Am I A Good Mom?

I feel like such a failure.

Growing up, I became accustomed to objective standards of success defining whether or not I had succeeded. An ‘A+’ signifies a job well done. A winning record in my collegiate sport proves my hard work. Even in marriage, a “Great job!” from my husband means I am accomplishing my goal of loving him well. Until recently, I didn’t realize how much I had begun to rely on these exterior praises to determine whether I had accomplished a job well done.

Every day, I am faced with opportunities to fail or succeed but there is no one other than my three kids under three to see. For the last three years, I have constantly strived to be the best and most God-honoring mother I can be. In my striving, I have never, ever felt more like a failure. Even the encouragement from my husband hasn’t been good enough for me. My kids aren’t old enough to understand what a good mom does and is, so I’m left pursuing an elusive affirmation that won’t come. In my struggle to understand why I often feel dissatisfied and discouraged in my homemaking and parenting, I turned to Scripture. By God’s grace, I found five truths regarding the unseen work of motherhood.

First, the work of caring for my home and for my children is good and godly work. In Titus 2, the call for older women to teach younger women includes the phrase “to be workers at home.” This section of text spells out for us what it looks like to be godly women. It is good for us to be working in our homes, loving our husbands and children. Whether it is wiping tables or wiping buns, God has given us the job of raising the blessing of children for his glory.1 It is good for you and I to pursue God’s glory in our most mundane and boring tasks.2

Second, the pursuit of the approval of man regarding my performance can be sinful idolatry. Galatians 1:10 says “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” If my work is dedicated merely to serving man, then I am missing the point and the proper motivation of why my work matters. If I rely constantly on the approval of my husband to affirm my value and worth as a mother, then I am seeking to serve man and not God. Colossians 3:23-24 directly commands us to serve God and not man. Now this is not to say that in serving God, I don’t also serve man. A clean home and fed children obviously serves them as well, but the main motivating factor in our work should be God’s glory. To pursue a clean home and obedient children for reasons other than honoring Christ can quickly become idolatry of man’s approval.

Third, the goodness of my work is determined by God, not by how I feel about it. What if I go to bed and the dishes aren’t done? What if I feel worn out from disciplining my children all day? What if I am completely discouraged by the insurmountable task of faithfully mothering? The goodness of my job as a mother is not determined by how ecstatic I am to be doing it. We all know that not every day feels like Disneyland, and often, even Disneyland isn’t all that great. This is why we must be reminded that God judges the heart.3 When your home is a wreck and your children are sick and it seems like everything is falling apart, God sees your heart, Mama. He knows your desire to honor him and he is not disappointed in the laundry that is undone. When you are patient and long-suffering yet your children still disobey, be encouraged that God has called your job of parenting good.

Fourth, when I inevitably fail, God’s grace is sufficient for me. Raise your hand if you’ve ever been angry with your kids. The fight against the temptation to respond in sinful anger toward my children is one I fight every single day. Often, that fight happens minute to minute. I am keenly aware of my failure in motherhood, but that failure is not found in an imperfect house or undone laundry. It is in a heart of grumbling, in a posture of discontentment, in impatience and anger, in envy and gossip. Part of my problem is that I displace what failure actually is. I am less concerned with the sin of anger if my kids obey. Yet, God says my sin is the true problem I face, not teenagers with attitudes. We are creatures of disordered values. We measure success in the final product, not in the heart of the process. Despite our many failures, God remembers that we are but dust.4 He promises to shower us with grace upon grace as we continually return to him in our failure.5 We serve a God that is acquainted with the hardship of living in a sin cursed world and he sympathizes with our striving and he is honored in our pursuit of faithful mothering.6

Finally, my value is found in Christ’s sacrifice on my behalf, not my striving in this life. When I don’t receive that A+ for the day or even if I do, my value as a mother is not measured in my wins and losses or my grade on the imaginary parenting report card. My life is hidden with Christ and it is no longer I who live but him who lives in me.7 I am called to be faithful and I will inevitably fail, but the truth is that because of Christ’s death and resurrection on my behalf, there is no failure, no sin too big, no utter parenting loss that can strip me from God’s right hand.8 This is the gospel! Through Christ’s sacrifice, we are secure and we do not have to strive for God’s love or seek the approval of our husbands to be considered good. God has declared us righteous in his sight and there is no better place to be.

So be encouraged sweet Mama, we are not striving in vain. The Lord has given us the good work of motherhood and no matter how we feel about it at this moment, this is a good work for us to do. We don’t need the approval of man. We don’t need a winning record. We need God’s grace in our failure and we need to be reminded over and over of the precious good news of the gospel.

1. Psalm 127:3-5, Ephesians 6:4
2. 1 Corinthians 10:31
3. 1 Samuel 16:7
4. Psalm 103:14
5. John 1:16
6. Hebrews 4:15
7. Galatians 2:20
8. John 10:28

On Vice and Virtue

In volume two of his trilogy, Ethics as Theology, Oliver O’Donovan attempts to “follow moral thought from self-awareness to decision through the sequence of virtues from faith to hope.”1 Here, O’Donovan begins with a sort of reorientation related to the ‘Spirit and Self.’ This reorientation is attempting to respond rightly to the divine summons in Psalm 95:7 to not harden one’s heart.

However, following Augustine, O’Donovan notes the disordered nature of our love(s). In relation to ourselves, love is disordered because it “clings to a self that is self-conceived.”2 This self-enclosure, as Luther described it, is a vicious circularity.3 Not only does this disordered love long to be the object of admiration, but in this self-enclosure there is a failed agency where shame and doubt block any further view of God’s wisdom rescuing us from indifference, folly, excuse, and despair.

As O’Donovan’s second volume addresses, I want to briefly reflect on a few vices of self-enclosure and a few virtues of our renewed agency as united to Christ Jesus.

On Vices of Folly & Anger

From the book of Proverbs, folly is a basic vice. Its contrast to wisdom is a major theme in the book. “The proud person” says Basil, “lacks the capacity to recognize God’s gifts in his or her life.”4 Folly blinds a man from the sight of beauty and good. Folly cripples a man from walking the path of godliness and wisdom. Folly hardens the heart of a man as he looks too long in the mirror.

