Horizontally, death and life are in the power of the tongue (Proverbs 18:21). The temptation is to think, “But I’m not doing anything. It’s only words.” But words alone can bring a government down or establish peace, destroy a marriage or renew hope, crush a child’s sense of worth or lift him to confidence and joy, unify a church or splinter it into angry factions, send a soul to hell or to heaven. When we observe carefully the impact of our words, we see why God cares so intensely about them.
The religious flesh relishes theology, because it requires no death of ego, no surrender of control, no apologies. Theological disputation can feed a spirit of superiority. But because it’s about truth and right, our smugness can go undiscerned.
A sin is a clear violation of the Bible, chapter and verse. An act that is truly sinful – not just a disappointment to me but an offense to God – warrants discipline in some cases. But “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). Honesty compels us to hold back before we go so far as to accuse anyone of a sin. Is it a sin? Really? In God’s sight?
Humility listens. Humility cultivates courtesy and restraint in speech and manner. Humility looks for win-win outcomes. Humility watches the other guy’s back. Humility values self-awareness and is open to gentle correction. Humility esteems others highly and looks for their strengths and talks them up warmly and sincerely. Where gospel humility is, God is.
1. Human approval is divided. Some like you, others dislike you. A split vote. Who can you believe?
2. Human approval is shallow. None of them know your deepest heart. What if they did?
3. Human approval is distorted. Your friends overlook many failings. Your enemies can’t see anything right with you. How do you sort it all out?
4. Human approval is unsatisfying. The need of your heart for belovedness goes far beyond anything another sinner can say or do.
Let’s confess our sins to one another and pray for one another. No one grows in isolation. We grow in safe community. Sadly, such an experience is rare in our churches. It should be common among us gospel people. It should be our lifestyle. We should be obvious, even scandalous, as friends of sinners. But so often, someone must break the ice. I see no revival in our future without a new culture of confession. Personally, I have found a good way to measure my own honesty is the level of my embarrassment. If I’m not embarrassed by my confession, I’m still holding out. But it is freeing to come clean with a brother or sister and receive the ministry of prayer (James 5:16).
If Jesus is a wonderful Savior in every way except where we are the most hypocritical, then He is no Savior for us.
There is only one way to live: all-out, go-for-broke, risk-taking enthusiasm for Christ. Halfway Christianity is the most miserable existence of all. Halfhearted Christians know enough about their sin to feel guilty about themselves, but they haven’t given themselves enough to the Savior to become happy in Him.
If we would stop treating Sunday as a second Saturday, one more day to run to Home Depot, one more day for the kids’ soccer games, another day for getting ready for Monday, if we would rediscover Sunday as The Lord’s Day, focusing on Him for just one day each week, what would be the immediate impact between today and one year from today? By one year from today, we will have spent 52 whole days given over to Jesus. Seven and a half weeks of paid vacation with Jesus. He’s a good King. Maybe we should put Him first in our weekly schedules. Not fit Him into the margins of our busy weekends, but build our whole weekly routine around Him.
It is better to be the accused than the accuser. So much better! Christ Himself took the place of the accused, that hellish place where fingers are pointed, that heartbreaking place of rejection and exclusion. He went there, and He saved us from there. And now, if He leads us to that same place, we are not alone. He comes to us there, with a deeper purpose of redemption which will, sooner or later, win the day.
If God finds incentives for grace within Himself, then nothing in us can disqualify us from His grace – nothing except a proud unwillingness to be loved on terms of grace alone.
If we are feeling weighed down and exhausted, the problem isn’t Jesus. He is unfailingly an energizing presence. Nor is the problem the race He has called us to run. The problem is something else, even something non-sinful and allowable, but it prevents us from running an unleashed, all-out race. Getting clean rid of it, because our hearts are reaching for the promises of God — that is living by faith.
Jesus is teaching us to pray impudent, nervy prayers, because that’s when we get serious with God. He likes that, and doors start opening up… Do we have the nerve to ask God for what we really long for and what would really display His glory? Let’s not settle for polite prayers that bore us and change nothing.
