gospel

Everyday Missionaries

Are you a missionary? I am. I’m not always a faithful missionary. I’m not always an effective missionary. But I am a missionary… and so are you. All who follow Christ are given the mission to make disciples as we go along the road of life. Some are sent overseas. Some are sent to unreached places. Some are freed up to do this vocationally. But we’re all sent into the world together as communities of missionaries (John 20:21).

We talk about this often with our church. We try to help everyone embrace their identity as a missionary and a vital member of a missionary community (Life Group). For some, this can seem overwhelming, so I want to offer a few practical ideas that can help us approach everyday life as everyday missionaries.

Be regulars
We’ve seen people become a part of our community through relationships built at stores, gyms, restaurants, bars, coffee shops, parks, hospitals and grocery stores. These relationships rarely develop through a single encounter. They grow over time and with regular interactions. Go to the same places for your regular routines. Go to the same coffee shop regularly and build a relationship with the baristas. Go to the same gym at the same time each week and build relationships. Go to the same library at the same story-time session weekly with your kids, and become a part of that community. Shop at the same grocery store at a regular time and go to the same check out each time. Be intentional about visiting the same places for your weekly activities. Get to know the people, remember their names, ask about their kids and their weeks and follow up next time you see them. Before long, you’ll find out that you’re becoming friends.

Build friendships
New friendships require time together — whether it is with your neighbors, coworkers or other people you have met along the road. Eat meals together, go to parks together, watch sporting games together, do hobbies together — just do something together that allows you to share your life, listen, learn and love. In our culture, people will recognize an agenda-driven, salesman approach to friendship. We must actually love people — whether or not they ever come to believe. When you are genuinely friends with someone, they will trust you and listen to your perspective more readily, and they will more readily share their true reasons for not yet believing.

“Show & Tell” the grace of God
As friendships grow, we must model honesty about our own brokenness. Most people imagine Christians to be either clean and put together or hypocrites, so they feel the need to pretend like they have it together. This proclivity to maintain a façade of righteousness hinders us from proclaiming and celebrating the grace of God. Because of God’s grace in Christ, we can be real about who we are — our struggles, our trials, our failures and our joys. We don’t want to boast in our sin, but we do want to be honest about it so that we can boast in the Cross where we have received grace. As friends begin to let us into their lives, we must show God’s grace to them as we accept them, and we must be bold to share with them the good news of God’s grace in Christ.

Invite friends into your community
Introducing unbelievers to your community of believing friends is one of the most neglected, yet important aspects of introducing people to Jesus. Practically, this is the same as building friendships, but it requires finding ways to build friendships with unbelieving friends and believing friends simultaneously. When people see your individual life and your love, they see one good person. When they meet your believing friends, they will (hopefully) meet a community of grace, a community of honest and broken people, a community of servants and a community that loves God’s truth. They will meet the Body of Christ. Your community displays God to the world because God is in you (i.e. y’all). When broken people are accepted by God’s people, they begin to understand that God will accept them too, because of Jesus. Often people come into a real relationship with God after first coming into a meaningful relationship with His people.

Pray like missionaries
If we are God’s missionaries, then we must pray like missionaries. We must pray for opportunities for ourselves and for one another. We must pray for readiness. We must pray for Spirit-filled love. We must pray for patience. We must pray for wisdom. We must pray for awakening. Unless God graciously acts, we will never see people come to new life in Christ. So, above all, we must pray for God to awaken our friends to the light of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Law & Gospel

If you’ve ever experienced feelings of accusation/guilt/shame/condemnation, then you’ve felt the power of the law. It reveals our brokenness, our sin, our bondage… and ultimately, our need. Need for what? It reveals our need for the liberation that we find in the Gospel of God’s Grace in Christ. When it comes to our growth as followers of Jesus, I can think of nothing more significant than coming to a practical understanding of the role of the law and the power of the Gospel.

Here’s a fantastic video with Tullian Tchividjian (Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church) and Jonathan Linebaugh (Professor of New Testament at Knox Theological Seminary) discussing the Law and the Gospel—what they are, what they do, and why it matters.

HT: Tullian Tchividjian

Book Report – What Is the Gospel?


