The Indispensable Necessity of Doctrinally Rich Young Adult Ministry

I’ve worked within student ministry in some capacity for 12 years. If junior highers smell like body spray and if high schoolers can smell fear, then young adults (YAs) have a nose for inauthenticity. They see right through the smoke machine and lights. They quickly pick up on lack of depth. And they know on first whiff whether the “answer” you just gave to the question that’s plagued them or their friend’s faith (or is sitting at the bottom of their lack thereof) is worthy of consideration or if you’re just grasping at straws. They pull no punches, and they are awesome for it!

If I could encourage those attempting to reach or minister to college-age people toward one thing besides knowing their Bibles and enjoying God, it would be this: you and your ministry must be doctrinally robust. Your acquaintance with the issues YAs raise, and even more importantly, your familiarity with the answers from Scripture and Christian tradition, are indispensable in engaging GenZ 18- to 20-somethings. Whether it’s the unsaved skeptic, the new believer, or the mature believer, there will be no fruitful ministry among GenZ college students and young adults apart from deep, rich, and robust doctrine.

Evangelistic and Apologetic Need

As Derek Rishmawy, himself a campus minister, has said in regard to reaching GenZ college students, “Nerdy theology really does matter for evangelism. Doctrineless evangelism simply will not work.” Amen. The universities where YAs live lack no robust secular doctrine that refutes Christianity. Bart Erdman does not pull any punches, and neither should we. Young adults need to know the church has sufficient and coherent answers to their theological questions, and we who pastor them should be ready to offer those answers (1 Peter 3:15).

The Need for Adult Answers to Adult Lives

Young adults face new life stages and challenges. They have questions about dating, marriage, finance, politics, culture, and more. They often no longer rely on their parents or tradition for answers. They need deep, robust, and coherent doctrine that addresses the complexities and hardships of life. You might get away with shooting from the hip in youth group, but young adults will suss out a run-of-the-mill answer in a heartbeat. Not only this, but as a generation coming of age amid heightened turbulence (American political context, COVID) and lack of solidity (social media), they long for rootedness and concreteness. A concreteness only deep doctrine can provide. YAs need mature doctrine so they can mature into adulthood (Hebrews 5:11-14).

The Discipleship Need

Many, if not most, YAs have no clue robust theology even exists. They rarely read theological books and haven’t sat under good preaching and teaching. I pick up on this when some of the YAs in my church don’t understand the need for church membership, the significance of baptism, the habit of tithing, and so on. YAs, mature or immature, need good doctrine that will instruct them in how they ought to live and stir them up to taste the depths of the knowledge of God so that they might be further formed into his image (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Resources

So, if pastors or volunteers or parents want to effectively engage and disciple young adults, they must equip themselves in knowing, presenting, and defending “what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1, Cf. Titus 1:9; 1 Timothy 1:10). And we will become so by not only going deep in our Bibles, but going wide in our familiarity with solid Christian theology and growing in our ability to wield it for the good of those young people we long to reach and disciple.

So, as one step toward this, what should one be reading/doing to prepare for ministering to college agers?

Historical Theology

YAs don’t need new answers. They need age-old answers applied to contemporary phrasing of age-old questions. And thankfully for us, the Christian tradition is in no small part the history of answering the most foundational questions humans have ever wondered about. Metaphysics, morality–these are the same questions GenZ has, though staged somewhat differently.

Pick a (preferably not from this century) systematic theology or theologian and dedicate yourself to ingesting it/them. Go slow and let the sound theology seep into your bones. Recognize how the answers given centuries ago are the answers needed today, just with your own presentation.

And let the 21-year-old know where you’re getting these answers from. This will not only give you the next most solid foundation outside of Scripture with which to grapple with the questions young adults have, but it will also provide a rootedness to the young adult asking as they see this isn’t something thought up last week.

You can’t go wrong with Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics. Or, if four volumes is understandably a bit much for a first bite, Louis Berkhof’s one-volume Systematic Theology is a great place to start. For a modern presentation, look at John Frame’s.

Biblical Anthropology

You knew you needed to read in this area. And you knew why. If YAs have questions about anything, it is about our bodies. What are they? Am I my body, or am I inside of it? Do bodies matter? How much do they matter? How do we know they matter more than what my mind says? Speaking of, what’s a mind? These are just the snowflakes of the iceberg.

But these questions aren’t theoretical. YAs have these questions because they have friends whose lives hang in the balance of these questions, or so it seems to them. These are live questions for YAs because they deal with lives. That is why they matter to YAs, and they should matter to you because those very lives might walk into your campus or church young adult group.

But you don’t just need to know what you think about LGBTQ+, the goodness of the material body, God’s design for marriage and family, abortion, assisted suicide, and the like. You need to know why you know. And you need to know and be able to explain why the Christian answer is not only true, but also the most beautiful and genuinely good option in the marketplace.

Here’s a starter pack:

  • The Genesis of Gender: A Christian Theory, Abigail Favale
  • Dependent Rational Animals: Why Human Beings Need the Virtues, Alistair MacIntyre
  • Begotten or Made?: Human Procreation and Medical Technique, Oliver O’Donovan
  • Whatever Happened to the Human Race?, Francis A. Schaeffer

 

Miscellaneous Apologetics

We must also be familiar with the various topics that YAs are likely to ask questions about. Especially for those YAs going to college, they are interacting with peers and professors who operate from a different worldview. This raises a range of questions for YAs, most of which can be categorized into a broader field that we would do well to engage. This will require us to know the best arguments of the other side. Doing so enables us to gather our own compelling and sound answers, while also being able to formulate our own questions for those worldviews to reveal their inadequacies. A few general areas in which to be well read are

  • Exclusivity of Christianity as the one true religion, and the claims of the main world religions
  • The authority and trustworthiness of the Bible and what makes it different from other religious texts
  • The relationship of Christianity to science
  • Epistemology (how do humans know what they know?)
  • Old Testament “problem passages” (God’s commanding violence, allowances for slavery, presence of polygamy, etc.).

 

Write

Finally, consider writing as you read. Writing solidifies ideas in your mind and heart. It helps you synthesize the large amounts of information you take in through books. There are countless ways of doing this. I (Dan) have a running doctrinal statement along with documents on theological topics that I add to and tweak as I read new theological material. I try to keep the writing short (100-200 words) but carefully written. Writing will make you more confident and clear when you are in an off-the-cuff conversation with a YA on a theologically dense or apologetically precarious topic.

Conclusion

Take heart, God is pursuing YAs in this generation as he has in every generation before. He formed them and knows the hurdles they have to faith in his gospel and greater growth in it. He has many people in this generation (Acts 18:10) and is more than capable of saving them. His arm is never too short. And be encouraged, while he is not dependent on you, he wants to use you to reach them. So pray for them, go on fast food runs or coffee shop meet-ups with them, hear them out for hours at a time if needed, and arm yourself with robust doctrine so that when they ask their questions or the questions of their friends, you are ready to give a sound response.



Spurgeon’s Love of Poetry: An Excerpt from Christ Our All

Editor’s Note: This article is taken from Christ Our All: Poems for the Christian Pilgrim and used by permission of B&H Academic. The book is now available everywhere Christian books are sold.

Spurgeon’s love of hymns began at a young age. Once, during a summer holiday, his grandmother offered him a penny for each Watts hymn he memorized. With his gifted mind, young Spurgeon memorized so many that his grandmother soon had to change her offer or risk financial ruin! The money earned was eventually spent, but his love of hymns remained with him for the rest of his life, becoming a part of his theological vocabulary. “No matter on what topic I am preaching,” he wrote, “I can even now, in the middle of any sermon, quote some verse of a hymn in harmony with the subject.”[1] As Spurgeon grew in his knowledge of hymns, his sermons would come to include not only Watts, but Toplady, Cowper, Wesley, and many other great hymn-writers of the Christian faith.

