In view of John Piper’s newest book, Desiring God has produced a short documentary cataloguing his growth from a full-fledged racist to the father of an African-American daughter. It is worth your time to watch because it very concretely details the implications of the gospel in all areas.
The Bible does talk a lot about public evangelism. In Acts, for example, the apostles preach to large crowds of unbelievers on many occasions. Their preaching is often direct and, even, confrontational. (e.g., Acts 2:14-40, Acts 14, Acts 7:1-51).
However, there is also a component of relationship and community that is evidenced throughout the Scriptures. (1 Thes. 2:7-12, Acts 19:9, 1 Thes. 4:12).
In my own life, daily discipleship is much harder than one-time events. I don’t particularly mind large, attraction-based, event-oriented evangelism (though I question their effectiveness in today’s culture). However, one-time evangelism must be accompanied by daily, sacrificial, authentic, missional living. I find it much harder to mentor a student weekly than take teenagers to camp once a year. It is much more time-consuming to volunteer in the local middle school than throw a Superbowl party. I have to be vulnerable when I share my life with other people and that scares me. When you share life you share success and failure, strengths and weaknesses.
By God’s grace I will strive to demonstrate the gospel not just once in a while but every day.
1 Peter 2 has been haunting me lately. I can’t seem to get it out of my head. There is so much to talk about in that passage about the people of God as his priesthood, his living stones. We are alive because Jesus has imparted life to us. We are living stones because the true living stone has resurrected us from the dead. We are a royal priesthood because Jesus, our great high priest, has bridged the gap between God and us. There is an amazing reality of being a part of the “people of God” if you have received the mercy and grace of Jesus.
However, I noticed in verse 4 that the true living stone (Jesus) that has been rejected by men is precious and valuable to God.
For those who do not believe, Jesus is a stumbling block, an obstacle, an inconvenience. For those who do believe he is valuable, he is a treasure, he is precious.
I suspect that many of my problems stem from the simple fact that I do not always value Jesus as most valuable. Whether it’s the sin of idolatry or familiarity, I often devalue Jesus in pursuit of other things that are immediately gratifying but pale in comparison to the worth of Christ. Jesus is a treasure worth more than anything and he is a treasure that never fades.
So I ask myself, “what do I treasure?” Am I seeking acclaim, notoriety, and wealth or am I seeking Jesus? Has Jesus become familiar or, worst, is he an inconvenience to my way of life? Is my satisfaction in Jesus alone unshakeable?
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.
Pastor Tim Piland shared an excellent message from Matthew 28:19-20 this past Sunday at Nansemond River Baptist Church. I love to listen to Pastor Tim share; he is biblical, passionate, and relevant. I like to tell people that he’s 65 going on 20. He has the energy and passion of a young man with the wisdom and wit of a seasoned veteran. I think he has a faint hint of Jimmy Stewart in his voice as well .
In any case, Tim made a comment (I think I’ve heard similar comments before) about sharing the gospel:
The gospel is not a commodity to be sold; it is a relationship to be shared.
I grew up learning all the methods of evangelism (E.E., Romans Road, 4 Spiritual Laws, Steps to Peace with God, F.A.I.T.H., etc.). As I’ve grown (a little) older I’ve found methods to be helpful but often inadequate. Each person is different and, therefore, every time I share my faith it sounds a little different. The content must always be biblical but the method of organization and communication is often ad hoc.
More important than the method, however, is the relationship. We must build relationships with people that can bear the weight of the gospel. The message of sin and salvation is heavy stuff and casual conversations rarely offer the opportunity for a meaningful dialogue. Talking about football and the weather is hardly a natural segue to the magnitude of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Too often fervent evangelists see people as converts to be won. I am reminded of Kevin Roose’s experience at Thomas Road Baptist Church and Liberty University chronicled in the book Unlikely Disciple:
When I told the Liberty students at Thomas Road that I hadn’t accepted Christ as my savior, the entire dynamic of the conversation changed. It began to feel distant and rehearsed, like a pitch for Ginsu knives.
People are unique and interesting and the gospel is not formulaic. Different people have different objections and hangups to the gospel. I know that I value authenticity and honesty much more than a polished presentation.
I have some friends whose functional savior is romance. They love the emotional porn that is evidenced in popular series such as Twilight. Romantic comedies form their picture of male-female relationships. They write Facebook posts saying that they “can’t live without” such-and-such a person. They give other people the place in their lives reserved only for Jesus. They want so badly to have unconditional love and acceptance from another person. Only God can love completely and unconditionally. Putting that kind of hope in another person will only lead to disappointment. In fact, it’s not fair to the other person. No person can love you like Jesus.
I’ve heard a lot of talk recently about the declining morals of modern American culture. It is basically assumed that the morals of the ’50s were vastly superior to whatever values still remain. Anecdotal evidence usually cites the terrible entertainment on television (think Jersey Shore instead of Leave it to Beaver) or changing sexual ethics (think premarital sex and homosexuality).
