Compelling Community

In his book, Love in Hard Places, Don Carson tells us, “Ideally… the church itself is not made up of natural ‘friends.’ It is made up of natural enemies. What binds us together is not common education, common race, common income levels, common politic, common ancestry, common accents, common jobs, or anything else of that sort….In this light, they are a band of natural enemies who love one another for Jesus’ sake.”

A church composed of natural friends says little about the power of the gospel. Yet the gospel-revealing community of natural enemies will require sacrifices of every aspect of our life together.

Jamie Dunlop and Mark Dever, The Compelling Community (pgs. 80-81).

The Counterintuitive Love of Christ

Having jettisoned the idea that we might ever be guilty before God and therefore need his justification, our culture has succumbed to the old problem of guilt in subtler ways that it has no means to answer. Today we are all bombarded with the message that we will be more loved when we make ourselves more attractive. It may not be God-related, and yet still it is a religion of works, and one that is deeply embedded. For that, the Reformation has the most sparkling good news. As Luther put it: ‘sinners are attractive because they are loved; they are not loved because they are attractive.’ Only this message of the counterintuitive love of Christ offers a serious solution.

Michael Reeves, The Unquenchable Flame (pg. 191).

I Deserve Death and Hell

When the devil throws our sins up to us and declares that we deserve death and hell, we ought to speak thus: ‘I admit that I deserve death and hell. What of it? Does this mean that I shall be sentenced to eternal damnation? By no means. For I know One who suffered and made satisfaction in my behalf. His name is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Where he is, there I shall be also.’

Martin Luther, quoted in The Unquenchable Flame by Michael Reeves (pg. 178).

Fear Not Devils

I have often sat down with wonder and delight, and admired how God made the very schemes which his enemies contrived, in order to hinder, become the most effectual means to propagate his gospel… The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent’s head. Fear not men. Be not too much cast down at the deceitfulness of your hearts. Fear not devils; you shall get victory even over them. The Lord has engaged to make you more than conquerors over all.

From a sermon from George Whitfield
Quoted in The Lamb Wins, by Richard Bewes (pg. 82).

There is My Righteousness

But on day, as I was passing in the field, and that too with some dashes on my conscience, fearing lest yet all was not right, suddenly this sentence fell upon my soul, ‘Thy righteousness is in heaven’; and methought withal, I saw, with the eyes of my soul, Jesus Christ at God’s right hand; there, I say, is my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was a-doing, God could not say of me, ‘He wants my righteousness,’ for that was just before Him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse; for my righteousness was Jesus Christ Himself, the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed, I was loosed from my afflictions and irons, my temptations had fled away; so that, from that time, those dreadful Scriptures of God left off to trouble me now; now went I also home rejoicing, for the grace and love of God.

John Bunyan, quoted in The Unquenchable Flame by Michael Reeves (pg. 175).

The Right Side of History

A gloomy view of culture leads to meanness. If we believe we are on the losing side of history, we slide into the rage of those who know their time is short. We have no reason to be fearful or sullen or mean. We’re not the losers of history. We are not slouching toward Gomorrah; we are marching to Zion. The worst thing that can possibly happen to us has already happened: we’re dead. We were crucified at Skull Place, under the wrath of God. And the best thing that could happen to us has already happened; we’re alive, in Christ, and our future is seated at the right hand of God, and he’s feeling just fine. Jesus is marching onward, with us or without us, and if the gates of hell cannot hold him back, why on earth would he be panicked by Hollywood or Capitol Hill? Times may grow dark indeed, but times have always been dark, since the insurrection of Eden. Nonetheless, the light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not, the darkness will not, the darkness cannot overcome it. The arc of history is long, but it bends toward Jesus.

Russell Moore, Onward (pgs. 203-204).

God and Country

The state may tolerate a vague, generic, nonthreatening religion, but there is, as one Revolution-era preacher put it, “nothing more obnoxious to an established religion than the gospel of Jesus Christ.” In the fullness of time, a spiritually-empowered Caesar will decide that gospel preaching shouldn’t happen, if it disturbs the commerce of the silversmiths of Artemis (Acts 19:21-41), and it always does. The kind of religion the state, any state, will support will always be a “God and country” civil religion that supports the agenda of the politicians. That’s true if we hand over the power to outlaw religious convictions and practices or if we expect the government to write prayers for our schools. Do we really believe that unregenerate people can approach God, without a Mediator, to pray? If not, why would we ask the government to force people to pretend to do so?

