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).
The natural man is a sinner because and only because he challenges God’s selfhood in relation to his own. In all else he may willingly accept the sovereignty of God; in his own life he rejects it. For him, God’s dominion ends where his begins. For him, self becomes Self, and in this he unconsciously imitates Lucifer, that fallen son of the morning who said in his heart, “I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God. . . . I will be like the Most High.”
Yet so subtle is self that scarcely anyone is conscious of its presence. Because man is born a rebel, he is unaware that he is one. His constant assertion of self, as far as he thinks of it at all, appears to him a perfectly normal thing. He is willing to share himself, sometimes even to sacrifice himself for a desired end, but never to dethrone himself. No matter how far down the scale of social acceptance he may slide, he is still in his own eyes a king on a throne, and no one, not even God, can take that throne from him.
Sin has many manifestations but its essence is one. A moral being, created to worship before the throne of God, sits on the throne of his own selfhood and from that elevated position declares, “I AM.” That is sin in its concentrated essence; yet because it is natural it appears to be good. It is only when in the gospel the soul is brought before the face of the Most Holy One without the protective shield of ignorance that the frightful moral incongruity is brought home to the conscience. In the language of evangelism the man who is thus confronted by the fiery presence of Almighty God is said to be under conviction. Christ referred to this when He said of the Spirit whom He would send to the world, “And when he is come, he will reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment.”
A.W. Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy (pgs. 21-22).
Outside of heaven, the power of God in its highest density is found inside the gospel. This must be so, for the Bible twice describes the gospel as “the power of God.” Nothing else in all of Scripture is ever described in this way, except for the Person of Jesus Christ. Such a description indicates that the gospel is not only powerful, but that it is the ultimate entity in which God’s power resides and does its greatest work. Indeed, God’s power is seen in erupting volcanos, in the unimaginably hot boil of our massive sun, and in the lightning speed of a recently discovered star seen streaking through the heavens at 1.5 million miles per hour. Yet in Scripture such wonders are never labeled “the power of God.” How powerful, then, must the gospel be that it would merit such a title! And how great is the salvation it could accomplish in my life, if I would only embrace it by faith and give it a central place in my thoughts each day.
Milton Vincent, A Gospel Primer (pgs. 14-15).
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).
To fail to associate ourselves in a lasting and committed way with the Head of the church by joining his body is surely a sign of ingratitude, whether from an uninformed or a dull heart. We who have the privilege of living in countries where we may freely join a local church should keep this admonition from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in mind:
It is by the grace of God that a congregation is permitted to gather visibly in this world to share God’s Word and sacrament. Not all Christians receive this blessing. The imprisoned, the sick, the scattered lonely, the proclaimers of the Gospel in heathen lands stand alone. They know that visible fellowship is a blessing. They remember, as the Psalmist did, how they went “with the multitude…to the house of God, with the voice of joy and praise, with a multitude that kept holyday” (Ps.42:4)…Therefore, let him who until now has had the privilege of living in common Christian life with other Christians praise God’s grace from the bottom of his heart. Let him thank God on his knees and declare: It is grace, nothing but grace, that we are allowed to live in community with Christian brethren.
Thabiti Anyabwile, What is a Healthy Church Member?, (pgs. 70-71) quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together.
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).
What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.
The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.
For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. This is true not only of the individual Christian, but of the company of Christians that composes the Church. Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God, just as her most significant message is what she says about Him or leaves unsaid, for her silence is often more eloquent than her speech. She can never escape the self-disclosure of her witness concerning God.
A.W. Tozer, Knowledge of the Holy (pg. 4).
When I fail to worship God as Savior, I am too casual about my sin and too focused on yours. Our relationships are often harmed when we try to atone for our own sins while condemning the other person for his.
Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp, Relationships: A Mess Worth Making (pg. 64).
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).
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).