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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
September 24, 2023
Overcoming Evil by Cultivating Godly Disciplines
I will begin this morning with a brief testimony of my own salvation and how I began to grow in Christ. I was privileged to be raised by Christian parents who taught me from birth that Jesus is the eternal Son of God, born of the virgin Mary, lived a sinless life, voluntarily died as the substitute payment for penalty of my sin at Calvary, rose alive from the dead on the third day, and has ascended to heaven where He intercedes for the saints and from which He will one day physically return for His followers. While I did not understand the depth of meaning in all of those truths, I did understand enough so that when I was six years old I recognized that I was a sinner in need of the salvation Jesus offers, and by His great mercy, He extended eternal life to me and converted my soul.
I have now walked with Christ for 59 years. I certainly stumbled a lot while I was a child and in my early teens for it was not until my late teens and early twenties that I began to figure out that life is about God’s glory and His will and not my own. Sadly, though I was often encouraged to do so, I did not successfully read through the whole Bible until I was 21. That was life changing since I was finally able to recognize both the big picture of the Bible’s story and particular details that let me know that there was still a lot for me to learn.
The vast majority of what I learned in church while growing up was good and very Biblical, but there were also elements that were cultural instead of Biblical. It was at that point I knew I needed to learn how to study the Bible for myself so that my convictions would come from what God had recorded in His word and not from either the musings of man or my own thoughts and desires. This would require a lot of self-discipline to reject the enticements of the world and set aside many of my own desires, even good ones, in order to pursue this better goal. That leads me into the topic I spoke on at the Men’s Conference this past Friday and which I have modified to preach here this morning – Cultivating Godly Discipline
The theme of the Men’s Conference was Overcoming Evil which fits well the overall theme in our series of sermons on how to prepare for and properly handle persecution. Cultivating Godly Discipline is at least part of the answer to the question, how do you overcome the evil that we see rising around us?
The Problem of Evil
Evil is the English term we use to describe wicked moral actions and thought that are contrary to God’s character and declarations of what is good. The basic meaning of sin is to miss the mark of God’s perfect will. Evil sets itself against God’s will. It is first used in Genesis 2 in describing the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and then in Genesis 3 when the devil enticed Eve to disobey God’s command by telling her that it would make her like God. Eve saw the fruit was good for food, a delight to the eyes and desirable to make one wise, so she took from its fruit and ate, and then gave some to her husband with her. Adam joined her in the sin resulting in God’s curses on the serpent, women, man and creation.
We often refer to man as having a sin nature. I would suggest to you that the nature of unregenerate man is worse than that. Yahweh states in Jeremiah 17:9 that “The heart is more deceitful than all else And is desperately sick; Who can understand it?” The NKJV translates that as “desperately wicked.” In Psalm 51:5 David wrote, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.” David was not suggesting anything against his mother; he was pointing out his own iniquity – guilt for sin – began before he was physically born. Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 9:3 “. . . “Furthermore, the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil and insanity is in their hearts throughout their lives.” Jesus pointed out in Matthew 15:19 that, “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.” Such moral corruption arises internally within the man.” Jesus declared in John 3:19, “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.”
Why point this out? Because you cannot overcome evil by any means of discipline – internal or external – if the heart is wicked. You may be able to curtail certain actions, but the evil will pop out other areas just as Paul explains in Romans 2 regarding the moral unrighteous and religious unrighteous whose moral and / or religious standards were developed by man to allow himself to excuse his own evil because it was not as bad as what others would do.
According to 1 Corinthians 2:14-16, unless you are born again and converted to have the mind of Christ, you cannot even understand or accept the things of God because they are foolishness to you. 2 Corinthians 4:4 explains that “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving,” and Ephesians 2:1-3 declares that “you were dead in trespasses and sin” because you “were by nature children of wrath.” The only hope for overcoming evil and being able to develop godly discipline is God’s mercy and grace by which the Holy Spirit convicts you of sin, righteousness and judgment (John 16:8) so that you will repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ to be redeemed, forgiven, transformed and adopted into God’s family. Until that happens, you are in bondage to sin, self and Satan and nothing else I say today will make any significant difference in your life.
