Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: You try to improve and grow in all kinds of areas. Here's Nancy Leigh DeMoss with one area of growth you shouldn't forget.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: How much does it matter to you to be holy? How much thought and attention and effort do you give to becoming holy? Are you intentional about putting away in your life anything that is not pleasing to God and living a holy life?

Leslie: It's Wednesday, October 17, and this is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss. Getting on an exercise program, enrolling in a class, reading a book on effectiveness—all these things can be helpful, but have you ever thought about beginning a process of growing in holiness? Nancy will paint a picture of what that could be like. She's in a week-long series on holiness, which is part of the twelve-week series Seeking Him.

Nancy: I have a very good friend who's a runner. That's one thing we don't share in common, but last year, she decided she wanted to run a marathon. She'd never run anything close to a marathon before.

She's a little, tiny thing. She started training months in advance to run this marathon, and oh my goodness! This is a non-runner speaking. To watch the training, the preparation, the focus, the discipline that she put into this—she would go out running early in the morning. I mean, cold, rain, snow, sleet—it didn't matter.

She went out when she didn't feel like running. She went out when no one else was out there running, and at times, I'm sure that's a lonely pursuit when you're just doing this on your own. She ran when people, like me, sometimes thought maybe she was a little bit crazy. She ran when, sometimes she thought she was maybe a little bit crazy—or a lot.

She was reading up on the subject, studying on the Internet about it, talking to people who had run marathons, trying to learn from them. She had special dietary things she did, and her schedule and her priorities, next to the Lord—this took real high priority for that period of time that she was training for that race.

She did run the race. She finished it, and what a sense of accomplishment there had to be! But she had all along during those hard, tough months, she had a goal in mind. It's called the finish line.

Get to the end of the race. Run the 26 miles. Get to the finish line, and as I watched my friend training for a marathon, I thought, at times, about this whole matter of holiness—what it means to pursue holiness and how holiness is something that, biblically, we are told we must take seriously, we need to pursue, we need to train for.

The Christian life is a race, and it's not a sprint. It's a long-haul. It's cross-country. It's staying faithful. It's staying in there all the way to the finish line, and at times, it's excruciatingly difficult.

To run that kind of race takes training, as my friend's marathon did. It takes discipline. The Scripture talks about training yourself for godliness. It takes exercise, conditioning, toning. It takes determination. It takes perseverance, and those are all hard words.

We want words more like casual or easy or fun, but when we talk about the Christian life being a race, it does take discipline and determination and perseverance. That's important to realize because if we don't, we're going to be disappointed when the Christian life gets hard.

I got a letter, for example, from a woman who was pretty discouraged. She said,

I've been a Christian for 30 years, and I'm actively involved in my church and Bible study. I keep wondering why my sin nature seems to be the path of least resistance. A sinful mindset—worry, anger, doubt—seems to be my default mode. Unless I'm making an effort, it's where my thoughts seem to go. It seems like, as a new creation in Christ, it wouldn't be such a struggle.

That woman's letter illustrates to me the struggle that every Christian experiences, at times, between our natural, fleshly desires and the indwelling Spirit of God. There's this struggle, and our default mode often seems to be to go the natural route, the easy way, the fleshly way.

Deep down, I think that a lot of us, like this woman, are hoping that maybe there's some pathway to sanctification that isn't so hard. It's instant. It's effortless. You just run the marathon. We'd like to run the Christian life without there being a long process, without there being a hard process, without there being a hard battle.

There is no such way to run the Christian life, and if we think there is, we're going to be disappointed. The pathway of holiness requires intentionality. It requires intensity, and you see that thought in the book of Hebrews chapter 12, verse 14, where—let me just read you one phrase out of that verse. The author says, “Make every effort . . . to be holy” (NIV).

Make every effort to be holy. One translation says, “Strive for . . . holiness.” Another translation says, “Pursue . . . holiness” (NKJV). They all communicate the same thing—this requires effort. There's struggle. There's discipline. There's determination involved.

It's something you're always thinking about. It's something you're always pursuing. It's something you're always working on. There's an imperative verb in that verse that means “to run swiftly in order to catch something, to press on.”

