Boasting in Our Weaknesses

Weakness. It is something each of us has an abundance of and yet none of us want to admit it. Even the word weakness conjures up a negative mental image of someone we never want to become: I think of that Norman Rockwell painting of the scrawny teenage boy with glasses looking at a picture of a bodybuilder while curling some light dumbbells. Why is weakness such a terrible concept in our minds? Why do we try to avoid it at all costs or choose the route of masquerading as though we’re strong? I think it is because at the root, we are all far too man-centered. Our sin nature and the confused culture around us deceive us into thinking that true strength resides somewhere deep within. Because we assume strength is found somewhere in us, the only solution for tapping into that strength is self-esteem or self-discovery or self-expression. This is the lie we are spoon-fed to believe in 21st Century Western civilization. Isn’t it odd how we’ve even projected that facade of self strength into the way we respond to terminal illness? When diagnosed with cancer, people say, “I’m going to beat this.” Now don’t get me wrong: it is good to have a positive outlook on life, but that should stem from a source more trustworthy than us. Even in our strongest moments, a microscopic virus or bacteria can wipe us out. At the end of the day, we just don’t want to be weak because weakness is seen as the enemy of all true progress; but that is just dead wrong.

What if God hard-wired weakness into us for some grander purpose? What if our weakness and frailty and vulnerability in life were all sovereignly intended to point us to the source of true strength, outside of ourselves? This is what Paul discovered. In 2 Corinthians, the Apostle Paul is writing to defend his ministry against those denying his credibility as an apostle. They said, “his bodily appearance is weak” along with his speaking skills (2 Cor. 10:10). Although Paul goes on to defend his ministry and authority as an apostle, he never denies their claims concerning his weakness. As a matter of fact, he seems to wear this weakness as a badge of honor. Paul writes tongue in cheek about all the things he could boast in such as his beatings and shipwrecks and hunger and poverty. He then goes on to say, “If I must boast, I will boast of all the things that show my weakness…I will not boast, except of my weaknesses…I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses…I am content with weaknesses…I am nothing” (11:30; 12:5; 12:9; 12:10; 12:11).  Wow. It’s almost like Paul is saying, “Hey everybody, I’m really good and not being good enough! Watch me as I dominate not dominating anything.” Why would Paul be so backwards from the culture and boast in his weakness? It wasn’t just because he was jaded and fed up with the church. It was another reason altogether. It was because God taught Paul that the very weakness that made life miserable for him at times was part of God’s plan to point him to true strength.

We see this in 2 Corinthians 12:8-10. Paul was given a “messenger of Satan” to torment him, which he also calls a “thorn” in his flesh. Theologians have debated for two millenia about what exactly this is (many say an eye disease perhaps received after being blinded by the vision of Christ; others some opponent to his ministry), but the point is the same nonetheless. He writes, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

When we don’t see our prayers answered the way we want, we can be encouraged to know God didn’t answer Paul’s prayer the way he wanted here (and Jesus’ prayer in the garden either for that matter). God was teaching Paul and us something marvelous about His purposes: weakness reveals to us our insufficiency, but it can also remind us of the sufficiency of God’s grace for every trial. Paul’s ailment lead to his repeated pleading, which led to the promise of God’s all-sufficient grace. There are moments in each person’s life where God gives us a nice reminder of our own weakness. Sometimes it is in the form of an illness; sometimes in the form of a sudden brush with death; sometimes in the form of the loss of a loved one. Yet there is that moment when our frailty is exposed and we can sing with the band Kansas, “All we are is dust in the wind.” If we could just learn to keep that mentality we would be less quick to pretend we’re strong and more prone to abide in Christ, our refuge and strength.

In the first chapter of 2 Corinthians Paul expresses this: “For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.” The statement, “God will never put on you more than you can handle” is false. He will and often does. But He has a purpose in doing so: to drive you to rely on His strength. Pastor Matt Chandler has pointed out that when skeptics call Christianity a crutch they are correct, for we are all crippled and it is far better to acknowledge that than to hobble around on our broken femurs declaring we’re fine.

Years ago, my wife and I gathered the family for pictures outside our home. It was a beautiful Easter day and we were all in our “church clothes” looking good. There was a stunning array of azalea bushes we used as a backdrop. However, as many parents can testify, toddlers and babies don’t always do great at picture time. The picture we finally ended up with was priceless: both kids were screaming as my wife and I were holding them in a death grip with exhausted smiles on our faces. When we posted it on social media, it was interesting the response. People loved it because for once they felt they could identify and weren’t seeing just another picture of someone who appears to have it all together. It sure is easy to present a nicer image of ourselves than is reality…not only in social media, but in real life too. In our churches we can shy away from real community when we don’t open up about struggles in our sanctification. If we don’t embrace our weaknesses, then this Gospel we preach and believe can easily appear unnecessary for us who clearly aren’t that bad off. There is a reason why James 5:16a calls us to, “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another.”

So instead of hiding behind the mask of our sufficiency, may we all learn to embrace our weaknesses and run to the strength God provides in Christ. The next time you’re out of energy and feeling the only way out is sin, remember His grace is sufficient in that moment. When you just want to give up hope because things just seem too hard, remember: “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness through the knowledge of Him who called us to His own glory and excellence” (2 Pet. 1:3). May we say with Paul, “I am content with weaknesses”, knowing His power is perfected in weakness. After all, how else is the world going to see the power of the Gospel if not in the midst of our own weakness and clinging to His strength? 

Kanye & Christianity

Just for the record, I know absolutely nothing about Kanye West except for some headlines from news sites over the last 15 years that made glad I knew nothing about Kanye West. I took the recent headlines about Kanye “finding Christ” with the same attitude.

But…I couldn’t resist. I clicked and got sucked into that vortex where time stands still, the Internet, and before I knew it, I was watching Kim Kardashian on the View. (These are all words I never even dreamed I would be saying/writing/thinking…)

If you know me at all (I know, most of you don’t), you are probably as surprised at reading this as I am writing it…Me, Kanye, Christian, Watching the View, and anything Kim Kardashian don’t fit in the same sentence.

I’m a 40 year old pastor in a farming community of 200 in the middle of a rural county in Illinois with the population of a little over 13,000. What do I know about Kanye, Kim Kardashian, the View, Hip-hop, or celebrity culture? Nothing.

But I do know Jesus Christ. I know Gospel-centered, Christ-exalting, God-glorifying preaching. And this is exactly what fell on my overwhelmingly surprised ears as I listened to the message that was preached at Kanye’s “Sunday Service” in Detroit on Sept. 30. To be honest, I prefer a different style of preaching. I prefer more Scripture. I prefer solid, exegetical, sequential expositional preaching that engages the intellect and the heart. I prefer John MacArthur, John Piper, Kevin DeYoung, Martin Lloyd-Jones, Steven Lawson, and others like them. I prefer to read old, dead, Puritanesk, Reformed theologians that make much of Christ and lead me into worship as I reflect upon the glories of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. But that’s not how Dr. Adam Tyson, professor of Biblical Counseling at Master’s Seminary, did it.

Pastor Adam just preached the Gospel (“just”); simply, profoundly, and completely. The Gospel.

Praise God! I took these quotes from foxnews.com (https://www.foxnews.com/faith-values/kanye-west-sunday-service-california-pastor) before I watched him deliver the Gospel:

“My message is that God is holy, but we are all sinners and therefore deserve God’s judgment. God loves the world so much that He gave His only Son, Jesus Christ, who lived a perfect life, died on the cross for our sins, and was raised from the dead on the third day. The good news is that through repentance of your sin and faith in the risen Christ you can have true joy and happiness which is found only in Jesus.”

