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I was asked by a friend today if love is a work or not. By that he means, is it something we must do as a Christian to maintain or obtain our salvation, or if it’s something else.

Christian love is a mixture of philia and agape love in that we are firmly bound to those who are in four categories:

1) Christ – We are bound to Jesus by his outpouring of affection in agape love toward us, in that he died in our place while were still his enemies, and adopted us into the family of God to share in the kingdom of glory.

2) Our Spouse – This is a combination of the Eros (which can be God-centered in a committed relationship, most clearly defined in a Christian marriage where both parties love Jesus more than themselves or their spouse), philia, and agape – in that we are bound tightly together to each other, and to Christ separately, and he binds us to all of us together. One supporting, caring for, and encouraging one another. Not that Jesus needs our support, care, or encouragement, but that he facilitates all of it between all parties.

3) Other Christians – Just as in a marriage, our joint focus on Christ will breed and support the philia and agape love for other Christians which is the brotherly-love that we all share for one another as well as our self-sacrificing love where we will put ourselves in even harm’s way to assist and defend those who are other Christians in our community (in-person or online). We gladly give of whatever we have with an open hand to help those whom are in need in the Christian union. This is what’s meant by Jesus:

“By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” ~ John 13:35 (ESV)

4) Non-Christians – Our philia love for other Christians and the agape love we share with Christ and our community, pours into our treatment of others who are not in our faith. This allows us treat people who are not Christian and who treat us poorly with respect and understanding. Now, they don’t understand that it’s because we are able to love other because we were first loved by Jesus when we were his enemies, so that is why we endure hardship, indifference, spite, and hatred from those outside the community of Christ. We take care of all others because we were cared for. We endure because Jesus endured on our behalf. When we are wronged we don’t respond in anger or retaliation, but with understanding because we, too, were ignorant and offensive toward that which we didn’t understand at first as well.

All of this to say that our love, in its many forms, defines who we are and is the heart and soul of what we embody, but it’s most certainly not a “work” by which we obtain or maintain our salvation. It pours freely from a heart of worship to our God and King. The closer we are to God, the more deeply we understand our own sin and failures, the more intimately we are attuned to our need for Christ on a daily or minute-by-minute basis, the more the love which is born in this Christian communion flows into all aspects of our life and into our dealings in every relationship we have.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:13 (ESV)

I saw this on a group I belong to in Facebook.

Andy Stanley, the, well, it’s hard to know exactly what he is at North Point Community Church, where he functions as a part-CEO, part-pastor. His sermon series’ in the past have been plagued with issues, much like the quote above, where he seems to want to knock away the barriers for people to become Christians, and instead is knocking free the underpinnings of the Christian faith. This has been going on for a while and it’s no different than much of his previous content.

That said, he seems to embrace the “what if” mentality when it comes to these subjects.

“What your students have discovered, and if you read broadly you’ve discovered, it is next to impossible to defend the entire Bible. But if your Christianity hangs by the thread of proving that everything in the Bible is true, you may be able to hang onto it, but your kids and your grandkids and the next generation will not. Because this puts the Bible at the center of the debate. This puts the spotlight right on the Bible. Everything rises and falls on whether not part, but all the Bible is true. And that’s unfortunate, and as we’re going to discover today, it is absolutely unnecessary.”
– Andy Stanley, “Who Needs God / The Bible Told Me So

“So, if you stepped away from Christianity because of something in the Bible, if you stepped away from the Christian faith because of Old Testament miracles, if you stepped away from the Christian faith because you couldn’t reconcile 6,000 years with a 4.5 billion year old earth and something you learned in biology, I want to invite you to reconsider, because the issue has never been, ‘is the Bible true?’”
– Andy Stanley, “Who Needs God / The Bible Told Me So

“I want all the people who grew up in church, and then left church because they couldn’t figure out how to reconcile what they learned in school or what they experienced in life with what they learned in church, and decided, you know what, it’s just irreconcilable. Science is irreconcilable with faith, pain is irreconcilable with faith, pain and suffering in the world is irreconcilable with faith, my life experiences are irreconcilable with faith, just what I’ve learned and experienced as an adult is irreconcilable with faith, and so there’s this tension, and I either pretend I believe something I’m not sure exists, or I can go with what’s obvious and with what’s undeniable. I want you to reconsider Christianity because I think some of you, I’m guessing a whole lot of you, but I don’t want to judge, a lot of you, though, you left Christianity for reasons that really have nothing to do with the Christian faith. You left unnecessarily, so I’m inviting all of you to reconsider Christianity, not the Christianity of your childhood, but a grown-up faith with a grown-up God with a little different perspective, because I want you to come back.”
– Andy Stanley, “Who Needs God / The God of Jesus

I wrote an article a while ago about the power of “what if?” in witnessing. I’d link it but I had some database issues a while ago and after recovering much of my site and apparently it has gone away. Much sads.

