Worship In Crisis

We live in a very consumerist culture. Most everything that we do is guided by our personal preferences. We want to find satisfaction with the decisions that we make. From the clothes we buy, to the televisions shows we watch, our personal desires mold the choices we make each day. This mentality even affects our preferences in worship.

The most common question Christians will ask one another has to do with their preferences in style of worship. Contemporary or traditional? I’ve met traditionalists who think contemporary Christian music is of the devil quite literally. And I’ve known contemporary loving believers who consider the traditionalist to be legalistic in their choice of music.

The truth is that both contemporary and traditional worship can become idols within church. Both forms of worship can be glorifying to the Lord. And both can become stumbling blocks that rob God of His glory. Anytime we filter our worship preferences and judge them by our own personal opinion, it creates an environment where the worship of God is in crisis.

Far too often, people will base their preferences of worship style on their feelings. Some feel that the traditional sound of an organ puts them in a spiritual mood. And others feel that the upbeat twang of an electric guitar makes them want to raise their hands in praise. And the problem lies not in the musicians choice of instrument, but in the motives behind those singing praises.

David Garland wrote, “The danger for us is that we will want to keep up with our entertainment culture and its focus on the eyes by turning our worship into a religious stage show. We must walk a fine line between offering worship that is appealing and engaging without becoming simply a splashy performance, and worship that has depth without becoming tedious and flat.”

When we allow our feelings to play a determining factor in our preferences of worship, we unintentionally enter into worship with praising ourselves and not God. We are basically saying that we gravitate towards a certain worship style because it makes us feel a certain way and not because it glorifies God.

Also, music should never be used to coerce feelings of spirituality. Our feelings in worship should spring forth from the words that we are singing. And our words of praise must be grounded in the truth of God’s Word. True Christ centered worship cannot be fabricated.

The words that we are singing should be the focus of our worship, not the tempo of the song or the instruments that are being used. We should always ask, “Who is being glorified in this song?” 

There are traditional songs that are very Christ honoring and totally focused on God’s glory. One of my personal favorite traditional songs of praise is ‘Behold Our God.” I also love to sing “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” written by the reformer Martin Luther.

I love these two traditional hymns not because of their beat, how they make me feel, or the instruments that are used, but because of the words. They are totally void of praising man and solely focused on glorifying God.

However, there are songs in the traditional genre are very popular but void of praising the Lord. My general rule of thumb when listening to the words in worship is to ask who is being sung about, God or me? For example, there is a widely renowned traditional hymn called “I Am a Friend of God.” The lyrics are very repetitive with the congregation repeating that they are a friend of God, and that He calls them friends.

Is the song heretical? No.

Who is the focus of this song? Me.

Also there are some very Christ honoring contemporary worship songs. Some of my personal favorites from the contemporary genre are “All I have is Christ” and “Show us Christ.”  There are other contemporary forms of urban Christian music by artist such as Tripp Lee or Lecrae that are saturated with Gospel truth. Many are quick to dismiss these forms of music based on their fast tempo, but their lyrics are more Christ centered than many traditional hymns.

And there are also contemporary songs that make the hearers want to raise their hands, but give no praise to the Lord. On of the biggest pitfalls of modern contemporary Christian music is vain repetition. Saying the same thing over and over, and what is being said is based more on how we feel about God rather than speaking the truth of who He is.

Some contemporary songs unfortunately speak of God as if He was their spouse and not the sovereign Lord. One contemporary song that is very popular with younger believers describes the love of God as being like, “…a sloppy wet kiss.” Jesus is not our romantic interest. And to sing songs that portray Him as such is very disturbing, not to mention extremely man centered.

If the words that we sing could just as easily be sung as a love song to our significant other, then it’s not praise to God. Again, praise should be centered around leading our minds to dwell on truth. The purpose of praise is not to promote warm and fuzzy feelings within us. Worship should not be void of emotions, but it should not be led by emotion either. Singing Gospel truth leads us to experience emotions of thankfulness and gratitude towards God.

Genuine Worship is driven by what we KNOW to be true about God, not by what we feel. And it is the knowledge of His truth that should drive us into the emotional state of thankfulness and praise. Knowledge leads to emotion, not the other way around.

Also we should ask “Who does the worship draw attention to?” Some of the most God glorifying, humble worship that I’ve attended has been contemporary praise. But I have also seen contemporary worship being sung by bands that jumped all around the stage and gave the impression that you were attending a rock concert. The attention was primarily on the musicians and the excitement they created, and glorifying God was secondary to their performance.

Kent Hughes wrote, “Congregational worship has taken the form of something done for an audience as opposed to something done by a congregation. Stages, theater-seating, programs, “special music,” and the adoption of the posture and gestures of secular performers by worship leaders all suggest that the priority of the contemporary church is entertaining congregations, not worshiping God.”

So the issue at hand is not musical style. Both traditional and contemporary can be glorifying to God. The crux of this issue is in the content that is being sung. The question we must ask centers around if the lyrics are grounded in the character of God and in Biblical truth. Or are they aimed more towards generating an emotional reaction from a crowd.

When planning the Sunday morning songs, far too many worship leaders ask the question, “What do the people want to hear and experience?” Rather than asking, “What songs would speak the greatest truth and bring the most glory to God?” Sadly, there are far too many churches that are more concerned with their “image” rather than the glory of the Lord.

 Praise is not performed for our preferences, but for God’s glory.

The Seeker Sensitive Church

Aside from the Gospel of Jesus Christ, one of the greatest influences on me as a pastor has been the life and ministry of Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones. Even though he passed away in March of 1981, his sermons still speak volumes to modern-day Christians.  Lloyd Jones has served as an example of what an evangelist should look like, particularly in how he viewed the church.

In 1943, Lloyd Jones became the pastor of Westminster Chapel. And he quickly became known for his utter dependance upon God as well as his belief in the power of the Gospel to draw men. Dr. Lloyd Jones didn’t believe in pragmatics and worldly means to draw people to the church. Rather, he believed that the preaching of the Word of God was all that was needed to draw men to Christ.

Lloyd Jones was also known for his passionate expository preaching. He did not preach sermons that started with the problems of man and then make his way to the scriptures. Instead, he always began with God’s Word and let it then speak to men. He held a very high view of God and the Church of Jesus Christ.

When planning his worship services, Lloyd Jones did not concern himself with what would please his congregation. His sole purpose in worship was to focus on pleasing and glorifying the Lord.  His view of the church was not considered cool, and he was not worried about being culturally relevant.

Lloyd Jones was so opposed to pragmatic means taking the place of Gospel proclamation within the church that one of the first things he did when he became the pastor of the Westminster Chapel in London was to nail the pulpit to the floor. Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones unapologetically preached the Gospel as it was. And as a result thousands were drawn to Christ.

Unfortunately, this mindset of seeking the desires of the Lord in worship has been replaced with the seeker sensitive movement of modern-day culture. The seeker sensitive movement does just what it sounds like. It is predominantly concerned with pleasing the people (or seekers) rather than pleasing God.

Churches in this movement desire to look more like the world in order to become appealing to the masses. For many of these churches, Christ centered worship has been replaced with an environment resembling that of a secular rock concert, putting the spotlight on performers. Sermons that contain a rebuke of sin are considered judgmental. And calling people to a life of holiness and repentance is viewed as legalistic.

Seeker sensitive churches do not ask the question, “How far away from the line of sin can we flee?” Rather, they ask, “How close to the line can we get without stepping over?” Or in some extreme cases, they just move the line altogether.

Preachers in this movement are encouraged to be entertainers in part, and a serious focus on the scriptures is frowned upon. The concern is not how many people are growing in their sanctification, but how many warm bodies are in attendance.

“When amusement is necessary to get people to listen to the gospel there will be failure. This is not the method of Christ. To form an organization and provide all kinds of entertainment for young people, in order that they may come to the Bible classes, is to be foredoomed to failure.” -G. Campbell Morgan.

The concept of church discipline is almost non-existent within the seeker sensitive movement. Many times, the sins of the people in seeker sensitive churches (and their leaders) is tolerated or all together ignored. Transgressions go unaddressed as to not offend anyone who may be dealing with sin. And no mind is given to the fact that the Lord is offended by their tolerance of sin.

The seeker sensitive movement is driven by pragmatics and not the Gospel. It hopes to draw more people into the church with entertainment and a more worldly look. While some may have the best of intentions with these additions to worship, they actually belittle the Lord with their church makeover.

They are basically saying that the preaching of the Word of God is not enough to draw men, so we need to add more into it. And in doing this, they portray to everyone a very low view of God.

The high view of God and of the church that Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones held was not concocted by him, but rather had its roots traced back to the times of the reformation and even to the back to the Old Testament itself.

Throughout the scriptures, it is God who has detailed to man how He desires to be worshipped. In both the Old Testament and New, the worshipers of God would come to the temple in a spirit of reverence with no intentions except to give praise to the Lord. Man has always strayed into disobedience when either he began to twist or add to how the Lord asked to be worshipped.

We can see this perversion of worship in the historical account of Cain and Abel. The Lord told the brothers how he desired to be worshipped through the bringing of their sacrifices. The Lord had required an animal sacrifice of the flock’s first-born which Abel brought forth. However, Cain’s offering was an offering of fruit and not animal. Abel’s worship was acceptable to God, and Cain’s was not.

When the people of God were transporting the Ark of the Covenant in the book of 1 Samuel, one of the many requirements of the Lord was that no one touch the Ark. It was to be carried with poles. However, as the Ark was being carried, the men stumbled. Uzzah reached in an attempt to keep the Ark from falling and touched the Ark. And the Lord killed him on spot.

