When Doing More Isn’t Always Better
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Dane OrtlundDane C. Ortlund (PhD, Wheaton College) serves as senior pastor of Naperville Presbyterian Church in Naperville, Illinois. He is the author of Gentle and Lowly: The Heart of Christ for Sinners and Sufferers and Deeper: Real Change for Real Sinners. Dane and his wife, Stacey, have five children.
How do we continue to grow spiritually? Dane Ortlund shares that we oftentimes think that we have to do more, but in reality it’s often about doing less and going deeper in the gospel truth.
When Doing More Isn’t Always Better
Dave: Okay, I’ve got a question for you: “If a new follower of Christ came up to you, or if one of our boys came up to you and said, “I really want to grow in my walk with God. I’m a brand-new follower of Christ. How do I grow best; what do I do?”
Ann: I’d say, “Get to know and fall in love with Jesus.”
Dave: He’s already done that.
Ann: No, he hasn’t.
Dave: “How do I get to fall in love with Jesus?”
Ann: I’d say/I mean, the thing I usually say is: “I’d get to know—
Dave: Let’s get in an argument about this
Ann: —get to know His Word; be in prayer; like be with other believers.” That’s usually what I say.
Dave: Yes, and I think that’s, honestly, what most people say.
Ann: Oh, is that wrong?
Dave: I think it’s right, but I think it’s deeper than that.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
Dave: I think it’s almost mysterious how God grows us. I think it’s a great topic for all of us to understand, but especially as parents. That’s the topic we’re going to tackle today; it’s a critical topic.
But before we do, you know, we’ve got David Robbins, the president of FamilyLife, in the studio.
Ann: And that’s always fun to have him here.
Dave: It’s yearend for FamilyLife, a really important time. So David, talk about why this is such a critical time for FamilyLife.
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When we talk about reaching families, and helping them grow in the ways of Jesus, I’m reminded of a FamilyLife Today listener that shared with me this; they said, “Divorce seemed inevitable for us, but FamilyLife Today’s daily encouragement helped us get through the worst valleys. Our marriage is still far from perfect, but we’re no longer at a place where divorce is an option. Thank you so much for sharing God’s Word with my family.”
That’s what we’re about, sharing the timeless truths of God’s Word/giving you that encouragement in the valleys when you need it; and we all know that we’ve needed it this year. As you consider your yearend giving, would you consider giving to FamilyLife? Any amount matters, and it helps us double the impact because of that matching gift. Please give if you can, between now and the end of the year.
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Ann: This is really such a great opportunity, so go to FamilyLife.com.
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Today, we have Dane Ortlund back with us. [He] wrote a book called Deeper, which is all about: “How does a follower of Christ grow in his relationship with Christ?”
Dane, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Dane: Dave and Ann, it is always great to talk with you/a ton of fun. So thank you.
Ann: Dane, you’ve written a book called Deeper, and the subtitle is Real Change for Real Sinners. We have loved reading this.
Dave: This is/I think it’s a classic work on this topic. As you know—you’re a pastor in Naperville of Naperville Presbyterian; I’ve been a pastor for 30 years—this is something close to our heart, as pastors, helping lead people; and that is the biggest question they ask.
Ann: And also, you and your wife have five kids. This is something you’re teaching your kids, too; and you’re modeling this to them.
Dave: We’ve got to get you to dig into this: “How do we change?” I look at your subtitle, Real Change for Real Sinners—and I’m living with a real sinner—she’s sitting right here beside me. [Laughter]
Ann: I think every person could say that! [Laughter]
Dave: And I’ve been trying to change her, and it’s not working! So there must be a deeper way. [Laughter]
Ann: I tell ya—[Laughter] ——
Dave: Okay, so go where we were—like, if your kids ask you, or anybody, “How do I change?”—where do you start?
