Reasons: A Foundation for Life

We just finished a Bible study series on decision making two weeks ago. 

If I were to challenge you to do one thing, it would be this: Live your life based on reasons, not feelings

I do not mean be "rationalistic", but be reasonable. The things we choose to base our life on should be founded in Scripture as the proper values, motives, goals in life. The one great overarching goal is to live a life of spiritual worship, i.e. a life that reveals for others to see the beauty and majesty and superabundant worthiness of Jesus Christ. 

The way you do this when the rubber meets the road, whether it means choosing a job or a spouse, or what to eat for dinner varies from person to person, from situation to situation. Each person must have reasons for why s/he does what s/he does. 

So don't live your life off of what you think God told you. Live your life on the complete word of God: the Bible. That is what it means to live by faith. It is trusting in God's word, not doing things irrationally (unless God's word teaches something the world thinks is irrational) or recklessly (unless God's word teaches something the world regards as reckless).

Don't live your life off of inward impressions or outward circumstances / opportunities. I don't trust my inward impressions (James 1:14-16). Impressions are impressions; opportunities are opportunities; all are to be evaluated. If they are followed or avoided, there should be reasons for doing so. Sometimes opportunities must be rejected, and sometimes they must be created. Sometimes ideas are good, sometimes they are bad. Just because they are strong ideas makes them neither better nor worse just on account of that alone. 

So that's basically it in a nutshell: Get a foundation for your life. Live your life based on reasons, not feelings.




I am small

Watching some of the sermons from together for the gospel's recent conference has been remarkably encouraging and challenging. Piper preaching on whether Jesus preached justification by faith, MacArthur on God's sovereignty; we just speak and sleep while God does the real work, and today Mahaney on "Ordinary Pastors", have been greatly convicting. I also listened to Matt Chandler's testimony along with Mahaney's comments on suffering. 

Watching these great men preach and seeing the great faith and gifts God has given to them helps me to remember that I am small. What a healthy dose of humility from Mahaney. I will probably not ever write a book. I will influence but a small number of people the Lord has given me to love and care for. I ought to thank God that people actually come back each Sunday and stay awake rather than expecting the big names to start noticing me. There will be no big stadium gathering before my funeral. I am not these great men. I am simply not them. I am small. It is good to be small.

What a great reminder to glory in my weaknesses and in my smallness, and be thankful for such men. My job is to be faithful in teaching and caring for those entrusted to me, help them to grow, love the Lord with all my heart and strength, treasuring Jesus more than anything and anyone and everything and everyone else. Praise the Lord for such a privileged job!

I am just a small man desiring to be faithful to the trust given to him by a great God glorious and gracious beyond all imagination. To him be the glory, and may my ambitious glory-seeking pride be put to death by the Spirit of Christ on account of the death of Christ, for Christ's sake.




A Great Dilemma (pt. 2)

I read an article yesterday by J. I. Packer called "What Did the Cross Achieve?" which seems to echo the same sentiment as my previous post about what the true dilemma is.

Surely the primary issue with which penal substitution is concerned is neither the morality nor the rationality of God's ways, but with the remission of my sins; ...

That is the same point I tried to make in my previous post. He goes on (same sentence):

...and the primary function of the concept is to correlate my knowledge of being guilty before God with my knowledge that, on the other hand, no question of my ever being judged for my sins can now arise, and, on the other hand, that the risen Christ whom I am called to accept as Lord is none other than Jesus, who secured my immunity from judgment by bearing on the cross the penalty that was my due.

[J. I. Packer, "What Did the Cross Achieve?" in In My Place Condemned He Stood, (Wheaton: Crossway, 2007), 79.]

The subtitle of the article is "The Logic of Penal Substitution". Its purpose is to explain what is meant by penal substitution, and to argue that this is the primary and fundamental meaning of the death of Christ. It was a death of substitution, and it was to pay the penalty that was our due. Whatever else the cross was, it flows out of this one core.

He labors to show that penal substitution "be evaluated as a model setting forth the meaning of the atonement rather than its mechanics." (Ibid., 78) This is why he calls it a "model" and a "concept". There is an element of mystery with regard to the actual dynamic of what happened there. We are interested not in the mechanics, but the meaning.

I said in the previous post that there is a "real tension" between God's need to punish us and desire to save us. I do not mean that there is a tension in his attributes. I mean simply that "God had to be just in his justification of sinners". While this may have been a mystery to us, there was no dilemma in God's mind. The Bible seems to present God as freely providing exactly what was necessary to save us, not as in some dilemma as to what to do. (thinking of Eph 1:4-6, Eph 2:4-5, Rom 8:32, etc.)

What is concerned in our explanation of the gospel is not primarily to justify God's justification of us, but rather to proclaim that through Christ sinners can be justified, and urge sinners to see their plight outside of Christ. The main idea is not to prove God's morality, but to offer remission of sins.




