What is the Gospel?

This past week, I came across a very transparent article written by a believer named Cornell. He shared about how his day usually goes, especially on the bus ride home. After a work day, he likes to sit alone in his world and read or simply pray and meditate. One day, this did not happen.

A man sat next to him and began to talk to him. After the initial annoyance, he began to see what a great conversationalist this man was. They talked about the literacy problem in Kenya and the western world, music trends, and other common ground topics that made him relax for about an hour. But he wasn’t fully relaxed:

I should have been fully relaxed and at ease by now. But I wasn’t. There was something that I was still holding back. Something that I felt would spoil this infant acquaintanceship. Numerous perfect opportunities for bringing it up came and went, but I ignored them all. I deliberately pushed it to the back of my mind and conveniently omitted it from the conversation. The truth of the matter is, I was ashamed of the Gospel. What’s even sadder is that this was not the first time it was happening. This is not to say that I am ashamed of the Gospel every time I choose to discuss politics over sharing it. But the circumstances surrounding today’s encounter were especially unique.

  1. I was on my way to church, to join others for the Wednesday evening prayers and Bible Study. The Gospel was bound to be on my mind.
  2. The e-mail I happened to be checking turned out to be today’s For the Love of God commentary by D. A. Carson, which I’ve been using as a guide through the Bible in the past couple of months. Today’s commentary was on Genesis 9 and this was one of the phrases that I picked from it, “… the problems of rebellion and sin are deep-seated; they constitute part of our nature.” Talk about a perfect cue for evangelism.
  3. I was wearing the T-shirt in the photo above (right). It’s written LIVE BY THE C.O.D.E. C.arrying O.ut D.iscipleship E.verywhere. Talk about a shouting hint.
  4. We stayed in that traffic for slightly over 2 hours.

So, it wasn’t for the lack of time or opportunity. I just didn’t feel like sharing the Gospel with the guy. I have found that there’s always a convenient excuse at the back of my mind every time I fail to share the Gospel with a friendly stranger on the bus. I can think of four excuses that made me shy away from sharing today:

He came up with four reasons why he didn’t share. (1) He didn’t want to be a killjoy, (2) he shared much about his love of certain styles of music, but also didn’t share that this was before he came to Christ—and was afraid he would compromise too much of the witness, (3) too many people listening. And lastly (4), even though he was a theology student and had preached, he didn’t know how in the day-to-day of a bus conversation with an unbeliever.

For the majority of us, we can relate to this. Talk about the Broncos, bring it on! Politic issues of the day, no problem! Gush about your wife and kids—I could give lessons on that. Share the gospel? We feel fine when it comes to common ground or about things we are passionate about. The gospel? Why should we be passionate about that? And if it’s so incredible, why do we find ourselves tight-lipped about it. It could be:

  • We’ve never surrendered to the gospel of Christ
  • We don’t know how to articulate it.
  • We are ashamed of it because we love what men think about us more than what God thinks about us.

But know this: the gospel of Jesus Christ is all that stands in the way of hell and eternal judgment for us. Receive it, it’s enough to save your soul and keep hell at bay. Reject it, and no amount of good works will be enough keep the penalty of our sin at bay.

1. Are we ashamed of the gospel—or eager for it?

Paul says that he is not ashamed of the gospel. Some are appalled that this notion—that the apostle Paul could ever have trouble in this area. How could Paul, after his conversion experience that was so spectacular, ever be ashamed of the gospel and of His Savior? As one commentator put it, it’s only when you have the capability of being ashamed that you could, by comparison, say that you are not ashamed. And before we put him up on too high a pedestal, some of you may recall from Romans 7:14-21, where he brings a bit of transparency to his Christian walk:

14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.16 Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. 17 So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. 18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. 20 Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

21 So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand.

Paul recognized that though the Spirit of Christ rested in Him because Christ regenerated and redeemed his soul, he was still in his body, his flesh. His flesh wanted to carry him in its desires one way, and the Spirit was carrying him in another way with His desires. So one of the issues Paul could well have dealt with was being ashamed of the gospel.

Jesus warned all of us about this. He told his disciples in Mark 8:34-38:

34 And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life[ will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels” (Mark 8:34-38).

Jesus warned the disciples, knowing that they all would struggle in this manner—and that all of us as believers would struggle with this. But he makes the implications clear. We are His body, and we make Him known on the earth. And if we, as His body, are ashamed of him in the midst of this sinful generation that needs Him—He will be ashamed of us.

Even Pastor Timothy struggled with fear and shame in regards to the gospel and his calling.

