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TIM KELLER: Preaching The Gospel In a Postmodern World: Session 4 Notes

SESSION 4: INTRODUCTION TO CHRIST-CENTERED APPLICATION

Tim Keller preaching image

INTRODUCTION

The historic Protestant doctrine is that we are not only justified by faith rather than our works, but we are also sanctified by faith rather than our works. Yet very few ministers know how Christ’s finished work is the dynamic and guide for growth into holy character.

A. Moralism vs. Sanctification by Faith.

1. The distinctives of sanctification by faith.

Excerpts from G.C. Berkouwer, Faith and Sanctification (Eerdmans, 1952):

“The ancient feud of Rome with the Sola-fide doctrine, based as it is on the view that Sola-fide is subversive of sanctification, must be called Rome’s most fundamental error. It was no other than Sola-fide which made clear the true significance of sanctification, and distinguished it from all moralistic effort at self-improvement…” p. 14.

“Wesley admitted full acceptance of the Sola-fide doctrine. [But] one may accept the doctrine and then fail to do justice to it…One can assume it as one’s starting point, as did Wesley, and subsequently view the process of sanctification in terms of a dynamic category—a power plus its effects—without taking account of the bearings which faith always sustains toward divine grace. Sola-fide becomes a point of departure and breaks its connection with sanctification…When the victory of Christ is lost sight of, the warfare degenerates into self-reliant activism…it is on the road to making sanctification independent from justification.” pp. 52, 63.

Luther and Calvin taught that not only was justification by faith in Christ’s work—not ours, but sanctification is also by faith in Christ’s work, not ours. In practice, however, nearly every evangelical teaches that: 1) we are justified by faith in Christ’s work, and 2) we are sanctified by trying very, very hard to live according to biblical principles (with the Holy Spirit’s help, of course). Berkouwer insists that it is not salvation by grace, but sanctification by grace which is the biggest difference between the Reformers and the Catholic church and between the Reformers and later Methodism (Wesley) and much Protestantism today.

2. The general relationship of justification to sanctification.

Excerpts from G.C. Berkouwer, Faith and Sanctification (Eerdmans, 1952):

“Orientation”“Genuine sanctification—let it be repeated—stands or falls with this continued orientation toward justification and the remission of sins…too often the bond between sanctification and Sola-fide was neglected and the impression created that sanctification was the humanly operated successor to the divinely worked justification.” P. 78.

“Feeding”“Holiness is never a ‘second blessing’ placed next to the blessing of justification…The exhortation which comes to the Church is that it must live in faith out of this fullness: not that it must work for a second blessing, but that it must feed on the first blessing, the forgiveness of sins. The warfare of the Church…springs from the demand to really live from this first blessing.”  p. 64.

“Commerce”“The believer’s constant ‘commerce’ with the forgiveness of sins and his continued dependence on it must—both in pastoral counseling and in teaching—be laid bare, emphasized, and kept in sight…Faith preserves us from autonomous self-sanctification and moralism.” pp. 84, 93.

Berkouwer says that it is a mistake to ask: “we know we have imputed righteousness, but now how do we move to actual righteousness?” We do not ‘move on’. Any particular flaw in our actual righteousness stems from a corresponding failure to orient ourselves toward our imputed righteousness. Sanctification happens to the degree that we “feed on” or “orient to” or “have commerce with” the pardon, righteousness, and new status we now have in Christ, imputed through faith.

3. The practical relationship of justification to sanctification.

Excerpts from martin Luther’s, Treatise Concerning Good Works (1520).

“There is not one in a thousand who does not set his confidence upon the works, expecting by them to win God’s favor and anticipate His grace; and so they make a fair of them, a thing which God cannot endure, since He has promised His grace freely, and wills that we begin by trusting that grace, and in it perform all works, whatever they may be” (Part IX).

“All those who do not at all times trust God and do not in all their works or sufferings, life and death, trust in His favor, grace and good-will, but seek His favor in other things or in themselves, do not keep this [First] Commandment, and practice real idolatry, even if they were to do the works of all the other Commandments, and in addition had all the prayers, fasting, obedience, patience, chastity, and innocence of all the saints combined. For the chief work is not present, without which all the others are nothing but mere sham, show and pretense, with nothing back of them…If we doubt or do not believe that God is gracious to us and is pleased with us, or if we presumptuously expect to please Him only through and after our works, then it is all pure deception, outwardly honoring God, but inwardly setting up self as a false [savior]…” (Part X, XI).

“This faith, faithfulness, confidence deep in the heart, is the true fulfilling of the First Commandment. Without this there is no other work that is able to satisfy this Commandment. And as this Commandment is the very first, highest and best, from which all the others proceed, in which they exist, and by which they are directed and measured, so also its work, that is, the faith or confidence in God’s favor at all times, is the very first, highest and best, from which all others must proceed, exist, remain, be directed and measured…” (Part IX).

“Note for yourself, then, how far apart these two are: keeping the First Commandment with outward works only, and keeping it with inward trust. For this last makes true, living children of God, the other only makes worse idolatry and the most mischievous hypocrites on earth…” (XII).

All people sin in general because we are sinners, but why do we sin in any particular instance? Luther—any sin is rooted in the inordinate lust for something which comes because we are trusting in that thing rather than in Christ for our righteousness or salvation. Therefore, in sin we are always ‘forgetting’ what God has done for us in Christ and instead are being moved by some idol. Luther says that to fail to believe God accepts us fully in Christ and to look to something else is a failure to keep the first commandment—love God with all the heart. Thus beneath any particular sin is the general sin of rejecting Christ-salvation and indulging in self-salvation.

Excerpt from the Belgic Confession – Chapter 24.

“We believe that this true faith, being wrought in man by the hearing of the Word of God and the operation of the Holy Spirit, regenerates him and makes him a new man, causing him to live a new life, and freeing him from the bondage of sin. Therefore it is so far from being true that his justifying faith makes men remiss in a pious and holy life, that on the contrary without it they would never do anything out of love to God, but only out of self-love or fear of damnation. Therefore, it is impossible that this holy faith can be unfruitful in man; for we do not speak of a vain faith, but of such a faith which is called in Scripture a ‘faith working through love,’ which excites man to the practice of those works which God has commanded in His Word…We would always be in doubt, tossed to and fro without any certainty, and our poor consciences would be continually vexed if they relied not on the merits of our Savior.”

Unless we believe the gospel, we will be driven in all we do—whether obeying or disobeying—by pride (“self-love”) or fear (“of damnation”). Apart from ‘grateful remembering’ of the gospel, all good works are done then for sinful motives. Mere moral effort, may restrain the heart, but dos not truly change the heart. Moral effort merely ‘jury rigs’ the evil heart to produce moral behavior, out of self-interest. It is only a matter of time before such a thin tissue collapses.

B. Moralism vs. Gospel Virtue

1. The ‘Splendor’ or Common Virtue and its Weakness.

Excerpts from Jonathan Edwards. Abridged and paraphrased, from Charity and Its Fruits, in vol. 8, Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. Paul Ramsey (Yale, 1989) and Religious Affections, in vol. 2, Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. J. Smith (Yale, 1959).

“A result of ‘faith working by love’ is freedom. On this basis, obedience is called “evangelical” (gospel-based)—the obedience of children to a Father, done with love and delight, as opposed to legalistic, slavish, and forced. God is now chosen for his own sake; holiness is chosen for its own sake, and for God’s sake” (CF, p. 182).

“No matter how many our acts of justice, generosity and devotion, there is really nothing given to God…if God is not the end (or ultimate aim) in what is given. If your aim is the gaining of reputation and love, then the gift was offered to your reputation. If your aim is for profit and comfort, then the gift was offered to your profit…indeed, in such cases the gifts are but an offering to some idol…It is true that by doing great things something is worshipped, but it is not God…” (CF, pp. 180-81).

“Those whose affection to God is founded first on his profitableness to them, only regard God to the limit of the good things he does to meet their desires…But in gracious gratitude, Christians are affected by God’s goodness and free grace, not only as it benefits them, but as infinitely glorious in itself…” (RA, pp. 243, 248).

What makes people honest? Generous? Jonathan Edwards tackled this over the years in his Miscellanies and then in his moral philosophy works: Charity and Its Fruits, Concerning the End for Which God Created the World, and The Nature of True Virtue. He also says many relevant things about this in Religious Affections. The following is my summary of his “gist”.

There are two kinds of moral behavior: “common virtue” and “true virtue.” Let’s take one virtue: honesty. “Common” honesty is developed in two ways:

1) First it can be inspired by fear. There is the secular version—“be honest—it pays!” or “if you are not honest, society doesn’t work”. There is also the religious version—“if you are not honest, God will punish you!” These are all versions of the same motive, namely, that it is impractical to be honest.

2) Second, it can be inspired by pride. There is the secular conservative version—“don’t be like those terrible dishonest people who hurt others and have no virtue!” or the secular liberal version—“don’t be like these greedy people who don’t work for the common good”. There is also the religious version—“don’t be like these sinners, these bad people. Be a good godly person”. These are all versions of the same motive, namely, that I am better than these people who lie.

Edwards is by no means scornful of common virtue. Indeed, he believes in the ‘splendor of common morality’ (Paul Ramsay), which is the main way God restrains evil in the world. He does call it virtue and not sham. Nevertheless, there is a profound tension at the heart of common virtue. We just said that the main reason people are honest is due to fear and pride.

