"Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands.
They have mouths, but do not speak;
eyes, but do not see.
They have ears, but do not hear;
noses, but do not smell.
They have hands, but do not feel;
feet, but do not walk;
and they do not make a sound in their throat.
Those who make them become like them;
so do all who trust in them.
O Israel, trust in the LORD!"
Psalm 115: 4-9
"It is a fundamental truth of Scripture that we become like whatever or whomever we worship. When Israel worshipped the gods of the nations, she became like the nations-bloodthirsty, oppressive, full of deceit and violence. Romans 1 confirms this principle by showing how idolaters are delivered over to sexual deviations and eventually to social and moral chaos. The same dynamic is at work today. Muslims worship Allah, a power rather than a person, and their politics reflect this commitment. Western humanists worship man with the result of degrading every whim of the human heart is honored and exalted and disseminated through the organs of mass media. Along these lines, Psalm 115:4-8 throws brilliant light on Old Covenant history and the significance of jesus' ministry. After describing idols as figures that have every organ of sense but not sense, the Psalmist writes, 'Those who make them will become like them, everyone who trusts in them.' By worshipping idols, human beings become speechless, blind, deaf, unfeeling, and crippled-but then these are precisely the afflictions that Jesus, in the Gospels, came to heal!" Peter Leithart, "Transforming Worship," Foundations 38 (Spring 1997): 27.
"There is something profoundly hypocritical about praising God for God's might deeds of salvation and cooperating at the same time with the demons of destruction, whether by neglecting to do good or by actively doing evil. Only those who help the Jews may sing the Gregorian chant, Dietrich Bonhoeffer rightly said, in the context of Nazi Germany...Without action in the world, the adoration of God is empty and hypocritical, and degenerates into irresponsible and godless quietism."
Miroslav Volf, "Reflections on a Christian Way of Being-in-the-World," in Worship: Adoration and Action, 211.
Cornelius Plantinga touches on some of the sins of our present age.
"If we know the characteristic sins of the age, we can guess its foolish and fashionable assumptions- that morality is simply a matter of personal taste, that all silences need to be filled up with human chatter or background music, that 760% of the American people are victims, that it is better to feel than to think, that rights are more important than responsibilities, that even for children the right to choose supersedes all other rights, that real liberty can be enjoyed without virtue, that self-reproach is for fogies, that God is a chum or even a gofer whose job it is to make us rich, or happy, or religiously excited, that is it more satisfying to be envied than respected, that is is better for politicians and preachers to be cheerful than truthful, that Christian worship fails unless it is fun."
Cornelius Plantinga Jr., Not the Way It's Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin (Grand Rapids: Edrdmans, 1995), 126-127.
"Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves,
'we have Abraham as our Father,' for I tell you,
God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham."
In this passage, John the Baptist is speaking to the Pharisees and Sadducees as they came to him to be baptized. John's message to the religious leaders was clear (like it was clear to the other people he preached to in Matthew 3:1-2). They needed to repent. In this case, it meant repenting from their presuming upon God. What exactly was their presumption ?
According to the passage, the Pharisees and Scribes assumed their position with God based on their religious heritage. They presumed that they were children of God because they were from the same bloodline as Abraham. They were good with God because of their tradition.
I love the gospel because it speaks to each of us in our self-inflated efforts to gain God's acceptance. It bids us to repent; to literally turn from trusting ourselves, to trusting in Christ. To those who think they are good with God because they are moral people, the message of repentance is that we could never be good enough to earn God's acceptance. In fact, the only one who did that was Jesus. Therefore, we must turn from our own moral record and trust Christ's moral record on our behalf. To those who try to be their own god, the message is repent. Turn from trusting yourself as god and turn to the one true and living God. To those who think they are good with God because they come from a rich religious tradition, God's message is repent. Your religious heritage cannot save you; only I can. So, stop trusting in yourself and turn to trust in me. Don't assume you are a true child of Abraham and thus a child of God because of your families religious tradition.
This makes me ask, in what ways do I presume upon God? In what ways do I think my self-efforts earn my acceptance with God. To me, I can imagine this passage saying something like, "Do not presume to yourself that you are a child of God just because you go to seminary, or because you are an active member at a church, or because you are in ministry."None of those are bad things. However, when we trust in these 'things' to give us acceptance before God, they are wrong. The gospel is that we are only accepted by God by grace through faith. It is Christ's finish work that gains our acceptance. There is nothing we could ever do to earn it. To attempt to do so, is to minimize Jesus Christ as our Savior. This is what this passage demands we repent of. Join me in doing so.
