Do you want the home or the homeowner?

Like any good kid growing up in church and youth group, I listened to my fair share of CCM (contemporary Christian music).

One song I loved as a youngin’ was Big House by Audio Adrenaline.

The chorus of the song went as follows:

“Come and go with me
to my Fathers house.

Come and go with me
to my Fathers house.

It’s a big, big house
with lots and lots of room.
A big, big table
with lots and lots of food.
A big, big yard
where we can play football.
A big, big house
Its my Fathers house.”

Well, I have a big, BIG problem.

Allow me to explain.

First, a disclaimer: I’m not trying to rail on Audio Adrenaline or whoever was the lyricist of this song. I’m sure they meant well when they authored and produced this track. However, for our sake I want to point out the anti-Biblical theme of this song.

Recently I and a friend were studying the text that probably inspired this track.

In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” -John 14:2-3, ESV

This song gets one thing right: there are lots and lots of rooms. The text says that. However, this song also gets something terribly, terribly wrong.

Like I said, when I was young I loved this song. Why? Because I loved football. A lot. So how could I not love the idea of a “heaven” with a big, big yard where I’d get to play football all the time? That definitely sounded like heaven to me!

However, I’m afraid that’s not the picture of heaven we see in the Scriptures.

At the end of the passage above, John records Jesus as saying: “…will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”

The italicized part of that sentence is what we like to call a “purpose clause”. This type of statement gives the intent behind an action. It gives us the answer to the “why” question.

So, what’s the point of Jesus taking us to His Father’s house? What’s the point of Him preparing rooms for us there?

Not to see the size of the mansion.

Not to eat a lot of food.

Not to play football.

But…

Myself.

The point of heaven is to be with Jesus. If you want heaven for any other reason, that’s not faith. That’s idolatry.

When we arrive at our Father’s house, we will sing a different song. The chorus won’t be about rooms, food, or football. I think all three of those will be there. But no one will be talking about them. Instead, everyone will be singing:

“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!” -Rev. 5:12

Jesus is the reason believers wants heaven…and any other reason is condemnable. In fact, if you don’t treasure Jesus above everything else, you wouldn’t like the Father’s house anyway.

“The critical question for our generation—and for every generation—is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ were not there?” -John Piper, God is the Gospel

Why does heaven sound good to you?

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Free Indeed

freedom-travel-logo

For two months this summer I had the privilege of studying the book of Galatians alongside over 100 college students. It is an electric, life-giving letter chock-full of gospel. At the end of the summer I had the privilege of preaching on Galatians at Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Hurricane, WV. It was through this church that the Lord saved my life and called me towards vocational ministry, so it is always a pleasure to be with my family there and share God’s word with them. I preached the sermon from a manuscript that was later edited and shortened (they had to enforce strict time limits on this long-winded guy). I wanted to share that sermon manuscript on here for anyone who would choose to read it or for those who were present that night and would like to revisit it. May the Lord use this sermon, entitled Free Indeed and based on Galatians 5:1, to help you understand and enjoy His grace and offer of full freedom.

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

The Spirit of this Text

If the book of Galatians is about anything, it’s about the freedom we have in Christ—and this verse reflects that. It gets at the heart of this letter—and I think the message of freedom is a very timely, applicable, and necessary one. My aim tonight is that we’d all better understand and appreciate the freedom we have in Christ, and see how great and gracious our God truly is. In order to do this, I think we first must understand what we have been set free from, because it’s impossible to appreciate freedom without grasping the depths of our bondage. So that’s where we will begin tonight, but before we get there, I want to make an introductory comment about our text.

Read it again with me: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” In this country, there are few things we love more or pride ourselves on more than our freedom. What’s the famous saying you often hear? “Give me liberty, or give me death.” We’d rather die than not be free. There’s a 1768 Revolutionary War song titled, “The Liberty Song”, which is one of the first patriotic songs this country ever had. In 1770 they updated the lyrics of the song and changed the title to “The Massachusetts Song of Liberty” and I want to read you the updated chorus of that song. It went like this: “In freedom we’re born, and, like sons of the brave, will never surrender, but swear to defend her; and scorn to survive if unable to save.” That has been the heartbeat of our country since day one—if we aren’t going to be free, we don’t want to live.

Now as we will come to see tonight, the freedom Christ brings us has nothing to do with political or civil liberties. So why do I mention all that? Well, while freedom can mean lots of different things, the point is it’s always a highly desired thing. No one wants to be enslaved. We all desire to be free, no matter what kind of freedom it is. But I want you to look at this text again with me: “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

Do you understand what the Apostle Paul, the author, is saying here? He’s saying that spiritually, we’ve become so corrupt and twisted since the fall that we have to be commanded to be free. We have to be commanded to stop putting an unnecessary yoke of slavery on our shoulders.

Why is this?

This get’s into the nature of sin and original sin and the fall of man. In brief, who is God? God is the source of everything good, everything true, everything just, everything righteous, everything holy, everything pleasurable, everything satisfying, everything loving, everything beautiful. As Jonathan Edwards so rightly said, “God is the highest good of the reasonable creature. The enjoyment of him is our proper; and is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Better than fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of any, or all earthly friends. These are but shadows; but the enjoyment of God is the substance. These are but scattered beams; but God is the sun. These are but streams; but God is the fountain. These are but drops, but God is the ocean.” What Edwards is saying is simply this: God is the source and substance of everything good. Everything. Even the pleasures you enjoy here on earth are simply but a shadow of how sweet God is and even these come from His hand.

So what happened at the fall? What happened is our spiritual taste buds went rotten. They not only went rotten, they died. So now God doesn’t taste good to us. He is no longer sweet to our souls—despite the fact He is still as good and beautiful as ever and He is the only thing that will satisfy us, we have died and are blinded by Satan. We no longer look to God to satisfy us and be our source of joy but we look to created things. This is what Paul emphatically declares in Romans 1: “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.” This is what we’ve all done; this is the nature of sin. Instead of loving God and trusting God and hoping in God and giving thanks to God and honoring God, we use created substitutes. We’ve exchanged the glory of God, who He is, His righteousness and perfection and manifold excellencies for idols like money or sex or power or fame or entertainment or comfort or other people or, maybe most predominately, ourselves. And as Paul says, this is so foolish. As C.S. Lewis put it, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.” So be appalled brothers and sisters. Be appalled at how wicked and foolish and deceitful your heart is. Be appalled that the Apostle Paul has to write to you and tell you to be free. Be appalled that I have to stand up here and yell at you to be free. This is ultimately what we need set free from—our evil, spiritually dead hearts. That’s not exactly what Paul is getting at here in this text, but it’s an overflow of that. Everything is. So by way of introduction, I just wanted to point this out. That is the spirit of this text and what we’re stepping into tonight.

The Nature of our Bondage

So, what do we need set free from according to this passage? What is Paul talking about? Well the answer comes in the second half of the verse. He says do not submit again to a yoke of slavery, insinuating that they were under this yoke before and that’s what Christ has set them free from. But what is that yoke? The next three verses give us a clear answer I believe. Look at them with me: “Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace.” The answer is clear there is verse 4: seeking to be justified by the law—or as we would call it today, legalism. Now what is this? This is an attempt to earn God’s approval by your own merit, by your works, by your obedience. For the Galatians this was circumcision as Paul points out in verses 2 and 3.

This makes sense. Why? Because the Galatians were Gentiles, alienated from the Jews and therefore from the one, true God: Yahweh. But through Christ, God made a way for them to be grafted in to the family of God. Paul preached the gospel to the Galatians, but after he left, false teachers called the Judaizers or the circumcision party came into the region and started telling the Galatians that it was all well and good that they accepted Jesus and trusted in Him, but in order to be really accepted by God they also needed to follow the Jewish law, the Torah, and all the customs of the Jewish people. These included things like kosher laws and Sabbath laws and predominantly circumcision. So the argument went like this: accepting Jesus was a good first step but now you need to be circumcised in order to be accepted or justified by God.

