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Why The Gospel is The Key To Bringing Real Change to Your Life

THE GOSPEL: KEY TO CHANGE

Tim Keller seated image

By Tim Keller

The Greek term “gospel” (ev-angelion) distinguished the Christian message from that of other religions. An ‘ev-angel’ was news of a great historical event, such as a victory in war or the ascension of a new king, that changed the listeners’ condition and required a response from the listener. So the gospel is news of what God has done to reach us. It is not advice about what we must do to reach God. What is this news?

God has entered the world in Jesus Christ to achieve a salvation that we could not achieve for ourselves which now 1) converts and transforms individuals, forming them into a new humanity, and eventually 2) will renew the whole world and all creation. This is the ‘good news’—the gospel. And it is good news in three important ways.

1. The gospel is the good news of gracious acceptance. Jesus lived the life we should live. He also paid the penalty we owe for the rebellious life we do live. He did this in our place:

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. (Isaiah 53:4-10);

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor 5:21);

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

We are not reconciled to God through our efforts and record, as in all other religions, but through his efforts and record. Christians who trust in Christ for their acceptance with God, rather than in their own moral character, commitment, or performance, are simul justus et pecator – simultaneously sinful yet accepted. We are more flawed and sinful than we ever dared believe, yet we are more loved and accepted than we ever dared hope at the same time.

Without this unique understanding of grace-salvation, religions have to paint God as either a demanding, holy God who is placated by back-breaking moral effort, or as what C.S. Lewis calls ‘a senile, old benevolence’ who tolerates everyone no matter how they live. The problem is that if I think I have a relationship with God because I am living morally according to his standards, it does not move me to the depths to think of my salvation. I earned it. There is no joy, amazement, or tears. I am not galvanized and transformed from the inside. On the other hand, if I think I have a relationship with God because the Divine just embraces us all, no matter what how we live— that also does not move me to the depths. I simply have the attitude of Voltaire, who, on his deathbed famously said, “Of course God forgives—that’s his job.” Any effort to take away the idea of Christ’s substitutionary atonement and replace it with a moralism (i.e., being moral, working for others, imitating Jesus) robs the gospel of its power to change us from the inside out.

The gospel is, therefore, radically different from religion. Religion operates on the principle: “I obey, therefore I am accepted”. The gospel operates on the principle: “I am accepted through Christ, therefore I obey.” So the gospel differs from both religion and irreligion. Not only can you seek to be your own ‘lord and savior’ by breaking the law of God (i.e., through irreligion), you can also do so by keeping the law in order to earn your salvation (i.e., through religion). A lack of deep belief in the gospel is the main cause of spiritual deadness, fear, and pride in Christians, because our hearts continue to act on the basis “I obey, therefore, I am accepted.” If we fail to forgive others–that is not simply a lack of obedience, but a failure to believe we are saved by grace, too. If we lie in order to cover up a mistake–that is not simply a lack of obedience, but a failure to find our acceptance in God rather than in human approval. So we do not ‘get saved’ by believing the gospel and then ‘grow’ by trying hard to live according to Biblical principles. Believing the gospel is not only the way to meet God, but also the way to grow into him.

2. The gospel is the good news of changed lives. Paul says to Christians, ‘your life is hid with Christ in God’ (Col 3:3), and in numerous places he says that we are now ‘in Him.’ This means, on the one hand, that the Father accepts us in Christ and treats us as if we had done all that Jesus has done (cf. Col 3:2a). But this is also means Christ’s life comes into us by the Spirit and shapes us into a new kind of person. The gospel is not just a truth about us that we affirm with our minds, it is also a reality we must experience in our hearts and souls. For example, In 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 Paul wants the people to give an offering to the poor. He says, “I don’t want to order you. I don’t want this offering to simply be the response to my demand.” He doesn’t put pressure directly on the will (saying ‘I’m an apostle and this is your duty to me!’) nor pressure directly on the emotions (telling them stories about how much the poor are suffering and how much more they have than the sufferers). Instead, Paul vividly and unforgettably says, “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). When he says ‘you know the grace’—he uses a powerful image, bringing Jesus’ salvation into the realm of money and wealth and poverty. He moves them by a ‘spiritual recollection’ of the gospel. Paul is saying, ‘Think on his costly grace. Think on that grace until you are changed into generous people by the gospel in your hearts.’ So the solution to stinginess is a re-orientation to the generosity of Christ in the gospel, where he poured out his wealth for you. Now you don’t have to worry about money—the cross proves God’s care for you and gives you security. Now you don’t have to envy any one else’s money. Jesus’ love and salvation confers on you a remarkable status—one that money cannot give you.

Paul does the same thing in Ephesians 5:25ff, where he urges husbands to be faithful to their wives. What is the point? What makes you a sexually faithful spouse, a generous-not avaricious- person, a good parent and/or child is not just redoubled effort to follow the example of Christ. Rather, it is deepening your understanding of the salvation of Christ and living out of the changes that understanding makes in your heart—the seat of your mind, will, and emotions. Faith in the gospel re-structures our motivations, our self-understanding and identity, and our view of the world. Behavioral compliance to rules without heart-change will be superficial and fleeting. The gospel changes your heart.

3. The gospel is the good news of the new world coming. The plot-line of the Bible is this: 1) God created the world,
2) The world and humanity fell into sin and decay, 3) But God sends his Son to redeem the world and create a new humanity, and 4) Eventually the whole world will be renewed. Death, decay, injustice, and suffering will be all removed.

The gospel then is not just about individual happiness and fulfillment. It is not just a wonderful plan for ‘my life’ but a wonderful plan for the world. It is about the coming of God’s kingdom to renew everything. Gospel-centered churches do not only urge individuals to be converted, but also to seek peace and justice in our cities and in our world

Christ wins our salvation through losing, achieves power through weakness and service, and comes to wealth via giving all away. Those who receive his salvation are not the strong and accomplished but those who admit that they are weak and lost. This pattern creates an ‘alternate kingdom’ or ‘city’ (Matt.5:14-16). in which there is a complete reversal of the values of the world with regard to power, recognition, status, and wealth. When we understand that we are saved by sheer grace through Christ, we stop seeking salvation in these things. The reversal of the cross, therefore, liberates us from bondage to the power of material things and worldly status in our lives. The gospel, therefore, creates a people with a whole alternate way of being human. Racial and class superiority, accrual of money and power at the expense of others, yearning for popularity and recognition–all these things are marks of living in the world, and are the opposite of the mindset of the kingdom (Luke 6:20-26).

Conclusion

All of the above are important ‘perspectives’ on the gospel. The first stresses the doctrinal content of the gospel. The gospel is the news that Jesus Christ died and rose for our salvation in history. The second stresses the personal individual impact of the gospel. The gospel is a transforming grace that changes our hearts and inmost motives. The third stresses the social impact of the gospel. The gospel brings a new ‘order’ in which believers no longer are controlled by material goods or worldly status and have solidarity with others across customary social barriers. These three ‘perspectives’ are all Biblical and should be kept together. There is a tendency for Christians and churches to focus on just one of these perspectives and ignore the others. However they are inseparable and inter-dependent on one another.

If, for example, you stressed the social perspective to the exclusion of others, you might call loudly for social justice, but your ministry will not convert people and give them the changed lives they need to persevere in humbly serving the needs of the poor. If you stress the doctrinal perspective to the exclusion of the experiential and social, you might have a ministry that is doctrinally accurate but it will not produce changed lives, so why should anyone believe your doctrine? If you over-stress the personal perspective, you might ‘psychologize’ the gospel so that it is presented as strictly a way for an individual to overcome his or her guilt and unhappiness. But it will not get the person out of him or herself—which is what you need most to be happy. We were built by God for service. All three perspectives are necessary. This full approach to the gospel creates a church that does not fit neatly into the traditional ‘conservative/sectarian’ nor ‘liberal/mainline’ categories.

The gospel is the dynamic for all heart-change, life-change, and social-change. Change won’t happen through ‘trying harder’ but only through encountering with the radical grace of God.

 

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SUNDAY SERMON: Dr. Tim Keller on “CHRIST OUR HEAD”

SERIES: THE KING AND THE KINGDOM – PART 1 – EPHESIANS 1:15-23

Tim Keller preaching image

15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.

That power is like the working of his mighty strength, 20 which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

I keep reading articles and books about New York. This week I read that whereas New York has to compete with Los Angeles as media capital of the world, has to compete with Tokyo as financial capital of the world, has to compete with London as theater capital of the world, and has to compete with Paris as fashion capital of the world, there is one area where there is no competition.

The article said New York is the power capital of the world, not just because it’s the only city that competes in all those categories, but because this is the place where people who want power and where the people who have power come to live. When I looked up the word power in the dictionary, I found all the dictionaries say the same thing. Power is the ability to act, the ability to do. This week again I saw an interesting quote that said people do not come to New York City to think or to reflect; they come to do.

In fact, when I read the interviews of famous people around here and I listen to what they’re saying, the interviewers are basically trying to find what makes you tick. When it comes down to it, though there are hundreds of different answers, I think you can reduce them. Basically the people are saying, “Do you know what makes me tick? Power. Why do I build this skyscraper? Why do I throw this party? Why do I hold this concert? I want to show you what I can do. Look what I can do. Look at the power I have. Look how I count.”

Paul here talks about power that makes all the power of New York combined look like a pop gun, a power that makes all of the power of New York comparatively look like a soggy paper airplane. It says here in verse 19 (and this is what the passage is about) God has “incomparably great power.” That’s a great phrase. Great power in Greek is completely understandable in English. Did you know that? The word greatness is the word megethos, and the word power is the word dunameōs. So what you have there is the megaton dynamite of God. It’s a great phrase, and everybody knows what it’s talking about. It doesn’t need translation. It talks about the megaton dynamite of God.

The real kicker word is the word incomparably. If you have an older translation, it might say, “The exceeding power of God.” The word incomparably is a good word. What Paul is saying is, “It can’t be compared.” Ordinarily the way in which we would measure or try to describe power is we try to describe it by comparing it to something else you know. So you can say, “A hurricane has one thousandth of the power of a nuclear warhead. A nuclear warhead has one millionth of the power of an explosion on the surface of the sun. The sun has one billionth of the power of an exploding supernova.”

