Can You Explain the Gospel?

There are many questions we have to answer each day: what will I wear to work or school? What’s for breakfast? Lunch? And dinner? What project should I tackle first? How will I respond to this e-mail?  How will I accomplish this task? What will I say to this co-worker? How will I help this customer, client, or student? How am I going to pass this exam when I didn’t study?

There are many questions to answer each day.

But what if someone were to ask you today for a definition of the gospel, how would you respond? What is the gospel? How do you put it into words? The answer to this question is of vast importance. The gospel is the central message of the Christian faith and is something that all Christians should know by heart. So what is the gospel?

The short answer: The good news of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection on behalf of sinners (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).

To answer the question more fully allow me to explain.

It is important to know that the word “gospel” means “good news.” The gospel is the good news of Jesus Christ. But before the good news becomes good news we must first know the bad news. The bad news is that all have sinned (Romans 3:23) and the penalty for that sin is death (Romans 6:23). We have sinned against an infinite God and we deserve an infinite punishment. There is nothing that we can do to fix this, no good work or righteous deed can take away the punishment we deserve (Romans 3:20; Titus 3:5). This puts us in a bad position. We have sinned, we deserve punishment, and we cannot make amends for our wrong doing.

But the good news of the gospel is that God sent His Son Jesus into the world (1 John 4:10) to live the life that we were supposed to live but failed (1 Peter 2:22), and to die the death that we deserved in our place (Romans 5:8). Then three days later He rose victoriously from the grave defeating sin and death (1 Corinthians 15). He then ascended into heaven (Acts 1:9-11) where He rules and reigns at the right hand of the Father (Ephesians 1:20-23) and will one day return to judge the living and the dead (John 5:27-29).

And now all those who by grace turn from their sin and put their faith (Ephesians 2:8-9) in Jesus’ redemptive work will escape from that judgement, be forgiven of all their sin (Colossians 2:13-14), and will live for all of eternity with God (John 3:16). That is the gospel! That is the good news that we are to cherish each day. That is the good news that we are to share with this lost world.

The gospel is not only good news, it’s the best news! Let us never forget what God in His mercy has done for sinners like us.  Let your heart rest and rejoice in the graciousness of God.

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The Gospel is for Christians Too

Many of us have been taught that the gospel is the ABC’s of Christianity; the building blocks of the Christian life so to speak. But is this really the case? Is the gospel only the entryway into the Christian life? We may say that understanding the gospel is useful, but only for the purpose of evangelism, but God’s Word sees things quite differently.

In 1 Corinthians 15, the Apostle Paul makes the argument that the gospel is not only the entryway, but the very lifeblood and heartbeat of the Christian faith. In fact, Paul reminds fellow believers in the church at Corinth that the gospel is, “of first importance.” He writes, “Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.”

Remember That You Received the Gospel

When we reflect on our initial reception of the gospel it does a few things: it reminds us of our former lost condition, it stirs up Godward gratitude in us, and it instills within us a desire to plant the gospel seed everywhere we go. Do you remember the day you were converted? You don’t need to know the exact point you were given a new heart in Christ, but you do need to reflect on the fact that God did give you a new heart. In the Puritan prayer book The Valley of Vision, one prayer entitled, “The Dark Guest” states it this way: “The memory of my great sins, my many temptations, my falls, bring afresh into my mind the remembrance of thy great help, of thy support from heaven, of the great grace that saved such a wretch as I am.”

Paul encourages the believers in the church at Corinth to remember the circumstances surrounding their reception of the gospel. Paul had evangelized Corinth around the mid 50’s A.D with the support of fellow tentmakers Priscilla and Aquila, and the continued efforts of Apollos. After a church was formed in Corinth, there were a number of serious problems Paul had to address, yet despite all these, he turns his attention to the most important thing to which they should focus: the gospel. When an unbeliever repents and receives this gospel, it is nothing short of a miracle of the grace of God. We all would do well to remember with reverence and gratitude to God the fact that we received this gospel in the first place. We can adopt Paul’s words in Romans 6:17-18, “Thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”

Remember That You Stand In and Are Being Saved by the Gospel 

The gospel is not only the message we first received upon conversion, but also the very foundation “in which” we “stand.” We don’t simply get into good standing with God through faith in the gospel. We stay in good standing with God through faith in the gospel. We get saved, stay saved, and will persevere to end time salvation through faith in the gospel alone. If our standing before God is based on our performance, we are standing on a shaky platform indeed, and such a platform will soon give way to God’s judgment. The professing believer who moves on from the gospel to moralism is not moving closer to God but further from him, and is in danger of missing the gospel altogether. As believers, we must understand that our only hope as sinners before a holy God is faith in the gospel. The gospel must be the daily foundation of our hope and joy and peace before God. Because the gospel is to be our mainstay and our lifesource and our confidence, we must preach it to our hearts each day. We must let it’s glorious truths sweep over our souls time and time again until our lives are one long, continuous expression of faith in it alone. There is no salvation outside of gospel salvation, therefore we need to live in and breath in the gospel each day.

