Gospel as Manual or a Man?

One thing that I am continually learning in my walk with Christ is that the theoretical  and the applicable are indeed connected, though in a very specific way that I was once unaware. Of course, you need the theoretical blueprints before you can build anything practical. So in an analogical sense, I guess you could say I am learning that the main blueprints for Christian living is not primarily a manual to live by, an example to live up to, a guide to follow, or a formula to adhere to in order to accomplish or succeed. Rather, the blueprints for true Christian is actually a person, Jesus, whose life, death, and accomplishments are mine by grace through faith. What I mean is that following Jesus and trying to be like Him from a ‘manual, example, guide, or formula’ approach–which I think is especially characteristic of modern day Christianity–is a futile attempt. It just doesn’t work.

On the converse, here is what I propose and what I think is most biblical anyways: True Christian growth is not a byproduct of living by the metaphorical blueprints of the Bible or life of Jesus, but rather living in light of the life and accomplishments of The Blueprint–the Cornerstone, the Author and Founder of our faith–Jesus Christ.

I’m afraid that when we manual-ize, formula-ize, or make Jesus and his life to only be an example to live by, we fundamentally lose the igniting force of what His life and death actually means to us, both personally and corporately. Making Jesus and his life into a moral manual, theoretically, means only our behavioral compliance, practically. But understanding Jesus and his life and death as a gracious sacrifice for me when I least deserved it, theoretically, means melting my heart of stone-cold affections for God into fervent love, practically.

Indeed, is stone-cold affections for God, yet with behavioral compliance, what He wants? Or behaviors that are an overflow of love? Certainly the latter: “The greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, and mind and love your neighbor as yourself”(Mt. 22:37). Therefore, the gospel’s power is ignited not when it is theoretically legislated into a manual, formula, or checklist for living, but when it is embraced as the news of a Person. The gospel’s power is not tapped when we make it to be a manual, example, or formula to live by, but a Person to live in light of.

Another way to say it is that life applications (about what to do for Christ and others) are only fueled by gospel implications (about what Christ has already done for others and me). What He has done for you fuels, informs, and changes the nature of what you should do for Him and others–not from the prod of compulsion, but from a response of love.

Essentially, I am learning that the power for everything I try to do, or want to do, or strive to accomplish spiritually in my life–whether that be spiritual fruit, personal growth, etc–is not fundamentally linked to my own efforts to improve, but is a power only tapped into by gazing upon Jesus’ life, accomplishments, fruit, and efforts for me. Not my efforts for Him.

Here’s an example:

Those who want to become generous shouldn’t simply try harder to give more, or try harder to be a cheerful giver—as if the fruits of generosity and cheerfulness can be emotionally mustered up from the infertile grounds of our own naturally ungenerous, selfish hearts. Rather, if you want to become generous and cheerful in giving, then you should focus on the generosity and cheerfulness of Jesus, who gave you everything when you least deserved it.

“I am so flawed that Jesus had to die for me, yet I am so loved and valued that Jesus was glad to die for me” -Tim Keller

Meditating on the generosity of Christ is what will fuel an organic engendering of generosity within you. Or, to say it another way, focusing on the generosity of Christ for you is what will produce generosity for Christ in you. If you want to become generous towards God and others, ruminate on God’s generosity towards you until you want to give.

And so it goes with all other spiritual fruits: dwelling on the forgiveness of God to you is what will lead you to be forgiving to others; thinking on the graciousness of God to you is what will lead you to be gracious to others; ruminating on the acceptance of God to you is what will lead you to accept those who are unlike you, even your enemies. An encounter with Jesus and his greatness is what will compel a response to Him and others that resembles His characteristics.

To conclude, I encourage you all to not make a law of what to do out of the good news of what has been already been done. Indeed, the greatest thief of the gospel’s declaration of What Has Jesus Done? might be legalism’s emphasis of What Would Jesus Do?.

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Takeaways from Mark 6:14-29

I have been reading through the gospel of Mark recently, and I wanted to share some thoughts about Mark 6:14-29 with a particular emphasis on verses 23-24, which I have marked in bold font. For purposes of structure, I’ve simply put the text below and then jotted down some main points below it.

Hope it encourages ya:

The Death of John the Baptist            

               King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some said, “John the Baptist has been raised from the dead. That is why these miraculous powers are at work in him.” But others said, “He is Elijah.” And others said, “He is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly.

               But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. For when Herodias’s daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.” And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.” And she went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. (Mark 6:14-29 ESV)

Yeah, I realize the bolded text—which is the particular focus of this blog—isn’t exactly something one would expect to be the focus of an expositional blog. But I think there are some significant takeaways about sin and its distorting effect on us that can be directly gleaned from this odd account where a woman eagerly trades half a kingdom for the execution from one man.

There are 2 main points that I think particularly standout in this account:

Point 1:

It is beyond frightening to think that our sin can convince us to trade incredible blessings in life (such as a kingdom) for its own bidding (murder)—and we might just be so blinded and caught up in our sin that we don’t even realize the whole scenario of what could be potentially gained or lost. This account indicates that sin can lead us to neglect the things that are actually valuable and, in turn, place incredible value on things that are actually quite trivial or wrong. In this episode, Herodias values the death of her righteous enemy over the acquisition of a kingdom, wealth, and status–showing us that sin can lead one to willfully shortchange heavenly—and even earthly—blessings. God can be offering you so much blessing, and sometimes sin can convince you to choose something else of incredibly lower value. In this case, sin was her kingdom of choice.

