No one is more influential in your life than you are. Because no one talks to you more than you do.
So observes Paul Tripp — and in doing so, he accents our need to daily preach the gospel to ourselves.
In our sin, we constantly find our responses to life in our fallen world to be disconnected from the theology that we confess. Anger, fear, panic, discouragement stalk our hearts and whisper in our ears a false gospel that will lure our lives away from what we say we believe.
The battleground, says Tripp, is meditation. What is it that is capturing your idle thoughts? What fear or frustration is filling your spare moments?
Will you just listen to yourself, or will you start talking? No, preaching — not letting your concerns shape you, but forming your concerns by the gospel.
Defensive and Offensive
Preaching the gospel to ourselves is a spiritual discipline that is both proactive and reactive. It’s reactive as we encounter temptation and frustration and seek to restock in the moment, or as we reflect back on our sin and circumstances and try to evaluate them with a gospel lens.
But it’s also proactive — it goes on the offensive — when we feed our souls in some regular rhythm before the events and tasks and disappointments of daily life begin streaming our way. Tripp counsels that we make it a daily practice to 1) gaze on the beauty of Christ, 2) remember who we are as a child of God, 3) rest in his power and provision, and then 4) act in reliance upon him.
The Gospel and the Scriptures
There is a difference, Tripp notes, between merely reminding ourselves of truth, and preaching to ourselves the truth of the gospel. The latter is self-consciously and intentionally reminding ourselves of the person and presence and provisions of our Redeemer.
But while gospel self-preaching is not the same thing as Bible reading, the connections and interdependences are profound. The Scriptures, says Tripp, provide the material for preaching to ourselves the gospel of grace. They are the content to be taken up and applied to our lives in view of Jesus’s person and work.
It will not adequately strengthen our soul, in the long run, just to hear the same canned gospel repeated over and over. Neither will it sustain our spiritual lives to merely take in information without seeing it in light of Jesus, and pressing it into our hearts.
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.
In an interview I was asked, What is your advice on how believers should deal with a culture that is increasingly hostile to Christianity?
Jesus said, “No servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also” (John 15:20). Followers of Jesus should expect injustice and misrepresentation. I’m grateful there are organizations working to protect the rights of Christians. But I’m concerned if we view ourselves as one more special interest group, clinging to entitlements and whining when people don’t like us. God’s people have a long history of not being liked.
Of course, this does not mean being hateful or seeking to be hated. It’s important that we represent the Gospel well, and I am all for graciousness, kindness and servant-hearted love as we speak the truth. Romans 12:18 says, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”
But the fact is, while the gospel is good news, it is also insulting. Many people don’t like being called sinners and told they deserve to go to hell. Peter said, “Don’t be surprised at the fiery ordeal you are suffering as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12).
If our eyes are on anyone but Jesus, we’re not going to have the stamina to put up with criticism or outright hostility. Paul said, “If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).
Jesus is the Audience of One. We will stand before His judgment seat, no one else’s. We should long to hear Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” What other people think won’t matter.
(HT: Zach Nielsen)
What does it mean to count everything as loss for the sake of Christ? What does it mean to renounce all that we have for Christ’s sake?
Paul said he does this. “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). And a few verses later he said, “Brothers, join in imitating me” (3:17).
So this is commanded of all believers.
This Is Basic Christianity
This is what it means to be a Christian. It is not advanced discipleship; it is basic Christianity. This is confirmed in Jesus’s words, “Any one of you who does notrenounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). Renouncing all we have is the same as “counting everything as loss.” This is what happens in conversion. You can’t be a disciple without it. Jesus said this.
He describes this conversion in a parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44). Selling all you have with joy, in order to have the treasure of the kingdom, is a parable-way of saying: count everything as loss in order to gain Christ.
So, to become a Christian is to awaken from the blindness of spiritual death and find Jesus so all-sufficient and all-satisfying that 1) we count everything as loss, 2) we renounce all our possessions, and, in parable-language, 3) we sell all we have to possess the treasure of Christ.
How to Count Everything As Loss
In everyday practical terms, what does it mean to do this? It means at least these four things:
1. Renouncing all (counting all as loss) means that, if we must choose between Christ and anything else, we will choose Christ.
That is, even though God does not bring us to the crisis of either-or at every point, nevertheless, we are ready, and have resolved in our hearts that, if the choice must be made, we will chose Christ.
2. Renouncing all (counting all as loss) means that we will deal with everything in ways that draw us nearer to Christ, so that we gain more of Christ, and enjoy more of him, by the way we relate to everything.
That is, we will embrace everything pleasant, by being thankful to Christ; and we will endure everything hurtful, by being patient through Christ.
3. Renouncing all (counting all as loss) means that we will seek to deal with the things of this world in ways that show that they are not our treasure, but rather that Christ is our treasure.
That is, we will hold things loosely, share things generously, and ascribe value to things in relation to Christ. We will seek to live the paradox of 1 Corinthians 7:30–31, “Let [Christians] buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it.”
4. Renouncing all (counting all as loss) means that if we lose any or all the things this world can offer, we will not lose our joy, or our treasure, or our life — because Christ is our joy and our treasure and our life.
That is, in smaller losses we will not grumble (Philippians 2:14), and in greater losses we will grieve, but not as those who have not hope (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
A Settled, Joyful, Defining Resolve
This is what I believe it means to find Jesus so all-sufficient and all-satisfying that 1) we count everything as loss (Philippians 3:8), 2) renounce all our possessions (Luke 14:33), and, 3) “sell” all we have to possess the treasure of Christ (Matthew 13:44).