How do we describe the power of God? Do we say, “His power is the power of 100 supernovas, a million supernovas, or a billion billion?” Paul is saying here, “No, no, no. God is not at the top of a scale. God has never been on the scale, so he is not even off the scale. He utterly transcends scales.” The reason for that we’re told again and again in the Psalms. The Psalms tell us, “… power belongs to God.” Now look at that. Look and wonder. “… power belongs to God” means not that God has more power than anything or anyone else, but that anyone or anything that has even an atom of power has it because God has delegated it to him. God has all the power.

Now this is an extremely practical teaching. How could Jesus Christ look Pilate right in the eye with calmness and with serenity when he knew Pilate was about to tear him apart and he had the power? Did he have the power? That’s what Pilate was saying: “I have the power to crush you.” Jesus looks at him calmly, not flippantly, because he knew Pilate had power. What did he say? Where did he get his calmness? He said, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.” Jesus says, “I know you have power. I respect that power, but you don’t have one atom more of it than what has been given to you.” All power belongs to him. That’s what we’re being told here. It’s incomparably great power.

Take a look at all the big power brokers of the world. I don’t mean the ones even now. Look at Alexander the Great, absolute monarch of all the Western world. Look at all the Caesars. Look at Hitler. Look at the incredibly wealthy people we’ve had in the history of the world. Do they really have power? Can they really determine the course of events in the world? It says here, “Jesus Christ is above every title.” Isaiah 40: “He brings the rulers to nothing.” Now that’s power. That’s power.

Friends, my question to you here is … Do you believe that? Now most of you have backgrounds where you have heard this. I think many of you probably do. If your background is Jewish, if your background is Roman Catholic, if your background is Protestant, you’ve heard this. That’s not what Paul is praying for here. Do you see what Paul is praying for? He is saying, “I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope … the riches … and his incomparably great power.”

You might know about this power, but do you know it the way Jesus knew it? Do you grasp it? Has it sunk in? Do you act on it? Does it affect the way in which you deal with powerful people? Does it affect the way in which you deal with your fears? Has it radically changed your priorities?

Even further, is it flowing through you? Because it says here in verse 19, “… his incomparably great power for us who believe.” For us. It’s the little Greek word eis, which means through or within. Paul means here that the power of God can come through us. You can thrill under it. It can surge through you, and you can become effective, because that’s what power is: the ability to act, the ability to bring about effect, the ability to bring about impact. Now the question is … Do you know this and not just know about it? That’s a pretty good question. Could you look at Pilate in the eye like Jesus did?

If you’re going to know it, you need to take a look at the passage. The passage tells you a lot, but it tells you three things we’re going to look at tonight. Those three things are first of all this is resurrection power. Secondly, it tells us this is headship power. It only comes to people through the headship of Jesus. Thirdly, it’s power that only comes to people born again by the Spirit. It’s resurrection power, it’s headship power, and it’s spiritual power. I’ll explain that as we go along. Let’s roll.

1. Resurrection power

Paul says, “Let me tell you about the incomparably great power of God. This is the power he used to do what? To raise Jesus Christ from the dead and seat him at the right hand above all rule and authority and power and dominion.” Now why does Paul use that illustration? After all, why didn’t he say, “This is the great power God used to put the planets in orbit?” Now that’s pretty powerful. “This is the power God used to scatter the stars across the heavens.” That’s pretty powerful.

No, he goes to the resurrection of Jesus, and here’s why. Of all the powers you can find in the world, there is no power like death. Why does a hurricane have power at all? Why do we say a hurricane is powerful? Because it has some of the power of death. It can kill. Mankind can harness some of the power of creation. We can split the atom. We can do all that, but we will always die.

Don’t you realize, therefore, death is the main power that is arrayed against us? The Bible calls it the last enemy. If you could lick that power, the power of death, don’t you realize there would be no other power that would be a match for you? If you could lick the power of death … do you want a sunny vacation? You could go to the sun and camp out there for the weekend. If you licked that, there would be no other power.

That’s exactly what God did. He snapped the power of death. In Acts 2, Peter says, “But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” It was impossible. That’s why Paul can say, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” That is a taunt, and that is incredible. That’s absolutely incredible that someone can taunt death. There are all kinds of other things which are very, very powerful. A supernova is nothing like death.

This is a letter from a young Lutheran German minister who was put to death in a Nazi death camp. This letter was published after the war. He is not famous. You’ve never heard of him. His name is Hermann. This is what he wrote to his parents the day he died. Listen to this.

When this letter comes into your hands I shall no longer be among the living. The thing that has occupied our thoughts constantly for many months … is now about to happen. If you ask me what state I am in I can only answer: I am, first, in a joyous mood and, second, filled with a great anticipation. ‘God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes.’ What consolation, what marvelous strength emanates from Christ. I am amazed. In Christ I have put my faith, and precisely today I have faith in him more firmly than ever.

My parents, look up the following passages: 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 14:8. Look anywhere you want in the Bible, and everywhere I find jubilation over the grace that makes us children of God. What can really happen to a child of God? Of what indeed should I be afraid? Everything that till now I have done, struggled for, and accomplished, has at bottom been directed to this one goal, whose barrier I shall penetrate today. “Eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither has entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for them that love him.”

For me, believing will become seeing; hope will become possession, and I shall forever share in Him who is love. Should I not, then, be filled with anticipation? What is it all going to be like? The things that up to this time I have been permitted to preach about, I shall now see. There will be no more secrets nor tormenting puzzles. Today is the great day … From the very beginning I have put everything into the hands of God, and now he demands this end of me. Good. His will be done. And so, until we meet again above, in the presence of the Father of light. Your joyful, Hermann.

I don’t know. I hope I could write a letter like that. What kind of power can enable a human being to laugh in the face of death? When Paul says, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” that’s mockery. That is scorn. That’s humor. That’s incredible. That’s why Paul picks out the resurrection.

Here’s the weird part, and here’s the staggering part. He is trying to show us that the power that is working eis (in us, through us), that’s surging through us if we have Jesus Christ as our Savior, is this resurrection power. What Paul is saying is, “This is the way you measure it. The resurrection is the unit by which you can measure the power in us.” That is incredible.

A unit of measurement is important. If I say, “Do you know how much this book weighs?” and you say, “How much?” and I say, “It weighs five,” that doesn’t help you much, does it? You say, “I want to know what your terms of measurement are. Do you mean five ounces? Do you mean five tons? Wow. Do you mean five pounds?” You have to know what the unit of measurement is.

Paul is saying right here, “This is the unit. This is the only way you can measure it. Death-breaking resurrection power, the same stuff that raised Jesus from the dead when death itself, with all of its fury and all of its power and all of its inevitable strength, tried to bind Jesus up. He broke the bands of death like a thread. That’s what’s in your life now. It’s the only way to measure it.”

That means the things of death in your life, the decay, the destructive emotions and habits, the addictions, the confusions, the brokenness … Even though the power of death is gradually being broken so sometimes it’s here, sometimes it’s greater, and sometimes it’s less, eventually the power of the resurrection will be ascendant in your life.” Will be ascendant in your life.

Why do you think Paul can write the whole Philippian church and he can say, “[I am sure] that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus?” How can he be so sure about that? A lot of you aren’t sure at all about that, are you? You say, “I know God began a good work in me, but I have screwed up so badly. I don’t have the confidence God will ever bring it to completion.”

Do you know why? Do you know why Paul is sure and why you’re not? Because Paul knows the power of God, the incomparably great power of God, and you don’t. At least you’re not thinking it out. You might know about it, but you don’t know it. Do you rejoice in that? Do you understand that? Do you realize that’s what’s in you? Death-breaking power?

2. Headship power

Verse 22: “And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” If you look carefully you’ll see something very interesting. Jesus is said here to be a head over the world and over the church. It says here he is ruling over everything. He is head over all things for us. So there is a sense in which he is directing everything for us. Yet this verse also tells us we are part of his body. It’s talking about the very important Pauline teaching that Jesus is the head and we are part of his body, the church.

So we see here two kinds of power. There’s a power God exercises for us by ordering everything in the world for us, and there’s a power God exercises in us. There’s an external kind of power, and there’s an internal kind. There’s a power he operates in the world, and there’s a power he operates in us. Look at those. They’re both kinds of headship.

First of all, do you see what it says? Let’s drink this one in. “God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church …” This is nothing less than Romans 8:28, that great promise, “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” All things work together for good. This is saying if you belong to him, everything that happens out there is happening is for you.

Now it’s very seldom we can see how that works. Occasionally God pulls the curtain back and we get a glimpse of him. I remember when I first came to my first church in Virginia. It was a little Presbyterian church that was struggling, and they were so happy to get a pastor. I was so desperate that I took the church. They were just amazed they got a pastor. Of course there were just one or two desperate enough people to take it.

I remember one day getting up, trying to explain this passage, and saying to them, “Listen, friends, do you know why I’m here? I’m glad I’m here. You’re glad I’m here. I’m glad I’m here. It has worked out beautifully. It’s because at the very end of my seminary career I decided to become a Presbyterian. That’s why I could go to a Presbyterian church. Do you know why I decided to be Presbyterian?

Because I fell under the influence of a particular teacher my last semester at seminary. Do you know why I fell under that man’s influence? He came from England after having tremendous visa problems (and probably wasn’t going to get there until the following year). At the last minute somebody cut through the red tape. He came, and I fell under his influence. Do you know why the red tape was cut? The dean of my seminary was on his knees praying about how we were going to get this guy over here when Mike Ford, Gerald Ford’s son, walked in and asked him what he was praying for. Mike Ford was a student at the seminary at that time.

Do you know why Mike Ford was able to cut the red tape? Because his father was the president. Do you know why his father was the president? Because Nixon had resigned. Do you know why Nixon resigned? Because of the Watergate scandal. Do you know why there was a Watergate scandal? Because one day a guard noticed in the Watergate building a particular door ajar that should have been closed.

Who knows why? Maybe that day he took a drink at the water fountain he shouldn’t have, and he just happened to notice it.” I looked at my people, and I said, “What am I doing here? Watergate was for you. Watergate was for me.” Occasionally God rips aside the veil, and you begin to see this very fact: All things happen for you. All things. Everything is knit together.

