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.

No Other Message

Thomas Jones, from a 1976 lecture, “Preaching the Cross of Christ”:

True Christian preaching must center on the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross is the central doctrine of the Holy Scriptures. All other revealed truths either find their fulfillment in the cross or are necessarily founded upon it. Therefore, no doctrine of Scripture may faithfully be set before men unless it is displayed in its relationship to the cross. The one who is called to preach, therefore, must preach Christ because there is no other message from God.

[Quoted in Bryan Chappell, Christ-centered Preaching, p.271]

“Our Religion is What We Do”

An Investigation into the Ethos of One Mainline Liberal Protestant Non-Profit

Mainline liberal Protestantism has a lot of ills, which are better chronicled and dissected elsewhere; but, in a recent conversation, one came to the forefront. This is how it went:

  • Mainline liberal Protestant leader: We want you to understand that we are a Christian organization, but we’re not religious.
  • Me: What does that mean?
  • MLPL: Well, we believe in the teachings of Jesus, and we teach our children about a relationship with God and a belief in a ‘higher power.’
  • Me: So what is this relationship with God based on?
  • MLPL: Our religion is who we are, it’s what we do, it’s how we live.

Now, to understand the context, we need to back up. This organization for which the MLP leader spoke does present itself as a Christian operation, even taking their name from one of Christ’s miracles. As with many Christian social aid organizations, they receive donations from both individuals and Christian organizations, including (in all likelihood) several local churches.

So, at the very least, churches that are supposed to beacon the gospel are support this organization instead. But, someone might read this and say, what’s so bad about that?

Deceptive and Disorienting
From the first statement, I knew where we were headed: this leader meant to confuse and mislead people by her use of terms. To say “we are Christian, but not religious,” in her own usage, means that Christ is a personal tiny-idol who has no bearing on their operation but to be a prayer cuckhold.

Now, this is surely worth another post, but only in the Bible belt could we countenance such Christ-hating lies (see below) with a smile. Only in the South could such a leader raise money under the name of Jesus, then turn around and spit on His name. And to have the gaul to say that this is the essence of “Progressive Christianity.”

“We’re a Christian organization, but we’re not religious,” only means, “We want everyone outside to think we’re Christian, but our program will refuse to follow Him so as to remain acceptable to all the unbelievers involved. We are dry water, living death, holy idolatry.”

Anti-Truth and Anti-Theology
The second statement, that this organization holds to the teachings of Jesus and teaches students about a persona dei non descripta and their relationship with him (her? it?), is a clarifying summary of many MLP’s approach to truth and theology. This is to say, that in any biblically recognizable way, many don’t believe in truth or theology.

“Whoa! That’s a big blanket statement! Aren’t you being unfair?” Well, with respect to this one conversation’s context and intent, no. To this particular leader of this particular organization, the Bible’s truth had no bearing on her leadership, the program’s goals, and the lives of their students. Worse, this truth had long been divorced from the Christ who is its depth of meaning and rich fountain of life:

  • Jesus is the Truth: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” (John 14:6).
  • Christ is the Storehouse of wisdom and knowledge: “In whom [Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,” (Colossians 2:3).
  • Christ is the personal revelation of God’s truth: “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ,” (John 1:17).
  • Truth leads back to Christ: “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,” (Ephesians 4:15).

In other words, an organization who cares not to describe God according to the Bible cares not for the real Jesus Christ, who is the personal fulfillment and embodiment of that truth.

God-less, Christ-less Religion
This all brings us to the last statement, which now is particularly revealing. When pressed on the basis for her beliefs, all this leader could answer was: “The religion I’m talking is all about me! Me! Not God! Me! It’s how I live, not who He is!” To her, following Jesus had nothing to do with faith, but everything to do with works.

To put it another way, she had all cart and no horse. The cart could be hitched to anything; here it is hitched to a vague deity of your own choosing, who happens to look a lot like you. Such a statement is me-magnifying idolatry of the lowest order.

