Greatness: My Birthday Post

Today is my birthday. I turn “21 for the second time”, or 42.  I’m nostalgic by nature, but my birthday is always a day I take to reflect; to look around and see who has stood the test of time, what i’ve done with the 364 previous days I’ve been given, and who I’ve become by those choices.  It’s not quite as melancholy as it sounds.

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My 80 mile commute this morning involved a lot of really cheesy 80’s music at high volumes, thoughts about what matters in life, and the decisions (good and bad) which have planted me where I now grow. I’ve had a great life so far; a childhood right out of a sitcom, surrounded by a supportive family; the opportunity to grow up in the awesome 80’s; great small-town schools and friends; and my ride through adulthood and family has been a true joy.  But as a guy working into his 40’s, the overriding thought this morning was a total middle-aged cliche… Greatness.

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What is greatness?  I’ve been thinking about his lately and have had some great conversations with some folks that I consider mentors.  I’ve asked friends and family.  And, in all honesty, I’ve checked a lot of the boxes:

I’m surrounded by family and friends who love me. I’m healthy. I’ve got the C-level position I’ve strived for. I’ve been blessed to be both mentored and mentor, and for all of this I’m truly grateful.

By most standards, I’m doing pretty well.  But as anyone who has crossed into middle age will tell you… there’s got to be more. Don’t get me wrong, I’m beyond grateful for how blessed I’ve been; to be born in a country where my hard work could lead to success, for the opportunities I’ve been given.. but if that checklist were all there was, it would leave me empty.

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When I was younger, I never understood the brooding athlete, angsty rock star, or the miserable hollywood starlet.  They had it all, money, success.. greatness.

When I take inventory of what actually fulfills, what makes life worth living, it doesn’t show up on any scorecard of the American Dream.

I heard a beautiful sermon recently which drove the point home:

In the 9th chapter of Mark, we see one of the greatest events of Christ’s ministry on earth; The Transfiguration:

[2] And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, [3] and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. [4] And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus.

(Mark 9:2-4 ESV)

You would think that would leave an impact, wouldn’t you? Peter, James, and John had just seen Jesus transfigured and Moses and Elijah as well.  As they rejoin the other disciples, they come upon a young boy who is possessed and Jesus heals him.  They then begin the walk to Capernaum.  When they arrive there, Jesus asks them what they had been arguing about on the way.  I would like to think that I would have been discussing the appearance of Elijah and Moses and what that was all about.  Maybe Jesus statement about being raised for the dead. At least the chaos of the young possessed boy.  But no, Jesus questions them and they are embarrassed to admit what they had been arguing about:

[33] And they came to Capernaum. And when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you discussing on the way?” [34] But they kept silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. [35] And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” [36] And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, [37] “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”
(Mark 9:33-37 ESV)

After being nothing more than passive spectators to Jesus miraculous works, they were arguing about who was greater among them.  Unbelievable.  I’m sure I would have been right in the middle of them, throwing my checklist out there too. But Jesus defines excellence for us in his response.

“If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” [36] And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, [37] “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”

Ouch. As one who has received absurd grace from God, I’m all too ready to share my awesomeness with others.  But that’s not it. That’s not how Christ defines greatness. In the middle of my self-focus and work at checking the boxes, it hits home… I’m called to be last of all and to be a servant.  When my pride rises up and says that I’ve got a different road to greatness through my gifts, abilities, or position….

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[3] Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. [4] Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. [5] Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, [6] who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, [7] but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. [8] And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. [9] Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, [10] so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, [11] and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

(Philippians 2:3-11 ESV)

God humbled Himself to be born a man. Had he come in great glory to rule it would have been condescension beyond belief.  But He came as a servant. God, a servant to man. If that weren’t enough, to be executed as a common criminal, facing the wrath of God in my place.

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That doesn’t sound right.  It sure doesn’t sound right in light of the American Dream. I don’t want to be a servant, I want to lead. I don’t want to sacrifice, I want to take. I don’t want to come last, I want to be first in line.  People aren’t celebrated for servanthood, they’re celebrated for accomplishment. Lord, let me be so awesome that they’ll want to get to you! (God forbid!)  And for that, I must repent.