"When you love the answer from God more than you love God, the answer will actually take you away from God." --Darrin Patrick
Think about it. When we desire something God can give us over and above God himself, getting what we want can actually be the worst thing for us. This is idolatry; cherishing the gift above the giver, the creature over the Creator. We think that getting what we want is good, but in reality, it separates from God.
"Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity,
to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves,
because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie
and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator"
"People that make a difference in the world are not people who have mastered a lot of things. They are people who have been mastered by a very few things, that are very, very great." ~John Piper
I love listening to this 1998 sermon by John Piper in which he delivers this quote. I listen to it before every football game. It gets me pumped up to live a life passionately following Jesus. It always makes me ask the questions, "What am I gripped by? What am I mastered by?" As Piper points out, the greatest thing we can be mastered or gripped by is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It's what we were made for.
There are a million things that compete for our hearts affections. Every second of everyday they pry us away, promising a false sense of satisfaction, joy and rest. I see in my own life how easily my heart is gripped by things other than Christ.
I need to be reminded of the ultimate glory that we were made for as humans. We were made for the glory of God. My prayer is that my life vividly shows that I am gripped solely by Jesus Christ. He is my life. He is my only boast. My life doesn't count for anything, if only I can finish my course and display the grace of my Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:24).
When it's all said and done, it won't matter how much you have or know. What will matter is whose you are. What will matter is what you spent your life gripped by.
From the Epilogue of Jonathan Dodson's, "Gospel-Centered Discipleship." This was too good not to post.
"One day the fight will be over. Faith will become sight. Our image will be perfectly aligned with Christ's image. Our affection for Christ will be so strong that it will be chief among ten thousand. All competitors for his attention will bow before him, and we will recover a childish, yet mature delight that will never cease to thrill our souls. Every act will be a natural act of obedience sparked by joy. The warnings will fade and the promises will be fulfilled. Threats will no longer be necessary and rewards will abound. The Spirit will have full sway in our gladdened hearts as we live forever in Spirit-led worship. We will no longer lean toward performance or license. The gospel will be central forever. Our conversions will be complete, our community characterized by love, and our mission colored in worship. We will no longer know our sin, fight our sin, or struggle to trust our Savior. Until then, may God grant us his sovereign grace to fight the good fight of faith, for our joy, and for his eternal glory."
Growing in the gospel includes fighting for a sense of true confidence. Pride says trust in your accomplishments, your awards, your approval for worth. Pride says you should have confidence based on your performance.
The gospel says that your confidence should come from the performance of another (Jesus). The gospel says your pride shouldn't be in yourself, your moral record, your job performance, your financial security, etc....Rather, your pride should be in the cross. Your only boast should be in the cross. The gospel says our sufficiency comes from Christ, and Christ alone.
"Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God.
Not that we are sufficient ourselves to claim anything as coming from us,
but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient." 2 Corinthians 3: 4-6
*Much of this is taken from Jonathan Dodson's "Gospel-Centered Discipleship"
Continuing yesterday's post, let's consider the promise of vanity. At the heart of vanity is the fight for true worth and beauty. We believe if we are attractive and beautiful, then we will have worth. However, as Jonathan Dodson points out, "Instead of relying on vanity for worth, consider the beauty of God."
"What we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears
we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is." 1 John 3:2
In the case of vanity, turning from the promises of sin to the promises of Christ means turning to God's beauty and resting in the beauty you have in him. It is turning from cheap beauty to true beauty. In fact, as humans, the pinnacle of our beauty can only be found in Christ. He is the perfection of beauty. The gospel is good news, because Jesus Christ came and took our ugliness upon himself, so that through faith in him, we could be clothed in his never ending true beauty.
Vanity says: "Perform beautifully and you will have worth."
The gospel says: "Jesus performed beautifully for you; therefore, in Jesus you have never-ending worth."
*Much of the above is taken from Jonathan Dodson's, "Gospel-Centered Discipleship"
At the heart of sin is attempting to put something in the place of God. Let's take the example of sexual lust. According to Jesus, sexual lust is clearly a sin,
"But I say to you that everyone who looks at a women with lustful intent
has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Matthew 5:28
A common misconception of both Christians and non-Christians alike is to assume that sexual lust is a sin because sex is bad in itself. This couldn't be further from the truth. Sexual lust is a sin because it is taking something that God made for our good, and perverting it. Sexual lust is a sin because it is looking to find our ultimate need for intimacy in sex. It is trusting in sex to fill a void only God was meant to fill.
