Recently, I was confronted with a certain pattern of sin in my life. With the caring words of a brother in Christ came the recognition that I often don’t keep my word. With good intention I tell people I will do something for them only to get busy doing something else, put the promise on the back burner, and forget to follow through. Biting conviction entered my heart at the realization that this neglect does not reflect the character of God in the least. At our church we understand that we have been made in the image of God, so we have a saying that helps us live in light of that reality: “We were made to show the world what God is like”. With this purpose in mind, I have failed miserably in showing others that God is faithful.
To help me in my repentance I have been meditating on Psalm 15. In verse 1 David asks two questions: “O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill?” The rest of the Psalm answers these questions by describing different attributes of righteousness. One attribute that applies to my sin in particular is found in the last half of verse 4, the one who shall dwell on the holy hill of the Lord is the one “who swears to his own hurt and does not change”. In other words, a righteous person keeps his promise even if it means he must suffer to keep it, and he does not waver from this conviction. Living out this verse shows the world that God is faithful, especially when you consider Jesus. In speaking of himself as the Good Shepherd, Jesus said, “I came that [my sheep] may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). In order to keep this promise and many others, Jesus was arrested, abandoned by his friends, wrongfully accused, mocked, flogged, crucified, and forsaken by his Father. Jesus suffered unimaginably to keep his word. You and I need to follow this example to show the world that God is faithful.
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In his abridged systematic theology, Bible Doctrine, Wayne Grudem defines election as “an act of God before creation in which he chooses some people to be saved, not on account of any foreseen merit in them, but only because of his sovereign good pleasure” (p. 282). I think the most common objection I’ve heard to the doctrine of election is that it provides no incentive for evangelism. The argument goes something like this, “If God is sovereign and he has already chosen who will be saved then what point is there in sharing the Gospel? If God has chosen people and God’s plans never fail, then those people will be saved regardless of whether I evangelize them or not.” I think there are a handful of problems with such an objection, but today I only want to answer the objection by showing how embracing the doctrine of election gives greater motivation for evangelism than not embracing it.
The following line of reasoning also comes from Grudem’s Bible Doctrine. In it he references 2 Timothy 2:10 where Paul writes, “I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” How does this verse provide incentive for evangelism? Grudem writes, “[Paul] knows that God has chosen some people to be saved, and sees this as an encouragement to preach the Gospel, even if it means enduring great suffering” (p. 285). Election says that there are people who must be saved because God has already chosen them, and since he has also chosen that people must be saved through hearing and believing the Gospel, we know that our evangelism will lead to some people being converted. Grudem says that election provides us with a guarantee that there will be some success in our evangelistic efforts (p. 285). If you don’t embrace this doctrine you do not have this guarantee because you are depending on the wills of sinful people living in a sinful world surrounded by other sinful people to choose God’s salvation. On the other hand, you are also depending on your own persuasiveness and eloquence in communicating the Gospel so that people will choose to believe. Election does not depend on man for these things, but on God whose plans never fail. The question we have to ask at the end of this matter is who are we depending on for the salvation of souls, and what does that do for the encouragement of Gospel ministry?
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The other day I had a surprisingly lengthy conversation with my four year-old son about superheroes and their different powers and abilities. In his little mind, he had a dilemma he had to get to the bottom of…. if Superman and Batman ever had to fight against each other, who would win? Of course, you and I know that Batman is just a rich guy with lots of cool toys and Superman can do just about anything (even turn back time, really?!), so there’s really no contest. But Superman does have one weakness, so I explained to my son that the only way Batman would win is if he had some Kryptonite handy in his utility belt (hold on, I’m going somewhere with this). As the conversation went a little further, I thought about how Superman, having only one weakness, could potentially seem god-like to a four year-old. While superheroes are noble and self-sacrificing, I do not want my child to become so enamored with them that Jesus gets lost in the mix. So, I told him, “Superheroes need Jesus too”. Now, I’ve explained to my son that superheroes are just for pretend, but I was trying to show him that Jesus is set apart beyond all others. I went on to explain to him that while superheroes do some good things, they are not perfect but Jesus is, and Jesus is the only one who can save us from our sins.
In our thinking, it should be crucial for us to rehearse, both to ourselves and others, that Jesus Christ transcends all other heroes. Let us strive to remember verses like 1 Timothy 2:5 “For there is… ONE mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” and Acts 4:11-12, “This Jesus… there is salvation in NO ONE ELSE, for there is NO OTHER NAME given among men by which we must be saved” (emphasis mine). Who is there in your life that you put on a pedestal and look upon with amazement? Is there even a contest between this person(s) and Jesus? If there is, there shouldn’t be. Church, we need to expand our vision of Jesus beyond a kindhearted humanitarian who taught us important lessons about loving each other. Let us set him apart in our hearts and minds as all-powerful, all-benevolent, all-wise, Savior, King, Lord, and God, and then let’s worship him more in light of these realities.
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We all have certain people who we want to accept us. They are those people who have an insanely high coolness factor in our estimation, but for reasons unknown to us have not readily included us in their entourage. Truth be told, we’ve all probably spent a good deal of mental, emotional, and physical energy trying to wiggle our way in as a friend to these people. In seeking to be accepted by certain people we make a lot of sacrifices and work hard for something that we may never get.
Most likely, you’ve experienced those occasions when, even with all of your strenuous efforts, you were never accepted by a certain person or persons. What does this lead to? Often times, at the very least, you experience depression, feelings of unworthiness, bitterness, and even some disillusionment toward personal relationships in general. Christians, this should not be the case.