Christianity is a unique religion. The Bible tells us the way in which God operates is utterly different than what either Western religions or Eastern religions say. Just give me a minute about this. That’s all. Western religions in general have said, “You are in charge of your own destiny. You make your choices. If they’re good choices you ascend; if they’re bad choices you descend.” The people who really like that approach to life say, “Yeah. I get where I get because of my choices.” The successful, famous, and well-off people have always believed that, and of course poor people have always been uptight about that.

Have any of you been reading the New York Times magazine recently? There was an interesting article about Oprah Winfrey a few weeks ago. She said, “I got up there because I made the right choices. I got in touch with who I was.” Just this week there have already been letters saying, “She is giving us the impression that those of us who haven’t come to the top just weren’t as wonderful and as in touch with ourselves as she was.”

The people who have always hit that free will stuff and said, “Yeah, it’s all a matter of free will,” are always the ones on the top. The people who are underneath realize an awful lot of it seems to be breaks, an awful lot of it seems to be who you know, where you were, where you born, who your parents were and all that, and they get irked at that theory of why some people are on the top and some people are on the bottom.

Eastern religions have always been very fatalistic. They’ve always had a tendency to say, “Look. There is this great thing called fate. Nobody can do anything about it. All your choices are for naught because where you go is just determined by the faceless fate.” Christianity will have neither of those things.

Christianity says, “The answer to what Oprah Winfrey is talking about, the answer to what the Eastern religions are talking about, the thing that liberates and brings it all together is the incomparably great power of God.” 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.

Jacob lied to his father, Isaac, and wanted his birthright. He cheated his older brother out of it. Because he cheated, because he lied, he had to flee from his family. Was he guilty? Yes. Did he experience pain in his life because of that choice? Yes. Was he punished for it? Yes. But because he sinned he went and found his wife, Rachel, through whom the Messiah came. Was it all right then that he sinned?

No, but don’t you see because Jacob sinned, though God held him responsible for that choice, did that put him on an eternal plan B? Did he say, “I’ve ruined it from now on because of this sin. God will never give me the best?” My friends, no. When he sinned he went into the best for him. God is far greater than your stupid choices.

Peter says in Acts 2:23 to the people he is talking to, “[Jesus Christ] was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death …” Now wait a minute. You’re wicked for putting him to death, and yet it was all purposed by God. How could they both be? Because we don’t have a mechanistic, impersonal universe; we have a God who’s infinitely wise and incomparably powerful, who is able to work all things together for you.

Now my friends, don’t you see? Yeah, you can scratch your head a little bit and say, “I don’t see how it all connects,” but this liberates, because if I really thought it was all a matter of my choices, that all of my destiny, everything that happened depended on my good choices, I wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning. I’d be afraid. “Which side of the bed should I get up out of?” The guard who found the Watergate door open … That was just because maybe he was 10 seconds later that day or something. I’d be scared to death. If I thought it was all fate, why get out of bed? If I feel like killing and maiming and raping, why not do that? Who cares?

By the way those famous people, when you see them interviewed, go one side or the other. They either say, “It was because I was so brilliant and I made the right choices,” or they’ll say, “I was destined for greatness.” Neither of those is a Christian understanding. Neither of those takes into consideration the incomparably great power of God. Fear gnaws those people because if it was because of your great choices, you ought to always be scared. What if you can’t keep it up? If you’ve made it as a great comic, you ought to be always gnawed with fear because what if tomorrow you can’t think of any more good jokes?

On the other hand, if you think it’s just destiny, you would be always gnawed with fear because what happens if fate just turns you away? “Is it me or is it impersonal fate?” It’s the incomparably great power of God, and that power is bent on your joy and benefit. “All things work together for good …” That gives us responsibility, but man does that give us security. Do you know the power of God? Do you not just know about it? Do you build your life on it? Do you draw your strength from it? That’s what Paul is talking about here. Do you see he is head over all things for the church? Do you have that?

There is another kind of headship: We are his body. That is something amazing. This image is my head, my body. I know it’s not a really good example, but it’s the one I have in hand. The head relates to the body, first of all in the sense of authority. Of course your body does what your head tells you. If it doesn’t it’s a disease. It’s a pathology. But that’s not all headship means.

Headship doesn’t just mean authority; it also means intimacy, because the body and the head participate in the same life. A head is not sewn on to the body nor a body sewn on to a head. It’s not stapled together, but it’s combined by living tissue. Now this gets to the essence of what a Christian is. I don’t know what you think the essence of a Christian is. I’ll tell you what it’s not. Some people say, “The essence of being a Christian is being American or European or Western.”

There are international people who come here all the time to study, and they come to church. Why? Because they’re studying American culture. They say, “Well I come from a Muslim land,” or, “I come from a Hindu land, and you’re in a Christian land. So if I want to understand your culture, I have to understand your religion,” because they see Christianity as being an aspect of culture. Not at all. Christianity can be the heart of any culture, but Christianity is not simply a sociological phenomenon.

Some people think the essence of Christianity is to believe the truth. Of course that is a big part of being a Christian, but there are plenty of people who are orthodox in their doctrine all for the wrong reasons. I know plenty of people who were taught good theology and doctrine as children. They grew up, and the reason I believe they adhere to that doctrine is because of nostalgia. It reminds them of a time when they were cared for. They think of their parents, and so they just feel good listening to the words come out. “I believe in the Ten Commandments. I believe in the Sermon on the Mount. I believe in the Bible.” There is no power in the person’s life.

Some people say, “Being a Christian is following the ideals of Christ.” That’s part of it too, but none of these things get at the essence of what it means to be a Christian. It’s silly to say, “A Christian is someone who follows Jesus’ example or who believes Jesus’ words,” as to say, “A doctor is somebody who wears a white coat.” Now it’s true that a lot of doctors wear white coats, but that’s not the definition of a doctor because there are a lot of other people who wear white coats besides doctors. It’s an incidental thing.

The essence of being a Christian is you’re in the body. I’ll put it another way. There was an old Scotsman named Scougal who wrote a book 200 years ago titled The Life of God in the Soul of Man. That is the essence of being a Christian. The essence of Christianity is the life of God, the power of God, the nature of God, has actually come into your life.

It says in 2 Peter 1:4, “[We are made] partakers of the divine nature …” Now that’s incredible. That means the lifeblood of God comes in. That’s the reason the Bible sometimes talks about Christians being people who are reborn, regenerated, living. The lifeblood, the life-substance of God comes into our lives so we’re renewed. It’s so stupid to do what some people do, and that is to talk about two kinds of Christians. You have the kind who believe and they follow the teachings of Christ, and then there are the “born again” variety. The “born again” variety is the intense types who insist on an emotional experience.

My friends, the Bible says you’re not a Christian at all unless he is your head. That means his life has come into you so his heart now beats through your heart so you feel what he feels, you love what he loves, and you hate what he hates. His mind penetrates your mind so you see what he sees with clarity. His character comes in so you begin to act like him. He is your head. The power comes through. That’s the only kind of Christian there is, and that’s the essence of it: the life of God in the soul of man.

That’s the reason why you have this incredible word right here: “… which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” Do you know what that is? Fullness is the word pleroma. The best way I can do this quickly is to tell you fullness means we are his glory. One of the best ways to translate it is to say, “He comes into his own through us.” When you say, “A ballplayer has come into his own,” what you mean is his talent was always there, but now everybody sees it. He has come into his own. What this is saying is Jesus Christ is glorified by revealing who he is through us. That is a remarkable statement. That’s scary.

Here’s the best illustration I can give you. When your children do something that is praiseworthy (if you haven’t had children, you have no idea), it astonishes you how good you feel about yourself. It’s totally irrational, but you feel, “Hey, it makes me feel great. They’re beautiful. I feel beautiful.” When your children do something shameful, you’re so cast down because if your children are ugly, it says to the world, “He is ugly.” If your children are beautiful, it says to the world, “He is beautiful.” There is that link. “They’re my fullness.”

This claim is both exciting and also scary. It means, on the one hand, God can reproduce Jesus’ glory in you, breath of Spirit, infectious joy. Nobility and love can happen in you. It also means the way in which you act tells the world what Jesus looks like. He chooses for it to be like that. That means when you’re ugly you’re saying to the world, “This is what Jesus is like.” Let me underline something … let me even say it loud. To the extent that you grasp this truth, you will receive power not to sin. Do you hear it? I have to get your attention. I know it’s late here. To the extent that you understand that and grasp that truth, you receive power not to sin. Fullness.

Paul says, “I don’t want you to just know about this; I want you to know it.” Do you know how you know something? You work it in two ways. Number one, you work it in by thinking it out, living in a holy consciousness of it, praying over it, and reflecting it until your heart gets big with it.

I’ll tell you another way in which you know something is you step out and act on it. Philippians 2 says, “… work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” What that means is don’t sit here and say, “I’ll do it as soon as I feel the power surge.” It says, “Work out, for God is at work.” It says, “Go do it. Step out. The power comes in the doing. Don’t wait to feel the power. The power comes in the obedience.”

In Romans and in Hebrews when Abraham was told by God to offer Isaac up, we’re told Abraham looked and he was persuaded that God had the power to raise Isaac up from the dead. So he gave glory to God, and he did not stagger at the Word of God. Now what do you think Abraham did there? Do you feel like Abraham got up that morning ready to sacrifice his son and said, “Ah, I just feel the power of God surging through me. I can’t wait to get up there and see what God is going to do in the mountain?” No. What he did was he thought about it.

This is what you have to do. There is no excuse here. Don’t you dare go away saying, “Look, this is a lot of great talk, but frankly I know about the power of God. It’s all abstract, but I don’t know this kind of power in my life. I guess I’ll just have to wait around until the bolt hits.” No. We’re told Abraham got up and he was persuaded. He thought it out. He saw how God’s power bore on his situation, and he acted on it.

Do you think he felt good? It wasn’t until he got to the mountain. When he got up there, he was about to sacrifice Isaac, God showed him the provision, and he gave him the ram to sacrifice instead of Isaac, they named that place The Lord Will Provide. What is that? Jehovah-jireh. In the mouth of the Lord it will be revealed. You won’t find the power until you get to the mountain. You have to be willing to go. You have to be willing to act. Stretch, act.