In this two-part post, I’m going to review the excellent book “What Is the Gospel?” by Greg Gilbert.

Though we are submerged in a culture that is hesitant to communicate convictions with clarity, we as the church are commissioned to call people to repent and believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. However, how many of us Christians are able to clearly articulate what this gospel is?

I had the great privilege of recently reading Greg Gilbert’s What Is the Gospel? (2010 Crossway). If you’ve ever struggled with what the connection is between the gospel of the Kingdom proclaimed by Jesus himself (Matthew 4:23) and the gospel of Jesus that is typically explained by his life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension (1 Corinthians 15:3-5), this book wonderfully articulates the links between the two and gives the reader a deeper understanding and appreciation of what the gospel is all about.

Here, I have provided a chapter by chapter summary of Gilbert’s book, but might I recommend that you buy a copy, and then when you’re finished buy more to give to believer and unbeliever alike. We’ll go over the first five chapters today and the last three later this week.

Introduction:

“My sense is that far too many Christians would answer with something far short of what the Bible hold out as ‘the gospel of Jesus Christ.’” p.15

Simply put, Gilbert wonders aloud what contemporary evangelicalism’s grasp on the gospel actually is. He argues (successfully) that the ability to understand and articulate the gospel have severely diminished even within the evangelicalism.

Chapter One: Finding the Gospel in the Bible

“God. Man. Christ. Response.” p.32

Authority for defining what the gospel is can only be found in God’s word, though we can’t just rely on a simple word study of “gospel” to find a thorough explanation of it. New Testament writers may not even mention the word “gospel” in their articulation of it, but it is a prominent thread woven into thoughts and arguments of nearly all of the New Testament’s writings.

Chapter Two: God the Righteous Creator

“No, the Bible tells us that God is good. He knew what was best for his people, and he gave them laws that would preserve and increase their happiness and well-being.” p.42

“A common view of God is that he’s much like an unscrupulous janitor. Instead of really dealing with the world’s dirt—its sin, evil, and wickedness—he simply sweeps it under the rug, ignores it, and hopes no one will notice. In fact, many people cannot conceive of a God who would do anything else. ‘God judge sin?’ they say. ‘Punish me for wickedness? Of course he wouldn’t do that. It wouldn’t be loving.’” p.43

There are many modern day misconceptions about who God is. He is a Creator, but more importantly, He is our Creator. He made humanity and, therefore, has the authority to dictate how our existence ought to be. Since He is good, He does not just give us arbitrary rules. Regardless, we rebel. God has revealed himself as one who forgives, but He will deal with evil.

Chapter Three: Man the Sinner

“Most people have no problem at all admitting that they’ve committed sins (plural), at least so long as they can think about those sins as isolated little mistakes in an otherwise pretty good life—a parking ticket here or there on an otherwise clean record.”  p.54

Sin is the rejection of God’s rightful rule over humanity. It is something we are guilty of corporately, but also individually, and we will be held accountable. This is scary, because the end result of this is eternal separation from God in a place of conscious torment called Hell. We not only have a tendency to diminish this reality, but also sin itself. The examples of how we mischaracterize sin in this chapter are very helpful.

Chapter Four: Jesus Christ the Savior

Left to ourselves, we would all be a bunch of hell-bound sinners on account of our rejection of God’s rule, BUT God did not leave us there. Instead he sent his Son, Jesus Christ the righteous Davidic King to roll back the effects of the Fall (think miracles) in the inauguration of his Kingdom. However, this alone does not deal with the problem of sin, therefore, on top of being a righteous King, Jesus was also the suffering servant who was slain for our sin (shadowed by the Passover lamb).  Because he suffered in the body as a man, we now have access to God because we have a perfect representative. Not only that, but we have the hope of eternal life because of his vindicating resurrection.

