Instead of Building Your Platform, Build Your Character



Derwin Gray:

Pastor, words like “platform” and “influence” are important.

But if we aren’t careful, in our desire to build our platform and influence, we can end up building our EGO.

As leadership gurus Ken Blanchard and Phil Hodges say, “EGO stands for ‘Edging God Out’.”


Instead of building your platform, focus more on building your character.

According to the Apostle Paul, the qualifications to be an elder-pastor are about character, not gifting.

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. 1 Timothy 3:1-7 ESV


I want to share 3 practices (other than classical spiritual disciplines) that challenge and encourage my character development.

Practice the Presence of People:

Treat every person you come in contact with as though Jesus died for them.
Treat every person as if Jesus left heaven to rescue them.
Treat every person as if they are made in the image of God and really matter to Him.
This will keep you from treating people as though they are less than made in the image of God.
Practice Being a Servant:

People do not exist to serve you, you exist to serve them.
Look for ways to serve people besides preaching a sermon.
Jesus washed His disciples’ feet. Whose feet are we washing?
This will keep you humble and accessible.
Practice the Presence of Christ:

Abide in Christ. Revel in Christ. Enjoy Christ. Make much of Christ. Live in constant dependency on Christ.
This will keep you relying on Jesus as your source of power.
You build your character, and let God build your platform and influence.

Jesus Repulses, Jesus Draws


I Think we all love the story of the Garasene Demonaic, don’t we? It is the story of a poor, pathetic, hopeless, demon-oppressed man and his life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ. And there is something in the story I find particularly fascinating.

Though at one time in his life this man had been a normal person with a normal life, at some point demons had begun to oppress him. Maybe he was a young man still living in his parents’ home when something about him began to change. Over time his parents and family saw him start to exhibit erratic and downright scary behavior. Or maybe he was a married man and it was his wife who first began to notice that strange behavior. He began to act in ways that were out of character. He began to cry out in weird ways. Though he used to love his kids and cuddle them and tell them stories and play with them, over time he became distant, then even dangerous. Soon she had to protect the kids from their own father.

Eventually his behavior became so outrageous that the people around him acted in the only way they knew how—they chained him and locked him up. But then he grew so strong that he could break those chains and attack anyone who approached him. So they did the only thing left to do and drove him away. By the time we meet him in Mark 5 (and parallel accounts in Matthew and Luke), he is living in the tombs, roaming the hills naked, cutting and brusing himself, crying out in agony of body, soul and spirit. He can go no lower.

And then Jesus meets him. And then Jesus frees him. Jesus sends that horde of demons into a herd of pigs which immediately rushes into the sea and drowns. And then we come to a part of the story I find absolutely fascinating. The nearby townsfolk come running to see what has happened, to see this oppressed man in his right mind, to see thousands of dead pigs floating in the water. And we see two very different reactions to this encounter with Jesus Christ.

When this man has been freed by Jesus, he begs Jesus to be able to go with him. Please let me remain with you, let me learn from you, let me serve you. Where you go I will go. This man saw Jesus and wanted Jesus more than anything.

When this crowd of villagers saw this man freed by Jesus, they had a reaction that was exactly opposite. They begged Jesus to leave. Please go. Get back in your boat and leave and don’t come back. They saw Jesus and wanted Jesus less than anything.

The people wanted Jesus as far as possible, this man wanted Jesus as close as possible. And in those two reactions we see something fascinating: Jesus repulses and Jesus draws. Some people encounter Jesus and find him the most dreadful thing in the world; some people encounter Jesus and find him the most desirable thing in the world. Some beg him to leave and some beg to follow.

When we preach Jesus today, we preach for a response. And there is always a response. Jesus repulses and Jesus draws. But an encounter with Jesus never accomplishes nothing.

No automatic advantage



Not everyone recognizes Jesus’ authority; others sense the power but do not respond with faith. Even some who naturally belong to the kingdom, that is, the Jews who had lived under the old covenant and had been the heirs of the promises, turn out to be rejected. They too approach the great hall of the messianic banquet, lit up with a thousand lamps in joyous festivity; but they are refused admission, they are thrown outside into the blackness of night, “where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (8:12). The idea is not that there will be no Jews at the messianic banquet. After all, the patriarchs themselves are Jews, and all of Jesus’ earliest followers were Jews. But Jesus insists that there is no automatic advantage to being a Jew. As he later says to those of his own race, “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit” (21:43). An individual’s faith, his or her response to the authority claims of Jesus, will prove decisive. The alternative to entrance into the kingdom is painted in horrible colors: literally the weeping and the gnashing of teeth, to emphasize the horror of the scene, the former suggesting suffering and the latter despair. The same authority of Jesus that proves such a great comfort to the eyes of faith now engenders terror in the merely religious.

