Advent Day 2: Never Unclothed

And the Lord God made for Adam and for his wife Eve garments of skins and clothed them.

Genesis 3:21

Reflect for a moment on what it must have been like to be “clothed by God.” Hours earlier, new words were introduced into the dictionary of the world–fear, guilt and shame. Lying in ruins were the remains of hearts that once knew ageless energy, undimmed joy, and a child-like contentment that has remained unachieved by every son and daughter since.

For those of us familiar with the tragic chapter of Adam and Eve, it’s hard not to read this end portion of the story and not feel the nakedness, shame and regret that was surely emanating from their saddened souls. Sin had entered the door of the world, and they were responsible for creating its origin story. I think we can all think back on an event in our lives that we wish we could take back. An unwise decision that changed the course of our existence forever, or an unkind word that harmed a dear relationship that has never been repaired. Adam and Eve had experienced a utopian earth that they and their offspring would be banished from for many lives to come. Contemplating that level of loss must have been overwhelming. 

Still, will you wonder with me for a moment? Because maybe there is a more hopeful way for us to read and receive this verse? Maybe we would do better to see how God had not only not abandoned Adam and Eve in their cataclysmic loss of innocence, but that clothing them was how He showed his most Fatherly love for them imaginable. 

I remember when I was a toddler and my mother would give me and my little brother a bath during the colder, winter months. When we stepped out, dripping wet and teeth chattering, she would wrap a towel around each of us before we ran like banshees to the fireplace, where we would sit in our miniature rocking chairs as the warmth of the embers thawed our shivering limbs. Like Adam and Eve, we weren’t left in the coldness of our nakedness. We had been covered and clothed. 

As we find ourselves at the end of another year, in what ways would you like to be “clothed?” Maybe you’re already feeling the guilt and shame of another twelve months that you feel were squandered by bad decisions and unlucky circumstances. Perhaps you look back and see so many missed opportunities, and a new year that would be so different had you just made some wiser decisions. Or maybe you feel disappointed because you had hoped for something new to come over the horizon, but it never came your way. It could be that you experienced some profound loss, and you are entering January with the stark realization that loneliness and limitations are once again your unwanted companions. 

What you’ll find from our heavenly Father is a person who wants to clothe us, and lovingly cover the fear, guilt and shame that characterized your year, and threatens to repeat the pattern in the new year. The same God who covered and clothed Adam and Eve in theirs will not leave you unclothed in yours.

Reflect

What does understanding God’s clothing of Adam and Eve remind us of? Knowing that God graciously covered Adam and Eve’s fear, guilt and shame, what things will you pray for him to cover in your life? As you see how much fatherly love and care God showed Adam and Eve after they rebelled against him, what are some untruths you need to guard against believing about God?



Advent Day 1: Before the Foundation

In the beginning God…

Genesis 1:1

Before you read another word, look up from the page and spend some time reflecting on these four opening words from the Book of Genesis, In the beginning God. Most of the time, you would have already read ahead without thinking of why all of scripture began with these particular and maybe even peculiar words. 

What were some thoughts that came to mind as you paused and reflected on the words In the beginning God? Maybe images of a dark world without form and void came to mind. Maybe the word beginning brought to mind the opening scene of a movie you recently watched or the first page of a novel you’ve been reading. Maybe it’s hard for you to imagine what a beginning looked like before God had even created the world? What’s important for us is not necessarily what it was like before God began forming the world, but that God was already there before he supernaturally spoke it into existence. 

As we allow ourselves to meditate for a few moments on the beginning of our world, the first thing we notice is that scripture doesn’t allow us to imagine it without the presence of God. Before anything was, there was God. Even more astonishingly, before the beginning ever was, God had already chosen the you to eventually be a part of it. 

“…even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world…” (Eph. 1:4a).

As a songwriter, ideas for lyrics and melodies come to me in unique ways that seem to defy any objective formula or rational explanation. As much as I wish that inspiration came in some sort of easy to open, pre-packaged form, it seems more ghost-like in nature. Before a lyric or melody is conceived of or composed in my mind, an image will materialize from any variety of sources and comprise the grain of a song that will someday become realized in recorded fruition. 

Very incompletely, this illustrates our chosen-ness by God. Before he had ever composed the opening notes that would comprise his creation song, he had imagined us in his infinite mind to “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen. 1:28). Equally as thought provoking is this: not only did God choose us before he chose the world he would create, he also planned what our purpose would be as his chosen people. 

“…that we should be holy and blameless before him. (Eph. 1:4b).

To be a chosen son or daughter of God is to become holy and blameless, or to say it another way, set apart and righteous before Him and for Him. The reason why God chose you to be holy and blameless is because he can only make his home with those who are set apart and righteous like himself. 

Of course, God knew that when he chose you that another decision had to be made to ensure that his presence with you would remain.  

“In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will…” (Eph. 1:5).

So there’s that word predestine. It makes some of us uncomfortable, but what the apostle Paul intended when he wrote to the church in Ephesus was not to begin a theological debate but to assure them that belonging to God since the beginning didn’t happen by some random stroke of luck or anything they did to finally be granted God’s favor. No, God loved us before he made us, but had to plan to adopt us because the sin we were born into meant God wasn’t automatically our Father at birth. So to be predestined means that in the beginning God meant for you to be his and for him to be with you because he conceived you, loved you, chose you, planned for you, and purpose to be with you. Forever. 