But what is the main reason we are dishonest? Why do we lie? Almost always—it is our fear or pride. So in common virtue, you have not done anything to root out the fundamental causes of evil. In ‘common honesty’ you have restrained the heart, but not changed the heart. You are doing an ingenious for of judo on yourself. (Judo depends on using the enemy’s forward motion against him). You have ‘jury-rigged’ your heart so that the basic causes of dishonesty are being used to make yourself honest. But this is quite a fragile condition. At some point you will find that honesty is not practical nor humiliating and you will do it. Then you will be shocked. You will say, “I was not raised to do such a thing.”

But the reason you did, was that all your life, through the sermons and moral training you had, you were nurturing the roots of sin within your moral life. This is true whether you grow up in a liberal-moral environment or a conservative-moral environment. The roots of evil are alive and well and protected underneath your moral-behavior progress. And some day they erupt and show themselves and we are shocked.

2. The roots of “True Virtue” and its Nurture

Luther told us that the essence of every sin is a desire to be one’s own Savior and Lord in some particular way. It is to set up some idol which is the real way you are going to save yourself. It may even be a very ‘religious idol’ (cf. Judges 17:1-13). It may be a very religious life, but at the heart it is a way of using God as an object, rather than adoring him as being beautiful for who he is in himself. It is using obedience to God to achieve comfort, security, self-worth/status—therefore our ‘virtue’ is self-centered and conditional. It’s a form of bargaining. It is using our virtue to put God in our debt—he now owes us. He must give us salvation and blessing. Therefore, our obedience is a way to save ourselves and control God. Edwards (see above quote #2) also understands ‘common virtue’ as an idolatrous effort at self-salvation, rather than a response to grace (see above quote #3) in which God is adored for his sheer beauty.

So Edwards says—what is true virtue? It is when you are honest not because it profits you or makes you feel better, but only when you are smitten with the beauty of the God who is truth and sincerity and faithfulness! It is when you come to love truth telling not for your sake but for God’s sake and its own sake. But it particularly grows by a faith-sight of the glory of Christ and his salvation. How does ‘true honesty’ grow? It grows when I see him dying for me, keeping a promise he made despite the infinite suffering it brought him. Now that a) destroys pride on the one hand, because he had to do this for me—I am so lost! But that also b) destroys fear on the other hand, because if he’d do this for me while I’m an enemy, then he values me infinitely, and nothing I can do will wear out his love for me. Then my heart is not just restrained but changed. It’s fundamental orientation is transformed.

3. Thomas Chalmers on Moralism vs. Gospel Virtue.

“The Expulsive Power of a New Affection”, from The Works of Thomas Chalmers (New York: Robert Carter, 1830) vol. II.

The object of the gospel is both to pacify the sinner’s conscience and to purify the heart, and it is of importance to observe that what mars the one of these objects mars the other also. The best way of casting out an impure affection is to admit a pure one…Thus it is that the freer the Gospel, the more sanctifying the Gospel. The more it is received as a doctrine of grace, the more it will be felt as doctrine [leading to godliness]…

On the tenure of “do this and you will live”, a spirit of fearfulness is sure to enter; and the jealousies of a legal bargain chase away all confidence of intimacy between God and man; and the creature striving to be square and even with his Creator is, in fact, pursuing all the while his own selfishness instead of God’s glory. With all the conformities which he labors to accomplish, the soul of obedience is not there, the mind is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed under such an economy can it ever be. It is only when, as the Gospel, acceptance is bestowed as a present, without money and without price, that the security which man feels in God is placed beyond the reach of disturbance. Only then can he repose in Him as one friend reposes in another…the one party rejoicing over the other to do him good…in the impulse of a gratitude, by which is he awakened to the charms of a new moral existence.

Salvation by grace, salvation by free grace, salvation not by works but according to the mercy of God is indispensable to godliness. Retain a single shred or fragment of legality with the Gospel…and you take away the power of the Gospel to melt and conciliate. For this purpose, the freer it is, the better it is. That very peculiarity which so many dread as the germ of Antinomianism [lawlessness], is, in fact, the germ of a new spirit, and a new inclination against it.

Along with the light of a free Gospel, does there enter the love of the Gospel, which in proportion as you impair the freeness, you are sure to chase away. And never does the sinner find within himself so mighty a moral transformation, as when under the belief that he is saved by grace, he feels constrained thereby to offer his heart a devoted thing, and to deny ungodliness.

[Why is this grateful love so important?] It is seldom that any of our [bad habits or flaws] disappear by a mere process of natural extinction. At least, it is very seldom that this is done through the instrumentality of reasoning…or by the force of mental determination. But what cannot be destroyed may be dispossessed—and one taste may be made to give way to another, and to lose its power entirely as the reigning affection in the mind.

It is thus that a boy ceases at length to be a slave of his appetite, but it is because a [more ‘mature’] taste has brought it into subordination. The youth ceases to idolize [sensual] pleasure, but it is because the idol of wealth has…gotten the ascendancy. Even the love of money can cease to have mastery over the heart because it is drawn into the whirl of [ideology and politics] and he is now lorded over by a love of power [and moral superiority]. But there is not one of these transformations in which the heart is left without an object. Its desire for one particular object is conquered—but its desire to have some object…is unconquerable…

The only way to dispossess the heart of an old affection is by the expulsive power of a new one…It is only…when admitted into the number of God’s children, through faith in Jesus Christ, that the spirit of adoption is poured out on us—it is then that the heart, brought under the mastery of one great and predominant affection, is delivered from the tyranny of its former desires, the only way that deliverance is possible.

Thus…it is not enough…to hold out to the world the mirror of its own imperfections. It is not enough to come forth with a demonstration of the evanescent character of your enjoyments…to speak to the conscience…of its follies…Rather, try every legitimate method of finding access to your hearts for the love of Him who is greater than the world.

C. Moralism vs. Christ-centered Exposition.

We alluded above to the fact that Christ-centered exposition is very directly linked to Christ-centered application. It is possible to expound Christ and fail to do Christ-centered application, but it is impossible to do Christ-centered application in a sermon if you have not first done Christ-centered exposition.

For example, look at the story of David and Goliath. What is the meaning of that narrative for us? Without reference to Christ, the story may be (usually is!) preached as: “The bigger they come, the harder they’ll fall, if you just go into your battles with faith in the Lord. You may not be real big and powerful in yourself, but with God on your side, you can overcome giants.” But as soon as we ask: “how is David foreshadowing the work of his greater Son”? We begin to see the same features of the story in a different light. The story is telling us that the Israelites can not go up against Goliath. They can’t do it. They need a substitute. When David goes in on their behalf, he is not a full-grown man, but a vulnerable and weak figure, a mere boy. He goes virtually as a sacrificial lamb. But God uses his apparent weakness as the means to destroy the giant, and David becomes Israel’s champion-redeemer, so that his victory will be imputed to them. They get all the fruit of having fought the battle themselves.

This is a fundamentally different meaning than the one that arises from the non-Christocentric reading. There is, in the end, only two ways to read the Bible: is it basically about me or basically about Jesus? In other words, is it basically about what I must do, or basically about what he has done? If I read David and Goliath as basically giving me an example, then the story is really about me. I must summons up the faith and courage to fight the giants of life. But if I read David and Goliath as basically showing me salvation through Jesus, then the story is really about him. Until I see that Jesus fought the real giants (sin, law, death) for me, I will never have the courage to be able to fight the ordinary giants in life (suffering, disappointment, failure, criticism, hardship). For example how can I ever fight the “giant” of failure, unless I have a deep security that God will not abandon me? If I see David as my example, the story will never help me fight the failure/giant. But if I see David/Jesus as my substitute, whose victory is imputed to me, then I can stand before the failure/giant. As another example, how can I ever fight the “giant” of persecution or criticism? Unless I can see him forgiving me on the cross, I won’t be able to forgive others. Unless I see him as forgiving me for falling asleep on him (Matthew 27:45) I won’t be able to stay awake for him.

In the Old Testament we are continually told that our good works are not enough, that God has made a provision. This provision is pointed to at every place in the Old Testament. We see it in the clothes God makes Adam and Eve in Genesis, to the promises made to Abraham and the patriarchs, to the Tabernacle and the whole sacrificial system, to the innumerable references to a Messiah, a suffering servant, and so on. Therefore, to say that the Bible is about Christ is to say that the main theme of the Bible is the gospel—Salvation is the Lord (Jonah 2:9).

So reading the Old Testament Christocentrically is not just an “additional” dimension. It is not something you can just tack on to the end of a study and sermon. (“Oh, and by the way, this also points us to Christ”). Rather, the Christocentric reading provides a fundamentally different application and meaning to the text. Without relating it to Christ, the story of Abraham and Isaac means: “You must be willing to even kill your own son for him.” Without relating it to Christ, the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel means: “You have to wrestle with God, even when he is inexplicable—even when he is crippling you. You must never give up.” These ‘morals-of-the-story’ are crushing because they essentially are read as being about us and what we must do.

Source: Doctor of Ministry Class – Personal Notes – Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando – Class co-taught by Tim Keller and Edmund Clowney – early 2000’s. Class available for free on I-Tunes.