I see in that a need for a major “halftime adjustment” for my life.  It cuts against every fibre of my being and runs counter to everything our culture values.  Servanthood is seen as weakness. You serve those who are greater than you, not less.  And this is the upside-down kingdom that Christ brings, for if He defined greatness as we do, I would remain a prisoner of sin.

Servanthood.

So, here I go. Into the second half.

Your servant to His glory,

Marc

Your Pastor Wants You to Marry a Prostitute?

I can almost hear it now. Picture the scene as lasers cut through the smoke. The blaring musics cuts out as the children’s pastor bounces onto the stage…

“Dare to be a Daniel!”   kids: YEAAHHHHHHH!

“Slay your giants!”    kids: YEAAAAHHHHHHH!

“Marry a Prostitute!”  kids: What’s a prostitute?

“Cook your food over poop!”  kids: MOMMY! HELP!

No, I haven’t completely lost it; I’m simply showing you the logical conclusion of some of the bad hermeneutics that are commonly used in the church. Here’s how we get it wrong:

1. Take a story about a heroic “bible character”

2. Make them the hero of the story.

3. Challenge the congregation to be that guy.

The problem?

1. That bible character was given objective marching orders from God.

2. The hero of that story, and of the bible, is Jesus. Jesus said it himself.

3. I’m not supposed to be that guy. God didn’t objectively call me to do their mission.

If I get this wrong, I make the story about me, I make myself the hero of the story, and I put myself on a mission I wasn’t sent on… and worst of all? I’m going to fall short. Not only is it a bad hermeneutic, it’s all law.

Wait, Marc, so you’re saying that the bible stories aren’t examples for me to emulate?

Well, let’s take a look:

Daniel in the Lions Den and David and Goliath have been Sunday School favorites for generations.   Why? Because God called them to do heroic things.  We’re predictable in that way, we’re always going to take the missions and promises that appeal to our pride.

If the hermeneutic of emulating the prophets is correct, here’s a couple missions your seeker-sensitive, purpose-driven pastor might want to cast out to the flock:

1. Go marry a prostitute. Maybe in the vein of “Dare to be a Daniel”, we could “Hope to be a Hosea”!  So, get to it.. go marry yourself a prostitute!

When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD.”
(Hosea 1:2 ESV)

2. Go ahead and start a family. And once you’ve got a few kids… she’ll leave you and the kids to go back to her old line of work. She’ll publicly humiliate you.

3. Write her off? Nope. Not only are you to track her down, not only woo her back, but actually buy her back at great price.

And the LORD said to me, “Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress, even as the LORD loves the children of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love cakes of raisins.” So I bought her for fifteen shekels of silver and a homer and a lethech of barley.

(Hosea 3:1-2 ESV)

So, “Hope to be a Hosea!”  Huh. That doesn’t quite work, does it?

How about another great prophet, Ezekiel:

1. Weigh out your food each day (about 2 cups of barley a day).

2. Measure out your water each day (about 2 pints a day).

3. Now, take your barley, make it into cakes and cook it over human poop.

“Eat like an Ezekiel!”

Wait, what?

And your food that you eat shall be by weight, twenty shekels a day; from day to day you shall eat it. And water you shall drink by measure, the sixth part of a hin; from day to day you shall drink. And you shall eat it as a barley cake, baking it in their sight on human dung.”

(Ezekiel 4:10-12 ESV)

(by the way, that picture of “Ezekiel Break” above? It’s real. No kidding, someone markets it. I guess they missed the part about baking it over poop. Unreal. You couldn’t make this stuff up.)

See the issue?  God hasn’t told you to do those things, he told them to do those things, and it wasn’t figurative, it was literal.

The point of these stories isn’t to make you stand up and be a hero, the point is to show God’s faithful love to his adulterous people (Hosea), and to foretell the destruction of Jerusalem, as well as God’s love in someday restoring her (Ezekiel).

The hero in these stories isn’t you. Ever. It’s God.  If you want to find yourself in the “bible stories”, you aren’t Hosea. You’re Gomer!

The law says “Be Daniel!”, the gospel says “You’re Gomer, and he’s tracked you down and paid your price!”
So, Daniel isn’t about you, and being brave like Daniel, it’s about God and his faithfulness to his people.