So, as you look forward to Christmas and New Year’s this year, remember that all of your beginnings will not begin in the absence of God’s presence. In the same way that God was present before he presented the world, God will continue to go before you in all things. This helps remind you that all those beginning things that cause so much fear, unrest and anxiety will not be entered into alone or carried out in isolation. 

Reflect

How will reflecting on In the beginning God help you as you anticipate the New Year? If God chose you before speaking the world into existence, how much more can you trust his promise to be with you through the unknowns that loom ahead in the new year and beyond? As you reflect on all the potential beginnings that lie ahead, how will meditating on the presence of God help change how you approach new challenges and unknown changes? 



A Theology of Thanksgiving

In our day and age of more-more-more where “Thanksgiving” is the waiting season between Halloween and Christmas, gratitude often takes a back seat. By relegating giving thanks to an occasional add-on in the Christian life—either on Thanksgiving Day or when God blesses us in an undeniable way—we miss out on how it’s meant to tune our hearts toward God on a daily basis.

It’s easy to blame “the world” around me, but I’ll admit that while I know God is the source of all things in my life, it doesn’t mean thanksgiving makes it into my day-to-day rhythms as it should. I go through most days taking God’s gifts for granted. I’d prefer getting things over giving thanks. And when I don’t get what I want, I complain. With all the difficulties and stresses of 2020, I’ve noticed my heart gravitating toward groaning and murmuring rather than choosing thanksgiving.

To fight our fallen inclination toward grumbling, we need to give thanks. But thanksgiving involves more than naming blessings. “I’m thankful for family. I’m thankful for church. I’m thankful for pumpkin pie and all its various spinoffs.” I’m not the thanksgiving police here to slap anyone on the wrist for giving thanks, but I’d love to see Christians move from merely being thankful to being thankful to Someone.

Thanking God by acknowledging his gifts is a great place to start, and it’s better than not thanking him at all. But giving thanks isn’t limited to naming blessings; it’s knowing the One behind them. When we give thanks, we acknowledge something to be from the Lord and it stirs up worship because it tells us what he’s like. Thanksgiving helps us better enjoy the gift because we also see the love and goodness of the Giver behind it.

Thankful…to God

In the Bible, thanksgiving is much more than a quick nod of the cap for all the goodies in life. David Pao writes, “Thanksgiving…is an act of worship. It is not focused primarily on the benefits received or the blessed condition of a person; instead, God is the center of thanksgiving.”1 Giving thanks takes us beyond recognizing God and into enjoying God.

As we give thanks to God, we not only confess we would have nothing good apart from him (James 1:17; 1 Corinthians 4:7), but we also consider who he is. Biblical thanksgiving is a response to more than God’s gifts and acts. It’s a response to what we learn about him through those gifts and acts.

I’m not just saying we should value the giver more than the gifts. I’m suggesting that as we give thanks for the gifts—which we can truly and deeply enjoy—we should also look through the gift to learn more about the person who gave it. In doing so, we will enjoy and love the giver even more.

Ask, “What does the nature of this gift tell me about the giver? What does it tell me about what they want for me or how they’re seeking my good? How does this provide insight into their heart, character, intentions, and attributes?”

Biblical Examples of Thanksgiving

In Paul’s thanksgiving prayers (Colossians 1:3; Ephesians 1:16; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14), he praises God and recognizes the grace and power of God at work in their gospel-growth. There’s a rich theology of God under every statement of thanksgiving to God.

Consider the story of Jesus healing ten lepers in Luke 17:11-19. There’s one man in particular who not only “praises God with a loud voice” (17:15), but he also falls “on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks” (17:16). The healed Samaritan doesn’t just see Jesus as a person who did something for him; he falls to his feet in thanksgiving because he sees Jesus as his healer, deliverer, and savior. The joy isn’t only in what he received from Jesus, but it’s also in what was discovered about Jesus.

This kind of God-centered, worship-filled thanksgiving shows up throughout the Psalms (such as Psalm 9, 30, 100, 103, and 138). In Psalm 103, for example, David begins by blessing God for specific actions on behalf of his people (1-5). As he continues, we see that God’s actions reveal his attributes and heart toward his people. David thanks God for His actions but also worships God as those actions reveal a God who is righteous and just (6), merciful and gracious (8), unswerving in love (8), a compassionate father (10), and understanding of our weaknesses (14).

The gifts, works, and actions of God are windows allowing us to see who God is, and who he is for us. A theology of thanksgiving to God is therefore a conduit of communion with God. Gratitude for what God has done produces worship because of who God is.

Growing in Gratitude

Thanksgiving involves saying thank you to God for his acts and gifts but also worshipping God because of what those things tell us about him. We first recognize God as the source of what we have to be grateful for. The second, more neglected step, is we must stop and think about what these gifts tell us about him. Thanksgiving moves from recognition of what God has done to revering Him as a God who does such things. 

