Just Quit: How Nike got it Wrong

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One of the upsides of working in a predominantly non-Christian (and often openly anti-Christian) environment is that I get asked the tough questions. Not only about the Christian faith, but about why the world is the way it is.  On many things we’ll all agree:

The world isn’t fair. Behind the masks we all wear, people are hurting and the world can be a harsh place of broken dreams, broken relationships, and broken lives.

We also agree that we want the world to be a better place. Deep down, we all know that it’s supposed to be better, and our desire to make it better is a good thing.

But where we part, where Christianity parts with every other worldview and stands alone is in HOW we do this.

I want you to get this:

Every single worldview, apart from Christianity, will solve the problems of the world, and define their “greater purpose” by what Adolf Koberle described as climbing one of three ladders.

It is so important that you not only understand the futility of climbing these ladders, but how our human nature attempt to smuggle them into our faith.  While various generations cyclically move between the three, and while some cultures or denominations lean harder into one than the others, make no mistake about it… these will lure us away from our trust in Christ and His atonement; of the central theme of all scripture: Christ crucified for Sinners. And to lose that is to lose our very salvation, for only faith in Christ can save.  That’s as serious as it gets.

The reason these ladders are so tempting, so alluring in fact that they provide the framework for every non-Christian religion, is that we *want* them.  It’s how we’re hard-wired. And they tempt us with the promises of our “best life now”, discovering our “purpose in life”, “life change”, “changing the world”, and ultimately leading to reaching God to receive His approval, blessing, and “favor”.  Learn the ladders, learn the temptation, and learn the lingo by which it’s been smuggled into the church since the 1st century.

This week we’ll discuss a ladder which at first glance hasn’t been as much of a threat to our generation as it was to our parents and grandparents.  Under closer examination, we’ll find that we’ve simply put the same deadly poison into a prettier bottle.

The ladder is Moralism.

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“The way of moralism seeks to earn God’s favor, or a satisfying life, through the achievement of moral perfection – always doing what is right, avoiding wrongdoing of every kind, keeping oneself under control by sheer willpower and a scrupulous conscience.  Certainly, the desire to be good is a laudable sentiment – if it only could be accomplished.” – Gene Edward Veith,  The Spirituality of the Cross.

S0, moralism is seeking to achieve what we’re after by doing the right things and not doing the wrong things. In this way, we will receive God’s favor, blessing, and attain the awesome life we’re looking for.

See the problem? Who is in control? Who is doing the *doing*?  Any grace here? I mean, if I’ve earned it, God owes it to me, right?  And if I don’t get it? God has robbed me. He’s failed me.

I see moralism fail again, and again, and again in those around me who either hate christianity, or given up on it completely.  So why does it still allure us?

As westerners, and particularly as Americans, it just sounds right. It not only aligns with our natural sinful bent to “save ourselves” it matches everything our culture values: hard work, self-determination, and discipline.

So, what does this look like? How does it develop and ultimately fail?

First of all, the enemy has to convince you that you’re actually capable of pulling this thing off; that you can do it.

Secondly, once you realize you can’t do it, you’ve got to change the rules as you go. We lower the bar.

Third, when confronted with the fact that we’re not doing it, we look for the exit. We either despair, or we quit. (Would it surprise you if I told you that quitting was the actual solution here?)

See, scripture is clear that we are held to God’s perfect standard of righteousness, revealed to us by God in the Ten Commandments, and summarized, and reinforced by Jesus in the New Testament gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

The first thing we do is to look for the out. Am i doing it? Scripture gives us a great example of our natural reaction when being confronted by the law:

The rich young ruler, the pharisees, and Marc.. we all do the same thing:

“Don’t murder? Check. Don’t steal? Check. Don’t commit adultery? Check.”

But Jesus would have none of it.

Not committing adultery? How about lusting after a woman?

Not stealing? How about selling everything you own and giving it away?

How about loving God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul and loving your neighbor as yourself?

How’s that working out for you? Ever missed it? Once? Game over.