It's a verb, this word strive or pursue or seek after holiness—it's a word that's used in the Greek language to speak of someone who runs fast in a race in order to win a goal. They're pressing on. It has a sense of urgency about it, a sense of intensity.

You say, “Why are you making such a big deal about this one word—pursue after holiness; be intense; be intentional about it?” Because I think it illustrates something that we often forget, and that is that this race to be holy, to live the Christian life, requires constant effort. We have to make it our constant, conscious ambition and aim to be holy.

We have to work at it. We have to concentrate on it kind of like an athlete sets his sights on winning an Olympic gold medal or climbing Mount Everest or maybe in the way that a guitarist would say, “I want to be a world-class musician.” So this athlete, this musician, makes sacrifices to reach that goal.

He endures pain to reach that goal. He puts aside other pursuits for the sake of something that he considers really important, and so, if you and I want to be holy, we have to develop a steadfast determination to pursue holiness. We have to be intentional about it. So let me ask you, "How important is holiness to you?"

How much does it matter to you to be holy? How much thought and attention and effort do you give to becoming holy? Are you intentional about putting away in your life anything that is not pleasing to God and living a holy life? Is it your priority? Is it your mission to be holy?

Let me ask you something else. Those of you who are moms, grand-moms, how important is your children's holiness to you? How much does it matter to you that your children grow up to be holy men and women of God?

You see, in the process of parenting, you've got to get the kids clothed and fed and to school or educated in some way. There are things you have to do every day to be a good mom, but it's easy to let the pursuit of holiness kind of just go by the wayside. What do you want for your children? What are you training them for? What are you preparing them for?

When your children sin, does it grieve you because it grieves God, or does it just grieve you because it makes you not look so good as a parent? Does it drive you to your knees to intercede for your children? “Lord, give my children a heart for holiness! Help them to love You. Help them to be so satisfied in You that they want to please You.” Are you consciously training your children to be Godly, not just to be smart, not just to be talented, but to be Godly?

Then how concerned are you about holiness in the body of Christ? How much does it matter to you that the church be holy? Does it grieve you when you see Christians being unloving, unforgiving? Does it grieve you when Christians are gossips or gluttons? Does it grieve you when people in the body of Christ have more interest in possessions and pleasure than in spiritual riches and pleasing God?

Does it grieve you when you see Christians dishonoring their parents, when you see Christians divorcing their mates? Does it grieve you when they're cantankerous and contentious, when they use profanity? You say, “Christians?” Absolutely!

Does it grieve you when they're in bondage to pornography, using their bodies and other people's bodies in ways that are not holy? Does it grieve you when, in the body of Christ, people can sin glibly and then laugh about it rather than blushing? How much does holiness matter to you?

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been painting us a picture of what it looks like to grow in holiness. She'll be right back. For you, the next step of growth could be to get a copy of Nancy's helpful book, Holiness, the Heart God Purifies. Using this book in your daily quiet time will help you take steps into a joyful, peaceful lifestyle of holiness. You can order or find more information at ReviveOurHearts.com. Now let's get back to Nancy's teaching on sanctification and holiness.

Nancy: Now, when it comes to that process of sanctification and our responsibility in it, the Scripture talks about a two-fold process that involves putting off and putting on. As children of God in pursuit of holiness, we have to be proactive about putting off something and putting on something else.

What are we to put off? The Scripture says we're to put off our old, corrupt, sinful way of life—it calls it “the old man, the flesh” and everything that might fuel its growth. Then we're to put on, consciously feed and nurture, that holy life that is ours through Christ.

You see those two sides of the same coin, often in the same context, in various Scripture passages. For example, 2 Timothy chapter 2, verse 22 says, “Flee youthful passions.” That's something we're to put off, and then it says, “pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace.”

Those are things we are to put on. James chapter 1, verse 21 says, “Put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness.” That's something we're to put off, and then it says, “receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” That's something we're to put on, that will fuel and encourage and nurture growth of the life of Christ within us.

I want to focus today a bit on the putting-off process. There's a word for that that theologians use, that is the word mortification. You say, “I was just mortified.” It means, “I could have died.” It comes from a Latin word that means "to kill, to put to death."