Sexual lust promises a false intimacy. Lust says, "Long for what you cannot have and you will be happy."
The gospel promises true intimacy. The gospel says, "Rejoice in what you do have in Jesus, and you will be happy."
Our desire for intimacy is not wrong. But, it becomes sin when we look to fill this need with something other than God. Jonathan Dodson points out in his book, "Gospel Centered Discipleship" that we need to continually remind ourselves of the false promises of sin verse the true promises of Christ. Lust will never satisfy. It leaves us feeling empty and craving more. It never truly quenches. Jesus truly satisfies. He delivers on his promises.
*much of the above was taken from Jonathan Dodson's, "Gospel-Centered Discipleship."
A seemingly simple question of identity. Yet, I'd be curious as to how people would respond if you randomly stopped them and asked. Here is how King David might answer that question:
"The LORD is my shepherd"
For David, the answer is simple. Here is how I imagine David answering:
I am the LORD's. I belong to Him. I am a sheep and He is my shepherd.
Sheep may be dumb, stubborn, needy, weak, and often ignorant,
and I am not too proud confess that I am those things as well.
I may be dumb, but I am His. My shepherd leads me.
I may be stubborn, but I am His. My shepherd is infinitely compassionate towards me.
I may be weak, but I am His. My shepherd is my strength, and His strength is made perfect in my weakness.
I may be needy, but I am His. My shepherd provides for me. He carries me through.
I may be ignorant, but I am His. My Shepherd shows me the way and restores my soul.
My only hope in life and death, is that I belong to my Lord. My confidence is not in my ability as a sheep, but rather in the fact that my shepherd is the Good Shepherd, who lays down His life for His sheep. I am His.
"Repentance is the inseparable companion of faith. All the time that we walk by faith and not by sight, the tear of repentance glistens in the eye of faith. It is not a true repentance that does not come from faith in Jesus. It is not a true faith in Jesus that is not colored with repentance. Faith and repentance, like Siamese twins, are vitally joined together. We repent in proportion to our belief in the forgiving love of Christ. We rejoice in the fullness of Jesus' absolution in proportion to our repentance of sin and our hatred of evil. You will never value pardon unless you feel repentance. You will never taste the deepest portion of repentance until you know that you are pardoned. It may seem like a strange thing, and so it is. The bitterness of repentance and the sweetness of pardon blend in the flavor of every gracious life and make up an incomparable happiness."
At the heart of every human problem is our desire to put something in the place of God. In other words, the root of our sinful and broken nature is our idolatry. From the Garden of Eden until now, we have a way with taking created things and putting them in the place of Creator. We take good things God made, and put them in the place of God himself. The Apostle Paul puts it this way,
"They exchanged the truth about God for a lie,
and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator,
who is forever praised. Amen."
But what are these 'things' that we worship and serve in the place of God. I know I don't physically bow down before statues or images, so I'm good right? Well, as I've been packing up to move next week, I came across this sheet buried in my room. It has been very helpful to me in discerning what the idols of my heart really are. How you answer these questions are very insightful in pointing you to what you really serve/worship.
What do I worry about most?
What, if I failed or lost it, would cause me to feel that I did not even want to live?
What do I use to comfort myself when things go bad or get difficult?
What do I do to cope? What are my release valves? What do I do to feel better?
What preoccupies me? What do I daydream about?
What makes me feel the most self-worth? Of what am I the proudest? For what do I want to be known?
What do I lead with in conversations?
Early on, what do I want to make sure other people know about me?
What prayer, unanswered, would make me seriously think about turning away from God?
What do I really want and expect out of life? What would really make me happy?
God created us for himself. We are made in His image. We were made to know and be known by God. Sin deforms this image. It deforms the entirety of our being. It severs the intended Creator/creation relationship we were made for. It causes us to hide rather than be known. A great reminder that the only remedy for this deformation is not moral reformation or behavior modification. We don't need an external band-aid or a temporary fix-up. We don't need a mask to where, so as to deceive everyone into thinking that we really aren't broken creatures; we aren't really deformed. What we do need is the gospel. What we need is to be re-made. What we need is new birth. The only remedy for sin is to be transformed by Jesus. We need new hearts. Only Jesus can re-make us as God's image bearers. Only the one who is in fact the perfection of God's image can transform us and bring us back to what we were created for. Good advice isn't good enough. We need new life. We need Jesus.