As the pastor of a church, Spurgeon sought to pass on his love of hymns to his congregants. In addition to preaching, he planned the liturgy for the gatherings of the church, including the selection of hymns. When he first arrived, there were two hymnbooks in the pews, one by Watts and the other by John Rippon. But watching people fumble with multiple books convinced Spurgeon that something had to change. So, in 1866, he compiled and published Our Own Hymn-Book, containing 1,130 psalms and hymns. As reflected in the title, Spurgeon’s concern was the church. This was not Spurgeon’s hymnbook; this was the church’s hymnbook. One of his top priorities was to pull together psalms and hymns that reflected the church’s doctrinal convictions. After all, Spurgeon understood that a church’s hymnbook was often the only book of theology most church members would ever read.

But even while Our Own Hymn-Book reflected Spurgeon’s Reformed and Baptist traditions, he also sought to introduce a wide variety of traditions, pulling together hymns from all of church history. He wrote:

The area of our researches has been as wide as the bounds of existing religious literature, American and British, Protestant and Romish; ancient and modern. Whatever may be thought of our taste we have used it without prejudice; and a good hymn has not been rejected because of the character of its author, or the heresies of the church in whose hymnal it first occurred; so long as the language and the spirit commended the hymn to our heart we included it, and believe that we have enriched our collection thereby.[2]

Thus, we see in Spurgeon’s collection of hymnbooks a wide variety of hymn writers: Scottish Presbyterians, English Baptists and Methodists, German Lutherans, Anglicans, medieval Catholics, and other nationalities and church traditions, ranging from the nineteenth century all the way back to the medieval and early church. From all these psalms and hymns, Spurgeon sought to bring out the ones that best reflected the historic faith of the apostles and the church’s doctrinal convictions. In his day, Our Own Hymn-Book was recognized as an achievement in Christian hymnody.[3]

But Spurgeon’s love of poetry extended beyond hymns. His library reveals that Spurgeon enjoyed just about every kind of poetry: ancient poetry, poems about nature, love poems, children’s rhymes, and many others. Most of all, however, Spurgeon loved poems about God and the Christian life. Preaching in 1855, Spurgeon declared, “Much as I respect the genius of Pope, or Dryden, or Burns, give me the simple lines of Cowper, that God has owned in bringing souls to Him.”[4] William Cowper was indeed one of Spurgeon’s favorite poets. He usually included Cowper’s famous hymn whenever he signed autograph albums, “E’er since by faith I saw the stream . . .”[5] Fittingly, these lines are etched on his tombstone.

Another poet he loved was John Bunyan. Throughout his life, he read, “at least a hundred times,” The Pilgrim’s Progress, “that sweetest of all prose poems,” which shaped his vision for the Christian life.[6] What he loved most about it was simply how much Bible was in it.[7] Bunyan brought together Spurgeon’s love of Scripture with his love of poetry.

Yet another of his favorite poets was George Herbert. Herbert was a source of refreshment for Spurgeon, especially after a long day of ministry.[8] His wife, Susannah, recounted:

It is the Sabbath, and the day’s work is done. The dear preacher has had a light repast, and now rests in his easy chair by a bright fire, while, on a low cushion at his feet, sits his wife, eager to minister in some way to her beloved’s comfort. “Shall I read to you to-night, dear?” she says; for the excitement and labor of the Sabbath services sorely try him, and his mind needs some calm and soothing influence to set it at rest. “Will you have a page or two of good George Herbert?” “Yes, that will be very refreshing, wifey; I shall like that.” So the book is procured, and he chooses a portion which I read slowly and with many pauses, that he may interpret to me the sweet mysteries hidden within the gracious words. Perhaps his enjoyment of the book is all the greater that he has thus to explain and open out to me the precious truths enwrapped in Herbert’s quaint verse;—anyhow, the time is delightfully spent. I read on and on for an hour or more, till the peace of Heaven flows into our souls, and the tired servant of the King of kings loses his sense of fatigue, and rejoices after his toil.[9]

For Spurgeon, poetry was about more than just entertainment. It gave him the perspective of a Christian pilgrim. It provided spiritual nourishment for his tired soul. And it strengthened him with a renewed joy in God for the week ahead.

Thou Art My All (by C. H. Spurgeon)

Dear Lord, in thee I view my all,
And lovely is thy name.
For though on earth I slip or fall,
Thy love remains the same.

Each day reminds me I am weak
To stand against my foes;
And, but that I thy help may seek,
I’d fall beneath my woes.

But thou hast said my strength shall be
According to my day.
Thy promise has been kept to me,
And still will be I pray.

For what are we if left to roam
In life’s deceitful way?
Yet farther off, not nearer home,
Our feet are prone to stray.

Then never have us Lord to tread
This world without a guide.
And never let the tempter lead
Thine erring sheep aside.

“I will not leave, nor yet forsake
My people here below;
Until in glory they shall wake
And purer regions know.”

For further reflection: Deuteronomy 33:25–27

__________

[1] Autobiography 1:43–44.

[2] OOH, vi–vii.

[3] For an appreciative nineteenth-century analysis of Spurgeon’s contribution to Christian hymnody, see Josiah Miller, Singers and Songs of the Church: Being Biographical Sketches of the Hymn-Writers in All the Principal Collections: with Notes on their Psalms and Hymns (London: Longmans, Green, 1869), 580–81.

[4] NPSP 1:344.

[5] Hayden, Highlights, 101.

[6] MTP 45:495.

[7] “Next to the Bible, the book I value most is John Bunyan’s ‘Pilgrim’s Progress.’ I believe I have read it through at least a hundred times. It is a volume of which I never seem to tire; and the secret of its freshness is that it is so largely compiled from the Scriptures. It is really Biblical teaching put into the form of a simple yet very striking allegory.” C. H. Spurgeon, Pictures from Pilgrim’s Progress: A Commentary on Portions of John Bunyan’s Immortal Allegory with Prefatory Notes by Thomas Spurgeon (Pasadena, TX: Pilgrim Publications, 1992), 11.

[8] “Frequently, when I return home from chapel on the Sabbath evening, I get down George Herbert’s book of songs; and when I see how much he loved the Lord, it seems to me as if he had struck upon his harp the very notes that he had heard in Paradise, and sung them all again.” MTP 46:106.

[9] Autobiography 2:185–86.



To See Thy Face, Immanuel

Editor’s Note: The following poems were written by Charles Spurgeon and compiled by Geoffrey Chang in Christ Our All: Poems for the Christian Pilgrim . They are reproduced here by permission of B&H Academic. The book releases May 15 and is available to preorder now.

 

The One Request[1]

Cambridge / Waterbeach, June 1853

If to my God I now may speak,
And make one short request;
If but one favor I might seek
Which I esteem the best, —

I would not choose this earth’s poor wealth;
How soon it melts away!
I would not seek continued health;
A mortal must decay.

I would not crave a mighty name;
Fame is but empty breath.
Nor would I urge a royal claim;
For monarchs bow to death.

I would not beg for sinful sweets;
Such pleasures end in pain.
Nor should I ask fair learning’s seats;
Love absent, these are vain.

My God, my heart would choose with joy,
Thy grace, Thy love, to share;
This is the sweet which cannot cloy,
And this my portion fair.

For further reflection: Psalm 16:5–8

 

Immanuel[2]

Cambridge / Waterbeach, June 1853

When once I mourned a load of sin,
When conscience felt a wound within,
When all my works were thrown away,
When on my knees I knelt to pray,
Then, blissful hour, remembered well,
I learned Thy love, Immanuel!

When storms of sorrow toss my soul,
When waves of care around me roll,
When comforts sink, when joys shall flee,
When hopeless gulfs shall gape for me,
One word the tempest’s rage shall quell,
That word, Thy name, Immanuel!

When for the truth I suffer shame,
When foes pour scandal on my name,
When cruel taunts and jeers abound,
When “bulls of Bashan” gird me round,
Secure within my tower I’ll dwell,
That tower, Thy grace, Immanuel!

When hell, enraged, lifts up her roar,
When Satan stops my path before,
When fiends rejoice, and wait my end,
When legion’d hosts their arrows send,
Fear not, my soul, but hurl at hell
Thy battle-cry, Immanuel!

When down the hill of life I go,
When o’er my feet death’s waters flow,
When in the deep’ning flood I sink,
When friends stand weeping on the brink,
I’ll mingle with my last farewell,
Thy lovely name, Immanuel!