However, for us, this looks much differently. I mean no one is lining up in church to get circumcised thinking that is what they have to do to go to heaven. But I think we still have this same problem—it just looks very different. For example, let me ask you a few questions—and right now I’m only speaking to those of you who are truly trusting in Jesus Christ: Do you ever find yourself feeling really, really guilty? Do you ever find yourself feeling like God is upset with you? That He is frustrated with your continued failures and screw-ups? That maybe only if you read your Bible more, prayed more, shared your faith more, went to church more, loved your wife and kids better, didn’t get so frustrated with your boss, or were a missionary that God would love you more? That He would be more pleased with you then?

See this is what we do as prideful humans: we add to the finished work of Christ. It may not be circumcision, but it’s Bible studies and church attendance and evangelism and purity—all very, very good things, but when you say they’re required for your justification before God that’s a very, very bad thing. You see we say, “well Jesus got me in but now I have to work really, really hard and do a lot of stuff in order to be a good Christian…in order to be accepted by God” and it’s the exact same thing the Galatians were doing and it’s blasphemy! It’s not true. It’s not. Some of you all have come in here tonight and you’re so burdened, so worn out, so tired. You keep failing. You can’t live up to your own expectations nonetheless God’s! And you think He is displeased with you, up in heaven frowning at your feeble and frail attempts at righteousness. I don’t think it’s hard for us to see how this is a yoke of slavery. It’s bondage to your performance! It’s unceasing work. It’s anxious toil.

If you want an example of what this looks like, take the example of Martin Luther in his life before he discovered justification by faith alone. Listen to this:

“Martin was 21 years old when, in July 1505, he gave away all his possessions – including his lute, his many books and clothing – and entering the Black Cloister of the Augustinians. Luther quickly adapted to monastic life, throwing himself wholeheartedly into the manual labor, spiritual disciplines and studies required. He went way beyond the fasts, prayers and ascetic practices required and forced himself to sleep on the cold stone floor without a blanket, whipped himself, and seriously damaged his health. He was described as: “devout, earnest, relentlessly self-disciplined, unsparingly self-critical, intelligent…” and “impeccable.” Luther rigorously pursued the monastic ideal and devoted himself to study, prayer and the sacraments. He wearied his priest with his confessions and with his punishments of himself with fasting, sleepless nights, and flagellation…It was because of his great concern for his eternal salvation that Luther had sought to flee the world. In spite of the bitter grief and anger of his father, he had buried himself in the cloister and devoted himself to a life of the strictest asceticism. Yet, despite devoting himself to earning salvation by good works, cheerfully performing the humblest tasks, praying, fasting, chastising himself even beyond the strictest monastic rules, he was still oppressed with a terrible sense of his utter sinfulness and lost condition.”

Now that is a life of slavery…can you imagine that? Going without food, sleep, bed, or health in order to try and please God? It says he even wearied his priest with his confessions. One time he confessed for six hours. He is quoted as saying, “If anyone could have gained heaven as a monk, then I would certainly have done so.” Doing everything physically possible in order to try and please God, but yet still feeling no peace—despite the fact his life was more pious than all ours in here combined. Now this is an extreme picture of what I’m trying to get at, but our mindset is no different when we try to earn God’s favor by our performance. Our attempts are a lot weaker—which already leads us to feel anxious and insecure because we’re wondering if we should be doing more!—but at its root it’s the same thing. It’s works done in order to try and secure God’s blessing.

The Foolishness of Legalism

However this is a total misunderstanding of God, His law and of ourselves! Let’s go back to Galatians chapter 3, starting in verse 22: “But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.” Okay so what does that mean? The law—and I’m taking about the moral law of God as revealed in Scripture and taught by the Lord Jesus Christ because no other standard matters but His holy standard—the law imprisons us. It imprisons us before we even imprison ourselves with the slavery of legalism! How? Well let ask you a few questions:

Have you ever loved anything more than God?
Have you ever used God’s name irreverently?
Have you ever disobeyed your parents?
Have you ever been angry with another person?
Have you ever verbally attacked another person?
Have you ever looked at another person lustfully?
Have you ever stolen anything?
Have you ever lied?
Have you ever been jealous of something someone else had?
Have you ever tried to make yourself look great and be praised by others?
Have you ever been more concerned with material things on earth than heavenly priorities?
Have you ever been anxious and not trusted God?
Have you ever judged others without first considering your own failures and weaknesses?
Have you ever not loved your neighbor as much as you love yourself?

I could go on but you get it—you all, as well as me, were just locked up under sin. God is righteous and holy and perfect and will accept nothing outside of perfection. And we all have fallen short and sinned against this holy God. Not only have we sinned, we’ve failed desperately. We don’t even come close. The only thing we’ve ever even done outside of Christ is sin. None of us are righteous, not even one. We’ve all turned away from God. And because God is holy He cannot accept unrighteous, God-hating people. And so what do we do to try and fix this problem?

In legalism, we try and fulfill the law. We turn back to the very thing that condemned us and showed us to be broken, somehow thinking we can actually accomplish it! Ridiculous right? You see the law does nothing but condemn and imprison us. It shows us how desperately wicked we are, and how even our so-called righteous acts need to be forgiven by God. It points us to the fact that we need an alien righteousness—we need something outside of us to deliver us from this prison, from our own sinful hearts. But legalism is a totally different response than the one the law should elicit. It’s a prideful, arrogant response. It’s saying, “no God, I don’t need anything. I don’t need delivered. I don’t need rescued. I can do this. I can set myself free. I can fulfill the law. I don’t need help.” Let me read you a quote from the Apostle Peter: “Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear.” No one, not even the disciples of Christ, can fulfill the law. It’s a yoke only Christ could bear. Legalism may sound good because it’s often masked as a pious attempt to please God, but what you’re really saying is you have something to offer God. That you can somehow earn something from. That you are able to appease Him by your own efforts. Let me let you in on a little secret…you can never impress God, earn anything from God, or repay God. Everything you have from Him is a gift…even your faith and obedience according to Ephesians 2! So to think you have to work for Him or earn His acceptance by following a law that’s impossible to follow and that you can’t fulfill is ridiculously foolish. It’s sinful, it’s arrogant, and it is incredibly deceitful.

All but Christ is Bondage

This is all pretty bad news, huh? But the hallmark of Christianity is that it has a gospel, a good news. So that’s where we’re headed now, but before we get there I want to revisit one thing Paul says here. He says “do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Now the question is, why does he say “again”? And the reason I ask that is this: we’ve established that the yoke of slavery is God’s law, the Torah. But Paul is addressing Gentiles, not Jews. These are Galatians, not Israelites. See the conundrum? They were pagan idolater before this, not people trying to perfectly follow the law. So, I think there are two valid explanations to this puzzle, and both are probably true at some level. The first would be that there is a remnant of Jews in Galatia that would have been familiar with the law and would have had a knowledge and experience with it such that they may have been trying to follow it before. I think we see a lot of warrant for this in the Acts of the Apostles. We consistently see Paul going where when he first arrives in a city? The synagogue. So there were Jews in these cities. As James says during the Jerusalem Council as recorded in Acts 15:21, “For from ancient generations Moses has had in every city those who proclaim him, for he is read every Sabbath in the synagogues.” So there the potential that many people in the Galatian church have a working awareness of the law and may have been trying to follow it before they heard the gospel and that’s what Paul is addressing here. And I think that very well could be true and probably is for some in the assembly.

However, I think there also could be another explanation that is just as valid. It may or may not be what Paul is exactly getting at here, but we do see it for sure in another place in Galatians. Flip with me to Galatians 4, verses 8-11. Let’s read it together: “Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.” So here’s where this verse gets confusing. In verse 8 it sounds like Paul is talking about pagan idolatry, right? But in verse 10 he’s talking about the law again. So what in the world is going on? Well I think the key is in the middle of verse 9 where Paul says elementary principles, whose slaves you want to be once more. Principles there can also be translated spirits or things.