Me-centered religion is no religion in the old sense of the term at all. It is no face-to-face-ness with God, no worship of Him at all. It excludes God and His Christ for an image made in the likeness of man. This leader’s god was found in the mirror, not the Scriptures.

Stop the Charade; Warn the Wicked
Because of these things, I’ll be writing the board of this particular organization to notify them of the God-hating things that they have authorized in the name of Jesus. No organization should take Christ’s name and spit on His face in the Word, and we must rebuke the wicked. “But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul,” (Ezekiel 33:9).

The Fact that You Even Ask That Question . . .

It seems that American evangelicalism is afraid to talk about judgment, hell, repentance, and God’s wrath in general. It’s been well-documented recently, but here’s another angle: why is it that we feel we must shrug off the facts of judgment? Why do we always feel the need to say things like, “Well, God could save everyone, but He doesn’t”? What are we saying?

Of course, the question that always follows is, “Well, why doesn’t He?” as though God is somehow bound to our pea-sized (at best) ideas of how sin, wrath, redemption, and glory are meant to work on a cosmic scale. But the fact that we even ask or entertain that question is evil for a number of reasons:

  1. God doesn’t have to save anyone. He is unbound by anything but His own promise to do so. Those who care not for the promise have no right to question the Potter.
  2. God doesn’t accidentally save less than we think. God means to save all whom He wills. This is the message of countless passages, promises, and teachings. God is not a bumbling TV father who can’t remember how many kids He has. He’s God.
  3. God’s wrath is glorious. God intends to exercise wrath, punishment, righteous anger upon sin. He must do it because it glorifies Him and His glory is His ultimate goal.
  4. God’s wrath promotes His grace (Romans 9:22-23). Saddest of all, the fact that we even ask the question means we don’t really understand God’s grace. His grace is a bloody grace, sending and punishing His Lamb-Son in the sheep’s place. His grace is a painful grace, taking on our pain that we might be in His pleasure. His grace is a wrath-built grace; through the cross God builds on and deals with the fact of wrath rather than ignoring it.
  5. Our questions reveal our pride. The fact that we even ask such a question also reveals that we assume lies. We assume that God won’t judge. We assume that we’re entitled to forgiveness. We assume that we’ve earned better than God’s forever-hot wrath. We haven’t.

The next time we think about entertaining the arrogant question, let’s think again and be humbled beneath His mighty hand. God’s glory deserves more.

Psalm 25: The Lord Teaches the Humble

Psalm 25:9 makes an interesting, Proverbs-like point:

He leads the humble in what is right,
and teaches the humble his way.

Notice the repetition of the word “humble,” and the parallelism between “leads / teaches” and “what is right / his way.” Points like these led me to ask myself this morning:

  1. Do I believe that it is only the humble who are taught of God, or do I come to the Word seeking my own agenda?
  2. Do I come to the Word to worship and learn, or to check it off my worksheet?
  3. Do I believe that my life will be crooked unless God teaches me, or do I walk proudly in my own ways?
  4. Do I humbly look for God’s leadership through His teaching, or do I rest on my own pre-understanding and fuzzy memories of the Word?

And why shouldn’t I trust God over my own wisdom? The next verse tells us:

All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness (or “truth”),
for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.

And later, in verse 14:

The friendship (or “counsel”) of the Lord is for those who fear him,
and he makes known to them his covenant.

Oh, let us fear the Lord and worship at His written feet!

What It Looks Like to Trade Evil for Good

To my shame, I have been tempted to remain in a dishonest, shameful job just to make another paycheck. God corrected and instructed me through Thomas Watson’s excellent book, The Godly Man’s Picture, where he writes:

The godly are of a brave, heroic spirit. . . They will not enrich their purses by enslaving their consciences. (p. 200)

But there have been times that I have not known how to distinguish the evil of the world that surrounds me. How do we become brave when we don’t know what we’re fighting? So the King of Wisdom uses passages like Isaiah 5:20:

Woe to those who say the evil is good and the good is evil,
Who get darkness for light and light for darkness,
Who set bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.

