Get grounded! (For the Church)

read-bible

My new series at For the Church, “Letters to a New Believer,” continues. The first post addressed the dangers of rushing into leadership roles. The second takes a step back and addresses a foundational issue: getting grounded in the Bible:

When my wife and I first became Christians, we had a lot to figure out. Up until that point, we’d been more or less your typical non-Christian couple: we met in college, moved in together halfway through, got engaged (but didn’t set a date for several years), eventually bought a house… and then we met Jesus.

And it was exactly as awkward as you’re imagining. (But we’ll get to that another time.)

During that time, though, God was very kind to us as we started figuring out what the “now what” of our conversion. We were connected to a local church where there were a lot of very kind people. The pastor worked with us to make the mess of our lives make sense as Christians, though he was kind of flying by the seat of his pants with some of it. But as much as we saw God pouring out grace upon us in this time, we were in danger. I was in danger.

…I read books like Velvet Elvis, Searching for God Knows What, and Blue Like Jazz, many of which were well written but had deep theological problems that I couldn’t recognize. I read memoirs by celebrity pastors that had no business writing memoirs, and did nothing to help me get a clear picture of Christian character. Our friends sat up discussing NOOMA videos, but never saw the hopelessness of their messages. Many young men in our church talked about what it meant to be Christian men, which somehow meant going on spirit quests to kill dragons while building sheds with nothing but duct tape and our own tenacity. We listened to lectures on how we needed to be less concerned with building programs and evangelistic rallies, and more concerned with making sure people had clean water to drink.

But you know what few of us were doing during all that? We weren’t grounding ourselves in the faith. We weren’t reading our Bibles, at least to the degree we ought to have been.

Keep reading at For the Church.

Links I like (weekend edition)

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Today’s the last day to take advantage of these deals:

Also, be sure to get PROOF by Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones for $1.99 today.

Finally, Westminster Bookstore’s spring overstock sale is on now. There are tons of great books to choose from, including Dangerous Calling, Crazy Busy, and Learning Evangelism from Jesus.

5 Reasons Why Your Online Presence Will Replace Your Resume in 10 years

This is really interesting.

Owen Wilson says “Wow”

Just because:

10 Unforgettable Lessons on Fatherhood

Ray Ortlund:

In public, my dad was one of the great pastors of his generation. He served most notably for twenty fruitful years at Lake Avenue Congregational Church in Pasadena, where John and Noel Piper worshiped during their Fuller Seminary days. Dad and John were dear friends.

In private, my dad was the same man. There was only one Ray Ortlund, Sr. — an authentic Christian man. The distance between what I saw in the New Testament and what I saw in my dad was slight. He was the most Christlike man I’ve ever known, the kind of man, the kind of father, I long to be.

5 Ways Christian College Didn’t Prepare Me For the Real World

Chris Martin:

I thoroughly enjoyed my experience at a Christian college, and I’ll do everything I can to convince the bank to give me a loan for my kids to do the same if they would like. Taylor University equipped me for the real world in numerous ways (that’s another post for another time). I’ll sing my kids to sleep with “How Firm a Foundation” if that’s what it takes to get them to go to school there. I love that place.

I’m so excited to visit my friends in good ol’ Upland soon, and I thought it’d be fun to reflect on the few things attending a Christian college didn’t teach me as it pertains to the real world.

So, here are five ways Christian college didn’t prepare me for the real world.

Blessed are Those Not Offended by Christ

Jason Garwood:

Many are so offended and embarrassed they angrily persist in an unrepentant, unregenerate state. They find the claims of Christ to be a stumbling block and a waste of time. They are put off by Jesus’ followers, message, and truth. Ultimately they will never take up their cross and follow Him because to them there is no holy and righteous God and, because of that, his atonement is irrelevant. Who needs a savior if there is nothing to be saved from?

Helping Deaf Students to Flourish

Jen Pollock Michel interviews Betty McPhee is a teacher at Northern Secondary School in Toronto, Ontario.

Links I like

Links

Hyper-Headship and the Scandal of Domestic Abuse in the Church

Justin Taylor gives a summary of a much-needed sermon from Jason Meyer.

TGC15 resources are now available

If you weren’t able to attend the Gospel Coalition’s 2015 National Conference, or you missed a session here and there, TGC has made the media from every plenary session and all the workshops available online (and it’s free).