“It feels like half the crowd comes because they are Kanye fans, but we want them to leave knowing Jesus Christ,” Tyson said. “We want them to know that there is something better than what the world offers. The answer is found in Jesus, in knowing Him, loving Him, and walking in obedience to Him.”

You may be as skeptical as I was (am) about what’s going on with “Sunday Service” and Kanye, but take 12 minutes out of your day and listen to Pastor Adam for yourself. You can click the link above and being listening at 35:15 and he finishes his Gospel presentation at the 47:35 mark.

Pastor Adam’s (a local church pastor in LA who has been leading Kanye in Bible study) faithful proclamation of the Gospel includes both Law & Gospel, both faith & repentance, and it all hinges upon the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead! Praise God!

Has Kanye West been regenerated? Is he a joint-heir with Jesus? Is he genuinely converted or is this all just a publicity stunt? I don’t know; I sure hope so! Kanye is waaaaaaaay outside of my circle of influence and I’m not writing or rejoicing in Kanye. I’m rejoicing in the fact that “the power of God to salvation” (Romans 1:16) is being faithfully proclaimed in the moment and countless thousands, maybe millions, of people are hearing it like I did on the internet; to the praise of God’s glory!

Indeed, God is redeeming a people “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” and as it appears, he’s using Kanye West to do it. Again, words I never even dreamed of stringing together in a coherent sentence but here we are and God has done it.

I know absolutely nothing about Kanye, his heart, his motives, his marriage, his family, his faith, or his “Sunday Service” but I know that “in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (Philippians 1:18).

Clean: Part 2, For Better or For Worse

Don’s story took me back, way back. It’s amazing what the memory files away when the heart chooses to forgive. However, those files are still there and I still remember those days, but my version is the spouse’s perspective. Sixteen years ago was a tender and difficult time in my life as a wife and mother. I experienced what it’s like to feel lost and alone. I experienced what it’s like to live in fear that my dreams of a strong and happy marriage were crumbling right before my eyes. I also experienced what it was like to have pain so deep that my only prayer for weeks was that of silence as I folded my hands and wept before the Lord—at a loss for words, I was broken.

Don and I met through a mutual friend and had a whirlwind romance, if you will. We met in October of 2000 and married in May 2001. By October of 2001, we had our first child. In less than a year we had made vows to love each other for better or for worse and brought life into the world. It happened quickly, but I was so happy. Around our daughter’s first birthday we found out that baby #2 was due in July 2003. Our family was growing and life was good.

We moved into a new home that had more room for our expanding family. Shortly after we moved, I started noticing some changes in our relationship that were perplexing me. Don’s social circle changed. It started with drinks after work with the guys; guys that had a bad rap in the community. This was strange because we didn’t do the “bar scene” anymore. We gave that up when we got married and started a family.  He began coming home late at night without calling. He never did stuff like that before. We were the couple that updated each other throughout the day, at least 3 times a day. His demeanor towards me began to change and he wasn’t as kind.  He was quick and to the point in conversations and it felt cold and guarded. “Guarded for what?” was my question. We began arguing over the most random things and I would leave the argument thinking, “What on earth was that all about?” Our conversations became few and affections and intimacy slowed down drastically until they were almost nonexistent. I felt the wedge of distance and my heart ached for the relationship that I once had with my husband—one of thoughtfulness, respect, and lots of love and affection.

Foolishly, I thought for a moment that my pregnancy and the weight I had gained was disgusting to him. Maybe he just didn’t find me attractive anymore or maybe he just didn’t enjoy my company.  The most dangerous of my thoughts was leaning toward that idea that perhaps he had met someone else. Whatever was going on was not good, but I just couldn’t figure it out. My heart was breaking and the pregnancy hormones were not helping matters.

One beautiful summer morning I decide to go fishing with my dad to get my mind off things, but first I needed to make a quick stop at the bait store.  While at the bait store something peculiar happed, my card was declined. I knew something was off, because we were doing great financially. Kindly, I asked the attendant to run my card once more and once more the card was declined. Lucky for me, our bank was just around the corner. I left the store a bit embarrassed and waddled my pregnant self and my one year old into the bank looking for an explanation. The explanation was not what I expected; my account was overdrawn by over $800. As if that were not alarming enough, our savings account had been wiped clean as well. Fighting back the tears, I took the bank records and left the bank—my head spinning with confusion.

Once I got to my parents, I went through the bank records and saw check upon check written to men in our community that I knew were drug dealers. I sobbed uncontrollably and couldn’t comprehend how I could be fooled like this by the man that I love? I shared what was going on with my parents and they had a long, hard, heart to heart talk with me. They shared that they had their suspicions of drug usage for months, but didn’t want to say anything until after the baby was born, in fear that it would cause too much stress on the pregnancy. When I arrived home that evening, I confronted Don with the events of the day and the conversation with my parents. He had an explanation for all of it and assured me that he would handle everything at the bank and that my parents were just conspiracy theorists. He was charming and I was smitten, but I wasn’t blind and continued to keep my guard up.

Fast forward 6 weeks later. We have a 3-week-old new baby and he’s perfect. Things between Don and I are still rough and suspicions were increasing, but my children were healthy and I enjoyed them so much that I welcomed their delightful distraction from the chaos of my life. One day Don came home and told me about a woman he worked with that had been murdered in her home. He said that there was to be an investigation at his place of employment. That sounded reasonable to me, except he wasn’t telling me everything and deep down I knew it.

Two weeks later and many trips to the investigator’s office, I was tired of the run around and gave an ultimatum; either he was going to tell me the truth or I was going to leave. On what seemed like the most unreal night of my married life, my husband confessed his drug usage, drug dealing, and drug addiction. He was visibly scared—scared of seeing life with drugs and scared of seeing life without them. This was his rock bottom and he was terrified. At this point, I was lacking compassion and understanding, but I did have one emotion, anger. Never in my life had I felt so much anger permeate through my body. It was ugly.

One afternoon, I called my sister-in-law and asked her to come over and watch the kids so that I could go for a drive and clear my head. I remember telling myself that I didn’t want a marriage like the one I had and that I hadn’t signed up for all this trouble. On that drive I sobbed and told God that I was going to leave Don. I didn’t know how I was going to make it on my own with two little kids, but I was leaving. I remember having to pull over on the side of the road because the stream of tears coming from my eyes were making it impossible to see clearly. In those next moments I had memories of our wedding day. I flashed back to the marriage vow ceremony where I promised to love him and keep him for better or for worse. These vows gave me pause and God spoke to my heart. Sixteen years later, I believe with all my heart that God reminded me through that flashback that I made a promise, not just to Don, but to Him. I couldn’t break my promise. By the time I pulled back into my driveway I had made a decision to stay.

I didn’t know how I was ever going to trust Don again or if he was even going to stay clean from drugs, but I knew I had to keep my promise. I had to love him for better or for worse and this was the “for worse” part. I wish I could tell you how holy and righteous I handled this situation, but that would be a blatant lie. I was so angry. I was out of control with my speech and withheld forgiveness for nearly 2 years. I also reminded Don regularly how badly he failed me. I sought to hurt him because he hurt me. However, I knew in the depth of my soul that my behavior was not that of a kind and loving woman. I needed help.