Why did God kill Uzzah for merely trying to do what he thought was best for the preservation of the Ark? No doubt, Uzzah was only trying to help! So why the harsh reaction from the Lord?

Because our worship and obedience should never be based on what we think is best, despite the circumstances. Rather worship and obedience to God should always be done as God requires, regardless of circumstances.

We see a similar scenario when the sons of Aaron came to worship the Lord. Again, God had laid out how he desire to be worshipped. But the brothers added strange fire to the Lord’s commands in hopes of pleasing Him. But instead of pleasing God with their additions, the Lord kills them.

This is so important to grasp.

Why did God kill the sons of Aaron? To read the account, they were only attempting to enhance their worship with the addition of this strange fire. During this time period, fire was used by the people who worshipped false pagan Gods. No doubt, it was seen as a cutting edge way of worship. It was alluring to people. And maybe even viewed as entertaining.

But again, we learn that worship is not defined by man. We do not get to decide how God might be better worshipped. It is not our job to give God a makeover so that He might seem less offensive and more relevant to the world.

Many modern-day seeker sensitive churches attempt to make their worship more worldly in hopes of alluring or entertaining their congregants. And in doing so, they fall into the same folly as did the sons of Aaron. Adding strange fire, in any form, to the worship of God is a dangerous game.

In Exodus, we find God’s people building a Golden Calf.

“And he received the gold from their hand and fashioned it with a graving tool and made a golden calf. And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!”  When Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it. And Aaron made a proclamation and said, “Tomorrow shall be a feast to the Lord.”  And they rose up early the next day and offered burnt offerings and brought peace offerings. And the people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” Exodus 32:4-6.

What many have failed to realize is that the Israelites were actually following some of the guidelines for worship that the Lord had laid out for them. They said in the midst of their pagan worship, “And they said, “These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!” They had heard this saying before from the Lord Himself when He rescued them from enslavement.

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” Exodus 20:2.

They even offered sacrifices to their false God. But in the midst of this worship, they added in elements that were desirable to their flesh and not in the commands of God. The scripture says that as they worshipped, they rose up to play, which translates that they participated in sexual sin. Sin was tolerated, and repentance was shunned.

They were adhering to some of the Lord’s guidelines for worship, but also adding in their own elements and allowing sin to go unaddressed.  It’s quite easy to shake our heads in disdain at the Israelites, and wonder how they could be so ignorant. When ironically, much of our church culture has molded their own golden calves in the form of entertaining worship services and sermons that are more or less inspirational speeches that are void of an urgent plea for repentance. This is the seeker sensitive movement.

Ezekiel chapter 37 is one of my favorite passages of scripture. It is the vision of the prophet Ezekiel standing in a valley of dead, dry, human bones. The Lord asks Ezekiel how the bones may live again? Ezekiel responds, “Lord, only you know.”

The Lord told Ezekiel to speak the Word of the Lord to the bones, and they came to life. But this didn’t happen immediately. Ezekiel spoke the Words of the Lord to the bones, and the bones came together with muscle and ligament, but still there was no breath in them. Ezekiel had to continue speaking the Word of the Lord, and eventually it was God who breathed new life into them.

Ezekiel could have easily grown frustrated. He could have said to the Lord, “I know a faster way to bring them to life.” The Word of the Lord is one that rebukes sinners and calls them to turn from their worldly ways.

What if Ezekiel would have said, “You know God, your Word is very harsh. So why don’t I just speak a word of encouragement to the bones and create an inviting environment so they might be more receptive?” Do you think God needed Ezekiel to add to the Word of the Lord in order for those bones to live? Absolutely not.

The dead bones were a shadow of the dead state of men in their sins. And Ezekiel represents the one speaking or preaching the Word of the Lord. Again, the Lord rhetorically asks the evangelist, “How can these bones live again?”

Many seeker sensitive preachers would respond, “The bones can live again by making worship fun and exciting!” Or perhaps they can live again if we just were not so hard on sin and we portrayed ourselves as being more relevant!”

But not Ezekiel. His response was one of utter helplessness. “Lord, only you know.” 

There is no doubt that if our definition of church growth refers to how many people are in attendance on Sunday mornings, there is no doubt we could get faster results with seeker sensitive outreaches. But if we draw people to the Gospel with pragmatic means, we will have to continue to provide pragmatics to keep them. It’s easy to fill a church will proverbial dead bones. Its much more difficult to breathe life into them.

Consider this allegory. Imagine there was a King that was going away for a long time. And before his departure, he gave orders to his servants to take care of his bride.

His bride was beautiful and pure. And the kings orders were very detailed. He wanted her to be presented to the kingdom in a reverent manner. The king ordered that she wear no make up and be clothed in pure white.

After the king had departed, the servants noticed that very few people were coming to the kingdom. So in an attempt to draw more people into the kingdom, the servants changed the appearance of the king’s bride. They added make up, and clothed her in the most popular clothing of the day.

As a result thousands were drawn to the kingdom. But it was not the purity of the kingdom that drew them, but rather they came as a result of the new worldly make over. When the King the servants were elated. They expected a pat on the back for all the new people who had come to the kingdom.

But the king saw what they had done to his bride, and he knew that they had gone against what he had requested. They had made his Kingdom into a mockery, and had drawn people who wanted a more worldly kingdom, and not one that represented purity.

The king sent the servants away from the kingdom into outer darkness along with all of those who had praised the perversion of his bride.

Thomas Aquinas was once told that it seemed that many people in the world were seeking after God. This was contrary to Romans chapter 3, where Paul wrote that no man seeks after God. Aquinas responded that men were seeking after the benefits of God, but did not actually want God Himself. They did not want to submit to God. They merely wanted to paint Him in their own image. They wanted a golden calf.

Sadly, this remains true in our day. Seeker sensitive churches desire to be more pleasing to man rather than God. They tend to shy away from preaching against sin and obedience in exchange for sermons about life improvement and mood enhancement. They shutter at preaching the wrath and Holiness of God and focus most of the messages on love and acceptance. And they celebrate teachings centered around their church ‘image’ or ‘branding’ rather than Biblical doctrine.

Seeker sensitive churches would rather be relevant to the culture rather than reverent to God. And in essence, they focus on the attributes of God that build man up while watering down or all together casting away the truths of God that expose our human depravity and inability.

Pastor Voddie Baucham rightly said, “Seeker sensitive churches cherish the addition of an 11th commandment, which says ‘Thou shalt be nice.’ And this added commandment from man tends to trump the former ten from God.”

The church is the very bride of Christ. And the Lord has given specific instructions on how men are to be drawn to His kingdom through His bride. And it is God alone through the proclamation of His word that does the drawing. The church doesn’t need a worldly makeover in order to draw more people. It needs obedient saints that realize their inabilities and cling to the Word of the Lord.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” John 15:5.

On the day of Judgement, we should not fear so much for the lost person as we should for those who considered themselves servants of God and took liberties with His church. When the King comes back, His bride should be a place of reverence. She should be prepared to be appealing to the King, and not dressed up to be attractive to those outside of the Kingdom.

In reality there is no such thing as a seeker sensitive church. Because again, the apostle Paul wrote in Romans chapter 3 that no one seeks God. All men, in their dead state of sin are born haters of God. They want the benefits of God without bowing their knees to Him. That is until God breaths life into them through the means of His spoken Word.  So there are no true seekers except the Lord. And if we are going to be sensitive to someone, it should be to HIM.

I will conclude with a short video that mockingly spoofs these seeker sensitive churches. It would be quite comical if sadly it were not so true of many popular churches that we are currently seeing today. Christians should never seek a church that caters to meet their personal preferences. Rather we should seek a church that desires to glorify the Lord through the proclaiming the full council of His Word and one that stands on truth, regardless of how offensive it may be to our sinful flesh.

What Does it Mean to Be a Christian?

When believers are asked if they are of the Christian faith, most would have no problem confidently answering by saying, “Absolutely.” However, it is when the questions become more probing that some feel lost as to how to respond.

This primarily occurs when they are asked the question, “What does it mean to be a Christian?” What most people who are curious about Christianity mean when they ask this question is, “What had to occur in order for you to become a Christian?

Have you ever been asked this question personally?

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ and are outspoken about your faith, eventually you will. There are two overarching problems that cause many evangelicals to answer this question wrongly. First, there is the problem of tradition. And secondly, there is the problem of bad theology. Both of which I will address in this post.

When asked how they became a Christian, most people resort to answering that question by thinking back to personal experiences or the external traditions that surrounded their conversion. While traditions are not in and of themselves a bad thing, they can at times be elevated above the scriptures when not kept in their proper perspective.

In the South, the most common answer given by many when asked how they know that they are a Christian sounds something like this; “Well I’ve said a sinners prayer, I joined the church, and I stopped cussing.” All of these things are well and good, but none of them are correct when telling someone how to become a Christian. And much of this error is attributed to elevating man-made traditions over the Bible.

Sadly, there are even church websites that claim that the two things one must do in order to be saved is recite a prayer of invitation to Jesus and then to join a local body of believers. Again, both of these are good things, but they are not what makes a person Christian. And furthermore, Jesus doesn’t need an invitation to save.

As one pastor rightly said, “When God saves you, He doesn’t do it because you gave Him permission. He did it because He’s God.”

It is a good thing to pray to God. However, no where in the scriptures does it say that our words have the power to make us righteous before the Lord. And just because a person has a membership in a church doesn’t mean that they are saved.

C.S. Lewis once wrote, ““Going to church won’t make you a Christian any more that being in a garage makes you a car.”