Thank you to Danny Hindman for bringing this article to my attention. I just read most of it (a forewarning that is pretty long and thorough).
Author David Garner calls into question the moral relativism of our culture and some of the underlying issues regarding the Sandusky scandal. I recommend taking the time to read this, if not taking a few minutes to skim over his arguments.
"As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you in holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, 'You shall be holy, for I am holy.' And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot."
1 Peter 1: 14-19
In this passage, Peter is calling his readers to godly obedience and holy living. He sets the bar pretty high, calling his readers to a holiness that parallels that of God. This leaves me wondering, "how in the heck could I ever be that obedient and that holy?" If you know yourself, you will know that being obedient to God's perfect standard is more than difficult.
I love this passage because it sets this radical call to be holy in context. What is the means by which we are able to be holy and obey God? How do we break away from our sinful patterns in which we once lived? Peter starts the passage off by saying, "As obedient children". We obey because we are children. Our identity shift from spiritual orphans to beloved children of God.
My college football coach used to always say, "Rules without relationship equals rebellion. Rules with relationship equals results."I think there is a lot of truth to that. Without a proper relationship with God, our default will always be rebellion. In the gospel, we are able to obey because of our new relationship with God. We obey, because,as God's children, He loves us. In fact, he couldn't possibly love us, or be more delighted in us that he already is. The reason is because we were ransomed in Christ. Not only did this act of ransom (Jesus dying on the cross as the ransom penalty for our sins) demonstrate God's love towards us, it also connects us and brings us into a relationship with him. It secures our place as his children. We now have the right to adopted as God's children. Further, the same way the Father views the Son (Jesus), he now views us.
So, this is why Peter starts by saying, "As obedient children." It's as if he is saying, "because you have been made God's children, because you are united to Him, because God is your perfect Father who loves you, because Christ has ransomed you, go and obey. Because you are in God's family, you are now able to resemble the holiness of your Father."
This is good news for someone like me who constantly falls on my face. This is good news for someone who tends to view my obedience before God as a try out to be on God's team. The truth is, I'm already God's child. I already made the team. And me making the team wasn't contingent upon my performance, but because Jesus picked me and ransomed me so that I could be participate.
Here is a great excerpt from Jonathan Dodson's, "Gospel Centered Discipleship." In this excerpt, he is referring to the motion picture, "Fight Club", written by Chuck Palahnuik.
"Fight Club does depict the struggle to recover identity in a post-modern, media saturated world. It shows us that the world is charged with bogus images of what it means to be truly human. In underground fight clubs, groups of men meet after hours in basements and back alleys to fight one another barefoot, bare chested, and bare fisted. It's a bloody ordeal.
In a speech just prior to a fight club, Tyler Durden charges the men, 'We are the middle children of history, man. No purpose or place. We have no great war, or great depression. Our great war is a spiritual war. Our great depression is our lives. We've all been raised by television to believe that one day we'll all be millionaires and movie gods and rock stars-but we won't.'
In this speech, Durden pinpoints something that should confront Christians every day-the great depression of a life lived apart from a noble cause. Christians are tempted daily to believe the empty promises of the millionaire, movie god, and rock star lifestyles. We are tempted to believe that if we had a lithe more money, power, notoriety, respect, beauty, influence, or success we would be truly happy. We need to fight to believe in something better. Palahnuik's Fight Club was an attempt to fill a void left by the Church. In an interview he comments, 'I started to recognized that, in a way, support groups were becoming the new church of our time-a place where people will go and confess their very worst aspects of their lives and seek redemption and community with outer people in a way that people used to go to church...'
God is calling us to recover and redeem this confessional, redemptive, and communal role of the church. He is calling us out of our depressive, self-centered lives into the rewarding fight of faith, out of the great depression into a great spiritual war."
"And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.
I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear me forever,
for their own good and the good of their children after them.
I will make with them an everlasting covenant,
that I will not turn away from doing good to them.
And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.
I will rejoice in doing them good,
and I will plant them in this land in faithfulness, with all my heart and all my soul."
