“Ah! thou wise man, full of worldly wisdom; thy wisdom will stand thee here, but what wilt thou do in the swellings of Jordan? Philosophy may do well for thee to lean upon whilst thou walkest through this world; but the river is deep, and thou wilt want something more than that. If thou hast not the arm of the Most High to hold thee up in the flood and cheer thee with promises, thou wilt sink, man; with all thy philosophy, thou wilt sink; with all thy learning, thou shalt sink, and be washed into that awful ocean of eternal torment, where thou shalt be forever.” – Charles Spurgeon, in his sermon Christ Crucified.
“Now I further saw that betwixt them and the Gate [of Heaven] was a River, but there was no bridge to go over; the River was very deep; at the sight therefore of this River, the pilgrims were much astounded…The pilgrims then began to inquire if there was no other way to the Gate…The pilgrims then, especially Christian, began to despond in his mind, and looked this way and that, but no way could be found by them by which they might escape the River…They then addressed themselves to the water; and entering, Christian began to sink, and crying out to his good friend Hopeful, he said, ‘I sink in deep waters, the billows go over my head, all his waves go over me’…Then said the other, ‘Be of good cheer, my brother, I feel the bottom, and it is good…Be of good cheer, Jesus Christ maketh thee whole.’ And with that, Christian brake out with a loud voice, ‘Oh I see him again! And he tells me, When though passest through the waters, I will be with thee, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee.’ Then they both took courage, and the enemy was after that as still as a stone, until they were gone over. Christian therefore presently found ground to stand upon; and so it followed that the rest of the River was but shallow. Thus they got over.” – John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress
It is Jesus who gets us across this river – this river we will all face – not worldly wisdom, philosophy, or learning, lest we be washed into that awful ocean.
I found this short post by Justin Taylor to be poignant and convicting.
For the past few months, my Bible study and I have been reading Tim Keller’s book Counterfeit Gods. The book deals with idolatry, as the subtitle summarizes The Empty Promises of Money, Sex, and Power, and the Only Hope That Matters. It has been very challenging, as no one likes to be confronted with the reality of their sinful desires, and it has been encouraging, being reminded that we are more sinful than we can imagine, yet more loved than we dare to dream.
This week we’re finishing out the book, so I thought I’d share some thoughts from the Epilogue. I realize I’m skipping 164 pages of the book, but I think this post will summarize the main theme and purpose of the book – what I call the “idol remedy.”
The way to get rid of an idol, Keller says, is by replacing it. He says, “If you uproot the idol and fail to ‘plant’ the love of Christ in its place, the idol will grow back.” This process of replacing an idol comes in two parts: repentance and worship.
“Jesus must become more beautiful to your imagination, more attractive to your heart, than your idol…When we repent out of fear of consequences, we are not really sorry for the sin, but for ourselves. Fear-based repentance is…self-pity. In fear-based repentance, we don’t learn to hate the sin for itself, and it doesn’t lose its attractive power…fear-based repentance makes us hate ourselves.” p.172
“[Idolatry] cannot be remedied only by repenting that you have an idol, or using willpower to try to live differently.” p. 171
“…it is worship that is the final way to replace the idols of your heart. You cannot get relief simply by figuring out your idols intellectually. You have to actually get the peace that Jesus gives, and that only comes as you worship. Analysis can help you discover truths, but then you need to ‘pray them in’ to your heart.” p. 175
In the end it is paramount to remember that God is pleased with us because of Christ’s works, not ours. Operating outside of this truth, to try earn His favor or develop a sense of self-worth, is idolatry and self-focused. Keller quotes Martin Luther in a footnote from this chapter, saying,
“If we doubt or do not believe that God is gracious to us and is pleased with us, or if w we presumptuously expect to please Him only through and after our works, then it is all pure deception, outwardly honoring God, but inwardly setting up self as a false (savior).”
For more from Tim Keller, I invite you to check out his website: here.
What about you? Do you find yourself trying to keep a clean moral record so that God will love you? Is it difficult to believe that God is gracious and pleased with you, not because of your record but because of Jesus’? Idolatry can look like this and so much more, but these are two areas that idolatry plays out in my life. I’d love to hear your thoughts this topic and how Keller’s words inspire and/or challenge you!
1-4: Jesus was from the beginning, and made himself known to man by coming to earth
5-10: Jesus is truth (not a truth among many) and he is light; you are either in truth and light or you are not. Because he is truth, he is the standard by which your life is measured. We cannot use our life to measure his.
1-6: Jesus did not sin, so we should not either. But when we do, he will advocate for us as the only righteous advocate.