And I think, deep down, we know this. We’re “sophisticated” enough to not believe ancient paganism where throwing virgins into volcanoes makes the crops grow, and that “God is gonna getcha!” if you wear jeans to church.. but are we really any more sophisticated? Before we get too smug, ask yourself if we’ve really just traded one path for another on the road of moralism?  Will God now bless us for sacrificing 10% of our paycheck instead of the virgin? Have we traded “God’s gonna getcha!” for the threat of missing a “life of favor” if you don’t follow the latest trend of purpose-driven, audacious, missional law?

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See, just like the rich young ruler and the pharisee, none of the things they were doing were BAD, they were just INSUFFICIENT!

You want to help others? Stay faithful to your spouse? Feed the poor? Vote for human rights? ALL GOOD!  But the moment you judge your standing before God, you’ve missed it. When these activities (what we do and don’t do) become the standard by which we judge ourselves and the world around us, we’ve walked away from the only thing which can save us… knowing that Christ’s work alone is sufficient.

So, we take these things we do/don’t do and start measuring other people by them. Since we’re the standard, we’re nailing most of what we hold other people to… and it starts to sound like this:

Real Christians don’t go to the movies.

Real Christians vote X.

Real Christians don’t (insert your pet cause here).

While we mock the legalistic moralism of our ancestors (wearing suits, not wearing makeup, not drinking or smoking, not watching TV, or going bowling) we’ve simply replaced the legalistic moralism of the pharisees with the internal moralism of the post-modern (“live audaciously”, “live missionally”) not so that you won’t “go to hell” like our ancestors, but that you would receive “favor” and “double portions” (from the mundane like getting better parking spots, to the sublime, like financial abundance.) in short, we’ve actually gone past “Do what Jesus did” to “Think how Jesus thought”!

And in the end, what have we lost?

We don’t love God with all our heart, because at the core, we don’t really need Him. We’ll do the work, you give us what we’ve earned.  We don’t really need Christ’s forgiveness because we’ve (pretty much) kept the standard we’ve created for ourself.  And we won’t love our neighbor as ourself because they’ve created their own standards (which don’t match mine).  It’s easy for me to divide my world into “us” (those who vote, act, and think like me) from “them” (those who don’t).

So, to wrap it up.. be very, very careful of the ladder of moralism. If you’re still attempting to “Just do it”, you can’t accept what Christ has already done.

You can’t receive with empty hands of faith if those hands are wrapped around the rungs of a ladder.

If you’re attempting to “do it”, you by definition cannot receive the very thing, the ONLY thing which can save you!

Jesus never said “You just gotta begin to..”. He said “It is finished.” Rest in Christ’s finished work. If you hear any variation or spin of “if you will ____, God will ____”. God’s not making trades. There is no quid pro quo. The only thing you bring to God is your sin and open hands of faith. If you come to Him, works in hand, you are rejecting the very thing, the ONLY thing which can save you; Christ’s work on your behalf.

So, Nike has it wrong. Don’t “Just do it”, just quit. Stop trying to earn God’s favor through your works. Even at your best, you can’t do it.  Christ has done it all through His atoning work on the cross. Your sins are forgiven. You stand perfectly justified before God, clothed in Christ’s righteousness.

And that, my brothers and sisters in Christ, is real “favor”.






Joel Osteen and In-N-Out (Redux)

If you’ve never had the pleasure of eating an In-N-Out Burger, you are missing out on one of the little, artery clogging,  pleasures of life.

As for the name, it’s about as basic and simple as you could get.  You come in, get your burger, and go out.  Fast, easy, and well.. tasty.

Inside of you is hunger, outside of you are tasty burgers for your enjoyment.  You go there, get one, and satisfy your hunger. There are no burgers inside of me, so I go out, where there are burgers.  Simple. Not exactly deep theology here.. right?

Can you imagine the absurdity and utter confusion of getting that basic premise wrong?

Would it be absurd? Would it be mocked?  You would think so, but I recently saw this obvious error applauded and treated as if it was the deepest, most philosophical, life-changing truth imaginable by no lesser names than media mogul Oprah Winfrey and “christian” Pastor Joel Osteen.

Before you think I unfairly listed Osteen as “christian” (in quotes), let’s watch his latest appearance on Oprah’s “Lifeclass”:

Did you catch the quote?

“You’ll never rise any higher than you see yourself.” – Joel Osteen

Hmm.  So, how high I rise (externally/out) is based upon me (internal/in) and how I see myself (internal/in).

