13 June 2007

25 things I've learned

by Dan Phillips

[Preface: for what it's worth, this is a compressed post. Its list-format may tempt readers to scan and be done with it — which, of course, is anyone's prerogative. However, it is meant to be read slowly, the verses looked up, and the thoughts reflected on.]

Here's how one grows: theory, tests, reflection, revision. Rinse, then repeat.

That is, one is instructed in life-principles. At this point, they're theories at best. Then one goes out "into the field," and tests them. Experience tempers, and sometimes the theories are revised or refitted. (This is one reason why God gave you parents, etc.)

That process of principle=>trial=>reflection is how the Sage did it (Proverbs 24:32—"Then I saw and considered it; I looked and received instruction"), but we must do it without his inerrant inspiration.

Here, then, are some fruits of my own reflections. They cost you nothing. Some of them cost me a lot. Don't even bothering guessing a context. Having had experience as a 51-going-on-975-year-old Christian, a pastor, a husband, and a father, is context enough.

I hope you profit by them.
  1. Experience may be the best teacher—but the tuition is mighty high. (Source: my pastor, quoting another pastor; it's the difference between the petî [simple] and the `ārûm [shrewd] in Proverbs [cf. 14:15].)
  2. Until they're tested, they're just opinions — not convictions (cf. John 13:17; James 1:22-25).
  3. No matter how hard you try, you'll mess up (James 3:1a). So try a little harder, and don't wait for the mess-up to embrace and acknowledge the fact that the results are ultimately in God's hands (cf. Proverbs 16:1, 9; Jeremiah 10:23).
  4. Sin only makes sense to itself (cf. Genesis 3), and to other apostates (Proverbs 28:4a).
  5. Sin makes you irrational, insane, crazy, nuts (cf. Genesis 3—Revelation 22; especially, for instance, Genesis 3:8; Numbers 13-14; Matthew 12:24; Ephesians 4:17-19).
  6. People locked into a sin are impervious to logic, facts and Scripture (cf. Genesis 3:9-10).
  7. People locked into a sin always say it's someone else's fault (cf. Genesis 3:12-13).
  8. People locked into a sin hate anyone who tries to tell them the truth, no matter how humbly nor lovingly (cf. 1 Kings 22:8; John 3:19-21; Proverbs 15:12).
  9. People in love with a sin will always find dire and horrendous fault with anyone who tries to part them from it (cf. Proverbs 9:7-8a).
  10. Sin destroys, ruins, kills. Its sales-line is a lie: it has nothing we really want (cp. Genesis 3:5 and 7; Romans 6:23).
  11. Sin doesn't care who it hurts, nor how much, nor how devastatingly, as long as it gets its way (cf. Matthew 10:34-36).
  12. There is no sin — no sin — that can't make an excuse for itself that makes sense to itself (cf. John 11:50; Philippians 3:19 ["they glory in their shame"]).
  13. Every unrepentant sinner sees himself as noble (cf. John 16:2).
  14. Every unrepentant sinner sees his sin as different (cf. Romans 2:3-5).
  15. Everything a sinner does to "fix" his situation apart from repentance only serves to make it much, much worse (cf. the sad story of Saul)
  16. You can't talk anyone out of sin (cf. 2 Timothy 2:24-26).
  17. The only and sovereign cure for sin, still, is the blood of Christ, applied through humbled repentance (cf. Matthew 3:8; Luke 5:32; 15:7; 24:47; Acts 11:18; 17:31; 20:21; 26:20). There is no "therapy" for sin (cf. 1 John 1:8-10).
  18. When Roman Catholics charge that Sola Scriptura makes everyone into a little pope, they're fundamentally wrong — yet they do point to a real and dire danger (cf. Proverbs 5:13; 13:1; 15:12; 19:20, etc.).
  19. If only perfect, "arrived" men and women can hold out the Word to other men and women, nobody will ever be able to do so (cf. James 3:1-2). That is because....
  20. What makes the Word of God the Word of God is that it is the Word of God, and not that it is perfectly handled by perfect people (cf. Numbers 24; 2 Peter 2:16; also Jeremiah 23:28-29).
  21. That fact excuses nobody for striving to be perfect, as his Heavenly Father is perfect. It just puts first things first (cf. Matthew 5:48; 2 Timothy 4:1-4).
  22. No matter how much you've learned, you're still pretty dim. So get the heck over yourself, and stay (or get) humble. Don't be a sucker, but keep your ears and mind open (cf. Proverbs 1:5; 9:8b-9; 12:1; ).
  23. Complicating that last, everyone who disagrees with you will accuse you of arrogance (1 Kings 22:24). Assume they may be right, and do something about it (cf. Psalm 25:9; Proverbs 3:34; 11:2; 1 Peter 5:5).
  24. You think you've experienced all the pain a human being can take? Wrong (cf. Psalm 88:15-16; Lamentations 3:54-55).
  25. You'll never out-smart the Devil, you'll never wear him down, you'll never overpower him by your own strength, endurance, or smarts (cf. Ezekiel 28:12; 1 Peter 5:7; Revelation 12:10). Never. Only God can. Sticking to His Word and looking to Him is not only the best thing you can do, it's the only thing you can do (cf. Ephesians 6:10-20; Revelation 12:11). Any suspicion to the contrary is stupid beyond the ability of mere words to express (cf. 1 Kings 20:11; Proverbs 11:2; 16:18).
Hear me now, and believe me later. Better still, believe it now, save yourself a lot of heartache later.

