Lesslie Newbigin on the role of the Church in the world:
“The very essence of the Church’s life is that she is pressing forward to the fulfillment of God’s purpose and the final revelation of His glory, pressing forward both to the ends of the earth and to the end of the world, rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God.
The treasure entrusted to her is not for herself, but for the doing of the Lord’s will, not for hoarding but for trading.
Her life is to be forever spent, to be cast into the ground like a corn of wheat, in the ever-new faith and hope of the resurrection harvest. Her life is precisely life under the sign of the Cross, which means that she desires to possess no life, no security, no righteousness of her own, but to live solely by His grace.
When she becomes settled, when she becomes so much at home in this world that she is no longer content to be forever striking her tents and moving forward, above all when she forgets that she lives simply by God’s mercy and begins to think that she has some claim on God’s grace which the rest of the world has not, when in other words she thinks of her election in terms of spiritual privilege rather than missionary responsibility, then she comes under His merciful judgment as Israel did.”
- From The Household of God, 132.
(HT: Trevin Wax)
Grace is at the heart of the Christian faith. Nowhere is this more clearly seen than at the cross of Christ. It is grace that the Son of God took on flesh, and grace that he taught us how to live — but it is especially grace that he died on the cross in our place.
Moreover, this climactic grace shown at the cross has a specific shape — it has edges. These edges help us see what exactly happened when Jesus died. And it’s important that we see because seeing leads to worship — you can’t worship what you don’t know.
So in hopes of more clarity — fuel for worship — here are five biblical truths about what Jesus accomplished on the cross.
1. The death of Jesus was for his enemies.
God’s love is different than natural human love. God loves us when we’re utterly unlovable. When Jesus died, he died for the ungodly, for sinners, and for his enemies. Paul gets at how contrary this is to human nature when he writes, “For one will scarcely die for a righteous person, though perhaps for a good person one would dare to die, but God shows his love for us in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:7–8).
2. The death of Jesus purchased a people.
The death of Christ was effective in its purpose. And its goal was not just to purchase the possibility of salvation, but a people for his own possession. Hear Jesus’s words: “All that the Father gives to me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out… And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day” (John 6:36, 39).
If we say that Christ only purchased the opportunity of salvation for all men we gut biblical words such as redemption of their meaning. John Murray writes: “It is to beggar the conception of redemption as an effective securement of release by price and power to construe it as anything less than the effectual accomplishment which secures the salvation of those who are its objects. Christ did not come to put men in a redeemable position but to redeem to himself a people” (Redemption Accomplished and Applied, 63).
3. The death of Jesus is on our behalf.
Jesus’s death was substitutionary. That is, he died in our place. He died the death that we deserved. He bore the punishment that was justly ours. For everyone who believes in him, Christ took the wrath of God on their behalf. Peter writes, “[Jesus] himself bore our sin in his body on the tree that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Peter 2:24).
4. The death of Jesus defines love.
Jesus’s death wasn’t just an act of love, it defines love. His substitutionary death is the ultimate example of what love means, and Jesus calls those who follow him to walk in the same kind of life-laying-down love. John writes, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:16). John Piper explains: “Jesus’s death is both guilt-bearing and guidance-giving. It is a death that forgives sin and a death that models love. It is the purchase of our life from perishing and the pattern of a life of love” (What Jesus Demands from the World, 266).
5. The death of Jesus reconciles us to God.
Justification, propitiation, and redemption — all benefits of Christ’s death — have one great purpose: reconciliation. Jesus’s death enables us to have a joy-filled relationship with God, which is the highest good of the cross. Paul writes, “And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him” (Colossians 1:21–22).
Think about how this works in our relationships with other people. When we sin, not only do we hurt the person we sin against, we harm the relationship. It will never be the same until we seek forgiveness. So it is with our relationship with God. We enter this world sinful, and as a result, we’re alienated from God. Only forgiveness — forgiveness which was purchased at the cross — can heal the relationship so that we are able to enjoy fellowship with God.
The book of Job is not answering a theoretical question about why good people suffer. It is answering a practical question: When good people suffer, what does God want from them? The answer is, he wants our trust.
The book is driven by tensions. One, Job really was a good man (1:1, 8; 2:3). He didn’t deserve what he got. Two, neither Job nor his friends ever saw the conflict going on between God and Satan, but his friends made the mistake of thinking they were competent to judge. Three, his friends interpreted his sufferings in moralistic, overly-tidy, accusing categories (4:7-8). Thus, they did not serve Job but only intensified his sufferings further. Four, Job refused to give in either to his own despair or to their cruel insinuations. He kept looking to God, he held on, and God eventually showed up (38:1-42:17).
One, even personal suffering has a social dimension, as others look on and inevitably form opinions. Suffering brings temptation both to the sufferer and to the observer. The sufferer is tempted to give up on God. The observer is tempted to point his finger at the sufferer with smug, self-serving thoughts and words: “This is all your own fault, of course. If you’d just own up, everything would start getting better.” The fallacy here is to assume that we live in a universe ruled by the simple laws of crime and punishment. Our minds dredge up these thoughts not really because we are confident in ourselves but because we are uneasy about ourselves and therefore threatened by the suffering of another: “If it’s happening to Job, it might catch up to me too.” So we cling to the illusory feeling of control by reinforcing our own self-image of moral superiority. We try, by sheer force of assertion, to re-order the moral universe in a way reassuring to our prejudices. The book of Job teaches a more honest and humble way. When we observe someone suffering, we too should trust God and sympathize with the sufferer rather than off-load our own guilty anxieties by dumping on the sufferer.