Isaiah here uses three phrases to say one thing, further reinforcing and applying the same truth each time.

  1. Evil for Good“: This makes us think of ethics, morals, and values. Simple matters of good vs. evil come up first. Some things are so plainly good and evil that only the insanely demonic cannot recognize them. But this judgment of “woe!” is not only for these things…
  2. Darkness for Light“: The nature of trading darkness for light tells us that many of these evils will be perpetuated in the shadows. It is incumbent upon us, then, to be able to discern the light from the darkness, even in the shadows. God demands our discernment, for the wicked will take evil, hide it in the darkness, then shine a flashlight on part of it to make it look “good.”
  3. Bitter for Sweet“: Not only may evil be hidden in the darkness and called “light,” and the good taken out of the light to be called “evil,” but good and evil may be wrongly seasoned. At this third level, after pure essential righteousness/unrighteousness and then how each is perceived (the level of perception), we now arrive at how issues are brought to bear on the spiritual “taste” or immediate senses.

    The wicked will not only take evil and lighten a piece of it (“Women’s rights!” rather than “Child murder!”) but will also try to make this evil taste sweet rather than bitter (“Isn’t it a good thing that we stand up for women? You should, too.”).

Taken together, these three images show that there is no end to the brazen and nuanced wickedness of men. Will we never cease to lie to Nth degree about God’s righteousness? Will we ever continue to murder justice and exalt its murder?

But thanks be to God, who has won the victory through the Lord Jesus Christ, who knew the good from the evil as soon as He came of age (Isaiah 7:14-17), died for such wicked sinners, rose from death, and will return to right it all at the end.

Thirsty for Real Bible

This is what African-American men need: they need an affirmation of gospel-centered, biblical intellectualism that is contextualized, yet biblical, and that shows the connection of the entire breadth of the Word of God.

Eric Mason, in a conversation with Lecrae and Trip Lee on “Theological Imperialism and the Black Community”

Theological Imperialism and the Black Community from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

Writing Our Own Bibles

My daughter told me the other night that she wanted to read the Bible to find out the answer to one of our disagreements. I encouraged her to do so, as soon as she is able to read. She proceeded to ask for a Bible, then make up the words as she went along.

While she dictated her own “Bible,” it occurred to me that all people, in one way or another, make up our own Bibles every single day. We seek to justify our lifestyles, ethics, lusts, and selfish pleasures with our own set of scripture – unholy scripture. We invent rules (“what’s right for me is right for me,” “only science can know the truth,” “truth is irrelevant”) that look pleasing on their face, but inside are rotting with carcasses and slime.

In the end, the bibles we create make less sense than those dictated by toddlers.

God Doesn’t Depend on Our Arguments

Sometimes we think that the effectiveness of our prayers, preaching, or evangelism depends on our words, our thoughts, or our faithfulness. Doug Wilson reminds us, that, while God uses arguments, He isn’t subject to them. Remember, when using God’s means, God will come.

Psalm 119: Life from the Word

Psalm 119 gives us the most thoughtfully thorough, devotionally rich, and theologically deep explanations of the supremacy of the Bible in the Christian life. Today, we’ll note a theme in the Psalm: God gives us life according to His Word.

  • v.25 My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!
  • v.28 My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word!
  • v.107 I am severely afflicted; give me life, O Lord, according to your word!
  • v.114 You are my hiding place and my shield; I hope in your word.
  • v.116 Uphold me according to your promise, that I may live, and let me not be put to shame in my hope!
  • v.124 Deal with your servant according to your steadfast love, and teach me your statutes.

In this psalm, God says over and over again that He not only gives life according to His Word, but that He wants us to pray for life from this Word!