So what does that mean? What Paul is saying here is this: the spiritually enslaving demonic forces that lie behind the system of paganism and idolatry are the exact same spiritually enslaving demonic forces that lie behind legalism—it’s no different! There’s no difference between legalism and licentiousness. It’s no different whether you’re the biggest rebel on earth, out having sex and getting drunk and cursing up a storm or the most pious, holy, clean, pure person the world has ever known if you’re only doing all that because you think it’ll earn God’s favor and approval! It’s just another form of bondage! You’re no better off. You’re still separated from God. And ultimately, outside of Christ, this is the state you will always find yourself in—bondage. No religion, no spirituality, no ideology, no philosophy, no person, no possession, nothing outside of Jesus Christ is going to bring you true, real, lasting spiritual freedom. He is the way, the truth, and the life. And if He sets you free, you will be free indeed.

Slavery to Christ

Which brings us back to the first part of this text. But what makes Christ any different? Why Jesus? How can he set you free? Because let me be real honest and upfront. The freedom in Christ is not ultimate freedom or autonomy—Christian freedom is not some sort of independence or freedom to do whatever you want. It’s not freedom to sin. We must understand that no matter what, we are always under a master. We are always a servant of something—we can never cease worshipping. God made us such that we are continuous out-pourers, always devoted to something—the question is simply what. Who or what is our master? 2 Peter 2:19 says: “For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.” Everyone is overcome by something, so whatever you’re overcome by, to that you’re in bondage. So ultimately what I’m talking about when I say freedom in Christ is bondage to Christ. He is your Master. You no longer live for youself, but you live for Christ. You’re obedient to Him. You follow His law. He sets the agenda of your life. His desires are your desires. His passions your passions. His aims your aims. You have died. Paul expresses this so powerfully in Galatians 2:20—“ I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” You no longer live; you’re an absolute slave to God. This is how Paul starts all his letters. Paul, a δοῦλος of God. It’s often translated servant but what it means in the Greek is slave. Paul, a slave of God. Confusing right? Paul expresses this paradox so beautifully in Romans 6. He writes to the Romans, “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.” So there it is. Freedom in Christ is actually enslavement to Christ. You’re set free from your old bondages—to sin, to death, to Satan, to the world, even to licentiousness and legalism—in order to be enslaved to Christ. So the question begging to be asked is how is this bondage any different? How is bondage to Christ at the same time liberty?

Freedom in Christ

Well let’s go back a little bit in Galatians to understand this. Go with me to Galatians 3:13, one of the most important verses in the Bible. It says this: “Christ redeemed us”—that slavery language right there. It’s Biblical imagery alluding back to the Israelites enslavement to the Egyptians. To be redeemed is to be bought back, to be delivered. It’s essentially the same as saying “Christ has set us free”— “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law…” So because we’ve sinned, we’ve fallen short, we’ve missed the mark, we haven’t obeyed God’s law—because of our sin God has a righteous wrath He will unleash on us at the Day of Judgment. This is the curse we’re under for our sin, for breaking God’s law: the wrath of God. It’s the only thing we’ve ever earned in our lives. His punishment is eternal separation from Him, the source of everything that is good and righteous, which the Bible calls death. And there’s nothing we can do on our own to atone for this. No amount of works or effort will fix what we’ve broken or will restore us to God. There’s no hope in us.

But…

“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’” So on the cross Jesus took on the divine curse in your place if you would but trust in Him. He drank the full cup of God’s wrath for your sins such that God was totally appeased by His sacrificial death. This was not a mechanical, formulaic thing…it was the most loving act in the universe. As it says in 1 John 4:8-10—“God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” So God, who could have totally wiped us out with His wrath and would have been totally just in doing so, instead choose in love to send His Son who voluntary came and laid down His own life as the propitiation for our sins. That’s what that precious word propitiation means. It means that Jesus satisfied the wrath of God so that we could be reconciled to God—and because Christ has absorbed the entire wrath of God for your sin, because the wrath of God has been totally appeased in Christ, you’re totally free. You’re free from the wrath of God and He no longer has anything for you but mercy! You have no payment left to make, no demands left on your life! You’re under grace, you’re not under a law anymore—there’s nothing left to do, Christ has done it all! He has fulfilled the law for you!

God is the only appeased Master in the world. Every other master demands more of you. More obedience, more devotion, more and more and more.

If approval is your master, you always have to look cooler than everyone else.
If power is your master, you always have to be in charge.
If success is your master, you always have to be the best.
If religion is your master, you always have to follow the rules perfectly.
If pleasure is your master, you always have to be experiencing delight.
If pride is your master, you always have to be right and better than others.
If food is your master, you always have to eat more and better foods.
If body image is your master, you always have to do more crunches.
If a resume is your master, you always have to add more experiences.
If a career is your master, you always have to work harder to advance or hold on to your position.
If entertainment is your master, you always have to find something new to distract you.
If comfort is your master, you always have to avoid any pain or distress.
If money is your master, you always have to work more and longer hours.
If sex is your master, you always have to have more or new or different sex.
If a person is your master, you always have to work to meet their demands and it’s never enough.

And the list goes on and on and on. The demands are endless.

But what does God say? Because God loved us so much, He sent Christ who took the curse you deserved and gave you His perfection. Now you’re seen as righteous and justified before God, and He has adopted you into His family. He delights in you and will never leaver you nor forsake you. But even more than that, He will never, ever, punish you or be angry with you. In Christ, as a child of God, you’re totally accepted by God. Right now! This instant! If you’re trusting in Christ, you’re totally accepted by God. And Christ’s death was so sufficient that that will never, ever change. No matter what you do or have done or will do, God is always pleased with you because of Christ. He has no demands left for you, He has nothing left for you to do but rest in His love and delight and affection for you. That why John says later in chapter 4: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.” The perfect love of God made manifest in Christ casts out all fear. For those in Christ there is no punishment and therefore no fear of God’s wrath, because His love for you is perfect. Now granted, God does discipline His children, like any good Father would. But this discipline isn’t punishment—even that is another form of mercy.

No other master is this inclusive, this radical, this scandalous, this accepting, this gracious. Even your parents, who for most of you are probably the most committed people in your life, don’t love you like this. I guarantee there’s a tipping point, a breaking point at which your parents couldn’t do it anymore; they’d have to let you go or give up on you. But as Psalm 27:10 says, “For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me in.” There is nothing that can separate you from the love of God in Christ. Nothing. Not even yourself.

There’s no other master like this. No other master is this committed, this accepting, or this loving. Only God. Every other master makes empty promises and will drop you once you slip or as soon as you fail them.

Only through Christ can you be set free to enjoy a life of absolute acceptance without any conditions. Unconditional, absolute acceptance.

Receive Grace

And for the Christian that’s why legalism is so terrible: it’s all because you are actively rejecting Jesus. As Paul says in 5:4—“You are separated from Christ.” Like the Galatians you’re saying, “yes Jesus, but also this.” No Jesus, sorry, but it actually wasn’t finished on the cross. You weren’t the full propitiation for my sins. You didn’t appease God’s wrath and secure my position in His family. I need to live a good life now. I need to read the Bible in a year now. I need to share my faith once a day now. I need to do these things in order for God to love me. You are adding obedience onto Christ’s finished work. It may sound good but it’s horrible because you’re spitting on Jesus, saying He wasn’t sufficient. That His grace isn’t able to cover you. So don’t do it. Don’t submit to that yoke of slavery. Don’t push Jesus away by trying to earn something from God. You can’t earn anything from Him—all you ever earned was hell. Just receive. As Paul says in Galatians 2:21—“I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” If righteous was possible through your efforts then you didn’t need Jesus. So don’t nullify grace. Receive it. That’s the linchpin of all this: grace. Grace is the pathway to freedom.

You see grace is the opposite of karma—which is essentially the heart of legalism and every other religious attempt to earn God’s approval. Karma is a sort of ying and yang thing—if I do this then I’ll get that. It’s a system of punishment and rewards where you always get what you deserve. Karma is safe. It’s calculated and formulaic. It’s what the pagans would do—if they wanted good crops, they would offer a sacrifice to the goddess of agriculture. It makes sense to our religiousness. And this is what we try to turn Christianity into through legalism. If I just be a good person, don’t cuss, read my Bible, give 10%, go to church, then God will approve of me and I’ll make it to heaven. That’s not it brothers and sisters. The only thing we have earned from God is spiritual death in a place called hell.

