Pastoring Your Family

Oct 08, 2013 | Jason Helopoulos

Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

*Kevin is travelling this week and taking a much deserved vacation, so to keep him from being “Crazy Busy” I will be guest blogging a few times during the week. A couple of these posts will come from a new book I am currently working on. It is aimed at helping pastors in their first few years of ministry.

I have yet to meet a young man who enters the ministry with the intention to neglect his family. No one begins this way. However, some come to the end of their ministry and their greatest regret is how they led their family. We are not pastoring our church well if we are not pastoring our family well. They are part of the church and the first flock the Lord has entrusted to us. He is a foolish pastor who forsakes the one for the other.

We could give a long list of the ways a pastor should care and provide for his family while laboring in the ministry. Here are just a few:

  • Be careful what you share with your wife. Some men in the ministry make the mistake of telling their wives too little about their day, the church, and their ministry. This leads to wives that feel disconnected. However, in our day it is more common for pastors to error on the other side of the spectrum by telling their wives too much. It is an easy mistake to make. We love them and want them to know where our struggles lie. They are our confidants, and yet, there are things that our wives just shouldn’t know. Here are two rules to live by: if it could disrupt their worship then don’t share it; and if it could lead them to struggle with envy, anger, or hatred toward an individual or a group of people within the church, then keep it to yourself. She is a worshipper in the church and a member of the body. Always reflect upon that.
  • Be unmistakably clear about the expectations you have for your wife with regards to serving the church body. Make this plain not only to the elders of the church and the congregation, but also your wife. Everyone should know, especially her, that you expect nothing more from your wife in the body of Christ than you would expect from any other woman in the congregation. She is first and foremost, your wife; second, she is the mother of your children; and lastly, she is to serve like any other member of the church–not less, but also not more. She may serve more, but that is not your expectation and that is not to be the church’s expectation either. She will need to hear it over and over from you. Your voice needs to drown out the voices she hears to the contrary (whether internally or externally). Affirm this often and encourage her liberally.
  • Be home in the evenings. A family that is never home together is a family that is in jeopardy. When I entered the ministry, I promised my wife that I would not be out of the home more than three nights a week. Now, there are some weeks that this doesn’t work, but that is the extreme exception. And this rule has worked well in our home. Be home. Lead family worship, play with your kids, read in bed while your wife is watching a show, cook dinner, and tuck the kids in. It is impossible to shepherd if you are seldom with the sheep.
  • Be astute to your own family’s needs. Wives are different and families go through different seasons of life. Know your family and what they need at this time. The pastor across town may read a new book every evening, because his wife needs little conversational time. Your wife may need more, so you may need to put the books down. He may be able to travel for days at a time, but you have five children under the age of six and it is a heavy burden for your family when you are absent for days. If that is the case, then those conferences and even speaking requests will just have to wait until the next season of life. A faithful shepherd knows his sheep. Know your family;  keep your family.
  • Be flexible. The pastoral life is filled with long hours, short weekends, and evening meetings. However, a pastor can adjust his schedule in a way that the banker, customer service manager, or grocer can’t. Be flexible around the needs of the church and your family. Never forsake the church for your family, but also don’t forsake your family for the church. Though our calling may involve long hours, weekends, and evenings, we also have the flexibility of taking a lunch hour to visit our children at school, adjusting a morning to assist our wife during a stressful week, and coming to the church late if our child needs to go to the doctor. Count your blessings and use them.
  • Be wise. Don’t try to overprotect your family. They will experience not only the joys of ministry alongside you, but also the suffering. That is part of their calling as well. You can’t safeguard them from every conflict, rude comment, harsh word, or critical opinion. And though in our love we may desire to, in wisdom we know that it can be for their good as much as it is often for our good.

Pastors who pastor their family well are usually those who pastor the church well. They go hand-in-hand. Care for your smaller flock and the larger flock will benefit as well.

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Monday Morning Humor

Oct 07, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

Funny how just four years ago Blackberry was all the rage. Also funny how we have defined rudeness down since the advent of the smartphone.