I was given the best source of help when I was 20 years old. It was a leather back bible that my parents gave me as a birthday gift. As I began to read through the scriptures, I was rescued when I cried out for help (Psalm 18:6). In time, as my heart changed, my relationship with Don changed too.  God took my cold stony heart and softened it (Ezekiel 36:26.) My problem was that I was treating Don like he was the enemy of my soul, but that was just a lie.

The truth was that my battles, and yours, are not against one another—they are spiritual battles and there is a real enemy of my/your soul (Ephesians 6:12). There was a war raging in my heart, a war to hate my husband –which is not from the Lord (John 15:12). God was calling me to love my husband as Christ has loved me—to see beyond Don’s sin and pardon him even though he didn’t deserve it. God reminded me that he saw beyond my sin even though I didn’t deserve it. He was calling me to true forgiveness. God saw my sin, yet covered it with the blood of Christ and declared me pardoned from all the wrong I have and will commit. God forgave me! He took my filth and cast it away (Micah 7:19).

I have spent the last 16 years trying to imitate that kind of love, mercy, forgiveness, and grace in my marriage. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is what saved my marriage and it continues to save it, mend it, and keep it today. I have truly forgiven my husband and I treasure him for the gift that he is to me.

Today, I am thankful for this trial because, through it, God produced in me real spiritual fruit that I may have never obtained without it.

Hosea & The Scandal of the Gospel

Unfaithfulness.

It’s a tragic word in any context, but especially so in the covenant of marriage. As a pastor I’ve had the privilege of performing wedding ceremonies with couples I’ve counseled and seeing their smiling faces as they exchange vows. I’ve also watched marriages fall apart in my office or around our dining room table, because a spouse did not hold up their end of the covenant.

In the book of Hosea, God displays the sheer depth of His covenant faithfulness to unfaithful Israel. Israel broke her covenant with God, but He refused to break His covenant with them. It was the covenant He made and reiterated throughout the Scriptures that He would be there God and they would be His people (Gen. 17:7, Ex. 6:7, Eze. 36:28, Jer. 7:23, etc.). No one forced God to make such a promise, but He made it nonetheless.

The love story God tells in Hosea is unlike any Hollywood romance. Here’s the plotline: man marries woman; they have a child together; woman leaves man and becomes as promiscuous as a dog in heat; man renews his love for the woman despite the increasing children she has with other men and her total lack of faithfulness. As awkward and alarming as this story is, this is the story God considers a fitting illustration of His relationship with Israel. He is the faithful husband and she the unfaithful wife. In his commentary on Hosea, Duane Garrett writes, “Hosea…is a book that jolts the reader; it refuses to be domesticated and made conventional. It does comfort the afflicted, but it most surely afflicts the comfortable. It is as startling in its presentation of sin as it is surprising in its stubborn certainty of grace. It is as blunt as it is enigmatic. It is a book to be experienced, and the experience is with God.”

The events leading up to Hosea are important. After Solomon’s death, the kingdom was divided between Israel/Ephraim in the North and Judah in the South. About 100 years after Elijah and Elisha, Hosea arrives. It was a period of relative peace and prosperity for God’s people under Jeroboam II. Many of us know from personal experience that peace and prosperity are not friends of spiritual growth.

In Hosea’s day, God’s people had forgotten the Lord and began worshiping Baal, the fertility god. The nation of Assyria grew steadily stronger and instead of turning to God for help, Israel turned to other nations, like Egypt. They even paid Assyria to leave them alone. Nothing was helping. For thirty years, they’re kings were assassinated one after another in a saga worse than the Kennedy’s. God was waking up His people. He sent the prophets to warn of coming judgment. Hosea called God’s people to repent of their spiritual adultery and return to Yahweh, their faithful Husband.

The book is full of powerful imagery to convey God’s faithfulness despite Israel’s unfaithfulness. In their book, How to Read the Bible Book by Book, Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart write, “Striking metaphors are Hosea’s specialty. Yahweh is lion, leopard, bear, eagle, trapper, as well as husband, lover, parent, and green pine tree. And Israel in her sins is even more vividly described: adulterous wife, stubborn heifer, snare and net, heated oven, half-baked bread, senseless dove, faulty bow, headless stalk, a baby refusing birth; she will disappear like mist, dew, chaff, and smoke; she will float away like a twig on water; she has sown the wind and will reap the whirlwind. It is hard not to get the picture.”

So what does Hosea teach us?

When we sin we’re committing spiritual adultery

One would think that after all God did for Israel and the miracles He performed to rescue them time and again, they would have learned the lesson to avoid idolatry. But like us, Israel was constantly forgetting the Lord. Throughout Hosea, we are given descriptions of Israel’s sin: “the land commits great whoredom, forsaking the LORD” (1:2); “[she] went after her lovers and forgot me, declares the LORD” (2:13); “they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins” (3:1), “you have forgotten the law of your God” (4:6); “they have forsaken the law to cherish whoredom” (4:10); “they have left their God to play the whore” (4:12).

Sin is more serious than we realize. When we sin against God, there is something much deeper going on than mere thoughts, words, or actions. We are bowing before the idols of our hearts. Idols of comfort, control, pleasure, the praise of men, or something else. Also, because we are acting this way against the backdrop of God’s covenant faithfulness, we’re rebelling against a faithful Husband. To put it bluntly, when we sin we’re jumping in bed with Satan. It made no sense for Gomer to turn her back on godly and faithful Hosea and it makes no sense for us to turn our backs on God. Our response to sin must be in line with what God commands: “acknowledge [our] guilt and seek [his] face…come let us return to the LORD…by the help of your God, return” (5:15; 6:1; 12:6).

God must chastise us when we continue in rebellion

When our children are being watched by a babysitter, they behave because they know that though the babysitter cannot discipline, mom and dad will take care of it when they come home. We love our children too much to let them wander off into reckless rebellion. God is the same with us. The author of Hebrews points out, “If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons” (Heb. 12:8). For the people of Israel, this came by means of Assyrian overthrow and eventually exile. He tells them in Hosea 11:5-7, “They shall not return to the land of Egypt, but Assyria shall be their king, because they refused to return to me…My people are bent on turning away from me, and though they call out to the Most High, he shall not raise them up at all” (11:5-7).

We must not take lightly the discipline of the Lord. He is graciously seeking to tear the idols from our grasp.

God’s commitment to His people is unwavering

The most shocking thing about Hosea is the way we see God’s constant promise of restoration after judgment. Even as He rebukes them for idolatry and promises judgment, His heart breaks for them. Just after the promise of judgment in 11:1-7, God says, “How can I give you up, O Ephraim? How can I hand you over, O Israel?…My heart recoils within me; my compassion grows warm and tender” (11:8). Then there is the great promise in chapter 1: ““Yet the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children of the living God”” (1:10).

All this ultimately points us to the Gospel.

How can God both punish our sin and pardon us sinners? Only by means of the cross. At the cross, God’s bleeding heart for His people was put on full display and His roaring wrath against their sin was poured out…on the head of Jesus. The Gospel is truly scandalous because it tells us of a God who pardons the guilty on the basis of faith in the Innocent being punished.

How could we turn our backs on such a faithful Husband and gracious Redeemer?

Beyond Redemption?

