22 October 2009

25 things I've learned (un-requested classic re-post)

by Dan Phillips

[In this thread I solicited requests for re-posts. One of them wasn't this one — but it is one of the most deeply-felt posts I've done here, I  need a re-post today, and so... here it is, from over two years ago, very slightly edited.]

[(Original) 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. Kinda like Proverbs. Except without the deathless style and theopneustia.]

Here's how one grows:
  • acquired theory
  • encountered tests
  • enforced reflection
  • enlightened revision
Rinse, then repeat.

To elucidate: one is instructed in life-principles. At this point, they're just 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 process and 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: pastor Reddit Andrews, 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 our 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 your Biblical stance 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 do all those things and more. Sticking to God's 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


Hanani Hindsfeet said...

I think I did read it sometime in a bygone era, but thanks Dan, it's a post worth re-reading...

Good balance of understanding one's own weaknesses and tendencies to sin as well as those typical in others

Nash Equilibrium said...

Dan, when you made this point...

2.Until they're tested, they're just opinions — not convictions (cf. John 13:17; James 1:22-25).

... doesn't that imply that our exegesis would become experience-dependent? How would you prevent that from happening, if one were to follow this maxim?

DJP said...

Nope. I didn't distinguish between opinions and truth, but between opinions and convictions.

My point was along the lines of 1 Corinthians 10:12.

Thanks for giving me a chance to clarify.

DJP said...

To expand, Stratagem, I agree with the pastor who said that the Christian who loudly boasts "I would never _______," with the blank representing an area in which has never been tested, is painting a big bright target on his stupid chest and shouting to Satan "COME AND GET ME, BIG BOY!!!"

It's about humility and fear, not finding truth.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Dan, Thanks. I'll have to think on that one a while. Prima facie, it would seem that if we read the Word to learn truth, but then our experience dictates what we believe to be true (possibly even over-riding what the Word plainly says), then the distinction is academic. But as I said, I'll have to think some more on it. Best regards.

Nash Equilibrium said...

OK, just read your expansion after sending the last response. So you are really talking about a conviction of what we think we are capable of in terms of obedience that has not been tested, and not so much anyhing to do with doctrine? That makes much more sense - thank you.

DJP said...

That is closer to my point; also it is a point in pastoral (and parental) care. Just because a sheep or a child is bursting with excellent theories, doesn't mean all's clear.

However, HSAT, experience does have a role in exegesis and thinking. That is — and I don't want to get off on a rabbit-trail here — until something becomes an issue, one might make a hastier reading and synthesis that one would do if forced to re-examine the Biblical data.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"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)."

I don't know if you preached that particular sentence in your sermon, but if you did, I imagine that it might cause more than a few eyebrows to lift up in surprise.

DJP said...

Actually, I think I did.

SandMan said...

Dan... I have not (yet) read this the way the preface suggests. I will. However, at first glance I am struck by how simple this is to understand, and yet how deeply profound these truths are. I can see all of them in my own life at one point or another, and as a teacher of middle-schoolers could share at least one story illustrating any one of these points on any given day. In fact, I am inspired to share these (perhaps in depth) with my classes today.

Thank you for re-posting this.

olan strickland said...

Here's how one grows:
acquired theory
encountered tests
enforced reflection
enlightened revision

Dan, that is a very clear and concise definition of how one grows. It is when one gets to the point of encountering tests that don't match his theory that he is forced to go back to God's Word and re-think and re-study his theory. That is where enlightened revision comes from.

On the other hand, those who do not grow acquire a theory, encounter tests, and stubbornly refuse to reflect and come to the knowledge of the truth.

For example, this happened with the scribes and Pharisees in Jesus' day who had a theory that they could discern true prophets from false prophets; encountered a test when face to face with the Lord Jesus; and stubbornly refused to reflect and go to the Scriptures to see what they actually taught about the matter (Matthew 23:29-31).

Paul D said...

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..

thanks - needed that.

DJP said...

Olan, mightn't another example be Job's friends?

They had a tidy little view of the world that Job's experience clashed with. Rather than making sure they were right about the world (and God), they just took their mallets to Job.

Colloquist said...

If you were watching your stats, you saw me hunting around for this exact article, just yesterday. The print version is in my journal, dog-eared, but I wanted to link a friend to it online. I thought it was on BibChr then found it here at Pyro.

Thank you for the re-post; this article hit me hard, made me really think and dig in Scripture, and I have shared it with others. You done good with this one!

olan strickland said...

Job's friends are an excellent example.

How often instead of reflecting on and revising our theology or world-view we revise the truth to fit our theology rather than allowing the truth to revise our theology.

John said...

This is a great post Dan! @stratagem, recommend Frame's "Doctrine of the Knowledge of God". He demonstrates how the knowledge of God as revealed in the Bible is progressively revelaed as we submit in obedience. So even in an exegesis/doctrine sort of way, I think Dan has a good point. Sin blinds us from the truth.

mike said...

read this before, and copied it to my desktop. i walk through it often, it is clear and profitable.

i even keep an expanded printed version (verses and references all printed as well)in my study bible.

in a world rotten with pomo ambiguousness this kind of truth with authority is invaluable.

