”

He reported the infraction and forfeited the only state championship his team had ever won.

But both coach and team won a far more important kind of honor than they forfeited. They kept their integrity intact and gained an immeasurable amount of trust and respect. The coach was recognized with numerous teacher-of-the-year, coach-of-the-year, and citizen-of-the-year awards, as well as a formal commendation from the Georgia State Legislature. A few years later he was elected to Conyers City council, where he still serves. He was right. People who would have long ago forgotten about the Bulldogs’ victory in the state championship have never forgotten about this coach’s integrity.

Ethical integrity is one of the indispensable attributes of Christlike character. As vital as it is to be sound in doctrine and faithful in teaching the truth of Scripture, it is by no means less crucial for Christians to be upright in heart and consistent in our obedience to the moral and ethical principles of God’s law.

That is no simple duty, by the way. The moral standard God’s people are supposed to live by far surpasses even the highest principles of normal human ethics.

This was one of the main points of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: “I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). The whole sermon was an exposition of the Law’s moral meaning. The heart of Jesus’ message was an extended discourse against the notion that the Law’s moral principles apply only to behavior that others can see.

Jesus taught, for example, that the sixth commandment forbids not only acts of killing, but a murderous heart as well (vv. 21–22). The seventh commandment, which forbids adultery, also implicitly condemns even adulterous desires (vv. 27–28). And the command to love our neighbors applies even to those who are our enemies (vv. 43–44).

How high is the moral and ethical standard set by God’s law? Unimaginably high. Jesus equates it with God’s own perfection: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (v. 48).

That sets an unattainable standard, of course. But it is our duty to pursue integrity relentlessly nonetheless. Perfect ethical consistency is a vital aspect of that consummate goal — absolute Christlikeness — toward which every Christian should continually be striving (Phil. 3:12–14). No believer, therefore, should ever knowingly sacrifice his or her ethical integrity.

Here are three powerful reasons why:

First, for the sake of our reputation. Of course, Christians should not be concerned with issues like status, class, caste, or economic prestige. In that sense, we need to be like Christ, who made Himself of no reputation and took on the form of a servant (Phil. 2:7).

There is a true sense, however, in which we do need to be concerned about maintaining a good reputation — and that is especially true in the matter of ethical integrity. One of the basic requirements for an elder is this: “He must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil” (1 Tim. 3:7 nasb).

Nothing will ruin a good reputation faster or more permanently than a deliberate breach of ethical integrity. People will forgive practically any other kind of error, negligence, or failure — but ethical bankruptcy carries a stigma that is almost impossible to rise above.

Several years ago, a parishioner told me something no pastor ever wants to hear. He had invited a business acquaintance to our church. The man replied, “You go to that church? I wouldn’t go to that church. The most corrupt lawyer in town goes to that church.”

I didn’t — and still don’t — have any idea whom he was talking about. There are dozens of attorneys in our church. My hope is that it was a case of mistaken identity and that the person he had in mind was not a member of our church. But the following Sunday I recounted the incident from the pulpit and said, “If the lawyer that man described is here this morning, please take a lesson from Zaccheus: repent and do whatever you can to restore your reputation in the community. In the meantime, stop representing yourself as a Christian. You’re destroying the whole church’s reputation.”

According to Proverbs 22:1, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.” You don’t have a good name at all unless your ethical integrity is intact and above reproach.

Second, for the sake of our character. More important still is the issue of personal character. There’s a good reason why Jesus’ exposition of the moral law in Matthew 5 focused so much on uprightness of heart as opposed to external behavior. That’s because the real barometer of who we are is reflected in what we do when no one else is looking, how we think in the privacy of our own thoughts, and how we respond to the promptings of our own consciences. Those things are the true measure of your moral and ethical fiber.

As important as it is to keep a good reputation in the community, it is a thousand times more important to safeguard our own personal character. That is why Jesus dealt with the issues of morality and ethics beginning with the innermost thoughts of our hearts. “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19).

It’s probably not overstating the case at all to say that the single most important battlefield in the struggle for integrity is your own mind. That’s where everything will actually be won or lost. And if you lose there, you have already ruined your character. A corrupt character inevitably spoils the reputation, too, because a bad tree can’t bring forth good fruit (Matt. 7:18).

That brings to mind a third reason why it is so vital to guard our moral and ethical integrity: for the sake of our testimony. Your reputation reflects what people say about you. Your testimony is what your character, your behavior, and your words say about God.