David isn’t about you, either. It’s not about you “slaying the giants in your life” (ugh). Jesus is the greater David, slaying sin and death.  I think Matt Chandler absolutely crushes it here:

We get this wrong when we saddle ourselves with the job of being those heroes.  You aren’t Hosea, you’re Gomer. You aren’t David, you’re trembling Israel.  See Jesus in his rightful place in those stories and you’ll freely worship Him for his grace.

So, the next time you hear someone challenge you to “live out” the lives of the “bible stories”, to “Dare to be a Daniel”, or to “Slay the giants in your life!” ask yourself if you’re supposed to marry prostitutes and cook your after-church-lunch over poop.  Gross? For sure, but far less obscene than knocking Jesus out of his role in scripture so you can take the lead.

Think about it.

Marc

10 Reasons Why I Love Tim Challies

I love Tim Challies. There, I said it. Not in some creepy, weird, bromance way, yet not only in some “my brother in Christ” type way (though I surely do).  No, I love Tim Challies in the way I love the first cup of coffee in the morning as I settle in to read his blog. It’s like some weird combination of reading great exhortation from a wiser brother, and finishing a workout.  It’s comforting, challenging, and in the end I’m almost always the better for it.

So in true top 10 fashion, here’s why I love Challies.com. (And more importantly, why you should be reading it)

10.  Discovery

I feel a small sense of nostalgia with Challies. I started reading him pretty early, before his first book, before he became someone you wanted to SIGN that book.  I feel like Tim’s the indy band I knew before my buddies did.  Because I’m cool and trendy like that. (those of you who know me know that to label me either is comical).  (BTW, get the book.. it’s a great way to open the door to serious gospel discussions for your friends who dig technology.)

9.  Quality

Tim writes well, and his style is accessible to everyone.  His blog is a joy to read, and I know that I can forward his content to youth who may benefit from the wisdom on Challies.com

8. Integrity and Honesty

I’ve never, in years of reading Challies, ever felt that he had an angle.  I’ve seen a humility and honesty.  It’s a rare thing in the blogosphere for someone to say “I don’t know” or “I was wrong”.

7. Disagreement

Tim sees things differently than I do at times.  Maybe it’s the air in Canada, or maybe it’s the trauma that must come from being a Blue Jay fan, but i’m surprised at how often I agree with Tim’s conclusions, but differ in how we got there.  Even when I disagree with Tim, I feel i’ve been given insight into how another brother has worked through an issue. I appreciate that.

6.  Exposure

I’m sure that means something different to someone who lives in a country where exposure (to the elements) can cause death, but i’m speaking of exposure to new sources. I’ve discovered new authors, new ministries, and new blogs through their links on Challies.  I’ve read great articles on blogs I would have never otherwise seen. I’ve also developed an appreciation for infographs. Tim digs infographs.

5.  Tim likes America

Nothing deep or witty there, I just think it’s interesting to read his views of my country and our history.

4.  Sincerity  

I’ve never felt that Tim was trying to be anything other than where he is in his journey.  Some of his book reviews have been unpopular, but (in my opinion) spot on.  I’ve seen no change from Tim as a blogger to, you know, Tim Challies.

3.  Effort

As a fledgling blogger myself, I honestly don’t know how Tim continues to produce so much content on such a high level.  It speaks volumes to his commitment and work ethic.

2.  Scope

Tim has written on such a wide range of topics, that I’m always reading articles that I’m able to use for others.  I’m often sending links to folks who might benefit from an article I’ve discovered via Challies.  It might seem inconsequential, but reading for the edification of others keeps me from being a cynical consumer.

1.  Challies makes much of God

I have a feeling I’d enjoy reading Challies if it only covered baseball and current events, but the common thread for the wide-spectrum of subjects covered is the obvious desire Challies has for making much of God.  And as the great theologian and political leader Pedro (from Napoleon Dynamite) once said, “And, I’d like to see more of that.”

If you’re not reading Challies.com, I’d recommend it.  It is more addictive than facebook in that it’s a wormhole into all things Christian. I’ve missed lunch more than once by following an article, to a blog, to a comment, opening my bible to research an issue, watching a YouTube video on the subject…. you get the point.