The Lord spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they paid no attention. Therefore the Lord brought upon them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze and brought him to Babylon. And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.[…] And he took away the foreign gods and the idol from the house of the Lord, and all the altars that he had built on the mountain of the house of the Lord and in Jerusalem, and he threw them outside of the city. He also restored the altar of the Lord and offered on it sacrifices of peace offerings and of thanksgiving, and he commanded Judah to serve the Lord, the God of Israel.” (2 Chronicles 33:10-16)

The story of Manasseh is one of the most interesting one to be found in the book of Chronicles, for in this text we see a more complete picture of the work of God in bringing salvation to sinners. Manasseh is one of the worst and most wicked of kings in the history of Israel. He is known for having murdered his own children, offered sacrifices to pagan deities and removed the true worship of God from Israel. He was a man filled with his own self-worth and truly existed in his own self-importance. He may not have been the worst of sinners in the world or the most tyrannical of rulers, but he is pretty darn close. In the line of David, it is hard to find one as evil ruling in Judah. He is the furthest thing from a man after God’s own heart

Now why do I bring us to this text today. Why focus on this specific man to bring us to see the fullness of the wonder of salvation?

First, because he is a man who we would say is the furthest from God. Unlike Paul who wrapped himself in religiosity and found himself outside of the truth, this King rejected the faith of his fathers and openly pursued wickedness. Manasseh is the proof that with God nothing is impossible, and no man is too far beyond the salvific work of our Lord. Just let it sink in for a moment. This king is far worse than the worst dictators in our current world, and yet the Lord transformed his heart. The Lord transformed a man who wanted nothing to do with Him into a man of repentance and faithfulness. Manasseh doesn’t simply give lip service in repentance, his life is transformed. He undoes the worst of his blasphemies against the Lord and makes every effort to return the people to the worship of God. In this we see the beauty that no one is too beyond the salvation of God.

Second, it shows us that God can uses many different means to bring the lost to Him. In the case of this king in Judah he uses a military defeat and capture. Manasseh finds himself in a distant land defeated and ruined, he is the prisoner of a foreign king with no hope of salvation. However, in the midst of defeat he finds the truly and lasting hope in God. He turns in this pit of destruction and there is the Lord God. God rescues him, transforms him, and brings him back to the land. The text is clear that all these events happened by the hand of God; from ruin to restoration God was at work bringing Manasseh to Himself. Breaking him of his wickedness and self-importance that he might see the true strength of his reign in the hand of God.

For many God has used the darkest days to shine brightly. He has used our sinfulness to show us His grace unending, His mercy that sustains us, and his strong hands which hold us firm. The wonder of this text is that Manasseh was actively running from God, but that never stopped God from working to bring Manasseh to himself. If you are in Christ, you know this reality to be true. God pursued us and won us. He broke down the dividing wall that stood between us and wooed us by his mercy, grace and love. He broke down our sins and gave us life. Through the storm of our sins, He brought life and hope. His divine power overcame us.

When we think of the life of Manasseh, King in Judah, we should be immediately struck by the reality of God’s work in saving sinners, and how that work shapes everything about our lives. While we may not be as bad as Manasseh, we were apart from Christ and as bad off as Manasseh. We didn’t have God, rather we openly accepted the world in whatever form brought us the most pleasure. We found satisfaction and worth in our jobs, religion, social circles, hobbies, lusts, physical pleasure, and material wealth, all of which left us empty and searching for more. We were all as bad off as Manasseh apart from God’s intervening work, and what a marvelous work it was. We must never forget the saving work of Christ, from His work on the cross to His intervention in our lives through the Holy Spirit we have been blessed beyond measure.

Therefore, let us life out the faith in earnestness as Manasseh did, let us reflect the great salvation we have received and call others to receive the same wonderful grace of our God.

A Far Nobler Aim: Newton on Grace in Debate

John Newton’s fame to most evangelicals’ centers around his testimony of transformation from participating in the slave trade to becoming a believer who would write the most popular Christian hymn of all time “Amazing Grace.”

While that hymn captures the essence of Newton’s biography and theology, there is much more to learn from the man. The Banner of Truth publishes a four-volume set of his works that I highly commend (https://banneroftruth.org/us/store/christian-living/works-john-newton/). Volume 1 contains many letters that Newton wrote with one entitled “On Controversy.” In this letter, one might think that John Newton lived in the age of Facebook, Twitter, and blogs when it comes to discussing theology. Especially with the issue of social justice, social media does not resemble a place where grace is shown by brothers and sisters seeking to work through these issues. Newton’s letter is worth the read and can be viewed in its entirety here: https://founders.org/2017/07/08/on-controversy/.

Consider a few thoughts from Newton that captured my attention and caused me to examine my own heart.

In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now.

As Newton counsels this fellow minister who prepares to engage in theological debate, he tells him to remember to treat him as a brother in Christ. It should startle us as believers to consider how we speak to one another online when it comes to debating important issues. Would we speak to each other in such a manner if we were face-to-face? Do we show more grace to the pagan we work with or are related to by blood than one who is washed by the blood of the Lamb that we happen to disagree with? This is not encouragement to pursue a squishy love that never calls out errors. Rather, this is brotherly affection that should mark our engagements with those who are a part of the household of faith. The next time that you decide to discuss a point raised by a brother or sister you disagree with, remind yourself that this individual is one you will spend eternity with. Will that shape how you respond to them?

But if you look upon him as an unconverted person, in a state of enmity against God and his grace (a supposition which, without good evidence, you should be very unwilling to admit), he is a more proper object of your compassion than of your anger.

Suppose you believe the person you are engaging with is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, should you not pity and mourn over the eternal doom of that person? Newton’s advice should be kept close to our hearts. Yes, we should call out false teachers, those who preach another gospel, and declare that their eternal fate is hell lest they repent. However, if we do this with a grin or glee in our hearts, there is repentance and examination that needs to take place in our lives. Anathematizing people on Facebook and Twitter happens frequently. Do we grasp the eternal weightiness that comes along with that view and are we praying for such ones to truly behold Christ if we think they know Him not?

Of all people who engage in controversy, we, who are called Calvinists, are most expressly bound by our own principles to the exercise of gentleness and moderation.

Social media helped me connect with fellow Calvinists, Particular (Reformed Baptists), and like-minded brothers. This has been a great blessing and joy to me in my life and ministry. However, it grieves me to see that the hashtag #1689Twitter became synonymous with men on Twitter who were ungracious, uncaring, and overtly harsh in their interactions with others, specifically regarding issues surrounding social justice. While I think the hashtag was used in an unfair way to avoid critical discussions, it saddened me to see a noble confession expressing the doctrines of grace become connected with ungraciousness. Newton’s words are needed for everyone who claims to believe in the doctrines of grace. If I might be so bold, may the doctrines explained in TULIP not be lodged in our minds intellectually but be imprinted on our hearts experientially. No two words should be further apart: cantankerous and Calvinist. Those of us who hold strongly to the doctrines of grace should heed the instructions given to us by a champion of amazing grace.

If our zeal is embittered by expressions of anger, invective, or scorn, we may think we are doing service of the cause of truth, when in reality we shall only bring it into discredit.

Believers are called to have a passion and zeal for truth. There are times when a godly anger should be demonstrated by us when we see the gospel distorted and twisted. Yet, this cannot be a 24/7 phenomenon. In fact, though, it is easy for us to tell ourselves we are warriors for the truth when in fact our angry theological tirades are a pious cloak for selfishness and egotism. If we appoint ourselves as commentators on every single issue that arises in the world or evangelicalism, people begin to label us, sigh when they see our posts, and will remark, “There he/she goes again.” Content does matter when it comes to theology. Tone does as well.

What will it profit a man if he gains his cause and silences his adversary, if at the same time he loses that humble, tender frame of spirit in which the Lord delights, and to which the promise of his presence is made?