When tears are banished from mine eye,
When fairer worlds than these are nigh,
When Heaven shall fill my ravish’d sight,
When I shall bathe in sweet delight,
One joy all joys shall far excel,
To see Thy face, Immanuel!

For further reflection: Matthew 1:21–23

 

[1] Autobiography 1:293.

[2] Autobiography 1:294; SOOH 13.



Getting to the Glory: An Excerpt from The Storied Life

The sportswriter Red Smith was once asked if writing a daily column was difficult.

“Why, no,” Smith replied. “You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.”[1]

Admittedly, Smith’s observation is a little overwrought. But only a little.

There is a way to write that costs the writer very little. And then there are Writers. There is a contemplation of the art and an undertaking of the craft that engages all we are and all we have, as if the ink on our page is drawn from our very blood.

Maybe you’re not sure which one you are. Are you a writer or a Writer? It’s okay. You don’t have to know just yet. Both Writers and “people who write” can create work that impacts readers in profound ways.

Writers write. That is the bottom line. There is no getting around it. It is a nonnegotiable truth. You don’t need to be particularly good at writing to be a writer. You don’t have to be published to be a writer. You don’t even have to be read to be a writer. But you must write. By definition, writers write.

Wanting to write is not being a writer. Thinking about writing is an important part of being a writer, but it isn’t by itself being a writer. Fancying yourself a writer is not being one.

Writers often hear wannabe writers say, “I want to write someday,” but actual writers don’t say such things. They’ve been writing.

Writers don’t ask for permission. They don’t wait for the perfect moment. They feel the inexorable draw to create coming from the inside; it’s something they just do, something they are. Nobody has to assign them the task. They usually don’t need anyone to give them an idea.

Someone once said, “I don’t know what I think about a thing until I write about it.” That is the sort of thing only a writer would say. Writers cannot conceive of their place in this world apart from processing it through the written word. Putting the stuff on paper or a screen makes it more real. Modern society possesses a pronounced shortage of people who will admit to not knowing things, but among those whose pride will not forbid them this confession are the ones who make up their minds about a thing after reading about it. Writers do that too. But only writers understand the concept of writing to understand.

Writers understand writing as a way of being.

If you just consider yourself “someone who writes,” all this talk of costliness and bleeding onto the page might be making you a little queasy. I do apologize. And I promise there’s not a whole lot of gore in the rest of the book.

For all you Writers, though—this introduction is especially for you. It’s for those of you who make reading introductions a habit because you suspect every bit of a book matters. After all, it all matters when you write.

I bring to this project a spirit kindred with yours. I love the whole writing process out of all proportion. I love the finished project, of course. Everybody loves that. But I also love the first bit of noodling around on a page, typing and typing and backspacing and backspacing. I love the part when I’ve been writing for a while and suddenly something unlocks and, lo!, a rushing wind, a tongue of fire, unction!, and the words are now carrying me rather than the other way around. I love moving chunks around, scratching out lines, cutting, pasting, turning a series of disjointed what’s-its into a smooth pastiche without the seams. Finding le mot juste? I adore.

What I’m trying to say is that if you love to write, feel called to write, or cannot not write, this book is for you. If you wonder sometimes if any of it is worth it, if you wonder if there’s such a thing as a “call to write,” if you get frustrated that the work won’t flow like you want it to—this book is for you too.

I see writing as more than an opportunity to communicate creatively. Creative writing is in fact a reflection of the creative meaning of the universe, a direct derivation from the Creator himself. He has made everything with words and has given even of himself as the Word. This isn’t some piddling around kind of stuff.

I don’t care if you write novels or a recipe blog, theological essays or personal letters, book-length devotionals or thirty-minute sermons. Your writing is divinely gifted, eternally scaled, and gloriously weighted. I’m going to spend this book convincing you of that fact.

Together we’ll remind each other that God is telling an important story about himself in the world. To do that, he tells important stories with our own lives. And getting to the glory of the former means getting in touch with the glory of the latter. I’ll tell you a little bit about how my own journey has helped me see my ordinary life as a storied life, a succession of days (the number unknown to me) full of wonder and insight, despite the pain and ignorance, because of the way they are driven and shaped by the glorious gospel.

Oh, sure, to get to the glory, you have to go through the chaos. We’ll talk about that too. If you’re a writer, you already know you can’t write much of anything worth much of anything without getting a little banged up, maybe a little bloody.

But we know what our Lord does with blood.

 

[1] The line is often attributed to the likes of Ernest Hemingway or Thomas Wolfe—I’ve even seen it attributed to Ray Bradbury—and while its origin is in some dispute, it most likely derives from an anecdote related to Smith, whom, it so happens, Hemingway regularly read. See Garson O’Toole, “Writing Is Easy; You Just Open a Vein and Bleed,” Quote Investigator, September 14, 2011, https://quoteinvestigator.com/2011/09/14/writing-bleed/.

__________

Editor’s Note: Taken from The Storied Life: Christian Writing as Art and Worship by Jared C. Wilson. Copyright © 2024 by Jared C. Wilson. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.harpercollinschristian.com

The Storied Life is now available wherever Christian books are sold.



Am I Out of Asks?

“Thank you, Lord,” I uttered when I got off the phone with my doctor. A few months before I had been diagnosed with melanoma, and a few days after the surgery, I received the welcomed news that the cancer had not spread. The Lord kindly answered my prayer.

Several weeks later I sat on our couch praising God for answering yet another specific prayer in the way we had hoped. I then moved on to pray about an additional weighty matter, but I stopped.

My sin and skepticism got the best of me, and I thought, Am I out of asks? “Oh, but God,” I muttered, “Please hear this one.” I have experienced the Lord not answering my prayer in the way I hoped, so fear unexpectedly gripped my heart as I prayed, pleaded, doubted, and as I wondered whether I had used up my asks of God.

But this is not the way our Father works. Every area of our existence is tainted by sin so that even our prayer life is replete with our brokenness. But a careful look at others in the Bible who pleaded with God reveals for us the character of God which shapes the way we ask of him.

Through Moses: Prayer Reveals God’s Relationship with His Children

Moses prays to God throughout the book of Exodus, and it is remarkable how dialogical his prayers are. They reveal a deep relationship between Moses and his Creator. On many occasions, Moses is invited into a conversation with God, and his dialogue with him, while often sequential, is also very relational. He prays, he asks, but in doing so, he desires to know more about God. He says in Exodus 33:13, “please show me now your ways.”

There is an intimacy to his ask, and God answers his request in the next verse: “My presence will go with you” (33:14). In essence, Moses asks of God, Please let me in on your plans to experience your presence! And God answers, I will always be with you, Moses.

When we ask of God, our prayers do not function like a business transaction. Rather, when we come to the Lord with requests, we are leaning into the relationship that God desires to have with his children. He wants you to ask of him boldly and frequently because doing so strengthens your relationship with him.

God hears, he answers in his timing and according to his perfect will, and the more we talk to him, the more we understand that prayer is not just about getting what we want. Prayer is a dialogue that causes us to abide in our Savior and connect to him so much so that all he is pours out in and through us.

Through David: Prayer Reveals God’s Mercy with His Children

The way David honestly pours out his heart to God throughout the Psalms is an encouragement for believers in Jesus. His prayers express anger (Ps. 10), doubt (Ps. 13), and sometimes deep, deep sadness (Ps. 88). What is remarkable is God’s never-ending mercy and gentleness with David. Even as an adulterer and murderer, David is treated by God with kindness and patience as God inclines his ear and draws near to a man whose emotions run the gamut. What’s beautiful is that David acknowledges in Psalm 18:35 that it is the gentleness of God that has made him great. He knows the depth and significance of his Savior’s mercy through his many failings, and not only is he grateful for it, but he has learned from it.

We do not ask of a God who is harsh and volatile. The perception of God as a violent storm ready to consume those who ask too much of him is not what the Bible teaches us about his character. He is just and holy (Deut. 32:4; 1 Sam. 2:2) and deserving of our reverence, but he is also gentle and merciful, willing and wanting to carry our greatest burdens (Ps. 55:22). Mercy and justice mingle necessarily; his mercy toward his children springs forth from his justice, and we see this throughout David’s prayers in the Psalms.