Two, when we ourselves suffer in ways that defy easy explanation, God wants us to trust him more deeply than we ever have before. Job eventually settles into a profound place where, without answers to his questions, he trusts in the omnicompetence of God: “I know that you can do all things” (42:2). What God can do is more important than how God explains himself. What if he did tell us every mystery right now? Would we be satisfied? Would we say, “Oh, I see. Here I have your explanation for it all. That really makes everything okay now”? I doubt it. An explanation is a wonderful thing, so far as it goes. But it is an intellectual thing. It cannot touch our core being, where the anguish in fact has taken up its deepest residence. Far better to leave it all with God, as our faith deepens from questioning to waiting. We don’t live by explanations; we live by faith.
“I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able.” 2 Timothy 1:12
In an interview I was asked, What is your advice on how believers should deal with a culture that is increasingly hostile to Christianity?
Jesus said, “No servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:20). Followers of Jesus should expect injustice and misrepresentation. I’m grateful there are organizations working to protect the rights of Christians. But I’m concerned if we view ourselves as one more special interest group, clinging to entitlements and whining when people don’t like us. God’s people have a long history of not being liked.
Of course, this does not mean being hateful or seeking to be hated. It’s important that we represent the Gospel well, and I am all for graciousness, kindness and servant-hearted love as we speak the truth. Romans 12:18 says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
But the fact is, while the gospel is good news, it is also insulting. Many people don’t like being called sinners and told they deserve to go to hell. Peter said, “Don’t be surprised at the fiery ordeal you are suffering as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12).
If our eyes are on anyone but Jesus, we’re not going to have the stamina to put up with criticism or outright hostility. Paul said, “If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).
Jesus is the Audience of One. We will stand before His judgment seat, no one else’s. We should long to hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” What other people think won’t matter.
(HT: Zach Nielsen)
What does it mean to count everything as loss for the sake of Christ? What does it mean to renounce all that we have for Christ’s sake?
Paul said he does this. “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). And a few verses later he said, “Brothers, join in imitating me” (3:17).
So this is commanded of all believers.
This Is Basic Christianity
This is what it means to be a Christian. It is not advanced discipleship; it is basic Christianity. This is confirmed in Jesus’s words, “Any one of you who does notrenounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). Renouncing all we have is the same as “counting everything as loss.” This is what happens in conversion. You can’t be a disciple without it. Jesus said this.
He describes this conversion in a parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44). Selling all you have with joy, in order to have the treasure of the kingdom, is a parable-way of saying: count everything as loss in order to gain Christ.
So, to become a Christian is to awaken from the blindness of spiritual death and find Jesus so all-sufficient and all-satisfying that 1) we count everything as loss, 2) we renounce all our possessions, and, in parable-language, 3) we sell all we have to possess the treasure of Christ.
How to Count Everything As Loss
In everyday practical terms, what does it mean to do this? It means at least these four things:
1. Renouncing all (counting all as loss) means that, if we must choose between Christ and anything else, we will choose Christ.
That is, even though God does not bring us to the crisis of either-or at every point, nevertheless, we are ready, and have resolved in our hearts that, if the choice must be made, we will chose Christ.
2. Renouncing all (counting all as loss) means that we will deal with everything in ways that draw us nearer to Christ, so that we gain more of Christ, and enjoy more of him, by the way we relate to everything.
That is, we will embrace everything pleasant, by being thankful to Christ; and we will endure everything hurtful, by being patient through Christ.
3. Renouncing all (counting all as loss) means that we will seek to deal with the things of this world in ways that show that they are not our treasure, but rather that Christ is our treasure.
That is, we will hold things loosely, share things generously, and ascribe value to things in relation to Christ. We will seek to live the paradox of 1 Corinthians 7:30–31, “Let [Christians] buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it.”
4. Renouncing all (counting all as loss) means that if we lose any or all the things this world can offer, we will not lose our joy, or our treasure, or our life — because Christ is our joy and our treasure and our life.
That is, in smaller losses we will not grumble (Philippians 2:14), and in greater losses we will grieve, but not as those who have not hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
A Settled, Joyful, Defining Resolve
This is what I believe it means to find Jesus so all-sufficient and all-satisfying that 1) we count everything as loss (Philippians 3:8), 2) renounce all our possessions (Luke 14:33), and, 3) “sell” all we have to possess the treasure of Christ (Matthew 13:44).
None of us loves Christ this perfectly, or lives so consistently. But to be a follower of Jesus, to be a true Christian, means that these four ways of dealing with “everything” will be the settled, joyful, defining resolve of our lives.
This is what we will mean when we say with Paul, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
Just as crucially, if all Scripture is breathed out by God, then there is a unity to be found across the pages of the Bible. Without minimizing the differences of genre and human authorship, we should nevertheless approach the Bible expecting theological distinctives and apparent discrepancies to be fully reconcilable.
