A Birdseye View of the Gospel in One Big Sentence

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Kevin DeYoung:

One of the clearest and most comprehensive statements of John Witherspoon’s theology can be found in his Essay on Justification ( 1756) where he sets out to defend justification by the imputed righteousness of Christ and ends up giving this big, broad, glorious summary of the gospel:

 

The doctrine asserted in the above and other passages of Scripture may be thus paraphrased:

that every intelligent creature is under an unchangeable and unalienable obligation, perfectly to obey the whole law of God:

that all men proceeding from Adam by ordinary generation, are the children of polluted parents, alienated in heart from God, transgressors of his holy law, inexcusable in this transgression, and therefore exposed to the dreadful consequence of his displeasure;

that it was not agreeable to the dictates of his wisdom, holiness and justice, to forgive their sins without an atonement or satisfaction:

and therefore he raised up for them a Saviour, Jesus Christ, who, as the second Adam, perfectly fulfilled the whole law, and offered himself up a sacrifice upon the cross in their stead:

that this his righteousness is imputed to them, as the sole foundation of their reception into his favor:

that the means of their being interested in this salvation, is a deep humiliation of mind, confession of guilty and wretchedness, denial of themselves, and acceptance of pardon and peace through Christ Jesus, which they neither have contributed to the procuring, nor can contribute to the continuance of, by their own merit;

but expect the renovation of their natures, to be inclined and enabled to keep the commandments of God as the work of the Spirit, and a part of the purchase of their Redeemer.

(Works, 1:50-51)

Five Questions for Christians Who Believe the Bible Supports Gay Marriage

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Kevin DeYoung:

So you’ve become convinced that the Bible supports gay marriage. You’ve studied the issue, read some books, looked at the relevant Bible passages and concluded that Scripture does not prohibit same-sex intercourse so long as it takes place in the context of a loving, monogamous, lifelong covenanted relationship. You still love Jesus. You still believe the Bible. In fact, you would argue that it’s because you love Jesus and because you believe the Bible that you now embrace gay marriage as a God-sanctioned good.

As far as you are concerned, you haven’t rejected your evangelical faith. You haven’t turned your back on God. You haven’t become a moral relativist. You’ve never suggested anything goes when it comes to sexual behavior. In most things, you tend to be quite conservative. You affirm the family, and you believe in the permanence of marriage. But now you’ve simply come to the conclusion that two men or two women should be able to enter into the institution of marriage–both as a legal right and as a biblically faithful expression of one’s sexuality.

Setting aside the issue of biblical interpretation for the moment, let me ask five questions.

1. On what basis do you still insist that marriage must be monogamous?

Presumably, you do not see any normative significance in God creating the first human pair male and female (Gen. 2:23-25; Matt. 19:4-6). Paul’s language about each man having his own wife and each woman her own husband cannot be taken too literally without falling back into the exclusivity of heterosexual marriage (1 Cor. 7:2). The two coming together as one so they might produce godly offspring doesn’t work with gay marriage either (Mal. 2:15). So why monogamy? Jesus never spoke explicitly against polygamy. The New Testament writers only knew of exploitative polygamy, the kind tied to conquest, greed, and subjugation. If they had known of voluntary, committed, loving polyamorous relationships, who’s to think they wouldn’t have approved?

These aren’t merely rhetorical questions. The issue is legitimate: if 3 or 13 or 30 people really love each other, why shouldn’t they have a right to be married? And for that matter, why not a brother and a sister, or two sisters, or a mother and son, or father and son, or any other combination of two or more persons who love each other. Once we’ve accepted the logic that for love to be validated it must be expressed sexually and that those engaged in consensual sexual activity cannot be denied the “right” of marriage, we have opened a Pandora’s box of marital permutations that cannot be shut.

2. Will you maintain the same biblical sexual ethic in the church now that you think the church should solemnize gay marriages?

After assailing the conservative church for ignoring the issue of divorce, will you exercise church discipline when gay marriages fall apart? Will you preach abstinence before marriage for all single persons, no matter their orientation? If nothing has really changed except that you now understand the Bible to be approving of same-sex intercourse in committed lifelong relationships,we should expect loud voices in the near future denouncing the infidelity rampant in homosexual relationships. Surely, those who support gay marriage out of “evangelical” principles, will be quick to find fault with the notion that the male-male marriages most likely to survive are those with a flexible understanding that other partners may come and go. According to one study researched and written by two homosexual authors, of 156 homosexual couples studied, only seven had maintained sexual fidelity, and of the hundred that had been together for more than five years, none had remained faithful (cited by Satinover, 55). In the rush to support committed, lifelong, monogamous same-sex relationships, it’s worth asking whether those supporters–especially the Christians among them–will, in fact, insist on a lifelong, monogamous commitment.

3. Are you prepared to say moms and dads are interchangeable?

It is a safe assumption that those in favor of gay marriage are likely to support gay and lesbian couples adopting children or giving birth to children through artificial insemination. What is sanctioned, therefore, is a family unit where children grow up de facto without one birth parent. This means not simply that some children, through the unfortunate circumstances of life, may grow up without a mom and dad, but that the church will positively bless and encourage the family type that will deprive children of either a mother or a father. So are mothers indispensable? Is another dad the same as a mom? No matter how many decent, capable homosexual couples we may know, are we confident that as a general rule there is nothing significant to be gained by growing up with a mother and a father?

4. What will you say about anal intercourse?

The answer is probably “nothing.” But if you feel strongly about the dangers of tobacco or fuss over the negative affects of carbs, cholesterol, gmo’s, sugar, gluten, trans fats, and hydrogenated soybean oil may have on your health, how can you not speak out about the serious risks associated with male-male intercourse. How is it loving to celebrate what we know to be a singularly unhealthy lifestyle? According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, the risk of anal cancer increases 4000 percent among those who engage in anal intercourse. Anal sex increases the risk of a long list of health problems, including “rectal prolapse, perforation that can go septic, chlamydia, cyrptosporidosis, giardiasis, genital herpes, genital warts, isosporiasis, microsporidiosis, gonorrhea, viral hepatitis B and C, and syphilis” (quoted in Reilly, 55). And this is to say nothing of the higher rates of HIV and other health concerns with disproportionate affects on the homosexual community.