This sort of agenda can only exist in the illusion of an America that is itself born-again, through and through. That illusion is over, and happily so. Once a religion has become a means to an end, of national unity or public morality or anything else, it is no longer a supernatural encounter with God and is just another program. That’s why we ought to always be wary of government seeking to “bless” us with state-written “nondenominational” prayers or with direct funding for our religious initiatives (which inevitably cut out the gospel-centered heart of these initiatives). A Christless civil religion of ceremonial Deism freezes the witness of the church into something useless at best, pagan at best. Government-run doxology cannot regenerate a soul, or resurrect a corpse.

Russell Moore, Onward (pg. 149-150).

Baptism and the Gospel

Baptism reflects all three aspects of a disciple’s identity [rational, relational, and missional], with particular emphasis on missional. First, baptism is a sign that we have learned the gospel. It signifies our identification with Christ in his death as we are lowered into his “watery grave,” and identification with his life, where we are raised up into his resurrection life (Rom 6:4).

Second, we are baptized into two overlapping communities. The first is the divine community of the Trinity: “Baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matt 28:19). The second community is the church: “For in one spirit we were all baptized into one body” (1 Cor 12:13). Baptism results in a new spiritual family–the family of the Trinity.

Third, baptism is missional because it is the outcome of obedience to the Gospel Commission. If sent disciples don’t share the gospel in the power and authority of Jesus, then people don’t get to respond by repentance, faith and baptism.

In a sense, baptism is the end of the Gospel Commission and, at the same time, it is its beginning. Baptism begins our participation in wonderful gospel mission. Whenever someone is baptized, another disciple is sent in the power and authority of Jesus to join the mission of making disciples of all nations.

Jonathan K. Dodson, Gospel-Centered Discipleship (pg. 32-33).

Missional Living

So, first of all, Christians must be like their neighbors in the food they eat and clothes they wear, their dialect, general appearance, work life, recreational and cultural activities, and civic engagement. They participate fully in life with their neighbors. Christians should also be like their neighbors with regard to excellence. That is, Christians should be very good at what others want to be good at. They should be skillful, diligent, resourceful, and disciplined.

Second, Christians must be also unlike their neighbors. In key ways, the early Christians were startlingly different from their neighbors; it should be no different for us today. Christians should be marked by integrity. Believers must be known for being scrupulously honest, transparent, and fair. Followers of Christ should also be marked by generosity. If employers, they should take less personal profit so customers and employees have more pay. As citizens, they should be philanthropic and generous with their time and with the money they donate for the needy. They should consider living below their potential lifestyle level. Believers should also be known for their hospitality, welcoming others into their homes, especially neighbors and people with needs. They should be marked by sympathy and avoid being known as self-serving or even ruthless in business or personal dealings. They should be marked by an unusual willingness to forgive and seek reconciliation, not by a vengeful or spiteful spirit.

Timothy J. Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (pg. 282-283).

On the Shoulders of Giants

For most modern Christians, the intricacies of predestination, the precise mode of Christ’s presence in the eucharist, the arguments for and against infant baptism are matters of acute indifference. Concealed in such controverted points, however, are burning questions of life and death, questions about who God is, how divine revelation is imparted, what constitutes the true church. The four reformers we focus on in this book faced these and many other questions with an integrity and lived-out courage which we cannot only admire but also emulate, even if we cannot agree with all of their answers. Peter of Blois, a medieval theologian who died nearly three hundred years before Luther was born, expressed a sense of gratitude for the Christian writers of antiquity which should also characterize our attitude toward the reformers of the sixteenth century: “We are like dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants; thanks to them, we see farther than they. Busying ourselves with the treatises written by the ancients, we take their choice thoughts, buried by age and human neglect, and we raise them, as it were, from death to renewed life.”

Timothy George, Theology of the Reformers (pg. 19).