Tag Archives: gospel

Social Justice and/or Personal Holiness: A Quandry?

My mind has been unsettled recently about the relationship between social justice and personal holiness.  My own experience with the Church has been in settings that almost exclusively focus on issues of personal morality (e.g., fornication, lying, etc.).  I think there is good reason for this.  Take the Ten Commandments for example, they seem primarily concerned with one’s relationship to God.

On the other hand, there are well-meaning Christian and non-Christian groups that continually sound the alarm concerning the thousands of people that die every day from preventable disease around the globe, the children dying from starvation in other countries, the children kidnapped and forced to kill as soldier’s for a cause that is not there own.  I could go on and on about modern day slavery and the like.

I don’t have the answer, but I am coming to some preliminary considerations.

1.  Personal holiness and social justice are intertwined. Jesus makes it clear that love of God and love of others are two sides of the same coin.

2.  Christians need to be careful what they emphasize. On Derek Webb’s so-called controversial new album “Stockholm Syndrome” he has a lyric that reads:

If I can tell what’s in your heart / By what comes out of your mouth / Then it sure looks to me like being straight / Is all it’s about

I believe that marriage and sexuality are gospel issues.  However, I do not believe they are the only issues.

3.  The gospel is both foundational and transformational. The gospel does not speak to only personal struggles but, also, the redemption of the world.  Genuine service to the downtrodden is not less than the proclamation of the gospel, but it certainly is more.

These are some initial thoughts.  What do you think?  Any advice on how to think clearly about these issues?  Leave some comments.

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Nostalgia and Self-Justification

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.

Reflections on "God Exposed." (Part 2)

How do I describe the impact of C. J. Mahaney’s message this weekend?  I have yet to hear a teacher of the Bible who so accurately understands his own shortcomings yet so clearly magnifies God.  Mahaney taught from 2 Timothy 4:1-5 and encouraged faithfulness to the gospel through the content and character of the preacher.

Mahaney made clear that the Word of God is essential to the church.  Before being overwhelmed by the obvious he traced out the implications of such a thought.  For example, the primacy of the Word of God should be reflected in the schedule of the preacher (i.e., I should set aside adequate time to unhurriedly exegete, applicate, and illustrate the text of Scripture).  I cannot let lesser duties overwhelm this primary concern nor can I allow sinful procrastination to cripple my Bible Study.

I was also reminded during this time that a pastor/elder is most adequately equipped to teach the Bible at a particular church because preaching requires pastoral skill and discernment to teach and apply the Bible.  A pastor should know the struggles and victories of his congregation and, therefore, know the appropriate use of admonition and exhortation.  I would not want to admonish the weak and encourage the unruly!  This requires an atmosphere of community that is conducive to openly sharing life.

Mahaney pierced my heart with his encouragement to preach “with all patience” (2 Tim. 4:2).  It is sometimes easier to give a weekly monologue than be patient with people.  I must always keep in the front of my mind God’s patience with me.  Further, I cannot expect my listeners to immediately understand and apply everything I preach.  God has been slowly working on my heart and I have been “living in the text” for weeks.  How foolish of me to think that what took me weeks and years to understand will immediately be fully grasped by my audience.  Further, it is the height of arrogance to think that I am such a good communicator as to condense years worth of Biblical study and personal sanctification into a single hour-long sermon.

All-in-all I must persevere in the careful and consistent teaching of the Word of God and “be grateful and surprised” that anyone shows up to hear me speak at all!

Reflections on "God Exposed." (Part 1)

This past weekend (September 25-26) I attended the 9 Marks “God Exposed” conference held at SEBTS.  My heart and head are both full from the information and exhortations I received.

Audio from the event can be found at the SEBTS website.  On the IX Marks website some blog reflections can be found.

Mark Dever opened the conference with a message from Mark 4 that was encouraging and convicting.  He challenged us to depend totally on the power of the Word of God and not on our own personality, creativity, or intelligence.  Being dependent on God and His word leads to humility and confidence (two traits that I normally view as opposed).  We have humility because we realize that God is accomplishing the growth of the Kingdom of God.  We have confidence in the fact that God will accomplish what he promised.  I was reminded through this exhortation not to confuse size with significance in my own ministry.  Further, I am thankful that God chooses weak vessels.  One memorable quote from Dr. Dever:

If you think you can be filled with the Spirit without being filled with the Word, you need to check what Spirit you are being filled with.