5. How have all Christians at all times and in all places interpreted the Bible so wrongly for so long?

Christians misread their Bibles all the time. The church must always be reformed according to the word of God. Sometimes biblical truth rests with a small minority. Sometimes the truth is buried in relative obscurity for generations. But when we must believe that the Bible has been misunderstood by virtually every Christian in every part of the world for the last two thousand years, it ought to give us pause. From the Jewish world in the Old and New Testaments to the early church to the Middle Ages to the Reformation and into the 20th century, the church has understood the Bible to teach that engaging in homosexuality activity was among the worst sins a person could commit. As the late Louis Crompton, a gay man and pioneer in queer studies, explained:

Some interpreters, seeking to mitigate Paul’s harshness, have read the passage [in Romans 1] as condemning not homosexuals generally but only heterosexual men and women who experimented with homosexuality. According to this interpretation, Paul’s words were not directed at “bona fide” homosexuals in committed relationships. But such a reading, however well-intentioned, seems strained and unhistorical. Nowhere does Paul or any other Jewish writer of this period imply the least acceptance of same-sex relations under any circumstances. The idea that homosexuals might be redeemed by mutual devotion would have been wholly foreign to Paul or any Jew or early Christian. (Homosexuality and Civilization, 114).

The church has been of one mind on this issue for nearly two millennia. Are you prepared to jeopardize the catholicity of the church and convince yourself that everyone misunderstood the Bible until the 1960s? On such a critical matter, it’s important we think through the implications of our position, especially if it means consigning to the bin of bigotry almost every Christian who has ever lived.

An Ephesians Kind Of Prayer

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By Kevin DeYoung:

O Lord, who has given to you that you should repay him? Surely we have given you nothing and yet you lavish your riches upon us. Who are we that you should have set your affections upon us?

How infinite your tenderness toward us. How astounding your glory that you should have chosen us before the ages began. How amazing your grace in forgiveness and redemption. All that we have and all that we are and all that we will be are bound up in your Son, Jesus Christ.

We pray, therefore, in the name of Jesus that you would make us strong in our inner being. Through your Spirit give us power that is not our own. With Christ in our hearts, make us steadfast that we may not give up in the face of suffering, or give in to cultural pressures, or give ourselves over to the lusts of the flesh.

We earnestly plead that by your sovereign might and majesty we may not only know, but truly grasp, the love of Christ. We want to taste and see that you are good. Give us born again tastebuds. Give us spiritual eyes. Let Jesus’ compassion, mercy, and kindness overwhelm us and overflow from us.

And fill us, Lord. We want to be more like you and know you more. It seems like we have so far to go, but you can do all things. May our fragrance be as the aroma of Christ to others. May our gatherings be so marked by your presence that sinners and unbelievers fall down and worship, exclaiming, “God is really among them!”

Do more than we can ask. Bring yourself glory in ways we have not imagined. If it means more people, bigger budgets, more influence, more programs, so be it. If it means more sacrifice and more suffering, your will be done.

May Jesus Christ be praised. Amen.

Why Defend Inerrancy?

Justin Taylor:

Ligon Duncan, Kevin DeYoung, and Albert Mohler answer this question for a new website, Inerrancy, which provides an ongoing stream of helpful resources:

You can also follow the Twitter feed at @theinerrantword.

A Watchman on the Walls

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Kevin DeYoung:

It is not the work of the pastor to say whatever seems relevant or whatever seems noncontroversial or whatever is especially interesting to itching ears. Our responsibility, before God and for the sake of God’s people, is to declare the whole counsel of God (Acts 10:27).

The teachers of the church must disclose all of the glorious parts in Scripture and all the hard parts, all the promises and all the warnings, all the blessings and all the curses, all the parts that make us smile and all the parts that make us wince.

While we do not like to upset people and we do not wish to be thought uncouth, we answer to a higher authority. It is the solemn task of the preacher–weak and failing though he may be–to stand fast as a watchman on the walls. We cannot shrink back from the uncomfortable bits in the Bible (Acts 20: 20-21, 25-32). If we see the sword coming upon the land and refuse to blow the trumpet, the blood of the perishing will be upon our hands (Ezekiel 33:1-6).

It should make us shudder to think about some churches and pastors and what sort of judgment they might fall under when all they did was give people what they wanted to hear, instead of speaking to them of righteousness, self-control, and the coming judgment (Acts 24:25).

“Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” is what the Good Shepherd and most loving man who ever lived once said (Luke 13:3).

People may not want to hear hellfire and brimstone sermons. But as a pastor, I don’t want to face hellfire and brimstone for failing to preach as a dying man to dying men.

For the watchman on the walls must give a warning; he must speak of this judgment which is to come; he must herald the glorious salvation found in Christ alone; he must share the glad tidings of peace on earth and good will toward men; he must tell the hard news that we need a Savior, the unpopular news that there is only one Savior, and the unimaginably good news that there is one who actually saves.

O shepherds, may it never be that someone sitting under your preaching or someone subject to your elder care could stand before God on the Day of Judgment and say, “No one ever told me I needed a Savior.”

Take God at His Word: Kevin DeYoung on the Character of Scripture

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Matt Smethurst:

Your Bible is evidence that the Maker of the universe is a God who initiates, who reveals, who talks. There are, after all, only two options when it comes to knowledge of one’s Creator: revelation or speculation. Either he speaks, or we guess.

And he has spoken. The Lord of heaven and earth has “forfeited his own personal privacy” to disclose himself to us—to befriend us—through a book. Scripture is like an all-access pass into the revealed mind and will of God.

By virtually any account the Bible is the most influential book of all time. No shortage of ink has been spilled on writings about it. But what does Scripture say about itself? In his new book, Taking God at His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me (Crossway) [20 quotes], Kevin DeYoung cuts through the fog of contemporary confusion to offer a readable and constructive defense of the clarity, authority, sufficiency, and beauty of God’s written Word.

I spoke with DeYoung, pastor of University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan, about bibliolatry, threats on the horizon, and more:

You claim that “what we believe and feel about the Word of God should mirror what we believe and feel about Jesus.” Aren’t you guilty of bibliolatry here?

Bibliolatry is one of those words that gets thrown around as an insult without anyone carefully explaining what they mean. Sometimes people will say, “Well, we worship the ‘Word Christ’ not the ‘word the Bible.'” Which is true in a sense. We don’t prostrate ourselves before the artifact of ink on a page or the glow of a handheld device. So of course we don’t worship paper and pixels. But we must not separate the revelation of God in the Scriptures from the revelation of God in Jesus. We would not know everything there is to know about the latter without the former, and even Jesus directs our attention to the Scriptures. If the Bible is God’s speech, his voice, the opening of his most hallowed lips, then whatever we feel about the Word of God should mirror what we feel about God in the flesh.

What Scripture-related error is most “live” among evangelicals today? For what issue on the horizon will we need to be most equipped?