If you do, you’ll know an honor you’ve never known before. You’ll see growth you’ve never known before. This is the power of God in you, and it has his holiness in you. I don’t care how bad your problems are. I don’t care how bad your habits are. This life that comes in is potent. It’s omnipotent. It’s like acid. Acid must turn whatever it touches into its own image. The holy life of God must overcome the distorted and the evil parts of you.

3. Spiritual power

Friends, this power belongs to those who do what I said, but also it belongs only to people who are born again by the Spirit. Let me just read you verses 15 and 16. Paul says, “… since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus … I have not stopped giving thanks for you … I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation …”

Do you see he doesn’t pray for them and he is not praying for you until he heard about their faith in Jesus Christ? Don’t you see this is only for people with faith in Jesus? What does that mean? It’s nothing mysterious. Some churches teach if you want to be right with God you need Jesus and the sacraments. Some say you need Jesus and good works. Some say you need Jesus and my course on how to be filled with God. Paul says, “It’s faith in Jesus. A Christian is somebody who says, ‘Jesus is my all. The reason I belong to God is because of what Jesus did for me and nothing else.’ If that’s your condition, this is available. It’s available.”

Not one of his promises will fall to the ground because of this power. His promises are so strange. They say, “I’ll give you the bright morning star. All things work out together for good to them who love God. Anyone who gives up lands and family and riches on earth, I’ll give you land and family and riches here and in the world to come, eternal life.” All these promises are incredible, and frankly I don’t know what the heck they mean. But who cares? We’ll never find out what they mean until we trust. The reason they look so strange to us is because we’re sitting back and waiting. Do you know the incomparably great power of God?

*Sermon delivered at Redeemer Presbyterian Church on July 9, 1989.

ABOUT THE PREACHER

In 1989 Dr. Timothy J. Keller, his wife and three young sons moved to New York City to begin Redeemer Presbyterian Church. In 20 years it has grown to meeting for five services at three sites with a weekly attendance of over 5,000. Redeemer is notable not only for winning skeptical New Yorkers to faith, but also for partnering with other churches to do both mercy ministry and church planting.  Redeemer City to City is working to help establish hundreds of new multi-ethnic congregations throughout the city and other global cities in the next decades.

Dr. Tim Keller is the author of several phenomenal Christo-centric books including:

Joy for the World: How Christianity Lost Its Cultural Influence and Can Begin Rebuilding It (co-authored with Greg Forster and Collin Hanson (February or March, 2014).

Encounters with Jesus:Unexpected Answers to Life’s Biggest Questions. New York, Dutton (November 2013).

Walking with God through Pain and Suffering. New York, Dutton (October 2013).

Judges For You (God’s Word For You Series). The Good Book Company (August 6, 2013).

Galatians For You (God’s Word For You Series). The Good Book Company (February 11, 2013).

Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Plan for the World. New York, Penguin Publishing, November, 2012.

Center ChurchDoing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, September, 2012.

The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness. New York: 10 Publishing, April 2012.

Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just. New York: Riverhead Trade, August, 2012.

The Gospel As Center: Renewing Our Faith and Reforming Our Ministry Practices (editor and contributor). Wheaton: Crossway, 2012.

The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. New York, Dutton, 2011.

King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus (Retitled: Jesus the KIng: Understanding the Life and Death of the Son of God). New York, Dutton, 2011.

Gospel in Life Study Guide: Grace Changes Everything. Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2010.

The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York, Dutton, 2009.

Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Priorities of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters. New York, Riverhead Trade, 2009.

Heralds of the King: Christ Centered Sermons in the Tradition of Edmund P. Clowney (contributor). Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2009.

The Prodigal God. New York, Dutton, 2008.

Worship By The Book (contributor). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.

Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1997.

 
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Posted by on October 27, 2013 in Sermons, Tim Keller

 

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Tim Keller’s 5 Steps to a Wise and Godly Life from Proverbs

Proverbs: A Mini Guide to LIfe

There are five things that comprise a wise, godly life. They function both as means to becoming wise and godly as well as signs that you are growing into such a life:

1. Put your heart’s deepest trust in God and his grace. Every day remind yourself of his unconditioned, covenantal love for you. Do not instead put your hopes in idols or in your own performance.

“Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man. Trust in the LORD with all your heart.” (Proverbs 3:3-5a)

2. Submit your whole mind to the Scripture. Don’t think you know better than God’s word. Bring it to bear on every area of life. Become a person under authority.

“Lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” (Proverbs 3:5b-6)

3. Be humble and teachable toward others. Be forgiving and understanding when you want to be critical of them; be ready to learn from others when they come to be critical of you.

“Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil. This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.” (Proverbs 3:7-8)

4. Be generous with all your possessions, and passionate about justice. Share your time, talent, and treasure with those who have less.

“Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the first fruits of all your crops; then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.” (Proverbs 3:9-10)

5. Accept and learn from difficulties and suffering. Through the gospel, recognize them as not punishment, but a way of refining you.

“My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.” (Proverbs 3:10-11)

As I meditated on these five elements–rooted in his grace, obeying and delighting in his Word, humble before other people, sacrificially generous toward our neighbor, and steadfast in trials–I thought of Jesus.

The New Testament tells us that the personified ‘divine wisdom’ of the Old Testament is actually Jesus.

The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.” (Matthew 11:19)

And I realized that:

a) Jesus showed the ultimate trust and faithfulness to God and to us by going to the cross,

b) Jesus was saturated with and shaped by Scripture,

c) Jesus was meek and lowly in heart

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30),

d) Jesus, though rich, became poor for us,

e) and he bore his suffering, for us, without complaint. We can only grow in these five areas if you know you are saved by costly grace. That keeps you from idols, from self-sufficiency and pride, from selfishness with your things, and from crumbling under troubles. Jesus is wisdom personified, and believing his gospel brings these character qualities into your life.

For a number of weeks I have been spending time praying for these five things for my family and my church leaders. There’s no better way to instill these great things in your own heart, than to pray intensely for them in the lives of those you love.

– Tim Keller, Excerpted from the March 16, 2010 post on RCTC – http://redeemercitytocity.com/blog/view.jsp?Blog_param=146; Click on this link: Proverbs: A Mini-Guide to Life

 About Dr. Tim Keller

In 1989 Dr. Timothy J. Keller, his wife and three young sons moved to New York City to begin Redeemer Presbyterian Church. In 20 years it has grown to meeting for five services at three sites with a weekly attendance of over 5,000. 
Redeemer is notable not only for winning skeptical New Yorkers to faith, but also for partnering with other churches to do both mercy ministry and church planting. Redeemer City to City is working to help establish hundreds of new multi-ethnic congregations throughout the city and other global cities in the next decades.

 Books Authored By Dr. Tim Keller:

Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Plan for the World. New York, Penguin Publishing, November, 2012.

Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, September, 2012.

The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness. New York: 10 Publishing, April 2012.

Generous Justice: How God’s Grace Makes Us Just. New York: Riverhead Trade, August, 2012.

The Gospel As Center: Renewing Our Faith and Reforming Our Ministry Practices (editor and contributor). Wheaton: Crossway, 2012.

The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God. New York, Dutton, 2011.

The Prodigal God. New York, Dutton, 2011.

King’s Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus. New York, Dutton, 2011.

Counterfeit Gods: The Empty Priorities of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters. New York, Riverhead Trade, 2011.

The Reason For God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. New York, Dutton, 2009.

Worship By The Book (contributor). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002.

Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road. Phillipsburg: P&R Publishing, 1997.

 

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Tim Keller: An Agenda for Recovering Christianity in America

See part one in this series, Why Is Christianity on Decline in America?

Part 2: In the Discussion of Ross Douthat’s “Bad Religion” by Dr. Tim Keller

Ross Douthat’s Bad Religion attributes Christianity’s decline in the United States to:

(1)  political polarization that has sucked churches into its vortex;

(2)  the sexual revolution that has undermined the plausibility of Christian faith and practice for an entire generation;

(3)  globalization that has made the exclusive claims of Christianity seem highly oppressive;

(4)  materialism and consumerism that undermines commitment to anything higher than the self; and

(5)  alienation of the cultural elites and culture-shaping institutions from Christianity.

What, if anything, can we do about the decline of Christianity? This question has triggered an entire generation of books and blogs. Douthat’s book is mainly descriptive and critical. He even admits that the book was “written in a spirit of pessimism.” Yet he rightly responds that for any Christian, “pessimism should always be provisional.” So in his last chapter he very briefly proposes four factors that could lead to the “recovery of Christianity.”

First, he speaks of the “postmodern opportunity.” The same relativism and rootlessness that has weakened the church is also proving exhausting rather than liberating to many in our society. Even in the academy, postmodern theory is now widely seen as being in eclipse, and there is no “next big thing” on the horizon. Douthat wonders about the possibility of a kind of revolution from above—that is, a revival of Christianity among cultural elites.

Second, he notes the opposite impulse at work, the “Benedict option”—a new monasticism that does not seek engagement with culture but rather the formation of counter-cultural communities that “stand apart . . . and inspire by example rather than by engagement.” Douthat suggests that these first two measures should not be seen as completely opposed and, indeed, could benefit by being paired with one another, otherwise engaging the culture can become accommodation and being an example can become separatism and sectarianism.

Third, he cites “the next Christendom,” meaning the explosively growing Christian churches of the former Third World could evangelize the West. Under the first two proposals Douthat can name some existing efforts that hold promise, but this factor is much more than a dream. In European and North American cities literally thousands of new churches and missions have already begun under the leadership of African, Latin American, and Asian Christians.

Finally, he proposes that “an age of diminished [economic] expectations”—along with the devastation of the sexual revolution and the exhaustion of postmodern rootlessness—could lead to the masses again looking to Christianity for hope and help. A church that could welcome them, he warns, would need three qualities. First, it would have to be political without being partisan. That is, it would have to equip all its members to be culturally engaged through vocation and civic involvement without identifying corporately with one political party. Second, it would have to be confessional yet ecumenical. That is, the church would have to be fully orthodox within its theological and ecclesiastical tradition yet not narrow and harsh toward other kinds of Christians. It should be especially desirous of cooperation with non-Western Christian leaders and churches. Third, the church would not only have to preach the Word faithfully, but also be committed to beauty and sanctity, the arts, and human rights for all. In this brief section he sounds a lot like Lesslie Newbigin and James Hunter, who have described a church that can have a “missionary encounter with Western culture.”