Dane: Oh man, that subtitle was very carefully chosen, guys: Real Change for Real Sinners, as opposed to what we all tend to naturally/intuitively think, which is: “The way I grow is really about behavioral change/external change—doing something differently in my life—cutting carbs, getting up earlier.” For Real Sinners as opposed to theoretical sinners. We all believe we are born sinful—“Okay; that’s true,”—but actually, we are proving that doctrine every day— [Laughter]
Dane: —in our actual lives.
I’m wrestling, in this book, with what the Scripture says, under the coaching of great thinkers from the past, as to: “How do we enjoy real change—not merely behavioral—for real sinners, not merely theoretical sinners?”
Actually, Dave, that’s me. I am frustrated in my life with how little—how much it feels like two steps forward and five steps backward in a given day, week, or month—I want to keep growing in this. I think many of us Christians, maybe we could say all believers, know what that is to know: “I feel like I’m on a treadmill. How do I really begin to get traction in my spiritual life?”
Dave: Yes; I mean, I think a lot of people can relate to: “I’m 40-plus years into my Christian walk. Came to Christ in my/just before I was 20 years old.” I just told our listeners how old I am; didn’t I? [Laughter]
Ann: That’s good.
Dave: Here’s the thing—40-plus years—and I resonate with what you said, Dane. It’s like, “Okay, I’ve seen God transform my life. I’m a different man than I was; but boy, oh boy, I thought I’d be a lot farther along than where I am,”—like you said, it’s like—“Two steps”—for me—“twenty steps backward.”
Dane: Yes; exactly, Dave. I know what you mean. I think I’m probably going to die one day, still feeling that way; so praise God for the gospel.
But to look back to what you said a minute ago: “What would I say to my kids when they come to me, or to someone who sits down in my office here in Naperville, and says, ‘I’m really struggling; how do I grow?’” There’s a hundred things to say; but here’s number one on the list: Number one on the list is exactly what Ann said, at the top of the show here: “The Lord:—
Ann: Did you hear that?! I got something right. [Laughter]
Dave: I did not hear that. [Laughter]
Ann: Okay; keep going, Dane.
Dane: —“Who is the Lord Jesus?” We grow by going deeper into the Lord Jesus and what was true of us at our conversion, not by graduating on to other tricks, tips, and strategies.
“Who is Jesus?”—Ephesians 3:8—“…the unsearchable riches of Christ.” I’ve come to believe the way that we grow and get traction in the Christian life is by sinking more deeply into who Jesus—in all His multifaceted wonder—is as our Lord, Savior, Friend and Deliverer. That’s the banner over which I would want to frame everything about how we grow.
Ann: I thought it was intriguing, even as you say that, one of the things that you also said is: “The basic point of this book is that change is a matter of”—what you said, Dane—“going deeper. Christian growth is bringing what you do and say, and even feel, into line with what, in fact, you already are. Real change occurs through this reality: the life of God in the soul of man.” Talk about that.
Dane: Well, guys, when we read the New Testament, there’s actually not that much about growing—it’s there; it’s there—“We want to grow up into Him who is the head; that is Christ,”—Ephesians 4 [verse 15 paraphrased] and so on.
But for example, to take First, Second and Third John, there’s not a word about growth in those three letters. Here’s the consistent ringing message of the New Testament—and growth slots in under this—the message of the New Testament for the Christian life is: “Be who you now are. I already have, by the grace of God as someone united to Jesus Christ with the Holy Spirit dwelling in me, I have everything I need to grow. I don’t need to look outward and elsewhere.”
Yes, we need to be part of a local church and have a community—and there’s all kinds of footnotes to this—but the point of the New Testament is: “You are now a son or a daughter of God, justified, adopted and reconciled. Live in light of it! That’s who you are; walk in light with who you are.” That’s the consistent rhythm of the New Testament.
Dave: Talk about that then. If you are saying, “Growth is: ‘Be who you now are,’”—part of me thinks, “Oh, that’s an inward look at myself, not an upward look at who Jesus is,”—so balance out those two perspectives.