The obvious is sometimes worth saying, namely, that our futures lie out ahead of us, in the future, not behind us. Out there in the unfamiliar, the demanding, not back in the safe and the predictable. Out there – in the promises of God calling for our faith.
To hate evil is good, because Christ hates evil. We cannot approve of everything and remain true to Him. But it is a question of being true to Him. A self-image of correctness creates a spirit of accusation. A sense of having been forgiven by the only Faithful One creates a spirit of love. That humility is more likely to safeguard orthodoxy in both principle and spirit — and not just because it is an effective institutional strategy, but because it will not have its lampstand removed by divine discipline.
It is always a temptation to neglect the private inward service for the sake of the public outward service. Jesus called this inversion of priorities hypocrisy (Matthew 6:1-18). Our Father sees and rewards in the secret place. It is our love of appearances, our need to make an impression, which neglects that secret place.
The remedy is to turn back to the cross. Our Lord proved to us the redemptive power of suffering for His sake. But we have to choose it. We are constantly tempted to withdraw into self-protection and anger and defensiveness. But looking to the Lord moment by moment, we can embrace the cross with its pain and see Him use us to communicate more grace to people who aren’t even asking for it. We didn’t ask, and He suffered for us anyway. That kind of love was the only power that could get through to us. And it did.
In Acts 2 the Holy Spirit does come upon [the apostles], revealing four things about revival: One, revival is miraculous (verses 1-4). Humanly uncaused. “Suddenly there came from heaven” (verse 2). Two, revival is mysterious (verses 5-13). Humanly inexplicable. “What does this mean?” (verse 12). Three, revival is meaningful (verses 14-36). Humanly undeniable. “Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth” (verse 22). Four, revival is mighty (verses 37-41). Humanly irresistible. “There were added that day about three thousand souls” (verse 41).
The Lord has more ways of confronting me than I have ways of evading Him.
Biblical confession also includes a horizontal dimension – confession to one another, where we find powerful healing. Confession to God alone often does not lift us into the freedom we desire. With God alone, confession can be too easy. It is too easy to save face, and there is no healing, no release, in saving face, however earnest the confession to God might seem to be. Confession to God alone can be a way of not really facing ourselves and our sins. James 5:16 shows us where freedom can be found: “Therefore confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.”
The Bible is my oxygen. “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63). How could I live a single day in this world of illusion without God’s inerrant Word?
How can I tell if my trust in the Lord is wholehearted? One way is this. Do I let the Bible overrule my own thinking? It says, “Do not lean on your own understanding” [Pr. 3:5]. So, do I agree with the Bible, or do I obey the Bible? If I merely agree with the Bible, then my positive response is not obedience but coincidence. The Bible just happens to line up with the prejudices I’ve soaked up from my background. But what do I do when the Bible contradicts what I want to be true — especially when, on top of that, it seems culturally remote and perplexing? If I’m reading the Bible for excuses for what I want anyway, my heart has already drifted from the Lord. But if I trust Him wholeheartedly, I will let the Bible challenge my most cherished thoughts and feelings.
How does every Christian start out? In repentance. We finally admit that we’ve been completely wrong about everything every moment of every day throughout our entire lives, because we’ve been wrong about God, and God is omni-relevant to us at every level of our beings all the time. But from then on, for too many of us, we’re never wrong again. That’s amazing. The first of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses was, “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘Repent,’ he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance.”
Where once there was trust, with joy, honesty and spontaneity, now there might be aloofness, guardedness, even resentment. To make matters worse, attempts at reconciliation can be ignored or even refused. That is when, it seems to me, it is time to turn away. Turning away is not our first response, of course. But it must be a valid, if undesirable, option. After all, we can’t force people to be open, to talk, to reconsider. Until the Holy Spirit changes hearts — I have reluctantly concluded that there really is a time to turn away. Yes, it is a defeat for the gospel. But what else can one do? All that’s left is trusting the Lord, referring the matter to the judgment seat of Christ, who alone sees all things perfectly… Sometimes all one can do is not make a situation worse. That’s hard. But the Lord can do amazing things with brokenhearted people who have nothing left but a longing for His glory in this messy world.
