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Posts Tagged ‘Gospel’

Christianity ought to radically change the way that we see people and relate to them. As I am currently working through the parables of Jesus, I have been struck by how many of them address our relationships with people. In the parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus intimates that all people are our neighbors–even the person we are most frustrated with (for the Jew that was the Samaritan). Further, Jesus is more concerned with us living like neighbors than determining who fits that bill. In the parable of the wedding feast, Jesus indicates that we should be reaching out in love to all people. Living in a kingdom that is upon us and yet awaits fulfillment (already/not yet) should open our eyes to see the poor, the downtrodden, and the needy in our midst.

The gospelradically changes the way we see ourselves and other people and how we relate to them.  Using the four gospel truths of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Consummation, here is a basic guide to poeple:

  1. Creation:  God created the world and he made it good–everything in it, including you and me, belongs to him. Every breath is a gift.
  2. Fall:  God’s good creation has subjected itself to corruption. We have sinned and what God made good has been broken.
  3. Redemption: God promises to fix his broken creation through the death and resurrection of His Son, the God-man Jesus Christ.  People who trust Christ are healed of their corrupt nature.
  4. Consummation: God will send Jesus back to finally redeem those who trusted him and he will finally and decisively make all that is wrong in the world right.

Seeing ourselves in the right light:

  1. 1. We are created beings. We have value.
  2. We are broken. There is much about us that isn’t good–we need to be familiar with this aspect about ourselves. Our nature has been corrupted in a way that we cannot fix by ourselves.
  3. We can be redeemed through Christ. Our corrupt nature can be done away with and replaced with a new one. We don’t deserve this–its the most marvelous gift.
  4. We are not yet what we will be.

Seeing other people in the right light:

  1. They are created beings. They have value. Not one is worth more than another.
  2. They are broken. We should expect them to fail and even hurt us at times.
  3. They can be redeemed by grace. No one deserves this–that is why everyone should hear about it.
  4. Those God saves he will perfect.

Seeing ourselves in relation to other people:

  1. You are created and therefore have value to offer other people.
  2. You are broken and thus have the potential to do great harm to people made in God’s image.
  3. You are saved by God’s grace. You don’t deserve this–its a gift so you are no better than anyone else.  This salvation does grant you a unique potential to bless others.
  4. You are saved, you are being saved, and you will be saved. God isn’t done with you yet.

This paradigm has the power to radically change the way we see people and relate to them. As C.S. Lewis said–humans are immortal beings–that changes everything. Christians ought to be the humblest of all people.

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Churches around the country take up penny gifts for missions at Vacation Bible Schools during the summer. It’s a special gift because kids love to give whatever they have. I just want to post a prayer from one of the young girls this morning in this note.

Here it is:

“Dear God, Thank you for all of these pennies. I hope everyone can hear about Jesus. Amen.”

Kids — even really young kids — can be missional (live as missionaries). And so can you.

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Marriage exists to help us make much of Christ.  I have been striving to define marriage this way in the last two newsletters that I have written.  First I made the argument that you are what is wrong with your marriage.  I wasn’t trying to be mean or judgmental but simply wanted to point out that marital problems are not primarily circumstantial but rather they arise because in every case, marriage is a covenant entered into by two sinners.  Sin comes from within the human heart, not from without (Mark 7:20-23).  If we want our marriages to improve, we need God to change our hearts not our circumstances. In my second article, I argued that Dr. Phil can’t fix your marriage or mine.  The reason being that much of the marital advice given by secular marriage experts is based on compromise between two people of differing mindsets and passions.  I therefore argued that what our marriages need is not a healthy dose of compromise but a common vision and goal.  Husbands and wives, to have a healthy relationship, need to be going in the same direction.  They need to be pursuing something together, namely Jesus Christ and conformity to Him.

When I read Ephesians 5:22-33, I think we see the purpose of marriage very clearly.  God designed marriage to make us holy—to make us more and more like Christ and thus to magnify Christ in greater and greater degree during our sojourn here on earth.  Does that mean that single people are less holy?  No not at all (1 Cor. 7:6-7), it just means that God has designed marriage in a unique way such that it provides special opportunities to image Christ to the world.

So how can your marriage display the glory of Christ more clearly?  How has God designed your marriage as a means to holiness?  I can think of at least three ways:

Marriage is a means to holiness by . . .