Chapter Five: Response—Faith and Repentance

“Faith is not believing in something you can’t prove, as so many people define it. It is, biblically speaking, reliance. A rock-solid, truth-grounded, promise-founded trust in the risen Jesus to save you from sin.” p.74

“But because we will continue to struggle with sin until we are glorified, we have to remember that genuine repentance is more fundamentally a matter of the heart’s attitude toward sin than it is mere change in behavior. Do we hate sin and war against it, or do we cherish it and defend it?”  p.81

Rather than a belief in something totally devoid of any reality, faith is the ability to trust in the resurrected Jesus to save you from your sin. This is why one is “justified” by faith. In that exchange, belief in the complete work of Jesus and his perfect righteousness is attributed to you if you believe in him. It is righteousness that we couldn’t earn, so it had to be given to us. The other side of the coin is repentance. Repentance involves turning away from sin and turning to God, but in no way means that someone is now without sin. Rather, it is a reassignment of masters. So though we still struggle with sin, there is now a hatred of it and a fight against it. This will result in a life that bears fruit. True salvation cannot be devoid of either of these two things.

Be sure to check back later this week, when we’ll review the chapters that tie it all together. We’ll be looking at the Kingdom, the centrality of the cross, and the gospel’s power.

Our Former Sins for His Glory

“I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” 1 Timothy 1:12-15

Confessing our sin is indispensible to the Christian life.

I have found it interesting, yet unsurprising, how often the apostle Paul mentions his life prior to his experience on the road to Damascus. In addition to that which I quoted above, you can also see him make mention of it to the church of Corinth in his first epistle to them (1 Corinthians 15:9), he uses it as part of his defense before his accusers at the temple (Acts 22:4), in another defense he laid out before King Agrippa (Acts 26:9-11), again in his letter to the Galatian churches (Galatians 1:13), and in his letter to the Philippians (Philippians 3:6).

I find it interesting because this, for Paul, seems to be the one sin he mentions more than anything else. Undoubtedly there was still a sense of shame and an acknowledgment of his former waywardness that found its way into to his thinking on a regular basis. Or at least on a basis regular enough to cause him to write it to several churches and bring it up in several public addresses.

I say unsurprising, though, because we see this everywhere. Undoubtedly, the reason we know so much about Peter’s three-fold denial of the Lord was because he told people about it (Mark 14:66-72). Assuredly Thomas is known as the doubter today because he was known as the doubter among the apostles in his day (John 20:25). And we know that John and James themselves were arrogant (Mark 10:35-37) and violent men (Luke 9:52-55), and how could we find out unless they had shared these things?

In addition to that, though, my lack of surprise stems from the fact that we as Christians do the same thing today. There is not a true living saint who would not be able to disclose to you in some detail what his or her life was like before Jesus was first revealed to them in the beauty of the gospel. Even if that person attained a saving faith at a young age, the understanding of sin and its repercussions for a person’s life is indispensible to what the gospel is all about. It has been said that the only thing that we as Christians bring into our own salvation is the sin from which we need to be forgiven. It’s a striking way in which God makes for himself humble followers.

I get this sentiment from many places within the bible, but to keep it brief, just look how our opening passage ends, “The saying is trustworthy…Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am foremost.” There are a handful of these “sayings” throughout the pastoral epistles, but suffice it to say, they are oftentimes proverbs, verses from hymns, and brief doctrinal statements. What we have here is likely a fantastic truth wrapped within a colloquialism of the early church. We can assume that most of the members of the early church (like most members of the current church) were not great orators, yet since they had been so radically changed by the gospel they needed and even desired some way to articulate the gospel to an unbelieving world. I can imagine this saying falling from the lips of an early saint when approached by a family member, or friend, or neighbor, or hostile questioner when asked, “What’s so great about this Jesus?” to which our Christian brother or sister would be able to reply “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am foremost.”

I bring these topics up because I have recently encountered a number of situations that have forced me to come face to face with a good deal of my own shameful and largely regrettable past.

These occasions have forced me to consider the way in which I lived before and even in the midst of a very messy conversion experience. I’ve often found myself becoming nervous before visiting friends and former relations in these situations not because I was ashamed of the gospel, but because these were people who knew my sin and knew it well. And because my own conversion occurred over a protracted period of time, they were also there to see the way in which I misused the gospel and oftentimes denied it in my actions.