[Slander is] deliberate falsehood, meant to harm and undermine and diminish someone’s reputation, bearing false witness, cutting someone down to size, abusive transference.
The One whose mercy flows freely to the undeserving is not a machine. He is not a mechanical Grace Dispenser. He is a Person. His smile is not an all-approving grin. He has moral sensitivities. We please Him, and we displease Him, moment by moment. Within the gospel framework of His grace, inside the relationship of His fatherly acceptance, He is fully capable of confronting us. Not rejecting us, not casting us off, but correcting us. Because He’s a good Father. I’ll take it further. The One who is for us (Romans 8:31) can also bluntly say, “I have something against you” (Revelation 2:4, 14, 20). The One who will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5) is also quite capable of saying to us, “We need to have a serious talk. It’s time for you to make some changes. If you will listen and follow, I will continue to use you. If you turn away, I will set you aside”… If your theology includes the message of justification by faith alone, I hope you will never back off from that. I hope you will keep that message central. But I also hope your theology includes another message – the grace of obedience fully pleasing to the Father.
Here are four differences between deceit and honesty in our hearts: One, a deceitful heart doesn’t know its sins because it doesn’t want to know. But an honest heart is saying, “I’m listening. I’m open.” Two, a deceitful heart is more alert to how a sermon applies to someone else. But an honest heart is too concerned about itself to be busy with other people’s weaknesses. Three, a deceitful heart, when it isn’t growing, blames its inertia on hardship or its church or even on God Himself. But an honest heart says, “I need to get in gear.” Four, a deceitful heart delays response: “I’ll get around to it. But I just can’t right now.” An honest heart puts God first: “Lord, whatever You want, even right now.”
The grace of Christ is not an excuse for weakness; He is an endless resource for strength.
True zeal is kind. It melts in your mouth. It goes down easy. Yes, it may have to drive moneychangers from the temple now and then. But the zeal of Jesus always asks, “In kindness, how can I make this as easy on everyone as possible, even at cost to myself?”
In some churches, nobody admits anything. Confession would be foolhardy, because it would be used as evidence against, rather than for, a person. If not dead already, such a church eventually will be. But God welcomes all of us sinners to confess and get free forever. It’s like being born again again.
For any sinner, moral fervor is a dangerous emotion.
I have never met anyone too encouraged. Never once.
To preach in the power of the Holy Spirit is not to take a good thing and make it even better. Preaching the truth in one’s own strength is destructive (1 Corinthians 1:17). “The word is not in him.” Preaching the gospel in the power of God is the only true preaching. All lesser preaching is sinful and to be repented of.
A man can preach the word, but still the word is not in him. It has not yet become interior to him, experientialized to him, a part of him. Such preaching is mere wind. True preaching is brewed within, as the gospel enters into a man, floods his awareness, rearranges his own interiority, and surges out of him as something divine and yet still his own.
There is an in-between-ness to this life. God gives us great promises in the gospel. Then He calls us to wait for their fulfillment. He doesn’t give us everything right away. He calls us to wait. In between the giving and the fulfilling of God’s promises, the waiting can be hard. Sometimes it can seem impossible to endure, because what we’re stuck in for now doesn’t just fall short of God’s great promises. Our experience can be the opposite of God’s great promises. Living in-between is not easy. But God’s greatest gift is not always what we think. God’s greatest gift is Himself. And He does give Himself right now. His own reality and presence and nearness and immediacy and smile: “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted” (Psalm 34:18), “The Lord is near to all who call upon Him, to all who call upon Him in truth” (Psalm 145:18). That is not a consolation prize, not something we have to settle for. There is nothing greater in all this world. We don’t understand how God draws near and we can’t control Him. But this is real, very real, very wonderful. As we stumble forward, God’s real presence gives us strength to wait without self-pity but with resilient good cheer.
The outcome of repentance is not a restored status quo, getting back to “normal,” getting back to where we were before we sinned, evading the consequences of sin. The outcome of true repentance is new obedience, unprecedented obedience, perhaps unheard-of obedience. Newness of life.