Out of all that Newton says in this letter, perhaps this is the one that cuts the sharpest. Newton asks a pointed question: what advantage is there if you win the debate but dishonor God? In our theological discussions, do we ask ourselves if we are seeking to honor God or display our intellect? Are we seeking to prompt others to glorify God or to stand in awe of our debating skills? What kind of heart does the Lord delight in and accept? There dwells not room for a broken, contrite heart and an exalted, selfish heart. 

John Newton understood the need for addressing theological controversies. Yet, in his wisdom, he accurately noted that controversy should not be something we are always looking to get into. Sadly, the social justice debates are the latest example where a controversy is bemoaned while platforms are being built at the same time. Let the world watch how we engage one another amidst real differences and let them be amazed. How will they be amazed? By seeing that we do not handle our differences like cable TV. Instead, we come together around the Word of God, loving one another as members of Christ’s household, and seeking to honor the God who showed us amazing grace.

How can we, who have been shown such grace, not show it to each other?

Jerusalem and the Sin of Presumption

The city of Jerusalem is a central feature of Luke’s Gospel. His entire narrative is set against the background of godly Jews longing to see the “consolation of Israel” and eagerly waiting for the “redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:25, 38). As the capital of the nation and the site of the temple, this unique city was associated with the presence of the divine Name and the place of true sacrifice; it was central to Israel’s life and hope (Deut. 12:10-11; Ps. 48; Isa. 52:7-10). It comes as no surprise, then, that Jerusalem plays an important part in the life and ministry of Israel’s Messiah, Jesus Christ.

The majority of Luke’s gospel is spent describing Jesus’ long journey towards Jerusalem, having “set his face” to go there (Luke 9:51) in order to accomplish everything that written about the Son of Man by the prophets. But what the prophets had foretold was that the promised Messiah would come to Jerusalem to suffer and die, having been ultimately rejected by his own people (Luke 18:31-33). Therefore, Luke’s overall description of Jerusalem is by no means optimistic.

The City that Rejected her Messiah

Jesus, in his lament over the city, identifies Jerusalem as “the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it” (Luke 13:33-34; 20:9-18). Jesus, the Great Prophet, would soon suffer and die outside of her walls like all those who had come before and prefigured him. As he approaches and sees the city, amidst shouts of praise and acclamation from his many disciples, Jesus weeps over Jerusalem and pronounces its impending judgment and destruction (Luke 19:41-44). Why? Because the city of God had failed to recognize its visitation by the Son of God. The city that was anxiously awaiting her promised Messiah—David’s greater son and anointed king—did not receive him.

He then proceeds to cleanse the temple and later foretells the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple again (Luke 19:45-46; 21:5-36). This tragic portrayal of Jerusalem is made complete when Jesus, the very salvation of God and redemption of Jerusalem, is condemned by his own and handed over to be crucified. God’s very own people, hardened by unbelief, were blind to the fulfillment of God’s promises right in their midst.

The City that Received his Mercy

Yet Luke’s Gospel does not conclude with a totally negative portrait of Jerusalem. It is presented in his final chapter as somewhat of a city of new beginnings. Not only do the resurrection appearances happen in and around the city, but Jesus declares to his disciples that the good news of “repentance for the forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47)! And just as Zechariah, Simeon, and Anna blessed God in the temple at the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, he concludes with a description of the disciples returning to Jerusalem “with great joy” and being “continually in the temple blessing God” (Luke 24:52-53).

This then sets the stage for the book of Acts and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. Just as Jesus and the Scriptures had foretold, the gospel of repentance and forgiveness was first proclaimed in all of its glory in Jerusalem, where 3,000 souls were added to the church (Acts 2:37-41). This number only continued to grow as the word was preached, the Spirit was received, and the church was edified (Acts 4:4; 6:7).  And as the church was scattered by persecution from the temple leadership and also began to send missionaries, the gospel spread like wildfire from Jerusalem unto the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8; 28:30-31).

No longer was Jerusalem needed as the dwelling place of God’s presence on the earth or as the place of sacrifice and worship; Christ, by his indwelling Spirit, was present with his church throughout the world. The hour had come when God would no longer be worshiped in the temple in Jerusalem, but in spirit and truth among the nations (John 4:21-24)!

The Danger of Presumption

This portrait of Jerusalem—the city that rejected her Messiah yet also received his mercy—serves as a warning against the subtle but serious sin of presumption. Paul writes extensively on this in Romans 2:1-11, 17-29, and 11:17-24. The self-righteous Jews and hypocritical temple leadership presumed that just because they were Abraham’s physical offspring, they were in God’s good graces (John 8:39). Since they were committed to the Law and upheld their religious traditions, since they had their temple and had as their capital “the city of our God”, they presumed that God was pleased with them. They presumed upon the riches of God’s kindness and patience, not knowing that his kindness was meant to lead them to repentance (Rom. 2:4). Their hard and impenitent hearts led them to neglect the weightier matters of the law, to boast in their own righteousness, to base their worship upon trite ritual rather than true repentance, and even to reject their very own Messiah. As a result, they incurred the judgment of God (Rom. 2:5)

Paul, speaking to the Gentiles included in the people of God, uses the metaphor of an olive tree to make his point clear: “So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches [i.e., Israel], neither will he spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God’s kindness to you, provided you continue in his kindness. Otherwise you too will be cut off” (11:20-22). All, both Jews and Gentiles, can be guilty of this sin of presumption.

So how do we not become proud? The answer is to remember that there is a world of difference between saving faith and presumption. Saving faith wholly trusts in the kindness of God. It leads us daily to confess our sins and bear fruit in keeping with repentance (Luke 3:8). Presumption, on the other hand, takes God’s kindness for granted and blinds us to our need for continual repentance. True, saving faith is persevering faith—a faith that boasts in the work of Christ and God’s preserving grace. Presumption hardens our hearts to the mercy, grace, and holiness of God, and leads us to hypocrisy. Therefore, let us behold the riches of God’s mercy in Christ Jesus, abide in him, and continue in his kindness!

Linger at the Cross

Recently my wife and I were blessed to enjoy a four day retreat with Winshape at Berry College in Rome, GA. The whole four days we were served amazing meals, developed some new ministry friends, and had a ton of time to rest and enjoy the beauty of God’s creation in the mountains. The best part of all wasn’t the hiking trails, the Filet Mignon, or even the fact that this trip was free (if you’re a senior pastor and spouse, do yourself a favor and sign up). The best part was the fact that we had time to linger over the Gospel individually and as a couple.

I was raised in a church where the Gospel was presented in every message, and for that I am very grateful. My pastor heralded the Gospel message clearly and unapologetically, pleading with sinners to surrender their hearts to Christ. Yet the Gospel that was preached every sermon was targeted at unbelievers and seldom believers. The main message for believers were the Bible’s moral imperatives, but seldom it’s Gospel indicatives. I assumed that the Gospel got me in God’s kingdom and obedience kept me in it.

The New Testament, however, always roots our obedience in the Gospel, so we need the Gospel more than ever as believers. The Gospel is not merely one story among many in Scripture; it is Scripture’s main story, and the constant refrain from Genesis to Revelation is that we linger over it. Tim Keller said it this way: “We never ‘get beyond the gospel’ in our Christian life to something more ‘advanced.’ The gospel is not the first ‘step’ in a ‘stairway’ of truths, rather, it is more like the ‘hub’ in a ‘wheel’ of truth. The gospel is not just the A-B-C’s but the A-Z of Christianity. The gospel is not just the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, but the way we make progress in the kingdom.”