It’s good to give thanks to God for a material blessing. It’s even better to perceive in that blessing a God with a generous heart eager to provide for his children. It’s good to give thanks to God for a spiritual blessing, such as our adoption in Christ, but it’s more impactful when you simultaneously delight in a God who clears your charges and embraces you in his loving arms.

Thanksgiving to God for his gifts and actions reveals God to us in bigger and clearer ways. See God at work and know him through what you see. Fight grumbling with gratitude.

*This article is adapted from Dustin Crowe’s new book, The Grumbler’s Guide to Giving Thanks: Reclaiming the Gifts of a Lost Spiritual Discipline.

Footnotes
1David Pao, Thanksgiving: An Investigation of a Pauline Theme (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 28.



If You Can’t be with the Church You Love, Love the Church You’re With

The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.”1 Corinthians 12:21

We may be on the verge of another series of church shut-downs, as states scramble to compensate for resurgent Covid19 infections. Many churches have figured out mitigating practices in the aftermath of the summer shut-downs — social distancing, masks, etc. Along with these adjustments has come great congregational migrations. I’ve spoken to numerous pastors over the last several months, and noticed quite a few more remarking on social media, who have seen people leave their church during this weird season, some for other churches, some for apparently no church at all.

The reasons given vary. Some people leave because they do not perceive the church to be doing enough to mitigate risk of virus spread, while many more have left because churches are doing “too much.” As your church leaders make difficult decisions, oftentimes landing on solutions you don’t necessarily agree with, how should a mature Christian process the disappointment?

People have left churches for a lot less, as Christians have always had to deal with the let-down of leadership decisions they don’t agree with. But I want to encourage you during this weird pandemic season not to give up on your church if you deem their response to Covid unsatisfactory. Maybe they’re not doing enough and you feel like you need to continue to stay home and watch the live-stream. Maybe they’re doing too much and you feel like they aren’t demonstrating enough faith or courage (or civil disobedience).

If you’re struggling with your church’s decision regarding Covid19 and sorting through whether it’s enough for you to join another church, I would not mean here to bind your conscience — as, indeed, these sorts of decisions could be significant enough matters of ministry philosophy that your participation may compromise your convictions — but let me at least offer a few thoughts for consideration. Here are some biblical matters that ought to impact our conscience as it pertains to our church membership.

1. When you join a church, you commit to a people, not simply to an experience.

Many people think of church membership as simply a commitment to a set of preferences — music styles, a particular preacher, a particular place or even “vibe.” Covid has disrupted all of that. If you can’t gather for a while, the vibe is not attainable. Watching online or even attending in a limited capacity changes the experience. But church is not meant to be merely a program — it’s a people, a family. If you’ve committed to a people, you should seriously rethink the impulse to leave over a program change.

2. When you join a church, you commit to obey your leaders.

I know that no age is exactly amenable to submission, but “free range Christianity” has especially been exacerbated during this season. We don’t like the word “obey.” Right now, someone reading this is wincing — maybe even already gotten angry — about the idea of obeying pastors/elders. But this is a direct command from Scripture:

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” — Hebrews 13:17

Are there exceptions to this? Yes, absolutely. We aren’t to submit to abuse or other kinds of sin. For instance, if your pastor is preaching heresy, that’s a good reason to leave. May I caution you that making a decision in relation to the coronavirus — to gather, not to gather, to obey the authorities, to not obey the authorities, etc. — may not rise to the same level of violation? Your pastor isn’t necessarily in sin simply because they made a decision you wouldn’t have made or one that you don’t like. Even the call to submit presupposes disagreement. If you agree, it’s not submission — it’s agreement. Weigh your disappointments carefully. Not all rise to the level of requiring your breaking a covenant commitment.

It’s possible your pastors are jerks or idiots. It’s more possible they are just human beings, imperfect but growing, who are simply trying to make the best decisions they know how to make with the information available to them. They are frequently caught in the dilemma of not being able to make everybody happy at the same time, which really isn’t their job anyway. As sheep in their flocks, we have the opportunity to work toward our shepherds’ joy . . . or toward their groaning. These days, let’s redouble our efforts to serve the former.

3. When you join a church, you commit to focus on serving others rather than on their serving you.

Our preferences are important, but they are not sacred. They are not laws. Disappointing us is not a sin. Too many Christians join a church with a kind of relational legalism in play — I’ll attend, I’ll give, I’ll participate so long as you never challenge me, correct me, or disappoint me. In such cases, the object of worship is not the God who calls us through self-denial to sacrificial love of each other, but is actually ourselves. Don’t deify your preferences. Don’t idolize your comfort.

Maybe you can’t experience church exactly the way you want to right now. But what if the experience of church isn’t supposed to be all about you? What if it’s more about glorifying God through loving others, even denying yourself, taking up your cross, and following Jesus into service of others for His sake?

When the mature Christian can’t exactly be with the church he loves, he commits to loving that church anyway. He loves her such as she is. That’s how God has loved us, after all.



Life is Fleeting, God is Forever

I want this year to end. Well, to be more specific, I want 2020 to drag its broken, violent, garbage self back down to the sewers from whence it emerged. 