The unity of Scripture also means we should be rid, once and for all, of this “red letter” nonsense, as if the words of Jesus are the really important verses in Scripture and carry more authority and are somehow more directly divine than other verses. An evangelical understanding of inspiration does not allow us to prize instructions in the gospel more than instructions elsewhere in Scripture. If we read about homosexuality from the pen of Paul in Romans, it has no less weight or relevance than if we read it from the lips of Jesus in Matthew. All Scripture is breathed out by God, not just the parts spoken by Jesus.
God’s gracious self-disclosure comes to us through the Word made flesh and by the inscripturated word of God. These two modes of revelation reveal to us one God, one truth, one way, and one coherent set of promises, threats, and commands to live by. We must not seek to know the Word who is divine apart from the divine words of the Bible, and we ought not read the words of the Bible without an eye to the Word incarnate. When it comes to seeing God and his truth in Christ and in Holy Scripture, one is not more reliable, more trustworthy, or more relevant than the other. Scripture, because it is the breathed-out word of God, possesses the same authority as the God-man Jesus Christ. Submission to the Scriptures is submission to God. Rebellion against the Scriptures is rebellion against God. The Bible can no more fail, falter, or err, than God himself can fail, falter, or err.
Is healing in the atonement? Well, yes and no!
Here in 1 Peter 2:24-25 the apostle is very clearly alluding to Isaiah 53:4-5. There the prophet declared:
“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.”
In order to understand what Peter had in mind in quoting this OT passage, I need to address a very controversial question: Is there healing in the atonement?
Some believe that just as God the Father made Jesus to be “sin” for us on the cross he also made him to be “sick” for us on the cross. Word of Faith advocate Gloria Copeland once wrote: “Jesus bore your sicknesses and carried your diseases at the same time and in the same manner (emphasis mine) that he bore your sins.” Another author put it this way:
“When Jesus stood bearing the lashes from the Roman soldiers, all our physical pain and sicknesses were being heaped upon him. . . It is as if one lash was for cancer, another for bone disease, another for heart disease, and so on. Everything that causes physical pain was laid on Jesus as the nails were driven into His hands and feet” (Colin Urquhart).
What is being said is that Christ bore our sicknesses in the very same way that he bore our sins. Another once wrote that “Christ endured vicariously our diseases as well as our iniquities.”
We know what the apostle Paul meant when he wrote in 2 Corinthians 5:21 that God “made him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf.” He was declaring that the guilt of our sins was imputed to Christ and that it was because of that guilt that he was punished in our place. But what can it possibly mean to say God made him “to be sick” on our behalf?
There is no guilt in disease or sickness. Having diabetes or a head cold is not sinful. The Bible tells us to pray “forgive us our trespasses” and urges us “to confess our sins,” but nowhere does it say that we should pray “forgive us our arthritis” or “Lord, I confess that I have the flu.” Sickness is not sin. The Bible never issues the command, “Thou shalt not commit cancer,” or “Flee the flu.” Nevertheless, many insist that Jesus “bore the penalty for our sins and sicknesses.” But if sickness is not a sin, how can it incur a penalty?
Of course, ultimately all sickness is a result of sin, but only in the sense that Adam’s fall introduced corruption and death into the human race. But that does not mean that every time we get sick it is because of some specific sin we have committed. It does mean that had Adam not sinned, there would be no sickness. Sickness is the effect of sin (just like tornadoes, weeds, and sadness). But that is altogether different from saying that sickness is sin. We do not repent for having kidney stones, nor do we come under conviction for catching the measles. I didn’t rebuke my older daughter for coming down with the chicken pox, and I certainly didn’t ask my younger daughter to ask for forgiveness when she caught it from her older sister.
Jesus was not punished for our diseases. Rather, he endured the wrath of God that was provoked by our willful disobedience of the truth.
So what does it mean in Isaiah 53 and in 1 Peter 2 when it says that he bore our sicknesses and carried our pains and that by his stripes or wounds we are healed?
As I’ve already said, Christ “bore our sins” in the sense that he bore the wrath of God of which our sins were the cause.
In the case of Isaiah 53 and 1 Peter 2 we are being told that he carried our pains, not in the sense of personally experiencing stomach viruses and ulcers and earaches and gallstones as he hung on Calvary’s tree, but by enduring the wrath of God against that willful human wickedness which is ultimately the reason there are such things as pain and infirmity. By his death at his first coming he has laid the foundation for the ultimate over-throw and annihilation of all physical disease, which will occur with the resurrection of the body at his second coming. Thus it is theologically misleading to say that Jesus bore our sicknesses in the same way he bore our sins. Rather he paid the price of our sins in order that one day, when he returns to glorify his people, he may wholly do away with all of our sicknesses.
May we conclude that there is healing in the atonement? Of course! Were it not for Jesus making atonement for sin, we would have no hope of healing in any form, either now or later. The redemptive suffering of Jesus at Calvary is the foundation and source of every blessing, whether spiritual or physical.
Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that there is healing through the atonement rather than in the atonement, insofar as the atoning death of Jesus is the basis for God healing us. In this way we avoid suggesting that because of Jesus’ death we are guaranteed healing in this life.
