When Christians say “I’m better than you”

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There are some things we can say about those who don’t believe in Jesus that are wholly true and appropriate. There are others, though, that are either just plain silly or impossibly evil. Recently, I found myself considering one of the latter, which goes something like this:

I cannot respect unbelievers—they reek to heaven! It is impossible for me to honor them in any way.

How would you respond to this (and be honest)? If you were teaching a Sunday School class or participating in a small group and someone said this, what would you do?

Most of us, I suspect, would like to say they would patiently ask, “Why not?” That they would investigate the statement and find out what’s behind it. Honestly, though, as much as I’d like to do that, I’d probably be more tempted to say words I’d need to repent of later. Why? Because this is one of the most ungodly things a Christian could say about an unbeliever—because it presumes that we are somehow better than unbelievers. 

And yet, this is not so. For we know that all human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, as Genesis 1 tells us. Though sin horribly mars it, though our relationship with God is severed and transformed from one of loving friendship to bitter enemies because of it, sin does not eradicate the image of God in us. Our morality, our capacity for love and goodness, our intelligence, our ability to comprehend spiritual realities (though terribly confused and misdirected)… these still exist and still testify of our being “like” God in some limited sense. And despite the strongest words possible being used to describe our sinful state and our rebellion against God, God has not reneged on the original “goodness” of humanity, at least in this sense. So we would be wise to remember that only a fool calls evil what God calls good. And what is saying something like this but foolishness?

But that’s not the only reason. This notion of being unable to respect unbelievers—of putting them solely in the category of sinners whose stench reaches the heavens and stokes the wrath of God—is a rejection of the grace of God in the gospel. Consider how Paul reminds the Corinthians in 1 Cor. 6:9-11:

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

Paul is very clear here: Sin is horribly offensive to God. It separates us. It prevents us from entering the kingdom. It damns us to hell. But Paul didn’t stop at writing about how swindlers won’t inherit the kingdom. He turned this judgment back around on his readers:

“And such were some of you.”

All these things that keep people out of the kingdom of God—they were those things! We were those things! We all know this is true, deep down inside. For we know that if anyone could really see into our hearts, they’d be terrified. Heck, if we actually seriously considered the stray thoughts and the darkness that lives inside of us, we’d probably be even more terrified. But Paul, even in rebuking the Corinthians (and us along with them), offers an encouragement.

But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (Emphasis mine)

So despite our unholiness; despite our sin and misdeeds; despite our constant rebellion… God in his mercy has washed us of these sins. He has rescued us though we were ungodly and deserving of death. The gospel was more than enough to rescue us from sin—should this not lead to great compassion for those who remain trapped in their sin?

When we say silly nonsense like we can’t respect unbelievers, we are forgetting (again), that we are no different. In fact, as Christians, we should always be developing a more mature understanding of God’s grace to us in the gospel. We see this in Paul’s writings as he progressively changes his definition of himself as he matures. He first goes from being the least of all the apostles in 1 Corinthians 15:9, to the least of all the saints in Ephesians 3:8, to finally the foremost of sinners in 1 Timothy 1:15!

Notice that this isn’t an upward progression—he doesn’t gradually feel better about himself as time goes on. Instead, God’s grace is forcing him to recognize his sin in greater detail. And it does the same to us. The longer we are believers, the longer we are in relationship with Jesus, the more we see how far we fall short. The more we should recognize that we are totally unworthy of God’s love, and yet God has poured out his love on us so lavishly. 

How dare we, then, condemn those who we should be seeking to reach? When we think of unbelievers as being unworthy of respect, we only have one recourse: repent and believe the gospel. For just as they are, so too were we.


Photo credit: Skley via photopin cc

Will we not declare this hope?

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One of the things that I really struggle with in communicating the truth of Christianity is making sure people understand there are no barriers to entry beyond one: Believing in Jesus. Recognizing our need for him. Trusting in his death to pay for our sins.

That’s it, the one barrier. For as Acts 2:21 says, “Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.”

And that “everyone” is important because it really does mean “everyone”. Everyone who genuinely believes, every one of those people—regardless of age, ethnicity, intelligence, gender, you name it—”shall be saved.” There’s no hesitation in these words of Scripture, nor should there be in us to declare them, for as Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote in Authentic Christianity, “Christianity is a message for all people.”