None of us loves Christ this perfectly, or lives so consistently. But to be a follower of Jesus, to be a true Christian, means that these four ways of dealing with “everything” will be the settled, joyful, defining resolve of our lives.
This is what we will mean when we say with Paul, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
I was recently able to sit down with David Wells to talk about his new book, God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-love of God Reorients Our World (Crossway, 2014). We talk about why this is the hardest book he has ever written, how it is different from what he’s written before, and why he spends so much of his time working with orphans in Africa.
. . . Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?
– 1 Corinthians 6:7
The biggest problem in my life and ministry is me. And the biggest problem among my many idiosyncratic problems is the impulse toward self-defense and self-justification. The Lord has been working well on me over the last several years in this area, and I do think, by his grace, I have gotten better at suppressing this impulse, denying it, even going into situations I know will include much criticism directed at myself having proactively crucified it for the moment. But my inner defense attorney (a voting partner in the ambulance-chasing firm of Flesh & Associates) is always there, crouching at my door, seeking to rule over everybody by arguing in my quote-unquote “favor.”
Crucifying the defensive impulse is so difficult because it essentially means choosing to allow others to misunderstand you, misjudge you, and even malign you. (Of course, many times the painful things said are accurate, and so it’s another difficult necessity to listen well and to “test all things [and] hold fast to what is good” (1 Thess. 5:21).) But many times, especially for those in ministry or in other leadership positions, the criticisms and complaints are inaccurate, sometimes whole-cloth falsehoods, frequently petty, and these little injustices just pile up. The need to cry out in one’s defense rises up. But wisdom knows when to claim one’s rights and when to submit to being defrauded. For me, as I get older, and the longer I minister, the more I find myself being steered toward the latter.
Why would you and I do that? Why would we turn the cheek this way, go two miles with the guy demanding one? It’s certainly not very street-smart. It’s obviously not comfortable. But wisdom directs us this way, ultimately, because we believe that the consolation of Christ now and the compensation from Christ in the age to come will far surpass any “justice” we could gin up with our own self-interested rebuttals . . . even if we’re in the right. If Christ is our treasure, if Christ is our justification, why not rather be defrauded?
In many cases related to personal offenses, if not most, the best defense is neither a good offense nor a good defense, but simply sitting on the bench and, in love, refusing to play the game.
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 has made us his own, and we know and feel that there is nothing greater in all this world than to be drawn into Christ.
These two themes converge in this one verse, Philippians 3:12, but they are pervasive throughout the New Testament. They are God’s both/and. It is unbiblical, unwise and unhelpful to sinners to turn God’s both/and into our own either/or.
New Testament Christianity does not call us to choose between either divine grace or human engagement. New Testament Christianity calls us to embrace both, and in this order: first overflowing divine grace, then our own vigorous engagement motivated by that grace. If we reverse the order, we turn the gospel into legalism: “I am pressing on, so that Christ Jesus will make me his own.” But another way to get it wrong is to leave out the second part – “I am pressing on.” If all we talk about is overflowing divine grace, we risk distorting the biblical message and influencing people toward a diminished Christianity that will inevitably fail them.
Wherever the message of divine grace comes down in divine power, sinners are lifted out of lethargy and eagerly reach for the fullness of divine blessing.
The biblical master narrative serves as a framework for the cognitive principles that allow the formation of an authentically Christian worldview. Many Christians rush to develop what they will call a “Christian worldview” by arranging isolated Christian truths, doctrines, and convictions in order to create formulas for Christian thinking. No doubt, this is a better approach than is found among so many believers who have very little concern for Christian thinking at all; but it is not enough.
A robust and rich model of Christian thinking—the quality of thinking that culminates in a God-centered worldview—requires that we see all truth as interconnected. Ultimately, the systematic wholeness of truth can be traced to the fact that God is himself the author of all truth. Christianity is not a set of doctrines in the sense that a mechanic operates with a set of tools. Instead, Christianity is a comprehensive worldview and way of life that grows out of Christian reflection on the Bible and the unfolding plan of God revealed in the unity of the Scriptures.
A God-centered worldview brings every issue, question, and cultural concern into submission to all that the Bible reveals, and it frames all understanding within the ultimate purpose of bringing greater glory to God. This task of bringing every thought captive to Christ requires more than episodic Christian thinking and is to be understood as the task of the church, and not merely the concern of individual believers. The recovery of the Christian mind and the development of a comprehensive Christian worldview will require the deepest theological reflection, the most consecrated application of scholarship, the most sensitive commitment to compassion, and the courage to face all questions without fear.
Christianity brings the world a distinctive understanding of time, history, and the meaning of life. The Christian worldview contributes an understanding of the universe and all it contains that points us far beyond mere materialism and frees us from the intellectual imprisonment of naturalism. Christians understand that the world—including the material world—is dignified by the very fact that God has created it. At the same time, we understand that we are to be stewards of this creation and are not to worship what God has made. We understand that every single human being is made in the image of God and that God is the Lord of life at every stage of human development. We honor the sanctity of human life because we worship the Creator. From the Bible, we draw the essential insight that God takes delight in the ethnic and racial diversity of his human creatures, and so must we.