Several applications follow:

  1. Pray these kinds of prayers. God is happy to answer them – that’s why they’re here!
  2. Trust that the Word is for your good. God has in it spoken. He speaks again and again in it, but not against it.
  3. Trust that Jesus is the living Word. Christ is the embodiment, climax, fulfillment, and goal of all of God’s words! He is forever connected to the Book!
  4. Trust that the Bible promotes your faith in God’s Son. It isn’t mainly a list of rules, but a revelation of Christ Jesus, born, crucified, risen, and ruling.

We must not believe the lies that God mainly speaks outside of His Word. He has once spoken in it for our good in the glory of His Son, and He speaks it to us now by the power of His Spirit.

Help for Preaching Christ in the Old Testament

Jesus Christ is all over the Old Testament. He said so Himself many, many times.

But sometimes we have a hard time seeing it. We prefer to preach moralistic, legalistic, or self-help messages out of the Old Testament, leaving the “gospel” messages to come from the New.

The leaders of the Gospel Coalition pray and work for that to change. To that end, they have an entire subheading on their site called “Preaching Christ from the Old Testament,” replete with commentary helps, articles, and sample sermons to help you, your pastor, and your church teach the gospel faithfully from every page of Scripture. Here is a sample from their Leviticus page, with Christ-centered sermons from Leviticus by pastors like Mark Dever, Kevin DeYoung, and Ligon Duncan.

The Gospel Coalition also recommends BibleMesh for the same purposes, and pastors can sign up for free.

Psalm 119: Nature Begs for the Bible

As a follow-up to my lengthy series for the supremacy of the Bible in the Christian life (“For Those Inclined to Christian Mysticism“), I’ll be providing several thoughts on Psalm 119. Today’s is from verse 64:

The earth, O Lord, is full of your steadfast love;
teach me your statutes!

Notice the psalmist’s logic here: he observes the glory of God’s love in nature and says, “Teach me your statutes!” God’s glory in nature leads to a desire for God’s Word. God’s creation teaches us that we need special teaching written down in a book.

This is the exact opposite of what our mystic friends teach. They say things like, “God is too big to be known in the Bible. We should look for Him everywhere.” Well, that’s partially true, but the best way, the only true way, the perfect way of knowing Him is through His written Word.

As the psalmist enjoys God’s full kindness in the earth, he realizes that he needs more. More of God. He wants more of the LORD in his mind and heart and life. So he begs, pleads, entreats God – not for more nature, not for more rainbows, not for more trees – for more of the Scriptures, more statutes, more law, more gospel, more depth, more words from the Word.

The logic here is that God’s glory in nature only calls for the Word. We are meant to admire His creation so that we want to know Him in the Word. His lovingkindness in nature leads to wanting more lovingkindness through the Bible.

The False Gospel of Mysticism

In our day, teachings on self-spirituality, personal belief systems, self-esteem, and inner emotional lives abound. Mysticism is making a comeback.

Mysticism began as early as Eve’s decision in the garden to listen to her own intuition and the voice of the devil rather than God’s Word. It continued when Cain listened to his own inner voice rather than God’s warning. Mysticism became a grand display when Aaron led the people of Israel to make their own god according to their liking rather than following the God who had already spoken.

Mysticism is nothing new.

Today it just sounds different. People will say things more like, “That’s not how I like to picture God,” instead of, “Let’s make a golden calf;” but it means the same thing. People will claim that there is more to God than what the Bible says, but what they really mean is that they prefer their own intuitions to the written Word. To wit . . .