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Why the Church Still Needs the Seminary

Oct 04, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

All else being equal, I believe most pastors will have deeper, broader, and longer-lasting ministry if they invest in a good seminary education as a key component of their pastoral training.

I know the model that says pastors should have a three-year academic degree from an accredited seminary is not found in Scripture. I know it is of relatively recent historical vintage. I know that a full-blown seminary education is impossible for many pastors around the world and even for some would-be pastors in the West. I know there are scores of faithful, fruitful men who have pastored and are presently pasturing without a seminary education. I think of some of my pastor friends without a seminary degree and how gladly I would sit under their ministries.

And yet, all else being equal, I believe most pastors will have deeper, broader, and longer-lasting ministry if they invest in a good seminary education as a key component of their pastoral training.

Yes, there are more theological resources in this country than anywhere else in the world at any time in history. There are more ways to learn than ever before: through conferences, online sermons and lectures, by blogs and interviews and apps and videos. But I believe the church still needs the seminary. There are things the seminary can do that the even the biggest, best, and brightest church won’t be able to accomplish.

Our present model is far from perfect. Church, seminary, and denomination/ordaining institutions need to work together more effectively. It’s too easy for each entity to assume the other is doing the hard work of vetting potential candidates for ministry. I’ve overheard many conversations where the church assumes the seminary will train their ill-suited member for ministry, where the seminary assumes they are only handing out academic grades, and where the denomination assumes that if a man has been put forward by his church and has an M.Div. that he is ready to be ordained. There are bad seminaries that undermine the fundamentals of the faith. There are dry as dust seminaries that mint scholars more than pastors. And there are overeager seminaries that try to do everything under the sun, all the while neglecting the bread and butter of pastoral ministry: a competency to rightly handle the word of God and to teach it to others.

Nevertheless, I urge every man preparing for pastoral ministry to make every effort to go to seminary. Yes, actually go there, take classes in a building with other students, and get a degree. Again, I recognize there are exceptions to this rule. But I hope those pursuing pastoral ministry will diligently and sacrificially pursue a seminary education unless providentially hindered.


  1. Even a decent seminary will be better equipped to teach the original languages, systematic theology, church history, and biblical exegesis than the best church. This does not mean the church is negligible in the process, for our seminary professors should all be dedicated churchmen and our sending churches and denominations have a vital role in preparing pastors in other aspects of ministry that are just as important.
  2. Without a seminary education, even the smartest pastors will have big gaps in their understanding of the Bible, history, and theology. Our learning will be more provincial, more derivative, and less likely to be drawn from primary sources and older texts.
  3. Those without a seminary education are often at a disadvantage when it comes to using all the exegetical and theological resources a pastor needs to stay fresh, energized, and well grounded over a lifetime of ministry.
  4. Those without a seminary education may have a more difficult time entering into important discussions and controversies. There is more terra incognito on the doctrinal landscape.
  5. Learning in a flesh and blood community—with professors you can know personally and with students you can fight with and learn from—cannot be duplicated by online cohorts or virtual education. Not even close.
  6. A good seminary education gives the pastor confidence in what he should know and enough humility to know what he doesn’t know.
  7. By studying in person at a seminary you will develop lifelong friendships and important pastoral and professional connections.

None of this is to suggest a seminary education is all you need to be a good pastor. In fact, I think seminaries often try to do too much and are expected to do too much. Many aspects of ministry cannot be learned in the classroom. That’s why we need more rigorous internship programs and why the church needs to take more responsibility to evaluate, support, and prepare men for ministry. All I’m saying is that in most cases I believe it is a mistake with long-term ramifications for aspiring pastors to voluntarily forgo the seminary education they could have had with a good dose of discipline, creativity, sacrifice, prayer, and hard work.

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Poverty and Wealth Creation

Oct 03, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

In light of this morning’s post, a member of our congregation sent me something Bob Lupton wrote on the same subject. It’s quite good. I am always challenged and helped by what he writes on community development.

