Christianity as it was defined originally by Christ

Ray Ortlund: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” John 13:34-35 Three things here. One, the command of Christ, that we love one another. Two, the example of Christ, that we are to love one another as he loved us. Three, the promise of Christ, that all kinds of people will see we are real disciples of Christ, when we love one another his way. Francis Schaeffer proposed two powerful things we can do, to display observable love for one another in response to these verses and also John 17:23: One, “When I have failed to love my Christian brother, I go to him and say, ‘I’m sorry.’ That is first. It may seem a letdown — that the first thing we speak of

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Nullifying the grace of God

Ray Ortlund: I do not nullify the grace of God. Galatians 2:21 “What eloquence is able sufficiently to set forth these words: ‘to nullify grace,’ ‘the grace of God,’ also that ‘Christ died for no purpose’? The horribleness of it is such that all the eloquence in the world is not able to express it. It is a small matter to say that any man died for no purpose. But to say that Christ died for no purpose is to take him quite away.” Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians, on Galatians 2:21. Paul asserted that he did not nullify the grace of God. By implication, Peter was nullifying the grace of God when his conduct was “not in step with the truth of the gospel” (Galatians 2:14). How on earth did Peter do that, and is there any chance we could do that again today? With Paul, Peter believed the gospel at the level of doctrine. Speaking for Peter and

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Why Gospel Cultures Are So Hard To Build [and Find]

Tony Reinke: Wise pastor Ray Ortlund addresses this problem throughout his forthcoming book, The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ (Crossway; April 30, 2014). He writes this on pages 82–83: A gospel culture is harder to lay hold of than gospel doctrine. It requires more relational wisdom and finesse. It involves stepping into a kind of community unlike anything we’ve experienced, where we happily live together on a love we can’t create. A gospel culture requires us not to bank on our own importance or virtues, but to forsake self-assurance and exult together in Christ alone. This mental adjustment is not easy, but living in this kind of community is wonderful. We find ourselves saying with Paul, “For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things” — all the trophies of our self-importance, all the wounds of our self-pity, every self-invented thing that we lug around as a way of getting attention — “and count

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Forgiveness must go before sanctification

“A sense of having our sins forgiven is the mainspring and life-blood of love to Christ. . . . Would the Pharisee know why this woman showed so much love?  It was because she felt much forgiven.  Would he know why he himself had shown his guest so little love?  It was because he felt under no obligation, had no consciousness of having obtained forgiveness, had no sense of debt to Christ. . . . The only way to make men holy is to teach and preach free and full forgiveness through Jesus Christ.  The secret of being holy ourselves is to know and feel that Christ has pardoned our sins.  Peace with God is the only root that will bear the fruit of holiness.  Forgiveness must go before sanctification.” J. C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, on Luke 7:36-50. (HT: Ray Ortlund)

The Book of Job

Ray Ortlund: The book of Job is not answering a theoretical question about why good people suffer.  It is answering a practical question: When good people suffer, what does God want from them?  The answer is, he wants our trust. The book is driven by tensions.  One, Job really was a good man (1:1, 8; 2:3).  He didn’t deserve what he got.  Two, neither Job nor his friends ever saw the conflict going on between God and Satan, but his friends made the mistake of thinking they were competent to judge.  Three, his friends interpreted his sufferings in moralistic, overly-tidy, accusing categories (4:7-8).  Thus, they did not serve Job but only intensified his sufferings further.  Four, Job refused to give in either to his own despair or to their cruel insinuations.  He kept looking to God, he held on, and God eventually showed up (38:1-42:17). Two observations. One, even personal suffering has a social dimension, as others look on and

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Celebrate the victory every Sunday

Ray Ordlund: A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.  James 3:18 Two things should be happening in every gospel-centered church every Sunday.  One, the gospel should be preached.  Two, the gospel should be experienced. What I mean by the second, experiencing the gospel, is a social environment that feels like the grace of God.  It is an obvious alternative to what we experience throughout the week.  Every day we swim in an ocean of harsh criticisms, merciless comparisons and never measuring up, soaking us in sadness while also telling us to keep faking happiness.  This is the “earthly, unspiritual, demonic” wisdom of the world (James 3:15).  It doesn’t work. Then Sunday comes, and we step into church, where the victory of Jesus redefines everything, even to the furthest reaches of the universe.  In any church with a confidence that big, the vibe will be obviously different from the world.  Every Sunday in that kind of church we

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I press on, because . . .