Anyway, in witnessing, “what if” is the window into deeper conversation:
Atheist: “I don’t believe in the Judeo-Christian God.”
Christian: “What if it’s not about what you believe?”

Atheist: “I don’t know how to reconcile miracles and supernatural actions – they don’t seem logical to me.”
Christian: “What if your concept of what God is capable of, and what he controls is smaller than what’s really possible?”

Atheist: “My cousin/sister/child died from cancer and I can’t believe in a God who would allow something like that to happen to innocent people.”
Christian: “What if your understanding is only from your own perspective. What if the way you understand innocence, or even the reason we have our lives on this planet, much less who owns that life, is different from what you have been taught?”

Just to be totally clear here – I 100% understand that he’s addressing the goats rather than the sheep, but to whom is he speaking? Who are the people in his direct audience? These are all likely people who really and truly believe that they ARE ALREADY Christians. As a result, I understand fears addressing this content to believers. To carry this further, “what if” someone who is in the audience is a young Christian and is forced to reconsider their beliefs? As a Calvinist I know that our belief isn’t even our own – we don’t own it, but God provides it to us. As a result there are things that I struggle with on a daily basis and work my way through so I can get a deeper and fuller understand of not only who this God is who saved me from himself because of my nature which claws its way against him in continual revulsion of his power and holiness and glory as rats escape a sinking and burning ship, but also a better understanding of his nature and character in that he knows my form and my weaknesses and yet continues to use me for his glory to help those in my care. So, as someone who is a skeptic at heart, who continually struggles with the “why” questions, this is something that’s good for me.

Looking back on my own conversion, I wasn’t entirely sure who Jesus was. I knew that he was the son of God and I knew who God was as my creator, and that my own sins were the reason I stood accused before him. I knew that Jesus took my place and that I was the one who deserved to die, not him. But was I a hard-core 6-day creationist? Nope. Could I clearly articulate the trinity? Nope. Did I have all of the creeds and confessions memorized and was I able to spout them off at a moment’s notice? Not at all. But this isn’t the context of his sermon series – it’s directed at people in the audience – those who largely consider themselves to be Christian. After my conversion I clearly understood that my own concept of who God was and my role in this equation was very foreign to me and that I had to abandon my previously held beliefs to find out not only who God really was, but to understand it on his terms and not my own.

What Andy Stanley is doing is undermining the core tenets of the Christian faith for what he sees as a “mere Christianity” mindset which is fine when witnessing to people to get them beyond their own concepts and to open the door for them to the reality that God exists, but when preached to the people of God, from the pulpit, it tells people that some belief – any belief – as long as it is loosely tied to the God of the Bible is sufficient for Christian faith and practice. This is wholly reprehensible. A Christian immediately upon conversion is not expected to have a full understanding of the triune nature of God, the whole working of God throughout history, and to totally embrace all of these ideas, but in time they do come to that understanding. To have a pastor from the pulpit preach to a community of people who already see themselves as Christians (some may be and some may not), and to teach them that they can abandon anything that seems hard to understand or follow and just to simply cling to the barest of details about Jesus – being told that this is all that’s necessary for a full and deep relationship with God – is one of the most wicked things I can imagine.

Look at it this way. When I first met my wife, I had an alright understanding of who she was. I knew that she liked dancing, that she loved 80’s music, and that she looked really great in skirts (BC days). In time I grew to have a much deeper understanding of who she was and, more importantly, why she was the way that she was. I learned and embraced her hopes and dreams. I empathized with her over her fears and failures. I made her own concerns my concerns because of my deep love for her. How? I studied her and I learned from her on her terms and not my own. This is the core of Christian development – to know the God who loves us, and to learn to love him on his terms, not our own.

Andy Stanley is teaching people that they don’t need to learn these things and that desiring to grow is not unnecessary, but troublesome. Were I to only know the barest of details about my wife, I’d have no friendship at all, let alone a marriage. Let us take this example from a pastor who is doing a terrible job at leading his flock and let it drive us to know more about our God who loved us by dying for us, and as a result, to learn more about ourselves as we stand before his throne of glory.

Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

~ Ephesians 4:17–24 (ESV)

You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

~ Romans 9:19–24 (ESV)

God has, by his own will and desire, created certain people for salvation and others for damnation. This is clearly seen throughout all of scripture, where man’s choices are overridden by God’s will. Jonah tried to run from his calling, but God forced his hand. Moses tried to shift the work of preaching to the people of God and leading them out of Egypt, but God forced his hand. He allowed Aaron to speak for him, but Moses didn’t know that he had already sent Aaron to him to meet with him for that purpose. The people of Israel said that they could keep God’s commands, but God in Deuteronomy 28 knew that they’d fall away and prescribed their punishment which they were to receive time and again to them. Saul wanted to crush the Christian rebellion against Jewish authority and Jesus forced himself upon him. Every time that there is a choice to be made, God is the actor on that choice, and it’s often not what people would have expected. Abel over Cain, Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, David over all of his brothers, creating the people of Israel instead of choosing a large and well established nation. I could do this all day.