One potential caveat: this isn’t a prosperity gospel type of message where you “follow God and then you’ll get earthly blessings;” quite the contrary. In fact, I would argue that most of the world with earthly blessings either 1) rejects Jesus or 2) values their earthly blessing over Jesus (which is arguably the same). There is nothing inherently wrong with material wealth—it’s our heart’s relationship to it that makes it a moral issue. I’ve heard it said, “If you can’t give up your earthly blessings, then you no longer own it—it owns you.” I’m only saying that the overall, analogical message is that sin shortchanges the blessings of God in your life. If you are not following God, you aren’t really gaining anything anyways; you’re spiritually bleeding to death. I love CS Lewis’ quote here: “He who has God and everything else has no more than he who has God only.”

Point 2:

This account reveals to us the weightiness that conviction can take on. Imagine the opportunity of being offered anything by a king—up to half an empire—and instead, you choose to kill the one imprisoned man who exposes your sin.

This is proof that the heavy conviction of the guilt of our sin can be such a totalizing, all-consuming, weighty thing that we will do and give up almost anything to resolve, alleviate, and depressurize it’s incredibly oppressive force over our life. That is scary. This means sin functionally kills something or someone—and practically speaking, it either drains the life out of you, or it threatens to drain the life out of you so much so that you direct it on another person in a way that drains the life out of them. In this case, the pressure of conviction upon Herodias’ sinful desires became so overwhelming that it was unbearable to deal with. So instead of accepting the weight of her sin and confessing her wrongdoings and repenting, she decided to remove the pressurizing source of conviction: John the Baptist. So she had him killed. But the thing is, even after she had killed him, the guilt of her sin remained. That’s because the true source of conviction was not John the Baptist; it was God’s Word. John the Baptist was merely a vessel declaring God’s declaration of the law and gospel to her.

Similarly, with us, even if we attempt to remove the source of the exposure, pressure, or conviction, we still can’t run away from it, because the ultimate source is God. Sure, you can run away from Him your whole life, but you’ll eventually face him at Judgment. Own your sin now. Christ can’t be your functional Savior until you functionally recognize the reality of your sin. In one rotational movement, turn from your sin and turn to Jesus; you can’t secure forgiveness of sins or the righteous requirement for salvation any other way.

But here’s where the story gets juicy, where it can reveal a significant reversal of sorts, preaching the gospel message in a multidimensional kind of way. Here’s what I mean:

As the story accounts, King Herod offers Herodias anything she wises, up to half the kingdom; yet, under the powerfully distorting influence of her sin, she chooses the unjust murder of the righteous prophet in society instead. Sure, we can draw direct parallels between how God offers us blessing in life but how our sin disorients our values, distorts our morals, and shortchanges our joy.

But there are other, bolder parallels at work here—parallels that, once realized, will allow us to concretely draw parallels between this story, our own story, and the greater, overarching story of the Bible: As the metanarrative of the Bible accounts, however, The King of Kings offers us not just half a kingdom, but a whole one, being heirs with Christ. Yet, under the influence of our sin, we chose to reject God—the source of all that is righteous, good, and eternal. And in our cutting ourselves off from the Ultimate Good, we died spiritually. Our sinfulness hates God’s righteous authority over our lives, and the pressure his conviction brings on our sinful wants becomes draining; indeed, sin drains life—indeed, “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23).

As I mentioned earlier, when we feel the weight of our sin, it either drains the life out of us or we redirect it upon someone else so that they pay instead. Ultimately, someone has to existentially (or actually) die. In this account Herodias had John the Baptist killed to remove the conviction. Similarly, in the greater story of the Bible, humanity attempted to remove the source of its conviction by crucifying Jesus. Ironically, however, humanity’s murdering of Jesus actually accomplished what they had hoped, just in the most unexpectedly, ironic, and uncanny way possible. They killed Jesus thinking that it would end conviction he brought into their life. They thought they were getting rid of the source of conviction so that the weight of their sin could be relieved—either by a sense of their own self-righteousness or lifestyle of self-indulgence. All along, however, God sovereignly used their actions to eradicate the source of conviction to ultimately eradicate all guilt once and for all, with Jesus being both the source of conviction and wellspring of forgiveness—“full of grace and truth” (Jn 1:14, grace paired with forgiveness, truth paired with conviction). God reversed humanity’s climatic evil for ultimate good.

God sent Jesus to take the wages of our death, and humanity’s attempt to kill the source of righteous conviction was actually a powerful display of God’s sovereignty to reverse and redeem the curse of sin: Jesus dying in our place and offering his righteousness as a gift. In this account in the gospel of Mark, John the Baptist casts a vague shadow of Jesus. While this story shows that John the Baptist was murdered for the sake of righteousness, the greater Biblical narrative shows Jesus volunteered to die for stakes of Righteousness. John the Baptist preached about righteousness, but Jesus was the righteousness he preached.