I see several. Let me briefly mention two. At the level of praxis, many evangelicals do not believe in Scripture’s perspicuity. Once they see that some Christians view an issue differently, they pack it in and give up ever knowing what the Bible says. We’ve seen this recently on the issue of homosexuality with certain voices calling for a moratorium on debating the issue because there are obviously two good positions out there and who are we to try to settle things. But, of course, PhDs disagree on almost everything in almost every field of human investigation. Evangelicals can be too quick to say “that’s just your interpretation” instead of actually making an argument from the Bible for their position.

Second, evangelicals are constantly being faced with the temptation to make special revelation subservient to general revelation. Rightly understood, the two do not contradict each other. As the truism goes, all truth is God’s truth. But the Protestant confessions have always understood that special revelation is clearer than general revelation. Peer-reviewed science journals do not trump what God says in the Bible. Now, if we’ve misread the Bible, let’s see our mistake and own up to it. But until we are convinced from Scripture, we should not trade the unchanging truth of Scripture for the changing winds of contemporary academia.

What’s wrong with disliking some of what the Bible teaches so long as we obey it?

It’s better to obey the Bible when you don’t like it than to disobey and not like it. The goal of mature Christian discipleship, however, is more than a begrudging acceptance of God’s will and God’s ways. We should learn to delight in what God says in his Word, because it is the reflection of his character. To dislike what the Bible teaches is to call into question in our hearts who God is and what he’s like.

What do you mean when you claim God’s speech is ongoing but his revelation is not?

God continues to speak. We don’t have to pray for the Word of God to come alive. It is already living and active. But God is not revealing new information about the Son of God or how we are saved. I don’t have space here to unpack the argument, but the book of Hebrews makes the case that redemption and revelation both have their finality in Christ. The two aspects of Christ’s work cannot be separated. There is no sacrifice for sin left to be made and no new revelatory work needed for faithfulness as a Christian.

Why do you believe Scripture’s sufficiency (as opposed to its authority or clarity or necessity) might be the attribute “most quickly doubted by rank-and-file churchgoing Christians”?

It’s wonderful that evangelicals want an intimate relationship with God, but this good impulse often leads us to make wild claims that can’t be substantiated by Scripture and, in fact, undermine the finished work of Christ. I’m thinking of people who make their sense of “calling” more important than the Word of God or the wisdom of the church. I’m thinking of denominational groups I’ve been a part of that claim to get their 10-year vision from God himself (which, of course, makes opposition to that vision tantamount to blasphemy). I’m talking about runaway bestsellers—from devout, good Christians I imagine—that anchor biblical truths in life-after-death experiences or suggest that Jesus is writing special letters every day just for us. Is the Bible alone sufficient for salvation, for life, and for godliness as a Christian? Evangelicals say “yes,” but then often live out “no.”

How to Handle Your Sin

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Kevin DeYoung:

What do you do with your sin? You can explain it with science. You can minimize it with sophistication. You can swallow it up with self-talk. Or you can confess it to your Savior.

There are the two radically different schools of thought when it comes to dealing with our imperfections.

One message–the “good news” of the world–tells you: “You own yourself, you engineer yourself, you invent yourself, you discover yourself.” This message screams an absolutely diabolical falsehood. It will not give you the freedom you are looking for. It will not give you peace of mind. It will not give you a clean conscience. It will not give you eternal life.

The second message–the good news of the cross–will give you real freedom. It confesses, “I am not my own. I was bought with a price. I am not in charge. I am not the purpose of my life. I will not find the “true” me. I cannot create a better me. I need a new me.” The gospels promises life, but only through death–Christ’s death first, then yours in his.

Do you want true, lasting comfort for your body and your soul? Do you need what you can’t supply? Are too lost to find yourself? Do you want to cope or do you want to be saved? If you have sin (and we all do), and if you are ready to name it for what it is, call out to God. Do not delay. Weep, wail, plead. See the Son of God crucified in your place. See the Son of Man risen for your justification. Approach the throne of grace in Jesus’ name. God will not turn a deaf ear to an honest cry. A broken and contrite spirit he will not despise.

Run to the cross. There you will find salvation for your sin sick self.

Missions, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God

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Kevin DeYoung:

So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it (Isaiah 55:11).

We do not know when God’s purposes will be accomplished. We do not always know whether the divine plan is to harden the heart or to soften it. We do not know the outcome of our work. But we should know that our work in the word is never in vain. No sermon from the word, no bible study, no time of prayer in the word with your children, no memorizing of scripture, none of it is wasted.

If there is time spent in the word, God promises it is working.

Working something. The same sun which melts the snow hardens the clay.

Why should missionaries continue to labor in the hardest parts of the world with limited success, or no success at all? Because they are confident that God will have a people for himself from every tribe and language and tongue and nation. And so they stay.

John Newton once wrote a letter to Reverend Thomas Jones stating, “If I were not a Calvinist, I think I should have no more hope of success in preaching to men than in preaching to horses or cows.” Which is not much different than Paul saying he endured everything for the sake of the elect (2 Tim. 2:10).

One of the most common objections to the doctrine of election is that people do not see the point of sharing the good news and working hard for the gospel if God has already chosen who will believe. But human logic sometimes runs in the opposite of biblical logic. The world says “Why speak if God has chosen.” The Bible would have us ask, “If God has not chosen some to believe, why bother speaking?” Paul remained in Corinth because God told him there were many people in that city (Acts 18:10). This is precisely the reason to keep on speaking—because God has chosen some; because God is sovereign; because God has elected; because some will believe.

And if they don’t? God has a plan for our good and his glory in that too.

God’s sovereignty is fuel for our faithfulness–not a deterrent to hard work and sacrifice but the best motivation for it.

Red Letter Nonsense

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Kevin DeYoung:

An excerpt from Taking God at His Word on the implications of 2 Timothy 3:16 for the authority and unity of the whole Bible:

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.

Justification and Sanctification: What’s the Problem?

Matt Smethurst:

The relationship between justification and sanctification—between being pronounced righteous in a moment and being made righteous over a lifetime—is delicate, complex, and altogether crucial to grasp.

“Sanctification is always properly built on justification,” says Bryan Chapell in a new roundtable discussion with Kevin DeYoung and Rick Phillips. Still, he explains, we can make two mistakes concerning what motivates our obedience—denying either a plurality of motivations on the one hand or a priority of motivations on the other.

“We’re never in danger of talking about grace too much,” DeYoung insists. “But we can talk about grace in a truncated, reductionistic way.” We must take great care, then, to deal faithfully with the Bible’s multiplicity of motivations, resisting the tendency to flatten certain texts, while at the same time never becoming “suspicious of grace.”