Beware Gluten-Free Preaching

Philip Bethancourt:

In Christian preaching, it’s not gluten that is dangerous, but gluten-free. For Spurgeon, just as it would be absurd to make bread without flour, it is unthinkable to preach a sermon without Christ.

The gluten of the gospel must be kneaded into every Christian sermon, despite the many ways pastors are drawn to preach gluten-free today. Here are three of them to beware. If we bypass Christ in any of these aspects of the sermon, we are removing the gluten of the gospel from our text.

Four signs your ministry is all about you

JD Greear:

Sadly, most of us can all too easily recount stories of pastors who betrayed their congregations, who hurt the very people God had called them to love, who—in short—made their ministry all about them.

Some of these pastors may have had their own inflated sense of grandeur from day one. But more often than not, these are the same guys who entered the ministry legitimately wanting to serve others, not angling to build an empire. And yet somewhere along the way, they got a taste for glory. And instead of being the shepherds of God’s people, teaching them to have faith in God, they become stumbling blocks, impediments keeping people from considering God at all.

Five Words that Measure the Boldness of Faith

Michael Kelley asks, “how do you measure faith?”

Well, one option would be to look at results. Jesus was the One who said that even with a small amount of faith, faith the size of a mustard seed, you could tell a mountain to get up and move and it would (Lk. 17:6). In our minds, this looks like a focus on results. That the one with faith will be able to believe that a certain thing should be, and it will be. That’s how we know how big our faith is – it’s based on whether or not that which we can conceive actually becomes reality. But I want to propose a different measure of faith, one not based on results but instead based on something bigger and better than those results.

And you can describe this kind of boldness of faith in five words:

“Even. If. He. Does. Not.”

Those Who Think Read

JD Payne:

Whenever I go a while without extensive reading and thought, I can feel it. It is like the feeling that comes to people who have longstanding exercise routines interrupted for some extended period. They begin to have a strange internal omission, a stressor they are unable to put their fingers on until they hit their treadmills. Once they hit them, they feel an immediate relief and satisfaction. An ahhh moment.

If we are too busy to think, then we are too busy. And if we are too busy to read, then we are too busy.

Links I like (weekend edition)

Links

They will know you by your… porn?

This piece by Jared Wilson hurts, but it’s necessary to read:

We may flood to the area hotels next month and outwardly demonstrate a solid witness for the gospel, and then put a black eye on the church, thinking viewing pornography in our hotel room is easy, confidential, and inconsequential. Will the church stun the managers of the Rosen Shingle Creek with its porn consumption next month?

Sex, God, and a Generation That Can’t Tell the Difference

Chris Martin:

Grossman quotes Robert Jones, the CEO of PRRI as saying, “Millennials seem reluctant to make blanket black-and-white moral pronouncements about issues they see as complex.” That’s where this idea of the “don’t judge generation” comes from. It’s true, Millennials seem reluctant to make blanket black-and-white moral pronouncements about complex issues, and that’s exactly how they are judgmental. Millennials don’t just keep from making black-and-white statement themselves, they think that it is morally reprehensible and “discriminatory” for anyone to make black-and-white moral pronouncements about these issues.

The only thing Millennials are black-and-white on when it comes to matters of sexual morality is that you aren’t allowed to be black-and-white on sexual morality.

Tools for Making War Against Spiritual Warfare

Jason Garwood:

If we are going to make, mature, and multiply disciples of Jesus Christ then we must equip our soldiers with appropriate tools to do battle. Soldiers who are unequipped or even ill-equipped with no tools, or faulty tools, will do great harm to themselves and others. If we as disciples who make other disciples (this is, after all, our commission) are going to win the battle against the flesh and the enemy, we must make war.

A Good Assistant Pastor Is Hard to Find

Jason Helopoulos:

A good assistant pastor must be marked by the same things as any other pastor. He must possess a love for God, his Word, and his people. He needs to be strong and winsome, a teacher yet teachable, a man of prayer and action. Yet, he also must possess additional qualities. He is not only called to serve the congregation, but also the senior pastor. Whatever his “job description” may be, he must understand that he is assisting. This is essential. Here are some things a good assistant pastor is marked by, traits that, Lord willing, I will strive to acquire more and more of in my life and ministry.