Consider what is being communicated when a Christian lacks ethical integrity. That person is saying he doesn’t truly believe what Scripture plainly says is true of God: That “to do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice” (Prov. 21:3). That “the sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him” (15:8). And that God “delight[s] in truth in the inward being” 
(Ps. 51:6).

In other words, the person who neglects ethical integrity is telling a lie about God with his life and his attitude. If he calls himself a Christian and professes to be a child of God, he is in fact taking God’s name in vain at the most fundamental level. That puts the issue of ethical integrity in perspective, doesn’t it?

That’s what we need to call to mind whenever we are tempted to adapt our ethical principles for convenience’ sake. It isn’t worth the high cost to our reputation, our character, or our testimony.

About the Author:

Dr. John MacArthur is pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, and president of The Master’s College and Seminary. He is also the featured teacher for the Grace to You media ministry.

 

Article from September 1, 2007 © Tabletalk magazine 
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to http://www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Any exceptions to the above must be formally approved by Tabletalk.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: http://www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Email: tabletalk@ligonier.org. Toll free: 1-800-435-4343

 

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Book Review: Die Young by Hayley and Michael DiMarco

The Paradox of “Death to Self” Meaning “Abundant Life”

In this short book Hayley and Michael DiMarco offer seven chapters that cover seven paradoxes of the Christian life. Each chapter contains Bible verses, practical principles based on those verses, and short sidebars by both husband and wife as to how these principles have impacted their personal lives. This is essentially a handbook focusing on how Christianity teaches the opposite of what your flesh desires – which ironically leads to death – and how dying to self and living for Christ leads to an abundant life. Therefore, the younger you die the longer you will live. They carefully weave a model of robust Christ-like discipleship and articulate the importance of the gospel, justification by faith alone, and sanctification based on Christ alone. However, they also show that our faith does “work” itself out in the way Christ changes us from the inside out as we die to self and live for Him.

The seven chapters include these paradoxes:

1) “Death is the New Life” deals with what it means to die to self, learn contentment, and how suffering can be a very positive outworking of God’s working in our life. It also tackles what it means to be holy, and live a life of faith, hope, peace and love. One of the questions for reflection in this chapter was very thought provoking: “Will suffering destroy your hope and your faith, leaving you with nothing solid to stand on, alone and empty, or will your suffering destroy the parts of you that tie you to the things of this earth and keep your focus off the God of heaven?”

Some other gems from this chapter include:

“There is no fruit that grows from a seed that refuses to die.”

“When your life and all that it entails isn’t your portion, but God is your portion, then it will never diminish no matter what the world may bring.”

“There is a death that comes that isn’t meant to destroy you but to destroy that in you which was never meant to replace the hand of God in your life.”

“In the economy of Christ, love isn’t meant for self but for others.”

2) “Down is the New Up” is described perhaps best in the chapter as “the bottom isn’t such a bad place because it is only from the perspective of your own lowest point that you are able to see your sinfulness and need for a loving Savior and to be saved.” The chapter focuses on the importance of humility and contentment as opposed to pride. The perfect model of humility led to Christ becoming a man who died on a cross and procured our salvation.

3) “Less is the New More” is about how God gives more than anything we can get from the world. The less we have – the more we see how much we have in Christ. One of the key points of this chapter was, “The less there is that competes for our attention and favor in life, the more attention and favor we can give to God.”

4) “Weak is the New Strong” focuses on how waiting and depending upon God to work inspite of our weaknesses actually leads to great strength and a servants attitude that contributes to God’s working through us in a powerful way.

5)Slavery is the New Freedom because slavery to God gives those of us who embrace it freedom from all the other gods which express their hold on us in the form of struggles, addictions, fears, worries, and all other sins in our lives.” They also articulate how “our submission to God and to others proves our faith in God’s sovereignty.”

6) “Confession is the New Innocence” is all about the crucial importance of confession and ongoing repentance in the believer’s life. Here are some excellent quotes from this section:

“Without confession of guilt there is no innocence for the sinner…Confession precedes forgiveness…Our resistance to confession does two things: it keeps us from the forgiveness our sins need, and it also calls God a liar because to fail to confess is to say ‘I have not sinned.’…Confession of the biblical sort is the act of verbalizing not only error and remorse but also truth…So proper confession calls out the sins we committed and not just the pain we inflicted…Confession is best done instantly, and immediately…In the life of a Christian there are two kinds of confession. There is the confession that we make to God regarding our guilt and need for His forgiveness. This is the saving kind of confession that saves us from our guilt and makes us innocent. And there is the confession that we make to man regarding our guilt and our need of healing. Repentance is your changing your ways, determining what sin is in your life and how to avoid it from here on out…To refuse to be honest about our sin is to refuse to agree with God that there has never been and will never be a perfect person besides Jesus…Confession reveals not only our sinfulness but God’s righteousness.”