To ask, “Is there healing in the atonement?” is like asking, “Is there forgiveness of sins in the atonement?” or, “Is there fellowship with God in the atonement?” There is even a sense in which we may say that the Holy Spirit is in the atonement! We are told in John 14:16-17,26; 15:26; and especially 16:7-15, that the Holy Spirit’s present ministry is a result of the death, resurrection, and exaltation of Jesus.
Everything we receive from God finds its ultimate source in what Christ did for us on the cross. Therefore, the question is not whether our bodies receive healing because of the atonement of Christ, but when. We are forgiven of our sins now because of Christ’s atoning death, but we await the consummation of our deliverance from the presence of sin when Christ returns. We experience fellowship with God now because of Christ’s atoning death, but we await the consummation of that blessed relationship when Christ returns. We profit immensely now from the Spirit’s work in our hearts, but who would dare suggest that what the Holy Spirit is doing in this age is all that he will ever do? There is a glorious harvest reserved in heaven for us of which the present ministry of the Holy Spirit is merely the first fruits!
In other words, it is a serious mistake for us to think that every blessing Christ secured through his redemptive suffering will be ours now in its consummate form. All such blessings shall indeed be ours, let there be no mistake about that. But let us not expect, far less demand, that we now experience fully those blessings which God has clearly reserved for heaven in the age to come.
Life for the believer in this present age is a life of tension between the already and the not yet. We already have so very, very much. But we have not yet experienced it all. There is much yet to come. One of the “not yets” in Christian experience is the complete redemption and glorification of the body (see Phil. 3:20-21). Yes, we believe God heals today and that any healing that occurs is because of what Christ has accomplished in his death and resurrection, and yes, we will pray fervently for healing of the body in the present. But that doesn’t mean that because of what Christ accomplished then that we will always experience complete healing now.
We must also remember that frequently in Scripture the sinful condition of the soul is portrayed as analogous to a body suffering from various wounds. Forgiveness and restoration are therefore described in terms of a bodily healing. By his atoning death the great Physician has truly “healed” our hearts. We were continually straying like sheep, but by the redemptive grace of Jesus we have been enabled to return to the shepherd and guardian of our souls (1 Pet. 2:25). Thus the context of 1 Peter 2:24 clearly tells us that it is primarily spiritual healing from the disease of sin, not physical restoration of the body, that the apostle has in mind.
The sickness was that of having strayed from God. The disease was that of having departed from him. The healing provided by Christ, therefore, is bringing us back to God and restoring our relationship with him.
This is clearly the case in our passage when we take note of the word “for” with which v. 25 begins. The word “for” or “because” indicates that the “healing” in v. 24 is from the punishment we deserved for the wandering in v. 25.
The kingdom of God is, in essence, God’s redemptive reign. Yet it can be easy to overlook this prominent theme in the life of Jesus, and tempting to assume rather than investigate the importance of the kingdom for Jesus. When we miss the significance of the kingdom to Jesus, however, we can miss the significance of the kingdom for biblical theology and ethics.
So how important was the kingdom of God to Jesus? What was his relationship to the in-breaking of the eschatological kingdom? Let’s examine ten ways Jesus related to the kingdom.
1. Jesus inaugurates the kingdom. With the coming of Christ, the kingdom begins not in the coronation of a mighty king but in the birth of a crying baby. Yet as Jesus’ ministry begins in Mark, he announces, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). What Israel had long awaited, Christ had now inaugurated.
2. Jesus is the kingdom. Where the king is, there is the kingdom. This is precisely why Jesus says to the Pharisees, “The kingdom of God is in the midst of you” (Luke 17:21). As Graeme Goldsworthy teaches, Jesus embodies the kingdom motif of God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule. Jesus is both the faithful ruler and the righteous citizen of the kingdom.
3. Jesus purposes the kingdom. Jesus reveals that his purpose is to proclaim the kingdom. Jesus described his mission saying that he “must preach the good news of the kingdom of God” (Luke 4:43).
4. Jesus declares the kingdom. Through his words, Jesus explains the kingdom and invites people to enter into it. Luke summarizes Jesus’ ministry as “proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God” (Luke 8:1). The declaration of the kingdom often came through the parables of Jesus that illustrated what it was and how it worked.
5. Jesus demonstrates the kingdom. Through his works, Jesus shows the power of the kingdom and his authority over the prince of darkness. As Jesus explains, “If it is by the finger of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you” (Luke 11:20). Jesus not only declares the kingdom in his words but also demonstrates the kingdom in his works.
6. Jesus deploys the kingdom. Jesus sends his followers out as ambassadors of the kingdom to herald its arrival. This deployment happens in Luke 10 as Jesus sends out the 72, instructing them to say, “The kingdom of God has come near to you” (Luke 10:9). In the great commission, king Jesus issues his discipleship battle plan to the church because he possesses “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matt 28:18). Jesus sends his soldiers to the front lines to engage the kingdom of darkness.
7. Jesus transforms the kingdom. Israel’s messianic hopes focused on the coming of a military conqueror who would rescue them from their geo-political enemies. That is why they sought to make Jesus king (John 6:15). But Jesus reorients their vision by declaring, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Jesus transforms the kingdom, showing it is holistic in its nature, redemptive in its mission, and cosmic in its scope.
