Do I want God to give me GRACE or CUT ME SOME SLACK?

2 02 2012

Read honestly, the Sermon on the Mount is perhaps one of the most unsettling pieces of scripture in the entire Bible.  Who can come across such passages as those below and leave with a comfortable feeling?

You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the fire of hell.  (Matt 5.21-22)

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’  But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  (Matt 5.27-28)

But I say to you that everyone who divroces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery (Matt 5.31)

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matt 5.48)

Perhaps making these passages even worse, is that they are not spoken of by some Pharisee, or even by some uptight apostle.  The above verses were spoken by the Savior himself.  Who would’ve thought that gentle Jesus, meek and mild would have such harsh things to say to us?

Well, Jesus says such demanding things because this is the standard God himself has set for our lives.  He has set a standard of perfection, that standard being his own holiness and righteousness, by which all of humanity will be held accountable by.  “You must be perfect,” says Jesus, “as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Now I know very few people, if any, who would claim to be perfect in the sense that Jesus means perfect in Matt 5.48.  In fact, I think we would acknowledge that we are not perfect in this way, nor have we ever known anyone to be perfect in this way.  In this regard we are in agreement with the Apostle Paul, who quoting the Psalms reminds us:

None is righteous, no, not one;

no one seeks God.

All have turned aside; together they

have become worthless;

no one does good,

not even one (Rom 3.10-12 see also Psalm 14 and 53)

How then are we to live under these demands, which even the Bible agrees are impossible for us to satisfy?  Well the obvious answer is that we need grace.  But when we ask for grace, we need to make sure that we’re asking God to give us grace rather than cut us some slack.

Asking God to cut you some slack:

Parents will know the feeling well.  It’s past your child’s bedtime, he’s very tired, and he begins to act up in ways that he normally would not.  The parent says, “Johnny’s tired, it’s past his bedtime.”  What the parent just did was cut his child some slack.  There was an absolute demand, which might be something like “thou shalt not throw temper tantrums” which the child has transgressed.  But there were extenuating circumstances!  Little Johnny was tired, because it was past his bedtime.  Let’s cut him some slack!

Now this is not a parenting piece and I’m not advocating for any particular approach to little Johnny’s late night temper tantrums.  Rather I’m drawing an analogy to how some people think grace works.  For example you may find yourself directly implicated in some or many of the verses listed above.  What do you fall back on?  The truth is, many Christians trust in their extenuating circumstances rather than the grace of God.  “I was really tired and lost my temper,” some will say.  “We just fell out of love,” others will say.  “Young men have strong hormones!”  Indeed!  And many will say, “who can be perfect?”  God knows, he understands. Sure, Jesus said that those who call their brother a fool are subject to the fire of hell, but I don’t deserve that.  I was tired and cranky.  Cut me some slack!

This sounds gracious, but it is not grace at all but the very worst and most vicious form of legalism.  It’s the very worse form of legalism because you’re asking to get what you deserve.  The implication you’re making, whether intentionally or unintentionally, is that you still want God to judge you according to your works.  This is why we some times offer such a plethora of excuses.  We’re hoping to justify ourselves before God and man.  You want God to cut you some slack, but let us be very clear on this point, you have not requested that God give you any grace.  Quite the opposite!  You have asked him to judge you according to what you have done, according to your works, according to what you deserve.

Asking God to give you Grace:

How then do we confront such difficult passages as above without asking for slack, but for grace?  Well, we ought to begin by reading these passages honestly, without twisting their words to make us feel more comfortable.  Have you called your brother a fool?  You deserve the judgment of God, and more so!  The fire of hell.  Did you look upon another person lustfully?  You are an adulterer.  You’re not perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect?  Well then, you’re condemned.  You have no excuse.  You have no justification.  There is no argument or extenuating circumstance that can save.  You have nothing.

If you have any hope at all from this point forward, it is not that God will give you what you deserve based on some extenuating circumstances but rather that God will give you what you don’t deserve based upon his free grace.  Paul writes:

But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart form the law, although the law and prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.  For there is no distinction:  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus (Rom 3.21-24)

So when we fall short we don’t ask God to cut us some slack.  We don’t say to him, “well I was in a tough spot.”  Not only are you twisting scripture by slackening the demands of God, but you are blaspheming his grace! (Gal 2.21).  Rather we honor God’s grace by saying, “I have sinned.  I have no excuse.  Don’t give me what I deserve.  Give me what Christ deserves!”