 

* The Greater Context, A Moral Apologetic, & Personal Applications *

See, all of history is God’s ultimate plan to redeem humanity and the cosmos of its broken state because of the infinite weight of sin. But the only thing to save the world is to fully displace the infinite weight of sin with the infinite righteousness of Jesus. And he accomplished it. “He who knew no sin became sin so that we might become the righteousness of God” (1 Co. 3:25). God is both the just (truth) and the justifier (grace), and the only way we can most clearly see the uncompromising qualities of God’s truth, holy, and righteousness and God’s love, grace, and forgiveness is at the cross of Christ—the intersection of all the qualities of God fully necessitating and fulfilling one another in the most vivid, concrete, and marvelous way.

There is only One who can resolve our sin, and he loved us enough to volunteer for sin to destroy him instead of you. As a great hymn declares, In my place, condemned he stood, hallelujah, what a Savior. According to the codes and design of reality, sin will cause someone to suffer and die. And though we deserved it, Jesus took it from us; he suffered the ultimate blow of sin—existential and actual death—so that we wouldn’t have to. He was condemned in our place before God so we wouldn’t have to be. Jesus bore the weight of our sin and was crushed by it so that we wouldn’t have to be.

In contrast, other religions say, “God is merciful, so you’re sin isn’t really that bad, as long as you’re a good person” and “you can save yourself by your own works, just try harder and do better.” But a God who compromises truth and righteousness isn’t really that good or loving. He isn’t strong; he’s a pushover. Moral dilemmas abound all over the place if this God bends absolutes to make loopholes for ‘grace’ and ‘forgiveness’. In all true cases of forgiveness, it’s the giver who takes a loss. And to respond to “just work harder, do more, be better”—this isn’t a message of salvation; this is a mere proof of trying to alleviate my inadequacy in my own strength and prove my self-sufficiency, which means there is no rest for the soul—there is only trying to prove myself again and again; and if I fail, I despair. If I succeed, I am self-righteous and actually quite delusional.

On the contrary, Jesus’ “It is Finished” for accomplishing our salvation declares that we are at rest in our soul—no more proving myself to God—we are loved, forgiven, and secure because of his work for us—not ours. I don’t despair because it’s his work that counts—not mine. I don’t slip into delusional self-righteousness because it’s his work that counts—not mine. I can’t boast in anyone because I didn’t do anything to save me—I can only boast in Christ! This leaves me both humble and confident. Humble—because the only thing I contributed to my salvation was my sin. Confident—because even though I was more wicked and hopeless on my own accord than I could ever imagine, I am—at the same time—more loved and secured by God in Christ than I had ever dared hope (Keller).


 

In conclusion, the account of Herodias in Mark 6 is a real life story that not only directly comments upon the effects of sin in our own lives, but also gives glimpses of the metanarrative of the Bible: God’s loving offer of blessing, our rebellion and sin, his redemption of us in Christ in spite of and through our rebellion, and his restoration of all things for eternity.

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Steps of Faith // Proverbs 3:5-6

We’ve all heard this verse before, right? Proverbs 3:5-6. It’s a favorite verse by many; it’s seen painted across the backdrops of scenic landscapes, stamped on bookmarks, glazed on pottery, and printed on the back of T-shirts. It’s everywhere in the Christian world. And that’s because it is, truly, a great verse.

If you can’t exactly recollect what the verse says, here it is:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways, acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.”

Because of my Christian school upbringing, I was forced to memorize this verse at an early age, and thankfully it is stuck with me over the years. But to be honest, I haven’t really ruminated upon this verse before until recently, and I want to share a new takeaway God has given me from it and show how it practically informs the way we trust God as he makes our paths straight.

All my life, I understood the meaning of this verse with the following sentiment: once I “trusted God, didn’t lean on my own understanding, and acknowledged him,” that he will then “make my paths straight.” Essentially, I believed that once I did those things, then God would handle the rest. And I think this reading is true in part, but I think it’s also incomplete. If that’s all the verse means, then there is a dangerous implication that plays out practically, and it says this: “I shouldn’t walk a path until He makes the paths straight; I only need to trust and acknowledge.”

Meaning, I would only make forward progress until God gave me a green light for a certain road. But the thing is, there might be a situation where there are 10 green lights for 10 roads…does that mean we should just choose one from any of them? Maybe 10 green lights really means 10 red lights; how do we know? And what do we do, wait until there is only one obvious green light? It’s a mess—and if you’re a bit analytical like me, then this scenario will agitate you to no end of paralysis, frustration, and hopelessness. Ultimately, I think the verse communicates a more complete truth, one that avoids the frustration of finding the ‘one-way, only-way, straight’ path before you take the first step.

Here’s the thing: if God made the paths straight for us before we even took a step, then we wouldn’t really need to trust Him. Sure, God could make our path straight before we technically ‘walk’ it, but I think a majority of the time he doesn’t; and I think that’s because he wants us to learn to trust, depend on, and acknowledge him. Ultimately, I think the verse implies that we need to take a path, trust him and acknowledge him as we walking, know that he is making our paths straight as we are walking, and be comforted by his promise to make our paths straight all along.

Confidence, peace of assurance, and motivation to walk in faith only come from his promise to sovereignly make our paths straight—as we walk. If we waited until we had ample information before making a first step, we might never make a step at all. Needing to know everything (such as seeing into future and what it might hold) in order to inform a decision we need to make or a step we need to take might be an unreasonable wish because sometimes we won’t have that information until we start walking. If you wait to have all the answers before moving, then you’ll never move. You’ll become paralyzed with fear and traumatized by your own love affair with control.