Hayley and Michael are very transparent about their struggles with sin throughout the book – Michael commenting on this fact writes: “That’s why the majority of our sidebars in this book are confessional; they destroy pride in us, create healing, and maybe even encourage the same action/reaction in you. Confession lets the confessor and the hearer (or reader) know that they’re not alone both in the pursuit of healing and the dismantling of a double life.”

7) “Red is the New White” – is on the necessity of Christ’s atoning blood to make us “white as snow.” The author’s write, “As red covers white so well and so permanently, so blood covers the sins of man…You must, in order to receive justification, believe that the blood is enough. You must die to the part of you that insists it do its part to participate in this salvation thing and help God out…If your heart has a hard time believing justification by the blood, then consider killing the part of you that would argue against God’s gracious and necessary gift.”

I highly recommend this book – especially for new Christians, young Christians – mature teens and college students. This book is loaded with good practical theology and will help you die to what’s killing you, and help you live a more abundant life in Christ by mortifying the flesh.

*Note: I was given an advanced copy of this book by Crossway and was not required to write a positive review.

 

 

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Book Review on Ben Patterson’s “Muscular Faith”

The premise of this book (written by an ex-pastor/college chaplain with a lot of life, and ministry experience – he is now in his sixties) is that the Christian life is NOT easy, is extremely difficult, and that the more you train and prepare for the inevitable hardships – the better.

The book is written in Four distinct sections: Part 1 makes a case for the call to be a Christian Warrior (using God as a model of this motif); Part 2 make a case for the vigorous requirements of the war that the Christian is continually engaged in; Part 3 explains three primary obstacles to our being effective in the battle; and Part 4 discusses 7 essential habits to develop to be successful in the Christian life and how to ultimately finish well and live a life pleasing to God.

I have read all of Patterson’s books and as a result I found that there was a lot of repetition from things he has said in previous books. As a matter of fact, if you read very much (especially C.S. Lewis) – there is precious little new information here. As a matter of fact – each principle, or illustration used with only a few exceptions I have heard or read elsewhere.

Therefore, I would not recommend this book to Christians who read a lot of Christian authors – simply because, you will feel like I did in reading this book – I kept reading things that I’ve read or heard before, so it actually got annoying. However, if you are new to Patterson, and have not read C.S. Lewis or very many Christian authors, then I would highly recommend this book.

 

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Book Review: Can I Know God’s Will? By R. C. Sproul

A Good Introduction for Discerning God’s Will For Your Life

R. C. Sproul did not mean for this book to be an exhaustive treatment on the subject of the will of God, but carefully, analytically, and articulately addresses four aspects on the subject of discerning God’s will for your life:

  • One – The Meaning of God’s Will – He addresses the fact that the Bible speaks of the “will of God” in various ways and goes on to specify the different categories in which the Bible addresses this topic. Dr. Sproul discusses the distinct aspects of God’s will by discussing in four categories: His decretive will; preceptive will; will of disposition, and His hidden and revealed will. He gives excellent biblical, philosophical, and practical ways that God’s will manifests itself and how we should respond to His preceptive and revealed will according to the Scriptures.
  • Two – The Meaning of Man’s Will – In this chapter Dr. Sproul address the whole issue of the abilities and inabilities of our freedom with a penetrating look at Jonathan’s Edwards poignant insights from his outstanding work on the “freedom of the will.”
  • Three – God’s Will and Your Job – Here R. C. asks and answers questions related to calling, vocation, responsibility, and motivation in how to best to discern how to wisely use our God given talents and abilities for God’s glory.
  • Four – God’s Will In Marriage – R. C. answers five key questions: 1) Should I Get Married?; 2) Do I Want to Get Married?; 3) What Do I Want in a Marriage Partner?; 4) From Whom Should I seek Counsel?; 5) When am I Ready To Get Married?

As with most books by R.C., this one being no exception, it is thought provoking, biblical, clear, concise, and practical. It’s a great place to begin if you have never wrestled with the idea of “God’s will” – also, with R.C. he always gives “new” material or insight on any subject he covers, so even for those who have read in this area, you will be given fresh insight by a master theologian and communicator of Biblical truth.

*Note – This book was originally part of a short series of books called “How Can I Know God’s Will” in the 1980’s that have been reissued – and also a part of four sections of a book called Following Christ (both published by Tyndale). I say this upfront, because I always get frustrated when I buy a book that I already have purchased under a different name.

 

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