You will need to be very clever to understand the modern books about God, but thank God, you do not need to be clever to be a Christian. “The common people heard him gladly,” wrote Mark (12:37). “Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called,” says the apostle Paul (1 Cor. 1:26). Rather, “God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty …and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are” (vv. 27-28). There is a hope for all who realize their need and cry out to Him. (31)

All who realize their need and cry out to him have a great hope—a hope that stretches back beyond human existence to before the foundations of the world (Ephesians 1:4). Will we not declare it then?

What is our greatest need?

changing-people

This weekend, as I prepared to teach the grades 4 and 5 kids in our church about Jesus cleansing the temple and righteous vs. unrighteous anger, I was reminded of the danger of simply telling them “don’t be angry,” or “be angry like Jesus.” There’s a trite, simplistic, or naive way to to teach about these complex issues. And the danger of teaching in such ways is that it doesn’t actually allow the gospel to shine through.

This is something I always try to remember when I’m teaching in children’s ministry: my goal isn’t to help kids become good, moral Christian-ish people. It’s to help them discover their greatest need. Our greatest need is to know God in Christ, as Martyn Lloyd-Jones put it so well in Authentic Christianity:

Do men and women need to be told about some kind of program that will give them better conditions? That is not our greatest need. Our greatest need is to know God. If we were all given a fortune, would that solve our problems? Would that solve our moral problems? Would that solve the problem of death? Would that solve the problem of eternity? Of course not. The message of Christianity is not about improving the world, but about changing people in spite of the world, preparing them for the glory that is yet to come. This Jesus is active and acting to that end, and He will go on until all the redeemed are gathered in, and then He will return, and the final judgement will take place, and His kingdom will stretch from shore to shore.

This is the great need, and more than that—it is what God has done to meet that great need. If our kids don’t hear this—and if their parents don’t hear it either–then we’ve kind of missed the point.

Links I like

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Here’s a great big list of offerings from Zondervan (all around 99¢):

And finally, six by Wayne Grudem:

The Fairytale of Friendship

Amber Van Schooneveld:

My pastor on Sunday shared about the word nostalgia. It comes from the Greek roots of nostos, or “homecoming,” and algos, or “ache.” Many of us (all?) have an ache for our homecoming, whatever we perceive that home to be. Nostalgia connotes backward looking, but I like to think of it as longing for how we think things ought to be.

For a long time, I’ve had a deep nostalgia for friendship.

You Can’t Arrest the Gospel

David Mathis:

Christians are not a dour people, even in the darkness of a dungeon. We don’t whine and bellyache as our society lines up against us and our convictions. We plead. We grieve. But beneath it all we have untouchable strongholds of joy. Even in the worst, most inconvenient, most lonely days, we rejoice. The suffering days are good days for gospel advance. We have great cause to be optimistic about our good news, to “joyfully accept” prison and the plundering of our possessions and even our freedoms.

How to talk on the phone (without sounding like an idiot)

Complementarians and Hypocrisy

Brandon Smith:

A professor once told me, “The problem with complementarianism is not exegetical–it’s practical. We all agree that the Bible teaches it, but we disagree on what it looks like.” This is true, and the compounded problem is two-fold: 1) some complementarians worship the doctrine above the gospel itself or above the implications of the doctrine for Christian living; 2) some non-complementarians are quick to equate it with patriarchy, domestic abuse, etc., leaving some disillusioned about what it actually means to be a complementarian.

Kanye West: Artist, Villain, Human

Cray Allred:

No one has to pay attention to Kanye West. Really, it’s fine to ignore what the producer/rapper/fashion designer (yes, he’s legitimately that) is up to. And lots of people are uninterested in Kanye– if you choose to believe their social media pronouncements. There’s definitely room for playfully dismissing a pop culture lightning rod, such as feeling overly inundated with the blue-black/white-gold dress, showing disinterest in the presidential race, or even light-heartedly boasting in your ignorance of the latest Kanye-related awards show controversy. But whenever people dismiss Mr. West, they typically express their disdain for the man, announcing that he’s in their mental waste bin because he’s their idea of trash. He’s an “idiot”, “spoiled”, a “punk that does not deserve any attention at all”, or worse. People don’t know that they believe in a caricature of Kanye West.

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

The Ulrich von Liechtenstein Gospel

Paul Dunk:

I think we can relate to William. We want to be the Ulrich von Liechtenstein’s of our families, careers and relationships. We want to be the Ulrich von Liechtenstein of physical, emotional and spiritual health. We want the Ulrich von Liechtenstein good life.  As a result of chasing the dream via self-help-everything to transform ourselves from lowly Williams into Ulrich von Liechtenstein’s, we’ve developed an Ulrich von Liechtenstein gospel.