Of course, there are some good things about this year. Maybe closeness with family increased, children were born, couples wed, or good jobs began. It hasn’t all been bad. 

The closer we get to the end of this calendar year, the more I hear the refrain, I can’t wait for 2020 to be over.

We all want someone to blame for the wretched year this has been. We blame the woke, the bigots, the President, the police, Boomers, or Gen Z. Deep down we know it’s not really one person or group of people who are to blame. So we personify 2020 and as the year rages on, we grow more weary of its existence and long to see its end. 

Blaming a year is an easy thing to do. It won’t take it personally, argue that you’re really misunderstanding it, or break down and apologize. 

It also keeps us from dealing with the real problem. At the end of Scooby-Doo, the finally captured “monster” is never who it seems. What’s really behind the 2020 mask is far more bothersome, far more discomforting, far more personal. 

The real culprit is the fleeting, vaporous, sin-stained, brokenness of life itself. 

Who wants to see that as our villain? How unsettling!

It makes sense that we want to look ahead to the turn of the calendar as an object of hope. 

Brothers and sisters, we are far too short-sighted. What will happen to us if, on January 1, 2021, something even worse fills the earth with despair? What if it brings a more deadly pandemic, war among the nations, or personal loss and devastation? We can say that our hope is in eternity, but our actions on this earth do not always confirm we have our sights set far enough ahead.

Consider God’s Word to us:

“You return mankind to the dust,

saying, ‘Return, descendants of Adam.’

For in your sight a thousand years

are like yesterday that passes by,

like a few hours of the night.

You end their lives; they sleep.

They are like grass that grows in the morning—

in the morning it sprouts and grows;

by evening it withers and dries up.”

– Psalm 90:3-6

“A voice was saying, ‘Cry out!’

Another said, ‘What should I cry out?’

‘All humanity is grass,

and all its goodness is like the flower of the field.

The grass withers, the flowers fade

when the breath of the Lord blows on them;

indeed, the people are grass.

The grass withers, the flowers fade,

but the word of our God remains forever.’”

– Isaiah 40:6-8

“‘Absolute futility,’ says the Teacher.

‘Absolute futility. Everything is futile.’

What does a person gain for all his efforts

that he labors at under the sun?

A generation goes and a generation comes,

but the earth remains forever.”

– Ecclesiastes 1:2-4

“He has made everything appropriate in its time. He has also put eternity in their hearts, but no one can discover the work God has done from beginning to end.”

– Ecclesiastes 3:11

“Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will travel to such and such a city and spend a year there and do business and make a profit.’ Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring—what your life will be! For you are like vapor that appears for a little while, then vanishes. Instead, you should say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ But as it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil. So it is sin to know the good and yet not do it.”

– James 4:13-17

“When all has been heard, the conclusion of the matter is this: fear God and keep his commands, because this is for all humanity. For God will bring every act to judgment, including every hidden thing, whether good or evil.”

– Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

“So don’t worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you. Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

– Matthew 6:31-34

Do you hear the themes? Life is fleeting, God is forever.

Life is fleeting. We are grass, a shimmer, a fading flower, dust, futile, a vapor. Initially, this is not encouraging at all. We may be tempted to believe that life is pointless. If the Scriptures are true (which they are) and life is fleeting (which it is) then why do we exist? Why struggle with horrible years like 2020 if 2021 doesn’t bring with it promises of being any better?

God is forever. That’s why. 

Most of these passages have a resounding theme.

“from eternity to eternity, you are God.” – Psalm 90:2

“the word of our God remains forever.” – Isaiah 40:8

“He has also put eternity in their hearts” – Ecclesiastes 3:11

“If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” – James 4:15

“fear God and keep his commands.” – Ecclesiastes 12:13

“seek first the kingdom of God.” – Matthew 6:33

It is the foreverness of God, His eternal, steadfast, trustworthy self that is the answer to our struggle. Why struggle in this world? Why endure the hardships of 2020 or any other year of pain?

Because though life and each year is fleeting, God is not. And we have access to God. Knowing God is eternal and above the torments of this life is just a fairy tale story if we don’t get to be part of it. 

The eternal God put Himself in our shoes. He felt and saw the pangs of hunger, hurt of betrayal, grief of death, injustice of racism, abuse of power, and all the rest. All the fleeting parts of life, He endured. Even after that, He willingly suffered and died a brutal death to clear our path to hope. 

Jesus knows how 2020 feels. He knows we long for relief from this year. He is compassionate toward us in our weakness. But 2021 is not our hope. It cannot save us and it will not satisfy us. We can take off the “hood” of the “2020 villain” and see that it is the sin and brokenness of this life that’s causing turmoil. Though we are not promised ease of life as we look forward to 2021, we are promised eternal life that gives enduring hope. 

What is our hope in life and death?

Christ alone, Christ alone

What is our only confidence?

That our souls to Him belong

Who holds our days within His hand?

What comes, apart from His command?

And what will keep us to the end?