When believers fail to drink deeply from the fountain of the Gospel, they shrivel spiritually. So if we reserve the Gospel to unbelievers in our church’s, we may see increased professions of faith, but we may also see decreased spiritual growth among those who profess faith. On the other hand, A church that preaches the Gospel to believers while unbelievers listen in will have a stronger and more stable family from which to launch this message into the community and world.

The soul that is regularly enjoying and resting in the truths of the Great Exchange will find constant motivation to obey God’s commands. It is there at the cross that we learn about the ugliness of our sin, God’s holiness, Christ’s sinless nature, the Judgment to come, astounding grace, our salvation, and sacrificial love. A cursory glance at the Gospel will not impress these realities upon us, so we must spend time each day lingering in it. Memorizing and meditating and mulling over the wonder of Christ’s substitutionary atoning death is the best fuel for everything in the Christian life, from holiness to missions. Whenever we find ourselves treasuring sin, it always stems from a failure to glory in the Golgotha event. May we rehearse the wonder of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection to ourselves and one another until He returns.

 

The Jesusless Testimony

The title of this post is hard to type, let alone hear.

For a follower of Christ, having been born of the Spirit (John 3), having been given a new heart and new spirit—His Spirit—(Ezekiel 36), having been adopted as God’s son/daughter according to His gracious foreordination (Ephesians 1) through faith (Galatians 3), and having been secured by the faithfulness of an immutable God (2 Timothy 2), to share a testimony that is void of the One, namely Jesus Christ, who made this possible seems like an oxymoron and yet this has been my observation of late.

Even the above statement, full of bibliocentric, theological richness is neglectful of proclaiming the simplicity of the Gospel. Let’s begin with some basics…

What is a Testimony and What is Its Purpose?

The New Testament uses the word “testify” or “testimony” (or one of its derivations) thirty-five times (ESV). In everyone of those times the same Greek root, martus”, is used. It simply means “to confirm or attest to something on the basis of personal knowledge or belief, bear witness, be a witness.”[1] We would call the one who is testifying a “witness.”

So it should be no surprise to hear Jesus tell his disciples that they would “receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my [martus]” (transliteration added).

Witnesses testify. Period.

But of what? Look at these examples of martus from the book of Acts:

Acts 10:42—Peter said, “And [Jesus] commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be the judge of the living and the dead.”

Acts 18:5—“…Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus.”

Acts 23:11—“…the Lord stood by [Paul] and said, ‘Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify also in Rome.”

Acts 28:23—“…From morning till evening [Paul] expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus…”

Jesus, his divine identity, his sinless perfection, his substitutionary, sacrificial, atoning death, his triumphant resurrection, and his promise to save from eternal death by giving eternal life to all who come to God through Him is the fundamental message of which we have been called to testify of as witnesses. Without this message there is no salvation from God’s wrath upon the sinner. This is the Good New of which we testify (Romans 10:17).

A Testimony of God’s Salvation through Jesus’ Life & Death

My desire, here, is to point out that one may testify of how terrible their life used to be (drugs, chaos, loneliness, hate, fear) before coming to church (as if these four walls are some sort of magical converter) and then testify about how wonderful their life is now (peace, contentment, joy, friends, freedom) and never share the Jesus who gave them life, righteousness, and peace with God.

What a tragedy it is to have a Jesusless Gospel and Jesusless Testimony because we can’t look past how Christ has changed our lives to see and share the real Treasure, Jesus himself!

Simplicity in Sharing a Jesus-filled Testimony

Mark Dever, in his book “The Deliberate Church”, simplifies the Gospel message into four easy-to-remember words that serves to prevent us from falling into simply sharing the benefits of our salvation and failing to share the Savior.

God—A holy creator and righteous judge who created us to glorify Him and enjoy Him forever

Man—A rebellious creature who rejected God and sinned against His holy character and law

Christ—Fully God, fully man, sent to die the death we deserved so God might both punish our sin in Christ and forgive it in us

Response—Repent & believe. Sinful man must turn from his sinful ways toward God and believe in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins already committed.[2]

Could it really be that simple; God-Man-Christ-Response? Do all the details of God’s gracious election, my sin-filled past, Jesus’ sinless life, sacrificial death & victorious resurrection, and what is now required of me and given to me in Christ when I repent and believe fit into this four-word reminder?

Yes. And notice: God is the beginning, Christ is the hero, and the glorious ending brings me back to God. My only contribution to my, now, wonderful victorious life was the sin that made it necessary. Thank you Jesus!

These four little words are ready to be unpacked in their entirety as you share the glories of Christ before a large audience or piece-by-piece as you, over a cup of coffee as the weeks and years pass by, point your listener(s) back to the Christ who saved you! Jesus is the not just the source of your salvation but he is also the subject of your salvation. As J.I. Packer so aptly and succinctly stated, “God saves sinners.” God is the instigator and that actor in our salvation. The only thing we bring is our sin. Jesus is, and must remain, the star of our story!

Christian-When you’re asked to share your testimony make sure that you do more, far more, than testify of how great your life is now; testify of how great your Savior is!

[1] Arndt, W., Danker, F. W., Bauer, W., & Gingrich, F. W. (2000). A Greek-English lexicon of the New Testament and other early Christian literature (3rd ed., p. 617). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

[2] Dever, Mark; Alexander, Paul (2005). The Deliberate Church: Building Your Ministry on the Gospel. Wheaton, Il. Crossway.

Hell-fire & Brimstone

Camel hair, wild honey, Hell-fire and brimstone…If you’re reading this post then you know exactly who I’m referencing; John the Baptist.

Pastor’s today, including me, could (and should) learn a lot from this wilderness preacher. Granted, his office and calling are different than ours given that his coming was prophesied of hundreds of years in advance, his conception was miraculous, and he was filled with the Holy Spirit from birth but it is from his ministry and preaching that we can learn and grow.

One Hit Wonder

John had one message, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mt. 3:2). It’s not that this is the only line he preached but that this was the central message every time he addressed the crowds. This was John’s task “to make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (Lk 1:17). This was it…He had no other material; like Deep Blue Something singing “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”, John only had one tool in his tool-belt.

But did you notice that the people flocked to John?

One Offensive Preacher

We don’t really have much, by design, about exactly what John said when he preached but what we do have wouldn’t fit very well into the “Church Growth Model”, the “Seeker Sensitive Model”, or a “Felt Needs” emphasis. He didn’t mince words or try to be crafty, indirect, or politically correct. “You brood of vipers! Who warned you of the wrath to come” (Lk. 3:7)? is not exactly the “Softly and Tenderly” approach we most often see today.

But did you notice that the people flocked to John?

One Pointed Preacher

John’s preaching was personal. He addressed not only specific people groups and occupations but specific sins that needed to go. John’s preaching was political. He addressed the rulers of his day and called them to repentance, publicly, for their specific sins (without fear of losing his 501c3). And John’s message was always pointed at holiness.

First, his preaching was pointed at the Holy One, himself, Jesus Christ. From “I am not worthy to untie” (Lk. 3:16) his sandals to “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1:29). John was not concerned with how he was viewed in the public eye but that his hearers knew who the Christ was and that He alone could save them.

Second, his preaching was pointed at personal holiness as the evidence of regeneration. In short, if repentance from sin meant that your life would be marked by godliness, holiness, or Christ-likeness as we might say today, then if that was missing John warned clearly of the “unquenchable fire” that awaited you. Apart from a life marked by holiness, there was no evidence of salvation and it was not words that would convince John but your walk.