8. Jesus purchases the kingdom. Through his victorious death and resurrection, Jesus redeems the kingdom. As he satisfies the wrath of God poured out for those who rebel against his rule, Jesus defeats Satan, sin, and death (Col 2:14-15). He overcomes the world, the flesh, and the Devil by destroying the power of the kingdom of darkness. By purchasing a kingdom people at the cross, Jesus proves himself to be the rightful ruler of the restored kingdom.
9. Jesus concludes with the kingdom. In his final words to his people, Jesus concludes his earthly ministry by clarifying the kingdom. Just before his ascension, Jesus’ disciples asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). Even at the conclusion of his earthly ministry, Jesus resolved confusion about the kingdom. So the kingdom was key to the start of Jesus’ earthly ministry and its culmination.
10. Jesus returns the kingdom. In the second coming of Christ, Jesus returns as a triumphant warrior king. As he returns to achieve final victory, the name scribed on his body is “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev 19:16). At last, he places all his enemies under his feet as he launches a new creation kingdom that fully reflects his righteous reign. He consummates the conquest that began with his birth.
If the kingdom of God was central to Jesus’ life and ministry, then it remains crucial to our theology and ethics today.
Phillip Bethancourt is executive vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission and assistant professor of Christian theology at Southern Seminary.
I recently returned from a five-day ministry trip to England and would like to share a few observations on the spiritual condition of evangelicalism there. Since 2005 I have participated almost annually in the Life in the Spirit conference and have been blessed to serve on the leadership team with a number of like-minded believers. LITS was birthed over 30 years ago by a small group of men who had been greatly influenced by Martyn Lloyd-Jones, longtime senior pastor at Westminster Chapel in the heart of London. In fact, one of this year’s speakers was Greg Haslam, current lead pastor at the Chapel who succeeded R. T. Kendall in that role. LITS is not only a conference but an ever-growing, somewhat informal, network of Christians and churches who are committed to Reformed theology, complementarianism, and a continuationist view of spiritual gifts. There is also a strong emphasis on missional outreach and healthy relational accountability and mutual encouragement.
LITS is not a large conference, at least by American church standards, but it is every bit as vibrant and gospel-centered as anything on this side of the big pond. It meets during the last week of February and I strongly encourage anyone within reach of it to plan on attending in the future. The new website for LITS will be released in about a month for those of you who wish to learn more about it.
Here I would simply like to draw attention to the fact that, notwithstanding the overall weakened state of the church in England as a whole, there are numerous spiritually strong and vibrant leaders and local churches scattered throughout the U.K. These men have not capitulated to pressures from the larger culture nor do they ever intend to. They are grounded in the inerrancy and authority of God’s Word and are devoted to building gospel-centered local churches where Christ is supreme and central in the theology and affections of his people.
There is always at LITS a wide representation of church life present. There were Baptist pastors (from a variety of networks and associations), Presbyterians, independent and non-denominational leaders, a few from Elim (a denomination of a more classically Pentecostal orientation), some from New Frontiers, and even several who pastor within the Church of Scotland. And that is only a small smattering of streams within the larger body of Christ represented at the conference.
These men, together with their wives and a number of other women who attended, are committed to “holding fast to the word of life” (Phil. 2:16). As much as some would wonder how, they celebrate both the sovereignty of God in salvation and the power of the Holy Spirit as manifest in the full range of biblical charismata. In the early days of the conference, the tag line employed was: “Where Reformed Theology meets Charismatic Experience.” Although that phrase is no longer in use, the theological convictions that undergird it remain firmly in place.
It would be all too easy for us, whether in the U.S. or the U.K., to grow weary in well doing and to give up on the future prospects and broader influence of the Christian church. Culture decay, political corruption, and self-indulgent “spirituality” untethered to the Word of God, make for what could easily become a pessimistic and defeatist mentality among Bible-believing Christians. But Christ will build his church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matt. 16:18). My experience over time in the U.K., and especially at LITS, assures me that this is precisely what he is doing.
With unspeakable pleasure have I heard that there seems to be a general concern amongst you about the Things of God. . . . What great things may we now expect to see in New England, since it has pleased God to work so remarkably among the Sons of the Prophets? Now we may expect a reformation indeed, since it is beginning at the house of God. A dead Ministry will always make a dead People. Whereas if ministers are warmed with the love of God themselves, they cannot but be instruments of diffusing that love amongst others. This, this is the best preparation for the work whereunto you are to be called. Learning without piety will only render you more capable of promoting the kingdom of the devil. Henceforward therefore I hope you will enter into your studies, not to get a parish, not to be a polite preacher, but to be a great saint. . . . The more holy you are, the more will God delight to honor you. He loves to make use of instruments like himself. . . .”
George Whitefield, writing to students at Harvard and Yale preparing for the ministry, 25 July 1741, quoted in Richard L. Bushman, editor, The Great Awakening: Documents on the Revival of Religion, 1740-1745 (New York, 1970), page 38.
(HT: Ray Ortlund)
John Stott, writing over 30 years ago (in 1982):
It is difficult to imagine the world in the year A.D. 2000, by which time versatile micro-processors are likely to be as common as simple calculators are today.
We should certainly welcome the fact that the silicon chip will transcend human brain-power, as the machine has transcended human muscle-power.