Forty years of serving in the inner-city has given me at least one clear insight: the poor will not emerge from poverty unless they have decent jobs. Service is important, to be sure. But service will not move the poverty needle. Wealth creation is the well-spring from which all economic life flows. It is the wealth-creators who take the business risks that ultimately create jobs. Our non-profit ministry has certainly provided employment for many people, bu like every other non-profit, we would not exist without the donations of up-stream, for-profit wealth producers. We exist on the “wealth-transfer” side of the ledger. The “wealth-creation” side is where the economic life originates.

Wealth creation is a gift of the Creator – a spiritual gift. But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth. (Deuteronomy 8:18) I have often heard sermons on the seductiveness of wealth and the corrupting influence of mammon, but I have yet to hear a sermon affirming the spiritual gift of wealth-creation. And yet it is this very gift that enables our society to flourish. And it is this gift that holds the key to the alleviation of poverty.

You can read the whole thing here.

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The Practical Divide Between Religious Leaders and Entrepreneurs

Oct 03, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

A good admonition from Acton’s Robert A. Sirico, in The Entrepreneurial Vocation, about the faulty notions religious leaders often have about wealth and the world of business:

In addition to an intellectual or academic gap, there is frequently a kind of practical divide between religious leaders and entrepreneurs in their understanding of market operations. This is because the two groups tend to operate from different worldviews and employ different models in their daily operations.

Notice how these differences are typically manifested.

On Sunday morning a collection basket is passed in most churches. On Monday the bills are paid, acts of charity attended to, and levies paid to denominational headquarters. However, when the collection regularly comes up short, making it difficult to pay the bills, most ministers will preach a sermon on the responsibility of stewardship. In the minds of many clergy, economic decisions resemble dividing up a pie into equal slices. In this view, wealth is seen as a static entity, which means that for someone with a small sliver to increase his or her share of the pie, someone else must necessarily receive a somewhat small piece. The “moral solution” that springs from this economic model is the redistribution of wealth, what might be called a “Robin Hood” morality.

Entrepreneurs operate from a very different understanding of money and wealth. They speak of “making” money, not of “collecting” it; of producing wealth, not redistributing it. Entrepreneurs must consider the needs, wants, and desires of consumers, because the only way to meet their own needs peacefully—without relying on charity—is to offer something of value in exchange. These people, then, view the world of money as dynamic.

In referring to the free market as dynamic, however, it is easy to get the impression that we are describing a place or an object. However, the market is actually a process—a series of choices made by independently acting persons who themselves place monetary values on goods and services. This process of assigning subjectively determined values is responsible for producing the “wealth of nations,” a phrase that is typically associated with the title of Adam Smith’s classic eighteenth-century work but was actually first employed in the Book of Isaiah (60:5). The creative view of economics taken by business people is also illustrated in Scripture.

Unfortunately, the preceding argument may be misconstrued as urging that religion adopt a bottom-line, profit-and-loss mentality with regard to its mission, but this would be a grave distortion. I agree that there is a significant place for the sharing of wealth and resources within Christian practice—indeed, a mandatory place. With their transcendent vision, communities of faith recognize that some matters cannot be placed within the limited calculus of economic exchange or evaluated solely in terms of money. It is equally true, however, that to maintain credibility in the world of business and finance, clergy must first understand the inner workings of the market economy, for only then will such moral guidance be helpful.

