Every Time Every Human Speaks

The times I’ve been charged with “teaching Christianity in a public school” make me laugh a little bit.

It’s as though administrators, principals, parents, and students think that Christians have some sort of other belief system, apart from their own, that is worthy of alienation. Of course, we know this is simply the world loving the darkness more than the light, because their deeds are evil (John 1). And we were once in the darkness, too.

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But the whole “stop talking about religion in public” is nonsense for another reason: every time every human being speaks, we are speaking our own belief system. For one person to tell another, “Don’t talk about your beliefs,” is to act like the speaker has no beliefs. But the truth is that we all speak our beliefs, every moment of every day.

To tell a Christian to drop the Bible is like telling a postmodern to stop speaking about scientism, neo-Marxism, or relativism. The postmodern literally cannot stop. It’s what she believes in.

We can talk about “separation of church and state” nonsense all day long, but it will never happen because it is a false dichotomy. Every time every human speaks, he speaks his worldview. Just be honest with each other, and lay those beliefs on the table.

Each of us has a belief system. None of them, on the basis of our own faith, is more or less true than another. In other words, nothing is absolutely true just because I believe it. Instead, all beliefs, and their systems, stand or fall based on their historical, internal, and supernatural veracity. And the Bible is the only one that passes any of the three (and all three at that!).

Thus, biblical faith in the Lord Jesus Christ is the only worldview that has full historical, internal, and supernatural truth. It stands beneath no other worldview, but it supreme above them all – because Jesus is supreme.

When we talk to those in the kingdom of the darkness, we must love them enough to care for their very souls. The first step is laying our beliefs on the table, explaining them, and asking the unbeliever to do the same. Only then can we have honest conversation that is out of the darkness and into the light.

Jesus Speaks

Of Scripture, Evangelism, and Unbelief

It was a sunny January Tuesday as I worked at my public cubicle in a nearby coffee shop. I noticed two men discussing (false) theology behind me, but I had chatted with one before and thought I’d leave well enough alone.

As their conversation, and the general noise level, rose, I popped on my headphones. The tunes help me focus. They blocked out the noise for a time, but then, cutting through the chatter, I heard the words, “All roads lead to God.”

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And maybe, by the power of Holy Spirit, came a holy zeal. A zeal for the glory of God. Or maybe I just wanted to be right. Either way, it was an open statement in a public place that slaps the Savior in the face. It was time to speak.

Here’s how it began:

Britt: You believe that’s true?
John: Well, I was just quoting someone.
B: But you believe it, too.
J: Well, yeah. I’m a Muslim, and I married a Christian woman! We get along just fine, as long as we talk about what we agree on.
B: I’m glad you are able to get along well with your wife, but Christ and Islam have nothing to agree on. Jesus says He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father but through Him.
J: Why are you judging me, telling me I’m wrong?
B: I’m not telling you. Jesus is. I’m just repeating what He said.
J: But I don’t believe that book you are quoting.
B: It doesn’t matter. He still said it.
J: I believe those gospel writers changed things he said.
B: Really? Were you there? Because I wasn’t and neither was Mohammed. I trust the first-person sources.

The world wants us to lay down our swords, as Voddie Baucham so eloquently puts it, and play their game on their terms. We must say, “No. Jesus has spoken.”

Regardless of what hell-bent lost people like John and so many others think, Jesus has spoken. And we are His ambassadors, His messengers, His missionaries, His servants. We are not allowed to change the message. If we do, Proverbs calls this kind of failed messenger a “fool” (Prov. 26:6).

So don’t be a fool and try to maim God’s Word. Jesus still speaks: to us, in us, and through us by the Holy Spirit with the Word. We know what He says. Just say it to other humans because you love them, you love God’s glory, and you fear for their souls apart from Jesus Christ.

Dear Pastor, Do Your Job

What do I do with this?

What do I do with this?

According to a multiplicity of biblical texts like Mark 1:15, Ephesians 4:10-15, 2 Timothy 4:1-5, and Hebrews 13:7, the pastor’s job is to preach the Bible for the glory of God:

  • His job is not to be a community organizer; his job is to preach the gospel that might get him stoned.
  • His job is not to meet with other pastors and become well-known; his job is to teach the Bible so well that every man under his charge might well become a pastor.
  • His job is not to counsel the hurting sheep but to feed all the hungry sheep, including the hurting. Counseling may follow preaching, but it must not precede it.
  • His job is not to attract unbelievers; his job is to preach the gospel and believe that God will bring whomever He may will.
  • His job is not to manage services, though the preaching ought to well flow in congregational worship. His job is to preach the gospel as an act of worship both to the God who spoke His Word and to bring the people to worship this same God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • His job is not to manage the church like a business; His job is to lead her by speaking the Word of God to her.

