Now What? The Gospel.

Closing out the first year of Marc5Solas, I posted what I thought was simply my 53rd article. I expected it would be read by the same few hundred folks who had read the others. And then.. Wow. More than half a million views, interviews, quotes in sermons, newsletters and bible studies… here we are.

A dear friend asked me two very poignant questions:

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“What do you do to follow THAT?” and “What would you have written if you knew hundreds of thousands of people were going to read it?”

These questions really bothered me. I literally tossed and turned and lost sleep over them. I wish I could say that there wasn’t some pragmatic, prideful temptation to DO something to keep the large crowd, but that would be untrue.  (And isn’t that the very problem I wrote about in the Top10 article anyway?)

I know, in fact, that there is only one way to answer those questions:

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I may write this article to the same few hundred folks that read my blog before, or it may be read by a million… but I can’t let that be my focus. I’ve got to imagine that I have the same opportunity I have every time I sit down to write.. and all I have worth passing on to you is the “foolish”, “simple” gospel of faith in Christ for the forgiveness of sin.

We assume we know the gospel, and we assume our kids do as well. Yet, I see so many folks get it wrong that I can’t help but think we need to have it spelled out; Simply. Daily. Repeatedly.

So, with the help of Sister-in-Christ (and epic artist) Di Wages, here is a primer on the basics of the Christian faith.

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Genesis 1 teaches us that God created man, and the world, pure and without sin. (Gen 1:31)

In the illustration above, we see the following:

1. The world, signified by the blue background, is pure and without sin.

2. God and Man commune openly.

It is important to understand that this is NOT the world we live in today, as we see the pain and suffering which surround us.

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Although God created man upright and perfect, and gave him a righteous law, the first man, Adam, willingly broke this law.

Our first parents, by this sin, fell from their original righteousness and communion with God, and through them, we inherit this fallen nature;  We are all born dead in sin, totally defiled in soul and body,  and by nature children of wrath, the servants of sin, and the subjects of death.  We are broken and are unable by nature to have true fear of God and true faith in God.

Since all men are born in sin, their relationship to God is not like the first illustration, our relationship by nature is that of fear and despair, and because of that, hatred toward God. 

Get that.  While the decisional theology of “altar calls” in America has taught that fallen man can, of his own accord, “choose God” it is absolutely a false teaching called Pelagianism. It doesn’t matter if you are Baptist, Assemblies of God, Lutheran, Presbyterian, etc. This is NOT the belief of the church or of your denomination!

In the illustration above, we see the following:

1. The world, signified by black, is fallen. We see the effects of this every day as men die, sin, and are involved in all manner of evil.

2. Man’s nature, signified by the red shading of the man, is fallen.

3. Man’s is unable on his own to “choose God”.

There are 2 common errors I want to point out here:

Man is unable to seek God in this, his natural state. The view that man is not fallen and can choose God of his own will is an error (heresy) called Pelagianism.

While some denominations believe we are sinners because we sin, while others believe that we are born in sin, there is no denying that we all hold to the view that we are *unable* to “choose God” of our own will.

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God changes the “heart of stone” to a “heart of flesh” and through this regeneration man is able to “choose God”.

This may come us a surprise to you, as you may well believe that the order is:

Faith (I believe), Rebirth (I am born again), Justification (I am saved).

However, the Bible teaches:

Rebirth, Faith, Justification

Wait, you may be thinking, that’s not what my denomination believes.  While it may not be what is articulated from the pulpit much these days as “Altar calls” and decisional theology have crept in to the American church, this is what both orthodox Christianity and your denomination believe. There may be differences in *how* this happens (extent and means), but that it happens is unquestionable.

This is an amazing source of comfort to all who believe in Christ for the forgiveness of sins. It means that if you have repented and in faith believed, that God was at work  in you to do this very thing!  So not only is salvation through faith in Christ a tremendous gift of grace, the faith *itself* is a gift!

