Appropriate Fear and Evangelism

This week I’ve been reading a new book by Elliot Clark entitled, Evangelism as Exiles: Life on Mission As Strangers In Our Own Land. Clark is looking at how the letter of 1 Peter instructs Christians today as Exiles called to witness to Christ. I’m reading the book because we are currently studying 1 Peter. However, I wish I could have read it before my sermon on Acts 17:16-34 this past Sunday.

In one section of the book, Clark talks about how coming judgment should motivate our evangelism. His words compliment well Paul’s approach with the Athenians in Acts 17. Paul tells them that God created them, that they are accountable to Him as their creator, and that He will judge them at an appointed time in the future. In light of this coming judgement Paul calls them to repent. Paul is compelled by this reality to proclaim the Gospel.

Listen as Clark tell us how this reality motivates evangelism:

…the gospel must be proclaimed, because all will give an account to One who is ready to judge the living and the dead. (1 Peter 4:5-6).

Have we really taken into account the end and outcome for our friends, relatives, neighbors, and coworkers? Is our failure to evangelize really an issue of fearing too much, or not fearing nearly enough? Do we cherish our comfort and others’ respect more than we cherish God’s glory and their deliverance? Will we love them enough to fear for them, to show them mercy and kindness by warning them and snatching them out of the fire? The consistent testimony of the New Testament is that if we have the appropriate fear for them and of God, we’ll preach the gospel. We’ll speak out and not be ashamed. (pg. 58, emphasis original)

He later wrote:

When we observe that our problem in evangelism is fearing others too much, we should note the form such fear takes. We typically aren’t running from people in terror…Rather, fearing others more than God usually demonstrates itself in trying to please them more than God. (pg. 59)

He concludes:

Christians who try to please people ultimately fail at pleasing God and fail at proclaiming his gospel. And far too often this is the problem in our evangelistic endeavors: We’re fundamentally committed to keeping people happy and having them like us, having them think we’re smart, contemporary, hip, tolerant, progressive, fun, approving—and the list goes on. We want to please them; and we want them to approve of us. (pgs. 59-60)

May the Lord give us a reverent fear of Him and a sincere love for others. When this happens, we will be motivated to proclaim the Gospel for God’s glory and their good.

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Growing Up In Christ

“Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.” -1 Peter 2:2-3

On Sunday, I offered a quote from Ed Clowney on these two verses from 1 Peter. I wanted to provide the fuller quote because I find his words to be as beautiful as they are helpful. He wrote:

The goal of our growth is salvation, the full salvation in Christ that the gospel proclaims, and for which we are kept (1 Pet. 1:5). Again we see the alpha and omega of our hope. Peter writes to those who have already been given new birth by the word, who have already come to the Lord and tasted that he is good. Theirs is a sure hope, for their inheritance is kept for them and they are kept for it. Yet their hope is also future; they do not merely wait for it, they grow toward it, like flowers toward the sun. Faith is purified, love is intensified, grace is tasted as we are tested. (The Message of 1 Peter, pg. 80, emphasis mine)

In some of my reading the past few days, I was reminded of some words from Martin Luther that compliment well Clowney’s words. Luther said:

We are not now what we shall be, but we are on the way; the process is not yet finished, but it has begun; this is not the goal, but it is the road; at present all does not gleam and glitter, but everything is being purified. (quoted in Diehard Sins, pg. 66)

These words describe well the Christian life as we, by God’s grace, grow in holiness…as we grow up into what He has declared us in justification, righteous. As we press on, remember our hope:

“And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” -Philippians 1:6

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The Christian and Artificial Intelligence

Today the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) released a statement entitled, Artificial Intelligence: An Evangelical Statement of Principles. As the technology of Artificial Intelligence (AI) continues to develop and progress, a whole host of ethical questions and considerations will arise as well. As is often the case when there is rapid advance, we are already behind in asking these questions and thinking hard on this subject.

The preamble to the statement from the ERLC states why it’s vital for us as Christians to think well on the issue of AI. It reads:

As followers of Christ, we are called to engage the world around us with the unchanging gospel message of hope and reconciliation. Tools like technology are able to aid us in this pursuit. We know they can also be designed and used in ways that dishonor God and devalue our fellow image-bearers. Evangelical Christians hold fast to the inerrant and infallible Word of God, which states that every human being is made in God’s image and thus has infinite value and worth in the eyes of their Creator. This message dictates how we view God, ourselves, and the tools that God has given us the ability to create.

