Gospel doctrine, gospel culture

Sep 17, 2015 | Ray Ortlund

Gospel doctrine creates a gospel culture.  The doctrine of grace creates a culture of grace, as Jesus himself touches us through his truths.  Without the doctrines, the culture alone is fragile.  Without the culture, the doctrines alone appear pointless.  But the New Testament binds doctrine and culture together.  For example:

The doctrine of regeneration creates a culture of humility (Ephesians 2:1-9).

The doctrine of justification creates a culture of inclusion (Galatians 2:11-16).

The doctrine of reconciliation creates a culture of peace (Ephesians 2:14-16).

The doctrine of sanctification creates a culture of life (Romans 6:20-23).

The doctrine of glorification creates a culture of hope (Romans 5:2).

The doctrine of God creates a culture of honesty (1 John 1:5-10).  And what could be more basic than that?

If we want this culture to thrive, we can’t take doctrinal short cuts.  If we want this doctrine to be credible, we can’t disregard the culture.  But churches where the doctrine and culture converge bear living witness to the power of Jesus.

Churches that do not exude humility, inclusion, peace, life, hope and honesty — even if they have gospel doctrine on paper, they undercut their own doctrine at a functional level, where it should count in the lives of actual people.  Churches that are haughty, exclusivistic, contentious, exhausted, past-oriented and in denial are revealing a gospel deficit.

The current rediscovery of the gospel as doctrine is good, very good.  But a further discovery of the gospel as culture — the gospel embodied in community — will be infinitely better, filled with a divine power such as we have not yet seen.

I expect it’s what revival will look like next.

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New Renewal Ministries website

Sep 16, 2015 | Ray Ortlund


Jani and I are excited to let our friends know about the new website at Renewal Ministries:  RM exists because everyone needs renewal.  The gospel assures us that “the Spirit helps us in our weakness” (Romans 8:26).  Who doesn’t need help from above?

The new — and regularly updated — RM site offers both video and text sermons and addresses, with other resources, not only from Jani and me but also from my dad, Ray Ortlund Sr.  Enjoy!

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Never better

Sep 16, 2015 | Ray Ortlund

“Be not afraid at His sweet, lovely and desirable cross, for although I have not been able because of my wounds to lift up or lay down my head but as I was helped, yet I was never in better case all my life. . . . He has so wonderfully shined on me with the sense of His redeeming, strengthening, assisting, supporting, through-bearing, pardoning and reconciling love, grace and mercy that my soul doth long to be freed of bodily infirmities and earthly organs, so that I may flee to His Royal Palace, even the Heavenly Habitation of my God, where I am sure of a crown put on my head and a palm put in my hand and a new song in my mouth, even the song of Moses and of the Lamb, so that I may bless, praise, magnify and extol Him for what He hath done to me and for me. . . . Farewell, my children, study holiness in all your ways, and praise the Lord for what He hath done for me, and tell all my Christian friends to praise Him on my account.  Farewell, sweet Bible, and wanderings and contendings for truth.  Welcome, death.  Welcome, the City of my God where I shall see Him and be enabled to serve Him eternally with full freedom.  Welcome, blessed company, the angels and spirits of just men made perfect.  But above all, welcome, welcome, welcome, our glorious and alone God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost; into Thy hands I commit my spirit, for Thou art worthy.  Amen.”

Last and dying testimony of John Nisbet (1627-1685), quoted in Jock Purves, Fair Sunshine: Character Studies of the Scottish Covenanters (Edinburgh, 1990), pages 92-93.

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At any cost, in any way, through any means

Sep 15, 2015 | Ray Ortlund


“It is one thing to love the Lord and His service, and quite something else to have an inexpressible longing for revival that cannot be denied.  It is one thing to wish for revival, and yet it is something in addition to be willing for revival at any cost to come in any way through any means that God may choose.”

V. Raymond Edman, quoted by my dad in a sermon at Lake Avenue Congregational Church, Pasadena, California, 1 February 1976.

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Five marks of revived churches

Sep 12, 2015 | Ray Ortlund

J. I. Packer, writing in God in our Midst (Ann Arbor, 1987), pages 24-35, proposes that, among the variety of God’s ways, five constants appear in biblical revivals:

1.  Awareness of God’s presence: “The first and fundamental feature in renewal is the sense that God has drawn awesomely near in his holiness, mercy and might.”

2.  Responsiveness to God’s Word: “The message of Scripture which previously was making only a superficial impact, if that, now searches its hearers and readers to the depth of their being.”

3.  Sensitiveness to sin: “Consciences become tender and a profound humbling takes place.”

4.  Liveliness in community: “Love and generosity, unity and joy, assurance and boldness, a spirit of praise and prayer, and a passion to reach out to win others, are recurring marks of renewed communities.”

5.  Fruitfulness in testimony: “Christians proclaim by word and deed the power of the new life, souls are won, and a community conscience informed by Christian values emerges.”

No church, no community, can experience these heavenly powers without earthly upheaval.  Moreover, it is a pastor’s job to pray for and preach toward biblical revival.   Therefore, a faithful pastor cannot do his job without accepting that the gospel he preaches will shake things up.


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A responsive reading for 9/11

Sep 11, 2015 | Ray Ortlund

Leader:  “Come now, let us reason together,” says the Lord.  “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.”

All:  And Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let’s go out into the field.”  And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him.

Leader:  Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?”

All:  “I don’t know,” he replied.  “Am I my brother’s keeper?”

Leader:  The Lord said, “What have you done?  Listen!  Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground.”

All:  Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who plot evil on their beds!  At morning’s light they carry it out because it is in their power to do it.