If Pixar made a Star Wars movie…

…would it be something like this?

HT: Stephen Altrogge

Links I like

Links

Kindle deals for Christian readers

A couple of new ones for today:

Also, be sure to grab a copy the audio edition of Radical by David Platt at ChristianAudio.com (this deal ends very soon). And finally, RJ Gruenwald has put together a really nice new eBook, Galatians: Selections from Martin Luther.

Naive Young Evangelicals and the Illiberal DNA of the Gay Rights Movement

It might take you a couple of sittings to get through it, but Matt Anderson’s piece here is well worth reading.

Strong Enough to Have Convictions

Brandon Smith:

A tightly-held belief is sometimes a dangerous thing, but it can also be a precious thing.

And this is where Evans and her story take a left turn. Being “pro-church, pro-ecumenical” sounds great on the surface (and, frankly, I’m more broad in what I consider “orthodox” than perhaps many or most of my friends), but deeply-held theological convictions aren’t always something to be shared. People have died for these beliefs. People have sacrificed everything to defend these beliefs. One might say, “Well, if we’d all get along, there would be no need to die!” Well, yes, but… no.

Our First Response is Usually Wrong

Aaron Earls:

If I’m honest, the first action I usually take after every significant global, national, local or personal event is mistaken.

It’s not that I lash out in misdirected anger or refuse to follow the facts of the case. Instead, my first response is always to say something to anyone except the One who can actually do something about it.

3 Attributes of God Millennials Misunderstand

Chris Martin:

I think Millennials misunderstand three key attributes of God: his love, his holiness, and his justice, and I think the misunderstandings of each one fuel the misunderstandings of the others.

The only reasonable thing to do

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Jesus’ death and resurrection cause no end of consternation among those who either question or seek to disprove the Christian faith. Should Christians be all hung up on whether or not Jesus really rose from the dead? Does the evidence really prove itself out?

Here are the facts about the resurrection, as we have them:

  • The tomb was empty.
  • No one could produce a body.
  • For several weeks after his death, Jesus’ disciples kept meeting him—and rarely as individuals only, but almost exclusively in groups, some as large as 500 people!

His disciples’ insistence caused them no end of ridicule and scorn, yet they persisted in proclaiming Jesus’ resurrection. They event went so far as to say that if Jesus did not rise from the dead, their faith is in vain and their sins were still on them, and therefore they were utterly without hope (1 Corinthians 15:17-19).

To prove them wrong, all one had to do was produce Jesus’ body. And yet, no one ever could. Why? Because there was no body to be found.

So what is the most reasonable thing to do? We can continue to make up alternative explanations all day long. We can attempt to say Jesus never really existed, or that if he did, he didn’t resemble the man who claimed to be God as described in the gospels.

Or, we can admit, as J.I. Packer encourages, that there is only one reasonable thing to do: believe. He writes:

A Christian in public debate accused his skeptical opponent of having more faith than he—“for,” he said, “in face of the evidence, I can’t believe that Jesus did not rise, and you can!” It really is harder to disbelieve the resurrection than to accept it, much harder. Have you yet seen it that way? To believe in Jesus Christ as Son of God and living Savior, and to echo the words of ex-doubter Thomas, “My Lord and my God,” is certainly more than an exercise of reason, but in the face of the evidence it is the only reasonable thing a person can do.1

Justification by reading doesn’t work either

justification-books

When it comes to reading, I like to plan ahead. I usually have a goal of about 100 books that I want to read (which is goofy, I know); it’s enough that it requires significant commitment, but not so much that it’s completely outside the realm of possibility. However, as 2015 has progressed so far (granted, we’re only 2.5. months in), I’ve noticed my reading has slowed down drastically compared to years past. Where I normally I would have read somewhere around 20+ books, I’m only at—gasp—18.

I’m about two weeks behind in my Bavinck reading (and have already adjusted accordingly). I’m not quite finished a book for school that I really should have completed a few days ago (because it’s an easy read and I’ve been lazy). Thus, I’m feeling a bit dumb. Why? Because I’m “behind.”

And, yes, I realize it’s dumb to say thats behind. According to Gallup, only 28 percent of Americans read more than 11 books in a year, and 23 percent don’t read even one book. That is terrifying. And yet, for book lovers, and particularly the Christian blogging crowd, we have this weird love affair with books, as though our value is determined by how many books we’ve read or reviewed this year.