Rather, we should take a step even if we don’t know all the details because we know that God is good and sovereign. Overall, we can trust what God does (in the past, present, and future) because of who he is—the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). And we see the clearest demonstration of who he is and how he feels about us on the cross. For example, if he loved and died for us when we were his enemies, how much more so can we trust that he will lovingly guide us where we should go, now that we are his beloved children? Certainly, the gospel speaks peace to our anxious and weary hearts by reminding us we have a loving Father who is in control—not an indifferent, detached deity.

I love what Kevin DeYoung says in his book, Just Do Something: “We can take risks because God doesn’t” (45). He later comments, “If you are seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, you will be in God’s will, so just go out and do something” (104). Meaning, we can take risks with God-honoring intentions because He is sovereign over all things, doesn’t take risks with us, and will allow, deny, and confirm our choices accordingly to his greater plan. Even though we can’t see the future, he has already paved it out. Tim Keller also poetically writes about the mysterious way our free-willed decisions intricately work in junction with God’s sovereignty for his glory in his sermon entitled, Christ Our Head, saying:

God is so great that he works out a plan, a plan to work everything out for your good if you belong to him, and his glory, which takes into consideration your choices, and still works his plan out infallibly.

Ultimately, Proverbs 3:5-6 does not warn us to wait for God to make our paths straight as much as it encourages us to take a risk upon God’s amazing goodness, sovereignty, and grace. I have treated this verse my whole life like a decree to trust and wait instead of a reassurance to risk and trust. The first is paralyzing while the second is proactive. The first primarily trusts what God does in front of me while the second primarily trusts who God is eternally. Explanations are sometimes an excuse for trust. Let’s be confident in who God is, release our need for control, stop pleading for explanations or pre-cleared-out paths, and begin to blaze our own trails, recognizing who has already gone before us, is with us, and who will be with us through it all.

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Kevin DeYoung, Just Do Something, 45, 104.

Tim Keller, Christ Our Head, http://kellerquotes.com/everything-for-your-good/.

 

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If Salvation Was Acheived By Good Deeds, Then…

The other day, I was talking with one of my friends about what is required to go to heaven. His answer was probably normative for many people—religious or even non-religious—in our society: that the ‘good’ are rewarded and go to heaven, and the ‘bad’ are not allowed. This view just seems to make sense in light our conditional mindset. And while it does seem rational and even moral on the surface, I want to expose 12 deeper implications of why this view fundamentally is not as rational or even as moral as it is generally believed to be, and then show why Christianity’s gospel—salvation by Jesus’ righteousness—actually makes more sense on both a rational and moral level.

To make things easier, I’ll pose 12 points about salvation by good deeds, and then I’ll follow that with 12 respective points about salvation by Jesus’ righteousness.

Here we go:

If salvation could be achieved by our good deeds, then…

  1. There would be no reason for Jesus to die (Gal. 2:20-22).
  2. We are our own saviors, because essentially, our saving depends on how well we follow ‘the’ moral code, whatever it is.
  3. It will inevitably lead to self-righteousness and pride if you succeed, causing you to look down on and be judgmental of others who aren’t as good as you.
  4. Or it will lead to self-loathing despair, guilt, and shame if you constantly fail, or don’t do as well compared to other people you know. Based on your past mistakes, you’ll never measure up, never be able to outweigh your badness with goodness; there is no reason, resource, or motivation for hope.
  5. What is the standard for ‘good enough’ to reach salvation? How do you define the scales of good/bad? And who decides what is it after all? Ultimately, it’s a busted system, because it’s relatively based. Therefore, you can’t know what is ‘good enough’. And that leads to…
  6. You’ll never be able to have peace or assurance because you will never have absolute certainty about whether or not you’re saved, or whether you have right standing with God or not. You’ll always be working frantically to secure your spot, never knowing it’s ‘good enough’ after all. The inevitable fruit from this view is anxiety and fear—not love.
  7. Because you’ll only be focusing on the need to vertically set yourself right with God, you simply won’t have the mental or spiritual bandwidth to think about truly serving others horizontally. Sure, you can serve others as a means towards setting your standing with God right, but that’s fundamentally motivated by ulterior motives, which isn’t truly serving them (with no self-gain in mind).
  8. There is no need for missions or evangelism at all, but to appeal to ‘being good’, which people innately understand anyways.
  9. At the deepest level of motivation for doing anything good, it is being done out of a motivation of self-interest, self-preservation, and self-gain; at the deepest root level, it is selfishness—doing good so that you can get heaven. At the most foundational level, what you do for God, you’re really doing for yourself. So even your best ‘good work’ is stained with ‘bad intent’, thereby, making your good deeds not that ‘good’ after all.
  10. God isn’t as holy or loving or just as we might like to believe. If salvation is achieved by good works, then God just sweeps our other sin under the rug, or discounts it if you are ‘good enough’. He simply condones it, overlooks it, or ignores it. Therefore, He’s not that holy or just.
  11. God’s love and grace is based on how well you obey, which means his love is actually conditional.
  12. This view is actually very exclusive, because it only privileges the moral and upstanding and leaves no hope for those who have failed.