Leader:  This is what the Lord says: “For three sins of Edom, even for four, I will not turn back my wrath,

All:  Because Edom pursued his brother with a sword, stifling all compassion, because his anger raged continually and his fury flamed unchecked.”

Leader:  Confuse the wicked, O Lord, confound their speech, for I see violence and strife in the city.

All:  Destructive forces are at work in the city; threats and lies never leave its streets.

Leader:  To the faithful you show yourself faithful, O Lord, to the blameless you show yourself blameless, but to the crooked you show yourself shrewd.

All:  He who digs a hole and scoops it out falls into the pit he has made.  The trouble he causes recoils on himself; his violence comes down on his own head.

Leader:  You love righteousness and hate wickedness, O Lord.

All:  You will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help.

Leader:  Cast your cares on the Lord, and he will sustain you.

All:  As for me, O Lord, I will trust in you.

Leader:  But whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.

All:  For our citizenship is in heaven.  And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Leader:  Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.

All:  But the day of the Lord will come like a thief.  The heavens will disappear with a roar, the elements will be destroyed by fire, the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.

Leader:  Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought we to be?

All:  Be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near.

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Outdo one another in showing honor

Sep 08, 2015 | Ray Ortlund

Indian Lieutenant Receiving Medal

“Outdo one another in showing honor.”  Romans 12:10

“They who avow the doctrines distinguished by the name of Calvinistic, ought, if consistent with their own principles, to be most gentle and forbearing of all men.”  John Newton, Memoirs of the Life of the Late William Grimshaw, page 67.

“John Wesley never encouraged criticism of George Whitefield.  ‘Do you think we shall see Mr. Whitefield in heaven?’ asked one small-minded disciple.  ‘No,’ replied Wesley, and the man looked pleased that he had aimed his flattery well.  ‘No sir,’ said Wesley, ‘I fear not.  Mr. Whitefield will be so near the Throne and we at such a distance, we shall hardly get a sight of him.'”  John Pollock, George Whitefield and the Great Awakening, page 244.

I am Reformed.  I am grateful for all I have learned from my Reformed brothers and sisters in the Body of Christ.  But I am also grateful for others — Dispensationalists, Methodists, Charismatics and others who do not align with me in some aspects of theology.  Theology matters.  Our differences matter.  But what we share in common in Christ matters more.  And I not only accept that as a fact; I rejoice in it as a fellowship.

I am grateful for Dallas Theological Seminary, where I studied from 1971 to 1975.  I am no longer a Dispensationalist.  But I will go to my grave thanking the Lord for the biblical languages and exegesis DTS drilled into me.  Every day of ministry since my ordination in 1975, what DTS gave me has made a wonderful difference.

I am grateful for my Wesleyan brothers and sisters.  I don’t accept the traditional Wesleyan doctrine of entire sanctification.  But if I ever become half the Christian that Robert E. Coleman, for example, is, then I will be a better man than I am now.  I admire him, and others like him, as fathers in the Lord.

I am grateful for my Charismatic brothers and sisters.  I remain unpersuaded by some of their arguments.  But they taught me to stop treating a church service as mere doctrinal rehearsal; they helped me see it as an encounter with the living Christ.  They expect the Lord to do something, and they are right.

I am grateful for so many who are located elsewhere within the Body of Christ.  As I observe myself, it often happens that I notice a phrase or even a word finding its way into a sermon, something that echoes a Christian who contributed to me long ago without even realizing it.  And this includes some people, unlike my friends mentioned above, whom I don’t particularly like.  But they taught me.  They showed me something.  And I am better off for it.

Many disparate believers, in many ways, have helped me toward the Lord.  How could I be ungrateful?  I don’t believe that verses like Romans 12:10 apply only to other Reformed believers.  My heart has been stretched out beyond that circle, without diminishing my own convictions, and for that too I am grateful.

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The gospel, even the gospel, without love

Sep 06, 2015 | Ray Ortlund

“If we are Christians and do not have upon us the calling to respond to the lostness of the lost and a compassion for those of our kind, our orthodoxy is ugly and it stinks.  And it not only stinks in the presence of the hippie, it stinks in the presence of anybody who’s an honest man.  And more than that, I’ll tell you something else, orthodoxy without compassion stinks with God.”

Francis A. Schaeffer, Death in the City (Chicago, 1969), page 123.

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How Edwards defined the meaning of life

Sep 05, 2015 | Ray Ortlund

“In the Edwardses’ world, the meaning of life was found in intense loves, including earthly loves.”

George M. Marsden, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (New Haven, 2003), page 497.

If I were in conversation with Jonathan Edwards and he began a sentence by saying, “Ray, the meaning of life is . . .,” and then he paused, I would await the completion of that sentence with deep interest.  Here is an intellectual genius.  Here is a man of God.  Here is a profound theologian.  Here is a wise pastor.  And he is about to propose to me the meaning of life.  “Okay, Pastor Edwards, I am listening.  Please complete that sentence for me.”

Then he says, “Ray, the meaning of life is found in intense loves, including earthly loves.”  Not moderate loves.  Not play-it-safe loves.  Not this-won’t-cost-you-anything loves.  Not let’s-dabble-in-the-shallows loves.  But intense loves.  Brightly burning loves.  All-consuming loves.

Hiding in our timid hearts is a desire to be loved mildly, nothing more.  That way, we retain control, we set the terms, we avoid risk.  Our loving God, in his flaming intensity, will have none of it.  He defines the meaning of our lives, and we are saved from our mild loves and lifted up by his grace into intense loves, like his own.

Thank you, Pastor Edwards.

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Sep 05, 2015 | Ray Ortlund

HT: Eric Ortlund

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