It is worth noting that each of these positive measures takes aim at one or two of the factors that have led to decline. The Benedict option seeks to break the hold of political polarization on the church. The postmodern opportunity aims to re-engage the cultural elites. The next Christendom has already strongly undermined the contention that Christianity merely reflects Western culture and imperialism. And if there is an “age of diminished expectations,” it could erode both the materialism and even the sexual licentiousness (which always works best in the midst of material plenty) that have undermined faith.

But how successful will these be? I don’t know, but I think these are the right strategies and responses. Why? First, each of the proposals addresses one of the five barriers to faith in our culture, so we should at least attempt to deal with them. Second, though treated briefly, these are essentially the same ideas that others such as Newbigin and Hunter have proposed. That confirms them in my mind. Third, as many readers know, I simply think these are features of a biblical ministry.

Near the very end of this book, Douthat (whom I have not met as of this writing) very kindly used our Redeemer Presbyterian Church as a good example of some of the things he proposes for the church in our time. When I read it I was startled, then humbled, then strongly overwhelmed by a sense that, for all God’s kindness to us over the years, we at Redeemer are so far from realizing our goals and aims. It actually discouraged me for several days until I noticed a little quote by G. K. Chesterton that Douthat cites near the end of his book. In The Everlasting Man Chesterton surveys the many forces over the last 2,000 years that threatened and should have destroyed Christianity.

“‘Time and again,’ Chesterton noted, ‘the Faith has to all appearances gone to the dogs.’ But each time, ‘it was the dog that died.'”

This post is from Tim Keller’s blog at Redeemer City to City.

About Dr. Tim Keller: He was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and educated at Bucknell University, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary. He was first a pastor in Hopewell, Virginia. In 1989 he started Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan with his wife, Kathy, and their three sons. Today, Redeemer has more than five thousand regular attendees at five services, a host of daughter churches, and is planting churches in large cities throughout the world. He is the author of a study of Mark entitled King’s Cross; The Prodigal God based on Luke 15; The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness; Generous Justice; Counterfeit Gods; Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho RoadThe Meaning of Marriage; a wonderful small group study entitled Gospel In Life; and the New York Times bestseller The Reason for God; & the forthcoming Center Church (August 2012). Tim has a passion for Jesus Christ, making the Gospel clear, church planting, and reaching cities for Christ. If you really want to understand the gospel, and how grace applies to all of life I urge you to devour his books and sermons!

 

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Tim Keller on 7 Ministry Applications of the Gospel

These wonderful excerpts from a sermon on 1 Peter 1:1-12 and 1:22-2:12 were given in “The Spurgeon Fellowship Journal – Spring 2008.” I appreciate the wonderful abilities that Tim Keller has to explain, elucidate, and illuminate on the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. There is great food for thought here, and wonderful implications for living out the gospel in ministry – enjoy! – Dr. David P. Craig

 Tim Keller on Gospel-Centered Ministry

I am here to talk to you about what ministry shaped by the gospel, profoundly shaped by the gospel, really looks like . . .

In this letter, Peter was not writing to the same type of situation Paul addressed in his letter to the Corinthians. Paul was writing into a situation where there were doctrinal fractions, divisions, and party divisiveness . . . Peter was speaking to a persecuted church – a church which was both passively and actively persecuted . . . they were being beset by a culture around them with very different values that they do not know how to relate to. So, of course, you can never divide the doctrinal from the practical issues. However, I would say that Peter here was less concerned about expounding on the content of the gospel as Paul was in 1 Corinthians 15. I’ll show how the gospel should shape the way in which we live, our ministry, and how the church operates as a community.

When I was looking through 1 Peter 1 and 2, I found seven features that Peter uses to describe the gospel . . . Since everything in these seven points has already been explicated in the previous sermon, I am simply going to draw out the implications for ministry. I am going to read a nice long section: 1 Peter 1:1-12, 1:22-2:12. Chapters one and two are remarkable at giving you all the features of the gospel and helping us to understand the ministry implications:

“Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, to those who are elect exiles of the dispersion in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: may grace and peace be multiplied to you. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!

According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith— more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully, inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look.

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for “All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls, but the word of the Lord remains forever.” And this word is the good news that was preached to you. So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 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. As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture:

“Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”

I hate to do what I am about to do, which is a “fly-over.” I hate to go by some of these verses. These verses are deep wells, as we know. I know at least three or four men of God who would probably base their entire lives on one or two of these verses. I thought of Ed Clowney as I went by verses 2 and 9. Nevertheless, we are here for an overview. And therefore, I would suggest to you that Peter shows us in these two chapters that there are seven features of the gospel that we have to tease out of the ministry. I will say them here so you can write them down.

The gospel is: (1) historical, (2) doxological, (3) Christocentrical, (4) personal, (5) cultural, to quote Don Carson, (6) “massively transformational,” and (7) wonderful. Each one has a ministry implication.

(1) The gospel is historical . . . The word “gospel” shows up twice. Gospel actually means “good news.” You see it spelled out a little bit when it says “he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ”. Why do we say that the gospel is good news? Some years ago, I heard a tape series I am sure was never put into print by Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones. It was an evening sermon series on 1 Corinthians 15. He clarified how the Gospel is based on historical events in how the religion got its start. He said there was a big difference between advice and news. The Gospel, he would say, is good news, but not good advice. Here’s what he said about that: “Advice is counsel about something that hasn’t happened yet, but you can do something about it. News is a report about something that has happened which you can’t do anything about because it has been done for you and all you can do is to respond to it.”

So he says think this out: here’s a king, and he goes into a battle against an invading army to defend his land. If the king defeats the invading army, he sends back to the capital city messengers, envoys, and very happy envoys. He sends back good newsers. And what they come back with is a report. They come back and they say: It’s been defeated and it’s been all done. Therefore respond with joy and now go about your lives in this peace which has been achieved for you. But if he doesn’t defeat the invading army, and the invading army breaks through, the king sends back military advisers and says . . . “Marksmen over here and the horseman over there, and we will have to fight for our lives.”

Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones says that every other religion sends military advisers to people. Every other religion says that if you want to achieve salvation, you will have to fight for your life. Every other religion is sending advice saying, “here are the rites, here are the rituals, here’s the transformation of the consciousness and here are the laws and the regulations. Marksmen over here and horsemen over there and we are going to fight for our lives.” We send heralds; we send messengers and not military advisers. Isn’t that clarifying? It’s just incredibly clarifying. And it’s not like there’s nothing to do about it, my goodness. Both the messenger and the military adviser get an enormous response. One is a response of joy and the other one is a response of fear. All other religions give advice and they drive everything you do with fear . . . as you know, when you hear the gospel, when you hear the message that it’s all been done for you, it’s a historical event that has happened, your salvation is accomplished for you, what do you want to do? You want to obey the Ten Commandments, you want to pray, and you want to please the one that did this for you.

If, on the other hand, military advisers say you have to live a really good life if you want to get into heaven, what do you do? You want to pray and you want to obey the Ten Commandments. It looks the same, doesn’t it? But for two radically different reasons: One is joy and the other one is fear. In the short run, they look alike. But in the long run, over here we have burn out and self-righteousness and guilt and all sorts of problems. And that’s fascinating.

But having said that, what’s the ministry implication? The ministry implication is this: the significance of preaching, of proclamation, of declarative preaching, is irreplaceably central in Gospel ministry. Declarative preaching is irreplaceably central.

Why? If basically we are sending people “how to”, if we are saying here’s the “how to” to live the right way, if that’s the primary message, I am not sure words are necessarily the best thing to send. You want to send a model. If I were to teach an advanced seminar on preaching (and I never have) I would make everybody read CS Lewis’ Studies in Words. It’s amazing because we are wordsmiths and he shows you how important it is to craft your words properly. The last chapter is called “At the Fringe of Language” and he says language can’t do everything. He says that one of the things language cannot do is describe complex operations. On the other hand, when it comes to describing how, to explain to somebody that Joshua Chamberlain, without any ammunition, charged down Little Round Top in an incredible, risky adventure at the height of the Battle of Gettysburg, and as a result changed the course of history. You don’t show people that, you tell them that. It’s something that happened, you describe it. You tell them that. If you are going to give them how-tos, very often what you want is modeling and dialogue, action and reflection and so forth.

Therefore, if you believe the gospel is good news, declarative preaching (verbal proclaiming) will always be irreplaceably central to what we do. However, if you subscribe to the assertion that the gospel is simply good advice on how to live a life that changes people and connects to God . . . dialogue would be alright. Stories and modeling and reflection would be more important. In other words, you would believe what some people would quip: “proclaim the gospel, use words if necessary”. You’ve probably heard that. That shows, I think, that they don’t quite understand what the gospel is all about.

(2) The gospel is Doxological. The purpose of the gospel is not merely forgiveness of individuals, but to bring people to full flourishing through glorious worship. Now where do you see that?

Karen Jobs, in her commentary of 1 Peter, points out what all commentators point out, but I like the way she titled it. Chapter 1 verse 3 to verse 12 is all one sentence in Greek. Therefore, there is a main clause. All that follows are subordinate clauses to the main clause. Here is the main clause: “Praise be to the God and Father and our Lord Jesus Christ”. She entitled the whole section, (and that’s what I like about it), “Doxology and Basis for the Christian Life,” because everything in there, even the new birth, is to the praise of the glory of God. Now why is this so important?

One of the most life-changing and especially ministry-changing things in my life was reading Martin Luther’s “Larger Catechism” a few years ago. In “Larger Catechism,” he lays out his understanding of the Ten Commandments. Luther says that the first commandment is first because (he thinks) all the other commandments are based on it. In other words, when you break any of the commandments two through ten, you have already broken or are in the process of breaking commandment one. So, Martin Luther says you don’t lie unless you have already made something else more than God your functional savior; something else is your greatest joy. Why do you lie? You lie either because the approval of other people is more important than God’s or because money is more than the security you have in God. So you wouldn’t lie unless you already have first made something else more important than God in your life . . . something more fundamental to your meaningless in life or happiness or joy. And then Luther went one step further and said underneath every sin is idolatry in general. And underneath every idolatry in general is always some form of work-righteousness in general, in particular some kind of self-salvation project . . . whenever you make something more important than God, that thing is essentially a savior of your making.