Conversely, if salvation cannot be achieved by our works but is given as a gift by Another, then…

  1. Jesus had to live a life of perfect righteousness and had to die in our place, so he could absorb the penalty of our sin on the cross and give us his standing of righteousness before God.
  2. We can never save ourselves and there is only one Savior, Jesus—because he accomplished for sinners what we could never accomplish for ourselves.
  3. It destroys all attitudes and inclinations towards self-righteousness. If your standing with God has been set in stone as ‘reconciled’ by Jesus and not by what you have done, then you had no part in your salvation, and thus, cannot boast in it. This means you aren’t any better than any others—this produces humility, but not despair. Humility (I’m no better than others), but no despair (you are maximally and unconditionally saved and loved).
  4. It destroys all notions of despair, guilt, and shame because you realize that at your worst, God gave you his best. The way God feels about you has forever been established in the gospel, not by what you have or haven’t done—this produces confidence, but not pride. (I’m fully loved and approved, but it’s not because of what I have done).
  5. You do know the standard for ‘good enough’ for salvation, and that is perfect holiness, which is God’s law and it’s perfect fulfillment in Jesus’ life. Only his righteousness is what will save us, and its given freely.
  6. You’ll finally be able to have peace because you can have absolute assurance in your salvation. If salvation is not based on your good deeds, but the righteousness of Jesus, then you can be assured of your salvation—He lived the life we couldn’t live, died in our place, and God raised him from the dead, an indication that his righteousness was sufficient for right standing with God. Because perfect righteousness is required, and because we know we have perfect righteousness in Christ, we can be assured that we will be saved, and therefore, stop fretting over not knowing if we’re saved, or worrying if we’re being good enough. The gospel replaces anxiety and fear with rest and peace.(Also, quick aside: if your salvation wasn’t gained by what you did, then it can’t be lost by what you do either–salvation is by associating ourselves with the righteousness of Jesus.)
  7. The gospel declares you set right with God, and because you are set right in your relationship with God vertically, you can finally stop being so preoccupied with your inward spiritual status, and finally be freed truly serve others horizontally, from the heart without any ‘so that’ or ‘as a means to’ motives—which is true morality anyways.
  8.  If Jesus is the way, the truth, the life, then there is an urgent need for missions and to spread this news of the greatness of Jesus’ work to all peoples.
  9. Because God saved us completely in Christ, we can only respond in gratefulness and love. Our deepest motivations of self-interest are destroyed because God through Christ has already given us everything there is to possibly gain. We can’t be loved any more or any less or given anything more or less. And because there is nothing we can gain by our actions, we can only live in light of that in humble adoration and love. It’s just a sheer response.
  10. God is more holy and loving and just than we can ever realize. He is utterly holy because he requires perfection and nothing less—like a tissue paper touching the sun, anything less than perfect would immediately disintegrate in his presence. Yet, he is more just and loving than we can imagine because where there is punishment to be given, he gave himself and died for us. Therefore, God doesn’t comprise his characteristics of holiness, justice, and love by simply sweeping sin under the rug. His infinite qualities of holiness, justice, and love are all perfectly maintained in Jesus and his work for us. A perfect demand is required (holiness) because God is; we have all fallen short; there is a penalty, it can’t be swept under the rug or condoned (justice), but Jesus died in our place and gave us his righteous standing so we could live (love).
  11. God’s love and grace are not given to you because of your good deeds. They are given to you fully for your bad ones, which is the only thing that will truly produce a heart in us that sincerely loves God.
  12. The gospel is actually more inclusive than the “good deeds for salvation” approach because it offers salvation for all people, giving hope for even the moral outcast and failure.

Jesus is the only God, who, if you find him, can truly fulfill you, and, if you fail him, can fully forgive you. –Tim Keller*

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*Keller, Timothy. Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Promise of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters. New York: Dutton (2009). p. 25.

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Fishers of Men Can Still Fish For Fish Too

Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him. (Mark 1:16-18, ESV)

I was reading this passage earlier today, and I was simply struck by how profound it actually is—levels of profundity I’m sure I’ve only begun to touch.

Simon and Andrew were fishermen… and Jesus’ statement to them, “I will make you fishers of men”, is actually a play on words! I know that observation is elementary, but I think this wordplay is deeper than we might initially think. Jesus is fundamentally calling them to a new type of work, a different direction in their work; he’s not necessarily calling them to a new profession, but giving them a new overarching purpose in their profession. Not just catching fish, not just making money, but giving them a mission in their fish-catching and a greater purpose behind only making money. He is calling them to a greater mission in their job—whether it’s a job they might already have or not yet realize. Whatever the job title might be, the deeper job motivation is the same for all those who follow Jesus.

Indeed, Jesus still called them ‘fishers’–he just added a new level of purpose to it. Overall, Jesus’ call of discipleship reinterpreted their current vocation. And when he calls us to be ‘fishers of men’, he’s not calling us to stop being a doctor or a fisher; he’s simply critiquing our underlying role as a doctor or fisher. You’re not a doctor who is a Christian. You’re a Christian who performs medicine.