  1. Its very nature.  God created marriage to be a “one flesh” union (Gen. 2:23-24; Eph. 5:31).  In the Old Testament, “flesh” more often than not is synonymous with “person.”  In other words the idea of sinful flesh or the flesh being synonymous with the sinful nature is a not what is intended by marriage being a “one flesh” union.  For example, in Genesis 6:12, just before the flood, we learn that “God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.”  Clearly here, God means that all people corrupted their way on the earth.  Thus in being one flesh, a husband and a wife are no longer two people but one.  This idea of “one flesh” certainly carries a sexual aspect but it is much bigger than that.  Inside of marriage, you can no longer think of yourself as an autonomous individual.  Marriage by its very nature attacks selfishness and self-worship.  What is at the heart of your marital squabbles?  If you are honest before God, is not selfishness at the root?  As a follower of Christ, God has graced you with a spouse to reveal your own selfishness to you so that you might repent from it and He will uproot it out of you and make you more like Jesus.  That is good news and God has designed your marriage to do that on a regular basis. Marriage shows us our sin so that we might hate it and repent from it and thus image Christ more clearly.
  1. Its roles.  Wives and husbands are clearly equal in Scripture (Gal. 3:28-29; Gen. 1:26-28; 1 Peter 3:7), but Ephesians 5:22-33 clearly gives them different commands.  God commands wives to “submit to their husbands as to the Lord” (v22) and husbands to “love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (v25).  In the curses pronounced upon Adam and Eve in the fall, we see that there is going to conflict inside of marriage because they will struggle to keep these commands (Gen. 3:16).  We could probably all attest to the fact that husbands get frustrated when they feel they are not respected and wives get frustrated when they don’t feel loved.  The headship of the husband is not all about making all the big decisions, let’s not forget that the husband and wife are now “one flesh”  In fact, the husbands headship is primarily spiritually directed.  The primary way in which husbands are to lead their wives is toward Christ (Eph. 5:25-27).  Husbands lead primarily through love—loving in a self-sacrificial, Christ-like way that frees the wife to grow in her relationship to Christ because she is receiving the kind of love that God intended for her inside of marriage.  Similarly, wives point their husbands to Christ by submitting to them as to the Lord (Eph. 5:22).  This doesn’t mean that wives are to blindly do whatever their husbands say, it means they strive to respect their husbands and submit to their humble headship out of love for Christ.

Husbands its worth noting at this point, that the Bible actually doesn’t say anything about you taking the back seat when it comes to keeping house and raising the children.  In fact you are to be the lead discipler of your children (Eph. 6:1-3) and are to love your wife in a self-sacrificial way (Eph. 5:25).  The Bible tells us more about who we are supposed to be in marriage than it does about exactly what we are supposed to do.  It is clear, you are to love your wife to such an extent that you would give your life for her—that may mean swallowing your pride, turning off the TV and helping her around the house.  Similarly, wives when you do not feel loved there is a very discouraging and disrespectful way to express that which will crush your husband.  Strive to respect him—even when you disagree with him.  Work to communicate your frustrations and disagreements in a way that values and respects your husband.  Husbands when you love your wives like Christ loves the church, they will find joy in submitting to your Christ-like leadership.  Wives when you respect your husbands, they will find joy in loving you self-sacrificially.  When we live faithfully inside the roles God created for marriage, we display the glory of Christ in our marriages.

  1. By its evangelism.  Marriage is a mighty tool in the hands of God to take the gospel to the world.  When we live within the roles God created to be exercised in marriage, a godly marriage then naturally displays the gospel–husbands are showing the love of Christ for the church by giving of themselves for the good of their wives and wives are submitting to them out of love for Christ.  Godly marriages are grace-centered, deep hurts can be overcome inside of Christian marriages because they are grounded in the gospel that tells us that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8).

Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation. (1 Peter 2:11-12).

There is a call inside of Christian marriage to invite unbelievers into our lives, to let them see the way we live and be challenged by it.  If we are living the way that God calls us to live in marriage, we will display the grace of Christ in the gospel—we will stick out from the secular marriages around us that are treading through the muddled waters of compromise.  God has designed Christian marriage to be a display of Christ’s redemptive love for the church—thus your marriage is a mighty tool to draw both your neighbors and the nations to himself!

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The number one problem of every marriage is the husband and the wife.  If your marriage isn’t what you want it to be, let me encourage you with this–it is probably your fault.   Certainly marriage problems are more complex than I am making them, but transformation inside of marriage doesn’t come from compromise but rather spiritual transformation.  What your marriage needs is not more compromises but a common and worthy goal.  God-glorifying marriages are made of a wife and a husband who are moving in the same direction together.  Successful marriages pursue Christ together.  Let me explain:

No Dr. Phil cannot fix your marriage.  In fact I find a good bit of his marriage advice suspect.  Certainly much of what good ole Phil has to say is worth hearing, but I think most of his advice is rooted in a false assumption that the differences between men and women are irreconcilable and thus the lesson that needs learning inside of marriage is the art of compromise.