Much less welcome will be the probable reduction of human contact as the new electronic network renders personal relationships ever less necessary.
In such a dehumanized society the fellowship of the local church will become increasingly important, whose members meet one another, and talk and listen to one another in person rather than on screen.
In this human context of mutual love the speaking and hearing of the Word of God is also likely to become more necessary for the preservation of our humanness, not less.
—John R.W. Stott, I Believe in Preaching (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1982), p. 69.
(HT: Justin Taylor)
“For this is eternal life, to know the one and only true God, and Him who He sent, Jesus Christ, whom he constituted the beginning, the middle, and the end of our salvation. This One is Isaac the well-beloved Son of the Father, who was offered in sacrifice, and yet did not succumb to the power of death. This is the vigilant Shepherd Jacob, taking such great care of the sheep He has charge over. This is the good and pitiable Brother Joseph, who in His glory was not ashamed to recognize His brothers, however contemptible and abject as they were. This is the great Priest and Bishop Melchizedek, having made eternal sacrifice once for all. This is the sovereign Lawgiver Moses, writing His law on the tables of our hearts by His Spirit. This is the faithful Captain and Guide Joshua to conduct us to the promised land. This is the noble and victorious King David, subduing under His hand every rebellious power. This is the magnificent and triumphant King Solomon, governing His kingdom in peace and prosperity. This is the strong and mighty Samson, who, by His death, overwhelmed all His enemies.”
John Calvin’s essay “Christ Is the End of the Law” is included in Thy Word Is Still Truth, ed. Peter Lillback and Richard B. Gaffin
(HT: Jim Hamilton)
I can win any slam dunk contest through him who gives me strength. If I will ask God for the ability to do so “in Jesus’ name,” of course.
When I was a kid I had a poster of Philippians 4:13 — “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” — with a photo of a guy dunking a basketball. You can bet I thought long and hard about how Jesus was gonna help me dunk on some fools.
Paul wrote the letter to the church at Philippi from jail. Chapter 4, verse 13 may sound like it needs to be slapped on whatever the Christian equivalent of a PowerBar is, but Paul was not talking about Jesus being our genie, but Jesus being our satisfaction in all situations, whether rich or poor, free or enslaved, healthy or sick, successful or getting dunked on. Wherever our promised trouble-full life finds us, we will persevere only in Christ.
Similarly, Jeremiah 29:11 is a great verse, but it’s not an affirmation of the American dream. It’s an affirmation of God’s predestining purposes even when the American dream crashes down around us and we are crushed. You can put it on a coffee cup, I s’pose, but don’t throw it away when you’re on the streets and you need it to beg for change. The verse will still be true.
Jesus is no talisman. Crucify “Jesus as key to your personal achievement” and he will stay dead. But the real Jesus achieves a victory greater and far superior to any wish-dream of any man. He is life itself, and life eternal. Worship that Jesus.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1–2)
Believer, you died and the new you is alive, and you are God’s. The whole of our Christian life is learning to become — by God’s Spirit — what we already are in Christ. These verses show us how this newness in us comes to life in our everyday choices. In this four-minute video, John Piper explains how the Spirit within and the word of God without work together to make us new.
I have had the privilege to serve as a coach to pastors for over 15 years, and I’ve noticed that it does not take long in the coaching relationship for the topic of church size to come up. I’ve also noticed that some pastors approach church growth with health and wholeness while others struggle with (and because of) church size. If you are a pastor, church planter, or key leader, you need a healthy and theologically sound attitude for dealing with church growth, size, and numbers. To help you develop such an attitude, here are five things to recognize when it comes to church size.
- Growth is not the only good. Some church leaders lack a biblical imagination that would allow them to envision a purpose for their church other than growth. Making growth (or big) synonymous with good is a recipe for disaster because it prevents good from being a higher value than growth. Granted, big and good are not opposites, but there is much more about being a good church than being big. Imagine if you gauged the goodness of your family on numbers – number of family members or size of bank account or some other metric. That would be silly and very unhealthy. Certainly there are numbers you need to look at in order to help your family thrive, but the numbers are not your goal. The same is true for a church – numbers are second and third level concerns, not primary goals with inherent goodness.
- Evangelism may be a mask for egoism. There are many poor reasons to focus on church growth (ego, consumerism, competition, greed, etc.) and only one good reason to give any attention at all to growth: evangelism. The sad fact is that some pastors use evangelism as a cover for what is really nothing more than an ego trip – they say they care about souls saved, while in reality they want the church to grow in order to satisfy their own sense of worth. To be fair, I think the ego-driven needs of pastors are often beneath the surface so that the pastor is not fully cognizant of why exactly they want the church to grow, and sometimes the motives are mixed. So be sure to reflect very deeply and very often on what is driving you to want church growth. To help explore your deepest motivations, you might ask yourself, “If God capped the size of our church at where we are now, how would I practice evangelism?”
- Pegging your sense of worth to attendance will drive you nuts. Pastors who get up when numbers are up also get down when the numbers drop. If you feel more worthy, more loved, more hopeful, and just generally better about yourself and the world when the sanctuary is full, then watch out. Watch out because when the sanctuary is not so full you likely will feel down, pessimistic, less hopeful, and generally worse about yourself and life. If you let numbers dictate your mood, you will be on an emotional roller coaster that makes a teenage girl look like a stoic. Numbers are a terrible thermometer, but an even worse thermostat.