Ask of your Father with honesty, child of God. He already knows the deepest longings of your heart, so there is no need to fear openness before him. Our Father is patient and merciful as we learn through our doubts and uncertainties of his matchless mercy and grace.

Through Paul: Prayer Reveals God’s Perfect Sovereignty

Paul had a thorn in his flesh, something that regularly caused him grief. I have a thorn in my flesh, an area of weakness which I regularly ask God to take away. I imagine most believers empathize with the constant, dull pangs from these thorns that we wish we could be entirely freed from.

Paul pleads with God for the thorn to be removed (2 Cor. 12:8), and you can almost sense the emotional exhaustion from his prayer. We don’t know what exactly his thorn is, but we do know that he asks for it to be taken away persistently and honestly. But God does not remove it.

Instead, he answers Paul’s ask with these words: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). Paul sees one way forward in his ministry, and that is the removal of this thing that causes him distress. But God sees a greater way forward. He leaves the thorn and lavishes on Paul his grace. Interestingly, the Apostle does not lament this; instead, he rejoices because God takes him to a place of miraculous strength and power that he would not have experienced otherwise.

There are times when God’s answer to our ask is not what we hoped for. But there is no need to fear this outcome because our Father consistently answers better than we ask. We are not the author of stories, nor should we want to be. The heart of God is such that he answers us in ways that are more stunning than we could ever imagine (Eph. 3:20). We can trust this will be the case with every prayer uttered to our Father. Ask of him. You can never ask too much, nor can you ask too many times. Your Father loves to answer your prayers with his unconditional love and incomparable glory. As his child, you are never out of asks.



Visible Grace in Disagreements: Willingness to Confront vs. Eagerness for Controversy

Editor’s Note: This post is excerpted from Visible Grace: Seeing the Church the Way Jesus Does by Caleb Batchelor. The book is available now from 10Publishing.

Paul wasn’t afraid to address sin. Just ask the Corinthians. But what first grabbed Paul’s attention when he thought about that rowdy, discriminatory congregation in Corinth? God’s visible grace (1 Cor. 1:4–9). He was willing to confront, but he was not eager for controversy. There’s a difference.

It’s all about your posture. Do you find yourself on the edge of your seat, ready to engage in the latest controversy? Or is your preference to celebrate God’s grace, ready to confront only when necessary (Prov. 15:18; 17:19)?

Jude had a preference:

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3).

He wanted to agree, celebrating God’s grace in their “common salvation.” But he needed to confront those “who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ” (Jude 4).[1]

Like Jude, we shouldn’t prefer controversy—especially when it’s simply to be entertained.

I feel contempt for those who attended the gladiator games, where another’s ruin was their entertainment, where a father’s wounds were their source of glee. But then I remember a talk I heard in middle school, where the speaker compared our fascination with others’ suffering to the ancient appeal of the gladiator games. It’s convicting to think of how many times I’ve laughed about another’s sin, joked about a pastor’s blunder, and made sport of a church’s questionable ministry practice. As I scroll down my Twitter feed, I descend the steps of a modern coliseum, where another’s moral ruin is my entertainment, where a father’s spiritual wounds are my source of glee.

If you want to be countercultural today, don’t let a pastor’s moral failing or a stupid controversy fascinate you (1 Cor. 13:6; 2 Tim. 2:23). Pray. Grieve. Ask for grace. Confront when necessary. But don’t feed your curiosity with others’ sins. As the Puritan Richard Sibbes so helpfully points out, “Men must not be too curious into prying into the weaknesses of others. We should labour rather to see what they have that is for eternity, to incline our heart to love them, than unto that weakness which the Spirit of God will in time consume.”[2]

Aren’t you glad that Jesus feels burdened by your indwelling sin, rather than entertained by it? I’m thankful that my weaknesses elicit his warm compassion, not a witty Tweet.[3] Don’t you want more of that heart toward your brothers and sisters in Christ? When they disagree with you, do you “welcome [them] as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Rom. 15:7; cf. Rom. 14:1–4)? When they walk in and everyone moves to the other side of the lunchroom, do you sit down next to them? When they don’t deserve love, do you show them grace?

Since you have the Spirit of Christ, you already have that inclination. The Spirit of your gentle and lowly Savior abides in you. And the result is gentleness.

__________

Citations

[1] Gavin Ortlund, Finding the Right Hills to Die On (Minneapolis: The Gospel Coalition, 2020), p. 94.

[2] Richard Sibbes, Works, 1:57.

[3] Dane Ortlund, Gentle and Lowly (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2020), pp. 69, 71.



A Word of Hope: Reflecting on Luther’s Lectures on Genesis

I teach church history as part of my profession. In doing so, I’ve discovered it to be exactly what my teachers described—a wonderful means of keeping the faith. Of the figures from our past who have helped me, Martin Luther stands at the top of the list, as he continually points me away from myself and onto Christ and his word of promise.

Luther’s Lectures on Genesis[1], begun arguably in 1535, serve as a window into what Luther devoted his life to—teaching the Scriptures that provided no shortage of opportunities for faith. What follows is a brief reflection on Luther’s work and the work of God recorded in Genesis.

Hope in a Paradise Lost

The cursing of Genesis 3 is a devastating read. Not knowing the rest of the story, one could easily think all is lost. Especially considering what was lost. Eden. Paradise. Perfection. It was all so right, until it all went so very wrong. The serpent had done his work.

But his work isn’t the last word. Even in the midst of their sentencing, Adam and Eve aren’t without hope. That’s the remarkable thing we learn about God only three chapters into the Bible. God punishes this man and woman. Justifiably—sin has to pay its wages. Yet, as Martin Luther reminds us, God’s words are “fatherly” words. Yes, the wonderful gift of childbirth will now be painful. The relationship between husband and wife won’t be what it once was. Now the ground is cursed. Up come the thistles and thorns, and down goes man. Dust to dust. Ashes to ashes. Death has walked through the door sin opened.

But in this new paradise-lost world, Eve still has Adam, and Adam still has Eve. Humanity still has a future. The possibility of procreation remains, shameful and painful though it may be. There is still work to be done. There is still life for the living. In other words, there’s hope in the midst of judgment. After all, God doesn’t approach Adam and Eve like he does the serpent. No fatherly approach for the father of lies. There’s no kind questioning, no “where?” Or “who?” Or “why?” There’s only judgement and condemnation.

With man and woman, God clothes their shame. Adam doesn’t forsake his wife but names her “Eve.” As Luther teaches us, the naming and name is an act of prophetic hope. This woman shall be the “mother of all living.” More life and lives are to come.

Words that Promise Life

It’s easy to miss all the good that remains in the midst of the bad. The curses overwhelm. But the fact is, God doesn’t take everything, does he? Fallen world that it is, it’s still a world that’s within its Maker’s control. Beyond the fatherly kindness of keeping this marriage together, God provides the most wonderful thing of all—a promise.

In the midst of the curse, God declares, “I will put hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel” (Gen 3:15, CSB). Though Adam fell, God’s pronouncement remains, “Be fruitful and multiply.” Though Eve had eaten of the forbidden fruit, she still has good fruit to bear.  Through the act of childbearing, God promises to put an end to the serpent’s schemes.

It’s a promise God gives to Adam and Eve. And in that promise lies hope. These are words of life, words that say the serpent’s word isn’t the last word, and words that remind us that the serpent’s promises can never deliver like the Lord’s. As Adam and Eve find themselves in a new, fallen reality, they don’t find themselves bereft of blessing. In this world of death, they find the promise of life.