 

 

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Tim Keller on What Motivates Obedience to God

“The Battle for the Heart” – Series: Splendor in the Furnace – 1 Peter, Part 1—October 31, 1993

Tim Keller teaching at RPC image

1 Peter 1:13–21

13 Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. 14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” 17 Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.

18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. 20 He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake. 21 Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.

What we’re looking at and what we have been looking at is the subject of holiness. We said the passage Peter quotes from out of the Old Testament, out of the book of Leviticus, “… be ye holy, because I am holy,” takes the main Hebrew word for holiness in the Bible, the word qadowsh, which means to cut, to cut it off, to separate. We said when holiness refers to God, what it means is he’s off our scales. He’s transcendently above us. He’s not like anything we can imagine.

However, we also said when you apply the word holy to us (what is a holy person), what it means is we are set apart. We’re separated unto God. That’s a religious sounding word. You sang about it tonight. Did you notice that in your first song, “You Have Called Us?”

We are a chosen race

A royal priesthood by your grace

We are a holy nation, set apart

We said last week if you want a real trite illustration of what it means to be holy, just imagine yourself reading a newspaper. You’re reading it, getting information, and as you’re reading through it suddenly there is one article with some information you can use. You want to use it in a sales pitch. You want to use it in a paper. You want to use it in a promotion. You want to use it. The only way to use it is to set it apart. You have to cut it out of the paper. You have to set it apart from the newspaper. Why?

If you don’t do that, you can’t use it. To cut something out, to set it apart for your use, is exactly what the Bible means when it talks about being holy. Every week we’ll come back to this and look at it from another perspective. To be a holy person is not at all what people popularly think. At the worst, the word holy is a terrible word in modern English now. When we use the word holy we almost always mean something imperious, something inaccessible maybe. We use the word holy to refer to “holier than thou,” condescending and self-righteous.

At the very best, people think of a holy person as somebody who keeps all the rules. Don’t you see this goes so much deeper than keeping all the rules? Holiness is an attitude of heart in which you look at God and you say, “Use me.” This is a tremendous clash with modern culture. In modern culture you’re supposed to be independent. You’re not supposed to let anybody use you, but that’s the antithesis to this. A holy person is someone who looks at God and does not say, “Just give me the rules and tell me what the rules are so I can get to it.”

No! A holy person is someone who says, “I belong to you. I’m set apart for you.” That’s what we’ve been trying to get at each week. Last week we talked about holiness of mind. To be holy means to be wholly his, to wholly belong to him. That means, first of all, we talked about the mind. This week and next week, let’s talk about the life.

It’s great to say to be holy means you have to submit your mind to God and submit your beliefs and so forth, but a person who submits the mind without submitting the life, the heart, and the will is a hypocrite, and we hate them. Therefore, to be holy means more than just to give him your mind; you have to give him your life. What we’re going to look at here tonight is a depiction of what a holy life is. It’s really right here in these verses.

“As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.”

There is a contrast here between a life without God and a holy life. If we look at the contrast, we’ll continue to get a better feel for what it means to “be holy, for he is holy.”

1. A life without God is ignorant, but a life of holiness integrates the thought and the life

The word holiness comes from the English word wholeness. Therefore, there is a bifurcation. The life without God is a bifurcation of thought and action, but a holy life means a coherent integration of thought and life. Let me explain this. Most people in Manhattan who don’t believe in God or Christianity, they think they don’t believe in it because they know too much, because they think too much.

They say, “There are Christians. That’s great for some people. They’re religious. Fine. My problem is I’m a thinker. I think, and rational people, thoughtful people, thinking people, aren’t religious people. Religious people are people who have abandoned. They’ve jettisoned the rationality. They’ve given up hard thought. They’ve abandoned and jettisoned their capacities for thought and reason and consideration, so they’ve sort of leapt emotionally into the arms of this faith. They just take leaps of faith.”

People say, “The problem for Christians and for religious people is they don’t think, but not me. I can’t believe because I’m a thinker. I think.” In this text here and throughout the Bible, we’re told that actually the opposite is the case. You see what it says here in verse 14? It says, “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.” A life without God is a thoughtless life. Let me show you what I mean.

Some of you, having come to Redeemer for a while, have heard arguments up here, rational arguments for why we believe what we believe. How do we know Christianity is true? They sound so wonderfully compelling, so you go out and you try them on people. For some reason they don’t like them. Do you know why? Here’s how they go. For example, ask somebody sometime who says, “Well, you know, you’re religious. Fine. But I’m not a religious person; I’m a thinker.” You say, “Okay, so think. Think with me. What are you living for? What is the meaning of your life anyway?”

If somebody came up to you after the service and said, “I’d like you to spend your entire afternoon with me tomorrow,” what would you say? You would probably say, “What for? What’s the purpose? Articulate for me the purpose of our meeting.” The person says, “Well, I’m not really sure, but I would like to meet with you.” You’ll probably say. like a busy New Yorker, “Well, a whole afternoon? Unless you can articulate the purpose, unless you can tell me what it’s about, it will be a waste of time.”

“That’s only logical. Well, all right. Let me ask you a question. What is your life about? What is your life for?” They say, “Well, I’m working. I have a career.” “Okay, great. You have a career. What is it for? What do you actually hope to accomplish? What is the meaning of your life? What difference will it make that you have lived?” People don’t like to be asked that. Oh, no. They really don’t like it at all.

“I have to press you a little bit on this. You would not spend an afternoon with me unless you knew the reason for it. Otherwise it would be a waste, and yet you can’t tell me the reason for your life. You can’t tell me what your life is about. How do you know it’s not a waste? What’s it for? What’s the purpose of your life? What is its meaning?”

People don’t want to think about that. They’ll get irritated with you at a certain point. Very quickly, they’ll start to get irritated with you. Why? They don’t want to think. They don’t want to think about these things. The average person’s lifestyle and behavior is based on no thought, no thinking out a philosophy of life. They don’t want to think about that. They think it’s morbid to think about that. They say, “You’re getting religious on me.”

“What do you mean, ‘getting religious on you’? You wouldn’t meet with me all afternoon because you wanted a purpose. I’m asking you, what is your purpose? If there is no God and if you don’t know if there is a God and if when you die you rot, then isn’t it possible nothing you are doing has any meaning and nothing you are doing makes any difference? If when we die we rot and eventually the universe is going to burn up, nothing you do, whether you’re a violent person or a compassionate person, will make any difference. Have you thought that through?” They don’t want to think it through.

Let me give you another example. This week we went to see a movie that is not a particularly good movie, but there are a couple of good scenes in it. It’s the movie Fearless with Jeff Bridges in it. At one point, Jeff Bridges (he’s a survivor of a plane crash and he’s talking with a young woman who is also a survivor of a plane crash, and she believes in God, and he doesn’t) says, “People don’t really believe in God; they just choose not to believe in nothing.” He says, “People want to think life and death have a purpose to them. They like to think they were born for a reason.”

He says, “Like the Giants needed a new homerun hitter, that’s why I was born, or my mother needed somebody to console her. You think you’re born for a reason; you think you die for a reason. We talk about not dying in vain.” He says, “It just happens. There is no God. It just happens. Life happens; death happens. There is no reason for the life when it happens; there is no reason for the death when it happens. There is no reason for anything,” he says triumphantly.

The lady looks up at him and says, “Well, if that’s true then there is no reason to love either.” He looks and says, “What?” She says, “There would be no reason to love.” What she’s doing to him in her own inimical way … he stares at her because there is no answer … is she’s doing what we call presuppositional apologetics, which means she’s pulling the rug out. She says, “If that is true, why are you here trying to help me?”

The whole idea was he was a plane crash survivor and she was a plane crash survivor, and they were having troubles adjusting, so he was there to help. He said, “The only way to help yourself is to get rid of your idea of God. Get rid of it! That’s the reason why you’re all full of guilt and shame. Get rid of it. I’m here to help you.” She said, “If there is no God, why should you help me? Why shouldn’t you just scratch my eyes out?”

A typical person in Manhattan will say, “Racism is wrong, intolerance is wrong, but sexually, you can do pretty much what you want.” Now just ask this question: What is the basis for that distinction? The person says, “Everybody knows racism is wrong.” You say, “Well, there have been countries where everybody knew certain races should go to the gas chamber. I don’t think we should determine morality by a popular vote. Are you saying that as long as a majority of the people think something is right, therefore it’s right?”

“Oh, no,” the person says. “Actually, I believe everybody has to make up their minds on their own. There are no moral absolutes. We have to all determine for ourselves what is right and wrong.” You ask yourself, “You mean there is nothing that is always wrong?”

“Isn’t torture always wrong?”

“Oh, of course, torture is always wrong.”

“Why? Maybe that’s just what some people like to do. Maybe that’s right for them.”

“Oh, no. Torture is always wrong because you can’t mess with human beings.”

“Why not? On what basis have you determined that people are really more valuable than rocks? On what basis?” The person, you see, will get mad at you. They always do. If you’re trying this out on people, they will get mad. Do you know why? They don’t want to think. Most of the simplest, uneducated Christians have worked out epistemology issues. They don’t know the name. They’ve worked out metaphysical issues. They’ve worked out ethical issues.

