The Bold and Indignant Christ: Charles Haddon Spurgeon

photo: iStock

Brethren, the Savior’s character has all goodness in all perfection; he is full of grace and truth. Some men, nowadays, talk of him as if he were simply incarnate benevolence. It is not so. No lip ever spoke with such thundering indignation against sin as the lips of the Messiah.

“He is like a refiner’s fire, and like fuller’s soap. His fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor.” While in tenderness he prays for his tempted disciple, that his faith may not fail, yet with awful sternness he winnows the heap, and drives away the chaff into unquenchable fire.

We speak of Christ as being meek and lowly in spirit, and so he was. A bruised reed he did not break, and the smoking flax he did not quench; but his meekness was balanced by his courage, and by the boldness with which he denounced hypocrisy. “Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites; ye fools and blind, ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?”

These are not the words of the milksop some authors represent Christ to have been.

He is a man—a thorough man—throughout—a God-like man—gentle as a woman, but yet stern as a warrior in the midst of the day of battle. The character is balanced; as much of one virtue as of another. As in Deity every attribute is full orbed; justice never eclipses mercy, nor mercy justice, nor justice faithfulness; so in the character of Christ you have all the excellent things.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Sweet Saviour” (as quoted in The Jesus You Can’t Ignore by John MacArthur p. 99 [paragraph breaks mine])

Salt, Light and Everything in Between

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:13-16

Over the last few weeks I’ve read a number of books that have, in various ways, touched on the issue of being salt & light in our communities and the world, whether it’s overseas missions, supporting NGOs that are assisting the poor, or serving your community in practical ways. This is great stuff to be thinking about.

We, in all honesty, need to be thinking about how we can be a faithful witness for Christ every day—and then finding ways to do it.

Without losing our saltiness in the process.

One of the things that’s been particularly interesting as I’ve been reading books like Outlive Your Life, The Hole in Our Gospel, stuff by Francis Chan and even Radical by David Platt is the real challenge that exists in not turning caring for the poor or overseas missions or having more greater explosive spiritual experiences into a means of justification.

In other words, it’s really, really hard for us to keep straight the gospel and it’s ramifications.

This is, to some degree, what we see when we’re warned about losing our saltiness.

In social justice circles, there’s a lot of work that’s motivated by faith in Christ—but that’s the only place Christ has. Motivation.

His name is not spoken. His greatness is not proclaimed.

Preach the gospel always, if necessary use words” is the rallying cry.

And we are, ultimately, only left having done good deeds.

I know how hard this is.

I write for a Christian charity that partners with the local church in the developing world to meet the practical and spiritual needs of children. And it’s always difficult to keep the message on track—to keep the gospel the focus, rather than making supporters superheroes or turning children into statistics because that might “sell” better than saying, “we do what we do because we want kids to meet Jesus.”

And I don’t want to sound like I’m slagging other folks who are doing tremendous work, but we have to remember: doing good things is not the gospel. And it’s not being a witness to the gospel, either.

We witness to the gospel when we share the good news of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection—and let our good works serve as a response to that.

Then, people may “see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matt 5:16).

But that’s the goal. If we are to be salt and light, then we have to know the gospel.

We have to embrace the gospel.

We need to be transformed by the gospel.

And we need to proclaim the gospel.

Good works aren’t bad, but they’re not the gospel.

When we get the gospel wrong, everything else goes wrong with it. But if we get the gospel right, it’s a glorious thing indeed.

The Inflammatory Christ: Dorothy Sayers

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I believe it is a grave mistake to present Christianity as something charming and popular with no offence in it. Seeing that Christ went about the world giving the most violent offense to all kinds of people, it would seem absurd to expect that the doctrine of his person can be so presented at to offend nobody. We cannot blink at the fact that gentle Jesus, meek and mild, was so stiff in His opinions and so inflammatory in His language that He was thrown out of church, stoned, hunted from place to place, and finally gibbeted as a firebrand and a public danger. Whatever His peace was, it was not the peace of an amiable indifference.

Dorothy Sayers, Letters to a Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine (as quoted in The Jesus You Can’t Ignore by John MacArthur p. 163)

The Stern and Holy Christ: R. C. H. Lenski

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The stern and holy Christ, the indignant, mighty Messiah, the Messenger of the Covenant of whom it is written: “He shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering of righteousness,” is not agreeable to those who want only a soft and sweet Christ. [What we see instead is] the fiery zeal of Jesus which came with such sudden and tremendous effectiveness that before this unknown man, who had no further authority than his own person and word, this crowd of traders and changers, who thought they were fully within their right when conducting their business in the Temple court, fled pellmell like a lot of naughty boys.

