Redeeming culture, building the Kingdom – Really?

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Some helpful insight from Kevin DeYoung:

We need to be careful about our language. I think I know what people mean when they talk about redeeming the culture or partnering with God in His redemption of the world, but we should really pick another word. Redemption has already been accomplished on the cross. We are not co-redeemers of anything. We are called to serve, bear witness, proclaim, love, do good to everyone, and adorn the gospel with good deeds, but we are not partners in God’s work of redemption.

Similarly, there is no language in Scripture about Christians building the kingdom. The New Testament, in talking about the kingdom, uses words like enter, seek, announce, see, receive, look, come into, and inherit. Do a word search and see for yourself. We are given the kingdom and brought into the kingdom. We testify about it, pray for it to come, and by faith, it belongs to us. But in the New Testament, we are never the ones who bring the kingdom. We receive it, enter it, and are given it as a gift. It is our inheritance. It’s no coincidence that “entering” and “inheriting” are two of the common verbs associated with the Promised Land in the Old Testament (see Deut. 4:1; 6:18; 16:20). The kingdom grows to be sure, and no doubt God causes it to grow by employing means (like Christians), but we are never told to create, expand, or usher in the kingdom just as the Israelites were not commanded to establish Canaan. Pray for the kingdom, yes, but not build it. (49)

Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck – Why We Love the Church

(HT: Aaron Armstrong)

Five things Jonathan Edwards teaches us about the Christian life

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Dane Ortlund:

For many of us, Jonathan Edwards is a skinny white guy who never smiled, except when talking about hell. If we know anything more, it’s:

  • that he wrote a lot of really dense books
  • that he talked a lot about the glory of God
  • that he was part of the Great Awakening
  • that John Piper likes him a lot.

And that’s about it.

But there are riches to be mined in Jonathan Edwards far beyond what you may have been exposed to. Reading Jonathan Edwards is not for historians and professors mainly, but for the rest of us.

Here are five things Edwards teaches us about the Christian life—your Christian life.

1. If you’re a Christian, you don’t realize how radically different and freshly empowered you now are.

When sinners repent and believe for the first time, it often feels as if nothing much has happened, and it often looks as if nothing much has happened. Our wrinkles don’t go away. Our Myers-Briggs personality profile doesn’t change. Our IQ isn’t improved. Our driver’s license photo looks the same after conversion as before, just a few years older and grayer.

Similarly, a foreigner who has just attained citizenship in his country of residence will not feel or look much different, upon receiving formal declaration of citizenship. Yet they now belong to an entirely new nation. More than this, they now have all the rights and privileges that belong to citizens of that nation.

Edwards teaches us that the quiet, seemingly innocuous change that takes place in the new birth is of eternal—even cosmic—significance. A fallen sinner has just become an invincible heir of the universe. The Holy Spirit has just taken up permanent residence in the temple of this soul. In new birth, Edwards writes, the Christian “is a new creature, he is just as if he were not the same, but were born again, created over a second time.”

For a Christian to wallow in sin and misery is for a butterfly to crawl miserably along the branch as if it were still a caterpillar.

2. Even if you’re a Christian, you don’t realize how radically fallen and blindly dysfunctional you remain.

If we understate the positive change in new birth, we also tend to understate the fallenness that remains. But Edwards knew of the strange dysfunctions that remain among all of us, including true believers. He saw it in himself.

Edwards spoke frequently, for example, of the lurking dangers of pride: “It is a sin that has, as it were, many lives. If you kill it, it will live still. If you suppress it in one shape, it rises in another. If you think it is all gone, it is there still. Like the coats of an onion, if you pull one form of it off, there is another underneath.”

We often don’t feel the weight of our sin. Why? Because of our sin. The disease is itself what prevents us from detecting the disease.

How do we get out? One answer is: read Jonathan Edwards. His sermons will do wonders to re-sharpen your blunted conscience and re-sensitize your heart to its fallenness.

3. Authentic discipleship to Jesus Christ calms and gentle-izes (not radicalizes and excites) Christians.

Edwards is famous for his hellfire sermons, but it is striking to trace the evolution of his preaching over his three decades in the pulpit. Scholars point out that the hellfire sermons were more typical of the young Edwards and gradually decreased over his career, while other themes grew increasingly strong: the beauty of Christ, the loveliness of holiness, the calmness of a justified life, the gentleness of God.

