Gospel Amnesia

Martin Luther knew well that we Christians are prone to gospel amnesia when he wrote:

This (justification by faith) is the truth of the gospel. It is also the principal article of all Christian doctrine, wherein the knowledge of all godliness consisteth. Most necessary it is, therefore, that we should know this article well, teach it unto others, and beat it into their heads continually. (quoted in John Stott’s The Message of Galatians, pg. 59)

This is why we must continually preach the gospel to ourselves and continually proclaim the excellencies of Christ to one another. Otherwise, we may end up”bewitched” and “quickly deserting” the truth. (Gal. 1:6, 3:1)

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The Evangelism of Worship

Years ago I was listening to a Christian Academic give a lecture. He was talking about Worldview and said the common statement; “What you believe determines the way you behave.” Yet, he then added something I have never forgotten. He said; “What you believe determines the way you behave, and not just what you say you believe.” His point was clear; what we do reveals what we believe…what we really believe, not what we say we believe. Another way to talk about this is in terms of Orthodoxy (belief) and Orthopraxy (practice).

We should evaluate all areas of our life in light of this truth. Do my actions in my home, workplace, church, and community line up with what I say I believe? Are my stated beliefs and actions aligned?

Albert Mohler applied this principle to corporate worship when he wrote:

Roger Scruton, a well-known British philosopher, has suggested that worship is the most important indicator of what a person or group of people really believes about God. He writes: “God is defined in the act of worship far more precisely than he is defined by any theology.” In other words, if you want to know what a people really believe about God, don’t spend time reading their theologians. Watch them worship. Listen to what they sing and to how they pray. Then you will know what they believe about this God whom they worship. (He is Not Silent, pg. 31. Emphasis mine)

Yes, indeed, our worship certainly reveals the object of our worship…it reveals what, in our eyes, is of supreme worth. Let me give two specific reasons why we as a church want to continually be aware of our corporate worship.

First, we are all constantly tempted and easily led astray into idolatry. Idolatry is worshiping anything other than God. We will be tempted to worship our preferences, tastes, emotions, intellects, and cultural relevance (to name but a few) in corporate worship. Notice the word “our” in the previous sentence. When we are led astray by these things often the idol we end up worshiping is us. We must be aware and prayerful.

Second, our worship is proclaiming either an idol or the triune God of the Bible. What this means is that our worship is evangelistic. It’s either proclaiming the Gospel or the false gospels of the world (consumerism, comfort, materialism, amusement/entertainment…). Remember, in our worship we are telling everyone who our God is. Therefore, we should always pay prayerful attention to our worship in light of God’s Word.

I am thankful to be a part of a church who cares about these things. Let’s pray that by God’s grace we will persevere and continue in this and that we will always be reforming according to God’s Word. Our prayer is that our church would be a faithful witness long after you and I are gone.

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Newton on the Christian Life

John Newton (1725-1807), who is known for penning the hymn “Amazing Grace,” also has a well-known summary statement of Christian sanctification. It comes from a devotional sermon he offered at a friend’s house. According to Tony Reinke, the statement survives via the notes of one in attendance who jotted Newton’s outline down. We don’t even know the notetaker’s name.

Newton’s exposition was on Paul’s words, “By the grace of God I am what I am…” (1 Cor. 15:10). Here is the outline:

I am not what I ought to be —
ah, how imperfect and deficient!

I am not what I wish to be —
I abhor what is evil, and I would cleave to what is good!

I am not what I hope to be —
soon, soon shall I put off mortality, and with mortality all sin and imperfection.

Yet, though I am not what I ought to be,
nor what I wish to be,
nor what I hope to be,
I can truly say, I am not what I once was;
a slave to sin and Satan;
and I can heartily join with the apostle, and acknowledge,
“By the grace of God I am what I am.” (HT Trevin Wax)

All Christians can surely agree!