Often when we see churches going astray and becoming diseased, it is simply because her pastors have forgotten these basic principles. God’s Word never changes, dear pastor, so there’s no need to innovate with bells, whistles, and rock-and-roll show tactics. As Andrew Peterson sings to his son, just “stick to the old roads.”

Stories Live Out Truth

I’ve been saying for a while, in various conversations with students, teachers, and parents, that Christians (and conservatives in general) have failed to defend the philosophical foundations which once made our country the freedom-loving, capitalism-enjoying, life-defending, worship-freeing nation it was meant to be. Those days, clearly, are gone. Now all parts of the “right” (our country’s term, not mine) are fighting for our philosophical lives.

Here, however, I am not assuming that all Christians are conservative politically or that all conservatives are sympathetic to Christian views. I am only saying that Christians and conservatives share some of the same public values, and that Christians should care about the truth being told in our country.

This is why Rod Dreher’s recent piece, “Story Lines, Not Party Lines,” is so important. In it, he makes the case for the importance of stories and why America needs conservative true stories so badly:

Kirk understood that the world might be won or lost on front porches, in bedrooms at night, around family hearths, in movie theaters and anywhere young people hear, see, or read the stories that fill and illuminate their moral imaginations. If you do not give them good stories, they will seek out bad ones.

“And the consequences will be felt not merely in their failure of taste,” Kirk said, “but in their misapprehension of human nature, lifelong; and eventually, in the whole tone of a nation.”

One direct application for me was this: what stories am I telling my family, my students, my friends and church and world? The world may be won or lost according to stories like mine.

Why? Because, as Dreher explains, “Stories work by indirection: not by telling us what to believe but by helping us to experience emotionally and imaginatively what it is like to embody particular ideas.” Embodiment must come with ideas, and is not optional.

This squares well with the Bible’s tight balance between positive doctrinal literature (epistles, wisdom, prophetic writings), positive and negative narrative accounts (OT history), and those that skillfully intertwine both (Pentateuch, Gospels, Acts, Revelation). God Himself sees truth as not only abstract but very livable. Jesus Christ was and is and always will be truth embodied in flesh.

Our children, husbands and wives, churches, friends, schools, and nation desperately needs stories worth telling – the kind of stories that are worth mimicking, the kind of stories that are worth building our lives on. Are you telling those stories, or are you leaving it up to the televison, internet, or paperback section?

Free Will and Free Reading

How Autonomous Free-Will Ruins Theology

Once in conversation, I noticed a connection between our (wrong, evil, disastrous) idea of “free will” and how we read the Bible. It works like this: once the door of “free-will” is open to ourselves, we apply it to everything we read, too. Once we are free to “choose” God, we think we are free to “choose” whatever other “truth” fits our selfish hearts.

The alternative, should we not yet see, is to submit ourselves wholly to the Word of God  in personal decisions, in interpreting the Scripture itself, and in interpreting the world around us. Either the Word rules you, or you think you rule. It really is that simple.

But what most (though not all) bad interpretations come down to is simply an amplified sense of self. In all bad theologies, we become divinized versions of ourselves, able to contort and invent the Scriptures as we see fit. We don’t submit to the rules of Scripture (context, context, context; theological principles and reading the whole as a unit) because we have better rules.

Indeed, out of this false sense of righteous self, we reject the rules and make God’s Word (should we actually be able to “make” it) say what we say. Instead of speaking the Scripture, we force the Scripture to speak us.

Dear Pastor, Why Not Preach the Word?

One of my favorite radio hosts is always reviewing sermons, and I love it. So it made me wonder: why don’t you, dear pastor, preach the Word?