Let me ask you a question. This is a typical Christian’s framework. A Christian would say, “I discovered there was a body of evidence that indicated there was a man who lived 2,000 years ago who claimed to be God and convinced a lot of monotheistic people that he was God and that he had been raised from the dead. I discovered there were 500 people who claimed in an eyewitness account that they saw this man raised from the dead. It was documented, and I began to study the evidence.” This is how a Christian would speak.

“I began to study the evidence, and as hard as it was to believe this man was God, I decided the alternative explanations for the phenomenon of this man were even more incredible, and I decided to believe he was who he said he was on the basis of the evidence, on the basis of weighing it out. If he is God, therefore, he is my author, and that means I have a purpose in life. I know why I was built; I was built for him. I know what is right and wrong: whatever his will is.” Perfectly coherent, based on evidence, based on rationality. Then go further.

The Christian says, “I’ve begun to live this life in faith. I found that it fits my nature. I found through personal experiences I began to give myself to the will of this One who I have decided to believe in. I began to find that he fits me. The things he says, the things he’s done, they fit my nature.

As that one writer said, ‘I’ve been all my life a bell, and I never knew it till he picked me up and rung me.’ I found out, not only is this fitting me in a way I never thought before, but I found out there were millions of people over 2,000 years who have found the same thing out. I read the works of Christians who lived 1,000 years ago and I read their experience with Jesus, and I discover this is the same relationship I have with Jesus.”

Does that sound like a leap of faith? Sure, there is faith in there. Does that sound like you’re not thinking? Not at all. Let me show you a leap of faith: somebody who you press and say, “Well, how do you know torture is wrong if there is no God? How do you know people are more valuable than rocks if there is no God? How do you know there is any meaning in life?” They say, “Well, you just know. We just know people are valuable just because I know it.” Oh, that’s a leap of faith.

That’s thoughtlessness. That’s ignorance. That’s a bifurcation between your life and your thinking. Friends, life without God is a thoughtless life. A holy life means you integrate how you live. You know why you’re doing the things you’re doing, because you’re always thinking, “What is the meaning of my life?” And you have it in front of you. You’re always looking at what is right and wrong on the basis of the meaning in life, on the basis of whom you know God is and who you know you are. There is an integration. Don’t live a life of ignorance. Don’t go back to that life.

2. A life without God is an imitative life, but a holy life is an examined life

Look down at verse 18. “For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers.” A life without God is an imitative life, but a holy life is an examined life. Let me put it this way. Again, just like I said, a lot of people in Manhattan and a lot of people in New York I meet would say, “I’m not a religious person because I think so much.”

I’m trying to show that ordinarily a life without God is not a thinking life or a reflective life; it’s a thoughtless life, but secondly a lot of people say, “Well, I’m not a religious person because I’m not a conformist. I’m an original. I think for myself.” That’s not what Peter says, and I think he’s right. Especially people come to Manhattan and they say, “I got out of bourgeoisie, middle America. I live in Manhattan now. I’m a sophisticated person. I think for myself.” What do you mean, you think for yourself?

If you’re a Christian in Manhattan, you really have to think for yourself. You open up the New York Times and you read the op-ed pages, what is happening? Your faith, your beliefs, your worldview is getting blasted with every article. You have to think for yourself. Most people in Manhattan open up their newspaper of choice, and they’re just kind of affirmed. You get into your particular imitative style of unbelief. Peter says unbelief is handed down. We see people doing certain things, and so we do them.

In C.S. Lewis’ book, The Great Divorce, there is a great place where a man who had lost his faith … He used to believe, but he had lost his faith because he went to college, and he began to think. His friend said to him, “Is that really what happened? Don’t you remember how we really lost our faith? We didn’t want to be laughed at. We heard a lot of other people saying things, and we wanted them to think that we were smart and intelligent and sophisticated, too. We wrote the kinds of papers that our professors thought were courageous and relevant and creative.”

He said, “We never thought our way out of faith; we just wanted to imitate what was around us.” That’s exactly what Peter is talking about. We all have our uniforms. If you say, “I’m a sophisticated person, and I’ve thrown off bourgeoisie, middle-America values,” in Manhattan the only way you’d let people know that is if you have to dress in a certain way. You have to dress downtown, or maybe you dress uptown, but the point is there are uniforms here. There is imitation going on here.

What it means to be a holy person, however, is utterly different. Nothing is passed down to us. The Bible says to be a holy person means that now Jesus is your authority, and the Word of God is your authority, and it doesn’t matter if you say, “I’m Italian; I’ve always done things in an Italian way.” Is it biblical? “I’m Park Avenue.” Is it biblical? “We’ve always done things this way.” Is it biblical? Is it in conformity with your Master and his will and your new self? “Well, we’ve always done things because I’m a southerner.” Is it Christian?

“We’ve always done things this way because I’m from Brooklyn?” Is it Christian? “I’m Irish.” Is it Christian? The great thing about being a Christian is you’re pulled up out of anything that was passed down to you. You don’t say, “Well, this is the way I am. This is the way my parents were. This is the way my family was. This is the way my peers are. This is the way the people are who read the books I read and read the journals we read and hang out at the same parties we hang out at. This is the way we are.” A Christian’s life is utterly examined. Every bit of it is examined. Every single part of it is examined.

One of my favorite memories of a good example of this is how, when I went as a Yankee, as a Northeastern college educated kid, I took a church in blue collar, Southern town. There was a culture there. I remember there were several marks of that culture. That culture was much more frugal than I was used to. That culture was much more hospitable and less privatized than I was used to. That culture was much more negative and scornful of education than I was used to. That culture was much more full of racial stereotypes than I was used to.

As a result, I could see all these differences, but very often the people who were living in the culture couldn’t. I remember one man, a friend of mine, who did not even graduate from junior high school. When he became a Christian he could hardly read, and yet I remember when he became a Christian he grasped what it meant to be holy. He knew just because all the other good ol’ boys did things didn’t mean that was the way he should live, so he began to examine.

Actually, he virtually taught himself to read in order to live a holy life, so he could study the Bible, so he could think things out. He awoke, and here’s what happened. He began to realize the fact he was more frugal than I was. That was a biblical value I had to learn. The fact he was more hospitable than I was. That was a biblical value. But his scorn of education he realized was a kind of ego defense mechanism, and his racial stereotype was also sinful.

What was he doing? He refused to take what was handed down to him. A holy life is an examined life. Isn’t this interesting? Life without God is supposed to be sophisticated, but actually, it’s thoughtless. Life without God is supposed to be original and creative, but actually, it’s imitative.

3. A life without God is a life of slavery without authority, but a holy life is a life of freedom under authority

I know that sounds weird. If you’re under authority you’re not supposed to be free, right? No. Look carefully at this verse. “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had …” Now unfortunately, this another one of those places where the text’s translation is not only wimpy, but kind of misleading. The word conform is a word that means to be shaped or molded.

The translation of the words evil desires is two words that is the translation of one word, epithymia, which is really a poor translation, and here’s why. The word epithymia means an inordinate desire. Think of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Do you remember the pyramid? The more basic needs are you need to eat and drink. Then you move up, and you need relaxation and recreation. Another need is sexuality. Then you keep moving up to more complex needs. You need to be loved. You need to feel like you accomplish things. You need to see your significance in the world. These are all needs.

Every one of those things is a legitimate need. They were all created by God. God invented food and drink. He likes them. God invented rest. You know, on the seventh day he rested. That’s what it says in Genesis. God invented sex, and he saw it was good. God invented our social needs for approval of other people. God gave us the desire to work and to accomplish something. They’re all good, but Peter says a godless life is not a life so much of evil desires. That’s a bad translation of this word. It gives you the impression what it’s talking about are people who pillage and murder and do violence and so forth.

That’s not what we’re talking about. He says, “You used to be molded, you used to be fashioned, you used to be utterly controlled by good desires that had become inordinate.” That’s what the word means: out of order, too important to you, good things. We talked about this last week, but Thomas Oden, who teaches at the graduate school at Drew University, has a fascinating book in which he lays out a couple of principles.

He says, “Everybody has to live for something.” Remember I told you before people don’t want to think about what they’re living for, but everybody has to live for something. “Everybody has to have some central value that is the basis on which we make decisions.” The only way you can make priority decisions, the only way you can decide this and not this, is if you have a hierarchy of values. “There is something that is your ultimate value, your ultimate reason for living. It could be attractiveness. It could be approval of people. It could be power. It could be anything, but everybody has to have something you live for.”

Thomas Oden said, “That central value is that something without which you cannot receive life joyfully.” If you don’t have that your life falls apart. He says, “You can either make God your central value which is an infinite center or you can put something finite in the way, something finite in the center—and when that happens—to the degree that I center my life on a finite value instead of God, to that degree I relate to my past with guilt and to my future with anxiety.” Here are a couple of quotes from him.

For example, he says, “My relationship to the future will be one of anxiety to the degree that I have idolized finite values. Anxiety becomes neurotically intensified to the degree that I have idolized finite values that properly should have been regarded as limited.” He says, “If the thing I’m living for is money or if the thing I’m living for is my children or if the thing I’m living for is the Republican party or the Democratic party, I’m always going to be experiencing anxiety because those finite values cannot last, and so I will always feel threatened.”

