What Does Mark 7:24-30 Mean?

I have never been able to decipher the meaning of the story in Mark 7:24-30 when Jesus talks to a Gentile woman about her demon-possessed daughter and something else about not giving food to dogs–all until yesterday when Tim Keller provided the significant context and metaphorical language Jesus and the lady were using in their conversation.

The following blog will simply feature an entire 6-page excerpt from Keller’s book, Jesus The King, and then I’ll add some thoughts about several implications of this story as well. I hope Keller’s excerpt gives you as much clarity as it gave me.

Check it out:

Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an evil spirit came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.
(Mark 7:24–26)

The story begins with the mysterious statement that Jesus went to the vicinity of Tyre and did not want anyone to know it. What was going on? Well, Jesus had been spending all of his time ministering in Jewish provinces, and that ministry was drawing overwhelming crowds, and he was exhausted. So Jesus left the Jewish provinces and went into a Gentile territory, Tyre, in order to get some rest.

But it doesn’t work. A woman hears of his arrival and makes her way boldly to Jesus. Though she’s a Syrophoenician, because of Tyre’s proximity to Judea she would have known the Jewish customs. She knows that she has none of the religious, moral, and cultural credentials necessary to approach a Jewish rabbi—she is a Phoenician, a Gentile, a pagan, a woman, and her daughter has an unclean spirit. She knows that in every way, according to the standards of the day, she is unclean and therefore disqualified to approach any devout Jew, let alone a rabbi. But she doesn’t care. She enters the house without an invitation, falls down and begins begging Jesus to exorcise a demon from her daughter. The verb beg here is a present progressive—she keeps on begging. Nothing and no one can stop her. In Matthew’s Gospel chapter 15, the parallel account, the disciples urge Jesus to send her away. But she’s pleading with Jesus—she won’t take no for an answer.

You know why she has this burst of boldness, don’t you? There are cowards, there are regular people, there are heroes, and then there are parents. Parents are not really on the spectrum from cowardice to courage, because if your child is in jeopardy, you simply do what it takes to save her. It doesn’t matter whether you’re normally timid or brazen—your personality is irrelevant. You don’t think twice; you do what it takes. So it’s not all that surprising that this desperate mother is willing to push past all the barriers.

So what is Jesus’ response to this woman as she is down on the floor begging? The story continues:

She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter. “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”
(Mark 7:26–27)

On the surface, this appears to be an insult. We are a canine-loving society, but in New Testament times most dogs were scavengers—wild, dirty, uncouth in every way. Their society was not canine-loving, and to call someone a dog was a terrible insult. In Jesus’ day the Jews often called the Gentiles dogs because they were “unclean.” Is what Jesus says to her just an insult, then? No, it’s a parable. The word parable means “metaphor” or “likeness,” and that’s what this is. One key to understanding it is the very unusual word Jesus uses for “dogs” here. He uses a diminutive form, a word that really means “puppies.” Remember, the woman is a mother. Jesus is saying to her, “You know how families eat: First the children eat at the table, and afterward their pets eat too. It is not right to violate that order. The puppies must not eat food from the table before the children do.” If we go to Matthew’s account of this incident, he gives us a slightly longer version of Jesus’s answer in which Jesus explains his meaning: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” Jesus concentrated his ministry on Israel, for all sorts of reasons. He was sent to show Israel that he was the fulfillment of all Scripture’s promises, the fulfillment of all the prophets, priests, and kings, the fulfillment of the temple. But after he was resurrected, he immediately said to the disciples, “Go to all the nations.” His words, then, are not the insult they appear to be. What he’s saying to the Syrophoenician woman is, “Please understand, there’s an order here. I’m going to Israel first, then the Gentiles (the other nations) later.” However, this mother comes back at him with an astounding reply:

“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.” She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
(Mark 7:28–30)

In other words, she says, Yes, Lord, but the puppies eat from that table too, and I’m here for mine. Jesus has told her a parable in which he has given her a combination of challenge and offer, and she gets it. She responds to the challenge: “Okay, I understand. I am not from Israel, I do not worship the God that the Israelites worship. Therefore, I don’t have a place at the table. I accept that.”
Isn’t this amazing? She doesn’t take offense; she doesn’t stand on her rights. She says, “All right. I may not have a place at the table—but there’s more than enough on that table for everyone in the world, and I need mine now.” She is wrestling with Jesus in the most respectful way and she will not take no for an answer. I love what this woman is doing.