Thanks, Tim, for your work.  May the Lord continue to bless your faithful service and give you an extra measure of strength as you carry the cross of being a Blue Jay fan.

Marc

Why You Should Pray for the Terrorists

If reading that title made you uncomfortable, join the club. It left a bitter taste in my mouth too.  If the thought of praying for the folks that committed these cowardly acts is offensive to you, it’s offensive to me too.

I could be snarky here and say that we should pray for them because a Marine QRF (Quick Reactionary Force) is on it’s way to Libya, and to put it as politely as I can, those guys bring the pain.  And that’s probably pretty satisfying to a lot of us who, deep down, really want these guys to get what’s coming to them for the barbaric acts they’ve committed.


But if you’ve read this blog for very long, you probably know that this is headed in another direction.  And if you’ve ever read this blog, you know that direction is… the gospel.  The gospel is bigger than politics. It’s bigger than nationalities. It’s even bigger than any actions the bad guys could commit.  “All men, everywhere” is big.  Big enough to be uncomfortable.

Here’s a favorite “Bible Story”  you’ve probably heard a hundred times. But I think you might be surprised at how it ties into the events over the last few days.  Jonah.

Wait, Jonah? And the whale? How on EARTH does that have anything to do with praying for the terrorists? These animals just gunned down an unarmed man and you’re going to give me some stupid kids story about “Who did, who did, who did swallow Jo-Jo-Jonah?!?!?”

You probably know how Jonah begins; God commands Jonah to go to, where? Nineveh!  But Jonah resists, and tries to run from God.

We know that he boards a ship in Joppa and heads for Tarshish.  (Which is over 2,500 MILES away). In those days, that was really heading for the hills. To say he was running away would be an understatement.

(OK, so what does this have to do with terrorists?)

Well, everything.  The actual story recorded in scripture is quite a bit darker than the picture above:

Nineveh was the capital of Assyria. And the Assyrian cruelty surpassed anything we have seen from the terrorists; Prisoners were skinned alive, and buried in the sand. If the Assyrians came calling on your city, they would commit unthinkable atrocities; beheading people, gouging their eyes out, ripping their tongues out, impaling men on poles while they were still alive. Burning children in piles.  Unimaginable.

Scripture records Nineveh as “the bloody city” (Nahum 3:1) for good reason!

Cities would hear that the Assyrians were marching toward them and, understandably, they would be in complete panic. They would beg for mercy, or in some cases commit mass-suicide, seeing it as preferable to the horrors of the Assyrians.

In one case when a city resisted as long as possible instead of immediately submitting, Ashurnasirpal proudly records his punishment:

“I flayed as many nobles as had rebelled against me [and] draped their skins over the pile
[of corpses]; some I spread out within the pile, some I erected on stakes upon the pile … I
flayed many right through my land [and] draped their skins over the walls.”

“I cut off the heads of their
fighters [and] built [therewith] a tower before their city. I burnt their adolescent boys
[and] girls.”

A description of another conquest is even worse:

“In strife and conflict I besieged [and] conquered the city. I felled 3,000 of their fighting
men with the sword … I captured many troops alive: I cut off of some their arms [and]
hands; I cut off of others their noses, ears, [and] extremities. I gouged out the eyes of
many troops. I made one pile of the living [and] one of heads. I hung their heads on trees
around the city.”

The Assyrian “palace without rival” in Nineveh had, literally, miles of stone walls carved with depictions of their terror.  In one, we see an Assyrian soldier grasping the hand and arm of a captured enemy whose other hand and both feet have already been cut off. Dismembered hands and feet fly through the scene. Severed enemy heads hang from the conquered city’s walls. Another captive is impaled on a stake, his hands and feet already having been cut off. In another detail, we see three stakes, each driven through eight severed heads, set up outside the
conquered city. A third detail shows a row of impaled captives lined up on stakes set up on a hill outside the captured city. In an inscription from Shalmaneser III’s father, Ashurnasirpal II, the latter tells us,

“I captured
soldiers alive [and] erected [them] on stakes before their cities.”