Jeremiah 32: 38-41
I saw this verse on Scotty Smith's blog this morning and was simply amazed. God's love for us is almost unbelievable. God chooses to make us his people. He lovingly changes our hearts, so that we can walk in his ways. He unconditionally binds himself to us in a covenant, to which he is unwavering in his commitment. He constantly is good to us. He keeps us from turning to other gods. Further, God DELIGHTS to do all of this for us! It is his good pleasure to bestow love upon his children. And, he loves us with all of his heart and soul. Now, that is simply amazing. I need some more of that!
"When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam's sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned...But there is a difference between Adam's sin and God's gracious gift (Christ). For the sin of this one man, Adam, brought death to many. But even greater is God's wonderful grace and his gift of forgiveness to many through this other man, Jesus Christ. And the result of God's gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man's sin. For Adam's sin led to condemnation, but God's free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins. But even greater is God's wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ." Romans 5:12-17
OK, there is a ton of weighty (no pun intended) stuff in this short passage and a lot you could talk about. One thing that sticks out to me as I read this is the contrast between life in Adam and life in Christ. The New Testament is constantly drawing a distinction between the two. Our life in Adam is defined by sin and an inability to obey. The result, as Paul points out in this passage is inevitable death. We are all by nature descendants of Adam, and under him, we will all die.
Here is where the good news of the gospel comes in. Jesus comes to save us from the reign of sin and death, and give us completely new life. We are either in the old life, under Adam, and under sins condemnation, or we are under Christ, and have received new life.
I love this contrast, because this is not what most people hear from the pulpits on a given Sunday. It is our tendency to turn the gospel into mere life improvement rather than completely new life. Jesus did not come to improve the old Adam. He came to make man completely new. He came to be the new Adam, where all those who believe in him, now become under His reign. The result of His work is eternal life, and a righteous standing before a good and Holy God.
To prove my point about contemporary Christianity choosing to preach a mere "life improvement gospel," take a look at some of the titles of best selling Christian books from the last several years.
Your Best Life Now Become a Better You Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions Battlefield of the Mind: Winning the Battle in Your Mind
Not to knock on any of these books (I haven't read any of them), but I think they get my point across. We love hearing a message that we are good and that all we need is a couple steps so we can be even better. It is unfortunate that so many pastors are swayed by people's itching ears rather than giving the truth we so desperately need. We need to hear that we are broken and insufficient in ourselves. That in our own strength, we will never be enough. What we need is Jesus. We need to hear that Jesus didn't come to make us "better", but to make us completely new. Jesus didn't come so that we can be "fans" of him and use him to get something that we want out to life. He came to turn our lives upside down. And the good news is that through Christ's finished work, we can be redeemed from the old self. We can be made new. By God's grace, we can live this new life.
What does it mean to "commune" with someone. Theologian John Owens defines communion as, "the sharing of good things between persons who are mutually delighted being cemented together by some union."
Coming across these words, I had to pause for a moment and realize the absolutely astounding glory that this statement implies. God, being the perfection of Beauty, infinitely glorious and lovely, was delighted to be cemented together with us. The infinite willingly became united to the finite. God, being the definition of love, bound himself to the loveless. The Holy One has united himself to sinners. This is the beauty of the gospel. Jesus came in the flesh, becoming finite, so that we may live forever. Jesus, the one who is altogether lovely, emptied himself and died for the unlovely, so that we could be made lovely. The Holy One took the ultimate punishment for sin, so that he could clothe sinners in his robe of righteousness.
In many Christian circles, growing in the Christian life is often systematized into some kind of formula, or deduced to some form of behavior modification. However, I think the simplest way to think about the Christian life is to think about it in terms of growing in our communion with God. It means going deeper and deeper into the mutual delight that God has in us. This means recognizing more and more the ways that we fall short, sin, disobey, look for satisfaction in idols etc, and in turn, recognizing the way in which Jesus Christ has accomplished our redemption in his life, death and resurrection. It means resting in our union with Christ, trusting him, depending on him, and looking to him as our source of life. It is truly amazing that God desires to commune with undeserving creatures. Yet, this is the beauty of grace.
"If you love me, you will keep my commandments." John 14:15
I'm struck by how often the Bible appeals to our delight as one of the many reasons we should obey Christ. In this verse, Jesus is essentially telling us that we should obey out of the love we have for him. Because we delight in our Savior, we should freely and joyfully obey. Obedience doesn't need to be a painstaking duty. Rather, when we see all that we have in Christ, and are grounded in his unfailing love for us, it starts to become the beat of our heart. I'm praying for more obedience out of genuine joy.