But there is another, if somewhat misleading, factor that contributes to the hostility toward capitalism that one frequently encounters in religious circles. Many religious leaders spend a great portion of their lives personally confronting the wretchedness of poverty. Poverty saddens and angers us, and we want to put an end to it. This sentiment is entirely proper, not to mention morally incumbent upon Christians. However, a problem develops when this sentiment is combined with the economic ignorance described above. When this happens, the just cry against poverty is converted into an illegitimate rage against wealth as such, as though the latter created the former. While this reaction is understandable, it is nevertheless ill-informed and can lead to overreactions. Persons who react in this way fail to acknowledge that the amelioration of poverty will be achieved only by producing wealth and protecting a free economy. (10-12)

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A Good Hymnal Is a Terrible Thing to Waste

Oct 02, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

One of the finest things I’ve ever read on worship is Harold Best’s contribution to Exploring the Worship Spectrum: 6 Views. In his chapter, Best pens an eloquent defense of the spiritual and musical capabilities of the printed hymnbook. He explores eight reasons why “the best hymnbooks are treasure troves of theology, prayer, Scripture, song, hymnic information, stylistic variety, and liturgical opportunity.” I’ve summarized his reasons in my own words and tried to provide an apt quotation for each one.

1. The hymnbook is a servant of the Word of God. “The hymnbook is, in its own way, a comprehensive exegetic work; it is metric theology. Over centuries of thought and practice, hymn writers have virtually left no topical or theological stone unturned. Hence, we can safely say that  a properly compiled hymnbook is a primary and indispensable source for thinking and singing biblically” (66).

2. The hymnbook is remarkable diverse in style. The content, the styles, the meters, the range of simplicity and complexity, the full scope of human emotion–the hymnbook doesn’t just contain “hymns” as a fixed genre, but hundreds of hymns much more diverse than even the best selection of the best songs from the last twenty years.

3. The hymnbook is also musically diverse. “Two thousand years of musical evolution are offered: chant, psalmody, carols, folk tunes, ethnic tunes, curving Welsh ballads and hearty English melodies, Germanic stoutness, French clarity, early American forthrightness, gospel tunes (both black and white), nineteenth-century sweetness, twentieth- and twenty-first-century freshenings and asymmetries” (67).

4. The hymnbook thrives on hands-on printed material. “To the extent that many contemporary practices have overlooked the value of visual musical literacy and carry-around texts, and in a literal sense have reverted to preliterate oral tradition, they are failing–not just the church, but culture” (68).

5. The hymnbooks has been foundational in the history and development of choral music. “What is sung by the congregation, what is performed by choral ensembles or soloist(s), and what is played on instruments are kin to each other, discrete members of a large family, each of whom graces and welcomes the other” (68).

6. The hymnbook is a working history of the church’s response to God in worship. “As the Word of God is read in a worship service, the hymns in that same service talk back to the Word and onward to God in faithful concord. In this sense, congregational song joins prayer and homily in prophesying: It speaks up, speaks out, and speaks truth” (69).

7. The hymnbook is a tremendous tool for private devotions. “If the hymnbook suffers neglect in our times, it is not so much because shortsighted and thoughtless pastors and worship leaders have discarded it, but because it is sequestered away in sanctuaries and used only on Sundays. Over the course of a singing year, maybe twenty or thirty percent of its contents, give or take, will have been used. But give every parishoner a copy of a great hymnal and challenge each one to absorb and integrate its contents fully into an eager and farseeing devotional regimen, and you will have a revival of interest, not just in hymn singing, but in the Lord himself” (70).

8. The hymnbook is scholarly and surprisingly flexible. “One of the joys of going through a good hymnbook is to peruse its Scripture readings and lectionaries, stories, prefaces, indices, creedal statements, and devotional commentaries, suggested orders of worship, and prayers. . . . A good hymnbook is also clever–or maybe I should say a good hymnbook in the hands of a clever worship leader is a remarkably flexible tool. Through the use of metrical and tune indices, new matchings of tunes and texts can be found that allow for variety and freshness” (71).

The bottom line: “Therefore, with the Word as the center of all church song, the hymnbook as its singable exegetic companion, and a significant body of hymn-related church music, we have a living organism that is virtually without parallel in the life of the church” (68).

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Am I Still Crazy Busy?

Oct 01, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

As I’ve done interviews, engaged in conversations, and read a few reviews about Crazy Busy, one on the recurring questions is whether I am actually any less crazy busy after writing the book?

It’s a fair question.