A sermon that nicely sums up the core of Edwards’ ministry is “The Spirit of the True Saints Is a Spirit of Divine Love,” based on 1 John 4:16. There we read statements like:

  • “The very nature of God is love. If it should be enquired what God is, it might be answered that he is an infinite and incomprehensible fountain of love.”
  • “He who has divine love in him has a wellspring of true happiness that he carries about in his own breast, a fountain of sweetness, a spring of the water of life. There is a pleasant calmness and serenity and brightness in the soul that accompanies the exercises of this holy affection.”
  • “God in Christ allows such little, poor creatures as you are to come to him, to love communion with him, and to maintain a communication of love with him. You may go to God and tell him how you love him and open your heart and he will accept of it.”

That, more than anything else, is the pulsating core of Edwards’s ministry. Radical godliness is not obnoxious, showy, or boisterous. It is quiet, gentle, and serene.

4. Christianity is gain, and only gain.

Toward the end of his life, Edwards was kicked out of his church by a vote of ten to one—by professing Christians, upstanding church members. This, and other trials he encountered during his life, lead me to conclude that the lofty vision of Christian living that he has left to us is not naïve idealism. He felt the pain not only of rejection, but of rejection by close friends and family members who were part of his church. And yet, having his eyes opened to present pain did not close his eyes to future glory.

Why? Because we will have God, in heaven, unfiltered, forever. Consider the following breathtaking statement:

The glorious excellencies and beauty of God will be what will forever entertain the minds of the saints, and the love of God will be their everlasting feast. The redeemed will indeed enjoy other things; they will enjoy the angels, and will enjoy one another: but that which they shall enjoy in the angels, or in each other, or in any thing else whatsoever that will yield them delight and happiness, will be what shall be seen of God in them.

Christians leave nothing behind when they die. All is gain.

5. Revival is not what you think it is.

When evangelicals today hear the word revival, we generally picture tears, loudness, animated preaching, exuberance, humiliating confession of sin, and so on. Some of these things may be present in revival, perhaps, but Edwards came to long for revival because he saw that it is not a move from the ordinary to the extraordinary so much as a move from the sub-ordinary to the ordinary. We become human again. We breathe once more.

Edwards witnessed two revivals. One was local, contained to New England, in the mid-1730s. The other, six years later, was transatlantic and became known as the Great Awakening. Edwards made the fascinating observation that, in the first revival, God’s people tended “to talk with too much of an air of lightness, and something of laughter,” whereas in the second revival “they seem to have no disposition to it, but rejoice with a more solemn, reverential, humble joy.” The first revival’s joy was real but frothy. The second revival’s joy was deeper and more calm.

Simply put, revival isn’t weird. True revival is rehumanizing. It re-centralizes not the extraordinary gifts of the Spirit so much as the ordinary fruit of the Spirit.

 

Dane Ortlund (PhD, Wheaton College) is senior vice president for Bible publishing at Crossway in Wheaton, Illinois, where he lives with his wife, Stacey, and their four kids. He is the author of several books, most recentlyEdwards on the Christian Life: Alive to the Beauty of God. Dane blogs at Strawberry-Rhubarb Theology. You canfollow him on Twitter.

In the world, but not of it

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Taken from John Piper’s post on voting. I have reproduced the teaching from 1Corinthians only. You can read the whole post here, including his topical application.

What kind of attitude we are to have as Christians, living in this world, because “the present form of this world is passing away” and, in God’s eyes, “the time has grown very short.” Here’s the way Paul puts it:

The appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. (1 Corinthians 7:29–31)

1. “Let those who have wives live as though they had none.”

This doesn’t mean move out of the house, don’t have sex, and don’t call herHoney. Earlier in this chapter Paul says, “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights” (1 Corinthians 7:3). He also says to love her the way Christ loved the church, leading and providing and protecting (Ephesians 5:25–30). It means this: Marriage is momentary. It’s over at death, and there is no marriage in the resurrection. Wives and husbands are second priorities, not first. Christ is first. Marriage is for making much of him.