- Growth solves nothing. If you think growth will solve some challenge your church is facing, you are wrong. A leader who thinks that more people, more resources (money!), or more of anything will solve some problem they currently face is interpreting life through something other than a biblical lens. Growth is not the solution, the gospel is. If you think growth will solve your challenges, you are likely focusing on the wrong goals and/or you have a very poor strategy for being a church. There is no biblical evidence for needing more people in order to meet a congregational challenge.
- The litmus test for truth is not growth. I cannot tell you how many times (it’s a lot) I’ve heard a pastor respond to a questionable church practice with something along the lines of, “Yeah, but they must be doing something right.” If we are not diligent, there is a subtle pragmatism that can seep into our ministry, leading us to do only that which works and discarding anything that does not work. The problem is that “works” is shorthand for “works to grow the church.” You could very likely come up with a long list of very bad things that will “work” to increase attendance so my encouragement is to cease using “does it work?” as a way to discern whether a style, strategy, practice or person is of God. By the way, the flip side is equally true: growth is not evidence of heresy. Evidence for heresy is heresy; evidence for truth is truth. If you’re in doubt about these, study the Bible, pray, and read some church history.
My experience with wise church leaders is that they reluctantly embrace growth when it comes, but they do not chase it, they do not fixate on it, and they do not use it as an indicator of anything in any short-term way. They do look at long-term trends to help identify obstacles to effective ministry, and they certainly celebrate the stories of people who experience gospel-centered transformation. For the most part, wise church leaders focus on actual people and celebrate names way more than numbers.
What about you? What have you learned about a healthy approach to church growth, numbers, and church size? Where have you seen it handled well? Not so well?
I was recently able to sit down with David Wells to talk about his new book, God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-love of God Reorients Our World (Crossway, 2014). We talk about why this is the hardest book he has ever written, how it is different from what he’s written before, and why he spends so much of his time working with orphans in Africa.
In the past month, I learned that two more Christian leaders whom I know have either tarnished or destroyed their ministries. Neither was a friend, in the full sense, yet I’ve been friendly with both men and respected their talents and the fruit of their labors.
Once again, I wonder: How could a man who studied and knew Scripture and taught it faithfully to others, brazenly violate its most basic principle of love and self-control? Even as I ask the question, I know I’m liable to self-destructive sin too. Everyone needs Paul’s admonition: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted” (Gal. 6:1). Self-aware leaders know that we can violate principles we thought we knew.
But how can we repent quickly and keep from hardening ourselves to God’s voice as he calls us back to himself?
Leaders stumble for many reasons, and while I could argue that a zealous seminarian has little in common with a vain or depressed middle-aged leader, there is at least one common thread: My peers and my students can both stop reading the Bible as we should.
Technical and Devotional
A new Christian’s Scripture reading tends to be naïve and devotional. New disciples devour Scripture, underlining word after word in their new Bibles. We often feel that God is speaking directly to us in every word.
After a few years, a budding leader’s reading becomes sophisticated and devotional. We still feel that God speaks to us in the text, but as we learn basic principles of interpretation, we increasingly give our attention to Scripture’s literary, cultural, and historical contexts. We own and use Bible dictionaries and commentaries. We know the translation strategies of competing Bible versions and begin to use that knowledge to get at the original text.
Most future church leaders go to seminary, where we become technical readers. We read Greek and Hebrew and consult scholarly sources. We respect the distance between our world and that of Scripture. Zeal to describe biblical history and theology grows. As we pursue what the word originally meant, we are tempted to neglect what it means today, to us.
When students become interns at a local church they remember that study should edify the church. We continue to read technically, but now we share our findings with others. We become technical-functional readers. Our reading may still be detached, personally speaking, but we store and organize our discoveries so we can offer them to others. While this phase may help us rediscover the proper use of Scripture, we may still be professional readers. We can present God’s truth to others, while blocking his word to us.
Student and pastors need, therefore, to become technical, devotional readers. Here every exegetical skill remains, yet we also read like children, letting the word speak to our hearts again. We can find what Paul Ricoeur called a “second naiveté.” We are both technically astute and spiritually receptive. Our study lets us to explain and apply God’s Word to the church and to ourselves. Then we hear God’s Word, so it does its work in us once again, so we purify our hearts, cleanse our hands, and walk in the ways of the Lord.
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly…” Colossians 3:16
People sometimes say to me, “Pastor, I’ve been in church my whole life and I know how important being in the Word is, but I’m really struggling. Where do I start?” Or they’ll say, “I’m a Christian, but I’m really struggling to know the love of God. Can you help me?”
A great place to start
“May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s patience…” 2 Thessalonians 2:5
A great place to start is with a passage of Scripture like the one above. Here are three simple observations from this one verse: 1. I need love and patience when I’m tired of the battle, 2. God can give me the love and patience I need, and 3. I can ask God to give me what I do not have.
You can do a simple meditation like this for yourself as you read a few verses of the Bible every day. I encourage you to do this. Read a few verses. Then pick one, and write out two or three sentences to restate and apply what it says. Even children can do this!