So the answer to the external is from within.. how I view myself, and as he states later, what words I speak about myself.

You’ve got to see this… Joel Osteen’s view, his teaching in the role of “Pastor” is that the external is determined by the internal (You, your view, your mindset, and your words).

Sounds good, and boy, does it sell.  Oprah has built a multi-billion dollar media empire. Joel Osteen “Pastors” the largest church in the United States, it’s also helped sell books like “The Secret” and spin up careers of Oprah’s other Lifeclass speakers.  But what does scripture say?  Is THIS the message of Christianity, that the internal controls the external?  That it’s IN that controls OUT?

The written word of God, inspired by God the Holy Spirit is clear.. it’s not the SOLUTION that’s in us, it’s the PROBLEM!

(I’m going to intentionally quote a LOT of scripture this week. I want the sheer weight and volume of scripture which speaks to this core issue to blow you away.  While Joel Osteen doesn’t quote a single verse, here is a mere sampling of God’s word on the issue. Read them all now, or later, but they’re here for your reference.)

1. Men are born in sin:

  • Psalm 51:5 – Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.
  • Genesis 8:21 – the Lord said in his heart, “I will never again curse the ground because of man, for the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”
  • Psalm 58:3 – The wicked are estranged from the womb; they go astray from birth, speaking lies.
  • John 3:6 – “That which is born of the flesh is flesh”

2. As all men have sinned, they are slaves to sin:

  • John 8:34 – Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.”
  • Titus 3:3 – For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.
  • Galatians 4:8-9 – Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?
  • Romans 6:6,16,17,19,20 – We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey…? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed… For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness.
  • Romans 7:14 – For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.

3. The heart of sin is UNABLE and UNWILLING to do good. It is, in fact, HOSTILE to God:

  • John 3:20 – “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”
  • Romans 8:7-8 – For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God
  • Colossians 1:21 – And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds
  • Psalm 58:3 – The wicked are estranged from the womb;
  • Ephesians 2:12-13 – remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
  • Ephesians 2:3 – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
  • Proverbs 15:9 – The way of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord
  • Proverbs 15:8 – The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord (c.f. Proverbs 21:27)
  • Proverbs 28:9 – If one turns away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.
  • Isaiah 64:6 – We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.
  • Hebrews 11:6 – And without faith it is impossible to please [God]
  • Romans 8:7-8 – Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
  • Psalm 10:4 – In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, “There is no God.”
  • John 3:20 – “For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.”
  • Isaiah 65:1 – “I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me.
  • Isaiah 64:7 – There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities.
  • Romans 3:10-12 – “no one seeks for God.”

So, if we are born in sin, slaves to sin and hostile to God, unable to do good works… is the heart a good place to be looking?

Yes, for those in Christ, He has changed their heart of stone into a heart of flesh.  But.. where does that come from? IN or OUT?

Our righteousness? OUT! It is an external (or what some call “alien”) righteousness. Our only hope in life and death is the external/OUT righteousness of Christ!

“The first is alien righteousness, that is the righteousness of another, instilled from without.  This is the righteousness of Christ by which he justifies though faith, as it is written in I Cor. 1:30:  “whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”  In John 11:25-26, Christ himself states:  “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me…..shall never die.”  Later he adds in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”  This righteousness, then, is given to men in baptism and whenever they are truly repentant.  Therefore a man can with confidence boast in Christ and say:  “Mine are Christ’s living, doing, and speaking, his suffering and dying, mine as much as if I had lived, done, spoken, suffered, and died as he did.”  Just as a bridegroom possesses all that is his bride’s and she all that is his—for the two have all things in common because they are one flesh[Gen. 2:24]—so Christ and the church are one spirit [Eph. 5:29-32].  Thus the blessed God and Father of mercies has, according to Peter, granted to us very great and precious gifts in Christ [II Pet. 1:4].  Paul writes in II Cor. 1:3; “Blessed be the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”

– Martin Luther

So, do you see the completely backward message of Joel Osteen? Not only is it not biblical (Did you hear a single mention of Jesus, or a single passage of scripture in his dicussion?) it’s the polar OPPOSITE of biblical Christianity.  And he’s telling unregenerate sinners (who the bible says are slaves to sin and UNABLE to please God) that they are blessed and victorious?  That’s not just incorrect, it’s rank heresy. He’s speaking peace and victory to people who in their unregenerate state are destined for hell.  Smiley face and sweet voice or not.. that’s the cruelest act I can think of a man committing, and to do it while presenting himself as a “Pastor”?  God have mercy!