Remember That the Gospel is of First Importance

Paul says the gospel is “of first importance.” There are a lot of important things about the Christian life that the Apostles mention throughout the New Testament writings: holiness, missions, prayer, obedience, good deeds, service to God and worship of God. Yet we must not confuse the fruit of the Christian life with the root of it. Without the gospel having its primary place at the foundation and as the lifeblood pumping throughout the church, nothing else matters. A Christian or a church which elevates the fruit of the Christian life above the root is in serious danger, just as a man choosing to live in a house without a proper foundation. To remove the gospel from the center of our everyday lives individually and corporately is as foolish as a doctor removing all the blood from his patient and expecting that patient to keep living.

So then, what is the content of this gospel?

Paul gives it to us: the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.

Yet one can believe that Christ lived, died, was buried, and rose again without believing the gospel. The gospel isn’t just the statements alone, but faith in the work behind the statements. To believe the gospel is not to believe that Jesus died for sinners. To believe the gospel is to believe that on the cross, Christ became my substitute dying in place of my sins and to believe that His work on the cross is sufficient to save me. To believe that Christ was buried and rose again is not to believe the gospel. To believe the gospel is to believe that Christ’s bodily resurrection from the grave means He will raise me from the grave after I die.

The issue is not whether we have ever believed this gospel at some moment in the past, but whether or not we are currently living by faith in this gospel alone for our salvation. After all, outside the gospel, all other ground is sinking sand.

May Easter Weekend Smite Your Heart With Christ’s Beauty

At the end of Tolkien’s epic The Lord of the Rings there is a scene to behold. Far into the dark and evil land of Mordor a solemn and weary Samwise Gamgee looked up into the sky, saw the clouds part, and beheld a single star. Tolkien describes this moment like this, “Sam saw a white star twinkle for a while. The beauty of it smote his heart, as he looked up out of the forsaken land, and hope returned to him. For like a shaft, clear and cold, the thought pierced him that in the end the Shadow was only a small and passing thing; there was light and high beauty forever beyond its reach.”[1]

In the evil and fallenness of our own present existence we often feel a similar despair, and may be tempted to lose all hope. But like the single star that smote Sam’s heart with a beauty that revived his soul for the journey before him, so too, there is one thing that can smite our hearts with a fierce beauty and revive us again – the good news, or the gospel of, Jesus Christ. “One new discovery of the glory of Christ’s face and the fountain of His sweet grace and love…” says Jonathan Edwards “…will do more towards scattering clouds of darkness and doubting in one minute than examining old experiences by the best mark that can be given a whole year.”

Being that it is Easter weekend, I want to remind you of great gospel truth. To see the wonders of the gospel I want to take you to 1 Corinthians 15:1-7, where we see two things: A Reminder of the Gospel (v1-2) and An Explanation of the Gospel (v3-7)

A Reminder of the Gospel (v1-2)

Here at the end of a long letter to the Corinthians Paul begins chapter 15 (which contains his famous defense of the resurrection) by reminding them of the gospel he had once preached to them. He says they not only received it at first in the past, but that they continue in the present moment to stand fast in it and are being saved by it. So for these Corinthians, and really for all Christians, believing in the gospel is part of our past, something that we at one time did. Whether it was from our parents, friends, a book, a preacher or however we heard it, we heard the gospel, felt convinced of it’s truthfulness, repented of our sin, embraced it by faith, and experienced the power of God in salvation – this is a past memory for all Christians. But notice how Paul is speaking here: belief in the gospel is not just something involving our past, it’s also something that has an ongoing present and future importance to us.[2]

Yes our past is settled, but because of the gospel our present is secure and our future is certain. Thus, we can hold fast to Christ amid the troubles of this world knowing that Christ has been, is, and always will be holding fast to us.

Note the “if” as v2 ends? After all the glory of receiving, standing in, and continuing to be saved by the gospel, Paul says “if you continue to hold fast to the word I preached to you – unless you believed in vain.” There is a warning for us here, a call to examine how we first believed in Christ. We will only stand in and be saved by the gospel in the end if we received it correctly at the beginning, that is in true repentance and true faith. By this Paul means, if we cease to hold fast to the gospel in the present moment it is evidence that we, at first, believed in the gospel in vain. Or we can read this another other way – if we truly believed in the gospel at first, we will hold fast to it for all our days.

Well what is the gospel Paul is eager to remind them of?

An Explanation of the Gospel (v3-7)

Let me read these words again, so they wash over you afresh. “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles.”