Essentially, Jesus is saying that our work isn’t just catching fish, cleaning teeth, writing reports, administrating policies, consulting businesses, serving groceries, and etc; it is about demonstrating and declaring the gospel in and through our work. In fact, like an exquisitely cut diamond, all of our different work platforms give different angles of the gospel’s beautiful outworkings and applications in society and for each person. As a whole, the diamond is fundamentally the same substance throughout, but in different lights, it shows a multifaceted host of kaleidoscopic glory. Similarly, when the gospel is the foundational, base-elemental substance behind our different spheres of work, the world is lit up with a showcase of the many ways the good news speaks into every area of work.

God’s glory isn’t limited to just the church; in fact, it’s manifest more outside the walls of the church. Be encouraged—your work isn’t less or more spiritual or important than the preacher or worship dude/dudette. Jesus calls everyone to the same purpose in every work we do—to point to the amazing God of the good news and every good work. When Jesus called the Simon and Andrew to be fishers of men instead of fishermen, that was not necessarily a call to abandon our ‘secular’ job for a ‘sacred’ job, even though the disciples directly followed Him in ‘full-time’ ministry. It was a call to a different type of work altogether: one with a different purpose, a different underlying motivation, and a different trajectory in how and why we work. Otherwise, Jesus’ summons would only mean that really following him meant quitting our ‘secular’ jobs and follow him to the ‘sacred’ sphere, which is certainly not the case. I think Paul particularly exhorted the church about this very thing: “For there is the same Spirit, but different gifts” (1 Co. 4:12).

As such, it would not be good for the overall advancement of the gospel for the pastor (who is gifted in preaching and teaching) to spend his life as a salesman, and for the salesman (who is gifted in business and marketing) to be in a role of teaching. That would not be a good stewarding of the gifts and callings God has placed on our lives. Rather, the individual gifted in teaching should teach, and the individual gifted in sales should sell. Each can effectively use their talents by embodying the gospel in what they do best. Don’t be deceived by legalistic church culture: there is no division of sacred (church) and secular (non-church). It’s all God’s. And God’s plan is to redeem it all. So let’s be faithful agents of that mission we have claimed to live out in Christ by leveraging our gifts accordingly.

“Do what you do best for the glory of God, and do it in a place that is most strategic for the mission of God” –JD Greear

Certainly, fishers of men can still fish for fish too. And so should everyone whom God has called to work from inside the fishing boat. But whether you leave the boat or not, Jesus has still called you a fisher of men.

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Solid Trust or Cliches Built On Sand?

Have you ever heard the cliché ‘Let Go and Let God’? If you’re a Christian or have been involved in church culture at all, you have absolutely heard it before—without a doubt. You can find this catchy slogan painted on coffee cups, upon the backdrop of a scenic picture, on a t-shirt, on bookmarks, bumper stickers, banners and more.

I’m definitely not coming down on Christian clichés; there is certainly truth to them. But the red flag must be raised when one doesn’t know the full meaning behind what it is trying to convey. For instance, have you ever been talking with a friend about some issue, problem, or hardship you are facing, and then they proceed—with genuinely good intentions—to supply you with a cliché as good advice? Sounds good on the surface (maybe?), but what the heck does it even mean after all? Ultimately, clichés—if not fully understood for what they mean to fully represent—are as helpful as applying a Band-Aid to a complex injury. Sure, the patient will need a Band-Aid eventually, but they need much more than that overall.

Similarly, clichés are virtually useless and ill advised if we don’t know the why, how, what, or who behind it. A good portion of the ‘Let Go and Let God’ tagline is based on the presupposition of trusting God. But have you ever been skeptical, and asked why? Why can we trust what God does? Why can we trust who He is? How do we even know? Or, better question, can we know these things?

Pop-church responses to why we can trust God might consist of the following:

“Because God is good and He loves us”

“He wants what is best for us”

“Because God is sovereign”

Those are all true. But how do you know? Like, how do you really know those things? What is the foundational source you are drawing upon in order to inform that knowledge?

Answers that glaze the surface might include:

“Because that’s what I have been taught about God”

“Because I look back over my life and see how God has loved me through my personal experiences”

“Because the Bible says so, and I believe it is true”

To put it bluntly, while all those statements are indeed true, they do not get at the fundamental, basic source that proves to us most clearly that God is good and that He can and should be trusted.

Most of us have been taught that God is good our whole lives but we have never come to know why He is good. If you are at all like me, maybe you have held on to those responses above for most of your life—reasons that are true, but unfortunately do not really provide a solid, motivating reason for why we can really trust Him. If we do not possess a steadfast, insurmountable ‘why’ behind our trusting in God, then we can only conclude that our trust is—in some respects—hollow, blind, and shaky.

Meaning, if our trust in God is not built on a solid, immovable reason, then it will be greatly challenged when we are faced with trying circumstances. For example, what if something painful in your life happens that you can’t explain? If your belief in God’s goodness is primarily based on your past experiences or intellectual admission, what do you do when your present circumstances are anything but good? Is God no longer good and trustworthy? Of course not. However, a trust in God that is primarily warranted because of favorable circumstance in the past will not prove to be a reliable and steadfast motivation for trusting God when you are experiencing unfavorable circumstances in the present. Thus, this specific reason behind trusting in God is ultimately shakable and unstable—vulnerable and subject to circumstance.