R. C. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel, p. 207 (as quoted in The Jesus You Can’t Ignore by John MacArthur p. 23)

Evangelistically Challenged

Something I’ve been praying for, fairly consistently, is the opportunity to share our faith with our family. A while back, we used to hope for kind of an “afterschool special” moment; that one day, Emily’s parents or my parents would sit us down and say, “Gee, you’re really different. Why is that?” And then we could share our story, present the gospel and see them get saved. That day.

Too lofty a goal? Maybe.

Anyway, as I’ve been praying, occasionally little opportunities to put something out there pop up. Sometimes I end up taking them, but… a lot of the time, I hesitate or I misread the situation.

Sunday afternoon, for example, I realized in hindsight that there was a prime opportunity and I dropped the ball. My mother-in-law asked me how my preaching went last weekend, which gave me an opening that—I didn’t take.

But I should have, I realized as we were driving home.

I talked a  bit about how it went, but didn’t get into the content of the message too much. While she might not have been all that interested (and even though I’ve sent a link to the audio), I totally blew that opportunity.

What I’m realizing in this is that I’m kind of evangelistically challenged, at least when it comes to family.

I think there’s still a part of me that wants to think that pure “relational evangelism”—that somehow, people are going to ask, “Gee, Aaron, I’ve noticed you don’t drink; could you tell me how to get saved?”—that that’s actually going to work.

But I’m sure, if we’re being honest with ourselves, we know that it just doesn’t.

Paul writes in Romans 10:14-17:

How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

Getting over being evangelistically challenged means being willing to speak up, even at the risk of offending someone with the truth.

I guess the question for me is, am I willing to get over myself to do it?

Truth and Lies: Kevin DeYoung on the Contemporary Church

Kevin DeYoung, pastor of University Reformed Church and author of Just Do Something, and Why We’re Not Emergent & Why We Love the Church (with coauthor Ted Kluck), was the second speaker at The Exchange. His message addressed the Truth and the Lie in the Contemporary Church.

In his message, DeYoung asserts that there are four lies we’re told about the gospel, the Church, divine revelation and discipleship.

The Gospel

The lie: The gospel is not about doctrine, it is simply an invitation into a way of life.

The truth: The gospel is a message of historical fact plus theological interpretation.

DeYoung cites one popular author who says, “The gospel is an event to be proclaimed, not a doctrine.” Another says that orthodoxy is about how you live; that it’s a vision for a new way of living.

“You may have heard this quote from St. Francis of Assisi, ‘Preach the gospel, use words if necessary,’” says DeYoung. “This has a number of problems—first, there’s no record that he said it, second, there’s no indication that he lived by it, and third it’s a confusion of categories.”

“We want to adorn the gospel with good deed, but without the proclamation we have not shared the gospel.”

In other words, lifestyle evangelism should not be code for “I don’t evangelize.”

“I really don’t think my neighbors are going to come to me and say, ‘Kevin, you don’t swear, can you tell me about Jesus?’ or ‘You have a fair trade coffee; tell me how to go to heaven?’”

People want to emphasize the gospel as a way of life because of a veneer of cultural Christianity. It’s more than getting a doctrinal formulation correct, but it’s no excuse for turning the good news into “good advice.”

“Without doctrine, ‘It’s about Jesus,’ becomes a meaningless mantra,” says DeYoung. As Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 15:1-11: [Read more...]

Book Review: The Gospel for Muslims by Thabiti Anyabwile

Title: The Gospel for Muslims: An Encouragement to Share Christ with Confidence
Author: Thabiti Anyabwile
Publisher: Moody Publishers

It’s easy to feel ill-equipped or uncertain when it comes to evangelism at the best of times. I’d imagine that for many of us sharing our faith comes about as naturally as speaking in public. Its hard work at the best of times, especially when there’s no natural segue or a cameo appearance by Jesus Himself.

But when it comes to a Muslim neighbor, coworker, classmate or friend—how do we do share the gospel with them?