It means: If she is exquisitely desirable, beware of desiring her more than Christ. And if she is deeply disappointing, beware of being hurt too much. This is temporary—only a brief lifetime. Then comes the never-disappointing life which is life indeed.

2. “Let those who mourn [do so] as though they were not mourning.”

Christians mourn with real, deep, painful mourning, especially over losses—loss of those we love, loss of health, loss of a dream. These losses hurt. We cry when we are hurt. But we cry as though not crying. We mourn knowing we have not lost something so valuable we cannot rejoice in our mourning. Our losses do not incapacitate us. They do not blind us to the possibility of a fruitful future serving Christ. The Lord gives and takes away. But he remains blessed. And we remain hopeful in our mourning.

3. “Let those who rejoice [do so] as though they were not rejoicing.”

Christians rejoice in health (James 5:13) and in sickness (James 1:2). There are a thousand good and perfect things that come down from God that call forth the feeling of happiness. Beautiful weather. Good friends who want to spend time with us. Delicious food and someone to share it with. A successful plan. A person helped by our efforts.

But none of these good and beautiful things can satisfy our soul. Even the best cannot replace what we were made for, namely, the full experience of the risen Christ (John 17:24). Even fellowship with him here is not the final and best gift. There is more of him to have after we die (Philippians 1:21–23)—and even more after the resurrection. The best experiences here are foretastes. The best sights of glory are through a mirror dimly. The joy that rises from these previews does not and should not rise to the level of the hope of glory. These pleasures will one day be as though they were not. So we rejoice remembering this joy is a foretaste, and will be replaced by a vastly better joy.

4. “Let those who buy [do so] as though they had no goods.”

Let Christians keep on buying while this age lasts. Christianity is not withdrawal from business. We are involved, but as though not involved. Business simply does not have the weight in our hearts that it has for many. All our getting and all our having in this world is getting and having things that are not ultimately important. Our car, our house, our books, our computers, our heirlooms—we possess them with a loose grip. If they are taken away, we say that in a sense we did not have them. We are not here to possess. We are here to lay up treasures in heaven.

This world matters. But it is not ultimate. It is the stage for living in such a way to show that this world is not our God, but that Christ is our God. It is the stage for using the world to show that Christ is more precious than the world.

5. “Let those who deal with the world [do so] as though they had no dealings with it.”

Christians should deal with the world. This world is here to be used. Dealt with. There is no avoiding it. Not to deal with it is to deal with it that way. Not to weed your garden is to cultivate a weedy garden. Not to wear a coat in Minnesota is to freeze—to deal with the cold that way. Not to stop when the light is red is to spend your money on fines or hospital bills and deal with the world that way. We must deal with the world.

But as we deal with it, we don’t give it our fullest attention. We don’t ascribe to the world the greatest status. There are unseen things that are vastly more precious than the world. We use the world without offering it our whole soul. We may work with all our might when dealing with the world, but the full passions of our heart will be attached to something higher—Godward purposes. We use the world, but not as an end in itself. It is a means. We deal with the world in order to make much of Christ.

 

Fear Not, Little Flock

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Eric Raymond:

I am thoroughly enjoying Michael Horton’s new book Ordinary. I hope to review it soon, but will doubtless be quoting from it for months.

Here is a sample:

I think that if Jesus were to return today, he might tell us to stop taking ourselves so seriously. “will build my church and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18, italics added). The gates of hell are no small matter, at least for us. We’re quite anxious. We have to do something about this (this being whatever we’re shocked by at present). America is in moral free-fall. The media are persecuting us. Churches seem to be losing their way. Radical Islam is on the march–not to mention the perfect storm of AIDS, famine, and war that has taken millions of lives in Africa. Every time we turn on the news, our compassion or anger is aroused–to the point that we become numb to it. And people in the pews are numb to it, especially when the church places still more burdens on their shoulders.