Learning to compromise in areas of conflict won’t fix your marriage and could in fact ruin it.  Compromise is handy when it comes to what movie to rent, where to grab lunch, and how to spend your free time as a couple.  Compromise can be deadly when applied to more essential matters.  To put this clearly, there are certain areas of marriage that we must not compromise on.

For instance, let’s say my wife is very close to her family (which she is) and we live much closer to them than we do to my family (which we do), so my wife suggests that we spend every other weekend with her parents (which my wife would never do, though she loves them very much!).  What should I do there?  Should I compromise and say once a month?  What is the right course of action there?  Compromise in this instance would neglect to prioritize my relationship with my wife and would contradict the Bible’s clear teaching on marriage.  The Bible tells me that “a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24).   In other words if my wife is not leaving and cleaving–I am not helping her by compromising.  Whether we live like it or not, we are “one flesh” and that means that we must prioritize this new one flesh relationship.  So in this instance, compromise would get us in trouble.  In this instance I need to lovingly show my wife that we are now a family that takes priority over our individual families.  Certainly we will want to spend time with our families, but what needs to happen is that my wife and I need to understand that our relationship is unique–we are “one flesh.”

What does it mean to be “one flesh?”  We see this word “flesh” in Genesis 6:12, “And God saw the earth, and behold, it was corrupt, for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.”  So flesh here doesn’t mean our physical bodies nor does it carry the New Testament understanding of “flesh” as our sinful nature.  The clearest definition of “flesh” here in Genesis is person.  Being “one flesh” means that a husband and wife are no longer autonomous individuals.  They are now essentially “one person.”

The implications behind God’s creative design for the husband and wife to be one are vast.  Adam and Eve were one flesh to such an extent that they were “naked and unashamed.”  Nakedness in Scripture is tied to intimacy (more than just sexual) and vulnerability.  When one is truly “naked” nothing is hidden.  Before the fall this meant that Adam and Eve knew each other intimately, neither of them were self-seeking but rather they knew, loved, and appreciated each other.

What happened immediately after the Fall when God confronts Adam and Eve in the garden?  They immediately become consumed with self and they blameshift.  Adam says its Eve’s fault, Eve says it is the serpent’s fault (Gen. 3:12-16).  Neither will admit their failure and they hide not only from God but from each other–true intimacy is broken.

So how can such intimacy be restored?  Through the gospel, by which Christ is reconciling all things to Himself (Col. 1:20).  The gospel tells me how my sin which is crippling my marriage can be cleansed.   The gospel frees me from slavery to sin (Rom. 6) and transforms me such that the intimacy with God I was created for and the intimacy I am to have with my wife can be restored.  This doesn’t happen over night, but God delights to heal his people and he heals them through the power of the cross.

So instead defaulting to compromise any time there is conflict, how about asking whether your marriage is focused on the gospel?  Ask this question instead–do we share a common goal in this marriage?  Is our goal to become more like Christ?  Are we moving toward greater intimacy with Christ?  Are we pursuing Christ together?

Marriage exists to display the glory of God in the gospel of Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:22-33).  The marriage that glorifies Christ is the one that is being conformed into his image.

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There are a number of theories about what causes most marital troubles–money, children, time, sexual intimacy etc.  It has often been argued that money problems are the number one cause of divorce.  Fair enough–certainly misuse of or disagreements on the use of money can result in a tremendous amount of conflict inside of marriage.  However, I want to cite a different culprit at the heart marital discord–people.  The number one problem inside of marriage is the husband and the wife.

Let me be clear:  if your marriage isn’t what you want it to be, if you don’t feel that your marriage is glorifies Christ, let me encourage you with this–it is your fault. It Is not the fault of unfortunate circumstances or differing personalities or lack of compatibility–if your marriage isn’t healthy–its your fault.  I believe the same about my marriage–when there is strife in my marriage, I am to examine my own heart.

If you are reading this, chances are I don’t know much about what really goes on inside your marriage and there is a good chance that right now you are thinking that I don’t know what I am talking about because the problems in your marriages are chiefly your spouses fault.  That may or may not be true, probably it is both your faults, but the Bible is pretty clear o the fact that we are incapable of changing other people and very clear that by faith God will change those who seek Him.  Further God “opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6).  So before you lump your marital difficulties on your spouse–why not take the log out of your own eye (Matt. 7:3-5) and trust God to transform the state of your marriage?