The book doesn’t end with a dramatic “that was then, but this is now!” chapter. In part, that was a deliberate choice. There is place for personal books that end with clear success–the dieting book where the author loses 50 pounds, the financial planning book where the author gets out of debt and saves a million dollars, the book on conflict where the writer applies his principles to his real life problems.

There is also a place for personal books that finish by focusing on something other than the author’s personal transformation. I don’t think the only way to write a marriage book is for the couple to be having the time of its life by the end of the story, or for a book on prayer to wrap up with a testimony about how many hours the author now spends on his knees. I chose to have the book end with an exhortation to sit at the fit of Jesus in the midst of our busy lives, rather than with a snapshot of how much my life had changed.

But to be fair, the choice was only partly deliberate. It was also a choice made out of necessity. I really did write the book to learn and grow, and at the end of the writing process–which was when the manuscript was due–there were still plenty of things I was learning and lessons I was trying to incorporate into my life. There wasn’t an opportunity to look back and evaluate the big picture of my busyness.

Perhaps now is a good time. It is certainly legitimate to wonder if the author of Crazy Busy is a little more sanely busy almost a year after writing the book. So here’s a picture of the work in progress.

Spiritual Diagnosis

The most helpful aspect of working on the book for me was better understanding why I so often feel the way I feel and why I have gotten myself into such predictably busy patterns. I didn’t set out to write a “how to” book as much as a “how come” book. I wanted to find an answer to the question, “Why are we the way we are and why do we feel so overwhelmed?” Diagnosis is often more than half the cure.

In particular, I see how pride subtly influences ministry decisions and pushes me to be busy with things I could leave alone. I’ve gotten better about planning for others to preach at least one of our services when I know my week is going to be full. I’ve gotten better at letting other pastors or elders care for members of the body without feeling like I need to be present in every difficult circumstance. I think I’ve also improved when it comes to the “terror of total obligation,” realizing that there is no reason to feel guilty for simply doing what I can where I am.

The insight that we are, in a way, made to be busy has also been helpful for me. Instead of descending into a cycle of distress, discouragement, and self-pity when the busyness dam breaks on a given day (or week or month or season), I try to remember that God said there will be days like this. While God has made no promise to bail us out of every stupid mess we get ourselves into, I’m learning to trust that when life is overwhelming and there is nothing I can do about it, that his grace will be sufficient for today and his mercies really will be new every morning.

Bad Habits

Last week at our monthly prayer meeting for area pastors, I spoke for a few minutes about busyness. The men shared where they are prone to feel overwhelmed and make poor decisions. For me, my worst habits have to do with technology, rest, and rhythm. For better or worse (probably a lot of the latter and a little of the former), I am a compulsive email checker. I check dozens of time every day–in the morning, at night, at home, at work, in lines, during commercials, walking to work, before I got to bed, when I get up, pretty much all the time. That means my inbox is usually remarkable empty. I don’t leave emails sitting around. I feel under compulsion to take care of them immediately or very soon after I get them. I respond as promptly to personal emails as anyone I know (don’t tell Justin Taylor!). The price for this fastidiousness is the debilitating sense (addiction?) that I can’t stay away for long. What if a really cool message comes in? What if they all pile up on my day off? What if I miss something I need to know right now?

I was talking to a friend at church on Sunday who had an emergency in the family and had to miss the better part of three weeks at work. He was lamenting how many emails he had when he got back. But then had made the comment I suspected he might: “You know what, by the time I got back, most of those emails were old news and had been taken care of without me.” That’s a lesson I need to learn. I’ve always considered it wise counsel to set aside certain hours to take care of email, and then to shut it down the rest of the day, but living by this good advice has proven harder than giving it.

If there is one simple, yet increasing difficult thing, I could do to feel less busy it would be distance myself from the screen more consistently and for longer stretches. This would help tremendously with the rhythms of work and leisure, with a more restful Sabbath, and with the gnawing sense that there is some new task or new fulfillment waiting for me in the palm of my hand.