In light of existential questions posed anew by the emergent technology of artificial intelligence (AI), we affirm that God has given us wisdom to approach these issues in light of Scripture and the gospel message. Christians must not fear the future or any technological development because we know that God is, above all, sovereign over history, and that nothing will ever supplant the image of God in which human beings are created. We recognize that AI will allow us to achieve unprecendented possibilities, while acknowledging the potential risks posed by AI if used without wisdom and care.

Give special attention to the call of these final words of the preamble:

We desire to equip the church to proactively engage the field of AI, rather than responding to these issues after they have already affected our communities. In light of this desire and hope, we offer the following affirmations and denials about the nature of humanity, the promise of technology, and the hope for the future. (emphasis mine)

Yes, we must proactively engage now instead of being reactive later. I would encourage you to read the whole of the statement’s affirmations and denials as a launching pad to thinking through this issue biblically.

I began reading on AI about this time last year. I have to admit, I was concerned, if not troubled, by some of the predictions thinkers in the field were (are) making. Yet, as the statement above makes clear, my comfort was (is) the fact of God’s sovereignty over all things, including AI. Several weeks ago, I came across a lecture hosted by Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in which Professor John Lennox discussed AI. I was very much encouraged by Dr. Lennox’s ability to show how the hope some people place in AI can only be found in Christ. Here is the video for those who are interested (note: AI is a broad field and here Dr. Lennox addresses some specific areas of the field. Just be aware that AI is broader than what is addressed here.).

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Jesus is King

“And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.’” -Mark 8:34-35

In their book, Compassion without Compromise, Adam Barr and Ron Citlau, commenting on these verses say the following about discipleship.

During Jesus’ earthly ministry, there were many people in the crowd…But membership in the crowd didn’t make them disciples. Jesus clearly taught them and us what it means to move from being in the crowd to becoming a disciple.

At the heart of discipleship is a self-denying submission to Jesus as Lord. Jesus describes a disciple as someone who has ‘taken up his cross.’ In the Roman world, only condemned criminals carried crosses…they were on one path—to the place of execution. (pgs. 64-65, emphasis original)

They continued:

The road to true life will sometimes feel like death. Disciples must be willing to say no to desires that seem undeniable and irresistible. We must say no to deep longings that seem to define who we are. (pg. 65, emphasis original)

Listen closely:

Every person who steps out of the crowd to follow Jesus must tread this cruciform path, denying self in obedience to the Savior. (pg. 65)

Jesus is King! Where does He make His Will known to us?

Scripture is really the revelation of our King’s will. It is the perfect, inspired decree of the man from Nazareth who ate with sinners, healed centurions’ servants, and told us that anyone was welcome to come follow him. There is only one condition: He gets to be King. We cannot call Jesus Lord if we ignore his Word. (pgs. 65-66, emphasis original)

Jesus is the King who came and died for His enemies. Through His life, death, resurrection, and soon return, He has defeated sin and death and leads His people into an everlasting life of true flourishing. This is a King we can trust and follow denying ourselves as we walk the cruciform path. Our King goes before us and we know the outcome…the cross leads to life.

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Intro to 1 Peter

This Sunday we will start our study through the book of 1 Peter. Please join me in praying for fruit in the life of our church as we study God’s Word together. As we prepare to begin, here is a helpful introduction to the book:

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Amazing Grace

Christian, are you still amazed by God’s grace? In his book, Knowing God, J.I. Packer asked:

What is it that hinders so many who profess to believe in grace from really doing so? Why does the theme mean so little even to some who talk about it a great deal? The root of the trouble seems to be misbelief about the basic relationship between a person and God…” (pg. 129, emphasis mine)

What is the nature of this misbelief? Packer answered:

(People) imagine God as a magnified image of themselves and assume that God shares his own complacency about himself. The thought of themselves as creatures fallen from God’s image, rebels against God’s rule, guilty and unclean in God’s sight, fit only for God’s condemnation, never enters their heads. (pg. 130)