A corpse that is washed and decorated with nice clothes and jewelry is only a good looking dead body. You must be made alive in Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit so that you are freed from sin and become a slave of righteousness. You are transferred from the domain of darkness to the kingdom of Jesus Christ who is now your master. If you do not have the confidence that if you died today you would be welcomed by Jesus into His kingdom, talk with myself or any of our church leaders and we would be glad to explain how you can have that confidence through the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The Wretchedness of the Heart. All of that being said, the Christian must be very careful of the wretchedness of his own heart if he is to overcome evil and cultivate godly disciplines in his life. I already pointed out the Lord’s warning in Jeremiah about the deceitfulness of the human heart, so the Christian must be both mindful and diligent to protect himself from his own ignorance and selfish bent. I will talk in a few moments about practical ways to do that, but at this point I simply want you to recognize the problem since that is the first step in being able to finding solutions to overcome it.
The Scriptures are full of warnings and commands to the Christian to lay aside the old self and put on the new self (Eph. 4:22-24) for we are new creations in Christ and the old things have passed away (1 Corinthians 5:17). We are to ‘put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regards to its lusts” (Romans 13:14). We were formerly of darkness, but now we are to “walk as children of Light” (Eph. 5:8) no longer living “for the lusts of men, but for the will of God” (1 Peter 4:2).
Though conversion from death to life happens at a moment of time when God imputes the righteousness of Christ to you upon faith in the person and work of Jesus, the process of being conformed into the image of Christ to reflect His holiness in daily life takes time. Old habits and ways of thinking have to be changed as ignorance gives way to growth in the grace and knowledge of the Lord. Love for God grows and develops as you learn of Him and His ways and the desires of your heart change to match His will.
So then, conversion to Christ is the first step and recognition of the wretchedness of your own heart is the second first step in being able to overcome evil in your own life and begin to cultivate godly discipline. The third step is recognition of the external dangers around you that can influence you toward evil.
The Influence of the World. Because unregenerate man is evil at heart, man develops societies that reflect that evil. It became so bad in the days of Noah that Genesis 6:5-6 comments that “Yahweh regretted that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart” because “the evil of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” While things are not yet declined to that level of depravity since most societies still maintain some basic moral principles because they are necessary for a society to function, the depravity of man increases as the influence of the godly within it decrease. This is the reason our own own society has sunk to such horrible levels of depravity. Our federal government and many of our states actively advocate murder in their abortion laws and regulations. Murder through euthanasia has become legal in 10 states. Theft is acceptable in many major cities as long as the value of what is stolen is under a particular amount. Pornography has become normalized and with it sexual perversions of all sorts are accepted and tolerated with even the exploitation of children advocated by some. People who rail against slavery in America prior to the mid nineteenth century are ignorant of or tolerant of current sex slavery and slavery of illegal immigrants. It is even worse in other nations. No wonder the warning is given in 1 John 2:15–17, 15 “Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. 17 The world is passing away, and also its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever.”
Because Christians are saved from out of the world, many of its evils will be considered normal until that believer grows enough spiritually to recognize the difference between good and evil. After giving a thorough explanation of the gospel and its effect on people, Paul begins practical application of it in Romans 12 beginning with his statement in verses 1-2, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” This will take the hard work of godly discipline to accomplish. But what exactly is discipline and why is it necessary to be able to stand firm against worldly influences and be transformed by the renewing of your mind?
The Definition and Necessity of Discipline
The Hebrew word, yasar, and several Greek words are translated as “discipline” in English Bible translations with context defining the particular sense of usage of each word. Our tendency is to equate discipline with corrective punishment such as in Jeremiah 46:28, “But I will discipline you with justice And by no means leave you unpunished” (LSB, ESV). However, when we are talking about cultivating godly discipline, we are referring to actions that bring about instruction and training in godliness resulting in living in righteousness. For example, Proverbs 12:1, “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates reproof is senseless.” 2 Timothy 1:7, “for God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and self-discipline” (sōphronismos – LSB). Ephesians 6:4, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (paideia – LSB). 1 Cor. 9:27, “but I discipline my body and make it my slave . . .” (Hupōtaizō – LSB). Colossians 2:5, “For even though I am absent in body, nevertheless I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good discipline and stability of your faith in Christ” (taxis – NASB). 1 Timothy 4:7, “But have nothing to do with worldly fables fit only for old women. On the other hand, discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (gumnazō – NASB).