Dane: That’s a great objection, Dave, that some are doubtless saying. The answer is: “On the one hand, the way we ‘Be who we now are,’ is by learning, more resolutely all the time, to look out of ourselves at the Lord Jesus: ‘…fixing our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith’ Hebrews 12 [verse 2].”
But here’s the point: as we go through the Christian life, what we’re doing is:
“Here’s someone, Dave—they’ve really hurt me and offended me—how do I deal with that?” The answer is: “Forgive as I have been forgiven.”
“How do I bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit?” I don’t get on FruitoftheHolySpirit.com and click “Sign me up.” I recognize the Holy Spirit is within me. I simply need to keep in step with who I now am.
I have been lifted out of the old age and parachuted into the new age. I still live in the old age, in the sense that the flesh is still strong in me—I still sin; I’m still fallen, yes—but my I.D. card, spiritually, says, “…in heaven.” I need to now live in light of what is already true of me.
The reason I’m putting it this way, guys, is it’s liberating/it’s freeing. I don’t need to so much achieve some new level of holiness; I just need to, when I’m done with this interview, walk out of my office and love others, mindful of how audaciously, invincibly, and permanently loved I am by God.
Ann: But Dane, I hear that—we know that intellectually: we hear it; we agree with it; we know it’s sound biblical teaching—“Why do we fail?” and “Why don’t we live like that?”
Dane: Because we are real sinners. [Laughter] This is—hey, guys, here’s one of the things I wanted to say in the book; this is under a chapter called “Acquittal”—what I wanted to say is: “If you want to grow in Christ, and you’re frustrated because you’re not, that’s a sign that God is in you. That, itself, is hope-giving.” Okay, [that’s] number one.
Number two: one key way, Ann, that we keep growing is by never losing sight of the good news/the gospel that got us in, in the first place. We’re going to be stumbling and battling our way forward; we’re going to be messing up all the time. One key way that we get traction in the Christian life is by constantly returning to/pressing “Refresh” on the good news/the scandalous gospel that got us in. That is never irrelevant—it’s not like we need that to get in, and then we move onto other things; and then we die one day, and we need it again then—no, it’s what keeps us in the air all the way along.
Ann: I think that’s so true. I’m thinking of myself: if I’m super busy, and stuff’s going on, and I’m just running hard/my schedule is so crazy, I’m not getting a chance to spend time with Jesus. I find myself struggling because—when I am with Him, and I see Him, and I’m experiencing and reminding myself of His great love—that is what changes me, and it motivates me, and that’s what draws me back to Him.
I need to be reminded daily, sometimes hourly, of that love; because I feel like the world is constantly making us feel like: “We are failing,” “We are failing,” “We are failing.” I think you’re right. To go deeper is seeing Jesus, reminding us of the gospel and all that He’s done and paid for us.
Dane: I love that, Ann; I agree strongly. Just to add a little brief footnote onto that: “We don’t change by focusing on change. We change by focusing on Christ, and change comes in the back door.”
We don’t mainly grow by thinking about: “Oh, am I growing or not?”—that becomes what Dave was saying, to [be] really self-reflective, like we’re holding up a mirror to ourselves all the time—but what if, instead of a mirror, we were holding up a window, looking at Christ? That’s actually what changes us, beholding Him.
Dave: Yes; and I loved how you opened the book, doing that for the reader. Page 22, you say, “But let me ask you to open yourself up to the possibility that one reason you see modest growth and on-going sin in your life, if that is indeed the case, is that the Jesus you are following”—I love how you wrote this—“is a junior varsity Jesus, an unwittingly reduced Jesus, an unsurprising and predictable Jesus.”
I’ve said many times, as a pastor: “It’s not the size of your faith that matters; it’s the size of your God.”
Dave: It’s like we always think: “I need bigger faith,” “I want to grow my faith,”—and yet, its—faith can be mustard-seed size, but if it’s in the right object/if we understand who Jesus really is.