The vice of anger has many faces because we are self-enclosed either in terms of deficiency or excess. Anger might rend the face of irritability as a deficiency of patience. Anger might rend the face of quarrelsomeness as the excess of courage. Anger might rend the face of resentment or grudge-holding as the deficiency of forgiveness. Anger might rend the face of self-righteousness as the excess of truthfulness. In other words, those who are easily provoked are “led by their rage and do not know what they do on account of their anger, nor do they know what they suffer in themselves. What’s even worse, they sometimes think that the stimulus of their anger is the zeal of righteousness. As we know, when vice is believed to be virtue, sin accumulates without fear.”5

On Virtues of Humility & Forbearance

However, the Psalmist is clear: “The humble will hear and be glad.” Likewise, Solomon says, “God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble.” Humility is the substance of our imitation of Him, for in doing so, we become who we were made to be. Indeed, this is what virtue is; imitating Christ Jesus “so that out of our humility there may arise for us everlasting glory, the perfect and true gift of Christ…the soul grows like what it pursues, and is molded and shaped according to what it does.”6 Thus, as arrogance is a deficiency of humility and self-deprecation is an excess of humility, humility is boasting in the Lord of glory alone for we “have not embraced Christ through virtue, but Christ has embraced you through his advent.”7

The virtue of forbearance (Eph. 4:2; Col. 3:13), closely linked with the virtue of fortitude, lays out the moral responsibility of those predestined and loved in Christ to “bear with” or exhibit “long-suffering” with those brothers and sisters who may irritate, frustrate, annoy, hurt our feelings, or make this world more difficult than it already is. Whereas forbearance is a command by Christ, it is also a virtue that we cultivate and practice as we endure and live with those around us under the rule of Christ’s peace. Thus, the virtue of forbearance is the long-suffering practice of bearing with those who we may want to quarrel with in anger or disregard in strife.

On Vices of Strife & Discord

Augustine notes: “whoever follows after what is inferior to himself, becomes himself inferior…For if happiness consists in the enjoyment of a good than which there is nothing better, which we call the chief good, how can a man be properly called happy who has not yet attained to his chief good?”8 Strife, then, can be conceived as a deficiency of the loving Peace, or it may be conceived of as an excess of justice. Those caught in the vicious circularity of strife have disregarded the chief good, God himself, and are trapped in their own self-enclosure.

The vice of discord is the deficiency of peace wherein charity is destroyed, and self-regard is perpetrated. Gregory says: “let those who sow strife consider the extent to which they sin. For when they perpetrate this particular sin, they also eradicate every virtue that they may have in their heart…whoever destroys the charity of his neighbor by sowing strife acts as though he were in the service of God’s enemy.”9

On Virtues of Forgiveness & Peace-making

Forgiveness is the flip side of forbearance or “bearing with one another.” (Col. 3:13; Prov. 10:12) Keller notes in his recent book: “Forgiveness…is a promise to not exact the price of sin from the person who hurt you…It is possible to inwardly forgive without being able to reconcile with the offending party. Yet anyone who truly forgives from the heart will be open to and willing to reconcile.”10 In those times of personal conflict or hurt or pain, we are faced with a critical dilemma: remain self-enclosed or live in the participation of the life of God. Of course, there are nuanced times when forgiveness may occur and the relationship will take time to be reconciled. Nevertheless, the principle remains: the life of the Christian who shares in the life of God is one of forgiveness in the little & big things.

The virtue of peace-making is first grounded in the heavenly peace of Christ’s reign such that an earthly peace lends no path for sin. Further, as Thomas explains, the virtue of peace is more than an absence of conflict; rather, true peace requires charity between two persons who share the same desire for the chief good in each other.11

On Virtue of Love

In summary, Augustine describes the four cardinal virtues as four forms of love: “Temperance is love giving itself entirely to that which is loved; fortitude is love readily bearing all things for the sake of the loved object; justice is love serving only the loved object, and therefore rightly ruling; prudence is love distinguishing with sagacity between what hinders it and what helps it. The object of this love is not anything, but only God, the chief good, the highest wisdom, the perfect harmony.”12

Living well is a way of being with God as our highest and chief good. Therefore, in seeking that chief good (Col. 3:1-4), we live a happy life (Ps. 34:8-10). As the apostle Paul says, without love we are nothing, but with love we experience the fullness of our participation in the life of God. Furthermore, we experience this happy life through friendship. As one dear friend recently reminded me, the discord, estrangement, and relational strife we experience in this pilgrim land will heighten our beatific vision in our homeland. And we’ll do this together as we look back and see all the great things He has done, even through our vices.

1. Oliver O’Donovan, Ethics as Theology, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014), ix.
2. Ibid., 21.
3. Ibid.
4. Basil the Great, On Christian Doctrine and Practice (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Press, 2012), 103.
5. Gregory the Great, Book of Pastoral Rule, (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Press, 2007), 127-128.
6. Basil, On Christian Doctrine and Practice, 117.
7. Ibid., 113.
8. Augustine, On the Morals of the Catholic Church, in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, series 1, volume 4. (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2012), 47-48.
9. Gregory the Great, Book of Pastoral Rule, 155.
10. Tim Keller, Forgive, (Viking, 2022), 185.
11. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II.IIQ29
12. Augustine, On the Morals of the Catholic Church, 58.

What is the Doctrine of Adoption?

Editor’s Note: The Theology in the Everyday series seeks to introduce and explain theological concepts in 500 words or less, with a 200-word section helping explain the doctrine to kids. At For The Church, we believe that theology should not be designated to the academy alone but lived out by faith in everyday life. We hope this series will present theology in such a way as to make it enjoyable, connecting theological ideas to everyday experience and encouraging believers to study theology for the glory of God and the good of the Church. This week, adoption.

There are hundreds of thousands of orphans in the United States alone and millions around the world. A distinctive feature of Christianity has been caring for these orphans (Ja. 1:27), but this was always expected of God’s people (Isa. 1:17). In the Old Testament, the ethical imperative to care for orphans was grounded in God’s character. He is a Father to the fatherless (Ps. 68:5). However, in the New Testament, we receive a fuller revelation, teaching us that Father is a proper name. God is eternally Father, Son, and Holy Spirit apart from the created order.

The apostle Paul prays to “the Father from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named” (Eph. 3:14). In other words, creaturely fatherhood derives from the eternal Father, who eternally begets His beloved Son. Similarly, all sonship is derivative of the Son. We might be tempted to think that when the Bible speaks of believers being adopted, it is merely a metaphor based on the context of adoption in the ancient Greco-Roman world. But to the contrary, earthly adoption is a metaphor, a shadow, a sign to the reality of salvific adoption, whereby a spiritual orphan becomes a son of God. Fatherhood and Sonship precede all creation, and adoption is nothing less than participation in the life of the Trinity through union with the natural Son of God. In love, the Father predestined us for adoption to Himself as sons through Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:4-5). In Him we have obtained an inheritance—a fitting thing for a son to receive—and the Holy Spirit is our downpayment (Eph. 1:11-14). The distinct missions of the Son and the Spirit are achieved in order for us to become sons and heirs (Gal. 4:4-7). As Fred Sanders has written, “Salvation by adoption is the salvation than which nothing more fitting can be imagined by a triune God.”[1]

Adoption is a much “bigger” doctrine than most recognize. Our predestination, effectual calling, justification, and glorification are centered around adoption (Rom. 8:12-30), containing legal, transformational, and eschatological elements. The doctrine of new birth (or regeneration) is distinct but intertwined with adoption, given that both testify to our soteriological sonship through the Son. Adoption is admittedly a more Pauline way of speaking, while becoming children of God by being “born of God” or “born from above” is Johannine language (John 1:12-13, 3:3), but both of these distinct emphases testify to a salvation that participates in the eternal Father-Son relation. We are granted a filial status because we enter into that union as the Spirit of the Father and the Son fills us with His presence.