The Necessity of Discipline – 1 Peter 1:2-11
Tragically there are those among professing Christians that hold to philosophical lines of thought that we are to “let go and let God.” This refers to an approach to the Christian life which is passive with an expectation that God will change you miraculously. Prayers are made for God to change the heart, but little or no active resistance to sin and positive efforts toward righteous living are advocated. This was part of the holiness movement in the nineteenth century that men such as J. C. Ryle battled in his preaching and writing (See Holiness and Practical Religion). This kind of philosophy can still be commonly found today, but it is contrary to God’s revelation about the responsibilities He has placed on believers in the pursuit of holy living. Yes, we pray for God to change our hearts, but we are also to obey His commands in changing our minds, our actions and our habits. Look at 2 Peter 1.
Verses 2-4 lay the foundation of the Christian life by declaring what God has done for sinners saved by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ. 2 “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; 3 seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. 4 For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.” If the passage ended there, perhaps a case could be made for being passive in spiritual growth because all of these things are works of God. But the passage continues on.
Verses 5–11, spell out human responsibility in response to the actions of God. 5 “Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, 6 and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, 7 and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. 8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten his purification from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble; 11 for in this way the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ will be abundantly supplied to you.” This section of the passage is anything but passive. There is no question that both salvation and spiritual growth is the work of God in you, yet at the same time, there are demands on you in response to the work of God. You must believe and apply that faith to the manner in which you live. This is where godly discipline helps to in overcoming evil.
Basics of Godly Discipline
What are the basics of godly discipline? There are five areas of conduct and behavior that bring about and enhance understanding of and obedience to Christ that I want to briefly discuss: Bible, prayer, fellowship, service and worship.
Bible is the starting place of godly discipline because it is from the revelation of God in His word that we can understand God and know His will in how we should live. Psalm 119:9–11 answers a foundational question about godliness. 9 “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word. 10 With all my heart I have sought You; Do not let me wander from Your commandments. 11 Your word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You.” The rest of the Psalm expresses love for God’s word because in revealing God and His will it changes the life of the Psalmist. I already pointed out from Romans 12:2 that we are transformed from worldliness to godliness by the renewing of our minds through the power of the Holy Spirit as we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and His will. There are five interactions we are to have with the Bible that enable us to understand and apply it to daily life. I will use my hand to illustrate them.
First is hearing the word. Romans 10:17 states, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ.” The context of this verse is the preacher who brings the good news of the good things of God. Preachers and teachers are God’s provision to the world and His people of those who will proclaim and explain His word. But to hear them, you must set aside other things you might otherwise do and use your time to listen to them. The discipline of hearing the word of God includes attend preaching services and Bible studies as well as the use of media to listen to sermons and teachings in other places.
Second is reading the Bible. God had His word written down so that it could be widely distributed and remain constant throughout the generations. Jesus made a point of that in Matthew 5:18 stating that not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the law until all is accomplished. 2 Timothy 3:16–17 explains its importance. 16 “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; 17 so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” Reading enables you to gain an understanding of the scope and sequence of God’s message. If you have never read anything in the Bible, then start with the gospel of John since it was specifically written “so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ and that believing you may have life in His name” (John 20:31). If you have not read the whole Bible, then make that a personal goal. That changed my life. A Bible reading guide is available in the literature rack next to the sound booth that can assist you in doing that in several ways. (See: https://www.grace bibleny.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/01/Bible-Reading-Chart.pdf).
A quick aside here. Neither of these points excludes either the deaf or the blind person from the pursuit of these spiritual disciplines. You use what senses God has allowed you to have to know and learn His word. The deaf can read tracts, sermons, books and the Bible. The blind can listen to someone else read either live or via audio recordings or read braille.
Third is Bible study. This differs from Bible reading in the amount of work that is done to bridge the gaps of language, culture and history to order to understand the passages being studied in their proper context. The Bereans were commended as being more noble minded for examining the Scriptures daily to see if the things Paul was proclaiming were true (Acts 17:11). Follow the command of 2 Timothy 2:15, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” Read a book or take a course on hermeneutics so that you can study the Scriptures properly for yourself in its grammatical and historical context.
Fourth is memorizing the Scriptures. The righteous man has the law of God in his heart so that his steps do not slip (Psalm 37:28). The more you interact with the Bible, the better you will remember it. Memorization enables you to remember 100% of what you learn. Yes, memorization can be hard work and more so as you get older, but it is worth the effort because that the best way to fulfill the next action.