This is not a teaching that is very acceptable to vast numbers in western Christendom today. It flies in the face of the great god Pluralism who holds much more of our allegiance than we are prone to admit. The test for religious validity in this environment is no longer truth but sincerity—as if sincerity were a virtue even when the beliefs underlying it are entirely mistaken.

- D.A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and His Confrontation with the World, 166

(HT: Zach Nielsen)

Christ’s resurrection bestows the benefits of his death on us



By his death sin was taken away, by his resurrection righteousness was renewed and restored.

For how could he by dying have freed us from death, if he had yielded to its power? How could he have obtained the victory for us, if he had fallen in the contest?

Our salvation may be thus divided between the death and the resurrection of Christ: by the former sin was abolished and death annihilated; by the latter righteousness was restored and life revived, the power and efficacy of the former being still bestowed upon us by means of the latter.

— John Calvin, quoted by Adrian Warnock in
Raised with Christ
(Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 118

(HT: Of First Importance)

So Heavenly Minded You’re No Earthly Good?




C. S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity:

A continual looking forward to the eternal world is not (as some modern people think) a form of escapism or wishful thinking, but one of the things a Christian is meant to do.

It does not mean that we are to leave the present world as it is.

If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next.

The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven.

It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this.

Aim at Heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.”




John Piper:

Yes, I know. It is possible to be so heavenly minded that we are of no earthly use. My problem is: I’ve never met one of those people. And I suspect, if I met one, the problem would not be that his mind is full of the glories of heaven, but that his mind is empty and his mouth is full of platitudes.

I suspect that for every professing believer who is useless in this world because of other-worldliness, there are a hundred who are useless because of this-worldliness.

(HT: Justin Taylor)

Church Leadership – is the ‘Moses model’ a recipe for disaster?



Sam Storms:

What accounts for the relational disasters, financial corruption, and moral failures that continue to erupt in our local churches? There are undoubtedly numerous explanations that could be cited, but I want to focus on one that most people typically ignore: bad and unbiblical ecclesiology. I have in mind those churches in which the senior pastor is given excessive and often unbridled authority and remains largely unaccountable for his decisions. This is often the result of an appeal to the Old Testament as a model for local church government.

Joshua 3:7 comes immediately to mind. There God said to Joshua: “Today I will begin to exalt you in the sight of all Israel, that they may know that, as I was with Moses, so I will be with you.” Some refer to this as the “Moses Model” of local church government. The almost unilateral authority that God invested in Moses, and in his successor, Joshua, is embraced and applied to local church leadership today.

We need to be extraordinarily careful about the way we apply Old Testament passages such as this to us today. Many make the mistake of trying to take an OT model for leadership and applying it to the NT church. They assume that the kind of authority and prominence given to men such as Moses and Joshua should also be extended to pastors today. But nowhere in the NT is any single individual elevated in the way Joshua was. The church is not a geo-political nation as was Israel.

Leadership in the church is always and only granted to a plurality of men called Elders. I don’t find any indication that a local church was to be governed by a single elder or pastor. The consistent NT witness is that each church was under the oversight of a plurality of elders/bishops, as the following texts confirm: see Acts 11:29-30; 14:23; 15:1-6, 22-23; 16:4; 20:17; 21:17-18; 1 Tim. 4:14; 5:17, 19; Titus 1:5; James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1, 5. So let’s be careful how we use the OT.

One of the great tragedies in our day is the repeated occurrence of popular and powerful Christian leaders falling into sexual sin or financial scandal or, through the exercise of excessive and unchallenged authority, being the cause of church splits and relational ruptures. All too often this comes as a result of investing in one person a governing authority that the Bible nowhere endorses. Such “leaders” are accountable to no one, or at most to an inner circle of “yes” men who serve only to insulate and guard the leader from outside influence or criticism.