You don’t have to go

Matt Emerson

As a younger Southern Baptist who is also drawn to liturgical worship forms, I have to ask – is this move necessary? Is the only option for SBCers who feel affinity with liturgy and principled ecumenism to leave, for Canterbury or Geneva or Wittenberg? I believe the answer is no. Younger Southern Baptists, if you are drawn to liturgical forms, if you find attractive the principled evangelical ecumenism of other manifestations of Christ’s body, you can have that in Nashville. You can stay in the SBC. You don’t have to go.

6 Reasons Why Sexual Predators Target Churches

Tim Challies shares six from On Guard by Deepak Reju.

4 Types of Sermons to Avoid

Derek Thomas reminds of a number of different kinds of sermons that fail to, in Alec Motyer’s words, “display what is there.”

The Dreadful Loneliness of Life Without Scripture

Peter Jones:

 On a recent Oprah Winfrey show, Kristen and Rob Bell make a lavish use of “values language,” in an attempt to justify same sex marriage. Kristen stated: “Marriage, gay and straight, is a gift to the world because the world needs more not less love, fidelity, commitment, devotion and sacrifice.” Who does not want to see more love in the world, but do the terms like “love,” “commitment” and sacrifice” need a lot more definition? Do the millions watching Oprah deserve a better defense of biblical sexuality? Indeed, the “made-for-TV” superficiality of these arguments is staggering and is part of the trend in certain evangelical circles mentioned in my previous comment Evangelicalism in Crisis? to accept the homosexual agenda as perfectly in line with the true meaning of Christianity.

Links I like (weekend edition)

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Today is also the last day to take advantage of Crossway’s weekly deals:

Google’s Denominational Stereotypes

This is interesting.

Don’t Let Spontaneity Kill Your Creativity

Chris Vacher:

We have a brain that God has wired to be creative. We have a God who is the Creator. We have his spirit living inside of us and we have the invitation to be creative in the way that He also is creative. We have all the time that we need to do the work God has called us to do. We have every resource available to us to lead people in worship the way God has invited us.

So how has the power of spontaneity been allowed to have its way among so many churches, pushing away the strength of planning, critique and editing?

The Gospel in the Dominican Republic

Ivan Mesa interviews Miguel Núñez, senior pastor of the International Baptist Church in Santo Domingo and a Council member of The Gospel Coalition, about what God is doing in the Dominican Republic.

A briefer history of time

HT: Tim

A Crash Course on Influencers of Unbelief

Justin Taylor is starting a new (occasional) series on influencers who’ve shaped the thinking of our culture. First up is Sigmund Freud.

7 Helps for When One You’ve Been Discipling Turns Away

Mike Leake:

The Lord spoke of those who would fall on bad soil. When you experience that first hand it is painful. It’s painful to see the one who shoots up quickly, giving hope to many people, and then just as quickly drifts away. When you’ve baptized this person, started discipling them, and even started dreaming about how the Lord might use them—it is such a blow when they drift away from Christ and the gospel.

Links I like

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Lots of new deals for you today:

Finally, Zondervan’s put a whole bunch of Lee Strobel’s books on sale for between $1.99 and $2.99, including:

God, Protect My Girls

Tim Challies:

As a dad, I pray for each of my kids just about every day, and I take it as both a joy and responsibility to bring them before the Lord. Praying for the kids is a helpful way of training myself to remember that they are his before they are mine, and that any good they experience will ultimately find its source in God himself. And I believe that prayer works—that God hears a father’s prayers for his children, and that he delights to answer those prayers. One of my most common prayers for my girls is a pray for their protection. Here is how I pray for God to protect them.

Vaccination and the Christian worldview

Scott James:

The discussion of whether or not parents should vaccinate their children has been going on in some circles for years, but recent outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases in the United States have brought the conversation to a fever pitch. As Ross Douthat has recognized, vaccine skepticism occurs on a spectrum and has a wide range of motivating factors. When faced with the various questions that arise from so many different perspectives, the vaccine conversation sometimes sounds more like a cacophony. In the midst of the confusion, Christians should lead the way as those who wisely weigh the evidence and act accordingly for the good of those around them.

Yeah, Well, But What About the Crusades?