To make this very simple, asking for grace consists consists mainly in two parts.  The first part is an unqualified confession and apology.  “I have sinned.  I am sorry.”  No excuses please.  This is followed by an appeal for God’s mercy, which we are assured to receive based solely and exclusively on the gift of God in Jesus Christ.

Resolve today not to trust in your wavering commitments and extenuating circumstances, trust rather on the solid rock that is Christ.  His grace is unwavering, always available, always unconditional, forever free and eternally unchanging.  Here is something to stand on and believe in, and more so, to be transformed by.

Let’s not settle for anything less than grace.

 





D.A. Carson: If the Bible cannot be seen as historically accurate, is Christianity a bust?

26 01 2012

There is a profound sense in which the nature of God’s gracious self-manifestation, taking place in ordinary history (however spectacular or miraculous some elements of that revelation may be), ensures that there can be no escape from historical enquiry.  If Jesus Christ never lived, Christianity is destroyed; if he never died on the cross, Christianity is destroyed; if he never rose from the dead, Christianity is destroyed.  However much the ultimate object of Christian faith is God, that faith is incoherent if it affirms a faith in the God of the Bible but not in the God who according to the Bible discloses himself in history that is largely accessible and testable.

-D.A. Carson, Collected Writings on Scripture pg 24





Rob Sturdy: What makes for a good sermon?

20 12 2011

I was having a conversation with a colleague recently who asked “what makes for a good sermon?”  We covered all the usual bases.  That is, it should be scriptural, engaging, challenging, orthodox, etc.  But that is not really the question that my friend was asking.  He clarified by asking “what do you think a sermon should accomplish?”

The question is helpful because so few people ever ask it.  Recently, a fellow pastor when asked the same question answered with “I think a good sermon is when people are still talking about it on Monday morning.”  This is quite ludicrous.  After all, I could strip naked and do a rain dance on the front pew and people would still be talking about it on Monday morning.  In fact, they would probably talk about it for much longer than that.  The pastor’s response showed that even though he preaches every Sunday, he has never actually thought critically about what he is trying to accomplish from the pulpit.

Likewise, I wonder how the person in the pew evaluates sermons.  Did it make you laugh?  Were you challenged?  Did it make you feel bad?  What do you think the sermonshould accomplish.

Perhaps few people illustrate what a sermon should accomplish more clearly than John the Baptist, whose very life was a visible sermon.  He accomplished a range of things, however I would like to point you to three specific things that the Baptist was intentional about that help us understand the mechanics of a good sermon.  At a bare minimum, the preaching and teaching staff at Trinity tries to accomplish each of these things in every sermon and teaching.

A good sermon testifies about Jesus

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.   (John 1:6-8 ESV)
John was very clear about who he was and who he was not.  He “was not the light.”  John’s role is not to testify about himself or to draw attention to himself in any way.  Rather, he came to draw his hearers attention to someone else entirely.  Namely, he came to draw people’s attention to Jesus.  Whatever the text, whatever the topic, the role of the preacher is to guide the sermon towards a testimony about Jesus.
A good sermon makes us look small and makes Jesus look big
He must increase, but I must decrease
(John 3:30 ESV)
People want to hear sermons that make them look big.  Inside each of us is a desire to be sufficient, strong, courageous, disciplined, important, etc.  The root of this desire is that you and I desperately want to be the hero of our own story.  So whether we’re talking about overcoming sin, reaching the lost, or correcting some social injustice, people will always be most pleased hearing that the answer lies within themselves and its now up to them.  But of course the life of John the Baptist teaches us that we’re actually quite weak and insignificant.  We’re not the hero of the story.  Jesus is.  We must decrease.  He must increase.  A good sermon exposes all the ways that you and I are insufficient for the demands of life.  There is sin that we cannot overcome.  There are situations that we are ill equipped to manage.  We need help.  A good sermon, after making us realize we are in need of help will encourage us to run to the helper.  The good news is that help has come in the person of Jesus Christ.  He’s the hero of the story.  He is relief in time of need.  He is mercy in the time of judgment. A good sermon will “decrease” the ego of the individual and exalt the greatness of Jesus Christ.
A good sermon points to the sacrificial death of Christ for sinners
The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
(John 1:29 ESV)
A few days ago  my two year son David and I were talking about the cross.  He asked why Jesus had a cross and I said that he was rescuing us.  The word “rescue” triggered something in my son’s brain and he promptly asked  ”why is Jesus a superhero?”  Indeed!  The sermon must answer this question to be complete.  After “decreasing” ourselves by exposing sin, it is not enough to claim that Jesus is the hero but we must know why he is the hero.  Here, John the Baptist pulls no punches.  Jesus is the hero because he is the sacrificial lamb whose death takes away the sin, guilt, and shame of the world.  John’s life is about calling people to “behold!”  Behold the hero who gives his life for needy sinners.
So what should the sermon accomplish?  It should testify about Jesus.  It should make us feel small and make Jesus look big.  It should p0int to Jesus’ heroics on our behalf, chiefly demonstrated by his sacrificial death on the cross.  For those of you preparing a sermon this Sunday, I challenge you to follow the example of John.  For those of you listening this Sunday, I encourage you to evaluate what you hear along these lines.