The love of Christ, in which we stand



4 Reasons for Pastors to Guard Their Hearts

Discouragement is not an emotion with which I am very familiar, but when a scandal comes out in the church, I feel it greatly. In fact, at times I have found myself not wanting to check social media, dreading to learn about the next scandal. When they come out, it is easy to find ourselves asking, “How could he…?”. Yet, upon sober reflection, we are reminded of how dangerous our sin nature truly is; and that Total Depravity is not just a theological point, but a malignancy within each one of us. Therefore, we must intentionally guard our hearts, and one way of doing that is to meditate on the catastrophic ruin that accompanies sexual sin.

Our Ministry Depends Upon Our Character

The qualifications for ministry listed in I Timothy 3 are almost entirely character related, and they are binding on all who are called to ministry. First Timothy 3 is not a one-time threshold to cross; it is an ongoing accountability to God’s Word and God’s people. One can be a godly man without being a pastor, but one cannot be a faithful pastor without being a godly man.

We Are Stewards of God’s Glory

Every church is a prism of God’s glory and every pastor is a steward of it. When a pastor falls into sin—and especially when it is uncovered—God’s glory in his church is sullied. The pastor’s scandal lands like a bombshell in the church and community. The reverberations are often never-ending, lasting decades into the future. When this happens, it is not just our name that is tarnished, but Jesus.’ Our sin impugns his name and undermines God’s glory in his church.

We Are Stewards of Our Call

Every pastor enjoys a double call on his life: the call to both salvation and ministerial service. As Paul challenged Timothy, so we must kindle afresh the gift of God within us, and guard what he has entrusted to us. One’s call to ministry is indeed a sacred stewardship, a call we must cherish and guard. Moreover, countless people have invested in our calling. Pastors have mentored us, friends have supported us, congregations have followed us, and our families have sacrificed much for us. All of these dimensions—and much more—amplify the stewardship that is ours.

The Price of Falling is too High to Pay

The wise pastor will soberly reflect on all the pain he will cause if he falls into sin. Imagine explaining to your children why you must resign your church. Contemplate forfeiting years of study and ministerial service in one act of indiscretion. Reflect upon your wife’s response to an act of sexual betrayal. And, most of all, remember that God’s all-seeing eye is upon you. Even if, for a season, sin is hidden from the brethren, it cannot be hidden from God.

Conclusion

Guarding our hearts will take more than accountability partners, Internet filters, or even pondering sin’s catastrophic consequences. Ultimately, our hearts are most guarded when they are most satisfied in a person: Jesus Christ.

As C. S. Lewis famously observed, “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

The heart that is best guarded is the heart most given over to Christ. May we find our true joy—and our lasting pleasure—in him.

Editor’s Note: This originally published at JasonKAllen.com



No Blank Slate Christianity

The Daily Blessing of Imputation

One of the saddest phenomena in the evangelical church is the generations-long subscription among many to a kind of half-gospel. A sinner hears the good news of the forgiveness of sins through the saving work of Jesus Christ and they come to faith without knowing the other half of it.

Now, I am not saying those who legitimately repent and believe in Jesus are only half-saved! No one’s faith must be perfect, nor must every convert know everything there is to know about the fullness of the gospel, in order for the whole gospel to save them. What is in play is a kind of half-understanding. A whole gospel can save a sinner with a half-understanding of it, because it’s not a perfect faith that saves, but a perfect Savior! Indeed, none of us justified sinners will perfectly understand the total fullness of the gospel until the day our blessed hope is fulfilled, when we finally see our Savior face to face and finally know him as he knows us (1 Cor. 13:12). But it’s worth exploring more and more of this fullness on this side, isn’t it? Especially since knowing more and more of the glory of Christ in his gospel is actually how we grow more and more into his likeness (2 Cor. 3:18).

Here’s what usually happens: We hear the announcement that God loves sinners so much that he sent his Son to take at the cross the punishment of death owed to them for that sin and then to rise again after three days to secure the blessing of everlasting life. We repent of our sin and place our faith in Christ. We are legitimately and eternally justified. We’ve heard the fine point of the gospel (1 Cor. 15:3-4) and it is more than enough to save us. But then we begin going about our new life in Christ without some very important information.

Here’s the problem: When Christians know only the news of the forgiveness of sins at conversion, they start their Christian walk believing they must maintain as much sinlessness as possible to remain in the grace that saved them. They may not necessarily believe that intellectually, but without some more key facts about the gospel of Jesus Christ, they may spiritually and emotionally drift into that defeated way of thinking.

Here’s what’s missing: Christians do not simply receive forgiveness of sins at their conversion—as wonderful as that is!—but also the imputed righteousness of Christ. This means that God doesn’t just reckon us guiltless; God also considers us innocent. Not just innocent, however. As innocent as Christ! In fact, the doctrine of imputed righteousness means that God considers Jesus’ perfect obedience our perfect obedience.

“He made the one who did not know sin to be sinfor us,” Paul writes, “so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). This verse teaches a double imputation. At the cross, our sin is imputed to Christ, as if it were his. He was made to be sin for us. But also at the cross, his righteousness is imputed to us, as if it were ours. In him, we become the righteousness of God.