There is something we must all remember when seeking to form relationships. We’ve already been accepted by the One whose perspective matters most. God has accepted you through his son Jesus Christ, and the magnificent thing about it is that you didn’t have to sacrifice anything at all to receive that acceptance! Jesus is the one who did all the sacrificing so that God could accept you, and according to Galatians 4:7, God hasn’t just accepted you as a friend, but as his child and an heir to the same inheritance that Jesus will receive. Remembering this truth will not only keep you from depression and bitterness when someone refuses to accept you, but it will also keep you from pursuing that kind of acceptance as if it’s of ultimate importance. Remembering this aspect of the Gospel keeps your effort and energy focused on cultivating the relationship that has already been given to you for free.
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It’s a frequent reality for us to be unbalanced in our thinking about God. Sometimes we zero in on his love and forget his wrath. At other times, we emphasize how he is like us and forget how he is set apart from us. We can also be guilty of viewing our relationship with him from one angle while forgetting the others. Many of us tend to do this by thinking of our relationship with God as a boss/employee relationship.
It’s not that we shouldn’t view God as having authority over us wherein he rightfully tells us how we should live our lives, but the trouble comes when we forget that God is so much more. If God is just our boss, then our relationship with him will be rather sterile and distant. Bosses have authority, but most people don’t want to get to know them or cultivate a relationship with them beyond doing what they ask and getting paid. If God is just your boss, then you begin to see your life as very task-oriented; there is a list of duties you must accomplish before you can relax and do what you really want to do. An employee often morphs himself into whatever his boss values and respects so that his boss never really knows him and the result is that the business works like a well-oiled machine, but the relationship never really moves beyond what works best to get the job done.
Praise the Lord that he is so much more than our boss or master. He is also Father, so he knows us, loves us and provides for our every need. He is also King, so he is powerful, majestic and worthy of all honor. And he is also Savior, so he frees us from sin, Satan and death, and we don’t have to earn his favor because he pours it out graciously through his Son every second of every day! When we keep a well-balanced view of God, then we not only seek to work for God, we also seek to know him, worship him, and delight in him.
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There are oodles and oodles of fantastic theological and Christian living books to read. The books on my reading list continue to grow exponentially as each month passes with the release of more and more solid resources for the believer. Even for people who can blow through multiple books in a week, the widespread availability of good books has got to seem overwhelming. So, how does the normal Christian know what to read in order to maximize the time and energy he has to read, especially considering the reality that he’s got a thousand other things he’s juggling at the same time? There are specific books I would recommend to Christians in various seasons and trials of life, but the following is a short list of books that I think every church member should and can read, no matter what his/her educational level, attention span, and time availability (that means each book is relatively short and to-the-point). Each book deals with a topic or topics pertinent to living a well-balanced life for the glory of God.
What is the Gospel? by Greg Gilbert – It’s crucial that we all know the biblical answer to this question not only for the health of our own faith but because there are others in our culture who are tenaciously trying to redefine it.
The Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges – As Bridges says in this book, “Holiness is for everyone” – being a Christian necessitates a pursuit of being morally and spiritually set apart for the honor of our King.
What is a Healthy Church Member? By Thabiti Anyabwile – If a Christian has the opportunity to be a member of a local church, he should be. This book talks about the blessings and responsibilities of a Christian inside the context of a local body of believers.
The Christian Life by Sinclair Ferguson – If you’re a Christian, then you cannot escape theology. The way you live will be determined by what you believe about who God is and what he’s done. This book is an introduction to the doctrines of the Christian Faith.
Living the Cross-Centered Life by C.J. Mahaney – Where the first book on the list defines the Gospel, this book discusses how to live in light of it.
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Everything epic is popular these days. Epic movies are selling big at the box office and pumping out the sequels to extend their epic stories. Epic music full of racing strings and wailing choral arrangements is being channeled through desktop speakers everywhere to make sending an email feel more like saving the world. Video games of epic proportion enable grown men who are dissatisfied with their lives to feel a sense of empowerment from the risk-free comfort of their futons.
If we think about it, the Gospel is the epic of epic! It’s the grand story that God has been unfolding throughout the ages and it’s what history is all about. The Gospel of redemption has a wise, benevolent king who loves his people (God), a cataclysmic problem that threatens to destroy humanity (sin), a fierce and deceptive enemy seeking to thwart the king’s plan (Satan), an unlikely hero who gives his life to save the king’s people (Jesus), a ray of hope when the battle seems lost (the Resurrection), a war to end all wars (Armageddon), and the most glorious “happily ever after” ever (eternity with Jesus in the new heavens and new earth).
If you’re like me, then you love being part of something this epic. It excites your heart, gives you ultimate purpose, and makes the smallest moments in life turn into an opportunity to fight for the God who will triumph over all. But I have a concern. It is not safe or right to follow after Jesus solely because we want to be a part of something epic. This happens whenever a hometown sports team starts doing well in the play-offs. People who haven’t watched one game all season come out of the woodwork with their jerseys and foam fingers because it’s exhilarating to be a part of something bigger than what they consider to be their boring 9 to 5 lives. We cannot use God as a means to the end of experiencing thrills and empowerment as part of his grand narrative. As John Piper has said, “God is the Gospel”. We are saved by him, to him, and for him. Remember, out of love God sent his only son to die in order to save your wretched soul, let that truth move you to worship him and realize that being part of the epic story is a benefit of this reality, but not its goal.
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