Paul is eager to remind them that this gospel isn’t something he made up, but is a gospel he received from God. And more so, this gospel he’s about to explain to them carries first importance, it carries an unmatched prominence, so that nothing is more central or precious to the Christian than the gospel. But again I ask, what gospel? Beginning in v3 Paul explains the gospel through a series of propositions:

Proposition 1: Christ Died for Sins

That Christ died for sins carries with it some implied meaning Paul doesn’t explicitly speak of here. Firstly, for Christ to die for sins implies that the eternal Christ once came to us, that He in His Person bridged the gap between God and man. Truly God He became truly Man in His incarnation, He walked among us, He lived among us, He became and is now forever the God-Man. Secondly, for Christ to die for sins implies that man is in a desperate sinful condition and cannot save himself. I’m afraid this is a point many people leave out of the gospel because it is so unwelcome to the heart of man. If the bad news about ourselves is left out we not only have no true understanding of the good news, we have what amounts to a kind of gospel-lite where one learns how to be saved without learning why one needs to be saved. Thirdly, for Christ to die for sins implies that Christ died for sin. Which means He absorbed the wrath of God due to us, in His body, in our place, as our substitute. The wages of sin is death, and because Jesus drank the full cup of God’s wrath dying for our sins as the Old Testament Scriptures had foretold, we can have the free gift of eternal life.

Proposition 2: Christ was Buried

The culmination of the shame Christ bore for us was not just that He condescended and came to us, not just that He lived a life acquainted with sorrow, not just that He died on the cross for us, but that He was buried. That the very Author of life laid dead in a tomb is staggering. It shows us the ultimate end sin will bring us to if we remain in it. It shows us the truth that because He truly expired we can now truly be born anew. He embraced the chill of death that we could feel the warmth of new life.

Proposition 3: Christ was Raised

Wonder of wonders, when Jesus died, did He stay dead? No! He rose! He rose! This resurrection was the divine stamp of approval that the Father had accepted the Son’s sacrifice. This resurrection was the validation that Jesus was truly the Son of God in power. This one act sets Jesus apart from all others. Think of all other religious teachers what you will, there has only been and will ever only be One who rose from the dead. Where is Moses? Where is Mohammed? Where is Buddha? Where is Confucius? Where is Gandhi? Where is Mother Teresa? In the grave. Where is Jesus? Ruling at right hand of His Father, interceding for and building His Church. As they did of His death, so too, the Old Testament Scriptures told us Jesus would rise.

Proposition 4: Christ Appeared to Many

After rising from death, Jesus made public appearances to all the leaders of the early Church[3], and a group of 500 people who are, for the most part, still alive. You know what that’s called. Verifiable data. He came, He lived, He died, and He publicly rose.

These are Paul’s gospel propositions that he employs to explain the gospel to us.

I do wonder if on the surface of things some of you think writing to Christians about what the gospel is is as unnecessary as explaining what a hammer is to a group of carpenters.[6] But as Paul was eager to remind these Corinthians of the gospel, I’m eager to remind you as well.

A deep belief and embrace of the gospel and the kind of full life the gospel leads to is a mark of a healthy local church. Sure we gather together to sing of the gospel, to pray over and from the gospel, to hear preaching about the gospel, and to see the gospel in the sacraments, but has this gospel gotten into your soul? Has it reminded you of the propositions of good news? I pray it has, and I pray it continues to do so.

As that small star high up in the sky smote Sam Gamgee’s heart with beauty, may the gospel, may this gospel, ever smite your heart with the beauty of God.

 

 

Citations:

[1] J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King, quoted in Ray Ortlund’s The Gospel, page 55.

[2] Stephen Um, 1 Corinthians: The Word of the Cross, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 259.

[3] Craig Blomberg, 1 Corinthians, page 296.

[4] Stephen Um, 1 Corinthians: The Word of the Cross, Preaching the Word Commentary, page 261.

[5] Christopher Ash has a book about this that’s worth reading, Zeal Without Burnout.

[6] Greg Gilbert speaks of this in the opening pages of his small book, What is the Gospel?

If Christ Be Not Raised…

Imagine if you woke up in the morning to discover this breaking news on your social media feed and across every major news network.: “the body of Jesus Christ has been discovered in a tomb near Jerusalem.”

If somehow this news could be verified, it would mean the end of the Christian faith and a complete repudiation of the Bible’s claim to divine inspiration. In his first letter to the church in Corinth, Paul examines the ramifications of this if it were to be true. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul defends the doctrine of the future, bodily resurrection of believers from the vantage point of Christ’s bodily resurrection. The ESV Study Bible informs us, “Many people in the ancient Greco-Roman world believed that death extinguished life completely or led to a permanent but shadowy and insubstantial existence in the underworld. The concept of a physical, embodied existence after death was known mainly from popular fables and was thought laughable by the educated.”

These Corinthian believers wanted to deny the future, bodily resurrection of believers while still accepting the bodily resurrection of Jesus, because it wasn’t popular in their culture. Paul helps them connect the dots of their faulty reasoning. In order to bring home the necessity of a future, bodily resurrection of believers, Paul imagines out loud what it would mean if Jesus had never physically rose from the grave.

1 Corinthians 15:12-19 reads, “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection from the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

If Christ be not raised…

Gospel preaching is a waste of breath

The first result of no Easter Sunday would spell the demise of all gospel-centered preaching. The gospel is hardly good news if the Messiah was crucified as an Enemy of the State and his lifeless remains are rotting in a tomb today. Who would boldly herald that kind of a morbid message? And who would gather Sunday after Sunday to hear someone preach about a Messiah that once lived long ago but is now long dead. This reveals the problem with a church service where preaching is not the central event or where the preaching has been degenerated to a load of moral principles simply because its untenable to believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Such church’s will perpetually dwindle because after all, who wants to go to church every Sunday to hear that?