If we tell people that we’ve gained our salvation by praying a prayer and committing to regular church attendance, it is telling them some of the effects of salvation but not the cause. It is not Biblical truth, but rather human tradition. We’ve made these very good things into God things.

There are many pastors that hold this formula of “A Sinners prayer plus church membership equals salvation” in such high esteem that to question it would be viewed as sacrilegious in their opinion.  Our traditions are often given more authority than they deserve. Let me use an example to illustrate my point.

Sam loved it when his wife cooked her infamous roast beef. The recipe had been passed down from generation to generation in her family. But Sam noticed that before cooking the meal, his bride always would cut off the very end corners of the beef.

One day out of curiosity, Sam asked his wife, “Why is it that you cut the end corners of the beef off of the meat before cooking?” His wife answered that her mother had taught her to do it this way and she assumed that it was done to make the meat more moist.

At the next family get together, Sam asked his wife’s mother why it was that she always cut the ends off of the roast beef. His mother in law responded that her mother had taught her to do it that way, and she assumed that it was to make it more appealing to the eye.

Finally Sam asked his wife’s grandmother why she cut the ends off the roast beef. Sam said to her, “Your granddaughter said the reason is because it makes the beef more moist, and your daughter said it makes the meat more aesthetically pleasing.”

The old lady responded, “It doesn’t make the beef more moist and it has nothing to do with appearance. I cut off the ends off of the roast beef because my pans were always too small.”

When telling someone how to become a Christian, it is important that we answer them with truth, not tradition. Jesus said that a person must do only two things. That is to believe that Jesus Christ is Lord, and to repent (or turn from) our sins (Mark 1:15).

But what does it mean to be a Christian? What does it mean to repent of our sins as a result of our believe in Christ? This leads us into the theological fallacy that causes Christians to stumble when presented with questions regarding their faith.

Imagine that a pastor comes to the house of one of his partitioners who hasn’t been to church in a few months. During his visit, the pastor learns that this man has been out drinking and partying, and these sinful actions have kept him from having time for church.

Feeling guilty in front of his pastor, the man responds, “You are right pastor, I need to just stop going to the bars and quit the womanizing and starting coming to church.” Although these may be the exact words that the pastor wanted to hear, the answer was prompted by guilt, and not true repentance.

Essentially what the man was saying to the pastor was, “I know that I need to stop chasing after the sins that I love and begin doing the righteous things that I hate.” Constantly throughout the scriptures we see that God is not so much interested with our external actions as much as He is with our internal motivations for those actions.

Unless people understand The Gospel and the amazing grace of God they will never desire biblical repentance in their lives.  It’s not enough to just tell people to repent. Because even repentance is something that must be granted to man by God (2 Timothy 2:25). We must lead them to feel the weight of their transgressions by exposing them to  the holiness of God. And this is done with God’s Word.

Once a person begins to grasp the holiness of God, a right view of our sin comes clearly into focus. Once they begin to understand the undeserved grace that the Lord extends in spite of their sins, repentance becomes a desire rather than an unwanted burden. For more on this topic, see our book study on J.C. Ryle’s ‘Holiness’. 

It isn’t behavioral modification that leads men to repentance. It’s a proper understanding of the Gospel. It is the love and kindness of God that leads a person to view repentance as a delight and not a duty.

“Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” Romans 2:4.

Finally, the question that tends to theologically stump many believers is when they are asked, “Why is it that God saves men?”

Many would say that the reason God saves men is in order to have fellowship with them. Others have said it was because He loved us so much. And although our salvation does bring us into fellowship with God due to His great love, neither God’s desire for fellowship or love for man were His motivations for saving. Both of these reasons given for why God saves are wrong because they center around us rather than Christ.

First off, God does not need us in order to have fellowship. We bring nothing to the table and are no benefit to God. To say that God needed man in order to have fellowship is to essentially say that there was harmony lacking within the Godhead. It is to say that there was not perfect preexisting fellowship between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, and that what was lacking was man. This is blasphemy.

There is perfect fellowship within the trinity, and it has existed eternally. God didn’t save man because he needed something from us.

“…and human hands can’t serve his needs–for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need.” Acts 17:25.

And although God is love, His love for man is not rooted in us, but in Christ. God the Father doesn’t save because of His great affection for people, but because of His great love for Jesus. Our salvation is rooted in the Father’s love for His Son. Consider the words of the high priestly prayer of Christ in John 17.

When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.  And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.  I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.

 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you.  For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.  I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.  

All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.  And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one.” John 17:1-11.

Notice in the prayer of Jesus how many times Christ referred to believers as “...those you have given me. In eternity past, God the Father gave His Son a gift. The Father gave the Son a people, that He would receive glory, honor, and praise from them.

If you are a Christian, it is not because of something you did by your own power. And it is not primarily because God loved you so much that He just couldn’t live without you. We are Christian because of God’s great love for His Son Jesus. And as a result of this love, God the Father gave a group of people (believers) to the Son for no other reason than for Him to receive all honor and glory.

God doesn’t save because of us. The Father saved man because of His love for Christ the Son. There are those who have considered this truth to be extremely offensive. But this is only so because in our flesh, we want to view ourselves as the center piece to God’s affection.

The sole purpose of God creating man was so that Christ would be glorified by them.

“Bring all who claim me as their God, for I have made them for my glory. It was I who created them.'” Isaiah 43:7.

In our sinful flesh we would rather take Christ off of the throne and seat ourselves upon it, having Jesus then act as a servant to us. Sadly, this is a picture of a great majority of American Christianity. The cross was not a secondary reaction to man’s sin. The cross planned by the Father for the glory of the Son in eternity past.

“But God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed.” Acts 2:23.

Christ is the centerpiece and the reason for the grace of God. And this is such an amazing thing for man. Because that same eternal love God the Father has for His Son covers all of those who are in Christ. God no longer sees believers as being covered in their sins, but rather covered in the precious blood of Jesus. The blood of Christ marks the believer as loved, righteous, and justified before the Lord.

What does it mean to be a Christian?

It means that we are eternally loved, forgiven, and kept by God the Father through Christ the Son. It means that we have been given a righteous standing that we could have never attained on our own. It means that we’ve had a change of mind, and we now desire the very righteousness that we once hated. It means that Jesus died in our place, and for our sins.

It means that we see the salvation that we’ve been given as something that we did not earn nor were we entitled to, but rather as an undeserved gift. And it means that we find our greatest joys emanating from conformity to Christ. Our salvation is of the Lord, and our reason for being is found in glorifying Him.

Apologetics; Defending The Faith

Mutt and Jeff.

That’s what people called us when my wife and I first began dating. It wasn’t until years later that I realized that Mutt and Jeff were iconic comic strip characters from the early 1900’s who were together all the time. Mutt was very tall and Jeff was extremely short. I stood at an abnormally proportioned 6 feet five inches tall weighing around 225 lbs. And my wife Lacy measured in at 5 feet 5 inches in height weighing around 100 lbs.

Ergo the nickname, Mutt and Jeff.

Now imagine for a moment that someone came up to me and said, “I’m very good friends with your wife, Lacy Parish.” However, this person then goes on to describe Lacy as being a very tall, heavy-set woman with red hair.

I have two options at this point in our conversation. I can say to them, “Well that’s just your interpretation of what my wife looks like.” Or I can personally introduce the person to my wife and let the truth of what is plainly before them speak for itself. I would have made my point and a defense against their erroneous statement by simply presenting them with the facts.

We defend against false statements not with opinion or interpretation, but by presenting truth.

This is an example of apologetics.

Apologetics comes from the greek word which means “to speak in defense.” Expository apologetics is the study of defending the Christian faith through the use of scripture. And it is a discipline that has been greatly neglected by many modern day Christians.

Contrary to what some may say, there is no such thing as a private faith in Christ. The scriptures themselves contradict this notion. We are called by Christ proclaim His name to the world (Matthew 28:19). Every Christian is considered and appointed to be a ‘Royal Priesthood’ (1 Peter 2:9), preaching His Gospel to everyone.

And in preaching the Gospel, opposition to our message is unavoidable. Therefore as believers in Christ we must be properly equipped and ready to make a defense of our faith. And if that defense is based on opinions, feelings, or anything other than the Word itself, our proclamation will be powerless.

Unfortunately, a great majority of professing believers stay relatively quite about their faith in Christ around unbelievers. Their reasoning for this is two-fold. First, because they don’t want to offend anyone with their beliefs.  And secondly, they don’t feel up to the task if a situation arises where they may have to defend their beliefs.

So instead of standing on the truth of God’s Word, Christians will either try to change the subject or resort to  saying, “Well that’s your interpretation.” If someone were to point to a fire and tell me that it was actually cold to touch, I wouldn’t say to them, “That is your interpretation of what fire feels like.” Rather I would tell them to touch it and see what happens.

Pastor Voddie Baucham used a similar illustration. Baucham asked his listeners to picture two medieval knights getting ready to do battle. The first knight draws his sword. The opposing knight then says, “I do not believe in your sword.” The first knight can either put his sword away and try to explain through his own reasoning why his sword really does exist. Or as Pastor Voddie says, “He can cut him with the sword.”

Instead of defending the truth of God’s Word, far too often many feel like they have to make apologies for the offense or sharp edge that it brings. As believers in Christ, we should be less concerned about offending people with God’s Word and more concerned about offending God with our sins.

But we live in a day and age where the golden rule is quoted more by Christians than the scriptures. Many will not defend their faith because of the possible offense that doing so may cause. Being nice to others is seen as better than speaking truth. And goodness knows that if Jesus Christ was known for anything, it was being non offensive, peaceful, and polite….right?