The entire New Testament also assumes this doctrine through two marvelous notions we haven’t yet mentioned: the family of God and prayer. Every apostolic writer presupposes that Christians have become a family, which consists of brothers and sisters, even fathers and mothers. How can Jews and Gentiles, Pharisees and tax collectors, bondservants and masters—people of every tribe, tongue, and nation—be considered a family? Jews may cry, “Abba,” and Greeks, “Father (patēr),” but it is by the same Spirit of adoption to the one Father of all (Gal. 4:6). Sonship is the underlying framework for our basic ecclesiology. Furthermore, our communion with God depends on this reality. We approach the throne of God in prayer, not as orphans but as children, and we beseech Him with the pattern of prayer handed down to us, “Our Father in Heaven” (Matt. 6:9). We pray to our Father through His Son in the Holy Spirit!

For the Kids:

Can you imagine not having a mom or a dad? As sad as it is to think about, some children grow up without parents. They don’t have anybody to take care of them—to feed them, clothe them, play with them, discipline them, or teach them about Jesus. But God cares about every orphan. That’s why he commands Christians like us to care for them (Ja. 1:27). There are different ways to care for kids without parents, but one of the most obvious and beautiful ways is by adopting them into your own family. If your parents adopted a child, they would become your new brother or sister, and they would have a new mother and father. If you’ve been adopted or know anybody who’s been adopted (or even if you can imagine it), then you’ve seen a picture of how the gospel works.

God is a Trinity. He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and that is who He’s always been. God never changes. So before there were any families with fathers and sons—before anything was created at all—God the Father had a Son, the Son had the Father, and they both had the Holy Spirit. And before the world even existed yet, God the Father chose us to be adopted into His family through His Son. But why did we need adopted?

We’re born as sinners, which means that we’ve been separated from God and have become spiritual orphans without God as our Father. But the Father sent His own Son to save us by His life, death, and resurrection, so that we could be brought into His family forever. When we believe in Jesus the Son, we become adopted by God the Father, receive the Holy Spirit, and get lots of new brothers and sisters too!

[1] Fred Sanders, Fountain of Salvation: Trinity and Soteriology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing), 102.

The Purpose of Theology in Times of Uncertainty

For the first time in centuries, England had no King.

What started with saber rattling led to a fractious civil war. After years of conflict during the 1640s, the anti-royalists terminated the war with a celebratory sabrage of the monarchy. Many declared the end of the world had come.

For students at Oxford University, this political instability brought anxiety. Where would they serve after graduation? In what state would they find the country? Could one find a job with any kind of financial security or projected path of safety and success?

These were uncertain times.

To address the concerns of the students, one theologian brought help and comfort by, believe it or not, teaching theology.

John Owen was an intellectual giant in the seventeenth century. As a Puritan who advocated reform within the Church of England, Owen saw his influence grow during the time when there was no King. When Oxford University needed leadership, the Lord Protector, Oliver Cromwell, appointed Owen to serve as dean.

Owen’s role at Oxford also meant he had significant influence over the teaching of undergraduate students—and the students loved him.

Owen’s propensity to challenge formality in dress, no doubt, contributed to his large following among the students. He wore unconventional ribbons around his knees with Spanish leather boots. On top of his powdered hair, he wore a hat tilted, for effect, to one side.

Yet, it was Owen’s homiletical approach that had a lasting effect. Anthony Wood recounted that Owen’s “graceful behaviour in the pulpit” could move “the affections of his admiring auditory almost as he pleased.”1 As a regular practice during those years of country-wide instability, Owen and his fellow Puritan, Thomas Goodwin, each preached in the local university colleges on Sunday morning. Then they preached a schedule of Sunday afternoon sermons for undergraduate students in the University Church “St. Mary’s.”

These sermons were orthodox and precise, true and clear, but were more than a right ordering of facts—they were meant to ground and encourage the students to grow in their relationship with God, especially in uncertain times. Crawford Gribben notes that these university sermons “combined the theological mode with the devotional.”2 That is, in an era of tumult, Owen chose to give students theology with a fixed aim: to edify and point them to God.

This focus on edification is remarkable given the pressures Owen felt “to govern a restless and uneasy university community and to manage its affairs under a government in political turmoil.”3 As Gribben explains, Owen saw that “the scholastic bent of much mid-seventeenth century preaching and writing was not producing the godliness that [he] believed it should.”4 So, he designed his sermons to meet that need.

We know this was the case because Owen’s St. Mary’s sermons, while not extant, served as the basis for Owen’s later works including Of the Mortification of Sin (1656), Of Communion with God (1657), and Of Temptation (1658).5

Indeed, Owen’s sermons on communion with God serve as a prime example as they emphasized the believer’s relationship with the Triune God.6 As Beeke and Jones explain, in his sermons “Owen embraced the idea of enjoying the Trinity and amplified it through the concept of distinct communion with each divine person.”7 This is seen right at the start of Of Communion with God where Owen cited 1 John 1:3 to show his student audience that fellowship is with God himself.8

Owen continued to explain how “this distinct communion, then, of the saints with the Father, Son, and Spirit, is very plain in the Scripture.”9 The idea that man could have fellowship with God is remarkable given that “since the entrance of sin, no man hath any communion with God.” Yet, through the “manifestation of grace and pardoning mercy … in Christ we have boldness and access with confidence to God.”10

Naturally, two thirds of Owen’s sermons focused on communion with the Son given that communion with God is not possible without the sacrifice of the Son. Owen explained that “[b]ecause Christ was God and man in one person, he was able to suffer and to bear whatever punishment was due to us…. There was room enough in Christ’s breast to receive the points of all the swords that were sharpened by the law against us. And there was strength enough in Christ’s shoulders to bear the burden of that curse that was due us.”11

Given the work of Christ on our behalf, Owen exhorted the students to, “receive Christ in all his excellences and glories as he gives himself to us. Frequently think of him by faith, comparing him with other beloveds, such as sin, the world and legal righteousness. Then you will more and more prefer him above them all, and you will count them as all rubbish in comparison to him.”12

In tumultuous times, communion with God, then, is both “perfect and complete” and “initial and incomplete.” It is perfect and complete, Owen explained, “in the full fruition of his glory,” and initial and incomplete “in the first fruits and dawnings of that perfection which we have here in grace.”13 Thus, contemplation on fellowship with God strengthens those anxious about the earthly world seemingly turned upside down all around them.