Again, I know this is dumb. And yet so many of us seem to be guilty of it.

This is a reminder for me that pride and the desire for self-justification have no preferences. Whether something profound or trivial, wherever pride can get a hold, anywhere we can start to think we’re kind of a big deal, it will. But in the end, like other silly sources of comfort and joy, it always fails. Some dude is always going to be further ahead on his reading challenge on Goodreads. We’re going to get busy. We’re going to get bored.

And that’s fine. Just don’t beat yourself up over it.

God doesn’t love us more or less based on whether or not we get through all the books in our “want to read” list. Our righteousness before God is not based on how well read we are or are not.So don’t panic! Justification by works doesn’t work, this we know, for the Bible tells us so. And justification by reading doesn’t work either.

Links I like (weekend edition)

Links

#BaptistValentineCard

Because if you can’t laugh at yourself…

Enjoy:

Truth-Telling and the News Media

Lee Webb:

I’ve taken more than a passing interest in the story since I share a couple of things in common with Mr. Williams. First, before coming to Ligonier Ministries, I spent nineteen years in a position similar to his, as the lead news anchor for the Christian Broadcasting Network. Second, during an earlier stint as a news anchor for a local station in Jacksonville, Florida, I was suspended without pay. Station management didn’t take kindly to me telling a group of politically active Christians that I believed the news media had a bias against them. So, I can relate to Brian when he admits, “I am presently too much a part of the news.” Some observations regarding the current controversy.

Lee Strobel’s Crisis of Faith

Dan Darling’s interview with Lee Strobel is really great.

Is It Right For Christians To Call Our Enemies “Savages”?

Derek Rishmawy:

“Savage” is the term that some Christians, or simply Westerners, used to justify their colonial conquest of indigenous peoples who didn’t have the proper sort of cultures, forms of dress, or skin colors. Without sitting on too high of a horse as we look back on our forebears, we have to remember that some considered it part of the White Man’s Burden to conquer the savages, educate them, and give them the Truth of Western culture so that they might not have to dwell in the darkness of their former bestiality. If some had to be killed, enslaved, or tortured in order for that to happen, well, so be it. Cultural heroism required bearing a heavy load and doing what is necessary to ennoble humanity as a whole.

How Hardcore Of A New Calvinist Are You?

A quiz by Stephen Altrogge.

W-ORD Channel 7 News

This is just fun:

10 Questions on Dating with Matt Chandler

Interesting stuff.

The good news in Abraham’s story

good news-abraham

There’s an old children’s song that goes like this:

Father Abraham had many sons
Had many sons had Father Abraham

I am one of them
And so are you
So let’s just praise the Lord.

I’ve never really liked this song, though, admittedly, I never heard it until I was an adult. 

The problem I have with it at times is the rose-colored glasses view of Abraham himself. He is the man of faith. He is the one who followed the Lord away from all he had known, not knowing where he was to go, and believed God’s promise to bring him to the land he would show him (Hebrews 11:8-10). He is one of the few to be called a friend of God in Scripture (James 2:23).

And yet, when you really consider Abraham… this was one messed up guy. A paragon of virtue, he was not. He grew up a pagan man. And though he believed God, he also had a habit of doing things his own way. On the journey, not once, but twice, he lied and said Sarah was his sister, and she was given to foreign kings as their brides (Genesis 12:10-20; 20:1-18). Why? Because he feared for his life. Could you imagine if the song included some of the other details of his life?

Father Abraham sold his wife
And pretended she was his sister
It’s kind of creepy
Oh, yes it is
So let’s just praise the Lord.

Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, does it?

But it doesn’t get better. Though he was promised a son by Sarah (Genesis 15), Abraham—at her encouragement—took Hagar as a concubine, and had a son with her, Ishmael, who would be the father of the Arab nations (Genesis 16). So he not only was a liar who prostituted his wife—because he got paid by these kings, too—he was a polygamist, to boot.

How could God use a man like this? How could this man be a part of the family line of Jesus?

Before we get all judgmental and self-righteous on Abraham, it’s helpful to remember: Abraham’s story is, in many ways, ours.