Grace is much more radical and scandalous than karma. Grace is not getting what you deserve and getting what you don’t deserve. Grace is one-way love. It’s God’s mercy for rebels. It’s love to the unlovely. It’s goodness to the ungodly. It’s a gift that depends on God and God alone. You don’t do something to earn a gift. You just receive it. If you are going to try and earn it then you won’t receive it. You can’t earn it. You bring nothing to the table. Nothing at all. So don’t nullify grace. Don’t fall away from it, as Paul says in verse 4. This doesn’t mean lose your salvation, I won’t go into why, but if you have questions talk to me after. But what it does mean is depend on God. Depend on Him for every second! For your salvation, depend on grace and grace alone. For your sanctification, depend on grace and grace alone. For your entire life, depend on grace and grace alone. God is the one who rescues you. God is the one who changes you. God is the one holds you. It’s by His power, by His amazing grace. Trust in that, not in your performance. Your performance doesn’t honor God—but your dependence does. A parent is not glorified by the child who rejects their offer for help and who tells them to get away when they reach out to fix a problem the child created. But the parent is glorified when the child says, “yes Daddy, I need you, will help me with this? Will you fix this for me?” So die to yourself and your independence and your pride and receive Christ as your Master.

His call is coming to you now. It’s an invitation—a very costly one. It cost Him His life on the cross. It will cost you your life. Many of you in here tonight may not be Christians. Jesus says that few will enter into His kingdom, and many who claimed to follow Him and were obedient to Him He will tell on the last day “I never knew you, depart from me you worker of iniquity.” Examine yourselves and see if you’ve ever actually trusted in this gospel of grace. If there’s no fruit in your life, then you don’t trust Him. The unconditional acceptance of God is conditional on whether or not you’ve put your faith in Christ. For those outside of Christ, for those who have yet to despair of themselves, for those who have rejected God or are trusting in their own works—you’re still dead in your sins and storing up wrath for yourself on the Day of Judgment. Repent. Turn from your sin and your dead works and trust in Christ and be obedient to Him from the heart, knowing that if you’re in Christ He will never cast you out and you’re totally justified. Repent please. And if you are a Christian, repent too. Repent for the ways you’ve tried to earn God’s favor, for the ways you’ve tried to control Him and haven’t received from Him but have instead told Him you don’t need Him and can do it on your own. Lean on Him for everything. Rely on Him for every step you take. Then move forward in obedience by His power. Keep dying daily and keeping living by Christ. Live by grace and grace alone.

This amazing grace is for sinner and saint. It’s all we got. It’s why we exist. As Ephesians 1 says, “In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight.” God has lavished us with amazing grace to set us free in Christ, all so that we’d praise that glorious grace. All so that we’d praise Him as the One who is worthy, as the Initiator, as the Savior, as the Liberator. So let’s do that now. Let’s respond to our glorious Redeemer.

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Jesus is Gushing with Grace

jesus-is

Who is Jesus?

According to Judah Smith, pastor of the City Church in Seattle, WA, “Your answer could shed light on the path to becoming who you were made to be.” In fact, he thinks it’s such an important question he wrote a book about it…and changed his church’s anthem to “Our mission: to show you who Jesus is”…and launched a city-wide and digital campaign to get people thinking about this question.

As he says, “The premise of the campaign was simply to get people thinking about Jesus. We felt that indifference was our greatest enemy. If we could get more people to think about Jesus, we reasoned, Jesus was more than able to reveal himself to them.”

Reading his book (which I would strongly recommend) I found myself once again captivated by the God-man Jesus Christ. Smith’s writing is very refreshing as it strips away the distractions, lifts the fog, and shines the spotlight on the pure, unaltered character of Jesus Christ…and oh is it glorious.

Since finishing “Jesus Is_____”, I find my soul longing to see more of the Son. As Smith writes, “My prayer is that as you read this book, you also would see Jesus for who he really is. And when you do, he will be irresistible.”

Currently I am reading through the Gospel of John with some fellows from school. The Jesus Is_____ campaign has inspired me to dwell on John’s words—and more importantly the One behind them. My hope is to make a list of Jesus Is_____ statements for each passage we study. Here’s the first one. Μay it help you to catch a glimpse of this irresistible Savior.

So, according to John 1:1-18…

  1. Jesus is eternal. (1.1)
  2. Jesus is with God. (1.1)
  3. Jesus is God. (1.1)
  4. Jesus is how all things came to be. (1.3)
  5. Jesus is the source of life. (1.4)
  6. Jesus is the light of men. (1.4)
  7. Jesus is the overcomer of darkness. (1.5)
  8. Jesus is John the Baptist’s focus. (1.7)
  9. Jesus is the true light. (1.9)
  10. Jesus is the light for everyone. (1.9)
  11. Jesus is a world enterer. (1.9).
  12. Jesus is a world resident. (1.10)
  13. Jesus is unknown by the world. (1.10)
  14. Jesus is a visitor to his own. (1.11)
  15. Jesus is rejected by his own. (1.11)
  16. Jesus is receivable. (1.12)
  17. Jesus is a believable name. (1.12)
  18. Jesus is welcoming brothers and sisters into God’s family. (1.12)
  19. Jesus is human. (1.14)
  20. Jesus is with us. (1.14)
  21. Jesus is glorious. (1.14)
  22. Jesus is the Son of God. (1.14)
  23. Jesus is full of grace. (1.14)
  24. Jesus is full of truth. (1.14)
  25. Jesus is greater than us. (1.15)
  26. Jesus is way before us. (1.15)
  27. Jesus is gushing with grace. (1.16)
  28. Jesus is the giver of grace . (1.17)
  29. Jesus is the giver of truth . (1.17)
  30. Jesus is the revealer of God. (1.18)

It’s your turn. “Jesus Is_____”. Fill in the blank.

For more on the Jesus Is_____ campaign or to purchase the book, go to jesus-is.org or jesusisbook.com. You can also go to jesusismusicproject.com to check out an album inspired by the campaign, book, and Judah’s preaching.

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You are a Theologian

bible

Every now and then I run into a sentiment within Christian circles that frustrates me. It can come at various times, in various places, from various people, but the idea is the same. It shows up in a statement something like this:

“I’m not really a theological person.”

I understand the idea behind the statement (at least what’s usually being conveyed). It’s not that people hate the Bible, talking or thinking about God, etc.; it’s just that those activities don’t get them going as much, so to speak. They aren’t as passionate about thinking as others may be. Usually, this is all wrapped up in comparison (that guy is really theological because he thinks a lot and reads a lot and uses big words to describe God, but me on the other hand, I don’t do that nearly as much), which needs to die. Comparison is probably never a good way to go. But regardless, I want to tackle the assumption that some of us are “theological” and others are not.

I have a few problems with this perspective, the first being that it’s untrue…every time. No one can say “I’m not theological”. It’s impossible. Every single person is a theologian and theological. If you have ever thought about God, you are theological.

Kelly Kapic wrote, “Whenever we speak about God we are engaged in theology. The term “theology” means a word (logos) about God (theos), so when anyone speaks about God, whether that person dropped out of high school or completed a PhD in philosophy, he or she is engaged in theology. Theology is not reserved for those in the academy; it is an aspect of thought and conversation for all who live and breathe, who wrestle and fear, who hope and pray.

The atheist, who thinks God is absent, is a theologian. The agnostic, who thinks God is unknowable, is a theologian. The Muslim, Buddhist, pagan, etc. all have thoughts and concepts about who God is, what He does, and why He does it. The problem with these groups is they all think wrongly about God.

So the question is not whether you will be theological. You are a theologian. The question is whether you will be a biblical and good one.

My second problem with this idea is that it promotes anti-biblical living. Let me explain.

Jude is a tiny book in the New Testament, but it’s packed with power. His letter is addressed to the universal church and in verse 3 he writes:

“Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.”