Indeed, Owen’s sermons edified during an era of confusion and distraction for students living in Oxford. His emphasis on the relationship a believer can have with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit is just one example of how he showed how one should live, with and for God.

John Owen knew that the purpose of theology in times of uncertainty is to edify and promote communion with the living God. Jesus Christ is, after all, the light of the world, and in dark days whoever walks with him, “will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (Jn 12:12). It is good and right to ensure one’s theology is good and right, but failing to edify and point people to fellowship with God, does not produce godliness and fails to give hope.14

*This article is adapted from the forthcoming essay “Beacons from the Spire: Evangelical Theology and History in Oxford’s University Church” scheduled to appear in the December 2023 issue of Themelios.

1. Anthony Wood, Athenae Oxonienses (London: F. C. and J. Rivington, 1820), 4:741.
2. Crawford Gribben, John Owen and English Puritanism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016), 130.
3. Gribben, John Owen, 172.
4. Gribben, John Owen, 173.
5. Peter Toon, ed. The Correspondence of John Owen (1616-1683): With an Account of His Life and Work (Cambridge: James Clarke, 1970), 47.
6. Philip Henry (1631–1696), father of the Presbyterian leader, Matthew Henry, was a student at this time and reflected on the helps he had “not only for learning, but for religion and piety.” Of the latter, he mentioned the sermons by Owen and Goodwin “on the Lord’s day, in the afternoon.” See Matthew Henry, Life and Times of Rev. Philip Henry, M.A. (London: Thomas Nelson Paternoster Row, 1848), 60.
7. Joel Beeke and Mark Jones, A Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage, 2012), 103, 105, 111.
8. John Owen, The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, reprint ed. (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1965), 2:5.
9. Owen, Works, 2:11.
10. Owen, Works, 2:6–7.
11. This text taken from John Owen, Communion with God, abridged by J. K. Law (London: Banner of Truth, 1991), 66. See original in Owen, Works, 2:67.
12. This text taken from Owen, Communion with God, 60. See original in Owen, Works, 2:59.
13. Owen, Works, 2:9.
14. A wonderful example of theology preached and written for edification can be found in Jared C. Wilson’s recent book, Friendship with the Friend of Sinners: The Remarkable Possibility of Closeness with Christ (Baker Books, 2023).

What is Eschatology?

Editor’s Note: The Theology in the Everyday series seeks to introduce and explain theological concepts in 500 words or less, with a 200-word section helping explain the doctrine to kids. At For The Church, we believe that theology should not be designated to the academy alone but lived out by faith in everyday life. We hope this series will present theology in such a way as to make it enjoyable, connecting theological ideas to everyday experience and encouraging believers to study theology for the glory of God and the good of the Church. This week, eschatology.

Conversations on “eschatology” can go off the rails quick. The word conjures up in many of our minds debates about Israel, or images of books with dark and threatening titles and covers with fire and red moons, and the whole topic can leave us befuddled and tired. Because of this, many of us are tempted to just avoid the topic altogether. This is unfortunate because the hope of God’s climactic conclusion to human history is one of the Bible’s central hopes. If this area of Christian theology gripped the minds and hearts of the biblical authors, we cannot ignore it. However, this does not mean that we have no reason to be skittish. Why? Because the whole conversation has, unfortunately, been boxed into a very narrow set of concerns. For the most part, the sum and substance of our eschatological debates surround questions related to the timing and sequence of the return of Christ and the final events of judgment and restoration. To talk about eschatology, we think, is to talk about Revelation 20 and the thousand years mentioned there. Are they literal or figurative? Are they referring to an earthly kingdom before the final judgment or do they refer to Christ’s reign in heaven right now? If the former, are they describing a golden age of earthly prosperity before or after the return of Christ?

Now, to be clear, these questions are not unimportant. We tend to ride what we might call the “millennium pendulum,” swinging from one excess to another—either we minimize the significance of these questions, or we maximize their significance as something worth dividing over. The truth is, neither extreme is important. On the one hand, an ambivalence is wrong because the way we answer these specific questions about Revelation 20 is determined by our understanding of the whole Bible. The way you relate New Covenant Christians to Old Testament prophecies about “Zion” and “Israel” and “Jacob” is not a small matter—your whole understanding of how to put the Bible together is going to shape the questions and answers generated by your reading of Revelation 20. On the other hand, the topic of eschatology is way more massive than even those important questions.

Eschatology is about God’s ultimate goal—his telos, his purpose, his intended end—of creation. God makes nothing purposelessly—to exist is to have a telos. And the telos of creation is its glorification. Which means, eschatology precedes creation. For you to exist as a human being is for you to be a character within a story that is being written by a sovereign Author who is in the process of bringing his story to its perfect conclusion. This is what all creation was made for, and what all human beings in their fullest realization of God’s purpose for them can hope to experience: God’s glory in their glorification. This means that despite the many differences the divide Christian Eschatologies from one another, the most significant difference regarding eschatology is not a matter of what distinguishes premillennialists from postmillennialist or amillennialists, but rather what distinguishes all Christians from every other portrayal of history.

Regardless of your position on the millennium, then, I think it’s possible to sketch out what we might call a “mere Christian eschatology.” Here’s how I would describe it: Eschatology is the theology of last things. This area of theology encompasses the biblical purpose of creation, the biblical prophetic disclosure of the events and circumstances leading up to final telos of the cosmos, as well as the major elements of this telos’s realization, including (a) the bodily return of Jesus Christ to earth (Acts 17:31; Jn 5:22-27; 1 Thess 4:17; Rev 19:11-16), (b) the bodily resurrection of the dead (Acts 24:32-46; Jn 5:28-29; Phil 3:21; 1 Cor 15:12-49), (c) divine judgment, whereby the unrighteous are condemned to hell and the righteous are glorified to inherit the fullness of eternal life (Matt 12:36; 25:32-46; Is 66:24; Dan 12:1-3; 2 Cor 5:10; Rev 20:11-15), and (d) the glorification of all creation, with the consummation of the New Heavens and the New Earth, where the saints will dwell bodily in perfect communion with God forever (Is 65:17; 66:22-23; Rom 8:22-25; 2 Pet 3:8-13; Rev 21:1-22:5).