He was not a man of outstanding moral character, it’s true. But neither are any of us. He was not a man who consistently did what was right. Neither are we. He was not a man who, though he believed, even believed consistently. And that can most certainly be said of all of us, too. (Or at a minimum, it can definitely be said of me.)

If his character and actions were the measure of salvation, he would have been damned for all eternity—just like you and me.

And there’s the good news in Abraham’s story. “Abraham believed, and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:16; James 2:23a). It was his faith that saved him, that declared him righteous. It was not his character, nor his performance. It was faith alone alone that saved him. And it is faith alone that saves us as well.

Links I like

Book deals for Christian readers

First up, some deals for the Kindle:

Next, today’s $5 Friday deals at Ligonier include:

  • The Parables of Jesus teaching series by R.C. Sproul (DVD)
  • What’s So Great about the Doctrines of Grace? by Richard Phillips (ePub)
  • Captivated by Thabiti Anyabwile (paperback)

And, until December 6th, you can purchase the following books for only $8 each:

  • The Donkey Who Carried a King by R.C. Sproul
  • The Lightlings by R.C. Sproul
  • The Priest with Dirty Clothes by R.C. Sproul
  • The Prince’s Poison Cup by R.C. Sproul
  • Sammy and His Shepherd by Susan Hunt

We have all of these children’s titles in our family library and they’re excellent.

Finally, Logos’ Christmas sale is in full swing: be sure to check it out!

How to shut down healthy debate

What Does It Mean to Let the Peace of Christ Rule Our Hearts?

Mike Leake offers some good points here.

Reflections on Christian publishing

Dane Ortlund:

Christian publishing, to be healthy, requires two things: healthy publishers and healthy authors. What is a healthy publisher? A publisher who functions essentially not out of desire to get rich or make a name for himself, but out of love. Truly Christian publishing is an act of love: serving others with what they need most, as Christ has served us with what we need most. What is a healthy author? An author who functions essentially not out of a desire to get rich or make a name for himself, but out of love. Truly Christian writing is an act of love: serving others with what they need most, as Christ has served us with what we need most. When an author driven by love partners with a publisher driven by love, that project will have the kiss of God upon it. Christian publishing is an act of love.

HT: Tim

Support the Battle and Avalos families

Yesterday, Tripp Battle, Joy Battle and Amber Avalos were murdered, leaving their children orphaned. A GoFundMe page has been set up for their remaining family. Please give to support them in their time of need.

I Can’t Breathe. But I Must Write.

David Murray:

Well, I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared about writing a blog post. Last week I allowed my fear to silence me about Ferguson. But here I am, sleepless at 3.30am, deeply troubled about Eric Garner’s homicide and irresistibly burdened to write.

I start with hardly any idea about what to write, but I do know why I ‘m writing. I want to stand with my African American brothers and sisters. More than that, “I’m all in” with them.

And that’s why I’m scared. Because I know that for many people, that automatically puts me “outside.” It puts me on the other side. It makes me suspect. It makes me soft. It makes me left-wing. It makes me anti-police. It makes me pro-thug.

And I could defend myself as Paul did when he said, “I am a Hebrew of the Hebrews, concerning the law, a Pharisee.” Similarly I could say, “I am a conservative of the conservatives, concerning the law, a Fox-Newser.”

But this is not about me. Me must be sacrificed at times. And this is such a time.

What is evangelism?

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My latest article at ExploreGod.com:

I have a confession: I am quite possibly the world’s most timid evangelist. I don’t wake up in the morning thinking, Maybe I’ll get to share the gospel today! I know a few people like that—which is great—but that’s just not me. Not even a little.

When I really sit down and think about my hesitancy, though, I realize I’m being silly. Why should I be afraid to tell someone about the gospel? This is the “good news”—the greatest news anyone could ever hear, actually! Why wouldn’t I want to share all that I believe is offered—forgiveness, a relationship with God, eternal life—through Jesus’ death on the cross and resurrection from the grave? After all, as a Christian, I believe this is of “first importance.”

Some of my nervousness about sharing my faith comes from bad experiences I’ve had. I’ve tried telling non-Christian family members about Jesus. But rather than engage in the conversation, they simply nod and then ignore me. I’ve had people dismiss everything I say. I’ve been told that if I don’t lead at least five people to Christ every year, I’m not doing my duty as a Christian. I’ve even tested out the idea that we can share the gospel just by the way we live our lives—to no avail. In the end, I had neighbors who thought I was really nice, but they didn’t learn about Jesus at all.