Phillips cautions against rhetoric that suggests sanctification is a “tag on” to justification—little more than “being excited about justification.” Rather, he says, sanctification is a “twin grace with justification, each resulting from union with Christ.” Though not separable, each of these graces is a distinct aspect of Christianity’s gloriously good news.

Watch the full 10-minute video to hear these three pastors and TGC Council members discuss overcorrection, contextualizing warnings, and more.

Sanctification from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

 

Ten Questions for the New Year

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I appreciate this reminder, and very challenging check list, for 2014, courtesy of Kevin DeYoung:

Even though the questions are particular to a husband, father, and pastor, you may be able to put them to good use as well.

1. Am I spending time slowly reading God’s word and memorizing Scripture?

2. Am I having consistent, focused, extended times of prayer, including interceding for others?

3. Am I disciplined in my use of technology, in particular not getting distracted by emails and blogging in the evening and on my day off?

4. Am I going to bed on time?

5. Am I eating too much?

6. Have I exercised in the last week?

7. Am I patient with my kids or am I angry with them when they disobey or behave in childish ways?

8. When at home, am I “fully present” for my wife and family or are my mind and energy elsewhere?

9. Am I making sermon preparation a priority in my week or am I doing other less important things first?

10. Have I done anything out of the ordinary to cherish and help my wife?

The Scandal of the Semi-Churched

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Kevin DeYoung:

This is one of those posts I’ve wanted to write for awhile, but I wasn’t sure how to say what I think needs to be said. The danger of legalism and false guilt is very real. But so is the danger of disobedience and self-deception.

I want to talk about church members who attend their home church with great irregularity. These aren’t unchurched folks, or de-churched, or under-churched. They are semi-churched. They show up some of the time, but not every week. They are on again/off again, in and out, here on Sunday and gone for two. That’s the scandal of the semi-churched. In fact, Thom Rainer argues that the number one reason for the decline in church attendance is that church members don’t go to church as often as they used to.

We’ve had Christmas and Easter Christians for probably as long as we’ve had Christmas and Easter. Some people will always be intermittent with their church attendance. I’m not talking about nominal Christians who wander into church once or twice a year. I’m talking about people who went through the trouble of joining a church, like their church, have no particular beef with the church, and still only darken its doors once or twice a month. If there are churches with membership rolls much larger than their average Sunday attendance, they have either under-shepherds derelict in their duties, members faithless in theirs, or both.

I know we are the church and don’t go to church (blah, blah, blah), but being persnickety about our language doesn’t change the exhortation of Hebrews 10:25. We should not neglect to meet together, as some are in the habit of doing. Gathering every Lord’s Day with our church family is one of the pillars of mature Christianity.

So ask yourself a few questions.

1. Have you established church going as an inviolable habit in your family?You know how you wake up in the morning and think “maybe I’ll go on a run today” or “maybe I’ll make french toast this morning”? That’s not what church attendance should be like. It shouldn’t be an “if the mood feels right” proposition. I will always be thankful that my parents treated church attendance (morning and evening) as an immovable pattern. It wasn’t up for discussion. It wasn’t based on extenuating circumstances. It was never a maybe. We went to church. That’s what we did. That made the decision every Sunday a simple one, because their was no real decision. Except for desperate illness, we were going to show up. Giving your family the same kind of habit is a gift they won’t appreciate now, but will usually thank you for later.

2. Do you plan ahead on Saturday so you can make church a priority on Sunday? We are all busy people, so it can be hard to get to church, especially with a house full of kids. We will never make the most of our Sundays unless we prepare for them on Saturday. That likely means finishing homework, getting to bed on time, and foregoing some football. If church is an afterthought, you won’t think of it until after it’s too late.

3. Do you order your travel plans so as to minimize being gone from your church on Sunday? I don’t want to be legalistic with this question. I’ve traveled on Sunday before (though I try to avoid it). I take vacation and study leave and miss 8 or 9 Sundays at URC per year. I understand we live in a mobile culture. I understand people want to visit their kids and grandkids on the weekend (and boy am I thankful when ours come and visit). Gone are the days when people would be in town 50-52 weeks a year. Travel is too easy. Our families are too dispersed. But listen, this doesn’t mean we can’t make a real effort to be around on Sunday. You might want to take Friday off to go visit the kids so you can be back on Saturday night. You might want to think twice about investing in a second home that will draw you away from your church a dozen weekends every year. You might want to re-evaluate your assumption that Friday evening through Sunday evening are yours to do whatever you want wherever you want. It’s almost impossible to grow in love for your church and minister effectively in your church if you are regularly not there.

4. Are you willing to make sacrifices to gather with God’s people for worship every Sunday? “But you don’t expect me to cancel my plans for Saturday night, do you? I can’t possibly rearrange my work schedule. This job requires me to work every Sunday–I’d have to get a new job if I wanted to be regular at church. Sundays are my day to rewind. I won’t get all the yard work done if I go to church every week. My kids won’t be able to play soccer if we don’t go to Sunday games. If my homework is going to be done by Sunday, I won’t be able to chill out Friday night and all day Saturday. Surely God wouldn’t want me to sacrifice too much just so I can show up at church!” Not exactly the way of the cross, is it?

5. Have you considered that you may not be a Christian? Who knows how many people God saves “as through fire” (1 Cor. 3:15). Does going to church every week make you a Christian? Absolutely not. Does missing church 35 Sundays a year make you a non-Christian? It does beg the question. God’s people love to be with God’s people. They love to sing praises. They love to feast at the Table. They love to be fed from the Scriptures. Infrequent church attendance–I mean not going anywhere at all–is a sign of immaturity at best and unbelief at worst. For whenever God calls people out of darkness he calls them into the church. If the Sunday worship service is the community of the redeemed, what does your weekly pattern suggest to God about where you truly belong?

God Makes Us a New Person With a New Purpose

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Kevin DeYoung:

When God saves sinners he makes them a new person and he gives them a new purpose.

Never underestimate the gift of new life in Christ. We are new creations. The old has passed away, and the new has come (2 Cor. 5:17). “I have been crucified with Christ and it is no long I who lives but Christ who lives in me and the life I know live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).

When you become a Christian you may wake up the next morning with the same family, the same job, the same house, the same money, the same looks, but make no mistake: you are a new person and you have a new purpose. You no longer live for the glory of your name, but for the glory of the Name.

And let’s be honest, this is why many people do not come to Christ.

Maybe it’s why you have not come to Christ.