The motive for repentance is not only sorrow for sin but also a sense of the mercy of God in Christ. We have zero motivation to repent, unless we see the mercy of God awaiting us. Not the slap of God, but the embrace of God. Repentance is not just turning from sin, not even that primarily. Repentance is primarily turning to God, moment by moment, because He has promised His mercy to the penitent.
How does the zeal of the flesh reveal itself? Because it’s driven by law, it treats people with law. It does not rejoice over them but finds fault, jumps to conclusions, accuses, is argumentative, doesn’t listen, gloats when a brother is down, and loves to come out on top. This zeal isn’t for God. It’s for Self. And it’s powerful. It diminishes the future of the church by robbing everyone of beautiful things that might have been.
The jealousy of Yahweh is His profoundly intense drive within to protect the interest of His own glory (Exodus 20:4-6; Ezekiel 39:25), for He will admit no derogation from His majesty.
A crucified Savior can be preached in divine power only by crucified preachers.
Let’s never be intimidated or depressed by our ordinariness and inadequacy and unimpressiveness. Most of us are quite ordinary. All of us can improve our preaching, and we will. But the sacred given is the message of the cross, which the Holy Spirit empowers in men of the cross. Let’s not disempower it. Let’s trust God’s strategy. God Himself entered into His own strategy through an egoless nobody named Jesus Christ, whom this brilliant world crucified. That Christ is sending us out to preach His message by His power. We are fully equipped in every essential with the testimony of God, the message of Christ crucified, and the power of the Holy Spirit. Will you decide to stake your whole ministry there?
Gossip is our dark moral fervor eagerly seeking gratification. Gossip makes us feel important and needed as we declare our judgments. It makes us feel included to know the inside scoop. It makes us feel powerful to cut someone else down to size, especially someone we are jealous of. It makes us feel righteous, even responsible, to pronounce someone else guilty. Gossip can feel good in multiple ways. But it is of the flesh, not of the Spirit.
Gossip leaves a wide trail of devastation wherever and however it goes – word of mouth, email, blogging, YouTube. It erodes trust and destroys morale. It creates a social environment of suspicion where everyone must wonder what is being said behind their backs and whether appearances of friendship are sincere. It ruins hard-won reputations with cowardly but effective weapons of misrepresentation. It manipulates people into taking sides when no such action is necessary or beneficial. It unleashes the dark powers of psychological transference, doing violence to the gossiper, to the one receiving the gossip and to the person being spoken against. It makes the Body of Christ look like the Body of Antichrist – destroyers rather than healers. It exhausts the energies we would otherwise devote to positive witness. It robs our Lord of the Church he deserves. It exposes the hostility in our hearts and discredits the gospel in the eyes of the world. Then we wonder why we don’t see more conversions, why “the ground is so hard.”
The gospel says, “Your shame is real, even more real than you know. But this is what God has done. He put it all onto Christ at the cross, where your Substitute was utterly shamed and exposed and condemned for you. Now your shame no longer defines you. What defines you, what reveals your future forever, is this word: ‘adorned’ [Rev. 21:2]. Not shamed. Adorned. Lovely. Attractive. And the moment is coming when He will look into your eyes with glad adoration, and you will look into His eyes with confident surrender. And nothing will ever, ever spoil it again.”
God Most High is attentive to us all every moment of every day. He always will be. Not one promise of His will fail. Not in the slightest detail. Instead, His promises will prove to be better than we expect, better by far.
The very concept of “the weekend” is unbiblical. It turns Sunday into a second Saturday. Home Depot may gain, but we lose. It turns Sunday into the day we catch up on the stuff we were too lazy or disorganized to do on Saturday. It also turns Sunday into a day to ramp up for work or school on Monday. It hollows out not only Sunday but our whole week, because it marginalizes God and church and sermons and all the other vital things that happen in our lives only when we make the vital things also the central things. If we accept the world’s concept of “the weekend,” we inevitably end up “fitting God in” rather than centering the practical reality of our every week around Him. We trivialize Him, even as we allow secondary things to hijack the sacred place of centrality, we live soul-exhausted lives, and then we wonder why God isn’t more real to us, why church isn’t “working” for us, why we’re grumpy, and so forth.