This is why we are told that Abraham’s faith was “credited to him” as righteousness (Gen. 15:6, Rom. 4:3). So God doesn’t just wipe our sinful slate clean when we are saved. No, he wipes it clean and then inscribes on it eternally the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. Maybe you’ve heard that to be justified means “just-as-if-I’d never sinned.” Well, it also means “just-as-if-I’d always obeyed!”

Remember when the Lord called Adam and Eve to account. They had covered themselves in fig leaves to hide their shame (Gen. 3:7). God said that wasn’t good enough. But he did not leave them naked, vulnerable, exposed. No, he himself covered their shame with his own sacrifice (3:21). Similarly, God doesn’t just wipe away our self-righteous sin; he covers us with the sinlessness of his sacrificed Son.

Here’s why this matters, day to day: A “blank slate” kind of Christianity, as I said, can inadvertently lead to a tenuous faith built around our own good works. Our obedience is important—necessary, in fact—for glorifying God and becoming more conformed to the image of Christ. But if we wake up each day thinking this work hangs on our efforts, we will be setting ourselves up for discouragement at best, despair at worst. Here’s how Paul details this issue in his letter to the Galatians:

I only want to learn this from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by the Spirit, are you now finishing by the flesh? Did you experienceso much for nothing—if in fact it was for nothing? So then, does God give you the Spirit and work miracles among you by your doing the works of the law? Or is it by believing what you heard— just like Abraham who believed God, and it was credited to him for righteousness?  (Gal. 3:2-6)

The false teaching infiltrating Galatia amounted to the most insidious kind of legalism—the kind that claims it’s all about grace. They had created a “yes-but” gospel. “Yes, you are saved by faith,” they’d say, “but also circumcision is required.” By insisting on a kind of grace-plus for justification, the Judaizers had effectively gutted the gospel by adding to it.

“Did you begin by the Spirit,” Paul asks, “only to be perfected by yourself?” This is what we try to do when we see justification as only about pardon and not about imputation. We live as though we can perfect the work Jesus has begun, when only he is able to do that (Phil. 1:6). So Paul reminds the Galatians of Abraham’s belief being “credited to him for righteousness” (Gal. 3:6).

The doctrine of imputation gives the Christian the right kind of confidence. Because your faith is counted as righteousness (Rom. 4:5), you don’t have to “pay back” what Christ purchased for me (as if you ever could anyway!). You don’t have to earn credit with God. He has freely given Jesus’ sinless perfection to you as if it was your own. Now you can obey God freely and with joy, knowing you’ve been set free from the condemnation of the law. This is hugely confidence-building, as it destroys any pride we might have in our own obedience and strengthens our reliance on Christ’s obedience on our behalf.

The doctrine of imputation gives the Christian the right kind of assurance. We are commanded to obey, and the Lord takes delight in our obedience. But compared to God’s three-times perfect holiness, the best we can muster up is still filthy rags (Is. 64:6, KJV). Paul puts it this way:

But everything that was a gain to me, I have considered to be a loss because of Christ. More than that, I also consider everything to be a loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. Because of him I have suffered the loss of all things and consider them as dung, so that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own from the law, but one that is through faith in Christ—the righteousness from God based on faith.  (Phil. 3:7-9)

Paul’s assurance is not found in his own obedience, as great as that undoubtedly was. No, he reckoned his own best efforts to be “dung” compared to Christ’s efforts on his behalf. The righteousness he knows we all need is the kind that cannot come from our obedience—for that would be the best grounds for a lack of assurance—but from Christ’s.

The doctrine of imputation also sets the Christian free from needing to impress others. Blank slate Christianity keeps seeking something to fill in the blank. This usually consists of the approval of or validation from others. But if you know your slate is engraved with Christ’s goodness, you know the Person’s approval who mattes most is eternally yours because of it. Clothed in the righteousness of Christ, we really have nothing left to prove and nothing left to hide. Your knowledge of imputed righteousness can kill your fear of man.

These are just some of the implications of the doctrine of imputation for the Christian life. There are many, many more. Perhaps as many blessings for us to discover as there are jewels in the crown of Christ himself. A Christian’s subscription to a half-gospel robs himself of enjoying these blessings. So search well into the doctrine of imputation and you will be diving deeper into the glories of your salvation.



Pastors, Beware of Pride

In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis arguesthat pride is the “essential vice,” leading to enmity with God.[1] Pride is inherently dangerous, declaring independence from and superiority over others, including God. It is the thinking that led Adam and Eve to disobey God and Satan to rebel against his Creator. No wonder Solomon writes, “Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord “(Prov 16:5), and James quotes, “God opposes the proud” (Jam 4:6). Pride is the anti-God attitude.

While every human being is at risk of becoming prideful, I believe pastors face an even greater risk than most. Consider the amount of time we spend in the spotlight. Each week, dozens, hundreds, even thousands are listening to our every word. There is the counseling part of our ministry when people come to us for helpful, biblical counsel. We are also called to lead. The congregation looks to us for direction, relying on us to lead the church to grow. God’s calling and gifting in our lives makes us the perfect candidates for falling to pride.