  1. Do you think that your ideas are wiser than God’s? No? Then preach the Word.
  2. Do you fancy your stories to be more entertaining than God’s Word? No? Then preach the Word.
  3. Do you find your topical sermons to be more directly applicable to people’s lives? Never! It canot be that you are a better exegete than the Holy Spirit! Preach the Word.
  4. Do you think your pop culture references are better connections than those inspired of the Spirit? No? Then preach the Word.
  5. Do you long to see souls saved from sin, death, and hell? God promises only one means, so preach the Word.
  6. Do you want to see Jesus Christ exalted over your own means, methods, and mole-hills? If not, leave the ministry. If so, preach the Word.
  7. Do you want to see Christ’s church upbuilt? Then preach the Word.
  8. Do you want to see your wife and children saved, strengthened, and sustained until the end? Your family vacation stories won’t do it. Preach the Word.
  9. Do you struggle with pride in your ministry? Only one means slays pride, so preach that Word.
  10. Do you care about the gospel ministry more than anything else you could give your life to? You’d better, so preach the Word.

Twelve Ways Romans Uses the Law

Romans uses the Mosaic law to:

  1. Convict of sin (ch. 1)
  2. Give just grounds for God’s wrath (ch. 1-3)
  3. Prick the conscience and lead to repentance (ch. 2)
  4. Show our utter inability and depravity (ch. 1-3)
  5. Show the glory of God’s promise to Abraham (ch. 4)
  6. Show our failure in the First Adam (ch. 5)
  7. Show Christ’s glory as the Second Adam (ch. 5)
  8. Explain our slavery to sin (ch. 6)
  9. Heighten our sense of sin (ch. 7)
  10. Show our freedom in Christ by the Spirit (ch. 8)
  11. Explain the proud failure of even the most law-oriented (ch. 9)
  12. Explain Christ’s substitution for us (ch. 10)

As always, there are probably more. But the point is: neglect neither the law nor its teachings!

Archives: “Do Stuff” Still Isn’t the Gospel

Talking with a friend tonight, we were both reminded of the great glory of the grace of God in the gospel. God requires not that we “do stuff” to earn His favor or His forgiveness, but commands us to trust Jesus Christ for forgiveness of sins and eternal favor. The gospel isn’t that we “do stuff,” but that Jesus has already done all we need.

Here’s a rundown:

  1. Jesus Taught Justification by Faith Alone
  2. Did Jesus Teach Justification by Works?
  3. What Preaching the Gospel Is, and Isn’t
  4. Matthew 23: More Reasons “Do Stuff” Isn’t the Gospel
  5. “Do Stuff” Isn’t the Gospel
  6. Drink Deeply of Jesus Christ
  7. Hate at the Bottom of Your Heart
  8. Opinions We Make Into Law
  9. Is Your Church Characterized by Commands or Christ?

My prayer is always that we treasure Jesus Christ more through believing the gospel.

Are You a Christian Coward? Am I?

A quick scan of Scripture’s calls to boldness in the gospel quickly reveals that the swath of American Christianity just doesn’t measure up:

  • Boldness is one distinguishing mark of righteousness: “The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion,” (Proverbs 28:1).
  • The early church prayed first for boldness following persecution: “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness,” (Acts 4:29).
  • God answers this prayer immediately by sending His Spirit: “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness,” (Acts 4:31).
  • Because of the resurrection of Christ, Paul boldly fought with wild beasts at Ephesus: “What do I gain if, humanly speaking, I fought with beasts at Ephesus?” (1 Corinthians 15:32).
  • In Christ, we have bold access to the Father: “in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him,” (Ephesians 3:12).
  • Christians are meant to preach the gospel boldly: “And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear,” (Philippians 1:14).
  • Again: Paul was “proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance,” (Acts 28:31).

Recently, my state had a much-discussed vote on a marriage amendment, and, though I won’t be discussing that amendment directly here, it did shed some light on a particular subject. Many Christians are afraid (read: opposite of bold), sinfully afraid, to speak out against sin.

Jesus was bold. He told sinners they were vipers, children of Satan, lost, rebels, worse than prostitutes, and the like. And many sinners didn’t like that. By their will, that’s why He got killed. He was bold, too, in death and resurrection.

Because He’s risen, we’re called to be bold lions, not cowards. So let us ask ourselves, maybe for the first time, “Am I a Christian coward?”:

  1. Do I take every opportunity to preach the good news, when people lead me to it (in season) and when they don’t (out of season)? If not, why not? We may find that our reasons are couched in fear: fear of losing friends, fear of losing popularity (worship of fame), fear of the government, fear of exalting God’s Word over other words, and the like.
  2. When I do speak the gospel, do I emphasize sin, righteousness, judgment, and hell, before I even get to the cross? If not, it could be that I am too afraid of those “negative” topics and their potential effects on my hearers.
  3. Do I speak boldly when someone is sinning boldly? (Think here of public child abuse, misogyny, abusive speech, stealing, reviling God’s Word, and the like.) The Bible says that the righteous rebuke the wicked. Do you?
  4. Do I speak publicly on moral issues? This doesn’t mean we become Bible-thumping hate-mongers. It means that our country is constantly discussing moral issues, particularly two at this time, marriage and abortion, and we have a social and moral mandate for God’s glory to speak His Word. Do you do it?