“Do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God. . . . But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that Day what has been entrusted to you” (2 Timothy 1:8, 12).

Why was Paul not ashamed—why was Paul to “eager to preach the gospel? In Romans 1:14, it says that he is “under obligation both to the Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and the foolish. . . . [and] to you who are in Rome.” An ‘obligation’ or (as some versions translate it, a ‘debt’)? What does Paul mean? It means that he is entrusted with the gospel as a steward—something that God gave for him to share.

2. The gospel serves as the power of God for salvation.

Notice that this is the “power of God” for salvation. It is not the “power of man” for salvation. Let me share with you that you are not saved by what you do. There were some in the Roman church (yes, in the church) who believed that they were saved by their own works. But notice in Romans where it says in Romans 2:3-5:

3 Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing upwrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed.

So many rely on the power of man to save them. In this context, the Jews looked down upon the Gentiles and all their practices and all their wickedness (see Romans 1:24-32), and felt a moral superiority as a Jew, since they were God’s covenant people descended from Abraham as a physical nation. They had God’s law and knew His boundaries. The difference?

The Gentiles broke God’s law out of ignorance, the Jews condemn the Gentiles for doing what they themselves were doing as well. Their spiritual walk was one of sheer morality. But their morality was for everyone else—they failed to look in the mirror. What mirror? The mirror on the bathroom wall? No, the mirror of God’s Word! The gospel is the ultimate mirror. It exposes the power on which we rely.

Then Paul says, “To everyone who believes, first to the Jew then to the Gentile.” Again we come across the ‘belief.’ It’s not simply believing He exists (first chair), or believing that he is true (second chair). It’s the third chair—surrender! It’s only by God’s power we are saved. The apostle John said, “You must be born again” and “you must be born from above.”

Unamuno y Jugo, a Spanish philosopher and writer, says:

“Those who believe that they believe in God, but without passion in their hearts, without anguish in mind, without uncertainty, without doubt, without an element of despair even in their consolation, believe only in the God idea, not God Himself.”

I believe in many cases the world sees churches who only believe in a Christ-idea, but not Christ Himself! And when the crunch of life comes, we it exposes what is or is not there. Look at Romans 5:1-5:

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

When we have surrendered to Christ and the penalty of our sin has been removed (justification), God grants a peace that passes all understanding. We have access to grace! We have joy in the hope of the glory of God! Suffering comes? We rejoice! It brings endurance, which develops character, which produces hope. How?

“God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” The Holy Spirit is sent by God to show us the Father, to convict us of our sin, to guide us into all truth, to regenerate us unto salvation by grace through faith, and will continue to counsel us in the days ahead. This is how we know of God’s power—it’s called change.

3. The gospel reveals the righteousness of God.

For the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, just as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”

So we are not saved by the power of man, nor are we saved by the righteousness of man. And notice what it says. For the righteousness of God is revealed. It is a righteousness, first, that belongs to God. Whatever righteousness or approval we may find from God originates from God and not from man. Also, notice that he does not say, “The righteousness from God is earned.” Remember the passage from Romans 5:6-8?

6 For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7 For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— 8 but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

Here’s the mistake many make when it comes to understanding the faith:

  1. “I have to be good enough in order for God to love me.” Yet, it says that Jesus Christ died for the “weak” and “ungodly” and “sinners.”
  2. “I have to do good things, but rely on Jesus to fill in the rest.” But Paul tells us that no one is good, not even one (Romans 3:9-10) for we must be rescued from the dominion of sin.

You see, we think we have to do something to help God along, to show we are of value. I read about an instant cake mix that was a big flop. The instructions said all you had to do was add water and bake. The company couldn’t understand why it didn’t sell — until their research discovered that the buying public felt uneasy about a mix that required only water. Apparently people thought it was too easy. So the company altered the formula and changed the directions to call for adding an egg to the mix in addition to the water. The idea worked and sales jumped dramatically.

People want to do something to help God along, but the more we try to do, the worse shape we are in. But the beauty of the gospel is that God has revealed his righteousness to us by His grace:

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25 whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

Look at these phrases:

  • Righteousness of God through faith in Jesus
  • We are justified by His grace as a gift.
  • Redemption is found in Jesus Christ.
  • The cross of Christ show’s God’s righteousness.
  • He is just (he must demand a penalty for our sin) and the justifier (he took the penalty for our sin).