Wrong.

The scriptures describe God’s Word as a sword. So when our faith is questioned, and we answer with anything other than the Word of God, we are in essence putting away our sword and trying to explain why it exists. That is why it is so vital that Christians don’t merely believe in Christ, but they also know Him intimately through His word. Jesus specifically said in the Gospel of Matthew;

““Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Matthew 10:34.

This is not a Bible verse that is quoted too often in our world today. The sword Christ spoke of was the word of God. Jesus wasn’t concerned about offending others with the truth of scripture. Jesus was not concerned with being nice. He was concerned with speaking the truth. And He was unapologetic in doing so.

At the passover celebration when Jesus saw His Father’s house being blasphemed by setting up shop in the temple, Jesus didn’t ask them to Kindly remove their wares with a smile on His face. Jesus was outraged that their sin was offensive to God the Father, and He thrashed the temple in a rage. (Matthew 21:12-13).

Some would say that Jesus was only harsh with the self righteous Pharisees, and that He was meek and gentle with those who were not religious and lived in their sin out of ignorance. However this is not true. The Lord consistently rebuked unbelieving Israel as a whole for their rebellion all throughout the Old Testament.

“…and say to the land of Israel, ‘Thus says the LORD, “Behold, I am against you; and I will draw My sword out of its sheath and cut off from you the righteous and the wicked.” Ezekiel 21:3

Also when we read the book of Revelation, we see Christ returning with wrath against all those who are unGodly, not just those who are self righteous. And certainly not just the religious leaders.

When Jesus came as God incarnate the first time, the golden rule was not his priority. And when He returns, it will not be in hopes of making new friends. Read what John wrote in Revelation about the second coming of Christ.

“From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.” Revelation 19:15.

When Christ returns, the word of God, (which is the sword) will place a guilty sentence on those who are enemies of God. And the Lord Jesus Christ will destroy all of those who have opposed Him.

“If I sharpen My flashing sword, And My hand takes hold on justice, I will render vengeance on My adversaries, And I will repay those who hate Me.” Deuteronomy 32:41.

After the resurrection, when Peter was preaching to the thousands of unbelieving Jews at Pentecost, he didn’t resort to using human reasoning or give them his personal opinions on why they should believe in the risen Christ. And Peter didn’t tell them that if they didn’t believe that Christ had risen, then they could just agree to disagree based on differing interpretations of the resurrection.

Rather, Peter began quoting the prophet Joel from the Old Testament scriptures and King David regarding the prophecies of the Messiah. Peter did not coddle their sin, but rather pointed out that it was their unbelief that led to the crucifixion of their long awaited Messiah. In essence, Peter put all of Israel on trial by making a defense of his faith.

“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.”Acts 2:36.

Peter was not worried about offending the Jews. He was offended by their unbelief. And Peter didn’t just explain to the Jews why they should believe that his sword existed. He pulled it out of its sheath and pierced them with it.

“Now when they heard this, they were pierced to the heart,” Acts 2:37.

Thousands came to faith in Christ that day as a result of Peter’s sermon. And it wasn’t Peter’s kindness that led them to repentance. It was his defense of the truth and the piercing blade of the Word of God pricking their hearts.

 

There are people who sit in churches each Sunday who have a problem with preachers that preach against sin in a serious manner from the pulpit. They are more concerned and afraid that someone who may be dealing with sin might get their feelings hurt if it is addressed rather than telling them the truth.

And unlike Peter, they are more offended that God’s Word cuts like a sword rather than realizing that the very sin they don’t want spoken of is an offense to God. Granted we should always speak the truth in love. But therein lies the issue. Because whenever you speak the truth of God’s Word to a lost person, it will cut and offend.

Regardless of how much proverbial honey you put on the Word of God, it’s still a sword. In order to defend our faith in our postmodern culture, we must be less concerned with being nice and more concerned with speaking truth.

Let me use an example. If your child were playing ball in the middle of the road and an 18 wheel truck we barreling down the road, just moments away from hitting your child, what would you rather I do? Would you rather I speak softly as not to hurt your child’s feelings? Maybe say something like, “I really wish you would get out of the road, but if you don’t feel like it that’s ok.”

Of course not! No one would be concerned about the feelings of the child when death could be seconds away. Any parent would want someone to scream as harshly and seriously as they could, “GET OUT OF THE ROAD…NOW!!!!!” The most unloving thing that I could do in that situation would be to focus on not offending the child.

Or if out of ignorance the child ignored the warning, claiming that there was no truck, is the correct response to agree to disagree based on differing interpretations of the situation? Absolutely not. The truth is that death is imminent. The response would be to do everything possible to put the child’s eyes upon the truth!

We shy away from presenting truth, because the truth of God’s Word is offensive to those who live in rebellion to it. This is our problem when it comes to defending the faith. We don’t like apologetics because it is not viewed by the world as nice. We don’t like apologetics because the Gospel is no longer viewed as life or death. It’s urgent message has been replaced by a soft plea that is referred to as an interpretation rather than truth.

“I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Luke 13:3.

This warning from our Lord is not a passive plea. It’s an urgent warning. And in our evangelism we should treat it as such. Countless people who do not know the Lord die unexpectedly on a daily basis who are walking down the middle of the eternal highway. And Hell is about to hit them full force. We speak truth because we love. We fight because souls are at stake.

 

“…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” 1 Peter 3:15.

Why are apologetics important?

Because we are called to be prepared to make a defense of our faith. Always. Who are we to defend it too? Anyone that may challenge it or ask the reason for our hope.

We speak truth with kindness and gentleness. But we dare not dull the blade of God’s sword that we present to them. And we had better not be concerned that it might pierce their sinful consciences. Lest the sword of almighty God be used upon us.

The sword of God’s Word will indeed cut down those who are flaunting their sins in His face. But this same sword of truth will be the salvation of His people. The lost will not be saved by our human reasoning or giving them our opinions or interpretations of what we think about His Word. The captives can only be set free by a sword.

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is serious, not jovial. It is truth, and not personal preference or up to interpretation. In your evangelism and defense of the Gospel, place the truth of God’s word before your hearers and not your opinions. Only it has the power to save.

“Blessed are you, O Israel; Who is like you, a people saved by the LORD, Who is the shield of your help And the sword of your majesty! So your enemies will cringe before you, And you will tread upon their high places.” Deuteronomy 33:29.

The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards

For most people, January 1st signifies a new beginning. Each new year, resolutions and vows are made centering around making improvements and meeting certain goals. In reality, most resolutions are centered around self, and not God.

And each new year, I am continually humbled by reading the resolutions made by Jonathan Edwards. Below I’ve posted the resolutions written by Jonathan Edwards. Make it a priority to read over them at the start of this New Year, and allow his passion for Christ shape your own resolutions.

The Resolutions of Jonathan Edwards

By Jonathan Edwards

Written Aug. 17, 1723

Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his grace to enable me to keep these Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake.

NOTE: Remember to read over these Resolutions once a week.

1. Resolved:  I will DO whatever I think will be most to God’s glory; and my own good, profit and pleasure, for as long as I live. I will do all these things without any consideration of the time they take.  Resolved: to do whatever I understand to be my duty and will provide the most good and benefit to mankind in general. Resolved to do this, whatever difficulties I encounter, and no matter how many I experience or how severe they may be.

2. Resolved: I will continually endeavor to find new ways to practice and promote the things from Resolution 1.

3. Resolved: If ever – really, whenever – I fail & fall and/or grow weary & dull; whenever I begin to neglect the keeping of any part of these Resolutions; I will repent of everything I can remember that I have violated or neglected, …as soon as I come to my senses again.

4. Resolved: Never to do anything, whether physically or spiritually, except what glorifies God.  In fact, I resolve not only to this commitment, but I resolve not to even grieve and gripe about these things, …if I can avoid it.

5. Resolved: Never lose one moment of time; but seize the time to use it in the most profitable way I possibly can.

6. Resolved: To live with all my might, …while I do live.

7. Resolved: Never to do anything which I would be afraid to do if it were the last hour of my life.

8. Resolved: To act, in all respects, both in speaking and doing, as if nobody had ever been as sinful as I am; and when I encounter sin in others, I will feel (at least in my own mind& heart) as if I had committed the same sins, or had the same weaknesses or failings as others.  I will use the knowledge of their failings to promote nothing but humility – even shame – in myself. I will use awareness of their sinfulness and weakness only as an occasion to confess my own sins and misery to God.

9. Resolved: To think much, on all occasions, about my own dying, and of the common things which are involved with and surround death.

10. Resolved: When I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom – both of Jesus and of Believers around the world; and remind myself of the reality of hell.

11. Resolved:  When I think of any theological question to be resolved, I will immediately do whatever I can to solve it, … if circumstances don’t hinder.

12. Resolved: If I find myself taking delight in any gratification of pride or vanity, or on any other such empty virtue, I will immediately discard this gratification.

13. Resolved: To be endeavoring to discover worthy objects of charity and liberality.

14. Resolved: Never to do anything out of revenge.

15. Resolved: Never to suffer the least emotions of anger about irrational beings.

16. Resolved: Never to speak evil of anyone, except if it is necessary for some real good.

17. Resolved: I will live in such a way, as I will wish I had done when I come to die.

18. Resolved: To live, at all times, in those ways I think are best in me during my most spiritual moments and seasons – those times when I have clearest understanding of the gospel and awareness of the World that is to come.

19. Resolved: Never to do anything, which I would be afraid to do if I expected it would not be more than an hour before I would hear the last trump sound.  (i.e. when Jesus returns.)