To the degree that we do these things, our hearts are trusting in the substitutionary death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In Him, we become bold, gracious, gospel-dependent, and alive.

To the degree that we do not do these things, God says we are cowards, afraid to trust in Christ and valuing our own sinful culture over the riches of the God of heaven.

God forgive us and help us.

A New Creation Like a Loaded Arrow

Another one of the most misquoted/misused passages in the Bible has to be 2 Corinthians 5:17, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone; behold, the new has come.” People tend to explain this passage in one of two inadequate ways:

  1. Blank: This way says, “Look, you’re new! Everything has changed! You’re a different person, better, invigorated, alive!” But this way fails to explain what this new creation entails.
  2. Glorified: This way emphasizes the newness of this re-creation, “You won’t suffer any more! You’re a new creation, just like the heavens and the earth!”

Now look at the context. Verse 15 says explicitly, “And [Christ] died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

Note the purpose statement here: “That those who live might no longer live for themselves for him who for their sake died and was raised.” This purpose of Christ’s death, which re-creates believers, has a negative element and a positive element.

  • Negative: Christ’s death and resurrection accomplish repentance for us to turn from our former way of life. And what was that evil way of life? Living for ourselves.
  • Positive: Christ’s death and resurrection further buy grace for us for the faith to live for Christ, our substituting Savior.

The problem with the common explanations of 2 Cor. 5:17, then, is that these fail to focus the new creation on Jesus Christ. Verse 15 speaks through the ages: “that those who live might no longer live for themselves for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

This is the new creation: not money or health or more energy but an all-encompassing, sin-slaying love for Jesus Christ. We’re not blank creations nor do we yet have glorified bodies; we’re loaded arrows headed for Christ our Treasure.

The Proof is in the Preaching

Lots of us (sinfully) enjoy moralistic sermons (“do good,” “be a better person,” “take care of your finances,” etc.), but Bryan Chappell warns that no preacher accidentally omits the gospel:

A message that merely advocates morality and compassion remains sub-Christian even if the preacher can prove that the Bible demands such behaviors.

(From Christ-Centered Preaching, p.268)

So give your favorite works-preacher a close listen, and see if he gives weight to the weighty gospel or to the weak man.

The Redeemer > The Redeemed

In his recent post,”What Does It Mean to be Biblically Balanced?” Tullian Tchividjian explains how the Bible places a premium on the gospel:

The emphasis of the Bible is on the work of the Redeemer, not on the work of the redeemed.

To Live and Die a Son

Bible translator Drew Maust reports that Emily Belz’s story on the battle over Bible translation in Muslim contexts still rages. As one pastor says, “I want to die for the Bible.”

And many will, knowing that – contrary to nonsensical translations – the Word says we are children, not mainly of earthly parents, but of the heavenly Father through Jesus Christ, the Son.

Christians Believe the Bible

A recent conversation with someone claiming to be a Christian but rejecting most of the Bible reminded me that, according to God’s Word itself, a Christian is someone who believes the Bible, at its face value, in the way it was written. To the Christian, every word is precious: “My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!” (Psalm 119:25).

To wit:

  1. Jesus based His life and preaching on the (Hebrew) Bible (Matthew 19, Luke 4, John 10, et al.).
  2. When He was raised, Jesus taught His disciples the entire message of the Old Testament as His own gospel story (Luke 24).
  3. Acts regularly describes Christians as those who believe God’s Word (Acts 15:7, 17:11, etc.).
  4. The gospel message alone is called God’s “power” (Romans 1:16, 1 Corinthians 1:18).

God has already spoken the Word; we have no business changing or maiming it. Therefore, let us remember someone claiming to be a Christian, a Christ-follower, and having no concern for Jesus’ own Word, is no believer at all.

The Substitute Servant Saves Sinners for Ecstasy

God would substitute the Servant, this servant would gladly die and rise for sinners, and both would be happy with the result.

Expositing Isaiah 53 in chapter 4, “Promise,” in my forthcoming book on the gospel.

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