You take the early part of your book and say, “Let me tell you who Jesus is.” Talk about any one of those attributes, because you walk through several that I’ve never seen written the way you wrote it. So talk about them.
Ann: I’m going to say to our listeners: “Listen in on this; we all need to be reminded of this, because it changes us.”
Dane: Here’s one way that I would start to answer that question, Dave—and thank you for that, guys—is the Jesus we’re bored with is not the real Jesus. If you’re bored with Jesus, the problem is you, not Him. I’m not talking to you two—but anyone; and myself at the top of the list—“Why do I just get so flat and ho-hum about the Lord Jesus?”—because I don’t see who He really is. The real Jesus is not boring; the real Jesus is irresistible and inexhaustible.
That’s what I wanted to do in the first chapter is try to draw out some ways that the Lord Jesus looms larger than we realize. For example, one little section there was reflecting on the intercession of Jesus—that’s a big theological word—but the New Testament gives it to us. All that means is: Jesus is not twiddling His thumbs in heaven right now—and He did His real job, two thousand years ago, and now, He’s exhausted His job description—no! He’s in heaven, before the angels, in the court of heaven before the Father, interceding on our behalf.
It doesn’t mean He’s making us any more saved; what it means is He is applying our full salvation in the court of heaven. In other words, here I am/here’s Dane—stumbling his way and sinning his way through his little messy life—not only is it true that Jesus Christ died for me; and therefore, I am justified/I’m free to leave the court room—it’s also true He’s interceding for me; and therefore, He is reminding the whole host of heaven of just how justified, forgiven, and safe I am.
I don’t think we talk about that enough, guys!—the intercession of Christ—it’s wonderfully comforting.
Dave: Yes; and I love when you talked about that in the book. You said the reason He’s interceding is we are still sinning.
Dane: Yes. [Laughter]
Dave: It isn’t like we came to Christ, and He’s done interceding; He’s still interceding because, right now, we’re still stumbling along like you said.
Talk about befriending. I love that aspect when you wrote about that.
Dane: We say in our evangelical world—and we should—that the Lord Jesus is our Lord and our Savior—halleluiah; amen—but that’s not the only thing to say about Him. He could be our Lord and our Savior; and really, we functionally look at Him more like an employer. But actually He says—John 15—“I no longer call you servants…I call you friends [verse 15].”
We’ve diluted the category of friendship through Facebook® and other things. But think of what the word, “friend,” means. Here’s someone who is with me, going through my life, shoulder to shoulder, with me—He’s not only above me; He’s not only within me—He’s next to me, navigating life at my side. He’s my friend; He always lets me in and never lets me down. And here’s the glory of it: “He never mis-understands me”; can I put it that way?
We have friends—and they nod and smile and say, “Let me pray for you”; and they understand partially—but no one ever fully, exhaustively understands 100 percent all the weirdness going on inside of me that is making life hard, [not] even a spouse. Jesus Christ is the friend of sinners, and He always understands us perfectly/perfect solidarity. That’s gloriously comforting.
Dave: I mean, as beautiful as you describe this image of who Jesus really is, here’s my question: “Why do we forget this?” “Why does that get lost?”
Dane: We’re fallen; we’re sinners—it’s just who we are.
Really, the main thing that we need to have sort of as the banner/the umbrella over what we’re saying, as we are talking about how we change, is that God has changeless embrace of us, despite our changing levels of sanctification, and growth, and obedience. There’s something unchangeable—and that’s the Lord’s own hug/that’s the Lord’s own pulling of us into His own heart—and our safe and secure adopted status as His children.
You’re question, because it is so hard to answer, is why we must always be grabbing onto the gospel and never letting go of it as we’re wrestling with why we are so weird and bad at growing. [Laughter]
Ann: But I think, too—as a family, as a husband, as a wife, and with our kids—I think that thing that our kids see, though, is that wrestling. I think that’s okay that we continue to run after Jesus. We might fall down—we’re scraped; we’re skinned—but to see us get back up and to continue to pursue and run after Jesus, I think our kids see that; and that’s important.