The point made is that God is the one who chooses, but man merely responds to that choice. Look back at the covenants that we’ve seen – there are two types which are present. Covenant of grace, those which God provides onto a people (Noahic, Abrahamic, Davidic) and covenants of works, those which are doomed to fail, based on the people trying to keep their commitment with God’s commands (Adamic – led to the destruction of the world via the flood, Mosaic – led to the destruction of the nation of Israel). The covenants of grace were created because God chose to act for specific people in a specific way, but the covenants of works existed to point people back to God alone as our salvation and deliverer. Knowijng, then, that God is sovereign over his creation, and that we are part of that creation – not free moral agents who can do as we please, but subject to the will of the one who made, sustains, and controls all of the events and environment around us, who are we to say that God is unfair when he chooses to control those whom he will save and those whom he will send to hell?

Moreover, if God does choose to send anyone to hell, and if he is truly a just judge, then how is it that people can sin at all? This is where we see the realm of “free will” and that which it can pursue. The only free will that God allows is that which leads to sin. Think about it – WAAAY back in the garden, if Adam and Eve did the will of God then they’d never have eaten the forbidden fruit. Literally any other action was following God’s commands, but that which led them to sin. If you break down the ten commandments, we are called to honor God only in all that we do and to trust in him alone for our needs, much less our salvation, and we are to treat others in a way that honors God, as we are his image bearers, as are those with whom we interact. So any free will choice we exert on others is a violation of those commands.

For those who say that we can, of our own will, choose to do that which pleases God, scripture denies that right.

Truly no man can ransom another,
or give to God the price of his life,
for the ransom of their life is costly
and can never suffice,
that he should live on forever
and never see the pit.
~ Psalm 49: 7-9 (ESV)

Though you wash yourself with lye
and use much soap,
the stain of your guilt is still before me,
declares the Lord GOD.
~ Jeremiah 2:22 (ESV)

“And when I passed by you and saw you wallowing in your blood, I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’ I said to you in your blood, ‘Live!’
~ Ezekiel 16:6 (ESV)

The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.”
~ Ezekiel 37:1-3 (ESV)

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.
~ Romans 5:6 (ESV)

And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses,
~ Colossians 2:13 (ESV)

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—
~ Ephesians 2:1-2, 4-5 (ESV)

So it is God alone who determines who can be saved, and God also who determines how that takes place. That said, if God purposes to save anyone, as the commander of all spiritual and natural forces, he will keep that person alive and bend heaven and earth until they are converted. When you are so converted, it’s not because you are choosing one option from a billion others, but that God has so orchestrated all of the events of your life such that you can do nothing but choose him. And you’ll thank him for it for the rest of your life and on forever into eternity.

On Facebook someone posted the most irreverent question I’ve seen in a while.

How can a God who Commands us to love our neighbors as ourselves be so limited in His own ability to love that He could love only some enough to elect them for salvation and then be able to hate some even lesser to reprobate them.

I’d add a comment here about how I felt about it but I’m very tired. That said, here’s my response:

In brief, here’s the way it works. God makes the rules. He’s God. He describes himself in scripture as the potter whose creations complain that he’s made them as he has but he’s still the potter. He can do what he wants. To presume anything else is to presume that you know better than he does. Why does he allow kids to die from cancer? Why does he even allow cancer in the first place? It’s because he’s God. I won’t understand every thing about what he does and I’m glad for that. If he’s a truly holy and pure God, my corrupted mind won’t be able to understand all of it. When I look at all of the things that took place in my life when he converted me – all of the people and experiences involved that shaped me into the man I was, all of the struggles I endured that led me to the place where all I could do was finally surrender my life into the hands of my creator, despite all of it that I’d normally claim as terrible, I thank God for all of it. He is my creator. He is my king. Who am I, as a creature under his control to take in his air that he owns and allows me to use to give me life and use it to attack him or belittle his authority over me?

If left to our own devices we’d never “choose” him, because to do so would be to violate the core of the sinful man. Ask any atheist if they feel they’re forced to hate a God that they swear doesn’t even exist? God chooses, in his love, to save some so he can demonstrate his communicable attributes of grace and mercy. He allows others to go to hell, where they’d rather be, because of their own desire to be as far from him as they can manage. Read Romans 1:18-32. Time after time it’s not God forcing anyone to do anything – it’s him, loving them enough to allow them to have what they want. They WANT this. The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against ALL ungodliness and unrighteous of men, but they don’t care. They suppress the truth of who God is and willingly choose to walk in sin. His attributes are made clear to them and they choose to abandon all of it in pursuit of the lie that they can be their own gods and determine what is right and true by their own volition. So he gives them up to their desires time and again. God doesn’t throw people into hell, he allows them to proudly walk in and lock the door behind themselves. The right question here isn’t “how does God choose to punish anyone”, but ” why would God choose to save anyone?”. I’m a failure. I screw up all the time. I willingly sin because I want that temporary freedom that I think I’ll get and I only receive the reminder that it was not only bad for me, but that it violated the one who died in my place to save me. I should be incinerated where I stand every moment of every day. Even on my best moment and with my best intentions I’m still a thousand miles from anywhere near where I need to be. The fact that God chose to save me boggles my mind every moment of every day. But here’s the fact – he did this by his own power and to his own glory because I know that I’d never do it on my own, and I thank him for it because that’s literally all I can do. I can’t work it off and I’ll never be good enough to be worthy of his saving work on my behalf. And for that I praise him.