Furthermore, if we trust God because we believe he is good and wants what is best for us—but do not know why—then what do we do when something tragic happens? How do we reconcile the two beliefs in the existence of an all-good God and the existence of terrible pain or bleak uncertainty? Mere intellectual admission of God’s goodness without the anchor of why will most always be overturned by the tangible stings of life. Even if we can’t reconcile adverse circumstances and a loving God in our minds, should we just resort to biting the bit and tenaciously holding on with white knuckles deep in our hearts?

I don’t think so. And I don’t think God wants that for us anyways. In fact, in Christ, we have a hope that does not and will not disappoint (Rom. 5:5). God gives us a firm, unconditional reason for why we always can and should trust Him. And that is the gospel. It alone is the unconditional, unshakable source that fully and confidently informs us of why God is always good and able to trusted. The gospel is what we can hold on to when all things seem bleak. Only the gospel is the place where we most clearly see God for who he really is, how he really feels about us, and how he deals with suffering and the sufferer.

Reflecting on the work of Jesus forces us to reinterpret our situation, giving us a reason for why we can truly trust God. For instance: If God died for us by taking our punishment, condemnation, and justice on the cross when we were at our most sinful state, how much more then can we be assured in our suffering, uncertainty, and doubts that God is for us, loves us, and is with us, now that we are his beloved children? If God died in our place when we were completely undeserving and were at enmity with Him, then certainly we can trust Him with anything now that we are his beloved children. The gospel tells us that we can completely trust who he is and what he does because it portrays the clearest demonstration of who he ultimately is and what he ultimately does by pointing us to the cross and resurrection. Through this we know he is good, just, gracious, sacrificial, and humble.

And the implications of this are staggering: We can trust what God does because we can trust who He is. When we can’t know his hand, we can know His heart, which in turn causes us to trust his hand all along. When we can’t exactly decipher the ‘what’ behind our circumstances, we can know the ‘Who’ behind it, which in turn causes us to trust Him with the ‘what’ all along. We can trust God with what we can’t or don’t know because of what we can and do know: his unconditional, steadfast love for us in Christ. God giving us a knowledge of who He is through Jesus is the foundational basis and only fuel that will compel unconditional, persevering, unshakable, and joyful trust in Him. Because of the gospel, God gives us more than a reason to trust Him with everything.

It alone provides us a reason for trust that supersedes circumstance, deepens trite platitudes, fills hollow hearts, and relieves white knuckles. By applying the gospel to our lives, we not only find a solid grounds for why we can truly trust God, but we also find peace in the midst of life’s storms and light in the thick of plaguing uncertainty. Truly, the answer for why we can trust God is because—through the gospel—we can know who God is.

Without the gospel, we could not fully have a reason to trust in God and his goodness. However, we know that God loves us and only has good intentions for us because He did not withhold his own Son from us, but gave him up as a ransom for our sins. And if God didn’t withhold his Son from us, then we can be assured that He is trustworthy and good—even when the circumstances of life are dreary or painful. God shows us who he is when he took upon himself the worst of what we deserved so that we wouldn’t have to endure it. In light of that, every other circumstance can be accepted—not avoided—with a powerful reason to trust in goodness of God.

The gospel is the truest, strongest, firmest truth in the universe, and so it intersects every aspect of life, making it foundationally important in terms of how we understand, perceive, and value everything else. Thus, every situation, hardship, joy, doubt, uncertainty, etc. should be perceived through the filter of and interpreted in light of what God has lovingly done for us in Christ—not in the absence of it. In sum, the gospel alone is the greatest basis, reason, and fuel for our trusting in God.

To bring it full circle, why we ‘let go’ is because of ‘Who’ we trust when we do so. And ‘Who’ we trust gives us more than a reason for why we should ‘let go’ and trust in the first place.

The lyrics to “Cornerstone” by Hillsong United particularly apply here:

When Darkness seems to hide His face
I rest on His unchanging grace
In every high and stormy gale
My anchor holds within the veil

Christ alone; cornerstone
Weak made strong; in the Savior’s love
Through the storm, He is Lord
Lord of all

Even though I can only see the darkness now, I can be comforted by the fact that the sun has not stopped shining, and will eventually poke through the clouds. Thus, by trusting what I know to be true in all circumstances, I am empowered to face any and all temporal circumstances.

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Jesus: Not Just A Moral Teacher

Earlier today, one of buddies Scott Sewell and I went around campus with a camcorder and microphone and interviewed students about what they thought about the person of Jesus, among other questions related to matters of faith. The responses we collected were phenomenally insightful and truly indicative of how our culture generally perceives Christianity’s central figure. 

Most answers were pretty much the same: when asked, “who is Jesus Christ, who is he to you, etc?”, most replied with the following: 

“He is a really good moral teacher”

“His life is an important emblem of sacrifice and love for society” 

“He represents good morals for us all to adopt” 

“He’s a really good person—not sure if he is God—but at the very least, a really good person” 

“Just a great moral teacher, taught us many good things about loving one another and turning the other cheek” 

There’s two main points that initially come to mind when I think on these responses:

1.    I wonder if the Jesus they are familiar with is the one that society has long-presented, and not the one the Bible portrays. Society’s Jesus is accepting, loving, and one to never really step on people’s’ toes. He’s seen only as a moral teacher, a societal leader, and respected law-giver who taught others to love one another, be sacrificial, love your enemies, turn the other cheek, and etc. Society says if you don’t want to follow his ways, that’s fine. Maybe Buddha or Mohammad or Gandhi is the moral teacher you follow because of the way you were raised. Essentially, all these leaders say the same thing anyways, so as long as you’re a good person who uses their good moral compasses, you’re good to go.

