True Religion

It is popular today to decry the word “religion.” And I suppose the goal here is a good one: to show the futility and falseness of a ritualistic, cold, unlively, practices of religious stuff. At the same time the word religion is a biblical word, used in James 1:27. It describes the practice of godliness. In other words, the religion of the Christian is simply Christian living in light of the gospel (Jam. 1:17 ff.)

There are three clarifying aspects of this “true” religion.

1.) It involves hearing- there is an authority here, it is the Word of God. True religion is ordered by the authoritative Word from above. Instead of making up rules and turning preferences into commandments and binding consciences with external practices, true religion rests is the hearing of God. This is why we work to confess sin and receive the truth (Jam. 1.19-21).

2.) It involves doing- the doing here is related to the hearing. After all, if one hears and does not do then he is deceived. One of James’ great burdens in this letter is hearing and doing. The doing flows from the hearing. If there is no doing, or obedience then there is good reason to believe that it is not true religion (Jam 1:27, 2:13ff.).

3.) It is before God- so often religion, in our popular sense of the word, is about the performance of men before men. The Bible places the emphasis upon God as the audience (Jam. …

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Book Review- The Hole in Our Holiness

Imagine a college football coach calling a team meeting after his players receives accolades from the media and fans for their on the field performance. Instead of pats on the backs he sits them down and gets serious, pointing out a couple of troubling trends with their play. The team may feel good and even look good to fans, but to the discerning eye there are major omissions that bring concern.

In The Hole in Our Holiness, Kevin DeYoung is like that coach (or at least a team captain) on the gospel-centered team. He is pulling aside the squad, amid rounds of applause for its resurgent emphasis on gospel grace, and pointing out the danger of an underdeveloped theology and practice of holiness.

DeYoung writes: “The sky is not falling, and it won’t until Jesus falls from it first. But we don’t have to pretend everything else is wrong to recognize we don’t have everything right. There is a gap between our love for the gospel and our love for godliness. This must change. It’s not pietism, legalism, or fundamentalism to take holiness seriously. It’s the way of all those who have been called to a holy calling by a holy God.”

DeYoung is calling people back to the biblical concept and practice of holiness. This is an ambitious undertaking in and of itself, but what’s more, DeYoung sets out to do it clearly and concisely (in just 144 pages!). In spite of the challenge, I think he hits a home run. …

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A Day in the Life of a Broken World (in the Apple Store)

The other day I was in the Apple Store and overheard the sales pitch that most of us have heard concerning the hardware. “Macs run great. They never break. I’ve had mine for like 23 years.” We all nod in amazement because we have been led to believe that while the machines are not manufactured in heaven they are just short of glorified.

But have you noticed what happens right after you say you are going to buy the computer? The salesman immediately starts angling for the Apple Care. In other words, he starts to sell you the warranty. It turns out that these things are not perfect. They do break. And the couple of hundred frog-skins is actually a good investment.

Isn’t this the reality of this broken world? Don’t you live in light of this tension all of the time? You are always hearing products overhyped and then you see them break. We should expect it. The world is broken.

As it turns out, technology (and science) cannot save. They can improve our lives but they cannot save them. Even Apple has its flaws.

This is tremendously important to remember as a Christian. We must remind ourselves amid the arms race for technological salvation that it is not equipped to meet ultimate needs and provide ultimate happiness. This reality is achieved by God entering into our world to bring deliverance to us from this world. God is not committed solely to improving our lives but to redeeming them. As his creation …

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Look for the Particular Sins Wrapped in Good Deeds

Everybody has one of those friends who is supremely skilled in deconstructing the plots of movies or books. This person adeptly peels back the layers of the story like one of those wooden Russian dolls; they just keep on going and going. My wife and I love going to movies with this guy. In some ways we get more out of the pre and post movie than the actual movie. He thinks deeply and comprehensively about the story  as a whole and the various individual parts.

I don’t think I can become this guy in the theater but I desire to be him in the prayer closet.

Let me explain: I have become more “skilled” in identifying the overt sin in my life (selfishness, frustration, envy, etc) but it is the underlying sin that I too often miss. In particular, I am talking about the tendency toward a sinful, self-bent even in the pursuit of good things! 

This is as troubling as it is difficult.

Let me give some examples:

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Graveclothes and Wedding Garments

It is sometimes difficult for Christians to categorize the moral imperatives in the New Testament. If we are saved by grace and not according to our works (Eph. 2.8) then what emphasis do we put on these commands?