This is something that has come up a few times on Facebook and it seems to keep coming up so I figured I’d write about it here for easy access.

The term “peccability” is from the Latin term, “peccō”, which means “to sin”, or in this case, the capability of sinning. This is where we get the term that Martin Luther used, “Simul justus et peccator”, which describes the state of man in the “already and not yet” of our sanctification – we are “simultaneously justified, yet a sinner”. The peccability, or impeccability of Christ as it’s commonly stated, is where we have this discussion. The impeccabilty stance simply stated declares that Jesus is God and therefore incapable of sinning as it would violate his nature. Therefore Jesus is merely totally incapable of committing sin and any other view is negated. I think that this is a little naive. Don’t get me wrong – Jesus IS God. As God he cannot violate his own nature and, as that nature is the one which embodies perfect justice, and as the law giver for all of his creation, it would clearly violate that nature if he committed sin. My point is that his ability to sin is necessary to our salvation. Let me explain…

Jesus contained the moral breadth to sin and the physical capability to sin but chose not to at every moment of every day. As Adam’s selfish sin (to be like God) led him to sin, breaking his ability to choose not to sin (as the only person who could do that outside of Christ), we all are lost by his sin in the inheritance of our sin nature. Jesus, born without an earthly father, is the last man in this chain who could make that decision on his own, and as God he had the moral capability to keep from sinning. This is why not only Jesus’ death on the cross matters, but also why his perfect life does as well. It’s not merely enough for Jesus, as a robot who is incapable of sinning to merely exist, but his day by day, moment by moment choice not to sin is what grants his perfect life credence. Jesus’ life of perfect obedience on my behalf is transferred to me on the cross and my life of perfect disobedience is transferred to him. So Jesus had to have the capability to sin, but because he is God and therefore of a perfect moral character, he could choose at every moment to do that which honored God the most in each situation – in exactly the way that I can’t. Therefore, the peccabilty of Jesus is what makes my salvation possible, because he is the perfect lamb, the last Adam, and the end of my striving whose sacrifice on my behalf makes it possible for God to save a man like me.

To quote Charles Hodge:

The Mediator between God and man must be sinless. Under the law the victim offered on the altar must be without blemish. Christ, who was to offer Himself unto God as a sacrifice for the sins of the world, must be Himself free from sin. The High Priest, therefore, who becomes us, He whom our necessities demand, must be holy, harmless, undefiled, and separate from sinners. (Hebrews 7:26.) He was, therefore, “without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15; 1 Peter 2:22.) A sinful Saviour from sin is an impossibility. He could not have access to God. He could not be a sacrifice for sins; and He could not be the source of holiness and eternal life to his people. This sinlessness of our Lord, however, does not amount to absolute impeccability. It was not a non potest peccare. If He was a true man He must have been capable of sinning. That He did not sin under the greatest provocation; that when He was reviled He blessed; when He suffered He threatened not; that He was dumb, as a sheep before its shearers, is held up to us as an example. Temptation implies the possibility of sin. If from the constitution of his person it was impossible for Christ to sin, then his temptation was unreal and without effect, and He cannot sympathize with his people.

Hodge, C. (1997). Systematic theology (Vol. 2, p. 457). Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc

I’m not saying that Jesus would ever have sinned, nor that his nature would have allowed it, but just that it was possible from the sense that he made conscious decisions to only ever honor God first in all that he thought, said, and did. The implication here is that, as I mentioned before, his actions were real actions and not some pre-scripted process which would eliminate the depth of his compassion for mankind or his ability to relate to us in our struggles. Jesus’ active obedience hinges on his ability to disobey, and because he never sinned at all, we can reap the benefit of this, whereas in our own lives, we try to do our best and fail at every turn.

If, at mid-day, we either look down to the ground, or on the surrounding objects which lie open to our view, we think ourselves endued with a very strong and piercing eyesight; but when we look up to the sun, and gaze at it unveiled, the sight which did excellently well for the earth is instantly so dazzled and confounded by the refulgence, as to oblige us to confess that our acuteness in discerning terrestrial objects is mere dimness when applied to the sun. Thus too, it happens in estimating our spiritual qualities. So long as we do not look beyond the earth, we are quite pleased with our own righteousness, wisdom, and virtue; we address ourselves in the most flattering terms, and seem only less than demigods. But should we once begin to raise our thoughts to God, and reflect what kind of Being he is, and how absolute the perfection of that righteousness, and wisdom, and virtue, to which, as a standard, we are bound to be conformed, what formerly delighted us by its false show of righteousness will become polluted with the greatest iniquity; what strangely imposed upon us under the name of wisdom will disgust by its extreme folly; and what presented the appearance of virtuous energy will be condemned as the most miserable impotence. So far are those qualities in us, which seem most perfect, from corresponding to the divine purity.