This burden of extraordinary impact weighs heavily, first, on the shoulders of pastors. But here is the good news: it is not your ministry, church, or people. You do not have to create and protect a personal legacy, but simply to distribute and guard Christ’s legacy entrusted to his apostles. You don’t have to bind Satan and storm the gates of hell. Christ has already done this. We’re just sweeping in being him to unlock the prison doors. You don’t have to live the gospel, be the gospel, do the gospel, and lead the troops to redeem culture and reconcile the world to God. We are not building a kingdom that can be convulsed with violence like other realms, but we are “receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken” (Heb. 12:28, italics added).

The disciples surely had reason to worry about the world’s opposition. It was a little flock, and their King did not allow them to carry weapons. However, Jesus simply said to them and says now to us, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32) – Michael Horton, Ordinary, p. 119-120

5 Easy Steps to a Shallow Christian Life

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By Josh Bount:

Wait no longer! Write them on Post-It notes, cross-stitch them on your pillow, have Siri repeat them to you daily.

1. Don’t stop searching until you’ve found “The Secret to the Christian Life.”

It’s out there! Don’t give up. It might be baptism in the Holy Spirit. It might be true surrender. It might be faith. It might be resting in what God’s already done. It might be…well, you go find it on your own. Don’t let the fact that two thousand years of Christian history has yet to produce the final solution to the perplexities of living as redeemed sinners in a fallen world stop you. Maybe the secret was just waiting for YOU to get out there and discover it…

2. In your advice to yourself and to other believers, use the word “just” regularly.

This will be a lot easier after you’ve found the answer to #1. Then you can tell people, “Stop struggling! Just (insert SOCL [Secret of Christian Life] here).” Until then, sprinkle “just” in as many tidbits of advice as possible: : “Just believe…just remember…just trust God.” That helps remind people that, after all, the Christian life is really easy. So suck it up and deal with it, wimp.

3. For simplicity’s sake, assume that God deals with everyone in exactly the same way. If you want to make things even simpler, assume that you’re the pattern.

Listen, there are a lot of Christians out there. If you let the thought enter your mind that God is a person who might deal with people as unique individuals, not generic cookie-cutter-Christians, it will overwhelm you! You might have to actually listen to people, charitably assume that God is at work in their life in ways you can’t see, or even learn from the ways they’re different from you. That’s going to take a lot of time. Just don’t go there. Here’s the code you live by: God is easy to figure out, not very creative, and has already used all his tricks in your life. (I know, it seems a little hard on God, but trust me on this one. The alternative is just way too complicated. You’ll thank me later.)

4. Don’t waste time checking your assumptions against the Bible.

After all, there’s only so much time in the day! Begin your sentences about your key beliefs with, “The Bible clearly says…” but don’t bother with actually proving it. The basis for this is that everything that’s worth knowing in Scripture is so clear that only a fool wouldn’t already see it from your point of view. If you can find one verse that proves your point, that’s more than adequate!

5. Reduce everything to “5 Easy Steps.”

See? I’ve already modeled it for you! Remember, the point is EASY steps. It’s not enough to just list things that are true (preachers do that all the time). The real test is whether or not you can make them so simplistic that they require no work or deep thought. That’s the mark of a true Easy List.

Actually, these are probably the definitive 5 Easy Steps for the Christian life, so there may be nothing left to reduce to further lists. You’d probably be better off just memorizing this one.

Sam Storms on J.I. Packer’s New Book

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J. I. Packer. Weakness Is the Way: Life with Christ Our Strength. Wheaton: Crossway, 2013. 125 pp.

Sam Storms:

This comparatively short book with its strange title delivers a powerful blow to the rampant triumphalism that has infected much of the Bible-believing world. Using Paul’s second epistle to the Corinthians as his principal resource, J. I. Packer has once again provided us with both the theological depth and practical wisdom necessary to live in a way that pleases and honors Christ.

The reader should not draw false conclusions from the title. Whereas Packer advocates a form of “weakness” as the only way in which to live to the glory of God, he does not deny the proper place of spiritual strength. The subtitle reminds us that it is in and through our weakness that Christ’s powerful presence is made known.