How can we be certain these things are actually going to happen? Because, in a very real way, the end has already been inaugurated with the death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus! The day he rose from the dead, he guaranteed that all these biblical promises were not just pipe dreams or wishful thinking. The glorification of the heavens and the earth (or, you might say, the resurrection of the heavens and the earth) is no longer a distant, hoped-for dream—it hasn’t been that for over two millennia, because when Jesus busted out of the grave, he was the first fruits—the early spring budding—of all those glorious promises coming to fruition.

We who have trusted in Christ have come to know what Martha learned from Jesus’s own lips: He is the resurrection and the life (cf., Jn 11:17-26). Knowing these things, and believing them, infuses every part of our lives with meaning. Eschatology means that all the atrocities we see, all the pain and natural and moral evil we experience, all have an expiration date. It means that the stakes in evangelism cannot be higher—we are talking about matters of everlasting life and death. It means that no one who has ever been buried will stay that way—all the “garden” graveyards will yield their dead who will inherit either everlasting life or everlasting judgment (1 Cor 15:23). It means that our final hope isn’t to die and go to heaven, but rather for heaven to come to earth. It means that those whom we love who have died trusting in Christ, though they are currently present with him—perfectly joyful—in a (mysteriously) bodiless way (Phil 1:23-24), are waiting for the very thing you are waiting for: resurrection and the glorification of the heavens and the earth. Perfect, ceaseless enjoyment of God in a glorified body in a glorified cosmos—this is our hope and our promise.

For the Kids:

Kids, do you love stories? Of course you do! Everyone does. That’s because God made us to love stories. Do you know why? Well, there’s a lot of reasons, but the main reason is that God also loves stories, and He made us to be like Him in that way. Now, what if I were to tell you that you are in a story? It’s true; you are a character within God’s story—all of us are. You see, God is writing a story called “history”—it began in the beginning (of course) with creation, when He spoke and said, “let the universe exist” and the universe came to exist. It’s the story we read about in the Bible—and this story—the history of our world—is still being written by God. So, you’re here because God decided this story could use a “you” character in it.

Now, you know—if your parents are Christians and have taught you about the Bible—that one of the most important parts of this story is when God the Father’s eternal Son became a man, when He lived, and died, and was buried, and rose again from the dead, and came back to heaven. You also know, I hope, that if you trust in Jesus to take away your sins and give you a heart to love and worship Him, you will get to go to heaven when you die—your soul will get to be with Jesus. But did you know that that’s not the end of the story. No, the end of the story is way better than that!

There’s a lot that we don’t know about what will happen in this story between now and the end, but we know several things about what will happen at the very end. We know, for example, that Jesus will return to this earth in the same body that went up to heaven. We know that Satan and all his followers will be defeated by Jesus—the warrior-King—and that every wrong ever committed in this world will be righted. We know that after He comes back, Jesus is going to heal this world of every hurt and will bind up and mend every broken thing. And we know that when He comes back, we will get new bodies. We don’t know exactly what those new bodies will be like, but we know that they will be unimaginably better than we could even dream of; and they will be matched by a new world that is just as amazing. And, most importantly, we know that we will be with Jesus and will enjoy being with Him forever and ever and ever!

What is the Afterlife?

Editor’s Note: The Theology in the Everyday series seeks to introduce and explain theological concepts in 500 words or less, with a 200-word section helping explain the doctrine to kids. At For The Church, we believe that theology should not be designated to the academy alone but lived out by faith in everyday life. We hope this series will present theology in such a way as to make it enjoyable, connecting theological ideas to everyday experience and encouraging believers to study theology for the glory of God and the good of the Church. This week, the afterlife.

Is there life after death? Will I live on in a state of eternal bliss or in a state of eternal torment? Or will I simply cease to exist? These questions have intrigued and haunted human beings from our origins. Every world religion and philosophy has had some answer or other to these most pressing questions, from the ancient Egyptians, who mummified the dead and gave them provisions for the netherworld, to modern atheists who reject any notion of personal existence after death. The answers to these questions shape not only a one’s hope for the future, but they also give purpose and meaning to life in the present. From a Christian perspective, the answers to these questions are woven throughout the whole fabric of Christian theology: what we believe about God, the person and work of Christ, the identity, destiny, and constitution of human beings (body and soul), the meaning of salvation, the mission of the Church, and the end of history.

So, what does the Bible say about the afterlife? The best place to begin is not at the end but at the beginning. In the creation account, God formed Adam from the dust of the ground and breathed into him the breath of life, constituting our first father as a “living soul” (Gen. 2:7). Likewise, Eve was taken from Adam’s side (Gen. 2:21-22), as a co-equal divine image bearer (Gen. 1:27), and Adam’s posterity share in that same image as well (Gen. 5:3). Thus, all human beings possess dignity and goodness as ensouled bodies (or embodied souls). The tragic sin of our first parents, however, introduces the sentence of death to the human race. Now, after the fall, the unnatural state of death is our common human lot. Death introduces not only a spiritual separation from God, a relational separation from one another, and an existential separation from our own selves; it also introduces a separation of the soul and the body.

Sometimes the Old Testament can speak of death as a definitive end (Psalm 6:5; 30:9; 88:10-12; 115:17; Isa. 38:18), but this is only from the perspective of life on earth. In other places, the Old Testament speaks of some kind of ongoing personal existence after death. The righteous dead are said to “go to [their] fathers in peace” (Gen. 15:15) or to be “gathered to [their] people” in death (Gen. 25:8, 17; 35:29; 49:33; Num. 20:24; 27:13). Echoing the creation language of Genesis 2, the Preacher writes that “the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it” (Ecc. 12:7). For the unrighteous, a more sobering prospect remains after death. Those who participated in Korah’s rebellion were swallowed up by the earth and went “down alive to Sheol,” the place of the dead (Num. 16:30, 32). Elsewhere, the Old Testament speaks about the possibility of “going down to Sheol” in “mourning” (Gen. 37:35). Sheol (the Greek term was Hades) was the abode for all of the dead in the Old Testament, but it appears that there were at least two possible outcomes in that netherworld: the righteous dead experience the peace of being gathered to their people and the unrighteous dead experience Sheol as judgment. The calling up of Samuel from the dead by the medium at En-Dor, though an illicit attempt to communicate with the dead, is further evidence of this teaching in the Old Testament (1 Sam. 28).

But the Old Testament also points to another, more glorious state of life after death: the resurrection of the body. There are hints of this teaching in multiple places in the Old Testament. After all of his suffering, Job waxes poetic about the prospect of an embodied afterlife: “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:25–26). Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones being restored to life also points in this direction (Ezek. 37). But the clearest teaching on the resurrection of the body in the Old Testament comes in Daniel 12 in his vision of the end of history:

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever (Dan. 12:2-3).