Such “leaders” are thought to possess the Holy Spirit in a heightened degree. They are especially, uniquely, and extraordinarily “anointed” to a degree beyond that which is available to the ordinary Christian and in such a way as to put them beyond evaluation or critique. The result is that what they say or do is regarded as inviolable. They speak with the authority of God himself and cannot be questioned. Or if you do challenge them, you quickly find yourself out of a job or demoted or relegated to the margins of church life. Such “leaders” begin to think of themselves as exempt from routine biblical standards of conduct when it comes to sexuality or money.

Let me say this as clearly and forcefully as I can. If you ever find yourself in a church or ministry or situation in which the leader or pastor is beyond criticism and answers to no one but himself, run away! If you find yourself in a church where the senior or lead pastor cannot be disciplined or removed from his role in the church, run away! If you find yourself in a situation where the leader has arbitrary and ultimate authority over every decision, run away!

I’m not saying that pastors who are accountable to a Board of Elders cannot sin and fall. Sadly, they do. But it is decidedly more difficult for them than it is for those who ground their authority in an unbiblical appeal to the example of OT figures such as Moses or Joshua.

I’m not saying we can’t learn from the lives and ministries of Moses and Joshua and David in the OT. Of course we can. But that doesn’t mean that the structures of spiritual authority operative in the Old Covenant are to be applied to the life of the church in the New Covenant.

Who God says I am in Christ



Scott Thomas and Tom Wood:

“I keep a list of these positional promises on my desk to remind me who I am declared to be in the Word of God. Even though I do not always feel this way, these Scriptures remind me of who I am in Christ.”

Through Christ, I am dead to sin (Romans 6:11).
Through Christ, I am spiritually alive (Romans 6:11; 1 Corinthians 15:22).
Through Christ, I am forgiven (Colossians 2:13; 1 John 2:12).
Through Christ, I am declared righteous (1 Corinthians 1:30; 2 Corinthians 5:21).
Through Christ, I am God’s possession (Titus 2:14).
Through Christ, I am an heir of God (Romans 8:17).
Through Christ, I am blessed with all spiritual blessing (Ephesians 1:3).
Through Christ, I am a citizen of heaven (Philippians 3:20).
Through Christ, I am free from the law (Romans 8:2).
Through Christ, I am crucified with him (Galatians 2:20).
Through Christ, I am free from the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:24).
Through Christ, I am declared blameless and innocent (Philippians 2:15).
Through Christ, I am a light in the world (Matthew 5:14-15; Philippians 2:15).
Through Christ, I am victorious over Satan (Luke 10:19).
Through Christ, I am cleansed from sin (1 John 1:7).
Through Christ, I am set free in Christ from the power of sin (Colossians 2:11-15).
Through Christ, I am secure in him (1 Peter 1:3-5).
Through Christ, I am at peace with God (Romans 5:1; Philippians 4:6-9).
Through Christ, I am loved by God (1 John 4:10).

- from: Gospel Coach: Shepherding Leaders to Glorify God (71-72)

(HT: Trevin Wax)

Messages that are falsely claimed to be the gospel



From IX Marks:

  1. God wants to make us rich. Some preachers today say that the good news is that God wants to bless us with loads of money and possessions—all we need to do is ask! But the gospel is a message about spiritual blessings (Eph. 1:3): God sent Jesus Christ to die and rise again for us so that we would be justified, reconciled to God, and given eternal life with God (Rom. 3:25-26, 6:23; 2 Cor. 5:18-21). Moreover, the Bible promises that Christians will not have material prosperity in this life, but tribulation (Acts 14:22), persecution (2 Tim 3:12), and suffering (Rom. 8:17), all of which will one day give way to unspeakable glory (2 Cor. 4:17; Rom. 8:18).
  2. God is love and we’re okay. Some people think the gospel is that God loves us and accepts us just as we are. But the biblical gospel confronts people as sinners facing the wrath of God (Rom. 3:23, John 3:36) and tells people about God’s radical solution: Jesus’ sin-bearing death on the cross. This gospel calls people to an equally radical response: to repent of their sins and trust in Christ for salvation.
  3. We should live right. The gospel is not a message that tells us a live a better life and so make ourselves right with God. In fact the gospel tells us exactly the opposite: we can’t do what pleases God and we can never make ourselves acceptable to him (Rom. 8:5-8). But the good news is that Jesus has done for us what we could never do for ourselves: by living a perfect life and bearing God’s wrath on the cross he has secured the salvation of all those who turn from their sin and trust in him (Rom. 5:6-11, 8:31-34).
  4. Jesus came to transform society. Some people believe that Jesus’ mission was to transform society and bring justice to the oppressed through a political revolution. But the Bible teaches that this world will only be made right when Jesus comes again and ushers in a new heaven and new earth (2 Thess. 2:9-10, Rev. 21:1-5). The gospel is fundamentally a message about salvation from the wrath of God through faith in Christ, not the transformation of society in this present age.