In a spiritual sense, mortification relates to how we deal with sin and flesh and this corrupt world and the attacks of the Devil. It indicates that there's a struggle. There's a battle involved in dealing with sin. It indicates that determined, decisive action is required to put those fleshly desires to death, that we have to be proactive about this.

It's a word—mortification—that speaks of putting the ax to the root of our sinful inclinations and desires, not just, as it were, chopping off dandelion heads, but getting down to the root, mortifying the roots of sin in our lives. It's a word that implies intolerance for anything and everything in our lives that is contrary to the holiness of God and that doesn't help us to become more holy—mortification.

This is an important part of the process of sanctification that we don't hear a lot of talk about today, and I read recently something in a book by John Piper that I want to share with you. I'll just share portions of it, but he has, in his book called Pierced by the Word, a fabulous section. I could not say it as well myself—a fabulous section on this whole process of mortification.

In the context, he's talking if you're enticed by sexual sin, sexual lust, but if we broaden that application, it could include being enticed by any kind of sin. For us as women, it may be enticed for inordinate appetites for food or for something else that's a good thing in and of itself, but it's these driving appetites that can control us rather than our being under God's control.

Any sin—you fill in the blank—what is your besetting sin? What is your area of recurring temptation, your Achilles heel, so to speak? And here are some wise words I'm going to excerpt about how to deal with temptation. Now, John Piper uses an acronym. It's the word anthem—a-n-t-h-e-m, anthem.

“The "A" stands for Avoid. What are we to avoid? Avoid, as much as is possible and reasonable, the sights and situations that arouse unfitting desire. In other words, stay away from the things, in so far as you can, while still living on this planet. Avoid the things that fuel your appetite for sin.” That's the A.

“N,” and I want to spend a little more time on this one. “Say 'no' to every lustful thought within five seconds. When you're enticed sexually, or any other way, do you fight with your mind to say no to the image and then labor mightily to fill your mind with counter images that kill off the seductive image?”

He said, “Too many people think they have struggled with temptation when they have prayed for deliverance and hoped the desire would go away. That is too passive. Yes, 'God works in us to will and to do His good pleasure, but the effect is that we work out our own salvation with fear and trembling'" (Philipppian 2:12-13, paraphrase).

“Gouging out your eye may be a metaphor,” and he's referring to what Jesus said in the Gospel of Matthew, “but it means something very violent. The brain is a muscle to be flexed for purity, and in the Christian, it is supercharged with the Spirit of Christ. What this means is that we must not give a sexual image or impulse or any other sinful image or impulse more than five seconds before we mount a violent counter-attack with the mind.

“I mean that,” he said, “five seconds. In the first two seconds, we shout, 'No! Get out of my head!' In the next two seconds, we cry out, 'Oh God, in the name of Jesus, help me! Save me now! I am Yours.'

“Good beginning, but then the real battle begins. This is a mind war. The absolute necessity is to get the image and the impulse out of our mind. How? Get a Christ-exalting, soul-captivating counter image into the mind. Fight! Push! Strike! Don't ease up! It must be an image that is so powerful that the other images cannot survive.”

He says, “So my question is, do you fight, rather than only praying and waiting and trying to avoid? We are talking about ruthless, vicious, mental warfare, not just praying and waiting. Say 'no.' Say it within five seconds. Say it out loud if you dare. Be tough and warlike. As John Owen, one of the great Puritan writers said, 'Be killing sin, or it will be killing you.'”

Now, that's tough language. He says strike fast and strike hard. Five seconds, say no—within five seconds. Don't wait five seconds.

A-N-T “Turn the mind forcefully toward Christ as a superior satisfaction. Attack the promises of sin with the promises of Christ.” And then "H." "Hold the promise and the pleasure of Christ firmly in your mind until it pushes the other images out.”

He said, “Here is where many fail. They give in too soon. They say, 'I tried to push the fantasy out, and it didn't work.' I ask [John Piper says], 'How long did you try? How hard did you exert your mind?' Be brutal. Hold the promise of Christ before your eyes. Hold it! Hold it! Don't let it go! Keep holding it! How long? As long as it takes. Fight! For Christ's sake, fight till you win!

“If an electric garage door were about to crush your child, you would hold it up with all your might and holler for help and hold it and hold it and hold it and hold it. More is at stake in dealing with our sinful lusts, so hold the promise and the pleasure of Christ firmly in your mind until it pushes the other images out.”