Practical Steps

So in the midst of this internal reflection and self-diagnosis, what practical steps have I taken to be less crazy busy?  Have things actually gotten better? Several things come to mind, in no particular order.

1. No more tweeting at the dinner table. That’s not a mistake I was going to make twice.

2. I will spend a little money if it saves a lot of time. Twenty bucks for the high school kid to mow the lawn every other week is money very well spent.

3. My elders put me on a “no blurbing” diet. Most of us have a hard time saying no to certain requests. My elders saw my struggle and made it simple: you can’t do this for the foreseeable future.

4. We have a wonderful babysitter lined up for every other Tuesday so my wife and I can go out on a date.

5. It hasn’t been my initiative, but we are getting better as church about canceling meetings when the agenda can wait or when the few items can be taken care of over the phone.

6. I find it helpful to do my sermon prep and the rest of my work in different locations. You’ve probably been going to the coffee shop for years. I don’t drink coffee, but even finding another room in the church–away from my computer and my phone–has been hugely beneficial.

7. I try to put my evenings at home into different categories. If I don’t plan ahead, I can feel guilty that I’m not getting work done once the kids are in bed. It’s helped to think this night is for bills, this is for catching up on housework, this is for watching HGTV with my wife, this is for reading PhD books. It doesn’t always fall into such neat patterns, but establishing the categories has made the productive nights more productive and the ones that are supposes to be fun more fun.

8. We just established an extremely important committee at church. All along I assumed I would be on it (and likely do most of the work). In the end, we didn’t put any of our pastors on the committee. Several elders and deacons volunteered and are eager to get to work. They will do a fantastic job. I’m grateful not to be on the committee and wonder how many other committees I didn’t have to be on!

9. I try to come home for lunch more often. I eat better. I get to see the kids. Once in awhile I even take a short nap.

I still have some of the struggles with busyness. I can’t help but think of Ruth Graham’s tombstone “Under Construction: Thank you for your patience.” I’m not there yet, and I won’t get there until I’m Up There. But by God’s grace, I think there’s been progress in the last year.

What about you? What practical suggestions do you have for making your crazy busyness a little more sane?

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Monday Morning Humor

Sep 30, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

It was a good Sunday to be with the saints at URC. I love our church family, and it’s always a privilege to preach the word morning and evening. In between the services…that was a different story. The Bears lost. My fantasy team lost. And I was awoken from my Sunday afternoon nap by something crawling under my shirt, which turned out to be a bee. And boy did he sting–with duration and a good deal of attitude. Still hurts like the dickens.

Speaking of bees, I thought of this old bit from Brian Regan. I could live without the animation, but still very funny.

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Theological Primer: The Simplicity of God

Sep 27, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

The oldest of the doctrinal standards of the Reformed churches, the Belgic Confession (1561), begins with the declaration “that there is a single and simple spiritual being, whom we call God” (Article 1). This may seem a strange way to open a confession. There is only one single being called God; that makes sense. But God is simple—what’s that all about?

The simplicity of God is an important truth few Christians think about any more. By “simple” we do not mean God is slow or dim-witted. Nor do we mean that God is easy to understand. Simple, as a divine attribute, is the opposite of compound. The simplicity of God means God is not made up of his attributes. He does not consist of goodness, mercy, justice, and power. He is goodness, mercy, justice, and power. Every attribute of God is identical with his essence.

Consequently, we ought not suggest, for example, that the love of God is the true nature of God while omnipotence (or holiness of sovereignty or whatever) is only an attribute of God. This is a common error, and one which the doctrine of simplicity would have us avoid. We often hear people say, “God may have justice or wrath, but he is love.” The implication is that love is more central to the nature of God, more true to his real identity than other less essential attributes. But this is to imagine God as a composite being instead of a simple.