Charles Spurgeon once preached:

Those who are once justified are justified irreversibly. As soon as a sinner takes Christ’s place, and Christ takes the sinner’s place, there is no fear of a second change. If Christ has once paid the debt, the debt is paid, and it will never be asked for again; if you are pardoned, you are pardoned once forever. God does not give a free pardon . . . and then afterward retract it and punish man . . . He says, ‘I have punished Christ; you may go free.’ And after that we may ‘rejoice in hope of the glory of God,’ that ‘being justified by faith we have peace with God, through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ . . . . In the moment they believe, their sins being imputed to Christ, they cease to be theirs, and Christ’s righteousness is imputed to them and accounted theirs, so that they are accepted.[1]

(This was preached at Arapahoe Road Baptist Church, Centennial, CO on Sunday, January 13, 2012. You may listen to the sermon here or download the mp3.)

[1]Charles Spurgeon. Quoted by Wil Pounds: http://www.abideinchrist.com/messages/rom1v16.html.

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The Components of the Gospel Declared and Delivered

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me (1 Corinthians 15:3-8, ESV). 

So Paul recognizes (and so must we) that the gospel is preached to us, received by us as a gift, is that by which we stand, and that by which we as Christians are being saved (1 Corinthians 15:1-2).  Yet, there is the concern by Paul that the Corinthians by their actions had believed in vain. 

Some of the Christians in Corinth were wondering what was the true importance of the resurrection.  Was it really necessary?  Yes!  In fact, Paul begins to outline that it is of “first importance.”  In other words, the gospel is not the gospel without a risen Savior—without a crucified and resurrection Christ!  Again, he breaks this down into four components in his defense of the resurrection, outlined in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8.

First, Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures.

Christ’s death was necessary.  He died on a wooden cross outside the camp, bearing the curse for us by becoming a curse on our behalf.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, he prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.  Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).  What is this “cup”?  This is the cup of God’s wrath that is poured out on sin in judgment (Zechariah 12:2).  Since Jesus had no sin (2 Corinthians 5:21), then he stood as the scapegoat, bearing the curse of the sins of the people outside the camp (see Hebrews 9-10).  Christ served as a propitiation for our sins, taking the wrath that was deserved and directed toward us, and putting it on Himself as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:30).  Only in this manner may Christ make us righteous before God.

Secondly, we see “that he was buried.”

Jesus tells us in Matthew 12:39-40:

39 But he answered them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. 40 For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

The prophet Jonah (whom Jesus refers to not as a myth or a fable, but as a real, historical person) serves as a foreshadowing of what would happen with Jesus.  So many ask for a sign—Jesus provides one in Jonah, which in turn signifies the greater ‘burying’ in Christ who would be buried not for his own sins (a la, Jonah) but in payment for the sins of all who would believe.

Even King David prophecied about this is Psalm 16:

9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.
10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption.

Peter clarifies this for his Jewish listeners in Acts 2:25-31 that this passage in Psalm 16 refers not to King David, for his tomb was clearly known to all as well as the bones it contained therein—but this was referring to another who was buried but did not see corruption or bodily decay.   This is King Jesus whom David prophecied would be resurrected. 

Thirdly, that he was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures.

This fact caught the two disciples by surprise, but it shouldn’t have.  Jesus told them in Luke 24:25-27 that this was foretold clearly in the OT.  Sin kills, and since Jesus bore our sins, He died—but He did not stay dead.  In those three days in the ground, he went into Hades to declare victory to those who rejected him in this life (1 Peter 3:18-21).  He showed them that it was all true and that He conquered!  And He came forth from the grave with that same message:  victory!  Death has been conquered, sin’s affects have been vanquished, and all those who surrender to Him have what He has (Ephesians 2:4-7).  There is no gospel without a risen Savior and Lord.

Lastly, and that he appeared … . 

Yes, there were eyewitnesses.  Cephas (a.k.a., Peter), the disciples, and “he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep.”  He appeared to James, then to Paul (Acts 9:1-19).  This was within 10-15 years of the event and Jesus’ life and ministry, which were burned into their minds.  But also, with Jesus still being alive, His Spirit still worked, moved, led, and inspired their writings for a record for us (read the book of Acts, as well as 2 Timothy 3:16-17). 

Eyewitnesses are well and good (in fact, every NT book was written by an eyewitness to Jesus life and ministry, or was connected to one who had).  But 2 Peter 1:19-21 tells us that the word of God is “more sure” than any eyewitness. 

But do not discount that there were eyewitnesses.

Recently, I had the chance to watch a Founder’s Day service at my alma mater, Palm Beach Atlantic University, that honored Dr. Ray Robinson, who served as our choral director and helped shape the School of Music and Fine Arts into a truly Christ-centered school.  It was a beautiful thing to behold being in the midst of that. 