From this teaching, the ancient Hebrews began to see that the afterlife comes in two stages. At death, the soul departs the body and goes to the place of the dead (Sheol/Hades), where the righteous dead are comforted in Abraham’s Bosom/Paradise (Luke 16:22; 23:43) and where the unrighteous dead suffer in torment (Luke 16:23). But this is merely a provisional or intermediate state. The final state of human existence will come at the end of history when all of the dead will be raised bodily, some to everlasting life and some to everlasting judgment. Each person’s body and soul will be reunited in an immortal, resurrected state.

The New Testament writers assume the Old Testament teaching on the afterlife, but they see it as fundamentally altered by the work of Jesus Christ. Death was definitively defeated through the atoning death of Jesus. Furthermore, Jesus himself descended to the place of the dead in his own intermediate state, the time between Good Friday and Easter Sunday (Eph. 4:9). In Sheol/Hades, Jesus proclaimed his victory over death (1 Pet. 3:19), seized the keys to Death and Hades (Rev. 1:18), and liberated the souls of the Old Testament saints in Sheol (for more on Christ’s descent to the dead, see this important work). This is the so-called “harrowing of hell”: Jesus entered into death, that most harrowing (that is, distressing) human prospect, and rather than being himself harrowed by hell, he harrows it! Then, on that glorious Easter morning, Jesus burst the bonds of death and emerged from the tomb as the firstfruits of the general resurrection which will happen at the end of the age. From now on, all who die in the Lord can rest assured that they will also be raised in glory with him (Rom. 6:5; 1 Cor. 15).

Some Christians and sectarian groups have espoused a notion of “soul sleep,” in which the soul at death simply passes from consciousness until the resurrection of the body at the second coming of Christ. Others have argued that believers are immediately resurrected upon death—that they are somehow translated in time to the eschaton (that is, the end of history). But the New Testament seems to teach the same two-stage afterlife as the Old Testament, only reoriented by the work of Christ. After death comes the judgment. So, when unbelievers die, their souls go to hell, where they await the resurrection of their bodies, at which point they will experience the final judgment: the “lake of fire” (Rev. 20). Until the second coming, believers too must experience the painful separation of death. In this intermediate state between death and resurrection, the souls of believers are “away from the body” but are consciously “at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). They “depart” the “flesh” in order to “be with Christ” (Phil. 1:23-24). But this disembodied state is not the final word. The martyred souls under the throne in heaven await their final vindication: “They cried out with a loud voice, ‘O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?’ Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been” (Rev. 6:10-11). The final vindication, not only for the martyrs but for all the believing dead, will come at the return of Christ when “the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thess. 4:16). Then, those who are alive at the second coming will be immediately translated into their resurrected state.

There are several important lessons that we can draw from this rich biblical teaching on the afterlife.

First, be prepared for death. No one knows the time of his departure from this life. We should order our affairs each day with our death in view. The Christian faith is as much about learning to die well as it is about learning to live well (though it is about both and they are intimately related). The most important thing that we can do to prepare for death is to repent of our sins and to trust in the guilt-removing, death-destroying gospel of Jesus Christ.

Second, help others prepare for death. The mission is urgent. Share the gospel with your unbelieving family members and friends. Support global missions by going or sending. Recognize that unbelievers are not our ultimate enemy. They too have an enemy who seeks to enslave them to fear and unbelief (Heb. 2:14-15).

Third, live in hope. Death is a frightening prospect, to be sure. The death of loved ones leaves a painful scar on our souls. But Christians can face death with confidence in the mercy and power of the Lord Jesus Christ. When the apostle John saw a vision of the Risen Lord, he “fell at his feet as though dead.” The response of the Lord to John’s fear should hearten every believer in the face of death: “But he laid his right hand on me, saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades’” (Rev. 1:17-18).

For the Kids:

It is sad to think about, but every person will die one day. Maybe you know someone who has died, a grandparent or someone else in your life. It is important to know that this is not the way it is supposed to be! People die because of sin, not necessarily because their own sin but because of the sin of all humanity in Adam and Eve.

Death brings about a separation. Each person is made up of two main parts: a body, which you can see, and a soul, which you cannot see. The soul is that part of you that was made to know and love God and that will live forever. When a person dies, his soul is separated from his body. For those who believe in and follow Jesus, their souls will go to be with Jesus in heaven. For those who do not believe in and follow Jesus, their souls will go to a place of judgment called Hell.

But there is hope in death. Because of the death and resurrection of Jesus, all who turn from their sins and believe in him can know that they will go to heaven when they die. But there is even better news! When Jesus comes back to earth one day, your body will be raised from the dead and reunited with your soul so that you can spend forever with Jesus in a beautiful and glorious body for ever and ever. So, Christians don’t have to fear death. We can put our hope in him, even when we are afraid.

Start With The End: 3 Reasons You Should Try Writing the Conclusion of Your Sermon First

Have you ever listened to a sermon and felt like the preacher did not know how to stop talking? “Just land the plane” is an encouragement you may have heard before. Preaching is hard and ending the sermon with a satisfying conclusion is even harder. You can have the most engaging opening story, great exegesis, and helpful application and yet leave the audience exasperated at the end because you keep circling the runway instead of landing the plane. Or even worse, you can take the people on a great exposition that glorifies God and edify the saints and just crash the plane at the end because you didn’t know how to get out of it. How you close a sermon is as important as how you start the sermon.

Quintilian, the classic orator said “The peroration (conclusion) is the most important part of forensic pleading.” The conclusion of the sermon is place where you make a final plea and argument for your people to believe what God’s Word has said and apply it to their lives. Yet the temptation is to haphazardly wrap things up with an application point or closing anecdote. You will serve your people well when you close a sermon with clarity and conviction. If you find that a particular airline has pilots that tend towards uncomfortably, bumpy, and startling landings you will fly with someone else. And as important as it is for a pilot to get you to the ground safely, it is even greater that those of us who labor in the proclamation of God’s Word to his church conclude with clarity and satisfaction. Here are three reasons why you should try writing your conclusion first.

Clarifies the Central Main Point

Any impactful sermon aims to communicate a central truth or main point. (Yes, your sermon should have a main point that you are proving.) Too often, preachers lose sight of this focus during the sermon development process. You found a hilarious illustration, a fascinating detail in the text, or a place to do cultural engagement but what if those great things don’t actually serve your main point. They are your favorite rabbit trails, but going down the rabbit hole is not what a sermon is meant to do. You need to know your main point that you are bringing to your people in order to conclude the sermon. Writing the conclusion first can serve as a powerful antidote to this problem. Your work in the Word will lead to the main point of the passage. If you do your work, starting at the end really isn’t that hard. The conclusion ought to hit that main point home one final and forceful time to stay in the mind of your audience.

