Monthly Archives: May 2012

Against Bloodless Ghosts

John Updike, from his 1963 review of Paul Tillich’s Morality and Beyond:

[T]he net effect is one of ambiguity, even futility — as if the theologian were trying to revivify the Christian corpse with transfusions of Greek humanism, German metaphysics, and psychoanalytical theory. Terms like “grace” and “Will of God” walk through these pages as bloodless ghosts, transparent against the milky background of “beyond” and “being” that Tillich, God forbid, would confuse with the Christian faith.

— from “Tillich,” in Assorted Prose of John Updike (New York: Knopf, 1966), 220.

We too often toss around words like “spirit,” “grace,” “peace,” and “hope,” smooshing them all into some Christian-ese gobbledegook. This is not the Christian faith. The Bible will not let us have these ideas merely as ideas, as things. They are personal. Thus: “He himself is our peace” (Micah 5:5; Eph. 2:14) and “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Let’s not mess with ethereal virtues, no matter how Christianly gauzed. Leave ethereal virtues to vague saviors. Let’s not toy with bloodless ghosts, which time and time again only slip through our grasping fingers like smoke through pitchfork tines. All biblical virtues find their solidity in our real and risen Lord, Jesus the Christ. The Word is real and em(glorified)bodied!

Sinclair Ferguson brings it home:

[R]emember that there isn’t a thing, a substance, or a “quasi-substance” called “grace.” All there is is the person of the Lord Jesus — “Christ clothed in the gospel,” as Calvin loved to put it. Grace is the grace of …

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Preaching That is Personal, Passionate, Prophetic

As it is written in Isaiah the prophet,

“Behold, I send my messenger before your face,
who will prepare your way,
the voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”

John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

— Mark 1:2-4

And this is what preaching is, what pastoring is, really. From the pulpit and in private and all points in between. We are set before their faces, heralding not our ministries, not our gifts, not our talents, not our numbers, not ourselves (2 Cor. 4:5) but him whose sandals we are not fit to untie (Mark 1:7). So we are constantly pointing away in word and deed to the straight path of the Lord, calling all to repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of their sins in Christ.

We are not Jesus. Jesus is Jesus. We are like crazily rational people (2 Cor. 5:13) who won’t shut up about Jesus.

So we must be personal (before actual faces), passionate (crying out), and prophetic (preaching Christ).

He must increase, but I must decrease.
— John 3:30

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Chasing After What Really Matters – Pastors I Admire: Mike Ayers

This is the fifth and final part in a series running every week. Details at the bottom of the post.

Everything I think and feel about my friend Mike Ayers would be a blog series unto itself. He was my youth pastor for just 2 years of high school until he left to plant a church. When Becky (then my girlfriend, now my wife) and I were having a very difficult time in the church, Mike stood by us. When just two short years into ministry myself I felt burned by the church and ready to throw in the towel on ministry altogether, Mike offered a safe place to grow and learn. He wasn’t the first guy I looked to for mentoring, but he was the first to do it. Mike officiated our wedding. And when our marriage fell apart and our local church counselor seemed afraid to go deeper with us than “husbands should take out the trash without being asked,” even though we lived in another state, Mike counseled us over the phone. As a kid, I was drawn to Mike by two things: His sense of humor and his conviction that the church existed to reach the lost with the gospel. Mike’s conviction about the church has not changed. And neither has my conviction about him: Mike Ayers is one of the kindest, gentlest, wisest, dedicated men of the faith I’ve ever met, and I am privileged to call him a friend. He has saved my …

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When Church Discipline Seems “Strange Fire”

For a greater context on my recent post on discerning repentance, here is a recent piece of mine at the Gospel-Centered Discipleship site called 5 Ways to Keep Church Discipline from Seeming Weird.

Thanks to Jonathan Dodson and company for the opportunity to share.

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What Does Jesus Do With Sin?

“The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’”
— John 1:29

John the Baptist commands a beholding of the sin-taking-away Lamb. What do we see in this beholding? How exactly does Jesus take away our sin?

Here are 6 things Jesus does with sin:

1. He Condemns It.

Jesus puts a curse on sin. He marks its forehead.

Romans 8:3 – “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh.”

Jesus says to sin in no uncertain terms, “Sin, you’re going to die.”

2. He Carries It.

Like the true and better scapegoat, Jesus becomes our sin-bearer.

1 Peter 2:24 – “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”

2 Corinthians 5:21 – “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

3. He Cancels It.

He closes out the account. (Even better, he opens a new one, where we’re always in the black, having been credited with his perfect righteousness.)

1 Corinthians 13:4-5 – “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant 5 or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful”

That word …

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5 Old Sermons You Should Read

There are more than five old sermons we should read, but here are just five.