The Christian worldview contributes a distinctive understanding of beauty, truth, and goodness, understanding these to be transcendentals that, in the final analysis, are one and the same. Thus, the Christian worldview disallows the fragmentation that would sever the beautiful from the true or the good. Christians consider the stewardship of cultural gifts—ranging from music and visual art to drama and architecture—as a matter of spiritual responsibility.
The Christian worldview supplies authoritative resources for understanding our need for law and our proper respect for order. Informed by the Bible, Christians understand that God has invested government with an urgent and important responsibility. At the same time, Christians come to understand that idolatry and self-aggrandizement are temptations that come to every regime. Drawing from the Bible’s rich teachings concerning money, greed, the dignity of labor, and the importance of work, Christians have much to contribute to a proper understanding of economics. Those who operate from an intentionally biblical worldview cannot reduce human beings to mere economic units, but must understand that our economic lives reflect the fact that we are made in God’s image and are thus invested with responsibility to be stewards of all the Creator has given us.
Christian faithfulness requires a deep commitment to serious moral reflection on matters of war and peace, justice and equity, and the proper operation of a system of laws. Our intentional effort to develop a Christian worldview requires us to return to first principles again and again in a constant and vigilant effort to ensure that the patterns of our thoughts are consistent with the Bible and its master narrative.
In the context of cultural conflict, the development of an authentic Christian worldview should enable the church of the Lord Jesus Christ to maintain a responsible and courageous footing in any culture at any period of time. The stewardship of this responsibility is not merely an intellectual challenge; it determines, to a considerable degree, whether or not Christians live and act before the world in a way that brings glory to God and credibility to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Failure at this task represents an abdication of Christian responsibility that dishonors Christ, weakens the church, and compromises Christian witness.
A failure of Christian thinking is a failure of discipleship, for we are called to love God with our minds. We cannot follow Christ faithfully without first thinking as Christians. Furthermore, believers are not to be isolated thinkers who bear this responsibility alone. We are called to be faithful together as we learn intellectual discipleship within the believing community, the church.
By God’s grace, we are allowed to love God with our minds in order that we may serve him with our lives. Christian faithfulness requires the conscious development of a worldview that begins and ends with God at its center. We are only able to think as Christians because we belong to Christ; and the Christian worldview is, in the end, nothing more than seeking to think as Christ would have us to think, in order to be who Christ would call us to be.
I have a simple but profound philosophy when it comes to the Christian life. When it is fully understood it can be revolutionary. By that I mean it can take a self-absorbed, idolatrous rebel and empower him to pursue a life that truly honors God. It can take a hopelessly depressed, self-loathing woman and restore meaning and value and joy to her lowly life.
I’ve said this before, so I doubt if it will strike you as novel or unique. But here it is again:
The key to the Christian life comes not from trying harder but from enjoying more. Before you jump to the wrong conclusion, let me explain. I’m not saying you can experience success in Christian living without trying harder. I’m not at all suggesting that the Christian life isn’t hard work. It’s a war, a daily conflict, a moment-by-moment challenge that stretches us often beyond our limits. What I am saying is that pleasure in God is the power for purity. It is the enjoyment of Jesus Christ that empowers the human heart to exert the necessary effort to live as God would have us to live.
I want to demonstrate this to you from what Paul says in Philippians 3:1-11.
I know that many of you are still skeptical. I know that you are asking yourself right now: “Can fascination with God and delight in Jesus really help me overcome my failures? Can my life genuinely be changed? Can this truth really make a difference down in the gutter of lust and greed and pride and envy and shame where I live?”
Yes! I honestly believe it can. It certainly did in the life of the apostle Paul, and I have to believe that one reason the Spirit led him to say what he says in Philippians 3 is to encourage other Christians that it’s possible for them too.
This passage is all about a transformation, a personal revolution, a moral and mental 180 in one man’s life and how it can happen in our lives as well. It is as if Paul envisions himself walking down a certain path in life, heading in a specific direction, believing certain things, honoring and valuing what he was convinced would bring him life, cherishing and nourishing his earthly achievements, only to find himself suddenly walking in the opposite direction. “Those things of which I once boasted and loved and pursued, those things that energized me and gave me joy and got my juices flowing; I now look upon them and say, YUK!”
How did he do it? Why did he do it? How do you explain this phenomenal experience that all of us yearn for so deeply?
First, we must look at what Paul used to prize. There are seven things in which he had once placed his confidence. The first four relate to birth and upbringing, the last three to personal choice.
In vv. 5-6 he lists the following: 1) circumcised the 8th day; 2) of the nation of Israel; 3) of the tribe of Benjamin; 4) a Hebrew of Hebrews; 5) as to the Law, a Pharisee; 6) as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; 7) as to righteousness, blameless.
We will look more closely at these in a subsequent article, but for now one can almost hear Paul’s prideful reminder: “No one did it better than I. I was the best. I was number one. If it is possible to have good reason and warrant for boasting in human achievement and religious excellence and ethnic purity, I did it! If it’s possible to live in such a way that one can justifiably boast in the flesh and in human achievement, I did it!”
Perhaps it would be wise for each of us to pause at this point and draw up our own list. They will undoubtedly be different from Paul’s, but that’s o.k. So let me ask you: What are the seven things in this world, in your life, that compete with the most intensity to win your heart away from Jesus? If you were of a mind to boast in earthly achievements and accolades, what would they be?