The faith of believers has no grounding in reality

So with preaching forever gone, authentic faith would also be gone. The object of our faith as Christian’s is the event of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. If Christ lived an outstanding life, then died never to rise again, it would prove he was only a man and would make all faith in him a foolish endeavor. We cannot eliminate the resurrection of Christ without eliminating the very basis of saving faith. If Christ be not raised, then he did not accomplish what he claimed to accomplish at the cross and he was not who he claimed to be.

The Prophets and Apostles are a bunch of liars

Not only would preaching and faith be rendered pointless without Christ’s resurrection, but also the Bible itself. Paul includes himself when he says, “We are even found to be misrepresenting God.” Those aware of the New Testament’s explosive copying and distribution in the early centuries of the church know this all hinges on the bodily resurrection of Jesus. The main reason the message of the New Testament spread like wildfire throughout the known world was because there was sufficient evidence to believe the body of Jesus had physically risen from the dead. There is a kind of preaching and living that is not possible apart from an authentic and life-altering event as the resurrection of Christ. Men who would tirelessly preach a lie about Christ’s resurrection in the face of relentless persecution and go to their bloody deaths with that message still on their lips are a mystery indeed. Maybe one or two men would devote themselves to such a wasted life of preaching this false message if they themselves thought it were so but the evidence was minimal, but not all the Apostles would have joined such a band.

If the Apostles were lying about the resurrection of Christ, then the Old Testament prophets were as well. Who would study a Bible claiming divine inspiration if the supposed God who inspired it was not faithful to keep the very promises he made throughout it?

We are dead in our sins

Perhaps the saddest truth of all is to consider that if Christ be not raised, we are still dead in sins. Not only would our Sunday mornings be different and our Bibles be gone from the shelves and our faith be vain if Jesus’ lifeless body lay in a tomb, but we would have no life in our souls either. Easter means not only that Jesus is physically alive from the dead, but that all who trust in Jesus are spiritually alive from the dead. If Christ is dead, so are we. If this were true, then every glorious text in the Bible that gives the “before” and “after” of our salvation would stop at the “before.” Titus 3:3 would read not, “For we ourselves were once foolish…”, but, “For we ourselves are still now foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” Ephesians 2:1-3 would not say, “you were dead in the…sins in which you once walked”, but rather, “And you are still now dead in the trespasses and sins in which you still walk, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all still live in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and are by nature children of wrath like the rest of mankind.”

Deceased believers are gone forever

Every Christian funeral would be sapped of all hope if the body of Jesus itself also lay in a tomb still. The words of comfort believers give one another when their loved ones who are in Christ have died would be eliminated. We wouldn’t be able to comfort the grieving spouse by saying, “Well, at least we know your godly and believing husband is now gone forever and you’ll never see him again. Praying for you to come to terms with this.” Such a statement would go unsaid because it contains no hope. While we are not to envision heaven being just a great, big family reunion of the redeemed, if there were no saints going there it would not be heaven. Also, who would follow a faith that honestly believed this life was the only good to be enjoyed. If every Christian’s life ended at the tomb, we would be better off living for the maximum worldly pleasure in this short and vain life we are given.

Christians are a hopeless and pitiable group

Lastly, Paul reasons that no Easter morning would mean Christians would win the award for being the world’s most hopeless and pitiable group. There is no hope if there is no bodily resurrection. There is only pity. We feel sorry for people who give their lives to a faith that we know is based upon lies. Mormons, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, and even Jews who don’t see Christ as the fulfillment of the Old Testament are pitied by us now and so we try to reach them with the glorious news of Christ. But imagine if Christ be not raised, Christians would be the first on that list as a group of people to be pitied.

Imagine life without a risen Savior. It would be a hopeless waste of existence with no silver lining on the dark clouds of suffering because of no hope beyond our coming expiration. Yet I praise God that we do have a hope on which we can cling. In the very next verse, the Apostle Paul says, “But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” (1 Cor. 15:20a). Paul abruptly puts an end to this morbid and yet important pondering to declare the reality of the bodily resurrection of Jesus.

Because Jesus has risen from the dead and reigns in glory at the Father’s right hand, gospel preaching is no longer a waste of breath, but is perhaps the most fruitful thing we can do in this life.

Because Jesus is alive, our faith is not ungrounded, but has a sure footing in this historical event.

Because Christ has risen, the prophets and Apostles were not lying, but were declaring the pure truth of God and our Bibles are to be cherished.

Because Jesus’ body has been lifted up to glory, we are no longer dead in sins, but our souls have been raised with Christ and our bodies will at His return.

Because Jesus is alive forevermore, our loved ones in Christ who have gone before are not truly dead, but are now reigning with Christ in glory.