With this reality in mind, we turn to King Nebuchadnezzar, a cautionary tale for pastors. Few others in Scripture experienced the heights of greatness and depths of humiliation. But it is because of his drastic rise and fall that pastors need to pay attention to his story. If we are willing to admit that maybe, just maybe, we are not immune to pride, Nebuchadnezzar’s story in Daniel 4 might save our ministry and much more. The king’s story in Daniel 4 centers on a dream in which God warns him of coming judgment if he is unwilling to turn from his wickedness and pride.

Want to talk about greatness? When King Nebuchadnezzar delivered an edict, its reach was “all peoples, nations, and languages, that dwell in all the earth” (Dan 4:1 ESV). When Nebuchadnezzar was bothered by a dream, he simply summoned the wise men of Babylon, magicians, enchanters, the Chaldeans, and astrologers (4:6–7). King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream reveals that his greatness and kingdom grew to reach the heavens and impacted the ends of the earth (4:10–11). His rule provided refuge and provision to all who needed it (4:12). In his interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, Daniel says, “[It] is you, O king, who have grown and become strong. Your greatness has grown and reaches to heaven, and your dominion to the ends of the earth” (4:22). This focus on his greatness seems like a good thing, until we realize that as Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom and greatness grew, so did his pride. Because of pride, the king was now in danger of the judgment of God; judgment that would take away his kingdom and cause him to live among the beasts in the field and act like them too for seven periods of time (4:24–25).

Daniel’s warning to Nebuchadnezzar to break off his sins did not work (4:27). A year after his dream, the king stood on the roof of his palace and declared, “Is not this great Babylon, which I have built by my mighty power as a royal residence and for the glory of my majesty” (4:30)? God immediately judged his pride. King Nebuchadnezzar lost it all. He lost every single blessing of God. His kingdom, his glory, his riches, all gone because of his prideful heart. The story does have a happy ending as Nebuchadnezzar was eventually restored, but only after his pride turned to humility and he lifted his eyes to heaven and praised the One who had blessed him in the first place (4:34).

As Lewis reminds us, the core problem with pride is that “[in] God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself…. As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.”[2] King Nebuchadnezzar could not see past his own ego to recognize that every ounce of glory and every square inch of his kingdom was a blessing from the hand of God. Rather than living in gratitude for God’s blessings, Nebuchadnezzar’s pride led him to overlook God’s blessings for his own greatness.

Pastors, may it never be said of us that pride caused us to forget the source of our gifting and calling. Let us never be found boasting of our own glory and greatness. Pride is always knocking at our door, needing only a crack to get in and bring ruin and destruction into our ministry and lives.

How can we prevent God’s blessings from leading us into pride? Prayer is always a good start.

  1. Begin Your Prayer with Acclamation

I have always found it hard to remain prideful while praising God for His wondrous works, His faithfulness in my life and ministry, and His gracious gifts to me. If we are constantly reminded of God’s greatness as we pray, our accomplishments don’t seem so great anymore.

  • Continue with Confession

All pastors are tempted to flirt with pride, and often times, we give in. An essential part of keeping pride at bay is a willingness to confess our sins when we seek to steal God’s glory. Pastor, spend time each day searching your heart and confessing in prideful thoughts, attitudes, or actions.

  • Don’t Forget to Be Thankful

Recounting all that we have to be thankful for helps us remember that God is the fountain of all our blessings and gifts. If throughout the day I am thanking God for all He has done, it will be harder for me to begin pridefully thinking about my achievements. Ultimately, we can be thankful to God that our identity is in Christ and not in our call to be a pastor.

  • End Your Prayer with Supplication

As we humbly admit our own susceptibility to pride, our only hope is to plead with the Father, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” (Matt 6:13). You need help, and I need help in our battle against pride. Let us not neglect asking our heavenly Father to help us live for His glory and not our own.

Pastor, pride is dangerous. You are gifted and blessed by God for His glory, not yours. Beware of pride.


[1] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins Publishing, 2001), 123–24.

[2] Lewis, Mere Christianity, 124.



The Privilege of Preaching God’s Immutability

Everything changes. Nations rise and fall. Seasons come and go. Bank accounts ebb and flow. People change too. Children grow and mature. Politicians switch their views. Spouses break their vows. Pastors deny a faith once proclaimed. Our world and everything in it is constantly changing. Even you are not the same person you were just years ago. But God does not change. God cannot change. Theologians define this attribute as immutability, and this doctrine is good news for the church today.

Pastor, if you’re looking for advice on how to apply the doctrine of God in your preaching, James proves a reliable guide. The doctrine of God is practical for Christians today. In just a few short verses, James applies immutability as a warning for tempted Christians and a comfort for doubting Christians.

“Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:16–17).

A Warning for Tempted Christians

After yielding to temptation, some Christians turn and point their finger at God. After the first sin, the first man shifted blame to God. We have all continued in this pattern. James reminds us that the true source of temptation comes from within, not from God (James 1:13–15). Our own sinful desires lure and entice us, then sin leads to death. With the consequences grave, Christians need to be reminded of God’s impeccable perfection in temptation. God cannot sin, nor does he tempt us to sin. God is unable to be tempted by sin–what good news!

But what if God could change? What if God were like us?