In Western cultures we don’t have anything like this kind of assertiveness. We only have assertion of our rights. We do not know how to contend unless we’re standing up for our rights, standing on our dignity and our goodness and saying, “This is what I’m owed.” But this woman is not doing that at all. This is rightless assertiveness, something we know little about. She’s not saying, “Lord, give me what I deserve on the basis of my goodness.” She’s saying, “Give me what I don’t deserve on the basis of your goodness—and I need it now.”

*          *          *          *          *

I love it. Of course, the meaning of the passage can only be unlocked with knowledge of the context and the figurative language being used. However, while the storyline is certainly meaningful, there exist several significant truths that are implicated more deeply beyond the surface of the narrative as well.

For example, the fact that Jesus reached out to this Gentile lady has massive implications about the distinctive nature of Christian salvation. In Jewish religious culture, it was understood that one’s standing with God was predicated foremost upon their Jewish ethnicity and, secondarily, upon their degree of religious practice. Therefore, to be ethnically Gentile (not Jewish) was to be inherently outside of right standing with God. Ethnicity, then, was an important factor for your status before God.‡

In addition, in Jesus’ day, women were also regarded as social outsiders–in society and also in the religious spheres. Back then, 3 women’s testimonies collectively held as much weight in court as 1 man’s testimony. To be a woman meant social inferiority, religious marginality, and political inequality. Indeed, his individual has two strikes against her–being a Gentile and a woman. Yet, this woman is the first one to hear and understand Jesus’ parables in the entire gospel of Mark. This account, in and of itself, shows a great deal about the nature of the salvation Jesus welcomes into the world: a salvation for all people groups and all people statuses, completely independent of people’s religious merit, and totally dependent on His grace.

The fact that Jesus reached out to this Gentile woman fundamentally shows that Jesus comes for the broken, the sick, the outsider, the sinner. Of course, all people–because of their inherent sin–are positionally alienated from God, and are therefore spiritually broken, sick, outside, and condemned. This is an important truth that can be gleaned from the story.

And if we put ourselves in the shoes of the Gentile woman, I think we will find another truth that is very practical to our own lives. Here’s what I mean: quite likely, it’s only until you realize that you have no leverage in your position before God that you will finally begin to hear and understand His voice and call on your life–just like the Gentile woman who had nothing to offer Jesus–to lean on His grace alone.

Additionally, this story can also serve as a defense for the honesty of the Bible’s authorship as well. Many scholars argue that the historical validity and honest authorship of the Bible is compromised due to the presupposition that it was fundamentally written out of political motivations.

However, if you–as an author–are trying to ignite a political scheme, you would not have included this story in your texts–unless, of course, it actually happened, and that the purpose of the gospel account was not politically motivated after all. Regardless, the story would have no power or resonance among the sociopolitical structures of the day anyways. A Gentile? A woman? And also, why include that Jesus’ closest, Jewish, male disciples did not understand Jesus’ profound parables, but the Gentile woman did? Hypothetically, the inclusion of this story into an inherently political text would prove completely insignificant and even counterproductive. If the gospel of Mark was intended as a political document, then the inclusion of the story’s pagan woman and buffoon-ish disciples would be like shooting yourself in the foot as an author. Therefore, this account in Mark serves as an apologetic proof against the notion that the gospel of Mark was written out of political motivation, and instead argues that the text was recorded for another purpose.

Then, what is the purpose? Well, if Jesus’ ministry was fundamentally a political effort, it would make more sense to think he would have leveraged his already well-established, authoritative connections in the religious circles as leverage against the Roman empire. But his purpose was not about leading a political movement like everyone wanted him to (even his own disciples); instead, his purpose was to reconcile people to God by taking away their sin. Jesus understood the blockage of sin between humanity and God as the root cause behind all personal, political, ethical, religious, social, and familial strife. Therefore, this story is proof that Jesus’ mission was not about fixing the apparent problems of human culture so much as it was about redeeming the inherent problem of human hearts.

Overall, this story–while encrypted with context and metaphor–provides meaningful exposition about the nature of Christian salvation, and also inherently defends itself from accusations of a politically motivated author and a politically motivated King.

________________

Footnotes:

† Keller, Timothy. Jesus The King. p. 183-189. Penguin Group, USA.