As John Piper said in a very helpful sermon on this text, “The duty to contend for the faith is, therefore, not just the duty of the ordained ministers of the Word, though they do have a special responsibility. It is the duty of every genuine believer.”

Put succinctly: if you are a believer, you have a duty to defend doctrine.

And in order to defend doctrine, you have to know it.

Therefore, we can’t allow anyone to hide under the guise of being “not theological”. Regardless of your preferences and passions, you have to know what you believe and why you believe it—for your sake and for the sake of the body of Christ. Otherwise, false teachers will rise and the church will fall.

Now granted, this is a process. Education always is. But we can’t allow personality makeup to endanger souls and the church. So, two words of exhortation.

All good doctrine comes from the Scriptures, so read the Bible. Without knowing the Bible, you’ll never know what it teaches; and if you don’t know what it teaches, you’ll never be able to defend it.

My second exhortation would be devour sound teaching. As the Apostle Paul wrote:

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (emphasis mine).

One of the reasons we have leaders in the church (elders, pastors, etc.) is to help the body be established in their knowledge of doctrine. Otherwise, we may be chameleons, blindly blending in with and accepting any new dangerous teaching. Like the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8, we need guiding when reading the Scriptures. So, find solid guides and learn.

While this should primarily occur in the context of a local church with leaders keeping watch over your soul and not just your dogma, in our day and age there are plenty of resources to help you be established and love the Lord with all your mind. The internet has allowed for a proliferation of solid teaching (and false teaching, unfortunately). Websites like desiringgod.org, thegospelcoalition.org, ligonier.org, theresurgence.com, and others have many great resources (sermons, articles, free books, etc.) that can be tapped into at anytime.

Allow me to propose three ways you can move forward in being doctrinally sound. They are all helpful options; I’d encourage you to pick one and see it through. They are all also very accessible—there’s no need to go out and buy a 1,000 page Systematic Theology (although I wouldn’t discourage it if the Lord is leading you that way!) when you can benefit from these very understandable resources.

For those who like to read:

J.I. Packer is one of the greatest theologians of our time. He wrote a book called Concise Theology that spans major Christian beliefs in an accessible way. The book consists of around 90 short chapters and is less than 300 pages. You can pick up a copy from Amazon and be on your way to better theology.

For those who like to watch or listen:

Mark Driscoll is a pastor in Seattle, WA. Along with his sermons, he has written several books and is a great teacher. In 2010 he wrote a book called Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe (also available on Amazon). Prior to its publication, he had preached 13 sermons on the fundamental doctrines he covers in the book. You can watch or listen to the sermons here.

For those who prefer a more unconventional approach:

After the Reformation, one of the most popular ways to teach sound doctrine, if not the most common, was the catechism. A catechism is set up in a question and answer format, and there are many great ones out there. In our modern times, a catechism sounds like an ancient scroll that’s long been buried in the grave, but this isn’t true. Recently, Tim Keller, a pastor in New York City, and others released the New City Catechism. It’s a 52 question (one for every week of the year) catechism that you can access on the Internet or your iPad. For those of you who want to dust this old tradition off and try it out, go for it!

A final word of encouragement for everyone is to heed is the Apostle Paul’s words to the Corinthian church. “This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God” (1 Corinthians 8:1b-3).

There is a little bit of danger in increasing our knowledge, for our sick and deceitful hearts will allow it to fuel our pride and arrogance. Remember to be humbled, as Paul writes, because you will never know anything completely. And most importantly, remember that the point of all this, along with strengthening yourself and the church, is to love God more; to love Him with all your mind. Don’t be fooled into academizing the faith. Christianity, while it has its dogma, is about a reconciled relationship with the Creator of the universe. As you know Him more, fall in love with Him more.

And remember his other words to the Corinthians back in chapter 2. In order to know God, you need the Spirit. Without Him, there is no way you can comprehend the things of God. So, cry out for Him, ask for Him to illuminate your studies; because without Him, you’re own understanding is futile.

Finally, a word from C.S. Lewis (this comes from his great work on theology, Mere Christianity):

“Now, The­ol­ogy is like the map. Merely learn­ing and think­ing about the Chris­t­ian doc­trines, if you stop there, is less real and less excit­ing than the sort of thing my friend got in the desert. Doc­trines are not God: they are only a kind of map. But that map is based on the expe­ri­ence of hun­dreds of peo­ple who really were in touch with God-experiences com­pared with which any thrills or pious feel­ings you and I are likely to get on our own are very ele­men­tary and very con­fused. And sec­ondly, if you want to get any fur­ther, you must use the map. You see, what hap­pened to that man in the desert may have been real, and was cer­tainly excit­ing, but noth­ing comes of it. It leads nowhere. There is noth­ing to do about it. In fact, that is just why a vague religion-all about feel­ing God in nature, and so on-is so attrac­tive. It is all thrills and no work; like watch­ing the waves from the beach. But you will not get to New­found­land by study­ing the Atlantic that way, and you will not get eter­nal life by sim­ply feel­ing the pres­ence of God in flow­ers or music. Nei­ther will you get any­where by look­ing at maps with­out going to sea. Nor will you be very safe if you go to sea with­out a map.

In the old days, when there was less edu­ca­tion and dis­cus­sion, per­haps it was pos­si­ble to get on with a very few sim­ple ideas about God. But it is not so now. Every­one reads, every­one hears things dis­cussed. Con­se­quently, if you do not lis­ten to The­ol­ogy, that will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones — bad, mud­dled, out-of-date ideas. For a great many of the ideas about God which are trot­ted out as nov­el­ties to-day are sim­ply the ones which real The­olo­gians tried cen­turies ago and rejected. To believe in the pop­u­lar reli­gion of mod­ern Eng­land is ret­ro­gres­sion — like believ­ing the earth is flat” (emphases mine).

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The Great Gatsby and a Living Hope

the-great-gatsby-2012

Recently I saw The Great Gatsby based on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic American novel, which I read about four years ago. This new version of the movie is extravagant, boisterous, and realistic. I’ll spare details about the movie for those of you who haven’t seen it, but there is a theme from the book and movie I wanted to touch on.

The final quote of the book and movie is:

“Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter—tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . . And then one fine morning—

So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

In short, satisfaction is elusive.

This is poignantly seen in the new movie. Gatsby is a hopeful man—very hopeful. He has a vision and dream for tomorrow, inspired by the past, which he thinks will bring happiness—and he does everything in his power to realize this dream. But in the end he is deceived, disillusioned, and ultimately…dead.

Fitzgerald, in penning these words almost a hundred years ago, provided a helpful diagnostic of the human condition. Unfortunately, I think he’s pretty accurate. Fortunately, I also think he’s pretty wrong.

On one hand, F. Scott got it right. As we get older, encounter the real world, and find ourselves dissatisfied, we are tricked by nostalgia into thinking our past or youth was something more glorious than it ever was. We ponder back on times which were probably full of rebellion and remember them with a quaint fondness—even though they are often just memories from before our sin found us out. We find ourselves not quite content with the present so we romanticize about our past and fantasize about our future.

We find ourselves in this position because human beings are creatures of longing and hope. We have deep desires for tranquility and contentment; and if we don’t feel that, we need to think tomorrow is going to be better than today—that we’re headed in the right direction—or else we can’t function. So, as Fitzgerald wrote, “tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther. . . .”

But according to F. Scott and so many others, there will never be any fulfillment; the green light is always just out of reach. So, what happens? We get stuck on this treadmill of life—or, as Fitzgerald would say, we beat on against the current. We move forward, passionately pursuing something that will never be, fighting the rhythm of nature and reality to find ourselves dead and dissatisfied in the end. There’s actually an entire book in the Bible about this, called Ecclesiastes; and as it would say, it’s all vanity, or a striving after the wind.

So, the nagging question is, is this true? Is this all there is, all we were made for, all our lives will ever be? A brief, momentary struggle, chasing after an elusive dream, where we are never quite satisfied, always disappointed, and simply dead in the end?

Well, it depends. Many today, like F. Scott it seems or the nihilists, would say yes. This is all there is, was, or ever will be—and the only way to find freedom is to embrace the meaninglessness of life.