Ray Ortlund: Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own.  Philippians 3:12 The New Testament rings with two glorious themes.  One is the grace of Christ.  He has made us his own.  Think of the sweep of thought from election to predestination to creation to fall to promise to Old Covenant to New Covenant to atonement to resurrection to outpouring to conversion to growth to glorification.  When Christ Jesus makes us his own, he draws us into a massive reality. The other theme is how we respond to the magnitude of all that Christ brings to us.  We have not yet obtained the fullness of his grace.  We are not already perfect.  But we are pressing on.  We are not wallowing in defeatism and self-pity.  We are highly motivated for whatever next step the Lord is calling us to venture.  Why?  Because Christ Jesus

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Fully pleasing to him

Ray Ortlund: “. . . so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him.”  Colossians 1:10 We should not be afraid of this clear biblical teaching.  It does not counteract the gospel in our lives; it is the sweet fruit of the gospel in our lives. The good news of justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, apart from all our works, is thrilling.  The message of forgiveness, acceptance, adoption, all by radical divine grace — I never get tired of hearing it and preaching it.  It is oxygen to me.  Every day.  I hope it means that to you too. But this grace is also a power that transforms.  It both reassures us and changes us.  Both/and.  How else can we account for the New Testament? “Try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.”  Ephesians 5:10 “We ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how

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Speaking of speaking…

Ray Ortlund: Your church can be a gospel culture. Here are four categories of speech church leaders should keep in mind at all times: 1.  Wisdom Saying only Christ-honoring, life-giving things.  Always asking oneself, “Do the words I feel like saying rise to the level of wisdom?  If not, they have no place in my mouth.  Good intentions are not enough; leaders must show good judgment.  I will hold myself to a strict standard, because Christ’s honor and people’s safety are at stake.” All the words of my mouth are righteous.  Proverbs 8:8 2.  Indiscretion Well-intentioned, good-hearted, “loving” but unguarded words.  A sincere desire to be helpful and consoling, but violating a personal boundary of information ownership.  Indiscretion erodes people’s willingness to “walk in the light” with honesty about their problems (1 John 1:7).  As a result, indiscretion is a spiritually dampening power. When words are many, transgression is not lacking; but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.  Proverbs 10:19 3.  Gossip This might

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A gospel-centred church translates that theology into its sociology

Ray Ortlund: “. . . a friend of tax collectors and sinners!”  Luke 7:34 What does it mean for a church to be gospel-centered?  That’s a popular concept these days.  Good.  What if we were scrambling to be law-centered?  But the difference is not so easy in real terms. A gospel-centered church holds together two things.  One, a gospel-centered church preaches a bold message of divine grace for the undeserving — so bold that it becomes the end of the law for all who believe.  Not our performance but Christ’s performance for us.  Not our sacrifices but his sacrifice for us.  Not our superiority but only his worth and prestige.  The good news of substitution.  The good news that our okayness is not in us but exterior to us in Christ alone.  Climbing down from the high moral ground, because only Christ belongs up there.  That message, that awareness, that clarity.  Sunday after Sunday after Sunday. Two, a gospel-centered church translates that theology into

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More honest and less impressive

Ray Ortlund: If I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth.  But I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. 2 Corinthians 12:6 God had given the apostle Paul an amazing spiritual experience — apparently, some kind of guided tour of heaven.  If Paul had wanted to “wow” the rest of us, he easily could have.  But for fourteen years he told no one about it, quietly keeping it to himself, wonderful though it was.  He didn’t exploit his remarkable experience to enhance his ministry. Paul was deeply secure in Christ.  He was content for people to perceive him and rate him on the basis of what they themselves could observe in him – not what he could claim, even rightly claim, but the ordinary human realities they could see and hear.  It was the fraudulent “super-apostles”

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Gospel doctrine, gospel culture

Ray Ortlund: Gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture.  The doctrines of grace create a culture of grace, as Jesus himself touches us through his truths.  Without the doctrines, the culture alone is fragile.  Without the culture, the doctrines alone appear pointless.  For example: The doctrine of regeneration creates a culture of humility (Ephesians 2:1-9). The doctrine of justification creates a culture of inclusion (Galatians 2:11-16). The doctrine of reconciliation creates a culture of peace (Ephesians 2:14-16). The doctrine of sanctification creates a culture of life (Romans 6:20-23). The doctrine of glorification creates a culture of hope (Romans 5:2). The doctrine of God creates a culture of honesty (1 John 1:5-10).  And what could be more basic than that? If we want this culture to thrive, we can’t take doctrinal short cuts.  If we want this doctrine to be credible, we can’t disregard the culture.  But churches where the doctrine and culture converge bear living witness to the power of Jesus.