‡ However, ethnicity was not an exclusive or foundational requisite for right standing with God, as there were countless Gentiles from the Old Testament who were saved because of their dependent faith in God and His grace. Several examples include Rahab, Ruth, and the city of Nineveh.

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“Preach the Gospel Always. When Necessary, Use Words” | No.

One of the most classic quotes in modern day Christianity when referring to evangelism is one that is most often attributed to St. Francis Assisi: “Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words”.

You see this quote everywhere, and for good measure too. I think that’s because its message resonates with many Christians about the importance of living a life of such Christ-likeness that it makes the world stop, think, and inquire about the Jesus you serve. (Hopefully, not in a weird way, but in an attractive way). The sentiment behind Assisi’s quote certainly makes a point evangelistically, especially since the single greatest reason people turn away from Christianity is because of its members’ hypocrisy—those who claim Christ with their mouths and beliefs but proclaim anything but Christ in their actions and lifestyles.

So yes, exemplifying the nature of Christ to the world—by demonstrating to others what Jesus has demonstrated to us—is certainly an important, necessary, and critical part of what it means to be “salt” and “light” as a Christian.

However, when it comes to evangelism, it is important to note that good Christian living isn’t enough. In fact, according to Jesus, it’s not even the foundational basis of evangelism, either.

Also, let’s just be honest for a second: Even if good Christian living was sufficient for evangelism, there are many non-Christians out there who exude just as much—or maybe sometimes more—Christ-like character than some Christians do. So what do you do then?

There has to be something more—more significant and more distinctive—that fundamentally separates Christians from the rest of world and its, oftentimes, equally moral people. Therefore, the bottom denominator, centerpiece, and foundation of true evangelism is not just exemplifying a good Christ-like example.

This ‘denominator, centerpiece, and foundation’ of sorts is the gospel, which is a message not a morality. Jesus never described evangelism as a type of lifestyle that may need to give an account for itself every once in a while. Rather, Jesus fundamentally described evangelism as the sharing of its central, core message: the good news, the gospel. This means that all true evangelism has at its center the sharing of this message.

Therefore, St. Francis Assisi’s quote isn’t incorrect so much as it is incomplete. Or, another way to say it is that Assisi wrongly flipped true evangelism inside out by making Christian morality the core and the Christian message the periphery, instead of the other way around.

In effect, St. Francis Assisi portrays evangelism as expressive morality-showing hinted with the message, while Scripture (like the book of Acts) depicts evangelism as an expressive message-sharing of Jesus legitimized by a consistent morality like Jesus.

Quick side note: how could you share a message about a Savior you don’t care to emulate? Such inconsistency, in and of itself, would make this Savior look undesirable to follow anyways. But if the message of this Savior is shared from a life that follows Him dearly, then the alleged goodness of this message will only then become legitimatized and convincing amongst its hearers.

There’s also a key, distinctive point that needs to be made: the primary Christian mission is its message, not its morals. And significantly enough, the message of Christianity is not about the good things you have done or will do for God, but about the good things Christ has done and will ever do for you.

Let’s briefly look at the implications embedded in both evangelistic approaches that either emphasize morality or the message over the other. Here’s what I mean:

If the Christian mission is about its peoples’ morals for Jesus—and not its message about Jesus—then evangelism would focus solely upon human potential. This approach would inevitably cause people to direct their hope away from a worthy God and, instead, look to themselves for saving. This approach leads to a dead end morally, too: it makes its preachers and hearers either self-righteous and self-sufficient or self-despairing and self-pitying, depending how well they think they have measured up to pleasing God.

However, if the Christian mission is about its message of Jesus’ works for us—and not our morality for Jesus—then evangelism would solely focus upon God. This approach would inevitably cause people to direct their hope away from themselves and to a God they can fully trust in. This approach, on the other hand, paves the way to a better and truer morality anyways: it causes its preachers and hearers to be humble, thankful, and confident because this message of salvation is not based on their faithful performance for God, but on God’s faithful performance to them.

But here is the main crux of where St. Francis of Assisi’s statement is wrong:

Saying that you can preach the gospel—but only sometimes use words—is to falsely imply that the gospel is not really words after all, but rather, actions.

But this is wrong because the gospel is fundamentally and totally words! The gospel is not a moral example that can be expressed mainly by actions and sometimes with words; it is good news that can only be communicated by words. And that’s because news is words.