Martin Luther says of the first commandment, you have to believe the Gospel. You can’t look to anything else for your justification . . . you have to believe in the Gospel and you can’t look to anything else for your justification . . . If he were here today, he would say that underneath everything from eating disorders to racism is a self-salvation project, a failure to believe in the Gospel, and is some form of idolatry. You have either made an idol of thinness . . . or of your race and your blood . . . your heart’s imagination is captured. Your heart is essentially adoring and dotting on something other than God . . .

Some years ago . . . I was talking to a young woman, a fifteen year-old girl in my church in Virginia . . . she was really struggling and said this: “I really understand this, I am a Christian. I have clothed myself in the righteousness of Christ, I have a guaranteed place in heaven, and I am the delight of the Father. But what good is that when the boys in high school won’t even look at me?” She was absolutely honest. You might say: is she even a Christian? Of course she was a Christian, as far as I can tell. If I look back on it and she looks back on it, there have been changes. Here’s the point: boys were on video, and God was on audio . . . if you have an audio and video happening at the same time, you know which one wins. Right?

Jonathan Edwards would say that the ultimate purpose of preaching is not just to make the truth clear, but also to make it real. Of course for it to be real, it’s got to be clear. If it’s confused . . . sorry, no worship happens. But you can’t stop there. We are, I think, afraid of the spirit of the age, of subjectivism, because we believe in objective truth. As a result, our expository messages are too cognitive. Jonathan Edwards did not tell stories, he was incredibly rational. But he was also unbelievably vivid. He was incredibly logical, and precise, and clear because he knew that unless the truth is clear, it will never be real. It’s got to be crystal clear, amazingly clear. But it also has to be vivid.

I don’t think this is going to be very easy. I see the narrative preaching approach which works superficially on people’s emotions. And you have a kind of an expository preaching that tends to be like a Bible commentary that works more on the head. But the heart is not exclusively the emotions, and certainly not just the intellect . . . Therefore, the preaching has to be gripping . . .

What I love about Edwards is how incredibly rational he is, how logical and persuasive he is and yet at the same time, so vivid. You go into his messages and there’s the sun, the moon, and the stars. There are mountains and dandelions . . . it’s just astounding . . . he understood that telling stories to tweak the emotions, is like putting dynamite on the face of the rock, blowing it up and shearing off the face but not really changing the life.

One the other hand, if you bore down into it with the truth, and put dynamite in there, if you are able to preach Christ vividly, and you are able to preach the truth practically and you are able to preach it out of a changed life and heart in yourself (which obviously isn’t the easiest thing by any means) then when there is an explosion, it really changes people’s lives. I don’t think we have the right end of the stick in general, either in the movement of the people who are working towards telling stories because they want to get people emotionally or working towards giving people the truth because they want to be sure that people are doctrinally sound.

The Doctor, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, was not a touchy-feely type . . . based on his understanding of Edwards, he asserts that the first and primary object of preaching is not to give information. It is, as Jonathan Edwards said, to produce an impression. This is the Doctor, now. It is the impression at the time that matters, even more than what you can remember subsequently. Edwards, in my opinion, understood the true notion of preaching. It is not primarily to impart information . . . while you write your notes, you may be missing something that will impact your spirit.

As preachers, we must not forget this. We should tell our people to read books at home and to take notes at home; the business of preaching is to make such knowledge live. Now, by the way, I don’t mind if people are taking notes in my sermons, in the first part of the sermon. But if you are still taking notes at the end of the sermon, I don’t think that I have made it home . . .

Thomas Chalmers puts it like this:

“It is seldom that any of our bad habits or flaws disappear by a mere nature process of natural extinction. At least it is very seldom it is done by the instrumentality of reasoning or by the force of mental determination. What cannot be destroyed however may be dispossessed. One case may be made to give away to another and to lose its power entirely has the reigning affect of the mind. Here’s an example: A youth may cease to idolize sensual pleasure but it is because of the idol of wealth. The desire to make money has gotten ascendancy, so he becomes disciplined. But the love of money might have ceased to be in his heart if he was draw to ideology and politics. Now he is lorded over by the love of power and moral superiority instead of wealth. But there is not one of these transformations in which the heart is left without an object. The human heart’s desire for one particular object is conquered. But its desire to have some object of adoration is unconquerable. The only way to dispossess the heart of all its affection is by the explosive power of a new one. Thus is it not enough to hold out to the world the mirror of its own imperfections, it is not enough to come forth with the demonstration . . . of the character of their enjoyment, it is not enough to just simply speak the conscience, to speak its follies. Rather, you must seek, as a preacher, every legitimate method of finding access to the heart for the love of Him who is greater than the world.”

(3) The gospel is Christocentrical. The gospel, as Don [D.A. Carson] pointed out, in a certain sense, the gospel is just Jesus. What is the gospel? It is who Jesus is and what He did for us. The Gospel is Jesus. Of course, you see this in 1 Peter 1:10 where it says, “About which salvation the prophets sought out and searched out, prophesying concerning the grace for you; searching for what, or what manner of time, the Spirit of Christ made clear within them, testifying beforehand of the sufferings of Christ, and the glories that should follow.”

What’s intriguing to me is this: reading in Luke and Acts how Jesus got His disciples together during the forty days before He ascended after He was resurrected. What was He doing? I am sure He was doing more than what we are told. But if you look in Luke 24, it looks like He was giving them a New Testament hermeneutical seminar. This should give professors a lot of hope . . . even Jesus thought running a seminar on hermeneutics was a good idea! If he was running them in those forty days, maybe it is a good idea to run them now. Basically, He was saying that everything in the Old Testament points to Him . . .

He told Cleopas and the other disciples on the road to Emmaus and in the upper room that everything in the Prophets and the Psalms and the Law points to Him. It’s intriguing, we see that in Luke and now here in 1 Peter we have an echo of it. Peter was in on that seminar . . . now he is explaining that concerning this salvation, the salvation of the gospel of Christ, the Prophets had the Holy Spirit in them pointing them towards Jesus . . . Peter is saying what Jesus was saying . . . that everything pointed towards Jesus. Every text in the Old Testament was pointing toward Jesus.

Now my ministry implication is this: The basic subject of every sermon ought to be Jesus, regardless of what passage is at hand. It doesn’t matter whether it is Old or New Testament; it’s got to be about Jesus. By the way, you might say this is only about Old Testament hermeneutics; no, you need to know that my friend Sinclair Ferguson says most evangelical ministers don’t preach Christ. Not only do they not preach Christ in the Old Testament . . . they don’t preach Christ in the New Testament. I will get back to this in a second.

I know this is somewhat of an internal debate here and I’ve got to be careful. I don’t want to be a party guy and say, “I follow Chapell, or I follow Goldsworthy.” And you know there are people who say that you preach everything in the Bible pointing to Jesus and there are other good men that just don’t think that’s right. You shouldn’t preach Christ from Jacob wrestling with God . . . you should preach about wrestling with God in prayer or suffering or something like that. Honestly, I believe those good and sincere men are wrong on the basis of reading the Bible and the understanding of hermeneutics and so on.

But part of this goes back, I remember, some years ago, to when I sat down with my wife. You know what that’s like – on the way home – after the sermon. First you are hoping she will say: “Great sermon, honey.” But if she doesn’t say anything, you fear the worst. I remember one day we really got into it. I said, “Let me ask you, how often do you think it was a great sermon? How many weeks out of the month?” And she said “no more than one in every four or five weeks.” So, we sat down and here’s what she said: “For a good part of your sermon, your sermons are great. They are rational and biblical, and they are exegetical. They show me how I should live, and what I should believe. But every so often – suddenly at the end – Jesus shows up. And when Jesus shows up, it suddenly becomes not a lecture but a sermon for me, because when you say this is what you ought to do, I think to myself, ‘I know, I know, okay. Now I am a little clearer about it and I am a little more guilty about it. Fine.’ But sometimes you get to the place where you say, ‘This is what you ought to do, though you really probably can’t do it; but there is one who did. And because He did it on our behalf, and because He did it in our place, we believe in Him. We will begin to be able to do it.’” This is true only to the degree that we understand what He did for us. And she says: “That’s different. One time out of four or five, your lecture becomes a sermon when Jesus shows up and I want to do that. I have hope. And I begin to see how I can do it.”

I really didn’t understand . . . but basically, now I do. Here’s the thing. Your preaching will never be doxological and it won’t be central unless it is Christocentric. Here’s why: if you tell people they need to be generous, and ask why they aren’t being more generous . . . I happen to know about people being generous. Sometimes you don’t know about the lust in someone’s heart week to week, but you know if people are being generous week to week.

Why aren’t people being more generous? Are they just being sinners? Let’s go back to Martin Luther. Let’s go back to the catechism. If you are not being generous, then there is something going on there, is there not? You are saying your status or your security, which is based on money, is very important to you. You need to be able to buy certain cloths and live in certain circles and go to certain places. Human approval, security, there’s idols underneath the lack of generosity. The money is more than just money. It’s security, it’s significance, it’s status. You’ve got to make more money, and then you will give it away.

How do you do that? You have to show that Jesus Christ is their true wealth. You have to show them what their idols are. You have to get to Jesus. As a result, if you don’t get there, you are going to find that you are wailing on people’s wills. You are beating on wills. Sinclair Ferguson wrote a book . . . called Preaching Christ in the Old Testament. And this is what he says: Not only do most ministers not preach Christ in the Old Testament; they don’t preach Christ from the New Testament. The preacher has looked into the text, even in the New Testament, to find himself and the congregation . . . not to find Christ. You can do this even in the New Testament, in the Gospels. The sermon, therefore, is consequently about the people in the Gospels and not the Christ in that Gospel. The more fundamental issue is this question: What is the Bible really about? Is the Bible basically about me and what I must do or is it about Jesus and what He has done? Is the Bible about the objective and indicative?