Write out the verse. Then write out, in your own words, what the verse says and how it helps you. Get a hardback notebook. As you begin this practice, 20 years from now it will be your joy to look back on what God has taught you.
Is it in you?
“The word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.”Hebrews 4:12
Don’t just read the Bible and rush on. Take what God is saying into your life. Do this for a few minutes every day, or at least start by doing this a few times a week. It’s important to develop the habit of being in the Word. As you do this, you’ll get better at it, and you’ll begin to see God’s Word bearing fruit in your life.
If you’re in the habit of reading devotionals, that’s good, but if you’ve been doing that for many years, it may be time for you to move beyond feeding your soul on other people’s thoughts. Try feeding your soul on the Word of God directly. Ask God to help you. Get a friend to encourage you. A year from now, you will be amazed at how much you’ve grown.
You can receive our daily devotional booklet by mail by visiting UnlockingtheBible.org/LifeKEYS and subscribing to the LifeKEYS Daily Bible Devotional Booklet. You can also follow Colin Smith and Unlocking the Bible on Facebook and Twitter.
This LifeKey based on the message “The Love of God and the Patience of Christ,” by Pastor Colin S. Smith, February 20, 2011, from the series “Staying the Course When You’re Tired of the Battle.”
Colin currently serves as Senior Pastor of the The Orchard Evangelical Free Church in Arlington Heights, Illinois. He is committed to preaching the Bible in a way that nourishes the soul by directing attention to Jesus Christ.
Human beings were built with limits. God didn’t design you to be a superhero.
You and I were created to live dependent lives, never surviving on the basis of our own strength, wisdom and control. From the moment of our first breath, we were limited, weak, and fragile beings.
If you’re a parent, or an older brother or sister, you know this to be true. Think about how long your newborn child or sibling would have lasted if you left them alone. I was shocked when we had our first child – there was never a moment when we could leave him alone, except during sleep, and even then we were only a few feet away.
As we grow older, we think that we become more independent. We get married, have children of our own, buy our first house, and make significant life decisions. Sure, a 40-year married adult can feed and dress himself much better than a 4-month old infant, but I’m afraid that we don’t fully accept our limitations.
I want to reinforce the point that you’re not a superhero. “Sure, Paul, I obviously can’t fly or make myself invisible,” you might say. But I want you to consider eight limits of your humanity:
Think about the benefits of controlling time. I could pause time in a moment of difficulty, thinking about my next word or decision before speaking or acting. Or, I could rewind time and right the wrongs of my own life, or stop crimes against humanity before they happen.
I don’t know about you, but I would love to be in more than one place at a time. Imagine how productive I could be! I could write my next book while speaking at a conference while shopping for dinner.
I wish that I knew everything about anything. I would be a walking encyclopedia, able to solve any problem that might complicate my day. I wouldn’t ever have to worry about being stumped.
If I was filled with wisdom, I could give people the proper advice, sifting through the clutter of information and directing them on the path to success. I would be the world’s best counselor.
I would love to be able to control the weather- the Tripp family would never have a rainy beach day! Or think about the time I could save if I controlled the traffic lights!
I wish I could get people to do things my way. Right now, Philadelphia roads are riddled with potholes because of the winter storms. If I was all-powerful, the city government would be out there immediately until every hole was filled! Or maybe if I’m feeling an extra zeal for justice, I could combine my wisdom with power and solve world hunger while fighting political corruption.
I not only wish that I knew everything – I wish I could do anything. There would never be a physical task that I would be unable to accomplish. I could cook the best meal, repair any car, and paint the best art, all while doing it better than anyone else on the planet.
Sometimes I wish that God had given me every spiritual gift available. I could be the most creative writer, the most sophisticated thinker, the most efficient administrator, and the most gifted preacher – all at the same time!
I ALREADY KNEW THAT…
So what’s the point? This Article is a bit nonsensical, because you already know that you can’t control the weather, pause time, or solve any dilemma that pops up. But let me ask you to be honest for a moment – if I were to poll the people you live with, would they tell me that you live like you’re a superhero?
What happens when someone violates your schedule? Do you act as if know everything, stepping in to comment when someone makes a verbal mistake? Are you a controlling person? And are you, at times, arrogant enough to think that there is no one out there that can give you advice and counsel?
You see, when you admit your limits, you’re a humble and restful person. You’re humble enough to admit weakness, always open to learning. And you’re restful, because you know that control is in the hands of God – and not yours.
Let me encourage you here – there’s only one Superhero in the Bible. His name is Jesus Christ. Every other man and woman documented in Scripture was a failure. Rest and peace is found when you abandon control and admit your limits.
- believers practice confession instead of trying to make an impression
- people are defined by a lifestyle of repenting rather than pretending
- you embrace truth at all costs, not agreeing for each others approval
- light exposes & wounds and love covers & heals – both/and not either/or
- people are happy to be holy not content to be comfortable
- you own your mess because of His mercy instead of hiding them because of your shame
- functional saviors & heart idolatry are lovingly confronted & challenged by Christ’s reign & rule
- unbelieving sinners & believing sinners together look away from themselves & look to Jesus
- the pleasure of God in Christ to save you liberates you to passionately serve others
- hospitality is given to those on the margins & those not like you are welcome in your world
- individual preferences take a back seat to community purposes of loving God and neighbor