“I cut their throats like lambs. I cut off their precious lives (as one cuts) a string. Like the
many waters of a storm, I made (the contents of) their gullets and entrails run down upon
the wide earth. My prancing steeds harnessed for my riding, plunged into the streams of
their blood as (into) a river. The wheels of my war chariot, which brings low the wicked
and the evil, were bespattered with blood and filth. With the bodies of their warriors I
filled the plain, like grass. (Their) testicles I cut off, and tore out their privates like the
seeds of cucumbers.”

Get the picture? These guys were worse than anything in my lifetime. They certainly rivaled the Nazis.  Please don’t misunderstand me here, i’m not saying that the terrorists aren’t evil. Far from it.

And now, back to Jonah, and to the part of the story you may have never heard as a kid…. why did Jonah run from God?  Why didn’t he want to go to Nineveh?  The obvious guess would be fear!  But no…

But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O LORD, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” And the LORD said, “Do you do well to be angry?”

(Jonah 4:1-4 ESV)

Jonah ran, and didn’t want to call the men of Nineveh to repentance as God instructed because he knew that God would be merciful to them if they repented!  Jonah knew about the Assyrians and their reputation. He didn’t want God to be merciful to them in their repentance.  Jonah’s response?  I knew it! Isn’t this what I said?!?!?

God’s response?  “Do you do well to be angry?”  (Jonah 4:4)

Let’s read the rest of the account, in context:

Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city and made a booth for himself there. He sat under it in the shade, till he should see what would become of the city. Now the LORD God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shade over his head, to save him from his discomfort. So Jonah was exceedingly glad because of the plant. But when dawn came up the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, so that it withered. When the sun rose, God appointed a scorching east wind, and the sun beat down on the head of Jonah so that he was faint. And he asked that he might die and said, “It is better for me to die than to live.” But God said to Jonah, “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” And he said, “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die.” And the LORD said, “You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow, which came into being in a night and perished in a night. And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?”

(Jonah 4:5-11 ESV)

Ouch.  Man, I really want the terrorists who attacked the twin towers to get what’s coming to them. And the guys gunning down someone over a YouTube video? Yeah, they’ve got it coming to them. Get ’em God!

“Do you do well to be angry?”

That’s the gospel. That’s gospel enough to be offensive.  That’s gospel enough for me to get hate mail about.  That’s gospel enough for crowds wanting God to exact revenge on their enemies to scream “Crucify him!” when Jesus came with the gospel to the people they hated.

Hmm.  Let that one sink in.

I’m not saying  that the terrorists are Assyria. I’m not saying God is going to turn their hearts to repent.  But the gospel is big enough for even them, no matter how bitter that tastes in my mouth. It’s bigger than their sin. It’s bigger than the geo-political situation. It’s bigger than my anger, even if I want to do like Jonah and tell God they don’t deserve it. It’s big enough to turn the great persecutor of the church, Saul, into Paul.  Jesus himself spoke of the men of Nineveh when he said:

The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah
(Luke 11:32 ESV)

Let the weight of that hit you. The men of Nineveh will stand with you in heaven. You’ve got more in common with the repentant Ninevite than the unrepentant American.

Thats uncomfortably big.

That’s gospel big.

Pray that those who committed these atrocities would repent and believe on Christ for the forgiveness of their sins.

Marc

marc5solas@gmail.com

Added: I just want to make it perfectly clear, as a veteran myself, that this is no way means i’m not praying for our troops. Nor does it mean that I think the terrorists are in any way justified in their actions.

Physician misdiagnoses dying patients, patients say “He’s great!”

A well known physician recently misdiagnosed hundreds (perhaps thousands) of those under his care over the last several years.  Each of the patients suffer from a disease which is fatal in 100% of cases without prescription of a well known and 100% effective treatment.  And yet the Doctor is completely unapologetic and his patients fawn over him.  His practice is bursting at the seams and he is writing books and lecturing other physicians on his methodology.  Relatively few of his patients seek the proper disgnosis and treatment, even after being informed of their predicament.

How do you feel about that physician? How negligent is he? Is he qualified to treat patients? Is he responsible for their death?