In the illustration above, we see the following:

1. The arrow moves in one direction, from God to man.

2. Man’s heart is changed from a heart of stone (previously red) to a heart of flesh (now green).

3. Notice that we still live in a fallen world (black background).

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As God has given us faith to believe, we respond to the call of gospel.

In the illustration above, we see the following:

1. Man has a heart of flesh (green)

2. Man responds to the gospel (green arrow)

3. Man is saved though the atoning work of Christ (green arrow)

There are some subtleties in verbiage regarding Christ’s saving work (extent, efficacy) that are certainly important, but this illustration will suffice to illustrate justification by faith in Christ.

4. Although we are now “saved”, we *still* live in a fallen world. The fallen nature of the world still remains during this life even for those who are regenerated. And though you are forgiven, you will still sin during this life and you will still ultimately die.

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Remember the first illustration? It will return.  God is in the process of redeeming creation. The sickness, pain, evil, and death we see in this world will end. And for those who are in Christ will one day experience the reality of the beauty that this illustration can only hint at.

So, I’ll leave you with what I would have written had I known more than half a million people would read this blog:

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We are born in sin, fallen and just objects of God’s wrath.  We have sinned against a Holy God and against our fellow man in thought, word, and deed by loving things more than God and by not loving our neighbor as ourself. We were doomed.

But God, the very creator of heaven and earth in his unfathomable mercy sent Jesus, His only Son, our Lord, to be the atonement for our sin and to reconcile us to Himself. Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary, lived a sinless life, suffered under Pontius Pilot, was crucified, died, and was buried.

Get that. Fully God (God’s only Son), and Fully Man (born of the Virgin Mary).  He really lived (suffered under Pontius Pilot), and really died (was dead and buried).

But that’s not where it ends:

The third day he rose again from the dead.  He was seen by hundreds of witnesses. He ascended into heaven and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty. He will return to judge the living and the dead.

Get that. Judgement is coming for all men. It’s not a popular message, but I plead with you to let the weight of that rest on you today.

The good news? The Gospel? That Christ has paid the price for that sin. To all who would repent and in faith believe in Christ as the only means for the forgiveness of sin, their sins will be forgiven. And grace added onto absurd grace, we will not only be forgiven, but adopted. Think about that; Not only not condemned, but viewed as righteous and adopted as joint heirs with Christ Himself. Incredible!

So, in response to “what now”, “what next”? That’s it.  To the question of “How do we fix the problems you listed in the Top 10 article?” That’s it.  I don’t have another methodology for you. I don’t have a program. I don’t have a style.  Just a charge:

Preach the Gospel.

We will no doubt lose kids from the church, but let it be a rejection of the gospel we are called to proclaim and not a counterfeit message we have substituted in an effort “keep” them.

Preach the Gospel.

In season, and out of season. Preach it in hoodies, and in suits. Preach it to all men everywhere.

Preach it.


Teaching my Dog to use His iPhone!

OK, it’s getting a big frustrating.  About a month ago, I bought our family dog, Boomer the Pug, an iPhone.  I’m trying to get him to use it and he’s just not getting it.  I’ve tried everything, treats, positive reinforcement, negative reinforcement, begging, pleading, ANYTHING.. but he’s just not getting it.   Maybe I’m a bad teacher. Maybe he’s just not very bright.  Maybe it’s the lack of opposable thumbs. Whatever it is, it’s frustrating for both of us… and I spent a lot of good money on that phone!

Absurd?  Of course it is, dogs don’t use iPhones. Why? BECAUSE THEY’RE DOGS! To expect a dog to use an iPhone would make me a lunatic, right?

Yet, we do this daily with those around us.  How?

[16] But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. [17] For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. [18] But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. [19] Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, [20] idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, [21] envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. [22] But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, [23] gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. [24] And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.
[25] If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. [26] Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

(Galatians 5:16-26 ESV)

There are a couple of things I want you to notice here:

1. Paul is speaking in Galatians 5 to a specific group of people, “us”.  Who is “us”?  He defines “us” as those who Christ has set free.