The only problem with that is it’s impossible. No one can live that way. As Fitzgerald pointed out, tomorrow we will press on further, inspired by what could be. We need hope. We never stop hoping. To be is to hope.

But hope deferred makes the heart sick. We need a real, attainable, and lasting hope.

And the reality of all this should force us to realize what F. Scott missed.

Here C.S. Lewis, another author, is helpful. As he wrote:

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

Or, as the Bible says,

…[God] has put eternity into man’s heart…

Our problem is not hope but hope misplaced. We find ourselves here on earth foolishly thinking earthly things are what will fill us, despite the fact everything in us and around us testifies otherwise. We go on looking to sex, alcohol, food, people, sports, entertainment, recreation, and other good things falsely thinking they can satisfy our hearts.

What we need to realize is what Blaise Pascal said so powerfully:

“There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus.”

Nothing can satisfy except Jesus Christ. No memory of the past, no present experience, nor any vision of the future—absent of God—can sustain the weight you place upon it.

The only way to satisfaction is to hope in Jesus Christ and His resurrection. To admit nothing here will satisfy and to desire a better country, one that is to be, where His presence provides fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore.

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, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.

These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.

Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight. The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names on my lips. The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

This is the solution to our conundrum: Jesus.

He is the bread of life and living water; eat and drink from Him and you will never hunger or thirst again.

But the only way to come to Him is to first lay down your rebellious arms, never to take them up again. To admit you have suppressed the truth for a lie, made the deadly exchange of Creator for created, rejected God and embraced idols; and then to turn from the empty promises of sin, your deadly addiction to things of the world, and all the false hopes you have stored up in your heart.

Without repentance there is no faith.

And without faith, there is no satisfaction.

So, old sport…repent and believe.

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The Paradox of Perspiration

GATORADE (sweaty face)

Sweating is a strange thing.

In Genesis 3, after Adam and Eve’s disobedience, they are cursed. For men, the curse goes like this:

“…cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken…”

In our modern day and age, we have partially sidestepped this affliction. While there are other frustrations that come with work, the most physical labor some men do is clicking a computer mouse. Many have been absolved of the whole sweating thing. Personally, I am in this boat—being a student isn’t the most strenuous thing for my body.

However, there are occasional situations where I am put in a position of greater physical exertion. Growing up I had to work in a family garden and do a decent amount of lawn care and landscaping. Yesterday, I worked up a decent sweat after running a few miles and working out. In these moments I often feel a strange paradox that I’m sure many other men can attest to.

On one hand, it feels very right. I’m sure many men would agree that something just feels fitting about physical labor. Hard work is fulfilling and just seems good and proper.

I think this is because of the echoes of Eden. In Genesis 2 before the fall, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Working is not innately cursed—it’s one of the things we were made to do. It’s a good thing. So when we work now, there is still a great sense of satisfaction because we are fulfilling an original purpose God gave us.

Prior to the fall, Adam never struggled with work. He never experienced pain, had to deal with thorns and thistles, or toiled unpleasantly. But oh, how things changed!

This is the other side of the paradox—hard work ever since the fall is just that: hard. After working out yesterday, there was pain, aching, and exhaustion. I did squats for the first time in quite a while and was slightly crippled afterward. These are the realities of the fall and curse—realities that are not enjoyable but serve as persistent reminders of the consequences of our rebellion.

So what should we do?

Well, what I did yesterday was rejoiced, mourned, and rejoiced.

I rejoiced because we have a good God who in the beginning loved us, created us, made us in His image, fashioned us out of the dust, breathed life into us, gave us all kinds of good gifts, and was with us. He set us in paradise and did not leave us to meaninglessness but gave us purpose.

I mourned because our parents fell in a rebellious act of disobedience and unbelief. Being our parents, we have inherited their heart disease and were born as insurgents against our Creator. We have repeatedly chosen to commit treason against the one, true King and violate His commands. The repercussions of this revolt ring raucously throughout this broken world, seen chiefly in decay and death.

I rejoiced because Jesus is alive. He came to earth, was born of a virgin, lived in perfect obedience, laid down His life, hung on a cross, was buried, rose again on the third day, ascended into heaven, breathed His Spirit on His people, and is coming back to establish a new city for them. I rejoiced that through His death we don’t have to die; that for all who would turn and trust in Him, death is simply a doorway back into His presence. I rejoiced because this is what’s coming:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

All things new.

Let the echoes of Eden provoke you to follow His good will, let the realities of sin, pain, and death provoke you to desire a better country, and let the good news of Jesus Christ provoke you to set your mind on things above.

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Reality in the Rhythms: Better

This post is part of Reality in the Rhythms, a segment on this blog weighing the messages of modern music. For more, go here.

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For my inaugural Reality in the Rhythms post I wanted to write on a song I believe will resonate with many: Better by Maggie Rose.

Better is the second single from Rose, a newer country artist.

You should listen to the song before proceeding to the commentary, or at least read the lyrics.

This song is written as a momentary outburst, but is enveloped in a broader personal narrative. Therefore, zooming out and considering the context will help us to understand what is being communicated in the song.

The Song Analyzed:

This song is layered and it takes a little while to arrive at a holistic understanding of the situation. Fortunately, each verse provides a deeper level of insight.

The song opens with the first verse, where the person behind the song (we’ll just say “she” for the sake of ease) finds herself in the midst of an internal conflict. She’s lonely and searching for something to numb her pain, and the lure of alcohol is tempting her. However, she’s torn because she’s tried this before, and it didn’t work.

We can stop right here and thank her for her honesty as she points out two things worth noting. First, drunkenness does not mend problems, but compounds them instead. She is honest enough to admit (unlike many of the students on college campuses today) that hoping in a bottle as your functional savior does not bring deliverance, but more bondage. The Scriptures would concur. Drunkenness is debauchery, and debauchery is not what we were made for.

Second, even though she understands this fact intellectually, part of her still desires to get drunk. It points to the foolishness of man—that because of our inherited sin nature, we actively choose ruin. We should be appalled at this evil, but instead all of us are guilty of doing the same thing. We are foolish, wicked, messed up creatures with broken desires. Like an insect that keeps flying into a bug zapper, our defiled hearts keep leading us toward death.

The second verse goes another layer deeper, as she reveals the perceived reason for her pain: she is suffering from relational severance. I’d imagine it’s not hard for people to relate to her hurt—everyone I know has had to endure the loss of a deep relationship whether it be from death, divorce, relocation, etc. Based on other country music I’ve listened to, I’m operating under the assumption this scenario involved a breakup (however, if the reason for separation was different it’d obviously change the interpretation and analysis). Because she alludes to sleeping with other men in the time since the breakup (which I’ll get to), I’d imagine this original relationship was physical as well. I’d imagine it was not a marriage based on our cultural patterns, but it could have been. Either way, if she was united to this man, she’s suffering from a functional divorce and the pain is unbearable (no, despite what you might have been told or what you might have told yourself, it’s not “just sex”). This experience is totally in agreement with the Scriptures. Ever since Genesis 3 when sin interrupted the first union between Adam and Eve, it has caused division, leading to shame and hurt.

Before transitioning to the third verse, it’s worth double-clicking on her statement about other men. Like alcohol, she has looked to sex as her functional savior—and like alcohol, it hasn’t worked: “I try to kill the pain with a stranger’s touch” (key word there being try). Alcohol and sex are good things but when we turn them into idols, disaster always will follow.

The brief third verse is rather revealing. She sings, “I know there’s gonna come a day when he’s still gone and it’s okay.” This verse shows that she is actually not that committed to her man, but rather is committed to herself. She truly believes that one day she’ll move on and everything will be fine—meaning she’s actually not as upset about him leaving as she is with the pain she feels. Her hurt is not other-centric, it’s self-centric. She’s selfish. She used this man to find limited pleasure and now that he’s left she feels the pain of separation, but she really just expects to find new distractions down the road to numb her discontentment.

The root of the problem, as she perceives it, is what she’s been screaming in the chorus the whole song: she’s miserable. She’s dissatisfied, depressed, and despairing. She’s an emotional train wreck and can’t stand it. Or, in her words, she’s just wants to feel better—immediately.

