Our pastor, Dan Kirk, preached what I pray will be a paradigm-shifting message for many Christians with a reformed bent in regard to salvation (i.e. – believing God is sovereign over the salvation of sinners). Being such a Christian myself, I, along with Pastor Dan, see a need for correction in ourselves, and others like us, in how we view the love of God. Preaching on John 3:16, Pastor Dan answers questions that have needed clarification on this subject…questions like:
- What does the word “world” mean in John 3:16?
- Does God love unbelievers?
- Is it true that God only hates the sin and not the sinner?
- Does God want unbelievers to be saved?
If you consider yourself to be reformed, you may be surprised by some of the answers.
A favorite quote of mine from the sermon is in the context of a request Dan makes of God: “Help me to worship you as you’ve revealed yourself and not as I want you to be.” This comes from a reformed pastor who is ultimately constrained by what the Bible says.
The sermon is simply called, The Love of God, and you would do well to give it at least two listens.
You can download it here.
Or get the notes here.
I’m thankful for this story I encountered in my reading today about the late Howard Hendricks, long-time professor at Dallas Theological Seminary:
Someone years ago called him up and said, “Dr. Hendricks, we’re having a Bible conference, and we want you to be our speaker. Can you come?” After he said no, the conference planner said, “This is a crucial event for our whole community. Why can’t you come? Do you have another appointment? Hendricks said, “No, I’ve got to play with my kids.” ”You’ve got to play with your kids?” questioned the incredulous planner. ”Don’t you realize that our people need your instruction?” ”Yes”, Hendricks answered, “but my kids also need me” (taken from The Master’s Plan for the Church by John MacArthur).
Somehow I think Dr. Hendricks knew that managing his household well (1 Timothy 3:4), meant more than just being faithful to discipline.
A couple of months ago, I had the privilege of teaching at a men’s conference called Pure Life: Cleansing the Heart of Sexual Lust. One of the other speakers at the conference was Keith Palmer, associate pastor at Grace Bible Church in Granbury, TX. Keith’s message at that conference continues to minister to me as one of the most biblically-practical presentations on how to battle sexual lust.
In the message, Keith gives several strategies to help men create a battle plan for fighting lust in their hearts. One of those strategies is one I haven’t heard recommended in the past: “Load your iPod (smartphone, iPad, Kindle Fire, etc.) with Christ-exalting, Word-saturated, flesh-battling Christian hymns and songs.” With the goal of battling temptation in mind, Keith says that one of the playlists he has created is made up of songs specifically chosen to “set [his] heart right”. ”A good Christian song”, he says, “burns theology into your affections.”
I have experienced the value of what Keith is suggesting and find it helpful not just as I battle lust in my heart, but anxiety, despair, and anger too. It can be a help with any temptation to sin and so I second what Keith is advocating. Also, in case you’re interested, here are some albums I would recommend for this purpose:
This morning I am continuing to be blessed by an illustration that Tim Keller uses in his book, Galatians for You. The illustration is used to depict the reality of Paul’s words in Galatians 2:21, which read, I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.
Keller comments, Christ will do everything for you, or nothing. You cannot combine merit and grace. If justification is by the law in any way, Christ’s death is meaningless in history and meaningless to you personally.
His illustration helps:
Imagine that your house were burning down but your whole family had escaped, and I said to you, “Let me show you how much I love you!” and ran into the house and died. ”What a tragic and pointless waste of a life”, you would probably think. But now imagine that your house was on fire and one of your children was still in there, and I said to you: “Let me show you how much I love you!”, ran into the flames, and saved your child but perished myself. You would think: “Look at how much that man loved us.”
Keller wraps it up by stating, If we could save ourselves, Christ’s death is pointless, and means nothing. If we realize we cannot save ourselves, Christ’s death will mean everything to us.
Last Friday, Keri and I went to see our favorite songwriter, Andrew Peterson, in concert. The evening was a mixed bag of emotions as Peterson has a talent for telling great stories with his songs, but one such song (and his explanation of it) has risen above the rest to stick with me over the last few days. The song is called Rest Easy, and Peterson calls it his “legalism recovery song”. He told the audience that this song sprung out of him dealing with a long-entrenched feeling that God was consistently disappointed with him. But his recognition of the gospel wins out in this song, because he believes the truth that God knows him and the truth that God loves him are not mutually exclusive.