CR said...


When I read point number two from Dan, here's what I was thinking. There are many people who claim the truth or claim they have faith or who claim they love Jesus. But in reality, they don't possess the faith. Pastor Reddit Andrews (not quoting another pastor but saying it himself) said: There is no refuge in claiming faith there is only refuge in possessing it.

And the fact is, how do we know (not the Lord, but we) that we have the faith or truth or object of our faith (namely the Lord Jesus Christ) - it's when we are tested.

Until they're tested, they're just opinions — not convictions (cf. John 13:17; James 1:22-25).

Anonymous said...

"Until they're tested, they're just opinions — not convictions"

I'd just add to that, that you and I are not the tester.

That is, I can't test myself, I can only be obedient and learn what I can.

So...don't be afraid to say things like "I think such and so, but then I've never had to live through that so I don't really know."
Don't be ashamed or afraid of what you believe, on which you've never been tested. Just don't act like you've been tested, and do give ground to those who have been.

CR said...

Daryl: I'd just add to that, that you and I are not the tester.

Not entirely accurate, Daryl. 2 Cor 13:5. The apostle Paul in his imperative seems to be very emphatic. In fact, when we don't examine or test ourselves, we are giving evidence that we are already in rebellion against God.

Nash Equilibrium said...

CR: thanks...

When I read point number two from Dan, here's what I was thinking. There are many people who claim the truth or claim they have faith or who claim they love Jesus. But in reality, they don't possess the faith.

That sounds exactly like me! I don't blame others for my sin (as in some of Dan's other points), but there are some that I just keep on repeating about 50%? of the times I'm tested, no matter how much I tell myself I'm not going to. (Yes, I'm a real mess in a lot of ways).

Anonymous said...


I don't think that's what Dan was addressing. I read it as testing ala Job.

I think we're talking about 2 different kinds of tests.

Job was tested in a way that his friends weren't. The error of his friends wasn't in being tested, it was in assuming that they could accurately judge Job's test, having never been so tested themselves.
They failed to see that they couldn't understand what they'd never lived through.

I can test my faith from an intellectual standpoint. As in "does this make sense, does it accuratley reflect Scripture" and things like that. And we must, I agree.

But I can't say, with the same conviction as Job "Though he slay me, yet will I love him" because I've not been hit so hard and so often.
Likewise, although I am convinced that "the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away", if someone who has lost a loved one says that, I'll shut my mouth and defer to the person who has lived through that and been tested.

I can study for class, I can review the material to understand it (the test you're referring to), but until I live through the exam which I have not administered myself, I can't claim to stand in the same place as one who has.

CR said...


I could be wrong, but I looked up Dan's references for point 2 and I think he's getting at the Job thing.

Don't misunderstand me, the trials that the Lord sends are essential for the Christian. First and foremost, because since God says it is His will that we suffer, and if we don't, well, that's great cause for concern - either we're not a Christian or God's word is not true.

But it appears, and I don't know if you clicked on his references, but it appears he's dealing with the test of evidences in our lives. Are we doers of the word?

CR said...

Sorry, meant to say I DON'T think he's getting at the Job thing.

Anonymous said...


Looking at it again, I think you're right about Dan's emphasis.

I was just looking at "testing" from a different angle I guess.


Anonymous said...

...although, his list of steps for growth:

acquired theory
encountered tests
enforced reflection
enlightened revision

I can't help but notice that number 2 is Encountered tests. That tells me that the tests are not ours to administer, as tests usually aren't.

The verses he gives related to convictions vs opinions, do seem to refer to self-applied tests, but, for the most part, I'm still not sure that we can test our own faith.

HSAT, obedience will necessarily lead to many tests, but not all.

lawrence said...

"is painting a big bright targer over his stupid chest and shouting to Satan 'COME AND GET ME BIG BOY!!!!'"

lol that was hysterical. O man. That cracked me up.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"There is no refuge in claiming faith there is only refuge in possessing it."

That's a nice poke-in-the-eye for those who need it.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Dan, I just want to say (in reaction to the "come and get me, big boy" comment) that even if everyone else denies you, I will never deny Dan Phillips. Never!

trogdor said...

Strategem just referenced the incident I was most thinking of in relation to point 2. Clearly Peter had a grand unified theorem of his love and devotion to Christ, yet the test showed what was truly there, and it wasn't a pretty picture.

The good news is, God granted him repentance, and he went on to pass test after test with flying colors, and composed a masterful dissertation on perseverance through the most severe trials. By the grace of God, the lesson was learned and Peter was refined.

Sadly, experience doesn't always teach as it should. Even when a test was previously passed, a repeat of it can still be failed - I was just reading this morning about Asa having incredible faith in God's deliverance from a vast African multitude, then years later panicking at a much lesser threat from wee Israel. How is such a thing possible? Do we just get complacent and figure the lesson's learned, we got it under control, and get cocky? The old, long-dormant sins can come back up in an instant if we're not vigilant.