Calvin, J. (1997). Institutes of the Christian Religion. Book 1, Chapter 1, Section 2. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

So, a good friend of mine posted a link on Facebook to an article about the remake of the Left Behind movie. The review was as good as I could have hoped when a desire is made by Hollywood to remake a “Christian classic” so that people in the movie industry can line their pockets. You can find the review here.

That said, it brought up something that I’ve often talked about and thought it was a real thing but, it appears, it is not. I speak of the “apology gospel” or the “gospel of apology”. See, the crux of the first movie (you’ve seen it, right?) is when the lead role comes to faith in Christ. If you’ve read any of my posts you know how I feel about this and that it’s important that people understand what they’re saying when they say they have faith in Christ. Jesus himself placed a lot of emphasis on this in Luke 14:20-30, where he makes the point that no one jumps into something without first counting the cost to see whether or not they can complete what’s before them. People who do so are, in the eyes of the creator of all eternity, unworthy to enter into his rest.

So, what is this “apology gospel” then? I know you’ve all heard this. It starts off as a great conversation about Jesus or a great sermon about any number of topics but at the end there’s a bit of an odd transition, and you can see that everything before was all fluff – filler to get to the point. They say that Jesus is the son of God and that is important for you to know. They say that there are these things called “sins” and that everyone has committed them, and then apologize for having to tell you this, but you (even YOU) have maybe committed one of them as well. Maybe. Probably. BUT THERE IS GOOD NEWS! See, Jesus represents his Dad and has come here to save you from him. And there are some great benefits to this as well! See, he can fix your marriage. Financial woes? Man, we used to drive an old beater, but now we have a new Lexus! You know how my wife, Nancy, had that horrible accident, or you know how Joan couldn’t have kids? Now that she’s found Jesus my wife is all better, and Joan now has 7 kids! Praise God! So, would you, you know, consider Jesus too? He’s just up in heaven right now, waiting for you to choose him over porn, or that movie with an “r” rating, or, I don’t know, Pepsi. All you have to do is to close your eyes and follow along with this prayer thing. What? You don’t want to say it? That’s alright, just listen to what I say and “really mean it” and squeeze my hand, or raise your hand, or wink your eye for Jesus. That’ll be his queue and he’ll rush in the door to your heart and you’ll be a Christian forever! Yay Jesus!

Those reference? Heard them all. The Lexus one? Yup. The sickness one? Totally. Even the one about being barren. All of the “wink your eye” or “squeeze/raise your hand” as well. It’s all well and good, and churches and even people have little notches in their mind that they carve out to show how many ppl they’ve “brought to the Lord”, but it’s all for nothing. Absolutely nothing. Remember what I said before about Jesus and “counting the cost”? Every one but one of Jesus followers were murdered for their belief. Murdered. Their families were bereft of them because of their belief. John, the only one who didn’t die that way, had been placed inside a cauldron of boiling oil and emerged unharmed, so they banished him to an island to stop him from talking to people about Jesus. Further converts were dipped in wax and set on fire to burn alive at parties for the Roman emperor. Many were tossed to the lions or simply murdered in the street. Even today we have Christians in other countries who are murdered for their faith, stalwart defenders of their belief in Christ, even to death. Children of Christians are raped and murdered, their Christian parents crucified after watching their children violated before their eyes. Yet none of them recant their faith. This is pretty far from the “daddy got a new Lexus” and “every day is a Friday” mentality of the common American gospel of apology mentioned above. So, what is this message by which we have to count the cost of our discipleship, understanding that those who “put their hand to the plow and turns back are unworthy of the Kingdom of God (Luke 9:62)”.

The word “gospel” means “good news”. While it could be “good news” to have a new Lexus, that really means less than nothing in the grand scheme of God’s design. This goes all the way back to the Garden, where life first erupted on this planet of ours. God created the entire universe for the purpose of displaying his communicable attributes like longsuffering, mercy, and grace. He created everything and it was “very good”. The only thing that wasn’t very good was that man was alone. He created for him a helper, out of his side. He was incomplete without her and she without him. They worked together in union to glorify God. They then broke God’s only rule at the time and ushered in an entire history of pain, disappointment, and death. Pain in that we all equally share in the knowledge that we cannot ever please God on our own anymore. Disappointment in that we all know that what we see here is a fraction of the perfection that was available before the fall. And death since the consequence for sin (violation of God’s commandments), the just due for our crimes before him, is death. God, being perfect and the creator of all things, has the authority to define the rules and we, his creation, are to follow them. We have free will and choose of our own volition to disobey, though it’s not that we can even do it on our own, because our very nature – the who and what we are – leads us to divorce ourselves from dependence on him.