Because Jesus died and rose again, Christians are not a hopeless and pitiable group, but a hope-filled people who live as authentic and bold witnesses to the only hope there is in this world…the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Do you have this hope reader? If not, turn from your sins and trust in this Jesus, who alone gives eternal life. If your hope is set on the risen Christ, let it be expressed in the way you live. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!

Why Christians Need to Stop Citing “All Things Are Lawful”

Justin Taylor:

In his book, What Is the Meaning of Sex? (Crossway, 2013), Denny Burk explains why it is contrary to Paul’s intended meaning for us to cite “all things are lawful” (1 Cor. 6:12) as if it is something he approves. In fact, the context makes clear that this is actually something he is refuting:

Almost every modern translations and a near consensus of commentators treat “all things are lawful” not as Paul’s words but as a slogan that Corinthian men used to justify their visits to prostitutes (cf. 1 Cor. 6:15). The NIV captures the correct interpretation: “‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Cor. 6:12).

. . . [T]he Corinthians had twisted Paul’s law-free gospel into a justification for bad behavior. Thus the phrase “all things are lawful” is not an expression of Christian freedom from the apostle Paul but rather an expression of antinomianism from fornicators! Paul’s aim in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 is to correct the Corinthians’ misunderstanding. One of the reasons for the Corinthian error was the fact that they viewed the physical body as inconsequential in God’s moral economy (see 1 Cor. 6:13b). Yet Paul refutes the Corinthians on this point and gives them an ultimate ethical norm with respect to their bodies: “You have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:20). . . . Paul’s question is not “Is it lawful?” but “Does it glorify God with my body?”

This is not to say that every evangelical who uses this phrase has the wrong general idea. Christian freedom is a legitimate doctrine, rightly interpreted and applied. But I think it’s fairly clear that this is an example of a legitimate intention from the wrong text.

Fighting by Banking on the Person and Work of Jesus Christ

I want to end with this few day pondering on 1 Cor. 10:13 with an illustration.

There once lived a German monk who changed the world.  Martin Luther was his name, and he became the figure head of the Protestant reformation.  Many biographies have been written on him and they all contain one of Luther’s traits that we find strange – arguing with Satan.  Luther would often have enormous struggles with the Devil, and a few of these instances are legendary.  On one instance Luther was alone in his study, translating the Bible from Greek/Hebrew into common German.  He felt the Devil tempt him saying, “You know your faults.  Who would follow you if they knew who you really were.  You know you deserve death and hell, give up this protest and go home.”

Luther in his journal described it like this in his journal: “I felt the breath of Satan on my neck, felt like giving up, and immediately threw my bottle of ink at him and said in response: “I know I deserve death and hell, what of it?!  I know One who stood in my place and made satisfaction in my behalf.  His name is Jesus Christ, Son of God, and where He is one day there I shall be also!”

Now I don’t recommend arguing with Satan, but look at what Luther did.  He was banking on the person and work of Jesus in the midst of his temptation.  That is what fueled him!  Luther knew Jesus stood in His place, absorbing the wrath of God aimed at man for sin, doing what no other human could do, absorbing the sin of man and wrath of God, defeating Satan by dying in our place, killing death by rising from the dead, and because of that satisfaction has been made in Luther’s behalf.  Indeed satisfaction has been made for all who trust in Him.  Luther trusted, and when tempted He fought back with a blood bought heart, loving Jesus too much to give in to fleeting comforts and empty promises.

Church, you can stand in temptation like Luther did, banking on Jesus too.  Hebrews 4:15 says, “For we do not have a High Priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”  Jesus is our sure footing in temptation.  Why?  He was tempted in every way we are, and never caved.  He obeyed on our behalf so we could be accepted before God.  It makes sense that Hebrews 4:16, the very next verse says this, “Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

Friends, help is waiting, Christ is there.  Standing strong for us.  Go to Him, go to Him.

Temptation Provides a Glimpse of God

The 2nd reality streaming to us from 1 Corinthians 10:13 is:

God is Faithful

Now, the rest of the verse shows us that temptation provides the opportunity for us to see something about God, something that we also forget when tempted.  Look at the rest of the verse: “He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

What does the rest of the verse show us about God when we are tempted?  That He is faithful, and particularly faithful to His people in two ways: 1) not letting us be tempted beyond our ability, and 2) providing a way out when we are tempted so we can endure.

I must say that this part of the verse is interesting.  Does God really not let us be tempted beyond our own ability?  What does that even mean?  Well, James 1:13 is clear – God does not tempt us, we are led away by our own sinful desires.  But though God doesn’t tempt us, He is not absent in our temptation.  He is allowing only a certain amount of temptation to come to us, and a certain amount only.  Do we not pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one?”

The key to note, I think, is that our opinion of what we can handle and God’s opinion of what we can handle are different, and this difference of opinion is a good thing.  Just like a good trainer will always push you farther and harder than you think you can go, so too God will always lead His people farther and deeper than we think we’re able.  You see, from God’s point of view we can handle anything.  Remember these verses: “we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us” (Phil. 4:13), “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26), “He has given us all we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him” (2 Peter 1:3).  It seems that God has said we have all we need, all things are possible, and that we can do all things through Him who loved us and gave Himself for us.  That makes our limit on what we can handle pretty large.