The physician reported that he’s “not really into medical terms, and doesn’t want to weigh his patients down with treatment theories and talk about illness.”   “People know that they’re sick, they don’t need me telling them what’s wrong with them.  I just try to love on them and help them see the best in themselves.  If they’re trying to feel better and get healthy, I think that’s really what’s important in the end.  My patients have told me, and I believe them, that they know they’re sick and have made a decision to get well, so they’re just beginning their wellness journey by living each day trying to be as healthy as they can. It’s not really my place to say one treatment is better than the other, I’m just not into that. I prefer to just love on my patients and encourage them to get better.”

Wait, what? No, “Doctor”, they’re dying from their affliction. Every single one of them. And instead of telling them what the medical journals clearly state, and showing them the 100% effective treatment for their malady, you’re coddling them into the grave.  You’re a lunatic and their blood is on your hands. Any judge would certainly find you guilty of your negligence.

What if I told you the malady was sin, that all men are guilty before God, and that the only remedy is to understand the gravity of that malady, repent and believe on Christ.  Any other diagnosis, any other ‘treatment’, no matter how you ‘feel’ about it, is fatal.  There are no exceptions here.

Diagnosis:

The ‘disease’ (sin) is well described in scripture:

1. Sin isn’t only something you do it’s a state of being. You aren’t a sinner because you sin, you sin because you are a sinner.  Whether you believe you are born in sin (Psalm 51:5) or you believe that we are condemned only by acts of sin is irrelevant in light of  Romans 3:23

For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
(Romans 3:22-23 ESV)

2. 100% of humanity (yes, that includes you) are condemned by sin. That’s the malady, the illness, the disease, the curse. You have tested SIN-positive. Scripture is clear on that.

Prognosis:

100% fatal:

1. Everyone is sinful both by nature and by action (Romans 3:23), so what’s the prognosis, Doctor?

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned—

(Romans 5:12 ESV)

For the wages of sin is death
(Romans 6:23 ESV)

That’s as serious as serious gets. You’ve tested SIN-positive. No doubt about it. And, you’re going to die. But it’s far worse than even that; Your sin isn’t simply an illness, it’s an affront, a challenge, a rebellion against a just and holy God.

Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.  Ephesians 5:6

 

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness… Romans 1:18

How do we get this wrong?

1. Presenting sin as “making mistakes” or “falling short of God’s best for you”.  Let me put this as bluntly as I can. That type of preaching is cowardice.  It’s born out of fear that we’ll offend people by telling them they stand under the just wrath of God.  Sin is far, far more serious that “missing out on God’s best for your life.”  What drivel. That’s like saying terminal cancer is missing out on trips to Disney World.  You’re guilty, and that guilt will result in God’s wrath being poured out on you.  I know, that message isn’t popular or PC. It’s so “old school”.  But it’s the only message we’ve been given.  To water this down is to misdiagnose the illness and send people on their way without feeling the weight of their condemnation.

2. By presenting sin simply as “things we do wrong” that we need to stop doing.  This is pure law, and it focuses us on our own behaviors.  Sin isn’t something I just “do”, it’s something I am, it’s in every fibre of my being.  I need a rebirth, not a remodel.  By confusing this message, we saddle people with “do better” instead of repentance.

The Treatment:

(Please understand that I’m not flippantly labeling Christ as a “treatment”, I’m simply using an illustration here. I also understand that the limitations of this analogy could be viewed as Pelagian. That is not my intent. The bible clearly states that regeneration precedes faith; that God opens our eyes to the nature of our sin and His holiness, which allows us to respond in faith.)

To “get well” you must first admit that you are sick and in need of a physician.  No amount of positive thinking, or “living well” is going to solve your fatal disease.  You are saved by treatment.  While we are clearly called to have faith, it is not our faith which saves us.  Faith in your faith is not the same as faith in Christ.  We are saved by Christ through faith.  It is Christ who saves, not our faith.

1. Repentance and Faith:

Repentance is more than just “changing directions”, it’s more than just “feeling bad” that you’ve sinned. In Acts 2, after Peter blasts the crowd with a clear presentation of the gospel, and their sin, they respond.

Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
(Acts 2:37-38 ESV)

Note that they were first brought low with the weight of their sin. They got it.  They were “cut to the heart”. Peter then told them to repent.  While being “cut to the heart” and understanding their sin was crucial, it was not in itself, repentance.