Society’s Jesus is—quite frankly—a pushover: he never talks about absolute truth, caters to ‘whatever is good or right’ for the individual’s personal preference of happiness, is viewed as a moral genie of sorts, and definitely never asks you to humble yourself, admit your sinfulness, and follow a better Lord other than yourself. This is the kind of Jesus we like—and maybe that’s because he’s just a spiritualized projection of our wants anyways.

But that’s not how the Bible portrays Jesus. The Jesus of the Bible is loving and accepting, yes, but he certainly wasn’t afraid to do controversial things or step on people’s toes for the sake of what is truly right. In fact, Jesus did many other things that would be viewed as major social crimes—both in biblical times and in our day and age—such as claiming ultimate Godship and talking about hell more than any other figure in the Bible. That doesn’t seem like the type of thing I would see the Jesus on TV with the purple beauty sash, brown flowing hair, and flawless skin do. It’s almost as if the general public treat Jesus like a nice guy on a Dove commercial who advertises clean living and that’s it.

Let’s don’t treat Jesus as a buffet line, picking and choosing only what we personally find pleasant and palatable. The Bible describes Jesus as God incarnate, full of grace and truth (Jn 1:14-18). He’s either a moral teacher or not. He can’t be a moral teacher some of the time (i.e., when he doesn’t claim Godship or talk about hell or rebuke people or the like). It’s all or nothing here.

2.    Is Jesus the only person in history where people say, “he’s just a moral teacher”, even though he himself claimed to be God? Everyone else in the history of the world who has claimed to be God (but clearly isn’t) has never been coined and followed as a renowned, excellent moral teacher. Certainly, someone can’t really be “an impressive moral teacher” if he makes such a preposterous claim to be God, and wasn’t.

“Yeah, the guy I follow has great moral codes, but struggled with a fatal ego problem of incredibly narcissistic proportions…”

…No, of course not. 

Anyone who claims to be God is not a good moral teacher…unless, of course, it’s true. Plain and simple. Therefore, you can’t just call Jesus only a good moral teacher. He’s either God and the moral teacher, like he says he is, or he’s a psychopath who thinks he’s God and a legitimate moral teacher. There’s not an option for him to be just a moral teacher. 

Overall, I encourage you to wrestle with this idea. Is Jesus who he claims to be or not? He’s either God with righteous morals, or he’s a delusional teacher who thinks he does. 

Logically, you cannot believe that Jesus is just a moral teacher. There’s simply no room for that.

“Jesus is either a liar, a lunatic, or lord” –CS Lewis

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One Massive Implication:

If Jesus was only a moral teacher, then that means how well you follow him determines whether or not you can save yourself. Meaning, if Jesus is only a moral teacher, then my saving depends on how well I can follow his teaching. Essentially, I am my own savior and my salvation lies in my ability to keep the law. And this same principle goes with any system of religion whose salvation is based on good deeds. This means my boast will never be in my religious system’s principles, but only in my ability to keep them—which will inevitably produce either self-righteous pride (if I succeed) or self-loathing despair (if I fail)—both of which will not carry me into heaven’s pearly gates. Either way, I won’t be getting in; it’s a dead end! But if I am saved by Another, then my boast could ever only be in Him—producing only humility and gratefulness—qualities of the pearly gates above.

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Diggin’ a Little Deeper:

Furthermore, if Jesus is Lord, as he says he is, then this means that what he says about morality is of paramount importance. So what does he preach? A moral code? A moral formula? Ironically enough, Jesus never preached a moral formula so much as he preached a moral person, namely himself. Yes, all throughout the Bible we can see Jesus preaching the law, teaching the law, heightening the law—but he was showing how all of the law was fundamentally pointing to himself (Luke 24:27). In light of God’s perfect holiness, the law was given to show us that the only thing able to bring us into right standing with God is perfect righteousness, which makes clear we will never accomplish or measure up to. We need a perfect righteousness to set us right with God, but that means it could only come from God; and it was graciously given to us by God—Jesus. And that’s exactly what Jesus preached: himself as the embodiment of perfect morality who would take our sins upon himself and give us his righteousness as a gift.

Don’t bother: you can’t fix your position of alienation with God with good deeds nor can you achieve right standing with God by your righteous living to the law; if you could, Jesus would not have had to die (Gal. 2:20). It’s not our practice of sin against God that we need redeeming so much as our position of sin before God. Because of Adam and Eve’s sin, all of humanity is born into spiritual enmity with God. It’s like being born into the United States—you can’t help the fact that you’re an American. Same with sin. No one had to teach us to be selfish; it’s part of the sin-broken world we were born into. But on the cross, Christ takes the penalty of our rebellion against God so we could take his position of right standing with God.

Jesus, unlike all other major moral teachers in history, didn’t come to bring good advice as much as he came to bring good news (which, from that foundation, comes the greatest advice). HE is the good news. And instead of telling us “what to do to be saved”, he tells us “it has been done”, now trust and believe. Jesus never bid us to come and follow a formula; he bid us to follow himself.

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