(Some of this material has been adapted from Nine Marks of a Healthy Church by Mark Dever,
pages 80-90)

Truth grounded in revelation



D.A. Carson:

The revelation has come to us in the natural world, in great events of miraculous power attested by witnesses, in the personal work of the Spirit of God, in the enormously rich variety of writings that make up the Bible, and supremely in the person of Jesus Christ. These are not mutually exclusive channels. For instance, most of what we know propositionally about Jesus is found in the Bible, including those parts that preserve the testimony of witnesses – so here we have Jesus himself, witnesses who have left words about him, and the Bible that preserves them and conveys them.

First, the content can be indeed, has been- put into propositions, creeds, catechisms, statements of faith. It has substance. Of course there is an interpretive element in all our confessions, for finite beings cannot know anything without interpreting it. Only omniscience can escape the limitations of perspectivalism – of looking at things form a limited perspective. But that does not mean that all perspectives are equally valid, or that there is no truth in any particular interpretation.

As Christians band together to study the Bible, they come to convictions about what the Bible is saying – and that leads, rightly, to shared creeds that are modifiable only by more light from the Bible itself. Our confession of such truth cannot participate in the perfection of omniscience, but it is nonetheless valid and appropriate to the limitations of our finitude and our fallenness. Better yet, it is made possible by a gracious god who condescends to disclose himself in human words, and by the Spirit who convicts rebels of sin and illumines darkened minds.

The Intolerance of Tolerance, pg. 111-112

(HT: Marco Gonzalez)

Faithful bible translations should reproduce the theological depth and grandure of the original text


Ray Van Neste posts on Richard Hays’ Critique of the Common English Bible Translation:

There seems to be a growing discussion amongst Bible scholars about the shortcomings of Bible translations which try too hard to sound contemporary (See for example Bob Gundry’s critique of Tom Wright’s NT translation from 2 years ago).

This week I came across this essay:

Richard Hays, “Lost in Translation: A Reflection on Romans in the Common English Bible,” in The Unrelenting God: God’s Action in Scripture: Essays in Honor of Beverly Roberts Gaventa (Eerdmans, 2013)

The Common English Bible came out a couple of years ago having been overseen by a more mainline group. In this essay Hays reveals that he and Beverly Gaventa were given the task of writing the first draft of the translation of Romans. However, Hays was particularly disappointed in the translation which was finally published, after being altered by “readability experts.” The rest of his essay is an investigation of what happens when the laudable goal of clarity is reduced to “easy reading” and is not tethered to theological care. There is a warning here for any translation project.

As Hays states, “to turn a magisterial theological reflection such as Romans into an easy-reading text for the average American seventh-grader entails certain modifications, tradeoffs, and sacrifices” (84). I think this is an all too common mistake when the goal is for the “man on the street” to be able to understand the text on his own. As I have argued before, this completely misses the need for the teaching function of the church. There is a basic level of understanding, but we ought to expect any translation of the Bible to have rough edges, difficult portions- precisely because the original has these!- which will require much thought and should drive us to the teachers God has given to the church (Eph 4:11-12).

Hays makes his case with specific examples and pointed, punchy writing.

He states, “The repeated use of contractions and low-intensity everyday diction creates a relaxed conversational tone that lowers the temperature of the discourse.” (85) This is a valuable point because certain texts, like Romans, are not supposed to be breezy. Casual may be the rage in our conversations (as practically all else) today, but that does not mean it is the ideal or that it matches the text we are trying to translate.

Hays critiques the translation of Rom 16:25-27, where “revelation of the mystery” has become “announcement of the secret”, saying, “The CEB’s language would be more fitting to describe, say, a delayed wedding announcement than to designate the apostolic unveiling of the hidden mystery of God’s eternal design for saving the world.” (85)

Romans 1:22 states “they were made fools”, with God as the implied actor, but the CEB says “they made fools of themselves.” Hays notes, “The translation sounds clever, and it is certainly idiomatic English; unfortunately, it obscures Paul’s theological point.” (86)

In Romans 16:13, “Greet Rufus, the one chosen/elect in the Lord” becomes “Say hello to Rufus, who is an outstanding believer”!