A-N-T-H-E, and I'm still quoting from John Piper here. “Enjoy a superior satisfaction. Cultivate the capacities for pleasure in Christ. Find in Him a pleasure that surpasses whatever pleasures you can find in this world.”

He says, “You were created to treasure Christ with all your heart, more than you treasure sex or chocolate or sugar. If you have little taste for Jesus, competing pleasures will triumph. Plead with God for the satisfaction you don't have. Then look, look, look at the most magnificent Person in the universe until you see Him the way He is.”

Then finally, "M." The "M" in the word anthem. He says, “Move into a useful activity away from idleness and other vulnerable behaviors. Lust grows fast in the garden of leisure. Find a good work to do, and do it with all your might.

“Abound in work. Get up and do something. Sweep a room. Hammer a nail. Write a letter. Fix a faucet, and do it for Jesus' sake. You were made to manage and create. Christ died to make you zealous for good deeds. Displace deceitful lusts with a passion for good deeds.”

A-N-T-H-E-M—if you didn't catch all that, we'll have it posted on our website, and you can jot those down and remember them.

What I want us to see here particularly is the need to be proactive in saying “no” to the deeds, the desires, the impulses of the flesh. When you're faced with opportunities or circumstances that challenge you to indulge your flesh, don't stand around and think about it. Don't fool yourself into thinking you can handle it.

Instead, do what Joseph did when Potiphar's wife tried to seduce him. The Scripture says simply, he would not listen to her, and then when she physically threw herself on him one day, he didn't hang around to discuss the situation with her. He acted instantly and decisively. Genesis 39 says he fled and got out of the house (see verses 7-19).

Get out! “Flee youthful lusts” (2 Timothy 2:22 paraphrase). Do what you have to do to mortify, to put to death, the deeds of the flesh. We're reading Joseph's story today because in that moment of temptation—and don't think that he wasn't tempted. You don't ever get to where you're so spiritual that you're not tempted. He was tempted. I'm sure of it. Jesus was tempted. We know that—but we read their stories today, and we are encouraged and strengthened in our faith.

Why? Because they refused—Jesus refused. Joseph refused. Others of these men and women of God refused to indulge themselves even for a moment in whatever pleasures an illicit relationship or some other temptation might have offered. “Be killing sin,” John Owen said, “or it will be killing you.”

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss with a sobering, life-giving message. Are you putting off sin, or is it in the process of controlling you? Nancy will be right back to pray.

Her contrast of things we need to put on and things we need to put off is available on the web. Just visit ReviveOurHearts.com to review that list for yourself and begin the process of saying no to sin and yes to holiness. 

That website is rich with helpful articles and resources on topics that you need to learn about and topics you can share with friends. To access this help, visit ReviveOurHearts.com and click on topics.

The help offered at ReviveOurHearts.com is made possible by listeners who give to support this ministry. When you make a donation to Revive Our Hearts this month, we'll say thanks by sending the 2008 Revive Our Hearts wall calendar. The name of this year's calendar is “Prayers from the Heart.”

Nancy wrote a prayer for every month, and the team here created a calendar that will look beautiful no matter where you place it. Ask for “Prayers from the Heart” when you call with your donation to 1-800-569-5959 or visit ReviveOurHearts.com.

Do certain things make you nervous? You might have the fear of heights, for example. Whatever it is that makes you nervous, that's how you need to feel about sin. Nancy will explain tomorrow, and she's here to pray with us.

Nancy: Father, teach us how to mortify our flesh, to put it to death. I know this sounds like rough language in a way, but we have lost sight of the fact that this is a battle we're in. It's a battle for the sanctity, the holiness, of our souls, and it's a battle where Satan is pushing and attacking all the time.

The world is pressing in on us. Our own flesh screams to be indulged, so Lord, by the power of Your Holy Spirit, help us today to say "no" to sin and to say "no" to anything that would encourage us to sin, that would fuel unholy desires and passions in our hearts. Then, Lord, having said "no" to sin and "yes" to Jesus, we will sing an anthem of praise and worship and gladness and adoration, for You will have set us free from all that would have entangled or ensnared us. Thank You in Jesus' name, amen.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scriptures are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

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