Your educational degrees?
Your annual salary?
Your investment portfolio?
Your physical beauty?
Your reputation in town, at school, at your place of work, in your church?
Where you live and the car you drive and the position you hold in your company?
Your high level of self-esteem?
The achievements of your children?
Are you getting a mental picture of what you cherish most, of what you prize most highly, of what you sub-consciously depend upon to find happiness in life and a reason to get up in the morning?
The second thing of importance is for us to recognize we are not going to simply wake up one morning and discover that we suddenly hate what we used to love. The things of this world will never appear as “dung” when viewed in and of themselves. They will smell good and taste good and feel good and bring satisfaction and we will treasure and value them and fight for them and work for them and find every excuse imaginable to get them at any and all cost; they will retain their magnetic appeal and allure and power until they are set over against the surpassing value and beauty of Christ Jesus.
This is precisely what Paul is describing in Philippians 3. The things of the world (what we value, do, purchase, think about, possess, want, etc.) will not, in and of themselves, cease to be appealing. There is no magical transformation. In fact, their power to draw you into their trap will actually increase. Transformation will never happen until your heart is captivated by a rival attraction that is comparatively superior. Merely praying for sin to lose its grip on your heart won’t work. Merely fighting against sin won’t work.
In other words, to give up something simply for the sake of giving it up may work for a time, but in the long run you’ll return to it. Saying No to sin simply because you recognize it as evil may have momentary impact, but in the long run you will find a way to rationalize and excuse and justify your return to it. Saying No for no other reason than “my parents told me it was the right thing to do,” or “my teachers taught me . . ,” or “my pastor preached that . . .,” or even “the Bible says so . . .” has limited value in loosening the vice-grip of sin on our souls.
Paul’s greatest struggles were tradition, heritage, education, and above all else, religion. Where did Paul find greatest satisfaction and joy and a sense of value and meaning in life? He found it in his Jewish heritage, his ethnic identity, his educational accomplishments, and above all else in his religious devotion to the Law of Moses.
As we look more closely at what Paul says, one might have expected Paul to say that his previous personal advantages, although still good, are being left behind because he has found something better. But this was not a decision to go from good to better. Once he saw the “surpassing value” of knowing Jesus, he re-evaluated what he formerly regarded as gain, was struck with revulsion at it, realizing that it was actually working against him, that it blinded him to his need for Christ as well as to the beauty of Christ. Now he views it all as loss, as dung.
The key is found in what Paul identifies as the ground or motive for his decision: it was because of Christ. It was the prospect of gaining Christ, the promise of all that God is for him in Jesus that provoked and stirred and stimulated him and accounts for his re-evaluation of everything in his life. Paul actually makes this point no fewer than eight times! We’ll look at these eight declarations in the next article.
Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) was one of the most remarkable men of his time—a mathematician, evangelical theologian, economist, ecclesiastical, political, and social reformer all in one. His most famous sermon was published under the unlikely title: “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” In it he expounded an insight of permanent importance for Christian living: you cannot destroy love for the world merely by showing its emptiness. Even if we could do so, that would lead only to despair. The first world–centered love of our hearts can be expelled only by a new love and affection—for God and from God. The love of the world and the love of the Father cannot dwell together in the same heart. But the love of the world can be driven out only by the love of the Father. Hence Chalmers’ sermon title.
True Christian living, holy and right living, requires a new affection for the Father as its dynamic. Such new affection is part of what William Cowper called “the blessedness I knew when first I saw the Lord”—a love for the holy that seems to deal our carnal affections a deadly blow at the beginning of the Christian life. Soon, however, we discover that for all that we have died to sin in Christ, sin has by no means died in us. Sometimes its continued influence surprises us, even appears to overwhelm us in one or other of its manifestations. We discover that our “new affections” for spiritual things must be renewed constantly throughout the whole of our pilgrimage. If we lose the first love we will find ourselves in serious spiritual peril.
Sometimes we make the mistake of substituting other things for it. Favorites here are activity and learning. We become active in the service of God ecclesiastically (we gain the positions once held by those we admired and we measure our spiritual growth in terms of position achieved); we become active evangelistically and in the process measure spiritual strength in terms of increasing influence; or we become active socially, in moral and political campaigning, and measure growth in terms of involvement. Alternatively, we recognize the intellectual fascination and challenge of the gospel and devote ourselves to understanding it, perhaps for its own sake, perhaps to communicate it to others. We measure our spiritual vitality in terms of understanding, or in terms of the influence it gives us over others. But no position, influence, or evolvement can expel love for the world from our hearts. Indeed, they may be expressions of that very love.
Others of us make the mistake of substituting the rules of piety for loving affection for the Father: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” Such disciplines have an air of sanctity about them, but in fact they have no power to restrain the love of the world. The root of the matter is not on my table, or in my neighborhood, but in my heart. Worldliness has still not been expelled.
It is all too possible, in these different ways, to have the form of genuine godliness (how subtle our hearts are!) without its power. Love for the world will not have been expunged, but merely diverted. Only a new love is adequate to expel the old one. Only love for Christ, with all that it implies, can squeeze out the love of this world. Only those who long for Christ’s appearing will be delivered from Demas-like desertion caused by being in love with this world.
How can we recover the new affection for Christ and his kingdom that so powerfully impacted our life-long worldliness, and in which we crucified the flesh with its lusts?