Packer’s decision “to take soundings in Second Corinthians” (p. 16) is a wise and helpful one, as it is in this letter that the apostle bares his soul and honestly embraces his own weaknesses. Indeed, it is 2 Corinthians that “exhibits Paul to us at his weakest situationally—consumed with a pastor’s anxiety, put under pressure, remorselessly censured, opposed outright and by some given the brush-off, and living in distress because of what he knew, feared, and imagined was being said about him by this rambunctious church at Corinth” (p. 96). Yet such weaknesses, far from a hindrance to successful ministry, are the very means by which the strength and sufficiency of Christ in the life of every believer are made known. Indeed, as Packer notes, “the way of true spiritual strength, leading to real fruitfulness in Christian life and service, is the humble, self-distrustful way of consciously recognized weakness in spiritual things” (p. 16).

But what does Packer mean by “weakness”? He defines it as “a state of inadequacy, or insufficiency, in relation to some standard or ideal to which we desire to conform” (p. 49). In the case of Paul in particular, and even of Christians in general, it means a realistic acknowledgment in facing not only our fundamental human limitations (such as those we encounter in the physical, intellectual, and relational realms of life), but more importantly our sinfulness, our transgressions, and the guilt that these entail. Paul’s counsel to the Corinthians (and to us) is that the only proper response is to “look to Christ as your loving Sin-Bearer and living Lord” (p. 50). The Christian must “love Christ, in unending gratitude for his unending love to you” (p. 51) and “lean on Christ and rely on him to supply through the Holy Spirit all the strength you need for his service, no matter how weak unhappy circumstances and unfriendly people may be making you feel at present” (p. 51).

Clearly, then, Packer is no advocate of morbid defeatism in Christian living. Taking his cue from Paul’s confession in chapter twelve (“when I am weak, then I am strong,” v. 10), he encourages us all to lean on Christ in all things, bringing our weakness to him. Here is where true comfort and joy are found. Weakness is not a cause for self-pity but for Christ-dependence.

As Packer reads Paul, the apostle “demonstrates a sustained recognition that feeling weak in oneself is par for the course in the Christian life and therefore something one may properly boast about and be content with” (p. 53; on this see especially 2 Cor. 12:7–10). It is here that we need to pay close attention to Packer’s insightful conclusion:

“In this, Paul models the discipleship, spiritual maturity, and growth in grace that all believers are called to pursue. When the world tells us, as it does, that everyone has a right to a life that is easy, comfortable, and relatively pain-free, a life that enables us to discover, display, and deploy all the strengths that are latent within us, the world twists the truth right out of shape. That was not the quality of life to which Christ’s call led him, nor was it Paul’s calling, nor is it what we are called to in the twenty-first century. For all Christians, the likelihood is rather that as our discipleship continues, God will make us increasingly weakness-conscious and pain-aware, so that we may learn with Paul that when we are conscious of being weak, then—and only then—may we become truly strong in the Lord. And should we want it any other way?” (pp. 53–54)

In the remainder of this short but superb book, Packer walks us through 2 Corinthians and demonstrates at every turn how our acknowledged weakness must become the platform for the display of Christ’s supreme and all-sufficient power for living. Christ, notes Packer, “is the source of our strength in weakness and of our hope of heaven. . . . For Paul, the Lord Jesus is the controlling center of life in every respect, being both example and enabler throughout” (p. 117).

Do not look to this brief book for a detailed exposition of the whole of 2 Corinthians. Rather, read it as a pastorally-informed strategy for living in biblically-grounded, Christ-exalting confidence that our weakness, far from serving as an insurmountable obstacle to genuine Christian growth and triumph, is the very means through which our risen Lord manifests the energizing and sustaining wonder of his grace and power.

The Love of Jesus is Sacred

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“I apologize for putting this so bluntly, but it’s in the Bible. We need to face it. How can we hope to be true to Christ if we look away from the Bible’s stark portrayal of our natural corruption? The Bible alerts us that a blasphemous attitude lurks in all our hearts. We tell ourselves: ‘What’s the big deal about this or that compromise? He’ll understand. He’s all about grace, right?’ But what man would say: ‘What’s the big deal about my wife’s adulteries? It’s only marriage. I understand. I’m all about grace’? In the same way, our divine Husband does not think, ‘Well, she’s brought another lover into our bed, but as long as they let me sleep, what’s the big deal?’ The thought is revolting.