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Spurgeon on Slavery

Charles Spurgeon, the prominent Baptist pastor, was ministering in England during the time of the American Civil War. Tragically, during this time many professed Christians in the South were slaveholders. As for Spurgeon, he made his view on slavery very clear. Here’s an example, Spurgeon said:

I do from my inmost soul detest slavery . . . and although I commune at the Lord’s table with men of all creeds, yet with a slave-holder I have no fellowship of any sort or kind. Whenever one has called upon me, I have considered it my duty to express my detestation of his wickedness, and I would as soon think of receiving a murderer into my church . . . as a man stealer. (The Reason Why America Burned Spurgeon’s Sermons and Sought to Kill Him, The Spurgeon Center)

As you could imagine, because of his stance, Spurgeon wasn’t winning any popularity contests in the American South. Actually, quite the opposite, Spurgeon was hated by many. On April 10, 1860, one Southern paper published the following referring to Spurgeon:

“If the Pharisaical author should ever show himself in these parts, we trust that a stout cord may speedily find its way around his eloquent throat” (Ibid)

Well, if you can’t get your hands on the man, you do the next best thing. You burn his books! Spurgeon’s sermons were widely published and sold in his lifetime. Yet, all over the South there were “Spurgeon bonfires” where his books and sermons were torched.

Spurgeon Scholar, Christian George, noted the following:

In 1860, an article entitled “Mr. Spurgeon and the American Slaveholders” offered the following words: “Southern Baptists will not, hereafter, when they visit London, desire to commune with this prodigy of the 19th century. We venture the prophecy that his books in [the] future will not crowd the shelves of our Southern book merchants. They will not; they should not.” In 1889, Spurgeon uttered a prophecy of his own: “For my part, I am quite willing to be eaten of dogs for the next 50 years; but the more distant future shall vindicate me.”

The more distant future did vindicate Spurgeon. His sermons do crowd the shelves of Southern bookstores. As Carl F. H. Henry rightly noted, Spurgeon has become “one of evangelical Christianity’s immortals.” Throughout Alabama, Virginia, and the United States of America, the books of “the notorious English abolitionist” still burn—casting light and life in a dark and dying world. (Why the American South Would Have Killed Charles Spurgeon)

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Christian Liberty

During the sermon this past Sunday, we spent some time thinking about the importance of Christian liberty. In his book, How the Nations Rage: Rethinking Politics in a Divided Age, Jonathan Leeman wrote: “Christian liberty is crucial to church unity.” This is very true! In the church, it is Christ that unites us and the commission to the church is to “teach them to obey all that Christ has commanded” (Matt. 28:20). Therefore, Christian liberty issues are the things that Scripture does not speak to. Christian liberty issues are often related to wisdom in applying Scripture to one’s context.

For example, Scripture makes clear that parents are to raise their children in the “discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). This most certainly would include educating our children. However, Scripture doesn’t explicitly spell out how one should educate their children as far as public school, private school, or homeschool. I believe this is a Christian liberty issue. In short, Scripture is clear that parents are responsible for instructing their children but does not spell out down to the detail exactly how parents should do it. That’s where Christian liberty comes into play. The “how” will look different from home to home.

Why is this important for church unity? Well, because we love to divide ourselves into social groups based on all kinds of preferences. Yet, the church is different. The church is made up of a diverse group of people who have found salvation in Christ. The church is a group of redeemed sinners united in Christ alone. Not Jesus plus cultural similarities or preferences! No, the church is not to be like the world uniting around those things. What makes the church distinct is its unity in diversity as it gathers around Christ.

If we are going to have this kind of otherworldly unity in the church we are going to have to work hard to graciously protect and promote Christian liberty.

Leeman’s book referenced above focuses on politics, another great example where Christian liberty must be upheld. I’ll close with a fuller quote from him. He wrote:

Christian liberty is crucial to church unity. When we speak beyond where Scripture authorizes us to go, we risk dividing the church where the Bible does not, and one day we will have to give an account to King Jesus for that. You’ve heard the saying, “In essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty, in all things charity.” That’s a good rule of thumb. (pg. 93)

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Heaven: Christ is Central

In his book, God is the Gospel, John Piper asked:

The critical question for our generation—and for every generation—is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ were not there? (pg. 15, emphasis mine)