One measure of humane, sustainable, biblical wisdom is not to take oneself so seriously that one becomes grimly self-focused but, instead, so to trust God that one retains a lifelong personal capacity for childlike fun, youthful play, hilarious frivolity, uncontrollable laughter to the point of tears and goofing off with a clear conscience. I believe this.
If your brother sins — chapter-and-verse disobedience to the Bible — and the sin is against you, rebuke him. Not a demeaning humiliation. Just sit down with him and say, “Brother, here in [biblical text], God says… But last Tuesday, you and I were in that meeting and, as I recall, you said/did… Brother, I can’t see how that behavior lines up with this verse. How do you see it?” No vague generalities, but verifiable facts, clearly addressed by the Bible. We need to have the freedom to rebuke one another’s sinful and foolish behavior. But let’s be gentle and respectful. Let’s offer the brother an opportunity to explain himself. After all, there might be more to it than one realizes. And let’s avoid the verb “to be” (“You are…”) or “always” and “never” (“You always/never…”). Those categories are too absolute to be fair. They blast the brother to smithereens, with no dignity left.
A promise must be kept, even when it turns out to cost us more than we expected. Inconvenience does not dissolve obligation. Inconvenience makes promise-keeping all the more beautiful, even God-like. God is a promise-maker and a promise-keeper. He made us covenantal beings living in a covenantal universe. Our lives unfold with his beauty as we receive, believe, make and keep promises. It costs us. But it cost God too. His cross inspires in us the depth of personal character that doesn’t go with the flow but keeps a promise even when unforeseeable eventualities make it hard. The unforeseeableness of the future is the very reason why we make promises. It’s why promises are valuable. In a world of contingencies, promise-keeping is the glue that holds us together… Let’s cheerfully and wholeheartedly keep our word, no matter what. It’s the Christlike thing to do.
Busyness can be a drug. It makes us feel important and needed. Fruitfulness is another matter. It is a miracle of God’s grace through His Word, imparted to a heart that stays quiet and low before Him, set upon doing His will only.
Reformed theology is all about grace deciding to treat people better than they deserve, for the sheer glory of it all. Sometimes Reformed culture doesn’t look like that, feel like that, taste like that. It gives people exactly what they deserve, as judged by the Reformed person. But who exalted him as judge in the first place? Our true Judge stepped down to become our Friend. That theology of grace must translate into the sociology of grace as we treat one another better than anyone deserves, for the sheer glory of it all.
Our local deity is not Jesus. He goes by the name Jesus. But in reality, our local deity is Jesus Jr.
Our little Jesus is popular because he is useful. He makes us feel better while conveniently fitting into the margins of our busy lives. But he is not terrifying or compelling or thrilling. When we hear the gospel of Jesus Jr., our casual response is “Yeah, that’s what I believe.” Jesus Jr. does not confront us, surprise us, stun us. He looks down on us with a benign, all-approving grin. He tells us how wonderful we really are, how entitled we really are, how wounded we really are, and it feels good.
Jesus Jr. appeals to the flesh. He does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him. He is not able to understand them, much less impart them, because Jesus Jr. is the magnification of Self, the idealization of Self, the absolutization of Self turning around and validating Self, flattering Self, reinforcing Self. Jesus Jr. does not change us, because he is a projection of us.
What is the curse of the law? It is the or-else-ness of the law: “Do this, or else.” Christ took the or-else-ness of the law onto Himself at the cross, so that there is no more or-else for anyone in Christ, as God looks upon us now. Or-else is gone forever from your relationship with God.
Christian living goes by the same ground rules as Christian conversion. Justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone apart from all our works — that’s how we enter, that’s how we live. We never advance beyond grace. We never graduate to “deeper things.” Sanctification gets traction from the positive energy of justification.
Trust in God, not explanations from God, is the pathway through suffering.