Because you know what it entails. Or at least, what coming to Christ should entail. You know that if you want Jesus as Savior, you’re going to get him as Lord. And if he is Lord, then he calls the shots. His word is inviolable. His law is your obedience. His truth is Truth.

But you like your old life. You like your old person and your old purposes. You are happy to live for yourself. You’re going to be somebody. You’re going have something to show for yourself. You’re going to stick it to the man (or the woman, or whatever). You’re on your way. And you’re doing it your way.

Now, if you happen to get a little Jesus on the side–a few better habits, a nice church even–that’s cool. Whatever helps. But you aren’t looking for conversion. You aren’t interested in new birth. You’ll be fine without it. You don’t need another Lord in your life. You’re managing in that role just fine.

At least that what’s you’ve always believed.

And come to think of it, it is a belief. Faith in self-reliance, self-direction, self-autonomy, and the inevitability of progress.

The good news for messed-up, brokenhearted sinners is that God can make you a new person and give you a new purpose. The bad news is that lots of contented, self-sufficient, too-proud-to-beg, too-big-t0-follow types will miss out on the new life God offers in Christ.

10 Errors to Avoid When Talking about Sanctification and the Gospel

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Kevin DeYoung:

With lots of books and blog posts out there about law and gospel, about grace and effort, about the good news of this and the bad news of that, it’s clear that Christians are still wrestling with the doctrine of progressive sanctification. Can Christians do anything truly good? Can we please God? Should we try to? Is there a place for striving in the Christian life? Can God be disappointed with the Christian? Does the gospel make any demands? These are good questions that require a good deal of nuance and precision to answer well.

Thankfully, we don’t have to reinvent the wheel. The Reformed confessions and catechisms of the 16th and 17th centuries provide answers for all these questions. For those of us who subscribe to the Three Forms of Unity or to the Westminster Standards this means we are duty bound to affirm, teach, and defend what is taught in our confessional documents. For those outside these confessional traditions, there is still much wisdom you can gain in understanding what Christians have said about these matters over the centuries. And most importantly, these standards were self-consciously grounded in specific texts of Scripture. We can learn a lot from what these documents have to teach us from the Bible.

Sometimes the truth can be seen more clearly when we state its negation. So rather than stating what we should believe about sanctification, I’d like to explain what we should not believe or should not say. Each of these points is taken directly from one or more of the Reformed confessions or catechisms. Since I am more conversant I will stick with the Three Forms of Unity, but the same theology can be found just as easily in the Westminster Standards (see especially WCF Chapters 13, 16, 18, 19; LC Question and Answer 75-81, 97, 149-153; Shorter Catechism Question and Answer 35, 39, 82-87).

Error #1: The good we do can in some small way make us right with God.This is a denial of the gospel. The good we do is of no use to us in our justification because “even the very best we do in this life is imperfect and stained with sin” (HC Q/A 62). We “cannot do any work that is not defiled by our flesh and also worthy of punishment” (BC Art. 24).

Error #2: We must be good Christians so that God will keep loving us. To the contrary, the good news of justification by faith alone means that we can now “do a thing out of love for God” instead of “only out of love for [ourselves] and fear of being condemned” (BC Art. 24). In the midst of daily sins and weakness the struggling Christian should “flee for refuge to Christ crucified” (CD 5.2), truths that “it is not by their own merits or strength but by God’s undeserved mercy that they neither forfeit faith and grace nor remain in their downfalls to the end and are lost” (CD 5.8).

Error #3: If sanctification is a work of divine grace in our lives, then it must not involve our effort. We are absolutely “indebted to God for the good works we do” (BC Art. 24). He is the one at work in us both to will and to do according to his good pleasure. At the same time, “faith working through love” leads “a man to do by himself the works that God has commanded in his Word” (BC. Art. 24). Our ability to do good works “is not at all” in ourselves, but we still “ought to be diligent in stirring up the grace of God that is in [us]” (WCF 16.3).

Error #4: Warning people of judgment is law and has no part to play in preaching the gospel. Actually, “preaching the gospel” should both “open and close the kingdom of heaven.” The kingdom of heaven is opened by proclaiming to believers what God has done for us in Christ. The kingdom of heaven is closed by proclaiming “to unbelievers and hypocrites that, as long as they do not repent, the anger of God and eternal condemnation rest on them. God’s judgment, both in this life and in the life to come, is based on this gospel testimony” (HC Q/A 84).

Error #5: There is only one reason Christians should pursue sanctification and that’s because of our justification. The Heidelberg Catechism lists several reasons—motivations even—for doing good. “We do good because Christ by his Spirit is also renewing us to be like himself, so that in all our living we may show that we are thankful to God for all he has done for us, and so that he may be praised through us. And we do good so that we may be assured of our faith by its fruits, and so that by our godly living our neighbors may be won over to Christ” (HC Q/A 86).

Error #6: Since we cannot obey God’s commandments perfectly, we should not insist on obedience from ourselves or from others. While it is true that “in this life even the holiest have only a small beginning of this obedience,” that’s not the whole story. “Nevertheless, with all seriousness of purpose, they do begin to live according to all, not only some, of God’s commandments” (HC Q/A 114). Because we belong to Christ and our good works are “sanctified by his grace” (BC Art. 24), God “is pleased to accept and reward that which is sincere, although accompanied with many weaknesses and imperfections” (WCF 13.6).

Error #7: The Ten Commandments should be preached in order to remind us of our sin, but not so that believers may be stirred up to try to obey the commandments. The Heidelberg Catechism acknowledges that “no one in this life can obey the Ten Commandments perfectly,” but it still insists that “God wants them preached pointedly.” For two reason: “First, so that the longer we live the more we may come to know our sinfulness and the more eagerly look to Christ for forgiveness of sins and righteousness.” And “Second, so that, while praying to God for the grace of the Holy Spirit, we may never stop striving to be renewed more and more after God’s image, until after this life we reach our goal: perfection” (HC Q/A 115).

Error #8: Being fully justified as Christians, we should never fear displeasing God or offending him. The promise of divine preservation does not mean that true believers will never fall into serious sin (CD 5.4). Even believers can commit “monstrous sins” that “greatly offend God.” When we sin in such egregious ways, we “sometimes lose the awareness of grace for a time” until we repent and God’s fatherly face shines upon us again (5.5). God being for us in Christ in a legal and ultimate sense does not mean he will never frown upon our disobedience. But it does mean that God will always effectively renew us to repentance and bring us to “experience again the grace of reconciled God” (5.7).