Hays is clear that he is not simply annoyed with how his draft was handled but concerned about a trend in translations.

“I am drawing attention to this particular translational decision in order to illustrate how the process of translation entails judgments that are deeply theological in character.” (88)

“In an effort to achieve readability, it has not only sacrificed Paul’s stylistic elegance but also subtly obscured the letter’s theological coherence on key points. It has domesticated Paul’s gospel by muting its apocalyptic notes, dulling its sharp emphasis on the priority of God’s action in Christ to effect the justification of humanity, and reducing its rhetorical grandeur to a casual, plodding discourse.” (101)

These are important points to consider.

9 things you should know about Islam



By Joe Carter:

Throughout the world, Muslims are observing their annual observance of Ramadan. Christians need to become more aware of Ramadan as well as the other practices and tenets of this fast-growing global religion. As an aid in that effort, here are nine things you should know about Islam.

1. Islam in Arabic is a verbal noun, meaning self-surrender to Allah (literally: “the god) as revealed through the “message and life of his prophet Mohammed.” In the religious sense, Muslim means “anyone or anything that surrenders itself to the true will of God.”

2. The Quran (literally meaning “the recitation”) is the central religious text of Islam, which Muslims believe to be the unedited revelation from Allah verbally revealed through the angel Gabriel to Muhammad while he was in a trance-like state. This “revelation” occurred gradually over a period of approximately 23 years concluding in the year of Mohammed’s death. A number of his companions who knew the Quran by heart decided to collect the book in one volume so that it could be preserved. Quranic chapters are called suras and verses are called ayahs.

3. For a believing Muslim, the Quran occupies the position Christ has for Christians. A Muslim should not handle the text unless they are in a state of ritual purity. Readings are preceded by the phrase “I take refuge with God from Satan, the accursed one,” and followed by “God almighty has spoken truly.” Certain verses are even credited with curative powers (the first sura is claimed to be good for scorpion bites).

4. The first sura of the Quran — considered to be the perfect embodiment of Islam — is repeated in daily prayers and in other occasions. This sura, which consists of seven verses, is the most often recited sura of the Quran:

“All praise belongs to God, Lord of the Universe, the Beneficent, the Merciful and Master of the Day of Judgment, You alone We do worship and from You alone we do seek assistance, guide us to the right path, the path of those to whom You have granted blessings, those who are neither subject to Your anger nor have gone astray.”
This sura is repeated during the five prayers Muslim are required to pray every 24 hours.

5. The basic religious duties of Muslims are known as the Five Pillars:

  • Shahadah: declaring there is no god except Allah, and Muhammad is Allah’s Messenger
  • Salat: ritual prayer five times a day. In performing salat, the precise body movements are as important as the mental state. Salat may be performed almost anywhere provided that the Muslim faces the “Qibla,” that is, in the direction of Islam’s most sacred mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
  • Zakat: compulsory charity for the poor, assessed at 2.5 percent of capital assets (items such as bank deposits but not possessions such as cars or houses).
  • Sawm: fasting from dawn to sunset during the month of Ramadan (the ninth month of the lunar calendar).
  • Hajj: pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in a lifetime if he or she is able; the hajj takes place during the last ten days of the twelfth lunar month.

6. Sharia is the moral code and religious law of Islam. There are two primary sources of sharia law: the precepts set forth in the Quranic verses (ayahs), and the example set by Muhammad in the Sunnah. Sharia classifies behavior into the following types or grades: fard (obligatory), mustahabb (recommended), mubah (neutral), makruh (discouraged), and haraam (forbidden). Every human action belongs in one of these five categories. Today, most Muslim countries adopt only a few aspects of sharia, while a few countries apply the entire code.

7. The Islamic view of the Bible is based on the belief that the Torah, Psalms, and Gospels were revelation from Allah that became distorted or corrupted. Muslims believe that Jesus was a Muslim prophet (a messenger of Allah), and that he was not the son of God. They believe he was never crucified or resurrected, nor indeed died at all. Instead, the Quran claims, “God raised him unto Himself.”