Saying that you can preach the gospel—but only sometimes use words—is kind of like turning on the news channel but watching it with no volume.† Sure, you can see the news reporters giving their reports; and based on their gestures and expressions, it might be apparent that what they are saying is significant. But because there is no volume, you have absolutely no idea what is going on! It might look good on the surface, but it ultimately does nothing for you. That’s because the news channel is only beneficial when you can hear the news of what they are saying with the words they are using. And so it is with preaching the gospel as well. Living a good Christ-like life around your non-Christian friends will set a good example for them, but it will have the same effect as a muted news channel unless you vocalize the gospel message that compels your morality. Until then, you will do nothing for them in the scope of eternity. Indeed, one’s Christ-likeness does not have saving power, but the Christ-message does.

Here’s another example, too: saying “Preach the gospel at all times and sometimes use words” is like the equivalent of saying “Give me your phone number and sometimes, give me the digits.”‡ No one would ever say that! They would always give the digits because a phone number is digits. Similarly, just like you can’t give a phone number without listing the digits, you can’t share the gospel without giving words because it is words and must be communicated with words in the same way a phone number must be communicated with digits.

To conclude, while we can appreciate the sentiment behind Francis Assisi’s quote, it’s important to note that the gospel is not primarily a lifestyle or moral behavior. Christianity’s gospel is not about all the great things you have done or will do for God; it is about all the great things God has done and will ever do for you—by sending His Son to come and live the life we could not live and to die in our place, taking the penalty of sin and giving us His reward of salvation. And you can’t communicate that good news by acting like Jesus; you must tell the story of Jesus.

So to tweak the modern quote: how about let’s say, “preach the gospel always—and let the nature of your actions never deny the gravity of your words”.

______________________________________

FOOTNOTES:

†, ‡ Both analogies come from sermons I have heard from pastor, JD Greear.

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Follow-Up Support Raising

Hello blog subscribers!

As you might have seen this past week, my last blog post was a letter explaining how I am going to be spending the next year working part-time with Cru at UNC, and that I am striving to raise support to able to do this.

The responses have been overwhelmingly encouraging thus far, and I am very thankful for those of you who have already provided both verbal and financial support.

However, I am writing this blog as a follow-up because it unfortunately appears that there might have been some confusion in the process of donations.

It seems that some people who have donated to my cause forgot to indicate that their specific donation was given in my name.

This is crucially important: since I am working (and thus getting paid) on an hourly basis, I need to know how much total money is given in my name so I can know how many hours I can work.

It would be terrible if you gave to Cru at UNC without indicating my name, because then your money would go to Cru at UNC, generally, but it would not allow me to work there, specifically.

Therefore, for those of you who might have forgotten to indicate that your donations were in my name, here’s what you can do:

Email me at adgentry@me.com to let me know how much you gave.

If some of you would like to donate, but have not yet done so, here’s the link where you do so. But if you give, don’t forget to email me: https://give.cru.org/2284550

Thanks again to all who have partnered with me in this endeavor, and I am excited to serve Christ through Cru at UNC in the upcoming fall!

-Austin

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Working w/ Cru at UNC – Raising Support

Hello family, friends, and fellow blog-subscribers,

As you might be aware, I recently graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in May with a double major in Religious Studies and Interpersonal/Organizational Communication. It was an incredible four years, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I thank God for the ability and opportunity to attend an amazing institution that hosts such a rich diversity of background, talent, intelligence, and faith. These past four years have been critically influential for me academically, socially, and spiritually. God has truly grown and shaped me through the people I have met, education I have received, organizations I have participated, and worldviews I have encountered.

In fact, one of the most formative places during my collegiate experience was Cru, a large Christian organization on campus, where I found an oasis of sorts among the normative desert of secular thought and living. UNC Chapel Hill is notoriously regarded as a dark, lost place among Christian spheres. This sentiment is true, as there is a small percentage of students at UNC Chapel Hill who are following Jesus. And that’s exactly why Cru exists like a spiritual oasis for many, including myself. There I found a rich community of mission-minded, Bible-abiding, Christ-glorifying believers who were making a difference on campus in various ways. Cru was not a Christian huddle; it was an army equipped with the gospel. unc-gray-clear2-e1398888951958UNC Chapel Hill, like many college campuses, is a unique, strategic place for the gospel. The brightest of students from all over the state, country, and world come to this university—and share life, ideas, and experiences with one another in a tight community for four years—and then are launched back into places all over the state, country, and world to make a difference. Could there be a better opportunity to reach them with the gospel? Indeed, we don’t go to them as much as they come to us. During my four years at UNC Chapel Hill, God has burdened me for these students and this place. While I will be attending Southeastern Seminary in the fall, I will be working part-time with Cru at UNC.