God, knowing this, promised to Eve, our first mother, that he would send a savior to save us from His wrath. He required that we have faith in him that this savior would come, and that we do our best to follow his commandments, but that it is the faith that God not only will send a savior but that he would be sufficient to exonerate us from our sins before him that is the main thing. Days turned into weeks, weeks into years, years into centuries. Things got so bad at one point that God erased the history of the Earth that was in a flood, destroying and burying all life outside of those whom he chose to save in the Ark.

Life began again, and, as before, people started off well and quickly went after their own desires despite what they had just witnessed God do to the world. People had families, families begot cities, cities begot nations, nations begot kings and monuments. God, again, chose a fledgling nation so he could showcase his glory through them. Promised people beyond number but the founding father of this nation never saw any of this develop outside of a life in the wilderness, where the only land he owned was where he buried his wife, despite having been shown the land that his descendants would inhabit. He had 2 sons, one because he was frustrated that God didn’t act when he wanted him to, and the second was the child that he had promised to him. His son, likewise, had two sons – not exactly the grand nation that was promised, but he, as did his father, had faith. His second son had 12 sons and they entered Egypt shortly before his death. Those 12 sons had their own children which begat more and more until the number reached about 2M at the end of 400 years. Then God stepped in and brought them into their own land through more miracles and promises fulfilled. Just as before, they fell back into old habits. New laws were given and broken, promises and covenants were made and within a generation merely forgotten. No one, it seemed, would care about the God who had saved them so many times before. Eventually they were even completely removed from their capital city and it was razed, though, as he had promised, he kept a few who trusted in him who were able to inhabit the land but their sovereign nation was removed.

Then 400 years of silence.

Suddenly a star, a birth to a young teenage couple, and a promise is fulfilled. God has entered the universe as a man. Jesus is born to this couple, is raised in relative obscurity, living among the people he intends to save. He sees their pain, feels their loves and experiences their disappointments. He eventually begins his ministry with the same message as was relayed in the garden, “Repent and believe” but now starts with something new “for the Kingdom of God is at hand!”. No more prophets, no more confusing messages, God himself is here to proclaim the good news. God is going to take the punishment that we deserve for our sins. God, acknowledging our inability to save ourselves, has revealed that his plan was to do it for us, on our behalf. His authority is challenged and, as we do with all things we don’t understand or that threatens our power, we murdered him. The only good person to ever walk the earth and we murder him because we’re afraid of his message. God uses this, knowing that it would happen (he spoke about his impending crucifixion numerous times before his eventual arrest and conviction), used it to not only show what he had said was true, but in his resurrection, confirmed to all that the sin debt of all who trust in him have their sins likewise forgiven through him.

That is the gospel. That no matter what you’ve done in your life, you will never, ever be able to meet God’s holy standard (never lie, never steal, always trust that God will give you want you need, never look at another person to whom you’re not married with lustful intent, always keep God at the forefront of your mind, never trust in something else to meet all of your needs, etc), so he took it upon himself to do it for you, and in the end all you need to do is to trust that he has done so.

Wait, isn’t there some magic formula? Where’s that sinner’s prayer? I can tell you this, it’s nowhere in the Bible. God never gave us a specific way to pray because he knows our hearts, that we’ll turn it into an idol and worship it. Have you ever been to a Southern Baptist revival? It’d be a lot like that. John Calvin was dead on with that – that our hearts are factories for idols. See, it’s not about the method but the intent. In trusting in Christ we’re admitting a lot of things here. We’re admitting that God exists and that he has not only an interest in our lives but wants to be directly involved. We admit that everything we know about the universe is wrong. We admit that we are incapable of determining the right path for our lives, but are instead are dependent on an outside force to direct us and to determine that for us. We freely acknowledge our own sinfulness and that we are untrustworthy, even to ourselves. We also admit that we are the worst judge of others since we can’t even be certain of our own intent most of the time. But the end of it all – knowing that this is the cost for admission, we clearly understand that it is not us who keep ourselves in his good graces but him alone who holds onto us. Even when we sin. Even when we do horrible, stupid things, he holds onto us. That’s how we can handle losing family members, and children, and cancer, and death, and accidents, and shootings, and natural disasters, and on, and on. Because Jesus endured this as well, and overcame them all. It’s not about tricking someone into saying some stupid speech or squeezing your hand for Jesus, it’s about knowing the creator of the universe, knowing that he suffered in ways we could never imagine, all for his love for us, and us living our lives in a manner where we try to bring him glory. We read his word because we know he wants us to know about himself, and we learn about who he is through what he’s shared with us. We love other people who hate us or our message, not because it’s a way to be better than them, but so that we can extend to them the same love that he extended to us. We tell people about Jesus, not to get another notch in our belt of glory, but because we were as they are, lost and confused – blind to their own sinfulness and seeking to justify themselves, and we want to show them that, despite their often angry and spiteful retorts, God loves them through us, and wants to save them from their own body of death. That is the gospel.