7-11: The “old” command was to “…love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” and ” (Deut. 6:5)…”love your neighbor as yourself…” (Lev. 19:18). The “new” command is the same as the old but with a new, severe warning: if you don’t do these things, it means you are not in the light (see note on 1:5-10, on light).
This new amendment to the old command is not for instruction on how to merit a relationship with the Father. It is a divine observation of the nature of the command. In other words, it is saying: “if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might and you love you neighbor as yourself, it is because you are in the light.” It is not saying: “If you do these things, then you will be in the light.”
Important distinction; severe warning.
12-14: An encouragement to believers at different stages.
Yesterday’s message (here) really messed me up. Matt spoke on Heaven and Hell…everyone’s favorite topic. I’m thankful that he is bold enough and faithful enough to preach on the reality of man’s eternal destination.
Heaven and Hell are real places. Please hear that. They are real places. And talking about them is not for fear-mongering or to paint pretty pictures in your mind of a place that everyone goes to be happy some day.
The part that messed me up the most was when Matt quoted a section from one of Charles Spurgeon’s sermons (click here for the full sermon from Spurgeon). He tells the story of a mother who is at judgement with her children. Jesus directs the mother one way and the children to another. The mother loved Jesus with all her heart and she tried to teach her children to do the same. But the children grew to love the things of the world, rather than Jesus. After weeping and seeing that her children were going to spend eternity in Hell, an angel dries her eyes, which reminds her of the treasure she has in Jesus and His perfect justice He executes in punishing sinners, and her response to her children is this:
“My children, I taught you well, I trained you up, and you forsook the ways of God; and now all I have to say is, Amen to your condemnation.”
Please, read and re-read this quote. For those of you in Christ, this is the hard reality of what we will one day face. Imagine those you love here on earth. Some of them don’t know or don’t believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As painful as it will be to know that they will not be with us in heaven, our joy in Christ and His justice will cause us to say “Amen” to their condemnation.
It is not “Amen, I’m such a good person and they’re not.” It’s “Amen, God showed me grace and His perfect name will not be defamed by those who rebel. To Him be glory and honor forever. Amen.”
Please have the spiritual sensitivity to let this bother you. May it cause you to cherish the grace that Christ has shown you, if you are a believer, and may it cause us to open our mouths and proclaim the Gospel.
I just completed my final paper for the first semester of the Men’s Development Program. This one was on a book by John Piper called Let the Nations be Glad. See paper below…
Moving from Master Plan of Evangelism, to Total Church, to Let the Nations be Glad, I see how God’s design for mission is applied to our relationships with individuals, groups, and ultimately the world. I know this exposure is going to be of tremendous value in the ministry God has for me.
While, I’m sure, there are other books that exhaustively cover the theology of mission, starting with the Trinity, and yet other books that cover strategy, Piper’s book has to be of paramount value in understanding the purpose of missions. There were a few theological assertions made in this book, some familiar, some new, that were used to inform, encourage, and convict the reader.
One of the things I like about Piper is his ability to bring clarity to theological issues, using loads of Scripture and a logic that you can follow. On the flipside, he also has verbose tendencies. I mention this because he comes out of the gates and reveals two of his big three assertions in the first few sentences of the book, and then somehow stretches them out over 200 plus pages! His big three assertions in this book, in my opinion, are: a) missions is not the ultimate goal of church; worship is, b) missions exists because worship doesn’t, and, of course, c) God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him. Since assertion C has been covered extensively in previous papers, I’ll just focus on A and B.
To say that missions is not our ultimate goal is simply another way of saying that God is not an idolater. We reflect our Creator, and we know that His greatest delight is in Him being God. So, our greatest delight must also be in God being God. Delighting in Him is our ultimate goal, missions is one of our means. To elevate the means above the goal would be to miss the point completely, and lead to idolatry. If God were to do this, He would be an idolater, and so would we. This is the theology and logic that I’m talking about. He protects the dignity of missions while, appropriately, reminding the reader that loving and worshipping God is ultimate.
The second assertion is like the first, in that there is a distinct correlation between worship and missions. Again you can see the theology and logic play out: if worship of God existed among all people groups, missions would be obsolete (Matt. 24:14); if missions exists, it means that worship among all people groups does not. In fact, he says, “It [missions] is a temporary necessity. But worship abides forever.” I believe this assertion is the most succinct answer to the question of why missions exists, so long as you add the tagline that God deserves and has ordained that all people groups worship Him (Acts 1:8; Rev. 5:9,10). This way you answer the question of why missions exists (because worship doesn’t), and you answer why this is important (because God deserves and has ordained that He will be worshipped by all people groups).