UPDATE: some of these were then woven into a sermon, to which I link in this post.

Dan Phillips's signature


Cindy said...

When you begin to think you are somebody, you are really NOTHING.......but dust from the ground, and dust to the ground you will return.

"Naked I came from my mother's womb, naked I will return".

How's that for arrogance!

J♥Yce Burrows said...

Am printing to read verses & think on ~ thanks!

James Scott Bell said...

Now write the book. This is good stuff.

Anonymous said...

I needed that this morning Dan.


Phil Johnson said...

Great stuff.

Steve Lamm said...


I'm a pastor and I teach a monthly men's breakfast attended by many of the men in our church. This post is so full of good meat that I would like to pass this on to them (with attribution of course).


Terry Rayburn said...

Good job, Dan. You put a lot of thought (and work) into that.

I would add one thing I've learned ('learnt' for our UK friends):

When my primary focus is my sin (even for the purpose of striving against it), I quench the Spirit, lose joy, and sin more.

When my primary focus is Jesus Himself, Biblically understood vis a vis the New Covenant, I walk in the Spirit, am filled with joy, and sin less. (2 Cor. 3:18)

Or as put in my favorite Tozer quote:

"The man who has struggled to purify himself and has had nothing but repeated failures will experience real relief when he stops tinkering with his soul and looks away to the perfect One. While he looks at Christ, the very things he has so long been trying to do will be getting done within him. It will be God working in him to will and to do."


DJP said...

stevenlamm — of course; may God be glorified and His saints edified.

REM said...

Circle the bases.

donsands said...

Some fine points made. A lot to look over.
A couple thoughts from my first reading.

Those who are slaves to sin, as we all were, think they're a "free bird".
Us, who are slaves to Christ, constantly struggle against sin that tries to unceasingly make us it's slave.

Satan is a mastermind, and the Lord rebuke him. Amen.

Jim Kirby said...

Thanks Dan. I always enjoy reading your posts.

On point 5: Sin makes you irrational, insane, crazy, nuts…. I am reminded of Eccl 9:3, "Truly the hearts of the sons of men are full of evil; madness (insanity, NASB) is in their hearts while they live...." (NKJV)

DJP said...

Good one, Jim. Thanks.

Scott Bailey said...

There is much good stuff here; however,

Point 13 is an OVER generalization. Perhaps, in your limited experience all sinners see themselves as noble, but in my limited experience I have met sinners that do not view themselves as noble. Also, using this Scripture is a bit of a stretch if it is supposed to definitively demonstrate this point. Because these few first century peoples will act this way all sinners see themselves as noble.

For those that have forgotten Satan's place, and he has convinced that "he is like God" (I seem to remember that from somewhere). A little taste of Lewis:

"The proper question is whether I believe in devils. I do. That is to say, I believe in angels, and I believe that some of these, by the abuse of their free will, have become enemies to God and, as a corollary, to us. These we may call devils. They do not differ in nature from good angels, but their nature is depraved. Devil is the opposite of angel only as Bad Man is the opposite of Good Man. Satan, the leader or dictator of devils, is the opposite, not of God, but of Michael."

...And he is defeated. Don the Lord already rebuked Lucifer. John 12:31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. Satan is not a mastermind: Jesus is. I think I'll worship Him instead.


donsands said...

"Satan is not a mastermind: Jesus is."

Thanks for clearing that up for me Scott. Appreciate it.

FX Turk said...

wait -- Phil Johnson reads this blog?