Luther’s Word of Hope

God’s word is true, Genesis reminds us. Eating the forbidden tree does bring death. Deceived into disbelief by the serpent, Adam and Eve gave birth to the sad biblical refrain, “And he died.” But God doesn’t leave this man and woman abandoned. He gives them a promise to hold, a confidence to sustain, that just as God made all things so shall he deliver them. In a word, God gives his people hope. Hear Luther—

“God’s power makes nothing out of that which is everything, just as it makes all things out of that which is nothing. Look at Adam and Eve. They are full of sin and death. And yet, because they hear the promise concerning the Seed who will crush the serpent’s head, they have the same hope we have, namely, that death will be taken away, that sin will be abolished, and that righteousness will be restored.”[2]

Adam and Eve’s world is our world, but even more, their hope is our hope, a hope whose name we know. Jesus. “He is the Lord of the issue of death,” Luther reminds us, in that “He frees those who are overwhelmed by death, and transports them into eternal life.” Yes, we have to tell the truth. There’s death in this world. However, “even the midst of death, the hope of life is kept, since the Word so teaches, direct, and promises.”[3]

In a fallen world of judgment and condemnation, God’s word comes near to us and says, “Not all is lost. Yes, this world is broken. But it’s still my world, created by my Word. And that Word remains. And in that Word, you shall find hope.”

__________

[1] All citations from Martin Luther,  Lectures on Genesis, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan, vol.1, in Luther’s Works, American Edition (St. Louis: Concordia, 1955-76). Hereafter LW.

[2] LW 1:197.

[3] LW 1:197.

Author’s Note: Special thanks to Dr. Jason G. Duesing for his editorial insights and encouragement.



Three Key Questions to Ask Your Mormon Friends

I have a lot of friends who belong to the Church of Jesus Christ, Latter Day Saints (LDS). One I see regularly is the bishop of his ward; he regularly emphasizes, as do my other LDS friends, how we both worship Jesus, how we have a lot in common, and how we’re on the same team.

On the one hand, he has a point: we share traditionally conservative views on sexuality, we think the nuclear family is normative, and we think Sunday worship is vital to human flourishing, among other things. He’s an upstanding citizen, a kind and considerate husband, and a thoughtful father. I like him. From a purely socio-political perspective, if more people were like him, our culture might be less troubled.

On the other hand, he couldn’t be more wrong. There are dozens of significant disagreements between our worldviews.

I want to fairly call balls and strikes. The LDS church gets a lot right, but the most important things it gets wrong. Here are my three go-to questions that get to the heart of our most important differences.

1. Is Jesus a creature? 

The LDS church teaches that Jesus is a created being. Analogous to Arius the 4th century heretic who taught that “there was [a time] when the Son was not,” the LDS church teaches that Jesus was the spirit child of Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother [1], and was the firstborn of many spirit children, of whom he was the mightiest [2].

For the LDS church, all humans have a premortal existence and Heavenly Father brought Jesus into existence in a similar manner to how all humans were created. LDS theologian James Talmage writes, “Human beings generally were similarly existent in spirit state prior to their embodiment in the flesh… There is no impropriety, therefore, in speaking of Jesus Christ as the Elder Brother of the rest of mankind” [3].

This means that LDS people commit idolatry when they worship Jesus, because the version of Jesus they serve is “creature rather than Creator” (Romans 1:25). In their view, Jesus became a god in history; he wasn’t eternally God. They call him God, but he is a demigod. [4] The LDS church’s view of Jesus is far different than what the Bible teaches.

We believe what the Nicene Creed teaches: Jesus is eternally God, begotten, not made, of one substance with the Father; “the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

2. Is Jesus’ salvation “by grace after all that you can do”?

Ephesians 2:8 says, “By grace you have been saved through faith; this is not your own doing.” 2 Nephi 25:23 says, “It is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do.” Who among us can with a clear conscience say that we have done all that we can do? Salvation is actually impossible under actual LDS doctrine; it requires maximum effort all the time.

In addition to the weight of justification by good works, this doctrine adds the crushing reality of salvation by good effort.

This yields us an altogether different worldview and story, but it is congruent with the larger story that the LDS church teaches. The LDS church teaches that the entirety of our mortal existence, even the creation of the earth, was Heavenly Father giving us the chance to “prove ourselves” to him [5] and, and “if we passed our tests, we would receive the fulness of joy” [6].

The true good news is that Jesus saves sinners; sinners do not save themselves.

3. Was Jesus wrong when he said, “I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it”?

If you meet with LDS missionaries, the first lesson they’ll tell you is about “the restoration of the gospel.” They’ll tell you about how the true gospel left the earth after the Apostles died until Joseph Smith restored it in the 1800s. [7]

This is quite different from what Jesus said in Matthew 16:18: “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Did the gates of hell prevail against the church for 1700+ years? Did Jesus fail to deposit the faith into his church? Or did the church fail to deport the true faith into the next generation?

No, the faith was successfully “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

Same Words, Different Dictionary

Our LDS friends use a lot of the same vocabulary as evangelicals, like gospel, Jesus, salvation, sin, and heaven, but their understanding of those words and what they mean for us are remarkably different. Our LDS neighbors might be allies to Evangelicals in many respects, but with regard to the good news of Jesus, we are miles apart.

 

—–

Citations

[1] LDS Church, Gospel Topics Essays, Mother In Heaven

[2] James Talmage, Articles of Faith, Chapter 2

[3] James Talmage, Jesus the Christ, Chapter 2

[4] Gospel Principles, Exaltation

[5] Gospel Principles, Our Heavenly Family

[6] Ibid, (See also D&C 93:30–34)

[7] True To The Faith, Restoration of the Gospel



The Mission of God

Mission is all about God. At Midwestern, we emphasize the study of who God is (theology) and what God does (mission). Good theology is crucial to missiology because the mission begins and ends with God.[1] The one true God has one unified mission, and each person of the Triune God distinctively carries out this mission as it unfolds in history. God the Father is the author, planning and initiating the mission. God the Son is the agent, executing and fulfilling the mission. The Holy Spirit is the administrator, applying and empowering the mission.[2] The object and ultimate end of the mission is God’s own glory.[3]

God’s perfection, holiness, and glory far surpass all human conceptions. Because God’s eternal nature is self-revealing, communicative, and loving, He put into motion a plan to manifest His glory to the whole universe. Theologians call this cosmic plan and action of God the missio Dei, the mission of God. Mission is not primarily about human efforts, but God’s own work in history to glorify Himself. God invites us—and yes, commands us—to participate in His mission.[4]

In the remainder of this article, we will unpack the glory of God’s mission by considering the God of the mission, the place of love in God’s mission, God’s mission in creation and redemption, and the scope of God’s mission.

The God of the Mission
A vibrant missiology begins with an accurate and grand vision of God as revealed in the Bible. The God of the Bible is not a weak, needy, or changing deity. Nor is God an isolated, abstract, absolute monad. Instead, the Bible presents God as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, three divine persons who are united as one divine being. The doctrine of the Trinity bears directly on missiology in that it reveals God as more awesome and glorious (and more mysterious) than humans can imagine, and therefore infinitely worthy of worldwide worship. As John Piper says, “Worship is the fuel and goal of missions.”[5]

Love and Mission
Love sits at the heart of God’s mission. The doctrine of the Trinity helps explain the words “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). In a few scattered verses, Scripture gives a tantalizing glimpse into what God was doing for all eternity, quite apart from time and space.

One of those verses is John 17:24, which is part of a prayer that Jesus addressed to God the Father. Jesus said, “You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24). This verse indicates that God the Father has been forever loving the Son. God has eternally existed in perfect love between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Meditating on the mystery of the Trinity, Augustine of Hippo suggested that God the Father is the lover, God the Son is the beloved, and the Holy Spirit is the love that exists between them.[6] Similarly, Thomas Aquinas writes, “The Father and the Son love each other and us by the Holy Spirit.”[7]

The missionary enterprise starts with the eternal love of God and then moves toward humanity through the gospel. “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). Thus, through the gospel, believers experience God’s love, which provokes in them a response of love for God. “We love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Then, as believers receive the love of God, it bubbles up and spills out on others.[8] The Apostle Paul expressed his love for the believers in Thessalonica this way: “We had a fond affection for you and were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess 2:8; cf. 2 Cor 5:14–15; Rom 10:1).

The two Great Commandments, to love God and to love others, mutually reinforce each other. As Ray Ortlund says, “The kind of God we really believe in is revealed in how we treat one another.”[9] The Apostle John puts the matter bluntly, “If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20). The Great Commandments should arouse a great commitment to the Great Commission, and the church’s obedience to the Great Commandments will determine the church’s effectiveness at fulfilling the Great Commission.