“It’s a fine question, but it has a fatal flaw. It assumes that somehow Muslims require a different gospel or a different technique, that Muslims are somehow impervious to the gospel in a way that other sinners are not,” writes Thabiti Anyabwile in the opening pages of The Gospel for Muslims: An Encouragement to Share Christ with Confidence

Striking Differences

The book is broken into two parts. The first is primarily theological, addressing topics of God, man, Jesus, repentance and faith and highlighting the similarities and differences between the Muslim and Christian understandings of these teachings. This was particularly fascinating to read because it truly shows how fundamentally different the two belief systems are.

Three quick examples:

While Muslims and Christians largely agree on the basic attributes of God (holiness, justice, etc.), the Trinity is a stumbling block in part because it’s so essential to the Christian view of salvation from sin and judgment.

The view of sin is strikingly different. While Christians believe that all humanity is enslaved to sin because of Adam’s fall (Genesis 3, cf. Romans 6:6, 15-20; 7:25), Muslims deny original sin.

“Adam is not said to have sinned against God, but to have made an ethical mistake,” Anyabwile writes (p. 44). “Most define sin as simply disobeying Allah’s will. This disobedience comes from man’s weakness and ignorance, but not from a corruption of his nature.” Further, he explains that in Muslim theology, the object of sin is man—that when we sin, we do evil to ourselves, rather than offend a holy, perfect God.

As in all things, the greatest stumbling block is Jesus Himself. Given His claims about Himself, “[t]o accept Jesus as ‘a good moral teacher’ or as a prophet as Muslims do, only to then reject His prophecy and teaching is not an honest position to take” (p. 64). The truth that Christ is both fully man and fully God is an unavoidable reality and something with which we all—whatever our background—must contend. “Who is Jesus” is the most important we will ever answer, and we must do so.

These chapters are to be considered carefully. For the Christian reader, there is much encouragement and even some correction here. It’s easy to take for granted the truths of Christianity and forget how truly distinct our beliefs are. Looking at them side-by-side with an opposing view gave me the opportunity to see them again with fresh eyes and just marvel at how audacious the claims of the Bible truly are. How ridiculous they would be if they were not true, and how wondrous they are because they are. [Read more...]

Around the Interweb (01/31)

The iPad: Greatest Disappointment in Human History or the New Device You Can Touch

Last week, Apple unveiled the long-rumored tablet computer, the iPad.

Über-blogger Tim Challies has written an astoundingly negative post on the iPad, calling it “the greatest disappointment in human history”:

I wanted the iPad to do lots of neat things but to do one thing exceedingly well. Speaking personally, I wanted it to be an exceptional reading device. Why Apple didn’t position it as a reading device baffles me. Why didn’t they work with textbook manufacturers to make this the future of reading, the future of studying? . . . .This device could have been an amazing way of taking reading (which even Steve Jobs knows isn’t really going to go away) to the digital world. Kindle has tried and has done some good things. But the whole field is still vastly underdeveloped. Apple had its chance and, by what I can see, has completely blown it. Sure the iBook application looks pretty, but it does not look at all innovative beyond a few visual effects. I’m disappointed because the iPad could have been so much more.

Josh Harris disagrees:

Now my brother Tim is upset that the iPad doesn’t have a camera and more input options. But that’s the genius of Apple. They know what to leave out. Before we even know ourselves, they figure out what we’ll actually use and how we’ll use it. Sure, the iPad will get better. We’ll look back on this first version like we do the clunky first-edition iPod. But I think this will be a game changer for how people interact with media and the internet. Seeing my kids interact with the iPhone has convinced me of that. We want a computer we can touch.

Mike Rundle, rightly, I think, gets to the heart of the issue: The iPad isn’t for power users. It’s for everyone else.

What about you, internet friends? You a fan of the iPad or do you think Tim’s right to be disappointed?


In other news

My internet friend Matt Svoboda needs prayer in pursuit of church planting. He’s a good guy and I’ve got no doubt he’ll be a great pastor.

JD Greear offers a tip for evangelism: Tip well.

You are cool if you are “missional.”


In case you missed it

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

Book Review: God the Holy Trinity

A tip for evangelism: Talk positively about your spouse

Ten questions about books (because Aaron likes his bookie-books)

“If I’m the hope, that’s not good news,” a message from Mark Driscoll

Martyn Lloyd-Jones reminds us that there is hope because we have a God who acts.

Talk Positively about Your Spouse

Have you noticed that, for the most part, people don’t speak well of their spouses? In entertainment, husbands and wives regularly make sport of each other. Marketing has fully embraced the doofy husband (the man too stupid to understand how an air freshener works but still manages to get the attractive wife).