And yet, I don’t use my timidity as an excuse for not sharing my faith. I can’t ignore that the Bible clearly says that we all are called to evangelize. In fact, I’m more confident than ever that I not only can but must share the good news with those around me.

So what’s changed? Why am I, a spectacular “failure” as an evangelist (to date, I don’t know if I’ve ever actually led a single person to Christ), not discouraged?

Because I finally learned what evangelism truly is—and the good news about its results.

Read the whole piece at ExploreGod.com – What is Evangelism?


photo credit: sean_hickin via photopin cc

The opportunity to influence through entertainment

Bere Gratis live performance

If the Internet had been as popular in 1994 as it is today, Roseanne would have broke it.

For those old enough to remember, Roseanne was a sitcom about fairly dysfunctional working class family that often tackled some pretty heavy topics including substance abuse, domestic violence and single parenthood. But one episode in particular stood out because it featured something completely shocking on television at the time: two women kissing as Roseanne (in an effort to prove she was still with it and/or hip, went to the local gay bar). It was one of the infamous “lesbian kiss episodes”, a  phenomenon found among a number of different television shows across genres over the last 25 years (the first was, apparently, an episode of L.A. Law in 1991).

The purpose of such episodes was simple:  normalize the behaviour. The more we are exposed to certain things, whether homosexual behaviour, promiscuity or shocking levels of violence, the more we become accustomed to them.

Pop culture has the power to normalize behaviours we might otherwise find unacceptable and leave us expecting them. This is why, in many television shows, we’ve moved from homosexuality being “shocking” to being normal, for example. Entertainment—books, movies, music—shape people’s views of the world (and anyone who denies it is deluded).

Often, the entertainment industry sells us a worldview based on the great Lie—one that fails to honor and give thanks to its Creator, or what Peter Jones describes as Oneism. And it truly is everywhere. To name but three:

  • Star Wars with its ideology based on multiple Eastern religious concepts, including Zoroastrianism, Buddhism and Hinduism.
  • Star Trek with its utopian atheistic naturalism.
  • Avatar with its worship of the Tree of Souls and strong environmentalist message.

But there’s so much more. Sitcoms like The New Normal and Modern Family normalize the same-sex family. Friends normalized modern promiscuity (and friends who actually kind of hate each other). The new My Little Pony show (one of my girls’ favorite cartoons) consistently reinforces the “all you need is to believe in yourself (and your friends)” message…

I think you get the point.

While there’s a lot that makes it tempting to throw out the TV, we should also be encouraged: the good news is just as entertainment can be used to influence people with the Lie, it can be used influence with the Truth.

This is what was attempted to do with Veggie Tales back in the day (although by the creator’s own admission, they wound up teaching kids to be good rather than know the One who is good). It’s what many of the men and women who make explicitly Christian-themed movies and music are also attempting to do (again, to varying results).

But it’s also why I’m grateful for musicians like Dustin Kensrue (best known as the lead singer of Thrice). Although post-Thrice, he’s begun recording music that’s more explicitly Christian in its themes and lyrics, such as his album The Water and the Blood, Kensrue also understand the opportunity he has to influence non-Christians among his audience by making great music. This is why you can see the fingerprints of his faith all his former band’s songs, sometimes subtly, sometimes overtly as in the case of this song:

This is something I’m grateful many Christians have, in recent years, really started to get. And it’s the kind of mindset I want to see more Christians embrace: whether we’re being explicit or subtle, producing entertainment that gets people thinking. That engages their hearts and minds with biblical concepts and truths. It may not be controversial enough to break the Internet, but it might begin to break a hardened heart.


photo credit: Sergiu Bacioiu via photopin cc

Five ways we live like we’re under the Old Covenant

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The Old Covenant is glorious, but the New Covenant is even moreso, Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:7-11. It’s ministry is of death (since the Law’s power is to reveal our sin but not to save), where the New’s ministry is life and righteousness. It’s design is temporary, intended to give way to something permanent.

We know this to be true, at least intellectually—so why do we keep living as though we were still under the Old Covenant? And what does that look like?