What was it that created that first love in any case? Do you remember? It was our discovery of Christ’s grace in the realization of our own sin. We are not naturally capable of loving God for himself, indeed we hate him. But in discovering this about ourselves, and in learning of the Lord’s supernatural love for us, love for the Father was born. Forgiven much, we loved much. We rejoiced in the hope of glory, in suffering, even in God himself. This new affection seemed first to overtake our worldliness, then to master it. Spiritual realities—Christ, grace, Scripture, prayer, fellowship, service, living for the glory of God—filled our vision and seemed so large, so desirable that other things by comparison seemed to shrink in size and become bland to the taste.
The way in which we maintain “the expulsive power of a new affection” is the same as the way we first discovered it. Only when grace is still “amazing” to us does it retain its power in us. Only as we retain a sense of our own profound sinfulness can we retain a sense of the graciousness of grace.
Many of us share Cowper’s sad questions: “Where is the blessedness I knew when first I saw the Lord? Where is the soul-refreshing view of Jesus and his word?” Let us remember the height from which we have fallen, repent and return to those first works. It would be sad if the deepest analysis of our Christianity was that it lacked a sense of sin and of grace. That would suggest that we knew little if the expulsive power of a new affection. But there is no right living that last without it.
From a man who died alone and yet not alone:
Let him who cannot be alone beware of community.
He will only do harm to himself and to the community. Alone you stood before God when he called you; alone you had to answer that call; alone you had to struggle and pray; and alone you will die and given an account to God. You cannot escape from yourself; for God has singled you out. If you refused to be alone you are rejecting God’s call to you, and you can have no part in the community of those who are called. “The challenge of death comes to us all, and no one can die for another. Everyone must fight his own battle with death by himself, alone. . . . I will not be with you then, nor you with me” (Luther).
But the reverse is also true: Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.
Into the community you were called, the call was not meant for you alone; in the community of the called you bear your cross, you struggle, you pray. You are not alone, even in death, and on the Last Day you will be only one member of the great congregation of Jesus Christ. If you scorn the fellowship of the brethren, you reject the call of Jesus Christ, and thus your solitude can only be hurtful to you. “If I die, then I am not alone in death; if I suffer, they [the fellowship] suffer with me” (Luther).
—Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together (New York: Harper & Row, 1954), 77 [italics and ellipses original].
Why do you exist? What energizes your actions? How do you account for your life and behavior and the choices you make throughout the course of a day? My answer to those questions, and I hope yours as well, is that it’s all for his name’s sake.
In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Jesus commended the believers there for “enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake” (Rev. 2:3). People all over the world endure pain for any number of reasons, some of which are noble and others not. Some persevere for profit and others to elicit compassion for themselves. But Jesus makes it clear that, for the Christian, endurance under duress is never an end in itself. Suffering for suffering’s sake is stupid, if not a sign of mental illness. Jesus commends the Ephesian believers because their motivation was the fame of the name of Christ. That is to say, they endured with a view to making known, especially to their persecutors, that Jesus was a treasure of far greater worth than whatever physical or financial comfort their denial of him might bring.
This same passion to see and savor Jesus alone accounted for Paul’s unqualified and otherwise inexplicable decision to turn his back on earthly achievements: “whatever gain I had,” said Paul, “I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil. 3:7-9). Did you see it? It was for his sake, as it also was for the Ephesians.
In the case of the Ephesians, undoubtedly some suffered unto death while others experienced the blessing of deliverance. In both instances it was “for his name’s sake.” As John Piper has pointed out, in dying, some declared, “Jesus is more precious than what I’m losing.” In living, others declared, “Jesus is more precious than what I’m gaining.” In both cases, Jesus is treasured above everything and thus magnified above all.
That is why you and I exist. We exist for his name’s sake. As lead pastor of Bridgeway, I can say that this is why we as a body of Christian men and women exist. It is why we serve and suffer; it is why we live and love; it is why we study God’s Word and make known his praise; it is why we sing and celebrate; it is why we give and go. It’s all for his name’s sake. That’s why we exist. If you know Christ, that’s why you exist.
That’s why you serve. May all that we ask, do, or think be for his name’s sake.
J. I. Packer’s insight into the nature of godly living must be noted. He rightly insists that:
“we can never hope to do anything right, never expect to perform a work that is truly good, unless God works within us to make us will and act for his good pleasure. Realizing this will make us depend constantly on our indwelling Lord – which is the heart of what is meant by abiding in Christ. Our living should accordingly be made up of sequences having the following shape. We begin by considering what we have to do, or need to do. Recognizing that without divine help we can do nothing as we should (see John 15:5), we confess to the Lord our inability, and ask that help be given. Then, confident that prayer has been heard and help will be given, we go to work. And, having done what we could, we thank God for the ability to do as much as we did and take the discredit for whatever was still imperfect and inadequate, asking forgiveness for our shortcomings and begging for power to do better next time. In this sequence there is room neither for passivity nor for self-reliance. On the contrary, we first trust God, and then on that basis work as hard as we can, and repeatedly find ourselves enabled to do what we know we could not have done by ourselves. That happens through the enabling power of the Holy Spirit, which is the wellspring and taproot of all holy and Christ-like action. Such is the inside story of all the Christian’s authentically good works”
Hot Tub Religion, 180 (emphasis added)
(HT: Sam Storms)
“Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory” (1 Peter 1:8).