Unlike Paul, I might end up writing pages upon pages about the various sins that marked life prior to my coming to faith. For Paul it was sufficient to remark that he was a persecutor and a blasphemer, and my aim is not to diminish that. However, do we not at times feel the utter sinfulness of our sin, both past and present? Do we not sometimes lament over the way in which we denied the Lord? And do we not feel grief over doing those things that are so offensive to a holy, heavenly, perfectly loving Father?

In a way, I hope we do. I trust that these oftentimes rough feelings are evidence of the new heart that we receive as new covenant believers (Jeremiah 31:33, cf. Ezekiel 11:19-20).

On the other hand, we need not be ashamed of these things any longer. It was Christ who came to die for sinners. It’s the Son of God who bore the wrath of God for our sins. He took upon himself all of those things that separated us from our heavenly Father and now he grants us access to him (Romans 5:1-2). And on top of all that, God even redeems our former waywardness and shows that he can be exalted not only in spite of it, but even through it, as was Paul’s case. As was mine. As I hope is yours.

Consider, for a moment, the grace that caused personal change in the restoration of Peter, the revelation to Thomas, the Lord’s adulation of John, the execution of James, and the obligation that was given to Paul (John 21:15-19, John 20:26-29, John 13:23, Acts 12:2, Acts 9:16). Yet it is God who restores and redeems the former brokenness and brings good out the evil (Genesis 50:20, Romans 8:28).

As for me, God has been so gracious time and time again to use the mess that I made of things in coming to faith to allow me to witness to his surpassing grace and kindness. I have shared my story so many times and been told by unbeliever and believer alike that they were deeply moved by the story of what God had done in my life, and so often what he did it in spite of myself. God uses our former sins and gains glory through them.

I trust this is one reason Paul talks about his former sins repeatedly, and so perhaps we ought to also. We need not glory in our sin. We talk about these things not to shine any light on ourselves, but if we have truly been struck by the power of the gospel, we do it to show the surpassing mercy and grace that are found in God our Savior. And when we have received it, we desire all others to see it as well, regardless of what they knew about us beforehand. So I pray you come, and behold the Lamb of God, who takes away and works redemption through the sins of the world.

Gospel Centered Marriage

We have talked a lot about what it means to live a Gospel centered life, but sometimes it’s difficult to understand what that looks like in day to day life. That’s why I treasure resources that help us work through the practical outworkings of the Gospel in our daily lives. The following is taken from a book that works out this “Gospel-centeredness” in the context of marriage. The book is gold.

Gary and Betsy Ricucci, Love That Lasts: When Marriage Meets Grace (Crossway, 2006), pp. 22-23:

  • Because of the gospel, Christians have become new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17). Therefore, in our marriage, our past does not define us, confine us, or determine our future.
  • Because of the gospel, we are forgiven (Ephesians 1:7). Therefore we can live free of all guilt and condemnation for every sin, and we can trust that God, in his mercy, will be gracious to us.
  • Because of the gospel, we can forgive, just as Christ forgave us (Ephesians 4:32). Nothing done against us compares to our sin against God. Therefore all offenses, hostility, and bitterness between Christians can be completely forgiven and removed.
  • Because of the gospel, we are accepted by God (Romans 15:7). Therefore we are not dependent on a spouse for who we are or what we need.
  • Because of the gospel, sin’s ruling power over us is broken (Romans 6:6, 14). Therefore we can truly obey all that God calls us to do in our marriage, regardless of any circumstance or situation.
  • Because of the gospel, we have access to God through Christ (Hebrews 4:14-16). Therefore we can at any time take any need in our marriage to the One who can do all things.
  • Because of the gospel, we have hope (Romans 5:1-4). Therefore we can endure any marital difficulty, hardship, or suffering, with the assurance that God is working all to our greatest good (Romans 8:28).
  • Because of the gospel, Christ dwells in us by his Holy Spirit (Galatians 3:13-14). Therefore we are confident that God is always with us and is always at work in our marriage, even when progress is imperceptible (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24).
  • Because of the gospel, we have power to fight and overcome remaining sin, which continues to dwell and war within us (Romans 7:19-21, 24-25; Galatians 5:16-17). This indwelling enemy represents the essence of what is called the doctrine of sin.

HT: JT