A Great Dilemma

There is a common pattern of gospel presentations that hinge on a dilemma. You might have heard it or used it. It goes something like this: God is a holy God who must punish sinners (which all men are), but God also is a loving God who wants to bestow blessing and good. On the one hand, God must punish us, and on the other hand God wants to love us.

Here is the hinge: Whatever is God to do?

Here is the answer: God solved this problem through the person of Jesus Christ.

I have shared the gospel this way for a long time. It suddenly hit me just now that while the tension drawn between these two points is real, I wonder if presenting this tension as a dilemma is the most helpful or accurate.

That it is a real tension, look up Romans 3:26 which says Christ came to die for our sins "so that he [God] might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." It is "just justification" or "justified justification". [i.e. We are declared righteous and accepted by God in a way that does not compromise his righteousness / justice.] Thus, there is tension between these two points. The cross is the glorious intersection between the holiness of God and the love of God. The demand of justice is satisfied in executing its punishment, and the demand of love is satisfied in providing life eternal freely to all who receive it.

Here is my problem: While the Bible does say God had to be just in his justification of sinners, it does not present God as being in some kind of dilemma about it. I think this presentation is also not very helpful in that it takes focus away from the real problem: that of the listener.  Rather than presenting God as having a difficult predicament, much more the Bible presents man as being in a difficult, impossible predicament. 

Here is the real dilemma: Whatever am I to do, a desperate sinner under the judgment of God?

The real problem is that we have sinned against God and we are wicked to the core. Not only our actions and words and even thoughts are evil, but they are all flowing out of a wicked disposition. This combined with God's perfect righteousness spells out trouble for us. We stand utterly guilty before the Judge. This is the problem God solved through Christ.

The listener should not come out thinking, "Whew, I'm glad God solved that problem of his!" He should come out thinking, "Wow, God solved my problem by extending mercy to me in Christ!" 

Before we talk about the cross, the listener should be feeling desperate, feeling the weight of his sin, the sureness and seriousness of God's coming wrath, thinking, "Woe is me! I am lost!" It is then and only then, that the news of the cross will be heard as good news! The cross is the solution to our dilemma, much more than it is a solution to God's.




A Chinese-Sensitive Gospel?

Any effort to share the gospel desires to be relevant. We are convinced that the gospel we believe in is relevant for every single person on the planet, and we want them to see it. We do not change the message to make it relevant, but rather we strive to show them just how relevant the message already is.

Making sure the gospel is in our gospel outline

In preparing to teach Evangelism Training here in Taiwan in the next month or two, I have been thinking a lot about the best way to approach the gospel. (You may be able to tell by the previous few posts.) If a gospel outline is supposed to present the entire biblical message in a short conversation, then it must present the heart of the message, as well as any background context needed to understand it.

J. I. Packer said the gospel is "adoption through propitiation". Where, then, does propitiation stand in the outline? Where does adoption stand? Propitiation, the work of Jesus on the cross dying as our substitute to take away the wrath of God for our sin, must the at the center of the message. Everything before it must be for the purpose of setting propitiation in context--we are accountable to God and are guilty.

If adoption is the main thing attained through the work of Christ, then it must be presented as such also by the outline. Here, Tell the Truth by Will Metzger gets closer with its theme of "Come Home" than the more famous Evangelism Explosion which provides unity along the theme of "Eternal Life". It is pretty much the same thing, the emphasis shifting from the mere fact of living forever "in a good place", to a reconciliation with God and acceptance into his family.

Conviction of sin is key to seeing the gospel's relevance

Back to relevancy, a large hindrance to people's understanding of the relevancy of the gospel is the fact that they do not see the dire situation they are in. They do not see the need for propitiation, nor do they see the wonder of the gift of adoption. They know not what they need to be saved from, nor what amazing things they can be saved to. This dire situation is brought about by sin, our guilt before God that has created alienation between him and us, and on account of which God burns with righteous anger toward us.

Any gospel presentation worth considering must, therefore, pay significant attention to its explanation of sin. Unless this is done, the relevancy will not be felt, and the message will be ignored. Evangelism Explosion talks about sins of omission and commission in a way that assumes the listeners have a sense of duty already towards what God has commanded (written in America in 1960s, assumes many people will mention the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule). Tell the Truth talks about self-centered living as the essence of sin, opposed to God-centered living. Two Ways to Live talks about sin as human rebellion in the form of wanting to live our lives our own way and not submit to God as king.

Relevance to the Chinese [ethnically, not nationally]

As I was thinking about these things with reference to the particular social context I happen to be in (Taipei, Taiwan), a thought popped into my head that I think might be a step forward. 