In the weeks leading up to this, I was on a Facebook thread with a number of former students who were contacted to see if we could all make it to honor him.  Even though I graduated from there almost 20 years ago, I remembered so many details of that life-changing, life-altering, and in many ways life-saving time, that I not only could recall details of it, I could correct anyone who may have remembered various events incorrectly. 

Imagine walking with Jesus for 3 1/2 years.  Imagine being either for him or against him.  Do you think that this man, for whom more literature and art and music has been dedicated, could remember clearly the details of this Man’s life? 

Some of you may reject this, saying it’s a fable or a myth.  But I submit that if these things were not so, and with Paul and the apostles being so public, that each of these things would have and could have been refuted right there on the spot.  Christians, by and large, are not naïve.  They want to know if it’s true and are seeking out its truth. 

But we also know that this is a historical and spiritual book.  Satan wants you to deny it, even while he knows it’s true (James 2:19) and our flesh wants to deny it in its fallen form simply because we were born with the desire to want to have authority over our own lives.  If we believe the historical matters are true, then we have to deal with the spiritual matters that are just as true.  We are sinners destined for judgment (Hebrews 9:27-28) and must surrender to Christ who bore the brunt and the wrath of that judgment on the behalf of all who would believe. 

This gospel declared and delivered also demolishes all strongholds set up against it.  If you reject this, then what stronghold is holding you so strongly?  Is it that reliable?  Consider this gospel in the midst of your other considerations. 

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R.C. Sproul on the Flawed Logic of the Seeker-Sensitive Movement and Its Descendants

R.C. Sproul gives his views on the seeker-sensitive movement.  Here’s some thoughts gleaned from this:

    1. According to Romans 3:10-12, unbelievers are not seeking after God.  Only believers seek after God—those who have been regenerated.  They may be searching for peace of mind, happiness, meaning in life, and relief from guilt—but that does not equate searching after Christ.  They want the benefits that God can give us, but we are fleeing fast away from Him. 
    2. Believing that the purpose of a worship service is to reach the lost is a key fundamental error.  Worship is the corporate gathering of the people of God for worship.  We should be most interested in what pleases God, not what pleases the unbeliever. 
    3. “We’re still looking on Joseph’s pants.”  Luther preached that in spite of the Reformation and the recovery of the light of the gospel, they were still addicted to relics.  Instead of reading Scripture, they would look for relics (milk from the breast of Mary, the pants of Joseph) to give them power.  The power for many today is the program!  Yet, the power of the Holy Spirit is mediated through the Word, not from a program or a technique at the expense of the Word.  We risk failing to see the power of the Word of God!

Al Mohler notes that the language for the seeker-sensitive movement as propounded in the past is rather dated, but the logic still remains: “If you scratch people where they now itch, they will be more open to hearing the gospel.”  By earning their trust in meeting their felt needs about marriage and finances, etc.  It doesn’t work, because they spend time on these things, they risk not getting to the gospel.

What think ye?

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Embracing the Particulars of the Gospel

We need to treasure the fact that God has put himself and his grace on full display. And as a result, we as Christians are fully responsible to know what God has made known. It’s not helpful to you or anyone to simply know “just enough” to give us what many have called “fire insurance.” We have not had much help in truly understanding what it meant to be born again.

Sadly, many in influential places pass on a far more diluted understanding of the gospel. George Barna is a Christian research company who polls segments of our country to find out particular trends taking place. Each of these companies has definitions in place to help them sift through the data. Here’s their definition of “born again.”

“Born again Christians” were defined in these surveys as people who said they have made a “personal commitment to Jesus Christ that is still important in their life today” and who also indicated they believe that when they die they will go to Heaven because they had confessed their sins and had accepted Jesus Christ as their savior. Respondents were not asked to describe themselves as “born again.” Being classified as “born again” is not dependent upon church of denominational affiliation or involvement.[i]

The problem with this definition is that he (1) takes them at their word—fair enough, I suppose; but (2) as Piper notes, “slanders that precious biblical reality by saying that regenerate hearts have no more victory over sin than regenerate hearts.”[ii] For you see, based on this definition, Barna’s research seems to say that Christians have just as many problems with worldliness as non-Christians do. It’s based on outward habits (church attendance) and even feelings (Jesus is still important), but there’s no change, no transformation. Barna’s research intends to motivate Christians to greater faithfulness, but the actual result is that the world sees those who are “born again” (according to Barna’s definition) are not that different from the world, and therefore there is nothing special about being a Christian.