8. Islam is often classified, along with Judaism and Christianity, as one of the three “Abrahamic faiths.” But the Muslim conception of Abraham is radically different from the Judeo-Christian tradition. In Islam, Abraham is the prototypical Muslim prophet and that it is in the Quran in which the “religion of Abraham” is to be found. For example, a distinctive of Abraham in the Quran is the report that he and his son Ishmael built the Kaaba in Mecca and established it as a place of worship for Allah. The Abraham of the Quran differs so much from the Abraham of the Bible that it is misleading to claim they refer to the same person.

9. The two main denominations of Islam are Sunni and Shi’ite. Muslims have a similar creed (shahadah) roughly translated as, “There is no god but Allah, Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.” The Shi’ite, however, tack on an additional sentence: “Ali is the Friend of Allah. The Successor of the Messenger of Allah And his first Caliph.” Ali was Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law and the reason these groups are often in opposition to one another (the terms Shia and Shi’ite come from condensing Shiat Ali, “partisans of Ali”). After Muhammad died, the leadership of the Muslim believers (the Ummah) was the responsibility of the Caliph, a type of tribal leader. The Sunnis respect Ali and consider him the fourth Caliph while the Shi’a contends he was cheated out of being first. Sunnis, following the tradition of the period, thought the Caliph should be chosen by the community while Shi’ites believe the office should be passed down only to direct descendants of Muhammad. Around 85 percent of the world’s Muslims are Sunni while only about 15 percent are Shi’a. Iran is predominantly Shi’a while Saudi Arabia, and almost all other Arab countries, are Sunni.

Go to Christ immediately



I feel when I have sinned an immediate reluctance to go to Christ. I am ashamed to go. I feel as if it would not do to go, as if it were making Christ the minister of sin, to go straight from the swine-trough to the best robe, and a thousand other excuses. But I am persuaded they are all lies direct from hell.

John argues the opposite way—‘If any man sins, we have an advocate with the Father.’ The holy sensitiveness of the soul that shrinks from the touch of sin, the acute susceptibility of the conscience at the slightest shade of guilt, will of necessity draw the spiritual mind frequently to the blood of Jesus. And herein lies the secret of a heavenly walk. Acquaint yourself with it, my reader, as the most precious secret of your life. He who lives in the habit of a prompt and minute acknowledgement of sin, with his eye reposing calmly, believingly, upon the crucified Redeemer, soars in spirit where the eagle’s pinion [wings] range not.

— Robert Murray M’Cheyne, quoted by Andrew Bonar in
Robert Murray M’Cheyne
(Edinburgh, UK: Banner of Truth, 1960), 176

(HT: Of First Importance)

One With Christ



Selected quotes from One With Christ, by Marcus Johnson, compiled by Stephen Weaver:

“To be saved by Christ…means to be included in the person of Christ. That is what salvation is” (12)

The mysterious reality of our union with Jesus Christ, by which he dwells in us and we in him, is so utterly essential to the gospel that to obscure it inevitably leads to an obscuring of the gospel itself.” (16)

“For Paul, our intimate union with Christ has both legal and transformative benefits. We are both justified and sanctified ‘in Christ Jesus’ in a way that answers both our guilt and pollution in Adam.” (73)

“The theo-logic of the Reformation confession sola fide is not that faith itself is saving, but that faith joins us to Jesus Christ, who is our salvation. Thus, strictly speaking, we are not saved because we believe, but because we are united to Christ through faith.” (99)

“…by virtue of our union with Jesus Christ, we are incorporated into the (sin-bearing, guilt-negating, wrath-absorbing, death-defeating, curse-annulling) crucifixion, death, and burial of Jesus Christ, through which our sins are forgiven and we are freed from the sentence of guilt, condemnation, and death which stood against us.” (103)

“Christ is uniquely our sanctification because in him alone the sanctification of our human nature has taken place by union with his divine life.” (119-120)

“Adoption is that benefit of being united with to the Son of God through which we share in his sonship with the Father, become the beloved children of God, and enjoy all the privileges and rights of being included in God’s family.” (147)

“To say that we are preserved in Christ means that once we have been joined to him, he continues to hold us close to him and promises to never let us go.” (170-171)

“As Christ dwells in us and as we are joined to him, we are at the same time the recipients of salvation and the ones who constitute his body, the church. We are the church precisely as we are joined to him for salvation.” (194)

Am I Getting Worse?