On top of all of this encouragement from God about making through temptation by relying on Him and His strength we have another promise, He will provide a way out so we may be able to endure.  When temptation comes, when we feel the Tempter bearing down on us, enticing us to believe that something really is better than Jesus, when you’re fighting, when you’re laboring to believe the gospel, bank on the promises of God, when you’re doing all you can do to stand, graciously, who shows up?  God!  He is at work, loving, leading, strengthening, holding, and providing escape for us.

The question is: do you want to escape?

You ever thought about that?  It’s that crucial point when we see two options before you, one is the way to gratifying sinful desire, having what you want, and opening all of you to what the Devil is tempting you with; while the other is the way out, the way of escape God has provided you with, the way to lasting joy and freedom.  What do you choose?  We’ve all been there, and we all know one thing.  What God has for you is life and freedom and joy and infinite pleasure.  What the Devil has for you is sin, fleeting joy, empty promises, and slavery.  Friends, strive to go down the narrow path.  Trust that God knows best, He saved you, He is limiting temptation so it doesn’t beat you down, He is providing a way of escape for you, He will see you through to the end, if you trust in Him.

Common Temptation Means Hope/Grace in Community

Hear the Word of God, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”  (1 Cor. 10:13)

Earlier I said there are realities we forget when being tempted that can deepen our resolve to live bold for the glory of God and be firm in our commitment to Christ in the face of temptation.  This verse gives us such realities.  The first one is:

Common Temptation

Our verse tells us at the beginning that “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to man…” Temptation is a curious thing.  There is a silly idea present in our culture that says godly men don’t know what temptation is.  This is an obvious lie because only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is.  After all, you find out the strength of an army by fighting against it, not by giving in.  You find out the strength of wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down.  A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later.  That is why non-Christians, in one sense, know very little about temptation — they have lived a sheltered life by always giving in and therefore never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us because they have never tried to fight it.  We know what it feels like to be tempted.  We know the enticement, the luring, the desire, the promise, and the draw into what is forbidden.  We know when we’re in a weak spot temptation often seems like an Everest of a mountain in front of us, and when we’re feeling strong temptation may seem no more than a crack in the road.  But temptation can be so subtle that one who feels strong may get so comfortable in that “strength” that they cease to realize they’ve gotten spiritually lazy and have become weaker and more prone to attack than the average man who reads his Bible every day.

Temptation is a danger we must realize exists.  Don’t miss the fact that behind temptation there is a Tempter.  The Devil has many names.  He is the Accuser, reminding us of all the wrong we’ve done so we’ll think we are under the wrath of God at all times.  He is the Father of lies, whispering to our ears nothing but false truths in an effort to get us away from the whole counsel of God.  He is Satan, the serpent who tempts and entices us with things we know we’ll enjoy in the short term but will always regret in the long term.  So it comes time for the question we all face.  What is it for you?  Right now as you sit in your seats, how are you being tempted?  What is the Devil whispering to you?  “If people really knew who you were, they’d ask you to leave.”  If the pastor knew what you’ve done, he wouldn’t talk to you.”  “Don’t know you remember how he treated you?  Why should you be loving to someone like that?”  “Your parents think you don’t know anything.”  “Your child hates you.”  “Hmmm….no one is home, no one would know if I took a drink…or clicked on that website…”  “If the people in your church knew the thoughts that went through your mind pastor, they’d be in different church!”  So you see, from the oldest of us to the youngest of us, we all deal with temptation in its varieties.  This is where we can see our first ray of hope, because temptation is no respecter of persons and comes to us all, we can find help in one another.  You see, Paul tells us this in our verse.  “No temptation has overtaken you except what is…WHAT?  COMMON TO MAN.”  What does this mean?  It means that we can never say, in our temptation, that we are the only person struggling with this specific thing at the current moment.  We are only tempted with those things that are common to man.  We’re not alone.  There are others who have walked through these things before, or perhaps are walking through them right now.  This doesn’t mean we all face the same temptations, but there are enough underlying similarities present to show that though we struggle in different ways, we all struggle with the same things.  But you see, in order to find this out we must let another know about our struggles.

This, I have found, is not only hard to do, it’s rare for anyone to do.  We think people will judge us, stop being friends with us, or leave us; when the reality is they’re probably struggling with something that they feel just as awful about as the thing you’re struggling with.  We are so easily deceived aren’t we?  I know it takes time, and it is always really messy, but if we we’re honest with one another about our struggles, I’m sure we’d all be stunned at how many of us deal with exactly the same issues.  Why else do you go to Church with others?  Why not just watch Church at home on TV?  Do you come to show the church your nice, neat, and proper put-together life?  To put on display your own squeaky clean-ness?  We do not go to Church to put on a show, this is real life gospel reality that matters for all of eternity.  May we never treat the gathering of the saints as just a glib, careless moment and grieve the heart of God!  We are a group of wretched sinners who have earned damnation but been found by the redeeming hand of God, doing life together under the headship of our strong savior Jesus Christ!