God has given us the depth of the gospel—and we would be remiss in not taking the pleasure and privilege and honor of investigating what God has revealed. Consider this nugget from Titus 3:3-5a:

3For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. 4But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5 he saved us.

If you wish to inform people about what the gospel is all about, I can give it to you in one word: change. Does not this passage show a great change, a great transformation? David Powlison insightfully notes:

You become profoundly different as you come to the growing realization, “It’s not all about me.” It’s all about the One who is remaking us—each one and all together—into His image, and thus into a community that practices loving-kindness, justice, righteousness in the earth.[iii]

With the saving gospel, everything changes. Your understanding of the world, of history, of your purpose in life, and your actions which result from that Spirit transformation. Consider where you were beforehand.

Paul begins by saying you were “foolish and disobedient,” meaning that you had a lack of understanding and as a result disobeyed. But then he goes deeper into the fact that you were “led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures.” This goes deeper to show that this was not simply a flaw in our thinking, but an infliction of a Deceiver who enslaved you. Instead of a passion which sought its pleasure in Christ, the curse brought about a seeking and satisfaction in personal pleasures.

Does this go deeper? Without question. The “passing our days in malice and envy” does not indicate a quick burst of sinfulness, followed by general obedience to the things of God. This phrase indicates a daily routine—a way of life of malicious and discontented behavior! The result was a mutual hatred festival by all participants! The more selfish one desired to be, the more cut off they would be from all relationships. That inner desire for a solitary control of your life will leave to a solitary existence—cut off from God, and your neighbor!

You may say, “How awful an existence that is for such a person!” That’s true, it is. Yet, we must understand that this describes each of us! We may define these words in ways that make us look better, but all of us have a lack of understanding, disobey, and in our flesh are deceived. Outside of Christ, we operate based upon our own standards and passions and pleasures—even if those standards look good to a watching world!

Then we say, “Wait, I’m not passing my days in malice in envy. No, I haven’t surrendered to Christ, but I’m not malicious.” Rejecting Christ is the most malicious thing you can do to yourself and to those in your circle of influence. You are going against the very reason why you were created.

So when we look at Titus 3:4-5

4But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, 5he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, 6whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, 7so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 8The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.

This is the essence of what it means to be “born again” or “born from above” (John 3:3-5). The key phrase is found in verse 5: “he saved us.” John Stott notes:

Whenever the phraseology of salvation is dropped into a conversation today, people’s reactions are predictable. They will either blush, frown, snigger, or even laugh, as if it were a huge joke. Thus the devil, whose ambition is to destroy, not to save, succeeds in trivializing the most serious question we could ever ask ourselves or put to anybody else. For Christianity is essentially a religion of salvation.”[iv]

This salvation was not something we could drum up in ourselves, but this salvation had to appear. In verse 6, we see this salvation had to be “poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.” Also, notice that this did not come about through the accrual of good works, but by His mercy. We also see that we are justified by grace, being recipients of the hope of eternal life.

Do you see the pattern? God had to bring this salvation to us. He showed it to us, poured it out His Holy Spirit on us, and the motive was his glorious mercy. The means? “The washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.” A.W. Tozer once said:

We may as well face it. The whole level of spirituality is low. We have measured ourselves by ourselves until the desire to seek higher plateaus and the things of the Spirit is all but gone. We have imitated the world, sought popular favor, and manufactured delights to substitute for the joy of the Lord, and produced a cheap and synthetic power to substitute for the power of the Holy Ghost.[v]

That’s how we were saved—God appeared to us by His mercy, taking the initiative to make us right by His righteousness. Michael Horton puts it this way: “God does not simply create the gift and offer it to us, if we will only climb the stairway to heaven to get it; he brings it down to us, uncurls our ungrateful fingers and places it in our hands.”[vi] Peter drove this home:

3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, 5who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

We must understand why people have an issue with this. There is something in our flesh that wants to do something.

[i]George Barna. Accessed 30 January 2010; available at http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=BarnaUpdate&BarnaUpdateID=170, quoted in John Piper, Finally Alive (Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God, 2009) ,14.

[ii]Piper, Finally Alive, 14.

[iii] David Powlison, in the Foreword to Timothy S. Lane, Paul David Tripp, How People Change (Winston-Salem, NC: Punch Press, 2006), vi-vii.

[iv]John R.W. Stott, The Message of 1 Timothy & Titus, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 201.

[v]A. W. Tozer, God and Men, quoted in Francis Chan, The Forgotten God (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2009), 27.

[vi]Michael Horton, The Gospel-Driven Life: Being Good News People in a Bad News World (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2009), 108.