When Piper begins to move into the means by which both missions happens and how God receives worship and glory in missions, he uses language that has been very helpful to me in describing the Christian life. He says, “Life is war.” It is more than this, but when it comes to our mission on earth, the spiritual powers we are up against, and what’s at stake, we are certainly at war. Praise God that we are in the winning camp! I found great encouragement in Piper’s reminder that God has secured victory. Multiple times in the book he reminds the reader that because God is committed to the glory of His name among the nations, and He is committed to the mission of the church, and because His purposes never fail, the mission of the church will never fail. We know that God will go before us in our missionary efforts to build His church (Matt. 16:18), and we know from history that after twenty centuries, the world just can’t seem to get rid of Jesus. All of creation is His (Col. 1:16,17; Heb. 1:3), and His purposes will not be frustrated.
This wartime mentality helps me to put mission and prayer in perspective. The degree to which we pray is the degree to which we understand mission. Prayer is an open admission that we are not God and that He is, and that we need Him for everything. Piper, I think borrowing the concept from C.S. Lewis, calls prayer our “wartime walkie-talkie”. It is one of our ways of staying connected with headquarters and asking for all we need to accomplish our mission. This challenges me in both the mode and content of my prayers. I think that when we grasp the severity of our situation, our prayers will absolutely change. We are in a spiritually austere economy, and our prayers should reflect this.
Prayer, however, is not the end or means of missions. When it comes to our responsibilities as missionaries, Piper reminds us of our calling to declare and demonstrate the gospel. This is a banner that is not unfamiliar at the Austin Stone. He says that this is, “the work of missions.” The story he told of Joseph, the Masai Warrior, moved me to tears. It was incredible see the gospel lived out in both the declaration (him going door-to-door, telling everyone about Jesus) and the demonstration (coming back to his village after severe beatings, to love them and again tell them the gospel message). I lost it emotionally when I read the line, “The entire village had come to Christ.”
In fact, the whole chapter on suffering was moving to me. There has always been something about the act of sacrifice, which has moved me, and I believe this was one of the means by which He wooed me to Himself. There is no greater sacrifice than Jesus, and no greater cause than His name. The afflictions we face in His name are for our good and His glory, displaying to the world that He is treasured above all else and worthy to be praised.
Do I consistently live like this is true? Hardly. In my life, I witness a vain and empty worship, a fear of Hell rather than a love for Jesus, and a desire for the gifts of the King rather than the King Himself. The only hope for believers and unbelievers alike is Jesus. My prayer for my life is that He would continue to transform my heart, that my desires would be more like His desires, and that through relying on Him I might show the world that He is to be treasured above all else. My prayer for missions is that Christians around the globe, including myself, will be reminded of our mission on earth and be compelled by worship to join the fight, that the nations would be glad and God be glorified.
I’ve recently been reading The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul with my Wednesday night bible study guys, and we’ve all been challenged to think more deeply and hold with higher reverence the holiness of our God.
Last night we had a very healthy discussion about God’s justice and mercy, which I found very humbling. Below are some of the main points I took from the reading and our discussion.
- The Old Testament law is one of astonishing mercy, not injustice from a malicious God. How could this be? He’s always killing people in the OT – men, women, and children!
- “The soul who sins is the one who will die” (Ezek. 18:4). The penalty for sin, from the beginning, has been death. The right to life is forfeited by sin. Every act of sin is treason against an infinite, holy, and just God. The appropriate response to this treason is death. Yet here we are eating, sleeping, working, breathing, carrying on. How could a just God allow rebels, who have defamed His perfect name, to go on living??
- Mercy. God is full of justice and mercy. We live and breathe and eat only by His mercy, because He allows us to. This merciful patience is designed to lead us to repentance. “The most mysterious aspect of the mystery of sin is not that the sinner deserves to die, but rather that the sinner in the average situation continues to exist.”
- Our tendency, however, is to feel entitled to God’s mercy and grace. Entitled. As if He owed us a good life. As if grace and mercy is something anyone can deserve! The nature of grace and mercy is that we DON’T deserve them! When we talk about “deserving” something, we’re talking about justice – something earned. So, when things don’t go our way, we feel that God is being unjust in not giving us mercy.
- If ever anyone would have had the “right” to complain about “injustice” it was Jesus. He lived a perfect life, yet what did he receive? The most violent display of wrath and justice the world will ever know – the Cross. If we should be outraged, it should be with the Cross.
- But for the joy set before Him, Christ endured the cross. His sacrifice sets before us the same joy. What mercy! Rebels redeemed by the justice and mercy of the Cross! What an intersection, what unfathomable love! When there was no way – when justice demanded death – God made a way, through mercy, by murdering His perfect and innocent Son in our place – cleansing us of our sins AND giving us right standing before God.
Should we be outraged at the Cross? Absolutely.
Outraged that it was not us.