Error #9: The only proper ground for assurance is in the promises of God found in the gospel. Assurance is not to be sought from private relation but from three sources: from faith in the promises of God, from the testimony of the Holy Spirit testifying to our spirits that we are children of God, and from “a serious and holy pursuit of a clear conscience and of good works” (CD 5.10). Assurance is not inimical to the pursuit of holiness, but intimately bound up with it. We walk in God’s ways “in order that by walking them [we] may maintain the assurance of [our] perseverance” (5.13). Personal holiness is not only a ground for assurance; the desire for assurance is itself a motivation unto holiness.

Error #10: Threats and exhortations belong to the terrors of the law and are not to be used as a motivation unto holiness. This is not the view of the Canons of Dort: “And, just as it has pleased God to begin this work of grace in us by the proclamation of the gospel, so he preserves, continues, and completes his work by the hearing and reading of the gospel, by meditation on it, by its exhortations, threats, and promises, and also by the use of the sacraments” (CD 5.14). Notice two things here. First, God causes us to persevere by several means. He makes promises to us, but he also threatens. He works by the hearing of the gospel and by the use of the sacraments. He has not bound himself to one method. Surely, this helps us make sense of the warnings in Hebrews and elsewhere in the New Testament. Threats and exhortations do not undermine perseverance; they help to complete it. Second, notice the broad way in which Dort understands the gospel (in this context). In being gospel-centered Christians, we meditate on the “exhortations, threats, and promises” of the gospel. In a strict sense we might say that the gospel is only the good news of how we can be saved. But in a wider sense, the gospel encompasses the whole story of salvation, which includes not only gospel promises but also the threats and exhortations inherent in the gospel.

Clearly, different sermons, different passages, and different problems call for different truths to be accented. One is not guilty of these errors simply by not saying everything that can be said. And yet, in the course of faithful preaching and teaching all the positive truths found in a robust, thoughtful doctrine of sanctification should be publicly declared. Likewise, although we may feel called to trumpet a certain truth about the gospel or sanctification—which certain times and certain texts call for—this in no way excuses the ten errors listed above. It is never wise to celebrate the truth by making statements that are false.

Three Surprising Ways to Grieve the Holy Spirit

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Kevin DeYoung:

The Holy Spirit is often described as light. He shines into the dark places of the heart and convicts us of sin (John 16:7-11). He is a lamp to illumine God’s word, teaching what is true and showing the truth to be precious (1 Cor. 2:6-16). And the Spirit throws a spotlight on Christ so that we can see his glory and be changed (John 16:14). That’s why 2 Corinthians 3:18speaks of becoming more like Christ by beholding the glory of Christ. Just as Moses had his face transfigured when he saw the Lord’s glory on Mount Sinai (Ex. 34:292 Cor. 3:7), so will we be transformed when, by the Spirit, we behold God’s glory in the face of Christ.

The Spirit, then, is a light to us in three ways: by exposing our guilt, by illuminating the word of God, and by showing us Christ. Or to put it another way, as Divine Light, the Holy Spirit works to reveal sin, reveal the truth, and reveal glory. When we close our eyes to this light or disparage what we are meant to see by this brightness, we are guilty of resisting the Spirit (Acts 7:51), or quenching (1 Thess. 5:19) or grieving the Spirit (Eph. 4:30). There may be slight nuances among the three terms, but they are all speak of the same basic reality: refusing to see and to savor what the Spirit means to show us.

There are, then, at least three ways to grieve the Holy Spirit—three ways that may be surprising because they correspond to the three ways in which the Spirit acts as light to expose our guilt, illumine the word, and show us Christ.

First, we grieve the Holy Spirit when we use him to excuse our sinfulness.

The Spirit is meant to be the source of conviction in the human hearts. How sad it is, therefore, when Christians try to use the Spirit to support ungodly behavior. We see it when people—whether genuinely deceived or purposeful charlatans—claim the leading of the Spirit as the reason for their unbiblical divorce, or for their financial impropriety, or for their new found sexual liberation. The Holy Spirit is always the Spirit of holiness. He means to show us our sin not to excuse it through subjective feelings, spontaneous impressions, and wish fulfillment disguised as enlightened spirituality. If the Holy Spirit is grieved when we turn from righteous into sin, how doubly grieved he must be when we claim the Spirit’s authority for such deliberate rebellion.

Second, we grieve the Holy Spirit when we pit him against the Scriptures.

The Spirit works to reveal the truth of the word of God, not to lead us away from it. There is no place in the Christian life for supposing or suggesting that careful attention to the Bible is somehow antithetical to earnest devotion to the Holy Spirit. Anyone wishing to honor the Spirit would do well to honor the Scriptures he inspired and means to illuminate.

Sometimes Christians will cite the promise in John 16:13 that the Spirit “will guide you into all the truth” as reason to expect that the third person of the Trinity will give us new insights not found in the Scripture. But the “truth” referred to in John 16 is the whole truth about everything bound up in Jesus Christ, the way, the truth, and the life. The Spirit will unpack the things that are to come, insofar as he will reveal to the apostles (see v. 12) the significance of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and exaltation. The Spirit, speaking for the Father and the Son, would help the apostles remember what Jesus said and understand the true meaning of who Jesus is and what he accomplished (John 14:26).

This means that the Spirit is responsible for the truths the apostles preached and that in turn were written down in what we now call the New Testament. We trust the Bible—and do not need to go beyond the Bible—because the apostles, and those under the umbrella of their authority, wrote the Bible by means of the Spirit’s revelation. The Bible is the Spirit’s book. To insist on exegetical precision, theological rigor, and careful attention to the word of God should never be denigrated as stuffing our heads full of knowledge, let alone as somehow opposed to the real work of the Spirit.

Third, we grieve the Holy Spirit when we suggest he is jealous of our focus on Christ.

The Holy Spirit’s work is to serve. He speaks only what he hears (John 16:13). He declares what he is given; his mission is to glorify another (John 16:14). All three persons of the Trinity are fully God, yet in the divine economy the Son makes known the Father and the Spirit glorifies the Son. Yes, it is a terrible thing to be ignorant about the Spirit and unwise to overlook the indispensable role he plays in our lives. But we must not think we can focus on Christ too much, or that when we exalt Christ to the glory of God the Father that somehow the Spirit is sulking off in the corner. The Spirit means to shine a light on Christ; he is not envious to stand in the light himself.

Exulting in Christ, focusing on Christ, speaking much and singing often of Christ are not evidences of the Spirit’s dismissal but of the Spirit’s work. If the symbol of the church is the cross and not the dove, that’s because the Spirit would have it that way. As J. I. Packer puts it, “The Spirit’s message to us is never, ‘Look at me; listen to me; come to me; get to know me,’ but always, ‘Look at him, and see his glory; listen to him, and hear his word; go to him, and have life; get to know him, and taste his gift of joy and peace.’”