As someone who has been a blessing in my life and a fellow partner in the gospel, I would like to ask you–yes, you Mr./Mrs./Ms. blog-reader!–to consider supporting me for the next year, and in doing so, partner with me through Cru to reach the student body of UNC Chapel Hill for Christ. I firmly believe that one of the best investments the church can make today is by supporting ministry at the college campuses. This is the place where the rising generation is most independent, curious, and malleable—and what happens on the college campus will arguably set the trajectory for the rest of these students’ lives. Therefore, supporting Cru at UNC will financially allow us to leverage our time and resources to reach, disciple, and send them out in the name of Jesus.

If you would like to support me in this endeavor, the easiest and most convenient way to give is through Cru’s website. This link is where you can give: https://give.cru.org/2284550

Once you are on the website, click the button “Give A Gift”.  (Refer to picture-guide below). From there, you can specify the amount and frequency of your gift (single gift, monthly, quarterly, etc.). Directly under where you specify your type of donation, there is a space for adding comments. Please indicate that your specific donation “goes to the ministry of Austin Gentry as he works for Cru at UNC Chapel Hill”. This way, my director, Miles O’Neill, will be able to know how much I raised, and therefore, how many hours I will be able to work. Additionally, if you give online, please email me at adgentry@me.com to let me know how much you gave so that I can keep count of how much was specifically given in my name.

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If you would rather mail me a check instead, be sure to write the check out to Cru. By mailing the check to me (home address at bottom of blog), I will be able to track how much money was given; then I will mail the check on to Cru Headquarters.

Regarding the nature and process of the donations, it is important to note that all gifts—physical checks and online giving—are tax-deductible and will be kept in a specific account for UNC’s ministry at Cru Headquarters. Cru at UNC will then pay me from that account based on my hourly work. A small percentage of your total giving, however, will be used to fund Cru’s extensive reach as an international ministry. For example, 12% of your giving will go to broader ministry development, 7% will go to missionaries overseas who cannot raise support in closed countries, and 5% will cover overhead costs.

If you are unable to financially support my work for Cru at UNC, would you nonetheless partner with this ministry through the powerful tool of prayer, asking God to continue to send the Holy Spirit to work salvation and discipleship in Chapel Hill.

Thank you once again for your friendship, influence, and partnership in the gospel and for supporting me financially and/or prayerfully as I strive to extend, perpetuate, and contribute to the ministry of Christ through Cru at UNC.

Your Brother In Christ,

Austin Gentry

422 Edgedale Drive, High Point, NC 27262

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When Faith Seems Hard To Come By

Whether you have grown up in Christian culture or not, it’s probable that you have heard the religious term ‘faith’ many times. It’s a buzzword really. It’s denoted with admirable spirituality and is loaded with the unknown–and people use it a lot. You’ve likely heard an assortment of the phrases “take a step of faith” and “place your faith” and “just have faith” with different spins and various applications. However, while we we hear about ‘faith’ time and time again, I’m afraid that our understanding sometimes fails clarity, objectiveness, or practicality. Speaking from personal experience, I think the notion of ‘having faith’ often comes across as ambiguous, mysterious, and subjective, which isn’t always helpful when it’s understood as the prerequisite for something as significant as salvation, among other things. Indeed, it’s crucial to Christianity.

And while there is much to be said about ‘faith’, Tim Keller provides some insight about the overall nature of faith, what it looks like, and how it plays out in our lives in his exposition of the biblical account when Jesus calmed the deadly storm. What he says here gives much clarity to that term in Christianity that is so crucial, yet sometimes so pervasively ambiguous and foggy.

Check it out:

Jesus asks the disciples, “Do you still have no faith?” That could actually be translated as “Where is your faith?” I love that way of phrasing it. By asking the question in this way, Jesus is prompting them to see that the critical factor in their faith is not its strength, but its object.

Imagine you’re falling off a cliff, and sticking out of the cliff is a branch that is strong enough to hold you, but you don’t know how strong it is. As you fall, you have just enough time to grab that branch. How much faith do you have to have in the branch for it to save you? Must you be totally sure that it can save you? No, of course not. You only have to have enough faith to grab the branch. That’s because it’s not the quality of your faith that saves you; it’s the object of your faith. It doesn’t matter how you feel about the branch; all that matters is the branch. And Jesus is the branch.