The last is meditation. By that I am referring to thoughtful contemplation of what you have gained from hearing, reading, studying and memorizing the Scriptures. The Blessed man of Psalm 1 delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on it day and night. Like a cow chewing its cud, meditation brings back what has already been consumed to chew on it and get every bit of benefit possible from it as you consider the meaning and application of God’s word in your life. Meditation is like the thumb on your hand. It enables you to grip whatever you hear, read, study or memorize, and when you do all of them, you have a very firm grasp on the message of God’s word.
Prayer is the next area of godly discipline. Prayer in its essence is simply talking with God. In prayer we adore God, praise Him, thank Him, pour out our hearts before Him, and present our supplications, requests and petitions for ourselves and others to Him. Prayer takes discipline because though God is always with us, He is not verbally talking to us, so it is easy to forget He is there. It takes discipline to be mindful that you can talk with God anytime and anywhere, yet that is needed to fulfill the command to pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17).
The second area of discipline in prayer is setting aside specific time to pray. Jesus did this both as a normal habit of life (Mark 1:35) and for special times of concentrated prayer (Luke 6:12). That should be true of us as well. That does not mean you have to get up before Sunrise to pray because Jesus did it that way. It does mean you should have a normal habit of a time of prayer as fits within your ability to do so. If you do not function well when you first get up, it is not even a good idea to try and pray then. Pray when your mind is functioning and you can have a proper focus on talking with God. That may require sacrificing something else you like to do in order to pray, but that is where the discipline comes in. That may mean getting up earlier if you are a early bird or staying up later if you are a night owl. Or it could be sometime during the day that you set aside in your daily schedule. The point here is that you purposely seek to pray.
Let me add a quick point on this idea of being disciplined to have regular and special times of communication with God and apply the same principle to marriage. Busyness is a bane to godliness because it fills your time to prevent you from a proper and thoughtful pursuit of it. The same is true in your marriage. If you are not maintaining regular times to talk with your spouse punctuated by special times to set aside the busyness of life to concentrate your attention on each other, then your relationship will begin to deteriorate as the distractions of a busy life keep your attention focused away from your spouse and your marriage.
Fellowship is the next area of godly discipline. By this I am referring to genuine fellowship within the body of Christ as described in Ephesians 4:11-16 and 1 Corinthians 12 and not just social interaction. True Christian fellowship involves you using your spiritual gifts and abilities to help others grow in Christ and allowing them to do the same in your life. The church is one body with each part being vital to the healthy functioning of the whole. It is within true Christian fellowship that the many “one another” commands are carried out – love, be devoted to, give preference to, be of the same mind with, care for, be subject to, be humble toward, regard as more important, bear the burdens of, forebear, accept, build up, encourage, stimulate, teach, admonish, comfort, greet, be kind to, seek the good of, pray for, confess sins to, serve, and do not envy, speak or complain against, judge or lie to one another.
It is obvious that this will take discipline for the shy person since you have to go out of your comfort zone to interact with others in order to have fellowship with them. But as seen in this list of one another commands, this can take the work of discipline even for the gregarious person because true fellowship demands a depth of relationship. It does not exist in shallow social interaction. True fellowship actually does want to know how you are doing and how to help while also being vulnerable to admit areas of struggle and seek accountability and help to overcome it. In the body of Christ, overcoming evil is part of the functioning of the whole group and not just individual effort. By being equipped for the work of service we build each other up which increases our spiritual maturity which in turn enables us to protect one another from false doctrine and the trickery and deceitful scheming of those who are evil.
Christian Service is next because that is part of carrying out the various one another commands as well as a purpose in our salvation. Ephesians 2:8-10 explains, 8 “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” In addition, Jesus commanded in Matthew 5:16, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” Serving others both within and without the Body of Christ should be normal for the believer as a way of glorifying God and carrying out the one another commands.
In a fast paced society such as ours, this will take a lot of discipline because it means setting aside your own selfish desires in doing your own thing in order to do what you have come to believe is actually more important. Paul said in Philippians 2:3–4, 3 “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; 4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” He then goes on to point to Jesus in becoming a man and sacrificing Himself as the payment for man’s sin as the example of what this humble selfless service to others is to be like. However, keep in mind that like Christ, our service is centered on doing God’s will to bring Him glory. Christian service is not about gaining glory for ourselves, nor placing an obligation on people to manipulate them, nor allowing others to manipulate us to fulfill their frivolous desires masquerading as a need. We are to be sacrificial, but we keep God’s priorities in mind in order to keep our lives properly balanced among its many responsibilities.