Rob Sturdy: Weak Hearts, Mighty Savior! (Matt 6.1-21)

20 12 2011

Preached at Trinity Church, Feb 24th 2009.

Culture places high value on the notion that the human heart is not only good, but that it is essentially trustworthy.  For many people the heart is the spring from which all that is good within us flows out.  We believe that the heart, the seat of our emotions is essentially good. We are in our innermost being good people, with good intentions.  And yet we don’t stop here.  Alongside this idea that the heart is fundamentally good in a moral sense, we also believe that the heart is unique in the sense that it is a trustworthy compass pointing us in the right direction.  If you were to type in the internet bookstore Amazon.com searching for titles that include the phrase “follow your heart,” you would find over six-thousand titles. This shows us two things:  first there are people in the world who have thought about the heart, about its goodness and trustworthiness (6,000 people!), and second there are people who are interested in reading about how good and trustworthy their hearts are.

The Bible also has many things to say about the heart.  For example, the Book of Proverbs instructs us to “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (4.23). The heart is the root of the tree, the gasoline to the car, the hinge on the door, the wood for the fire.  In other words, as “from it flow the springs of life!”  Which is why the writer instructs us to “keep it with vigilance.”  Something so important should be tended to most carefully.  Because our hearts are so important, it is no surprise that God himself is deeply concerned with the nature of our hearts.  “the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance,  but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam 16.7) and ““I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds” (Jer 17.10).

Jesus also has much to say about the heart.  Today, in this passage, though he never specifically mentions the heart he nevertheless has much to say about the heart and what he says about the heart can be summed up in one word:  “Beware.”  Beware!  It is the last thing that you would suspect would come from the mouth of gentle Jesus meek and mild about the human heart.  We expect the Lamb of God to come gently bleeting compliments and high praise for the goodness of our individual hearts.  Rather he expresses a fearfulness, withdrawing in horror as if he had seen some type of dangerous predator or a horrific car crash, recoiling he says “Beware!” Read the rest of this entry »





Rob Sturdy: “Jesus will win.” Explaining death to a 3 year old…

20 12 2011

Over the past year or so my son and I have read through the Jesus Storybook Bible multiple times.  He always enjoys the reading and is engaged, but it continually amazes me just how caught up he gets in the four stories in the book that deal with the Lord’s Supper, the trial of Jesus, the crucifixion, and the resurrection.  Rarely can we begin the Lord’s Supper and not have to read all four stories.  No matter how much I want to wind down the evening, I find it really hard to refuse reading the Bible to my little boy, especially those wonderful and crucial sections of the Gospel.

This past time reading through was different however.  His excitement was still there, but this time he began to ask questions and the one question that he was most interested in I felt totally ill prepared for.

“Daddy, what’s death?”

My mind went racing.  I had no idea how to answer this.  I walked through several generic answers before I was reminded of a metaphor used for death in the Scriptures.  When speaking of death, the Apostle Paul says that death is an enemy that must be destroyed by our hero Jesus (1 Cor 15.26).  The metaphor of death as an enemy works well with my little boy’s mind.  Right now everything is good guys vs. bad guys, superheros vs. villains.  Happy that the scriptures discussed death in these simple terms that my son could understand I replied:

“Well buddy, death is an enemy.”

“An enemy?” he asked.