Eric Costa:

Christian, if you are truly growing in God’s grace, it is normal to feel worse about yourself as time progresses. This does not mean you are actually getting worse. This is biblical sanctification, and you can even be encouraged that you’re noticing this about yourself! The image above is a diagram created by Jack Miller called “the Cross Chart,” and it is one helpful way of understanding growth in the Christian life. As you grow, your estimation of God’s holiness increases, your estimation of yourself decreases, and your appreciation for the Gospel of grace expands to fill the gap. These three things are not objectively changing, but your awareness of them is. (If you leave off or distort one of those three elements of the chart, you’re in trouble.)

It can be extremely discouraging to fixate on that bottom line, the decreasing estimation of oneself. Over time, God works against our self-deception, lifts our self-imposed blindness to what’s inside of us. Bit by bit, he allows us to see ourselves as we truly are. If he did this all at once, we’d probably go insane with depression. But, in his grace, he takes time to show us how bad things really are in our hearts, in our flesh (and he offsets that painful discovery by granting us deeper trust in his gracious love). We’re not actually getting worse, but we’re seeing our sin more clearly, so it might feel that way.

There’s another way to understand this dynamic of feeling worse about ourselves as we grow in Christ. The Christian life is a battle of spirit versus flesh. I’m not sure how to explain this on a metaphysical level, but we’re somehow torn between warring factions in our persons. There’s the self-in-itself, “the old man,” the dead and dying flesh indwelt by sin… and there’s the self-in-Christ, “the new man,” the reborn and living spirit indwelt by God’s Spirit. These two are locked in mortal combat. (The good news is, because of Jesus, there’s already a clear winner.)

As we grow in Christ, the battle becomes sharper, more defined, more intense. We learn no longer to “fight” the sinful flesh by means of sinful flesh. For example, we no longer suppress our sinful anger by means of our sinful pride. (That’s the only way to “fight” available before becoming a Christian—but it’s not really a fight, is it?) As Christians, we know the only way to kill our sin is by the Spirit, by growth in grace, by Gospel-changed motives. Our spirits grow stronger as we fix our eyes on Christ, but when we “let our guard drop,” our sinful flesh flails about unchecked, like a desperate, wild animal that sees an opening and goes for it. It is now less restrained by other sinful motives, so it lashes out more visibly and aggressively when not restrained by the power of the Spirit. So, in a sense, displays of the flesh may indeed grow worse; your angry outbursts might be louder or more heated. But, ultimately, your faith is on a general trajectory of growth, and those displays will probably be fewer and farther between as the fruit of the Spirit grow in you.

The key to encouragement through this war is fixing your eyes on the Gospel. Like the cross chart above, you need to have a greater vision of God’s grace to you in Jesus Christ, to keep you from despairing as your estimation of yourself tanks. “Look to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2). He has already gained the victory over all your sin, and he shares his righteousness with you freely as a gift of his grace.

Beat it into their heads continually



“Here I must take counsel of the gospel. I must hearken to the gospel, which teacheth me, not what I ought to do, (for that is the proper office of the law), but what Jesus Christ the Son of God hath done for me: to wit, that He suffered and died to deliver me from sin and death. The gospel willeth me to receive this, and to believe it. And this is the truth of the gospel. It is also the principal article of all Christian doctrine, wherein the knowledge of all godliness consisteth. Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually.”

Martin Luther, St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (Smith, English & Co. 1860), p. 206.

Things Jesus will never say to you



Love this from Jared Wilson:

To those who trust in him for salvation, Jesus will never say:

“Go play somewhere; I’m busy.”

“Fake it til you make it.”

“I just don’t think it’s gonna work out between us.”

“I knew you were a screw-up, but this one really surprised me.”

“It’s too late.”

“I don’t care.”

“My assistant will get back to you on that.”

“We’re through.”

“I need some ‘me time’ right now.”

“I just ‘can’t’ right now.”

“I feel like I’m doing all the giving; what have you done for me lately?”

“Yeah, good job on ___________, but what about ____________?”

“I’ll be glad to help if you’ll ‘let’ me.”

“I can’t bless you until you release my power with positive words.”

“Who are you, again?”

“Beat it.”