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Links to Help Your Grip (Monday 11.30.09)

My sermon from Sunday, November 29, 2009 is up:  “Got Those Highway ‘4D’ Blues?  4 D’s of a Missions-Active Church.”  This sermon is from Romans 10:1-17 and kicked off our Lottie Moon Christmas Offering which emphasizes giving, praying, and going to International missions. 

Trevin Wax writes an excellent article regarding low expectations:

In recent years, we have seen a number of TV dramas that eschew the traditional formula that leads to a neat resolution by the end of each episode. Instead, shows like Lost and 24 demand that the viewer stick with the program for its entire run.

Plot lines have become complicated, introducing dozens of main characters and a story line that taxes the memory and the stamina of the viewer. And yet, these shows are rated highly each year and have garnered millions of fans.

Is it not odd that the entertainment industry (whether through board games or television shows) is seeing success when it places high demands on the consumer? Fans of Lost talk about how nice it is to watch a show that actually expects something of the audience. Fans of Catan talk about how much more satisfying it is to win such a difficult game.

What can the church learn from this?

Kevin DeYoung brings to light the differences between the “old gospel” and the “new gospel” being put forth by contemporary evangelicals. 

The New Gospel generally has four parts to it.

It usually starts with an apology: “I’m sorry for my fellow Christians. I understand why you hate Christianity.  It’s like that thing Ghandi said, ‘why can’t the Christians be more like their Christ?’  Christians are hypocritical, judgmental, and self-righteous.  I know we screwed up with the Crusades, slavery, and the Witch Trials.  All I can say is: I apologize.  We’ve not give you a reason to believe.”

Then there is an appeal to God as love: “I know you’ve seen the preachers with the sandwich boards and bullhorns saying ‘Repent or Die.’ But I’m here to tell you God is love. Look at Jesus.  He hung out with prostitutes and tax collectors.  He loved unconditionally.  There is so much brokenness in the world, but the good news of the Bible is that God came to live right in the middle of our brokenness. He’s a messy God and his mission is love.  ‘I did not come into the world to condemn the world,’ that’s what Jesus said (John 3:17).  He loved everyone, no matter who you were or what you had done. That’s what got him killed.”

Zach Nielsen questions how helpful the Focus on the Family’s “Stand for Christmas” boycott really is to the cause of Christ:

This kind of stuff only hurts our mission to communicate the truth of the Gospel. If you think people using the word Christmas somehow makes our materialistic holiday extravaganza more pure you are probably not paying attention very well. Boycotting secular businesses that do not exhibit the kind of behavior that we think they should is the last thing that an unbelieving world needs to see.

Joe Thorn led a session at the Acts 29 Bootcamp in Louisville, Kentucky a few weeks ago on “How Theology Can Kill Your Church” (audio available here) (no, it does not go in the direction you may think).  Thorn values theology (after all, he led the “Pastor as Resident Theologian” breakout session at the Bootcamp). 

1. Your Theology is Under-developed
Under-developed theology leaves your church defenseless against false doctrine and heresy, and corrupts the spiritual growth of the body. We need a robust theological confession and culture in our churches.

2. Your Theology is Over-valued
Theology is over-valued when we find our identity more in a system than in the Savior. The dangers here are often pride and pugnacity. Good theology will always give a clear picture of God and self, which promotes strong convictions and humble hearts.

3. Your Theology is Compartmentalized
Compartmentalized theology is a purely academic discipline removed from Christian experience. The danger here is being satisfied with knowledge over transformation. We need “experimental Calvinists” who are not content to be right, but desire to be made right by the Spirit of God in conjunction with the truth of God.

4. Your Theology is Disconnected
When our theology is disconnected from the gospel, all of the above dangers are likely, and additionally our preaching will be little more than moralism. Imperatives apart from the gospel tell people to “do this,” and doctrinal preaching divorced from the gospel tell people to “know this.” In both cases people are not led to the grace of God in Christ, but to their own attainments. We need theologians who can show the connection between doctrines like sin, creation, the Trinity, etc. and the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

In short, I was aiming at encouraging our men to be passionate, convinced, humble, experiential, gospel-centered theologians.

Categories: Christmas, Gospel, sermons, Theology | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Does the Gospel Promote Laziness or Greater Work?

I was thankful to speak at the Campus Crusade for Christ meeting at Eastern Kentucky University.  I preached on “A Gospel-Centered Work Ethic” from Proverbs 6:6-11 and Proverbs 26:13-16—and found how it tied in beautifully to the gospel work that Christ accomplishes and how that gospel is to be worked out in us!

