Unbelief commits nothing to God

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Unbelief leaves our dearest interests and concerns in our own hands. It commits nothing to God. Consequently, it fills the heart with distracting fears when imminent danger threatens us. If this is your case, you will be surrounded with terror whenever you are surrounded with danger and trouble. Believers have this advantage: they have committed by faith all that is precious and valuable to them in God’s hands. They have committed the keeping of their souls (1 Peter 4:19) and all their eternal concerns (2 Tim. 1:14) to Him. Because these things are in safe hands, they are not distracted with fears about matters of less value. They entrust these to God and enjoy the peace and quietness of a resigned soul (Prov. 163). But as for you, you keep your life, liberty, and soul (which is infinitely greater than these other things) in your own hands in the day of trouble. You do not know what to do with them or how to dispose of them.

Oh, these are the dreadful frights in which unbelief leaves people! It is a foundation of fears and distractions. Indeed, it cannot but distract and bewilder carnal people, in whom it reigns in full strength. Sad experience shows us what fear (the remains and relics of unbelief) produces in the best people.w ho are not fully free from it. If the relics of unbelief can darken and cloud their evidences, if it can draw such sad and frightful conclusions in their hearts (despite all the contrary experience of their lives), what unrelieved terrors must it produce in those who are under its full strength and dominion!

John Flavel, Triumphing Over Sinful Fear, 38-39


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Knowledge vs understanding

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

There is nothing new about not believing in God; it is the oldest thing in the world to deny Him. This is what I find so pathetic, that people think it is clever not to believe in God, that it is modern, that it is something new, that it is something wonderful! But here is a man, King David, writing all this a thousand years before Christ—nearly three thousand years ago—and there were people saying then, “There is no God”—just what clever people are saying today, those who try to argue that they are saying it in terms of some latest esoteric knowledge that they have been given and that other people still do not have. But is it not clear that this has nothing at all to do with knowledge as such?

No; it is a question of understanding, and that is a very different thing. Men and women may have a lot of book knowledge, but that does not mean they have understanding or that they have wisdom. They can be aware of many facts, but they may be fools in their own personal lives. Have we not known such people? I have known men in some of the learned professions; I would take their opinion without a moment’s hesitation because of their knowledge and because of their learning. But sometimes I have known some of those men to be utter fools in their own personal lives. I mean by that, they behaved like lunatics, as if they had not a brain at all. They have behaved in exactly the same way as a man who never had their educational advantages and who had none of their great knowledge. They drank too much even as a less educated man did; they were guilty of adultery even as he was.

There is all the difference in the world between knowledge—an awareness of facts—and wisdom and real understanding. Though people may have great brains and may know a number of things, they may still be governed by their lusts and passions and desires, and that is why they are fools.… They are men and women who listen to their hearts, their desires; they are governed by what they want to do rather than by true understanding.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Seeking the Face of God: Nine Reflections on the Psalms, 14–15

How to share the Gospel with someone who thinks all Christians are hypocrites

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I’ve heard it before and I’m sure you have too–the common skeptic complaint that all Christians are hypocrites. To back up this claim, many point to being burned by a Christian in the past, abuse that has taken place in the church, or media portrayals of Christians and come to the conclusion that because of that failure, Christianity must be a hoax.

I hope to encourage you and equip you to not only respond, but be able to steer these types of conversations into great opportunities to share the gospel. There is no one-sized-fits all approach to any evangelistic endeavor, but here are a few steps you could take to steer this type of conversation somewhere eternally productive.

A quick reminder: just like in any other evangelistic conversation, your speech needs to be gracious and Christ-like (Colossians 4:6). Our message of grace needs to be said in a tone of grace–we don’t want to be hypocrites!

1. When someone complains that all Christians are hypocrites, tell the person that they are right.

Thinking that all Christians are hypocrites is in line with Scripture and what Jesus taught. Jesus spoke against hypocrisy and railed the Pharisees for putting on an outwardly religious show but forsaking a deeper spiritual life (Luke 11:42). Because we are all sinners (including Christians), we all are hypocritical in one way or another.

Responding this way might catch them off guard by giving them a compliment. Most people won’t mind having something good in common with Jesus–in fact they’ll like it. Tell them that the Bible says all people have sinned and that hypocritical Christians are what you would expect in a world tainted by sin.