But did you notice that people flocked to John?

Our Pulpits Today

Why did people flock to John? Plainly, because they can have their ears tickled anywhere, and they actually do everywhere. Inherently, humanity knows we need to make right the wrongs, serve up justice, and that we’re going to be judged by God. People can have their ears tickled during TV commercials, what they need is to know the Truth; and we know it!

In spite of John’s singular message, as offensive as it was, and as unpopular as it was to those who were not concerned with living for YHWH, it was effective! It was effective! It was effective!

The message of the Gospel is a one hit wonder, it is an offensive message, it is personal, & it, always and only, points one to Christ with the assured result of holiness. The Gospel is the power of God to salvation…I think I’ve read that somewhere.

Our pulpits don’t need new and exciting, fresh and relevant, contemporary additions to draw in the new age. Our pulpits need the Gospel; unadulterated, unfiltered, strong, and without apology.

May we, pastors and laity alike, be found by God to be more like John, committed to the One who gave us the message and unconcerned with making the message palatable for those who need that same message that saved us!

The Doctrines of Grace in Five Minutes

I was teaching a Sunday School class a few years ago at my former church and at the end of the study a man approached me and said that this was the first time he had heard the doctrines of grace taught in years. Unfortunately, his experience is not a unique one. Growing up and attending church my entire life I can’t recall a time that I was ever taught these truths. It wasn’t until I attended Bible College at Trinity College of Florida that I was introduced to the rich truths of the doctrines of grace. I believe a great deal of people attend church regularly and are never taught these amazing truths.

Allow me to briefly share the doctrines of grace with you.

We must start with God because He is where it all begins. God is sovereign in salvation. That is, salvation belongs to Him (Jonah 2:9) He controls it. The Bible makes it clear that God chose those whom He would save before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4). This election was not a result of any merit within us, but was solely by the grace of God (Romans 9:11-13).

If God were not to initiate a relationship with us we would never come to Him on our own (John 6:44). In fact, the Bible makes it clear that we were dead in our sin and utterly unable to move toward God in our sinfulness (Ephesians 2:1). God had to remove our dead heart and give us a heart that beats for Him (Ezekiel 36:26) or else it would never happen. To come to a saving faith in Christ is all the work of God. He chooses, He calls, He justifies, and He glorifies (Romans 8:30). By His amazing grace, and by His grace alone, sinners are made right with God.

This salvation is extended to many, but not all (Mark 10:45). Christ died for His elect (John 10:11). His blood does not cover universally the sin of all, or else all would be saved, but rather His blood covers only a particular people. These are God’s elect, given to the Son for salvation and they will respond in faith (John 6:37). Those who respond in genuine faith toward Christ will persevere to the end (Philippians 1:6). Nothing can separate the believer from the love of God in Christ (Romans 8:31-39).

The doctrines of grace ultimately point us to a greater worship of God for what He has done for us through Christ.  We can take absolutely no credit for our salvation. It is completely the work of God on our behalf.  All glory to Him.  All praise is to Him.  All honor is for Him.

Lifestyle Evangelism?

 

Many professing Christians think godly living is all the evangelism others need from us. They misquote St. Francis of Assisi, saying, “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words when necessary.” In actuality St. Francis never said this. The sad reality is that many are quick to find spiritualized statements like this to justify their disobedience to Christ’s command. St. Francis of Assisi actually did comment on this issue though. His first biographer, Thomas of Celeno, quoted him saying: “The preacher must first draw from secret prayers what he will later pour out in holy sermons; he must first grow hot within before he speaks words that are in themselves cold.”

That seems more in line with God’s Word.

Scripture is clear that salvation is always connected to the preached Word. James says God, “brought us forth by the word of truth” (James 1:18). Peter says we are, “born again…through the living and abiding word of God” (1 Pet. 1:23). In the parable of the four souls, Jesus taught the impossibility of growth apart from sowing the seed of God’s Word (Mark 4). But the clearest Scripture on this is perhaps Paul’s argument in Romans 10. He states, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written,“How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:14-17). Paul’s quadruple “How” question clearly is rhetorical. Paul is saying that without gospel proclamation there can be no justification.”

Godly living is vital, but is insufficient to save a soul from God’s just wrath against sin. Only faith in the message of the Gospel can save. The only hope for the lost is that the saved share the Gospel with them: his sinless life, his substitutionary death, and his victorious resurrection. Those who try to avoid Gospel evangelism are trying to separate the inseparable. The very Greek word euangelion or Gospel is in our word evangelism. Tell people the only message that can save them, and don’t assume people understand it if you don’t share it with them.

The “Share the Gospel by Your Life” Lie

Enough is enough, really.

Have you heard it? Perhaps you’ve said it. Maybe you’ve even taught it or preached it…“You don’t have to share the Gospel with words. The most powerful Gospel is shown by your actions.” Putting it very simply and plainly, that’s nonsense. And it’s worse than nonsense when it comes from pastors, teachers, and preachers; the ones called & supernaturally equipped by God to take His Word about salvation from His wrath through Christ’s substitutionary atonement and share that Word with a world of people condemned unless they believe the Gospel and repent (Mark 1:15).

The Gospel must be presented with words. The Gospel is only fully presented with words. The Gospel comes from the Word and the Word is powerful & effective (Isaiah 55:11; Romans 1:16; Hebrews 4:12-13).

Paul writes to the Romans that belief comes from hearing and hearing comes through preaching and preachers are sent to do just that, proclaim the Good News of God’s salvation (Romans 10:14-15). And just in case the Romans, and we for that matter, didn’t get it the first time he summarizes those verses and repeats himself in verse 17 when he says, “Faith comes through hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.” Note that Paul does not say “preach the Gospel and use words when necessary.” Can you imagine if Paul would’ve evangelized the Gentiles with that lie? He’d have been a happy-go-lucky, kind-hearted, forgiving, polite, tent maker who never saw a single person saved from their sin and given eternal life.

Yes, we need to live the Gospel. The Gospel of Jesus Christ never, and I repeat, never leaves a life unchanged. Yes, you can observe, through actions, a difference between someone who is a Christ follower and someone who is not.

But being kind does not share that Jesus Christ died to pay your sin debt and that he rose from the dead for your justification (Romans 4:25).

But being polite does not share that Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life and that no person will ever be in God’s presence unless they come through Christ (John 14:6).

But being joyful does not share that Christ bore in his body your sins and that by his wounds you can be healed (1 Peter 2:24).

But being nice to people does not share that their good works and their best obedience is not the measurement of God’s satisfaction of them and that their best effort will never earn them eternal life (Galatians 2:15-16).

You may be asking, “Where is this blog post coming from? Why the aggression about this topic?” Honestly, I expect this from the world. I expect the world to say things like “don’t worry about telling people about Jesus,” but I don’t hear it from the world, I hear it and read it regularly from the Christian community. Church, and church leaders, we need to stop believing and stop propagating this lie! We need to repent & tell everyone about the forgiveness of sins through Christ alone.

Christian:

“…do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord…” (2 Timothy 1:8)

“…what you have heard from me…entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also…” (2 Timothy 2:2).

“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus…preach the word; be ready in season and out of season…” (2 Timothy 4:1-2).

“…the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it” (2 Timothy 4:17).

May you find yourself in the company of Jesus Christ who “must preach the good news of the kingdom of God…for [he] was sent for this purpose” (Luke 4:43).