Kevin DeYoung:

We are coming up on a thousand years, and Christians still haven’t made up for the Crusades. No matter how many times Billy Graham makes the most admired list, we’ll still have the Crusades to deal with.  When President Obama encouraged humility in denouncing ISIS today in light of the Crusades from close to a millennium ago, he may have been making a clumsy moral equivalence argument, but he was only voicing what many Americans (and many Christians) have articulated before. Remember the faux confessional booths from way back in the 2000’s when Christians would apologize to non-Christians for the Crusades? If there is one thing in our collective history that we cannot apologize for enough it is the history conjured up by pictures like the one in this post.

Yet, for all the times we’ve lamented the Crusades, how many of us know more than two sentences about them? Isn’t it wise to know at least a little something about the Crusades before we borrow them to get an advanced degree in self-recrimination?

If All The Bible Translations Had A Dinner Party

If you don’t at least chuckle at this, well…

Getting the Gospel Right

This is a really good interview with R.C. Sproul.

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

Mummy mask may reveal oldest known gospel

A text that may be the oldest copy of a gospel known to exist — a fragment of the Gospel of Mark that was written during the first century, before the year 90 — is set to be published.

At present, the oldest surviving copies of the gospel texts date to the second century (the years 101 to 200).

This first-century gospel fragment was written on a sheet of papyrus that was later reused to create a mask that was worn by a mummy. Although the mummies of Egyptian pharaohs wore masks made of gold, ordinary people had to settle for masks made out of papyrus (or linen), paint and glue. Given how expensive papyrus was, people often had to reuse sheets that already had writing on them.

Be sure to also check out Denny Burk’s commentary on this story.

Only Two Religions: An Interview with Peter Jones

R.C. Sproul and Lee Webb interview Peter Jones to discuss the theme of his teaching series Only Two Religions. Together they discuss the fundamental religious convictions that drive modern culture, demonstrating that in the final analysis there can be only two religions—worship of the Creator or worship of creation.

The goodness of biblical manhood and womanhood

If you live in the Calgary area, be sure to register for this conference featuring Owen Strachan and Jodi Ware.

Why the Battle for Traditional Marriage Will Be Different than Fighting Roe v. Wade

Mike Leake:

Since 1973 the church has been fighting to end abortion. And though we don’t seem to be winning court or legal battles on this topic it does appear that our nation is becoming more pro-life than pro-choice.

Will the same thing happen with same-sex marriage? Will we be talking in 2057 about a decline in same-sex marriages? Will the cultural tide turn at that point?

I don’t have those answers, but I do know that our hope for traditional marriage will be a much different battle than our discussion over abortion.

A Solid Worldview Won’t Save My Kids

Stephen Altrogge:

Worldview is important, but it’s only one part of the equation. A biblical worldview helps a person think correctly. But we are not purely intellectual beings. We don’t operate solely based on ideas and thoughts. We are flesh and blood, with passions, desires, and longings. We feel things deeply and desire things strongly. Our intellects and desires are intricately interwoven, interacting with and informing each other.

What kids think of Teddy Ruxpin

Ouch:

Never make peace with death

This is among the saddest things I’ve seen in my life:

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Full size version available here: reproductiverights.org

Sixty-one nations—including Australia, Canada, and the United States—have few to no restrictions on abortion.

Sixty-one.

Meaning, simply, nearly 40 percent of the world’s population can have an abortion at any time, for virtually any reason. And it’s most likely paid for by your tax dollars. In fact, Canada, where I live, has no standing abortion law whatsoever, despite several failed attempts to place limits over the last 30 years (here’s a timeline of abortion laws in Canada for those interested).

All but one of the major political parties in this country are staunchly pro-abortion. One of these parties requires all of its members of parliament to vote in line with this stance on any bill being considered, regardless of personal conviction. But its not as though the remaining major party is pro-life; they simply allow party members to vote according to conscience.

Which means, generally speaking, no one is going to rock the boat when it comes to abortion in Canada.

And this is a shame, because ultimately, it means that people are willing to make peace with death for the sake of convenience. And so, tens of thousands of children die every year, conveniently forgotten by all but those who carry the emotional scars.

This should never be said of the church in Canada (or in any nation for that matter). We should never be so willing to capitulate to society that we would treat abortion as a mere political issue, something that is a hindrance to the preaching of the gospel.

This is nothing but damnable cowardice. It is a willingness to make peace with death—and it is this, as John Ensor reminds us, that is actually crippling the effectiveness of our gospel witness.