20. Resolved: To maintain the wisest and healthiest practices in my eating and drinking.

21. Resolved: Never to do anything, which if I saw another do, I would consider a just reason to despise him for, or to think in any way lesser of him.

22. Resolved: To endeavor to obtain for myself as much happiness in the world to come as I possibly can.  To accomplish this I will use all the strength, power, vigor, and vehemence – even violence – I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of.

23. Resolved: Frequently take some deliberate action – something out of the ordinary – and do it for the glory of God. Then I will trace my intention back and try to discern my real and deepest motive: What did I really desire out of it? If I find that my truest motive was not for God’s glory, then I consider it as a breach of the 4th Resolution. (See Above)

24. Resolved: Whenever I do any conspicuously evil action, I will trace it back till I come to the original cause; and then I will carefully endeavor BOTH 1) to do so no more AND 2) to fight and pray with all my might against the source of the original impulse.

25. Resolved: To examine carefully, and constantly, what that one thing in me is that causes me to doubt of the love of God, even the least little bit; and then to direct all my forces against it.

26. Resolved: To oust away anything I find that diminishes my assurance of God’s love and grace.

27. Resolved: Never intentionally omit or neglect anything, except if such an omission would be for the glory of God. NOTE to Self: frequently examine anything I have omitted.

28. Resolved: To study the Scriptures so steadily, and so constantly, and so frequently, that it becomes evident – even obvious – to myself that my knowledge of them has grown.

29. Resolved: Never consider something a prayer, nor to let pass for a prayer, any petition that when making I cannot actually hope that God will answer; nor offer as a confession anything which I cannot hope God will accept.

30. Resolved: To strive to my utmost every week to be brought to a higher spiritual place, and to a greater experience of grace, than I was the week before.

31. Resolved: Never to say anything at all against anybody; except when to do so is perfectly consistent with the highest standards of Christian honor and love to mankind; and except when it is consistent with the sense of greatest humility and awareness of my own faults and failings. Then, whenever I have said anything against anyone, I will examine my words against the strictest test of the Golden Rule.

32. Resolved: To be strictly and firmly faithful to whatever God entrusts to me.  My hope is that the saying in Proverbs 20.6,  “A faithful man who can find?” may not be found to be even partly true of me.

33. Resolved: Always do whatever I can towards making, maintaining, establishing and preserving peace, whenever it can be, but without over-balancing the value peace to such a degree that it becomes a detriment in other respects.

34. Resolved: When telling stories, never to speak anything but the pure and simple truth.

35. Resolved: Whenever I so much as question whether I have done my duty, to a point that my peace and tranquility is disturbed, I will stop and question myself until my concern is resolved.

36. Resolved: Never to speak evil of anyone, except I have some particular good purpose for doing so.

37. Resolved: To inquire every night, as I am going to bed, where I may have been negligent, what sin I have committed, and how I have denied myself. I will also do this at the end of every week, month, and year.

38. Resolved: Never to speak anything that is ridiculous, trivial, or otherwise inappropriate on the Lord’s Day or Sabbath evening.

39. Resolved: Never to do anything when the lawfulness is questionable. And then afterward, resolve to consider and examine whether or not whatever I have just done is truly lawful and/or whether whatever I have refrained from doing would have actually been permissible.

40. Resolved: To inquire every night, before I go to bed, whether I have acted in the best way I possibly could, with respect to eating and drinking.

41. Resolved: To ask myself at the end of every day, week, month and year, where I could have possibly done better in any respect.

42. Resolved: To frequently renew my dedication to God, which was first made at my baptism and which I solemnly renewed when I was received into the communion of the church; and which I have now solemnly re-made this [DATE] day of [MONTH], [YEAR].

43. Resolved: Never, from this day until the day I die, act as if I were in any way my own, but entirely and altogether belong to God, and then live in a way agreeable to this reality.

44- Resolved: That nothing other than the gospel shall have any influence at all on any of my actions; and that no action shall be, even in the very least circumstance, anything other than gospel declares, demands, and implies.

45. Resolved: Never to allow any pleasure or grief, joy or sorrow, nor any affection at all, nor any degree of affection, nor any circumstance, but what advances the gospel.

46. Resolved: Never allow the least measure of any fretting or uneasiness about my father or mother. Resolved to never allow the effects of disappointment in them, or frustrations with them, to even in the very least alter what I say to them or about them, or any activity in reaction to them.  Let me be careful about this, not only about my parents, but also with respect to any of our family.

47. Resolved: To endeavor to my utmost to deny whatever is not most agreeable to a good, and universally sweet and benevolent, quiet, peace able, contented, easy, compassionate, generous, humble, meek, modest, submissive, obliging, diligent and industrious, charitable, even, patient, moderate, forgiving, sincere temper; and to do at all times what such a temper would lead me to. Examine strictly every week, whether I have done so. Sabbath morning. May 5,1723.

48. Resolved: With the utmost niceness and diligence, and with the strictest scrutiny, constantly be looking into the state condition of my soul, so that I may know whether or not I have truly an interest in Christ at any given time. I will do this so that, when I come to my end in death, I will not have neglected to repent of anything I have found.

49. Resolved: That Neglect never shall be, if I can help it.

50. Resolved: I will act in such a way as I think I will judge to have been best and most prudent, when I have come into the future world – Heaven.

51. Resolved: That I will act in every respect, as I think I would wish I had done, if in the end for some reason I would have be damned.

52. I frequently hear persons in old age say how they would live, if they were to live their lives over again, so… Resolved: That I will live just as I can imagine I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age.

53. Resolved: To improve every opportunity, when I am in the best and happiest frame of mind, to cast and venture my soul on the Lord Jesus Christ, to trust and confide in him, and consecrate myself wholly to him; that from this I may have assurance of my eternal safety, knowing that my confidence is in my Redeemer.

54. Resolved: Whenever I hear anything spoken in a conversation of any person, if I think what is said of that person would be praiseworthy in me, I will endeavor to imitate it.

55. Resolved: To endeavor to my utmost to act as I can imagine I would if I had already seen all the happiness of heaven, as well as the torments of hell.

56. Resolved: Never to give up, nor even slacken up, in my fight with my own corruptions, no matter how successful or unsuccessful I may be.

57. Resolved: When I fear misfortunes and adversities, to examine whether I have done all I am expected to do, and resolve to do everything I am able to do.  Once I have done all that God requires of me, I will accept whatever comes my way, and accept that it is just as God’s Providence has ordered it.  I will, as far as I can, be concerned about nothing but my own duty and my own sin.

58. Resolved: Not only to refrain from an air of dislike, fretfulness, and anger in conversations, but also to exhibit an air of love, cheerfulness and graciousness.

59. Resolved: Whenever I am most conscious of feelings of ill nature, bad attitude, and/or anger, I will strive then the most to feel and act good naturedly.  At such times I know I may feel that to exhibit good nature might seem in some respects to be to my own immediate disadvantage, but I will nevertheless act in a way that is gracious, realizing that to do otherwise would be imprudent at other times (i.e. times when I am not feeling so irked).

60. Resolved: Whenever my feelings begin to appear in the least out of sorts, when I am conscious of the least uneasiness within my own heart and/or soul, or the least irregularity in my behavior, I will immediately subject myself to the strictest examination. (i.e. Psalm 42.11)

61. Resolved:  I will not give way to that apathy and listlessness which I find artificially eases and relaxes my mind from being fully and fixedly set on God’s Grace. Whatever excuses I may have for it, whatever my listlessness inclines me to do, or rather whatever it inclines me to neglect doing, I will realize that it would actually be best for me to do these things.

62. Resolved: Never to do anything but what God, by the Law of Love, requires me to do. And then, according to Ephesians 6.6-8, I must do it willingly and cheerfully as to the Lord, and not for man.  I must remember that whatever good thing any man has or does he has first received from God; and that whenever a man is compelled by faith to act with love and charity toward others, especially those in need, that we do it as if to/for the Lord.

63. On the hypothetical supposition that at any one time there was never to be but ONE individual in the world who was a genuine and complete Christian, who in all respects always demonstrated the Faith shining in its truest luster, and appearing excellent and lovely, from whatever angle and under whatever circumstance this Faith is viewed… Resolved: To act just as I would do, if I strove with all my strength, to be that ONE; and to live as if that ONE should live in my time and place.

64. Resolved: Whenever I experience those “groanings which cannot be uttered” (Romans 8.26), of which the Apostle speaks, and those “longings” that consume our souls, of which the Psalmist speaks (Psalm 119:20), I will embrace them with everything I have within me. And I will not be weary of earnestly endeavoring to express my desires, nor of the repetitions so often necessary to express them and benefit from them.

65. Resolved: To exercise myself in all my life long, with the greatest openness I am capable of, to declare my ways to God, and lay open my soul to him: all my sins, temptations, difficulties, sorrows, fears, hopes, desires; and every thing in every circumstance. (See Dr. Manton’s 27th Sermon on Psalm 119).

66. Resolved:  I will endeavor always to keep a gracious demeanor, and air of acting and speaking in all places and in all companies, except if it should so happen that faithfulness requires otherwise.

67. Resolved: After afflictions, to inquire in what ways I am now the better for having experienced them. What good have I received by them? What benefits and insights do I now have because of them?

68. Resolved: To confess honestly to myself all that I find in myself – whether weakness or sin. And if it something that concerns my spiritual health, I will also confess the whole case to God, and implore him for all needed help.