Arguably the most highly valued virtues to the Chinese is for one to be 孝順 (xiao shun), a.k.a. "filial piety". The family always comes first; it is a loyalty to the death. Even though there is probably not much affection and closeness in most families, there is nonetheless a loyalty that will sacrifice all one has to honor and help one's family.

It very well might strike a nerve with many to hear that they are 不孝 (not obeying / respecting one's elders/parents) by disregarding and rejecting their "Father" in heaven. He is the one to whom belongs ultimate obedience, ultimate reverence. True, it is only those who believe in Jesus who have the right to call God "Father", but the parable in Luke 15 of the two sons seems to be okay painting God as a Father even to the wayward. cf. Metzger's outline, "Come Home".

Thus, not only does this seem to be very culturally relevant, it also has the added bonus of linking back in with the great privilege of gospel: adoption into God's family. It is not a perfect fit, because adoption means you were not part of the family to begin with, but you were adopted in. However, at least it gets them thinking in personal terms rather than abstract ones.

Perhaps if sin was cast in terms of this filial piety, it might strike a chord with many who would otherwise dismiss God as having no relationship to them whatsoever. They might then be more able to see the horror of their rejection of God and see more clearly their need for the propitiating work of Christ on the cross, and the glory of the adoption they can receive through it.

May the Lamb receive the reward of his suffering!

Chinese / Taiwanese friends, thoughts? Am I off base, or is this on target? I'd appreciate feedback. Thanks!




Conversion and Evangelism

Understanding the radical nature of conversion is essential for evangelism. 

I have noticed a trend. Churches where there is evangelism-heavy teaching without a similar emphasis on the radical nature of conversion and the need for regeneration, can tend to produce exactly that which it is trying to avoid: shallow results.

Namely, along with an enormity of negative responses comes in like degree a strong desire for positive responses. Thus the slightest indication of a positive response is taken more readily as genuine, particularly in contrast with the number of negative responses, just as a sliver of light is visible in a dark cave that would be otherwise indiscernible.

We need to be careful of thinking ourselves of a club just hoping more people will join. We are not begging to get people in; we wait until people start begging to get in.

We are looking for nothing less than a re-born person. We are looking for nothing less than an entirely changed person. A person whose thinking, affections, and will have been transformed to believe upon, treasure, and submit to Jesus Christ. This is what conversion is.

If the change needed is that radical, then only God can do it. So all we have to do is tell them the good news, and urge them to believe it, and then beg and plead that God would open their eyes to see. We keep our demands high, we declare human inability: You must be born again! You ask, "What is the use of telling them that, they can't do it; God does it!" Because it makes them run to God for mercy, rather than thinking that their "decision for Christ" is what gets them saved.

Oh, and an interest in the gospel does not mean true saving faith; and neither is conviction of sin. You can know you are the most sinful person in the world, and feel horrible about it, but pursue all different kinds of religions / methods to remove your guilt. Only the person who trusts in Jesus Christ, entrusting their whole life and soul into his hands, bowing to him as the sovereign Lord and King, treasuring him as the greatest treasure, only he has true saving faith.

The "new methods" of evangelism from the early 1800s when Arminianism was spreading across the USA have stuck with us more than we realize. We are less Calvinist than we think we are. [Read Ian Murray's, Revival and Revivalism; great eye-opening book!]

This is freeing! You don't have to "get" them to do anything. Just declare the message, and tell them to cry out to God to save them. You don't have to put words in the mouth of a repentant person telling him how to repent. (i.e. "the sinner's prayer") When they see their need, they will cry out to God for forgiveness, and that will be a true conversion.

Decisions don't save people. Only faith saves people.




Are you talking to me?

Interpreters debate over whether James 4:1-10 is directed towards believers or towards unbelievers. He uses some very harsh, stinging language there. Throughout the whole letter of James, he had habitually used the addresses, "brothers", "my beloved brothers", etc. However, in this one section, we find him calling his readers "adulteresses", "sinners", and "double minded"! The tone is different indeed.

[The passage is about conflict within the church. He traces the source of their conflict and fighting together to their individual unfulfilled passions. They want something, they don't get it, so they fight. That is fallen human nature for you. He says that this kind of conflict-ridden behavior is "friendship with the world", it is the essence of a so-called "wisdom" of the world, rather than true wisdom that comes from fearing God, and trusting in Jesus Christ.]

However, I think the question itself is a wrong one. The question should not be, "Is he talking to believers or to unbelievers?" Why? The very purpose of the letter of James is to distinguish between believers and unbelievers, to distinguish true faith from false faith.

So, which one is James 4:1-10 referring to? James is neither addressing one crowd, nor the other; he is addressing conflict-ridden people! He is talking not to peacemakers (3:18), but rather to conflict-makers! (4:1) If that describes you, then he is talking to you.