Dr. Akin underscored this point during the Sermon Review (an idea I wholeheartedly recommend for teachers of the Bible) by showing the connection between being filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18) through the word of Christ (Col. 3:16).

The Word of God is powerful because God is powerful.  The Word of God will be victorious because God is the victor.

You have been born again: not originating from the mortal but from the immortal, that is through the living and permanent word of God.  ‘For all flesh is like grass and all its glory is like the flower of grass.  The grass withers and the flower falls off but the word of the Lord endures into eternity.’  Now this is the word which was preached to you (1 Peter 1:23-25).

On Community – Shared Lives (Part 2)

“Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our lives, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thessalonians 2:8).

What a beautiful picture of the gospel!  Paul, Silas, and Timothy came to the Thessalonians promising not to compromise on the gospel message that was entrusted to them (v. 4).  They refused to fall into any doctrinal error (v. 3).  Their speech was not obsequious or motivated by personal gain.  However, in the midst of sharing their message the apostles made sure to share themselves.

In reflecting on this passage I have come to understand a few things about genuine Christian community:

1. Christian community is gospel-centered. Christian community involves more than just gospel information but it does not involve less.  There are plenty of groups to join if you want friends. You can find people that have similar interests (e.g., scrapbooking, MOPS, fantasy football).  Shared interests, however, do not reinforce gospel community.  The gospel breaks down external barriers.  A gospel community is not concerned with external uniformity, but internal unity (Phil. 2:12-13) centered on the person and work of Jesus Christ.  Most people are concerned with finding persons that look, think, feel, and act like them.  People with similar interests and values will tend to confirm what you already believe.  A gospel community is not bound by age, race, or political preference.  A gospel community will challenge you to become like Christ rather than validate your own preferences.

“We often surround ourselves with the people we most want to live with, thus forming a club or clique, not a community. Anyone can form a club; it takes grace, shared vision, and hard work to form a community” (Philip Yancey)

2. Christian community is participatory. The information of the gospel was not enough; the apostles humbly participated in the lives of the Thessalonians.  It was not enough to teach a few truths about Christ, their genuine affection motivated participation.  Getting involved in someone’s life is messy.  It is easier to show up on Sunday morning, sing a few songs, smile and shake hands.  It is much more difficult to sit on someone’s couch and listen to their struggles.  It is uncomfortable to go to the hospital when someone is sick.  It is terribly inconvenient to give your money to someone who is in need.

And that brings us back to the gospel.  Think about how messy it was for Christ to become flesh, to endure temptation, and to experience pain.  Sharing your life with others provides the only context to genuinely articulate and, more importantly, demonstrate the gospel.

– Mark

Radical Discipleship

This summer I am teaching through the gospel of Luke. Jesus’ description of the Kingdom of God is so radical compared to my concept of Christianity as hobby. Jesus’ words are haunting:

“Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters — even one’s one life! — can’t be my disciple. Anyone who won’t shoulder his own cross and follow behind me can’t be my disciple” (Lk. 14:26-27).

Many people followed Jesus (Lk. 14:25), some for selfish reasons. He was a wise teacher and he healed diseases. The large crowds loved Jesus as entertainer. Today many persons self-identify with Christianity for ulterior reasons: social value, political expediency, personal guilt, family tradition, and more. The crowds are not always genuine disciples.

A genuine follower of Jesus — a disciple — participates in every aspect of the life of Christ. As Paul says:

“I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it” (Phil. 3:10-11).

Being a follower of Christ is more than paying God off with a few minutes of Bible reading and prayer. Discipleship is more than a little doctrinal acumen. Discipleship is nothing less than giving every part of my life to the full service of Jesus (Lk. 14:33).

Am I cut out to be a follower of Christ? Do I want to suffer for the glory of God? Do my financial, relational, and temporal priorities reflect a life in which I have renounced all personal ambitions for the sake of the Kingdom of God?