Once we understand our relationship to God as guilty sinful rebels who deserve only His just judgment, then we begin to see the beauty of His grace. He wrote:

Grace is free, in the sense of being self-originated and of proceeding from One who was free not to be gracious. (pg. 132)

Yes, grace is free because the Lord does not have to offer it. He continued:

The grace of God is love freely shown toward guilty sinners, contrary to their merit and indeed in defiance of their demerit. It is God showing goodness to persons who deserve only severity and had no reason to expect anything but severity. (pg. 132)

Don’t miss that, not only did we not merit, but we have demerited in our sin and rebellion. Understanding this leads us to be truly amazed by God’s grace. Dr. Packer shows us how:

It is surely clear that, once a person is convinced that his state and need are as described, the New Testament gospel of grace cannot but sweep him off his feet with wonder and joy. For it tells how our Judge has become our Savior. (pg. 132, emphasis mine)

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound!

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” -1 John 4:10

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Heaven’s Love Displayed

We long for, pray for, and strive for a gospel culture at Redeemer. You can simply search “gospel culture” on this blog and see a number of posts conveying what we mean when we say gospel culture. In his booklet, Understanding the Great Commission, Mark Dever gives a quick glimpse of a facet of gospel culture when he writes:

So much does Jesus love the church that he means to identify it with himself. Among other things, this means that our love for one another in the church should look like his love. “I give you a new command,” said Jesus, “Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you must also love one another. By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35). The church is to demonstrate heaven’s own love. Such one-another love is a distinctive of Christ’s disciples. By it the nations will know that we belong to him.

But it’s not just other Christians that we should love. We demonstrate God’s love for the world in our love for outsiders too. Jesus connects loving one’s neighbor with loving God. “Which command is the most important of all?” asked the scribe. Jesus answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. And love your neighbor as yourselves” (Mark 12:28-31). The claim to love God brings a necessary horizontal element.

Now don’t miss what Dever says next:

You can have wonderfully rich quiet times, but if that doesn’t translate into how you treat other people, something is wrong. The normal, natural way for Christians to express our love to God is not merely in singing hymns to him, though that is wonderful. It is also giving ourselves in love to others.

Churches should be centers for such loving activity. It’s where heaven’s love shows up, first in the pronouncement of Christ’s love for us in the gospel, and second in our love for insiders and outsiders alike. (pg. 13, emphasis mine)

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Offering Correction

“The best men are severe to themselves, tender over others.” -Richard Sibbes

How to receive correction from others was the subject of the previous post. In this post, we will think about how to offer gracious correction to others. I will once again turn to David Mathis’ Habits of Grace as he offers 7 steps toward giving “correction that is truly Christian.” (pg. 189)

  1. Check Your Own Heart First

“First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” -Matthew 7:5

  1. Seek To Sympathize

“Whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them.” -Matthew 7:12

“Consider the manner in which you’d want to be approached with such an observation, and give extra effort to make sure it comes off as a word of brotherly correction, not condemnation.” (pgs. 190-1)

  1. Pray For Restoration

“…pray before confronting them…(pray) that you would give your word of correction with sufficient gospel preface, that they would receive your loving reproof, and this if they resist in the moment, God would soon soften their heart to the degree that your observation is true.” (pg. 191, emphasis mine)

“Pray and speak toward restoration, not merely righting wrongs and appeasing your own judicial sentiment.” (pg. 191)

  1. Be Quick

“Don’t let manifestly sinful patterns fester.” (pg. 191)

“The ideal is…that sin is regularly nipped in the bud rather than given time and space to grow into the tall nasty weed it will become.” (pg. 192)

  1. Be Kind

“What makes a corrective word to be truly Christian is not only explicit reminders of gospel truths, but also a tone and demeanor that matches our Master.” (pg. 192, emphasis mine)

  1. Be Clear And Specific

“Before approaching someone with a corrective word, get it clear in your own mind what you’re observing and how it may be harmful.” (pg. 193)

  1. Follow Up

“If they receive it well, follow up with a note or call or conversation, and commend that evidence of grace in their life. If they don’t respond well, follow up with some further expression of love for them, perhaps a reminder that you have nothing to gain but their good, that you’re happy to be wrong if the correction was pretty subjective, and that you’re praying for them as they consider your observation.” (pg. 193, emphasis mine)

No matter what, whether we are giving or receiving correction, may we all walk in humility seeking gospel faithfulness and God’s glory.