People who believe more must not be hard on those who believe less. Why? Because faith ultimately is not a virtue; it’s a gift.
If you want to believe but can’t, stop looking inside; go to Jesus and say, “Help me believe.” Go to him and say, “So you’re the one who gives faith! I’ve been trying to work it out by reasoning and thinking and meditating and going to church in hopes that a sermon will move me—I’ve been trying to get faith by myself. Now I see that you’re the source of faith. Please give it to me.” If you do that, you’ll find that Jesus has been seeking you—he’s the author of faith, the provider of faith, and the object of faith.†

I love that. Much uncertainty, ambiguity, and doubt can be traced back to the fact that we are measuring our standing with God  by the degree of our faith instead of Jesus’ finished work for us on the cross.

Oftentimes, our faith frequently drifts off its proper orbit around the gospel of Jesus and spins off into space, carried only by the momentum of its own separation. However, its the gravitational force of the gospel that pulls our faith into constancy and assurance. Outside of that orbit, our faith is left to forever drift into further dimensions of uncertainty, ambiguity, and ambivalence. It’s the planet of the gospel, not the orbit itself, that gives the metaphorical orbit of your faith assurance. If you’ve ever taken an astronomy/science class, you would know that it’s the existence of the plant first that causes the existence of the orbit. The planet and its gravitational force is what produces the existence of the orbit. Therefore, orbits are maintained and upheld as long as the planet is there. Similarly, true faith is not caused by our trying to orbit, but is produced by the gospel simply existing. If the gospel is the center, your faith won’t spin off into unknown dimensions of space.

To relate this idea to another analogy, think of a bicycle tire: faith is like the spokes and the gospel is like the hub. So long as the spokes of your faith are connected to the hub of the gospel, the tire of your Christianity will stay moving. But when you regard the spokes of your faith as the centerpiece, you’re gonna start having some major problems.

Thus, faith actually cannot come from the inside, but only from the outside. Faith cannot rise from the depths of our sinful hearts; it can only come into existence–like the orbit–by responding to the reality of Jesus’ loving sacrifice and resurrection.

This is important because it has two significant practical implications. First, if faith was primarily about what you could muster up, then you would inevitably boast in yourself because you have more faith than others; and if not, you would  inevitably despair because you can’t seem to naturally muster up enough faith like other people. Both ends of the spectrum are busted morally. However, if faith is primarily about what Jesus has done, then you have no reason to boast in yourself, but only in Him. This destroys all notions of pride and despair, which is what a holy God aims to do in our lives anyways.

Second, if faith was primarily about what you could muster up, then gaining assurance of your salvation would be impossible. How much is enough? Am I working hard enough? Do I need more faith to finally be right with God? How do I know? The problem with inward faith is that you will never know how much is enough. You’ll constantly be anxious. But that is not the way God wants us to live our lives. He loves us and wants us to know that. And so the answer is not to look inward at your degree of faith, but to look outward at his decree of grace. Looking at the cross and the resurrection–outside of yourself–you can be assured that Jesus paid it all for your sins. Therefore, if you lean the weight of your soul upon how much faith you have, everything will crumble; but if you lean the weight of your soul against the unmoving and completed work of Jesus, you will finally find peace and assurance.

If you have a hard time believing in Christianity, these are moral proofs of why Christianity could be true when we look at the notion of faith. Its founder, Jesus, produces a type of humility (not boasting) and confidence (not fretting) in us that we could not possibly produce in ourselves. Other religions will ultimately tell you to trust in how well you have kept the moral code. Morally, this philosophy ends in either pride or despair (based on how well you have kept the code), and also never gives you the peace of assurance. Sure, such living will look good on the outside, but the inside will inevitably suffer from self-righteousness, self-deprecation, or self-doubt. Yet, if Jesus is the savior who alone brings salvation, then we can’t boast (since we didn’t achieve it), we can’t despair (because we can’t lose), and we can have peace of assurance because the cross and resurrection prove it. 

Truly, our faith decreases–not increases–when we focus on the degree of our faith for Jesus. Instead, our faith grows more–not less–when we focus on the work of Jesus for us.