69. Resolved: Always to do that which I will wish I had done whenever I see others do it.

70. Let there be something of benevolence, in all that I speak.

The Call of God

Over the Christmas holidays, my six year old son Luke had what I’ll simply describe as a rough day. Some of Luke’s trials he brought upon himself through temper tantrums and starting squabbles with his siblings. And his transgressions resulted in the loving yet firm discipline of his parents multiple times on this particular day (yes, we spank). Other hardships on this day we can just chalk up to things not going Luke’s way. He accidentally dropped and broke his favorite toy, bumped his head multiple times on a variety of objects, and generally felt as if the world was out to get him. In Luke’s six year old mind, things couldn’t get any worse.

Towards the end of this perilous day, Luke came over to me (after his mother and I had lovingly disciplined him for the umpteenth time) with tears in his little eyes. With a shaky voice, Luke apologized for his rebellion and disobedience. He then asked me a question that greatly surprised me. As I held him in my arms, Luke asked, “Daddy, are you going to kick me out of the family?” By the look on his face, I could tell this wasn’t merely the random question of a six-year-old boy. Luke was seriously concerned that due to his actions, he might be asked to pack his bags and hit the road.

I drew him close to me in a tight embrace and looked him square in his bright blue eyes. I said, “Luke you are my son and your mommy and I have loved you from before you were born. And nothing you do can ever change that love.” Under Luke’s teary eyes a big smile broke out all over his face. All of the hardships of his day seemed to pale in comparison to the security of knowing that his identity was secure in the love of his family.

The year 2017 has come and gone. And unfortunately there are many people within the church whose feelings about this past year are very similar to how my son Luke felt a few weeks ago. No doubt, there are those who feel like they have been beaten up by the world. They may feel separated from God due to out right rebellion or due to numerous trials that have recently engulfed their lives. And when this happens, it is not uncommon for believers to ponder the question, “Does God truly love me as His own, or am I outside of the family?”

It is in these uncertain times that God draws near His troubled child and gives the most comforting words that any Christian could hope to hear. The Apostle Paul delivered these words to believers who were questioning God’s love for them due to the many trials of life.

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.” Romans 8:28-30.

Contained in this promise are the five great pillars of our faith. They are five pillows in which the children of God can lay their weary head upon when life seems to cause questions regarding the love of our Father.

For all of those who truly love God have been foreknown.That is, God had set his affections on them before they had breathed their first breath. They have not only been foreknown, but the Christian has been predestined, meaning their status as a child of God had been predetermined before the foundation of the world. God foreknowing His children and predestining their sonship are things that were done by the Father in eternity past. However, Paul goes on to write that those who love God will also be called, justified, and glorified. These three pillars are future promises. But the calling happens in between God’s past selection and their final glorification..

Those whom God calls will indeed come to him. Some have called this calling the irresistible call. However in truth, this call can be resisted. But only for a time. Eventually, those whom God has foreknown and predestined He will eventually call. And although there are those who may fight this calling, eventually they will come to the Lord.

“All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out.” John 6:37.

There are actually two different calls that go out. The first call has been described as a general calling. This calling goes out to all the world. The book of Romans tells us that God calls through the knowledge of His creation. That merely looking at the wonders of the universe proves to all that there is a divine creator. Also the Gospel call is heard through the preaching of the Gospel. Everyone who has breath can hear the Gospel through preaching and read of the message through His Word.

This is an external calling that is available to everyone. However not everyone responds to this outward calling. In fact, if it were not for a second calling, as a result of sin, no one would respond to God. In order for man to come to God and desire to forsake his sins, God must supernaturally give an internally calling. This is a call that God gives to those that He has foreknown to be His before time began. This is a call that breaks the sinner and causes the Gospel to be seen as beautiful. We see an example of mans denial of the general call and God internal calling a parable Jesus gives in Matthew 22.

“And again Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying,  “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son,  and sent his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding feast, but they would not come.  Again he sent other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding feast.”’  But they paid no attention and went off, one to his farm, another to his business,  while the rest seized his servants, treated them shamefully, and killed them.  

The king was angry, and he sent his troops and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.  Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore to the main roads and invite to the wedding feast as many as you find.’ And those servants went out into the roads and gathered all whom they found, both bad and good. So the wedding hall was filled with guests.” Matthew 22:1-13.

As the parable goes, the King gave the invitation (the general calling) but no one responded. Their earthly concerns were of far more importance than coming to the King. This is proof of how far sin has distorted man’s thinking. Who in their right mind would choose their daily grind over fellowshipping with a King? It’s as if those who deny this gracious invitation are under a spell or a curse. Paul describes sin as a curse in Galatians.

Notice then the King sent His servants to gather anyone they could find, both good people and also those who were deliberately rebellious against the King. All of these who received the second calling He brought into fellowship with Himself. If we continue reading down to verse 14 of Matthew 22, Jesus says this of the call of God;

“For many are called, but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:14.

Many are called though the general calling, and this calling goes predominately ignored. But those who are given the effective internal call have been chosen through God foreknowing them. The second calling is a supernatural calling. It is a calling that removes the blinders of pride and self-absorption that sin has placed upon us and it exposes us to the shame and degradation of our own sins.

This second calling breaks man. It causes even the most self-righteous of us to see ourselves in light of our sin and as the prophet Isaiah say, ““Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips .”Isaiah 6:5.

Those that are called are changed people. Although they are not perfect nor will they be until their future glorification, they now despise their sin and desire to be like the God who saved them. In 1 Thessalonians the Apostle Paul speaks to the church to who he had proclaimed the Gospel and makes this statement.

“For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you,” 1 Thessalonians 1:4.

How could Paul know for certain that these people in the church of Thessalonica were truly children of God? Did Paul have the power to see their hearts? Absolutely not. Paul was certain of their calling as a result of what he saw their response to hearing the Gospel. Paul continues and says;

“…because our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction.” 1 Thessalonians 1:5.”

Paul writes that he was sure of their calling because when the Gospel was delivered full of power, the Holy Spirit fell upon them and they were convicted. Notice Paul doesn’t say they were merely sorry for their sinful life, he says they were convicted. Conviction is to know and realize guilt, and to carry with it a feeling of great remorse and a desire to change. This change is not possible with man. We do not have the power within ourselves to break the chains of sin that bind us. Only Christ can effectively deliver this calling which makes sinful man into a new creation.

Throughout the scriptures, Christians are referred to as the called ones of God.

“He has saved us and called us to a holy life–not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace.” 2 Timothy 1:9.

“For God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable.” Romans 11:29.

Paul said of his own salvation, “But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace,” Galatians 1:15.

“It was for this He called you through our gospel, that you may gain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 2 Thessalonians 2:14.

“Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” 1 Timothy 6:12.

“After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you.” 1 Peter 5:10.

“Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called,” Ephesians 4:1.

 

“These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful.” Revelation 17:14.

When God calls with His effectual call, it is undeniable. The call of the Lord is that which breathes new life into our spiritually dead souls. When Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones was just a boy, his Sunday school teacher asked him why Jesus had called Lazarus by name as he lay dead in a tomb before telling him to come forth. Lloyd Jones replied, “Because if Christ hadn’t specified his name, all of the dead would have risen from their graves.”

The calling of God is life giving to man, both physically and spiritually. And it is this calling that is our greatest treasure. It is our assurance that our salvation is not seen in our downfalls or in the numerous obstacles life may through in our path. This calling is one we desire to live out more than fulfilling the sins of our former life.

“Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble;” 2 Peter 1:10.

I praise God for His call upon my life. And I give Him praise for the calling of all of His children. For it is within this calling that our tears are wiped away and our sonship in Christ is realized.

The Sufficiency of Scripture in a Culture of Selfies

Sola scriptura is one of the five solas, which were the war cries of the Protestant Reformation. The term is latin for, ‘scripture alone’. It was one of the central doctrines held by the reformers and many evangelicals to this day that hold fast to the  authenticity of Scripture. It is the truth that the Word of God, governed by the Holy Spirit, is all that is needed to open the eyes of the lost and bring people to saving faith in Christ.

It is the reality that the scriptures are their own interpreter, and nothing on the part of man is needed to be added to them in order to make them more effective.  In short, it is the Word of God that brings people to faith. And it is the Holy Spirit’s working in the heart of man through the knowledge of the scriptures that keeps them eternally.

One of the major battles of the reformers in the early 1500’s was over the sufficiency of the scriptures. At the time, the church in Rome was taking away from the scriptures and adding their own doctrine of works to them. They didn’t teach by grace alone through faith alone are you saved.

Rather, an element of works was added to their doctrine. Particularly in the form of the selling of indulgences. The church would sell indulgences to the people as a means of penance for their sins, and as a reduction of time spent in purgatory, which is another false teaching all together. Read More

Preaching is For Equipping, Not Entertaining

It’s that time of year once again. The leaves are beginning to fall, the temperature is ever so slightly beginning to drop, and Saturday afternoons are filled with hot wings, hamburgers, and bragging rights. Football season is back in full force. And for those who are actually playing the sport, it is a season of hard work and preparation.

The late comedian George Carlin had a stand up routine wherein he compared the sport of football to war. Carlin quipped, “In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy’s defensive line.”

In a sense, Carlin was right. In order to be triumphant, the coaches and players must approach their game preparation with the perseverance and mentailty of someone who is getting ready to enter the battlefield. And the responsibility of equipping the team with the knowledge and training that will lead them to certain victory falls heavily upon the head coach. There is no doubt that at times grumbling and complaining can be heard within the locker room.

Battle worn and wearied from the grueling days of practice, perhaps there have been players who wished that their coach would be easier on them. That the practices were more fun and relaxed instead of being so intense. But a good coach knows that to watering down the team’s preparation even to the tiniest degree would be as good as waiving the white flag of defeat come Saturday.  To those who play football, it is not just a game, it’s war.