If you still don’t believe me that its your fault, let me prove it to you from Scripture:

And [Jesus] said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.  All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” -Mark 7:20-23

This shouldn’t surprise us.  What happened in the first marriage when Adam and Eve were caught in sin?  They immediately began to blame shift.  Adam says, “my wife gave me this fruit and I ate it” and Eve says, “Satan gave me this fruit and I ate it” ( Gen 3:12-13 my paraphrase).  Why can’t they fess up?  It is their own pride and selfishness that keeps them from admitting their failures and it is this same pride that moves them from being “naked and unashamed” to covering themselves and hiding from God (Gen 3:7-11).

Nakedness in Scripture is a sign of being exposed, open, and intimate.  Sin has ruined intimacy inside of marriage.  Marriage was created to be a “one flesh” relationship where the husband and wife share all things in common and are completely open and honest with one another.  The intimacy for which God created marriage is far more than physical intimacy, it is also physical and spiritual.

So how can the intimacy God designed to be experienced inside of marriage be restored from all the damage sin and selfishness has caused it?  The answer is the gospel, by which all our sins, including those committed inside of marriage are paid for, such that when we believe on Christ we bear them no more because of His sacrifice on the cross.  The gospel leads us to a “godly grief that leads to salvation without regret” (2 Cor. 7:10).  Inside of marriage this means that the gospel frees us from hiding from our failures and moves us to instead confess them and repent from them.  Thus the gospel frees us to move toward the intimacy (though not without setbacks) we are meant to experience inside of marriage.

Only the gospel can truly move a man to apologize without making excuses.  Only the gospel can free us from our slavery to the sin of selfishness that refuses to recognize wrong-doing and renew the image of God in us that will lead us to Christ-exalting intimacy and joy no matter what the circumstances we find ourselves in.

The problem with your marriage and my marriage is not compatibility issues, circumstance, or misunderstanding, the problem is you and the problem is me.  You cannot change your spouse but God can and will change you and as He does you will begin to see the tremendous hope and potential for your marriage to grow in joy and intimacy and thus display gospel of Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:25-27).

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I will never forget the first time I sat down with my great uncle to “talk theology.”  My uncle was a Methodist pastor for many years, the only time I got to see him was at family reunions, but I always had a great deal of respect for him—he was a kind and patient man.  So when he asked me if I would like to talk theology with him at a family reunion not long after I had decided to go to seminary, I was very excited. 

We were in the Rocky Mountains of New Mexico, it was a beautiful sunny day, and we sat down on the porch of the cabin that my family had rented to do one of my favorite things—talk about the Lord, but in an instant, my joy turned to remorse and deep concern.  The first thing my uncle said was “Drew, I don’t believe in the atonement.” 

I wasn’t sure if I heard him right because I was pretty young in my faith, but I thought surely he couldn’t be a pastor and not believe in the atonement of Christ!  So I asked, “What did you say?”  My uncle responded, “I don’t believe in the atonement, I don’t believe that Jesus had to die to pay the penalty for my sins.”  Perhaps my response was a little lacking in tact but looking back on it, I don’t regret what I said to him.  I said, “if you don’t believe in the atonement you aren’t saved.”  I was young in my faith but I firmly believed that Jesus died for my sins and that whoever believed in Him would not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).  I believed that Christ redeemed me from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for me (Gal. 3:13).  I believed the gospel that proclaims while I was yet a sinner, Christ died for me and whoever would believe in Him will be saved (Rom. 5:8; Acts 16:31).

My uncle went on to tell me about how he went to a seminary in north Texas when he was close to my age and while there his whole foundation for theology was shaken.  He had professors who questioned the authority and inerrancy of Scripture which led him to follow a group of scholars who would later come together as “The Jesus Seminar” (Tyler wrote on this group a long time ago).  They were hoping to “rediscover” the historical Jesus and behind this attempt at rediscovery was the assumption that the Jesus of the Bible couldn’t possibly be the real Jesus.  This group claims to love Jesus and to believe in Him, just not everything he said and did.  In order to determine what Jesus really said and did, these scholars got together and read portions of the four gospels and then voted on how Jesus-like the passage was (I am not making this up).  They voted using colored marbles, as follows:

  1. Red marbles – Jesus actually said or did it.
  2. Pink – Jesus probably said or did something similar.
  3. Grey – Jesus didn’t do or say it, but the saying or action lines up with his ideals.
  4. Black – Jesus did not do or say it –the passage was added by translators years after Jesus’ death.