To conclude, if you’re like me and you have struggled with mustering up ‘enough faith’ to please God or to ‘be a good Christian’, I encourage you to give up these vain attempts of self-help. You’re only going to find such help for self by clinging to Jesus anyways–because He hasn’t given you advice about what to do; He’s given you news of what He has done. So, today, drop your checklist of what to do to get a stronger faith, and start believing Jesus that “It is finished”.‡ And while you’re fixating on that, your faith will seem to naturally refuel.

The distinction between putting our hope in our quality of faith versus the object of our faith has an important gospel-implication: if the power is in the quality of our faith, then we can boast and hope in ourselves. But if the power is in the object of our faith, then we can only boast and hope in the object of our faith–thereby, making us both humble and confident in this great Object of our faith.

_____________________________

Footnotes:

† Keller, Timothy. Jesus The King, p. 130-132.

‡ John 19:30

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Don’t Go To Christianity for Joy, Rationale, or Ethics

I’ve been reading a book recently that, honestly, has been rather irritating. It presents theological ‘itches’, per se, but the ‘scratches’ it provides as solutions just barely touch the edges of those itches, such that the ‘itches’ are unfortunately worse than before. Because the ‘scratch’ doesn’t hit the main ‘itch’—but only the edges—it renders the itch even itchier. Ya know? (Lol at this analogy). Now, I don’t mean to come down hard on the author—I’m sure he has good intentions—but one explanation he gave particularly encapsulates what I believe is painfully true for a majority of modern day Christianity.

To establish context, he tells disappointing stories of people who left the faith and why they did so. However, in recounting the disappointment, he interestingly presupposes upon multiple ideas that are fundamentally contrary to the primary substance of Christianity. Meaning, he implicates reasons of secondary importance (joy, rational, ethics) about why Christianity is ultimately worth following, over the primary ones (Jesus is who he says he is). That might sound too picky or cerebral—but check out what I mean. How it plays out practically is huge.

Here’s the text:

Chloe was raised in a strict Christian home. She obeyed all the Christian rules—no drinking, no smoking, no swearing, and, of course, no naughty sex with her boyfriend. Once out of her parents’ home, she tried checking off the list of dos and don’ts during early adulthood. She decided to walk away once she realized religion couldn’t bring her joy or peace, fulfillment or contentment.

Michael was a classmate from high school who seemed adroit in Christian apologetics. If a skeptical student attacked Christianity, he was the first to turn them back with carefully rehearsed arguments. When I ran into him in a grocery store checkout line years later, he told me he doesn’t ascribe to any religious tradition. His college religion professor spun his spiritual logic around with counterarguments. Because he saw Christianity as a series of rational arguments, the religion of his adolescence slipped like sand between his fingers.

And then there’s Michelle, who began attending church after she had children. Michelle longed for her children to acquire a strong ethical framework, and the local Christian congregation seemed the most commonsense place for such things. Three years later, she watched the church build expensive buildings while much of the community around it crumbled in poverty. I thought Christianity was supposed to make you a good person, she thought as she left the church for the final time.1

So maybe while you were reading, you picked up what I was putting down. Maybe you sensed a feeling of “well… that’s good and all… but it sounds a little… off…”. And if not, that’s fine too, just let me clarify:

Per Chloe: You shouldn’t go to Christianity for the primary reason of getting joy, peace, contentment, or satisfaction—if that’s what you want, then… go to a carnival. And like Chloe, why do we think that dry-rule keeping is the formula for happiness? Sure, Christianity does bring peace, joy, contentment, and satisfaction—the fullest and truest of all good things; but it also brings suffering, pain, and trial. If Jesus’ life was marked by suffering, insult, persecution, and pain, why do we assume ours won’t be—especially if he tells us we will suffer? (Jn 16:33). Ultimately, if your Christianity is built on the sand of positive vibes, sentiment, and feeling, then what do you do when the waves of reality come crashing down on your shore? Just smile anyway? White-knuckle a positive ‘Christian’ appearance until your face turns blue behind your plastic mask of Sunday-best deception? I would give up too, and maybe that’s what describes the Chloes of Christianity—it doesn’t bring as much joy as you had hoped. So like a junkie, might as well go look for the next hit, whether it’s spirituality or not.