“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.” -Galatians 6:1

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Receiving Correction

It would be a good contest amongst Christians, one to labour to give no offence and the other to labour to take none.” -Richard Sibbes

 On Sunday, I did what I do every Sunday, I asked my wife, Brandon, for feedback on the sermon. The sermon from the book of Joel was on repentance. By way of application, I mentioned that church discipline is a grace that God has given which offers the frequent correction we all need leading us to repentance. At one point in the conversation, Brandon said; “it is always good to remind everyone of the importance of graciously receiving correction from our fellow church members when talking about church discipline.” Ah, yes!

If we are going to have a healthy environment of church discipline (discipleship), we must have a culture of grace. It takes grace to receive correction and not immediately become defensive. It also takes grace to offer correction, speaking the truth in love while clothed in humility. This is why I love the Sibbes quote above. Next week we will look at offering correction, but today let’s focus on receiving correction.

In his book, Habits of Grace, David Mathis writes:

….correction…is a great act of love. The kind of rebuke that the Scriptures commend is the kind intended to stop us from continuing on a destructive path. (pg. 185, emphasis original)

Mathis says each time correction is offered there is a “fork in the road” and we will either “cringe at correction like a curse” or receive it as a “blessing.” Why the temptation to resist? He says:

Deep down in the caverns of our remaining sin, where we can be most callous to true grace in its varied forms, we don’t want to hear correction. Something rebellious in us recoils. (pg. 188)

Yet, as we grow in the gospel and rest in our standing in Christ, we are more able to graciously receive correction. Look at how Mathis explains it:

It is another grace of the gospel that by the Spirit we can grow skin thick enough to hear any reproof as a pathway to yet even more grace. It is the gospel that gives us the wherewithal for truly leaning into rebuke and receiving its bounty. Only in Jesus can we find our identity not in being without fault, but in being shown love by God when we’re still sinners, chock-full of faults (Rom. 5:8). With such a Savior to steady our feet, we can embrace rebuke for the blessing that it is. (pgs. 188-9)

Did you catch that? Our identity is in Christ, “not in being without fault.” If you are basing your identity on “being without fault” (or indwelling sin), then you will become defensive when correction is offered. Yet, if your identity is in Christ, by whom you have graciously been saved and forgiven, and to whose image you are being formed through sanctification; then you will welcome correction as a blessing. To you, correction will be seen as God’s grace and kindness leading you to repentance and mortifying sin. Last, instead of becoming defensive and upset with the person offering loving correction, you will thank them for their kindness to you.

“But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called ‘today,’ that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” -Hebrews 3:13

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God’s Faithful Love

God’s love is not like our love and that is a good thing. Garry Williams tells us why writing:

The immutability (unchangeability) and covenant faithfulness of God is good news for sinners whose lives are surrounded and pervaded by the unfaithfulness of which family breakdown is simply the most obvious symptom. We may experience broken trust in so many ways: with our spouses, with our in-laws and extended families, with our friends, with our employers, even with our pastors. (His Love Endures Forever, pg. 134)

He then states:

…we may also be the unfaithful ones: the spouse with the wandering eye, the resentful son-in-law, the treacherous friend, the lazy and dishonest employee, or the obstructive church member.

How have you been a victim of unfaithfulness?

How have you been a perpetrator of unfaithfulness?

How then we must rejoice that God’s love is different…He will never be unfaithful, turn against us, act unjustly toward us, or hound us…It is not just that God has decided to be faithful; it is that in his very triune being he is faithful…The love of God will stand when all else fails, because God always stands. (pg. 135, emphasis original)

Williams later encourages us to pray a prayer confession writing:

I confess with shame that I am so different from you. I am both victim and the perpetrator of unfaithfulness, surrounded by it within and without. All praise to you, the God of faithfulness! (pg. 137)

Thanks be to God for His unchanging holy-love, and by His grace, may our love grow to look more like His.

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