So the passage is talking to unbelievers and it is talking to professing believers who are so filled with conflict and bickering that they look just like unbelievers; their behavior borders on apostasy. 

Such is the seriousness of conflict. It betrays a heart that is set on its own passions, on getting what it wants; thus is in love with the world. No wonder James calls the tongue "the world of unrighteousness set among our members" (3:6). It is the world within us. It demonstrates the "worldliness" of a Christian more than anything else.

If that describes you, then: yes, James 4:1-10 is talking to you.





When the Father was against his Son

There are few places in the Bible that speak in such picturesque language as we find in the Book of the Twelve (aka the "minor" prophets). One of the most prominent themes we find in these books is the indictment of sin and the promise of judgment, not forgetting a future restoration for the believing remnant. 

A result of this is that these books contain much graphic language the evokes powerful images about the wrath of God and his coming judgment. Examples:

For behold, the Lord is coming out of his place, and will come down and tread upon the high places of the earth. And the mountains will melt under him, and the valleys will split open, like wax before the fire, like waters poured down a steep place. (Micah 1:3-4)

The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies. The Lord is slow to anger and great in power, and the Lord will by no means clear the guilty. His way is in whirlwind and storm, and the clouds are the dust of his feet. (Nahum 1:2-3)

Nahum, written about the coming destruction of Nineveh (which came about in 612 BC), reaches a sort of climax as God speaks directly to Nineveh with these frightening words:

"B e h o l d ,   I   a m   a g a i n s t   y o u !" (Nah 2:13, 3:5)

Seeing the wrath of God over sin is instructive not only for what it tells us about God's holy character and our wretched sin, but for what tells us about what Jesus Christ endured on the cross. On the cross, God treated Jesus like he had committed all of our sins and punished him for our sins, so that we could be forgiven. Thus, the wrath of God in the minor prophets tells us what Jesus went through on the cross, in graphic, picturesque language.

So weep and mourn for the day when, for your sake, the Father said to his beloved Son, "Behold, I am against you!"




Music is to celebrate truth

There seems to be a happy trend lately of the increase of songs with good biblical doctrinal content, particularly in Christian hip-hop. I remember when I first became a Christian and wanted some good hip-hop to listen to, and all I could find was KJ-52 singing, "My name is KJ-Five-Tweezy..."  haha, needless to say, it left me a little unsatisfied to say the least. 

I like what's going on these days with good doctrinal songs, like Lecrae, Trip Lee, Shai Linne, Timothy Brindle, etc. 

However, there is another more unfortunate trend to go with it. There are a few songs here and there that I think rather unwise, attempting to teach on controversial topics. Shai Linne has a song trying to prove that Jesus died only to save the elect, the "definite atonement" view. Evangel has a song where he says that baby's that die don't go to heaven. [He assumes the view that they do go to heaven implies they don't have sin, which is not the case! Their entrance into heaven (which I believe is sure) is just as much by grace!]

What inevitably ends up happening when you try to address something controversial in a medium that is not meant for controversial topics is oversimplification. There are books written on each of these topics, and for them to try to "prove" it in a song with three verses, or to make a passing reference to it (in Evangel's case) is to make a straw man of the other side, and to grossly oversimplify. 

Music is to celebrate truth, not to be a platform for teaching on hard issues. This is why we have books with careful arguments and response to issues and careful study of passages. I don't like this trend, but I am very excited that the great truth about Christ--who he is and what he's done--is being put to song in more genres today. Music is to celebrate truth. 




Pride and Worship

It is remarkable how subtle the greatest sins are. Pride exists in every human heart and yet goes unnoticed in most of them. It comes as a fleeting thought that rushes through your mind, "You are spectacular." 

God created us to love him, not ourselves. The whole self-esteem movement is so opposed to Scripture and so panders to human beings' desire to be recognized and praised. God hates pride. Pride is directly opposed to worship. We were created to have great thoughts of God, not great thoughts of ourselves.

Whenever a man is being prideful, he is not worshiping. 

Worship is to celebrate that God is on the throne. Pride is to attempt to take his throne for yourself.

Daniel, chapter 4, the story of Nebuchadnezzar still sticks out for me as a great warning and a great promise, that "God is able to humble those who walk in pride." This is a warning for those who are arrogantly proud, and it is a promise to those who fight with pride. Nebuchadnezzar praised himself, and was judged with insanity for 7 years, since he was acting crazy. When his "reason" returned to him (in his own words), the first thing he did was to praise the God who made him, the only one worthy of praise. That was the sane thing to do.

Let us not contend with God for his throne or his glory. We won't win.

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Matt Hauck (郝柏昇)

A once enemy now son, forgiven and freed by Jesus' blood, adopted and called by grace for glory.   (more...)