Our real problem is not our sins. If our sins were the problem, we might muster the will-power to pull out of this nose dive. But the good news of the gospel begins with some really bad news. Our sins only provoke a bigger problem: the wrath of God. Our real problem is not our sins but God. He is angry, He isn’t going away, and there is nothing we can do about it. If God is against us, who can be for us? But here is the good news. God has made God our salvation. He did it at the cross. God has provided a way of escape from God: in God. We run from His wrath by running toward His grace in Christ. And if God is for us, who can be against us?
You know the perfect storm? Not when you fail, but when you succeed and you finally get your perfect life, with you at the center. It’s the poison of your kingdom coming and your will being done.
Hearing a sermon is not like hearing a lecture. It is your meeting with the living Christ. It is you seeing His glory, so that you can feel it and be changed by it. Let’s pay attention to Him and what He means a sermon to be, lest we miss Him.
We cannot deceive God. Twice in the Acts God is called “the Heartknower” (Acts 1:24; 15:8). But we can deceive ourselves. Here are four differences between deceit and honesty in our hearts. One, a deceitful heart doesn’t know its sin because it doesn’t want to know. But an honest heart is saying, “Bring it on.” Two, a deceitful heart notices how well a sermon applies to someone else. But an honest heart is too concerned about itself to judge another. Three, a deceitful heart, when it isn’t growing, blames its inertia on hardship or its church or even on God himself. But an honest heart says, “It’s my fault. I need to get in gear.” Four, a deceitful heart delays response. It says, “I’ll get around to it, even soon. But I can’t right now.” An honest heart puts God first. Delayed obedience is a way of saying, “I’m setting the terms. I am Lord.” But an honest heart says, “Lord, whatever you want – right now.” An honest heart says, with the old hymn, “The dearest idol I have known, whate’er that idol be, help me to tear it from Thy throne and worship only Thee.”
If Christ is, to us, only our substitute to admire and not also our example to follow, we will not rouse ourselves to do hard things in obedience to Him. That will be spiritually deadening in the long run. If Christ is, to us, only our example to follow and not first our substitute to admire, we will not lean on Him as our savior and be freed from ourselves. That too is spiritually deadening in the long run. We can get it wrong and still thrive for a while. But in the long run, only a well-proportioned theology can keep us spiritually alive.
If we go to church just to be with one another, one another is all we will get. And it isn’t enough. Eventually, our deepest unmet needs will explode in anger at one another. Putting community first destroys community. We must put Christ Himself first and keep Him first and treat Him as first and come to Him first and again and again.
When the early believers converted to Christ, it never occurred to them to fit Him into the margins of their busy lives. They redefined themselves around a new, immovable center. He was not an optional weekend activity, along with the kids’ soccer practices. They put Him and His church and His cause first in their hearts, first in their schedules, first in their budgets, first in their reputations, first in their very lives. They devoted themselves [Ac. 2:42]. [This was] unmistakable evidence that the Holy Spirit was being poured out.
There are basically two ways to read the Bible — as a book of law, or as a book of promise. Our natural religious psychology wants to read the Bible as law: “God is explaining here how I can win his favor.” A law-hermeneutic is the pre-understanding we naturally bring to our Bible reading, every page. But in Galatians 3 Paul explains that he reads the Bible as a book of promise, and he wants us to as well. He sees every page of the Bible as gracious promise from God to undeserving sinners. Is there law in the Bible? Yes. But it was “added” (v. 19). Law was inserted after the promises to Abraham were established. It is promise that comes first (Genesis 12), then law comes later (Exodus 20). It is promise, therefore, that defines the all-encompassing framework within which we are to read everything else in the Bible… Every page [in the Bible], most deeply understood, shines forth as a promise of grace to sinners in Christ.
Deep in our timid hearts is a desire to be loved mildly, nothing more. That way, we retain control, we set the terms, we avoid risk. Our loving God, in His ferocious intensity, will have none of it. He defines the meaning of our lives, and we are saved from our anemic loves and brought by degrees into intense loves, like His own.
Gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture. The doctrines of grace create a culture of grace, as Jesus Himself touches us through His truths. Without the doctrines, the culture alone is fragile. Without the culture, the doctrines alone appear pointless. For example: The doctrine of regeneration creates a culture of humility (Ephesians 2:1-9). The doctrine of justification creates a culture of inclusion (Galatians 2:11-16). The doctrine of reconciliation creates a culture of peace (Ephesians 2:14-16). The doctrine of sanctification creates a culture of life (Romans 6:20-23). The doctrine of glorification creates a culture of hope (Romans 5:2). The doctrine of God creates a culture of honesty (1 John 1:5-10). And what could be more basic than that? If we want this culture to thrive, we can’t take doctrinal short cuts. If we want this doctrine to be credible, we can’t disregard the culture. But churches where the doctrine and culture converge bear living witness to the power of Jesus.
What is professionalism? Professionalism is doing something because you’ve gotten good at it, good enough for people to pay you for it. It might not even feel that much like a job. But professionalism hollows out gospel ministry. Professionalized ministry flows out of a man’s own adequacy and gains for him a successful career. If you have a professional mentality, you will pray that God will bless your efforts. But if you have a biblical mentality, you will go beyond that. You will pray that God will do for you what only He can do, for the display of His glory alone.
In every generation we who confess the Lord Jesus are confronted with well-established offenses against Him, testing our courage. If we man up, some people will inevitably say we are moving too quickly and causing unnecessary provocation. That might be true. The moral nobility of a cause elevates no one above self-judgment, and crusaders can be the most self-righteous of all. But the lordship of Christ judges everything, including both the offenses He calls us to challenge and our own excuses for not doing so.
The gospel being what it is and always will be, “the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19), our churches should be the most reconciling, peaceable, relaxed, happy places in town. We are so open to enemies, so meek in the face of insults and injuries, so forgiving toward the undeserving — if we do make people angry, let this be the reason. We refuse to join in their selfish battles. We’re following a higher call. We are the peacemakers, the true sons of God (Matthew 5:9).
God wants us to follow a recurring pattern of intense work and then rest, intense work and then rest, and so forth. Whatever view one takes of the Sabbath, surely the six days of work and the one day of rest embedded in the creation remain relevant in some sense. Any routine of life that is unsustainable long-term cannot be of God. He calls us to work. But he also calls us to rest, in order to work most fruitfully. What sets us apart is this. We rest, in order to work; we do not work, in order to rest. We who believe the gospel are not living for the weekend, but for The End. In the meantime, we figure out rhythms of life that make fruitful labor sustainable.
The God we encounter everywhere in Scripture, though mysterious to us, though we strain at the leash of language to describe Him faithfully, though we know He is more than our small thoughts can achieve – still, God is truly knowable according to His own self-revelation. We can receive His testimony to Himself at face value without fear of missing who He really is.
Obedience that doesn’t cost us anything may be more natural and glib than Christian. After all, self-righteousness “obeys” — and wonders impatiently what’s wrong with everyone else.
How can I tell the difference between the convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit and the accusing attacks of Satan? Some thoughts: 1. The Holy Spirit puts His finger on a specific sin I have committed, something concrete I can own and confess, but the accusations of Satan are vague and simply demoralizing. 2. The Holy Spirit shows me Christ, the mighty Friend of sinners, but the devil wants me spiraling down into negative self-focus. 3. The Holy Spirit leads me to a threshold of new life, but the devil wants to paralyze me where I am. 4. The Holy Spirit brings peace of heart along with a new hatred of sin, so that I bow before Jesus in reconsecration, but the devil offers peace of mind with smug relief, so that I fold my arms and say, “There, that’s over with.” 5. The Holy Spirit helps me to be so open to God that I allow Him to control the conversation, but the devil tempts me to take off the table certain questions I just don’t want God to talk to me about. We are thankful for our dear Friend, the Holy Spirit.
How should we repent when rightly rebuked? In four ways: 1. “I was wrong.” Plain, honest, no evasions. 2. “I am sorry.” Brokenhearted, realizing the damage done. 3. “It won’t happen again.” Rebuilding trust for the future. 4. “Is there anything I can do to make it up to you?” Performing deeds in keeping with repentance (Acts 26:20; Matthew 3:8).