“The love of Jesus is sacred. He gives all, and he demands all, because he is a good Husband. Only an exclusive love is real love. Only a cleansing grace is real grace. Would we even desire a grace that did not cleanse us for Christ?”

– Ray Ortlund, The Gospel: How the Church Portrays the Beauty of Christ (Crossway, 2014), 45.

(HT: Jared Wilson)

The Empty Tomb

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Paul Tripp:

I love Easter.

I love the celebratory music we sing at church. I love the passages of Scripture we read during worship. And most of all, I love the visual image of the empty tomb.

I’m deeply persuaded that the empty tomb of the Lord Jesus Christ reveals three fundamental character qualities about God.

1. FAITHFUL

The empty tomb reveals that God is faithful. Centuries earlier, after Adam and Eve had disobeyed God, God promised that He would crush wrong once and for all. He sent his Son to defeat sin and death by his crucifixion and resurrection.

For thousands of years, God neither forgot nor turned from His promise. He didn’t grow weary, nor would he be distracted. He made a promise, and he controlled the events of history (large and small) so that at just the right moment, Jesus Christ would come and fulfill what had been promised.

2. POWERFUL

The empty tomb also reveals that God is powerful – powerful in authority and powerful in strength.

Think of the authority you would have to have to control all the situations, locations, and relationships in order to guarantee that Jesus would come at the precise moment and do what he was appointed to do!

Also, could there be a more pointed demonstration of power than to have power over death? By God’s awesome power, Jesus took off his grave clothes and walked out of that tomb. Those guys in power-lifting competitions may be able to pull a bus with their teeth, but they’ll all die, and there’s nothing they can do about it.

3. WILLING

The empty tomb also reveals God’s willingness. Why would He go to such an extent to help us? Why would He care to notice us, let alone rescue us? Why would He ever sacrifice His own Son? Because He’s willing.

You and I need to recognize that His willingness was motivated not by what He saw in us but by what is inside of Him. He’s willing because He’s the definition of mercy. He’s willing because He’s the source of love. He’s willing because He’s full of amazing grace. He’s willing because He’s good, gentle, patient, and kind.

Even when we’re unwilling, full of ourselves, and wanting our own way, He’s still willing. He delights in transforming us by His grace. He delights in rescuing us by His powerful love.

A MOMENT OF HONESTY

These are beautiful and riveting truths, but we need to have a moment of honesty. It’s going to be very easy, come Sunday, to celebrate these truths. But what happens on after the celebration of Easter has died down?

What happens when you’re sinned against? You don’t have to lash out. What happens when the fallen world breaks your door down? You don’t have to run away. What happens when the things that God calls sinful start to look powerfully attractive? You don’t have to surrender.

Why? Because God is faithful, powerful, and willing. You see, Jesus wasn’t raised from death only to seal your future eternity. Certainly that’s an immeasurable gift on it’s own, but the resurrection has implications for you today.

You can stand in your weakness and confusion and say, “I’m not alone. God is with me, and He is faithful, powerful, and willing. He can do what I can’t do, and He gives me a new spirit to love what He loves.”

If you’re God’s child, the Resurrected Christ lives inside you today by His Spirit. You are a new person, not only in righteous standing before God, but in ability and desire. Jesus walked out of that tomb so you can walk in righteous hope until you meet Him face to face.

Preach the Gospel to Yourself

 

David Mathis:

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.

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.

Followers of Jesus should expect injustice and misrepresentation

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Randy Alcorn:

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)

How to Count It All As Loss

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John Piper:

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.”

An Interview with David Wells

Justin Taylor:

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.

 

Crucifying Defensiveness

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Jared Wilson:

. . . 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.

I press on, because . . .

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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 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.

Intellectual Discipleship? Faithful Thinking for Faithful Living

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Albert Mohler:

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.

The key to the Christian life comes not from trying harder but from enjoying more

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Sam Storms:

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.

Expelling Worldliness with a New Affection

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Sinclair Ferguson:

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.

 

Bonhoeffer: Beware of Community, Beware of Being Alone

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Justin Taylor:

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].

For His Name’s Sake

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Sam Storms:

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.