False teacher much?

So, the takeaway here is this:  Get the In-N-Out right, your only hope is OUT, through the external/alien righteousness of Jesus Christ through faith in Him for the forgiveness of sins.



CAPTCHA and God’s Plan for your Life


As you may have noticed, there was no article last week. I’d like to say it was for some wholly holy (see what I did there?) endeavor, but it was due to a career move for which I am truly grateful.  And that has me thinking this week about vocation, careers, and God’s plan for my life.

This was an issue which bothered me for a long time, and it may be something you struggle with as well. If so, I pray this article is helpful.

As a young Christian, I really REALLY wanted to please God. And it was important (to the point of obsession) for me to know what God wanted me to DO.  Sure, I was saved, but now what? What is God’s plan for my life?  Where does He want me to go to school? Who does He want me to date, and to marry? Where does He want me to work?

And to be honest, it got pretty goofy.  Simple decisions weighed me down as I wrestled with what God would have me do in nearly every mundane sitauation.  And since, after multiple times reading the Bible cover to cover, I’ve yet to find scripture addressing college selection or career choice, I did what all of us tend to do… I looked for “feelings”.

Funny thing, feelings. You can convince yourself of just about anything.  Like the time I came home on military leave, convinced that eventually God would have me marry a nice girl from my hometown. I shared this information with a friend.. who happened to be engaged to said girl.  (Yes, that happened. And yes, I still want to pound my head against the desk everytime I think about how stupid I’ve been in trusting these “feelings”. By the way, they’re a beautiful couple who have been married for more than 15 years, raising a beautiful family, and doing great work in Christ’s name.)


So, then, where do we go to find “God’s plan” for our life? Our jobs? Our college majors?

Let’s start with the basics:

You want to please God. I get that. That’s not a bad thing.. but realize that God is *perfectly* pleased with you in Christ. PERFECTLY.  There’s nothing you can do to please God more. Get that. So, where scripture doesn’t speak, we have freedom.

What this frees us from is thinking that any given career is more or less pleasing to God.

God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does!

God uses you in very normal, “boring” ways every day to accomplish His will on earth.

But that’s not very “audacious” or “radical”. And because of that…

God’s people have struggled with this since the beginning of time.  Remember the purpose driven mantra which has become the favorite “life verse” for millions?


11 For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. – Jeremiah 29:11

If you take this verse as being about *you* then you end up with a wonky theology which says that God has this amazing plan and it’s your job to discover it.  The problem?  Not only is it nowhere in scripture, but it’s incredibly damaging to believers.

See, the vast majority of the time, our life isn’t EPIC, it’s mundane. And if you think that anything less than epic isn’t pleasing to God you begin to see vocation (jobs) as either spiritual or non-spiritual. Working at the church, then, becomes “more holy” than, say, working at McDonalds. Spending the weekend at a “retreat” becomes “more godly” than changing diapers or bathing your kids.

Do you see how damaging this is to folks who are “just” living a “normal” life? How do I please God when “all I do” is get up, drive to work in traffic, do my  job, come home and take out the trash?  How does the mother changing diapers and cooking dinner please God? This is just “regular” stuff, right?


This mentality is what caused damage in the early church as men and women who were “really” devout and dedicated to God ran off and joined monestaries, becoming nuns and monks. It created two categories of Christians; essentially, amateur/part-time, and professional.


But the problem is that scripture doesn’t teach this.  God has chosen to work through common means to accomplish His will: Ink, Paper, Water, Bread, and Wine… and people.