Again, to know nothing of the Holy Spirit is a serious mistake (cf. Acts 19:2). But when Christians lament an over-attentiveness to Christ or moan about too much emphasis on the cross, such protestations grieve the Spirit himself. The Holy Spirit is not waiting in the wings to be noticed and lauded. His work is not to shine brightly before us, but to shine a light on the glory of Christ. To behold the glory of God the Father in the face of Jesus Christ the Son is not to sideline the Holy Spirit; it is to celebrate his gracious work among us.

Whether we are talking about holiness, the Bible, or Jesus Christ, let us never set the Spirit against the very thing he means to accomplish. We do not honor the Spirit by trying to diminish what he seeks to exalt. And we do not stay in his step by pushing others (or ourselves) in the direction of the very things that grieve him most.

How Your Preaching Might Increase Sin in Your Church

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Kevin DeYoung:

For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering . . .
– Romans 8:3

We tread lightly here, but I fear we vastly underestimate the spiritual damage inflicted on our churches by “How To” sermons without an explicit gospel connection. The Bible is full of practical exhortations and commands, of course, but they are always connected to the foundational and empowering truth of the finished work of Christ. When we preach a message like “Six Steps to _______” or any other “be a better whatever”-type message — where the essential proclamation is not what Christ has done but what we ought/need to do — we become preachers of the law rather than Christ. (And it is not rare that this kind of message with barely any or no mention of Christ(!) at all gets preached.)

But is it just merely unfortunate? Something that could be improved but not really that big of a deal?

I think the Scriptures show us that this kind of preaching isn’t just off-center, but actually does great harm, actually serves to accomplish the very opposite of its intention. How?

1. Preaching even a “positive” practical message with no gospel-centrality amounts to preaching the law. We are accustomed to thinking of legalistic preaching as that which is full of “thou shalt not”s, the kind of fundamentalist hellfire and brimstone judgmentalism we’ve nearly all rejected. But “do” is just the flipside to the same coin “don’t” is on. That coin is the law. And a list of “do”‘s divorced from the DONE of the gospel is just as legalistic, even if it’s preached by a guy in jeans with wax in his hair following up the rockin’ set by your worship band.

2. The message of the law unaccompanied by and untethered from the central message of the gospel condemns us. Because besides telling us stuff to do, the law also thereby reveals our utter inability to measure up.

3. Therefore, a steady dose of gospel-deficient practical preaching doesn’t make Christians more empowered, more effective, but more discouraged, less empowered. Because the law has no power in itself to fulfill its expectations. The only thing the Bible calls power for the Christian is the grace of Christ in the gospel.

But it gets more serious than that.

4. The Bible goes further to suggest, actually, that without the gospel of Christ’s finished work, the preaching of the law of works serves to exacerbate disobedience. See Romans 5:20 and Romans 7, for this consideration. The law arouses passions eventually against itself or against its referent. In other words, without the saving power of the gospel, we go one of two ways in having the law preached to us: we end up being pushed to disobey (whether from anger at its judgment or discouragement from inability to keep it) or we end up thinking ourselves righteous apart from the righteousness the law really points to, that of Christ.

5. The law brings death (Romans 7:10). So the preaching of practical, relevant, applicational “do” messages aimed at producing victorious Christians is fundamentally a preaching of condemnation. It is the proclamation of grace, counter-intuitive though it seems and oddly enough, that trains us to obey God (Titus 2:11-12).

6. The preaching of Christless, gospel-deficient practical sermons increases self-righteousness. Because it is not focused on Christ’s work but our works. Christ-implicit, gospel-deficient practical sermons do not make empowered, victorious Christians, but self-righteous self-sovereigns. And the self-righteous go to hell.

Again, we tread lightly. But the stakes are high. And I think they are higher than we tend to think.

Brothers, let us preach the practical implications and exhortations of Scripture, yes. But let us not forget that the message of Christianity is Christ. It is the message of the sufficiency and power of salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. Let’s not preach works, lest we increase the sinfulness of our churches and unwittingly facilitate the condemnation of the lost.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is of first importance.

For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.
– 1 Corinthians 2:2

The Preacher at His Best

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Kevin DeYoung:

Permit me a brief word about a disconcerting trend I see in young, and sometimes very popular, preachers. I mention this concern knowing full well my own temptation to it. Let me pose the problem as a question:

Preacher, are you at your best when you are closest to the text?

Too many preachers are at their best when they are telling a personal anecdote or ripping into some sacred cow or riffing on in a humorous fashion. There is a time for all of that, but we ought to beware if those times are when we are at our best. We can be orthodox preachers of good, gospel truths and still tickle people’s ears. If we’re not careful, we’ll train the large conference audience and our local congregation that the time to really pay attention is when we start drifting not when we start digging.

“Got it. Understood. Text means this, not that. Sound good. Now get back to that funny, over the top, in your face thing you do.”

I’ve done that thing; probably will again. If the rant is honest and true, the Lord can use it. But, again, I repeat myself, it must not be the best we have. The congregation should be most aflame with gospel zeal when they are beholding new things in the chapters and verses at the end of their noses. God uses all of the preacher–personality, humor, gestures–all of us. But the indelible impression left on our people must be a sense of the presence of God arising from careful attention to the word of God. If the best stuff we have every Sunday is disconnected from our hard won exegetical work, our people will learn to trust us and not the Book. They will look forward to our new antics, not our new discoveries in the text.

Ask yourself this Saturday: “Can I make my best point–the one I’m most excited about, the one I can’t wait to deliver–without noting anything from this week’s passage?” Everything you want to say isn’t everything you should say. We must be constrained by what we can sincerely say from these verses. If we want fresh power from the pulpit let us labor to demonstrate that our most passionate appeals come from the most precise exposition.

The best preacher is the preacher who is at his best when he is closest to the text.

Two Often Missed Gospel Essentials

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Kevin DeYoung:

It’s amazing how often people think they are giving the Christian message or have heard the gospel and yet there is nothing about sin and repentance.

The message of the gospel is not simply an invitation to know God’s love or enter his family or to live forever. That is all true. But the call to saving faith must always include a call to repentance.

Acts 13:38-39 “Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man [Jesus] forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the Law of Moses.”

The Law of Moses cannot free you. You cannot go to sleep at night knowing for certain that you are righteous before God based on your observance of the Decalogue. The law cannot set you free of your condemnation, that is why the High Priest had to offer sacrifices year after year, for centuries.