It’s not hard for us think to that only one of those realities can be true: either God loves us but does not know us (because then he would be ignorant of all of our sin and rebellion) or God knows us but does not love us (because surely he could not love me when he knows the depth of my sin and rebellion). But the gospel makes both of these things true at the same time. How? Well, it wasn’t that God just learned to accept what was directly offensive to him because he knew we would never change. That would be impossible because of his holiness and justice. Instead, he made his Son the object of his justice for our sake – “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Galatians 3:13). God knew about our sin, but punished Christ for it instead of us so that he could love us as he loves Christ.
You know much of the darkness that lurks in your heart, and if certain people in your life ever saw you from the inside, it is likely that they would withdraw from you at best or attack you at worst. But this is not the case with God. Actually, God knows the darkness of your heart more than you do, but it has not led him to draw back in fear or, in anger, consume you with fire from heaven. If you have trusted in Christ for rescue, then Jesus experienced the fullness of God’s anger for your sin, so that you will forever experience the fullness of his love in Christ.
One of my responsibilities at Calvary Bible Church is to order all of our discipleship and counseling resources. Last week, upon perusing our counselors’ bookshelf, I noticed that we had no resource on the topic of repentance…so I went on the hunt. My searching led me to a book by C. John Miller called, Repentance: A Daring Call to Real Surrender. There is much about the book that is good, but chapter 2 is great! In it, Miller shows the difference between penance and repentance. One of the characteristics of penance is that it focuses on what people do instead of what God has done. In other words, through penance (religious duties, acts of kindness, involvement in certain programs, etc.) a person seeks to justify himself before God, in order to put his conscience at ease. There are many things wrong with this (foremost being that justification only comes through Christ), but one thing Miller points out grabbed me by the scruff of the neck.
He describes the reality that people with a penance mindset will often mask their self-effort with much prayer – pleading with God to help then and even with tears. Miller calls this “asking God to baptize your sin”. In essence, when people do this, they are “asking [God] for help so [they] can continue to live a life which is independent of God”, that is, seeking from God “enough grace to be strong in themselves”.
Do you see yourself in this? I see myself. Sadly, at times, I have used prayer as means to the end of maintaining a life of self-service and self-justification, wherein I can feel good about doing what I should (praying), while enjoying what I really want (chasing after pet sins and idols of preference). Engaging in this practice, essentially, is asking God to support our idolatry with his grace. We think because we’re praying about it that we’re behaving “Christianly”, when we’re actually sharing in the practice of the Pharisees who used “godly” practices for their own selfish goals (Matthew 6:1-4).
Church, let us pursue God-centered joy in repenting of this. Let us know the bliss of turning away from a heart that sees God as only a means to a heart that sees him as the means and the end. We exist for him and, in Christ, he gives us all we need to fulfill our purpose.
This past weekend Keri and I took our kids to see a Slugs and Bugs kids’ concert at Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, TX. Randall Goodgame, the driving force behind the music of Slugs and Bugs, performed a lot of the songs our family has been rockin’ in the minivan over the past year. One song he performed that stuck with me was Jesus Loves Me with two new verses he added. These two verses are a great tool for helping parents teach their kids the doctrine of justification – when we trust in Christ alone to save us from sin, God declares us righteous on the basis of Jesus’ perfect life and sacrificial death, and, therefore, loves us as he loves Jesus. This means that for those kids who trust in Jesus, he loves them when they do the right thing and when they do the wrong thing (see 2 Corinthians 5:21 and Romans 4:5-8). Here are the lyrics, old and new (the new verses are in bold print):
Jesus loves me this I know
For the Bible tells me so
Little ones to him belong
They are weak but he is strong
Yes Jesus loves me
Yes Jesus loves me
Yes Jesus loves me
The Bible tells me so
Jesus loves me when I’m good
When I act just like I should
When I say thank you and please
Brush my teeth and wash my knees
Jesus loves me when I’m bad
When I talk back to my dad
When I stomp and whine and pout
(And) poke my bottom lip right out