He says, “On the other hand, my relationship to the past will be one of guilt. Guilt becomes neurotically intensified to the degree that I have idolized finite values that properly should have been regarded as limited. Why? Because if you’ve decided, ‘The only way in which I know I’m going to be able to look myself in the mirror is because of this value (I will achieve, I will be loved, I will look good),’ whatever you decide that you have to have in order to feel you have meaning in life, when you fail those standards, finite gods never forgive, ever. You’re always down on yourself.”

What is Thomas Odin saying? “I have guilt in my life to the degree that I idolize finite values. I have anxiety in my life to the degree that I idolize finite values. That’s what Peter is talking about. What he is saying is life without God necessarily means I am driven by inordinate desires, good desires for good things that now fill me with anxiety and fill me with guilt.” Isn’t it interesting? A life without God is supposed to be sophisticated, but it’s thoughtless. A life without God is supposed to be original, but it’s imitative. A life without God is supposed to be free, but it’s a life of bondage.

However, a holy life is different. It’s a life of coherence between thought and life. It’s a life of examination. Lastly, it’s a life of freedom under authority. “As obedient children …” Let’s just look at that, and this is the final point. Do you know what it means to be a holy person? First of all, it means you’re obedient, and unfortunately the word obedience means, yes, to be holy you have to submit your will to another’s. To be obedient means there is a submission of your will to the will of someone else.

There are really two basic epistemologies. There are two basic ways of knowing that are dominant in New York right now, and these are kind of fanciful names. There is the scientist view of life and the New Ageism view of life. The scientistic view of life says, “You know, there is no supernatural. There is no spiritual realm. All that exists is matter, and when you die you rot, and that’s that.” That’s one view. You live your life the way you decide, however you see fit.

Then there is the New Agestic view, and of course, the New Agestic view is growing. New Ageism isn’t just one particular group, but the New Agestic view says, “That’s not true. The scientistic view is wrong. Everything is divine. Everything is sacred. God is in everything. God is throughout everything. You are God yourself, and you must come into contact with it. You must get in touch with the greatness of what you are and the greatness of who you are.”

What is so funny is those two views look like they’re against each other, but they agree in one area: neither of them has any concept of obedience. The scientistic view says, “There is no obedience; there is no one to obey. Do what you want.” The New Agestic view says, “Get in touch with God, but this a God who is impersonal, not a God who speaks.” If you want to understand how New Ageism believes you should get in touch with God, you just watch Luke Skywalker. What does Obi-Wan Kenobi say to Luke Skywalker? “Reach out with your feelings. Get in touch with your feelings.” Okay. No obedience. No obedience at all.

A holy life is an obedient life. Right here Christianity is running a head-on collision with the two dominant worldviews of New York City. What does it mean to be holy? It means to say, “Use me.” It means to be cut out. It means to say, “I belong to you.” It means to say, “You have your will, O Lord, and where my will crosses your will, my will goes.” Otherwise, you’re not really his.

In fact, let’s go one step further. Do you notice down here in verse 15 it says, “… as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do?” Let me push this a little further. To be holy means to be wholly obedient. If there is any area of your life in which you’re not being obedient, you’re actually not being obedient at all. Some people will say to me, “Well, I’m a Christian, and I am obeying God … except there. I’ll get it together.” You’re not obeying God except there. There is no such thing as obeying God except there.

Think of it this way: if you can say to somebody, “You can have the whole house except for that room. You can have the whole house, but you can never go in that room,” if you’re in a position to tell somebody they have the whole house except for that room, they don’t have the house; you have the house. Even if you only live in that room, and you give all the rest of the house to that person, if you can keep that person out of that room, you still own the house.

If you say, “Well, I’m going to submit to what Jesus says about this area of my life and this area of my life, but not this area. Not now. No. Not right now, but I’ll give him my life in every other way,” you haven’t done it at all. Do you see? “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do.” Anything else isn’t holy. I’m not saying to be holy you have to be perfectly obedient. Nobody is. We’ve been through this before. A person is a Christian strictly because Jesus died for them. They rest and trust in that, and therefore, they are forgiven.

The only proper response and the only way you can know that you received Christ as Savior and the only proper response to him giving himself utterly for you on the cross is you giving yourself utterly to him right now. Anything else is inappropriate. Anything else is not holy. To be holy doesn’t mean to be perfectly obedient; to be holy means to be completely submitted in the sense of saying, “I take my hands off my life. I give you the rights to every room in my house. Come in. I can’t keep you out of any, because the house isn’t mine.”

More than that, real holiness does not simply consist of external submission to authority. It says, “As obedient children …” That’s the last point. If you want to know what holiness means, it’s not simply getting all the rules and getting all the regulations. Oh, no. Think about this. Why would Peter say “as obedient children?” Why not as obedient people or as obedient servants? Why obedient children? Because the obedience of a child is different than the obedience of a servant or a slave.

A child can’t obey his or her father … a child can’t obey the parent … unless there has already been an action on the part of the parent to receive that child. You can’t obey your parent unless your parent has had you. You can’t obey your parent unless your parent has adopted you. There either has to be a biological action or there has to be a legal action, but the point is your obedience is not the reason your parents have you; the fact that your parents have you is the reason for your obedience. That’s utterly different.

A slave is scared to death. A slave, or a servant, or an employee says, “I’d better do well.” An employee says, “I’d better do well. Otherwise, I could be fired.” The employee is completely motivated out of rewards and punishments. “I want my reward; I fear the punishment. I want my salary; I don’t want to lose my job. I want a promotion; I don’t want to be demoted.” That’s the employee, and there is obedience to an employee. But no! Not for a Christian. The essence of a holy life is that you obey as children.

“I know I’m accepted.” The entire obedience of a Christian is based on this little word, for. Why should you be obedient? Because “… you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed … but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” If you want to get to the very, very heart of what it means to live an obedient life as a holy person, as a child, not as an employee, to be wholly God’s and to belong wholly to him in your life will only issue from a vision of how he wholly gave himself for you.

At the very end of the movie, The Bible, the one John Huston put together some years ago, George C. Scott plays Abraham. My wife and I can never watch that thing without weeping at the end, so we avoid it. (No, we don’t.) Here is George C. Scott playing Abraham, and God comes to him. In Genesis 15, God said to Abraham, “I will bless you and your descendants through Isaac, your son.” God moves between the pieces of cut up animals to show … He says, “I will obey my promise. I will bless you and your descendants, and if I don’t, may I be cut up as these animals.”

Yet, years later, God comes to Abraham and says, “Abraham, do you know that son I promised I was going to bless you through? I want you to kill him.” The Bible tells us Abraham wrestled and wrestled and wrestled, and finally he walked up the hill with his son, and he put him on the altar. In the movie, they add a little line that is not in the Bible, but it’s perfectly appropriate. In the movie, as Abraham is tying up Isaac and Isaac realizes what he’s doing, Isaac says, “Father, is there nothing he cannot ask of thee?” Abraham says, “Nothing.”

Why not? Why was Abraham holy? Why was Abraham wholly God’s at that point? Because he was just knuckling under the naked power of God? Did Abraham say, “Well, there’s nothing I can do; how can I fight against God?” No. The book of Hebrews tells us he walked up with his son, figuring out somehow God was going to raise him from the dead because God would keep his promise. Ah, if Abraham was only here now. Do you know why? Because as soon as Abraham had wholly given even Isaac …

Everybody in this room has “Isaacs,” things we want to hold on to, and yet God says, “You must be wholly mine.” As Abraham was ready to give Isaac up, God said, “ ‘Abraham! Abraham!’ ‘Here am I,’ he replied.” “Do not harm the lad. Now I know that you love me for you did not withhold your son, your only son whom you love from me.” Abraham, as an Old Testament figure, understood God was good. That’s why he obeyed. He understood God was loving in a general way, but, boy, we have something Abraham didn’t have.

If Abraham was here now, do you know what he would know? He would know why God was able to say, “Abraham, you don’t have to kill your son.” Do you know why? Because years after Abraham, God walked up the hill with his Son and he slew him, and there was nobody there to call out from heaven, “Don’t do it.” If Abraham was here now, he would look at God and say, “Here’s why I’m wholly yours. Now I know, O Lord God, that you love me, because you did not withhold your Son, your only Son, whom you love, from me.”

As obedient children, for you know you were not redeemed with perishable things like silver and gold, but redeemed with the precious blood of Jesus Christ. That creates a motivation for obedience that no one else knows. It’s not an oppressive thing; it’s a liberating thing. We put ourselves wholly under him, wholly in all that we do, and obedient in every area of life. Isn’t it amazing? The ungodly life is not sophisticated; it’s thoughtless. It’s not original; it’s imitative. It’s not free; this is freedom. His service is perfect freedom. “You will know the truth,” Jesus said, “and the truth will set you free.” Let’s pray.

Help us, O Father, to get that freedom and to get that holiness of life, which only comes from the sight of you walking up that mountain with your Son and slaying him for our sins so we could know your pardon. Thank you for taking our punishment upon yourself. I pray, Father, that everybody in this room would know tonight that only if they give themselves wholly to you, because your Son gave himself wholly for us, will we know the freedom and the liberty of holiness. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

About the Preacher

Tim Keller praching w bible image

Timothy Keller is founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (PCA) in New York City and the author of numerous books, including Every Good Endeavor, Center Church, Galatians For You, The Meaning of Marriage, The Reason for GodKing’s CrossCounterfeit GodsThe Prodigal God, and Generous Justice.