“Yup.  A bad guy.”

What happened next was quite intriguing and I thank God for the conversation.

“But I’m strong,” said David, and he flexed his muscles and scowled his face like the cartoon superheroes he watches.

“Death is stronger,” I replied.

“But I’m really fast,” he replied, without near as much certainty.

“Death is faster.”  And while I was talking to David about death it began to dawn on me that one day this enemy would come for David and I felt the same pain that any parent feels when something makes them consider this.  Though my typical reaction would be to force this thought as far away as possible, I resisted the urge and pressed on.  ” One day buddy, death is going to come for you and he’ll win.  He’ll always be stronger than you.  He’ll always be faster and one day he will come for you.”

“Oh,” he said.

But we didn’t leave things there and thanks be to God neither does he!

“But David,” I said, “Jesus is stronger than death.  Jesus is faster than death.  One day, when death comes for you, Jesus will be there and he’ll win.  Even though you could never beat death, Jesus can and he’ll be there for you when you need him.”

“Jesus will win?” he asked.

“Yeah buddy, he always does.”  Then we thanked God that Jesus would beat this bad guy, I kissed David on the cheek, gave him three bear hugs, and off he went to sleep.





J.C. Ryle: “Suppose an unholy man went to Heaven…”

19 12 2011

Suppose for a moment that you were allowed to enter heaven without holiness. What would you do? What possible enjoyment could you feel there? To which of all the saints would you join yourself and by whose side would you sit? Their pleasures are not your pleasures, their tastes are not your tastes, their character not your character. How could you possibly be happy, if you had not been holy on earth?

Now perhaps you love the company of the light and careless, the worldly-minded and the covetous, the reveler and the pleasure-seeker, the ungodly and the profane. There will be none such in heaven.

Now perhaps you think the saints of God too strict and particular and serious. You rather avoid them. You have no delight in their society. There will be no other company in heaven.

Now perhaps you think praying and Scripture reading, and hymn singing, dull and melancholy and stupid work, a thing to be tolerated now and then, but not enjoyed. You reckon the Sabbath a burden and a weariness; you could not possibly spend more than a small part of it in worshipping God. But remember, heaven is a never-ending Sabbath. The inhabitants thereof rest not day and night, saying, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty,” and singing the praise of the Lamb. How could an unholy man find pleasure in occupation such as this?

Think you that such an one would delight to meet David and Paul and John, after a life spent in doing the very things they spoke against? Would he take sweet counsel with them and find that he and they had much in common? Think you, above all, that he would rejoice to meet Jesus, the crucified One, face to face, after cleaving to the sins for which He died, after loving His enemies and despising His friends? Would he stand before Him with confidence and join in the cry, “This is our God… we have waited for Him, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation” (Isaiah 25:9)? Think you not rather that the tongue of an unholy man would cleave to the roof of his mouth with shame, and his only desire would be to be cast out? He would feel a stranger in a land he knew not, a black sheep amid Christ’s holy flock. The voice of cherubim and seraphim, the song of angels and archangels, and all the company of heaven, would be a language he could not understand. The very air would seem an air he could not breathe.

I know not what others may think, but to me it does seem clear that heaven would be a miserable place to an unholy man. It cannot be otherwise. People may say, in a vague way, they “hope to go to heaven”, but they do not consider what they say…

read it all here





Jonathan Edwards: “The Admirable Conjunction of Diverse Excellencies in Christ Jesus”

19 12 2011

For all you guys who jumped on the “Jonathan Edwards is my homeboy” bandwagon but never read him, here’s your chance.  You’ll find him enormously difficult in diction and thought, nevertheless terribly rewarding.  I remember when I finally fought my way through “The End for Which God Created the World,” which was nothing short of mind blowing.  These few paragraphs below are intellectually and spiritually enriching, where Edwards takes such opposing thoughts as “highness” and “condescension” or “justice” and “grace” and shows how they meet in perfect union in Christ Jesus.

There is a conjunction of such excellencies in Christ as, in our manner of conceiving, are very diverse one from another. Such are the various divine perfections and excellencies that Christ is possessed of. Christ is a divine person, and therefore has all the attributes of God. The difference between these is chiefly relative, and in our manner of conceiving them. And those which, in this sense, are most diverse, meet in the person of Christ. I shall mention two instances.