[5:1] For freedom Christ has set us free; 
(Galatians 5:1 ESV)

2. Paul then contrasts “us” (those who Christ has set free) with those who Christ has not set free.

[5:1] For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
(Galatians 5:1 ESV)

3. Paul says then sets these behaviors in contrast to each other.  (Flesh and Spirt)

[17] For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.
(Galatians 5:17 ESV)

4. And finally, lists the works of the flesh and the fruits of the spirit:

[19] Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, [20] idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, [21] envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. [22] But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, [23] gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

(Galatians 5:19-23 ESV)

So, those good things?  The fruits of the spirit? They’re fruits.. OF THE SPIRIT.  They come FROM the Holy Spirit to those who are set free in Christ.  The bad stuff?  Those are works of the flesh.  Do you see it?

Those who have not been set free in Christ will not, in fact CANNOT manifest the fruits of the spirit!

[8:1] There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. [2] For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. [3] For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, [4] in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. [5] For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. [6] For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. [7] For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. [8] Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.

(Romans 8:1-8 ESV)

Those who are in the flesh will not, in fact CANNOT submit to God’s law. They CANNOT please God.  Get that. It’s crucial. Those things we’re demanding of our kids? Of those around us at work?  If they are not in Christ and set free by the spirt, they are still slaves to the flesh.  We’re demanding something of them which they CANNOT do, and getting frustrated with both them and ourselves when they don’t!

It’s as absurd as trying to teach a Pug to use an iPhone!

What are the implications?  Well, this is a major problem in the modern church.  We start our kids early by teaching them how to be “good”, we tell them to be “nice”.  What is nice?  We tell them to be patient, kind, gentle.. and to exercise self-control. To put others ahead of themselves, to share, to be considerate.  Sound familiar? Fruits of the Spirit!

New guy at church. He hangs around a few services because he likes the sense of community, digs the music, and well, there are some really cute girls.  He gets the message loud and clear: Be happy, be faithful, love each other.  Sound familiar? Fruits of the Spirit!

The problem?

Neither of them have been confronted with the weight of their sin, and been called to repentance and faith in Christ for forgiveness. The Apostle Paul tells us, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that they cannot manifest the very fruit we are demanding of them!

A stunning example of this happened recently when the creator of the most popular christian children’s material in history (Veggie Tales) said the following:

“I looked back at the previous 10 years and realized I had spent 10 years trying to convince kids to behave Christianly without actually teaching them Christianity. And that was a pretty serious conviction. You can say, “Hey kids, be more forgiving because the Bible says so,” or “Hey kids, be more kind because the Bible says so!” But that isn’t Christianity, it’s morality. . . .

And that was such a huge shift for me from the American Christian ideal. We’re drinking a cocktail that’s a mix of the Protestant work ethic, the American dream, and the gospel. And we’ve intertwined them so completely that we can’t tell them apart anymore. Our gospel has become a gospel of following your dreams and being good so God will make all your dreams come true. It’s the Oprah god. So I had to peel that apart.” – Paul Vischer, Creator of Veggie Tales

So, as much as people give me good-natured grief for somehow bringing EVERYTHING back to the gospel, here goes.. I’m bringing iPhone  Training for Dogs back to the gospel….

I’m not concerned about teaching my kids to “be good”, I’m concerned that they’re in Christ.  Because without being freed by Christ, they are unable to do the “good” at all.   Will they sometimes act like little heathens even after they are in Christ? Of course they will, and so will I in this fallen world. But we are freed, in Christ, to please God.

So as you go into your world today, don’t get frustrated that those in the flesh produce the fruits of the flesh.  Be aware that demanding that they manifest the very fruits of the Spirit is something they are entirely incapable of doing.  They’re still slaves. Their problem is that they aren’t in Christ.. and that’s something you can (and are commanded) to engage. Gospel much?