Seek to see and feel the gospel as bigger as years go by rather than smaller. Our temptation is to think that the gospel is for beginners and then we go on to greater things. But the real challenge is to see the gospel as the greatest thing — and getting greater all the time.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my unhealthy familiarity with the gospel. I’ve sat through thousands of sermons. I’ve seen all sorts of clever illustrations and explanations. I’ve heard preachers whisper with seriousness the importance of the cross and scream with passion our need for a savior. I must confess, after a while I just got used to it all. I’d heard it before; it seemed familiar.
When I say the gospel became familiar, I am not speaking of intimacy and depth of knowledge. I mean something more like the famous phrase that says “familiarity breeds contempt.” I became presumptuous toward God and his grace. I took it all for granted.
That’s just the way we tend to be. Things that are magnificent and awe-inspiring quickly become normal and, dare I say, we feel entitled toward them. It reminds me of a famous bit from comedian Louis C. K.:
Many of us bring an entitlement mentality into our relationship with Christ. His love and grace becomes expected. As a result we enter God’s presence with an ease and flippancy that is unthinkable in the Bible. Paul was never so presumptuous; though he knew his salvation was secure he still approached God with humility.
“I desire to know Him and the power of His resurrection, participating in His suffering, being molded by His death, if, perhaps, I might attain the resurrection from the dead”
Philippians 3:11 emphasis added
I can’t help but think of Isaiah’s experience in the presence of God (Isaiah 6). Just compare the prideful and audacious attitude of Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26) with the humble “woe is me” attitude of Isaiah (Isaiah 6:5). Isaiah’s experience was life-altering. He could not be in God’s presence without conviction of sin, an experience of forgiveness, and a clear commission to go and tell others. It seems that I’ve so domesticated the gospel that I’ve effectively minimized its totalizing commands.
I remember another stand up comedian discussing the infamous Siegfried and Roy incident. The famous (and famously flamboyant) Las Vegas duo successfully trained wild cats (e.g., lions, tigers, etc.) to stand on glittery balls, jump through flaming hoops, all while being poked with sticks and such. Not the wisest idea if you ask me. You see, if a domesticated housecat gets mad at you, it might hurt but you’ll win. Anything I can punt 25 yards is gonna lose. However, when a 600 pound tiger gets mad — you lose! And so it happened for half of the Las Vegas duo. Doing the same show over and over again does not negate the fact that a wild animal is not safe.
The gospel is not something to be domesticated or tamed. The gospel cannot be treated as simple and safe. The gospel can never be routine and mundane. The gospel is not to be managed or maintained. The gospel is to be obeyed. We are to risk everything to follow Jesus and spread the life-changing news of his death and resurrection.
This book is not some sort of self-help manual but a reminder of how the gospel can change us:
I want to be like Jesus. I can observe him in action as I read the Gospels. I can study the life he lived and the love he showed. I could try very hard to imitate him. But at best that would lead only to a small, short-lived improvement, and indeed even that small improvement would probably only make me proud.
I need more than an example. I need help. I need someone to change me. Trying to imitate Jesus on its own only leaves me feeling like a failure. I can’t be like him. I can’t match up. I need sorting out. I need rescuing. I need forgiveness.
The great news is that Jesus is not only my example but also my Redeemer.
I could tell that Chester was on to something, particularly in Chapter 2, when he described three wrong reasons to change: 1) to prove myself to God, 2) to prove myself to other people, or 3) to prove myself to myself.
At the heart of any advice that Chester gives is the theological reality of God and the gospel. For example, he talks about some “reminder phrases” that he uses to help others stay focused on the gospel in the midst of fear:
God is greater than your thought.
Not what if? but what is, and what is, is that God is in control.
The reality of the gospel is that behavior does not justify us before God and, therefore, only changing behavior will always be short-lived and misguided. At the heart of behavior are the affections that motivate those behaviors. To overcome sin I not only have to purge it from my life, I have to replace it with an affection for Jesus alone.
In his massive Christian Theology, Millard Erickson notes that the first effect of sin on one’s relationships with other people is competition. Erickson is clearly referencing something bigger than competitive sports but his point seems appropriate, nonetheless.
With the American football season upon us, I wanted to briefly explore the legitimacy of competitive sports for Christians. Are competitive sports sinful?
1. Is competition sinful?
Yes and no.
