Friday, April 11, 2008
Put Off, Put On
We are discussing Chapter 3 of The Excellent Wife today, titled, “The Wife’s Understanding of Sin: God’s Provision.” Click here to see Leslie’s post and to join the others who are discussing this book with us. I always start out meaning to write a short post on these reading group discussions, but my posts always turn out too long as I cannot seem to keep them short. This one is no exception.
Right up front in this discussion of a proper understanding of sin, Mrs. Peace lays the foundation of being sure that her readers understand salvation biblically. The story she told of the woman she was counseling was a very interesting illustration of not understanding sin properly. She said that this woman was committing adultery and had also stated that she was a Christian, and at some point Mrs. Peace asked this woman on what basis God should let her into Heaven. The woman’s response? “Because I’ve been so kind.” (p. 19, The Excellent Wife, Chapter 3).
As I was reading that, I thought, how does she reconcile the fact that she’s committing adultery with her idea that she is kind? She’s not being very kind to her husband! Point being, that we are all sinners, and the woman obviously did not understand salvation. First of all, “being kind” does not make us right with God. Trust in Jesus Christ, believing on Him alone for salvation, is the only way to the Father, and we cannot, must not trust in anything else.
Second of all, as the woman in the story demonstrated, we tend not to understand or acknowledge the real, full, depth of the offensiveness of our sin, nor the pitiful inadequacy of what we would say are our good works. Our “good works” cannot earn His favor. We are all sinners and fall short of God’s glory, and we are all prone, in our sinfulness, to try to white wash or justify our sin in our own minds, just as the woman in the story did. Sure, she was committing adultery, but she was so kind! So, I very much appreciated how carefully Mrs. Peace spelled out a right understanding of salvation, and she does not mince words but calls sin what it is, not a mistake, but sin. Sometimes you read books like this that assume their audience are all Christians or give too shallow a discussion of salvation, but I like that she does not make that assumption but spells it out clearly. Because what follows must be built upon a solid foundation. We cannot really be an Excellent Wife in the way she is talking about without having a relationship through saving faith in Jesus Christ. This is truly the foundation.
Following that was a short discussion of dealing with the consequences of past sin, which was also very good, pointing out that once we are saved those sins are forgiven and we have been declared righteous before God. However, as a Christian, after having biblically dealt with past sin, we are aware that we still sin, and this is where she spends the rest of the chapter, dealing with present sin and what it means to repent.
While discussing the diligence of repentance, Peace says:
“Not all sin is as devastating to a marriage relationship as the previous example of immorality, but any sin will erode the oneness that God intends for Christian couples to have. All Christians bring into marriage old sinful habit patterns of thinking and responding that hurt their marriage and grieve their Lord. Repentance is a process that usually involves more than just confessing to God and your spouse. It may take work and time. That’s why we are instructed in Scripture to “…discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7, emphasis added).” (p. 23)
I really liked how she points out that repentance is more than just initially confessing the sin. Sometimes it takes training and exercise, much like an athlete who diligently works over and over to perfect his sport. In the same way, we need to diligently, over and over, work out putting off the wrong thinking and behavior and put on the new, through God’s grace and His help. I think sometimes I’ve felt defeated over things in my own life when I’ve confessed and confessed and seem to find myself doing the same things over and over. Confession is only the beginning of repentance. Putting on new thinking and new responses takes a lot of work and discipline, which God is so gracious to help us to do.
And I very much liked how Mrs. Peace used Ephesians 4:22-32 and charted it into sections titled “Put Off” and “Put On.” I have to quote her again here because, for me, this was the heart of this chapter and the thing that spoke to me the most this week:
“Overt sin begins in your heart with what you desire. What you want, in part, determines how you talk to yourself. A person may be somewhat successful at modifying outward behavior, but the only real way to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ is to think according to His Word (Romans 12:2).” (p.24)
And she followed this with a chart showing examples of how a wife might think (be saying to herself) wrong, sinful thoughts and contrasted it with the kind of right, godly thoughts she could train herself to replace them with. This was very helpful to me. I have found while reading this book that I have become much more aware of times when I am outwardly doing okay, but inwardly grumbling or thinking the wrong, sinful kinds of thoughts. Ultimately, I need to learn to think right so that I can act right unreservedly. Ultimately, my reason for doing so is to be obedient to my Savior and bring glory to Him.
I liked the practical nature of this chapter. I think sometimes I fail to recognize when my thinking is ungodly or unbiblical, and this was a practical reminder to learn to recognize those thoughts that are not honoring to Christ, nor helpful to growing in grace as a godly wife, and not only as a wife but in all areas of my life. Just recently I realized that I had been operating under wrong thinking for years in a certain area, and it was like a light went on when the Lord graciously revealed to me a pattern of thinking I had not really realized I was buying in to. It was something I knew intellectually, but somehow I had not internalized and fully understood how I was not correctly applying what I knew. I wasn’t truly thinking biblically because I had not learned to retrain the lies that played over and over in my mind on that particular issue. I cherish those times when God graciously reveals the disconnect that exists when I have not been properly applying a truth I actually knew, painful as they sometimes can be. But even when they are painful, it is so freeing to put off the wrong thinking and finally have that light come on and to remember the next time the wrong thinking begins to play in my mental tape recorder and to be able to say to myself, “Stop. This is not the right way to think about this. Here is what I know is true, think on this instead.” And, yes, I actually do have those kinds of conversations with myself at times. And I usually stop right then and pray that God would please help me to think right in that area. I have been thinking a lot about the “put on, put off” principle in this chapter and the reminder to think biblically - find scripture to combat the wrong thinking, and I am very glad that God’s grace is sufficient to help me to learn to examine my thinking patterns and to put off what is sinful and harmful and to put on what is right.