Define “Christian”. What does it mean? Shift your mind out of neutral for just a moment and think. What is the essence of Christianity? When the secondary issues are set aside, when the extra baggage is eliminated, when all the superficial junk so often associated with Christianity is done away, what is left? What does it mean to be a Christian? Define it in the purest, simplest, most basic and foundational terms.
I suspect that if we actually did that and you each turned in your answer on a piece of paper, we’d have an incredibly enlightening experience reading them aloud. More than enlightening, it might even in some cases prove shocking.
I ask this question of you simply because I believe Peter provides an answer in the passage before us. I have a theory about v. 8 of 1 Peter 1. I believe that what is being described here is quintessential Christianity. Don’t you just love that word: quintessential! Love it? Sam, I don’t even know how to spell it!
If you look it up in a dictionary, quintessential means “the pure and concentrated essence of a substance,” or “the most perfect embodiment of something.” So, what is quintessential Christianity?
Going to church? Tithing? Not getting drunk? Being baptized? Praying? Is that the purest and most concentrated essence of Christianity? Is that “the most perfect embodiment” of what it is to be a Christian? I certainly hope not. That’s not to say those things aren’t important, but there has to be something more basic and fundamental in being a Christian.
And Peter tells us what it is, right here in v. 8. Now, why do I say that? Where do I get off making such a grandiose claim? My justification for making this claim is the context in which v. 8 is found, more precisely, vv. 6-7. Let me explain.
The recipients of this epistle were enduring “various trials” (v. 6): persecution, oppression, slander, and affliction. One need only glance at 1 Peter 1:6; 2:20-21; 3:17; and especially 4:12-18 to see this is true. He makes it clear here in chapter one that our ability to rejoice simultaneously with the anguish of trials and troubles is based on several things.
Peter first reminds his readers of the duration of trials and suffering. He says in v. 6 that they are “for a little while.” In other words, they are temporary, not eternal. Trials and pain will pass. No matter how bad it gets here on earth (and yes, it can get incredibly bad), one day it will give way to the glory and pleasure of heaven (see 2 Corinthians 4:16-18). Knowing the duration of trials and suffering gives us strength to endure without taking offence at God.
He then points, secondly, to the design of trials. In v. 7 he says that suffering works to purify our faith. His point is that God never wastes pain, and therefore neither should we. The trials and tribulations of this life serve to sanctify us and to conform us to the image of Jesus himself. 1 Peter 1:7 thus reminds me of two verses in Psalm 119.
“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Thy word” (119:67).
“It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I may learn Thy statutes” (119:71).
Such experiences have a unique capacity to highlight the differences between what is true and sincere in the heart of a person as over against what is false and hypocritical. They cause the genuine beauty of true spirituality to appear more clearly. Do you not find it to be true that when you suffer you either become embittered toward God or press into his heart more fervently? In other words, it’s really hard to be a hypocrite when you are hurting. Pain and suffering and hardship tend to expose the true state of your soul. They expose your heart and its affections and your faith for what they really are.
A close look at v. 7 indicates that Peter wants us to envision the parallels between the effect of fire on gold and that of trials on faith. His point is that just as fire burns away the dross and alloy from gold, leaving it pure and solid, so also the flames of trials and tests and oppression burn away the dross of our faith. Hypocrisy and superficiality and self-confidence and pride and reliance on money and achievement do not easily survive the flames of persecution and tribulation (see Psalm 66:10; Malachi 3:3; Isaiah 48:10).
If we follow the logic of Peter’s thought in vv. 6-7 we discover that v. 8 describes what is left of Christian faith that has passed through the furnace of afflictions. In other words, v. 8 is Peter’s portrayal of the end product of persecution and pain. This is Christian experience in its purest and most pristine form. This is quintessential faith, first-rate faith, faith that is as free as it can be, this side of heaven, of sinful additives and preservatives! Peter has no illusions of perfection, but he does envision a relationship with Jesus absent the peripheral elements. This, says Peter, is the very essence of authentic Christianity.
Let me illustrate what Peter means. Formulate a mental picture of a solid block of granite, untouched by human hands. When a master sculptor approaches such an object, he takes hammer and chisel and, in effect, begins to chip away everything that doesn’t look like a human. He cuts, hammers, and pounds away until the finished product stands before us in all its glory. In a sense, that’s what God does with us through our trials and oppressive circumstances. He uses them like a spiritual hammer and chisel to chip away from our lives everything that doesn’t look like Jesus! The result is what Peter describes in 1 Peter 1:8.
Or consider the athlete who fails to maintain a strict training regimen. He becomes a couch-potato, eating and drinking and refusing to exercise. Over time his muscles suffer from atrophy. He gains excessive weight. His reflexes aren’t as sharp as they used to be and his lung capacity is greatly reduced. When he runs (if he ever gets off the couch), his legs feel heavy and lifeless. Then he recommits himself to a rigorous exercise program. Over the next few weeks he burns away body fat and strengthens his muscles. His endurance level increases and he returns to his former shape. The result is a finely honed body, ready for competition. The physical effect of exercise on his body is analogous to the spiritual effect of trials on our faith.
So what am I saying? Simply that 1 Peter 1:8 portrays for us what Christian faith looks like when refined and shaped and purified by the fire of hardship and tribulation. Here is Christian faith in its preeminent expression. And of what does it consist?