All this false gospel of apology does is to create people who think they’re saved but inoculated from hearing more about it because “they’re good” and they “did that”. It creates a whole army of people who never really trusted in Jesus outside of participating in American Religiosity who say that they were “Christians” but who are now atheists or Hindu or any of other counterfeit religion that exist today. They have no need for repentance because they believed the lie that their acceptance of a false message bought them into the body of Christ. As Paul said, though, those who have left us reveal that they were never part of us to begin with. Why not? Because we are secure in Christ because of Christ. He will allow us to falter and even to fall from grace, but only to show us our dependence on him and never release us from our salvation within him. What a sad world we live in where this needs to be hidden behind an wall of idols to make people want to come in.

It breaks my heart.

May he grant you your heart’s desire
and fulfill all your plans!
May we shout for joy over your salvation,
and in the name of our God set up our banners!
May the Lord fulfill all your petitions! (Psalm 20:4-5, ESV)

Many people hold closely to verses like this in the Bible, despite the chapters that tell a different story. There are many, many people over the years that have prayed to God expecting them to give them what they want, when the very things they desire are ungodly. But, the idea that you can force God to do things still persists. The problem with this mentality where you can command God to give you good things because there are statements like this in the Bible is that there are conditions on everything. God doesn’t grant all of my desires, because many of my desires are wicked. God doesn’t fulfill all of my plans because some of my plans are bad for me and worse for others. I don’t even want to imagine what it would be like if God did everything that said when I spouted off in anger at someone because my pride was hurt or because I was just in a crappy mood.

So the focus changes then, and people who use text like this for their “life verse” (For the atheists, a life verse is a cherry picked verse that you have chosen to model your life around which is usually pulled from all context so it makes sense for your specific needs at the time) tend to use this as a spring board to statements like “God wants everyone to be happy and healthy and wealthy”. Well, if everyone were happy then “happiness” would cease to exist and we’d just have varying levels of joy and those who had more joy than others would be envied by those who have less and it would fall back into the same scenario. Same with health, I’ve grown closer to God through my own illnesses and the illness of others that I love so I wouldn’t give that up for anything in the world. Lastly, and this is a big point for our government, if everyone is wealthy we still fall back into the same scenario with the “happiness” mentioned a second ago, but with more fighting. Money isn’t the way to fix all the problems in the world. A heart change is. Once you are content with what you have you don’t want anything else and you can begin to pay down your bills.

Finally, finishing any prayer “In Jesus’ Name” is not the fix for everything. I’ve heard over and over when I was a kid that “prayers don’t exit the ceiling if you don’t pray ‘In Jesus’ Name'”. That isn’t a secret code word to make it work and it’s not the way to force God’s hand to your will. It’s not like God is up and heaven listening to your prayer and he says, “Well, I know that you keep asking for a Porsche and I was initially going to say ‘no’ but you did say ‘In Jesus’ Name’ so I guess I’ll have to…”. The term “In Jesus’ Name” is a reference to the character and nature of God and a statement that you’re asking God to align your desires with those of His Son. Yes, the Bible states, “Whatever you ask in my name I will do” (Jn 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23-27) but the term “name” means “in accordance with my desires and will”. If my son goes to the store and signs for something in my name he’s doing something that I’ve asked him to do and approved of. Asking God to do something that’s in conflict with His character and nature and then slapping “In Jesus’ Name” on it is like telling yourself “I’m a vegan” before you eat a 1lb steak just to soothe your own conscience.

If you’re going to ask anything of God, learn his character and nature and then ask things that are in accordance with what He’s likely to do. Read your Bible, seek to know him more, and he will convert your heart and your ideals to his plans and desires and once that happens then you He will grant every desire and fulfill all of your plans because you want the same things he does. I can’t say that I understand why God does everything he does, but what I do know is that he’s right in every situation, even in those where I’ve experienced the deepest emotional or physical pain. Glory to God alone.

So, this whole thing bothers me. As someone who was once firmly in the MacArthur camp where dispensationalism and legalism ruled the day and when I could tell if someone was a real Christian by looking at what version of the Bible they carried to church and whether or not their pastor came from MacArthur’s seminary, I am disheartened by the conference that he held last week. I’ve come a long way but it seems that, because I’m willing to admit that God can choose to work in ways that we can’t explain or understand in order to reach people for His kingdom and His glory, that we are outside the body of Christ.

Here’s where I stand on this whole thing. I can’t say that the gifts have all ended. I’ve seen and experienced things that I can’t explain and as a result the only thing I can say is that it’s possible that it was from God. For me to say that it’s not is to put myself in the shoes of the Pharisees against the works of the Apostles, stating that it is an act of Satan. I’m by no means a charismatic but I can’t say that I could side with MacArthur and say that a whole swath of people who call themselves Christians are heretics and outside the body of Christ. God has worked in many ways throughout history to reach many people and if He desires to use charismatic gifts today to reach people, then fine. I’m not going to stand before God and tell him what He can or cannot do.