Regardless of who we are, or what walk of life we are in, everybody fights for something. Some of us fight for an image. Some of us fight for approval. Some of us fight to be heard. Others fight to have control. Whatever it is, we are all fighting for something.
The New Testament is filled with imagery of fighting. However, for those who have new life in Christ, the call to fight shifts drastically. Whereas before, we tirelessly fight for our own identity, with Christ, the call is to fight to believe that Jesus is our new identity. Further, we must daily fight to believe that in Jesus, everything we long for and desire, we have in Him. Christians are called to keep fighting to believe in Jesus.
We must fight because this is not easy. How easily do I go back to believing the lies of sin and idolatry! Sin says Jesus isn't enough. Sin tells us the idols of our hearts are what we really need. If I only I had that one thing then life would be OK. I'll be satisfied if I had more money, or if I gain the acceptance of this circle of people, or if I am successful professionally then I'll have people's respect and have joy. Or, if I get a girlfriend/boyfriend I'll find the love I'm looking for. I need to fight to believe the gospel over these idolatrous lies every single day.
The truth is that our hearts were meant to find satisfaction in God and God alone. Our hearts were fashioned in his likeness, and they will be restless until they rest in Him (Augustine). Even though I know this is true, my heart drifts towards my idols every day. Because of that, the Bible calls us to fight to believe, to fight for our joy in Christ. Jonathan Dodson summarizes:
"Disciples of Jesus are called to fight, not in physical or virtual combat, but for the noble cause of everyday faith in Jesus...We fight to believe that Jesus is more precious, satisfying, and thrilling than anything this world has to offer. This is faith in the gospel-the grand announcement that Jesus has defeated sin, death, and evil through his own death and resurrection and is making all things new, even us."
Jonathan Dodson, Gospel-Centered Discipleship (Crossway, 2012), 59-60.
"When a man really gives up trying to make something of himself-a saint, or converted sinner, or a churchman, a righteous or unrighteous man,....when in the fullness of tasks, questions, success or ill-happenings, experiences or perplexities, a man throws himself into the arms of God...only then he wakes up to Christ"
First, I have been pretty lax in posting this summer. I'm hoping that will change as I get into more of a routine with the school year. On another note, I love this line from Bonhoeffer and am thankful for such a great reminder this morning. So often, we turn the Christian life into making something of oneself. For me, being in seminary, and working in full time ministry, "making myself" in these capacities is often the criteria for which I determine my identity and life. This inevitably leads to a roller coaster of emotional and spiritual highs and lows. When I am doing well at these or am "making something of myself", I feel good. When circumstances aren't as favorable, I'm a wreck. It leaves me feeling like nothing I do is enough. It leaves me feeling like a spiritual orphan, who is tirelessly running on a treadmill in order to earn his Father's approval. My worth depends on my performance.
The gospel offers us rest from this tireless spiritual treadmill. The gospel offers us a peace that surpasses understanding. In the gospel, we have a secure identity as a child of God. We no longer have to earn approval, because in Christ, we are already approved. Our significance no longer depends on our performance, because Christ performed for us. This is freedom. Yet, I am not free to disobey, but am rather freed in order to delight in my Heavenly Father and serve him. This is true life! And as Bonhoeffer says, we only come awake to this life when we finally give up on trying to make something of our self, and throw ourselves wholeheartedly into the arms of God.
Greg Breazeale is senior pastor at Metro East Baptist Church in Wichita, KS. He and his wife Heather have two sons, Cross and Rhyse. He blogs at yearnforgod.org.
The phrase Gospel-centered gets much use these days. Books, blogs, and articles on what it means to be Gospel-centered seem to pop up every day. My aim here is to wrestle a bit with what Gospel-centeredness looks like when it comes to leading an organization such as a church, a bank, a school, etc.
What does the Gospel-centered leader (GCL) look like? How do they function day to day?
How does the Gospel bear weight on how leaders make decisions, hire and fire, and cast vision?
Here are a few qualities of a Gospel-centered leader.