Here’s an example. Hermeneutics is important. You can’t just find Jesus in every little twig. And there needs to be a way where you are following the trajectory of the text no matter what that text is to Jesus. You have to show how Jesus is the ultimate fulfillment of that particular trajectory of the text. You’ve got to be responsible. And yet, like Sinclair said, it’s more like an instinct. It’s not so much just the right hermeneutical principles; it’s an instinct. Do you believe the Bible is basically about you or basically about Him? Is David and Goliath basically about you and how you can be like David and Goliath or about Him, the One that took on the only giants in life who can kill us? You see. And His victory is imputed on us. Who is this all about? That’s the fundamental question.

And when that happens, you start to read the bible anew. Jesus is the true and better Adam who passed the test in the garden. His garden is a much tougher garden and his obedience is imputed on us. Jesus is the true and better Abel, who though innocently slain has blood that cries out: not for our condemnation but for our acquittal. Jesus is the true and better Abraham, who answers the call of God, who leaves all the familiar comforts of the world into the void, not knowing where He went. Jesus is the true and better Isaac who is not only offered by his father on the mount but who was truly sacrificed for us all. While God said to Abraham: “Now I know you truly love me, because you did not withhold your son, your only son, from me.” Now we, at the foot of the cross, can say to God: “Now we know you love us because you did not withhold your Son, your only Son, whom you love, from us.”

Jesus is the true and better Jacob, who wrestled and took the blows of justice that we deserved so we like Jacob only receive the wounds of grace that wake us up and disciple us. Jesus is the true and better Joseph, who is at the right hand of the king, and forgives those who betrayed and sold him and uses his power to save them. Jesus is the true and better Moses, who stands in the gap between the people and the LORD and mediates the new covenant. Jesus is the true and better rock of Moses who struck with the rod of God’s justice now gives us water in the desert. Jesus is the true and better Job, He is the truly innocent sufferer who then intercedes for and saves His stupid friends. Is that a type? That’s not typology. That’s an instinct.

Jesus is the true and better David, whose victory becomes the people’s victory even though they didn’t lift a stone to accomplish it themselves. Jesus is the true and better Esther, who didn’t just risk losing an earthly palace but lost ultimately the heavenly one, who didn’t just risk His life but gave His life, who didn’t say if I perish I perish but when I perish, I perish for them . . . to save my people. Jesus is the true and better Jonah who was cast out into the storm so we can be brought in. He’s the real Passover Lamb; He’s the true temple, the true prophet, the true priest, the true king, the true sacrifice, the true lamb, the true life, the true bread. The Bible is not about you. And that’s an instinct.

Until that shows up in your sermons, it will be lectures and not sermons. It won’t be doxological, it won’t be central.

(4) The gospel is personal and individual. Don [D.A. Carson] already said this. In 1 Peter 1 and 2, we see a lot of references to the new birth. What does the new birth mean – think about the metaphor of the birth – you can’t make yourself a Christian? You can make yourself a Buddhist. You can make yourself a Muslim. You can make yourself an Atheist. But you can’t make yourself a Christian. To become a Christian, you have to be converted . . . notice that’s a passive. You don’t convert yourself, something happens to you. Through faith you’re born again. You are confronted with you sin in front of a holy and jealous God. And you see the provision. Now, that’s individual conversion. This is very important, at this moment, in all our lives as Christians, especially in North America, but I am sure in other places as well. There is an erosion in the confidence of the thing that I just said. It is the idea that we have sinned against a holy and jealous God, the wrath of God has to be satisfied, Jesus Christ stood in our place, substitutionary atonement is provided, and when we believe in this, both in His suffering and obedience is imputed to us . . .

J.I. Packer, in his little chapter on grace in Knowing God, said there are two things you have to know in order to understand the concept of grace. Grace isn’t the opposite of Law. First of all, you have to understand how lost you are, how bad you are, how dire your condition is, and how big the debt is. You have to understand that . . .

Now if somebody says, “I believe Jesus died for me, He shed His blood for me and I have given my life to Christ. I accepted Him; I walked forward and invited Him into my life,” but you don’t see any change in that person’s life, you don’t see identify shifting, behavior transformation and joy, what’s the problem? It’s clear that this person doesn’t understand the size of the debt, and therefore the size of the payment . . . Jim Packer used to say to understand grace, and for grace to be transforming, first you have to understand the debt.

The second thing you have to understand, besides the size of the debt, is the magnitude of the provision. There are people who do understand that they are pretty bad. They do understand how flawed they are. They do understand how far short they fall. But they aren’t convinced of the magnitude, sufficiency, freeness, and fullness of the provision. They may only believe that Jesus died the death that we should have died. And maybe they also don’t believe Jesus lived the life that we should have lived . . . And you also see Pharisees – people who are really under the burden of guilt. As a result, they are withdrawn and hostile and moralistic and legalistic. And we look at these two groups of people and the evangelical world is filled with them. Easy-Believeism is really deadly. The Cost of Discipleship book by Bonhoeffer explains why Easy-Believeism was the reason Nazism could come into power. That’s pretty dangerous. Why Easy-Believesim? Why the Moralism? Because they don’t understand the gospel; the old gospel, the historic gospel. The gospel of salvation by grace through faith and the work of Jesus Christ alone, and substitutionary atonement . . . they don’t get it.

So what’s the solution to all the Easy-Believeism? Why is it that we don’t have people living the life they ought to live? Why do we see people culturally withdraw, being really negative and narrow? Because people think the solution is “let’s change the gospel” . . . I can’t imagine that anybody is going to write a hymn that goes like this: “my chains fell off and my heart was free, I rose forth and followed thee.” It’s just not going to happen . . .

(5) The gospel is cultural. What do I mean by cultural? The gospel creates a culture called The Church. It’s not just an aggregation of saved individuals. It’s a culture. The gospel is so different in what it says about God, you, and your standing with God. It’s so identity transforming; every other religion or system motivates you through fear and pride to do the right thing. Only the gospel motivates you through joy . . . the fear and trembling joy . . . the fear of God joy. That doesn’t mean that now we are a bunch of saved individuals with wonderful internal fulfillment. It means that when we get together we want to do things differently. We will do everything differently. The gospel is massively transformational and it creates a counter culture but it also makes us as people relate to the culture around us. And this comes out especially in 1 Peter 2. I will be brief on this but it’s crucial.

Those of us who believe in that individual gospel often miss the communal aspects of the gospel. And in 1 Peter 2:12, he says “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” Right before this, he says, “Beloved, I urge you as aliens and strangers.” In 1 Peter 1:1, “Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ, To God’s elect, strangers in the world.” There’s been a lot of discussion about this. There’s pretty much a consensus. The word “strangers” there means not a tourist who’s just passing through the world briefly, but not a citizen of the world either. Somebody who’s going to be there a long time whose true citizenship and value belongs somewhere else.

Peter makes an amazingly balanced statement and we have to understand this. The gospel, I believe, is radical. The nature of the gospel, on the one hand, does say “you need to engage” to the legalists who are afraid to be polluted by the culture and have the tendency to bolster their fragile sense of righteousness by feeling superior to the sinners around them. On the other hand, the gospel also confronts the secular, irreligious, liberal Christian, who asserts that we really can’t believe in sin or the holiness of God and hell because it offends people.

The gospel says that there are dangers on both sides: cultural accommodation, culture withdrawal. Most of us as Christians today think that most of the dangers today are on one side. We tend to get together with a group of people and say: the main danger, the main danger today is cultural accommodation. On the other side, there are Christians who think the main danger is cultural isolation and irrelevance. No one will see the good deeds of those who withdraw from the world and just hate the world. They don’t glorify God. They are not involved with caring for the poor; they are not engaged. On the other hand, people who accommodate the culture are never persecuted. How do we know that the radical gospel is turning us into a counter-culture for the common good? This counter-culture should be distinct, very different from the side we have inside of us, but a side that shows that we love the world and care about the world. We love our enemies because we are saved by a man who died loving His enemies.

Therefore, this balance is awfully hard to maintain. In Jeremiah 29, the exiles, wanted to stay outside of Babylon and remain pure. The Babylonians wanted to come in to Babylon, and lose their cultural identity. God told them through Jeremiah to do the hardest thing possible. In a sense, He said, “I don’t want you to stay out and be different. I don’t want you to go in and become like them. I want you to go deeply in and stay very different.” And that’s exactly what 1 Peter is talking about. Peter calls them exiles. He knows that the relationship with the culture around them has to be the same relationship as the Jewish exiles had with the Babylonians. We need to seek the welfares of the city. We need to care about that. We need to follow in the footsteps of the one who serves His enemies and forgave His enemies and died for His enemies.

At the same time, we have to be telling people that they are going to hell. Now, generally speaking, by and large, the people who want to be prophetic don’t want to be priestly. The people that want to talk about going to hell do not just sacrificially pour out themselves and say we are going to love you and we are going to serve you, whether you really like what we do or not. And the people who are serving like that are afraid of talking about things like hell or wrath. I don’t know whether we can become a movement of people who understand what 1 Peter is saying: that the gospel creates a counter culture, but a culture that engages the community around us at the expense of persecution . . .

New Yorkers love what the Bible says about forgiveness and reconciliation and caring about the poor. They hate what it says about sex and gender and family. Go on to the Middle East and find people who love what the Bible says about sex and gender and family, but abhor the idea of forgiving people, 70 times 7. I think what 1 Peter 2:12 is trying to say is in every single culture, if you actually live distinctively in an engaged way, you will get persecution AND you will get approval. It will always be different depending on the culture. You will attract people, you will influence people. You will be salt and light and at the same time you will get punched in the mouth.

If you are only getting punched in the mouth, or if you are only getting praise, you are not living the gospel life. Either you are falling into legalism and withdrawal or you are falling into accommodation.

(6) The gospel is massively transformational. When I say the gospel is massively transformational, I am just saying the gospel creates a worldview, a basis of worldview that actually touches every area of life; the way you do business, the way you do art, the way you conduct your family life. What do I mean when I say the gospel is wonderful? 1 Peter 1:12, “It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things.”

Angels love to look into the gospel. They never get tired of it. So what does that mean? It means gospel ministry is endlessly creative. It means you can preach the gospel and never have to be afraid of boring people . . .

(7) The gospel is wonderful. Isn’t that amazing? The gospel is not the ABC’s of Christianity, it’s A to Z. It’s not just the elementary and introductory truths. The gospel is what drives everything that we do. The gospel is pretty much the solution to every problem. The gospel is what every theological category should be expounding when we do our systematic theology. It should be very much a part of everything.