The Real Problem:

Her problem, according to the Bible, isn’t her circumstances nor her pain—these are just symptoms of the real problem: her heart. It’s clearly laced all throughout the analysis above—she thinks she’s the center of the universe. She has rebelled against God, exchanged the truth for a lie, become futile in her thinking and attempted to exalt herself to the throne of the King. Her foolish heart is darkened, and she is a lover of self that believes everything exists to please, entertain, and be used by her and for her happiness. Her self-centered disobedience has led her into this place of loneliness and agony—and we are all just as guilty.

Another outlet of this real problem (a foolish heart) can be seen in her desires (and in the analysis above). She is clearly a hedonist in that she wants to maximize her pleasure and minimize her pain—that’s the entire point of the song. This really shouldn’t be news to anyone, because this is what we all do. As Blaise Pascal said, “All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.” Or, more notably, Jesus is quoted in the Bible as saying, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” the assumption being we already love ourselves (Jesus is not condoning self-exaltation, the problem we’re dealing with, but assuming that humans innately desire their own good, which is not sinful).

However, her problem (and your problem and my problem) is not that her desires are out of control—it’s that she doesn’t want happiness enough. Her desires are too tame. As C.S. Lewis said, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” As seen in the analysis above and in her statements about alcohol and sex, she has rejected the all-satisfying Creator she was made for to instead worship the good gifts of creation—with disastrous results. Or, as the Bible would say, she has forsaken the fountain of living waters and hewn out empty cisterns for herself instead.

The Solution:

So what’s the answer to her quandary? Is it to go ahead and pick up the bottle and drown? Is it to continue sleeping around? Is it to give up and stop wanting to feel better because there’s no hope?

No.

According to the Bible it’s to repent and believe.

It’s to first turn from all the deceitful lures of sin. She’s believed the lies of alcohol and sex and self-worship—empty promises that never satisfy and always harm. Experientially she’s suffering from this misplaced trust—but she must surrender and believe in her heart that these are counterfeit gods, never again to return to these idols.

And since we are worshippers, made to image God and never stop outpouring, she can’t simply stop hoping in alcohol, sex, and herself and expect things to shape up. She will trust in something, and if it’s merely a new idol, it will lead to this same cycle of addiction and despair. She must look to the only One worthy of her worship, who can sustain the weight of all her faith.

She must bank all her hope on the Lord, who has purchased everything for her via a cross and an empty tomb.

He is the only One who is all-satisfying and will never leave you empty (John 6:35).

He is the only One who will never abandon you (Hebrews 13:5).

He is the only One who expects greater desires and offers a better and lasting reward for seeking Him (Hebrews 10:34, 11:6, 11:16).

He is the only One who provides total security (John 10:27-29).

He is the only One who extends all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

He is the only One who gives peace that defies logic (John 14:27).

And He is the only One in whose presence there is fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).

We mustn’t come to the Lord thinking He will give us something or change our circumstances for our happiness, as if He was our cosmic butler. He is not a genie, here to grant us our worldly wishes. He is not the means to another end, for He Himself is the great End. Praise the Lord that He has so designed the universe that when we hope in Him and Him alone, trusting in Him and all He promises, we are fully satisfied, eternally secure, and abundantly joyful. The overflow of coming to the Lord and believing in Him is the contentment which is otherwise so elusive.

So, ma’am, repent and believe. So, reader, repent and believe. Stop trusting the deceitfulness of sin. Come to your Creator, not to use Him for something else but because He is the one, true, good God—the only One worthy of your worship. Trust in Him. Wait for Him. Look to Him—until we can all sing:

For our heart is glad in him, because we trust in his holy name.

He is the only true, lasting, and sufficient way to feel better. May He fill out hearts with all joy, peace, and hope in believing.

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Reality in the Rhythms

This post is part of Reality in the Rhythms, a segment on this blog weighing the messages of modern music. For more, go here.

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For many people, culture plays the defining role in constructing beliefs—and media is one of the principal ways culture is promulgated—and music is one of the key mediums.

Therefore, music assists in forming our worldview.

This is especially dangerous because we are often unaware of or would deny music’s influence. We have a tendency to believe listening to music is a harmless activity, causing us to uncritically consume the messages we hear.

So, I’ve decided to create a new segment on this blog: Reality in the Rhythms.

I’ve wanted to do this for a while, and it’s as much for me as it is for others. I love music and listen to a lot, from all kinds of genres and artists. But not until recently did I start analyzing the presuppositions behind some of the music I was consuming.

So the purpose of this segment is pretty simple: I want to take songs I’ve been listening to and thinking about and deconstruct them in order that others and myself can see the assumptions behind the lyrics. Hopefully this will not only help you to assess the songs I write about, but will spur you on to listen to music critically in the future and give you somewhat of a paradigm for analysis.

I hope to take the claims of chosen songs and weigh them against the Bible: the definer of reality. Through this process we will see some of the lyrics line up with or rub against the doctrines of Scripture. But we will walk away knowing what’s true.

And one final caveat before I get this thing going: I am well acquainted with country music. Therefore, for at least my first few posts, you can expect me to discuss songs from this genre. Some of you receive this news joyously—others, not so much. Regardless of the genre or song, the end is the same—and I’ll do my best to flavor the segment with variety over time.

So, here it goes. Let’s see if we can find any reality in the rhythms.

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Don’t waste your summer

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Our God is a purposeful God (Exodus 9:16). He is intentional is His doings. He does not fiddle around aimlessly with people or time. Before creation was even spoken into being He had already written its story (Acts 4:28). He has plans that will come to fruition (Psalm 33:11).

Being made in His image, it is a good and right thing to plan. We should be intentional in our daily affairs and life goals. He has ascribed to us a purpose, so we should seek it out and work to fulfill it.

Broad sweeping verses in the Bible like 1 Corinthians 10:31 allude to this. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” This end is not achieved by aimlessness. We must be purposeful in our affairs in order to follow Christ obediently. We must fight our propensity to waste time and squander opportunities. As Paul instructed the Ephesians, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” (Ephesians 5:15-17)

Next week I will take my last final exam and gladly greet the freedom of summer. Many other students will find themselves in the same position (or already do). Summer has the potential to be extraordinarily impactful or massively insignificant. Knowing how easy and tempting it may be to fritter away the summer months soaking up the sun, cooking out, and playing around, I plead with you, don’t waste your summer.

It’s not that these activities are inherently futile, but we have a tendency to participate in them in a manner that is. If they are done with intentionality, they can be notably significant. However, we gravitate toward eating, drinking, and being merry while forgetting that Jesus is alive, eternity is long, and death is knocking on our door (1 Corinthians 15).

Regardless of specific activities, summer is a special time. There’s no homework, fewer commitments and responsibilities, and a general energy that accompanies it. When met with resolve, it can actually be one of the most fruitful seasons of the year. Rather than wasting it, maximize your summer for the glory of God and for your joy.

In order to help you do this, I have compiled a list of 20 Bible verses with application questions. This list is not magical, nor does it really have anything to do with summer. It simply is a list of practical questions that get at the rhythms of normal, everyday Christian life. In fact, this list could be used to help plan for any season of life. I’d encourage you to read over them, prayerfully consider them, answer them with honest, attainable goals, and then follow through with your answers.