Worship is the final aspect of godly discipline for me to mention, but it should be the underlying motivation for everything else I have talked about. Too many Christians reduce worship to singing songs of adoration and praise to God. That is only a very tiny part of worship. Worship is to attribute worth to another by attitude and action. We worship God because He is worthy as our Creator and Savior of our reverence, adoration and obedience to Him even to the cost of our very lives. This takes discipline because it means setting aside your selfish desires and building your own kingdom in order to be used by God in building His kingdom and submitting your desires to be controlled by His will. It means trusting Him to fulfill His promises in the present and the future as you obey Him. For example, it is an act of worship to trust God to provide for your physical needs for life as you put His kingdom and righteousness in first place as you make major and minor decisions in what you do and your manner of life.
It is easy for people to say they love Jesus, but it can be difficult to obey Him. Yet, Jesus Himself said in John 14:21-24 that those who love Him will keep His commandments. Worship of God is carried out in the actions that demonstrate the worth you attribute to Him by your adoration and reverence of Him and obedience to His will. It will affect everything you do from the mundane to the extraordinary as the primary desire in your life becomes seeing God’s name hallowed, His kingdom come, and His will done on earth as it is heaven (Matthew 6:10). Worship encompasses doing all for the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31; Col. 3:17). It is for this reason that worship is the beginning and the end of all godly disciplines – listening to, reading, studying, memorizing and meditating on the word of God; prayer, true Christian fellowship and Christian service. It is the motivation for being disciplined and it is the final goal and product of all these disciplines.
I will conclude with some practical suggestions in how to develop any and all of these disciplines. First, develop the correct motivation. The worship of God and desire to see Him glorified will continue to grow and strengthen throughout life. Motivations of pleasing others and cultural obligation are often starting points, but unless they are replaced by worship of God, these disciplines will go in one of four directions, none of which are good. 1) They become rote and diminish in meaning so that they are done thoughtlessly like repeating a prayer over and over again so that you are no longer aware of the words you are saying. 2) They become obligations fulfilled legalistically and often with pride such as boasting about how many times you are at church each week, or have read through the Bible or the hours you spend in prayer. 3) They become obligations that are resented and seek to be avoided. You do them only when you have to such as coming to Church only for special occasions. 4) They degenerate into nothing. There is no longer evidence of being a Christian except for an empty profession.
Second, exchange bad habits for good ones. Recognize the things that you should not do and replace them with things you should do. Example – you routinely go to bed late and sleep in until the last possible moment. Replace that with going to bed earlier and then getting up earlier to read a devotional. That may require an alarm to get you to go to bed on time and also to get up on time, but if you do it long enough, that becomes your habit and you will do it automatically.
Third, exchange good habits with better ones. Example. Replace reading a short devotional with Bible reading and study. That will require more time and effort, but it yields more and better fruit since it is better nutrition for growing in the grace and knowledge of God.
Exchanging any habit with a good or better one will take discipline to get it established, but if you do it long enough, the new routine becomes the habit. Asking others to hold you accountable as you establish the new habit can be very helpful and is a proper function of living in the body of Christ. However, keep in mind that the underlying motivation must be a desire to become more godly in order to better know, serve and glorify God. He is worthy to be worshiped with your life and how you live it.
As you cultivate these godly disciplines in your life – interacting with the Bible, prayer, Biblical fellowship, Christian service and worship – you will find an increasing ability to overcome evil in your own life and being able to help others do the same.
Sermon Notes – September 24, 2023
Overcoming Evil by Cultivating Godly Disciplines
The Problem of Evil
- Defining evil
- Man’s evil nature
- The Necessity of the New Birth
- The Wretchedness of the Heart – Warnings to Christians
- The Influence of the World
- Unregenerate man
- Transformation of the regenerate man
The Definition and Necessity of Discipline
- Defining Discipline.
- The Necessity of Discipline – 1 Peter 1:2-11
- Vs. 2-4
- Vs. 5-11
Basics of Godly Discipline
- As a way of life
- Specific Time
- Defining Worship
- Practicing Worship
- Exchange Bad Habits for Good Ones
- Exchange Good Habits for Better Ones
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