You cannot be freed from your sins by the intercession of your ancestors, or your moral religiosity. You cannot be set free from your sins because you have an active social conscience and you’re very engaged in issues of justice, or because you are a very fastidious homeschooling family. Only Jesus, the Savior, can set you free.

We have a problem. We are slaves to sin. We are under the curse and penalty of sin. We love sin. We live in sin. We were born in sin and apart from Christ, we die in sin.

The only freedom: repent and believe.

Why Then Must We Still Do Good?

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Kevin DeYoung:

Good question.

It’s a question Catholics have often asked Protestants as they wax on about justification by faith alone. It’s a question I’ve had posed to me, in one way or another, by both Muslims and Mormons. It’s a question that even Gospel-centered Christians don’t always seem to agree on.

Thankfully, it’s also a question we find in the Heidelberg Catechism (Q/A 86).

According to the Catechism, there are at least five reasons we who have been saved by grace alone through faith alone must still do good.

1. Fruit. Good works are the fruit of which justification is the root. If we have the grace of God inside us we will have something of the grace showing through to the outside. “Christ by his Spirit is also renewing us to be like himself.”

2. Gratitude. Good works show to God and to the world that we have much to be thankful for (Rom. 6:1312:1-21 Pet. 2:5-10). When we are grateful, the nastiness of vice and pride is pushed aside. In its place we consider all that God has done for us and instinctively–and supernaturally–aim to please the one who has shown us such mercy.

3. Glory. Good works testify that God is worthy of our obedience and service (Matt. 5:16;1 Cor. 6:19-20). He receives praise when people see his reflection in us. His majesty is magnified when others recognize that we consider him a God to be feared and a Father to be loved.

4. Assurance. Good works bear witness to our own hearts that we are children of God (Matt. 7:17-18Gal. 5:22-242 Pet. 1:10-11). As we spot good fruit growing in our lives, we should conclude that we, therefore, cannot be bad trees.

5. Conversion. Good works make our neighbors stand up and take notice (Matt. 5:14-16;Rom. 14:17-191 Pet. 2:123:1-2). Our behavior cannot, by itself, win sinners to Christ. But our good works can adorn the gospel and lead the lost to consider whether they are as found as they thought.

Good works are not optional for the Christian. We must do good, not as the means of our acceptance with God, but as an expression of it. In the lifelong pursuit of holiness, we would do well to consider all the biblical motivations for Christlikeness. For at one time or another, we will need them all. And so will the people God brings before us in need of similar transformation.

Is the New Evangelical Liturgy Really an Improvement?

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Kevin DeYoung:

Every church has a liturgy. Traditional congregations have a general order to worship. So do contemporary congregations. So do funky, artistic ones. Church leaders do not have time to reinvent their services every week. Congregations are not capable of learning new forms, new songs, and following a new order every week. Even the most spontaneous and creative church will flounder without some predictability and commonality from week to week. Even the most conscientious pastor or worship leader will eventually settle into a basic template for worship. Every church has a liturgy.

But not every liturgy is as good, or strong, or deep, or biblical, or gospel-centered as every other.

If I’m not mistaken, there is a New Evangelical Liturgy which is increasingly common in our churches. You find it in Baptist churches, Presbyterian churches, Reformed churches, free churches, and non-denominational churches. It’s familiar in rural churches and city churches. It can be found in tiny churches and megachurches. No one has written it down in a service book. No council or denomination is demanding that it be done. No pastor is taught this liturgy in seminary (um, probably not). But it has become the default liturgy nonetheless. It looks like this:

  • Casual welcome and announcements
  • Stand up for 4-5 songs
  • During the set, or at the very end, add a short prayer
  • Sermon
  • Closing song
  • Dismissal

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say this is the basic liturgy from which most evangelical churches operate. To be sure, there are slight variations. The announcement may go after the praise set. There may be an offering in there somewhere, possibly with a special music number. The service may be tweaked a bit when there is communion or a baptism. But overall, if I were to visit 50 different evangelical churches over the next year, this is what I expect to find most of the time.

The simple question I want to ask is this: Is this New Evangelical Liturgy really an improvement?

Please hear me. I’m not talking about instrumentation or worship style (though form is not irrelevant). And I’m not suggesting God doesn’t take pleasure when his people worship him in Spirit and in truth from all sorts of templates. I’m not saying people won’t be saved or edified in churches that use the New Evangelical Liturgy. I’m certainly not saying they won’t like it. What I am suggesting is that by no biblical or historical consideration can we conclude that the New Evangelical Liturgy is an improvement on the old liturgy.

What do I mean by the “old liturgy”? I mean the traditional Protestant order of worship that stretches back to Luther and Calvin (despite their important differences), runs through Westminster, and used to be what churches did when they didn’t know what else to do. Was it rote at times? Sure. Did some churches use it too rigidly? No doubt. But it was also a better default.

I’m talking about an order of service that included a call to worship, multiple Scripture readings, Psalm singing (along with old hymns and new songs), a Scriptural benediction, historic rubrics like the Apostles’ Creed and the Ten Commandments, and many kinds of prayers (e.g., invocation, prayer of adoration, prayer of confession, prayer of intercession, prayer for illumination). I’m talking about what Mike Horton calls “the drama of Christ-centered worship” or what Bryan Chapell calls “gospel ‘re-representation’”–a carefully constructed, though flexible, liturgy which progresses with a distinct gospel logic: adoration, confession, assurance, thanksgiving, petition, instruction, charge, and blessing. The traditional Protestant liturgy has an Isaiah 6 movement to it where the gospel is not just preached in the sermon or even sung in the songs, but embodied in the entire order of the service.

For whatever appeal the New Evangelical Liturgy may have in American culture, and for whatever abuses or doldrums may be associated with a more traditional liturgy, I don’t believe it can be argued, by objective measures, that the new is superior to the old. Which liturgy has more prayer? What one has more Scripture? Which one does more to accent sin and forgiveness? Which ones anchors us better in the ancient creeds and confessions of the church? Which one is the product of more sustained theological reflection? Which is more shaped by the gospel?

I’m not sure where the New Evangelical Liturgy came from. Maybe its origins are in revivalist camp meetings. Maybe it goes back to the seeker movement. Maybe it’s a reflection of the juvenilization of American Christianity. Maybe pastors have taken the basis pattern of Christian conferences and assumed it was meant to be the order for weekly worship. Wherever it came from, I encourage pastors, worship leaders, and churches to consider whether this New Evangelical Liturgy is the best we can do. It may be familiar. It may be simple. It may even be popular. And it may still not be an improvement.