Yes. It depends who you are competing against. Anytime you are doing something merely to prove your superiority, you are basing your identity on the need to win. You are, in essence, worshiping yourself when you are trying to prove your value and self-worth by validating your dominance.
No. Self-competition that promotes humble excellence can be positive. Some people are never satisfied with their abilities, appearance, or the like. Discontentment is as much a sin as arrogance. Pursuing excellence and pushing yourself to the limit can be a very healthy activity. Many people learn a lot about their inabilities and abilities by attempting difficult and challenging things.
2. Are competitive sports sinful?
Like most things, competitive sports can be used as an opportunity for sin and might even tend to promote sinful behavior when they overemphasize proving one’s superiority. However, competitive sports are not, by default, sinful. I think it is important to keep score in many games to maintain an objective grasp on reality. The better team should, all things being equal, win the game. Without a score a team is unable to fully evaluate their performance to ensure they are giving maximum effort.
Anytime winning, however, becomes attached to one’s value then sin has taken hold. Whether a team wins is of no consequence as long as everyone involve is giving maximum effort.
I recently came across this post at Desiring God about one of the benefits of a local church. I was really interested in the benefits of “righteous judgment” and the need for accountability espoused in this brief article. I hear the oft-repeated mantra “not to judge” based ostensibly on Luke 6:37. This verse (“judge not, lest you be judged”) is often the only Scripture some people have memorized and almost exclusively used out of context. I think the passage in question might is more concerned with humility and genuine faith than some prohibition against pointing out sin or inconsistency in another believer’s life.
I have reproduced the entire Desiring God post below for your consideration.
“But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? (1 Corinthians 5:11-12)”
It is dangerous not to be judged. We need other people to judge us, with righteous judgment (John 7:24). We need accountability. If we don’t have Christian friends that are close enough to confront us when our lifestyle doesn’t match our confession, then we ought to tremble.
The type of judgment I am referring to is not generated by a desire to look down on others for the sake of feeling superior—a condescending disposition. Rather, it comes from a tender disposition of love. It comes from a Nathan who is willing to tell David to repent and turn to God (2 Samuel 12).
We should fear God in light of the sin that can deceive and destroy us. We should not fear the judgment that comes from friends in the church which helps us to fight sin. This is grace!
It is immeasurably more safe to be a part of a local church that watches for our souls. Praise God for the safety that is in the righteous judgment of his people. It is grace from heaven!
Doug Wilson wrote an interesting post on moralism and morality for a Christian internet filtration software company. His post brings up many of the problems with building fences around sin. Often boundaries intended to help people avoid sin actual increase someone’s desire for the “forbidden fruit” and can even engender sin by causing thoughts that are more wicked; thoughts are just as sinful as actions (e.g., Matthew 5).
Wilson encourages accountability as the preferred method of teaching and building in the process of fighting sin, whereas restriction merely leads to “public denunciations and private indulgences.”
I am of the opinion that “fleeing temptation” is the Biblical model but is not equal to “hiding from sin.” Sometimes people merely avoid bad actions while never dealing with the inner struggle with sinful desires. Christ has promised victory from sin for all who have faith in Him. The result of victory is that I not only want to avoid temptation, but I also have the ability to overcome it.
Today I read a great blog post entitled “Myth of the Good Ole Days.” The author makes many cogent arguments.
There is no such thing as the good ole’ days. It is a myth constructed by people with amnesia who have forgotten or have chosen not to remember the problems and perils of earlier days.
This is a subject that I have thought about frequently.
The other day a sweet sister in Christ sincerely asked me how I could work with young adults. “They’re just so much worst than when I was young,” she said. Now I have no doubt that she was sincere in this observation, but I had to remind her that sin is not limited by generation. Technology and style has changed, manifesting sin in new and creative ways, but the human condition remains the same. In the twenty-first century Americans struggle with internet pornography and materialism, in the 19th century it was legalized segregation, in the 18th century slavery and oppression of Africans and Native Americans, and the list goes on and on. Materialism and greed is cross-generational and we still struggle with the early heresy of America as a Savior-nation.
As sinners we like to set ourselves up as the standard of “what is right.” We demonize the sins of others (e.g. homosexuality, abortion, etc.) and minimize our own (e.g., materialism, greed, etc.).
The gospel is for every generation. The human heart has always struggled with idolatry and self-justification.