It is perfectly appropriate to highlight the love of God when Scripture makes it such a central theme. But the declaration “God is love” (1 John 4:8) does not carry more metaphysical weight than “God is light” (1 John 1:5 ), “God is spirit” (John 4:24 ), “God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29 ), or, for that matter, Scriptural statements about God’s goodness, kindness, or omniscience. “If God is composed of parts,” Bavinck explains, “like a body, or composed of genus (class) and differentiae (attributes of different species belonging to the same genus), substance and accidents, matter and form, potentiality and actuality, essence and existence, then his perfection, oneness, independence, and immutability cannot be maintained (Reformed Dogmatics 2:176).

In other words, the simplicity of God not only prevents us from ranking certain attributes higher than others, it allows God to have “a distinct and infinite life of his own within himself” (177). He is not an abstract Absolute Idea who happens to have love, wisdom, and holiness, as if we first conceive of a being called God and then relate qualities to him. Rather, God in his very essence—within himself and by himself—is love, wisdom, and holiness. God is whatever he has. He is not the composite of his attributes, some in greater and some in lesser amounts. God is a simple being without parts or pieces. His attributes do not stick to him; he is what they are.

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Temptation Is Not the Same as Sin

Sep 26, 2013 | Kevin DeYoung

It’s one of those things we know to be true on an intellectual level, but we forget it easily in personal experience.

Temptation is not the same as sin.

This truth is obvious from the Scriptures. In the Lord’s Prayer, we are taught to pray “forgive us our debts” and “lead us not into temptation” (Matt. 6:12-13). Debts and trespasses require forgiveness; temptation needs deliverance. They are not the same. Just because you are struggling with temptation does not mean you are mired in sin. The spiritual progression in the human heart goes from desire to temptation to sin to death (James 1:14-15). We are told to flee temptation, not because we’ve already sinned, but because in the midst of temptation we desperately feel like we want to. If being tempted was in itself a mark of wickedness, we could not confess that Jesus Christ “in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15). It is possible to experience profound temptations to sin while still being blameless from that sin.

Why does this distinction matter? For at least two reasons.

First, many Christians go through life with a weight of guilt and shame for temptations that feel like sins, but aren’t themselves sinful. Take lust for example. A man addicted to pornography is sinning. A man fantasizing about a woman’s appearance is committing lust in his heart. But what a man who notices a woman is attractive and then hesitates whether to look longer and think deeper about what he just saw? That’s likely a temptation and not a sin. Think about David and Bathsheba. Assuming he was on the roof minding his own business, it wasn’t wrong for something to register in David’s brain that the woman his eyes happened upon–again, assuming he just happened on the sight–was attractive. The problem was that he then sent and inquired about the woman. This is desire giving way to temptation, on the way to sin and death.

For any number of reasons owing to the world, the flesh, and the devil, we are, as human beings, sorely tempted. We are tempted to get revenge when someone hurts us. We are tempted hold a grudge when someone disappoints us. We are tempted to anger and impatience when our kids can’t sit straight. We are tempted to censoriousness when people rub us the wrong way. We are tempted many times a day every day. If we confuse the contemplation of sin and the attractiveness of sin with sin itself, we will feel guilt we aren’t meant to feel and miss out on the sympathy of Jesus we should experience (Heb. 2:18).

Second, it’s important to maintain the distinction between temptation and sin, lest we give up the fight of faith too quickly. Why go to battle against the allure of pride or the inclination to self-pity if the allure and the inclination are themselves already evil deeds? Sure, we may still hate those things as sins, but we will be less likely to fight with a sense of urgency if we presume we’ve already crossed the line into sin. What if David spotted Bathsheba out of the corner of his eye, noticed she was beautiful, had a quick thought that she could be gotten for himself, but then asked God to deliver him from the temptation? What he needed at the moment of recognition was not a wallowing in the depths of despair over his lustful heart, but a strong stance against the very human temptation that was rising to assail him.

By all means, let us be quick to repent when we sin in thought, word, or deed. Let us beseech God to forgive us our real debts. Let us also pray with frequency and fervency “lead us not into temptation and deliver us from the Evil One.” Sin and temptation are not identical, but they are both threats to the Christian.

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