While the mission of God refers to God’s broad purposes to glorify Himself in all that He does, the Great Commission specifies the mission of the church and missionaries, namely, to go, and make disciples of all the nations, to baptize them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and to teach them to follow all that Jesus commanded (Matt 28:19–20). Disciple- making, and its precursor evangelism, are the chief occupation of missionaries because these activities glorify God by proclaiming the gospel and impelling those far from Him to see and savor His majesty.

Love motivates missionaries. The gospel does not rely on a sense of guilt, fear, or duty to propel missionaries across geographic, cultural, or linguistic boundaries. No, a sense of love drives them—first, a love for God and then a love for those who have never heard the gospel. The awareness that millions of people have no access to the love, joy, and peace that comes through the gospel should weigh heavily on the hearts of believers, pushing them out of their comfort zone and toward involvement in God’s mission.

This gospel-shaped love is active, always seeking to express itself in concrete ways, such as meeting physical needs, speaking truth, being a good listener, or giving hugs. However, the most loving thing a believer can do for another person is to give that person the gospel. Charitable deeds adorn the gospel, but they are not the gospel (Titus 2:10).

The gospel, according to the Apostle Paul, is the life-giving message “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared…” (1 Cor 15:3– 5). Through faith in Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit unites believers to Him, who brings them into fellowship with God the Father. The gospel alone meets humanity’s greatest problem (alienation from God) and allows them to experience the greatest of all blessings (union with God).

God’s Mission in Creation and Redemption
God’s act of creation is one aspect of God’s mission to manifest His glory and to put His character on display (Ps 19:16; Rom 1:20). Because God is love in Himself, God did not create humans because He needed someone to love Him, fulfill a deficiency, or to satisfy loneliness. Instead, God created out of the generous overflow of His love—the eternal love that God has always expressed, known, and enjoyed among the Trinity.[10]

The plan of redemption reveals another aspect of the missio Dei. Like creation, the plan of redemption comes from the overflow of God’s gracious and merciful love. When God’s image bearers, Adam and Eve, rebelled against Him, God’s mission did not change. God’s mission to manifest His glory remained constant, but accomplishing that mission now involved redeeming people from every tribe, nation, people group, and tongue (Rev 5:9; 7:9). Noted New Testament scholar Andreas Köstenberger writes, “God’s saving plan for the whole world forms a grand frame around the entire story of Scripture. The missio Dei is bound up with his salvation, which is like a colorful rainbow that spans from creation to new creation. Its focus is on God’s gracious movement to save a desperately needy world that is in rebellion against him and stands under his righteous judgement.”[11]

The Scope of God’s Mission
God’s glory is of such magnificence and worth that He deserves nothing less than global worship. God’s glory is not like localized pagan deities, worthy of little more than the worship of a small band of devotees. Indeed, to say the scope of God’s mission is merely global is inadequate; His mission is cosmic.

Paul writes that God’s plan involves making known the “manifold wisdom of God … through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places” (Eph 3:10). The church is God’s vehicle for putting His glory on display, not only to the nations, but also to “rulers and authorities in the heavenly places,” a heavenly audience beyond the terrestrial sphere.

Summary

The glorious truth that God is a God of mission is on every page of our Bibles. The very fact that we exist and are contemplating the reality of God is proof that God is fulfilling His mission, a mission that is an overflow of eternal, triune love.

 

[1] Zane Pratt, Vice President of Assessment/Deployment and Training, International Mission Board, SBC, writes, “The doctrine of God affects every aspect of our understanding of missions. Because God is infinitely glorious, absolute in his Being, creator of everything, and transcendent over all he has made, the mission of his people is about him. The glory of God and the advance of his agenda in the world are the focus of the church’s mission. It is not about us, and it is not ultimately about the lost among the nations. Because God is who he is, he is the center of everything, and everything must be done under his direction and for his glory. God’s plan is to fill the earth with the knowledge of his glory as the waters cover the sea. Our mission, under his sovereign rule, must advance the knowledge and worship of God using the means he has prescribed so that both the end and the means glorify him.” https://www.mbts.edu/2021/10/how-theology-drives-missions/.

[2]Each Person of God participates and coinheres in the mission of the other Persons so that there is only one mission of God. The interlocking of participation by the three Persons of God encompasses the whole mission so that the distinctions neither erase the unity nor does the unity erase the distinctions.

[3]According to Patrick Schreiner, Associate Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Midwestern, “It is the mission of God to confront us with the reality of Himself (His glory).” Patrick Schreiner, The Mission of the Triune God (Wheaton: Crossway, 2022), 154.

[4] Paul distinguishes the work of God who causes the growth, from servants who plant or water (1 Cor 3:5–9). God designates His chosen servants as “fellow workers” (ESV) or “co-workers” (NIV).

 

[5] John Piper, Let the Nations Be Glad!: The Supremacy of God in Missions (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2022), 7.

[6] Augustine, The Trinity, 2nd ed., trans. Edmund Hill, O.P., ed. John E. Rotelle, O.S.A. (Hyde Park: New City Press, 2015). 9.1.

[7] Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, 5 vol., trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province (Westminster: Christian Classics, 1981), Ia.37.2.

[8] Lesslie Newbigin writes, “Anyone who knows Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior must desire ardently that others should share that knowledge and must rejoice when the number of those who do is multiplied.” Lesslie Newbigin, The Open Secret (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 142.

[9] Ray Ortlund, “‘One Another’s’ I Can’t Find in the New Testament,” The Gospel Coalition, January 4, 2022, https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/ray-ortlund/one-anothers-i- cant-find-in-the-new-testament-2/.

[10] Jonathan Edwards writes, “The emanation of God’s glory is in itself worthy and excellent, and so God delights in it; and this delight is implied in His love to His own fullness; because that is the fountain, the sum and comprehension of everything that is excellent.” Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards, 1.IV.4, Accessed online at https://www.ccel.org/ccel/edwards/works1.iv.iii.iv.html. The word “overflow” is a modern way of expressing the ancient Christian idea of God’s fullness, plenitude, bounty, or fecundity. John of Damascus, for example, calls God, “The fountain of being.” John of Damascus, An Exposition of the Orthodox Faith 1.8. John Owen, in his discussion of 1 John 4:8, writes, “[God’s love] is the fountain and prototype of all love, as being eternal and necessary…. All love in the creation was introduced from this fountain, to give a shadow and resemblance of it.” John Owen, Christologia (Grand Rapids: Generic NL Freebook Publisher, 1999), 111–12, eBook. Creation comes as the fruit of divine love, not divine need. God’s eternal love is expressed in creation ex nihilo (out of nothing). British theologian Michael Reeves says, “There is something gratuitous about creation, an unnecessary abundance of beauty, and through its blossoms and pleasures we can revel in the sheer largesse of the Father.” Michael Reeves, Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012), 57.

[11] Andreas Köstenberger, Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission, New Studies in Biblical Theology 53 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2020), 254.