 
 
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Posted by on June 19, 2013 in Sermons, Tim Keller

 

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John MacArthur on Being Above Reproach

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A small item I read in the news twenty years ago has stuck in my mind ever since. The Rockdale County High School Bulldogs basketball team of Conyers, Georgia, won their first-ever state championship in March of 1987, rolling over all their opponents. After eighteen years of coaching the team without a championship, coach Cleveland Stroud was ecstatic.

But a few weeks after the championship game, Coach Stroud was doing a routine review of his players’ grades when he discovered that one of his third‑string players had failed some courses, rendering the player academically ineligible for the basketball team.

The struggling student was by no means a factor in the team’s victory. He was an underclassman who suited up for games but hadn’t actually seen any playing time all season. During one of the semifinal matches, however, with the team leading by more than 20 points, Coach Stroud wanted to give every player an opportunity to participate. He had put that player in the game for less than 45 seconds. The ineligible man had scored no points. His participation had in no way affected the outcome of the game. But it was, technically, a violation of state eligibility standards.

Coach Stroud was in a distressing predicament. If he revealed the infraction, his team would be disqualified and stripped of their championship. If he kept quiet, it was highly unlikely anyone outside the school would ever discover the offense.

Yet the coach realized that at the very least, the player involved was aware of the breach of rules. It was also possible that other students on the team knew and thought their coach had purposely ignored the eligibility guidelines. But more important still, Coach Stroud himself knew, and if he deliberately tried to keep the facts from coming to light, his greatest coaching victory would be forever tainted with an ugly secret.

Coach Stroud said from the moment he discovered the violation, he knew what he had to do. He never even pondered any alternatives. His priorities had been set long before this. He realized that his team’s championship was not as important as their character. “People forget the scores of basketball games,” he said. “They don’t ever forget what you’re made of.”

He reported the infraction and forfeited the only state championship his team had ever won.

But both coach and team won a far more important kind of honor than they forfeited. They kept their integrity intact and gained an immeasurable amount of trust and respect. The coach was recognized with numerous teacher-of-the-year, coach-of-the-year, and citizen-of-the-year awards, as well as a formal commendation from the Georgia State Legislature. A few years later he was elected to Conyers City council, where he still serves. He was right. People who would have long ago forgotten about the Bulldogs’ victory in the state championship have never forgotten about this coach’s integrity.

Ethical integrity is one of the indispensable attributes of Christlike character. As vital as it is to be sound in doctrine and faithful in teaching the truth of Scripture, it is by no means less crucial for Christians to be upright in heart and consistent in our obedience to the moral and ethical principles of God’s law.

That is no simple duty, by the way. The moral standard God’s people are supposed to live by far surpasses even the highest principles of normal human ethics.

This was one of the main points of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount: “I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). The whole sermon was an exposition of the Law’s moral meaning. The heart of Jesus’ message was an extended discourse against the notion that the Law’s moral principles apply only to behavior that others can see.

Jesus taught, for example, that the sixth commandment forbids not only acts of killing, but a murderous heart as well (vv. 21–22). The seventh commandment, which forbids adultery, also implicitly condemns even adulterous desires (vv. 27–28). And the command to love our neighbors applies even to those who are our enemies (vv. 43–44).

How high is the moral and ethical standard set by God’s law? Unimaginably high. Jesus equates it with God’s own perfection: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (v. 48).

That sets an unattainable standard, of course. But it is our duty to pursue integrity relentlessly nonetheless. Perfect ethical consistency is a vital aspect of that consummate goal — absolute Christlikeness — toward which every Christian should continually be striving (Phil. 3:12–14). No believer, therefore, should ever knowingly sacrifice his or her ethical integrity.

Here are three powerful reasons why:

First, for the sake of our reputation. Of course, Christians should not be concerned with issues like status, class, caste, or economic prestige. In that sense, we need to be like Christ, who made Himself of no reputation and took on the form of a servant (Phil. 2:7).

There is a true sense, however, in which we do need to be concerned about maintaining a good reputation — and that is especially true in the matter of ethical integrity. One of the basic requirements for an elder is this: “He must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil” (1 Tim. 3:7 nasb).

Nothing will ruin a good reputation faster or more permanently than a deliberate breach of ethical integrity. People will forgive practically any other kind of error, negligence, or failure — but ethical bankruptcy carries a stigma that is almost impossible to rise above.

Several years ago, a parishioner told me something no pastor ever wants to hear. He had invited a business acquaintance to our church. The man replied, “You go to that church? I wouldn’t go to that church. The most corrupt lawyer in town goes to that church.”

I didn’t — and still don’t — have any idea whom he was talking about. There are dozens of attorneys in our church. My hope is that it was a case of mistaken identity and that the person he had in mind was not a member of our church. But the following Sunday I recounted the incident from the pulpit and said, “If the lawyer that man described is here this morning, please take a lesson from Zaccheus: repent and do whatever you can to restore your reputation in the community. In the meantime, stop representing yourself as a Christian. You’re destroying the whole church’s reputation.”

According to Proverbs 22:1, “A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold.” You don’t have a good name at all unless your ethical integrity is intact and above reproach.

Second, for the sake of our character. More important still is the issue of personal character. There’s a good reason why Jesus’ exposition of the moral law in Matthew 5 focused so much on uprightness of heart as opposed to external behavior. That’s because the real barometer of who we are is reflected in what we do when no one else is looking, how we think in the privacy of our own thoughts, and how we respond to the promptings of our own consciences. Those things are the true measure of your moral and ethical fiber.

As important as it is to keep a good reputation in the community, it is a thousand times more important to safeguard our own personal character. That is why Jesus dealt with the issues of morality and ethics beginning with the innermost thoughts of our hearts. “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matt. 15:19).

It’s probably not overstating the case at all to say that the single most important battlefield in the struggle for integrity is your own mind. That’s where everything will actually be won or lost. And if you lose there, you have already ruined your character. A corrupt character inevitably spoils the reputation, too, because a bad tree can’t bring forth good fruit (Matt. 7:18).

That brings to mind a third reason why it is so vital to guard our moral and ethical integrity: for the sake of our testimony. Your reputation reflects what people say about you. Your testimony is what your character, your behavior, and your words say about God.

Consider what is being communicated when a Christian lacks ethical integrity. That person is saying he doesn’t truly believe what Scripture plainly says is true of God: That “to do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice” (Prov. 21:3). That “the sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but the prayer of the upright is acceptable to him” (15:8). And that God “delight[s] in truth in the inward being” 
(Ps. 51:6).

In other words, the person who neglects ethical integrity is telling a lie about God with his life and his attitude. If he calls himself a Christian and professes to be a child of God, he is in fact taking God’s name in vain at the most fundamental level. That puts the issue of ethical integrity in perspective, doesn’t it?

That’s what we need to call to mind whenever we are tempted to adapt our ethical principles for convenience’ sake. It isn’t worth the high cost to our reputation, our character, or our testimony.

About the Author:

Dr. John MacArthur is pastor-teacher of Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California, and president of The Master’s College and Seminary. He is also the featured teacher for the Grace to You media ministry.

 

Article from September 1, 2007 © Tabletalk magazine 
Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you do not make more than 500 physical copies. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred (where applicable). If no such link exists, simply link to http://www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Any exceptions to the above must be formally approved by Tabletalk.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: From Ligonier Ministries and R.C. Sproul. © Tabletalk magazine. Website: http://www.ligonier.org/tabletalk. Email: tabletalk@ligonier.org. Toll free: 1-800-435-4343

 

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“Fear Not!” by R.C. Sproul

Why Did Jesus Say “Fear Not” So Frequently?

We are fragile mortals, given to fears of every sort. We have a built-in insecurity that no amount of whistling in the dark can mollify. We seek assurance concerning the things that frighten us the most.

The prohibition uttered most frequently by our Lord is the command, “Fear not.” He said this so often to his disciples and others he encountered that it almost came to sound like a greeting. Where most people greet others by saying “Hi” or “Hello,” the first words of Jesus often were “Fear not.”

Why? Perhaps Jesus’ predilection for those words grew out of his acute sense of the thinly veiled fear that grips all who approach the living God. We fear his power, we fear his wrath, and most of all we fear his ultimate rejection.

The assurance we need most is the assurance of salvation. Though we are loathe to think much about it or contemplate it deeply, we know, if only intuitively, that the worst catastrophe that could ever befall us is to be visited by God’s final punitive wrath. Our insecurity is worsened by the certainty that we deserve it.

Many believe that assurance of eternal salvation is neither possible or even to be sought. To claim such assurance is considered a mask of supreme arrogance, the nadir of self-conceit.

Yet, if God declares that it is possible to have full assurance of salvation and even commands that we seek after it, then it would be supremely arrogant to deny our need or neglect the search.

In fact, God does command us to make our election and calling sure: Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall (2 Pet. 1:10).

This command admits of no justifiable neglect. It addresses a crucial matter. The question, “Am I saved?” is one of the most important I can ever ask myself. I need to know the answer; I must know the answer. This is not a trifle. Without the assurance of salvation the Christian life is unstable, vulnerable to the debilitating rigors of mood changes. Basing assurance on changing emotions allows the wolf of heresy to camp on the doorstep. Progress in sanctification requires a firm foundation in faith. Assurance is the cement of that foundation. Without it the foundation crumbles.