When it comes to preparing for battle, the training can never be easy. In Ephesians 6:12, the Apostle Paul writes that Christians are in a battle not against flesh and blood, but against the demonic rulers and principalities of darkness. Believers in the first century held the pulpit in the highest esteem for this reason. The preaching of the Word of God was not viewed as entertainment for the family, but as a means for teaching, reproof, and training in the ways of the Lord (2 Timothy 3:16).

In the years of the Reformation, reformers such as Martin Luther made it a point to gather the family and teach them Biblical doctrine through the use of Catechisms. And preachers like John Bunyan were so dedicated to training saints through exegeting the scriptures that he had sooner rot in a prison cell than to water down or abandon the preaching of the Word. This was because the primary focus of the pulpit was to equip the saints with the knowledge of God, not to pacify the crowds.

This war time mentality has historically always been the approach taken regarding the gathering of the church and the preaching of the Word. However with the societal introductions of ideologies such modernism, postmodernism, secular humanism, many of these man centered philosophies have slowly crept into the church. So much so that the modern view of the pulpit has been warped and distorted. For a great majority of American churches, the pulpit is no longer seen as a place for doctrinal training, but a place for social acceptance.

It is no longer seen as training for engagement with the enemy, but a place for the appeasing the masses. Rebuke has been traded for encouragement. Spiritual correction exchanged for cool relevance. Exegesis has given way to devotionals. And Spiritual enlightenment swapped for entertainment. In short, equipping the saints with deep doctrinal truths that will press them forward into greater sanctification has been shunned in hopes of filling up the sanctuary with cutting edge motivational speeches.

Preaching is not fundamentally the pastor giving his opinions on the text, but rather an act of war. There have been preachers who have used the analogy of taking the cookies off of the top shelf called doctrine and putting them on the bottom shelf for easier accessibility. When our six year old son Luke was four years old, we employed this very tactic regarding cookies. He was beginning to grab them off of the bottom shelf of our pantry every time he walked past.

So in an effort to curb his constant sugar high, we moved the cookies to the top shelf. I was shocked and a bit proud the day I walked into the kitchen and saw Luke so determined to get those cookies that he had taught himself to climb each shelf in the pantry until he could reach the cookies on the top. Believe me, it was a tough climb for a child of four years old. But his perseverance paid off in the end.

After decades of low shelf preaching, can we agree that its time to raise the shelf? Young people will go to school and learn hard subjects such as calculus and chemistry each week. Adult men and women go to their respective places of work daily and handle many complex situations. Yet these same intelligent people will tune out if what is preached from the pulpit is not taught on a very elementary level. We are people who can memorize multiple songs on the radio and learn the complex plays of our favorite football team. Can we not also learn Biblical doctrine?

I am by no means in favor of preaching so far above the heads of the congregation that the sermon feels like a lecture in Greek or Hebrew. But I do believe that proper Biblical orthodoxy can be taught and explained in such a way that even a child can understand. God does not need our help in editing or repackaging His Word. He doesn’t need us to make it more relevant or add entertainment to the message in order to draw others to Himself. Dr. Owen Strachan rightly said, “People don’t need a Tony Robbins course and they don’t need a pastor who is trying to be a comedian. People need to hear about the sufferings of Christ and His subsequent glory.”

Unfortunately still there are many ministers who forsake exegetical and doctrinal preaching on Sunday mornings in exchange for modern day fire side chats. And most of the time it is due to external pressures and a desire to grow people in numbers rather than grow people in sanctification. Many times the excuse is that the ministers are trying to reach people on their level. But the implication in saying that is that the Word of God as it is not sufficient without undergoing a 21st century makeover.

There is a supernatural element to God’s Word that has been forgotten by many ministers to their detriment. We have forgotten that the power of salvation does not lie in our ability to say the right words, use the right examples, or captivate our audiences. As ministers of the Gospel, we are totally incapable of drawing anyone to Christ in and of ourselves. Only Christ has the power to bring the spiritually dead to life. Only Jesus has the power to open the eyes of the blind. The only duty of the preacher is to preach the Word of God. As Steven Lawson once said, apart from His Word we have nothing to say. We see this example clearly in the book of Acts.

In Acts 16, the Apostle Paul was preaching in Philippi to a group of women. One of the women in the crowd was a lady named Lydia. We don’t know much about her, but what we do know is that she was a business woman. She was a dealer in purple cloth the scripture says. Purple was a color worn primarily by the rich in the 1st century due to the difficulty in making it, therefore her wares would have been pricy. We also know that Lydia was ‘a worshipper of God. This implies that she was religious, but had no true relationship or knowledge of Jesus Christ as Lord.

Lydia was like many professing believers today. She came to church and most likely endured the message with little interest each Lord’s day so that she could check it off her weekly to do list and feel justified in her salvation. But this day as Paul preached, the text doesn’t say Paul told a funny joke that got her attention. It doesn’t say that Paul preached the perfect sermon that opened her eyes. Rather, it says that the Lord ‘opened her heart to receive the message and to respond.

Again, the implication is that prior to the Lord doing this, Lydia had no power to revive or respond to the message of the Gospel. Paul only preached the Word. It was the  Lord who captivated her heart. And this is the biggest relief to the pastor. Because we have the assurance that if we preach His word faithfully, God will call to Himself who He pleases in spite of our many flaws.

In training his young protege and son in the faith Timothy, Paul said these Words to the aspiring preacher;

“Preach the Word, be ready in season and out of season. Reprove, rebuke, and exhort with complete patience and teaching.” 2 Timothy 4:2.

There was no lesson from Paul on eloquence or contextualization, because Paul himself was not a great speaker (2 Corinthians 11:6). The Apostle simple said to Timothy ‘preach the Word.’ As modern day pastors, this still holds true today. We are to preach the full council of God’s inherent Word in love and complete faith. Notice that Paul first told Timothy to preach the Word. What follows is reprove, rebuke, and exhortation. These are not so much things that Timothy does, but rather the effects of the Word being preached upon the hearts of the people.

Christian, you are a Royal Priesthood. And preaching is the means that God has ordained that He work through in order to bring people out of darkness. 1 Peter 1:10-12 says that the angels are amazed at how God brings salvation through those whom He has ordained to preach the Word. If the angels stand in awe of this high calling to preach, so should the minister be all the more captivated and emboldened in their reliance upon Holy scripture and proclaiming the truths of who God is with the greatest of passion. Preacher, equip the saints with the only thing that can sustain them in the day of trial. Preach the Word of Christ.

The Prison Called Sin

There is a prison called sin, and it’s captives are many. It lies to the inmates, whispering that true fulfillment can only be found behind its iron doors. And the only way this prison can contain the lie is to board up all of the windows that would allow the grace of God to shine within its walls. For this grace filled light from the outside would expose the lie.

If you find the Christian life to be a burden, I write this for you. If you view the commands of God as merely a collection of binding, moralistic rules, I write this for you. If you have felt that the joy found in knowing Christ couldn’t possibly compare with the fleeting pleasure found in your pet sins, I write this for you.

If you have these perceptions and fears about submitting your life to Jesus, I will lovingly tell you that you don’t know Christ. You have heard of Jesus, but you’ve never tasted the sweetness of knowing Him personally. You are like a prisoner who has grown so comfortable in his cell that he cannot imagine that true life can be found outside of its walls.

It is my aim to convince you through the word of God that greater joy and freedom   can only be found through submitting your life to Christ. It is my prayer that the windows to your cell would be shattered, and the grace of God would become more precious than your sin.

First, we must determine what it means to be a prisoner. One of the definitions of a prisoner is a person who is or feels confined or trapped by a situation or set of circumstances. They cannot escape by their own volition. By our fallen nature, sin is the prison to which we were all born into. It is the addiction of which we cannot break from on our own.

My uncle was addicted to nicotine and as a result, he smoked close to three packs of cigarettes a day. Although our family pleaded with him numerous times to kick the habit, he refused to give it up. He would always say with a smile, “How can something that brings me so much joy be wrong?” My uncle died of lung cancer when I was a freshman in high school. He couldn’t see the prison he was in that was under the guise of a temporary pleasure. And as a result, he forfeited greater joy found in better health as well as longer life.

The apostle Paul exposed sin for what it truly is. The lie that our culture buys into is that our deepest longings can only be satisfied in practices of sin.

“But the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin, so we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ.” Galatians 3:22.

Sin gives the illusion of total satisfaction. It’s a mirage of perpetual pleasures. But the pleasures found in sin do not last forever. The lusts of the flesh are temporary and fleeting. And in order to continually find satisfaction in a life of sin, you must lock yourself in its cage and throw away the key. It is to be like an addict who cannot fathom any joy outside of his harmful addiction. And a life enslaved to sin is one that is ignorant and unaware of the exquisite joys that can only be found outside of its cage.

In the summertime we will occasionally take our boys fishing. In one of our outings, Luke caught a small catfish. Upon taking it off of the hook, it was apparent that this fish had been snagged by a fishing hook before. It amazed me that as many times as this fish had most likely seen a worm with a shiny hook through its center, he had never wised up and learned from his past. He had never realized that what promised the satisfaction of a fully belly would ultimately lead to his demise. He was imprisoned to his own desires.

“Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things.” Philippians 3:19.