THE Phil Johnson?

Dan: I think if we want to get messages to Phil, the best way would be to post them on the blog ... who knew we had THAT many readers?

Stefan Ewing said...

"5. Sin makes you irrational, insane, crazy, nuts (cf. Genesis 3—Revelation 22...)."


Stefan Ewing said...

Amen to them all, but 17 and 25 sum up the human condition and God's answer to it beautifully.

Scott Bailey said...

No problem. Anytime you glorify Satan I'll make sure to point it out.

(sarcasm is easy)

DJP said...

Just so long as we keep in mind that we will never never out-smart the Devil, never wear him down, never overpower him by our own strength, endurance, or smarts (cf. Ezekiel 28:12; 1 Peter 5:7; Revelation 12:10). Never. Only God can. Sticking to His Word and looking to Him is not only the best thing you can do, it's the only thing you can do (cf. Ephesians 6:10-20; Revelation 12:11). Any suspicion to the contrary is stupid beyond the ability of mere words to express (cf. 1 Kings 20:11; Proverbs 11:2; 16:18).

Just so long as that's clear.

Because to think otherwise is really, really suicidally stupid. And to try to persuade otherwise is irresponsible at best.

donsands said...

"For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works." 2 Cor. 11:14-15

"For false christs and false prophets will rise and show great signs and wonders to deceive, IF possible, even the elect." Matt 24:24

"lest Satan should take advantage of us; for we are not ignorant of his devices." 2 Cor. 2:11

I agree with everything you say Dan.

And Scott, sorry about the sarcasm, if it offended you.

I was trying to make a point, that I don't worship Satan, which I felt you accused me of.
I know the devil is nothing compared to God. But he has been around, and I'm no match, nor any of us, against him one on one.

Though in Christ he has no power over me, nor any child of God, unless the Father allows it.

He may hinder us as he did the Aostle Paul, but he can never win.

"We are more than conquerors in Christ our Lord."

"The devil is God's devil". -Luther

God bless.

Stefan Ewing said...


That last thing we need as disciples of Christ is to go about acting complacently as if Satan has been completely vanquished. He has been brought to heel by God, but he still has the power to control people—both saved and unsaved—through sin.

Our hope, salvation, guidance, comfort, and solace is in Christ and Christ alone, for in Him alone can we find protection from Satan and his demons and principalities.

Kristine said...

I took the time and looked up each verse you used to support the items in your list.

I don't ever have time to respond to the very few blog postings that I do find time to read; however, this comment was necessary to make.

Your honesty and transparency were breathtaking, and I was both convicted and encouraged.

Thank you for all you wrote-it was a blessing to this year-old Christian.

Grace and Peace to You,

Anonymous said...

Can you move to Kansas City and start a church? We need you here.

DJP said...

Um, love to, except... could you move Kansas City? To somewhere with, like, mountains?


FX Turk said...


[snfl] I live closer to KC than Dan ... [snfl] ...

Stefan Ewing said...

Float Kansas City downriver and move Cent to Memphis, and it'll all work out. Easier than shipping KC overland to the mountains.

Modern Day Magi said...

an analogy for point 22:

The mind is like a parachute.
It works best when open!



Leberwurst said...

Awesome Dan,

Because of many of your great points, one of my current favorite sections of scripture is:

Hebrews 12:

3 "Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.

4 In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood


12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees,

13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.

14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord

DJP said...

KristineThraen — praise God, and thanks; that really encourages me. If a thought or two in there is helpful to you building your life in Christ, I could scarce be more grateful.

Sister Judith Hannah said...

Good morning, dear Brethren.

I've read with interest Dan Phillips blog on growing in CHRIST. This is a topic dear to my heart...only I call it applied discipleship. The Gospel calls it obeying or keeping the commands of CHRIST JESUS. The Apostles call it sowing to the Spirit, not to the flesh. For myself, I struggled with GROWTH for years, even as a committed Christian.

Sin, in all its various forms and insidious ways, is not tolerated in serious Christians. If sin sneaks itself in and I or we trip and fall, then sin is grieved over when once sin is found out. NONE of us are TRYING to grieve our LORD; we are striving to please HIM+, to walk in the narrow way that leadeth unto Life, to let our light so shine so that we may glorify OUR FATHER, WHO is in Heaven.

Thus, for the serious-minded Christian, SIN is not the uppermost issue. The real question is this: how do we walk on, beyond Church attendance, Sunday School, and other activities? What do we do to get closer to CHRIST once Bible study is over? How do we personally go deeper with CHRIST, to bear such fruit that we won't be trimmed off the TRUE VINE+ by the Great Husbandman (John 15)?