Unsearchable Riches: 100 Facets to the Diamond of Christ

  1. He is inexhaustible. Unsearchably rich (Eph 3:8). Bottomless. We receive him, thinking he’s a pond, only to discover over time he’s an ocean. In him there is surprise after surprise. Endless discovery. Startling wonders around each bend.
  2. He’s ruling and reigning over the entire cosmos such that the top headline of both FoxNews and CNN and everything in between should read, every day, in all caps: GOOD NEWS: JESUS CHRIST STILL ON THRONE: EVERYONE FREE TO CALM DOWN.
  3. His rule extends to every atom, every molecule, the exact angle of the flutter of a leaf as it falls gently to the ground.
  4. He is a genius. His teaching reflects the deepest genius of any teacher, ever. Read Pete Williams’ new book The Surprising Genius of Jesus, on the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15, and see just one example of Jesus Christ’s genius.
  5. When we talk about him, we say “He is a genius,” not “was.” He is living today.
  6. The same One who caused John to fall down as if dead in Revelation 1 swept up little kids in his arms in Mark 10.
  7. His life gives us a rich and noble picture of what true human flourishing, real wisdom, perfect love, looks like.
  8. Far better, after giving us that perfect example, he went to a cross to suffer and die for anyone who admits they don’t follow it.
  9. His forgiveness gets down underneath not just our conscious, willful sins, but everything that is broken within us.
  10. The Son of God’s lunch appointments were with prostitutes and tax collectors—in modern terms, adult entertainers and the mafia. In other words, sinners like you and me.
  11. He said, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me” (Rev 3). He ate with sinners 2,000 yrs ago. He offers that friendship and fellowship to you and me today.
  12. Discipleship to him does not involve attaining a minimum level of competency. No resume is needed. The one thing that qualifies you is knowing you don’t qualify.
  13. As Hebrews teaches us, he never, ever asks his friends to walk through a trial that he has not himself, in an even more profound way, gone through himself.
  14. His sinlessness does not encourage him to be aloof from us sinners, holding us at arms’ length, but makes him the perfect substitute for us—and he substitutes himself for us willingly, eagerly.
  15. Unlike the laws of ritual cleanliness in Leviticus, Jesus Christ’s touch of messy humans like me does not contaminate him. It cleanses me. In the OT, clean + unclean = unclean. With Jesus, clean + unclean = clean (Mark 1:41).
  16. His mercy to sinners is not calculating, scale-weighing, cautious. It is lavish, outrageous, unfettered.
  17. His atoning death means he is free not to scrutinize. He needs not. All has been wiped clean. Faults remain, not just in our past but in our present. But the whole atmosphere in which we live has been transformed from one of scrutiny into one of welcome. “Welcome one another as X has welcomed you” (Rom 15:7).
  18. He no longer calls us servants, but friends, and he is the friend of sinners. He has not only atoned for our sins; he has befriended us sinners.
  19. He is not an idea or a force or a philosophy or a theory or a framework or even a doctrine. He’s a Person. He can be related to, talked to. He delights in that.
  20. He said he came “not to call the righteous but sinners” (Mark 2:17). The admissions committee for heaven has declared by unanimous decision all moral resumes inadmissible.
  21. He said “Whoever believes in me, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38). If you have Jesus, you are carrying around inside you a nuclear powerplant, spiritually speaking.
  22. He said, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you” (John 15:9). Consider the perfect, overflowing love of God the Father for God the Son; that’s God the Son’s love for you.
  23. He said, “Take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). If you have Jesus, the looming darkness in your life is not going to overwhelm you; He is going to overwhelm it. He says he already has.
  24. He said to Zacchaeus (Luke 19:10), “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” He is a seeker, a hunter—and the thing he’s hunting for is “the lost.” Not the best; the lost.
  25. Jesus was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s Servant of the Lord, who operates like this: “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench” (Matt 12:20 quoting Isa 42:3). When you’re low, he doesn’t pile on. He deals tenderly.
  26. He cried. He cried over Jerusalem. He cried when his friend Lazarus died. That he is perfect, doesn’t make him unfeeling. That he is perfect, means he is perfectly feeling.
  27. He doesn’t resent me (or you), though we’ve given him many reasons to. He welcomes us again, and again, and again.
  28. In all our stumbling and failing, he has not yet said, ‘Enough is enough. I’m out.’
  29. His life and death means that if we have Jesus, our sin can only accelerate his grace. Where sin abounds, grace hyper-abounds (Rom 5:20).
  30. He is incapable of disgust over his sisters and brothers, even his sinning sisters and brothers.
  31. He gives rest. As Hebrews 3-4 teach, He is that of which the sabbath is a shadow; Jesus is the shadow-caster. He doesn’t just forgive our sins; he lets the frenetic RPMs of the heart slow down into calmness, serenity, sanity, whatever is happening all around us circumstantially.
  32. The one place in all four Gospels where he opens up to tell us about his own heart—the only place—he says he is “gentle and lowly in heart” (Matt 11:29). Burrow down into the very core of what makes the God-Man tick, the one who wove his own whip to drive the enterprising capitalists from the temple (John 2:15), and you find: gentleness.
  33. At the same time, he’s not, as Lewis put it, a tame lion. He is not domesticate-able, predictable, boring, vanilla. He cannot be caged or controlled. Who would want to try?
  34. And yet as Revelation 5 shows us, he is not only a lion (Rev. 5:5) but also a lamb (Rev 5:6). Magnificent ferocity; supreme, approachable tenderness, even to the point of fatal sacrifice—just like a lamb.
  35. He withdrew to pray and be alone at times. Communion with the Father is more important than sleep. And through his own work on the cross Jesus has opened wide the door for this communion.
  36. His brilliant resplendence will, one day soon, make every impenitent Hollywood star and ESPN-headlining athlete, every president and prime minister, look small and silly—as the glory of overlooked, ordinary Christians erupts in beauty for all the universe to see.
  37. His death and resurrection means that if I trust him, I am justified. By faith alone, I am clothed in the perfect righteousness of Jesus himself. He takes all my sin, and he gives me all his righteousness, never to be taken away.
  38. He not only justifies me, he reconciles me to God. A state of friendliness, of restored relationship, is given to me, purely of his gracious will.
  39. He not only provides for my justification and my reconciliation but also my adoption. Legal acquittal; restored friendship; familial love and inheritance.
  40. His grace is both outside me and inside me. Freely accounted righteousness-grace, through the Son, is credited to me from the outside; freely given godliness-grace, through the Spirit, is worked in me on the inside
  41. At the same time, he does not give us grace. He gives us himself. He is grace. He is the life, the light, the vitality, that we desperately, even hauntingly, long for.
  42. He is not averse to messy, complicated, up-and-down, failures. He is averse to messy, complicated, up-and-down, failures who deny they are messy, complicated, up-and-down, failures.
  43. He found you. He found me. As a mentor said to me once, “Remember, Dane, you’ve already been discovered.” We don’t need to be noticed by anyone else, ever again. If we have his attention, we need no one else’s.
  44. When the religious leaders “saw the boldness of Peter and John” in Acts 4:13, “they recognized that they had been with Jesus.” Simply spending time with Jesus Christ creates a boldness, a brightness, a distinguishable trait visible to others.
  45. His coming into this diseased world means that, as Gandalf told Sam, “everything sad is going to come untrue.”
  46. There was nothing physically attractive about him (Isa 53:2). He would never have appeared on the cover of Men’s Health. He came as a normal man to comfort normal people.
  47. This normal man was sinless, but he was a sinless man, not a sinless Superman. He woke up with bed-head. He went through puberty. Maybe he was a snorer. He’s not Zeus.
  48. Taking on our humanity meant taking on all our human limitations. He has a specific fingerprint. A certain blood-type.
  49. Speaking of his blood—he let it all out, while suffocating to death, naked, on a Roman cross, when I was the criminal deserving it. That sure was nice of him.
  50. He didn’t come to give a pep talk. He’s not a coach. He came to do, in our place, what every pep talk is trying to get us impossibly unmotivated people to do.
  51. His family thought he was nuts (Mark 3:21). Maybe your family thinks you are too. He doesn’t. He cherishes you (Eph 5:29).
  52. He not only cherishes you, he nourishes you (Eph 5:29). He is feeding life into you by the Spirit moment by moment, sustaining you, preserving you, protecting you.
  53. He knows what it is to be alone, thirsty, hungry, hated, rejected, taunted, shamed, abandoned, stabbed, tortured, killed. Your pain is not lost on him.
  54. He lost every earthly friend he had while he lived, so that we can have him whatever earthly friends we lose.
  55. We cannot get underneath his mercy. We can dig and dig and dig with our shovel of sin. But no matter how deep we go, we never hit rock bottom on his mercy.