May you find yourself in the company of the Apostle Paul who was “eager to preach the gospel” to a people he had never met before (Romans 1:15).

And may you find yourself as an answer to Christ’s prayer as he prayed for laborers to harvest God’s people (Matthew 9:38).

Don’t get sucked into the lie that the Gospel is best presented by your way of life. The Gospel is best presented with the Word of God, coming from a life that has been changed by God, bearing witness to the power, love, grace and mercy of God found only in the cross of Christ.

“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…”—The Gospel of Jesus Christ, from 1 Corinthians 15:3-6

The Avalanche of Sin

“It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. 3 And David sent and inquired about the woman.” (2 Samuel 11:2-3a) (Read the entire chapter here). Things only went downhill for David from there.  Author and Pastor John Piper once said, “Avalanches of evil begin with a single pebble of sin.”  This truth could not be seen more clearly than in the story of David from the verses above.

According to the text late one afternoon, as David was presumably lounging around his palace all day, he decided to get up and take a walk out onto the king’s roof top. Once outside his eyes fell upon a beautiful woman as she was bathing.  Now in that moment, he could have decided to hide his eyes and turn away, but rather than leave it alone, he chose to indulge himself and inquire about the woman.  Once he found out who she was, he arranged for her to come over to his house.  Upon her arrival the text tells us that David slept with the woman.  You can see already how this situation has turned from bad to worse very quickly. It does not take much for sin avalanche.  Not only had David’s lust turned into premarital sex, but to make matters worse, both David and the woman he had slept with were married.  The snowball is increasing in size as this sin grows bigger and bigger.

Not long after David and Bathsheba’s affair, Bathsheba sends word to David that she is, in fact, pregnant with his child. This news seems to trouble David as he is now in fear of being caught in his sin.  So he attempts, unsuccessfully, to get Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, who is out in battle, to come home and to sleep with his wife so that no one would think anything of Bathsheba’s pregnancy.

However, when David’s first attempt at cover-up failed, he decided to have Uriah put in the front lines of battle so that his death was sure.  This was his second attempt at covering up his sin (and we find out later it failed as well 2 Samuel 12).  So what started with lust ended in adultery and murder.  Rather than nipping sin in the bud, David allowed his sin to grow, and it quickly grew out of control. And the same thing can be true for us. We can play with sin and play with sin and think we are doing just fine, but before we know it things can get out of hand and our sin has ruined us. Sin can ruin our reputation, ministry, even our lives. And if we continue in it without repentance it will lead us to hell.

There is no such thing as a “small” sin.  All sin is rebellion towards God and can lead to “avalanches of evil.”  We are to set our eyes on Christ and live for Him, leaving our sin behind.  John Owen once wrote, “be killing sin or it will be killing you.”  Let’s strive every day, by the grace of God, to treasure Christ above all else and to snuff out our sin before it burns out of control.

The good news for David is that his story didn’t end there. By God’s grace he realized his sin (2 Samuel 12:13) and asked God for forgiveness (Psalm 51) and although there were consequences to his sin (2 Samuel 12:7-14) ultimately David was forgiven.  David was well aware of God’s forgiveness for sin (Psalm 32:5) and we can be sure, by God’s grace, he was forgiven from all of it. What great news.

And the good news for David is also good news for us. There is forgiveness for sin. Complete forgiveness.  That does not mean that there are not consequences for sin and we should take it lightly – sin is dangerous – but by God’s grace all our sins can be forgiven when we admit our fault and turn to Jesus (Psalm 32:5; 1 John 1:9 ). Praise God for His grace and mercy toward undeserving sinners like you and me.

Gospel Fueled Change

In Peter’s first letter he spends a great deal of time setting down the foundation for why we as believers should live holy lives. He reminds the church of the need to grow up in the faith and not become stagnant. In the first ten verses of chapter two he helps reorient our focus to the reality of who we are and our relationship to Christ and one another. A couple weeks ago I walked us briefly through some of the direct application of living out the faith as sojourners in a land that is not our home, and how our lives should look different than those around us, and more importantly than our old lives. Today I want to briefly reminds us of the foundation of our Hope and the cause of our changed lives that comes only through the power of the Gospel not through human effort.

So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good

Peter opens with the reality that our lives are now marked by a change in desire. No longer do we desire the things of the world or do we mirror the attitudes of those around us, rather we desire the pure spiritual milk of God’s word. This is seen in the concluding passage of 1 Peter 1:25 where Peter reminds us that the gospel has set us free from sin and death and gave us the hope we have today. It is from this driving force that the desire to put away all malice and long for the joy of God’s word springs. From the Gospel hope we are now called to put away the old life with all of its vices and anger and strive hard after God, for it is only from growing in the faith that these things are possible. We know that healthy and physically maturing people don’t indulge constantly on Doritos and hot dogs, when someone sets it in their minds to grow healthy they long towards the things that will bring that to fruition, like a healthy diet and exercise. The same is true of spiritual life; we cannot indulge on the things of the flesh and expect that growth and maturity will simply take place. We are called through Christ’s power to yearn for the hope that brings spiritual maturity, the true spiritual milk.

For If you have tasted the joy of the Lord and savored His goodness why would you want anything else. Sometimes it seems we need to be reminded how good God is and how appetizing the Gospel’s message is to our soul. If you have tasted the goodness of God, like a nice porterhouse steak, (or some eggplant type dish thing vegans must enjoy), then you know how satisfying He is. How He fills your stomach with life and hope everlasting. Peter is then asking us the question why aren’t you longing for that every day. Why do you keep running back to the attitudes and hostilities of the world that will leave you empty and starving. If the Gospel has taken root, then eat the only thing hat will truly satisfy and grow you into maturity, Jesus Christ & His word.

As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.

Once we have evaluated our desires, we are asked by Peter to see ourselves through the lenses of Christ. Here Peter is encouraging us to see our growth in maturity in light of the fact that we are like Christ. He was the true living stone rejected by humanity, so too are we living stones who are rejected by humanity. The world rejected Jesus and we should not be surprised that it will reject those who look like Him. Therefore we should not be shocked when the world rejects us, but rather we should see all the more clearly that we are not alone in being rejected. Rather, we are a part of a living temple being built together, into Christ. The rejection of the world should build our spiritual unity as believers, and as our unity of spirit grows so too does our witness, and as we mature in Christ we will continue to turn our hearts over to him, preparing our minds for action and seeking to live our lives in a manner that seeks to glorify God and not our flesh.

 But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11 Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. 12 Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.

Finally, we are grounded in the reality that we have a new identity as heirs with Christ. Just as you grew up physically and learned about who you were and where you came from, so too as we grow into Christ we learn who we are in Him and what that means for us.  We learn more and more about our identity and the family that we now have been given. We also begin to see that within our new family we have been given a new occupation as priests proclaiming the greatness of God who set us free from our own sinfulness. As such we call others to experience the greatness of our God who has changed us and given us a lasting home in his presence. We proclaim to the world the mercy of God, the hope of heaven, the living stone rejected by the men.

We have been Chosen, we have been set apart, we have been made Holy, and we have been given a home. These things were given to us we never earned them nor could we. God in his infinite grace bestowed them on those whom He called out of darkness and who through His grace have called upon the name of His Son. Before you can begin to evaluate how you are able to living in a dying and sinful word, you must first remember and know that you are His and that all that you are is found in Him. Before Peter begins a long discussion on living out the faith in a world that will mock, ridicule, and at times persecuted you, you have to know who you are and whose you are, so that you may live out the faith in response to this good news and in a way that reveals it to others.