The fact that our temptations are “common to man” releases us from fits of self-pity, and frees us to enjoy Jesus together.

Zombie Movies, Temptation, and 1 Corinthians 10:13

Are you a zombie fanatic?  Do you watch The Walking Dead?  I don’t watch The Walking Dead, but I am a zombie fan.  I enjoy watching World War Z and I Am Legend.  People are terrified, zombies are everywhere, there on the run, and it seems all the characters on all these shows deal with differing emotional issues as they are trying to achieve a common goal – survival.  Desperate measures are being taken, people doing things they’d never imagined themselves doing to stay alive, its utter chaos.  Can you imagine if that were reality?  That would be nuts.  After watching zombie flics for a while you begin to realize they’re more like real life than we care to admit.  We’re all going through something aren’t we?  True, you may not be fighting zombies like other people, but at times, our struggles can feel just as life threatening can’t they?  Whatever you’ve gotten yourself into, it’s in these moments of life we forget certain realities that could strengthen, embolden, and deepen our resolve to live bold for the glory of God and be unwavering in our commitment to Christ.

We’re going to be lingering in one verse all week.  The verse is 1 Corinthians 10:13 and before getting into I must make one comment about it.  I still remember the first time I read this verse.  There was so much in it that fed my soul that I had never known before; it seemed to strengthen my bones to endure temptation rather than giving in.  It seemed to give me ballast in my feet, and it was so nice to feel empowered by God to withstand the Devil’s allurements.  I’m sure some of you have felt the same way after reading or studying this verse.  You’ve found great joy in persevering through temptation by the truths laid down for us here and learned the great promise that every temptation seems to blind us to, “Jesus is better, He is always better.”

But I’m aware that there are some of you, who not only struggle with temptation but are so used to giving into temptation that you’ve forgotten what it once was to fight it.  When temptation comes and opens the door, luring you out of godliness and holiness into immorality and unrighteousness, you don’t stand your ground but leap through the door to take hold of the so called “prize.”  What happens when you’ve got what Satan promised?  You realize the old maxim is true, “not all that glitters is gold.”  You’ve got your prize, and feel rotten to core of your being.  When it happens you feel like Gollum with the Ring, consumed with your “precious” and feel deep inside a layer of hardness come over your heart.

Whoever you are, the one who stands through temptation or the one who gives in, I’m glad you’re reading.  We all have been victorious at times and we all have jumped into sin with both feet at times – therefore we all have need to endure.   Jesus said in Matthew 24:13, “He who endures to the end will be saved.”  1 Cor. 10:12 says, “Let anyone who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.”  After rejoicing in the Lamb who was slain for sinners, the Apostle John cries out in response calling us to stand firm in Revelation 13:10 saying, “Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.”  So friends, stand we must.  Anyone can start a race, but we must finish it.  Well, in 1 Corinthians 10:13 we do indeed have strong encouragement.  Hear the Word of God, “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.”

Why I Believe Fitness is a Must for Christians

I am a firm believer in working out and staying fit for one big reason. 1 Cor. 10:31 says, “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” There are two implications from this verse that are massive for us in our daily living.

a) Because God tells us to do all to His glory, anything we do not to His glory is sinful.

b) Everything we do, from how we wake up, drink orange juice, talk to people, and lie down to sleep, ought to be done to the glory of God.

Therefore, if everything we do is to be done to the glory of God, this means that how we treat our bodies matters to God. This then means that we cannot use our bodies in any way we want to, as if we were the master of our own bodies; for doing so would show a lack of care and responsibility to God, who gave us these bodies and calls us to honor Him in using them.

Because of all this, it is my belief (and I think it should be yours as well) that working out and keeping some kind of regular exercise routine going is not only honoring to God, but should be a normal part of every Christians life. I wonder if that last sentence just went past you. I just said that if you never exercise and/or sit at home eating Twinkies and Ding Dongs all day, you’re sinning. God cares about our bodies, what we use them for, what we put in them, what we put on them, and how we take care of them. Now, we can’t stop here because we need to define what exactly this looks like. Here are two thoughts to help you:

10:31 and 4:8

Notice how I quoted 1 Cor. 10:31 earlier saying that we must do everything to God’s glory? Good, keep that in mind. When it comes to working out it is a fact that many people work out for the wrong reason; for their own glory and fame. All those mirrors in gyms are not merely for making sure your form is correct. This is sinful and Christians should be striving to get rid of this desire. Part of staying fit and working out as a Christian means the number one desire should be to honor God in our bodies, not our own physique.

So 1 Cor. 10:31 provides the “why” and part of the “how” to working out: Why? – to honor God in our bodies. How? – to glorify God, not us. The other half of the “how” of working out comes to us in 1 Tim. 4:8, which says, “…for bodily fitness is of some value, but godliness is of greater value, because it has benefit for this life and the life to come.” You see what Paul is saying? Staying fit is a good thing, but there is a greater thing, godliness. Why is it greater, because it has an eternal benefit, implying that fitness only has benefit for this life. This means that we should be more eager to build holiness and godliness into our lives than we are about working out our muscles to stay fit.