They Love The Gospel
GCL’s love the Gospel. They love to talk about it, sing about it, and tell it to others. The death and resurrection of Jesus, and their union with Him moves their heart like nothing else. They never tire of hearing the Gospel or preaching it to themselves. The Word of Christ (Colossians 3:16) dwells deeply and richly in them. They define themselves as people loved by God in and through the Person and Work of their Lord Jesus Christ. Their identity, value, worth, and significance—their life is found in Him. Everything must begin here. If you miss this, you will end up using the Gospel to make a name for yourself rather than using the Gospel to spread the fame of Jesus.
They Invite Critique
GCL’s know that it took God in the flesh dying and rising again to save them. Therefore they know they are not beyond critique and error. They find ways to receive feedback and critique from their friends, spouse, staff, or co-workers. If their identity rests only Christ and if they are convinced that God is for them, as the Gospel clearly reminds them (Romans 8:32), then no amount of negative or positive feedback can shake their foundation. GCL’s work into their life and schedule other eyes and ears to help them lead as effectively as possible.
They Are Bold and Humble
The Gospel has shattered the pride of GCL’s, and yet empowered them to boldly trust in the grace and goodness of God when it comes to how they lead. They can make hard decisions without fearing the opinions of others but also admit their mistakes and seek restitution. They don’t slump their shoulders or puff out their chests. They are humble and strong, bold and gentle, confident and self-deprecating. Only by trusting the Gospel can one become this kind of leader.
They Bear More Affliction Than They Give Out
The great mystery of the Gospel is that the one who owed us nothing gave us everything. The one who knew no sin was made to be sin to make us righteous (2 Corinthians 5:21). The one who was rich became poor to make us rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). The blessed one became the Curse to lift the Curse from us (Galatians 3:18). Therefore the GCL will look and listen for ways to absorb affliction when he has every right to dish it out. Every leader has to bring affliction. They have to discipline, fire, layoff, cutback, reprimand, etc. But the Gospel shines brightly when leaders winsomely bear the bulk of the pain and blame, especially when they don’t have to. I am not suggesting that performance standards in the workplace or the church be lowered because of the Gospel. I am suggesting however that the Gospel calls us to, at times, shower underserved grace (and all grace is undeserved) on those we lead.
They Have No “Game Face”
The Gospel doesn’t give us a game face to lead. The Gospel gives us a new heart filled with love and affection. It is not one more weapon in our leadership utility belt. The Gospel enables us to weep when it is time to weep and rejoice when it is time to rejoice. GCL’s don’t have to worry if they are performing correctly in a particular situation since their heart is buried in the Gospel. They are free to take the blame in situations and give praise in others. Their ultimate worth and value does not hinge on results or failure because, to be honest, they are not that concerned with themselves. They are free to be honest about a particular decision or result, admit failures and mistakes, and boldly trust in the God who took on flesh and died for them to carry them forward. GCL’s can afford to look bad in front of the team. They don’t have to take themselves too seriously. They can take a risk as quickly as they can admit a mistake.
Wisest Fool In The Room
The Gospel reveals to us that we are not wise. We must become fools in order to embrace wisdom. We become fools by embracing the foolishness of the Gospel. When leaders realize that it took Christ dying and rising again to save them, they never walk into a meeting with a swagger. They walk in confidently to be sure, but their only confidence is in the Gospel. They know that walking in their own wisdom only leads to pain and frustration. Proverbs is clear that being wise in one’s own sight is worse than a fool. Therefore a GCL is always learning and growing both in the Gospel and in leadership.
Takes Blame and Gives Credit
The Gospel is about an exchange, Christ takes our sin and we get His righteousness. He gets the blame for what we’ve done and we get the credit for what He has accomplished. Leaders are at their best when they are taking the blame and giving the credit to others. When things go wrong they are the first to take responsibility. When things go well they are the first to give the credit to those who work, prayed, planned, and performed.
Becoming A More Gospel-Centered Leader
How does one become a more Gospel-centered leader? Many ideas come to mind, but let me leave you with one: Exult in the Gospel. Only the Gospel can make you more Gospel-centered. Books on the Gospel, songs about the Gospel, and the culture built around Gospel-centeredness are gifts from God. But they are only echoes and scents (to borrow from CS Lewis) of the Gospel, not the Gospel itself. It is possible to love the idea of Gospel-centered leadership but not love the Gospel. So dwell in the Gospel. Exult in it. Learn about it. Meditate over it. Be open to radical changes God wants to make in you. Let it shape how you serve and lead those entrusted to you.