The Heart of the Gospel



From What is the Gospel, by Greg Gilbert:

The Heart of the Gospel

Sadly, this doctrine of substitution is probably the one part of the Christian gospel that the world hates most. People are simply disgusted at an idea of Jesus being punished for someone else’s sin. More than one author has called it “divine child abuse”. And yet to toss substitutionary atonement aside is to cut out the heart of the gospel. To be sure, there are many pictures in Scripture of what Christ accomplished with his death: example, reconciliation, and victory, to name three. But underneath them all is the reality to which all the other images point—penal substitution. You simply cannot leave it out, or even downplay it in favor of other images, or else you litter the landscape of Scripture with unanswered questions.

Why the sacrifices? What did the shedding of blood accomplish? How can God have mercy on sinner without destroying justice? What can it mean that God forgives iniquity and transgression and sin, and yet by no means clears the guilty (Ex. 34.7)? How can a righteous and holy God justify the ungodly (Rom 4:5)?

The answer to all these questions is found at the cross of Calvary, Jesus’ subsititionary death for his people. A righteous and holy God can justify the ungodly because in Jesus’ death, mercy and justice were perfectly reconciled. The curse was righteously executed, and we were mercifully saved.

(HT: Marco Gonzalez)

Wisdom from Luther on doing theology



J. I. Packer on Martin Luther’s approach to doing theology:

When Martin Luther wrote the Preface to the first collected edition of his many and various writings, he went to town explaining in detail that theology, which should always be based on the Scriptures, should be done according to the pattern modelled in Psalm 119.

There, Luther declared, we see three forms of activity and experience make the theologian.

The first is prayer for light and understanding.

The second is reflective thought (meditatio), meaning sustained study of the substance, thrust, and flow of the biblical text.

The third is standing firm under pressure of various kinds (external opposition, inward conflict, and whatever else Satan can muster: pressures, that is, to abandon, suppress, recant, or otherwise decide not to live by, the truth God has shown from his Word.

Luther expounded this point as one who knew what he was talking about, and his affirmation that sustained prayer, thought, and fidelity to truth whatever the cost, became the path along which theological wisdom is found is surely one of the profoundest utterances that the Christian world has yet heard.

(HT: Martin Downes)

The Danger of Coasting



Tim Challies:

I don’t know how much I’ve driven in the twenty years since I got my license, but I do know it’s a lot, what with all those drives down to the South to visit my family. Here is one thing that has never varied across the hundreds of thousands of miles: When I take my foot off the pedal, the car does not speed up. It doesn’t even maintain the same speed. Instead, from the very moment I take my foot off the accelerator, the car begins to slow. Allowing the car to coast is inviting the car to stop. It may take some time, but left on its own, it will stop eventually. It is inevitable.

I’ve been thinking about this lately because I see in my own life a tendency to coast—to coast in my relationships, to coast in my pursuit of godliness, to coast in my pursuit of God himself. And here are some things I’ve observed:

I do not coast toward godliness, but selfishness.

I do not coast toward self-control, but rashness.

I do not coast toward a love for others, but agitation.

I do not coast toward patience, but irritability.

I do not coast toward purity, but lust.

I do not coast toward self-denial, but self-obsession.

I do not coast toward the gospel, but self-sufficiency.

In short, I do not coast toward Christ, but toward self. When I stop caring, when I stop expending effort, when I allow myself to coast, I inevitably coast away from God and godliness. And this is exactly why I am so deeply dependent upon those ordinary means of grace, those oh-so-ordinary ways of growing in godliness—Scripture and prayer, preaching and fellowship, worship and sacrament. The moment those sweet means no longer appeal is the moment I begin to slow.

Deeper grace from before the dawn of time



Before all time; prior to all worlds; when there was nothing ‘outside of’ God Himself; when the Father, Son, and Spirit found eternal, absolute, and unimaginable blessing, pleasure, and joy in Their holy triunity — it was Their agreed purpose to create a world. That world would fall. But in unison — and at infinitely great cost — this glorious triune God planned to bring you (if you are a believer) grace and salvation.

This is deeper grace from before the dawn of time. It was pictured in the rituals, the leaders, and the experiences of the Old Testament saints, all of whom longed to see what we see. All this is now ours. Our salvation depends on God’s covenant, rooted in eternity, foreshadowed in the Mosaic liturgy, fulfilled in Christ, enduring forever. No wonder Hebrews calls it ‘so great a salvation’ (Heb. 2:3).

— Sinclair B. Ferguson
In Christ Alone
(Orlando, Fl.: Reformation Trust, 2007), 136

(HT: Of First Importance)