How, then, do we receive assurance? The Scripture declares that the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God. This inner testimony of the Holy Spirit is as vital as it is complex. It can be subjected to severe distortions, being confused with subjectivism and self-delusion. The Spirit gives his testimony with the Word and through the Word, never without the Word or against the Word.

Since it is possible to have false assurance of salvation it is all the more urgent that we seek the Spirit’s testimony in and through the Word. False assurance usually proceeds from a faulty understanding of salvation. If one fails to understand the necessary conditions for salvation, assurance becomes, at best, a guess.

Therefore, we insist that right doctrine is a crucial element in acquiring a sound basis for assurance. It may even be a necessary condition, though it is by no means a sufficient condition. Without sound doctrine we will have an inadequate understanding of salvation. However, having a sound understanding of salvation is no guarantee that we have the salvation we so soundly understand.

If we think the Bible teaches universal salvation we may arrive at a false sense of assurance by reasoning as follows:

Everybody is saved.

I am a body.

Therefore, I am saved.

Or, if we think salvation is gained by our own good works and we are further deluded into believing that we possess good works, we will have a false assurance of salvation.

To have sound assurance we must understand that our salvation rests upon the merit of Christ alone, which is appropriated to us when we embrace him by genuine faith. If we understand that, the remaining question is, “Do I have the genuine faith necessary for salvation?”

To answer that question two more things must be understood and analyzed properly. The first is doctrinal. We need a clear understanding of what constitutes genuine saving faith. If we conceive of saving faith as a faith that exists in a vacuum, never yielding the fruit of works of obedience, we have confused saving faith with dead faith, which cannot save anyone.

The second requirement involves a sober analysis of our own lives. We must examine ourselves to see if the fruit of regeneration is apparent in us. Do we have a real affection for the biblical Christ? Only the regenerate person possesses real love for the real Jesus. Next we must ask the tough question, “Does my life manifest the fruit of sanctification?” I test my faith by my works.

I call this last question the tough question for various reasons. We can lose assurance if we think perfect obedience is the test. Every sin we commit after conversion can cast doubt upon our assurance. That doubt is exacerbated by Satan’s assault of accusation against us. Satan delights in shaking the true Christian’s assurance.

Or we can delude ourselves by looking at our own works with an exalted view of our goodness, seeing virtue in ourselves when there is none. Here we quake in terror before our Lord’s warning: “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matt. 7:22–23).

Real assurance rests on a sound understanding of salvation, a sound understanding of justification, a sound understanding of sanctification, and a sound understanding of ourselves. In all these matters we have the comfort and assistance of the Holy Spirit who illumines the text of Scripture for us, who works in us to yield the fruit of sanctification, and who bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.

The article above was excerpted from Chapter 7 of Doubt & Assurance edited by R.C. Sproul. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000.

About the Author:

R.C. Sproul has taught theology to hundreds of thousands of people through books, radio, audiotapes, videotapes, seminars, sermons, seminary classes and other forums.

Sproul has written approximately sixty books (and counting). In addition to many volumes designed to teach theology, apologetics, and ethics to laymen through expository prose, he has written a novel, a biography, and several childrens books. He has also edited several volumes, including a festschrift for John H. Gerstner, a seminary textbook, and the New Geneva Study Bible. He has written one of the top classics of the 20th century – The Holiness of God; and perhaps the best book to explain God’s sovereignty in our salvation for laymen entitled Chosen by God.

Sproul founded Ligonier Ministries in 1971, a teaching ministry to assist the church in nurturing believers and equipping them for the ministries to which God has called them. Ligonier sponsors a radio program, “Renewing Your Mind,” which features Sproul and is broadcast nationally, five days a week.

Ligonier Ministries sponsors several seminars each year, the largest one in Orlando every winter. Ligonier publishes a monthly periodical, Tabletalk, and has its own web site (http://www.gospelcom.net).

Sproul has taught theology and apologetics at several seminaries. He earned a B.A. degree from Westminster College, a B.D. from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, and a Drs. from the Free University of Amsterdam. He is ordained in the Presbyterian Church in America.

In 1994 Christianity Today asked a select list of “critics,” “What theologian or biblical scholar has most shaped your Christian life?” Third on the list (and the only American in the top four) was R.C. Sproul.

 

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Dr. R.C. Sproul on Making Your Calling and Election Sure

“Fear Not”

We are fragile mortals, given to fears of every sort. We have a built-in insecurity that no amount of whistling in the dark can mollify. We seek assurance concerning the things that frighten us the most.

The prohibition uttered most frequently by our Lord is the command, “Fear not.” He said this so often to his disciples and others he encountered that it almost came to sound like a greeting. Where most people greet others by saying “Hi” or “Hello,” the first words of Jesus often were “Fear not.”

Why? Perhaps Jesus’ predilection for those words grew out of his acute sense of the thinly veiled fear that grips all who approach the living God. We fear his power, we fear his wrath, and most of all we fear his ultimate rejection.

The assurance we need most is the assurance of salvation. Though we are loathe to think much about it or contemplate it deeply, we know, if only intuitively, that the worst catastrophe that could ever befall us is to be visited by God’s final punitive wrath. Our insecurity is worsened by the certainty that we deserve it.

Many believe that assurance of eternal salvation is neither possible or even to be sought. To claim such assurance is considered a mask of supreme arrogance, the nadir of self-conceit.

Yet, if God declares that it is possible to have full assurance of salvation and even commands that we seek after it, then it would be supremely arrogant to deny our need or neglect the search.

In fact, God does command us to make our election and calling sure: Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall” (2 Pet. 1:10).

This command admits of no justifiable neglect. It addresses a crucial matter. The question, “Am I saved?” is one of the most important I can ever ask myself. I need to know the answer; I must know the answer. This is not a trifle. Without the assurance of salvation the Christian life is unstable, vulnerable to the debilitating rigors of mood changes. Basing assurance on changing emotions allows the wolf of heresy to camp on the doorstep. Progress in sanctification requires a firm foundation in faith. Assurance is the cement of that foundation. Without it the foundation crumbles.

How, then, do we receive assurance? The Scripture declares that the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God. This inner testimony of the Holy Spirit is as vital as it is complex. It can be subjected to severe distortions, being confused with subjectivism and self-delusion. The Spirit gives his testimony with the Word and through the Word, never without the Word or against the Word.

Since it is possible to have false assurance of salvation it is all the more urgent that we seek the Spirit’s testimony in and through the Word. False assurance usually proceeds from a faulty understanding of salvation. If one fails to understand the necessary conditions for salvation, assurance becomes, at best, a guess.

Therefore, we insist that right doctrine is a crucial element in acquiring a sound basis for assurance. It may even be a necessary condition, though it is by no means a sufficient condition. Without sound doctrine we will have an inadequate understanding of salvation. However, having a sound understanding of salvation is no guarantee that we have the salvation we so soundly understand.

If we think the Bible teaches universal salvation we may arrive at a false sense of assurance by reasoning as follows:

Everybody is saved.

I am a body.

Therefore, I am saved.

Or, if we think salvation is gained by our own good works and we are further deluded into believing that we possess good works, we will have a false assurance of salvation.

To have sound assurance we must understand that our salvation rests upon the merit of Christ alone, which is appropriated to us when we embrace him by genuine faith. If we understand that, the remaining question is, “Do I have the genuine faith necessary for salvation?”

To answer that question two more things must be understood and analyzed properly. The first is doctrinal. We need a clear understanding of what constitutes genuine saving faith. If we conceive of saving faith as a faith that exists in a vacuum, never yielding the fruit of works of obedience, we have confused saving faith with dead faith, which cannot save anyone.

The second requirement involves a sober analysis of our own lives. We must examine ourselves to see if the fruit of regeneration is apparent in us. Do we have a real affection for the biblical Christ? Only the regenerate person possesses real love for the real Jesus. Next we must ask the tough question, “Does my life manifest the fruit of sanctification?” I test my faith by my works.

I call this last question the tough question for various reasons. We can lose assurance if we think perfect obedience is the test. Every sin we commit after conversion can cast doubt upon our assurance. That doubt is exacerbated by Satan’s assault of accusation against us. Satan delights in shaking the true Christian’s assurance.

Or we can delude ourselves by looking at our own works with an exalted view of our goodness, seeing virtue in ourselves when there is none. Here we quake in terror before our Lord’s warning: “Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matt. 7:22–23).

Real assurance rests on a sound understanding of salvation, a sound understanding of justification, a sound understanding of sanctification, and a sound understanding of ourselves. In all these matters we have the comfort and assistance of the Holy Spirit who illumines the text of Scripture for us, who works in us to yield the fruit of sanctification, and who bears witness with our spirit that we are the children of God.

The article above adapted from Chapter 7 in the short book edited by Dr. R.C. Sproul. Doubt & Assurance. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000.

About Dr. R.C. Sproul: He is the founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian education ministry located near Orlando, Florida. His teaching can be heard on the program Renewing Your Mind, which is broadcast on hundreds of radio outlets in the United States and in 40 countries worldwide. He is the executive editor of Tabletalk magazine and general editor of The Reformation Study Bible, and the author of more than seventy books (including some of my all time favorites: The Holiness of God; Chosen By God; Reason to Believe; Knowing Scripture; Willing to Believe;  Intimate Marriage; Pleasing God; If There’s A God, Why Are There Atheists?, and Defending The Faith) and scores of articles for national evangelical publications. Dr. Sproul also serves as president of Ligonier Academy of Biblical and Theological Studies and Reformation Bible College. He currently serves as Senior Minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew’s in Sanford, FL.