Let’s have the Prince of Preachers, Charles Spurgeon, answer that for us. Spurgeon said:

Oh, think of heaven without Christ! It is the same thing as thinking of hell. Heaven without Christ! It is day without sun; existing without life, feasting without food, seeing without light. It involves a contradiction in terms. Heaven without Christ! Absurd. It is the sea without water, the earth without its fields, the heavens without their stars. There cannot be heaven without Christ. He is the sum total of bliss; the fountain from which heaven flows, the element of which heaven is composed. Christ is heaven and heaven is Christ. You shall change the words and make no difference in the sense. To be where Jesus is is the highest imaginable bliss, and bliss away from Jesus is inconceivable to the child of God. (quoted in Spurgeon on the Christian Life, pgs. 176-177)

If you don’t treasure Christ now, you may not be bound for the heaven of the Bible.

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Counterfeit Gospels

On Sunday we talked about the danger of counterfeit gospels and the need to be aware of them. Trevin Wax, an author (and blogger/editor/publisher),  has written on counterfeit gospels in both book and article form. Here are some of the counterfeits he has noted:

Therapeutic Gospel: Sin robs us of our sense of fullness. Christ’s death proves our worth as humans and gives us power to reach our potential. The church helps us find happiness.

Moralist Gospel: Our big problem is sins (plural) and not sin (nature). The purpose for Christ’s death is to give us a second chance and make us better people. Redemption comes through the exercise of willpower with God’s help.

Social-Club Gospel: Salvation is all about finding fellowship and friendship at church. The gospel is reduced to Christian relationships that help us enjoy life.

Activist Gospel: The kingdom is advanced through our efforts to build a just society. The gospel’s power is demonstrated through cultural transformation, and the church is united around political causes and social projects.

Mystic Gospel: Salvation comes through an emotional experience with God. The church is there to help me feel close to God by helping me along in my pursuit of mystical union.

Churchless Gospel: The focus of salvation is primarily on the individual, in a way that makes the community of faith peripheral to God’s purposes. The church is viewed as an option to personal spirituality, or even an obstacle to Christlikeness.

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Racial Reconciliation

Brandon and I have had the privilege of being at the MLK50 Conference this week. The conference was hosted by The Gospel Coalition and the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission on the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. As the conference sponsors have said; “The 5oth anniversary of King’s tragic death marks an opportunity for Christians to reflect on the state of racial unity in the church and in the culture. It creates the occasion to reflect on where Christians have been and look ahead to where we must go as we pursue racial unity in the midst of tremendous tension.”

Here are three talks from the conference that I believe are particularly important for white Christians to hear.

Racial Justice and the Uneasy Conscience of American Christianity

Welcome to MLK50: Gospel Reflections from the Mountaintop. We are joined by Russell Moore for the first keynote of the conference: Racial Justice and the Uneasy Conscience of American Christianity Watch the entire simulcast at MLK50Conference.com/simulcast #MLK50Conference

Posted by ERLC on Tuesday, April 3, 2018

 

Understanding and Overcoming the Inconsistencies in White Evangelicals on Racial Issues-Matt Chandler

Matt Chandler kicks off day two of the #MLK50Conference with his keynote, Understanding and Overcoming the Inconsistencies in White Evangelicals on Racial Issues. Before he speaks, we have a special song from The Village Church.Watch the entire simulcast at MLK50Conference.com/livestream

Posted by ERLC on Wednesday, April 4, 2018

 

Christian Hip Hop and the Next Generation of Christian Racial Unity-Trip Lee

Trip Lee is here to talk about Christian hip hop and the next generation of Christian racial unity. Watch the entire simulcast at MLK50Conference.com/live. #MLK50Conference.com/livestream

Posted by ERLC on Wednesday, April 4, 2018

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The Gardener

“Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’” –John 20:15-16a

On John’s note that Mary supposed the resurrected Christ to be “the gardener,” Sinclair Ferguson and Alistair Begg wrote:

Adam was to ‘garden’ the whole earth, for the glory of the heavenly Father. But he failed. Created to make the dust fruitful he himself became part of the dust. The garden of Eden became the wilderness of this world. But do you also remember how John’s Gospel records what happened on the morning of Jesus’ resurrection? He was ‘the beginning [of the new creation], the firstborn from the dead.’  But Mary Magdalene did not recognize Him; instead, she spoke to him, ‘supposing him to be the gardener.’