You could also share that when a Christian doesn’t live up to God’s standard, that doesn’t make God’s standard false, but rather shows the value of God’s standard. When the world sees a hypocritical Christians who cheats, neglects the poor, and hates others, this shows the value of the Christian virtues of honesty, charity, and love.

2. Explain sin and how nobody measures up to God’s perfect standard.

People will be glad to hear that Jesus agrees with them–but probably won’t be too thrilled to find out that they don’t measure up to God’s standard either. But everyone who comes to believe the good news has to believe the bad news first. You may want to say something like,

The Bible also teaches that we are all sinners and have been hypocrites. You, me, the hypocrites you just mentioned–everyone. We’ve all failed to love God above everything (something due Him as creator) and we’ve failed to love others by lying, stealing, hating, and living for ourselves.

Before moving on from step two, it is wise to gauge how the person you are speaking with takes this news. It may not be wise to continue to step three if they reject the fact that they are a sinner. Giving the riches of the gospel to people who will not acknowledge their sin could be like throwing pearls to swine to pigs to trample them. Humble hearts that acknowledge their sin are ripe to hear about the solution to their sin in Jesus Christ.

3. Present Christ.

Now is the time to proclaim the greatest news ever imagined: God saves sinners through the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ–and that offer of salvation is available to all. Your words could be the most important words this person has ever heard. This is also a good time to remind yourself of God’s grace to you in saving you from the domain of darkness and bringing you into the Kingdom of His Son.

4. Ask for a response.

After presenting the gospel, ask people if what you shared makes sense and call them to believe in Jesus Christ. Even if they are currently 100 miles away from trusting Christ, asking them penetrating questions about how the gospel affects them will spur deeper reflection and show them the natural response to the gospel is trusting Christ by faith.

5. Pray.

Entrust this person to God and pray that your conversation would bear fruit in their lives. God is the one who saves–and can use the seeds you planted to bring that person to faith and repentance many years in the future.

May the Lord stir in the hearts of the people you talk to by His grace to show them their sin and need for a Savior so that they can proclaim what one hypocrite realized, “Salvation comes from the Lord!” (Jonah 2:9).


Kevin Halloran is a lover of Christ, drinker of coffee, and reader of books who has no real reason to continue being a Chicago Cubs fan (but is anyway). He serves with Leadership Resources International training pastors to preach God’s Word with God’s heart. Follow Kevin on Twitter or visit his blog.

Photo credit: Leonard John Matthews via photopin cc

“Just believe” & other nonsense you hear in the movies

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I’m a sucker for cult TV shows—y’know, the ones constantly living on the bubble, that no matter how great they are can’t seem to find an audience, either because of network interference or… well, network interference is probably the majority of the reason.

Chuck was one of those shows that took Emily and me by surprise when we discovered it on DVD. But years before that, we found a show called Firefly. The brainchild of Joss Whedon, this show was set in the far-off future mashing up Star Wars, westerns and a touch of Star Trek, with one of the central conceits being, “What if the Federation were the bad guys?”

Not surprisingly, the show didn’t last long on TV, but eventually developed such a rabid fanbase that a movie was released in 2005, Serenity. Last night, Emily and I were watching the movie on Netflix, and I was surprised at how well it holds up in terms of its aesthetic and overall storytelling… but there’s this one scene that absolutely ruins the movie for me.

At a pivotal moment in the film, the lead character, Mal (played by the perpetually-smarmy Nathan Fillion) is with Shepherd Book, a Christian (ish) preacher, who is moments away from death due to the machinations of the film’s villain, The Operative—a devout believer in “a better world, a world without sin.” And so, Book, with his final breath, tells Mal, “I don’t care what you believe—just believe.”1

This is the key to defeating The Operative.

It’s intense. It’s dramatic. And it’s complete nonsense.

But, of course, you likely already know that.