Have “some” Kind of Routine

Earlier I said that we all, as Christians, should have some kind of regular exercise routine in our lives. I use the word “some” purposefully, because we’re not all the same person, and because of that we ought to tweak our exercise regiment to our fitness level, fitness goals, and personalities. People have told me that I have an intense personality, which makes sense because the exercise routine I’ve been doing for the past 5 years is P90X. This is an intense program and not fit for all people, but it does work for my wife and I, so we do it. How do you find a program fit for you? Think about how God calls you to care for the body He gave you, think about who you are, what your fitness goals need to be, find or make a routine that works for you, and do it.

Don’t Miss This

Don’t miss the point here – God has graciously given us these bodies to use while we are here on earth, and it is these bodies that will be redeemed one day in the New Heavens and New Earth. Therefore, lets take care of what God has given us, seeking to be good stewards of His gifts, using them not for our own fame and glory, but for His.

Hamlet, Shakespeare, and Sovereign Election

Hamlet is one of the many plays written by Shakespeare. Most people have heard of it, or at least read parts of it sometime in their lives. What strikes me about it is how C.S. Lewis used this play to teach about how salvation happens to a human created in God’s world. I know this is a Lewis quote, though I’m sorry to say that the address seems to be evading me right now.

If Hamlet were to meet and know Shakespeare, it would have to be Shakespeare’s doing.

So too, if a sinful human being is to meet and know his/her Creator, it would have to be the Creator’s doing. For we cannot come to know what is holy and sinless while we are unholy and sinful. This shows the truth that salvation in Christ, is God’s doing from the beginning to the end (this means it is not ours).

1 Corinthians 1:30 affirms this, “By His doing, you are in Christ Jesus…”

It Really Matters if Jesus is Still Dead

Happy Resurrection Sunday, Happy Easter! For ages now Christians have celebrated the Son of God bursting out of the grave on this day, and that really matters. Jesus was dead, and then wasn’t. No one else in history has experienced that, (Lazarus did, but it took another to raise him from death), no one else has killed death itself by dying and rising themselves. This is huge to say the least. But I have a thought: many people say, “If all this Jesus stuff turns out to be false in the end, I still would have lived a good life.” Is this correct? No, let me tell you why.

1 Corinthians 15:17-20, “…if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied. But now Christ has been raised from the dead…”

If Jesus has not been raised….
Your faith is worthless, and you are still in your sins (v17). If Jesus did not rise, our faith would be worthless because it is through the resurrection that we know Jesus defeated death and sin on the cross. If Jesus did not rise, He is still dead. If Jesus is still dead, we are still in our sins! If we are still in our sins, God is still at odds with us. Infinite wrath is still coming directed at you! (Go through Law, and let the weight of it their sin sink in) Therefore, our faith that says Jesus brought us forgiveness is worthless, because it would be a lie.

Those who have died as believers are now alone (v18). If Jesus did not rise, He is still dead. If Jesus is still dead, He did not go into heaven. If Jesus did not go into heaven, He did not go to prepare a place for us. If He did not prepare a place for us, there is no eternal life. If there is no eternal life, then no Christian will die and go to heaven. Therefore, everyone Christian we know who has died, has not gone to heaven; they have just ceased to exist.

We are of all men the most to be pitied (v19). If Jesus is still dead, than everything He said to us was a lie. He said that His kingdom is not of this world. If that was not true, than His kingdom does not exist. If His kingdom does not exist, and we claim to belong in that Kingdom and claim that our whole entire lives are built in that Kingdom, we are the biggest losers on the planet. The last thing anybody would want to be is a Christian.

-Feeling a little gloomy?

1 Corinthians 15:20: Cheer up! Jesus has been raised!
Our faith is priceless. Verse 17 is turned around by verse 20. Because Jesus has been raised we are no longer in our sins. Death has been defeated, and our faith is the most precious thing we have!

Those who have died as believers are now with Jesus. Verse 18 is turned around by verse 20. Because Jesus has been raised He has gone to prepare a place for us. Because of this, we know that there is eternal life. Therefore, if there is eternal life, every Christian has gone there upon death.

We are not to be pitied, but we are triumphant! Verse 19 is turned around by verse 20. Because Jesus has been raised, His kingdom really exists! If it really exists, than that means that we are citizens of a more real nation than America will ever be! Our whole lives are built upon the truth and because of this, we are not losers.

So what?
a) If Jesus is really risen, than that means that we are never alone in life. He is there right now sitting on His throne in heaven ruling and reigning over all things. Therefore, when we go through hard times in life (whatever that looks like for you) there is always someone to go to.

b) If Jesus is really risen, than that means that we have the truth that can save the world. We would all save a blind man from walking into the path of a bus right? How much more can we give and share the real truth that will save from death and hell?! The real people to pity in this world are those people who do not have the gospel!