The Gardner? Yes, indeed. He is the Gardener. He is the second Man, the last Adam, who is now beginning to restore the Garden. (Name Above All Names, pg. 34)

Ferguson and Begg are pointing out that the failure of Adam and the resulting curse upon creation happened in a garden. Now with the work of Christ, the Second Adam, the beginning of the new creation is also taking place in a garden. Christ bore the curse and was resurrected as the beginning of the new creation which will eventually result in Him making all things new (Rev. 21:5). Here is how two theologians summarized this truth:

In a garden Adam fell down into death; in a garden-tomb, Christ rose up from it. –Michael Reeves (Christ Our Life, pg. 32)

Just as the first Adam received life in the garden, so Jesus emerges as the last Adam in resurrection life out of the garden tomb. –Brandon Crowe (The Last Adam, pg. 195)

The resurrection changes everything! Indeed, without the resurrection we have no hope and could only be pitied (1 Cor. 15:17-19). G.K. Chesterton said it this way:

…the friends of Christ coming at daybreak to the place found the grave empty and the stone rolled away…What they were looking at was the first day of a new creation, with a new heaven and a new earth; and in a semblance of the gardener God walked again in the garden, in the cool not of the evening but the dawn. (quoted in Christ Our Life, pg. 52)

Friends, the resurrection is true and gives us a hope that is unsinkable. Christ, the firstfruits, is the guarantee of the full harvest to come! (1 Cor. 15:20)

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“Gospel Fluency”

“…speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,” -Ephesians 4:15

In his book, Gospel Fluency, Jeff Vanderstelt wrote the following referencing the verse above:

…if we are to help one another grow up into Christ in every way, we need to learn how to speak the truths of Christ into everything—every aspect of life, every situation we face, and every issue we address. (pg. 30, emphasis mine)

This is where his concept of gospel fluency comes in. We typically use the term “fluency” when it comes to speaking a second language. A person can learn some of the vocabulary and grammar of a second language. However, they will not become fluent in that language until they can sit with native speakers and have a smooth conversation.

To be a Christian, one must know the gospel. Yet, as we grow in the gospel we become more fluent in speaking gospel truth into every situation we and our fellow believers encounter. Let me hit pause for a second. If this sounds strange to you, it shouldn’t. As we say at Redeemer, we don’t graduate from the gospel, but rather we press deeper into it. After all, the riches of Christ are inexhaustible.

Ok, back to gospel fluency. Vanderstelt wrote:

You gain fluency in a language when you move from merely translating an unfamiliar language into a familiar one to interpreting all of life through that new language. It happens when you can think, feel, and speak in a language. (pg. 40)

He continued:

I believe such fluency is what God wants his people to experience with the gospel. He wants them to be able to translate the world around them and the world inside of them through the lens of the gospel—the truths of God revealed in the person and work of Jesus. (pg. 41)

Just as you need conversation partners to become fluent in a second language, so you also need them to become gospel-fluent. Where are those partners found? In the local church, of course! Vanderstelt emphasized the local church when he said:

You become fluent through immersion in a gospel-speaking community and through ongoing practice. You have to know it, regularly hear it, and practice proclaiming it. (pg. 43)

He continued:

Gospel fluency begins in you, gets worked out within community, and is expressed to a world that needs to hear about Jesus.

Your ongoing development in the gospel best occurs through involvement in a gospel-proclaiming church—a people who gather regularly to hear the good news of Jesus spoken. Please, if you want to grow in gospel fluency, gather with a church that regularly preaches the good news of Jesus Christ. (pg. 43)

Let’s strive to press deeper into the gospel together in hopes that we indeed gain gospel fluency. This fluency, speaking the gospel to one another in every situation, is exactly what we need as we seek to help one another follow Jesus.

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