Each of us knows stories of professing Christians who seemed strong in their faith, only to walk away from Christ. Many of us know friends and family who sat in church next to us–or even taught us the Bible–who no longer profess Christ. Like Paul, you probably have friends “in love with this present world” (2 Tim. 4:10). Like James, you’ve seen friends “lured and enticed” by sinful desires.

But even faithful Christians fail us, and we fail them too. Godly parents break promises and distance creeps into close friendships. We need the doctrine of God’s immutability.

There is one we can count on to be the same yesterday, today, and forever–Jesus Christ (Heb. 13:8). Jesus is our assurance that all God’s promises will one day come true. God will never tempt you to sin–not today, or tomorrow, or ten years from now. God will never change. 

A Comfort for Doubting Christians

James transitions from warning Christians not to blame their temptations on God, to comforting Christians with a pastoral application of God’s immutability. Does God’s immutability matter for Christians today? Is the doctrine of God practical? Preacher, follow the lead of James.

While God is not the source of your temptation, he is the source of every good gift. Food and fun, rest and recreation, laughter and love, friends and family, marriage and movies, singleness and sports–each of these are gifts from our heavenly Father. And because God is good, he only gives good gifts. God is never-changing in his goodness in giving.

Do you know anyone else who only and always gives good gifts? Even the best earthly gifts fade away. Even the best moments are but vanishing mist. But God’s greatest gift to his people is eternal – himself. When Christians are suffering persecution, they need this reminder – God has not changed. He has not abandoned them. He remains the same Father who only and exclusively gives good gifts to his children. He is the Father who sent us his only Son to die on the cross in our place, for our sins. Every good gift is from our never-changing God.

The Privilege of Preaching Immutability

People are in dire need of practical sermons that deal with everyday life. The doctrine of God is practical and applicable to every aspect of life! And as pastors, we have the privilege to point our sheep to the Shepherd who never changes, this too is a gift from God. In the midst of temptation, wandering sheep need the doctrine of God’s immutability. As doubts and fears assail, doubting sheep need a rock. And there is none in all the earth like our God–he never changes.



On Memorizing Scripture

He was in the wilderness. He was exhausted. He was hungry and thirsty. He was alone. He was attacked by the Devil. He was armed with the word of God. He was victorious. With confidence in the sacred scriptures, Jesus prevailed against the tempter’s deceitful schemes (see Matt. 4:1-11). The Lord defeated Satan with three verses from Deuteronomy. How much more can you and I resist temptation, live obediently, and endure hardship if we get the word of God into our hearts and minds through scripture memorization?

There are very few spiritual disciples that are more beneficial than scripture memorization. It arms you with truth to resist temptation. It renews your mind as you meditate on scripture. It shapes and strengthens your prayer life, enabling you to pray the scriptures back to God. It makes the wisdom of God readily available for decision-making. It arms you with biblical authority for counseling fellow-believers or witnessing to lost people. It gives comfort in times of grief, sorrow, and persecution. And it fills your mind and mouth with truth to offer as grateful praise to God in worship.

Here are seven steps you can take to begin and stay on track down the narrow but life-giving path of scripture memorization.

1. Have a plan. When left alone, good intentions suffocate spiritual progress. Godly desires must have the fresh air of practical commitments in order to breathe and live and grow. So establish a definite plan for scripture memorization – a plan that works for you. Decide when you will do it. Select what verses you are going to memorize. Have a plan and establish measurable, challenging, attainable goals.

2. Start small. Don’t begin by telling yourself that you are going to memorize a chapter a week. No you’re not. And your failure will only discourage you in the future. Remember, each victory will help you another to win. So start small and build on your successes. One or two verses a week is a good place to begin.

3. Select verses that are meaningful to you. The Bible is filled with hundreds of verses worth memorizing. Many profitable Bible memory systems are also available. And pastors and teachers may encourage you to memorize certain passages. Draw from all of these sources for ideas. But also select your own memory verses. Choose passages that are meaningful to you and that you find helpful.

4. Make memory cards to keep with you. Write out the verse on a card that you can take wherever you go. And when you have spare moments – on a break, in a waiting room, or between activities – you can read, review, and recite your memory verses.

5. Get a Bible memory partner. Do you have a prayer partner? If not, you should. A good prayer partner can give you support, hold you accountable, and celebrate victories with you. A good Bible memorization partner can do the same. Iron sharpens iron. So consider partnering with someone for mutual support in memorizing scripture.

6. Keep practicing your verses. Scripture memorization does not come easy for most of us. But don’t be too quick to blame it on a poor memory. Scripture memorization is spiritual warfare. But our spiritual enemy cannot prevail against the word of God. So keep practicing your verses until you get them down. Then constantly review them. Remember, repetition is the key to memorization.

7. Pray for God’s help. Do you fear that you cannot memorize scripture? Tell God about your fears. Do you need strength to remain focused? Ask the Lord for it. Do you need wisdom for selecting verses or managing your quiet time? Pray with confidence for these things. God is glorified as you learn to think and behave biblically. So labor and pray and trust the Lord to help you to make the word a treasure in your heart, so that you might not sin against him (Ps. 119:11).

Editor’s Note: This originally published at HBCharlesJr.com