  56. We can never outrun his love, any more than we can outrun our shadow. No matter how fast Wily Coyote ran, the Roadrunner just ran faster. “Goodness and mercy shall pursue me all the days of my life” (Ps 23). Jesus is that goodness and mercy.
  57. Thinking of Ps 23… that psalm says the Lord is a Shepherd who makes us lie down in green pastures. Jesus said “I am the Good Shepherd” (John 10). It is in Jesus that we lie down in green pastures. Jesus leads us beside still waters. Jesus restores our soul. Our weary, discouraged souls.
  58. And not only Psalm 23. Jesus fulfills every psalm (Luke 24:44). Every agony, anguish, loneliness, the full range of human pain expressed in the Psalms—he experienced it more deeply than we do, and he bears us up now as we experiences these pains. And the guilt and sins confessed in the Psalms, Jesus never personally experienced, but he bore the penalty for them all upon that
    The whole Psalter is an arrow pointing to Jesus.
  59. He never misunderstands you. Never misjudges your motives. He knows us better than we know ourselves.
  60. He likes you. Not just loves. Likes. That’s not a compromise of the depth of our wretched sinfulness. Whatever else “friend” means, doesn’t it at least mean that?
  61. He not only teaches, and not only atones, and not only befriends—he brings us into union with himself. We cannot get any closer to him. We’re closer to him, now, than John was, when he was “leaning on Jesus” (John 13).
  62. And that union cannot be threatened, even by ongoing failures. It was God, not me, who united me to him in the first place. It is God, not me, who is alone capable of un-uniting me from him. And because justice has been satisfied, God never will. Jesus would have to be pulled down out of heaven and put back in the tomb in order for me to be dis-united from him.
  63. Those in union with him are promised that the more darkness and hell we experience in this life, to that degree we will enjoy resplendence and radiance in the next (Rom 8:17–18). All the haunted brokenness that infects everything— every relationship, every conversation, every family, every email, every job, every vacation—everything—will one day be rewound and reversed.
  64. He makes me human again. He didn’t come to make us a superspiritual being who only prays and praises in a disembodied state. He has angels for that. He came to give me back my humanity. He’s not disappointed that I need sleep, food, and the bathroom. He himself experienced all the same things.
  65. He does not bring pain into my life to coldly punish but to graciously help. He brings pain to clear away the static in my communion with him. He was punished so that all my pain is not punishing but brotherly.
  66. When I am prayerless, he is not. He intercedes for me. McCheyne: “If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies.”
  67. And his prayers are answered. Since in Gethsemane his prayer went unanswered (“Remove this cup”), every prayer he makes now on my behalf is answered.
  68. I cannot experience a temptation he has not (Heb. 2:18).
  69. The whole Bible is his, and about him (Luke 24:27, 44; John 5:39, 46). The Bible is not a manual for life, not a guidebook, not a rulebook, not sage suggestions. At its heart, and cover to cover, the Bible is the Word of God about the grace of God in the Son of God for the people of God to the glory of God. When I open the Book, I get him.
  70. He is the final answer to the OT. Jesus gathers up all the various threads of promise and hope and rescue and longing that cover the landscape of the Old Testament and snowball down through the centuries. The virtue of every OT saint is filled out in him, and the failure of every OT saint heightens the longing for him.
  71. Not only Scripture, either: Every heart-stabbing poem, every story of redemption, every novel or film that evokes longings and makes the tears flow—it all points to him. He is the closure for every human longing.
  72. He is the perfect and final Priest, representing the people to God.
  73. He is the perfect and final King, representing God to the people.
  74. He is the perfect and final Prophet, speaking truth with laser-like accuracy.
  75. He is the perfect and final Sage, or wise man, depicting wisdom in both his life and his words. He is the book of Proverbs walking around on two legs.
  76. He is the perfect and final Judge—utterly fair, and all-knowing. Every verdict will be just right. We do not need to take justice into our own hands.
  77. His promised second coming means that I will give an account for every word spoken against others, and others will give an account for every word spoken against me. All will be put right.
  78. His blazing wrath upon the impenitent is matched by his gentle embrace of the penitent. Neither dilutes the other. He is not a one-dimensional Christ.
  79. He was born in Bethlehem. Out of the way, backwoods Bethlehem. We are freed to live and serve in obscurity. We don’t need the spotlight. He didn’t.
  80. The incarnation of God among us means that ultimate reality is not cold, dark, space, but love. The Son of God came to us as the overflow of intratrinitarian love.
  81. He said, on the cross, with nail-pierced arms outstretched, “It is finished.” We exhausted sinners are free to rest in his exhaustive work.
  82. He has put that nail-scarred arm around us as we stumble toward heaven, and he will never loosen his grip.
  83. His first miracle in Jn 2 (John makes point of calling it his “chief/beginning” miracle) is turning water to wine at a wedding party. Then at the end of Rev we see a wedding party between Jesus and his bride, you and me. Every wedding is a pointer to THE Wedding that will explode onto the scene of world history very soon, and last forever.
  84. ‘And they all left him and fled’ (Mark 14:50). Had he lived today, every last Twitter follower would have un-followed him. The maximum number of friends you can have on FB is 5,000. Well, he fed 5,000. I bet all 5,000 would have accepted his FB friend request. And all 5,000 would have eventually un-friended and blocked him. So that he could be your and my ever-present friend, saying (Heb 13:5): ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’ (Heb. 13:5).
  85. Not only forsaken by his friends, but by God. He knows what it is to feel forsaken by God, because he knows what it is to be forsaken by God (“My God, my God…”). So that you and I are never actually forsaken, even when we feel forsaken.
  86. He loves weakness. He works with weakness. That qualifies me for his grace. You feel the same way.
  87. That grace is (2 Cor 12) sufficient. It needs no me-generated supplement. All he requires is need. Nothing more, nothing less. The bar of divine grace is low, so low that the proud cannot get under it.
  88. He will never disappoint us or underwhelm us. As much as we leverage our longings onto him, he will fulfill them, and more than fulfill them.
  89. His death means our death is a beginning, not an end. A door, not a wall. An entrance, not an exit.
  90. His resurrection means my body will one day be restored to me and this time will not run down. We will be ageless. Both youthful immaturities, and geriatric wrinkles/balding/stiffness/aches, will be gone forever.
  91. He is the “firstfruits” of a single harvest (1 Cor 15:20, 23). The final resurrection of the dead has already begun. The first instance is already among us.
  92. And that body that he had, and that we will get, was both fully physical (he told Thomas to touch his scarred hands) and invincibly different from our current bodies (he appeared in locked rooms more than once and was hard to recognize more than once). When we look at Christ’s risen body, we are looking at our future.
  93. When he walked out of the grave, Eden 2.0 dawned. Against OT expectation, the old age continued steamrolling right alongside the dawning new age. This is why this world can feel like heaven one day and hell the next. But our basic citizenship is now in that new Eden that has begun.
  94. This overlap of the two ages also means there is still time, still a chance, for any who recognizes he has been born into the old, hellish age to lay down his arms and be swept up into the dawning sunrise of the new age.
  95. He has so deeply identified with us that when he ascended to heaven, he didn’t leave his body behind. He took his body. He’ll always have a body. He is now one of us, while remaining divine.
  96. And while in heaven, he is our advocate (1 John 2:1). He is speaking up on our behalf. We don’t need to self-advocate. He’s doing it for us.
  97. He’s coming back some day, not in disguise as the first time, but without disguise, thundering with the armies of heaven (Rev 19), with a robe dipped in blood, his eyes like a flame of fire, with a tattoo on his thigh that says “King of Kings and Lord of Lords”, and he will “tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty”—and every unbelieving person will be perfectly brought to account.
  98. We will see him face to face” (Rev 22:4). You and I, one day, are going to look into the eyes of a risen Galilean carpenter. What a moment that will be. And all will be well.
  99. When we look upon him, we will know: We are home. As God said in Zechariah 10:10, “I will bring them home.” We will pass through the wardrobe into Narnia. We will weep with relief.
  100. All because he refused the glory he rightly deserved to enter the hell and mud of our world to grab us and pull us into the new order, the new world of shalom and flourishing and sun and calm and uproarious laughter. All of sheer grace. All to be simply received. Available to anyone who refuses to pay for it.

 

This article was published with permission from Naperville Presbyterian Church. To listen to the sermon by Dane Ortlund from which the article was drawn, visit https://www.npchurch.org/sermons/sermon/2024-04-14/ephesians-3:8