Here were some helpful resources that will help you dig in more.  I’ll put up my manuscript from the talk tomorrow.

“Work” by Tim Keller:  http://download.redeemer.com/rpcsermons/storesamplesermons/Work.mp3

One Lion, Two Lions, No Lions” by Charles Spurgeon:  http://www.biblebb.com/files/spurgeon/1670.htm

“Work and Rest” by Tim Keller http://download.redeemer.com/rpcsermons/storesamplesermons/Work_and_Rest.mp3

“Why Work?” by Dorothy Sayers http://download.redeemer.com/rpcsermons/storesamplesermons/Work_and_Rest.mp3

“Top Ten Not in the Hall of Fame:  Ricky Watters”  http://www.nfl.com/videos/nfl-network-top-ten/09000d5d80999490/Top-Ten-Not-in-HOF-Ricky-Watters

Categories: Gospel, work | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Preaching a Funeral Tomorrow

One of the great privileges I have is coming alongside family members in helping apply the gospel in comfort as they deal with the loss of a loved one.  At my preaching blog, I blogged on the preaching of funeral sermons.  I pray they may be of help to you.  They are things I wish someone had passed along to me as a young minister.

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Reflections on our July 2009 Business Meeting

Boone’s Creek Baptist Church had a rather significant business meeting on Sunday evening, July 12. Two major items of business were on the floor: a new engine for our mower, and allowing the building committee to spend up to $10,000 for the Arise and Build in-house stewardship campaign. Their desire is to provide promotional material to give everyone a mental and spiritual picture of the building, as well as have a Celebration Stewardship Kickoff slated for Saturday, October 24.

As you can imagine, asking for this amount of money can cause the ears to perk up for many of our members. But if I may, I would like to sketch out some observations from that meeting:

First, everyone was at that meeting because they love their church.

That’s right. The 40-50 people who attended this business meeting love Boone’s Creek Baptist Church. Before we even deal with the nature and percentage of the vote, this understanding is foundational to understanding all that happened this past Sunday night. Not everyone agreed with the items on the table, everyone came at these questions from the perspective of wanting our church to do what it should.

While I’m in no position to judge hearts, I am in a position to deliver challenges based upon God’s Word. We must be careful that our love for the church does not stem from fear of change or fear of the unknown. It’s God’s church–not mine, and not anyone else’s. Christ has made it clear that He will build his church (Matthew 16:13-20) and Paul makes it clear that Christ is the head of the church (Col. 1:18-23). So every issue that comes along, we must prayerfully consider this: are we trusting in Christ to build His church and do something great, or are we trusting in our own ways and means to accomplish what we believe the church should be? These are things that I have to ask myself at every turn.

Secondly, every one in our church struggles between seeing what is and what they hope and desire it to be.

It is very easy to “walk by sight”—in other words, to operate from the vantage point of what is. We may look around our church and think, “Our church is small.” (Actually, the average church in our country has 70 in attendance. During the Fall and Spring, we have approximately 160-170 average attendance. Granted, it’s not Southland Christian Church or Porter Memorial Baptist Church, but it’s still bigger than the average American church.) So we operate on a level than other churches. Numbers-wise, we are better off than many, but not quite where we’d like in relation to others.

Even so, what matters is not what we are in relation to other churches. What matters is, where we are in relationship to where God would have us. In order for us to move, it will require change. Matt Perman passed along a great quote: “The first requirement for successful innovation is to look at a change as a potential opportunity instead of a threat.” For many, change is a threat which moves people away from stability to instability. For some, stability is an idol. Anything which moves us away from that must be avoided because, for them, it hinders worship.

While I am not a big fan of setting numerical goals (VBS the notable exception) because it focuses us on man-made accomplishments and, in turn, moves us from seeing people as projects instead of those in need of the gospel, I believe we must set some spiritual goals in sharing the gospel or, at the very least, inviting people to church so they may get under the gospel influence.

It takes a great act of faith in our sovereign God to look past what is in order to envision what could be. It has little to do with numbers. It has everything to do with trusting in God to be obedient where we are.

Thirdly, everyone wants to be a good steward of the money God has provided through their tithes and offerings, but we must realize that this is not the exclusive or primary matter in which we must be good stewards. Paul tells Timothy to be a good steward of the gospel entrusted to him (1 Timothy 1:12-21). Peter wrote to his churches that we must be good stewards of God’s grace (1 Peter 4:10). We are to be stewards of our people (John 13:35; Galatians 6:1-2), as well as stewards of our community (Ezra 9). We are even to be good stewards of our time (Ephesians 5:14-16).