By crafting the conclusion upfront, you crystallize the central message you want to leave with your congregation. This focused idea becomes the lighthouse guiding all other parts of your sermon. As you construct the introduction and the body, you are constantly reminded of the primary point you want to make. It enables you to be sure that every element of your sermon—be it scriptural exploration, real-life applications, or illustrations—directly contributes to driving home your main point.

Pulls Together the Movements in the Sermon

A sermon isn’t merely a linear progression of ideas; it’s a journey that the preacher takes the congregation on. This journey has different movements—sometimes through contrasting viewpoints, parts of a story, or your classic three-point sermon. Knowing your conclusion from the get-go offers clarity to these movements. Your subpoints work like turns on the road or rocks in a creek. They get you to your destination. If you don’t know your destination, your conclusion, then your subpoints will take you somewhere else, or perhaps leave your stranded.

When you write the conclusion first, you essentially establish your sermon’s destination. With the end point clear in your mind, you can thoughtfully plot the course you wish to navigate to get there. Each movement in the sermon becomes a strategic step toward that pre-determined conclusion. Whether you are using deductive reasoning, building an argument, or engaging in storytelling, the movements will be more coherent and logical, helping your people understand and remember the message.

Makes People Want to Come Back and Listen Again

A strong, memorable conclusion leaves a lasting impression. It’s the part of the sermon that often resonates most deeply with listeners and gives them something to ponder long after they’ve left the church building. It is the last thing they will likely hear you say. Consequently, the conclusion can be a significant factor in whether people will want to come back and listen again.

Writing the conclusion first allows you to tie up loose ends, identify the key takeaways, and the emotional tone you wish to set. By identifying this emotional and spiritual landing point early in your preparation, you are better prepared to craft a sermon that captures attention from the beginning, holds it throughout, and releases it only after imprinting a compelling message on the hearts of your listeners. That’s something that I would want to come back and hear again


The task of sermon writing is both a privilege and a responsibility, and the approach one takes can make all the difference. Writing the conclusion first might seem counterintuitive, all the more reason to try it. I’m not saying pick a conclusion apart from God’s Word. Do your exegetical work, find your main idea, and when you sit down to write the sermon start at the end. It clarifies your sermon’s central point, gives structure and clarity to its various movements, and most importantly, leaves your congregation eager to return for more. Look, there is nothing magical about when you write your conclusion. But having a good conclusion that reinforces the conclusion is important and too easily passed without thought. So, the next time you sit down to pen a sermon, consider starting at the end.

What is Pure Act?

Editor’s Note: The Theology in the Everyday series seeks to introduce and explain theological concepts in 500 words or less, with a 200-word section helping explain the doctrine to kids. At For The Church, we believe that theology should not be designated to the academy alone but lived out by faith in everyday life. We hope this series will present theology in such a way as to make it enjoyable, connecting theological ideas to everyday experience and encouraging believers to study theology for the glory of God and the good of the Church. This week, pure act.

We are creatures torn between being and becoming. In the grand symphony of creation, everything reflects the tension between what is, and what will be. From the tiniest microorganisms to the greatest galaxies swirling in the cosmos, each created entity carries its unique blueprint of potentiality and fulfillment.

The fact that the world around us is full of potential is so common to our everyday experience that we hardly stop to notice. We don’t often pause to look at an oak tree in the park long enough to marvel at the acorns strewn about beneath. But there in those tiny acorns lies the potential to grow, given the right conditions, into a giant oak tree. This is because it is the very nature of an acorn to become an oak. An acorn, we could then say is potentially an oak tree. Looking from the other direction, we could say that a mature oak is a fully actualized acorn. That is, when the true nature of the acorn is fulfilled or actualized, it becomes the tree that it was created to become.

We humans, as part of God’s intricate design, also embody this principle. We are born helpless infants, brimming with the potential for growth and learning as we mature into the adults we are meant to be. Our lives are exercises in becoming, the pursuit of actualizing our dormant abilities and fulfilling our purposes to create and cultivate God’s creation.

All created things reflect this distinction between what they are, and what they can become. We live in a world where being and becoming are built into the very fabric of reality.

Yet, amidst this constant flux and change that characterizes the created world, God stands as the unchanging being. God’s essence is perfect, simple, and pure. He is the eternal “I AM” that knows no shadow or variation due to change. This divine unchangeability (immutability) reminds us of the profound difference between the Creator and His creation.

The world around us pulsates with potential, a testament to the exquisite design of creation, while God remains the epitome of pure being, untouched by the winds of change, and ever radiant in the fullness of His perfect existence. God, being the Creator of all things, is not like us. As pure existence, the One who has life in Himself, He has no need of becoming. To imply that He has need of becoming would be to confuse the Creator with His creation.

We could then say that God is purely actual, only ever and always existing and acting out of the fullness of His perfect, infinite life, never out of lack or need. In short, God has no potential to become anything other than what He already is, because He Himself is the fullness of life.

For the Kids:

As kids, you hope to grow up and be big someday. It’s why you play “grown ups” with your friends and pretend that you are doctors, firefighters, professional athletes, or moms and dads. Growing up is part of what it means to be a kid. It’s why you play and learn new things and why, when the time comes, you will learn to do less fun grown up things like work and chores. But that is a good thing! It means that you are becoming who God created you to be.

God, however, is not growing up and changing like you are. He is, and has always been, perfectly God, so He has no need to grow up or change. This is good news for you because it means that God does not lack anything! Since He lacks nothing, everything God does, He does it out of His abundant love, never out of need. In fact, God is so perfect and complete in himself that he chose to share everything He has with you, in Jesus. This is the good news of the gospel.

So as you grow up in a world full of change, always remember that God cannot be any more because He already is.[1]

[1] Thanks to Thomas Hext for this aphorism about what it means for us to confess that God is pure act.

The Secret to Loving Your Wife Better: Love Jesus Better

I recently heard somebody say that one of the ways to endure well in ministry is to realize that ministry is not about you, it’s all about Jesus. The same is true of marriage. When you embrace that marriage is about Jesus first, and you and your wife second, one of the secrets of a joyful, enduring marriage comes to light: love Jesus better, and you will love your wife better.

As pastors, it seems we should know this instinctively. Our calling is directly tied to helping others come to know Jesus better. But we are no different than all of our church members when it comes to needing to be reminded constantly that the Bible says that marriage is about Jesus first and that it works right when we love Jesus first.

As I have studied what the Bible says about marriage, both for my own growth and for the growth of others whom I am trying to help, I have become convinced that Christ’s relationship with the church is the controlling metaphor that God has given us to help us understand marriage. A controlling metaphor is a word picture that explains something for an entire work of literature. At the beginning of the Bible, when God created marriage in the Garden of Eden, he initiated a human covenant relationship that he knew could reflect the relationship between his Son and his people. Even so many years before Jesus, even in the Garden, God was pointing ahead to his Son.