The Jesus Seminar even followed this meeting up with a color coded Bible, based on the votes cast.  Do you see what this does?  This makes man the ultimate determiner of who Jesus is and what he said.  Furthermore, it should be noted the all Scripture makes the claim of itself that it is divine and authoritative—Scripture is from God not from man (2 Tim 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:20-21). 

Charles Spurgeon said this of some of the more “liberal” Bible scholars of his day, “The new religion practically sets ‘thought’ above revelation, and constitutes man the supreme judge of what ought to be true.”  This is the perpetual sin of man—to exalt himself over and against the Lord or at least make yourself the final arbiter of His truth . . . a god in our own image.

The Jesus Seminar was not taking the Bible seriously, but not only that, they were setting themselves above it.  If Scripture claims to be divine and authoritative and you immediately claim to have the authority and power to deem some of it human—you are contradicting yourself. 

If you follow the logic of The Jesus Seminar, you can see how my uncle ended up saying that he didn’t believe in the atonement, because if it is up to man to determine truth, man is immediately going to eliminate anything that makes him even the slightest bit uncomfortable.  The first to go are the portions that deal with issues of sin, judgment, and punishment.  Thus Jesus Seminar essentially landed itself in universalism and under their influence, folks like my uncle began preaching “another gospel” altogether (Gal. 1:6-8).  Though my uncle knew the gospel, by his own theology I feared that he did not know Jesus as Lord.  I told my uncle that I feared for his soul, I preached the gospel to him that day and plead with him to come to Christ and live—to me that was the only loving thing to do.

Read the Bible on its own terms before you fall to the temptation to exalt yourself over it.  The gospel and consequently the salvation of souls is at stake if you don’t.

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When you grow up in church and you are around spiritual teaching often it can be very easy to become comfortable with the Bible.  When I really read the Bible carefully and thoughtfully, it often does not make me very comfortable.  Of course I find rest in Christ and hope in the gospel, but what Jesus has to say and the way the Bible calls me to live are pretty radical and I think growing up in church can sometimes make us callous to the radical nature of its teaching. 

The Bible is a pretty wild book.  And I think there is a danger when you grow up around it, to become cold or indifferent to the radical nature not only of Scripture but of the gospel itself.  The gospel is pretty wild–think about it.  The God of the universe became man, dwelt among us, ate with tax collectors and sinners, healed the sick, cast out demons, raised the dead, betrayed by one of his closest friends, is beaten within an inch of his life at the hands of his own people, dies a criminal’s death on a cross, rises again, and sends the Holy Spirit to empower those who believe in Him.  And this death and resurrection redeems me, Jesus (as only He could do) paid for my sin on the cross and heals me such that I can personally know the God who made me. 

That is wild and I fight every day to believe every word of it.  And the more I fight to believe it the more clear it becomes to me that I am not a particularly good person.  Certainly, like any other person, I am often tempted to elevate myself over others because of my percieved obedience, but the more deeply I understand the gospel, the less I cling to my own righteousness and the more I cling to Christ.  And consequently the more I love people and long to point them to Christ.

So what does all this have to do with growing up in church?   Growing cold to the radical nature of the gospel happens very subtlely.  At first, perhaps, it begins by noticing the lost people in your community, particularly the one’ s caught up in particularly destructive sins.  You see drug or sex addicts and you are noticably quite different from them.  So as we begin to elevate ourselves over such people, it naturally follows that we begin to think ourselves to be deserving of some special blessing from God–becuase hey, by comparison to these folks, we look pretty good!  God must really like us.  So we begin to think that we deserve something from Him, whether it is some more respect, some more freedom, or some more money, or more something

And what happens when we don’t get that freedom or that money or that respect?  We begin to forget what God has done for us and question Him for what He hasn’t.

Perhaps this is why Jesus hung out with tax collectors and sinners and why Paul shook the dust off his feet and started taking the gospel to the Gentiles–because these folks didn’t have any false pretenses that they deserved something from God and thus were ripe for the gospel–I don’t know. 

I do know this–God is not a tool for you to use to get what we want.  Whether you know it or not, God is what you need. God is what I need–He is the answer to my heart’s deepest longing.  What we think He owes us, we don’t actually need–what we think we need will only leave us empty and hungry.  I need God.  You need God.  We need Him more than life.

Don’t think that God owes you anything because you are better than someone else, wake up and see all that God has done for you in Christ!

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18)!

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