Per Michael: Furthermore, you shouldn’t go to Christianity for the primary reason of finding a bulletproof worldview whose rationale you can fully understand and depend on at all times. Yes, Christianity is incredibly rational. Even so, the times where human rationale can’t grasp God’s rationale is, in fact, a rational angle of Christianity, since God is higher and better than us. However, if Christianity is primarily logic to you, then what happens when the professor presents a counterargument about minor Bible doctrine or history? Like a Jenga set, your whole Christianity will come crumbing down because of one wooden piece that seemingly supported the rest. Additionally, if your Christianity is about your degree of logic comprehension, then it might as well be a matter of GPA—and lucky for you, you happened to be on the favorable end of the bell curve. What of those who aren’t as smart? Despair? And what of those who are? Pride? Logic as the primary substance of Christianity fundamentally results in a busted morality. Nevertheless, while Christianity may be the most superior explanation for the world, it never primarily appeals to logic in the Bible—it centrally appeals to Jesus. And if he rose from the dead, then he is who he said he is—LORD—who can be trusted even when we can’t depend on logic. In other words, we can be at peace with what we can’t/don’t know (lofty arguments) because of what we can/do know (Christ raised from the dead). If Jesus is Lord, then we can trust him.

Per Michelle: Finally, you shouldn’t go to Christianity for the primary reason of finding ethics. Sure, Christianity is inherently ethical because it models after a God who presented himself concretely in Christ as completely holy, loving, and just. However, so many people approach Christianity as a means to the ends of ethics. They need stability and morality in their life or the life of their kids. The unspoken motto pervades American culture: “might as well add the ingredient of religion to the mix of good academics, good friends, and good opportunities, and that will set me or my child on the right course for a successful and stable life”. Jesus didn’t come to be the means of anything other the end of Himself. Not to be harsh, but don’t you think it would tick Jesus off if you did the ‘spiritual’ thing of recruiting him as your apprentice to help you get what you really want in life? The highest of our affections and loves should be Jesus—not a stable or successful life. Idolatry is one thing, but asking God to help you more fervently worship your idols is another.

In conclusion, you shouldn’t go to Christianity primarily for joy, rationale, or ethics. Sure, those things are there; but they are there on their own terms. That’s because Christianity does not exalt those things at its center—joy, rationale, ethics, etc. They are not of first importance. They are secondary. They are not the roots; they are the stems, leaves, and fruits. Christianity exalts Jesus as first importance—the foundation, the cornerstone, the roots. Therefore, going to Christianity primarily for joy, rationale, and ethics is like grabbing only for the stems, leaves, and fruit. Ultimately, it will turn out to be disappointing, because without the roots, those stems, leaves, and fruits will wither up in a week’s time, proving useless. But if you go for the roots and abide in Jesus, you’ll reap the stem, leaves, and fruit as well. Similarly, if you primarily go to Christianity for joy, rational, and ethics and not Jesus, you’ll get neither. But if you primarily go to Christianity for Jesus, you’ll get both and an abundance. 

Go to Christianity primarily because of Christ. Because he rose from the dead, and truly is who he says he is. Don’t go for joy, rational, or ethics. Don’t mistake the secondary things for the primary thing. Go for Jesus—and find the rest in abundance.

________________________

Footnotes:

1. Merritt, Jonathan. Jesus Is Better Than You Imagined, p. 224-225.

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5 Responses to the Notorious Phrase: “I Love Jesus, but not the Church”

Hey guys, earlier this year I wrote a similar blog on this same topic, however, I wanted to tweak it a bit by condensing the content, changing the approach, and drawing from some analogies in order to more clearly communicate each response. In addition, I also changed the format from text in trial #1 to video in trial #2. You might notice that the video offers only 4 responses, not 5, which was done for the sake of length. However, I did add the 5th response in text below the embedded video.

To be honest, I’ve felt hesitant to share the video because 1) it’s kinda weird watching yourself 2) I don’t wanna come across as self-promotional and 3) I feel like I am going out on uncharted waters a little bit. I don’t have a lot of experience doing/making this type of thing, but since YouTube is beginning to take off as an interactive online platform (like present day social media), I figured I might as well put some content out there for whoever stumbles across it.

So here is the video and, again, the 5th response is below it.

#5: I love Jesus, but not the church… yet, the local church is the vehicle for the Great Commission to our community. You are much more effective as a witness when fighting with the army of the local church around you instead of striving by yourself. A convincing picture of the gospel to the world will not be the attempts of one person, but the combined, multifaceted ways a community collectively declares and portrays the person and work of Jesus.

 

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