I would like to caution us not to be unnecessarily concerned. First of all, sin is trans-generational. Changing technology and access to information have made certain forms of sin more visible in the wider culture but sin has always existed. People in the ’50s had moral lapses. In fact, a view of morality that focuses merely on externals has to pick and choose what is and is not the essential determiner of right behavior. The ’50s mights seem more upright in regard to conservative views of sexual ethics. However, if the standard has anything to do with institutionalized racism then the ’50s might be seen as significantly worse than today. This all depends on whether external morality is the sole basis for which one wants to judge a culture. If the ’50s are a bad barometer of external morality then the Bible fares much worse (adultery, incest, homosexuality, murder, lying, stealing, etc).
I’ve seen a great deal of positive movement in my generation toward care for the environment, concern for the poor, economic equality. All the while, my friends have maintained a strong commitment to defending the unborn and other “traditional” causes of conservative evangelicalism. In addition, all of the focus on external behavior can easily devolve into outright hypocrisy. My generation is much more concerned with authenticity, humility, and honesty than any pretense of performance or righteous charade.
I suspect there is a bit of historical naïvity and unsubstantiated nostalgia when certain people discuss the past. Whatever the case, external morality misses the point. The gospel realizes that no amount of “good behavior” warrants salvation and that real life change only comes from Jesus Christ. People do not need behavior change, they need to go from spiritual death to spiritual life. Focusing on external behavior is like giving a dead man Tylenol. Standards of external morality will change based on cultural situation, we need a basis for behavior that is rooted in the character of God and not the fashions of the day.
I have been reminded of late about the massive misunderstanding that most Christians have regarding the nature of the church. One common fallacy of which I have recently encountered has massive implications for the way one lives and behaves. It is routinely propagated that one must behave in a particularly pious way “at church.” “Put on your Sunday best,” someone might say. Others balk at a pastor’s knowledge of popular media or his reference to popular culture while teaching. They say that it has no place “at church.” The manifestations of this Biblical mistake are never ending.
Ultimately some would have you believe that certain physical space is sacred and other physical space is secular. Like Moses and the burning bush, when you step onto the church’s property you are “on holy ground.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The reality of the New Testament is that believers are the ones who are holy, by means of the blood of Christ (1 Cor 3:16–17; 1 Cor 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16). The church is not a building (Eph 2:11–22) but a people.
On the one hand, what you do and say with the church should not be disconnected from what you do and say by yourself. Granted, the purpose of a church meeting together is different than when you are alone—mutual edification can only occur with others. However, there should be little difference in the manner of my living when I am with other believers and when I am by myself. If what I wear throughout the week is not appropriate for “church” then it is not appropriate for the grocery store. You might not want to wear a baseball uniform or pajamas to church (different purpose) but neither must you wear a specific “church uniform.” If God does not require a suit to go the baseball game then he does not require one when I gather with other believers. This thinking should extend to what I watch on television and the content of my conversation. As far as I can tell, the Biblical definition of sacred and secular is purely an inward category. Holiness is a function of our calling from God, not our location (Eph 1:4; Col 3:12; 1 Pet 1:15).
I’m not sure if you have moments of personal doubt and insecurity—I sometimes do. Recently I was feeling quite useless. A stray comment here or a thoughtless decision there and one can easily spiral into a defeatist attitude. Satan wastes no time in capitalizing on our mistakes.
Satan accuses Christians day and night. It is not just that he will work on our conscience to make us feel as dirty, guilty, defeated, destroyed, weak, and ugly as he possibly can; it is something worse: his entire play in the past is to accuse us before God day and night, bringing charges against us that we know we can never answer before the majesty of God’s holiness.
What can we say in response? Will our defense be, ‘Oh, I’m not that bad?’ You will never beat Satan that way. Never. What you must say is, ‘Satan, I’m even worse than you think, but God loves me anyway. He has accepted me because of the blood of the lamb
— D. A. Carson, Scandalous
Unfortunately, Satan is not our only accuser. Other Christians waste no time pointing out your flaws and imperfections. I am convinced that accountability is necessary within a Christian fellowship but accountability is for the purpose of edification and restoration. It is very easy to drift from accountability to accusation. We love to see others fall. There must be a point where we allow the mistakes of others to be left in the past. The acceptance and forgiveness of Christ is the basis of our status before Him and each other. For me, the words of Paul are profoundly applicable:
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1).
Am I willing to treat others not just as I want to be treated but as Christ treated me. Am I willing to consider them as better than myself? Am I willing to suffer wrongs and insults rather than be defensive? Am I willing to measure others by the work of Christ rather than their good or bad behavior? Am I willing to forgive their sins rather keeping score? Am I willing to love like Christ?