Abortion’s role in the consciences of [millions] is a boil that festers just under the surface of all Christian endeavors, and it needs lancing. It needs to be called out by name, confessed by name, and brought under a gospel that declares that there is no forgiveness for the shedding of innocent blood except by the shedding of innocent blood, that is, by the blood of Christ. (Innocent Blood, 68)

Links I like

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Kindle deals for Christian readers

B&H’s sale on their New American Commentary series continues through January 5th. Add these to your library for $4.99 each:

Logos users will want to take advantage of a $20 credit on one order before December 31st. Use coupon code FAITHLIFE-GIFT at checkout.

Gospel + safety + time

I loved reading this post from Ray Ortlund.

Burn Your Bible College Degree

D.L. Mayfield:

I was lucky; I worked 30-plus hours a week doing retail sales while going to school full time, and I lived off of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and moved back in with my parents. I graduated magna cum laude, with no financial debt. I was the minority, however. As of 2014, the average amount of debt a student leaves college with is $28,000. While this might be a workable financial constraint for many, it can prove crippling to the very students that Bible colleges cater to—those who want to minister, either as pastors or teachers or overseas missionaries. Without more marketable skills, the vast majority of my classmates (including myself), made lattes with our bachelor’s degrees, treading water until our real life of paid ministry could begin. We had read our Bibles; we were ready to go out and change the world.

But how?

The secret life of Albert Einstein

Allan Levine:

When he was not theorizing about gravity and the speed of light, what occupied a genius like Albert Einstein? Now we know.

In 1955, following Einstein’s death at the age of 76, his voluminous scientific and personal papers were donated to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, which he helped found in 1918. That gift led to the establishment of the university’s Albert Einstein Archives. This month, a joint project between Hebrew University and Princeton University — where Einstein lectured after he fled Nazi Germany and came to the United States in 1933 — and the California Institute of Technology has published thousands of Einstein’s letters and papers online at http://einsteinpapers.press.princeton.edu/. The documents, which also have been translated from German into English, provide a fascinating insight into one of the most unique minds in modern history.

Is the Reformation still relevant today?

Thaddeus Williams:

I would argue that the biggest problem in the church today is that many of us have too small a view of who God is. We have shrunk an infinite being. We have diminished His glory and put Him into very small and manageable boxes. This ignores the objectively there God altogether to the point that He becomes (to us) just a projection of what we think He is like, what we feel He should be like.

 R C Sproul’s Second Conversion

Interesting article from David Murray.

Links I like (weekend edition)

Kindle deals for Christian readers

This week there’ve been quite a few really good deals on Kindle books. Here’s a recap along with a few newer ones:

One Sentence That Pastors and Church Staff Hate to Hear

Yep.

Tomorrow’s promise, today’s indulgence

Jeremy Walker:

We can do the same thing spiritually. We promise ourselves that tomorrow is the big day, the day when we will really begin to pray against a particular sin, wrestle against a particular temptation, address a particular habit. And what happens? First of all, our own sinful hearts will incline to one last fling, one last binge – after all, we will be taking ourselves in hand tomorrow. But more than that, Satan will begin to whisper. He will assure us that we might as well give in to temptation – after all, we can repent later and start over the day after. And how often does this happen?

Reading in the age of Amazon

Hundreds of millions of tablets and e-readers have been sold, but today we’re still inclined to think of a book as words on a page. Amazon’s success with Kindle has hinged on recognizing how much more they can be. So where does the company go from here? In a series of rare, on-the-record interviews for Kindle’s 7th anniversary, Amazon executives sketched out their evolving vision for the future of reading. It’s wild — and it’s coming into focus faster than you might have guessed.

A Time to Speak Webcast

If you missed this webcast earlier this week, you can watch this important conversation on race now.

That’s What Gospel Do

Mike Leake:

A couple of years ago Jarrod Dyson, the speedy centerfielder for the KC Royals, scored the game winning run by tagging up on a pop up to the shortstop. If you don’t understand baseball just know that in order to do something like this you have to be crazy fast. Dyson is crazy fast.

When being interviewed after the game, Dyson quipped, “That what speed do”. And it stuck. Now every time Dyson uses his legs to wreak havoc in a game—the announcers will inevitably say “that what speed do”.

Jarrod Dyson has the speed to change a game. In the same way, times infinity, the gospel changes things. Don’t believe me look at this.