Each night as my daughter goes to bed and prays The Lord’s Prayer, one of the peitions is “Give us this day our daily bread”.  And God DOES give my daughter her daily bread. How? Not through direct deposits of manna on our lawn, but through the farmer who grows the crops and raises the livestock. Though the truck driver who delivers it to the grocery store. Through the grocer who sells it. Through her mother who makes delicious meals. Through me, as I drive in traffic every day to earn a salary.  Even her very life is a gift of God; Not through a creation out of the dust (like Adam), but (as bluntly and tactfully as I can put it) the “means” of her mother and I.

God. Uses. Means.

God uses these means to accomplish His will on earth.

Martin Luther called these “masks of God”.  While we know that God is sovereign over His creation, and that God will bring His perfect will to pass, the means by which He does so are often hidden to us.

So, while I know that my command (and pleasure) is to be used as a means of gospel proclamation, I don’t know (and may never know this side of heaven) the ways in which my vocation is used to accomplish His will.

Remember the verse from Jeremiah 29:11? Most of those people died as slaves during the 70 remaining years of captivity. (Seriously, if you think that’s a promise for your “best life now”, you might want to check out my article here: http://marc5solas.com/2012/04/27/stuff-the-bible-doesnt-say-part-2-for-i-know-the-plans-i-have-for-you/)

So, even in this situation, what was God’s guidance to these people in their day to day life as He worked, sovereignly, to free them?

4 “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. 6 Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. 7 But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. – Jeremiah 29: 4-7


Big purpose for their lives.. ready?  Build houses and live in them. Plant gardens and eat what you grow. Get married. Have kids. Work for the good of your community. Pray for your community.

Not very epic, huh?


How about praying “audacious” prayers? God’s big plan for your life?  I’ll be honest, that stuff sells like hotcakes. People gobble it up faster than Steven Furtick, Mark Batterson, and Rick Warren can churn it out.

But that’s not what scripture teaches.

When Jesus himself (a pretty good authority on prayer, one would think) taught His disciples to pray, how “audacious” and “radical” were His prayers?

Give us daily bread.

Forgive us our sins.

Lead us not into temptation.

Deliver us from evil.

Bookmark that on each end with God’s epic plan for the exiles (plant gardens, build houses, and have families) and God’s great comission to His followers (proclaim the gospel, baptize, and make disciples) and you start to see a God who works in the mundane, pedestrian lives of normal people to accomplish His magnificent plan.  There are no “nominal” vocations when seen in light of God’s use of means!

Which leads me to CAPTCHA (because I’m a nerd, and I think like that).

Even if you don’t know CAPTCHA by name, you’ve certainly seen (and hated) it if you’ve ever tried to do anything from purchase movie tickets to use various facebook functions online.


While most people know that it’s purpose is to ensure that the fields are being filled out by a person rather than a computer, and for security.. here’s what you may not know:

Those weird words in goofy fonts that you have to type?

Those are scanned images from printed books, often books which are out of print and not available online.

See, when books are scanned, OCR software doesn’t do a very good job on old ink or old fonts.  What used to take hours for a proofreader to go back and manually review and correct now happens in seconds as problem images are pushed out via reCAPTCHA. What you’re doing when you read these words and type them in is actually proofreading an old book and providing valuable feedback!   So while you can’t see the big picture of daily activity, the part you play is infinitely more important than they seem!


So, young mother, you are absolutely being used, powerfully, of God as you change that diaper. Read that again. I’m not overstating this. God is using your work as a mother as His “mask” as Luther said, His means for accomplishing His will on earth.  If you work oustside the home and rush home to get the kids fed and bathed and in bed, you are the very means by which God is caring for them.


Dad, as you fight traffic and work through your day, you are being used as the means by which God cares for His creation.


Student, as you struggle through homework, you are serving God. You are preparing skills which God will use to providentially care for His creation as you serve your neighbor.

So rest in the salvation we recieved by grace through faith in Christ. Know that you stand righteous before God, clothed in Christ’s righteousness. You don’t have to DO anything to earn His favor… and in doing so be freed to wisely pursue a career, a family (or not), knowing that God is sovereignly using you to administer his creation.

LOVE God and SERVE your neighbor, knowing that you’ll fail in both but that you are perfectly *perfectly* justified before God in Christ.



NOTE: I’ve only very briefly touched on this subject. For an ouststanding article, and links to primary sources, I highly recommend this article: http://www.modernreformation.org/default.php?page=articledisplay&var2=881