An Overview of Mysticism

  • G/god – The god of mysticism is made in our image, according to oour likeness, pliable to our own feelings, malleable according to our preferences.
  • B/bible – God has revealed himself in many different ways, and the bible is equal to all the other ways (nature, self, other people, history, etc.).
  • Sin – Sin is the failure to listen to God’s voice inside of you. It involves the lack of a certain spiritual quality to your life because you did not properly commune with your personal god that day.
  • Christ – Jesus came to re-institute a special kind of living with God. He came to teach us and reorient us to the god that is everywhere, if we will only listen.
  • Atonement – ummmm, what?
  • Salvation – Salvation is the process by which you know Jesus in your own personal way. Whether or not you believe the gospel is irrelevant here.
  • Church – We prefer to call this a “fellowship” or “group.” These are the people that believe in a god somewhat like yours and like to talk and sing about him in the vaguest possible terms.
  • End Times – We like to call this the “consummation” or just “the end.” What happens here is anybody’s guess, but we hope for our guess.

As you can see, mysticism is slippery and quite hard to follow. Do mystics believe the gospel? De facto, it’s hard to tell. Do they know the true and living God? They sure think they do.

A Final Warning
Remember, mystics write fancy lines like this:

I don’t think that Jesus’ teachings were primarily about creating doctrines for people to believe in. They were a prophetic calling of a new humanity into existence. They were an invitation into living in a new way, an invitation to the good news that the Kingdom of God is at hand.

So be careful. The mystical writer, pastor, teacher, or musician you follow may not be an under-shepherd but a wolf leading you away (Acts 20:29-30) from knowing the God who has revealed Himself in Jesus Christ through His written Word. Only the Word can show you, if you will but listen.

The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth

Lately, I’ve read quite a few folks trying to separate the Holy Spirit from the Holy Word. They write things like, “The Bible, although Spirit-breathed through human vessels, isn’t the WORD in the most official sense. The WORD is Jesus Himself.”

Here we have a smiling wolf-y argument masking sheep’s blood. “The Holy Spirit spoke the Bible, but there’s a problem. It’s not all of God’s Word, only Jesus is.” To this writer, the Holy Spirit speaks in other ways besides the Bible.

To which we must say plainly and publicly: “False.”

It is false, not because we love controversy, but because we love the freeing truth that the Bible teaches:

  • 2 Samuel 23:2 and Zechariah 4:6 teach that, when God speaks, the Spirit is powerfully present.
  • John 15:26 – “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” The Spirit of truth speaks from the Father about Jesus.
  • John 16:13-14 – “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”
  • John 17:7 – “Sanctify them in truth; Your word is truth.” Jesus wants the disciples to know the Scriptures (“the truth”) and that truth will set them free to love and holiness.
  • Ephesians 6:17 says that the sword of the Spirit is the “word of
    God.” Surely that can’t mean we’re to take Jesus into our hands and
    swing Him around against sin – it means that we appropriate His power by
    the written words of Scripture.
  • 2 Timothy 3:16 – “All Scripture is breathed out by God.” The word here for “God-breathed” has the word for “spirit” in it. The Scripture is “God-Spirit-ed.” God spoke through the Spirit, and that is the Scripture.

Across the Bible, God has a high view of His Word. Though many have become fond of maiming the Trinity, God does not separate His three-in-one revelation from the written Word. He rather does the opposite, showing time after time that the Father speaks, the Son incarnates, and the Spirit applies the Bible.

Therefore, the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth.

Question: what are some ways you have seen people and churches miss this essential connection?

New Series!

In case you’re new here, the list of serial posts grows daily. Here are the last few:

For Those Inclined to “Christian” Mysticism

  1. You Should Read the Whole Bible
  2. The Trinity is a Three-Unity
  3. The Red Letters Aren’t Better
  4. Dividing Up the Gospels
  5. Too Proud for the Word
  6. God is the Good Indoctrinator
  7. Doctrine-less Unity?
  8. Sorry, You’re Missing the Point

The Gospel vs. Legalism

  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?

Biblical Manhood

  1. Lessons on Manhood from the NC Tornadoes
  2. Boys to Boys?
  3. Be a Better Man (to a friend on getting married)
  4. Fathers, Be Happy in the Lord

As always, you can find an updated list on the “Popular Series” page above.

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