We must move our minds away from stewardship being solely about how we spend our finances. This is a misunderstanding of the highest degree. If we are not being good stewards of understanding and articulating the gospel, nor being good stewards of our brothers and sisters in Christ, good stewards of doing Kingdom work in our community, or even our personal time, a disastrous result will occur: that bad stewardship will bleed over into bad stewardship of the finances and resources God has given to us. So let us make sure that our stewardship is well-rounded.

Fourthly, what a joy to be a member of a church that permits discussion and allows a say in the operation of that church. For some who may not be a part of the Baptist tradition, business meetings and all the ensuing discussions may seem like a trial. But it’s a great blessing that all of us have an opportunity to discuss major (and minor) items of business.

We must beware of the danger of only participating when something “important” is going on. Like it or not, when we are a Christian and a member of the body of Christ, we are not called to sporadic or part-time membership. We are full members of the fellowship. And therefore, we have the responsibility and the privilege of kicking in for the sake of Christ as well as our brothers and sisters in Christ.

So there it is! So many good things to take away, but also some things to consider as well. May God continue to guide Boone’s Creek along as we spread His glory from our neighbors to the nations.

Categories: church, Gospel, membership, stewardship, vision | Leave a comment

Michael Spencer’s Thoughts on the SBC Annual Meeting

Michael Spencer of Oneida Baptist Institute, but known in the blogosphere as the Internet Monk has written an insightful piece reflecting on Tuesday’s Session of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Annual Meeting.  A significant turning point took place, and his insights give some folks a hopeful outlook for the convention (thats ‘some’ folks, not all).  Click on the link below to read:

My Thoughts on Today’s Southern Baptist Convention Meeting 6:23:09 | internetmonk.com

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Categories: evangelism, Gospel, missions, SBC, vision | Leave a comment

From Eric Thompson, On-Mission in Senegal

This is an e-mail sent from Eric on June 19, 2009, entitled “Amazing Grace.”

Hey everyone! I’m currently writing from Mbour, Senegal, where we are staying until Tuesday for debriefing. This will be the last update I send out until after I get home, which will be Wednesday if I recall correctly. I know it hasn’t been long since I last updated you, but I really want to share with you what happened in the villages.

On Monday, we drove to Fimala, where we hung out for a few hours before splitting into two teams and going with a local church to two different villages to show the Jesus film. The village my team went to was way out in the middle of nowhere, probably a 30 minute drive from even a paved road. It was awesome being out there and seeing more stars in the sky than I ever have. It was a completely new way for me to experience God’s awesome creation. We had a fairly significant language barrier to deal with as many villagers don’t speak French, but a native language called Wolof, which I have learned a very small amount of. But God still works. We had little bracelets with beads on them that are used to help explain the gospel and when I took some out of my pocket, I was swarmed by little kids who wanted whatever we would give them. Yanon, one of the Senegalese students, and I attempted to explain the gospel to them, but I think it went a little over their heads.

On Tuesday, we went out again. Our team went to the same village the other team had gone to on Monday. I was very discouraged throughout much of the evening. I was tired and I didn’t feel like the movie was getting through to anyone, even though there had to be hundreds of people watching it. Afterwards, though, as we were tearing down, one of the staff members here and one of the church members began to share the gospel. They drew a crowd of 40 or 50 (or so we’ve guessed) and asked them if anyone wanted to accept Jesus. All of them raised their hands and stepped forward.

I was in total shock and it took me the rest of the night to process what I saw. I had spent a majority of the evening frustrated that I hadn’t been able to talk to anyone and feeling pretty useless and discouraged at what I thought was about to be a fruitless exercise. God reminded me that He doesn’t need me and that He is in total control. I really believe that my discouragement was from Satan and I know now why he was trying so hard.

I have seen God work in amazing ways during my time here and I look forward to returning home to tell all of you more about it. I would not have been able to come here if it were not for your help in finances and prayer however, so I want to thank all of you from the bottom of my heart for that. God has worked here, not only through our team, but also through each and every one of you. My prayer is that all of you have been encouraged by what God is doing here in Senegal. Thank you all so much and I’ll speak to you again in about a week.

In Christ,

It can be discouraging trying to witness–so much so that this may be why many have given up on this blessed task! And that’s what Satan wants you to do–to be deceived that you cannot make a difference as a Kingdom child. But we must know God’s ways–and be aware of the schemes of the devil. Stay the course, be obedient! Spread His glory from our neighbors to the nations!

Categories: evangelism, Gospel, missions | Leave a comment