There do meet in Jesus Christ infinite highness and infinite condescension.
Christ, as he is God, is infinitely great and high above all. He is higher than the kings of the earth; for he is King of kings, and Lord of lords. He is higher than the heavens, and higher than the highest angels of heaven. So great is he, that all men, all kings and princes, are as worms of the dust before him; all nations are as the drop of the bucket, and the light dust of the balance; yea, and angels themselves are as nothing before him. He is so high, that he is infinitely above any need of us; above our reach, that we cannot be profitable to him; and above our conceptions, that we cannot comprehend him. Prov. 30:4 “What is his name, and what is his Son’s name, if thou canst tell?” Our understandings, if we stretch them never so far, cannot reach up to his divine glory. Job 11:8 “It is high as heaven, what canst thou do?” Christ is the Creator and great Possessor of heaven and earth. He is sovereign Lord of all. He rules over the whole universe, and doth whatsoever pleaseth him. His knowledge is without bound. His wisdom is perfect, and what none can circumvent. His power is infinite, and none can resist Him. His riches are immense and inexhaustible. His majesty is infinitely awful.

And yet he is one of infinite condescension. None are so low or inferior, but Christ’s condescension is sufficient to take a gracious notice of them. He condescends not only to the angels, humbling himself to behold the things that are done in heaven, but he also condescends to such poor creatures as men; and that not only so as to take notice of princes and great men, but of those that are of meanest rank and degree, “the poor of the world,” James 2:5. Such as are commonly despised by their fellow creatures, Christ does not despise. I Cor. 1:28 “Base things of the world, and things that are despised, hath God chosen.” Christ condescends to take notice of beggars Luke 16:22 and people of the most despised nations. In Christ Jesus is neither “Barbarian, Scythian, bond nor free” (Col. 3:11). He that is thus high condescends to take a gracious notice of little children Matt. 19:14. “Suffer little children to come unto me.” Yea, which is more, his condescension is sufficient to take a gracious notice of the most unworthy, sinful creatures, those that have no good deservings, and those that have infinite ill deservings.

Yea, so great is his condescension, that it is not only sufficient to take some gracious notice of such as these, but sufficient for every thing that is an act of condescension. His condescension is great enough to become their friend, to become their companion, to unite their souls to him in spiritual marriage. It is enough to take their nature upon him, to become one of them, that he may be one with them. Yea, it is great enough to abase himself yet lower for them, even to expose himself to shame and spitting; yea, to yield up himself to an ignominious death for them. And what act of condescension can be conceived of greater? Yet such an act as this, has his condescension yielded to, for those that are so low and mean, despicable and unworthy!

Such a conjunction of infinite highness and low condescension, in the same person, is admirable. We see, by manifold instances, what a tendency a high station has in men, to make them to be of a quite contrary disposition. If one worm be a little exalted above another, by having more dust, or a bigger dunghill, how much does he make of himself! What a distance does he keep from those that are below him! And a little condescension is what he expects should be made much of, and greatly acknowledged. Christ condescends to wash our feet; but how would great men, (or rather the bigger worms,) account themselves debased by acts of far less condescension!

There meet in Jesus Christ, infinite justice and infinite grace.
As Christ is a divine person, he is infinitely holy and just, hating sin, and disposed to execute condign punishment for sin. He is the Judge of the world, and the infinitely just Judge of it, and will not at all acquit the wicked, or by any means clear the guilty.

And yet he is infinitely gracious and merciful. Though his justice be so strict with respect to all sin, and every breach of the law, yet he has grace sufficient for every sinner, and even the chief of sinners. And it is not only sufficient for the most unworthy to show them mercy, and bestow some good upon them, but to bestow the greatest good; yea, it is sufficient to bestow all good upon them, and to do all things for them. There is no benefit or blessing that they can receive, so great but the grace of Christ is sufficient to bestow it on the greatest sinner that ever lived. And not only so, but so great is his grace, that nothing is too much as the means of this good. It is sufficient not only to do great things, but also to suffer in order to do it, and not only to suffer, but to suffer most extremely even unto death, the most terrible of natural evils; and not only death, but the most ignominious and tormenting, and every way the most terrible that men could inflict; yea, and greater sufferings than men could inflict, who could only torment the body. He had sufferings in his soul, that were the more immediate fruits of the wrath of God against the sins of those he undertakes for.

read it all here