 

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Dr. Tim Keller On The Importance of Gospel Repentance

*Dr. Tim Keller: “All of Life is Repentance”

Martin Luther opened the Reformation by nailing “The Ninety-Five Theses” to the door of Wittenberg Cathedral. The very first of the theses was: “Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ…willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” On the surface this looks a little bleak! Luther seems to be saying Christians will never be making much progress in the Christian life. Indeed, pervasive, all-of-life-repentance is the best sign that we are growing deeply into the character of Jesus.

The Transformation of Repentance:

It is important to consider how the gospel affects and transforms the act of repentance. In ‘religion’ the purpose of repentance is basically to keep God happy so he will continue to bless you and answer your prayers. This means that ‘religious repentance’ is a) selfish, b) self-righteous, c) and bitter all the way to the bottom. But in the gospel the purpose of repentance is to repeatedly tap into the joy of union with Christ in order to weaken our need to do anything contrary to God’s heart.

“Religious” repentance is selfish:

In religion we only are sorry for sin because of its consequences to us. It will bring us punishment – and we want to avoid that. So we repent. But the gospel tells us that sin can’t ultimately bring us into condemnation (Rom. 8:1) its heinousness is therefore what it does to God-it displeases and dishonors him. Thus in religion, repentance is self-centered; the gospel makes it God-centered. In religion we are mainly sorry for the consequences of sin, but in the gospel we are sorry for the sin itself.

Furthermore, ‘religious’ repentance is self-righteous. Repentance can easily become a form of ‘atoning’ for the sin. Religious repentance often becomes a form of self-flagellation in which we convince God (and ourselves) that we are truly miserable and regretful that we deserve to be forgiven. In the gospel, however, we know that Jesus suffered and was miserable for our sin. We do not have to make ourselves suffer in order to merit forgiveness. We simply receive the forgiveness earned by Christ. 1 John 1:8 says that God forgives us because he is ‘just.’ That is a remarkable statement. It would be unjust of God to ever deny us forgiveness, because Jesus earned our acceptance! In religion we earn forgiveness with our repentance, but in the gospel we just receive it.

Last, religious repentance is “bitter all the way down.” In religion our only hope is to live a good enough life for God to bless us. Therefore every instance of sin and repentance is traumatic, unnatural, and horribly threatening. Only under great duress does a religious person admit they have sinned-because their only hope is their moral goodness. But in the gospel the knowledge of our acceptance in Christ makes it easier to admit we are flawed (because we know we won’t be cast off if we confess the true depths of our sinfulness).

Our hope is in Christ’s righteousness, not our own-so it is not so traumatic to admit our weaknesses and lapses. In religion we repent less and less often. But the more accepted and loved in the gospel we feel the more and more often we will be repenting. And though of course there is always some bitterness in any repentance, in the gospel there is ultimately sweetness. This creates a radical new dynamic for personal growth. The more you see your own flaws and sins, the more precious, electrifying, and amazing God’s grace appears to you. But on the other hand, the more aware you are of God’s grace and acceptance in Christ, the more able you are to drop your denials and self-defenses and admit the true dimensions of your sin. The sin under all other sins is a lack of joy in Christ.

The Disciplines of Gospel-Repentance:

If you clearly understood these two different ways to go about repentance, then (and only then!) you can profit greatly from a regular and exacting discipline of self-examination and repentance. I’ve found that the practices of the 18th century Methodist leaders George Whitefield and John Wesley have been helpful to me here. In January 9, 1738, in a letter to a friend, George Whitefield laid out an order for regular repentance. (He ordinarily did his inventory at night) He wrote: “God give me a deep humility and a burning love, a well-guided zeal and a single eye, and then let men and devils do their worst!” Here is one way to use this order in gospel-grounded repentance.

Deep Humility vs. Pride:

Have I looked down on anyone? Have I been too stung by criticism? Have I felt snubbed and ignored?

Repent like this: Consider the free grace of Jesus until I sense a) decreasing disdain (since I am a sinner too), b) decreasing pain over criticism (since I should not value human approval over God’s love). In light of his grace I can let go of the need to keep up a good image-it is too great a burden and now unnecessary. Consider free grace until I experience grateful, restful joy.

Burning love vs. Indifference:

Have I spoken or thought unkindly of anyone? Am I justifying myself by caricaturing (in my mind) someone else? Have I been impatient and irritable? Have I been self-absorbed and indifferent and inattentive to people?

Repent like this: Consider the free grace of Jesus until there is a) no coldness or unkindness (think of the sacrificial love of Christ for you), b) no impatience (think of his patience with you), and c) no indifference. Consider free grace until I show warmth and affection. God was infinitely patient and attentive to me, out of grace.

Wise Courage vs. Anxiety:

Have I avoided people or tasks that I know I should face? Have I been anxious and worried? Have I failed to be circumspect or have I been rash and impulsive?

Repent like this: Consider the free grace of Jesus until there is a) no cowardly avoidance of hard things (since Jesus faced evil for me), b) no anxious or rash behavior (since Jesus’ death proves God cares and will watch over me). It takes pride to be anxious – I am not wise enough to know how my life should go. Consider free grace until I experience calm thoughtfulness and strategic boldness.

Godly motivations (a ‘single eye’):

Am I doing what I am doing for God’s glory and the good of others or am I being driven by fears, need for approval, love of comfort and ease, need for control, hunger for acclaim and power, or the ‘fear of man?’ Am I looking at anyone with envy? Am I giving in to any of even the first motions of lust or gluttony? Am I spending my time on urgent things rather than important things because of these inordinate desires?

Repent like this: How does Jesus provide for me in what I am looking for in these other things? Pray: “O Lord Jesus, make me happy enough in you to avoid sin and wise enough in you to avoid danger, that I may always do what is right in your sight, in your name I pray, Amen.”

*Dr. Tim Keller is the founding pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan, New York, and the author of The Reason for God: Belief in an age of Skepticism (In my opinion the best book to date on apologetics for a postmodern culture—I think this book will do for post moderns what Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis did for moderns).

 

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Book Review – Three Free Sins: God’s Not Mad At You by Steve Brown

Why It’s Bad Trying So Hard To Be Good

I’m pretty sure I’ve read every book that Steve Brown has written and I love them all. So I was anxiously anticipating this new book with the “scandalous” title. Steve Brown is NOT a proponent of “cheap grace,” he understands justification by faith alone as well, or perhaps better than most theologians do. Steve Brown writes with his characteristic blend of humor and authentic seriousness about living the abundant life that Jesus came to bring us by helping the reader understand and apply two important truths related to the gospel stated by the late Jack Miller as follows:

“(1) Cheer up…you’re a lot worse than you think you are, and

(2) cheer up…God’s grace is a lot bigger than you think it is.”

These two truths are developed eloquently and cogently throughout the book. In typical Brown-like fashion this book is full of biblical principles, powerful illustrations, and practical examples that will help you become less of a self-righteous Pharisee, and more like Jesus – full of joy, freedom, laughter, and basking in grace and truth.

Some of the specific issues Brown addresses in this book are as follows: perfectionism, self-righteousness, legalism, anger, repentance, unity in the body of Christ, pride and humility, religiosity, honesty, freedom, grace, and truth.

In the very last chapter he specifically answers some of the questions he gets due to his many books, sermons, and speaking on freedom and grace through justification by faith alone in Jesus Christ:

(1) Are you crazy?

(2) Why do you persist in irritating everybody? Free sins? That’s outrageous! Why don’t you write and teach in a normal way?

(3) There are a lot of examples in the Bible that show God’s wrath, and yet you say that God isn’t angry at his people. Are you sure you haven’t gotten it wrong?

(4) What’s hermeneutics? (Brown relates this to question 3 above)

(5) Okay, but what about obedience?

(6) Is holiness and sanctification irrelevant?

(7) What about discipline? You very conveniently avoid Hebrews 12:7. It says in case you don’t know, “It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?

(8) You don’t seem to care much for excellence nor do you have a very high view of human nature. Don’t you think you’ve gone a bit too far?

(9) Okay, but where do you draw the line?

(10) What about right and wrong? You don’t seem to care about that.

(11) What about being missional? If Christians buy into what you’ve taught, won’t people stop going on the mission field, feeding the poor, and caring for those in need?

(12) Aren’t you a bit pessimistic about human beings?

(13) Doesn’t that lead to “wormology” and a bad self-image?

(14) What if you’re wrong?

As usual (when reading a Brown offering), I read this book and felt the full gamut of emotions – I laughed, and cried, got mad (not at Steve Brown) – but at myself and other Christians – for our self-righteous stupidity, and most of all praised God for His amazing grace and patience with the world, and especially with me! There is solid theological and practical food for the head, heart, and hands all over the place in this book. Once again, I was struck by God’s amazing grace to save a wretch like me. And once again I’m glad for all of humanity that I’m NOT God – and that Jesus is – and that He is my Savior – His righteousness in exchange for all of my many sins – covered by the Blood of the Lamb for all eternity by the sheer grace of God.

 

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