I love how John Piper handles this:

“Repentance is not just regret. They had already been cut to the heart (v. 3). And now Peter says, “Repent!” So repentance is more than feeling sorry. It means following through on that conviction and turning around—changing your mind and your heart so that you are no longer at odds with God but in sync with God. Jesus spoke to Paul in Acts 26:18 about this “turning” that leads to forgiveness and gave Paul his commission with these words, “I send you to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins.” There it is. That is repentance: turning from darkness to light and from Satan to God. It is a reversal of the direction of your life—toward God.”

In other words, “Repentance means first of all, to acknowledge our sins, to be truly sorry for them. This “godly sorrow” comes from the Holy Spirit convicting us with God’s law.

But the Bible also uses the work of repentance in a broader sense to include faith in Jesus our Savior. This faith is produced by the Holy Spirit, who convinces us through the Gospel that our sins are forgiven for the sake of Jesus, who lived, died and rose again for us.

Put those two concepts together and you have repentance in its fullest sense. (Jesus told His disciples in Luke 24:47 that repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His name to all nations.)

According to the Bible, those who are truly sorry for their sins and trust in Jesus as their Savior also want to turn away from their sins, intending with the help of the Holy Spirit not to keep on living a life of sin. If we want to keep on sinning, we need to ask ourselves if we have really repented. However, we are weak human beings and although we do not want to commit the same sins again and again, we may sometimes fall into sin out of weakness.

Whenever we sin, we know (as John says) that “if we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive our sins” for the sake of Jesus our Savior (1 John 1:9). If repentance becomes a “game” with God and we don’t really want or intend to stop committing a certain sin (say stealing), and we go on stealing, living always in that sin of stealing, then we place ourselves in grave spiritual danger. We need to ask that God the Holy Spirit to give us the power to stop committing that sin and trust Him to help us fight against it.

Worldly sorrow is the kind of sorrow Judas Iscariot had, which caused him to commit suicide. It was a self-centered remorse and despair that wrongly concluded that all was lost in this life, that there was no hope, that there was nothing God could do. Second Cor. 7:10 says that this kind of sorrow brings death. But godly sorrow is true sorrow over sin accompanied by trust in Jesus for forgiveness. This is the kind of sorrow Peter had after he denied Jesus, and King David had after he committed adultery and murder (Psalm 51). Godly sorrow leads to life and salvation, because it includes faith in Jesus Christ.

As you can see, the Bible clearly states the diagnosis (sin), the extent (complete), the prognosis (100% fatality), and the treatment (repentance and faith in the atoning work of Christ).  To loop back to the medical analogy we used earlier, if your “Doctor” misses these steps, he’s guilty of malpractice.  I don’t care how big your megachurch is, how well he speaks, how many books he’s written, how awesome the music and kids programs are, if you didn’t hear the categories of sin, repentance, and faith in Christ through the gospel, you got something else.

You likely heard the purpose-driven gospel which states the problem as: “Missing out on the great plan God has for your life.”

The solution is to: “Make a decision for Christ” and “begin to live out the dream he has for you”.  You’ll hear a great deal about steps you must take, which include “Stepping out in faith”.

The problem?  You can have thousands of people make a decision for a better life, to “birth” the dream god has for them, and to “change the world”…. and not a one of them has been brought to repentance for their sins and trusted Christ’s atoning work for them.

Yes, the smiling, relevant preacher has negligently misdiagnosed the problem, and those people have not come to salvation in Christ.  Call them “decisions for Christ” if you like, but if they haven’t been “cut to the heart” over their sins against God, what are they making their “decision” for? Their better life? Better family? To begin to discover the “greatness inside of them”?  Maybe, who knows, but it’s not the biblical gospel, which is the only gospel which leads to salvation.   God have mercy on the modern church. The impending judgement and wrath of God will be poured out on those who have not repented and believed on Christ and we’re not warning them. Instead, they’re being told that the problem to be solved is not living their “best life now.”  Our hearts should be breaking over this. Pray that people who have “made decisions” in seeker-driven churches come to hear the gospel of Christ for the forgiveness of sins.

Marc