So, here they are:

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” (Joshua 1:8)

1.  How are you going to maintain daily reading and meditation on Scripture?

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight.” (Proverbs 4:7)

2.  What books are you going to read?

“…pray without ceasing…” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

3.  How are you going to infuse pray into your daily affairs?

But he would withdraw to desolate places and pray.” (Luke 5:16)

4.  When are you going to have intentional times of prayer?

And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone…” (Matthew 14:23)

5.  When are you going to make time to be alone with God?

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

6.  How are you going to maintain confession to God?

So we fasted and implored our God for this, and he listened to our entreaty.” (Ezra 8:23)

7.  From what, when, and why are you going to fast?

Six days you shall work, but on the seventh day you shall rest. In plowing time and in harvest you shall rest.” (Exodus 34:21)

8.  When will your Sabbath be?

And all who believed were together and had all things in common.” (Acts 2:44)

9.  What local church body are you going to be committed to and share life with?

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go.” (Luke 10:1)

10.  What people, teams, or ministry are you going to partner with? 

Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7)

11.  Who is going to be discipling you?

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” (Hebrews 3:12-13)

12.  Who is going to help you believe and apply the gospel?

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” (James 5:16)

13.  Who are you going to be honest with about your sin?

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:19-20)

14.  Who is going to call you to repent?

“…and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2)

15.  Who are you going to be discipling?

And he said to them, ‘Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.’” (Mark 16:15)

16.  Who are you going to be evangelizing? 

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace…” (1 Peter 4:10)

17.  How are you going to serve others?

But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind…” (Luke 14:13)

18.  How are you going to do mercy ministry?

On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come.” (1 Corinthians 16:2)

19.  How are you going to invest your money to advance the Kingdom?

And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14)

20.  How are you going to think, pray, give, send, or go to the nations?

I’d encourage you to consider these questions in community or with a partner, because without accountability, chances are you aren’t going to follow through with your answers. In fact, I’ll go ahead and add a 21st question for good measure:

Who is going to hold you accountable to your answers? 

This list is not meant to be perfect or exhaustive. I’m sure there are things that it would be good for you to do that I missed or forgot, so don’t imagine this is flawless. However, it is a good start and hits on a lot of things you should be doing.

We must approach this summer with dependence. We need the grace of God to achieve anything (John 15:5), and need His grace to work (1 Corinthians 15:10) and fulfill our resolves (2 Thessalonians 1:11).

Maybe the most important qualifier I can make about this list and about planning and doing in general is that there are no guarantees. What I mean is you can answer all these questions with great, challenging goals, execute flawlessly (which won’t happen), and come away unchanged. Only God can provide the growth (1 Corinthians 3:6). We plant and we water, but we are desperate for His Spirit to move if we want any actual, lasting transformation.

Similarly, just because we make plans doesn’t mean they’re sure. All the plans you make find themselves underneath the umbrella of God’s sovereignty, and to think otherwise is sinful arrogance (James 4:13-17). It’s only His plans that are guaranteed (Proverbs 19:21), so we will follow through with ours only if He permits. So, go ahead and plan, but know that the Lord is the One in control.

And when you fail to follow through on your answers (which you will), remember the blood is enough.

A final question I must prompt is, why? Why would you make these plans and try and follow through with them? Is it to add to your spiritual resume? Is it to boast about how spiritual your summer was? It is to silence your sin-spawned guilt with enough discipline? Or is it because you love Jesus, want to know Him more, and want to live for Him?

Let us never pursue proper living with improper motives. Let us believe that the gospel is enough; that we, wretched sinners, are totally accepted by God because of the blood of Jesus. Let us know this and taste how sweet it is, pursuing Christ because He is worthy—not because we expect something from our labors or can earn anything from Him.

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, who loved us and gave us eternal comfort and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts and establish them in every good work and word this summer.” (2 Thessalonians 2:16-17)

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Radical Together

If you have read my other book recommendations (Explicit Gospel, Don’t Waste Your Life), they may sound rather glowing. In all honesty, I am experiencing a little cognitive dissonance because all these rave reviews are making me feel like an uncritical reader. However, the truth is (and I am not trying to give a self-justifying excuse!) I only have a small amount of time for writing on this blog, and I want to use it to recommend books that have been very impactful for me, rather than writing on mediocre or unhelpful works.

In light of that, I want to commend Radical Together by Dr. David Platt. Radical Together follows Platt’s first book, Radical, which was a call for Christians to turn from the self-centered American Dream to self-denying, biblical living. Radical Together continues in this stream of thought, but in the context of community. Radical Together is a call for awakening in the American church and a return to a more biblical vision and philosophy of ministry.

Platt—who has also just published a new book, Follow Me, and recently partnered with Pastor Francis Chan to launch a disciple-making movement, Multiply—is the pastor of The Church at Brook Hills near Birmingham, Alabama and leader of the parachurch ministry Radical. Few pastors have been as influential in my life as Platt, as he has helped me to get a biblical mission (what to do) and vision (how to do it).

The book Radical Together is all about the church of Jesus Christ. In it, Platt discusses his journey in transitioning to the role of lead pastor at Brook Hills, and the principles he has learned and advocated in his time there. The book is really an evangelical cultural critique, as Platt questions and interrogates many common evangelical assumptions and presumptions while offering a more biblical vision of the church. His prophetic voice will be enlightening for anyone steeped in evangelical culture and will assist in rightly discerning truth.

The book is broken into six chapters, each of which expounds a biblical principle. I’ll save describing each of these; you’ll just have to pick up a copy yourself to find out what they are! However, here is a quote from each chapter to give you a preview:

“We all quickly realized, though, that asking what’s wrong with certain programs and activities would get us nowhere. No one was going to say that children having fun at a carnival or people playing basketball was a bad thing. The conversation would change only when we asked, “Are these programs and activities the best way to spend our time, money, and energy for the spread of the gospel in our neighborhood and in all nations?

All of a sudden we found ourselves open to letting go of good things in order to achieve greater purposes. Our perspective had radically changed.” (p. 13-14)

“True faith in Christ inevitably produces great work for Christ, not works fueled by the flesh in an attempt to earn our way to God, but works fueled by faith in a life that is abandoned to God. And all of it is by grace. The basis of our salvation—Christ—is a gracious gift from God. The means of our salvation—faith—is also a gracious gift from God. And the fruit of our salvation—work—is indeed a gracious gift from God. In this way the One who gives the grace ultimately get the glory.

The gospel saves us to work.” (p. 30)

“God’s Word is clearly the foundation for teaching and preaching in the church, but what if his revelation is also the foundation for strategizing and planning in the church? What if the Bible is intended not only to dictate our theology but also to determine our methodology?” (p. 50)

“I also believe in the plan of God. In Jesus’ simple command to ‘make disciples,’ he has invited every one of his followers to share the life of Christ with others in a sacrificial, intentional, global effort to multiply the gospel of Christ through others. He never intended to limit this invitation to the most effective communicators, the most brilliant organizers, or the most talented leaders or artists—all the allegedly right people that you and I are prone to exalt in the church. Instead, the Spirit of God has empowered every follower of Christ to accomplish the purpose of God for the glory of God in the world. This includes the so-called wrong people: those who are the least effective, least brilliant, or least talented in the church.” (p. 57)

“Amid much talk in the church today about being missional, the Adversary may subtly be deceiving our minds about mission. We are exhorted to see ourselves as missionaries in our cities, and we are encouraged to engage our cultures with the gospel. These exhortation and encouragements are needed correctives for church mind-sets that have compartmentalized and limited mission. But, biblically, our mission is not about loving our city or invading our culture with the gospel. Our mission is also about leaving our cities to infiltrate every culture with the gospel. I am convinced that Satan, in a sense, is just fine with missional churches in the West spending the overwhelming majority of our time, energy, and money on trying to reach people right around us. Satan may actually delight in this, for while we spend our lives on the people we see in front of us, more than six thousand people groups for generations have never even heard the gospel and remain in the dark.” (p. 87)

“But let me remind you of a startling reality that the Bible makes clear: ‘There is…no one who seeks God.’ So if the church is sensitive to seekers, and if no one is seeking God, then that means the church is sensitive to no one. That’s radical, but probably not the kind of radical we’re looking for.

Instead, Jesus tells us that the Father is pursuing worshipers for his praise. He is the one doing the seeking! He has been seeking sinners for thousands of years, and he is pretty good at it—far better than all the attractions and allurements we can assemble. So since you and I want to see people come to Christ in the church, let’s do everything we can to put the wonders of God’s glory, holiness, wrath, justice, kindness, jealousy, grace, and character on display in his church. Let’s show people the most biblical, holistic, clear, and captivating vision of God that we possibly can and then trust him to take care of the seeking.” (p. 108)

You can buy Radical Together on Amazon.

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