What is quintessential Christianity? Loving Jesus. Trusting Jesus. Enjoying Jesus.
Sam Storms posts:
The Christian life, or sanctification, is partly a matter of putting “to death the deeds of the body” (Rom. 8:13), what some translations refer to as the “mortification” of sin. “This too,” notes J. I. Packer, “is hard. It is a matter of negating, wishing dead, and laboring to thwart, inclinations, cravings, and habits that have been in you . . . for a long time. Pain and grief, moans and groans, will certainly be involved, for your sin does not want to die, nor will it enjoy the killing process” (Rediscovering Holiness, 175).
But how precisely is this done? Packer helps us here:
“Outward acts of sin come from inner sinful urges, so we must learn to starve these urges of what stimulates them (porn magazines, for instance, if the urge is lust; visits to smorgasbords, if the urge is gluttony; gamblings and lotteries, if the urge is greed; and so on). And when the urge is upon us, we must learn, as it were, to run to our Lord and cry for help, asking him to deepen our sense of his own holy presence and redeeming love, to give us the strength to say ‘no’ to that which can only displease him. It is the Spirit who moves us to act this way, who makes our sense of the holy love of Christ vivid, who imparts the strength for which we pray, and who actually drains the life out of the sins we starve” (175).
Those spots which a Christian finds in his own heart can only be washed out in the blood of the Lamb.
‘Oh,’ says such a poor soul, ‘I pray—and yet I sin; I resolve against sin—and yet I sin; I combat against sin—and yet I am carried captive by sin; I have left no outward means unattempted—and yet after all, my sins are too hard for me; after all my sweating, striving, and weeping—I am carried down the stream.’
It is not our strong resolutions or purposes which will be able to overmaster these enemies.
There is nothing now but the actings of faith upon a crucified Christ, which will take off this burden from the soul of man. You must make use of your graces to draw virtue from Christ; now faith must touch the hem of Christ’s garment—or you will never be healed.
— Thomas Brooks The Unsearchable Riches of Christ
(HT: Of First Importance)
“If we have resisted the missionary dimension of the church’s life, or dismissed it as if it were dispensable, or patronized it reluctantly with a few perfunctory prayers and grudging coins, or become preoccupied with our own narrow-minded, parochial concerns, we need to repent, that is, change our mind and attitude.
Do we profess to believe in God? He’s a missionary God.
Do we say we are committed to Christ? He’s a missionary Christ.
Do we claim to be filled with the Spirit? He’s a missionary Spirit.
Do we delight in belonging to the church? It’s a missionary society.
Do we hope to go heaven when we die? It’s a heaven filled with the fruits of the missionary enterprise.
It is not possible to avoid these things.”
(HT: Trevin Wax)
“The gospel fosters individuality, in the sense of realization that as regards the present decisions that determine eternal destiny one stands alone before God; no one can make those decisions for someone else, and no one can enter the kingdom of God by hanging on to someone else’s coat-tails. The individuality that consists of a sense of personal identity and responsibility Godward is a Christian virtue, making for wise and thoughtful behaviour, and is a necessity for mature life and growth in Christ.
But it has nothing to with individualism, which is actually a proud unwillingness to accept a place in a team of peers and to be bound by group consensus. The gospel condemns individualism as disruptive of the life of the divine family, the new community of believers together that God is building in each place where individual Christians have emerged. Harmonious consensus, undergirded by brotherly love, is to be the goal for every church, and individualism is to be overcome by mutual deference. So, at least, says the New Testament.”
“Evangelical Foundations for Spirituality,” Serving the People of God: The Collected Shorter Writings of J. I. Packer, Volume 2 (Paternoster Press), 266.
(HT: Sam Storms)
By Mark Dever:
Public opinion appears to be changing about same-sex marriage, as are the nation’s laws. Of course this change is just one in a larger constellation. America’s views on family, love, sexuality generally, tolerance, God, and so much more seems to be pushing in directions that put Bible-believing Christians on the defensive.
It’s easy to feel like we’ve become the new “moral outlaws,” to use Al Mohler’s phrase. Standing up for historic Christian principles will increasingly get you in trouble socially and maybe economically, perhaps one day also criminally. It’s ironic that Christians are told not to impose their views on others, even as the threat of job loss or other penalties loom over Christians for not toeing the new party line.
In all this, Christians are tempted to become panicked or to speak as alarmists. But to the extent we do, to that same extent we show we’ve embraced an unbiblical and nominal Christianity.
Here, then, are seven principles for surviving the very real cultural shifts we’re presently enduring.
1. Remember that churches exist to work for supernatural change.
The whole Christian faith is based on the idea that God takes people who are spiritually dead and gives them new life. Whenever we evangelize, we are evangelizing the cemetery.
There’s never been a time or a culture when it was natural to repent of your sins. That culture doesn’t exist, it hasn’t existed, it never will exist. Christians, churches, and pastors especially must know deep in their bones that we’ve always been about a work that’s supernatural.
From that standpoint, recent cultural changes have made our job zero percent harder.
2. Understand that persecution is normal.
In the last few months I’ve been preaching through John’s Gospel, and a number of people have thanked me for bringing out the theme of persecution. But I’m not convinced my preaching has changed; I think people’s ears have changed. Recent events in the public square have caused people to become concerned about what’s ahead for Christians. But if you were to go back and listen to my old sermons—say, a series preached in the 1990s on 1 Peter— you’d discover that ordinary biblical exposition means raising the topic of persecution again and again.