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

Beat God to the Punch

beat-god-to-the-punch

I’ve got to hand it to Eric Mason: Beat God to the Punch may be the most provocative title I’ve seen in ages. In fact, that’s is what made me take notice when I first learned of it, and when it eventually arrived in my mailbox. When I cracked the tiny book open, I immediately saw how well suited it was.

According to its author, this is a book about God’s wrath and coming judgment; or more accurately, the grace God offers to rescue us from it. Thus, playing off Paul’s joyful declaration that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil. 2:10-11), Mason writes Beat God to the Punch with a revivalist zeal, inviting men and women “to bow now, by choice” (1)—to submit themselves to the Lord and experience His grace.

The struggle of discipleship and contagiousness of grace

Chapters one to three, and chapter five, present a picture of what following Jesus means while striving to wow readers with grace. Using imagery from both first century Jewish practices, as well as drawing an analogy from hip-hop culture, Mason reminds readers that the struggle of discipleship is this: “Over and over again, in our lives, our humanity will collide with His divinity. At the end of the day, a disciple must be transformed into wanting what the Lord wants for them” (24-25).

Our desires are always going to come into conflict with what the Lord has clearly laid out in His Word. We are all called to sacrifice all for His sake and follow Him. Essentially this means questions about our rights or what we think we want or deserve go out the window the moment we become Christians. We are to follow His example, be imitators of Him in order that we might grow to become like Him.

And here’s where grace comes in: we are graciously called to this life despite not being able to follow Jesus like this on our own. Mason reminds us that Jesus actually broke the pattern of the rabbi-student relationship, where students would ask to follow the teacher. Instead, Jesus, our great Teacher, comes to us and says, “Follow me.” Not because God believes in us in particular, or because Jesus sees a glimmer of something in us—which is where Mason’s argument surprisingly falls apart on page 17, when he describes Jesus’ disciples as  knowing that “their rabbi believed in them. And… they realized that God believed in them too.”

(Suddenly, I feel like I’m watching a video of a kid shovelling a driveway.)

Despite this flub, Mason comes back around to God’s choosing us a little later in the book, giving us a much more rousing (and accurate) assessment, writing, “God picks, by grace—according to His nature, His lovingkindness, withholding His wrath—to blow the minds of men, to create potential where there is none, in order for all of the glory to go to Him” (44).

This should excite us, shouldn’t it? If a professing Christian isn’t moved by the thought that God—through no efforts, actions or intentions of your own—chose to save you and call you His own and promises to keep you as His own, so that He might be glorified, there’s something dreadfully wrong. This is not something we should look at lightly.

We should be on our knees with a sense of wonder over this amazing grace. But what does it say about us if it doesn’t?

The historical interlude that doesn’t quite fit

While the first three chapters flow naturally into the fifth, chapter four serves as a historical interlude. Here, Mason briefly surveys church history to gain a sense of perspective on how the Church has viewed grace through the ages. There’s some interesting stuff here, particularly as he gives readers a sense of the loss and rediscovery of grace and the battles to protect its centrality to the faith in the lives and ministries of the likes of Augustine and the Reformers.

Now, I’ve increasingly become a bit of a church history nerd, so I really dig stuff like this. I love seeing how different Christians have communicated grace through the years. It helps to give a more robust understanding of it both doctrinally and practically. But even so, the chapter doesn’t move the “story” of the book forward.While there are elements I enjoy about this chapter, it might have been better served as the book’s appendix.

And then there’s the inclusion of Charles Finney as “sufficiently orthodox” in his belief in God’s grace in salvation, and that “many differ on the semantics of his claim” (75). Hardly a glowing endorsement, but I’ll be honest, it threw me for a loop. To call Finney’s view of grace an orthodox example, despite his view of the atonement being anything but… I can’t quite wrap my mind around that.1 While I realize it’s a one-page reference, and therefore not a large portion of the book, were it me writing or editing Beat God to the Punch, I would have removed it in a heartbeat. It’s inclusion only hurts the author’s credibility.

No knock-out punch thrown

Which brings me to the end of my thoughts on this book: I wanted to like Beat God to the Punch more than I actually did. It’s not a bad book by any means. It’s got some really great elements, but it’s also kind of sloppy, and thus fails to throw the knock-out punch Mason hopes to. Would I say to anyone, “Don’t read this book?” Nope. But it wouldn’t be the first book I’d recommend.


Title: Beat God to the Punch: Because Jesus Demands Your Life
Author: Eric Mason
Publisher: B&H Publishing

Buy it at: Amazon