Dane: Amen, Ann. I’m screwing up all the time, as a dad and a husband. At the least, could my wife and my kids see someone, who is repentant?—someone who has humility in the wake of screwing up?
What I want is a home, where pretense it low; rather than a home, where pretense is high—and we’re all faking it; I’m yelling at them in the minivan all that way to church and, then, we pull into the parking lot: I say, “Everyone paint a smile on now!”—that’s pretense; I don’t want that.
I want my kids to grow up and say, “You know, my dad screwed a lot of things up; but when he did, he apologized; so that was a real Christian, who was raising us in our home.” I agree with what you just said, Ann.
Dave: How would we—in our homes, in our marriages, in our families—be different if we went to Scripture, not as a spiritual discipline for growth—although, that will be a byproduct—if we went to Scripture merely to get a real good look at who God is through Jesus?
I mean, that/I mean, if I’m a husband listening today, that’s my action step—if I’m a wife—I’m like, “Go grab your Bible; open it up and say, ‘God, show me who You are’; and you will see Him in a way, maybe, you haven’t seen. That will change you, and change your family, and change your legacy.” That one action step is that critical.
Dane: Amen. I grew up and saw my mom on the couch with her cup of tea and her Bible open every single morning. She was doing what you were just describing, Dave. It’s marked me for life.
Bob: The Bible says about itself that: “The Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword [Hebrews 4:12].” The Bible does surgery, cutting away what doesn’t need to be in our lives, and helping to strengthen what does need to be there.
As we think about New Year’s resolutions, and about change in 2022, we want to pursue that which is real and substantive, not that which is just cosmetic. We want to change on the inside, not just our behavior. That’s what Dane Ortlund addresses in the book he’s written called Deeper. The subtitle is Real Change for Real Sinners; that includes all of us.
We have copies of Dane’s book available in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. This would be a great book for you to start off the new year as you think about the changes you need to see in your own heart and life. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to order your copy of Deeper: Real Change for Real Sinners by Dane Ortlund. You can order online, or you can call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get your copy. Again, the website, FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-358-6329; 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
I want you to think, for just a minute, about times in your life when you have been waiting for important news/waiting to find out something that you’ve been wondering about, even praying about for a while. The reason I want you to think about that is because, here at FamilyLife, that’s where we are today, with just a few days left before the calendar turns and we’re in 2022. We are waiting to see if we’re going to hear from enough FamilyLife Today listeners, here at yearend, to be able to take full advantage of a $2.3 million matching gift that has been in place for us during December.
We’ve heard from many of you; thank you for those of you who have called or gone online to make a yearend donation. We are grateful for that. But we are waiting to see: “Will we be able to finish the year with that $2.3 million matching gift fully secured?” That’s certainly our prayer, and we want to ask you to pray with us for that.
We also want to ask you: “If you have not made a yearend contribution, would you do that today?” Go online or call; and be as generous as you can be, knowing that, not only is your donation going to be matched—dollar for dollar, again up to that $2.3 million total—but we’re also going to send you, as a thank-you gift, a new devotional from our guest today, Dane Ortlund. He’s written a devotional from the book of Psalms called In the Lord I Take Refuge,150 devotions from Psalms to help carry you into the new year and help you grow spiritually. The book is our gift to you when you donate today online at FamilyLifeToday.com or when you call 1-800-FL-TODAY. We hope to hear from you. Please pray for us that we’re able to meet this matching-gift total before the year ends, here in a few days.
And we hope you can join us, again, tomorrow when we’re going to hear about why it’s so important for us to pursue change, not on our own, but in community/why we need one another if there’s going to be real change in our lives. Dane Ortlund joins us again. We hope you can be here as well.
On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We’ll see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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