It is important to remember that the commands to do pivot out of the reality of something having already been done for us. That is, our obligation and ability to obey now is possible because of what Christ has done in history for us (gospel) and what the Holy Spirit has done to us (regeneration, or being born again).

James Montgomery Boice is very helpful here when he writes:

Believers are to follow certain Christian standards precisely because God has already made them new creatures in Christ by putting away the old nature and putting on the new.

This is an important point. The apostle is not merely urging a new and higher standard of morality on people. This is an utterly futile thing. We cannot be genuinely better by mere moral suasion. That is not it at all. Rather, Paul is demanding a high form of behavior precisely because something decidedly has already taken place. We have already been made new in Christ. That is why we should and must act like it.

We, like Lazarus, have been brought out of death into life by Christ. As part of that spiritual miracle our old graveclothes, which were appropriate for a corpse but not for a living body, have been taken off, and we have been …

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Husbands: Don’t Treat your Wife Like a Guy

Can you imagine a husband making a funny joke and then, at the punchline landing a solid jab to his wife’s shoulder? Of course not. It’s out of place (and perhaps domestic abuse). However, in the context of a male friendship such behavior is widely practiced and acceptable. What’s the difference? (I’m about to get profound here…) Simply, women are different then men. Husbands and wives are different. And this is a good thing, something to be celebrated.

However, it is also apparently an evasive truth. One of the most common non-spiritual, basic, counseling I give to a husband is: don’t treat your wife like a guy. Believe it or not, men seem to forget this fact about as often as we leave our dirty socks on the floor. One of the chief areas this is seen is the area of romance. Many men think that they can woo their wives by treating like men. We think that we can just snap our fingers or just jump right to physical intimacy without any regard for emotions.

Guys, this doesn’t work.

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What if Jesus Disagreed with your Theology?

“I am not saying my theology is 100% right, I’m just saying I don’t know where I am wrong!”

I have heard this statement repeated many times. Each time the implication is: if we knew where we were wrong then we would change.

While we cannot prevent the fact that we are and will be wrong on occasion, we can work to prevent the wrong responses. I believe there are some basic guidelines for being open to theological examination.

Read the rest of this article at my new monthly column on Christianity.com

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The Embassy of Joy

On occasion we read international news stories that detail how people seeking safety will make a mad dash to an embassy Whether because of political, legal or some other issue, the people have gotten into some trouble with the local officials and they need asylum. They need protection.

While stories like this pique our interests they seem foreign. They might as well be tales from another world. Most of you reading this blog live in a nation that affords you tremendous safety and privilege. We don’t feel this type of pressure.

At the same time, we do have trouble and we do seek refuge.

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What does this look like when you’re 80?

One of the favorite lines around our house when one of the kids does something wrong is, “What is this going to look like when you are 18?” As parents, our point is that these sins in their toddler stages do grow up and mature. Pigging out and lusting after the cheese dip does mature into a lack of self-control in all of life as you grow. Connect the dots.

Let’s apply this principle to your Bible reading and devotions. If you take your current practices of spiritual discipline, what does this look like when you are 80?

Too many times I hear people talking about wanting to be more disciplined, more faithful, more intentional without being more active. The fact of the matter is, you will be tomorrow who you are today if you don’t make any changes.

So who do you want to be when you’re 40? 50? 60? 70? or 80?

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Resist “Swish and Spit” Devotions

We have flipped our calendars to the new year with excitement and optimism. And as Christians this means that Bible reading plans are making their rounds and are being gobbled up by well-intentioned, eager hands. I celebrate this as a good thing.

But hold on for a second, I have a quick question.

What did you read yesterday? No, not what chapter, but what did you read? What from God’s Word got ahold of you to produce a response? Did anything evoke conviction or delight? Did something particular from your reading explode in your heart with thanksgiving?

Hopefully the answer is yes. But too often the answer is, “Wait. Hold on. …I can’t remember.”

This reminds me of childhood trips to the dentist. Do you recall after the dentist put that horrific flouride treatment in your mouth? He then would spray in a bunch of water that you would lean over and (try to) spit in the small circular sink next to your head.

Sadly too many of us have a “swish and spit” devotional life. We grab a little Bible reading, swish it around in the morning, then spit it out on the way out the door. The treasures from the Word don’t get swallowed and digested but rather spit out quickly.

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