The problem, obviously, is not with the idea of belief, but it’s what are we being asked to believe in. This is the common problem we see in so many movies and TV shows, including those where an apparently “Christian” preacher appears. Either he’s a proxy for a belief in morality as the key to happiness, or the spread of ‘murican values, or he’s some sort of pathetic Oprah-in-disguise-wannabe-hippie.2

We’re told to look to ourselves, to listen to our hearts, to follow our instincts. We are constantly encouraged to look inward, but fail to realize that it’s looking inward that’s the cause of so many of our problems. As Rob Gordon famously said, “I’ve been listening to my gut since I was 14 years old, and frankly speaking, I’ve come to the conclusion that my guts have [expletive] for brains.”

This is why “just believe” or believing in belief or listening to our hearts and all the other nonsense we hear is just that—nonsense. And secretly, I think we all know it. We’ve seen it not work time and again, but we keep running back to it, hoping that this time it might be different.

This vain hope isn’t what the Bible calls us to. This false belief isn’t what Christianity is rooted in. We don’t belief in believe, as though that were somehow possible. We don’t believe in being good, despite what some preachers might tell you. We don’t believe in listening to our hearts, because we know how prone to wander they are. Instead, we believe in something sure and trustworthy.

We believe that God created all that is. We believe God is so far above us and yet so intimately near us. We believe in the promises of God and we believe He keeps His Word. We believe Christ truly rescues us from our sin through His death and resurrection. We believe that a day is coming when God will transform this world into a new and better one, one free from sin and death forevermore. And we believe this really does change everything in a person’s life.

That’s what Christians believe in. That’s what everyone needs to believe in.

But we don’t believe in belief, and neither should you. That’s just a road to nowhere.

Sad but not strange

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photo: iStock

It is sad that Jesus finds it necessary to exhort the followers closest to him to believe his words, and therefore to believe that he is himself the revelation of the Father. Sad, indeed; but not strange. Is not our own unbelief proof enough of the commonness of unbelief? Even after we have been assured of God’s love for us again and again, of his sovereign pleasure to bless his people with what he judges good for them, do we not retreat to practical skepticism when difficult circumstances seem to call in question his goodness or his power?

Jesus’ first disciples in John 14 are experiencing difficulties of several kinds. They are perhaps intellectually slow to believe the daring claim on Jesus’ lips, made repeatedly, that he is in the Father and the Father in him. Worse, they are bound up emotionally as well as intellectually as they wrestle with talk about death, betrayal, Jesus’ departure, their inability to follow him at present, and the like. What they need more than anything else is to believe Jesus, to believe that what he is saying is true. If only they believe, then the uncertainties surrounding these other large matters will be swallowed up by confidence that Jesus is none other than the revelation of the Father. There is no belief more basic to spiritual triumph than that.

D.A. Carson, The Farewell Discourse and Final Prayer of Jesus

22 Ridiculous Things I Believed as a Child

Last week, Abraham Piper shared 22 ridiculous things he believed as a child, all of which put a smile on my face. In honor of the Victoria Day long weekend, I’ve compiled my own list of the ridiculous things I believed as a child. I hope you enjoy.

  1. I could fly if I tried hard enough
  2. I had a shot with the prettiest girl in school
  3. Being in Chess Club didn’t mark me as one of the “loser” kids
  4. Aerosmith was awesome
  5. Star Trek was cool
  6. Star Trek: The Next Generation was even cooler (to be fair, the two-part episode where Picard became a Borg is pretty B.A.)
  7. That Voyager had potential to be awesome (I watched way too much Star Trek as a kid)
  8. He-Man and the Masters of the Universe = quality cartoon
  9. Thundercats didn’t suck
  10. Glasses = intellectual
  11. Transformers was excellent
  12. No one would notice if I refilled what I took out of the soda bottle with water
  13. Mom also wouldn’t notice that I ate all the macaroons she made at Christmas
  14. Sweat pants were acceptable in public
  15. Saved by the Bell was funny (tragically, it’s still a guilty pleasure; shame on me, I know)
  16. You can learn Karate by watching The Karate Kid repeatedly
  17. Karate Kid II was worth watching
  18. Ditto Tim Burton’s Batman
  19. I could diffuse a bomb with chewing gum and chicken wire
  20. That someday, I too could go back in time in a 1985 DeLorean; all I needed was plutonium and a flux capacitor
  21. That I could drive at the age of ten, just because it looked easy
  22. Wearing muscle shirts meant you had muscles (obviously)

That’s my list, although I’m sure there’s many, many more things I could add.

What’s your’s?