Thus, what we read, hear, and learn must move from our minds into our determination, our wills. Then, it must move into our behavior, our actions. How is this accomplished?

We accomplish this (all through the Enabling Grace of the HOLY SPIRIT) by applying the Words of CHRIST and the Apostles to ourselves. Everything Our EXAMPLE+ did, we do too.

If HE+ says to turn the other cheek when accosted, we are to DO IT; we don't take the neighbor to court. If the Apostle tells us that HE+ returned no insult, then... we return no insult, even in our minds.

(Yes, fighting the bully is instinctive, but we repent of this Un-CHRIST-like urge and struggle in prayer until The LORD brings the victory. For, the weapons of OUR warfare are NOT CARNAL, but mighty through GOD.)

We learn to TAKE EVERY THOUGHT CAPTIVE UNTO THE OBEDIENCE OF CHRIST JESUS. (If you labor in this endeavor, your face will sweat, some days, as you wrestle with your unruly self-will.)

It goes without saying that the tongues OF ALL OF US need to be brought into the conformity of CHRIST JESUS. If we are to pray for our enemies and even to LOVE THEM, how is it we can allow ourselves to speak derogatorily about ANYONE? As one dear brother said, "If it's not in your heart, it won't come out your lips."

This is just basic steps in applying discipline unto ourselves. As we learn to YIELD our behavior, our words, and the very thoughts of our hearts unto The LORD JESUS CHRIST, we will grow closer to Him+, IN THIS YIELDING unto HIM+.

Let us search our hearts, Brethren. Are we casting ANY of The LORD'S words behind us... instead of casting satan there? Are we setting ANY of the Apostle's words at nought... because "it is not for this day and age" ??

Here are a few that are commonly disregarded: foolish jesting, women keeping silent in the assembly, submitting to one another, owe no man NOTHING but to love him, ...having food and clothing, therewith be content, he that takes the sword shall die by the sword.

Take heed, dear Brethren, how you hear. For, how you hear will determine what you regard... or disregard... in GOD'S HOLY WORD.

In so doing, you will develop a HEALTHY fear of The LORD. It is not those who say, "Lord,Lord, haven't we done....." that will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven BUT HE THAT DOES THE WILL OF MY+ FATHER."

Dear Brethren, let us keep in our hearts such a hearty remembrance of that great day in which we MUST give a strict account of our thoughts, words, and actions, and remembering also HIS+ Great Goodness to us... as may make us both afraid and ashamed to offend HIM+ Who+ is the JUDGE of both the living and the dead. (Paraphrased, BCP).

Sister Judith Hannah goingdeeperwithchrist.blogspot.com

Daniel said...

DJP This is the sort of post that really exposes your desire to see believers discipled - a good mentoring post. I very much liked it.

MSC said...

I'd love to see an expansion on all these points. Perhaps a chapter on each would make a good book?

Caleb Kolstad said...

Great stuff here!

DJP said...

Calvdispy—find me a publisher who's serious about my writing and I'll rename all my children after you.

(For a day.)

Stefan Ewing said...

As long as the book cover doesn't have a Rick Warrenish or "25 Spiritual Thoughts for Life" or whatever type feel to it. And don't take it to Zondervan. I'd want something rigorous and robust.

And convince the publisher to do some Team Pyro, Victorian-style cover art for it.

Mark B. Hanson said...

On #3: I am reminded of G.K. Chesterton's "...if a thing is worth doing, it's worth doing badly." Because that is the only way sinful people can do God's work.

On #5: I counted this as an original insight a decade-and-a-half ago: "Sin makes you stupid." Unfortunately I forgot to make a t-shirt of it at the time. When I used that as a sermon theme, I also used Aaron's comment to Moses after the golden calf incident, David and Bathsheba, and Ananias and Sapphira, as examples of sin making people stupid.

DJP said...

Agreed in principle, Mark.

I think my nomination for chief Biblical illustration of "sin-makes-you-stupid" is Adam hiding behind a bush — from the One who created both him and the bush!

Now that's stupid!

Stefan Ewing said...

And blaming the wife: "She made me do it!"

MSC said...

No, No, No - it's blaming God, "You gave her to me."

Stefan Ewing said...

Yeah, even worse. We've learned so well from our ancestors, eh?

Unknown said...

There is definitely a book here - or at least 25 blogposts.