Thomas Chalmers, The Expulsive Power of a New Affection (pdf)

Jonathan Edwards, The Excellency of Christ

Charles Spurgeon, God’s Will and Man’s Will

Martin Luther, Two Kinds of Righteousness

John Flavel, Christ Altogether Lovely (pdf)

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“This Will Matter Forever; I Must Give My Life to This” – Pastors I Admire: Ray Ortlund

This is Part 4 in a series running every Monday. Details at the bottom of the post.

I won’t give my friend Ray Ortlund a long introduction, not to spare you, but to spare him, because I know he doesn’t like it. I will just say that meeting him in Nashville, TN when I was an idiot church planter was one of the defining moments of my life and that God used Ray time and time again during those few years we were residents of the same town to restore my joy in ministry and my sense of calling. I’ll forever be grateful for that. And for him. Ray is husband to Jani; dad to Eric, Krista, Dane, and Gavin; pastor of Immanuel Church Nashville, and author of some good books. He is a great man of God.

Where did you grow up and how did you come to faith in Christ?

I grew up in Pasadena, California. My dad led me to the Lord at the family breakfast table one morning when I was six years old. He explained that I was a sinner — I understood that — and that Jesus had died for my sins, and would I open my heart to receive him as my Savior? I bowed my head and prayed a six-year old prayer and accepted the Lord. An almost physical load of guilt seemed to be lifted from upon me. I experienced divine forgiveness.

Tell us how you knew …

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John Piper on 1 Peter 3:21 and Baptismal Regeneration

Here is the text:

Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ . . .

— 1 Peter 3:21

And here are Piper’s words on it:

In verse 19, Peter reminds the readers that, in the spirit, Jesus had gone to preach to the people in Noah’s day, whose spirits are now in prison awaiting judgment. (I don’t take the position that verse 19 refers to Jesus’ preaching in hell between Good Friday and Easter.) But there was tremendous evil and hardness in Noah’s day and only eight people enter the ark for salvation from the judgment through water.

Now Peter sees a comparison between the waters of the flood and the waters of baptism. Verse 21 is the key verse: “And corresponding to that [the water of the flood], baptism now saves you – not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience – through the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Now there are some denominations that love this verse because it seems at first to support the view called “baptismal regeneration.” That is, baptism does something to the candidate: it saves by bringing about new birth. So, for example, one of the baptismal liturgies for infants says, “Seeing now, dearly beloved brethren, that this child is regenerate, and grafted into the body of Christ’s Church, let us give thanks.”

Now the …

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How Do You Know When Someone Is Repentant?: 12 Signs

How do you know when someone is repentant? In his helpful little book Church Discipline, Jonathan Leeman offers some guidance:

A few verses before Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 18 about church discipline, he provides us with help for determining whether an individual is characteristically repentant: would the person be willing to cut off a hand or tear out an eye rather than repeat the sin (Matt. 18:8-9)? That is to say, is he or she willing to do whatever it takes to fight against the sin? Repenting people, typically, are zealous about casting off their sin. That’s what God’s Spirit does inside of them. When this happens, one can expect to see a willingness to accept outside counsel. A willingness to inconvenience their schedules. A willingness to confess embarrassing things. A willingness to make financial sacrifices or lose friends or end relationships. (p. 72)

These are good indicators, and I believe we can add a few more.

Here are 12 signs we have a genuinely repentant heart:

1. We name our sin as sin and do not spin it or excuse it, and further, we demonstrate “godly sorrow,” which is to say, a grief chiefly about the sin itself, not just a grief about being caught or having to deal with the consequences of sin.

2. We actually confessed before we were caught or the circumstantial consequences of our sin caught up with us.

3. If found out, we confess immediately or very soon after and “come clean,” rather than having to have the full …

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Rebuilding by the Gospel – Pastors I Admire: Steve Rahn

This is Part 3 in a series running every Monday. Details at the bottom of the post.

I first met Steve Rahn and his wife Denise in Maine during the 2011 LEAD Conference and got to know their story a little bit. What struck me at first was that this sweet, quiet couple was planting a church in a hardscrabble, not-so-sweet area outside of Boston. Brockton, Mass. is not easy soil. And Steve was doing things The Way You’re Not Supposed To Do It. He basically hung a church sign up, started a service, and started pounding the pavement, handing out granola bars to people on the streets and telling them about Jesus. And God started blessing their ministry. (In New England, the cookie cutter church planting rules rarely apply.) This past spring, Steve’s church — Grace Church Brockton — hosted a Gospel Wakefulness Conference, and my wife Becky and I got to spend more quality time with Steve, Denise, and their lovely little girls. Steve’s heart is for Christ and his gospel, which means it is for hardened souls in a hardened area. I’m honored to call him a friend and brother. I pray God will continue prospering his mission, and I hope you will profit from hearing more from him below.

Where are you from and how did you come to faith in Christ?

I grew up in Lansing, MI. I came to faith in Christ at a young age—probably 6 or 7. I actually remember very little …

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