During Sunday’s message at our church, Leo, one of our pastors, suggested five ways we live this way:

1. We do it literally. There is a growing movement that believes Jesus is the Messiah, that He truly died to atone for our sins and rose again… but also believe it important to worship on Saturdays (the Jewish Sabbath), celebrate the Old Testament festivals, be circumcised, and maintain a kosher diet. But does the New Testament give room for this? Yes and no. If it’s a desire to follow the model of Christ—for example, to eat as He ate during His earthly life, or to worship on the day He would have—it might be a grey area governed by Romans 14.

However, the difficulty is when those who practice such things move beyond merely following a model to working to earn our right standing before God. It’s easy to slip into that mindset very quickly, because our default mode is to try to earn our own salvation. But the ministry of the Old Covenant—including all its feasts and dietary laws—though it was glorious, was a ministry of death. It could not save.

2. We do it ceremonially. Others look to traditions, rituals, sacred sites and human mediators for our salvation. Now, it’s not that rituals and traditions are a bad thing; they can be quite helpful in help us in our experience of worship. But our salvation is not dependent upon their observance. And Roman Catholics might believe the Pope is the vicar of Christ and head of the church, but he is a mere man. We do not need to look to another person as our mediator between us and God. We have one in Christ, who doesn’t merely reflect God’s glory (as Moses did), but reveals it in Himself.

3. We do it dutifully. It’s so easy to turn our practice of spiritual disciplines—prayer, fasting, meditation, Bible reading, memorization, and so on—into a system of merit. Consider your reaction when you get behind on your Bible reading plan: do you do a cram session to get caught up, but don’t allow time for the text to work on you? Or do you roll with it and move forward, faithfully spending time in the Word despite the fact that you’re not going to make your deadline? (Can you tell I’m speaking to myself here?) But you are worth more than the number of verses you have memorized and how many times you’ve read through the Bible in a year. We study God’s Word to know God, not to earn anything from Him.

4. We do it doubtfully. This is one of the most sinister. A season of depression or a disappointment may grow into something deeper and deadlier than we could imaging, robbing us of all joy and leaving us in a place where we don’t believe God could possibly forgive us. But to this, God’s Word says to us that our great high priest—Jesus—is able to sympathize with us in our weakness. He knows our struggles as well as we do. He is acquainted with grief and sorrow.

5. We do it fearfully. Finally, some of us fall prey to a spirit of fear. We live in fear of the Devil, as though at any moment he is going to come after us. We live in fear of death, our foundation uncertain. We live in fear of hell, and so our faith becomes about not wanting to go there, rather than looking forward to spending eternity with Jesus. But Jesus knows His own, and not one will be lost, so we need not fear.

When you consider where you are in your walk with Christ, do you see yourself in any of these five categories?

But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Cor. 3:16-18)

How cruel unbelief is

cruel unbelief

It is one of the strange things in the dealings of Jesus, that even when we arrive at this state of entire spiritual destitution, we do not always become at once the objects of his justifying grace. Long seasons frequently intervene between our knowledge of our ruin, our hearing of a deliverer, and the application of that deliverer’s hand. The Lord’s own called ones frequently turn their eyes to the hills, and find no help coming therefrom; yea, they wish to look unto him, but they are so blinded that they cannot discern him as their hope and consolation. This is not, as some would rashly conclude, because he is not the Saviour for such as they are. Far otherwise. Unbelief crieth out, “Ah! my vileness disqualifies me for Christ, and my exceeding sinfulness shuts out his love?” How foully doth unbelief lie when it thus slandereth the tender heart of Jesus! how inhumanly cruel it is when it thus takes the cup of salvation from the only lips which have a right to drink thereof! We have noticed in the preaching of the present day too much of a saint’s gospel, and too little of a sinner’s gospel. Honesty, morality, and goodness, are commended not so much as the marks of godliness, as the life of it; and men are told that as they sow, so they shall reap, without the absolutely necessary caveat that salvation is not of man, neither by man, and that grace cometh not to him that worketh, but to him that believeth on Him that justifieth the ungodly. Not thus spake our ancient preachers when in all its fullness they declared—

“Not the righteous, not the righteous—
Sinners, Jesus came to save.”

Charles Spurgeon, The Saint and His Saviour