Persecution is what Christians face in this fallen world. It’s what Jesus promised us (e.g., John 16).
Now, it may be that in God’s providence some Christians find themselves in settings where, even if they devote their lives to obeying Jesus, they won’t encounter insult and persecution. But don’t be fooled by the nice buildings in which so many churches meet. This Jesus we follow was executed as a state criminal.
One of my fellow pastors recently observed that, in the history of Christian persecution, it’s often secondary issues—not the gospel—that elicit persecution. Persecutors don’t say, “You believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ; I’m going to persecute you now.” Rather, some belief or practice we maintain as Christians contradicts what people want or threatens their way of seeing the world. And so they oppose us.
Again, to the extent we respond to changes in our culture either with panic or alarmism, to that same extent we contradict the Bible’s teaching about ordinary Christian discipleship. It shows we’ve traded on the normalcy of nominalism.
Pastors especially should set the example in teaching their congregations not to play the victim. We should salt into our regular preaching and praying the normalcy of persecution. It’s the leader’s work to prepare churches for how we can follow Jesus, even if it means social criticism, or loss of privilege, or financial penalties, or criminal prosecution.
3. Eschew utopianism.
Christians should be a people of love and justice, and that means we should always strive to make our little corner of the globe a bit nicer than how we found it, whether that’s a kindergarten classroom or a kingdom. But even as we work for the sake of love and justice, we must remember we’re not going to transform this world into the kingdom of our Christ.
God hasn’t commissioned us to make this world perfect; he’s commissioned us chiefly to point to the One who will one day make it perfect, even as we spend our lives loving and doing good. If you’re tempted to utopianism, please observe that Scripture doesn’t allow it, and that the history of utopianism has a track record of distracting and deceiving even some of Christ’s most zealous followers.
It’s good to feel sadness over the growing approval given to sin in our day. But one of the reasons many Christians in America feel disillusionment over current cultural changes is that we’ve been somewhat utopian in our hopes. Again, to the extent you think and speak as an alarmist, to that same extent you demonstrate that utopian assumptions may have been motivating you all along.
4. Make use of our democratic stewardship.
I would be sad if anyone concluded from my comments that it doesn’t matter what Christians do publicly or with the state. Paul tells us to submit to the state. But in our democratic context, part of submitting to the state means sharing in its authority. And if we have a share in its authority, we just might have, to some extent, a share in its tyranny. To neglect the democratic process, so long as it’s in our hands, is to neglect a stewardship.
We cannot create Utopia, but that doesn’t mean we cannot be good stewards of what we have, or that we cannot use the democratic processes to bless others. For the sake of love and justice, we should make use of our democratic stewardship.
5. Trust the Lord, not human circumstances.
There’s never been a set of circumstances Christians cannot trust God through. Jesus beautifully trusted the Father through the cross “for the joy set before him” (Heb. 12:2). Nothing you and I will face will amount to what our King had to suffer.
We can trust him. He will prove trustworthy through everything we might have to endure. And as we trust him, we will bear a beautiful testimony of God’s goodness and power, and we will bring him glory.
6. Remember that everything we have is God’s grace.
We must remember anything we receive less than hell is dancing time for Christians. Right? Everything a Christian has is all of grace. We need to keep that perspective so that we aren’t tempted to become too sour toward our employers, our friends, our family members, and our government when they oppose us.
How was Paul able to sing in prison? He knew that of which he’d been forgiven. He knew the glory that awaited him. He perceived and prized these greater realities.
7. Rest in the certainty of Christ’s victory.
The gates of hell will not prevail against the church of Jesus Christ. We need not fear and tremble as if Satan has finally, after all these millennia, gained the upper hand in his opposition to God through the same-sex marriage lobby.
“Oh, we might finally lose it here!” No, not a chance.
People around the world now and throughout history have suffered far more than Christians in America presently do. And we don’t assume Satan had the upper hand there, do we?
Each nation and age has a unique way to express its depravity, to attack God. But none will succeed any more than the crucifixion succeeded in defeating Jesus. Yes, he died. But three days later he got up from the dead.
Christ’s kingdom is in no danger of failing. Again, Christians, churches, and especially pastors must know this deeply in our bones. D-Day has happened. Now it’s cleanup time. Not one person God has elected to save will fail to be saved because the secular agenda is “winning” in our time and place. There shouldn’t be anxiety or desperation in us.
We may not be able to out-argue others. They may not be persuaded by our books and articles. But we can love them with the supernatural love God has shown to us in Christ. And we can make his Word known today—with humility, with confidence, and with joy.
Mark Dever is pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., and the author of numerous books, including Nine Marks of a Healthy Church. You can learn more about him at 9Marks or follow him on Twitter.
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.
Churches that do not exude humility, inclusion, peace, life, hope and honesty — even if they have gospel doctrine on paper, they lack that doctrine at a functional level, where it counts in the lives of actual people. Churches that are haughty, exclusivistic, contentious, exhausted, past-oriented and in denial are revealing a gospel deficit.
The current rediscovery of the gospel as doctrine is good, very good. But a completely new discovery of the gospel as culture — the gospel embodied in community — will be infinitely better, filled with a divine power such as we have not yet seen.
Is there any reason not to go there? Is the status quo all that great? Doesn’t the gospel itself call for a new kind of community?