At the end of the Bible, when God plans a celebration feast for the consummation of the ages, he describes it using what term? The marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7, 9)! When we love our wives like Christ loves the church, we are playing our part in a story that has been told since the beginning of time, a story that will continue to be celebrated at the end of time as we step into the beginning of forever.

Paul points this out in Ephesians 5:31-32, when he quotes Genesis 2:24, and then explains that there are depths to marriage we can only begin to understand on this side of eternity: “‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” Marriage refers to Christ and the church. God embedded marriage in culture as a quiet pointer to the gospel. So, when we love our wives well, we point to Jesus. But also, when we love Jesus well, we love our wives better.

After two decades of marriage, I have noticed a pattern: when I am closer to Jesus, I am usually closer to my wife. Why is this? Paul David Tripp helpfully explains in his book, What Did You Expect?, “A marriage of love, unity and understanding is not rooted in romance; it is rooted in worship…No marriage will be unaffected when the people in the marriage are seeking to get from the creation what they were only ever meant to get from the Creator.”

This applies to pastors as much as anyone else. Yet, there are certain dangers inherent in our vocation. We can think that because we are serving Jesus daily as part of our job, that we are naturally close to Jesus. But one test of a man’s walk with Christ is in how he treats his wife. This is not to say that if we are close to Jesus, that we will automatically at all times be close to our wives. The fact that you are a sinner married to a sinner in a world groaning under the curse, with a difficult calling as a pastor’s family, means that there will be ups and downs in your marriage. But making your relationship with Christ a priority is the start to finding the freedom and power to love your wife humbly and selflessly as Jesus loves, no matter what is going on in your relationship or ministry at the time.

When you remember that Jesus is your first love (see Revelation 2:4-5), then his love naturally overflows out of your life onto your wife. It’s not that loving Jesus and loving your wife are commands from God that are at odds with each other, it is that we can only love others rightly when we have our loves ordered rightly.

Jesus explained how loving God results in loving others: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39) Your wife is your closest neighbor, so the words of Jesus remind us of our order of priorities as shepherds of God’s people: love Jesus, love your wife, love your kids, and love others including your church family and community.

Fellow pastors and ministry leaders, don’t forget that there is a clear command from the Bible on loving your wife, “… be intoxicated always in her love” (Proverbs 5:19). God calls you to be madly in love with your wife. This is best for you, best for her, best for your kids, best for your church, and it glorifies God. So pursue her simply for the joy of pursuing her, and because you love her. But don’t forget that you will love your wife better when you love Jesus better. Root your pursuit of her in the fact that you have been pursued by Christ. Embracing this secret can be the secret to embracing a joy-filled marriage.

Rekindle your love for Jesus, and be in tune with his heart for reflecting the gospel in your marriage. Then your marriage will be like a fire that keeps you both warm, and at the same time gives light to others.

What is Assurance?

Editor’s Note: The Theology in the Everyday series seeks to introduce and explain theological concepts in 500 words or less, with a 200-word section helping explain the doctrine to kids. At For The Church, we believe that theology should not be designated to the academy alone but lived out by faith in everyday life. We hope this series will present theology in such a way as to make it enjoyable, connecting theological ideas to everyday experience and encouraging believers to study theology for the glory of God and the good of the Church. This week, assurance.

The doctrine of assurance wrestles with the big question, “How can I know I’m saved?” The answer it provides is, because of “the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, [and] the testimony of the Spirit of adoption witnessing with our spirits that we are children of God.”[1] You can find the doctrine throughout Scripture (Romans 5:2, 8:15-16; Hebrews 6:11, 6:17-18; 1 John 2:3, 3:14, 3:24, 5:13).

The doctrine has an objective and subjective dimension which should be distinguished (but not separated). The first dimension we can refer to as “assurance of salvation.” It asks the big question in an objective sense: “How can I know I’m saved?” It refers to the ground of Assurance, the place we look outside of ourselves to see that salvation has been accomplished. And the answer is to one place: the finished work of Christ. This aspect of assurance never shifts because God’s promises of salvation in the gospel never do. A Christian can be sure of his salvation because God himself has promised!

The second aspect we can call “assurance of faith.” It deals with the subjective aspect of the big question–“How can I know I’m saved?”; as in, “That may be salvation, but how do I know that I have true saving faith which receives it?” It refers to the personal experience of assurance. A Christian can be sure of his salvation by looking inward at his fruit and the Spirit’s conviction in his heart that he belongs to God. This sense of assurance may rise and fall. Why?

“True believers may have the assurance of their salvation diverse way shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it, by falling into some special sin which wounds the conscience and grieves the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation, by God’s withdrawing the light of his countenance, and suffering even such as fear Him to walk in darkness and to have no light. Yet, are they never so utterly destitute of the seed of God and life of faith..this assurance may, in due time, be revived”[2]

The doctrine of assurance, then, is both a steadfast objective reality and a fluctuating subjective experience.

Assurance is a sweet doctrine for the Christian life for two reasons. First, it teaches a Christian’s salvation remains assured because the divine promises of salvation in the gospel never bend. Second, it acknowledges that while a Christian’s subjective experience of assurance may waiver due to sin, affliction, etc. they themselves remain just as held by God. Not only that, but it can always be buffeted and grown.

Because our salvation rests in the objective work of Christ and not our subjective experience, we can objectively assure one another even in the midst of our lack of subjective assurance that we are his until our experience “catches up” to truth. This is what the doctrine of assurance assures us of!

For the Kids:

“Assurance” refers to a Christian’s confidence of salvation and the genuineness of the faith that connects them to salvation. Assurance has two dimensions. The first is found outside of us and so is called “objective.” This sense of assurance comes from one place: God’s promises of salvation in the gospel. How can you be sure you’re saved? Because God promises it in the gospel!

The second dimension is personal, or “subjective.” It’s found by looking at our fruit and at the inner-conviction from the Spirit that we belong to God. Because it is related to ourselves, the experience of this second sense of assurance can be grown or diminished. How can you be sure you’re saved? Look at your fruit and the Spirit’s testimony within you!

Assurance is like a bicycle. The rear wheel (the objective dimension) never turns because it is held in place by the bike-frame (the gospel). The front wheel, though, can wobble from hitting rocks (suffering, God’s hiding his face, etc.). Not only that, but it can turn different directions due to the actions (sin or obedience) of the rider (the Christian). All make up the bike of assurance God uses to carry the Christian.

[1] Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter 18.2: “Of Assurance of Grace and Salvation”

[2] Ibid. 18.4