And then it dawned on me that as we chase after our favorite sins, we are no different from a gullible fish. In Genesis chapter 3, Satan caused Adam and Eve to doubt the promise of God that greater joy would be found in obedience to His word. Satan is the ultimate deceiver. Just as a fisherman seeks to deceive the fish with the false promise of a taste meal, Satan duped man into thinking his life would be more prosperous if he were to be his own God. The devil has no need to change his bait or tactic, because mankind continues to trust in the lie over the truth.

The truth of how we came to become shackled to sin angers those who are self-righteous and repels those who are slaves to their sins. Satan receives way to much credit from our post modern evangelical culture. It is common place to hear Jesus painted as this battle wearied solider who is doing His best to clean up the mess that Satan is causing. But Satan poses no threat to God, and even on His best day has no power to frustrate the plans of the sovereign Lord.

It was God’s providential will to allow humanity to fall into the prison that is sin. Mind you, God did not cause us to sin, but He allowed us to become enslaved to its shackles.

“For God has imprisoned everyone in disobedience so he could have mercy on everyone.” Romans 11:32.

This flies against how mainstream evangelicals tend to think about God today. It is easier to see God as a victim who was simply unable to stop Satan from leading into sin. It’s so much more palatable for us to see God as one who is begging us to find a way out. And if we can only muster up enough discipline, we can set ourselves free with the key of our self-imposed will.

But it’s quite another thing for man to come to grips with the truth of scripture that God willingly subjected his creation over to futility. A futility that in our flesh we have absolutely no power to escape from, so that he would be seen as the merciful rescuer and therefore receive all glory and praise.

“For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” Romans 8:20-21.

C.S. Lewis once wrote that at first glance, a God who’s highest aim was to glorify Himself through His created seemed to make the Lord out to be as “a little old lady begging for compliments.” However, Lewis went on to refute this idea, saying that we were created and wired to find our greatest joy in worshipping Christ!

David writes in Psalm 16:11, “In your [God’s] presence there is fulness of joy, in Your [God’s] right hand are pleasures for evermore.

As John Piper often says, “God is most glorified when we are most satisfied in Him.”  The mandate for God to receive glory from His creation for rescuing it from the bondage of sin and man’s quest for tapping into unending joy go hand in hand. They are inseparable.

Saint Augustine was a man imprisoned by the lusts of his flesh. In his written Confessions, he recounts his unquenchable desire for sexual exploits, even at one point had a live in prostitute. He was shackled and unable to abandon His sin, even though he knew it was wrong. Then one afternoon, he heard the voice of a young child saying “Take up and read.” He took this to be a sign from God and he picked up the book of Romans and read this verse;

“Let us walk properly as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and sensuality, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” Romans 13:13-14.

After this reading, Augustine wrote, “No further would I read; nor needed I: for instantly at the end of this sentence, by a light as it were of serenity infused into my heart, all the darkness of doubt vanished away.” Through reading the Word of God, He saw the beauty of obedience to Christ brought more joy to his soul than all of his previous transgressions.

When recounting his life running in sin in comparison to his new life in Christ, Augustine wrote, ““How sweet all at once it was for me to be rid of those fruitless joys which I had once feared to lose..! You drove them from me, you who are the true, the sovereign joy. You drove them from me and took their place…. O Lord my God, my Light, my Wealth, and my Salvation.”

The sins that once imprisoned Augustine, those that brought him temporary pleasures he  willingly admitted that he was at one time afraid to lose them. But after his eyes were opened through his mind being opened to the word of God, he labeled the sins he once held so dear ‘fruitless joys.’

“Stand firm therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and don’t be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.” Galatians 5:1.

Christ has set us free from the bondage of sin so that those who are in Him are now free to be who they are called to be; spotless, blameless, holy, and perfect in the sight of God. All remnants of their bondage to sin now washed away by the blood of Christ. For a Christian to choose sin over obedience to Christ is to settle for less. It is to choose imprisonment over freedom. It is to cling to that which is temporal rather than eternal. To relinquish all rights to practice sin is not a martyrs duty or a religious burden. If your sin is more precious than Christ, you are still in the prison cell. When we abandon our sins in exchange for a life lived unto the Lord, we walk in liberty. And we gain far more than the prison called sin could ever promise.

“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.” -C.S. Lewis

Understanding Love and Marriage

eb3dde0a3033378661f9814c8972480dI have been married to my wife Lacy for fifteen years this past June. She is without a doubt one of the greatest gifts the Lord has given me. We’ve had our ups and downs. There has been laughter and tears. But through it all I’ve never regretted a single moment with her.

Looking back and thinking upon our wedding day, it seems like it flew by in such a blur. Truth be told, it was my hope on that day that the ceremony would go by as quickly as possible.

At the time when we were married, I was extremely nervous at the thought of standing at the front of a church before hundreds of people. And yet years later God would call me to be a pastor. Now I stand at the front of His church full of people each Sunday morning. Oh, the irony.

I have a few regrets when I think back to the day of our wedding. I wish that I had paid more attention to the vows that we spoke to one another. I wish that I had been walking in a true relationship with Christ at that time in my life. I wish that I had read Ephesians chapter 5 with a proper understanding of what the Apostle Paul was writing.

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,  that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word,  so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.  In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.  For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church,  because we are members of his body.  “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”  This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Ephesians 5:25-32.

Marriage was designed by God. Not primarily for our happiness, but rather to conform us into the image of Christ. In the above text, Paul writes that the husband is the mirror image of Christ, and the wife represents His church. The implications of this are huge. In the covenant of marriage, we see a living breathing picture of the Gospel. We see a picture of Christ and His bride.

When we think of the relationship between Christ and the church, many words come to mind. Words such as unconditional love, grace, mercy, long-suffering, and unwavering commitment. Although we, the church, have been rebellious at times and have been unfaithful in our affections towards Jesus, He has always remained faithful, displaying grace, mercy, and unconditional love even when it was not deserved.

Marriage is a reenactment of divine love. It is a depiction of the Gospel. And because of this, marriage is under great attack from Satan. The evil one has been defeated by Christ and has no power against Him. So if He cannot destroy Christ, the next best thing is for Him to set his sights on demolishing the very image of the Gospel on earth.

Sadly, numerous marriage are falling prey to Satanic attack. And it is because our culture lacks an understanding of what marriage portrays and what love is. Love in our world is only understood in a post modern context. The word love in today’s society has no concrete definition. It is like a boat without an anchor.

Love is used carelessly for anything that makes us happy at the moment. Case in point, we love our spouses, but we also love our sports team. And we love certain movies and certain foods. Love in our world today merely means that the object of our affection makes us feel good in some way.

Culture speaks loudly into this false idea of love. Iconic movies and popular songs portray love as just some overwhelming, euphoric, emotion or feeling. Here is the problem with that. If love is truly nothing more than a good feeling, then no marriage is safe. Because feelings and emotions change.

We love our sports team until they begin to consistently lose games. We love our favorite food until it makes us sick. And we love our spouses as long as they are meeting our standard for happiness. But once we become unhappy, society tells us that its ok to move on. Even the old cliché “I’ve fallen in love” feeds this notion. Because as one theologian properly put it, “Anything you can fall into you can climb right back out of.”

My wife Lacy once spoke with a woman who was on the brink of filing for divorce from her husband. The man had been emotionally cold and shut off from his family for months. No adultery or physical abuse had taken place thank goodness. But still, the situation was not good.

The husband had finally reached a point to where he claimed he was willing to work on the marriage. But after all the damage, the wife wanted a divorce. The wife made the comment to Lacy, “I know God doesn’t approve of divorce, but when is enough enough?” Basically this woman was looking for justification to file for a divorce.

So what is the answer to her question? If marriage was created by God to be a reflection of Christ and His church, then we should look to that relationship to answer the question, “When is enough enough?”

The bride of Christ, His church, has never loved God as He ought to be loved. We have carved out other God’s for ourselves in the form of hobbies, vices, and earthly relationships and places them above our love for the Lord. We have consistently strayed only to return to Him repenting of our sins.

Has God ever once denied to forgive me of my rebellion against Him? Has the Lord ever told you that He was unwilling to put up with your sins any longer? Never. Christ’s love for His church was never based on His feelings. When we deserved His wrath, He repaid us with grace and mercy. Jesus forgave the unforgivable, going so far as to take the punishment upon Himself for our transgressions. Jesus didn’t feel like dying for our sins.

Jesus chose to die for the sins of His bride.

Therein lies one of the great mysteries that the Apostle Paul was revealing about marriage. Marital love is not grounded in emotion or feelings, but rather it is a daily choice. A dying to self. Marriage is about putting your spouse and their needs above your own desires, even when they don’t deserve it. Marriage is meant to remind us of how God loves us.

And when we come to grasps with how great a love the Father has bestowed upon us, even in the midst of our sins, it is then that we can truly love our spouse. We can then forgive the unforgivable, because we know that we have been forgiven by God. We can then show grace and mercy, because we understand that we were given these gifts undeservedly. And it is in loving our spouse as Christ loves His church, we then become like the God we worship.

Isn’t it amazing that so many professing Christians worship Jesus for the qualities of forgiveness, grace, and mercy, but they are unwilling to practice them with others. Especially with those closest to them. And so when the enemy succeeds in destroying a marriage, he shatters the literally image of the Gospel.

It is in loving our spouse in the worst of times that we gain a glimpse of the unwavering love that Christ has for us. In a sense, the hard days of marriage are gifts from the Lord to allow us to see and understand the amazing grace of God upon our own lives.

Marriage is a profound mystery to the world. But through the knowledge of Christ, we know that the husband and wife union is the representation of Christ and His church. And the reality of this great mystery leads our marriages into an unimaginable joy.

“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.”  This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Ephesians 5:31-32.