Carrying this forward, there are far greater issues in the church today than this one alone. The health and wealth lies that are flooding the world, and yes, even Africa, need to be addressed. They teach a gospel that focuses on the man, and not the God who died to save them from His own wrath. If I were to have a conference, that is where I would place my focus, not on things that must be argued from the silence of Scripture.

Is MacArthur able to do whatever he wants? Sure. Was Driscoll being petty and lashing out at the Evangelical Pope? Yup. Do I think that MacArthur has the right to try to weed out the false Christians in the church? If he wants to, go right ahead. I have to find a new Bible though because when I read Mt. 13:24-30 I don’t see the secret ending to vs 30 where Jesus says, “until my servant John MacArthur arrives for he can rightly divide between the roots of the wheat and the weeds and save all my children from the Charismatic Chaos”.

Then again, I’d probably be ejected from any heaven that MacArthur envisions for failing to see dispensationalism as one of the core tenets of Christian theology.

There has been a resurgence of pastors preaching the real gospel. Not the gospel of health and wealth, that Jesus somehow died on a cross 2,000 years ago so that you can live in “victorious living” which amounts to you basically having a Bentley for each day of the week and never being sick again. Most of the world now understands that this is nothing but a lie perpetuated by schemers and charlatans. Joel Osteen and the like.

No, the real gospel – that Jesus is God in the flesh, that the God who we sinned against, has taken the initiative to reconcile us to Him, literally bringing peace on earth between God and man. Jesus was born into a poor family, lived a normal life outside from the fact that he never sinned. Never lied, stole, cheated – he was just like us and wholly different from us at the same time. Ultimately, he was murdered by the people that he came to save because he didn’t fit the model that they wanted. They were looking for a conquering ruler to crush the Romans and Jesus was there to crush their real enemy – idolatry and self-salvation. His substitutionary death on the cross paid the price for their sins so that they would be forgiven before God and the only requirement was that they believe in him – in his diety, purpose, power, and that his death in their place was sufficient to pay the price for their sins. 3 days later, as he predicted, he emerged from the tomb – wholly resurrected. His resurrection is the seal on his promise and power that he is the messiah sent from God the Father to atone for the sin in the garden.

Churches and pastors have done a much better job overall in proclaiming that message to the people. I would like to say that the death knell has been rung for people who proclaim that salvation through Christ is available to those who work for it, but I know that people who try to make a dollar at the expense of people who are hurting will always be present. For those people I am glad that God doesn’t bypass the sins of those people and that he says that they are deceivers and the “anti-Christ” (2 John 1:6-8) who betray God’s people for a profit (Titus 1:10-11) and that it would be better in the end for them if they were tied to a heavy stone and tossed into the deepest part of the ocean than to receive the wrath of God that will come upon them (Matthew 18:6; Mark 9:42; Luke 17:2). God will punish them more than we ever could imagine.

But, if there is any area that needs to be improved, I think, it’s that there needs to be some emphasis on a life change. Not that we do it but that our salvation is not a simple decision but a commitment to allow Jesus to invade every facet of your life and to radically alter not only your worldview but your entire life – throwing out your idols, maybe even stripping you of your personal dreams and aspirations so that you can be used for His purpose, not your own. A radical surrender, if you will. Too many people in this world are being sold a “purpose” for their lives and a “plan” from God that includes church membership and a promise not to be a jerk to people but the are missing out on the best that God has for them because they are too tied to their own idols of self fulfillment and are missing on the greater purpose that God would like them to achieve through His actions on their behalf. That, however, is uncomfortable. It means caring for the poor, and meeting the needs of others. It means that the money you’ve been saving up for a boat may better be spent helping a young couple in your church who just lost their only car to buy a new one with no expectation of that money coming back to you. It means that you may need to open your home to people from church when a pipe breaks and they need a place to stay or adjust your schedule to spend time with people who need help learning from you and your past experiences to focus their lives more closely to that of Christ.

Remember when Jesus said “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:26)” and “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me” and the respondents asked “when did we come to you and help you” and he responded “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me. (Matthew 20:31-46)”? In the first part he is saying that we must be so focused on Him and His purposes that it is as if we hate our own families and our own life (desires, dreams, etc) in comparison, and in the last section he is talking about our love for others in that our love for those “his brothers” (meaning the adopted brothers and sisters who are one with Him in His salvation – literally, those in the Church). Jesus Himself commands us to put our own lives on hold and, in some cases, to even abandon our own plans and dreams to serve the greater needs of his Church.

So, as I said, I think that the Church as a whole and especially new converts, would be good to see this as a model. Not something for them to emulate right off the bat but to know that it’s something that God will bring about in their lives through the process of surrendering ourselves to Him and His will in our lives.

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