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The greater reality

“Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth at him.  But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.”  Acts 7:54-55 Ray Ortlund: We are connected with two realities simultaneously.  There is the lower reality of this world of human judgement, and there is the higher reality of the throne of God and divine judgement. The lower reality can be brutal.  It was brutal not only for Stephen but far more for those who stoned him.  Frederick Buechner, Peculiar Treasures, page 182: “Stoning somebody to death, even somebody as young and healthy as Stephen, isn’t easy.  You don’t get the job done with the first few rocks and broken bottles, and even after you’ve got the man down, it’s a long, hot business.”  Living at this level takes commitment, determination.  Those stones are heavy – heavy to throw.  One really

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What saving faith looked like in Cornelius

“So Peter opened his mouth and said: ‘Truly I understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.’”  Acts 10:34-35 Ray Ortlund: Peter’s point is not that Cornelius had earned his way into God’s good graces by his own highmindedness or performance.  His point is that Cornelius, the Gentile, did not have to become a Jew to be kosher with God.  As a Gentile in Christ, Cornelius was clean and complete, for God shows no racial or national partiality. But Peter’s words say more.  “Anyone [of any race or nation] who fears God and does what is right” is acceptable to God.  Again, this is not legalism.  This does not displace the life and death of Jesus.  But it is moral sincerity.  It is the mentality that lies at the foundation of gospel faith and repentance.  It is not a moral demand made of God, but it

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How to read the Bible, and how not to

                              Ray Ortlund: “Against those forms of Judaism that saw the law-covenant not only as lex [law] but as a hermeneutical device for interpreting the Old Testament, Paul insists that the Bible’s story line takes precedence and provides the proper hermeneutical key.” D. A. Carson, “Reflections on Salvation and Justification in the New Testament,” JETS 40 (1997): 585. There are two ways to read the Bible. We can read it as law or as promise. If we read the Bible as law, we will find on every page what God is telling us we should do. Even the promises will be conditioned by law. But if we read the Bible as promise, we will find on every page what God is telling us he will do. Even the law will be conditioned by promise. In Galatians 3 Paul explains which hermeneutic is the correct one. “This

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Deal directly with Christ

J.C. Ryle: “He that . . . wants relief must come to Christ himself.  He must not be content with coming to His Church and His ordinances or to the assemblies of His people for prayer and praise.  He must not stop short even at His holy table or rest satisfied with privately opening his heart to His ordained ministers.  Oh no! . . . He must go higher, further, much further than this.  He must have personal dealings with Christ Himself.  All else in religion is worthless without Him.  The King’s palace, the attendant servants, the richly furnished banqueting house, the very banquet itself — all are nothing, unless we speak with the King.  His hand alone can take the burden off our backs and make us feel free. . . . We must .” J. C. Ryle, Holiness (Old Tappan, n.d.), pages 266-267. Ray Ortuld: If we go to church just to be with one another, one another is all

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Why your church matters

Ray Ortlund: “. . . the church of the living God, the pillar and buttress of the truth.”  1 Timothy 3:15 . . . the church of the living God.  A church is where the idols of our culture can be cogently discredited and the living God rallied around, rejoiced in, worshiped, studied, loved and obeyed.  If the church is dead or dormant, God’s own appointed testimony to his living reality powers down.  The felt reality of God in the world today is at stake in our churches. . . . the pillar and buttress of the truth.  A “pillar” holds something up high for all to see.  In this world, the one truth that will outlast the universe needs to be put on clear display rather than submerged under all the stuff that’s demanding our attention week in and week out.  A church can make the gospel obvious and accessible through preaching, teaching, memorizing, catechizing, blogging, etc. A “buttress” firms something up,

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Are we true to the gospel?

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.  Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”  Ephesians 4:31-32 Ray Ordlund: The gospel is in these verses: “. . . as God in Christ forgave you.”  The rest of it is how we are to be true to that gospel, how not to be a living denial of the very gospel we profess, how to be living proof of that sacred gospel. Faithfulness to the gospel is more than signing a doctrinal statement.  That’s a good thing to do.  But faithfulness to the gospel is more.  Far more. Faithfulness to the gospel is also treating one another as God in Christ has treated us.  It is not that hard to sign a piece of paper or take a vow that we stand for the gospel.  Again, that’s a good thing to do.  But

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How Churches Fake God’s Work

Ray Ortlund and Immanuel Church in Nashville believe simplicity is biblical. While opening doors to approach Christ, they try not to clutter what God is doing with programming. “When the Lord is at work, you don’t need heavy programs,” Ortlund tells fellow pastors Ryan Kelly and Darrin Patrick in this brief new video. “When the Lord isn’t at work, you probably have to fake it.” Watch to see how Patrick explains the dilemma for pastors approached by well-meaning church members who want to start new programs. Kelly offers his perspective on our failure to love when we’re too busy with programs.   From The Gospel Coalition.

It could not be more personal

“Christ is not offered us merely as a Savior who does something for us, but he is offered us as Someone who, having done something for us, is himself the propitiation [Romans 3:25]. . . . It is not as if Christ handed you something and said, ‘Here is your redemption, here is your forgiveness,’ and then ran away, as a messenger hands a gift in at the door and the door shuts and away goes the messenger; he has done his job.  Not a bit of it!  It is Christ himself, the Worker, who comes to us himself.  It is Christ personally who is our salvation. . . . It is Christ himself, personally, who comes to us with all the efficacy, the fruit of what he has done, and is the propitiation for our sin.” William Still, The World Of Grace (Fearn, 1998), page 96. (HT: Ray Ortlund)