Even angels long to look into it. And you should. Let’s pray.

About Dr. Tim Keller: He was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and educated at Bucknell University, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary. He was first a pastor in Hopewell, Virginia. In 1989 he started Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan with his wife, Kathy, and their three sons. Today, Redeemer has more than five thousand regular attendees at five services, a host of daughter churches, and is planting churches in large cities throughout the world. He is the author of a study of Mark entitled King’s Cross; The Prodigal God based on Luke 15; The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness; Generous Justice; Counterfeit Gods; Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho RoadThe Meaning of Marriage; a wonderful small group study entitled Gospel In Life; and the New York Times bestseller The Reason for God; & the forthcoming Center Church (August 2012). Tim has a passion for Jesus Christ, making the Gospel clear, church planting, and reaching cities for Christ. If you really want to understand the gospel, and how grace applies to all of life I urge you to devour his books and sermons!

 

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How Does Dr. Tim Keller Write His Sermons?

Dr. Tim Keller on Writing a Sermon

“Two weeks ahead I sit down with a text of the passage of the Bible I’m going to preach on and I spend about four hours figuring out what the outline of the text is. I also spend some time figuring out the meaning of the text and sometimes it’s necessary for me to look up in some commentaries verses that may be problematic. I usually come up with an exegetical outline of the passage itself. I then writes this up and send it to my musicians so they can be preparing the music for worship, and so they can get my outline in the bulletin. I also send my outline to other preachers that I know who will be preaching from the same text.

Then three days before Sunday I sit down with my outline and I seek to turn the Bible study [exegetical work] into a sermon. The Bible study is more abstract – here I’m asking the question “What does the text say?” The sermon I’m asking a question that is more life related “What does this text mean to me?”

So I spend four hours two weeks ahead of time on the text, then another four hours turning it into a life related sermon. And that’s usually on the Friday before the sermon is preached. And then on Saturday I spend another six hours working on the sermon. I’m seeking to make it shorter. It’s always initially too long unless I take the time to make it shorter. In total I spend between 14-16 hours writing the sermon. And then on Sunday I spend all day preaching it because I deliver it four times on a Sunday.

Therefore, I spend approximately 25 hours per week in order to produce one public sermon…before I do anything else in my job as a pastor.

This is a transcript of a 2:02 video from You Tube entitled “Tim Keller on Writing a Sermon” based on his answering the question “What is the process you use when writing a sermon?”

About Dr. Tim Keller: He was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and educated at Bucknell University, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary. He was first a pastor in Hopewell, Virginia. In 1989 he started Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan with his wife, Kathy, and their three sons. Today, Redeemer has more than five thousand regular attendees at five services, a host of daughter churches, and is planting churches in large cities throughout the world. He is the author of a study of the Gospel of Mark entitled King’s Cross; The Prodigal God based on Luke 15; Generous Justice; Counterfeit Gods; Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho RoadThe Meaning of Marriage; a wonderful small group study entitled Gospel In Life;  and the New York Times bestseller The Reason for God; The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness & the forthcoming Center Church (August 2012). Tim has a passion for Jesus Christ, making the Gospel clear, church planting, and reaching cities for Christ. If you really want to understand the gospel, and how grace applies to all of life I urge you to devour his books and sermons!

 

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Dr. Tim Keller – On Why People Are Spiritual but not Religious

“Religion-Less Spirituality”

By Dr. Tim Keller*

“Growing numbers of Americans say they are spiritual but not religious,” says Robert Wuthnow in After Heaven, his assessment of American spiritual development since 1950.

It is a spirituality without truth or authority but filled with belief in the supernatural. It is a trend born of the modern fears of religion.

The powerful critiques of Freud, Marx, and Nietzsche have penetrated our popular psyche. Freud saw religious performance as a way that guilt-ridden people cleanse themselves and force God to bless them. Marx saw religious principle used by one class of people to oppress another. Neitzsche asserted that anyone claiming to have the truth is making a power play. He asked the powerful: “Why do you call for love? Is it not just a way to keep anyone from revolting against your authority?” He asked the powerless: “Why do you call for justice? Is it not just a way for you to get on top?”

These critiques are powerful because they have the ring of truth. They’re the reasons many who seek spirituality reject religion.

What shall we do then? We must address the real issues of self-righteousness, exclusion, and power-plays. The church must echo Jesus’ own powerful critique of religion and visibly demonstrate the difference between religion and the gospel.

Right word, right time

First, we must do it in word—in our preaching and communication. Even more than Freud, Jesus condemned self-justification through moral performance, at one point claiming that religion was more spiritually dangerous than overt immorality.

Jesus gives us the classic picture of the failure of both religion and irreligion in his parable of the two sons in Luke 15. The elder brother represents the religious leaders; he never disobeys any of the father’s laws. As a result, he tries to control his father and exclude his brother. In the end, he is the one who misses the feast of salvation rather than his profligate brother.

There could not be a more powerful warning: The elder brother is not lost despite his obedience to the father but because of it.

Jesus shows us that the problem is self-justification, the belief that we can win blessing through our virtue. In Luther’s terminology, religion is just another form of works-righteousness, which leads to profound internal instability. We are never sure of our worthiness, yet we need to feel superior to those who do not conform in order to bolster our insecurity.

Following Jesus, we must agree with our critics about the danger of religion, but show them that they are wrong about their solution to it. Secular people see religion as a body of fixed doctrine and ethics that one must adhere to in order to acquire rights to blessing and heaven. They see how often religion leads to self-righteousness, exclusion, and oppression. Modern culture, however, wrongly identifies fixed doctrine (the idea of absolute truth) as the poisonous element.

Both traditional religion and the new spirituality are forms of self-salvation. The religious way of being our own savior leads us to keep God’s laws, while the irreligious way of being our own savior leads us to break his laws. The solution is the gospel.

The gospel shows us a God far more holy than a conservative moralist can imagine—for he can never be pleased by our moral performance. Yet it also shows us a God far more loving than the liberal relativist can imagine—for his Son bore all the weight of eternal justice. His love for us cost him dearly.

Practically speaking, this means in our preaching we must be extremely careful to distinguish between general moral virtue and the unique humility, confidence, and love that flow from the gospel. I’m convinced we must learn carefully from Jonathan Edwards: “An experience of God’s grace is the only basis for ultimate and enduring … true virtue.”

Religion is outside-in; 
the gospel is inside-out.

Edwards says that most virtue is secondary virtue, based on self-love, and therefore on fear (of punishment) and pride (in our superior decency). Edwards appreciates that common morality makes the world a liveable place, but he essentially agrees with Neitzsche that it is really a power play. General moral virtue does not come from a heart that has given up its need to feel superior to others.

Only an experience of grace and free justification can create a heart that does good out of delight in God himself, out of delight in goodness itself, and out of love for our neighbors in themselves. Without the gospel, we can restrain the human heart, but not change the human heart. The gospel calls for repentance over our self-righteousness. The true virtue that results creates an attitude of acceptance toward the poor, the outsider, and the opponent that neither religion nor secularism can produce.

Show me your faith

Second, we must demonstrate the difference between religion and the gospel in our deeds—how we embody the gospel in our community and service. Even more than Marx, Jesus condemned religion as a pretext for oppression: “If you only greet your brothers, what do ye more than others?” (Matt. 5:47).

Lesslie Newbigin makes the bold case that Christianity is a better basis for true tolerance of opposing beliefs than any other religion or even secularism. Saved only by grace, Christians true to the gospel will not feel superior to those with whom they differ.

This must be more than rhetoric. Only when Christians non-condescendingly serve the poor, only when Christians are more firm yet open to their opponents will the world understand the difference between religion and the gospel.

What does this mean practically?

We will be careful with the order in which we communicate the parts of the faith.

Pushing moral behaviors before we lift up Christ is religion. The church today is calling people to God with a tone of voice that seems to confirm their worst fears. Religion has always been outside-in—”if I behave out here in all these ways, then I will have God’s blessing and love inside.” But the gospel is inside-out—”if I know the blessing and grace of God inside, then I can behave out here in all these ways.”

A woman who had been attending our church for several months came to see me. “Do you think abortion is wrong?” she asked. I said that I did. “I’m coming now to see that maybe there is something wrong with it,” she replied, “now that I have become a Christian here and have started studying the faith in the classes.”

As we spoke, I discovered that she was an Ivy League graduate, a lawyer, a long-time Manhattan resident, and an active member of the ACLU. She volunteered that she had experienced three abortions.

“I want you to know,” she said, “that if I had seen any literature or reference to the ‘pro-life’ movement, I would not have stayed through the first service. But I did stay, and I found faith in Christ. If abortion is wrong, you should certainly speak out against it, but I’m glad about the order in which you do it.”

This woman had had her faith incubated into birth our Sunday services. In worship, we center on the question “what is truth?” and the one who had the audacity to say, “I am the truth.” That is the big issue for postmodern people, and it’s hard to swallow. Nothing is more subversive and prophetic than to say Truth has become a real person!

Jesus calls both younger brothers and elder brothers to come into the Father’s arms. He calls the church to grasp the gospel for ourselves and share it those who are desperately seeking true spirituality.

We, of all people, ought to understand and agree with fears about religion, for Jesus himself warned us to be wary of it, and not to mistake a call for moral virtue for the good news of God’s salvation provided in Christ.

Tim Keller is pastor of 
Redeemer Presbyterian Church
New York, New York
RPCNYC@aol.com 

*DR. TIMOTHY KELLER was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and educated at Bucknell University, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, and Westminster Theological Seminary. He was first a pastor in Hopewell, Virginia. In 1989 he started Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan with his wife, Kathy, and their three sons. Today, Redeemer has more than five thousand regular attendees at five services, a host of daughter churches, and is planting churches in large cities throughout the world. He is the author of KING’S CROSS, COUNTERFEIT GODS, THE PRODIGAL GOD, and the New York Times bestseller THE REASON FOR GOD & the forthcoming CENTER CHURCH (August 2012).

ARTICLE ABOVE Copyright © 1999 by the author or Christianity Today/Leadership Journal, Friday, October 1, 1999.

 

 

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