Every year we try to develop a theme that will be a special point of emphasis in our ministries. This year our theme is “taking the next step.” I like this theme for several reasons.

First, the Christian life is described as a walk in many passages. Here’s a sampling.

  • Romans 6:4 (NKJV), Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
  • 2 Corinthians 5:7 (NKJV), For we walk by faith, not by sight.
  • Galatians 5:16 (NKJV), I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.
  • Galatians 5:25 (NKJV), If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.
  • Ephesians 2:10 (NKJV), For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.
  • Ephesians 4:1 (NKJV), I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called,
  • Ephesians 5:8 (NKJV), For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light
  • Colossians 1:10 (NKJV), that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;
  • Colossians 2:6 (NKJV), As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him,

So it’s a biblical metaphor for the Christian life.

Second, it communicates the idea of progressive growth. You can’t walk to any destination without taking the next step. One step may not seem like much, but add up a lot of steps and suddenly you’re where you’re supposed to be. A walk takes time, but eventually you get to your goal.

Third, I like this theme because it highlights the importance of responding when the Holy Spirit convicts. The Christian life is a marathon, not a sprint, but I don't need to run the entire marathon right now, I just need to take the next step. There are a 1000 ways that I need to change, but I don't need to attempt all of them, just the next one.

So where does God want you to take the next step in your spiritual life? Take that step by faith and watch Him work.

It’s a weakness in our parenting that sometimes we think our efforts will eliminate sin from our kids’ lives. What I mean is I think if I’m faithful in discipline, my kids will sin less often. God-pleasing parenting involves discipline, but our hope isn’t in our discipline. Our hope is in Jesus Christ.

Someone has said this better than I could.

We talk a lot about training our children and raising them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and we should be doing that. But we must never forget that we cannot train sin out of our kids. Their sin must be atoned for. We also talk a lot about the importance of spiritual discipline and being in the Word regularly, about training ourselves in godliness and righteousness. We should do that, too. But friends, we must not forget that we cannot discipline ourselves out of sin. Our sin must be atoned for.

Parents, as you work with your children, and Christians, as you go about your own spiritual disciplines, do not forget to apply the gospel to your life and to your children’s lives. It is the atoning death of Christ that they need and you need. Do not depend on training; depend on the work that Christ did. And realize that this is a work that only Jesus Christ could do. Only Jesus can make atonement for sin.
–Mark Dever and Michael Lawrence, It Is Well: Expositions on Substitutionary Atonement (Crossway Books, 2010), 95.

A new year is a great time to renew your resolve in the spiritual disciplines both for your own life and for your children’s lives. But keep in mind that your self-discipline doesn’t earn you any favor with God—it isn’t the Gospel. Your sin was paid for by Christ’s death. That’s your hope of change.

Use the times of discipline to regularly remind your children that they are sinners and that they need Christ’s death. Good parenting confronts children with their need of the Gospel. Remember, you don’t discipline them because their disobedience has inconvenienced or irritated you. You discipline them to please God and see their hearts changed by the Gospel.

Does that sound ominous? I’m catching up on my Bible reading and read Psalm 139. It’s familiar, but verse 16 was unexpected.

Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed. And in Your book they all were written, The days fashioned for me, When as yet there were none of them.

All of my days were determined before I had any days. God is sovereign. He is in control. He numbers my days. That’s comforting: I won’t live any fewer days than God has planned for me. It gives freedom to the Christian. I don’t have to worry about my life. It’s in God’s hands.

Maybe it’s also terrifying though. What if God hasn’t planned as many days for me as I have planned? Some Christians die young. Then I have to depend upon the character of God. His way is perfect. He is good and does good. If He has fewer days planned for me than my plan, then His is the best plan. It might be difficult for those around me in the short term, but it ultimately accomplishes good in their lives too.

How do you determine God’s will in major decisions of life? Some Christians think that those decisions (e.g., marriage, college, vocation, buying a house, etc.) require a different way of making decisions than smaller, daily decisions. In fact, some have a very mystical way of making those decisions. It requires a long process. That’s a topic for another blog sometime.

However, it’s interesting how Paul looked at one major decision. Last Sunday we looked at a lengthy passage on God’s truth for singles. There’s an interesting verse at the end where Paul addresses widows. What’s fascinating for our discussion is how Paul tells widows to determine whether they should get married again.

“A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:39, NKJV).

So what does a widow need to do to determine God’s will about her remarriage? A Christian widow can marry whomever she wishes—as long as he’s a Christian. The passage doesn’t insist that she go through a long process of determining God’s will in the matter. God’s will is made clear right here. “Do you want to marry this Christian man? Then do it.” She can make her own choice, and it’s based solely on her desire.

That’s interesting. Somehow we’ve made making big decisions like this much harder than they need to be. Finding God’s will can be as simple as obeying Scriptural commands (he must be a Christian), and doing what you want to do (married to whom she wishes). That’s not a fleshly way to make the decision; it’s what Paul commanded.

This past Sunday we looked at 1 Corinthians 7:17-24 in our morning service. It’s a great passage that teaches us we need to walk Christianly no matter what our circumstances are. Paul spends some time there teaching us that we don’t need to have different circumstances in order to please God. Our calling is primary, not our situation.

An inevitable question for those in undesirable circumstances is, “Is it okay for me to pursue a change in my circumstances?” The short answer is yes, but I’m a pastor and the short answer is never good enough.

Seriously, yes you can pursue a change in your circumstances. It’s okay for singles to pursue marriage; for those employed to look for a different job, or for those with no kids to pursue having children—those are just some examples.

One of the specific illustrations that the Apostle Paul uses is that of slavery. So how should a slave respond to the moral evil of slavery? Well, according to verses 21 and 22 he shouldn’t be anxious about it, but if he can get free, he should. Freedom is better.

In other words, your circumstances cannot drive you—obedience to God (7:17) and trust in His sovereignty (7:21) should drive you. After all, God gave you your circumstances—that’s what Paul claims (7:17). It’s okay to change your circumstances, but it’s not okay to be controlled or defined by them. In fact, that’s real slavery (7:23).

So single person, it’s okay to pursue marriage; however, it’s not okay to be driven by a desire to be married more than you’re driven by a desire to obey God. If a slave can walk Christianly while in slavery, then you can walk Christianly in your circumstances too.