You know what’s a great way to talk to people about Jesus? Talk positively about your spouse.

Matt Chandler made this point in his sermon, The Path 11: The Reign and Rule of God, when talking about styles of evangelism:

Now, you can live your life in such a way that people will ask questions about your faith. You absolutely can. A way to do that in the real world:

Talk positive your wife.

Talk positive about your spouse. Talk about how awesome she is.

And watch how you’ll draw a crowd. I mean, men will just flock to you. “Hey man, help me, because my girl is driving me crazy…”

And you can to talk about the grace show to you by God Almighty, and then by being a recipent of that grace enables you to give grace and then you’re off and running. So you can live your life in such a way, but you’re eventually going to have to open your mouth. You’re eventually going to have to talk about sin and the cross and our hope in Jesus Christ.

But you have to open your mouth.

So my problem with the relational evangelism method, in my experience, is that you never get around to saying anything about Jesus.

Looking at this, I can’t help but be reminded of 1 Peter 3:1-7,

Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.

Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.

Husbands, do you make a point of speaking well of your wife? Do you treat her with delicacy both when she’s in the room and when she’s not?

Wives, do you speak well of your husband? Do you treat him with respect even when he’s a bit of a doofus?

"Free Pass" Theology

Something interesting that’s been coming up over and over again in conversation has been the idea that God gives certain people a free pass.

If a group of people live somewhere where the gospel’s never been preached, they automatically get into Heaven, is one heard a fair bit, but I honestly don’t give it much thought because it’s answered in Romans 1:19-20.

But there’s another idea that gives me pause:

If a child dies very young, before reaching an “age of accountability,” then he or she goes to Heaven.

I’ll admit, I really like the idea of this, but I want to know if it’s true.

So I’ve been doing some research. And aside from (so far) finding that the only place where a doctrine of an age of accountability is clearly defined is within Mormonism, I did find a couple of interesting points:

In Deut. 1:35-36, the Israelites who are about to enter the Promised Land are reminded of God’s judgement on the previous generation, that “Not one of these men of this evil generation shall see the good land that I swore to give to your fathers, except Caleb the son of Jephunneh. He shall see it, and to him and to his children I will give the land on which he has trodden, because he has wholly followed the Lord!” [Read more...]

Some Doubted

I was struck by something I read in Matthew 28. To give some context, Jesus has risen, and commanded that His disciples meet Him in Galilee. So they go, and when they get there, this is what Matthew records:

And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted.

Matthew 28:17

Some doubt.

Jesus.

The same Jesus who, just days before, was beaten beyond human likeness.Who was nailed to a roman cross.

Whose heart was pierced by a spear to confirm His death. Whose body was wrapped in linens and sealed in a tomb for days.

Standing before them. Literally, physically.

“But some doubted.” [Read more...]

The Watchmen

In Ezekiel 33: 1-6, Ezekiel was commanded to speak to the people, saying that if watchman did not sound the trumpet to warn the people of a coming enemy, their blood would be on his head. But if he sounded the trumpet and they did not heed the warning, their blood would be on their own.

God then gives him this command:

So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul (v. 7-9).

Were Ezekiel to not call the Israelites to repentance and speak the Word of God, Ezekiel would be held responsible for their blood. That’s some pretty serious business.

And thinking about it, I have to wonder if that call to be watchmen doesn’t apply to us today as Christians? [Read more...]

The Persevering Prophet: Fruit

PP-Fruit

I’ve had one question stuck in my mind since completing my reading of Jeremiah:

How do you determine a fruitful ministry?

What makes it successful? Is it the number of converts? The number of professions of faith?

At Compassion, one of the ways we measure our fruitfulness is the number of children we see sponsored. For our ministry, this is an incredibly important metric, because if we don’t see children sponsored, we’re failing in our jobs.

But are these kinds of metrics—the number of professions of faith, the number of people attending a church, the number of people serving in a particular ministry—the thing we should measure?

If you look at converts, Jeremiah’s ministry was a spectacular failure. He had two people listen to his calls of repentance: Baruch, his scribe (see Jer. 32:12) and Ebed-melech, an Ethiopian eunuch who served King Zedekiah (see Jer. 38:7-13).

Years of ministry. Countless sermons. Powerful & provocative words.

Two converts.

Everyone else tried to kill him.

Jeremiah’s ministry has taught me something incredibly important:

Fruitfulness is not determined by metrics—It is determined by obedience to God’s Word.

[Read more...]